Sunday, April 09, 2017
Cyclone Debbie snookers reef panic merchants
There had been daily predictions of doom for the GBR from the usual suspects. It turns out that the cyclone was actually GOOD for the reef. But false prophecies are a dime a dozen from the Green/Left so that is just a minor thing. Far more interesting is what current tourist divers on the reef are saying. It turns out that the Greenies declare a stretch of reef as bleached even if the bleaching is confined to a few small patches. When have you ever heard mention of patchwork bleaching from Greenies? And what is left once you stop obsessing about those patches is still magnificent: "A million times better than the Mediterranean."
CYCLONE Debbie has been a breath of fresh air for coral bleaching on the hardest-hit parts of the Great Barrier Reef.
As the category-four storm wreaked havoc on Australia’s east coast, it also brought blessed relief to a mass coral die-off on prime tourist dive sites in the Coral Sea.
Surveys of the Ribbon reefs off Lizard Island this week show a dramatic drop of up to 3C in coral-killing sea surface temperatures off the state’s remote far-north.
“Cyclone Debbie looks like the turning point to allow the Reef to bounce back from this mass coral bleaching event,’’ marine biologist Jess Walker said. “With water temperatures down to about 28C, there will be less stress on the coral, less chance of bleaching, and less chance of coral mortality.’’
Free-diver Audrey Buchholzer, of France, on a three-day dive expedition aboard the Spirit of Freedom in the Coral Sea, said she was stunned by the “flashy” colours and kaleidoscope of marine life on the outer reef.
“I had to see it with my own eyes,’’ the 24-year-old said. “I’d heard negative reports the Reef was dead. That’s not true. There are patches of dead and bleached coral, but so much of it is alive and thriving. “It is an underwater wonderland,” she said.
Fellow diver Jennifer Petrie 31, of London, was disappointed to see the Great Barrier Reef is not like it was depicted in Finding Nemo.
“There was lots of dead bits, but still a lot of beauty,’’ she said. “It’s a million times better than the Mediterranean.”
Court win for megamine in central Queensland
THE mining industry has won a key victory against activists, with the High Court ruling it would not hear an appeal against the approval of the GVK-Hancock Alpha megamine in central Queensland.
The Alpha project, part-owned by billionaire Gina Rinehart, has been in the approval process for nine years.
“This has been a project of state significance since 2008 and so here we are in 2017 and it clearly shows that the environmental activists have the ability to hold up projects and seem to have more power than any premier in our state,’’ spokesman Josh Euler said.
“We have three successive governments that wanted to open the Galilee Basin,’’ he said.
The environmental approval has been through the Land Court, the Supreme Court and the Queensland Court of Appeal.
The High Court action was taken by environmental group Coast and Country, led by Derec Davies, which argued the Environmental Planning Act should have considered the greenhouse emissions from burning the coal, even though that might occur in another country.
Mr Davies said he was disappointed by the decision but would continue the fight.
“It’s quite clear the legislation is not capable of dealing with climate change issues at the moment and we look forward to a day when emissions from coal mines and other fossil fuels are clearly in the public realm of decision making for Ministers to refuse projects,’’ he said.
Queensland Resources Council chief executive Ian Macfarlane said Coast and Country, through the taxpayer-funded Environmental Defenders Office, had repeatedly failed in their combined attempts to argue that a coal mine in Queensland would increase global emissions.
“The activists’ tactics mean that the only jobs being created are for lawyers,’’ he said.
“The activists don’t ever expect to be successful with their layer after layer of appeals. Their interest is only in further delaying projects from delivering real construction and production jobs. And don’t forget, last year WikiLeaks revealed that Australian green activists have morphed into foreign-funded radical activists.’’
Hirsi Ali’s critics show intolerance
Self-identifying promotors of ‘tolerance’ have shown, once again, they’re only willing to tolerate that which they deem worthy of being tolerated. If you’re not on their list, you don’t get a say.
Prominent critic of Islam, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, wasn’t on the list. She was forced to cancel her speaking tour of Australia due to concerns about her security and the security of the venues hosting her.
“Islam is not a religion of peace,” Hirsi Ali, a former Muslim, has said. In her book, Heretic, she calls for Islam to have a reformation to counter what she names as the religion’s endemic violence.
Opposition to Hirsi Ali’s Australian visit was led by the Council for the Prevention of Islamophobia and a Change.org petition denouncing her for inciting division and fuelling hatred of Muslims.
She acknowledges her frank views have earned her condemnation from many orthodox Muslims, as well as from the so-called “regressive” Left — those on the Left who appear to excuse intolerable Islamic practices, such as child marriage, in the name of multiculturalism.
None of these reactions to Hirsi Ali’s proposed visit are a surprise. Activist campaigns to silence and censor dissenting views — always conducted in the name of ‘tolerance’ — are now a mainstay of daily politics.
But this is not the live-and-let-live form of tolerance and multiculturalism that used to describe how people from different backgrounds took their place in Australian society at their own pace and in their own way.
‘Multiculturalism’ is now used in a new, prescriptive way that emphasises the importance of allowing communities to preserve all their cultural and ethnic practices in the name of inclusion — even if some of those practices are considered abhorrent in our Australian society.
Activists censoring Hirsi Ali claim to be fighting Islamophobia. But their own intolerant attitudes — and their refusal to judge Islam as they judge the rest of us — might do more harm to the standing of Islam in Australia than any visiting speaker ever could.
With heroes including Donald Trump, meet conservatism's new, telegenic talking heads
Their heroes include Trump and Thatcher, yet they’re not the usual angry older men.
For Daisy Cousens, there is more than one reason to celebrate the ascendancy of Donald Trump – or "Uncle Donny", as she refers to the US president.
First and foremost, it is good to wake up in the morning and know that a man of his calibre is in the Oval Office. The bonus? Knowing lefties worldwide are still sobbing into their pillows. "Hilarious," is her summing-up of the situation.
Cousens, 28, is a right-wing political pundit, frequently invited to air her opinions in print and on television talk-shows.
Besides being forthright, she is "smart, hard-working, and extremely well-educated" – at least, that is how she described herself in an article she published online late last year. In the same piece, she attributed her professional success in part to her sparkling personality and attractive appearance.
"Funny and conventionally pretty is a winning combination," she pointed out, "and although looks and charisma won't help me do the task, they assist immeasurably in gaining me the opportunity."
On a warm afternoon, I visit Cousens on Sydney's North Shore, where she lives with her parents and two younger sisters in a pleasant house surrounded by towering gums.
She comes to the door wearing a fulllength dress with a fitted bodice. Her skin is pale, her hair dark, her smile coquettish: she reminds me of Vivien Leigh playing Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind. We take cups of tea to an outside table and I ask how she got into punditry. "I've always been conservative," she says. And confident, obviously. Also – she doesn't mind admitting it – contrarian. "I kinda like arguing with people. I like to talk."
She laughs when I mention that I saw her make a determined effort to speak over the top of host Tony Jones on ABC TV's Q&A earlier this year.
"I was just really annoyed," she says. "I'm like, 'No, let me talk, dammit!' It was very funny." On ABC's The Drum, Cousens was even more assertive. "No-no-no-no-no-no-no," she told a fellow guest who tried to get a word in edgeways. "Don't interrupt me." Both performances drew a big response online. "I didn't read any of it," she says. "But my friends were like, 'Er, Daisy, people are calling you a Nazi.' "
There's nothing like the presence of a Trump supporter to spice up on-air debate.
The problem for TV producers aiming for demographic diversity on their discussion panels is that conservative commentators tend to be middle-aged men. If you are a right-wing pundit who happens to be young and female, you're as popular as Scarlett encircled by vying suitors at the Twelve Oaks barbecue.
While I am working on this story, Cousens accepts requests to appear on Sky News' The Bolt Report, Paul Murray Live and Jones & Co, Channel Ten's The Project, as well as Q&A and The Drum. No one could accuse her of shrinking from the spotlight, but even she is surprised by how much screen-time she's getting. "They keep calling me," she says.
I think nowadays, being conservative, it's kind of like the new rebellion.
Helen Andrews, a 31-year-old columnist and commentator, sees it as a simple case of supply and demand. "Scarcity drives up the price of something," says Andrews, "and certainly young women for Trump are a scarce commodity." The political figure Andrews most admires is Marine Le Pen, the leader of France's far-right National Front party, but Trump is not far behind in her estimation. "I know a lot of people in the US like him because he's a bomb-thrower, speaks his mind, upsets the establishment," she says. "Those are things about him that I like, too. But I guess I'm probably in the minority of people who gravitated to Trump primarily based on policy rather than style."
His immigration policy, for instance. Andrews wholeheartedly approves of it, and on Q&A defended his (since frozen) executive order banning the citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the US. When a softly spoken young Syrian man in the audience asked why people like him and his family should be victimised in this way, Andrews was polite but unmoved. His tale about having been shot and tortured in his homeland and making a new life in Australia seemed to her irrelevant. As she puts it to me: "You can't make policy based on sentiment."
Of course you can't, says Georgina Downer, 37, another of right-wing punditry's rising female stars. Downer, an adjunct fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs, a Melbourne conservative think-tank, and a frequently heard voice on TV and radio, may be even less likely than Andrews to be swayed by sob stories. Take the debate about the reduction of Sunday penalty rates, which effectively cuts the wages of some of the country's most poorly paid workers. When I hazard a guess that Downer is in favour of lowering the rates, she replies crisply: "I think we should abolish them." While we're about it, she says, we should think about getting rid of the minimum wage.
Downer tells me she has never known such demand for her services as a commentator, particularly from the national broadcaster. "I think it's because the ABC is responding to public expectations that they have a more balanced approach to political discussion," she says.
But Peter McEvoy, executive producer of Q&A, says the aim when selecting panellists for ABC programs has always been to ensure that a range of views is represented. "There's no new pressure to do this," he says. McEvoy explains that on most Q&A episodes, two of the five places on the panel are taken by politicians: "And because so many of our politicians are older men, we're slightly more likely to favour women and young people to fill the non-politicians' spots."
Young Australian women tend to be leftleaning. According to the 2016 Australian Election Study published by the Australian National University, almost 60 per cent of female voters aged from 18 to 34 favoured Labor or Green in the federal election last year. Only 25 per cent voted for the Liberal or National parties. (Among men in the same age bracket, the difference was much less pronounced: 45 per cent voted Labor or Green, 35 per cent Liberal or National.)
What is it that makes some young women see the world in a different way from their female contemporaries – not just embracing the Right but dedicating themselves to spruiking for it? "I think you are very much informed by the views of your parents – the values they instil in you growing up," says Downer, who is the scion of a conservative political dynasty. Her father, Alexander, currently Australia's high commissioner to the UK, was federal Liberal leader and foreign minister; her grandfather was a minister in the Menzies Liberal government; her great-grandfather was a conservative premier of South Australia. For Downer, dashing off firmly worded right-wing opinion pieces and taking to the airwaves to push the conservative cause feels like the natural thing to do. "It's very much in my DNA," she says.
Helen Andrews, on the other hand, was born in the US state of Mississippi into a family of liberals in the "small l" American sense. "My father is a southern liberal lawyer – think Atticus Finch," she says. "My mother is a hippie, bless her heart. She has a degree in pottery." Her mother, in particular, is bemused to find that she has raised a standard-bearer for the Right. "She thinks the bassinettes were switched or something," Andrews says.
Daisy Cousens' parents are actors. (Her father, Peter Cousens, is also a producer and director whose film credits include Freedom, starring Cuba Gooding jnr.) "I think they're a bit more centrist than I am," says Daisy, as we sit drinking tea in their sun-dappled garden. She herself dreamed of becoming a musical-theatre star, and spent the best part of a year trying to conquer Broadway. She says she had $10 in her pocket when she returned from New York. What's nice, from her perspective, is that she has ended up in the spotlight any way – even if she finds herself playing to tougher crowds than she encountered in her song-and-dance days. "They booed me!" she says of a section of the Q&A audience. A small pause. "I was really pleased."
CONTROVERSY IS, of course, the pundit's stock-intrade. When Cousens says things like, "I called myself a feminist before I started, you know, thinking," you get the impression she is hoping for a sharp collective intake of breath. She tells me that she and fellow members of the cohort she calls the "millennial Right" aim to be "very, very outrageous … We like to shock people".
In the Trump era, conservatism has lost its fuddy-duddy image, she says. "I think nowadays, being conservative, it's kind of like the new rebellion."
Cousens, who likes that Trump is "very anti-politicalcorrectness", was just 15 the first time she gave us the benefit of her assessment of a US president. It was 2003, a few months after the invasion of Iraq, and US president George W. Bush was visiting Canberra. Cousens, in the national capital on a school excursion,was one of 40 students selected to sit in on his address to federal parliament ("You had to be the worst kind of teacher's pet to get picked for that," she admits).
Interviewed for the next day's newspapers, she said Bush had convinced her that starting the war was the right thing to do: "When he talked about Saddam's torture chambers, I thought, 'Oh my God, this man is trying to defend all of us.' "
Looking back, she is impressed by the chutzpah she showed when the press pack approached. "They said, 'Do any of you girls have anything to say about the speech?' And everyone was quiet except me. I just kept talking and talking." She beams. "Nothing has changed."
After Cousens accepted that her future was not on the stage, she obtained a master's degree in creative writing and began contributing articles to an online women's magazine, SheSaid. She also started writing about tennis, a sport she has always adored. Then she knocked out a piece called "Islam and Sexual Slavery", which the conservative journal Quadrant published in November 2015 under the pseudonym Victoria Kincaid (because it was so "controversial", she says). This was her break. She landed a job as an editorial assistant at Quadrant, later joining The Spectator Australia's stable of columnists.
Cousens' political pieces invariably excoriate the Left. "I wait to write things until I'm in a terrible mood," she says. "It's usually 2am and I have a block of chocolate and I'm irrationally annoyed because Rafael Nadal, who's my favourite tennis player, has lost in the early rounds." Her objective when she composes a column is "to make people think, and to make them laugh, and to punch a hole in something that hasn't had a hole punched in it before".
Factual accuracy isn't necessarily a top priority. "The single mother, popping out children at 16 for government benefits, is hailed as a 'working-class hero'," she writes. (Really? By whom?) In spoken commentary, too, Cousens can seem to have an airy disregard for detail: she has claimed, for instance, that Trump's Democrat rival for the presidency, Hillary Clinton, "sort of like robbed Haiti of all this stuff after the earthquake". Sometimes, Cousens' main aim looks suspiciously like self-promotion. In a widely derided Spectator article last month about the late cartoonist Bill Leak, she wrote that he referred to her as "beautiful Daisy" and ended their only face-to-face meeting by predicting: "You'll go far, my girl."
WHEN HELEN Andrews was 22, a blogger asked her to name commonly enjoyed activities she regarded as a waste of time. "Anything to do with cats or dogs," she replied. I am thinking about that when I arrive at Andrews' apartment in Sydney's inner-west, and wondering whether a furry friend has inveigled its way into her life in the intervening nine years. No, is the short answer. Andrews is warmer and softer than she appears on television but her attitude to domestic pets remains as resolutely unsentimental as her approach to immigration policy. The only other living creature on the premises is her partner, Tim Andrews, executive director of the right-wing Australian Taxpayers' Alliance – and he is on his way to a dental appointment. "Husband, farewell!" she says as he ducks out the door.
Andrews makes coffee and tells me she is the last person she would have expected to end up holding forth on panel shows. "I never watch talking-head TV," she says, explaining that she finds it neither edifying nor overly entertaining. "If you want to learn something about an issue, go read the newspaper, go read a book. If you want something entertaining, watch something scripted."
For Andrews, who was born Helen Rittelmeyer (she changed her name when she married Tim), the path to punditry started at Yale, the Ivy League university in the US state of Connecticut. She joined the Yale Political Union and, in her words, "developed a certain taste for disputation and conflict and public speaking". After graduating with a degree in religious studies, she wrote articles for various conservative American magazines, then in 2010 contributed an essay to a book called Proud to be Right.
I know what Andrews means about talk-shows, but the discussion broadcast by the US network C-SPAN to launch the book is as riveting as anything I have seen on screen, scripted or otherwise. On the panel with Andrews was Todd Seavey, a fellow contributor and – this was the problem – her ex-boyfriend. "He's a fundamentally really nice guy who was in a lot of pain," she says, recalling the mounting dismay with which she listened to him dissect her character, essentially calling her crazy and cruel.
Seavey claimed, for instance, that she had opposed the Obama administration's proposed Affordable Health Care Act on grounds that it would alleviate suffering. "I think you'll find a lot of Helen's positions are actually guided by the desire to increase suffering," he said. Over nervous laughter from the audience, Andrews replied: "It builds character."
The whole thing was ridiculous, she says, but the clip went viral, and when she moved to Australia in 2012 and started applying for jobs, she knew anyone thinking about hiring Helen Rittelmeyer would Google her and find it. Even so, she says, "I never could bring myself to bring it up in an interview: 'I'm not a psycho-bitch, just in case you were wondering.' " Looking back, she supposes there was a bright side to the episode. "It did fortify me for any future TV appearances, because I figure no matter what they throw at me, it can't possibly be worse than that."
At the time of our conversation, Andrews is preparing to return to the US, where she hopes she and Tim eventually will settle permanently. From the point of view of an American-born pundit, she says, Australia is a bit, well, dull. "The politics of this country aren't nearly as ideologically driven as they are in the US, and that is wonderful for your citizens, but terrible if your business is ideas in politics."
BRITISH POLITICS have fascinated Georgina Downer since she wrote a fan letter to Margaret Thatcher at the age of six. "I loved her so much," says Downer, face alight with fond memories of the conservative prime minister known as the Iron Lady. "I had a photo of her in my room that Dad put on one of those chipboard mounting blocks." As a grown-up, Downer is an exponent of Thatcheresque conservatism. She believes Australians pay too much tax, for example. "A lot too much. And I think we have an overly generous welfare system."
Downer admires Donald Trump's policies, even if she isn't keen on his personal style. "I find him a bit vulgar, to be honest," she says, as we sit in her comfortable livingroom in an affluent inner-Melbourne suburb. She cheered when Trump won the presidential election, but for her the most thrilling event of 2016 was Brexit. In a newspaper column, she described Britain's decision to leave the European Union as "the most important victory for freedom and democracy since World War II".
A lifelong Anglophile, Downer first made the news in 2005, when she won one of the British government's $50,000 Chevening scholarships for postgraduate study in the UK. The entry form had stipulated that applicants needed at least an upper second-class honours degree, and Downer had only a third-class honours degree in law. She tells me she got the scholarship because she was seen as a person who could make a positive contribution to the relationship between Australia and Britain. "That was really the criteria," she says.
At the time, a British Council spokesman denied there was anything irregular about her selection, or that her father, then Australia's foreign minister, had influenced it in any way. Alexander Downer was still in the job two years later, when Georgina was awarded a graduate traineeship in the foreign affairs department. According to media reports, she was one of 40 people selected from a field of 1695 candidates.
Many expected her charmed run to continue when she stood for Liberal preselection for the blue-ribbon Melbourne seat of Goldstein before last year's federal election. But, despite endorsements from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett and other party heavyweights, she was beaten by former human rights commissioner Tim Wilson.
Downer is married to corporate lawyer William Heath, a partner at King & Wood Mallesons, and has two children. She hasn't given up on standing for parliament, but in the meantime is happy to do valuable work on the sidelines – combatting "the zealotry of the climate industry", for instance. Despite the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence, Downer remains unconvinced that global warming is caused by human activity, and argues that even if it is, Australia has no obligation to reduce carbon emissions. Better to pragmatically adapt to the new reality, she says. "I'm of the view that you've got to adjust to a changing climate, regardless of the cause of the change."
Both on air and in person, there is a note of utter selfassurance in Downer's voice that I imagine could rub some people up the wrong way. I ask if she has many fights at dinner parties. "My modus operandi is not to get into a huge emotional argument," she says. "I don't want to get into personality attacks or, you know, ranting and raving."
Daisy Cousens echoes the sentiment. "I'm happy to have a political discussion with people who disagree with me, because that's interesting and I don't take it personally," Cousens says. "But the psychology of the Left is different. They get very, very emotionally attached to what they believe."
To Matthew Ricketson, professor of communication at Melbourne's Deakin University, it is hardly surprising that tempers flare over subjects like global warming. "It's not simply a matter of scoring points in a debate," he says. "There is so much more at stake. The future of the planet would seem to be a pretty big issue." Ricketson worries that pundits can lose sight of such realities. Still, "the fact that you've got young women who are confident, assertive and willing not only to express an opinion but really take a place at the table and push their view – that's a good thing," he says.
Pundits aren't in it for the money, Helen Andrews points out. "You could write as fast as a ticker-tape machine and still never produce enough columns to make a living as a freelancer, not even in the US where it pays better." As for television, "the ABC paid me in cab charges!" Andrews says. "I never made a dime from TV." Daisy Cousens agrees punditry doesn't pay bills. "I do it because I'm strong on my convictions," she tells me. "I have something to say and I'm grateful to be given the platform to say it."
What concerns writer and social commentator Jane Caro, herself a talk-show veteran, is the amount of online vitriol directed at outspoken women, particularly young ones. "I find some of their opinions quite obnoxious," Caro says of the right-wing pundits, "but that doesn't mean they should be personally crucified." Downer tells me her social media feedback is almost entirely negative. "A good day is 1 per cent positive," she says.
At my first meeting with Cousens, she says becoming a political provocateur has lost her about a dozen friends. "It's a shame," she says, sounding not particularly despondent. And yes, she gets plenty of online abuse from strangers, but she doesn't allow that to upset her: "It's an occupational hazard."
When we talk again a few weeks later, her tone has changed. The volume and intensity of the online criticism has risen to the point where it is regularly reducing her to tears, she says. Only the previous night, she told a friend that she didn't think she could continue to handle the stress.
Not that Cousens seems to be seriously planning to quit punditry. "It would be hypocritical of me to say I can't do it any more because I can't take the heat," she says. More likely she will follow the advice she dispenses to whimpering lefties: "Steel up, snowflakes!"
Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.). For a daily critique of Leftist activities, see DISSECTING LEFTISM. To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup of pro-environment but anti-Greenie news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH . Email me here