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Tag Archives: Auspol

Australia’s Orban Sycophants

Australians welcoming the defeat of our nascent religious right in the May election need to pay attention to the echoes of the American right-wing strategies looming ahead of their 2024 election, and the faction in Australia that shares those goals.

The religious right has looked to Putin for leadership for years now. More quietly, the ideas and strategies of Hungary’s Viktor Orban have pervaded the sphere.

In America, Fox News’s Tucker Carlson has been an outlier speculated as a post-Trump Republican candidate. Florida’s Ron DeSantis looks much more likely to win the nomination at this stage. Both men have worked to promote Hungary’s Viktor Orban’s ideas in America.

Rod Dreher, ultra-conservative American intellectual, persuaded Carlson to broadcast for a week from Budapest in 2021, celebrating Orban’s achievements and his proudly illiberal democracy to the Fox base. This year Carlson released a documentary promoting Orban’s strategies as the ideal Republican model. These apparently led into the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), America’s key radical “conservative” event, being hosted in Budapest in May 2022, where Orban told the crowd that the right must have its own media and that it should broadcast the Murdochs’ favoured performer, Carlson, to the nation 24/7.

Orban continued that his latest election had “completely healed” Hungary of its “progressive dominance” and that the authoritarian right factions of the world should unite and coordinate to “take back” all the key institutions of the West.

It has just been announced that Orban is to return to speak to the CPAC audience again in Dallas in August.

DeSantis does not so much promote Orban as create what has been described as “American Orbanism.” His people admit, behind the scenes to following and echoing Orban’s strategies. Florida’s “Don’t say gay” bill which depicted any mention of anything to do with LGBTQI identity in schools as “grooming” echoed Orban’s 2021 bill focused on the same issue. DeSantis’s press secretary told Dreher that, “Oh yeah, we were watching the Hungarians, so yay Hungary.”

Orban targets minorities as a supposed threat to Hungarians and then devises laws that push Hungary further into authoritarianism to address the non-existent threat. LGBTQI people are the latest target after bigoted attacks on refugees, Romani, and non-Christians. Florida punishing Disney for its tepid pushback against anti-LGBTQI legislation echoes Orban’s strategies for punishing opponents. The primary institutional enemies are educational, media and social media. Control of the message is central.

The key appeal of Orban’s ideology, as well as Putin’s, is that they posit a white Christian – Western – Civilisation as the world’s great treasure and one that is under attack. Progressive “elites” or globalists – usually embodied in Jewish figures like the loathed George Soros – are depicted as executing a “Great Replacement” of the white embodiments of the west with black and brown non-Christians. The key appeal of his strategy is that he rejects liberalism in the existential battle to preserve the mythologised heritage.

This alliance of culture warriors is apparent in the Australian right. Morrison’s defeated government contained both the traditionalist defenders of a beleaguered Western Civilisation that Tony Abbott drew to prominence, alongside the American-style Evangelicals who are more theocratic in goal, aiming to impose national purity through government action.

Tony Abbott’s international advisor from 2010 to 2014 was Mark Higgie. His years as Australian ambassador to Hungary from 1998-2001 (before becoming our “senior spy” in London) seem to have made Orban’s career a focus for the ideologue. He echoes the same “Hungarians are free” line as Rod Dreher, but the latter when asked about the dark underbelly of living in an illiberal democracy tends to reply, I dont know much, to be honest. Like Dreher, in 2019 Higgie moved to Budapest. He writes for The Australian Spectator.

The main intellectual conduit of Orban’s ideas to the West is the Danube Institute. Brian Loughnane, Peta Credlin’s husband and former Liberal Party federal director is on its international advisory board. Tony Abbott appeared with Higgie there before the pandemic conversing about immigrants “swarming” over the borders. Alexander Downer spoke in Budapest about immigrant Bantustans. Kevin Andrews spoke about reversing declining birth rates in the west at the Budapest Demographic Summit, a “biennial gathering of ultra-conservative and highly influential decision-makers, politicians and individuals actively working to curb the rights of sexual minorities and women.”

John O’Sullivan is the president of the Orban-funded Danube Institute. He has edited Quadrant and serves as its international editor with Keith Windshuttle. O’Sullivan too has written about how the left exaggerates the discomforts of living in an illiberal democracy.

One early event that aimed to foster Danube Institute immigration phobia for a broader Australian audience was a Conversazione in Melbourne in 2016. In fact, it fostered Great Replacement fears in a local audience of the rich and powerful albeit without using the term. Orchestrated by a Quadrant writing LaTrobe academic, with O’Sullivan as a speaker and featuring a Windshuttle essay on Quadrant in the program, it highlighted the connection between that publication and the Orban-booster spirit.

Loughnane also spoke at the event, although Credlin was not present. One of the nations leading News Corp journalists appeared, presenting a speech that expressed lurid objection to Muslim immigration. (That journalist has been a guest of the Orban-funded Mathias Corvinus Collegium in Hungary, which hosted another migration talkfest in 2019.)

Fresh from the January Islamic Radicalism and the Westconference held at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Brits Daniel Pryce-Jones and Daniel Johnson also spoke at the Melbourne Club that day alongside Geza Jeszensky, former Hungarian foreign minister and noted eugenicist.

Tucker Carlson is now watched by Murdoch’s Australian print editors as a guide to the beliefs of Rupert and Lachlan. Carlson’s show is pervaded with incitement to violence over the existential attacks on white Christian civilisation by the elites and their immigrant hordes; over the threat to (white) American children posed by progressive groomers particularly their teachers; over the existential threat posed by any liberal who embraces diversity and acceptance.

Dutton and News Corp’s new focus of a war on teachers in Australia has been picked up by the IPA in its “Class Action” program to stop teachers “dominating our children’s schools” with “woke ideology.” There they aim to gather “concerned parents and teachers” in a reproduction of American Christopher Rufo’s cynical moral panic about Critical Race Theory. In America, teachers are leaving the profession, exhausted partly by poor funding and the pandemic, but also by being barraged with conspiracy-fuelled hate by parents and outside groups attending school board meetings in threatening mode.

We saw Morrison fighting hard for his religious discrimination bill while neglecting crucial work, aiming to provide a tool of backlash for marriage equality. The trans sports issue was deployed in the election as an echo of the bitter American attacks on trans youth and LGBTQI people in general. The religious right here has begun to echo the fight against reproductive rights.

After the recent release of census data noted the decline in Christianity, Peta Credlin wrote in The Australian (paywalled) in full Orban mode warning of “the centrality of Christian inspiration to Western civilization.” She defined an Indigenous Voice to parliament as “anathema to the fundamentals of Christian faith” and obliquely blamed Chinese and Indian immigration for the crisis.

The combined forces of the radical right – whether Christian Nationalist in intent, or in bigoted fear of a Great Replacement, or cynically deploying culture wars – all have the capacity to distort our civic debates as they are doing at all levels of government in America. The outcome in America is catastrophic.

It is critical for Australians to watch the international right forces filtered through to our democratic project, directly from the opponents of democracy, or filtered through the American role models so central to our “conservatives.” They are not defeated here, but regrouping.

This was first published in Pearls and Irritations.

 

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Australia needs a Bill of Rights

Australia is at a crossroads. The decade of Coalition government showed how vulnerable our rights and freedoms could be in the face of a political party radicalised by anti-democratic and illiberal ideas. The Republican Party in America is displaying how quickly rights can be destroyed, even after it was removed from government; we need to protect vulnerable groups within our nation from copycat attacks.

After the Albanese government fulfils its campaign promises to institute a collection of federal integrity measures, it should tackle drafting a Bill of Rights for Australia. The protections such legislation would afford are crucial.

The measures taken over the nine years of Coalition rule were such that Andrew Wilkie MP described the country as moving towards being a “pre-police state” in 2015 and “becoming a police state” in 2018. When courts objected to illegal steps by the Coalition, the government changed the law. We need to have stronger protections in place and even treaty obligations, before another government that shows such cynical disregard for Australian norms is elected into power.

There are a number of actions by the Liberal governments of the 21st century that must never be repeated. The indefinite administrative detention of refugees and the endless cruelties perpetrated upon them by Home Affairs and their contractors are a stain upon our reputation. We returned refugees to their persecutors, despite non-refoulment being at the heart of the Refugee Convention. Australia has sunk a long way since we stood as one of the original signatories in 1951.

The growing crisis of state capture over the last decade led to a government that was intent on keeping its secrets. The persecution of Witness K and Bernard Collaery, his lawyer, are only two of the star chamber trials of whistleblowers in an egregious and secretive abrogation of citizens’ rights. The Coalition’s dedication to unpopular policy, echoed in state governments, has led to laws aiming to suppress peaceful protest. Without protest, democracy is crippled.

Scared of its voters, the government stepped up surveillance. The police need a warrant to inspect people’s electronic devices. Border Force, by contrast, has taken 40,000 electronic devices from people entering Australia over the last five years in a fishing exercise surrounded in secrecy.

The overturning of Roe v Wade last week in America pointed out that rights not encoded in laws are vulnerable. Now reproductive rights groups are preparing for cases where women who have miscarriages are arrested, their phone and internet history searched. Adversarial partners could be asked to testify to the criminality of the loss of a pregnancy, and the bounty system would reward them financially for the accusation.

Pregnancy tests in small towns are being put behind the counter to block privacy. Doctors are dangerously refusing to treat women miscarrying until they contract an infection, and pharmacists are refusing to issue the prescribed medication to hurry a miscarriage safely to its conclusion. Women’s bodies have ceased to be their own in Republican states, the very states where the maternal death rate is by far the worst in the industrialised world. Pregnancy is being criminalised.

The former Vice President has repeated the proposal that the abortion ban should be implemented nationally when the Republicans next take the other two arms of government.

This is not a decision supported by many Americans. Roughly 80% support abortion in some cases. Approximately 60-70% support abortion in the first trimester. The unpopularity of state bills allowing women or doctors to be charged with homicide for any intervention from the moment of conception does not prevent their passing. America’s democratic processes at all levels are compromised to enable this minority rule.

It is not just unwillingly pregnant people that stand to suffer. Justice Thomas’s concurring opinion outlined the fact that he saw all privacy protection precedents as “demonstrably erroneous” and that none could stand. Not only is marriage equality likely to be reduced to a state matter in America, but also the re-criminalisation of homosexuality. Some Republican figures have begun discussing banning contraceptive access in their state.

The Supreme Court’s attack on rights took place because three increasingly radical figures were named to the court under one President. It was not an armed coup that is depriving Americans of their freedom and equality but judicial appointments by a single elected leader. He functioned as the key to implementing decades of unscrupulous strategising by those using him.

There are two main cultural forces at work in America shaping these minority decisions being imposed on the public. One is the growth of the Religious Right, expressing extremist Christian positions on sexual morality that must be universally enforced to allow Christ to return. The other is a “social conservatism” deployed by Republican strategists and their media allies in “culture war” campaigns. The two overlap: the former depicts homosexuality as a grotesque sin, the latter depicts it as a grotesque and unmanly aberration.

Both forces are at work in the Right in Australia. Under the Morrison government, Australians saw the Religious Right come to the fore. The long Coalition procrastination on marriage equality made the debate bitter and harmful. After the passing of the marriage amendment, the backlash from religious conservatives was embraced by Morrison who worked to pass a parallel bill legalising religious discrimination.

Morrison accompanied this with attacks on trans youth and sportspeople, an echo of a key Republican strategy in America. The embrace of Katherine Deves, whose campaign was apparently run out of his office, illustrates the inclusiveness of the strategy. Right-wing feminists who have been encouraged to deploy white supremacist talking points are brought into the fold to broaden the appeal. In America, hundreds of laws have been implemented to limit both teachers’ ability to talk about the existence of LGBTQI+ people and the actions of trans people.

This Religious Right pressure on government hasn’t disappeared with Morrison. Extreme religious groups are stacking Liberal and National Party branches. In South Australia, the leader of the Liberal opposition David Speirs, three of his shadow ministry, and Labor MP Clare Scriven are attending an anti-choice training day on the same weekend as rallies against anti-choice legislation take place around the country.

The same (substantially fossil-fuel funded) culture war battles are being fought in Australia as in America. We have echoes of their Critical Race Theory battles in our “history wars.” Senator Hollie Hughes just reported to the Sydney Institute that “Marxist teachers” were to blame for the Morrison government’s defeat. This parrots lines in America where Republicans are trying to break the public school system in favour of religious education. Sky News both echoes and prompts the culture war battles that swirl in the internet sewers. The Religious Right has shown it is as unscrupulous as the socially conservative Right in the tools being used to reverse the achievements of the civil rights era.

Already, a Bill of Right’s protections is going to be difficult to define in Australia. Disinformation makes a fact-based discussion challenging. Anti-vaxxers would argue that the community’s need for mass vaccination to keep hospital systems functioning is a plot meant to poison them. Shaping a line for the protection of protest in regular times as opposed to pandemic eras is fraught. The Deves position and its “alternative facts” are being filtered out through women’s chats and gender-critical feminist journals disseminating illusory threats and breeding a demand for the persecution of a minority.

This debate will be complicated and require a delicate hand so that the provisions are clear enough to prevent excessive judicial license to interpret. They must be comprehensive enough to prevent a group from being harmed by its interests’ omission.

America is showing us that the combination of religious extremism and disinformation-based culture war radicalisation can create a dangerous voter bloc. A disengaged majority can be overwhelmed before it knows what hit it.

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Greed is not good

“Greed is good” has been falsely attributed to Gordon Gecko – and if he had said it, he would have been wrong!

Another urban myth is that people become more conservative as they grow older.

It is true for some – those who don’t realise that learning is a lifelong process and prefer to live in the past. The ones who say “My father used to belt me when I was a kid and what was good enough for Dad, is good enough for me with my sons.”

Or the unthinking voters who say “This is how we have always voted.”

The older you get, the more you need to look back – not for models for the future, but to appreciate how much has changed and analyse how much (if any!) of that has been for the good.

When I look at the current destruction being wreaked by fires, I wonder whether our First Nations were not infinitely wiser than us. They see themselves as caretakers of the land, to protect and nurture it, because it is their duty, in a self-imposed spiritual context. Whereas, land, to ‘developed’ nations, is just another resource to rape and pillage for wealth accumulation. And when it offers no more riches? Then it is someone else’s problem to clean up the mess!

I can remember history at school in England, learning about strip farming, where a serf or peasant was allowed to farm a strip of land for produce for the Lord of the Manor – and keep a small portion of the produce for himself and his family. Has much changed? Who most benefits from food production? And why do we throw good, but misshaped, fruit and vegetables away, when people in other parts of the world are starving?

Yet there was a time when those with small-holdings grew enough grain, carried enough livestock and basically provided for their own needs, with enough left over to sell in order to buy those other requirements the land did not offer. The corporations have made sure that there is much less of that now.

In the context of which, I also remember school studies referring to the reasons for the creation of the dustbowl in the USA!

We kid ourselves by claiming we live in a democracy and that the governments we elect pass laws and develop policies for our benefit as electors.

Global corporations are in charge!

Accumulation of wealth by those already endowed with wealth who use money to make money and leave a damaged land in their wake. Capital and Labour is another economists’ myth!

The Industrial Revolution sowed the seeds of Climate Change, and, because constant growth has become the Holy Grail of economists (please note: economics is only a trial and error process, masquerading as a pseudo-science!) we are now hooked on a merry-go-round that growth must be achieved even if people’s lives are destroyed in the process.

I have no claim to being a guru. I have never had the patience to study philosophy. Even as a very small child, I wanted to be a teacher. Maths was always my best subject at school, so I specialised in maths and taught it, on and off, for the best part of half a century.

During that time, I encountered so many situations where lack of legal help had damaged people’s lives, so in 1975 I promised myself that I would study law when I stopped paid employment, for which I had to wait for nearly 30 years.

I was admitted as a Barrister and Solicitor in February, 2008 – promise kept! – and I had also become accredited as a mediator.

I rapidly learned that – while the law had some good points – my real interest was in justice, which is much more likely to be achieved, partially if not fully, through the alternative dispute resolution procedures like mediation than via the adversarial antics of our legal system.

IMHO it is sad that we inherited the confrontational British legal and political systems rather than the European investigative approach to solving legal issues.

Reality is that Australia squanders its resources, that we have extreme poverty and gross inequality in an essentially wealthy country. We have governments of all colours and prejudices which are largely more interested in keeping favour with corporations and we lack the protections that a decent Constitution and an effective ICAC might offer,

For those who have never studied the Australian Constitution, it was written to establish which powers, previously in the hands of the established states, should be passed over to a Commonwealth government in the process of establishing a federal system.

It was not remotely forward-looking – even more so as it made changing the Constitution so hard. Its major concern was to keep some balance of power between what had been autonomous States while Australia still remained a colony in many regards.

Even income tax remained in State control until a later date and the ties with Britain were not finally relinquished until passage in Australia and the UK of the Australia Act 1986!

Small wonder we have problems over nationality at Commonwealth elections!

And small wonder that we are not very good at governing ourselves when we have had such a chequered career as a country!

But now is the time when every governing body in Australia has to recognise the threat presented by global warming.

It is a fact – it is very real – and we cannot wait any longer before taking action to slow, stop and – just maybe – reverse temperature rises.

Cameras! Action! TAKE!

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How Good Is The Quiet Scott Morrison?

Just lately I’ve noticed that we haven’t heard anything from our PM. His twitter account hasn’t been touched for a couple of days and there’s been no pronouncement telling us that we don’t like being told what to think.

My first reaction was to wonder if Peter Dutton had decided to use some of the laws at his disposal to take Scott Morrison into custody. After all, there are various anti-terror laws that enable people considered a risk to be questioned by ASIO for several days and nobody’s allowed to know where they are. Actually that’s not entirely true. They can tell their partner, and they don’t have to be a risk. It’s sufficient that ASIO believe they know something, so I guess that last point lets Scomo off the hook.

No, I decided, Morrison has decided to role model being a “quiet Australian” and to keep politics off the front page by saying nothing. This could be a winning strategy. It used to work for Tony Abbott. Every time he went on holiday or was otherwise incommunicado, his approval ratings went up; every time he spoke, he used to make people angrier than an interview on the ABC where they pretend that somebody who used to write for a Murdoch publication was a “quiet Australian”. I mean, forget Murdoch for a moment: Surely someone who used to be a journalist hardly qualifies as one of the quiet people.

I was rather annoyed at 7:30, but not because they interviewed people who voted Liberal and then seemed to be amazed that Liberal voters still voted for the current mob at the last election. No, I was annoyed because I was intending to do my own interviews with quiet Australians.

Yes, yes, all right. It is rather absurd because the quiet ones aren’t likely to speak, but leaving aside that oxymoron, I had the plan for the interviews in my head and they would have gone something like this:

“Why did you vote for Scott Morrison?”

“Because he got Labor’s debt under control.”

“Actually, the debt has doubled since the Liberals took over.”

“Didn’t the Liberals just announce a surplus in the last Budget?”

“Yes, but it’s only a projected surplus. It hasn’t happened yet and anyway, a surplus doesn’t actually pay off the debt. It’s complicated but because you voted for the Liberals and obviously like simple things, let me explain it this way. You’ve got a mortgage?”

“Yes.”

“Did you spend more than your earned last year?”

“No way.”

“So your mortgage is paid off?”

“Of course not!”

“Well, that’s how the Liberals are presenting it. It’s likes once you get into surplus that’s the same as paying off your mortgage.”

“Look, I really don’t understand all this government debt. What really matters is getting my franking credits when I retire.”

“Do you own shares?”

“No.”

“Then you don’t get any franking credits.”

“I don’t?”

“No, it’s only for people who own shares.”“Well, at least the NEG will get energy prices down.”

“They’ve abandoned that.”

“So, what’s their plan for getting energy prices down?”

“They don’t really have one.”

“So how are they going to get prices down?”

“The same way that they’re going to get wages up.”

“Cool and what’s that?”

“I don’t know, you tell me, you’re the one who voted for them…. you’ve suddenly gone very quiet.”

 

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How Many National Party MPs Does It Take To Change A Lightbulb?

Q: How many National Party MPs does it take to change a lightbulb?

A: How can we be sure that the lightbulb needs changing because lightbulbs have been around for millions of years, and besides now is not the time to talk about this because we have so many people injuring themselves in the dark!

Sorry, that’s not funny but you know what they say: Satire one day; National Party policy the next.

I think that I could almost buy the “We’re in the midst of a disaster and now’s not the time for politics over climate change” line, were it not for the fact that a number of MPs have come out and tried to blame The Greens for the rampant bushfires. Leaving aside the obvious point that they haven’t achieved government in either Queensland or NSW, one has to wonder if the fires burning over hundreds of kilometres could have quickly been brought under control if only we’d done some preventative burning at the beginning of the fire season. You know, in Spring, during October and November. Ok, it is November. So early November before either moustaches or fuel for the fire had reached the sort of bushy growth that threatens us all.

Still there’s nothing unusual about things that a logically inconsistent. And I don’t just mean the constant use of the word “unprecedented”, while people argue that we’ve always had bushfires so anyone suggesting a link to climate change is just a latte-sipping raving lunatic who should be kicked off welfare because we all know that only country people have jobs.

No, I couldn’t help but wonder how “The Age” journalist could write that Victoria was bracing for a “one-in-110 years” heatwave that would be worse than the “one-in- 25 years” ones which we had in 2009 and 2014. By my reckoning, these “one-in-25 years events” seem to be happening more often than that. Yes, yes I know. Some Coalition MP will that we’ve always had “one-in-25 year” heatwaves and when they were younger we used have them pretty much every year. In fact, we’ll be told, the temperature used to regularly hit 100 degrees in summer and that hasn’t happened this century… Don’t bother pointing out that it’s because temperatures no longer use the Fahrenheit scale or you’ll be treated to a discourse on how the Bureau of Meteorology is involved in a conspiracy to confuse us and that they change the way things are measured just to make it look like the polar bears are melting when anyone can see that they are, in fact, as solid as they ever were.

No, don’t mention climate change because people are out fighting fires and there’s no way that politicians could be discussing this while they’re busy with thoughts and prayers, which I notice Josh Frydenberg also tweeted… It must have been in the talking points, because the Liberal guy on QandA used the phrase too. Ok, I know that some of you are about to suggest if they have time for thoughting and praying, don’t they also have time to discuss climate change? Particularly, Joshie, the colour blind Treasurer who didn’t seem to notice that the blue of the banner on election day was the purple of the AEC. Josh, after all, had time for an opinion piece in today’s paper where he talked about the problems facing the economy, which to summarise briefly are that the economy has changed since Federation and we no longer rely on sheep and that it’s likely to change again so we need to worry about debt. There was no mention of climate change as one of the potential problems, because that would be political and we can’t have politics at a time like this.

What city folk don’t understand is that the Coalition government don’t have time for politics right now because they need to stand with the people who are affected by the fires. After all, you don’t often get photo opportunities where the PM can show off the funded empathy training he received. The smirk on his face as he stood behind Gladys was even bigger than the one he had when he rolled Malcolm.

Yep, only a lunatic would be worried about the possible causes of such extreme fires in November when there’s so many photos to be taken.

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DamNation!

By Hungry Charley

The absolute failure of water and land management in Australia’s agricultural sector is starting to look like a slow-motion, out of control train-wreck in progress. While the Coalition Government is trumpeting a new ‘drought policy’, in reality, it is more of the same of what led us into this mess in the first place, while offering no acknowledgment of the failure of ‘market-based’ management of our natural resources or likely future climate scenarios.

Already the responses of the Coalition Government to the dire water shortages across much of the country, with nothing to alleviate the rapid demise of the lower Darling as an ecological system, show they have no new ideas, or rather are unwilling to contemplate others.

Following revelations by Four Corners in July that huge amounts of public money are being given to irrigators to expand their operations in the Murrumbidgee, now we hear the catchcry, “build more dams!” emanating from the National Party headquarters. This way it is claimed, more overland flow can be captured so that water will be available for towns and downstream users in times of drought. This time the intention is to target “higher rainfall” areas of the state, the proposed Upper Mole River Dam in the Border Ranges and the new Dungowan Dam on the Northern Tablelands of NSW. As well, the government announced a $650 million upgrade for Wyangala Dam, upstream of Cowra on the Lachlan River.

This dam focussed strategies has been advocated before, going back to the Coalition’s Dam Task force in December 2011 and have been underway ever since. The Australia Institute claimed that at least $200 million has been spent on dam upgrades prior to the latest round of announcements.

Investigations by Four Corners earlier this year showed Websters Limited received public money provided under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan’s $13 billion water infrastructure scheme, some $4 billion dollars, resulting in more land being cleared and more massive water storages in the Murrumbidgee. As scientists such as Richard Kingsmill and Maryanne Slattery have pointed out, this would just add further strain to the natural river system by removing yet more overland flow. These also have to be placed within the context of our complete failure to maintain a regulated and managed floodplain storage system, with most structures now un-regulated, particularly in the Northern Basin.

As the National Party elite gathered to announce the new public works for the proposed Dungowan Dam, the fan-fare was about outlining the future benefits to the community of the dam and who would be the benefactors and investors.

The Northern Daily Leader reported that Barnaby Joyce stated funding for the project has, “… been talked about as a three-way funded project between the state and the feds, with some from the growers.” The main beneficiaries are said to be Tamworth’s water supply, the environment and ‘downstream users’.

As there aren’t many people growing anything at the moment, one has to ask, who are these growers that are investing (and presumably benefiting) in these dams? Further investigation has showed that the location of the dams are in catchments where substantial investment in agricultural enterprises has recently occurred.

The Dungowan Dam will be placed in a relatively pristine area of the upper catchment stream, Dungowan Creek, which joins the Peel River near Tamworth. From here the Peel flows into the lower Namoi Catchment, historically a prime agricultural area which has seen considerable cotton development.

Some have suggested that one of the main beneficiaries of the Dungowan Dam will be the Tomato Farm at Guyra, part of the multi-national Costa Group following concerns about its future water supply earlier this year.

But 2018 was a big year for purchases from the big end of town, as reported in the Land, including in the Northern Tablelands, the Barwon and Namoi Valleys, for properties that are historically cotton or beef producing. Notable is the acquisition by Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting of ‘Sundown Valley’ and ‘Gunnee Feedlot’, part of her expansion into the Wagyu Beef / feedlot sector, primarily for the Asian market. She also bought the 3,234 ha ‘Glendon Park’ at Armidale for her beef enterprises for about $14 million.

Another corporate player, Stone Axe Pastoral, also bought up a number of properties last year including the 2,145 ha ‘Glen Alvie’ at Ebor for around $17 million and another $4 million for the nearby 784 ha ‘Alfreda’. The Land reported that Stone Axe is also the lessee of two significant New England properties acquired in 2018 by the listed Rural Funds Group, ‘Dyamberin’ for $13.4 million and ‘Woodburn’ for $7.1 million, all apparently for Wagyu beef production. Stone Axe is also in partnership with Gina Rinehart and John Dee with their beef investments in feed lots and Wagyu export operations in Warwick, Queensland.

Here we see clearly how the government is playing favourites in their plans to ‘drought-proof’ the nation. Stone Axe has received significant investment from the NSW Government, amounting to $3.3 million dollars, to assist their Wagyu operations at ‘Glen Alvie’ near Ebor.

This money was sourced from the NSW Government’s $150 million ‘GO NSW Equity Fund’, launched in 2017, along with fund partners First State Super and ROC Partners, the latter a Sydney- and Hong Kong-based funds manager.

The other notable sale on the Northern Tablelands recently was the improved 1,500 ha ‘Tenterden Station’, west of Guyra, reportedly sold by Ray White Rural for $17m (with water entitlements) to a family from Queensland, whose identity was not released to the media.

In the Lachlan Valley, no doubt expecting to benefit from improvement to the Wyangala Dam, are the recently purchased ‘Jemalong Station’ and ‘Jemalong Citrus’ at Forbes, and ‘Merrowie’ at Hillston to offshore investors, including Optifarm Pty Ltd, a Netherlands-based investment company, for more than $115 million.

The other new dam which is listed to receive large amounts of funding is on the Upper Mole River near Tenterfield. The benefits of this dam however are expected to the electorate of Parkes. The Mole River flows into the Dumerasq, which feeds into the Barwon River, another area of intense agricultural development, including irrigation. Many of the storages currently holding water are found in this part of the country, as exposed ‘unintentionally’ by the Murray Darling Basin Authority recently.

Another recent big investor in irrigation and grazing properties is hedge fund billionaire Sir Michael Hintze, who has significant land holdings in NSW through a number of companies, particularly Premium Farms which has bought extensively in the Northern Basin and in the southern highlands. Some 40 properties are now managed by Richard Taylor (brother of Angus) of #watergate and #grassgate fame. Richard manages Future Farms and Angus still retains an interest through another shelf company.

At the same time of the Coalition’s 2011 Dam Taskforce, it seems Hintze started buying irrigation properties in the upper Murray-Darling, ‘Gundera-Red Camp’ on the Namoi River at Wee Waa and three properties he aggregated west of Walgett on the Barwon River (Mourabie, West Mourabie and Bynia). Hinze then picked up ‘Boolarwell’ at Talwood in 2014 on the Queensland side of the Dumerasq River. While it may be co-incidence that Sir Michael started investing at the same time the Coalition were putting their ideas down about a future full of dams connected by pipes, is it a co-incidence that all five properties mentioned could seek to gain from both the new dams at Dungowan and Upper Mole?

It still remains to be seen where the dam investment frenzy will go to next, but given the pattern of recent land investments, it seems that the government is backing a future for irrigation and intensive beef production. It’s a shame that these two types of production are perhaps the most water intensive.

Given the current levels of community despair at the deteriorating environment and levels of agricultural production under the current conditions, many would say these investment priorities are at odds with a sustainable future for our communities and environments. It is certainly at odds with any sense of community transparency or a climatic future where there is likely to be less rain to go around. However, none of these issues seem to figure prominently in the current Coalition’s thinking.

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Journalists Need To Remember That Nobody Is Above The Law!

Interviewer – This week the Prime Minister told Parliament that while he supported freedom of the press, nobody was above the law. To clarify what this means in practice we have Liberal spokesman, whose name we’ve redacted to enable him or her to speak freely. Government Spokesman, do you mind if I call you Neville?

“Neville” – That’s not my name and I’m quite happy to speak freely without the need for all this subterfuge. You can use my real name?

Interviewer – I intend to ask you questions about Peter Dutton’s department.

Neville – Neville, it is then.

Interviewer – First of all, the Prime Minister asserted that nobody is above the law…

Neville – That’s quite correct.

Interviewer – Well, if that’s the case, how can the government justify that Freedom Of Information requests are falling outside the legal time?

Neville – Simply because the volume of requests is quite overwhelming and there aren’t enough staff to…

Interviewer – But isn’t this due to government decisions about the number of staffing…

Neville – Exactly. The government is committed to a Budget surplus and to ensuring that there is no waste.

Interviewer – Hang on. I don’t wish to get distracted by the obvious point that if there’s not enough people to process the requests then more staff are clearly needed. My point is simply that if nobody is above the law, then how can the government justify FOI requests falling outside the legislated time…

Neville – No, not at all.

Interviewer – Why not? I mean doesn’t this suggest that the government thinks that it is above the law?

Neville – No. They’re not above the law, they’re outside the law.

Interviewer – I don’t see the difference.

Neville – Well, something that’s like the difference between your roof and your garden shed. You wouldn’t want your shed to be inside.

Interviewer – I wouldn’t want my roof to be inside either.

Neville – Exactly.

Interviewer – But when it comes to the law, what’s the difference between being above the law and outside the law.

Neville – Well, clearly someone – let’s say a journalist like you – who thinks that they’re above the law feels that they can break it with impunity whereas somebody who’s outside the law doesn’t feel they can break it with impunity; they simply understand that the law doesn’t apply to them in a particular case.

Interviewer – Isn’t the result the same?

Neville – Yes, but the difference is that journalists are trying to suggest that they’re a special group whereas the government can just change the law if it doesn’t suit them, so while they’re getting around to changing it, they can just operate outside it.

Interviewer – But doesn’t that make the government above the law?

Neville – Exactly.

Interviewer – But wasn’t the PM suggesting that no-one is above the law.

Neville – No ONE is above the law, but because there are lots and lots of people in the government, then they’re more than one.

Interviewer – But there are lots of lots of journalists. Doesn’t that mean that they’re more than one?

Neville – Look, if you’re just going to play silly word games…

Interviewer – Let’s move on. The Intelligence and Security Committee announced its concerns about the proposed legislation to allow facial recognition because it felt there weren’t enough safeguards. Is the government prepared to consider further measures to ensure that people aren’t singled out when they’re simply engaging in legitimate protests.

Neville – No, it’s purely an anti-terror thing.

Interviewer – So, you’ll be happy to put in place legislation to ensure protesters aren’t targeted?

Neville – Definitely… Unless, of course, the protesters are doing illegal things such as holding seditious slogans.

Interviewer – Seditious slogans.

Neville – Yes, you know things that… um, let me quote the law directly. Seditious intent includes things such as using words “to excite disaffection against the Government or Constitution of the Commonwealth or against either House of the Parliament of the Commonwealth”.

Interviewer – So you’re suggesting that people could be identified in demonstrations for holding signs criticising the government.

Neville – For example. I mean, they could also be identified and charged if they block traffic… or pedestrians.

Interviewer – But what about people’s right to protest?

Neville – They can protest as much as they like so long as they don’t use seditious language or get in anyone’s way. Nobody is above the law, you know.

Interviewer – Thank you.

Neville – Is that all?

Interviewer – I certainly hope so!

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The enemies of free speech

By Kathryn

The unspeakable, blatant ultra-right-wing bias of the Murdoch press in favour of the LNP is the huge elephant in the room here! Why isn’t the Murdoch’s name mentioned? The Murdoch media’s unregulated control and influence over just about every aspect of our media, especially the vile, unconscionable propaganda and relentless character-assassinating slander spewed out on a daily basis within such notorious Murdoch rags as The Courier Mail, The Daily Telegraph, The Australian and from ultra-conservative Murdoch-manipulated repugnant and truly offensive “Shock Jocks” (eg Alan Jones, Steve Price, Andrew Bolt, Ray Hadley, the ghastly Miranda Devine, Peta Credlin etc) is a criminal abuse of power! The verbal diarrhoea spewed out by these enemies of free speech and their determination to control everything we hear and see on every form of media is absolutely intolerable, and getting worse. Now we have ongoing muzzling of free speech, the arrest of essential whistle-blowers and the unlawful prosecution of journalists and protest marchers!

Every day the Murdoch press, their spineless lackeys in the LNP and their collaborators within the unelected swill of the undemocratic IPA, rage against the ALP, the Greens, unions, against the poorest and most vulnerable citizens in our country, against legal asylum seekers escaping from the tyranny of an illegal war Howard helped to create!

Every day Murdoch and his salivating shock jocks are ramping up xenophobic racism, hatred, fear, misogyny and heaping verbal attacks against young, female climate change activists on SkyNews, 2GB or the vacuous talking heads on Channels 7, 9 and 10 (the airhead, Kerry Ann Kennerly is an offensive example)! Now we have politically-motivated raids and hugely expensive government-sponsored Royal Commissions against unions, the ALP and into the offices of the ABC without one word of protest in the Murdoch press who, in fact, cheered on the fascist campaigns against these hated opponents of the LNP/Murdoch/IPA agenda!

How did all this start since the time when Labor introduced the regulation that more than 51% of our so-called democratic media could, and should, not be owned, managed and controlled by a single entity?

Answer: the undemocratic, Murdoch sycophant and infamous war criminal, John Howard rescinded the Media Ownership Laws in this nation and gave permission for the catastrophic bias, fascist lack of democracy, unashamed elitism and prejudiced right-wing bias by the LNP/Murdoch/IPA Alliance to be ramped-up to a level which goes against everything our nation values and once understood about democratic free speech, and our rights as a so-called democracy to expect and demand impartiality of the news! This unholy collaboration of totally corrupt, mutually benefiting elitists is, without any doubt, the worst, most dangerously fascist attack against our democracy in history – and it goes on and on unabated and, in fact, is escalating.

Let’s never forget that Murdoch is a non-taxpaying, non-Australian who tossed his Australian citizenship in the garbage decades ago so that he could meet the American requirements of being an American citizen in order to get his world dominance of the American press to control public opinion (to his benefit) in the USA. The internationally-despised, power-obsessed megalomaniacal Murdoch dynasty – and their truly vile, self-entitled and callously inhumane sycophants – are the worst kind of undemocratic spinners of fake news, blatantly muzzling free speech, distorting facts and presenting a phoney parallel reality to serve themselves and the agenda of the bible-thumping hypocrites in the extreme right-wing conservative end of politics.

The fact that the LNP/Murdoch/IPA have staged non-stop attacks and venomous slurs against anyone and everyone who has the courage to stand up and speak out against Murdoch’s remorseless lies, self-serving hyperbole and tyrannical, draconian influence over the right-wing Murdoch whores in conservative governments in the UK, USA and, especially, the LNP in Australia, is beyond criminal!

Let’s not mince words: The Murdoch dynasty and their mates in Murdoch’s IPA owns the LNP lock, stock and two smoking barrels! They write the LNP agenda, compose the LNP’s elitist policies and dictate what these spineless, non-achieving lackeys in the Abbott/Turnbull/MorriScum chaotic circus say and do! The Murdoch-owned media – and their disciples in SkyNews, 2GB and free-to-air TV – are as guilty for what they do not report as for the type of propaganda they do! No mention of the LNP’s current national debt and deficit disaster of more than $700 billion after they screamed blue murder about the moderate $240 billion debt left behind by Rudd and Gillard! Not one mention about the LNP using taxpayer funds, in the middle of one of the worst droughts in our history, to fund the construction of private dams for the sole use of foreign-owned cronies of the LNP in the thirsty and unspeakably greedy cotton growing industry!

No mention of the non-stop, undeclared donations handed to them by the non-taxpaying billionaires who sit on the Board of the IPA, eg Rinehardt, Twiggy Forrest et al. No mention of the evil, politically-motivated defundment of Australian taxpayer-owned ABC and SBS where the LNP/IPA is constantly threatening the ABC with further defundment and privatisation (against the wishes and best interests of the huge majority of the Australian public) if the ABC does not “toe the conservative line”! No mention of the fact that ever since Abbott crawled into power on a stack of Murdoch-published lies, broken promises and slanderous campaigns (like the horrendously misogynistic Ditch the Witch campaign that went on for months on end against Julia Gillard), the LNP/Murdoch/IPA have embarked on a deliberate, undemocratic campaign to “stack” the ABC Board with a long line of LNP/Murdoch/IPA sycophants (like Janet Albrechsten, Ita Buttrose and many more) to garnish full control of what Australians will hear and see on our taxpayer-owned television station – the last bastion of media not fully controlled by Murdoch … Yet! No mention about how the LNP/IPA are stacking every panel with vile, self-entitled elitists peddling right-wing propaganda on every panel show, especially Q&A, with insignificant, repugnant grubs like James Patterson (also a member of the IPA), the awful serial liar Alan Jones and an array of other toxic conservatives.

If there is one thing the LNP/Murdoch/IPA Alliance know and follow to the letter is what the Nazi Propaganda Minister and Hitler espoused: “If you tell a lie often enough and with enough conviction, in the end, people will believe it” and, very clearly: “When you control everything people see and hear, you can control how they think!” The Alliance are masters of manipulation, proficient snake oil salesmen, pushing filth, slander and lies, distorting facts and omitting any form of news that will damage their own fascist agenda or expose their criminal level of corruption, economic mismanagement, environmental vandalism and ongoing self-serving rorting and waste of hard-earned taxpayer funds!

BRING BACK ESSENTIAL AND DEMOCRATIC MEDIA OWNERSHIP LAWS THAT WILL INHIBIT AND SILENCE THE BLATANT, ONGOING FASCISM OF THE LNP/MURDOCH/IPA ALLIANCE.

This law must be enshrined by the judiciary to ensure that it cannot be changed or rescinded by ruthless self-serving LNP governments in the future!

This article was originally published as a comment under Government Funding and the Free Press.

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Equine Hypocrisies: Racehorses for the Knackery

It was always a probable fact: the dark consequences of having what is termed in Australia a “racing” industry, where breeds do battle on the track, sponsored and watered by the money of an industry that sees no sign of contracting. Curiously, most states within the Australian Commonwealth boast a racing minister to mind the industries in which punters, animal owners and investors partake. From greyhounds to horses, a lingering question remains: Where to with the animals once they have done their dash?

The answer came last Thursday in an ABC 7.30 Report, showing the grizzly reality facing horses once they have performed their valiant duty on track. The footage featured the mistreated beasts in their thousands, brutalised, shocked and dragged to their imminent death. Racing broadcaster Bruce McAvaney had his mind on the footage, even as he was celebrating race meets at Caulfield and Randwick. “Thursday night’s ABC expose of what happens to some retired racehorses calls for immediate action.”

There have been tears, distress and the sense of being unable to view the procession of cruelty. Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk claimed being “sickened and appalled”. Her minister for agriculture and minister for racing were likewise “deeply concerned about the allegations of animal abuse that surfaced.”

But such grieving critics have also cultivated a sense of denial over the years, nursing romantic notions that racehorses find their plot of acreage and enjoy a life of well-fed retirement. McAvaney, for one, sees, “The nurturing of our racehorses in retirement as just as important as the care and training given to a yearling for a four-year old champion.”

The ugly, yet obvious point, has been avoided. Not all horses in the racing industry rise to the level of feted aristocracy. Many are the unknowables and even the untouchables. Viewed as assets, the racing horse who does not race, or races poorly, depreciates. Many end up at places such as the Meramist abattoir, purchased by kill buyers such as Peter Loffel, who is on record suggesting the industry’s complicity.

This squeamishness about horse slaughter is inconsistent in one sense. It suggests a privileged sentimentality: the noble animal, butchered in industrial fashion and unable to live out its days in admired splendour, should strike a person as exceptionally appalling. Then again, other animals are just as readily industrially slaughtered. In Calla Wahlquist’s words, “while the slaughter of horses through methods identical to those used to slaughter cattle or sheep is ethically no different, it has caused significantly more upset.” If only cattle and sheep could race.

It should be noted that the slaughter of horses is legal under Australian law, though these are regulated by national standards, animal welfare legislation passed at the state level, and industrial codes of practice. A publication outlining the relevant standards is matter-of-fact in tone. “The focus is on essential health and hygiene issues and provides for standards that are consistent with the principles and objectives of the world standards contained in Codex Alimentarius, Volume 10 (1994).” Hardly a moving document, the focus here being on the guarantee of “wholesomeness”.

On the issue of figures, stubbornness prevails. The national broadcaster has questioned suggestions by industry stalwarts that a mere one percent of horses who retire from racing find their way to an abattoir or knackery. But the cold reality remains that horses who have left the racing fold no longer come within the purview, one might even say interest, of the industry.

A study done in 2008 by the School of Animal Studies and the Centre for Animal Welfare and Ethics at the University of Queensland made the point that “the subject of horse slaughter can be emotive as the horse is considered, by many, to be a companion animal. Information concerning the industry is therefore limited and because of this, little is known regarding the demographics and condition of horses relinquished to either abattoirs or knackeries.” That research came to the rather glum finding that some 40 percent of those ending up being slaughtered were thoroughbreds.

Then there is the economic incentive. Animals, however elevated in the imagination, are ultimately expressions of lucre. The callings of the racing industry take precedence over the calling of kindness or ethical worth. Barry O’Farrell’s 2018 report, for instance, is celebratory about thoroughbred racing in Australia, seeing as it contributes $9,152.2 million to the economy, $800 million in State and federal taxes while keeping some 71,937 people in jobs.

Those in the interest of animal welfare have various, mixed suggestions on how to approach this. There is an accounting approach: the establishment of a national horse traceability register, for instance. The Australian Senate is on the task and set to release the findings of an inquiry into the subject in December. Till then, there are only brief spikes of rage when the next figure or statistic is published showing the bloody end of racehorses. (In June, The Guardian noted that some 30 percent of Australian race horses imported by South Korea over a five-year period have ended up being butchered).

One chance to avoid the slaughterhouse is to prolong the durability of the racing animal. “If we come to value durability as much as other performance traits,” suggest Paul McGreevy, Bidda Jones and Cathrynne Henshall, “we can reward breeders who select for long racing careers alongside other attributes.” Another suggestion, albeit starker and one draining on the industry racket, is to have fewer horses. Reducing the scale will reduce the harm. But those besotted by the mighty dollar would have something to say about that. First comes the investment, then come the morals.

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Government Funding and the Free Press

By Jay Smith

In the domain of politics and state government, the relationship between media and the state needs to be constantly examined. Journalists in the past have served to both promote politicians and government initiatives while investigating and scrutinising politicians and the government of the state. This relationship between the media and politics has changed over the last decade due to new influences in the form of new advertising and communication mediums. In this piece, I am going to discuss the inadequacy of the free press as a result of changes in the information-seeking behaviour in the new forms of advertising and communication mediums. While in the past the media has looked predominantly to the interests of the public by way of funding and creating quality investigative journalism, media organisations have had to increasingly look towards their own interests to maintain their capacity to function. The result has been the incapacity of the press to adapt and to be able to fund itself and sustain quality unbiased investigative journalism. I will be suggesting a new method by which media organisations can attain funding through assisting government initiatives while remaining neutral in terms of government influence over what the funding is used for and its bias towards or against the government. This method, of course, will require close examination and strong restrictions on government overreach that has yet to be put in place. There are a number of restrictions that need to be put in place to sustain a government-funded free press.

When writing of the concept of a free press it is important to define what a free press is, as all press organisations are ultimately governed by either the interest of the audience, editors, journalists, beneficiaries and advertisers or all of the above. Ultimately if a press organisation is not governed by an audience, beneficiaries or advertiser’s freedom, in general, is not about being able to do as one pleases, freedom is about having as few restrictions as possible where one can do as they please while abiding by those few restrictions. Ultimately a free press is unfiltered by a government organisation. A free press cannot operate under the suspicion of having its funding docked if certain information is published or not published. A free press has a right to protect its sources. However, press is always governed by the prerogative and inflection of the journalists and editors.

It is key to a functional society to have a free and unbiased media in regard to government initiatives. Media organisations have influence over public opinion which allows the media to sway elections and influence the popularity of political parties and government initiatives. A free press serves to without bias investigate politicians and government initiatives. Bias within the media in relation to politics and government initiatives serves to ignore and permit corruption within a government. When a media organisations funding is controlled by government organisation it serves to propagate a government’s message. This commonly is referred to as propaganda. The dangers involved with a society that is seduced by propaganda and a government that coverts corruption can easily be illuminated with a quick history lesson on dictatorial governments. Dictatorial governments in the past century have committed some of the worst atrocities against human rights climate change Governments that only need to pay lip service to the democratic process.

In the current decade privately owned and funded, trustable journalism has suffered from funding cuts. The age of trustable free market news organisations have suffered due to budget cuts resulting from the rise of social media that offers a cost-effective and more efficient advertisement medium to market products, services, and initiatives. Mediums such as Google, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have become more effective in communicating with an audience and building trust and carrying a brand’s message to an audience. Companies whose advertising funds that once went to the media have become aware of the new trend of information-seeking behaviour. Having become aware of this, companies on a large scale have followed suit in their advertising spending habits. Leaving copious gaps in the funding of free press news organisations.

The creation of reliable and trustworthy news has suffered due to its limited profitability. Media organisations have taken to looking to their own interests in order to function and employ journalists. This has resulted in the rise of trends such as dubious news stories that have been given the name ‘fake news’ additionally advertorials in order for news organisation to function and to gain profit. Becoming a mouthpiece to propagate biased and untrustworthy news. With the advent of dwindling paying subscribers, news organisations have had to rely on the use of the advertorial where articles are written and paid for by companies to favourably promote a brand. I for one assume that all news articles freely acquired contain dubious content or advertorial. For one I believe that all journalists need to and deserve to be paid for their work, however, the process by which the journalist acquires funding needs to be examined thoroughly.

A popular method of subsidising income for news media is that of the advertisement separate from the article. This has been proven to be the most effective way of generating income for news organisations. Additionally, it is the most ethically sound method of news production. However, for those that wish to pursue paper-based news mediums of advertising, online advertising through organisations such as Facebook and Google has by far surpassed as a more effective form of advertising, with the possibility to niche partition an audience, monitor feedback and click through rates and cost per action accountability.

Politicians and governing bodies have in the past used the medium of advertising to promote their interests, political party and affiliations. This particularly is used in the run-up to elections when a politician needs to promote themselves or at the time of a referendum. The money used to purchase these services comes directly out of the taxpayer’s pocket charged to the government to foot the bill. While working for news organisations I handled sales of political advertising during peak and off-peak election seasons. The flow of funds from the government to the media directly for the purchase of advertising. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer funds are spent on political advertising each election cycle.

Government organisations outside of the promotion of politicians and political parties serve to create policies and initiatives that provide products and services to the people they govern. From healthcare to social welfare, social security to disability support, a government must engage its citizens to promote and markets government subsidised products and services. Government funds are spent to market products and services to see that they are used correctly and reach the right people. The question I considered was is there a more ethical way of governments putting copious amounts of money into media while remaining unbiased as to news content. A way for taxpayer’s funds to be spent on media outlets, while aiding governments in promoting their subsidised products and services.

In 2016, while working as part of the media I developed the basis for a model for news journalism to acquire funding through government initiatives while remaining relatively unrestricted as to government interference. While a news organisation can specialise in the production of news, in order to subsidise funding a news organisation can produce niche market supplementary services to raise revenue. This service can be applied to a limitless range of industries each focused around a common interest or clientele. This can take the form of a directory service supported by advertising and relevant important news and information. The supplementary services are completely separate from the news organisation however aid in funding the operation of the news organisation.

While looking for a potentially profitable niche market to advertise within I was able to gain firsthand access to the roll-out and implementation phase of a new government initiative. The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) an Australian government department that provides products and services to support the disabled. The department began a new initiative where for the first time the disabled in the country’s history were able to choose from a range of registered private service providers. The department had a registered list of service providers companies whose operations are subsidised by the government. The capacity for choice allowed for a new competitive market to take place amongst government-funded companies.

The funding model which was implemented was for the media to approach government subsidised companies for advertising opportunities, while assisting in the promotion of a government initiative. This allowed for private companies to choose their prospective advertisers. The key component of choice by private organisations un-interfered with by the government allowed for funds to be channelled to a free press organisation from the government which removed the ability for government to influence the media. This allows for the free journalism to operate outside of the restriction of government interference.

The capacity for the client of government faculties to choose their perspective advertising agent under this model would allow for the associated journalists the freedom to operate within the use of government funding without government interference. This un-interfered operation of the free-market choice would provide a press free from the constraints of the interest of the government, an audience, and beneficiaries. The operation of the press under this model would appear superficially as the best possible outcome for news journalism, the alternative relying on philanthropy. However, the beneficiaries of these organisations that fund a press of this nature would have to be paid attention to.

For the funding model to operate without government interference, restrictions on government overreach need to be put in place. These restrictions will help to safeguard free press media organisations and stop funding from being manipulated by the government.

The free choice of government-subsidised businesses under the free market is key to the success of this model. Any government-subsidised companies that advertise through free press organisations need to be allowed to choose their avenue of advertisement without manipulation. Government interference at this level could allow the government to choose the direction of funding, directing funds to a favoured associated press news organisation. Laws need to be created to stop the restriction on choices by the government on government-subsidised organisation in regard to their choice of advertising service.

To further protect the free presses’ capacity to operate without restriction, more than one if not as many as possible separate free press organisations need to be involved in the assistance of advertising in relation to a single government initiative. The revenue raised from the product of advertising if not governed by the free market needs to be shared equally amongst free press news organisations. The capacity for the government to choose which media organisation to channel its subsidised funding through would allow for bias in regard to funding. Alternatively, if one organisation is to undertake the advertising and marketing of one government initiative the government has the capacity to withdraw channelled funding from unfavoured organisations.

Additionally, for a government-subsidised free press to operate transparency is key. Information is needed to be freely available in regard to details of the companies that are receiving government-subsidised funding. If a media organisation is shut out from accessing the details of a government-subsidised company, then the media organisation will be unable to receive the revenue raised through marketing and advertising the government initiative. This would be an ideal way for a government to manipulate funds and exercise bias. Openly available information is key.

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Sometimes Even Censorship Doesn’t Help…

Most of you probably saw Monday’s papers which contained words interrupted by large blocks of ink suggesting that the inbetween bits had been redacted. Of course, they hadn’t because if you read the printed words, they still made sense so the whole thing was a little contrived.

Personally, I’m not sure that it was the way to go. It may have been far more effective to have printed a story with the best bits blanked out. To show you what I mean, look at the following hypothetical example:

Barnaby Joyce caused quite a stir while at the (redacted). After consuming (redacted) followed by(redacted), he seemed (redacted), so nobody was surprised when he pulled out his (redacted) and started showing (redacted) to anyone in the vicinity. “Look at my(redacted)!” exclaimed Barnaby, “What a beautiful (redacted)!” He was forced to stop when his (redacted) went (redacted). He requested to put his (redacted) into a nearby (redacted) but he was told that it (redacted). He did manage to use someone’s (redacted).

Which, of course, is a lot more worrying than the unredacted version.

Barnaby Joyce caused quite a stir while at the local pub. After consuming a hearty main course followed by a dessert, he seemed relaxed, so nobody was surprised when he pulled out his phone and started showing photos of his baby to anyone in the vicinity. “Look at my boy!” exclaimed Barnaby, “What a beautiful baby” He was forced to stop when his mobile went flat. He requested to put his charger into a nearby powerpoint but he was told that it was faulty He did manage to use someone’s portable charger.

Similarly, read this one about Scott Morrison so that you can see how censoring information can create a totally wrong impression.

ScoMo, as he likes to call himself, or (redacted), as many others call him, has some very interesting friends. Most people have heard about his friend, (redacted) , whose father was a (redacted) . But very few people have heard about his bestie whose part of (redacted) group which believes that there’s a “deep state” conspiracy trying to (redacted), and whose wife is on the public payroll as (redacted) , because the media have been told not to print anything about them because it’s been declared off limits by Morrison and none of them want to print anything unless the government says it’s ok.

Oh, apparently I can’t print the unredacted version of that one without expecting the police to come and ask me to hand over my computer and show them what I had in my underwear drawer…

Anyway, I can’t wait for the media to actually show the sort of courage that I’m not prepared to because I’m worried that they’d make fun of my Sponge Bob boxer shorts. Besides I’m not a serious journalist…

I trust that last sentence won’t have me sharing a cell with Julian Assange, and not just because the Ecuadorians said that he wasn’t much fun. Whatever, if you don’t hear from me, you’ll know that I’ve been (redacted) and (redacted).

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The Coalition money shuffle

One of Joe Hockey’s first acts as Treasurer in 2013 was to gift the RBA $8.8 billion. The main reason for this was to make Labor’s deficit look bigger. As a side bonus, it allowed the RBA to invest in the forex market, banking on the Australian dollar losing value as the mining boom subsided.

And that is exactly what happened allowing the government to draw…wait for it…$8.8 billion in dividends over the last six years. That’s all very well (if we ignore how the Coalition screamed like stuck pigs when Labor took a one-off dividend of $500 million in 2013) except Hockey borrowed the $8.8 billion so we are still paying interest on it.

We have also paid a fortune in “fees for banking services” as investment banks have raked in hundreds of millions in trading fees.

Had Hockey not engaged in this political chicanery, we would be billions of dollars better off.

And then there are the six Future Funds which contained $198.8 billion as at June 30 this year.

The direct cost of managing these funds was over $1 billion for the last three years alone.

The DisabilityCare Australia Fund had $16.4 billion sitting in it, which must be aggravating to the many people still waiting to access services or those who have had their services reduced.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Land and Sea Future Fund (ATSILS Fund) was established in February 2019 with a capital contribution of $2 billion transferred from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Land Account.

The purpose of the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation, to whom the fund will make payments apparently at the discretion of the Minister if the investment mandate targets have been met, is to acquire and manage land, water and water-related rights so as to attain economic, environmental, social or cultural benefits. One wonders how much will actually be handed over for that purpose now that Peter Costello has his hands on it. I am sure the mining companies would prefer that money to be tied up rather than used.

In July, the government deposited another $7.8 billion into the Medical Research Future Fund. As we were still in deficit, this was a pretty amazing feat which must have come at the cost of other research cuts and/or interest costs for the borrowed money. It’s interesting how they can find a lazy $8 billion when they want to.

The Education Investment Fund, originally intended for new facilities in the higher education sector, had payments frozen in 2013 and it has been accumulating funds since. These have now been taken to create the government’s new $4 billion Emergency Response Fund.

Then, on 1 September 2019, the assets of the Building Australia Fund were transferred to the newly created Future Drought Fund.

The original Future Fund was established in 2006, funded in part from budget surpluses but mainly from the sale of Telstra. As at June 30, there was $162.6 billion sitting in it.

Kevin Rudd, as Opposition leader, suggested using $2.7 billion of it to invest in a National Broadband Network with profits being returned to the Future Fund. The Howard government screamed blue murder, claiming that Labor intended to “raid” the Future Fund for their own means. Gee, that has worked out well for us hasn’t it.

While legislation permits drawdowns from the Future Fund from 1 July 2020, the Government announced in the 2017-18 budget that it will refrain from making withdrawals until at least 2026-27.

What on earth is the point of sitting on that pile of money when only 20% of it is invested in Australia?

The ten year return has been 10.4% for the Future Fund which might sound good until you look at Infrastructure Australia’s High Priority Project list where every project has a cost benefit ratio of better than that.

We could be employing people in productivity enhancing infrastructure construction. We could be increasing primary healthcare and reducing hospital waiting times to save money and improve quality of life. We could be investing in research and education, both of which bring a far greater return than 10%.

But the Coalition are obsessed with accumulating cash and apparently have zero understanding of the value of actually using the money for the benefit of our economy and our citizens.

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Celebrity Protesters and Extinction Rebellion

Benedict Cumberbatch. Olivia Colman. Fine actors. They believe in Extinction Rebellion, or perhaps, rebelling against the prospect of extinction. The environment thing, humanity as a damnably scandalous, ecologically damaging species. But they also believe in taking sponsorship from the very same entities who are doing their best (or worst) to engage in matters of existential oblivion. So the circle of contradiction, even hypocrisy, is complete.

The matter has come to the fore over overt expressions of support for XR’s two-week effort of disruption in London by the entertainment set. Severable notable sites have received the attention of the climate change protest group. The Treasury building has been sprayed with fake blood. The London Underground train system has been disrupted. Protestors have glued themselves to trains, to floors and even mounted trains. Roads to Westminster were blocked, sit-ins staged at City Airport. Over 1,700 arrests have been made.

Phil Kingston was one such figure, not exactly a rabble rouser or hardened rioter. The 83-year-old glued his hand to the side of a carriage at Shadwell and was concerned for his grandchildren. “I’m also very concerned about what’s happening in the poorer parts of the world who are being hit hardest by climate breakdown.” Being Christian, he expressed concern about “God’s creation being wrecked across the world.” Kingston was also jointed by a rather eclectic sampling: a vicar, an ex-Buddhist instructor, and a former GP.

The incident, which involved aggressive scuffling between commuters and the protesters, was acknowledged in a statement from the movement as something divisive. “In light of today’s events, Extinction Rebellion will be looking at ways to bring people together rather than create an unnecessary division.” Others were keen to pick holes in the rationale of the protest: Why, for instance, get at an electric train? Within XR, things are far from uniform.

Such protestors were a rather humble lot, but it did not take long for the bigger fish to join the shoal. Cumberbatch added his voice of support, his grin flashing as it was snapped by cameras in front of the Extinction Rebellion hearse blocking traffic to Trafalgar Square. Behind him were the conspicuous words hovering with spectral, foreboding promise: “Our future.”

The criticism of this was not far behind. Cumberbatch is the very conspicuous “brand ambassador” for MG in India. (Previously, Jaguar counted him among their celebrity proponents). The MG GS sports a particularly thirsty engine, and the actor is featured in an advertisement doing rounds in one on, of all places, Trafalgar Square. MG India’s Hector SUV has also boasted Cumberbatch’s smooth persona.

Academy award winner Colman has also found herself at odd between protest and brand. Having openly expressed her support for the movement, questions were asked by some of the more barbed wings of the British press whether there might be a clash between being on a British Airways inflight video, and disrupting flights.

Over the summer, Oscar winning actress Dame Emma Thompson was also ribbed for flying from Los Angeles to London to participate in an Extinction Rebellion protest. Her explanation to BBC Radio 4 was that the objects of her job, and being a protester, might not always converge. “It’s very difficult to do my job without occasionally flying, although I do fly a lot less than I did.”

Those bastions of supposed establishment wisdom, such as The Spectator, were chortling and derisive. Toby Young was keen to highlight how purchasing vegan baguettes at Pret a Manger was inconsistent with anti-capitalist protest. He also expressed, at least initially, concern at how law enforcement authorities had, generally speaking, been models of restraint before XR enthusiasts. Had there been “a group of Catholic nuns protesting about changes to the Gender Recognition Act, the riot squad would have been straight with the tear gas.” For Young, it was good to laugh at these modern millenarians infused with the spirit of apocalyptic terror.

The issue of celebrity encrustation, however, was bound to come by and find voice. And the engine room of entertainment turns the moral message, however hypocritical, into entertainment. Bite the hand that feeds you and call it a show. Having anticipated the rage, the celebrity big wigs have turned vice into a virtue. An open letter with a hundred names or so, from Sir Bob Geldof to Sienna Miller, took to the barricades and distribution channels with an open letter of affected contrition. “Dear journalists who have called us hypocrites. You’re right. We live high carbon lives and the industries that we are part of have huge carbon footprints.”

What matters is the broad church of hypocrisy. “Like you – and everyone else – we are stuck in this fossil-fuel economy and without systemic change, our lifestyles will keep on causing climate and ecological harm.”

Those behind the letter stressed the speed of change as their concern. “Climate change is happening faster and more furiously than was predicted. Millions of people are suffering, leaving their homes and arriving on our border as refugees.” Children, through the voice of Greta Thunberg, had also called upon “the people with power and influence, to stand up and fight for their already devasted future.” (Rather cocksure are these celebrities, they, who wield such, as yet unmeasured influence).

Unlike those critical journalists, the signatories cannot help but be just a touch smug. There was “a more urgent story that our profiles and platforms can draw attention to. Life on earth is dying. We are living in the midst of the 6th mass extinction.”

Much, and in some cases too much, can be made about the celebrity activist who undercuts the argument. “None of us,” explained Sarah Lunnon of Extinction Rebellion, “is perfect.” The argument is still worth making, and publicity still worth having. Unfortunately for the likes of Cumberbatch, the gravity of such messages can be obscured by the person as label. In revolution, becoming a label is not only counterproductive but deadly. Protestors like Kingston can just hold their head that much higher.

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What The Liberals Did Next And Wasn’t It Just The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread?

Ok, I thought I might be imagining it, but I’ll show you the tweets to see if you notice what I noticed. I don’t actually follow the Liberal Party of Australia on Twitter but their tweets pop in my feed… possibly because I frequently go to the sites of various Coalition politicians to check if they really said that because I’d feel like a prized chump… or Trump… if I believed something when it was so clearly a hoax from something like The Chaser or The Betoota Advocate. Unfortunately, the answer is almost invariably, “Yes, he really said that!”. Not always, of course. Sometimes, the answer is: “Yes, she really said that!” but given the small number of female MPs in the Coalition and the even smaller number of times they’re allowed make a public statement, that’s a pretty rare occurrence. Anyway, Tweet 1 (Tweets are images and may not show on some platforms)

Tweet 2

Tweet 3

Tweet 4 – Are we noticing anything yet?

Tweet 5 – Ok, surely you must have thought what I thought by now!

Tweet 6 – If you haven’t noticed by now, you must have voted for them at the past two elections…

Tweet 7 – Still haven’t noticed? Are you Alex Downer?

Tweet 8 – Yes there isn’t a single tweet that’s about something they’ve done since 2013 until the following one. However, it is a retweet. The caption, “future of Australia” is just a coincidence because I snapped a video. It’s not mean to suggest that Mr Morrison thinks that this guy is the future of Australia. It’s certainly not suggesting that Morrison is the future of Australia.

Tweet 9 – Ah, John Howard. We’ve moved into the 21st Century… Oh wait, it’s his 1996 election campaign.

Tweet 10 – This just goes to show that they’re not racist and it’s only the lefties that think so!

All those Tweets show the accomplishments of the Liberal Party.

Who says that this is a do nothing government? Ok, none of them were about anything that the current mob have done, but they’ve only been in power a year, if you pretend that time under Turnbull and Abbott doesn’t count because we didn’t have the Miracle Man in charge until 2018.

Still you’ve got to admire his drought policy. Talk about a plan to spend money in the future, give money to councils whether they need it or not and pray for rain. When it eventually does rain, claim the credit because you’ve been praying.

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The Decent Protester: A Down Under Creation

The Decent Protester, appropriately capitalised and revered is, from the outset, one who does not protest. It is an important point: to protest in the visage of such a person is an urge best left to inner fantasy and feeling. You come late to the scene: the best work and revolt has been done; the people who made the change are either dead, in prison, or ostracised. Modest changes might be made to the legal system, if at all.

To actually protest, by which is meant screaming, hollering, and disrupting, with the occasional sign of public indignation, is something of a betrayal. A betrayal to your comfortable station; a betrayal to your happy state of affairs. Show disgust, but keep it regular, modest and contained. Add a dash of bitters that amount to hypocrisy.

This regularity is something that ensures the continuation of police states, apartheid regimes, and vicious rulers. It also perpetuates the status quo in liberal democracies. The cleverness of this is the idea of permissible revolt: As long as you operate within the acceptable boundaries of protest, your conscience is given its balm, and the regime can continue to hum to the tune of the tolerable. It is a principle that states of all political hues adopt, though the degree of that adoption is sometimes moderated by bills of rights and the like.

When Henry D. Thoreau was arrested and found himself spending a night in a Concord prison in 1846 for refusing to pay his poll tax, he was making a broader statement about breaking rules, albeit from a selfish perspective. His objects of disaffection were slavery and the Mexican War. To the individual exists a conscience that should not bow to majoritarian wishes. If there is a law “of such a nature that it requires you to be an agent of injustice to another,” he writes in Civil Disobedience, “then, I say, break the law.” In Walden (1854), he elaborated on the point, claiming that no citizen “for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislation.”

This view has hardly gone unchallenged, suggesting that civil disobedience can be a slippery matter. Hannah Arendt cast more than a heavy stone at Thoreau in her own essay on the subject in The New Yorker in September 1970. Her proposal, instead, was the necessary need to institutionalise civil disobedience and render it a matter of recognised action, rather than individual abstention. Thoreau had, after all, suggested distance and the will of the individual, that it was “not a man’s duty, as a matter of course, to devote himself to the eradication of any, even to the most enormous wrong; he may still properly have other concerns to engage him; but it is his duty, at least, to wash his hands of it…”

To that end, Arendt felt that “it would be an event of great significance to find a constitutional niche for civil disobedience – of no less significance, perhaps, than the event of the founding of the constitutio liberatis, nearly two hundred years ago.” But she resists, curiously enough, the idea of legalising it, favouring a political approach akin to treating the protester as a registered lobbyist or special interest group. “These minorities of opinion would thus be able to establish themselves as a power that is not only ‘seen from afar’ during demonstrations and other dramatizations of their viewpoint, but is always present and to be reckoned with in the daily business of government.”

Few countries better exemplify this dilemma than Australia, a country that has no formal constitutional protection of the right to protest yet insists on a collaborative model between protestor and state (protest permits, for instance, take precedence over any organic right; cooperating with police is encouraged, as laws are to be abided by). In some ways, an argument might well be made that civil disobedience, in anaemic form, has been institutionalised down under.

The result from brought forth in this coagulation is simple if compromising: the Decent Protester. Such a person is one very much at odds with the barebones definition of civil disobedience advanced by Robin Celikates, who describes it as “intentionally unlawful protest action, which is based on principles and aims at changing (as in preventing or enforcing) certain laws or political steps.” In other words, there can be no Australian Rosa Parks.

Each state has its own guidelines for the decent protester, offering a helpful hand for those braving a march or organising a gathering. An information booklet covering the right to protest in the Australian Capital Territory has a range of “guidelines”. It speaks of “many public places” in Canberra, the national capital, “where people can exercise their right to communicate their opinions and ideas through peaceful protests and demonstrations.” The authors of the booklet make the claim that Australian “democracy recognises this right which is subject to the general law and must be balanced against the rights and interests of others and of the community as a whole.”

The Commonwealth Attorney-General’s office gives the false impression that Australia has a clear right to peaceful assembly for people to meet and “engage in peaceful protest.” A list of international human rights treaties are suggested as relevant, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (articles 21 and 22) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (article 8(1)(a)). But being a party to a convention is not the same as incorporating it. Legislation needs to be passed and, for that reason, remains mediated through the organs of the state. The Fair Work Act 2009, for instance, protects freedom of association in the workplace but only in the context of being, or not being, members of industrial associations. Not exactly much to go on.

Other publications venture a much older right to protest, one that came to the Great Southern Land, paradoxically enough, with convict ships and manacles. “The origins of the common law right to assembly,” argues a briefing paper by Tom Gotsis for the NSW Parliamentary Research Service, “have been traced back 800 years to the signing of the Magna Carta.” This, in turn, finds modest recognition in state courts and the High Court of Australia, not least through the limited implied right of political communication. Ever eccentric in its conservatism, that right is not a private one to be exercised against the state, merely a control of hubristic parliaments who venture laws disproportionate to it. Not exactly a glorious, fit thing, is that implied right.

Such protest, measured, managed and tranquilised, makes the fundamental point that those who control the indignation control the argument. Much time has been spent in Australia embedding police within the protest structure, ensuring that order is maintained. Trains, buses and cars must still run on time. People need to get to work. Children need to be in school. The message is thereby defanged in the name of decency. It also means that genuine lawbreaking aimed at altering any policies will frowned upon as indecent. Good Australians would never do that.

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