Stalin and Abbott….Spot the Difference.

It isn’t often that I’m shocked by something I read in the Australian Media, but then this was published in Crickey the other day, and my jaw literally, literally dropped.

Abbott’s and Stalin’s early years are curiously similar in several important ways: both born outside their chosen countries; both trained in a seminary before taking up politics; both noted for seeing issues in stark black and white; both confident, aggressive and gifted at intimidating opponents. Their political beliefs are oddly parallel too. Strong government in everything; their own party is the only one entitled to govern; all opposition to the party is illegitimate and immoral; not voting for the party is disloyal and may be punished; the rule of law, the constitution and state institutions should all be subordinate to the party; science is not permitted to contradict the views of the party; economics is bent into a shape that suits party prejudices; arts and culture is attacked viciously and careers ruined for straying beyond limits acceptable to the party; a huge unregulated secret state security apparatus and blanket surveillance of the population is necessary.

It got worse….much worse. My jaw dropping all the more.

That’s not all. The recent vindictive Senate estimates grilling by Liberal Party senators of HRC President Gillian Triggs (her crime: acting independently) was apparently inspired by Stalin’s famous Moscow show trials of the 1930s, complete with abuse, bullying and shouting down inconvenient testimony. And one can wonder how much jealousy is involved in Abbott’s obvious resentment towards Putin, who is as near to being Stalin as anyone today….

It is amazing the hatred that Tony Abbott’s ascension to the Prime Ministry has unleashed. This is probably the worst thing i’ve read.

Lenin Meets Corleone

An excellent article from George Weigel who portrays Putin in the vein that I believe his behaviour deserves. I don’t agree with all of it but it is nonetheless an important counter argument to the growing voices of sympathy for Vladimir Putin.

Russia is, in many respects, dying. Alcoholism is rampant. Life expectancy is sinking: Today, a 15-year-old Haitian boy has a longer life expectancy than his 15-year-old Russian counterpart. The economy is stagnant, and the ruble is cratering. Russia imports potatoes from Romania. Churches are largely empty. Yet atop this rotting body politic is an oligarchic elite that functions very much like the Mafia families depicted in Puzo’s novel The Godfather and the films spun off from it.

in the waning days of the Cold War, KGB officers, far too clever to believe in Mikhail Gorbachev’s “reform Communism,” began siphoning Communist-party and Russian-state funds into KGB accounts, safely hidden offshore in banks run by the kind of men who ask no questions. Those funds, in turn, provided the financial leverage by which Vladimir Putin and some of his former-KGB comrades, taking advantage of the Wild West atmosphere in the post-Communist Russia of Boris Yeltsin, muscled their way into political power, allying themselves with other, previously non-KGB-related oligarchs and big-time Russian criminals — and then, when the time was right, liquidating those temporary allies, literally or through bogus criminal proceedings and long prison sentences. Thus Putin and his friends in the KGB, now-rechristened the Federal Security Service (FSB), drew all the strings of political power into their own hands while constantly enlarging their bank accounts.

No one knows for sure, but Vladimir Putin may well be the wealthiest man in the world today — a super-don, far beyond the ambitions of Vito Corleone, who has created something quite new on the global political landscape. Once upon a time, countries had intelligence services. Today, Russia looks a lot like an intelligence service that has gotten itself a country. And having done so, the FSB-dominated Russian oligarchy is buying up as much of what’s available — in London, on the Riviera, wherever — as it can.

Putin is like a shark: He has to keep moving in order to stay alive, meaning to legitimate his rule. The Maidan Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine threatened to halt Putin’s forward progress by posing an alternative, and potentially attractive, model of 21st-century social and political life among the eastern Slavs: not simply, or even primarily, because it promised access to the cornucopia of Western consumer goods, but because it promised a public life cleansed of corruption, violence, lies, and authoritarianism. Thus, from Putin’s point of view, Ukraine would have to be destabilized, perhaps even rendered a “failed state,” by a combination of annexation (Crimea) and invasion (the Donbass), amplified by a barrage of disinformation and lies, all wrapped in the mantle of a mythic, spiritually defined “Russian world” for which Moscow had a special, historic responsibility.

The idea of a new European war seemed inconceivable as recently as two years ago. It is no longer inconceivable; it would be an unmitigated disaster; and that is why Putin must be stopped now, by sequestering his regime as the first, necessary step toward regime change in Russia. One would like to think that there was some other way out. But there does not seem to be, for the new “plague bacillus” has spread and dramatic measures are required to stop its further progress, reverse course, and vindicate the victory of freedom in the Cold War.

Very interesting indeed.

What ISIS Really Wants – According to the Atlantic

‘Islam is a religion of peace and ISIS does not represent’, have often been the words of political leaders as they grapple with the issue of Islamic State and its behaviour in the Middle East. Well according to an article in the Atlantic, this isn’t exactly correct.

The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.

Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it.

Read the entire article, you will be a much more informed person afterwards.

Australia Day

The 26th of January marks the day that the First Fleet arrived from Britain and the settlement of Botany Bay in 1788. We celebrate this day because it was the moment that the development of Australia as a nation began. It may not be politically correct to say so and Prime Minister Tony Abbott was criticised for saying so recently, yet he is correct. It was in this moment that the nation we know today was born. This should not be a controversial statement.

There were terrors bestowed by the British on the native population, the Aboriginals. They experienced famine, and illness. The extinction of many languages and damage to their culture. It is stain on our national history. Some have gone so far as to describe it as a genocide, I won’t go so far. It seems a grand exaggeration. The British were negligent, they weren’t tyrannical.
Overall though, the British settlement of Australia has been an overwhelming success. One that modern Australians should be proud of. Modern Australia is prosperous and wealthy. It is open, tolerant and multi-cultural. Our institutions, based in many ways on those existing in Britain have proven successful and stable. Australians are not nationalistic, not in the way Americans, Russians or even the British are, yet we should be proud of what our country has achieved.
As the son of two migrants I’ve come to appreciate more and more just how lucky I am to live in a nation such as this. I do so by juxtaposing my life here to what it could have been had my parents not emigrated. Australia is stable. I have never lived (until very recently, and I’ll come to that) in fear of attack. I have been provided with the greatest of education. I have always had access to care when ill. I have lived satisfied, with all my wants and needs accessible and affordable to me. When Donald Horne described Australian as the lucky country, he meant it as a criticism, yet it is appropriate to describe those who live in Australia as lucky, victorious at the lottery of life.
Compare this to my father and mother. My family, extended and immediate. They lived during wars and in varying states of relative poverty. They emigrated to Australia because they were promised jobs, they were promised stability. Australia gave them hope. Hope that their children would have better than they did. In almost every way Australia has delivered on these promises.
In many ways we’ve become so accustomed to our prosperity and stability, in the unquestioning superiority of our systems, that we are slow to believe or accept that it may somehow be in danger. 2014 shattered these illusions. Australians were subject to terror. People living normal lives, were directly affected by the actions of a mad man, espousing an even crazier ideology. Let’s hope we continue to be resolute and alert in the fight against terrorism, and never doubt the graces life in this country provides.
Happy Australia Day!

The Whitlam Legacy

Gough Whitlam was and remains a hero for members of the Australian Labor Party. In him they see the perfect Prime Minister; the enactor of grand social reform after 23 years of static Liberal (Conservative) Rule. They praise his decisions to end Australia’s involvement in Vietnam, abolish the White Australia Policy, abolish university fees and introduce universal health care. Paul Keating summed up this mentality in a statement after Whitlam’s death was announced. “He snapped Australia out of its Menzian torpor – the orthodoxy that had rocked the country asleep, giving it new vitality and focus”.

This is the grand dichotomy of the Australian Labor party. Bitterly divided at the time; eternally protective of the legacy. They allow myths to form around their leaders. Hawke and Keating reformed the economy, Rudd saved us from the GFC, Gillard gave us the NDIS, Curtin won us the war.

Their failures can all be explained away. Gillard was the victim of sexism, Hawke and Keating the victims of the ‘recession we had to have’ and perhaps most damagingly, Whitlam’s removal was a grand conspiracy of the conservative forces.

The Liberals manage greater unity when in politics (not always), their instinct for survival is greater than that of their Labor counterparts, however in the aftermath willingly criticise each other.  The Liberals have allowed Labor to be the masters of legacy. The myth that Australia was stagnant under Menzies, and it was only until Whitlam was elected that Australia moved forward, has sprung around the nation, even into our children’s history books. Only now are the Liberals moving towards a protection of their legacy, even then, not at the same rate of its Labor counterparts.

In protecting their legacy, Labor has been delayed in re-evaluating itself after an election losses. Yes Whitlam was dismissed, but an election was also held in 1975. Whitlam lost in a landslide. Fraser received a 55 seat majority. Two years later in 1977, just to prove it wasn’t a mistake, the public gave Fraser at 49 seat majority. Numbers never before seen, and never seen since.

It took the staunch effort and endeavor of Bill Hayden and Bob Hawke to reform the party. They recognised that Labor would not be re-elected until the public was convinced they could handle the economy. Whitlam, as Bob Hawke acknowledged today was not very interested in economics.

He did not react accordingly to the global economic downturn in 1973 and the economy went in recession. Wages continued to increase strongly leading to an inflation rate in 1975 of 16% (to put that into perspective it is currently 3%) and increasing unemployment (although by today’s standards relatively low).  Yet Whitlam continued to introduce increases in spending, rather than slow down to allow the economy to heal. Labor would spend another 8 years in opposition.

‘Free Universities’ is also another great Labor party myth. Although the principle of free universities is wonderful and many people from low socio economic backgrounds benefited from it, it was eventually removed by the Hawke Ministry because it was too expensive and did not have the intended effect. The first great myth is that it was ‘free’. It was subsidised by the taxpayer, hardly making it free. In fact it proved to be very expensive.

It was also found that there was little change in the socio-economic background of those attending university, and had developed into a means of government subsidy for those who could already afford it.

Not to mention that prior to the introduction of free universities, almost three-quarters of all university students already had their university fees paid for by the Government. In an article in the AFR this year Elena Pasquini Douglas noted that “By 1963, some 37 per cent of Australia’s full-time students had all their university fees paid and a means-tested living allowance. The 1965 Martin Report noted an additional 39 per cent of students received bursaries and cadetships. That means three-quarters of all university students had their education paid for by the Menzies government.”

The abolishment of the White Australia policy is another achievement attributed to Whitlam by Labor that isn’t exactly his. Whitlam officially ended the policy and it was eventually replaced by the Racial Discrimination Act in 1975. However it was Liberal Prime Minister Harold Holt who introduced the Migration Act of 1966, effectively ending the White Australia Policy and increasing non-European immigration to Australia.

In Parliament today, Malcolm Turnbull claimed Harold Holt would be turning in his ‘watery grave’ at the claim it was Whitlam who abolished the White Australia Policy. Despite the crass reference to Holt’s mysterious drowning in 1967, Turnbull does have a point. Nonetheless it is important to note the symbolic nature of dismantling a policy that until 1965 had bi-partisan support.

Universal health care is one area that Whitlam is the undisputed leader. His introduction of Medibank in 1975 was a watershed moment for Australia’s social safety net. Britain had introduced it in 1948 with the National Health Service, also under a Labor government. Although it was eventually dismantled by the Fraser Government, an improved version was introduced in 1984 by the Hawke Government.

It has proven so popular that when the Liberals returned to Government in 1996 under John Howard they dared not removed it, ironically they improved and enlarged it.

Other notable social reforms included the abolishment of the death penalty for federal offences, end of conscription, however with no more Australian troops fighting in Vietnam this was largely symbolic.The introduction of no-fault divorce.

The abolishment of the British Honours System that was re-introduced by Malcolm Fraser, then removed by Bob Hawke, left by John Howard, but partially re-introduced by Tony Abbott. The national anthem was changed from ‘God save the Queen’ to ‘Advance Australia Fair’.

One of Whitlam’s more daring and visionary moments occurred when he was still Opposition Leader. In 1971, he surprised the country by visiting China and meeting with Premier Zhou Enlai. It was a risky move that originally was derided by the Government. They were left red-faced when several months later, Republican US President Richard Nixon visited China and established diplomatic relations with the country. When Whitlam was elected he immediately recognised the Communist Chinese Government.

As the world opened up to China, China reciprocated and opened up to the world and Australia is currently reaping the rewards of this connection; and so we will into the future.

Whitlam was a radical, transformative Prime Minister. He shifted expectations of what the Federal Government could do. The Liberals had followed a conservative approach to Government. Australia was stable, prosperous, evolving. However, there was more to be done.

Whitlam was the man to do it.

He did too much too soon.

He didn’t react to an economy that was in need of serious reform. He didn’t discipline his party (despite his well-known disdain for many colleagues). There were too many scandals. Eventually the public was worn out.

We can, and will, debate the judgement of Sir John Kerr in dismissing Whitlam; it was indeed controversial. However, the judgement of the people is what matters, and after three years of Whitlam, the people handed their judgement; two of the biggest election losses in Australian political history. It isn’t the only element of Whitlam’s legacy; he changed the country for the better, made us more inclusive and less reliant on our British character. However, it shouldn’t be forgotten, because Whitlam certainly won’t be.

Gough Whitlam – The Radical and The Dismissed.

Politics and hypocrisy go hand in hand. They are often unrecognisable from each other.  In Parliament we see it often. The start of Question Time often begins with a statement from the Prime Minister, announcing that Australia is engaging in a war effort here or there, or his condolences at the passing of a statured individual. The opposition then rise to associate themselves with the statement. The Opposition Leader in a soft, tender tone evocates support, and explains the reasoning. It is civil, mature and most importantly reassuring to the public.

Then the Opposition Leader concludes his statement, the speaker asks if there are any questions without notice and up jumps the Leader of the Opposition. In a loud booming voice, asks a loaded question with words like ‘rotten, unfair, lie’. The Government ministers interject, the opposition members respond, there is a ‘cacophony’ of noise.

The moment of national unity has passed, the partisan divide of politics has returned.

The hypocrisy of politics on full-frontal display.

Today, the 21st of October, 2014, things are different. Question Time and estimates have been suspended; the flag at Parliament house is flying at half-maste.  Maturity has returned to Australian politics. The reason being, former Prime Minster Gough Whitlam has died, aged 98.

He was a towering figure in Australian Political History. Ascending to the top after 23 consecutive years of careful, efficient Liberal rule, Whitlam proved to be a transformative, radical leader. Impatient to implement his vision for the country, Whitlam did not accede to the conventional political wisdom of his predecessors, gradual reform and consultation, rather it was more ‘crash through or crash’.  Rather than wait for a Cabinet be assigned to him by caucus before being sworn in as Prime Minster, he had the Governor General swear him and Deputy Lance Barnard in. Together they held all 27 ministries.

The agenda was radical at the least. It included ending conscription (Australia’s effort in Vietnam being virtually over), the final abolishment of the White Australia Policy (a process begun in 1967 by Harold Holt), the introduction of free universities, introduction of Universal Health Care (Medibank later Medicare). On the international stage Australia recognised Communist China, Whitlam having presciently visited there in 1971, several months before US President Richard Nixon. Australia’s position was altered to supporting sanctions against Apartheid.  The Honours system was replaced by the Order of Australia. The national anthem became Advance Australia Fair. Infrastructure funding was increased.

It would not be easy. The 1972 election victory was not large, a majority of just 9. The Liberals maintained a majority in the Senate and blocked several of the Government bills including the introduction of Medibank. This lead to a double dissolution in 1974 that Whitlam would win but with a reduced majority in the House (5 seats), and be deadlocked with the Liberals in the Senate.

Throughout this process, the world economy changed. Inflation and unemployment increased. The economy went into recession. The Whitlam government was accused of ignoring the problem. The Government was plagued by scandal after scandal, culminating in the Loans Affair. One of the more sensational events of the Whitlam government, it became public knowledge that the Government in an attempt to raise some $4 billion ($1 trillion today) to fund several energy projects, sought a loan from Arab nations through an intermediary associated with Saddam Hussein and the Ba’ath party. It caused considerable damage to the Government’s reputation.

The chaos around the Government was used as justification by the Liberal Opposition lead by Malcolm Fraser, to block supply of the 1975 budget. The Liberals at this stage had a majority in the Senate for reasons that are too detailed to go into right now. They blocked supply and demanded an election. An election Whitlam was unwilling to provide owing to the unpopularity of the Government and their slim majority in the House.

Eventually,  the Governor General  Sir John Kerr broke the impasse and sensationally sacked Whitlam as Prime Minister, installing Fraser as caretaker on the condition he call an election. It’s considered today a constitutional crisis and remains one of the most controversial decisions in Australian political history. In that moment, the ever witty Whitlam uttered his most famous words. ‘Well may we say “God save the Queen”, because nothing will save the Governor-General”.

The subsequent 1975 election was divisive and passionate with rallies attracting thousands. Despite the intensity it was obvious that mainstream Australia had turned against Whitlam.  Fraser won in an absolute Landslide, a 55 seat majority, the biggest majority in Australian Federal history.

Whitlam didn’t handle the politics of the time well, and many events colluded against him to which he didn’t react appropriately, notably the economy. However, his legacy is great. He managed to re-unite the Labor party, won two elections, the first Labor Prime Minister to do so. In his time as Prime Minister he sought to modernise the country and significantly expanded the role of the Federal Government.

In a statement today, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Whitlam was ‘A giant of his time…in so many ways, larger than life’.  Despite the obvious differences between Whitlam and Abbott, none more symbolic than Abbott’s partial re-introduction of the Honours system, Abbott has observed protocol out of respect for somebody as important as Whitlam. It is Australian politics at its best, most mature and its most hypocritical, but that’s politics after all.

RIP Gough Whitlam 1916 – 2014.

The Rudd-Gillard Years According to Paul Kelly

Paul Kelly is the editor-at-large at the Australian newspaper. I don’t really know what that means exactly, sounds like a position made up just to make some really good journo feel good about themselves, but I digress. He is also the author of several highly regarded books on different periods in modern Australian political history.

In many ways Kelly is the pre-eminent political commentator in the country. His opinions are highly regarded. His take on issues is gleamed from more than forty years of experience in the industry. He is respected across the political divide. Although these days more so on the right than on the left, who see Kelly as a cultural warrior against them.

Nonetheless I find Kelly a brilliant and informative writer. His book the March of Patriots about Paul Keating and John Howard was brilliant. In it he argued that there was more that unified than divided Howard and Keating. Describing them as patriots who although disagreeing on cultural/tribal issues, their economic policies were mostly in sync.

His analysis of Keating is fascinating but already done to death; there is greater documentation and analysis of Labor politicians than their Liberal counterparts. Kelly’s analysis is distinguished by his detailed account of the early Howard years. It is fair, by no means uncritical, but provides a centre ground from the right wing criticisms that Howard engaged in middle-class welfare, and left wing criticism that he was a Neo-Liberal conservative determined to return Australia to the 1950s.

His analysis explained the reasons why Howard did what he did and left the reader to decide on them. He described the Howard government as misunderstood and went about clearing up misconceptions. I can’t explain the effect that had on me as a reader. Howard was elevated greatly in my eyes, and remains high in my opinions, as he is with a large number of Australians. In fact many of us probably wish we hadn’t kicked him out in the first place, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.

His new book Triumph and Demise examines the six years of Labor under Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and then Kevin Rudd again. He describes it as the ‘Broken Promise of a Labor generation’.

Kelly writes with such intensity, it often feels like a thriller. It is fast-paced, never dull, but often depressing. Kelly lays bare the incompetence of Rudd and Gillard as leader. From the chaos to process that Rudd created, to the poor political judgements of Julia Gillard. He also details how Abbott rose to the leadership of the Liberals by accident and the momentous nature of his rise.

There is much of contention in the Rudd-Gillard years. Kelly although presenting his opinions strongly, permits the opinions of a great deal others to permeate the story. They differ greatly, ensuring that on a number of issues there is no uniform historical judgement. Then again, Labor lost office not a year ago. In time this may change.

Kelly’s works often shape politics around personality. He argues that the differences between Rudd and Gillard weren’t on policy, but rather on personality. Rudd was religious, married, conservative socially. Gillard was an atheist, unmarried, childless. They were very different people. Rudd was an outsider who won the support of his party through his popularity with the people. Gillard was an insider, with a strong union background that had a strong base of support in the party. Together they were formidable. Apart they had severe defects.

He juxtaposes this with the leadership showdown between Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull. This was about a genuine policy difference. Turnbull wanting to support the ETS, a policy he believed in and had advocated. Abbott constantly changing his mind, before finally deciding to oppose the ETS, when it became obvious the conservative side of politics was firmly against it and that the Coalition was under threat of being ripped apart by it. The Nationals would not have supported it. Abbott won the dispute and the rest, as they say, is history.

Kelly forcefully argues that the removal of Rudd as Prime Minister was the ‘death warrant’ for Labor. By removing Rudd and then never explaining it to a public that was still largely unaware of the archaic nature of his leadership, Gillard was unable to recover.

I don’t necessarily agree with that. Although the removal provided many challenges, Gillard could have recovered from them had she not made several catastrophic errors in the 12 months following her ascension.

In my view, it was Gillard’s decision to enter into an agreement with the Greens that signed the death warrant for Labor. It forced her to back-flip on an election promise and placed her legitimacy into question once again.

One of the more sensational revelations comes from Gillard, who claims that in the lead up to the leadership challenge she firmed the view that Rudd was mentally unable to do the job, claiming he was depressed.

A large portion of the book is dedicated to discussing the political culture in the country. Kelly is rather pessimistic about it, believing it beholden to focus and interest groups, incapable of reform and susceptible to scare campaigns (GST, Work Choices, Carbon Tax). He is unsure if Abbott is capable of arresting this decline, and the early signs aren’t encouraging (the budget).

He also examines the existential challenges facing the Labor party. They are losing their working class base to the Liberals, and losing their progressive base to the Greens. Finding it very difficult to maintain a balance between the two. He doesn’t say they can’t survive into the future, but recommends they break union ties and push a certain new identity into the future. It is too confused.

The story Kelly writes is brilliant. At times he is prone to hyperbole, which can be a turn off, but adds to the readability of the work. A lot is omitted from this review. However, if you want to understand the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years, how they rose, and why they fell, this is the book.

The Tragedy of the Mining Tax

Paul Kelly’s account, in his excellent new book Triumph and Demise, of how Labor bundled its mining tax makes for excruciating reading. It highlights the chaos, dysfunction and incompetence of the Rudd government that a tax, intended on spreading the benefits of the mining boom, could be so unpopular as to destroy a Prime Minister. That is exactly what happened.

At the heart of its failure was the lack of consultation between the Government and mining companies. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Treasurer Wayne Swan thought they had a political winner on their hands with a mining tax. They believed it was capable of coercing the mining companies into accepting a deal with the Government on Labor’s terms. This would require public support for the tax. It was not forthcoming.

Resources Minister Martin Ferguson reveals that the mining companies were not opposed to the principle of a mining tax, however they expected to be consulted.
Rudd and Swan did authorise Ferguson to tell the mining companies that the Government would be consultative. They would not stay true to their word.

Kelly argues that Labor had no intention of consulting them, even excluding Ferguson from the process. It was a classic example of Labor’s use of style over substance.

Kelly claims that they wanted a fight. Rudd, having shelved the ETS, and accused of lacking conviction, wanted to show he had backbone. However, Labor was not prepared for the angry opposition it would instigate.

The mining companies initiated at $25 million campaign opposing the tax. They argued it would severely hurt the industry, jobs, growth and the economy. No doubt they exaggerated these claims but as Kelly states, the mining tax was essentially a 40% new tax on our most important industry, how could it not hurt the economy?

Beneath the economics was the sentiment amongst mining companies that they were being treated with contempt, despite their consideration of having contributed significantly to Australian society. For example, BHP Billiton paid more tax than any other company in the country. Andrew Forrest was working with the government on a programme to aid Aboriginal children.

From the Government’s perspective, this was a David and Goliath struggle to ensure that regular Australians received their fair share. They would not be dictated to by vested interests and big business that selfishly wanted to rob many Australians of the benefits of a once in a generation mining boom.

Unfortunately for the Government, public sentiment was with the miners. According to Newspoll only 28% of the public supported the tax with 48% opposed to it.

For the opposition, it was a gift. Rudd had months earlier shelved the ETS as Tony Abbott’s campaign against the ‘great new tax on everything’ gained traction. Now he was announcing another ‘great new tax’ this time on Australia’s most important industry. Abbott went to town on the issue, as did the rest of the Liberals and Nationals, who couldn’t believe their luck.

To top it all off, Rudd and Swan failed to consult with the states, which technically owned the mining resources. They had been left out of the details and feared losing their royalties. They too would join in the opposition to the tax.

Labor was fighting a war on three fronts, with public sentiment firmly against them. It wasn’t that the public opposed having a mining tax but rather opposed the truly archaic process of its implementation. It fed into the growing narrative of chaos and dysfunction surrounding Rudd and his government.

Kelly argues that the mining tax would be the dagger in the heart of Rudd’s leadership. It was the moment that Rudd lost the support of a large part of his caucus, notably his deputy Prime Minister. The rest, as they say, is history.

Politics in crisis and a nation in denial? According to Paul Kelly it is.

An absolutely brilliant article in the Australian today from Paul Kelly.

“THE trajectory of Australia’s relative decline now seems set with the nation in denial of its economic challenges and suffering a malaise in its political decision-making — signalling that a country that cannot recognise its problems is far from finding their solution.”


It gets better.

“Any nation that has lost the art of collective self-improvement has stepped on to the escalator of decline. Australia is on that escalator. Its politics are so noisy, egotistical, destructive and consumed by self-interest that it has missed where the escalator is heading.”

Who is to blame?

“The troubles of the Rudd-Gillard era, usually attributed to their fierce leadership rivalry, can only be grasped in the context of the malaise within the political system. The omens suggest this might only deepen under the Abbott prime ministership.

The institutional question arising from Tony Abbott’s policies is whether a reforming prime minister can succeed any more in this country given the decisive shift in the system and culture against reform. The last three prime ministers were destroyed over management of their reform agendas: John Howard on Work Choices, Rudd and Gillard on a mix of climate change, mining tax and fiscal policy.

Recent history is defined by the triumph of the negative and fatal blunders on the part of agents for changes, witness the ACTU campaign against Work Choices, the mining industry campaign against the mining tax, the Abbott-led destruction of carbon pricing and, most recently, the undermining of the Abbott-Hockey budget on the crusade of fairness.”

Basically both sides are to blame. 

Also, the media

“During the reform age, roughly 1983 to 2003, the media was pivotal in backing national interest policies but that age is passing. It is replaced by new media values that mirror the fashionable narcissism and find national interest debates as quaint and irrelevant.”

Disappointingly he provides no solution. 

“Australia’s prosperity is living on borrowed time, courtesy of past reforms and the China boom. There is a silly, contested debate about whether Australia faces an economic crisis. There is no doubt, however, that Australia is undergoing a crisis of its political system.”

Nonetheless, it is one might rant against the current political landscape and with Clive Palmer proving to be as erratic as was envisaged, expect many to shake their heads in furious agreement with Mr. Kelly. 




Dear Leader: North Korea’s Senior Propagandist Exposes Shocking Truths Behind The Regime

The title is slightly misleading. Jang Jin-Sung was one of the senior North Korean propagandists, not the most senior.  However it seems oddly appropriate for a book about North Korea to be misleading in its title.

As a senior propagandist he writes poems about the Dear Leader, under the pseudonym of a South Korean poet espousing the virtues of the North Korean state against the ‘tyranny’ of the South state which until 1987 was a military dictatorship.

Jin-Sung’s rise through the ranks, convinces him that almost everything he has been taught to believe was false. He becomes increasingly disillusioned with the regime. In 2004, he decides to flee the state with a friend, when authorities find that he has been sharing private Western literature with those who don’t have the clearance to view such content.

The books details his journey from North Korea into China and eventually into South Korea. It is at times a thriller, other times a political history.

It is filled with shocking and detailed information about the Kim family regime. It is almost impossible to go into detail in a review because any subtraction in detail would detract from the powerfully woven revelations about the state.

Most shocking for me was Jin-Sung’s return to the province he grew up in. Set during the North Korean famine of the 90’s, the province had been reduced to a place of poverty and death. In fact the people so poor and death so common, local party officials were paying desperately poor people to remove the bodies of dead beggars from the streets.

The plight of a local family that Jin-Sung knew as a child was heartbreaking. Living off the residue produced when rice is boiled and saving the rice for as long as possible.

Public trials are a farce. Accusations are read out by army personnel, judgements given immediately and death by the firing squad performed publicly in the market for all to see. Not that anybody can afford anything sold at the market.

It is impossible to read these sections passively.

As as a Western reader, i’m most shocked by the extent to which North Korea controls the thoughts and actions of its people. I have difficulty comprehending it.

The cult of personality which surrounds the Dear Leader is nothing short of incredible.

When Jin-Sung meets Dear Leader Kim Jong-il he is shocked to see that his feet swell. He had been taught that the Dear Leader was a semi-god. Did not get sick or even use the toilet. He was the perfection that all North Korean’s must aspire to. It is here that Jin-Sung begins to question the truth of his regime.

North Korean’s must feel an un-abiding  love for the Dear Leader that overrides their love for any person or any object. When a woman comes to his rescue in China, he is shocked when she explains to him what a ‘fiancé’ is and describes him as her ‘honey’ or ‘love’. He is stunned to hear somebody publicly acknowledge her love for another person and not the Dear Leader.

There are many more powerful stories that permeate this book. The kidnapping of Japanese and South Korean children so they can be raised sympathetic to the regime. Mother’s selling their children, because as they will most likely die from starvation, at least there is somebody to look after her children.

While media coverage focuses on North Korean rhetoric, its power struggles and Kim Jong-Un’s haircut, this book refocuses our attention to the horror and desolation the North Korean people suffer at the hands of its regime.