March 1st 2008

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: The Australian economy a 'house of cards'

EDITORIAL: Timor troubles: the way ahead

CANBERRA OBSERVED: What remains to be done after saying sorry?

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Brian Burke and Kevin Rudd cross paths again

ECONOMIC AFFAIRS: Economic policy-making in conflict

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Hysteria in the House / US election campaign / "Say sorry" segment / The economy

ISLAM: Uproar over Archbishop of Canterbury's Islam gaffe

AUSTRALIAN HISTORY: Why Australia's Christian heritage matters

HUMAN RIGHTS: The 2008 Olympics and China's Communist regime

TAIWAN: Chen: Almost over, but not out

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: Australia and Japan set to draw closer together

AS THE WORLD TURNS: Global warming? It's the coldest winter in decades / Capitalism's enemies within

Reality gap between words and action (letter)

Wentworth's vision for Australian railways (letter)

Thuggery at Brisbane pro-life rally (letter)

The struggling Rudds (letter)

BOOKS: IT'S YOUR TIME YOU'RE WASTING: A teacher's tales of classroom hell, by Frank Chalk


Books promotion page

Hysteria in the House / US election campaign / "Say sorry" segment / The economy

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, March 1, 2008
Hysteria in the House

I won't waste time on the compulsory tabling by Kevin Rudd of his text messages to Brian Burke. This was obviously a close and cordial relationship over a longish period. Really, nothing more has to be said.

But it produced scenes of mass hysteria in the House, with Rudd finishing up threatening a double dissolution if the Senate dared to create a committee to report on a piece of legislation which had been put before it, with the committee reporting back in a couple of months. This is a customary right, and frequently exercised by the Senate.

I had earlier suggested that the Liberals, while in the process of reforming, might face this threat, viz., of a double dissolution. A threat by a government, early in office, to seize the first opportunity to go to the polls again, is the policy of a coward or a rogue. Either they fear bad news on the way, and feel unable to deal with the coming changes - or else they have a growing scandal on their hands which they don't relish fully coming out.

In the final wash-up, the Opposition didn't feel they could take on the new government over WorkChoices; so they have withdrawn to prepared positions, as we used to say in the war.


US election campaign

Watching White House aspirant Barack Obama slowly eating up the Democratic vote, and the rising tide of money coming to him from people booking a privileged seat on the bandwagon, makes one realise what a momentous change is underway.

The old East-coast establishment is finished: Ma and Pa Kettle couldn't pull it off for the Camelot putsch and their time-warp world. As a new voter said, "We're sick of all that same old stuff" - and so are we all.

However, I can imagine the Republicans striking similar trouble. John McCain is a nice old man who really has few answers, while the religious right may well experience some trouble when the time comes to bring out their troops.

The fact is, Americans are afraid for their economy - which to them means their future. Many will be asking: which party would look after me better, if I really finished down on my luck? The answer, historically and as of the present, is the Democrats.

Amazingly, Hillary Clinton has been aiming at those Americans earning less that $50,000 a year, whereas her opponent Obama for the upwardly mobile with a bright economic future.

But Hillary's crowd and their long-time lifestyle make this identification with the poor and the insecure ridiculous. And nobody is taking it on board.

Obama is starting to change his tune and style as he moves into the economically struggling areas. There he is starting to suggest various forms of protectionism. We should be keeping an eye on this particular development. To be continued at the next fascinating instalment...


"Say sorry" segment

We're all making a rapid recovery from that nine-day wonder - or was it one-day? - the "Sorry Day" fabrication. If ever an organised spontaneous demonstration of spin could be bettered, it could only have been by the International Socialists.

Selected supporters/believers were bussed in from all parts - no expenses spared - the devotees all getting a free trip to Canberra and slap-up celebrations after, very often extending into the next day. Plus the chance to get on telly by turning their backs when the fat men sang.

And they did this all over Australia at a signal. Two of Rudd's trusties led the charge from within the parliamentary chamber as Brendan Nelson commenced his speech - and their odious stunt within parliament was immediately followed by the free-speech lovers outside and in other places throughout Australia watching the same telly.

The mobile phone and the text-message culture make it possible to drum up the appearance of bogus unanimity and public indignation any time, any place, anywhere, about anything.

Brendan Nelson's address was a masterly effort, a circuit-breaker which has left Labor without a feather to fly with. He put the case for reconciliation, if indeed one were needed, only to have the rent-a-mob turn their backs so as not to hear even about the possibility of reconciliation.

These were the rent-seekers, the stakeholders in continuing conflict, in the party-politicisation of the issues, in the continuing misery and dependence of the Aborigines - stakeholders, either economic and vocational, psychological, or ideological.

The trouble is, the punters outside realised the phoniness of the whole operation, and they've already drifted away. Realising this, the propaganda machines are now deluging us with wall-to-wall sport while the hacks regroups. And there is still the small matter of the economy...

But one most serious consequence of saying sorry, is that we may now be hit by masses of claims - averring pain, suffering, social dysfunction - and not needing to have been taken away by anybody.

Historian Keith Windschuttle is one who draws attention to a successful claim in South Australia a couple of years ago, where the appellant was given more than half a million dollars, and Windschuttle thinks that every Aborigine in Australia has a similar right to compensation without having demonstrated that he was, in some sense or another, stolen.

If so, it could finish up costing us $50 billion dollars, and it is not a matter of parliament being able to apologise for pain and suffering, but ruling out compensation, as they have just done. That is a matter for the courts. Which is why Howard was so circumspect, and Rudd appeared, in the outset, to be so circumspect.

Mark Lopez reminded me of a couple of things. At the first Reconciliation conference, when the Aboriginal leaders turned their backs, Sir William Deane, the then Governor-General, in fact apologised to the supposed stolen people. As the Queen's representative, he was presumably apologising on her behalf (had he consulted?), and he thereby apologised on behalf of the government, it would seem.

Not your average Governor General, it would seem - but there it is.

And, before 1967 Canberra had no powers to make laws or play a role in Aboriginal affairs. These were state rights - as they still maintain, and are fighting to continue exercising.

No stolen generation material has been adduced from the 1970s onwards, so we only have a three-year period when the Commonwealth Government could be blamed. Only the Northern Territory and the ACT were their responsibility, and I don't remember any reports from stolen public servants. So the states are the ones to be sued - despite already having ground out a series of lachrymose mea culpas.

The real danger to our Aborigines from Canberra, has been from the disasters which followed, that is the new policies which we are now trying to undo. These disastrous post-1970 federal government policies were created by the governments of Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke and Keating. It was therefore ironic to see those characters turning up to get us to say sorry.

But none of this is going to stop a new avalanche of school textbooks and propaganda movies to continue brainwashing our students.


The economy

There are many reasons for not talking about the economy - some good, some bad. Not wishing to look at possibly unpleasant coming events is a bad reason; not wishing to say much because of conflicting streams of information, or because there is no way of confidently predicting the future, is a respectable one.

But there are a number of things that one can say. To quote the Melbourne Age's economics writer Ken Davidson from many years ago, "What goes on in the stock exchange need not correspond with the state of the economy. One is a casino - more and more an international casino - whereas the basic economy has its own life."

But when it goes belly-up, then the punters have to notice, and panic appropriately, so as to make things worse. Then again, the official economy, on which all the modelling and the crystal-ball gazing bases itself, is only a part, and a declining part, of the sum total of economic activity.

There is the grey market and black market - hot money and dirty money. There is evidence that enormous amounts of this money have been pouring into Australia, distorting all of our asset values, including real estate. House-buyers using this kind of money ignore interest rate rises.

What we can say is that we are facing a series of interest rate rises to avert inflation, and take continuing pressure off housing prices.

I see this as failing. A lot of Australians see spending and acquiring things as the meaning of life, the only remaining source of freedom or joy. They will go into debt as far as they are allowed, and there are signs of a wages breakout by the public sector employees, as occurred in Whitlam's time. The service unions are now a law unto themselves, singly, or in concert.

In some cases they can make or break government, but usually prefer to stack it with their members, controlling pre-selections in areas where they are in large numbers, such as teachers, health workers - now an enormous complex - public servants and municipal officers. They use the ACTU; they use the Labor party; but they are corporations in their own right, as were the communist and far-left unions before the split.

They will combine with industrial unions to overthrow a Labor leader who doesn't see it their way, e.g., teachers and builders to overthrow Victoria's John Brumby when he was first leader. They may do this again.

But if you think their next designer candidate, Attorney-General Rob Hulls, will be better, think again. He is enmeshed with the legal and judicial "professions" - a sort of godfather of very big proportions - who owe their elevation to him. These service unions are intent on increasing their numbers, their clout, and the pay and conditions of their members, as a way of attracting and maintaining their loyalties.

In the situation of labour shortages and possessing a monopoly or an oligopolistic position, they push for more and more money, more perks, and less stress. Thus Victorian teachers want a 30 per cent pay increase over three years, and will eventually get it. But like that fly in the diner's soup - everyone will want one. So I see a rolling wages breakout, and as the CPI rises, demands to make up for the ground now lost. (Caused by them.)

So interest rates will start rising, and genuine home-buyers will be forced into the rental market, which is still ballooning. And I can't remember seeing so many finance companies offering low-cost, no-frills, never-ever loans since the Keating days when rates were 16 and 17 per cent. I wonder whether anyone checks up on the new financial magic mushrooms springing up in our midst?

They didn't in America, and they are now seeing the results. We just don't know the extent of the underlying crisis in our economy, nor its overseas connections.

Alan Kohler is, I think, one of our few impartial and knowledgeable commentators - and I think his body language has changed when talking about the basic state of our banks. What does he know?

- Max Teichmann

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