July 1st 2000

  Buy Issue 2586

Articles from this issue:

Cover Story: The Roebuck Plains land scandal

Editorial: Issues for the Defence White Paper

Canberra Observed: National Party caravan still hitched to Coalition

Economics: World’s farm subsidies rising: wake up Australia

Rural: Dairy deregulation turning sour

Straws in the Wind

News Weekly, National Civic Council, Colin Teese, TRansurban, CityLink, Steve Bracks, Victoria, GST, toll roads, Victorian Labor Government

Economics: Funny flags and Australian shipping

United Nations: Family groups attacked at UN meeting

East Asia: Japanese election: more of the same?

Education: Drugs in schools: adults failing the challenge

Letter: Aboriginal land claims

Letter: Benalla by-election postscript

Letter: 'Pitch Black' obscenities

Books promotion page

Straws in the Wind

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, July 1, 2000
C’est magnifique — but is it war?

Australia’s Liberals have, over the past few years, embarked upon a series of societal changes which most political cynics would rank as certain to undo them, electorally, as it would any other party who tried what they are on about. In the first place, the Libs are about to impose a consumption tax which will raise the prices of many if not most goods and services by as much as ten per cent.

Most people don’t like paying more for anything, perhaps especially those who outlay so much on gambling, alcohol, nicotine, etc., that they have little spare for anything else. Those of us in this situation are quite unlike the genuinely poor, old and needy; but normally make louder protests.

The genuinely poor and needy usually have to be mobilised by journos and party activists, whose concerns about need usually begin and end with themselves.

But, secondly, through this tax the Liberals hope to make a big dent in the “black” economy, which is where people conceal rather than minimise their tax obligations. People have talked about this Black Economy rorting system for ages, and how aorta tackle it. We bunnies pay tax, while the cash economy does not. Leaving aside Reith’s wish list, the federal and state government’s may pick-up $3.5 billion of erstwhile black money. Everyone should be cheering. But are they?

Many small businesses, e.g., shops, taxis, builders, some of them so close to the margin that they need to cheat to stay solvent, might be in real trouble. But even those who can afford to pay their taxes and don’t — are unlikely to want to do the public spirited thing. They will want to punish the Libs — particularly those voters who are Libs. Voting Lib was to make them rich not honest. It will be a fascinating moral test — like farmers giving up their guns. Were it to happen — viz, for people to judge the changes in the light of the Common Good — our hip pocket nerve political pundits would have to reconsider their views, or should we say their prejudices, whereby the average Australian is really as materialistic and as selfish as themselves.

Of course the GST shouldn’t have been necessary, had the rich, from the early 80s on, not constructed an almost impenetrable legal fortress, supported by tax accountants, sympathetic judges from the old Labor Lawyers network and upwardly mobile politicians ... a fortress which shelters multinationals, corporations and their like from any obligation to pay their proper due to their host society.

A cowed or suborned tax office was able to do little during the golden years of Labor, and our conservatives have accepted the argument that major reforms here would be self-destructive — domestically speaking, and internationally. Our corporations and the media would never stand for it — just observe the ongoing attacks on Fels — nor would overseas bankers and corporations.

Strangely enough, I have never seen this conventional wisdom questioned in post-war Australia, and it would be interesting to discover what would happen, were the Libs to go for the nasties among the rich. Still, I don’t hold a Liberal seat in one of the wealthy areas of Sydney — where the Liberal voters, the same tribe of beautiful people, first legitimised by Harold and Dame Zara, hold court. They vote Liberal only on condition that the state pay them to be beautiful, not vice versa — and that their favourite hobbies — the arts, aboriginality, the republic and that other dream time, drug decriminalisation — go unchallenged.

A Howard decision to make them pay their way, and a refusal to pander any longer to their ennui, would almost certainly bring them out shoulder-to-shoulder, in support of the caravan park dwellers. Still, fellas, go for it, for it’s one set of policies Labor and the Democrats would never pinch.

Friendly kleptocracy

A few days ago I turned up a tiny item from the Sunday Times (UK) describing how the late Croatian president Franjo Tudjman looted billions of dollars from state funds during his eight year tenure. “He siphoned this money via a smokescreen of companies, through banks in London, the Channel Islands and the Carribean.” Transcripts of conversations between Tudjman and an aide have been produced by his successor, Stipe Mesic.

Tudjman, like all the other Balkan nationalist leaders, and leaders in many new states, seize power before the locals can organise. Too often such people have initially succeeded only with outside help and inspiration. Being careerists and opportunists, almost to a man, using religion and nationalism like an eau de cologne, to smother the stink of their greed and emerging criminality, propped up by aid sent, it almost seems, to keep them in power to continue to perform the donors’ bidding — it should not surprise that they loot their states. Haile Selassie, Mobutu, Suharto, Marcos, Bokassar, Idi Amin, Yeltsin — the list is long. And what price Mugabe and a post-Mandela South Africa? And how much aid given to Fiji and the Solomons will reach the intended recipients? As much as has reached them in New Guinea?

We are just starting to become realistic about charity, here and overseas, but we have a long way to go yet. Maybe Polonius was right?


I, and I imagine most people, have noticed a strange aura of permanent, vengeful hysteria which hangs over our political system and the media, for more and more of the time.

Certainly, the media has been conducting a daily cacophonous election of its own, dating back at least from 1992, but now gaining in recklessness, demonology and the creation of confusion, with the passing of every day.

Thus, in this election Labor gets 99 per cent, the vile Liberal interlopers get one per cent as in North Korea.

For one thing, there is that similarity of unfolding events with that of Weimar, from the time that the great German media magnate Hugenberg put his resources — papers, radio, film — at the disposal of Hitler — this was 1929 — and promoted him non-stop, blanketing out all opposing views and forces, while adopting in his papers and radio, the tried but hitherto unsuccessful tactics of the Nazi propagandists — the big lie endlessly repeated — targeting opponents personally rather than their policies, and generating a public mood of fear, impending loss and crisis. And covertly encouraging contempt for the rule of law and the police, while quietly blessing favoured groups taking the law into their own hands. It worked like a charm — for post-1929 — Germany was soon to be in real crisis.

We have no such crisis — objectively speaking — at least not of the German and pre-War European kind, and few problems that general good will and a reasonable patriotism could not settle. But there is a subjective crisis in our polity — almost entirely imposed by a minority amongst us.

The poet and opium addict, Samuel Coleridge, has some interesting information round about here. In speaking of how, in opium, the dislocation of objects and events from the feeling they normally arouse led to the destruction of poetic truth — and you find this described in his poem “Dejection” — he went on to speak of the general result. He called it “Histrionism” — that is, the resort to violent attitudes because you no longer have normal feelings.

Remembering the bogus indignation, the suspiciously lachrymose compassion, the never-ending role-playing and moral attitudinising of so many of our communicators and public figures, I can’t stop thinking of Coleridge.

Nor can I stop thinking of Major Watters’ suggestion that those actively engaged in, for example, the drug and alcohol controversies, should have to declare their narcological preferences and histories, as politicians have to declare their financial interests.

But, more comprehensively, what is the effect, and what has been the final effect upon those of our political and influence wielding classes — of addictive tastes going back to the Glorious Revolution of the 1960s?

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