On Monday, for my appearance at Parliament House in Canberra, I had the great privilege of being introduced by Australia's Foreign Minister, the Hon Julie Bishop, MP. The last time she introduced me - a couple of years back in Perth - she had to sit through my version of "Kung Fu Fighting", which included me leaping off the stage and disco-wiggling down the aisle. In America, the minders would worry about the "optics" of that and advise the Secretary of State to give me a wide berth henceforth. But Australia's Foreign Minister is less fainthearted, and was happy to come back for more.
I was in a crankier mood on Monday, because the security at the new Parliament House is rather more onerous than at the old Parliament House, where I spoke a decade ago in the handsome former Senate chamber, and I apologize to those attendees who were kept waiting downstairs by the IHG jobsworths. But the Minister could not have been more gracious. After the losses of this last year - from the massacre at Charlie Hebdo to the forced withdrawal from public life of Lars Vilks and others - I was very touched by what she had to say:
Ladies and gentlemen, I am absolutely delighted to welcome Mark Steyn to our National Parliament.
I am an avid reader of Mark's publications and particularly from his National Review days, that's when I was hooked. He's a prolific writer. He is sharp, observant, witty, prescient. He's a contrarian to the extent that he challenges without fear or favour, leaders, governments; he questions, he probes, he provokes and he generates public debate.
Most significantly, he has articulated the challenge that faces policy leaders and policy makers in open liberal societies around the world, who are threatened – in fact some might think the very existence of the nation state is being threatened – by terrorism, extremism, Islamic radicalisation, transnational crime, a whole range of threats that we face.
In his rallying cry to preserve open and free societies, he is so courageous and so inspiring that it reminds me of one of the most wonderful moments in cinematic history, in Mel Gibson's Braveheart.
When, as William Wallace, Mel addresses the assembled Scottish Highlanders and he says to them: "You have come to fight as free men for free men you are. What would you do without freedom? Will you fight?"
And the Highlanders say: "No! Against that? We will run and we will live."
And he says: "Fight and you may die. Run and you will live, for a while, but when you are dead, wouldn't you trade it all to come back here for this one day and tell your enemies, 'you may take our lives but you will never take our freedom'?"
Our Canadian Braveheart has put it more succinctly in this very well thumbed copy of his bestseller, America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It (which was in fact lent to me by my nephew, Edwin Mitchell, who is sitting there and bought my ticket here today – thank you Edwin).
This is how Mark Steyn put it: "Americans and other Westerners who want their families to enjoy the blessings of life in a free society should understand that the life we've led since 1945 in the Western World is very rare in human history. Our children are unlikely to enjoy anything so placid and may well spend their adult years in an ugly and savage world, unless we decide that who and what we are is worth defending."
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Mark Steyn.
I said to Julie that being likened to Mel Gibson was my favorite intro since the great Fiona Shaw, who plays Aunt Petunia in the Harry Potter movies, compared me to Tom Selleck. I think that was more to do with the porn 'tache I was sporting at the time rather than any other sterling Magnum-like qualities. Whether or not it applies to me, that line of Mel's is a pre-echo of Stéphane "Charb" Charbonnier, the late editor of Charlie Hebdo:
It may seem pompous, but I'd rather die standing than live on my knees.
When it counted, Julie Bishop stood with Charb. While John Kerry betrayed his real thinking by blabbing that there was a "legitimacy" and a "rationale" to the Charlie Hebdo bloodbath, Australia's Foreign Minister visited their offices, was photographed holding up a magazine cover that most western TV networks and newspapers wouldn't show, and told the survivors "Love your work":
"We see satire as an integral part of French society," Ms Bishop told the staff as she presented the cartoon. "Satire is controversial, it's provocative, it offends all religions, all political parties, nothing and no-one is spared. (It) is a counter-balance against power."
I liked that "counter-balance against power" line. A very necessary counter-balance. If Hillary Clinton or John Kerry had said what Julie Bishop said, I would have been interested to know which of their 47 speechwriters had come up with it and had it focus-grouped. But she said it because she came up with it herself - and she meant it. As I said at the time:
The symbolism of what Julie Bishop chose to do is valuable and important - and stands in splendid contrast to the hollow pomposity of John Kerry and his stooge James Taylor.
And "Love your work" is a better expression of solidarity than "#JeSuisCharlie".
In Sydney last night, in response to a questioner, I mentioned that I'm occasionally haunted by thoughts of the final moments of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists - and I wondered if, as they lay dying, they felt utterly abandoned by the broader society, as they were subsequently abandoned in death by hollow men like Garry Trudeau and Michael Ondaatje.
After the last six months, there's a lot of merely metaphorical blood on the floor in Australia's governing party, and, before my encounters with each and every eminence, my hosts at the IPA bring me up to speed with which finely calibrated faction this or that personage is currently aligned. As I said in my speech, it's like the old line from the Fred Astaire movie Silk Stockings. One Soviet commissar is discussing with a second Soviet commissar what happened to a third Soviet commissar, and he says: "I'll look him up in Who's Still Who." That's Aussie-rules politics: I'll look him up in Who's Still Who. I have friends on both sides of the Abbott-Turnbull divide. Be that as it may, any foreign minister of a major nation has endless claims on her time. So I thank Julie Bishop for choosing to spend hers with the survivors at Charlie Hebdo.