Brown Study

Brown Study

8 December 2012

One of the more diverting spin-offs from Slushgate is the insight it has given us into the Prime Minister’s salad days and the rollicking good times she had as a teenage member of the Socialist Forum. This was, of course, before she honed her skills in the incorporation of slush funds. Naturally, I would not hold against Ms Gillard anything she did during that age of innocence, which seems in her case to have covered about 30 years, when she was ‘young and naïve’. It is a pity she has not extended to that other redoubtable student activist, Tony Abbott, the same tolerance of the exuberances of youthful politics she would like extended to herself. In any event, it has made me think back to my own early life and what I was doing while everyone else seemed to have been attending meetings, incorporating associations, going to auctions of terrace houses in Fitzroy and plotting revolutions of one sort or another. My time seems to have been spent working, as in cleaning machinery in McPherson’s Bolt Factory. The closest I got to a student organisation was that I occasionally kept abreast of the activities of The Apathy Society, which as its name implies, were not many, as its sole purpose was to discourage activity of any sort. In fact, the high point in its life was the day we tried to expel a member for attending a meeting. Regrettably, the motion failed for want of a quorum. After that, I think the society lapsed back into its usual somnolent and otiose state, although I cannot be sure, as its files have disappeared, just as the records of the AWA affair have all miraculously disappeared from Slater & Gordon, the Federal Court and the WA State Records Office.

I am indebted to James Paterson of the Institute of Public Affairs for sending me the news that a new front has been opened in the war against discrimination and its handmaiden, harassment. Apparently, it is about to become an offence for an employer or a fellow employee to engage in ‘eye–rolling’, as this demonstration of exasperation may send employees into a spiral of despair and is tantamount to bullying. There are other offences on the horizon, such as running too relaxed a working environment, which will ‘diminish a person’s dignity’. This particularly heinous attitude of some employers is shown by ‘a tendency to avoid making decisions, inadequate or absent supervision of workers, inappropriate delegation of tasks to subordinates and little or no guidance or performance feedback being provided to workers’, all things that led one of Kevin Rudd’s colleagues to describe him as a psychopath. In fact, Rudd would probably qualify in the eye-rolling department as well, judging by his last recorded attempt at making a speech in Mandarin. But it is encouraging to see our taxes being spent on useful things like these reforms instead of wasting them on ships that float and aircraft that can fly or at least get off the drawing board. And for my part it is particularly pleasing to see that at last a stand has been taken against the soul-destroying practice of eye-rolling. I feel a particular joy at this reform as, in one sense, I started it off many years ago. I say that because, when I was in charge of the Attorney-General’s Department, it was brought to my notice that there had been an unfortunate outbreak of leering; apparently employers had taken to leering at their employees as if the whole employing class had turned into a tribe of slobbering zombies. And, moreover, landlords had taken to leering at prospective tenants. Naturally, I set the Attorney-General’s Department to work on writing a definition of the leer, as a precursor to stamping it out. Regrettably, the Fraser government was thrown out of office before this momentous work could be completed, but it provided grist to the mill for many research papers, stakeholder consultations, working lunches and trips to Geneva. Only the other day, I made inquiries at the Human Rights Commission to see if leering had been eradicated yet and was pleased to see that it is under control. It is true that it shares a berth with some other transgressions, as the actual offence is now ‘staring, leering or unwelcome touching’. But at least leering is up there in its rightful place as a warning to all. Moreover, there is at least one reported case where a doctor was found guilty of harassing a patient by leering and mumbling ‘mmm’. In any case, those who escape a leering rap will now have to confront the additional pitfall of an eye-rolling charge and that will get virtually everyone.

In a bizarre way, I feel sorry for the Australian Republican Movement. When I saw the coach roll down Pall Mall at the royal wedding, the Queen set sail in her barge at the jubilee and, now, when I heard the news that William and Kate are to have a baby, I watched the republican case get weaker still. If another referendum were held today, the republican proposal would fail again. Nor is this simply because of the affection we have for the royal family and the pomp and circumstance of royalty. I think it is, at least in part, because of the decline in respect for the traditional party political structure that would choose or influence the choice of a president. The carbon tax lie, the corruption steaming up from the NSW Labor party, the union movement with its slush funds, the shameless wheeler-dealing of the so-called independents and the patent immorality of Peter Slipper and Craig Thomson, have been the main contributors to this decline. People want something more decent than they are getting, and constitutional monarchy offers an ideal above reproach.

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