A week is a long time in politics, especially when the Government is on a half a billion dollar spending spree on military nostalgia and myth peddling, writes David Tyler.
A week is a long climb in politics, but last week lasted a hundred years.
Or so it seemed to most Australians, as time warped into an ANZAC wormhole, stopping the nation in its tracks with a heavy bombardment of all things old Digger; a frenzied bout of military nostalgia, myth peddling, sentimentality and falsehood. No expense was spared by a Government which had to underfund advocacy groups for poor and needy citizens, so desperate was it to find “savings”.
Australia’s half billion dollar effort to commemorate World War One will cost more than three times as much as those of the UK, helping to cement Australia's place amongst nations as "without doubt the most aggressive of the centenary commentators", in the words of one international scholar as reported by UNSW Canberra military historian Professor Jeffrey Grey. We are even outspending the French, whose cause to remember is rather more substantial than a nation never at threat of invasion.
Grey’s calculation does not include Abbott’s latest cash splurge, his newly announced captain’s call of a $100 million Monash interactive war museum in France, marketed to the nation as a means
‘... to immortalise the stories of Anzacs fighting on the Western Front.'
General Sir John Monash, an engineer in civilian life who specialised in reinforced concrete construction and who was a consummate tactician, would appreciate the irony in his being honoured yet again in what is another desperate attempt by an Abbott Government, under fire from all quarters, to fortify its beleaguered position.
WTF!? Tony Abbott announces he is funding a $100m war museum in France. http://t.co/jCwaaAXQDM Some budget emergency!— Dave Donovan (@davrosz) April 27, 2015
Abbott’s own fetish for militarism aside, his move is the latest in a series by Australia’s conservatives and neo-conservatives to shrewdly promote an ersatz Aussie nationalism to replace an older, truer sense of community or identity — both casualties of selfish neoliberal ideology and the god of the free market. Boosting ANZAC observance and myth-making into an orgy of maudlin sentimentality, is seen in part in the popular phenomenon of the ritual trip to Gallipoli by the young — a travesty of historical remembrance verging on sacrilege, and utterly alien to the reflections and the hard won wisdom of those who returned.
‘Let silent contemplation be your offering’, is inscribed on the War Memorial at Sydney's Hyde Park.
Instead, writes military scholar James Brown in Anzac’s Long Shadow, we indulge in
'... a discordant, lengthy and exorbitant four-year festival for the dead.'
It is already taking its toll in the lounge-rooms of the nation.
Our plucky young nation's heroic re-baptism by fire and noble sacrifice proved the feature event of the week. Starring a mythic Gallipoli-born national identity and other false or foreign imports, the performances were gruelling on all sides. Surviving only through mateship, pluck and much wearing of rosemary, Australians at home weathered wave after wave of lounge-room carpet bombing and other assaults by sustained TV ANZAC "wraparounds" led by scoundrels such as ex-Kiwi and former gladiator actor Russell Crowe, whose lack of military understanding and otherwise complete unsuitability is redeemed by his history of throwing telephones and other improvised ballistic devices.
Assisting Crowe was an army of other unlikely recruits, incorrigible grandstanders and up-stagers. There is some good news, however. Despite sustaining massive casualties to truth, and despite its post-operative trauma from amateur open-heart and DIY identity reconstruction surgery, the nation is said to be currently in a stable condition, although future prospects are a concern, especially when the country's full-scale commemoration kicks in on 28 July. Our death cult PM will, however, doubtless have the odd free trade announcement and terror alert up his sleeve to see us through.
This week he set off at a blistering pace.
Abbott exuded Turkish delight as he simultaneously scaled the twin peaks of trade and terror in Ankara, staging a virtual love-in with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu who agreed to talk tough on terror.
Abbott, in another captain's call, then damned Turkey with very faint praise, claiming windily:
"... it is prosperous, it's pluralist, it's peaceful and it's a stark contrast to the kind of things we see happening in Syria and Iraq right now."
The facts suggest otherwise, especially to Turkish minority groups, but Abbott appears to have been poorly briefed on the truth.
Persecuted Alevi or Kurdish members of Abbott's "pluralist" Turkey could play the Australian PM a clip from President Erdoğan's last election campaign, where racial vilification of his opponent proved a crowd-pleaser if not also a vote-winner.
Doubtless some fine-tuning of our own Racial Discrimination Act could yet permit similarly "robust debate" here.
Turkey friendship ‘an inspiration’ http://t.co/NXrVOEpTKN— The Australian (@australian) April 24, 2015
Our thirty-third trading partner, Turkey's economy was also no doubt vastly boosted by Prime Minister Abbott's visit. And the help did not stop there. He promised expert advice, based on his own triumph, to help guarantee Turkey the G20 success Australia enjoyed for when Turkey hosts the next G20 meeting. His host just promised further talks — not to talk turkey.
Abbott thanked Professor Davutoglu for "helping deliver" annual counter-terrorism talks between the two nations, the placement of Australian officials with Turkish police and for advancing discussions on the return of foreign fighters. If this doesn't amount to a hill of beans, it will certainly amount to a whole lot of falafel. Whatever the case, it will be less worrying than Julie Bishop's coup of the week — her arrangement to swap intelligence with Iran, a nation, which Andrew Wilkie warns will only feed us lies and generally stitch us up to its own advantage. But Bishop had other matters on her mind.
Julie Bishop won best in show in Tehran by a short half head, with her deconstructed burqa mantilla head uncovering. Preferring as she says to be "judged by what I do", not by any feminist label, her deeds judged her a supporter of the oppression of women. In one half-veiled fashion statement, she antagonised both her host and those who work tirelessly for women's rights around the world.
Bishop then capped this with a slap-down for her PM, in her gloss on his sensitive advice to Europe to turn back the boats following one of the worst maritime disasters in Europe's history. What the PM was doing was "offering up his experiences for everyone else to consider," she lied. His pitch was intended for domestic audiences to boost his standing with those ever willing to applaud a stoking of their xenophobic hatred of refugees.
Abbott talked up trade and terror and turn back the boats on his way to grace the centennial Gallipoli landing commemoration, with the best oration his turd-polishing unit could pen.
Glossing over the fact that 1915 marks the beginnings of Turkey's policy of genocide which resulted in the massacre of 1.5 million out of its population of 2 million Armenians, Abbott preferred the simpler myth that Australia and New Zealand were forged at Gallipoli which he represented as a crusade for freedom undertaken by ordinary men doing their duty and their best.
He lavished a fair bit of praise on our veterans but words are cheap. His Government cannot count the number of homeless veterans sleeping rough in Australia today, let alone make some move to provide for living diggers.
Forged also in another sense was Immigration Minister Peter Dutton's brutal return of 46 hapless Vietnamese refugees who were last heard of in police custody in Vietnam. Claiming that Australia cannot possibly be responsible for what happens after repatriation, Dutton took a leaf straight out Scott Morrison's book.
The worst ex-health minister of all time also channelled his guru Morrison in producing a duplicitous tourist video promoting a "fast-paced and vibrant" Cambodia as offering "a wealth of opportunities"to unwary and unwilling refugees who would rather be detained indefinitely on Manus Island, where they can be sure of being fed. One third of Cambodia's population must try to survive on 45 cents a day.
Fortunately for the hapless minister, another promotional video upstaged Dutton's.
Australian paediatrician and former party animal Dr Tareq Kamleh has appeared in an Islamic State video urging other medical professionals to travel to Syria and join the holy war against the West. His transformation into Jihadi despite the billions squandered on security and anti-terrorist intelligence gathering exposes flaws in the Abbott government's beefed up security regime supposedly dedicated to preventing Australians travelling to Syria or Iraq to join ISIS.
Kamleh's case also opens another perspective on an "evil death cult" world which our government insists on representing only in propagandist terms.
Credibility gaps also yawned in work experience student Gregory Hunt's "stunning outcome" , as he called it, of awarding $660.4m in emissions reduction contracts. Hunt has had a huge success giving our money away. His announcement of what is a government grant of taxpayer money to groups who promise to put it towards carbon abatement schemes such as planting trees raises more questions than it answers — especially how the scheme will work when industrial emitters want to throw their hat into the Direct Action ring but the funds are all gone. For the Climate Institute, the first "auction" merely confirms Hunt’s policy will fall short of stated goals.
Environment Minister Hunt who has now already given away much of his funding, pledges that "we will meet our targets easily". Experts point out that carbon emissions are abating as a result of other more significant global factors, such as China's slow-down and its policy of deploying new power generating technologies. Yet a sure sign young Greg is in trouble is that The Australian's Greg Sheridan hails Hunt's success as an election-winner.
Finally, Joe Hockey has differed with his PM over $80 billion he says the states won't be getting. Abbott has promised a cosy retreat where the state premiers can hold a free-flowing discussion about bailing out Western Australia — a state which is now caught short by the mining industry downturn because of its own planning failure. Principle aside, if Abbott could ever get men such as Victoria's Daniel Andrews to support a bailout, it seems pointless holding a retreat if the treasurer has taken the money "off the table".
Other hits of an action-packed week include Sussan Ley's "industrial-strength" review of Medicare to give it "better efficiency" — a process started two years ago by Labor but not, Ley claims about finding savings. Instead, as turd polishers have spun it, she is "modernising for the future" and "maintaining its integrity". Of course, all of us know that she has been told to cut her budget and the only real question is by how much.
The last word must go to a writer who saw active duty in the Great War and whose inbuilt "crap-detector" helped him see through the rhetoric of war and sacrifice, and all the other weasel words that governments use to get us to part with our money and our lives.
'I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious and sacrifice and the expression in vain. We had heard them, sometimes standing in the rain almost out of earshot, so that only the shouted words came through, and had read them, on proclamations that were slapped up by billposters over other proclamations, now for a long time, and I had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had no glory and the sacrifices were like the stockyards at Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except to bury it.'
~ Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms
You can follow David Tyler on Twitter @urbanwronski.
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Gallipoli was a "splendid failure" says Tony Abbott. No it wasn't. It was a tragedy for Australia and a dismal failure — much like himself.— Dave Donovan (@davrosz) April 27, 2015