Brown Study

Brown Study

19 April 2014

9:00 AM

19 April 2014

9:00 AM

Monday nights are back to normal and I can watch the new season of Game of Thrones, the brilliant dungeons and dragons fantasy. You will recall that, many months ago, your intrepid columnist was the first with the prediction that this show would be a world beater, which it is, breaking all records for ratings and the cost of making a single instalment of television drama. The series tells the story of seven kings, two of whom are probably queens, vying for the one throne. But I can probably give you a better idea of what the series is about by using an analogy. Some years ago I sat next to Neville Wran at a dinner in Sydney and told him I had just seen the opera Tosca. ‘Ah,’ he sighed, ‘I love Tosca; murder, backstabbing, poison, civil war and insurrection. It’s just like the annual conference of the Labor party.’

It is not only the ratings and the cost of the show that are breaking the records, but the number of illegal downloads, which is embarrassingly high; needless to say, tech-savvy Australians are leading the pack. Something has to be done about this, but no one seems to know what to do and I am hoping that George Brandis’s review of copyright law will come up with a workable solution. I am a strong supporter of copyright; as the good book says, the labourer is worthy of his hire. But it is obvious that the present law is not working. Moreover, the copyright owners and their distributors could do better. Foxtel is offering a special subscription of $35 a month, but it suddenly jumps to $50 when Game of Thrones finishes, which consumer law should have something to say about.


I must admit that Bob Carr’s memoir on life on the silk pyjama road was a bit rich, but it did not come as much of a surprise, given the proclivities of Labor politicians to chase the lurks and perks of office. When I was an MP I found it handy to hang around my ALP colleagues when we were interstate or overseas, adopt a superficially naive air and leave it to them to get a flight upgrade, a car, admission to an exclusive lounge or advice on how to use some obscure regulation to qualify for an allowance that colleagues on my side of politics would not have had the effrontery or the ingenuity to ask for. But at least I never asked if they could wrangle some silk pyjamas. Actually, Carr’s memoir was mostly stuff and nonsense and presumably meant to be a harmless parody, except for one recurrent theme — the Jewish lobby and all their works. I thought we were well past those days and we certainly would have been better off without a rerun of this old conspiracy theory. Despite that, most commentators were content to report the anodyne, harmless version of Carr’s argument which was that, really, he was only opposing Israel because it was in its own best interests to do so and that we could actually help Israel by ensuring it lost a few resolutions in the UN. The press seem to have overlooked the fact that Carr’s protests are deeply symbolic of a definite shift in allegiances on the Israeli and Palestinian issue and that his remarks have a definitely darker side. Initially, support for Israel was a left-wing article of faith and the Labor party was genuinely committed to the cause; in those days everyone seemed to be rushing off to a kibbutz, watching Jewish films or hanging around the Scheherazade cafe in St Kilda; the point is that the Labor party was rock solid on Israel and were genuine about it. But for the last ten years or so things have gradually but steadily changed and the Labor party has changed with them. The Left has become more left; its authoritarian streak has led it to find allies among extremists; the rise of the Greens and their sheer hatred of the USA and its free enterprise spirit has fomented an equal hatred of anything pro-American and Israel is at the top of the list. The Labor party now agonises about whether it should chase the Greens to the left; at worst, it has elements who are already there. My guess is that this contest will now produce flashes of anti-Israeli sentiment as we have just seen from Carr and even from Gareth Evans who, when launching Carr’s book, praised his opposition to Israel in the UN as his ‘signature achievement’.

While I am in prediction mode, the next battle on the Left-Right divide will be the fierce opposition from the Left to investor-state arbitration in our tremendously important free trade agreements. The left (and here the ALP is the pace-setter, not the follower) just hate these provisions, as they allegedly stop decent left-wing governments from legislating on health and welfare. This is nonsense and, worse, it forgets that trading nations like Australia need arbitration for disputes about expropriation and discriminatory taxes. Without them, Australian companies will have to sue in the courts of, well, Zimbabwe, Mali, Egypt, Russia, take your pick. If the opposition to arbitration succeeds, we can kiss goodbye to Australian companies investing in construction, big development projects, or anything else that involves taking a risk in another country.

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