June 10th 2006

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: Timor crisis - Alkatiri's murky role

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Will Snowy Hydro sale create Australia's Enron?

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Merger no answer to declining Nationals vote

ENERGY CRISIS: How to make Australia energy self-sufficient

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE: Ex-Family Court judge defends gay 'marriage'

WESTERN AUSTRALIA: The self-inflicted wounds of Premier Carpenter

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Once more unto the breach / Leaders designed by the oligarchs / Justice ... for whom? / Rules of engagement

CULTURE AND CIVILISATION: Should we be ashamed of Western civilisation?

SCHOOLS: English grammar 'obsolete and irrelevant'

SEX EDUCATION: Islamic schools reject "safe sex" message

BRITAIN: Soaring oil prices push UK to go nuclear

MIDDLE EAST: Terrorism works

Misguided depiction of mental illness (letter)

Reply to Senator Webber (letter)

Anti-religious education (letter)

Minchin wrong on Snowy Hydro Scheme (letter)

HISTORY AND LITERATURE: Drama set in occupied Europe

COMRADE ROBERTS: Recollections of a Trotskyite, by Kenneth Gee QC

DEFIANT BIRTH: Women Who Resist Medical Eugenics, by Melinda Tankard Reist

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Once more unto the breach / Leaders designed by the oligarchs / Justice ... for whom? / Rules of engagement

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, June 10, 2006
Once more unto the breach

The almost ritual attacks upon John Howard - which have continued for 10 years to no avail, being, quite often, of great help to him and his party - have now taken on a new and unfamiliar form. It appeared to many, for a time, that Rupert Murdoch, in his wisdom, has decided that John Howard has reached his use-by-date and that his successor, presumably Peter Costello, should be given the prize.

The first herald of spring was Piers Akerman talking of a golden Christmas farewell for our Great Helmsman, amid universal acclamation. The ABC and similar crystal-ball addicts went skittish; but John was not for turning.

But next, and far more significantly, at the end of watching a general palaver by Howard and Bush with invited guests in Washington, Murdoch, who'd already been looking a tad restless and a tad irritated, said in an interview that it was time for Howard to bow out while at the peak of success, rather than lose traction and be overthrown like Thatcher, etc. - or else run down his support as had Blair and Bush.

Howard politely acknowledged the advice - but that was all. Costello lauded Murdoch as the greatest businessman who has come out of Australia (as against being a journalist, editor and newspaper-owner like his father, Sir Keith). Rupert Murdoch subsequently suggested that these remarks had been misinterpreted and he wished John Howard all the best. Howard continued on as before.

But, taking advantage of all this, the Melbourne Herald Sun (May 28, 2006) delivered a co-ordinated attack on the Prime Minister.

Howard, it appeared, had been on a glorified overseas junket. None of these meetings with leaders of America, Canada or Ireland were necessary and, anyway, the couple had stayed at the most expensive places.

I would have thought that trying to line up Canada in a joint uranium products alliance - separate from the one the US is working to broker - was important enough, as was making a grateful friend of the new Canadian Conservative Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. With a minority government, the new chum needs all the help he can get.

I don't know what Howard and Bush discussed at this extremely important time: the Herald Sun may know. Ireland is a success-story economy with whom we should be trading, far more than we in fact do. It is also a potentially important linkage with Europe - another way in besides London. We should fly the flag in Ireland.

So why is the Murdoch empire seeming to try to influence, even determine, the direction of our political processes in such a blatant way?

If Howard were suddenly to step down, Murdoch would be blamed. If a coup is staged, then the coup masters will be damaged goods, and Peter Costello labelled Murdoch's poodle or the voice of American corporate power. A conservative legend will be born - another Dismissal! A most maladroit episode.

To turn to those "opinion polls". They are now daily events - but will they soon be twice a day?

I remember Mark Latham writing that one reason he and his advisors thought that they might win was the performance of these polls. He sighted 20 successive Newspolls putting Labor ahead. Of course, Mark, they wanted you to win.

I well remember daily opinion polls being run when the "Hawke for leader" push was on - 500 interviews, I seem to remember, by phone. One of these had only 11 per cent voting for Bill Hayden. Bill could do nothing. When the softening up process had reached its peak, the coup occurred. I can't see this happening for Howard but ... nothing is certain.

The polls I really like are the ones putting first one party, then another, one per cent ahead. Thrilling stuff! But the margin of error ceded in reality is three per cent either way. But voters are supposed to have no sense and no memory.


Leaders designed by the oligarchs

Brad Norington has just put in a most informative profile/life story of Bill Shorten (Weekend Australian magazine, May 27–28, 2006) - our latest Designer Leader, as the Russians would put it. (For more about this phenomenon, see my review of Andrew Wilson's book, Virtual Politics: Faking Democracy in the Post-Soviet World, in "Potemkin politics", News Weekly, September 24, 2005).

Norington looks at Bill's antecedents, how he started up, and the powerful backers and allies he has acquired in his sure-footed climb to the top.

Don't ask which "top", or why; for this is a value-free world in which Shorten moves, while Norington observes. We have a lot about motives, and drives for Power, but little else.

Shorten's progress is far more sober and eschewing the fireworks of Hawke; the expletives, stage tantrums and hayseed art snobberies of Keating; the apparently timeless chundermania of Whitlam, and his old speechwriters and journalistic puffers orating from their plinths in Madame Tussaud's. And for that may we all be truly thankful.

Shorten always wanted to be Prime Minister - his student Labor and early union buddies say - but that surely is unremarkable. But the progressive change in the texture of his allies, and the social milieu in which he moves, is instructive. Quite reminiscent of Bob Hawke's journey, only, some of Shorten's companions seem more salubrious.

As with Hawke, knowing the backers is vital information for anyone trying to predict what is to be the next stage for Labor - (I won't waste people's time talking of the "Left") - and, subsequently, what is to be the next stage for us Australians under a Labor Government once more.

I suspect our oligarchs and foreign compradors might have decided they want to change the sign over the door, but are still wrangling over who will run the bucket shop, and how to design the changeover. I am surmising that few of them wish Costello a long life, politically. He should be an Alec Douglas-Home, a Lindsay Thompson, a Gerald Ford.

Stopgaps can survive

Still, stopgaps can surprise and survive, such as Harry Truman, John Major and Pope John XXIII.

Shorten started well from the outset. He began work with Victoria's former premier, John Cain jnr, who sent him to Labor lawyers Maurice Blackburn Cashman.

Our Bill then took off for a job with Bill Kelty, at that time the ACTU secretary. Kelty is now a LinFox director, and Shorten claims him as a mentor.

Another mentor is Brian Burke, of WA Inc. fame, who, upon completing his involuntary retirement, set up a very profitable consultancy business and has become, once again, the grey eminence of the WA Labor movement. 'Tis said he is one of Shorten's advisors - backing an investment, presumably.

Bill moves with Richard Pratt, Solomon Lew and Lindsay Fox, while his father-in-law is Julian Beale, a most prosperous Liberal.

But he claims a strong trade union backing - if you wish to call it that. Bill Ludwig, the Queensland Labor powerbroker, says, "I've supported him every inch of the way." Eat your heart out, Peter Beattie.

And Shorten returns the compliment to "Big Bill". "He's taught me that if you tell the truth, people will come back and talk to you." So there ... the tooth fairy still lives.

But the main supporter is Richard Pratt, at whose place Shorten held his engagement party and where he has been staging dinners with people like South Australia's premier Mike Rann and federal Labor leader Kim Beazley.

Pratt lent Shorten his $50 million private jet to get back to Tasmania for the rescue of the miners, whom everyone thought were dead. No commercial planes being available, Richard lent his plane, and Shorten returned to make history. Well ... media history. But a friend in need is a friend indeed.

Richard Pratt has received disgraceful, and intrusive treatment from sections of the media - quite undeserved, as I can see. Shorten could choose far, far worse supporters.

The stage-managed rise of Bill Shorten is the way of the future - a phenomenon already common place in Russia and America.

The policies of the Labor Party are decided in the way Mark Latham has described. Our Liberals are little different. Mark Latham has said that this is no place for a believer, for a person of moral intent, be he young or old. I look forward to Latham's next book, promised for later this year.

Brad Norington has given us an interesting study showing that some of our journalists besides Andrew Bolt can still write, when they are allowed. Why this piece was allowed, and why the very strong, essentially negative treatment of Richard Pratt stands out, are conundrums for readers to play with.


Justice ... for whom?

The East Timorese enterprise is threatening to turn out more hazardous than even this columnist had dolefully prophesied in the previous issue ("Indonesia and the islands", News Weekly, May 27, 2006).

A far greater commitment than we had anticipated is in the offing and of a possibly considerably longer duration than we had expected.

Almost as bad is: what happened to our previous great enterprise on behalf of the Timorese - and in the face of Indonesia's hostility? Have we not been ploughing the seed, and messing up our relations with Jakarta, for nothing? And are not the odds of our doing this again quite considerable?

Although the Indonesians understand and perhaps saying, sotto voce, we told you so.


Rules of engagement

Are our soldiers to be truant officers, firemen, social workers ... or soldiers? They have said they'll shoot to defend themselves. But what else? Can they shoot to defend helpless Timorese or to stop the destruction of homes and livelihoods? (And this is why they were sent there, as they had been sent earlier).

And those marauding gangs, who've appeared since the Timorese army were confined to barracks. Are the mobs to be allowed to taunt and humiliate our soldiers - who could become sitting ducks for "stray shots"? (And SBS would say they were strays).

The Americans were accused of letting mobs loot Baghdad's museum of antiquities with impunity. Should they have shot at them? Oh no - that would violate their "rights", and anyway they're just poor people, trying to make a few dollars to feed their children.

We cannot send in or keep troops anywhere when there is this propagandised sabotage by the moveable feasts called the NGOs.

The full implications of all this have not yet been drawn, as the Indonesian earthquake was hastily headlined to change the subject - just as Timor had stopped further inspection of the dreadful news coming from our Northern Territory.

A social worker of my acquaintance has just returned from Papua New Guinea, and I want to debrief her about AIDS, about corruption and poverty, and the temper of the forgotten people, i.e., the majority.

She just said that the whole place is crawling with NGOs, as was Timor, and that the standard of life of NGO staff - as compared with locals struggling for a meal - along with a certain unreadiness to meet locals at the grass roots, face-to-face level, is not going down well. Anymore than it did in Kosovo or Cambodia.

What should we be doing about the steadily growing problems in all of these underdeveloped mini-states? What kind of conflicts would our soldiers have to engage in, each place and situation being different? Have we the resources, and is there a military solution, or, even ... must there be a military role?

- Max Teichmann

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