June 3rd 2000

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Articles from this issue:

Canberra Observed: National Party vanishing ignominiously

National Affairs: Time to rethink UN treaties

Victoria: Transurban: now it’s Brack’s problem

Drugs: Why free heroin is not the answer

Economics: Markets or electorate?

Straws in the wind

Comment: Traditional supporters not buying what Coalition is selling

Population: Eastern Europe’s collapsing birth rates

United States: Poverty amidst the plenty

United States: Manipulating the next generation

Medicine: Teen contraceptive message has failed

New moves to legalise euthanasia in the Netherlands

Books promotion page

Straws in the wind

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, June 3, 2000
Andrew Bolt’s full-blooded attack on Green Pantheists in the Herald Sun, (May 18), concentrating upon the unmistakeable antipathy displayed towards human beings, and their rights, by many Greens ... is always in season. Dean Inge used to say that the reason why many people turned to God was that they disliked Man. Loving not Man, the quality, even the sincerity, of their subsequent love of God might be a worry. In this vein, Paul Watson, co-founder of Greenpeace in America calls humans “AIDS of the Earth”, and Bolt quotes many similar sentiments of distaste.

There is a corresponding idealisation — not to say beatification — of animals, plants, etc as the things that we really should be valuing, if not worshipping.

Freya Mathews, a philosopher — yes! — from La Trobe, in a seven-day journey along Merri Creek near Melbourne found “temples, Goddesses, mediaeval churches, sacred birds, sanctuaries and holy waters”. Whereas as a kid, I only found yabbies and the ubiquitous plonk bottle. Not even one magic mushroom or glittering needle. Obviously we were backward — obviously times have changed. But it did not take seven days.

Perhaps I should explain that there is a media-supported anti-freeway movement in the area, and no doubt demos in train. It is rumoured that witches and banshees, and the odd fury have been sighted. Hopefully, itinerants from another freeway, for I live near the Merri, and would like to glimpse some fresh faces.

But to change the direction, this psychic strategy of idealising another race, species, political system, pigment, as an alibi for rejecting your own, is as old as time. Throughout my lifetime I have observed many groups and some sub-cultures which have consistently rejected the values of their society and whatever social or political arrangements were in place; on principle.

But the principle, in many cases, was originally psychological — only later, almost by way of rationalisation, moral or political. They had left home, migrating first internally when young, then socially. Very often they then set out in search of another country — territorial or of the Mind — a substitute family for the one they spurned, or which had spurned them. They rejected a large part of the human race and idealised one part only: the proletariat; the whites; the Aryans; women; blacks; or terrorists.

Now one shouldn’t stop people rejecting their national or cultural identities, nor their family background and values, but we might ask them to keep their alienation to themselves and their current group. Fairies at the bottom of the garden or at Merri Creek are great — but as influences upon policies?

The infantile origins of so many of these behavioural convolutions might be glimpsed from the following example: Over and and over again, when a group cannot get its way within the political family, it threatens to run down the street and tell the neighbours, to pimp on the parental figures. The parents drink, or beat the dog, or molest them, or the dog, and refuse to say sorry.

What will the world think of you, when I turn up before a UN committee with a smirking lawyer, and disgrace you all for not listening to me or noticing me!

Asian dictators were asked to declare us racist, or undemocratic, (in between their locking up their opponents and fomenting inter-communal strife.) Foreign newspaper hacks were fed slanders, (and was that all?), about us and our political figures, and this was/is supposed to make us say “sorry”.

In fact, the world opinion they threaten us with is composed of people like themselves; the permanent demonstrators, lawyers without briefs, journos without a syntax, parsons without a flock; and clouds of those fairies still trying to blot out the sun, or tell the tides to stop. This could be the year of King Canute.

The Emperor’s clothes

There are so many interracial and inter-religious wars going on, with more ready to start, it seems very difficult to sing the praises of multicultural or multinational societies, or to speak of the decline of nationalism, tribalism and the triumph of global togetherness.

Sri Lanka, Fiji, Zimbabwe, Chechnya, Northern Ireland, Yugoslavia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Timor, New Guinea and Guadacanal; Ethiopia and Eritrea, India and Pakistan; South America, where a marginalised majority, the Indians are again on the move, Tibet and China, Arabs and Israelis, Turks and Kurds; the US itself — but need I go on?

What conclusion might not we draw as to the efficacy, or even the relevance of the United Nations in all this? Or the appeals of multiculturalism or multi-nationalism to the peoples of the world?

Life is a Cabaret

Australia is in an economic vice, and it is small comfort to realise that the majority of other countries are as well, and that quite a number of them are faring worse.

Our most pressing problems are largely imposed from outside, by actors and global processes that the most ingenious domestic government would find hard to counter. But we were, structurally speaking, in a vulnerable situation, even without these extraneous factors.

A massive overseas debt, along with the permanent necessity of servicing it; a perpetual balance of payments deficit, requiring a unceasing need for foreign investment or loans; and, a periodically vulnerable currency, a ripe object for speculation. (We are one of the most heavily traded currencies in the world.)

Most of this unhappy legacy dates from the Hawke-Keating era, with the floating of the dollar, the deregulation of the money markets, and the long period when government and people vied as to who could live beyond their means in the most spectacular way. Overseas debt rose from $35 billion to over $200 billion. Peter Costello, when in opposition, predicted that it could reach $364 billion dollar early this century. It probably will.

Domestic debt has risen and risen, while private saving rates have steadily declined. Just about everything has to go right, internally and externally, for more and more Australians to sleep easily. And it can’t. So they won’t.

No matter how efficient our miners and farmers are, they are at the mercy of world commodities markets, and to the “heads we win tails you lose” tactics of big players — i.e., US and Europe — sheltering behind their WTO.

They can block the free flow of our exports, whereas if we do this to them, the WTO threatens to restrict our freedom to trade even more. So, Australian governments have to face the music alone when one or another of our industries takes a hit from cut price imports — often subsidised.

No matter how well our Government has kept inflation under control, along with other indicators such as growth rates and employment, and historically low interest rates, they can be forced to raise domestic rates, quite unnecessarily, whenever the US tries to head off her mounting problems by raising American rates.

All the careful housekeeping by an Australian government or by its home buyers and businessmen can be thrown into disarray by the US Reserve. Just as half of Asia was, by the self-interested and periodically predatory antics of Western speculators, sanctified by the IMF and the World Bank.

We all know of the consequences for growth and jobs, and the shrinking prospects for continuing solvency of many Australians already walking a fine line, were interest rates to be raised substantially, and to keep rising.

We also know of the downward pressure on our free-floating dollar, which the opening of a sizeable gap between Australian interest rates and those of others — principally the US — would produce. In fact, our exporters are delighted with our cheap dollar, (as are foreign investors and overseas tourists) — may it go lower!

But imports cost more and this is inflationary. The inflationary effects are greatly magnified because we no longer have a sufficiently wide repertoire of import substitutes here. Even many of our exports now possess large foreign import components.

This is the result of de-industrialisation of a indiscriminate kind. It should have been possible to support, on principle, tariff cutting while going slow — as Japan and others have gone slow — on vital local parts of the industrial and financial fabric.

But both Labor and the Coalition sold the pass on this one without any great pressure being applied.

Now, of course, the Moloch of US Free Trade is battering on all the remaining doors, behind which people are still endeavouring to conduct their own independent economic existences — with all that implies — and we are in a much weaker position than many to say “no”.

Just as we are, in trying to resist the imposition of new UN directives and Conventions as to how we should conduct our private and domestic socio-political lives, by having earlier agreed to such imbecilic intrusions by the unelected, unrepresentative and unqualified apparachiki and Stone Age radicals squatting on UN committees.

But the above important caveat aside, our Government is in trouble through no fault of its own. Now, the forcing up of petrol and gas prices by the rigging of the world oil-gas price structures, by restricting world production, is certain to push up the CPI. We are looking at an old-fashioned restrictive practices cartel regime, one uncriticised by all those familiar bastions of Free Trade.

But, Free Trade means unimpeded competition, if it means anything. Only by controlling all sources of present and likely new production can such a cartel survive. Which is why Iraq remains blockaded and central Asia, the Caspian area and Chechnya are likely to be sites for wars over oil. Chechnya already is. But if Western oil companies gain control over these areas, one should not count on the world’s commercial production increasing or the price falling. Not if the cartel has any say.

When companies made profits at $13 a barrel, what would they be making now on $30 a barrel? The effect of such a price hike on an economy like Australia’s can easily be imagined.

And yet the Opposition and the media go on as if none of this is real. But in so far it is, it is John Howard’s fault. The spectacle of the media, especially the public media, talking up interest rates — and this has been going on more than a year — with the opposition trying to find occasions for point-scoring, irrespective of the underlying gravity of our national situation, reminds me that this is no longer a normal political society.

The same applies to similarly coordinated campaigns to force down our dollar.

It all seems like France in the run-up to Vichy.

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