Category Archives: Australia

Parasitic and Irrelevant: The University Vice Chancellor

They are some of the most remunerated officials of one of Australia’s most importantly lucrative sectors, drawing huge “packages”, as they are termed, for little more than ribbon cutting, attending meetings and overseeing policies that, if implemented, will have to be reversed at some point.

The modern university is neither corporation nor government agency. But it has the worst elements of both, endorsing the rapacity of the former without its benefits, and the bureaucracy of the latter without its purpose.  In it, a hybrid has developed, one that has, in turn, brought forth further creations of horror: the pro-vice chancellor and the deputies, a praetorian guard of management heavies with pygmy visions and armies of support staff who have not set foot in a library in years.

Their entire existence – this draining cabal that hoards and feeds – is premised on the irrelevant and the intangible: a visit to a counterpart university in a country they can barely name, signing a memorandum of understanding they will never read again, overseeing policies they neither understand nor care to.  That’s the “vision thing”, the bollocks of strategy that has seen Australia’s 38 public university vice-chancellors paid an average of $890,000 in 2016, with 12 earning more than $1 million.

The University of Melbourne’s Glyn Davis, whose vice-chancellorship is coming to an end next month, has proven reflective on that point.  In an August issue of the Australian Financial Review, he was willing to certain observations “in the certain knowledge they will be of no use whatsoever.”  (Uselessness is always a good start, and shows the immediate hurt expressed by those who think themselves useful.)

One such kernel was the sense of not being needed, an obvious point the vice-chancellors have been attempting to overcome since they became recipients of university largesse.  Sensibly, the professorial class at the university fought off a professional full-time vice-chancellor role “for nearly 80 years”.  Australia’s famous military commander and part-time chancellor of University of Melbourne Sir John Monash “quit in frustration, famously declaring that he found it easier to organise an army on the Western Front than to run a university.”

That essence of not needing the appointment immediately distorts and corrupts.  “So to endure, the vice-chancellor must show she brings some benefit to justify the inconvenience.”  This is where Davis hits his stride. The vice-chancellor must always claim relevance, importance, and need, even if there is little to show for it. He claims that “much vice-chancellorial work is external and therefore largely invisible to the professors – representing the university to government and business, enthusing the alumni, touching donors for money.”

Davis, in other words, is suggesting that the modern vice-chancellor is pimp, wooer and crawler, an individual who is not necessarily an academic superstar who will lead the academe but a promoter who will seek to advance the emptiness of a world view jotted down by business planners.

Central to that promotion is something that no vice-chancellor can ever resist babbling about: strategy.  “Guiding the priorities that mean we do some things but not others, that we ensure the university articulates, and lives by, its aspirations.”  Strategy is where the fare is earned, the supper sung for, as it “requires a full armoury of skills – values, vision, clarity, communication, an implementation plan, evaluation, reporting back.”  Is this a university Davis is writing about, or some emaciated version of IBM or Microsoft?

When things go wrong, the university politburo digs in, retaining the most god-awful flunkeys to construct meaningless ripostes to what was, to begin with, meaningless.  The VC, PVCs and Deputy PVCs are all, essentially, running an institution into the ground, but want reassurance in doing so that they have the backing of people who are, in all likelihood, going to be their victims.

They seek complicity, encouragement and backing.  Staff surveys are sought by vice-chancellors on the almost meaningless suggestions that they care what university workers actually think.  (They don’t, and never will.  Estranged, they operate in the celestial dimension of self-serving mantras and false gains.)

One such recently conducted survey at RMIT, which was encouraged by senior managers with a fretful insistence typical of a suicidal creature who knows he will succeed, merely served to demonstrate that university managers (turncoat or failed academics, for the most part) are disliked, are deemed to be lacking a vision, and really ought to be done away with.  The response from the vice-chancellor in question to such failings?  Keep up the good work, staff! You know you are liked.  Many a bucket to expectorate into was procured at that endorsement.

Davis’ replacement is Professor Duncan Maskell, senior pro-vice chancellor (planning and resources) at the University of Cambridge.  It is significant to note why Maskell is taking up the reins.  Introduced as an academic expert in bacterial infections of livestock and people, it is clear why he enchanted the selection panel.  “He was,” noted the Australian Financial Review, “co-founder of Arrow Therapeutics, which was sold to AstraZeneca in 2007, a sale reportedly worth $150 million.”

University of Melbourne Chancellor Allan Myers supplied the standard form for such appointment: Maskell was “outstanding” as an academic, but what mattered were the numbers, the turnovers, the promotions, the management.  “He has responsibility for a turnover of approximately £2 billion per annum and is also responsible for Cambridge’s major building program”.

It is exactly such sentiments that treat the vice-chancellor, not as an intellectual leader but as an overpaid pseudo-corporate official.  We are told repeatedly that education is a matter best left to the CEOs and the administrators, not the teachers and scribblers. It further explains why universities – take RMIT as an example – prefer an individual who lacks any higher degrees but who supposedly boasts the pedigree of a former Microsoft employee.  Such a being knows “how to help the university decide what our fees should be, how to market us more effectively – where to play and how to win.”  Never mind that job losses, higher fees, and cut-backs are the result, or that students get poorer returns.

The upshot here is that the university vice-chancellor is not only meaningless at best, but parasitic and even destructive at worst.  Drawing life from the institution he or she purportedly protects but is, in truth, mauling, such a creature is best done away with.  Removing this gargoyle of encumbrance would also enable those who actually do the work – the research and teaching – to finally shave off an entire layering of dead wood that lies heavy upon the spirit of learning.  Vision, indeed.

Deplatforming Germaine Greer

The flexibility of English, and thriving sign that it is not a dead language, permits repeated atrocities to be committed in the name of new terms.  We are told that what is new is supposedly good, a sign of evolution. More accurately, such terms simply describe an old phenomenon, giving the false impression that the novel has appeared before the old.

The term “deplatforming” is de rigueur at the moment, a creature of the social media age and lecture circuit.  Invitations to writers’ festivals can be withdrawn at a moment’s notice because the invitee has either not observed the current fashion, or has done something distinctly against it.  Users of social media have their carpet, or platform, as it were, taken from under them.

The star recipient of that treatment was Alex Jones, who has found himself, and his Infowars, expelled beyond the city gates of social media babble. Social media giants, pressured by the very individuals who believe that free speech is vital oxygen to the body politic, have taken it upon themselves to police expression. “It’s implausible to imagine a future,” observed a bleak David Harsanyi, “in which liberal activists don’t demand that Republican groups be de-platformed.”

A creature of argumentation and debate very different to Jones is Germaine Greer, a permanent voice of insurrection whose The Female Eunuch still retains, even after a half-century, the sense of being both iconoclastic and holy.  When your book becomes a household weapon of feminist liberation, an item to be found on reading lists to perturb, you know you have made it.  While she has never quite emulated the initial triumph of that deliciously confronting text, she has always managed to take stage and floor, to back into the limelight.  Her enemies are many, and there are as many amongst the fractious sisterhood as they are outside it. Having never been a full card carrying ideologue, Greer has never, thankfully, belonged.

On the ABC’s Q&A program, Greer was again found showing how her opinions and essays can still strike appropriate chords, ruffle the occasional, fixed feather and disrupt the nonchalant with a discomforting start.  On this occasion, it was rape, that tool of power, appropriation and control that has preoccupied analysts of sexuality since cognition was discovered.   Greer’s reaction was hardly surprising, a no-nonsense slap down on how victimhood should be treated.  “Trauma is something that is dictated really by the sufferer.  You know, I can’t bear huntsman spiders.  It is not their fault. It’s my fault… I decided to be frightened of them.”

The program merely saw a reiteration of Greer’s views outlined in her latest essay On Rape, which does not disparage victims but provides a trenchant critique of the justice system that reduces such victims to the minutiae of “evidence”.  “Rape,” she contends, “is a jagged outcrop in the vast monotonous landscape of bad sex; we can only understand its prevalence and our inability to deal with it if we position it correctly within the psychopathology of daily life.”

It is “banal rape” that poses the greatest problem, wrapped, as it were, in the dilemmas of the incommunicable, the gulf between sexual participants.  To that end, and here, Greer supplies the kindling for her critics, a different sentencing regime is required, one that focuses on convicting “on the assault charges while leaving the rape issue moot”.

It is such views that have seen Greer disinvited to the Brisbane Writers’ festival, a move which has been couched in the lingo of organisational guff.  Melbourne University Press publisher Louise Adler was far from impressed by the decision of the organisers, claiming that it “seems counter to the ethos of freedom of speech”.

The response from the festival was resoundingly cowardly: “Brisbane writers’ festival does not shy away from controversy or challenging ideas, but as all festival organisers know, it’s invariably difficult to choose between the many authors currently promoting books and the need to provide engaging choices for our audience along a curatorial theme.”

There will always be fashions and tyrannies of thought, attempts to close off argumentation if not ignore it altogether.  Liz Duck-Chong reflects this tendency, and finds it necessary to preface any views with the identity descriptor “trans” (because identities are mysterious, self-justifying ideas rather than markers). Having accepted with a heavy reluctance that there is a “market place of ideas”, she proceeds to dictate, akin to a book banning commissar, what constitutes that market.  “Greer and her ilk” are not “worth listening to” and have nothing to add to the “on going conversation”.  Talk about tolerance is “tired”, an old excuse best left by the wayside.  What such opinions do is remind us that the oldest of ideas, intolerance, remains ever threatening, the censor, a dangerous reality.  The market place is enjoyable, till you encounter ideas you do not like.

It is important to note that Australia had, at one point, a censorship record of such astounding ferocity it rivalled that of Ireland.  Books of interest were not published for fear of stirring scurrilous thoughts or fostering wayward behaviour.  Banning as an instinct of paternal control came first.  To remove Greer, a well read, tutored figure strides ahead of many of her critics, is to deny audiences not merely an intellectual draught of consequence but a poking sense of fun.  Disliking her ideas is hardly an excuse to avoid entertaining them.

As for Greer herself, some humour prevails. “The Brisbane writers’ festival is very hard work.  So, to be uninvited to what is possibly the dreariest literary festival in the world, with zero hospitality and no fun at all, is a great relief.”

Syria or Southeast Asia: The West Lied, Lies, and Always Will

Photo:  Andre Vltchek

I’m sitting at the splendid building of the Singapore National Library, in a semi-dark room, microfilm inserted into a high-tech machine. I’m watching and then filming and photographing several old Malaysian newspapers dating back from October 1965.

These reports were published right after the horrible 1965 military coup in Indonesia, which basically overthrew the progressive President Sukarno and liquidated then the third largest Communist party on Earth, PKI (Partai Komunis Indonesia). Between one and three million Indonesian people lost their lives in some of the most horrifying massacres of the 20th century. From a socialist (and soon to be Communist) country, Indonesia descended into the present pits of turbo-capitalist, as well as religious and extreme right-wing gaga.

The United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Holland and several other Western nations, directly sponsored the coup, while directing both the pro-Western treasonous factions in the military, as well as the religious leaders who stood, from the start, at the forefront of the genocide.

All this information is, of course, widely available in the de-classified archives of both the CIA and U.S. State Department. It can be accessed, analyzed and reproduced. I personally made a film about the events, and so have several other directors.

But it isn’t part of the memory of humanity. In Southeast Asia, it is known only to a handful of intellectuals.

In Malaysia, Singapore or Thailand, the Indonesian post-1965 fascism is a taboo topic. It is simply not discussed. “Progressive” intellectuals here are, like in all other ‘client’ states of the West, paid to be preoccupied with their sex orientation, with gender issues and personal ‘freedoms’, but definitely not with the essential matters (Western imperialism, neo-colonialism, the savage and grotesque forms of capitalism, the plunder of local natural resources and environment, as well as disinformation, plus the forcefully injected ignorance that is accompanied by mass amnesia) that have been shaping so extremely and so negatively this part of the world.

In Indonesia itself, the Communist Party is banned and the general public sees it as a culprit, not as a victim.

The West is laughing behind the back of its brainwashed victims. It is laughing all the way to the bank.

Lies are obviously paying off.

No other part of the world has suffered from Western imperialism as much after WWII, as Southeast Asia did, perhaps with two exceptions, those of Africa and the Middle East.

In so-called Indochina, the West murdered close to ten million people, during the indiscriminate bombing campaigns and other forms of terror – in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. The abovementioned Indonesian coup took at least 1 million human lives. 30% of the population of East Timor was exterminated by the Indonesian occupation, which was fully supported by the West. The Thai regime, fully subservient to the West, killed indiscriminately its leftists in the north and in the capital. The entire region has been suffering from extreme religious implants, sponsored by the West itself, and by its allies from the Gulf.

But the West is admired here, with an almost religious zeal.

The U.S., British and French press agencies and ‘cultural centers’ are spreading disinformation through local media outlets owned by subservient ‘elites’. Local ‘education’ has been devotedly shaped by Western didactic concepts. In places like Malaysia, Indonesia, but also Thailand, the greatest achievement is to graduate from university in one of the countries that used to colonize this part of the world.

Victim countries, instead of seeking compensation in courts, are actually admiring and plagiarizing the West, while pursuing, even begging for funding from their past and present tormentors.

Southeast Asia, now obedient, submissive, phlegmatic and stripped off the former revolutionary left-wing ideologies, is where the Western indoctrination and propaganda scored unquestionable victory.

*****

The same day, I turned on the television set in my hotel room, and watched the Western coverage of the situation in Idlib, the last stronghold of the Western-sponsored terrorists on Syrian territory.

Russia has called for an emergency UN Security Council meeting warning that the terrorists might stage a chemical attack, and then blame it, together with the West, on the forces of President Bashar al-Assad.

NATO battleships have been deployed to the region. There can be no doubt – it has been a ‘good old’ European/North American scenario at work, once again: ‘We hit you, kill your people, and then bomb you as a punishment’.

Imperialist gangsters then point accusative fingers at the victims (in this case Syria) and at those who are trying to protect them (Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, China). Just like in a kindergarten, or a primary school; remember? A boy hits someone from behind and then screams, pointing at someone else: “It was him, it was him!” Miraculously, until now, the West has always gotten away with this ‘strategy’, of course, at the cost of billions of victims, on all continents.

That is how it used to be for centuries, and that is how it still works. That is how it will continue to be, until such terror and gangsterism is stopped.

*****

For years and decades, we were told that the world is now increasingly inter-connected, that nothing of great importance could happen, without it being immediately spotted and reported by vigilant media lenses, and ‘civil society’.

Yet, thousands of things are happening and no one is noticing.

Just in the last two decades, entire countries have been singled-out by North America and Europe, then half-starved to death through embargos and sanctions, before being finally attacked and broken to pieces: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya to mention just a few. Governments of several left-wing nations have been overthrown either from outside, or through their own, local, servile elites and media; among them Brazil, Honduras and Paraguay. Countless Western companies and their local cohorts are committing the unbridled plunder of natural resources in such places as Borneo/Kalimantan or the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), totally ruining tropical forests while murdering hundreds of species.

Are we, as a planet, really inter-connected? How much do people know about each other, or about what is done to their brothers and sisters on different continents?

I have worked in some 160 countries, and I can testify without the slightest hesitation: ‘Almost nothing’. And: ‘Less and much less!’

The Western empire and its lies, has managed to fragment the world to previously unknown extremes. It is all done ‘in the open’, in full view of the world, which is somehow unable to see and identify the most urgent threats to its survival. Mass media propaganda outlets are serving as vehicles of indoctrination, so do cultural and ‘educational’ institutions of the West or those local ones shaped by the Western concepts. That includes such diverse ‘tools’ as universities, Internet traffic manipulators, censors and self-censored individuals, social media, advertisement agencies and pop culture ‘artists’.

*****

There is a clear pattern to Western colonialist and neo-colonialist barbarity and lies:

‘Indonesian President Sukarno and his closest ally the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) were trying to build a progressive and self-sufficient country. Therefore, they had to be stopped, government overthrown, party members massacred, PKI itself banned and the entire country privatized; sold to foreign interests. The overwhelming majority of Indonesians are so brainwashed by the local and Western propaganda that they still blame the Communists for the 1965 coup, no matter what the CIA archives say.’

Mossadegh of Iran was on the same, progressive course. And he ended up the same way as Sukarno. And the whole world was then charmed by the butcher, who was put to power by the West – the Shah and his lavish wife.

Chile in 1973, and thereafter, the same deadly pattern occurred, more evidence of how freedom-loving and democratic the West is.

Patrice Lumumba of Congo nationalized natural resources and tried to feed and educate his great nation. Result? Overthrown, killed. The price: some 8 million people massacred in the last two decades, or maybe many more than that (see my film: Rwanda Gambit). Nobody knows, or everyone pretends that they don’t know.

Syria! The biggest ‘crime’ of this country, at least in the eyes of the West, consisted of trying to provide its citizens with high quality of life, while promoting Pan-Arabism. The results we all know (or do we, really?): hundreds of thousands killed by West-sponsored murderous extremists, millions exiled and millions internally displaced. And the West, naturally, is blaming Syrian President, and is ready to ‘punish him’ if he wins the war.

Irrational? But can global-scale fascism ever be rational?

The lies that are being spread by the West are piling up. They overlap, often contradict one another. But the world public is not trained to search for the truth, anymore. Subconsciously it senses that it is being lied to, but the truth is so horrifying, that the great majority of people prefer to simply take selfies, analyze and parade its sexual orientation, stick earphones into its ears and listen to empty pop music, instead of fighting for the survival of humanity.

I wrote entire books on this topic, including the near 1,000-page: “Exposing Lies Of The Empire”.

This essay is just a series of thoughts that came to my mind, while I was sitting at a projector in a dark room of the Singapore National Library.

A rhetorical question kept materializing: “Can all this be happening?” “Can the West get away with all these crimes it has been committing for centuries, all over the world?”

The answer was clear: ‘But of course, as long as it is not stopped!”

And so, A luta continua!

First published by NEO New Eastern Outlook

Needled Strawberries: Food Terrorism Down Under

There is something peculiar doing the rounds in Australian food circles.  The land down under, considered something of a nirvana of fruit and vegetable production despite horrendous droughts and calamitous cyclones, is facing a new challenge: human agency, namely in the form of despoliation of strawberries.

The results have knocked Australia’s highly concentrated supermarket chains, with both Coles and Aldi withdrawing all their fruit with a nervousness that has not been seen in years.  A spate of incidents involving “contamination”, or pins stuck in the fruit, have manifested across a range of outlets.  Strawberry brands including Donnybrook Berries, Love Berry, Delightful Strawberries, Oasis brands, Berry Obsession, Berry Licious and Mal’s Black Label have made it onto the list of needled suppliers.  There have been possible copycat initiates doing the rounds.  “This,” exclaimed Strawberries Australia Inc. Queensland spokesman Ray Daniels, “is food terrorism that is bringing an industry to its knees.”

The game of food contamination, infection or, as Daniels deems it, food terrorism, is the sort of thing that multiplies in fear and emotion.  It targets the industry itself (the strawberry market is already frail before the effects of pest and blight), and ensures maximum publicity for the perpetrator.  Then there is the constant fear of a potential victim, the all stifling terror of legal action that might find a target in the form of a provider.  Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has already boosted such feelings, ordering the Food Standards Australia New Zealand to investigate the matter.  “This is a vicious crime, it’s designed to injure and possible worse, members of the population at large.”

Out of 800,000 punnets of strawberries, notes Daniels, seven needles were found.  “You’ve got more chance of winning lotto than being affected.”  Take your chance, and, as with all food production, hope for the best as you would hope for the arrival of a green goddess.

Others such as Anthony Kachenko of Hort Innovation Australia have also moved into a mode of reassurance, a salutary reminder that Australia remains in the stratosphere of food excellence despite such adventurous despoilers.  Sabotage it might be, but it was surely isolated, a nonsense that could be dealt with surgical accuracy. “Australia prides itself on safe, healthy, nutritious produce and we have the utmost confidence in the produce that we grow both for the domestic and the export markets.”

Such attitudes mask the fundamental bet that has characterised human existence since these unfortunate bipeds decided to experiment with the cooked and uncooked.  History shows that wells have been poisoned and fields salted.  The divorce from hunter gatherer to industrialist consumer oblivious to the origins of food made that matter even more poignant, and, in some cases, tragic.  The consumer is at the mercy of the production line, and everything else that finds its way into it.

The food science fraternity are being drawn out to explain the meddling, pitching for greater funding, and another spike in industry funds.  “The things we’re usually concerned about,” suggests Kim Phan-Thien of the University of Sydney, “are the accidental contaminants; spray drift or microbial contamination [which is] a natural risk in the production system.”  What was needed, claimed the good food science pundit, was an examination, not merely of “unintentional adulteration and contaminants but the intentional adulteration for economic gain or a malicious reason for a form of terrorism.”

Take a punt (or in this case, a punnet), and hope that source, process and final destination are somehow safe.  The cautionary note here is to simply cut the suspect fruit to ensure no errant needles or pins have found their way into them.  (This presumes the needle suspect was probably hygienic.)

But the strawberry nightmare highlights the insecurity within the food industry, the permanent vulnerability that afflicts a multi-process set of transactions, recipients and consumers.  Purchasing anything off the stands, and in any aisle of a supermarket is never a guarantee of safety, a leap of faith based upon a coma inflicted by industrial complacence.  We are left at the mercy of speculative fancy: the item we take home is what it supposedly is, irrespective of labelling, accurate or otherwise.

The scare, as it is now being termed, has had the sort of impact any fearful threat to health and safety does: an increased focus on security, a boost in food surveillance and the gurus versed in the business of providing machinery.  Strawberry Growers Association of Western Australia President Neil Handasyde revealed that growers were being pressed for increased scanning in the form of metal detectors.  “As an industry we are sure that [the needles] are not coming from the farm, but we’re about trying to get confidence into customers that when they buy a punnet of strawberries, that there isn’t going to be anything other than strawberries in there and they’re safe to eat.”

Possibly guilty parties have been distancing themselves with feverish necessity.  This, as much as anything else, reeks of the legal advice necessary to avoid paying for any injury that might result.  Mal’s Black Label strawberries, one of the growing number of needle recipients, has taken the line that the farm is above suspicion, with the suspects to be found elsewhere.  Strawberry grower Tony Holl suggested that some figure was floating around, needle and all, intent on fulfilling the wishes of “a real vendetta”.

A reward of $100,000 has been offered by the Queensland government for capturing the villain in question, if, indeed, there is a conscious, all-rounded creature doing the rounds.  He, she, or it, has now assumed various titles from the Queensland authorities.  The “strawberry spiker” or “strawberry saboteur” seem less like life-threatening agents than lifestyle names intent on an encyclopaedic entry.  But biosecurity, and matters of food health, are matters that throb and pulsate in Australia.  Authorities are promising to find the culprit.  The culprit may have other designs.

The Woes of Climate Change States

As Australia’s tattered yet new government, led by the increasingly oafish and amateurish Scott Morrison trundled into its post-climate phase, states which see their existence as dependent on the cutting of carbon emissions have been more than a touch concerned. Their reality remains divorced from the paper clip conspiracies of Canberra and the energy cliques obsessed with cutting prices.

Morrison’s ascension to power was yet another, existentially imposed headache in the aftermath of US President Donald J. Trump’s announcement that the United States would be making a dash from any obligations and aspirations associated with the Paris Climate Agreement. Pacific Island states were starting to write up their wills.

When the decision by Trump was made in the middle of last year, such states as Samoa and Fiji felt a shudder.  “His decision,” came the press release from an assortment of Pacific Island Civil Society Organisations, “is a clear sign of his continued support of the fossil fuel industry which directly threatens the lives of communities living in the Pacific Islands.”

The Australian response, ever mindful of the wishes of its obese cousin and all powerful defender, has reflected a certain bipolar conditioning on matters ecological and climactic.  Canberra takes the position, when convenient to its neighbours, that climate change is genuine, dangerous and in need of serious consideration.  When necessary, amnesia takes hold.

In the aftermath of Morrison’s replacement of sitting Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama sent a salutary reminder to the new Australian leader couched in a disarming note of congratulation.  “I look forward to working with you across a broad front, including the global campaign for action on climate change, the greatest threat facing Australia and all of your neighbours in the Pacific.”

This, to a man who had coarsely brandished a lump of coal in the Australian parliament in February last year, supplied by the good offices of the Minerals Council of Australia. “This is coal,” he guffawed to his opponents, caressing the inert item in his hand with a fetishist’s resolve. “Don’t be afraid; don’t be scared.”

Morrison ought to be suffering jitters from such figures as Samoa’s Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele, who has made it clear how climate change laggards should be treated.  “We all know the problem, we all know the solutions,” he explained to the Lowy Institute at the end of last month, “and all that is left would be some political courage, some political guts, to tell people of your country there is a certainty of disaster.”

Then came the delicious blow, landed between the gizzards.  “So any leader of any country who believes that there is no climate change, I think he ought to be taken to mental confinement.  He is utterly stupid.  And I say the same thing to any leader here.”

Despite such cataclysmic promises, Australia’s politicians remain resilient before the inconveniences of reality, and warm to the enticements of stupidity.  The big god coal, and associate demigod fossil fuels, call the tune.

The new Foreign Minister, Marise Payne, made the necessary, paternalistic adjustments for her audience earlier this month ahead of the Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru.  This line waxes and wanes along the issue of aid, the condescending drip aid designed to influence more than change.  The angle on Australian generosity was pushed (daddy with deep pockets cares), as much to counter the phantom of Chinese influence in the region as anything else. “The largest development assistance in the region is overwhelmingly coming from Australia; in fact, it will hit the largest contribution ever during 2018-19 at $1.3 billion.”

Payne also busied herself bribing regional neighbours with such reassurances as employment, a tribute to an old legacy of enticing black labour to an economy short of staffing.  Samoa, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, she said with soothing corruption, would be added to Australia’s Pacific Labour Scheme, nothing less than a traditional, extracting incentive for the Australian economy.  As ever, the benefit would be for Australia more than anybody else: citizens from those countries would be able to fill the necessary jobs in rural and regional Australia.  (Well and good – they might, in time, have no country to return to.)

Despite the issue of climate change making its inevitable appearance on the agenda, Payne preferred to see it as one of the items for discussion, rather than the main show.  “We really recognise that our Pacific Island neighbours are particularly vulnerable to climate change.”  Australia had been purportedly “working hard” towards climate change commitments, though Payne failed to spell out any coherent steps of late.

The internal politics of the governing coalition in Australia remains intimately related to the fossil fuel industries and climate change sceptics.  The schismatic Tony Abbott remains convinced that Australia should go the way of Trump, and more than a sprinkling of his colleagues think the same.  Central to this is not environmental degradation so much as cheaper energy prices, which has become the holy of holies, the El Dorado of policy makers.  Such is the thinking that accompanies the short term aspirations of shop keeping types even as it dooms island states to watery oblivion.

Fraser Anning and the Smugness of Australian “Values”

Be wary of the self-satisfied and morally soothed.  The complacent have a habit of giving the game away, glorifying themselves in satisfied satiation. Australia’s parliament seemed to be very self-congratulatory in their condemnation of the newly arrived Senator of the Katter Australia Party, Fraser Anning.  Last month, the rough, seemingly untutored Anning became the convenient freak show for his fellow parliamentarians; his more seasoned colleagues, versed in the dark arts of hypocrisy, duly rounded on him.  How dare he express what many of them have either felt or ignored?

Anning has volunteered himself as yet another scrounger who played the gargantuan race card, peppering his inaugural address to the Senate with the dross that has been fairly ordinary in Australian politics.  It was meant to have resonances with Pauline Hanson’s vulgarly rich delivery in 1996, and it is worth noting the parallels. In the former, there was initial gasp, horror and pondering. What Hanson was saying as the new federal member for Oxley was hardly shocking to Prime Minister John Howard.

Hanson’s views struck home with a domestic, comforting fury; her prejudices stirred the blood: suspicions of racial swamping, the nightmare of Asiatic miscegenation were hardly alien to a prime minister who, as opposition leader in the 1980s, felt that Australia was at risk of yellowing.  Howard’s rat cunning took hold: use Hanson’s indignation at Big Picture politics and elitism, and also, as best as possible, destroy her.

Anning evidently thought he could ride that same wave.  He had been told by KAP advisors that he needed to be controversially relevant.  This was not going to be an easy task; Australian politics has assimilated a good deal of intolerance since the late 1990s, and the new senator needed to do something to stand out.  But rather than being a savvy racist, he came across as a barking enthusiast who had lost the plot.  He quoted Sir Henry Parkes, “Father of our Federation” and his reference to knowing “the value” of Australia’s “British origin”.  He believed that there was no “retrograde force” in the world more conspicuous than Muslims.  “I believe that the reasons for ending all further Muslim immigration are both compelling and self-evident.”

He wishes for immigration policy to be wrested from government and taken to a plebiscite, the outcome, he hopes, being a return to the White Australia policy. “The final solution to the immigration problem is, of course, a popular vote.”  Had Anning avoided those words of finality, his speech would read as anything Hanson has given in the past.  Instead, he gave parliament a red line.

The now deposed Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull described Anning’s observations as “appalling”. “We are a nation that does not define its nationality, its identity, by reference to race or religion or cultural background or ethnic background.”  Reference to a “final solution” on immigration was a “shocking insult” to the Jewish people.  Opposition leader Bill Shorten considered the Anning performance “repugnant and disgraceful”.  Even Hanson felt that the former One Nation member was “appalling”, claiming that the speech was “straight from the Goebbels handbook for Nazi Germany”.  Politicians hugged; tears were shared in unity.

As Australian politicians immerse themselves in orgiastic satisfaction that their country is the tip of the civilised community, a twelve-year old refugee child on Nauru is mounting a hunger strike against a distinct interpretation of tolerance shown by Australian authorities.   “This particular child, like many other children,” came the grim summation of Doctors For Refugees president Barri Phatarfod, “has just completely lost hope.”

It was Australian values, shorn of substance but obsessively anti-humanitarian, that created multi-tiered levels of refugees and asylum seekers in sneering defiance of the Refugee Convention.  Hanson’s fear of remorseless Asiatic absorption has shifted: in place of the industrious citizens of Southeast Asia and China have come fears of the theocratic, wailing Mullahs worshiping the Koran and African mobs.

Australia’s parliament, in another more accurate depiction of its values, also did itself proud by passing amendments on asylum legislation to affirm that detaining 1,600 asylum seekers was lawful. (Only three members in the House of Representatives voted against it: Greens MP Adam Bandt, and independents Andrew Wilkie and Cathy McGowan.)  The Migration (Validation of Port Appointment) Bill 2018 was given the easiest of passages to the Senate, legitimising the status of “a proclaimed port in the Territory of Ashmore and Cartier Islands”.  It further seeks to ensure “that things done under the Migration Act 1958 which relied directly or indirectly on the terms of the appointment are valid.”  Both sides of the aisle want to inoculate themselves against any future litigation, and few tears were shed, or hands held, over that consensus.

What Anning did give to other politicians was an opportunity to be nauseatingly smug, cringingly self-satisfied in having condemned the racial genie long out of the bottle and roaming at will.  To that end, he could be condemned as a person who did not share the values of parliament, the, dare one say it, un-Australian representative who had actually expressed views common to many backbenchers. An odd spectacle, given that the Australian parliament will always be characterised by its first gesture: legislating for a White Australia.

Labor’s Senator Penny Wong herself was also something of a treat in that regard, a fine figure when it comes to shifting values and raising the moral platform.  This is a politician who publicly asserted a stance in her party against same-sex marriage in 2010 (politics is politics), telling the Ten Network that, “On the issue of marriage, I think the reality is there is a cultural, religious and historical view around that which we have to respect.”  This dramatically altered last year, when Wong became ebullient, tear-shedding in the aftermath of amendments to the Marriage Act regarding same-sex marriage.

Now, Wong presented herself again, as a high priestess of moral worth, seeing in Anning a bête noire worthy of her condemnation.  Anning’s speech “was not worthy of this Parliament.”  It “did no reflect the heart of this country.  We saw a speech that did not reflect the strong, independent, multicultural, tolerant, accepting nation that we are.”

Anning presented a perfect alibi.  Australian politicians could speak about “values” and a contingent tolerance that remains vulnerable to erasure and sparing to asylum seekers and refugees (unless they so happen to be white South African farmers).  They could extol a non-existent exceptionalism, ignoring the obvious fact that this is a country troubled by race and insecurity, wealthy yet spoiled by it.  To take the issue of immigration to a plebiscite would be a truly democratic measure, but many Australian politicians fear the outcome.  They might well find that the heart of the country remains soured by a managed paranoia.

Battling Contamination: Erin Brockovich Down Under

The Australian press have been in a state of drooling ecstasy.  Part of it is because Australia can be relevant, however negative it might be, to their monster cousin, defender and protector known as the United States.  This time, it’s cultural – in the legal sense.  Erin Brockovich has found herself doing the media rounds on yet another legal project, this time against the Australian Defence forces in Katherine in the Northern Territory.  “Australia’s Defence has left Katharine hanging out there like a sitting duck.” Central to this are the dangers of using per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a long time favourite of the ADF. The nagging question is not new: Do they cause various diseases, including cancer?

Brockovich and her legal outfit Shine Lawyers have smell legal briefs in the offing.  Lawsuits have been launched against the Defence Department in Katherine, and Oakey in Queensland. The firm is hungry, searching out potential sites of contamination in Western Australia and Victoria.

For Brockovich, there is a sense of environmental redux in all of this: contamination of local water supplies and the environment, the sort that made her case in Hinkley, California, famous.  (Julia Roberts did the rest in her 2000 portrayal.)  Then it was hexavalent chromium and its illegal dumping by Pacific Gas and Electric Company; now it is PFAS chemicals and Australia’s glorious defenders of the realm who have done everything to terrify and console inhabitants.  “People in Katherine,” notes Brockovich, “are receiving bottled water from their government, they are receiving advisories not to eat fish and some food yet they say it doesn’t harm your health.”

The Department of Defence, for its part, has been less than reassuring, issuing potted missives and disclaimers. It insists that a “national program to review, investigate and implement a comprehensive approach to manage” PFAS substances “on, and in the vicinity of, some of its bases around Australia” is being undertaken.  In the comatose, dulling tones characteristic of that deparment, it speaks of being “proactive” in this regard, and claims to be entirely “open and transparent in making the verified test results available to the local community”.

The effort on the part of the Australian government has been a muddling one serving to inspire suspicion rather than meek acceptance on the issue of PFAS. The Chair of the PFAS Expert Health Panel, Professor Nick Buckley, was quizzed about his expertise in the area in July, a point that was rebuffed by suggesting that it was good to have someone “without any preconceived views on PFAS itself.”

The letter from Buckley to editors of the Newcastle Herald and Sydney Morning Herald, which was intended to be a corrective to the reports circulating on this discrepancy, was formulaic and sterile.  “The conclusions of the panel on the evidence are in agreement with international agency reports and systematic reviews.  These reviews (and ours) consistently note that there are likely biological effects, and express concerns about possible health effects.”

But doubt had to be factored in the assessments (this panel is, after all, aligned with the auspices of the Department of Defence, yet another example of independence in action), as “they also all agree that, despite there being many studies, there is not consistent evidence that any human disease definitely increased as a result of exposure.”  The meanness of this is evident in that concerns about “likely” biological effects are registered, but that the evidence does not stack up conclusively.

This is also a point that is reiterated through other government channels.  The New South Wales government’s information sheet from last year documents concerns covering PFAS substances noting, firstly, their pervasive use for decades, meaning that they can be “found widely in the land and water environments around the world” and that food remains “the most important source of exposure”.  But having painted a nightmarish scenario, one of disease and human demise, the tone changes.  Don your scientific hats, everybody; there is no “consistent evidence that exposure [to PFASs] causes adverse human health effects.” But evidence gathered from animal studies suggests otherwise, meaning that “potential health effects cannot be excluded.”

It is precisely such grounds of qualification that pique Brockovich’s interest.  And she is welcome in certain circles as a legal marauder, a useful David to have a battle with Goliath.  The standing ovation (or written ovations) she receives when spending time in Australia vary in levels of gush, the legal saint come to right the wrongs of the large and unscrupulous. She is seen as edgy, and plays up to the image.  “I can drive better here than I can in the United States.  Cause remember, its backwards for us.  That’s how I work.”

Arrestingly cute, and does wonders to boost the ambitious girl across the pond image. The hack for The Sydney Morning Herald was certainly won over by her striking height, “with blonde hair coiffed”.  She strides (good to know), and then repairs to lunch at Otto.  Brussels sprouts and risotto follows.  “Because I learned in a certain way, I was perceived different. (American illiteracy can be fashionable.) And then because you’re different, society wants to tell you you’re inferior.  I had to learn their way or it was the highway.”

Brockovich returns the favour, telling her Australian clients through her Shine Lawyers profile how they are “laid back, [have a] good work ethic and have a wicked/demented sense of humour which I love.”  Environmental stalwarts such as the Great Barrier Reef, the Daintree, and koalas (she claims to love them) are also noted.

Such profiles must, however, bear fruit.  As the legal proceedings gain traction, the Australian government has stepped up its activity in terms of “managing” PFAS, another box ticking venture that hopes to pacify the suspicious and throw off critics.  In August, the first round of recipients for the cash laid aside for the Australian Research Council’s Special Research Initiative PFAS Remediation Research Program was announced.  The press release announcing the venture was so loud with praise it can only be questioned: “Some of Australia’s best scientists and researchers will commence ground-breaking work to address PFAS contamination in the environment”.  Time for the lawyers step in.

Banning Chelsea Manning: The Dubious Tests of Character

National security advocates have been crotchety ever since the release of Chelsea Manning for a sentence they hoped would go the full, crushing 35 years.  Her sins were intimately tied up with making WikiLeaks the publisher of fame, less than fortune: the disclosure of 750,000 classified diplomatic and military documents which revealed, to various degrees, the inner workings of the US military industrial complex.  But a moment of enlightenment prevailed, and President Barack Obama deemed her case suitable for commutation in one of his last executive acts.

While the idea of a celebrity whistleblower is rife with problems (the stereotype is usually that of an insecure, inconspicuous figure, a persecuted shrinking violet), Manning has managed to become one since her release in May 2017.  Identity politics has been grafted upon the political necessaries of exposing injustices and atrocities.  Data security has been paired with transgender politics.

In Australia, joined (even chained?) to the hip of the US imperium, not all are revelling in Manning, the spiller of secrets big and small.  The simple conclusion they reach is that she should be barred from entering the country.  She was a military intelligence analyst gone bad, and for those reasons, should be treated as such.  “Despite the media breathlessly describing Manning as a whistleblower,” penned a sceptical Rodger Shanahan of the Lowy Institute, “she is far from that.  In fact, if she thought she was a whistleblower she could have availed herself of the 1988 Military Whistleblowers Act.”

For Shanahan, being a whistleblower requires you to be an ascetic person of scrupulous credentials, and free of confusion.  Most of all, you must be bureaucratically minded, a team player who uses internal channels laid out by the managers.  Manning was not aggrieved by US military practice, he surmises, merely “downloading material from the classified system for onforwarding to WikiLeaks” within two weeks of her first deployment. (How unprincipled!)

Shanahan’s attempt to demolish Manning’s credentials are typical of an individual who believes in the constipated restrictions imposed on the meaning of whistleblower.  The first is a charmingly naïve assumption that the Military Whistleblowers Act somehow immunises the discloser from prosecution, casting a cordon of iron clad protection from venal employers.  Even more importantly, there is an assumption that internal disclosures made by the morally worried and concerned work, a cynic’s ploy to pretend to be an idealist.

What matters in that approach is to keep abuses within the corrupt family, to exclude prying eyes and, most importantly of all, to let matters of redress and reform drift into splendid inertia.  Actual changes and means to hold agents responsible for abuse tend to happen from the outside, the shock of the new.  Little wonder, then, that such catalysts – in this case Manning, and then her provision to WikiLeaks – are treated as such crass and vulgar acts, disruptive and therefore in need of containment.

What is problematic for Manning is that certain records speak volumes to immigration officials.  They are not to be considered in context; what matters is the fact of a conviction, not the extenuating circumstances that could excuse, or at least mitigate, the reasons for it. Good character, to that end, is ever slippery, but officialdom demands certitude.

Section 501 of the Migration Act 1958 (Cth) permits the minister power to refuse a person a visa on grounds of character if they have been sentenced to prison for one year or longer.  The bar is low, with a visa refusal possible if the minister “reasonably suspects that the person does not pass the character test; and the person does not satisfy the Minister that the person passes the character test.”

The notice from the Department of Home Affairs to Manning notes how it “holds information about your criminal history listed at the end of this notice, which indicates that you have a substantial criminal record within the meaning of that term as defined in s. 501(7) of the Migration Act”.  The character test, for that reason, was not satisfied.

Digital Rights Watch chairman Tim Singleton Norton, on peering into the crystal ball of decision making in the home ministry, smells the intrusive hand of power.  The ban was “nothing more than a political stunt designed to appease the current US administration, and an unnecessary imposition on the movement of a world-renowned civil rights activist.”

Not all in the Australian political classes are comatose to Manning’s broader contributions.  The Australian Greens leader Senator Richard Di Natale and Labor equality spokeswoman Louise Pratt have lobbied the Morrison government on the subject of providing Manning a visa. The organiser of her speaking tour, Think Inc., has been particularly keen that immigration minister David Coleman and home affairs minister Peter Dutton apply their “ministerial discretion to allow Ms Manning entry into Australia.”

Think Inc.’s application seeking re-evaluation of Manning’s visa application argues that, “she poses no threat to members of the Australian community.  Think Inc. believes Ms Manning is entitled to freedom of expression and political opinion which are the foundations of a free and democratic society and fundamental human rights.”

The organisation is attempting to win the argument on the ideas front, wonderful if those listening care for them. “Ms Manning,” claims the director Suzi Jamil, “offers formidable ideas and an insightful perspective which we are hoping to bring to the forefront of Australian dialogue.”  These include “data privacy, artificial intelligence and transgender rights.” Hugh de Kretser of the Human Rights Law Centre has been blunter: “She’s generating vital debate around issues like mass surveillance of citizens by governments.  The visa should be granted.”

Jamil, perhaps prudently, avoided those other ideas that have stuck in the craw of establishment toadies: that Manning represents the oft needed instability caused by openness and transparent shocks of information to those fanatical about secrecy.

Sodding the Australian Voter: Accidental Prime Ministers and Political Indulgence

It is a continuation of Malcolm Turnbull by other means.  The new Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison and his freshly appointed Deputy, Josh Frydenberg have ensured that the “insurgents”, as Turnbull deemed them, did not come through. Both were respective architects – failed ones at that – of the company tax plan, voted down in the Senate, and the National Energy Guarantee, torn up by the Liberal Party room.  Both claim that this was a “new generation” of leadership.  These claims were extraordinary in their repudiation of reality.

Turnbull, who has promised a swift exit from federal politics, was never a comfortable fit with the Liberal Party.  He was never counted amongst them.  “It was, and always has been,” observed Annabel Crabb, “the inability of the party to accept collectively that Malcolm Bligh Turnbull is one of them.”  He did not drink from the same watering holes, nor dine at the same venues with hack and operator.  And he had more than flirted with the big power stalwarts of the enemy: the Labor Party.

Turnbull started with a bruising entry into federal politics, overthrowing incumbent MP Peter King in the seat of Wentworth in the 2004 pre-selection process.  He was a beast who terrified the Liberal party apparatchiks.  Through the course of his political stint, he was keen in a field deemed toxic by his colleagues: climate change.  Never the party man, never true blue, and only reluctantly pro-coal.  He called in the consultants, the experts, the various figures who would give him options. But in politics, numerous options can be fatal to the vision; certitude demands distillation.

On the ABC, Crabb seemed to worship Turnbull’s multitasking, merchant banker-barrister brain as it was making its exit from Parliament.  In conversation with fellow journalist Andrew Probyn, both reflected on his achievements as the figure who was a creaky politician but could still doodle on his phone and master the agenda of a meeting while reading an article on Roman architecture.  They admired his doggerel as a student, which sounded awfully like a steal from Rudyard Kipling.  (Lawyers can be such frightful plagiarists.)

None of the individuals who found themselves in the leadership roles had articulated any specific vision of the country prior to entering the party room where the bloodletting process was ceremonially affirmed.  Now, a man ruthless as immigration minister (“Stop the Boats” was Morrison’s crude sloganeering contribution that served to show the Australian voter that he would be remorseless about irregular arrivals), and blustering as treasurer, has become the accidental prime minister.

The media circus has also been high up on the detail, a reminder about how closely tied the scribblers and talking heads are with the political establishment in this country.  Journalists were beamed from the respective electorates of the various candidates armed with straw poll methods, taking snatches of opinion from the café patron, the dog walker, and, in one instance, the bowls club.  Photos of the contenders were shown: few were recognised.  Turnbull was being assassinated by the unknown and the anonymous.

At his outgoing press conference, Turnbull got interesting after the usual platitudes.  These involved references to the very policies he assisted fueling: suspicions about race, big-end of town back-rubbing, reactionary tendencies, and ambivalence to climate change within his own party.  He spoke about the greatness of Australia, and was hardly modest about that.

Then came observations about the coup within his own party, the red mist that had fogged up Parliament for an entire week.  “It was extraordinary. It was described as madness by many. I think it is difficult to describe it any other way.”  It was the madness that involved supporters of challenger Peter Dutton and long term rival Tony Abbott “who chose to deliberately attack the government from within… because they wanted to bring the government down.”  He mentioned the influential outside forces which had also had their disruptive say in the process.

The saboteurs, in falling five votes short for their intended candidate, have gotten their comeuppance – richly deserved spoliation that will, in time, enable the opposition Labor Party to canter to victory.  Turnbull bent over listening to the conservative factions, and capitulated.  On capitulating, he was accused of being weak.  Such village idiot navigation culminated in this week’s vicious machinations, a true variant of what Kingsley Amis described as a “Sod the Public” policy.

It was violence without need, a curious attempt to achieve a false unity that, in any case, has not been achieved.  These Cassius types, without the same tutored way, have been attempting to identify false lines: this was a disagreement between left and right within the party, leaving the centre to come up for air.  A more simple answer is in the offing: it was a matter of personalities with oceanic gulfs between them.  Old scores needed to be settled; revenge was to be exacted from the previous knifing in 2015 inflicted on then prime minister and Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott.

The divisions within the party suggest the split in the right that has proven lethal.  And it was unnecessarily encouraged.  Senator Mathias Cormann’s intervention was vital and undertaken with “great sadness and a heavy heart” (treachery tends to be such) but premised on a capitulation to sentiment.  In shifting loyalties from Turnbull to Dutton, he stood on the grass of Canberra’s parliamentary lawn along with other mind changing loyalists, ministers Mitch Fifield and Michaelia Cash, suggesting that the prime minister had lost the confidence of the party.  This was highly questionable: at that point, a mere 20 signatures had been obtained to force a vote (or a spill, as it’s termed) on his leadership.

The damage done by backing the stalking horse of Dutton yielded a Turnbull-lite solution, when it was intended to yield Dutton, the shock jock’s choice and Murdoch press punt.  Morrison, Australia’s first Pentecostal prime minister, will hope that evolution (or the divine) gifts him eyes in the back of his head.  In the meantime, the Australian voter can sod off.

Hijacked Democracy: Normalised Instability in Australia

You can sense Australian politicians – or at least a good number of them – fuming at being cobbled together with the counterparts of other states deemed less worthy of the tag of “stable”.  Take, for instance, entertaining Italy, tenaciously temporary about its leaders.  “We said,” reflected a rueful Senator Derryn Hinch of the Justice Party, “‘how often they change their governments, how often they changed their leaders, what a stupid country and how irresponsible.”

The Italy of the antipodes (without the colour); a state so obsessed with leadership change that it requires a session of bloodletting every two years or less.  This is a country incapable of keeping stable governments, a state where the party system holds true over democratic instincts.  The pack mentality of committing parricide has come to the fore again, with Malcolm Turnbull facing the last hours of his prime ministership.

Turnbull has fought, setting his own expectations before the coup plotters: show that there is enough support for a new leader.  Forty-three signatures were required, thereby outing the plotters.  (At this writing, the forty-third signature has been obtained.)  For such anti-Turnbull figures as Senator Eric Abetz, this was simply poor form: how dare the Australian prime minister ask who was being disloyal?

The other demand from Turnbull was getting advice from the Solicitor General on the eligibility of his executioner-in-chief Peter Dutton to continue to sit in parliament. The issue there is whether Dutton has benefitted from the commonwealth in a way that is in conflict with his duties as a parliamentarian.  That advice, needless to say, has been unequivocal.  Only the High Court could rule on that with any certainty.

For these political creatures, the party ballot comes before the electoral vote, a situation that has an odd echo of the Holy Roman Empire rather than a modern democracy.  This, in the absence of wars (at least internal ones), disruptions to the local currency, and a collapse of the financial system, suggests a certain suicidal eccentricity on the part of Australian politicians.

It has been a disastrous sequence of events for that unfortunate system known as Australian democracy.  As it lurches to the next faction (the Founding Fathers in the United States had much to say about those, establishing a Republican system that would prevent this nonsense), we face the prospect of the executive being decapitated yet again.  The genius of the US example, at least, was to keep the executive out of Congress’s way, an effort to make sure that checks and balances prevailed in the unruly viper’s nest of politics.

The rhetorical sequences are always the same when it comes to slaughtering an elected leader in the party room, strummed out to the same tedious instrumental fashion.  The person who wins praises the predecessor having even as the wounds are fresh; the defeated party promises no vengeance, and bears no ill-feeling.  Labor’s Kevin Rudd, on failing to beat Julia Gillard, the same individual who lay in the party knives into him: “I bear no malice; I bear no grudges” or words to that effect.  From the ousted Liberal leader Tony Abbott to Malcolm Turnbull: “There will be no sniping, no wrecking, no undermining.”

Now, the round robin word cycle replays itself before the heralded execution of yet another Australian prime minister.  We are told that it has been a good government with sound policy (no mention of defeats in the Senate of key policy positions are mentioned).  There have been good achievements, evidently so profoundly effective as to warrant an assault on the leader.

In the distance are the drum banging shock jocks, populist town criers in the employ of the Murdoch press and associated lobbies ever keen to jockey for positions.  Sky News has become a fox hole of determination against Turnbull.  The Australian has become a front line position of assault.  Peta Credlin, Abbott’s long time iron maiden advisor and bull ram, has been lobbing grenades into the Turnbull camp with a satanic fury.

The party of contenders, bickerers and potential stealers is getting crowded.  Turnbull might take some heart from this: a larger field limits the options and minimises Dutton’s chances.  Treasurer Scott Morrison has nominated; foreign minister Julie Bishop is also considering.  The former Nationals leader and permanent media surfer Barnaby Joyce is giving Turnbull advice to stand in the second ballot as a matter of moral duty.  Turnbull, however, does not intend to contest the ballot, thereby leaving the way open to any of the three.

Outside the Liberal Party, the Labor Party is breathing heavily, aroused by the prospects of snatching power.  “It is now clear that the Liberals cannot provide the leadership that the Australian people deserve,” chortled Senator Penny Wong.  “The only party capable of delivering that government and governing for all Australians is the Australian Labor Party.”  The Greens leader, Senator Richard Di Natale felt sour. “It’s a disgrace. It’s utterly shameful.  We haven’t had a stable government in this country for a decade now. I’ve got a 10-year-old boy, he’s seen a half a dozen different prime ministers.”

It is such faffing indulgence that costs democracies dearly, lending a helping hand to authoritarian tendencies while unmasking the true power dynamic at play in the Westminster system.  It has also crowned the populist barkers and howlers, letting Murdoch know how close he is to the centre of that bubble known as Canberra.  Turnbull would have been best served to take the matter to the Governor-General, declared the situation untenable and called for fresh elections.

Instead, we bear witness to a puerile, party game, short-termed, governed by the crudest of self-interest and a desperate desire to preserve seats.  It has let the desire for vengeance and the streak of cowardice prevail over the functions of presentation. (Exeunt the Australian voter!)  Turnbull has delayed and aggravated his would-be executioners, but the time has arrived.

With each orchestrated fall comes the reckoning about possible change.  Should there be fixed four-year terms of parliament?  One way of saving the system might be to save the executive, and the only way to save the executive from the trivial, poll-driven mutilations of party hacks will be for Australia to become a republic of some sort – or at least one where the executive has a separate political line free from severance.  But that would minimise the all-powerful position political parties have in Australia.