One of the silliest moments of May’s scandal, ‘beer mat mum’ Annice Smoell (remember her? She was just before Clare Werbeloff — remember her?) was when Dolly Downer expostulated about the demands of pesky aussies on DFAT:

“I’m sure my successor as foreign minister, Stephen Smith, had his in-box bursting last week as people demanded he save the beer mat mum, Annice Smoel, from the ravages of the Thai police.

“I felt for him especially when the media started demanding he ‘do something’ to save her. After about 10 minutes as foreign minister I was a little surprised to learn I was ‘responsible’ for miscreant Australians who got into trouble in foreign countries.

“No, no, no, don’t get it wrong; drug traffickers, drunks, kleptomaniacs and fraudsters weren’t responsible for their own stupidity, I was.”

Damn right. I mean all sorts of idiots dial 000, so let’s tear the phone out of the wall. Dolly’s attitude was consonant with the one-way attitude towards citizenship throughout the Howard govt – loyalty to the state is demanded, none returned.

Through its entire decade in power, that was the default position of Australia – unless you’re well-connected, you’re on your own. Not for nothing did Howard reject the most important part of Les Murray’s draft preamble to the Constitution:

“I give loyalty to Australia, and I expect Australia to be loyal to me.”

The ultimate ‘tourist on his own’ was David Hicks, a man who would have been greeted as a hero had he come back to Australia after fighting with the Kosovo Liberation Army (‘Aussie boy Serves It Up To the Serbs’ as the tabloids would have put it) – even though his anti-semitism was by then well established.

Abandoning Hicks turned out to be one of the dumbest things the Howard government ever did (though like David Letterman and others, he still serves as a useful target for the right, now that actual people of hard power are out of their striking distance).

Not only did it expose them as less moral than the people they sought to represent, it has now made a line of attack on the Rudd government over the incarceration of Stern Hu something approaching flat-out ridiculous.

As Jon Faine drily noticed this morning on ABC radio when Julie Bishop gave a ‘Rambo’ style spray, dunning the government for not dropping a snatch squad into Beijing, “four people in a row have emailed to ask why you did nothing about David Hicks.”

If the coalition are going to turn this messy business into a ‘protect our Aussies from the barbarians’ attack, then they are officially fishing in polluted waters, Hu’s Chinese ethnicity notwithstanding. Industrial espionage is not exactly unknown, and the assumption that the Chinese always and only use their laws for political leverage has the ghost of gunboat diplomacy about it.

Of course our government should render him every practical assistance – just as they should recognise that Aussie tourists often holiday in places where the economic inequality created by tourism breeds crime and corruption and the art of the stitch-up. There is more than a dose of elitism about the assumption that a businessman is obviously innocent, and a Thai-holiday tourist is a culpable bogan.

The coalition appear to have collapsed into an opportunism that makes Barry O’Farrell look like Joan of Arc.

Look forward to November when we have to airlift Clare Werbeloff out of her Sitmar stopover in Wogland City (Beirut).