Carry on, cartoonists, urges Tony Abbott after Charlie Hebdo attack.

abbott and microphones

Australia’s PM with his supportive media.


Australia’s army of parodists, satirists and professional piss-takers, the nation’s cartoonists, have been told to carry on. Terrified and shocked by events overseas, on the point of drawing the line at any more funny business and laying down their pencils, en masse, the nation’s lampooning doodlers have bucked up to hear words of encouragement from the top. And in such a good cause or two: our way of life is at stake. We are as nothing without corrective irony, parody or self-ridicule. Freedom of speech, moreover, is something we hold dear; central to the way we carry on. Or so we are told, from most unexpected quarter, or cartouche.

Oddly, the satirists’ rallying cry is being made by Australia’s PM, Tony, Abbott, a caricaturist’s dream, a political figure easily mistaken for a parody of a PM, or a parody of himself, or both. Not renowned for enjoying or appreciating criticism and fronting a LNP government which is at best economical with freedom of expression and truth, to say nothing of justice, tolerance and compassion, qualities informing every satirist’s bite, the PM has leapt into the fray.

Yesterday, the PM, a talented contortionist and ever-obliging target himself, the butt of a thousand gibes was urging us to give ’em hell with bells on. Loony Toons Abbott morphed into the mouse that roared: a mouse exhorting all the neighbourhood cats to sharpen their claws.

In yet another unexpected twist to his contorted career, the PM burst on to Channel 9 to the amazement of jaded, hung-over morning television viewers and cracked up the nation with a message straight to camera. Cartoonists carry on! The terrorists will win if you stop. And there was more. With the injunction came insight; he knew, he confided, all too well, what it is like to be a member of a persecuted minority, the object of satire: people are always making fun of Catholics in Australia.

Abbott’s babblings were prompted by the tragic events at Charlie Hebdo, the satirical Paris newspaper in which two gunmen brutally executed ten staff members and injured eleven others, some of them critically on Thursday morning in apparent retaliation for the paper’s pungently satirical comments on Islam. Curiously, they echoed David Cameron’s despite their religious differences, differences on climate change and other matters. Doubtless, similar sentiments could be traced in the addresses of a group of national leaders whose talking points are lovingly hand-prepared in Washington.

Whatever his intention, or the true origin of his inspiration, Tony Abbott captured every satirist’s imagination with his latest hypocritical posturing, beginning with his TV appearance itself.

Others in his cabinet may wait weeks, or even longer, to talk to the media but the PM gets his head on the box any time he feels like it. One of his first initiatives in government and, yes, the word is to be used cautiously, was to control communications. His own ministers and hapless members of his government have to line up like the scene in Oliver to get permission to exercise any freedom of expression that might involve talking to the people. All media requests must be approved by a member of the Prime Minister’s staff, aka Peta Credlin.

Yet the same PM can air his thought bubbles and spray his talking points at us with barely a moment’s notice, as he did on national television yesterday. Indeed, he is able to over-share, as his wont; the reason he needs a minder on every occasion and doubtless the reason the party dominatrix Peta Credlin must accompany him everywhere.

Other ironies abound. Whilst the office of the prime minister has divided the media into friends and enemies and whilst Abbott himself is openly critical of criticism of the government by the ABC, an outfit he would love to privatise, he rushed to pose as a defender of free speech stating:

‘…it’s important there be no self-censorship by Australian media in the wake of yesterday’s terrorist attack in Paris.’ No doubt this thought vastly relieved Australian cartoonists who are by nature an unctuous and dependent breed, constantly seeking approval and instruction from the top. Whom did the PM think he was trying to kid?  He may be able to tie himself in knots but cartoonists, satirists are not about to follow.

Losing no time either in gleefully cranking up popular fear and anxiety, Abbott warned that ‘the world should be braced for more terrorist attacks.’

Just what form this bracing should take was not specified, although the term is used frequently in press releases and talking points constructed by his office. Nor would the PM elaborate on the reasons for our national bracing and whether he meant he expected more terrorist attacks in Australia. Yet even as the lion of truth he was forthcoming in constructing falsehood. He proceeded to link Paris and Martin Place:

The attack in Paris was relatively sophisticated. The attacks in Australia have been relatively unsophisticated. But whether these are, if you like, grass roots terrorism or whether they’re organisational terrorism, the fact is it is still a terrorist attack on us, on our way of life.

The PM began to sound like a veteran commentator and we, his people, veterans of terrorist attacks who would all the more clearly see that our way of life was threatened, conveniently feeding the pernicious myth of conformity and clouding our sense of our rich and vital diversity. This is a consistent line of Abbott’s which, it seems, he shares with other western leaders who, television ‘world news’ clearly showed, subscribed to the same script service and were taking similar liberties with their own peoples amounts to a dangerous myth-making which helps to divide our society and to promote the ignorance, the intolerance, hysteria and fear which enable terrorism in the first place.  It is also, of course, a most useful proposition in the construction of Abbott as our public defender and a generic nostrum for conservative leaders the world over. It times of crisis, moreover, it is hoped we will unite behind the strong leader.

Of course, the intolerance and ignorance is just a fact of modern life, according to the PM but with a twist. There may well be a contortionist’s prize for holding a view in which we are seen to welcome all sorts of minorities and the roots of our current immigration policy, for example. Or the cognitive dissonance in the hardened certainty of the phrase ‘absolutely hate’ and the cosy inner self-deluded glow of undifferentiated multicultural acceptance; our pluralism.

And the sad truth of the modern era is that there are people who hate us, not because of anything that we’ve done but because of who we are and the way we live. They hate our tolerance, our pluralism, the welcome that we provide to all sorts of minorities. It’s an essential part of Western civilisation and it’s the thing about us that these people absolutely hate.

Interrupting if not arresting the PM’s drift towards a hard-edged soft focused generality, a servile Channel 9 interviewer offered his neck, begging correction, asking the already contorted Abbott how much freedom the press should give up to make us all safer:

TIM MCMILLAN: how far should Australian media outlets go when satirising religions or minority groups?

Abbott invoked his own experiences as a member of a persecuted minority, perhaps knowing of the value of bogus identification in propaganda:

Australian media organisations don’t normally hold back when for argument’s sake they’re criticising Christianity. Catholicism comes in for a particular dose of scorn.

We will take that as encouragement that we are not to hold back. Wittering scorn, however, was invited on this occasion, if not earned by his concluding paradoxical homily:

It’s very important, two things here: first of all that we don’t engage in self-censorship as a result of this kind of attack. Second and even more important, we should not stop being ourselves because of this kind of attack.

If we do engage in self-censorship, if we do change the way we live and the way we think, that gives terrorists a victory and the last thing that we should do is give these evil fanatics any kind of victory.

Abbott has once again used the news to inflict his own agenda upon us. He peddles his own bigoted post-modern mythos of Manichean struggle between good and evil. He would have us in a straitjacket of fear and beholden to the leader as protector, yielding freely up our metadata, our privacy, our right to know the truth and other democratic rights, yet carrying on as normal as his far right government strengthens the role of the state in a desperate attempt to shore up its shaky foundations. Endless conflicted and compromised, he cranks the hurdy-gurdy of the rhetoric of freedom and freedom of speech while his government systematically goes about undermining its very foundations.