Tim Blair


New Criterion



Saturday, June 07, 2003

Having written a good book called Eat me, writer Marion Halligan (Weekend Australian, page 20) seems to think the rest of us have taken her advice.

It seems her life has been ruined by John Howard, who is staying on as Prime Minister. Or, perhaps, by the rest of us who have voted him there, and keep confessing to pollsters that we find him a less worse prospect than the alternatives.

I feel horror because we've become less and less a country of imagination... We used to be open-minded people embracing new ideas and new people but we're becoming conservative in dangerous ways. The conservatism is turning into a kind of selfishness and greed - and it comes from not having any imagination.

What's going on here? Has the Arts Council stopped paying for her to write and publish? Has the output of our book printers diminished, are the tubes of paint hardening on window ledge, are actors refusing to perform, poets to preen, sculptors to chip away, peformance artists to clutter our public spaces? Apparently none of the above, or if they are happening Halligan and fellow battlers in the "coalition of the unwilling" fail to mention it.

Has immigration fallen, or are immigrants turning to book burning as they leave the airports? Same answer.

There is a sense now that artists are beleagured because they're not valued by the Government ... I can't imagine you'd find an artist anywhere saying: 'I love working under the Howard Government'.

Read that again, slowly. Or let me translate: artists want to work for the government and their self-esteem depends on government approval. Or is it just Ms Halligan and her mates.

It gets worse. Nor are historians ... relishing the continuation of the Howard years.

Henry Reynolds - you know, that naughty historian who, apparently, can speak for them all - believes Australia is more fearful now than at any time since the Cold War in the 1950s.

These are the Australians whose taste for travelling and working overseas has continued to grow exponentially under Howard, at least until slightly dented by the deeds of the Islamists and the SARS bug.

Henry claims, from the evidence of a "recent indigenous affairs conference in Canada" - we presume a conference he addressed - "Now people overseas have gone back to the 50s view of Australia as right wing and white - the image we spent enormous effort trying to escape in the '70s and '80s." Better try something else, Henry.The truth would be a good start. Like explaining the composition of our immigration intake. How many of the junketeers in your audience were alive in the 1950s?

It must be true that historians do think as Henry Reynolds does. Historians David Day and Stuart Macintyre agree with Henry, and that makes three. Social and cultural policy are being determined from the Prime Minister's office, and people aren't bucking it. As evidenced by this article in the oppressively neocon Australian newspaper.

Here's the clincher.

Former broadcaster Terry Laidler, president of the Friends of the ABC, expects more government efforts to "ideologically re-engineer" the broadcaster.

Coming from an organisation that has stoutly defended the right of the ABC's communards to run their lines through Auntie's microphones, you'd have to wish he were right. Unfortunately, it's a gross exaggeration of the Government's intentions and capacities. All they can do is pull out some of our money.

Daffy old Marxist Humphrey McQueen thinks Howard is driven by a passion to suppress not only his ideas, but the wild liberalism of Red Pete Costello, aspiring Prime Minister.

It really can't get any sillier.

Yes it can. Geoff Clark, chief trader in Aboriginal disadvantage, who junkets while his people struggle with poverty and hoplessness, tells Howard he should " reflect on what it is Aboriginal people require to become a functional part of Australian society". Presumably a gravy train big enough for half a million Geoff Clarks.

On the next page of the same newspaper, Clark's colleagues Max Stuart and Noel Pearson reflect on the total failure of native title land rights, the acid test of non-racism and compassion according to these bleaters a few short years ago, to deliver for the Aboriginal people of this country.

Not only witless, but shameless.

Richard Yallop, who put this pastiche together, should really have included a translation.