Where's the outrage?
Where's the outrage? The left-wing critics who fretted and wailed over Howard's policies have lost their voice
It ought be nearly impossible to move through the streets of any Australian capital at the moment, what with them all jammed to the shopfronts by furious leftist protesters. Anyone in charge of a large-scale papier mache operation – no leftist protest is complete without a big giant puppet head – might expect to be running triple shifts.
After all, we’re presently overrun with the sort of issues that previously drove the left into a frenzy of indignant street chanting. The federal government has just signed a deal to send asylum seekers to Malaysia, a nation that is not a signatory to the United Nations’ refugee convention. The government’s planet-rescuing carbon tax excludes agriculture and petrol, which renders it a token measure capable only of damaging the local economy while doing nothing about alleged global warming. The government is cosying up to Big Coal, promising that this demonized industry has a viable future.
And, by the way, we still have troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Labor Prime Minister is such a fan of the US that she almost cries just talking about it. Yet the protests that were so much a part of John Howard’s reign as Prime Minister are barely visible under the reign of Julia Gillard (who, despite being the second individual to sack a Labor Prime Minister since Sir John Kerr ousted Gough Whitlam in 1975, never suffered even a fraction of Kerr’s vilification).
It’s almost as though those street-stomping activists of the Howard era were more motivated by a loathing of the former Liberal PM than they were over any matters of principle. Consider, for only a second, how the bearded-and-shouty wing of Australia’s left would have responded if it had been former Liberal immigration minister Philip Ruddock instead of Labor’s Chris Bowen announcing a human being swap with Malaysia.
Just a guess, but it might have seen a larger number than the 200 or so holdouts who staged a mini-protest in Sydney last weekend. “We're here to say no to the Malaysia solution," longtime refugee
advocate Ian Rintoul said to basically nobody. He was slightly more aggressive during the Howard years. In 2004, Rintoul – preparing for a Kirribilli House vigil – made this vow: “We plan to lock up Howard this Easter unless he frees the innocent asylum seekers that languish in his political prisons."
There are more “innocent asylum seekers” than ever presently languishing in Gillard’s “political prisons”, but to this point the current Prime Minister remains at liberty. Don’t let down your guard, Ms Gillard. Rintoul’s Easter bunny justice brigade is merely biding its time, presumably waiting for the right moment to pounce.
To its shame, the previous Liberal-led government made all the correct soothing noises about addressing climate change, particularly as it became electorally vulnerable. None on the left were buying it, however, and probably for good reason. They might have assumed that a conservative carbon pricing policy would cynically let major carbon emitters off the hook.
Which is almost precisely what Julia Gillard’s carbon tax will do, seeing agriculture and petrol aren’t included. The former gets a free pass because the government claims it simply can’t work out a way to accurately gauge agricultural carbon dioxide emissions. (Puzzlingly, the same government is endlessly trusting of emissions figures supplied by the dodgy likes of China. Perhaps Labor should invite Beijing’s best bovine carbon calculators out to Australia for a conclusive cow count.)
Petrol is cut from carbon tax considerations because the government prefers to keep its approval ratings above single figures. There’s no other possible explanation. Besides being a Mr Big of carbon output, petrol consumption is accurately measured every day by millions of individuals at petrol pumps. The whole deal is primed, as it were, for a carbon tax.
Again, ponder the likely response of local sandal-and-Crikey enthusiasts if the previous Coalition government had proposed such a scheme. The oil company conspiracy theories would be screaming across the internet like so many YouTube cat videos, and workers at Shell and BP headquarters would have to gain access to their blockaded offices via teleporting.
But thus far the only significant protests – at least numerically – from the left regarding the carbon tax are in favour of it, petrol exclusion and all. These smotheringly pious gatherings are led by GetUp!, an unexpectedly elderly activist group whose members, according to GetUp! leader Simon Sheikh, have an average age of 55. When the more senior members GetUp, it’s usually with the electronic assistance of a Smokey Dawson chair.
So they’ll protest for a carbon tax – when you think about it, it’s more an affirmation than a protest – but GetUp! bravely decided to StandDown! over the Malaysian solution. Sheikh’s explanation for this in June was interesting. Essentially, he didn’t want GetUp! to inadvertently promote the Malaysian plan by looking like a bunch of idiots who opposed it. “The government would love to see groups like us marching against this plan because that's their strategy,” he told The Australian. “They would think it would shore them up as the conservative force they would hope to be on this issue.”
Like most other Howard-era agitators, then, GetUp! is now an inactivist movement. Staying at home and doing nothing is an official tactic, which doesn’t exactly bode well for the financial future of these groups; why pay for membership (if, indeed, membership requires payment) when the big protest march of the day is from your front door to the letterbox to see if the latest issue of Caravan & Motorhome has arrived?
Still, leftist rage must always find a target. If it isn’t the treatment of claimed refugees or a carbon tax that absolves Big Oil, it’ll be something more convenient and less likely to offend the untouchable Gillard government. A few weeks ago, 18 demonstrators were arrested in Melbourne following a protest against the Max Brenner store chain. The previous month, two demonstrators were charged after a raucous protest outside a Max Brenner shop in Sydney.
The Brenner chain sells chocolate. It happens to be owned by an Israeli company, hence the outrage. That’s where the heat is protest-wise in 2011. The left is angry about Jewish sweets.