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

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

Blunder from Down Under

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A red light begins to flash on the dashboard.”

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

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Flag, stockade or discovery: Australia’s Eureka dilemma

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

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

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

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

And so to the remainder of the Eureka metaphor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A tawdry B Grade coup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So much has changed so quickly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Under the heading Agriculture and Processed Food, Asialink reports:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is why.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gawd help us if Rupert Murdoch gets his way.

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

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The moral principles of independent publishers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Life out of Balance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cartoon by Alan Moir (moir.com.au)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hungry miles

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

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

Each night we watch this phenomena unfold across the world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A not so Good Friday

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

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No we can’t

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the record University lectures begin this week.

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


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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