From omnishambles to pizza…

I cannot believe the range and volume of hysteria that has followed last Monday’s #QandA! For the record, it is about this:

TONY JONES: Okay, we’ve got someone in the audience who actually has faced the security agencies and the courts on these issues named Zaky Mallah. He’s got a question for us.


ZAKY MALLAH: As the first man in Australia to be charged with terrorism under the harsh Liberal Howard Government in 2003, I was subject to solitary confinement, a 22 hour lockdown, dressed in most times in an orange overall and treated like a convicted terrorist while under the presumption of innocence. I had done and said some stupid things, including threatening to kidnap and kill but, in 2005, I was acquitted of those terrorism charges. Question to the panel: What would have happened if my case had been decided by the Minister himself and not the courts?
TONY JONES: Steve Ciobo.
STEVE CIOBO: Sir, I’m not familiar with the circumstances of your case. I remember certainly seeing video of comments that the questioner asked but, from memory, I thought you were acquitted on a technicality rather than it being on the basis of a substantial finding of fact. I could be wrong but that’s my…
TONY JONES: Well, I mean, we’ll go back to – to Zaky. I mean, you did, in fact, plead guilty to making these threats you just mentioned – death threats to Commonwealth officials and you did – you were convicted of that so you are admitting to that but it’s the other side of the coin you were not convicted in the end on any terrorism charges. That’s correct?
ZAKY MALLAH: That’s correct. I was charged with planning a terrorist attack in Sydney in 2003 and was acquitted by the Supreme Court jury in 2005 of those charges. However, as a plea bargain happened, I pleaded guilty to threatening to kill ASIO officials.
STEVE CIOBO: Well, I got to tell you, Tony, my understanding of your case was that you were acquitted because, at that point in time, the laws weren’t retrospective. But I’m happy to look you straight in the eye and say that I would be pleased to be part of a government that would say that you’re out of the country as far as I’m concerned.
ZAKY MALLAH: Rubbish. Rubbish….

And so on, until right near the end:

TONY JONES: Hang on, if you don’t mind, I’ll just go quickly back to Zaky Mallah because he, in fact, did go to Syria but he fought with the Free – or I don’t know if you fought with them but you were with the Free Syrian Army, who, of course, are backed by the United States.
ZAKY MALLAH: I didn’t fight for the Free Syrian Army. I went there to meet the Free Syrian Army and go to the frontlines and see what the war was all about. I had recorded all my experiences in Syria and it has all been, you know, put on – uploaded on YouTube, so it’s all there. But I went to Syria to experience the situation for myself and why the uprising had begun. But I just want to say a comment before this – this little discussion ends is that…
TONY JONES: If you are quick about it, go ahead.
ZAKY MALLAH: Yeah. Yeah, sure. The Liberals now have just justified to many Australian Muslims in the community tonight to leave and go to Syria and join ISIL because of Ministers like him.
TONY JONES: Okay. I think that’s a comment we are just going to rule totally out of order. I’m sorry about that. We’re just about to end the show.
GRAHAME MORRIS: It was bloody outrageous…

Peter Greste, former prisoner of the Egyptian government, has commented:

A controversial Q&A broadcast involving comments from Zaky Mallah didn’t cross the line in inciting Australians to join Islamic State terrorists, Peter Greste says.

The Australian journalist, who was released in February after spending 400 days in an Egyptian jail cell for reporting on political events following unrest, says the government is shooting the messenger in slamming the program.

The ABC, which admitted an error in judgment, has been heavily criticised for allowing the convicted criminal airtime during Monday night’s program.

But while Mr Greste says the ABC could have handled the material more sensitively, the criticism that has followed is designed to shut down public discussion.

“Anything that closes down debate I think is a bad thing, as long as the debate doesn’t overstep the boundaries of becoming incitement … and I don’t think that debate crossed that line,” Mr Greste told a media lunch in Melbourne.

He said the treatment of Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs was another example of a public institution attacked to deflect attention from an issue critical of government.

“I think the way that the government has responded to it … is deeply concerning,” he said.

“What we’re seeing, I think, is an attack on the messenger increasingly rather than engagement with the message.”

On The Drum, Jonathan Green:

Omnishambles: ˈɒmnɪʃamb(ə)lz/ noun Britishinformal

  1. a situation that has been comprehensively mismanaged, characterised by a string of blunders and miscalculations.

… or any given week in the Australian media and politics. Actually not just any week, this week: this rolling, muddy scuffle of buffoonery, self-interest, score settling and fear.

Yes the whole Zaky Mallah farrago, from thoughtless Q&A troll casting, to the grotesquely inflated hypocrisy of the tabloid response and the censorious, red-cheeked, blustering outrage of government. A week that has shown the media class at its worst: reactive and self-absorbed, simultaneously inconsequential and self-important. Or worse: driven by petty vindictiveness over public interest.

The public interest here is simple: freedom of speech, pluralism. And maybe Q&A has done some harm to that cause through accident, overconfidence and misadventure, but the thrust of its endeavour was right. Here is a young man, once radicalised, now reformed, whose central message is disdain for the “wankers” of Islamic State.

That’s a voice that has a place in our conversation about the promotion of terror, but not if politics has anything to do with it.

A complex human reality of cause and complicated effect might muddle the binary simplicity promoted by the Government in its prosecution of a domestic front in the War on Terror. It was all pretty clear to the Prime Minister:

I think many, many millions of Australians would feel betrayed by our national broadcaster right now, and I think that the ABC does have to have a long, hard look at itself, and to answer a question which I have posed before: whose side are you on?

Speaking of Mr Abbott, I refer you to my 4 March post Put out more flags.


Finally, Paul Sheehan – none too fond of Media Watch on ABC though.

This pattern of providing a megaphone for accusations of Islamophobia explains the powerful exasperation following Monday’s Q&A stunt. It was hyperbolic overkill for the Prime Minister to refer to Q&A as a “lefty lynch mob”. It was paranoia for the ABC to consult the Australian Federal Police about stricter audience participation guidelines. It was pointless to invoke the names the ABC’s managing director, Mark Scott, or its chairman, Jim Spigelman, as they are powerless over such tactics.

This latest incident was both trivial and ephemeral but pointed to something deeper and ingrained: the ABC’s incessant invocation of prejudice against Muslims in Australia. It has ranged from false accusations about asylum seekers, to a reluctance to examine dysfunctions within Muslim communities, to endorsing Muslim victimology.

I don’t refer to the ABC as if it were a monolith. My own direct experience, numerous times, has been with The Drum on ABC TV, where I regard the hosts and producers as scrupulously fair.

The person who has taken responsibility for responding to this blow-up is the head of ABC Television, Richard Finlayson. He has stated the obvious that it was “a mistake” to give a bilious, immature, convicted criminal a national platform…

That has characteristic Pauline obsessions to it, but at least recognises the degree to which this has been something of a storm in a teacup.

And just a little note on Steve Ciobo: while not exactly on the lips of everyone down here in Wollongong, he does have a track record: see Steve ‘slit her throat’ Ciobo.

Now consider the humble pizza from City Diggers in Wollongong.


Super crisp thin crust, delicious fresh topping – and yes, that is spinach. One needs comfort food in this mad political climate.


Whether or not he is simply a natural-born fascist is probably debatable, but today Tony Abbott (Benito Abbottini?) has outed himself as totally unbalanced: Tony Abbott declares ‘heads should roll’ at ABC over Q&A ‘betrayal’. I think that is stark staring mad. What does he want? A timid compliant lapdog of an ABC?

Update 2

Not good:

The ABC has increased security at all its major Australian offices after threatening phone calls were made to the broadcaster following a controversial appearance by former terrorist suspect Zaky Mallah on its Q&A program.

Absolutely correct: ABC is a public broadcaster, not a state broadcaster.

A question was posed this week. Whose side is the ABC on? It’s not the first time it’s been asked. Menzies, Hawke, Neville Wran – they all asked it in their own inimitable ways. It’s a good question about the role and nature of the public broadcaster in these highly polarised and partisan times, it’s a fair one. In any team, you can be playing on the same side, but often you will be playing in a different position, with a different role and responsibility.

You’re on the same side, but with a different job to do. You do your bit and you work together to make the team successful.

The ABC is clearly Australian, it’s on the side of Australia. A state broadcaster is the communications arm of the government. Its role is to communicate the messages of the government – and certainly not to do anything that undermines the government. I hope no one seriously wants the ABC to be a state broadcaster. We know the examples. North Korea and Russia. China and Vietnam.

And Citizenship: how Zaky Mallah became an object of hate to justify government’s tough talk.

So on Monday, when Zaky Mallah emerged to dump wildfire on the conversation, his timing was impeccable. This was the week these citizenship laws were finally to surface. These laws raise issues that are not only obvious, but utterly foundational: the rule of law, the expansion of executive power, the extraordinarily loose pretexts on which the most seminal right we have – citizenship – could simply be extinguished. In some ways, Mallah was the perfect person to ask the question. He’s a man acquitted of terrorism charges – which is to say he is, officially speaking, not a terrorist – whose citizenship the government would gleefully dissolve if it had the power. On this issue, he’s the very embodiment of the difference between law and politics…

Watch. From here, it’s not just Zaky Mallah who will be radical. It will be everything he seemed to think he was raising. It will be the notion of due process. It will be any suspicion of government overreach. And it will be any Muslim voice who dares question our counter-terrorism settings or who argues government action is further alienating young Muslims and thereby increasing radicalisation. Say that and you’re practically a member of Islamic State. Just like that guy on Q&A.

I wish that Steve Ciobo had just answered the question. He didn’t. And I wish people would stop taking the Daily Photoshop seriously. It ceased to be a newspaper ages ago. Not bad on sport, though, and for classifieds on the part of brothels.

Saturday 27 June

Thanks, Jim Belshaw, for the link back on Zaky Mallah, the ABC and patterns in Abbott (and Rudd Gillard) Government behaviour and for reminding us of a rather wiser reaction in past circumstances:

John Howard

It should be noted that since then David Hicks’s plea-bargained conviction for materially assisting terrorists has been overturned. See this commentary by lawyer Michael Bradley:

It’s this dissatisfaction that causes the likes of Abbott and Brandis to debase themselves and their offices with comments that trample on the most basic legal rights. The fact is that Hicks never committed a crime and should never have been charged, convicted and imprisoned. That ought to be acknowledged. Not necessarily apologised for, nor compensated – those are political choices the Government can make.

The lesson that should be taken from this case is that the rule of law, imperfect as it is, provides much better solutions to complex situations than governments will do when they decide to make up the rules as they go. Next time we decide to invade another country, we need to determine our legal justification for doing so and then deal with who and what we find accordingly.