Making Australia Right will be launched in Sydney on February 23 by Tony Abbott.
Making Australia Right assembles a variety of views on how the right side of politics might get back on track – a pressing cause for those who do not think that acting as the pale imitation of Labor is the ordained path for Australian conservatives. Below is one contribution to Making Australia Right, which can be ordered here
If you would like to attend the launch, send an email to ConnorCourt at firstname.lastname@example.org
The ABCs of a Conservative’s Anger at the Liberal Party
by Roger Franklin
Late one evening toward the end of August, 2016, after a galling day and in no mood to put up with further irritation, I turned on the telly to be confronted by the alarming spectacle of two young and naked men copulating with each other and, simultaneously, a chimpanzee. The ABC’s costumers – it was an ABC show, of course it was – had done a fine job with the chimp, for it took a long and hard second look to be assured it was actually some small sort of person suited-up in simian drag. What they were up to atop a rock in the bush – not to mention in the corner of my living room — was immediately evident from the tangle of limbs, all hairy to one degree or another and writhing in a ball of ostentatious carnal intent. That it was a scene from a comedy production was somewhat harder to discern, as fusty tradition endorses the notion that alleged vehicles for wit and mirth should prompt at least a grin, perhaps even the odd giggle.
What became apparent as further scenes unfolded was that humour in and of itself could never have been the scriptwriters’ intent. This particular programme, a hip-dude local production billed as Soul Mates, sought to shock and nothing more. The skits were jarring, crass and pointlessly so, cartoonishly surreal and, of course, larded with random obscenities because, once again, this was an ABC production. The very idea that it was being broadcast at all, let alone underwritten by Australia’s taxpayers, well that must have been the joke – if a slap to the face can ever be described as a joke.
And a slap it was, delivered from a position of arrogant, unassailable authority. Free from fear and possibility of being called to account, someone at the national broadcaster had made the risk-free decision to put Soul Mates on the production schedule. Someone must have thought there was a point to it. But as the show eschewed humour in any recognised form, what could possibly have been perceived as its worth? Why, you can almost hear the pitch:
“And we’ll have these naked gay guys in a menage a trois with a monkey. How ’bout that!”
“Wow! That will shock the squares.”
Normally at such moments, weary from a day’s work at Quadrant Online, which it is my privilege to edit, and confronted yet again by another of the ABC’s innovative interpretations of the “quality programming” its Charter demands, the reaction to such a spectacle would be to roll the eyes and reach for the channel-changer, all the while wondering yet again why a government-run but decidedly unsupervised broadcaster is needed at all. A broad sampling of alternate fare scrolled past as the screen surfed through terrestrial and cable offerings, and there was NetFlix as well if I could have been bothered hooking up the computer. On any other night it would have been a cinch to find something diverting on an alternate station or network, and so it might have been on that evening also. But it had been a vexing few days, as I said, with circumstances conspiring to produce a prickly dyspepsia in regard to, well, pretty much everything. Two chaps and their love-slave chimp brought that amorphous disquiet suddenly into the sharpest focus. With something akin to a masochist’s perverse delight in being insulted and demeaned, I returned to Soul Mates.
Neither clever nor funny and most definitely not in accord with its Charter, how had the ABC come to air this sophomoric assault on good taste? The answer is simple: because it could do so without fear of recrimination and with utter disregard for the inevitable objections. Not so long ago another alleged comedy show depicted a conservative columnist in flagrante delicto with a dog. No one was fired, despite the incident resulting in a belated apology and substantial pay-out; indeed the program’s producers have kept right on landing contracts to churn out more of the only slightly less offensive same. Chimp-buggering and dog-bothering — this is what we get, I thought, after decades of ceding our public institutions and instrumentalities to a small, tight class consisting entirely of the insistently and incestuously self-pleasuring. We pay, they play — and don’t for a moment kid yourself that the slightest attention will ever be paid to public outrage, no matter how heated or widespread.
At that moment disgust took charge – disgust with the ABC certainly, but more than that, disgust with conservatives for our supine acceptance of the left’s control of budgets, culture and the public pulpit.
And it isn’t just the ABC. We grumble and tell each other how wicked it is that a race commissioner pimps for public complaints in order harass a newspaper cartoonist who has dared to address a theme he would prefer to see left unexplored, but we do nothing to demand reform or, better yet, to scuttle the Human Rights Commission’s crew of hacks, liars and business-class jet-abouts. And sure, we notice TV ads depicting domestic violence as the sole province of white men and boys, and we share the truth amongst ourselves that if you lay the census maps charting Indigenous populations on top of those for regional crime, the overlap would make it impossible not to conclude that domestic violence is overwhelmingly an Aboriginal vice. Yet we do nothing (except mutter and grumble) while the producers of such ads feather their nests with the next grant, the next production contract, the next job lot of appointments for mates and mentors.
Let me further explain my anger on that Night of the Amorous Ape by re-winding to the previous day’s beginning, when the radio by my bed came to life at 7am with the sound of an ABC voice interviewing one of the interchangeable Trades Hall apparatchiks who have coagulated in the grease trap that is Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews’ cabinet. Great things were about to be done for the environment, apparently, as the Andrews government was re-asserting its election pledge to shut down a coal-burning electricity plant in the LaTrobe Valley. Renewables were the way to go, the Labor voice assured its interlocutor, adding it would be a terrible pity if Victoria allowed South Australia to corner all those green jobs and international kudos which wind turbines and the like are said to bestow. A few weeks later, of course, South Australia would go black as a direct consequence of all that green goodness, but on this morning it was the interviewer’s obsequious feting of “sustainable” nostrums which rankled. The plant nominated for closure produced better than 20% of Victoria’s energy. What sort of a government crimps the supply of power to industry and individual homes? More to the point, what sort of journalist neglects to raise such a key question with his or her subject?
“…unless the left is challenged and confronted at every turn, there is no hope of halting the long march of its acolytes, the machinations of its social engineers.”
The habit of journalists to conduct interviews from bended knee is a particular bugbear of mine, as there was a time, and not so long ago, when journalism was supposed to be the province of the perpetual outsider. Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, that sort of thing. The idea drummed into me as a cub reporter was that one was obliged to honour that instruction regardless of personal sympathy and conviction. Today’s newsrooms? Well just look at the garrulous children who inhabit them.
At the local coffee shop over breakfast, I picked up The Age and glanced through the thin offerings of a dying, palsied rag. Women’s issues … green issues … the odium of Tony Abbott and malevolence of Donald Trump – these weren’t news stories, I thought, so much as the passions of the Twitterverse reproduced in the increasingly obsolescent medium of dead trees and ink. Worse than that, where there was an actual news “hook” to a story, it had been made the excuse for a sermon. Or consider this: Tony Abbott wins an election, as he did in 2013, and an Age columnist immediately launches a range of ‘Fuck Abbott’ T-shirts; worse, the paper and its related websites promote her enterprise and obscenity by awarding online links to the site where the garments might be purchased. According to Fairfax Media’s chairman, the Age will likely soon cease publication, the Sydney Morning Herald too. It must never occur to him that habitually and gratuitously alienating 50% of your potential market is not a good survival strategy. Still, it works for some. The executive in question gets around in a Maserati.
I tossed the wretched travesty of a newspaper aside, no better informed and with irritation mounting, and proceeded to Altonagate, my local shopping mall, entertained (for want of a better word) in the car by Radio National. The tail end of one item suggested that those who shape the news were under the impression that listening taxpayers needed to be reminded yet again how our planet is at the very brink of environmental and ecological collapse. Some ardent professor of glib greenery was being quoted at length about the catastrophe to come unless we “do something” about farting cows or disaffected coral polyps or, come to think of it, Victorians’ access to ready and reliable electricity.
Call me a cynic, but I suspected the special “something” the speaker most desired to be a swag of larger ARC grants that would underwrite his mortgage, advance a career and further solicit of yet more ARC funding . The windscreen wipers slashed against a driving rain as I drove, and the temperature outside was in the single digits. It was, in other words, a morning entirely representative of what had been a shockingly cold and thoroughly miserable winter, even by Melbourne’s capricious yardstick. But in that ABC studio the curse of sweaty carbon ruled unchallenged. We listeners in our scarves and raincoats would just have to accept that the world is not as we see and experience it – at that moment miserable, wet and cold – but as we are informed by our grant-fed catastropharian betters. They were quoting Tim Flannery when it became a choice between nausea and another station. The pre-set button on my car’s stereo won that contest.
Alas, no comfort elsewhere on the AM band. The local ABC outlet was blabbering and blubbering about how wonderful it is that our formerly sterile society had been culturally enriched by the wholesale importation of – what do they call it? – ah, yes, that’s right, otherness. Later that week such wonderful diversity would be celebrated, as it is every Friday, by a special clinic at the Royal Women’s Hospital for victims of female genital mutilation. Funny thing how only certain aspects of multiculturalism seem to rate the attention of the authorised, officially approved media.
There was more multiculturalism to be observed inside the mall, and the spectacle did nothing to placate the day’s irritations. Strolling along in Western attire was a bearded gent who matched what the police are given to describing as being of “Middle Eastern appearance”. Behind him shuffled a burka’s black sack of a creature, a woman presumably, and behind her came two young girls who could have been no older than eleven, yet each had already been consigned to a lifetime of hijabbery. At the very back came a bouncing moppet with hair still free. Her future imprisonment in the prescribed garments of a genuinely misogynistic patriarchy was, quite literally, just ahead of her. For a brief moment there was a strong urge to tap the black sack on what I presumed to be its shoulder and advise that, this being Australia, she didn’t have to dress that way, that no man, culture or creed has the right to deny her the touch of sun on skin, the liberty to be seen as a person rather than a possession wrapped in a bolt of black.
I bit my tongue, however. The Australian’s cartoonist, Bill Leak, was just then being smeared as a racist for depicting three Aborigines — a policeman, a miscreant youngster and his drunken father – in a pointed illustration of a truth few but he dare to utter, at least openly: that Indigenous miseries have much less to do with the legacy of disease-ridden blankets and poisoned flour than grog and appalling parenting. There was even a petition doing the rounds in media circles and, to their eternal shame, professed journalists were adding their names, Fairfax and ABC worthies prominent amongst them; likewise, numerous journalism academics from our universities. How did Australia’s newsrooms come to be infested with social justice warriors? If you can no longer bring yourself to read the politically correct and ideologically sound publications for which they work, blame a teacher.
That night it was dinner with my elderly mother, who enjoys the roasts at the local RSL club and a flutter on the pokies. She was happy to get out and about, but the evening only made my irritation that much worse. While waiting for her lemon squash and my rough red to be poured, I noticed the mirror behind the bar had been papered with warnings about, well, everything to do with the perils of pleasure. As I wasn’t pregnant, I could ignore the poster advising never to take a drink. The one grimly referencing the ills of tobacco was somewhat harder to ignore, likewise the much repeated advice that alcohol would affect my driving, liver and temper – the last message delivered by the image of a battered woman. For good measure, the cavalcade of admonitions advised me to be wary of gambling too much and – the one sign of any genuine worth – not to spew salty language, presumably after blowing my pay-cheque on Queen of the Nile or, angry and in my cups after ignoring the other admonitions against excess, overcome by the yen to give some blameless woman a thorough thumping.
“…such wonderful diversity would be celebrated, as it is every Friday, by a special clinic at the Royal Women’s Hospital for victims of female genital mutilation”
Mum, who has been around for some 90 years, accepted her lemon squash with ladylike grace and agreed that, all things considered, the Australia she knew and loved was gone. She even had a theory to explain its demise. “Life is safe these days,” she said, “too safe in some ways.” It was an interesting take on the endemic nanny-ism and ubiquitous, state-sanctioned hectoring. In her youth she had seen the Great Depression and grew to so hate the taste of rabbit, the meat of the poor, she will not touch it even now. Then came the war and the boys she had known from school who did not come home. Polio eliminated, TB all but vanquished, antibiotics, life-lengthening surgeries and technologies … it once was believed, as Mum noted between sips, that anyone who chalked up a healthy three score and ten had won life’s lottery, done pretty well for themselves. Now, rather than a blessing, 70 safe years are seen as an entitlement, with any twist of fate or circumstance subtracting from that number regarded as something it is the job of elected representatives to remedy with the assistance of lecturing public broadcasters, with laws and fines and punitive taxes. All that, and just to remind us that adults are no better than overgrown children, broad acres of killjoy signage on every barman’s wall.
Mum’s is a good theory, probably right as well, but it doesn’t address the half of it, the half that really matters. That would be the simple fact that the orthodoxy of contemporary comportment and belief is wholly that of the left. No one pushes back, not on the airwaves or in the streets, not in the courts or in our parliaments, where the leading conservative party is also of the left, just a tad less so. Consider Victoria as the perfect example of a “conservative” government that wasn’t, not by a long chalk.
Begin with the matter of ideology – a dirty word, it seems, during the Baillieu/Napthine government which, much to its surprise, came to office in 2010, survived but a single term and was largely indistinguishable from the Labor administration which preceded it. Against logic, it funded its enemies, as when Baillieu, only then just settling into the premier’s office, shared an affable table with a gaggle of luvvies at the state’s Literary Awards. They took the grants that flowed from Spring Street – then went right back to laughing at their benefactors. Did anyone in the private councils of Baillieu’s wan government suggest that it might be a good idea to clean out the arts collective, rather than feeding it the mother’s milk of taxpayer funds? If they did, one gathers they were told to shut up, that such a move could only inspire black-clad legions of the artistic and angry to converge on the parliament’s steps and say rude things about Liberals.
Meanwhile, the conservative faithful waited in vain. When Vice Squad cops raided a taxpayer-funded St Kilda gallery and carted away “art” that featured pictures of apple-cheeked lads with monstrous erections, some of us hoped the responsible minister would withdraw support or, at the very least, wonder aloud why the public purse should be underwriting industrial strength obscenity.
Somewhere, standing by a machine or sitting at a workaday desk, a Victorian resident was paying the taxes that hung such artless filth on the gallery’s wall. He or she might not even have known of the police raid, but a minister standing up for genuine art, not to mention good taste, would have made headlines and an impression, perhaps even won some votes. But not a peep of rebuke from the then-government’s benches was forthcoming and the grants never stopped flowing.
When given the chance the electorate decided in 2014 that there was no difference between the parties and opted for the flashier alternative. That silence, that cowardice if you will, is once again conspicuous, this time in Canberra. As I type I wait in vain for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to utter the words ‘je suis Bill Leak’. But no, there is only silence and betrayal, not merely of free speech but also of conservative voters’ reasonable expectations when they placed their first preference beside the name of a Coalition candidate.
Where is the cry that Australia’s bloated, bureaucrat-beset tertiary institutions need desperately to be reformed? Degrees in lesbian calligraphy are all very well good, but an emphasis on hard science would be of more use, and do more good, for the nation’s future. Certainly we could get by with fewer journalism graduates.
The galloping passivity of conservatives, elected and otherwise, it galls and appalls. At Quadrant Online, for example, I must regularly spike essays I would dearly like to publish for fear of writs and “lawfare”. Yes, we’d likely win those battles, but the cost of fighting them would be to lose in and of itself. Are there no conservative lawyers out there, lawyers who believe in freedom of speech and are prepared to back their convictions with a few pro bono hours? For more than two decades I lived and worked in the United States, where conservatives fight back when pushed. There are think tanks and institutions aplenty dedicated to free minds and free markets – Hudson, Cato, Claremont, Hoover – funded by benefactors and dedicated to the proposition that, unless the left is challenged and confronted at every turn, there is no hope of halting the long march of its acolytes, the machinations of its social engineers.
Perhaps it is too late in Australia, where so much ground has been surrendered and there remains precious little left to defend. Our alleged conservative champions are playing of us for suckers, folks. If they weren’t, well let’s just say that Bill Leak could draw his cartoons without keeping an attorney’s business card handy. As to evening viewing, we would see fewer fornicating chimps on the ABC.
Roger Franklin is the editor of Quadrant Online