May 12th 2007

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: ANZAC DAY: A new dawn for Australian national pride

EDITORIAL: Labor's uranium policy: when 'yes' means 'no'

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Has Kevin Rudd made his biggest mistake?

WATER: Water crisis: farmers' warnings ignored

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Why Kevin Rudd leads in the polls

LABOR PARTY: Australian union movement's last hurrah

STRAWS IN THE WIND: ABC's John Curtin - a missed opportunity / Labor conference a gold-plated flop / Melbourne's continuing transport fiasco / Ice man cometh

INTELLIGENCE CORNER: Terror Australis - will the public ever wake up?

FAMILY ASSISTANCE: Howard's cash benefits for families

SCHOOLS: Report slams school curriculum muddle

DRUGS POLICY: $150 million campaign against 'Ice' - too little, too late

MEDICAL: Oral contraceptive link to breast cancer

HISTORY: Wilberforce's epic battle to end slavery

Plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka (letter)

Sinhalese speaking up for Tamils (letter)

Religious vilification laws (letter)

General Monash (letter)

BOOKS: BETWEEN TWO WORLDS: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce

BOOKS: THE OCCUPATION OF IRAQ: Winning the War, Losing the Peace

Books promotion page

ABC's John Curtin - a missed opportunity / Labor conference a gold-plated flop / Melbourne's continuing transport fiasco / Ice man cometh

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, May 12, 2007
ABC's John Curtin - a missed opportunity

The ABC television film on John Curtin (starring William McInnes) was welcome, for any new light on the life and deeds of our illustrious predecessors is welcome, but it was in some ways an opportunity missed.

Curtin was to die in early 1945. Concentrating upon his career until, perhaps, mid-1943 does not tell us about those last two years of his life, and of his prime ministership.

Why are extremely interesting events and trends simply left out? Perhaps because it would put Labor's left in a bad light? Sure - but they had already provided grounds for serious criticism.

Someone coming new to this story might think that our war was between Australia and Britain, with the Japanese as supporting actors and the Americans almost nowhere, and that gut-wrenching decision to disagree with Britain, i.e., Winston Churchill, as to where our Middle East forces should go - Burma or Australia - was something Curtin could have settled at any time.

We had the power and the right to decide, as we did, whether we would go to war alongside Britain in World War II or not.

And, in World War I, we could have supplied forces on condition that they remained under our command - as the Americans did of right.

We didn't do this, but spent the rest of that war whingeing about British leadership and how we were just Lloyd George and General Haig's gun-fodder, whereas in fact everyone was.

I go on about this because Curtin's wrestling with that gigantic decision takes up so much of the story, as presented by the ABC. It was the kind of decision that Churchill or Roosevelt made every other day.

Much attention is paid to Curtin's deepening illnesses - perhaps too much. A major cause was the legacy of a medically disastrous lifestyle; the remainder being the challenges he had to deal with from outside.

His main enemies were not the Japanese or the British (!), let alone the Americans - lurking in the wings.

No, if anything, or anyone, drove him to a premature death, it was his own party, principally the left-wing parliamentarians and, in the period after this film ends, the left-wing unions.

When the Nazis attacked Russia, this obliged Australian communists, like communists everywhere, to perform political and psychological acrobatics in the approved Orwellian manner.

The communists, having spent nearly two years talking about five-bob-a-day murderers (viz., the Australian Imperial Force), began backing the war flat out, enjoining their supporters to work their butts off for the war.

But it was not for the defence of Britain, the retrieval of Europe, but for the defence or future victory of Mother Russia. Not everyone at the time realised that. But, considering the circumstances, the communists passed the critical/subversive baton to their first cousins, Labor's left, who proceeded to acquit themselves with nihilistic distinction. The strike rate shot up and, as Hal Colebatch has shown, there were many damaging interruptions to vital supplies to New Guinea.

Now, most of these occurred after the time this documentary ends - so we lose the thread.

There is, for example, no possibility of discussing Washington's decision to virtually exclude Britain, Australia and New Zealand from any real say in the final Pacific settlement. This meant Australian troops were not to be invited into the future combat areas on the way to Tokyo.

In 1943, America's General Douglas MacArthur urged our Government to start demobilising forces which were no longer necessary. This would help food and munitions production.

Our Government's response, presumably on military advice, was to open up two new fronts - in Bougainville (taking over from the US Marines who had stabilised the situation) and in New Britain, and in deciding to continue pursuing the Japanese remnants further and further up the coast.

There were criticisms of the Government's decision to do all this at the time, but these were muted.

The first two operations, which were major campaigns, had no strategic relevance for a war which had moved further and further away from Australia.

The third exercise could be defended on tactical grounds. A second episode in the ABC's Curtin story would have allowed, quite possibly, a portrayal of the conversations between the principals here, and among ourselves, the Americans and the British. But it was not to be.

The family and close friends' relationships, as depicted, approached kitsch, or McLeod's Daughters - sheer soap opera.

There were many interesting characters circulating in the political scene at this time. But many do not appear, and those who do appear as stick figures.

Upon reflection, my desire for more ... has self-destructed. Enough was enough.


Labor conference a gold-plated flop

Of all the indicators that Labor and Rudd face mounting trouble, the muzzling of the critical section of the media is perhaps the most striking. Labor banned the Pay TV news network's SKY News from broadcasting live debate from the ALP national conference.

For a party raising massive sums to pay for wall-to-wall advertising, and a leader who haunts the television studios, this seems an extraordinary policy.

Every federal Labor conference since 1984 has been rigged, in my judgement, with the delegates consisting of trade union bosses and their flunkies, MPs and their staffers, and trusties of every kind. The deals are stitched up beforehand, or on the side, in corners, toilets and baths. Vox populi!

But, as Sid Marris says in The Australian: “Murdoch's SKY, which operates a 24-hour news channel, regularly breaks into its programs to cover political speeches and Question Time in parliament. It also replays key events on separate digital channels.” An incomparable free launching-pad for Labor and Kevin's campaign.

But SKY was told that it could only run the stage-managed opening from Kevin Rudd live, whereas all other media were allowed to watch and film every session for broadcast later. But not Murdoch.

This is understandable. With all the hacks already lined up for the re-opening of Labor's soup kitchens after the victory, one would expect them to behave decently. They did - and needed to.

The conference, as I write, has been a gold-plated flop: “I'm Kevin, I'm here to help.” Who is this? Bob the Builder? Or your friendly chemist?

The delegates sat po-faced and, in the fierce and largely unreported nuclear debate, finished up giving Rudd a stinging rebuke. The leader scraped in: 210 to 195.

The workplace relations thing did better. It was stitched up beforehand, with the union bosses pretending to be unhappy, but, due to the leader's superior oratory and winning ways, everyone finished agreeing with one another. A sad charade, which no amount of media face-saving can retrieve.

There are deep rifts re-opening in the ALP. And meanwhile Howard beavers ahead, raising the ante and shifting the goalposts.

Furthermore, the Budget is upon us and the various pressure-groups which normally line up to gouge money from the government of the day, were swept aside while Labor wasted precious weeks.

Only Malcolm Fraser and his two indigenous friends managed to pull out a couple of last despairing stunts.

Times have certainly changed since all these lovelies publicly turned their backs on the Prime Minister, haven't they, possums?


Melbourne's continuing transport fiasco

Mark Lopez's reference (see his cover story in this issue) to the lack of trams serving the Shrine of Remembrance and its environs on Anzac Day, when many thousands were left struggling to get there in the dark, because no extra services were put on, only draws attention to the unbelievable buffoonery surrounding Victoria's transport policies.

With traffic gridlock a virtual certainty on working days, and constant injunctions to people to forego their cars and use public transport, Victoria's Bracks Labor Government has just announced that it will slash taxes on motor cars, with the rule being: the larger the car the larger the rebate.

Owners of small cars will get very little benefit (so much for global warming!), the reason given being that the languishing local car industry needs a boost. Automobile production is a major industry which must be protected. More cars, more petrol consumption, more pollution, and an even greater dependence on overseas oil supplies.

Our four major car-producers are already subsidised, directly and indirectly, to the tune of $7 billion per annum; yet only one, Toyota, looks viable in the long run. And endless photographs of flash cars driving at extreme speeds in what can only be described as suffocating media advertising campaigns, make a mockery of all the police campaigns against speeding, and the perils awaiting young drivers. And it is to this group that the saturation advertising campaign is being directed.

But, of course, if people did seek to shed their cars, there would be a total collapse of public transport.

We have a government so desperate that it buys back four old carriages from a collector, to make up an extra train. This is Alice in Wonderland stuff, a government at the end of its tether.

But, to return to the collusion designed to discourage people from going to the Dawn Service, any one of the Government's loss-making “happenings” could count on the appearance of extra trams and trains from nowhere.

As for the cost of the vote-catching fast train - which saves only minutes - had this money been directed to Melbourne's transport system, it could have worked wonders.

But meantime, our local Liberals can only suck in their breath and say, “Tut tut.”

For whom are they working - when they are working?


Ice man cometh

I picked up in Melbourne's Herald Sun a gem from a suggested role-model for the young, viz., actor and comedian Robin Williams (Good Morning Vietnam, Dead Poets' Society).

He said, “I pray and do meditation, but no religion. That's close to organised crime.”

Has he considered colonic irrigation? It beats Ice, I'm told.

- Max Teichmann.

All you need to know about
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TRANSGENDER: one shade of grey, 353pp, $39.99

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