Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Book Review - Holy See, Unholy Me - Tim Fischer

My Christmas stocking contained lots of books - so, gentle reader, be prepared for lots of reviews.

The first is a report on Tim Fischer's Holy See, Unholy Me.

I enjoyed this, but my fascination is derived more from the style than the content. Most are aware that Tim Fischer is an unusual bloke in many ways, and certainly atypical of ex-politicians in general and ex-politicians who become authors in particular.

I've taught plenty of kids on the Autism spectrum, and I reckon Tim is on that same spectrum somewhere, (on the brilliant end) and it comes across in his often convoluted, but always expressive prose. He acknowledges the editing role of a relative - who is very good at correcting my convoluted English - and he tends to write almost inside out.

By that I mean that he launches directly into a topic or issue with enormous enthusiasm, often at a velocity that leaves his readers (or this one at any rate) floundering. He also refers obliquely to one issue whilst in the middle of discussing another and this can be confusing.

Nevertheless, his insights into the inner functioning and culture of the Vatican are fascinating, and explain much, especially the sacking of our local Bishop, Bill Morris in May 2011.

He also provides a sharp perspective into the workings of DFAT, and the background of Australia's election on 18 October 2012 to the UN Security Council.

He also touches on the beatification of Mary MacKillop and the role of the Vatican during World War Two in reference to Jews in Rome in WW2. His observations on the Catholic Church's handing of sexual abuse are revealing.

It's worth looking at a few excerpts.

On climate change –

After four days of gripping but sober scientific assessments, delivered by several expert key speakers  in  a  down-to-earth way with no hint of hyperbole, the  conference  adjourned but with the promise of  a  post-conference  summary  statement. This ended up taking weeks, not days, but it was worth the wait. Although there are aspects of the statement that I do not agree with, it is a powerful wake-up call.
The  statement  is  entitled  'Fate  of  Mountain  Glaciers  in the Anthropocene', and is available on  the  Internet.  It argues that there is a ninety per cent chance that global warming is a result of the observed increase in anthropogenic (man-made) greenhouse gas emissions. Essentially it urges caution in relation to the high levels of carbon dioxide being pumped into the atmosphere, and it emphasises that it is fact that glaciers are vanishing around the world.
Whatever might yet be determined as the real cause of climate change, and whatever might yet be determined as to whether recent prolonged drought periods in parts of the world were merely pendulum swings or signs of long-term irreversible change; there are some hard-edged impacts that cannot be denied.

On the war in Iraq –

Life and death remain  cheap  in places like Egypt,  Iraq and Syria as battles continue, including within Islam itself, such as Sunnis versus Shia;  more  bombings  of markets  and  public places such as Baghdad  occurred  in  2013.  The  call  of  George W Bush in mounting the  Iraq  War  leaves  a  bitter  legacy;  The work of the Vatican against  that  war  was  consistent  and  strong led by John  Paul  II.

On the 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate (in reference to the Global Financial Crisis).

And the media launch plan for the encyclical was, as usual, essentially nonexistent. There were no controlled strategic leaks, no phalanx of cardinals briefed and ready to step up in each of their locations to endorse and explain the encyclical. There was no special one-off interview by the Pope with, say, CNN or the BBC. It was as if Caritas in Veritate should stand alone, drawing attention purely on merit.
If it had come out in time for GS leaders to properly consider it, it would have been a pointed reminder of the pillars of integrity that a businessman ought to pursue - in his own interest as well as for the sake of the world. It would have prompted the leaders to make the stand necessary to allow regulators to go after the bankers who had broken the law and ruined lives. To quote page 107 in part: 'Finance therefore - through the renewed structures and operating methods that have to be designed after its misuse, which wreaked such havoc on the real economy - now needs to get back to being an instrument directed towards improved wealth creation and development. Financiers must rediscover the genuinely ethical foundation of their activity, so as not to abuse the sophisticated instruments which can serve to betray the interests of savers.'
(p 154)

On the American Jewish Lobby –

The media skills of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and others pushing the cause of Israel far outweigh the best the Vatican has to offer. Take brilliant Israeli spokesman Mark Regev, partly educated in Melbourne. He can spin with great effectiveness on any issue. In 2010 he made a plausible case for the Israeli military's killing of Turkish civilians on the high seas: no mean achievement.
I suspect, but have no proof, that these tactics are about representing a cause and maintaining influence and power rather than promoting a balanced and accurate portrayal of this dark chapter of World War II.  The American Jewish lobby is run by hardliners who get their daily feed from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and will cut no slack in terms of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, not allowing a debate as to whether that is actually in Israel's worst interests long-term. (In my own view, Israel, with its aggressive settlement expansion through the West Bank to the River Jordan, has become a ticking time bomb of its own making. Amid all this, Christian minorities will continue to flee the birthplace of their religion.)
I am happy to state that I am alive today due to the actions in Vietnam years ago of a Jewish national service soldier, Richard Edelman. At another level, the democracy of Australia is alive and well due to the brilliant leadership of Jewish World War I General Sir John Monash. I state this to head off the inevitable attacks on any review and praise of the work of Pope Pius XII.
(p 188-189)

He doesn’t mince words.

One small (nit-picking) observation - Fischer’s reference to Richard Edelman is in error. The Nasho who saved his life in 1RAR when he was a platoon commander was Robert, not Richard Edelman.

I'd thoroughly recommend this book, and my respect and admiration for this unique Australian has been reinforced by his musings.


Sunday, 21 December 2014

The Best of Times - The Worst of Times

Pic courtesy

It's almost Christmas, time for reflection. 
In the lead up to Christmas, we've seen the best and worst of human behaviour.

It took a savage attack on our national psyche by a fundamentalist lunatic to bring out the best in us, including the altruistic #illridewithyou and the public displays of grief and solidarity symbolized by the flowering of Martin Place.

The Catholic Leader this morning also featured two stories - one showing the best in our treatment of the most vulnerable in our community and one showing the worst.

The first - Home for Christmas

Sunshine Coast retirees Maureen and Bevan Gallagher could not have wished for a better Christmas gift – their 38-year-old son Kieran, who has “profound and multiple disabilities”, is happy in his own home for the first time in his life.
The couple, members of the Stella Maris Parish at Maroochydore, had both had health scares as they head into old age and their number-one worry was “What is going to happen to Kieran?”
He needs 24-hour care and, as with other parents of dependent children with disabilities, the Gallaghers’ greatest concern was who was going to provide that care once they were no longer able to.
That worry is gone, because Kieran, along with two other men with disabilities, is living in his own home receiving all the care he needs.
“Yuvardee”, which means “home” in the language of the local Gubbi Gubbi people, was opened in the heart of Maroochydore on November 13. For the Gallaghers, it’s as if all their Christmases have come at once.
“It’s extraordinary,” Bevan said. “It’s given us the opportunity for peace of mind.” Maureen said that peace of mind was what it was all about.
“Apart from that feeling for us, Kieran now lives in a house with people his own age – he’s not stuck with us oldies.
“That’s amazing for him.”
It’s been a gift made possible by the generous efforts of many, including the Holy Spirit Sisters; Franciscan friars; Stella Maris Parish, Maroochydore; family and friends; and others who are strangers to the Gallaghers.
The Yuvardee story centres on the Holy Spirit Sisters’ concern for Maureen, Bevan and Kieran, with whom they have had a close association for more than 40 years, dating back to the time when the sisters and the Gallaghers came together in the same parish – St Flannan’s at Zillmere in Brisbane.
In more recent years, after Maureen had had breast cancer and Bevan then had had heart surgery, the Holy Spirit Sisters asked them what were their plans for when they were no longer able to care for Kieran.
“Our response was that ageing parents like us were encouraged to apply to the Housing Department for a house and when one became available, the State Government would provide the funding for the day-to-day care,” the Gallaghers said.
“The sisters then said that they would like to help by providing the house.
“We were overwhelmed by this most unexpected response.”
Maureen said Kieran “had his name down for a Housing Department house for five years … along with how many thousands, I don’t know”.
“That’s when the Holy Spirit Sisters said they would provide the house.”
The sisters bought the land and had the house purpose-built to provide supported accommodation for people with disabilities.
Since that decision, the Gallaghers have had a flood of support from many directions.
The Franciscans funded the furnishing of the house, retailers offered good deals on purchases, Maroochydore parish raised $30,000 through a concert and barbecue to help buy a wheelchair-accessible vehicle, and the Gallaghers’ other son Damien, with 30 other people in Melbourne, raised $5000.
“There are countless other examples of generosity and support that we could cite,” Maureen said.
“It’s such a happy, positive story.”
With funding from the State Government, Centacare Community Services provides day-to-day care for Kieran and his housemates Peter and Graeme.
Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge, during a pastoral visit to Maroochydore parish a few weeks before the opening of Yuvardee, took time to bless the house.
Maureen and Bevan said the impact of having Kieran move into his own house had been “beyond our expectations”.
“We were advised we’d have to be careful – someone said, ‘You may need counselling, because you may have a type of grieving’,” Bevan said. But Maureen said they hadn’t needed it.
“I think it’s because we’ve been on this journey for three years since the sisters took the decision,” she said. “We’ve had so much support from so many people from so many groups that we’ve coped with it very well.
“Us coping well comes down to the fact that Kieran’s happy and contented. We’ve got nothing to worry about.”
The Gallaghers said they and the families of Graeme and Peter “will be forever grateful to the Holy Spirit Sisters for their extraordinarily generous and compassionate response to an urgent need in our society”.
Provincial leader of the Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters of Australia and Fiji Sr Sarita Kurikattil said it was “a joy to be part of this project”.
House blessing: Archbishop Mark Coleridge (left) visits Kieran Gallagher (seated) and Kieranís parents Bevan and Maureen at ìYuvardeeî.
“It’s given us a new lease of life, to know that Kieran is there and is there for life,” she said.

The SecondPushing for Detainees Release

One of the Townsville organizers of a campaign to release an Afghani refugee from detention has described a "deafening silence" from Immigration Minister Scott Morrison  on the matter.

Townsville diocese's Sacred Heart Cathedral parish manager Steve Sutton said the refugee, Patrick Wilson, a respected com­munity member had been held in a Darwin detention centre since September 30.

Mr Wilson, 30, who became a Catholic last year, changed his Afghani name in September to reflect his respect for his main mentors through the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) program, Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson and Christian Brother Patrick Cronin.

He was put into detention after traveling to Cairns for what he thought was a regular Department of Immigration and Citizenship meeting with departmental officers about his bridging visa as there is no DIAC office in Townsville.

Mr Sutton said Knights of the Southern Cross branches around Australia had also thrown their weight behind the campaign collecting thousands of signatures.

Federal Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews, a Catholic and a member of the Knights of the Southern Cross, is among those who have been petitioned.

"The appeal asks for prayer for Patrick and for parishioners to solicit the (Immigration Minister) Scott Morrison to urgently intervene for one of our parishioners," Mr. Sutton said.

"What we want to know is: why have Patrick locked up when he could be celebrating Christmas in a community which cares for him?"

Mr. Morrison said "there were no plans to enforce the individual's immediate removal". "However, people who have exhausted all outstanding avenues to remain in Australia and have no lawful basis to remain are expected to depart," he said.

Enjoy a peaceful and holy Christmas, gentle reader.


Thursday, 18 December 2014

Nailed It

Image courtesy

Every now and again, First Dog's unique brand of whimsy nails it.

 He's done it again..

H/T Brendan

(Click image to embiggen).

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

An Ill Wind

The above photo was taken in Sarajevo in 1941, showing a Muslim woman walking with her Jewish neighbor and covering her yellow star with her veil.

In light of the tragic events in Sydney, it's worth remembering the adage.

This reflection doesn't mask the horror of the events, but it does acknowledge the basic compassion that dwells in the hearts of average Australians.

I'm referring of course, to #illridewith you.

This phenomenon - spontaneous - not organised, indicates that rationality and compassion always trumps fear and xenophobia.

Something similar happened in Sarajevo in 1941 - see photo.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

A Clutch of Quotes

Pic courtesy UK Daily Telegraph

 Back in 1984, when he signed the UN Convention against torture, US President Ronald Reagan said this -

The United States participated actively and effectively in the negotiation of the Convention . It marks a significant step in the development during this century of international measures against torture and other inhuman treatment or punishment. Ratification of the Convention by the United States will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today.

Yesterday, a number of Republicans, including  Marco Rubio, a likely 2016 presidential contender, issued the following statement after the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee on the harsh interrogation techniques used by the CIA against terror suspects -

I cannot think of a greater disservice to our men and women serving in the military and in our intelligence field than to hand terror groups like ISIL another recruiting tool and excuse to target them,” Republican Sen. John Cornyn said in statement issued Tuesday. “Due to the political calculations of some, the American people and our allies across the globe are less safe today than they were before.

The juxtaposition makes it starkly clear how the extremists on the Right have hijacked the Republicans in the USA. To be completely fair, this issue has divided the Republican Party, with John McCain, who has been on the receiving end of torture, making his views plain -

I commend Chairman Feinstein and her staff for their diligence in seeking a truthful accounting of policies I hope we will never resort to again. I thank them for persevering against persistent opposition from many members of the intelligence community, from officials in two administrations, and from some of our colleagues.
The truth is sometimes a hard pill to swallow. It sometimes causes us difficulties at home and abroad. It is sometimes used by our enemies in attempts to hurt us. But the American people are entitled to it, nonetheless.
They must know when the values that define our nation are intentionally disregarded by our security policies, even those policies that are conducted in secret. They must be able to make informed judgments about whether those policies and the personnel who supported them were justified in compromising our values; whether they served a greater good; or whether, as I believe, they stained our national honor, did much harm and little practical good.

McCain, of course, is a patriot, not a partisan. His statement refers to "the values that define our nation". Those who support the use of torture as a means to provide security forget that the abandonment of these core values leaves nothing worthwhile to defend. It brings the perpetrators to exactly the same level of depravity as those they claim they are fighting.

No civilized nation, no matter how threatened, can use torture as a means to ensure security. It was not necessary in two world wars. It is not necessary now.

History is a harsh and fearless judge. That's why the atrocities committed by the Japanese (for example) are burned into our national consciousness.

The march towards extremism exhibited across the Pacific has its echoes here, where crass ideology has begun to highjack Coalition policies.

We need to keep an eye on the Yanks and learn from their mistakes. 

We also need to call to account those politicians here who exhibited craven cowardice around the treatment of at least one Australian citizen.

Friday, 5 December 2014


Peppa Pig has survived - picture chosen because of the porkies.......

I've had it up to here with the Right Wing blogosphere and the News Limited media repeating the canard that the ABC is biased to the Left.

It comes from the  principle (developed and refined by Joseph Goebbels) that if a lie is repeated often enough, it becomes the truth.

Below is a list of current or former ABC staff who have been or still are on the payroll of the Coalition. Some (Scott Emerson, Gary Hardgrave and Prue Goward) have held political office for Coalition parties.

Sarah Henderson
Dai Le
Gary Hardgrave
Peter Collins
Pru Goward
Rob Messenger
Grant Woodhams
Eoin Cameron
Cameron Thompson
Scott Emerson
Ian Cover
Peter McArthur
Bruce Webster
Peter Kennedy
Michael Duffy
Chris Wordsworth
Cathy Job
Vicki Thompson
Chris Nicholls
Jim Bonner
Ken Crooke
Mark Tobin
Josephine Cafagna
Allen Callaghan

I could outline their Coalition employment in detail, but if you're reading this, you're obviously on line, so Google is your friend.

If the ABC is such a biased outfit, I wonder how these people maintained successful careers in the organization? As that well-known Right Winger once said - "Please explain". She was being interviewed on the ABC at the time...............

I love it when I can use my ICD*.

*Inbuilt Crap Detector

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Refugee Weirdness

Father Mick Lowcock (L) and Steve Sutton with the Wilson petition (Pic courtesy Catholic Leader).

There are some very strange goings on up North (Townsville) at the moment.

In my copy of the Catholic Leader this morning is a story about an Afghan refugee from St Francis Xavier Parish, Railway Estate(Townsville). It was posted under a pic of Father Mick Lowcock - a fearless advocate for those doing it tough. Mick was our parish priest, first in Townsville and later in Mt Isa.

This Hazara refugee had been living in Townsville for a while, long enough to have set up a succesful business, become a Catholic under RCIA*, and changed his name to Patrick Wilson.

By the sound of it, he's been a model immigrant, not to be stereotyped as a welfare bludger, or someone who refuses to assimilate, and he seems to have adopted the values of his new country. In other words, exactly the kind of immigrant that we need.

There is, of course, one problem - he's on a bridging visa.

He was arrested in September, and is now locked up in Wickham Point detention in Darwin.

Why? It's hard to say, unless it's about Hermann Morrison being macho - something he does with monotonous regularity.

If this bloke is sent back to Afghanistan he's dead. He's both an apostate and a Hazara. Both are capital offences as far as the Taliban is concerned.

Morrison uses stopping drownings at sea as the rationale for his bullying of refugees.

Paraphrasing John Howard, he's really saying "When it comes to refugees, we'll decide who dies and the manner of their death".

No more drownings at sea, but no refuge in Australia, just the certainty of death at the hands of extremists in their home countries.

ABC North Queensland has also run the story.

You know it makes sense.................

Here's the link to the petition. 

*Rite of Catholic Initiation for Adults.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Lesson Learned

It's funny how apparently disconnected events can conspire to shape our futures.

Back in 2004, I had just retired from the principalship and was looking forward to what I anticipated would be an interesting and satisfying time free of responsibility and stress. Out of the blue came a phone call from a bureaucrat in the organization who was struggling to meet the needs of a family in a small regional township.

Their youngest child had a severe disability, and they wanted him to attend his local school, rather than the Special Education facility some 60kms away. The mother was insisting, as was her right under the legislation, that her son should attend his local school.

The school had no staff with any experience in special needs, nor was it physically equipped to support access for a student with his complex combination of impairments. I was asked to set up a program which would make the enrolment work. It required staff recruitment and training, considerations of access, organization of the minimal available resources, and working with the school community.

I took it on without a second thought, believing that once the process was set up, I could gracefully withdraw from the fray. By the end of term one, all of this was in place and working. An enthusiastic beginning teacher and a "can-do" teacher's aide had already developed into a strong and viable team. Essentially, the rest of the class and the whole school community were recruited into the support team.

Looking back on it, they actually recruited themselves, driven by the bush sense of a fair go, and simple generosity. They taught me a great deal. But the withdrawing from the fray bit never happened. As the year went on, I picked up more and more students in similar situations. After two years, I had a case load of forty. Ten years the track, I'm still in the game, only more so, still enjoying the work, and well and truly embarked on a second career supporting bush kids with disabilities. The fact that it is part time gives me space to do a bunch of other things, including maintaining this humble blog.

After the passage of ten years (where did it go?) an invitation to attend this lad's year 12 graduation turned up, and I drove the 150kms last Friday to get there. I was very glad I did. I listened to the speeches and found myself agreeing with the sentiment expressed that his contribution to the lives of those who both supported him and were his school peers was more than significant.

He and his family had taught us a great deal about determination, devotion, and endurance. It simply emphasizes the fact that we are a social species, and we improve and grow as a community if we cooperate rather than compete.

This little school, and a succession of staff and students have shown how it is done, over the years. And eighteen years ago, this lad made a very wise choice of mother.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Pollies' Promises

This is worth recalling in the light of recent events.

Just saying..............

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Stating the Obvious

 The Rightwing blogosphere is hyperventilating about Obama's remarks on the reef at the G20. Apparently the Queensland government is "incensed".

The only thing the Queensland government is incensed about is that they couldn’t control what the visiting leaders said.
Everything Obama said about the reef is true. Noddy and the collection of white shoe spivs that constitute his administration are worried that the mining and real estate interests that are the real government in Queensland will come off second best, if the mad rush to exploit coal and gas is more carefully regulated. Instead of listening to paid shills in the US media (like Andrew Bolt here), Obama actually reads and understands the science.

He also understands the difference between warming and the rate of warming. Bolt spouts the “no warming since 1998” nonsense because he believes his readers can’t tell the difference between a trend and a rate. Obviously, some of them can’t – particularly those who think the earth is flat. A quick perusal of the science shows that warming has continued unabated since 1968. The only thing that’s changed is the rate. The car is still heading for the cliff, only now it’s traveling at 40km per hour instead of 60.

The agreement between China and USA is a watershed. Obama doesn’t need congress to implement his side of the bargain, and the Chinese have no choice, given the toxic atmosphere which most urban Chinese experience.

Only 1 percent of the China’s 560 million city dwellers breathe air considered safe by international standards. Air pollution is particularly bad in the rust belt areas of northeastern China. A study done by the World Health Organization estimated that the amount of airborne suspended particulates in northern China are almost 20 times what WHO considers a safe level.

A poll conducted by the Pew Research Center before the 2008 Olympics found that 74 percent of the Chinese interviewed said they were concerned about air pollution. It’s got much worse since and kills over half a million Chinese annually. The irony in this is that the pollution is a daily fact of life for the most populous nation on earth – it’s visible – and despite the restraints of command economy, the Chinese people will not, in the long run, continue to tolerate it. The leadership is well aware that China has no choice.

China has the world highest number of deaths attributed to air pollution. The World Health Organization estimated in 2007 that 656,000 Chinese died prematurely each year from ailments caused by indoor and outdoor air.

So it’s going to happen.

The two most powerful and polluting nations on earth are taking action. The rest of the world, including Australia, has no choice. The Coalition's only remaining argument against an ETS has vanished into thin (hopefully unpolluted) air. Reference to the Green Climate Fund, of which Abbott has been highly critical, was inserted into the final G20 communiqué after pressure from Japan,  the USA, South Korea and the European Union.

If Abbott and co had any sense they’d be planning for an economy when the rest of the world won’t want our coal any more, or at least nowhere as much of it as they do know. It looks as if, behind the bluster, they've woken up to that reality. The FTA with China, whilst of doubtful value to everyday Australians, especially those who can't find work, significantly broadens the base of what we can profitability sell to China.

The pragmatists in the Coalition have sniffed the global breeze, and come to the only rational conclusion. Their spin merchants will never let that get in the way of a discredited three word slogan, of course.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Local Communal Library

Maybe calling it a "local communal library" is gilding the lily a bit, but it is local, it is a product of community action, and it is a library. Using "communal" is a bonus. It gets the rabid Right all hot under the collar.

In the recently-opened High Street shopping centre, about 500 metres from home, a book depository/exchange/library has been set up.

It's a very simple concept. Anyone with books excess to requirements can donate them to the library, at the same time as they take books away to read. The idea is one-for-one. That's where the exchange bit comes in.

There are no staff - no wages to pay. The maintenance staff (mostly cleaners) give it a routine once-over daily. That seems to keep it looking reasonably neat and tidy.

It's a great initiative. Let's hope greed and acquisitiveness don't conspire to stuff it up.

I know where lots of my excess to requirements reading matter is going to end up.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Noel Pearson on Gough Whitlam

This is the full text of Noel Pearson's eulogy for Gough Whitlam.  

Paul Keating said the reward for public life is public progress. 

For one born estranged from the nation's citizenship, into a humble family of a marginal people striving in the teeth of poverty and discrimination, today it is assuredly no longer the case. 

This because of the equalities of opportunities afforded by the Whitlam program. Raised next to the wood heap of the nation's democracy, bequeathed no allegiance to any political party, I speak to this old man's legacy with no partisan brief. Rather, my signal honour today on behalf of more people than I could ever know, is to express our immense gratitude for the public service of this old man. 

I once took him on a tour to my village and we spoke about the history of the mission and my youth under the Government of his nemesis, Queensland Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen. My home was an Aboriginal reserve under a succession of Queensland laws commencing in 1897. These laws were notoriously discriminatory and the bureaucratic apparatus controlling the reserves maintained vigil over the smallest details concerning its charges. Superintendents held vast powers and a cold and capricious beauracracy presided over this system for too long in the 20th century. 

In June 1975, the Whitlam Government enacted the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Queensland Discrimatory Laws Act. The law put to purpose the power conferred upon the Commonwealth Parliament by the 1967 referendum, finally outlawing the discrimination my father and his father lived under since my grandfather was removed to the mission as a boy and to which I was subject the first 10 years of my life. Powers regulating residency on reserves without a permit, the power of reserve managers to enter private premises without the consent of the householder, legal representation and appeal from court decisions, the power of reserve managers to arbitrarily direct people to work, and the terms and conditions of employment, were now required to treat Aboriginal Queenslanders on the same footing as other Australians. 

We were at last free from those discriminations that humiliated and degraded our people. The companion to this enactment, which would form the architecture of indigenous human rights akin to the Civil Rights Act 1965 in the United States, was the Racial Discrimination Act. It was in Queensland under Bjelke-Petersen that its importance became clear. In 1976 a Wik man from Aurukun on the western Cape York Peninsula, John Koowarta, sought to purchase the Archer Bend pastoral lease from its white owner. The Queensland Government refused the sale. The High Court's decision in Koowarta versus Bjelke-Petersen upheld the Racial Discrimination Act as a valid exercise of the external affairs powers of the Commonwealth. However, in an act of spite, the Queensland Government converted the lease into the Acher Bend National Park. 

Old man Koowarta died a broken man, the winner of a landmark High Court precedent but the victim of an appalling discrimination. The Racial Discrimination Act was again crucial in 1982 when a group of Murray Islanders led by Eddie Mabo claimed title under the common law to their traditional homelands in the Torres Strait. In 1985 Bjelke-Petersen sought to kill the Murray Islanders' case by enacting a retrospective extinguishment of any such title. There was no political or media uproar against Bjelke-Petersen's law. There was no public condemnation of the state's manuover. There was no redress anywhere in the democratic forums or procedures of the state or the nation. If there were no Racial Discrimination Act that would have been the end of it. Land rights would have been dead, there would never have been a Mabo case in 1992, there would have been no Native Title Act under Prime Minister Keating in 1993. 

Without this old man the land and human rights of our people would never have seen the light of day. There would never have been Mabo and its importance to the history of Australia would have been lost without the Whitlam program. Only those who have known discrimination truly know its evil. Only those who have never experienced prejudice can discount the importance of the Racial Discrimination Act. 

This old man was one of those rare people who never suffered discrimination but understood the importance of protection from its malice. On this day we will recall the repossession of the Gurindji of Wave Hill, when the Prime Minister said, "Vincent Lingiari, I solemnly hand to you these deeds as proof in Australian law that these lands belong to the Gurindji people and I put into your hands this piece of earth itself as a sign that we restore them to you and your children forever." 

It was this old man's initiative with the Woodward Royal Commission that led to Prime Minister Fraser's enactment of the Aboriginal Land Rights Northern Territory Act, legislation that would see more than half of the territory restored to its traditional owners. 

Of course recalling the Whitlam Government's legacy has been, for the past four decades since the dismissal, a fraught and partisan business. Assessments of those three highly charged years and their aftermath divide between the nostalgia and fierce pride of the faithful, and the equally vociferous opinion that the Whitlam years represented the nadir of national government in Australia. 

Let me venture a perspective. 

The Whitlam government is the textbook case of reform trumping management. In less than three years an astonishing reform agenda leapt off the policy platform and into legislation and the machinery and programs of government. The country would change forever. The modern cosmopolitan Australia finally emerged like a technicolour butterfly from its long dormant chrysalis. 

And 38 years later we are like John Cleese, Eric Idle and Michael Palin's Jewish insurgents ranting against the despotic rule of Rome, defiantly demanding "and what did the Romans ever do for us anyway?" Apart from Medibank and the Trade Practices Act, cutting tariff protections and no-fault divorce in the Family Law Act, the Australia Council, the Federal Court, the Order of Australia, federal legal aid, the Racial Discrimination Act, needs-based schools funding, the recognition of China, the abolition of conscription, the law reform commission, student financial assistance, the Heritage Commission, non-discriminatory immigration rules, community health clinics, Aboriginal land rights, paid maternity leave for public servants, lowering the minimum voting age to 18 years and fair electoral boundaries and Senate representation for the territories. 

Apart from all of this, what did this Roman ever do for us? And the Prime Minister with that classical Roman mien, one who would have been as naturally garbed in a toga as a safari suit, stands imperiously with twinkling eyes and that slight self-mocking smile playing around his mouth, in turn infuriating his enemies and delighting his followers. 

There is no need for nostalgia and yearning for what might have been. The achievements of this old man are present in the institutions we today take for granted and played no small part in the progress of modern Australia. 

There is no need to regret three years was too short. Was any more time needed? The breadth and depth of the reforms secured in that short and tumultuous period were unprecedented, and will likely never again be repeated. The devil-may-care attitude to management as opposed to reform is unlikely to be seen again by governments whose priorities are to retain power rather than reform. 

The Whitlam program as laid out in the 1972 election platform consisted three objectives: to promote equality, to involve the people of Australia in the decision-making processes of our land, and to liberate the talents and uplift the horizons of the Australian people. This program is as fresh as it was when first conceived. 

It scarcely could be better articulated today. Who would not say the vitality of our democracy is a proper mission of government and should not be renewed and invigorated. Who can say that liberating the talents and uplifting the horizons of Australians is not a worthy charter for national leadership? 

It remains to mention the idea of promoting equality. My chances in this nation were a result of the Whitlam program. My grandparents and parents could never have imagined the doors that opened to me which were closed to them. I share this consciousness with millions of my fellow Australians whose experiences speak in some way or another to the great power of distributed opportunity. 

I don't know why someone with this old man's upper middle class background could carry such a burning conviction that the barriers of class and race of the Australia of his upbringing and maturation should be torn down and replaced with the unapologetic principle of equality. I can scarcely point to any white Australian political leader of his vintage and of generations following of whom it could be said without a shadow of doubt, he harboured not a bone of racial, ethnic or gender prejudice in his body. This was more than urbane liberalism disguising human equivocation and private failings; it was a modernity that was so before its time as to be utterly anachronistic. 

For people like me who had no chance if left to the means of our families we could not be more indebted to this old man's foresight and moral vision for universal opportunity. Only those born bereft truly know the power of opportunity. Only those accustomed to its consolations can deprecate a public life dedicated to its furtherance and renewal. 

This old man never wanted opportunity himself but he possessed the keenest conviction in its importance. For it behoves the good society through its government to ensure everyone has chance and opportunity. 

This is where the policy convictions of Prime Minister Whitlam were so germane to the uplift of many millions of Australians. We salute this old man for his great love and dedication to his country and to the Australian people. 

When he breathed he truly was Australia's greatest white elder and friend without peer of the original Australians.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

I'm Proud to be Australian

Sickening US billboard.

Seeing something like this makes me very grateful that I live in a civilised country with sane gun laws.

God bless Australia.
God save America.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

The Difference

Every now and again I come across a picture that explains a concept better than words ever could.

Here is such an image.

It was on the wall of a classroom.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Mark Dapin - The Nashos' War

During the forty plus years since the last Australian diggers left Vietnam, a collection of myths has developed about this particular conflict.

As someone who participated, I have over the years, wondered where some of these myths originated, and why they have persisted.

Many of them have no relationship to my personal experiences, but to challenge them, particularly with some Vietnam veterans, is often taken as some kind of heresy. There is a definite political correctness that pervades this area.

It’s refreshing, therefore, to see some of this myths challenged with the help of careful research of the written record, and interviews with veterans.

In the recently released “The Nashos’ War”, Mark Dapin carefully deconstructs some of these myths.

I had a keen interest in this work, as I met Mark in Brisbane a few years ago, and over a lunch at the Regatta, apprised him of my recollections. He’d read “Jellybeans in the Jungle” and it’s cited in his bibliography.

He covers a number of firmly held understandings about the war, including that all Nashos who served in Vietnam were volunteers, that National Service was essentially egalitarian, and that the Moratoriums were instrumental in turning public opinion against the war.

The first one (all Nashos were volunteers) I have always found passing strange, because it never accorded with my recollections. I took the trouble of doing my own research on this, including poring over what records are available at the AWM, and asking blokes I served with what they recalled. This experience, and the lack of any record of “opt-out” parades consolidated my understanding of the truth.

Dapin has come to exactly the same conclusion, but he spent three years of research, interviews, and extensive reading of all the available literature on the conflict, to get there.

Whether you’re interested in debating the facts of history or not, “The Nashos’ War” is a must-read if you have any interest in the topic of the Nashos’ experience in Vietnam.

It’s also well-written, and contains a wealth of stories of the experiences of many Nashos, including a few that I served with. He uses an analytical approach to the topic, and has a strong crap detector. The personal stories deal gently with the dignity of the young men involved.

Do yourself a favour and get hold of a copy.

Saturday, 25 October 2014


A family of magpies has been nesting in a large eucalyptus at the top of our cul de sac ever since we've lived here.

They're entirely predictable and we've become accustomed to waking to their warbling as the sun rises. Their presence is familiar and comforting.

Not for the postie, however. He has been getting mugged every time he makes deliveries, and that's currently daily, although we hear that this may change in the future (the frequency of deliveries, that is).

In sequence, we became accustomed to hearing the sound of the postie's scooter, the screeching of the attacking bird, and the barking of our dogs who applauded the whole spectacle. I think they were barracking for the magpie.

I've occasionally gone out to meet the postie to save him the small hassle of shoving the mail in the letter box, only to witness at close quarters the magpie repetitively assailing his helmet whilst completely ignoring me, even though I'm only a few feet away.

This same magpie pays absolutely no attention to us, or anyone else who lives in the street, but has it in for the postie.

Last week, this all changed.

The postie must have made a formal complaint to the Regional Council. I can't say that I blame him. It amazes me that he hasn't come off the scooter during one of these daily attacks. I have sympathy, remembering my encounters as a schoolboy postie delivering mail at Caloundra. The problem back then (apart from steep hills - I had pushbike - not a scooter) was dogs. I don't remember seeing magpies, but I was delivering at Christmas time long after magpie nesting was over.

But I digress.

Last week a van emblazoned "Wildlife Control" appeared. It parked out in front of our place, hazard flashers going, and a recording of magpie song playing loudly through loudspeakers.

Very quickly, two magpies appeared, and they were quickly snagged in a net and caged. I wandered out to the sight of two very disgruntled looking magpies in the cages being put in the back of the van. The operator told me they were two males, and they were the ones who were taking turns to mug the postie.

They were to be "relocated".

I wasn't sure how he could tell that they were the culprits, but we haven't seen the postie mugged since.

We still hear the early morning clarion, however, so there must be other Cracticus Tibicen about. The wildlife control man said that his recordings attract the dominant males.


Wednesday, 22 October 2014

E G Whitlam

Whitlam in WW2 (13 Squadron RAAF)

Gough Whitlam died yesterday at the age of 98 – a good innings.

His brief three years in office changed this country for the better, and along the way, changed my life substantially.

Twelve months after my return from Vietnam, and after teaching children with disabilities for that period, I headed off to the University of Queensland on a scholarship granted though the then Department of Labour and National Service as a post-discharge benefit. The fees were paid by the department, and I was given a stipend (roughly the equivalent of the basic wage) for that time.

I did well (straight Distinctions) as a consequence of being able to focus completely on study, and was encouraged to continue part time when I went back to teaching in 1973.

Plugging away at study, by 1981, had two degrees (Arts and Education) which stood me in good stead for the rest of my career.

 This university attendance would not have been possible without Whitlam’s removal of university fees.

In 1976, as a serving teacher, I was selected for a full-time post graduate course in the education of students with disabilities at Griffith University (then known as Mt Gravatt College of Advanced Education).

These courses were financed by Commonwealth money which was part of support for the states to provide equal educational opportunities for children with disabilities across the country.

This Commonwealth support for students with disabilities continued after the demise of Labor in 1975, because it was embedded in Whitlam’s human rights legislation, the first federal legislation on human rights enacted in this country.

Many years later, another tranche of this historical Commonwealth funding built a new special school which I opened in Townsville in 1987. Prior to that, in 1982, I had been taken off-line for six months to prepare a design brief for the school, and to negotiate with the board of the North Queensland Society for Crippled Children (now the Cootharinga Society) to ensure that the children it was built to accommodate would be allowed to attend.

Back then, not everyone (including some members of the board of the society) believed that these children had the right to receive an education. I remember a conversation at the time with a board member who told me that these children were "unreceptive to education". The Cootharinga Society has come a long way since then.

By the end of 1987 all the children resident in the nursing home were traveling daily by bus to their new school, in the same way as their able-bodied peers These days, the nursing home doesn't exist as the children are living in the community thanks to the sterling work done by the society using the funds which originated in the Whitlam era support human rights for people with disabilities. 

Whitlam’s administration introduced the concept of human rights for people with disabilities, an achievement often forgotten.

Whitlam is wrongly credited for withdrawing our troops from Vietnam. He didn’t. The Australian withdrawal effectively commenced in November 1970. McMahon had seen the writing on the wall, and announced on 18 August 1971 that 1 ATF would cease operations in South Vietnam, and would begin commencing a phased withdrawal.

It could be argued, however, that Whitlam’s success in creating a viable opposition, and promoting the abolition of conscription and withdrawal from Vietnam strongly influenced that decision.

It came a bit late for the people in my intake, of course, and the fact that as a serving soldier I was denied an opportunity to vote for Whitlam’s policies – which had a strong bearing on my immediate future - in the 1969 federal poll is a reflection of the sclerotic attitudes prevailing at the time. These attitudes were swept away by Whitlam in about two months after December 1972.

The improvements in the quality of life of people with disabilities, which I have closely observed and lived through since 1970, saw their origin in Whitlam’s three years in power.

That achievement alone honours his memory.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Hare Today - Gone Tomorrow

When I returned from a trip to Roma and St George on Wednesday evening, I thought I was seeing things.

Calmly munching on what passes for a front lawn at our place was a fairly large, and very healthy hare. I have no idea whether it was male or female, but it was pretty robust looking.

The other surprising thing was that it was not at all discomforted by my presence, even though I made a couple of trips removing luggage from the car, and would have been no more than five metres away.

I took a couple of photos, but given the descending sun, and the fact that they were taken through a window, they're not wonderful. The brief video displayed from from my iPhone is a little better.

According to the Victorian Department of Environment and Primary Industries -

 The hare became a widespread species throughout much of south-east Australia by 1870. Spreading at an approximate rate of 60 kilometres per year, hares crossed the Murray River in 1875, where they made their way along the western slopes and tablelands of New South Wales. By 1900, hares had reached the Queensland border and become a major agricultural problem in northern and western Victoria.

I don't know how long they've been around this neck of the woods, or how far North they've ranged, but this one looked well established in suburban Toowoomba.

It was munching contentedly on some green shoots, and given the unhappy state of the lawn due to a dry Spring so far, I decided to give it the "move on" message.

It looked quite miffed and was very reluctant to leave.

Our two dogs completely ignored it, which was surprising, as they usually take strong exception to any critter (including birds and lizards) encroaching on our property.

For all you fauna tragics out there, The scientific name is Lepus europaeus.

Please forgive the outrageous pun..........

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Because I Will Stand Up

This tape has been doing the rounds in the local media.

It was staged - set up by filmmaker Kamal Saleh.

Saleh told the Herald Sun the video was made on behalf of the Macquarie University Muslim Student’s Association in light of next week’s Islamic Awareness Week, titled “iSlamPhobia”.

“As a Muslim student organisation, we were concerned with the recent influx of islamaphobic attacks we’ve witnessed in Australia over the past few weeks.So to determine how entrenched this issue was in the public, we staged a social experiment to see how people would respond to a public display of bigotry and hatred to a Muslim women and boy,” he said in an email.

“We were extremely overwhelmed by the response of passers-by, especially in their eagerness to help a stranger being vilified on the basis of their religion. It has indeed restored our faith in humanity".

It does serve to neutralise some of the media hype that has surrounded this issue in the last few weeks, and shows that Australians are far too level headed to be used by the gutter press.

The bloke in the suit and tie at 4.28 in says it well - "Because I will stand up".

Monday, 6 October 2014

Trickle Down Economics

Every now and then an image bobs up on the web that is worth blogging.

Here is such an image.

H/T the Other 98%.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

People Smuggling - State Sponsored

Pic courtesy the Catholic Weekly

This article by Paul Dobbyn appeared in today's Catholic Weekly.
Freddie Steen calls selling refugees to Cambodia for what it is -

Brisbane refugee rights activist Freddie Steen described an Australian Government agreement with Cambodia to resettle asylum seekers there as “people trafficking”.
“What else can you call it?” the former volunteer at Woolloongabba’s Mercy Family Services Romero Centre said.
“Our government is paying another country to take people we don’t want – basically using humans as a commodity.
“They’re saying this is a product come by boat of which we can dispense at will; it’s absolute inhumanity.
“It’s also shocking to think our Government is giving Cambodia $40 million to look after a handful of refugees from Nauru and Manus Island.
“What a disgusting waste when we keep hearing all the time about a budget deficit.”
Ms Steen was among many to criticise the Australian Government’s agreement with Cambodia to see Australia-bound asylum seekers resettled in the impoverished South East Asian nation.
In May, the Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office issued a statement to say it was “appalled” by the proposal.
Australian Catholic Bishops’ Delegate for Migrants and Refugees Bishop Gerard Hanna said: “Resettlement is about integrating refugees from poverty and oppression into a community that has the capacity to provide economic and social opportunities as well as peace and safety.”
The issue was sure to be a hotly discussed topic at the Fourth National Conference on the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees 2014 held at Sydney’s Australian Catholic University MacKillop Campus from October 1 to 3.
Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison signed a memorandum of understanding with Cambodian officials in Phnom Penh on September 26.
The agreement stipulated refugees would only be sent on a voluntary basis, with the number of refugees accepted to be determined by Cambodia, whose interior minister said the Government only wanted to take four or five refugees to begin with.
Protesters clashed with riot police outside the Australian embassy in that city as the MOU was signed.
After the signing of the MOU, a joint statement was released to say: “Australia will use its expertise and experience to assist Cambodia to strengthen settlement support provided to refugees in Cambodia.”
“As part of this commitment, Australia will bear the direct costs of the arrangement, including initial support to refugees, and relevant capacity building for Cambodia to ensure it has the appropriate resources to receive and integrate the refugees successfully,” the statement said.
Minister Morrison’s office was contacted for a comment on Ms Steen’s claim, but had not replied by publication deadline.


A Pinch of Common Sense

Courtesy I found this posted in Facebook a few weeks ago, when the faux outrage about mandated vaccination first began to ...