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Henry Johnston is a full time writer of fictional short stories. Thus far he has published two novellas; Best and Fairest and The Last Voyage of Aratus. Best and Fairest is set in inner city Sydney in the 1960s and follows the fate of 13 young men who come together to play Rugby League. One of their number, an Aboriginal, wins the coveted Best and Fairest trophy. The Last Voyage of Aratus follows a much different path. This journey of redemption across the south Pacific Ocean is cast as magical reality. Henry’s family migrated to Townsville from the U.K. before moving to Sydney at a time when the city sparkled with luminous golden sandstone buildings and low-rise ornate Victorian architecture. Henry’s short stories explore the collision of cultures, and are often told from an immigrants’ perspective. As an essayist he contributes popular culture commentary and political observations to Independent Australia and the Australian Independent Media Network. He divides his time between inner-city Rozelle in Sydney Australia, and Bruny Island Tasmania. During a career in media, Henry worked as a broadcaster and producer with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Henry latterly served as a senior policy adviser in the NSW State Government and as a media adviser with the NSW Department of Aboriginal Affairs. Henry also worked as a speech writer for several NSW Government Ministers. A compendium of Henry’s short stories and the novella The Last Voyage of Aratus is published by Forty South Publishing. Best and Fairest is published by Valentine Press.

Website: https://tasmania-40-south.myshopify.com/products/last-voyage-of-aratus-the-by-henry-johnston-pb

Tony Abbott and the dead hand of BREXIT

Make no mistake. The apparent diplomatic debacle of the Franco/Australian submarine deal, did not erupt out of the deep oceanic blue.

Look a little a closer and it is obvious this tectonic rupture in international trade is BREXIT writ large. And it bears the fingerprints of London-born former Australian prime minister Anthony John (Tony) Abbott, an unpaid adviser to Britain’s Board of Trade.

In this role, Abbott is tasked with “promoting the UK’s trade interests across the globe.” When this disgraceful appointment was announced, Labor frontbencher Chris Bowen said it was, “pretty extraordinary” for a former Australian Prime Minister to be promoting the trade agenda of another country. “It’s up to the Government to explain whether Tony Abbott, for example, is regarded as an agent of foreign influence under their rules,” Bowen said. Given the Morrison Government’s obsession with secrecy, we will never know if Abbott supplied ultra-sensitive information about the submarine agreement to Boris Johnson’s BREXT-loving Tories.

Given the Morrison Government’s obsession with secrecy, we will never know if Abbott supplied ultra-sensitive information about the submarine agreement to Boris Johnson’s BREXT-loving Tories.

It is unsurprising that at the time of the appointment in September 2020, Abbott won the approval of the now disgraced former Attorney General Christian Porter.

Porter congratulated Abbott, saying he wished him “every success” in securing a trade deal between the UK and Australia.

With breathtaking understatement Porter also said, “Mr Abbott will no doubt be aware of the routine requirements for former cabinet ministers under the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme.”

In his chequered career Abbott managed to spend a bob each way on BREXIT. In October 2016 the SMH reporter Michael Koziol penned an item about ($) Abbott’s backflip in support of Britain’s rupture with Europe A few years later in August 2020, Malcolm Farr wrote a withering portrait of Abbott for The Guardian. Farr, an astute political journalist, said among other things, that Abbott’s new position as a British Trade Envoy “is not quite treason, but certainly a further sign he has London written on his heart”.

At the same time Abbott joined the Board of Trade, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson elevated BREXIT stalwart and ultra-conservative, Daniel Hannan, as a key adviser to the Board.

For his exemplary work for the conservative cause, especially BREXIT, Hannan became Baron Hannan of Kingsclere in the County of Hampshire on Monday January 25, 2021
I would not be at all surprised if Tony Abbott is similarly rewarded after Scott Morrison, Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden, put ink to the deal to build nuclear powered submarines.

I am no expert on submarine construction, but it is safe to surmise, French jobs associated with the contract between Australia and Naval Group, which is majority owned by the French government, will go to British workers.

After all, jobs are the ultimate aim of any Board of Trade, and in this instance Hannan, an Ulster Catholic, will no doubt offer fellow Catholic Tony Abbott, a firm, manly handshake for pinching jobs off those toffy frogs.

I might be wrong, but Australia can forget any trade deal with the European Union for the foreseeable future. And Aussies can also forget a warm welcome for ANZAC memorials in the French towns of Fromelles and Pozières.

I daresay once borders open in the post COVID-19 world, Australian tourists will be given short shrift by French immigration officials, especially in the Pacific.

On a strictly political note, if Australia does change the government, and if the ALP manages to establish a Federal ICAC, I sincerely hope it investigates the role of Tony Abbott, and the entire Liberal Party clique, ensconced in Australia House London, over the biggest foreign affairs calamity of the 21st Century.

Henry Johnston is an author based in the Blue Mountains. His latest book, The Last Voyage of Aratus is on sale here.

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In the Liberal world empathy is as scarce as vaccines

The Macquarie Dictionary defines empathy as “the mental entering into the feeling or spirit of a person or thing; appreciative perception or understanding. Empathy comes from the Greek word empátheia. In German the word is “Einfühlung”.

Whatever its origin, or its roots, empathy is not part of the game plan of the NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian. Nor is empathy part of the lexicon of the prime minister of Australia, Scott Morrison.

Yes, I know he’s a good Christian, and Premier Berejiklian is part of the Armenian diaspora, renowned for its ancient Christian faith, but not once has either leader expressed a modicum of empathy. And yet this is what we the people yearn for from our leaders in this crisis of the century.

People are dying from Covid-19. We are enduring an epidemic within a pandemic, and yet all we get is an obligatory “heartfelt sadness for the loss of a loved one” day in and day out at press conferences.

It is not as though we the people do not have a collective memory of the calamity of epidemics past. Of course, we do!

Many of us remember our dead loved ones via some of the finest music, art and literature created in the last 100 years or so.

Who among us can hold back tears as we listen to Gustav Mahler’s Adagietto from his Symphony Number Five, also known as Death in Venice, a novel, by the German writer Thomas Mann? Or the remarkable Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde by Richard Wagner. The German word, Liebestod, means love and death.

This is now the daily reality for hundreds of Australians.

Thomas Mann, Richard Wagner, Gustav Mahler… each had one thing in common. All created art in the shadow of disease and death.

Measles, Mumps, Rubella, which killed my oldest sister, Scarlet Fever, Polio… all thankfully scourges of the past. And we have the music of the three artists, to help us come to terms with the unspeakable loss of a loved one.

And then we have Scott Morrison and Gladys Berejiklian.

I don’t intend to enumerate all their shortcomings in this essay; the mainstream media is awash with analysis. But I choose to focus on one aspect of the current calamity which, in my opinion, draws a line beneath the lack of empathy of both leaders.

Look no further than the 2021 Closing the Gap Report.

And then watch NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro describe the daily Covid-19 calamity occurring in Aboriginal communities in Far Western New South Wales.

Empathy? It does not exist. Instead, we get a daily regurgitation of abject nonsense like this excretable example published on June 11th 2021, by the Voice of Freedom itself, The Institute of Public Affairs.

If you can’t be bothered reading this tripe, at least hold your nose and follow the bouncing ball over this shocker of a paragraph written by a nobody called Daniel Wild, who describes himself thus: Daniel previously worked at the Commonwealth Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet where he analysed global and domestic macroeconomic policy.

Take a deep breath… and go.

“The NSW Government has been far from perfect in its handling of the virus. But at least it doesn’t place residents under 23-hour-a day house arrest because someone hundreds of kilometres away may have walked past someone who may have had Covid. Instead, NSW has tolerated a small number of new daily cases of coronavirus without resorting to lockdowns.”

For the record this apathetic twaddle was originally published in The Herald-Sun.

Now fast forward to Tuesday August 31, 2021 when New South Wales listed 1,164 Covid-19 cases and four deaths. In Victoria, the number is 76. None in the Liberal state of Tasmania, none in the Liberal state of South Australia (as of August 30) ditto, Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia, Labor states.

Until we change this government, we can look forward to months of apathy: “a lack of feeling; the absence of passion, emotion, excitement, or energy. Lack of interest in things which others find moving or exciting. Apathía, from the Greek apátheia, insensibility.”

As for me, I’ll take my empathy via these six minutes of perfection:

 

 

 

Henry Johnston is an author based in the Blue Mountains. His latest book, The Last Voyage of Aratus is on sale here.

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The contagion of conspiracy theories

On February 22nd 2020, AIMN author John Lord penned an insightful observation.

In an essay entitled ‘Truth doesn’t have the same importance it once did’, Mr Lord opined; ‘lies are so commonplace now that people just discount them or factor them into whatever context they read into various methods of communication. Many believe them.’

The contagion of lies and conspiracies became a global phenomenon after astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon on July 20, 1969. When the Apollo Lunar Module, Eagle, touched down on the moon, millions called the landing a hoax.

Then as now, the world is witnessing conspiracies spread across the globe.

For example. On February 17 2020, in the United States – the epicentre of conspiracy theories – a Republican senator from Arkansas claimed the coronavirus is the product of a Chinese biological laboratory.

We simply do not know if this is true or false.

And on February 26 2020, a far-right commentator awarded the US Medal of Freedom, claimed the common cold, aka Covid-19, is being deployed to ‘get Trump’.

The world is awash with conspiracies, ranging from the downright weird – QAnon comes to mind – to subtle, reasonably sounding counter arguments mounted by so called libertarians.

The main enabler of both brands is – you guessed it – the hydra headed global entity known as News Corp.

At the QAnon end of the spectrum is Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, Jeanine Pirro and others on the Fox News network in the USA. In Australia it is Paul Murray, Chris Kenny, Alan Jones et al, on Sky After Dark.

 

Some Fox News lunacy

 

All of the above are highly paid entertainers masquerading as journalists. It’s pointless enumerating their collective idiocy other than stating the obvious danger of their prognostications. Craig Kelly spruiking Hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for Covid-19 on Sky After Dark, is a prime example. Let’s hope NSW Police knock on Kelly’s door and serve him with a warrant under the current NSW Health regulations.

Sadly, this will never happen.

The more insidious conspiracy mongers are those who count themselves as libertarians. Writers for The Australian newspaper, Tom Switzer, and Adam Creighton, come to mind.

Switzer hosts Between the Lines, a talk show broadcast on ABC Radio National. On the surface the programme comprises crisp, reasonable chat about weighty matters dear to the heart of its conservative audience.

But listen carefully, and Switzer and company smoothly promulgate falsehoods every bit as cock-eyed as those of Craig Kelly and celebrity chef Pete Evans.

The most recent example can be found on Between the Lines broadcast on the ABC on 29/07/2021.

At six minutes and eight seconds into the broadcast, Creighton says forced masking is underway in the United States. The fact is, mandated masking is in place in nine US States and many US overseas territories.

No such mandate exists in at least 40 US States and territories, yet the libertarian Creighton blithely misinformed his audience without so much as a by-your-leave by host Switzer.

Again, at eight minutes and fifteen seconds into the programme, Creighton says he does not believe there is exponential growth in Covid. The key word is ‘exponential’ as per this article published in the UK edition of The Conversation by Christian Yates Senior Lecturer in Mathematical Biology, the University of Bath.

Creighton may not believe Covid is spreading exponentially, but the citizens of India certainly do!

And to say “frankly I don’t think people would even be aware there is a pandemic without the media” is, in my opinion, dangerous cant. Again, neither Switzer nor the programme’s other guest, Danielle Wood, executive director of the Grattan Institute based in Melbourne, took Creighton to task.

So, what is the end game of the conspiracy mongers? The answer: untrammelled power. The HBO documentary series Q: Into the Storm reveals just how close a conspiracy came to toppling the United States.

Without giving too much away, six months ago Prime Minister Scott Morrison refused to condemn ex-US President Donald Trump, for enabling the riot in the US Capitol building.

Now, in an epidemic within a pandemic in New South Wales, it behoves journalists of standing like Tom Switzer and Adam Creighton to report facts rather than hide behind the trope of so-called conservative libertarianism.

A true libertarian advocates liberty especially in thought or conduct. In my opinion the recent edition of Between the Lines is as much a sham as the hideous weekly tosh known as Outsiders broadcast on Sky. The difference being the former claims gravitas via its association with the ABC, while the latter is as weird as the conspiracies it peddles.

Henry Johnston is an author based in the Blue Mountains. His latest book, The Last Voyage of Aratus is on sale here.

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Changing fortunes

Put an asterisk against January 20th 2021 in your calendar. For on this day the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States of America, marks the end of Donald Trump’s presidency and his insidious enabling of the Australian Liberal/National conservative government.

The problem is the imbecilic members of this shambolic excuse for a national government, don’t realise their fortunes are about to change for the worse.

Shambolic? As I write in the COVID-19 security of Tasmania, the premier of the nation’s largest state – New South Wales – and prime minister Scott Morrison, are on leave. This at a time when the nation requires articulate, cohesive leadership. Indeed, New South Wales is presently being led by a man, who just a few months ago, threatened to blow up his government then used mental health issues as an excuse to run away from a debacle of his own making

Scottie from Marketing and Gladys (the ruby princess) Berejiklian have squibbed a coordinated national response to the pandemic, choosing instead their preferred tactic of vituperative partisan political insults.

Similarly, the world looks on as the same scenario unfolds in little Britain. Brazil, the Philippines, and the disunited states of America. The list of floundering states is long.

In theory this all ends with the Biden inauguration and with it the fig leaf behind which Morrison et al have hidden, falls away. After January 20th, the full extent of the COVID-19 catastrophe across a nation that once fancied itself the Leader of the Free World will be forensically displayed. What better way to destroy the Trump legacy than to tell the truth?

We watch America’s train wreck response to the disease on the nightly news, but up until inauguration day we are distracted by the daily shenanigans of the most dangerous American leader of modern times. Thankfully, once Trump is out of office, the antiseptic quality of truth might prevail. Or it may not. But if it does, the revelation will be ugly. Particularly for local Trump camp followers and enablers such as the Murdoch press, the IPA, the Sydney Cricket Ground Trust, the robber barons of Western Australia, Clive Palmer, pauline hanson, much of the back bench of the National Party and the mandarins of Sydney’s north shore and Melbourne’s Toorak.

Their props fall away on inauguration day. Snap-back tropes prove hollow, while the endless carping of small business baristas, so-called struggling farmers, tourism operators and sundry masters of the universe, disappear like so much flatulent hot air.

We are in the maw of a global plague, and unless borders can be seamlessly slammed shut for the foreseeable future, as they are in Tasmania and across the ditch in New Zealand, there is nowhere to hide. A well-coordinated federal quarantine policy might help, but I am afraid this particular horse of the apocalypse has already bolted.

And as if on cue, the mean, penny-pinching exercise of cutting back Job Keeper and Job Seeker, mean poverty for even more Aussie Battlers.

On the international front China is already sizing up Joe Biden, and Iran will surely test the mettle of Israel and the United States. Because of the clumsy lock step dance strutted by Morrison with the erratic Trump, Australia is likely to feel more of an icy chill, and possibly worse.

And so to the alternative Australian government; the Australian Labor Party, announcing it is preparing for an election. My guess is Morrison goes early, gambling on a flummoxed, fearful electorate maintaining the status quo.

So if Anthony Albanese is to emulate Joe Biden – and I believe he can – Labor’s creative policy wonks need to come out with much more than abandoning franking credits. A cohesive blueprint to deal with a post COVID-19 world, might be a good starting point. And it would be prudent for Albanese to call on the expertise of Jacinda Ardern, prime minister of New Zealand, as well as the Australian State premiers – Liberal and Labor – for a few pointers.

We all know there is nothing to be learnt from the wafer-thin legacy of the current prime minister whose only claim to fame on the international stage is a worthless trinket called the Legion of Merit, bestowed on him by Trump for… wait for it … “Leadership in Addressing Global Challenges.”

Henry Johnston is an Australian author. His books, Best and Fairest and The Last Voyage of Aratus are on sale in both hard copy and electronic format.

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Blunder from Down Under

According to Richard Denniss, the chief economist and former executive director of The Australia Institute, government spending is the key prop of the Australian economy.

Denniss’ stark observation comes on the day (02/09/2020) Australia slips to its lowest ebb since the Great Depression, and the day after the Federal Government throttled the Job Seeker and Job Keeper programmes.

This calculated shift to calamitous austerity comes at a time when the cost of money is at an all-time nadir. So low that at the start of the week Governor Philip Lowe of the Reserve Bank of Australia said, “fiscal and monetary support will be required for some time given the outlook for the economy and the prospect of high unemployment.”

So why is Australia plunging into a rapidly emptying summer swimming pool? The answer can be found in the mutterings of the far right extremists now in charge of the National and Liberal parties, and our national destiny

There is no stopping this wrecking crew. Thus far The Usual Suspects – Craig Kelly MP, Josh Frydenberg MP and Senator Richard Colbeck are blaming Victorian Premier Dan Andrews for the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. And calling for the use of a dangerous, ineffective drug to treat the disease, while denying responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of men and women languishing in a privatised aged care system.

But all this is as nothing when compared with the embarrassment of the Blunder from Down Under, the onion eating serial misogynist, and climate denying failed Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott.

I do not intend to quote this English-born ex politician, but provide this link to one of many news reports documenting the ravings of this benighted twerp. For the record, when asked his opinion of Abbott’s appointment to a Tory sinecure in the Old Dart, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, “well done Boris! Good hire”.

With this vapid observation dutifully reported by Sky News we are hearing the death rattle of neo-conservatism.

There is no Plan B. No Snap Back. No stratagem for life after the pandemic. Nor is there a chance for an upswing in trade with China. Instead, science is ridiculed. Conspiracy theories rule the popular imagination while our future wealth and security – superannuation — is being dismantled.

Bush fires, a pandemic and the Liberal National Coalition are making 2020 one of the worst years in the nation’s history. The cruel irony is this did not have to happen. We are where we are because we made it so at the ballot box. We chose Rex Patrick, Richard Colbeck, Jacquie Lambie, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Bob Katter, Pauline Hanson; the list is long. We claimed to be sick of politicians yet chose to believe Clive Palmer’s lies.

We read The Australian, The Herald Sun, and The Daily Telegraph. We laughed at the cartoons of Bill and Johannes Leak, and called friends and family members with alternative views, left wing radicals. And we stood by and allowed our female political leaders to be characterised as barren.

Our ally the United States of America now normalises armed militias patrolling the streets of once great cities. We watch black men and women, strangled, bludgeoned, gassed and shot in the back, and yet we do not ask ourselves, ‘could this happen here?’ But this is life for many Aboriginal Australians.

On May 19 2019, I described the day after the election. Reading back I think I managed to capture the menace of the time:

“Dark morning air is crisp across southern Australia, warm and dry north of the Tropic of Capricorn. A short, late autumn day beckons. Communities recently described by their Federal electorate names; Corangamite, Dunkley, Hughes, Fraser, Deakin, Gilmore, Higgins, Dickson and many more, awaken to more familiar urban, regional and rural denominations. And though the election is over the outcome is unclear, at least in this electorate, or that Senate position. But certain certainties remain.

A young shivering tradie walks to his ute, fires up the motor and switches on talk-back radio.

A grumpy grey nomad passes driving duties to his wife. Their 4×4 and trailer swing northeast toward Kynuna. The couple is heading to Birdsville in the Maranoa electorate and a campsite near the Goyder Lagoon.

In the Grayndler electorate a young Balmain woman, trim in well-tailored sweat gear, promises to meet her friends in the Piccolo Bar for a skim latte. The pilates class is over. She is curious about an overheard, heated conversation. The Adani coal mine might actually go ahead.

Dry hoar frost crackles beneath the boots of a vintner surveying vines outside Wellington in the Federal seat of Calare in the central west of NSW. He waves toward a convoy of trucks laden with hay for drought-parched station owners and goodies for their children and wives. For an instant, he wonders if the trucks might stop at the Nanima Aboriginal Reserve where his great aunt once lived.

And so to Beamish Street Campsie in the electorate of Watson named in honour of John Christian Watson, an Australian prime minister in the early 20th Century. Few of Campsie’s citizens know Chris Watson led the world’s first “labour party” government, and believed to be the first social democratic government.

In Macleay Street Potts Point a poster of a smiling Kerryn Phelps, Federal Member for Wentworth, gazes at a batch of empty shop fronts across the road from the El Alamein Fountain.

Journalists wrote hundreds of thousands of words about this day in the life of the people of a nation, who for the past three years wrestled with notions of entitlement, a fair go, and the difference between leaners and lifters. As the morning stretches toward noon, citizens begin to ponder this new day within their respective bubbles, a word favoured by the Federal Member for Cook, Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

The grey nomad urges more speed to get to the campsite on the shores of the Goyder Lagoon in time to set up before the fast approaching sunset.

“You’re thinking about catching that big Murray Cod,” his wife says.

“Hope so. If there’s any left,” he replies, adding,”there’s plenty of water flowing into Lake Eyre. She’ll be right.”

“Yeah I know,” she says, “and we’ll have these memories to savour when we go into care”…

A red light begins to flash on the dashboard.”

Henry Johnston is a Sydney-based author. His latest book The Last Voyage of Aratus is on sale here.

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Flag, stockade or discovery: Australia’s Eureka dilemma

Like many writers I require a Eureka moment of insight to write an essay for The AIM Network. This morning, 6/08/2020, I found inspiration in the words of Richard Cooke.

In his long-form analysis of the fate of the arts, titled A unitary theory of cuts published in the August edition of The Monthly Cooke enumerates the singular policy of the IPA/Morrison Government, namely absolute victory in the Culture Wars.

I urge you to read Cooke’s discourse which although thorough, misses one vital point.

Cooke does not mention the suspension of the Australian Parliament. And it is this void in the life of the nation which gives the IPA/Morrison Government a free hand to dismantle the ABC, the Arts and the Public Service — the trinity of its Culture War targets. Add to this the dismemberment of Australian universities, and the future of this wide brown land appears distinctly bleak.

And so to the remainder of the Eureka metaphor.

In the United States, Brazil, the Philippines, Iran, and Turkey – the list is long – COVID-19 is being deployed as a shield to further the aspirations of right-wing nationalist governments. The same is happening in Australia. A casual read of the propaganda output of the Murdoch/IPA/Morrison Government, reveals non-stop criticism of the Andrews Government of Victoria as well as the feisty government of Annastacia Palaszczuk in Queensland. Mark McGowan the Premier of Western Australia, is Satan Incarnate, and yet there is little by way of criticism of the Liberal premiers of New South Wales, South Australia and Tasmania. The Labor governments of the ACT and the Northern Territory, daily endure local press vilification.

But it is Victoria, home of the Eureka Stockade, which is enduring the worst of the twin plagues of COVID-19 and daily attacks in The Australian newspaper led by an entitled brat named Adam Creighton. And let’s not forget the egregious contributions of Tim Smith MP, Rowan Dean, Andrew Bolt, and Miranda Devine and so on and so on. Worst of all are the actions of the so-called wolverines hell bent on matching Chinese nationalism with their own post-modern Australian version of jingoism. But this propensity for provincialism can spin out of control, and morph into something far darker than attacks on cultural icons.

In the absence of a federal parliament Australia has the National Cabinet, which thus far is keeping much of the country safe from the ravages of the COVID-19 plague. But as the virus spreads in Victoria, old enmities of the pre-Federation era are emerging. None more so than the sniping between Annastacia Palaszczuk of Queensland and Gladys Berejiklian, Premier of New South Wales. Each year both states play out this old rivalry in the Rugby League State of Origin series. Palaszczuk seems to understand the politics of this visceral combativeness far better than her counterpart, the NSW State Member for Willoughby.

Ms Palaszczuk is ramping up appeals to the innate patriotism of Queenslanders, especially those who live in far northern regional seats where the Eureka flag is worn by workers as a tattoo and displayed as a logo on the back of many a ute and four wheel drive.

This brings me back to Victoria, birthplace of the Eureka notion, and Premier Dan Andrews.

Each day Andrews faces a phalanx of television cameras to update his fellow citizens on the ravages of COVID-19. And each day he answers hundreds of media questions from the likes of Adam Creighton and his ilk, in a way that makes the Federal Parliament’s Question Time look insipid. Andrews has the uncanny knack of speaking directly to his fellow citizens.

When Dan Andrews said he would not put his parents into an aged care home in Melbourne, he spoke truth to tragedy.

The nationalist push by ScoMo and his enablers, especially in Victoria, might well result in a political manifestation long pursued, but thus far not attained; namely an Australian Republic. More than a century on, this phrase from the Ballarat Reform League Charter lies at the heart of contemporary Victorian identity; that it is the inalienable right of every citizen to have a voice in making the laws he is called upon to obey.

With a Federal Labor Party waiting in the wings with a broad suite of far-reaching and easily modified public policies, a shocked and possibly impoverished electorate will not make the same mistake twice.

By the time the next Federal election comes around, I’m fairly confident every citizen, like the diggers at the Eureka Stockade, will clamour to ensure they too have a genuine voice in making the laws [all] are called upon to obey.

Henry Johnston is a Sydney-based author. His latest book The Last Voyage of Aratus is here.

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A tawdry B Grade coup

Like many Australians in lock down I ‘m devouring movies and television programmes to pass the time.

Recently I came across a b-grade film which chilled me to the bone. Bushwick recounts the alliance of two strangers and their bid to survive during an invasion of New York by heavily-armed militiamen.

As I browse the film’s reviews, I am reminded the people of the United States of America are 100 or so days away from a presidential election like no other. And the premise of the fictional Bushwick could become reality. American and international media is alarmed at the prospect of President Trump refusing to accept the outcome of the election. This article from The Guardian focuses on so-called voter fraud.

Americans are enduring multiple travails as revealed in David Lipson’s terrifying Foreign Correspondent episode, Life and Liberty broadcast on ABC-TV on July 28 2020. Life and Liberty could be a scene from the fictional scenario depicted in Bushwick.

On the same date Foreign Correspondent went to air, Australia announced to the world it is going all the way with the most unstable American administration since the confederate presidency of Jefferson Davis.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds beat the drums of war as they stood beside the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at an AUSMIN meeting.

I doubt many Australians grasped the significance of this dangerous tête-à-tête, while fewer still recognise the economic risk of chumming up to a floundering American administration.

So much has changed so quickly.

In September 2019 David Uren, an economic analyst and former economics editor with The Australian newspaper said this in an article published by the ultra-conservative Australian Strategic Policy Institute:

The strength of the economic relationship [with China] does shape the government’s strategic options. Australia hasn’t followed the US’s freedom-of-navigation operations close to the Chinese-constructed islands in the South China Sea, for example. However, prosperity is in the national interest and the relationship has delivered that over the past 15 years.” (Emphasis added).

And yet less than a year later Prime Minister Scott Morrison puts the nation on a virtual war footing to curry favour with the US which is our 24th ranking goods trading partner,

Australia can ill afford to alienate China, or any trading partner for that matter, as the world economy deflates into global depression. Statistics do not lie, but everyone else so it seems, does.

When Josh Frydenberg succumbed to a brain snap on ABC-TV Insiders and eulogised Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, he literally threw the Coalition’s junior partner under a bus.

The truth of the matter, as outlined in an Asialink Business essay written in 2018, is China, good, bad or indifferent, cannot get enough of the fresh produce grown and reared in regional and rural Australia. It is important to note these goods and other Australian exports, sail through the hotly disputed South China Sea

Under the heading Agriculture and Processed Food, Asialink reports:

“China buys more Australian agricultural produce than any other country. In the 2017-2018 financial year, Australian farmers and the broader agricultural sector sold more than AUD 11.8 billion of produce to China, around a quarter of all agricultural exports. Trade is growing strongly, but untapped opportunities still abound. The Australian Department of Agriculture predicts China will account for 43 per cent of global growth in demand for agricultural products to 2050. The primary increase in demand is predicted to be for foods such as beef, lamb, dairy, fruit and vegetables. Australian products have an enviable reputation for being clean, safe and high-quality – which positions Australian exporters strongly to take advantage of China’s growing demand for quality produce and its need for food security.”

So why put this at risk now? There is no simple answer other than to say the Morrison Government has drunk the fake news flavoured Kool Aid disseminated by the Dirty Digger.

With Democrat Joe Biden tipped by pollsters to take the White House and Democrats seemingly set to dominate the US Senate and House, now is not the time to cosy up to a floundering administration. Nor domestically is it the time to attack state premier’s fighting for the lives of their citizens. And it is certainly not the time to champion a disgraced English prime minister who sparked a civil war in her Northern Ireland, introduced a poll tax, went to war with Argentina then endured the ignominy of a very English coup by her own party.

Now is the time for truth telling, or Makarrata, a Yolngu word and concept which describes the resolution of conflict, and the justice and peace which follow in its wake. Despite the dissembling of the Murdoch press, Australians need to face up to some uncomfortable truths, including the coup which resulted in the sacking of Gough Whitlam on November 11 1975. And the fact a US Administration which deploys militiamen to tear gas its own citizens in the name of democracy, will abandon Australia in favour of its own self-interest as quickly as Operation Warp Speed.

In this time of plague it is worth heeding the words spoken at an inquest held in the aftermath of the Chernobyl catastrophe.

Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth.”

Henry Johnston is a Sydney-based author. His latest book The Last Voyage of Aratus is on sale here.

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Hasta la vista, baby! I won’t be back.

I noticed a marked shift in sentiment this 4th of July. I admit to being a reader of tea leaves and a man who pays attention to stellar alignments. As a self-confessed hard-nosed rationalist I don’t know why I seek out these signs in the zeitgeist. But the resignation of Matthias Cormann and the ALP’s victory in the Eden-Monaro by-election, summarised in this ABC News clip, convinced me a cosmic flux is underway.

Despite a painfully obvious and ongoing kowtow by the ABC to the LNP, this news does not bode well for Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Rupert Murdoch was convinced ScoMo had it in the bag, but somehow Scotty from Marketing got it wrong. As we all know the Dirty Digger does not like his plans to go astray. More on the Murdoch/LNP cabal later.

The man who bungled the numbers for Peter Dutton’s tilt at Malcolm Turnbull, Matthias Cormann, knows only too well that the Queensland hard man is gunning for the top job. The LNP’s failure to win Eden-Monaro especially with the Prime Minister’s personal popularity ratings at an all-time high, (if you can believe Newspoll) gives Dutton a rationale for a spill in the not-too-distant future

Here is why.

In 1992 US Democrat spin-meister James Carviile came up with the phrase “the economy, stupid.”

Since his appointment as Finance Minister Matthias Cormann managed Australia’s economy, for better or worse, thanks to his knack of being able to do deals with some of the most stupid senators ever to impart their skid marks onto the chairs of the Australian Senate.

With the Cormannator’s departure, the LNP loses the only politician in its ranks capable of successfully sooling Paul Keating’s “unrepresentative swill”. And this is a serious problem for a Government financed in part by the Murdoch Shilling. Cormann, who does not blink, is the only senior Government Minister with the smarts to strong arm a Bill through the Senate. This Bill — yet to materialise — would fulfil Murdoch’s goal of selling-off the ABC.

With Cormann’s departure and the status quo in place in the Lower House, the demise of the ABC will not happen in the foreseeable future.

Instead Australia is about 10 weeks away from an economic precipice.

As of September 1 Job Seeker and Job Keeper are at risk of being withdrawn from the Australian economy. With the Covid-19 outbreak in Victoria looking in every practical sense like a page from Albert Camus’s novel The Plague, the LNP has no credible replacement for Cormann to either run the nation’s finances or negotiate tricky legislation through the Senate.

Not that Cormann was particularly good at his job as Michael Pascoe points out in this scorching indictment in The New Daily.

But with Cormann’s departure from Australian politics, no amount of spin by News Corp can save the LNP from losing the next election which will be held in the depths of a severe recession, if not a depression.

News Corp’s spin of an essentially status quo by-election made the former ALP Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, gasp. As for the ABC, despite the rude sneers of Patricia – Follow my Twitter Feed – Karvelas during an interview with the ALP Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese, and the talk-over-the-top-of Labor-spokespeople, and ex Sky News presenter David Speers, its saving precept remains embedded in its Charter.

No government of any political persuasion can outwit this cornerstone of our nation’s identity,

When I worked as a producer for the ABC I learnt a fundamental lesson, namely the ABC is divided into four divisions. Each competes with one another for its share of the Budget. The divisions are:- News, Current Affairs, Sport and Regional. There are numerous name variations, but despite different sub-sectors of the ABC bureaucracy, the divisions are how the ABC conforms to its Charter. So whether it’s a collapse in the price of wool or bush fire coverage or sports reporting in rural Australia, the ABC will continue to make it uncomfortable for politicians, no matter how many of its staff are made redundant.

Staunch support for the ABC in rural Federal seats such as Eden-Monaro, and National Party stalwarts of the ABC like John Barilaro reinforce the feeling in my bones that the ABC will survive.

Gawd help us if Rupert Murdoch gets his way.

Henry Johnston is a Sydney-based author. His latest book, The Last Voyage of Aratus is on sale here.

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The moral principles of independent publishers

The perilous future of the Australian Independent Media Network should be a wake up call to those of us hungry for an alternative to main stream media. But The AIMN’s travail — a funding shortfall — is a phenomenon besetting all media.

Advertisers are abandoning metropolitan daily and regional newspapers and ditching local radio and television, in favour of a slew of multinational online outlets.

So apart from contributing our intellectual endeavours and kicking in a few dollars to keep The AIMN and other outlets afloat, how can independent publishers survive?

It is worth examining the history of a singular aspect of journalism which for years, have kept readers coming back to their favourite medium.

The Walkley Awards is Australia’s equivalent of the U.S. Pulitzer Prize. Both are regarded as the gold standard for journalism and its affiliated efforts. Like it or not advertisers are attracted to media that employ award winners. This is because a coveted Walkley helps the financial bottom line. There is no harm in this as long as editorial and advertising keep their distance within the corporate media enterprise. At least this is how it used to be, but the old order is long gone. As long as revenue streams flow, people are employed, but in times of scarcity such as now, workers join dole queues.

Despite the best efforts of the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, thousands of journalists and allied staff are heading for the scrap heap. And yet writers keep writing, and their work, thankfully, picked up by outlets such as the The AIMN.

Most scribes and photographers adhere to a code of ethics, but browse a tabloid – print or digital – and it is obvious those ethics have all but vanished.

So to paraphrase V.I. Lenin, ‘what is to be done?’

I would like to see some kind of loose alliance of independent publishers such as Michael and Carol Taylor, coalescing upon a new, independent award system which extols the output of journalists’ now writing for small, but significant new media outlets.

Dennis Atkins, Michael Pascoe, Paul Bongiorno, Elizabeth Farrelly, John Birmingham Samantha Maiden, and many others — some Walkley Award winners — have for whatever reason, abandoned the Murdoch/ Nine News cesspits.

Along with the AIM there are publishers with increasingly familiar mastheads such as the New Daily, The Guardian, The Conversation, The National Times, Crikey, Independent Australia, The Monthly and so on. Some are big, others small, but all appear committed to the ethos articulated in the MEAA’s Code of Ethics.

Journalists search, disclose, record, question, entertain, comment and remember. They inform citizens and animate democracy. They scrutinise power, but also exercise it, and should be responsible and accountable.

So chip-in to your independent publisher. Organise GoFundMe pages, or crowd fund them. Pay for their services. Read their journalists and organise boycotts of the Usual Suspects. Support the A.B.C. and S.B.S. And tell your local State and Federal Member to be more critical of mainstream media, and to avail themselves of writers and journalists who adhere to a set of moral principles that govern their behaviour as scribes.

When English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton wrote in 1839, “the pen is mightier than the sword,” he meant that communication — particularly written language or advocacy of an independent press — is more effective than violence.

In this day and age I shudder to think of a future without independent publishers and fearless advocates such as The AIM Network.

Henry Johnston is a Sydney-based author. His latest book, The Last Voyage of Aratus is on sale here.

 

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Life out of Balance

I recall 1982 as a confluence of firsts. As I began my thirty first year, life seemed as an endless sequence of possibilities, rolling toward a future gilded with boundless opportunity.

The bitter years of the Fraser interregnum, triggered by the dismissal of Gough Whitlam rapidly gave way to Bob Hawke’s unstoppable rise.

The scent of optimism seemed sweet as spring. And to celebrate an inevitable change in fortune, I tagged along to a movie at the Valhalla Cinema in Glebe Point Road Sydney.

The film had an improbable, unpronounceable name. Koyaanisqatsi introduced three elements which remain with me as I contemplate my seventieth year:- the concept of dystopia, the music of Philip Glass and the reality of an ‘unbalanced life’ as expressed in the Hopi language.

The Hopi people, who occupy much of the south western states of the United States of America, today live their own Koyaanisqatsi — unbalanced life — brought about by the ravages of the COVID-19 virus.

It is as if the world is now flickering through the images of this remarkable film … but with notable exceptions.

I’ll use another film title to continue the metaphor. The Usual Suspects of Trump, Bolsinaro, Johnson, Morrison, Rodrigo Duterte … the list seems endless … persist with the notion normalcy will return, and economies will do what they did before the virus.

To quote Verbal Kint from The Usual Suspects:- “the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” Switch on any news channel and see for yourself.

The United States is paralysed by conspiracy theories. And in the absence of Government initiatives, Brazil’s street gangs patrol the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, warning people to stay indoors. The death toll from the virus in the United Kingdom surpasses Italy and Spain. So much for BREXIT.

Tankers filled to the Plimsol Line with Middle Eastern oil, sit off the American coast, waiting to off-load a cargo nobody wants.

And as Australian art institutes crumble, football teams occupy Tamworth and Albury-Wodonga with seeming impunity.

At the National Press club on May 5 2020, Treasurer Frydenberg ruled out public works as a way of rebuilding a shattered economy, preferring instead the so called nous of the private sector.

This despite the greatest example of a kowtow by billionaire Andrew Forrest, when he invited a spokesperson of the Chinese Communist Party to an asinine press conference about his donation of 90 tonnes of medical supplies via his Minderoo Foundation.

Never mind the fact Forrest will pocket a tidy tax right-off of this so called goodwill gesture, courtesy of an army of accountants.

And while Australian citizens of Chinese descent are beaten bloody in the streets of our cities, Senator Kristina Keneally lets loose a high-pitched dog whistle about immigration.

Sky After Dark invited pauline hanson (lower case intended) on to its various Conspiracy Corner programmes (upper case intended) to make merry with Keneally’s ill-timed and intemperate Op-ed published in The Sydney Morning Herald on May 3 2020.

Not even a smooth talking Senator Penny Wong on the ABC’s Q and A on May 4 2020 could explain away Keneally’s nationalistic clanger, which I contend, was probably not cleared by the office of the Leader of the Opposition Anthony Albanese.

Despite this the endless political coup within the LNP rolls on. The NSW Deputy Premier and National Party head kicker John Barilaro, at the behest of Barnaby Joyce, scorned the hapless Federal Leader of the Nationals Michael — Micmac — McCormack, for not backing his tilt.

Cartoon by Alan Moir (moir.com.au)

And the NSW State MP for Bega Andrew Constance, famous for wasting billions of public dollars bankrolling private toll roads, imperils the Berejiklian Government by throwing his hat into the ring to contest the Federal Seat of Eden Monaro.

I’m not saying Constance cannot win Mike Kelly’s old bailiwick, but the following quote, plus endless footage of Scott Morrison’s disastrous handling of the conflagration around Eden, will haunt the Constance campaign, or doom it altogether.

“To be honest with you, the locals probably gave him [Morrison] the welcome he probably deserved. I say this to the Prime Minister today, the nation wants you to open up the cheque books, [and} obviously help people rebuild their lives.”

So with Constance pulling out do we say hello … Jim Molan?

Unless the Australian Budget remains our common wealth, a majority of Australians face the prospect of impoverished, unbalanced lives for the foreseeable future.

Henry Johnston is a Sydney-based author. His latest book, The Last Voyage of Aratus is on sale here.

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Hungry miles

The other day a relative said she felt uneasy and that the present situation seems unreal. She described a sense of foreboding despite warm weather and clear, blue skies.

She is correct. We are experiencing an inexorable transformation. It is quieter. We are adjusting to isolation to save our lives, and by so doing witnessing a transformation on how we carry out our daily tasks.

Each night we watch this phenomena unfold across the world.

July 20 1969 is the last time I recall a similar occurrence, when humanity stopped and watched men walk on the moon. But in this new century, a virus is calling a halt and by so doing changing everything … at least for some.

There is no such change for neo-conservatives. The spawn of Friedrich August von Hayek, Ayn Rand and others, as typified by Donald Trump and Scott Morrison, truly believe business as usual once the pandemic subsides. But nothing could be further from the truth.

As I walk around the block for daily exercise I notice abandoned taxi cabs — parked nose to tail, on quiet inner city streets where I live. And there are tradie vans, valuable work equipment stashed on their roofs, similarly abandoned. Each vehicle is a rusting, dust-covered talisman of a crashing economy.

And yet Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg persist with the notion of Snap Back. In my opinion this is as dangerous an illusion as Donald Trump promoting the virtues of Hydroxychloroquine as a cure for COVID-19.

A democracy beset by deflation cannot and will not return to normal with the snap of a finger. Those abandoned taxis will not pull away from the kerbside and convey passengers to mythical cross-town destinations.

So why persist with the illusion that Australia and the world will return to the way things once were? The answer is stark. Neo-conservatives consider the pandemic an economic rather than a health and social crisis.

When people are ill En masse, as is the case now, they cannot go about their daily lives. Thus our only option is to do as we are doing, namely stop everything, stem the spread of the illness and remove the threat of the virus infecting the citizenry. Developing a vaccine is a hallowed grail, but until this is achieved, it is the role of government to sustain the populace no matter the cost. To not do so is to flirt with social chaos.

As far as I am concerned neo-conservative delusions can take a long walk off a short pier and yet this twaddle peddled by John Roskam of the tax-exempt Institute of Public Affairs, makes yet another neo-conservative demand. You can guarantee this asinine rubbish will become a rallying cry of The Australian newspaper and its addled cousin Sky After Dark. Both enterprises by the way, are haemorrhaging cash, courtesy of a crash in advertising revenue.

If Roskam’s demands are heeded, particularly cutting tax, an accelerated economic collapse is inevitable. Yet this ideologue of the right wing of the Liberal Party ignores stark facts. For example, the dissipation of daily revenue for states and territories due to a shortfall in train and bus fares could endanger a slew of public amenities such as schools and hospitals. So it is fair to demand Roskam’s bankers, the coal industry et al, to pay their fair share. If Roskam or Gina Reinhardt acquires Covid 19, chances are they, like England’s Boris Johnson, will be treated by publicly trained nurses and allied health staff.

Roskam goes on to say, it “isn’t only an agenda for (tax) reform. It’s an agenda to provide what Australia needs most at the moment, which is hope for a more prosperous future”.

There are two problems with his opinion; income is collapsing at an alarming rate vis a vis those abandoned taxis, and hope for a prosperous future is for now, illusory.

Thankfully Australia is led by a National Cabinet comprising three Labor premiers and two Labor chief ministers. As long as this arrangement remains in place, we will probably be spared the worst excesses of those IPA’s spruikers Scottie from Marketing and Peter Dutton, whose culpability over the Ruby Princess debacle verges on the criminal.

Those abandoned taxis I mentioned earlier, line inner city streets which, three quarters of a century ago became known in Sydney as The Hungry Mile.

If we remain calm and ignore the lunatic demands of the far right, we just might avoid the formation of hundreds of hungry miles snaking across the roads and highways of the United States.

So no more calls about tax reform please, Mr Roskam. Instead demand a fair wage for our public health workers, our teachers, our internet technicians, our police officers and the underpaid workers in local grocery stores, who are keeping us fed, healthy and connected.

Henry Johnston is a Sydney-based author. His latest book, The Last Voyage of Aratus is on sale here.

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A not so Good Friday

Today is Good Friday April 10, 2020. The latest modelling shows that although Australia’s COVID-19 curve is flattening, talk of its suppression seem as a glimmer of optimism from the hopeful days of this year’s Ides of March and St Patrick’s Day. Schools and universities are both closed and not closed. Happy social gatherings are…

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No we can’t

Try as I might, I cannot pinpoint the exact moment or instance, when the world’s conservative parties shifted from extolling tradition and practising good manners, to embracing corruption and malfeasance.

So for convenience sake I cite the election of Barack Obama who served as the 44th President of the United States of America.

Yes I know there are thousands of other instances, but stay with me.

Barack Hussein Obama II served as President from 2009 to 2017. He is a Democrat, and the first African-American President of the United States.

Obama electrified the world with the slogan, Yes We Can.

So is it fair to say that race has altered the behaviour of all conservative politicians, and prompted them to behave like James Bond villains?

I realise this might be a bit of stretch especially in Australia which is, so we are told, the most successful multi-cultural nation on the planet.

But allow me to present a couple of examples of race-based spite which proves my point.

Exhibit one. A couple of vile epithets written by a so-called journalist employed by News Corp, which as AIM readers know, aids and abets conservative corruption and ill will.

Exhibit two. The increasingly hysterical reaction to the Corona virus, and exhibit three the failure of the Closing the Gap initiative.

Let’s start with News Corp’s Tim Blair.

Consider these two pejorative examples of Blair’s wit. Sudafednasalspray, and Sweatpeahummusstain – both coined by Blair to belittle Thinethavone or Tim, Soutphommasane.

Soutphommasane, who served as Australia’s Race Discrimination Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission from 2013 to 2018, has so far written and published three books. He is an Oxford graduate, the Director of Cultural Strategy and Professor of Practice (Sociology and Political Theory) at the University of Sydney.

Blair on the other hand peddles his scribbles to Quadrant and News Corp. In a less than stellar career Tim claims to have worked as an elbows-out jobber on Sport Illustrated, Truth and Time.

A simple comparison of both men boils down to the vulgar American colloquialism; shit and Shinola.

Tim Blair’s sustained campaign against Soutphommasane segues to my second example; incipient racism following the spread of the Corona virus.

But let’s stay with the object of Tim Blair’s spite.

Last week Soutphommasane and colleagues at the University of Sydney posted a video on Twitter about the impact of the epidemic.

Soutphommasane, along with academics from across the nation, are acutely aware of the financial catastrophe facing Australian universities, right here, right now.

For the record University lectures begin this week.

Handling the Corona virus requires tact, skill and leadership. But like the elbows-out Tim Blair, the Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton clouded the issue when he said people evacuated from the epidemic’s epicentre Wuhan, to Christmas Island would be expected to pay $1000.

Seriously.

Treasurer Josh Frydenburg quickly closed down Dutton’s gaff on Insiders. Since then Frydenburg has valiantly defended the Government’s ever-shrinking and rapidly disappearing Budget Surplus.

To its credit the SBS is reporting the rise of racism and the Corona virus as per this item by Tom Stayner. So to exhibit three: the umpteenth failure of the bipartisan Closing the Gap initiative.

During Question Time on February 12 2020, the Prime Minister Scott Morrison took an Opposition dixer about the failure of the most recent Closing the Gap report to reach its targets.

Reading from speaking notes, the PM mouthed platitudes. ‘More needed to be done to improve the lot of Aboriginal Australians’, quoth he.

In reality Australia has barely moved an iota toward Closing the Gap since the landmark date of February 13 2008 when Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologised to Aboriginal Australians.

Mindful of this, Labor Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese offered an olive branch of sorts to the Government. Albanese suggested the Government at least consider a change to the Australian Constitution.

This change Albo argued, conforms with the aspirations of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, a document which outlines a way forward for the recognition of Aboriginal Australians in the Constitution.

The Uluru Statement from the Heart seeks to give Aboriginal Australians a voice in laws and policies made about them … ergo Closing the Gap.

And the Prime Minister’s response?

No We Can’t.

While Australians rightly demand action on climate change, surely we must also call an end to bigotry and boycott racist muck peddlers like Tim Blair.

As mega blazes burn the oxygen we breathe, and one-in-a hundred years floods inundate our homes, it is racism which corrodes the nation’s soul.

Unless we the people vote out the likes of Doctor No and Blofeld and their villainous mouthpieces like Tim Blair, we shall remain vassals of an utterly corrupt global conservative movement.

To paraphrase the words of the John Lennon song Working Class Hero, [the conservatives] “keep you doped with religion and sex and TV. And you think you’re so clever and classless and free, but you’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see.”

Henry Johnston is a Sydney-based author. His latest book, The Last Voyage of Aratus is on sale here.

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Remember the past

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

An aphorism written by the Spanish/American philosopher George Santayana in the book, The Life of Reason: The Phases of Human Progress.

The date 4 October is significant to many of London’s East Enders. On this day in 1936 their great grandfathers and great grandmothers fought a pitched battle with police to thwart the Black Shirts of the British Union of Fascists, led by arch Conservative Tory Sir Oswald Mosley.

In the Battle of Cable Street 20,000 East Enders barricaded their borough, to bar Mosley’s Black Shirts from entering the largely Jewish community of White Chapel.

The ensuing violence between police and residents ended when the commissioner informed Mosley he would not take responsibility.

The commissioner told Mosley the cowardly Black Shirts could not march with the protection of a police escort. Thus the phrase “they shall not pass” entered the popular anti-fascist lexicon.

Five days after the Battle of Cable Street on 9 October 1936, 650 members of the International Brigades arrived in Alicante, to fight thousands of fascists in the long, bloody Spanish Civil War. This carnage marked the prelude to World War 2.

Fast forward to September 2019. A New York real estate developer tells representatives of the United Nations globalism is dead and claims the era of the patriot has begun.

But within days of this speech, Democrats issue the first subpoena to impeach the real estate developer. The world gasps at startling revelations of complicity between the developer and a Ukrainian actor, comedian and television writer, who as it turns out, is at war with Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Across the Atlantic Ocean, 11 judges of the Supreme Court unanimously declare the prorogation of Parliament illegal. But an unchastened Prime Minister Boris Johnson returns to Parliament, and in a torrent of twittering bile doubles down on his political opponents.

The bitterness and hatred of the 1930s, deployed so effectively by Mosley, is again rampant across parts of the United Kingdom. Even though the rise of oligarchs and totalitarians appears checked for the moment, the same old untruths which bolstered Mosley and other gangsters of his time are re-emerging.

Anti-Semitism is the most insidious of these lies.

Thousands of anti-Semitic memes circulate on social media. Many target the British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. But perhaps the worst example is the phoney photograph of Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, supposedly standing side by side with George Soros, the much touted arch-villain of anti-Jewish internet conspiracy theories.

Then there is the astounding conflation by right wing commentator Dinesh D’Souza that the left is using techniques popularised by Goebbels to deploy Thunberg as a corruptor of the world’s children. Cick on the link above to read.

For me the most troubling similarity between October 1936 and now is the parlous state of global economics. Deflation stalked the world in the decade after the Great Depression. And despite the best efforts of the spruikers of a contemporary Budget surplus in Australia, deflation is once again sucking the life out of both the national and international economy.

Put simply deflation occurs when prices fall because the supply of goods is higher than demand. For example: how many LED TVs can one household accommodate? A more complex instance is how many badly built high-rise home units can be bought and sold?

A train ride from Parramatta west of Sydney to Central station, reveals hundreds of empty unit blocks and just as many abandoned building sites.

You do not need a multi-hued graph to demonstrate the fact working people are not spending. The increase of ‘for lease’ signs in cities, towns and suburbs across the nation, is a stark testament to deflation, which in turn leads to even less demand for goods or home units. The insidious cycle continues its downward spiral in a sequence almost impossible to break.

And yet even level-headed economics journalists write thousands of words extolling the rise and rise of this or that stock market or bourse, never once stopping to pay heed to the economic catastrophe unfolding in Argentina and Venezuela, or crippling nations the length and breadth of Africa.

The only country in the world paying attention to the travails of these nations is the People’s Republic of China – the mass incarceration of Uighurs notwithstanding.

Back in the dark October days of 1936, when the upper class twit Sir Oswald Mosley strutted the streets of London, the Soviet Union was the world’s great bugaboo. In the same year the world gasped at the ‘magnificence’ of Germany’s staging of the Olympic Games.

October 1 this year marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, which, according to Titanium Man Scott Morrison, is both an existential and real threat to Australia.

His all-together foolish and bumbling of a state visit to the United States might accelerate the patently obvious down turn in the national economy, especially if China pulls the plug on all inbound investment in Australia.

With a winter drought morphing into a summer fire storm, with ABARE predicting a 28 per cent downturn in the summer harvest, it is time for wise policy, diplomacy, and a restraint on the rhetoric of hate.

George Santayana’s aphorism, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” is inscribed on a plaque at the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland.

Henry Johnston is a Sydney-based author. His latest book, The Last Voyage of Aratus is on sale here.

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What is truth?

Jet lag is a crime against circadian rhythms. If you’ve travelled umpteenth hours at sub-sonic speed from near the meridian of forty degrees south, chances are you’re familiar with the sensation. It’s as if you’re still strolling among clouds minutes after alighting from a stuffy aluminium tube.

This trans-hemispheric queasiness caught up with me in a polished concrete transit lounge somewhere within the innards of the Dubai International Airport.

I had to navigate the discombobulation of a transfer from a Boeing to an Airbus, so I walked and ran kilometres past perfumed duty free shops selling chocolate and Nike, Kruger Rand and Chanel.

After passport checks, full body scans, shoes and belt off and on, I slumped into a comfortless plastic chair. Hopefully my weary pineal gland would function, and wake me in time for the onward boarding call.

I am a curious person. I yearn to learn about people who live beyond the confines of my existence. And I am a sticky beak, a watcher, a listener to voices, an admirer of men and women of all races, colours and creeds. I adore travel, minus the jet lag.

With little prompting I’ll strike up a conversation, but back off if a potential companion finds my jibber jabber, tedious.

As it turned out I chatted with a duo sitting either side me; a young German man and a woman, but seemingly devoid of gender. Neither spoke in a manner suggesting one or the other as an alpha. Equals and partners. Scientists from the Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science. Now, weeks on and despite lingering inquisitiveness about this earnest, well intentioned couple, I fear my recollection of what they told me might be skew whiff.

Horst sported a curious facial style beloved of scientists; a light beard, minus moustache. Beata wore short blonde hair tucked beneath a beanie often sold in those specialist mountaineering stores. Despite the stifling heat, both appeared comfortable in matching green and khaki lace-up hiking boots. They assured me their robust ruck sacks fitted into the overhead lockers of most international airplanes.

Although they travelled with minimal personal baggage, the mainstay of their possessions moved separately in aircraft belly holds, clearly marked, labelled and accessible to curious Customs’ Officers.

But woe betide any official who sought to hinder the transit of this trove. Their important cargo bore the imprimatur of diplomatic documentation, which permitted the unhindered passage of their research to the Institute’s Munich headquarters.

Though my chat partners were two serious people possessing original and consequential data, they spoke with the light touch of youth. A natural nonchalance suggested what they had seen, discovered and documented these last months in the steppe of Asia, was nothing but a mere bagatelle.

I asked why they flew from Siberia to Dubai rather than take a more direct route home.
Russian unpleasantness in the Crimea and Ukraine they said, forced a roundabout journey to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, with a consequent diversion here to connect with a flight to Prague, followed by a road trip back to Munich.

I too was bound for the Czech Republic. Small world you say?

I’m not sure who designs the music for airports supposed to calm the frazzled nerves of international travellers, but I’m certain Brian Eno didn’t compose the piped Muzak in Dubai, a cross between K Pop and Bollywood dance numbers. The net effect is an attempt to tune out all sound.

I could barely follow Beata and Horst’s complex story. Coupled with a sleep-deprived hippocampus, and a super-charged amygdala, my chin frequently touched my sternum and strings of saliva dribbled from the side of my mouth.

Yet I recall a narrative spoken in precise English. It’s unfortunate we of British descent speak but one language.

A brief stay in Siberia proved dreary and freezing they said, nevertheless both were anxious to down load details of their experiences.

Their journey began in the little town of Yeniseysk. (I think my spelling is correct).

“From here we flew, and drove more than a thousand kilometres toward the Arctic Circle,” she said, pausing to allow Horst to continue.

“The commander of our converted military duck vehicle announced we would drive across the ice to Bolshevik Island, our final destination, but at the shore’s edge we saw a barren, rocky cay shrouded in the mist of the Kara Sea.

“After an hour adjusting the undercarriage and refuelling from a towed tanker, the half-track spluttered into the freezing brine and splashed toward the shingle shore,” Horst said.

I stood, stamped both feet then flexed my knees several times, bending to the floor to encourage circulation and rouse myself from intractable sleep. Beata offered her water bottle which I drained in two gulps. The temperature outside the airport terminal nudged 40 degrees Celsius. Inside, bottled water cost US$20. I had a raging thirst and a few Australian dollars. I neglected to share with Beata, but she didn’t scold me, and continued her story.

“This island, when connected by sea ice, forms part of the hunting range of the indigenous people we had travelled to Siberia to meet,” she said, pausing to upend the empty bottle to her cracked lips.

“A popular misconception is Siberia and the northern reaches of Central Asia and Russia is deserted. In fact nearly 40 million people live in cities and communities across the steppe. Many are indigenous or Turkic or descendants of the Mongols, and most know almost nothing about westerners”.

I enquired if climate change had melted the ice around Bolshevik Island, but Beata equivocated. The evidence suggested the entire sub-Arctic landscape began to alter more than a century ago.

“Have you heard of the Tunguska Event?”

Horst interjected, “we are not climatologists,” he insisted, as he passed a brimming bottle to his colleague, who after several deep swigs, pointed to herself and Horst and said, “evolutionary anthropologists”.

Both realised I did not have a clue about evolutionary anthropology. With a gentle hand gesture toward Beata, Horst suggested she describe the intricacies of their field of science.

“Does the word, Denisovan, mean anything to you?”

Beata’s broad smile highlighted two bright blue eyes glowing within folds of lightly tanned skin which framed the top of her face.

I guessed I was about to learn more about Denisovan’s, but her next question jolted my semi-dozing brain.

“What about Neanderthals? Our brief is to investigate links between indigenous herders living around the shores of Bolshevik Island with scientific data uncovered in the Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains of Kazakhstan”.

When Beata said ‘X Woman,’ I realised we were straying into territory as remote and alien as the landscapes these two young Germans had recently traversed.

People in the departure lounge, many wearing the burqa or the free-flowing dishdasha, grew restless. Several approached gate staff, enquiring when they might board, and put this interminable wait behind them. I turned my head left to Beata and right to Horst, or was it the other way around?

Beata described a finger bone of a young hominim – the so called X Woman – and how colleagues in Leipzig had sequenced mitochondrial DNA from this prized specimen found in the Denisova Cave.

The passage of tens and hundreds of thousands of years punctuated their chronical, as if Denisovan’s and Neanderthal’s had roamed the length and breadth of Siberia just a few short decades ago.

I could not follow the details of resequencing DNA or the tabulation of data sets of one, two and more percentiles of traces of Neanderthal, found in the contemporary human genome.

Perhaps I fell asleep for a few seconds or minutes; I cannot recall, but when I shook my head into wakefulness, Beata and Horst spoke German in a conspiratorial tone.

When Horst noticed my revival from a jet lagged snooze, he said, “there are instances when scientists witness events which superficially seem implausible”.

But Beata, impatient, interjected. Placing her mouth close to my ear she whispered that they had noticed specific physical peculiarities among members of a tribe of indigenous people, located on the far side of Bolshevik Island.

“They were well fed, suitably dressed for the climate and prepared for the landscape upon which they camped, even if only for short periods. They were not decrepit or ill or feeble,” she said.

“But their skulls appeared larger than ours and the ridge of bone above the eye sockets, distended and prominent”.

Now Horst moved closer and whispered:

“Their physiognomy is utterly distinct, unlike anything me or Beata had previously encountered.

“The head person told us the changes to their bodies began in generations past. Similar permutations had occurred among the animals they tracked and hunted,” he said.
Beata spoke two Russian words — sherstistyy mamont – woolly mammoth.

“Um, I think a wild boar the size of a bison, perhaps? Boar’s tusks can grow to near half a metre or longer, but the deceased species we studied had,” she paused several seconds and glanced at Horst before continuing, “a distended snout. Maybe this size?” She stretched her arm full length, and did not smile.

Beata suggested the bloodied skull of the beast shown them by the peculiar indigenise, might have been mutant.

“There is much pollution across the steppe” Horst said, but Beata uttered the most alarming comment I’d heard this day.

“Thousands of tonnes of radioactive waste are buried at sites in Arctic permafrost. We learnt of a location close to the Russia Alaska border where a fire, caused by spent nuclear fuel rods, burns in thawed peat.

“The permafrost is no longer permanent,” she said.

Fatigue and impatience gnawed my psyche, and though I am a polite, optimistic man, I yearned for an end to this stream of depressing facts.

A familiar triple chime shattered the spell. I waited for the announcer’s words in English.

‘Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to this direct flight to Prague aboard Arline A on flight number B. We commence boarding shortly by rows numbered one to 15’.

A shuffling throng broke the hours-long intimacy I’d developed with the duo, but they nevertheless asked for my seat number, the name of my hotel and if I would join them for a meal in a restaurant by the Charles Bridge.

But I’d had a gutful of mutant people and animals, ecological destruction, climate catastrophe and radiation melting a thousand and one locales across Siberia.

Horst had said his Russian scientific colleagues appeared sanguine about the calamities besetting their Motherland.

“Russians do not cry out in pain,” he said.

And as two impatient lines formed, I smiled toward Beata a few persons ahead of me and weighed down by the ruck sack, almost the match of her height.

“I enjoyed chatting,” she said from a distance, adding, “it began in 1908 when the meteor exploded above Tunguska”.

“What began?’ I asked, but the moving throng enveloped her muffled response in an impatient, sweaty push toward the gate.

‘Brighter than a thousand suns,’ the last words Beata uttered before I lost sight of she and Horst in the crush inside the not so-wide-bodied Airbus.

By the time a crew member read seat belt instructions in multiple languages, I propped my head on a folded cardigan and slept.

I cannot recall the intervening hours, but a violent shaking woke me from dreamless slumber.

As the last person to deplane, I found my suitcase forlornly circling a creaking carousel.

With Schengen formalities finalised, I hailed a taxi to my hotel in Mala Strana, showered, shaved, walked to my favourite pub opposite the Café Savoy, and ate the house special.

I’ve not thought about Beata or Horst until the first draft of this story, nor have I read credible reports of a tribe of Neanderthals roaming the shores of Russia’s Kara Sea. But Arctic and Antarctic ice continues to melt, and mysterious nuclear explosions kill citizens around communities in the adjacent White Sea.

Far across the Atlantic Ocean, American newscasters report a demand to detonate a thermonuclear device in the eye of a hurricane to thwart its motion. The Amazon rainforest burns. The Great Barrier Reef bleaches toward extinction. And as facts morph into fiction, thousands of interstellar green glass beads emerge — like talismen from a Herman Hesse novel — in the melting permafrost around the Siberian village of Zelenogorsk via Tunguska.

Quid est veritas? What is truth? Perhaps when discovered, truth will reveal itself brighter than a thousand suns.

Henry Johnston, a Sydney-based author, holds copyright of this fictional story, What is Truth? His latest book, The Last Voyage of Aratus is on sale here

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