An exceptional nation, for routine deception

Nov 5, 2021
Scott Morrison
(Image: AAP/Joel Carrett)

Emmanuel Macron’s swipe at Scott Morrison shows our allies are fed up with Australian politicians’ routine deception and obfuscation.

I woke the other day to a Howard Beale moment (as in the 1975 movie, Network): “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more.” The frustrated fictive news anchor reels off a list of complaints about the state of the world. I know how he feels! The cause of my Beale-like outburst? Scott Morrison’s speech at COP26 in Glasgow. But more on that later.

What has increasingly irked me over recent years (I really should take up yoga and meditation) is the boast, usually mouthed by politicians, that Australia is the best country in the world. Don’t take my word for it. Here’s Dave Sharma, member for Wentworth, who in his maiden speech on July 24 2019 to the House of Representatives recalled his time as a diplomat:  

“Twenty years spent representing Australia overseas taught me two important lessons: first, that Australia is the best country in the world without question — how good is Australia, I ask you! — and, second, that nations are fragile and we can never afford to take Australia’s success for granted. I marvel daily at the sheer audacity that is Australia.

“We are a small group of people laying claim to a vast and resource-rich continent, with much of our population having arrived only quite recently and from the four corners of the globe. In the historical blink of an eye, we have transformed ourselves into a nation which is united, harmonious, prosperous and secure.

“We are one of the oldest continuous democracies in the world. In our Indigenous Australians we have one of its oldest continuing civilisations. We have one of the world’s largest middle classes, which, as Aristotle first noted, is an essential component for the political stability of democracies. … Yes, we have our imperfections — amongst them, ensuring Australia’s original inhabitants are participating fully in the life of the nation — but we are one of this planet’s most successful and envied countries.”

In fairness, you wouldn’t expect Sharma to self-detonate by sticking the boot into his own country during his first speech to Parliament. Maiden speeches are, after all, about waxing lyrical. You’re obliged to state your undying devotion to your constituency and the nation you represent. Sharma’s speech was no exception. His nationalistic love affair is shared in political circles, as well as among sections of the media.

It’s not just Aussie patriots making such claims; we’ve heard them many times before, especially in the US. They’re delivered as incontrovertible statements of fact, as if sanctioned by the Almighty with whom we, the anointed, are connected by a direct celestial line. They’re also meant to signify unparalleled accomplishments delivered by a people with boundless integrity and national pride — a testament to “our” essential character.

To promote this sort of solipsistic narrative, history has to be carefully airbrushed and (as Education Minister Alan Tudge knows all too well) we should only insert positive stories into our accounts of the past. This involves cleansing the nation of too much self-doubt and blame. The past, after all, is the past.

This Walt Disney version of history conveniently evades awkward facts — that our nation was founded on violence and oppression, and that little has been done to rectify the enduring suffering of our First Nations people who continue to languish in poverty, are over-represented in the correctional system and have their children removed from families and communities at a prodigious rate.

It also ignores this nation’s cruel and heartless treatment of refugees, who have every reason to expect the opposite. We dump them in prisons, transform them into unpeople and wilfully ignore their suffering. Only now, the once-secret country exposed so brilliantly by John Pilger is having its brittle reputation well and truly dragged through the mud.

Emmanuel Macron’s castigation of our prime minister is only the latest criticism levelled at leading Australian politicians, who routinely deceive and obfuscate. Morrison’s barrelchested address at COP26 was seen by conference delegates for exactly what it was: all bluster and vacuous content. With hyperbolic confidence, he blurted out the claim that Australia is “meeting and beating” its emissions targets.

No one believes Morrison. We know that new coal mines are planned and existing ones are being extended, we know too that at the G20 summit, Australia advocated against limits on coal production and exports. Australia remains right up there as one of the world’s leading coal exporters, and will remain so into the distant future — right up to five minutes to midnight, December 31, 2049.

The “gas-led recovery” so beloved by Angus Taylor, the unproven goal of carbon capture, the opposition to a price on carbon and the retention of Abbott’s woeful 2030 emission targets — all these and more reflect the Morrison government’s commitment to business-as-usual.

It’s worth recalling that at the G20 meeting in Rome just a few days ago, Morrison went out of his way to oppose reductions to methane emissions — a greenhouse gas significantly more potent than carbon. None of this is new, of course. Remember when UNESCO sought to classify the Great Barrier Reef as “endangered”? Environment Minister Sussan Ley couldn’t get to the keyboard fast enough to claim that the beloved world heritage site was well looked after. It’s the sort of bulldust we have come to expect.

Australia is indeed exceptional, for all the wrong reasons. It cannot claim to be a nation that is a global team player, having engaged in illegal wars, breeched international conventions on refugees and thumbed its nose at the international community when it comes to climate action. Every nation knows the game that our representatives in Glasgow are playing.

Macron’s swipe at Morrison is more than a diplomatic stoush. It’s proof that some of our allies are having their Howard Beale moment.

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