It was a source of amused frustration for the late cartoonist Bill Leak that no matter what he did to satirise Triggs in The Australian, the AHRC president would inevitably respond by doing something even more absurd that made Bill’s art seem timid and understated by comparison
Australian Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs is due to step down from her role in June. (We pause at this point until the cheering subsides.) Many wonder what she might do next. Conservatives worry that Triggs will find another tax-funded sinecure and from there continue her jihad against civility and reason.
Yet there may be a role for the ridiculous woman that satisfies both conservatives and Triggs’s adoring followers—a role that at once allows both groups to feel that they have emerged triumphant from the long-running Battle of Gillian. Personally, I’d leave her in charge of the AHRC. (We pause while Quadrant editorial authorities complete mandatory drug and alcohol testing.) Please, people, hear me out. Triggs is a wonderful resource and a brilliant national asset as AHRC boss, and should be allowed to remain in that role for as long as she wishes.
This isn’t because she’s doing a good job. Far from it. Rather, it’s because the longer Triggs remains, the shorter will be the life of the AHRC. No other individual has done nearly so much damage to the AHRC as its present leader. She is diesel in the AHRC’s petrol tank. She is a bull put in charge of a nationwide chain of china shops. She is the very entity conservatives should crave as AHRC president: a credibility-erasing, mockery-attracting, comedy-causing agent of complete, beautiful destruction.
It was a source of amused frustration for the late cartoonist Bill Leak that no matter what he did to satirise Triggs in the Australian, the AHRC president would inevitably respond by doing something even more absurd that made Bill’s art seem timid and understated by comparison. Bill would depict her goose-stepping through a crowd of racial caricatures and asking: “Anyone here been stereotyped and speaks English?” Triggs would come back with another fantastically evasive Senate appearance. Bill’s drawing of Triggs as a star-chamber judge would be followed by Triggs actually behaving even more like a star-chamber judge. It was almost as though they were in competition, but as team-mates aiming for the same outcome—the AHRC’s collapse.
On points, you’d have to give the win for greater laughs to Gillian. During Bill’s final television interview, on Andrew Bolt’s Sky News show, you can see him appearing absolutely mystified over a demand from Triggs that Leak apologise in writing for claiming Triggs had misled the Senate. I’d wager that a large part of Bill’s confusion wasn’t simply due to the blatant white-is-black, up-is-down, reality-denying nature of that demand, but also because Triggs was working on a comedic level that not even a great student and exponent of satire like Bill could approach. As performance art, Triggs’s five-year term has been utterly sensational.
Impressively, Triggs has maintained her haughty, superior demeanour throughout. She’s kind of like a cross between a nineteenth-century monarch and the aristocratic dowagers Margaret Dumont played in Marx Brothers movies. (We pause now as readers dial up YouTube clips of Dumont in Animal Crackers and A Night at the Opera.)
She has never once broken character, which is crucial when you’re a straight act in a comic structure. One hint to the audience that Triggs was in on the gag and the entire conceptual edifice would collapse. My, but she must have come close to cracking during her celebrated 2016 Saturday Paper interview, which remains a tour de force of self-aggrandising lunacy. Let’s run through some highlights:
“I was unprepared for dealing with senior political figures with no education whatsoever about international law.”
“A shocking phenomenon is Australians don’t even understand their own democratic system. They are quite content to have parliament be complicit with passing legislation to strengthen the powers of the executive and to exclude the courts. They have no idea of the separation of powers and the excessive overreach of executive government.”
“One can be astonished at the very simplistic level at which I need to speak. Our parliamentarians are usually seriously ill-informed and uneducated.”
“I am quite articulate and I can be very strong if I need to be.”
“My resilience and determination and experience for a long time in the law give me the determination to get through the remaining fifteen months to continue to speak out. When you see that you are being bullied by people who you know are not coming from a good place, you know you don’t have to give in to them. They are cowards and the moment you stand up to them they crumble, and they did crumble.”
(We pause again to recall that Triggs subsequently told the Senate certain lines in her interview were “put in by a sub-editor”. Then she—what’s the word?—crumbled, admitting to the Australian: “Upon further reflection I accept that the article was an accurate excerpt from a longer interview.”)
Just as well Triggs has Race Discrimination Commissioner Dr Tim Soutphommasane in a crucial $300,000 supporting role. Soutphommasane is Jackie Wright to Triggs’s Benny Hill. He’s a blundering sidekick attempting to mimic his boss’s dictatorial style. During his own Senate testimony last year, Soutphommasane defined the AHRC’s Bill Leak witch-hunt as an orderly matter of civil chat: “Cartoons will be subject to all matter of public debate. It’s a healthy part of our democracy that we have that debate.”
This is where the laughter fades. Bill Leak’s son, Johannes, does not believe that the AHRC’s pursuit of his father caused Bill’s death. But he is justifiably furious that the AHRC’s demented quest stole from Bill’s family much of what turned out to be the great cartoonist’s final year.
Bill Leak did not endure a “healthy debate”. Instead he suffered a toxic wave of tax-funded censorious hostility, requiring substantial time-consuming responses. He was battered by people who believed, to use Triggs’s phrase, that he did not come “from a good place”.
So I say we leave Triggs in a bad place—the AHRC. Leave her there until the wretched thing lies in ruins. Leave her there until those who stand for freedom can speak their mind without fear of personal destruction. Leave her there until Australia is liberated.
Tim Blair’s column appears monthly in Quadrant.
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IN FORMER Liberal federal director Andrew Robb’s otherwise entirely rational review of his party’s 2016 election performance, one peculiar recommendation stood out. The review recommended that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and other senior Liberals be exposed to an “interactive research program” to “help build an intuitive vision and narrative which properly takes account of diverse community sentiment”. Consider the notion of building “an intuitive vision”. Key word: intuitive. It sounds very much as though Robb is calling for some form of classes to teach … intuition.
Leave aside the evident horror of anyone being compelled to undertake an “interactive research program”. We’ve all been there, us corporate and management types. We’ve all suffered the humiliation and degradation, and fled as soon as we could to whatever bar was still open. Some of us weep with the memories still.
Repress those horrible recollections. Instead, concentrate on the interactive research program’s aim: to “help build an intuitive vision”. By definition, intuition is not something that can be built or taught. People are either intuitive or they are not. They either have an idea about what others may think or they are Fairfax editors. Intuition is not a teachable subject. You may as well try teaching genius. It doesn’t work that way.
Now concentrate on the even greater complexity of teaching intuition to someone like Turnbull, who doesn’t have any intuition to begin with. It’ll be like instructing an earthworm on aerodynamics. There isn’t even a baseline of understanding sufficient to begin the course. An earthworm knows precisely as much about force vectors as Turnbull does about average Australians and their aspirations.
Turnbull was said to have been “calm” when these recommendations were presented during a Liberal Party federal executive meeting in Sydney. That’s possibly because he lacks the intuitive awareness of how utterly impossible implementing Robb’s recommendations will be.
The likes of John Howard, Bob Hawke and—to a lesser extent as his political career continued—Paul Keating needed no intuition instruction. They were easily capable of reading the electorate’s mood. In Howard’s case, he was even capable of anticipating it. In 1986, a full decade before he came to power, Howard gazed forward and declared: “The times will suit me.”
He was right, as his decade-plus in power proved. By terrible comparison, we now have Turnbull. The times suited him for about six weeks until everybody worked him out—again, just as they worked him out when led the Coalition in opposition. He’s now as adrift as Prime Minister as he was in his fight against then-PM Kevin Rudd, whose only scalp as national leader besides dozens of traumatised office flunkeys was … Malcolm Turnbull.
Yet here’s a tougher task still than Turnbull acquiring intuition. Imagine being the doomed individual trying to teach him. This might be the most difficult educational assignment since a school athletics coach in the 1970s scrolled through his list of enrollees and saw my name. It was a very long year for that poor bloke, I can tell you. Perhaps he’s still around to help Turnbull with another unachievable aim.
Tim Blair is a columnist with Sydney’s Daily Telegraph.