Two great scandals and two furious calls for heavy censorship. One is about a trashy video on Islam. It’s so bad that if there had been a call for protesters to demonstrate against its trashiness, I should have joined in the march. All you can say to Muslims who choose to live in a free country is: Get over it. Who would not offer similar unsolicited advice to royals who throw nude parties in Las Vegas or sunbathe topless in France? With their vast experience of the paparazzi, what did they expect?
Now that the dust is settling on the Tony Abbott/David Marr fracas, has it made any difference? I believe it has not. The cutting edge of Marr’s essay is its title: ‘Political Animal. The Making of Tony Abbott’. It raised juicy possibilities for the Gillard government. First, it suggested a culpable crudeness. Yet everyone knows that something foolish a 19-year-old may or may not have done 35 years ago is not a hanging offence. Abbott readily concedes he did ‘silly, childish and embarrassing’ things way back then. What teenager does not? Second, the title raised once more the question whether Abbott has ‘a problem with women’. Again, so do most male teenagers. No one has produced convincing evidence that Abbott has had this problem over the past 30 years or so. But third, and above all, ‘Political Animal’ suggests a possible response to the Prime Minister’s greatest handicap: that people do not trust her, the ‘Juliar’ theme. All the chatter in the world about a hung parliament forcing unwanted choices on her cannot obscure the toxic fact that she promised, convincingly, that there would be no carbon tax under her leadership — and then she gave us one. This epiphanic act will dog her into the wilderness. Enter Marr. There is no need to imagine him taking orders from Labor’s Dirt Unit. The Gillard government simply seized on his Quarterly Essay and mined it for every nugget of false gold it might yield. It desperately wants to be able to show that Opposition Leader Abbott is as deceitful as the Prime Minister, that he too will break a promise to get into office, that he too is a ‘Political Animal’. Marr is only a willing helper. The hint of truth in all this argy-bargy is that politics, as everyone knows, is the art of compromise. There has not been a politician in the history of the world who has not been a compromiser. We admire a politician not for his high-flown rhetoric but for getting things done. If he has to fudge a bit or dodge a question or two, we don’t hold it against him, or not for long. Some even admire it. But Marr means more than this. The values over which Abbott the Political Animal is prepared to compromise are those of the Catholic Church — of which Marr takes a mixed view, both despising it (on morals) and admiring it (on social justice). Every compromise involves concessions, and Prime Minster Abbott may (will, Marr thinks) win concessions for his church on morals (gay marriage, homosexuality, drugs). But you can’t be sure: Abbott the Political Animal, according to Marr, will usually prevail over Abbott the moralist. This is the point on which the Gillard government has fastened. It does not want to play the anti-Catholic card as Dr Evatt did so disastrously 60 years ago. On the contrary. In adopting Marr’s depiction of Abbott the Political Animal, its aim is to show that his credibility is no greater than the Prime Minister’s. He is not, the government wants to suggest, a man of integrity or a good Catholic; he is just another Political Animal willing to trade principles for power. This is its desperate answer to ‘Juliar’ and her broken promise on the carbon tax. It claims confirmation from Abbott’s early silence over Marr’s essay, when he sensibly chose not to feed a story of little interest to the wider public then or now. It also magnifies an alleged inconsistency in his comments on the great student election of 1977. By helping the Gillard government focus on Abbott’s credibility Marr has done it some service. But it is a feeble service. Whatever prevarications characterise Abbott’s political career, none comes near the Prime Minister’s whoppers. As the media move on from this spat, it will have had no influence on next year’s election. But Abbott is right that the Dirt Unit is still hard at work.
The idea that the Labor party will soon disappear is getting another run. But best to be sceptical about such prophecies. From time to time all parties undergo upheavals. The Labor party is experiencing one now. It has come to depend almost solely on trade union heavies, robotic lefties and otherwise unemployable chancers. It has lost the mainstream social democratic-welfare state constituency to the Liberal party. It is and has been losing members by the thousand. All the intellectual life of Australian politics is among conservatives. The Labor party has no ideas and no sign of finding any. But our parliamentary system depends on two opposing blocs offering the electorate a clear choice about which way it wants to go. Nothing in recent election results suggests that that is changing. The Labor party may seem as dead as the DLP or the Australian Democrats or as doomed as the Greens, but it is too soon to write its obituary.
Question from audience to Heather Henderson speaking in Sydney during the week about her father Sir Robert Menzies: ‘What was your father’s greatest achievement?’ Answer: ‘Me!’ Cheers all round.Tags: iapps