Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Real Australian of the Year

FOR many years I have admired Tony Kevin, the former diplomat  who has renounced the striped trouser circuit of international gabby-ness, rolled up his sleeves and knuckled down to do something worthwhile. He was one of the (many) reasons to visit Margo Kingston's ground-breaking, earth-shaking Web Diary in those innocent days before the Fairfax corporatistas realised that they were giving a pulpit to a woman who did not want advertising on her site. This must have stuck in the throats of shareholders because Margo left to blaze new trails and master new challenges. But in the meantime, along with Tim Dunlop (now a regular at the ABC's excellent Unleashed) and other left luminaries, we were blessed to make Tony's acquaintance. He is a challenging individual, that's for sure!

When John Howard's agents were implicated in the sinking of the SIEVX asylum seeker boat, with horrendous loss of life, in order to keep Australia white and Christian (just like the Hillsong crowd wanted), Tony sprang into action and applied his formidable intellect to what soon emerged as a first-rate detective  story, Cloak-and-dagger stuff was in the air, as well as some disquieting testimony from SIEVX's few survivors.

Why, for example, did a large, grey boat loom out of the darkness, shine a light on the floundering survivors and then sail away? It happened, make no mistake, because those who lived were not backward in coming forward to describe the mystery ship. As Tony quite rightly and logically asked, whose ship could it have been if not Australia's? David Marr and Marion Wilkinson also wrote a book about the Tampa-related scandals but stopped short of going where Tony boldly explored. Marr and Wilkinson are wonderful journalists, but they are mainstream journalists so touching this aspect of the story would have been career suicide and no doubt lawyers put the hobbles on a full exploration. The SIEVX outrage will always remain the most shameful episode in our nation's history since the anti-Chinese riots on the colonial goldfields.

Tony had no such restraints as he had nothing left to lose. While serving as ambassador to Cambodia he became embroiled -- smeared would be a better word -- in a kerfuffle about some missing backpackers. It was nothing really, a beat up by grieving people who needed someone to blame for a son's murder in a country that had been in turmoil since the secret US invasion, and Tony Kevin found himself the designated target. With his diplomatic career effectively at an end Tony took up his pen to raise awareness of Australia's appalling treatment of asylum seekers in his compellingly readable book "A Certain Maritime Incident" , which won many literary awards and Premiers' prize nominations.

Now he has expanded his one-man crusade to the climate frontier with another corker of a book, "Crunch Time", which was published almost 18 months ago but is, in many ways, more compelling now than it was then. It is a witty and amusing work, scholarly and erudite but humorous in parts as well (in a grim sort of way). You get the tone of the tome from the cover, which mentions John Maynard Keynes but also incorporates Kevin Rudd and  the economist as heads imposed on prizefighters' bodies. They have their fighting gloves on and are ready for some biff! It is on the bedside table as I type, just finished and, quite possibly more relevant today than when it first appeared, despite Copenhagen's bitter failure. Tony's question for Rudd are precisely the ones being ignored by Gillard: How can you make such big noises about Climate Change but refuse to do anything about it?

As Gillard drops in on the scenes of tempestuous destruction in Queensland, how she can be seeing that evidence of warming while doing nothing more than slapping a tiny tax on the few people without sharp accountants to help them duck the bullet is mind-bogging. As Tony writes in the magisterial voice of a man trained in engineering, nothing less than a sweeping reworking or our society and its means of production will suffice to save the next generations from misery and ruin. The book is worth buying, borrowing or stealing, as the clip below makes clear.

What is especially encouraging is the respect, enthusiasm and conscience of his young interviewer. If you were hear the bogan boys next door to my home on any night of the week, all drink and loud music and drunken cricket games in their backyard, you would think there was no point in even working to try and save the future. But this young man, well, he gives you hope.

1 comment:

  1. Alene

    I am touched and honoured by your essay. It is all pretty right as to facts about me except for one or two discrepancies as to my SIEV X book - I do not think I alleged the grey boat had to be Australian, my stated hunch was that it was probably Indonesian.

    Crunch Time was an undervalued book when it came out. It only sold 2000 of its initial print run of 3000. The remaining copies are on Scribe Publishing's warehouse backlist as far as I know. It is likely to be my last book published with Scribe Publishing, who stood by me loyally on my first book on SIEV X, to their great credit.

    I am now asking comparable public questions about why SIEV 221 was not safely detected and intercepted at sea like its 220 predecessors, that were so detected and safely intercepted. There is a curious but predictable lack of publicd interest in asking this question.

    I put at least as much work into Crunch Time as into the SIEV X book, but it did not attract anything like the same degree of public interest and support. Climate change advocscy is a crowded field, Most established people are too busy pushing their owm organisations' barrows to be interested in what a newbie might have to contribute. In all kinds of ways, Crunch Time was patronised and sidelined. Not a pleasant experience for a writer. Which makes your essay all the more appreciated by me.

    Maybe after the major natural disasters this year in every state of Australia except SA and Tasmania a few people might go back to my book. My final Dystopian chapter has interesting resonances with the Queensland floods and Yasi. Under pressure of natural disasters on this scale, Australians respond ib many ways as predicted in this final chapter. The SES, police and army come to the fore as social leaders, and our selfish competitive society is replaced by a far more cooperative society. Under the exiatential stress on Australia to be caused by more than 2-3 degress of global warmimg, I believe Australia will move permsnently to that kind of better society.


    Tony Kevin