07 June, 2014

Connecting the dots again

Or… I’m not a journalist, but… Part 3

This week has been the stupidest week the government has had since coming to office last September, and that’s already a crowded field.

Another week of sideshows (which I’ll write about more later) was topped off by Attorney General George Brandis saying that the government would no longer refer to the Israeli occupied territories as… well, occupied territories.  The government’s reasoning is that such a term is judgemental and unhelpful.

It’s a fair point. It is a judgemental term and judgemental language is rarely helpful in international diplomacy unless you’re trying to lose friends rather than make them, in which case it’s very helpful.

But wait just an eenie meenie miney minute here…
Is this the same George Brandis whose highest priority so far has been the repeal of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act on the grounds that it’s an intolerable affront to free speech? Is this the same George Brandis whose most notable quote of this parliament so far has been “People do have the right to be bigots,” while defending the repeal? Apparently, it is.

Reporters and commentators have been quick to point out that much closer allies of Israel than Australia, up to and including the United States, call East Jerusalem occupied without any damage to the relationship but that’s rather beside the point. What no-one has asked is why this government that claims to champion free speech, that wants to legislate to remove any impediment to Andrew Bolt setting himself up as the ultimate arbiter of who is black enough to call themselves aboriginal, is suddenly taking such a Milquetoast approach to an internationally accepted and historically accurate description.

And if that isn’t enough to keep the columns and interviews flowing for a day or so, here’s another nuance to hone in on: being judgemental.

I agree that judgemental language does not make for good relations but surely I am not the only one who has noticed that the language of this government on every other issue has been nothing but judgemental.

How else do you describe calling those who would risk their lives on the high seas to escape terror and find a better life in Australia “illegals,” despite the fact that seeking asylum is not illegal?
How else do you describe a budget speech that says “Australians under 30 years of age should be earning or learning,” as if that wasn’t the case already, and as if there’s something special about being under 30?
How else do you describe this government’s attitude to welfare, talking about a phoney “age of entitlement,” which is clearly meant to demonise all recipients of benefits, be they school leavers or war widows?

I fully agree that judgemental language is unhelpful. I would go further and say it’s damaging. But given that the new government has spent a lot of its time and energy using judgemental language and defending the freedom to do so, surely any journalist worth their iPhone would hear the government’s new policy towards Israel and ask, “What’s different about this?”

I’m offering no theories, I’m just asking the question. What I will say is that the coalition has been working hard since its time in opposition to change the language in order to redefine our values.
Mr Orwell would have something to say about that.

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