The Satchel Review - Saturday 28 April, 2012

While barely a blink ago Campbell Newman swept to the power of the State, Queenslanders found themselves sloshing their way through the rain to the polling booths again on Saturday to elect local government representatives.

While it would be silly to begrudge such an occasion in light of the fact that so many of the world's people do not get to elect their own government, and this is the sort of freedom the ANZACs sought to protect, the groans have been load and clear in my local electorate.

Our three local rags (yes, three, in a populous of 6,000!) have been a hive of scribbling activity for vocal residents wanting their opinions heard and politicians their policies. The garbage, rates, roads, public transport, parks and grants are all of utmost importance in the world of local council, but apparently so is the character of our representatives.

Slander, scepticism and slimy campaign tactics have been the order of the day, much to local readers' dismay. One articulate person, by the name of Arne Thor Andersen, put it this way:

"I have nearly always looked forward with interest and curiosity to the vast collection of weekly letters in all of the local publications. Letters to the editor have proven to be an important democratic outlet for locals in the community to express various viewpoints, opinions and sentiments. They range from being funny, candid, concise and enlightening to just downright angry. Others can be confusing misleading and opinionated pieces of cleverly disguised propaganda... 

However, it seems like we have our own secret society of faceless men who defend the council in their letters and criticize certain candidates and, yet, probably haven't witnessed a single council meeting in action to know what really goes on. They refuse to divulge their full identity, using only their initials or first names... But on paper, at least, the innuendos generated by these secret scribes appear to be just as negative as the politics they purport to criticize."

Attorney-General Nicola Roxon would concur.

"I am quite worried, I must say, as the Attorney, that you create a perverse incentive where you actually make it attractive for people to bring a claim if the automatic result is people are not able to participate in their normal job," she told the ABC this week in reference to the Peter Slipper civil suit.

"So we have to be careful here that we don't actually assume that a complaint being made is a complaint being proved. That's what we have our courts for and we should make sure that process can continue properly." 

At the federal level, it's seems likely Slipper will disappear into obscurity while his affairs are sorted out. While questions have been raised about how the story made the front page in the first place, the alliterative headlines ("Should Slipper slip, another Liberal stands ready" in The Australian) have given sub-editors ample chance to demonstrate their linguistic prowess, which is a salve as politics goes down the slippery slope of public opinion.

And with it, journalism! Rupert Murdoch, 81, faced off with the Leveson Inquiry this week in a squirmish display of humility ("I also have to say that I failed... and I'm very sorry about it") which elucidated, to an extent, the relationship between British politicians and the press.

"It is only natural for politicians to reach out to editors and sometimes proprietors, if they are available, to explain what they are doing. But I was only one of several," he said, later adding, "If any politicians wanted my opinions on major matters, they only had to read the editorials in The Sun."

He also said that politicians and celebrities were "not entitled to the same privacy as the ordinary man on the street", which may have fallen deaf on the ears of Milly Dowler's parents. Speaking to Renecca Levingston on ABC radio, retiring Brisbane Ward Councillor David Hinchcliffe said this of Murdoch's influence on media and politics:

"I remember the very first day that Campbell [Newman] walked into City Hall, Rupert Murdoch came through the door straight after him and had lunch with him. Rupert is one of those people, despite what he might say to the Leveson Inquiry, who has a very direct influence on everything. He is his own nation state and has more influence than probably more than half the nation states of the United Nations."

Freedom of speech and the spirit of libertarianism is a hot topic as the recommendations of the Convergence Review see daylight, the twisted thinking of Norwegian killer Anders Behring Brevik, as put in his manifesto, is put before the court, and Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf, which outlines his Nazi ideology, is proposed for re-publication in Bavaria with a critical commentary (even read in a critical light, it could be damaging).

"I have mixed feelings about this; obviously we're all for freedom of speech and this is a historical document, so that's on the side of publication," Greens senator Larissa Waters told the ABC. "On the other side, it's just full of hateful, abhorrent sort of stuff that you would hate to incite any sort of resurgence of that sort of mentality... I would hope that if it is published people see it as a piece of history and learn from it rather than glorifying it or encouraging a return to that kind of mentality."

Meanwhile, court documents bearing Ned Kelly's name have been put up for auction in Tasmania, which attracted some attention. While the Vogel Literary Award this year went to a "gritty, coming-of-age novel set in ALF-obsessed Melbourne of the 1980s", and Collingwood and Essendon played the annual Anzac Day match, each year the Ned Kelly Awards reward fiction and true crime writers. Organiser and promoter Peter Lawrance told James Cook University's JCNN:

"Crime writing is a reflection on current society and the crime and justice issues concerning the public. And it can become an opportunity to enter landscapes and places both exotic and desolate. In the context of Australian crime, people love to read stories set in their own backyard. Following in this vein, reading the works of writers from other countries can sometimes be more informative than reading a travel guide."

Our nation has a peculiar, even perverse, obsession with criminals and unsavoury characters, which is not altogether nice but speaks something of the convict outpost foundations that are hard to shake. But there was also the ANZAC spirit, which delights in integrity, honour and self-sacrifice, permeating the local, state and national press this week, usurping the pollies and crims on the front page to our great relief.

Those fair dinkim diggers who turned out for the dawn services are the gold nuggets of our nation's shady history, their smiling faces, trilby hats and suits lined with bright medallions a true saving grace.

Girl With a Satchel