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September 02nd 2011 print

James Allan

Samuel Griffith in Brownsville

Where else but the home of Bob Brown could you be in a cab on your way into town from the airport and glance over at a billboard enjoining you to ‘Celebrate Threatened Species Day’?

This is my fifth trip to Hobart and Tasmania in my six years living here in Australia. I’m flying down to this wonderfully beautiful State to speak at the annual Samuel Griffith Society conference, a get together of that rather rare species in Australia, the committed federalist.

And speaking of rarities, where else but the home of Bob Brown could you be in a cab on your way into town from the airport and glance over at a billboard enjoining you to ‘Celebrate Threatened Species Day’? As vacuous bumper sticker moralising goes, this is a pretty good specimen. You see it’s not really asking you to do anything to make the world better – we’d hardly want to celebrate the loss of another few species.

No, what you’re really being invited to do is to celebrate your own higher, elevated sensibilities. Just feel good about yourself, advertise those supposedly better tuned moral antennae of yours, and you can ignore all the messy cost-benefit analyses and difficult choices necessary in the real world. It’s all about you, you see, and your own moral worthiness.

As I said, you can’t say ‘Home of the Greens’ any better than that.

Another rarity found in Hobart is a real tennis court, the oldest one in Australia. I wandered in to take a look and what you see is something that would have looked familiar to Henry VIII himself. There’s the sloped left hand wall. There are the wooden racquets. There are the hand-made balls that have little bounce in them. There is the complicated scoring system. There are the players constantly changing ends.

I loved it. Alas, you can only find these real tennis courts in Hobart and Melbourne. So the rest of us are consigned to having to play the modern game. As for watching on TV, I confess I’m pretty much sick to death of the grunting, moaning, shrieking, statuesque divas who play today’s rather boring, no serve-and-volley variety of tennis (and I don’t just mean the women).

One of the sessions at the conference is on the Victorian Charter of Rights. This has been a fairly major sideline of mine since arriving in this country, so it was a relief to be speaking on something else altogether this weekend. I got to just listen and to marvel at the way this topic brings together opponents of these anti-democratic instruments from across the political divide. You have a cohort of ex-premiers there from both sides of politics; there’s a former High Court Justice; there are academics; and plain out lots of smart, well-read people who see these Charters of Rights for what they are, devices that take power away from the voters and give it to committees of ex-lawyers, otherwise known as judges.

And we’re supposed to be surprised that most lawyers support the Victorian Charter of Rights. As John Cleese was wont to say, ‘that’s high praise indeed’. All we await now is whether the new Victorian premier has the cojones to repeal this monstrosity. The informal betting seemed to be running at 50-50.

I fly back the way I came on Virgin. I don’t know about you but I can’t stomach the Qantas pilots telling the passengers mid-flight, in rather a round-about way, how hard done by they are by management. Some of these pilots are amongst the best paid going. In that sense they too are rarities, they just don’t seem to know it.

And then it’s back to Brisbane where I almost immediately see the news that the polls for the upcoming Queensland State election due by next March show the two party tally to be 63-37. No prizes for guessing which side is languishing there. In fact the State Labor party is in with a chance to do worse than its confreres recently did in New South Wales.

I suppose you could say that Labor in Queensland is becoming a threatened species. If I might ever so slightly rework the words of the great man himself, ‘there are more threatened species in heaven and earth, Bob Brown, than are dreamt of in your philosophy’.