What’s wrong with Australia? After 228 years, the only thing we can think of to celebrate this nation’s great achievements, and the liberation of its native inhabitants from the Stone Age, is the appointment of a tin soldier who excoriates us for sexism, family violence and lack of patriotism. Does an ever-upward but otherwise unremarkable military career (until he delivered a speech written for him by a transsexual Twitter troll and fellow AOTY nominee) really fall within the category of “outstanding achievement” envisaged by the National Australia Day Council for an Australian of the Year?
Yet it seems David Morrison is now to be turned loose on the country, licensed to lecture and hector all and sundry for their failure to conform to his barrack-room discipline on social standards. As a lietenant-general, Morrison might have passed unnoticed onto the retired list but for his 2013 outburst in a video clip applauded by the usual coterie of feminists, left-wing ideologues and the campaigning broadcasters of the ABC.
What we don’t hear often are the voices saying that Morrison demoralised the army with his “feminisation” of the service, which scandalously included taxpayer-funded sex-change operations. Or that his concerns about gender-bashing came very late in his career. The enthusiasm for his YouTube clip effectively snuffed out any analysis of the Morrison style: the fierce, almost jihadist fanaticism in his eyes, the tightened facial muscles, what might be taken by some to be a self-righteous vindictiveness lurking in his delivery.
Those who puzzled as to why the Chief of Army needed to deal so publicly with an internal disciplinary matter involving spotty cadets and a hidden video camera might just have glimpsed the unleashing of a political ambition fettered for four decades by military discipline.
On Monday night, as the rain came down in Canberra, Morrison did it again, let it all out. Since when is the Australian of the Year, an unelected citizen, empowered to undertake a self-appointed role as a social and political activist? Listen:
“Too many Australians are denied the opportunity to reach their potential. It happens because of their gender, the god they believe in, because of their racial heritage, because they’re not able-bodied, because of their sexual orientation.”
Diversity and equality are to be his watch-words. And with a flat criticism of the alleged but easily explainable 17.8% “gender wage gap” he signaled an intemperate foray into the equal-pay issue. That should earn him little thanks from the government.
Then there was his declaration of support for the republic movement, with this fatuous contribution:
“It is time at least to revisit the question so we can stand both free and fully independent among the community of nations.”
At least he stopped short of calling Australia a pariah state! Throughout its history, the Australian of the Year award has been controversial. Since 1979 it has zig-zagged, from recognising international achievement, to eminent Australians, to popular sportsmen and entertainers, then to promotion of multiculturalism and reconciliation, more recently to what might be termed social reconstruction.
In 2010, Professor Patrick McGorry’s campaign for youth mental health reform.
Simon McKeon in 2011 promoted World Vision, ending global poverty and MS research.
In 2013 Ita Buttrose spent an active year on behalf of Alzheimer’s victims, arthritis, breast cancer and HIV/AIDs.
Two years ago, 2014 saw Aboriginal footballer Adam Goodes kick along Indigenous issues, but ended with an own goal by way of his uncontrolled outbursts.
Who decides the tone and character of the award? Nominally, it falls to the board of the National Australia Day Council which constitutes the judging panel. Since 1990, the Board chairmen have been: John Newcombe, Phillip Adams, Kevan Gosper, Lisa Curry Kenny, Adam Gilchrist, and now Ben Roberts-Smith.
The current board of the Council is widely drawn, but hardly outstanding:
Ms Janet Whiting, Melbourne lawyer, President of National Gallery of Victoria
Prof. Samina Yasmeen, Centre for Muslim States & Societies, University of W.A.
Ms Elizabeth Kelly, Dept Prime Minister & Cabinet
Jason Glanville, Wiradjuri member
Norman Schueler, company director, S.A.; V-P Council of Australian Jewry
Dr Susan Alberti, businesswoman, Alberti Medical Research Foundation
The board is constrained by the nominations received from the states, and it seems that these have been determined by interests with specific agendas. There were 34 nominations for 2016 AOTY, including 7 doctors or medical specialists; 6 humanitarians; 5 human rights activists/lawyers; 4 artists/journalist (P. Gresche)/actors; 3 diversity/equality people; 3 aborigines; 1 scientist; 1 cultural leader (Brendan Nelson AWM). These largely smack of people out to change the world, not achievers to be recognised for their contribution to Australia. No industrialist, no business leader, no inventor or innovator, nobody from the rural communities.
The time has come to ask: who is skewing this game? Is government subtly using the appointment to do some of its social reforming on the sly? The award has always been seen as a non-event by the vast bulk of the population, interesting only when it generated controversy. It has abandoned the achiever and role-model categories. Now it’s in danger of crippling itself in political activism.
Already there are signs that David Morrison’s campaign speeches on diversity and equality will drip nicely into the maudlin puddle of the elite’s loathing for all things they associate with Australians of less worth and intellect than themselves. Morrison will have the microphone and podium for the next twelve months. Best ignore him.