Perhaps some of you know the old gag about how various modern media outlets would report the Titanic’s sinking. We can guess, for example, that today’s ABC might say ‘Abbott’s border security laws implicated in Navy failure to save cruise ship’. Or perhaps the headline would be crafted with a catastropharian bent, as in ‘Ship sinks deeper in ever-rising ocean’. The accompanying text would surely make passing reference to at least three endangered maritime species, plus the assured and imminent demise of the Great Barrier Reef.
The Age would comfort its few remaining readers with ‘Abbott government blamed for killer iceberg’, while The Guardian lined up five ‘human rights experts’ to explain how no blame could possibly be laid at the feet of any Labor policy, ever, no matter what.
The in-house CFMEU newsletter would blame it all on the lack of Australian sailors on the ship and attribute the disaster to low wages on board, also finding time to source the tragedy to the Howard government’s Work Choices legislation. And this despite that legislation having been repealed years ago.
Various special-interest ethnic lobby groups, fresh from their successful campaign to have Mr. Abbott pusillanimously cave in on his promise to repeal Section 18C, might have sent out a briefing that it was not all bad news. ‘Bigots among the drowned. 18C is working’ would have been the line.
The wonderfully over-paid and crying-out-to-be-disbanded bureaucracy that is the Australian Human Rights Commission might have been heard to ask ‘if people have actually died at sea maybe we should cancel our enquiry into children in detention?’.
Meantime, the Coalition caucus room whiteboard might have reported the Titanic in terms of ‘Do you think we’ll lose any ethnic votes over this?’. And then go on to remind the MPs that the new Team Australia cheerleader uniforms are being redesigned, as the first models were offensive and insulting to various newly arrived Australian immigrants. If they weren’t redesigned, there would be less ‘national unity’ and it might make it harder to enact the anti-terrorism laws.
As for The Australian, it might note that the sinking was no more its fault than supporting Mr. Rudd in 2007, or the Republic movement in 2000, or the Recognise campaign today.
Quadrant, meantime, would report the captain went down with his ship while re-working his favourite Tennyson poem. ‘Half a league, half a league, half a league downwards …’. These days it takes a strong effort not to go all pessimistic and wonder if that line might not also describe Australia’s short- to medium-term prospects, given the mess of these these past seven years.
James Allan is Garrick Professor of Law at the University of Queensland. His latest book, Democracy in Decline, can be ordered here