I watched a great doco on ABC TV the other night. Titled “88”, it was about the March for Justice, Freedom and Hope on Australia Day (or Invasion Day, as the Kooris say), 1988. The march was the largest protest event since the Vietnam Moratorium and more than 30,000 Aboriginal people took part, plus tens of thousands of white supporters. Joadja and I were there. It was an historic milestone in the Koori struggle for justice and certainly the largest gathering of Kooris that had ever taken place. They came from all over Australia in convoys of coaches, mini-buses, and cars.
There was the official march which was to go from Redfern to Hyde Park, stopping at Belmore Park to pick up the white supporters, and there was a breakaway group who’d opted for a more confrontational approach and were camped at Lady Macquarie’s Chair – the epicentre of the official celebrations on Sydney Harbour. Those brave people came in for a lot of abuse from the dimwit flag-waving white patriots surrounding them.
It was wonderful piece of work – a record of a turning point in our history – with lots of interviews with the Aboriginal participants. It served as a reminder that white Australia has a black history.
In other words, it was just the sort of critical look at Australia’s history and politics for which Tony Abbott was to lash the ABC a couple of days after Australia Day, when he said it ”appears to take everybody’s side but our own” and lacks ”at least some basic affection for the home team”.
Abbott knows who he likes, and he chose to make his remarks on shock-jock Ray Hadley’s radio program.
Funny thing, that. Just two days later, the lawyer for former 2GB website manager Richard Palmer, told the media that Hadley had settled his client’s action in the NSW District Court for an undisclosed sum. It was probably a very tidy sum.
The case opened a fascinating window on Hadley’s style and the internal operations of the Abbottista station. Palmer had alleged that Hadley, infuriated by a supposedly tardy upload of a podcast to the station website, had summoned the young website manager to his office and “imprisoned” him there against his will with the intimidatory presence of Hadley’s 150 kilogram assistant, Rob “The Duck” Smith, while he subjected Palmer to a bullying tirade. Hadley didn’t realise that Palmer was recording his abuse on his mobile phone, or that he’d replay it to management.
One email, aired in the court, had Macquarie Radio’s executive chairman Russell Tate refer to Hadley as a “psychotic bully”. This is just the sort of guy with whom our Prime Minister, a man with a reputation as a political thug dating back to his days in student politics, feels comfortable.
Abbott’s attack on the ABC wasn’t just an assault on the national broadcaster: it was also a pre-emptive strike against Malcolm Turnbull.
The Prime Minister is a man out of his time (the 1950s) and way out of his depth. He faked his way during the Howard years, when he was just a placeholder in Cabinet and Howard did all the talking and strategising. Now, his ugly persona, flat-earth beliefs, and dangerous incompetence are on display internationally.
Relations with Indonesia are frigid; industries are closing, throwing thousands of workers on the scrapheap; global warming is grinding inexorably forward, burning farmers off their land, and people are rising up against massively destructive and inane tollway projects in Sydney and Melbourne. They’re also hitting the streets over coal exports and forest destruction and shark culling and any number of other issues.
In short, reality is exposing Abbott and his closest confidants and there isn’t much alternative prime ministerial material for the government to turn to, other than communications minister Malcolm Turnbull.
By attacking the ABC as unpatriotic, and forcing Turnbull to side with the corporation (in however restrained a manner), Abbott hopes to cut his rival off from whatever support is starting to flow from within the backbench. It’s a strategy that says “you’re with me, or you’re a traitor to your country”.
It might just work for a few months but even in the medium term, I don’t like his chances. All public opinion surveys show the ABC is the most respected electronic media organisation in Australia. If he smashes the ABC, he can kiss goodbye to any chance of support from the working intelligentsia: teachers, academics, lawyers, doctors, nurses, engineers, middle-managers, public servants, artists, actors, and journalists.
And the bush? As politically conservative as country folk are, on average, they love the ABC, because only the national broadcaster, among all the electronic media, pays them any attention at all. If I were a National Party MP, I certainly wouldn’t be caving in to Abbott’s bullshit and blackmail.