(First published in the Curmudgeon column, The Dominion Post, November 23.)
WHEN I heard that Radio New Zealand host Kim Hill was going to interview former Australian prime minister John Howard last Saturday, I held out a naïve hope that this might mark a departure from the usual leftist thrust of her programme. Howard, after all, is emphatically a conservative – a political breed rarely heard on Hill’s show.
More fool me. Hill wasn’t remotely interested in finding out what had made Howard the second longest-serving prime minister (after Sir Robert Menzies) in Australian history. She was simply looking for a scalp to dangle in front of her admiring audience.
The interview was relentlessly adversarial from the word go. Hill revisited the same tired old political controversies that have already been worked over ad nauseam by her kindred spirits in the left-leaning Australian media, who despise Howard and are nonplussed and bitter over his popularity with the voters.
Why wasn’t Howard prepared to negotiate a treaty with the Aborigines, Hill demanded to know. Why didn’t he apologise to them (as if Howard was personally responsible for their historical mistreatment)? How did he justify getting involved in Iraq? What about the disgrace at Abu Ghraib (as if Howard stood by and did nothing when Iraqi prisoners were being tortured)? Why did he still support the monarchy? (Never mind that the Australian people voted against republicanism in a referendum.)
I waited for her to get around to the controversy over the Tampa refugees in 2001. Sure enough, that got worked over again too. It’s hard to believe that Hill genuinely thought she was going to extract some fresh revelation after all this time – perhaps a grovelling mea culpa? – but doubtless it played well to the chardonnay socialists who make up her core audience.
All her questions were delivered in the smug, condescending and judgmental tone that has come to exemplify media elitism. For good measure, Hill threw in one or two gratuitous insults – such as “I’m trying to make sense of your thinking” [on Iraq], as if her guest was some sort of imbecile. Howard was remarkably tolerant of her provocations but the interview was prickly, at times teetering on the brink of outright acrimony.
Hill finished by baiting Howard, again gratuitously, with a strange remark to the effect that he probably hadn’t enjoyed the experience of being interviewed by her. In other words, she seemed to be saying, hadn’t she done well to give him such a roasting? Howard was understandably nonplussed by the comment but somehow managed to remain civil.
I’m no cheerleader for Howard and wouldn’t argue for a moment that former politicians should be treated with kid gloves, but he deserved more balanced treatment than this.
After all, he must have done something right, since he won four elections in a row (to the despair of leftist commentators, who repeatedly made fools of themselves predicting he would fail). What’s more, he led a country that consistently out-performed New Zealand in almost every sphere, and with which we are now vainly and pathetically trying to catch up.
Nowhere in Hill’s interview was there any acknowledgement of this. A Martian listening to it would have concluded that Howard’s prime ministership was an abject failure. In fact more than that – a moral disgrace.
Just as well for democracy that politicians are ultimately accountable to the voters, not to media egos who enjoy the luxury of exercising – in Stanley Baldwin’s famous phrase – power without responsibility.
* * *
WHEREVER you go in the world, backpackers look the same – bored, jaded and uninterested in their surroundings.
I was reminded of this while travelling from downtown Auckland to Mangere airport on a shuttle bus recently. A young European couple in front of me barely glanced up as we drove through the suburbs. They wore an expression of blank indifference common to backpackers everywhere.
Admittedly Auckland’s not Paris or San Francisco, but still, you’d expect them to show some interest.
These affluent Generation Y kids troop listlessly from one adventure tourism attraction to the next, their MP3 headphones blotting out all ambient sound. The brief adrenalin rush of the bungy jump, luge or jetboat ride jerks them into a state of alertness only briefly before they shuffle back onto the bus and head off in search of the next buzz.
I can’t help wondering why they bother to travel at all. They might as well stay at home and watch TV.
* * *
I RECENTLY booked two flights with Air New Zealand online and printed out the flight details.
The first sheet of paper contained all the information I wanted: flight numbers, times etc. So what was on the superfluous second sheet of paper that my printer spat out quite needlessly?
The words: “Good planets are hard to find – please think of the environment before you print this email.”