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Prospects of Israel’s Return to the Political Centre

By Denis Bright

Prospects of Israel’s Return to the Political Centre Under a Blue White Coalition Government Headed by Benny Gantz

Despite the strong showing by Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White Party, conventional opinion in Israel just prior to polling day still favoured a continuing coalition between Likud and the far-right religious parties with Benjamin Netanyahu staying on as Prime Minister. 

Predictions of a continuing Likud vote were surprising as Netanyahu faces a final pre-indictment hearing on three cases of corruption on 2 October. Netanyahu’s capacity for survival is well summarised by Haaretz Online (17 September 2019):

Should Netanyahu triumph in his quest to put together a 61-member Knesset majority, he is believed to be planning to use his power to obtain immunity from prosecution from the Knesset and passing legislation to prevent the High Court of Justice from removing that immunity. 

Despite numerous reports to this effect – and public statements from political parties supporting Netanyahu vowing to back immunity legislation – the Prime Minister’s Office has repeatedly denied that any such plans are in place, calling it a “false media spin.” 

As tentative results from the Israel’s proportional voting system were tallied, Benjamin Netanyahu still short of the 61 seats in the Knesset needed to form a working majority. Haaretz Online (17 September 2019) distributed the tentative results an hour after polling booths closed:

While the far-right parties in any potential coalition between Likud retained their share of the vote for Shas, United Torah Judaism (UTJ) and Yamina largely retained their share of the national vote, Otzma Yehudit (Strength for Israel) again failed to gain a threshold vote of 3.25 per cent needed to achieve representation in the Knesset with its commitment to a hardline messianic future for the state of Israel.

Any change of government in Israel will be welcome news to the Arab community which increased its presence in the Knesset by two seats to twelve representatives.

This leaves the Blue and White Party of Benny Gantz a chance to negotiate a coalition deal from his diverse support base which Haaretz Online refers to as Kachol Lavan as explained by the Israel Policy Forum: 

Kachol Lavan

Leader: Benny Gantz
Current Seats: N/A (new party)
Government/Opposition in Last Knesset: N/A (new party)
Supports/Opposes Two-State Solution: Supports

Kachol Lavan is a new party built from a merger between two centrist parties, Benny Gantz’s Hosen Leyisrael and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid. Gantz retains the number one spot on the list, while he and Lapid share a rotation agreement in which the Yesh Atid leader will take over the premiership after two-and-a-half years if Kachol Lavan is selected to lead a government after elections.

The possibility of a change in Israeli leadership resides mainly from a loss of six seats for Likud from 38 seats to 32 seats in the tentative results. Small gains were made by Yisrael  Beiteinu which represents the Russian communities in Israel and the left-leaning Democratic Union with its Green support base. Likud was just short of a working majority in the Knesset as a result of Israel’s national elections, just five months ago:

Should the new centre coalition make it into majority government in Israel, the incoming government will inherit a strong but slowing economy from a Likud Government. However, Likud is tainted by corruption, militarism and plans for new settler projects in the Jordan Valley and on the East Bank near Jerusalem.

With or without Netanyahu, Likud presides over a strong economy with a sound if softening economic growth rate expressed in percentage terms from Trading Economics:

Surprisingly, for a centre-right country which is eulogized by conservatives worldwide, Israel has a strong government sector which drives new military spending and economic development:

Since 2014, Israel has moved from traditional forms of government intervention to the formation of a Citizens’ Fund in partnership with the Bank of Israel to assist with economic diversification. This process commenced long before the establishment of the Citizens’ Fund as noted by EE Times Online in 2001:  

Twenty years ago, oranges were Israel’s main export. The small Middle Eastern country still helps feed the global economy, but now wireless and optical communications technology are also bearing fruit.

Statistics cited by government agencies depict an amazing transformation in the past two decades, from a nation dependent on agriculture and diamond exports to a thriving economy and a hotbed of high-tech research.

“Israel used to be known as the land of milk and honey. Now it’s known as the land of start-ups,” said Eli Keren general manager of Sun Microsystems Israel Ltd. in Herzliyya. “It’s a Garden of Eden for venture capitalists.”

Investors-lured by the high concentration of scientists and engineers-last year sank some $11.4 billion into Israel’s industry, compared with $537 million in 1992. Technology venture capital investment alone grew to just over $3 billion in 2000, from $1 billion in 1999, according to the Ministry of Industry and Trade (MOIT), Jerusalem.

A slump in the electronics sector brought a sharp drop in foreign investment on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange in February, but global economic uncertainty and growing violence in both the West Bank and Gaza have done little to dampen enthusiasm about Israel’s future as a major centre for technology development.

Israel now has a vast directory of electronics companies which are available for perusal by interested readers.

Investment in defence electronics is a major branch of Israeli technology. The list of firms involved in military technology is considerable.

Israeli military technology extends to the acquisition of nuclear weapons and other WMDs. These include a new generation of submarine-launched nuclear missiles on both the Mediterranean, Red Sea and Indian Ocean Fleets as well as land-based nuclear field weapons. Sharing of this nuclear weapons technology commenced prior to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968 and the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) of 1993. Israel has not ratified the Biological Weapons Convention of 1972. NATO ally Egypt is a non-signatory to the Biological Weapons Convention.

Surprisingly, Australia’s DFAT boasts of its defence ties with Israel when a gentle diplomatic nudge to the incoming Israeli government to ratify all international agreements against WMDs might be more appropriate: 

Australia continues to broaden bilateral cooperation with Israel. In recent years, there has been significantly increased engagement across a range of sectors, including innovation, security and defence.

Austrade established one of its five innovation Landing Pads in Tel Aviv in 2016 as part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda. As a bridge between the Australian and Israeli innovation ecosystems, the Landing Pad offers early-stage Australian start-ups a platform to build links with local and multinational business partners in Israel. In February 2017, Australia and Israel signed a Technological Innovation Cooperation Agreement. The Agreement includes a bilateral funding program to enable cooperation between Australian and Israeli companies.

Since 2017, Australia and Israel have expanded cooperation on national security, defence and cybersecurity. Defence officials began annual strategic talks in 2018 and in early 2019, Australia appointed a resident Defence Attaché to the Embassy in Tel Aviv. Leveraging Australia and Israel’s respective areas of expertise, cooperation on national security, continues to develop, including on aviation security with Home Affairs as the lead Australian agency. In January 2019, following a series of reciprocal visits and dialogue, the two countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on cybersecurity cooperation.  

Expanded economic engagement has been underpinned by the conclusion of several bilateral agreements including a Double Taxation Agreement in March 2019, an Air Services Agreement in February 2017, and a Working Holiday Agreement in June 2016, and the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on defence industry cooperation in October 2017. The opening in 2019 of an Australian Trade and Defence Office in West Jerusalem will facilitate trade, investment and defence industry partnerships.

Australia’s acquisition of Israeli defence technology is a badge of honour for Australian defence forces as noted by ABC News Online

The kill chain: Australia’s drone war

Updated 27 Jun 2012, 8:23am

Let’s hope that Australia and other countries linked to NATO can move on from that love affair with the Netanyahu Era when everyone is assured by further negotiations on the character of the next Israeli government.

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

By Dr George Venturini  

On 17 March 2018 Professor Hocking issued a news release about Justice Griffiths’ 16 March decision in the Federal Court action ‘Jennifer Hocking v. Director-General, National Archives of Australia’, in favour of the National Archives. Justice Griffiths had ruled that the ‘Palace letters’ between the Queen and the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, at the time of the Whitlam dismissal are ‘personal’ not Commonwealth records and do not come under the Archives Act. The Queen’s embargo would therefore continue, and the Palace letters would not be released.

The decision maintained the long-standing practice of designating the Monarch’s letters as ‘personal’ rather than official ‘Commonwealth records’, ensuring the continued Royal secrecy over the Queen’s correspondence, including with the Governor-General, regardless of its content or historic importance. With this decision, the Federal Court continued the Queen’s embargo on their release, potentially indefinitely. As a result, the hidden history of the dismissal of the Whitlam government would remain hidden.

Professor Jenny Hocking said: ‘We are obviously extremely disappointed with the outcome of this important case. The decision by Justice Griffiths continues the Queen’s indefinite embargo over her correspondence with Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, denying Australian’s access to key documents about an important part of our history. It is a disappointing decision for our history, specifically for the history of the dismissal which has long been cast in secrecy. Unfortunately, that secrecy will now continue.’

Professor Hocking’s legal team was nevertheless examining the decision in greater detail and would soon have had more to say on this and any possible future developments.

Once again Professor Hocking remarked: “It is astonishing and demeaning to Australia as an independent nation that access to the Queen’s communications with Governors-General continues to be at the whim of the Queen. Today’s decision has maintained this residual British control over Australian archival material, kept from us in the name of the Queen through the exercise of a Royal veto.”

Professor Hocking called on then Prime Minister Turnbull, a committed republican, to make good his stated support for the release of these letters and advise the Queen to lift her embargo.

“I wish to thank the legal team all of whom worked on a pro bono basis, Antony Whitlam QC and Tom Brennan, instructed by Corrs, Chambers, Westgarth, for their tireless work and commitment. ‘Without them this case could never have proceeded, and could never even have been imagined. We owe them a great debt of gratitude for their public-spirited pursuit of accountability and transparency at the very highest levels. I also thank and acknowledge the hundreds of supporters of the crowd-funding campaign release the Palace letters and who have followed its way through the Court with such enthusiasm.” (J. Hocking, News release: The Palace Letters, 17 March 2018).

In a further piece, dated 20 March 2018, Professor Hocking complained that it is difficult to reconcile the court’s view of the palace letters as “personal” and not Commonwealth records with its description of them as addressing “topics relating to the official duties and responsibilities of the governor general”, as “periodic briefings to the Queen”, and as “reports to the Queen”. The court pointed to the long-standing practice in the United Kingdom that such correspondence is considered “personal”, and that they are “housed in the Royal Archives and access to them is governed by specific agreements”, confirming that “the imperial presumption of royal privilege and secrecy still exists in Australia despite our position as an apparently independent constitutional monarchy. Rule Britannia.” (J. Hocking, Snub over ‘palace letters’ underlines why Australia should ditch the Queen, 20 March 2018).

In initiating the case Professor Hocking had embarked upon an effort to secure public access to the palace letters because of their undoubted significance to Australian history, and also to ensure that access to them would be determined by an Australian court according to Australian law and not as a quasi-colonial gift of access by the Queen.

A federal court action was the only way to contest what appeared to be a perverse designation by the National Archives of letters between the Queen and the governor general as “personal”. Contesting this designation was at the heart of proceedings.

The view put forward by the legal team led by Antony Whitlam QC, is that the palace letters are Commonwealth records, between the monarch and her representative in Australia, about political matters and at a critical time in Australian history. They form part of Australian national historical estate which it is the responsibility of the National Archives of Australia to preserve and provide access to, and in which all Australians should share.

The decision to retain the Queen’s embargo over these letters as “personal” was – in the view of Professor Hocking – the latest iteration in the highly contested and still evolving history of the dismissal, which has long been cloaked in secrecy, error and even outright deception. The Kerr papers have given the public some startling revelations over the last decade which have transformed the correct knowledge and understanding of the history of the dismissal of the Whitlam government.

As Professor Hocking bitterly noted: “… these letters are now to remain secret is deeply disappointing – for [the public’s] knowledge of the dismissal, for [Australian] history and [Australian] national independence. The palace letters will now remain embargoed on the instruction of the Queen, an absurd and humiliating situation for any nation.” … “We are in the remarkable position now that it is the Queen who will determine when, and if, we can see these critical documents in our history. I call on Malcolm Turnbull to make good his promise of three years ago to instruct the Queen to release these letters, although I hold out little hope that our once supreme republican prime minister will do so. The federal court’s decision to maintain the Queen’s embargo over our own historical documents will propel moves towards a republic. The lingering power of what Whitlam termed the “relics of colonialism” can only end when we are an independent nation with an Australian head of state – when we are an Australian republic.” (J. Hocking, Snub over ‘palace letters’ underlines why Australia should ditch the Queen, 20 March 2018).

On 11 April 2018 Professor Hocking announced that she had lodged an appeal against the decision of the Federal Court.

Prominent Sydney barrister Bret Walker, S.C., had been briefed to lead the appeal before the full bench of the Federal Court with Tom Brennan, instructed by Corrs Chambers Westgarth.

In making the announcement, Professor Hocking repeated that, “despite having promised three years ago that he would ask the Queen to release the Palace letters, [then] Prime Minister Turnbull continue[d] to refuse to provide any details, including in response to questions in Parliament, about whether he ha[d] approached, or still intend[ed] to approach, Buckingham Palace seeking the release of the letters. (Media Alert: Appeal lodged against Federal Court decision in ‘Palace letters’ case, 11 April 2018).

For good measure, on 22 June 2018, the Federal Court granted a protective costs order in Professor Hocking’s appeal. The protective costs order, to which the National Archives consented, would cover Professor Hocking’s adverse costs exposure and remove a significant financial barrier to the progress of the appeal.

Professor Hocking commented: “The Federal Court’s decision to make a protective costs order is extremely significant for the Palace letters case, and for public interest cases generally, removing a major financial barrier to the progression of the case through the appeal. It is vital that public interest cases can proceed through all legal stages without fear of prohibitive costs effectively denying them full access to the legal system. The Court order is an important step in this direction.” (Federal Court grants protective costs order to Professor Jenny Hocking in ‘Palace Letters’ case (Media Release) 29 June 2018). (See also: Media alert: Appeal lodged against Federal Court Decision in ‘Palace letters’ case, 5 September 2018).

One could take an un-generous view of Professor Hocking’s serial tantrum throwing in claiming for a republic. And one, of course, could not anticipate whether the Full Bench of the Federal Court might have taken a different view of the case from that of Justice Griffiths.

One should keep in mind that of the 47 judges of the Federal Court as at 18 September 2018 most if not all of them come from privileged background, through  private education, association with well-known legal firms and, in many cases, after having ‘refined’ their qualifications with a degree – usually a Bachelor of Civil Law but in many cases a Doctorate in Civil Law – from either Oxford or Cambridge. And that is the final touch, the ‘sign of approval’ for people who do not mind being treated as ‘reliable colonials’. It is the indestructible fibril which links a former part of the military empire of yesteryear with the present financial empire and what is left of the dependence on what is left of the military empire from the Anglo-cousin across the ocean.

In a sense it is just like a film-version of tremendous box office success, played on the Oxford backdrop which is an internationally recognised brand. It is the essence of England – as classic, in its own way, as Aston Martin or Burberry.

As issue 18 September 2018 of Prospect noted, Oxford “also signifies exclusivity and elitism. Every year more than 18,000 young people apply to pass through the ivy-clad doorways, but only 3,200 make it. Of these, just 2,600 live in the U.K. In numerical terms, an Oxford education is always going to be for the few, not the many. … “a symbol of unacceptable privilege. A place at Oxford matters beyond symbolism. The badge of an Oxbridge degree will, on past form, take you far.

Three quarters of [United Kingdom] judges; nearly two thirds of U.K. permanent secretaries; half U.K. diplomats and newspaper columnists went to Oxford or Cambridge, along with a third of BBC executives; a quarter of all MPs, and nearly 40 per cent of the House of Lords. All compared with less than one per cent of the UK public as a whole. No wonder there is a long queue at the door.” (If Oxford shrugs, Prospect Magazine).

For the record, this is how Justice Griffiths came to the bench.

“Commission of appointment of a judge of the Federal Court of Australia: I, Quentin Bryce, Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, acting with the advice of the Federal Executive Council and under section 72 of the Constitution and subsection 6(1) of the Federal Court of Australia Act 1976, appoint John Edward Griffiths of Senior Counsel, learned in law, to be judge of the Federal of Australia, assigned to the Sydney Registry beginning on the 23rd day of April 2012 until he attains the age of 70 years. Signed and sealed with the great seal of Australia on the 19th day of April 2012, Quentin Bryce, Governor-General, by Her Excellency’s command, Nicola Roxon, Commonwealth Attorney-General.”

Whereupon Chief Justice Keane invited Justice Griffiths to take the oath of office.

Justice Griffiths swore “that I will bear true allegiance to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors according to law and that I will well and truly serve her in the office of judge of the Federal Court of Australia and that I will do right to all manner of people according to law, without fear or favour, affection or ill will.”

And Oxbridge is the breeding ground where Englanders are going, therefrom to return ‘finished off’ as well as finished!

Professor Hocking’s appeal against the Federal Court ruling in March was heard on 28 November 2018 by the Full Court of the Federal Court before Chief Justice James Allsop, Justice Geoffrey Flick and Justice Alan Robertson. The case was led by Bret Walker S.C. with Tom Brennan, instructed by Corrs Chambers Westgarth. (Media alert. Appeal in ‘Palace letters’ case to be heard, John Menadue, 28 November 2018).

Continued Saturday – Medieval combat for ‘the Palace letters’ (part 8)

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

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

 

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The Yoke of Inequality Burdens Us All

By Ad Astra

It was in 2012 that The Price of Inequality by Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz was published in America and the United Kingdom. In 2013 it was distributed worldwide by Penguin Books. This seminal work, tellingly subtitled How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future was widely acknowledged.

As Stiglitz recounts in the Preface to the Paperback Edition, “It was clear from its reception that it had struck a chord, not just in the US, but around the world, where there is mounting concern about the increase in inequality and the lack of opportunity, and how these twin trends are changing our economies, our democratic politics, and our societies.”

Has the situation improved since then?

No.

At the G7 meeting in August in the French resort town of Biarritz, the host, French President Emmanuel Macron, officially declared the summit would focus on social inequality; more contentious issues like trade and climate change had already been broached.

Are there any existential issues more critical than climate change, which threatens our planetary home, and inequality, which threatens to tear apart the very fabric of societies the world over?

This piece will place before you the mounting evidence, drawn from recently published articles in the mainstream media, that inequality is not easing, but is steadily worsening. You can draw your own conclusions.

Let’s start with Kate Griffiths and Danielle Woods of the Grattan Institute, writing in The Conversation in an article titled: For the first time in a long time, we’re setting up a generation to be worse off than the one before it. They begin:

We’ve become used to each new generation of Australians enjoying a better standard of living than the one that came before it. Until now. Today’s young Australians are in danger of falling behind.

A new Grattan Institute report: Generation gap: ensuring a fair go for younger Australians, reveals that younger generations are not making the same economic gains as their predecessors. Economic growth has been slow for a decade, Australia’s population is ageing, and climate change looms. The burden of these changes mainly falls on the young. The pressures have emerged partly because of economic and demographic changes, but also because of the policy choices we’ve made as a nation.

Older generations are richer than before; younger ones are not. For much of the past century, strong economic growth has produced growing wealth and incomes. Older Australians today have substantially greater wealth, income and expenditure compared with Australians of the same age decades earlier.

Australia’s Household, Income and Labour Dynamics Survey (HILDA) provides the details.

Under the heading: Income levels and income inequality it reads:

Mean and median household disposable incomes grew very strongly over the eight-year period from 2001 to 2009. Expressed at December 2017 prices, the mean increased by $19,773, or $2,472 per year; the median increased by $19,422 over the same period. Most of this growth in fact occurred between 2003 and 2009, when both the mean and median grew by approximately $3,000 per year. However, since 2009, growth in both the mean and median has been much weaker. Over the eight-year period from 2009 to 2017, the mean household income grew by only $3,156, or 3.5%, while the median in 2017 was $542 lower than in 2009 (having fallen between 2009 and 2011, risen in 2012, and remained broadly unchanged thereafter).

However, the Bureau of Statistics managed to confuse the issue by asserting: Inequality stable since 2013-2014, but failed to back its conclusion with data. Commenting on the Bureau’s assertion in ABC News, Stephen Long and Michael Janda noted that ”average (mean) household wealth has been climbing quickly whereas typical (median) household wealth has not, implying that the rich are getting richer much more quickly than Australians in the middle”.

Writing in an article in The Conversation: Inequality is growing, but it is also changing as Australia’s super rich evolve Salvatore Ferraro of RMIT University said:

Over the course of the 20th century, income equality has been U-shaped, a point noted by French economist Thomas Piketty and Australia’s Productivity Commission.

In Australia, the income share of the top 1 per cent peaked at 14% in 1950, then fell to a low of 5% in the early 1980s before climbing again to 9% by 2015. Wealth inequality has also followed a long term U-pattern, and in many countries wealth is even more concentrated than income. The Productivity Commission finds that in Australia, a person at in the top 10% of wealth distribution has 40 times as much wealth as a person in the bottom 10%. That person has four times as much income.

In another article in The Conversation titled Inequality in the OECD is at a record high – and society is suffering as a result Mike Brewer, professor of economics at the University of Essex, begins:

When high levels of inequality are pointed out, a common response is that the “politics of envy” are being deployed. I heard the phrase myself when I tweeted recently that the share of income going to the richest 0.01% of adults in the UK was almost at a record high, based on my new analysis of UK tax data. After taking a few months out to write a book on what we know about economic inequalities, I was struck by the enormous amount of research showing how harmful inequality is for people. It’s increasingly clear that high levels of inequality damage our health and well-being, harm social cohesion and levels of trust, and act as a brake on economic performance. And there is increasing evidence that inequalities dramatically tilt the playing field for future generations.

Indeed, there is an emerging field of inequality research: Health inequality, pioneered by Professor Sir Michal Marmot. He has shown in his reviews how profoundly health and disease are modulated by inequality in income and wealth, and how health inequality has worsened since his first review in 2010. Health and well being are powerfully determined by whether we are well-off or poor.

In another article in The Conversation: Don’t believe what they say about inequality. Some of us are worse off Professor Peter Whiteford at the Crawford School of Public Policy at ANU writes:

If you were going to reduce a 150-page Productivity Commission examination of trends in Australian inequality to a few words, it would be nice if they weren’t “ALP inequality claims sunk”, or “Progressive article of faith blown up” or “Labor inequality myths busted by commission”. The editorial in the Australian Financial Review of August 30 says questions about whether inequality is increasing are “abstract”, taught in universities as “an article of faith”, and a “political truncheon”.

The Productivity Commission report adds to a growing pile of high quality research on trends in income distribution in Australia, including a recent Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) and University of New South Wales study using data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) that provides an in-depth analysis of income and wealth inequality in 2015-16 and an analysis of trends since 2000. The Productivity Commission survey takes the deliberately ambitious approach of assessing a wider range of outcomes than income, including indicators of household consumption and wealth, their components, and changes over time and in response to events such as transitions to work, divorce and retirement.

We often hear about Australia as a ‘miracle economy’ enjoying 27 years of economic growth. In fact, the Commission report shows real net national disposable income per person – a better measure of individual economic well-being than GDP – actually fell in six out of the last 27 years.

There are a number of telling graphs in this article that would reward your attention.

In his valedictory address on leaving the public service, as if to leave a telling message for the political class, outgoing secretary of the Prime Minister’s Department Martin Parkinson condemned ‘entrenched disadvantage’ in Australia:

Our history has bequeathed a degree of entrenched disadvantage that should be seen as a disgrace in any country, but particularly one as developed as Australia.

More than half of those in the bottom decile in 2000 were still in the lowest 20% 15 years later. Ideally, people should only be at the bottom of the income distribution spectrum temporarily due to life events, not whole families and communities sentenced to it for generations. If you want a single thing to blame for the disadvantage we see in Australia, particularly in our remote areas, look no further than an understandable lack of hope.

While neoliberal thinkers might regard inequality as the ‘normal’ state of affairs, of interest only to political tragics, recall the Occupy Wall Street movement that mobilized thousands of people in September 2011 in Zuccotti Park, New York. The issues that motivated this movement were social and economic inequality, greed, corruption and the undue influence of corporations on government, particularly from the financial services sector. Eventually forced out of Zuccotti Park, protesters turned their focus to occupying banks, corporate headquarters, board meetings, foreclosed homes, and college and university campuses. These ordinary people saw the devastating effects of inequality, and insisted on having their opposition to it heard.

Inequality pervades the social side of society too. Homelessness is perhaps the commonest form of social inequity, now affecting so many young people. Gender inequality is rife. LGBTQIA folk experience inequality in all its social forms. They fight for recognition and a fair go, form associations to marshal support, and use social media to counter the criticisms they suffer. Too often their voices are ignored.

Need I say any more? There is abundant evidence of extreme inequality the world over in wages, wealth, opportunity, housing, social status, gender recognition, health and well-being. It’s a yoke on society that burdens us all. Sadly, it’s likely to worsen, not improve.

Is the political class capable of reversing this downward trend? Do they really want to try? I really do wonder!

 

This article was originally published on The Political Sword.

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Petroleum Crumbs

By Michael Brazel  

Let’s talk about the attack on the oil processing facility in Saudi Arabia. This has the potential to be the critical flash-point not only in Middle Eastern affairs but in the world’s financial systems. This could snowball out from the deserts where our modern concept of civilisation and bring down the world as we know it. If that sounds serious, well it is.

If the flow of oil is hindered, and prices go up, then goods and services become more expensive. Transport costs go up, which means everything goes up which means access to everything gets harder. Which means access to basic necessities starts getting out of reach. Which means people start getting stressed and hungry and competitive. Which means a world as volatile as the petroleum at the root of the issue here.

It would be occurring at a time when markets are already fragile, and when people all over the world are polarised and suspicious and craving radical change.

Investors will start questioning the potential returns on their investments and stop investing. People will spend less and the world will head into a depression that will make the 1930s look meek. Partly because most people in the 1930s had never experienced the level of opulence many of us have come to expect of life.

As prices rise to cope with the stymied flow, the knock-on effects are felt as future projects start getting stalled. Creating the lethal scenario where ravenous corporations also start going hungry. And starved of their profits, they can be a most destructive beast. They will continue the trend of hoarding their wealth like gluttonous dragons and the people will continue their trend of wanting their dragon heads on spikes.

Meanwhile, back at the burning oil facilities, the Houthis, who have been fighting Saudi backed extremism in Yemen in what is currently the world’s cruellest and most extreme war have claimed responsibility for the attack. They have apparently flown ten relatively cheap military drones, worth $15,000 or so each into Saudi territory and attacked two of the world’s largest oil processing facilities, affecting half the world’s energy supplies.

Needless to say, this has made the US war-hawks very upset. And in true form, they are getting ready to attack Iran for something someone else has claimed responsibility for.

Yes, the Houthis do receive assistance from Iran in their war against Saudi backed extremism in their own country, but does that make Iran responsible? A Saudi prince could stub his toe on an oil pipeline and the US would accuse Iran and find some grainy black and white footage to “prove” it was responsible.

It would make sense to believe the Houthis when they claim responsibility for this attack. They are at war with the Saudi-led coalition, who have been vicious in Yemen and they have been involved in cross border attacks before. In fact, earlier this year, in at least two instances, Saudi forces have struck down drone attacks by the Houthis in their airspace. Add to this the fact that the Saudi government was just about to make Saudi Aramco, its national oil company public, a move that could be worth up to US$2 trillion, it would make a large-scale attack on infrastructure like this a perfect target.

But Mike Pompeo says no. The US establishment, including Democratic representatives say no. Our lying eyes deceive us. It was Iran. The Houthis they say, couldn’t possibly have the drone capabilities to have carried out such an attack, despite the fact they have previously been carrying attempted attacks of a similar nature.

So the Houthis say it was them. Iran says it wasn’t us. But the American administration is just itching to invade and is looking for any excuse possible. And there’s nothing like an attack on inanimate fossil fuels to get the US up in arms. They certainly don’t seem to get upset about the atrocities in Yemen.

Yemen has seen war crimes committed by both sides. The Houthis have plenty of civilian blood on their hands and have been responsible for laying landmines through vast tracts of land, attacking civilian areas and kidnappings. But the US executive branch seems intent on only coming down on the Houthi side, while ignoring the war crimes coming from the other side. The Saudi-coalition has been responsible for bombing weddings, hospitals, sanctions leading to famine and the use of cluster bombs, yet this doesn’t seem to raise the ire of the world’s petro-hyperpower. An average Tuesday for the American war machine.

It could be Yemen’s geo-political positioning. It sits right at the mouth of a critical transport hub in the Gulf of Aden, which is one of the key ways that Saudi oil enters the world market and continues to prop up the hegemony of the US petro-dollar.

It could be that the Saudi-led coalition, which is mostly regional states, also includes Academi, formerly Blackwater, which is essentially the world’s largest and most lethal mercenary force that is stationed in the US, and works both with and for the CIA making the US not only a behind the scenes force in the Yemen conflict but a direct participant. Blackwater cum Academi has basically been the US’s private militia, able to do the dirty work that even the US military isn’t willing to do. And that is saying something. They also provide a way for non-US citizens to get paid work as mercenaries for its imperial ambitions. And Erik Prince, its founder is the brother of insufferable Betsy DeVos, the Secretary for Education in the US.

While the Yemen war is considered a civil war, it has long been seen as a Saudi/Iranian proxy war. But taking into account the role of Academi, the funding and weapons supplied by the US, this shows the conflict in Yemen even more clearly to have been a proxy conflict between the US and Iran, and makes the more and more frequent claims that Iran is responsible for various political trigger events even more dubious. The US has been responsible for the destabilisation of the region for many years, is world-famous for lying themselves into invasions in the Middle East and as a consequence has directly overthrown many regional governments, including Iran, and yet we are supposed to trust their judgement.

Iran, as disturbing and problematic as their government is, has plenty of legitimate grievances against the US. Orwellian, intolerant and repressive, Iran is consistently being called out, and rightly so, for its oppressive policies and treatment of women and dissidents, let alone women dissidents, but in the Olympic decathlon of atrocious behaviour, when competing with their regular accusers, the US, Saudi Arabia and Israel, Iran would be in a real struggle to even get a place on the podium. So why are they so particularly irksome to the United States and its allies?

The US definitely struck the first blow in this very lop-sided and long conflict through a collaboration between the CIA and British intelligence services to depose the Iranian Prime Minister Mossadegh in the 1950s when he wanted to nationalise Iranian oil supplies and secure the profits gained from its sale in order to benefit the Iranian people and not just companies like BP.

They then installed, supported and worked with Shah Reza Pahlavi, helping to establish his secret police and even instituting, ironically enough, Iran’s original nuclear infrastructure. The Shah was one of America’s closest allies until he was overthrown in the 1979 Islamic Revolution, that in many ways was a direct reaction to American interference in the country and region.

In the devastating Iran-Iraq war that lasted from 1980 to 1988 and took over half a million lives, the US-backed Iraq under the then less famous and somehow less demonic Saddam Hussein, supplying him with the chemical weapons he used in that war against Iranian soldiers.

In the last twenty years, the US and its allies have overthrown countries to the left and right of Iran, namely Iraq and Afghanistan, but also Libya. And what the US hasn’t done, Saudi Arabia has, spreading Wahabist extremism throughout the region and directly funding many of the groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS that are supposedly the enemies of the all that the US stands for. Groups that are fundamentalist Sunni, directly opposed to Shia Iran.

Then with the advent of Donald Trump, and his petty reluctance to be associated with anything Obama did, the US pulled out of the JCPOA, the multi-lateral treaty that actually saw Iran agree to term that prevented them, not only from developing nuclear weapons, but also from further developing nuclear energy. This was a monumental agreement that was a pathway for Iran to reintegrate into the international community and allay some of the tensions felt around its nuclear ambitions.

This was a slap in the face of Iran, who had been upholding its end of the deal, and also of all the other countries who were instrumental in achieving the JCPOA and who have not been impressed by the US’s unilateral treaty breaking.

Since the breaking of the deal, the tone towards Iran has reverted to the pre-Obama, Bush administration “Axis of Evil” approach. It has become increasingly provocative and defamatory, appearing for all intents and purposes to be peppering the public up in preparation for war while putting Iran a corner where they are more and more likely to respond with a move that can be painted as aggressive by the US and its allies. This is no surprise considering the people Trump has surrounded himself with, including until very recently John Bolton, an architect of the Iraq war and someone considered a godfather of the Neo-Conservative movement.

But Trump himself is not a foreign policy man. He is not driving the war machine. He probably couldn’t care less about any of this let alone know the history of it. If he could secure a new nuclear deal with Iran, as he has recently been trying to do, it would probably only be so he could include a real estate clause where he could slap his name on a piece of prime real estate in Tehran. In reality, much of the aggressive rhetoric towards Iran seems to be being driven by Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Israeli government, warhawks like Bolton and Pompeo within the US executive and military industrial complex and Saudi desires to implement regional Sunni supremacy.

So when the US claims Iran is antagonistic, is aggressive, is responsible for destabilisation, it sounds like words practised in front of a mirror. The hypocrisy of it is biblical. And taking it seriously, considering their modus operandi is lying their way into wars in order to secure the petro-dollar and prevent a paradigm shift away from the global heterodoxy of American exceptionalism and market domination, would require some serious cosmic-scale grains of salt.

They are searching for any pretext at all that justify an invasion of Iran, a country of 80 million or so people. They are using all the propaganda means at their disposal to try and lube up the international community for the violent entry they are desperately wanting to make. They aren’t looking to invade Saudi Arabia. A country that beheads people on the regular, is currently responsible for the world’s worst humanitarian crises and less than a year ago, murdered Jamal Khashoggi, an American journalist, then chopped him up into little pieces and carried his remains out in bags while his fiance waited in a car outside. And they certainly aren’t going to invade Israel. They won’t even withhold a penny from them no matter how many war-crimes they commit or how egregious their treatment of the Palestinians is. They want to invade Iran. Not for humanitarian concerns. Not even for retaliation. For business. For imperial ambition. For oil. For the bottom line. For control.

We are living through the last days of industrialism as we know it. We are living in the twilight of the American Empire. And we are watching as they seek to control every last drop of oil in order to maintain hegemony at any cost. The same people trying to lie us into this war are the ones public denying climate change is a threat while strategising for how they can best profit from it in private. Our future is of little consequence in their vision. Their identity is tied up in securing what they perceive to be personal glory in the long term and personal gain in the short term. They are burning the world and us along with it and gas-lighting the world as they do.

And we as Australians will be made complicit. We are neck deep in the carnage of the Western Imperialism in the Middle East in genera–not surprising considering we are born of the same impulse–but in specific, we have Australian military working within the Saudi coalition. We have Australian companies supplying weapons systems to the Saudi coalition.

We have sent a warship over in order to help “contain” Iran. To sustain the sanctions that are literally aimed at starving the Iranian population into insurgency. Much like we helped prop up the sanctions and oil-for-food program in the ’90s which again quite literally crippled the Iraqi people.

But what a euphemism such as containment means in reality, the true objective behind such a move, the reason we invest our military and personnel, is to secure the flow of oil in order to prop up our lavish lifestyles, to serve our imperial overlords and further the destruction of our own planet in the process.

We all know what these wars have been about. Even those who don’t know the specifics can all see oil dripping from between the lines. Oil seeping from the writing on the wall. You pretty much taste petroleum in every mouthful of bullshit we are served. But soon, unfortunately, we will be feeling the crunch ourselves, rather than offshoring the destructiveness associated with our lucky country to the war-torn Middle East. We may want to blame others. We may want to jump on the US bandwagon and point the finger at Iran. But make no mistake, we are not the victims, we are minor villains in this story. Sycophants sucking up to the big boss in the hopes of maintaining our supply of crumbs. Crumbs we are willing to trade millions of lives and the fate of our world for.

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Perdaman: Santos’ latest attempt to shore up Narrabri Project

By David C Paull  

Last week in Narrabri, Santos signed a ‘heads of agreement’ with Perdaman to “… further study and design a Perdaman ammonium production facility”. It will use methane gas produced from Santos’ as yet unapproved Narrabri Gas Project. According to Kevin Gallagher, CEO and Managing Director of Santos, said at the signing of the agreement that the Narrabri Gas Project is able to provide enough gas to supply up to half of NSW’s needs, while the agreement for Perdaman is for the supply of 14.5 PJ/y of coal seam gas over a 20-year period, subject to of course, the ultimate approval of the project by the NSW Government.

It is proposed that the plant, to be located near Narrabri, is to use both ‘appraisal and early-development gas’, exploiting the current loophole in NSW planning controls which allows gas retrieved under an exploration licence to be used commercially. Such a strategy would potentially allow further development of gas sites under the exploration licence, allowing a ‘backdoor’ avenue for commercial development as long as the use of the gas was deemed to be ‘beneficial’. The plant would also use further gas from the Narrabri Project to provide electricity for it to operate.

And of course the ammonium plant is a job winner, we are told it is expected to support at least 700 jobs during construction and 100 direct and 100 indirect ongoing jobs. Additionally, the gas project is ideally placed for new manufacturing projects as it is near to the new Inland Rail, which “… links key east coast ports and the national highway system.”

But who is Perdaman and why is an ammonium nitrate plant desirable in this rural setting?

Perdaman is a diversified corporation, with a produce and service range that includes pharmaceuticals, analytical labs, energy, commercial properties, fund management, and the curiously named ‘Global Services’. Perdaman Global Services (formerly Perdaman ISA Group) are an immigration and overseas recruitment firm with, “… a strong track record in providing visa and immigration services not only to individuals, but to businesses of all sizes….”

The corporation is based in Western Australia but has offices in the UK, Singapore, India, the Philippines and China. The fertiliser arm of corporation, Perdaman Industries (Chemicals & Fertilisers) is said to have its, “… current focus on the production of urea, the most commonly traded nitrogenous fertiliser.” In fact this is a new area of business for Perdaman with only one contract so far in this sector, recently awarded in partnership with Woodside in WA.

Perdaman claims the total investment for the WA urea plant and other infrastructure will be of the order of $4.0 billion. The project is expected to produce two million tons of urea per annum, most of which will be exported. Perdaman sees the international urea fertiliser business expanding worldwide with and foreseeing increasing demand for agricultural products and a future shortage of fertilisers.

Urea also has the benefit of being safe and easily transported, though is volatile in air and tends to leak N, a major limitation of the product. The same can be said for ammonium nitrate, the key product of the Narrabri plant. While it is relatively stable to move and handle, it is also a key ingredient for explosives, and has resulted in serious explosions at ammonium nitrate facilities in the US.

On top of this the volume of gas proposed for use by Perdaman, 14.5 PJ/yr (or 14 500TJ/y) equates to approximately 20% of Santos’s total production at full capacity – stated often by Gallagher at being up to half the state’s yearly supply needs, which is around 200TJ/day (or 73 000/ TJ/yr). Of course, full production is not likely to be reached in the near future, and as mentioned earlier, Santos and Perdaman are hoping to commence the ammonium plant operation at a reduced capacity. Under this situation the proportion of gas produced by Santos siphoned off by Perdaman could be considerably more than 20% of the total.

All this seriously questions the rhetoric by Gallagher on the ability of Santos to supply half the states gas needs from Narrabri if this Perdaman deal goes ahead. ‘Massaging the figures’ as it were, a practice not unknown to the gas sector. Not that the gas was ever intended for the domestic market.

Perhaps a reason for the likely export outcome for Perdaman’s products is the situation of the local market with a large number of existing suppliers of nitrogen products including urea and ammonium based fertilizers and various blends. This demand is not likely to increase given Australia’s gloomy outlook for agricultural production. Big players in the manufacture and wholesale of fertilzer products in Australia are dominated by two who obtain product from the gas sector are Incitec Pivot and Koch Industries.

So Perdaman, who started as a small visa bridging company in 2001, has been successful enough to diversify into a number of multinational portfolios, of which fertilizers is the latest and as yet, unproven component, though Founding Chairman and Managing Director, Vikas Rambal has attempted other fertilizer projects before. Mr Rambal, the Perdaman website states, has a “… proven track record in delivering world-class businesses.” However, his corporate history in Australia has not been without controversy.

Indian-born, Rambal’s career started at Bharat Petroleum (formerly Shell). He then established a range of projects including refineries and the manufacture of fertilisers. Moving to Western Australia in 2000 he focused on the use methane gas for downstream industry, particularly the manufacture of ammonia for the international fertiliser market. From there his empire grew and diversified.

However, Rambal’s first incursions into the fertiliser business ran into trouble, with his first project, the Burrup ammonia fertiliser plant. Mr Rambal was forced to exit following a bitter split with his former business partner Mr Pankaj Oswal. Mr Oswal ran the Burrup Fertilisers until he ran into trouble with the his creditor the ANZ Bank where it was alleged Mr Oswal siphoned $150 million from the business for his personal use and he forged European security documents for Australian loans, which Mrs Oswal confirmed in court. He later sued and fled the country in 2010 with his family.

Mr Ramabl’s $87.4 million payout as result of the Burrup ammonium plant affair in 2007 brought him into conflict with the ATO. The matter was solved out of court, but the timing of the affair created much doubt about his next project, his plans for a $3.5 billion coal to urea fertiliser plant near Collie.

But the Collie project was halted in 2011 after Perdaman became embroiled in a legal dispute with one of the region’s two coal miners, Griffin Coal, owned by Indian company Lanco Infratech.

The WA Government subsequently took this project off their books in 2018. With considerable loss to the taxpayer.

After having walked away from his first two fertiliser ventures Rambal then partnered with Woodside in 2018 for a new urea plant, also to be built on the Burrup Peninsular. Amid the glowing announcements, The West Australian reported that the plant and MoU was Woodside’s latest attempt to ‘develop new demand for gas’ highlighting the fact that this gas is not in short supply in WA

This Woodside backed Project seems to have the relevant approvals now and is planned to go ahead, amid concerns of possible impacts on the local cultural heritage of the Burrup Peninsular, along with all the other development of the area. Concerns that Mr Rambal has not taken the time to comment on.

What makes the Santos – Perdaman agreement different from that undertaken with Woodside is that there is no real over-supply of gas for Perdaman to utilise at Narrabri without a significant cut in the output from the new field, which is likely to be limited. How the economics of this operation stack up under these circumstances is not clear.

There is no increasing demand for agricultural fertiliser product in this country which also raises questions about its final use, if not exported, then perhaps for the mining industry where it would be invaluable to assist further mining expansion in the region. Interestingly, neither Mr Gallagher or Mr Rambal mentioned what the ammonium nitrate is to be used for at their media exercise last week.

As this review has shown, there are also questions to be answered regarding the propriety of the owners of Perdaman and their ability to deliver on this project without some kind of major financial scandal taking place. All in all there seems to be big question marks on the need and viability of this project. In balance it seems this is just another way Santos have attempted to enhance the market value of the Narrabri Gas Project and also its ‘approvability’. The future of the Narrabri Gas Project however still hangs in the balance.

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The growth of knowledge is getting away from us

By RosemaryJ36  

When you look back over the last 400 to 500 years, the accelerating pace of scientific discovery is really startling. It is not just how much has changed, but the increasing rate at which one discovery or resultant innovation follows another.

There is an old puzzle which asks “How many times would you have to tear a piece of paper in half, putting the resulting pieces on top of each other, over and over again, in order to have a pile that would reach to the moon?” The answer is surprisingly small – assuming you start with a large enough piece of paper – and this is an example of exponential growth.

The rate of increase in scientific discovery is itself exponential!

In his lifetime, Copernicus escaped being denounced for heresy, for expounding his theory that the earth went round the sun, while Galileo was sanctioned by the Catholic church because he indirectly maintained belief in the theory.

This is one of many examples of how scientific theories were suppressed or denounced by the Christian church – both catholic and protestant – over the years, because they conflicted with the Bible – regarded by all Christian denominations as being the source of truth.

In today’s world, the idea that the world was created in 7 days is still held by many ‘believers’, despite clear and irrefutable evidence from scientists that it took billions of years. The biblical story in the Book of Genesis is generally regarded in modern times as apocryphal, yet some still cling to it as God’s truth!

And Christianity is not alone in producing believers who follow every direction in their Holy book! Islam relies on the Qur’an as their source of direction, and, as with the Bible, variations in interpretations of the original work lead to serious disputes between followers of the various Islamic sects. Other religions have their beliefs and prejudices based on ancient knowledge and often with a subsequent refusal to accept conflicting scientific truths.

In some part this situation underlies the attitude of ‘climate change deniers’ who refuse to accept that scientific evidence supports recommendations that mankind, in its profligate use of fossil fuels, is accelerating the emission of carbon dioxide, which is recognised as being one of the ‘greenhouse gases’ and which are accumulating to cause global warming. Hello – @D_LittleproudMP – your scientific education needs an update!

Ironically, it is becoming a circular situation. Refusal to accept the evidence, has led to extreme weather conditions, including droughts which create the conditions for extremely hazardous fires – which in turn increase the emissions of carbon dioxide!

Ignorance is not the prerogative of religious believers, but historical links between religious leaders and governments have given the religious leaders an element of authority which is hard to ignore.

This is evident in many countries – our closest neighbour, Indonesia is a clear example where attempts by the government to remain secular are constantly thwarted by the Islamic leaders.

In Australia we have a Constitutional guarantee that we cannot adopt a national religion nor deny the right of citizens to follow a religion – but life is now more complex than it was for the authors of the Constitution!

They came from a nation which took being Christian as going with their nationality while tolerating the worshippers of other gods.

We now live in a world where not only is there animosity between sects within many religions, such as the catholic/protestant divide which created the ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland, but the spread of Islam and of movements like IS have created Islamophobia, in addition to disunity between Islamic sects.

Just to add to the causes of disunity, India has now decided to ignore the ability of Kashmir to be shared by Hindus and Muslims, by annexing Kashmir and attacking the ability of Muslims to live in peace, while China is denying the Uighurs their rights to follow Islam, using methods that smack of ‘Brave New World’ or ‘1984’.

What is too often overlooked that, while death and taxes are unavoidable – so too is change.

Science has enabled us to change so much in our way of life that old norms are no longer tenable. Women do not have to marry in order to enjoy sex, because they can now control their fertility. So they can now enjoy most of the same freedoms as can men.

To date, only women can conceive, carry and give birth to a child but they no longer need to become a housebound Mum in consequence.

At long last women can now enjoy sports which were previously exclusively available to men. Not only that, but they are showing a particularly high level of skills in many areas!

Look round the world, and you will see that the countries which are least dominated by religion or ancient tribalism are the ones where women have the most freedom!

You will also note that women are generally less supportive of using physical or mechanical force to dominate others!

We are at a point in the Earth’s history where we need unity of purpose, worldwide, as never before, because the survival of life on Earth is at risk as never before.

‘I’ve looked at religion from both sides now’ to usurp and modify a line in a well-known song!

As an agnostic, I can understand the appeal of belief in a better life hereafter for those who currently live in poverty and misery.

I still echo Stephen Fry’s inability to see how a god worth believing in can allow so much harm and hurt to the most vulnerable.

I am bewildered by people who claim to believe in Jesus Christ and his teachings, who then proceed to ignore scientific discoveries made since his death – which cast doubt on the appropriateness of the directions in the Bible which they regard as God-given – as though all knowledge was available 2000 years ago!

Heck – there is so much now that we still do not know – how stupid can they be with their blind faith?

When we have a government with a considerable number of Ministers, led by a Prime Minister, all of whom follow the teachings of a selfish sect which believes in praying for wealth and – much more importantly – brushes aside the implications of scientific theories because they are ignorant of scientific research methods – I get a sense of doom! I shouldn’t feel surprised, however, bcause religion and government are both concerned with power!

I am not very optimistic that the world’s major powers will wake up in time from their wars and bickerings and genocide, to take sufficient action for us to avoid any but the most serious outcomes of the climate catastrophe which we are facing.

Asking the cost of taking the suggested measures is a futile exercise. More futile then ignoring the cost of not taking them!

It has long been established that mankind is the world’s most dangerous predator. It would be an enormous pity if our stupidity were to lead to the demise of all life on earth!

There is no Planet B, and, even if there were, we have not earned the right to live on it.

If you believe in a life after death – good luck to you! No one has yet come back to establish its existence!

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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. [https://chuffed.org/project/release-the-palace-letters]. 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. [http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/mi5-shared-its-secrets-now-the-royals-must-9t8j9595l]”

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 George.venturini@bigpond.com.au.

 

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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.

 

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/sep/04/australian-federal-police-raid-home-of-commonwealth-official-in-canberra; https://www.theguardian.com/law/2019/sep/04/religious-discrimination-bill-could-legalise-race-hate-speech-law-council-warns; https://www.smh.com.au/national/nine-s-liberal-fundraiser-is-a-serious-blemish-for-independent-journalism-20190904-p52nw4.html

[2] https://www.quarterlyessay.com.au/essay/2005/08/relaxed-and-comfortable/extract

[3] http://andrewwilkie.org/pre-police-state-speech/

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/sep/06/democracy-overboard-rupert-murdochs-long-war-on-australian-politics

[5] https://theconversation.com/the-english-only-nt-parliament-is-undermining-healthy-democracy-by-excluding-aboriginal-languages-105048; http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-09-27/aboriginal-defendants-pleading-guilty-by-accident/10129268; https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-04-09/lawyers-missing-from-nt-bush-courts/10981920

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 George.venturini@bigpond.com.au.

 

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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 https://twitter.com/JulianCribb

Personal website: http://juliancribb813.wix.com/jca1

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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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