Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Monday, 26 January 2015

Queensland - an Ethics Free Zone

Pic: AAP - Dan Peled

Back to work this week - heading west, so there won't be time for any blogging prior to the state election.
With that in mind, I'm posting this today.

It's a great piece by Gary Crooke QC who was senior counsel assisting the Fitzgerald Inquiry (1987-89) into Queensland Police corruption. He was Queensland Integrity Commissioner 2004-2009. He is (like me) now "retired".

It goes to the heart of the malaise that has overcome government in this state, and is a timely warning about the risk of electing a government with the kind of majority that encourages the blatant abuse of power we've seen in the last three years.

Those of us who lived through the Joh era are experiencing a real sense of deja vu, and sadly, there doesn't seem to be a new Tony Fitzgerald (or for that matter a Gary Crooke) on the horizon. There's something about Queensland that creates Tammany Hall style politics every now and again, almost by default. It's disturbing that this behaviour is not entirely rejected by Labor, given the emergence of cash-for-access to Labor politicians during the campaign.

The lack of an Upper House doesn't help.

The LNP, however have honed this anti-democratic practice to a very fine art. As Crooke writes -

Take the example of a controversial property or mining development. What is the perception of a reasonable person if the well-resourced applicant pays to sup with the decision maker while the objector is not only not invited, but cannot afford the tariff imposed? What is on offer? As former minister, and now prisoner, Gordon Nuttall now famously said at his trial: "Nothing is for nothing."

So, in Queensland, if you have money to spend, it will buy you influence. The more money you have, the more influence it will buy. Wonderful stuff.....

God help the pensioners, the unemployed, or for that matter, the vast majority of voters who can't stump the necessary four or five figure sums to get the ear of those who make the decisions. Democracy it isn't.

As Crooke writes -

It is here that we come to a consideration as to the use or abuse of executive power. Given the wide remit reposed in the government, proper public administration demands careful consideration of basic rights and liberties when exercising almost boundless power. The situation is made only more fraught when there is a decimated opposition, no upper house, no bill of rights, parliamentary committees set at nought, and the major local newspaper not prepared to put issues before the public, but always pursuing a line which it decides to take.

Read the whole thing, and have a quiet thought about the future of democracy in this great state.

And think very carefully before you grab your ID (compulsory now in Queensland - we have to be sure the riff-raff don't get to vote) and head off to the polling booth.

Shut It Down

Manus Island Detention Centre

It's Australia Day, and I'd dearly love to be posting something positive and affirming about my country, which I love very much.

Unfortunately, I'd be less than honest if I did so, turning a blind eye to this resident evil perpetrated in my name.

Instead, I'll post this from yesterday's Catholic Leader.


Shut it down

Horror conditions: Asylum seekers during a hunger strike at the Manus Island detention centre. About 30 asylum seekers have sewn their lips together and 500 are on a hunger strike at the Manus Island detention centre. Photo: AAP
Horror conditions: Asylum seekers during a hunger strike at the Manus Island detention centre. About 30 asylum seekers have sewn their lips together and 500 are on a hunger strike at the Manus Island detention centre. Photo: AAP
By Paul Dobbyn

A BRISBANE refugee advocate who visited Manus Island twice last year has called on the Australian Government to close the strife-torn detention centre.
“There is no accountability; no journalists are allowed in to report what’s happening,” Romero Centre community engagement co-ordinator Rebecca Lim said.
“If Australia are doing everything right, why the secrecy?
“Also why are we spending millions in detaining these people offshore when it is so much cheaper onshore?”
Ms Lim visited Manus Island in February last year after the murder there of 23-year-old Iranian asylum seeker Reza Berati.
She also visited in October for two weeks.
“Reports in the media that conditions are horrendous tallied with what I heard when I visited the island,” she said.
“There were stories of detainees receiving outdated medicine and food such as milk and dairy products.
“There were also stories of rape and sexual assault of detainees.
“It’s a prison with a hierarchy of power … the weak need protection from the strong.”
Ms Lim’s comments came in the wake of reported protests at the Papua New Guinea detention centre in recent weeks.
More than 200 detainees are now allegedly receiving medical treatment after going on a hunger strike.
Refugee advocates in contact with detainees estimated the protests have involved more than half the 1035 detainees.
There were reports of no running water being available in the centre with detainees being given bottled water to drink, wash with and to use to flush the toilets.
Ms Lim’s comments also followed statements from the new Federal Immigration Minister Peter Dutton of his “absolute resolve” to ensure “transferees will never arrive in Australia”.
Mr Dutton said he was “disturbed” by reports of the actions of some within the centre – including cases of self-harm.
One asylum seeker is believed to have swallowed razor blades, others are said to have sewn their lips together.
Acting Prime Minister Warren Truss said he wished “there weren’t tensions on those islands, but I wish the people weren’t there in the first place”.
“I wish we didn’t have a situation where people have paid people smugglers to try and come to this country to get around our immigration laws,” he said.
Ms Lim said asylum seekers were using a legal way to get to Australia.
“This is according to the UN Refugee Convention,” she said.
“The convention is designed for people needing protection who have to make their own way to a country that is offering protection.
“Entering a convention country and applying for asylum is a legitimate, and not a backdoor means, of getting protection.”

Make no bones about it, this setup recalls concentration camps run by the Third Reich. The inmates have no idea how long they will be incarcerated, or what their fate will be if and when they are released. At least there are no gas chambers, but we really don't know what goes on, because we are not allowed to be told.

Manus Island is about as far removed from Australian values as imaginable.


Sunday, 25 January 2015

Project Boring Update (4)

See it here

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Book Review - Monash - Roland Perry

I finished reading this a few weeks ago, but left reviewing it until I'd had time to digest its content.

Sometimes biographies can be difficult because the balance between writing about the individual and writing about the period he/she lived in isn't right. It is in the case of Perry's work.

He follows Monash through his early life, chronicling the economic and societal world in which he grew and developed. This adds depth and substance to the biography, and makes it easier to understand Monash's later life.

Monash's German/Jewish origins are a building block to the narrative, but I suspect that the man himself dwelt much less on that than many of his contemporaries.  They became an issue from time to time, often when he was in competition with others for high military office, but Monash's genius usually made ethnicity irrelevant.

He was an outsider, not only because he didn't belong the the Anglo establishment, but also because he was not regular army. Both were barriers to ambition, but neither stopped him.

Strangely enough, whilst he is remembered as a soldier, he was probably an engineer before he was anything else. He applied engineering strategies to all his planning, and the outcome was positive for soldiers he commanded.

What made him a standout in his day was his attitude to casualties (he worked hard to avoid them), his pioneering work with joint operations, and his insistence on meticulous planning. He stood out like the proverbial compared to the Pukka British staff officers whose incompetence killed so many of their soldiers.

He was one of the first senior commanders who considered the feelings of his troops in the sense that he knew Australians were good soldiers because their motivations were different from those from the old country. They were fighting for each other, rather than for King and Country. In a circular distributed after the battle of Bullecourt, he expressed it thus - Fight for yourself, Australia, and the British Empire.

Perry infers that the priority was significant. Doing it for Australia meant more than British Empire maintenance. (p281)

Monash wrote bitterly after Passchendaele - Our men are being put into the hottest fighting and are being sacrificed in hare brained schemes, like Bullecourt and Passchendaele, and there is no one in the War Cabinet to lift a voice in protest. Australian interests are suffering badly. (p307)

His knighthood in the field served to subdue, if not silence his critics, one notably being Rupert Murdoch's father, Keith. Understanding Murdoch the elder's arrogant view that he was entitled to write government policy, rather than report it, provides an insight into the behaviour of his son.

Perhaps what made Monash tick is revealed starkly when you read his heartfelt reflections on war -

I hate the business of war - the horror of it, the waste, the destruction, the inefficiency. My only consolation is my sense of doing my duty for my country, which has placed a great responsibility on me. I owe something to the men whose lives and honour are in my hand to do as I will. But once my duty is done and honourably discharged, I shall with a sigh of relief, turn my back once and for all on the possibility of ever again having to go through such an awful time. (p394)

He was a civilian in uniform, serving his country out of duty, not glory.

After the war, attempts were made to recruit Monash to the Fascist movements bubbling up in Australia at the time. Prime Minister Scullin sniffed the wind and invited him to travel to India for the first three months of 1931, to represent Australia at the inauguration the new capital of New Delhi.

As Perry writes - the conspirators sniffed a conspiracy.

Monash wrote an open letter in response -

What do you and your friends want me to do? To lead a movement to upset the Constitution, oust the jurisdiction of parliament, and usurp the Governmental power? If so, I have no ambition to embark on High Treason, which any such action would amount to.
What would you say if a similar proposal were made by the Communists and Socialists to seize political power for the benefit of the proletariat and the extinction of the bourgeoisie, as they have done in Russia? Would you not call that Revolution and Treason to the Crown and Constitution?
Depend upon it, the only hope for Australia is the ballot box, and an educated electorate. You and your people should get busy and form an organisation as efficient, as widespread, and as powerful as the Labour Party. (p509)

The references to his private life are handled gently and respectfully. I could imagine a temptation to exploit them, but it is avoided. Perry has honoured this most important of Australians.

I humbly suggest, dear reader, you do the same, by reading this book. It's available in paperback for about $40.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Saturday, 17 January 2015

A View from Afar

Mission Beach - taken a few years ago on our way to the Tablelands

One of my 5 Platoon mates emailed this. (H/T Dave).

I thought it was worth sharing.

There's a lot to admire about Australia, if you're a visiting American, says David Mason.

More often than you might expect, Australian friends
patiently listening to me enthuse about their country
have said,
''We need outsiders like you to remind us
what we have.''
So here it is - a small presumptuous
list of what one foreigner admires in Oz.

1. Health care.
I know the controversies, but basic national health
care is a gift.
In America , medical expenses are a
leading cause of bankruptcy.
The drug companies
dominate politics and advertising. Obama is being
crucified for taking halting baby steps towards sanity.

You can't turn on the telly without hours of drug
advertisements - something I have never yet seen here.

And your emphasis on prevention - making cigarettes
less accessible, for one - is a model.

2. Food.
Yes, we have great food in America too, especially
in the big cities. But your bread is less sweet, your
lamb is cheaper, and your supermarket vegetables
and fruits are fresher than ours. Too often in my country
America , an apple is a ball of pulp as big as your face.
The dainty Pink Lady apples of Oz are the juiciest I've had.

And don't get me started on coffee. In American small
towns it tastes like water flavoured with burnt dirt,
but the smallest shop in the smallest town in Oz can
make a first-rate latte. I love your ubiquitous bakeries,
and your hot-cross buns. Shall I go on?

3. Language.
How do you do it?
The rhyming slang and Aboriginal place names are
like magic spells. Words that seem vaguely English
yet also resemble an argot from another planet.
I love the way institutional names get turned
into diminutives - Vinnie's and Salvos - and
absolutely nothing's sacred. Everything is an
opportunity for word games and everyone has
a nickname. Lingo makes the world go round.
It's the spontaneous wit of the people that tickles
me most. Late one night at a barbie my new mate
Suds remarked: ''Nothing's the same since 24-7.''
Amen to that.

4. Free-to-air TV.

In Oz, you buy a TV, plug it in and watch some
of the best programming I've ever seen - uncensored.
In America , you can't get diddly-squat without
paying a cable or satellite company heavy fees.
In Oz a few channels make it hard to choose.

In America , you've got 400 channels
and nothing to watch.

5. Small shops.
Outside the big cities in America corporations
have nearly erased them. Identical malls with
identical restaurants serving inferior food.
Except for geography, it's hard to tell one American
town from another. The ''take-away'' culture here
in Australia is wonderful. The human encounters
are real - people love to stir, and stories get told.
The curries here are to die for. And you don't
have to tip!

6. Free camping.

We used to have this too, and I guess it's still free
when you backpack miles away from the roads.
But I love the fact that in Oz everyone owns the
shoreline and in many places you can pull up a
camper van and stare at the sea for weeks. I love
the ''primitive'' and independent camp-grounds,
the life out-of-doors. The few idiots who leave
their stubbies and rubbish behind in these
pristine places ought to be transported in chains
to the penal colonies.

7. Religion.

In America , it's everywhere - especially where it's not
supposed to be, like politics. I imagine you have your
Pharisees too, making a big public show of devotion,
but I have yet to meet one here.

8. Roads.

Peak hour aside, I've found travel on your roads pure
heaven. My country's ''Freeways'' are crowded,
crumbling, insanely knotted with looping overpasses - it's
like racing homicidal maniacs on fraying spaghetti! I've
driven the Hume Highway without stress, and I love
the Princes Highway when it's two lanes. Ninety minutes
south of Bateman's Bay I was sorry to see one billboard
for a McDonald's. It's blocking a lovely paddock view
Someone should remove the MacDonald's Billboard

9. Real multiculturalism.

I know there are tensions, just like anywhere else,
but I love the distinctiveness of your communities
and the way you publicly acknowledge the Aboriginal
past. Recently, too, I spent quality time with the
Melbourne Greeks, and was gratified both by their
devotion to their own great language and culture and
their openness to an Afghan lunch.

10. Fewer guns.

You had Port Arthur in 1996 and got real in response.
America replicates such massacres several times a year
and nothing changes.
Why? Our religion of individual
rights makes the good of the community an impossible
dream. Instead of mateship we have ''It's mine and
nobody else's''. We talk a great game about freedom,
but too often live in fear. There's more to say - your
kaleidoscopic birds, your perfumed bush in springtime,
your vast beaches. These are just a few of the blessings
that make Australia a rarity. Of course, it's not paradise -
nowhere is - but I love it here. No need to wave flags like
the Americans, and add to the world's windiness.

Just value in Australia what you have here
and don't give it away.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Project Boring (2)

Go here for the latest update.

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