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


No we can’t

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the record University lectures begin this week.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the Prime Minister’s response?

No We Can’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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Remember the past

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anti-Semitism is the most insidious of these lies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What is truth?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Have you heard of the Tunguska Event?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now Horst moved closer and whispered:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A restless muddled class

With one word – zeitgeist — Germans manage to describe two complex metaphysical concepts:- time and spirit.

Zeitgeist as adopted by the Anglophone world means the spirit of the age and defines seminal points in history.

I detected a shift in the zeitgeist over these last few weeks and I suspect the middle class to which I belong noticed the flux as well.

But the majority, who aspire to a middle class life, seem more muddled than middle. The outcome of the last federal election underscores the point.

Former Prime Minister Paul Keating focused on Australia’s middle class during an interview on the ABC’s 7.30 Report. Among topics raised by Laura Tingle, Keating outlined the ALP’s woeful failure to communicate with the middle class, a corps largely created by him and Bob Hawke.

As Keating’s band of baby boomer brothers and sisters retire from the work force at an unprecedented rate, they take with them swags of money unimagined by their parents.

Baby boomer wealth, enterprise and business acumen, underwrite the success of the Australian economy, and the stellar performance of the ASX – Australian Stock Exchange.

And so to the second shift in the zeitgeist; the extraordinary attack on China by Andrew Hastie, Federal MP for Canning.

So powerful is Hastie within conservative ranks, Prime Minister Morrison laughed off his comments as the observations of a mere back bencher. If this is so, perhaps the PM might check whom Hastie voted for in the recent Liberal Party nastiness.

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham’s appeal for reticence by his colleagues on ABC TV Insiders on August 11 2019, is too little, too late.

A recent essay published in The AIM Network by Dr Binoy Kampmark, illuminates the vacuity of Hastie’s intemperate remarks.

Hastie’s comments underscore the inability of the current government to manage the national economy, let alone conduct cordial relations with a significant trading partner.

Indeed the government’s misreading of China per se, date back to Andrew Robb’s mind boggling rubber stamping of the 100 year lease of the Port of Darwin to China.

South Australian Labor MP Nick Champion attempted to revive the Port of Darwin fiasco, but to no avail.

Of the two criticisms of Chinese dealings with Australia, we know the issue to which Beijing responded.

The conservative Liberal Party is fiscally clueless, and the nation’s muddled middle class is finally realising its wealth is under threat from a Wunch of Bankers who came together last week for a right wing back slapping orgy known as CPAC.

Keating’s critique of Labor’s failure to communicate its policies with all Australians but especially the middle class, flushed out an old left wing warrior who sprang to the party’s defence.

But Kim Carr’s swipe at Keating proved that neither the right nor left wings of the ALP know how to craft a meaningful dialogue with a bemused middle class.

This conundrum is a major challenge for both Anthony Albanese MP and the trade union movement which conducted one of the worst political campaigns in its history during the last federal election.

Thus it is fair to ask where to now for an increasingly restless middle class.

The answer might be found in another German word, Mittelstand, which roughly translates as “a statistical category of small and medium-sized enterprises”.

In German Mittelstand is expressed as kleine und mittlere Unternehmen or KMU.

Mittelstand companies typically have a maximum of 499 employees.  According to an internet definition, “the term is not officially defined or self-explanatory, hence in English linguistic terms, SMEs are not necessarily equivalent to the Mittelstand. In fact, even larger, and often family-owned, firms claim to be part of the Mittelstand”.

In his heyday Prime Minister Bob Hawke touted European social and economic models. This admiration, aided and abetted by Paul Keating as Treasurer, led to the Australian society we enjoy today.

Perhaps a shell-shocked ALP might deploy its brightest thinkers to evaluate Mittelstand as a way forward for both the Party and the nation.

Sadly the non-aligned Dr Andrew Leigh  has a lot of spare time on his hands.

Dr Leigh possesses the intellectual clout to craft an Australian model of Mittelstand which is increasingly popular in a faltering United Kingdom where it is known as Brittelstand.

Perhaps the ALP might scrape up some money for a couple of air fares to send Dr Leigh and Paul Keating to a Brittelstand symposium next month at the University of Reading.

As changes to the spirit of the age develop, Australia’s muddled middle class will again look to the ALP for answers. And if Labor manages to craft a new way of doing business with business – including Howard’s Battlers — and communicate simply and clearly with a suspicious middle class, it can win government.

But if Labor fails to craft policy for the future, the nation remains at the mercy of a conservative clique, who for no apparent reason, is determined to bankrupt and impoverish every class of Australian society.

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

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Boris’s blonde ambitions

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
A Tale of Two Cities. Charles Dickens.

As the 77th Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, will Boris Johnson modify the Anglophone world as Australians and citizens of the United Kingdom, presently know it?

The answer of course depends upon whether Prime Minister Johnson can achieve  Britain’s Exit — BREXIT — from the European Union.

Three years short of a half century ago, on December 2 1972 Gough Whitlam is elected Australian Prime Minister. Then on January 1 1973, Conservative Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath leads the United Kingdom into the European Economic Community.

Denmark and the Republic of Ireland also join.

Now 47 years later, with an ambitious blonde in residence at 10 Downing Street, it is fair to ask: is a multitude of profound changes to the political, social and economic destinies of so many peoples and nation’s, about to occur?

Judging by the blathering’s of a coterie of incompetent blonde-headed rulers elected by a largely disengaged global electorate, the world seems set to regress to a pre-GATT era.

The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade – GATT – is an accord between most nations to promote international trade. It achieves its aims by reducing or eliminating trade barriers such as tariffs or quotas.

Twenty three nations signed the first GATT in Geneva on 30 October 1947. The new world order began on 1 January the following year.

When GATT begat the World Trade Organisation, the partial redistribution of global wealth resulted in the world we recognise today.

Back in the day Ted Heath and Gough Whitlam understood the significance of GATT and its subsequent iterations. However the current crop of blond himbos, strutting the world stage, clearly does not.

And Australia’s God-Botherer-in-Chief residing at Yarralumla, does not appear to care either.

With Johnson now in Number 10 the world’s conservative leaders can set about destroying the institutions created in the post GATT era, and its greatest achievement, the European Union.

Once BREXIT is finally ratified, the theory goes the United Kingdom reconstitutes the British Commonwealth of Nations, and recommences free trade with Australia and other British ‘colonial’ nations.

Gone are those pesky Continental rules and regulations.

Problem is post BREXIT the United Kingdom might find itself short a key constituent – Scotland

If the Scots vote to leave the Union, what remains of a disunited kingdom might at best, slip into a full blown recession, at worst sectarian war.

A frightening economic prediction comes from the Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney.

The irony of a Johnsonian post BREXIT era is the uncomfortable fact Europe initially blocked the United Kingdom from the European Economic Community.

The principal reason for keeping the UK out of Europe cited by President Charles De Gaulle in the early 1960s was its cosy relationship with its former colonies.

Chief among these is Australia.

De Gaulle was a great hater. He loathed the United States of America and conjured a special place in a Gallic hell for the United Kingdom.

There are too many reasons to go into De Gaulle’s animus, but author Thomas de La Marnierre of the University of Québec, Montréal Canada, posits trade and tariffs as central to De Gaulle’s rationale for exclusion.

In an online essay published in June 2019, de La Marnierre quotes De Gaulle, including incorrect spelling and grammar thus.

“How can we do to make England, as she lives, as she produces, as she trades, be incorporated to the Common market as it was designed and as it works? For example, the means from which eats the people of Great Britain and that are actually the importation of food supplies bought cheaply in the two Americas or in the old dominions, meanwhile giving, granting considerable subsidies to the English farmers. This mean is obviously uncompatible with the system that the Six designed naturally for themselves. The system of the Six, it consists to make everything with the agricultural product from all the Community. To rigorously set their price. To forbid they be subsidised. To organize their consumption between all the participants, and to impose to each of these participants to give to the Community every saving they would make by importing food from outside instead of eating those the Common Market would offer”.

The full text of de La Marnierre essay is here.

The notion of offending Commonwealth nations rankled both Conservative and Labour ranks from the time De Gaulle stymied the UK’s Common Market entry.

And though much has changed, much remains the same.

“How can we do to make England, as she lives, as she produces, as she trades, be incorporated to the Common market as it was designed and as it works? Charles De Gaulle.

Once BREXIT occurs in what ever form, the United Kingdom will never be readmitted to the EU again. Instead its place will be filled by eager nations such as Turkey, or Ukraine or Albania or perhaps Moldova.

And so to the current Australian Government with its non-existent political agenda.

The inheritors of the legacy of Australia’s champion of tariff’s Black Jack McEwen are firmly in control.

Government subsidised coal-fired power stations, and the old agrarian chestnut of nuclear energy, are up for serious consideration. And prepare for an influx of hard done-by white South African farmers.

As for La Belle France I would not be at all surprised if another blonde, Marine Le Pen, takes up residence in the Elysse Palace.

The United Kingdom is Europe’s great pacifier, but deserting the EU at the urging of a band of chronic liars, might mean the end of its illustrious tradition as one of the world’s great civilisations.

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

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Whither Labor?

When the hoary old phrase ‘fall on his sword’ is used to describe a resignation, in this case the end of the career of the ALP’s Noah Carrol, you know circumstances are dire.

I am not inclined to pick over the entrails of the ALP’s loss to Scott Morrison. Rather, I’m curious why the global electorate is shunning progressive, social democrat parties around the world.

I seek the observations of political scientists and commentators I admire, but even their well-crafted explanations fail to answer my questions.

I believe in human rights, equality, equal pay, peace, an end to climate change and a benign technological future devoted to the service of humanity. In short I am a product of my schoolboy and university studies of the Enlightenment, Karl Marx, and from my own era, the economic theories of John Maynard Keynes.

I am a child of the post-World War Two period; a legatee of Whitlam, Hawke and Keating. All three Labor prime ministers are like Marx, Keynes and the architects of the Enlightenment, luminaries of the 20th and earlier centuries.

But here’s the rub. The ALP of the 21st Century remains beholden to heroes whose Light on the Hill does not shine for half the voting population.

The author and orator of the Light on the Hill speech Prime Minister Ben Chifley lived in the former Labor stronghold of Bathurst. But in the 21st Century, with the exception of the regional NSW Federal seats of Gilmore and Eden-Monaro, plus one or two others, Labor is not the political party of choice.

Unless the ALP engages meaningfully with the Bush, with its unique challenges, national government remains beyond reach.

The new NSW ALP leader Jodi McKay recognised this conundrum when she chose Yasmin Catley, the MP for the State seat of Swansea in the Hunter, as her deputy.

In NSW Hunter and Illawarra seats, both state and federal, are critical paths to government.

I first met Ms McKay at the International Media Centre in Darling Harbour during the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. She impressed me then, and continues to shine to this day.

If anyone can win back the Bush for the ALP it is politicians of the calibre of Jodi McKay and Fiona Phillips, the new MP for Gilmore which centres on the regional NSW city of Nowra in the Shoalhaven.

Gilmore, Eden-Monaro and the Federal seat of Macquarie, with its ramparts of the Blue Mountains, and which Labor held by its fingernails, are the equivalents of Minnesota, and Ohio in the United States and Manchester and Huddersfield in England.

Similar regional cities and communities across Europe and much of the Anglophone world are suspicious of human rights, equality, equal pay, peace, an end to climate change and a benign technological future. In short their citizens despise people like you and me.

Instead they hearken the violent, xenophobic rhetoric of Tommy Robinson and his ilk. Or vote for populists like Nigel Farage, Donald Trump and Boris Johnson. The more discerning among them swallow the gobbledegook of Jordan Peterson.

In Australia mornings and afternoons are wasted listening to shock jocks, or reading tabloid muck. Many pore over pseudo-science peddled by the likes of Malcolm Roberts or the so called ‘fellows’ of the Institute of Public Affairs.

This daily jibber-jabber is the equivalent of the outpourings of George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth in the novel 1984.

But it achieves nothing other than serving the purposes of a cohort of so called conservatives whose rhetoric seems the antithesis of conservatism.

So whither Labor?

I believe the ALP requires a devilish, two-fold strategy. First, win over urban Greens voters who are experiencing a similar sense of shock and loss as their Labor counterparts. Second, listen to and learn from the experiences of regional and rural Party members.

My local Federal Member for Grayndler and Leader of the Labor Opposition, Anthony Albanese claims the Unity Hall Hotel in Balmain as Labor’s birthplace.

Albo uses the Unity as a go-to venue for significant Labor announcements such as Kevin Rudd’s change to the ALP’s rules in 2013.

The problem with this is it cock’s-a-snook at regional Australia, in particular those nascent ALP supporters with a tattoo of the Southern Cross — emblem of the Eureka Stockade flag — on their bodies. And it ignores older ALP supporters who yearn for the story of a Labor Party founded beneath the Tree of Knowledge in Barcaldine, Queensland.

Track down the movie Sunday Too Far Away starring Jack Thompson in a fictional characterisation of ALP stalwart and designer of the It’s Time campaign, Mick Young. Watch it and you’ll get my gist.

If Albo can manage to reconcile the divergence of these two iconic Labor sites with their disparate traditions, he might reignite a light in the hearts of a demoralised ALP rank and file.

I believe Albo capable of this reconciliation. And while he is a much tougher character than John Setka of the CFMMEU, he cannot afford to alienate its membership.

Albo speaks in a vernacular which resonates with conservative, traditional ALP supporters, who since the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd years shifted their vote elsewhere.

Victorian premier Daniel Andrews strikes me as a Labor politician admired in his rural heartland.

And Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s 2015 trouncing of the hapless Campbell Newman remains a warning to Scott Morrison and his Liberal cohort which is showing signs of behaviour not dissimilar to Tommy Robinson and his bully boys.

Premier Palaszczuk’s victory in Queensland proves this nation can get very angry, very quickly.

But now it is up to Anthony Albanese to find his voice and assure the citizens of a 21st Century nation that Australia, united, will never be defeated.

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

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Hard infrastructure versus soft targets

I’ve watched a few pea and thimble games in my day, but even by the standards of the shysters operating around 25th Street, near Union Square in New York City, last week’s spruik by NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet is a doozy.

And with the Federal Fiscal Follies duo of Cormann and Frydenberg in charge of the national treasure, the Dom Perignon of Epping might just pull this one off.

As usual the head-in-the-sand suckers of NSW remain none the wiser.

On July 4 2019 Treasurer Perrottet called on the Australian Government to stump up BIG bucks to finance a portion of the public-private partnership known as the Sydney Metro.

So what makes this a shell game? Well, Dom wants wads of your money to hand over to international consortia currently building a slew of massive projects.

In his press release Dom glibly notes the NSW Liberal Coalition Government is pouring more than $100 billion of your dough into infrastructure. This he proclaims, continues a trend begun after the landslide election win eight years ago.

But like Oliver Twist the Dom says, “please sir, I want some more”, boasting that:

“We’ve invested $130 billion in infrastructure projects since 2011 and have added another record $93 billion in the 2019-20 budget for schools, hospitals, roads, rail, water infrastructure and stadiums.”

Try as you might to follow which thimble the pea is under, you won’t notice the “investment” is actually an allocation of public money to a bevy of corporations hired to build and in turn, invest in a web of private projects.

In the case of the WestConnex behemoth, which is slashing at my back door, the tell-tale beeps of microprocessors on commuters’ front windscreens is the kerching of cash pouring into the corporate coffers of the likes of John Holland.

Take a moment to evaluate the record of Dom’s other projects.

Children attending schools in the majority of NSW communities are spending their formative years crammed into demountable classrooms.

Next this private hospital debacle. Now, look at how things flow via a significant water infrastructure imbroglio. And who can forget the case of the vanishing stadiums.

Nothing to see here. So Dom and his boss Premier Gladys Berejiklian decide to appeal to ScoMo for an even bigger bag full of public money to gleefully proclaim their slogan, Let’s Get it Done NSW!

But it is the ‘marks’ of NSW who are getting done.

Word has it a cohort of top shelf lawyers planned to visit Macquarie Street recently, bearing writs to settle the misfortunes of Sydney’s blighted light rail project.

Dom’s fiscal shell game means we the people, the soft targets, get squished as a demoralised Emerald City inexorably loses its shine.

One of the many monsters changing the character of the old city of Sydney, is a corporate cash cow called WestConnex.

Each day tens of thousands of motorists speed across Sydney’s Anzac Bridge toward the City West Link in Rozelle. Most are homeward bound to various parts of David Williamson’s Emerald City.

What these commuters do not realise is the sparkling waters of Blackwattle and Rozelle Bays below Anzac Bridge, disguise layers of sludge; a toxic legacy dating to the early days of colonial NSW.

A key portion of the encroaching motorway known as WestConnex Stage 3 B, tunnels under the reclaimed land formerly known as the Rozelle Rail Goods Yard. This 14 hectare-plus site, sits a few metres or so above the ominous slurry.

But if Dom’s appeal is successful, the Fiscal Follies duo just might pick up the tab in the name of ‘stimulus’ and blithely finance the latest insensitive development foisted on the State by a clutch of international builders.

Now-a-days Rozelle’s citizens and the aforesaid commuters, watch an army of workers in high viz vests, measure and mark the underground grids that define this highly prized real estate. Once the data is correlated, engineers mark out where tunnel entrances and spaghetti junctions begin and end.

What alarms me is the cavalier approach of the gormless engineers and town planners. It seems none have bothered to research the history of the locale. This old portion of Sydney, AKA The Inner West, attracted the likes of Walter Burley Griffin and Edmund Blackett. The former crafted an incinerator to burn waste manufactured by foreshore industries. The latter designed a Norman-inspired abattoir, which initially fouled the waters of the inner harbour bays.

The skeleton of Burley Griffin’s incinerator is preserved in a portion of Bicentennial Park in nearby Glebe.

The old industrial precinct around the budding Rozelle Interchange is home to historic relics. One is  a putative convict-built sluice that still drains storm water into Sydney Harbour. Another artefact is an  anti-aircraft gun pit buried in Easton Park, built to defend the port from possible Japanese air attack.

Few people seem to realise tunnels and coal mine shafts honeycomb the Balmain peninsula. Some pits date to the early decades of the Colony of NSW.

The curve of Sydney Harbour at the bottom of Johnston Street Annandale, a few metres from the Abbey built in 1877, is called Rozelle Bay. I cannot discover its indigenous denomination. Whatever its original name, Rozelle Bay is a shadow of its former reach. At least half its foreshore was back-filled and released for the use of toxic industries such as the tanneries of Glebe. A plaque in nearby Bicentennial Park, attests to the poisonous legacy of these putrid work sites.

According to historian Shirley Fitzgerald the 1882 Royal Commission into Noxious and Offensive Trades, detailed animal slaughter on a massive scale.

The Royal Commission tallied 524,415 sheep, 69,991 cattle, 31,269 pigs and 8,348 calves, butchered on or near the site of the Rozelle Goods Yard. As their remains were dumped into Blackwattle and Rozelle Bays, their blood gushed into the water. I dare say much of the offal settled onto the marshy seabed around the City West Link.

The Blackett-designed abattoir finally closed in 1913 and the meat works relocated to Homebush. Thereafter the land was used as a rail marshalling yard for the maintenance of freight carriages working the Darling Harbour cargo wharves. 

This industrial-cum-port land, designated The Bays Precinct, is the last of such land remaining in Sydney. The precinct is said to be one of the largest urban transformation projects in the world. This reclaimed portion of Sydney Harbour is now the site of a WestConnex entry portal which leads to a weave of yet-to-be-built tunnels, and a planned subterranean harbour crossing. Also coming, is a stop for the partially privately-run, above-mentioned Sydney Metro.

Putting aside the years of spillage from the Glebe tanneries, the coal tailings and ash, the coveted White Bay Power station is the site of an unmitigated debacle created by none other than the former NSW Premier Mike Baird.

Sadly my house might be resumed for Westconnex Stage 3 B.Countless  properties in St Peters are badly impacted by another disturbed garbage dump. Sydenham, Haberfield, Burwood, Concord and other  communities endure similar nightmares, as do the suburbs of Cammeray, Willoughby and Wahroonga on Sydney’s North Shore.

For the citizens of Leichhardt, WestConnex looms as a modern day cloaca, which for the foreseeable future will spew unfiltered emissions every bit as toxic as the effluent of industries past.

But what the hell. Roll up and listen to the smooth talking shyster, before laying down your wad of cash. And if you happen to pick Dom Perignon’s thimble hiding the pea, he’ll gladly return the money he’s already taken from you.

Psst. Nobody ever wins.

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

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The falsity of fake news

Difficult to pin down when this narrative actually began, but for argument’s sake I’ll posit its start with the recent Australian Federal Election and the plethora of fake news trumpeting a Labor victory.

A successive run of negative polls published over at least two years, pointed to this mythical Labor win.

Indeed, dire poll numbers prompted Malcolm Turnbull’s putsch, which lead to the demise of Tony Abbott and ultimately the triumph of Scott Morrison.

The script suggested a brave new Shorten Labor Government replete with the sparkling post-modern trappings of a new Whitlam/Hawke/Keating imperium.

But the thumping hangover of this self-inflicted delusion is made worse by recent raids on the ABC and a News Corp journalist, both aided and abetted by the home-grown master of the dark art of fake news, the Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton.

Minister Dutton displayed his mastery of the art during a Kitchen Cabinet interview with Annabel Crabb on ABCTV Insiders.

I don’t often reach for the mute button, but this chat, characterised as a train wreck by the Labor Senator shadowing Dutton Kristina Keneally, bodes ill for the Opposition.

Indeed when the Australian Parliament resumes, Morrison, Frydenberg, Dutton, Christian Porter and the entire triumphant Liberal Front Bench, will deploy fake news with such gusto, the occasional frisson of Question Times past, will be recalled as a golden era.

To be sure the Federal Member for Grayndler and Labor Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese, a known political bare-knuckled brawler of Tories, begins his stint by taking on the Victorian state secretary of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMMEU) John Setka.

But the NSW branch of the Labor muscling up over the Victorian branch which gifted Australia six years of stability under Bill Shorten, is a mere side show.

The real game is the impending dismantling of the decades-long social compact between a succession of Australian governments and the citizenry.

The Liberal/National Government will achieve this aim by easily shutting down debate.

You can guarantee key Liberal spokespeople will repeat ad nauseam their favoured fake news phrase; ‘we do not comment about on-water matters’.

The global phenomena of fake news began with the election of US President Donald Trump seemingly with the assistance of certain players associated with the Russian Federation. But this brand of psychological operations or psyops is commonly deployed by most governments.

Indeed the preamble to the US Army’s official psyops manual entitled, Psychological Operations Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures, begins with this quote; “all military action is intertwined with psychological forces and effects”. The author is Carl von Clausewitz, taken from his book On War, published in 1827.

Last week an insidious example of fake news or psyops, titillated the global media to wit the vision of smoking oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.

Photo from (Getty Images)

And when British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn suggested the matter might be a false flag, Rupert Murdoch’s The Sun newspaper hit back with this fake news gem.

So who do we believe?

In times past we sought the Superman of news, that purveyor of “truth, justice and the American Way,” the US White House. But any person other than viewers of Fox/Sky News who give credence to the White House and its soon-to-retire press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders are the very same citizens at whom fake news is aimed.

So how readily is fake news being deployed in Australia?

ABCTV on 17/06/2019 broadcast a Media Watch report where Paul Barry analysed this gem of Sky super star Peta Credlin interviewing Mr Adani about the future of the Carmichael Mine in Queensland.

This mammoth, but problematic coal mine delivered the Coalition three more years in Government courtesy of a swag of Queensland Federal seats.

Despite the fact Credlin’s interview is clearly biased in favour of Adani’s business model, the insidiousness of the fake news is not so much Credlin’s obvious frippery, but rather the pedigree of its spruiker.

Peta Credlin’s husband Brian Loughnane is, among other things, an adviser to The International Republican Institute.

Much of this Institute’s funding comes from, surprise surprise, the US State Department currently lead my Mike Pompeo who on June 16 told Fox News Iran had indeed bombed those pesky oil tankers.

Meanwhile in Australia a few months back the Sydney Morning Herald dutifully reported on April 9 2019 former Liberal Party federal director Brian Loughnane pressing Peter Dutton MP to bestow special treatment upon a certain Mr Huang Xiangmo.

But when asked to comment on the matter Peter Dutton MP skilfully deployed a variation of the Liberal Party’s favoured fake news phrase, ‘we do not comment on-water matters’.

As the song says, ‘we’ve only just begun’.

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

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Forks in the road

I struggle with long-form essays drafted by economics writers. Like many, I am easily fazed by complex yet important observations crafted by a coterie of well-respected econometricians.

But of all the millions of words written for and against the undetailed or overtly specific party political policies, the truest summation of Australia’s current predicament fell to those who report on the science that deals with the production, distribution, and consumption of goods.

On Monday, May 20 the Australian Stock Market recorded a healthy bounce, but within cooee of this breathless fan prose published in The Australian Financial Review, and spurred on by its managing editor-in-chief Michael Stutchbury, Prime Minister Scott Morrison AKA the Messiah from The Shire contradicted Simon Benson’s story, saying  tax cuts would be pushed back by 12 months.

Gee that didn’t take long!

The reality of the current state of the Australian economy, repeated ad nauseam throughout the election campaign by respected econometricians of all stripes, is dire. Classicists, demand-siders, macro and micro boffins, monetarists and supply-side champions, mostly agree: the nation is already in recession.

Indeed the good folk of far North Queensland will tell you their daily lives unfold in the midst of a localised depression, exacerbated by a terrible summer flood. Yet these same Australian citizens chose to believe in a non-existent coal rush of jobs set to unfold in an uneconomic financial mess called the Carmichael Mine located somewhere in Queensland’s vast Galilee Basin.

The bleak appearance of shuttered shop fronts in Townsville and Gladstone is now regretfully, a reality in inner-city enclaves in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, and other towns and cities. But this is as nothing to a coterie of citizens who made a small fortune on the ALP’s franking credits fiasco as reported by Michael Pascoe in today’s The New Daily.

But to quote the old Sydney race caller Ken Howard, you can bet London to a Brick that not one of those angry, disaffected citizens in the deep north or the far, far west, read Pascoe’s report. Chances are they chose the prognostications of Terry McCrann, who a few days back penned an article with the headline, Why Pauline and Clive are our saviours, published in The Herald-Sun and syndicated across News Corp mastheads.

Like Michael Pascoe, Terry McCrann is also an economics writer.

But I think it fair to say describing Pauline Hanson and Clive Palmer as our saviours, pushes the messianic metaphor just a little too hard. But hey; this is the reality of the era of Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

To put economic reporting in perspective, it is worth browsing a website which processes trillions of financial transactions a year.

The enormity of the world economy is summarised by the brief of a company which describes itself as, ‘the central nervous system of global finance’.

Each day Bloomberg deploys Big Science to lubricate this central nervous system. Every minute it feeds the most advanced data on the planet to its reporters who then analyse everything from climate glitches such as hurricanes to the likelihood of nuclear war in the Middle East.

And in Australia Michael Pascoe, Ross Gittins, Elysse Morgan, Alan Kohler and many more fine business and finance journalists, distil local sources and Bloomberg and Reuters stories as well as those published in other reputable economic conduits, to keep Australia appraised of real, as opposed to fake news.

And yet when it comes to decoding the science of where our finances are actually heading, last Saturday some Australians chose to elect a scientific sceptic par excellence to the incoming Senate.

I leave you with this lucid explanation of Carbon Dioxide in Perspective by the Galileo Movement and urge you never doubt the stupidity of an electorate which never gets it wrong!

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

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Moral Equivalence vs Political Correctness

By the time this essay is published the current election campaign reaches the ‘magical’ halfway point. The single quote marks around the word magical, denote the idea, a type of invisible hand is moving the electorate toward a decision which might change the nation’s future.

In fact, nothing is further from the truth. By the time the result comes and goes, the majority will simply tune out of the national debate and move on with their lives.

We are Australians after all; sure of our egalitarianism, our sense of the fair go and sceptical of the American notion of manifest destiny. And yet we are a nation wracked by self-doubt, unsure of our place in the world, and annoyed by pesky politicians foisting this or that paradigm upon us at every local, state and federal election. In short, we just want it to go away, but it won’t, nor will the consequences diminish no matter the makeup of the next government. Unsure footed and election weary, we Australians stand at a cross-road.

For some, the fog of uncertainty lifted momentarily during the first televised debate between Shorten and Morrison, and an address to the National Press Club by Greens Leader Richard Di Natale. Yet within days, both leaders scrambled to defend candidates who displayed their true nature on various social media platforms.

For the Liberal Party, it is a faux explanation of sinister forces at work behind the hate speech of Jessica Whelan.

Whereas for Labor it is the argument Luke Creasey was a naughty boy a long time ago, but all is forgiven now.

Thus far the Greens have avoided the spectacle of crest-fallen spear carriers, but in New South Wales that party’s internal war rumbles along.

And this is the ‘magical’ halfway point.

Creasey and Jessica Whelan are just two of a phalanx of fallen electoral aspirants, with the toll likely to increase by Election Day.

Without realising it, many of those among us charged to make sense of this mess – journalists – dutifully record and report two philosophical tropes deployed by contemporary politicians. Moral equivalence and that darling cause célèbre of the far right, political correctness.

It is a rarity to read journalism which avoids these hoary old chestnuts, and I don’t hold out much hope for the situation to change in the near or distant future.


The best answer comes courtesy of the most incisive analysis of the state of Australian public debate I have read thus far in the campaign.

Writer Richard Cooke lays the blame at the feet of Rupert Murdoch in his essay for the May edition of The Monthly headlined: News Corp. Democracy’s Greatest Threat.

Thankfully there are many splendid, hardworking and honest Australian journalists and writers, but their ranks are thinning fast due to cutbacks, layoffs and redundancies at mastheads big, small, local, regional and national.

My fear is young up-and-coming scribes will not know the difference between moral equivalence and political correctness, or any number of questionable political narratives trotted out by the Jordan Peterson’s and  Milo Yiannopoulos’s of this world. And truth be told I am in two minds about banning them as I am about the jailing of Julian Assange.

But as a long-time member of the old AJA, I agree with Peter Greste’s recent assertion that Julian Assange is no journalist.

And though I know this statement might seem politically incorrect to many readers, calling oneself a journalist and a publisher careens from moral to false equivalence, an unsettling transgression borne equally by both the left and the right.    

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

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On the cusp

On June 16, 1858 Abraham Lincoln spoke these prophetic words to his peers assembled at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield: “a house divided against itself, cannot stand”.

Lincoln won the presidency of the United States and a civil war provoked by slavery, an abomination known by the recent ancestors of many Aboriginal Australians.

Lincoln’s seven words launched countless political science theses, and to this day his observation remains a moral actuality among those who aspire to the highest of offices.

I do not know if the Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten pondered Lincoln’s words when he began his Budget Reply speech in the Australian Parliament on April 4 2019.

But across the despatch box neither Shorten nor the nation, could ignore the self-evident truth of a government utterly divided against itself.

Shorten’s first five words “women and men of Australia” is a deliberate riff on Gough Whitlam’s famous aphorism, “men and women of Australia.” Whitlam’s memorable saying marked the beginning of Australia’s transformation from colonial backwater to one of the most intriguing societies ever to occupy an entire continent.

And yet on the cusp of the most important elections of the century, ABC journalist Leigh Sales concluded her interview by asking; “what would you say to the Australian voter who thinks, “jeez, I just don’t like that Bill Shorten bloke very much. I don’t know if I can vote for him?”

While the full transcript includes Shorten’s response, Sales’ observation poses a raft of questions about how we view ourselves.

No matter who we elect I doubt Australians will ever be fully content with who we are as a people, and the nation will likely continue as “a house divided against itself, [and thus] cannot stand”.


Shorten alluded to the answer during his speech. In the words of the American author Ken Kesey, it is a great notion whose time is yet to come.

But the idea is given short shrift by media, and the majority of the women and men of Australia know virtually nothing about Makarrata.

I have not read one media report on the Budget Reply Speech which reported Shorten’s reference to a Makarrata.

I find this odd given the Uluru Statement is a modern Australian rhetorical masterwork.

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

“With substantive constitutional change and structural reform, we believe this ancient sovereignty can shine through as a fuller expression of Australia’s nationhood.

“Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people. Our children are aliened from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no love for them. And our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the future.”

When asked about Makarrata the former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said; “the constitution cannot be changed by Parliament. Only the Australian people can do that. No political deal, no cross-party compromise, no leader’s handshake, can deliver constitutional change … To do that, a constitutionally conservative nation must be persuaded that the proposed amendments respect the fundamental values of the constitution, and will deliver precise changes, clearly understood, that benefit all Australians.”

Herein is the difference between a conservative right-wing party bereft of ideas and a centre-left party within a whisker of government and led by a man characterised by a senior ABC journalist whose “personal popularity is a bit lacklustre”.

On the contrary.

A politician who opines ‘we owe the Uluru delegates an open mind on the big questions. On the form recognition takes, on treaties, on changes required in the constitution,’ seems to me to have absorbed the wisdom of Abraham Lincoln who said; “I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.”

Henry Johnston is a Sydney-based author. His latest book The Last Voyage of Aratus is on sale at Brays Bookshop in Balmain an at Forty South Publishing.

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Hubris and its consequences

Type the words ‘train wreck’ into your favourite search engine, and you are more than likely to come up with hits describing the appearance of Teena McQueen on the ABCTV programme Q&A, broadcast March 25, 2019.

I prefer a different word. Hubris. My version of the Macquarie Dictionary defines hubris as, “insolence or wanton violence stemming from excessive pride”.

I contend her appearance on Q&A was not the train wreck described by umpteen media outlets including the Sydney Morning Herald which reported it as Train wreck TV: Q&A features worst panellist in show’s history.

Rather, it was a calculated and deliberate attack mounted by a person who amongst other things, is a paid commentator for the News Corp television outlet Sky News.

Ms McQueen’s excruciating comments were derogatory, possibly defamatory and certainly insolent. Her vulgar rant reeked of ‘wanton violence stemming from excessive pride’.

But it is not new. In 2018 the Sydney Morning Herald reported a stoush concerning Ms McQueen, who is the Liberal party’s federal vice-president. It seems Ms McQueen was called a “spoilt f—ing bitch who has to get her own way”.

Public debate in Australia is light years from civilised, sophisticated dialogism. Rather, the national discourse is sophistry of the worst order, displaying disturbing echoes of an earlier, much nastier Australia.

More about this in a moment

Ms McQueen shared the Q&A set with American author Roxanne Gay who penned a New York Times best-selling essay collection, Bad Feminist.

Needless to say, neither woman struck-up an on-air friendship. Nevertheless, Ms McQueen exulted in the victory of the Liberal Party’s most successful female politician, Gladys Berejiklian, the only person in New South Wales who it seems can get things done.

I doubt Ms McQueen read Elizabeth Farrelly’s luminous, heartfelt homage to her homeland, New Zealand. In her essay Ms. Farrelly says amongst other things, “feminism needn’t be “left wing”. But it’s not just about girls-on-top, either. Simply to replace one gendered cabal with another would be fair, perhaps, but futile”.

Like hubris, the word ‘cabal’ evokes dark, disturbing echoes of the earlier, much nastier Australia I mentioned a few paragraphs back.

As I watch James Ashby of One Nation negotiating with the U.S. National Rifle Association I think about a grainy black and white image secreted in a dark corridor of my old workplace, the NSW Parliament on Macquarie Street Sydney.

It is a portrait of the Labor Premier Jack Lang, eulogised in this essay by Shane Maloney.

The Big Fella as Lang was known, took on the forces of Francis Edward de Groot, an Irish-Australian army officer and commandant of the right-wing paramilitary group known as the New Guard.

In 1932 de Groot at the behest of New Guard leader Eric Campbell, used his sabre to slash open the Sydney Harbour Bridge from horseback, before Lang could do the honours.

Then as now, housing was top of mind for Sydney-siders, and armed fascists were happy to wield the billy clubs against starving squatters especially in the streets and alleys of the Greens’ stronghold of Newtown.

And while much has changed since those colourless days, much remains. Hatred, fear, racism, simmering violence, scorn of the Other; all deliberately articulated by Teena McQueen at the behest of her employer News Corp and its political client the Liberal Party of Australia.

It would be foolish of me to conclude this essay by not considering the word hubris as apt for the current leader of the NSW ALP Michael Daley.

Despite the fact Mr Daley’s odious observations were dutifully reported at the time by local radio news, Ms McQueen’s Liberal dirt unit on behalf of Premer Berejiklian wielded this voice grab with the devastating effect of a 1930s police truncheon.

Henry Johnston is a Sydney-based author. His latest book The Last Voyage of Aratus is on sale at Brays Bookshop in Balmain an at Forty South Publishing.

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Why Bill Shorten endorses Michael Daley

Optics is everything in contemporary politics and the Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten understands its power.

Shorten takes media advice from among others Dee Madigan of Campaign Edge and Eammon Fitzpatrick of Hawker Britten.

Thus, Bill Shorten’s welcoming of Michael Daley MP at the launch of the NSW ALP election campaign at the Revesby Workers Club on Sunday March 10, bristled with the nomenclature of ‘optics’.

And while various news outlets faithfully reported snippets of the event, the proceedings were streamed via the internet on Facebook and other digital platforms.

Both Madigan and Fitzpatrick are inheritors of the digital age. And winning the votes of those who prefer streaming to free-to-air TV or reading old fashioned ‘inkies,’ could tip the election in Daley’s favour.

Now contrast the Liberal Party launch on the same day with a mute PM Scott Morrison and the Usual Suspects of John Howard et al, dutifully covered by the biggest inky of them all, The Australian no less.

In the optics stakes the winners were undoubtedly Bill Shorten and Michael Daley.

Perhaps the worst example of bad optics is this photograph of the wife and daughter of Ryde ALP candidate Jerome Laxale being mobbed by blue clad Liberal supporters.

So let’s consider what is at stake in Ryde / Bennelong as well as the big Labor seats west of the Sydney CBD. While many of these enclaves remained loyal to the ALP in the Rudd Gillard Rudd years, and stayed faithful to Bill Shorten, their NSW State equivalents, deserted the party in the two previous elections.

Indeed, seats such as Penrith, Revesby, Riverwood and further west Bathurst, must return to the State Labor fold. For it is in western Sydney and its environs NSW will witness the biggest of big infrastructure projects; the construction of the Nancy Bird Walton Airport at Badgery’s Creek.

This is nation building stuff and its impact will be felt for at least a century. Policy wonks and political hard heads are hoping its construction and management is overseen by a sensitive state and Federal government, and not monstered by a Liberal apparatchik such as Max Moore-Wilton, famously given the shortest of short shrift by Anthony Albanese MP.

Labor members in adjacent Blue Mountains seats and local government areas are terrified of an airport built by a Liberal clique currently supervising the Westconnex debacle.

Say what you like about NSW Labor, but it delivered the State, Australia and the world, the best Olympic Games of the age.

Michael Daley knows this and has a Cabinet-level understanding of how enormous projects can be delivered on time, on budget. It is this reason I contend, why he stood up to Alan Jones.

Bill Shorten is familiar with Daley’s Labor pedigree and appreciates the fundamental fact that it is easier to deal with a NSW Labor premier, than a lame duck Liberal premier, whose political future lies in the maw of Alan Jones.

The alternative is a minority Labor State government which may rely on the two Greens State members Jamie Parker (Balmain) and Jenny Leong (Newtown) for Confidence and Supply. Add to this mix Mark Latham as a One Nation MLC and we have a recipe for a debacle.

Given the fact thousands of citizens in western Sydney are about to learn the joys of changing trains in Chatswood to get to the CBD, or losing bus services in and around the Ryde electorate, (see above) March 23 2019 will be one of the most important dates on both the NSW and national electoral calendar.

Henry Johnston is a Sydney-based author. His latest book The Last Voyage of Aratus is on sale at Brays Bookshop in Balmain an at Forty South Publishing.

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Twilight of the sods

Prime Minister Scott Morrison did away with any semblance of pretence of confidentiality when he announced the appointment of Ita Buttrose as the ABC’s alpha dog.

Accompanied by the Liberal Party’s IPA stalwart Mitch Fifield, Morrison approached peak unctuousness as he welcomed Ms Buttrose to the top job.

In fact the appointment is a classic example of the dark art of psyops, practiced by this Government’s finest exponent, the Minister for Communications and Arts Mitchell Peter Fifield.

I assume most of the readers of The AIM Network know the meaning of psyops, but for the uninitiated it is characterised by this definition: “Psychological operations (PSYOP) convey selected information and indicators to audiences to influence their emotions, motives, and objective reasoning, and ultimately the behaviour of governments, organisations, groups, and individuals”.

Ita would, so the theory goes, soften the perception of the government amongst Baby Boomers, reared on a diet of the Goon Show, Blue Hills and Relax With Me presented by Arch McKirdy.

Ms Buttrose via her father’s association with the ABC kindles fond memories of Talbot Duckmanton, James Dibble and a black and white television gardening programme made memorable by the false teeth sibilance of its presenter.

Left-wing bias did not exist in the glory days of the ABC, nor did right-wing or any other sort of bias, for when talk topics were audited, the number crunchers inevitable informed management it was always 50 for the left and 50 for the right. This is because of the folly of forgetting the output of ABC regional radio and television stations.

But the PM, armed with Mitch’s assurance of an impending blancmange future for the ABC, assured listeners Ita would turn back the clock, and restore balance to dear old Auntie.

Certainly the front page headline of Friday’s Australian newspaper, said as much.

In my 15 years’ service at the ABC I learnt an immutable truth about the national broadcaster. The ABC Charter is sacrosanct. And if there is one thing we can be sure of Ita Buttrose like her father before her, will see to it the principles of the Charter are enforced.

But let’s return to the best news story the government could muster this week.

On cue the TV news outlets rolled sepia-tinted footage of a young, Ita tap tap tapping away at the glass ceiling of muscular Australian media enterprises, so beloved by the Blue Rinse Set.

But the Prozac-like calm of Ita’s appointment as chair of the ABC board, lasted less than Andy Warhol’s dictum, “in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”

Indeed it is worth evoking another art form – the second string of Mitch Fifield’s ministerial bow – to cast a suitable analogy for the current state of this leprous government.

Opera. In particular Gotterdammerung, by Richard Wagner.

As I write the Federal Government now lists five lame duck ministers in its ranks, with Christopher Pyne and Steven Ciobo swelling the list.

And though only three excruciating parliamentary sitting days remain, the master of psyops and others in Liberal ranks will continue to appoint their cronies, mates and fellow travellers to QANGOs, boards and positions of influence, up to and including the day before this parliament is prorogued.

But with a disgraced cardinal holed-up in a Victorian slammer, images of burning, immersion in water, and the unlikely renewal of the Menzian world, swirl at the bottom of crystal brandy balloons, as smirking toffs like Mitch Fifield contemplate the impending twilight of the sods.

Henry Johnston is a Sydney-based author. His latest book The Last Voyage of Aratus is on sale at Brays Bookshop in Balmain an at Forty South Publishing.

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Independents and Her Majesty’s Opposition

The ABC program Q&A broadcast on Monday February 4 2019, featured a panel of independent Federal members of Parliament.

The Member for Melbourne and deputy leader of the Australian Greens Adam Bandt, not an independent, joined Tony Jones and other panellists for an hour of probing questions from convenor and audience.

Love it or loath it Q&A alone justifies the ABC budget, but the makeup of this particular programme posited a future scenario which might change the topography of the national political landscape.

The next Australian Parliament could see an Opposition bench comprising these independents, and a slew of others. Judging by the tone of the questions and the Twitter comments rolling across the bottom of my television screen, Australians appear likely to choose an independent over an incumbent sitting Liberal or National Party member.

And it is crystal clear the Liberal Party of Australia is ignoring this threat to its existence. The well-funded campaign of high profile candidate Ms Zali Steggall OAM in the Federal seat of Waringah is a case in point.

The possible return to the House of Representatives by former Federal member for Lyne in NSW Rob Oakeshott, revives memories of the Gillard minority government, supported by two of last Monday’s Q&A guests; the Greens’ Adam Bandt and Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie.

It is unlikely either MP will join a minority Shorten Labor Government, but as key players in an Opposition made up of independents rather than members of the Liberal and National coalition, Wilkie, Bandt, Sharkey, Banks, Phelps et al, could sound the death knell of the loony, conservative Liberal rump.

Furthermore strong independents could emerge from both the right and the left.

Ructions within the Australian Greens might see former Greens candidate for the Melbourne seat of Batman Ms Alex Bhathal who quit the party citing ‘organisational bullying,’ recontest as a left independent.

Similarly NSW MP Emma Husar who lost ALP endorsement for the Federal seat of Lindsay is ‘considering her options‘.

On 7 December last year The Guardian reported an investigation by the ALP found, “Husar had mistreated her electorate staff but did not find evidence to support claims of sexual harassment or of her flashing another federal MP”.

The circumstances surrounding Bhathal and Husar garnered substantial media coverage, but other lesser-known independent-minded political aspirants, such as Liberal blue-blood Oliver Yates, snagged media coverage when he announced he would contest Josh Frydenburg’s safe seat of Kooyong.

Add these potential names plus Steggall to last week’s Q&A line-up, then count Cathy McGowan the independent MP for Indi and Bob Katter the independent MP for Kennedy in Queensland, plus others I might have omitted, and a formidable second tier Opposition bench emerges.

But despite this obvious political threat, the Morrison Government acts as if it has the numbers in the lower House while denigrating perfectly reasonable legislation pertaining to refuges in off-shore detention, put forward by the Federal Member for Wentworth Dr Kerryn Phelps.

When Prime Minister Scott Morrison scorns the Phelps initiative by saying it is, “selling out our border protection to get a cheap opportunistic win in the parliament,” he pushes thousands more electors toward independent candidates, and makes my thesis of an independent Opposition bench more likely.

Add to this the PM’s backing of Liberal MP Tim Wilson over a sham franking credits inquiry just days after the fall-out from the findings of the banking Royal Commission, and it is safe to predict 20 to 30 Liberal/Coalition seats could fall at the next election.

While this figure seems high, swings at state elections in Victoria, Western Australia and the Northern Territory, resulted in miniscule opposition benches.

Like it or not, this is how the nation voted, and woe betide any political party which ignores the signs.

Speaking of portents, millions of dead, stinking fish befouling the rivers of the Murray Darling Basin, means a cohort of National MPs also face the fate of their smug Liberal counterparts.

The Federal Member for Maranoa in Queensland and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources David Littleproud is I believe, vulnerable to an independent rural candidate who believes in science and climate change.

Speaking of science, Littleproud said this on the ABC Radio AM programme recently.

“This is politics, and when I became the Water Minister, I took the politics out. I didn’t call people names, like what happened in the past. It had to be a mature debate; it had to be predicated on science. The science was predicated, it was put in front of the Parliament, and these people should stop playing politics. They agreed to the science less than three months ago”.


Henry Johnston is a Sydney-based author. His latest book The Last Voyage of Aratus is on sale at Brays Bookshop in Balmain an at Forty South Publishing.

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