After disagreeing in yesterday’s Crikey (Items 8 & 9), Mark Bahnisch and I whiled away a most amiable 90 minutes discussing Bob Santamaria’s legacy over the email.

We both agree that Santamaria represented an illiberal, Catholic, Continental school of thought alien to the political language Australia inherited from liberal, Anglican England. Probably much of the gap can be traced back to the political and ecclesiastical implications of the earliest translations of the Bible into English.

And we discussed another angle. Tory MP turned columnist Matthew Parris published some fascinating thoughts on Augusto Pinochet’s death in The Spectator at the end of last year. He wrote of being in Chile on the holiday that marked Pinochet’s ascension to power, long after the coup, years after the General had departed the presidency:

You could feel the tension in the air… the unease was palpable. It was not fear: the General’s capacity to terrorise has passed. Nor was it active political anger of sympathy… Chilean politics had moved on.

It was personal: it was about him, about his past… about the way he still polarised opinion, still caused some to shudder, others to revere, still unsettled any room where his name was mentioned…

In a sense the effect was to unite rather than divide the company, there being one truth acknowledged by admirers and detractors alike. All they knew is that they could not agree among themselves; that the subject was painful…

Such leaders remain controversial not for lack of more scrutiny or further assessment. They can be researched and discussed until the cows come home, but this will not settled the case. They are inherently controversial, even if the facts can be agreed…

Perhaps something similar comes over us when we attempt to discuss BA Santamaria.

Peter Fray

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