April 1st 2006

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: The lessons of Cyclone Larry

EDITORIAL: Elizabeth and the future of the monarchy

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Beazley - federal Labor's last best hope?

INTERNET: Labor's mandatory filtering pledge

NATIONAL SECURITY: When a search warrant becomes a death warrant

ENERGY: U.S. investors head for ethanol industry

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Emperor's new clothes / Tokenism to vandalism / West Papua - here come the people smugglers / heaven help the working man

CHARTER OF RIGHTS: Sneaking through a radical agenda

VICTORIA: School textbook vilifies Christianity

SOUTH AUSTRALIA: Liberal debacle in SA election

TASMANIA: Greens lose out in Tasmanian poll

AVIAN FLU: China obstructs fight against flu pandemic

OPINION: What is behind the rise of European anti-Semitism?

Not anti-capitalist (letter)

Kernot affair the start of the Democrats' rot (letter)

Forces of evil at work (letter)

Disturbance in the force (letter)

CINEMA: Brokeback Mountain - a case of sour grapes


BOOKS: THE NARNIAN: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis, by Alan Jacobs

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Emperor's new clothes / Tokenism to vandalism / West Papua - here come the people smugglers / heaven help the working man

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, April 1, 2006
Emperor's new clothes

Melbourne columnist Andrew Bolt has done the unthinkable - or rather said the unsayable - yet again. The morning after the enraptured opening of the Commonwealth Games, he pronounced the whole thing an expensive mess, with the theatrical/political triumphs belonging to the Queen, John Howard and Melbourne's Lord Mayor, Councillor John So. The remainder were eminent forgettables - with the Victorian Labor leaders, if anything, on the nose.

The fireworks were great, the river and city looked beautiful - but for $30 million dollars? But read Bolt's piece for yourself. ("A night of cringe", Melbourne's Herald Sun, March 17, 2006).

It explains why our pseudo-Establishment hates Bolt, and the ordinary Melbournians like him. It wouldn't matter what our politically-correct non-entities thought - except that it drives them to extraordinary lengths to try to exclude him from the public gaze and ear.

Many of our bookshops have refused, in various roundabout ways, to display his book; usually, "we'll get it in," or "don't have it". Occasionally, the courageous and foolhardy ones not stocking the book admit that they don't agree with him.

As Bolt himself says, he needed the full weight and sympathy of important people in the Murdoch camp to preserve his right to write freely, and for them to help publish, promote and distribute his book, for it to enjoy the same right of access, that any grant-aided, Labor-backed dodo enjoys - as of right.

None of this would be necessary in an open society, in a liberal democracy. But it is necessary here, isn't it, comrades? As to those literate, and non-conformist writers not belonging to a push or a pack ... perhaps try overseas? But don't expect us to import their actual output.


Tokenism to vandalism

Watching the remorseless decline of the woebegone look-alike demonstrations that still turn out for the appearance of an important person - the Queen, Condoleezza Rice, John Howard and sometimes Peter Costello (after which we begin to run out of important persons) - makes one realise how completely Australians, young and old, have turned away from the street melodramas of yesteryear.

The European Left keep inventing new reasons for playing the urban hooligan; Asians have just discovered demonstrations and street violence; the Arabs never gave this activity away; but it seems as though we have. Too boring.

So the ABC etc. have to serve up foreign violence and demonstrations as though they were the norm. But if the public media weren't so psychologically dependent on these parodies of radicalism and rebellion, they would melt away like Puff the Magic Dragon. Recycling these overseas follies are now little more than fill-ins for the news bulletins, like the daily remembrances of victims of bushfires - of no political importance.

This is a remarkable cultural change, and one going on amid more political propaganda in our media and in our schools than I can remember. Other societies might take a leaf out of our book: how to ignore the boors, the beggars and the door-to-door salespeople who hang around demanding our attention.

Which is not to say that tired Melbourne tram passengers and motorists aren't regularly held up by knots of louts - professional students and the remnants of the international socialists - at various parts in the city and suburbs on Fridays. They appear to be under state patronage so ordinary people are inconvenienced, and nothing is done, or said.

The media barely report these regular breaches of the law, for they are widely unpopular and the "demonstrators" hardly bother to even attempt to make a political point. Any banner or board grabbed from the basement of the Trades Hall, RMIT, or student union will do. (Otherwise they would be causing a riot or hopefully an affray).

With a banner, they are exercising their human rights. But hooliganism is a word which smells the same by any name. This is radicalism at the end of its tether.

These peak-hour traffic vandals come from RMIT and Melbourne University, often cabal at the Trades Hall, then use the State Library lawns, as of right, as their base. By spilling out onto the road in Swanston Street, they block a key artery along which travel trams to destinations all over Melbourne. Why the State Library is made available for such weekly socially-destructive activities - only the Government and the library bosses would know. This is Third World stuff.

And, surprisingly, quite a few derailments or breakdowns occur on these Friday evenings. Talk is heard: "It wouldn't happen had the trams not been privatised!" The plot thickens.

I have excluded from this the ritual regular mobilisation of certain unions - such as the well-fed and absurdly privileged building unions, who use the streets like Mussolini's squadristi, or the Orange Men in Belfast, with rarely a sensible or coherent message and, more often than not, nothing to demonstrate about. Just a chance to take yet another day off and subtly intimidate fellow Melbournians.

On the other hand, when it is a matter of workers in a plant suddenly losing their jobs or farmers threatened with direct economic loss, we are looking at an entirely different phenomenon; and the public take these matters quite seriously, as indeed they should. Here, any such demonstrations might be the real McCoy.


West Papua - here come the people-smugglers

Yet another dingy would-be people smuggling heist is underway between West Papua and Australia, with the usual suspects here deeply involved.

Quite apart from trying, yet again, to bust our immigration program and refugee program and their legislative underpinnings, the main political aim here is the same as from the time John Howard took power and began, piece by piece, to build the close relationship between Jakarta and Canberra that we now enjoy.

According to The Australian's Jakarta correspondent, Sian Powell, a group of 43 Papuans seeking asylum in Australia is "potentially the worst blight on Indonesian-Australian relations since East Timor." (The Australian, March 20, 2006). If wishes were fishes.

The "Papuan National Authority law and politics director Edison Waromi from Papua" - who? - says he appointed a Herman Wanggai to lead the asylum-seekers' five-day canoe voyage from Indonesia to Australia "in a bid to force Australia into conceding the dangers of life in the conflict-racked province". The 25-metre outrigger canoe carried a banner: "Save West Papua people souls from genocide, intimidation, and terrorist [sic.] from military government of Indonesia."

The campaign to force a breakaway of West Papua from Indonesia proper, continues Powell, has "met with rejection on most fronts, including Australia".

Their reasons include the fact that no Indonesian government would permit it, nor would the Indonesian people or their army. The proposal is really for a full-blown war, which these "asylum-seekers" happily anticipate.

Indonesia is now economically dependent upon this province for half of its exports, and knows that most in the region have not been consulted by these rebels and, while disliking Indonesian occupation especially when visible, show few signs of wanting to be ruled by a military dictatorship of "asylum-seekers", dependent on other foreign capitalists and countries - which would be the consequence.

Of course what these "asylum-seekers" are after is establishing the right of rebels to claim political asylum on the grounds that life is dangerous there, so then, as many inhabitants as can be roped in or compromised, can follow.

The often planned, but never achieved, mass influx would occur. I'll just say that many religious organisations and NGOs have been interested and concerned with the lives of the people of West Papua ever since that territory was virtually handed over to Sukarno, but they are steering clear of this particular episode and this overfamiliar cast of characters.

Infantile fantasies

For their part, Labour has never forgiven Howard for forging the Asian friendships, especially the prickly one with Indonesia, which they said the Asians would never allow. So they live in hope of the whole emerging amity collapsing and being able to say, "We told you so" and "We were right" - infantile fantasies which our recidivist Left simply cannot give up.

So hopes have been entertained of the enmities arising from our liberation of East Timor; then of intrastate conflict over Aceh; then, most puerile and perhaps most disgraceful of all, Indonesia's resolves to treat drug criminals through their legal and moral systems. Now there are hopes for Australian-Indonesian conflict over West Papua.

Such people never give up, nor do their media allies. So the hopes of Australia having a bipartisan foreign, or defence, policy (which makes an enormous difference to a country's potency and stability) are remote, for some time to come.


Heaven help the working man

I tuned in more or less accidentally to one of those British travel series, whereby one of those professional working-class types holds forth.

I knew the genuine English product very well, worked and drank with them over 10 years, and they were great. But the ones we get served up now on the box? Well, they're different.

Not exactly phoney, I suppose. But, replete with prole clichés and prole body language, they set out to show that the common man knows as much as your high-falutin' expert.

In fact, he may appreciate it as much, and enjoy it more, but it seems unwise to appoint yourself an expert. This one, touring some sad Russian territory, where the economy had collapsed and the men were just living off the ruins of the superstructure, spoke of the spirit of the Russian people, their guts and comradeship and that this was more important than the collapse of the economic and social structure. Maybe - we saw them having a meal break and demolishing a bottle of vodka.

Now this is really World War II Russia and we love Uncle Joe, and we did see a glimpse of posters of the old trio, Marx, Lenin and Stalin, in one scene. Our English commentator had probably heard all this from his dad. But present reality is very different. Half of Russian men, when they die, are drunk. Life expectancy for them has fallen more than 10 years, etc. As to bonding? Alas.

Now when we talk of graft and bribery in China and other places, the problems are real and, if allowed to go on increasing, a bad omen for these countries' futures. Thus, graft by government officials in China topped $50 billion last year, and 15,000 officials either fled China or disappeared within China. (The Australian, December 27, 2005).

But consider the Russian figure by comparison. According to the Indem think tank, Russians report paying almost 10 times as much in bribes now as in 2001. The study approached 4,000 people, including 1,000 businessmen. It is the business sector which has to pay the lion's share and whose handouts to, presumably, officials, have risen the fastest. The reasons for bribes most frequently mentioned in the Western press - getting better hospital treatment, a university place, paying off traffic police - are only a fraction. A mere $4 billion dollars.

But getting exemption from military service is, since Chechnya, a major source of bribes.

Indem gives an overall figure for Russian bribes, quoted by the Agence France-Presse, of $425 billion dollars in five years. (The Australian, March 21, 2006).

I can hardly believe this figure but there it is.

Flaunting of wealth

Where do these bribes finish? Do the recipients spend them in Russia where there certainly is much prestigious public flaunting of wealth, next to the Dickensian poverty of so many other Russians? Or is it sent outside Russia?

The evidence is that it is going overseas, so there is no mystery about why Russia is so poor and why its infrastructure is still sinking.

And yet Putin has pronounced several times that he will stamp out bribery and corruption. But things get worse after each announcement.

Putin may in fact not be able to control his state or his future. Rather like the birth rate and the alcohol problem, bribery and corruption may now be natural forces - not part of the system, but the system itself.

China may be looking at something similar down the road, and here the arrival of the Packer gambling complex in Macau could be the laundry to end all laundries.

It could also be an escape-route to the West for all those Asians, especially Chinese businessmen on holiday, who either blow their money (usually someone else's) or win a fortune which they don't wish to take back to China.

It's a long distance from The East Is Red.

  • Max Teichmann


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