Tuesday, August 04, 2015

POLITICS: Team Amer ... woops ... Australia

Staya - f*ck yeah!

According to the erudite Bernard Keane, writing in Crikey on 23 June 2015, the phrase "Team Australia" used by Prime Minister Tony Abbott so frequently that it virtually became his trademark, is now virtually dead.

This rhetorical child was killed off after only a year. Born during a Prime Ministerial Address to the Boao Forum for Asia in April last year, the term was used to describe a large delegation visiting China.

On this trip to China, I am accompanied by the foreign minister, the trade minister, five state premiers, one chief minister, and 30 of my country’s most senior chairmen and CEOs. 
It’s one of the most important delegations ever to leave Australia. 
What better way could there be to demonstrate that Australia is open for business: than to visit all three of our largest export partners on the one trip, culminating with the biggest one? ... 
Australia’s preference is always to look forwards rather than backwards; to win friends rather than to find fault; to be helpful, not difficult. Team Australia is here in China to help build the Asian Century.

Gosh. What a positive message. We are here. We have political and business leaders here. We wish to make friends. We value our relationship with you. We are not here to judge or find fault or condescend. We are forward-looking people. We don't wish to be difficult. We are here to help.

So let's compare this positive message to Asian leaders to the message Mr Abbott had for Australian citizens concerned about the security of their country. During a joint press conference with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Attorney General Senator George Brandis on 5 August 2004, hardly four months after the China address, Abbott's tone has completely changed.

Remember, this time he is not talking to foreign leaders. He is talking to his own citizens.

We need new legislation to make it easier to identify, to charge and to prosecute people who have been engaged in terrorist activities overseas such as, for instance, by making it an offence to travel to a designated area without a valid reason. We also need legislation which I have commissioned the Attorney to prepare, which the National Security Committee of the Cabinet has commissioned the Attorney to prepare to ensure that we are best able to monitor potential terrorist activity in this country. Obviously with the usual range of safeguards and warrants but that will include discussions with the telecommunications providers about the retention of metadata. We are also determined to engage in ever closer consultation with communities including the Australian Muslim community. 
When it comes to counter-terrorism everyone needs to be part of ‘Team Australia’ and I have to say that the Government’s proposals to change 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act have become a complication in that respect. I don’t want to do anything that puts our national unity at risk at this time and so those proposals are now off the table. This is a call that I have made. It is, if you like, a leadership call that I have made after discussion with the Cabinet today. In the end leadership is about preserving national unity on the essentials and that is why I have taken this decision.
There is a sense that the government wishes to consult, to protect, to even compromise so as to maintain solidarity within the team. Though I'm not sure what abandoning changes to the RDA had to do with the solidarity sought.

The term was catching on. At the Sir John Downer Oration on 21 August 2015, Abbott mentioned a Muslim leader using the term.

Multiculturalism has turned out to mean people becoming Australian – joining our team if you like – in their own way and at their own pace. 
One of the participants in my Muslim leaders’ round tables this week rather exuberantly declared: “we are all part of Team Australia team and you are our captain” – suggesting that he had yet to assimilate Australians’ habitual scepticism towards politicians! 
In our own way, Australia has long sought to showcase this easy-going approach to cultural and religious differences.
Abbott did not show the same scepticism toward multiculturalism as John Howard. Team Australia was still inclusive, even if only at a leader-to-leader level. Abbott's appreciation for this was expressed during a speech to the South Australian Liberal Party on 23 August 2015:

As many of you would know, I’ve spent much of the last week talking to the leaders of the Muslim community here in Australia. They are decent people, they are proud of our country and like every one of their fellow Australians, they are appalled at the things now being done in different parts of the world in the name of religion. One of them said to me on Tuesday in Melbourne, in a booming voice, full of exuberance, he said, “You know, we are all part of Team Australia”, and he looked at me and he smiled, “And you are our captain”. I have never been more proud and I have never been more exhilarated than to hear that statement.

Again, the discussons are with "the leaders of the Muslim community here in Australia". The leaders seem to be part of Team Australia, at least to the extent that they recognise Abbott as the captain.

The Opposition, of course, weren't part of Team Australia, at least to the extent that they did not like his approach to tax and superannuation matters. The overuse of the term turned it into a farce. As Bernard Keane notes:

After a remarkable debut month in August when the term was mentioned over 8000 times across the media, over 3000 times in September, nearly 4000 times in October and 2-3000 each in the last two months of 2014, media mentions fell away — first below 1000 in January, to just over 300 in March, and just 136 in April. Abbott’s off-hand mention in May garnered 765 mentions.

The luvvy-duvvy talk came to an end when Abbott turned on the same foot soldiers when announcing changes to citizenship laws that would revoke or suspend citizenship of those involved in terrorism or terror-related acts. The Guardian Australia reported it as follows:

In a national security speech on Monday, the prime minister also called on Muslim leaders to proclaim Islam as a religion of peace “more often, and mean it”.

Since then, Team Australia appears to have been dumped. The last word belongs to Keane:
Farewell, Team Australia — may you enjoy your rest in whatever paradise abandoned focus-group phrases go to.