Q&A, August 22, 2011 (Click to access the ABC page)

Doug Cameron. Labor Senator and ex trade union official.
Daniel Pipes. Conservative American political commentator.
Hanifa Deen. Pakistani-Australian author.
Nick Minchin. Former Liberal Minister.
Suelette Dreyfus. Whistle-blowing researcher and Wikileaks co-authour.

By popular demand I present my final Q&A commentary. I disclaim any in-depth knowledge of politics but it might provide a springboard for discussion. Or not as the case might be.

Daniel Pipes came across as well informed and able to present a coherent argument, which ability I for one found a blessed relief. Where I found him most impressive was on the issue of the “African Spring”. His analysis is that so far it has resulted in no tangible move towards democracy, and in some States the result is tending towards Islamism. He explicitly expressed an opinion that Islamist is a derogatory term, ranking it together with communism and fascism as one of the three ugly radical utopian philosophies of our time. But he made a clear distinction between Islamists, who he clearly defined (I think I’m in love, what a pleasant change) as people who wish to apply Islamic law in its entirety, and Muslims in general. In answer to an audience question he expressed a belief that Islam is not inconsistent with democracy, that there is clearly a democratic faction in the African Spring countries, and expressed hope that Islamic democracies might develop.

It later became clear Pipes is not only a conservative commentator but a conservative advocate. He extolled the virtues of Israel as a model of democracy and defended its military record, including civilian killings, refusing to admit fault other than that it wasn’t what he would have chosen personally. This led me to question whether his assessment of the African Spring had a hidden agenda. Later he blamed the GFC on over-regulation. He advocated for less market regulation in general and refused to address the specific issue of financial regulation, claiming lack of knowledge, an approach I found disingenuous at best.

Curiously enough, it turns out that at one stage there Obama was indeed a Muslim. But not in an interesting way. He was listed as Muslim at his Indonesian school by his mother when he was six years old. Dreyfus made a fair fist of challenging the relevance and intent of this revelation, rather than denying the facts, effectively nullifying it.

This issue had been raised by Tony Jones, was of no importance, and attracted the populist sneering that Jones must have known would be inevitable. One of several occasions on which I have felt that Tony Jones needs to restrain his tendency to switch into insider gossip mode.

Hanifa Deen came across as a Nice Person. As charming as this is, I eventually found myself wishing that she would respond to Pipes by raising coherent arguments rather than by raising her eyebrows. She totally lost me at the information level when she expressed the belief that Turkey would join the EU within the next ten years. With the EU still struggling to absorb its Eastern members, and grappling with twin financial and immigration crises leading to rising inter-country rancour, the last thing it needs is a member with yet another refugee entry point on its border with Syria, and with relatively low cultural compatibility. However Deen did successfully project a positive image of what she called the Islamic diaspora, of which I gather she is a member. (This is why I included her ethnicity in the brief description by the way, it seemed directly relevant to her comments on Islam.)

In his dual capacities as Labor Senator and ex union official, Doug Cameron had the job of defending Craig Thomson. Thomson is the Labor backbench MP accused under parliamentary privilege of misspending union funds, back when he was a union official, in a variety of ways, the most salacious of which being to pay for prostitutes. Cameron presented the innocent until proven guilty defence well. After having heard from all the other panellists though I am of the view that this counts for little when a crime has clearly been committed against the Union, although not necessarily by Thomson, and yet the Union has made no police complaint. This smacks of cover-up and I concur with the chortling Minchin that Thomson’s only chance of re-election is to be exonerated by a full investigation, not protected by a cover up, regardless of where the truth lies.

As an aside, my conclusion was quite clearly the one that Tony Jones was promoting in his promptings of various panellists. While this is cause for some unease, they were speaking freely. It makes me wonder sometimes how used politicians are to discussing issues in an insider echo chamber, rather than explaining their views to the general public who are not always au fait with the latest developments. Minchin should have filled in the background facts about lack of police complaint, instead it was left to Jones.

Cameron was likeable but there was little substance behind his rhetoric. He expressed a belief that I felt was totally sincere that the Australian government has a clear responsibility to maintain manufacturing, but discarded protectionism as a solution and had no alternative suggestions other than convening a meeting.

Nick Minchin expressed this same belief, but had no more idea what to do about it than Cameron, agreeing with him that protectionism is not an option. Bye-bye Australian manufacturing. Jesus wept. Minchin expressed fairly standard conservative Australian views on all topics. One point where this varies from the standard American conservative viewpoint is that our conservatives back more effective regulation of the financial markets. Again, little substance.

Suelette Dreyfus mentioned the importance of social media and Twitter at least twice that I noticed. I felt her most effective moment was her aforementioned addressing of the ‘Obama as one-time Muslim’ issue. What should have been her moment was the final question about whether Wikileaks’ exposure of behind-the-scenes diplomatic communications served the public interest. Instead this was the moment at which Tony Jones’ previous excursion into irrelevancy came home to roost. Each panellist gave a brief sketch of their predictable views, but any elaboration or in-depth discussion was precluded by time considerations. Not happy Tony.