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Learning from Italy in the Australian Post-Election Era: Beyond Old Movie Stereotypes?

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.

Of the four Mk28 type hydrogen bombs the B-52G carried, three were found on land near the small fishing village of Palomares in the municipality of Cuevas del Almanzora, Almería, Spain.

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.

 

Collapsed Morandi Bridge in Genoa

 

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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13 comments

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  1. andy56

    going by what my relatives in Italy say, Its a basket case. Sure we can learn what not to do, but hey its only taken us 9 yrs to see through our own folly. The people who do need to learn however have closed their ears anyway. The land of endless opportunity is slowly sinking in the quagmire that is 4th world thinking. thailand here is a so called 3rd world country, but it shits all over oz in many ways.

  2. Ivy

    Hope you’re safe from the Calabrian mafia on your Italian trip .
    There was an interesting ABC Foreign Correspondent tv program on the mafia a few weeks ago – worth viewing .

  3. Leila

    Italy-land of Holy Places or decaying infrastructure like the Morandi Bridge?

  4. Tessa_M

    The burden of regional underdevelopment is a common problem in both Australia and Italy. In both countries it has generated far-right populism.

  5. James Robo

    Australian travel needs to be more affordable. Organized tours to exotic Australian destinations like Broome and the Kimberley Region cost more than an overseas trip.

  6. Grace

    Denis, thanks for a great article about Italy and Australia.

  7. Indigo

    Looking forward to that special article from Italy during your trip Denis

  8. wam

    After 9 years of ‘spur of the moment’ governance, we could learn from anyone even a country that has had 79 changes of gov to our10 could show us the art of compromise.

  9. Albos Elbow

    Italian immigrants introduced Australia to olive oil, pasta, spaghetti bolognese, pizza, cappuccinos, tomato salads, wine and Eurovision.

  10. Harry Lime

    Albos Elbow,my grandfather came from the the Island of Salina in the Lipari Islands in 1889 ,after the phylloxera disease wiped out the Malvasia grapes that they had grown fat on, especially due to the popularity in England.(who knew?).I grew up on most of the things you mention(not pizza), without knowing the significance of them until reaching the age of reason(two weeks ago).He also established one of the first Soda Fountains/Milk Bars in Victoria, to service the thousands of American servicemen who were stationed in regional Victoria.My father also served in the Australian Army,along with some of his Italian descended cousins,including one who was a guard during the Cowra Breakout.Small world,isn’t it?

  11. Denis Bright in Brisbane

    Thanks to Albos Elbow and Harry Lime for their colourful comments.

    I happened to be Salina Isalnd a couple of months after the Italian general elections on 9-10 April. 2006.

    This was a great result for the Left with a 14.3 percent swing that achived a working majority for Romano Prodi on behalf of the Olive Tree Coalition. Silvio Berlusconi was defeated and at the time appeared to be gone forever from Italian politics. He still lurks in the shadows with his commitment to Stop the Boats and probably more US nuclear weapons and nuclear submarines to protect Italy. Perhaps Peter Dutton gives advice from Downunder.

    On Saturday 15 July 2006 I arrived in Salina with my wife Sally Bright. We staed at Casa del Melograno which was a shared house in the Hostelworld Network on the hill above the Port of Rinella. It is diifficult to find. The Port of Rinella is easily reached from Milazzo on the mainland of Sicily. Milazzo is a charming place in itself. It is more exotic than established tourist towns like Cefalu.

    Casa del Melgrano house was a good style of accommodation. It was an old family house which was used for holiday rentals by Hostelworld. It offered a chance to meet locals on holiday.

    But there were more encounters on Salina!

    Monday 17 July 2006 was the feast day to honour Santa Marina, patron saint of Santa Marina Salina.

    We joined in the procession through Rinella and afterwards spoke to the late Senator Nino Randazzo (1932-2019) who proudly wore the Italian sash as a member of the Prodi Government.

    The Left had done well all across Southern Italy at the 2006 general elections which was a big surprise.

    Nino was elected by Australian Italians with the support of the broad Labor Movement here. Some informal campaign work was undertaken by the Labor Party in Brisbane to support Nino.

    Nino helped to ensure supply for the Prodi Government which was one of the best in Italy’s post-war history. Overseas Italians are represneted in the Italian parliament and Nino’s support was crucial.

    Maybe Albos Elbow was in Salina for the Festival Procession and fireworks on Monday 17 July 2006.

    Unfortunately, I cannot go south of Rome on my forthcoming trip: Maybe next year!

    I always operate as a citizens’ journalist wherever I go. I called to a Democratic Party (PD) event in Taranto in 2019 and I have made contact with the Maltese Labour Party in Valetta on another occasion.

    Everyone needs the involvement from grassroots readers like Harry Lime and that mysterious Albos Elbow to spread an alternative news scenario. I do not buy Murdoch papers as they are propaganda outlets which talk up militarism when most of our AEAN neighbours excluding Singapore seek non-alignment. Troops from Singapore of course train in Taiwan. How would we feel if Chinese troops trained in Tasmania or NZ.

    I think of Albos Elbow when I am travelling on Brisbane trains. There is a repetitative announcement: Use your Elbows or is it Albos to open the carriage doors as a prevention against COVID. Noone takes a scrap of notice!

    I recommend the use of Politico Poll of the Polls for opinion polling across Europe and Britain now excluded through BREXIT. https://www.politico.eu/europe-poll-of-polls/italy/

    This is one of the vital resources for the critical analysis of European politics. Regrettably the results are a bit depressing as the current Italian government of Mario Draghi must rely on the support of the Five Star Movement.
    ,
    The 1976 Italian elections were the high tide mark for the Italian left. The Communist Party of Italy (PCI) won 227/630 seats in the Chamber of Deputies but was kept out of the Marlino Socialist Government by domestic political intrigue, security warnings from the USA about allocating ministries to Communists and a serious of mysterious terrorist attacks and kidnappings which that were used to tarnish the Italian Left. More research is needed on the demise of the Italian Left after 1976 with the rise of Thatcher and Reagan in the 1980s. I understand that bombers used to strike Tripoli in Libya (1986) came from US Bases in Italy.

    Here in Australia, there was great pressure from the Reagan Administration through Secretary of State George Schultz for Austrlaia to refrain from supporting the NZ Lange Government’s bans on nuclear weapons and nuclear fueled vessels, mainly submarines. Try to get more information on that issue and see what happens: A Blank Wall. Even the Narional Archives are still censored.

    Yes, Italy and Australia have a lot in common politically as my article suggests. Time for Middle Powers to become more independently minded: the macro-theme of my current article.

  12. Albos Elbow

    Thanks Denis.
    I have travelled several times to Italy and love it. I had worked in London for several years and used to go for weekends and holidays to Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, France, Austria, Germany or Holland.
    Just a short flight on a Friday evening with my then girlfriend, who is now my missus.

    Due to COVID, the Elbow took over from the traditional handshade and has come to strangely symbolise a way of greeting.
    Its a severely underrated part of the body so its good to see they are finding more and more uses for it.

  13. Indigo

    Thanks for the awesome article Denis!!!

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