Thursday, August 29, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

Tim Fischer remembered
It’s the end of a better era for the Nationals

Source: Twitter

Amid the deep Catholicism and the train stories, it was former Labor national president and science minister Barry Jones who decided to deliver a serious political message at the state funeral service for Tim Fischer, who was farewelled in Albury today. It was a generational rather than partisan message. Jones admitted that he and Fischer were both regarded by colleagues as “idiosyncratic” – by which he meant weird – but said what drove them both was an endless curiosity about how the world worked. Jones lamented that he and Fischer were from an earlier era, when debate in parliament was based on evidence and closely reasoned argument, as distinct from today’s MPs who, with their “professional, pathological lack of curiosity”, have reduced Question Time to the theatre of the absurd, where ministers repeat mantras whether they’re relevant or not. It’s the era of retail politics, said Jones, in which politicians “never ask ‘is it right?’ but ‘will it sell?’” Amen to that.

Jones said he often complimented Fischer on his staunch defence of John Howard’s National Firearms Agreement, struck in the wake of the 1996 Port Arthur massacre. He also said that they would have deep discussions about climate change, Vietnam, the republic, restoring trust in parliament and maintaining important public institutions like the ABC, CSIRO, Bureau of Meteorology, universities and the public service. Contrast this to today’s Nationals, who push back on expert scientific advice – as in Queensland, where the LNP wants to establish an Orwellian “Office of Science Quality Assurance”, or in New South Wales, where, in what looks like a classic case of shooting the messenger, Water Minister Melinda Pavey has attacked the state’s Natural Resources Commission, which has warned her about the dire state of the Barwon–Darling river system.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Fischer’s wife, Judy, had told him: “I hope people remember more [of] Tim than his love of trains.” Mourners today heard Fischer was five people in one – a soldier, farmer, politician, author and diplomat. He also had guts. Morrison told a story from 1986, when Fischer was a newish federal MP. “A young refugee from Laos, devastated by the separation from his family stormed the Immigration Department’s office here in Albury,” said Morrison. “It was Tim who walked inside, against all advice, to talk to him, and it was Tim who peacefully resolved the siege hours later.”

That kind of real courage – as against confected, culture-warmongering – is in short supply among today’s Nationals. The Australian’s Niki Savva writes today [$] that Fischer’s support of gun law reforms caused an effigy of the then deputy PM to be burned in Gympie, Queensland, while his wife, Judy, faced intolerable harassment. Savva also writes:

It is unlikely that if asked about an Australian citizen arrested and possibly tortured in China, allegedly for spying, that Fischer would have said he was not there to talk about that but about water, and in any case trade was more important, which is what Michael McCormack did as Acting Prime Minister, for heavens’ sake, showing yet again there is a lot about leadership he doesn’t get.

Vale Tim Fischer.

“If the government is serious about doing a referendum this term, they must act now. Labor is calling on the government and First Nations leaders to join together before momentum is lost. Our job now, two years after the Uluru Statement, is to explain to Australians how recognition and a voice will lead to real change for First Nations people. We still want to have a bipartisan approach. I have not given up on that despite what the Prime Minister has said. Doors that [Mr Morrison] has already shut can be reopened.”

Shadow minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney still has hope the Coalition could support having a constitutionally enshrined, elected voice to parliament.

“Ian said to me ‘there is no need to do anything from here, don’t record this meeting, don’t put it in the diary … and don’t tell anyone about it’ … I was following the advice religiously. I was scared.”

Suspended NSW ALP general secretary Kaila Murnain tells the ICAC investigation into political donations that she raised the question of the $100,000 donation from Chinese billionaire Huang Xiangmo, then followed the advice of party lawyer Ian Robertson.

Home Affairs’ propaganda machine
When a communications agency started contacting Muslim Australians for social media training, no one realised Home Affairs was behind it. Shakira Hussein on what it’s like to be pulled into a propaganda machine.

The value of the government subsidies that Adani’s Carmichael mine will receive over its 30-year life – including a royalties “holiday”, fuel-tax credits, concessions on water and rehabilitation, and direct grants for a road – and without which the mine would be “unviable”, according to the Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

“Australia has a strong anti-discrimination framework with specific protections for people against discrimination on the basis of their age, sex, race and disability. This draft Bill released today extends those protections to provide protection for people against discrimination on the basis of their religion or religious belief, or lack thereof. The Bill would make it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of religious belief or activity in key areas of public life. The Bill does not create a positive right to freedom of religion.”

The attorney-general in a statement on the release of the government’s new draft religious freedom legislation.

The list

“The second and greater revelation of the film is to watch Franklin’s face as she thinks her way, moment by moment, note by note, through the songs. Her focus is scorching and its effect upon those present is something like awful, in the old way: wonder combines with devastation.”

“It was Boris who came to me. He had a pack of cameras with him and seeing a youngish man carrying a laundry basket (me), he quickly concluded that it would be good for photos. I sympathise. It’s hard to find that ‘in touch’ shot when you are surrounded by cameras, and you don’t have too many opportunities to get it right. ‘Oh you are from Australia?’ he asks after hearing my accent. I don’t want to make a scene.”

“‘There is absolutely no evidence for Scott Morrison’s claim that trust is declining in the public service, in fact the data suggests we’ve never trusted them so much,’ [ANU political scientist Jill] Sheppard says. ‘In fact, we see trust declining in every other institution – politics, parliament, banks, churches and companies – but rising in the one area he has identified as failing. It bucks a trend.’” 

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Inside the Greens and the unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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