Australian politics, society & culture


Australia has benefited enormously from the economic transformation of China. But it is also deeply concerned about the broader consequences of China's return as a great power. Do fear and greed drive Australia's relations with China? What forces should shape this most important relationship and how is it likely to evolve in the coming years?   This joint initiative between La Trobe University Ideas and Society and La Trobe Asia sees a distinguished panel of experts dissect the dynamics and future of Sino-Australian relations.   The panel is chaired by Professor Nick Bisley, executive director of La Trobe Asia, and features Bob Carr, Linda Jakobson, Dr John Lee and Geoff Raby.   Bob Carr was Australia’s foreign minister from March 2012 to September 2013. He is now the director of the Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology Sydney. Linda Jakobson is a visiting professor at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney and the founding director of the public policy initiative China Matters. Dr John Lee is an adjunct associate professor at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University. Geoff Raby was Australia’s ambassador to China from 2007 to 2011.     Melbourne, September 2015
© Dave Tacon
The children left behind by Australian sex tourists in the Philippines
By Margaret Simons
Life outside the detention centres on Manus Island
By Jo Chandler
Bloomsbury; $29.99
By Kevin Rabalais
Virago Press; $29.99
By Gretchen Shirm
How World War One came to Broken Hill
By Nicholas Shakespeare
Gary Quinlan and Julie Bishop have done Australia proud at the UN Security Council
By Nick Bryant
As captain of Team Australia, Tony Abbott has plunged us into war without debate
By Judith Brett
Reflecting on the failures of Australian politics and media
By Michaela McGuire
The week that was nonsense
By Michaela McGuire
On Tuesday night, 18-year-old Abdul Numan Haider stabbed two counter-terrorism police officers outside the Endeavour Hills police station in Melbourne’s south-east and was shot dead. Yesterday’s editions of The Age, Sydney Morning Herald and Canberra Times dedicated the front page of their print editions to the story. Two photos accompanied the story – one of a young man wearing a balaclava, and one of another young man in formal wear, who isn’t Haider, a suspected terrorist or anyone connected to the story really; just an unlucky student who works for Hungry Jack’s. Fairfax issued an apology, saying that branding an innocent man a “Teenage Terrorist” was a simple error. This has become the scandal that everyone has seized on, while the real Abdul Numan Haider’s actual ties to terrorist organisations remain unconfirmed. According to the Victoria Police Crime Statistics 2013/2014 report there were 1,290 other knife attacks in the state in the last year that didn’t serve as justification for expanding what are already the most restrictive security and privacy laws in the western world. Brandis argued that the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No 1) – which could give ASIO a warrant for the entire internet and will restrict what journalists write – had to be rushed through because the situation is “urgent”, our fears comparable to those during the Cold War. Of our 76 senators, only twelve – the Greens, and crossbench senators David Leyonhjelm, John Madigan and Nick Xenophon – opposed the bill yesterday. Australia, it seems, has lost all sense of perspective. While our prime minister was on a plane to New York to participate in a UN security meeting, Julie Bishop addressed the UN summit on climate change – the one Tony Abbott refused to attend, although it was also in New York – and said with a straight face that Australia is still moving to take “serious domestic action” on global warming. For perspective, we have’s piece – “How Australia Became the Dirtiest Polluter in the Developed World” – on our efforts at becoming a Banana Republic that cares only for short-term cash. The article reminds the world that our PM wrote off climate change again and again as “absolute crap”; the Murdoch press has managed to “upend public debate by painting climate science as superstition and superstition as climate science”; the carbon and mining taxes have been repealed; and a noted climate-change skeptic (“yes,” sighs Slate, “another one”) has been appointed to review our renewable energy targets. It goes on. The rest of the world would be forgiven for assuming that every piece of climate change mitigation policy has been thrown out the window of Parliament House, left to litter the lawn, and replaced with giant banners bearing the new way forward: “Come hell or high water”. And the water, or hell, or both, will come. As Obama outlined in his address to the UN climate change summit this week, the effects of climate change are already clearly demonstrated in Miami, where waters continue to rise at alarming rates. Australia, where rivers are drying up, reefs are dying and fires and floods ravage the continent every year, is regarded as the “canary in the coal mine” when it comes to climate change, and our government is instead prioritising a war on those who might want to prevent our God-given right to watch the footy. "For all the immediate challenges that we gather to address this week – terrorism, instability, inequality, disease,” Obama said with perspective, “there's one issue that will define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other, and that is the urgent and growing threat of a changing climate.” Last Sunday, hundreds of thousands of people all around the world took part in the People’s Climate March. Thirty thousand Victorians marched in Melbourne, though you wouldn’t know it from reading Murdoch’s Herald Sun, which failed to report it at all. The mass gatherings took place in the spirit of solidarity and hope, though there was every cause for them to be driven instead by anger and fear. Those emotions have been exploited so successfully by our government, police and media that teenagers are more afraid of Muslims (because they “are evil”) than they are about whether or not they’ll still have clean water to drink in twenty years. On the up side, water has this week been discovered in a small, warm, exoplanet beyond our solar system for the first time. If it doesn’t prove to be an appropriate site for Earth’s inhabitants to flee to once we have completely destroyed the planet, we can at least look at it as a viable dumping ground for the flood of refugees our current raft of myopic policies will trigger when our hubris finishes off the ice caps and drowns most of the world. Unless, of course, this whole thing is a canny ploy to buy the swinging vote of Western Sydney by turning it into prime beachfront real-estate, which makes as much sense as anything else.
What drives Edward Snowden, the world’s most wanted whistleblower?
By Robert Manne
An exegesis on unintended consequences
By Mat Keneally
This month Tony Abbott squibbed the greatest moral challenge of his age and shelved plans to amend the Racial Discrimination Act. That was tough on George Brandis, who had drafted a gem of law prohibiting racial vilification only where the victim felt threatened with physical violence. The proposed law would have sent an important message: in Australia if someone is brandishing a weapon at you while spewing racist abuse, you have the right to demand that person put that weapon down. Abbott’s “captain’s call” was necessary to confront a new threat: the 150 Australians who have joined the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Our captain needs everyone (the Muslims) to join Team Australia (everyone else, except the ABC). To join Team Australia all you have to do is: obey the law, fly the flag, and offer unqualified support for expansive national security legislation that curtails civil liberties. We’ll drop our right to be bigots, if you stop insisting on yours to be presumed innocent. While I applaud Abbott’s enthusiasm I’m worried his plan to cancel Centrelink payments for persons found to be supporters of ISIS is not quite fully formed. Let me be clear. I’m no fan of Jihadist bludgers, the most maligned of the bludger family. I’m worried that cutting welfare for ISIS recruits will have unintended consequences. As Kevin Andrews has sagely observed, unconditional welfare breeds laziness and idleness. It subdues ambition and encourages inertia. If anybody should receive money to do nothing it’s young men with a desire to commit barbaric acts. To join ISIS you need: a plane ticket; to make contact with intermediaries on the ground; and the willingness to undergo significant training. Do we want a young man considering this morbid choice to be weighing it against abject poverty in Australia? Or do we want him sitting on his parents’ couch fighting American forces on his X-Box in air-conditioned comfort? The Coalition justifies its policy of denying people under 30 the dole for six months on the basis that it will encourage them to find work, educate themselves, and stay engaged. Presume the government is right. All across Australia potential terrorists will leave the comfort of home, find work and the benefits of self-esteem, energy, and disposable income. Team Australia does not need a generation of CUIBs (Cashed-up-ISIS-Bogans) dedicating their newfound confidence and resources to global terror. No, these are not men who should receive the benefit of the Coalition’s enlightened social policy. Instead ASIO should be identifying security risks and ordering Centrelink to do three things: (1) increase their benefit; (2) on random occasions reduce their payment without any explanation; and (3) when they complain forward them onerous paperwork to complete (the existing forms should be just fine for this purpose). The mixture of lavish welfare payments and endless bureaucracy will be enough to neutralise the threat.
Margaret Inamuka
Being a magistrate in the Eastern Highlands is not for the faint of heart
By Alana Rosenbaum
By Robert Manne
The political nation learned this morning, to its considerable surprise, that Chris Mitchell, the editor-in-chief of The Australian, was always a secret opponent of the invasion of Iraq – an invasion that has been responsible for 500,000 deaths, the displacement of several million, the triggering of a brutal decade-long Shia-Sunni civil war, and, now, the likely and unimaginably bloody disintegration of the Iraqi state.  Here is the relevant passage from this morning’s characteristic piece of self-praise, written by one of Mitchell’s favourite go-to journalists: “Controversially, Mitchell reveals there have been occasions when his personal view on a subject differed from the stance his newspaper took. ‘I didn’t agree with the paper’s position on the Iraq war’, he said. “‘It was my view that the Americans should have gone into Afghanistan and should have got Bin Laden as quickly as they could… [I]t seemed to me that the whole dynamic between the Shias and the Sunnis wasn’t well understood by the neocon leadership in Washington.’ Mitchell does not agree with Robert Manne that the war represented a huge moral crisis, and of course believes it was a good idea to get rid of Saddam Hussein, but said: ‘My view was that it was the wrong war, that we should have sorted out Afghanistan first.’ Mitchell was returning as editor-in-chief and felt it would have been ‘very odd’ for him to come in and backflip on the paper’s already established opinion.” Mitchell became editor-in-chief of The Australian in July 2002, nine months before the American, British and Australian invasion of Iraq. From the moment of his arrival, there were tens of thousands of words beating the drum of war, defaming its opponents, and retrospectively justifying the invasion even as the cause was shown as bogus and as Iraq fell apart.  Here is a brief sample of its most important arguments: Mitchell’s Australian argued consistently and dogmatically that Iraq possessed a vast arsenal of chemical and biological weapons and was soon to become a nuclear power. Secretly, Mitchell is implicitly now claiming, he was always doubtful. Mitchell’s Australian argued that if Iraq was allowed to retain its “awful arsenal” of weapons of mass destruction, “sooner or later” it was inevitable that it would attack Israel or the Kurds or hand its weapons to Al Qaeda. Privately, apparently, as an opponent of the war, Mitchell must have regarded these predictions as far-fetched. Mitchell’s Australian argued that while the United States had successfully contained Soviet aggression during the Cold War, it was clear that by contrast the containment of Iraq had failed. Supposedly, however, as a secret opponent of the war, Mitchell was unconvinced. Mitchell’s Australian argued that in our age Saddam Hussein posed the kind of threat to the peace of the world that Hitler had posed in the late 1930s. According to Mitchell’s Australian, as with Hitler so with Saddam Hussein, appeasement was a policy of weakness and of folly, certain once more to fail. In private, it appears, if what he told us this morning were true, Mitchell must have been aware of the absurdity of his paper’s persistent Hitler-Hussein analogy. As the invasion of Iraq approached, Mitchell’s Australian warned that the United Nations was in danger of replicating “the sorry irrelevance” of the League of Nations in the 1930s which had “found every excuse to appease tyranny.” As a secret opponent of the invasion, privately Mitchell must have hoped that the United Nations would reverse the march to war. Mitchell’s Australian thought that Simon Crean, the leader of the opposition and opponent of the invasion, would be forever held in contempt as the man “associated with the appeasement of tyranny”. Mitchell, we are now being asked to believe, secretly agreed with Crean. On the eve of the invasion, Mitchell’s Australian expressed delight that Labor’s “populist antiwar card” had failed. Privately, we are asked to believe, that as an opponent of the war, Mitchell must have hoped it would succeed.  Mitchell’s Australian described the war on Iraq as “the only option”. The editor, as it turns out, wants us to believe that at the time these words were written he secretly thought that the war was “wrong”.   There can have been few serious newspapers in the world that cheered for war as loudly as The Australian. When troops reached Baghdad, for example, huge banner headlines screamed: REGIME IN RUINS. END OF A TYRANT. TYRANTS BEWARE. In private, we are now being asked to believe, Mitchell must have been embarrassed by his newspaper’s triumphalism. For, as he now tries to convince us, he always thought the invasion of Iraq a mistake.   When Baghdad fell The Australian sunk the boots into its favourite enemy – the Left intelligentsia. Their performance in opposing the war, it argued, had been nothing less than a complete disgrace. “Never underestimate the power of ideology and myth – in this case anti-Americanism – to trump reality. [I]t is not love but being a left-wing intellectual that means you never have to say you’re sorry.”  How strange is it now to discover that all along Mitchell was an internal exile in Murdoch-land and a private admirer of those left-wing intellectuals who had warned of the coming catastrophe in Iraq. And how strange, as he is now trying to tell us, that he always knew in his heart that the misreading of the Sunni-Shia divide by the Washington neocons – for whom his paper was this country’s most consistent, most enthusiastic, most vulgar cheerleader – would turn Iraq not into the shining liberal market democracy his paper had time and again breathlessly predicted but into the charnel house it has become. In sum:  After he assumed the editorship of The Australian in July 2002, Mitchell’s paper cheered for war, defamed its opponents, and indulged in serial fantasies about both the war’s causes and its consequences. Yet Mitchell told us this morning that he held his tongue on what he really thought about Iraq for twelve years. This most opinionated of editors, this most faithful servant of Rupert Murdoch, whose every newspaper worldwide beat the sinister drum of war, asks us to believe that he has remained silent on Iraq until now because letting the world know his true opinion, at the time he assumed the editorship or at any time over the next twelve years, would have appeared to the world as “very odd”.  When I visited The Australian before writing Bad News I learned from his second in command, Clive Mathieson, that Chris Mitchell personally inspires the paper’s editorials on a daily basis. In this morning’s article Mitchell is, thus, arguing in effect that over a period of twelve years he has privately disagreed with the hundreds of belligerently pro-war editorials his own words have inspired. Even the most brazen examples of political dishonesty or self-deception no longer greatly surprise me. But I have to admit that the shamelessness of the claim in this morning’s Australian – that this country’s most influential publicist for the invasion of Iraq was in secret, from the outset, an opponent of a war that has brought death or unimaginable suffering to very many millions – took my breath away.
Art and artifice in John Michael McDonagh’s ‘Calvary’
By Luke Davies
Elizabeth Pisani’s ‘Indonesia Etc.’ and Hamish McDonald’s ‘Demokrasi’
By Hugh White
By Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz