A new tradition?

Crude I know, but it was spur of the moment.

IN LIGHT OF recent announcements by various members of the LNP Cabinet, and given Prime Minister Scott (How Good’s Volunteering) Morrison’s attitude to the catastrophic events unfolding throughout the country, perhaps we could look at reworking some old traditions that have faded into obscurity and at the same time celebrate the Pentecostal PM’s famous pledge.

The once anticipated Cracker Night, Empire Night, Guy Fawkes Night – the name varied State by State – and associated mayhem have been replaced by organised, multi-million dollar spectacles aimed more at swelling corporate coffers and earning votes for politicians than celebrating tradition. Halloween has replaced them to a certain extent, but it’s not the same. I doubt kids today get as much as satisfaction out of playing dress-ups and begging as we did in using a gumnut bomb to demolish the letterbox of a detested local dignity.

In my home State, Western Australia, preparations began weeks before “Guy Fawkes Night” on November 5th. Kids scrounged cardboard, wood and anything else combustible, stacking the spoils anywhere they thought they could get away with a bonfire. Old clothes were snaffled and stuffed with rags and grass – with a last-minute addition of Penny Bungers if you were more solvent – and turned into a “Guy”, an effigy of the plotter of whom it was once said that he was the only man ever to enter Parliament with the right intention.

For a couple of weeks or so before the big night, groups of kids dragged their Guy around the streets chanting “Penny for the Guy; Penny for the Guy, Mister,” paying particular attention to barber shops, pubs and shop fronts behind which they knew the SP bookies lurked. Those pennies purchased supplementary cracker supplies.

So, here’s my plan. To mitigate the dangers associated with pyrotechnics and summers that thanks to the climate crisis are beginning ever earlier, we could recognise the Winter Solstice as Scott Morrison Day or, if you’d prefer, Pentecostal Eve, combining the temporal and the holier-than-thou.

On this day, in towns all over Australia, effigies of our hopefully former PM could be set aflame to chants of “Throw another Big Aussie Barbie on the Fire”.

After all, he did say he would burn for Australia.

IT’S OVER AT LAST

Scott Morrison announces the return of better times

The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison will today announce that the record drought is officially over.

Speaking from the basement at Kirribilli House, his official Sydney residence, Morrison said, “I have always believed in miracles, and today another one has manifested itself before me.”

The PM will make his welcome announcement later today in company with Ministers Angus Taylor and Matt Canavan, backbencher George Christensen and One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts. It is believed Deputy PM, Michael McCormack will later make an announcement from a safe house somewhere near Nyngan.

“I was praying last night that the world would herald our success at cutting greenhouse gas emissions by including reductions made under the Kyoto agreement, when the Lord spoke to me,” Morrison said.

“So today I will announce that I have instructed all relevant bodies to add surplus rainfall and flood heights from our wet years to the figures for 2018–19.”

“Thanks to my government’s initiative, the rivers will flow again and grateful farmers will be in full recovery mode.”

Asked about the toxic smoke pall covering Sydney, the PM said that his government was still struggling with Labor’s mishandling of the economy and that he did not respond to gossip.

“How good is creative accounting?” he said.

A Moral Verse for Quiet Australians

Hubble bubble, toil and trouble,
Turmoil in the Canberra bubble;
Angus Taylor, an MP,
Of note in Government Ministry,
Had pulled another little rort,
It seemed (at last) he had been caught.

But no, his tubby little frame,
Ablaze with Pentecostal flame,
The PM stood in Parliament,
His anger on the House to vent;
“This persecution has to stop,
“I’ve phoned my mate, New South’s top cop.

“And young Mick told me it’s a joke,
“That Angus is a bonzer bloke.
“And so, you Opposition jerks,
“Who claim he’s pulled a dozen perks,
“Ease up on Angus, that good man,
“Who likes his finger in the jam.”

How grand it is for us to be,
Living in democracy;
Where our national leader bold,
Has put our Parliament on hold;
And Coppers in another State,
Decide a Federal pollie’s fate.

PM or Pentecostal? Morrison can’t be both.

Holy Rollers and Jumpers come out,
And they roll and they jump and they shout;
‘Give your money to Jesus,’ they say,
‘You will eat on that glorious day’.

Chorus:
You will eat, by and by,
In that glorious land in the sky;
Hope and pray, live on hay,
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.
—A verse and chorus from “Pie in the sky when you die”.
From the IWW song book, c. 1930s

At first glance it would seem that almost overnight we have found ourselves in the same political predicament as that in which the US became well and truly ensnared as the influence of the salvation-for-money preachers grew and grew. However, the net was cast long before that.

When in the 1890s Australia’s Constitution was being drafted, the churches began a campaign of petitions calling for prayers to be made part of the daily ritual of parliament, though they were not always used in the various colonial parliaments.

The adherence to the custom waxed and waned until the election of the Coalition government under John Howard in 1996, from which time the influence of extremist Christian doctrine seems to have increased. Visits to Hillsong – the largest, wealthiest and noisiest Pentecostal church in Australasia – by both Liberal treasurer Peter Costello and Labor leader Kevin Rudd during the 2007 election campaign suggest that both major parties were already feeling the need to pander to the Pentecostal movement. The rise to prime ministership of Scott Morrison, a practicing Pentecostal who has publicly professed his faith on more than one occasion including in the People’s Parliament, reinforces this view.

Now everyone is entitled to their faith and the practice thereof, no matter how bizarre it may appear to non-believers, there’s no arguing that. But when that faith impinges on human rights and the law of the land, then serious questions must be asked.  And Australian law often sides with human rights over religious or quasi-religious practice.

In 2018, a Victorian court ruled that the mother of a teenage girl could not refuse permission to allow blood transfusions for her pregnant daughter on the grounds that the procedure was forbidden by their religious cult, the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Many years before, a West Australian court had ruled in favour of a child whose Witness parents had forbidden it to receive the procedure that would save its life. And very few people of any faith would defend the right to mutilate young girls’ genitals on religious grounds; indeed, there are those who question the legitimacy of circumcision of male children as a religious practice.

However, we may soon find ourselves having to defend our long-cherished humanist approach. Recent court rulings in the USA have demonstrated the influence the noisy, cash-heavy minority of Fundamentalist and other related Christian sects – or cults, the distinction is blurred – can bring to bear on State legislatures in that country. Their Australian equivalent, their roots and philosophies largely in the US and with a fellow-traveller in the Prime Minister’s office, will soon find their voices.

Already, in what appears to be a rush to salvation for the sake of a seat in Parliament and good standing among the Christian extremists in the People’s House, the Deputy Prime Minister has assured farmers he prays for rain every day and exhorted us all to pray more often. Not to be outdone and with no apparent sense of the ironic, his predecessor has suddenly leaped to the defence of the righteous.

Referring to Israel Folau’s recent sacking by the NRL, Barnaby Joyce was quoted in The Age of May 29th as saying: “Your own views on who god is, where god is or whether there’s a god should remain your own personal views and not part of any contractual obligation.”

That is largely true, but the key word here is “personal”. Surely an employer has the right to insist an employee – or contractor – refrain from language or behaviour that might bring the organisation or business into disrepute? A reasonable adult might argue that you’d have to believe in hell – or a vengeful god for that matter – for Folau’s words to have any effect. But that argument doesn’t wash if you’re a vulnerable youngster.

On the surface, this might appear all froth and bubble, but it is far more sinister. We now have at our head a Prime Minister who, by his own affirmation, is a practicing Pentecostal, a believer in miracles, one whose tenets of faith include the belief that prosperity is a gift of the Pentecostal god and those who fail to prosper do so because that god has shunned them, and so are by definition ungodly.

As a Pentecostal, our new Prime Minister believes that he was chosen as such because it was divine will that he lead the nation. He also believes that drought and climate change are the result of his deity’s displeasure and therefore must be endured.

For a committed Pentecostal, the results of human inaction on the climate crisis are of no consequence; it is all part of the god’s plan and The true believer waits for the day when all will be swept away in preparation for the second coming and none but they will be saved. Protestant, Catholic, Muslim – no matter; all but Pentecostals will perish. And while they await “The Rapture”, the PM and other true believers in the Party and community will be showered with wealth and happiness, oblivious to the torments endured by the ungodly.

At the risk of being thought a cynic, perhaps Morrison may not really believe all this, perhaps he is just using the pretence of “faith” to further his worldly ambitions; after all, Christianity has long been honoured more in the breach than in the observance. And that, in some quarters, might be seen as even worse – religious fervour replaced by opportunistic hypocrisy on a grand scale.

Conversely, perhaps he dreams of a day when the Pentecostals rule the world, revelling in the prosperity of righteousness while the ungodly Opposition (and many in his own Party), the unsaved aged and infirm, the sinning disadvantaged and despairing writhe in the torments of the damned.

Of course, I may be misjudging the man. He may genuinely be “burning” to see us all saved – whether we want it or not – though I seriously doubt it, and even that breaches the convention governing separation of Church and State.

Whichever it may be, Morrison needs to let the country know. He is supposed to be governing for the majority, not some blessed elite.

A reply to The Other Side

I write a column for the Molong Expresshttp://www.molongexpress.com.au, the newspaper serving Molong and the other villages in the Cabonne Shire of New South Wales. On May 2nd, 2019, we printed an article titled Politicians again show “Real Genius“, and given the subtitle “The view from The Other Side” by me. Sent as an email by a reader, it was harshly critical of governments past and present, and of institutions responsible for the research that often influences government policy.

Prompted by questions from another reader, I carried out some research on sources used in the submitted piece and found that at least some of the statements made were to be found in an online blog by a Joanne Nova, the ‘author of the “Skeptics Handbook”, blogger and “libertarian”,’ and a supporter of the IPA, an ultra-conservative right-wing think tank, with aims as dubious as its published philosophies. Though Ms Nova would appear to agree that there is some degree of global warming, she believes that it is not nearly as serious as the overwhelming majority of scientists argue and that the rise will only be in the vicinity of 0.5°C. In her blogs, she often puts forward the view that the push to renewable energy is nothing but a money grab on the part of governments and some corporations.

Lack of an apostrophe and US spelling aside, “The Skeptics Handbook” raised alarm bells. How can anyone of scientific background (Ms Nova has degrees in, among other things, microbiology) dispute the findings of the overwhelming majority of the world’s climate scientists? Some of her comments also suggest that she believes in conspiracy theories, though whether or not she follows those who accuse NASA, China, the UN and a cartel of Jewish bankers of spreading fear of climate change to aid them in their quest or world domination is not known.

To anyone who cares to think about such things, to deny the scientific evidence on climate change is akin to denying that vaccination has saved millions of lives and untold suffering or believing that the world is under the covert control of a race of lizards from outer space who appear to humans as Jews. Before you spit out your cornflakes over that last statement, one candidate in the forthcoming election believes that it is so.

So, if you’ll bear with me, I’d like to go back to that article and look at some of the points it raises. The first was in connection to the reference to the then Whitlam Labor government’s plan to build a vast network of pipelines to carry gas from the North-West Shelf to every major city in Australia. Obviously it was something Ms Nova doesn’t agree with, something she has in common with the Liberal Party then led by Malcolm Fraser and the English government of the day, though the latter’s objections may have been based more on the fact that Whitlam’s government had said it was going to use loans arranged by “a mysterious Pakistani” (Nova’s words) rather than from a British institution.

Having blasted Whitlam and his government for daring to have a grand plan for Australia, Nova goes on to harshly criticise successive governments for not having one. Of course, all the reasons for Whitlam’s dismissal by the Crown will never be known until the relevant documents are released by Buckingham Palace, but Nova’s view does seem contradictory.

Ms Nova then goes on to criticise renewable energy and the transmission network, delivering “piddling amounts” of power and funded by raising foreign debt, while coal- and nuclear-powered generation plants go unbuilt. Apart from the environmental damage wrought by coal-powered plants and the risks to future generations posed by both, the time involved in building both types of power plant is an important factor. Years, if not decades are involved, by which time the social fabric and economy could be dissolving into chaos unless governments all over the world stop sitting on their hands while Earth undergoes changes on a scale unprecedented in human history.

She also bemoans the fact that no hydro-electric schemes have been built in recent years, and argues for more and bigger dams to trap water that otherwise would go to “irrigate distant oceans”. This is always popular with the proponents of the Bradfield scheme* and the dam-everything school, but it ignores the fact that water flowing into the oceans is not wasted; it is vital for maintaining the health of estuarine and coastal ecosystems. Fisheries depend on these systems to replenish stocks and to maintain inshore populations of species. Equally important, this run off is vital to the survival of mangroves, the first line of defence against storm-surges. Mangroves will become even more important as sea levels rise.

Also ignored is greed-induced blindness, something seemingly hard-wired into politicians and their corporate backers. No matter how many dams are built, or how much water and land are “available”, it will never be enough. Over-allocation of water and the associated cronyism and corruption will lead us exactly to where we now find ourselves, but on a larger scale.

Environmental advocates and Indigenous peoples cop a bit of criticism in the first paragraphs, but more of that later. Ms Nova also blames “Canberra and the states” for the protests against gas exploration – presumably referring to the Lock the Gate movement among others – ignoring the fact that these are people-based protests, often made as a direct result of governments’ pro-mining-at-all-costs policies.

She goes on to criticise the CSIRO for contributing to climate change hysteria and science generally for promoting gender-equality issues and green activism. Not only is this utter rot, it conveniently ignores the fact that under Tony Abbott’s ultra-conservative, anti-science government, the CSIRO was gutted of both funding and staff (as was the Antarctic Division), severely curtailing many of its research programs, climate study among them, and flying in the face of global trends. Abbott then allocated funding to cancer research (presumably “believable science”), a noble initiative but I suspect more in the hope that his name would forever be associated with a “silver bullet cure-all” while at the same time allowing him to deliver a kick in the guts to those involved in what he believes is the “crap science” of climate studies.

Now to Ms Nova’s concluding paragraph: “As Australia’s first people discovered, if today’s Australians lack the will or the knowledge to use our great natural resources, more energetic people will take them off us.”

It’s hard to ignore the racism inherent in this statement, racism also apparent in her reference to uranium deposits “sterilised by the Giant Rainbow Serpent”. Okay, perhaps she’s not racist and just believes Australia’s Indigenous peoples are lazy beings who practice a primitive religion that deifies mythical creatures. What about the recent outpouring of grief in the “energetic” and sophisticated Western world over the loss of a building representing a religious sect whose adherents practice ritual cannibalism, believe virgins can give birth and that people can rise from the dead.

And who are these “more energetic people” poised to seize our coal and uranium? Let me guess…the Chinese? The Indonesians? Well they’d better get a move on; giant global corporations with no loyalty to any particular country are already in there getting our resources out of the ground as fast as governments will allow. There seems a philosophy present in the corporate world that urges its adherents to make as much money as they possibly can before it all hits the fan. Are the few “energetic” people hoping their money will save them and the rest of us will have to cope as best we can?

Perhaps Ms Nova could revisit that last paragraph and alter it to read something like “As Australia’s first people discovered, the land in which we live is capricious and finely balanced. If today’s Australians lack the will or the knowledge to properly care for it, nature will take it from us.”

*The “Bradfield Scheme” was put forward in 1938 as a means of irrigating and “drought-proofing” arid regions of the Queensland and South Australian interiors. Involving damning and “turning back” of northern rivers, calculations were faulty and projections based on European models were unrealistic. Politicians are fond of extolling its virtues, especially when elections are held during periods of drought, as is now the case.

Miscellaneous Doggerelish

(These were hastily written at the 2016-17 Gulgong Folk Festival following the performance of a jingoistic ‘patriotic Australian’ song by a couple of Irish immigrants in the Commercial Hotel. The performance concluded with the modified Nazi salute beloved of the flag-wearing ratbags who now infest every ‘patriotic’ occasion from Anzac Day to Australia Day; from Christmas to the cricket. Worse still, it was greeted with roars of approval from the miners (it’s ‘their pub’ these days) who, from what I saw, are anti-everything old Gulgong. I can remember standing with my old friend, ex shearer, union delegate – and later, farmer – the late Lennie Norris, handing out how-to-votes during an election. He turned to me and sadly said: “I never thought I’d live to see coalminers votin’ for the National Party.” Incidentally, the Commercial has a footpath sign that reads. “Workies Hour Thursday, 5.00 to 6.00 pm (it may be 5.30 to 6.30 but the rest is accurate). Presumably the rest of Gulgong’s residents are not workies. Does this mean that older residents on pensions are not welcome either?

The new immigrants

 To think in our Australia
(The thought has my head a-swimmin’)
There’s blokes thinks it’s patriotic
To spit on Muslim women.

 

‘What about the workers?’ indeed, sir.

The pub of which I’ve spoke before,
It boasts a “Workies Hour”;
Each Thursday between 5 and 6,
It turned my stomach sour.

Is that where they go on Thursdays,
To spend their pay like nobs;
And gripe about the Muslims,
Who’ve taken all their jobs?

Where’s your flamin’ mateship gone,
The battlers of this world;
The Saleems and the Flanagans,
With the workers’ flag unfurled?

But you know what gets me boilin’
What really gets my goat?
You let that snide prick Murdoch,
Tell you how to vote.

Drongos, dogs and Depp

Depp

Johnny Depp has been generating a lot of free publicity back home in the US. Free for him that is – Australia is paying for it.

You might remember that in April of this year Mr Depp and his wife, Amber Heard – or is it “then wife”, I don’t really follow what passes for the lives of film and TV stars – brought their two pampered mongs, Pistol and Boo, on a little jaunt to Australia where their daddy was filming yet another blockbuster aimed at children and adults under 15. Problem was, Mr and Ms Depp didn’t bother getting the paperwork done that would allow their trend-setting ornaments to enter our country.

They might have pulled it off if their pups weren’t so desperately in need of a grooming after their gruelling flight from the USA in a private jet that they had to be innocently smuggled in a handbag to a dog beautician. And would you believe it? Some lousy Australian provincial dobbed them in.

Enter The Honourable Barnaby Joyce, MP, Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources. Barnaby is also leader of The Nationals, a right-wing minor party with a rural power base, though now increasingly dancing to the fiddles of mining and agribusiness interests and alienating many of the younger generation of farmers, the constituency it purports to serve.

Joyce

The Hon. B Joyce is not stupid – despite what Mr Depp thinks – though he could be described, and not too unfairly, as about half way between oaf and buffoon on a sliding scale of such things. But he is informed, politically savvy, knows his constituents and most importantly is the Minister for Agriculture charged not only with looking after the interests of what is arguably our most important industry, but also with keeping Australia safe from many of the ills that beset agriculture in the rest of the world. Among diseases of mammals, rabies, foot and mouth disease and rinderpest are absent, while anthrax, next to foot and mouth perhaps the most feared of all, is confined to one small area and there has not been an outbreak in years. That is why we are very zealous about our quarantine laws and swift to act when they are breached.

Barnaby does suffer from frequent outbreaks of foot-in-mouth disease, being prone to opening his mouth before his brain is in gear, but in this case he meant well and acted properly, even if his tone was a little florid. He does have the power to order the destruction of animals or plants that might be harbouring exotic diseases, but in the case of the dogs Depp there would, I am sure, have been regard for the fact that as far as was known, they hadn’t been in contact with other animals, Mr Depp aside. A proper court hearing would have been held, a hefty fine imposed, a warning issued, an order to take the dogs from the country immediately, and that would have been that. Neither did the attitude of the Celebrity Depp help.

And here at last I come to the root cause of my outrage. None of this happened. Why? Because Mr Depp is a celebrity and therefore above the rules that govern the poor bastards who made him rich and famous among what appear to be hordes of barely pubescent, Hollywood gossip-website addicted children.

I am not famous and neither am I a celebrity. That is why, when I returned to Australia after five years in the US, the three cats I brought back with me – at a cost of about $18,000 – could not even be picked up from the house without paperwork allowing them to leave the USA, let alone enter Australia. When they got here, they spent three months in quarantine before I could take them to their new home. If the paperwork had not been done, they would never have left the States. If by some chance they had got to Australia without those papers, I would have faced a fine in the tens of thousands and the cats destroyed.

So how did Amber Heard – not Depp, he wasn’t charged with anything – get away with a “three-month good behavior bond”? And, like all true celebrities, when their crime was uncovered (yes, it was a crime, punishable at law) the Disdainful Duo immediately blamed an underling who they “thought had done all that stuff”.

To add arrogance to insult, the Depp/Heard combo made a clip for TV in which they “apologised” and said what a “wonderful place” Australia was. The film was dripping with sarcasm badly disguised as satire, which I doubt they understand anyway.

Ever since, poor put upon Depp has been doing the rounds of the TV channels back home, raising heaps of laughs for his cleverness and wit and his opinion of mere Deputy Prime Ministers of countries who would seek to criticise people of his elevated status.

One replay I saw last night took the cake. The host, proving that his ignorance of the wider world was equally as profound as Depp’s, raised heaps of laughs by noting that Australia’s laws are as stupid as America’s. Depp flashed his wit and scientific acumen by noting that Joyce looked like he was inbred with a tomato and he thought he would explode. Great stuff. Inbred? The result of a cross you mean? Ah, what’s the bloody use.

I hold no brief for The Hon. Barnaby Joyce, MP – in fact I hate his guts in the way that you hate a politician’s guts not really meaning him any harm, but I’d like to put y’all straight here. I don’t know if Depp occupies the same spot on the oaf/buffoon scale as Barnaby Joyce, I’ve never spoken to him, but he is a celebrity – and that’s something that if I had a daughter I wouldn’t want her to marry. He is a mug lair, with a head like a boarding-house cup of tea, i.e. big and weak.

He has insulted me. Despite my dislike of the system and the often mindless authority that greases its cogs, I’m clever enough to know there is need for some of it and so strive to do the right thing.

He has insulted one of my grandfathers – a member of Australia’s Light Horse (mounted infantry) during WWI – and his thousands of comrades-in-arms who at the end of the war had to shoot the horses that had served them so well and faithfully during those terrible years, because they couldn’t take them home and wouldn’t leave them to be starved and beaten in hawkers’ carts.

He has insulted the USA and its people by acting as though he is above Australian law, though I’d like to remind my fellow Australians that he’s probably equally as obnoxious back home.

And he has insulted my country by thinking that it is his part of his own personal fiefdom, to act in as he pleases.

But what makes me really angry is the fact that both major political parties in this country support legislation that treats refugees like criminals, condemning children, women and men to life in what are to all intents and purposes concentration camps in foreign countries. Even if they are proven to have legitimate refugee status, they will not be allowed to settle in Australia, but will be given the “opportunity” to settle in countries such as Cambodia and Papua New Guinea. Failing that, they will be returned to the hell from which they fled – a hell in large part created by military actions in the Middle East in which Australian troops were ordered by their government to participate. We deny these people, but allow the Johnny Depps of this world open access. Hope y’all gits bit by a rabid ’coon, John-boy.

A quick guide to Australia’s main political parties and the environment within which they operate

The Nationals is in reality a minor party – it gets many fewer votes than the Australian Greens – but Australia’s preferential voting system keeps it in government in coalition with the Liberal Party, whose name is increasingly an oxymoron, thanks to the influence of the flat-earthers who worship the unlamented ex-Prime Minister, Tony “Mad Monk” Abbott, a copped-one-punch-too-many amateur boxer, failed seminarian, serial groper, misogynist, xenophobe, racist, England-born all-round wanker who favours Lycra and budgie smugglers as informal wear, and reintroduced knighthoods. He only handed out three – one to the Jook-Embruh would you bloodywell believe – before the outraged howls of the vast majority seemed to herald a tar and feathering, causing him to desist. I say ex, because Tony was so hated by Australians of all stripes that the multi-millionaire, Malcolm Turnbull did a Brutus on him in September of 2015 and took over as PM.

Malcolm Turnbull was seen by many – well most – as a breath of fresh air. The Libs were elected after a few years of inner turmoil saw the governing Labor Party voted out of office. As an aside, it was a constant bombardment of vicious attacks on Australia’s first female Prime Minister orchestrated by the Mad Monk and his allies that was responsible for much of that turmoil. Parliamentary protocols were thrown aside, vile accusations and statements were made about the PM which, if she had been a private citizen, would have seen the slobs who made them in court charged with sexual harassment, libel, slander and probably a few other things beside.

So intense was the Monk’s hatred of Julia Gillard that on attaining the office of PM, he scrapped the National Broadband roll-out she had implemented and began a new one. Dubbed “fraud band”, it’s allegedly cheaper (it’s not), and better (it’s not, it’s third rate) and has seen Australia slip from among the best in the world for internet access and efficiency, to below the position the USA held when I was living there. It will not serve us in the future and will be astronomically expensive to rectify. But that doesn’t matter. Abbott got rid of a woman who had the temerity to become PM and to tear strips off him in the best anti-misogyny speech I’ve ever heard.

The Greens? If people could only stop and think, they might come to realise that the Greens are the only voice of reason left in the bleak waste that is Australia’s political landscape. Labor is as deeply in thrall to the giant corporations – miners included – as the Coalition, with the added burden of having to satisfy the trade unions, some sectors of which are as corrupt as any of their political opponents.

Murdoch’s newspapers are shrill, untruthful and downright biased in their support of the Liberal/National Coalition and denunciation of Labor and the Greens, but hate the Greens so much that they actually expressed sympathy for a Labor candidate whom they had previously portrayed in a front page cartoon as a Nazi and against who the Greens are standing. That should tell you something.

Malcolm has turned out to be a dud; “Tony Abbott in a top hat” to quote one politician. He has turned his back on the progressive policies he once espoused and has continued with Abbott’s lunacy for fear that the farther right will rise again and strip him of his position.

Australian politics is Stalinesque in its brutality and, as we the great unwashed have always known but are just being reminded of by the few journalists who have at last decided to kick over the traces, as corrupt as any in the Western World. It has been so since the days of Captain Bligh and the Rum Rebellion when those who owned the rum trade – the New South Wales Corps, the troops charged with policing and protecting – owned the colony and with impunity bought and sold officials at all levels and in all branches from the Governor on down. The owners have changed, but the methods have not.

There is one faint glow on the horizon – there is a sudden and growing rise in the number of those who believe that political donations by vested interests is corruption by another name. Bring it on.

For the non-Australian:
drongo is a backward person, one who never learns or tries.
mong cf mongrel
mug lair a braggart, a show off, an obnoxious person with an over-inflated ego.
copped means to receive and also to accept (as in cop it sweet). Tony Abbott seems to be afflicted by symptoms of boxing-induced brain damage. He has poor coordination, walks with a gait often seen in ex-boxers, and repeats phrases in a way that suggests he has trouble in forming cohesive sentences.
wanker is someone addicted to masturbation. It probably stems from the Victorian belief that “self-pollution” damaged the brain.
budgie smugglers are skimpy swimming trunks, the Speedos worn by lifeguards and some shiny-arsed surfers. Budgies is the Australian name for budgerigar (US parakeet), our smallest native parrot. Wildlife smuggling is a big problem in Australia, our native birds and reptiles are in demand overseas and criminals use all sorts of ruses to smuggle them and their eggs out of the country. Do you get it now?
Jook-Embruh Queen Elizabeth’s husband. The Mad Monk truly justified his nickname when he knighted him.

Depp image: Bidgee. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Bidgee.
Joyce image: Angela George. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnny_Depp#/media/File:JohnnyDeppApr2011.jpg

Australia’s shame: the new blackbirders

coomealla 1
Smoko on the last day of the season. With blockies Hadyn Judd and “Uncle Tom”.
Casualties of the new order, the couple at left were only with us for a few days.

I’ve worked at lots of different jobs in my life including, but not confined to as the briefs say, working in abattoirs, a cheese factory (where all the work was still done by hand), a timber mill, a mine, a fish and chip shop; as a demolition labourer, a seagull (casual wharf labourer), sideshow spruiker, cook, farmhand, and of course at my trade as a compositor (typesetter) and later copy editor and writer.

Why? Because I wanted to. I wanted to see what it was like to work on the mutton chain, in the hold of a ship; to yell: “Roll up, roll up, layze and genlmn, boyzzz n girlzzz; two ducks down wins a prize” at the front of a canvas shooting gallery*. I had a deep need to work among people whose lives colour the pages of novels and plays, folk tales and legends, the same sort of people I grew up among. Back in the 1980s, I spent two-and-a-bit years as a fruitpicker and general orchard hand in the irrigation country near the confluence of the Murray and Darling rivers, out on the edges of the beautiful red country whose flood and famine years have shaped so much of Australia’s folk history, and that brings me to the point of this story – widdershins as is my custom.†

Over recent months, there have been disturbing murmurings on ABCTV about the conditions faced by foreign workers, recruited in their homelands and brought to Australia under special visa arrangements to work as pickers in our orchards and vegetable paddocks. Some of them I suspect – young 20-somethings from Taiwan, Japan and Korea – sign up in the mistaken belief that they will be able to have a “working holiday”, while others, particularly those from the South Pacific island nations, see it as a way of earning money that they can send home to their impoverished families.

The conditions under which most of them live and work are, to put it mildly, pretty grim, but grim can be bearable if you’re getting paid for it. On Thursday 26th February, 2016, the ABC’s 7.30 report dug into this national embarrassment yet again and it is now patently obvious that governments and the agencies that regulate such things are condoning conditions that break this country’s labour regulations: workers charged $120 a week each to share a ramshackle caravan with six others, deductions purposely designed to keep them broke, and sexual exploitation of the women seem to be just some of the wrongs. Some of the Asian kids are flown out to the workplaces, living here for months not knowing where they are other than that they are in Australia. Welcome to the country that prides itself on its doctrine of the fair go, kids.

Back in the years around the turn of the 19th century, the canefields of Queensland and northern New South Wales were worked by men and women brought from the islands of the South Pacific as ‘indentured labour’, by a shameful trade known as “blackbirding”. The islanders, many of whose descendants still live in the country that encouraged their enslavement, were known as “Kanakas”, from the word for ‘man’ in one of the many island dialects. Often recruited at the point of a gun, they put their marks to meaningless contracts that doomed them to a life in exile. Great fortunes were made and companies grew fat on this human trafficking. Burns Philp and Co Ltd was so prominent in the business that it was still known as “the Kanaka company” when I was a youngster. And now, in the 21st century, the blackbirders are back with us, disguised as labour hire contractors.

What is equally shameful is that the governments condoning the illegal conditions under which they work are quick to parrot the labour contractors’ catchcry that they “can’t find locals willing to do the work”. In this lies a great irony, for these same governments, local state and federal, are more than a little to blame for the paucity of home-grown pickers and farm labour.

My first year working in the grapes coincided with a push to ‘bring progress’ to the region. It was decided that the old pickers’ huts were unsightly and a health hazard and so most of them were demolished and with them went the cheap accommodation. Caravan parks in the fruit areas immediately raised their prices every picking season, and the Fruit Fly Special – cheaper fares in extra coaches added to a weekly night train between Melbourne and Mildura – was discontinued. Itinerant workers were immediately placed at a disadvantage, as were the unemployed who found it difficult, if not impossible, to raise the necessary cash for the fare, let alone pay in advance inflated rentals in caravan parks. The cafes and pubs followed suit, many watering holes raised their beer prices for the duration of the season – some by as much as 10c a middy.

Kids who had lived all their lives in the city were told by the employment agencies to take a tent, sleeping bag and cooking gear. Arriving in the blocks the choice was to live in a tent pitched in a caravan park at exorbitant fees or in the grape blocks, where daytime temperatures on the ground can reach 50°C – add to this the fact that it takes at least a week for a green picker to harden up, let alone become proficient enough to earn anywhere decent money. Many of them lasted less than a week and had to struggle home as broke as when they arrived.

To add insult to penury, the Australian Taxation Office decided to change the tax regulations as they applied to seasonal workers. Taxes were to be deducted in advance and based on earnings of the averages earned by pickers in a good season. This made it almost impossible for an inexperienced picker to get ahead in a hurry.

When I worked in the dried fruit blocks (back in the 80s), sultanas were paid for at the rate of $19 per hundred dip tins (a ‘dip’ held about 7 kg sultanas, 3–5 bunches in a good year). To earn anything like reasonable money, and to be of full use at harvest time, a pair of pickers (you work one each side of a row and so both have to pull their weight) needed to fill at least 300 dips a day. This doesn’t sound much, but the day is spent in searing temperatures, half-crouched or on your knees and tormented by gentle Annie, Bathurst burr, cat-head and other ferocious weeds. As you gain experience and harden to the conditions – and acquire the mental capacity to stick it – 1000-a-day tallies and higher can be achieved, but it’s exhausting work.

But such tallies are only possible in a good season. Late frosts, rain at harvest time and a host of other causes can reduce the yield to the point where it is almost impossible to make wages. For this reason, tax deductions based on good seasons were almost the last straw. Families who for generations had followed the fruit and vegetable seasons from Queensland to South Australia and back again dropped out of the industry altogether, and the annual influx of hopeful city dwellers dwindled to a trickle.

coomealla-2
The old pickers’ hut at Coomealla

I count myself lucky to have been involved in the industry, albeit in the death throes of its glory days. There were still plenty of professional pickers working the grapes and oranges and, like them, I could make good money in the off-season pruning, or being paid a rate of $20 per hundred vines for “pulling out” – stripping the dead, pruned canes from the wire trellis in midwinter. Orange picking at $34 per half-tonne bin also helped the kitty. I was doubly lucky that I lived in one of the last pickers’ huts in the region. A two-roomed fibro shack ventilated by corrugated iron shutters propped up with sticks, an outside bucket toilet and a hessian-screened shower, amply supplied with hot water thanks to a little donkey boiler that heated a 44-gallon drum of water. The rent was a nominal $15 a week but we never paid any, our friendly and fair employers – Seventh Day Adventists – always came up with some excuse why we needn’t: an extra hour or two worked, or helping on the drying racks when one of the family was absent.

It wasn’t long before the home-grown pickers all but vanished from the scene, leaving the field wide open for snide operators who, encouraged by governments only too happy to turn a blind eye when their are votes to be had, and oblivious to the human cost of their business, ushered in a 21st century version of blackbirding. The factory farm mentality has also played a part; animals are merely entries on a balance sheet and human labour is a bothersome expense. All the while supermarkets attempt to widen their profit margins at the expense of the small farmer and the circle becomes ever more vicious and ever tighter.

Will anything ever be done about it? Not really. Oh there’ll be little flurries, Coles and Woolies will make comforting noises about ethical marketing, and politicians will fuss and fume while making sure they do nothing to stop the exploitation.

C’mon Australia – can we really accept this?

*The sights on shooting gallery ‘rifles’ aren’t bent by the way, there are other ways to foil those who look like winning too much “stock”, as the prizes handed out to the successful were known.

†The habit of approaching a tale this way often annoys me as much as it probably does those who read it. Maybe it’s a genetic quirk inherited from my ancestors, whose rich oral traditions demanded that a tale be woven thread by thread, until the listeners were enmeshed in the warp and weft of events and by so enjoying it, committed it to memory so that they, too, could pass it on to future generations. Or maybe I just talk too much, a result of living a lot of the time inside my head with my own thoughts. And there I go again.

The LNP coalition and Labor must go

Both the Liberal/National coalition and the Australian Labor Party have proved themselves unfit to govern Australia and steps should be taken to remove them both from their positions of power. How this might be achieved I don’t profess to know – perhaps by direct appeal to the Crown – and so leave that for others to ponder, but it is my firm belief that while between them they control the destiny of Australia, our future as a country is at stake.

Why? Well to put it bluntly they are incompetent and deliberately obtuse, or both, and a threat to the future of Australia as a continent and a nation. As I have written previously, none of our politicians or their advisers has any real knowledge of Australian history and are seemingly oblivious to events that have occurred in their own lifetimes. What they do know seems to have been gained not by rubbing shoulders with ordinary people, but plucked from corporate press releases and other politicians’ campaign speeches. These reasons alone should condemn them as unfit to govern.

So without professing to have statistics at my fingertips, and nothing much more to guide me other than folk knowledge and strong gut feelings, I’d like to set out my reasons for calling for their removal from the peoples’ [plural intended] Parliament.

Climate Change

Climate change should be the overarching concern of all sides of politics, yet in all the pontification by both groups over the implications of this or that budget measure or economic strategy, not a single phrase has been uttered that might suggest any allowance has been made for the effects it will have on Australia – let alone the planet and hence our trading partners.

Climate change will have a profound impact on every aspect of society, from social cohesion to health to the economy and everything in between, but listen to our politicians and it’s as if the effects will be perhaps a little bit inconvenient and a touch nasty, but will allow us to continue on our merry way. All we need do is use plenty of sunscreen and not drive on flooded roads or use too much water, and it will be business as usual. The only thing that the political protagonists have done is quarrel over when and how emissions should be cut, and by how much. They have created for the country a new Dark Age in which all they need do is burn enough witches – these days masquerading as scientists and environmentalists – and Eden will be restored.

Science

Australia’s peak scientific body, CSIRO and its sister organisation the Australian Antarctic Division (an arm of the Department of Environment) have both been eviscerated by the current government. And what is worse, they have done so with barely a whimper of protest from the Labor opposition; not once in any of its pronouncements about countermeasures to government misdeeds has the Labor Party said it will restore funding to what are among the two most important research bodies in the country. It is from these organisations and others like them – world renowned for innovation – that solutions to climate-induced problems will come.

The Prime Minister’s opinion of science was laid out for all to see when he cut funding to both these bodies and announced the creation of a medical research fund, no doubt hoping that during his term of office a cure for cancer will be found and he will be lauded, perhaps even beatified, as some sort of visionary. It has been pointed out by others better qualified than I that many of the great medical breakthroughs have come about as a side benefit of other research.

Health and society

Neither political camp has any sort of health policy that can by any stretch of the imagination be deemed realistic. What their attitudes do prove, however, is that neither they nor their advisers have done any reading on likely trends in illnesses and diseases other than that fed to them by purely commercial interests.

Because our major political parties consider maintaining a healthy population to be a burden on the economy, preventive medicine is poorly funded in comparison to reactionary measures. Money that would be better spent on social programs goes to drug companies who provide the chemicals to control the symptoms of modern living.

We are constantly reminded of the economic dangers of an aging population, yet not once do we hear of any research that might suggest climate change will probably have its greatest effect on the elderly and the very young.

Nor do politicians seem aware of the time bomb that is diabetes among the young population. In this century the prevalence of both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes among young children and teenagers has increased alarmingly. Some medical scientists have actually postulated that children born today may be the first generation in 200 years that does not outlive its parents. Is either side of politics addressing that?

Taxation reform

The approach of both the Coalition and Labor to this sole source of national income is nothing short of ludicrous. Without taxation no country can exist and to continually use tax cuts as election bait is not only unethical, but stupid also.

So as not to upset global corporations and Chambers of Commerce, corporate taxes have been dropping for years. Why? If a company gains profit in a country – especially by utilising that country’s non-renewable resources – why shouldn’t it pay a reasonable amount of tax? If the country finds itself needing to raise revenue, then shouldn’t the business world also bear its share of the burden along with the population at large? In an age when companies employer fewer and fewer people, and make bigger and bigger profits, surely it stands to reason that those companies should pay more tax to compensate for income taxes lost as a consequence of productivity gains at the expense of jobs.

The current treasurer lauds an expanded GST as a means of increasing the revenue base but apparently can’t see that the accelerating use of robotics in industry and a rapidly falling demand for manual labour will make that a less lucrative source of income.

The mining industry is taking more of our resources yet employing fewer people – trucks, draglines and other operations are now in many cases unmanned vehicles controlled from a computer many hundreds of kilometres away, and I suggest that it won’t be long before even that operation will be shifted to overseas countries hoodwinked or bribed into providing tax havens, a move aided by communications satellites paid for by the people’s taxes.

It is apparent that the government and opposition aren’t mentioning the obvious: if spending is cut to offset lower tax income, then private health insurance will replace our highly regarded public health system. A Medicare levy of just a couple of per cent of taxable income will be replaced by five-figure annual insurance premiums. The top income earners won’t be affected by this of course, and as their numbers include politicians, and politicians control the forces of so-called law and order, the end result seems fairly obvious.

Miscellaneous myopia

The Export Economy: Back in the 60s and 70s when England’s entry into the then European Common Market saw once-guaranteed exports of wool and other agricultural produce crash, government looked for ways to prop up a failing economy. One mantra, oft-repeated by members of what was then the Country Party, went something like: “If everyone in China buys just one pair of woolen socks, the country will be back on its feet again.” It never eventuated of course (nobody noticed that the Chinese much prefer cotton socks) and it was innovations and research by scientists at CSIRO and other institutions that helped agriculture regain its feet and, in some cases, burgeon.

So when the next “sell everything to China” light bulb lit up, this time inspired by the demand for iron ore and coal, our cargo cult mentality swung into action. Politicians who for years had lectured us on the need for caution and chided us for being ignorant on matters of supply and demand, approved mining licenses by the giant yellow truck load, ensuring a massive oversupply of minerals on the world market with the consequences we see today.

But not to worry, Tasmania has approved, and been given funding for irrigation schemes that will allow a massive expansion of dairying based on our most valuable and scarcest resource, water; this despite the fact that irrigation has destroyed vast tracts of Australia’s agricultural landscape and taken much of it out of production. There is evidence, too, that the value of dairy exports to China is falling. Never mind, there’s always horticulture and when that fails we can try woolen socks again.

International Relations Beginning with the Howard government, Australia’s view of non-Western Europeans turned us back to the days of the White Australia Policy, a time when some politicians seriously considered approving only blue-eyed immigrants. “Boat people” were the enemy – back then the Yellow Hordes from South East Asia – and Labor, seeing that there might be a few votes in it, welcomed the idea with open arms. Pauline Hanson and her 19th Century ideals and ideas had a brief surge of popularity among people who didn’t think much about much but was quickly neutralised by Howard incorporating many of her ideas into LNP policy and by a very dubious legal action orchestrated by our current Prime Minister. Tony Abbott, himself an enthusiastic, xenophobic Europhile, is now accusing Australians of mass xenophobia because they are questioning some aspects of very secret, so-called free trade agreements being “negotiated” with our more powerful neighbours, the USA among them.

Tony Abbott’s LNP, with the enthusiastic support of the Labor Party, has again raised the spectre of being overrun by waves of invaders from the north; not the Asiatic Hordes this time, but Arabs and Pakistanis and Iranians and Persians from the Muslim Middle East. These people, we are told, are not really refugees, but freeloading economic migrants, wanting to steal Australian worker’s jobs and lower our standard of living. It is convenient to ignore the fact that many members of the Federal Cabinet – including the PM – along with the CEOs and other top brass in many of our institutions are economic immigrants at best, lifestyle immigrants at worst. It is also apparently easy to overlook the fact that under these free trade deals, foreign countries can bring in their own labour force.

Militarism Was it just coincidence, I wonder, that in the same week that the country was celebrating (when it should have been mourning) the 100th anniversary of the slaughter at Gallipoli, our-testosterone driven PM, with the cooperation of his conservative New Zealand counterpart, announced that a latter-day ANZAC force would be sent to Iraq. No doubt in a few very short years we will be remembering this day also, celebrating or mourning depending on whether you were doing “what seemed best at the time” or being shot at, or weeping over the consequences it had for your family.

When G W Bush, to the great excitement of John Howard, announced we were going to invade Iraq, some commentators warned that we were heading for another Vietnam. The armchair generals in a resurgently militaristic West derided them of course; ‘Peacenik’, ‘Bleeding Heart Lefties’ and other phrases from the Vietnam era were bandied about. And those doomsayers were wrong, sort of; it is now worse, far, far worse than Vietnam, and deteriorating by the day – by the hour. ‘Domino Theory and ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ have been replaced by ‘Islamist Death Cult’ and ‘Fanatical Jihadists’, but the aftermath will be the same: we told oppressed people in countries whose oppressors we for generations created or supported that we were invading them to bring democracy and freedom and instead gave them many good reasons to hate us for another 2000 years. Those who sought a do-it-yourself solution to their problems we labelled ‘of uncertain allegiance’ or ‘terrorists’ and so added fuel to an already out-of-control bonfire.

Indigenous matters More than 200 years have passed since England stole this “uninhabited” continent from the people who have been here for more than 60,000 years, yet we’ve still done very little to attempt to right the great wrong done them. Every good thing done by one government (and there are precious few) is wound back or watered down by the next. In many cases, pressure from the National party members of the Coalition or from mining and agribusiness interests sees policies altered before they even see the light of day.

Our current Prime Minister appointed himself a champion of the Indigenous population and vowed that every year he would venture off into a remote Indigenous community (this year it’s the Torres Strait “TS” and Cape York’s turn) where he could have a jolly British-style Boy Scout jape in the woods with lots of exotic people around him. Fair’s fair, at least he went there I suppose, but what has he achieved? Nothing, other than amply demonstrating his total lack of hand/eye coordination when laying bricks, planting trees and watering gardens.

He blew and blustered about his great Recognition Conference and then was miffed when some of the delegates disagreed with him. When Aboriginal and TS representatives announced they would hold a series of conferences to facilitate the formulation of an Indigenous policy on the wording the referendum should contain, an indignant Abbott complained that they were causing division, that this was a matter for “all Australians”. Apparently the people who will be most affected should once again have no say in matters of vital importance to them.

Then to top it off, the government again displayed its appalling lack of knowledge about the country it governs when it awarded TS veterans service medals for their efforts during WWII. Now I’m not knocking the TSIs, two of my childhood heroes were saltwater men and the islanders per capita had the highest rate of enlistment in the country, 100 per cent of eligible men (and many under- and over-age), but it must have rankled with a few Aboriginal veterans in the north. When it was proposed that Top End Aboriginals be formed into a Coast Watch/Homeland Defence Force, it was at first strongly opposed. Inspired perhaps by subconscious pangs of guilt, it was argued that Aboriginals had no reason to like white Australians and so might aid the Japanese.

They might have stopped to think that just a few short years before, Top End Aboriginals had been massacred by whites in retaliation for the killing of Japanese pearlers and trepang divers who had kidnapped and raped Aboriginal women.

And to cap it all off, this champion of the indigenous underdog recently said that Australia had been nothing but [presumably useless] bush before the English got here. And so it goes on.

A Pause There is more I could say, but I’ll leave it for another time. I’d just add that almost everything I’ve written here probably won’t matter in the end because climate change will have the final word. In a recent TV documentary dealing with the problems created by inequalities of wealth distribution, a multi-billionaire was troubled by the fact that although he had given many millions to charity, when it all hit the fan, as it will, the disgruntled masses would not distinguish between the charitable rich and the selfish: “They will come for all of us,” he said.

I believe that like the self-centred and complacent among the rich, our politicians and their corporate masters feel secure in the thought that they will be all right because they have money for private healthcare and retreats in the more habitable places and vast stocks of food, so they will still be in charge of their destiny.

They are wrong. Inequality has already ignited the kindling in many countries, the increasing accumulation of wealth by a very few is adding fuel and the effects of climate change will fan the flames.

I am tempted to say that something must be done now, but I fear it’s already too late.