Seeking the Post COVID Sunshine: More Proactive Resistance and Politics Ahead?
By Denis Bright
As most state borders reopen, Australians will welcome a summer with renewed local travel, home gatherings and household renewal projects. In these times, household are usually awash with spare spending money. More chance to live proactively with less, I expect and to warn our national leaders against going too far in their criticisms of our most profitable trading and investment partner.
Earlier generations successfully made the transitions from difficult times in the inter-war period as observed by History Professor Frank Bongiorno of the Crawford School of Public Policy.
Australia’s recovery from the twin crises of war and pandemic during the 1920s was however tarnished by a fearsome glorification of Britain’s imperialist traditions.
Like Trump’s America today, Britain was not really great again after the financial devastation of the Great War (1914-18).
Australia’s Reserve Bank Museum recalls the imperialistic nostalgia of those times even though it was the Commonwealth Bank that performed some of the roles of RBA during the 1920s.
At the end of the First World War, the Renown was refitted as a royal yacht. It transported Edward, the Prince of Wales, to Australia on his highly successful Royal Tour in 1920; a tour to thank the people of Australia officially for the sacrifices made during the Great War. The First World War official war artist, Arthur Streeton, captured the arrival of the Renown and its Prince in his painting, HMS Renown, Sydney Harbour. The Prince of Wales’ arrival caused great excitement, which is conveyed within the painting. On the foreshore of the Harbour, spectators wave from vantage points as the ship is welcomed by a flotilla of boats.
The visit also marked the Royal Australian Navy’s first fleet review, which was held in Port Phillip Bay on the 26th May 1920, with the fleet inspected by the Prince of Wales. The Australian Fleet at that time consisted of 28 vessels.
The Renown also became a floating zoo during the Prince’s visit, taking back to Britain various “ship’s mascots” for zoological parks, including a cockatoo, two rare lizards, emu chicks, a Dominican tortoise, opossums, parrots and a wallaby.
In the years between the First and Second World Wars, the Renown was commissioned on several occasions for tours by the British Royal Family, including a tour of India and Japan by the Prince of Wales in 1921-1922 and in 1927 for the Duke (later King George VI) and Duchess of York’s tour of Australia. Like the tour by the Prince of Wales in 1920, the tour by the Duke of York was also, in part, to thank the Australian people for sending so many of their young men to fight in Europe.
Today’s neoconservatives still cling to old shadows of the greatness of US democratic leadership behind tariff barriers which have been left by the Trump administration and a style of despotic imperial leadership which has crept into the White House since the Cold War era.
US author Gore Vidal (1925-2012) and others anticipated this current instability in US politics and popular culture (In Defence of Marxism by Alan Woods 17 November 2005).
Joe Biden will find it difficult to reverse the effects of the trading and investment war between the US and China.
Expect a state visit from President Biden in the lead up to an Australian Khaki federal election as the federal LNP begs for a higher strategic profile for the US in our Indo-Pacific Region.
A century ago, Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David, the Prince of Wales, embarked on an extended journey around Australia to talk up a British presence in our region after a world wind tour of the USA and the West Indies.
Australians responded with a commitment to proactive lifestyles as a vibrant outpost of the British Empire.
The art of Sir Arthur Streeton in the 1920s showed how creative endeavours could straddle the two worlds of Australiana as part of a wider British presence in global affairs.
Getting on with Life
Sir Arthur Stretton’s Land of the Golden Fleece (1926) was a welcome attempt to return to the sunny landscapes of his youthful impressionism. Stretton’s art work in the 1920s displayed tensions which are still present in contemporary society and are easily stoked up by neoconservative leaders.
Stretton had served as a wartime official artist in Britain and on the Western Front. Lost again in the colours of rural Australia, the Grampians offered a good space to forget some of the horrors of militarism (Image from the Art Gallery of NSW):
The National Gallery of Australia offers a real context to The Golden Fleece:
In Land of the Golden Fleece Arthur Streeton presents a view towards Mount William from the southern end of the Grampians mountain range in Victoria. Looking down and across a property at Willaura (owned by Streeton’s friend Walter Cain),
Streeton depicts a flock of sheep grazing, a dam and a windmill. Shadows move across the land and Streeton has used colour to give the image a sense of space, painting the distant Grampians with blues and greys to make them recede, and using warm yellows in the foreground to make the golden fields appear closer to the viewer.
Land of the Golden Fleece displays an open and opulent pastoral Australia: full of potential, grand in scale and scenic in beauty. In this work Streeton presented a country rich in ‘blue and gold’, earth and water, sky and land. Australia was a land of youth and possibility. Following the death of many thousands of Australians during the First World War, and the devastation of the landscapes of France and Belgium, artists such as Streeton looked to the land as a symbol of national pride and prosperity – a reaffirmation of place and identity.
Popular media and our own travels can assist in restoring the spirit of dreaming. The mindset of Prime Minister Morrison is not on artistic creativity (Image from Marvel Studios and news text from The Conversation):
On July 17, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced an additional A$400 million to attract film and television productions to Australia until 2027.
In a press release, Morrison argued Australia is an attractive destination due to our relative success in managing COVID-19. The idea is that this financial expansion of the “location incentive” program will attract international filmmakers in production limbo to come to Australia.
What does the Australian film industry get out of this incentive? There is no doubt more film production here will ensure the employment of production staff, technical crews and support actors, many of whom have been badly economically affected by the stoppage in film making. As Morrison notes:
Behind these projects are thousands of workers that build and light the stages, that feed, house and cater for the huge cast and crew and that bring the productions to life. This is backing thousands of Australians who make their living working in front of the camera and behind the scenes in the creative economy.
Our mission is to share knowledge and inform decisions.
The existing location offset provides a tax rebate of 16.5% of production expenses spent in Australia, while the location incentive – which this $400 million will go towards – provides grants of up to 13.5% of qualifying expenses.
This new input is predicted by the government to attract around $3 billion in foreign expenditure to Australia and up to 8,000 new jobs annually.
This is not a fund to make Australian films, but an incentive for foreign filmmakers to make films in Australia.
Such antics invite comparisons with an earlier generation of quality Australian films in which Australian locations became part of the storyline.
In Picnic at Hanging Rock, the streets of Woodend north of Melbourne rattled to the sounds of shrill laughter as students from Appleyard College headed off to their St. Valentine’s Day picnic at Hanging Rock in 1900. The Australian Film and Sound Archive captures the simulated events.
Revisiting the scene requires an hour’s train ride from Melbourne and a short bike ride through the old town to the volcanic rock anomaly.
Just watching Picnic at Hanging Rock on YouTube is a good substitute for the full reality of the visit as noted in David Buckingham’s Film Review:
“What we see and what we seem are but a dream – a dream within a dream.’ So begins Picnic at Hanging Rock, with this quotation from a poem by Edgar Allan Poe – a quotation that aptly summarises its hypnotic, dream-like atmosphere, and its refusal of rational explanations.
Directed in 1975 by Peter Weir, and based on a historical novel by Joan Lindsay, first published in 1967, it is widely regarded as one of the defining films of the state-funded revival of the Australian film industry. Even in these unequal times, it still possible to live simply and proactively as the income divide widens in Australian society. Support from progressive governments can be a great support.”
In Queensland, a succession of Labor governments offered a middle of the road agenda for the entire period from 1915-57 with just one term with a state LNP administration under the leadership of Premier Arthur Moore (1929-32).
Progressive commentators have often criticized the neoconservative style of Queensland Labor during this extended period. However, it was reformist enough to defat the political jingoism of Prime Minister Billy Hughes and to achieve the elimination of the Queensland Legislative Council in 1922.
Perhaps a similar style of political pragmatism can eroded indifference to the growing income divide in Australian society with the federal LNP’s largesse towards its own support base through unfair tax reforms and a wink at the excesses of unit and family trusts for systematic but legalized tax avoidance which is eroding the capacity of Medicare and essential grants to the states and territories.
With the federal LNP performing reasonably well in recent public opinion polling, the prospect of a khaki election to maintain a higher strategic profile for our side in the US global alliance is a threatening prospect.
During the 1930s, progressive Australia mobilized a progressive networks of creative activists. Let me know just where the network of responsible resistance exists today.
Despite the four per cent swing to Labor at the Groom byelection, the likely 2021 election year approaches with strong support for the status quo:
Courtesy of The Australian, Newspoll has the Coalition leading 51-49 on two-party preferred, unchanged on three weeks ago, from primary votes of Coalition 43% (steady), Labor 36% (up one), Greens 11% (steady) and One Nation 2% (down one, and their weakest result since at least the 2019 election). Scott Morrison is up two on approval to 66% and down two on disapproval to 30%, while Anthony Albanese is up one to 44% and up two to 41%, with Morrison’s lead as preferred prime minister out from 58-29 to 60-28.
As the trade and investment dispute with China worsens, prepare for a rough time ahead for the Australian economy in the mid-2020s.
Our federal LNP is locked into an ideological market agenda which challenges the best efforts of progressive states and territories to forge more balanced public policy agendas on behalf of constituents on both sides of the wealth divides across Australia.
Despite these challenges, Queensland has delivered a record level of budget expenditure from a reduced revenue base through responsibly borrowing in the old traditions of pre-1957 pragmatic politics with the added political risks of extended deficit spending which will run at $8.633 billion in 2020-21:
General Government Sector expenses of $64.881 billion in 2020-21 represent an increase of $1.383 billion (or 2.2%) over the 2019-20 outcomes. Key initiatives contributing to the growth in expenditure in 2020-21 (Queensland Budget Highlights):
- Queensland Health COVID-19 Response Plan with additional funding to expand community screening, contact tracing, quarantine accommodation, compliance activities associated with COVID-19 Public Health Directions, elective surgery and appointments to reduce backlog, building critical supply reserves of medicine, medical equipment and personal protective equipment, and boosting mental health community treatment and support services.
- Business adaption grants to sustain small business operations and help build resilience in the post-COVID-19 economic recovery.
- Further economic stimulus announced in election commitments to support jobs and economic growth, and to strengthen frontline services. Election commitments include targeted assistance to the Queensland tourism industry, further small business grants, support for local community sporting infrastructure, a Queensland manufacturing package, and strengthening fire services.
- In 2020-21 expenses growth has been tempered by savings of $750 million
As Queensland’s local taxation revenue declines in 2020-21, 51.7 per cent of all Queensland’s revenue is now derived from the Commonwealth in grants and GST allocations which have not grown to support the current public health and financial crises.
Just imagine the challenges to proactive lifestyles in Queensland if our government was in the lands of the state LNP under Opposition Leader David Crisafulli or his Deputy David Janetski with that reflexive support from former Premier Campbell Newman as the budget speech was under way.
In the traditions of pre-1957 politics, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is offering government for all sections of society at a time of a growing income divide and words of caution against the current investment and trade disputes with China at the next National Cabinet Meeting.
Perhaps it’s time for federal National Party members to speak up before income levels in rural Australia and its regional mining sectors are further eroded.
Denis Bright is a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis is committed to citizen’s journalism from a critical structuralist perspective. Comments from insiders with a specialist knowledge of the topics covered are particularly welcome.
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Keep up your interest in art, Denis. Australia had a rich ttadition even during colonial times. It’s about time we acted more independently on the world stage in these dangerous times. Federal liberals have a bizarre nostalgia for a colonial status. The challenging waves provide the best thrills. Our Scott Morrison lives away from the coast behind Cronulla so he probably does not hang out with the Puberty Blues Crowds.
Thought the USA had done with royalty but the politics of elites is back with a vengeance.
Beautiful illustrations appropriate to the topic
Denis, thanks for a great article. The positive headline is fitting and the idea of growing the film industry now is great.
Picnic at Hanging Rock was a real exercise in time travel. Why are taxpayers funds being used to support vulgar Hollywood networks which make our society so stressful when a creative local spirit is available
Streeton is such a wonderful artist. I love his work
Cheers to the artists who always help Australians to understand themselves.
A day out on a $2.50 Opal Fare in Sydney is one of my favourite pastimes.
The Philippines has also produced some outstanding impressionist art which help to crystalline the hopes of our people for a better life. Aussies could check out Joemarie Sanclaria: https://www.pinterest.com.au/pin/630926229018474294/
Interesting times…impressionistic art and popular culture are so important for our advance from colonialism.
Impressionist art and popular culture are so important for our advance from colonialism.
A contrast to the oversupply of women’s magazines that used to mainly promote Royalty.
Hello Denis, PM Scamo could take some hints from Dan the man Andrews on how to deal with the CCP. The Belt and Road Imitative is working for Victoria and will create much construction, hopefully construction that won’t collapse too soon but that’s another story.
Art is a reminder of what an inspired wo/man can achieve given the time to pursue such activities. Last time I toured the Streeton collection it left a vivid impression of how beautiful is the nature of Australia. My favourite artist is however Picasso. A nose here, some eyes there, where I wasn’t expecting them to be, etc. It didn’t make much sense until one day I woke up from a dream – laughing.
The New England Regional Art Museum (NERAM) in Armidale NSW has the extensive about 1100 item Hinton Art Collection containing which is the definitive Australian Collection from the period 1880 to 1948. Not open Mondays.
A story of continuity in Australian life. Thanks Denis for your thoughts and concerns about the state of Australian political life.