Welcome to Sydney, Your Holiness. Care to Exorcise a Politician or Two?

By Mike Carlton
Sydney Morning Herald

July 5, 2008

Now that the Iemma Government's idiotic World Youth Day regulations have made it almost a matter of high principle to annoy Catholics, I have been wondering how to go about it.

The easiest thing would be to poke faces at them in the street, I suppose, or to pelt them with rotten eggs. But that lacks subtlety. It might be more stimulating to back them into a corner and harangue them, at length, on the inherent fallacies of wussy old Cardinal Newman's exegesis on papal infallibility in his Apologia Pro Vita Sua.

Not that I have anything against your rockchoppers. My late father was once a Catholic priest, a Missionary of the Sacred Heart. I was baptised at Melbourne's St Patrick's Cathedral by the legendary Archbishop Daniel Mannix himself, and you can't get much more Mick than that. And I find Catholic belief and ritual more attractive than the lace-curtain Anglicanism of my eventual upbringing. After all that theological confusion, atheism was the only logical course.

No, there's nothing wrong with Catholics; some of my best friends, etc. And I hope the Pope is politely welcomed to Sydney. It is the Government's ridiculous "security precautions" that are so offensive. To threaten, with the stroke of a pen, fines of up to $5500 for anyone causing "annoyance or inconvenience to participants in a World Youth Day event" is a savage attack on our civil liberties. To have police censoring T-shirts is an assault on free speech. With each passing week the Iemma Government grows more arrogantly distant from the people it purports to serve.

LORD DOWNER never ceases to amuse. For weeks he has kept us on tenterhooks by announcing, almost daily, that he will soon make an announcement about announcing his retirement from politics. It has been a bravura performance. Dame Nellie Melba's endlessly protracted farewells had nothing on this.

More enjoyable still has been the small but noisy conga line of media toadies jostling to heap praise upon His Lordship led, with unconscious hilarity, by The Australian's Janet Albrechtsen. To hear her tell it, Downer was Talleyrand, Metternich, Castlereagh, a one-man Congress of Vienna, genius incarnate.

"As foreign minister, he made one heck of a mark, mercilessly slaying his political opponents while determining Australia's foreign policies," she gushed last Tuesday. "Like him or loathe him, Downer's record as foreign minister is imposing."

No it's not. It's dreadful. He was the worst since poor, bewildered Billy McMahon, who once did a television interview with me in Singapore convinced, against all the evidence, that he was actually in Saigon. Downer was barely a notch up from that.

With John Howard egging him on, his instinctive grovelling to the Bush Administration dragged us into the disaster of Iraq. Evidently incapable of original thought, he saw the world through the prism of the neoconservatives of Washington, parroting their slogans with the blustering self-assurance of the truly third-rate mind. In Asia, especially Indonesia, they treated him as Little Sir Echo. To the newly independent Government of East Timor he was a swaggering bully.

Slurpy as it was, Albrechtsen's piece was the more remarkable for what it left out. There was not a word about Downer's conviction - which you suspect he holds to this day - that Saddam Hussein's arsenals were bristling with weapons of mass destruction. Nor did she trouble him or her readers by bringing up the prickly topic of almost $300 million paid by AWB in bribes to Saddam's regime, a humiliation for Australian foreign policy which occurred right under His Lordship's nose.

But as the man who originally elevated him to the peerage - it was in this very column that he was created Viscount Downer of Baghdad - I am going to miss the fun. If he brings peace to Cyprus, as he apparently intends, I shall advance him to an earldom.

A VERY well-respected, recently retired judicial figure sent me the following email this week: "No matter how distasteful one might find the alleged antics of the unctuous Della and his frightful spouse and despite their foolish comments about co-operation with police, both the Prime Minister and the Premier seem to have completely forgotten that this pair has every right to remain silent. That is, as Rumpole was wont to say, 'a fundamental cornerstone of the English legal system', and therefore of ours.

"Politicians, even fools like these, cannot be separated from the rest of us, including media identities, car dealers and the actual criminal classes, on issues of legal rights, simply because they are politicians.

"The media and their political masters may well be pushing them towards a permanent stay application in relation to any criminal proceedings subsequently brought."

Good point. The hounding of John Della Bosca and Belinda Neal is no doubt a hugely popular blood sport, but it is a denial of natural justice that may see any case against them thrown out of court.

Food for thought, that.



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