Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Chasers - 'For gorsake, stop laughing: this is serious!'"

A little while ago I ran a story starting with Australia's most famous cartoon and its caption. Dear me, this really does apply to the Chasers APEC stunt. This arguably is serious, but I could not help laughing.

The blogosphere is already running strong on the stunt. But I thought that I might make a brief comment for the benefit of international readers.

The Chaser is a satirical program on ABC TV that has achieved something approaching cult status. If you follow the link you will get a feel for it. The program is in the long irreverent Australian tradition going back to Norman Gunston and well before.

In this case, the program organised a fake motorcade and penetrated the secure area almost to the hotel where President Bush was staying before they were all stopped and arrested. Maybe they should not have done this, but thousands of Australians are laughing.

The piece that I wrote expressing my anger at the inconvenience created by the police in one case has been far more widely reported than I would have expected, including a reference on Club Troppo. For that reason, let me outline the basic mistakes that I think the authorities have made in regard to APEC.

The core mistake lay in treating APEC as first and foremost a security exercise. Yes, it is a security exercise, but this emphasis was fundamentally wrong. Instead, the authorities should have done three things.

First, they should have focused on our role as hosts in making people welcome to our country. We should all have been encouraged to welcome the APEC delegates.

Secondly, they should have explained far more about the practical problems. Note I say practical, not security. By the end of today, there will have been some 120 motorcades in Sydney. Australians are not dumb. Obviously this creates problems. So they should have spent far more time asking for public help, giving us practical information.

Then they should have focused on security. But only as a last issue. Because they (and especially the NSW Government) put everything into a security frame, they destroyed the chance to make APEC a public celebration in the way the Olympics were.

The more I think about it, the more I am astonished at just how badly the authorities stuffed up. We did not have to have this outcome.

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