|Mr Bugg during a senate legal and constitutional legislation committee. Photo: JACKY GHOSSEIN
Every year Senators get to quiz bureaucrats and statutory officers on their performance and the success or otherwise of government policies. It’s called “Senate Estimates”, is designed to ensure that public money is well spent and is one of many reasons why the Senate is the last hope for Parliament, representing the people, to get answers not spin doctored by the executive (the Prime Minister and his ministers). Freedom FROM information is the executive’s motto but in Senate estimates, evidence is under oath, so those under the gun have to be more careful than politicians are with the truth.
Today, the Senate’s Legal and Constitutional committee got its chance to put the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, Damian Bugg QC, to the test on his handling of the Reith Telecard affair.
I’ve written about the behaviour of Mr Bugg extensively in the diary (see The Small Matter of Prosecution and Telecard Shenanigans) and his performance today only confirmed widespread concern that he has neglected his duty to preserve public confidence in the integrity of the administration of justice.
The Reith Telecard scandal burst into the public sphere just last month. His decision not to prosecute anyone for anything is the most controversial he has made as DPP. He must have realised he would be asked questions on the matter by Labor Senators. (Government Senators rarely if ever ask questions on behalf of the people and instead sit there to protect witnesses from having to reveal things the Government doesn’t want revealed. It’s called betrayal of the people.)
Yet his evidence was vague – I’d call it arrogantly so – and, as is usual for Mr Bugg, raised more questions that it answered.
When was he first contacted regarding the Reith matter? He couldn’t recall, except that it was “some time before” the story broke in The Canberra Times on October 10.
On what date did the federal police give him the brief of evidence for consideration? He didn’t know, except that the DPP had prepared a draft response to the brief in the week ending October 6.
On what date did he first brief the Attorney-General, Mr Williams QC, on his decision not to charge anyone with anything? “At a time approximating the finalisation of our response”, which he thought was October 9.
How was the Attorney-General briefed? “Certainly there was a briefing,” Bugg replied. Labor Senator Jim McKiernan could not comprehend how Mr Bugg’s memory could be so poor on such a thing. Pressed, Bugg said he thought the form of the briefing was “a combination of oral and written”.
Was it a personal briefing? “There were documents made available.” Pressed again, he said he did not brief the Attorney-General in person as he was away from Canberra that week.
Did DPP officers personally brief Williams? “I need to formally consider that and respond to it.”
So, Mr Bugg chose to take on notice the most basic information about his handling of the Reith matter. Inspires confidence, doesn’t it?
McKiernan moved on to Bugg’s now notorious press release the day after the Government announced he would prosecute no-one for anything, in which in a few terse paragraphs he “explained” his decision not to prosecute Reith and son, but said nothing on why he wouldn’t prosecute Miss X, Mr Y or anyone else.
Why did he make the statement? “There was obviously quite a lot of public interest in the matter”. He therefore “considered it appropriate … to publish brief reasons”. He did tell a staffer of Mr Williams that he proposed to issue the statement (interesting that – all these briefings and discussions with an Attorney-General who’s refused to comment on anything regarding the DPP and Reith on the grounds that he’s independent, that he reports to the AFP and that the AFP reports to Justice Minister Amanda Vanstone). Bugg, surprise, surprise, didn’t know if anyone else in his office had had discussions with the Attorney-General or his office on the matter.
So why didn’t Bugg release a full statement of reasons? “There are good reasons for not going into every aspect of the consideration of the matter by my office, particularly when there is a decision not to prosecute.” He didn’t mention what they were.
Then, the climax. “The precise reasons for not prosecuting have been published … That is the simple explanation for it. I don’t believe that there’s any more detail needed to explain those reasons.”
He’s got to be kidding. Senior lawyers around the country, including former DPPs, have raised serious concerns on Mr Bugg’s “emergency” exemption to fraud on the Commonwealth and he has still given NO reasons why he won’t prosecute Miss X or Mr Y.
Did he have any intention to provide more expansive reasons? No.
What about when the AFP resubmitted the brief with the results of its reopened investigation? “If I consider it necessary to make a statement in the public interest, I will.”
Bugg is backing down here. Last month, in an oral statement given by his media minder to the media, he said, in relation to his decision after the result of the new investigation, that he would go public. “Any decision made by the DPP which can be published will be announced in due course,” he said then.
The public got something from Bugg though – his birthday was on October 11, the day after the Reith story broke. Happy Birthday, Mr Bugg.
In this frustrating scandal the only path to truth is through the Freedom of Information Act and that’s proving a real cash cow for the Government. Use money to stop public disclosure. It’s $30 per application, then the departments start sending you bills for searching and the rest. My colleague Mark Robinson was told by the finance department that its charges for processing his request for the correspondence between Reith and the department on the matter and the department’s report into the Telecard’s misuse would cost $92,550.
After Bugg’s “evidence”, I submitted two new Freedom of Information applications asking Williams and Bugg for all documents concerning the DPP’s oral and written briefings to the Attorney-General.
Here’s an update on the progress of my FOI applications to date:
1. I asked the Attorney-General’s department for the legal advice the Prime Minister said he received from the Attorney-General before he sent the matter to police.
“There are no documents held by this department that come within the scope of your request,” the department replied. I’ve now FOI’d Williams, the Prime Minister and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet for that advice and all material relating to it.
2. I asked the Attorney-General’s department and the Attorney-General for all material concerning the two legal advices given to the Prime Minister by Solicitor-General David Bennett QC on the civil liability of Reith and son or anyone else for the Telecard bill. The department requires $170 to conduct a search and make a decision. Williams has not yet replied.
3. I asked the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet for the same material – it’s a bit cheaper, charging $110 to get started.
4. I asked Vanstone for the report she received form the AFP detailing the investigation and why no-one would be prosecuted. Vanstone flicked it to the AFP, which refused the application on the basis that the document was exempt because access “would prejudice an investigation of a breach of the law and the enforcement of a law” and “would prejudice the fair trial of a person and the impartial adjudication of a particular case”. That’s interesting – it implies that had the investigation not been reopened (after Miss X blew the whistle on the quality of the investigation), the document would have bene released. I’ll put in another FOI when the case is closed, assuming of course, that Bugg still won’t prosecute anyone.
5. I asked the AFP for its investigation brief to the DPP and his report to the AFP refusing to prosecute. Access was refused on the same grounds and the extra one that “information contained in the document is of such a nature that it would be privileged from production in legal proceedings on the grounds of legal professional privilege”.
This last reason covers the DPP’s report. Legal professional privilege belongs to the client, not the lawyer, so the client can waive it. Who is the client? If it’s the AFP or Vanstone, why won’t they waive it? If it’s the people, I think you can assume they’d like to know.
6. I asked the DPP for his report to the AFP giving his reasons not to prosecute anyone. He has not replied.
For your interest, this is how bad it gets with FOI under this government. My colleague Andrew Clennell tried to get details of the tender to build a nuclear power station at Lucas Heights. Here’s his story, published in the Herald on October 25:
TWO PAGES, $7,000, AND NUCLEAR DEAL STAYS SECRET
By Andrew Clennell, in Canberra
The Government’s nuclear agency is charging $7,000 to release as few as two pages about its secret deal with the Argentine company INVAP under the Freedom of Information Act.
Greenpeace and the Herald have each been sent bills of about $7,000 with offers to release only 22 and two pages respectively of more than 1,000 available from the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, the agency responsible for the Lucas Heights reactor and its proposed replacement.
The Herald in August asked for “documents relating to the criteria on which the successful tenderer for the replacement research reactor was chosen and any documents or correspondence between the Minister, Senator Minchin, and ANSTO, on the criteria”. It was told this month that the request involved 1,350 pages, and 1,348 would not be available.
To have the FOI processed would cost $7,099.78.
The bill says “exempted pages” which the Herald will not be allowed to see involved 224 hours and 40 minutes of labour for the department, and cost $4,493.33.
Examining “relevant pages for decision making”, at five minutes per page, cost $2,250.
Greenpeace had asked ANSTO for “documents relating to the tender process for the construction of a replacement research reactor and the contract arising therefrom”.
The organisation was asked for $6,809.25 and told that 1,300 pages were involved. ANSTO said two pages could be released “with deletions”, and a further 20 that were not exempt.
A reader in law at the Australian National University who has specialised in FOI, Mr Peter Bayne, said yesterday that amendments to the Commonwealth Freedom of Information Act by the former Labor government had led to a new billing system which allowed for decision-making charges, and put the act at odds with State FOI laws.
“At the time the ALP amended the charges regime, it was widely perceived this was an attempt to discourage applications,” he said.
“It’s unfortunate the Commonwealth act does contain a regime for imposing charges which allows agencies to charge for the time they need to make up their mind as to whether [the material is] exempt.
“Most FOI laws in Australia do not allow agencies to do that.
“The reason is the ability to do that is an opportunity to run up very high charges [which are] very difficult to review before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
“In other words it (the Federal charge) places the applicant in an impossible position. They end up with a very big bill and no real way of challenging the decision to impose [the charge].”
Last night, the FOI co-ordinator for ANSTO, Mr Steven McIntosh, said that even though it already knew it was prepared to give the Herald only two pages, it had asked for $7,099.78 because it was using a standard government “per page” charge.
He said the contract Greenpeace had requested was “commercial-in-confidence” and could not be released. “Even though we make one decision about the contract, we have to count 1,800 pages for the purpose of making the charge.”
Now to replies to our One Nation contributor Rob Herron (Webdiary, November 21).
HUGH BINGHAM, Toowoomba
This is a fascinating experience – the “Education of Pauline”. Hanson is smart, obstinate, and a sturdy learner. I find I am doing an 180 degree spin about her – from an appalled fascination to an admiring interest in the way she is cleaning out the stables and determinedly using what remains of her figurehead status to regain control of the political entity she initiated. She appears to be more confident and clearer in utterance and it is clear that there is still a deep-running admiration for her courage – guts. The disintegration of One Nation, as you and your contributors all acknowledge, has left an exploitable political vacuum which Howard is positioning the Government to partly fill – my gut feeling however is that a passionate redhead, aflame and more confident, more politically educated, better advised and less exploited by those closest to her, can still take enough ground for a new importance in our political scheme of things. Despite all this, I still have an aversion to One Nation as it was – but I am willing to consider the nature of her future political maturity if it in fact eventuates. – Hugh Bingham, Toowoomba.
I’m proud of the way Australia has opened its doors to refugees (and not quite so proud about what goes on in places like Port Headland). I don’t see this as an issue about my lifestyle so much as an issue of human decency. If I were forced to leave Australia because of race, religion or politics I would hope there was somewhere I could turn.
I’m aware of One Nation’s argument that much of Australia’s crime, corruption and ethnic tension has been imported. I know that some One Nation members (perhaps not Rob Herron) don’t object to multi-racialism so much as multi-culturalism. They feel that social cohesion and national solidarity are undermined by inter-cultural differences in moral values and suspect that people who maintain different cultures can never really live peacefully together.
I see some of these views emerging in the debate about private school funding. Some Australians are afraid about what will happen if children are educated from infancy in small Islamic or Christian fundamentalist schools. Personally I suspect that there are more important differences over morality between conservatives like Rob and ‘small l’ liberals like myself than there are between different ethnic groups living in Australia.
It may be, as Rob suggests, that being a victim of war, torture or persecution makes it hard for some refugees to adjust to life in Australia. I know it can translate into problems like unemployment and a need to rely on social security but I’m not convinced that it translates into higher rates of criminal offending. Maybe Rob has some information I haven’t seen.
I was unsettled by Rob’s views on Aboriginal issues. I believe that part of maintaining our pride as Australians is taking responsibility for our past. I know that some One Nation supporters see complaints about past injustice as an attempt to manipulate non-Indigenous Australians into parting with money and privilege — that Indigenous Australians are like spoiled children who need someone to stand up to them and make them to stand on their own two feet. I understand this view but I don’t share it. Unresolved injustice is a terrible source of anger, it damages self esteem and fuels conflict. I think what happened in the past was unjust. I want us to deal with it.
Rob suspects that Indigenous disadvantage stems in part from genetic inferiority. If people suspect this and it affects the way they vote or the policies they would support I believe they have a responsibility to look at the evidence carefully. If you they don’t I’m suspicious that they’re just copping out — using a convenient excuse to avoid the hard choices that follow.
There’s a lot of evidence that people need to believe that hard work and talent pay off, to believe that that people tend to get what they deserve. In order to sustain the belief people sometimes distort their interpretations of what they see around them.
For example, the idea that a woman who is beaten by her husband was ‘asking for it’ or that somebody got cancer because they didn’t exercise or eat properly (it helps us feel we’re in control of our lives). It’s so common that psychologists have given it a name ‘just world belief.’
I know that people are sometimes responsible for their own problems but I also know how tempting it can be to attribute responsibility where it doesn’t belong. This isn’t an argument that Rob’s wrong, it’s just a reason to be careful about ‘facts’ which seem so obviously right we don’t bother to look for evidence. In the US journalist Stephen Glass pitched his stories so perfectly at his readers’ liberal prejudices (eg about conservative anti-drug programs, Alan Greenspan and young Republicans) that for years nobody realised he was making them up. I still find myself wishing Glass was telling the truth about the DARE anti-drug program.
Like Rob I was impressed at the level of personal abuse that Pauline Hanson was able to endure. I didn’t laugh when I saw the “If you’re watching this it means I’ve been murdered” video. It reminded me of what happened to ‘redneck’ American politicians like George Wallace and Huey Long.
We might all live in the same country, but there’s a gulf between the way I see the world and the way Rob does. We see the same things but interpret them differently. I appreciated Rob’s honesty. I’m impressed at the way you encourage a conversation about this rather than a debate.
I disagreed with all Rob Herron’s views but I am interested in his use of the term “lefties”. It’s obviously what Ian Kershaw (historian) called a fashionable boo word. Kershaw was talking about the use of the term “fascist” and the sloppy way it was used, as a term of abuse intended to provoke a shock horror reaction, but with nothing to do with the reality of fascism in its various shapes and movements.
I think “lefties” is used here (in current Oz political climate) in that way – as a gross generalisation which lumps all small l liberals, ex-commos (current comms?), Labor party members, socialists, Dems and Green supporters etc etc all together. Politicians and journalists (some) use it in that way too. Why, I wonder…because it’s a sort of code word or a boo word or laziness or what?
Where will these “lefties” will go at the next election…and will there come a time when both the Libs and Labor will court “lefties” as assiduously as they now court the Hansonite constituency??? I’m pretty sure that the non-homogenous lefties are going to find it hard voting Labor (even with the assistance of Bob “Bathrobe” Hawke!!!) (MARGO: Hear, hear!!) and they won’t be going to the Democrats- I disagree with you on that. They’re too keen to be seen as a big player, so too many sellouts on a range of things many of which offend different groups)
“As a white urban middle class, middle aged, self supporting male with his own business I don’t have a group lobbying for my needs,” says Rob Herron. Well, mate, that’s because you dont need one. You’re part of the majority, or what John Howard refers to as middle Australia.
Mercifully, you’re not a majority at all and our culture is far more diverse and vibrant than your dominant place in it would seem to suggest. You are the norm against whom every deviant women, the poor, the young, the non-English speaking, the disabled, the black, the farm-dwelling are measured. To think that you want someone out there pleading your special needs is extraordinary. The rest of us have to excuse ourselves for not being white, not being male, not owning our own business, and humbly request a bit of government policy, or even just a bit of rhetoric, that would acknowledge that we too have claims and needs as important and legitimate as your own.
Our society and economy are entirely geared to meet the needs of your demographic, largely at the expense of anyone outside it. Women are constantly having to explain themselves to employers when they want to have a baby or spend some time with their kids. Requirements for flexibility in the office are considered by many in the business community as the inconvenient pleas of special interests, as though there’s something weird and unusual about being a woman or a mother. As though its an outrage to expect that we alien creatures could expect to be accommodated in a uniformly pin-striped and neck-tied universe.
If it was men who had to have the babies, do you think maternity leave and childcare policy might be a bit different?
Aboriginal people face the same challenges, only more extreme. Their requests that they be able to practice customary law in order to punish those errant members of their communities rather than being forced to send their young men to far off prisons to die of loneliness is seen as an unreasonable request to be treated differently. But they are different, and they were here first, and they probably know best what will heal their own communities and fix problems of alcoholism and delinquency among the young.
On the subject of Aborigines, Herron is indeed eloquent. After admitting hes barely ever met one, he declares “they are a primitive race of people who are having a great deal of difficulty coping with modern civilization. To pretend this difficulty is simply cultural and not in part genetic only adds to their feelings of inadequacy.”
So what if Aboriginal people were found to be genetically disinclined to mimic white customs? (It’s an absurd proposition, but we’ll entertain it for the sake of argument.) If he could pinpoint a genetic reason for Aboriginal difference would that exonerate white society for stealing their land, killing them and destroying their families, their languages and their culture? And what inadequacy? I know plenty of Aboriginal people who are proud of their Aboriginality, and don’t feel that they have to adopt white values and white customs in order to feel good about who they are.
Why should Aboriginal people “cope with modern civilisation” (whatever that means) if it requires them to abandon their identity?
As for Herron’s resentment of the “deleterious effect” wreaked upon his lifestyle by migrants, he might think about the deleterious effects of his migration upon this country’s original inhabitants. It may be too late for us to pack up and leave it to the indigenous people, but we certainly have no justification for whingeing when foreigners show up with odd customs that make us feel uncomfortable.
“Whether I want to socialise with people depends on their personality not their race,” is just code for “I don’t mind if you look different, as long as you share my world view.” Sorry, but that’s just not how race works, Rob.
The tragic fact is, though, that while he would probably express himself differently, our own Prime Minister basically shares Mr Herron’s fundamental philosophical perspective.
John Howard really should be sent back to university to do an arts degree. Things have happened in social and political theory since he was a student, and he’s well and truly out of the loop. He can’t see that his entire political philosophy, like Herrons, is built on a fantasy that posits someone who looks just like him and his mates as the norm, while everyone else is part of some special interest group that is probably associated with the mysterious chardonnay-sipping elite that he keeps referring to (and if there’s a workable definition of elite then John Howard, as Prime Minister and resident of some lush real estate on Sydney Harbour, must certainly be included).
The fact is there is no middle Australia whose ideas and feelings are neutral while everyone else’s constitute an ideology. People like Rob Herron and many in the Government have to learn that they are a minority who must be prepared to move out of their comfort zone and really look at someone black, or someone disabled, or a single mother with three kids under four. They have to learn that these people are different from them, and that they themselves are different from those people, and we all have equal value. A really democratic and inclusive philosophy must insist that nobody in our culture occupies a central position from whom all others merely differ. A truly cohesive and modern society recognises that difference is not just a peculiarity to be ironed out, or an inadequacy that must be compensated for. Difference is positive and must be accommodated and celebrated.
John Howard and Mr Herron and all those like them must abandon any idea that we will live in a more cohesive society by dreaming of the 50s and hoping everyone just assimilates to the point where we all either resemble Mr Cleaver, or are at least happy to shut up and make his dinner, or mow his lawns, or type his letters.
Just wanted to quickly discuss some of Rob Herron’s comments regarding Aborigines. He states that Pauline Hanson argues they are given benefits far beyond what is good for them, I would like to ask him just what does he believe that they are entitled to? He has obviously studied their case very carefully and in great depth. What research has he done to back up this point or is he just another one of Hanson’s sheep who believes in her every word without question? Has he given no thought to the fact that they have had their land, culture, parents and children ripped away from them in the past? He tries to tell us that he doesn’t care about race yet with one broad stroke he calls all Aborigines primitive, where is the logic in that? You either believe that all people are equal or not.
It disgusts me to think that there are still people out there who think that some races are genetically inferior, what must we do to get it into everyone’s head that we are all equal. Let Rob deny that we took their land from them and that our ancestors had no objections to doing it in any way possible.
One interesting thing about the mud-slinging match between the so-called urban elities/the mainstream media and Hansonites/the bush over the last few years has been that although Australia may have appeared to become ‘two nations’ as Wooldridge put it in your quote, and has became an easy cliche for the ‘chattering classes’ to posit (and that assumed everyone was either a farmer or a comfy middle-class urbanite, there being no other people in this country). I belong to just one sub-culture/generation that didn’t at all relate or particularly sympathise with either camp.
I am thirty, a postgraduate student/casual university tutor and part time musician, strongly urban in my cultural make-up, and although on the issue of race I would side with the baby-boomer elites, I actually in many ways ended up increasingly resenting them and their approach to Hanson, sharing some anger and reluctantly recognising some possible common grounds with her followers.
I got so sick of reading yet another media column condemning her racism, and with the same kick, quickly abusing the bush’s economic concerns too as “populism” (how did a derivation of the term ‘popular become derogatory – this, if any further proof was needed, proves the non-reflexive elitism and support of the status quo the media engenders).
Did you notice how coverage of her followers’ economic concerns was usually reduced to arrogant laughter at the idea that we ought to ‘print more money’? To hone in on the most bizarre of O.N.’s suggestions worked a treat to invalidate the actual concerns that gave rise to them – the serious economic disenfranchisement that not only the bush, but Everyone except a very small amount of the population feels in the face of free market globalisation’s open-door policy to big business, and Western governments’ shrinking-violet personae in the face of this.
For every piece of privatisation and free market acquiescence, governments lessen their importance, and in so doing make the society they serve all the less democratic as elections become increasingly symbolic prom night popularity contests.The less power governments have in a society and an economy, the less power people have to actually change anything.
Why was is that Howard, Beazley and the mainstream media all came together to condemn her stand on race (although Howard’s words were late and weak – he more than anyone is to blame for the genie coming out of the bottle, due to his appalling lack of responsibility and lack of understanding of the obligations of a prime minister within this rhetoric of ‘free speech’ that somehow applied to her more than him), yet didn’t discuss at all the motivations behind it and the economic issues?
I was appalled by Hanson herself and also increasingly disturbed by the lack of representation my views were getting anywhere at all! I, and most of my friends/aquaintances are students ultimately employed by the government in some way, artists or low income earners (the richest person I know is a journalist). Despite our in-the-main middle class backgrounds we are generally earning a very modest wage. We find both parties extradorinary conservative on social issues, including Labor under Keating, and also find both parties unbearably bipartisan on economic issues.
Ultimately, despite my almost pathological hatred for bigotry of any kind – and racism is right up there with homophobia with me – I have increasisngly over the years felt that there was an appalling lack of engagement with what Hanson was saying. Sure, I shared the disagreement that the media superficially offered on her racial stuff – but what of the not very much discussed statistic from 1998 that only 10 percent of her supporters followed her party due to the race issue, and that they were really attracted to her because of her lone voice of rebellion against big business, privatisation etc?
OK, I would find it impossible myself to go with a party, no matter how much I agreed with some of their policies, if their social policies were totally at odds with mine, especially if they involved clear racial bias. However, this statistic means that not only the parties on the left like the Greens and the (?) Democrats have much to gain on some issues by getting together with the far right to bring about some kind of serious opposition to free market rheotic in this country – this would be hard such as would be the mutual hatred on the really evocative issues – and there really is something to be said for starting with issues where we agree, and at least trying to force some changes on them.
Perhaps more crucially, it should mean that Labor has some work to do re engaging rural voters. fear, however, that they have taken the dubious end of the stick on this one, the end where they’ll do the least damage to their standing with the markets. Labor only seems to be appealing to the bush by going to the right on social policy. Why is it that people always assume the only way to make the bush happy is to actually shift towards their point of view (as we percieve it in the city at least) re ‘redneck’ conservatism? What about saying to them – as I believe Labor should – “We will not support you on some issues, like race and other social issues, but we will listen to you on economic issues where many urban voters share your concerns?
And really, would you prefer to have nice in-theory agreement as to whether there is too much Asian immigration or have guaranteed non-privatisation of Telstra and higher taxes on big business to get more public money for various programs some of which would be directly target at rural areas?
What I and many of my demographic can’t accept is that economic imperitives – the percieved inevitability and actual rightness of an increasingly free-market – always end up being reinforced by all the players – the mainstream media, the two major parties etc. It does not makes sense to me – at least in theory – that the National Party should automatically reside with the Liberals – as “agrarian socialists’ they agree with the Libs on social policy and Labor on economic policy .
Of course the answer is that Labor is in agreement with the Liberals on nearly all economic policies now. But where does that leave voters who would like a party to reflect more than some select social policy differences?
Basically Margo, while initially confused by it – and for a while a little disturbed as it seemed to be sending mixed messages at times – I think your take on Hanson is at this point interesting essentially because it seems to be pushing buttons that don’t really flatter Hanson or the so-called elites. Your analysis suggests everyone fucked it up big time. The Hansonites were factually wrong in some ways, but so were the urban jeerers – and they didn’t have factual innacuray as an excuse either.
Hanson’s followers have a host of reasons and excuses for their positions. The media, elites – and especially John Howard – are really the guilty parties as they can claim no excuses at all (besides being blissfully ignorant of the real effects of
downsizing, privatisation and other blind idealogical free market imperatives). They are educated to the hilt, well-off, and run the show as regards positioning the goalposts for the debate.
Despite my differences with them, I can relate to the Hansonites on this. While I can claim to be extensively educated, I certainly have none of the other two advantages, being technically below the poverty line and having no cultural representation at all in national political debates. Like them, I am angry at the extent to which this total hegemony of debate results not only in vested interests always winning the day, but almost no debate at all about anything that Hansonism really brought out from under the rock of repressed resentment.
All we really heard was an almost deafening slagging of ‘political correctness’. The abuse of the term by journalists and politicians became shorthand for letting all kinds of vitiolic, anti-progressive regression out of the closet (it was like people thought, “If Hanson can do it with blacks, I’ll get on my soap box and bag the lesbian conspiracy”, ie. reducing educated people to the level of unfactual, lowest-common denomitar standards of debate and rational argument).
Isn’t political correctness ultimately something the hegemonic parties all agree on, hence effertively banning debate? The biggest PC cause has to be the unquestioned free market agenda, because in the mainstream media it is almost totally supported, with tiny little allowances for some groovy urban feel-good social policy on the side (the ‘Keating arrangement’).
We can now question ATSIC, immigration, the UN, gay rights and heroin trials with the media’s blessing – but not dwindling business tax that has gone from the 40 something % in the 70s to single digits today.
To agree that racism is bad is really a pathetic form of self-congradulatory wank that went absolutely nowhere towards opening any real debate about what all of this means, and what the real causes of such built up resentment are. It’s at times like this that our ‘two nations’ are not the bush and the chattering classes at all, but those that have the powers of controlling the discourse and those that don’t and get no representation at all.
Far from resenting Hanson and her followers we should view the apparent break-up of One Nation’s appeal with interest, and harness what it is that most of the rural, suburban and even inner city voters actually agree on. I believe such an investigation would uncover interesting alliances. If these very differently conceived ‘two nations’ could actually enter into a discourse that didn’t – for once – go through the bland and homogenising mouths of the Centre (read: media and the two major marties), I can see how the S11 protesters and the Hansonites, Bon Brown and John Laws, and other unlikely left/right alliances may emerge and in very specific ways temporarily flower.
To attack the drab, middle of the road adherenceto Friedmanesque/Thatcherite ideaological rhetoric that peels back governmental responsibility for the people in the name of kneeling before the Market – to attack this twenty-year failed experiment from BOTH SIDES – wouldn’t that be something, eh?