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By Ad Astra

The title for this piece came from an enlightening interview in the ABC’s One Plus One series. David Marr was the subject and Julia Baird the interviewer. She cleverly yet tactfully explored the inner workings of Marr’s mind and his struggle as a gay man in a society that looked askance at gays.

It’s a revealing interview that you might enjoy. You can view it here.

Marr is an intelligent and thoughtful man who is adept at seeing though the machinations of the political class. Although ‘left leaning’ he is able to articulate a balanced analysis of the convoluted politics to which we are subject day after day.

There was one significant word he used near the end of the interview with Julia. It was ‘intransigence’. ‘Intransigence’ is defined as “a refusal to compromise or to abandon an often extreme position or attitude”. He related that Patrick White had taught him about intransigence – the courage to stand against the tide, shored up by confident judgement about what matters. He also acknowledged that there were many intransigent problems in this country that needed to be fixed. We know though that a plethora of entrenched attitudes, beliefs and ideologies inhibit the political class in addressing them. It struck me that ‘intransigence’ captured the phenomenon of politicians adopting immovable positions, from which they never deviate, even a little. Thus the title of this piece.

We have written about this previously in We need to understand entrenched belief, published in December 2017. We defined entrenched belief as a set of convictions that something is true irrespective of the evidence. As one commentator put it: ‘Entrenched belief is never altered by the facts.’

This piece addresses some of the intransigent positions our elected representatives hold that herald danger, even disaster for us all.

There are still politicians, here and all around the world, who refuse to accept the validity of the steadily accumulating evidence that our planet is warming dangerously. In contrast, an increasing number of ordinary folk do. Seemingly the denialists cannot or will not hear them. They did not listen to them during the Wentworth by-election, and we know what happened there. The electorate is saying the same in Warringah. We know Tony Abbott won’t listen. He is suffused with intransigence as he steadfastly refuses to acknowledge the dangers of climate change.

The rest of the Coalition is no different. The man who is now our prime minister came into parliament fondling a lump of coal and told us not to be afraid of it. Coalition Senator Matt Canavan, Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, wants school children to be taught how to drill for oil. While the planet burns, the Coalition fiddles. They are intransigent.

More recently, we have seen another example of intransigence – the Coalition’s incurable obsession that a flotilla of leaky boats threatens to invade our shores overloaded with ‘illegals’ – people seeking asylum from the horrors of existence in their own countries, ravaged as they are by war, poverty or disease. Like Donald Trump, our own PM shouts that we don’t want them, that they will be repulsed at every opportunity, and if they ever do get to our shores, they will be placed in detention until a third country accepts them. He threatens: They will never be allowed to settle here – never.

To highlight what he sees as the contrast between Labor and the Coalition, Morrison insists that Labor policies will attract boatloads of ‘illegals’, many will drown, and our detention facilities will once more be overwhelmed, just as they were when Labor was in power. He, along with all his ministers, recite the same dogma about what happened during the Labor years – they have it off pat: “50,000 boat people arrived; 8,000 were children; 1,200 perished at sea.” You have heard iterations of this before, and you’ll hear it over and again, ad nauseam, until the election. Of course, they never mention the 64,000 asylum seekers that arrived by plane last year without a murmur from them.

The recent Medivac debate exposed starkly the entrenched attitude of the Coalition. They vehemently insisted that the measures passed by the parliament, initiated by Kerryn Phelps and supported by Labor, the Greens and several of the crossbenchers, would unleash a flood of new arrivals.

The fact that it would be doctors who would decide who warranted being brought to Australia for medical assessment was, for the Coalition, the trigger that would undo all their ‘hard work’ in keeping boat people out. Despite all the caveats that were built into the bill, which gave ultimate control to the Minister for Home Affairs to exclude any he deemed unsuitable, the Coalition insisted that murderers, rapists, child molesters and other foul criminals would be free to enter Australia, and the Minister would be impotent to stop them.

On the ABC’s Insiders programme on 17 February, Barrie Cassidy interviewed Christian Porter, this nation’s Attorney General, and put to him, one after the other, the safeguards built into the legislation that would avoid such an outcome. No matter how many of the safeguards Cassidy enumerated, Porter steadfastly dismissed them all, one after the other, to Cassidy’s exasperation. If you want to see obstinacy in action, take a look at this interview. Porters’ responses were redolent with obfuscation, denial and stubborn resistance to facts and reason. Intransigence writ is large! If you can stomach it, you can view it here.

Why write about intransigence? While this subject might be suited to lofty intellectual discourse at a “gentleman’s club”, the reality is that because it is a malady that afflicts politicians and those in high places, it affects all of us.

Intransigence renders those afflicted unable to indulge in a rational discussion based on fact and reason. It entrenches them in a fixed position, immovable and unresponsive. It shackles them to outmoded beliefs, traditional thinking, self-centered behaviour, and unbending positions. It bespeaks closure of the mind, arteriosclerosis of thinking, atrophy of reason, and fossilization of the intellect. It is a chronic and incurable political malady that threatens us all – now.

We, the ordinary people, have only one remedy – our voting paper.

This article was originally published on The Political Sword

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  1. andy56

    Intransigence is not at the heart of the refugee debacle. Its votes. By spin it in a certain way, it sounds like the vile hordes are coming. When in truth , it can never be as stated or implied. We had no problems before howard accepting refugees. Why the sudden turn around? Because the white australia policy has never been too far removed from our hearts. The fear factor is never far and the liberals know a good scare. Medicare scare you say? That was based on past history repeating. $7 for a consultation anyone?

  2. Alcibiades

    An excellent read.

    However, one does wonder how many of the Lying Nasty Parties members are genuinely, earnestly, intransigent re their various ‘party’ positions, apart from the obvious standouts, or is it that so many merely adopt & parrot the enforced party line out of self-interest, because they have few principles, little ethics and are essentially without morals.

    Too harsh ?

    One often reflects upon the innumerable lives lost or destroyed, as a direct consequence of their casually indifferent malevolent policies & conduct.

    Yet, even now ~47% of Aussies in 2PP terms, support, accept or at least tolerate this ‘intransigence’, with their vote …

  3. paul walter

    I wish I could lie straight-faced like them, I’d have had it sewn up decades ago.

  4. Kaye Lee

    paul walter,

    I have always believed that a person must set their own standards. It is easy to lie and cheat and steal. It’s not so easy to live with yourself when you have no integrity.

  5. paul walter

    Well, here’s the thing, when I behave like them my conscience troubles me. How come theirs doesn’t seem to bother them?

    Let’s start with Christian Porter.

    Although, I suppose if you look at some of their faces, maybe it would not be so nice to be one of them after all…

  6. Matters Not


    We had no problems before howard accepting refugees.

    Really? Remember this:

    Mandatory detention of asylum seekers (technically, “unlawful arrivals”) in Australia was established by the Keating Government by the Migration Reform Act 1992 which came into operation on 1 September 1994

    Howard didn’t get the reins of power ’til 11 March 1996. Somewhat earlier (May 1992) we had Gerry Hand stating:

    The Government is determined that a clear signal be sent that migration to Australia may not be achieved by simply arriving in this country and expecting to be allowed into the community.

    Let’s not forget also – the political party that gave us the White Australia Policy. In short, Australians, generally speaking, have a history of being less than tolerant – indeed downright racist. Who was it who said – two Wongs don’t make a white?

  7. Matters Not


    have only one remedy – our voting paper.

    Yet if one looks around the world we see those who exercise power that goes far beyond the ballot box. Take the yellow vests (or yellow jackets) movement – a populist, grassroots political movement for economic justice that began in France in November 2018. There, this apparent leaderless group is showing what can be achieved via collective action.

    Once upon a time (a long time ago) we had trade unions that exercised similar collective action that gave us so many economic and social advances – now being rapidly whittled away.

    Perhaps our supposed voting power is just a façade? A veneer that’s periodically revarnished? A Keeping Up Appearances exercise? And little more than that. Intellectual masturbation – writ large.

    Me – I’ve bought a yellow jacket.

  8. helvityni

    Here’s my vote: David Marr for our next PM!

    Top read Ad Astra.

  9. Barry Thompson.

    I second that Helvitni. Marr has more brain power and humanity than that mob put together.

  10. andy56

    matters not, yea but we didnt thrown then in jail indefinetly back then. Howard made it his by being such a worried person over border security. If you must, before all of them. We had no problems with the vietnamese nor the chinese after tiennamen square horrors.
    F*ck , my parents were sponsered to come here. But that doesnt count, they were white italians.

  11. margcal

    Thank you SO much for the link to David Marr’s 1 plus 1 – I probably would have missed it otherwise. I rarely watch it, don’t know why because it’s invariably interesting and fascinating.

    I “love” David Marr. I have two David Marr stories, not related to anything at all here … I think – I have yet to get back to the article.

    i) I went to hear David speak at Readings in Hawthorn – it was the time when his Quarterly Essay about Pell was published. Afterwards there was the inevitable signing. I queued and when it was my turn I held out my kindle. He cracked up. A good laugh. If it had been done to him before he didn’t betray that at all.

    ii) Towards the end of my Last Hurrah overseas trip upon my retirement in 2014, I was in Vienna. I was pretty tired when I entered an art gallery (think the illness to which I succumbed on my return to Oz had started – do your anti-DVT exercises folks, it’s not fun!). I looked around the lobby where there were a number of comfy leather couches, saw a face I recognised. So I went over, flopped down and said, “It’s good to see a bit of Australia. Sorry I can’t remember your name.” …. “David Marr.” … and laughing again. We proceeded to chat about Vienna and he was like an excited, enthusiastic kid telling me about some of the places he’d been and things he’d seen and recommended. His partner returned and we chatted for a short while longer before going our separate ways into the gallery …. where we crossed paths occasionally, had a few words to say about various pieces on display.

    As for my tiredness, we’d both been to Schönbrunn Palace where they climbed to the folly (Gloriette) but I didn’t – didn’t think I’d make it up the hill. I was very glad that I didn’t say to David, as I almost did, “Wait until you’re my age …..”. I discovered some time later he’s a few years older than me.

    David Marr really was/is a lovely, genuine, friendly, interested and interesting man. And I’ve always enjoyed him on TV and in print.

  12. Diannaart


    Thank you for your personal vignettes about David Marr – fabulous.

    I have always been a fan, love his considered and eminently reasonable writing.

  13. Ad Astra


    Thank you for your complimentary remarks, and your informative comments. I see that many of you are David Marr admirers. I enjoyed reading about your contact with him margcal.

    I wish Matters Not that we could get a ‘yellow jacket’ movement going here, one that week after week reminded the government of its shortcomings, its incompetence, and its dishonesty. In the meantime, we have to rely on our vote to discard this so-called government. We don’t have all that long to wait.

  14. helvityni

    margcal, thank you for your David Marr ‘tales’….

    I used to enjoy the exchanges between him and the little shrunken Gerard Henderson on Insiders….always pleased to see him on the Drum.

    There never will any yellow’ jacket movements’ in Oz…

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