Australians have been betrayed

Note: This article was written for the Molong Express of June 13, 2019. Since it was published, the LNP Federal and Labor State government of Queensland have signed off on the Adani Carmichael coalmine and the consequent destruction of the Galilee Basin. This decision has sounded the death knell for the Great Barrier Reef and added another grave marker in the cemetery of dashed hopes of today’s youth. This coincides with the announcement that Norway’s “Oil Fund” is divesting itself of some $18 billion in fossil fuel investments.

Now that the election is over, we are being forced to face the fact that the winning side, bereft of many actual policies, snatched victory by riding a bandwagon of lies, half truths and the over-inflated ego of a self-proclaimed billionaire.

Some political commentators have even gone so far as to suggest that many of the government’s policy promises – and I use the word with caution – were laid as traps for an expected future Labor government.


The argument goes that on questions of border security and tax cuts, the Opposition would have to agree to many of the LNP’s promises for fear that it would be seen as “soft on security” and unsupportive of the “battler”, then, when elected, Labor would be faced with budget blowouts that the LNP could use as a cudgel with which to beat them.


Whether or not that is true has no bearing on this article, but what can’t be ignored is the simple fact that after years of growth, rising corporate profits and unprecedented expansion of the mining industry, Australia is no better off than it was prior to the boom years that began in about 2003.


During the recent election campaign, the LNP spent countless hours in trying to convince the voting public of their skill as economic managers, without any real evidence that they are. On the other side, Labor pointed to the fact that they steered the nation through the Global Financial Crisis, escaping with relatively few battle scars and little of the damage sustained by other countries.


Graphs by the score are trotted out to bolster the arguments of both sides but they all miss the point. They tell those who can read them how the economy fared over a given period of time but what they don’t tell us is how a nation’s people are feeling in themselves or, to borrow a marker from our cousins across the Tasman Sea, the wellbeing of the nation.


If we were brave enough to take a really close look at Australia and honest enough to describe what we were seeing, it’s a fair bet that we would describe ourselves as a nation in peril.


Governments ponder falling house prices and their effect on the economy, yet there is little discussion over a survey’s findings that in the whole of Australia, only two rental properties came within financial reach of someone on the Newstart allowance. Just two.


There is little concern expressed over reports showing that rents in Hobart are rapidly becoming the least affordable in the nation and that all over Australia the numbers of homeless people are growing, with mature-age women an increasing percentage of those numbers.


And perhaps that’s the trouble. This new generation of politicians sees the world in bottom lines, in spreadsheets and statistics, not as a living, breathing planet inhabited by people of all social backgrounds and capabilities, each as deserving of consideration as the next.


Using money and minerals as the yardstick, Australia is a rich country. From the first goldrushes to the diverse mineral extraction of the present, billions upon uncounted billions of dollars have been wrested from our ancient land to enrich the world’s industrialists.


Australian coal and iron have fuelled the phenomenal rise of China as an industrial power, just as our gold, wool and wheat enriched the masters of the British Empire.
Yet as a nation, are we any better off? Our public health system is under pressure, government schools are starved of funding, public housing stocks are the lowest in many, many years as homelessness rises and new apartments sit vacant, and wages are stagnant at a time when corporate profits are at an all-time high.


Public assets are flogged off to corporations who then increase the charges to their new customers while the sale proceeds are spent on pork-barrel projects that return a fraction of the original value to the community. Meanwhile the government offers tax cuts then tells voters there is no money to “waste” on social projects. And all the time, the nation’s resources are dug from the ground and shipped overseas at no great benefit to the people as a whole.


What happened to the billions in royalties paid into the “future fund”? It was squandered on tax cuts and handouts, the benefits of which have since evaporated.
It is said that one in every four bulk ore carriers plying the world’s oceans is carrying the Pilbara’s iron ore. Why then is Western Australia begging for a greater slice of the GST take?


Why is the Queensland Labor Government offering royalty freezes for miners if they contribute to community funds, while a former Federal Minister in the Liberal government, speaking for the mining companies, says he welcomes the offer but the LNP has a more attractive plan. What could be more attractive than billions of tax-free dollars in return for a few million spent on footy fields and community halls?
In 2018, Australia’s take from gas exports was expected to be $600 million, the same as is raised by the beer tax, while for the same period Qatar would reap $26.6 billion. We will soon eclipse Qatar as the world’s largest exporter of gas.


According to one source, Australia’s effective tax rate on its gas resources is 21 per cent, while that on the reserves held by the North Sea nations (which include some Scandinavian countries, Germany and the Netherlands) is 35 per cent and more. What is more, our petroleum resource rent tax allows companies to offset the costs of exploration and claim tax credits for future decommissioning of plants.


While eastern States energy prices increase at about six times the rate of wage earner income, record amounts of LNG are shipped overseas to countries whose people pay less for the gas than we do. Interestingly, very little of that gas is reserved for the domestic market – it was all given away to the miners; those same miners who tell us that if they were allowed to extract gas by fracking priceless agricultural land, we would get our domestic supply much cheaper. To add insult to injury, tax and royalty arrangements “negotiated” by governments have ensured that it will be years before the country sees any benefit.


Both miners and politicians seem to forget that it is the nation’s gas and miners should pay for the privilege of extracting and marketing it.


In 2014–15, Australian exports of gold earned about $16 billion; royalties paid during that period were about $317 million. It’s hard not to conclude that governments have given the cake to the miners – and other interests – while the nation is left only the crumbs on the floor. All this is in stark contrast to the situation in Norway, a Scandinavian country of some 5.3 million inhabitants.


In 1990, Norway established the Government Pension Fund Global, popularly known as the Oil Fund and established to invest the surplus revenue from the petroleum sector, both State and privately owned, that exploits the Norwegian sector of the North Sea oilfields.


By 2018 it had about $AU1.5 trillion in assets – $AU280,000 per citizen – assets of which 1.3 per cent are held in global stocks and shares, making it the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund and the largest single investor in European commerce.


The fund only invests in companies that it considers to be environmentally and ethically responsible; tobacco companies and those found to be environmentally irresponsible are not considered, for example. It regularly votes in meetings of stockholders, hoping to influence decisions around environmental and ethical issues.

The fund is kept aside against future eventualities and should not be confused with the Pension Fund. Set up in 1967, its investments are in Norwegian companies only and, as its name implies, is a State controlled superannuation fund.

I suppose it’s never too late to introduce a good idea, but I think the Australian horse has well and truly bolted. The miners – and other corporations – now have such a stranglehold on much of our Parliament that any legislation offering even the remotest perception of a threat to the privileged position that large corporations hold in this country would never see the light of day.

Where are those with guts and vision

No breadlines I’m glad to say, the *donkey won election day,
No more standin’ in the snowin’ blowin rain;
We’ve got money in our jeans, we can travel like the queens,
We’ve got Franklin D Roosevelt back again.
— “Okie” song from the Great Depression

In common with much of the Western world, Australia now finds itself led – and I use that word reluctantly – by self-serving politicians who, concerned more with enriching themselves and their parties, and meeting the demands of their financial backers, ignore the wishes of the people and the good of the nation.

With the country – and the world – facing its biggest threat since a hominid first picked up a burning stick or shaped a stone , we are faced with governments and corporations so obsessed with amassing mountains of wealth that they ignore what is happening around them.

Perhaps, like Australia’s Pentecostal Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, they believe that as the word and its sinners burn, the Rapture will lift them up to Heaven, to be reincarnated at some later date. At the risk of being cynical I would suggest that in reality the Rapture is just another name for wealth, its worshippers believing it will save them from the fate awaiting the plebeian hordes. The attitude of our faux-Christian PM would certainly suggest this is so.

While we adults procrastinate, obfuscate or fulminate, depending on our view of things, it is largely left to the children to make an impact and, hopefully, when they are old enough to vote, to turn things around. Greta  Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish schoolgirl, began a movement that is growing daily, a movement hoping to shame politicians and corporations to act on climate change, yet the most common response from those in a position to institute change seems to be “You should be in school”. A strange attitude; education doesn’t seem to have encouraged the titans of politics and wealth to see the blindingly obvious. And time is running out.

What Australia desperately needs is someone of real vision and courage, someone to take on the forces of the status quo as Franklin D Roosevelt did in the 1930s. FDR took on the coal and railway barons and forced rampant capitalism to work in the interests of the common people, the working poor and the unemployed, the struggling dirt farmer – the “jest plain folks”of this world.

Four times elected in a landslide, Franklin D Roosevelt died while serving an unprecedented fourth term in office. Up until that time, no president had been elected to the position more than twice and it had become almost a convention that no-one would stand after their second term.

Yet unbridled greed won out in the end. On his death, Congress, no doubt under pressure from the barons of wealth, legislated to make a maximum two terms mandatory. But FDR’s legacy lived on in the financial reforms and conservation programs he instituted. He  reined in the worst excesses of the financial system, instilled pride in the National Parks and improved the lot of the ordinary citizen. With the election of Ronald Reagan, the undermining of many of the “New Deal” programs began, and we feel the effects of this today.

The New Deal

In 1993, with the worldwide Great Depression at its height, US President Franklin D Roosevelt introduced his “New Deal”; a series of financial and regulatory reforms and an ambitious program of public works designed to alleviate unemployment and stimulate the economy. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) formed a large part of this New Deal.

CCC-poster-1935 copy
CCC Recruitment poster —Photo Public Domain

Running from 1933 to 1942, the CCC was a relief-work program that recruited unemployed, unmarried men. At first it was restricted to young, single men between 18 and 25 but was later widened to include unmarried men from 17 to 28.

The CCC provided unskilled manual labor for projects related to the conservation and development of natural resources in rural lands owned and managed by federal, state and local governments. It had two major goals: to provide jobs for young men, and to help relieve the financial plight of families suffering the effects of the Great Depression.

A maximum 300,000 recruits were in the CCC ranks at any one time, but over the course of the nine-year program, 3,000,000 young men participated in the scheme. The CCC provided them with shelter, clothing, and food, and a wage of about $30 a month. Of this, $25 had to be sent home to their families.

Over its lifetime, the CCC planted nearly 3 billion trees to help reforest America; constructed trails, lodges, and related facilities in more than 800 parks nationwide and upgraded most state parks. It improved forest fire-fighting methods, and constructed a network of service buildings and public roadways in remote areas.

The CCC was the most popular of all the New Deal programs. It was said that participation in the improved physical condition, heightened morale, and increased the likelihood of gaining employment elsewhere. The program also led to a greater public awareness and appreciation of the outdoors and the nation’s natural resources, and the continued need for a carefully planned, comprehensive national program for their protection and development.

I have a friend in Kentucky whose father was a CCC recruit. A country boy from the mountains, his Dad recalled being issued with, among other things, brand new work clothes and two pairs of boots – the first new shoes he’d ever owned. Free haircuts and dental care were also provided.

Other people recounted older relatives’ memories of the effects on little towns when the monthly family remittance arrived. It was as though the circus had come to town. People paid off their bills at the local store and the kids could perhaps enjoy a Coke or an ice-cream, Coca Cola “…bein’ but a nickel (5c) in them hard times”, my friend remembered his mother saying, while the womenfolk could stock up on “notions” – needles, thread, etc. – and other small household items.

The great Dust Bowl

What became known as the Dust Bowl was a prolonged period of severe dust storms that ripped through the North American prairies during the 1930s, exacerbating the ravages of the Great Depression. Three periods of severe drought – 1934, 1936 and 1939– 40 – made worse by the farming methods of the time that triggered extensive erosion of the wind-swept prairie were the main causes.

The rapid mechanisation of farm equipment during the 20s and 30s had contributed to farmers’ decisions to convert the arid grassland of the Great Plains, much of it with an average annual rainfall of about 250mm, to cropping. With little understanding of the Plains’ ecology, they carried out extensive deep ploughing of the virgin topsoil, displacing the deep-rooted native grasses that normally trapped soil and moisture, even during drought and periods of high winds.

Dust_Bowl_-_Dallas,_South_Dakota_1936 copy
Abandoned homestead, 1936 —Photo Public Domain

During the droughts of the 1930s, the exposed and broken soil turned to fine, black dust which the prevailing winds blew away in huge, choking clouds, often blackening the sky. Named “black blizzards” or “black rollers”, they travelled as far as the east-coast cities. Out on the plains, they often reduced visibility to a metre or less. One terrible result of these storms was popularly known as the “dust pneumonia”, an often-fatal lung infection in humans and animals brought on by inhaling the fine, black dust.

Affecting 400,000squ/km, the disaster was centred on the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles, and touched adjacent sections of New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas. In many cases having been loaned money by shonky financiers on terms impossible to meet – welcome to the GFC – and unable to pay their mortgages or grow crops to sustain themselves, tens of thousands of poverty-stricken families were forced off their farms. By 1936, losses had reached $25 million per day. Many of these families migrated to California and other states in search of work on the fruit and vegetable farms, only to find that the Depression had affected economic conditions there almost as badly as in the places they had left.

Between 1930 and 1940, approximately 3.5 million people left the Plains states; in one year alone, over 86,000 of them went to California, more than during the 1849 gold rush. They abandoned homesteads in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Texas, Colorado, and New Mexico, but were often simply referred to as “Okies”, “Arkies” or “Texies”.

Hey Okie, have you seen Arkie,
Tell him Tex has got a job for him,
Out in Californee
Diggin’ up gold;
All he needs is a shovel.
Chorus:
He’ll be lucky if he finds himself a place to live,
But there’ll be orange juice fountains flowin’ for those kids of his.
Hey Okie, have you seen Arkie,
Tell him Tex has got a job for him,
Out in Californee
—”Okie” song from the Great Depression

Greatly expanded government participation in land management and soil conservation was an important outcome from the disaster. During Franklin D Roosevelt’s first 100 days in office in 1933, his administration moved swiftly, initiating soil conservation programs and that year establishing the Soil Erosion Service, later renamed the Soil Conservation Service (SCS) and brought under the umbrella of the Department of Agriculture.

To identify areas that needed attention, the SCS produced detailed soil maps and took aerial photographs. To create shelterbelts to reduce soil erosion, the Prairie States Forestry Project planted trees on private lands, and the Resettlement Administration encouraged small-farm owners in drier parts of the Plains to resettle elsewhere.

As part of Roosevelt’s New Deal initiatives, Congress in 1936 passed and Act requiring landowners to share allocated government subsidies with their farm labourers to restore parity of farm and non-farm incomes to what it had been in the first decades of the 20th century. To stabilise prices, the government ordered the slaughter of 6,000,000 pigs, compensating farmers and paying to have the meat packed and distributed to the poor and hungry. The Federal Service Relief Corporation (FSRC) was established to regulate crop and other surpluses.

Roosevelt, in one of his addresses, stated:

“Let me make one other point clear for the benefit of the millions in cities who have to buy meats. Last year the nation suffered a drought of unparalleled intensity. If there had been no Government program, if the old order had obtained in 1933 and 1934, that drought on the cattle ranges of America and in the corn belt would have resulted in the marketing of thin cattle, immature hogs and the death of these animals on the range and on the farm, and if the old order had been in effect those years, we would have had a vastly greater shortage than we face today. Our program – we can prove it – saved the lives of millions of head of livestock. They are still on the range, and other millions of heads are today canned and ready for this country to eat.”

The FSRC diverted agricultural commodities to relief organisations. Fruit, vegetables, tinned beef, flour, pork products and cotton goods to feed and clothe the needy were distributed through local relief channels. In 1935, the federal government formed an agency to coordinate relief activities. It bought cattle in designated emergency areas for $14 to $20 a head. Animals determined unfit for human consumption were killed – initially more than 50 percent in the hardest-hit areas – and the remainder used in food distribution to families nationwide. Although farmers were often reluctant to surrender their herds, the program helped many of them avoid bankruptcy. Many could not afford to keep their cattle, and the government price was better than they could get at local sales.

President Roosevelt ordered the CCC to plant a huge belt of trees – more than 200 million of them, creating almost 29,000 km of windbreaks on some 30,000 farms between the US–Canada border and the Texas Panhandle. It would break the persistent prairie wind, hold water in the soil, and hold the soil itself in place. The administration also began farmer education in soil conservation and anti-erosion measures including crop rotation, strip farming, contour ploughing and terracing.

In 1937, the government began campaigning aggressively to encourage farmers in the Dust Bowl to adopt these new soil conservation measures, paying reluctant farmers a dollar an acre to try the new methods. By 1938, these massive conservation efforts had reduced the amount of blowing soil by nearly two-thirds. But the land still failed to yield a decent living, until in the autumn of 1939, after nearly a decade of dirt and dust, the drought ended when regular rains at last returned to most of the region. However, the government still encouraged the continued use of conservation methods to protect the soil and ecology of the Plains.

*”The donkey” refers to the mule used as a party emblem by the Democrats, Republicans use the elephant.

Want to hear the common view? The New Lost City Ramblers Songs of the Great Depression, Library of Congress. The songs and writings of Woody Guthrie

 

and John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, all provide great insight

 

to the lives of the common people of the time.

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.