Sunday, August 11, 2002


It’s hard not to feel sorry for Phillip Adams on some days. Sure, he has the house in Paddington, hobby farm in the countryside, 20-odd million in art, and a national radio program. He has established himself well in the guilt-arbitrage business.

But where is the satisfaction? Because people like Adams are interested in one thing: power over events. And the best kind of power is unelected power. After all, being unelected means never having to be responsible for anything. You get all the benefits and perks of office, with no risk of dethronement and the priceless gift of being able to slink off when things get sticky.

Adams used to enjoy quite a bit of influence, in the heady days of ALP hegemony and Hanson witch trials. His pendulous words would ooze over the think-tanks of Chippendale and Collingwood, to the guilty real estate millionaires in Balmain and Hawthorn. Eager listeners to his taxpayer-funded squelchings would daily find themselves in furious agreement yet again, forever reinforcing the need for an independent national broadcaster to service their needs.

The hard men of ALP factional warfare would cock an ear, the better to know which buzzwords to include in their next press release celebrating the Vision Thing, while their Government sold all that was not nailed down and blew the proceeds buying worthless banks from their own States.

But being unaccustomed to the idea of elections, Adams never quite grasped the concept of losing elections. Or indeed, that his patrons might actually fall from grace, to be replaced by the Visigoths and Vandals of the Liberal Party.

Since then he has worked assiduously to repair this lapse of judgement on the art of the electorate, pitching harder and harder to fewer and fewer followers, ignored by former political satraps no longer in a position to deliver vital arts funding.

Then he got his two big breaks: Tampa and September 11. And he’s never looked back.

After seven years, suddenly the policy of mandatory detention of unauthorised arrivals was The End of Civilisation As We Know It. Tampa was not a hijack, an act of piracy or just a boatload of immigrants looking to upgrade to business class. It was the SS St Louis, The Berlin Airlift and the Rape of Nanking all rolled into one shining moment, waiting to be seized by the man ready to lead his people to the Promised Land of a change of Government.

Only it didn’t work out. His hagridden Labor Party refused to repudiate their own values by committing electoral suicide. Instead they followed their supporters and members and stood shoulder to shoulder with the Government both before, during and after the election. In poll after poll, voters have stubbornly refused to see that their insistence of controlling immigration is leading to trade sanctions, diplomatic crises and the birth of two-headed goats.

Now Adams has brought us Australians for Just Refugee Programs, or Just Australians for Refugees, or Refugees Just for Australia. Again, unelected power without responsibility. Since there is no chance that any of the boat people can afford to live anywhere near Adams or his dinner party guests. Large influxes of cheap labour are unlikely to destabilise the left-wing shock-jock industry.

So I suggest this to his lordship, that he might show himself to be prepared to accept some of the consequences of his advocacy. Sell off, say 10% of the art, raising about $2 million. Mark off part of the farm, and build some barracks in the accepted “humane” architectural style to house about 100 rejected asylum seekers. Make sure their dwellings are at least as nice as the manor house Adams lives in, the better to avoid charges of elitism. So no fences or security systems of any kind. Accept personal and fiscal responsibility for your guests, paying a bond to cover their continued parole. Since they will naturally all stay put, Adams could accept a mortgage over the rest of the art collection. There’s enough money pouring into the coffers of Adams’ group to cover the cost of feeding them, and the green fresh air of the farm country has to be better than Woomera.

As the RSPCA might put it: a rejected asylum seeker is forever.

UPDATE: Bernard Slattery provides entertainment taking after Adams for yesterday’s column.

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