Monday, February 9, 2009

Paul Sheehan, Fiscal Emergencies, Orwellian Language, Reckless Accusations and Kevin Rudd

When a columnist is determined to slag off an enemy of the state, it's best done boots and all. No mercy. No quarter given. Not just a few hairs, but a damned good scalping.

Take Paul Sheehan in The Sydney Morning Herald on Kevin Rudd: Ruddslide: debt, distortion, denial.

First he berates Rudd for using the word "emergency" when describing the current economic situation and his rescue package, and then invokes the words of that immortal clown Mark Latham saying that Rudd has acted with an urgent sense of political opportunity (presumably with the aim of beating up Malcolm Turnbull in the same way some beat up taxi drivers and photographers).

Well I'm relieved. Sheehan must be under the impression that rather than facing a highly volatile dangerous situation, a sudden happening that needs action immediately, all is well in the world of economics, with relative peace and calm the guiding light in any call to arms or action.

The gloomy Sheehan sees the whole thing as an opportunity for an ambush election - in 2009! Rudd's office has taken advice about an early poll, the worst of the recession has yet to hit, and Rudd is way ahead of Turnbull in the polls. It would also stop - gasp - the opposition turning to the fiendishly dangerous Peter Costello, "whose presence casts a long shadow over the House. It would keep Julia Gillard quiet for another three years."

But it would also, claims Sheehan as he tries to Mr. Sheen his logic, help Rudd when he claims in patently absurd fashion that his government built a strong surplus the previous year.

Well I guess columnists have to write things on a regular clockwork basis and any tosh will do as filler. But an ambush election? Usually it would be a more reliable routine about leadership challenges. Oh wait, that's the Costello and Gillard bit. Does Sheehan really think these days that Costello is anything but a jumped up, over indulged momma's boy inclined to fits of pique and preening?

Anyhoo, then it's on to Rudd's claim that by opposing the stimulus package, the opposition was voting in favour of higher unemployment and against the welfare of children. Well he would say that, wouldn't he?. But Sheehan's shocked. "It was Orwellian. No one in the Opposition had suggested the Government should not embark on a major stimulus package."

Indeedy, because by the time you do the numbers, there's three fifths of bugger all difference between what Turnbull's proposing (allowing for the loss in government revenues), up against Rudd's package, with the important difference that Turnbull abandoned the high moral ground by leaving it to the greens and the eccentrics in the Senate to get excited, before he remembered he should present his own alternative. 

As a result, we've been listening to endless speculation about what the 'parties of one' think, how they're anxious about the unemployed (and yes even the welfare of children), and how they intend to screw the government in favor of their own special interests.

But as if calling the Ruddster Orwellian wasn't the final, damning capper, Sheehan then offers up Rudd's 'grand distortion' in relation to the indigenous peoples, when "he repeated what I regard as the most reckless accusation ever told about Australia". Which in short is to suggest that indigenous children were forcibly removed from their parents and that this was the product of the deliberate calculated policies of the state.

Sheehan notes with what seems like a peculiar grim pleasure that a disruption in the parliamentary gallery of some thirty people was a "rough reminder that the Howard government's intervention in remote indigenous communities is still largely in place."

Not that the Australian government ever forcibly intervened in indigenous affairs in the good old days of the stolen generation. No, that charge has been 'challenged'.

According to Sheehan, "This (Rudd's grand distortion) was lifted straight from the Bringing Them Home report, even though it had been challenged by scholars and in the courts. But in keeping with the spirit of the occasion, nothing was said."

Well there's the stench of hypocrisy right there. "In keeping with the spirit of the occasion ..."

Meaning? Teeth gritting, resentful silence? Dumb insolence and civil disobedience by whites, but nothing said even we know the real truth about those pesky blacks because we're ever so polite and so awfully civilized?

I'm reminded of the hostile reaction on the right to the release of Rabbit Proof Fence, though it's based on a true story of three aboriginal children who made a long trek over many miles through desert wasteland, leaving an institution designed to train black kids as white servants to get back to their mother, their main crime having been born half caste. 

The right were inflamed but it was hard to call the women who told their stories outright liars, living evidence of a stolen generation. So instead they had to get agitated about the way it was funded by a government body, and the way in the USA that Miramax designed an ad campaign about what you might do if the government kidnapped your children.

So tell us, Paul Sheehan, as we relive the cultural wars, long after "sorry" was said, who are these scholars who challenged the notion of deliberate policies by the state, and indigenous children being forcibly removed? Better still, did those three women lie about their experiences as young girls?

Are we arguing about the very idea of it, or the numbers? Can we quibble, in the way Holocaust deniers do, so that if only 5% were forcibly removed, that makes it alright? (Sorry did that just break Godwin's law?). Are we talking about the esteemed Keith Windschuttle, who might be scientifically challenged, and incapable of reading the articles he prints with any understanding, but is otherwise the font of wisdom?

And what are the court challenges? And why use the word challenge anyway? Surely you mean comprehensive and effective rebuttals that deliver the lie to any notion of aboriginal stolen generation for which in effect the 'sorry' word was prompted, and which formed the basis for the 'spirit of the occasion'?

Let's reflect for a moment on A. O. Neville, 1875-1954, chief protector and commissioner for native affairs in Western Australia, 1915-1940, using the words of the Australian Dictionary of Biography, online edition, hardly a hotbed of revisionist leftie scholars (though with academics you can never be certain, can you?). Writing of Neville's government mandated power over indigenous children, it notes:

The ostensible purpose was to bring about permanent segregation of Aborigines of full descent, who were believed to be near extinction; and temporary segregation and training of those of part descent who would re-enter society as domestics and farm workers, eventually blending with the white population through intermarriage ...

The result?

The irony of Neville's administration was that in aggregating the power to assimilate Aborigines of part descent through economic and social (genetic) absorption, he accelerated the pauperization and segregation evident since the 1900s ...

The motivating ideology?

In retirement Neville wrote Australia's Coloured Minority (1947) in which he set out his long standing belief in the need to breed out the coloured populations ...

Really it's a never no mind to most whites, since they didn't happen to be around when it was happening and if they were, they didn't care because they simply thought the blacks were a nuisance, unworthy of the vote or being counted in the census, unworthy of being considered fully human in the white way. Stuff happens, and it happened to the blacks.

Let's not mince words here. Rudd has been shamelessly outrageous in the political way he's used his economic stimulus package to beat up the hapless Turnbull and the hopeless Liberals. Just like John Howard. But he's a politician, I don't expect anything else from him.

But if you're going to beat up the Ruddster, you have to do much better than Paul Sheehan. Instead of recycling phony culture war nonsense about the blacks, and cavilling about the word emergency, and quoting Mark Latham, and quibbling about language as being Orwellian, how about a bit of decent analysis? And instead of predicting an election in 2009 (has Sheehan got any money to lay a bet on that one) and the revival of Peter Costello or the revanche of a newly rampant Julia Gillard, how about a drink of some magic water, a Bex and a quiet lie down?

No comments: