The view from Billinudgel

Hastie judgement
Why Andrew Hastie’s decision – taken without warning the PM – is unpardonable


Andrew Hastie’s use of parliamentary privilege to out the billionaire political donor Chau Chak Wing for being an unindicted (and thus uncharged) “co-conspirator” in the United States was always going to be controversial.

There is a claim that Hastie was entitled to present his intelligence briefings to reveal the Chinese-Australian’s background, and another view that it was a gratuitous political slur that should have been dealt with, if at all, by the relevant authorities. There are good arguments on both sides, and they have been widely canvassed.

But there can be absolutely no debate that to drop the bomb without warning his leader was unpardonable. Hastie knows better than most that the relationship between China and Australia is going through a very tense period, and it is not for a backbencher, however passionate, to inflame it because of a personal crusade.

Hastie’s apparent recklessness has led some of his colleagues to declare it deliberate disloyalty; after all, Hastie was originally a protégé of Tony Abbott and has been associated with the vengeful and recalcitrant rump of extreme right wingers who are determined to unseat Malcolm Turnbull.

While there may be some truth to this, Hastie’s principal motivation was probably pure ideological obsession: he felt his position was irrefutable, so there was just no need to consult anyone else about it.

This is simply his modus vivendi. Hastie is a religious fundamentalist and a career soldier, a CV that seldom admits to self-doubt. His is a world of black and white, right and wrong, good and evil. Compromise is cowardice, nuance is no more than political correctness, an unforgivable sin.

This moral certainty – others may call it egomania – has shaped his short political life, with the result that he is immune to criticism. He takes a similar approach to that of his colleague Peter Dutton: those who disagree with him are dead to him. And the more dramatic the repercussions of his action, the more it will confirm that his course is correct.

Should the Chinese take umbrage, and the relationship with Australia sour further, that is all to the good; the hawkish Americans who supplied him with the intelligence will be cheering him on. They are his friends, while the Chinese (and that includes the Australian citizen Chau Chak Wing) are his enemies; it is as simple as that.

So Turnbull and his hapless foreign minister, Julie Bishop, are left to pick up the pieces, and it could be a messy process. The influential Chinese publication Global Times has already suggested that official visits should be postponed, perhaps for years, and that trade could also be affected. This may not happen, but Hastie would not be unhappy if it did: as far as he is concerned, he is prepared for the worst, even Armageddon.

All of which suggests that an evangelical warrior is not the best person to conduct international diplomacy. Which is utterly irrelevant to Hastie: who’s talking about diplomacy?

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum is a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Visit his blog, The View from Billinudgel.

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