In this third part of his six part series on Australian fascism, Dr George Venturini considers business, workplace relations and culture.
[Read Part One]
[Read Part Two]
SUB-TROPICAL FASCISM ― THE AUSTRALIAN WAY
BUSINESS, UNIONS AND THE ARTS
The business of government
Collusion between business and government is as old as Australia.
In 1789, one year after the establishment of the penal colony, a regiment was formed in England and called the New South Wales Corps. The remote destination and the function of policing convicts attracted part-time officers, troops of ill repute and adventurers. The regiment began to arrive in 1790 and completed the military rule of the place. The distribution of ‘other people’s’ land began amongst officers of the Corps. Produce was sold to the government store. There being no local currency, rum was substituted as the medium of trade. The officers in charge arranged the first monopoly and earned for the Corps the moniker ‘The Rum Corps’. The related social consequences continued until the arrival of Governor Macquarie. It was under his regime that the first hospital was erected by a public-private partnership which was funded on the rum trade monopoly. That trade began to decline twenty years later.
Corruption in public life continued.
The ‘free-market’ illusion arrived almost two hundred years later, while governments remained actively ‘pro-business’.
An aspiring politician would court suicide by declaring that s/he favours regulation of business in the interest of the community. That would quickly be branded as ‘socialism’. On the contrary, a clear statement of being ‘pro-business’ could increase the chance of success. Business operators would appreciate that, though they often appear to be torn between a desire to be left alone – and thus avoid any oversight – and the expectation that, as ‘producers’, they should receive special favours. These come in all shapes, as even recent events concerned with the euphemistically-called Global Financial Crisis demonstrated: subsidised loans — which often benefit small business; direct subsidies for all kinds of corporate exercises; resource privileges,; monopolies when necessary; ad hoc legislation and trade protection; and, when all other things fail, bailouts ― especially of banks, insurance corporations, and car manufacturers.
While there may be an appearance of division between two sides of Parliament under the Westminster System, that ‘system’ should realistically be regarded as a bird trying to fly with two right wings. In Australia they are called the Labor Party and the Coalition ― made up of the so-called urban ‘Liberals’ and the Agrarian Socialists.
Early in the life of the relatively recently achieved longest period of Labor-in-office – the Haw/Keating Government of 1983-96 – it had become a truism to observe that they were managing the country in the interests of big business far more favourably to those in business, than those who trumpeted the importance of private enterprise had ever been able to do.
It is those interests which make and break governments, while setting the tone for a corrupt society. Three recent examples will be briefly referred to.
In October 1984, not quite two years after the election of the Federal Labor Party government headed by Bob Hawke and the Western Australian State Labor Government headed by Brian Burke, the two leaders hosted a lunch for a newly formed fundraiser. Both being essentially from Western Australia, they called the new organisation the John Curtin Foundation ― in memory of a third, and this an honest politician from The West and second world war prime minister. The effort was aimed at replenishing Labor’s election war-chests.
Operating through the Western Australia Development Corporation, the founders gathered around themselves some of the wealthiest and most ‘daring’ business operators ― many of them already having achieved international notoriety: Alan Bond, for instance. They represented all fields of activity ― from building to high industry to banking to pastoral to horseracing.
Four years later, a Royal Commission was appointed “to inquire into and report” whether there had been “corruption, illegal conduct, improper conduct, or bribery” on the part of any person or corporation in the “affairs, investment decisions and business dealings of the Government of Western Australia or its agencies.”
At the cost of AU$30 million, and in a huge seven part Report, the Commission found conduct and practices on the part of certain persons involved in government in the period 1983 to 1989
…such as to place our government system at risk.
….Some ministers [had] elevated personal or party advantage over their constitutional obligation to act in the public interest.
Personal associations and the manner in which electoral contributions were obtained could only create the public perception that favour could be bought, that favour would be done. We have observed that the size of the donations was quite extraordinary. In his approaches, the premier was direct to the point at times of being forceful. He nominated the amounts he expected. They were far in excess of amounts previously donated in campaign fund-raising in this state.
Several of the protagonists, eventually, ended up in gaol ― including former Premier Burke, although not on grounds directly related to WA Inc.
In 1983, the recently elected Prime Minister Bob Hawke had flown across the continent to Perth on time to congratulate the winners of the America’s Cup at daybreak. It had been arranged with ‘other people’s money’ by Alan Bond, who had been inflated by the media almost to folk hero status for it. In 1987, as Russel Ward put it, Bond’s name was
‘…emblazoned on a huge ovoid captive balloon floating in the polluted air above some Australian cities. Five years later, he was made bankrupt and began serving a two-and-a-half-year gaol sentence for fraud.’
Another example of collusion relates to the Australian Wheat Board. Incorporated in the late 1930s, ‘to regulate the wheat market’ – in truth to establish a government-monopoly on the sale of wheat through a ‘single desk’ – it was intended to remedy the excesses of the Great Depression. In July 1999, it was restructured into a private company.
In 2004, after the invasion of Iraq, evidence was circulated that, during the conflict, the A.W.B. had continued to supply wheat for oil and obtained favour against other competitors with the Saddam Hussein regime by paying large sums of money as ‘transport fee’ – about AU$ 300 million – to a transport company in Jordan, that money being covertly transferred to the personal control of Saddam Hussein. In simple words, it was a bribe in violation of the agreements of the Oil-for-Food programme established fourteen years earlier and ending the year before. The kickbacks also breached the O.E.C.D. Anti-Bribery Convention.
The United Nations investigated the matter. A U.N. 2005 Report confirmed that
‘…little doubt remains that AWB made large numbers of payments to Alia [the fake transport company], and these payments in turn were channelled to the Iraqi regime.’
In response to the U.N. Report, the Australian Government appointed a Royal Commission. The Commission concluded that from mid-1999 A.W.B. had knowingly entered into an arrangement, which involved paying kickbacks to the Iraqi Government, in order to retain its business. It cleared Government bureaucrats and ministers from wrongdoing, and recommended criminal prosecutions be begun against former A.W.B. executives. It came to that conclusion after have having heard the Minister for Trade, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister, all at the time from the ‘conservative’ side of politics, whose departments had issued the necessary paper work. Mountains of cables and papers were produced.
During his first term of office, Prime Minister John Howard had deliberately ‘enfeebled’ the so-called ‘doctrine of ministerial responsibility’, which is supposed to be central to the Westminster type of responsible government. The new ‘doctrine’ was tortuously expressed as follows:
‘Where [the ministers] neither knew, nor should have known about matters of departmental administration which come under scrutiny it is not unreasonable to expect that the secretary or some other senior officer will take the responsibility.’
At different times, from many sources, there had been warning of the kickbacks. Application of the Howard’s ‘doctrine of ministerial responsibility’ led to the conclusion that the ministers should be held responsible only if they actually believed the substance of the warnings, should reasonably have believed the substance of the warnings, or should reasonably have investigated the warnings, which in turn would have led to them discovering the veracity of the warnings.
The Labor strategy began in a whirlwind of hyperbole which talked of corruption and government impropriety, and led the media to focus on the existence or otherwise of a ‘smoking gun’, unwittingly making anything less seem unacceptable. The Labor Opposition was unable to meet the required standards of proof, and everybody got away scot free. No one from A.W.B. went to gaol. No minister resigned over the scandal.
There is a third example of the failure of ‘parliamentary democracy’ in the Australian system.
In June 2010, Prime Minister Rudd, who had been commissioned on 3 December 2007, was ousted, through a series of backroom manoeuvres by a cabal of apparatchiks and trade union functionaries of his own party, the Labor Party. Discontent had been brooding within and outside the Government for some time ― at least from the beginning of 2009. During that year, the Government had faced the so-called Global Financial Crisis by providing a stimulus to the economy at the tune of AU$ 42 billion. The government would since take credit for ‘saving’ the country from the crisis. In reality if there was a saviour for Australia it was China, which continued to buy – certainly not the United States, where the fraudsters had caused the crisis. Incidentally, in four years since the G.F.C., which – it is guesstimated –might have cost the world US$ 40 trillion, no Wall Street executives have been gaoled.
Essentially, in Australia, too, the government had acted to support the financial and corporate élite.
Not all government initiatives connected with the stimulus had been a success. A proposed Emission Trading Scheme had been moribund since December 2009, but had collapsed after the failure of the U.N. Climate Change Conference at Copenhagen and the collapse of the agreement on the E.T.S., with the Opposition due to the replacement of the leader Malcolm Turnbull by a more aggressive Tony Abbott after a harsh campaign led by the Murdoch press. There were also other causes for the decline in popularity of the Rudd/Gillard Government.
By mid-April 2010, the Government had decided to shelve the E.T.S. in order to remove provisions for compensation of major corporations from the budget and so assist in returning it to surplus faster than previously planned. Similar considerations suggested the introduction of a Resource Super Profit Tax on the mines “which are owned by all Australians” – the government emphasised – as part of a Future Tax System review. Announced ‘without consultation’, as the miners claimed so unjustly, and with the support of the trade unions, the proposal soon became the target of a ferocious media propaganda by the miners ― mainly the three gigantic corporations: BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Xstrata. BHP Billiton is a global mining and oil and gas company headquartered in Melbourne, Australia and with a major management office in London, United Kingdom. It is the world’s largest mining company measured by revenues and, as of February 2011, the world’s third-largest company measured by market capitalisation. Rio Tinto plc is a transnational corporation registered in London and there with subterranean connection with, and benefits to, The Firm that has its headquarters at Buckingham Palace. Xstrata is a global diversified mining group based in Zug, Switzerland. To these transnational corporations Australia is but another quarry. The three behemoths were determined to show the Government “who really owns’ the mines ― and much else in Australia. For the purpose, the Minerals Council of Australia announced that it was amassing an AU$100 million war-chest to defeat the proposed tax and began an aggressive media propaganda. All told, ‘the miners’ spent AU$ 22,100,000 million + AU$ 1.9 million donated to the ‘Coalition’, according to figures released by the Australian Electoral Commission.
The Government attempted to react and planned to spend a lot of money in the process. By this time even some Labor members of Caucus were publicly questioning the Prime Minister’s wisdom. In that, they were aided by the powerful media ― particularly Rupert Murdoch’s outlets.
By early June 2010, opinion polls began to turn unfavourably against the government. At this point, a right-wing clique of Labor bureaucrats pressed the Deputy Prime Minister – once a ‘campus radical’ – to challenge the leadership. At first, she appeared reluctant, but on the evening of 23 June she was ‘persuaded’ of her mission and indispensability, met Prime Minister Rudd, failed to persuade him that the government ‘had lost its way’, and then ‘made herself available’. On 24 June, a tamed Caucus, fearful of losing office, concocted a unanimity and elected Ms Gillard uncontested.
Transnational capital had won.
What followed was a progressive retreat by the Australian Government, continuously under pressure from the press, ‘public opinion’, and above all the relentless pursuit of mining foreign as well as domestic interests.
The Resource Super Profit Tax was turned into a Mineral Resource Rent Tax ― the details of which were left to be sorted out by a committee led by a former BHP Billiton chairman. Big business returned to what it does best ― making money, with the connivance of the government if possible. The Murdoch press ‘glamourised’ the new Prime Minister as the first woman in that post. The electorate went back to concluding that ‘politicians are all crooks’ and – in the process – to its customary indifference to its own best interests.
Towards the end of 2010, WikiLeaks cables confirmed that the removal of Prime Minister Rudd had been orchestrated by formerly ‘faceless number men’ who have been secretly informing officials at the United States Embassy in Canberra. Australia’s foreign policy under the Gillard ‘Labor’ Government is not at risk of departing from the unquestionably subservient neo-colonial stance it had held for so long under the Howard ‘Liberal’ Government. Australia’s vassalage state has been confirmed in a March 2011 address to the American Congress by the present Prime Minister. It was a sycophantic performance. It was repeated in November 2011, in Canberra, for President Obama’s visit. This is the almost-natural way of ‘downstairs’ people.
As Susan George of the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam observed:
‘The ruling élite have chosen to serve the narrowest possible private minority interests of transnational financial and industrial corporations.’
The merger of corporate and government powers in Australia, very much like in America, is no different from the Italian fascist experience.
During most of the twentieth century, unions were the dominant force of Australian industrial life. For most of that time, they were the point of convergence of many employees. Between 1914 and 1990, at least two in five workers were members of a union.
At its first meeting on 1 August 1890, the Council of the Australian Labor Federation had written the first plank in its parliamentary platform as
‘Universal white adult suffrage for all parliamentary and local elections.’
In 1905, their federal parliamentary platform proclaimed the following:
‘Objective – (1) The cultivation of an Australian sentiment based upon the maintenance of racial purity, and the development in Australia of an enlightened and self-reliant community. (2) The securing of the full results of their industry to all producers by the collective ownership of monopolies and the extension of the industrial economic functions of the State and Municipality.’
There would be some membership fluctuations, with more members in the 1920s, after the Second World War and during the Whitlam years, and there had been considerable contractions during the Great Depression and in the 1960s. At the middle of last century, 50 per cent of the workers were unionised; today the figure hovers around 20 per cent. Casual employment, the arrival of the computer, and the opening of jobs to more women have brought about de-unionisation. Strikes have now become extremely rare.
For a long time since its formation, the Labour Movement has, very much like the Labor Party, stressed the importance of some basic values ― Australian nationalism, ‘racial purity’, and practical reformist measures, rather than any kind of general, doctrinaire socialist programme for rearranging society.
In terms of preserving ‘law and order’, at first the colonial governments and, after federation, the state governments, collaborated with employers’ organisations, while the press, almost unanimously, denounced those of the employees.
News of the French Revolution arrived in the colony with the Second Fleet in 1790. Most colonies during the 1890s set up some kind of early corporative, legal machinery for compulsorily arbitrating disputes between employers and employees. Labor’s view was by no means solidly enthusiastic; its more realistic view of the state’s role in strike struggles was, rather, that state arbitration might prove to be another employers’ device for coercing the wage earners.
When union numbers increased during the 1970s, Australians became more likely to tell the pollsters – more often than not under the control of corporatist media – that unions had “too much power.” The evidence to support this assertion was never requested.
But there was another, and more insidious, reason for the fall of unionism: the ‘Accord’, which was the product of the corporative effort of the Haw/Keating Government. Unions declined then, or rather they lost their real raison d’être, in an enfeebling innovation of capital-labour collaboration ― the Third Way. The ‘Accord’, and rapidly moving international conditions, brought about four consequences ― changes to laws governing unions, greater market competition, structural change and, as a result, structural inequality.
It was no longer possible to feel a sense of real solidarity and equality over such uniting common clichés as ‘equality, solidarity and mateship’. They had come from some mythical presentation by William Guthrie Spence that
‘Unionism came to the Australian bushman as a religion. ... It had in it the feeling of mateship which he understood already, and which always characterised the action of one ‘white man’ to another. Unionism extended the idea, as a man’s character was gauged by whether he stood true to union rules or ‘scabbed’ it on his fellows. ... The lowest form of reproach is to call a man a ‘scab’.’
Long before the end of the twentieth century, solidarity had all gone, with Hawke against the air pilots to favour his ‘mate’ ‘Sir’ Peter Abeles in 1989, and Howard organising the ‘scabs’ against the maritime workers to favour his ‘mate’ Corrigan in 1998.
Of the three characterising myths only the last remained ― the right to call everybody by her/his first name. That the salary of the boss was a huge multiplier of the meagre salary of the employee – when s/he was engaged in work – still did not matter. What mattered was such pervasive uncouthness.
By this time, television had arrived, and very successfully, to expand the myth, dispense vulgarity, and console that “We are all in it, together” ― in the general dumbing-down of what really matters in life.
Before the turn to this century, employers had arranged what could have become the final stroke against unions: the election of the Howard Government. It is not a popular view, but there was something to make Howard ‘one of us’, rather ‘one like us’. He is ordinary, modestly educated, with little ambition to refine the condition of life, a sense of self-satisfaction, uninterested in improving one’s intellectual baggage, self-deprecating, a ‘nationalist’, constitutionally a racist, a monarchist, and profoundly a Philistine.
Howard’s long period in government had a firm programme on a limited number of points: maintain the ‘alliance’ with the Great-And-Powerful-Friend; defend the national borders –that is keep attempting refugees out – protect the ‘producers’, and subjugate the workers. He was particularly vicious when it came to the most resistant of unions.
Against the building workers, he erected the Australian Building and Construction Commission (A.B.C.C.) ― an anti-union tribunal, which has for nine consecutive years embarrassed Australia by earning the condemnation of the International Labour Organization.
The U.N. I.L.O.’s Committee of Experts, an eminent body of labour law jurists, noted that this year for the eighth time that:
‘…the manner in which the ABCC carries out its activities seems to have led to the exclusion of workers in the building and construction industry from the protection that the labour inspection system ought to secure for these workers under the applicable laws, ... the Committee urges the Government to ensure that the priorities of the ABCC (or the Fair Work Building Industry Inspectorate) are effectively reoriented.’
Some unions have bitterly criticised the attitude of the Rudd/Gillard, and then of the Gillard Government. One of them, in particular, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, has made its view known in fourteen broad, well-reasoned and argued, propositions which bear upon the performance of the Rudd/Gillard Government 2007‐10 and Labor’s performance in the 2010 general election.
Prime Minister Gillard comes from the Socialist Forum and the ‘Left’ of the Labor Party, yet her election was managed by a group of right-wing operators ― many of them very close to reactionary forces. In modern times, distinctions between “Right” and “Left” no longer have any meaning. ‘Right’ used to mean – broadly speaking – supporting capitalism and opposing any move to socialism. That much is still true, but ‘Left’ used to mean the opposite, i.e. overcoming capitalism and moving towards socialism. That has not been true of the ‘Left’ of the Labor Party for quite some time.
In addition, Ms Gillard demonstrated, in her role as Workplace Relations Minister, that she can put aside her ‘Left’ credentials and push the ‘neo-liberal’ agenda with the best of them. Before the 2007 election, she was clear about keeping a ‘tough cop on the beat’ of the building and construction industry. She was also intransigent in dealing with public school teachers in their campaign against the publication of the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy, NAPLAN – testing results in reading, writing, language conventions (spelling, grammar and punctuation) and numeracy on the My School website, publishing league tables of schools and the overall privatising agenda of the government.
Part of the Gillard Government’s agenda is increasingly to inflict the burden of the financial crisis onto the backs of working people; this, in large part, will be used to deliver the Government’s stated objective of a budget surplus in 2013. This will also mean a growing offensive against workers and their unions.
Most of the anti-union provisions established under the Howard Government’s WorkChoices have been retained under the renamed Fair Work Australia. The purpose-built anti-union A.B.C.C. is still in place. The widening of its powers to include the policing of unions in industries other than construction, and the beefing up of existing anti-union laws, are options on the government’s table. Only the Australian Workers’ Union, the right-wing manipulators which delivered Gillard her position, will be excluded from this offensive.
Breeding a culture
As Bernard Smith, well known academic and art critic, wrote just after the Second World War:
‘…support of rich industrialists, post-war chaos, world depression, rising resentment and radicalism, capitalist crisis were present in Australia as in other countries [after the First World War]. They provided the social basis for an indigenous fascist development in Australia. But, in addition to these local factors, there were overseas influences – the writings of Nietzsche, Spengler and others – who gave a measure of theoretical credence, and the sanction of ‘authorities’ to the local developments, particularly in the realm of art comment. It will be possible to deal only with these attributes of pre-fascist mentality that are in some way connected with art comment and criticism. What are these attributes? ... Some of those which are relevant to our purpose here include: the doctrine of racial supremacy, the belief in society as an organism, a hatred of democracy, the fascist praise of rural life, the identification of modern art with Bolshevism and Jewish exploitation. Have these attributes revealed themselves in the ‘culture climate’ of Australia?’
And he went on:
‘Nationalism in its heightened forms is usually identified with the dominant ‘race’ of the nation. In this way, nationalism tends to transform itself into racism. We may note symptoms of this transposition in the phrase of [art critic] J. S. MacDonald: ‘the racial expression of others will not be ours’, the supremacy of ‘British-blooded stock’, and similar statements. The same writer gives evidence of his belief in the possible development of an Australian racial élite when, in dealing with the art of Arthur Streeton, he writes: ‘If we so choose, we can yet be the elect of the world, the last of the pastoralists, the thoroughbred Aryans in all their nobility’. Such a statement combines the fascist love of rural life, emphasizes the Aryan myth of racial supremacy, and champions racial purity.’
One of the minor attributes of fascist thought is the idealisation of rural life as compared with the life of the city. Such view was fundamental to the philosophy of B. A. Santamaria, an Australian political activist and journalist, and one of the most influential political figures in twentieth century Australian history. He was a highly divisive figure with strongly held anti-Communist views and medieval Franco-like Catholicism. His corrosive influence lasted much longer than that of figures such as artist Norman Lindsay, who had occasion to lament that “the lower orders have taken to practicing art themselves” and to belittle ‘The Wharf Lumper in Art’.”
Wharf labourers have been blamed for many things, but only Lindsay would blame them for the art form of, for example, Salvador Dalí. Hitler, of course, felt very much as Lindsay did in the matter of modern art. He passed laws against it; called it Jewish, international, foreign, degenerate. He forced modern artists such as Beckmann, Kandinsky, Klee out of their art schools, and drove them from the country. Their works were removed from museum walls and hidden or sold abroad.
The private view of certain ‘races’ in the Australia of the 1930s was very much close to that of the Fascist and Nazi regimes. Coincidentally, the holders of such views shared the same hatred for democracy that was displayed by Arthur de Gobineau and Houston Stewart Chamberlain. Many of these ‘urbane’ racists had quite a lot in common: hatred for Communism, for Bolshevism, and a ‘discreet’ dislike of the Jews ― and all for such social evils as purveyors of ‘Modernism’. ‘Urbane’ racists regard the Enlightenment and Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason, as the beginning of modern depravity.
Fascism brought with itself two elements: irrationalism, which depends on the cult of action for action’s sake; and decisionism, which could be regarded as the theoretical justification for that action’s cult. In fact, Fascism has an irrational element which rejects modern thought, because it conflicts with traditional beliefs of the Christian religion. Evolution is seen as modernist and is rejected in favour of Christian creationism.
This debate re-emerges in present-day Australia’s equivocal attitude to the attempt to give equal value in education to evolution and creationism. The Federal Government is not concerned about it: education is a state matter. Nevertheless, it assists both state and private schools – and these in larger measure – in the form of an ‘each-way bet’. It goes with the possible ‘privatisation’ of everything. It also responds to the figure of the ‘action man’ as a doer and not a thinker ― the contrary being the prerogative of females.
All this makes for a populist view of reading and studying as antithetical to sport and athleticism. And that view of life, inevitably, flows into a stolid and determined anti-intellectualism.
Anti-intellectualism in Australian is one of the few activities to which the populace is seriously committed. It manifests with a scorning hostility towards and mistrust of intellectuals, and intellectual pursuits, usually expressed as the derision of education, philosophy, literature, art, and science as impractical and contemptible. ‘Intellectual’, ‘impractical’, ‘academic’ – and similar words – are terms of abuse in Australia. In public discourse, anti-intellectuals usually perceive and publicly present themselves as champions of the common folk – populists against political elitism and academic elitism – proposing that the educated are a social class detached from the everyday concerns of the majority.
As a political adjective, 'anti-intellectual' variously describes an education system emphasising minimal academic accomplishment, and a government which formulates public policy without the advice of academics and their scholarship. Because ‘anti-intellectual’ can be a pejorative, defining specific cases of anti-intellectualism can be troublesome; one can object to specific facets of intellectualism or the application thereof without being dismissive of intellectual pursuits in general. Moreover, allegations of ‘anti-intellectualism’ can constitute an appeal to authority or an appeal to ridicule, which attempts to discredit an opponent rather than specifically addressing her/his arguments.
Anti-intellectualism carries a feeling of ressentissement of, combined with a secret envy for, persons who have obtained a certain degree of formal education and do not relinquish the pleasure of continuing it. It goes with the feeling that the ‘intellectual’ is not ‘one of us’, may be dangerous, and is suspect by having no feeling for the ordinary person. Therefore, an intellectual is, by definition, arrogant, detached from the common person ― not a ‘mate’.
Many intellectuals in Australia have foreign backgrounds, or education ― or both. Often they belong to groups who ‘think otherwise’, are often non-conformist and, therefore, are suspected of being atheist, having lose morals, and of “errant” sexual behaviour; in the Australian jargon, they are seen as poofters ― who more often than not are Jews.
For that ‘reason’ – and also because intellectuals encourage discussion, specialise in ‘verbal virtuosity’ rather than leading to tangible, measurable products and services, are ‘secularist’, care about ‘the humanities’, and if given carte blanche would ‘prepare students for life’ but instil in their pupils thoughts and views which are not conducive to ‘making a living’ – intellectuals are a ‘race’ apart.
Dictatorial, authoritarian, self-absorbing governments find it convenient to accuse intellectuals of being socially uninvolved ― that is, of rejecting the one-single-thought view of life, politically-dangerous, unsatisfied with the status quo and received beliefs, hence by definition ‘subversives’.
Some examples will suffice.
It was John Thomas (‘Jack’) Lang – admittedly a Labor ‘apostate’ – who was once heard to admonish a keen young Labor member discovered reading in the Parliamentary Library with the words:
“Reading, eh? You’ll soon get over that nonsense, son. No time for it, here.”
Ignorance of economic theory in no way distinguished him from many – in fact, most – other political leaders of the day, state and federal. Time? 1930s.
Lang would not be alone. In March 1970, in Melbourne – which likes to describe itself as ‘The Athens of the South’ – Sir Henry Bolte, the ‘Liberal’ longest-serving Premier of Victoria, speaking at a Victorian Parliamentary House dinner, prided himself as follows:
“The only place I’ve never been in here is the library, not in twenty-odd years.”
He had already said of striking teachers seeking to meet him:
“I don’t have a doorstep low enough for them to sit on.”
In 1987, Sir Johannes Bjelke-Petersen, the Country Party (Agrarian Socialists) longest-serving Premier of Queensland, delivered himself as follows:
‘The greatest thing that could happen to the state and the nation is when we can get rid of all the media. Then we could live in peace and tranquillity, and no one would know anything.’
It would be a very short answer to this question: when did Bob Hawke, John Howard, Kevin Rudd, and so far Julia Gillard, ever cross the threshold of a theatre, a concert hall, or the sublime Sydney Opera House, for a cultural purpose? Also, when were any of them ever noted for attending a lecture, or a book launch, which was not strictly to the advancement of their political career? Has any of them ever read a work of fiction, seen a play, or a subtitled film, or sung in a choir, or debated moral questions since high school?
In May 2011, Opera Australia staged a performance of Puccini’s La Bohème, one of the most romantic and most frequently performed operas in the world. From the publicity, one could have thought that Mimì had just left some night-club where modern youth go to jump-up-and-down, and binge away their life ― scantily dressed, half dishevelled, ready for anything on the backseat of a car, or wherever the occasion demands. Rodolfo looked no better: some kind of labourer going to the locker-room for a well-deserved shower. Topless prostitutes figured in a promotional image and were introduced in the ‘modernisation’, presumably to portray the atmosphere of the Quartier Latin and of the Café Momus, to give a palpable sense of looseness (we are in Paris, after all!). If this was done to ‘update’ the ‘scenario’ so that young people could be attracted, it was a waste of time and money. It completely amounted to traducing Puccini, and Illica, and Giacosa, and the original Murger. Most ‘old Italians’ may not have understood the original words anyway, and may have had a problem with the subtitles. Both groups could hardly have afforded the extortionate prices. Such is, however, the ‘production’ of ‘culture’ in ‘multicultural Australia’.
At mid-2010, Bob Ellis, a well-known social commentator, and one who has a life-long association with the Labor Party, published a book ― a sort of election diary. In it, and at several points, he wrote about Prime Minister Gillard that she is “not well informed”, while Tony Abbott, the Leader of the Opposition, has “good manners”, is “formidable” and possessed of a “first-class mind.”
There is no love lost between Ellis and Abbott. But it is for Gillard, who is “sudden, firm and wrong” in everything she does, that Ellis reserves some of his most acidic barbs. He opens with some rhetorical questions:
‘Is Julia Gillard a brilliant parliamentary performer...? Or is she a political drongo [in Australia: a slow-witted or stupid person] who should be sacked from the Ministry and deselected?’
He answers his own questions in favour of the ‘political drongo’ option, and then launches into an entertaining, but devastating, resumé of Gillard’s actions throughout her time in parliament. Three pages are devoted to such examination, and they carry the voice of truth.
Then came a veritable broadside:
She’s not well-informed. She hasn’t, I think, read a novel or seen a film with subtitles and I doubt if she has read Encounter or the New Statesman or Vanity Fair or Harper’s or the London Review of Books or The New York Review of Books and therefore she doesn’t have hinterland. She has not much except a kindergarten sandpit response to things: ‘Nyah, nyah you’re just jealous because I’m prime minister and you’re not.’ . ... It’s perfectly all right for some reason if you are deputy prime minister to do that but when you are prime minister, you have to speak for the nation and I don’t think she has discovered what that is. ... One thing is sure - there will be no Gillard era. This is not a 20-year stretch. Civilised people’s hands are already over their faces every time she speaks. That cannot last. She has no power, no influence, no friends, no learning. There’s not much there.
So is there no way back for her? Ellis pauses for a while and then pronounces:
‘She needs a Falklands war. She modelled herself a great deal on Thatcher but lacking, alas, the husband or twin children that would have made that kind of act respectable.’
Gillard is part of a Melbourne-based gang Ellis dubs the “Mouse Pack”, which includes [two other ministers].
‘They twitch their whiskers and come out in favour of the Afghan war without studying the problem or noting that an army intelligence officer [Independent MP Andrew Wilkie] holds the balance of power. This is not so much dumb stuff as stuff that comes from people who have been in the same small room for too long, stroking each other’s fur.’
And then there is the ‘can-do’ mentality.
In August 2010, visiting her old school in Adelaide, Ms Gillard said that she would ‘fast track’ new teachers. Accountants, engineers, lab-technicians, journalists would do an eight-week course, then learn on the job in classrooms to be full-fledged qualified teachers in two years. As Bjelke-Petersen of Queensland memory used to say:
“You do not learn experience from a book.”
Writes Ellis in a by no means final tirade,
‘What grieves me most is Gillard’s utter lack of any apparent moral continuity. Smashed marriages, betrayed leaders, ungratefully punished unionists, shamed and amazed schoolteachers and billions wasted on architectural white elephants trail in her wake and she sees no wrong in this record of wilful, senseless vandalism. She thinks it is a good idea to bust things up and requests our congratulations for her serial spontaneous atrocities, laughing them off merrily as she would spill popcorn.’
Whitlam, a profoundly erudite person and patron of all arts, was universally condemned by the Australian corporate media and the populace-at-large for being caught ‘viewing ruins’ in Athens in December 1974 at the time a cyclone inflicted huge damage on Darwin, the capital of the Northern Territory. Keating, a self-taught person, was derided for having ‘academic’ ambitions, in cultivating Mahler and a passion for old clocks.
Australians have a word for this kind of ‘passive or emasculated’ (males only, please!) highly cultivated person ― who is, by definition, not ‘virile’ as the Fascists wanted to be portrayed. The word is poofter and it goes well beyond a reference to one’s sexual proclivity.
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