Brown Study

Brown Study

15 December 2012

I see that even the Liberal party has been bitten by the vision thing. Former Senator Amanda Vanstone has decided to tell her adoring readers in the Fairfax media how she was inspired by Gough Whitlam’s vision. His greatest virtue, apparently, was that ‘he gave my generation permission to think differently about ourselves and our place in the world’. Really? All I remember are the people who could not pay their mortgages, lost their jobs and businesses and watched the economy fall into a state of near collapse. As for our place in the world, the really great Whitlam decision in that field was to recognise the incorporation of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia into the USSR; it certainly took a lot of vision to condemn the people of three nations to slavery. And it took more vision to say in 1974: ‘Portuguese Timor should become part of Indonesia,’ and turn a blind eye to the Indonesian invasion. But there was ‘nothing guttersnipe’ about him; his qualities were ‘courage’ and ‘gravitas’. Yes, Whitlam certainly showed a lot of courage and gravitas when he was smearing Billy McMahon on his sexuality, the financier Khemlani on his racial complexion, throwing a glass of water in the face of Paul Hasluck or abusing Bill Snedden (‘It is what he put in his guts that rooted him’). Vanstone is ecstatic that when she was a Senator, Whitlam actually replied to a letter and ‘treated me with more respect than some senior members of my own party had shown’. I know the feeling. I had the audacity to ask her for a meeting when she was a minister and got a resounding ‘No’. Actually, you earn more respect from your senior colleagues by praising their contribution to Australia than writing mini-hagiographies about their failed Labor opponents.

This year has seen some dodgy political deals, but the failed tender process for outsourcing our international TV service takes the 2012 Sleaze Award. The whole thing was rigged from the start; when the selection committee chose News Ltd, the tender was reissued to make sure the ABC won; even then, its bid flopped and evidence emerged that the whole process had been nobbled. But instead of starting from scratch, with some independent oversight, the tender was pulled and the contract given to the ABC as a free gift. As if it couldn’t get any worse, the government then announced that the ABC would have the contract ‘in perpetuity’, an attempt to bind future parliaments which must surely be unconstitutional. The whole deal was so mired in corruption and impropriety that I am surprised the opposition has not made more of it. The Coalition should declare that the next parliament will not be bound by this dubious deal and there will be a new tendering process supervised by an outside body.

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One of the beauties of the English language is the way the meaning of words gracefully changes. As this is a journal of record, some of them should be noted. Misogynist: disagreeing with the policies of a female prime minister; divisive: not agreeing with my policies; consensus: agreeing with me; negativity: saying no to my new taxes; denier: refusing to accept my latest piece of black magic, as in ‘climate change denier’; psychopath: a popular word for Labor backbenchers to describe Kevin Rudd; within the range of market expectations: your guess is as good as mine; a broad range of options: we don’t know what to do; let me be very clear about this: I haven’t the faintest idea what I’m talking about; and, a late entry, devastated: it was a real lark, until I got caught (used by juvenile DJs who are sprung when impersonating members of the Royal Family).

Justice is eventually done. Dominique Strauss-Kahn has agreed to pay US$6m to the maid he sexually assaulted. He should have been prosecuted and sent to jail, but the authorities dropped the charge, no doubt in awe of the illustrious defendant. Fortunately, the maid showed more backbone and filed a civil suit which the putative French presidential candidate has now been forced to settle. But Julian Assange is still at large, skulking in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. The Ecuadorians are worried about his health, which is usually a precursor to a deal of some sort or other being made. My prediction for 2013: there will be a compromise under which, on grounds of ill health, Assange is given safe passage to the Ecuadorian Embassy in Stockholm where he will give the police interview he should have given two years ago and then returned to London and the bosom of his celebrity backers.

Last Friday I heard Professor Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard University speak about the threats to freedom of religion in the US and internationally. We tend to think of the land of the free as the embodiment of freedom of religion. Not so, says the professor, as religion is being forced to be a mere private conviction rather than a public expression of faith as it has traditionally been. Freedom of religion is thus being reduced to a second order right of diminishing importance. She cites the ending of government funding when proposed health projects do not include abortion drugs; Illinois’ insistence that adoption agencies must offer children to same sex couples; health insurers being forced to cover sterilisation, contraception and abortion drugs; abandoning the Defence of Marriage Act; and the State Department under Hillary Clinton removing freedom of religion from its country reports on human rights. If I am still allowed to say it: Merry Christmas!

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