One of the great things about being in remote parts for a while is that you miss out on the news. So I returned from the latest bicycle tour to find out that the pugilist Tony Abbott (our despised prime minister) has finally managed to pick a fight. A boxer from way past, he was known as a fighter with a simple, crude, but effective strategy: breathe heavily, sweat, close your eyes and throw everything at your opponent. He won all four of his bouts in the second round. Disdaining headgear, he seems to have blocked any punches thrown at him with his face. He took up boxing after being dropped from the rugby team, but while he did play rugby, he was the first to sink a short jab into an opponent when he thought the referee wasn’t looking. He carried this pugilistic approach into student politics, on one occasion hitting the wall with his fists on either side of the head of an opponent. Fast forward to today: when stuff-up after stuff-up happens for a prime minister like Abbott, what do you do? Pick an international fight. First, he tried to pick a fight with Russia over Ukraine, proposing to send Australian soldiers. Putin, it seems, found it nothing more than amusing. Now he has picked a fight with the Islamic State, and succeeded. Busting to send soldiers to Iraq before almost before anyone else, he pulled a political stunt. Last week a massive police operation threw everything at supposed ‘terrorists’. The result: two arrests, with most of the sixty odd people detained released soon afterwards. The Islamic State obliged with a fatwa against Americans, Europeans – ‘especially the spiteful and cursed French’ (love that phrase) – and as an afterthought, Australians and Canadians. Abbott has the fight he so desperately wanted, except that now it is on the international stage.

Meanwhile, there has been much talk of ‘intelligence’ by ASIO (Australian Security Intelligence Organisation). They now have yet more powers to monitor anyone in Australia and to decide who might be a ‘risk.’ As they do so, I can’t help remembering an insightful piece I read many years ago concerning the recruitment profiles for such organisations. They prefer people of moderate intelligence. Too little and you can’t do the job; too much and you may question the nature of the work you have to do. But a moderate intelligence ensures you are more likely to do the job faithfully, without asking questions. Obviously, we are in good hands.

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