What is a SMARTIE? Well, like all good acronyms, the
parts matter less than the sum. Serious Men Advancing Really Tough
Ideas . . . Energetically. That'll do.
SMARTIEs are men with macho dry views on economics plus
progressive social ones, and they can be found predominantly in our
mainstream media. This superficial complexity gives them a tendency
to be very pleased with themselves.
The SMARTIE to end all SMARTIEs is this paper's International
Editor, Paul Kelly. An exceptional over-achiever, widely respected
by colleagues, with many books under his belt, all those articles,
that television series, last year's Walkley: Kelly is the doyen of
Australian political commentary.
He is a former editor-in-chief of The Australian and the
paper is still much in his image: opinionated in favour of an open,
forward-looking Australia with an efficient economy. Strongly
against racism; for the republic, reconciliation, engagement with
Asia, the GST, labour market deregulation and internationalisation.
Reform reform reform, tolerance tolerance tolerance.
But don't call them intellectuals! Flabby, wordy hand-wringers
with a tendency to see unnecessary complexity and, worse, a less
than total commitment to orthodox economics, SMARTIEs are not.
Muscular, balanced, efficient, correct – yes, they're our heroes.
On the ABC's Insiders during last year's election
campaign, The Age's editor-in-chief Gregory Hywood complained
to Barrie Cassidy that the voters could only choose to go backwards:
socially with Howard; economically with Beazley. This is classic
SMARTIE: part SNAG, part Genghis Khan.
While SMARTIEs tend to fancy those things maligned by Abbott –
reconciliation, republic and so on – these issues can't hold a
candle to economic reform. So while not strictly partisan, SMARTIEs
tend more often than not to prefer Liberal to Labor.
Still, they adored the Hawke government until its unforgivable
backsliding of the 1990s. Paul Keating, unable to do wrong as
treasurer, was a huge prime ministerial disappointment to them,
taking his eye off economic reform in general and the budget deficit
in particular. There are no greater sins in SMARTIE-land. Lukewarm
towards John Howard at the March 1996 version, SMARTIEs threw
themselves at the feet of his GST in 1998.
SMARTIEs like Peter Costello very much, not just because they see
him embodying their twin agendas. They disapproved mightily of his
re-election strategy. No, not whipping up hysteria on boatpeople;
that was pretty embarrassing but no hanging offence. Squandering the
budget surplus certainly was. With the election done, they will be
expecting a return to the path of correctness. Failure in this will
see the Costello for PM campaign begin in earnest.
SMARTIEs instinctively know the national interest. They gently
keep the democratic process humming along, within reasonable
parameters, to give us governments that are strong, mandated and
focused on the important issues.
So since the campaign, SMARTIEs have been reconstructing the
Government's credibility. Suddenly, after November 10, the terms of
the campaign were not border protection and appealing to irrational
fears, but economics and interest rates. SMARTIEs don't want another
do-nothing Fraser administration hampered by the perceived
illegitimacy of its manner of gaining office. The country needs a
government confident in itself and prepared to make the tough calls.
That is why we suffered Kelly's repeated televisual reminding
late last year that – "And this is the important thing, Barrie" –
the Prime Minister's stunning election win was one for conviction
politics, for a man who takes the correct decisions and is justly
rewarded by a perceptive populace.
Don't get me wrong, I quite like SMARTIEs. It's a bit like having
the US as the world's superpower. They're not perfect. In fact,
they're quite arrogant, largely unencumbered by self-awareness, show
scant interest in the legitimate concerns of others and sometimes
express an exasperatingly simplistic view of the world.
But on the whole they're actually pretty good guys who work hard
and possess a decent set of basic values. They're more often right
than wrong. And they really, really like the job: If someone has to
do it, SMARTIEs are infinitely preferable to any of the other creeps
with a hankering for it.
Peter Brent is editor of mumble.com.au