In defence of Wyatt “Earp” Roy


Yeah, I know; who would have thought I would ever write a blog post with this title. We truly live in strange times, and 2016 never ceases to surprise.

As anyone who has been following the news the last few days knows, Wyatt “Earp” Roy, has been in a spot of trouble lately – two spots actually: the first, when he got caught up in a fire fight between the Kurdish Pashmerga forces and ISIS near Sinjar in Iraq, and the second one when everyone back home landed on him like a ton of bricks for putting himself in a harm’s way. No one likes a cowboy.

First things first; I understand why the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade was not happy about Wyatt’s little adventure. DFAT’s consular services around the world deal every day with dozens if not hundreds of cases of Australians getting into all sorts of trouble overseas, from stolen passports, through medical emergencies, to run-ins with the local law. DFAT have their hands full at the best of times and in the best of circumstances without having to worry about Australians straying into war zones or disaster areas where a chance of something going wrong – and of DFAT having to pick up the pieces – increases several-fold.

I also understand why Malcolm Turnbull called Wyatt’s actions “stupid” and Julie Bishop “irresponsible”. Politicians, even ex-politicians, should set a good example for their electors. It’s hard to argue that an Average Joe from Wyatt’s old electorate of Longman should not go sightseeing to the front lines of war with the Islamic State, when his former representative in parliament goes on a lark of his own (as opposed to an official business).

Having said all that, I see the whole controversy as yet another example of the government’s never-ending drive to infantilise the citizens. You might argue that in the nanny state stakes wanting to prevent people from traveling to war zones is hardly in the same league as, for example, requiring cyclists to wear helmets. You might also argue that I shouldn’t single out the government here; it’s after all in a symbiotic relationship with the population, which increasingly expects it to be its mommy, daddy, protector and insurer against anything and everything; all roles which the government is only too happy to step into and oblige. And you would be right in both cases.

But ultimately you can’t wrap the whole country in a bubble wrap; you can’t make every citizen into a boy – or a girl – in a bubble. You can’t – and you shouldn’t try to – eliminate all risk and stop people from doing stupid things, particularly when these stupid things (and “stupid”, of course, is also relative) have little or no impact on other people. The other side of the coin is that one shouldn’t automatically expect the government to rescue from the consequences of one’s actions, and/or fix the mess afterwards. Social contract is not an insurance policy (though nowadays insurance policies are not insurance policies either, but that’s another story).

Julie Bishop says that Wyatt travelled to the frontline “in defiance of government advice”. But travel advice is not law, and disregarding it is not a crime (yet). Travel advice exists for good reasons (to steer travellers away from dangerous places, to minimise DFAT’s workload, and also to cover their asses should something go wrong) but it’s not a holy writ. If the government wants to make it so, it should pass legislation banning Australians from traveling to certain places. But it won’t, because it would be stupid, unworkable and tyrannical. Travelling to dangerous places to take up arms is another matter entirely (and is subject of a law), but travelling there as a witness and a bystander, whatever you think of wisdom of such actions, should never be illegal.

A week ago I visited Egypt. The government travel advice for that country currently states “Reconsider your need to travel”. Let me think about it. How about no? Life is dangerous, and most parts of the world are more dangerous than suburban Brisbane (or Canberra for that matter). DFAT presumably bases its advice on potential terrorist threats, hence it recommends you “do not travel” to North Sinai governorate, where an Islamist insurgency is currently running hot. Personally, I found Egypt (or at least Cairo and its environs) perfectly safe. There is more terrorism in Western Europe at the moment than in Egypt, where you are far more likely to die run over by a car than blown up. But the risk of a being a road fatality has been a constant one along the Nile for decades, and you don’t get the government telling you to “reconsider your need to travel lest you become a road kill”, just as you don’t get told to “reconsider you need to travel to Thailand on the oft-chance you might get robbed by a shemale hooker”.

Wyatt Roy concluded upon finishing his Iraqi sojourn that the Kurds deserve a country of their own. I have reached the same conclusion without going to the ISIS frontlines, and I guess so could have he, but we don’t want everyone to be an armchair general or strategist. We shouldn’t abrogate all the initiative and defer all the judgment to the elite class of experts who are in a lucky position to do what we can’t do and see what we can’t see. I’m not saying at all that it’s some sort of a high-level international conspiracy that governments around the world (including the Australian one) support the unitary state of Iraq at the expense of a separate Kurdish state, and are recommending we don’t travel to the region in case we might form our own, contrary opinion. Of course not. The experts might be right – or they might be wrong – but that’s beside the point, too. Let us live our lives fully, let us experience and learn. May we always have a child-like curiosity, but may we never become perpetual children.