Monday, 11 August 2014 

David Rowe: AFR

David Rowe: AFR

What this government is trying to do is trying to stop Australian Muslims travelling overseas to murder other Muslims. They’re going to Iraq, they’re going to Syria. There are Sunnis targeting Shiites. This is not an anti-Muslim attitude; this is an attitude that’s trying to save the lives of other Muslims from being attacked by Australian Muslims.

Gerard Henderson on the, er, Australian terrorist threat to the world

The trouble with understanding the growing chaos in the government is that the starting point is always wrong – looking at the government itself, and its personnel, rather than the context in which it is operating. This is especially important for this government as, even more than the previous one, it appears completely oblivious to it.

If there is one thing that best sums up that context is one government blunder of recent weeks that has actually been rarely discussed in the media, despite its importance – the UN Resolution for securing the MH17 crash site. It will be recalled that Australia’s success in getting the UN Resolution passed unanimously in the Security Council last month was hailed as a coup for the government. All attention was on Russia and whether it would give approval which, after some wording changes, it did.

But no one thought to check with the Ukrainians, who appeared to have ignored the Resolution’s call for the cessation of military action around the site and renewed their attack on the area, so preventing the Dutch and Australian investigators from getting access to the site.

Curiously, despite all the chest beating about Operation Bring Them Home, this violation of the UN Resolution has gone largely unremarked. Phillip Coorey, who on Insiders immediately following the crash, was chest beating with the best of them, raised the fact that investigators were prevented from getting access to the site on the program last Sunday, but skipped over why.

Whoever was responsible for preventing the investigators from getting to the crash site, the lack of follow through by the media is striking. If it is because the Ukrainian forces ignored the Resolution or, even worse, used the truce as an opportunity to recover lost ground, or both sides are equally to blame, the upshot is the “goodies and baddies” narrative has clearly gone wrong – leaving the uncomfortable feeling that all of the media and political interest on the human angle was merely subordinate to geopolitical concerns – and dropped when the geopolitical narrative didn’t pan out.

The lack of any clear geopolitical framework is behind what has the potential to be a much more serious mess over counter-terrorism proposals announced last week. As we saw with the Budget, the stuffing up of what was such a well-worn media ritual finally brought home to the press that something was seriously wrong with the government. But for a Coalition government to stuff up a national security initiative is something else entirely.

It’s probably more likely that Abbott’s decision to drop the repeal of 18C was not just due to the unlikelihood of it getting through the Senate, but that it was undermining relations with backers for what is likely later to be a much greater priority for Abbott, the Constitutional changes on so-called “indigenous recognition”.

Nevertheless the government decided to cover the embarrassment over the back down by upping the ante through linking it, in a fairly crass way, to counter-terrorism initiatives as a means of getting Muslims on side for “Team Australia”. But in upping the ante and restore some purpose, the government exposed that there was no clear framework to carry it.

The irony of the government’s metadata proposals is that in a sense it is a non-event. Security forces have been monitoring and using metadata for years, as have the telecoms been retaining such data. The legislation was more to reinforce the existing situation on fears that the telcos would shift to a more cost effective means of storing data. It was the government that decided for political reasons to make a big deal out of it, but then discovered the politics behind it was not what they thought.

The issue is not that Brandis (nor Abbott) was not up on the details of metadata – but that they had to explain it in the first place. Normally where the security threat is clear, whatever needed to be done would be accepted, no questions asked – just as the government would unquestioningly accept the initial request from the security services.

But what exactly is the national security threat here? In pushing it on Insiders last Sunday, Gerard Henderson only showed how confused it was. This is not how a national security would normally be discussed: as one emanating from overseas – but is instead home grown.

In effect those going overseas to fight for those like ISIS are carrying on what began with our home town loon, David Hicks, who was bizarrely such a cause célèbre for the left a few years ago. For Hicks, at least, it looked less like a profound conversion to the Muslim faith but simply a cover for nihilism. As Henderson said, we are talking not about a threat from overseas, than Australians going overseas to spread their chaos in other countries. Understandably, trying to make goodies and baddies out of that is not clear cut.

The chaos is, of course, being writ large with the latest round of US intervention in Iraq. The US and the UK spent over a decade trying to build a viable state in Iraq, only to see it collapse from a rag-tag army with patchy local support. It is hard to believe that more bombing from the sky will achieve the order that that so eluded them after a decade on the ground. Just as for the Ukraine, which has seen ineptness from both sides, the latest round of US actions look more driven by a lack of idea of what else to do than clear purpose.

This chaos is clearly difficult for the left to deal with. While moral causes like Israel’s bombing of Gaza are easy to target, responding to chaos and lack of clear intention is harder. If the Coalition needs goodies and baddies, so does the other side of politics – resulting often in an ascribing of bad motives that reached probably its moronic low in claiming the Iraq war was all about oil. In the latest round of US intervention, the self-interested motives are even less clear, even if the result is much the same, more chaos.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Monday, 11 August 2014.

Filed under State of the parties, The Australian state

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13 responses to “Chaos”

  1. F on 11th August 2014 12:55 pm

    That was actually one of the most fascinating ‘Insiders’ I can remember. Not because of its content, but because of the panels reactions. It boiled down to Coorey and Atkins admitting the current government was fast becoming a complete disaster, if it wasn’t one already.

    Atkins actually grew a pair and said he believes Abbott should be held to the same standards as other PM’s, and not be given special treatment(!). Colour me shocked.

    Henderson appears to be in a state of shock, he didn’t seem to have much fire in him. I thought it was hilarious how he tried to make out that Gillard had it “easy” because she could successfully negotiate bills through the senate! That wasn’t the impression I got from Henderson during that period. I’m no fan of Gillard but it just went to show how full of crap the press gallery was with their assessment of ‘turmoil’ during that time. Compared to now the Gillard years look calm and serene. If Gillard was such a failure why are conservative talking heads so obsessed with comparing Abbott’s Pm-ship with hers? Abbott does it as well. I find it really strange because they just end up fighting on Gillard’s turf(legislative ‘success’)and Abbott comes out looking pretty ordinary.

    There was still some chest beating from Coorey over the “atrocity”, but it quickly fizzled out. Thank God Kelly has moved on.

  2. Tim on 11th August 2014 1:38 pm

    And the number of times Henderson said “I don’t know”. If the old duffer “doesn’t know” then why does he bother to speak.

    “I don’t know” but maybe the “atmospherics” of Hockey’s petulant remarks were self-mocking.


    Henderson wasn’t sure but maybe if Abetz had been allowed to crap on for ten minutes more then he more have eventually got around to saying that the “research” linking abortion and breast cancer was crap.

    Yep sure Gerard. You convinced me!

  3. Florence nee Fedup on 11th August 2014 2:07 pm

    I see that Insiders as a tipping point. Henderson for the first time, challenged on every statement.

  4. Tim on 11th August 2014 7:21 pm


    Maybe. Hopefully.

    Not for Henderson though.

    A man capable of that level of mental gymnastics and sophistry is the epitome of cognitive dissonance.

  5. AvalonDave on 11th August 2014 7:35 pm

    Shrike is on record some 2 years ago, saying “The coalition will win the election, but they will be very confused as to why.”

    As the Capital v Labour argument has died, these amateurs on both sides, have decided that the electorate is still choosing sides.

    Abbott and his cronies (we were such a good government, I can’t understand why we were punted) have decided that the reason they have been re-elected, was a return to conservative ideology. Hence the very lazy budget.

    The ideologues on the left got exposed during the Gillard coup. Now the ideologues on the right are also getting exposed (Brandis was just a spiteful fuck up re Turnbull paranoia, but Abetz & Kevin Andrews really nailed it).

    It is the Right’s turn now to unravel – and it will be fun to watch. But Labor still can’t reform – so it will be a circus for a few mores years yet.

  6. Riccardo on 12th August 2014 12:49 pm

    I have no idea how the panelists on Insiders is decided, but I wonder if a whole lot of other rightists declined (sensibly) last week, and left it to Gerard, the rain-or-shine apologist.

    I also suspect the Bolta is going to be of less value, as he is making himself the story. It’s one thing to be a celebrity journo or columnist, another to be the political issue at hand.

    And the Right have been dancing the impossible for too long – both denigrating the idea of ‘victims’ (like his white-skinned Aboriginal subjects who should just suck it up) and being victims themselves.

    Bolta is not going to be saleable to his audience if he is too much the latter.

    Gerard too, I notice is sounding more whimpering.

  7. Riccardo on 12th August 2014 12:55 pm

    I suspect the Libs are now onto hoping that severed heads equals Tampa equals 911, though not exactly sure then who the enemy is.

    It can’t be Islam (Abbott just told us so) and it can’t be lack of Intelligence (a photo happily posted on the internet and picked up by Murdoch).

    If anything, according to Fairfax is it is the conventional institutions of government, an Immigration Dept running a fraudulent anti-boats agenda who don’t have enough resources to stop actual immigration fraud.

    Or Mr Beheader, who left Sydney on his brother’s passport, meaning some Immigration clerk at Sydney Airport didn’t stop passport fraud. Why bother trying to fix the government you have when you can go looking for new powers or new problems to fix?

  8. David Rohde on 16th August 2014 5:52 pm

    I am surprising myself for feeling some pity for the libs and in particular Hockey right now…

    It would be fair to characterise the LNP position on the carbon tax as disingenuous, opportunistic and deeply unprincipled, as under conventional economic assumptions, direct action will add economic drag to the economy and make the budget position worse and also weaken our position to negotiate global action. Assuming that direct action gets legislated and works it has the same environmental impact. As the party of business this is not a good legacy to leave, and frankly I think they know this, even if a good part of the electorate and the entire cross-bench don’t…

    On the other hand indexing petrol tax is both a small and completely reasonable thing to do, especially when the budget is in trouble.

    I recall Costello said that when Howard removed the exercise prices came down much more due to changes in the oil market and they got credit for something they didn’t do. Right now I think Hockey is collecting blame for quite a bit that he didn’t do.

    Firstly the incoherence in his budget is probably more Abbott’s fault than Hockey’s. It is Abbott who wants to remove two taxes (to big business), bring in a lavish paid parental leave scheme, to have no new tax cuts, and maintain funding for health, education including Gonski and the NDIS and the ABC and SBS _and_ repair the budget. I think the electorate would happily accept a budget with tax increases and targeted spending cuts, the Hockey budget suffers because some sensible actions break promises and some not sensible actions are consistent with promises that should never have been made and make the whole thing inconsistent. Ok there are the unfair and harsh aspects to, but Howard was able to get those through… There is a lot of mis-remembering Howard at the moment…

    There are other problems: With the IPA and Bold as friends do you need any enemies… The libertarians are even more elite than the lefty groups they mock. Also I think most of the electorate was actually pretty ok with the ALP governance just frustrated with the leadership instability.

    All of this really takes the pressure off Shorten, who frankly doesn’t deserve the easy ride he is getting.

  9. Duncan Gilbey on 19th August 2014 9:13 pm

    Operation Petrol Indexation is indicative of the political ineptness of the Government.

    I posit that it could have sailed through the Senate if the Government had:

    a) ‘Fessed up that the removal of indexation was a mistake

    b) Not tied the increased revenue to road building (the Green’s would then have no real option but to support what is, after all, their own policy)

    That both these conditions would in reality not be countenanced by the Government is telling.

    Of course, Labor has also outsmarted itself on this issue.

    So stupid that I’m amazed that they remember to breathe (some of them).

  10. Riccardo on 21st August 2014 12:57 pm

    TPS – I know you don’t buy it from me, so here it is from Guy Rundle in Crikey

    We remain the last European colony in Asia — we simply colonised a people who didn’t have a unified state and society capable of throwing us off, and restoring their own autonomy.

    This is the last piece of your puzzle as to why the political class here is ineffective. They really only exist to manage a mining and agricultural colony for others.

    The real tension of late is whose colony it is. The USA, whose Marines are on their way, actual blood and treasure at stake (unlike us, who don’t) or the Chinese, the most obvious party to be desiring it.

  11. Riccardo on 21st August 2014 12:58 pm

    Sorry the last two paras are mine

  12. F on 21st August 2014 4:00 pm

    Jesus, Riccardo

    The idea that somehow “the colonised” set out to re-capture their “unified state(s)” is just so much nonsense. There were barely any unified states, the idea is an invention of the 19th century. And the idea that this process was uniform is simply incorrect.

    We are the aberration. This ‘Age of Nation “Unified” States’ is very different to what has gone before. Empires were the norm, and maybe they never went away.

    To say that we are the last colony in Asia is silly. What about all the other occupied peoples? You know, the patchwork of peoples dominated, controlled, administered and even colonised, that still exist throughout Asia?

    De-colonisation was the process whereby metropole educated elites came back to their homelands and (quite rightly) saw that the reins of power were ripe for the taking. One elite was replaced with another, and power moved from a distant European capital to a distant National capital. Sounds familiar?

    Ask the Uighurs if they have been de-colonised, or the Tibetans. Ask the Tamils, or the Bataks. There are multiple peoples across Asia who have had their supposed sovereignty ‘taken’ from them by another more dominant people. They now exist in unified states; I wonder if they feel as autonomous as you and Rundle suggest they should be?

  13. The Piping Shrike on 22nd August 2014 7:09 am

    I just find it all a bit meta – and prone to Oz exceptionalism. I don’t really see that much different in what’s going on in Australia to other developed countries, it just tends to be clearer. A weaker right, a more instutionalised left have been important reasons why it has been clearer, in my view.

    But the basics of it is reproduced elsewhere. Australia’s hardly alone in having a flailing right ascending to ideological loo-lah land and a left sliding down into technocracy.

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