By Denis Bright
Despite the rising costs of post-COVID-19 air fares, Southern Europe continues to be a popular destination for Australians for both holidays and family visits. Overseas travels invite comparisons between Australia and those far distant destinations. Italy offers its own scenic splendours which are embedded in that sense of history. Australian regional tourism agencies could offer similar charms after 60,000 years of Indigenous history.
Tourism authorities here could benefit from the successes of regional tourism across Italy which has opened up sustainable tourism in less developed Italian regions like Apulia and Calabria. Millions of Italians made the trip from less developed parts of Southern Italy to northern industrial towns and to overseas destinations. Our prime minister’s father, Carlo Albanese, moved north from Barletta in Apulia like thousands of other Italians. He met Anthony Albanese’s mother Maryanne in his capacity as a steward on the Fairsky in 1962.
Travelling to Italy has been a great learning experience. My first trip to Italy was on a budget tour of Europe. The Austrian tour guide always communicated some negative perceptions of Italy. It was deemed to be a chaotic place which offered sweets as small change because of a shortage of lire.
With its left radicalism tamed during the 1980s, Italy in 2022 is more firmly committed to market ideology within the US Global Alliance through NATO. It shares this lot with Australia and most of the other economically developed countries globally.
Both Australia and Italy are now middle powers in both economic development and strategic prowess. Italy just makes it into the G7 Group with an economy that might attain a three trillion dollar status by the mid-2020s. Both Australia and its neighbour Indonesia are catching up fast. Indonesia will have a two trillion dollar economy in the 2020s. This has already been achieved in Australia without the optimum commitment to sustainability under a decade of LNP rule.
Politics in Italy and Australia as well as across the global representative democracies is increasingly fractured by the rise of minor populist parties. Polling from Politico shows up the current mix in Italy to 26 May 2022.
As in Italy, Australian leaders of all persuasions seem to want a higher strategic role in world affairs within the US Global Alliance. Italian politicians also aspired to strategic greatness after unification in 1861. A more neutralist policy might have received more consideration in retrospect as played out in Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland or Spain until the post-1945 era. Military History records the dangers to Spain during the Franco era in support of Doomsday Flights from the US to test radar awareness of military flights near Warsaw Pact countries:
“The 1966 Palomares B-52 crash or Palomares incident occurred on 17 January 1966, when a B-52G bomber of the USAF Strategic Air Command collided with a KC-135 tanker during mid-air refuelling at 31,000 feet (9,450 m) over the Mediterranean Sea, off the coast of Spain. The KC-135 was completely destroyed when its fuel load ignited, killing all four crew members. The B-52G broke apart, killing three of the seven crew members aboard.
The non-nuclear explosives in two of the weapons detonated upon impact with the ground, resulting in the contamination of a 2-square-kilometer (490-acre) (0.78 square mile) area by plutonium. The fourth, which fell into the Mediterranean Sea, was recovered intact after a 2½-month-long search.”
The long saga of Italy’s involvement with great and powerful friends has continued throughout the post-1945 period. Its domestic stresses have been difficult to manage.
Almost 70 different Italian governments since 1945 have demonstrated a capacity for ongoing Machiavellian intrigue in domestic politics through shaky coalitions. Uniting the past seventy years is an ongoing commitment to the US Global Alliance through NATO. Nuclear armed submarines are frequent visitors to Italian naval ports. If this is not enough security for NATO, land based nuclear weapons are installed at US Air Bases at Ghedi near Venice and Aviano near Brescia, both in Northern Italy. In accordance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty these naval and air bases need to remain in US hands.
Italy and Australia can take up more rewarding diplomatic paths in their immediate regions. I have always talked up these associations with near-Asian and Pacific neighbours in my articles for The AIM Network. Contrary to the strategic saga promoted by The Australian with support from far-right LNP leaders like Senator Jim Molan (NSW), most of our Asian and Pacific neighbours in the ASEAN Group and its two associates in PNG and Timor-Leste have a commitment to non-alignment and peace as an extension to commitment to the UN Charter. Such commitments were also embedded in the text of the ANZUS Alliance as signed in 1951-52 with bipartisan support.
The far-right sections of Italian politics use North African migration for domestic political gain instead of attending to the structural problems of underdevelopment adjacent to Italy. Peter Dutton’s stop the boats rhetoric has echoes across Southern Europe and Republican calls in the USA to stop the caravans.
Locally, Anthony Albanese has sought deeper relationships with Indonesia without questioning the largely non-aligned status of Indonesia which was an embedded LNP foreign policy strategy. I covered this issue in several articles for AIM Network. Despite the vast intel resources available to the LNP over a continuous decade in government, the LNP bequeathed real blind-spots to Labor in its relationships with ASEAN Countries and the Pacific islands on 21 May 2022. My article on Talking Up Australia’s Middle Power Diplomacy (1 October 2015) raised the false security of over-commitment to the US Global Alliance as a talking point for discussion:
“The greatest local regional challenge for Australia is steering Indonesia away from its long-term non-aligned status towards a greater association with allied countries in domestic counter-terrorism and towards a more critical stance on the rise of China as a military power in the South China Sea.
The military profile of the US in Indonesia has risen under President Obama. While Indonesia maintains its military ties with major international arms suppliers, the US Defense News applauds the increasing focus on US suppliers as well as military training programmes from Australia and the US.
During a sensitive phase in Australian Indonesian relations over the fate of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, called for closer military co-operation between the armed forces of Australia and Indonesia.
Such poorly-timed strategic advice accompanied by lobbying for the purchase of Reaper drones by Australia would not have been welcome in earlier stages of the ANZUS Treaty of 1951 with its insistence on constitutional processes to protect Australian sovereignty.”
Like Italian relations with adjacent North African countries, Australia can diversify its sources of petroleum imports by taking more Sumatran crude oil from Indonesian oil refineries without interfering in the domestic affairs of neighbouring countries.
In the case of Italy, many immigrants arrived here in quite challenging times at home. What indeed promoted this exodus to Australia?
Challenges Facing Contemporary Italy
Political Instability and Opportunism Gone Wild
Politically, Australia wins hands down for political stability. Recent antics of far-right minor parties are changing that situation fast with a multitude of insignificant political movements that harvest preferences to support the LNP or One Nation.
Leadership of the Italian government has changed three times since the 2018 election. As Italy’s second largest political group, the Five Star Movement has courted both the centre-right and the reformist ruling Democratic Party (PD). The Five Star Movement has supported Mario Draghi as Prime Minister for the last two years after breaking with the far-right constellation of political parties.
Uncertain Italian Living Standards
Italy’s historical burdens have been reinforced by economic stagnation since the GFC despite the support offered by the European community (EU). Britain’s withdrawal from the EU has not helped this situation. Italy’s unemployment rate is officially twice the Australian level at 8.4 per cent.
While the Australian resources sector and government deficit levels massage Australia’s recent rates of GDP growth, both Italy and Australia languish with low rates of capital investment as measured by the latest World Bank data which is current to 2020.
Political and corporate insiders would have data on private capital expenditure with projections in the 2020s.
Australian conservatives would of course be appalled by Italy’s high levels of government expenditure as a percentage of GDP. Italian government spending levels in Italy as a percentage of GDP are twice the levels recommended by the LNP but somewhat lower than the levels across the EU countries.
Dependent Relationships with Powerful Friends Abroad
Italy uses its nuclear weapons commitment at US bases to keep defence spending at 1.5 per cent of GDP. US nuclear weapons are located at US air bases at Aviano near Venice and Ghedi near Brescia in Northern Italy.
Strategic relations with Italy are prized by global superpowers regardless of the consequences for Italians. Italy had remained neutral during the Great War until 1915 when Britain negotiated the Treaty of London to bind Italy to the Triple Entente with France and Russia by the far-right government of Antonio Salandra.
“Treaty of London, (April 26, 1915) secret treaty between neutral Italy and the Allied forces of France, Britain, and Russia to bring Italy into World War I. The Allies wanted Italy’s participation because of its border with Austria. Italy was promised Trieste, southern Tyrol, northern Dalmatia, and other territories in return for a pledge to enter the war within a month. Despite the opposition of most Italians, who favoured neutrality, Italy joined the war against Austria-Hungary in May.”
The old strategic sagas continue in relationships with NATO from Italy and far-off Australia. Both countries are committed to increased defence spending and to encourage neighbouring countries to do likewise.
The Scourge of Corruption
Corruption is unfortunately a way of life globally in this neoliberal world as measured by the Transparency Index. Australia has moved in a negative direction on the 2021 Transparency Index but comes up better than Italy. In Italy, a donation of appreciation will always assist in the processing of estates, pension applications or employment at a mafia controlled hotel or restaurant according to a local left-leaning Calabrian Australian coffee shop owner. However, the Italian left is a shadow of its former glory with a 2 per cent standing on the latest Politico polling.
Italian prosecutors have launched an investigation into Tuesday’s collapse of the Morandi Bridge in Genoa, a disaster which has so far claimed the lives of 38 people, with another 10 to 20 still missing as reported in the National Post (17 August 2018). However, this project was completed in 1967 before mafia networks had consolidated their outreach in Northern Italy.
The Australian Federal Police has made a successful recent swoop on Calabrian mafia cells here with their notorious specialization in cocaine and other party drugs. This mafia’s criminal expertise has only been surpassed by the role of the Nugan Hand Bank in supplying relief to war weary GIs on R&R visits to Australia during the Vietnam war era. Criminology researchers might be prepared to unravel what went on behind the scenes in Australia when LNP federal governments concealed the extent of organized crime in Australia.
From such gloomy speculations, visitors to Italy will always want to talk up the brighter side of tourist Italy.
The Assets of Cultural Vitality in Both Italy and Australia
Italy has its own traditions of regional cuisines. Affordable accommodation is available throughout Italy through Airbnb and other home stay equivalents. Some Australians might choose to rent out their own homes to assist in defraying travel costs. A house in inner-Sydney is a good exchange for a stay in Sicily or Calabria.
The COVID-19 epidemic has kept me away from Europe since 2019. Hopefully, my trip will introduce new topics for readers as Australians prepare for that promised progressive budget in October 2022.
Denis Bright is a financial member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis is committed to consensus-building in these difficult times. Your feedback by using the Reply button on The AIMN site is always most appreciated. It can liven up discussion. I appreciate your little intrusions with comments and from other insiders at The AIMN. Full names are not required when making comments. However, a valid email must be submitted if you decide to hit the Reply button.
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