Sometimes there's a fine line between helpful interest and nosiness.
When we were first finding our way around Brisbane – with puzzled looks on our faces, I'm sure – people would offer to give us directions. Famously, in the bush, if you've pulled over at the side of the road, other drivers will slow or stop to make sure you don't need assistance. This is good.
Not beating about the bush is an Aussie trait, too. Sometimes their questions are a tad direct. Alluding to my friend's 'swarthy complexion', one chap in the Outback made it clear he was talking ethnic origins rather than holiday glow.
Nosiness might be useful during the current terror drama season if it didn't also pose a risk to civil liberties, free speech and democracy. The other day came the ludicrous story that an interior designer from Melbourne was escorted off a flight bound for the Gold Coast after another passenger had reported seeing the word terrorism in his notebook… along with other words such as ice cream and fluffy bears. The Guardian termed the poor chap's scribbles 'terror doodles' – with tongue in cheek, of course.
Last week some 800 police burst into homes in Sydney and Brisbane in the dead of night. One man has since been charged with terrorism-related offences, but few other details have emerged. There was footage of the action, which the police provided to the MSM themselves. And stills for the newspapers. Isn't that a bid odd? Weren't they, shouldn't they have been, too busy worrying about the threat to be concerned about media coverage?
As Australia became more terror-focused, there was loose talk of beheadings on Australia's streets, which some people then used as an excuse to get into a tizzy about burkas and hijabs. The high-terror-alert provided the biggest excuses for Tony Abbott, however. It was a good job he wasn't distracted by the New York climate conference, wasn't it, so he was on hand to deal wi' trouble a' mill? And he could dodge indigenous issues even though he was camping in Arnhem Land. And he didn't have to negotiate with PUPs about the worst budget in living memory.
All this terror talk breeds high emotion and barely suppressed anger. I remarked to a friend on Facebook that I still feel uncomfortable in my local coffee shop queue alongside armed police on their morning tea break. I'm from a country where ordinary police do not carry hand guns or rifles. And I believe fewer people are shot dead as a result. There seems to me to be a greater tolerance here of the police shooting to kill rather than maim. My comment was misconstrued by other contributors. I am not faint-hearted about dealing with terrorists, but I do believe the West should at least debate the part its actions has played along their route to extremism.
One of the problems of the use of language is that the more you bandy about a word, the more people start to use it in quite inappropriate contexts. A rather unpleasant example of the National Party bit of the Coalition has recently crawled out of the woodwork in northern Queensland. George Christensen, member for Dawson, got all pink and indignant about the 'eco-terrorists' who campaign against the expansion of Abbot Point coal terminal. He got a bit carried away, unfortunately not literally, in Parliament:
The greatest terrorism threat in north Queensland, it is sad to say, comes from the extreme green movement… I am talking about… large, well funded, well organised eco-terrorists who use fear and blackmail to coerce government and the public into adopting their extreme political and ideological viewpoints… [They have] butchered the international tourism market for our greatest tourism attraction, not for the reef but for political ideology and threatened to kill off thousands more jobs in the resource industry… North Queenslanders will call out the gutless green grubs for the terrorists that they really are.
As he warmed to his theme, Christensen talked about extreme greens taking the Reef hostage and using it as a weapon, blah blah… you get the gist. It only needs a little chink of opportunity for right-wing bile to gush out; it's the same the world over. These miserable (not so) little people just can't help themselves. They keep their unpalatable beliefs under wraps until they espy an opportunity to stoke a fire they've been quietly tending.
Labor leader Bill Shorten was quite restrained I thought in describing Christensen as a headline hunting member of 'team idiot' – along with the Bernardis and Pynes on the government benches; those who almost willingly put feet in mouths in their haste to get the least politically correct bits of the party line across.
This post was last edited on 26 September 2014