It was a dark and lightly chilly evening at the University of Sydney last night. Though the bright lights and ducted heating were certainly working at the Holme Building, scene of an impending chinwag between former Sydney Law School Dean and Human Rights Tsar Gillian Triggs and Labor Senator and freshly minted author Sam Dastyari. The trigger for this event was the publication of Sam’s halal-certified memoir. But everyone expected much more would be revealed as the night progressed.

At the entrance, I was immediately accosted by an enthusiastic young man of Daily Mail reporter appearance who told me and anyone within a very broad earshot that I was a famous person. He then proved how much he knew about me by rattling off some names from my past centuries as an amateur politician, before latching onto the senator and following him into the drinks room where a host of blokes in suits (including a former Young Liberal bloke I recognised) were standing around looking important.

The audience included a fair sprinkling of people of south Asian and east Asian appearance, so many that I wondered if I had accidentally walked into a joint medicine/dentistry/law students’ gathering.

Speaking of which, the senator made it perfectly clear that he was still pissed off that he’d been kicked out of the law school by the good Professor. Triggs eventually acknowledged this had been a mistake, though no doubt Dastyari’s branch-stacking activities provided her with the initial trigger.

“But what did Sam say?” I hear all you halal snack packers asking. Here is a dot-point rundown:

  • As always, Dastyari was very humble and self-deprecating. “I know everyone came for me. No one came for you, Gillian.”
  • Dastyari’s initial intention (and eventual goal) was to write a book “on how shit politics was”.
  • He admitted that his background and history as the son of Iranian leftist activists during the early days of the Iranian revolution shaped his politics. His parents had to flee after his mother was detained and tortured by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. I’m not sure how their leftist activism explains Dastyari’s choice of right-wing Labor activism, but I’ll leave that one for Sky News Australia pundits to fuss over.
  • Speaking of which, there were a large contingent of media there. The Daily Mail, Sky News, The Oz, ABC and AAP formed part of the contingent.
  • Dastyari told us that everyone is shaped in life by experience, by moments. You often can’t tell which moments are going to amount to something.
  • He told us that he was sure there wasn’t an ethnic kid in the room who at one stage in their life hadn’t felt ashamed of their ethnicity. Kids need to feel they belong somewhere. Individuality is a luxury adults can afford. “Only now can I say I am proud of my ethnic heritage.”
  • The idea of being a non-practising Muslim seems so strange to so many people. It’s as if Muslims are necessarily more religious or affected by scripture than everyone else. When it comes to talking about Islam, we are not a place of comfort. Nuance and knowledge is replaced with code words and phrases.
  • Banks have a social responsibility but banks try to narrow the extent of it. I trust Sam told that to the banking lobbyists in the drinks room. 
  • Politics can be serious and theatrical at the same time. Why does being serious have to necessarily involve being boring?
  • Bill Shorten is an enigma to his colleagues. He is always “underestimated” (dull? stupid? lucky?) but always ends up on top.
  • Kevin Rudd never trusted Bill Shorten.
  • Kevin Rudd’s problem was that he always wanted to be loved. Reminds me of a certain Elvis Costello song
  • Malcolm Turnbull and Kevin Rudd have the same attitude toward asylum seekers. They see asylum seekers as political problems to be sorted out, not as people with human lives. I agree, Sam, and I look forward to you sticking your neck out on this issue more.
  • Political lives are always finite. You never know when your political death will come, so you may as well cut the bullshit and speak your mind. (Except on Chinese foreign policy.)
  • Pauline Hanson is a fascist. The report in the Oz gave prominence to this point. The comments were also enlightening, “Jeremy” remarked: “So he doesn’t know what a non-practising Christian is. And whatever he is, he is certainly not a ‘non-practising Muslim’. Hanson was dead right to be incredulous when he called himself a Muslim. She knows damn well he’s not”. Meanwhile “Mick” observed: “Gillian Triggs should be deported to Iran or Syria”. 

Not much halal about all that!​

Peter Fray

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