Intransigence

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 judgment 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 minsters, 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 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 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.

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