June 28th 2003


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Counting Stalin's victims 50 years on

EDITORIAL: Australia's population challenge

PACIFIC: Solomon Islands: nightmare in paradise

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Why the Crean-Beazley issue is unresolved

ENVIRONMENT: Climate scientists reject Kyoto Protocol

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Labor mates / Night to remember / Heart of darkness / Intervention

EUTHANASIA: Stopping Australia's Doctor Death

Sugar price decline (letter)

Free trade deal and local shareholders (letter)

TIMOR L'ESTE: Looming food shortage in East Timor

AGRICULTURE: National water trading plan questioned

FAMILY LAW: Canadian court changes definition of marriage

EDUCATION: The problem with boys ...

South African economic miracle?

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STRAWS IN THE WIND:
Labor mates / Night to remember / Heart of darkness / Intervention


by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, June 28, 2003
Labor mates

I'm writing this just before the Federal ALP leadership ballot is held, but Simon Crean seems to have the numbers, despite extraordinary pressures from forces outside the party. Their only motive now would be to see that Kim doesn't suffer too serious a defeat, for it would then look as though the party really wasn't split in a serious long-term way. (Not 'alf it isn't!)

A serious split, reflected by a close vote in Caucus, would not only shatter any remaining credibility that the Federal parliamentary party still possessed, but ensure, more or less, the legitimacy of Kim as the Leader, following the predicted coming Labor electoral defeat.

But a poor showing on his part would make more likely the triumphant Left/Union coalition, backing Crean, feeling that they have the right to choose Simon's successor following upon the deluge, viz. one of Simon's steadfast supporters.

But the most remarkable feature of this ballot was the bringing in of outsiders, often people outside the Caucus, even the Party, to express support for one or another candidate, presumably so as to try to influence Caucus as well as the public. Plus a positive barrage of opinion polls right up to the vote to show that Beazley was the public's choice; and to reveal the dire electoral consequences if Caucus did not choose him.

But do these candidates really need character references? Perhaps they do.

My favourite cameo was Bob Hawke, his coiffure and his lady, swinging among the racetrack, arm-in-arm with Kim and his donah, like a scene from My Fair Lady at Ascot ... Only with all the ambience of a fire sale at Bunnings Warehouse. Bob apparently said on that Friday - to Simon and a key Crean supporter - that he was for Beazley but wouldn't go public on this. Of course, a few days later, he did. His victims expressed disappointment at this volte face - whereas I would have been disappointed had the great man not done this. In a world of continuous flux we do need some constants. But as they said, Bob's views wouldn't change one vote in Caucus. Or anywhere else. Keating, knowing how ephemeral their fame, how brief their authority was, kept out. Gough didn't - naturally. I think I heard him say Kim had "no ticker".

Barry Jones equated Kim's five years as Dauphin as a policy vacuum. Well ... it was Barry who devised their last great education spoof, and at that time he and Kim seemed as thick as ... two planks. Now, only the thickness lingers on. But no one took any notice. Perhaps Bazza could start a splinter party with Lawrence of Amnesia.

The reality is that most modern politicians are creations of the media and PR, so when they lose and are ejected from the Colosseum, their creators turn away and start heating up fresh pieces of wax. If, perchance, a few years later, the old icons waddle back to the battleground, few will remember, or even care. They could be asked if they sold Violet Crumbles.

Populist politicians - especially of the ersatz variety - seldom realise this.

The pollsters' behaviour has been more than usually intriguing. As the challenge loomed the newspaper-backed nationwide polls produced a result - a surprise to us all - but cheering for Labor. They were only two per cent behind the conservatives, and that fearless psephological commando, Gary Morgan, had Labor ahead.

Then rumours of Labor's private polling told the story of a Labor wipe-out, a trainwreck, seven or eight seats lost in NSW alone. This private party polling was organised by the NSW branch. Then, the national pollsters returned, giving Howard's people a lead of 13 per cent over Labor.

How was this possible, and where does it leave our national as against private party surveys? Where they've always been. Rubbish in, rubbish out.

But if Labor continue their tactics of blocking vital government legislation, using the Senate or lining up the Labor states to say "Non", Howard may decide to end the comedy, after which time he can start again thinking of retirement.

Night to remember

Andrew Bolt had a nice side column (Melbourne Herald Sun, June 9) about attending the 55th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel. He quoted from a speech by Premier Steve Bracks saying, "Victoria is the most successful multicultural state in, perhaps, the world."

Bolt wryly notes the security measures mounted to protect local Jews and their institutions from attacks by terrorists and local anti-Semites with violence on their minds. He also questions the strange but widespread belief that ethnic and religious spokesmen should have a free hand in spreading racial and religious hatred, such as the Grand Mufti "who has praised suicide attacks on Jews".

I used to attend Israel's National Days and other ethnic jamborees, and they can be a minefield for politicians. They have to attend and they have to praise the host nationality to the skies and express undying gratitude for their gracing our shores with their presence; for their unique contributions and so on and so on.

Otherwise they can be accused of racism or covert anti-Semitism. "You know, I always guessed he had it in for us Ruthenians". Or, "Now will you believe me when I say he is anti-Semitic". There are over 130 ethnic leaderships here, most wanting something, and they ambush the poor blighters who turn up for their national days.

I remember the 39th anniversary of Israel's foundation. Premier John Cain, Liberal leader Jeff Kennett and the Nationals Pat MacNamara were in the stocks.

Cain gave a very skilful, dignified speech, not laying on the flattery with a shovel. But the other two got my vote. Jeff, his new leader warpaint still drying, announced:

"What a strange coincidence! Israel has just had its 39th birthday and, very important, had also recently celebrated my 39th birthday."

He then went on enthusiastically about himself and his birthday while the crowd waited with their beaks open expecting the usual worms. None came - this was Jeff's night.

I heard one old Jewish businessman near me, wail, as he clutched his forehead:

"With this fellow we'll be in opposition for 39 years."

Heart of darkness, still

A strangely under-reported, often unreported war in what was the Belgian Congo, then Zaire now Democratic Republic of Congo, still goes on.

Since independence, deaths have exceeded five million and most strikingly, two million have died since 1988. The departure of Mobutu only helped to accelerate the mayhem.

Two million is as many as were killed in the Biafra civil war in Nigeria. This was the subject of worldwide appeals, calls for peace, one Oxford college sold its old plate for the victims, etc, etc. Nothing of the kind has happened here. There has been little said, or published - with the UN, the EU, and the NGOs silent or tokenistic. Why? And why so slow in Rwanda?

Because African states armed and often sponsored by Western countries have been entering and re-entering the conflict - even sending troops - and areas of warfare are usually sites of enormous mineral or gem stone wealth.

France and Belgium have led the charge with Britain "helping out" in West Africa - "where be diamonds", etc. White South Africa was a major player, and the successor ANC government has simply replaced it. So the EU and the UN have done nothing - for some of the dirtiest hands are at Lake Success.

Of course, if Bush's America were deeply involved we'd hear all about it. As it is, the US has had a long association with the 20 year civil war in Angola - which still goes on and centres around oil and precious stones. These laundered into the big diamond cutting cities like Antwerp as are those from Sierra Leone.

Intervention

The EU have now decided to intervene in Congo, led by France, which regularly intervenes in many African states without asking for, nor needing, Western permission.

There is now talk of using NATO troops and then there are the usual useless UN peacekeepers.

So there must be a lot of wealth here, but also, Europe is trying to assert an independent foreign policy role - in competition with the US - and hoping to boost the now-absurd pretentions of the UN. Our media are remaining quiet.

This could, militarily speaking, be an exercise in futility or a long drawn-out military fiasco. Nothing like the requisite forces are there or are likely to be there.

The disputed mineral areas may be pacified - but the rest of this huge and tragic country will be left to sink further and further.

Cue for Bob Geldof? Or Bob Brown?




























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