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Investment Funding for Northern Development: Is the LNP Delivering Best Financial Practice?

More Dams for the Northern Food-bowls: Achievable Policies or Pre-Election Hype? 

Preamble to the Discussion of Australia’s Northern Development

The 2013 federal election was another historic highpoint in federal LNP in place in Northern Australia. Northern Australia was almost wall to wall LNP territory between Brisbane and Perth. The exceptions were, of course, Lingiari (Northern Territory) and Bob Katter’s own electorate of Kennedy in North Queensland.

There were similar outcomes from other landslides to the federal LNP in 1975 and 1996. Historically, Northern Australia seems to reinforce the trends in national political landslides during the post-Whitlam period after The Dismissal in 1975.

As the next election approaches, the federal LNP still controls six of the ten federal electorates in Northern Australia. There is an element of volatility since the 2016 elections.  Labor gained the Darwin-based seat of Solomon as well as the Townsville-based seat of Herbert. Future Labor candidates should be quite competitive in Leichhardt, Dawson, Capricornia and Flynn.

In the North Western Electorate of Durack in WA, Labor indigenous candidate Carol Martin achieved a strong swing in 2016 in a remote LNP which is much closer to Jakarta than to Canberra itself.

With such a strong LNP mandate from Northern Australia in 2013, the Abbott Government proceeded with a White Paper on Developing Northern Australia. This was published in June 2015 and is available for perusal online.

The CSIRO has already prepared the North Australia Water Resources Assessment. This was released on 11 August 2018. Northern Australia Water Resource Assessment offers a comprehensive assessment of the potential of water resources in the Mitchell, Darwin and Fitzroy Catchments (https://www.csiro.au/en/Research/Major-initiatives/Northern-Australia/Current-work/NAWRA).

The lack of sustainable investment funding for Northern Development is the major barrier to the broad goals of water conservation, regional development and economic diversification across Northern Australia.

Confronting these investment problems is a bipartisan challenge. Care has been taken to involve indigenous communities in rural and regional development.  This contrasts with the occupation strategies of earlier generations.

Journalist Stan Grant laments the events at Mapoon to justify the expansion of bauxite production near Weipa (Quarterly Essay 64, 2016: The Australian Dream: Blood History and Becoming):

By 1963, the year of my birth, the dispossession was continuing. Police came at gunpoint under cover of darkness to Mapoon, an Aboriginal community in Queensland, and they ordered people from their homes and they burned those homes to the ground and they gave land to a bauxite company. And today those people remember that as the ‘Night of the Burning.’

Decades later, Indigenous Gulf of Carpentaria leader Murrandoo Yanner has steered favourable negotiations with New Century Resources to retrieve zinc from vast tailing sites under a progressive Gulf Communities Agreement. Recovery of zinc is part of a rehabilitation scheme for the now exhausted Century Zinc Mine. This extraordinary rehabilitation is occurring inland from Burketown near the indigenous community of Doomadgee and the Lawn Hill (Boodjamulla) National Park.

At another highpoint in the federal LNP’s electoral influence after the 1958 election, the Menzies Government commenced planning work on the Ord River Scheme in the current federal electorate of Durack. This Northern frontier electorate was part of the vast Kalgoorlie. It was Labor heartland in most elections between 1903 and 1975.

When Lake Argyle was opened in 1972, the financial costs of the scheme were becoming apparent and these burdens did not diminish (Shane Wright, Economics Editor, The West Australian 28 July 2017):

The Ord River irrigation scheme has been a $2 billion waste, with each new job costing almost $6 million to create, a report to be released today reveals.

In research that backs criticisms from WA’s Auditor-General, the Left-leaning Australia Institute found just 61 jobs had been generated by the most recent, $334 million investment in the sprawling irrigation area in the State’s north.

Irrigation, backed by government investment, started in the Ord region in the 1960s. Total spending now exceeds $2 billion.

Even after the latest expansion of the Ord scheme, the Australia Institute found that there were just 260 agricultural jobs in the region of which 60 were not related to irrigation.

Despite the market ideology credentials of successive post-war LNP governments, the Menzies Government looked to the Snowy Mountains Scheme as a government-sponsored water conservation model for application in Northern Australia.

The more modest expenditure of the Queensland Government’s Mareeba-Dimbulah Water Supply Scheme (MDWSS) produced better outcomes in the 1950s. MDWSS was well integrated with other regional development ventures that were quite close to Cairns. The policy mix offered hydro-electricity production, extensions of transport infrastructure as well as the processing and orderly marketing of farm output.  

Tourists now flock to local museums to view the icons from the Develop the North eras of previous generations when state and federal governments of both persuasions took similar initiatives.

Iconic Images: Aussie Towns, Mareeba and Historical Australian Towns

The Annual Reports of the now defunct Tobacco Leaf Marketing Board are archived at the state library but far-right parties in North Queensland are still keen to promote Back to the Future Agendas (North Queensland Register 7 August 2018).   Preferences from this political nostalgia are likely to favour to favour the federal LNP in North Australian regional electorates.  

If the electorate is as hooked on economic issues as the current Ipsos Poll suggests, alternatives are needed to the federal LNP’s aberrant oscillation between the extremes of market ideology and implementation of the mega-projects which have just been listed by the CSIRO’s water assessments for Northern Australia.

Having just ditched billions in long-term taxation concessions, it is time to question the funding options which are available to fund the LNP’s Northern Development agendas after the 2018 budget. Time will tell if Prime Minister Morrison wishes to persist with reduced corporate taxes for medium and large corporations.

Despite all the political energies invested in claims about fiscal responsibility since 2013, the Australian Government’s debt to GDP ratio has deteriorated despite cost-cutting and revenue ditching measures by Former Treasurer, Scott Morrison in the 2018 Budget.

An assessment of the consequences of the 2018 budget from the PolicyMod Unit of the ANU criticizes the irresponsibility of revenue losses from changes to personal income taxes in the 2018 budget (The Conversation 1 June 2018):

Using our model of the Australian tax and welfare system, PolicyMod, we projected the incomes of each person in the 20,000 families in the underlying model survey data (the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Survey of Income and Housing 2015-16).

We did this for each year until 2028-29, using the federal budget’s wage assumptions. We then used this to forecast the outcome of the proposed tax cuts and compared it with the effects of maintaining current tax rates.

Our results are remarkably similar to the forecasts of Treasurer Scott Morrison. He has projected a total tax cut between 2018-19 and 2028-29 of A$143 billion, whereas our model puts this figure at A$140 billion.

In the mean-time, the comparative tax policies of successive governments are available for scrutiny (ABC News 12 July 2016). These graphics need to be updated to consider the effects of the 2018 budget.

Time for Alternative Investment Strategies?

In this recent budgetary context, the capacity of the federal government to deliver grants for major water conservation and associated regional development programmes for Northern Australia is strong on rhetorical appeal but weak on the capacity to deliver.

Just completing the Pinnacles Dam on the Palmer River Catchment would cost $755 million according to the best estimates from the CSIRO. Such projects are beyond the resources of the North Australia Investment Fund (NAIF). However, NAIF can be opened to more private sector investment.

Australia’s over-commitment to the US Global Military Alliance has been a complicating factor in the availability of investment funding for Northern Australia. The Trump Administration has counselled Australia against over-participation in China’s Belt and Road Initiatives (BRIs).  

Mainstream reporting cheers on the recent US-sponsored Trilateral Investment Partnership (TIP) between US, Japan and Australia which was discussed with our defence and foreign ministers at the Indo-Pacific Business Forum of the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington just before the recent leadership spill in Canberra Participants in the Trilateral Investment Partnership decided to make a financial commitment to offer alternatives to China’s Belt and Road Initiatives (BRIs) (US Chamber of Commerce 30 July 2018):

WASHINGTON – Today at the Indo-Pacific Business Forum, hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, leaders from the U.S.’s Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), and the Australian government announced a trilateral partnership to invest in infrastructure projects in the Indo-Pacific region that build infrastructure, address key development challenges, increase connectivity, and promote economic growth.

OPIC President and CEO Ray W. Washburne, JBIC Governor Tadashi Maeda, and Australian Embassy Chargé d’affaires Katrina Cooper issued the following joint statement on the trilateral partnership:

“The United States, Japan, and Australia have formed a trilateral partnership to mobilise investment in projects that drive economic growth, create opportunities, and foster a free, open, inclusive and prosperous Indo-Pacific.  We share the belief that good investments stem from transparency, open competition, sustainability, adhering to robust global standards, employing the local workforce, and avoiding unsustainable debt burdens.”

We will uphold these principles as we mobilise investment in infrastructure, such as energy, transportation, tourism, and technology that will help stabilize economies, enhance connectivity, and provide lasting benefits throughout the region. To deepen this trilateral partnership, we are currently developing a framework for cooperation. OPIC is also placing a representative in the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, Japan.”

“As we look to the future, this partnership represents our commitment to an Indo-Pacific region that is free, open and prosperous. By working together, we can attract more private capital to achieve greater results.”

At the U.S. Chamber event, the three aforementioned participants announced future plans for a formalized trilateral Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and OPIC announced the placement of a staff member in the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo to better facilitate cooperation.

Japan has committed to advancing sustainable infrastructure in the Indo-Pacific, and OPIC is coordinating with Japanese partners on co-investment under two bilateral MOUs signed in November 2017 last year. OPIC signed a similar MOU with Australia in February 2018.

Canada’s national broadcaster (CNBC) is highly critical of the tokenism of the Trilateral Investment Fund in the economic diversification of countries across the Indo Pacific Basin (https://www.cnbc.com/2018/07/31/australia-japan-join-us-infrastructure-push-in-asia.html).

While most federal LNP seems to be afraid to offer constructive criticisms of Trump Administration trade and investment controls on the mix of overseas investment into Australia, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) has been more proactive in defence of Australia’s economic stability (AFR 18 September 2018):   

Australia’s economy is at risk of becoming collateral damage in the escalating US-China trade war, economists warned, after President Donald Trump confirmed China would be punished by tariffs on $US200 billion of US imports.

China is expected to swiftly retaliate against Mr Trump’s 10 per cent tariffs, leaving Australia’s export-dependent economy vulnerable to a slowdown in commerce between its two largest trading partners.

The Reserve Bank of Australia’s monetary policy minutes published on Tuesday, based on its September 4 meeting, said “significant tensions around global trade policy” represented a “material risk” to the global economic outlook.

Shiro Armstrong, an economist specialising in Asia at the Australian National University, said with Mr Trump also threatening to impose tariffs on Japanese cars, Australia’s top three export markets were on the brink of entering a risky international economic clash.

Ironically, Australia has been an active investment partner in the Beijing based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) since the last months of the Abbott Government in 2015. Our total financial subscriptions and voting rights in the AIIB are comparable to those taken up by South Korea, the UK, Germany and France which all have approximately $US 3-5 billion in subscriptions.

The AIIB cuts across global ideological divides with almost seventy subscribers. Israel, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are all participants although these states are sometimes at loggerheads in other forums. There is a similar place for both India and Pakistan in the AIIB. India’s financial involvement in the AIIB is substantially larger than that of Russia.

The University of Sydney with the co-operation of financial consultants KPMG has an ongoing avalanche of documents on this issue of Chinese investment (http://apo.org.au/node/175916). The flat-line in levels of Chinese investment in Australia has a multiplier effect on longer-term economic activity here and in the neighbouring countries of the Indo-Pacific Region.

Global capital flows have tightened since the GFC. However, US$6 trillion is still on the move each year (McKinsey Global Institute 2018). This is still 7.1 per cent of the entire global economy which is available to be tapped pragmatically by Australia for priority investment needs like the transformation of Northern Australia to improve regional global food security and to extend the infrastructure, energy transitions and telecommunications of the future.

Fluctuations in capital investment in Australia are extremely volatile in the wake of the mineral and property booms. Net capital flows into Australia in the July Quarter of 2018 are running at half the level of their peak in the September Quarter of 2015.  

Although Chinese investment is dwarfed by investment from the US and even Britain, asset patterns from the latest DFAT data for 2014-15 show remarkable similarities. The (a) qualifier in the Chinese data is used to note the extent of confidentiality provisions. Australia offers no qualification against tax minimization practices by US multinational companies.

Detailed data is not so readily available on the exact component of these capital flows from China and Hong Kong as a Special Autonomous Region (SAR) of China for the current June Quarter of 2018. Back in 2017, only 5.56 per cent of capital flows to Australia originated in China and Hong Kong combined. The US (27.46 per cent) and Britain (14.74 per cent) topped the sources of capital flows (DFAT 13 June 2018).

There is no reason for Chinese investment to be subjected to special controls which are not justified by accountable security considerations. Given the poor coverage of electronic communication in Northern Australia, lower cost providers like Huawei can assist in overcoming the tyranny of distance through new BRI and other Asian investment initiatives.

Progressive investment options are needed to deliver Australia’s Northern Development agendas is just one test of national economic policy competence. The federal LNP’s rhetoric on Northern Development is appealing. Its delivery strategies are an exercise in Back to the Future Politics which are always cheered on by the far-right parties to deliver those preferences which just might protect key LNP members in North Australian seats.

Denis Bright (pictured) is a registered teacher and a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis has recent postgraduate qualifications in journalism, public policy, and international relations. He is interested in promoting discussion to advance pragmatic public policies that are compatible with contemporary globalization.

PM steps up religious crusade

By Brian Morris

Australia has already been described as a ‘soft theocracy’.  The question is, despite the public showing less religiosity, will a more overtly Christian PM subvert the nation’s preference for secular values?

Australia has continued to move steadily towards progressive policy – most notably to finally legalise same-sex marriage last year.  But that came at a cost. To ensure the law was passed – and to placate the religious right of his party — the then PM, Malcolm Turnbull, set up a review of ‘religious freedom’ which was headed by former Attorney General Philip Ruddock.

Few in the secular community believed any of the 20 recommendations – handed by Ruddock to Turnbull in May – would gain passage through parliament.  Religions already enjoy a swathe of religious privileges.

But elevation to the position of PM – by devout Pentecostal, Scott Morrison – has substantially changed the prospect of new laws to provide exclusive religious benefits – to a dwindling Christian constituency.

Morrison made his Christian worldview quite clear in his maiden speech to parliament and in December last year, as Treasurer, he trumpeted that he was on a crusade to protected religion; “particularly the one I and many other Christians subscribe to.”

In a television interview with Sky News on Monday night, Scott Morrison said he was displeased with the level of free speech given to Christians and freedom of religion generally; “So there’s nothing wrong with a bit of preventative regulation and legislation to ensure your religious freedom in this country.”

Such comments do not augur well for a secular Australia.  The rise of religious conservatism in federal parliament, together with external pressure from groups such as the Australian Christian Lobby, was evidenced during the acrimonious religious campaign against same-sex marriage.

Indeed, manifestations from fundamentalists have been evident since the Prime Ministership of John Howard.  That history was well established by the professor of politics, Marion Maddox, in her 2005 book; “God under Howard; the Rise of the Religious Right in Australia.”

And recent comments by former Liberal MP, Mal Washer, put into stark perspective the degree to which evangelical Christianity has become enmeshed within federal politics.

Washer, who laments the political denial of science, is unabashed in his concern.  He took Tony Abbott to task on religious lobbying to ban the abortion drug RU486, and also on stem cell research.  He said, “I fought this type of religious ideology right through.

He goes on to say the Liberal Party is increasingly influenced by the religious right and becoming more distant on crucial issues, “on climate science, on women’s rights, on freedom of choice on abortion, on new ideas about sexuality … Basically, they are out of date and out of step with community views.”

That is born out by the 2016 census where 30 per cent of the nation said they had “no religion” – the largest cohort among all groups that recorded their religious affiliation. And the level of secular commitment was further established in a national IPSOS poll that showed 78 per cent of Australians thought it important “to separate personal religious beliefs from the business of government.

So a primary concern for the secular community is that the religious right will mobilise under the stewardship of the new PM.  Scott Morrison is one of many parliamentarians known to be Pentecostal — a brand of Christianity that believes the Old Testament (as well as the New) is the “inerrant Word of God”.  That includes the anti-scientific view that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old, that Noah and other Genesis stories, are all true.

Philip Ruddock’s religious freedom review received more than 16,000 submissions – the overwhelming majority coming from pro-forma submissions organised by Christian churches and various religious lobbies.  That is evident from those published on the Review website.

The religious zeal of Christian parliamentarians is now fired by Scott Morrison.  “If you don’t have freedom of your faith, of your belief – and in whatever religion that is – then you don’t have freedom in this country at all.”

This is blatantly false and misleading because Australians do have religious freedom:

  • Moreover, many state and federal laws, including equal opportunity and anti-discrimination laws, explicitly protect freedom of religion through various exemptions.

A “secular Australia” is the best guarantee for a wholly inclusive and pluralistic society where one person’s freedom doesn’t come at the cost of another’s.  This current push for “religious liberty” will have serious, negative implications for Australia’s free, secular and egalitarian future.

———————————————————————————————————

Brian Morris is a director of www.nationalsecularlobby.org which is committed to promoting the full sweep of social issues covered by secular politics.  He is the author of ‘Sacred to Secular’.

From Aristophanes to Knight Or “Is something else going here?”

By George Theodoridis

It is a case -as it bloody nearly always is- of relevance deprivation and diminution, thanks mainly to the prodigious proliferation and ever burgeoning of social platforms and the largely bored hoi polloi, bored by celebrities who have nothing to offer but the empty, irrelevant minutiae of their lives. The celebrities, like the emperor in the famous tale by Hans C. Anderson, have shown the full nakedness of their existence.

So, they’re out and about -celebrities of all sorts- and they are using anything and everything they can, including cartoons, as platforms (already well lit up by their adoring hoi polloi,) to stand upon it and yell at us, “hey, look here! Here I am! This way! I am a celebrity, listen to my rants, watch my outrages! I can still perform! I’m still a celebrity. Someone give me another contract!”

This includes the cartoonists themselves, of course, the tennis players, the hollow-headed authors like Rawlings whose credentials as moral and art arbiters are questionable if, quite arguably, non-existent.

This is a cartoon by a satirist and all satirical messages, from those by the very first ever and arguably the very best ever, Aristophanes, (c. 446 – c. 386 BC) whose world was no better nor worse than ours, if political chicanery is the measure, to Knight (born c. 1960s) all satirical messages are about exaggeration, exaggeration about everything from the shape of one’s nose to the shape of one’s words, to the colour of their budgie smugglers and the pitch of their Hanson-like squealing. Cartoonists are satirists and the identifying first sign of a satirist is exaggeration. No exaggeration, no satirist. It’s that simple! The other sign is that they condemn or criticise, or ridicule someone in a powerful position, be it in the political sphere or in the social one. From fathers of children to fathers of the Church or the State. Aristophanes depicted most brutally politicians Cleon among many, a Military man, Lamachus among many and philosophers, Socrates, among many. Most brutally!

We can like that sort of thing or we can hate it and we can express that love or hate by any means we can. Cartoonists do it by drawing cartoons.

Knight is a satirist and he did his satirical work, not only on Serena but on many other people, and did it in his own inimitable style which we all know and -as I said- either love or hate, laugh at or spat the dummy at. I can’t remember any such similar bellowing noise and social media turbulence generated by any of his other drawings, all of them satirical, all of them critical of someone or other.

Serena mucked up badly. Knight portrayed that.

Here we have a glowing emblem of an athlete, an icon of the best of them, rightly adored and admired by millions, acting like a spoilt child, “spitting her dummy,” as Knight put it. Something that does not fit that icon. Not at all! She happens to be black. Her opponent was an American-Japanese. Both were women, both non-anglos. The umpire was a non-anglo too and would most definitely have felt the excruciating pains of racism -as have I and anyone with even the slightest difference in the spelling of their name or the shape or colour of the skin on their face. No doubt, Carlos Ramos, the umpire would have heard the word “dago” as I have heard the word “wog” (among many other equally vile epithets) countless of times and felt its mind-numbing, stomach-churning jab often. He would know the excruciating hurt that racism can cause and he -as do I- would try his utmost to avoid delivering racism to anyone.

It also so happens that he is a male.

Would this ridiculously outraged, bigoted crowd, feel better or as bad if the incident were reversed and it was Osaka on the receiving end of the umpire’s penalties?

What the fuck are they on about?

Knight did the same thing many times before and is unlike to stop now -probably especially now and probably especially because he is now a celebrity. He sees the bullshit and he calls it for what it is and he draws a cartoon about it, satirising it. The bullshit, that is.

The Herald reminds us of these cartoons, also by Knight: Tony Abbott depicted as Hannibal Lecter with the caption “Banned: Big ears, cannibal mask,” and a topless Kim Jong-un with the words “Blocked: Belly fat, Asian stereotype.”

I can only conclude that all these “celebrities” from all over the world who have added their penny’s worth, thinking it was worth a pound, commented on this issue because they are desperate to be seen again and to be read again and to be listened to again and to be re-admired and, so as to jog our memory about their vacuous existence. They did so because they saw this incident as a platform, a stage where they can jump on and once again play the prima donna or the primo uomo.

The rest of us, the non-celebrities, we are either rational enough to see that there’s nothing to see here or not rational enough and so we behave like gangs of cowardly thugs who put the boot into some who’s down. A boot, by the way, which I and as I said the umpire, have felt and still feel now, at times, most painfully. Being kicked like that leaves great scars on you, scars that can flay not only your body but also your soul, scares that never leave you.

And, let us not forget that the umpire is a male who sits high up, above a couple of females -in the form of an idea as well as in that of reality- and it is therefore unequivocally and duty bound, in fact, ok for us to put our boot into him!

And that the cartoonist, of course, is a male also and also with a power mightier than a sword, and therefore it is also unequivocally and duty bound in fact, ok for us to put our boot into him as well!

The other reason is that, as a gang, we love to hate. We love to kick, we love to shout and show outrage. It’s an easy thing to do and, to some sick minds, it’s also an entertaining thing and something that gives us the power we have lost in almost all other areas of our lives. We’ve been made lesser in worth and dignity than overloaded donkeys, so we “kick.” We kick at anything and anyone, given half an opportunity. Knight’s cartoon has all the makings of such an opportunity for us to exert some of the power that’s been taken away from us.

Are we saying that the umpire is racially prejudiced against blacks but not against yellows?  What sort of racial prejudice is that?

Are we saying that Knight has similar predilections to those of Carlos Ramos? WTF  ARE we really saying? Whom are we accusing of what exactly and why? Based on what evidence?

Racial history of the world is brought into the court. Questions about the umpire’s integrity are raised or comments are made about Serena’s glowing sportsmanship, or about the umpire’s inconsistency of awarding penalties and Zeus knows what else, are all proffered to the judge as evidence that something is dreadfully wrong here! But none of these questions and comments and exhibits should even be heard or seen by the judge or us the jury.

They are all irrelevant to what had happened in that court on that day. They have nothing to do with the participants playing that particular game of tennis. They are simply hollow drums beating wildly! Loud shouts of wannabe celebrities. Loud shouts of hollow heads. Blistered tongues talking bullshit like our Prime Minister is so keen to do almost non-stop!

None of it should persuade the Goddess Justice, who should be blindfolded and unable to be persuaded by anything outside that single event on that single day in that single court.

Racism, misogynism, prejudice of any sort is disgusting. Utterly unacceptable to a society that wants to call itself civilised. So is bigotry, even if our erstwhile attorney general, George Brandis is otherwise convinced. According to him, we have the right to be bigots… but not be racist!  

Well, Zeus be praised now it’s all made very clear!

Over sixty thousand years of Indigenous history of white torture has always and still is being treated with neglect, scorn and disdain but we’ve spent copious amounts of ink and intolerable decibels of noise arguing about the depiction by a cartoonist of a tantrum thrown by a tennis player. The hypocrisy is exasperating! The outrage is baffling.

Is it racism, sexism or is it cultural supremacism by the supreme supremacists we all know supremely well?

Just asking.

Serena has done wrong. The umpire penalised her.
END OF FUCKING STORY!

Henceforth it has become a boring ochlobabble!

Can we now shine our torch on the new champion, the new real sportsperson, the youth, the serene, the graceful and gracious, the true lover of tennis and not of vacuous notoriety, Naomi Osaka, please?

She beat the other player. She won the match. She did not yell or insult the umpire and -may the gods bless the young woman- she played by the rules, such a rare thing these days of spoilt sports and overpaid celebrities.

Yes, Naomi Osaka had won the match and the day. Three cheers for Naomi!

PLEASE?

What do think tanks think?

By Henry Johnston

Auguste Rodin’sThe Thinker is universally regarded as a symbol of science and philosophy. But Rodin originally called it The Poet as a detail of a larger work known as The Gates of Hell to be used as an entrance to a Parisian museum. Neither the museum nor the bronze doors — the Gates of Hell — were built.

Rodin was born in 1840 and died in 1917. In 1848 eight years after his birth, Karl Marx wrote The Manifesto of the Communist Party. In the year of Rodin’s death in 1917, communism swept away the Romanov dynasty and changed the world forever.

For more than a century scientists, philosophers, poets and artists – like The Thinker — pondered these and other events.  But a strange phenomenon which evolved in the 1970s, irrevocably changed the way citizens think.

A coterie of American business people came up with an idea to outsource critical thinking. Though not new, the notion was informed by free-market philosophy. Decades on and think tanks impact our lives almost without our knowledge.

George Lakoff an adviser to the U.S Democrat Party published a book entitled Don’t Think of an Elephant. Lakoff has also penned at least seven other books, but Don’t Think of an Elephant goes to the heart of the conservative think tank movement.

Lakoff traces the history of modern think tank to Nixon-era America. The US was wracked by the obscenity of the Vietnam War, and capitalism in genuine peril. During this seminal time, America’s best and brightest turned away from traditional conservative business pursuits.  

Lewis Powell, a doyen of the conservative movement, wrote to the US Chamber of Commerce encouraging the business community to endow professorships and institutes at major American universities. Powell also called for the establishment of lavishly funded private foundations for hand-picked scholars. These foundations would provide their ‘fellows’ the tools to conduct research for subsequent publication in journals and magazines. Powell argued the US business community should own the means of publication and take control of media and communications. Sound familiar? The model has boomed over the last 50 years.

So how does a think tank work? As a cognitive scientist, Lakoff is an expert in the mechanisms behind the framing of public discourse. Consider a ‘frame’ as a conceptual structure. Lakoff uses the simple notion of a bottle. Look at one and you think liquid. No real effort involved. Next, frame a public discourse, let’s say, ‘we must follow the law,’ or as Malcolm Turnbull said, “and the court shall so hold”. But before the discourse is unleashed, a phalanx of media and communications strategists, book expensive TV and radio airtime and ensure acres of coverage in the slower print media. Behold. The rationale is rolled out to an unsuspecting public. Consider programmes such as Q&A and The Drum on ABC TV, talk shows on 2GB in Sydney and its equivalents around the country, or The Project on the TEN Network, not to mention different radio programmes on ABC Radio National and Sky after Dark.

Nowadays the media is awash with think tankers. Gerard Henderson, Parnell McGuinness, Georgina Downer to name a few from the right. From the left, we have Jenny Hocking, Stephen Fitzgerald, and Margaret Wilson, and in the centre, Ben Oquist of the Australia Institute There is the Sydney Institute, the Whitlam and Chifley institutes and Tom Switzer of the Centre for Independent Studies. But the stellar performer of Australian think tanks is the Institute of Public Affairs led by its Magister Ludi, John Roskam.

The IPA website proclaims it, “accepts no government funding, and is supported by thousands of individual members and donors; your tax-deductible donation to IPA research will ensure the IPA remains a loud voice for freedom in Australia”.

The IPA which, like its American counterparts, recruits the best and brightest, (IPA staff list here https://ipa.org.au/people-ipa ) is in my opinion, a defacto policy arm of the state and liberal governments. Over the years Liberal government sacked independent public servants who routinely applied SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis to policy development.

The IPA is the antithesis of Rodin’s vision of science and philosophy. If you are sceptical about my claim, read Jennifer Marohasy’s critique of the Bureau of Meteorology. This clap-trap is just one missile in the institute’s arsenal of weapons deployed in the on-going war against climate change science.

The nation’s greatest publicly funded think tank the Australian Broadcasting Corporation remains in the crosshairs of the right. And Australian universities are not far behind. Somehow the Australian National University managed to survive a right-wing onslaught led by Tony Abbott on behalf of the Ramsay Centre, to establish a degree course in western civilization.

Expect more of the same.

If think tanks continue to presume to dictate the national philosophical and scientific agenda, it is only fair their financial backers are exposed to public scrutiny.  Thus if the IPA’s Darcy Allen is prepared to argue The Case for Personal Income Tax Cuts (IPA, 5 December 2015) it follows the status of think tank tax-deductibility should be scrutinised by the Australian Tax Office. Consider this gem by Darcy Allen, albeit out of context; Australia would do well to make our income tax system more simple and transparent – clearing out our attic of special interests. Special interests indeed!

The time is at hand for Australians to think for ourselves rather than outsource our cognitive discourses to privately funded institutions, which do the bidding of unnamed and unseen patrons.

Henry Johnston is a Sydney-based author. His latest book, The Last Voyage of Aratus is on sale here https://tasmania-40-south.myshopify.com/products/last-voyage-of-aratus-the-by-henry-johnston-pb

Marketing Pixiedust

Regardless of the prognostications of politics in Australia, the ‘message’ delivered by politicians from the larger parties is always professional, well-rehearsed and well delivered. Even as the dust was settling on the Turnbull/Dutton/Morrison brouhaha recently, Morrison had his message sorted (‘he’s representing us’ in case you didn’t pick up on it). It’s just like a marketing person wrote it (because in all probability, one did).

While the messaging may change over time and the truth of the message is somewhat hidden when it suits that particular side of politics, the message is clear and repeated parrot fashion at every chance that is given, even if it doesn’t answer the question originally posed. Soon after the latest coup, newly minted Treasurer Frydenberg was on ABCTV’s Insiders program as the studio guest. After rattling off the current LNP talking points and deferring commentary on the mechanics of the recent brouhaha to the ‘commentators on the couch’, Barrie Cassidy asked him effectively if he wanted to expand on what had been said. The response was no, we’ve mentioned growth, jobs, the Labor Party would wreck our economic settings and I’m not commenting on the spill. While it wasn’t said, the implication was I’ve done the list of dot points from LNP HQ; I’m good but thanks for asking.

If Cassidy had asked Frydenberg something about government policy from another portfolio, it is pretty certain that he could have given a response demonstrating some knowledge of the current policy while suggesting that the relevant minister would be on top of the detail. And fair enough too, you would hope the Education Minister would know more about education than the Treasurer. However, as they spend time around the cabinet table and the various policy creation mechanisms within the Coalition, they should have a reasonable knowledge of what the government plans to do across all the portfolios that have to exist to run the country.

This is more likely to happen than if you ask the Palmers, Katters, Hansons and Bernardis of this world. As proven in the Turnbull era debate on company tax cuts, Hanson was against, then for, then against the mechanism. Bernardi is preaching a return to ‘the good old days’ (while probably having a quiet chuckle about how August 2018 panned out for his ex-colleagues). Palmer is a series of billboards at this stage while Katter still hasn’t publicly rebuked his newest Senator’s maiden speech.

We also have some additional evidence that right-wing politicians are not necessarily across all that they should be. You may have missed something amongst the Turnbull/Dutton ‘will they, won’t they, Nah — they couldn’t be THAT stupid, oh — hang on they can’, events of August.

ZDF, a German broadcasting network, as a part of a regular series of interviews with domestic political leaders, interviewed one of their ‘far right’ leaders. Thomas Walde, the interviewer, made the decision to ask Alexander Gauland, the co-leader of Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, questions that related to policies his party should have that were unrelated to the usual ‘far right’ agenda.

According to US publication, The Atlantic the network teased the interview on Twitter as dealing with “climate change, retirement, digitalization—and without refugees.”

The resulting 19-minute interview, in which Gauland struggles to answer basic questions about his party’s positions on such issues, has been lauded by opponents of the AfD as masterful. Supporters of the AfD and Gauland himself panned it as biased. The ZDF journalist Thomas Walde, who conducted the interview, repeatedly pushed Gauland to clarify or explain statements made by his fellow party members — and asked more than once about proposed policy “alternatives” from a party that counts the word alternative as part of its name.

Regardless of whether you agree with them or not, the Liberals, Labor, Nationals and Greens do have readily available policies on most if not all of the requirements to manage a modern democracy that their elected politicians can elaborate on. Pauline Hanson has demonstrated time and time again that she has no idea of education, economics or finance. Cory Bernardi claims to be ‘a better way’ and his policies are listed on his website, but a couple of paragraphs on selected topics doesn’t give much certainty that there is any underlying substance. Clive Palmer has a number of electronic billboards with vague slogans like ‘Make Australia Great’ and ‘Put Australia First’ accompanied by his photo and a representation of the Australian flag — but no contact details or references to where you can find out what he represents.

As an example, imagine if Bob Katter was asked by an interviewer about the benefits of ‘congestion-busting’ public transport funding in Australia’s capital cities? We know what happens if Katter is challenged — it was on show for all to see outside Queensland’s Parliament House early in September when his media conference was convened in close proximity to a local university’s ‘Socialist Alternative’ protest in support of refugees. The results were not edifying or encouraging.

If right-wing ‘single issue’ Australian politicians who crave publicity but can only deliver rainbow unicorns and pixiedust as solutions to the majority of issues facing this country were interviewed carefully ignoring their ‘special subjects’, it may show the real character behind the façade of Australia’s popularist politicians. It worked in the ZDF interview with Alexander Gauland and many years ago, 4ZZZ, then owned by the University of Queensland Student Union, asked then Queensland Premier Bjelke-Petersen the same question over 50 times without getting a genuine answer but making a really good point.

If you want to be a politician, shouldn’t you have to have positions on all aspects of government, and wouldn’t it be good to see if the right-wing micro parties do?

What do you think?

This article by 2353NM was originally published on The Political Sword.

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Valuing the Aspirational

Over the past few years, politicians, in general, have spoken of motivating those with an aspiration to better themselves across the country. The conservatives will tell you that granting tax cuts to business and building coal-fired power stations will make those businesses more profitable and those profits will be returned to the public through increased wages and job opportunities. The progressives will counter that the best way to increase wages and job opportunities is to ensure those requirements are directly funded through targeted government grants and government funded capital works.

While their methods may vary and both methods have their proponents, the pros and cons can wait for another day. Never the less, we all routinely aspire to improve what we perceive to be our current position in life so if you look at the big picture, the politicians are right.

People are aspirational, otherwise, how do we explain the millions of people paying money for a statistically slight chance of untold wealth to improve their quality of life in one of the many forms of gambling permitted across Australia every week? We could also use the number of people that will queue outside Apple and Samsung stores the day the latest greatest mobile phone is released, all willingly prepared to dispose of their existing perfectly good and functional mobile phone because it isn’t the latest model, as a demonstration of aspirational behaviour.

Those that routinely change the car when the new generation model is released, commit to another mortgage to move to the ‘better end’ of the suburb, the ‘better’ postcode, the catchment of the ‘better’ public school or in fact send their child to private school also demonstrate the innate need to strive for something perceived to be better.

So why do we as a nation readily accept that the newer phone, car or ‘better’ house are worthwhile aims, have politicians that commit to the concept and yet deliberately penalise some who are aspiring to a better life? Refugees who attempt to come to Australia are attempting to create a better life for themselves or their families. It is worth pointing out yet again here that people seeking asylum can do so at any point of their journey from their ‘home’ country and there is no ‘queue’ to start the process under the UN’s 1951 Refugee Convention (incidentally signed by Australia’s then Prime Minister and founder of the Liberal Party, Robert Menzies).

Since World War 2, Australia has had a constant flow of refugees. A significant number of people have come from southern Europe, South East Asia and the Middle East. The possibly not so obvious connection between those countries and Australia is that when the particular ethnic group was seeking asylum, Australia and ‘our allies’ were (or had just finished) attempting to bomb the country to oblivion. Others have come from areas of the world that have suffered considerable environmental or economic hardship, generally not well supported by Australian aid efforts, such as parts of Africa.

It’s probably fair to say that deciding to leave your family, familiar surroundings, country and embark on a risky journey without a certain conclusion takes far more determination and demonstrates far more aspirational behaviour than the slight financial pain incurred to someone who can afford to purchase a new mobile phone or fund the relocation of goods and chattels as well as suffering while finding the ‘good’ coffee shop in their new locality.

The abuses to those that are sentenced to exist in sub-human conditions on Nauru and Manus Island because Australia won’t live up to our obligations are well known and documented. Some, who are fortunate enough to tick the right boxes at some stage on their journey to what they perceive to be safety, are permitted to land in Australia. Sadly, a number of these people are victimised for political gain by the same politicians that are claiming to assist the aspirational.

The RMIT/ABC Factcheck Unit recently assessed the claim that African Gangs were again making Melbourne unsafe, this time due to a recent brawl in Collingwood with 200 people apparently involved. It’s an ‘easy’ headline in an environment where a state election is due in a couple of months and the Liberal Party opposition is running on a ‘law and order’ platform. The headline is also demonstrably wrong, the percentage of crime in Melbourne committed by ‘African Gangs’ is around 1%, less than the percentage of crime committed by Australians (obviously) as well as those committed by a number of other nationalities including Indians, New Zealanders and those from the UK. The same dog-whistle was used by the same culprits during the ‘super Saturday’ by-elections as a sop to the those who intended to vote One Nation in Longman (based in northern Brisbane and next to Dutton’s marginal seat of Dickson) and it resulted in an almost 4% increase in the ALP two-party preferred vote.

The Liberal Party can’t have it both ways. If they are there to reward the aspirational, it demonstrates far more aspiration and a belief that life can get better to move away from your known world into a different culture halfway across the world than buying a new mobile phone or increasing the mortgage to purchase the higher specification large 4WD vehicle (on the off chance that one day you will take it off-road). To penalise one and praise the other is duplicity, if not racism.

What do you think?

This article by 2353NM was originally published on The Political Sword.

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Slow Learners

By Ad Astra

I’m using the term ‘slow learners’ not to demean those who suffer intellectual difficulties, but to categorize those with sound intellect who nonetheless seem unable to grasp the meaning of the events that are occurring about them every day, unable to learn from them, and unable to make any change to their behaviour.

I am referring particularly to politicians, utterly ensnared as they are in the game of adversarial politics, who seem unable to grasp its iniquity, and even less willing to do anything about what they accept as the norm for the Westminster system of government.

It came as a surprise to me to read in PerthNow that Julie Bishop, recoiling in the wake of the bullying of female Coalition members by Dutton forces during the recent leadership upheavals, had vehemently criticized ’the relentlessly competitive and adversarial nature of Federal politics.’ She went on to blast ’parliamentary question time as an “embarrassing circus”’.

Bishop has been a member of parliament since 1998, and a Minister since 2003. Yet it is just now that we hear her calling out adversarial politics. She herself has indulged in it enthusiastically, notably after Julia Gillard’s ‘misogyny speech’. We all know that adversarial behaviour has been a curse for eons. But it seems that she needed the outrage of the bullying of her female colleagues to loosen her tongue.

It was almost ten years ago that I wrote The curse of adversarial politics on The Political Sword. The piece spelt out its nature, its methods, its malevolence, and the curse it wreaks on our politics. I draw on this piece to make my case that nothing has changed – adversarial politics continues unabated – our politicians are ‘slow learners’.

We see adversarial politics every day when the proposals put forward by one party are routinely criticised by other parties. Any stance taken by the proposer is automatically opposed, whatever its merits.

While it is a part of routine parliamentary debate, its most brazen form is seen in Question Time. There, the opposition tries to embarrass or demean the government with malicious questions delivered with a sneer, or the government tries to upend the opposition with Dorothy Dixers that always have a twist in the tail. There is no subtlety to the questions, only barefaced antagonism.

Not only is it unedifying to witness this behaviour among our lawmakers, its awfulness is compounded by the sheer delight our politicians exhibit while playing this puerile game.

They see it as a sport and play it just as do schoolyard bullies fighting for dominance. Although it’s disgusting, sickening, even repellent to voters, politicians seem not to realize how revolting their behaviour appears to the electorate. They have Tin Ears, deaf to the feelings of the people, just as they were to the bullying behaviour we all saw during the recent leadership struggle when the rude response to the complaints of female colleagues was: ‘toughen up’. Get used to it girls summed up this appalling conduct.

Language fashions and changes perceptions.

Adversarial language is used to embarrass, put down, demean or diminish. It is designed to give the user a ‘win’. Far from condemning it, journalists and the media revel in the ‘great copy’ it gives them.

They enjoy using well-worn words to signify a change of mind: ‘back-flip’ or a ‘humiliating back-down’. They revel in describing opponents’ ideas as being in ‘tatters’, in ‘disarray’, ‘a shambles’, or ‘chaotic’.

Slogans are central to adversarial politics. They work. Start a catchy slogan and soon many will be mindlessly repeating it. A slogan doesn’t have to have any substance, so long as it sounds believable. Favourites include: ‘stunt’, ‘all style and no substance’, ‘all talk and no action’. ‘Tax’ is a pet subject. Remember how Abbott flailed Labor with his ‘carbon tax’ and ‘mining tax’. Reflect on Morrison’s current slogan about how Labor will ‘increase taxes on everything’.

Those who despise adversarial politics find it to be contemptible. It is why the public has turned away from politics and become cynical about politicians. Voters would prefer politicians to be open and upfront, more focussed on the good of the nation, less willing to corrupt the principles that brought them into politics in the first place. They would prefer that political discourse be more collaborative, more mutually cooperative, more accommodating, based more on consensus.

What can we ordinary citizens do? We might be able to bring about change if we raise our voices against the use of exaggerated, depreciatory, derogatory and dishonest language by politicians, commentators and columnists. While the media might miss the theatre and the good copy adversarial politics provides, the public would applaud a more measured approach, free from the burden of this behaviour – so wasteful, so unproductive, so distasteful. We could and should write to our parliamentarians, again and again. Sadly though, if history tells us anything, any change for the better is probably a slim hope.

Which brings me back to the title of this piece: ‘Slow learners’. It was ten years ago that I wrote about the curse of adversarial politics, but what has changed? Nothing.

Politicians are not unintelligent. They need not be slow learners. Yet their Tin Ears seem unable to hear the public’s loathing of adversarial politics and the anger it generates among voters. So they continue with it anyway.

They are indeed slow learners, very slow learners. It may take a strong electoral backlash to ‘learn them’!

This article by Ad Astra was originally published on The Political Sword.

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The Base

By 2353NM

Everyone in the building industry will tell you the maxim to ‘measure twice and cut once’. Given the events of August 2018 in the Liberal Party, it is clearly something that failed challenger Peter Dutton and his henchmen, apparently including Finance Minister Cormann, should remember next time. Dutton lost the first ‘spill motion’ 35 to 48 early in the week; you’d have to question his judgement in thinking that he could turn it around so fast to try it again on Thursday. After all, it took Turnbull months to dispose of Abbott!

Regardless of how he got there, Scott Morrison is now Prime Minister, with Josh Frydenberg as Deputy Liberal Leader and Treasurer. They claim to be a generational change and while Morrison is younger than Turnbull (and Abbott), a number of Turnbull’s Ministers either kept their jobs or played musical chairs around the Cabinet Table. While the usual players are promising ‘no wrecking’ and ‘no backstabbing’, to be honest, you wouldn’t be the only one who thought there isn’t a great deal of belief that the promises will be kept.

When Senator Fierravanti-Wells resigned from the Turnbull Ministry in late August, she accused Turnbull of ignoring ‘the conservative base’. So who is this ‘base’?

According to The Conversation, there are about 50,000 members of the Liberal Party in Australia. While 50,000 people scattered across Australia sounds like a lot — really it isn’t. The AFL Grand Final is a few weeks away and there is usually a capacity crowd at the MCG to witness the contest. According to this report, the MCG has a capacity of 100,024 people. So, the entire membership of the Liberal Party is around half the crowd at the AFL Grand Final.

Given that around 50% of the Liberal Party seemed to support Turnbull before Dutton and his conspirators started working the phones, and the same-sex marriage plebiscite thingy showed (like the opinion polls) that around 61% of those that took the time to vote supported the progressive position, it’s easy to suggest for the purposes of discussion that a little over half of the Liberal Party membership would identify as supporting ‘some measures’ in accordance with Turnbull’s publicly stated positions. The rest wouldn’t. Again, to visualise it, half the crowd at the AFL final is a member of the Liberal Party and slightly under half of those members are apparently conservative, so a little under a quarter of the crowd at the MCG in late September would represent ‘the conservative Liberal Party base’ that doesn’t support managing emissions and if the truth be known, doesn’t see the imminent danger of unfettered climate change.

Turnbull clearly (and some would say cynically) delayed the inevitable by insisting on the Solicitor-General investigating if Dutton was eligible to sit in Parliament as he has interests in Childcare Centres that receive government benefits, as well as asking his Parliamentary Whip to contact each Party Member to confirm they did sign the petition to call a spill. Obviously, Turnbull was giving Morrison some time to ‘work the phones’ as well as Dutton. You would have to ask why Turnbull would have concocted any of these plans if he didn’t think that Morrison would be the least-worst option for a change of leadership.

So Morrison has a problem. 2GB’s Ray Hadley fired a broadside across the newly minted PM the day after he was elected to the position by giving ‘free’ advice on how to remain in favour — broadly follow an ultra-conservative agenda that appeals to the conservative base of his political party. So much for the remaining 24,975,000 of us that new PM Morrison claims he is working for as if the entire population of Australia was considered, the leadership challenges in 2018 would not have occurred.

As discussed on The Conversation’s website, the right-wing media has given a megaphone to the reactionary end of the Liberal Party to the complete disregard of those that don’t have the ultra-conservative beliefs of people like Ray Hadley.

Inside Story discusses the successes of the past 18 political leadership challenges across Australia — click through for the gory detail. Let’s just say that there are few ‘successful’ outcomes here. Given that two of Turnbull’s antagonists, Abbott and Joyce, are fervently against anything that could be remotely considered as measuring or managing carbon emissions, and given that people such as Malcolm Turnbull’s son are claiming they couldn’t in all conscience vote for the Liberal Party that won’t help Morrison either.

Even more, ironically, the battle for the hearts and minds of Australia mounted by the ultra-conservatives since Abbott overthrew Turnbull in 2009 have been about the politics of reducing carbon emissions from the generation of electricity. The claim is that any reduction through the use of alternatives to coal will make electricity too expensive for ‘the average Australian’. The fact is that power prices don’t even make the top 10 items in the household budget although the price has been increasing at a rate greater than inflation. As far back as 2012, there were media reports that ‘environmental factors’ were not the main contributor to the rising power prices for domestic consumers; it was the excessive expenditure on the ‘poles and wires’ — the infrastructure that moves the electricity from the generating plant to our homes. In other words, the ultra-conservatives have been drawing attention to the increasing price of power, drawing attention to the increasing use of renewables and making the conclusion that renewables have increased the price. The ultra-conservatives’ campaign for the past 10 years has been built on a lie.

Morrison has seen at first hand the damage that Abbott and his bunch of sycophants can do to his political party and the Australian Government. If Morrison’s pitch is about being there for all of us he could start on the right foot by acknowledging the 24,975,000 (or thereabouts) of us not in the Liberal Party’s conservative faction also have a voice. He could demonstrate this by passing legislation and regulation that do care about the economy and environment we are leaving for our kids and telling Abbott and Co to pull their heads in. Then and only then can Morrison start to rebuild democracy in Australia to some semblance of what it should be, rather than assisting to wreck it.

Unfortunately, Morrison’s choices so far demonstrate he doesn’t have the capability to do so, and the minority of the crowd win again.

What do you think?

This article by 2353NM was originally published on The Political Sword.

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Get Used To It Girls

By Ad Astra

The Liberal Party has a disastrous affliction.

It affects many of its male members. It seems to be incurable. Those that suffer it are unaware of its presence.

In the Party’s official diagnostic nomenclature it is designated: ‘Tin Ear’.

There are two versions of this male condition:
Familial Tin Ear that afflicts those from a privileged background where unawareness of how the rest of the world lives has always prevailed, and
Acquired Tin Ear that afflicts lesser mortals who battle to survive the slings and arrows of daily life. Tired, they find it easier to be deaf to what they prefer not to hear.

There are two dominant symptoms:
Deafness to changing societal attitudes, and
Deafness to the behaviour of their male colleagues.

Sufferers yearn for the good old days when ‘the boys’ club’ held sway.

The condition was starkly exposed when Julia Banks, Liberal member for the marginal seat of Chisholm, announced that she would not be a Liberal candidate at the next election because she was fed up with “vindictive, mean-spirited grudges” and a culture of “bullying and intimidation” in the Party, so barefacedly exhibited during the hostile removal of Malcolm Turnbull in an attempt to install Peter Dutton.

Not only was she appalled by the removal of a sitting prime minister, she was dismayed by the bullying tactics of the Dutton camp trying to solicit her vote. Having given up a promising career in law and business to enter politics, she prepares now to leave – bitterly disappointed with politics and her colleagues.

But what was the response of her male counterparts?

Backbencher Craig Kelly told Sky News: “I think that you’ve got to roll with the punches in this game. We’re political parties. It’s a rough-and-tumble game.”

Victorian Liberal president Michael Kroger denied claims of bullying within the party. Describing politics as “a rough business”, he insisted that neither the party’s state director nor chief government whip had received any official complaints of bullying or intimidation. His Tin Ear had heard nothing.

In other words girls, this notion of bullying is nonsense, a figment of your female imagination. And what’s more, if you really want to play in a man’s world, to engage in the rough and tumble of politics, get used to the punches, and learn to roll with them. Don’t complain. If it’s too hot in the political kitchen, quit. Leave it to the men! At least they know how to handle roughhouse tactics!

Women MPs might have expected some support from their female colleagues, but Liberal senator Helen Kroger, who now chairs the party’s women’s committee, sided with the men, insisting that ’while leadership crises were “unique” and “difficult” events, the party did not have a bullying problem.’ She said that some females were ‘not suited to politics’, but conceded that intimidation or verbal harassment should not occur in any workplace. But speaking with Stan Grant on the ABC’s Matter of Fact, past Liberal Senator Judith Troeth contradicted Kroger. She confirmed the bullying: she had received phone calls from Liberal females about it.

Too many politicians are trapped in the self-centred bubble of Canberra politics with tin ears that will not hear, indeed cannot hear what so many in our society are saying: bullying and intimidation are no longer acceptable in any workplace. Moreover, they seem unwilling to accept that the Canberra parliamentary hothouse is indeed a workplace, where the same rules of conduct ought to apply.

Female politicians must despair. Despair that they are still being treated like they always have been – as second rate; and despair that the men who share responsibilities with them are so deaf, so insensitive, so uncaring, so accepting of bully-boy tactics, so sure of the dominance of their gender, so alpha male.

They have put up with overbearing male behaviour without complaint until now. What tipped the balance was the Dutton insurgency, redolent with self-interest, nastiness, overbearing behaviour, bullying, and determination to kill off the party leader and replace him with their favourite, odious though he was to all but his supplicants. Enough was enough for the women. They were not prepared to take it any more.

But where did the protests get them? Julia Banks got nothing but insults from senior colleagues. No understanding, no reassurance.

Scott Morrison, realising that even more damage was being inflicted on his deeply traumatised party, lying buried and bleeding under the rubble of the demolition it had brought about, intervened with what he hoped would be reassuring words“I have no truck with bullying or intimidation in whatever form it is…I am the father of two young daughters and I have no truck with that sort of behaviour. One of the things we are moving quickly to do is restore the strong culture in the Liberal Party and bring the party together and show the stability and unity that is necessary.”

Will the girls be convinced? Why should they be? Bullying behaviour has been endemic within the party for years. They know Morrison’s tub-thumping words of reassurance will fall limply on the tin ears of his alpha male colleagues. They know the entrenched behavioural pattern of their male colleagues will not change. They know the nature and persistent behaviour of the usual suspects: Abbott, Abetz, Andrews, Dutton, Joyce, even Morrison himself. They are too smart to be deceived by claptrap.

They witnessed ‘Ditch the Witch’ abuse hurled at Julia Gillard by Tony Abbott; they remember Alan Jones’ advice that she should be ‘tied in a chaff bag, taken to sea and dumped’Liberal males have form in the bullying stakes.

So where are the Liberal women left?

It seems pretty obvious. There will be no apology, no compromise from their male counterparts, certainly no rapprochement.

All they can expect from macho Liberal males is: ‘Get used to it girls’.

This article by Ad Astra was originally published on The Political Sword.

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Cormann’s Calamitous Capitulation

By Ad Astra

There is no doubt about who was behind last week’s move to displace Malcolm Turnbull. It was the ever-vengeful and habitually destructive Tony Abbott, who from the moment Turnbull toppled him in 2015, set about doing the same in return. He will have gained some satisfaction from the party room’s decision – Turnbull is gone.

But it would be naïve to believe that he was a lone ranger. Peter Dutton was in it up to his eyeballs. He was to be a proxy for Abbott, ready to do his bidding.

Behind this vicious duo was a cluster of conservative malcontents. Dissatisfied and angry that Turnbull was too progressive, too resistant to conservative ideology, they saw no option but to eliminate him if they were to advance their agenda. Dutton was joined by hardline assistant finance minister Michael Sukkar, doing the numbers for him; Greg Hunt, running as his deputy; Trade Minister Steve Ciobo, Abbott loyalist Angus Taylor, and James McGrath, Michael Keenan, Alan Tudge and Concetta Fierravanti-Wells.

But so influential was finance minister Mathias Cormann, who remained loyal to the PM for a while, that he was regarded as the ultimate kingmaker. And that’s what he turned out to be as he deserted his leader. More about his treachery later!

Backing this motley crew was the Murdoch mob, who via his print outlets, TV and radio stations were pushing the Dutton line. Chris Uhlmann, of Nine News, an astute political commentator who learned his trade at the ABC, castigated The Australian and The Daily Telegraph, as well as 2GB hosts Alan Jones and Ray Hadley, for their conduct. He singled out Sky News in particular. “Sky after dark has been running a campaign against Malcolm Turnbull… at the moment it is turning Liberal National Party voters into One Nation voters and they are not coming back…with friends like Sky News, Malcolm Turnbull doesn’t really need any other enemies.”

While it has been known that Murdoch has been playing the political kingmaker game here and overseas for decades, his influence has never been as overt as during this leadership battle. 2GB’s Alan Jones admitted on 7.30 that he had directly contacted MPs and urged them to change leader.

In an opinion piece in The Sydney Morning Herald: Cancer eating the heart of Australian democracy, Kevin Rudd tore into Tony Abbott with this indictment: ”…the entire energy of this giant wrecking ball of Australian politics has been focused on destroying his opponents…of all modern politicians, Abbott is sui generis. His singular, destructive impact on national politics cannot be underestimated.” For his trouble, he was attacked by Murdoch journalist Sharri Markson who called Rudd’s piece “a quite disgusting outrageous attack”

The reaction of the media to these accusations has been telling. Guilty as accused, and livid about being blamed, media luminaries lashed out in defence of their interference, and in support of their favourites. In the Weekend Australian of 25-26 August, Janet Albrechtsen rudely castigated Malcolm Turnbull, laying all the blame for the leadership chaos at his feet. In a nasty opinion piece, Richard Alston did likewise. Chris Kenny joined the fray. Niki Savva was more balanced when she wrote: “The coup against Turnbull had all the subtlety of a chainsaw massacre”. Paul Kelly and Greg Sheridan were characteristically more moderate in their assessment. It was clear though that the media had been deeply involved in the political process, and was incensed at being exposed and called out.

Turnbull really didn’t have a chance with Abbott, Dutton, and their noisy gang baying for blood, and their media spear-throwers targeting him, but he might have survived had it not been for the treachery of a few who were previously his loyalists. This piece highlights the disloyalty of one man – Mathias Cormann.

This man has been an integral part of the Turnbull strike-force ever since he was elevated to Finance Minister and Leader of the Government in the Senate. I have written about him several times, notably in The Tale of Two Daleks where I described his behaviour, as well as that of his co-Dalek, Scott Morrison. I labelled them DC and DM. I suggested that they were carefully programmed each morning: to talk quickly, as if firing verbal bullets; to talk loudly; to talk incessantly; to repeat their words over and again; to talk over their interviewers, and ’never take a breath’; to avoid answering questions they didn’t like’; and to answer such questions with “I don’t accept your characterisation”. The media office guaranteed that such tactics would make it impossible to ignore them, impossible to escape them. DM became a champion at talking loudly, smothering any attempt to stop him. In contrast, DC was quietly spoken in his typically Germanic way.

Whether one liked him or not, one had to admire his ability to stay on message and regurgitate reliably and repeatedly the words he was programmed to utter. It was impossible to trip him up. Knowing this, his interviews concluded with his shrewd ‘Got you, didn’t I?’ smile.

So it came as a nasty surprise when he turned out to be a disloyal turncoat as the leadership saga unfolded. Within hours of standing on the right hand of his leader declaring his loyalty, he turned up, pale-faced, with co-conspirators, the bearded Mitch Fifield and the loquacious Michaelia Cash, to front the press to inform us all that they had formed the view that Turnbull no longer enjoyed the support of a majority of the party room, and therefore they were withdrawing their support. They insisted that the party room must now make a decision about Turnbull’s leadership. Cormann was sure Dutton had the numbers, and looking after his own skin, decided to join him. This was a pivotal moment. Turnbull’s leadership was thereafter doomed. Subsequently, Cormann walked with Dutton along the corridor to that fateful party room vote.

Afterwards, we found that Cormann, the numbers man in his day job, had badly miscalculated. Dutton did not have the numbers; his backers could not count. Had Cormann made a call to Turnbull’s supporters, they would have told him so, and history would have told a different tale.

Writing in ABC News, political editor Andrew Probyn confirmed this”There was a moment last Thursday night when blood-curdling horror flashed across Mathias Cormann’s face. He had realised that his best mate Peter Dutton didn’t have the numbers to become prime minister after all…the normally unflappable, inscrutable political professional had the look of someone who’d gladly commit murder. Mathias Cormann doesn’t like to lose. This was a horrible realisation for the Belgian-born powerbroker who had put his honour in the guillotine by walking away from Malcolm Turnbull, just hours after publicly pledging loyalty to the besieged PM.”

Cormann’s honour was destroyed in a minute of madness, a minute when he realized that his behind the scene plotting against his leader to advance his own cause had failed spectacularly. His calamitous capitulation had shredded his credibility irrevocably.

Those of you who missed the unfolding catastrophe can read about it here:

Cormann can thank the generosity of his new leader that he retains his positions, despite his disloyalty.

But he will be forever diminished in the eyes of those who once respected him. Colleagues will look at him askance, as an untrustworthy person willing to replace loyalty with self-interest. He will be treated as a pariah.

We will do likewise. Mathias – you’ve lost us.

This article by Ad Astra was originally published on The Political Sword.

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Australia – Free Nation or Penal Colony

By Stephen Fitz

In L.A., I dropped in on friends of friends and the first greeting was “Oh, you’re from the country with no human rights?” My response was “And your government has a wonderful human rights record.” I stayed in a motel that night and pondered the average Americans view of Australia.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights UDHR is a declaration of freedom and, in the words of Malcolm Roberts “You can only have human progress if you have freedom” – Ignore human rights and you oppress that freedom.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is an international document that states basic rights and fundamental freedoms to which all human beings are entitled. No nation may rightfully deprive a person of a human right. Human rights are fundamental rights universal to all human beings and are considered to be the necessities of human existence. They are internationally recognised personal guarantees and freedoms that the Government cannot abridge, either by law or by judicial interpretation. The UDHR is generally agreed to be the foundation of international human rights law.

Australia was a key player and one of 8 nations involved in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948. Australia is a co-founder and signatory to the UDHR and yet, here we are with no human rights protection written into Australian law? We should not have to battle through the High Court of Australia for fundamental human rights or the civil liberties embraced by our contemporaries, they should be automatic.

Examples of human rights oppression in Australia include: Anti-protest laws, invasion of privacy, freedom of press and censorship, right of assembly, anti-association laws, age discrimination, inhumane treatment of refugees, abuse of children in detention, our right to participate in government, protection of family and so on. These are violations of UDHR Articles 20-1, 13-1, 12, 3, 5, 19, 7, 16-3 and 25-2.

To stop the abuse, our rights need to be acknowledged by Government and then written into Australian law either through amendments to the Australian Constitution or an Australian Bill of Rights. As a Nation, maybe then, we can rejoice.

From the mouth of Malcolm Turnbull: “For Australia to flourish we need to be seen as the innovation nation”. This suggests being ahead of the times. To hold our heads up high, on the international stage, first, we need to step out of the dark ages and lose the penal colony mentality.

We should be seen as the country who leads the world in human rights issues and yet here we are… Until we change Australia will continue to be looked upon as the country that abuses its children, has no regard for human rights and has a disregard for international conventions. Besides being oppressive, it’s shameful.

Huh? WTF just happened? (part 2)

By Kyran O’Dwyer

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a document that should be studied and taught at every school, until its sentiment is second nature to every child.

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,”

I’m tipping that if you are reading this, your school days have finished. So read that last paragraph. Again and again. Then tell your kids. Then tell your kids to tell the chaplains – those posted in schools as sentinels for christian decency. The preamble goes on to caution not only against the abuse of human rights, but the selective application of human rights. Its summary, prior to the thirty articles, is a stipulation worth noting.

Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.”

If what we have on display in Canberra, or on most of the world stage for that matter, is an indication of leadership and how it manifests, we have got to find another way. But, in the absence of a ‘leadership’ or ‘hierarchical’ structure, how can we ensure that human rights remain universal and inalienable?

It seems odd to note that Democracy as a concept was discussed in 800BC. It predates organised religions, noble (and therefore elite) bloodlines, military rule and political structures. Even the most passive of observers would know that universal suffrage is a relatively recent invention, permitted under limited circumstances. We are repeatedly told that we are too stupid to be allowed any say, other than the occasional election, in deciding our own futures. That, even if we were to have an increased say, we have no appetite for change. We will grumble and complain about what is, rather than dream and act on what is not.

This is demonstrably false. Have a look again at the protests referred to above. People across the globe have repeatedly asked for change, demanded change, often putting their lives at risk in those pursuits. Those in authority have refused to accommodate the demands, occasionally resorting to cosmetic or superficial alterations when the ‘rabble’ get too ‘rowdy’. Platitudes are offered to placate the masses. The days of taking to the streets have been replaced with far more wily protests, often achieving much more in much less time.

The likes of ‘GetUp!’ and ‘Sleeping Giants’ are not just responsive to ‘social justice’ issues, but can mobilise thousands of people efficiently and effectively. The recent campaign against ‘Sky News’ demonstrated both the effectiveness of the campaign and the inability of an outdated and self-opinionated media to counter it, further demonstrating their own irrelevance. That the support for these groups is ignored when assessing ‘political engagement’ in Australia is just another attempt to misdirect or obfuscate. As far as MSM is concerned, if you can’t name at least three politicians and six NewsCorpse/IPA spruikers, you are ‘politically ignorant’. Any reasonable mind would consider that if you would waste your time on such paltry amusements, you are ‘politically lobotomized’.

There is a book, “All That I Am”, by Anna Funder. It is a well-crafted book with much ‘history’ woven into the fictional plot. The ‘blurb’ is as follows;

‘When Hitler came to power I was in the bath …’

“Ruth Becker, defiant and cantankerous, is living out her days in Sydney. She has made an uneasy peace with the ghosts of her past – and a part of history that has been all but forgotten.

Another lifetime away, it’s 1939 and the world is going to war. Ernst Toller, self-doubting revolutionary and poet, sits in a New York hotel room settling up the account of his life.

When Toller’s story arrives in Ruth’s doorstep their shared past slips under her defences, and she’s right back among them – those friends who predicted the brutality of the Nazis and gave everything they had to stop them. Those who were tested – and in some cases found wanting – in the face of hatred, of art, of love, and of history.”

Putting aside the brutality of the Nazi regime (“Lest. We. Forget. (Manus, Nauru, Syria, Palestine…)”), there are many other parallels to modern Australia. The book warns of the danger of propaganda, particularly when it is represented as news. It warns of the dangers of promoting hate over love, promoting delusional fear and division over inclusion and acceptance. It warns of the danger of complacency when what your government is doing is wrong.

Just. Plain. Wrong.

(Apologies, Ms Yassmin Abdel-Magied, for stealing your syntax. In my defence, it is brilliant syntax.)

On the morning of 15th November, 2017, I was reading about ‘Ruth’, a refugee in Sydney after the Second World War, describing how she saw Australia and Australians.

“After the war, I came to this sunstruck place. It is a glorious country, which aspires to no kind of glory. Its people aim for something both more basic and more difficult: Decency. I couldn’t see it at first, but now it is all around me, quiet and fundamental.”

It resonated with me for several reasons, not the least of which was its serendipitous intervention. Although fictional in its origin, it is profound in its simplicity. That decency, being both basic and yet difficult, was fundamental. It was an inherent and intrinsic component of ‘being Australian’, not to be celebrated, but to be practiced, quietly and fundamentally.

I was almost immediately reminded of times past when people were in trouble and how assistance was forthcoming – without reservation, without qualification, without condition.

When you think of the disasters and calamities that have befallen this country and its peoples, regardless of the cause of the disaster or the origin of the people, the Australian people have shown their basic, inherent decency in their response. Even when disasters occur overseas, time and again, that decency has presented itself.

When you think of past referendums, or other occasions when Australians were asked to participate in making decisions, the ones that have succeeded asked the Australian people to show their decency. The Australian people were not found lacking.

Quiet. Fundamental. Glorious. Whilst aspiring to no glory.

On 15th November, 2017, the results of the marriage equality survey were announced. Whether it was that serendipitous intervention or a crystallisation of thought, something happened. There was a winner. There was a positive.

Decency.

That vile, hateful survey should never have occurred. It was a cheap, tawdry, political exercise conducted by a morally bankrupt government, fanned by a media, puffing and wheezing, all but breathless, in their desire to make a non-issue into an issue. It is fitting that Turnbull claims it as a measure of his legacy, such is the duplicity.

The reason for saying that is that countless surveys had been done since Howard first changed ‘The Act’, all of which had majority support by Australians for marriage equality. The ‘will’ of the people had been ignored by the ‘won’t’ of the government, as is their wont.

The gay/lesbian community in Australia is estimated to be between 6-10% of the population. The lack of definitive numbers is due to several factors, not the least of which is the historical stigma associated with identifying as homosexual. Hopefully, our brothers and sisters will become more comfortable knowing that the majority of Australian’s believe those stigmas can be left in the past, where they well and truly belong.

The subsequent shenanigans of the government, just on this one non-issue, leading up to the final parliamentary vote, rendered what should have been a quiet, fundamental victory for decency, quite tokenistic. It was dragged back into the realm of cheap, tawdry politics.

After the parliamentary vote, we had the unedifying spectacle of a shameless government wanting to wallow in politics, calling for an enquiry into religious freedoms. Why would you have a second (and concurrent) enquiry into ‘The status of the human right to freedom of religion or belief’ for any other reason than yet one more cheap, tawdry political exercise? It should be noted that this non-issue will likely be fired up, now that a political party has inflicted another anti-equality, god-botherer on us. It is of significance that the DFAT enquiry on religious freedom, instigated at the request of the UN, received 400 submissions in over twelve months, yet has languished since Ruddock’s enquiry was announced. Many of the submissions referred to religious freedom being only one human right and the most genuine way to address this was to create a Bill of Rights for all freedoms for all Australians.

Philip Ruddock’s Religious Freedom Review received 15,500 submissions in a matter of months. The terms of reference specifically excluded any requests for an Australian Bill of Rights. Uncannily, thousands of submissions appeared to be pro-forma documents with similar contents, so much so that they were broken up into three categories. The ACL made no secret that it deliberately canvassed individuals to make individual submissions in addition to their churches submissions.

Just to put that into perspective, “The Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry” as at 17th August, 2018, had received 8,407 submissions. This is all the more startling given the truncated tenure of Ruddock’s enquiry and the secrecy of many of the hearings. The incongruity is further highlighted by the brevity of the Banking Commissions enquiries into matters that would normally be expected to take months, not days, given the complexity of the issues and the numbers of people impacted.

The headlines all but write themselves, don’t they? “Twice as many Australians concerned about god than godless banks”, “In god we trust. All others pay cash”, “If god ran the banks our ‘interest’ is greater”, “God for PM”.

That last one is closer, now that we have a happy clapping, tongue twisting, god-botherer as PM. He won’t be able to talk about policy, as it will either be ‘commercial-in-confidence’, ‘national security’ or an ‘on-water’ or ‘on-land’ matter. His track record on public speaking and his background in ‘marketing’ ensures that only his disciples will understand him. It is only a matter of time before he rewrites history, replacing the inclusive intersectionality of Mt Sinai with the geographical isolation and insignificance of ‘Hillsong’, which is described as a “confluence of sophisticated marketing techniques and popular music”. We will no longer be troubled with the restrictions of the Ten Commandments as the hills will come alive with the sound of music. After all, a song is much easier to rewrite and manipulate, compared to those stone tablet thingy’s. Having consigned the notion of ‘written in stone’ to the confines of history, our politicians will never again trouble themselves with the notion of truth or trust. Truth will, once again, be subject to the manipulations of a ‘free’ press, trust in the system called ‘democracy’ will be lauded as our insurance. All the while being subservient to the ‘masters’, the corporate gods of the new world.

This past week, like most of the weeks in the past five years, has been a demonstration of cheap, tawdry politics, aided and abetted by a partisan media unable to come to terms with its increasing irrelevance. The obvious, though, is becoming increasingly obvious. The Australian voter does have an opinion on lots of things. The environment, education, health, equity, equality, Treaty with our First People. Lots of things. Just not the meaningless politics, the less meaningful politicians and the irrelevant rantings of self-opinionated fools calling themselves ‘journalists’.

My quest to find one, a mere one, of the hundred people I know that trusts a politician is yet to be realised. From what I can gather, there is an appetite for change. With all of the wonders of modern science, we now have a capacity for change, unimagined by most of us as recently as decades ago. Waiting for those few, who are the beneficiaries of the status quo, to act will be an exercise in futility.

We know we don’t trust our politicians and hardly needed the last week to crystallise the thought. The vast majority of us have shown, time and again, that common decency is not a random or abstract concept. The pertinent question is whether we would trust each other more than those we have the misfortune to elect every few years.

In the middle of this temporary, yet tempestuous, maelstrom, are the winds of change. Whether the next confected uproar is Scummo’s likely religious crusade, or Josh’s NEG (Mk 10), or the shenanigans of various miscreants, remains to be seen. We are being offered the fly blown rancid carcass of neo-conservatism and told “It’s not deceased, it’s merely resting”. The media are already eulogising the ‘Turnbull legacy’, honouring the age old tradition of re-writing history for the sake of the newly departed, pretending the legacy is more important than those left to endure its effects. We wanted all the hope and aspiration of the “Dead Poets Society”, “make your lives extraordinary”, and all we are offered are the lies and obfuscation of the “Dead Parrot Sketch”.

“This is an ex-parrot.”

The Doomsday Clock was commenced in 1947.

The Doomsday Clock is a symbol which represents the likelihood of a man-made global catastrophe. Maintained since 1947 by the members of the ‘Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board, the clock represents an analogy for the threat of global nuclear war. Since 2007, it has also reflected climate change and new developments in the life sciences and technology that could inflict irrevocable harm to humanity.

The harbinger of our demise since 1947 only updated the cause of the threats in 2007.

In more recent, parochial history, it was in 2009 that ‘Kevin 07’ realised the significance of 2007. “Kevin Rudd once called climate change “the greatest moral, economic and social challenge of our time.

So, has the clock changed since 2007? Now that at least some of the threats are known knowns, our ‘leaders’ will have acted proactively, won’t they?

The clock represents the hypothetical global catastrophe as “midnight” and The Bulletin’s opinion on how close the world is to a global catastrophe as a number of “minutes” to midnight. Its original setting in 1947 was seven minutes to midnight. It has been set backward and forward 23 times since then, the smallest-ever number of minutes to midnight being two (in 1953 and 2018) and the largest seventeen (in 1991). As of January 2018 [update], the clock is set at two minutes to midnight, due to “the looming threats of nuclear war and climate change”, and due to the United States reducing its common-ground leadership role.”

The global threats in 1947 and 2007 were the same same, but different. They were both, undeniably, man-made global threats. Same same. They became, undeniably, different because there is, literally, ‘A Fool on the Hill’.

“Day after day
Alone on a hill
The man with the foolish grin
Is keeping perfectly still
But nobody wants to know him
They can see that he’s just a fool
And he never gives an answer

But the fool on the hill
Sees the sun going down
And the eyes in his head
See the world spinning round”

And he has the fecking launch codes.

The semantics of ‘Desperate, but not hopeless’ or ‘Hopeless, but not desperate’ cannot be left to the rubble of government or the rabble of media. Any more than it can be left to the vestiges of the churches or the might of the corporates.

The urgency of so many issues will evaporate into our 24/7 news cycle, which will likely return to its ‘rinse and repeat’ setting. The calls for change through an early election may satiate some. The more adventurous will amplify the ‘polite request’ for an ICAC or similar body. Will there ever be a demand for Direct Democracy?

No matter how many times our leaders tell us we are different, that clock tells us we are the same.

From 800BC till now, we haven’t really unleashed that “Democracy” horse. Isn’t it time to put the horse in front of the cart? If a culture had the benefit of 60,000 years of evolution and refinement, what would they seek, with the benefit of so much hindsight and experience?

Maybe our First People aren’t the only ones who should seek a voice.

“This sovereignty is a spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or ‘mother nature’, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were born therefrom, remain attached thereto, and must one day return thither to be united with our ancestors. This link is the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of sovereignty. It has never been ceded or extinguished, and co-exists with the sovereignty of the Crown.

How could it be otherwise? That peoples possessed a land for sixty millennia and this sacred link disappears from world history in merely the last two hundred years?”

“We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country. When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country.

We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.”

No. Seriously. Why the feck not?

Who stole justice?

By Stephen Fitz

I’m as deaf as a post but I hear the call “We want justice”. Here’s another little problem that haunts our precious society. Our adversarial legal system favours those with the most money. Like the LNP, it’s been manipulated and corrupted to favour corporates and the top end of town.

After reading the article in the Financial Review ‘Shadow lawyers’ barred from advising on Fair Work Commission cases the Law Society would have us believe that “justice system” and “legal system” are the same thing. They are not! It’s a deception. Justice is the result of a healthy legal system and does not happen if the legal system has been manipulated and corrupted. Banning defence lawyers from proceedings in the FWC supports this argument but in no way resolves the problem.

Since they have no real defence these unscrupulous lawyers use trickery, deception and theatre to protect their cosy little nest of clover worth $475 an hour. They have no shame, and no excuse, as they destroy the innocent for a hand full of dollars from the guilty who employ them. What is truly disturbing is that this goes a lot deeper …

The corruption of our legal system being condoned by those in authority, is a shameful disgrace and, is the worst possible form of social oppression. A legal system that shows bias towards money and power encourages unlawful and illegal activity to the detriment of society. The Australian public expect high standards from their elected representatives.

More importantly, we demand even higher standards again, in our state and federal jurisdictions and from our career public servants! We pay their way, we put a roof over their heads and we feed their children … It’s our right to be protected that supersedes all else and, their obligation to protect our legal system so that we not only have justice but also, that justice is seen to be served!

Don’t get me wrong, people are entitled to defence but, it’s not defence if it corrupts our law, clutters the legal process to the point where the truth is buried and then persecutes those seeking justice. Then it becomes a vicious attack on the individual and society.

If it’s any consolation – Knowing how the world works makes it easier to navigate.

The language of treachery versus a statement from the heart

By Henry Johnston

When I thought there was nothing more to write about apropos the events of the last fortnight, I came across an op-ed penned by Daily Telegraph shill Tim Blair.

The headline read ‘The coup we had to have’.

An impressionable child could fairly ask a parent, what does coup mean?

So the language of sedition and treachery dominate the Australian vernacular as never before.

I lived through the dismissal of Gough Whitlam, a prime ministerial stickler for the values of the Constitution. And while Australians were outraged by his ignoble sacking by an unelected governor general, at no time — correct me if I am wrong — did the nomenclature of treason enter the debate.

Yet descriptions of the moves against former Prime Minister Turnbull were punctuated with shadowy mutterings about the means of a political killing.

Coup, destabilisation, put him to the sword, the killing season, political assassination, bloodletting Kill Bill, the Mad Monk, Morriscum, Jbish … Just a few of the words and phrases deployed by journalists, commentators and ordinary citizens to describe the events which paralysed the nation.

How and when did we allow our language to become so malevolent?

In the year 2000, after the Sydney Olympic Games opening ceremony, Australia presented an image of a young, sanguine nation. And the planet responded in kind. The Games marked the emergence of Sydney as a world city and Australia a capable, buoyant and welcoming nation with limitless potential. We were magnificent, and I was fortunate to observe my city and country behave in a fashion which confirmed an earlier decision to become a citizen.

Eighteen years on and every Prime Minister since John Howard — the incumbent resident in the Lodge during the Olympic Games — has suffered the ignominy of political termination with extreme prejudice.

Eighteen years marks a generation, and this new voting cohort knows nothing but political instability. This young constituency is bombarded by the lexicon of treason. A shameful inherited, national legacy.

How is this possible? And how can Australians debate big ideas such as a republic without a notion being subverted by seditious language?

With swathes of the media addicted to the rhetoric of the school yard bully, it is apodictic we will remain trapped in a cycle of recrimination. And with this craven determination to tear down any proposition which may change the status quo, it is almost impossible to question who we are and how our destiny might evolve.

I recently eavesdropped a conversation about politically correct terms being deployed to neuter the words granny and granddad. This alleged insistence of the use of gender neutral language is a popular trope among sections of the community, convinced the thought police are denying their right of expression.

There is no evidence for the assertion but this and similar myths, persist and trouble tens of thousands of Australians, many of whom live in regional and rural parts of the nation.

The propensity for hate speak in political debates has grown to such a level, incendiary rascals such as Tim Blair regularly use the allegory of violence to make a point.

A grand master of colourful political vituperation Paul Keating learnt the art of a genuine Australian turn of phrase from his mentor NSW Premier Jack Lang who literally mounted a soap box during street corner debates.

But with the deployment of the cold-blooded invective of the assassins’ creed we have drifted from the resonance and sincerity of Keating’s Redfern Speech.

Or have we?

The Uluru Statement from the Heart dismissed by former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is for me an almost transcendental declaration of the possibility of a noble future. The Statement, free of cant and sincere, describes a space Australians should consider occupying if we are to become truly great. It embraces the notions of unity and truth telling and therein the possibility of a confident Australia.

It behoves us as parents and grandparents to teach this generation of its intent, for by accepting the Statement’s recommendations, Australians might become emotionally equipped to occupy an optimistic country; beyond political spite and the dark bombast of propaganda. Consider this paragraph from The Uluru Statement from the Heart.

“This sovereignty is a spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or ‘mother nature’, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, who were born therefrom, remain attached thereto, and must one day return thither to be united with our ancestors. This link is the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of sovereignty. It has never been ceded or extinguished, and co-exists with the sovereignty of the Crown”.

Henry Johnston is a Sydney based author. His book, Best and Fairest is available at Valentine Press

Huh? WTF just happened?

By Kyran O’Dwyer

No. Seriously. WTF just happened?

In a week when metaphors have been stretched and tortured to make analogies, which have been further stretched and tortured to create news, the truism “The first casualty of war is truth” has never been more evident, let alone significant.

Governments around the world have been declaring war on everything for decades now. We have had wars on drugs, wars on poverty, wars on terrorism, wars on homelessness, wars on welfare. Pick an ‘evil’ and governments will declare war on it. They’ve even tried wars on discrimination – gender, pigmentation, ethnicity, religion, sexuality – but even they realised they could not wage war on the differences they sought to amplify, albeit through unsubtle dog whistling with megaphones.

This week in Australian politics we witnessed the unedifying spectacle of a government declaring war on itself. Never before have the ‘infantrymen’ of a war been so inadequate that they are unable to discern the difference between ‘live’ and ‘blank’ ammunition, let alone which side they are on or in which direction they are shooting. That alone makes identifying a target problematic, evidenced by the number of ‘friendly fire’ incidents. Never before have the media installed themselves as the independent arbiters of victory while simultaneously handing out munitions of varying capacity to combatants of lesser capacity in the hope of furthering the promotion of the most miserable of human beings. A conflagration that can only be described as a “Bonfire of the Vanities”.

The phrase initially referred to the “bonfire of 7 February 1497, in Florence, Italy, the focus of the destruction being on objects that might tempt one to sin, including vanity items such as mirrors and cosmetics”. If only these shallow fools had the capacity to read and comprehend the lessons of the past. The recreation of the salutary caution in book form is even more relevant, not merely for its more recent occurrence, but for its refined themes.

The story is a drama about ambition, racism, social class, politics, and greed in 1980s New York City.”

It can come as no surprise that, in a war waged for no other purpose than the vain ambitions of mindless, soulless, characterless, vacuous fools, ‘truth’ was not just a casualty, it was a fatality.

All of this is in an age when truth has never been more accessible and verifiable, where the mere provenance of a muttering is no further away than a few keystrokes.

It seems an eternity ago that (then) US Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, issued his ‘de Profundis’ on fearing fear. Using extraordinary leaps of logic and reason, he dismissed ‘truth’, ie the known, by suggesting pursuit of the unknown was a more urgent crusade.

To be fair, it was issued on February 12, 2002, a mere five months after the horror of September 11, 2001. To be even fairer, Rumsfeld was a product of a military/political upbringing, wholly supportive of and committed to corporate America’s numerous and various ‘war machines’.

The provenance, context and background of his ‘Unknown unknowns’ are interesting, even though the substance is baffling.

Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.”

The components of the ‘Johari Window’ and the ‘theoretical genius’ of his speech are best left to those of superior intellect. Their expertise is still available, albeit in the confines of the few remaining asylums for the mentally impaired.

Unknown unknowns are risks that come from situations that are so out of this world that they never occur to you.”

It’s a reincarnation of the ‘God Defence’, a distorted quasi-legal doctrine, making it incumbent on the non-believer to prove there is no God, rather than on the believer to prove there is a God. The skeptic had to prove the unknown, rather than the believer having to prove their known.

Rumsfeld went further. In his world, we were not only meant to believe that there are risks we can never reasonably expect to foresee, but that we should be afraid of them. Once that fear of fear is established in our psyche, we should simply trust the likes of Rumsfeld, a hawk, to be our shepherd. The risks that are clear and present dangers can be ignored whilst we speculate on the possibility of another risk that may be nothing more than the fancy of a deluded mind.

This was his argument for invading Iraq in 2003. Clearly, governments were tiring of their figurative wars and felt a literal war was in order. The ungodly triumvirate – Bush, Blair and Howard – formed their infamous axis of evil, a term used by Bush “to describe governments that he accused of helping terrorism and seeking weapons of mass destruction”. The misdirection and deflection toward Iran, Iraq and North Korea will likely see him and his compadres recorded in history in the ‘Greatest Illusionists’ column rather than the newly proclaimed Trump-ian ‘Great Grate Leaders’ column.

In February, 2003, one year after Rumsfeld’s edict on fearing fear, Anti-War Protests were held around the world.

Social movement researchers have described the 15 February protest as “the largest protest event in human history”.”

Obviously, events weren’t pre-sold and figures on participation were ‘estimated’ rather than audited. The estimates? They were wildly variant.

“… between six and eleven million people took part in protests in up to sixty countries over the weekend of 15 and 16 February; other estimates range from eight million to thirty million.”

From that same link, the estimates for Australian participation were also wildly variant.

Friday also saw protests in Melbourne, Australia where around 150,000 people (BBC estimate) (Over 200,000 organisers estimate) joined a demonstration.

On the Saturday protests also took place in Australia’s six state capitals with 200,000 protesters (BBC estimate) demonstrating in Sydney, and an estimated 600,000 demonstrating in cities around the country.”

By any estimation, the protests were significant. As the majority of the demonstrations were held in countries espousing democratic principles as their cornerstone, you would expect that our ‘leaders’ would at least pretend to listen. To underscore the irony, the motive to move against Saddam Hussein was portrayed as much to install democracy as a crusade to find the elusive, illusive Holy Grail, the mythical, mountainous caches of hidden WMDs.

The unprecedented size of the demonstrations was widely taken to indicate that the majority of people across the world opposed the war. However, the potential effect of the protests was generally dismissed by pro-war politicians. The Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard, claimed that the protests were not representative of public opinion, saying “I don’t know that you can measure public opinion just by the number of people that turn up at demonstrations.” In the United States, the then National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice was reported as saying that the protests would “not affect [the administration’s] determination to confront Saddam Hussein and help the Iraqi people”.

Her view was borne out as the day of protests, along with the protests that followed it, failed to stop the war. However, the protests and other public opposition have been held up as a key factor in the decisions of the governments of many countries, such as Canada, to not send troops to Iraq.

It is a little galling, isn’t it? Had John Howard, or anyone else, been capable of organising pro-war protests, attended by millions of people across the planet, it would invariably be reported as ‘a mandate’ for unilateral, brutal intervention. Ignoring the protests of millions, globally, these three stooges “helped the Iraqi people” alright. They helped them all the way back to the stone-age. The irony that the ‘Cradle of Civilisation’ and the ‘Birthplace of Writing’ was reduced to rubble by a megalomaniac and three stooges should have been a caution to the rabble currently masquerading as ‘government’.

This blight on civilisation isn’t an aberration, it’s a recurring scenario. The ramifications of this week in Canberra pale into insignificance when compared with the preventable loss of lives caused by the actions of 2003. Likewise, the human costs of Iraq and our subsequent launches into interventions in the region pale into insignificance when compared with previous military actions recorded in the annals of history, usually with some god on our side. The number of wars promoted by those in charge, usually for their own personal vested interests and the interests of their benefactors and sponsors, is well recorded and the motives are as old as ‘modern history’ itself.

In that context, the Fools on the Hill in Canberra can be seen in their true light. Not one of the contenders at any stage issued one word about ‘policy’. Not one word was issued on our environment, a pending crisis this government has ignored for more than five years. Not one word was issued regarding our national broadcaster or its importance. The obscene gift of half a billion dollars to a ‘charity’ to save the GBR was obliterated from our conscience, allegedly. Education, health, the impending deaths of children on Nauru, the ongoing incarceration of men on Manus, the ongoing ignoring of our First People. The list of items of such insignificance to these fools that they didn’t merit a mention is long. That these items may be of importance to everyday Australians is insignificant to those who consider themselves ‘leadership material’. Not one of the contenders or pretenders issued anything other than a ‘FIGJAM’ (Feck I’m good. Just ask me!), a paltry standard readily accepted by the media as their manifesto.

It came as no surprise that on Monday, 20th August, co-incidental to Dutton’s initial launch of the new, improved, touchy-feely, smiley, reincarnation, articles appeared out of America declaring ‘Truth isn’t truth’.

Giuliani said: “When you tell me [Trump] should testify because he’s going to tell the truth so he shouldn’t worry, well that’s so silly because it’s somebody’s version of the truth, not the truth.”

I don’t mean to…” Todd spluttered, his face contorted with disbelief.

And then it came, like manna from heaven, the glorious mantra for which Trump’s White House has been waiting so long.

“No, it isn’t truth!” Giuliani roared. “Truth isn’t truth.”

In a world that has given us “fake news”, “enemy of the people” and – infamously and also to a disbelieving Todd – Kellyanne Conway’s “alternative facts”, Trump’s war on reality had just found its jingle.

“No, no, don’t do this to me,” Giuliani said, head in hands, when he realized the hole he had dug for himself.”

The deranged author of that deranged thought, Rudy Giuliani, is a poster-boy for all that is wrong in the world. He has been a Democrat, an Independent and a Republican, yet is represented as a man of unwavering principles. He repeatedly campaigned on ‘law and order’ issues, rendering those in his charge subject to draconian punishments for relatively minor transgressions, yet constantly ignored serious accusations of corruption against both himself and his administrations. With his questionable integrity, he was a natural choice by Trump as legal counsel to defend against allegations of corruption. His reputational greatness emanates from an accident of history – he happened to be the Mayor of New York when homicidal maniacs plunged the city into chaos. John Howard also claimed greatness for no other reason than his proximity to the calamity.

Howard was in Washington when hijacked airliners crashed into the towers of New York’s World Trade Center, the Defense headquarters the Pentagon, and into a field in Pennsylvania. Among the thousands killed were 22 Australians.

In an interview to mark a decade since the attacks, Howard said he has no regrets about joining the war in Afghanistan, cautions against a premature withdrawal of troops, and said history will vindicate Bush’s response to the new threats.”

All of these fools have survived by the incessant peddling of fear, which is constantly perpetuated by their sycophants in the media. This week in Canberra saw the same endless parade of fear for the sake of fear. Postulating preposterous ‘What ifs’ to speculate on which candidate – in a vote none of us got to cast – would likely do us more or less harm. All the while there were two undercurrents. The first being that this was a mess of our making because we voted for them, an absurdity barely worth mentioning. The second being that the greater threat was the likely election of a Shorten/ALP government if these fools ‘don’t get their shite together’.

There are many incarnations and uses of the expression “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.”

Some 70 years before that ill-fated ideological foray into Iraq, Franklin D Roosevelt gave his 1933 inaugural address.

So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. And I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.”

My apologies for that confused and convoluted explanation as to why this week has been the same as every other week, and why it’s offensive. Not just here, but everywhere. At a time when humanity has never had a greater opportunity and capacity to effect meaningful change, on an inclusive basis, we are stuck with the same old same old. The Anti-War protests that occurred in 2003 were no different to the global Anti-Vietnam-War protests in the 60’s and 70’s. The ‘Occupy’ protests, the ‘Arab Spring’ protests, the ‘MeToo’ protests, the ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests, the ‘Change the Rules’ protests, the ‘Australia Day’ protests, the ‘Climate Change’ protests. Great numbers of people have taken part in great numbers of protests over great numbers of centuries and the response has always been the same.

I don’t know that you can measure public opinion just by the number of people that turn up at demonstrations.”

Isn’t that the saddest part of this reality? Those that are in power and who have authority – whether it be political, corporate, moral or social – aren’t just deaf to those they claim to represent, but are resolutely opposed to the aspirations and ambitions of those they claim to represent, let alone their interests. Even worse, they would have you believe that many in our midst should have no entitlement to aspiration or ambition, however platitudinous the offering, based on nothing other than the colour of their skin, their gender, their sexuality, their religion, their ethnicity.

Then come the galling headlines of the aftermath;

Scott Morrison and Liberal Party tasked with reinstating public trust after leadership crisis.

Trust in politicians is reported in the realms of 13%. The only surprise is that there are 13 in every 100 who still trust them. This is a profession that relies on lies, then wonders why they aren’t trusted.

This is a profession that is held in contempt, which is hardly surprising given that is the only regard they have for us. There are trust barometers all over the place, none of which paint a pretty picture. That a politician, or a media sycophant, would even suggest there is a prospect of that trust being restored after this week, let alone that Scummo would be the one to do it, is so far past laughable that tears seem the only realistic eventuality.

Lie to me once, shame on you. Lie to me twice, shame on me.

We have these archaic, dated concepts of leadership, and the need for leadership. That we are so disparate, confused and desperate we are inevitably reliant on a leader, a person of character, to lead us. We have nostalgic, romantic recollections of leaders past whose character was measured by the courage they have in their convictions. Of people who had the capacity to use logic, reason and compassion not just to make their case, but to make their case capable of evolving and subject to refinement. We even have historical examples of leadership that was not just intelligent and compassionate, but was empathetic to the needs and aspirations of all.

These were leaders who saw rights as valuable only if they were available to us all. These were people who saw the issuance of rights to one person, to the exclusion of another, a most vile and base abuse of the very thought of rights. These were people who saw the sanctity of human rights as being the very core, the very fabric of any meaningful society.

Continued and concluded tomorrow …

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