The great breakthrough in Rebecca Weisser’s life has been the invention of fire. It’s not easy living in a darkened cave while editing the Australian’s opinion page and Cut and Paste — although given the anonymity of the latter, cave life is not without its advantages.
At Rebecca’s place, deep in the Cro-Magnon rock formations which so neatly match her ideology, Weisser and her colleagues have been burning the midnight flint in pursuit of the latest Bruce allegations against the Prime Minister. I spoke to the cavewoman about this in August and, not surprisingly, her thinking was primitive — a case of monkey-see-monkey-do.
‘Craig Thomson and Michael Williamson want their matters to go away,’ she grunted, ‘so Gillard doesn’t want us to investigate her time at Slater & Gordon — it’s all part of the same problem.’ This is the warped logic the Australian applies to its coverage of the Prime Minister: Thomson and Williamson are guilty, therefore Gillard, as the leader of the Labor movement, must also be guilty. It has nothing to with facts, just political prejudice.
As part of the moral decline of Australian conservatism, the paper’s star witness is former AWU official Ralph Blewitt, a shady character who fled Indonesia in 2009 to avoid arrest after allegedly selling Australian expatriates land he did not own. He is willing to co-operate with the authorities, provided he is granted immunity from criminal prosecution.
The Australian’s reporting of the Slater & Gordon allegations has been error-prone. To give one example: on 3 September, legal affairs editor Chris Merritt argued that if Gillard had tried to register the AWU Workplace Reform Association as a fundraising body for union elections, it would not have passed muster under the Western Australian Associations Incorporation Act 1987. This is despite the fact that the entity was successfully registered in 1992 for a range of workplace functions, and that the act allows associations to be established for ‘political purposes’.
When I asked the Associations and Charities Branch of the WA Department of Commerce about fundraising for union elections, I was told ‘there should not be a prohibition on that’. I also asked if this was a valid opinion going back to 1992, thereby allowing for subsequent legislative amendments. The officials answered, ‘Yes’. In short, the Australian’s legal affairs editor knows nothing about this law.
Strangely, the advocates of freedom of speech on the conservative side of politics have been silent on the axing of David Penberthy from the Steve Price/Andrew Bolt program at Radio 2GB. As Penberthy noted on 10 October:
Just over an hour ago I got a call from 2GB saying that I am no longer welcome on the network. The reason: [my] column from last Tuesday which was critical of Alan Jones.
For the Tories, this is a case of inverted justice: anything Jones says about the Prime Minister is defensible, while those who criticise Jones are dispensable. As a matter of principle, Bolt should boycott 2GB until such time as Penberthy is reinstated. Or did the suppression of free speech only matter when it applied to him in last year’s Federal Court case?
The next time The Spectator Australia updates its list of Australian political insults, a bullet entry must be set aside for the Liberal party’s founder. We now know that in January 1976, Bob Menzies sent material to John Kerr calling Gough Whitlam ‘a kind of Hitler’. He also described Whitlam’s 1975 campaign launch as ‘like a Nuremberg rally’. Hitler pursued genocide against the Jews. Whitlam was a lifetime supporter of human rights and racial tolerance. The notion that Menzian Liberals are a bunch of polite petals swaying harmlessly at the bottom of the rose garden has been exposed, yet again, as nonsense.
One of the great transformations in Western society in recent decades has been the rise of celebrity culture. Airheads like Paris Hilton and Kevin Rudd delight in tweeting their every move and innermost thoughts, sacrificing their privacy on the altar of notoriety. Regrettably, people who refuse to participate in the cult of celebrity are labelled ‘recluses’ by the media.
Even though he led an active and community-minded life after leaving the Apollo space program, Neil Armstrong suffered from this vilification. On the morning of the Washington memorial service honouring Armstrong’s life on 13 September, Michael Collins wrote passionately in defence of his Apollo 11 commander:
By holding to his lifelong yardsticks of honesty, humility and grace, Neil did more than any salesman or huckster [to promote the space program] … If he was a recluse, our nation needs more of them – people who don’t seek the limelight but who can live competently in its glare, people who are the antithesis of some of today’s empty-headed celebrities.
Four days earlier, in its obituary of the British entertainer-cum-Gold Coast retiree Max Bygraves, the New York Times told a story which perfectly captures the ephemeral nature of fame. By the late 1990s, Bygraves’ stage legend had faded. However, when he saw an advertisement for a Max Bygraves impersonation contest, he cheekily entered. He performed his old comedy routine, reviving his best gags and ditties in front of the judges. He finished fifth.