Friday, August 23, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

Mourning Tim Fischer
Today’s crop of Nats are an affront to the legacy of the former leader

© Alan Porritt / AAP Image

Many excellent words have been written about the late Tim Fischer, but the best way to appreciate his legacy is to draw the sharp contrast between his endearing persona and the divisive culture warriors who represent the Nationals today. From Barnaby Joyce to Michael McCormack, from Matt Canavan to George Christensen and the recently departed Andrew Broad… it’s unclear that these characters are even serious about representing the people who vote for them, let alone serving the national interest. (Former senator John “Wacka” Williams, who left a positive legacy in the banking royal commission, is an honourable exception.) What legacy will they leave? A dying Murray–Darling Basin, and towns without drinking water. Prime farmland fracked and open cut. Worsening drought as heating accelerates. The unforgettable images from the Awassi Express. One Nation, the Shooters and the rest on the march while the Nats’ own youth wing gets infiltrated by extremists. Fischer’s passing reminds us how far the Nationals have sunk.

Though he was only deputy prime minister for three years, Fischer left a real legacy, defending tougher gun laws after Port Arthur, taking on One Nation and opening the railway from Adelaide to Darwin, although he also inexcusably advocated for “buckets loads of extinguishment” during the native title debate in the wake of the Wik decision. Among today’s obituaries, The Australian Financial Review’s Phillip Coorey writes that Fischer was “a gentleman who made his points without aggression”, and without whom the Howard government may not have survived its first term. Movingly, Coorey concludes: “A man who was sent to war, Tim Fischer not only believed in peace he had earned the right to advocate it.”

In Guardian Australia, Katharine Murphy quotes his biographer, Peter Rees, who wrote: “Never once had Fischer dropped the ball on populism.” Her colleague Gabrielle Chan, author of Rusted Off, tweeted that she would miss Fischer, who told her that the best template for country towns was “unity of purpose. Bold lateral thinking. Good local leadership.” Crikey’s Bernard Keane wrote [$] today that Fischer was a curate’s egg: his comments in the wake of the Mabo decision were vile, but he “was the only major party leader of recent decades prepared to talk about Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and its abuse of Palestinians”.

Contrast Fischer with dumped leader Barnaby Joyce, who is threatening to sit on the crossbench and destroy Scott Morrison’s one-seat majority in federal parliament over the looming decriminalisation of abortion in NSW, a modest reform that will simply bring the state in line with the rest of the country. Or current leader Michael McCormack, whose climate denial runs so deep and whose heart is so dark that he commented that Pacific Islanders worried about the existential threat to their countries would be fine because “they pick our fruit” – comments for which he yesterday offered a qualified apology. Or Resources Minister Matt Canavan, who is so pro-coal he gets around in sponsored mining clobber, and yesterday called engineering firm Aurecon a “bunch of bedwetters” and “weak as piss”, because it refuses to work with Adani. Meanwhile, Canavan’s brother John is making a $422 million bid for Stanmore Coal, which the AFR today describes [$] as “so aspirational it looks like he’s taking the piss”. Not to mention backbencher George Christensen, who turns up in his electorate so rarely he is known as “the member for Manila”; or Andrew Broad, who quit after he was exposed as a “sugar daddy”. They are simply not serious.

“The Andrews Labor government acknowledges the disproportionate impact the current laws have had on Aboriginal people and pay tribute to the community members who have advocated for this change. It’s nearly 30 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, so I certainly agree with all of the sentiments that this can’t come soon enough.”

Victorian attorney-general Jill Hennessy commits to decriminalising public drunkenness on the eve of a coronial inquest into the death of Aboriginal woman Tanya Day, who died in custody in 2017 after being arrested under the law.

“Home Affairs is concerned that self-harm is perceived as the most expedient means of accessing medical transfer under the provisions … [which also] may create the false perception of a pathway to settlement in Australia. Settlement pathways are marketed by people smugglers to encourage further irregular maritime migration and the repeal measures seek to remove this perceived pathway and ensure the integrity of Australia’s borders.”

The Department of Home Affairs, in a submission to a federal parliamentary inquiry into the repeal of the medivac laws.

Scott Morrison vs. the World
As he arrives for talks in Vietnam, Scott Morrison is struggling to match his attempts at diplomacy with his position on climate change.


The proportion of the 581 asylum seekers having applied for a medivac transfer who were assessed to have a significant physical ailment, according to an audit by a group of doctors who oppose the medivac repeal, in a submission to the parliamentary inquiry.

“NSW is the only government department in the world that hosts a Confucius Institute … Having foreign government appointees based in a government department is one thing; having appointees of a one-party state that exercises censorship in its own country working in a government department in a democratic system is another.”

The NSW department of education, in a review of the China-funded Confucius Classrooms program, which it has decided to axe. The program embedded teachers vetted by China in 13 public schools across NSW in 2012.

The list

“Thinking about intelligent robots, trying to build them, demands a precise understanding of what it is to be human. It’s useful to know how it is that we come to think and learn and experience our self and the world in order to build something with the capacity to do so. Can a robot learn to love? Well, what exactly is love?”

“If before the royal commission survivors who came forward to tell their stories were routinely disbelieved, many now were publicly heard and vindicated for the very first time. This new sensibility, however, is now being undermined by the steady chorus of opinion from former prime ministers and conservative commentators – normally respecters of institutions such as the jury system – casting doubt on the conviction of Cardinal George Pell.”

The Australian Dream is an ironic title. How can we speak of a dream shared when we still don’t truly know each other? When we remain somewhere between black sovereignty not ceded and white sovereignty claimed? When the First Peoples go unrecognised in our constitution? When we have failed to negotiate treaties of justice and honour?”

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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