September 8th 2001

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Articles from this issue:

Cover Story: Lessons of the influx of 'boat people'

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Northern Territory election: why the CLP lost

SOUTH AUSTRALIA: SA Parliament debates third Euthanasia Bill

TRADE: Making sense of trade policy

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Bleak House, The gravy boat, The rights of children

WESTERN AUSTRALIA: WA drugs summit takes predictable path

Letters: Teaching infrastructure

Letters: In praise of Serong

COMMENT: Preferential option for the family

QUEENSLAND: Red tape swamps fishing industry - FABA

INTERVIEW: Networking key to success: anti-euthanasia activist

Books: 'The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon', by Anthony Summers

Books: It Ain't Necessarily So, David Murray, Joel Schwartz, S. Robert Lichter

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Bleak House, The gravy boat, The rights of children

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, September 8, 2001

Bleak House

Two of Victoria's Independents, Russell Savage and Craig Ingram, walked out of question time last week deciding to boycott this hour long session from now on. Independent MPs from other states are also boycotting their Question Times. "Because it's a waste of time," Savage said. "Both parties abuse it. It's theatre for them."

Ingram said, "The behaviour of both sides is disgraceful. I am condoning their behaviour by being there, and I don't condone it. So I'm not going to waste my time."

Ingram said the Speaker should throw out more rowdy MPs. Does that include Ministers? Incidentally, I didn't hear any complaints from the third Independent, Susan Davies, but then - I really didn't expect to.

Of course the Speaker, Alex Andrianopoulos, won't follow Ingram's suggestions. Victorian Labor's attitude towards democratic politics being a simple follow-on from the Kennett philosophy. The Speaker thought Question Time was no worse than when he entered Parliament 15 years ago.

I would disagree. Under Cain, Cabinet, Party and Parliament took on some of the gravitas and responsibility of Cain himself - and so long as his example prevailed, the antics of a Kennett were seen for what they were - grandstanding vaudeville. Only when the uglies of the Socialist Left and the Beautiful People backing Kirner triumphed over Labor's less infantile, less greedy elements did the deluge of scams, dirty tricks, cover-ups and media-orchestrated hit jobs push liberal democracy off the stage.

No good, only harm can result from this Deep South style of politics - and we can see the same processes in Federal Parliament, where mainly Labor MPs, including their leaders, compete daily for the vulgarity and inconsequentiality prizes. One knows that an election must be soon upon us - the new Australian type - to judge from the non-stop hysteria from the Opposition and the media blackout of most relevant political information. But if you attended to press reports of what is being served up in the House, you'd think an election was years away.

Yes, we know Labor has no policies, no important criticisms - although there are plenty and you may read some of them in this journal. Nor does Labor have a fresh, hopeful vision for the future such as Whitlam and Hawke persuaded many Australians they had. They were in fact sawdust Caesars and the ultimate vision and memory they left were giant signed photographs of themselves. Some old devotees still swear by the photos, even the video - but no one wants to remember the policies, or the process of remorseless decline which Whitlam and Hawke initiated.

Beazley was indeed fortunate to find himself leader by default - as Anthony Eden found himself Britain's Prime Minister after Churchill. The great man seemed determined no outstanding politician would succeed him, so R. A. Butler and Harold Macmillan had to wait for Eden to fail.

Beazley probably lacked the power to remove the Dead Souls who have clung on, depending upon PR handouts from lobbies in lieu of policies, and diversions created by an increasingly jaded media.

Young Turks such as Mark Latham and Lindsay Tanner were soon banished because the old bullocks saw them as a threat. They were intelligent, seeking innovation, and able to impress people outside their party. I happen to disagree with their stated views, but that is beside the point. Latham and Tanner have the same qualities as Reith and Abbott - a potential or demonstrated potency which alarmed the eunuchry. This has little to do with party politics.

So there has been no circulation of élites or even sub-élites, in Labor. Just a closed shop for damaged goods, and out-of-work actors. How much more do we have to suffer for narcissistic wounds - for the Great Rejection of 1996 - on the part of the previous government?

None of this applies to Victorian Labor - but, apart from John Brumby who is doing the thorough, professional job we all expected, the rest is mainly beads and mirrors which are rapidly tarnishing. But the State ALP does not suffer much from resentment - just outer suburban hubris. Like peasants who won a lottery, they still can't fathom their luck - but as they soak up the free hooch and scoff the spicy food of the New Rich whom they used to ritually criticise, they would do well not to scrutinise the colourful careers of their new buddies; for even a hardened ALP branch-stacker might be shocked.

The gravy boat

I have just been reading a review of a book by Eric Schlosser called Fast Food Nation in the London Review of Books (May 24, 2001). A bit late, I know. Yet another book one must buy and read. In the midst of an appalling account of the rise of the processed food multinationals is the answer to a question I've often asked myself: what do you do with masses of migrants - quite possibly illegal - who have no skills, speak no English and, coming from many different places, have as little in common with one another as they do with us?

Answer: "At Conagra's slaughterhouse at Greeley in Colorado where hundreds of thousands of cattle with anabolic steroid implants are fattened on grain in vast feed lots before being slaughtered, the workers are paid a third less in real terms than they were 40 years ago. Two-thirds can't speak English. They have to be on the job for six months before they get health insurance, a year before they are entitled to holiday pay." Many leave before they get the first, most before the second. And if you're illegal you don't get either, or argue about pay. Of course there are other jobs - drug dealing, car-stealing, etc.

Then there is the cheap labour that farmers everywhere would like - and are getting in the USA and parts of Europe; and of course the textile plants based on sweated labour. And, the servants!

Suddenly, the economic base of the whole trade in people started to add up - just another chapter in the story of economic rationalism and globalism!

I'll just say that McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken get most of their profits from outside America; McDonalds is the biggest private employer in Brazil, and in the mid-1990s, a KFC restaurant in Mecca took US$200,000 in a single week during Ramadan.

But given our great meat industries and the tariff barriers raised against us (barriers that President Bush is unable to lift given the farming lobbies in Congress) the Brazilian/US value-added "solutions" backed by McDonalds, McCain and Lamb Weston - to help out our "struggling countryside" - would legitimise, for some, a flood of unskilled non-English speaking migrants which these people appear to be organising for us here.

Understandably, the attacks on Phillip Ruddock are continuous and disgraceful. He is being mugged and regularly publicly insulted by journalists especially public media specimens. And now that M1 and the latest Green eruptions have self-destructed, masses of prefabricated demonstrations, vigils and petitions are the new escapists' fare - for that unoccupied, seemingly-permanently hysterical underbelly of our local world citizenry.

Such antics should be seen as a form of consumerism.

The fact is, the problems of mass illegal immigration and refugees are knotty ones and of fateful importance to our political and social future. We have seen them rising, but honest or thoroughgoing public discussion has been disallowed - for here resides the Culture of Intolerance, the half-brother of denial.

The ALP has no intention of tackling these dilemmas. Beazley's contribution (Herald Sun, August 25, 2001): the Government was "messing around" with the detention centre problem. "We're not getting this right," he said. "We need to get a thoroughgoing understanding of what is happening to us."

Profound stuff. Cue for song. No wonder some weekend journalist called him "the intellectual of the party". And I thought it was Dr Andrew Theophanous.

But Labor is keeping its intentions opaque until after the election.

The rights of children

Finally, the use of crews of under-16s to man people-smuggling boats so as to avoid jail sentences highlights the use and abuse of children and minors in this whole traffic, and raises even more fundamental questions as to how some Muslims regard and treat children.

Australian officers "have boarded at least three vessels in the past three months in failed attempts to persuade illegal immigrants to turn around. One boat's passengers threatened to mutiny if the crew turned back, while another's sabotaged the pumps putting the boat at risk of sinking.

"Mr Ruddock's spokesman said: 'There is nothing authorities could do but let people continue - that is apart from shooting at them and I don't think any Australian wants to see women and children shot at,' he said." (Herald Sun, August 25, 2001)

The use of children as human shields and as hostages both on and off the boats, and the exposure of them to such risks, has not drawn a peep from Ruddock's critics. But it hasn't stopped them talking about the Rights of Children.

This is not an isolated instance.

The use of child soldiers in the horrific 1980-88 war between Iraq and Iran was normal practice, but, strangely, excited less condemnation from the Left or from Human Rights supporters than does the use of such child soldiers in Africa. (Or the blockade of Iraq.)

In the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the automatic use by Palestinian parents and leaders of children and minors to taunt and stone the Israelis, thereby almost hoping - no, hoping - to draw their fire, is surely utterly reprehensible. It is virtually outside our experience and our moral perceptions of our duty to protect children - which includes preventing them from harming themselves - and the rights of children who are not yet true, free agents, able to make independent, dangerous choices.

I wish the Israelis could work out another way of defence against rocks and petrol bombs - rather than rubber and live bullets. But I'm not on the spot and I'm no expert. But would the Jews ever use their children as human shields, as gun fodder?

It is time our Rights people and the apologists for snakeheads and their clients put these matters to their friends - for remedy. As it is for full-blown supporters of the Intifada to ask the spokesmen: why do you do this to your children, and to your young people?

Some information I would like to have: is there a difference, a big difference in Muslim religious philosophy and social values, as how to grade the rights of children, as against the Judeo-Christian position?

But is it a story similar to that of Jews and Christians? Different groups, different times, practising (even believing) different things? And there is the practice of some Jewish settlers apparently willing to expose their children to the likelihood of attack by parking in the middle of an obviously resentful Arab population. If children get killed, it is the Arabs' fault in toto - the parents are blameless - and the Israeli Government at fault for not protecting them, not taking salutary revenge. Which is where we are now.

This readiness to accept collateral damage on behalf of victims who have no real say, must be challenged wherever it occurs - perhaps especially when linked to piracy on the high seas.

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