Friday, 16 October 2015

Bovver debate

On his first day in Parliament as PM in late 2013, Tony Abbott told the ABC that the chamber "should always be a place of spirited debate". But, he intoned, it "should never be a place where motives are impugned or characters assassinated".

This was the same Tony Abbott who, in March 2011, stood alongside Bronwyn "Chopper" Bishop in front of placard declaring: "Juliar - Bob Browns [sic] bitch." The same Tony Abbott whose occasional friend, Alan Jones, had declared his intention of putting PM Gillard "in a chaff bag and hoisting her into the Tasman Sea".

Our political leaders and opinion shapers call for civilised  debate on the issues that matter then promptly trash those they disagree with. What's wrong with a contest of ideas? What's wrong with robust differences over policy? The answer is nothing. But I know only too well from writing about Israel how easy it is for those who can contribute little to the debate to fire off accusations of racism or anti-Semitism. If it wasn't so serious it would be laughable.

Take Greg Sheridan, The Australian's Foreign Editor. He and Professor Hugh White from the Australian National University, have well publicised differences over dealing with China. That's hardly unreasonable. But for Greg, Hugh has become Australia's "strategic jester". Pathetic. 


Monday, 6 July 2015

Capital dilemma

A few months from now a US District Judge will confirm the death sentence for the younger of the two Boston marathon bombers, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. His execution by lethal injection won’t be imminent but he’ll be on death row.
That should be a problem for Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop and Tanya Plibersek and Ben Quilty and all those who raged against Indonesia for executing Australian drug smugglers. Unless they make clear their unequivocal opposition to Tsarnaev’s possible execution they’ll simply confirm the double standard that infects much of the debate in Australia about capital punishment.
Tsarnaev is an evil person. He shattered many lives. He should never breathe free air again. But if he is executed why shouldn’t others be? And those others, inevitably, will include Australian nationals. Currently some 17 Australians world-wide are at risk of receiving the death penalty. The moment a sentence is confirmed we’ll waggle our collective fingers at the horror of it all.
But those being waggled at will have the perfect out: ‘Where was your outrage when others were killed?’ And there’ll be no meaningful answer unless and until we wean ourselves of the absurd notion that capital punishment matters only when Australians are its victims.   

What were they thinking? #2

It's official. The Australian economy will collapse if same-sex marriage is legalised. China will turn its back on our iron ore. There'll be no more coal ships to Japan. Indonesia will look anywhere but Australia for its live cattle imports. Across Asia there'll be such moral outrage at Australian 'decadence' that usually hard-headed traders will take their business elsewhere.
Or so says Barnaby Joyce. It's absolute hooey. He, for one, should know that trade makes strange bedfellows. What they do in the sack is utterly irrelevant.   

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

What were they thinking? #1

Just what did those in charge of the Theatre Royal in Sydney have in mind when they agreed to stage Legends, starring Hayley and Juliet Mills trying to show that age has not wearied them?

Get over it ladies, it has. That you would even dream of performing such a dreary, cliché-ridden script shows that time catches up with all of us.  

It must have been hard looking out into the vast emptiness of the theatre. It seats 1183 people. A thousand or so found better things to do on a Saturday night. We didn’t. We had a good night. But this two hours of tedium played little part.   

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Where has all the outrage gone?

Earlier this year I posted on the unmitigated evil that is the death penalty. It was a hot topic as the Australian Government hollered across the Timor Sea, to no avail. Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were shot on 29 April. They were among the 160 executed that month by governments worldwide.

To its credit the Australian Government showed signs then of campaigning against the death penalty. Not much seems to have happened since. Why don't we start with the US? There, about 20 people are scheduled for execution between now and May 2018. Let's make clear to our straight-talking ally that the issue is one of principle. Nationality is irrelevant.

Saturday, 30 May 2015


If you ever find yourself facing a capital charge the first thing to do is not find a good lawyer or tell your mum. You should pray that Tony Abbott keeps his mouth shut. The moment he opens it you might as well say your last goodbyes.

Abbott's linking of Australia’s billion dollar aid package to Indonesia after the 2004 tsunami – which killed around 200,000 Indonesians – with the fate of two convicted drug smugglers is absurd. His declaration that if Indonesia refused to ‘reciprocate’ for Australia’s tsunami assistance ‘we [would] feel grievously let down’ takes the idea of humanitarian aid to a new low.

John Howard, it seems, was a political naif after all. When he announced the assistance in early 2005 it was about helping Indonesians rather than Australians. He described the tsunami as ‘a human tragedy on a scale that none of us in our lifetime have seen and it does require a response above the ordinary’. No mention of reciprocity of any sort at any later date. When he was asked if the $500 million earmarked for concessional loans would be tied to Australian companies Howard replied, ‘No, no … that’s not the purpose of the aid’.

Tony knows better. While a good deal of the package was probably never actually spent he’s calculated that Australians are worth around half a billion dollars each. He also knows that executing Australians who have broken Indonesia’s drug laws is not in that country’s ‘best interest’.
The Indonesians might well have a different view.

21 February 2015

A wave of fury will soon sweep across Australia with the execution of Bali Nine ringleaders, Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, by an Indonesian firing squad. Threats of boycotting Bali, cutting aid, expelling Indonesian diplomats and recalling our own officials, will flood the airwaves.

And then what?

Will that same outrage be directed at the 50+ countries around the globe who still have capital punishment on their books, including for such ‘grievous’ misdemeanours as adultery and blasphemy?

Will our senior religious figures urge Saudi Arabia to stop the Friday lopping of heads, including of minors? Will our politicians unite to tell the Japanese, the Americans, the Malaysians and a host of others that the problem is not who is killed and how they are killed but that they are killed at all?

Sadly, indeed scandalously, the answer will be no. Normal service will resume—resume that is until the next Australian is shot, hanged, beheaded, injected etc. Then we’ll rage again at the injustice of it all.

We obsess about the person when our real target should be the principle: there’s no place for capital punishment in a civilised world. Nationality has nothing to do with it. So if any good can possibly come from the deaths of Sukumaran and Chan it will be that people like Julie Bishop and Tanya Plibersek and Ben Quilty drive a campaign for the abolition of capital punishment. Fullstop.

13 February 2015

What exactly is driving so many Australians – from the Prime Minister down – to vent their spleen at Indonesia over its likely execution of two Australian drug smugglers? The answer is simple – selective outrage.

It can’t be about capital punishment itself.

We don’t seem to have issued dire warnings over Indonesia’s recent execution of citizens from Brazil, Malawi, Nigeria, The Netherlands, Vietnam and Indonesia itself.

We don’t seem to have made much of a fuss over the fact that in 2013 – according to Amnesty International – nearly 800 people worldwide were put to death by their governments. And that figure excludes China, which refuses to tell anyone what its execution rate is.

Could it be that the 2013 figure doesn’t bother us too much because most of those killed were from Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and (probably) China? Perhaps they’re not on our list of ‘civilised’ states. But what of the 39 Americans and 8 Japanese executed in 2013? Where was the noise about them?

Wherever, whenever, whomever and however, capital punishment is abhorrent. Australian lives are worth not one jot more or less than any others. By all means protest Indonesia’s intentions. But do so because capital punishment is evil and Australia should energetically campaign against it. Not because, this time, ‘our lads’ are the victims.

23 January 2015