Greer and loathing in Queensland

Peter Beattie just won the Queensland election. Well, okay, he’d already won it. Any election campaign in which your Opposition leaders can’t agree who’d be Premier if they won is pretty much yours automatically. But can you imagine how good he looks up in Queensland right now for dumping on Germaine Greer? Don’t be surprised if his comments about forcing a law to double or triple the taxation on Greer’s Queensland bush property are rushed to the electorate on Saturday as a referendum item, either.

Given the extent of community feeling on Irwin, it wouldn’t surprise me if Beattie came out with a tough new law-and-order policy that would see Germaine Greer waking up in the crocodile pit at Australia Zoo next time she flies into Maroochydore.

Quite apart from Beattie taking on the task of being chief defender of Irwin’s honour, some commentators have pointed out that the blanket coverage of his death is freezing the Opposition out of getting the media coverage they need to get their message out, much as 9/11 made Kim Beazley’s campaign look like an irrelevance in 2001.

The ABC’s electoral blogger Katie Franklin reported a hilarious comment from the Coalition’s campaign director, Geoff Greene (I can’t find it on the AFR site because it’s pay-only):

“It’s all over isn’t it? Who could predict this?” Mr Greene said in today’s Australian Financial Review newspaper. “The reality is, in this election Steve Irwin is the news from now until the weekend. Those stingrays are public enemy number one for us.”

That’s right, Geoff – forget the Irwin family, the real victim in all this is the Coalition.

Although his party might actually have a late chance if it brought out its own law and order campaign to round up all the stingrays Queensland at dawn, as Peter Debnam has promised to do with troublesome Muslim youth if elected in NSW. Only fitting for “public enemy number one”, after all.

Ironically for Beattie, and as Greer pointed out, Irwin had previously supported the Liberals, labelling John Howard “the greatest leader in the world” in 2003. And that led to him being invited to a barbie with George Bush. Then again, as seems to be the case for so many Americans, Irwin was probably the only Aussie the President had ever heard of.

Greer’s full article is worth a read – it’s provocative and beautifully written. And it’s reasonable to question the hype at times like these. Greer’s piece is a form of obituary, of assessing the life’s work of someone who has passed away. Sometimes these sorts of pieces can be harsh, but they’re usually a valuable input into the endless discussions that inevitably follow the death of a much-loved public figure. The debate over Pope John Paul II’s record on child abuse was a similarly controversial, but ultimately worthwhile, process of evaluation.

When I read her comments about snakes being mishandled and striking, I couldn’t help but remember the Tim Webster incident at the Logies that I wrote about on Tuesday. I thought it had just bitten him because it wasn’t a fan of Ten News, not because it was in distress. What a pity Lleyton and Bec’s baby Mia didn’t have venomous fangs she could have used to wreak revenge on her parents for awkwardly dangling her in the spotlight at this year’s Logies.

Greer’s comments may, typically, seem a trifle insensitive in places, but they certainly aren’t “stupid”, as Beattie has accused. I’m hardly expert enough to know whether Greer’s point about disturbing animals is correct, but it may well be a legitimate criticism – I’d like to hear what a zoologist would think. But what I am enjoying is how she’s disturbed populist ranters in their natural habitats – take for example the Tele‘s Luke McIlveen:

I suspect what irks Greer is Irwin was an Aussie who conquered the world but never forgot where he came from. Australians loved him. Who will mourn Germaine Greer when she keels over and dies in her mud-brick cottage in West Buggeryshire?

Well, I will mourn her, if Peter Beattie succeeds in throwing her to the stingrays. Society needs controversialists, who challenge our taboo grieving-Irwin bandwagon – as I kind of did in my last piece. (Well shucks, it was how I felt at the time.)

With such a remarkable ability to reinvent herself, and stir conservatives and wowsers, even after so many years in the spotlight, Greer is the academic equivalent of Madonna. Ultimately anyone who can write The Female Eunuch and go on Celebrity Big Brother in the course of a lifetime qualifies as one of the most consistently surprising, thought-provoking and valuable members of her generation.

Dominic Knight