All posts by Mark Buckley

I am a native of Melbourne, now based in regional Victoria. My interests include politics, history, ethics and literature.

Ask Santo Santoro – he can arrange it


It is often great to catch up with folk we have forgotten about. One such individual is Santo Santoro, a man with an interesting background, and clearly a big future.

Like many of our candidates for the “He’ll Never be Prime Minister Award” Santoro was never elected to his position in the Senate. That is correct – he was appointed by the Queensland Government, to replace a retiring senator, without receiving a single vote to become a Senator.

To be entirely truthful he was not overly stellar in his performance, although he did accuse the ABC of being “disloyal” to Australian soldiers serving in Iraq, because the staff were advised to not refer to them as “our troops”. Presumably this was in response to many in the Australian electorate (with whom Senator Santoro had had limited prior contact, due to his not having been actually elected) who considered the war in Iraq to be wrong, and not “our war”.

Be that as it may, he then had a slight stumble over some shares, and was found to be in breach of the Senate’s rules concerning declaring his interests. He resigned from the Senate. Apart from the fact that he was confused about the difference between a charity and a political lobby group, he left with apparently no stain on his character, as he next became a Liberal Party Vice-President.

He then became a full-time lobbyist, or as he seems to suggest in his marketing materials, he provides “introductory services” to politicians. He has apparently got Peter Dutton on speed-dial, and he will arrange a meeting with the Minister, for a figure of $20,000. Does this make him a sort of ‘matchmaker’? For a fee?

This is a disgraceful situation for our democracy. The Minister asserts that he gained nothing from his meeting with Huang Xiangmo, a man who is barred from visiting Australia, because he is suspected of being a Chinese agent. And yet a Minister of the Crown is spoken of as someone who can be somehow wrangled into a meeting, just by the lobbyist picking up the phone. This lobbyist is obviously a man with considerable pull to achieve such a meeting.

If nothing else, Peter Dutton has brought the Ministry into disrepute, again. Remember when Andrew Burnes from Helloworld stated that Joe Hockey ‘owed’ him? This seems to be eerily similar, in that past or present Ministers of the current Liberal Government, appear powerless to resist the blandishments of those who call upon them for favours. No wonder even Malcolm Turnbull is appalled! Never a better time for a federal ICAC.

Politicians Behaving Badly


As if no-one has noticed, the good people of Australia are heading to an election soon. This has given both sides the chance to present themselves in the best light possible, should they wish to, but there has been much pompous posturing going on, and a couple of gratuitous phrases have recently slithered their way into various politicians’ vocabularies.

They are “I make no apology”, or “I do not resile from …”, phrases so obnoxious as to almost defy our notions of mercy and tolerance. They are said as if it is self-evident that their actions are brave and bold, and were taken, perhaps at a personal cost to the speaker, in the nation’s interest. They are always said because they are being questioned about matters of honesty, or probity, or in matters where the very appropriateness of the question is being doubted; surprisingly these phrases are never trotted out when they are proud of actually doing something for us, which is almost never, anyway.

When an outgoing government attempts to sign contracts for major infrastructure projects, just days or weeks prior to an election, we are asked to accept their unseemly haste as if it indicates busy – busy, whereas really they are attempting to push through dodgy deals while there is still time. This is like the ploy practised by real estate shills, where if you do not buy/sell within the next twenty four hours, your opportunity will be forever lost. But we all know where rushed decisions usually land us.

We need to not only have conventions in place. We need clear, transparent rules for these people, because we all know how useless self-regulation is! Crack the whip on these people. There is nothing more depressing than hearing of some form of outrageous behaviour, when we rub our hands together, expecting the miscreant to be shamed and humiliated, only to hear the line “Yes, I did it, but so did someone from the other side, and so if we all do it, it must be acceptable. The rules need to be changed.

This is the reason why politics, and politicians, are so disrespected. The practitioners are generally liars and cheats, and that is depressing and disappointing. And there seem to be no good guys in this scenario. They are all equally guilty. That’s why a friend of mine refuses to vote – he believes it just encourages them!

The View from Yesterday


Sometimes we come across a piece of writing which just ‘nails it’! Many readers may not have heard of H.L. Mencken before, but he is worth a read. Following is the strangely prescient quote: “As democracy is perfected, the office of President represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

Apply this, as you will, to America, or substitute a couple of the situational phrases, and can we, the voters of this great South land, hold our heads up high? We voted for them!

Three Rich White Guys From Sydney – 1. Tony Abbott


I contend that this country has been cheapened, degraded and trivialised by the three individuals who have occupied the Big Chair over the last 8 years.

But first of all we had Tony Abbott. That sentence is almost enough, because we all roll our eyes, and we have visions of the guy in his tiny bathing costumes, the rictus of his smile, him eating an onion like an apple. But these are relatively benign matters, of taste rather than substance.

His transgressions against the body politic are beyond mere actions which can be reversed one day – they are of the soul, of the health of our collective psyches, of our belief in decency and truth. They are the sickness of seeing someone who cannot possibly believe what he says, and yet he says it. Even if he is contradicting himself. Even if he is arguing that he never said it, when we have definitive proof.

“No cuts to education, no cuts to health, no change to pensions,no change to the GST and no cuts to the ABC or SBS.” Jan 30, 2014.

That seems to be fairly clear. But his successor (Malcolm Turnbull) claimed that he did not say it, of if he did, he didn’t mean it. I am paraphrasing, but to quote Malcolm Turnbull is a tedious process, because after he has covered any and all possible contingencies in the statement, one is in danger of expiring due to old age, or boredom, or possibly both.

Tony Abbott led the least successful government since the 1960s, if we judge governments by their ONE JOB, passing legislation. He also forced his successor to take the issue of same sex marriage to an expensive plebiscite, thus again forcing the government to avoid their ONE AND ONLY JOB!

Tony Abbott’s failures are so numerous that we forget how terrible he was, and embarrassing. Remember his comment where he confused “suppositories” with “depository”; why did he make that mistake? He is a Rhodes Scholar, with degrees in Economics and Law, and a Master of Arts from Oxford. One can only ask who was on that selection panel.

And don’t forget Prince Philip as an Australian knight. As I said in an earlier post, Abbott is the gift who keeps on giving.

Fraser Anning – Aiming high


Former Senator Fraser Anning is famous, because 1.2 million Australians wanted him removed from Parliament, after a succession of ridiculous and dangerous statements. He also physically attacked a 19 year old boy, who had ‘egged’ him at a press conference.

This is quite an achievement, because a grand total of nineteen, yes, 19 people voted for him originally. So he is way better at getting people to detest him than he is at getting people to like him. You could call it a gift.

How did Anning become a senator?

He is the real Bradbury candidate, as he replaced Malcolm Roberts in the Senate, after he was tossed out for being a dual citizen. Remember Malcolm Roberts, and sigh. Fraser Anning makes Malcolm Roberts look like a Rhodes Scholar, and a renaissance man, in comparison.

Anyway, although he had been one of Pauline Hanson’s candidates in the election, he immediately resigned from her party as soon as he was installed in the Senate. He was ‘vouched for’ by Cory Bernardi and David Leyonhjelm. (Talk about buyer’s remorse). His next move was to join Bob Katter’s party, but even Bob seems to have seen enough, and he expelled Anning from his party two months later. Bob Katter expelled him for extreme views. Don’t laugh – this is serious.

At the time of Anning’s elevation to our House of Review he was also facing bankruptcy legal action from a bank. The action was subsequently withdrawn, opening the way for Fraser’s stellar parliamentary career. I do not know why the proceedings were withdrawn. (On March 16, 2019 he was declared bankrupt, so the bank must have re-commenced proceedings.)

So to recap, he has been voted for by nineteen people, he is then vouched for by Cory Bernardi and David Leyonhjelm, then he is expelled from Pauline Hanson’s party, and then from Bob Katter’s party, and then, to finish off a great year, he blames the victims of the Christchurch massacre for their own murders. He actually said that the murders were the result of “the immigration program which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate”. He went on, “while Muslims may have been victims today, usually they are the perpetrators”.

These comments drew immediate international condemnation. At the next election in 2019, he was not re-elected.

In November 2020, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) brought legal action against Anning, seeking a penalty of up to $26,640 for allegedly failing to lodge required financial returns for the 2018-19 financial year. On 16 February 2021, the AEC dropped the case because they were unable to locate Mr Anning in Australia despite several attempts to contact him, with the AEC believing him to be overseas. (Wikipedia)

He is now believed to be living in the United States of America.

We need the major parties to reform the Senate. Immediately. And we need a system where we can respect our elected representatives. So that means actually passing legislation; you know, the one job they are elected for.

This post has been updated to reflect recent developments in Mr Anning’s life.

Tony Abbott Will Never Be Prime Minister (Again)


One of my daughters, a wise young head, when describing certain individuals of less than stellar intelligence, uses the phrase “he (or she) will never be Prime Minister”. It is a curiously descriptive phrase, because it says everything about limits, of intelligence, of ambition, of drive, of the ability to think conceptually, to radiate warmth, to believe in service to our community …

Of course it relies on an old fashioned sense that, had we personally really tried, perhaps we could have done anything as well; but then reality steps in, and we realise that our time is past. But contained within the idea is an admiration for those who did possess those attributes, those character traits which, for good or evil, elevated them above their peers.

Tony Abbott Got through the Character Check

A closer look at some of those who DID make it to Prime Minister, however, is a cause for concern. Let us consider Tony Abbott as a recent exemplar of people who achieved arguably the highest office in the land, and yet they seem to embody the phrase “he’ll never be Prime Minister”.

Tony Abbott has a ‘highlights package‘ which is truly impressive. Of course we use the phrase ironically, because there is a curious consensus that he, over twenty five years in parliament, really had no highlights, but more a dazzling array of cringe-worthy moments, piled on top of each other. Here are some of his more horrifying efforts, any of which should have torpedoed his career, and yet he defied the gods.

Tony Abbott’s Highlights Package

  • explaining that much of what he said should be disregarded or disbelieved, unless it was carefully prepared and scripted
  • describing Australia prior to European arrival/invasion as “nothing but bush” and following up by describing Aborigines living in remote communities as having made a “lifestyle choice”
  • being voted the world’s worst ever Health Minister (although Peter Dutton has put in a late bid to contest that award)
  • listening to an elderly woman calling in on talk-back radio, who explained that the only job she could obtain, to earn extra cash so as to mitigate cuts to her health care, was working on an adult sex-line. Tony winked at the host, presumably a variant on “ooh-la-la”
  • rejecting a meeting with a dying asbestos victim, who wanted to present a petition asking for subsidies to be paid on medications for their condition, on the grounds that the man was not necessarily “pure of heart”
  • destroying any chance of Australia having an adult conversation about climate change, and sabotaging our response to it, for nearly a decade now, by removing a carbon price, and describing the science as “absolute crap” and exercising his control of the troglodytes in the Liberal Party, years after being removed to the back bench
  • his seemingly inexhaustible number of ways of describing women’s engagement with the world as being tied to domestic chores like ironing, and looking after the household budget, and sometimes having ‘sex appeal’
  • the classic video clip of him being unable to speak, on live television, to justify his “sometimes shit happens” remark, when discussing the death of an Australian soldier in Afghanistan
  • his re-introduction of knighthoods into Australian life, with the inaugural gong going to Prince Philip of Great Britain
  • his remarkable take on immigration, where he surmised that Jesus would understand that not everyone can find a place in Australia. This was a surprise, as Jesus died almost eighteen hundred years before Australia even existed
  • his openly stated fear of homosexuality, even though his sister is openly gay
  • his insistence on a postal ballot legalising gay marriage, even after he had been deposed from the Prime Ministership, and which cost $122 million
  • University of Sydney psychologists found that the increased exposure to negative messaging during the long and divisive debate on gay marriage caused “psychological distress” for gay, lesbian and bisexual people.

What Will Unfold For Tony Abbott in Retirement?

The most distressing thing about this remarkable list is that it barely scrapes the surface of his hopeless quarter century in public life. But there is another disturbing aspect to this situation. Now that he has been removed from office, I would be willing to bet that some awful sinecure will be found for him, at the public’s expense, so that he can continue to blunder along, and after enough time has elapsed, he will retire with honours and accolades, as an ex-Prime Minister.

But despair not. This is to be an occasional series of ruminations on the performances by Australia’s leaders, and how they appear to be, as a group, uniquely unsuited to leadership. Consider some of the names – John, Kevin, Malcolm, Scott. Wow! But at least we missed a bullet when Peter (Dutton) failed. And to the conspiracy theorists out there who think I left Julia out of that list of no-hopers, I did. At least she actually did her job, which was to LEGISLATE.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Richard Flanagan.-A short review


This is a long book. At first glance it appears to be based on the life of Sir Weary Dunlop, and it is written in a formal style, even slightly academic. Its title is taken from a 17th century haibun, a Japanese literary form, which synthesises haiku and prose. The range of haibun is broad and frequently includes autobiography, diary, essay, prose poem, short story and travel journal. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haibun The author has steadfastly included an example of each element, as if ticking off in a catalogue.

Each of its parts is interesting, in its own way. One part serves as a catalogue of the horrors of the building of the Thai Burma railroad, by mainly Australian prisoners of war, after the fall of Singapore. Other parts are hit and miss, but the main message I take from the book is that worldly success does not make one happy.

It also leaps about in time, from the present, where the ‘hero’ is now an elderly, bored rake, looking back, mournfully, to the beginning of his journey, when his eye was not so jaded. There is, however, no credible depth, no real sense of despair. The best, but also the most tedious passages, document the inhumane treatment of the prisoners by their Japanese, and Korean guards. It can read as a cross between a translated diary and an unedited historical treatise.

While it pays due respect to the suffering of the prisoner/slaves, it suffers from being too wordy. Richard Flanagan lacks the elegance of a Henry James, who allowed his readers to provide their own versions of hell: Mr Flanagan provides episodes so overly-detailed that one almost begs for relief. In one memorable scene the guards beat a prisoner for page after page, after page, until it appears he is indestructible. (This sentence is not meant in any way to minimise the real suffering of those who were there, but to highlight the relentless, over writing.)

Preceding the hero’s memories of the war, and interposed, into and throughout, there is a ‘great love story’, wherein the hero chooses the woman he loves, based mainly on a preference for blue eyes over brown. This love story is at best perfunctory, and has very little in it in the way of passion, or credibility, apart from the fact that it is conducted with his uncle’s wife.

Similarly his marriage and subsequent family life are characterised by descriptions of adultery and failure, and a type of nostalgic longing, with flashbacks to the war, earlier love, self-disgust at his continuing philandering, and at his growing celebrity.

He is in an existential hole until he is miraculously rescued by the great Hobart bush-fires of 1967. He not only drives through road blocks onto the burning mountain, where his wife and children are on foot, but he finds them, amidst the firestorm and the smoke and the panic. This rescue is not only highly unlikely in such tremendously hellish scenes, and over such treacherous ground as an out of control bush-fire, but it appears to do duty as another box-ticking exercise, and to fulfil the need in the narrative for some selfless heroics. It lacks credibility as action, and also as redemption.

This book is not really a novel, in the sense that it does not project as a conscious work of art. It is almost an oral history, unedited, verbose, well meaning, and above all else, sincere.

The book seems to have garnered almost universal praise as an Australian classic, which is really more to do with the packaging, the subject matter, and the size of the project.