One of the legacies of Tony Abbott’s prime ministership will surely be his tendency to misspeak. His worst lapses need no repetition, no explaining. Most of us have his best-of unfortunately committed to memory, and the quotes tend to be self-evidently racist /sexist /homophobic /Islamophobic /xenophobic /blisteringly ignorant of everything from climate change science to the importance of land and country to First Australians. Really, he covered a lot of ground.
During the recent Melbourne International Film Festival, I had an interesting discussion about whether genre films can ever deal with important social issues in a way that is not titillating or exploitative. One example of a genre film that does, shown at this year’s MIFF, is Peter Weir’s 1977 film, The Last Wave. The Internet Movie Database classifies The Last Wave as a ‘drama/mystery/thriller’ but it is also laced with supernatural/occult tropes popular in many horror films of the seventies. It’s a story about weather and the climate, in a way that can now be viewed as a remarkably prescient.
Naturally, nobody with a reasonable amount of literary education can fault the main argument of these estimable critics: that the quotidian is celebrated while the masters are silently passed over. Not so different was it in the time of Thomas Browne. And it may be helpful to remember that no less an eminence than André Gide rejected the manuscript of Swann’s Way. The history of literature is replete with such mistakes and missed opportunities.
Consider the most powerful arguments in favour of defunding and deregulating the tertiary sector. A university education is an investment in oneself: it grants new skills and knowledge that will make one more employable and boost one’s future earnings. As such, it is only fair that students are made to bear all or most of the costs of this investment, because they will be the beneficiaries. Further, look at the statistics regarding those accessing higher education: the privileged are overrepresented across our universities, and in our relatively prestigious Group of Eight institutions in particular.
A few weeks ago, Radio National’s Life Matters featured a discussion on the latest refugee crisis, with a focus on the emotional response evoked by the photograph of the drowned Syrian toddler, Aylan Kurdi. While a couple of panellists – and most callers – called for an empathetic response that extended beyond politics, one of the interviewees, sociologist Klaus Neumann, suggested that an emotional reaction is likely to be fleeting, and that we need to go deeper.