Warts And All Memorial

ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE SPECTATOR AUSTRALIA

As its name makes clear, the Australian War Memorial exists to memorialise the service and sacrifice of Australians in war, as a reflection of our shared commitment to our country and each other. It does not exist to denigrate our national character nor to pander to the worst kinds of elite self-hatred so lamentably prominent across our national institutions. Yet there is a danger now that this place of honour might be turned to these subversive ends.

In the wake of the Brereton report on alleged war crimes committed by Australian SAS troops in Afghanistan, there have been calls for the War Memorial to immediately reflect the allegations in its exhibitions. Memorial director Matt Anderson has suggested that curators will indeed do just that. Similarly, former Chief of the Defence Force, Admiral Chris Barrie has suggested that the SAS exhibit be removed altogether. The prime minister has responded meekly, saying only that all such changes will need to be approved by the War Memorial’s board.

But it should be clear that it would not fit the purpose of the War Memorial to foreground the bad acts of a few soldiers. Of course, wherever criminality is proved, it should be punished to the fullest extent, and if this comes to pass, no one would suggest that it be whitewashed from the history of Australia’s war in Afghanistan. Yet it would not be, and should not be presented as, the sum total, or even the most important part, of that history. Nor should the war in Afghanistan, despite its unprecedented length, be allowed to overshadow Australia’s larger military history.

The War Memorial’s curators are charged with telling the full story of Australians at war. That story is overwhelmingly a story of courage, discipline, loyalty and other virtues, demonstrated in defence of our home, our values and our traditional liberties. Australians have fought honourably from the Sommes to Kokoda to Long Tan and beyond, including in Afghanistan.

This is the truth to which the War Memorial is dedicated. Undue emphasis on the bad acts of a few at the expense of this larger story would not be truthful. It would, in fact, be deeply misleading.

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What The ACT Election Results Tell Us About Our Rulers In The Bubble

ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE SPECTATOR AUSTRALIA

Last weekend’s ACT election results have again revealed how out of touch our nation’s capital city is with mainstream Australians. While it is tempting to write off the ACT Legislative Assembly as little more than a glorified city council, ACT elections are one of the clearest indicators of elite opinion that we have – and the results are alarming. 

ACT Labor will continue to govern, as it has done since 2001, but the big winners were the Greens, who have more than doubled there representation. The 25 seat ACT Assembly will have ten Labor members (down from 12), nine Liberals (down from 11), and six Greens (up from two). The Greens already have a seat in cabinet, in exchange for propping up the minority Labor government, and will now be even more influential. The radical Greens are a party of government in the ACT.  

Overall, the ACT electorate is markedly out of step with the country. Labor, the Greens, and minor left-wing parties received more than 58 per cent of the first preference vote – a tally even exceeding the left’s primary lower house vote in Victoria’s landslide 2018 election (approximately 56 per cent).  

Of course, this pattern diverges wildly from that seen in more conservative states. At the 2019 New South Wales election, left-wing parties received only 44 per cent of the first preference vote (in the lower house), and at the 2017 Queensland election, the figure was 45 per cent. 

Many Canberrans are transplants who have moved to the city to work in the federal bureaucracy, so the political differences are quite striking. Canberra, it seems, both attracts a certain type of person and instils in people a certain set of beliefs and attitudes. These sorting mechanisms have gradually separated the capital from the country over which it rules, encasing it in a bubble of ideology. 

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No Country For Bold Men

This article is from the Spring 2020 edition of the IPA Review.

One of the striking features of the coronavirus recession is that, as IPA research has demonstrated, a chart of the economy now displays a ‘K’ shape. The K’s ascending line displays how bureaucrats and the bureaucracy-adjacent are doing fine, while the K’s descending line shows everyone else is suffering mightily. In this context, Michel Houellebecq’s novel from late last year, Serotonin—which I spoke about on the IPA’s Looking Forward 2019 Christmas special—takes on a somewhat different complexion from how it was received upon release.

Houellebecq is France’s pre-eminent novelist. He has become famous for his acidic takes on modern life, dealing with classic French themes such as the loss of meaning that confronts the ostensibly free individual. He is probably most famous to English-speaking audiences for his 2015 novel, Submission, which was controversial for its depiction of a France in which the Muslim Brotherhood wins the presidency. The release of a Houellebecq novel is now a literary event, perhaps the last of its kind.

At the time of its release, Serotonin attracted headlines for capturing the concerns that animated the ‘yellow jackets’ movement (Mouvement des gilets jaunes) that roiled through France in 2019; especially the idea that France’s regions had been forgotten in the march of globalisation, which has overwhelmingly benefitted the cities. While this is indeed a theme in the book, by making his narrator a depressed and inert department hack Houellebecq aims the critique at a quite specific target: more than anyone else, it is the bureaucrats who have killed France.

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The Rise Of The Bureaucrats

ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE SPECTATOR AUSTRALIA MAGAZINE

Victorians seem to have accepted the need for their extended Covid lockdown, which has been the longest and harshest anywhere in the developed world. A Roy Morgan poll conducted by SMS across 8-9 September found continuing majority support for the curfew and movement restrictions. Premier Daniel Andrews enjoys a 70 per cent approval rating. Leaked internal polls from the opposition and leadership rumours last week have so far amounted to nothing. Overall, the government has enjoyed remarkable support.

Yet with a growing mental health crisis and an economic depression, you might have thought that the lockdown would be more controversial – especially given that this disaster is largely a product of the Victorian government’s incompetence, with 99 per cent of second-wave Covid cases being traceable to the quarantine hotels that it so badly mismanaged.

The support cannot simply be attributed to the high stakes involved. The virus is no more deadly to Victorians than to anyone else and the outbreak seen in Victoria is less severe than some that have been seen in comparable jurisdictions. Importantly, the costs of the lockdown can also be denominated in the loss of life and health, with evidence mounting that people are deferring healthcare and mental health issues are spiking. As noted by a group of more than 500 medical experts in an open letter to the government, other jurisdictions have assessed the trade-off differently and chosen different measures.

Moreover, governments around the country, including the federal government, enjoy high approval ratings in respect of the pandemic, regardless of the measures they have taken. So it is not just a Victorian phenomenon. There is something else going on.

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When Everything Is Flattened

This article is from the Autumn 2020 edition of the IPA Review.  

Awareness is growing that the coronavirus disease might cause two catastrophes. Speaking on the night of 24 March 2020, Prime Minister Scott Morrison put it this way:  

We’re dealing with two crises. We’re dealing with a health crisis that has caused an economic crisis. And I am very concerned about the economic crisis that could also take a great toll on people’s lives; not just their livelihoods, the stresses that that will put on families. The things that can happen when families are under stress. I’m as concerned about those outcomes as I am about the health outcomes of managing the outbreak of the coronavirus. And it is a delicate task for the National Cabinet to balance those two. Lives are at risk in both cases.  

On one hand, we face a public health crisis unlike any we have seen in recent years: a disease that can be deadly for the elderly and the vulnerable (and in rare cases, for others), that seems to spread rapidly, and that can be carried innocently by asymptomatic people. As the philosopher and risk expert Nassim Nicholas Taleb points out, where a risk is unquantifiable but known to be potentially catastrophic, precaution dictates you act as strongly as possible. This is because, by definition, you cannot tailor your response to something you do not understand.  

On the other hand, the most effective action we can take in response to that potential catastrophe is, assessed in the same terms, itself potentially catastrophic. The costs of the current ‘flattening the curve’ policy are also unquantifiable: we do not know how many people will lose their jobs or their businesses or their homes or their investments, and—most importantly—we do not know how an economic collapse will affect people’s lives. Economic collapse will create people who cannot afford a home or sound nutrition, whose living standards are much lower perhaps for most of their lives, and who are placed under extraordinary psychological pressure. They will be killed by our overreaction just as surely as the victims of coronavirus will be killed by our inaction.  

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