July 2nd 2005

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Unanswered questions about the Chinese defectors

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Senator Brian Harradine retires

EDITORIAL: How best to help our children

TRADE: 'Benign neglect' no answer to debt crisis

RURAL POLICY: Water trade to shift water from farms to cities

QUARANTINE: Government appeals against court ruling

TASMANIA: Potato-farmers' outrage at fast-food giant

ABORTION: Feminist luddites of the abortion lobby

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM: Christianity under threat in Sri Lanka

HUMANITARIAN CRISIS: East Timor in grip of major famine

ENERGY: China exchanges nuclear technology for Iranian oil

STRAWS IN THE WIND: The improvident society / A pub with no beer / Beazley's tax strategy / To Hell and back

Europe's malaise (letter)

Colin Teese on Europe (letter)

Strategy to prevent bushfires (letter)

Big Brother: sewage on TV (letter)

Child support reforms (letter)

BOOKS: GAY MARRIAGE: Why it is good for gays, good for straights, and good for America

Books promotion page

The improvident society / A pub with no beer / Beazley's tax strategy / To Hell and back

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, July 2, 2005
The improvident society

The Barton Group, in an industry report on Australia's water supply, doesn't think we have a water shortage, but that we have failed to keep up with our growth in population and in economic activity.

Asa Wahlquist reports (The Australian, June 15): "Spending on water infrastructure has plummeted in the last two decades as state governments have plundered the profits of water utilities and failed to reinvest in the sector." (Familiar story?)

We spend only a fraction of what most OECD countries invest in dams, pipes and other forms of water infrastructure. Twenty years ago, our infrastructural spending was 4 per cent of GDP, as against the OECD average of 3 per cent. Now, in 2002 (the latest figures), we spend 0.5 per cent on infrastructure, or one-seventh of the OECD average of 3.5 per cent.

Barton Group head Paul Perkins says: "We so-called reformed our utilities, but the money went straight into Treasury, and decisions on investment started to be made by Treasuries."

The urban development philosophy of the Victorian State Government is a good example. The original well-planned infrastructure of Melbourne was designed for a city of one million people. There are now three-and-a-half million, and Premier Bracks wants to shoe-horn in another million by 2030.

The abominable road traffic and public transport systems are driving people back into the inner-city, while at the same time a break-neck construction of flats, apartments and high-rise buildings is placing a greater and greater strain on water and sewerage, etc., which is now aged but has not been replaced or even properly maintained. The results must be burst mains, flooding, stressed sewerage systems and water shortages.

The same will apply in older suburbs where family-size residences are being demolished by developers for ugly flat and apartment complexes which use the same aged infrastructure, but with a far higher population density.

There has been a complete failure of vision, foresight and elementary bookkeeping by state governments for two decades, feeding everything into a consumer society which keeps a high-growth profile by despoiling the future.

There is nothing clever about greed - and a child could design the kind of budgets now being presented by the states: all sweets, no proper food, and all on tick.

A pub with no beer

Many, if not most, of Victoria's public buildings have had remarkable histories, which, due to a variety of noxious influences, are now little more than memories.

The Trades Hall and the State Library are examples which come to mind. As the unions moved out of Trades Hall, just as the old building was being lovingly restored, a whole febrile intellectual life sprang up. The International Bookshop have located there. The International Socialists regard it as home. And just about every radical funny-farm in Melbourne seems to operate there: with talks, meetings, lectures, "book" openings.

Demonstrations often start from there, or else from the State Library. The Treasury Gardens have their fans, but actual numbers of people are needed there for credibility. Many of the radical clubs and cabals using Trades Hall would find filling a quota rather daunting.

But the deconstructionist seething goes on, while the trade unions do their normal work elsewhere, and the world of Mammon and that of the ordinary Melbournian proceeds - quite unmoved by all this ferment on Lygon Street.

Connections with Melbourne University and its student union seem strong; so posters advocating the next progressive happenings at the Trades Hall are part of the academic décor. And there is at least one lamppost in Queens' Parade Shopping centre, next to my favourite sippery, that tells you all the news that's fit to know.

Thus, Trades Hall recently hosted a presumably deep analysis of Schapelle Corby; subsequently, the significance of the French Revolution soaked up the brain-cells of tomorrow's revolutionaries. Melbourne must be on fire.

Then there was a big poster announcing Robert Manne's latest book of earlier writings, in which the author will appear to explain "how I influenced public opinion". This, on June 29 at Trades Hall.

When winter comes, can spring be far behind?

Beazley's tax strategy

Kim Beazley and his colleagues have got things right on the tax cuts. Their tactics may appear maladroit and self-defeating - and perhaps there was no alternative - but the strategy is sound and one of which we haven't seen the last.

Giving poor people, or those on the bottom rung, $6, while those on the higher income levels get a $65 a week present, for which there appears no obvious justification other than that they must be rich enough to qualify for a big tax cut ... does not impress.

People will be watching to see if, once the conservatives have the numbers, they won't drop what would then turn out to have been a mask of benevolence and go for broke, that is, embark on a major redistribution of social wealth via the taxation system - this perhaps the most important and ever-present weapon in the armoury of the politically influential rich. Plus the wages system and the sell-off of whatever public property remains - be it an electricity grid or prime real estate occupied by homes for the handicapped.

The Tories have led the charge, as might be expected, and usually have a philosophy of greater or lesser intelligibility to justify their antics, whereas it has been far more difficult to find reasons - respectable reasons - for Labor's step-by-step adoption of economic strategies, originally designed for the major backers of the conservative party. But then, of course, there was the Accord - a world turned upside-down.

I think Kim Beazley is on the right tack at the moment, and it would be interesting if some members of the Coalition mightn't in time come to agree with him. A new Accord? But no more summits, please!

To Hell and back

Jung Chang, the author of that remarkable family memoir Wild Swans (1991), has produced a new book with Jon Halliday called Mao: The Unknown Story (Jonathan Cape).

A long review from The Spectator has just appeared in The Weekend Australian (June 18 - 19). The review outlines a comprehensive and utterly devastating account of the life and career of Mao Tse-tung, and his henchmen, from their beginning until Mao's death.

The book then continues the story. It leaves Mao and his Party and the whole Chinese communist system without a shred of respectability or decency.

One can only mourn for the poor Chinese people who are still in the trap, just as many of us mourn for the Russian people who, completely shell-shocked, are living in what is a corrupt, violent ruin, dominated by ex-Party apparatchiki and outright gangsters.

The authors estimate that those who died in peace-time as a result of Mao's rule exceeded 70 millions. Some 38 millions died of starvation and overwork between 1958 and 1961, 22 million of them dying in the year of 1960 alone (this based on death-rates from Chinese demographers).

Communist Party leader Liu Shaoqi (later purged), confirmed these figures when speaking to the Soviet Ambassador at the time. During the first two years, Mao exported millions of tonnes of grain to Russia, etc, to pay for military and industrial hardware, just as China is doing now, only exporting textiles, etc, produced by workers on Third-World rates of pay and harsh discipline.

Apart from famine, deaths in prisons and labour camps during the Mao years reached 27 millions.

Mao's dependence, materially and financially, on Stalin, is clear. The Russians were in fact producing a monster - to be worse, and a lot more dangerous, than themselves.

Stalin's successors took a very different view of Beijing than Uncle Joe, but too late. The nuclear genie was out of the bottle.

So alarmed did Russia become that in 1969 they consulted Washington about a strike to destroy Chinese nuclear facilities, and when Zhou Enlai met Kosygin later that year, the Russian premier refused to rule out the option.

This book reveals Mao's treachery following upon Japan's invasion of China in 1937. Mao proposed a carve-up of China, with Japan to hold everything north of the Yangtze, and the Maoists holding the south. Tokyo refused.

The duplicity and cynicism continued ... and the blood-letting.

In the Great Purge (1966-76), following the Cultural Revolution, at least three millions died violent deaths outside prison. Post-Mao Chinese leaders speak of 100 million people suffering in one way or another. Foreign Minister Chen Yi called China one vast torture chamber during that period.

Where were the Western critics during that time? Well, there weren't too many in positions of influence, whereas those who were didn't want to know, and still don't want to know.

Chang and Halliday have utter contempt for the willing mouthpieces and apologists for Mao's world, and name quite a few.

Many of the facts of this book were already accessible, and some have been published. This is no criticism of the authors, as the Jews and Armenians would point out. You have to keep reminding people.

But some very important facts weren't generally known or easily obtained before Chang and Halliday wrote. But what was happening in the Cultural Revolution was known at the time as it proceeded - as were many of the barbarities, and as were the volumes of deaths which had occurred in the Great Leap Forward.

One example: When the student movement and the Left here took off in the anti-Vietnam War movement, the Maoists were just starting to make their presence felt. It was the Cultural Revolution which really grabbed the student leaders and publicists, inspired by the behaviour and psychology of the Red Guards. That these were fascist dupes of a politically-beleaguered Mao they probably didn't know, but probably wouldn't have cared.


That the Red Guards were anti-family, anti-authority and anti-traditional learning and culture, destructive of the Chinese university and school systems - all made them eminently appealing to the young of the Western left.

That the Guards despised and rejected the past, and were set to work by Mao to destroy it and degrade its guardians and practitioners, appealed to our young Left. The students would become the teachers; the young cadres the arbitrators of right and wrong. The kind of theories we identify with Ivan Ilyich come from here.

So, the student young and the new Maoist Left soon lost realistic interest in the Vietnam War and the associated suffering, and turned their attacks on their own society: its universities and schools; its legal and moral systems; its history and culture; and the family.

Linked as it was with middle-class US populism, i.e., drugs, the sexual revolution, etc, etc, this dysfunctional adolescent mishmash has remained the political religion of the 1960s generation. The Little Red Book said it all.

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