Newsletter 379

Published March 1, 2021
Don'y worry, Scott, I've got your back...

At last the border restrictions appear to be lifting. This newsletter is being written on a plane, en route to Adelaide. It’s my third attempt to get to South Australia in the past few months, but the first time I’ve actually managed lift off. I know, of course, how fragile this return to travel can be. If someone sneezes in North Terrace I might find myself staying a couple of weeks longer than anticipated.

Throughout this period it’s surprising how well-behaved Australian have been. Unlike America, where wearing masks or following social distancing rules have been considered tyrannical intrusions on people’s civil liberties (ie. the right to endanger your own life, and that of everyone around you…), we’ve copped it sweet.

Indeed, the more draconian the lockdowns, the more uncomprising the restrictions, the more adulation has been showered on political leaders. Annastacia Palaszczuk cruised over the line to re-election in Queensland, and Mark McGowan in WA was reported as having an 85% approval rating going into his own state election. This kind of figure is almost unhealthy, as democracy probably works best when there is some kind of opposition.

Even “Dictator Dan” in Victoria seems to have come through a rough patch with his reputation enhanced. As for Gladys in NSW, the pandemic has allowed a golden opportunity to look serious and concerned, and let every scandal fizzle into insignificance. Scummo too, has made the most of his opportunities, although his handling of the Brittany Higgins case and the defection of the gruesome Craig Kelly haven’t helped his cause. Is this why he seems to have shelved plans fo an early election?

It may be a source of concern that Australians have responded so positively to the authoritarian approach. Would we succumb just as meekly to a military coup? At the very least the Labor Party should take this lesson to heart: the Australian public appreciates swift, decisive action, even if it proves unpleasant or inconvenient. The ALP might also note Scummo’s folly in preserving Craig Kelly’s worthless existence when he first threatened to leave the party. On the Labor side, Joel Fitzgibbon is playing a similar game with his defence of the coal industry. But instead of watering down climate policies to suit Joel’s demands the party would do well to campaign as hard as they can on the climate issue. Give people something to believe in and look to the future – don’t keep dwelling on ye olde days when Labor had a genuine connection to the working classes – who are now voting for right-wing populists. For Labor, as with the Democrats in America, salvation lies in the suburbs.

This week’s column take up the conservationist cause with Five Artists, Seven Days, a show produced on behalf of the Australian Wildlife Conservancy. This is the culmination of a journey I undertook in September 2019, to the AWC’s Mount Zero Taravale property, inland from Townsville, with five artists: Tim Allen, Alison Coates, David Collins, Peter Stevens and Mary Tonkin. It was a week spent with AWC scientists, learning about the ecology of the forests and the creatures that live there. After seven days in the bush and a year in the studio the artists have produced an impressive body of work. Almost all the money raised will go back to the AWC, so if you’d like to acquire an artwork and do something for the small furry animals of Australia, this is a perfect opportunity.

I know I use this column as a way of venting political gripes but I’m wondering if I might be part a more widespread syndrome. For instance, the organisers of the Jewish International Film Festival have put together a highly political selection for the 2021 program. While the Holocaust still looms large, there is a significant emphasis on more recent political events, with the opening night film, Incitement, detailing the events leading up to the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. I was slightly amazed by this display of curatorial chutzpah, but then thought back to the last Sydney Film Festival which opened with Rachel Ward’s Palm Beach, an Australian horror movie about baby boomers trying to recapture their youth. All at once a film about a political assassination seemed just perfect.