WITH AN AWFUL LOT going on this week — both at home and abroad — it has been an inauspicious time to disappear for a few days; yet the Abbott government’s retreat from attempting to modify racial discrimination laws heads a litany of issues that have percolated whilst your columnist has been unwell. This morning we “do the rounds” with some brief comment on each of them, and square away the week to date in so doing.
Firstly, an apology: I think readers know that I maintain this forum in my spare time, and that whilst I am keen to aerate the conversations we have here other factors must sometimes take precedence; this week those conversations have been thwarted altogether on account of something rather nasty that found its way into (and through) our household. Nothing serious; just the perfectly logical result of having two children in childcare with the younger one experiencing (and inflicting) the “delights” of illness for the first time.
Needless to say, pushing out articles has not been my uppermost priority, and I apologise for the hiatus. But as Murphy’s Law would have it, a lot has been happening in the few days that I really haven’t been up to doing anything about it. So today’s piece is a bit of a wrap, with plenty of links, mainly because dealing comprehensively with everything would take another week to catch up. I may, however, post again this evening.
I’m starting off with a bit of indulgence this morning; regular readers know the UK is a part of the world very near and dear to my heart, and the news that London’s colourful Mayor, Boris Johnson, has announced his intention to seek re-entry to the House of Commons at next year’s general election is welcome. I am an unabashed fan of BoJo, and I think his brash vigour and energetic record as Mayor of London underline the reasons many think he would make an excellent successor to current Prime Minister David Cameron.
Should BoJo succeed in this enterprise, he will combine the role of an MP at Westminster with that of London mayor until 2016, when his term in the latter office expires.
I think there’s real cause for excitement in Australia about Johnson’s potential return to the Commons; one of the ideas he champions is freer relations between the UK and Australia, and particularly in the areas of labour exchanges and residency. There is a lot of resentment in some quarters in the UK over the flood of immigration the country experienced from Eastern European ex-Soviet satellite countries when they joined the EU; Johnson (rightly) believes Britain has much more in common with Australia than it does with Europe, and this advocate of Britain’s exit from the EU is potentially a powerful champion of Australia’s interests in the halls of power at Westminster.
Johnson’s only obstacle would appear to be finding a suitable seat to contest; his old electorate of Henley (once held by Michael Heseltine) is not available, and BoJo himself tempered his announcement of a return to the Commons with an assertion that he would “probably fail,” but it is to be hoped — in the interests of both the UK and Australia — that he doesn’t.
I saw a piece of graffiti outside a tube station in Camden a few years ago proclaiming that “Boris Rocks!” I tend to agree, and excluding any other considerations, it will be fascinating to watch for signs of leadership tension between a Prime Minister who arguably heralded limitless promise but has disappointed, and a putative Prime Minister-in-waiting whose stature has grown in the London job, but whose time at the top might or might not arrive at all.
(While we’re on the subject of the UK, for those who share my interest in the independence campaign in Scotland, it was particularly satisfying to see the separatist leader of the SNP, Alex Salmond, trounced in the key referendum debate overnight. Salmond is motivated by two things, and two things only: hatred of the English and attention to his own aggrandisement. The welfare of my native Scotland and its people — which would overwhelmingly be best served by remaining in the UK — is of little real importance to this prat in my view. Happily, the referendum appears to remain destined to go down in a landslide).
Talking of leadership tension, it seems erstwhile dinner partners Clive Palmer and Malcolm Turnbull have become, in dating parlance, a regular item, with the power couple spotted once again supping surreptitiously in Canberra this week. On a personal level I have considerable time for both of these fellows but as readers know, I will never support Malcolm for the leadership of the Liberal Party and cannot support Clive Palmer politically in any way whatsoever. I tend to think — for now — that the increasing number of dinner dates the pair is being spied at is likely to be as innocuous as Turnbull claims.
But the mutterers have made little secret that Palmer would prefer Turnbull as Prime Minister for personal reasons as much as anything, and that the Coalition would find the Senate more pliable in such an arrangement as well, the tiny matter of the electoral revolt the Coalition would suffer notwithstanding. It is something we will keep a weather eye upon.
More ominous weather seems to be brewing on Europe’s eastern flank, too, with the situation between Russia and Ukraine in the aftermath of the MH17 atrocity apparently drifting toward war, perhaps irretrievably, and toward a conflict that this column has repeatedly warned could spiral quickly and dangerously out of control. Britain’s Telegraph newspaper is reporting that Vladimir Putin has signed an oil and trade deal with Iran worth about £12 billion over five years, that if enacted will largely ameliorate any adverse effects Russia might feel from the sanctions regime currently being ratcheted up against it by the West.
Indeed, the flipside of the deal with Iran — long a military protectorate of the Russians, whose energy deal with the pariah state adds another layer of complexity to any Western response — is that Russia will now refuse to trade with any country participating in the heightened sanctions being implemented against it.
This will hurt Australia to the tune of a couple of billion dollars per year. Its effects on Europe, which has grown dangerously and ridiculously reliant on Russia for heating gas in particular, remains to be seen. But the bottom line is that Russia will be barely impeded by the “response” to the MH17 debacle that was intended to punish its complicity in the separatist forces within Ukraine, with whom it seems the most direct responsibility for the disaster lies.
In turn, that fuels worrying developments in the skirmishes and fighting that are ongoing in the region; Reuters is reporting this morning that NATO now fears a ground invasion of Ukraine, as Russia continues to mass more than 20,000 combat troops along its border with Ukraine: possibly to enable the ruse of humanitarian action as a pretext on which to ignite the direct Russia-Ukraine conflagration so many observers have feared is inevitable.
Should this eventuate, the response by the West — led by the uninspiring Barack Obama and his inflammatory Secretary of State, John Kerry — will arguably constitute the most delicate operation in diplomacy and hard power since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.
Ukraine is not a NATO country, and NATO is not bound to protect it. Yet at some point military outrages committed by Russia (or by its proxies, this time in the form of “separatist” militias) that result in the callous loss of civilian lives is going to require a response using force, the only language Russia’s leadership truly comprehends. The inevitable failure of John McCain to beat the hip, black upstart Obama in 2008 is one thing, but the failure of Mitt Romney to do so four years later might prove the costliest election mistake in US history very quickly and in the worst manner imaginable.
Romney explicitly warned that America’s greatest enemy and threat was Russia, and was roundly derided for it. If things go badly in Ukraine now, he may be proven right. If he is, the consequences could be cataclysmic. The problem with American leadership under Barack Obama is that on questions of the strategic interests of the West and the free world, there isn’t any. A Russia-Ukraine conflict, with the USA, Britain and others drawn into the storm that appears to be gathering, could literally become an unmitigated disaster.
It’s hardly any cheerier in Gaza, where Hamas and Israeli forces continue to exchange rocket fire (albeit with a ceasefire holding at time of writing): the carnage and loss of life is appalling.
But the situation in Gaza is a cause for anger, and not for the reasons the brainwashed, left-wing media seem to have successfully transposed onto a public hungry for knowledge of the situation but unable to tell a despicable ruse from the truth.
Readers know that I am stoutly supportive of Israel and a friend to the Jewish people, but that disclosure is thoroughly irrelevant to the point I make here.
Here in Australia — as elsewhere — it is a modern obsession of the Left to demonise Israel and the Jewish people; their disgusting so-called BDS campaign is an execrable monument to this obsession, and the current conflict in Gaza would appear to an increasing cohort to offer an unrebuttable point on which to hang their case, and on which to crucify Israel for good measure.
It goes without saying that the Left-wing media has done its best to fuel this drivel, and will continue to do so; the problem is that the dishonest and reprehensible misinformation over Gaza is beginning to attract support in wider communities with little knowledge or comprehension of the situation too. The gullibility of the disinterested is no excuse for the malignant propaganda of the ideologically conceited.
In the UK, a senior Tory member of David Cameron’s cabinet — Conservative Party chairman Baroness Warsi — resigned from the government yesterday over what she perceived as the British government’s unreasonably pro-Israel stance. It is not indelicate, in both the context or the circumstances, to point out that Warsi herself is Muslim, or that her case is based on the same lie that is being propagated across the world.
And that lie, very simply, is this: that Israeli forces are indiscriminately and wantonly targeting women and children in Gaza in a brutal and unwarranted attack on Palestinian interests, and that Hamas forces have no alternative than to shoot back. The entire dispute is of Israel’s doing, the story goes. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is a fascist zealot and a war criminal.
Nothing simpler. It’s emotive, catchy, and hard to argue against off the cuff.
Until, that is, someone points out that Hamas — a blacklisted and proscribed terrorist organisation in much of the world, and with good reason — uses the civilian population as human shields; when it fires its rockets, the batteries are all located close to schools, hospitals, and other public places in which the innocent congregate. The women, children and civilians killed are hit when Israel retaliates as it is entitled to do; the alternative — for Israel to capitulate — would be, as it repeatedly points out, for Israel to cease to exist altogether in fairly rapid order. There are some who might find such a development attractive. I think it’s deplorable.
And who is a champion on the world stage of the dead kids and women and other innocents on the Israeli side?
If you want to be objective, both sides are responsible for the carnage and the slaughter; both sides are killing people; both sides have their entrenched positions and their cases to argue. This is why I said my traditional support for Israel is irrelevant. If you want to arbitrarily demonise one, you must demonise both. The fairy tale of “evil Israel” in all of this is a malicious slur indeed.
Yet some don’t get it; former US President Jimmy Carter — another in a long line of utterly useless specimens inflicted on the world by the Democratic Party — has made the grotesquely crass call for Hamas to be “recognised” as a legitimate “political actor;” Carter might be pushing 90 now, but this kind of idiocy can’t simply be attributed to his dotage, consistent as it is with the kind of anti-productive rubbish he has advocated for decades.
Hamas might, theoretically, have a point. But so, too, did Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo in Rhodesia, as they embarked on armed struggle against white minority government and British colonial rule; the prevailing view of them in Britain was that they were terrorists, whatever their cause was, and their subsequent conduct in government following independence showed that view to be murderously accurate. There is no reason to believe Hamas is any different. In fact, well armed and said to be backed by Russia as well as governments elsewhere in the Middle East, Hamas is a far deadlier beast than the regime Mugabe continues to maintain.
I want to finish up with a few thoughts on the fracas over Section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act here in Australia, and the decision by Tony Abbott to abandon the government’s plans to modify these laws under the auspices of expanding the right to free speech; I think the baby has been thrown out with the bath water with this one.
Section 18c — as it stands — is, like so much of what the Left fights for these days, hardly a historic entity; it dates all the way back to the Gillard government. But it is a crucial element of the broad cultural shift the Left seeks to engineer, in that dissent from its views is not to be tolerated, and opposition to the social manifestations that cultural shift creates is to be outlawed.
In the red corner, the language has been aggressive, to say the least; every opponent of both conservative and libertarian inclination on this issue has been ruthless in painting the contest as a legitimisation of racial hatred and persecution on the part of the Right.
Their rhetoric found fertilisation in the response from the blue corner that it elicited, summed up most notably by Attorney-General George Brandis QC’s assertion that people should have the right to be bigots — but that their bigotry will be slapped down and neutralised when it reaches the “disinfectant of sunlight.”
I have known George for well over 20 years and whilst he can be pompous, priggish and unduly elitist at times, nobody who knew what they were talking about would ever describe him as a bigot.
But there you are: the Left wins, because there is too much rancour involved in continuing the fight for the other side; and far from abolishing a dangerous piece of social engineering from the Gillard years that may very well do more harm in this country than good, it survives in no small part because those who sought to abolish it approached the task with an exceedingly poor sales case for the change, and compounded even that with a belligerence of their own that more than matched the rhetoric of the Left.
The bit in the middle — a reasonable recalibration of the laws to a point somewhere between the two extremes — is lost as a consequence.
When the hardcore partisans of the Left crow smugly of their victory, seeking to rub it in the faces of Brandis and his colleagues by presenting their defeat as a victory for the united masses, it’s a sign of just how badly this particular issue has been handled by the Abbott government and by those who, for reasons far removed from the subterranean agendas of the Left, fought against it on a conviction of what was right and what was wrong.
Still, it could have been worse; as everyone in Australia knows, Gillard’s government also attempted to outlaw saying anything that merely offended people.
If we get to the point in this country where calling someone “a dickhead” is illegal because some thin-skinned clod feigns offence, I won’t be hanging around to see where the fallout lands.
But if dickheads are central to such matters, it’s no surprise Senator Conroy was so eager to stamp such “offensive” notions of expression out of existence in the first place.
And that’s it this morning. Back to our normal format — I hope! — from here onwards.