Is our alliance with America worth it?


Almost eighty years ago Prime Minister John Curtin prepared a New Year’s Eve message for the Australian people. It was written three weeks after the war with Japan had begun. It was published in the Melbourne Herald on 27 December, 1941: 

‘Without any inhibitions of any kind, I make it quite clear that Australia looks to America, free of any pangs as to our traditional links or kinship with the United Kingdom.’

With this message he informed the world that Australia’s foreign policy direction must change, in response not only to the military situation with Japan, but to Australia’s location in the Pacific. From then on, he states, Australia will be proactive, the architect of her own interests. 

Australia disengaged from the ‘general war’ to concentrate on the Pacific conflict. Both Churchill and Roosevelt were surprised, and dismayed, but the die was cast. Australia survived the war, but only with massive assistance from the U.S. America has been the cornerstone of our foreign policy ever since.

Eighty years later, are Australia and the U.S. still a ‘perfect match’, or is it time to re-consider the partnership? Although America is the pre-eminent power on earth, does Australia need its protection, and secondly, does America provide said protection, and at what price? Is there a credible threat to us, or would we be more sensible to take a leaf out of New Zealand’s book, and be no-one’s enemy, and no-one’s target? It is important to look at our similarities, but also at the areas where we diverge.

Shared history, shared values?

For years, at least until President Trump was elected, there was a type of consensus that what we had in common far outweighed our differences. Recent events, particularly in America’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and then the Black Lives Matter protests, have thrown some doubt on that shared vision. 

Many have used the “shared history, and shared values” argument to justify our continued relationship. Others question the value for Australia, which has stood loyally by its mighty ally, through its many wars, with not much to show for the effort, except in terms of lost lives, and wasted military resources. We were never there as equal partners. 

We supported American wars whenever we were asked

Australia joined the U.S. in the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the First Gulf War in Iraq, the Afghanistan War, the Second Gulf War in Iraq. When push comes to shove, Australia is expected to step forward, no questions asked. Perhaps the debt from 1941 – 1945 has been paid?

Democratic standards

Australia and the U.S. are both nominally democratic societies, and yet there is in the U.S. an active campaign to suppress the vote for minorities, and to rig elections by gerrymander. There are efforts to outlaw postal voting, even when in the midst of a pandemic. 

Australians are used to electoral matters being decided by independent umpires. We are not only encouraged to vote, but we are punished if we do not. So is America still a democracy, and worth defending?

Guns

Probably the most contentious right Americans possess is the right to bear arms. Covered by the 2nd Amendment, and intended to permit the personal use of arms as a defence against state tyranny, it has mutated into a violent and uncontrolled gun culture. 

In 2017, gun deaths reached their highest level since 1968 with 39,773 deaths by firearm, of which 23,854 were by suicide and 14,542 were homicides. see here  Another side of this tragedy is that suicide accounts for almost twice as many deaths as homicide. 

By comparison Australia’s gun deaths in 2017 were 189. It is incomprehensible to Australians that Americans insist on their right to kill, and to be killed. 

This situation is exacerbated by the militarisation of the various state police forces, and the sheer number of mainly gun-fuelled deaths. Most of those deaths are of Black men, arguably by overzealous police. Do we share the values of a nation which practices officially sanctioned, racially based murder? 

Health system 

There is no universal healthcare in America. If you get sick in the U.S. someone has to pay, and there are tales of patients treated for Covid19 who have been charged as much as US$34,000 for testing and treatment. Estimates of costs usually range from US$9,000 to US$20,000.  

A recent study published in the American Journal of Medicine says the biggest reason for bankruptcy in the U.S. is medical debt. President Trump appears to be fixated on abolishing Obamacare, which is the closest many Americans come to being covered for illness and treatment. 

In Australia we have universal health care. Many see it as a basic human right. Some people opt for private insurance, but it is increasingly seen as a poor option, driven by elitism. The U.S. is actively pushing to remove any health insurance, and any welfare support, from its most vulnerable citizens. Do we share those values?

Is Morrison committing us to a war with China?

Recently our Prime Minister has ramped up the hysteria and the rhetoric concerning China. He even committed a sum of $270 billion to defence, which included funding for long range missiles. These are presumably to warn China that we are deadly serious about defending ourselves, militarily, against our largest trading partner. 

This can be traced back to a slavish desire, on Morrison’s part, to please Donald Trump. The President, in an attempt to divert attention away from his own criminal negligence toward handling the pandemic in America, has sought to demonise China for somehow ‘inventing’ Covid19. So by jumping on Trump’s bandwagon, Australia is going to be ‘protected’ if China reacts badly to our belligerence.

The logic behind that approach to foreign policy defies belief. If America was once a trusted ally, the Trump presidency must cause us to reconsider where we stand. A buddy this week, maybe not so much next week? We need to tread carefully until the U.S. has a leader who can be trusted, and we need to consider whether we actually do share values suited to a common future. Or is the American Empire heading toward its inevitable end? In Australian terms “have we backed the wrong horse?”

The Coalition is simply following instructions


To understand how and why Australia has ended up where it has, with a series of governments which seem to become more and more damaging to our way of life, year on year, we need only to look back to 2013. If you think they are waging a relentless war on the nation’s most vulnerable, they are.

If you have any expectations of what governments should provide for you and your fellow citizens, in return for your taxes, and your consent to be governed, then think again. The Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) gave Tony Abbott a list of policies that they wanted implemented if he became Prime Minister. When he did win the 2013 election, he set about doing what he was told.

What was the first step Abbott took?

First step – set up an official sounding body called the National Commission of Audit. The simple idea of an Audit Commission is to drive neoliberal reform, while dressing it up as a budget emergency. With a Commission of Audit in place, have it deliver a report which states that the country’s finances are in a desperate shambles, and that the only sensible solution is to slash and burn social programs. Stress the need for a balanced budget and use terms like “living beyond our means” and make the people nervous and uneasy. 

Commissions of Audit continue to be used by most, if not all, newly elected Conservative administrations in Australia. John Howard did it in 1996, so if it was good enough for Howard, it was good enough for Abbott. 

The word “National” gave it gravitas; the word “Audit” always lends a certain dignity and the appearance of tedious respectability to any sort of gathering, and it did in this case. As Abbott said at the time, “I’m very happy to have the Commission of Audit go through the whole of the administration, to tell us whether, in their opinion, they think things can be done better,” he told the ABC in early September 2013.

Anyone with half a brain could have foreseen what sort of confected rubbish this group would come up with. You only had to look at the personnel for a taste of what was to come. They had all dabbled in public service, but what drew them together was  a shared penchant for neo-liberal economic theory, large pensions and a lovely well-paid Government gig to pipe them out of public life. Oddly Abbott behaved as if it was an independent body, although he set it up, and presumably hand-picked the commissioners. 

Strangely they were only asked to examine the spending side of the budget, and not where the money came from. That would be taxes, so don’t look at taxes, only spending. An odd way to look at any sort of budget, let alone a budget which sets its own revenue streams, up or down, as need arises. But we must not forget that the Audit Commision was itself set-up as camouflage for Abbott, who was looking for a compelling reason to implement the IPA’s shopping list. 

What did the ‘audit’ recommend?

Nothing unexpected was proposed. Follow the list of recommendations on the IPA’s shopping list, and you get cuts to just about everything worthwhile. Family payments, child care, health care, education, unemployment and pension payments, aged care and the National Disability Insurance Scheme are all among those areas targeted by the National Commission of Audit. Of course none of this was flagged before the election, but the Commission was able to provide Abbott with his ‘smoking gun’; now he had a budget emergency, which necessitated heroic austerity measures to save Australia. 

If passed, the measures would adversely affect the quality of life of millions of Australians. Most of the measures never passed the Senate, but we continue to be governed by people who drank the Kool-Aid, along with Abbott. 

The country has not been well-served by the Coalition since that joke of a Federal Budget in 2014. Several leaders later, they have learned nothing. When in doubt attack the Labor Party, or the unemployed, or the Chinese, or the ‘greenies’. 

Australia has developed, over a hundred and twenty years, a distinctively Aussie-flavoured democracy. It accepted some degree of neo-liberal modernisation through the agency of Hawke and Keating, but it retained the egalitarian streak and a sense that we should be fair to our fellow citizens. 

We valued our health care system, our welfare system, and we did not demonise those who were not having a red-hot go. Many of us received a free, or at least affordable education. None of us had to sell the family home if we got sick. We weren’t abandoned after a period of unemployment because our insurance had run out. And we welcomed people from overseas who were fleeing torture or worse. We gave everyone a fair hearing, and we judged people by the rule of law, with some compassion thrown in. 

When did we lose the plot?

Although Abbott is the modern ‘architect’ of our fall from grace, John Howard took us down to another level, one that was mean and tricky, and unkind. We were comfortable and even familiar with him, but he changed. He developed a hard edge which many were deceived by. Maybe it was 9/11 which threw the switch, or the friendship of George Bush, but whatever it was, he was seduced by the hard right, by neo-liberal ideas, by the merciless rhetoric of the Rumsfelds and the Cheneys of Washington. Perhaps it was as simple as being called the ‘man of steel’ in 2003. That is a good deal better than ‘little Johnny Howard’. He was awarded the Medal of Freedom by Bush in 2009 see here ; another Australian with his head turned by awards see here

What can we do about it?

Neo-liberalism is a ragged bag of discredited economic policies which discounts the social and human needs of citizens, and which has a naive and pathetic faith in ‘the market’ to provide solutions to the conundrum of life, and how we navigate it. Most neo-liberals are stunted human beings who do not care about their fellows, and who like to tout the virtues of heartless capitalism and endless competition. The irony is that many neo-liberals are unimpressive specimens, and if the competition was ‘fair dinkum’, they wouldn’t survive until Friday. 

We need to be equally merciless. Ask them where their ‘policies’ will take Australians. Ask them why they favour Murdoch over Australian media. Ask them what they would do, personally, if faced with unemployment. Ask them about ‘trickle down’ theory, and its list of successes. Wonder why, in the middle of the greatest challenge to modern life (the Covid-19 pandemic) every government on earth is abandoning neo-liberalism and embracing Keynes. See if they can explain why they know so little about people.

Morrison throws to vaudeville


Fresh from his redemption after The Great Bush-fire Debacle, Scott Morrison is reverting to type. In a farcical press conference he stated that Australia’s institutions and businesses were being targeted by a sophisticated state-based cyber actor. In an unexpected outbreak of coyness he was unable to name the state-based actor. We were left to ponder the descriptor “sophisticated”.

So there was no attack, as such, but the country’s organisations were being targeted, by an unknown nation-state, for reasons undefined. He was particularly snappy when questioned by journalists, throwing back to his familiar lines like “I have already answered that question.” He is clearly a man on a mission, and he is not prepared to waste words when the country is facing an imminent ‘targeting’. It sort of reminds one of being in danger of being gummed to death by a toothless possum.

This is an old chestnut, regularly resurrected, whenever the Coalition feels it is in danger of becoming becalmed. Trot out the old national security threat, and you kill two birds with the one stone. Bird #1 – throw Peter Dutton a bait, so that he is distracted by ephemeral enemies; Bird #2 – frighten the citizenry, while making Labor look weak on national security. Generally they use better imagery than an unknown non-assailant doing a bit of targeting of unknown targets, but you go with what you have.

Various agencies have responded that it was well known that this country’s organisations were vulnerable, and that many government departments were aware of their own vulnerabilities, but were too incompetent, or too lazy, to apply available patches to software previously identified as open to attack. It seems that the sophisticated state-based cyber actor is a good sport, in that it did not escalate from targeting to attacking.

How to re-skill Australians?

In a seemingly related policy move the Government decided to re-design the university sector’s funding. Clearly the country would benefit greatly from having university qualified IT professionals who could actually apply those pesky patches. Certainly anyone with an Arts degree would be out of his or her depth.

The Education Minister Dan Tehan announced that universities should be more vocational based. So he was reducing fees on Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) but increasing the fees for the Humanities. Supposedly the STEM graduates are more employable, and better satisfy current and future needs in the economy. This is an odd claim. For instance, Mr Tehan and his Labor party counterpart, Tanya Plibersek are both Arts graduates, and as Ms Plibersek noted, they both have good jobs.

Traditionally, the humanities include such fields as art, languages, literature, music, philosophy, religion, history, and cultural studies. His reasoning seems to be that a rounded education, with social skills and analysis and reasoning thrown in, is less important than pumping out efficient technicians.

So Scott Morrison has made two policy decisions this last week. In the first he put Australia’s organisations on notice that they are being targeted, in a cyber sense, and they better wake up to themselves.

Secondly, he decided that STEM will cost less than Humanities courses, so he is purportedly driving students to abandon Humanities courses. He framed the sweeping changes to university funding “as a re-prioritisation from arts to sciences to support the ‘jobs of the future’. But the details tell a very different story.

While the package punishes arts students, it also deprives universities of the resources they need to teach STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics. https://www.theage.com.au/national/it-doesn-t-add-up-uni-funding-overhaul-will-also-hurt-stem-students-20200621-p554n9.html

So the sum total of the Government’s achievements was essentially in the eye of the beholder – Government by press announcements, smoke and mirrors. Welcome back, Scotty from Marketing.

2020 Honours List a sick joke


There are some moments in a country’s history when the bullshit becomes too much to bear. This year’s Queen’s Birthday (2020) Honours List is one such moment, where the entire apparatus of Government, with its ‘jobs for the boys’, non-stop rorts, lies and evasions, its insider jokes and its lack of shame tips us over the edge.

The worst of it is that it devalues the award for those who really do “go above and beyond”. The most numerous recipients are volunteers, but their awards are ranked below those usually awarded to politicians and other party hacks. These people were actually paid to go to work. So, they get an award for doing their jobs.

Many of them then went on to lucrative careers elsewhere, usually set up by the Government they were a part of. Oh, and they never resign from Parliament until after their pensions are assured. Many of them also have skeletons in their closets, but that did not deter the Awards Council this year.

Who awards the awards?

The rot starts at the top. The person in charge of the Awards Council is Shane Stone, who was once the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory. That is the most exalted position he ever attained, and his path to that position was colourful, as was his removal from office.

Mr Stone constantly clashed with Indigenous Territorians, challenging land claims in a bitter decade-long dispute that culminated in Mr Stone famously calling Yolngu leader and Australian of the Year Galarrwuy Yunupingu “just another whinging, whining, carping black”. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-09-02/stone-and-giles-cut-from-the-same-cloth-nt-politics-reflection/7805802 . In response he was called a “redneck”. That term is difficult to fault.

Shane Stone is also a QC. That is because he appointed himself one, when he was the Attorney General of the Northern Territory. His record in court was less than stellar up to that time, http://www5.austlii.edu.au/au/journals/AltLawJl/2001/44.html but there is nothing better than a self-recommendation. Ask Angus Taylor. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-48119878

More recently, just before the 2019 election, Shane Stone was appointed to a position as the chief of a flood recovery body in Queensland. His full title: – Coordinator-General the Hon Shane L Stone AC QC . The position attracts a payment package similar to that paid to the Prime Minister. There was speculation that it formed part of the Morrison Government’s fire-sale of positions prior to the election. It looks like it was at the least fortuitous. It seems to be a lot of money. Labor suggested that it was another needless layer of bureaucracy, better handled at a state level. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/apr/18/former-liberal-president-shane-stone-to-be-paid-500000-as-flood-recovery-boss

Another, ex-officio member of the Awards Council is one Mathias Cormann. He is perhaps best remembered for ringing the CEO of a large travel company (Helloworld) to book international flights he was never billed for. That was within weeks of two Helloworld subsidiaries being awarded contracts to provide airline and hotel bookings for the Australian government worth about $1 billion in bookings over three years.

Mr Cormann is the Finance Minister, but he is very slack when it comes to paying personal bills, it seems. He paid for the holiday, after he was alerted by Fairfax Media. Considering how well he did in ringing the CEO to make his own booking, perhaps he could do it for the rest of the Government. And Mr Burnes, award around his neck, might even forget to bill the Government?

Who got the big awards?

Consider some of the names on the list: Tony Abbott, Mike Baird, Denis Napthine and former federal Liberal ministers Philip Ruddock and Bronwyn Bishop. The list also includes former Nationals senator Ron Boswell and one-time Liberal Party honorary treasurer Andrew Burnes, the chief executive of Helloworld Travel. (He is not so good at billing people.) All Coalition members, so they probably send each other Christmas cards. Or they could meet at church. Put it this way – they wouldn’t meet at a gay bar.

There is one Labor Party apparatchik, Graham Richardson. Including him in the list of recipients is almost awarding him ‘honorary Liberal’ status. He is certainly a man with a colourful past, and many colourful friends. Some of them have been sent to jail, and there is surprise and wonder, in some circles, that he didn’t join them.

Why are the awards losing credibility?

Where to start with these awards? Abbott, for services to democracy, in destroying Turnbull’s leadership; for services to Parliament, for debasing it; for services to the indigenous community, for cutting indigenous funding to the bone; for being an embarrassment to the country for a quarter of a century, for eating an onion like an apple, for supporting George Pell? For opposing same-sex marriage? For wearing speedos! For ruining Australia’s response to climate change, and for sabotaging the renewable energy industry. For his misogyny? Remember Julia Gillard, and Gillian Triggs, and how atrociously he treated them, and their roles.

Bronwyn Bishop, for being hounded out of Parliament for fudging her entitlements? She went on to become a political commentator for Fox News. One can only hope she is better at that job than she was as Speaker of the House. She was certainly no Joan Child! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joan_Child

Philip Ruddock, for sustained acts of homophobia over a very long career? Or was it for his peerless report into religious freedoms in Australia? Arguably the most meaningless review in Parliamentary history. Or the fact that his own daughter shunned him for his abominable treatment of refugees? Was he Peter Dutton’s role model for a heartless xenophobe, before it was fashionable?

It is too tedious to recount the names and misdeeds of any more of the politician recipients, but suffice to say that the Australian public noticed. We all applaud the volunteers who really keep this country going as well as it does. So there is no excuse for the Awards Council to turn a blind eye, and a tin ear, to the degradation of the awards. What were they thinking?

Arise Sir Tony!


At the risk of beating the same old drum, this current Government seems to be heading steadily down the ethical and moral drain, ever since the unexpected election win. So much of the country’s malaise, however, can be traced back to the ascension of one Tony Abbott, firstly as Opposition Leader, and then, unbelievably, as Prime Minister.

As Opposition Leader

He was a surprise, because no-one believed he would ever be elected to lead anything. He was almost universally derided for his open and unashamedly pugnacious Catholicism, and his awkwardness with language, and his seeming inability to move into the 21st century. He was the polar opposite of progressive, and seen as something of a likeable dinosaur.

He had an unexpected skill, however. This special skill lay in his ability to focus on a single, simplistic theme, and then to carry the fight on, daily, against both his own moderate fellow-Liberals, but also against Julia Gillard, until the death. This ‘theme’ was the carbon price, still the best and only successful mechanism so far tried in Australia, to combat climate change. So it became his mania, and we still suffer from his short-term-ism, his willingness to throw Australia under a bus, in pursuit of his own political advancement.

He came to embody opposition; he lived the dictum of the (British) Whig Mr Tierney, “the duty of an Opposition was very simple—it was to oppose everything and propose nothing.”

He was in the right place at the right time – Kevin Rudd and Abbott, between them, destroyed Gillard’s Government, and allowed the election of Abbott, as Prime Minister.

As Prime Minister

Tony Abbott set about dismantling Australia’s pact with its citizens, from day 1. Perhaps his most unpopular act was to break an election promise NOT to cut the funding to the ABC. Of course he did, because he had warned us, back in his Opposition Leader days, that he was somewhat flexible with the truth.

Now if there is one thing Australians hold dear – it is the ABC. If you want a simple test as to whether someone despises the people of Australia, see who wants to dismantle, or hobble, or sell, or just remove funding from, the ABC. Read more about their really reprehensible moral vacuity here https://askbucko.com/2020/04/29/the-abc-is-the-latest-target/

The reason is that we all value information, and we expect it to be delivered without bias, and we don’t want Rupert Murdoch https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rupert_Murdoch or Kerry Stokes to have had a say in what form, or how, it is delivered.

It is profoundly undemocratic to stifle the voice of the public broadcaster, and cutting its funding is just another way to bell the cat, to keep us all in ignorance. And it removes oversight; it allows the political class to escape scrutiny. Which in this country these days can mean all sorts of chicanery.

The list of assassins is long, and it includes people like Eric Abetz, Cory Bernardi, Simon Birmingham, Matt Canavan, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Mitch Fifield, Bridget McKenzie, James Patterson and Anne Ruston, to name a few.

Oddly, the names are eerily similar to the list of middle aged people, who are very angry with Greta Thunberg, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greta_Thunberg because she dares to have an opinion, and because she is a leader. And she is 17 years old.

Many of these ‘young fogies’ believe that schools are for learning only, and not about thinking. They also disapprove of same-sex marriage. One can only wonder at the double standards shown by the Nationals on the list, because they know full well how much regional Australians value their ABC.

As a backbencher

Of course we all rued the days of Abbott, and we were all desperate to escape him; we were all hugely relieved when someone apparently adult took over. But he never could, really. Abbott held Turnbull as a virtual prisoner, and he led his posse of wreckers on a kamikaze mission to destroy Turnbull, all the while trying to dismantle the renewable energy industry, and to hamstring Australia’s efforts to deal with climate change.

This was not necessarily because he did not believe, (although it is still impossible to know where he stands on the issue), but purely for reasons of personal vindication, and simple revenge. So much for service to the community.

His successor fought the good fight, for as long as he could, but a combination of his own political ineptitude, and his opponents’ bloody-mindedness, finally did him in. It appeared to be a coup, by Abbott’s supporters, at the expense of the Australian people. How depressing to discover that we had a choice between the devil, and the deep blue sea: Peter Dutton, or Scott Morrison.

Abbott had the gall to then state that he was finally satisfied, because Turnbull was no longer PM. He behaved as if removing Turnbull was a noteworthy achievement. Remember that Abbott had promised, “There will be no wrecking, no undermining, and no sniping.”

If there is an individual who bears responsibility for Australia’s recent ‘fall from grace’, it is Abbott. He is shameless, a self-confessed liar and a man who seems to have jumped on the gravy train early, and who continues to ride it. He lacks the personal insight to reflect on his legacy, which is threadbare at best. Many struggle to find a single achievement to honour him for.

He was removed from his leadership role, and coincidentally the Prime Ministership in 2015, and then he got the ‘bum’s rush’ from his own electorate in 2018. He did manage to get back onto the public payroll in October 2019, when he was appointed to the council of the Australian War Memorial.

Post politics

In an attempt to retain some sort of relevance he has continued to travel the world, making speeches to anyone who will listen. Recently he has excelled, giving support to reactionary and oafish world leaders, including Boris Johnson and Viktor Orbán of Hungary, https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/sep/13/tony-abbott-doubles-down-on-praise-for-hungarys-far-right-pm-viktor-orban.

He also believes that the world is in the grip of a climate cult https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/australasia/australia-wildfires-bushfires-latest-tony-abbott-climate-change-scott-morrison-a9268801.html.

He has stated that he remains ready to serve. Today Tony Abbott was made a Companion of the Order of Australia. Some may remember the public outrage when he awarded a knighthood to Prince Philip on Australia Day in 2015. What irony that he is awarded a gong, on the Queen’s Birthday Honours list, five years later. Could it be a ‘quid pro quo’?

This article has been updated to include changes, including the awarding of the AC to Tony Abbott in the Queens Birthday 2020 Honours List

Our George Floyd Moment


In 2015 David Dungay Jnr died at Long Bay jail. He was 26 years old, he was indigenous, and he suffered from significant health issues. These included childhood-onset Type 1 Diabetes.

His death happened as a consequence of his being moved from one cell to another. He was being moved because Mr Dungay’s blood sugar had already been tested four times that day, and found to be elevated. The ‘new’ cell was equipped with CCTV, presumably so that his blood sugar and his physical well-being could be monitored remotely.

What caused his death?

Deputy state coroner Derek Lee found Mr Dungay died from cardiac arrhythmia, with contributing factors including his Type 1 diabetes, anti-psychotic medication, and extreme stress and agitation.

Mr Dungay was eating a packet of biscuits, and the officers demanded that he stop eating before they moved him. He was given two minutes to comply. When he refused to stop eating the biscuits, the guards called on the Immediate Action Team (IAT) for assistance. The IAT is used as a ‘specialist’ team for moving inmates, a de facto ‘riot squad’.

On their arrival, they rushed into his cell, grabbed him and shoved him face-down on to his mattress. They then cuffed him, with his hands behind his back. He was picked up, moved to another cell, and held face-down again. A nurse administered a fast acting sedative into his buttock as he was being restrained, by up to six guards. In scenes reminiscent of George Floyd’s recent death, he continued to scream that he could not breathe. One of the officers responded to his cries several times, that if he could talk, he could breathe. Soon after he was administered the sedative, he died.

As already stated, the new cell was an observation cell, one equipped with video surveillance. As he was being moved, the CCTV showed that he was splitting blood. His mother has since noted that his nose was broken, the skin split, and his face was “caved in”. There has been no finding as to how the injuries occurred. They must have occurred between the arrival of the IAT and his being moved along the corridor. There was no other window of opportunity for his injuries to be inflicted.

What was the outcome of the investigation?

The finding of the Coroner’s Court was that he died from inadequate medical care. The detective tasked with investigating the death did not enter the cell for two hours after Mr Dungay’s death, and all the material evidence had been removed in the meantime.

No matter where you stand, something is not right about this whole case. A 26 year old man died because he was eating biscuits. The actions of the staff, both the guards and the nursing staff, were dictated by a desire to keep him safe? They wanted him to stop eating biscuits, because he might have a negative reaction to the sugar in those biscuits. He died from a surfeit of care, perhaps?

No charges were laid, but Mr Dungay continues to be mourned by his family, and the rest of the Australian community doesn’t even blink. It is a ridiculous sham to see and hear the Australian community dragging itself up that tiny hillock, where the High Moral Ground is to be found, and judging Americans for the death of George Floyd.

Consider the number 432. That is the number of deaths of indigenous citizens who have died in custody since 1991. 432 deaths, over 29 years = 14.89 deaths per year, every year!

One argument sometimes raised is that they were dangerous men and women, and police and prison guards have a right to be safe. Closer analysis shows that many are women, or children, or on remand, or being pursued. Very few police, if any, were in fear for their lives. Aboriginal deaths in custody are seen in this country as being somehow normal, even expected.

From those 432 deaths, over 29 years, not one of their custodians has been convicted of a crime relating to the deaths. In the case of Mr Dungay the Coroner declined to refer any of the guards for prosecution, but he did recommend more training for guards and nurses. A lot of use that will be.

Comparing land use in Australia


If we attempt to compare Aboriginal land use with those of the early settlers, we should broaden the meaning of ‘land use’. We must move away from the narrow European notion of agriculture and horticulture, to one which includes religious and cultural associations with the land, and one which allows the skills and the bounty of hunting and gathering to enter the picture.

Another difficulty is that the indigenous Australians, although sharing the same continent, and some cultural traditions, were not all alike. Regional differences in a land so large were bound to be great, though identification with, and care for, the land seems to have been practically universal. With that in mind, Aboriginal attitudes to their land will be seen as roughly uniform.

The common misconception about life in Australia prior to the arrival of the whites, and one which dates back to the time of Captain Cook, is of a race of hungry nomads, constantly ranging over an inhospitable land in search of game, victims of their own lack of industry, and incidentally unfit to lay claim to the land.

This view is now under constant attack, as evidence mounts to show the active participation of the Aboriginal Australians, not only in the management of their own survival, but as agents for change in the greater environment. As the white arrivals would eventually do, the original inhabitants had built up an economic system which delivered regular surpluses, and allowed the population to grow, albeit at a sustainable rate. ‘They exploited the resources available to them, making the continent into a gigantic farm, but a farm which they worked with an eye to the future.’ (Bolton 1981, p. 8)

Using fire

Fire is the most versatile and important tool that a society of hunter gatherers can use. The original Australians used fire extensively, and as well as flushing out game which sought shelter in scrub, the fire served the purpose of thinning the bush, burning off the old feed, and promoting new growth. This new growth attracted more game next season. Different fire regimes were used throughout the country, with adaptations made for the needs of each locality. (Flood 1983)

Fire was not only used for flushing and attracting game, however. It transformed the landscape, though there is debate as to how much forethought went into that transformation. Major Mitchell, an early explorer, suggested that the Aborigines worked on their ‘runs’, which happened to carry kangaroos and other native species, in much the same way that the later pastoralists would clear ground, and improve pasture for their stock. (Bolton 1981)

The Aborigines actively used fire to promote the growth of ‘crops’ for their own consumption. (Kirk 1981) They also used it to extend the range of, for instance, cycad nuts, by clearing competing vegetation. (Flood 1983)

What did they live on?

The Aborigines did not depend on meat alone to feed them. In a normal year the population in most regions obtained at least half of its energy needs from plant foods. (Blainey 1982)

The methods they used to sustain life were adapted to the ecology of the region in which they lived. These ranged from hunting fat moths in the mountains to catching seals on the coast, from trapping eels in Victoria to cycad harvesting in the north.

They were gifted hunter gatherers. They manipulated their environment so ingeniously that they were able to lead a semi-sedentary life, with regular tribal gatherings and religious festivals. (Flood 1983) It is a long way from the picture of starving wretches stalking kangaroos, for their very survival.

They knew their land intimately, and all that it produced. Their knowledge had been accumulated over sixty thousand years, and their knowledge of botany was arguably their most refined. This may explain how they were able to survive in such a seemingly hostile environment with such aplomb. (Blainey 1982)

A common criticism of their culture decries the ‘fact’ that they never developed formal agriculture. A counter to that criticism is that they were so well-off that they had no need to increase the yield of their foods; nor did they need to store it.

This goes some way toward explaining the feelings that Aborigines have toward their land. They were provided with bounty, as long as they did their duty to the land. For the great unifying theme in Aboriginal Australian life was religion, and the core of that religion was man’s close, symbiotic relationship with the land. As Blainey so eloquently states,

‘Their knowledge of the land and all which it grew was supplemented by a spiritual belief that the earth would not continue to be productive unless they obeyed its rules and its deities. One aim of their religious ceremonies and many of their taboos was to maintain the fertility of the land and its creatures.’ (Blainey 1983, p. 202)

What did white land use look like?

The members of the First Fleet and those who followed them had no such tenderness for the land, or indeed for its original inhabitants. As the Aborigines followed the dictates of their religion, so could the Europeans be seen to be following theirs. As the Bible exhorted them to go forth and multiply, it also provided them with an attitude which separated them from nature, and made them masters of the natural world.

They were the products of a society which held the belief that it was man’s duty to enhance the productivity of the soil. In fact, the notion of the right to own property was inextricably linked to the end use to which that property was put. (Butcher & Turnbull 1988) This served a dual purpose-it legitimised their own exploitation of the land, and it robbed the Aborigines of any claim they might have made to the land, because the imprint of a black hand on the landscape was so subtle.

With legal and moral matters of ownership of the land apparently sorted out, the white invaders then proceeded to ‘farm’ the continent. They were not conspicuously successful to begin with. The Administration at Sydney Cove was sorely pressed to feed all the mouths in the colony. The problem was exacerbated by the urban background of most of the convicts, and of the guards.

They were poor overseers of the land, often because they lacked adequate financial resources and more importantly, they lacked even the most rudimentary rural skills. They had no prospect of learning them either, except by trial and error. Happily the destruction of the environment was limited by their technology. If they did possess any farming experience, it was mostly irrelevant or misleading under local conditions.

They did not realise that the Aborigines’ knowledge and exploitative methods were geared precisely to local conditions, and were the result of thousands of years of study. The land, though seeming to conform to their vision of benign nature, tamed for man’s use, appeared so by virtue of careful husbandry and sustainable use. (Bolton 1981)

The profit motive was present from the beginning, and once mere survival was assured, the principles of capitalist farming were applied. Though they were not ecologically disastrous when used in Britain, Australia’s older soils and specialised flora were no match for the rapacious appetites of 19th century capitalists.

The introduction of cattle and sheep was the beginning of catastrophe for the Australian environment. The first and most significant change was in the texture of the soil. The cloven hooves of the whites’ livestock destroyed the mulch of aeons in a decade. (Rolls 1981)

The vegetation changed, with the native grasses, used to the gentler feeding of the macropods, being destroyed by the different feeding habits of the sheep, especially. Men responded with ‘pasture improvement’, ploughing out the native grasses, using fertiliser and sowing inappropriate exotics. (Rolls 1981)

The trees were the next to go. They were seen as a nuisance by the first settlers, fit only to be cleared, and used for building or farming. Until the gold rushes of the 1850s the destruction was confined to the coastal valleys of New South Wales, but demand for building timbers increased greatly. Improving transport opened up the export for hardwoods, but from the 1860s pastoralists began ring-barking on an unprecedented scale. By 1892 clearance for farms and ring-barking for grazing were the major causes of deforestation. The bush was re-shaped irrevocably to accommodate the interests of graziers and their stock.

The native fauna was also profoundly affected. A quarter of a century after the arrival of the white man, many species faced extinction. Others prospered unnaturally – the balance was upset. The introduction of the domestic dog and cat was calamitous, as was the introduction of goats, pigs, brumbies, foxes and last, but not least, the ubiquitous rabbit.

It is unnecessary to describe the degradation of the environment around towns and cities, but it was at least as complete as that affected by the pastoralists. The gold-fields were even worse, creating waste-lands for miles around. All in all, the impact of the whites on the environment was catastrophic, with most of the damage still with us.

19th century white settlers were not wilful or wanton destroyers of the land. Most of the ecological damage occurred as a result of ignorance, and as a by-product of unthinking agrarian capitalism. There was a mistaken belief that the land was so bountiful as to be inexhaustible.

By contrast the original inhabitants had known all along that the ecology was a delicate thing, which had finite limits. They were not perfect custodians, but their reign of sixty thousand plus years was solicitous and successful. In just over two centuries we have undone much of that good work, and we appear not to be improving.

Scomo wrote us a letter of regret


Why did he write the letter?

I dreamed that Scott Morrison woke up one day, very recently, and was filled with regret. He was so overcome with regret that he wrote a letter of apology to the people of Australia. The gist of his imaginary letter went something like this:

It is clear that the country needs to be re-set. We have at last done something right, and I feel a sense of pride, and achievement, as I have never felt before. We have flattened the curve of the virus. The people have banded together, and helped us through this turbulent time. They are chafing at the bit now, but we are confident we have done the best we could.

There are many areas that, on reflection, I should work on, though. Firstly, I need to stop thinking like my great friends, Donald and Boris. They both took a holiday when the virus arrived, and look where that took them. Thousands of unnecessary deaths.

I remember my own holiday. It did not turn out well. It seems that this is a full-time job. And I DO hold a hose, if required.

Education often appears, alongside health, as the biggest issue in people’s minds. I must remember that! My education was provided to me by the state. It was free, and secular. It was excellent, and I cannot imagine why I persist in funding wealthy private schools more generously than the state sector schools. It seems so counter-intuitive, to give taxpayers’ funds to people who choose to sequester their children, away from the common herd. Sydney High had it all, though. Free, but selective. Elitism, without the price. Anyway, I must have a word to Dan (Tehan). Maybe we can try to govern for all in the future.

I actually have a science degree, with honours. So the ‘daggy dad’ persona is a crock, or to put it in more seemly terms, a construct. I do feel great shame about the position my Government takes on climate change, because I know I have further enabled the terrible degradation of this beautiful country, and even its international reputation.

My area of expertise is in economic geography, but a science degree is built on the scientific method, and I know that I can, and I should, trust the scientists, when they tell us we are wrecking the planet. It is just that once I tasted success, and power, I lost my head. I felt that if I did the right thing, it might cost me the big job, but it is not too late. I must sack Angus, and put someone else in the job; someone who actually wants to help us save the earth.

Of course there are the refugees. Wow. What was I thinking? To demonise a thousand people, and to then torture them for years. I can’t even remember what it was I was trying to fix. I do remember saying something about keeping the sugar off the table. That was a reference to gaining entry to Australia through Indonesia. Considering my own family’s arrival here, it was really lacking in insight. But, it’s never too late to change. I sometimes look back on statements like that, and I cringe.

It can’t have been to save lives at sea, by ruining lives on land. That sounds like a false equivalence. What would my tutor in Economic Geography think? Perhaps it was to save money? But then, look at the money I wasted on ‘sports rorts’. We could have slung some of that money at the refugees. We could have put them up at the Hilton for the last seven years, and saved plenty.

Not to mention what Paladin has made from us over the journey. We don’t even check their invoices, so you know they have made a motza. Which brings me to Pete (Dutton). I keep buying him off, by increasing his powers, but nothing works. He craves more, and more. I never sanction him, I allow him to run his own line on Foreign Affairs.

He insults Lebanese-Australians by suggesting that they are more prone to committing crimes. He believes there is a criminal gene, I suppose. Doesn’t he even know that my great great grandfather was on the First Fleet, a convicted criminal. He might as well accuse me of having the same criminal gene. I think it is time I stopped Pete’s reign of terror, and put someone in who likes people. I will probably dismantle his department, while I think of it. It is one of Malcolm’s dopiest errors, and then I made it worse, by keeping Pete on.

I really need to apologise for that statement “A fair go for those who have a go”, which even I know is one of the most divisive phrases ever uttered in Australian history. I know better now that I am in this position. It is not a contest. We’re all in this together. Life is not a game, with winners and losers.

If I am going to stop Pete torturing refugees, I must stop torturing the poor. I want to ‘man up’, swallow the fact that I was wrong all along, and acknowledge that Newstart was degradingly low, and that the majority of Australians support it being substantially raised, permanently. So when the time comes to reduce it, I will remember that I serve the people. And I will leave it where it is.

That would not only make moral sense, but it would serve as a continuing economic stimulus. And while I am here, I would like to unreservedly apologise for ‘robodebt‘, which we know was unlawful and unenforceable for years. Again, what were we thinking? It has been suggested that that scheme may have caused between 800, and 2000 deaths.

Wow, deaths caused by a Government’s deliberate cruelty. Again, while I am seeking redemption, perhaps we could abolish the dreaded ‘cashless card’ for those who are already struggling. That is the one where we assumed that everyone on Newstart was buying grog, cigarettes and maybe even porn with their $290 a week. Now that it has been temporarily doubled, I can only hope that their lives have been improved. After all, that is supposed to be my main aim.

I am beginning to see the benefits of confession. It really does lighten the load. With such a brilliant population to work with, we can actually do anything. I think the extra $60 billion that Josh just ‘found’ could come in handy. I know, I will include the visa holders, and the artists, the performers, the casuals and anyone else excluded from JobKeeper. Let’s actually treat them with dignity, rather than sending them to food-banks. Food-banks, in Australia! What were we thinking?

Then I woke up.

IPA is wrecking our democracy


The history of the IPA is curious. Many of the key players in its early years are either still around, or their children are. Its ideas haven’t really evolved much, but if you want to characterise them, they are crudely elitist, ideologically stunted, narrow minded, science-phobic, greedy and in most cases, fully imported. For a charity which pays no tax, they have very few clients in need.

The only reason they are of any interest to anyone is that they have captured the Federal Government, by stealth, and their inane policies are the reason this country is so conspicuously under-achieving. There is not one thinker of note amongst its membership. Some of the current members appear to be the offspring of former members; a sort of self-replicating supply of apparatchiks. If you are searching for the reason behind the diminishing sense of pride attached to being Australian, the IPA is to blame.

Current members in Parliament

For a roll-call, these are the current members of the IPA, or their affiliates; Institute for Progress (AIP), Australian Taxation Alliance (ATA), who are also, sadly, members of the current Parliament: Abetz, Birmingham,Cash, Christensen, Cormann, Evans, Fletcher, Frydenberg, Hawke, Hunt, McGrath, Morrison, Paterson, Porter, Roberts, Ryan, Stoker, Dean Smith, Tony Smith, Tehan, Tudge, and Tim Wilson. All part of the Global Atlas Network. That would be where we get the passion for no minimum wage, and no health care. Past members include Abbott, Howard, and let us remember our current PM is a current member.

They have been effectively bought by a handful of robber barons, who pay no taxes, and have no commitment to what was, twenty years ago, a democracy to be proud of. They gaslight the entire community, with double-speak which would make George Orwell blush. As an example, in 2003 John Howard hired a conservative think tank (the IPA) to investigate NGO influence on some government agencies. The circularity of that sentence is dazzling.

“NGOs are becoming very influential today – they sit on various committees and are seen to influence governments and big business. As global players they need to be more transparent,” says Mike Nahan, executive director of the IPA. The lack of self-awareness in that statement is also noteworthy.  

“IPA is unfit to conduct the study due to its demonstrated bias and ongoing vilification of organisations that campaign for human rights, corporate social responsibility and environmental protection,” Oxfam said in a media release. Who better than an NGO on the lunatic right (IPA) to investigate the NGOs represented by such bodies as Oxfam and Catholic Health Australia?

When dealing with the IPA one is assailed by the extreme seriousness with which they promote their truly stupid, and truly callous policies. They do not like welfare. They have a history of being supported by Big Tobacco. They want to sell the ABC. They want to lower the tax rate to companies even more, they want us to abandon the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. They want the Racial Discrimination Act to remove the ban on offensive speech. They want the Fair Work Act repealed, which means the ten minimum employment standards will disappear. Who knows, maybe we can get to see adult Australians working for $7 per hour, plus tips.

What does this ragbag of policies remind you of? Yes, Donald Trump’s America is the right answer. Of course they also want to abolish Medicare, probably because it reminds them of Obamacare. I told you their policies were imported. Considering most of the current Cabinet are members, how sincere can they be in governing for the good of all Australians?

So why would Australia want such policies?

The people in the IPA, and their affiliates, all think in Social Darwinism terms. So they think society is not meant to be inclusive, and caring for the least among us, but a contest. The Tim Wilsons and James Patersons of this world actually think that if we were all transported to an unruly savannah, crawling with sabre-toothed tigers and snarling hyenas, that they would prosper. Reflecting on the personnel, my money is on the sabre-toothed tigers.

IPA types are secretly longing for the Call of the Wild. It is an adolescent fantasy, where if the going gets tough, the tough get going. Many of these intellectual giants wield real power in our federal parliament. All I can say is, be afraid. Be very afraid!

As John Roskam recently said: To control a virus that as yet has infected 5000 Australians, the response of doctors and politicians to this serious health crisis was to create also a humanitarian and an economic crisis. In the years to come Australians will quite rightly question whether there could have been a better way.” Sometimes you need to let libertarians speak freely. They do a better job of exposing themselves as empty vessels than any commentator could.

Lincoln Steffens studied corruption and malfeasance in American states in the 1890s. His unwavering opinion was that it was not the fault of the crooked politicians, nor the business people who corrupted them, but the apathy and the supine nature of the citizens. We need to become engaged, and if we’re not happy, turf them out!

Morrison needs to finish the job


Scott Morrison has, in many ways, been ‘saved’ by the coronavirus. At the end of February and heading into March, his public standing was at rock-bottom. Scotty from Marketing was jeered at every time he went out in public, and journalists were daily questioning his honesty, and his competence.

What went wrong for Morrison?

He had abandoned Australia during the bush-fires while he went on holiday. He eventually came back, and proceeded to further damage his reputation with badly managed photo opportunities, and his attempts to relate to victims of the bush-fires were ill-timed and clumsy. He exhibited a complete inability to read people.

Even his physical bulk was seen as intrusive, and his casual, friendly manner was widely distrusted, because it looked phony. Every day was a desperate attempt to make up lost ground, and it felt like it. I found myself wincing when I saw him on television.

The ‘sports rorts’ affair followed on from the bush-fires. It began slowly, but it had quickly gotten out of hand, with almost daily revelations of, if not outright corruption, then a flexible reading of the guidelines. It displayed a cynical disregard for honesty, and accountability. And don’t forget this was at the very last moment before, and possibly after, the government moved into ‘caretaker mode’.

It seemed he might have won the election by buying it. And it’s not as if the recipients of his largesse were struggling sports clubs. They were more often than not well-endowed clubs, in the heart of prosperous areas, represented almost exclusively by Coalition members of Parliament. This exposed his contempt for rural and regional Australians. The unkindest cut of all was that he used a National Party minister as a stooge.

At the exact time that this was unfolding, Angus Taylor was running his own side-show. Every day in Question Time he ducked and weaved, and blustered about “vile smears” and “bizarre vendettas” against him.

He had been caught out, implying Sydney City Council were hypocrites. He accused them of wasting buckets of money, flying around the world needlessly, while trying to cut greenhouse emissions. His accusation had mysteriously made its way to the Daily Telegraph. The problem was that it was demonstrably not true.

The tragedy was that he either made up the whole story, or somebody had duped him. He had transformed $6,000 into $15.9 million ($1.7m on international travel and $14.2m on domestic travel”). So he is not great with numbers, either. No wonder he thinks our greenhouse emissions are going down – he can’t count.

Morrison should be open and transparent

So Scott Morrison spent most of his time before the virus either ducking questions about what he knew about the sports rorts affair, or why he had not sacked his Energy Minister. Excellent questions. But from the moment the virus struck, Morrison reverted to an old trick. He had used a similar technique during the bush-fires, where if he was questioned about anything other than the bush-fire emergency, he accused the questioner of bringing up politics.

That is a strange response from someone who is in the public eye for one reason, and one reason only. He is not famous for his wit, or his skill with a whip, or because he hypnotises chickens. He lives and breathes politics, and that is why we even know his name. Anyway, the virus provided him with timely cover.

I have written elsewhere about his response to the Covid-19 response, see here https://askbucko.com/2020/04/15/morrison-handles-the-crisis/ I think it has been more than adequate, as it should have been. That is why we entrusted him with the job. Protect Australians when they are in danger. He only did what the majority of world leaders did, although he acted more quickly than many others, to his credit.

That does not change the facts. He was facing an escalating problem concerning his own, and his Government’s honesty. He leads a Government made up of opportunists and narrow idealogues, and even now he keeps most of the Ministry hidden. He obviously learnt a valuable lesson during the last election campaign. Be the front man, and if you must use your ministers, keep it to a minimum. And instead of pursuing political advantage in every television appearance, share the praise, and the thank yous, around. The Premiers have certainly grown in stature, and built on their reputations, following the disastrous summer.

Remember it is a health emergency

Lately Morrison has been pushing the opening of the schools. He believes this will unlock the economy. So his emphasis is shifting, from a health crisis, to an economic catastrophe. With the shift in emphasis, his tone is hardening. He is speaking of limiting support for those who have lost their jobs, and he refuses to expand the eligibility criteria for welfare payments.

At times like this he can sound like the bursar at a local church, disappointed with the takings from the collection plate. Welfare at times like this can mean food on the table, and a heater on for a cold night. Or heaven forbid, a roof over your head. These things keep people alive, and we need to provide them, to all who need them.

Winter is coming, and thousands are still living in tents, because of the other calamity in this country – a bush-fire season like no other, three months ago. So don’t pull out the old story about what we can afford. We can afford whatever it takes.

So let us see if you can walk and chew gum at the same time. Do your job. You have more than one. Get the admin done. Release the money that still hasn’t reached the bush-fire victims. Allow the Premiers to continue doing their terrific jobs. And treat Australians, all of them, as if they are all equally worthy of our care and support.

Ignore those who whisper about herd immunity, or possible years of economic recovery. Ignore the economic dries in your party. Listen to experts, and the people. Many are angry and frustrated about the lock-down, but no-one wants to follow the United States down their deranged path.