Vanstone attacks Abdel-Magied

Free and friendly nation,
Born of our own hand,
Peace our greatest virtue,
Mighty southern land.

— Under Southern Stars (lyrics: A. Vanstone, mus. Elgar*)

My God, sometimes there are columns that are so perfectly pitched, you can’t tell whether they’re straight or knowing self-parody (i.e. every third Greg Sheridan piece), or unknowing self-parody (every second Bernard Salt piece). There is a third option, where you believe that someone may have hacked the newspaper’s content management system and supplied a fake column to embarrass the person it’s purported to be by.

That last and highest benchmark was achieved by Amanda Vanstone in her recent effort, in which she damns the recent protests at Parliament House. Vanstone thinks the protesters want to be able to act with impunity, i.e. she doesn’t understand how civil disobedience works — the whole point is to get arrested, Amanda — but that’s simply an example of her huge ignorance. What’s funny is this:

“When I left school I went to work for the then Myer group to train to be a buyer … [I had to]  to walk a few blocks each day to pick up the uniforms that had been made to measure in a nearby factory and carry them back to the store … the nylon string binding the bundles of uniforms together would dig uncomfortably into my hands … with a big load in hand the road to return was blocked by a sizeable anti-Vietnam War demonstration. I couldn’t put my load down, they weren’t packed to sit on the pavement … I saw a bunch of students, all well fed, looking as though they were having a good day out …”

At the time, around 1970, Vietnam was being doused with Agent Orange to destroy its agricultural system, the US was contemplating nuclear bombing, and deaths were heading to a million, including 60,000 US troops and 500 Australians, most of whose surviving compatriots regretted their involvement. On the other hand, Working Girl got string burn. Huge ethical conundrum. It’s fun contemplating how else this would be applied — “Miss Parks, just sit at the back. I want to get home for Gunsmoke”. “Gandhi, come on, we have to order something to get a drink in this place.” “Oh, Primo Levi, Auschwitz Schmauschwitz, I’ve got a hangnail.”

Do they really think like this? Liberals, I mean. They think exactly like this. Too cowardly to imagine challenging power, they think it must all be for show. Incapable of connecting to anything larger than themselves, not in their own interest, they cannot imagine the motives of those who do.

“They want to be on TV, they want to tell everyone that they care. It’s just one big ‘I’m a nice person’ story. The subjects of their protestations, in fact, are an indispensable asset without whom they would lack a vehicle or springboard to promote themselves as caring people.”

Man, that’s such a student Liberal sort of comment, it takes you back: the chinos, pearls and hot chocolate crowd, wanting to be part of something with that energy, unable to bust out of their exoskeletons. Occasionally one would crack and come to the dark side — like the tightly wound Christian Youth rep on the Melb Uni SRC, cable-knit sweaters and tartan skirts and endless motions supporting Reagan, until she eventually broke, leaked a bunch of dodgy right-wing financials, and last I heard was running an olive farm near Ballarat with her bikie girlfriend, the one in the couple with fewer tatts. The rest watched the parade go by, muttering “they’re just showing off” (oh, and don’t buy the Little Orphan Mandy act — she’s a St Peters’ gal, Law/Arts Adelaide U, married a commercial lawyer, bumped into the Senate).

It’s a fantastically informative article, just not for the reason Vanstone imagines. Gives Grace Collier a run for her money (six days now, and no one has felt Grace’s pain, so I have started a petition to help get the Borderline Collie to a Lodge drinx. Please sign.) As to the well-fed students, well I guess that’s moot now.

Nation made of many,
Bound in hope as one,
Building for the future,
Under southern sun.

Valiant into battle,
Courage to the end,
Standing firm for freedom,
Loyal southern friend

— Under Southern Stars

*Land of Hope and Glory, to be precise. Verses are from a  song Under Southern Stars written by Vanstone over a course of six years, allegedly to provide music with “gravitas” for official occasions, which — play it in your head as if sung by a grade 4 class — it so would.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey