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Watching The Howard Years has made me nostalgic…

25 Nov

No, don’t get me wrong! I really don’t miss The Howard, and last night gave plenty of reasons for that lack of sentimentality…

But I was reflecting on what I was up to at the time, and the horrible thought is that for much of it I was blogging, mostly on sites that are long gone. You may recall I found out back in January 2008, however, that much of it was not as far beyond recall as I had thought, which is scary, at times more than a little embarrassing, but also satisfying.

For example:

January 28 [2001]: A bit of a spray…

Going to fire shots right and left today, folks. I hope it will be fun. I’m also composing this on my old but lovely Brother Power Note (memory 32kb!), obviously designed for George W Bush, as one of its quirks is to leave out "W" from time to time, so everything must be carefully checked: "ill" for "will" etc. can be most frustrating as spell checkers don’t notice.

Fancy the poor American people getting George W, thanks to his having pots of money and the Americans having a daft electoral system. Lack of intellect is not a disadvantage obviously; speaking of which there was a documentary here on TV last night about Richard Nixon: scary stuff.

We have a government here I have little respect for. Amongst other things they strike me as alarmingly deficient in the humanity department, not to mention their lack of a sense of history–except what suits them. One Tony Abbott, a would-be but never-will-be Prime Minister (my bet is on Peter Costello, whom I actually prefer), is a "man with a mission" according to today’s Sun-Herald. "I don’t see why unions should have any special rights and privileges in the industrial system," says the deeply experienced and empathic Employment Services Minister. We no longer need unions, says Abbott, because workers and management can make their own arrangements, thanks to "high education standards and the mass media." Fan pi as they say in Mandarin: the greatest load of it is possible to imagine.

I have read, thanks to my flatmate, a few of these "workplace agreements". Suffice it to say they are very professionally drawn up–and guess whose interests they serve, hmmm? And guess how many workers, without the skills in industrial relations and industrial law that a good union can draw on, get sucked in by the fine print? I am in a sector that is still unionised, and, while I am not a raving leftie on all issues, I am very glad my cash goes to an organisation that can supply all kinds of support when things get nasty–and they will and do. Employers are not all evil, but their interests cannot be allowed to rule unbridled. In many sectors the profit motive drives inexorably towards exploitation: profiteers are not moral people, never have been, never will be–and many employers are profiteers. Something has to be there to keep them in check.

Those who argue that economic laws are analogous to natural laws are forgetting that economic arrangements are human creations, like governments and legal systems. They are therefore open to human intervention. One rather obvious fact is that the enormous gaps in the distribution of wealth, the obscene salary packages of many high-flying CEOs, the concentration of wealth in the hands of a tiny minority of the world’s population, cannot go on without some kind of Armageddon. I don’t have slick answers, but I do predict that sometime in the 21st century, either after or in order to avoid such a crisis, people will start rediscovering democratic socialism–one hopes in a less naive form and stripped of the pseudo-science of Marxism.

Back to Abbott. I heard a particularly nauseating interview with him on 2GB a few weeks ago, conducted by the oleaginous Reverend Doctor Gordon Moyes of Wesley Mission (an organisation that does a lot of good, incidentally). At the end Moyes brayed interminably about the fact we now have a "godly government". Oh my God!

Or:

Monday, October 30 2000

Spent the day at Bondi in a workshop session on policies/strategies on racism. Quite interesting.

Which brings me to John Howard. "Who is he?" you may ask, if you are in some other country–actually even if you are not. He is the Australian Prime Minister. Here is the joke:

John Howard decided one day to get to know young Australians, so he visited a school. "Now, children," he patronised, "I have a little quiz. Can you tell me what a tragedy is?" "Oh yes," said a little girl. "If my best friend was run over by a bus, that would be a tragedy." "Close, but not right," replied John. "That would be an accident."

So a little boy said: "If all the class was in a bus, and it went over a cliff, and they were all killed–that would be a tragedy." "Oh no," replied John. "That is close, but that would be a great loss, not a tragedy."

Then a little girl said: "I know–if you and your wife were on a plane, and some terrorists aimed a missile at it, and hit, and you were killed–that would be a tragedy." "Right!" said John Howard. "Tell me, how did you work it out?" "Easy–I knew that it would be no accident, and it certainly wouldn’t be a great loss!"

How disrespectful!

Or:

November 7 2001: Australian elections on 10th… and I am praying for a change of government

I have had the vote now for 37 years.

For the first half (approximately) of that time, being of mainly Scots/Ulster Protestant background, I voted Liberal, as did my parents and grandparents before me. For most of the second half I have voted Labor, except in the Senate where I have favoured one or other of the minor parties. For the first time ever I will not be voting for either major party in either House.

As Ian McPhee rightly observed today, there are no Liberals left in the Liberal Party. What we have are conservatives (like Costello) and reactionaries (like the Prime Minister). Of course there are precious few Labor politicians in the Labor Party either, and the crunch issue separating me from them, and the government, has been the obscene asylum-seekers "crisis". I have canvassed that issue before on this diary, so do not propose to do so again tonight.

Further, while not excusing those responsible for the attacks of September 11, I find myself increasingly appalled by the crudeness of the response by the United States and by our government’s alacrity (supported by Labor) to leap into the action. (Of course I also wish our ADF members well.) Our "non-evil" weapons, to paraphrase George Bush, are likely directly and indirectly to exact a human cost far in excess of the 6000 in the twin towers. I just hope the causes of terrorism are addressed by the world community more effectively at some time in the future. I fear the present course will in sum probably increase the appeal of terrorism in those parts of the world that currently feel, for whatever reasons, obliged to take that path.

I hope that liberal and secularist religionists of all faiths will become stronger in their opposition to fundamentalism and fanaticism.

Back home again, I am impressed with much of the argument in Quarterly Essay 3:2001: "The Opportunist: John Howard and the Triumph of Reaction" by Guy Rundle. If you want an image of the kind of prat the Liberal Party throws up (and in this case out, after he fell on his face) look no further than Jonathan Shier. He embodied the mindset beautifully. He was just too nakedly prattish to succeed, but he was their man, very much their man.

You are free to disagree with any of the above.

I do lean more towards the Labor Party in certain policy areas, especially social welfare, health and education. I feel they could form quite a respectable government, if not an adventurous one. I also feel they will be quite conservative in terms of economic management this time around; their options are limited there anyway.

M, who experiences nausea everytime he sees John Howard, asks: "Why does Australia want tough leaders? What Australia needs is wise leaders, compassionate leaders." Amen to that–but I can’t recall many: John Curtin maybe? Gough Whitlam? Not wise. Paul Keating? Flashes of wisdom but too much folly. Malcolm Fraser? Only since he retired. Who? Menzies? No, too deep a concept to sum him up, but he was much more of a Liberal than the current crop. Bob Hawke? Plenty of compassion, less wisdom. It’s a lot to ask, M. Depressing isn’t it?

If you want some idea of what wisdom looks like, revisit the International Declaration on Human Rights.

And finally:

November 16 2001: An ex-student in UNHCR

I had a delightful lunch yesterday with an ex-student who was recently working in Pakistan with UNHCR among the Afghan refugees. What he said did not change my views on the subject; rather the reverse.

We also talked a lot about school issues and gay issues.

I have revamped and added to my page about the refugees and related matters. [Updated link November 2008.]  I had admittedly thrown the thing together quickly the other day, and have taken the opportunity to revise and add. There is a much more wicked cartoon of John Howard.

Evan’s call at that time was that the government’s line was a bit like the “tiger repellent” joke – that despite appearances there was no horde of refugees about to descend on Australia. I had that in mind as I listened to the to-ing and fro-ing on the matter last night and learned what “planning” had gone into the Pacific Solution. Evan went on to some exciting times in Malaysia after that.

FEBRUARY 2003: After a perilous five-day journey by sea in tongkangs or slow wooden boats, Acehnese displaced by the escalating war in their troubled Indonesian province cross the narrow Straits of Malacca and land on the long west coast of peninsular Malaysia. Their favorite landing spot is on Penang Island. From there they head overland to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office here, a seven-hour journey by bus, where they hope to get some shelter and protection.

The UNHCR office has been handling scores of requests for refugee status and asylum to third countries since the Indonesian military imposed martial rule in Aceh on May 19. Since then, military operations have, rights groups say, have killed more than 1,000 civilians and displaced 46,000 people. Because of the large number of applications, the UNHCR office has reserved Tuesdays to handle applications from Acehnese to interview, reject or confirm and issue them refugee papers.

But when more than 600 Acehnese arrived last weekend, they found neither shelter nor protection but police waiting for them…

The police action, sudden and inexplicable, puts the spotlight on Malaysia’s conflicting policy toward Aceh, a province that has a long history of resistance to colonialism and deep cultural and historical ties with Malaysia because of their proximity.

There are many Acehnese settlements along the west coast of peninsular Malaysia and several prominent individuals, including actors, politicians and writers, are of Acehnese descent.

The UNHCR asked police to release the detained Acehnese. "We urge the Malaysian government to grant temporary protection to those fleeing the conflict in Aceh and ensure they are treated in accordance with international standards," a UNHCR statement said.

In closing the UNHCR offices, "we cannot operate with the police present and deterring people from approaching our office", said the agency’s refugee eligibility coordinator, Evan Ruth.

At the core of the issue is Malaysia’s refusal to ratify the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees that grants displaced people rights, protection and shelter and asylum.

I gather Evan is now in London.

Back to the present

Jim Belshaw has done two excellent posts today. The first notes the silliness of the Opposition’s stand on deficits: my feeling exactly, Jim, and I wish Debating Society Politics didn’t rule at times like these! The second is Jim’s reaction to last night’s episode of The Howard Years. Jim focuses on Indonesia, having had a long-term interest in the matter and more knowledge than most of us.

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Posted by on November 25, 2008 in Australia, Australia and Australian, human rights, immigration, Jim Belshaw, John Howard, memory, nostalgia, politics, reminiscences, reminiscing, Tony Abbott

 

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