The Chinese Communist Party have no compulsion about cutting down even the tallest poppies. From the nation’s most famous actress to its richest man, Beijng will summarily “disappear” anyone who gets on the wrong side of the Xi Xinping.

Then there’s Daniel Andrews.

Michael Leunig’s storied half-century career as The Age’s best-known editorial page cartoonist has ended not with a bang, but a whimper.

Michael Leunig has been as synonymous with Melbourne as the Yarra river, Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar and the MCG. His cartoons have been the face of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, decorated the city’s famous trams, and the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games opening ceremony (where Leunig also read from his poem, “A boy and his duck”). He’s been honoured with retrospectives at the National Gallery of Victoria, declared an “Australian Living Treasure” by the National Trust, and recognised as not just a cartoonist, but poet and philosopher.

None of that counted for anything, when he dared cross “Dictator Dan” and his loyal minions.

Leunig has confirmed to Diary that he was axed from his prized Monday editorial page position by The Age, after it dumped a cartoon in which he compared Daniel Andrews’ threat of “vaccine mandates” for Victoria to the famous Tiananmen Square vision of “Tank Man”, the Beijing dissenter who defiantly faced off against the Chinese government’s tanks in 1989.

The cartoon that ended a half-century career. The BFD. Cartoon by Michael Leunig.

“ ‘Purge’ is a word that comes to mind,” he tells Diary of his axing. “Apparently, I’m out of touch with the readership.”

The cartoon never made it into the newspaper because The Age refused to publish it. But Leunig self-published on his own online site, earning angry criticism from #IStandWithDan supporters on social media. Leunig says The Age’s editor Gay Alcorn called him soon after she banned the offending cartoon to “break the news gently” that he was no longer wanted on the editorial page […]

A cryptic 39-word statement on its letters page last Monday said that the venerable Melbourne newspaper was “trialling new cartoonists” on the page.

Like the CCP, Dan’s loyal media of course won’t come straight out and publicly announce that it has, or why it has, disappeared a victim. The whole point is that the secrecy keeps everyone on their toes. When people aren’t sure where the line is drawn, they’ll double their efforts to keep well clear of where the line might be.

Leunig now claims that he has had 12 cartoons censored this year, “all about Covid and/or Dan Andrews, with next to no explanation” […]

Alcorn confirmed she had censored a number of cartoons by Leunig this year: “I have pulled multiple cartoons by Leunig, almost entirely on the grounds that they expressed an anti-vaccination sentiment. We don’t mind cartoonists challenging the readers. We encourage diversity of thought, but I had a concern with cartoons perceived as anti-vaccination.”

Do these drones ever listen to themselves? “Diversity of thought” is allowed: so long as it only expresses officially-permitted thoughts. The Age was more than happy to publish his cartoons criticising Jeff Kennett, John Howard and Tony Abbott.

While Leunig is broadly leftist — he began his career with student papers, then the radical magazine Nation Review in the early 70s, where his Adoration of the Magpie Christmas card is the first cartoon of his I recall ever seeing — he is no stranger to outraging the woke left. His Thoughts of a Baby Lying in a Child Care Centre created a firestorm of outrage on the left, as did a recent Fascist Epiphany cartoon attacking mandatory vaccination. On the other side of the ledger, his cartoons criticising Israel drew fire from the right.

As Leunig rightly says, though, a cartoonist’s job is “to challenge the status quo… not to be a wrecker, but also not to be too conventional or goodly”.

But it’s been increasingly obvious that old-school, liberal (in the true sense of the word) left Leunig doesn’t sit comfortably with the inner-city woke-ists who run The Age and Melbourne.

“I come from an earthy working class perspective and values system, but that perspective increasingly seems out of touch with The Age’s cosy, inner-city mindset these days […] I don’t much want to work for the sorts of readers who are so censorious. It seems that at The Age in particular, you can’t go near the Covid story except in a way that’s supportive of the Victorian government’s handling of it. And if you’re not supportive, that’s reason enough for you to be cancelled […]

“The Tiananmen Square image is often used in cartoons around the world as a Charlie Chaplin-like metaphor for overwhelming force meeting the innocent powerless individual. In my view, it is a fair enough issue to raise in the most locked-down city in the world.”

The Australian

The Age, hypocritically enough, is still marketing it’s big-selling annual Leunig calendar, along with other Leunig merchandise. It’s Michael Leunig Appreciation Page has 230,000 followers. Funny that a cartoonist “out of step” with its readers should be such a reliable money-maker for the cash-strapped paper.

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Then They Came for Leunig

Lushington D. Brady

Punk rock philosopher. Liberalist contrarian. Grumpy old bastard. I grew up in a generational-Labor-voting family. I kept the faith long after the political left had abandoned it. In the last decade...