Wayne Swan’s new book, The Good Fight, presents a disturbing picture of the atmosphere in which the NBN fiasco developed, I write in The Australian today.
Nothing made Rudd angrier, apparently, than soundly based independent counsel. “He was intolerant of detailed advice, especially of a deep and highly technical nature — the kind that comes from public servants with decades of experience,” Swan notes.
Debate or dispute “undermined his sense of control of minutiae”; Rudd’s outbursts “were often disproportionate to the matter at hand”; he “burned through staff like a child flicking matches from a box”. Advisers laboured within “a culture of fear and blame that had its origins in Kevin’s temperament”. Far worse, says Swan, “their advice was not listened to”.
Like every good horror story, the vampire gets skewered in the end, but in circumstances that leave open the possibility of a sequel. The frail character of Australia’s 26th prime minister plays the central role in Swan’s narrative, but its subplot reveals a frailty within public administration that ultimately may prove more destructive.
If the job of our professional, well-remunerated public service is sometimes to save politicians from themselves, how do we account for its spectacular failure to avert the Rudd fiascos? Will any heads roll for the frank and fearless advice not given? Will careers be ended as a consequence of their cravenness and complicity? Or will their salaries and novated leases continue to be honoured irrespective of the fortitude — or lack of it — they bring to their day jobs?
CRYING OVER SPILT INK
The Abbott government’s retreat on its planned amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act has flushed out the real conservatives in Australia. They are the ones desperate to defend illiberal institutions like the Human Rights Commission.
Last week, I wrote in The Australian:
The repeal of 18C was a disruption to the grievance industry’s business model that they could not countenance. Its flaws are self-evident, but like a diseased tree in a Tasmanian forest, its felling was unimaginable.
These are Australia’s true conservatives, the ones defending the cultural institutions they have either taken over or created in the 50 years since Donald Horne wrote The Lucky Country.
http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/columnists/freespeech-phobics-cling-on/story-fnhulhjj-1227020970827 Page 2 of 3
Free-speech phobics cling on | The Australian 18/08/2014 7:16 pm
Horne’s list of special interest groups is relatively short: the wheat, sugar and wool lobbies, the churches, the RSL, the four newspaper groups, BHP, the Chamber of Manufacturers and the unions in the Labor Party.
Today’s list would be many times longer, but like the reactionaries in 1964, their grip on the levers of cultural power is less secure than they imagine. There is precious little support for their worn-out causes outside of the beret-wearing zone.
My column two weeks ago challenging the Australian Press Council’s illiberal mission creep under chairman Julian Disney has been followed by a series of articles and editorials in The Australian expressing similar concerns about this increasingly censorious body.
Until Disney became chairman the council largely abided by the liberal convention that news reports and commentary should be judged differently, and that opinion required no justification other that it was honestly stated.
That was the view Disney appeared to come to in 2012 when he dismissed a complaint against a March 2012 column by Piers Akerman in The Daily Telegraph headlined “Greens and their crazy cronies are holding a gun to our head”.
Yet it was clear from the small print that Disney was itching for a fight. He warned: “While columnists and other writers of opinion articles have a wider licence than applies to news stories, it is ‘not unfettered’.”
The judgment laid out the welcome mat to the Greens and their crazy cronies who find lodging complaints with the industry-funded watchdog somewhat easier than competing in the marketplace of ideas.
WELCOME TO DISNEY WORLD
The Renewable Energy Target has become a honey pot for speculative investors who have billions of dollars resting on the outcome of the current review.
I write in The Australian today,
If there is a sound more pitiable than the whine of a pious environmental activist, it is the wail of a financier about to do his dough.
The mournful chorus now wafting from Greg Hunt’s waiting room is the sound of the two in unison, pleading with the Environment Minister to save the life of their misshapen bastard child, the renewable energy target.
You have to hand it to Hunt, who either has nerves of steel or is stone deaf, for he has retained both his cool and his fortitude.
The RET review by Dick Warburton on the government’s behalf has brought the rent-seekers out in force, for billions of dollars of corporate welfare is resting on its outcome.
THE POWER COUPLE
Illustration: Sturt Krygsman, The Ausralian
Branding Labor as the party of compassion has short-term appeal, but it won’t fix the party’s deeper crisis of identity, I wrote in The Australian last week:
Compassion, as the compilers of the Macquarie Dictionary point out, is a noun, not a verb — “a feeling of sorrow or pity for the sufferings of others”. It is less the politics of envy and more the politics of empathy. It might tell us what Labor is feeling but doesn’t answer the interminable question of what the party was put on earth to do.
THE EMPTINESS OF COMPASSION
ONE of the joys of the hand-wringing game is never having to say you’re sorry.
That’s the conclusion I reached in The Australian this morning after re-reading a 2008 editorial in The Age which claimed that “a stain had been removed from the soul of the nation” with the dismantling of the Pacific Solution.
“That stain,” the newspaper continued, “was the inhumane, barbarous stance towards asylum-seekers that had presumed them guilty merely because of their existence and then condemned to indefinite detention.”
It would be too much to expect the former broadsheet to acknowledge its blunder or that the result of the policies it supported had been an unmitigated disaster. Nonetheless, there are hopeful signs that the compassion contest in which the bien pensant have been engaging since 2001 is losing its heat. A sense of reality is finally starting to permeate the debate, albeit slowly.
Read the FULL COLUMN here.
Read my piece in THE SUNDAY TIMES last weekend on the return of Sri Lankan asylum seekers.
The assumption underpinning the Racial Discrimination Act is that Australians can’t be trusted to behave properly towards their fellow citizens.
Yet when racism surfaces, as it did last week on commuter train in Sydney, the public can generally be trusted to do the right thing.
The mobile phone camera is proving to be a far more effective tool for dealing with racism than the law. In The Australian today, I argue the case for amending section 18C of the Act.
My thanks to Sturt Krygsman for his astute illustration.
The Self Regulation of Racism
The Holocaust started with silence
An absence of scepticism has allowed the campaign to regulate plastic bags take hold in the UK, I write today in Spiked! The experience in Australia should encourage the Brits to think twice.
The phantasmal qualities of discarded plastic pouches have become part of modern folklore. Plastic bags are seen as the harbinger of wider eco-calamity that strikes fear into our hearts, much like the dreaded medieval Welsh king Gwynn ap Nudd, the Lord of the Dead, with his powers to summon the souls of unbaptised children. ‘We must change our habits’, say the sages at the AMCS, ‘and break the deadly cycle’.
For advice on matters of impending doom, the ancient Assyrians turned to the soothsayer, ‘the frenzied woman from whose lips the god speaks’. Her prophecies were self-evidently beyond question; to deny her word was tantamount to apostasy. Today we ascribe environmentalists with the omniscient virtues of the soothsayer. Their wild claims on the deleterious qualities of plastic, like their wild long-term weather forecasts, are seldom questioned.
Plastic sceptics are assumed to be in the pay of Big Checkout and lacking in compassion for our suffering airborne and aquatic friends. When Tesco says it has reduced the number of bags it gives away, its claims are regarded as dubious, since it has a ‘vested interest’ in lining its own pocket. Not-for-profit campaigners, on the other hand, are afforded great respect in media interviews. As valiant campaigners against callous slaughter, they are immune to baser motives, like raising money for a cause that allows them to pay their mortgage.
READ COLUMN HERE