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Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Canberra Tent Embassy saga lasts like a boozy lunch

It's not as bad as it looks, Felicity
The spillover of protesters from the Tent Embassy in Canberra that took in a nearby restaurant where the PM and Opposition leader were giving out awards has taken on a life of its own. The commentariat has had a field day, with new stories still appearing despite the fracas taking place last Thursday, 26 January, Australia Day. The photos showing Julia Gillard being manhandled roughly by her security detail as they whisked her away from the melee to the safety of her state car are deployed again and again by a press hungry for eyeballs and mouse-clicks. Along with the commentariat, Liberal Party politicians have been pushing hard to keep the issue in the news. The saga goes on and on like a bad and boozy lunch from the bad old days of the fat-jack expense account and the Beemer at the curb on Queen Street. It's time, folks, to fold up our napkins, visit the necessary one last time, and "move on", in Tony Abbot's parlance, to other, more productive debates.

Let's put the thing in perspective.

First, the protesters. Aboriginal activists are not like the anodyne-sounding Institute of Public Affairs, which is actually a highly-active conservative think-tank that ruthlessly campaigns on issues that it deems important. Aboriginal activist groups do not have dozens of well-paid text monkeys researching issues and writing the opinion pieces that the IPA is famous for. They have their Tent Embassy, they have their voices, and they have their passion. At the IPA it's all a bit more civilised, but it's no less raw, the protesting and campaigning. Instead of voices and bodies, scribes at the IPA deploy nouns and verbs. But the upshot is the same: publicity. So let's give credit to the folks at the Tent Embassy. If what they wanted was publicity, they eminently achieved their goal.

The media have beaten this event up shamelessly, with grinning politicians feeding eager journos new soundbites in an effort to keep the machine running smoothly. Headlines in Murdoch tabloids from the day it happened were so over-the-top that I had to check several sites to make sure it wasn't just a lone subeditor on the warpath. But no, it was editorial policy to lash the issue into a froth and the punters swallowed the bait like a school of frenzied orcas driven mad by blood and burley. But it was never critical, never dangerous to the PM. A woman in peril just makes good copy.

So a few noisy protesters made a fuss outside the restaurant. That didn't justify the response of Julia Gillard's security detail in treating the event like an assassination attempt. Dragging a puzzled PM off toward the waiting car was bad enough. Making her lose her shoe? It's truly novelistic. Treating the Tent Embassy protesters like an organised posse of axe-wielding maniacs was the first crime. Treating the event like a major story of national interest was the second. Can we please just turn off the music, put away the cask wine, and clean our damn teeth? At some point we need to start thinking about the serious stuff.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nicely and pithily said Matt, as your stuff often is ;)
Miss you on Facebook! cheers...Christine