MUNGO MacCALLUM. For Hastie to drop the bomb without warning his leader was unpardonable.

May 28, 2018

Andrew Hastie’s use of parliamentary privilege to out the billionaire political donor Chau Chak Wing for being an unindicted (and thus uncharged) “co-conspirator” in the United States was always going to be controversial.  

There is a claim that Hastie was entitled to present his intelligent briefings to reveal the Chinese-Australian’s background, and another view that it was a gratuitous political slur that should have been dealt with, if at all, by the relevant authorities. There are good arguments on both sides, and they have been widely canvassed.

But there can be absolutely no debate that to drop the bomb without warning his leader was unpardonable. Hastie knows better than most the relationship between China and Australia is going through a very tense period, and it is not for a backbencher, however passionate, to inflame it because of his personal crusade.

Hastie’s apparent recklessness has led some of his colleagues to declare it deliberate disloyalty; after all, Hastie was originally a protege of Tony Abbott and has always been part of the vengeful and recalcitrant rump of extreme right wingers determined to unseat Malcolm Turnbull.

But while there may be some truth in this, Hastie’s principal motivation was probably pure ideological obsession: he felt his position was irrefutable, so there was just no need to consult anyone else about it.

This is simply his modus vivendi. Hastie is a religious fundamentalist and a career soldier, a c.v. that seldom admits to self doubt. His world is that of black and white, right and wrong, good and evil. Compromise is cowardice, nuance is no more than political correctness, an unforgiveable sin.

This moral certainty – others may call it egomania – has shaped his short political life, with the result that he is immune to criticism; like his colleague Peter Dutton, those who disagree are dead to him. And the more dramatic the repercussions of his action, the more it will confirm that his course is correct.

Should the Chinese take umbrage, and the relationship with Australia sour further, that is all to the good; the hawkish Americans who supplied him with the intelligence will be cheering him on. They are his friends and the Chinese (and that includes the Australian citizen Chau Chak Wing) are his enemies; it is as simple as that.

So Turnbull, and his hapless foreign minister Julie Bishop, are left to pick up the pieces, and it could be a messy process. The influential (although not, thankfully, official) Chinese publication Global Times has already suggested that official visits should be postponed, perhaps for years, and that trade could also be affected. This may not happen, but Hastie would not be unhappy if it did: as far as he is concerned, he is already at war with the forces of Satan, and the sooner Armageddon comes the better; he has spent most of his life preparing for it.

All of which suggests that an evangelical warrior is not the best person to conduct international diplomacy. Which is utterly irrelevant to Hastie: who’s talking about diplomacy?

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