South Australian Premier Peter Malinauskas has welcomed a Saudi-backed golf tournament to his state without considering the human rights repercussions, writes Michael Galvin.
IF YOU LIVE in South Australia, it has been a very good year. COVID has been receding as a pressing concern, the restaurants are open again, and the vineyards and wineries to the north and south of the city are as enticing as ever. The climate is mostly benign. What’s not to like?
If you are a Labor supporter, it has been an even better year. Labor handsomely won the State Election in March. Then, two months later, you could feel the massive sigh of relief across the country as Prime Minister Anthony Albanese turned Scott Morrison into a bad joke and SA voters played their own role by turning Hindmarsh into a solid Labor win on Election night.
Labor voters were living the dream, until a certain day in November brought us all back to reality with a thud.
Everything Premier Peter Malinauskas touched seemed to turn to gold, until it didn’t. What happened?
On Monday 14 November, Malinauskas’ social media accounts proudly announced what they saw as a major coup for SA in the world of golf. We quickly learned that the SA Government had used taxpayers’ money from its Major Events Fund to host a LIV golf tournament in April next year, at the Grange Golf Club.
Greg Norman was in town as the CEO of LIV and Malinauskas seemed overjoyed to share this news with his new BFF. Malinauskas even seemed to enjoy parroting Norman’s talking points about the big bad PGA in America (as if this dispute between Norman and the American golf establishment had anything to do with South Australia).
An article in The Age the next day came up with this cute headline: ‘G’day sports(wash), welcome to Saudi Australia.’ Ouch! Say it isn’t so, Peter Malinauskas. But unfortunately, it is so. To understand why, some background is necessary.
LIV is a breakaway golf tournament funded by the sovereign wealth fund of the Saudi Government, whose chairman is Mohammed bin Salman, the infamous leader of the regime. Its purpose is “sports washing” — to use a popular activity like golf to counteract other less attractive features of the Saudi regime abroad. Nasty propaganda, in other words.
Bin Salman – popularly known as Mr Bone Saw man – as well as being in direct charge of the Saudi Government investment fund that created LIV, is otherwise best known for his role in the barbaric killing of Saudi citizen Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in 2018. A bone saw played a prominent role in Khashoggi’s grisly dismemberment and death at the hands of 15 Saudi Government underlings.
Since its inception, LIV has met with a highly hostile reception in many quarters. Malinauskas, however, has chosen to describe such critics as “establishment types”, hypocritical and inconsistent. SA sells Saudi Arabia a lot of barley, so why can’t we contribute to their interest in golf? As if feeding the Saudi people is somehow morally equivalent to whitewashing a regime that has still shown no responsibility for the dominant role Saudis played in the 9/11 atrocity.
I wonder if Malinauskas also considers the survivors and families of 9/11 victims to be inconsistent hypocrites.
Given Saudi Arabia’s role in the death of our loved ones and those injured on 9/11 – your fellow Americans – we are angered that you are so willing to help the Saudis cover up this history in their request for “respectability”. When you partner with the Saudis, you become complicit with their whitewash and help give them the reputational cover they so desperately crave — and are willing to pay handsomely to manufacture.
The Saudis do not care about the deep-rooted sportsmanship of golf or its origins as a gentleman’s game built upon core values of mutual respect and personal integrity. They care about using professional golf to whitewash their reputation and they are paying you to help them do it.
Please, do not insult our loved ones’ memories and take the pathetic position, as one of your foreign colleagues did last week, claiming you are “just golfers playing a game” or blandly treating the evils of the Saudi regime as “human rights” concerns.
Of course, the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia is itself an ongoing and egregious abuse of human rights, as is their extreme use of the death penalty.
As Amnesty International noted in March this year:
The Ministry of Interior on Saturday announced the execution of 81 people, all of whom had been convicted of a wide range of offences... A number of those executed were also convicted of charges such as “disrupting the social fabric and national cohesion” and “participating in and inciting sit-ins and protests”...
Forty-one of those executed on Saturday are from Saudi Arabia’s Shi’a minority, the latest demonstration of Saudi Arabia’s politicised use of the death penalty to silence dissent in the Eastern Province.
Of course, Australia is a free country. There may have been little that the state or federal governments could do to stop LIV from playing at the Grange Golf Club. Nevertheless, Premier Malinauskas could have refused to use taxpayers’ money to support LIV in any way, shape, or form. He could have refused to associate himself with the event and hoped no one would notice or care much.
But he didn’t.
He went all-in on a bromance with Greg Norman, proudly showing pictures of himself at the Adelaide Oval with Norman, sharing a golf buggy with the man/shark, and so on. Evidently, Malinauskas’ desire to keep bringing bread and circuses to the citizenry of his state knows no bounds, ethical or otherwise.
Greg Norman, of course, must have thought all his Christmases had come at once. Not only are the Saudis paying him upwards of US$50 million (AU$75.3 million), but they are assisting him with his own vendetta against his golf enemies in America. Norman seems so obsessed with his golfing grudges that he cannot think of anything sensible to say when it comes to Saudi money funding him to this extent, uttering versions of the lame phrase, “Well, we all make mistakes”, when forced to say something about Saudi’s role in this venture.
An Australian Labor Premier’s endorsement of Norman’s endorsement of LIV is a huge coup for Mohammed bin Salman. And South Australian taxpayers are paying for the privilege. Malinauskas has been played big time.
Perhaps Malinauskas or his advisers should have read up a little more about Norman before jumping into bed with him. Little things like his closeness to Donald Trump and using Trump golf courses for LIV events in the U.S. because others wanted nothing to do with LIV or him.
Or the news that broke the day after Malinauskas’ announcement when Rory McIlroy said that Greg Norman was the problem not the solution in the golf disputes in America and that he should be replaced for the good of the game.
Labor talks a good game when it comes to parading its women politicians, both in quality and quantity. It will be interesting to see how Labor women react when South Australia becomes “Saudi Australia” for a few days next April. Malinauskas might be happy with this “boy thing” he has going with Norman, but surely his female colleagues know better.
Author's postscript: South Australian Andrew Knox was one of those killed when the Twin Towers collapsed. Before moving to the United States, Andrew had worked as an industrial officer for the Australian Workers' Union. He was also a graduate of the University of South Australia. A memorial to Andrew can be found in front of the South Australian office of the AWU.
Michael Galvin is an adjunct fellow at Victoria University and a former media and communications academic at the University of South Australia.
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