It is a truth universally acknowledged that an Australian Prime Minister faced with a coming election must discover Asia. They have all done it, with varying degrees of conviction. John Gorton had some difficulty with the concept and, when asked what he thought of the general SEATO situation, replied: ‘Who is General Sito?’ We were convinced that Billy McMahon had a jinx on him when he savaged Whitlam for going to China, only to find that Kissinger was there and Nixon was on the way. Rudd boosted our stock in Asia because he could speak Mandarin, but apparently not English. Ms Gillard needed a committee of experts to find it, which it did last week, with a report of 350 pages to prove it. Poor Asia; it seems to have been pressed into service to within an inch of its life. The understanding this time seems to be that this latest discovery of Asia is going to save the government because it shows at long last that it has a narrative, which has replaced what governments were previously supposed to have, namely vision. For my part I have always been opposed to ‘vision’ as it never improves anything, makes a lot of things worse and, generally, I end up paying for it. I suspect that ‘narrative’ will go the same way.
This time, the discovery of Asia has an added burden to bear in that the only feature that seems to have taken hold in the public mind is that our youngsters are going to learn Hindi. Reflecting on this proposal, I have been thinking, first, how absurd it is to think that any Australian will be able to get anywhere in that language beyond, perhaps, a handful of us being able to say, if pressed: ‘The curry pot of my aunt is on the table of my uncle.’ No doubt this will be very useful when we are selling uranium to India and have to deal with businessmen who went to Oxford or Harvard. Second, it has all the hallmarks, not only of a government plucking increasingly ludicrous reforms from nowhere, but, as is the case with all left-wing governments, doing so with an authoritarian air. Ms Gillard could say that she had ‘identified’ a need for us to learn Hindi; you, dear reader, could not identify this new truth, but she and her committee could. Third, if we really want to help the masses of India — and I hope we do — we would be better advised to set up a program to teach them English, the language of the internet. How ironic that we are putting our future in hock to the tune of billions of dollars with the NBN, which will entrench English as the international language, and yet we are being diverted by politicians’ silly hobbies like teaching schoolboy Hindi. What next? Upper Urdu?
A few weeks ago, I decided to swallow my pride and have the Age delivered again. My motives were twofold: to see the death notices more regularly and to assess if there was any hope of redemption for this once great newspaper. Alas, I was disappointed on both scores. The traditional Age-reading class no longer bothers putting a notice in the Age when the grim reaper calls for a family member — and who can blame them, when so few people will see it? Moreover, while the traditional death notice is disappearing from the Age, over at the Herald-Sun, the columns are bulging with birth notices; that should tell us a lot about the future of these two papers. As to whether there is any hope for the Age, I doubt it. You might think this is just Schadenfreude, and it is true that I do not like the paper’s left-wing tone, but it is sad to find the paper decaying before our eyes and becoming less relevant by the day. The bizarre thing about the left-wing tone is that it appeals to a small and, I think, diminishing band of followers, yet there is a definite policy of appealing to them while ignoring every other shade of opinion. Meanwhile, the circulation continues to decline. There is less hard news, and it is now really a lifestyle magazine, rather than a newspaper. The grammar and spelling are appalling and there is no evident sub-editing, as this is now contracted out. Fairfax sharehowlders must be appalled as their fortune evaporates. Surely it is time for a public-spirited group of Melburnians to get together and save the Age — from itself.
The refugee saga goes on and we are now getting a clearer picture of the havoc being wreaked by government policies. In the meantime, one of the achievements of the refugee-lawyer mafia is its success in promoting the myth that refugees have a legal right to come here and that we can do nothing about it. This has always seemed to me so unlikely a proposition that I have been studying the Refugee Convention to see what it actually says. It says nothing remotely like what is claimed for it. It contains one clause with the heading: ‘Refugees Unlawfully in the Country of Refuge’. So, how, you may ask, can they all be here lawfully? There is also a prohibition on expelling refugees, but only if they, too, are here ‘lawfully’; even then, they can be expelled on the grounds of keeping public order, which makes you wonder why those staging riots in the past have been allowed to stay. There is also a right to movement and travel documents, but only for refugees who are here ‘lawfully’; clearly, some may be here unlawfully. There is also, incidentally, a duty on refugees to obey the law, and I wonder if that will be enforced. So, the Convention is a very different document from the one we are always being told it is.