Being original about the slow-moving train wreck of the Gillard government is becoming increasingly difficult. But a few novel points seem to be emerging. First, unsavoury personalised attacks of the sort we have seen hurled at Tony Abbott appal the people and are counterproductive, especially when they are false. Second, it is unfathomable stupidity to set an election date so far ahead; people interviewed today for a public opinion poll now imagine they are voting today, or virtually today, and we see the result. Third, it is equally foolish to plant in the minds of the voters that you are hatching a plot to undermine their superannuation, the foundation of security and predictability in their lives. Finally, leaders should never show they are desperate; but the bizarre plan for Ms Gillard to decamp to Rooty Hill for a week of pressing flesh with the common folk is desperation personified. Whitlam mercilessly lampooned Billy McMahon as ‘Tiberius on the Telephone’ as he ruled the nation from his resort on Capri. Somehow, ‘Julia on Twitter from Rooty Hill’ does not have the same cachet.
There was something faintly ridiculous about the coverage of the Australian Workers’ Union conference last week. There they were, grown men, lined up in their black shirts, clenching their fists in mock revolutionary gestures while they sang ‘Solidarity Forever’ and grappled with really important issues for workers like democracy in Fiji. It was pretty much like being on the barricades in Les Misérables, but not as photogenic. If you want the details, they have put a video on their website of the whole show. With only 700 hits, it did not pose a challenge to the Oscars. Some of the speakers were an odd choice, I thought, like the lady from the metalworkers’ union in Sweden. No doubt she was there to show how well Europe is performing, particularly Sweden with its 8.1 per cent unemployment rate. But it was really what was left out that annoyed me and would have annoyed me more had I been a member of the AWU. Here after all, as the guest of honour, was their former solicitor, her skills finely honed in the counting house at Slater & Gordon while she set up the notorious AWU slush fund. What a wonderful opportunity it was to ask her, ‘How come you were so naïve you did not know the scoundrels you dealt with were stealing our hard-earned money? How come you watched them buy that bijou house in Collingwood? Where is our money? What are you doing to get it back?’ But no. The solidarity has extended to solid silence on the real rights of workers. If the AWU wants to do something of lasting significance, it might consider supporting the opposition’s plans for putting unions under the same laws as companies and my idea of creating a class action for workers to sue the slush fund crooks who steal their money and the lawyers who set up the machinery that enabled them to do it.
I do not want to get into an argument about the pros and cons of abortion. But I am interested in the changing attitude to the subject and, in particular, how it has been matched by a parallel change in the attitude to animals of the non-human kind. We have lived through three stages of public attitude to abortion. First, there was the period when it was illegal, prosecuted and punished. But we all knew this gave rise to hard cases and unsavoury consequences. Then we went through a stage when we cushioned these harsh results by implementing the Menhennitt ruling which justified abortion when the physical or mental health of the woman was at risk. That was then extended in NSW to an ‘economic, social or medical ground’. Finally, the law against abortion was repealed and it is now legal, provided you can get over the low threshold of ‘physical, psychological and social circumstances’ that make abortion ‘appropriate’. The consequence of this development is that abortion has now become a so-called right, referred to as a reproductive right. Clearly, if you have a right to abortion, the innocent victim of the process has no right to stop you. Our attitude to animals has also changed, but in the opposite direction. As the life of humans has been devalued to whether it is ‘appropriate’ that they should live, the life of animals has been so elevated as to become virtually sacrosanct. This is not limited to the lovable whale and the gamboling porpoise. It is equally true if the animal is a known killer of human beings. When we have the tragedy of a small boy’s death from contact with a bat, a surfer taken by a shark or a swimmer dragged away by a crocodile, the progressive lobby springs into action to save the animal, even if we know it has killed a human being. At the same time, the diminished view of human life has become an approved and official belief, with which no one dare disagree. I just think it very curious and very sad.
I knew Zero Dark Thirty would not win the Oscar for best picture. It contained too much that Hollywood despises: the victory it represented, its pursuit of the war on terror that George Bush started and, after all, you could not give best picture to a movie that showed our side torturing those nice Arab terrorists. Argo showed American success, but that was alright because it was a real lark setting up a phony Hollywood movie as the cover for the escape of the hostages, it depended on the Canadians for success and there was no torture. But Zero Dark Thirty showed the ugly side of what has to be done in a war if you want to win against really evil opponents.