31 March 2014

The bigots' friend

Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose

- Kris Kristofferson, Me and Bobby McGee
Years from now, George Brandis will be an old man blustering into restaurants with "Don't you know who I am?". He will be dining well when somebody approaches him whom he doesn't recognise, but Brandis will retain too much of the pollie instinct not to tell the person to go away.

"Excuse me", the person will say, "aren't you George Brandis?". It will have been a while since he was recognised like that.

"Yes, yes I am".

"I just wanted to thank you for saving us from the [racial epithet]s".

In that moment, he'll be crushed. Why don't people remember [some incremental advance in liberty, since reversed], or [some other small achievement of which he might be proud, but which none but lawyers notice]? Why is his legacy consumed by bigotry? Even more than John Howard, he will go into his dotage mystified that others don't regard him as the open-minded and tolerant fellow at which he prizes himself.

I believe Brandis is sincere in his belief that he went into politics to advance the scope of freedom available to Australians. He just hasn't done a very good job of it. The reason for this is because he isn't as committed to it as he makes out, which I've pointed out elsewhere. There is no strong, lifelong vow to anything that will define Brandis' career in any way other than as the bigots' friend.

Garfield Barwick was bankrupted during the Depression. As Attorney General he rewrote the law of bankruptcy, and as a High Court judge he came down against the heavy hand of government. Nicola Roxon's father died from smoking-induced lung cancer, and as Health Minister and Attorney General she took down tobacco companies with plain packaging and other measures. Brandis has no backstory, no depth like either of those. He talks about freedom in idle, school-debate terms. He does not and cannot draw on the lives of people different to himself, nor even on instances from his own life which might resonate with others.

Like all politicians Brandis will regard the odd concession to his enemies as so much foxing, distractions from some main/long game. The trouble is that he isn't that good at playing the game. This may account for his closeness to the IPA: the way John Roskam plays internal Liberal Party politics is similar to the way Brandis does, offering quid up front and no quo in return. Tim Wilson's appointment to a body that he wanted abolished is much better for Wilson than it will ever be for Brandis and any agenda he may have.

Brandis had entered the Senate on shaky ground factionally. Early in the century faced the prospect of losing preselection with nothing much to show for his career, either in politics or in the law. He ran interference for Howard in Senate investigations into "children overboard" and became a minister toward the fag end of his government. As delivery boy for Howard, and now Bolt, Brandis is more defined by them than they were/are by him.

Those who stand to benefit from bigotry are few and, as Pauline Hanson's career shows, ungrateful. Those who stand to lose from it are many, and not bound or inclined to regard him favourably either. He's just another jack-in-office in Canberra who made it harder for people for whom life is hard enough. Acts of violence or even derision cannot and will not be traceable to Brandis directly, and any attempt to do so will only overburden the decrepit nag that serves as his high horse. We all stand to lose from diminished social cohesion at home and greater distrust abroad, which is what comes from an Attorney General who sides with bigots.

Bolt had been a critic of the previous government and a fan of this one. His pride is such that he will not suffer any reputation as a kept boy and he will turn on this government when it suits him. For now, Brandis will happily wear the opprobrium that comes with representing Bolt, in that lawyerly way where a client's reputation never rubs off onto the lawyer. Politics isn't like the law in that regard, and if when Bolt parts ways with this government he will leave Brandis exposed. Brandis is not only dumb enough to truckle to Bolt, he's so dumb that he expects something in return.

Bolt didn't get where he is through sticking by George Brandis. Bolt will still be going after Brandis is gone.

Brandis' proposed repeal of s18C of the Racial Discrimination Act is not a done deal, despite what the press gallery might have you think. It's not clear that Brandis can cut a deal with a disparate Senate, or work out some way to wedge Labor into voting for it. Peter Costello managed to negotiate the GST with the Democrats, and Peter Reith did the same with industrial relations changes (which is what we called them back in the day); but neither Brandis, nor any member of this government have shown such negotiating skill. Of all the turmoil in the previous parliament, never were Rudd or Gillard wrong-footed through some deft manoeuver by Brandis.

What else is he going to do, federal-state relations? Rename 'chairpersons' as 'chairmen'?

Brandis will puddle along and retire without having achieved much at all. There is no evidence that he himself is a bigot (some of his best friends, etc), but those who are will regard him as a friend and helper when others turned away. He may write a book but it almost certainly won't be any good. He'll retire seeking forgiveness to any he'd wronged and with goodwill to all, and the lack of achievement will cause many to think more fondly of him than is possible now.

Even so, what little achievement he has already is pretty much the only legacy he can or should expect. He'll feel diminished at being the bigots' friend, but he won't have much choice; a terrible position for any lover of freedom, whether real or merely professed.

Update: speaking of those who love the idea of liberty more than its practice, Chris Berg wrote a poor book on the subject and has come out panhandling in defence of Brandis, Bolt and the whole sorry self-inflicted mess.

Berg sounds unhinged when he snarls at the existing statute and its pesky reasonableness-and-good-faith. Andrew Bolt was found guilty of having been dishonest in his dealings with the facts on Aboriginal identity. While Berg sneers at judges deciding what's free speech (until the High Court agrees with him - such a relief for all concerned, no doubt), judges are actually quite good at sifting through fact and falsehood and deciding who is or isn't a liar.

Andrew Bolt was convicted of lying. Chris Berg is defending his 'right' to lie, just as he did when Conroy proposed to regulate the way newspapers deal with mistruths. To defend Bolt it is necessary to be dishonest in a way that goes beyond your Berg-standard straw man work. Berg and Bolt and Brandis want a public debate where what's true or not doesn't matter. With such heedlessness all you have is assertion, and the one with the biggest megaphone wins. Andrew Bolt and Adam Goodes had bigger megaphones than their opponents; only Goodes used his for truth and generosity: two values to be prized more highly in public debate than Berg using the Australian of the Year as cover for dishonest abuse against Aborigines.

Courts take frauds out of business every day. Courts have a role in weeding out powerful voices for dishonesty in race debates, and dishonesty about who even is allowed to participate in such debates. This should not change simply because the B-boys wish it so. They have not made their case at all, let alone honestly and in good faith.

Now that the budget is under development we can influence how we are taxed and governed. Joe Hockey's first budget will not be sidetracked by Brandis' culture-war pas-de-deux with Bolt. Given that most of the Senate is hostile to Brandis' proposals and to the general thrust of the budget, all this baggage puts the government in a more difficult position than wise management would have put it in.

If the government had to get either the budget through the Parliament, or Brandis' reforms, which do you think would it choose? Puts the straw-man arguments of the B-boys into relief, doesn't it.


  1. I think you're being too kind to him. There's often (always?) a very nasty tone to his bluster.
    Thank you for your excellent writing too.

  2. Brandis will never eat in the Food Court.

  3. Worthy of much more attention than it has received is Senator Brandis's role in the litigation in the International Court of Justice with East Timor. All the signs point to his having been thoroughly blindsided by the Timorese action in the ICJ, and someone should make a note to explore in Senate Estimates just how much the whole affair has cost Australia to date.

    1. Quite so. Interesting to see if he claims credit for the ICJ verdict against Japanese whaling

  4. Will Tim Wilson as an openly gay male be tarnished as the bigots friend as well??

    That's bloody weird for a gay liberal isn't it Andrew?

    Watch Q and A tonight and we'll see.

    Brandis is a creepy man to the public anyway?

    Life experiences do count and thanks Andrew for making that point...

    You silly old "Whitey" smirk

  5. It should go like this Andrew.

    The Liberal Party...

    The bigots friend

    Sth Yarra.
    X I live in this area so I don't mix with lower working class WOGS to protect my family from "those" people

    Dame Alexandra the third.

  6. I thank Mr Brandis for allowing prospective employees a vetting system to seperate employing bigots and normal people.

  7. I just asked three colleagues and got two blank stairs and book case?

  8. That is what happens when your raison d'ĂȘtre is simply to beat the other guys. Or as you point out, if you have no convictions to stand by. As is too common for too many Liberals.

  9. Thank you for writing this piece. It is indeed sad that a man can have such mean goals for himself in his role as Attorney General.

  10. I am reminded of a school teacher in the 1980's who I helped to get fired.

    There was a couple of young aboriginal kids in my sons grade 1 class, they were constantly singled out for abuse by the middle aged female teacher for extra abuses.

    One day the mum of one of the boys advertised for after school care, I went to the teacher to ask who it was and get contact details and she said - I wouldn't bother if I was you, people like them just don't know how to learn like we do, the boy can't read".

    When the mother came to see me she asked my kids if they mind aborigines or brown people, they both looked around the room, then at Alison and said "'NO, YOU LOOK JUST LIKE A PERSON TO US". My kids had no bigotry then and have none now.

    When I asked them if they mind if I look after the two kids, one aged 5, the girl aged 8, they both said no.

    When it came time to test them with flash cards for words they both got the same number right as my son.

    I reported the racist teacher to the principal for her abuse of those two gorgeous kids and she was fired.

    I marched in 1988 with the mother for the peace, hope and justice cause while working for a democrat senator. This woman written off by the kids teacher as a drunken abo. was by then a qualified school teacher who thanked me for caring for her kids so she could do it.

    I loathe bigots of all kinds, we are supposed to teach our kids not to be bigots, we don't need the lizard king Brandis to tell them it is OK and a right to be bigots.

  11. “The reason for this is because he [Brandis] isn't as committed to it as he makes out, which I've pointed out elsewhere. There is no strong, lifelong vow to anything that will define Brandis' career in any way other than as the bigots' friend.”

    Thank you Andrew for being such a wonderful coach and guide. Your profile should include the fact that you have mastered physiognomy.
    On special days of the week people huddle together to practice bigotry. That bigotry is protected under the banner of religion. Words that spring from the various Holy Writs are ‘sinner’, ‘unbeliever’, ‘unchristian’, ‘pagan’, ‘godless’, ‘the most vile of created beings’, ‘unclean’, etc. Do we see any effort by these people to ease up on the bigotry and spare the susceptibilities of those who elect not to attend these special gatherings?

    Andrew, if you are determined to root out bigotry a good place to start would be St Mary’s Cathedral this Sunday. Mass commences at 7:00am and you could lead a brave campaign to rid society of institutionalised bigotry but you have a Sisyphean task on hand. You might even consider handing out leaflets in the Cathedral Store (located in the Western nave)

    Andrew, your profile reveals a conflicted person. Am I to believe that a man who “as a moderate seeking to preserve rights and freedoms in a changing world” wants to limit freedom? Also your interests are listed as ‘current affairs, cooking, travel and arts’. No mention is made of you dabbling in psychology or any associated fields.


    1. What kind of horse-shit are you talking?

  12. And now Mark Dreyfus has his own defining moment with the end of unscientific Japanese whaling (I know it's not all his work but he got to suit up and go to The Hague and make a case himself). Brandis will get less than diddly.

    Olivia Illyria

  13. Do you know that Andrew Bolt's son worked at the I.P.A when Tim Wilson was a director?

    Coincidence or not when Tim is trying to change the act.

    Conflicts of interest Andrew!

  14. Johnny Webster31/3/14 10:31 pm

    he also want to restore the title Queens Counsel to replace Senior Counsel. Not withstanding his own appointment as a senior counsel, was the subject of harsh criticism given it was awarded to him six years after he gave up active practice at the Queensland Bar.

  15. VoterBentleigh31/3/14 11:38 pm

    If the person with no tertiary education can see that saying people have a "right" to be bigots is sending a signal to the intolerant and will curtail free speech for those that people like Mr Bolt attack, then it beggars belief that Senator Brandis, with all his reading library of learned authors and his studies of the law, does not see it.

    It is doubtful that Senator Brandis cares what history will think of him. People of conscience with a genuine concern for morality may wake in the wee small hours to ponder and chide themselves over things they have done, but as far as Messrs Brandis and Abbott are concerned, the past is the past - Abbott has actually said this. Senator Brandis is no different from the Prime Minister, who views everything as a competition. This is the next lap of the run and who cares how we ran in the previous lap, as long as we are still winners.

    Nothing shames them, because they are not made accountable. Prior to the election, the media criticized 18C. Now that the consequences of the changes, which will allow people to be denigrated in the media, where the social repercussions will be great, are clear, the media conveniently ignore that they supported Abbott and the changes.

    In the Germany of the nineteen-thirties, unrestricted "free speech" allowed Julius Striecher to promote anti-Semetism in print and to write lines in children's books:
    "Es geht ein Teufel durch das land/ Der Jude ist's" (There goes a devil through the land/ The Jew it is..)

    Non-violent words, but insidious propaganda to make the voice of the Jew illegitimate and, subsequently, to justify violence.

  16. I enjoyed this piece immensely Andrew.

    It seems to me that the media plays the role of a distorting mirror when it does not look beyond the reminder note yellow label stuck on the foreheads of politicians. For easy sorting. For easy identification.

    Hence Christopher Pyne is a moderate. Excuse I!^%%{. Moderately what should be the first question. George B is both a moderate and a libertarian. That is clearly how he sees himself but he probably believes he is urbane, cultured and sophisticated. An aesthete no less.

    Tony Abbott is deeply devout, a romantic Catholic who has known the dark nights of soul torment. Oh the torment. The Catholic guilt! He must have the guilt goblins wriggling in a sack somewhere under lock and key.

    If only those with columns looked beyond the label we might have something interesting to read. Thank goodness for you Andrew.

  17. Is it true that Andrew Bolt talks to Mr Abbott almost daily and looks at his speeches??

    My goodness power really lies in Melbourne these days or not?

    Take that Sydney.....smirk

    Thank you Sir Andrew for your fine analysis..I bow at your knee.;)

  18. Piers Akerman on the board of S.B.S

    Shoot me now Andrew!

  19. I did enjoy your Berg-standard strawman - especially if pronounced by Inspector Clouseau "Eet iz a berm!"

  20. Yes...Crikey fooled a lot of people but with this government... it's not a joke with some of their weird appointments..

    Mirabella at Melbourne University

    Goodness me!

    I don't agree about Wilson.

    He has lost all those supporters from the hard right(I.p.a) with this bizarre gig in human rights

    They're a pretty agressive and unforgiving bunch especially the nasty conservatives

    His intellectually poor and even the younger gen liberals see flaws in his argument. ..time will tell

    The q and a gig was a revealing insight into this freedom agenda.

  21. Andrew, while I'm not entirely sure I am grateful for the image of

    ... Brandis' culture-war pas-de-deux with Bolt

    I am longing to know who plays the ballerina, and who is the heavy lifter.