Mungo MacCallum- Political Corrections

Howard and Abbot doing the hard cell on morals

From Kirribilli House we can finally report progress.

Our visionary Prime Minister is at last prepared to concede that global warming is not just a conspiracy among subversive green elements in the community, but a fact. Moreover, he does not completely discard the notion long since regarded as proven by the worlds scientific community that people might have something to do with it.

But this does not mean he is ready for the big breakthrough: that people should now do something about it. On this front nothing is so far established. We must proceed with caution, if at all; after all, doing something might involve some kind of sacrifice: it could even cost money.

These are weighty matters. Is saving the planet worth the demise of Australian coal exports? At the end of the day, the bottom line is that only time will tell. Have another glass of diesel.

If our dear leader has a weakness (and heaven forfend that it should be so) it may lie in a reluctance to distinguish between the real world and what he would like the world to be; a belief that if he just ignores the problems for long enough they will go away. Thus global warming may be taking place, but it isnt all that urgent; and we are really winning in Iraq; and, simply by fiat, the Australian Government can halt stem-cell research.

In this he bears an uncanny resemblance to the papacy, which spent fruitless centuries denying that the earth could move perhaps he is once again getting ideas above his station. But there can seldom have been a more pointless crusade than the one he is waging with the help of his personal Savanarola, Tony Abbott.

Even his evangelical mentor, George W Bush, has stopped playing King Canute with the scientists; in the God-fearing USA the search for new cures for old diseases is allowed to proceed more or less unimpeded. Howard is fond of saying that there is no point in Australia acting alone against global warming, especially if America does not join in, but he apparently believes that an Australian veto on stem cell research will have a universal effect.

And to ensure it comes about, he has reverted to his meanest and trickiest.

Abbott, in the intervals between warning that relaxation of the present restrictions will lead to the production of hordes of hybrid monsters and armies of mindless clones rather than a cure for Alzheimers (we mustnt give people false hopes, he declares sententiously false fears are obviously a much better bet), has said that he thought the whole thing was settled by a parliamentary vote two years ago; nothing has changed since then.

Well, actually quite a lot has, not least the expert Lockhart report which recommends that the restrictions be lifted. But low and behold, just when the scientific arguments advanced by the more enlightened members of parliament are gaining some traction, Howard is able to produce another report prepared in some haste by a Canberra PR firm, which says, surprise surprise, that Abbott is quite right: nothing has really changed over the last two years. (This may, of course, have been because the research has been banned for the last two years, but let us skip lightly over that).

Thus those who want to reopen the subject have got it all wrong; they are clearly mistaken, and, wittingly or unwittingly, agents of the devil. The parliament of Australia has spoken, and once stated, its will is unalterable, whatever might happen to the facts. As Abbott sneers, why would you want to listen to a few scientists when youve got the absolute cream of Australias elected representatives giving their unbiased (and largely uninformed) judgement?

End of argument, at least as far as Howard and Abbott are concerned. Stem cell research is ended, God is back in his heaven and the earth has stopped in its tracks. Or at least Australia has, and from Howards myopic perspective thats the bit that matters.

But last week wasnt just about setting up the stakes and chopping the firewood for the scientists auto da fe. Howard also took the opportunity for a bit more slagging off at Australias Muslims, who, he ranted, refused to learn English and oppressed their women.

In vain it was pointed out that quite a lot of first generation immigrants were not too fluent outside their mother tongue and that even some native born Anglo Australians had been known to act like male chauvinist pigs; it was the Muslims Howard was after, and for alleged failings that even he would have to concede have nothing whatever to do with the war on terror; it was a straightforward, old-fashioned sectarian slur.

There was the usual kerfuffle but ironically the best reply came from the sports pages: in the perennial search for a clean-skin role model among the somewhat besmirched ranks of rugby league, the first choice was the Canterbury Bulldogs winger Hazem el-Masri, who, as his name suggests, is a devout Muslim and, as a Canterbury man, a one-time near-neighbour of Howard himself.

Apparently it was just too hard to find what the Howard huggers would call a real, dinky di Aussie player who could be trusted not to have drunken brawls in pubs, indulge in illegal drugs, grope passing women and be arrested for indecent behaviour. Incidentally, many of them arent terrific at communicating in English, either.

Maybe both rugby league and Howards Australia could do with a few more Hazems.

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