People get lairy, it’s not very pretty I tell thee… Hypocrisy and Oz Day Riot #auspol

I’m going to write a post about why Invasion Day is great and why we should keep it as a holiday and celebrate it but, first, a quick post about the Australia Day Riot.

Despite the ridiculously little amount of information circulating about what seems to be a fairly major event, the usual pundits haven’t taken breath before firing out their usual talking points and cheap debating riffs.  The result is an absurd hodge-podge of a narrative where readers are choosing their positions based on what resonates best with their prejudices.  Some writers have even managed to advocate entirely contradictory positions without anybody calling them out on it.

It all starts with a statement by Tony Abbott, Leader of the Opposition, who either said: ‘It’s been 40 years, a lot has changed in the recognition of Indigenous issues, so the Tent Embassy has run its course and it’s time to move on.’ Or: ‘It’s been forty years; it’s time to shut down the Tent Embassy.’

He maintains it was something along the former.  The message passed on to the Tent Embassy was something along the latter.  Ordinarily, we’d look to the media to report what was said: instead, in this issue, they seem to have taken a leading role in generating the drama rather than report it.

Isn’t that sad?  We can’t turn to the media for an account of what happened because we can’t trust them to report accurately.  What a joke.

It’s on this point that there’s some division.  If he said something along the latter, it’s despicable.  If he said something along the former, it’s not a flatly unreasonable comment (though, for my money, it’s incorrect).

This hasn’t stopped people from deciding the facts of this point based on their prejudices.  The winning comment on this was by @Pollytics: ‘he was deliberately ambiguous’.

Isn’t that great?  We can read comments reported second hand and then peer into the mind of the reported speaker to know their sinister intentions.  Evidence is for chumps.

Then there’s the question of how the reported comment was passed on to the Tent Embassy.  It has been revealed that it was done by one of Julia Gillard’s staffers through an ACT MP complete with the location of Tony Abbott at that exact moment (a few hundred metres away).

There’s so much baffling about the commentary relating to this part.  Let’s go through it step by step:

1. Gillard’s staffer orchestrated a scene to confront Abbott with a mob

This is probably the most insane part of the whole affair.  A staffer to the Prime Minister thought it was sensible, reasonable, appropriate, and civilised to stir up a crowd of upset people (they were protesting against the celebration of Australia Day because it represents the start of the dispossession of the First Australians) and direct them towards the Leader of the Opposition.

My Twitter feed (mostly lefties) is portraying this as: ‘Tony Abbott’s location was a secret and Gillard’s staffer leaked it. How stupid.  Abbott’s location isn’t a secret.  Stupid rightwing media.  Conspiracy!’  But it’s obvious to anybody who thinks about it for two seconds that it’s not that Abbott’s location was revealed, it’s that a staffer was involved with manufacturing a scene to confront the Leader of the Opposition with an angry mob.

It’s not even difficult to see why this is inappropriate.  When the various anti-carbon tax rallies were on, it would have been inappropriate for one of Abbott’s staffers to announce to the mob that Gillard was dining in a restaurant a few hundred metres away.  If they had, the lefties of Australia would have brayed about how inappropriate the act was: bullying, misogynistic, and uncivilised.

But when the politics suits them, they change their tune and misrepresent the problem.  Typical.

2.  The mob is so easy to manipulate

At the moment, it seems that the comments attributed to Abbott weren’t entirely accurate.  This didn’t stop the mob from being whipped into a frenzy by scant evidence.  A hundred odd people, banging windows, shouting, and generally being intimidating, went to confront a single man based on something presented without evidence.

Not a single one of them has come out to say: ‘Oh, shit.  My bad.  It was a hot day.  There was a lot of beer and we were really upset about the dispossession of Indigenous Australians.  We weren’t thinking straight.’

Instead, it’s this massive cop-out.  ‘Oh… Oh… It’s somebody else’s fault!’  I had a beer last night with a guy who was formerly really active with the Greens here in the ACT, and he put it a lot more succinctly than me: ‘The crowd just didn’t think.  Make a noise now; ask questions later.’

3.  The location of the event is questioned

The next two points are related to (2).  Instead of questioning whether the mob should have rioted, pundits started asking whether it was wise to hold a function a few hundred metres from the Tent Embassy.  See the above point about things being everybody else’s fault.

But it also feeds into another issue which we’ll see again in this post: nobody trusts experts.  The venue was agreed to be appropriate by three groups: public servants from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Prime Minister’s staff, the AFP.  Frankly, the risk that a peaceful protest would be stirred up by mischief makers using misrepresented comments by the Leader of the Opposition wouldn’t have been seen as terribly unlikely.  I’m reliably informed that the venue wouldn’t have protected against alien invasion, outbreak of zombies, or a Godzilla rampage.

But is this the sort of environment the left wants in Australia?  When they’re holding a protest somewhere, everybody needs to treat them like a serious risk?  Really?  Is Canberra too small for us all to share?

4.  The competence of the police is questioned

The next group of experts nobody trusts is the police.  The same people have said that the police were unprepared for the riot and were too risk-averse.  Cack-handed, one person dubbed them.

For this sort of event, you only need a handful of coppers to hold back crankers and ranters who might try to gatecrash.  The thought that a riot could spring up from nowhere was implausible.  Given the events which led up to the riot, it should still be implausible…

Does the left want an environment where the PM only holds functions when surrounded by paramilitary?  Is that the environment they want?  Would that make them feel better?

The footage shows them trying to disrupt the awards ceremony, thumping windows, throwing things, and trying the block the escape car.  That all seems kinda intimidating and threatening.  Commentators have accused the police of being heavy-handed.  The people bashing windows, trying to gatecrash, and throwing things weren’t being violent.  No, no.  It was the police.

Further, there haven’t been any charges.  Therefore, it was a peaceful protest to disrupt an official function and intimidate one man.

The police have solved the latter argument; they’re going to go through the footage and charge identifiable people with disorderly conduct.  Good work, Team Left.

The whole argument is stupid.  Watching the footage, I could see one instance of where I felt a copper had probably retaliated to being pushed with a bit too much force.  On the whole, it seemed fairly fine.

But, no.  There can’t be an altercation of police with rioters without the rioters complaining that, despite outnumbering everybody else involved, they were somehow victimised.

And, finally, 5. The mainstream media are spinning this to Gillard’s disadvantage

We’ve already called into question the media’s role in this fracas.  The protesters themselves aren’t going to take responsibility, it’s unclear exactly what Abbott did wrong (except express the opinion that the point of the Tent Embassy was to get Indigenous Australia on the political agenda, which it now is) and that leaves Gillard with her stirrer staffer.  The media could try to hold the protesters to account, but that would be politically insensitive.  Thus, the only story to come out of the affair is not a reasoned discussion of Abbott’s point but the role of Gillard’s staffer.

We shouldn’t be upset that the MSM is taking Gillard’s staffer to task.  That is, as we saw above, reasonable and sensible.  We should be upset that nobody’s discussing Abbott’s thought bubble.  Are Indigenous issues well and truly on the agenda?  I’m not sure that’s accurate.  Are there different kinds of Indigenous issues which need to be on the table?  Is the disadvantage experienced by First Australians who remained segregated in settlements, &c., the issue as the disadvantage of Stolen Generations (and their descendants) in other parts of Australia?  Is the Tent Embassy bringing all of these issues to the national debate?  Should it?  Is that it’s purpose?  Would moving the Tent Embassy into Old Parliament House (for example) be a way of giving the Embassy the resources to do broader activities?  Or would that make the Embassy less visible?  Does ‘White Australia’ have anything useful or intelligent to say about the issue?

But, no.  Good guys v bad guys.

What does need to change is the tribal ‘Abbott did something evil until proven otherwise’ mentality.  I’ve been told time and time and time again that Abbott’s latest statement on some issue will be the end of his political career.  As a conservative who spends most of his time submerged in leftwing media, it feels like we’ve got a population with two entirely different sets of ‘facts’: and it’s not obvious that the left is always on the side of the factually correct.

This is a recurring problem and it needs a solution.

Author: Mark Fletcher

Mark Fletcher is a Canberra-based PhD student, writer, and policy wonk who writes about law, conservatism, atheism, and popular culture. Read his blog at OnlyTheSangfroid. He tweets at @ClothedVillainy

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