Saving Australians from their own overseas stupidity
ONE of the best columns of the year to date was this week’s hilarious, bang-on rant by former foreign minister Alexander Downer, who used his regular spot in Adelaide’s The Advertiser to get 11 years’ worth of fury off his chest about our more half-witted countrymen and women who get into scrapes overseas.
Under the pithy headline “Idiot Aussies: Grow up and take responsibility”, Downer condensed more than a decade’s worth of rage into a searing piece which dealt with everything from the taxpayer-funded exodus from Lebanon, to claims of Canberra’s neglect of convicted drug dealers such as the Bali Nine, and Schapelle Corby, who stars in the above YouTube video urging her release.
Downer used as his starting point Melbourne’s so-called “Beer Mat Mum” who, having been jailed for stealing a Singha-sodden terry-towelling mat from some Thai dive bar, is surely just as compelling a bogan pin-up as the chk-chk-boom girl.
Beer Mat Mum became a cause celebre for a few minutes the other week when an angry nation (or the angry parts of an otherwise sensible nation) railed that Canberra clearly wasn’t doing enough to save middle-aged Australian ladies who flogged bar accessories from overseas drinking establishments.
“I’m sure my successor as foreign minister, Stephen Smith, had his in-box bursting last week as people demanded he save the beer mat mum, Annice Smoel, from the ravages of the Thai police,” Downer wrote.
“I felt for him especially when the media started demanding he ‘do something’ to save her. After about 10 minutes as foreign minister I was a little surprised to learn I was ‘responsible’ for miscreant Australians who got into trouble in foreign countries.
“No, no, no, don’t get it wrong; drug traffickers, drunks, kleptomaniacs and fraudsters weren’t responsible for their own stupidity, I was.”
Downer went on to recount the appalling conceit of Lebanese-Australians who were knowingly holidaying or in many cases living permanently in the middle of a war zone, despite repeated warnings from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade that Israel was about to bung on one hell of a stink in its war against Hezbollah.
He recalled how, at a cost to the Australian taxpayer of $30 million, 5000 of these Aussies of Lebanese descent were ferried to Turkey and Cyprus. There was some gratitude, but as Downer writes: “Some just whinged. They felt seasick on the ferry and that was our fault. Could they get frequent flyer points for the free flight back to Australia?”
Downer’s column reminded me how The Daily Telegraph in Sydney was pilloried (again) for crimes of insensitivity when it published a Warren Brown cartoon at the time featuring an Australian passport under a glass box reading, “In case of emergency break glass.”
The cartoon captured the legitimate and heartfelt cynicism of the majority of Australians at the demands of a foolish minority, many of whom had no demonstrable commitment to Australia, and probably remembered they had an Australian passport only when the missiles started hailing down.
It was just one example of a mindset that transcends ethnicity.
A good friend of ours works for Foreign Affairs in Fiji and had a wonderful time at Christmas being berated and abused by Australians on package tours who, on arriving at Nadi, discovered the country was under water. DFAT met many of these people at the airport and arranged for dozens of them to be put up for free at five-star hotels. Many of them were grateful, but many were not and vilified our friend, who was working around the clock with young kids of her own at home in a country where she’d only just arrived.
The complaints ran to the lack of activities at the hotel, the inability to access the beaches, the sheer horror of having to eat anything other than room-service club sandwiches. Underpinning it all was a sense of disbelief at Canberra’s failure to realise that torrential rain was about to hail down on Fiji and to stop it from falling.
It’s a bit queer how so many people can rail against government and its failure to do anything, then turn around and demand that it magically step in to prevent acts of God or to save people from foreseeable acts of war that were themselves the subject of overt and repeated warnings.
Earlier this year, when shark fever was gripping Sydney in the wake of three attacks, I wrote a column for The Tele teasing out the absurdity of the demands for government action on sharks.
Remember here that the demands were being levelled against a Government in NSW that would be flat out delivering a pizza, let alone a viable train service or paying its hospital bills.
It was decreed - again, by the non-sensible minority, cheered on by brain-dead public statements from an opportunistic Opposition - that it was about time Premier Nathan Rees got tough on sharks and tough on the causes of sharks.
In an exhaustive bit of research I discovered that sharks were killing people at the rate of one a year yet the vastly more sinister bee was knocking them off almost twice as effectively, claiming 1.8 lives a year, and asked how many more innocent people had to die before the Rees Government finally got tough on the bee question?
The response to the column was particularly heartening because it showed there is an enormous and eminently sensible group of Australians out there - most of whom never ring talkback or write mad emails to websites - who think government should look after schools, transport and hospitals, and pretty much leave it at that.
This too was demonstrated by Downer’s piece. Just as good as the column itself was the readers’ reaction to it; people who openly admitted they couldn’t stand the bloke saying they had never agreed more with something they read in a newspaper.
- This piece was originally published in The Australian
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…