Farewell Michael Danby

Michael Danby (left) with Zeddy Lawrence at The AJN and Zionism Victoria’s 2015 election hustings. Photo: Peter Haskin

IN years gone by, whenever I was asked to speak about my role as editor of The AJN, there was one joke I slipped in to my speech that always got a huge laugh. It didn’t matter what kind of group I was talking to or what city they were in, this one line never failed.

Talking about the complaints I’d invariably receive every Thursday morning when the paper came out, I recounted the phonecalls I’d get from irate members of the community:
“I’m from JNF, why are you always writing about UIA?”
“I’m from UIA, why are you always writing about JNF?”
“I like chocolate, why aren’t you writing about chocolate?”
“I like cheese, why aren’t you writing about cheese?”
“I’m Michael Danby, why aren’t you writing about me?”

It was said in jest, of course, but that people laughed is indicative of a shared perception held of many politicians and public figures– that they feel they have a right to be seen and heard.

And I daresay, from experience, that’s the case with Michael. Without going in to too much detail, suffice to say, over the years there have been a few occasion where he has got a tad upset with The AJN when, for whatever reason, we haven’t covered things he’d like us to cover or run columns he’s written that he wanted us to run. And now and again, that’s led to the odd skirmish.

Crucially however, as readers of The AJN will know from the regularity with which his comments or opinion pieces appear in our pages, we haven’t held those spats against him.

We interview and quote him in stories, we publish his op eds, we cover his campaigns, we’ve hosted him at our election hustings and, on key issues, we’ve thrown our support behind him.

When he condemned Julie Bishop’s stance on Iran, we backed him, when he called for the killer of Malki Roth to be extradited, we backed him and when he came under fire for spending money on ads attacking the ABC, we backed him.

Indeed, not only have we backed him, we’ve applauded and hailed him. Because whatever one thinks of Michael Danby, he is without question the community’s and Israel’s staunchest advocate in Canberra.

We may disagree with his politics, we may not like his style, but as I wrote last October when the knives were out over his anti-ABC advertisements Michael Danby is an Australian Jewish institution and we have been enriched by his presence and service.

Yes, there are other Jewish and pro-Israel MPs in Parliament, and we are indebted to them when they speak out on issues close to the community’s heart, but none are so vocal or passionate – Michael wears the community’s heart on his sleeve.

Even with the tide turning within his own party, with key figures pushing pro-Palestinian policies on the ALP, Michael proudly and loudly speaks out for Israel.

It’s a rare quality in an era when principals are so often sacrificed on the altar of political expediency, and for that the entire community owes Michael a debt of gratitude.

As to the future, the names being touted as potential successors to contest the electorate all have solid credentials.

But the marginal nature of Melbourne Ports, or Macnamara as it will be known when the country next goes to the polls, means whoever stands for the ALP will have quite a fight on their hands.

Some have suggested even before his announcement that the party felt a fresh face was needed if the seat was to be won at the next election, viewing Michael as a liability. Now though whether he could have held it is a moot point.

But credit where credit is due, he has held onto it for two decades, an achievement in itself. And let’s not forget his other parliamentary activities, which also deserve mention.

As well as his brief stint as secretary for the arts, over the years Michael has sat on and chaired a several committees including migration, foreign affairs, defence and trade, and Tibet – the latter just one of a number of human rights causes he has taken up.

In short, for all the mud that has been thrown at him – and there has been a fair bit – Michael has put in the hours, not just for Australian Jewry but for the public as a whole as a hard grafting politician, who has remained true to his conscience whatever the fallout.

He will be missed by us all, not least those of us at The AJN who have dealt with him over the years.

And he will be missed by me in particular, as I now need to find a new person to poke fun at in my speech.

But, let’s face it, there’s no one quite like him who can fill that hole … or the hole he leaves in Canberra as our most committed campaigner.

Michael Danby has been a one-off and we will be all the poorer without him.

ZEDDY LAWRENCE is national editor of The AJN.