“In the end we have to make judgements.”

There’s a pattern of behaviour forming around the Abbott government, surprising though that might seem. This time the pathology lies in the obsessive pursuit of individuals.

I suppose this shouldn’t be surprising since the junkyard dog was let onto the main road to savage Julia Gillard during her premiership. But you’d expect once the then-opposition had successfully opposed its way into office, it would then turn its mind to bigger matters.

Not so, as the vicious assaults on Gillian Triggs have demonstrated. Minister after Minister, right up to the ‘impartial’ speaker of the house, Bronwyn Bishop, have taken turns savaging Ms Triggs. They’ve gone for the ad hominem jugular – though it hasn’t worked in the instance of Triggs because she is unimpeachably rational.

Persistently throughout their term, the Liberals have attacked journalists, economists (including Nobel prize-winning Joseph Stiglitz), scientists (Tim Flannery is a favourite target), academics, public servants and the list goes on.

The latest in this series being, of course, Zaky Mallah, whose unfortunate and stupid remarks on Q&A on Monday night have once again broken the fragile dam wall of Coalition opportunism about Islam and terrorism.

Abbott and his colleagues have characterised of this young man as a ‘terrorist sympathiser’, ’convicted criminal’ and ‘disgraceful individual’. Frankly, to have the full force of executive government bearing down on one young adult feels like a sledgehammer to a walnut – after all, that’s why we have police agencies with near limitless power (and apparently they had done their job and convicted this young man previously).

But the bigger worry is the assault that has followed – again in line with the Abbott Modus Operandi – on the ABC itself. “Whose side is the ABC on?” asks Abbott, as though it was the national broadcaster who gave the script to Mallah and asked him to respond the way he did.

Suggesting that the Australian public feels ‘betrayed’ by the ABC is just ridiculous. An innocuous comment stupidly thrown in by an audience member does not amount to supporting terrorism or national ‘betrayal’. This is all the sound and fury that marks out the Abbott Government for the stupid show-pony regime that it is.

The Australian’s resident low-hanging fruitbat, Chris Kenny, chimed in with this scintillating observation:

“If the ABC is really an independent and pluralistic broadcaster – as it is required to be by law – why haven’t we heard ABC journalists condemning Q&A and arguing that their organisation does need to lift its game?”

Bearing in mind that Chris Kenny’s logical process has all the hallmarks of an ape working an abacus, there is a grain of truth to what he says – though perhaps not what he hopes.

The ABC is required to be independent and pluralistic, not to cow to the inane roars of the government of the day. That pluralism demands a plurality of views – even those we find unsavoury or downright evil (or, in this instance, stupid). How else might we grapple with the issues the government pretends to want to address: radicalism, terrorism, Islamic State, and so on?

We should all accept that Islamic State is a problem – if you don’t think that’s the case you’re a moron. But the solution to the issue of radicalisation is not further isolating and demonising individuals. Rather it’s to build a strong, secular, compassionate and diverse community – one in which a person with silly ideas can find a more compelling and inclusive worldview than that put forward by fundamentalism.

If there’s one lesson history yields, it is that rage does not resolve rage – these attacks on individuals and on impeccable agencies like the ABC do nothing to strengthen Australia’s social fabric.

Every attack on the ABC by the Abbott government degrades an institution that all Australians recognise as one of the bright hallmarks of our peaceful and cosmopolitan nation. Any attempt to beat the ABC into submission – to turn it into a cheer squad for the government of the day or to shy away from the pluralism that is its mandate – cheapens our democracy.

I mean, really, is Australian civic culture so weak that it is totally undermined by one sentence spoken by a guy wearing a hat with a gold-plated cannabis leaf on it?

No, it is not. But the Abbott Government is so sensitive to criticism that it lashes out like an elephant in musth, all trumpets and trunks and ungainly thuds.

But then I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised – the elephant in our parliament has been tearing at the guts of Australian democracy for five years now.

Someone put it out of its misery.


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