Nick Cater’s spin on the 18C debacle in yesterday’s Oz is the latest fascinating study in magical thinking from the Right.
Connoisseurs of magical thinking have something to treasure in The Australian yesterday with Nick Cater’s wrap-up of the 18C debacle. Nick’s take? They lost the battle but “won the war” — because the “true conservatives” have been flushed out, those who want to preserve the half-century of elitist blah blah institutions.
Flushed out? That’s Nick speak for the 4000+ submissions produced for the 18C review, 95% of them in favour of retaining it. “Who can tell whether the views of, say, the West Australian Somali Cultural Awareness Association were broadly in line with those of the public?”, Nick wonders. Well, a good place to start would be the polling of the Australian public in general, which found 70-90% in favour of retaining 18C. Cater reels off a list of groups that opposed the changes and labels them “the grievance industry”. Strangely, the Jewish peak bodies that also opposed the changes to 18C are absent from the list. Because to accuse Jewish peak bodies of being professional whiners would be anti-S …
The piece is a fascinating study of the way in which you can talk yourself into a strategically disastrously position by sticking to fixed ideas. UK-born Cater argues that Australians are “a people a with hard-won reputation for speaking their minds” and quotes the impossibly plummy British MEP Daniel Hannan, who calls Australia a country of “individualism [and] self-reliance”. Ergo, if such a people have not junked 18C, it must be because an elite did them in.
The “individualist, self-reliant, speak our minds” nonsense is simply a Brit fantasy of Australia, which Britain would like to be a sort of Commonwealth version of the United States. Yet since the 1890s, the country has been collectivist, conformist, and until the 1970s, comfortable with the most repressive censorship regime outside of Alabama. The nation has grown through state-based arbitration, socialised agricultural monopsonies, protectionist industries, massive public works, state land distribution and highly patterned suburban existence. The reason that a multicultural society was so relatively easily bolted onto a monocultural one was that it was a continuation of our collectivist existence. The reason there was no army to support the simplistic liberalism of Cater, the IPA and others was that it was an elite projection in the first place.
Never mind, says Cater, Black Knight style — its only a flesh wound. No one will bring an Eatock v Bolt style action again, and the high point of rights lobbying has been reached. Really? Why? The same judges will sit, the judgment received three years of political onslaught and did not sink the act — why would anyone refrain from bringing a similar action? Why would it not encourage them? As to the high point of rights, etc, lobbying — I would have thought that the absence of any popular movement to overturn 18C, the widespread acceptance of things like plain packaging, suggest that Australians are pretty comfortable with these extensions of state control.
Cater suggests that the appointment of Freedom Boy Tim Wilson to the Human Rights Commission has “changed its focus”. Really? Looks more like they gave Timmy a Freedom Day, which occurred two days after the government boned the 18C changes, leaving the whole thing as an embarrassing afterthought. Meanwhile, the work of the HRC — of extending the domain of non-core liberal rights, and advocating for those covered by that extended, social-liberal and statist conception of rights — goes on. The principle effect of Wilson’s joining the body is that Australia’s one-time most visible and energetic defender of classical liberalism is now a rights bureaucrat. If Cater understood how that extraordinary result had come about, he would begin to understand how Australia works. And the next defeat of the Right might be less disastrous.