This is a kind of tragic-comic opera – an opera buffa, in many acts and parts, observed by a traveller to Australia who is likely to spend the rest of his life surrounded by an indifferent populace. It is a ‘mob’ – unconcerned about the original and continuing wrong of 1788 and lacking in development because conditioned by, and resigned to, a backward-looking view of life. That view suffers from the subjection to, and dependence on, a foreign authority undesirable for any imaginable reason. It was called ‘The Monarchy’ in a recent medieval pronouncement, written to deny access to some bits of the place’s history: the so-called ‘Palace letters’ (Hocking v. Director-General of the National Archives of Australia  Federal Court of Australia, Full Court 12, 8 February 2019). Not that it matters much to the plebs; for them history pertains to the national religion: sport – from football to just about any physical activity, and even the passive observation thereof – so long as the brain in not engaged. A sense of safety comes from the ‘ruler at home’. But ‘The Monarchy’ is sectarian, parasitic by definition, steeped in privilege, inclined to prejudice, obscenely wealthy, and more than acceptably unhinged. And these are ‘qualities’ to which – except for money – even the furiously moronic machos claim to appear opposed and with which, anyway, they do not like to paint themselves.
Against the receding backdrop of the Royal Ambush of 1975, the opera is filled with criminal banksters, dilettante ‘statesmen’ – though there are some women on the stage, self-proclaimed ‘public women and men’ who perform in pirouettes in clumsy imitation of a foreign custom called ‘parliamentary democracy’, ostensibly as loyal subjects but often in pectore perjurers, while in substance the un-elected, not-responsible moneybags play the part of substitutes for the lords – as ‘at home’.
It is a bilge of imitation of outdated, decrepit institutions of public life, strongly relying on the passive acceptance of lies, in peace – as well as in war, and a proclivity to commit to war ‘on call’ and frequently. It is an attitude continued with the parroting callisthenics of and in parliament, with the prescribed steps of a baroque and privileged remoteness of an archaic system of justice, with a decaying public administration, comforted by brain-sucking and sometime criminal-religious organisations, an un-delivering system of education, a pretend-classless society, and a delinquent system of social assistance which fatally accepts permanent un-employment, badly hidden under-employment, homelessness and generally lack of care from the cradle to the grave – just like ‘at home’.
The main actors are the Philistines who command the submission – they do not worry about respect – of the occasional out-of-tune choir which sings that the hoi polloi are ‘young and free’ in a home ‘girt by sea’.
The opera’s performances evoke the crimes reduced to almost passable and always indifferent words, easily forgotten by the passing of time so that previous mistakes may turn out to be new to new no-nothing generations. Some of the topics dealt with are: a pervasive malpractice, an unctuous attitude to power at the apex of which is ‘The Monarchy’, a tolerance of continuing corporate crimes, a habit (here called cultcher) of vassalage, adventures involving encounters with spying on neighbours, dancing with Saddam, or familiar paso doble steps such as AWB, Iraq, police’s crimes, banksters’ crimes, clergy’s crimes, and so on, down to the recent Invictus Games sponsored by arms manufacturers totally un-caring but for their profits.
The present libretto covers events from at least the beginning of ATM (the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison trio) in early 2013 to the Royal Commission on banksters in 2019.
An indifferent populace has been led for the past six years through three-words banal and demonstrably empty hooplas by slogans such as “climate change = crap”; “jobs and growth”; and – recently – “fair dinkum power”. The latest – one most ardently hopes the last – is the intellectual measure of a cheap marketeer who sees himself as a leader, when he is, in fact, an inferior combination of Arthur Miller’s ‘Willy’ Loman and Sinclair Lewis’ Elmer Gantry.
The ‘Palace Letters’
The misadventures of a banana monarchy and the tragic Opera Buffa of an indifferent Australian populace.
By Dr George Venturini
An intending traveller to Australia in the early nineteen-sixties, before departing from Singapore, would have found, in the best provided bookshop-with-bric-à-brac, a little book by the attractive title: The lucky country. It remains the fame-giving work of Donald Horne, a caring Australian essayist and public intellectual.
The traveller would be surprised by observations such as these: “…while ordinary Australians have many fine and some quite exceptional characteristics, the present elites in Australia are mostly second-rate. Many of the nation’s affairs are conducted by racketeers of the mediocre who have risen to authority in a non-competitive community where they are protected in their adaptations of other people’s ideas. … Much energy is wasted in pretending to be stupid. To appear ordinary, just like everybody else, is sometimes a necessary condition for success in Australia. … In this atmosphere cleverness and talent can become devious … What often perishes altogether – in the bureaucracy of business or of government or in the universities and in such intellectual communities as exist – are originality, insight and sensitivity, the creative sources of human activity. In an imitative country no one has to be creative, the creative person is likely to be confronted with distrust – not perhaps in science or the arts, but almost everywhere else. It is as if the masters of Australia have inherited a civilization whose rules they do not understand. … The potential for change within the ordinary people of Australia is great; it is their misfortune that their affairs are controlled by second-rate men who cannot understand the practicality of change, who are, in other words, ‘conformist’.” (D. Horne, The lucky country, Penguin, Australia, 1964 at 39,40,41).
With the title immediately misunderstood, but gladly received in the common parlance, The lucky country was declared dead twelve years after. (D. Horne, Death of the lucky country, Penguin, Australia, 1976).
Horne’s criticism came after a constitutional crisis of revolutionary proportion, which was accompanied by increasing economic difficulties and inflation. And inflation – according to Horne – “demanded explanation. World inflation is not only an economic crisis. It is a cultural crisis and in such a crisis there can be a return to the consolation of old faiths. A large part of Australians’ values are measured in money. Describe our economic life and you describe a large part of our culture.” Id., at 62-63. [Emphasis added]
How could such pessimistic view be justified?
* * * * *
Well, Australians had not seen a Labor government since Curtin-Chifley government. That government had led the country through the years of the second world war, when Australians had been called to defend their country against the threat of a Japanese invasion. It would become the only occasion, one in sixteen, when Australians had not served as White Gurkhas of ‘Great and Powerful Friends’. In 1949 the federal government had returned the Liberal-Country Party; it would last with Robert Gordon Menzies until 1966 and give him, who had sold ‘pig-iron’ to the Japanese rising Empire in 1938 and for that earned the moniker, the opportunity to lie in 1965 to the Australian Parliament and people over a telegram from the Saigon military junta of Nguyễn Cao Kỳ and Nguyễn Văn Thiệu. Their call for intervention was never found.
In between, Menzies found several occasions in the nineteen-thirties to exalt the Nazi dictatorship, and of hallucinating in the presence of Queen Elizabeth by declaiming during her visit to Parliament House in 1963 that “I did but see her passing by and yet I love her till I die.” followed by the customary, servile applause.
What Menzies did not say is that he was using lines 3 and 4 of the first stanza of Thomas Ford (1580-1648), a fairly obscure, forgotten English poet and lutenist of the seventeenth century.
There is another side of Menzies, less poetic. “There is a good deal of real spiritual quality”, Menzies declared on his return from Germany in 1938, “in the willingness of young Germans to devote themselves to the service and well-being of the state” (S. Macintyre, The succeeding age 1901-1942, Oxford University Press 1986, at 183). And in April 1941, as he was returning from London, leaving behind the fractured dream of replacing Churchill, he lamented that he had a “sick feeling of repugnance and apprehension“ which grew on him as he was nearing Australia and whereby he was wishing that he could “creep in quietly into the bosom of the family and rest there.” (Menzies Diary, 23 May 1941, quoted in D. Day, Menzies and Churchill at war – A controversial new account of the 1941 struggle for power, Angus & Roberson Publishers, North Ryde, N.S.W.,1986, at 153).
Despite such unambiguous appeals to patriotism, Menzies was giving the Australians of the time what they most still crave: a sense of ‘respectability’ as defined by the conservative parties of the money bags and agrarian socialists and linked to ‘white’ Anglo-Saxon Protestant values. The modern Liberal-National combination still claims a monopoly on ‘loyalty’ – once to Britain and since the nineteen-forties to the United States. For three quarters of the life of Australia the Liberals have tried and mostly succeeded in establishing a monopoly on political ‘legitimacy’. And that has made of the Labor Party some kind of raggedy mob of dilettanti, often to be branded as a troop of clowns who have come to town to make a great noise but would not be tolerate for long. For good measure anyway, the game had been rigged in favour of the ‘divine rulers’. Labor had won an outright majority of votes in the 1954 elections, and a majority of the preferred votes in the 1961 and 1969 elections – but was still unable to obtain a majority of the House of Representatives, where a government – traditionally – is been formed.
Menzies was succeeded by Harold Holt (1966–1967), who during his visit to the United States in June 1966, in a speech at the White House, departed from the prepared text and enthusiastically declared that Australia would be “all the way with LBJ” in the Vietnam war – sharing in the spreading of some 80 million litres of Agent Orange, a gene damaging chemical defoliant; John McEwen (1967-1968), briefly and un-memorably; John Gorton (198-1971), who in March 1969, toasting President Richard Nixon at the White House, reaffirmed that “… we will go Waltzing Matilda with you.” – for the same criminal function; and, finally, William McMahon (1971-1972), a rudderless joke.
In 1972 there was a surprise. Its name was Edward Gough Whitlam.
Born in Kew, Melbourne, hence from a ‘respectable’ side of the tracks, he was the son of a federal public servant who would later serve as Commonwealth Crown Solicitor – a man deeply involved in human rights issues who would exert a powerful influence on his son. Gough was fortunate enough to meet a glorious woman in Margaret, the daughter of Wilfred Robert ‘Bill’ Dovey, a New South Wales Supreme Court judge. That, too, added to ‘respectability’.
Elected to the federal Parliament in 1952 for the Labor Party, Whitlam became deputy leader in 1960 and leader in 1967. The conservatives had been served notice. Here was a man of unquestionable ‘provenance’, with a great education, a powerful erudition, supported by an extraordinary memory for the most minute details, equipped with a ferocious intellect and a tongue to go with it. In and out of Parliament he stood his ground without fear and occasionally without the customary hypocritical forms which characterises the boring etiquette of the Westminster System. It is a system so phoney that it had to steal a word from the French language to define its manners.
So Whitlam thought nothing of calling William Meskill (Bill) Bourke – an informer on the Labor Party of which he was a member and later a collaborator with the party’s enemies at the time of the split in 1955 – “this grizzling Quisling”, of calling Garfield Barwick – who would, while High Court Chief Justice, play a role in Whitlam’s downfall – a “bumptious bastard”, and stating that William Charles ‘Bill’ Wentworth, M.P. exhibited a “hereditary streak of insanity”. After referring to Sir William ‘Billy’ McMahon, the future prime minister he would defeat in 1972, as a “quean”, he was called to apologise. He did so. In time he would quickly find words for his nemesis and the usurper of his prime ministership: he would famously call the beneficiary of the Royal Ambush “Kerr’s cur” and the supporting Garfield a “truculent runt”.
Once in government, in mid-1974 Whitlam had had to face what historian Russel Ward branded as follows: “So in April 1974 Her Majesty’s loyal opposition behaved more like a gang of fascist thugs than responsible politicians in a democratic country.” They forced Whitlam to seek a double dissolution eighteen months before an election should have been necessary (R. Ward’s Concise history of Australia, University of Queensland Press, Brisbane 1992 at 322).
Between 1967 and 1972 Whitlam had conceived, set out and refined the Programme he would submit to the “men and women of Australia” at Blacktown, N.S.W. on 13 November 1972.
The Whitlam Programme contained three broad directives:
- to promote equality;
- to involve the people of Australia in the decision-making processes of their land; and
- to liberate the talents and uplift the horizons of the Australian people.
In government Whitlam articulated those objectives, establishing priorities:
- to end conscription,
- to bring the boys back from the criminal adventure which was Vietnam,
- to reopen diplomatic ties with China,
- to recognise the independence of Papua New Guinea,
- to establish the Law Reform Commission,
- to abolish appeals to the Privy Council,
- to establish the Legal Aid Office,
- to establish the Trade Practices Commission,
- to establish a single Department of Defence,
- to establish Medibank,
- to begin the work for the recognition of Indigenous land rights,
- to set up Telecom and Australia Post from the Postmaster-General Department,
- to begin to work towards equal pay for women,
- to abolish tertiary education fees,
- to raise the age pension to 25 per cent of average male weekly earnings,
- to introduce no-fault divorce,
- to see enacted a series of laws outlawing racial and sexual discrimination,
- to extend maternity leave and benefits to single mothers,
- to prepare the construction of the National Gallery of Australia,
- to establish the National Parks and Wildlife Service,
- to set up the National Film and Television School,
- to establish the Order of Australia to replace the British Honours system, and
- to change the national anthem to ‘Advance Australia fair’.
If nothing else, the Whitlam government went into power with a sense of agenda and spent its short terms in office obsessed, perhaps fatally, by its execution. All told, the two-phase governments lasted between December 1972 and November 1975: 35 months and two elections.
Maybe Whitlam had offered too much, and asked too much.
Most Australians – those ‘who matter’ anyway – like the kind of English, passionless muddling through which is available in grand loads ‘at Home’. Muddling through comes as way of life, a cult almost and its religious solemnity is celebrated by looking from below at a grandiosely dysfunctional, decaying, parasitic, over-dated ‘Family’, with its be-medaled males and ‘forever youthful’ women, standing above, from the Palace balcony, for the populace to admire it.
It does not matter that Australians like to make joke of some, perhaps many, members of ‘The Family’ – better: ‘The Firm’.
Muddling through suits Australians, because in the royal world of smoke, mirrors, hints and protocols there is room for authorised doubt. It helps equivocation, non-commitment. Deception? That too.
Whitlam would have, through education free for all, pulled back the curtain on Australian corroded and corrosive political system, which has been rendered inchoate – bland public performances by ‘battery-farm’ politicians alternating with vicious television ads – after the interminable years of cynical massage by consultants and pollsters. This is anyway the story through ‘the tube’, which arrived about sixty years ago, in Menzian time.
There is hardly any difference nowadays between a commercial and a ‘political’ advertisement. And how blah it has all become!
It is the ‘politics’ as expressed and practiced at the pub, or in the living rooms, and not exclusively by white men with a limited education and a will determined not to be disturbed by curiosity. But television – particularly private television – does not hold the truth. Television is most of the time an amusement park, a bad assortment of a circus, a carnival, a travelling troupe of acrobats and story-tellers, singers and dancers, jugglers, side-show freaks, lion-tamers and football players.
That ‘third parent’ – if a child were to be so lucky to have the other two together – is in the boredom-killing business. It is rarely the source of truth, and even more infrequently of education.
Two generations, at least, of such ‘non-participants to public life’ – as it suits the two-party-Westminster-like system – have mistaken illusion for reality. Because of that the viewers of such incantation do whatever ‘the tube’ tells them, think like ‘the tube’, rear their children like ‘the tube’, dress like ‘the tube’, eat like ‘the tube’. In that ultimate theatre a mindless populace has found its ultimate charlatans.
These plastic men – and some women, too – these ‘managers’ work for the corporate society into which they have turned Australia, a section of the ‘western’ corporate world in a corporate universe. This world quite simply is a vast cosmology of small corporations orbiting around larger corporations – mostly foreign, mostly dependent on the banks – which in turn revolve around giant corporations. Yet, this is not the real world. It is the ‘world’ of the post-Whitlam ‘restoration’, largely with the values of ‘the market’.
In the fierce arena of ‘politics’ as ‘played’ today if ‘the tube’ hints or says that one has received, or is about to receive a fantastic sum of money, or is corrupt, or if the-one-proprietor-media say so, that is enough not to question and to give the vote to ‘the other party’. And the ‘Westminster System’ is based on two parties – no more, no room for shades, doubt, honest compromise or third solution to a problem.
Such backward, feudal and deleterious over-simplification, more often than not, committed to a short-bite sound, without room for discussion, produces the murmurs which cost the future to Cairns and Connor, portrayed the Whitlam Government as a band of amateurs, who could not be trusted to replace the ‘tried experts’.
That the experts turned out to be a prime minister and his foreign minister enabling the crooks of the Australian Wheat Board Ltd., and all of them operating against United Nations declared sanctions, is mentioned only in passing – if at all.
Memories are very short, and selectively so. And so the helots – who in ancient Sparta were a class of serfs neither a slave nor free citizens – draw the despairing conclusion that ‘they – meaning ‘the politicians’ – are all the same’. But in this miasmatic presentation the Liberals are still ‘more respectable’. The question remains: ‘respectable’ by whom, where, why and how? The monarchy needs such morons; it thrives on them.
One is back to the master-servant relationship which seems to pervade the Australian society.
Whitlam might have been persuaded to blast through the ideological sclerosis of the two parties ‘system’, to make room for voices different from the original inhabitants, the old and the ‘new Australians’ – that mysterious mélange of different people referred to en masse as multicultural, who should be welcome – and not ostracised, not exposed to historical nativist, anti-refugee xenophobia by a mass of imitative, sub-tropical Englanders.
If given the chance, Whitlam would have transformed a soi-disant Judeo-Christian-dominated ‘traditionally British’ place into a real nation, a gloriously vibrating – by ‘British’ standards, for sure – mongrel polyglot society, open to new ideas, friendly to its neighbours after so many years of discrimination, mistrust and aggression.
Reduced to its absurd minimalism, today the television bites favour ‘three-word programmes’.
The resurgent mantra of the ‘born-to-rule’ in time would become a little bit longer: “freedom, the individual and the market”, but settled down to a more memorable “Jobs & Growth”.
On Whitlam’s death a state memorial service was held on 5 November 2014 in the Sydney Town Hall. Thousands of common people were outside, the faithful ones, those who would not forget the three highly charged 35 months and their aftermath.
The Hall was full, with many good people, a strong contingent of Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander People, the usual attendees, several former prime ministers all of modest stature, and amongst them an omni-present un-indicted war-criminal. And then there were the usual celebrities and several ‘whited sepulchres’.
Noel Pearson, the Indigenous lawyer, academic, land rights activist and founder of the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership delivered what he called a fitting tribute to ‘an old man’.
He was the most lyrical, assertive, sublime of the celebrants.
Pearson, most warmly, forcefully, movingly remembered Whitlam for his burning conviction to break down class and race barriers:
“We salute this old man for his great love and dedication to his country and to the Australian people. When he breathed, he truly was Australia’s greatest white elder and friend without peer of the original Australians.
Of course recalling the Whitlam government’s legacy has been for the past [then] 39 years since the dismissal, a fraught and partisan business. Assessments of those three highly charged years and their aftermath, divide between the nostalgia and fierce pride of the faithful, and the equally vociferous opinion that the Whitlam years represented the nadir of national government in Australia.
Let me venture a perspective.
The Whitlam government is the textbook case of reform trumping management.
In less than three years an astonishing reform agenda leapt off the policy platform and into legislation and the machinery and programs of government. The country would change forever. The modern, cosmopolitan Australia finally emerged like a technicolour butterfly from its long-dormant chrysalis.
Thirty-eight years later we are like John Cleese, Eric Idle and Michael Palin’s Jewish insurgents ranting against the despotic rule of Rome, defiantly demanding ‘and what did the Romans ever do for us anyway?’
Apart from Medibank?
and the Trade Practices Act 1974?
cutting tariff protections?
and no-fault divorce and the Family Law Act 1975?
the Australia Council?
the Federal Court?
the Order of Australia?
federal legal aid?
the Racial Discrimination Act 1975?
needs-based schools funding?
the recognition of China?
the Law Reform Commission?
the abolition of conscription?
student financial assistance?
FM radio and the Heritage Commission?
non-discriminatory immigration rules?
community health clinics?
Aboriginal land rights?
paid maternity leave for public servants?
lowering the minimum voting age to 18 years?
fair electoral boundaries and Senate representation for the Territories?
Apart from all of this, what did this Roman ever do for us?
And the prime minister with that classical Roman mien, one who would have been as naturally garbed in a toga as a safari suit, stands imperiously with twinkling eyes and that slight self-mocking smile playing around his mouth – in turn infuriating his enemies and delighting his followers.
There is no need for nostalgia and yearning for what might have been. The achievements of this old man are present in the institutions we today take for granted, and played no small part in the progress of modern Australia.”
Jenny Hocking (image from batemansbaypost.com.au)
What happened towards the end of those 35 months of the Whitlam governments is exceptionally well covered in a book by a distinguished historian, Professor emerita Jenny Hocking: The dismissal dossier – Everything you were never meant to know about November 1975 (Melbourne University Press, 2017). There is a perhaps more sanguine version of the events in The Anglo-American ambush of the Whitlam Government – 11.11.1975 (serialised from 8 November 2015 by The AIM Network).
And what happened on 11 November 1975? Put it simply, this: The Governor-General secretly decided to support the political plans of the Liberal-National Coalition – the backwoodsmen of yesteryear.
Against all honourable and contemporary practice he did not discuss that decision with Whitlam. Of course! The chief justice and a judge of the High Court supported the plan, albeit – at least from the latter – under some conditions, which were disregarded. The Governor-General then mounted a time-tabled operation, that one could better describe as a coup d’état. And that, too, is a foreign expression, because nothing like that ever happened in Sir John Falstaff’s beloved England! Really? Spies from Ukania are the world champs in false flags, lying and deception; they have been for centuries. And the Australian Falstaff had learned to be fairly good at it.
The Prime Minister – trusting in the given word, and only apparent honourable behaviour of a fat, vain, boastful, vulgar sensualist, debauchee often too well-imbibed, and cowardly knight, was left with a false sense of security.
Such deception was necessary to dismiss the prime minister and install in his place the leader of Her Majesty Opposition, and immediately dissolve parliament. Voila!
Maybe Whitlam had demanded too much of a recalcitrant, uneducated, indifferent populace. For months Her Majesty’s Opposition had charged the Whitlam government with ‘bad management’ of the economic crisis which had gripped the world and was known overseas as the ‘petrol crisis’ but in Australia as a consequence of ‘Whitlam socialism’. Of course, people of good faith knew that Whitlam was no socialist, perhaps not even a social-democrat – simply a decent man concerned with the amelioration of Australian society, for all and not for the few who controlled it. So the electorate was exposed to a long campaign of accusation of generic faults summed up in words ague but familiar: ‘international safaris’ against ‘the politicians’, ‘job for the boys’ – that is people connected with Labor, ‘dole bludgers’ as the ultimate humiliation of the unemployed et cetera. It was the familiar jargon of a subtropical transplant of a nation of shopkeepers, a limited language expressed in primitivistic abstractions: ‘initiative’, ‘independence, ‘thrift’. It was, as often in the past, ‘protection’ from ‘competition’ – both of them mis-understood, of course, ‘freedom of enterprise’ against ‘socialism’ – worst still ‘communism’, which was always not far away, coming down from Asia, as Menzies-the-Prophet had reassured. It was, in the end just as at the beginning of the Whitlam government a conflict between Labor incompetence and crookedness and a tried and successful Liberal management of a complex economy. And the remedy ? the triumph of ‘the private sector’, which of course was supported by newspaper proprietors and that camarilla of ‘bien-pensants’ who are the controllers of political-legal networks: most judges and barristers, the leaders of professional organisations such as doctors, and most top administrators, academics, ‘intelligence’ men, bank managers, and all those who would be ‘at home’ – and this time, here, in Australia – in anyone of the ‘establishment clubs’ which still pullulate the major cities, particularly Melbourne and Sydney. To all of such, natural leaders’ Labor in government, and heaven knows in power, was anathema. That it should be given a chance every once in a while, was a proof, but not a guarantee of ‘democracy’; but the licence should not last for long, because they, ‘the Liberals’ were the natural leaders of the country.
Continued Saturday – The restoration of malpractice (part 1)
Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some seventy years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. He may be reached at George.email@example.com.
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