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June 13th 2014 print

Roger Franklin

If Fairfax Still Had Editors….

If Fairfax publications still employed competent professionals in senior editorial positions, globe-trotting chief correspondent Mark Kenny might well have received a note of guidance from head office -- a note just like this one

little kennyA quite remarkable analysis of Tony Abbott’s overseas trip has appeared in The Age and SMH beneath the byline of Mark Kenny (left), those newspapers’ chief political correspondent and a man who, going by his latest effort, seems incapable of regarding the Prime Minister as anything more than a doctrinaire Catholic.

No doubt this is a popular perspective in Fairfax newsrooms, where simple minds like simple labels, but readers — former readers, to be more accurate — can only wish that the company had retained just one solitary editor with some claim to competence. That custodian of the spike and wielder of the blue pencil would be a person of the left, of course, as Fairfax will tolerate no other variety on its premises, but he might also have taken his star reporter to task for today’s column.

His note might have read something like the missive below. Kenny’s column is indented and in italics, the longed-for editor’s comments are in bold.

Dear Mark, you write:

In his current guise as Prime Minister, Tony Abbott sometimes channels the “Father” Tony he might-have-been as a religious minister.

Jet-lagged are you, mate? “Guise” typically means “concealing the true nature”. So are you trying to say Abbott isn’t Prime Minister? I know none of our remaining readers voted for him, but he really is PM. You’ll need to re-write this.

This is no bad thing. At the very least, it proves that there is a real person in there too – and one with a pretty uncommon back-story.

You and I and our readers know Abbott isn’t “a real person” — that he’s the puppet of Gina Rinehart, Rupert Murdoch and the Vatican — but we still have to go through the motions of presenting the news with a seemingly straight bat. That phrase gives our game away. You’ll need to re-write this

Attending commemorations on D-Day’s 70th anniversary and the 100th anniversary of WWI, Abbott’s pastoral humanity shone through. He visited memorial after memorial, cemetery after cemetery, marking the final resting places of countless thousands of soldiers killed in battles long-since concluded. And he listened with warmth and understanding to veterans of those terrible times in Normandy – noting that they were ordinary people called to confront unspeakable “evils”.

Are you trying to say that, if Abbott had not enrolled in a seminary, he wouldn’t have visited memorials and laid wreaths on the leg of a trip specifically intended to mark anniversaries of great military undertakings?

Also, when you put  “evils” in quotes you imply someone who was never a seminarian would have used another word. How, may I ask you, do you characterise the firebombing of Dresden, the Hiroshima and Nagasaki A-bombs, and the terror homicidal GI Eddie Leonski unleashed on Melbourne? The Germans and Japanese also got a bit out line, so you should make brief mention of them as well. You’ll need to re-write this.

That Abbott felt the pathos deeply on these occasions was beyond question to anyone witnessing his comportment up-close. Echoes of his past life as a seminarian show up in his words too which often reflect the lexicon of the Jesuits who trained him. Remember how he used to call on Julia Gillard to “repent” on the carbon tax?

If his use of “repent” references the seminary days and Jesuit training, then I have a strong idea for your next in-depth, expert-on-politics think piece: You can reveal that Mark Latham has become a secret Muslim fundamentalist because he repeatedly insisted Kevin Rudd was running “a jihad” against Julia.Obvious, really. You’ll need to re-write this.

In his subsequent swing through Canada and the US, it has been evident again but this time, in terms of his approach to politics, which in Abbott’s dichotomous world view tends to comprise good and bad, or right and left. Ostensibly, the goal of the trip was to break bread with the most powerful figures in the world. Less obviously, it was to bear witness to Abbott’s own political touchstones.

This paragraph is almost good enough to stand, thanks to your use of “dichotomous” and the fact that you posit Abbott’s perspective as being “good and bad, or right and left”.  Most of our remaining readers have arts degrees, so coming across “dichotomous” will make them feel special as they wait for their Centrelink appointments. Some may even know what the word means! As for that outdated appreciation of what is “good” and what is bad “bad”, who is to say? Remember, we are no longer in the news business. These days it’s the nuance business.

Missing however is the cogent narrative which so effectively framed his successful North Asia tour of Tokyo, Seoul, and Beijing recently. Then, it was all about free trade agreements, and about Abbott’s diplomatic skills in reconciling Australia’s economic and strategic interests with the boiling rivalries of that region.

Are you sure you want to say something positive about Abbott? Haven’t you heard about columnist Clementine Ford’s “[email protected]#$ Abbott” T-shirts, the ones Fairfax helped promote? Do you really want Clem coming down on you like a tonne of bricks? You’ll need to re-write this.

The Canadian stop-over en route to Washington was one such touchstone but it only served to fuel a perception that this trip is about nothing but flowery words and colourful picture opportunities. The real reason for the Canadian visit lay in what Abbott refers to privately and (half) jokingly as “apostolic succession” – the process of handing down power to ensure an unbroken lineage of papal authority.

If you want to use “the real reason for the Canadian visit” then you really should provide a quote or document or something that backs up your assertion. I know we’re very post-modern at Fairfax, and that all truths are subjective, but, as I noted earlier, we can’t give the game away by not going through the motions. You’ll need to re-write this.

As to “apostolic succession” I really should cut that reference altogether because it is not just an Abbott thing. Barry Jones has used the term to describe successive governor-generals. The Member for Blair, good Labor man Shayne Neumann used it in Parliament to attack the Coalition and the Howard legacy.  Even the SMH classical music critic has used it in regard to composers. It is so far from being an original turn of phrase it has even been invoked by one of the most leaden writers at The Drum!  

In 2005, Abbott met Stephen Harper in Australia and was instantly impressed. Harper at the time was Canada’s opposition leader and was not expected to go much further. He was in Australia to seek counsel from John Howard, a near 10-year prime minister leading what Abbott likes to describe these days as a successful centre-right government.

The bit about Harper not being “expected to go much further” could not be more wrong. I just checked Google – why didn’t you do that, by the way? – and Harper was miles ahead in the polls. Check out my cut-and-paste below, and if you still don’t believe me go to the source.

canada poll 2005

Scroll forward almost a decade and the roles are reversed. It is Abbott the novice member of the conservative club, calling on the Canadian, a successful long-term conservative, seeking a quasi-papal “laying on of hands”. As politicians hailing from the conservative wings of their already conservative parties, Harper and Abbott are natural soulmates, as are their countries.

So, you’re claiming Harper is the pope of a global conservative movement? Hmmmm. Bit of a stretch, mate. You’ll need to re-write this.

“We are multicultural resource-driven federations,” he said in Ottawa. “No two countries on earth are so similar. No two countries on earth are more like-minded.” In the context of the renewed carbon price debate, the reference to being “resource driven” was no accident and would not have been seen as such in Washington.

Where Beijing respected Abbott’s strength of purpose and his unvarnished honesty in declaring a closeness to Tokyo just days before visiting China, the Australian’s garish solidarity with Canada risked being seen as something else: a bit of impolite political gamesmanship just days before being received for a White House visit.

With the Obama administration now aggressively pursuing climate change policy and hoping for a new globally sanctioned pricing system, Abbott’s allegiance with the anti-carbon price Harper is a clear statement of intent. It suggests Abbott regards Obama as a lame duck whose final years are less important.

Mate, I really admire how your dispatches help to fit Abbott into the mould we’ve been building for his image here at Fairfax, but you can’t just drop bald assertions all over the shop and hope they land in the right places.

Think about it: Obama has to deal with Iraq falling to pieces, Congress is in Republican hands and he has no more chance of seeing anything come of his push to crimp carbon and coal use than he does of being nominated as the next Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. I hate to say this because Obama is black and on the left, and therefore our kind of bloke, but if Abbott really regards Obama as nothing but “a lame duck” then he is on the money and you aren’t.

In any case, as Quadrant contributor Des Moore notes in the Letters column of today’s Age, US industry is already transitioning to cleaner natural gas, so Obama’s anti-coal crusade is really no more than posturing. We need not explain this to our readers, as it would upset them, but we should keep it in mind. You’ll need to re-write this.

 

It is a message directed to the UN too which is now trying to get international climate action back on the agenda. That came up explicitly in Abbott’s Tuesday meeting with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who wants Australia to commit to attending a special meeting on the day before the general assembly in September.

What the UN chief got from Abbott was evident from the official ‘read-out’ issued by the two: “The UN Secretary-General spoke about the forthcoming climate summit that he will host in September. The Prime Minister agreed that it was important for every country to play its part in reducing emissions, and the importance of doing so in ways that did not undermine economic development, which was so vital for global growth and prosperity.”

In other words, nothing. Soothing words of solidarity contradicted by a firm determination to do nothing internationally.

Abbott couldn’t do anything “internationally” because he is only the leader of Australia and pursuing his own policies, evil initiatives that they are. (How could he have put Tim Flannery out of a job like that? The man’s inhumanity is boundless.) Given that Abbott has been bellicose in opposing a domestic carbon tax, why would anyone imagine he might join a UN push to introduce one worldwide? You’ll need to re-write this.

Abbott’s humorous depiction of his audience with Harper is not to be taken literally. But it is telling that his deification of the Canadian as the leader of the centre-right club has so obviously rivalled the status accorded to Washington.

This is Abbott’s secular religion. No doubt he hopes one day to be laying on hands himself anointing some as-yet-unidentified rising star of the centre-right.

Good work here, resurrecting the theme of your opening paragraphs. (and pardon me for using “resurrect”; I’m not really religious, as you know, so don’t be thinking the Jesuits nobbled my mind as they did Abbott’s.)

Oh, and one final suggestion: Can you slip in a mention of Catholic sex abuse? No need to mention any other denomination’s kiddie fiddlers, or lewd scoutmasters, or kids abused while in state-supervised care. We have standards at Fairfax. Our readers will appreciate that reference. It will cheer them up on the way home from Centrelink.

 

Jesuit-educated Roger Franklin is the editor of Quadrant Online