Climate Change Authority releases Review of International Offsets

Climate Change Authority Media Release Released today, the Climate Change Authority’s Review of…

A Looting Matter: Cambodia’s Stolen Antiquities

Cambodia has often featured in the Western imagination as a place of…

Indigenous Australians know this land, and how to…

If we attempt to compare Aboriginal land use with that of the…

Whither Constitutional Change?

Within a very short space of time, we are going to be…

White Man Bullies Indigenous Woman And For Once…

Now I need to be careful here because I know that while…

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I was of the view that Newspoll was going out of the…

Punishing Whistleblowers at the United Nations

The United Nations prides itself on exposing, monitoring and noting the travails…

Going Global with NATO

Regional alliances should, for the most part, remain regional. Areas of the…


Category Archives: AIM Extra

A Looting Matter: Cambodia’s Stolen Antiquities

Cambodia has often featured in the Western imagination as a place of plunder and pilfering. Temples and artefacts of exquisite beauty have exercised the interest of adventurers and buccaneers who looted with almost kleptocratic tendency.

In 1924, the French novelist and future statesman André Malraux, proved himself one of Europe’s greatest adventurers in making off with a ton of sacred stones from Angkor Wat. It is estimated that 20 statutes were taken. Malraux, along with his wife Clara and collaborator Louis Chevasson, were subsequently apprehended for their pinching efforts on the order of George Groslier, founding director of the National Museum of Cambodia. According to the culturally eclectic Groslier, Malraux deserved the title of le petit voleur (the little thief) for such brazen exploits.

The assortment of crises from the 1960s to the 1990s also did their fair share in creating conditions of instability. Where genocide, unrest and a collapse of social order unfolds, plunderers thrive. Archaeological sites offered rich pickings to looters, often in collaboration with local military authorities. The pilfered items would then be taken to the Cambodia-Thailand border and taken to Thai brokers.

With the collapse of the Khmer Rouge, things worsened further. Hundreds of temples were left vulnerable, rich prey to opportunistic authorities and rapacious individuals. Over the course of November and December 1998, the 12th century temple of Banteay Chhmar fell prey to a raid that saw some 500 square feet of bas-relief hacked into pieces and transported. Antiquities expert Claude Jacques considered it “a case study for looting, every kind of looting, big and small.”

With such a record of extensive, relentless theft, any return of antiquities is bound to be seen as a squiggle upon paper – hardly an achievement. But the recent return from the United States of 30 looted items, including bronze and stone statues of Hindu and Buddhist deities, was a positive note in a field otherwise marked by disappointments. It is, at the very least, a modest addition to other repatriations that have begun to take place from various collections and auction houses.

The system of recovery and repatriation is never easy. Museums are often reluctant to part with goods obtained in questionable circumstances. The larger the museum’s collections, the less innocent its administrators tend to be. Stolen artefacts pack and fill museums globally, and the trend is unlikely to change.

In the case of the 30 items of concern here, they had been procured by the object itchy Douglas Latchford, a Bangkok dealer also known as Pakpong Kriangsak and gifted in the art of forging documents to conceal the way the various samples had been obtained. Along the way, this Malraux-like incarnation, an “adventurer scholar”, had also become an authority on Cambodian art, co-writing three books on Khmer antiquities with scholar Emma Bunker.

In 1951, he settled in Thailand and proceeded to concoct fabulous stories of innocent acquisition. In 2010, Latchford gave the Bangkok Post a taste of his storytelling, spinning a horrendous fib by claiming that “most of the pieces he has come across have been found and dug up by farmers in fields.” The enterprising Latchford, for his deceptive labours, managed to acquire a collection of Khmer Empire antiquities so vast it constituted the largest outside Cambodia itself.

Along the way, a number of trusts were also set up in tax havens to further complicate problems of ownership. The establishment of the Jersey-domiciled trusts was a direct response to interest shown by US authorities in Latchford’s empire of ill-gotten gains.

In fact, Latchford’s activities had interested the US Department of Justice for some years, and was charged in 2019 with wire fraud conspiracy and various crimes related to the sale of looted Cambodian antiquities through creating false provenance documents and falsifying shipping documents and invoices. His death in 2020 terminated the proceedings against him.

On this occasion, a number of private collectors and various US museums succumbed to three civil forfeiture claims made by Manhattan-based federal prosecutor Damian Williams in the Southern District of New York. In November 2021, Williams, in filing a civil complaint against a museum in Denver, Colorado, noted how Latchford had “papered over the problematic provenance of Cambodian antiquities with falsehoods, in the process successfully placing stolen goods in the permanent collection of an American museum.”

According to the press release from the US Department of Justice, the stolen items had been obtained by “an organized looting network” and duly sold by Latchford. They included “a 10th century sculpture of Skanda on a Peacock and a monumental 10th century sculpture of Ganesha, both looted from the ancient Khmer capital Koh Ker.”

Williams, reflecting on the 30 returned artefacts, was basking in some glory. “Today, we celebrate the return of Cambodia’s cultural heritage to the Cambodian people, and reaffirm our commitment to reducing the illicit trafficking of art and antiquities.”

Ricky J. Patel, Acting Special-Agent-in-Charge of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), also added his bit, noting that HIS New York’s dedicated Cultural Property, Arts and Antiquities Unit had worked “alongside our government partners, hunted down leads, examined origin, reviewed financial records, and conducted dozens of interviews to find and recover these pieces we are returning today.”

The HSI unit in question is advertised as an elite gathering of 10,400 employees comprising 6,800 special agents located in 225 cities across the United States and 86 overseas locations across 55 countries.

Such efforts deserve some lowkey cheer. Other culprits are getting off rather easily in this whole affair. The success of Latchford and his ilk must, in the end, be based on a degree of connivance and understanding from those who received his stolen goods. He had attained sufficient notoriety as far back as the early 1970s, when he began supplying a UK auction house with looted Khmer antiquities. Even amateurs mildly interested in Cambodian artefacts would have been familiar that anything coming out of the country should have been subjected to glares of suspicion.

Tess Davis, director of the Antiquities Coalition, is blunt about the implications of this. “If I were a museum curator, I would check every Cambodian piece acquired after 1965 just to be safe; that’s how prolific [Latchford] was.” New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is one institution that has admitted to doing so, “reviewing the pieces that came [into its] collection via Latchford and his associates.”

Ironically, the relinquished antiquities will also be displayed in a museum – in this case, the National Museum of Cambodia, located in Phnom Penh. When they do feature, it will be worth noting where they were to begin with, unmolested in shrouded, jungled history, only to be tampered with by warriors in search of moneyed glory.


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Indigenous Australians know this land, and how to use it

If we attempt to compare Aboriginal land use with that of the early settlers, we should broaden the meaning of ‘land use’. We should move away from the narrow European notion of agriculture and horticulture, to one which includes religious and cultural associations with the land, and one which allows the skills and the bounty of hunting and gathering to enter the picture.

Another difficulty is that Indigenous Australians, although sharing the same continent, and some cultural traditions, were not all alike. Regional differences in a land so large were bound to be great, though identification with, and care for, the land seems to have been practically universal. With that in mind, Aboriginal attitudes to their land will be treated as roughly uniform.

The common misconception about life in Australia prior to the arrival of the whites, and one which dates back to the time of Captain Cook, is of a race of hungry nomads, constantly ranging over an inhospitable land in search of game, victims of their own lack of industry, and incidentally unfit to lay claim to the land.

This view is now under constant attack, as evidence mounts to show the active participation of the Aboriginal Australians, not only in the management of their own survival, but as agents for change in the greater environment.

As the white arrivals would eventually do, the original inhabitants had built up an economic system which delivered regular surpluses, and allowed the population to grow, albeit at a sustainable rate. ‘They exploited the resources available to them, making the continent into a gigantic farm, but a farm which they worked with an eye to the future.’ (Bolton 1981, p. 8)

Using fire

Fire is the most versatile and important tool that a society of hunter gatherers can use. The original Australians used fire extensively, and as well as flushing out game which sought shelter in scrub, the fire served the purpose of thinning the bush, burning off the old feed, and promoting new growth. This new growth attracted more game next season. Different fire regimes were used throughout the country, with adaptations made for the needs of each locality. (Flood 1983)

Fire was not only used for flushing and attracting game, however. It transformed the landscape, though there is debate as to how much forethought went into that transformation. Major Mitchell, an early explorer, suggested that the Aborigines worked on their ‘runs’, which happened to carry kangaroos and other native species, in much the same way that the later pastoralists would clear ground, and improve pasture for their stock. (Bolton 1981)

The Aborigines actively used fire to promote the growth of ‘crops’ for their own consumption. (Kirk 1981) They also used it to extend the range of, for instance, cycad nuts, by clearing competing vegetation. (Flood 1983)

What did they live on?

The Aborigines did not depend on meat alone to feed them. In a normal year the population in most regions obtained at least half of its energy needs from plant foods. (Blainey 1982)

The methods they used to sustain life were adapted to the ecology of the region in which they lived. These ranged from hunting fat moths in the mountains to catching seals on the coast, from trapping eels in Victoria to cycad harvesting in the north.

They were gifted hunter gatherers. They manipulated their environment so ingeniously that they were able to lead a semi-sedentary life, with regular tribal gatherings and religious festivals. (Flood 1983) It is a long way from the picture of starving wretches stalking kangaroos, for their very survival.

They knew their land intimately, and all that it produced. Their knowledge had been accumulated over sixty thousand years, and their knowledge of botany was arguably their most refined. This may explain how they were able to survive in such a seemingly hostile environment with such aplomb. (Blainey 1982)

A common criticism of their culture decries the ‘fact’ that they never developed formal agriculture. A counter to that criticism is that they were so well-off that they had no need to increase the yield of their foods; nor did they need to store it.

This goes some way toward explaining the feelings that Aborigines have toward their land. They were provided with bounty, as long as they did their duty to the land. For the great unifying theme in Aboriginal Australian life was religion, and the core of that religion was man’s close, symbiotic relationship with the land. As Blainey so eloquently states,

‘Their knowledge of the land and all which it grew was supplemented by a spiritual belief that the earth would not continue to be productive unless they obeyed its rules and its deities. One aim of their religious ceremonies and many of their taboos was to maintain the fertility of the land and its creatures.’ (Blainey 1983, p. 202)

What did white land use look like?

The members of the First Fleet and those who followed them had no such tenderness for the land, or indeed for its original inhabitants. As the Aborigines followed the dictates of their religion, so could the Europeans be seen to be following theirs. As the Bible exhorted them to go forth and multiply, it also provided them with an attitude which separated them from nature, and made them masters of the natural world.

They were the products of a society which held the belief that it was man’s duty to enhance the productivity of the soil. In fact, the notion of the right to own property was inextricably linked to the end use to which that property was put. (Butcher & Turnbull 1988)

This served a dual purpose – it legitimised their own exploitation of the land, and it robbed the Aborigines of any claim they might have made to the land, because the imprint of a black hand on the landscape was so subtle.

With legal and moral matters of ownership of the land apparently sorted out, the white invaders then proceeded to ‘farm’ the continent. They were not conspicuously successful to begin with. The Administration at Sydney Cove was sorely pressed to feed all the mouths in the colony. The problem was exacerbated by the urban background of most of the convicts, and of the guards.

They were poor overseers of the land, often because they lacked adequate financial resources and more importantly, they lacked even the most rudimentary rural skills. They had no prospect of learning them either, except by trial and error. Happily the destruction of the environment was limited by their technology. If they did possess any farming experience, it was mostly irrelevant or misleading under local conditions.

They did not realise that the Aborigines’ knowledge and exploitative methods were geared precisely to local conditions, and were the result of thousands of years of study. The land, though seeming to conform to their vision of benign nature, tamed for man’s use, appeared so by virtue of careful husbandry and sustainable use. (Bolton 1981)

The profit motive was present from the beginning, and once mere survival was assured, the principles of capitalist farming were applied. Though they were not ecologically disastrous when used in Britain, Australia’s older soils and specialised flora were no match for the rapacious appetites of 19th century capitalists.

The introduction of exotic species was disastrous

The introduction of cattle and sheep was the beginning of catastrophe for the Australian environment. The first and most significant change was in the texture of the soil. The cloven hooves of the whites’ livestock destroyed the mulch of aeons in a decade. (Rolls 1981)

The vegetation changed, with the native grasses, used to the gentler feeding of the macropods, being destroyed by the different feeding habits of the sheep, especially. Men responded with ‘pasture improvement’, ploughing out the native grasses, using fertiliser and sowing inappropriate exotics. (Rolls 1981)

The trees were the next to go. They were seen as a nuisance by the first settlers, fit only to be cleared, and used for building or farming. Until the gold rushes of the 1850s the destruction was confined mainly to the coastal valleys of New South Wales, but domestic demand for building timbers increased greatly.

The economic imperative

Improving transport opened up the prospect for the exporting of hardwoods; additionally, from the 1860s pastoralists began ring-barking on an unprecedented scale. By 1892 clearance for farms and ring-barking for grazing were the major causes of deforestation. The bush was re-shaped irrevocably to accommodate the interests of graziers and their stock.

The native fauna was also profoundly affected. A quarter of a century after the arrival of the white man, many species faced extinction. Others prospered unnaturally – the balance was upset. The introduction of the domestic dog and cat was calamitous, as was the introduction of goats, pigs, brumbies, foxes and last, but not least, the ubiquitous rabbit.

It is unnecessary to describe the degradation of the environment around towns and cities, but it was at least as complete as that affected by the pastoralists. The gold-fields were even worse, creating waste-lands for miles around. All in all, the impact of the whites on the environment was catastrophic, with most of the damage still with us.

19th century white settlers were not wilful or wanton destroyers of the land. Most of the ecological damage occurred as a result of ignorance, and as a by-product of unthinking agrarian capitalism. There was a mistaken belief that the land was so bountiful as to be inexhaustible.

By contrast the original inhabitants had known all along that the ecology was a delicate thing, which had finite limits. They were not perfect custodians, but their reign of sixty thousand plus years was solicitous and successful. In just over two centuries we have undone much of that good work, and we appear not to be learning anything.

Recent reports of the state of the environment are alarming. Messages are often contradictory. On the one hand lots of hand – wringing from governments intent on demonstrating their environmental bona-fides, clash with draconian laws which criminalise protesters who dare to question logging and land clearing.

It is getting close to midnight when we look at how degraded our country has become, and both sides of politics appear to be in the thrall of the fossil fuel industry. It is an excellent time to actually recognise the need for action, and to end the hypocrisy. Again, “poor fellow my country” needs our collective help.


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Whither Constitutional Change?

Within a very short space of time, we are going to be embroiled in a national discussion on constitutional change: namely, we are going to be asked if we favour First Nations people having a voice to our national parliament enshrined in our Constitution. The purpose of this article is not to take sides or to push one argument over another. Rather, it is to explore the options and the processes that contribute to a national constitutional referendum and to generate discussion.

Constitutional change in this country is fraught as the Constitution can only be amended by referendum, through the procedure set out in section 128. A successful referendum requires a `double majority’: a national majority of voters plus a federal majority of states (i.e. four of the six states).

The votes of those living in the ACT, the NT and any of Australia’s external territories count towards the national majority only.

Since 1901 there have been 19 referendums but of the forty-four referendum questions posed only eight have passed: The last constitutional referendum was for an Australian Republic held on 6 November 1999 – it failed. Usually, there are multiple questions to be resolved at each referendum – this time it appears there will only be one although it could be argued that there is some serious housekeeping necessary to tidy up our Constitution – perhaps that’s a question for another day.

Timing for a referendum is critical as is political consensus. Labor have already said that they favour a referendum in their first term and Pat Dodson, the special envoy for reconciliation and implementation of the Uluru Statement from the heart, favours a referendum on 27 May, 2023 – that is the 56th anniversary of the successful 1967 referendum allowing the commonwealth to make laws for Indigenous people and count them in the census, and the sixth anniversary of the Uluru statement.

So far the coalition has only said that it is open to supporting a referendum but wants to see more detail and the model to be put to the Australian people. This is a change in the position of the Morrison government. Indeed, Morrison ruled out a referendum quite specifically in the lead-up to the 2022 election; “It’s not our policy to have a referendum on the Voice” he told us. His minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, had favoured legislation for a voice and intimated that this would go before the parliament prior to the 2022 election but clearly, this didn’t occur as there was limited interest from coalition members and the then leadership.

The suggestion by Wyatt that a legislated voice, even as an interim measure, was shouted down by Aboriginal groups who generally considered that legislation was unsatisfactory and could be changed at a political whim and only an entrenchment in our Constitution would give any long-term certainty and continuity.

The road to constitutional change is not an easy one and the enabling legislation for a referendum has first to be passed by both houses of our parliament to set the process in motion. Already there are fears that not all parties are on the same page. Newly elected Country Liberal Party senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price a self-described Warlpiri-Celtic woman is suggesting caution on what she considers to be Labor’s policy on the Voice. She said recently that she was taking a cautious approach :

“We’ve got to understand what Labor proposes through this Voice process, and we’ve got to take a look at that before we take a clearer position on it, but I would certainly urge my colleagues to prioritise [more critical] issues,” she said.

“[The Voice] she said doesn’t clearly outline how in fact we’re going to solve some of our really critical issues, issues that I’ve been very much campaigning on for many years around family and domestic violence, around child sexual abuse, around education.”

The Greens are also taking a wait-and-see attitude and are suggesting that they would prefer to see “a truth-telling and treaty process begin before action on an Indigenous Voice”.

There has been considerable consultation over the past five years since the Uluru statement and this has produced the Indigenous Voice Co-Design Process report.

This report recommends that the Voice should comprise 24 elected members, with two drawn from each of the states and territories, two from the Torres Strait Islands, five additional remote representatives drawn from the Northern Territory, Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia and New South Wales, and one member representing Torres Strait Islanders on the mainland.

How much power, influence or authority this group would have on our government and parliament is not yet established but it is an advisory body and would not have a veto on our legislative process and would not be an additional chamber to our parliament as suggested by Malcolm Turnbull initially.

The Turnbull and Morrison governments demonstrated their then objection to a constitutional voice in saying :

“Our democracy is built on the foundation of all Australian citizens having equal civic rights … a constitutionally enshrined additional representative assembly for which only Indigenous Australians could vote for or serve in is inconsistent with this fundamental principle.”

If the Dutton opposition were to maintain this fundamental argument then, the referendum would have little chance of passing.

The form of question to be put to the Australian people will obviously be critical to the success of the referendum but it seems probable that the question will be posed in general terms with the detail and structure to follow in the form of legislation enacted through the parliament: ideally, this draft legislation would be available prior to the referendum so, there is a lot of work to be done if the May 2023 date it to be met.

The legislation governing the process for referendums in Australia is laid down in the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1994. Among other provisions, this legislation, by section 8, sets out the procedure for presenting the ‘for’ and ‘against’ arguments which need to be communicated to each elector prior to the referendum

There are, of course, political risks for the Albanese government in the whole process and already some in the opposition are labelling the process as ‘Labor’s referendum’ which, of course, it isn’t. However, if the referendum were to fail or not receive bipartisan support the political fallout for the Albanese government could be damaging in its first term.

We shall see !

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Punishing Whistleblowers at the United Nations

The United Nations prides itself on exposing, monitoring and noting the travails and vicissitudes to be found on this troubled planet. It also prides itself on being the premier international institution that protects, or at the very least keeps an eye out for, the principles of the Charter that underpin its existence. But as with all bodies with mighty aspirations but skewed power, the grime of reality often supplies a different, less impressive picture.

Every organisation replicates its own rationale for existence, including mechanisms to cope with problems of its own making. Such problems are rarely resolved: they are inherent in the nature of the organisation itself, essential to its functioning. The United Nations, like many labyrinthine orders, has proven to be impenetrable, bureaucratic and dispiriting. For years, it has been dealing with a range of conduct issues regarding UN personnel and, for want of a better term, the workplace. Over that time, it has also sought to keep such misbehaviour, and in some cases blatant criminality, concealed, preferring to focus the ire upon those who spill the beans.

Consulting the range of measures supposedly in place does little to encourage optimism. In February 2016, we are told of Jane Holl Lute’s appointment as Special Coordinator on improving the UN responds to “sexual exploitation and abuse” which, on first reading, looks like an encouragement rather than a counter. “Her role is to work across the United Nations systems’ many offices, departments and agencies to strengthen the UN response to sexual exploitation and abuse, wherever it may occur, from headquarters locations to the most remote field bases.”

The remit is a cool, procedural one, a case of making sure that the stars of administration align with the requisite paperwork. Lute’s task was to “align approaches, enhance coordination, cooperation and coherence system-wide through the development of aligned mechanisms and procedures, standardized protocols and tools.” This is the sort of language that murders the cause and obscures the victim, which is precisely the sort of rationale that thrives in New York and those “remote bases.”

But there is more. Jane Connors comes shooting up the ranks as the appointed Victims’ Rights Advocate at UN Headquarters in August 2017. Her role: to “ensure that the United Nations provides tangible and sustained assistance to the victims of sexual exploitation and abuse.”

These are but a few examples, and have done nothing to stem, let alone stop the rot. On June 21 this year, the BBC added its contribution with a documentary about whistleblowers within the UN and the malicious treatment they have received at the hands of their superiors. The test and merit of any organisation lies in how it treats those who expose defects and faults. The brave and the responsible will take such exposures to heart, punish those responsible for breaches and apply the appropriate treatments. Most, however, prefer to punish the well-meaning discloser while sparing the perpetrator.

The revelations in the documentary, informed by a number of whistleblowers, are disturbingly extensive. There is James Wasserstrom, who claims to have found evidence that the construction of a power station in Kosovo came from a tendering process compromised by generous kickbacks. There is John O’Brien, who brought attention to the fact that an environmental programme based in Russia had been tarnished by money-laundering.

In all these instances, organisational vindictiveness duly kicked in. Wasserstrom, despite being promised the protections one would expect for a whistleblower, had his name leaked to his accusers. O’Brien was accused of misbehaving in viewing nude photographs on his phone at work, the whistleblower as deviant.

All this pales before the crimes committed by the Blue Helmet peacekeepers in such countries as the Central African Republic and Haiti. Locals became prey to sexual assault, vulnerable quarry to be pursued rather than protected. Former assistant secretary-general Tony Banbury was particularly concerned about the welfare of a rape victim in CAR. He was left disgusted and despondent. “I needed the organisation to prioritise that girl. They prioritise the perpetrators.”

Those reporting sexual misconduct by highly placed UN personnel became rich targets for retribution. Their careers were prematurely frustrated or ended. Purna Sen, who was appointed spokeswoman on harassment, assault and discrimination in 2018, could only lament to BBC Newsnight that there was “a real tension within an organisation which not only upholds and advocates for human rights, but is actually the birthplace of most of these human rights – yet hasn’t learned to bring them home to the people who work for that organisation.”

The Government Accountability Project, Transparency International and the Whistleblowing International Network responded to the revelations in the documentary by repeating their own concerns. “We again urge UN Secretary General António Guterres to immediately order an independent inquiry and use his power to remedy the harm caused to UN staff who have already suffered for trying to do the right thing.” The three groups insist that, “Serious structural reforms are needed to bring the UN systems in line with international consensus for best practice principles and to ensure UN staff feel safe to speak up when they witness harmful conduct at work.”

The core problem for such a body as the UN, like others wielding enormous and iniquitous power, is suggested by the proliferation of policies without action or spirit. They function like economists in the service of a bankrupt state, with guardians and investigators merely serving as advisors who never solve the problem.

One such individual is spokesman for the UN Secretary General himself, Stéphane Dujarric, who seems to genuinely believe the piffle he is spouting. “We continue to do whatever we can to support victims and are focused on improving the systems and ensuring that people feel safe to report abuse.”

For those who seek change, punishment and banishment await. With that state of affairs, everyone, from leader to cleaner, will be assured that this will remain the ugliest of family affairs, ensuring that all whistleblowing will never perform the role it should.


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Going Global with NATO

Regional alliances should, for the most part, remain regional. Areas of the globe can count on a number of such bodies and associations with varying degrees of heft: the Organization of American States; the Organisation of African Unity; and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Only one has decided to move beyond its natural, subscribed limits, citing security and a militant basis, for its actions.

On April 27, the UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, prime ministerial contender, made her claim that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization needed to be globalised. Her Mansion House speech at the Lord Mayor’s Easter Banquet was one of those unusually frank disclosures that abandons pretence revealing, in its place, a disturbing reality.

After making it clear that NATO’s “open door policy” was “sacrosanct”, Truss also saw security in global terms, another way of promoting a broader commitment to international mischief. She rejected “the false choice between Euro-Atlantic security and Indo-Pacific security. In the modern world we need both.” A “global NATO” was needed. “By that I don’t mean extending the membership to those from other regions. I mean that NATO must have a global outlook, ready to tackle global threats.”

The Truss vision is a simple one, marked by nations “free” and “assertive and in the ascendant. Where freedom and democracy are strengthened through a network of economic and security partnerships.” A “Network of Liberty” would be required to protect such a world, one that would essentially bypass the UN Security Council and institutions that “have been bent out of shape so far” in enabling rather than containing “aggression”.

This extraordinary, aggressive embrace of neoconservative bullishness, one that trashes international institutions rather than strengthening them, was on show again in Spain. At NATO’s summit, Truss reiterated her view that the alliance should take “a global outlook protecting Indo-Pacific as well as Euro-Atlantic security.”

The Truss position suggested less a remaking than a return to traditional, thuggish politics dressed up as objective, enduring rules. Free trade, that great oxymoron of governments, is seen as “fair”, which requires “playing by the rules.” The makers of those rules are never mentioned. But she finds room to be critical of powers “naïve about the geopolitical power of economics,” a remarkable suggestion coming from a nation responsible for the illegal export of opium to China in the nineteenth century and promoters of unequal treaties. “We are showing,” he boasted, “that economic access is no longer a given. It has to be earned.”

The Global NATO theme is not sparklingly novel, even if the Ukraine War has given impetus to its promotion and selling. The post-Cold War period left the alliance floundering. The great Satan – the Soviet Union – has ceased to exist, undercutting its raison d’être. New terrain, and theatres, were needed to flex muscle and show purpose.

The Kosovo intervention in 1999, evangelised as a human rights security operation against genocidal Serbian forces, put the world on notice where alliance members might be going. NATO was again involved in enforcing the no-fly zone over Libya as the country was ushered to imminent, post-Qaddafi collapse. When the International Security Force (ISAF) completed its ill-fated mission in Afghanistan in 2015, NATO was again on the scene.

In the organisation’s Strategic Concept document released at the end of June, the Euro-Atlantic dimension, certainly regarding the Ukraine conflict and Russia’s role, comes in for special mention. But room, and disapproval, is also made for China. “The People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) stated ambitions and coercive policies challenge our interests, security and values.”

A number of “political, economic and military tools” had been used to increase Beijing’s “global footprint and project power,” all done in a manner distinctly not transparent. The security of allies had been challenged by “malicious hybrid and cyber operations”, along with “confrontational rhetoric and disinformation.” Of deep concern was the deepening relationship between Moscow and Beijing, “and their mutually reinforcing attempts to undercut the rules-based international order” which ran “counter to our values and interests.”

The alliance’s recent self-inflation has led to curious developments. Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has been pushing Canberra ever closer towards NATO, a process that has been ongoing for some years. At the alliance’s public forum in Madrid, Albanese used China’s “economic coercion” against Australia as a noisy platform while decrying Beijing’s encroachments into areas that had been the playground, and in some cases plaything, of Western powers. “Just as Russia seeks to recreate a Russian or Soviet empire, the Chinese government is seeking friends, whether it be […] through economic support to build up alliances to undermine what has historically been the Western alliance in places like the Indo-Pacific.”

At a press conference held at Madrid’s Torrejon Air Base, the Australian prime minister felt certain that “NATO members know that China is more forward leaning in our region.” Beijing had levelled sanctions not only against Canberra but had proven to “be more aggressive in its stance in the world.”

Australian pundits on the security circuit are warmed by the visit, seeing a chance to point NATO’s interest in the direction of China’s ambition in the Indo-Pacific. Just as Norwegian historian Geir Lundestad described Washington’s Cold War involvement in Western Europe as an empire by invitation, NATO, or some bit of it, is being envisaged as an invitee in regions far beyond its traditional scope. None of this will do much to encourage the prospects for stability while leaving every chance for further conflict.


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Australian War Memorial needs to own Australian frontier wars

By David Stephens

Proper recognition and commemoration of the Australian Frontier Wars at the Australian War Memorial would be a practical expression of the Spirit of Uluru. As the Albanese government begins the lengthy process of enshrining the Voice in the Australian Constitution, having the Memorial commit to Australian Frontier Wars recognition and commemoration could happen soon – provided the will exists in both the Memorial and the government.

War Memorial Director Matt Anderson said last month that veterans of recent Australian overseas wars had ‘waited long enough’ for adequate recognition at the Memorial. Yet, soon after, he saw no irony in repeating the Memorial’s long-standing opposition to properly recognising and commemorating the Australian Frontier Wars.

The first deaths of Indigenous Australians at the hands of European settler-invaders were in 1788. That sounds like ‘long enough’. The Australian Frontier Wars lasted from 1788 to at least 1928, occurred in all current States and Territories, and caused the deaths of between 20,000 and 60,000 (or more) First Nations warriors and their families, plus much smaller numbers of European settler-invaders and military and police personnel.

What is needed?

What does proper recognition and commemoration require?

First, the Memorial should have an Australian Frontier Wars Gallery as part of the 2.5 hectares of additional space being built in the current extensions project. Professor Henry Reynolds has described the Frontier Wars as Australia’s most important war. The Frontier Wars deserve equal status at the Memorial with the First and Second World Wars, which each have designated galleries. The extensions should never have proceeded but, now that they seem inevitable, reserving space in them for an Australian Frontier Wars Gallery would reduce the area available for a military Disneyland full of Large Technology Objects and machines that go ‘bang!’

Secondly, the Memorial needs to add a prominent panel to its Roll of Honour to commemorate the dead of the Frontier Wars, both First Nations and non-First Nations. It will be impossible to include individual First Nations names, beyond perhaps those of leaders like Jandamarra, Pemulwuy, and Tongerlongeter – that White Australians do not know the names is poignantly significant – but the depth of the commitment of these First Nations warriors (and the suffering of their families, who often died with them) should be recorded in words like those used elsewhere in the Memorial. Lest We Forget.

Thirdly, the words ‘Australian Frontier Wars’ should be carved into the walls of the Memorial surrounding the Pool of Reflection. These words would stand alongside places like Gallipoli, Palestine, France, North Africa, Korea, Vietnam, and Afghanistan, but would go first, reflecting the fact that the Frontier Wars were our first wars, without which Australia would not be what it is today.

These forms of recognition and commemoration are much more decisive and less devious than what the Memorial has done previously: finding and publicising examples of Indigenous men and women who have worn the King’s/Queen’s uniform since 1901; buying and commissioning expensive paintings of massacres of First Nations people; a John Schumann ballad; a sculpture in the grounds; the special exhibition For Country, For Nation.

Through these and other scattered actions the Memorial admits that the Frontier Wars (sometimes rendered as ‘frontier violence’) happened, and that they were nasty, but fails to put them on an equal footing with the ‘service and sacrifice’ of uniformed personnel in our overseas wars. Indeed, the emphasis on Indigenous service in those wars has been seen by some observers as a way of diverting attention from the Frontier Wars.

What is the way through? The Memorial should grasp the common thread between the Frontier Wars and our overseas wars: Defence of Country. Defence of their Country by First Nations warriors. Defence of their country, Australia, by uniformed soldiers, sailors, airmen and women, and nurses, some of them Indigenous. Defence of Country is the common history that belongs to all of us, and that the Memorial should recognise and commemorate. We need to treat Indigenous defence of Country in colonial times just as we treat the defence of Australia since 1901.

Three options

How would these changes at the Memorial be made? There are three options, not mutually exclusive. First, use existing legislation, reinforced by political suasion. The Prime Minister and the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs (the Minister responsible for the Memorial), could write to the Council of the Memorial setting out the government’s firm view that the functions of the Memorial under section 5 of the Australian War Memorial Act 1980 (particularly the references to ‘Australian military history’) include the depiction and commemoration of the Frontier Wars.

The letter could require that the Memorial use its annual reports under section 46 of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 to report its actions on the depiction and commemoration of the Frontier Wars, especially how and to what extent the enlarged space of the Memorial was being put to these purposes. It would be a brave Council that would take no actions in response to such a letter from government.

Another option, however, would be for the Memorial to use its corporate planning process to define the Act’s words ‘Australian military history’ to include ‘the history of wars within and outside Australia, before and after 1901, that have been fought to defend Country’. The Memorial has over recent years misused its corporate planning process to narrow the Memorial’s focus from ‘Australian military history’ to ‘Australia’s wartime experience’ (the words under the heading ‘Mission’ in the current corporate plan). The focus needs to be broadened.

A proper rendition of ‘Australian military history’ requires the examination of many facets of our various wars and warlike operations, including their causes and effects. The words ‘Australia’s wartime experience’, on the other hand, have justified the Memorial’s focus (to a microscopic degree) on what Australians did in our wars. The Memorial should revise its corporate plan to return to the intention of the Act and then run its operations accordingly. All of its random recognitions of ‘frontier violence’ could be grouped together in the new Australian Frontier Wars Gallery.

A third option would be to amend the Memorial’s Act to spell out precisely and in detail the requirement for it to properly recognise and commemorate the Frontier Wars. Functions clauses and definitions could be tweaked appropriately, though they would not be immune from distortion through the corporate planning process (where the Memorial has form, as noted above). Getting a Bill onto the crowded Parliamentary schedule would also be an issue, but legislative amendment should be on the medium-term agenda.

Whichever option or options are used, we need, on the government side, courage to pull aside the ‘Anzac cloak’ that has for so long protected the Memorial from proper accountability and full responsiveness to modern Australia. On the Memorial side, we need willingness to make the place less a military mausoleum and trophy house – run mostly by white blokes with a military background and catering primarily for uniformed service people (particularly recent ones) – and more the possession of all Australians, First Nations and non-First Nations.

This article was originally published on Pearls and Irritations.

David Stephens is editor of the Honest History website and co-editor of The Honest History Book (2017). He has contributed many articles to Honest History and Pearls and Irritations. He was previously an Australian public servant and a government relations consultant.



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Chegg, Cheating and Australian Universities

The note on Radio National’s Background Briefing on the morning of July 31 was sombre. A student, who did not divulge his real name (he is professionally pseudonymised as Ramesh), talks about services that aid him in his study. Aid is less accurate than do – given that he is working gruelling night shifts in the fast-food industry, he is incapable of making morning classes at the said unnamed university. Flipping burgers in greasy splendour takes precedent.

The student, along with others featured in the programme, talk about accessing a multitude of websites that provide “support services” that aid the cheating industrial complex. As to whether he is worried about being caught out, he likens it to the consequences of speeding: it’s all fine if you don’t get caught.

The pressures are enormous, notably for international students or those on scholarships who must achieve certain grades to retain their place or stipend. The stresses of the pandemic on learning has also pushed students to search for other aides in facilitating study to maintain their grades.

Just as the global COVID-19 pandemic forced students from physical classes to their homes and bedrooms, online platforms – in this case, sites such as the Santa Clara-based Chegg – were there to capitalise. According to its website, course help is promised around the clock – 24/7 no less. “From the first day to finals, get homework help, exam prep & writing support – tailored to your courses.” A number of subfields mentioned by the company try to avoid the notion that plagiarism or cheating takes place. Indeed, there is a section dedicated to “writing and citations,” which promises to improve “your writing with plagiarism checks, expert proofreading & instant citations.”

This very fact suggests that the company is less interested in broader principles of plagiarism vis-à-vis the student, but to enable the student in question to write a paper that will bypass the plagiarist watchdogs. This is a far cry from the company that began in 2000 offering a search facility for scholarships, a search function for matching internships and general advice on how to get into college. The money started rolling in for the company when it started to rent out textbooks.

Then came COVID-19 and the advent of the global virtual classroom. Subscriptions to Chegg ballooned. In the third quarter of 2020, they grew to 3.7 million or 69% from 2019 figures. In 2021, its total net revenues came in at US$776.3 million, drawn from a subscriber base of 4.6 million. The company is now roughly estimated to be worth US$12 billion.

Explanations about whether using Chegg’s services constitutes cheating rage across the internet. An article from the College Guide Post is fairly unequivocal: “Chegg is cheating if you use Chegg Study in college to complete homework, answer quiz questions, or answer exam questions.” (Is it really useful for anything else?)

In Australia, legislation was passed in August 2020 making it an offence for any person to provide or advertise academic cheating services relating to the delivery of higher education in Australia, irrespective of whether that person is in Australia or elsewhere. The offence is serious enough to warrant an imprisonment for up to two years. A distinction is also drawn from the perspective of payment: cheating services provided gratis are treated differently from services provided for profit.

Australia’s university regulator, the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) has gone as far as blocking 40 websites receiving 450,000 monthly visits. In a statement from Education Minister Jason Clare, “Illegal cheating services threaten academic integrity and expose students to criminals who often attempt to blackmail students into paying large sums of money.” This grand gesture is bound to be more symbolic than effective, given that such sites are accessible via other means.

The slant taken by Chegg CEO Dan Rosensweig is to shift the focus back on who he sees as the main culprit: the university itself. Traditional tertiary institutions, he stated in 2019, had to adjust to the on-demand economy and accept the binge-worthy nature of modern education. To that end, his company offers a service akin to Uber, which went out of its way to disrupt the norms of the transport industry.

He also denies that his company facilitates cheating, as such. Chegg’s honour code remarks that “academic integrity is a fundamental part of the learning process and we work to preserve it.” Its services are intended “to support learning, not replace it.” To cover its tracks, the organisation warns of “serious consequences” that can arise from misusing its services “including without limitation being banned from our platforms or having an investigation opened by your institution”.

That all sounds splendid, but policing such boundaries is nigh impossible. Detection has become a difficult affair, given the exploitative grading scheme being used by universities. Australia’s disproportionately casualised academic workforce leaves little room, or incentive, to spend time on identifying such work. The average time spent on student assessments is one hour, and some Australian universities have been caught up for giving their tutors even less time to grade work.

In August 2020, the ABC reported that tutors at ten Australian tertiary institutions were effectively being encouraged to “skim read” assessments. RMIT University was taken to the Fair Work Commission by the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) for its particularly abysmal rates that limited the amount of time grading an essay and returning comments to students to a miserable 10 minutes per paper. In such rich soils of exploitation, chegging is bound to thrive.

Universities, in response, can do a number of things in an academic arms race they are otherwise bound to lose. They can reconsider assessment strategies. They can improve the conditions of tutors and staff responsible for grading. They can ease the absurd burdens placed on international students whose treatment during pandemic times, and prior, was abominable.

Where there is hunger and desire, there will be a market. Universities have always faced the problem of cheating. But the market of mass, corporatized education has also produced the means of its own subversion. Students lacking financial support and facing ever exploiting programs that disadvantage them will always find a way. Integrity is meaningless in such a case, much like ethics would be to a starving creature. The problem will not be resolved by simply targeting the likes of Chegg. A broader institutional approach is required, and Australian universities have repeatedly shown they are not up to such challenges.


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Nancy Pelosi, was that the right move?

Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s visit to Sarajevo in 1914 was an instructive lesson on how the dumb do, at some point, ask for it. Bosnia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, was desired by the Kingdom of Serbia. With the Serbs also well represented in Bosnia, a visit by the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne was always to be tricky, if not downright foolish.

This was not all. Already unpopular, Ferdinand took his cue to visit on a day regarded with mournful reverence by Serbs: Vidovdan (or St. Vitus’ Day). In 1389 on that blood-inked day, the Serbs fought the Turks in the Battle of Kosovo with catastrophic losses. Myth and fact commingled, thereby producing legend.

Few security measures were taken for this provocative trip. The drive through Sarajevo was made in an open-topped car. In the ensuing farce that followed, the Archduke and his wife, the equally unpopular Countess Sophie, were clumsily, even miraculously butchered. The Serbian nationalist group, the Black Hand, was initially foiled. The lobbed hand grenade by Nedjelko Čabrinović failed to strike the intended target, injuring the occupants of the car behind.

Instead of lying low in humbled terror, the Archduke and his wife continued to the planned reception at City Hall. They then made themselves inviting targets by wishing to see members of the injured party in hospital. On the way to the hospital, the driver took the wrong turn, presenting Gavrilo Princip with a juicy target. The couple were shot and killed by a Browning pistol.

Riots and protests followed, with Austria-Hungary declaring war on Serbia on July 28. This set the trains of war in motion across Europe, leaving millions of dead and a continent primed for the next global conflict. The dumb had gotten a good number of Europe’s populace killed.

Like the doomed Archduke, Pelosi has shown, and continues to show little awareness about what her trip to Taiwan entails. This is not a harmless visit to the village vicarage for a cup of a tea, or a casual stop by to see old chums. The Biden administration forgives it as an independent decision made by a person independent of government. This is a lawyer’s explanation and far from a good one, given Pelosi’s position as House Speaker. Should Biden shuffle off the mortal coil, she will find herself, after the hungry Vice President, second in line for the White House.

Pelosi has been merrily hawkish in stirring the PRC. “Our visit,” she tweeted, “reiterates that America stands with Taiwan: a robust, vibrant democracy and our important partner in the Indo-Pacific.” In travelling to the province, the Speaker was honouring a commitment to democracy, “reaffirming that the freedoms of Taiwan – and all democracies – must be respected.”




This is all a bit rum, given that Washington does not, in principle, recognise Taiwan’s independence. National Security coordinator John Kirby, back in Washington, reiterated the point in a press briefing. “We are clear that nothing has changed about our One China policy which is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act. We do not support Taiwan’s independence.” The Biden administration continued to be “clear with the Chinese about where we stand on the issues and the One China policy and our support for a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

Despite stating that position, Kirby was being decidedly two-faced about the Pelosi jaunt. President Joe Biden had noted in late July that the then rumoured trip was not prudent, at least in the mind of some voices in the Pentagon. “The military think’s it’s not a good idea right now.” He then went on to say that he knew “what the status of it is.”

Unfortunately for those outside the US, such a status is simply not clear. While Kirby did say that the President had “made clear that Congress is an independent branch of government and that Speaker Pelosi makes her own decisions, as other members of Congress do, about their overseas travel,” those unacquainted with the US political system will take no notice. The visitors are from the governing political party in Washington, which would normally suffice in most cases.

Nor should it be forgotten that Biden has taken three shots against the strategic ambiguity of the One China policy by suggesting at various points that US forces would be deployed in a battle over Taiwan. It was a point that has not escaped students of the field, and certainly not China’s President Xi Jinping. Pelosi’s visit will simply be seen as consistent with such a change, a blast of clarity when, before, there was ambiguity.

Rather than admitting this development, the Biden administration has hidden behind the trappings of US political protocol. Let Congress decide what it wants, and we will have our own policy. Focus, instead, on Beijing’s bad faith and refusal to understand. “We expect to see China use inflammatory rhetoric and disinformation in the coming days,” chirps Kirby. And not just that, given that China was “positioning itself to potentially take further steps in the coming days and, perhaps, over the long-time horizon.”

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi threatened ahead of the visit that US politicians who “play with fire” with respect to Taiwan would “come to no good end.” Officially, Beijing’s officials have warned of “serious consequences.” Spokesman Zhao Lijian’s warning came with a note of theatrical indignation: “If the US side is bent on going its own way, China will take strong measures to resolutely respond and counteract.” So far, Chinese war planes have flown close to the median line of the Taiwan Strait, while Beijing has imposed a number of import bans on select Taiwanese products.

The political arithmetic is clear. Pelosi’s arrival, along with a delegation from Congress, risks sparking a fourth Taiwan strait crisis. The locals, for the most part, showed little initial interest. There has been much chat about heatwaves, the usual celebrity gossip, and discussion about local elections.

But the arrival at Songshan airport of the most significant US political figure in years signalled something of a shift. Protesters gathered at the Grand Hyatt where she was due to stay, accusing Pelosi of being a warmonger. Other protesters preferred to vent their ire at the CCP itself. All it takes now is a bullet, a misfire, an accident, and the dumb will be dead, again, taking the rest of us along with them.


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Penal Assassination: The Gradual Effort to Kill Assange

They really do want to kill him. Perhaps it is high time that his detractors and sceptics, proven wrong essentially from the outset, admit that the US imperium, along with its client states, is willing to see Julian Assange perish in prison. The locality and venue, for the purposes of this exercise, are not relevant. Like the Inquisition, the Catholic Church was never keen on soiling its hands, preferring the employ of non-church figures to torture their victims.

In the context of Assange, Britain has been a willing jailor from the start, guided by the good offices of Washington and none too keen in seeing this spiller of secrets released into the world. Bail has been repeatedly, and inexcusably, refused, despite the threats posed by COVID-19, the publisher’s own deteriorating health, and restrictions upon access, at regular intervals, to legal advice from his team. Just as some banks are deemed too large to fail, Assange is considered too large a target to escape. Let loose again, he might do what he does best: reveal government venalities in war and peace and prove the social contract a gross deception and mockery of our sensibilities.

The UK legal system has been the ideal forum to execute the wishes of Washington. Each legal branch that has examined the extradition case has assiduously avoided the bigger picture: the attack on press freedom, exposing war crimes, illegal surveillance of a political asylee in an embassy compound, the breaches of privacy and legal confidentiality, the encroachments upon family life, the evidence on proposed abduction and assassination, the questionable conflicts of interest by some judicial members, the collusion of State authorities.

Instead, the courts, from the outside, have taken a blade to cut away the meatiest, most solid of arguments, focusing on a sliver that would be, in due course, defeated. The sole decision that favoured Assange only did so by essentially regarding him as an individual whose mental fragility would compromise him in a US prison facility. In such a case, suicide would be virtually impossible to prevent. District Judge Vanessa Baraitser, who made the ruling, thought little of the publisher’s credentials, heartily agreeing with the prosecution that no journalist would have ever exposed the names of informants. (This farcical interpretation was rebutted convincingly in the Old Bailey trial proceedings.)

The rest has been a grotesque show of gargantuan proportions, with the High Court and the Supreme Court showing themselves to be political dunces or, which is not much better, dupes. Believing a number of diplomatic assurances by US prosecutors on Assange’s post-extradition fate, made after the original trial, seemed awfully close to a form of legal match-fixing. We all know that court cases and the law can be analogised as betting and having a punt, the outcome never clear till it arrives, but this was positively ludicrous.

To anyone following the trial and knowing the feeble nature of reassurances made by a State power, especially one with the heft of the United States, promises about more commodious accommodation, not being subject to brutal special administrative measures, and also being allowed to apply for a return to Australia to serve the balance of the term, was pure, stenchy balderdash.

Amnesty International is unequivocal on this point: diplomatic assurances are used by governments to “circumvent” various human rights conventions, and the very fact that they are sought to begin with creates its own dangers. “The mere fact that States need to seek diplomatic assurances against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (other ill-treatment) is indicative of a risk of torture.”

The US prosecuting authorities have even gone so far as to weaken their own position, making their undertakings conditional. Typically, they shift the focus back on Assange, suggesting that he might influence matters by his own mischievous conduct. All in all, nothing said was binding, and the glue holding the promises together might, at any given moment, dissolve.

Admirably, Assange continues to have some fiercely dedicated followers who wish him well and wish him out. Independent Australian MP Andrew Wilkie has the sort of certitude that can pulverise the attitudes of bleak sceptics, though even he must nurse a few doubts. In his address to supporters of Assange in Canberra, delivered on the lawns of the Australian Parliament, he was confident that keeping “the pressure up” would eventually lead to justice for the publisher.



In a crisp summation, Wilkie distilled the case. “The US wants to get even and for so long the UK and Australia have been happy to go along for the ride because they’ve put bilateral relationships with Washington ahead of the rights of a decent man.” Keep maintaining the rage, he urged his audience.

The matter is considered so urgent that Australian Doctors For Assange have warned that death may be peeking around the corner. “Medical examinations of Julian Assange in Belmarsh prison in the UK,” stated spokesman Robert Marr, “have revealed that he is suffering from severe life-threatening cardiovascular and stress-related medical conditions, including having a mini-stroke as a result of his imprisonment and psychological torture.”

The organisation has written to US Ambassador Carolyn Kenney “requesting she urgently ask President Biden to stop the US persecution of Australian citizen Julian Assange for merely publishing information provided to him and stop the US attempt to extradite him from the UK.”

From the Australian perspective, we can already see that there is a go-slow, cautious approach to Assange’s fate, which also serves the lethal agenda being pursued by the US prosecutors. Despite a change of the guard in Canberra, the status quo on power relations between the two countries remains unaltered. Everyone, bar Assange, seems to have time to wait. But in terms of life and health, the time in question is almost done.


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Gilding the Cage of Suburbia: Farewelling Neighbours

The statistics of Australia’s longest running drama series about sickeningly idyllic suburbia will interest soap show boffins. It lasted 5,955 episodes over 37 seasons, starting in 1985. Its anaemically thin plotlines, subpar acting, and emphasis on ideals bound to cause indigestion, did not prevent Neighbours from being mandatory viewing. Neighbours was, especially for British audiences, fetish and cult, shrine and devotion.

It also provided the first airings for an assortment of performers and actors who, in time, bloomed on the global stage, which, according to most Australians, means the United Kingdom or the United States: Kylie Minogue, Natalie Imbruglia in pop; Russell Crowe, Guy Pierce, Margot Robbie, in acting.

During its existence, writers tried to keep things lamentably interesting on Ramsay Street, located in the fictional Melbourne suburb of Erinsborough with an equally fictional, semi-tropical climate. There have been the drownings, plane crashes and the necessary bushfires. There was the wedding between Charlene (Minogue) and Scott (Jason Donovan). There was another execrable wedding, if only in dream sequence, featuring the dogs Bouncer and Rosie – the canine next door.

Overtime, the show has produced an almost mind-boggling array of studies and opinions, with Australian pundits wondering what their own citizens make of the drama. It has provided fodder for the cultural vice squads centred in academe, keen to note instances of racism or lack of diversity. It has given commentators a chance to make waves over a banal contrivance. Now, it is popular to see the program as unevolved, white heterosexuality, trapped in the cage of suburbia.

There are, however, indulgent efforts to identify positive “representations of gender, sexuality and feminism,” if one was to believe academics Juliet Watson and Sarah Casey. Take Charlene Mitchell, played by Minogue. She was “the mechanic defying gendered career expectations with the ‘girls can do anything’ attitude.” Neighbours also produced the show’s first trans character in 2019, and, in its final year, “its first non-binary character, Asher Nesmith, played by non-binary actor Kathleen Ebbs.” How wonderfully modern.

If the series was to be captured in a snapshot analysis, the nightmarish suburbia so deliciously skewered by Arthur Koestler on his visit to Australia on full display, comes to mind. On a visit to the “faceless continent”, the polymath intellectual observed that, for all its vast spaces and ocean beaches, “Australia can give the visitor a feeling of claustrophobia.”

Even in 1969, he noted the frenzied rush of the country’s residents from the city to the periphery. Admitting that the same phenomenon could also be observed in Europe and the United States, Koestler found Australia singular in effort. So much so “that the very concept of the city is beginning to lose its meaning and ‘urban civilization’ is replaced by ‘suburban civilization’.”

In Australian crowds, he also detected a conformism that produced a mass loneliness. They, his nose sensed, reeked of “loneliness – you can feel it in the bus, in the pub, at the races, on the beach.”

Neighbours battles loneliness in forced fashion, and in doing so gilds the suburban cage. It imports a provincial, romantic reading about Australia’s brutish urban landscape. It assumes, fantastically, that there are neighbours who care with almost nosy dedication, whom you would actually like to know rather than regard with an air of suspicion.

Philippa Burne, sometimes writer for the series, can comment that, boring as that suburbia is, “for UK and overseas audiences it’s a peaceful, privileged life where you can spend half the day in the pub and still pay the mortgage and not be a drunk.”

Ian Smith, who played the character of Harold Bishop and also had a hand in script writing, put it this way: “You could say hello to your doctor, who lived next door. You could call him by his first name. You would sometimes go to his swimming pool, he would sometimes come to your swimming pool. All these things that didn’t happen in the UK.” Smith might be particularly fond of doctors in a way others simply aren’t.

In fact, the fence, the boundary, the separation, are very important in an affluent society, selfish and concerned that another family, around the corner, might interfere and bother. Such sentiments are bound to prevail in a frontier society where territory was pinched, and its indigenous inhabitants exterminated.

This face of Australia’s existence has been exploited by the country’s white bread demagogues since the creation of the Commonwealth in 1901. While solidarity is not unheard of in the Australian suburban context, any display of it is an exaggeration. It usually takes disasters such as cyclones, bush fires or floods to encourage it. Thankfully, the inhabitants of this island continent are going to have many more chances to show ample generosity in future. Otherwise, the traditional not-so-neighbourly Australian household is barricade and prison protection, a line marked against intruders.

The funding arrangements of the soap were eventually what undid it. Britain’s obsession with Neighbours led to a mammoth slice of funding coming from UK sources. But it would not last, and UK’s Channel 5 announced this year that it would be cutting supply. A statement from the company accepted that many would be crestfallen at the demise of the series, but also suggested that investing in UK drama was the way to go. “We recognise that there will be disappointment about this decision, however our current focus is on increasing our investment in original UK drama, which has strong appeal to our viewers.”

Besides, the viewership in that country had plummeted from the stratosphere of 20 million regulars to a modest million. In Australia itself, audiences had also declined. After thousands of episodes, the series was only able to interest 100,000 daily viewers on Channel Ten.

FremantleMedia suggested putting the patient onto some form of life support, hoping for an injection of vital, life-reviving fluids. “Our audience remains steady and Channel 10 would love the show to continue if we could find another broadcaster partner to replace C5,” an email from the company stated.

Unfortunately for devotees of this representation of Australia’s suburban civilization, the gap left by Channel 5’s exit was simply too large to meet. No other broadcasting partner was willing to subsidise the fantasy. This fictional Melbourne space is now liquidated and confined to celluloid soap land, with the last instalment aired on July 28. The children in the UK will have to, as they have done for the most part already, shower their attention on something else.


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Facial Recognition Technology Down Under

The language is far from reassuring. Despite being caught red handed using facial recognition technology unbeknownst to customers, a number of Australia’s large retail companies have given a meek assurance that they will “pause” their use. The naughty will only show contrition in the most qualified of ways.

It all began with an investigation by CHOICE which found that the department store chain Kmart, and household warehouse chain Bunnings, were using FRT to ostensibly protect customers and staff while reducing theft in select stores. The group also found a third retailer, The Good Guys, had not lived up to its distinctly smug name, using technology that stores the unique biometric information of its customers.

According to the investigation, 25 major Australian companies were asked whether they used FRT and how their privacy policies stacked up. Based upon the findings, the three big culprits were identified.

FRT navigates some rather treacherous terrain. There is the broader question of privacy and issues of consent. CHOICE consumer data advocate Kate Bower put her finger on the issue by noting that the privacy policies of such companies were usually buried in vast online undergrowth and “often not easy to find.” Given the operating nature of such stores – being in person and retail – it was also unlikely that anyone was “reading a privacy policy” before entering.

At some of their outlets, Kmart and Bunnings did sport signs at entrances informing customers that such technology was being used. There are also prevailing problems with bias and racial discrimination. The evident concern here was that the signs themselves were barely noticeable to patrons, placed in strategically innocuous spots. For any toiling student seeking to understand the law of contract and the incorporation of contractual terms, such signs are virtually worthless in drawing attention to any individual entering the store.

In a survey of over 1,000 Australians between March and April this year, CHOICE found a general lack of awareness about the nature of the technology being used. Three out of four (76%) claimed with less than blissful ignorance they did not know retailers were using facial recognition. Those who did smell a rat identified the wrong parties – namely supermarket chains Coles and Woolworths.

The percentage of those surveyed claiming that retail stores should disclose to customers about the use of FRT before entering the store was 83% while 78% expressed concern about the security of any faceprint data secured by the companies.

Bunnings has, unsurprisingly, accused CHOICE of misrepresenting their case. In the carefully chosen words of chief operating officer Simon McDowell, such “technology is used solely to keep team and customers safe and prevent unlawful activity in our stores, which is consistent with the Privacy Act.”

Through the annals of history, when laws are breached and principles are violated, the principle of necessity gets saddled up and ridden into debates. In this case, its staff who might be endangered by reprobates (“repeat abuse and threatening behaviour,” McDowell calls it), or customers who need protection when going about their shopping. And even when used, there are “strict controls around the use of the technology which can only be accessed by [a] specially trained team.”

Bunnings managing director, Mike Schneider, reiterates the security element of the enterprise. FRT aided in identifying banned customers and undesirables. “We don’t use it for marketing or customer behaviour tracking, and we certainly don’t use it to identify regular customers who enter our stores as CHOICE has suggested.”

On July 12, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) announced that it was opening investigations into the way personal information is handled by Kmart and Bunnings, with specific reference to the use of FRT. The body’s director of strategic communications, Andrew Stokes, explains that biometric information, as collected by FRT, “is sensitive personal information under the Privacy Act.”



Any organisation that falls within the operation of the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) is not entitled to collect sensitive information in the absence of consent from the individual. Any information gathered must also be reasonably necessary for the organisation’s functions or activities.

Consent and the law have not always been on the best of terms. Often strangers, they sometimes converge, or miss each other altogether. In terms of Australian privacy law, hardly impressive and often disappointing in its lack of bite, the OAIC will note the following elements to determine whether genuine consent was given to the use of FRT: whether the individual was adequately informed before granting consent; whether it was done voluntarily; whether it was current and specific; and whether the individual had the capacity to comprehend and communicate that consent.

The reaction from the three retail outlets has, for the most part, been tactical, and more likely a case of waiting for the OAIC’s verdict. According to Bower, “customers will welcome the news that Bunnings and Kmart are joining The Good Guys in pausing the use of facial recognition technology in their stores, but we know that what customers really want is for them to stop using it altogether.” To do so would be very much against the ill-spirited nature of Australian corporate culture, as privateering as any that can be found on this warming planet. They may have been bruised and slightly embarrassed, but they are unlikely to be compliant.


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Chaff Candidates: The Race for the UK Tory Leadership

As UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson set the scene in spectacular fashion, all who sought to confine him to history, perished. He was the only one who seemed to survive, and reject, one diabolical scandal after the next – till now.

No leader with such a destructive sense of presence could do anything but impair those who followed him. But that impairment lingers in the contenders who are seeking to replace him, and it shows.

In a system that is admirably daft, the governing party, namely the Conservatives, have given themselves a remarkable span of time to pick Johnson’s successor. A number of candidates initially put their name forth, a chaff-wheat separation exercise that eventually led to the selection of chaff.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss rallies the Tories within the party ranks (a YouGov poll puts Truss at 62 per cent over her rival contender, Rishi Sunak, at 38 per cent). Sunak seems more appealing to the wider conservative vote. Both are unappealing in several ways and have already shown that they are not beneath populism and demagoguery in convincing the party faithful.

Like most Tories hoping to court gullible voters in the centre, we are facing an elaborate deception of privilege burnished as hard work and triumph in adversity. This is the season for counterfeiters.

Sunak is proving something of an adept in this, diminishing his privileged background in order to polish and flash invisible, underprivileged credentials. Truss supporter, culture secretary Nadine Dorries, will have none of it, noting that Truss will campaign around the country in £4.50 earrings, but Sunak will do so in a £3,500 bespoke suit, along with £450 Prada loafers.

Truss is also playing on false images, though prefers to lie in more confident fashion. With mendacious thrill, she claims to have grown up in a “red wall” seat, as if it might have proved anything. “I got where I am today through working hard and focusing on results.” If it is that mindless, corrosive activity of Instagramming, then she might have a point. If an event is not posted on social media, it never took place.

In terms of policy, if we dare go there, Truss is a conventional supply sider, wanting to cut taxes despite obstinately rising inflation. She argues that the budget has enough fiscal headroom to the tune of £30 billion, an amount that will be dramatically cheapened with inflation. She also boasts of delivering a number of trade agreements, though many were simply copied, roll-over versions of deals made when the UK was an EU member.

Sunak, former Chancellor of the Exchequer, does not see taxes as satanic, and is considering raising them as a dampening measure to cope with rising prices. Should he become Prime Minister, the corporation tax rate will rise from 19 per cent to 25 per cent in 2023.

Sunak, in some respects, is going for a softer touch, such as improving home insulation to cut energy bills. Unfortunately, the Energy Savings Trust has found that loft insulation, while saving a terraced home £230 a year on energy bills, would also cost £500 to install. Even as Chancellor, his efforts to encourage homes to install insulation via the green homes grant scheme failed to gain momentum, resulting in its scrapping.

On foreign policy, however, Sunak claims to be the hardest of hard men. Having been called by Chinese state outlet Global Times “clear and pragmatic” in the face of Sinophobia, he was bound to insist on a measure of difference. To that end, the closure of the Confucius Institutes in Britain – namely, all 30 of them – is promised. In doing so, he hopes to strangle Chinese “soft power” while rooting out Beijing’s industrial espionage efforts.

With militant fervour, he also promises to “kick the CCP out of our universities,” the sort of meaningless babble that risks harming academic endeavours. The method of doing so will involve mandating higher education establishments to disclose the nature of their foreign funding associations for amounts above £50,000, including the review of research partnerships. All such proposals always tend to harm the host institution more than the foreign target.

This was of little concern to Sunak, who has suddenly discovered an interest in human rights. “They torture, detain and indoctrinate their own people, including in Xinjian and Hong Kong, in contravention of their human rights. And they have continually rigged the global economy in their favour by suppressing their currency.”

Sunak’s language on rights is rich given his own attitude to those wishing to find sanctuary in Britain. His ideas on irregular migration have ranged from housing arrivals in cruise ships in a hark back to the bad old days of British penology to enthusiastically supporting, along with Truss, the transfer of irregular migrants to Rwanda, a country not exactly famed for its human rights record. This, from a grandson of immigrants from Punjab who ended up in East Africa before making their way to Britain.

A deliciously appropriate note on the campaign so far was struck in this week’s The Sun and TalkTV debate, hosted by journalist Kate McCann. Both Truss and Sunak fronted up. Harry Cole, political editor of The Sun, intended to co-host, but contracted Covid. McCann, left in charge, made her solid contribution to the whole affair by fainting. “We apologise to our viewers and listeners,” the channel stated with regret, sparing the audience the inanity of it all by calling the whole thing off. Johnson must have relished it all.

In the slime-touched final runoff between two bottom-of-the-barrel finds, voters meet two candidates who, in finding wealth or coming from it, seek the ultimate prize of a country that once kept a quarter of the globe in described, cricket-enlightened subjecthood. The prize is barely worth it, and, with Britain no longer part of the EU, barely noticeable.


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Rupert falls out with Jerry and Donald

By Noel Turnbull

In the space of a few weeks Rupert Murdoch has dumped both Jerry Hall and Donald Trump. One dumped for threatening to cost him money and one because he can no longer deliver Rupert’s other love: power.

The first sign of this was the New York Post editorial comment published on 22 July 2022. The Post is famous (infamous) among tabloids for its headlines and approach. Headlines such as Headless Body Found in Topless Bar make it the quintessential traditional tabloid and puts even the UK Sun and similar into the shade.

The Post is not so famous for historically significant editorials – at least not until now.

Just as Rupert intervened on Presidential election night to authorise Fox to call the election for Biden now he has called the effective end of Trump’s presidential hopes.

The Post’s editorial said: “As his followers stormed the Capitol, calling for his vice president to be hanged, President Donald Trump sat in his private dining room, watching TV, doing nothing.

“For three hours, seven minutes.

“There has been much debate over whether Trump’s rally speech on Jan. 6, 2021, constituted ‘incitement.’ That’s somewhat of a red herring. What matters more – and has become crystal clear in recent days – is that Trump didn’t lift a finger to stop the violence that followed.

“And he was the only person who could stop what was happening. He was the only one the crowd was listening to. It was incitement by silence.

“Trump only wanted one thing during that infamous afternoon: to pressure Vice President Mike Pence to decertify the election of Joe Biden.

“He thought the violence of his loyal followers would make Pence crack, or delay the vote altogether.

“To his eternal shame, as appalled aides implored him to publicly call on his followers to go home, he instead further fanned the flames by tweeting: ‘Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution.’

“His only focus was to find any means – damn the consequences – to block the peaceful transfer of power.

“There is no other explanation, just as there is no defence, for his refusal to stop the violence.

“It’s up to the Justice Department to decide if this is a crime. But as a matter of principle, as a matter of character, Trump has proven himself unworthy to be this country’s chief executive again.”

A day later the Wall Street Journal came to the divorce party editorialising That: “Mr. Trump took an oath to defend the Constitution, and he had a duty as Commander in Chief to protect the Capitol from a mob attacking it in his name. He refused. He didn’t call the military to send help. He didn’t call [then-Vice President Mike Pence] to check on the safety of his loyal VP. Instead he fed the mob’s anger and let the riot play out.”

“Character is revealed in a crisis, and Mr. Pence passed his Jan. 6 trial. Mr. Trump utterly failed his,”

Not that The Journal’s editorial board was siding entirely with the committee. It argued its investigation “lacks political balance” and was “trying to make a criminal case that might be hard to prove and might tear the country apart.”

All in all it also prompts the question: Who said Rupert didn’t exercise influence over his media outlets?

It looks increasingly like Trump will face criminal charges and that the Post – which was complicit in his pre-presidential career promotional efforts to portray himself as very rich and very successful – might no longer be cutting him any slack.

What it means for the Republicans and Fox News is another matter. Some Republicans are threatening a new committee if they, as likely, win back to the House in the midterm elections to inquire into something or other. Other are suggesting charges against Trump will lead to deep divisions in the country and probably violence.

That prompts another question: Could US divisions and violence get even worse?

This article was originally published on Noel Turnbull and Pearls and Irritations.

Noel Turnbull has had a 40-year-plus career in public relations, politics, journalism and academia. He blogs at Noel Turnbull.



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International Accountability: Myanmar, the ICJ and the Genocide Question

The indomitable spirit of Raphael Lemkin, bibliophile, assiduous documenter of humanity’s dark deeds and inexecrable conduct, is bound to be an unsettled one. This brilliant, committed and peculiarly dedicated creature took years to come up with what would, in time, become a word so horrifying as to transfix judges of international law. The amalgam word of genocide stalks the conscience of state leaders, commanders and politicians, an insidious reminder of the inner prejudice that becomes a murderous plan, a design, a means of ridding one of enemies and counterparts.

Given the nature of international institutions, often weak and onerously bureaucratic, there are other aspects to the system of holding the genocidaire-types to account: inadvertent immunity for the perpetrators; the obstructions and impediments of governments; and the reluctance of even using the term to describe abuses.

The military regime in Myanmar will have been hoping for all three aspects to aid their case. But in the International Court of Justice, such expectations may have to be revised. For one thing, the Myanmar junta would have been taken aback by The Gambia’s proceedings against their country alleging genocide. But in November 2019, this West African country, with the support of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) filed a case alleging that Myanmar’s military had been responsible for genocidal acts resulting in “killing, causing serious bodily and mental harm, inflicting conditions that are calculated to bring about physical destruction, imposing measures to prevent births, and forcible transfers … intended to destroy the Rohingya group in whole or in part.”

The UN Genocide Convention (UNGC) permits the ICJ, Under Article 9, to hear “[d]isputes between the Contracting Parties relating to the interpretation, application or fulfilment of the [UNGC], including those relating to the responsibility of a State for genocide or any of the acts enumerated in Article III.”

The Gambia’s case involved a request for provisional protective measures for members of the Rohingya remaining in Myanmar. (In 2019, that number was put by the International Independent Fact-Finding Mission in Myanmar at 600,000.) These measures required the military regime to prevent all genocidal acts against Rohingya, ensure that the security forces not commit acts of genocide, and take steps to preserve evidence related to the case.

In January 2020, the ICJ voiced agreement with the request. The Hague-based body further gave Myanmar a timeline of four months to report on the country’s implementation of the order, followed by six-month deadlines to monitor performance.

Myanmar responded with a number of objections, all rejected by the judges by a vote of 15 to 1 on July 22. These included the claim that the Court lacked jurisdiction, or, alternatively, that the genuine applicant in the proceedings was the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. Judge Xue Hanqin was the only judge to accept the latter argument: that “The Gambia was tasked and appointed by the OIC to institute proceedings against Myanmar in the Court.”

According to the bench, “the applicant in this case is The Gambia”; the case involved an existing “dispute relating to the interpretation, application and fulfilment of the Genocide Convention” when the filing was made and “The Gambia, as state party to the Genocide Convention, has standing to involve the responsibility of Myanmar for the alleged breaches of its obligations under Articles 1, III, IV, and IV of the Convention.”

In an illuminating, if logical development in the case, the judgment favoured a salient reading of the Genocide Convention, one binding all State signatories in a solemn act of deterring, preventing and punishing a crime considered ius cogens in international law and the community in general. The judgment quoted the reasoning of the Court’s 1951 Advisory Opinion regarding reservations to the Genocide Convention: “In such a convention the contracting States do not have any interests of their own; they merely have, one and all, a common interest, namely, the accomplishment of those high purposes which are the raison d’être of the convention.”

It therefore followed that, “All the States parties to the Genocide Convention thus have a common interest to ensure the prevention, suppression and punishment of genocide, by committing themselves to fulfilling the obligations contained in the Convention.”

Human Rights Watch, alongside other human rights organisations such as Fortify Rights, have also argued that other countries throw in their weight in supporting Gambia’s efforts. The ICJ Statute also notes that that court’s order for provision measures is relayed to the UN Security Council, where further pressure might be brought to bear.

While many an action goes to the Security Council to wither, the use of the ICJ in assessing state responsibility for grave human rights violations can only be cheered by advocates of that often nebulous idea known as the rule of law. The effectiveness of such processes must be seen alongside the work of prosecutors from the International Criminal Court, which has jurisdiction to try individuals.

Individual lawsuits are also being filed against the regime, building on the principle of universal jurisdiction. The Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK), for instance, convinced the Argentinian judiciary in November 2021 to open a case against the Myanmar military, with specific reference to various senior figures of the junta, including Min Aung Hlaing. The Second Chamber of the Appeal Court reaffirmed that “the gravity of the facts and the violation of ius cogens norms permit that those facts are investigated in our country.”

Sadly, the ICJ proceeding is bound to take years of cautious and lengthy deliberations, by which time the military sadists may well have achieved their venal goal of ridding the country of the Rohingya. In the words of a protest banner being sported outside the Peace Palace in The Hague, “The genocide survivors can’t wait for generations.”


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The symptoms of mental illness are not the “plan of Satan”, Mr Morrison

I have refrained from writing this post for four days, as it is my apperception (the mental process by which a person makes sense of an idea by assimilating it to the body of ideas they already possess) I have gained from considering the erudite wisdom of Viktor Frankl’s ‘Man’s Search for Meaning‘, an empirical resource of psychiatric and psychological study, in which he reasons that between the action and reaction there is a void in which we have a choice to make in how we react in life to the action. We may either react in an impetuous and emotional manner in which unknown consequences flow from such behaviour, or we may sit back, and in a measured, thoughtful and rational response set out our thoughts. I have not chosen the path of impetuosity, as I consider the words I am about to write below should be set out in a context of personal experience, and hopefully, therapeutic value for people living with a mental illness.

As you may gather from the headline to my post, I am obviously responding to Mr. Morrison’s words spoken last Sunday at a Pentecostal Church established in Perth by the former Australian tennis player, Margaret Court. May I indicate at the outset of this post, I do not intend to display any impiety towards the Pentecostal religion; people are entitled to believe in any form of religion they so choose to believe in; just as I or any other person may abjure any form of religious belief.

My apostasy for religion does not influence my thoughts about Mr. Morrison’s words spoken during his sermon last Sunday about mental illness. As I explained herein my words are derived from personal experience. Many of you may be already aware of this fact, but for those of you who are unaware I have almost recovered from a mental health breakdown in March 2021, a breakdown which culminated from both the post traumatic shock I suffered of seeing my deceased mother on the floor of her apartment approximately 14 hours after she had passed away, as well as almost 43 years of undiagnosed mental illnesses. My mental illnesses had been undiagnosed for such a lengthy period of time because of my shame to admit to my thoughts, and it is the issue of shame which motivates my reaction to Mr. Morrison’s words.

If you are also unaware of what Mr. Morrison said during his sermon (his words decrying government and the United Nations have been more than adequately addressed by the Prime Minister Mr. Albanese) about mental illness, it is reported in the Murdoch media (don’t get too excited, Uncle Rupert, I am still unhappy with you and Lachlan) that:

“While he noted there were “biological issues” or “brain chemistry” that resulted in clinical disorders, he sought to link the everyday anxieties to a spiritual deficit. Mr. Morrison declared that if people gave into their worries, they were giving into “Satan’s plan”.

The symptoms of mental illness, including worry and anxiety are not part of “Satan’s plan”. Mr. Morrison’s words are reckless, and they are also indicative of the anachronistic mindset of a medieval cleric manipulating the benighted minds of the parishioners during the Dark Ages. To link such symptoms to “Satan” or evil, only increases the risk of propagating thoughts of shame amongst the two million or so people suffering from a mental illness in this country.

It is shame which causes many people suffering from mental illness coming forward to seek help. Without displaying too much impiety at this juncture, for Mr. Morrison to link the symptoms of mental illness to “Satan’s plan” is just a product of dissolute pious mumbo jumbo of the greatest degree, and it has no place in psychiatric medicine or psychology. I know, because I have been now undergoing psychiatric treatment and psychological counselling for 16 months, and Lucifer plays no part in either field of treatment.

So I strongly reject Mr. Morrison’s misconceived words about mental illness, but if you think I may have be prone to displaying emotive language in this post, you should have been at my house on Monday when I initially read the above-mentioned article.

I would also like to share with you now the importance of candour and advocacy in normalising mental illness in our society. I have openly shared my mental health journey on Facebook and Twitter since about April 2021. The genesis of my online advocacy about the journey of my mental health treatment and recovery, and the need to normalise the condition in society, arises from the shame I had about my various mental illness thoughts which consumed my mind since 1979.

Whilst I was hospitalised during my first admission to hospital in March 2021, I heard many of my fellow inpatients express the feelings of shame they held about their mental illnesses, and how they were too ashamed to allow the illness to be known in their individual communities.

It became apparent to me, being the outspoken person that I am, society needed to have an open discussion about mental illness, so that more people would come forward to admit to their suffering, and to seek treatment. I have received a number of social media messages from various people since April last year in which they thank me for my advocacy, but this week I received a message from one of my 23, 700 followers on Twitter which best encapsulates the need for an open discussion about mental health in this country. The message I received from this person (for their privacy they shall remain anonymous) read as follows:

“Hi Michael – we have never met but wanted to thank you for your up front and honest tweets in relation your mental health condition. I suffer from anxiety which has re-emerged after 20 years of control. Bit of a dark place now but reading your words provides confidence and reassurance that there is a future and a path forward. Thanks again.”

I do not derive any narcissistic pleasure from this message, but it does give me comfort that by being candid and discussing online my journey back to a healthy state of mind I have given this person hope they will do the same.

Stay well, my friends.


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