March 3rd 2007

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Articles from this issue:

CANBERRA OBSERVED: John Howard's election year dilemma

EDITORIAL: Climate change: time for a reality check

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Water and ethanol - time to think big

WATER: Who will stand up for states' rights?

RADICAL ENVIRONMENTALISM: Sabotage and piracy on the high seas

CHINA: 'Bloody Harvest' - organ-harvesting latest

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Ecclesiastical charades / Rudd's credibility / Victoria's new Second Chamber / Putin's way

SPECIAL FEATURE: New light on Bob Santamaria

EUTHANASIA: Male suicide rise linked to euthanasia debate

OPINION: Dangers of a 'same-sex' register

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: South Korean-US relations under strain

OPINION: Climate change - hot air, big bucks, cold facts

Truth not always a defence (letter)

How Rudd could beat Coalition (letter)

The bushfire crisis (letter)

U.S. Presidential candidates (letter)

Government subsidies and health hazards (letter)

OBITUARY: Vale Charles Coffey (1906-2007)

CINEMA: Heart-warming rags-to-riches story - The Pursuit of Happyness

BOOKS: DUMBING DOWN, by Kevin Donnelly

BOOKS: DOWN TO THIS: A Year Living with the Homeless

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Ecclesiastical charades / Rudd's credibility / Victoria's new Second Chamber / Putin's way

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, March 3, 2007
Ecclesiastical charades

When I was an old C of E boy from a somewhat dreary Carlton parish church, St Paul's Cathedral and St Peter's (Eastern Hill) were among my icons. They were also quite important parts of Melbourne's religious, cultural, and architectural landscape.

When, in the early 1950s, I was working on the railways at head office, I and other devotees would make a regular pilgrimage across the road, to sit at the foot of Chloe in Young and Jackson's bar, and express our solidarity with John Barleycorn. We would then tiptoe over Swanston Street, to St Paul's (for there could be railway police around, who might ask why we weren't at work). We would then look in at the cathedral, to see if it was ship-shape — then repair to another great pub behind it, called The Cathedral.

But, as a kid, I really did enjoy that cathedral: the presence of Dr A.E. Floyd and his inspirational musical ethos, a packed congregation who came to worship, and who believed, and the clergy, who appeared to be doing the same.

I rarely frequent the tormented shemozzle called our CBD nowadays, and I try to avoid looking at St Paul's, for more often than not, an enormous bed-sheet is draped outside, running some current radical agit-dribble. This week, David Hicks. Earlier, Iraq. Before that, "Say Sorry". Earlier again, "Vietnam?" — ad nauseam, ad infinitum.

Inside, clergy and a few worshippers — mainly middle-aged ladies — are lighting candles for Hicks, and praying for him. Some of these look extremely practised, as though they had been doing it for Ronald Ryan.

What with the television team, the powerful lights, drooling show-ponies in ecclesiastical garb … the whole ambience seemed a thousand miles away from a house of God. This is no place for humility, or to encounter tragedy — as against practised bathos. As to peace of mind, or acceptance …

I had thought that it was enough to deform the universities, the libraries, the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, and so on — but not so. Everything must be a stage — for moral and political soap opera.

Thinking of how Ely Cathedral, or Wells, or Lincoln, or York, or Worms in Germany, or the great doors of Cologne Cathedral, would look with grubby off-white bed-sheets draped over them, and what worshippers and people with any aesthetic sensibilities would say, made me realise that the Left fruit-juice lobby hadn't taken over the Anglicans — it was Snake Gully and the Muppets.

As to Hicks, there was a well-known system called preventive detention, which countries have operated in wartime, but also during states of emergency. It is not necessary to prove, or even assert, that someone committed a crime, or even was intending to; just that such people could be a danger to the country in its threatened condition.

Needless to say, that system has been frequently abused. For example, I think we abused the internment system in both world wars. So not only the practice, but the concept, has fallen into disrepute.

This is perhaps a pity, for international terrorism is sui generis, and countries attacked or targeted are searching for new ways of neutering, or decommissioning, terrorists and potential terrorists. Naturally, effective deterrence is a constant priority in this search.

But the legal and moral formulae have not yet been clarified. They had better be — soon.

Yet this no longer impinges on the Hicks case. The American military had five years to formulate precise charges against Hicks, and they still haven't done so. One can only assume that they can't. It has been argued that endless appeals and delaying tactics on the part of Hicks's supporters have produced a situation of the U.S. being unable to put Hicks into court with celerity.

Well, now it can. But we are immediately told that the U.S. prosecutors may need another four months. What? They have had the chance, during the various delays, to fine-tune their case. But where is it? We can only assume a cover-up, or Murphy's Law. Either way, such strategies or such horrendous incompetence have set up the U.S. Administration, and Australia.

In retrospect, Tony Blair did well to get some of his people out of Guantanamo back to the UK. Whether we can, at this point, remains to be seen. Probably, we should see it as yet another twisted legacy of Donald Rumsfeld.


Rudd's credibility

John Howard has taken the Iraq debate by the throat, and is relentless attacking the credibility of the man whom Barry Humphries called "the Dentist".

Kevin Rudd has been backed into the Latham corner, and it is delicious to see the media and Rudd's advisers going into damage control. To watch Rudd expressing fears that the American alliance was threatened by Howard, would have had his Left choking on their cut-price vodka.

Howard's full-frontal attack on the latest American Democrat dwarf star candidate brought the expected screams from anti-Iraq-War politicians, here and in the U.S., about interfering with another country's politics.

Howard follows a long line of Australian politicians who have done this, in the national interest, and Billy Hughes stands out.

Almost single-handedly, Hughes stopped Japan from being given Papua — previously German — and key Pacific islands. He interfered shamelessly in British politics, and shirt-fronted the big hitters at Versailles. Where would we have been on December 7, 1941, had the Japanese already held this territory for 20 years?

Hughes has never got credit, but Howard is simply following a great example.

Would Rudd ever be so bold? The fact is, these are perilous times, with no legitimate space for trimmers, chameleons, or Year 10 telly debating addicts.

Could anyone imagine Kim Beazley ever getting himself into such a political dilemma? But then, Kim always knew that there was a life beyond television. Adrian Mole doesn't know this. After all, Mark Latham did warn us.


Victoria's new Second Chamber

A piquant situation has come into being in Victoria's newly elected and recently reformed upper house, that is, the Legislative Council. The "reforms" pushed by Steve Bracks's people introduced Proportional Representation, in the hope of preventing the conservatives from ever regaining control of the upper house — whereas Labor could, in its own right, or else, with the aid of small parties made significant by the new reforms.

Labor's allies may hold the balance of power; Labor's allies would stress their independence to the simple voters … pledge to "keep the bastards honest" … but, of course, they would be pampered clients of the Bracks machine. That was understood.

But, the Greens didn't finish up holding the balance of power when the votes were counted. Rather, a disparate group did. Many, apparently with little in common, even opposed to one another. But, within a very short time, these disparate elements have combined to make Labor accountable, and the Liberals have joined forces with them.

The first move has been to set up an inquiry into the issue of certain gambling licences. Labor refused all co-operation, so the inquiry has been expanded into the whole gambling industry. The suggestion is already surfacing that pokies could be phased out. Interesting.

The next inquiry, one long asked for, and long overdue, would be that into the police force, and into the relations between government, police, and the Commissioner. Even more interesting.

Peter Ryan, the Nationals' Victorian leader, is determined to have a thorough investigation of Victoria's latest bushfires — and the whole process of forest management in the state since Bracks took over. We are facing the greatest ecological disaster — man-made — that this state quite possibly has endured since white settlement. Combined with the drought, we have suffered damage and loss which is, most likely, irreparable.

But … given the differing backgrounds of the upper house opposition group, could such an inquiry sheet home the blame to the real culprits — the Greens, and the Green Left?

Then, there is the inquiry (ideally a Royal Commission) into the catastrophe which is the City of Melbourne and into Victoria's transport system. The public would like all of these areas fully and publicly investigated, for they are affected by the daily spectacle of folly and corruption.

Were the new broom investigatory alliance to tackle the above, there would be a revolution in Victorian politics, and a New Deal for Victorians. But could it happen?


Putin's way

Vladimir Putin has been very busy again. Leaving aside his attack on the U.S. for being the evil Svengali of the world system — a tirade which visibly disturbed his international audience, and raised the question, did his lackey Gerhard Schroeder write it, or was it the master himself? — and omitting his stonewalling over the murders of Russian dissidents, and his oil blackmailing tactics against neighbours, he has just opened a new front at home.

Russians love shopping at markets, and there is now plenty to buy. The old Communist shops enjoy low esteem while the big new Western-style supermarkets haven't really caught on with many Russians. Thus, the main Moscow market attracts 97 per cent of the relevant trade. The food is fresh and cheap, and Russians high and low like shopping around for bargains and beating down the traders.

Most of the staff of these markets come from the non-Russian republics which had broken away: from Moldova, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and other Caucasian states. They are hard-working people, and popular among the shoppers. Many are old residents of Moscow, their children having been born there.

A law has now been passed forbidding non-Russians from holding such jobs. The Russians must be given them. Many "foreigners" have also been told to give up their flats. The police, who often call these non-Russians "blacks", are regularly harassing them.

Applications to acquire Russian citizenship are refused. Many of these people will have to return to poor states, which they left, in some cases many years ago.

This could be seen as a corrupt deal with the supermarkets, whose goods are dearer, whose produce is often not fresh, and whose service is … Russian-style. It could be.

But it is really another set of pressures upon those poor states to do Moscow's ultimate bidding. Such poor countries depend considerably upon remittances sent home, and from the reduction of the pressure on their domestic unemployment, through economic migration.

It is part of Russia's attempt to convince her satellites that going it alone — that is, independence — is too costly. This Moscow purge of non-Russians is, in essence, a campaign of racial discrimination and persecution, shadowing into ethnic cleansing.

When can we expect our devoted human rights people to speak up? Some of the organisations which I used to support? Never?

— Max Teichmann.

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