Friday, May 26, 2017

Today by Sean Kelly

Rhetoric, meet facts
Barnaby Joyce shows us how it’s done (really)


As I noted yesterday, politics seems fairly quiet right now. It is a chance to briefly note a couple of smaller stories that are important reminders of the role of facts.

Gabrielle Chan at the Guardian drew my attention to some words from the deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce, attached to his condemnation of the Manchester murders:

These people have always been around and every religion has them at their periphery. I’m Catholic, in Northern Ireland we had the IRA, who decided they were going to change the world by murdering people. I don’t agree with that. These people believe they are going to change the world by murdering people. We have seen it in Buddhism, we have seen it in Hinduism. It’s murder. It’s wrong and we have got to make sure as a nation, people can go to the cricket, can go to the rugby, go down the street, go to the park, enjoy life, be Australian and leave other people alone to have their beliefs because they are probably different to yours. Don’t change the world by violence, change the world by argument, cogent argument. 

This is as lucid a formulation of these points I’ve seen from anyone in Australian politics. Joyce is as prone to jumping on a populist bandwagon as any politician – it was just a few weeks ago that he implied Yassmin Abdel-Magied should be sacked over the Anzac Day controversy, and who can forget the hundred-dollar lamb roast? – but when he uses his abilities to knock sense into a public debate, there is nobody better.

It’s a reminder, too, that Malcolm Turnbull has changed the government’s tone in responding to terrorism and to the debate around Islam. This is a significant shift and, as Tony Abbott continues to hover, not one to be underestimated.

On a similar theme, the head of ASIO, Duncan Lewis, was asked yesterday by Pauline Hanson whether the threat of terrorism was being brought in by refugees from the middle east.

Lewis, widely respected within his field, made the factual situation very clear, “I have absolutely no evidence to suggest there’s a connection between refugees and terrorism.”

Hanson asked about the burqa, to which Lewis said, “We’ve made it plain on a number of occasions, senator, that we have no security reason to be concerned about the wearing of a burqa – other than the requirement for individuals to identify themselves to authorities, and there are regulations in place for that.”

Hanson also asked whether all attacks and thwarted attacks since 2014 had been perpetrated by Muslims.

Lewis replied, “Of the 12 ... thwarted attacks, one of those, indeed, involved a right-wing extremist … So the answer is they have not all been carried out by Muslims … But I’ve got to stress, senator – this is very important – ASIO does not make its inquiries or its assessments on the basis of somebody’s religion. We are only interested in people who are exhibiting or offering violence, and to the extent that there is violent extremism – which is very frequently inspired by a warped version of Sunni Islam – that’s when our interests are invoked.”

There’s nothing quite like the sound of absurd, divisive rhetoric running up against cold hard facts, is there? You can see in the above statements that Lewis does not resort to argument, or hyperbole; to each question he offers a clear statement. He does not seek to hide the danger of “a warped version of Sunni Islam”, but simply lays out all he knows, providing the proper context.

When your opponents are ratcheting up the rhetoric, it can be tempting to do the same in the belief that they are deploying a clever tactic and you would be silly not to do the same. But Joyce and Lewis, in their very different manners, demonstrate how powerful facts can be when you put your faith in them.

Attempts to foment racial and religious division are not going anywhere anytime soon, but it is comforting to watch their main purveyors in the Australian political marketplace slowly go to pieces. The Australian Electoral Commission has confirmed that it is investigating the funding of a private plane used by Pauline Hanson’s One Nation. One of the party’s staffers was arrested this week. It is unclear where the controversy over a recording of its senior staffer, James Ashby, will end.

Rhetoric, when it is based on precious little, can only take you so far.

In other news


In light of recent events

Oslo asks his fellow swimmers to divulge the deep thoughts that run through their minds as they swim

Oslo Davis

“Swimming is the only time, while awake, that I’m not enslaved to the internet. At first the solitary confinement is unnerving, maddening. But after a few laps my mind becomes loose, and I’m able to think in free form.”    READ ON


Gesture politics

Recognition alone won’t fix indigenous affairs

Noel Pearson

“Given that heritage is mostly the responsibility of states and territories, how does recognition of indigenous culture in the Constitution lead to its protection? Through the vibe? Herein lies two problems of the recognition project. First, what is the problem the nation is trying to fix? And second, how is the upbeat and hyperbolic narrative of ‘recognition’ related to the chaotic public policy and the facts on the ground?” (December 2015)  READ ON


Sean Kelly

Sean Kelly is a columnist for Fairfax and a former adviser to Labor prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.



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