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Monday, 8 August 2011

Barnaby and Bob: National Treasures?

I’ve been thinking about Bob Hawke a bit lately.
Not because I particularly get any pleasure from images of Bob looming large in my mind, I hasten to add, but because of, oddly enough, Barnaby Joyce.
More precisely it is recent footage of Barnaby Joyce on a stage at some rally, in Queensland I think, that has me reminiscing about the Silver Bodgie.
The footage showed a unionist rushing up to the stage and giving Barnaby a clearly less than complimentary synopsis of what he thought of him.
The unionist completed his anger release therapy and then Barnaby had a turn, giving at least as good as he got.

What was interesting about this confrontation was the flak Joyce copped from the media afterwards.
“Inciting violence” and “deliberately inflaming passions” were two descriptions used, although admittedly they appeared in the copy of two of the more prominent members of the lickspittle left-wing press corp.

Sky News anchor David Speers followed up with an interview with Joyce during which he, if not using the precise words or his more partisan colleagues, generally followed the same condemnatory theme.
It was surprising because, despite a suspicion that Speers has never quite managed to completely subjugate the inner leftie, he has lately been showing all the signs of cultivating a distinct air of objective gravitas as a political reporter/commentator.
His handling of SKY’s Thursday night square table talk-fest The Nation has become the best thing of its type on television.
Speers is relaxed, rarely allows his guests to pontificate too much and controls the agenda with a deft touch that ensures all viewpoints get an airing. He pushes the point when he needs to, but never allows other guests to gang up behind him and slip a few partisan boots in on the back of his inquisition.
The quality of Speers’ handling of the show has made it required viewing in our house. One would hope that it would be required viewing in Tony Jones’ house too if only because repeated viewing of Speers’ handling of The Nation might just make Jones realise just how dreadful his asinine stewardship of the ABC’s Q&A really is.

But, I digress. What really bothered me about Speers’ handling of the Barnaby Joyce interview was that he had seemingly bought into the line that Joyce’s willingness to mix it when confronted was somehow unbecoming of a politician.
All of which brings me back to those images of Bob Hawke that have been plaguing me lately.
Hawke is hailed as a political icon of the left, a sort of last resort ‘Break Glass In Case Of Policy Disaster’ to be wheeled out to prop up whichever 24-hour news cycle-driven thought bubble is about to go up in flames.
The irony is that the ALP uses Hawke because he was, and is, popular, without ever daring to admit to itself that he was popular precisely because he had more in common with Barnaby Joyce than Julia Gillard.

The spin doctors would shudder these days at the mention of Hawke’s classic 1989 Whyalla shopping centre encounter with an irate aged pensioner, if only because it serves to highlight the yawning gulf between the Prime Minister that was Bob Hawke and the Prime Minister that is Julia Gillard.
Hawke copped a serve and what did he do? Called the bloke “a silly old bugger” and stomped off.
Gillard ventures into a shopping centre early in her “Wearing Out The Shoe Leather” (it still sounds like something Paul Dainty would slap on a Britney Spears promotional poster) national tour and gets creamed by a little old lady.
What does Gillard do? She allows Hawker and the Machine Men (which sounds like Spears’ support act, now I come to think about it) to cancel the rest of the tour and confine her to carefully controlled events in Labor heartlands sans cameras.

Did Hawke cop flak for his “silly old bugger” comment? Yes, the media gave it a good run, but unless nostalgia has imbued my memories with more rays of sunshine than were flitting around that day, the ‘flak’ was at best half-hearted and more in the vein of ‘good old Hawkey’, rather than universal condemnation.
I’d venture to say that it won Hawke more votes than it lost. After all, who amongst us hasn’t at some stage wanted to say the same thing to some crotchety oldie?
Did Gillard’s shopping centre performance win her more votes? Nope. In and of itself, it probably cost her a few votes, but her reaction to it – or rather her acquiescence to the spin doctors’ reaction to it - has almost certainly cost her a lot more.
I’m not advocating that Gillard should have hit the Brisbane granny with a “silly old cow”, but her retreat into the bunker on the back of one confrontation was disastrous, because it said loud and clear that she lacks ticker.

Ticker is one thing that Barnaby Joyce has in spades.
The ALP Machine Men put an awful lot of effort - using the second-most vehement and vindictive smear campaigns I can remember - into destroying Joyce when he was appointed the Coalition’s Finance spokesman last year.
(The most vehement and vindictive campaign is the one being run against Tony Abbott.)
An inordinate amount of energy was invested in scrutinising every Joyce utterance, with minister after minister wheeled out almost daily to recite by rote the lines devised to vilify his credibility and his character.
Was it because he was wrong? The events of the past few weeks tell us that his warnings of a possible US debt default were more prescient than the likes of Wayne Swan would like to admit.

So, why was so much effort devoted to destroying Joyce as quickly as possible?
Because despite their best efforts to lull the voter into a spin doctor-induced stupor, the Machine Men to which the once great Australian Labor Party has completely subjugated itself, understand that the average Australian voter admires conviction politicians who are prepared to mix it with the mob and win the day through force of argument – and they fear it.
They fear it because while ever the likes of Barnaby Joyce, and to a lesser extent Tony Abbott – when he manages to escape the clutches of misguided Liberal Party marketeers who are trying to emulate their ALP counterparts – exist, they remain a stumbling block to the domination of, and power over, Australian politics by the Machine Men.
Left or Right, we should all treasure the likes of Barnaby Joyce, because we will be immeasurably poorer if the Machine Men succeed in wiping his ilk from the Australian political landscape.
Just as we all, Left or Right, should treasure what Bob Hawke was – he may be a silly old bugger now, but he was a politician that spoke TO the people, not AT the people.