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Medieval combat for ‘the Palace letters’ (part 6)

By Dr George Venturini  

On 22 October 2016, while the case was before Justice Griffiths, Professor Hocking wrote again about her case: The National Archives of Australia is refusing to release secret letters between Kerr and the Queen, claiming that they are ‘private’ and not official Commonwealth records. The Palace letters are embargoed until at least 2027, with the Queen’s private secretary holding a final veto over their release even after that date. It is entirely possible that they will never be released.”

This is why – she explained – she had launched an action against the National Archives of Australia in the Federal Court, calling for the release of the Palace letters.

A team of senior lawyers, working on a pro bono basis, was leading the landmark case, in an action which remained the only avenue available to interested Australians to secure the release of ‘the Palace letters’, the final piece in the puzzle of the hidden history of the dismissal.

There followed a plaintive lament: that the letters remain secret “… is wrong. It should not be for the Queen to decide when we can know and have access to critical documents in our own history. We all deserve to know the truth of the dismissal and what really happened at that time.” (J. Hocking, The Palace letters, 22 October 2016).

Questions could be asked: What is the ultimate nature of the relationship between Australia and the Queen? To what extent, subject to a doubtful nature of that relationship, could anyone say that those documents are part of “our” – meaning Australia’s – ‘history” as if it were an independent country, totally uncompromised by the relationship with the English crown established at the time invasion?

The complainant view is nothing but a petitio principii, in other words: a form of fallacious reasoning in which the conclusion has been assumed in the premises, what is plainly called begging the question. 

It really does not matter how often it is said that Australians should own their own history; that the decision to withhold the correspondence between the Queen and the Governor-General prevents them all from knowing the full story of the dismissal of the Whitlam government.

It would not take a furious moron – a large choir, perhaps? – to fight back with a: “Who cares?”

Five weeks into the case, Professor Hocking returned to the issue as “A matter of [Australian] national history.” What she found important is that “the release of the Palace letters will now be determined by an Australian court and according to Australian law – and not by the Queen, ‘a foreign monarch’ in the words of [then] Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.”

In the view of the writer this was “a dramatic development, a reassertion of Australian sovereignty over these critical documents in our history, despite long-standing claims of Royal control.”

In addition to the support of a team of lawyers working on a pro bono basis an important crowd funding campaign had been launched to raise funds to provide some protection against the possibility of an adverse cost order. []. The response to the campaign had been exceptional and had already reached the half-way mark in the target.”( J. Hocking, The Palace Letters Case: ‘A Matter of our National History’, 29 November 2016).

The ‘Palace letters’ case would, in the words of Professor Hocking, “[bring] to light a lingering relic of colonialism few knew existed – the correspondence between the British monarch and the Governor General – which is closely guarded as a post-colonial Royal privilege and kept secret even from the Australian Prime Minister.” The discovery of such surviving ‘relic of colonialism’ and ‘continued existence of this arcane imperial political presumption is astounding and completely at odds with a modern parliamentary democracy.’ It was urgently hoped that “the ‘Palace letters’ case would end this colonial exemplar of Royal secrecy once and for all, by ensuring that the public access provisions of the Archives Act are applied to all official records, including the letters between the Queen and the Governor General. For the first time since federation, this correspondence will no longer be controlled by the British monarch and will be brought under existing Australian law, to be released after 30 years in accordance with the Archives Act if they are found to be official, not personal, records.”

It was correctly observed that “the implications of this case are considerable and go beyond the immediate issue of access to secret material relating to the dismissal of the Whitlam government, important though that clearly is.”

“In fact, the Palace letters case raised fundamental and broader issues of Royal secrecy in a parliamentary democracy, in particular of the practice of members of the Royal family in the United Kingdom to engage in secret communications with government about political matters to which the public is denied access. This has been the focus of recent concern in the United Kingdom, where the similar designation of documents in the Royal archives as ‘personal’ and ‘private’ has long ensured their protection from public view. []”

Yes, all this eminently desirable and logic. But were there not assumptions?

Professor Hocking repeated her claim that “The palace treats Australia as the colonial child not to be trusted with knowledge of its own history” in an article published on 7 September 2017.

These letters, between the governor general and the Queen, her private secretary and Prince Charles, in the weeks before the dismissal are held by our National Archives in Canberra – not for access by us, but for protection from us. Unlike commonwealth records which are open after 30 years, the palace letters have been designated “personal” records and on the instructions of the Queen they are embargoed until at least 2027 with her private secretary retaining a veto even after that date. This is a concerning situation for an independent nation, one made even more so by the passage of time. It is now more than 40 years since the dismissal of the Whitlam government and the palace continues to treat us as the recalcitrant colonial child, not to be trusted with such a dangerous thing as knowledge of our own history.

There is no doubt that these letters are of the greatest historical significance. We know this from extracts of six of the palace letters which I identified among Kerr’s papers in the archives, and also from a rare glimpse into Kerr’s communications with the Queen’s private secretary, Sir Martin Charteris, detailed by Kerr in his 1980 journal. Kerr refers there to “Charteris’ advice to me on dismissal” and to his communications with Charteris about his concern that he himself could be dismissed – that Whitlam might recall him should he become aware that Kerr was secretly considering dismissing him as prime minister.

Kerr’s records show that he had also confided to Prince Charles in September 1975, one month before supply was blocked in the Senate, that he was considering dismissing Whitlam and was therefore concerned for his own position. Charles duly relayed this to Charteris, while expressing dismay at the prospect – not of Whitlam’s dismissal, but of Kerr’s possible recall – telling Kerr: “Bur surely Sir John, the Queen should not have to accept advice that you should be recalled … should this happen when you were considering having to dismiss the government.” According to Kerr’s records, Charteris then wrote to Kerr in early October, reassuring him that if “the contingency to which you refer” should arise and if Whitlam moved to recall him as governor general, then the palace would “delay things”.

This communication from the Queen’s private secretary to the governor general, secret from the prime minister, is politically and constitutionally shocking. It reveals the palace to be in deep intrigue with Kerr to protect his tenure as governor general in the weeks before the dismissal, unknown to the prime minister who alone is responsible for advising the Queen on the choice of governor general. (J. Hocking, The palace treats Australia as the colonial child not to be trusted with knowledge of its own history, 7 September 2017).

One of the most remarkable outcomes of these proceedings is that it has secured the release by Buckingham Palace of two ‘personal’ letters between Kerr and the Queen’s private secretary written in 1976, in a rather counter-intuitive effort to support its claim that the ‘Palace letters’ are validly designated personal and should remain closed. The selective release of some apparently personal letters by Buckingham Palace draws into serious question its use of the label ‘personal’ in general for all correspondence between the Queen and the Governor-General, regardless of content. It does not appear to have occurred to either the Palace or their emissaries that such a ready breach of the label ‘personal’ only highlights its inappropriate use when it can be so readily overturned if deemed to suit its purposes.

The case has also shown a rare light on the inner workings of the office of Governor-General and the colonial presumptions underpinning it, much of which would shock those who believe that even as a Constitutional monarchy we have long since been freed of the residual colonial ties. Quasi-colonial servility is alive and well in Yarralumla. The mere fact that the Queen can still prevent us from seeing her correspondence with the Governor-General, highlights the vice-regal relationship as one of the few remaining ‘colonial relics’ with lasting impact on Australian governance and history.

In summing up Professor Hocking’s case that the Palace letters are Commonwealth records, Mr. Antony Whitlam QC, pointed to the extraordinary corollary of the Archives’ claim that the Palace letters are personal and are not owned by the Commonwealth. If they are not owned by the Commonwealth, Whitlam asked, then who does own them? The Archives contention is quite remarkable – the Palace letters are owned by Mrs. Bashford. And who, you might ask, is Mrs. Bashford? She is the daughter of Sir John Kerr’s second wife, who inherited her mother’s estate and with that, apparently, Kerr’s residual estate. So, while Australians are denied access to the Palace letters according to the Queen’s embargo, Mrs. Bashford alone has access to them and ultimate control over them. She could withdraw them from the Archives – and indeed has already revised the conditions on them – she could destroy them, sell them to a foreign government or even release them to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. Such is the strange predicament of the Palace letters as ‘personal’ records and not owned by the Commonwealth.

A final intrigue came with a parallel exchange being played out in the Parliament while the case was proceeding. The Labor member for Bruce, Julian Hill, was pursuing the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, over Turnbull’s rash promise four years ago that he would ‘resolve the impasse’ over the letters by personally approaching the Queen and ask her to release them.

Mr. Hill diligently pursued Turnbull over his forgotten promise to ask the Queen to release the Palace letters.

On the other hand, Mr. Hill said on 21 November 2016: “I hope that the court succeed as I cannot support the Prime Minister’s suggestion of a formal approach to the Queen asking her to release our own national records. What a toadying, unedifying, humiliating lot of colonial nonsense!” (Julian Hill MP – The Palace Letters | Facebook).

Mr. Hill placed a question on notice to [then] Prime Minister Turnbull in the House on the final sitting day of Parliament in 2016, asking whether the Prime Minister had approached the Queen seeking the release these letters and if so, what her response had been. For the following eight months Turnbull simply refused to answer, despite being twice prompted by the Speaker to do so. Finally, on the eve of the hearing in the Palace letters case in September 2017, the [then] Prime Minister’s Office responded: “Discussions/communications between the Prime Minister and Her Majesty the Queen are confidential.” Turnbull’s resort to Royal secrecy could not have been more fitting, and totally deserving of Mr. Hill’s qualification: toadying, unedifying, humiliating lot of colonial nonsense.

Professor Hocking pretended to believe that Turnbull ‘republicanism’ should be regarded as something other than way to notoriety, public power and fulfilment of what he might have considered a Calvinistic predestination.

She said: “It seems that not even our avowedly republican Prime Minister can escape the vestiges of colonialism that continue to deny us access to our own history. It’s time we ended these residual ties of dependency, secrecy and colonial deference, and became an Australian republic.” (J. Hocking, ‘Secret “Palace letters” not so secret after all’ and where is Malcolm?, 13 September 2017).

Lead barrister, Antony Whitlam QC, addressed the central question of the nature of “personal” as opposed to “commonwealth” records, arguing that correspondence between the Queen and her representative in Australia could not be considered “personal”. “It cannot seriously be suggested that there was a personal relationship between the Queen and Sir John Kerr.” Whitlam contended that “personal records” would be records that were “unrelated to the performance of Sir John’s official duties” and would not extend to Kerr’s correspondence with the palace prior to his dismissal of the Whitlam government in November 1975.

Thomas Howe QC for the National Archives, however, described the letters as Kerr’s “personal property” for him to dispose of as he wished. The letters were deposited with the archives by Mr David Smith, the governor general’s official secretary, after Kerr left office. However, Howe contended, in doing so Smith was acting as an “agent” of Kerr and on his instructions, “They are the property of Sir John Kerr personally, not the commonwealth or the official establishment.”

It was intrigue upon intrigue as Howe then detailed the secret late-night photocopying by David Smith of a second set of palace letters, a set requested by Kerr to “refresh his memory” while writing his memoirs in France after his resignation as governor general. That Smith undertook this task in secret and late at night, Howe argued, pointed to the private nature of the letters which necessitated therefore that Smith take copies after hours – making use of the Government House photocopier, paper and letterhead when doing so. The very fact that Kerr created these copies and passed them to his heirs for deposit separately in the archives, Howe argued, indicated their “personal” nature.

Adding to the tangle is that David Smith himself was closely involved in writing the palace letters, which highlights a slightly different aspect to their status as “official records” – they reflect the relationship between the governor general and his official secretary in their preparation and the relationship between the Queen and her representative in their communication. (J. Hocking, The palace treats Australia as the colonial child not to be trusted with knowledge of its own history – A REPOST from 11 September 2017, 16 January 2018).

Continued Wednesday – Medieval combat for ‘the Palace letters’ (part 7)

Previous instalment – Medieval combat for ‘the Palace letters’ (part 5)

Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some seventy years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. He may be reached at


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Conservative Distortions: Images of Corner Stores from the Thatcher Era to Brexit

By Denis Bright  

For neoconservatives, the quasi-religious devotion to corner stores might invite nostalgia for Margaret Thatcher’s modest family home above the corner store and post office in North Parade in the pleasant regional city of Grantham in Lincolnshire. Even Margaret Thatcher’s childhood dwelling has moved on to become an outlet for natural therapy medicines and has ceased to become the political metaphor for our global future.

Australia’s John Howard was a devotee of Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013). His thoughts were captured in an interview with Tim Stanley of The Telegraph to coincide with his attendance at the Thatcher Conference on Liberty in 2014 just a year after she joined the metaphysical spirits:

Mrs Thatcher was an early inspiration to Mr Howard, both as a radically conservative Treasurer struggling to get his way in a cautious Liberal government and as an intermittent opposition leader in the 1980s and 1990s. “Her great reforms were in what you might call the freedom areas,” he says, particularly in the labour market where both she and Mr Howard preferred the “freedom of contract” compared to the “corporate state” arrangement that was prevalent in Britain and Australia (“beer and sandwiches and all that sort of thing”). In her willingness to take on unions and the state, he argues, “she was the guiding light”.

Alas, debate continues in the town of Grantham in Lincolnshire on whether promotion of Margaret Thatcher’s heritage is beneficial for local tourism:

Rejected by London because of fears about vandalism and disorder, a controversial £300,000 statue of Margaret Thatcher will be erected in her home town of Grantham after a council planning committee voted unanimously in favour of it.

Standing at just over 20ft high, the bronze sculpture was originally supposed to be placed in Parliament Square in Westminster.

But now the tribute to the former prime minister, which will stand on a 10ft granite plinth because of fears of a “motivated far-left movement… who may be committed to public activism”, will be placed on St Peter’s Hill in the Lincolnshire town.

Ecofriendly corner stores are also fading from the scene despite the political nostalgia for the personalized service at the corner store. Householders in Grantham can avail themselves of supplies from British Foods, an Amazon subsidiary from one of its dark automated warehouses where robots don’t complain about wage theft in the packing departments.

Boris Johnson has moved on too but still likes the endorsement from the UK Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

Boris Johnson has little or no affinity with the values of small business entrepreneurs. He is a confident career politician with strong establishment connections. This leadership style attracted a strong endorsement from President Trump who sniffed the mutual advantage of a Britain freed from financial ties to the European Union.

The late Professor Peter Gowan (1946-2009) of the University of London noted the close links between the financial establishment of the City of London and Wall Street.

The drive for scale and for increasing leverage leads on to another basic feature of the New Wall Street System: the drive to create and expand a shadow-banking sector. Its most obvious features were the new, entirely unregulated banks, above all the hedge funds. These have had no specific functional role—they have simply been trader-banks free of any regulatory control or transparency in their speculative arbitrage.

Private equity groups have also been, in essence, shadow trading banks, specializing in the buying and selling of companies. Special Investment Vehicles (sivs) and conduits are similarly part of this system. In the words of the director of regulation at Spain’s central bank, these sivs and conduits ‘were like banks but without capital or supervision’.

Yet, as a Financial Times report noted: ‘In the past two decades, most regulators have encouraged banks to shift assets off their balance sheets into sivs and conduits.’

The Brexit ideal which has been championed by both President Trump and Boris Johnson seeks to sever Britain’s more ethical financial ties with the European Central Bank (ECB). Since my first reading of Peter Gowan’s article, I have been intrigued by the need for an update on data which is now more than a decade out of date. This motivated my research for the current article.

Conventional data for Net Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) highlights the financial power of a rising China in global investment. The combined FDI tallies for China and Hong Kong are indeed impressive. Likewise, Britain and the US appear to be in real decline as generators of real global investment (World Bank 2019):

Prior to the GFC, assets to the value of 12-13 per cent of the global economy was on the move each year in global capital flows which extended far beyond FDIs. Even these FDI flows have tightened so much that overseas remittances by immigrants from developing countries to the First World have just overtaken FDIs (FT Online 15 August 2019):

Thanks to the ECB, data is available on the fuller picture of global capital flows (ECB Working Paper 2238 in 2019):

Barracking for Brexit by President Trump and Boris Johnson removes the UK from the big swathes of asset liability flows which are centred on the European Union. It makes nonsense of the fable that China is about to overtake the US as the key generator of asset and liability flows.

There is a significant time lag in the availability of new data even for an article published in February 2019 by the ECB. There is a similar time lag in public data issued by the McKinsey Global Institute. Perhaps more up to date data is available through subscription to leading financial institutes. I do not have access to this data. This makes me more appreciative of what is available from the ECB web site through its Working Papers.

The message for Australians is to seek ways of diversifying our own economy with new sources of trade and investment. Just responding to the appalling June Quarter GDP investment data by calling for stimulatory spending is a reflexive response which invites new scare campaigns from the federal LNP.

Likewise, no amount of wage theft or tax relief and legalized tax avoidance for wealthy Australians or earnest commitments to balanced budgets from the federal LNP will turn the ship of state around.

One thing is certain. Complex and internationalised economies have little in common with the Robert’s Family grocery shop and post-office in the historic regional town of Grantham (UK). Even this piece of conservative nostalgia has a new life as an outlet for Living Health. This logo can hardly be applied to the British and Australian economies.

Denis Bright (pictured) is a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis is committed to citizens’ journalism from a critical structuralist perspective. Comments from Insiders with a specialist knowledge of the topics covered are particularly welcome.


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Holy shite!

By Grumpy Geezer  

It’s the smirk; that perpetual, condescending, self-satisfied smirk. It’s a creepy display of the arrogance of a smug holy-roller who literally believes he has a red carpet awaiting his ascent to join the celestial choir come the rapture while we undeserving outsiders are to be condemned to eternal torment, both in this life and in the firey beyond.

“My personal faith in Jesus Christ is not a political agenda” said FauxMo the god-shopper who sought out his preferred version of Jesus and found it in the Pentacostal Retail Therapy franchise.

His Prime Ministership, facilitated by prayer and regular monthly payments, is his Armageddon dress rehearsal – a dry run for the end of the world. It explains so much about a patronising elitist whose superstitions, despite his denials, are a core part of who he his and how he shapes and sells his political agenda.

* * * * *

Religion is an escape – it’s a comfort blanket, a crutch, a denial of the harsh realities of our transient existence on a tiny blue dot in an immense, timeless cosmos. It’s Santa Claus for adults – where an old bearded guy maintains a list of who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. I happily went along with the jolly, florid fatman myth for my kids at Christmas when they were little, and I don’t challenge the religious notions of the elderly who, staring imminent oblivion in the eye, seek out comfort in the notion of eternal repose by an astral spa where the sun lounges have not all been reserved by Germans. Religion in that context is harmless.

But throughout history religion has otherwise manifested itself in the demonisation and persecution of the others, those not of the “true faith”, while providing fortune and favour for the cults’ CEOs and their bag carriers. Does that not line up nicely with FauxMo’s words and deeds?

Who could watch Morrison’s shouty, spittled hectoring in Parliament and not be reminded of a revivalist preacher haranguing a congregation with confected outrage at hell-bound scapegoats and promising that salvation requires deference to he who has a special relationship with an almighty?

This is a bloke who ignores science; who credits his IVF daughters to a god-given miracle but not to the science that enabled it. More ominously Brother Scotty also attributes his election win to another miracle – one that the Big Guy signed off on after a prayer session. Divine intervention! If Jesus is OK with his Machieavelian back-stabbing then perhaps he sees himself as a legitimate inheritor of the doctrine of the divine right of kings – subject to no earthly authority. The arrogance, the hubris, the disdain for scrutiny and accountability, the appeal to his “quiet Australians” as obedient, unquestioning supplicants to his authority; it all fits the profile of a bloke who cannot separate his paternalistic religion from his day job.

Most, if not all, of those who attain high political office are egotists, many are in it for the power and self-enrichment, some are despots, some are standard-issue nutters and weirdos (g’day Tony) and others are fully-fledged, orange-tinted loon-ponders. Of the current shop of horrors – Putin, Kim, Xi, Trump, Johnson, Farrage, Bolsanaro, Duterte, Orban, Al Assad, Netanyahu et al only Morrison is an overt religionist. That does not let religion off the hook – it simply makes Scooter somewhat of an exception, believing he’s there by divine providence and not just political artiface which just makes him a more zealous threat to our fairness and freedoms.

With his exclusionary god on his side FauxMo can demonise and punish all undeserving outsiders with a clear conscience. The unemployed, the underemployed, the poor, the indigenous, the homeless, asylum seekers, environmentalists and vegan activists are all fair game. Dissent and scrutiny are to be outlawed – GetUp!, whistle-blowers and unions are to be persecuted. Expertise that diverges from the scripture of Brother Scotty, whether scientists, the public service or our institutions like the CSIRO and ABC, is to be silenced or ignored.

With the rapture pending he does not care a jot for the health of the planet – why should he, it’s all going to end soon. He’s King Cnut; trying to hold back the progressive tides until Armageddon. Unluckily for him it’s the unfolding climate disasters and a tanking economy that will see his acolytes start to abandon the pews. Morrison has a messiah complex, but despite his mushroom politics he cannot hide the incompetence and graft, his spin has spun and in the battle of ideas he’s left holding the beers. Without his religion he’s got nothing but a smirk.

It won’t be too long before the dak shatter goes terminal and the hairless Hitler, Spud-Dutton, seizes his chance. Heaven help us!

Image from Labor Party Supporters of the Beaches the Lower NorthShore and North Sydney Facebook page

This article was originally published on The Grumpy Geezer.

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The Right to Free Speech is Also A Responsibility

By Robert Wood 

Historians of tomorrow might look back at this moment and see it as a turning point, not only for the United States and the Global North but also in its peripheries. This week alone, there were three pieces of news in Australia that are noteworthy when read together. These were the Australian Federal Police raids on a public servant’s home; a fundraiser event for the government in the studio of a morning show; and a high profile lawyer’s warnings about changes to the proposed religious discrimination bill.[1] When it comes to politicians involved, we have to note the respective influence of the Prime Minister Scott Morrison and two of his high profile cabinet members. But, they are simple ciphers for a wider movement, which we can assume would have hoped that this news would fade into the fog of apathy. Australians could console themselves with sport, and, the feeling that if the world was falling apart that it was far worse elsewhere. In former Prime Minister John Howard’s phrase, people here just wanted to be ‘relaxed and comfortable’.[2]

Yet when we consider this news only a little, it does not bode well. To use the words of high-profile whistle-blower and current member of Parliament, Andrew Wilkie said four years ago, Australia is currently in a ‘pre-police state’.[3] That sense has only grown over the years and now it is at decibels we have not heard. At the very least, it suggests an attack on the right to free speech, which we take for granted here. The Australian government today is instituting a regime that inhibits free speech through police intimidation, big money donation, and insidious legislation. The AFP going through underwear drawers? Dinners for $10,000 a head? Passing hate speech laws when no-one is looking? These actions represent a government emboldened and radicalised. It is changing our very discourse and threatens our democracy just as Hong Kong loses its independence, just like Kashmiri citizens are blinded, and all while the Brazil forest is burning. This is a free speech issue, and, it is fits with the global trend.

Most local free speech proponents take this right as sacrosanct in and of itself. It is not. Like other rights, the right to free speech comes with responsibilities. The greatest responsibility includes opposing hate speech, and, this is what Arthur Moses was at pains to defend because of the proposed changes to 18C. The government’s changes would overturn protection from discrimination for the LGBTQI community by privileging religious views, and, one can muse that this is an outcome of the Israel Folau event and a groundswell of support from its rightward fringe. The responsibility of free speech also means protecting our media, including journalists and public servants that have a duty to inform the public, especially when there is a campaign of misinformation about national issues, especially on border security and defense. This is what matters when we think of Cameron Gill. And, it also means holding to account news corporations that would become propaganda machines as the government becomes more draconian everyday. In one of the world’s most concentrated media markets, it is worrying to see a television station auction off its space to the highest bidders and pretend to remain non-partisan. People are talking about this, particularly in regard to Rupert Murdoch’s political influence but this is not often seen through the lens of free speech.[4]

Free speech does not mean you forgo your responsibilities as a citizen. It does not mean you get to troll women. It does not mean you get to demean minorities. It does not mean you get to slander people that oppose your views. Or, even to peddle sensationalist and fake news because it benefits your shareholders. That we are left to defend these basic forms of responsible freedom of expression also takes us away from pressing issues that are ongoing and not intractable.

There are so many concerns in Australia, not least the rights of linguistic minorities. In this United Nations Year of Indigenous Languages, surely we should be talking about the lack of access to translators in court, the failure to provide materials in languages other than English in prisons, the fact that people are accidentally pleading guilty to charges simply because they do not have the capacity to understand legal language.[5] When we think of those issues, we think of our most vulnerable, and that is the responsibility of people who care about freedom of speech issues. The state has already marginalised and attacked those people, left them to rot far from public view. Now it has begun to shamelessly target ordinary people in Canberra suburbs, multicultural citizens and LGTBQI people, all while courting media corporations that should have a moral compass and only talk about ‘regrettable’ incidents without putting their money where their mouth is. What is next is anyone’s guess, but I for one do not want to find out, to remain relaxed and comfortable, consoled by sport and events elsewhere to convince us that life in Australia is just.







Dr. Robert Wood is Chair of PEN Perth and Creative Director for the Centre for Stories. He was a Visiting Scholar at Columbia University in 2017-2018.

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Telstra, can’t help but love you … but!

By David Ayliffe  

Nothing makes you feel your age more than trying to deal with a telephone/internet company about a problem. I’ve known 20-year olds who have aged decades just from one small attempt at resolving a billing dispute. Met one just the other day in a nursing home. Thought he was well into his 80’s but when he kept taking selfies in strange positions I started to wonder. Apparently his experience of Telstra customer service not only aged him prematurely but when he lost the plot entirely “telco dementia” set in. They say, it can’t be treated you know.

The trouble is that whilst I will exaggerate a little in this piece, most of you phone and internet users reading it will see no exaggeration at all, and that is such a worry. I can see you quietly nodding in agreement.

So, what’s the problem?

In my case I began writing this whilst in the very act of trying to communicate to customer service and sort out my minor problem with my wonderful telco Telstra. “Telstra, can’t help but love you … but!

Sarcasm? Don’t be silly. And of course, no exaggeration intended.

Today my casual chatting (as I write) – and some people say guys can’t multi task – is to a succession of Telstra robots and employees after visiting the Telstra shop where I was told that what Telstra personnel had told me wasn’t correct and they knew better.

It’s OK. I don’t really mind today. I’ve decided I’m not going to get angry and I’ll use this writing exercise as a distraction. After all, it’s not the staff I’m dealing who are to blame. It’s the men and women that I can’t talk to – the people at the top driving their Porsches, travelling first class and luxuriating in offices with wonderful views.

No, I’ve got plenty of time. I’m only 65 and I’m not planning to die for a while. I am in fact hoping to live and work till I’m 90 when I’m determined I will retire whether I want to or not. Being one of the few with not enough super on which to retire, I’m determined not to be a burden on the Government as I remember oh so well the pleadings and preachings of a previous treasurer of this Imperial outpost, the formerly Honorable Joe Hockey and his illustrious leader (“Sir Philip of Australia, Duke of Edinburgh” now also formerly Honorable Tony Abbott who encouraged all of us not to be leaners on society but lifters. Speeches that are enshrined in Hansard and our hearts.

Joe and Tony, I want you to know wherever you are in Washington or at the beach or wherever else, I’m lifting, oh I’m lifting hard, and I’m not going to stop.

Sorry I digress.

It was all my fault in the beginning. And probably at the end too.

I dropped my phone and cracked the screen. The Samsung S9 is a beautiful piece of equipment but like me, it doesn’t work well with a cracked screen. So, with the phone screen cracked, my head began to reel in dollar signs. Then comfort flooded me… No worries, I thought. Three years ago I decided it was time to not be a leaner on Telstra, that poor mega rich company in Australia, but a lifter. So instead of continuing on a buy plan where Telstra provided me with the phone and data and I paid a monthly fee and then at the end of the period they talked me into upgrading to the next wizz bang creation for another two year period, I decided to do something just a little bit different.

The salespeople were so convincing when they offered a Lease Plan. Fantastic. Not only would I have the same service, and phone that I would have on the other plan, but at the end of the plan I wouldn’t have to worry about what to do with the old phone that I owned when it was replaced by a new one because I wouldn’t own it at all. Brilliant. I would simply give it back to Telstra. Would I save money? No. Once again the sales person was very helpful I wouldn’t save money – after all what is money worth in our economy anyway? – no I would have the opportunity of upgrading to the next wizz bang phone after only 18 months and with just a small $200 cost added to my bill. Wonderful eh! Or if I was patient I could have a new phone and new plan at the end of the current plan where, remember, I would have the benefit of not owning the phone I had leased for that period and simply giving it back.

Now, if you are feeling confused perhaps that was my excuse when I elected to go for this plan. The biggest benefit I thought at the time was the replace or repair concept that meant if something went wrong – say, I dropped the phone – it would be replaced or repaired at no cost.

Wonderful. So, if I haven’t lost you already you might recall this brings me to the predicament that has kept me on the phone or text to different Telstra robots and minions over the last several weeks.

Through all this time I was so confident that the Telstra I loved so much wouldn’t let me down. They had my back. I just didn’t realise they had my balls as well!  You see, something happened between the last Lease Plan and the current one. Probably my fault I’m sure, but, it seems that my repair or replace option was no longer current and that’s why my negotiations with them took on Trumpian proportions – where, in the end it wasn’t me but Telstra (“do I have a deal for you”) who win every time.

This prompted me to make several calls to contact one of the Telstra robots who always ask my name, my number, the colour of my underpants and whether I have had a bowel action this morning, before they put me through to a human being.

My discussion today did have a relatively happy ending. Not so of course if I couldn’t drive or was infirm which you will see later.

I have made several attempts to resolve this problem and what has angered me before, and rather amused me today was the fact that every call meant I had to start at the beginning because there seemed no easy record of my complaint for staff or robots to access.

Most of the human beings you deal with appear to be very nice people. Certainly the ones you text don’t seem to exhibit any personality flaws, but then again it is hard with text to determine a personality at all, let alone gender, hair colour or nose rings.

I’m not going to bore you with the succession of conversations, texts etc that have gone on over many weeks now. Suffice to say I went to the Telstra Shop in Ringwood today to drop off my phone for the repair that billing staff had told me in August that they would cover because of the misunderstanding over my errant repair or replace policy. It had taken me a little while to find someone who could lend me a phone for the period as the shops no longer provide loan phones. (Remember those days…nostalgia hurts eh).

I had to have a loan phone even if only for a few days to run two small businesses that help me keep on lifting for Joe, and not leaning on Australia. I work as a disability support worker – trying to help others not lean too much – and I’m a Marriage Celebrant where I try and give couples a lift up into their happy future. (Dad joke. Not very good!)

The employee in the shop told me that despite my protestations that I had been told my phone could be repaired at cost to Telstra, even if billed to me first, was not possible. The phone on a Lease Plan would be replaced with a new phone and a new plan.  I objected I don’t want a new plan. I don’t want to be with Telstra when this plan ends. I want to run a business with carrier pigeons or Morse code or some other form of communication like SHOUTING rather than deal with Telstra – even though it’s “Telstra, can’t help but love you… but!

All of this prompted me not to get upset or angry as I might have in the past, after all, who was to blame the person in front of me or the people I can’t speak to in their (spiritually speaking) ivory towers.

No, as soon as I got in the car I made a hands free call to Telstra for my hour long drive home where I spoke to a few robots, who sounded very nice but I soon learned were recorded voices who asked me my name, my number, the colour of my underpants and whether I had had a bowel action this morning, before they put me through to a human being.

I stayed on that call with various people and robots, none of whom had records of my previous discussions even though my phone and name had been provided to each one. Finally, the line dropped, and I just drove home quietly without talking to robots or humans and was happy indeed. Perhaps it was God.

Then after reaching home I did what a text had told me to do. I went to my computer where I logged in to the Telstra web page and then chatted with another person who I discovered was a robot because of the questions about my underpants and bowels. Once again, even when chatting (not talking) – and so you understand clearly “chatting” is not chatting, it’s texting – I was put through to my first human being on text of the afternoon. I know this because I asked whether the person was human or not and Mark replied that he was, and not only that but, “100%”. That was encouraging because some of my family might question whether I’m 100% human. Anyway, with each person I had to explain (type) my story over and over again to be sure they understood what my problem was. And I worked very hard to keep myself calm, at peace and in control all through it. After all, Cody, Mark, Gerard and James were not the problem. The problem was the people I couldn’t speak to who were too busy enjoying the views from their lovely offices, travelling first class and driving their Porsches or equivalents.

The people I spoke to were also Testra customers (as one of them told me) so they knew not only how to endure the suffering of others, but to suffer themselves. Although I’m sure being insiders they would have found easier ways to solve their problems than me.

It was James who finally brought the curtain down. He not only managed to find the original record of my conversation on August 23rd (19 days before) about this issue and the resolution proposed at the time, which I now know couldn’t work, but he then found a way to fix it properly. So, as soon as I can, I will take the offending phone to a Samsung shop where the screen will be repaired. I will ask their assistance in setting up the loan phone I have from a friend or use one of theirs so my aged and disabled clients can still enjoy my assistance and those planning weddings can still be wed.

And Telstra will be in its tower watching us, and all will be well with the world.

With all the ongoing frustrations of modern life I’m afraid I can’t help but wonder how different things could be. A few years ago, I met a man who had similar struggles with Telstra and his response was different to mine. He started his own small Telco to onsell products provided by Telstra and others and maintain an Australian based support network to ensure that problems that arose could be dealt with swiftly. His company was so easy to deal with and made happy customers as easily as rabbits make rabbits.

He ran the company for a few successful years. There’s a lot of money in telephones and associated services and finally sold to another company and I’ve since lost track of what has happened with them.

It seems incredible to me that a company as large as Telstra can’t operate more efficiently and with greater benefit to us, who literally, pay the bills.

I think my scenario could have worked much better. Let me dream a little. It could have been something like this:

It is August 23rd this year when I make my first call to Telstra to get help in regard to my broken screen problem. A pleasant-sounding voice answers. I will discover that this is a robot. More specifically it is a recorded voice linked to computer programs.  I’m asked whether the call is for 1. New Business (Sales), 2, Technical Support and 3. Accounts and 4. Something else. 

I’m tempted to select 1 for new business knowing that the carrot of making a sale will mean faster response time, but no, I select 4. for ‘Something else’ and the Robot then asks me for my name and phone number after which the call is redirected. Immediately, my phone number and name has been forwarded to a human being who is able to see details of my account and any reason for the call that I have already given. Importantly, the person will see a summary of my previous interactions too, if any, with Telstra, and so may ask me whether those were resolved satisfactorily as this may well be the reason for the call. If that is not the case they proceed to ask how they can help. Rather than several calls, several robots, and several customer representatives each of whom have to ask me to repeat my details and my problem to them –  with this system, any department at Telstra that answers my call and has these details forwarded to them will be able to see the problem and know whether they can help or whether it needs to be forwarded to another department. I hope this is making sense. It’s called communication, and Telstra and its competitors are all in, (surprise, surprise), the communications game.

Put simply if modern technology was used appropriately by modern companies the experience of customers dealing with those companies could be handled much more easily and overall be much more sweet to the taste.

When the last woman I spoke to on 23rd August proposed a resolution to my problem that involved Telstra shops, perhaps communication of that resolution could have been automatically forwarded to the shop of my choice and staff there would have had the opportunity of advising that it wouldn’t work. This would have saved me hours of further negotiations and time and fuel in travelling to and from the Telstra shop or indeed other shops. It certainly would have been good for my mental health. 

Of course, this is not only a telecommunications company problem. Similar issues occur with many companies who happily take our money and provide little by way of customer service in return. I could mention government departments but don’t want to depress you completely.


I wonder whether anyone has ever done time and management studies, or cost accounting on organisations like Telstra and their customer service? In my case alone the problem was not huge however I guess I spoke to up to a dozen people over those weeks and chatted to half a dozen. How much does all that cost? Yet this was just a broken screen on a mobile phone for heaven’s sake. I could have paid for it to be fixed, even though I don’t own and will never own this phone under its current plan and it would have been settled much more quickly. This would in fact have been a lot easier for me, but was it the right thing to do. What then of the major issues that people have and the difficulties they have in getting a satisfactory outcome. I think of some of my intellectually disabled clients who talk about how hard it is to get their problems understood when they have an issue with a mobile phone, an internet provider or (forgive me) Centrelink! The cost to the community of corporate and government stupidity must run into the billions and then there’s another question that arises.

In chatting with James the last of my Telstra customer service people today I wrote: “Would love to know if Telstra provides excellent mental health support for you and your team. You must need it!” I wasn’t being rude and James thanked me for my concern and replied that yes Telstra does and supports the “Are you OK” campaign.

That’s great but I really wonder how much Telstra as a workplace could be improved by greater efficiencies and a better communication mechanisms across departments and to customers as well. The cost savings financially and emotionally could be enormous. Again, this is not just about Telstra as there are many companies that I could name that could similarly be improved but Telstra as the leading communications company in Australia, should be leading the way.

Telstra, can’t help but love you … but, I’m on the lookout for a small to medium telco company that provides the sort of service that is still possible in the 21st century but eludes corporate giants that only want profits and don’t care how they get it.  If I can’t find one, maybe like my friend Damien I might start one. It can’t be that hard.

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The Christian wolf in sheep’s clothing

By Stephen Tardrew  

My thanks to my dear friend John Lord for setting off my rant machine.

Morrison and his narcissistic hypocritical ilk are destroying truth in justice, kindness and love by giving cruelty and inequity a smiley face of concocted lies covered by persuasive ingenuous over-confidence.

Morrison is what happens when a smooth-talking conman uses his pseudo manufactured benevolence to lie and manipulate the truth. A true antisocial personality and conniving egotist. The self-infatuated narcissistic covering his irrationality with delusions of grandeur supported by magical mythical Pentecostal fairy tails that give validity to his lies. Victim blame and punishment are the weapons of the irrational and deluded who are incapable of grasping the facts of science and logic.

Any fool can manufacture a narrative, in fact, whole societies have manufactured consent through media ownership while vilifying those who would point out the facts to challenge them. Cruelty, victim blame, and vilification become the norms shrouded in fascicle smiley hypocrisy.

Unless, as a species, we learn the scientific facts … we are lost to this type of cruel and vile self-justification for evil. The Christian wolf in sheep’s clothing. A compulsive lying coat of thorns disguised as many colours. The smiling assassin.

Mark my words, Morrison is truly dangerous because he believes his own lies.


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Medieval combat for ‘the Palace letters’ (part 5)

By Dr George Venturini  

Explicitly, Justice Griffiths declared that he could “not accept the applicant’s core submission to the effect that the correspondence comprising AA1984/609 should be viewed as the property of the Commonwealth simply because its subject matter relates to the performance of the Governor-General’s role and function. First, in my respectful view, that submission adopts an unduly broadbrush approach to the role and responsibilities of the Governor-General. The position of the Governor-General involves the exercise of a wide range of powers and functions, some of which involve conduct and actions taken other than on the advice of the Prime Minister, a Minister or the Executive Council. Notably, in Kline, the plurality drew attention to some of the unique features of the role of Governor-General when their Honours said at Para. 38. The Governor-General, in common with judges, takes an oath to undertake his or her functions without fear or favour. However, as mentioned, the position of the Governor-General calls for the exercise of a multiplicity of powers and functions, many (but not all) of which are undertaken in public, and some (but few) of which involve making decisions other than on the advice of a Minister or the Executive Council. (Para., 119).

Secondly, I accept Archives’ submission that the personal and private correspondence between a Governor-General and The Queen does not involve the Governor-General exercising the executive power of the Commonwealth within the meaning of s 61 of the Constitution. For the reasons given above, that correspondence has a strong sui generis quality which places it apart from much of the other correspondence sent or received by a Governor-General. (Para. 120)

Thirdly, I do not consider that resolution of the issues in these proceedings is assisted by reference to authorities in the United States of America which were relied upon by the applicant, concerning the ownership of Presidential materials and tape-recorded conversations involving President Nixon (see, for example, Nixon v Sampson 389 F. Supp. 107 (1975) and Nixon v Administrator of General Services 433 US 425 (1977)). Different constitutional and statutory considerations, as well as well as different conventions, inform the view which has been taken there to the effect that, as a general principle of law, records which are generated, created, produced or kept by a public official in the administration and performance of the powers and duties of a public office belong to the government and may not be considered the private property of the official. (Para. 121).

Fourthly, however, nor do I accept Archives’ submission that the presumption of regularity has some meaningful operation in these proceedings (see [81] above). Archives submitted that the presumption applied so as to produce the result that the various Directors-General who entered into arrangements with various Governors-General concerning the custody of correspondence between a Governor-General and The Queen had authority to enter into those arrangements and, moreover, it should also be presumed that each of those Directors-General held a satisfaction that those records were not the property of the Commonwealth. The presumption of regularity is discussed in cases such as Minister for Natural Resources v New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council (1987) 9 NSWLR 154 at 164, where McHugh JA said:

The natural home of the maxim is public law. Where a public official or authority purports to exercise a power or to do an act in the course of his or its duties, a presumption arises that all conditions necessary to the exercise of that power or the doing of that act have been fulfilled. Thus a person who acts in a public office is presumed to have been validly appointed to that office… R v Brewer (1942) 66 CLR 535 at 548… And a council which must form an opinion as to whether there will be any detriment upon the granting of a planning permit is presumed to have formed the opinion before granting the permit: Pearce v City of Coburg [1973] VR 583.

In the circumstances of that case, absent evidence to the contrary, McHugh JA was prepared to apply the presumption of regularity to prove that the secretary of the Western Lands Commission, who executed the grant of a permissive occupancy of land under the Crown Land Consolidation Act 1913 (NSW), had been duly delegated to do so by the Minister acting under s 17A of that Act. (Para. 122).

The presumption has been considered in other cases where the issue has arisen as to whether it can be presumed that a decision-maker, including a delegate, has been properly appointed and made a valid decision notwithstanding the absence of formal evidence of the person’s appointment (see, for example, Ray v Superannuation Complaints Tribunal [2004] FCA 1120; 138 FCR 548 per Goldberg J). (Para. 123).

I accept that the presumption of regularity has a potentially wider operation in public law. For example, in Industrial Equity Ltd v Deputy Commissioner of Taxation [1990] HCA 46; 170 CLR 649, Gaudron J made the following observations at [22] and [23] in the context of a claim in a judicial review challenge that notices issued by the Deputy Commissioner of Taxation under what was then s 264 of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936 (Cth) had been issued for an improper purpose (footnotes omitted):

22. It was put on behalf of the respondents that the onus of establishing that a decision was made for an improper purpose lies on an applicant for judicial review and that in the present cases that onus had not been discharged. In particular, it was put that, in determining whether the onus had been discharged, a court should proceed by application of the presumption, embodied in the Latin expression omnia praesumuntur rite et solemniter esse acta, that all things have been done correctly and solemnly. To the extent that presumptions are usefully brought to bear where reasons are provided for decisions the subject of an application for an order of review under the ADJR Act, it may be that the relevant presumption is that embodied in the Latin expression omnia praesumuntur legitime facta donec probetur in contrarium. That presumption, which applies to official acts, is that all necessary conditions and formalities have been satisfied until the contrary is proved. See Jowitt’s Dictionary of English Law, 2nd ed. (1977), at p 1283.

23. The ADJR Act does not make express provision as to the onus of proof in respect of grounds of review. In Brunetto v. Collector of Customs, it was said by Toohey J., in relation to s.5(1)(c) of that Act, that “it is incumbent on the applicant to demonstrate lack of jurisdiction”. Given that there is nothing in the ADJR Act to displace the general rule that it is for an applicant to establish his or her case, the statement in Brunetto is undoubtedly correct, both as to the ground there under consideration and as to the other grounds of review provided by that Act. More particularly and bearing directly on the present cases, there is nothing in the ADJR Act to displace the common law rule that a person impeaching the exercise of a power on the basis of improper purpose bears the onus of establishing that issue. See, for example, as to the common law rule, Municipal Council of Sydney v. Campbell. And, where the subject matter of a decision falls squarely within the terms of a statutory provision, then, in the absence of evidence establishing improper purpose or evidence displacing all possible permitted purposes, it must be accepted, simply because of the absence of such evidence, that the decision was made for a purpose for which such decisions might properly be made. It is only if the purpose attending the decision must be ascertained by inference from other facts that a presumption of regularity has a role to play. An improper purpose will not lightly be inferred and, by application of a presumption of regularity, will only be inferred if the evidence cannot be reconciled with the proper exercise of the power. See Reg. v. Inland Revenue Commissioners; Ex parte Rossminster per Lord Diplock at p 1013. (Para. 124).

Although Gaudron J was in dissent, I respectfully consider that her Honour’s observations represent the law. (Para. 125).

As mentioned above, however, I do not consider that the presumption of regularity assists in resolving the issues in dispute in these proceedings. The applicant did not dispute that the various Directors-General were duly appointed and would enter into valid arrangements for the purposes of s 6(2) of the Act. Moreover, the issue of whether or not correspondence the subject of such an arrangement was properly viewed by the Director-General as not being the property of the Commonwealth (or the property of a Commonwealth institution) falls to be determined by the Court applying appropriate principles of statutory construction relating to the Act. This task is not constrained by the presumption of regularity. It is difficult to see how the presumption of regularity applies in the particular circumstances here so as to establish the Director-General’s satisfaction or state of mind that AA1984/609 was not “a Commonwealth record” as contended by Archives, when there was no statutorily-based archives legislation in place in August 1978. (Para. 126).

Fifthly, I do not consider that Archives’ construction of the Act should be rejected because, on the applicant’s submission, this construction means that the documents comprising AA1984/609 remain the property of Sir John Kerr forever and could, for example, be retrieved and then destroyed or otherwise disposed of by, for example, Ms Bashford. As noted above, the documents constituting M4513 were provided to Archives in June 1998 by Sir John’s eldest daughter, Ms Gabrielle Kibble. Subsequently, Ms Bashford (who is Sir John’s stepdaughter and executrix to Sir John’s widow, Anne Dorothy Kerr), signed various instruments of deposit with the Archives relating to M4513. The applicant submitted that this demonstrated that there was potential for AA1984/609 to be retrieved from Archives and destroyed, or otherwise disposed of, irrespective of the clear national interest in those documents. (Para. 127)

There are several difficulties with that submission. First, in her affidavit dated 9 March 2017, Ms Bashford made clear that when she deposited some of Sir John’s papers with Archives on 29 March 2004, it was not her intention or understanding that her instrument of deposit applied to private correspondence passing between Sir John and Buckingham Palace. Secondly, as Mr Whitlam QC acknowledged, insofar as the documents comprising AA1984/609 are concerned, it could be assumed that, by 29 March 2004, Sir John’s estate had been fully administered (noting that Sir John died on 24 March 1991 and Lady Kerr died on 16 September 1997). Thirdly, the scenario painted by Mr Whitlam QC failed to take into account The Queen’s own interest in the disposal of the documents comprising AA1984/609. Accordingly, I do not consider that this scenario stands in the way of accepting Archives’ construction as correct. (Para. 128)

Sixthly, I do not accept the applicant’s submission (as outlined in [59] above) that an inference should be drawn that Sir John considered that he could not withdraw AA1984/609 from Archives, in contrast with his retrieval of 11 cartons of other papers which he had lodged with Archives. There is no evidence to indicate that any of the 11 cartons included correspondence of the character of the documents constituting AA1984/609. Indeed, an inference might be drawn that Sir John was content to have AA1984/609 remain in the custody of Archives because of the special arrangements regarding access to them, as reflected in the correspondence summarised above. (Para. 129).

For these reasons, the second question, insofar as it relates to whether any of the records constituting AA1984/609 are the property of the Commonwealth, should be answered “no”. (Para. 130).

As mentioned above, the resolution of the second question assists with resolving the first question, to which I now return. (Para. 131).

As is evident from the analysis of the second question, historically and conventionally, a distinction has been drawn between correspondence between a Governor-General and The Queen arising from the performance of the duties and functions of the office of Governor-General and correspondence between the Governor-General and other persons arising from the performance of those duties and functions. The distinction is clearly drawn in Mr Smith’s letter dated 20 May 1980 to Sir John (see Para. 20). The sui generis nature of correspondence between The Queen and a Vice-Regal representative is not, however, confined to Sir John himself. It is reflected in the evidence summarised above relating to the arrangements made by other Governors-General in relation such correspondence, including Lord Casey, Sir Paul Hasluck, Sir Zelman Cowen and Sir Ninian Stephen. (Para. 132).

In my respectful view, it is both unwise and unnecessary to seek in these proceedings to exhaustively define what papers or records of a Governor-General are “Commonwealth records” on the basis that they are Commonwealth property. In light of the assumption that all the records in AA1984/609 comprise correspondence between Sir John Kerr acting in his capacity as Governor-General and The Queen (and/or Her Majesty’s Private Secretary), and it is those records alone which are the subject of the applicant’s relevant request for access under the Act, it is sufficient to determine that, for the reasons given above, those records are not “Commonwealth records”, as found by Archives. (Para. 133).

As noted above, the alternative way in which the applicant contends that the documents comprising AA1984/609 are “Commonwealth records” is because they are the property of a Commonwealth institution, being the official establishment of the Governor-General. I will now address that alternative case, which also overlaps to an extent with the terms of the second question.

(c) In the alternative to question (b), did Archives exceed its jurisdiction by reason that AA1984/609 did not contain “Commonwealth records” because it was not the property of the official establishment of the Governor-General? (Para. 134).

In substance, the alternative issue raised by the applicant is whether the records comprising AA1984/609 are Commonwealth records because they are the property of a Commonwealth institution, namely the official establishment of the Governor-General. For the following reasons, I consider that this issue should also be answered in the negative, for the purposes of both this question and the second question. (Para. 135).

First, the word “property” should be given the same meaning when juxtaposed with the concept of “the official establishment of the Governor-General” as it has when juxtaposed with the concept of “the Commonwealth”. Accordingly, for the reasons given at [102] to [106] above, the reference to “property of” picks up the concept of ownership as ordinarily understood under the general law. Secondly, it is notable that the definition of “Commonwealth institution” in s 3(1) of the Act refers to the concept of “the official establishment of the Governor-General”, as opposed to the “Governor-General” or even “the office of the Governor-General”. As noted above, the phrase “the official establishment of the Governor-General”, which is undefined, appears to be unique to this Act. (Para. 136)

The task is to construe those words. The relevant principles of statutory construction are conveniently reflected in the following passage from the recent judgement of Kiefel CJ, Nettle and Gordon JJ in SZTAL v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection [2017] HCA 34; 91 ALJR 936 (SZTAL) at [14] (footnotes omitted):

The starting point for the ascertainment of the meaning of a statutory provision is the text of the statute whilst, at the same time, regard is had to its context and purpose. Context should be regarded at this first stage and not at some later stage and it should be regarded in its widest sense. This is not to deny the importance of the natural and ordinary meaning of a word, namely how it is ordinarily understood in discourse, to the process of construction. Considerations of context and purpose simply recognise that, understood in its statutory, historical or other context, some other meaning of a word may be suggested, and so too, if its ordinary meaning is not consistent with the statutory purpose, that meaning must be rejected. (Para. 137).

It is significant that, in contrast with all the other “Commonwealth institutions” specified in s 3(1), the only one which has a qualification to it is that relating to “the official establishment of the Governor-General”. All the rest refer to the particular institution as a whole and without qualification, e.g. “the Executive Council”, “the Senate” and “a Department”. This strongly suggests that the qualification is intended not to encompass the broader institution which is reflected in the concept of “the Governor-General”. (Para. 138).

Justice Griffiths accepted “Archives’ submission that the qualification “official establishment” refers to persons who assist and support the Governor-General’s performance of official duties, namely the Official Secretary and his or her staff. The history of the position of Official Secretary is outlined in [66] above, noting also that the non-statutory position of Official Secretary to the Governor-General existed for decades prior to the amendments passed in 1984 and 1999. The effect of s 6 of the Governor-General Act is to create the statutory office of Official Secretary to the Governor-General and s 6(2) provides that the Official Secretary, together with the staff employed under s 13 (who then become members of the Governor-General’s staff) constitute “the Office of Official Secretary to the Governor-General”. The function of that Office is “to assist the Governor-General” (s 6(3)). (Para. 139).

“The effect of this construction is that the Governor-General himself or herself is not relevantly a “Commonwealth institution” or “the Commonwealth” itself. In my view, this outcome is supported not only by the text of the Act, but also by contextual considerations. Those considerations include the legislative history to the Act, although some care needs to be taken in this regard because, as noted above, that legislative history may not reveal a consistent approach to the question of the extent to which archives legislation should apply to the Governor-General’s records. The first Bill, the Archives Bill 1977, proposed that a different approach be taken to the records of a Governor-General and his Office, and records of the executive government. This is reflected, for example, in Prime Minister Fraser’s letter dated 18 October 1977 (see Para. 14) and Senator Durack’s reference to special provision having been made for the records of, inter alia, the Governor-General (see [30] above). (Para. 140).

It appears that a different view was taken in the Archives Bill 1981. The opposition moved an amendment to subject all records of the Governor-General to the open access provisions, but this Bill was never passed (see Paras.33,34). (Para. 141).

Justice Griffiths did “not consider that it is appropriate to construe the Act as passed by reference to the then opposition’s proposed amendment to an earlier Archives Bill. The Act plainly draws a distinction between the records of the official establishment of the Governor-General and the Governor-General himself or herself. In my view, the intention was to have the provisions of the Act, dealing with such matters as the open access period, apply to records of the official establishment of the Governor-General, but to leave to any particular Governor-General the option of placing his or her private or personal records with Archives under arrangements pursuant to s 6(2). To the extent that any such records were also “Commonwealth records” as defined in s 3(1), s 6(3) was inserted to ensure that the provisions relating to “Commonwealth records” applied to such documents even though they happened to have been included in personal papers deposited with Archives under a s 6(2) arrangement. (Para. 142).

Justice Griffiths did “not accept the applicant’s submission that the Act should be construed by reference to what Senator Evans said in his Second Reading Speech, when he referred to the legislation not applying to the Governor-General’s “private or personal records” and that this is a very limited category of documents, such as Christmas and birthday cards, bank statements etc. That approach fails to take account of the fact that there has generally been an acute appreciation of the special character of correspondence between the Governor-General and The Queen, an appreciation which was undoubtedly heightened by the events leading up to the dismissal of Prime Minister Whitlam on 11 November 1975. That appreciation is reflected not only in Prime Minister Fraser’s letter dated 18 October 1977 (see Para. 14), but also in the Director-General’s letter dated 18 November 1977 (see Para. 15).” (Para. 143).

Finally, Justice Griffiths said, “in my view, Kline provides additional support for this construction. Of course, Kline did not raise the proper construction of the Act, but rather the proper construction of the companion Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth) (the FOI Act). Moreover, there are clear differences between the FOI Act and the Act when it comes to dealing with documents or records relating to the Governor-General. Most notably, the Governor-General is not a “prescribed authority” for the purposes of the FOI Act. Under s 6A of the FOI Act there is a right of access under the FOI Act to a document of the Official Secretary where “the document relates to matters of an administrative nature”. (Para. 144).

Without losing sight of those important textual differences between the FOI Act and the Act, it seems to me that some of the observations of the High Court plurality in Kline provide broad guidance in resolving of some of the matters in dispute between the parties concerning the Act and its application to certain records of the Governor-General. (Para. 145).

First, the plurality in Kline (French CJ, Crennan, Kiefel and Bell JJ) stated at [33] that a matter of “considerable contextual significance” in resolving the issues there concerning access under the FOI Act is the fact that the Governor-General is not subject to the operation of that legislation. This was because that office did not fall within the definition of an “agency” or “prescribed authority”. The High Court also drew attention to the fact that neither the Parliament nor Justices of the High Court were subject to that legislation. Their Honours observed at [33] that:

… certain individuals, including the Governor-General, who hold independent offices pursuant to the Australian Constitution or a federal enactment, requiring the impartial discharge of the powers and functions of such office, are not subject to the operation of the FOI Act.

Similarly, the Governor-General is not subject to the operation of Act, however, it does apply to the official establishment of the Governor-General (as to which see further below). (Para. 146).

Secondly, matters of “textual significance” which were emphasised by the plurality in Kline include the fact that certain provisions of the FOI Act (namely ss 6A(1), 5(1) and (6)) reveal “a plain intention to constrain the extent to which the FOI Act pursues its purposes and objects against persons (or entities) providing administrative support to individuals who hold independent offices and are not subject to the operation of the FOI Act” (at [36]). The same may be said in respect of the Act and the distinction which is drawn there between, for example, the office of Governor-General and the “official establishment of the Governor-General”. (Para. 147).

Thirdly, the plurality noted at [37] that the FOI Act did not pursue its objects at any cost, but rather, struck a balance between exposing some government processes and activities to increased public participation and scrutiny while exempting other government processes and activities in order to secure a competing or conflicting public interest in non-disclosure. Similar observations may be made in respect of the Act (Para. 148).

Fourthly, the plurality noted at [38] that the position of the Governor-General “calls for the exercise of a multiplicity of powers and functions, many (but not all) of which are undertaken in public, and some (but few) of which involve making decisions other than on the advice of a Minister or the Executive Council”. These observations are equally applicable here. (Para. 149).

Fifthly, at [39], the plurality described the Governor-General’s responsibility for the administration of the Order of Australia as “a sui generis role” which required “full and frank assistance to the Governor-General from the Council for the Order”. In turn, the Council required full and frank assistance from the Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General. The same may be said in respect of the unique role of the Governor-General in providing personal briefings to The Queen, which briefings are made by the Governor-General without reference to, or advice from, the government. (Para. 150).

Sixthly, consistently with the exclusion of the Governor-General from the operation of the FOI Act, the plurality concluded that the class of documents which are not “of an administrative nature” related to the discharge of the Governor-General’s “substantive powers and functions”, as opposed to “matters of an administrative nature”, which connoted documents which concern the management and administration of office resources (at [41]). Similar implications might be drawn from the fact that the Act focuses on the records of the “official establishment of the Governor-General” as opposed to the position of Governor-General itself. (Para. 151).

Seventhly, it is appropriate to say something briefly concerning the phrase “administrative records” in the context of records of the official establishment of the Governor-General. As noted above, this phrase is not used in the Act although a similar phrase appears in the FOI Act, as discussed in Kline. The phrase does appear, however, in a document titled “Access Examination Manual” which is published by Archives (November 2014) for the guidance of its staff in making access decisions under the Act. At page 149, under the heading “Personal and private correspondence between the Governor-General and the Palace”, the Manual states:

The Archives Act brings the records of the official establishment of the Governor-General under its coverage. Records of the official establishment are essentially the records of the Office of the Governor-General. These administrative records are treated in the same way as other Commonwealth records subject to the Archives Act.

Personal and private correspondence from the Governor-General to the Monarch is not covered by the Archives Act. (Para. 152)

It is significant that there is no reference in Archives’ letter dated 31 March 2016 (see Para. 7), in which brief reasons were given for the decision to refuse access, to the issue whether the documents constituting AA1984/609 are “administrative records”. (Para. 153)

The applicant submitted that it should be inferred from the reasons given by Archives for denying access to the documents constituting M4153 that Archives reasoned that the only records of the Governor-General that are brought under the Act are administrative records of the official establishment of the Governor-General. It was further contended that this same reasoning was employed in denying access to AA1984/609 because, in the letter dated 10 May 2016, it was stated that this bundle of documents was not a “Commonwealth record” and is not subject to the access provisions under the Act “for the same reasons as Record M4153”. (Para. 154).

In my respectful view, the applicant’s submissions on this matter are based on a false premise. There is nothing in either statement of reasons to suggest that Archives viewed the characterisation of records as being “administrative records of the official establishment of the Governor-General” as relevant to its decision on access. I do not accept the applicant’s submission that it should be inferred that Archives applied the wrong test in its reasons for refusing access to AA1984/609. (Para. 155).

For these reasons, Justice Griffiths did not “accept that Archives exceeded its jurisdiction in determining that the records constituting AA1984/609 are not the property of the official establishment of the Governor-General. The third question should be answered in the negative.” (Para. 156)

Finally, on 16 March 2018, Griffith J. concluded:

“For these reasons, the originating application filed on 20 October 2016 should be dismissed. The parties were agreed that, in these circumstances, there should be no order as to costs.” (Para. 157).

Continued Saturday – Medieval combat for ‘the Palace letters’ (part 6)

Previous instalment – Medieval combat for ‘the Palace letters’ (part 4)

Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some seventy years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. He may be reached at


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Of food, war and ecology: how we can end the 6th Extinction

By Julian Cribb  

The most destructive implement on the Planet, without a doubt, is the human jawbone.

Every year, in the course of wolfing through 8.5 trillion meals, it dislodges more than 75 billion tonnes of topsoil, swallows seven billion tonnes of fresh water, generates 30 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions and distributes five million tonnes of concentrated biocides.

That same human jawbone fells forests, empties oceans of life, destroys rivers and lakes, sterilises landscapes and blankets the planet in a toxic plastic shroud. It is the main driver of the present grotesque imbalance in terrestrial vertebrate biomass: 32 percent human, 66 percent domestic livestock, 3 percent wildlife.

Food revolution

From these figures alone – and many others – it is clear that there can be no solution to the global ecological crisis or the sixth extinction without a solution to the issue of how humans produce and consume food.

Bluntly, we are in the process of devouring a planet which, if one considers the matter even for microseconds, is not a good outlook for the survival of our own species, either.

Take heart. There is a solution. It is practical, involves little or no new technology and, what is most important, it is completely affordable and the money to implement it already exists. So do the people and skills.

However, as you may imagine, it involves a food revolution an order of magnitude or so greater even than the green energy revolution now sweeping the planet. But it is equally promising and feasible.

Appetite for war

The first thing which everyone who eats needs to understand is that the present food system, perfectly adequate for the twentieth century, is not sustainable in the twenty first.

Apart from a growing vulnerability to climatic impacts, modern broadacre farming systems are destroying the very soils, waters and ecosystem services they depend on at such a rate that major food system failures will be unavoidable in coming decades, starting with water crises in the 2020s and beyond.

Just because our bronze-age food system has served us well for 6000 years does not mean it will work for 10 billion people in the hot, resource-depleted, ecologically-impaired world of the latter C21st.

Food failures, we know from history, nearly always lead to wars and mass refugee upheavals. Only this time they are liable to be global in impact. And war is almost as bad for ecology as food production.

This process is already under way, with one third of a billion people – equal to the US population – leaving home each year in search of new lives in countries which appear to them more stable and food secure. Therefore, in developing a new food system, we also have to find a way to curb the human appetite for war…

Food or war

In Food or War, I trace the nexus between food and conflict through human history, explore the food driver in recent and existing conflicts and identify nine regions of the world which are at high risk of conflict in the foreseeable future – conflicts which range on a scale from riots and government failures to thermonuclear war.

My aim is to show that the link between food and war is inexorable – but that it can be broken. And that a sufficiency of food is the most under-rated, under-recognised ‘weapon of peace’ in the world today.

So, how do we achieve sufficient food for all of humanity, to take us past the peak in human population in the late 2060s, down to the sustainable level of 2.5 billion that existed when I was born (and towards which the world’s women are now steadily leading us) without laying waste to the entire planet either agriculturally or militarily?

There are basically three pillars to a sustainable global food supply, each supplying roughly one third of our food needs:

  1. Regenerative farming and grazing, globally, to restore ecosystem function over an area of about half of the planet presently farmed or grazed, using minimal inputs of chemicals or fertiliser and locking up far more carbon.
  2. Urban food production, in which all urban water and nutrientsare recycled in a ‘circular economy’ into climate-proof food, produced by a wide range of techniques from hydroponic, agritectural and aquaponic to ‘cellular agriculture’ systems.
  3. Redouble marine aquaculture, especially into deepwater ocean culture and algae farming or water-cropping. This will replace wild-harvest fisheries and substitute for some broadacre cropping on land.

Stewards of the earth

There is a lot more to each of these than I can explain in this short article, so please bear with the argument.

Suffice to say there are scientists, farmers, companies and innovative technologists all round the world already pioneering these techniques, hammering out the flaws and investing billions of dollars in ‘new food’ ventures aimed at a safe, healthy, sustainable diet for all.

Furthermore, there is a dramatic opportunity to eat better. So narrow is our present industrial food base that we presently eat fewer than 300 (i.e. less than 1 percent) of the 30,500 edible plants so far identified on Earth. We have yet to explore our Planet in terms of what is good, safe and sustainable to eat.

In his book ‘Half Earth’, the great biologist E.O. Wilson argues that we need to set aside about half the planet for other life if we are to avoid mass extinction and an ecological collapse that will imperil  our own future.

Insatiable power ​​​​​​​

In Food or War, I show how this may be achieved – by re-wilding half of the world’s presently farmed and grazed lands, in all continents, under the stewardship of former farmers (whom the industrial food system is evicting anyway) and indigenous peoples – a scheme titled ‘Stewards of the Earth’. On Wilson’s calculus, this should spare around 86 percent of the species presently destined for anthropogenic midnight.

Is this affordable? The funding to make it happen already exists – by  diverting just 20 per cent of the global arms budget of $1.8 trillion (ie $340bn/yr), on the grounds that improved global food security is the most effective means of bringing peace to the planet since food scarcity is, nearly always, a fundamental propellant of the tensions that lead to war. An even larger cut happened between 1990-2005, so we know it is possible.

Such is the insatiable power of the human jawbone that rethinking food not only holds the key to peace and plenty for all, but also to ending the 6thExtinction and regenerating a fairer, greener Earth.

This article was originally published on Surviving C21.

Julian Cribb is an Australian author and science communicator. He is a fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Science and Engineering (ATSE) and a member of the Australian National University Emeritus Faculty.

His career includes appointments as newspaper editor, scientific editor for The Australian daily newspaper, director of national awareness for CSIRO, member of numerous scientific boards and advisory panels, and president of national professional bodies for agricultural journalism and science communication.

His published work includes over 9000 articles, 3000 science media releases and eight books. He has received 32 awards for journalism. His internationally-acclaimed book, The Coming Famine (2010) explored the question of how we can feed 10 billion humans this century. His book, Poisoned Planet (2014) examines the contamination of the Earth system and humanity by anthropogenic chemicals and how to prevent it. His latest book Surviving the 21st Century (Springer 2016) deals with the existential crisis facing humanity in our time – and what we can do about it.

Twitter: @JulianCribb

Personal website:

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The politics of religious freedom

By 2353NM  

The dictum is not to talk about religion and politics in polite company. If you share that belief, read no further.

Religious freedom is an interesting concept. A quick search came up with no current law in Australia that makes a belief in any faith tradition illegal, and anti-discrimination legislation that makes it illegal to harm others physically or mentally based on a whole lot of factors including race, beliefs or actions.

The campaign around religious freedom has been part of the discussion in Australia for some time. Then Prime Minister Turnbull promised a review of the concept as a part of the same-sex marriage discussion that occurred leading up to the Parliamentary vote in December 2017. It is history now that the enabling legislation for same-sex marriage passed both houses of Parliament by a substantial margin following a plebiscite when voters got a chance to tell their members of Parliament how to do their job in a process wasting millions of dollars. Turnbull did ask former Liberal Party Minister Philip Ruddock to review ‘religious freedom’ as promised. Ruddock reported back to the government late in 2018.

It was recently reported on ABC’s website that Baptist Minister and senior fellow at the Centre for Public Christianity, Tim Costello believes

Some of the most prominent voices in religion in Australia are driven by fear, and Christians in particular have an unfounded anxiety about being persecuted, Baptist minister and social justice advocate Tim Costello has said.

The senior fellow at the Centre for Public Christianity said a “toxic” debate around asylum seekers in the past decade had “damaged the Australian soul” and contributed to a paralysing fear of others that had crept into public discourse.

“It worries me that some of the loudest voices in terms of faith seem to have the most fear,” he told the ABC.

Costello also suggests that the government allow for ‘fair discrimination’.

Mr Costello said he did not think religious freedom was under threat in Australia, but he did believe there should be some measures to allow religions to practise “fair discrimination”.

“I certainly believe that Christian schools, Jewish, Muslim schools, should be able to hire teachers who actually share their vision of flourishing and their belief system,” he said.

“Just like you don’t ask the IPA [Institute of Public Affairs] to employ the left-of-centre people or the Greens to hire coal miners.

“I think those things need to be tidied up.”

He argued current discrimination laws did not offer enough protection and used the hypothetical example of a modelling agency rejecting his request for a contract.

“And if they rejected me on my physical appearance … that modelling agency has to claim an exemption from discrimination,” he said.

“So we do need exemptions.”

According to the ABC’s Laura Tingle the draft legislation, recently released by Attorney General Porter

grounded itself in anti-discrimination law, rather than in religious rights philosophy.

As he has repeatedly said, the Government has sought the shield, rather than sword, approach to the issue, arguing the alternative would leave too many questions for the courts to have to determine.

The interesting parts of the draft are that, while it seeks to protect against discrimination on the grounds of religious belief or activity, it prescriptively defines neither.

The draft legislation also doesn’t discriminate over different faith traditions, so discrimination of those following a Taoist or Buddhist faith tradition would be as illegal as those following a Christian tradition — which will probably offend a lot of conservative ‘Christians’ who have the innate fear of persecution that Costello speaks about.

The proposed legislation gives an individual some right to object if an employment condition is contrary to the individual’s beliefs (a courtesy not extended to public servants) but doesn’t extend to prescriptively banning behaviours some would find objectionable, which puts Morrison between a rock and a hard place. As suggested by Laura Tingle

Here is an issue on which [Morrison] has led the running from the start and, without doubt, is seen in the public mind through the prism of his own strong religious commitment.

But his Cabinet has produced a well-thought-through structure for dealing with this thorny issue and a structure which does provide the capacity for people to be able to speak out in terms of their faith without facing prosecution.

But if conservatives push on the issue, Mr Morrison will have to advocate for policies which may offend the very conservative base to which he appealed when he pushed for this review in the first place.

As with freedom of speech, there is an implied religious freedom in Australia due to a lack of legislation to the contrary. It’s interesting that the political party that is usually promoting small government, and reductions in rules, ‘red tape’ and regulation is now apparently going to ‘die in a ditch’ introducing legislation and regulation that won’t satisfy most who have strong views in this area. It’s a pity the same rigor and concern isn’t being applied to climate change, humane treatment of refugees and inequality — to name just a few.

What do you think?

This article was originally published on The Political Sword.

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Religious freedom for the not-so lucky country

By RosemaryJ36  

As a broad generalisation, most prejudice and misinformation is based on ignorance of the facts or, worse, a stubborn refusal to accept them.

We know only a fraction of the facts underlying the creation of the universe and all that exists within it. Scientific research is a slow and laborious process of establishing a hypothesis, testing it, repeating the testing process until it becomes evident that the statistical probability that it is correct enables it to be established – for the time being – as fact. Without that evidence, the hypothesis is rejected.

If new evidence appears later and puts doubt on the accepted truth, then the whole process is repeated to either confirm or reject the existing ‘truth’; and, if necessary, update it.

The Roman Catholic Church accepted, on Biblical evidence, that the sun went round the Earth, and when Copernicus and Galileo had the audacity to challenge that belief, they were punished by the Church.

In those days it was accepted that the books of the Holy Bible were sacred truths and to question them was to blaspheme and risk excommunication or worse.

We now know that the Old Testament is essentially the history of the Jews – the first monotheistic peoples, so far as we know. The Arabs were also monotheistic and they revered their prophet, Muhammed, who acknowledged Jesus Christ as a major prophet, but believed that people should follow his own teachings, which are recorded in the Qur’an.

The first 5 books of the Old Testament also, as the Torah, form the start of the Jewish Tanakh.

It is infinitely sad that the Jews, the Islamists and the Christians, who share a foundation in their faiths and all of whom, effectively, look to the same god, cannot find peace with each other.

Because the ministers and priests of the Christian churches, the Rabbis of the Jewish faith and the imams and mullahs of Islam, became the source of knowledge for the common people, scientists over the centuries have fought and are still fighting – an uphill battle to overcome ignorance.

I have just browsed through some of the following work – ‘A Pastoral Response to the Homosexuality in the Church’ by Rev. Matt Glover, Lilydale Baptist Church, October 2010 – who prefaces the work with the statement:

“The following was written as part of my theological studies and in response to the pain and suffering I have seen in my journey with the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender) community.

All the stories told are taken from current literature, however I hope to continue and expand my research in 2011, with new examples and real life stories, taken from people that I have met.

If you or somebody you know would like to tell your story, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Matt Glover

I think I can safely state that the attitude of the Christian church, the Jewish community and those of the Islamic faith – in fact all who follow a religion with its roots in the distant past – in relying on their ancient records as ‘truth’ is leading them into ignorance as well as prejudice and denying truth as it is now revealed.

I personally do not give a damn if Israel Folau and his followers disapprove of an adult for being homosexual, if that adult has had time to come to terms with his sexuality. But when a pre-teen or teenager is being vilified, teased and tormented at school, while he is slowly realising that he is not attracted to girls, to be told, by his football hero that he is a sinner and will go to hell unless he repents, is an invitation to consider suicide.

In my opinion, whether Folau’s employer suffers financial loss or not, Folau’s actions are immoral and unacceptable, because his ignorance of the truth about sexuality – ignored by those whose directions for moral behaviour in the Bible are being accepted in denial of modern scientific evidence – is damaging a vulnerable human being.

The very fact that the Coalition government can relate this to financial loss by the employer, reinforces the fact that, despite frequent references to their religious affiliations, finance trumps morality every time!

There are many priorities demanding attention from governments in today’s world.

First and foremost is the rapidly approaching deadline for initiating effective action to ensure global warming does not reduce the world to an unlivable furnace. (I hope you will all be out protesting government inaction on Friday 20 December!)

In no particular order after that come:

  • rapidly growing inequality – which the Coalition admits its policies are exacerbating by holding back wage rises and raising NewStart;
  • proper treatment of refugees, in the knowledge that we are likely to be inundated by refugees from those countries which are literally being inundated as a result of global warming;
  • creating jobs for those currently employed in the fossils fuel industries, developing country-wide recycling systems;
  • humanising the service provisions by Centrelink and NDIS;
  • improving health service access in rural and remote regions and last, but far from least;
  • recognising that people with limited or no means MUST be treated with compassion NOT contempt!

To seek to prioritise protection for immoral religious bodies – have we already forgotten the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to the Sexual Abuse of Children? – is absolutely gobsmacking and tells us more about the moral fibre – or lack thereof – of our politicians than almost anything else could!

The Lucky Country is dying.

The Land of the Fair Go has vanished into the morass of entitled politicians looking after their best mates while the rest of us go off to buggery!


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The Dark Age of Science Denial

By Julian Cribb  

Centuries from now, future historians will be able to assign a date to the start of the Australian Dark Age: it began in July of 2019. That was the date the nation turned its back on the enlightenment of reason, evidence, science and rationality and forged into a befogged future of political fantasies and wild, unfounded beliefs. Not unexpectedly, the state failed and darkness settled over the land.

For three and a half centuries human civilization has ascended from the wellspring of knowledge, rational thought, tolerance, the separation of powers and the individual liberties espoused by the Enlightenment. Australia is an offspring of that process. In 1790 Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of Charles, acclaimed the newfound land a future empire of the intellect:

“Here future Newtons shall explore the skies,

here future Priestlys, future Wedgewoods rise.”

In Australia in July of 2019 all this came crumbling down.

The political powers, and their corporate masters emerged from the shadows to commence a relentless campaign to demolish the truth and replace it with their own fictionalised credo, one founded wholly on political and selfish expedience, to the neglect of national needs. The process had been proceeding cryptically for several years but in the late 2010s it finally burst, like Leviathan, into public view.

Climate denial had been roiling in the colon of the Liberal-National Parties for over a decade, before finally rising up its gut to digest Turnbull, the last, pallid, defender of scientific truth. Symbiotic with this contagion was a near-hysterical hatred of anyone who wanted to preserve the Australian landscape, its natural beauty and wildlife – those dreaded ‘greens’ (regardless of whether they were green or just people who happened to love or understand their country). Gradually the LNP’s sights began to zero in on those they believed most to blame: the scientists. Those producers of the inconvenient truths which so often contradict, confound and appear to mock the ideological fantasies of the right. Those people who constantly expose the fairies at the bottom of the Liberal garden to be… a fairytale.

Hitherto, the LNP’s emotion-based belief systems were held in check by its sober, respectable and electorally pragmatic centre. Then, along came Trump – and they caved. The view that the truth is now whatever political ideology – not fact – decrees it to be, at any particular moment, has engulfed the entire political machinery of the right, and hijacked the Australian Government.

Donald Trump might be the most unpopular President in US history, or close to it, but he has set new world standards for leadership based almost entirely on falsehood. The Washington Post’s tally of his lies, half-truths and pure bullshit now exceeds 10,000. On average, the US President fabricates ‘something fishy’ 16 times a day, says the Post.[i]

Not surprisingly, the backroom boys and girls of the LNP machine envied his apparent success at getting US voters to go along with whatever came into his mind and his undoubted ability to divert public and media attention with new claims more outlandish still. Most of all, however, they and the Coal Axis who rule them both, admired Trump’s gagging of American science, excluding all mention of climate change – the greatest global threat in human history – from all government utterances. Even the Pentagon, a past-master in the black art of misinformation, has been puzzled how to advert to climate in its many reports on threats to the US, when so censored.

Suffice to say Trump has infused confidence into the element within the LNP (and other governments around the world who deal mainly in lies) that believes that anything you wish to say at the time is the ‘truth’ and that Australian politics, properly, is a contest of lies in which the task of voters is to choose the best liar.

Thus, the LNP Queensland State Convention considered several urgency resolutions relating to science and its ‘use in politics’, in the end opting for a plan to establish an “Office of Science Quality Assurance” which was endorsed by its leader. [ii] Of course, this is nothing other than enforced censorship and an attempt to gag any scientist or scientific report which does not support the going political fantasy. It is pure Trumpery, with a Queensland accent.

This piece of mediaeval book-burning was followed, first by a mafia-like attempt by coalminer Adani to menace the CSIRO environmental scientists whose reports it didn’t like[iii], which was endorsed by the Deputy Prime Minister [iv] and then by general support for the principal of politics censoring science it didn’t like by Federal Resources Minister Matt J Canavan [v], confirming the suspicion of many that the growth has metastasised within the Australian body politic. That there is indeed a plan to silence science, akin to the plan to gag the ABC and media.

The denial of science is the denial of human knowledge, and all that comes with it. It is the denial of the very cornerstone of our modern civilization. It is an attempt to lobotomise Australia by blocking public access to tested facts and established wisdom, to corrupt our political process by committing it to falsehood and to rob Australians of a right to make informed judgements on their own future.

The mediaeval Dark Ages were a time of eclipse for culture, learning, progress and understanding, much of it under the oppressive aegis of religion and feudalism. Today we stand at the threshold of an Australian Dark Age, when knowledge is sapped and controlled by forces whose sole aim is to bend it to their own selfish ends.

There is only one solution: the people must rise against it.



This article was originally published on Surviving C21.

Julian Cribb is an Australian author and science communicator. He is a fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Science and Engineering (ATSE) and a member of the Australian National University Emeritus Faculty.

His career includes appointments as newspaper editor, scientific editor for The Australian daily newspaper, director of national awareness for CSIRO, member of numerous scientific boards and advisory panels, and president of national professional bodies for agricultural journalism and science communication.

His published work includes over 9000 articles, 3000 science media releases and eight books. He has received 32 awards for journalism. His internationally-acclaimed book, The Coming Famine (2010) explored the question of how we can feed 10 billion humans this century. His book, Poisoned Planet (2014) examines the contamination of the Earth system and humanity by anthropogenic chemicals and how to prevent it. His latest book Surviving the 21st Century (Springer 2016) deals with the existential crisis facing humanity in our time – and what we can do about it.

Twitter: @JulianCribb

Personal website:

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Medieval combat for ‘the Palace letters’ (part 4)

By Dr George Venturini  

Professor Hocking filed two written submissions in reply.

They may be summarised as follows:

The applicant challenged Archives’ approach to the proper construction of the definition of “Commonwealth record” in s. 3 of the Act and, in particular, the emphasis it placed upon the definition of the concept of “property”, with the consequential effect that the definition “Commonwealth institution” must refer to institutions that hold property.

Furthermore, the applicant submitted the relevant provisions operated by reference to both ownership and provenance. (Para. 84).

Additionally, the applicant submitted that Archives also erred in suggesting that if a person has a right to enforce an obligation of confidence in respect of information contained in a record, that person thereby has a property interest in the record. The applicant emphasised the need to distinguish between the physical object, which is a record, as opposed to the information which it contains. (Para. 85).

The applicant challenged Archives’ submission that it was relevant to take into account the convention that communications between The Queen and the Governor-General were confidential.

Professor Hocking submitted that the convention was obscure and was inappropriate to create inter partes rights and obligations or to assist in statutory construction. (Para. 86) and that Mr. David Smith lodged AA1984/609 with Australian Archives in his capacity as Official Secretary to the Governor-General and that this arrangement was outside the scope of ss. 6(2) and 70(3). (Para. 87).

The applicant’s second set of written submissions in reply addressed the documents in the Supplementary Tender Bundle. The documents were relied upon by the applicant as providing historical context for the drawing of any inferences concerning the wishes, understandings or expectations of persons concerning documents of former Governors-General. While accepting that when the Act was enacted there undoubtedly existed an official establishment of the Governor-General, headed by the Official Secretary, and constituted by Government House staff answerable to the Official Secretary, the applicant submitted that there was serious doubt whether any departing Governor-General before Sir Paul Hasluck would have considered the Official Secretary to be a suitable repository for important official documents. (Para. 88).

The applicant submitted that there were no records of any Governor-General in Archives prior to Lord Casey and that the records of six earlier Governors-General were held by the National Library. The applicant challenged Archives’ position regarding Lord Stonehaven’s papers in the absence of any evidence that the papers came to his son by way of testamentary disposition. Rather, the applicant submitted that significance should attach to the absence in Australia of any official archives repository at that time. (Para. 89).

Submissions were also made by the applicant in respect of the documents of Lord Casey and Sir Paul Hasluck. As to the latter, the applicants submitted that Sir Paul made no claim to ownership of Palace correspondence and said that the originals were the property of The Queen and her permission had to be obtained for them to be made public. In contrast, Sir Paul claimed a personal property interest in category 2 documents in the sealed briefcase. (Para. 90).

Importantly, the applicant contended that the correspondence between Sir John and Sir Martin Charteris in 1976 supported her submission that Sir John perceived the Palace letters to be public property and subject to governmental control, and that Buckingham Palace was the governmental institution with authority to exercise that control. It was also said that Sir John was wrong to assert that previous Governors-General had taken copies of the correspondence to and from The Queen with them, referring to Sir Paul Hasluck’s  lodgement of the documents in category number 1 in the locked briefcase. (Para. 91).

The applicant emphasised the policy which was agreed between Professor Neale and Mr. David Smith in November 1977. (Para. 92). The applicant submitted that subsequent dealings with Sir John’s records are consistent with the Commonwealth (through Sir Geoffrey Yeend) and Mr. Smith regarding correspondence left by Sir John with the Official Secretary as forming part of the official records of the Governor-General’s office. (Para. 93).

The applicant also made submissions concerning the subsequent dealings with the records of other Governors-General, including Sir Paul Hasluck, Sir Zelman Cowen and Sir Ninian Stephen. (Para. 94).

The applicant addressed the issue of whether there is a general law principle which establishes that correspondence generated by a Governor-General in the performance of his or her office is owned by the Commonwealth and not the Governor-General personally. It was stated that there is no authority in either Australia or Britain which is directly on point. (Para. 95).

The applicant was critical of Archives’ reliance of principles of agency in the context of the contention that the Act should be construed to exclude from the scope of Commonwealth records any records created or received by public officers in the performance of their office unless they were acting as an agent or employee of the Commonwealth or a Commonwealth institution in creating or receiving the record. In particular, the applicant contended that documents generated or received by the Governor-General in the performance of his or her office are owned by the Commonwealth, noting that the Governor-General is a public officer. (Para. 96).

In his final oral reply, Mr. Whitlam QC emphasised the need for caution in drawing too much from the practices of Governors-General in Australia who were British. He emphasised that merely because correspondence is sensitive and personal in nature does not mean that it ceases to be a Commonwealth record. He drew attention to (Para. 10) of the agreed statement of facts. He submitted that the reference to “arrangements” in Prime Minister Fraser’s letter dated 18 October 1977 simply reflected the intended position at that time by reference to cl. 21 of the 1977 Archives Bill, but the scheme then changed when the Act commenced. (Para. 97).

As already noted, Mr. Whitlam QC contended that the consequence of acceptance of Archives’ construction would be that the executrix could now assert property rights in respect of the correspondence which had been lodged by Mr. David Smith on Sir John’s behalf. (Para. 98).

Justice Griffiths proceeded to analyse the case.

He thought that it was convenient to address the dispute between the parties by reference to the broad framework provided by the three issues identified by the applicant as requiring resolution, and as set out in Para. 50.

The issues before the Court were:

“(a) Are records of the Governor-General which are “Commonwealth records” within the meaning of the Act limited to administrative records of the official establishment of the Governor-General?

The terms of this question present several difficulties, which largely arise from the high level of generality at which the question is expressed. It is predicated on a broad assumption that at least some records of the Governor-General (apart from administrative records of the official establishment of the Governor-General) are in fact “Commonwealth records” without any clear description of what particular records of the Governor-General fit that description, or why they are properly viewed as “Commonwealth records”. Nor does the question reveal what is meant by the phrase “administrative records” of the official establishment of the Governor-General, noting that this phrase does not appear in the Act. I think it best to defer further consideration and determination of the first question until after the second question. The second question does not suffer from the kinds of difficulties presented by the broad and unparticularised terms in which the first question is expressed. Resolution of the second question also has implications for the first question. (Para. 100).

(b) Is one or more of the records constituting AA1984/609 a “Commonwealth record”?

Whether one or more of the records comprising AA1984/609 is a “Commonwealth record” within the meaning of the Act turns on whether any such record is the “property” of either the Commonwealth or “the official establishment of the Governor-General”. As noted above, the records comprising AA1984/609 were not put before the Court. Accordingly, the question must be answered on the assumption that all the records in that bundle are correspondence in the form of letters or telegrams between Sir John Kerr acting in his capacity as Governor-General and The Queen (including through Her Majesty’s Private Secretary), while noting that it is also the agreed position of the parties that some of the correspondence had attachments, such as newspaper clippings (see sub-Para. 7, 8 and 9). (Para.101).

Justice Griffiths then proceeded to examining the meaning of the term ‘property’. “The term “property” is not defined in the Act. As Archives pointed out, the adoption in the Act of a property-based definition, as opposed to one based on provenance, appears to be deliberate. In its report entitled Australia’s Federal Record: A Review of the Archives Act 1983 [1998] ALRC 85, the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) noted at [8.13] that the drafting history of proposed legislation relating to archives between 1974 to 1983 reflected a shift from an “administrative provenance definition” to a property-based definition. The ALRC observed that, following the drafting of the 1974 Archives Bill (which contained a provenance-based definition), successive drafts of the proposed legislation in 1974-1975 “moved from a provenance definition through a custodial definition (‘a record that is held in official custody on behalf of the government’) to the present property definition”.” (Para. 102).

Justice Griffiths found it unnecessary for the purposes of the proceeding to attempt an exhaustive meaning of the word “property”, but he was prepared to ‘accept Archives’ submission that the reference to “property of” in the definition of “Commonwealth record” picks up the concept of ownership as ordinarily understood under the general law. This view – he said – is supported by the following relevant features of the Act. (Para. 103)

“First, the Act itself differentiates between concepts of “possession” (see ss 18-20); “custody” (s 21); “access” (ss 28 and 31) and the concept of “property” in the definition of “Commonwealth record” in s 3(1). (Para. 104).

Secondly, a construction of the Act which would have it apply to records which were not owned under the general law by the Commonwealth or by a Commonwealth institution would give rise to serious intrusions upon fundamental property rights. For example, Archives is authorised to dispose of or destroy “Commonwealth records” under s 6(1)(h). (Para. 105).

Thirdly, it is significant that the Act does not contain a provision for just compensation in respect of any acquisition of property, which may suggest that the Act authorises no interference with the property rights of persons other than the Commonwealth or a Commonwealth institution.” (Para. 106).

For the following reasons, Justice Griffiths found that, at all relevant times, the documents comprising AA1984/609 were the personal property of Sir John Kerr and were not the property of the Commonwealth (He intended to defer for the moment the alternative case as advanced by the applicant that the documents are the property of the official establishment of the Governor-General). The reasons for his finding were as follows:

“First, Sir John considered that he, personally, owned the records, as is reflected in his letter dated 22 September 1976 to Sir Martin Charteris (see Para. 12). This letter contains expressions such as “my will”, “my papers” (which appear twice), “my other papers”, “papers which are exclusively mine”, “if I were to die”, “I would not wish to leave this correspondence in Government House. Each Governor-General takes with him such material”, “your records” (referring to The Queen’s counterpart records) and “allow [the material] to go into the custody of my literary editors” on certain specified conditions. These expressions strongly suggest that Sir John regarded the correspondence to and from the Palace to be his personal property and which were to be dealt with in accordance with his instructions, including by way of testamentary disposition if not disposed of before his death. Sir John’s view that the papers were his personal property is further reflected in the fact that, in his letter dated 3 March 1980 to Mr Smith, Sir John foreshadowed the possibility that there might need to be “some change in the instructions to the Archives” regarding the Palace correspondence. (Para. 108).

Secondly, Sir John chose to consult The Queen in order to ascertain Her wishes as to his disposition of the Palace correspondence kept by him, and in which The Queen had a reciprocal interest because Her Majesty was a party to that correspondence. (Para. 109).

Thirdly, The Queen also appears to have considered that the subject records were owned by Sir John and were amenable to disposition in accordance with his instructions, including by way of testamentary disposition. In the letter dated 8 October 1976 from The Queen’s Private Secretary to Sir John (see Para. 13), there are references to “your papers” in each of the 4 paragraphs of that letter. I also consider that the reference in that letter to the first Lord Stonehaven’s son offering to hand over the former Governor-General’s papers is an indication that the son had succeeded to ownership of those papers upon his father’s death. (Para. 110).

Fourthly, after consultation with The Queen (through her Private Secretary), it was Sir John’s decision to place the correspondence to and from the Palace in the custody of Australian Archives. This was done against a background of the advice he had received regarding the disposal of these and other papers relating to his time as Governor-General. (Para. 111).

Fifthly, the caveat in the final paragraph of the letter of deposit regarding consultation even after 60 years had lapsed was added by Mr Smith after he had consulted with Sir Philip Moore, The Queen’s Private Secretary at the time. Sir John Kerr was advised of the addition of the caveat in Mr Smith’s letter dated 20 May 1980 to him (see Para. 20). This is not inconsistent with Sir John viewing these papers as his personal property, notwithstanding that he recognised that The Queen also had a strong and particular interest in them. (Para. 112).

Sixthly, the Commonwealth, through the then Director-General of Archives, recognised that the subject records were Sir John’s personal property, as is reflected in the correspondence set out in Para. 15 and the references therein to “Sir John’s papers”; “his non-sensitive personal papers” (which the Director-General considered should also be placed the custody of Australian Archives), and the reference to the “desirability of Sir John making adequate and suitable provision for the disposition of the sensitive papers in case of death or incapacity”. These references indicate an acceptance by Australian Archives of Sir John’s ownership and complete powers of disposition in respect of the “sensitive papers”. (Para. 113).

Seventhly, the circumstances surrounding the copying of Sir John’s papers by Mr Smith at Sir John’s request, and the subsequent provision of those copies to Sir John, are also consistent with Sir John’s ownership. Although Sir John had ceased to be Governor-General when the records were placed by Mr Smith with Australian Archives, it is plain that he was doing so as Sir John’s agent and not as the agent of the incumbent Governor-General. (Para. 114).

Eighthly, the records in AA1984/609 were dealt with differently from other forms of correspondence sent to and from Sir John after the events of 11 November 1975 and while he was still Governor-General. It is evident from Mr Smith’s letter dated 20 May 1980 to Sir John that a particular view was taken in respect of certain correspondence to and from the Governor-General with persons other than The Queen. Mr Smith described such records as “part of the official records of the Governor-General’s Office”. He said that, in his capacity as Official Secretary of the day, he had responsibility for the safe custody of such documents. Mr Smith also referred to advice he had received from Sir Geoffrey Yeend that Mr Smith had “no authority to release these or any other papers from the official records” (see Para. 20). (Para. 115).

Ninthly, the passing of ownership of M4513 in accordance with the terms of Sir John’s will, the ultimate disposition of those records by the executrix of Lady Kerr’s estate (Ms Bashford), and correspondence passing between Ms Bashford and the Archives concerning that disposition (which make repeated reference to Sir John’s “personal papers”, “Sir John’s papers”, and “Sir John’s material”), reflect a shared recognition of Sir John’s original ownership of those records. (Para. 116).

Tenthly, the following material supports the view that, conventionally, correspondence between a Governor-General and The Queen has been regarded as unique and does not give rise to a property interest on the part of the Commonwealth:

(a) this view was taken with respect to personal and confidential correspondence passing between The Queen and Lord Stonehaven, who was Governor-General between 1925-1930;

(b) the same view was taken with respect to personal and confidential correspondence passing between The Queen and Lord Casey when he was Governor-General from 1965-1969;

(c) the same view was taken with respect to personal and confidential despatches between Sir Paul Hasluck and The Queen or her Private Secretary, as is recorded in a letter dated 6 November 1986 to Sir Paul from the then Director-General of Archives (Mr B Cox);

(d) Sir John advised The Queen in 1976 that “Each Governor-General takes with him such material”. That is persuasive contemporary evidence of an established practice, as at 1976, which is redolent of ownership;

(e) Sir John’s asserted ownership of the subject records in 1976 appears to have been accepted by The Queen (see the letter to Sir John from Sir Martin Charteris at [13] above) and the Commonwealth itself, acting through the Director-General of Archives (see Professor Neale’s letter dated 18 November 1977 to Mr Smith at Para. 15);

(f) the same view was taken with respect to the personal and confidential correspondence passing between The Queen and Sir Zelman Cowen (Sir John’s successor) from 1977-1982 (see the references in the correspondence summarised at Para. 22); and

(g) the same view was taken with respect to the personal and confidential correspondence passing between The Queen and Sir Ninian Stephen (Sir Zelman’s successor) from 1982-1989 (see the summary of the letter dated 23 July 1991 at [22] above) and the letter of deposit dated 31 August 1990 relating to Sir Ninian’s papers, which included “personal and confidential correspondence with Buckingham Palace during Sir Ninian’s term of office as Governor-General of Australia”. There is an express statement in that letter of deposit that the records were being lodged with Archives under special arrangements in accordance with s 6(2) of the Act. (Para. 117).

Finally, although not determinative of the issues of statutory construction, Justice Griffiths found it relevant to note that the construction advanced by Archives produces an outcome which is broadly consistent with the special archival arrangements concerning Royal correspondence in the United Kingdom. In that jurisdiction, such correspondence, together with other private and personal records of The Queen, are housed in the Royal Archives. Access to them is governed by specific agreements. The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (UK) does not apply to such records. Of course, the relevant provisions of the Act in Australia must be construed in accordance with well settled principles guiding the task of statutory construction and not with a view to reflecting the position in the United Kingdom. Having said that, however, recognising that both The Queen and the Governor-General have a mutual interest in the ownership and disposal of their personal correspondence and also having regard to the conventions described above, clear and explicit language would be required to produce an outcome which involved significantly different rules of access applying to such correspondence in the two jurisdictions. For the reasons given above, on its proper construction, the Act produces similar outcomes in the two jurisdictions. (Para. 118).

Continued Wednesday – Medieval combat for ‘the Palace letters’ (part 5)

Previous instalment – Medieval combat for ‘the Palace letters’ (part 3)

Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some seventy years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. He may be reached at


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New institute takes lead in Australia’s online security

Media Release

Edith Cowan University (ECU) will further its formidable expertise in cyber security, computer science and digital citizenship with the launch of a new research institute.

The Institute for Securing Digital Futures will bring together the University’s strengths across a number of related fields to work towards protecting Australia’s interests in an increasingly connected world.

It will focus on linking research across five key areas where ECU already conducts world-leading study:

  • Artificial intelligence and autonomous systems
  • Critical infrastructure security
  • Combating cyber-enabled crime
  • Digital citizenship and human behaviour
  • Secure systems

The new institute will build on the successes of ECU’s existing Security Research Institute, which is recognised as a world leader in cyber security research.

ECU Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Caroline Finch AO said the launch of the Institute for Securing Digital Futures was the latest step in ECU’s journey to becoming a research-intensive university producing world-class research.

“ECU has determined that the landscape of our digital future is an area in which the University already has considerable research strength and the capacity to further grow this academic muscle through additional investment and the promotion of cross-disciplinary study,” Professor Finch said.

“In no other field is change occurring more rapidly than it is in the digital domain. It is impacting every aspect of human existence at an exponential pace and so it’s absolutely vital that we closely examine those impacts; that we stay ahead of the curve by designing the curve ourselves.”

Making a difference for all Australians

The new institute will be led by Tony Marceddo, who joins ECU from cloud provider Vault Cloud and numerous positions in the defence, intelligence, space, cyber and communications sectors.

“The Institute for Securing Digital Futures will focus ECU’s significant research strengths in this area toward solutions that will make a difference to everyday Australians,” he said.

“I’m looking forward to engaging with business, industry and government to work on solving pressing issues in our digital environment.”

The Institute for Securing Digital Futures is the first of four new University wide research centres that will be launched by ECU as part of its enhanced focus on producing world-class research.


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Federal LNP: Sticking with the Plan to Remain in Office by Continuing to Ignore Commitment to Our Greater Welfare

By Denis Bright  

Five months after those photo opportunities associated with the 2019-20 Budget, the LNP’s plans for the future of a hands-off open economy are not working. The missing variable is a productive investment multiplier that is concealed by good commodity and service prices in the current account surplus and largesse from a treasury that is accidentally awash with funds because opposition parties in the senate refused to cut company taxes.

Successful use of fear strategies prior to the federal election on 18 May 2019 easily got the government over the line particularly through swings to the LNP in Tasmania, Queensland and WA.

The federal LNP is continuing to perfect this top-down approach to financial governance in an electorate which scans the news quickly to avoid the policy details. Large sections of the electorate are still convinced the federal LNP is the more responsible economic manager even though the prescription mix is highly suspect and locked into the ideology of the Menzies era.

Greg Jericho does not hold back in highlighting the grim statistics for Australian investment trends:

If you take away government spending, the economy would have shrunk in the June quarter. So much for ‘remarkable resilience’

Today the government has been madly attempting to spin the GDP figures as good.  So, let’s cut straight to the point – the figures are terrible and are among the worst we have seen this century. But what makes it worse is this government would have us believe they saw them coming.

How bad are things? Today’s figures show the worst annual economic growth for 18 years. GDP per capita is now lower than it was a year ago, productivity is plunging, and the economy is pretty much staying above water purely because of government spending and a drop-in imports due to weak investment and household spending.

Data from the ABS for the June Quarter 2019 confirms the extent of the slow-down in the Australian economy as business tries to survive by running-down inventories instead of embarking on ambitious private sector capital investment which should be the strong-point of any centre-right government like the federal LNP:

The national accounts for the June Quarter are particularly appalling when consideration is given to the components of the 0.5 per cent improvement in GDP:

Neoconservatives will continue to speculate about which conventional policy levers should be pulled to make the economy more vibrant at a time of global trade wars and growing militarism. Will lower interest rates and more defence spending on strategic hardware really assist in making our future rosier?

From the heart of the USA, the pragmatic McKinsey Global Institute has warned Australians of the global headwinds that the federal LNP chose to ignore even prior to the May 2019 election with its strident support for old-time capitalism.

Need to Break with Menzies Era Market Ideology

Both Robert Menzies and Margaret Thatcher succeeded in promoting images of a mythical ethically based small business economy based on the thrift and dedicated community service. Scott Morrison gives this small business network a quasi-religious authority to justify nasty economic prescriptions for the common-good.

There is little mention of the forthcoming impact of the digital revolution which is transforming workplaces and about to eliminate many basic skill jobs in the service sector to complement the existing changes in farming and manufacturing.

In Brisbane on 5 September 2019, ACTU Secretary Sally McManus visited the picket outside Oi Glass in Montague Road, West End.

The CEO of Oi Glass on an annual salary of $7 million according to State Secretary of the Queensland Branch of the ETU at the picket rally.

Here, trade union resistance to an erosion of traditional working conditions has gone on for nine weeks.

Cheered on by the federal LNP, employers like Oi Glass claim a moral authority to withhold productivity increases on the shop floor in the national economic interest.

Screening of potential recruits by small businesses through job provider agencies is a real disincentive to a revival of mass trade unionism despite its compromises with job safety on new construction sites.

Employees at a nearly completed unit construction site in Sylvan Road, Toowong (Brisbane) advised that overseas workers routinely worked twelve-hour shifts. This made it difficult for qualified local employees to ask for fair wages and conditions. The alternative at a time of reduced investment in building and construction was no job at all.

It is convenient for the federal LNP to justify such practices in the long-term economic interests of Australia as a middle-sized open economy. Current rallies on Australian and international share markets, also appear to justify what is really unsustainable: A disciplined small business network which is justified by quasi-religious values.

Just prior to the Australian election, the McKinsey Global Institute telegraphed warnings of the avalanche of changes in the Australian workforce:

Powerful new automation technologies such as machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), and advanced robotics are already transforming the Australian economy, workplace, education system and community. These technologies present an enormous opportunity to restore momentum to the Australian economy and extend the nation’s 30-year economic boom in an inclusive way.

In a new report, Australia’s automation opportunity: Reigniting productivity and inclusive income growth [PDF–6.7MB], McKinsey outlines the impacts of automation across three scenarios, including slow-paced adoption, mid-point adoption and fast-paced adoption. The report sets out why and how Australia must push for the win–win scenario of inclusive growth by pursuing actions that both accelerate automation and adoption and share its benefits.

Automation and AI will be disruptive, just as other technology adoptions have been disruptive in the past. While some jobs will be lost and others created, all jobs will change. As automation technologies integrate into the workforce, the mix of skills required in all jobs will shift.

Aside from the current fear strategies being applied by the federal LNP with the support of small business, the far-off but essentially pro-business McKinsey Global Institute in New York has prepare a map of the Australian communities which are most receptive to digital automation and are skewed towards mining and large-scale farming and grazing operations:

Continuation of the unplanned corporate digital revolution should indeed be improving working conditions and hours of work required of employees. However, under the patronage of the federal LNP, McKinsey Global Institute anticipates an alarming economic divide in wage rates between skilled and unskilled workers in the more unequal Australian society of 2030. Ironically, these changes in a market economy will be accompanied by reduced real GDP levels of the type which is already apparent in the June 2019 national accounts data which is the very opposite of current LNP aspirations for our future.

Simply asking for more economic stimulus as favoured by traditional Keynesian policies with q 1950s vintage are easily outmanoeuvred by scare tactics from the federal LNP that worked well, particularly in depressed regional areas of Australia on 18 May 2019 with the support of preferences from One Nation in Queensland seats like Dawson and Capricornia.

In a world of reduced post-GFC global capital flows, progressive governments must learn to foster a more humane form of capitalism. This option is certainly in the pipeline of next week’s OECD seminar in Paris despite the willingness of the willingness of the current US and US Governments to return to the La La Lands of old style market-economics with the support of smaller players like Scott Morrison who somehow gained observer status at the G20 Meeting in Biarritz:


Harvesting the remnants of reduced global capital flows in the post-GFC era can bring corporate capital injections to support progressive infrastructure and community development programmes into public sector investment funds which operate quite successfully in Canada and Singapore to steer economic activity in progressive directions.

These are challenging times and advocates of responsibly alternative directions for social market capitalism need every encouragement. Now, 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it is time for policy innovation to flourish before Australians are thrown more heavily into the market ideology which has been foreshadowed by the McKinsey Global Institute in its reports on Australia 2030.

Denis Bright has a background from post-retirement studies in journalism, public policy and international relations. He is committed to citizens’ journalism to raise issues for critical discussion. Commented from interested readers are welcome to advance the important issues raised in this article. Insiders with specialist interests in particular can advance the quality of the interpretations presented for critical evaluation from readers.

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Blame shifting

By 1Petermcc  

I can’t help noticing how governments at State and Federal levels seem to struggle with software these days. Robodebt, the Census, Solar rebate software in Victoria, the Education department some years back.

All are outsourced these days and it seems to me the government departments don’t have the skills to test the software before it goes “live”. (Assuming there is any testing done at all).

Initially, the idea of outsourcing was supposed to offer better performance and costs, but I would argue that has not been delivered. All we have achieved is an outsourcing of blame. Now when a system crashes on launch, “It’s the Software”.

Not the department.

Not even the software writing company.

It’s the software. We don’t even get a hint of which company wrote the offending code.

The Education Department item I mentioned above was a magnificent concept that I came into contact with after it went “live” and promptly fell flat on its face. It turned out the hardware in schools was generally not good enough to run Ultranet. Even the testing after the crash was fatally flawed. The testing regime was altered halfway through the project which made comparison testing impossible. (Thank you Hewlett Packard)

I don’t know if that particular software is still in use but I hope so. The concept was brilliant, it just needed a more intelligent roll out process.

Eventually the end customers do the testing for government departments, but wouldn’t it be better if we “did it once and did it right”? It would certainly be cheaper for the taxpayer.

If think I’m sounding like a Grumpy Old Fart this morning, then you would be right on the money. I’ve just been dealing with Centerlink’s on-line system which is about as unfriendly a user interface as I have ever had to deal with. The system isn’t crashing, but one false click and you are dead in the water.

Granted it is trying to cobble together a number of different government departments all in one on-line system, but the use of different terminology, help links that aren’t specific to the box you want to fill, reputed help line phone numbers that offer you further help line phone numbers, and pretty soon you need a Bex and a good lie down. I’m attempting to apply for the Age Pension and the interface is making me feel my age.

The frustrating thing about it all is on-line systems, intelligently designed, should offer a cheap and efficient method of delivering government services. They should inspire confidence in their users and lessen the fear of technology that can often be present.

Unfortunately it doesn’t. It looks cobbled together, doesn’t warn you of expiry of emailed codes, and seems to delight in locking you out of their system.

  • Where would I start to fix the system? How about testing with folk who aren’t software writers?
  • How to measure improvement? Test how many dead accounts are being created and measure the improvement.

And how to improve software rollouts over all departments? Publish the names of the companies writing the code. Nothing like forcing companies to take public responsibility to see their care-factor improve.

Now where did I put that envelope? I’m going to mail this sucker in.

This article was originally publish on 1Petermcc’s blog.


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