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Tuesday, 18 October 1983
Page: 1881


Mr FISHER(10.40) —Members of parliament are often accused of being cynical and insincere in their attempts to represent their constituents. In some cases that criticism is founded. But very often those who accuse and criticise us-I refer to some members of the Australian media-forget that they are not above criticism themselves. Over the past weeks I, like millions of other Australians, have watched our much travelled Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) pop up at one sporting event after another from one end of the continent to the other. He has not missed one major sporting event, except perhaps the national lizard racing titles in Eulo or the guinea pig races during the Bungaroonga Festival in Charleville.

With all of those appearances, it is interesting to note the attitude of some sports writers and some journalists in their comments on the Prime Minister. Many-in fact, most-have been in praise of this sporting interest of the Prime Minister, and rightly so. Some have praised him; some have merely marvelled at his constitution in getting to so many places in so few days. Few have been openly critical. In fact, to find criticism one must look to one of Fleet Street 's longest serving editors, Sir John Junor, of the Sunday Express, who stated:

Did you mark the way Australian PM Bob Hawke, who has all the charisma of a jellied eel and whose own experience of sailing has never gone beyond a plastic duck in his own bath, cashed in on the victory of Australia in the America's Cup race?

I make it clear that I am in no way criticising the right of any Australian Prime Minister to take part and pride in sporting achievements of any kind by any Australian. It is his right; it is expected and it is quite proper for a national leader to share in the euphoria and victory of competition. But how different is the media's attitude to this Prime Minister from its attitude to the former Prime Minister last year? Last year Malcolm Fraser was castigated for daring to mix sport and politics; for daring to be photographed with Australian medal winners at the Commonwealth Games-Games, I might add, to which his Federal Government had contributed funds, unlike the America's Cup or the James Hardie 1000, at which Prime Minister Hawke appeared. Those were two events which members of the Government criticised as elitist. If it was so wrong just 12 months ago for a Prime Minister to be seen with sports stars, why is it now so right, so patriotic and so Australian? Where is the cynicism so well displayed by the media last year, so well hidden this year? Journalists set great store by their claims that they are apolitical as, of course, they should be. But can someone explain to me why it is all right for a Labor Prime Minister to troop half way around this country, appearing on the winners dais of every national sporting event he can possibly find, but it was so wrong for a Liberal Prime Minister to appear at the Commonwealth Games. Twelve months ago, Geoff Slattery wrote in the Age newspaper:

Whenever Mr Fraser pranced on centre stage, I watched with mixed unhappy feelings. On the one hand there was sorrow, and on the other a cynical distaste that the leader of this country could lower himself to make such a blatant attempt at grabbing political points from sporting heroes.

But recently the Age said:

Mr Hawke's reaction this week to the America's Cup victory laid bare his character and Australia's. He both led and submerged himself in Australia's joy. He was not playing a role or grandstanding when he bubbled and enthused all Tuesday morning, producing hyperbole without blush.

He stood below the yacht club balcony from where the young people were calling: We want Bob...Mr Hawke waved and threw his head back and laughed up at them, giving a thumbs up sign, clenching a fist. It was a moment of pure patriotism.

Where is the cynical distaste of the same newspaper a year before and where is the media bias? I add, in conclusion, that articles in the Age do not have exclusive rights to a cynical about-face on sporting events. Victoria's Premier John Cain not long ago withdrew State Government sponsorship of the West Coast yacht race and refused to start the race, saying that it was elitist. That did not stop him from sending an enthusiastic telegram to the Australia II crew last week suggesting that the America's Cup be defended in Victoria. As I said at the beginning, some criticism of politicians is well founded. Surely criticism that is good for the goose is also good for the gander.