“Human beings are social beings, who need to be able to rely on each other. That requires trust, and trust requires truth-telling.” (Quassim Cassam).
Grace Tame looks daggers as the PM fakes cordiality and avuncular affability for the camera. A black belt in subterfuge, deception and betrayal, ScoMo™ has also mastered the dark political art of baring his top teeth whilst feigning conviviality, positively radiating goodwill and patent insincerity. His office invites 2022 finalists for Australian of the Year for a cup of tea and photo opportunity at The Lodge, his Canberra pad – on occasions when his main place of residence Kirribilli doesn’t suit.
It also sets ScoMo™ up to pretend to Brisbane 4BC, later, that Ms Tame’s an ingrate who’s abused his hospitality whilst he and Jen have invited her into their own home. A farrago of lies of course. Passive-aggressive and patronising, he diminishes and demeans her.
“Grace is a passionate person who’s raised important issues. She’s had a terrible life ordeal, you know, things happen to her, her ordeals, the abuse. It’s just awful.”
Back at the Lodge, Morrison’s toothy rictus evokes the look he had for press gallery cameras just before he knifed Malcolm Turnbull in August 2018, declaring“this is my leader and I’m ambitious for him.”
With no policy achievements and a catastrophic failure to protect us from the pandemic, The Coalition knows the election campaign must be a horse race between ScoMo™ and Albo. Of course, as Paul Bongiorno warns, the Coalition may hold the half senate election in May as it is obliged to. Leave the lower house until September. Punt on the pandemic receding. But odds are long.
For now, it’s character. Whom do you prefer? And therein lies the problem. As Laura Tingle implies, whilst Murdoch’s claque is busy with the myth that we don’t know who Albo is, Faux-Mo’s problem, as a public figure made entirely of smirk and mirrors, is that we do know who he is.
“… other unfortunate handshaking incidents during the bushfires; the excruciating moment when banking royal commissioner Justice Kenneth Hayne refused to be part of Josh Frydenberg’s photo opportunity by shaking hands and smiling with him; the widely circulated photo of Scott Morrison looking at his phone in the Parliament, having turned his back on Labor’s Tanya Plibersek as she addressed him across the chamber.”
There are many others. It’s Cobargo 2.0. Cue the NSW south coast, destroyed by freak bushfire fanned by his government’s policies of climate change denial. Local mother, Zoey asks questions only to have the PM turn his back and walk away from her in early January 2020.
“I have lost everything I own,” Zoey says in a social media post, with footage of the destruction. “My house is burnt to the ground and the prime minister turned his back on me.”
Given his government treats women as second-class citizens and worse, Ms Tame is in no frame of mind to be called into Morrison’s shonky photo-op. Be compromised. She’s brave. On cue, boys’ club commentators and big swinging dick club apologists, rush to attack her display of integrity.
“Sourpuss” sneers Miranda Devine. The News Limited flack, currently based in New York, accuses “Graceless” Tame of “ignorance, petulance” and “churlishness”. And a great deal more.
Morrison is “a leader of a middle power”, Devine ventures, as well as “our elected representative” who is owed respect for his high office alone, a gibe based on a lie about how we choose our PM, whilst she claims a former Australian of the Year (AOTY) is just an ambassador for a specific cause.
The “historic” Lodge also is defiled in Devine’s view. Sacrilege? Clearly, in the next phase of Murdoch’s Americanisation of our politics, it will be sacred. Our White House. A sacred shrine.
Devine’s rant in The Daily Telegraph, also trashes AOTY in a swinging denunciation, a hatchet job worthy of a PMO in full campaign mode. She dog-whistles culture warriors and the hard right.
“The AOTY is rarely representative of the Australian people but instead caters to a tiny base of Twitter brokens obsessed with prosecuting boutique ideological issues borrowed from overseas, usually to do with identity politics, “existential” climate alarm, the evil patriarchy, “toxic masculinity” and “systemic” racism.
Even if the AOTY were to start off as a normal person, by the end of their year in the spotlight they will have been thoroughly shaped into a left-wing activist by the media.”
“Ungracious”, Professor Peter Van Onselen also puns on her name, “rude” and “childish”. James McGrath, dropped in 2008 from Team BoJo for his comments in The Spectator calling African-Caribbean immigrants, “picaninnies” weighs in with “partisan, political and childish.”
There’s much more in this vein but a wave of approval far outweighs the sexist carping and character assassination, rejects Devine’s grotesque exaltation of our least trustworthy PM into an iconic national leader. Devine claims that to snub ScoMo is to insult the Australian people.
Most observers applaud Tame’s integrity. And how would Murdoch’s partisan hacks know what integrity looks like? ScoMo represents everything Ms Tame opposes. Such a pile-on, does, however, suggest a PMO aware that Tame is a major threat to their campaign to re-elect Morrison. A shonky product, which never really passed the sniff test, now smells well past its use-by date.
Perhaps Tame recalls ScoMo™’s office leaking against Brittany Higgins’ partner, David Sharaz. Or Chief of Staff John Kunkel’s “review” that found he was “not in a position to make a finding that the alleged activity took place”. (Sue Gray, take note for your Boris’ knees-up report.)
A helpless young woman is allegedly raped near his office, but the PM doesn’t know, let alone take any responsibility. God forefend he owes any duty of care. Or honesty.
But Morrison’s lies are world-renowned, largely thanks to Emmanuel Macron, and, for him, everything is someone else’s responsibility.
Almost. He’s a dab hand at captain’s calls and gratuitous cruelty. His appointing Amanda Stoker as Marise Payne’s underling, assistant Minister for Women to an invisible Minister for Women looks like an act of sadistic revenge.
The Queensland senator supported a “fake rape crisis tour” that inflicted great suffering on survivors, such as Ms Tame.
Or is it his failure to provide a safe workplace? Tame may have had in mind, Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins’ finding that sexual harassment and assault were so pervasive in Parliament with its toxic workplace culture that, “women told us they felt ‘lucky’ if they had not directly experienced sexual harassment and assault.”
Who’d want to shake the hand of a PM who pats women on the head and tells the nation“we are dealing with this as no other government has done before”?
“Saying “she’s had a terrible life” is the most condescending, ignorant & utterly disempowering comment to make about Grace Tame.
Grace’s whole message is that as survivors, we are not defined by our experiences of sexual violence,” tweets Nina Funnell who worked with Grace Tame on her original campaign #LetHerSpeak,
ScoMo’s government’s record is of evasion, inaction, lies and leaking against victims and their families. Contempt is only part of its orchestrated disempowerment of women.
Dealing with? Jenkins, in a separate process, recommends imposing a duty of care on employers to stamp out sexual harassment – only to have this rejected by the Morrison government.
Senator Jenny McAllister reminds us that, in 2013, Tony Abbott appointed himself Minister for Women. Eight years later, the contempt continues. ScoMo says women who march on parliament to publicly call for justice, equality and safety are lucky not to be shot. He snubs them anyway.
“This is a vibrant liberal democracy, Mr Speaker, not far from here, such marches, even now, are being met with bullets, but not here in this country, Mr Speaker,”Morrison says to boos, jeers and looks of total incredulity.
Why should Ms Tame, a passionate advocate for victims of sexual violence compromise everything she stands for by being a prop in the PM’s propaganda photo? Even in his words to those invited to the Lodge, ScoMo acknowledges Tame’s engagement to her fiancé, Max Heerey, not her work.
As with his struggle to understand that rape is a crime, ScoMo might need his Jen to clarify his slight – on all women. He’ll have plenty of time after May. Or September, should he take the punt.
Labor’s Jenny McAllister does acknowledge Grace Tame’s work, “together with other survivor advocates, she has driven a lasting national conversation about the treatment of women, and the prevalence of physical, emotional and sexual violence against women and children.”
It’s the eve of Invasion Day or ‘Straya Day as Morrison’s Ocker avatar outside The Lodge would have it. ScoMo’s™ moved on, prompted by focus groups. Sixty per cent of Australians support a change of date, according to a Guardian Essential Poll, taken a few days ago. Meanwhile, his commentary shifts to that of some didactic voiceover to a whitewashing of war and dispossession.
“A story,”he pens for Nine’s claque, mustering his typical fog of abstraction, cluttered with buzzwords and double-speak, “of strength and resilience that spans 65,000 years, of a continent that we love and contend with, and of a free and fair people who live in relative harmony.”
“Remarkable” would have been better than “relative”. And speaking of relatives, Morrison’s great-great-aunt, utopian socialist, poet and former Paraguayan commune member (in 1896), Mary Gilmore, a Dame who wrote for a communist newspaper, would turn in her grave.
Yet only his pet rag, The Daily Telegraph, runs the line that “the arrival in Australia of the First Fleet in 1788 was the initial step towards multiculturalism.” Shades of Tony Abbott’s defining moment.
Grace Tame’s “side-eye” defines our times. Why collude in a photo-op to normalise our criminally, negligent MPs with their hands in the till or doing favours for rich mates? Why approve of skiving off to Hawaii, padding travel allowances or taking a few days off to watch the cricket. Sam Maiden reports Tim Wilson Liberal MP Tim Wilson leaves Victoria for 95 nights, charging taxpayers $37k.
A vibrant liberal democracy does not normalise corruption while it disenfranchises women, the aged, the poor and first nations. It is not a regime of coercive control by old white men that opposes constitutional recognition of first peoples and rejects The Uluru Statement from the Heart.
A voice to parliament enshrined in the Constitution is not only long overdue, it would also enable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to provide advice to the Parliament on policies and projects that impact their lives. Instead, ScoMo™ & Co. come up with a co-design report. What does it do? It sets up further consultations to establish regional and local voices.
“The only thing the government has managed to achieve is more delays and more processes. What the government is proposing gives the Voice no security. They even banned their co-design committee from speaking about constitutional recognition,” Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney calls out the time-wasting duplicity inherent in the process.
Why help normalise a clown? The PM’s “vibrant liberal democracy” allows Clive Palmer to boast he’ll outspend his $93m last election, lying about Labor’s policies. Paul Bongiorno reports Labor strategists who call out Australia’s Clown Prince of Politics for what he is – a way of extending the Liberals’ media campaign budget, which, scandalously, remains uncapped.
“He’s a Liberal and will shovel votes back to them at the end of the day.”
“…the government has done nothing to contain the obscenity of a billionaire being able to distort the democratic political contest in such a blatant way.”
Australia’s reputation for corruption is at its lowest level since ratings began in 1995, reports Transparency International. Morrison’s Covid Commission is a sterling example. A mob assembled by the PM, ostensibly for Covid crisis management turns out to be a gas industry support group.
The scandal of our RATs instant millionaires is another.
Pandemic rages, with at least ninety-eight deaths, Friday, as a government, “getting out of peoples’ lives,” stops sitting on its hands only to point the finger of blame.
Omicron spreads to more than 700 aged-care homes, Rachel Withers reports for The Monthly. Staff struggle to cope in over half of all facilities in NSW. A grieving daughter tells SBS News that her father died of COVID-19 alone in his locked-down aged-care home, while waiting for an overdue booster shot, on the day after Aged Care Minister Colbeck takes three days off to watch a cricket game. Morrison defends Colbeck by telling us we don’t know how hard the Minister works.
Lives have been lost but Colbeck will “take this on the chin,” he adds obliquely. Accountability is not part of his vocabulary. An incompetent spared, ScoMo hopes is a future ally; bound to him in gratitude.
Students will return to school so parents can get back to work. Teachers are put at risk and their value impugned by being seen solely as babysitters in a post-industrial society. And expendable. Vulnerable retired teachers and inexperienced graduates are said to be ready to fill the gaps.
It’s an era of personal responsibility, ScoMo and Perrottet claim. But just try to buy a RAT. Unless you happen to be Motion One, a firm run out of a two-roomed apartment in Sydney’s Elizabeth Bay where Pilates franchise CEO, Austyn Campbell secures a $26 million contract to import RATs.
She flogs them online for $12.50. Identical tests are purchased by importers and sold to Australian retailers for as little as $5 per unit.
A former Liberal Party “digital strategist”, Campbell runs a communications firm, Agenda C, with Parnell Palme McGuiness, another lucky punter who’s also done work for the Liberal Party.
Also doing nicely is Julie Bishop’s beau, David Panton, formerly an all-night chemist in Mornington, Victoria, who with his daughters runs Pantonic, a pharmaceutical supply company. Tests start at $11.
Will it be a RAT-led economic recovery? An overvalued stock market totters, tech stocks shedding value first – Barnaby fan, Georgina Hope Rinehart gets a gong for services to mining, community and sport, just before she’s declared an Olympic sponsor.
Hang on. Help is on its way from BoJo.
So touching to discover that the mother country still loves her delinquent ex-colony. Or not so ex.
Thank God, Queen and her palace that John Kerr, her GG could keep the con in our constitutional monarchy as we were weaning ourselves off the breast of empire, onto a neo-colonial formula.
Our co-dependence helps us feel relaxed and comfortable about the capitulation of national sovereignty that is AUKUS, a pact yet to be defined, but which has a very colonial nostalgia vibe.
Not everyone loves Kerr. A ”rorty old, farting Falstaff …” an elderly lizard” is Patrick White’s vivid impressions of the Governor-General, a respected jurist and former Chief Justice of the NSW Supreme Court, who invoked his “reserve powers” to dismiss Whitlam’s Labor government in 1975, to the immense good fortune of Liberal Malcolm Fraser, a Western Districts grazier. How we miss such giants.
Mal is the last farmer to become Prime Minister, something the Nats have never got over and the only PM to visit to a seedy Memphis hotel, only to lose his trousers – just one leg of which, could be pressed into service as a shroud for his chief legacy, his treasurer. John Winston Howard, monarchist, devout Neoliberal and US lickspittle, who did so much to dash the hopes of voters who sought enlightened, progressive, federal policies which might heal division, promote equality and independence.
As for the AUKUS submarine plan, it’s a fiasco. Eight nuclear subs we cannot crew, or fuel, which need a whole new industry to maintain, with a price tag of at least possibly $170 billion, allowing for inflation, are thrust upon us much to Macron’s chagrin, or emmerdement, a word our prissy press pretend is “piss off” but any Frenchman will tell you means shat upon.
Macron hates our PM for lying to him that the sub deal was real until one day before it wasn’t. It’s a breach of good faith which will set back our trade with the EU circus, of which La Belle France is 2022’s ringmaster. Carbon tariffs could be slapped on our exports. Also, we alienate another power with a presence in the Pacific.
In the meantime, we may have to retire the Collins class subs which will be rust buckets well before our “new” nuclear submarines are ready in the early 2040s. By then, crewless subs and drones will have superseded anything AUKUS hawks us.
But all is not lost. Diplomatic genius, carbon tariff expert and Joke PM, Tony Abbott has been seconded to the BOT, Board of Trade, an outfit long dead in the water until revived by Teresa May as something she could announce that might offset the stench of a hard Brexit.
Tony’s bound to come up with something. Always does. Even if it’s only shirt-fronting Macron.
His work is cut out for him. Career liar, Boris Johnson brags that:
“… our ambitious trade deal with Australia will include a substantive article on climate change which reaffirms both parties’ commitments to the Paris Agreement and achieving its goals, including limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees.”
Tony’s carbon tax expertise will add a bit of finesse to the UK Australia Free Trade Deal virtually inked last month. It’s worthless according to Moody’s. Our beef and veal are more likely to go to more accessible markets which offer higher prices. As Moody’s puts it:
“Australian exporters garner higher prices for their beef products in countries like South Korea, Japan and the US. Also, Australian beef exports recently dipped because of drought conditions. Such conditions are expected to occur more regularly in the future and could restrict exports.”
Glen Dyer and Bernard Keane note that the Coalition refuses to allow the Productivity Commission or any other objective body to analyse the agreement because the benefits are minuscule. Even these dwindle in the light of the extra paperwork required to meet bureaucratic country-of-origin requirements for accessing the deal.
“Given the trivial economic impact of the UK-Australia free trade agreement, we won’t be updating our growth forecasts for the UK economy,” Moody’s conclude.
But it’s worse than nothing. Boris gets rolled. Barnaby Joyce’s carve-out means Morrison won’t have a bar of any deal that breathes a word about net-zero.
Australia’s negotiators demand that temperature targets have no part in the trade deal. When the Brits insist that The Paris Agreement to keep the global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees, and preferably to 1.5 degrees at least gets a mention, that’s all it gets and only over Morrison government objections.
But who’s going to notice the cave-in when the party’s all agog at revelations that Boris has lied about at least eleven parties that broke Covid isolation rules?
Party piece of party gate is surely BoJo’s glorious anniversary of his own birth, alas, another mental blankety-blank which he either can’t recall or, like fellow amateur casuist, ScoMo, argue wasn’t a party at all.
Boris’ colleagues are a riot of goodwill, a British ten-minute effusion of camaraderie, a happy birthday dirge and a cake with a Sue Gray file in it.
BoJo’s birthday party that his (fairly) newly-wed, a May bride, organised for him is the latest episode of Carrie On Upstairs, a fitting sequel to the mystery of who paid for the 840 pound a roll golden wallpaper in the refurbishing of Boris and Carrie’s flat over number eleven Downing Street, traditionally reserved for the chancellor of the exchequer except when Boris needs it for himself, his partner and growing family.
If we are conned on trade and it looks as if we’re roped into buying obsolete subs we won’t have any time for our war on Beijing, Keane suggests we just tell China to hold off for a couple of decades while we get our nuclear underwater shit together. What could possibly go wrong?
It’s not clear which of our neo-colonial masters will actually supply the ships. Morrison loves secrecy as much as indecision. DFAT tells us that by 2020’s end, Australian investments in the US totalled $864 billion – almost as much as the Great Satan – as America is revered in Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan whose peoples it has liberated, with our assistance – the USA has invested in the Land of Oz while our investment in the UK was $615 billion – and the Old Dart has $737.6 billion invested here.
All of this is a prelude to hope. Amidst the amazing Grace Tame’s refusal to grin and bear the PM’s charm offensive, a perfunctory line congratulating her on her engagement rather than her work as Australian of the Year, the shortage of RATs and ScoMo™ & Co’s abandonment of all pretence at protecting us from Omicron, the arrival, Friday, of UK Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, aboard a Global Britain private Airbus jet is a cunningly orchestrated stunt that gets BoJos rival out of his hair while providing audio-visual proof of ScoMo and Cos trade deals.
True, Little Britain’s Labour Party is outraged at the A$1 million price ticket but wait until they discover that the Free Trade Deal with the land Downunder is just another bit of window dressing.
Hawk Talk is also a big part of Truss’ mission. Eager to be Boris’ replacement and one of our neo-colonial mistress’ Britannia’s debauched ruling elite, Truss pops in to warn us that the Chinese Panda is plotting with the Russian Bear to blow us all up, a warning that Paul Keating calls demented.
Truss attacked Dan Tehan last year, because she felt slighted but now, she is practically one of us after being made honorary Ocker of the Year, last year by The Australia Day Foundation.
The dodgy Foundation is a cabal of climate deniers, mining shills and lobbyists with links to the ultra-right Policy Exchange, a group affiliated with those who spread disinformation on climate change and covid.
Many see Liz as Little Britain’s next Tory PM, if only party animal and pants-man, Boris Johnson would admit the carnival is over. Or Sue Gray busts him for breaking his own social distancing rules by holding parties. Seriously.
Her man bag, Ben Wallace, is a Boris-follower, too, over-promoted for his loyalty to Defence Secretary.
Ben and Liz are AUKUS hawks who talk up a Blairite WMD-type case for declaring war on Russia, just because America wants them to, a scenario, the invisible Marise Payne and Minister for Defence, Peter Dutton find incredibly compelling and not just as an election campaign stunt.
All is well in the Land of Oz, even “a smoking ruin” of democracy as Guy Rundle praises us. Deputy PM and MP for Santos, Barnaby Joyce tells ABC RN Breakfast’s Patricia Karvelas that “people aren’t dying” in the Lucky Country of Covid. Rats are wrecking his government’s superbly orchestrated pandemic testing kit rollout by hoarding their RATs (Rapid Antigen Tests) – or flogging them at prices to rival the can-do capitalism of professional gougers and your local Chemist Warehouse portal.
Finally, Labor’s leader responds to Andrew Probyn asking who he is:
“My first campaign, I was 12 years old,” Albo tells the Press Club. “We organised a rent strike. We took petitions around to everyone. That was my experience of that. That drove me. That was my first political campaign. And, by the way, we won.”
“Just ‘pushing through’ this pandemic is not enough,” he argues. “We need to learn from it, we need to use what the last two years have taught us to build a better future.”
We need “a government that steps up to its responsibilities and fulfils its most fundamental roles: to protect our people, to act as a force for good, and to change people’s lives for the better.”
No wonder Morrison’s running scared. But pumping social media with Clive$’ lies about Labor’s failings is unlikely to cut it when your record reeks of corruption, ineptitude, dud deals and untrustworthiness. The worst PM of the century can’t even show some grace under friendly fire at a reception for Australian of the Year, a miserable morning tea, brightened only by a bevy of nominees for awards, any one of which is likely to show up his own inadequacies as a man and as a leader.
To pick a fight with Grace Tame, moreover, and to go on radio, later, to belittle her, may cost Morrison any last skerrick of credibility. His pot-shot at Grace Tame, Australian of the Year 2021 is by extension an attack on all women and every woman’s right to expect a government that offers equality, justice and safety for all Australians, instead of a racket run to benefit a privileged few.
Given his lies, his stunts, his broken promises, his empty promises, his protection of incompetent ministers and worse, together with his government’s catastrophic mishandling of the pandemic, his pot-shot at Ms Tame maybe his coup de grace.
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When discourse between fair-minded people turns to speculation as to who has been Australia’s most appalling Prime Minister there are four names that are consistently short-listed – $3 Bill McMahon, fellow goblin John Howard, the feral friar Tony Abbott and Scott Spinocchio Morrison.
Arguing who is the worst of this noxious quartet is stepping into a steaming dollop of dog do and speculating as to whether it was a labrador, great dane or spaniel. A more appropriate take is surely along the lines of “how did we not smell that earlier?” Or, more perplexingly in the case of Howard, why did we step in it four times?
However, the trajectory of recent events turns such conjecture into a rhetorical question. We now have a clear winner.
The also ran
“I confess to a dislike of McMahon. The longer one is associated with him the deeper the contempt for him grows and I find it hard to allow him any merit. Disloyal, devious, dishonest, untrustworthy, petty, cowardly – all these adjectives have been weighed by me and I could not in truth modify or reduce any one of them in its application to him.” (Paul Hasluck, 17th Governor-General).
McMahon usually avoids a place on the podium of odium due to the passage of time and the level of egregiousness set by the other three finalists for munt of the century. McMahon was best known as a self-serving weasel and is remembered mostly from his wife Sonia’s split evening gown and rumours that it was she who legged it before Billy Snedden, one time Opposition leader, was discovered sans-metabolism in a Rushcutter’s Bay motel room wearing nothing but a fixed smile and a condom, his todger pointing heavenward in tumescent tribute to the best of possible departures to celestial reward. The gossip at the time also had Snedden’s son’s ex-girlfriend in the frame as a possible candidate for the coital causa mortis. I mention this for two purposes – it’s amusing salaciousness and because it’s tawdry ordinariness is in stark contrast to the depravity of the L/NP’s contemporary private school lager boys whose proud personal brand is rapey “swinging dicks“. The sign-in book in the Tory wing of Parliament House now serves as a defacto sex offenders register.
Let’s move on.
The English language has embraced many colourful German words – putsch, gestapo, blitzkrieg, obergruppenfuhrer and others to which we’ve become attuned since a certain Aldo Kipfler assumed the role of head tuber of the various spooks and goon squads. The more obscure term “sockenfalter” (a man who folds his socks) brings to mind a certain suburban pettifogger, a man of fifty shades of beige and the physical manifestation of a migraine. John Winston Howard set a standard of calculated mendacity and duplicity so low that arch-conservative and fully Range Rovered member of the squatocracy Malcolm Fraser resigned from the party in disgust.
Howard’s pre-selfies duck-face was a fixed expression of sour disapproval and resentment; his 1950s, white picket fence vision of an Anglican Australia where migrants are British and the working class know their place could not be resurrected, with no prospect that his local butcher would doff his cap as John Winston picked up his order of a 1/2 kilo (damn metrics) of sausages for Janette on his way home from his power walk.
Dumb luck (ala the mining boom, Tampa, 9/11) and a talent for lying kept him in the big chair for 12 years and cemented his reputation as a Tory icon.
“He occasionally stumbled over the truth, but hastily picked himself up and hurried on as if nothing had happened.” (Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in prescient anticipation of his acolyte and namesake).
Fast forward six years past a promisingly progressive but ultimately self-destructive Rudd/Gillard/Rudd Cirque du Solipsists and entering stage right came a discordant cackle in a yowie suit, bow-legged from his macho affectations and bike-riders’ ball rash. Shepherded by his Amazonian keeper Peta Credlin, an angry, big-haired figure retrieved from a 70s EuroVision demo-tape rejects bin, Abbott trashed convention, decency and the country.
Abbott’s legacy is his tearing down of the achievements of others as a substitute for having to conceive of any of his own, a man for whom opposition was so habitual he took it into government. Destructive idiocy has a short shelf-life – Abbott was soon consigned to the stuffed shirt speaking circuit and BoJo’s bob-a-job offer to spruik post-Brexit trade in spotted dicks and toads-in-the-hole.
The brevity of what the man himself laughingly calls the “Abbott era” (as if his two years of toxic presence at the helm is akin to a royal dynasty or geological time span – the bozozoic?) does not take him out of contention given his talent for setting fire to his own hair and the nation’s self-respect.
The Tories were later torn between leadership options – a psycopathic yam with a fondness for drowning kittens or a prosperity gospelling marketing spiv. They decided by a small margin that a familiarity with duping the punters was what was needed to lead the nation in times of unprecedented challenges and opportunities.
Morrison is maintaining the Howard business model of exploiting any niche for private profit, further enriching cronies and punching downwards but he has added his own weird Je$us Inc. endorsed fervour as justification for his disregard for any responsibility to those outside his rich=righteousness bubble; a righteousness that bristles at scrutiny or questioning.
Morrison settled into the big, green swivel chair through deception and treachery, claiming he came into the top job incidentally with no involvement on his own part. This is the MO that defines him.
Plausible deniability and a portfolio of personas – the artful dodger is never responsible, never accountable, the finger-pointing avoidance of any error is what we could call the Morrison Effect. The Wriggle Room that is the well-resourced Prime Minister’s Office carefully crafts his alibis, zealously guards the ScoMo® brand and initiates empathy training as a risk mitigation strategy. And they keep a practised eye on the bus schedule; Canberra’s road kill includes whistleblowers, non-partisan public service mandarins, female MPs and abused staffers.
The normalisation of corruption through a schedule of eye-wateringly costly rorts, the squalid, illegal persecution of legitimate welfare recipients and the exploitation of grannies to bolster the bottom line of Lamborghini-driving wideboys and chancers would be enough to set this government’s place in infamy but there is no bar too low. The crimes get worse and more frequent, the perps are more numerous and the sleaze and sexism spreads wider and it is Morrison who cultivates that toxic, consequences-free culture.
Omitting “sex pest and potential rapist” from your CV’s list of interests and hobbies when applying for a job with the Tories is a rational move given its inclusion could be considered tautological when “racist, entitled, misogynistic prick” is seemingly a default essential attribute on the L/NP job application form. Having accusations that the highest law officer in the country is an alleged rapist blithely brushed aside as “I won’t hold an enquiry, mate … case closed, move along” is quite the misreading of the mood.
Morrison can only empathise when events are filtered through the lens of his own limited experience. He hit the snooze button on the Tudge/Porter wake-up call and here we are.
* * * * *
There was a 22 year gap between McMahon and Howard, a six year gap between Howard and Abbott and a two year gap between Abbott and Morrison.
The question now is can the Libs come up with someone even worse than Morrison?History says so, and arithmetic says it’ll be soon.
A complete list of the Liberal Party’s corruption over the last 7 years. The Chaser.
The Christian Porter is now out of the running and Spud Dutton’s ambitions seem to have been lost in the noise. Ruprecht Shadenfraud our Maggie Thatcher reincarnated Treasurer doesn’t have the numeracy skills for organised crime but he has the requisite artifice and the ambition to be a contender for Morrison’s tainted crown. Can he maintain the tradition?
Well, I don’t know that it is, but I thought that the heading was a great way to confuse Pauline Hanson’s One Nation voters. Although confusing them is hardly difficult…
What gives me the right to talk about Sharia Law when I know absolutely nothing about it. I don’t know, but there seems to be a prevailing argument in Australia at the moment that one can say whatever nonsense one likes and if someone points out that you’re wrong, you can complain that your freedom of speech rights are being violated.
I couldn’t help but smile during the week when I read about that couple having their wedding in the Presbyterian Church in Ballarat cancelled. But let’s back up a bit, and remember some of the arguments we’ve been hearing from the “No” case.
A large number of the arguments are about things that are currently happening – boys wearing dresses, schools promoting “safe” environments for people regardless of the sexual orientation – and the rest rely on hypotheticals. You know the sort of thing: If we allow two people the same sex to marry, how can we stop a cat and a dog from deciding that they want to get married?
And, we’ve been hearing that religious freedom was at stake. John Howard, for example, was telling us that we need to enshrine religious freedom before the vote. His concern was that Parliament was only taking about “the putative# marriage ceremony”, and that we needed to more “specificity” on how religious freedoms will be protected before we vote.
Mm, I don’t remember him expressing concerns about religious freedoms after Pauline’s attempts to argue for a burqa ban. Yes, I know the burqa’s cultural rather than religious, but aren’t most religious customs?
Anyway, there’s been all this concern expressed about churches being forced to marry gay people. And that will be contrary to their religion because, for example, Catholic priests aren’t allowed to marry anyone. Not only that, but all the florists and bakers who have religious objections will be forced to make bouquets and wedding cakes and this may offend their religious beliefs. Although, when I think about it, I’m yet to go into a bakery and have the baker ask me about my sexual orientation in case they have to refuse me service. Anyway, once the marriage equality is passed, I can’t really understand why Esmeralda and Petunia, or Tony and George, or whoever’s getting married would actually want to give their business to a homophobic religious nutter.
Oh, is that bullying? Calling somebody homophobic when all they’ve done is refused to make a cake because it’ll have two people of the same sex on the top? I mean, we’ve got to keep the debate respectful and not call people names just because they have a different point of view. Imagine if politicians did that! You know, if they called people with compassion “bleeding hearts” or people who think that maybe some millionaires could afford just a little more tax were called “socialists’…
So we must have no bullying in this respectful debate. Which brings me back to the Ballarat Church. Steven North, the minister, saw a Facebook post by the bride expressing support for a “Yes” vote in the ABS survey. Outrageous. But rather than bully them by calling them names, he simply called them to his church and told them that not only would he not perform the ceremony, but they couldn’t marry in his church. Ok, some of you pedant’s may want to point out that it’s surely God’s church and then some people will use this as an opportunity to push their militant atheist views down our throats with all the passion of a Jehovah’s Witness who hears the words, “This sounds interesting, tell me more!” So let’s just not go there, ok?
Anyway, the gay community – which, of course, is a group of like-minded people who all think the same way – should thank Steven North, because he has single-handedly shown up the absurdity of the argument that churches would be forced to perform ceremonies for LGBTI people. Churches can’t even be forced to marry Christian, heterosexual couples. They can already paraphrase John Howard and say: “We will decided who marries in this church and the circumstances in which they marry!” So how on earth would marriage equality lead to churches losing their border protection rights? There’d have to be new legislation enacted which forced to churches to make their buildings and clergy available to whomsoever wished to marry in a church. And, like the raising of children by gay couples, this wouldn’t be affected by simply changing the marriage act.
Yes, I think that the gay community – at their regular community meeting or whenever they all get together to set their agenda to wreck civilisation as we know it – should take up a collection to send a bunch of flowers to Reverend North. First checking that there’s a florist who doesn’t object sending flowers to religious people.
Yes I had to look it up. I’m still not sure what he means by it: Commonly believed or deemed to be the case; accepted by supposition rather than as a result of proof.
The Iraq Inquiry Report (2009-2016) documents how Tony Blair committed Great Britain to war early in 2002, lying to the United Nations, to Parliament, and to the British people, in order to follow George Bush, who had planned an aggression on Iraq well before September 2001.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard conspired with both reckless adventurers, purported ‘to advise’ both buccaneers, sent troops to Iraq before the war started, then lied to Parliament and to the Australian people. He continues to do so.
Should he and his cabal be charged with war crimes? This, and more, is investigated by Dr George Venturini in this outstanding series.
The Iraq Inquiry
On 15 June 2009 the former British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, announced that an Inquiry would be conducted to identify lessons which could be learned from the Iraq conflict. He said:
“With the last British combat troops about to return home from Iraq, now is the right time to ensure that we have a proper process in place to enable us to learn the lessons of the complex and often controversial events of the last six years. I am today announcing the establishment of an independent Privy Counsellor committee of inquiry which will consider the period from summer 2001, before military operations began in March 2003, and our subsequent involvement in Iraq right up to the end of July this year. The inquiry is essential because it will ensure that, by learning lessons, we strengthen the health of our democracy, our diplomacy and our military.
The inquiry will, I stress, be fully independent of Government. Its scope is unprecedented. It covers an eight-year period, including the run-up to the conflict and the full period of conflict and reconstruction. The committee of inquiry will have access to the fullest range of information, including secret information. In other words, its investigation can range across all papers, all documents and all material. It can ask for any British document to be brought before it, and for any British citizen to appear. No British document and no British witness will be beyond the scope of the inquiry. [As will be seen, this will not be the case] I have asked the members of the committee to ensure that the final report will be able to disclose all but the most sensitive information—that is, all information except that which is essential to our national security.
The inquiry will receive the full co-operation of the Government. It will have access to all Government papers, and the ability to call any witnesses. The objective is to learn the lessons from the events surrounding the conflict.
I believe that that will also ensure that evidence given by serving and former ministers, military officers and officials is as full and candid as possible. The committee will publish its findings in as full a form as possible. These findings will then be debated in the House of Commons and the House of Lords. It is in these debates, as well as from the report itself, that we can draw fully upon the lessons learned in Iraq.” (www.parliament.uk, 15 Jun 2009: Column 23).
“In order that the committee is as objective and non-partisan as possible, the membership of the committee will consist entirely of non-partisan public figures acknowledged to be experts and leaders in their fields. There will be no representatives of political parties from either side of this House. I can announce that the committee of inquiry will be chaired by Sir John Chilcot and it will include Baroness Usha Prashar, Sir Roderick Lyne, Sir Lawrence Freedman and Sir Martin Gilbert. All are, or will become, Privy Counsellors.
The committee will start work as soon as possible after the end of July. Given the complexity of the issues it will address, I am advised that it will take a year. As I have made clear, the primary objective of the committee will be to identify lessons learned. The committee will not set out to apportion blame or consider issues of civil or criminal liability.” (www.parliament.uk, 15 Jun 2009: Column 24).
Opposition parties, campaigners and back bench members of the governing Labour Party condemned the decision to hold the inquiry in secret and its highly restrictive terms of reference which would not, for example, have permitted any blame to be apportioned. In 2015 Sir John Chilcot [hereafter Sir John] was criticised as the Iraq Inquiry remained unpublished after six years. The head of Her Majesty’s Civil Service Sir Jeremy Heywood said that the inquiry had repeatedly turned down offers of extra assistance to help speed up the report. Voices were raised in the House of Lords.
On 22 October 2015, during a debate, Lord Morris of Aberavon, KGPCQC, who had been Blair’s Attorney General between May 1997 and July 1999, complained about the “scandalous delay” in producing the Report.
His Lordship had just asked: “Did the Government believe the claims about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction or was the aim regime change, which has no basis whatsoever in international law? Was this the real motivation? Secondly, when was the decision taken to go to war? Was it at Crawford or Camp David, in April 2002?”
He had just deplored that: “ … the saddest feature of the inquiry process was the ‘strenuous effort’ of the Cabinet Office to block the committee from having access to ‘swathes of vital documentation,’ including notes from Blair to Bush” adding: “Respect for good governance is undermined if Reports don’t see the light of day before issues become dimmed in public memory.” (www.parliament.uk, 22 Oct 2015: Column 852).
In that complaint His Lordship had been joined by Lord Parekh, who lamented the delay caused by: “the dispute over access to various documents.” He gave an example: “ … it took nearly a year to obtain the Blair-Bush correspondence and the notes Mr Blair is supposed to have left with Mr Bush, to read them and to decide whether to include them in the report.” (www.parliament.uk, 22 Oct 2015: Column 858).
Baroness Falkner of Margravine commented: “Looking at the sequencing of events, it is clear that there was some kind of stand-off between the Cabinet Secretary and the Inquiry team, which lasted for a while … it took from July 2012 to January 2015 to reach an agreement on publishing the Blair-Bush correspondence.” (www.parliament.uk, 22 Oct 2015: Column 860).
On the same day, Lord Dykes asked “Why did Tony Blair have those embarrassing exchanges in 2002 [with George W. Bush] when there was no question of there being any declaration of war? Why did the then Government ignore the instinct and feelings of 1.5 million people marching down Piccadilly to protest about what was still an illegal war?”
And he followed on with a barrage of questions such as:
“Why was it so important for [Blair and Bush] to turn on Saddam Hussein if regime change was not the main driver?”
“Why did Tony Blair have those embarrassing exchanges in 2002 when there was no question of there being any declaration of war?”
“Why did the then Government ignore the instinct and feelings of 1.5 million people marching down Piccadilly to protest about what was still an illegal war?”
“Why did the Americans and the British ignore the wise advice of the French Government under President Chirac and Foreign Secretary Dominique de Villepin about the mistake of going to war on that occasion?” (www.parliament.uk, 22 Oct 2015: Column 865).
On 29 October 2015 it was announced that the Report on the Inquiry would be published in June or July 2016.
The Report was published on 6 July 2016, more than seven years after the inquiry was announced.
At the launch, the Chair of the Inquiry, Sir John Chilcot, outlined its scope:
“Our terms of reference are very broad, but the essential points, as set out by the Prime Minister and agreed by the House of Commons, are that this is an Inquiry by a committee of Privy Counsellors. It will consider the period from the summer of 2001 to the end of July 2009, embracing the run-up to the conflict in Iraq, including the way decisions were made and actions taken, to establish, as accurately as possible, what happened and to identify the lessons that can be learned. Those lessons will help ensure that, if we face similar situations in future, the government of the day is best equipped to respond to those situations in the most effective manner in the best interests of the country.”
The Inquiry took oral evidence over a number of months, with as many hearings as possible held in public. The first round began in autumn 2009 and continued into early 2010. After a break for the general election, the Inquiry resumed its hearings from 18 January to 2 February 2011, with private hearings concluding by the end of May 2011. Written evidence studied by the Inquiry included over 150,000 contemporaneous documents.
The Gargantuan final work, The Report of the Iraq Inquiry, is contained into twelve volumes, for a total of 6,275 pages, totally some 2.6 million words. The customary executive summary runs for 150 pages.
The Report is by far longer than Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian war, which only required eight books, and would be by far more than five times longer than Leo Tolstoy’s Warand peace, at 587,287 words, and the entire works of William Shakespeare, at 884,421 words.
The Report is on sale for 767.00 English pounds. Between 2009 and 2016 the Inquiry required the expenditure of 10,374.600 pounds, or AU$ 17,376.400.
The members of the Inquiry Committee were: Sir Lawrence Freedman, KCMG, CBE, FBA, a distinguished historian, Emeritus Professor of War Studies at King’s College, London; Sir Roderic Lyne, KCMG, a former British diplomat who served as British Ambassador to the Russian Federation from 2000 to 2004; the Right Honourable Usha Kumari Prashar, Baroness Prashar, CBE, who had served as a director or chairman of a variety of public and private sector organisations, and had been appointed as chairman of the Judicial Appointments Commission in 2005; and another distinguished historian and author, Sir Martin Gilbert, CBE, FRSL, honorary fellow of Merton College, University of Oxford.
They had all been made members of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom to facilitate access to the classified information related to the Iraq war. The word ‘Privy’ actually means ‘private’ or ‘secret’. A privy council was originally a committee of the monarch’s closest advisors to give confidential, secret advice on state affairs. In the United Kingdom Her Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council, which is the actual and full name, is a formal body of advisers to the Sovereign
So, how transparent has the Inquiry been?
As already noted, Prime Minister Gordon Brown had initially announced an inquiry which would sit entirely in secret but soon changed his mind after significant public and political opposition, and the majority of hearings have been held in public. However the Inquiry has been criticised for agreeing to let the government determine which documents it was allowed to publish and this issue has by its own admission hampered its work, including restricting questioning during witness sessions.
The Inquiry could be judged not only on how much of what it learned it would make public but on how much it was prepared to reveal about its own workings and methods. On this point, it has often failed to live up to its promise of openness.
The Inquiry has been widely criticised for not publishing en masse the documents given to it by the government. It indicated from the outset that it intended to publish “the key evidence” with its report at the end of the process. It also said that “It is the Committee’s intention to publish all the relevant evidence except where national security considerations prevent that.” In addition, “It may also publish material on the website as the Inquiry progresses where this will help increase public understanding of its ongoing work.”
The protocol ‘agreed’ with the government for the disclosure and possible publication of evidence has been widely criticised, including being raised in the House of Commons at Prime Minister’s Questions. The protocol required the Inquiry to seek permission not just to publish documents but to refer to them at any point in its proceedings.
In a statement on 17 December 2009, Sir John defended the Inquiry’s approach. He said that the Committee had taken “a conscious decision” not to publish “a mass of documentary material” but that it would “increasingly wish to draw on government records which are currently classified – in some cases highly classified – in its questioning. Where we do, we will seek the necessary declassification of records in advance of the relevant public hearings, with a view to making the written records publicly available.”
Since the second phase of the public hearings, the Inquiry published documents alongside witness sessions. It is also clear that the government was able to manipulate the process in that, for example, the Inquiry has published a diplomatic telegramme containing the official line to take on the critical April 2002 Crawford, Texas meeting but not the full record of that meeting.
In a letter to Prime Minister David Cameron in July 2012, Sir John stated that it would not “publish further information piecemeal and in advance of its report.”
The majority of hearings have taken place in public but there have been a number of secret evidence sessions, that the Inquiry described as “private”. In some case it has published redacted transcripts of those sessions.
Sir John also said that “if the Inquiry is to succeed in getting to the heart of what happened and what lessons need to be learned for the future, we recognise that some evidence sessions will need to be private. Sometimes that will be consistent with the need to protect national security, sometimes to ensure complete candour and openness from witnesses.”
It was thought that the intention that secret sessions might be held to ensure complete candour could raise the possibility that they might be used to meet the needs of witnesses to avoid embarrassment; on the other hand, that might be necessary to protect whistleblowers.
Tomorrow: The Iraq Inquiry (continued)
Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini – ‘George’ devoted some sixty years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. In 1975, invited by Attorney-General Lionel Keith Murphy, Q.C., he left a law chair in Chicago to join the Trade Practices Commission in Canberra – to serve the Whitlam Government. In time he witnessed the administration of a law of prohibition as a law of abuse, and documented it in Malpractice, antitrust as an Australian poshlost (Sydney 1980). He may be reached at George.Venturini@bigpond.com.
“G’day, Howie, haven’t seen you in ages!” “No, I’ve been keeping a low profile lately.” “So what brings you here.” “Well, I’ve come to set the record straight. You remember a few years ago when I went along with my mates and got rid of that low-life vermin who was terrorising the neighbourhood?” “That foreign bloke, what was his name? Sad Damned Hussy. Yeah, I sort of vaguely remember…” “Well, someone’s published this long, complicated report which says that we did the wrong thing.” “Yeah, didn’t you break into his house on the grounds that he had a meth lab where he was forcing kidnapped children to work?” “Yes, we complained to the police on several occasions but they did nothing.” “I thought they searched his house and said they couldn’t find anything.” “That’s right. That’s why George and Tony and I had to act, because the police were hopeless – they could never find anything. Tony, George and I formed a gang and we surrounded his house and told him that he had to release the children and give us all the drugs so that they could be destroyed. If he didn’t do it by midnight, we told him we were going to break in and destroy them ourselves.” “The children?” “No, the drugs. Pay attention!” “But didn’t some children get killed?” “Not by us… Well, not intentionally anyway.” “Ok, so what did this Sad bloke do?” “He just kept insisting that there was no meth lab. We reminded him that he’d be caught dealing marijuana from his hydroponic crop a few years earlier.” “That was from the hydroponic equipment that George sold him, wasn’t it?” “Exactly. That’s how we knew that he was sort of wicked, evil drug pusher who couldn’t be believed, because he’d been buying hydroponic equipment right up until the point that we stopped selling it to him.” “Right, so he just kept claiming that he didn’t have anything illegal and then what happened. I can only remember bits and pieces.” “Midnight comes around and we enter the house…” “You broke the door down?” “No, we’d already sent a few guys in there so that they’d be ready when the time came.” “So you’d already broken into his house before the deadline was up…” “Look, I think that we should concentrate on the important issue: The meth lab.” “Sorry, go on.” “Anyway, we started looking for him and nobody could find him.” “And that was when you set fire to the house?” “Yes, that was to force him out.” “Didn’t some people die in the fire?” “There was some collateral damage. But it turns out that he was hiding in the garage. When we found him, he was dragged out and hanged.” “Without a trial?” “Of course we had a trial. We had a trial on the spot. We asked him if he had anything to say, and he said something and then he was executed.” “And what about the meth lab?” “Sorry?” “The meth lab was destroyed in the fire?” “We never actually found the meth lab.” “Oh. So he was telling the truth.” “That’s your interpretation.” “And the fire’s never been completely put out, has it? I read somewhere the other day that it keeps flaring up and that you three had no idea about how you’d put out the fire when you started it.” “We didn’t start the fire, it was always burning…” “Billy Joel?” “What are you talking about?” “I just thought you were quoting Billy Joel… Anyway, you’ve read the report and you’ve come here to set the record straight and apologise because you got it wrong.” “I see no need to apologise. I did I believed was right based on the facts I had at my disposal.” “Sort of like the stolen generation.” “What!” “Well, the stolen generation. You know, all those people doing what they thought was right at the time and that’s why there was no need for the government to apologise, because so long as you believe what you’re doing is right at the time, then you don’t need to apologise later.” “Look, hindsight’s a wonderful thing. But I don’t see why people want to blame for the current fire when we got rid of someone who was a potential drug dealer. I mean even if didn’t have a meth lab at the time, he was probably planning to start one and, besides, he was a thoroughly nasty man and the whole neighbourhood is better now that he’s gone.” “Apart from the fact that since he’s gone, a criminal gang’s moved in and they’re killing people and…” “That’s got to nothing to do with me. Anyway, I must go. I need to set the record straight and then dash over to give some advice to a couple of old friends.” “You mean in spite of getting things so spectularly wrong people still want your advice?” “Of course. I mean, it’s not like I’ve ever made any mistakes, after all.”
I like this ‘Your Say’ section. I can have a say, basically, and keep it simple.
So keep this simple I will.
With some ultra Right-wing politicians calling for the relaxation of the guns laws which were introduced by John Howard after the Port Arthur massacre, it’s probably a good time to hear from the president of a country whose gun laws are the same as those few politicians – and some of our citizens, I assume – are calling for.
Australia’s strict gun laws are considered a role model for Obama, who presides over a country that arguably has more gun deaths than any other, and who has had the unenviable duty to deliver statements on gun violence 15 times. When’s the last time an Australian prime minister has had to do that? Howard, 1996.
In the continuing debate over how to stop mass killings in the United States, Australia has become a familiar touchstone.
President Obama has cited the country’s gun laws as a model for the United States, calling Australia a nation “like ours.” On the campaign trail, Hillary Clinton has said the Australian approach is “worth considering.” The National Rifle Association has dismissed the policies, contending that they “robbed Australians of their right to self-defense and empowered criminals” without reducing violent crime.
The oft-cited statistic in Australia is a simple one: There have been no mass killings – defined by experts there as a gunman killing five or more people besides himself – since the nation significantly tightened its gun control laws almost 20 years ago.
This was not the first occasion on which Obama praised our gun laws:
“Other countries, in response to one mass shooting, have been able to craft laws that almost eliminate mass shootings,” he said on Thursday. “Friends of ours, allies of ours — Great Britain, Australia, countries like ours. So we know there are ways to prevent it.”
And we have idiot politicians here who want our gun laws relaxed.
I shake my head in disbelief.
They need to speak to Obama.
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Who was really behind the dismissal of the Whitlam Government? As we approach the 40th anniversary of the dismissal, Dr George Venturini* critically examines the giddy rise of Gough Whitlam, his reforms, his cold relationship with the Nixon Administration, the Khemlani loan scandal, the dismissal of the Whitlam Government on 11th November, 1975 and the questions that have lingered since. This is a four part series which will conclude on the anniversary of the dismissal.
In November 1972 the American people re-elected Richard Milhous Nixon to the Presidency of the United States. Nixon would have on his side Henry Alfred Kissinger, a proponent of Realpolitik, who played a dominant role in United States foreign policy between 1969 and 1977.
Both turned out to be war criminals. Nixon’s name is indelibly connected with Watergate. There was nothing that Kissinger would/would not do in pursuit of one of his ‘principles’ – a ‘philosophy’ thus formulated: “The illegal we do immediately. The unconstitutional takes a little longer”. He said so in the presence of Melih Esenbel, Turkish Foreign Minister, in Ankara, on 10 March 1975.
In December 1972 the Australian people elected Edward Gough Whitlam’s party to form the government. Left in those hands, the American Administration response to the Whitlam Government could only be sinister.
But there was also from the very beginning a ‘problem of acceptance’ of the new government. In outlining his ‘Program’ Whitlam offered much, perhaps too much: “We have a new chance for our nation. We can recreate this nation. We have a new chance for our region. We can help recreate this region”.
He asked the electors:
“Do you believe that Australia can afford another three years like the last twenty months? Are you prepared to maintain at the head of your affairs a coalition which has lurched into crisis after crisis, embarrassment piled on embarrassment week after week? Will you accept another three years of waiting for next week’s crisis, next week’s blunder? Will you again entrust the nation’s economy to the men who deliberately, but needlessly, created Australia’s worst unemployment for ten years? Or to the same men who have presided over the worst inflation for twenty years? Can you trust the last-minute promises of men who stood against these very same proposals for twenty-three years? Would you trust your international affairs again to the men who gave you Vietnam? Will you trust your defences to the men who haven’t even yet given you the F-111?”
The response from an electorate attuned to periodical ‘plebiscites’, when part of a parliament is ‘chosen’ through an electoral system which defies any decent notion of democracy by compulsory exhaustive distribution of the votes cast in the ‘two-party’ system to which 23 years of torpor had lulled a largely indifferent populace, was rather disappointing. Labor-with-Whitlam obtained a slim but working majority of nine in the House, but did not gain the Senate.
Any explanation would require a lengthy discussion. Perhaps a historical master-servant relationship would go a short way – but precisely: people who share the rhetoric of ‘mateship’ and the illusion of “fair go”, who satisfy themselves with the notion that “she’ll be right” and who trust that the essence of life is “no worries”, easily become accustomed to ‘things as they are’ under the reassuring ‘presence’ of the Hanovers – who would guarantee from abroad what passes as form and propriety, even if in time expressed by a majordomo in top hat and tails; from across the ocean security would come with the ‘protection’ from a Great and Powerful Friend.
Ask any squatter, race fixer, bookie, real estate agent, ‘producer’, obsequious toady, solicitous lobbyist with their ambulance-chasers and classist judges – and all receivers of, dealers in, stolen goods since 1788 – and they would, though misbelievers, confirm that is ‘as designed by Divine Providence’.
And who would want to deliver the government of ‘this great country of ours’ to the tallest poppy ever seen around?
A literalist would be time-wasting in accepting verbatim Donald Horne’s view of his countrymen.
In chapter four of his The lucky country, dealing with it as ‘Between Britain and America’, Horne wrote: “Australians are anonymous, featureless, nothing men. This modest anonymity reveals itself in the argument that Australia does not run to the kind of person we could turn into a president [of a future Australian Republic]. Is Australia alone in the world in being unable to rig up its own head of state? This is backwater colonialism, nervous of its final responsibilities”.
Horne had already asked himself ‘What is an Australian?’ The response was as cruel as before: “The demand for mindlessness can be so pervasive that able men deliberately stumble around with the rest lest they appear too clever, and therefore too ‘impractical’ … Much energy is wasted in pretending to be stupid. To appear ordinary, just like everybody else, is sometimes a necessary condition for success in Australia”. He had already said: “Many of the nation’s affairs are conducted by racketeers of the mediocre who have risen to authority in a non-competitive community where they are protected in their adaptations to other people’s ideas”.
Those harsh words were written in 1964, and the spirit of such people could not possibly have changed in eight years, towards the coming of the Whitlam Government.
There was perhaps more than the search for a witty expression in the words of Senator Reg Withers of Western Australia, who denounced the arrival of the Whitlam Government as an ‘aberration’ for which he would hold responsible some fringe seats around the two main Australian cities. In and out of the Senate Withers was known as ‘the Toe-cutter’. He was a monarchist, ‘non-ideological’, famous for ‘getting the sensible things done’, and regarded as ’the architect of the supply-withholding’ from the Whitlam Government. It became de rigueur to portray the new government as a troupe of amateurs – noisy clowns, rather – led by an ‘idealist’, and who had come to town but would not stay long, anyway.
A crisis arose almost immediately after the formation of the government. In December 1972 Nixon ordered massive bombing of Hanoi – not to coerce Hanoi, perhaps, but to convince the vassals in Saigon. During the ‘Christmas season’ more bombs were dropped on northern Vietnam in three weeks than in the previous three years. Such action could not be condoned by the Whitlam Government.
What, it seems, the governments of the Menzies era did not know, or pretended not to know, is that between 4 October 1965 and 15 August 1973 the United States would drop far more ordnance on Cambodia than was previously believed: 2,756,941 tons in 230,516 sorties on 113,716 sites. The bombing was designed to deny help through that unfortunate country to the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong. The impact of the bombing is now clearer than ever: civilian casualties in Cambodia drove an enraged population into the arms of an insurgency which had enjoyed little support until the bombing began, setting in motion 1) the expansion of the Vietnam war deeper into Cambodia, 2) a coup d’état in 1970, 3) the rapid rise of the Khmer Rouge, and ultimately 4) the Cambodian genocide under Pol Pot. To put 2,756,941 tons into perspective, the Allies dropped just over 2 million tons of bombs during all of the second world war. Cambodia may be the most heavily bombed country in history.
On 20 December 1972 Whitlam sent a personal message to Nixon through the Australian Embassy in Washington expressing concern at the course of events in Vietnam. The matters raised in the message were discussed in Washington with Kissinger, National Security Adviser, and in Canberra with the U.S. Ambassador, Walter Rice.
The letter to Nixon was polite, but firm. “The disappointment caused by the recession of the prospect [of reaching a cease-fire agreement], coupled with anxiety about the resumption of the bombing, is producing a feeling of grave concern in this country … I question most earnestly whether the resumption of bombing will achieve the result that I know you desire, the return of the North Vietnamese to the negotiating table in a more forthcoming frame of mind”.
Whitlam was “well aware of the difficulties and frustrations which Dr. Kissinger and the other American negotiators have experienced in dealing with the North Vietnamese. We admire the patience and resolve that they have shown … It is of particular concern to me that my first personal message to you on a matter of substance since assuming office as Prime Minister of Australia should not be misconstrued. I want to reassure you, therefore, that I look forward to a period of positive cooperation between our two countries on a wide range of matters in the years ahead and that, on this particular question of Vietnam, I am moved as much by a positive and, I hope, helpful desire to put negotiations back on the rails and by feelings of distress at one particular aspect of your Government policy”.
The letter was not published at the time, but Whitlam reserved the right “to make some public reference to [his] having sent [the message to Nixon]”.
If Whitlam’s intention became public, Kissinger intimated to the Australian Embassy No. 2, “it must have great consequences for our relationship”. Kissinger hardly needed to spell it out. He was talking about the future of the U.S.-Australian alliance.
It seems that the American Embassy in Canberra had been instructed ‘to keep its hands off’ as regards the election of December 1972 – at least officially. What Kissinger might have told Task Force 157 will never be known.
However, the official attitude to the Whitlam Government changed quickly after the election when members of the government Jim Cairns, Clyde Cameron and Tom Uren strongly criticised renewed bombing of Hanoi. They accused Nixon and his men of being “maniacs” and “acting with the mentality of thuggery”. Jim Cairns called the bombing “the most brutal, indiscriminate slaughter of women and children in living memory”.
The military offensive had been Nixon’s attempt to break the will of the North Vietnamese at a time when its leaders were deemed unresponsive to renewed American pressure for peace. As Kissinger had remarked to Nixon, 100 B-52s was akin to “a 4000-plane raid in World War II … it’s going to break every window in Hanoi”.
Whitlam had already written to Nixon that in the circumstances the best means open to him was “to approach the heads of government of some of our neighbours in the Asia/Pacific area to join [him] in addressing a public appeal; to both the United States and to North Vietnam to return to serious negotiations”.
Kissinger’s reaction on reading those words hardly disguises the American Administration’s anger. He instructed the U.S. Embassy in Canberra “to convey that we are not particularly amused being put by an ally on the same level as our enemy and to have an appeal equally addressed to us and North Vietnam”. He thought that it was not “the way to start a relationship with us”. He told the Ambassador: “So, I don’t think we are going to reply to this message. I’ve just talked to the President about it”. But, he added, “this is not an official communication … such an act taken publicly” – that is to say, releasing the letter – “would really not have very good consequences …” (Kissinger to Charge d’Affaires, US Embassy, Australia, 3.25pm, 20 December 1972, Box 17, HAK Telcons, Nixon Presidential Archive).
The sudden shift in the tenor of American-Australian relations had ramifications in the world of media which reverberated all the way through to 1975.
Australian ‘men-of-power’ reacted immediately and with the desired servility. On 4 January 1973 Nixon received a memorandum from his Communications Director, Herbert G. Klein to say that Sir Frank Packer, father of Kerry and then managing director and major share-holder of Australian Consolidated Press, had sent his New York representative “to express to [Nixon] his [Packer’s] personal support and that of his magazines and his television network”. Packer’s message was that he understood Nixon’s motivation in bombing Hanoi, that he was “disturbed” by Whitlam’s comments and that the majority of Australian’s did not share Whitlam’s views. At the same time, according to the memorandum, Packer’s representative “…offered [Nixon] any use [he] may like of [Packer’s] magazines and network”. Packer’s voluntary acquiescence to the U.S. shows how the Australian press did not need to be part of a conspiracy to do the bidding of the United States. The Packer empire were willing collaborators before the American Administration even conceived of using them. As Klein said in his memo to Nixon: “I declined [the offers of help] at this time”. In the event, when John Kerr installed Liberal leader Malcolm Fraser as Prime Minister in 1975, one of Fraser’s first calls was to Kerry Packer, who immediately went to Canberra to give the caretaker prime minister “a great deal of moral support” both then and during the rest of the election campaign.
The Whitlam Government’s relationship with the American Administration never really recovered from this poor start and the relationship was further exacerbated by an ‘unusual’ act by Attorney-General, Lionel Keith Murphy, Q.C.’s on 15 March 1973.
The Attorney-General had repeatedly requested from A.S.I.O. satisfactory information concerning ‘intelligence’ on suspected terrorist groups operated by Croatian Australians. Murphy’s concern about the matter was heightened by the impending visit to Australia of the Yugoslav Prime Minister Džemal Bijedić. Out of incompetence, or perhaps of sympathy, A.S.I.O. had been un-cooperative. The agents could not find the necessary files. Attorney-General Murphy held the conventional view that even a security service, like any other arm of executive government must be accountable to the relevant minister, in this case to the Attorney-General. Murphy decided to go and get the information himself. Early in the morning of the designated day he followed the Australia’s Commonwealth Police which had been ordered to enter the headquarters of A.S.I.O. This unannounced as well and un-conventional visit was immediately branded by the bene-society as a ‘raid’. The word has been used ever since to vilify the Attorney-General and his government. It has become part of the Australian s/language, sanctified ‘at the pub’ as in every ‘respectable’ salon.
What is forgotten in the process is the irresponsible behaviour of A.S.I.O. The Attorney-General had sought the files of the six most dangerous or subversive people in Australia who could constitute a threat to peace on the occasion of the Yugoslavian visit. What he had been given, maybe out of imbecility more than hilarity, were files of several Communist Party unionists and people connected with the peace movement.
Needless to say, the American Administration took seriously the ‘raid’; Attorney-General Murphy came to be regarded as a ‘Communist sympathiser’. ‘Washington’ formed the view that that kind of ‘raid’ could endanger secrets shared between A.S.I.O. and the C.I.A.
Early in 1973 Nixon selected Marshall Green as Ambassador to Australia, a post he held until 1975. Green was a protégé and a key aide to new Secretary of State Kissinger. He had accompanied Nixon on his 1972 visit to China.
His qualifications were impeccable: in 1961 he was the senior American diplomat in South Korea during a coup which toppled a democratically elected government. He was named Ambassador to Indonesia in July 1965, only weeks ahead of an anti-Communist coup which would see President Sukarno replaced with President Suharto and would lead to the deaths of an estimated 500,000 Indonesians. In 1969 Nixon nominated Green as Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and Green held this office from 5 May 1969 until 10 May 1973.
He arrived in Canberra with the reputation of a ‘coup master’.
Marshall Green’s appointment was a sign of the United States’ uneasiness over the election of the Whitlam Government. By the time of Green’s departure, in September 1975, many in the Labor Party felt similarly unease over the role played by the master diplomat in destabilising the Whitlam Government – many but not all.
There is ample evidence from many unsuspected sources that both Robert James Lee ‘Bob’ Hawke and Robert John ‘Bob’ Carr, in their respective position – the first of President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (1969-1979) and future Prime Minister (1983-1991), and the second of education officer for the Labor Council of New South Wales (1972-1978), future Premier of New South Wales (1995-2005) and Foreign Minister from March 2012 to September 2013 – kept close contact with American officers and consuls in Melbourne and Sydney. The central office of the C.I.A. is said to be in Melbourne.
“Recently declassified U.S. State Department cables offer a fresh way to tell the story of Australia … through the loose lips of the main players in the Labor government … The documents are both painful and amusing, for they reveal the petty treachery of Australia’s elite. Bob Hawke briefed against Whitlam” (George Megalogenis, The Australian moment: How we were made for these times (Melbourne 2012).
In fact, according to James Curran, “Hawke had been speaking to the Americans for years beforehand. I mean the Americans knew Hawke very well. He would talk to American diplomats right through the 1970s and give them briefings on Australian politics and there’s no doubt and that the Americans felt very comfortable with Hawke” (A.B.C., Radio National, Rear vision, ‘A true friend? The US/Australia alliance’, Broadcast: Wednesday 16 November 2011 8:30 a.m.).
Hawke was not alone. In fact the number of informers coming from the Labor Party has been large and embarrassing for a long time.
On 9 December 2010 The Sydney Morning Herald revealed that Senator Mark Arbib, a federal minister and Right-wing Labor powerbroker, had been a confidential contact of the United States Embassy in Canberra, providing inside information and commentary on the workings of the Australian Government and the Labor Party.
His candid comments had been incorporated into secret cables and reports to the American Administration with repeated requests that his identity as a ‘protected’ source be guarded.
A former secretary of the New South Wales branch of the Labor Party between 2004 and 2007, a member of the Party National Executive – from 2004, and a member of the National Executive Committee – from 2007, Senator Arbib was a key backroom figure and an expert on coups within the Party. He first appeared as a contributor to U.S. Embassy political reporting while he was Labor State Secretary.
After one more coup, Arbib resigned from the ministry on 2 March, and from the Senate on 5 March 2012. The following day Arbib was replaced as a Senator by former Premier of New South WalesBob Carr, who on 13 March became the Foreign Minister (Philip Dorling, ‘Arbib revealed as secret US source’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 9 December 2010).
“Senator Carr’s diplomatic involvement goes back to at least August 1974, when the U.S. Embassy in Canberra reported “‘a pervasive sense of gloom and anxiety”’ within the Labor movement as the Whitlam government “’struggle[d] in [a] disorganised fashion to stem growing inflation”.
Together with N.S.W. Labor president John Ducker, he told the U.S. Consul-General in Sydney that] “economic policy has never been Whitlam’s bag” and criticised his “tendency to delegate practically everything” (Philip Dorling, ‘New database shows US informants were inside Whitlam’s ALP’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 9 April 2013).
Officials in the American Administration were worried about the possible closure of the American bases in Australia, and generally about the possibility that Australia would pursue an independent policy particularly with reference to foreign investments. Ambassador Green was the first career diplomat, unlike the sort of person Australia receives, who is ordinarily one rewarded for contributing money to the Republican or Democratic parties campaigns.
Green had been mentioned in the Pentagon papers as being a high-level policy maker for America in Southeast Asia and he had known C.I.A. connections.
Suspicions about Green were shared by Clyde Cameron, Minister for Labour, who had many face to face meetings with the American Ambassador.
This is what Cameron would say: “Marshall Green was for many, many years a top C.I.A. operative who orchestrated the overthrow of the Sukarno government which led to the installation of President Suharto. He was involved in the C.I.A. intrigue in Vietnam and in the overthrow of the government of Greece. He’s a very, very skilled operative in the art of destabilisation of governments that the United States doesn’t approve of”.
Cameron described Green’s method of operation: “[It] was to make close contact with the military of a particular country, those who own and control the media, and generally [to] infiltrate the sections of governments where policy or decision-making takes place. And if he is unsuccessful in getting the right decisions there, well, the next step would always be to get the army to organise a coup. That’s what happened in Indonesia, a phony uprising was organised by the C.I.A. in order to give justification for the military coup that followed. And the same happened with the assassination of Deben in South Korea. Where a ruler is unable to bring about the kind of decisions that suit the C.I.A. or where a ruler doesn’t even try to do so, then, the next step is to organise some pretence for military action. The same sort of thing happened in Chile in 1973. And one of the first people he called on, after visiting the Prime Minister and having already put in his credentials to the Governor-General, was me. And as he was walking through the door of my office I saluted him in the normal way, ‘please to meet you your excellency, take a seat,’ and before he could take a seat I said ‘what would you do if our government decided to nationalise the Australian subsidiaries of the various American multinational corporations?’ and he’d been caught by surprise, he wasn’t accustomed to a minister asking that sort of question whilst he was in the process of taking his seat, and he blurted out: ‘oh, we’ll move in’. I said, ‘oh, move in? like bringing the marines in?’. He said, ‘oh…’ he looked a bit uncomfortable by now, although he’s a senior man he didn’t expect being caught off guard, he was very uncomfortable and he said, ‘oh, no, the days of sending the marines has passed but there are plenty of other things we could do’. I said, ‘for example?’. He said, ‘well, trade’. And I said, ‘do you realise that if you stop trading with Australia you would be the loser to the extent of 600 million dollars a year’, that was the balance of trade figures at that time. He said, ‘oh, well, there are other things’. And he didn’t elaborate but, of course, there are other things” (The C.I.A. in Australia, Transcript of Part 2 of 6, Watching Brief, Public Radio News Services, October-November 1986, Melbourne).
Whitlam’s attitude to politics was exactly opposite to that of Nixon, particularly under the advice of Kissinger and ‘operations’ by the C.I.A.
Whitlam saw international law as an essential component of efforts to avoid conflict, resolve disputes, and restructure international relations (Michael Kirby, ‘Whitlam as internationalist’, The Whitlam Lecture, University of Western Sydney, 25 February 2010).
It was on this basis, in part, that the Whitlam Government embarked on a vigorous process of ratifying international law treaties. Indeed, under that government, over 133 international treaties entered into force for Australia, including 26 Exchange of Notes Agreements, 32 Bilateral Agreements, 16 Multilateral Agreements, 17 Protocols, 8 International Statutes, and 34 Treaties/Conventions.
Commenting on the international engagement of his Government, Whitlam said: “We have done a great deal more, I believe, than all previous governments. We have communicated to the world our commitment to international law and our eagerness to contribute to co-operative endeavours. We have displayed a breadth of legal skills. And Australia has come to be regarded as an independent voice” (Gough Whitlam, ‘Australia and International Law’, Address by the Prime Minister to the Seminar on Public International Law, 26 July 1975, Canberra).
This is what Ross Terrill, an ex-patriate Australian author, recalls of the American Administration’s reaction to Whitlam protest on the bombing of Hanoi in December 1972:
“On 23 December 1972, waiting in the White House to see Henry Kissinger, I realised he might broach the Whitlam tornado. I occasionally talked with Kissinger (my former teacher at Harvard) on China; only once did we discuss Australia, when he requested to meet Wilfred Burchett. In an ante-room I phoned the Australian embassy and asked the Deputy Chief of Mission – in the absence of Ambassador Jim Plimsoll – if he would read me Whitlam’s 21 December cable to President Nixon protesting the ‘Christmas bombing’ of Hanoi. He declined.
Entering Kissinger’s office, I found him waving the cable. ‘It’s unforgivable for this new Australian government to put Hanoi and Washington on the same footing,’ he said angrily. ‘How can an ally behave like this?’ I told Kissinger that Whitlam considered ANZUS ‘unshakeable’. He riposted, ‘CAN it be unshakeable? You can’t apply ANZUS on some points and not on others’.
Kissinger said the White House wouldn’t answer Whitlam’s cable, and C.L. Sulzberger wrote in the New York Times that the cable was ignored. In fact, an ‘unofficial’ reply was sent to Whitlam. ‘I have never seen such language in a cable from one government to another’” [Sir (John) Keith Waller, the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs] told the writer.
“All this made 1973 a difficult year for Canberra-Washington relations. It seemed Whitlam had overplayed his hand.
However, Kissinger presciently floated a solution that morning. Calming down about Whitlam’s cable to reminisce on Zhou Enlai, Kissinger said, ‘For American policy [in East Asia] there are two phases. In the first, Thailand has to be linchpin. But that will give way to a second phase, when détente with China will be the best guarantee of security in Asia.’
A week later, at Kirribilli House – the second official seat, and second official residence, of the Prime Minister of Australia, Whitlam told Terrill: “We’re going to pretend Kissinger’s cable never came”. The Prime Minister asked Terrill: “What am I going to say at my press conference about the Hanoi bombing?” I explained Kissinger’s view of ‘two phases’, which pleased him. When phase two came, with China central, it seemed likely Australian-American relations would stabilise. This eventually occurred”.
Two more problems roiled the Washington-Whitlam relationship. One was the strident protests by the Left wing of the Labor Party immediately after 2 December. Jim Cairns, Minister for Overseas Trade launched insults to Nixon. Other ministers, Cameron and Uren, referred to American ‘maniacs’ and ‘mass murderers’.
All this troubled Whitlam almost as much as it did Washington, as his memoir The Whitlam Government, 1972-1975 indicates. He left the U.S. defence facilities in Australia undisturbed, but he did please the Left with complete withdrawal from Vietnam. Like many Left-of-centre leaders, Whitlam’s main concern during the war was looking for the exit door.
A further problem was the Nixon and his advisers’ ignorance about the Labor Party, such as it was after its 23 years out of power. Kissinger at first referred to the Prime Minister as ‘Mr Whitelaw’. Secretary of State William Rogers was unaware that a Labor prime minister did not [then] choose his cabinet members. Walter Rice, the U.S. Ambassador in Canberra, had not told him.
Andrew Peacock, a Liberal politician, deserves credit for trying to persuade Washington ‘in early 1973’ not to snub Whitlam, but still, in late April 1973, the Australian Embassy in Washington had no certain assurance that Nixon would receive Whitlam on a planned July trip.
Whitlam’s top aide Peter Wilenski, concerned that no meeting with Nixon was fixed for Whitlam’s time in Washington, phoned Terrill on 14 April 1973. He said: “The PM agrees with you that the [Washington] embassy’s access to the White House is not very good”. And went on: “He wants you to arrange a meeting for me with Kissinger”. The Prime Minister feared that requests to Nixon through the Embassy, if refused, would reach the press and besmirch the government.
Nevertheless, Kissinger quickly agreed to see Wilenski on 2 May. Kissinger assured Wilenski that Nixon would receive Whitlam.
Wilenski told Ambassador Jim Plimsoll about his talk with Kissinger only an hour beforehand. Plimsoll struck an odd note in saying to Wilenski: “Argue for our common common outlook as Anglo-Saxons”. Wilenski was born in Poland, Kissinger in Germany (Ross Terrill, ‘Whitlam, Nixon and ANZUS’, The Spectator, 12 May 2012).
Whitlam’s foreign policies would develop – and also quite remarkably – against U.S. interests. He would break ranks with previous Australian Prime Ministers by reaching out to other Asian leaders to create trade and diplomatic relationships. He would become one of the first ‘western’ leaders to attempt normal relations with Chinese leaders. He also, in the midst of the war, established a consular relationship with Vietnam by opening an embassy in Hanoi and later allowed the opening of a Cuban consulate in Sydney.
In other words, for all intents and purposes, Australia under Whitlam was not serving at the behest of British or American dictates. It was independently establishing its own relationships. This was not appreciated by the Nixon Administration, least of all Henry Kissinger who disliked the Labor leader immensely.
Prior to Whitlam and since, American governments have considered Australia as a strategic location and partner in their military ventures. The Americans have bases in Australia, not the least of which being the ‘secret’ base known as Pine Gap in the Australian desert. In time, Whitlam would seek to have more specifics on what the Americans were doing there. He discovered that Pine Gap, a satellite surveillance base, was run by the C.I.A. and he made a public announcement about this. Whitlam would also ask the Americans for a listing of all C.I.A. operatives in Australia.
The Americans were supposed to share information with the Australians from their satellite findings but since the Labor Party had won it was thought that much of the information was being denied the government. Whitlam threatened he would not sign an extension of the Pine Gap lease due in December 1975 and this again infuriated the Nixon Administration.
The fact is that the Pine Gap base activities were making Australia vulnerable to attack and this angered Whitlam, as he had no control over the base activities.
There were at least three occasions when the Americans did not share vital information about the bases.
1) The transmitters at the North West Cape were used to assist the U.S. in mining Haiphong harbour in 1972. The Whitlam government was opposed to the mining of Vietnamese harbours, and would not have appreciated U.S. facilities on Australian soil being used to assist such an undertaking.
2) The satellites controlled by Pine Gap and Nurrungar were used to pinpoint targets for bombings in Cambodia. Again, this was an activity to which the Whitlam Government was opposed.
3) Whitlam was furious when he found out after the fact that U.S. bases in Australia were put on a Level 3 alert during the Yom Kippur war – 6 to 25 October 1973. The Australian bases were in danger of attack, yet the Australian Prime Minister was not alerted to this.
There was one other element which would play a role in terms of foreign policy and it has to do with Chile. A little known fact is that the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, A.S.I.S. was involved in the overthrow of President Salvadore Allende in 1973. Clyde Cameron said that the A.S.I.S. operatives were serving at the behest of the C.I.A. to help in the coup against Allende, as the C.I.A. was not able to work effectively in Chile under Allende. “They had to do their dirty work through somebody else”. Cameron noted “and they chose the Australian intelligence organisations”. When Whitlam discovered this he demanded that the A.S.I.S. be withdrawn from Chile yet they paid no attention to his orders. When Whitlam discovered they had not yet left Chile he was furious and, as Cameron said “put the knife through a lot of these people responsible for ignoring his directions”. By that time, however, Allende had been assassinated and Pinochet had taken over (The CIA in Australia, Part 3, Australia Public Radio News Service, Melbourne 1986).
The Labor Government’s changes in both domestic and foreign policy earned Whitlam Henry Kissinger’s epithet of “one more effete social democrat”. Neither Kissinger nor Nixon had any time for Whitlam or Left-wing politicians in general.
Many others in the intelligence community were concerned, including Ted Shackley, head of the East Asia Division of the C.I.A., who was said to be paranoid about Whitlam; and James Jesus Angleton, head of the C.I.A.’s Counter-Intelligence section, who despised the Labor Government.
Nixon, needless to say, was not amused. Some insiders said he was apoplectic with rage and resented the implications that he was immoral and had to be told his duty by an outsider. Kissinger added that Whitlam’s “uninformed comments about our Christmas bombing [of North Vietnam] had made him a particular object of Nixon’s wrath” (Mother Jones, Feb.-Mar. 1984, at 15).
Soon after Whitlam took office, the American Ambassador to Australia, Walter Rice, was sent to meet with Whitlam in order politely to tell him to mind his own business about Vietnam. Whitlam ambushed Rice, dominated the meeting, and spoke for 45 minutes rebuking the U.S. for its conduct of the Vietnam war. Whitlam told Rice that in a press conference the next day, “It would be difficult to avoid words like ‘atrocious’ and ‘barbarous’” when asked about the bombing.
Whitlam also brought up the issue of the American bases in Australia, and warned Rice that although he did not propose to alter the arrangements regarding the U.S. bases, “to be practical and realistic,” Whitlam said, “if there were any attempt, to use familiar jargon, ‘to screw us or bounce us’ inevitably these arrangements would become a matter of contention” (Minutes of the meeting were reproduced in The Eye, July 1987).
Nixon did agree to a meeting with Whitlam, and it took place on 30 July 1973. Kissinger’s brief to Nixon said the primary purpose of the meeting was “to restore the level of confidence between our two governments at the highest level that existed before the Whitlam government took office” (Kissinger, HA, “Meeting with the Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, Memorandum 4172, CO10 Australia, WHC Files, Nixon Presidential Archive).
Whitlam felt that he had earned the meeting because he had muted criticism of Nixon’s Asian policies, praised détente but primarily because “he has defended our defense installations in Australia against attack from his party’s left wing”. Kissinger’s briefing also mentioned Whitlam’s problems with the Senate before finally discussing ‘US Defense Installations in Australia: No Substantial Change in Prospect’ and noting that Whitlam modified his position “after being briefed on the functions of these facilities” and turned debate at the recent party conference away from vital installations and on to the “less important” Omega navigation system. The briefing says that Pine Gap and Nurrungar merely monitor adherence to arms limitations agreements and missile developments in China and Russia. The briefing also holds out promise of “cosmetic changes” to give the impression of Australian control at North West Cape.
In the lead up to Whitlam’s meeting with Nixon, Kissinger met with the recently appointed Ambassador Green. He told Kissinger: “I would define US interests in Australia as: 1) preserving our defense installations; 2) maintaining our investment and trade there…” (HAK Memorandum of Conversation, 28 July 1973, Prime Minister Whitlam’s Coming Visit, Box 1027, NSC Files, Nixon Presidential Archive).
When Kissinger met Whitlam just before their meeting with Nixon, Kissinger summarised the situation: “We do not see recent changes in Australia as a greater assertion of Australian autonomy. Rather we look at it as a change in some of the mechanics in our relations … We can’t deny that we have had some strains recently – but we consider these matters of the past” (HAK Memorandum of Conversation 30 July 1973 10-11am, Box 1027, NSC Files, Nixon Presidential Archive). (Stephen Stockwell, ‘Beyond conspiracy theory: US presidential archives on the American press, national security and the Whitlam government’, Paper presented to the Journalism Education Conference, Griffith University, 29 November-2 December 2005).
Neither the bases nor investment and trade came into discussion. Whitlam expressed an interest in talking with Nixon about French nuclear testing in the Pacific but the most striking thing is his nervousness about meeting Nixon. Because of legal issues emanating from the Watergate break-in, Nixon had stopped taping conversations before he met Whitlam with the result that there is no record of their conversation. Nevertheless, as relations between Australia and the United States appeared to have stabilised following the meeting, certainly at the leadership level, one might assume that Whitlam and Nixon agreed to leave the past behind them.
In May 1974, after the double dissolution and return of the Whitlam Government, Jim Cairns was elected as Whitlam’s deputy. The news displeased the Americans, because Cairns had been one of the most adamant critics of American foreign policy. He was the natural successor to Whitlam as prime minister. The future of the bases was again in question and Nixon and Kissinger took time out from the management of the Watergate debacle and the disengagement from Vietnam to issue National Security Study Memorandum 204 to the Departments of State and Defense and the C.I.A. on 1 July 1974.
That Memorandum noted, from what is publicly available, the “recent changes in the Labor Government” and proposed to examine “the impact of these changes on basic US objectives toward Australia, particularly in the political-security area”. The Memorandum also called for more than theoretical analysis: “It should define and evaluate policy options for giving effect to the resulting objectives”. In particular the Memorandum called for study of issues around “keeping US defense installations in Australia … relocating essential existing US security functions outside Australia … locating additional US functions in Australia and the policy options for trying to do so” (NSSM 204, 1 July 1974, Box 205, NSC Institutional Files, Nixon Presidential Archive). It gave the N.S.C. Interdepartmental Group for East Asia only two weeks to prepare a report. That remains classified. Nixon resigned from office on 8 August 1974, so it is possible that one of his last acts in office was to establish new policy objectives with regard to Australia but there is no evidence in the archive that this was the case.
With the coming of President Gerald Ford’s administration, no further national security studies or decisions about Australia are available in the archives. Whitlam called for a meeting with Ford and that was held on 5 October 1974. Briefings for that meeting emphasise Whitlam’s acceptance of American bases. Ambassador Green reported “… there would be no move by an Australian government to terminate these facilities as long as Labor was headed by Whitlam …”. There was concern about Jim Cairns: “Once in the top position [Cairns] would probably veer … towards a foreign policy based on neutrality and the removal of American bases from Australian shores” (Green, M, Telexes 21/30 September 1974, Box 2, NSA-Presidential Country Files for East Asia and the Pacific, Ford Presidential Archive). Kissinger’s briefing for Ford pointed out that Whitlam was mellowing with regard to the bases as he understood their significance for arms limitations but in the event the bases did not come up in their conversation which covered everything except the bases (Memcon, President’s Meeting with Australian Prime Minister Whitlam, 5 October 1974, Box 6, NSA Memcons, Ford Presidential Archive). (Stockwell, op. cit.)
Secret cables which had only come available in May 2013 disclosed that Rupert Murdoch had discussed Australian public figures with Ambassador Green in 1974.
It was known that, by mobilising his newspapers to the advantage of the Labor Party, Murdoch thought that he had played “a substantial role” in Labor’s December 1972 victory.
He was “satisfied that he took the correct position at that time, since it was essential to have a change after 23 years [The] Liberal/Country leadership had become increasingly weak intellectually”.
However, by November 1974 Murdoch’s brief enthusiasm for Whitlam had waned.
“He expects to support the opposition in the next election” Green reported to Washington.
Murdoch savaged Labor’s economic management. He wanted policies with “a more selfish domestic focus”. He particularly slated Australia’s first moves towards economic liberalisation, the Labor government’s 25 per cent across-the-board tariff reductions “which appealed to Whitlam’s orderly legal mind and liberal outlook, [but] were a bad mistake and contributed needlessly to unemployment”. Murdoch said that a number of Australian industries needed tariff protection and he thought the problem should have been “studied on a sector by sector basis”.
A ‘change of heart’ would make Murdoch more credible in 1974.
During a “wide-ranging and apparently very candid conversation” over lunch on 15 November 1974, Murdoch – described in a cable released by the U.S. National Archives and published by WikiLeaks as ‘well informed and extremely influential’ – spoke freely on the mis/fortunes of the Whitlam Government which had been re-elected six months earlier. Almost exactly a year to the day of ‘the Ambush’, Murdoch was predicting the fall of Whitlam.
Still, he could not anticipate that Fraser would usurp the prime ministership. His choice was on Hawke, then president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. “Bob Hawke is fiercely ambitious to become prime minister of Australia and could make it someday”, Murdoch observed. “He is intelligent and essentially moderate”. However Murdoch thought Hawke would not rush to seek election to Parliament because he saw the Whitlam Government “going down to defeat and does not want to board the sinking ship”.
Murdoch was discounting Fraser, whom he regarded as “the most brilliant as well as the most courageous of the Liberals”, but he judged “too inflexible and too arrogant” by his colleagues. Fraser also tended to be “overly absorbed in foreign affairs and defence”.
Still, Murdoch and his newspapers would enthusiastically support Fraser and the Coalition in the 1975 election campaign, so much so that journalists at his newspapers took industrial action in protest. Labor would not return to government for more than seven years when Hawke defeated Fraser at the March 1983 federal election.
Against the backdrop of the Middle East oil crisis of the previous year, Murdoch was gloomy about the global economy in November 1974, but saw the United States as “the only economy of sufficient stature to provide world leadership in these parlous times”.
Although the Liberal-Country Party Opposition did not at that time have the numbers to block the Labor government’s budget in the Senate, Green reported Murdoch’s confident view that Whitlam’s days as prime minister were numbered.
“Australian elections are likely to take place in about one year, sparked by refusal of appropriations in the Senate. All signs point to a Liberal-Country victory, since the economy is in disturbingly bad condition and will probably not improve much of that time” said Murdoch.
It is not explicit in Ambassador Green’s report, but it is possible that Murdoch may have been drawing on the ultimate inside source: it is known that Kerr attended a social function at the Murdoch’s country estate at Cavan near Yass in New South Wales in late 1974. A journalist in attendance later revealed that over drinks Kerr – a closet-alcoholic – indiscreetly gave Murdoch a “very detailed and elaborate outline” of his constitutional options as Governor-General in the event that the Opposition secured the Senate numbers to block the budget. (Philip Dorling, ‘Whitlam radical, Fraser arrogant, Hawke moderate: Secret cables reveal Murdoch insights’, The Age, 20 May 2013).
Twelve days after Murdoch’s talk with Green, Fraser failed in a bid to remove Snedden as Liberal leader. However he went on to defeat Snedden in a second party room ballot four months later.
To be continued. Tomorrow … The economy against headwinds, and concluding with A coup conceived in secret and deceit.
* Dr. Venturino Giorgio ‘George’ Venturini devoted some sixty years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. In 1975, invited by Attorney-General Lionel Keith Murphy, Q.C., he left a law chair in Chicago to join the Trade Practices Commission in Canberra – to serve the Whitlam Government. In time he witnessed the administration of a law of prohibition as a law of abuse, and documented it in Malpractice, antitrust as an Australian poshlost (Sydney 1980).
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Personally, I think that maths is overvalued in schools. Now I’m not talking numeracy, I’m talking trigonometry, surds, quadratic equations and a whole range of things that most people won’t use past school. Fine for those who are going on to particular fields but a large number of students would be better off if they’d never had to struggle through them.
Of course, if you disagree with me, it’s not because you have a different perspective. It’s not because you think that maybe it’s a good idea to expose all people to maths because it’s good for them to be challenged. No, it’s because you’re gullible and a victim of the gigantic hoax that the maths teachers have invented. For a start, numbers aren’t even real. As for Pythagoras, not only did he believe that beans were souls migrating from one life to the next, he and his followers believed that numbers had magical powers. So, if you want to disagree with me, don’t cite a maths teacher or anyone who believes in maths teaching, don’t trust academics, they’re all part of the conspiracy. The best people to trust are your friends and family.
Yep, I sound ridiculous. While there is an argument to be had about how maths should be taught and whether it needs to be compulsory past a certain level, the idea that it’s a “hoax” and that you can rely on information from your friends and family makes me sound well, at least a little unbalanced.
Yet, this seems to be what the CSIRO’s survey on climate change revealed. People who didn’t believe in climate change found their friends and family their most trusted source. While I can support a degree of sceptism about what experts tell us, it strikes me that there are certain areas where the average person won’t have the necessary skills to be able to make an informed decision. Nobody says that they took their X-ray home and after everyone they know had a look at it, they decided that the doctor’s interpretation was wrong. In the case of climate change, many are arguing that they don’t even need to see the X-ray.
OK, there are “experts” on both sides of the climate change debate and it’s interesting to see how the media presents them. It was fine when Cardinal Pell gave his opinion, but Pope Francis should stick to religion. Anyone with a science degree or a couple of years at university hanging around the cafe is presented as an expert on climate change without much sceptism by the media and there’s no attempt to evaluate their credentials. . We have the absurd scenario where we’re asked to believe that a group of scientists decided that they’d find it easier to get funding to investigate something invented, and that rather than make actuall discoveries, they’d rather just take this funding and spend their time making stuff up. However, thanks to some intrepid physicists and geologists – often funded by fossil fuel companies – this hoax is being exposed.
Now, I’m not saying that the prevailing wisdom on climate change couldn’t be wrong. I’m simply saying that when one suggests that scientists have dishonest motives, one should be prepared to have one’s own motives scrutinised. Why climate scientists are supposedly part of a “hoax” and not just simply wrong is what gets me. For years, the cause of ulcers was misunderstood, but we don’t suggest that was because of some conspiracy to stop people stressing or eating spicy foods.
But speaking of hoaxes, how do you like this GST?
Remember when it came in?
No, I’m not talking about how “never ever” simply meant not until after the next election – although I suppose if that’s the case, then the assurances by Howard and Costello that it could never go up because, well, all the states had to agree and could you ever see a time when all the governments would agree to receiving more revenue, lasted a lot longer than we could have expected. That was “never” and not “never ever”, so I’m surprised that it’s taken so long before someone put it on the table.
Mm, I guess it’s easy to see why people don’t trust the “experts” and would rather listen to Uncle Frank and the guy next door.
Now, ignoring the politics, I can see an argument for putting up the GST. While the converntional argument is that it’s regressive and hurts the poor more than the rich, this needn’t be the case.
In the first instance, the poor have a limited amount to spend and so any increase in the GST won’t hit them in total terms as much as someone who spends more. If someone only spends twenty five thousand in a year, then a five percent increase can’t cost them more than $1250, whereas someone spending $100,000 could be hit for $5000. If the current exemptions on fresh food, education and health are included then it’s even less than the $1250. If you raise pensions and allowances by enough, as well as increasing the tax free threshold, you can compensate those who the five percent increase will affect.
Secondly, while income tax can be minimised by various accounting tricks to minimise one’s income, the GST is more difficult to avoid. I may have used the Cayman Islands to avoid the tax on my business, but when I buy my Jaguar, I’ll be hit for an extra five percent.
And finally, the extra revenue should enable the states to continue to provide services from which should benefit those who don’t have private health insurance or go to Xavier where they learn to be grateful that they don’t go to some “povo” school in Pakenham. (Hey, I know it was just one individual and private schools don’t really encourage that sort of class warfare thing. They just constantly tell you what a great education you’re getting and how their school is the best in the world. Why a student would think that government schools are “povo” is a mystery to them …).
So, I can see that a rise in the GST could be a good thing all round – even if it is the Liberal Party proposing it.
But then, I’m also gullible enough to fall for the climate change hoax.
Since September 2013, the ‘achievements’ of our government could be broadly summarised by ‘knock it down, rip it up, sell it off or shoot it.’
Their one supposedly constructive achievement, apart from promises about roads, is hastily finalising several free trade agreements.
Aside from the co-incidence/concern of agreements that had been negotiated over several years all reaching conclusion at the same time (what did we agree to?), are these actually in Australia’s best interests or are they just political opportunities?
When John Howard signed the Free Trade Agreement with the US in 2004, it was suggested that his motive was electoral rather than economic – to highlight the American alliance and hope that if Labor opposed it it could be cast as anti-American, and hence a security risk.
The Coalition’s reaction to Labor’s attempts to safeguard Australian jobs in the China FTA has used a similar approach, branding Labor as racist.
In the first five years after the signing of the US FTA, Australia’s exports to the US grew by only 2.5 per cent, compared with double-digit growth for exports to all the major Asian trading partners. America slipped from third to fifth among Australian export destinations, overtaken by Korea and India.
By 2009, the value of Australian exports to the US was only about a quarter of those to the two leading customers, China and Japan. The four Asian countries together took more than 10 times the value of exports to the US despite having no such trade agreements.
Moreover, between 2004 and 2009, the bilateral trade gap in America’s favour grew even larger. Australia’s imports from America grew much more quickly than its exports to America. According to US data, the gap in America’s favour grew from $US6.4 billion to $US11.6 billion.
In 2004 Australian exports to America were worth about 54 per cent of the value of imports from that country. By 2009 the figure was down to 41 per cent.
And our current endeavours do not promise any better.
Hockey’s second MYEFO showed a revenue write-down of $1.6 billion due to the FTA with Japan.
Also, the agreements with Japan and Korea effectively sounded the death knell for our car industry and manufacturing more broadly.
The Chinese deal on beef is only for an extra 10% exports before a trigger where tariffs will be charged again, and the proposed tariff reduction will not fully take place for nine years.
Agribusiness lawyer Lea Fua told a Brisbane hearing that China has a safeguard clause which allows it to add customs duties to fresh and frozen beef carcasses and meat when Australian beef imports hit a volume trigger of 170,000 tonnes.
“In 2013-14, Australia exported 161,000 tonnes of beef to China worth $787 million,” Mr Fua told the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Treaties.
“The concern here is that given the growth in Australian beef exports to China, which has been exponential in the last few years, the risk here is that the trigger will be reached fairly quickly and China is able to apply extra customs duty which appears to be against the spirit of chapter two [of the FTA],” he said.
Mr Fua said a similar situation applies to Chinese imports of Australian milk and cream solids.
As Bob Katter has warned, rather than being the food bowl for Asia, on current trajectory, Australia will become a net importer of food, and pretty much everything else other than coal and iron ore. This will have significant implications for domestic prices as farmers can make a greater profit by exporting their produce.
If, as the unions warn, foreign companies are allowed to bring in their own workers, it becomes even more difficult to believe these agreements are in the best interests of our country.
A bilateral meeting with a friendly leader presents many domestic political advantages. It gives the appearance of advancing the national interests and attracts intense and usually uncritical media coverage, but it inevitably favours the biggest countries, such as the US and China. Their power affords them superior bargaining leverage to win concessions favouring their domestic constituencies.
After bilateral meetings, leaders can sing each other’s praises and hail the breakthrough their mutual brilliance has achieved. In practice, the promised benefits often fade just a little more slowly than the TV lights.
On the 16 September 2015 the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committeereported on an inquiry into “The matter of a popular vote, in the form of a plebiscite or referendum, on the matter of marriage in Australia”. The committee took submissions from the public and received 77 submissions that complied with the terms of reference. The Committee issued one recommendation:
“…that a bill to amend the definition of marriage in the Marriage Act 1961 to allow for the marriage between two people regardless of their sex is introduced into the Parliament as a matter of urgency, with all parliamentarians being allowed a conscience vote.”
This recommendation was released two days after the deposal of former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott. Given Abbott’s demonstrated contempt for Senate committee recommendations in the past, it was sure to be ignored had he remained leader. However there was hope that the new Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, being previously a vocal supporter of a conscience vote for marriage equality, would act on the recommendation and put the matter to an end.
It seems like Turnbull is determined to go down the same path as Abbott. The Coalition is still committed to a plebiscite, wasting millions of dollars in the process, and running the real risk of igniting anti-gay sentiment in the community.
It is disappointing but not surprising the lengths the Coalition Government is going to, to ensure that same-sex couples and families continue to be discriminated against. It seems absurd that a Senate inquiry was required to begin with, to decide on something as basic as ensuring equal rights for all Australians.
It is also disappointing that despite the findings of an unnecessary Senate References Committee, a plebiscite is still being pursued for marriage equality. It seems absurd that an expensive opinion poll, involving the entire voting population of Australia is required to determine whether a consenting, adult couple may have the same rights as every other couple in their own personal business – that of whether or not they may marry, simply because of the gender of their partner.
It also seems absurd that Constitutional changes are still being considered. The High Court has already determined that ‘marriage’ may include same sex marriage. The only possible desired result is to institutionally embed discrimination into the governing document of our nation.
People do not choose to be gay, no more than they choose to be left handed. Some of the loud opponents of equality state that the nation should not change the definition of marriage based on a minority. This is a particularly cruel way to view the debate and demonstrates a clear intention to maintain discrimination and inequality based on a narrow, unfair definition of what is ‘normal’.
Left handed people are a minority. At one point in time, left handed people were forced in school to write with their right hand.
Imagine for the moment if the parliament passed laws to ban left handed people from driving cars, working in certain industries or from adopting children? Imagine if the laws extended to red heads?
It would be ridiculously absurd. There would be righteous outrage. It is equally absurd that adult Australian couples cannot marry simply because they are attracted to the same sex.
Society – or at least most of society – has moved on from the wife being the possession of the husband. The basis of marriage is no longer about property rights or biological reproduction – if it ever was. Society has also moved on from writing with ink and feather quill, thus removing the only possible legitimate reason for discouraging the left handed among the population. Yet while left handed people are now largely free from prejudice (left handed scissors are a rarity), free from attempts to change their biology and free from personal slurs, gay people suffer some of the highest rates of discrimination, have been subjected to bizarre ‘conversion therapy’ in an attempt to ‘un-gay’ them, and are over-represented in suicide.
Legalising same sex marriage will not have the slightest impact on the value of heterosexual relationships, in the same way as a child will not be the slightest bit affected by sitting next to a left handed student in school. The arguments against same sex marriage are ideologically driven – there is simply no valid reason why same sex couples should not have the right to marry.
There should be no need for public endorsement of ‘marriage equality’ for it to be legalised; just as no public opinion poll was considered necessary for schools to stop caning students who wrote with their left hand – and no plebiscite considered necessary for former Prime Minister, John Howard to change the definition of ‘marriage’ in 2004 to expressly exclude same-sex couples. The government should stop pandering to the bigots and to ideologically driven prejudice.
Gay people are considered equal in every other area of society. The government considers gay people equal enough to pay taxes. Gay people have to pay exactly the same for parking and public transport as every other person. Gay people have to pay the same for water, electricity and other household amenities. Council’s consider gay people equal enough to pay rates on property at the same value as straight people.
Are gay people only equal when the governing bodies can make money from them?
Gay people are obliged to obey every Australian law yet are not afforded equality at law. There are no gay exemptions from paying income tax, no gay exemptions for obeying traffic regulations, no gay exemptions from exercising a duty of care to other people, and no gay exemptions from compulsory voting.
On the 23 September 2015 the Western Australian Government joined a long list of critics of the Federal Government, and questioned the need for a plebiscite, recommending instead that a conscience vote in parliament be supported. This is the simplest, easiest and most cost effective path to marriage equality and acceptance for all couples and families, no matter their sexual orientation.
It is unacceptable in 2015 that all adult Australians, no matter their sexual orientation, are not afforded the same rights at law, yet they are expected to meet all legal obligations. The question for every adult Australian in a loving committed relationship should be “Will you marry me?” not “Can you marry me?”
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Dyson Heydon and Tony Abbott want union officials to be held as accountable as company directors. Personally I would like company directors also held to a higher standard and I would like to see our politicians held to the same transparency and accountability.
After all, what is the difference between a politician claiming entitlements for dubious expenses and a union official, or a party executive, using a credit card for same? What is the difference between a company director lying to shareholders, or a union official lying to members, and a politician lying to the electorate?
Government funds are our money. Citizens are the ones who entrusted their taxes to the government to be spent in our best interests – we are the members.
Abbott talks about deals and kickbacks between unions and employers – how about the deals between politicians and big business?
John Howard misled the parliament over meetings he had held with ethanol producer Manildra’s boss – massive Liberal Party donor Dick Honan. It was eventually proved that the meetings did occur, and three weeks later the government increased trade penalties against a Brazilian ethanol producer.
Peter Costello, the Treasurer, appointed Liberal Party megadonor Robert Gerard to the Reserve Bank board despite being told by Mr Gerard that he was involved in a 14-year-long tax evasion dispute with the Australian Taxation Office.
Peter Reith was appointed as a consultant to defence contractor Tenix immediately after resigning as defence minister.
Health minister Michael Wooldridge signed a $5 million building deal for the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and days later, after resigning as health minister, was employed by the college as a consultant.
It was the appointment of Alexander Downer as an adviser to Woodside Petroleum in his years after politics that caused a former ASIS operator to blow the whistle on the bugging of the East Timor parliamentary offices. His is one of the passports that has been confiscated by the fearless Brandis and Bishop team who are keeping us safe from terrorism….and scrutiny.
Look at the members of Joe Hockey’s North Sydney Forum and then consider the laws that have been revoked and enacted and proposed since the Coalition came to office.
Today we hear that the government are advertising for new board members for the NDIS.
Laura Tingle, in an article headlined National Disability Insurance Scheme board discovers their jobs are being advertised by reading the newspaper,writes:
“Today’s effort from Tony Abbott is just the latest attempt to erode the voice, advocacy and support for people with disability. Instead of getting on with the rollout of this transformative scheme, Tony Abbott is focussed on getting jobs for his mates in big business.”
When Labor and the unions rightly point out that the China Free Trade Agreement does not explicitly require mandatory labour market testing, they are labelled as racist xenophobes and told to get out of the way, despite both unions and the Labor Party being largely in favour of the agreement. Questions are met with hysterical hyperbole from a government who sees any criticism or concern as an attack that must be shot down along with the questioner.
To be clear here, these are the exact words in the China–Australia Free Trade Agreement that the Coalition government has negotiated. They cover all Chinese nationals in the standard 457 visa program for skilled workers and “installers and servicers” of machinery and equipment on shorter-term 400 visas.
Paragraph 3 of Article 10.4: Grant of Temporary Entry states that Australia shall not:
a) Impose or maintain any limitations on the total number of visas to be granted to natural persons of the other party: or
b) Require labour-market testing, economic needs testing or other procedures of similar effect as a condition for temporary entry.
The Age gives a very good explanation of how Andrew Robb is misleading us.
If the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement is implemented as it stands, the Australian government will give up the right to require labour-market testing for all Chinese nationals sponsored for standard 457 visas and “installers and servicers” on 400 visas. It will also give up the right to put any cap on the number of 457 or 400 visas.
The government has negotiated two documents: one is the free trade agreement and the other is a memorandum of understanding concerning an Investment Facilitation Agreement (IFA) for infrastructure projects. The latter is not part of the free trade agreement.
The memorandum of understanding includes provisions similar to Labour’s Enterprise Migration Agreements, none of which were ever implemented. Under these provisions employers on mining construction mega-projects could sponsor semi-skilled foreign workers and skilled workers with lower English language than under the regular 457 visa regulations. These “concessional” 457 workers were additional to the standard skilled 457 workers on these projects.
The memorandum on IFAs accompanying the free trade agreement says the Australian government may require labour-market testing by direct employers on the infrastructure projects before hiring these concessional semi-skilled and skilled 457 visa workers.
In late July the government said all direct employers on IFA projects would have to undertake a version of “labour-market testing”, but only for the concessional Chinese 457 visa workers (not mainstream skilled 457s or 400 visa workers).
To reiterate then, under the free trade agreement, labour-market testing will not be required for Chinese nationals sponsored by Chinese or any other enterprise legally established in Australia for all mainstream 457 visas, and all 400 visas used by Chinese “installers and servicers”.
So, the only Chinese workers who would be labour-market tested are the concessional 457 visa workers on the infrastructure projects. This is because the treaty provision takes precedence over Australian legislation.
The IFA also sets a very low bar for Chinese worker access to concessional 457 visas on infrastructure projects. The labour-market testing needed to access these visas is not rigorous, because it will allow employers to hire Chinese semi-skilled 457 workers up to 20 months after they stop advertising the jobs.
It seems to me that it is the unions who are telling us the truth here. The shroud of secrecy surrounding FTAs and the increasingly vitriolic abuse of anyone who dares raise a question indicates the government is the one with something to hide.
The government is the one who told us there would be no cuts to health or education or the ABC. They also said there would be no changes to the GST and that they would deliver the NDIS on schedule and in full.
Abbott is pinning his electioneering on “who do you trust”.
Joe Hockey – along with Peter FitzSimons (head of the Australian Republican Movement) and Labor Senator Katy Gallagher – announced today that they are putting the Republic back on the table for discussion. At a time when Hockey is struggling for popularity, and when even dangling tax cuts before people isn’t winning him any votes, a cynical person might wonder if this is Hockey’s attempt to get back behind a barrow that others will be happy to push along with him.
By way of context, here’s a quick summary of the key events around the vote for Australia to become a republic in the 1990s:
Support for Australia becoming a republic was strong in the 90s – as shown in the graph below. The green line represents the percentage of people who were for Australia becoming a republic, and the red line is people who were against it. Right up to the referendum, there was consistently a significant margin between those who were pro-republic and those who were against it.
So how did the republican movement fail – I hear you ask? Good question …
In 1993, Paul Keating created a ‘Republic Advisory Committee’– which was chaired by then banker and lawyer, one Mr Malcolm Turnbull – to determine what changes would be needed to the constitution for Australia to become a republic. Which they did. Before they could start putting more detail behind these changes so that they could be put to a referendum however….
In 1996, John Howard – a confirmed monarchist – was elected Prime Minister on a reluctant platform of putting Australia becoming a republic to a referendum late in his first term.
In 1999 Howard successfully put the question of Australia becoming a republic to bed, for what turns out to be a good 16 years. He did this by tying Australia becoming a republic with a model which he knew was not popular with the Australian people. The republican model Howard put forward to be voted on would have replaced the Governor General with a President elected by politicians. (The more popular model – which had over 70% support – had the Australian public electing the President.)By doing this, Howard cleverly split the pro-republic movement so that those who favoured the more popular model actually told people to vote ‘no’ in the republic referendum, some mistakenly believing they would get a second go at a vote with their preferred model. But with Howard as Prime Minister, this was never going to happen.
The rest – as they say – is history.The vote for Australia to become a republic failed, with 55% of people voting against Australia becoming a republic.
(For a more detailed ouline of events, see my recent article on how Abbott is using the same ploy currently with marriage equality.)
Some 16 years later …
Back to 2015, and Joe Hockey is bringing up the republic debate again. Now, to be fair, he has always been in favour of a republic, this is not a change in position from him. But why now?
Certainly, if Hockey is serious about wanting a republic, he must know that it could never get up with Abbott as Prime Minister – John Howard proved that. And Abbott confirmed his willingness to play dirty in order to get his own way recently, by ‘branch stacking’ the party room on the discussion about marriage equality with Nationals.
Is this Hockey’s ‘marriage equality’ – something that he is a known supporter of that the public can get behind? Or does Hockey know that Abbott’s days are numbered – and therefore the time might be ripe now to bring up a key issue that actually could get across the line in the next parliamentary term?
Only time will tell.
Either way – as the French used to say ‘Bring on the Republic’ (Vive la République)!!!
(The flag design above – minus the words – was by John Joseph of Epping, NSW – see http://tinyurl.com/oqx963d)
The Abbott Government’s gradual destruction of our civil liberties is not something we should be taking lightly, writes Daniel Ellery.
Almost 20 years ago, the President of the United States of America at the time, Bill Clinton, signed an act that has had considerable ramifications around the globe; The Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Act, which effectively rendered the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 all but useless. The Posse Comitatus Act was created to limit the powers of the Federal Government in using its military personnel to act as domestic law enforcement personnel. It ensured that the Government could not use military personnel or military force to police domestic matters in their own country, essentially prohibiting a state of Martial Law.
In 1993, the FBI in conjunction with the U.S Military stormed into a compound owned by an Evangelical Christian group in Waco, Texas and killed 76 innocent people. Among the casualties were over 20 children.
There have been ominous signs supposing our fragile civil liberties have been increasingly at risk both in the United States and to a lesser extent, here in Australia, for a number of years. A popular type of Government has emerged in the last few decades which at the forefront are represented as a sort of Draconian fear campaign. Tony Abbott is quite fond of often using the Argument that Terrorists are lurking in our own backyard. Again using our Western neighbour and ally as an example, a November 1995 CNN Time Poll found that 55% of surveyed American citizens believed that the Federal Government had become so powerful that it posed a threat to ordinary citizens. 10 years later, we are seeing ever increasing evidence to support that current civil liberties have to be scrutinised very closely here in Australia.
Abbott stated in a speech in September 2014:
“Regrettably, for some time to come, Australians will have to endure more security than we are used to and more inconvenience than we would like. Regrettably, for some time to come, the delicate balance between freedom and security may have to shift. There may be more restrictions on some so that there can be more protection for others. After all, the most basic freedom of all is the freedom to walk the streets unharmed and to sleep safe in our beds at night.”
Another seemingly ‘hyped-up’ speech made about National Security in February 2014 can be seen here. The Prime Minister claims that “the threat to Australia is worsening” and that “the number of potential home grown terrorists is rising.” Claims that back the Government’s decision to raise the threat level to high, suggests that “a terrorist attack is likely.”
In speeches to the Australian Nation in 2003, Prime Minister John Howard and Prime Minister Stephen Harper both made incredibly similar presentations. These speeches were regarding the United States’ constant harping about Saddam’s so-called ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’. These speeches, spoken by two different leaders said, at stages, word for word the exact same thing. One could blame an incredibly lazy Public Relations team that felt a quick copy and paste address to the nation would either go unnoticed, or that people would not care or see any issue in this. However the issue here is that these were two leaders of different countries saying the same thing, and both bowing to another country’s Foreign Policy issues (U.S.A). In short, this excerpt shows just how serious this address was:
“It is inherently dangerous to allow a country such as Iraq to retain Weapons of Mass Destruction, particularly in the light of its past aggressive behaviour. If the world community fails to disarm Iraq, we fear that other rogue states will be encouraged to believe that they too can have these most deadly of weapons and that the world will do nothing to stop them.”
“We should not leave it to the United States to do all the heavy lifting just because it is the world’s only superpower. To do so, I believe, will inevitably undermine one of the most important relationships that we have.”
We now know that the speech to invade Iraq was based on lies the United States had told about Saddam Hussein and Bush’s foreign policy is one that the vast majority of Americans now reject. Howard admitted in an interview that he felt pressured by the force of the language in the 2002 American National Intelligence Report, and was “embarrassed” to have acted on the ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ intelligence. One politician, Independent MP Andrew Wilkie, even went so far to say “that Howard should consider himself quite lucky that, conceivably, he hasn’t been tried for conspiracy to commit mass murder.”
A book aptly named Perpetual Peace for Perpetual War highlights a ghastly resemblance between a speech from a ‘Pre Osama’ text to a speech made by Adolf Hitler in 1933, which enabled an act for the protection of the People and the State, The speech was made after the infamous Reichstag fire which the Germans had secretly lit. Hitler’s act reads:
“Restrictions on personal liberty, on the right of free expression of opinion, including freedom of the press; on the rights of assembly and associations; and violations of the privacy of postal, telegraphic, and telephonic communications and warrants for house searches, orders for confiscations as well as restrictions on property, are also permissible beyond the legal limits otherwise prescribed.”
Adolf Hitler had a nation of people following his every word; he was the greatest salesman and marketer of the century. His was by far the most influential and repressive propaganda campaign in history. When fear is used by a Government, it is used as a form of control and repression and in turn causes anxiety within society. This creates a willingness to listen and obey anything to make that fear, worry and anxiety cease. People go to great lengths to manage anxiety. The Government of the United States has used fear campaigns extremely well to control the masses in the wake of terrorist attacks, and we are seeing it again in 2015.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Prime Minster Tony Abbott has used the phrase ‘Death Cult’ over 346 times when mentioning the Islamic State. By using fear campaigns and scare tactics, he has stirred parts of the Australian public into an irrational frenzy, turning closed-minded bigots into blind racists and confusing the minds of the young and old alike. The Government has created a sense of division we can’t help but feel, with the Abbott party’s acts described as an “unprecedented power grab” by Greens Senator Penny Wright:
“Peter Dutton’s proposal that he alone should have the power to strip away a person’s citizenship on suspicion alone is preposterous, unworkable and only goes to show how extreme this government really is.”
“The Abbott Government is seeking unprecedented power to bypass the courts, throwing out the most basic democratic right we have”.
One can’t help but feel a slight comparison of Tony Abbott’s speech to Hitler’s in the light of recently proposed and passed laws, including but not limited to the surveillance of telephone and internet data (through metadata collection of ordinary citizens), and other such legislation like the Border Force Act passed in May, which could see teachers, doctors and security staff jailed if they speak publicly about what they have witnessed. Outlaw motorcycle gangs have also been made the target of heavy raids recently, which suggests the scope of surveillance goes far beyond ‘terror’ suspects. The Government’s abandonment of Julian Assange in 2010 after the full scope of Wikileaks became apparent being yet another example of how these laws can be used to prosecute future whistle-blowers.
“I think many, many millions of Australians would feel betrayed by our national broadcaster right now, and I think that the ABC does have to have a long, hard look at itself, and to answer a question which I have posed before – whose side are you on? Whose side are you on here?”
Abbott seems to plant the idea into the heads of the Australian public that our National Broadcaster may not be ‘on our side,’ or somehow is a terrorist sympathiser by giving a platform for free speech to someone speaking out against recently proposed citizenship legislation. I’m reminded here, of George Orwell, who wrote, “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed. Everything else is public relations.”
After the 1993 attack on the 76 innocents living peacefully in their commune in Waco, Texas, there was a retaliation attack, dubbed the Oklahoma City bombing in which Timothy McVeigh was found guilty of 11 counts of murder and conspiracy. In a statement to the court before the ruling passed, McVeigh quoted a section of Supreme Court Justice Brandeis’s dissent, “Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or ill it teaches the whole people by its example.” Brandis goes on in his dissent to say “Crime is contagious. If the Government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy. To declare that in the administration of the criminal law the end justifies the means, to declare that the Government may commit crimes in order to secure the conviction of a private criminal, would bring terrible retribution”.
Abbott recently made a comment about the Australian court system regarding the Greens Party ‘win’ on the Carmicheal Coal mine. He argued that Australia has “a problem as a nation” if the courts could “be turned into a means of sabotaging” such projects. The president of the NSW Bar Association, Jane Needham, struck back at these claims with a scathing rebuttal expressing her concern that Abbott had criticised the Federal court system and had shown a clear lack of understanding as to how the system works. Needham stated:
“The courts are not the servant of the Executive – any such implication is inimical to the basic principle of the separation of powers, which is fundamental to our Westminster-style system of government.”
“The courts exist to make decisions according to the law, not to further the interests of particular individuals or organisations, including government. They are an independent arbiter of disputes, and politicians need to understand and respect their non-partisan role.”
The breakdown of civil liberties is something not to be taken lightly. Laws infringing on privacy like the collection of metadata sets a dangerous precedent in Australia. Laws passed after the terrorist attacks, of which were largely provoked by the U.S. have slowly hacked away at the rights and liberties of ordinary citizens in the Western world. This is an area that must be watched with careful attention, as laws are passed quietly every day. Not everything is published in the articles you read or the news you hear, especially in the large media outlets who choose what information they wish to disperse. The power is in the people’s hands, and our moral and ethical standards must be scrutinised.
We must be led by a Government that personifies moral strength in an increasingly morally bankrupt world. A Government must remember that in a democracy, the people’s voices must be heard justly, listened to, and acted upon; otherwise it is nothing but an oligarchy. With a current Government that many feel to be going backward rather than forward, one must ask what Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party really care about more. National net profit means nothing if we have nothing left to live on. If our beautiful landscapes fall to ruins in the hands of a few who hunger after nothing but power and money, then I can’t help but feel that the apathetic and nonchalant members of society will also have the proverbial blood of the land on their hands. The same can be said if we allow politicians to hold our civil liberties to ransom. Terrorism is not a joke subject, but neither is degradation of our right to a free, sustainable, and just world. We have to find a healthy balance between staying vigilant and seeing through the veil of government deception. The people need to fight for a democratic society and understand totalitarianism before it erodes our most basic human rights.
If Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party can be given one concession, it is that they have hopefully shaken the trappings of apathy and indifference from the Australian public.
Following last week’s cabinet discussion on marriage equality, Tony Abbott announced that:
“going into the next election, you’ll have the Labor Party which wants [marriage equality] to go to a Parliamentary vote and you’ve got the Coalition that wants it to go to a people’s vote” (12 August 2015)
According to our Prime Minister, he is champion of the people’s will when it comes to marriage equality – offering a ‘people’s vote’ over a ‘politician’s vote’ dictated by what he calls ‘stalinist rules.’ Certainly sounds like a no-brainer. Who would pick Stalin over the good people of Aus? We do live in a democracy after all – not Stalinist Russia – we should get a say.
But is Abbott’s claim to be the people’s champion true – or is ‘people’s vote’ just the latest entry in the Truthiness dictionary. (In case you missed my earlier article on Abbott-speak, ‘Truthiness’ is something which feels true, but isn’t necessarily backed up by facts. Or truth.)
Is Abbott really trying to facilitate the possibility of an outcome that might go against his stated position against marriage equality? Or is he taking a leaf out of his favourite ex-Prime Minister, one Mr John Howard’s playbook. Let’s roll back the clocks and have a look.
Roll back the clocks to late January 1996 …
Aussies have just passed a summer rapping to Gangsta’s Paradise and singing along with Seal. Toy Story is one of the most popular movies. And more importantly – for our story at least – an election has just been called for March and one of the key election issues is whether or not Australia should become a republic.
The push for this change had been mounting for a while. As early as 1977, polling showed that 58% of Aussies accepted that we don’t need a Queen. By the early 90s, the republican movement had critical momentum. In 1993, Prime Minister Paul Keating created a ‘Republic Advisory Committee’ to look into what changes would be needed to the constitution for Australia to become a republic. The chosen chairperson for this committee was then banker and lawyer, one Mr Malcolm Turnbull – but that’s another story….
This brings us to January 1996, and by this point it was fairly clear that the cry to consider that Australia become a republic – much like the current cry for marriage equality – was not going away. With an election pending, the leader of the Liberal party at that time – staunch monarchist John Howard – was left with no choice but to put considering that Australia become a republic on the table for discussion. Not wanting to adopt becoming a republic as Liberal party policy, Howard instead promised that if elected, he would make Australia becoming a republic a people’s issue – it would go to a people’s convention, and then to a people’s vote via a referendum. (Sounding familiar?)
Roll forward to 1999 – and Australia becoming a republic is looking good
Following his election in March 1996, John Howard kept his pre-election promise, and set up a ‘people’s convention’ to consider whether Australia should look at becoming a republic, and if so, what that would look like. He said he didn’t want to rush this because after all, ‘things won’t really change too much’ and there are ‘more important things to focus on than a republic’.
So it’s not until early 1998 that the people’s convention meets and comes up with a number of different models for an Australian republic – which mainly focused around who would replace the current Governor General (the Queen’s representative in Australia).
Support for Australia to become a republic had not waned during the 90s. The following graph shows opinion poll results on the question of Australia becoming a republic from 1993 to shortly before the referendum in late 1999. The green line represents the percentage of people who were for Australia becoming a republic, and the red line is people who were against it.
Clearly the number of people who were pro-republic was materially higher than those against it. So how exactly did John Howard get the ‘people’s vote’ to go his way?
Tricky Howard divides and conquers
For Australia to become a republic, a referendum is needed to change the constitution. Howard clearly knew that a majority of Australians were pro-republic – so a simple vote as to whether or not Australia should become a republic was very very VERY unlikely to have gone the way he wanted it to. But like Abbott today, Howard never let a little thing like public opinion get in the way of him achieving his goals.
The key to reducing the ‘Yes’ vote was to divide and conquer. Simply put – those who were pro-republic didn’t all agree on which republican model Australia should adopt. The most popular model that came out of the people’s convention in 1998 was one where the public voted in a President to take the place of the Governor General. In fact, over 70% of Australians said that they were in favour of this model. A less popular model was one where the parliament voted for who was President (instead of regular Aussies).
And this was how Tricky Howard pulled a rabbit out of his monarchist’s hat – or should I say crown? He divided the pro-republic vote, by:
Combining the issue of whether or not Australia was to become a republic with the issue of what model should be used – asking only one question, and not two.
ONLY offering one republican model to the Australian people – and not the one that most people were in favour of. Instead he put forward the less popular model where politicians got to choose who the President was.
The actual referendum question put to Aussies was whether or not they approved of:
Howard could have split this into two questions, asking first if people approved of Australia becoming a republic. And secondly, asking people which of two republic models they preferred (in the event that sufficient people voted yes in the previous question). But he didn’t do this.
By tying the question as to whether Australia became a republic to the less popular republican model, Howard all but guaranteed that the ‘Yes’ vote in favour of a republic would fail by dividing the pro-republic camp. And it worked. Instead of uniting against the ‘no-voters’, a portion of the ‘yes’ side switched camps, many under the mistaken belief that support for an Australian republic was so strong, that if the model they disapproved of was voted down, they would get another go at a vote for the model that they favoured.
And so the ‘no-vote’ – against Australia becoming a republic – triumphed. Howard’s divide and conquer strategy wasn’t the only reason of course – there were a number of others, including that the ‘no’ campaign utilised the popular campaign strategy of fear mongering – arguing that the republic would give even more power to politicians than they already had. In the words of the High Court Justice Michael Kirby:
“it was a belief that constitutional monarchy is a safer and more temperate form of government because it denies to political ambition the top office which such ambition commonly most prizes.” (Hon. Justice Michael Kirby, March 2000)
The vote for Australia to become a republic was defeated – 55 to 45.
And so tricky Howard, the staunch monarchist, was able to say that ‘good sense’ won out – that Australians had abandoned their desire for a republic, successfully hosing down the republic movement, which has been unable to gain any significant ground since then. Certainly it is not an issue that is commonly on the public agenda today.
Back to 2015, and Tricky Tony is facing his own battle on Marriage Equality
“From time immemorial in every culture that’s been known – marriage, or that kind of solemnised relationship, has been between a man and a woman.” (Tony Abbott, 23 October 2013)
This is not true of course – it’s another of Mr Abbott’s Truthiness phrases – but it does reflect Tony Abbott’s view on marriage equality. And just like Howard, he is faced with the fact that a clear majority of Australians don’t agree with him. In fact, according to regular polls which indicate that around 70% of Australians support marriage equality, an even greater proportion of Australians support marriage equality than did a republic.
So what is Tricky Tony to do? Well the two most honest options would be to:
Come out strongly against marriage equality and seek confirmation from his LNP colleagues that this is their ongoing policy. Certainly based on last week’s party-room vote it seems that a majority of LNP representatives and senators do not support marriage equality – so he’d be likely to get backup in the party room for this. But if they did this, Abbot would risk Labor making this an election issue which might win them valuable votes – and let’s face it, he’s already looking pretty shaky.
Since neither of these options would lead to Abbott’s desired outcome on this issue, what he did instead was to ‘stack’ the party-room with National party imports, just to be doubly-sure that he had the numbers to stop marriage equality going to a conscience vote. But that wasn’t enough.
Abbott knows that he needs to neutralise marriage equality from becoming a problem for him at the next election – just as Howard did with the republican issue back in 1996. So Abbott, like Howard before him, has committed to putting this important issue to a people’s vote. And just like Howard, he has committed to do this in his next term of office – not straight away of course, but within three years of being elected. Just as Howard did.
According to Abbott, a vote for him is a vote for a people’s choice on marriage equality! Finally a story that is salable to the electorate and can potentially neutralise any advantage Labor has from its pro marriage equality policy.
But do we even need a people’s vote to introduce marriage equality?
No we don’t.
Unlike if Australia were to become a republic – which does require a referendum in order to change the constitution – a change to marriage laws doesn’t require a change to our constitution, and therefore doesn’t need to be put to a referendum (or plebiscite – which is essentially just a large opinion poll).
And people’s votes aren’t cheap – at least the way we do them currently. And while I’m all for people getting more involved in our democracy, at a cost in excess of $100 million, this is a HUGE expense, and will probably mean funding needs to be cut elsewhere.
Abbott could ask people what we think about marriage equality at the next election
We’re already going to the polls to vote at the next election. If Abbott is so committed to a people’s vote, he could put the question to us then. This would be a much cheaper and quicker way to give the people a vote on this issue than by undertaking a completely separate vote. But of course, according to Abbott, that would be distracting for us poor little voters. Apparently we’re unable to make more than one decision at a time.
Beware the politician bearing gifts – in this case a people’s vote
On the face of it, a people’s vote on marriage equality sounds like a good thing to do. But if Abbott is following Howard’s Playbook, then he will be looking for a way to divide and conquer on this question, just as Howard did with the republic. And if he succeeds at this – as Howard did with stopping the republic movement – at the end of the day, we’d be over a $100 million worse off, still not have marriage equality in place, and potentially set back the marriage equality movement for decades.
And so ‘People’s vote’ enters the Truthiness to English Dictionary
I’m calling it. The evidence is fairly conclusive – ‘People’s vote’ is a Truthiness phrase. When Abbott uses it, he makes it sound like he is supporting popular opinion on marriage equality, when all indications are that he is doing everything he can to make sure he gets his way on this issue.
Truthiness: People’s Vote (as in ‘We’re going to put Marriage Equality to a People’s vote’) English: Holding pattern – as in ‘I’m going to put Marriage Equality into a holding pattern until I can figure out how to make sure it doesn’t get through’
When sitting Liberal Prime Minister John Howard lost his seat in the 2007 Federal election, three people raised their hand for the leadership of the party the next day. By Wednesday, one of them, Tony Abbott, had withdrawn due to lack of numbers, leaving Brendan Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull to contest the leadership ballot the next day.
That night, November 28 2007, Abbott appeared on Lateline with Tony Jones.
He blamed, in part, his close relationship with John Howard as a reason he did not have support for the leadership.
“I think it is true just at the moment, the Party thinks that it is important to move on from the Howard era. And I obviously have always been very closely associated with John Howard. I think history will judge him very well. But just at the moment, the Party is devastated understandably by the loss and wants to distance itself from the recent past.”
But Tony said he had “staked a claim”.
TONY ABBOTT: This time does not suit me. Who knows what the future might hold…. I’m certainly not guaranteeing that I won’t in the future challenge for the leadership.
TONY JONES: You mean during the next term? Because, we know what conservative governments in defeat were like in Britain: revolving doors for leaders.
TONY ABBOTT: And let us hope that that doesn’t happen to this conservative opposition.
Brendan Nelson won the leadership ballot. Less than 10 months later, he was rolled by Malcolm Turnbull. Fifteen months on, Turnbull was rolled by Abbott.
Jones went on to ask Abbott about Turnbull’s proposed ‘symbolic changes’: “an Australian Republic, sorry to the stolen generation, ratify Kyoto, he is sympathetic to the gay agenda and he now rejects WorkChoices outright.”
When asked if he accepted the symbolism of saying sorry to Indigenous Australians, Abbott replied
“Look, I think John Howard successfully moved us beyond that. And frankly, if Kevin Rudd wants to get into that quagmire, I think he is making a big mistake.”
Tony had just attended a lunch at the Lodge, the last hosted by Howard for his government colleagues. When asked why Peter Costello and his wife were not at the lunch, he had no answer.
Jones then asked about Howard’s state of mind, did he think the loss was his fault.
“He knows that there were many decisions that he made in the last term that will inevitably be called into question. And maybe he got some of those calls wrong….. I think that he has come to the conclusion that it wasn’t really him. It was the fact that the government was 11.5 years old.”
They then went on to discuss one of the lowest examples of Liberal gutter politics, something that derailed the dying days of the Howard campaign – the Lindsay pamphlet scandal.
Liberal Party volunteers, including the husbands of retiring member Jackie Kelly and Liberal candidate Karen Chijoff, distributed fake election pamphlets alleged to have been printed at taxpayers’ expense in Kelly’s office in the western suburbs seat of Lindsay. Knowledge of the stunt allegedly went right up the chain to the state executive.
The pamphlet claimed to be from “The Islamic Australia Federation”, a non-existent organisation. It strongly urged support for the Labor party in the upcoming federal election and went on to praise the ALP on a number of divisive issues, including:
[forgiving] our Muslim brothers who have been unjustly sentenced to death for the Bali bombings, referring to the Labor party’s opposition to the death penalty (in particular Robert McClelland’s comments) and the Liberals’ argument that this policy supports the Bali bombers themselves
Supporting the construction of a new mosque, as well as the opening of a new mosque in St Marys with the help of local and state government funding
Support for controversial former Grand Mufti Sheik Taj El-Din Hilaly (spelt “Al-Hilaly”)
The pamphlet also misspelt Allahu Akbar as “Ala Akba”, with the ALP logo on either side. The logo used was an obsolete one that had been retired after the previous election in 2004. There was also no authorising statement, which all political advertising is required to include.
Interestingly, it was Luke Foley, current NSW Labor leader who was then assistant secretary of the ALP, who, acting on a tip off from an anonymous member of the Liberal Party, organised a sting operation which caught the miscreants red-handed.
Jackie Kelly, who Abbott described as “my best friend in the Parliament”, spoke about it on radio on 22 November in spite of a party directive not to do so. She said her first instinct when she saw the pamphlet was to laugh because it was a parody of some things that had occurred during the election campaign and compared it to a prank by the satirical comedy team The Chaser.
“When I first read it I had to laugh . . . pretty much everyone who has read (it) chuckles, in terms of the parody it does make of various things that have happened during the campaign. My view is that it’s a bit of Chaser-style prank.”
The police disagreed and five men were charged with distribution of unauthorised electoral material resulting in three of them being issued with small fines.
Abbott admitted he had spoken to Kelly before she gave what was described as the worst interview ever done by a member of parliament and there was some suggestion that the Chaser defence had been his idea.
The Sydney-based chairman of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, Ikebal Patel, said falsification of election material created a further rift between mainstream community and Muslims. The Mufti of Australia, Fehmi Naji, said “When people read stuff like that, they say ‘why are we putting up with Muslims?’ We want to stop that thought, and show that we can live together and carry out our duty to our country together.”
Whipping up fear about Muslims is not a new sport for the Liberals.
The Lateline interview concluded with Jones thanking Abbott.
TONY JONES: Tony Abbott, we thank you once again. A hard day at the office. I’ve got to say, you always come in on hard days – some of the hardest days – to talk about it. That is one thing to be admired about you and we thank you very much for coming in once again.
TONY ABBOTT: Part of the political process and democratic accountability, Tony.
Sadly, under a Credlin led government, democratic accountability is no longer part of the political process.