Genocide of Hazaras

The Taliban have taken control of Afghanistan.  The Hazara people are at serious risk of genocide right now.  It is important that early warnings are taken seriously by the international community.

The trauma and experience of war is not the same for everyone in Afghanistan. Some ethnic groups might trace it back 40 years.  Others, particularly Hazara, would disagree as their collective memory of stretches back hundreds of years. Hazara have experienced several mass killings (arguably genocide) that never made the official records or history books. The first recorded Hazara mass killings date back to the 1890s.  The founder of Afghan state, Abdur Rahman Khan, arranged the killing of around 50% of the Hazara population: they were either slaughtered or forced to leave their lands. Jonathan L. Lee wrote:

“According to some estimates more than 50 per cent of the male Hazara population died as a direct or Indirect result of the wars. Thousands of women were forcibly married to Pashtuns in a deliberate attempt to destroy Hazara social and religious hierarchies. The Hazara populations of (various parts of Afghanistan) were expelled and their land distributed to Muhammadzais, Ghilzai maldar and government loyalists.”

The people now known as Hazara, were originally Bhuddists: they built the famous Bamiyan Bhuddas.  They eventually converted to Islam, but they became Shi’a Muslims.  The Taliban are principally Sunni Muslims.  The distinction is like the division between Catholics and Protestants which, historically, has been the source of significant difficulties.

DFAT says that around “60% of the entire Hazara population were eliminated in different ways, most often by killing, selling into slavery or forcing into exile by the Abdur Rahman Khan.

According to Henry Walter’s 1880 book “The Races of Afghanistan” Hazara occupied all the land  which formed the Paropamisus of the ancients: it covered most of the area now called Afghanistan and Pakistan.  No longer: historical mass killings and atrocities have resulted in Hazara being forcibly displaced. A significant number of Hazara refugees now live in Australia, Europe and America.

The term “genocide” was originated by Raphael Lemkin (a Jewish-Polish lawyer), as “the criminal intent to destroy or to cripple permanently a human group. The acts are directed against groups as such, and individuals are selected for destruction only because they belong to these groups.” With that meaning, the UN Genocide Convention came into effect in January 1951.

One significant element of genocide is that perpetrators committed an act with an “intention to destroy” a particular group.   It is not hard to understand why the crime of genocide was adopted by the UN, given the horrors of the Holocaust.

The intention to destroy Hazara was expressed plainly in the 1990s when Mullah Abdul Manan Niazi, a former Taliban spokesperson, said:

“Hazara! Where are you escaping? If you jump into the air we will grasp your legs, if you enter the earth, we will grasp your ears. Hazara are not Moslems. You can kill them. It’s not a sin. Oh Hazara, become Moslems and pray God as us. We won’t let you to go away. Every border is in our control.”

Similar thoughts were expressed a century earlier, during the 1880s by Abdur Rahman Khan, who wrote to his secretary of the Sharia Law Court: “What do you know about the nature of this tribe [Hazara]? Their belief will never get right.”

There is a historical order and structure in the elimination of Hazara started by Abdur Rahman Khan and continued and maintained by the Taliban today. For example: “Taliban militiamen searched house to house for males of fighting age who belonged to the Hazara ethnic minority. Hazara were gunned down in front of their families and had their throats slit in the same way Muslims slaughter goats for holiday feasts.”   In June 2021 Taliban searched room to room only killing Hazara workers leaving other employees unharmed.

In March 2001, the Taliban destroyed the Bamiyan Bhuddas, which had been built centuries before by Hazara.

In 2018, Daesh sectarian-violence against the Hazara minority escalated. According to the USCIRF, the ISKP attacks on the Shia have been more lethal than others and left some 300 fatalities in 2018.

Between 1 January and 30 November 2019, UNAMA documented seven IS- claimed attacks against Shias, causing 112 deaths and 361 injuries. The attacks were carried out against education centres, hospitals and tuition institutions.

In July 2021, Taliban killed a Hazara shepherd immediately after he identified himself as Hazara.

Recent Amnesty reports, about crimes committed against Hazara by Taliban, said:

“In Mundarakht, they were stopped at a Taliban checkpoint, where they were executed. Ali Jan Tata was shot in the chest, and Rasool was shot in the neck. According to witnesses, Zia Faqeer Shah’s chest was so riddled with bullets that he was buried in pieces. The men’s bodies were thrown into the creek alongside Sayed Abdul Hakim.”

The past few years have been deadly for the Hazara minority in Afghanistan.

The historical, and recent, killings of Hazara have been overlooked by the International community for many years.  Those who survived the 1890s war against Hazara fled to central Asian countries. The historical atrocities against Hazara were not talked about.

There has been a record number of deaths and injuries in Afghanistan this year: so far, more than 5000, mostly women and children.

With return of Taliban to power, fear for the Hazara minority escalates.  It is possible that the future will hold another genocide for Hazara.

The Genocide Convention set out the legal obligation of state parties to prevent and punish genocide. The Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility supports two special advisors who can report directly to the UN Secretary-General. The special advisors “raise awareness of the causes and dynamics of genocide, to alert relevant actors when there is a risk of genocide, and to advocate and mobilize for appropriate action.”

The onus is on the international community to help prevent potential crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and genocide.

If a state fails to protect its population, the international community must be prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner and in accordance with the UN charter.

We cannot ignore the danger faced by Hazara in Afghanistan right now.  About 5000 Hazara live in Australia as refugees.  If we are not seen to be helping the Afghans trying to escape the Taliban right now, we will undoubtedly cause great anguish and mental harm to the Hazara who live here and contribute to our community.  And we need to offer them more than temporary protection: if we are serious about avoiding genocide, and if we want their commitment to our Society, we need to give the Afghan refugees permanent protection, right now.

Arts & Culture – From an Ivory Tower?

This is the text of a speech I gave for Agora (based in Cypress) on 24 November 2021

“From an Ivory Tower”

When I first proposed to speak on Arts and Culture, I had the implicit, unthought view that the two were, in substance, the same thing. If there was a difference, it was that “Art” was confined to visual art, and that “culture” picked up the rest.

Having thought about it, I think I was wrong.

In fact, I think it is useful to start by recognising how wrong that view is. As I am a “word-nerd”, the Oxford English Dictionary definitions are a starting point.

The OED defines “art” as:

“5 The application of skill to subjects of taste, as poetry, music, dancing, the drama, oratory, literary composition, and the like; esp. in mod. use: Skill displaying itself in perfection of workmanship, perfection of execution as an object in itself.

6 The application of skill to the arts of imitation and design, painting, engraving, sculpture, architecture; the cultivation of these in its principles, practice, and results; the skilful production of the beautiful in visible forms.

10 A pursuit or occupation in which skill is directed towards the gratification of taste or production of what is beautiful. Hence the Arts”

It defines “culture” as:

5.a absol. The training, development, and refinement of mind, tastes, and manners; the condition of being thus trained and refined; the intellectual side of civilization.

5.b  A particular form or type of intellectual development. Also, the civilization, customs, artistic achievements, etc., of a people, esp. at a certain stage of its development or history. (In many contexts, esp. in Sociology, it is not possible to separate this sense from sense 5 a.)”

As in many other things, Australian English has drifted away from Oxford English.  It is not unusual in Australia these days to hear, and think, of culture as referring to a particular sub-group of Society.

For example, the people who are captivated by football are the Football culture; that group of people who think Covid vaccination is evil are referred to as the Anti-vax culture; that group of people who consider rock music as the highest form of music are, unthinkingly, described as the Rock culture.  There are many other examples.

A cultural norm codifies acceptable conduct in society; it serves as a guideline for behaviour, dress, language, and demeanour in a situation, which serves as a template for expectations in a social group. Accepting only a monoculture in a social group can bear risks, just as a single species can wither in the face of environmental change, for lack of functional responses to the change. Thus in military culture, valour is considered a typical behaviour for an individual and duty, honour, and loyalty to the social group are regarded as virtues. In the practice of religion, analogous attributes can be identified in a social group.  So, if a person shares the beliefs of a particular religious group or sub-group, they can comfortably be described as part of that culture.

After all culture, like Art, is ‘created by people,’ and evolves due to human activities and is passed on to succeeding generations. The impact of cultural influence is both tangible and intangible. People’s basic attitudes and values are a direct result of their cultural environment.

In short, my initial view was wrong.

That said, when I refer to the “Arts” I intend a reference to all forms of Art: visual arts, music, poetry and so on.  When I refer to “Culture” I intend a reference to all cultures, including those I have little or nothing to do with (including anti-vax culture and rock culture).

But in assessing the Arts and culture, we have to be careful to recognise our own place from which we are judging.  The fact that I do not see myself as part of rock culture inevitably means that my approach to the arts is inherently limited.  Who knows, future ages may see rock music as the peak episode in the development of music generally.  (That assumes that we survive into future ages: there is a sub-group, big enough to be described as a culture, which denies that climate change is happening, and therefore does not see a risk that the human race will perish.  That view was loudly expressed at the recent COP26 summit in Glasgow).

The Arts are profoundly important.  The playwright Tom Stoppard once said:  “In any society of 1,000 people, there will be 900 doing the work, 90 doing well, nine doing good and one lucky person is an artist.

In recent memory, the artist has been, for the most part, a highly romantic and much-admired character.

It’s likely that current attitudes to art probably trace their origins to the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, and to the French Revolution which began when Kant was 65 years old.

Kant was the first philosopher since the time of Socrates to emphasize the importance of subjective response as part of the process of perceiving the external world.  In this, he turned his back on the French rationalists, and significantly qualified the views of the British Empiricists.

The French Revolution was a wildfire which swept across continents and generations.  It changed forever the relations between State and citizen.  It redefined the nature of individual identity.  It marked the beginning of the romantic era, and it marks the birth of the artist as Artist, with a capital A.

At least until the French Revolution, those skilled in painting, sculpture, music or literature were valued for abilities very different from those we now admire.  The musician’s function was to entertain the rich, or glorify God, or tell the stories of a pre‑literate society.

The painter’s function was to provide decorative objects for the rich or powerful, to record and embellish stories, historical or moral.  Technical skill was the principal virtue.  Self-expression was not part of the transaction.

After the French Revolution, all that changed.  It made possible the personal and subjective overlay seen in the paintings of Goya, David and Gericault, for example.

And while, during the 19th Century, French society retreated from the beachhead established by the French Revolution, the shift of emphasis from artisan to Artist pushed ahead.

Only in a post-revolutionary world could tortured geniuses like Byron and Shelley,  Beethoven and Schubert, van Gogh and Cezanne find a place.

We have inherited the philosophy which made the French Revolution possible.  We have inherited the idea of artist as creative genius.

Unfortunately, most of those who started the Revolution were put to the guillotine eventually, and most of the tortured geniuses had short and miserable lives.  Beethoven was the foremost composer of his time, but was chronically short of money;  van Gogh , whose paintings have set world records at auction, only ever sold one painting himself.

More recently, Shostakovich lived in constant danger of denunciation on the ground that his music was “ideologically unsound”.  His moral stamina has left us with a musical legacy of incalculable value but he suffered for it.

Perhaps Stoppard was a bit optimistic.

Artists making their start today can be proud to take the torch once carried through adversity by such as Byron, van Gogh and Shostakovich.  It is they who reflect the very soul of our society.

But how are we treating our artists?

Support for the arts in Australia is divided haphazardly between government, philanthropic trusts and private individuals. That division, and the importance of philanthropic support, has been more than usually evident during the Covid-19 pandemic, which has had a profound and damaging effect on the performing arts and venues which specialise in producing or showing the performing arts.

Because a work of art is more than just a physical thing capable of being bought and sold.  In important ways, every work of art carries part of our shared culture and that fact gives the work its true value: a value which bears very little relation to the operation of a market for unique commodities.

The arts are profoundly important to our society.   Rewarding artists adequately is not only morally right, it is essential if the arts are to flourish.  Supporting  artists is bound up with the importance of the arts.

The case for the importance of the arts is not difficult to make, but it is not often made.  There are at least two arguments which, in my view, demonstrate that the Arts, in all their forms, are profoundly important.

Economic rationalists would point out that most artists are economically unviable.  Sadly, that is true.  Creative artists generally have miserable incomes from their art, and survive by teaching or waiting on tables.  Performing artists do not have it much better; depending on their speciality, they may have just as difficult a time as creative artists.  During the recent Covid crisis, performing artists have had a shocking time.

Economic rationalists would argue that pouring money into the arts makes no sense unless the consumer considers the transaction to deliver a nett benefit to them.

The economic rationalist will buy the painting which delivers them the greatest pleasure for the lowest price, even allowing that a part of the pleasure might derive from the conspicuously famous name of the artist.

The economic rationalist will not be tempted to provide philanthropic support for the arts, because that produces no saleable return.

So: does art actually matter?

Van Gogh sold very few paintings – arguably, just one –  and for very little money.  Cezanne was once booted out of his lodgings and the angry landlord hurled some of his paintings out of the attic window into the courtyard below.   Similar examples can be multiplied endlessly.

Would the world be poorer if van Gogh had never painted Starry Night, or if Cezanne had not painted  Les Grandes Bagneuses; or if van Gogh and Cezanne had never painted at all?

Would the world be poorer if Michelangelo had never painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or designed the Duomo in Florence;  if da Vinci had never painted;  if Beethoven or Shostakovitch had never written a note of music?

Would the world be poorer if Shakespeare and Balzac had never written?

If we suspect that the world would be poorer without Beethoven and Mozart, without van Gogh and Cezanne; without Shakespeare and Balzac, we acknowledge the value of art for its own sake.

None of those people created material wealth.  None of them derived great material wealth in their lifetimes.  The price of unique paintings is a quirk of the market for commodities:  the value of the works is spiritual.

Imagine this: a wealthy investor buys Mona Lisa, and announces that he intends to destroy it, privately.  Most people would feel a sense of … loss.

The destruction of the library at Byzantium in 1204 and the looting of the national museum of Baghdad in 2004 represent losses which not even the crassest economist has tried to measure in economic terms, because the calculation would be seen by everyone to miss the point completely.

The poet, John Keats (31 October 1795 – 23 February 1821) died 200 years ago.  He lived in poverty and died of TB aged just 25.  (The article is here: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2021/feb/23/john-keats-five-poets-on-his-best-poems-200-years-since-his-death).  In 1819, he sat in a friend’s garden listening to a nightingale. He was 23, and trying to live by poetry though reviews so far had been woundingly critical. He had just watched his younger brother die of tuberculosis, which he now had.  His Ode to a Nightingale starts with the immortal lines:

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past,…

In a remarkable short story by Frederic Raphael, the author speaks of a man who, early in his university days, abandoned a hopeful career as a poet for the much more prosaic career of a lawyer.  He prospers in his choice and is eventually appointed to the Bench.  Upon his appointment, he has to vacate his chambers and this leads him to the bitter-sweet task of going through the accumulated papers of decades to decide what may be disposed of and what should be retained.

“He had quite forgotten about his adolescent poetry and was astonished to come across a batch of it at the bottom of a cupboard.  He smiled – golly! – at the sight of it and took it out and started to read, for a laugh.  He expected clinching evidence of the folly of youthful pretensions.  His whole happy life had been founded on the assumption that he had been right to abdicate before his wife’s gentle, unmistakable judgment.  He sat on the floor of his chambers, boyishly grey, and prepared to be embarrassed by those unburnt embers.  Instead, the poems passed sentence on his life.  At last, he closed his eyes to escape their indictment, but the unblinking eye in the centre of his forehead gazed and blazed with unique and undeniable vision.  He cowered on the floor of the dusty cave and saw that the years of his life had escaped, like Odysseus’s men under the panicky sheep of the blind, deluded Polyphemus.  ‘Who are you, who are you?’ he cried.  And the voice of the man who had blinded himself replied ‘No-one.  No-one.’”

In that short, compelling paragraph we see the result of trading the valuable for the priceless.  We leave our footprints in water, but artists leave something for future ages.

Art connects us to the world, to each other, to others we can never meet or know.  It affirms our relationship to the rest of humanity.

The wider our encounter with art, the richer that connection becomes.  This might be what Stoppard had in mind.

Art is valuable, in and of itself.

Major arts organizations in Australia are increasingly dependent on government funds and corporate sponsorship. Corporate sponsorship, needed and appreciated as it is, is not the same as patronage.

A commercial sponsor rightly expects, and gets, a commercial reward for sponsorship funds. This is generally in the form of targeted advertising, corporate entertaining, and the prestige of good corporate citizenship.

This form of arts funding should not be confused with patronage. Ideally, the patron receives no return on their generosity, beyond the satisfaction of knowing they have helped an artist or group in a material way. The ultimate satisfaction is the knowledge that you have helped the Arts succeed: by helping a particular artist achieve success which, but for your support, they would not have been able to achieve in their lifetime.

The second argument is a reflection of the first.  Take a group of people of fair intelligence and average education and give them a list of names from each of the past 5 or 6 centuries and see which names they recognise.  Although this is only a thought experiment, I guarantee you that, overwhelmingly, the names most people recognise are those of writers, composers, painters and sculptors;  one or two tyrants perhaps, a couple of scientists and explorers as well; a few (very few) politicians and sportspeople.  No lawyers or economists or accountants.  Go back a century or so and my instinct is that no politicians or economists or accountants or lawyers will be recognised.   Prove me wrong if you will.

Virtually everyone has seen Mona Lisa, or heard the music of Beethoven or read the work of Tolstoy.  But can anyone name a lawyer, an economist or an accountant who lived and worked at the same time and in the same place as Leonardo, Beethoven or Tolstoy?  I have never met that person.

The extent to which artists are recognised in an experiment like this is quite striking.  While artists might represent less than one percent of any given population at any given time, they will represent 80 or 90 percent of the names recognised, and the further back you go, the greater the disproportion in the results.  What this demonstrates is that almost everyone acknowledges implicitly the importance of our received culture, the value of the inheritance we all receive from generations of creative artists.  We cannot do anything to repay our debt to past generations of artists, but we can try to see the present generation properly rewarded for their work.

But who will advance their cause?  Most creative artists struggle to make a living.  Some well-meaning people go to auctions and buy second-hand art by dead people.  That may generate a profit for the original collector and for the auction house, but it does nothing for the artist, and nothing for the Arts.

Some people buy works by the current “big name” or they think they can pick the next “big name”.

Big mistake.

Buying art with a view to making a profit is not about supporting the arts, it’s about supporting the people who will inherit your estate.  Apart from being the wrong motivation, it is probably doomed to failure.

The point is that you should never buy a work of art in order to make a profit: you buy it because you like it.

You want to pick a winner? You will fail.

In 1874, two significant exhibitions were staged in Paris. One was the annual Salon, at which the leading artist was Franz Xavier Winterhalter.  He is not widely remembered today, except for a full-length portrait of the young Queen Victoria, painted in about 1842.  It’s a good portrait, in the style of its time. But otherwise, if you mention his name, most people won’t remember him. In the same year the second Salon des Refusés, was held.

A rather snippy commentator called Edmond Le Roy went to the Refusés and wrote an unflattering review.  He gave the artists a derogatory name.  He drew it from a painting in the show: ‘Impression, Sunrise’, by Monet. As a sneer he called them “Impressionists”.

Of course, the smart money of the day was rushing off to the Salon and buying Winterhalter, and joined the chorus of abuse of the Impressionists.

Presumably their descendants did not thank them for their choice.

Support the artists whose work you like.  Consider the case of J.S. Bach.  He died in 1750.  By the early19th century, his reputation had sunk: he was regarded as a hack.  Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) recognised Bach as a remarkably gifted composer.  Mendelssohn tried to revive interest in Bach.  He arranged a performance of the St Matthew Passion in 1829.

Mendelssohn wrote just two piano trios: they are both superb.  The final movement of his second piano trio has two extended quotations from a Bach cantata.  Felix Mendelsohn was in large part responsible for the revival of  Bach’s reputation.

And remember Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741).  Everyone has heard his “Four Seasons”.  Not everyone appreciates that for almost 200 years after his death, Vivaldi had been forgotten.  His reputation was restored, and a great deal of his original work was revived, from the 1920s on.  In the late 1960s the Nonesuch recording label produced the first recording – on vinyl disk – of the Four Seasons.

Sic transit gloria mundi.

Not all art is collectible.  Composers can only make a living if their work is played and people go along and listen to it.  Commission music if you get the chance: it’s not hard.  If you aren’t up for the price of a commission, join together with some friends and commission a piece jointly.  It is astonishingly satisfying, whether or not you like the music which is composed.

The more people support the work of people whose work they like, the better will be the lives of creative artists.  If collectors go to shows and buy the work they like, they will enrich the environment in which artists work, and that will enhance the possibility that artists who are genuinely great will have a realistic chance of survival as artists.   If music lovers go to hear the music of contemporary composers and commission work by composers whose music they like, the environment in which creative artists live will be … friendlier, less hostile.

The need for patronage of the arts in Australia is plain. Most Australian artists (by which I mean creative and performing artists in all categories of the arts) occupy the lowest income group in Australia. All but the very established and most successful artists in Australia earn very little. Artists survive by teaching, or washing dishes, or by the help of friends or relatives: you can change that.

If the health of a society is to be judged by the condition of its artists, Australian society has some major problems.

The reason for this is that existing forms of support for the Arts in Australia are inadequate.

In saying this, I would exclude the State of Victoria, which, especially during the Covid pandemic, has done great things to support the Arts.

Apart from Victoria, additional government funding is a pious hope: there are not many votes in the Arts.

Corporate sponsorship is increasingly drifting to popular art forms, or away from the Arts altogether in favour of sport – more bangs for the sponsorship buck.

Private support for the arts is, to say the least, an underdeveloped idea in Australia. There are some notable exceptions. However, we have no cultural tradition of private philanthropy in the Arts.

This is probably a function of 3 things: first, it is generally thought to be the province of the super-rich, which provides a ready-made excuse for those of more modest resources.

Second, it has an air of elitism about it which is thought to be un-Australian.

Third, it does not readily attract tax-deductible status, which would otherwise make a contribution easier, especially for those who are not super-rich, but pay 50% of their income in tax.

The solution, I think, is to encourage private philanthropy among those who are comfortable rather than rich. As much good can be achieved by a large number donating a modest amount as by an exclusive few donating large amounts.

More immediately, we should all recognize that living, working artists need sales.  Admiration of their work is good: but the sincerest form of admiration is buying their work.

But why? Why support the Arts?  As I said before, most Australian artists occupy the lowest income group in Australia. All but the very established and most successful artists in Australia earn very little each year. Artists survive by teaching, or washing dishes, or by the help of friends or relatives.

As I mentioned before, most of us: lawyers, economists, accountants – leave our footprints in the water. Artists leave something that later ages can appreciate.

It has always struck me as dreadful that many visual artists make very little during their lifetime, but their work becomes increasingly valuable on the secondary market after their death.  As a recent example: in November this year, a van Gogh watercolour landscape sold at auction in New York for $A49.3 million), a record for a watercolour by van Gogh.

He sold just one painting during his lifetime, the Red Vineyard, which sold in 1889 for 400 Belgian francs (that’s about $15 in today’s money).  Can anyone name a lawyer, an economist or an accountant who lived and worked at the same time and in the same place as van Gogh (1853-1890)?

Of course, he had to survive and it turns out that he would trade his paintings for food or art supplies.  He probably never dreamed that his work would sell at auction for vast amounts just 130 years after his death.

These days, it is the view from an ivory tower that makes us equate people like Leonardo, van Gogh, Beethoven and Tolstoy with “culture”.  But that is a mistake we need to avoid, especially if we are considering how to support the Arts.

For every Leonardo, van Gogh, Beethoven and Tolstoy there are many artists at work, but they may not achieve the success (even the posthumous success) of those people.  The crucial thing is that an arts culture helps the greats as well as the not-so-greats.  Unless all artists are supported, the culture will not support those who are later recognised as great.

And when attention turns to culture, the problem is magnified.  I said earlier that I am not part of “rock culture”.  In holding that view, I face the risk that I will be assessed as having judged the matter from an ivory tower: just as people wrongly assessed van Gogh during his lifetime.  Perhaps they saw him as part of the European, 19th century, equivalent of “rock culture”.

Some cultures, in today’s assessment, concern matters of fact: whether Climate Change is real; whether Covid-19 is real; whether vaccination works to diminish the risk of Covid-19, and so on.

Some cultures, in today’s assessment, concern matters of opinion about the future: who are the great artists; what is the great music, and so on.

For the first group, I think the only way to assess the matter is by looking at the facts, and assessing them in accordance with what is known.

So far as Climate Change is concerned, the facts are pretty clear, in my opinion.  The underlying science – that carbon-based molecules in the atmosphere block the escape of infra-red heat – is clear, and has been known since an American scientist, Eunice Foote, published a paper on the subject in 1856: about 170 years ago.  Incidentally, Foote was born in 1819, before van Gogh was born, and died in 1888: the year before he sold The Red Vineyard.  She is not as well-known; perhaps because she was not only a scientist: she was also a women’s rights campaigner.

The impact of Climate Change is a matter of science, and the culture which opposes it should be assessed by reference to science.

The culture which challenges whether Covid-19 is real and whether vaccination works to diminish the risk of Covid-19 is also a matter of science and should be assessed according to the current science.  Of course, the science relevant to Coronavirus has shifted and will probably continue to shift.  But the vaccines which have been produced to combat it have been tested rigorously and, on any view, they apparently do no harm and they dramatically reduce the risk associated with Coronavirus.  Right or wrong, I think the cultures which deny the science are simply wrong.

Other cultures are a reflection of aesthetic assessment: Rock culture is a perfect example.

In our assessment of these, it is useful to remember the assessment, in their time, of van Gogh and Cezanne.  It is important to recognise whether we are judging the Arts from an ivory tower.

 

Peter Dutton

Peter Dutton MP is the Minister of Home Affairs.

Home Affairs was established on 20 December 2017.  It combines the national security, law enforcement and emergency management functions of the A-G’s Department, the transport security functions of the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development, the counterterrorism and cybersecurity functions of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, the multicultural affairs functions of the Department of Social Services, and the entire Department of Immigration and Border Protection.  It controls the Federal Police, Border Force and ASIO.

Home Affairs is the most powerful ministry in the country, and it is headed by Peter Dutton.

It is easy to argue that no Minister should be entrusted with such vast powers.  But the fact that those powers are in Peter Dutton’s hands is seriously alarming.  He is arguably the most powerful person in the country.  It is hard to imagine any member of Federal Parliament less suited to have, and exercise, the sort of powers Peter Dutton now has.

Ministerial powers are subject to limits.  The Rule of Law means that the limits are subject to supervision by the judicial system.  Most Ministers understand that.  Dutton apparently does not.  Ministerial decisions can be challenged in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) and, ultimately, in the Courts.  Challenging a Ministerial decision is not simple, but the AAT is a bit more “litigant-friendly” than the Courts: the AAT makes challenging a Ministerial decision a bit easier for people who can’t afford a lawyer.

In the middle of 2017, Dutton led an attack on the AAT, saying that it was making “silly” rulings (presumably, this means decisions he did not like).

“Judicial processes are very important,” he said. “(The legislation) still allows people to have their day in court. But it doesn’t give rise to the silly situations which we’re seeing at the moment…”.

He advocated legislation which would give him the final say over citizenship decisions, subject only to the Courts.  He already has the final say over visa cancellations.

When Dutton took over the Immigration portfolio from Scott Morrison in December 2014, he adopted Morrison’s misleading characterisation of boat people as “illegal”. Morrison had decreed that the people referred to in the Migration Act as “Unauthorised Maritime Arrivals” should in future be called “Illegal Maritime Arrivals”.  Dutton has picked up the idea, even though it is a lie.

Dutton shamelessly uses the “illegal” tag.

At the very least, this shows ignorance of some basic facts; at worst, it shows dishonesty.  Boat people do not commit any offence by arriving in Australia without a visa, without an invitation, seeking to be protected from persecution.  On the contrary, they are exercising a right acknowledged in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).  Article 14 of the Universal Declaration starts this way:

“ Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.”

Australia made a significant contribution to the creation of the Universal Declaration, and an Australian (Doc Evatt) presided over the General Assembly of the UN when it was adopted on 10 December 1948.

On 27 July 2017 Dutton wrote an opinion piece about Operation Sovereign Borders (http://minister.homeaffairs.gov.au/peterdutton/Pages/opinion-operation-sovereign-borders-milestone.aspx) which included these words:

“It’s now been three years since a people smuggler’s boat loaded with Illegal Maritime Arrivals (IMAs) reached Australia. …

Had the Coalition not mounted OSB – the boats and illegal arrivals would still be coming…”

On 31 October 2017 he said:

“The Coalition Government has had a clear and consistent policy since coming to office; no-one who attempts to enter Australia illegally by boat will ever settle here.”

Dutton is in charge of the offshore detention of boat people on Nauru and on Manus Island, PNG.  Most of them have been assessed as refugees, legally entitled to protection.  The Refugees Convention means they can’t be sent back to their country of origin, where they were being persecuted, and Dutton has made it clear that they will never be allowed to come to Australia. But Nauru and PNG are not having much luck finding other countries to send them to.  Billions of dollars are spent because Peter Dutton is too cruel (or perhaps just  too ignorant) to allow them to come here.  Presumably he justifies this by calling them “illegal” (which is false) and the whole exercise is called “border protection” (which is misleading).

Instead, Dutton told the public these refugees had received “an enormous amount of support” from Australian taxpayers for a long time, saying “there is a very different scenario up on Nauru and Manus than people want you to believe”.  Taxes cover the absurd cost of maintaining offshore processing arrangements.  It costs about $570,000 per refugee per year to keep boat people on Manus or Nauru.  So in that sense refugees receive support from taxpayers.

UN officials have repeatedly criticised Australia’s refugee policies. Our treatment of refugees on Manus breaches our obligations under the Convention Against Torture. Every international NGO that has looked at our treatment of refugees has criticised us for it.

Dutton’s moral horizons can be seen by considering several recent cases.  The boat people on Nauru include children.  Most of them have been there for 4 years or more.  Some of them have been driven to self-harm or attempted suicide.  The medical facilities available on Nauru are simply not able to cope with young children who are self-harming at the age of 10 or 11 years.  In recent months, several young children have been in such desperate need that applications were made in the Australian courts for the children to be brought to Australia for proper medical treatment.  Peter Dutton paid lawyers to resist those applications.

It is important to understand what this means.  Peter Dutton, who spends billions of dollars to keep innocent people in misery for years, spends more taxpayer dollars to resist attempts get appropriate medical care for the children the Minister has harmed.

Dutton also criticises lawyers who try to help the people he is harming.  In August 2017, Dutton declared that lawyers helping Asylum Seekers were “un-Australian”.  I have done thousands of hours of (unpaid) work in an attempt to alleviate the mistreatment of boat people.  Speaking for myself, Dutton’s comment made being “un-Australian” a badge of honour.

In September 2017, referring to the first group of refugees to leave Manus Island for resettlement in the United States, Dutton said “We have been taken for a ride, I believe, by a lot of the advocates and people within Labor and the Greens who want you to believe this is a terrible existence”.

It is difficult for Australians to get into the processing centres on Manus and Nauru.  We can’t see these places for ourselves.  If Peter Dutton really thinks life for refugees on Manus or Nauru is better than “people within Labor and the Greens” say, then perhaps he will explain why refugees have been attacked and killed in those places.  Perhaps he will explain why international observers have been so critical of conditions in those places. Perhaps he will explain why so many refugees in those places have suffered such serious physical and mental damage.

In October 2017, Dutton accused advocates and the Greens of “aiding and abetting” detainees to force the government to change its policy through “subterfuge”.

In November 2017, Dutton attacked New Zealand’s offer of $3 million funding to provide essential services on Manus Island, saying the “money would be better spent elsewhere”. He also repeatedly rejected New Zealand’s offers of resettlement for people on Manus.  He attacked New Zealand, saying it benefited from Australia’s tough border policies without paying for them:

“If new boats arrive tomorrow those people aren’t going to Auckland, they’re going to Nauru”.

Dutton also threatened that, if New Zealand and PNG bypassed Australia to strike an agreement to resettle refugees held on Manus, it would have “consequences for Australia’s relationship with both countries”.

On 7 April 2018 Dutton called for “like-minded” countries to come together and review the relevance of the 1951 Refugees Convention.

So, here it is: Australia’s most powerful Minister is wilfully  mistreating innocent people at vast public expense.  He is waging a propaganda war against refugees and against the people who try to help them.  And he is trying to persuade other countries to back away from international human rights protection.

He tries to make it seem tolerable by hiding it all away in other countries, so that we can’t see the facts for ourselves.

Dutton has often expressed concern about people drowning in their attempt to get to Australia.  But his concern about people drowning is is a lie.  If he was genuinely concerned about people drowning, he might treat survivors decently. Instead, if they don’t drown, he punishes them: he puts them in offshore detention for years.  He does this in order to deter others from trying to seek safety in Australia.

Perhaps the most worrying thing about Peter Dutton is not his dishonesty, or his stupidity, but his propaganda war which, already, has led the Australian people to accept things which would have been unthinkable 10 or 20 years ago.  He has blinded us to the fact that we are now deliberately harming innocent men, women and children, in ways that are completely inconsistent with our view of ourselves.  After all, aren’t we the nation that believes in a fair go for everyone?

By small degrees Dutton is inducing Australians to tolerate the intolerable.  His campaign to make cruelty acceptable has the potential to lead Australia to very dark places.

 

Why does art matter?

23 February 2021

Economic rationalists would point out that most artists are economically unviable.  That is true, unfortunately.  Creative artists generally have miserable incomes from their art, and survive by teaching or waiting on tables.  Performing artists do not have it much better; depending on their speciality, they may have just as difficult a time as creative artists.

Economic rationalists would argue that pouring money into the arts makes no sense unless the consumer considers the transaction to deliver a nett benefit to them.

The economic rationalist will buy the painting which delivers them the greatest pleasure for the lowest price, even allowing that a part of the pleasure might derive from the conspicuously famous name of the artist.

The economic rationalist will not be tempted to provide philanthropic support for the arts, because that produces no saleable return.

So: does art actually matter?

Van Gogh sold very few paintings, and those for very little money.  Cezanne was once booted out of his lodgings and the angry landlord hurled some of his paintings out of the attic window into the courtyard below.   Similar examples can be multiplied endlessly.

Would the world be poorer if van Gogh had never painted Starry Night, or if Cezanne had not painted  Les Grandes Bagneuses; or if van Gogh and Cezanne had never painted at all?

Would the world be poorer if Michelangelo had never painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or designed the Duomo in Florence;  if da Vinci had never painted;  if Beethoven or Shostakovitch had never written a note of music?

Would the world be poorer if Shakespeare and Balzac had never written?

If we suspect that the world would be poorer without Beethoven and Mozart, without van Gogh and Cezanne; without Shakespeare and Balzac, we acknowledge the value of art for its own sake.

None of those people created material wealth.  None of them derived great material wealth in their lifetimes.  The price of unique paintings is a quirk of the market for commodities:  the value of the works is spiritual.

Imagine this: a wealthy investor buys Mona Lisa, and announces that he intends to destroy it, privately.  Most people would feel a sense of … loss.

Because a work of art is more than just a physical thing capable of being bought and sold.  In important ways, every work of art carries part of our shared culture and that fact gives the work its true value: a value which bears very little relation to the operation of a market for unique commodities.

The destruction of the library at Byzantium in 1204 and the looting of the national museum of Baghdad in 2004 represent losses which not even the crassest economist has tried to measure in economic terms, because the calculation would be seen by everyone to miss the point completely.

Right now the Guardian (UK) is covering the fact that the poet, John Keats (31 October 1795 – 23 February 1821) died exactly 200 years ago.  He lived in poverty and died of TB aged just 25.  The article is here: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2021/feb/23/john-keats-five-poets-on-his-best-poems-200-years-since-his-death

It starts with one of his most memorable and magical poems: Ode to a Nightingale.

In a remarkable short story by Frederic Raphael, the author speaks of a man who, early in his university days, abandoned a hopeful career as a poet for the much more prosaic career of a lawyer.  He prospers in his choice and is eventually appointed to the Bench.  Upon his appointment, he has to vacate his chambers and this leads him to the bitter-sweet task of going through the accumulated papers of decades to decide what may be disposed of and what should be retained.

“He had quite forgotten about his adolescent poetry and was astonished to come across a batch of it at the bottom of a cupboard.  He smiled – golly! – at the sight of it and took it out and started to read, for a laugh.  He expected clinching evidence of the folly of youthful pretensions.  His whole happy life had been founded on the assumption that he had been right to abdicate before his wife’s gentle, unmistakable judgment.  He sat on the floor of his chambers, boyishly grey, and prepared to be embarrassed by those unburnt embers.  Instead, the poems passed sentence on his life.  At last, he closed his eyes to escape their indictment, but the unblinking eye in the centre of his forehead gazed and blazed with unique and undeniable vision.  He cowered on the floor of the dusty cave and saw that the years of his life had escaped, like Odysseus’s men under the panicky sheep of the blind, deluded Polyphemus.  ‘Who are you, who are you?’ he cried.  And the voice of the man who had blinded himself replied ‘No-one.  No-one.’”

In that short, compelling paragraph we see the result of trading the valuable for the priceless.

Art connects us to the world, to each other, to others we can never meet or know.  It affirms our relationship to the rest of humanity.

The wider our encounter with art, the richer that connection becomes.  This might be what Stoppard had in mind when a character in one of his plays says that “in any society of a thousand people there will be 900 doing the work, 90 doing well, nine doing good and one lucky person will be an artist.”

Art is valuable, in and of itself.

Quotations

The redoubtable (but flawed) F.E. Smith (1872-1930) was the subject of a few biographies: FE (hagiography, by his son); Lord Birkenhead by ‘Ephesian’ (Bechofer Roberts); The Glittering Prizes by William Camp – distinctly not hagiography.  Incidentally, the phrase ‘the glittering prizes’ is a quotation from F.E. Smith, who said in a Rectorial address in Glascow in November 1923:

The world continues to offer glittering prizes to those with stout hearts and strong swords.

Incidentally, in 1976 ‘The Glittering Prizes’ was the name of a 6-part TV mini-series with Tom Conti.    That is, arguably, the best form of quotation, although I do not think the author of the expression was identified: possibly because it was set in Cambridge, and Smith went to Oxford.

The most recent biography of F.E Smith is by John Campbell, published in 1991.

Given that our trade is words, lawyers are significantly under-represented in the matter of quotations.  Perhaps the best remembered is the exchange between Judge Willis and F.E. Smith in a case in which the Plaintiff, a young boy, had been blinded because of the alleged negligence of the tramways company, for whom Smith was acting.  When the judge heard that the boy had been blinded he suggested that the boy stand up, so the jury could see him better.  Smith did not like the idea.  This exchange followed:

FE: Perhaps Your Honour would like to have the boy passed around the jury box.

Judge: That is a most improper suggestion.

FE: It was provoked by a most improper suggestion.

Judge: Mr. Smith, have you ever heard of a saying by Bacon – the great Bacon – that youth and discretion are ill-wedded companions?

FE: Indeed I have, Your Honour; and has Your Honour ever heard of a saying by Bacon – the great Bacon – that a much talking judge is like an ill-tuned cymbal?

Judge: You are extremely offensive, young man .

FE: As a matter of fact we both are; the only difference between us is·that I am trying to be and you can’t help it …

It is hard to know whether the exchange has been polished up after the event, but it appears in substantially identical form in the biographies by Bechofer Roberts (1926) and Campbell (1991)

In a later case, Judge Willis and FE had this shattering exchange:

Judge: Whatever do you suppose I am on the bench for, Mr Smith?

FE: It is not for me, M’lud, to attempt to fathom the inscrutable workings of Providence

My favourite legal quotation of all times was made by John Clerk. He was a very bright barrister from Edinburgh later appointed to the Supreme Court as Lord Eldin – Eldin not Eldon, although Lord Eldon’s name before he was elevated to the peerage was John Scott).

Anyway, he was so bright that he was sent to London, as junior counsel, to argue a House of Lords appeal by himself – not led by a silk.

It was an appeal which involved the Water Act, so he used the word water quite a lot, and fairly distinctively because of his Scottish accent.

At one point, one of the Law Lords (who should have known better) said to him

“Tell me Mr Clerk, in Scotland do you spell water with two t’s?”

His reply was quick and dangerous, but brilliant:

“No my Lord, we do not.  But we still spell manners with two n’s”

It’s the sort of reply which might only occur to most people a couple of weeks later.

But it is also the sort of reply which most of us would be proud to think up on the spot and have the courage to say it.

There are very few advocates who are the subject of biographies published decades after their death.  The only other who comes to mind is the dazzling, but imperfect, Clarence Darrow (1857-1938) who was also the subject of a few biographies, the first in 1943 and the latest in 1980.  It was Darrow who devised and ran the famous Scopes case, also known as the Monkey Trial, and he acted for Dickie Loeb and Nathan Leopold in their famous death penalty case in Chicago in 1924.  Darrow once said:

I do not pretend to know where many ignorant men are sure – that is all that agnosticism means.

Darrow was famous for his opposition to the death penalty. He is, for obvious reasons, referred to extensively in Life Plus Ninety-nine Years by Nathan Leopold (Greenwood Press 1957).  He is quoted as saying:

I have never wanted to see anybody die, but there are a few obituary notices I have read with pleasure.

There are many books of quotations.  My favourites include: The Book of Insults and Irreverent Quotations (Hook and Kahn); The Dictionary of Musical Quotations (Wordsworth Library); The Wordsworth Dictionary of Musical Quotations (Watson); Cassell’s Book of Humourous Quotations ; Collins Dictionary of Literary Quotations ; Magill’s Quotations in Context; The Thesaurus of Quotations (Fuller); Brewer’s Famous Quotations (Rees); History in Quotations (Cohen and Major); The International Thesaurus of Quotations (Tripp); The Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations (ed. Knowles); The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (4th ed) ; Simpsons Contemporary Quotations (Simpson and Boorshin); The Dictionary of Australian Quotations (Murray-Smith); The Dictionary of Biographical Quotations (Winke & Kenin); The Dictionary of Insulting Quotations (Green).

It is not easy to find quotations by lawyers.  In the books noted above, there are a few quotes by F.E Smith (later Lord Birkenhead), but in 1985 The Quotable Lawyer by Shrager and Frost was published by New England Publishing.  And books of anecdotes are common enough in the legal profession (I have 47 of them).  If a lawyer is important enough to be the subject of a biography, that book will inevitably include some quotations by the subject of the biography.  Even then, it’s thin pickings.

This lengthy nod to clever quotations from lawyers is by way of introducing one of the most famous quotations of all time: not by a lawyer, but by the famous physicist Isaac Newton.  In a letter to Robert Hooke on 5 February 1676:

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”

The quotation is so famous that the phrase ’the shoulders of giants’ was recently  inscribed on the English 2 pound coin.

But there is more to it.  Isaac Newton is arguably the most famous scientist of all time.  He published the laws of motion and universal gravitation in his famous book Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, 1687), which is generally referred to simply as “Principia Mathematica”.

Much of Newton’s adult life was spent pursuing what would now be considered mysticism.

What is less commonly known in connection with Newton’s famous observation is that Robert Hooke (1635-1703) was a very famous scientific rival of Newton (1643-1726) and, like Newton, had developed many significant scientific principles.  He was a polymath (like Newton) and in 1996 was described by Alan Chapman as ‘England’s Leonardo’.  He built the earliest Gregorian telescope, and observed the rotations of the planets Mars and Jupiter.  In 1665 published Micrographia, which prompted microscopic investigations. His observations of microscopic fossils led him to endorse biological evolution: several centuries ahead of Charles Darwin.

Hooke proposed that gravity heeds an inverse square law, and first hypothesised such a relation in planetary motion, too: a principle which Newton propounded in his law of universal gravitation.  That was the underlying cause of the rivalry between Newton and Hooke.

In addition to their notorious scientific rivalry, Robert Hooke was very short, so he could not have been considered a ‘giant’.

It has always struck me as odd that a comment, so famous that it was inscribed on an English coin, was originally intended as an insult.  At least John Clerk did not try to hide his purpose.

Quotations by Hooke are hard to find.  That said, quotations by Newton are relatively rare (apart from the ‘shoulders of giants’ quote), and most books of quotations ignore some of the best observations by lawyers.

(For those who are interested in gathering quotations by lawyers R.E. Megarry wrote Miscellany At Law (1955), A Second Miscellany At Law (1973) and A New Miscellany At Law (2005).  Although they do not contain any of the quotations above, they contain many excellent legal stories, across hundreds of years.)

Magna Carta-myth and reality

Most Australians would, if asked, probably identify Magna Carta as the foundation stone of our legal system.  They would have a vague sense that Magna Carta was the start of it in England and that, in 1788, the system built on Magna Carta was transplanted into Australia.

Magna Carta is mostly a myth, but provides a great example of an enduring truth: that in political matters, mythology is far more important than facts.

Popular history tells us that Magna Carta was sealed on the meadow at Runnymede on 15 June, 1215.  So, on 15 June 2015, we commemorated 800 years since it was sealed.

In fact, we acknowledged the wrong document and the wrong day.

The document that was sealed on 15 June 1215 was the Articles of the Barons.  The document we think of as Magna Carta was based on the Articles of the Barons and was prepared and engrossed a few days later, some say on 19 June 1215.

But in any event, England switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar in 1752, so as to bring the calendar back into synchronisation with the real world.  When that switch happened, eleven days simply disappeared.  So while it is true that the Articles of the Barons, later called Magna Carta, was signed on 15 June 1215, that day was 800 years minus 11 days before 15 June 2015.  The date which is exactly 800 years after the signing of the Articles of the barons was actually 26 June this year.

But this does not matter: it is the symbolism of the thing that really counts, and I doubt that anyone thought about Magna Carta on 26 June 2015.

Winston Churchill wrote about the signing of Magna Carta in volume 1 of his great History of the English Speaking Peoples:

“On a Monday morning in June, between Staines and Windsor, the barons and Churchmen began to collect on the great meadow at Runnymede.  An uneasy hush fell on them from time to time.  Many had failed to keep their tryst; and the bold few who had come knew that the King would never forgive this humiliation.  He would hunt them down when he could, and the laymen at least were staking their lives in the cause they served.  They had arranged a little throne for the King and a tent.  The handful of resolute men had drawn up, it seems, a short document on parchment.  Their retainers and the groups and squadrons of horsemen in sullen steel kept at some distance and well in the background.  For was not armed rebellion against the Crown the supreme feudal crime? Then events followed rapidly.  A small cavalcade appeared from the direction of Windsor.  Gradually men made out the faces of the King, the Papal Legate, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and several bishops.  They dismounted without ceremony.  Someone, probably the Archbishop, stated briefly the terms that were suggested.  The King declared at once that he agreed.  He said the details should be arranged immediately in his chancery.  The original “Articles of the Barons” on which Magna Carta is based exist to-day in the British Museum.  They were sealed in a quiet, short scene, which has become one of the most famous in our history, on June 15, 1215.  Afterwards the King returned to Windsor.  Four days later, probably, the Charter itself was engrossed.  In future ages it was to be used as the foundation of principles and systems of government of which neither King John nor his nobles dreamed.”

King John was the youngest of five sons of Henry II.  His oldest brother, Richard, was king, but went off to fight the crusades, where he earned his nickname “Lionheart”.  John’s elder brothers William, Henry and Geoffrey died young.  Richard died in 1199, and John became king.

Richard and John both incurred huge expenses in war, especially in suppressing rebellion in their French domains in Normandy and Anjou.  Both leaned on their nobles to support the expense.  John, who had managed to make himself deeply unpopular, met resistance.  John made increasing demands for taxes of various sorts, including scutage – money paid to avoid military service – and he sold wardships and heiresses for large sums.  Henry II and Richard had done the same, but John’s nobles resisted.  By May 1215, the barons had occupied London and made a series of demands.

In June 1215, the barons met King John at Runnymede.  The Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton, played an important role in mediating the dispute and eventually the Articles of the Barons were prepared and sealed.

Before it became known as Magna Carta, it was set aside.  Two months after the Articles of the Barons were signed King John (who was not a reliable person) prevailed on Pope Innocent III to declare the Deed invalid.  The Pope said it was “not only shameful and base but illegal and unjust.” He declared it null and void, and ordered King John not to observe it.  This was in August 1215, just 10 weeks after the great symbolic meeting at Runnymede.

The barons were not happy.

John died in October 1216.  His son Henry was only nine years old.  Henry’s advisors saw that re-issuing the Charter in modified form would help keep the young king in power.  So an amended version was issued in 1217, under the title Charter of Liberties.  At the same time the Charter of the Forest was issued.  The Charter of Liberties was the bigger of the two, and soon became known as the Great Charter: Magna Carta.

When he had come of age, Henry III swore his allegiance to a modified version of Magna Carta.  This took place on 11 February 1225, so that is probably the most appropriate date to observe.  The 1225 version of Magna Carta more closely resembles the document which has been so venerated for so long.

Perhaps people will celebrate the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta on 11 February 2025, or perhaps on 22 February 2025 to allow for the change in calendars.  But probably not.

The 1215 version of Magna Carta includes many provisions which are concerned with taxes.  For example:

(2) If any earl, baron, or other person that holds lands directly of the Crown, for military service, shall die, and at his death his heir shall be of full age and owe a ‘relief’, the heir shall have his inheritance on payment of the ancient scale of ‘relief’.

(12) No ‘scutage’ or ‘aid’ may be levied in our kingdom without its general consent, unless it is for the ransom of our person, to make our eldest son a knight, and (once) to marry our eldest daughter.  For these purposes only a reasonable ‘aid’ may be levied.  ‘Aids’ from the city of London are to be treated similarly.

(15) In future we will allow no one to levy an ‘aid’ from his free men, except to ransom his person, to make his eldest son a knight, and (once) to marry his eldest daughter.  For these purposes only a reasonable ‘aid’ may be levied.

(27) If a free man dies intestate, his movable goods are to be distributed by his next-of-kin and friends, under the supervision of the Church.  The rights of his debtors are to be preserved.

(28) No constable or other royal official shall take corn or other movable goods from any man without immediate payment, unless the seller voluntarily offers postponement of this.

(30) No sheriff, royal official, or other person shall take horses or carts for transport from any free man, without his consent.

And there are plenty of surprises:

(4) The guardian of the land of an heir who is under age shall take from it only reasonable revenues, customary dues, and feudal services.  …

(5) For so long as a guardian has guardianship of such land, he shall maintain the houses, parks, fish preserves, ponds, mills, and everything else pertaining to it, from the revenues of the land itself.  When the heir comes of age, he shall restore the whole land to him, stocked with plough teams and such implements of husbandry as the season demands and the revenues from the land can reasonably bear.

(6) Heirs may be given in marriage, but not to someone of lower social standing.  Before a marriage takes place, it shall be’ made known to the heir’s next-of-kin.

(10) If anyone who has borrowed a sum of money from Jews dies before the debt has been repaid, his heir shall pay no interest on the debt for so long as he remains under age, irrespective of whom he holds his lands.  If such a debt falls into the hands of the Crown, it will take nothing except the principal sum specified in the bond.

(11) If a man dies owing money to Jews, his wife may have her dower and pay nothing towards the debt from it.  If he leaves children that are under age, their needs may also be provided for on a scale appropriate to the size of his holding of lands.  The debt is to be paid out of the residue, reserving the service due to his feudal lords.  Debts owed to persons other than Jews are to be dealt with similarly.

(33) All fish-weirs shall be removed from the Thames, the Medway, and throughout the whole of England, except on the sea coast.

(35) There shall be standard measures of wine, ale, and corn (the London quarter), throughout the kingdom.  There shall also be a standard width of dyed cloth, russett, and haberject, namely two ells[1] within the selvedges.  Weights are to be standardised similarly.

The only part of Magna Carta which is widely remembered (if that is the right word) is found in Articles 39 and 40:

(39) No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.

(40) To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.

Together, these became Article 29 of the 1225 version:

(29) No free-man shall be taken, or imprisoned, or dispossessed, of his free tenement, or liberties, or free customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or in any way destroyed; nor will we condemn him, nor will we commit him to prison, excepting by the legal judgment of his peers, or by the laws of the land.  To none will we sell, to none will we deny, to none will we delay right or justice.

Considering the mystic significance which is attached to Magna Carta these days (and especially in 2015) it is interesting to note that Shakespeare, in his play King John, does not mention it at all.  He mentions Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury who played a large part in compiling the document.  But he mentions Langton just once, and in passing.  He does not mention Runnymede.

Sir Edward Coke

So why do we honour it so greatly? The short answer is: Sir Edward Coke.  And here we embark on a truly remarkable story of a new reality being formed as myth is piled on myth.

Sir Edward Coke entered the English parliament in 1589, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.  In 1594, he became Attorney-General and still held that role when James VI of Scotland became James I of England in 1603.

Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII, had famously broken from the Church of Rome because he wanted a divorce.  The formation of the Church of England led to increasing oppression of English Catholics.  The oppression sharpened during the reign of Elizabeth.  Elizabeth died without leaving an heir or any obvious successor.  When James VI of Scotland was cautiously chosen as Elizabeth’s successor, the oppressed Roman Catholics of England had hopes that James might treat them more leniently.  After all, James was married to Anne of Denmark who, although a Protestant, had converted to Catholicism.

But these hopes were dashed, and a group of well-educated, pious, Catholic nobles conceived a bold plan to resist the increasing oppression: they would blow up the Houses of Parliament on the day of its opening.  The opening of James’ first Parliament was delayed because the Plague had spread through London.  For the opening of the Parliament, the Royal family, the Lords and the Commons would collect together in the Great Hall at Westminster.  Eventually the date for the opening of Parliament was set for 5 November 1605.  But word of the conspiracy got out.  The night before Parliament was due to open, the whole Parliament building was searched.  In a room immediately below the great hall, a man who called himself John Johnson was discovered.  He had 36 barrels of gunpowder: enough to blow the whole place sky-high.

John Johnson was also known as Guy Fawkes.

King James personally authorised the torture of John Johnson, in an attempt to identify the other conspirators.  Torture was unlawful then, as it is now.  But King James considered that he ruled above the law.  He adhered to the theory of the Divine Right of Kings.  In this, we see the elemental force which was at play in the Constitutional struggles of the 17th Century.  The key question was this: Does the King rule above the law, or is he subject to it?

The trial of the Gunpowder conspirators began on 26 January 1606.  Sir Edward Coke[2], as Attorney-General, prosecuted the case.  He won.  He was a favourite of King James because, on many occasions, he had supported King James’s view that the King ruled above the law.  Later in 1606 he was rewarded for his loyalty and good service by being appointed Chief Justice of Common Pleas.

On the bench, Coke’s view seems to have changed.  This sometimes happens to judges, to the great irritation of governments.  In a number of cases, Coke CJ insisted that the King ruled subject to law.  It is a principle we take for granted these days, but in the early 17th century it was hotly contested.  He rejected King James’ interference with the operation of the Courts.  The King dismissed him from office in 1616.  He re-entered Parliament.

The Petition of Right

In 1627 (the second year of the reign of Charles I) the King ordered the arrest of Sir Thomas Darnel and four others who had refused to advance a compulsory “loan” to the King.  They sought habeas corpus.  The jailer answered the suit by saying the five were held “per speciale mandatum Regis” [by special order of the King].

Darnel’s case in 1627 prompted Coke to draft for Parliament the Petition of Right (1628).  The Petition raised, very politely, various complaints about the King’s conduct, including that:

  • he had been ordering people, like Darnel, to be jailed for failing to lend him money;
  • he had been billeting soldiers in private houses throughout the country against the wishes of the owners;
  • he had circumvented the common law by appointing commissioners to enforce martial laws and those commissioners had been summarily trying and executing “such soldiers or mariners or other desolate persons joining with them as should commit … (any) outrage or misdemeanour whatsoever …”;
  • he had been exempting some from the operation of the common law.

The Parliament prayed that the King “would be graciously pleased for the further comfort and safety of your people, to declare … that in the things aforesaid all your officers and ministers shall serve you according to the laws and statutes of this realm …”.

The Petition of Right reflected Coke’s distilled thoughts about English law and politics.  In his most famous work, The “Institutes of the Lawes of England”, Coke elevated Magna Carta to previously unrecognised significance.  He claimed of it that it was the source of all English law, and in particular he claimed that it required that the King rule subject to law, not beyond it.  He said that Magna Carta “is such a fellow that he will have no sovereign.”

The Petition of Right was Coke’s way of creating (he would have said “recognising”) the essential features of the English Constitutional framework.

The Petition of Right was adopted by the Parliament but Charles I would not agree to it.  Charles I, like John centuries earlier, wanted to continue raising taxes without the inconvenience of Parliament.  Like King John, he did it by exacting large sums from his nobles, as he had done in Darnel’s case.  Again, the nobles were unhappy.  The Civil War started in 1642.  Charles lost the war and, in 1649, lost his head.  Then came Cromwell, Charles II and James II.

James II was a Catholic and was not popular.  His son-in-law, William of Orange, was persuaded to usurp the throne of England.  In what became known as the “Glorious Revolution”, on 5 November 1688, William landed at Brixham.  That year, 5 November turned out worse for James II than it had in 1605 for James I.  James was deposed and William and Mary became joint sovereigns in James’s place.

But there was a condition.  William had agreed in advance to accept the Petition of Right.  So the parliament of 1689 adopted the petition of Right and it became the English Bill of Rights.  By this path, Sir Edward Coke’s views on Magna Carta gained an unassailable place in the fabric of English law.

In form, the Bill of Rights declares itself to be “An Act Declaring the Rights and Liberties of the Subject and Settling the Succession of the Crown”.

It recites and responds to the vices of James II.  Its Preamble starts this way:

“…  Whereas the late King James the Second, by the assistance of divers evil counsellors, judges and ministers employed by him, did endeavour to subvert and extirpate the Protestant religion and the laws and liberties of this kingdom …”

and it then declares certain ‘ancient rights and liberties’.

The English Bill of Rights does, in some ways, reflect Magna Carta.  So:

Magna Carta (1215) Article 12: No ‘scutage’ or ‘aid’ may be levied in our kingdom without its general consent, unless it is for the ransom of our person, to make our eldest son a knight, and (once) to marry our eldest daughter.  For these purposes only a reasonable ‘aid’ may be levied.  ‘Aids’ from the city of London are to be treated similarly

Bill of Rights, clause 4: That levying money for or to the use of the Crown by pretence of prerogative, without grant of Parliament, for longer time, or in other manner than the same is or shall be granted, is illegal;

And the ideas underlying Article 20 of Magna Carta and clause 10 of the Bill of Rights are similar:

Magna Carta (1215) Article 20: For a trivial offence, a free man shall be fined only in proportion to the degree of his offence, and for a serious offence correspondingly, but not so heavily as to deprive him of his livelihood.  In the same way, a merchant shall be spared his merchandise, and a husbandman the implements of his husbandry, if they fall upon the mercy of a royal court.  None of these fines shall be imposed except by the assessment on oath of reputable men of the neighbourhood.

Bill of Rights, clause 10: That excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted;

Beyond this other parallels can be found, but it takes the ingenuity of Sir Edward Coke to make them sound persuasive.  For example, Article 61 of Magna Carta of 1215 (which was not repeated in the 1225 version adopted by Henry III) provides for a council of 25 barons to hold the King to his promises, and clause 13 of the Bill of Rights requires Parliaments to be held frequently.

But Coke had persuaded a generation of lawyers and historians that the liberties in the Petition of Right, and thus in the Bill of Rights, were recognised in Magna Carta.  So the importance of Magna Carta was picked up and sustained by the Bill of Rights.

The US Bill of Rights

We do not think about the English Bill of Rights very much these days.  When we hear about “The Bill of Rights” these days, we automatically think of the United States of America.  It is not an accident.  The American colonies had been established by the English when they settled Jamestown in 1607.  By 1773, things were not going well.  The Boston Tea Party took place on 16 December 1773.  It was the colonists’ protest against having to pay taxes to a distant government in which they had no representation.  In 1776 the colonists decided to sever their ties with Britain and on 4 July 1776 they signed the Declaration of Independence.

In 1789 a Constitution was proposed for the newly independent United States of America.  It was a bold and unprecedented venture.  The idea of a federation of states with local as well as a central government was a novelty back then.  The thirteen colonies, anxious about the possible tyranny of a Federal government, put forward 10 amendments to the Constitution.  Those amendments are known, in America and across the English-speaking world, as the Bill of Rights.  They closely reflected the English Bill of Rights of 1689.

Although it is sometimes thought the US Bill of Rights is a human rights document, it is no such thing.  It is no less than a reflection of what is now called the Rule of Law.

The parallels between the English Bill of Rights and the US Bill of Rights are very clear:

English Bill of Rights (1689) US Bill of Rights (1791)
Preamble: By raising and keeping a standing army within this kingdom in time of peace without consent of Parliament, and quartering soldiers contrary to law 5 – No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
3 – That the commission for erecting the late Court of Commissioners for Ecclesiastical Causes, and all other commissions and courts of like nature, are illegal and pernicious; 3 – No law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
4 – That levying money for or to the use of the Crown by pretence of prerogative, without grant of Parliament, for longer time, or in other manner than the same is or shall be granted, is illegal; See US constitution Article 1, Section 9 “…No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time….”
7 – That the subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defence suitable to their conditions and as allowed by law; 2 – A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
10 – That excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted; 10 – Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted
5 – That it is the right of the subjects to petition the king, and all commitments and prosecutions for such petitioning are illegal; 3 – No law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Two important provisions of the US Bill of Rights reflect Articles 39 and 40 of the 1215 Magna Carta (Article 29 of the 1225 re-issue).

Magna Carta 1225

Art 29: No free-man shall be taken, or imprisoned, or dispossessed, of his free tenement, or liberties, or free customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or in any way destroyed; nor will we condemn him, nor will we commit him to prison, excepting by the legal judgment of his peers, or by the laws of the land.  To none will we sell, to none will we deny, to none will we delay right or justice.”

US Bill of Rights

“8 – In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury …  and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; …  and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

9 – …the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court”

It is no great surprise that the American colonists drew so heavily on the English Bill of rights.  Sir Edward Coke’s Petition of Right represents a stand against the Divine Right of Kings: it seeks to place the ultimate law-making power in the people, through their elected representatives, and it sought to ensure that no-one would stand above the law.  The American colonists in 1789 were in the process of creating a new and powerful body which would hover above the various States.  It looked as though they might be creating a new monarchy.  To guard against that, they proposed the first 10 Amendments to the proposed Constitution.

The US Bill of Rights has very little to do with human rights.  It is all about constraining the power of the new Federal government.

The principle of legality

Article 29 of the 1225 Version of Magna Carta is sufficient justification for the document’s fame.  Its provisions have since been taken to stand for the proposition that punishment can only be imposed by a court, that laws apply to all equally according to its terms, and that all people are entitled to have their legal rights judged and declared by a Court.  This is more grandly expressed as the Principle of Legality or the Rule of Law.

In Australia, we did not adopt a Bill of Rights in our Federal Constitution, and our Constitutional fathers did not have the same reasons to be anxious about a Federal government as the American colonists had a century earlier.  But the High Court of Australia has found in the structure of our Constitution a Principle of Legality which reflects the spirit of Magna Carta as interpreted by Coke.

The power of government includes the legislative power[3], the executive power[4], and the judicial power[5].

The Australian Constitution is divided into chapters.  The first three chapters create the Parliament, the Executive Government and the Courts respectively.  The High Court very early on decided that this gives each arm of government exclusive rights within its own domain.  So, for example, only the parliament can exercise the legislative power, and only the courts can exercise the judicial power.  For present purposes, that means that courts can impose punishment, but the Parliament and the Executive cannot.  Parliament can pass a law which says “Doing x is illegal; penalty 5 years’ jail” but only a court can find that a person has done x, and impose the appropriate punishment.

At least according to Coke, this echoes the provision in Article 39 of Magna Carta that “No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals…”

It seems odd, and not a little ironic that, in the year of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, Australians were confronted with a government which is seriously challenging the Rule of Law.

A Bill introduced into the Federal Parliament in 2015 authorised guards in immigration detention centre to treat detainees, including children, with such force as they think is reasonably necessary.  As a retired Court of Appeal judge said to a Parliamentary enquiry, this would, in theory, allow a guard to beat a detainee to death without the risk of any civil or criminal sanction.

The Social Services Legislation Amendment Bill removed financial support for patients with a mental illness if they are charged with an offence which could carry a sentence of 7 years or more.  This automatically puts a defendant at a disadvantage when facing a serious charge, and they suffer that disadvantage regardless whether they are innocent or guilty.  It looks very much like punishment without trial.

The Abbott government advanced the idea that any Australian who goes to fight with the Islamic State should be stripped of their citizenship by a Minister of the Crown, that is to say, by a member of the Executive government.

Having your citizenship cancelled looks very much like a punishment: but the Abbott government was determined to be able to do it without troubling a Court to see if the relevant facts are proved and the punishment is required by law.  And, archaic as it seems, letting the Minister take away a person’s citizenship looks very much like outlawing or exiling the person without the judgment of his equals.  Punishment without trial.

This is not a political argument: it is an argument about the rule of law and is as serious and important as it was in 1215.

In the 21st century it is too late to deny that Magna Carta has developed a level of significance which its authors may not have noticed or intended.  If we are true to the spirit which Sir Edward Coke found in it; if we are true to the same spirit which informed the Petition of Right and the English Bill of Rights and the American Bill of Rights then we owe it to the past and to the future to resist any attempt by any government to punish or outlaw or exile any person, except by the judgment of his equals.

 

[1] An ancient unit of measure.   But not a very useful unit of measure in a standardised system, because its value varied from place to place.  The English ell = 45 inches; the Scottish ell = 37·2 inches; the Flemish ell = 27 inches.

[2] pronounced “Cook”

[3] the power to make laws

[4] the power to give effect to laws and policies

[5] the power to decide legal questions, impose punishments etc.

Honesty Matters-the Ethics of Daily Life

It is the logic of our times:
No subject for immortal verse
That we who lived by honest dreams
Defend the bad against the worse.

(Cecil Day-Lewis Where are the War Poets, 1943)

Most people understand intuitively the importance of language. We all use it every day in order to function in society. Society without language is inconceivable. But as the torrent of words increases, we come to know that words can be used to trap us or to free us; to help us or hurt us.

In most circumstances, language is intended to convey meaning. Ideally, it should do so accurately. Some writers and speakers betray this ideal, and use language as a stalking horse for quite different ideas they wish to disguise or dare not acknowledge.

Depending on circumstances, this technique may be called tact, diplomacy, euphemism, doublespeak or lying. The proper description depends on the speaker’s purpose.

Tact sets out to avoid giving offence. It suppresses or disguises an unhappy truth to spare the feelings of another. It is falsehood in the service of kindness; a down-payment on future favour. When tact is lifted from the personal to the national scale, it is called diplomacy.

Euphemism does not directly suppress the truth, but disguises it by substituting gentle words for harsher ones. Its intention is benign, if somewhat fey. Its excesses of delicacy inspired Dr Bowdler to strip Shakespeare of any disturbing content: removing, as he said, its ‘blemishes’. Euphemism is especially needed where body parts and body functions are the subject: a cheap frock for recognised facts.

Tact is kind; diplomacy is useful; euphemism is harmless and sometimes entertaining. By contrast, doublespeak is dishonest and dangerous.

When Cecil Day-Lewis wrote the words above, the world was wracked by Hitler’s war. Hitler had done much to restore the fortunes and spirit of the German nation, a nation which had been nearly destroyed by the terms of the Treaty of Versailles.

But Hitler had also been engaged in enterprises which the world would eventually deplore; much of what he did was masked in falsehood; and what was seen and known of its worst excesses was covered over, or denied or ignored by allied powers who did not find truth convenient in that desperate time. The allies knew of Hitler’s death camps but did nothing.

In his closing address at Nuremberg, US prosecutor Robert Jackson said:

‘Lying has always been a highly approved Nazi technique. Hitler, in Mein Kampf, advocated mendacity as a policy. Von Ribbentrop admits the use of the “diplomatic lie.” Keitel advised that the facts of rearmament be kept secret so that they could be denied at Geneva. Raeder deceived about rebuilding the German Navy in violation of Versailles. Goering urged Ribbentrop to tell a “legal lie” to the British Foreign Office about the Anschluss, and in so doing only marshaled him the way he was going. Goering gave his word of honour to the Czechs and proceeded to break it. Even Speer proposed to deceive the French into revealing the specially trained among their prisoners.

Nor is the lie direct the only means of falsehood. They all speak with a Nazi double talk with which to deceive the unwary. In the Nazi dictionary of sardonic euphemisms “final solution” of the Jewish problem was a phrase which meant extermination “special treatment” of prisoners of war meant killing; “protective custody” meant concentration camp; “duty labor” meant slave labor; and an order to “take a firm attitude” or “take positive measures” meant to act with unrestrained savagery. Before we accept their word at what seems to be its face, we must always look for hidden meanings. Goering assured us, on his oath, that the Reich Defense Council never met “as such.” When we produced the stenographic minutes of a meeting at which he presided and did most of the talking, he reminded us of the “as such” and explained this was not a meeting of the Council “as such” because other persons were present…’

Twisting the truth was a commonplace in Hitler’s Germany, but politicians in many regimes use the same technique: a fact emphasised by George Orwell in Politics and the English Language (1946) and in Nineteen Eightyfour (1948). Orwell wrote of the misuse of language by politicians:

‘A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.’

It is an astonishing thing that, although Orwell showed the stage tricks used by the main offenders, those tricks continue to work. We sit, most of us, like captivated schoolchildren in a sideshow alley, spellbound as the hucksters of language deceive and dissemble. The contagion of dishonest language has not abated.

When senior politicians speak today, it is essential to listen acutely to appreciate that they are simply staying on message whilst avoiding truth, accuracy or anything remotely approaching an answer to the question they have been asked. Even when they appear to be answering the question, you have to look very closely to see which part of the question they are answering. Remember the skillful evasions of Mr Howard when he was asked a question in Parliament by the Member for Chisholm:

ANNA BURKE, MEMBER FOR CHISHOLM: Prime Minister, was the Government contacted by the major Australian producer of ethanol or by any representative of him or his company or the industry association before its decision to impose fuel excise on ethanol?

JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER: Speaking for myself, I didn’t personally have any discussions, from recollection, with any of them.

A document obtained by the Opposition under freedom of information laws records a meeting between John Howard and Dick Honan about ethanol, just six weeks before the decision. But Mr Howard says he spoke the truth; that his answer related to a different part of the question and that he has been taken out of context.

This same inclination to use language in order to deceive has infected the public service. At a public meeting in April 2002, I had the opportunity to debate aspects of refugee policy with one Philippa Godwin, then the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Immigration. Philippa Godwin is clearly a woman of great intelligence. I asked her a question about a fence which surrounds the Baxter Detention Centre. The fence is described on a plan of Baxter as a ‘courtesy fence’. I suggested that it was in fact an electric fence. ‘No,’ she insisted ‘It is not an electric fence. It is an energized fence.’ A 9,000 volt energized fence.

Doublespeak uses language to smuggle uncomfortable ideas into comfortable minds. The Nazi regime were masters at it. The Howard Government was an enthusiastic apprentice.  The Morrison government is devoted to it: after all, Scott Morrison learned at the feet of John Howard.

The victims of protective reaction air strikes, or incontinent ordnance, or active defence, or fraternal internationalist assistance, often flee for safety. A small number of them arrive in Australia asking for help. They commit no offence under Australian or international law by arriving here, without invitation and without papers, in order to seek protection. Nonetheless the Australian Government referred to them then, and still refers to them, as ‘illegals’.

Like all doublespeak, ‘illegals’ is used for a purpose: these people are immediately locked up without trial. No doubt it seems less offensive to lock up ‘illegals’ than to lock up innocent, traumatised human beings.  When Scott Morrison became Immigration Minister in the government of Tony Abbott, he tried to rename that group “illegal maritime arrivals”.  (The Migration Act refers to them, more accurately, as “irregular maritime arrivals”).

They are also disparaged as ‘queue jumpers’: a neat device which falsely suggests two things. First that there is a queue, and second that it is in some way appropriate to stand in line when your life is at risk.

In July 2013, the law was changed so that all “irregular maritime arrivals” had to be sent offshore (to Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, if they were unaccompanied males, or to Nauru if they were women, children or family groups).

Until the law changed in 2013, when the ‘illegals/queue jumpers’ arrived in Australia, they were ‘detained’ in ‘Immigration Reception and Processing Centres’. This description is false in every detail. They were locked up without trial, for an indefinite period – typically months or years – in desert camps which are as remote from civilisation as it is possible to be. They were held behind razor wire and slowly sank into hopelessness and despair.

Mr Howard’s congenital dishonesty deceived a nation into accepting these obscenities, while he massaged our conscience with soft words for hard things.

At its foundations, democracy depends on a degree of honesty in politicians. The essence of democracy is that the elected representatives are chosen because their constituents think this candidate or that will best represent their views in parliament. If a candidate lies about his or her beliefs and values, the democratic process is compromised. The greater the lie, the greater the damage to the true course of democracy.

Equally important, the conduct of politicians sets an example for all of us. Children learn by watching our leaders: Mr Howard won the 2001 election by lying: he said, falsely, that some refugees had thrown their children overboard. Refugees were the hot issue in November 2001. Mr Howard showed that it is OK to lie as long as you win. The effects of this, and his many other excursions in dishonesty, will take a long time to eradicate.

Family values was one of the great catch cries of the Howard Government. They came to office in 1996 under the banner of ‘Family Values’. On 8 July 2004, in a major speech in Adelaide, Mr. Howard declared that he stood for a ‘fair and decent society’. These are noble sentiments, but were they to be taken at full value or were they to be interpreted by some special code which we can only discover by looking at what Mr Howard did?

Just a month after the Adelaide speech, the Howard government won an important refugee case in the High Court. Mr al Kateb arrived in Australia in mid-December 2000. He was born in Kuwait. His request for asylum was refused. He found conditions in Woomera so intolerable that he asked to be removed from Australia. Eighteen months later he was still here because, being a stateless Palestinian, there was no country where he was entitled to be, and no country was willing to receive him.

The Migration Act provides that a person who comes to Australia without a visa must be detained, and they must remain in detention until either they get a visa or they are removed from the country. When the Keating government introduced those measures in 1992, one supposes that Parliament suspected that either of those two outcomes would be available in every instance.

They had not allowed for the anomalous case of stateless people. You might think that a government which has paraded itself virtuously as committed to a fair and decent society, with family values and so on, might quickly amend the law to account for these few anomalous cases. But what the government did, in fact, was to argue at every level of the court system that Mr al Kateb, although he had committed no offence in Australia, could be held in detention for the rest of his life. The government won in the High Court, on 6 August 2004.

The thought of an innocent person being jailed for the rest of his life is so shocking that it is impossible to resist the impulse to try and do something about it. Anyone, even the most hardened, must find it a dreadful thing to imagine the circumstances of a person being held in detention forever when they have not committed any offence. It should be a matter of real concern that a government ostensibly committed to a ‘fair and decent society’ is willing to argue for the right to jail the innocent for life.

Likewise, the treatment of the Bakhtiyari family is impossible to reconcile with Mr Howard’s asserted adherence to Christian values and family values.

The family’s claim for asylum foundered, apparently because the government thought they came from Pakistan, not Afghanistan. Like many asylum seekers, they were jailed in Woomera.

Locking up innocent people for years has certain fairly obvious and predictable consequences, especially if the prisoners are children. Depending on their age, resilience and personality, children will retreat into depression and incontinence, or they will take charge by harming themselves or attempting suicide. Either way, the effect on children of prolonged detention is devastating.

The Bakhtiyari case gained a certain notoriety, because the two boys escaped from Woomera, having tried to kill themselves at the tender ages of twelve and fourteen. Regardless of doubt about which country they had fled, one thing was clear: we damaged these children. They were not to blame. The harm they suffered was the obvious and predictable consequence of the treatment we inflicted.

It continued just before Christmas, when their house in Adelaide was raided and they were taken to Port Augusta in preparation for removal from Australia. The baby had a dirty nappy: the mother was not allowed to change it; the younger girl wet her pants in fright; but she was not allowed to change before the five hour drive. Alamdar – his face made familiar to us on TV as he screamed in terror through the steel bars at Woomera – Alamdar was afraid to sleep at night in case of another sudden, wrenching raid. And all the children were haunted by terrors childhood should never know.

The Australian government is responsible for damaging these children. It had a choice at Christmas 2004: to enforce the policy rigidly, or to show kindness to a few damaged children and their parents.

Their response was an interesting test of their pretended Christian values.

The government’s policy of punitive deterrence succeeded in shutting off almost completely the trickle of unauthorised arrivals to Australia. The drowning of 353 people on SIEV X effectively ended the people smugglers’ trade. It is difficult to imagine that sparing the Bakhtiyari family would have triggered a spate of new arrivals, eager to spend years behind razor wire. From there on the cruelty was truly pointless.

On the other hand, showing compassion to the Bakhtiyari family would have been consistent with family values, Christian charity, fairness and decency – the values Mr Howard claimed to hold. His government chose to remove the family, despite increasing public concern.

The removal of the Bakhtiyari family reflected on the character of this country’s leadership. Mr Howard, Mr Ruddock and Mrs Vanstone were personally responsible for the shocking damage suffered by those children. Those politicians held themselves out as Christians; they embraced ‘family values’. But at Christmas time in 2004 they denied kindness or compassion to six children whose lives they had blighted.

Scott Morrison’s mistreatment of the Tamil family previously living in Biloela (Queensland) is another example of the same mentality.  The family comprised: mother, father and Australian-born daughters (aged 4 and 3 at the time).  In 2018, the PM re-opened the detention centre in Christmas Island just for that family.  To make it clear that he intended to return them to Sri Lanka, he held a vastly expensive press conference on Christmas Island.

Unfortunately, the government – then and now – seems concerned that mercy and compassion set a bad precedent. Given that the government had a discretion to allow the family to stay, it is difficult to understand why it insisted on removing a family it had damaged so badly, unless its purpose was to send a message: not to people smugglers, but to us. Its message to us is this: We hold absolute power; we do not have to acknowledge public sentiment; we can crush anyone who messes with us.

This is why honesty matters. Imagine the reaction at the polls if John Howard had told the truth. Imagine if, in 2001, he had said:

‘I know the asylum seekers did not throw their children overboard – they were just doing what any decent parent would do – they were trying to save them from the Taliban, or Saddam Hussein.’

Imagine if he had said at the 2004 election:

‘My government locks up innocent people. We treat them cruelly, because we don’t want to encourage their type. We have power to gaol innocent people for life. I will not help the Bakhtiyari children at Christmas time because I don’t have to. I will only show compassion for popular victims.’

Imagine also how different things might be if the press in this country had shown some spine over the past few years. Many – perhaps most – journalists in Australia today shy away from unpopular truths. The case of Cornelia Rau provided an interesting example. Cornelia Rau was held in immigration detention for nearly a year – initially in a Queensland prison, then in Baxter. She was obviously mentally disturbed. The officials at Baxter deemed her to be mentally sound, but showing ‘behavioural difficulties’. She was held in isolation for most of her time in Baxter. As long as she was Anna, ‘an illegal’ no one outside the refugee network was interested, despite Pamela Curr’s valiant attempts to bring her story to light. Once it was revealed that she was an Australian citizen, the press was in uproar. The story ran for weeks.

In the wake of the Cornelia Rau story, other stories of systemic cruelty in Baxter emerged. For example, Francis Milne, one of the centre’s volunteers from the Uniting Church told the story of Hassan, a 37-year-old Algerian man. He spent nine weeks in solitary confinement in Baxter because he had threatened to commit suicide. He was subjected to a cavity search in front of two females.

And there is the case of Amin, who was in Baxter with his seven year old daughter.

On 14 July 2003, three ACM guards entered Amin’s room and ordered him to strip. He refused, because his seven-year old daughter was in the room. When he refused to strip, the guards beat him up, handcuffed him, and took him to the ‘Management Unit’.

The Management Unit is a series of solitary confinement cells.

I have viewed a video tape of one of the Management Unit cells. It shows a cell about 3½ metres square, with a mattress on the floor. There is no other furniture; the walls are bare. A doorway, with no door, leads into a tiny bathroom. The cell has no view outside; it is never dark. The occupant has nothing to read, no writing materials, no TV or radio; no company yet no privacy because a video camera observes and records everything, 24 hours a day. The detainee is kept in the cell 23 ½ hours a day. For half an hour a day he is allowed into a small exercise area where he can see the sky.

There he stayed from 14 July until 23 July: each 24 hours relieved only by a half-hour visit from his daughter. But on 23 July she did not come. It was explained to him that she had been taken shopping in Port Augusta.

The next day, 24 July, she did not arrive for her visit: the manager came and explained that the daughter was back in Tehran. She had been removed from Australia under cover of a lie, without giving Amin the chance to say goodbye to her.

Anyone who has visited Baxter knows stories like these. But these stories disappear without a trace because the press, with some honourable exceptions, are only interested in the sufferings of an Australian resident.

In presenting an unbalanced view of Australia’s conduct, by not exposing the dishonesty of the Howard and Morrison governments, the press engages in its own form of dishonesty. They help maintain the comfortable illusion of our own worthiness, and we are blind to a society turning sour. When the process is complete, when we have been stripped of our liberties for our own protection, when the values which once held this nation high have been terminally debased, then we will realise that honesty matters.

Donald J Trump

This is a very good piece written by Australian author Mike Richards: It deals with him by the letters of his name, which is NOT to say he is a man of letters.

Donald J Trump, by Mike Richards

The essence of Donald Trump’s political personality is actually beyond narcissism: he has what I would call an “emperor complex” — a belief that, like medieval European royalty, he is a supreme being, superior to all others, all-powerful, above the law in ruling his empire, and able to do and say anything which must be taken as valid and true.

As Emperor of All America, Trump believes he possesses the divine right of kings: he is not accountable to earthly authority (i.e. Congress) or even subject to the will of the people, whose duty is only to admire and loyally praise his tremendous power and magnificent achievements. And under the doctrine of the infallibility of kings, Trump is unimpeachable and always right. At times he seems to extend to his children this assumption of an entitlement to rule as part of an imperial royal family.

In spelling this out, let’s start with Trump’s use of his signature in an enduring ritual of his presidency: issuing fiats by signing into law legislative and executive orders and displaying the signed document for lawmakers and the assembled media in the Oval Office as a validation moment of presidential achievement.

No president has been more triumphant in holding up the signed formal record of his executive accomplishments. As he signs the page with his custom-made black Sharpie pen, he etches the big, thick lines that make up his signature, which is at once angular and condensed, yet takes up more than half a page-width of what he sees as imperial edicts. Bold and huge, his signature is clearly intended to signal his commanding authority.

Using psychoanalytic insights, how might we decipher the signature letters of “Donald J Trump” to speculate on the traits that shape and define his emperor complex?

(Image: AP/Andrew Harnik)

 

The “D” in Donald J Trump has a number of possibilities. Despotic, defensive, deaf, devious, damaged, disloyal, disordered and dysfunctional all come to mind — as does dangerous (Mary Trump’s descriptor), which refers to all manner of damage he has done to the American system of democracy through his imperious disdain for truth in public office. He is also divisive, as in his response to the Black Lives Matter protests, associating himself with a tweet labelling peaceful protesters near the White House as “terrorists”.

But the behavioural trait he most compellingly displays is “delusional”. For Emperor Trump, the concepts of evidence and truth do not matter, and the most powerful man in the world can say anything he likes and not be accountable.

Trump has exhibited delusional behaviour many times during his term in office, starting with his description of the crowd at his 2017 inauguration as the biggest inauguration crowd ever– a description the White House sought to bolster through manipulated photographic images.

This was Trump’s coronation moment, the occasion of his enthronement, and he cannot bear to have his consecration diminished by comparisons with his rivals — those he regards as inferior beings — even if the rivalry exists only in his imagination. For Trump to accept that his predecessor, Barack Obama, had a larger crowd at his inauguration would be internally wounding and demeaning, and he is driven to avoid it with delusions of exaggerated superiority and self-importance.

This early delusional flourish was merely a hint of what was to come. Since then Trump has come to sharpen his obliteration of his perceived enemies — and those who deny his claim to greatness — with his frequent use of the word “fake”. This has become the epithet of choice for Emperor Trump: not merely is someone who opposes him wrong or even despicable, they are illegitimate and can be banished from his mind.

Obama has been a special target for Trump, going back to his assertions during Obama’s first term that America’s first Black president was born in Kenya rather than Hawaii, and hence was not constitutionally eligible to serve in the White House — merely a “pretender” to the throne. His delusions about Obama were not merely a political claim that his predecessor was misguided or ineffectual, or took the country in the wrong direction, but that he occupied his office illegitimately.

This is the ultimate put down by Trump — not merely the political disparagement of an imagined rival but the denial and destruction of his legitimacy. With no credible evidence whatsoever for his “birther” claim, Trump destroyed in his own mind the authority of the man who stood in the place he coveted.

It wasn’t enough, however, and Trump’s obsession with Obama has continued, perhaps intensified by Obama’s mocking of Trump at the White House correspondents dinner in April 2011. Humiliated by the audience laughing at him, Trump has never let go, tweeting in May this year that Obama was responsible for “the biggest political crime and scandal in the history of the USA, by FAR … [a crime that] makes Watergate look small time”.

However, at a subsequent press conference when pressed by journalists to explain this baseless claim, Trump replied: “You know what the crime is. The crime is very obvious to everybody. All you have to do is read the newspapers…” (He continued his “denial of legitimacy” ploy with comments in August about the Democratic candidate for vice-president, Kamala Harris, who he falsely claimed was “ineligible to serve” if she was elected in November because she was born in the US to immigrant parents.)

Delusions of imperial grandeur are also a feature of Trump’s personality. He boasts that everything he does is amazing — the biggest, the best, the grandest and most beautiful. This became apparent in 1982 with the completion in New York of the extraordinary Trump Tower, the family apartments which are decorated in a gaudy mix of the opulent style of the French emperors’ palace of Versailles, the columned temples of ancient Greece and the grand palaces of Russia — a style which has been disparaged as “haute Miami Vice elegance”.

These gilded private rooms, with fixtures in 24-carat gold plate, are an expression of Trump’s inner need to feel regal — even King Midas-like. On its website, the Trump organisation says of the building that it “stands as a world famous testament of Mr Trump’s grand vision and ability to achieve tremendous success with everything he touches”.

The delusional trait is also found in Trump’s Twitter communications, both in his own words or those of others who say what he really thinks and believes. Last year he quoted a conservative radio host who called him “the greatest President for Jews and for Israel in the history of the world, not just America, he is the best President for Israel in the history of the world … and the Jewish people in Israel love him like he is the King of Israel. Like he is the second coming of God.”

As we know, Emperor Trump tweets the messages of others that reflect his inner beliefs. His delusions are repetitive and obvious and have a common element: he is a tremendous president, and the greatest, the most perfect leader of his subjects.

This is a recurring claim that he makes, as he did in July 2019: “I am the least racist person there is anywhere in the world.” It was apparent again when, in disputing the impeachable character of his so-called quid pro quo phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, he described the call as “perfect”.

Consistent with this delusion, when things go well Trump takes the credit; when they go badly, it’s always someone else’s fault. This was clear when he made the grandiose promise of completing the wall between Mexico and the US. When it was not completed, he blamed the political establishment, the news media — everyone but himself.

More recently, in early March this year, Trump minimised the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic for the US — blaming the “fake news” media for spreading panic — as if accepting the enormity of this threat would somehow diminish his standing of Imperial Majesty.

As appropriate as “delusional” is to describe a key Trump trait, it has to be acknowledged that it is accompanied by high-level political acumen. On the flip side of his delusions is an unerring capacity to pick the weaknesses of his political rivals, perhaps through unconscious projection of his inner vulnerabilities. It is as if his delusions about his own inflated capabilities (founded as they are in unconscious defences against a profound inner sense of inferiority) enable him to crystallise the personality flaws of his opponents — to endow them with the personality traits he denies in himself.

(Image: AP/Alex Brandon)

 

The second letter of Trump’s royal signature — “O” — is also instructive: obscene, outlaw, outlandish, obsessive and oppositional are in the frame, but the signature “O” word that best fits is “omnipotent”, and it’s a particular expression of his delusional and authoritarian behaviour.

Trump always sees himself as the best, the greatest, the smartest — but particularly the most powerful. Even from the outset of his presidential candidacy, he articulated his grandiose sense of himself. Accepting the Republican nomination in July 2016, he declared: “I am your voice. I will be a champion, your champion. Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.”

It has also come out in his periodic declarations of his monarch-like authority: “When somebody is president of the United States, your authority is total.” Trump said this in an angry tirade at a press conference on April 13 in response to criticism of his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. His seeming omnipotent authoritarianism is not the expression of a developed philosophy of governing, but a reflection of his self-centred preoccupation with ruling — of being in total control of his empire and its subjects.

(Image: Facebook)

 

The key letter for Donald Trump is “N” for “narcissist”. This is the umbrella letter for his core political personality, and it is no exaggeration to say that all the other behavioural features flow from this. He has a hyper-narcissistic personality, and whatever he does in office is really all about him.

All successful leaders have a healthy degree of self-regard — and a certain measure of associated paranoia; qualities necessary for political action and leadership survival. But when they become excessive and overpowering they can lead to debilitating and dysfunctional ways of acting politically.

More importantly, when these traits include a mix of other antisocial personality traits — what clinicians call “malignant narcissism” — sociopathic behaviour can emerge.

There are several features of Trump’s narcissistic and paranoid personality that shape a consistent pattern in his political behaviour. The central features are a distinctive marketing acumen and political drive that is accompanied by paranoia and destructive tendencies — anger, rage, envy and resentment — which suggests an inner dynamic involving overweening ambition defending against (that is, compensating for) low self-esteem.

The psychoanalytic literature on narcissistic personality is extensive and important to understanding Trump’s political personality, his emperor complex. At the core of modern theories are the concepts of the “narcissistic self”, in particular the “grandiose self” — the unconscious structure holding omnipotent and exhibitionistic wishes regulating behaviour and self-esteem.

The grandiose self, whose central mechanism may be stated as “I am perfect”, is a normal part of the child’s sense of itself. Under optimal conditions the exhibitionism and grandiosity of the child is gradually tamed, gives way to more realistic functioning, and becomes an important element in adult self-esteem. However, if the child’s development is disrupted by narcissistic trauma, whether real or imagined, it may persist unaltered in the adult formation of exaggerated ambition.

It is worth noting here that Trump has described his father Fred as demanding, difficult and driven, Indeed, from multiple biographical accounts of Trump’s early life, including most recently Mary Trump’s book, his father seems even more extreme — a sociopathic, relentlessly dominating, bullying and emotionally inaccessible parent. Trump’s emotional development was seemingly snap-frozen in early childhood when he appeared defensively combative, aggressively competitive and dominating. For the young Donald, losing meant inner obliteration.

In short, it seems the child persona has persisted into his adult behaviour. As he told a recent biographer: “When I look at myself in the first grade and look at myself now, I’m basically the same.”

In his classic study published more than 40 years ago, US psychoanalyst Otto F Kernberg MD identified a number of distinctive characteristics of the narcissistic personality. This type, he wrote, typically presents with “excessive self-absorption hand in hand with … various combinations of intense ambitiousness, grandiose fantasies, feelings of inferiority, and over-dependence on external admiration and acclaim, they suffer from chronic feelings of boredom and emptiness, [and] are constantly searching for gratification of strivings for brilliance [and] power”.

Other predominant characteristics “include a lack of capacity for empathetic understanding of others … conscious or unconscious exploitativeness and ruthlessness toward others and, particularly, the presence of chronic intense envy and defences against such envy”.

Trump’s behavior has been exemplified by many of these problematic features, the first of which is a tendency towards intense envy and resentment of those who, he believes, have entitlements greater than his own.

This is linked, second, to an ambivalent attitude towards elites and people in authority — for example, promising to “drain the swamp” at the same time as aspiring to rule over the swamp. At other times this appears as a tendency to enviously abuse and tear down to his level anyone within his orbit he perceives as occupying a superior position and casting a shadow over his throne.

Third, he shows in his political behaviour an obsessive concern to assert that he — above all others — is in control. And fourth, he shows a tendency towards paranoid fantasies, a hyper-sensitivity to criticism, where he sees friend and foe alike as attacking or undermining him.

Trump’s inner sense is that he is never wrong. If someone questions, even for a moment, his claim to unparalleled greatness, they are met with withering and unrelenting retaliation.

Associated with these features is a high level of rage at a political world he struggles to bend to his will. It’s a world that he vilifies in his tweets, a social media monologue that, like its author, is occasionally perceptive but mostly destructive and sometimes paranoid. These are features of the emperor complex that drove Trump to seek and attain the presidency. But they are also qualities of a flawed personality that make his presidential reign highly problematic and unsustainable.

At other times, when his sense of entitlement is breached — the demands of his grandiose self-image betrayed — he responds with retaliatory rage and retribution. This becomes clear in relation to his political associates — the imperial court — with whom he makes common cause at periods in his political rise.

A strong common element here is that his brittle shell will not allow any scintilla of criticism, and any deviation from wholehearted support by courtiers, staff and allies is responded to with a flight to rage and vindictiveness.

Trump’s sensitivities are evident in his experiences with successive White House chiefs of staff. One by one they have fallen foul of Emperor Trump’s need to be self-sufficient in his political decision-making. Trump sees his advisers as either loyalists or rivals, and they are most vulnerable to his impulsive and bullying instinct when they were best doing their jobs: telling the emperor what he does not want to hear. Successive close advisers have lamented their inability to make Trump take advice.

The point is less that Trump won’t take advice, but that he can’t take advice: to take the advice of a subordinate is humiliating and he can’t do it — unless and until he can convince himself that it was his advice in the first place, that he was the author of this masterstroke of strategy or politics that would be universally applauded as “brilliant” and “amazing”.

Trump is profoundly insecure and feels threatened when prospective staff have professional experience, standing and seniority that rivals his sense of superiority. At the start of his presidential term he dealt with that by appointing courtiers and devotees — inexperienced juniors — to his staff.

His campaign press secretary was Hope Hicks, a 26-year-old former model he later appoint to the role of White House director of strategic communications, despite the fact that she had no experience in government. This is less a case of Trump appointing a loyal associate than of ensuring the power relationship between president and advisers is uncomplicated by appointing seasoned professionals who might provide frank, fearless and independent advice.

He has also drawn upon the imperial entitlement of his imagined royal family to appoint his daughter Ivanka, and son-in-law Jared Kushner, to senior adviser roles, although they had negligible skills for their positions.

Trump’s insecurity becomes more obvious when subordinates have a standing or get media and public attention he believes is rightfully his. In the early days of his presidency, the reported power behind the throne was Trump’s campaign chief executive and chief White House strategist, Steve Bannon, who developed a high public profile and received intense media attention and accolades from commentators about his campaigning success.

Trump regarded this attention as demeaning of his own pre-eminent imperial position and went out of his way to disparage Bannon, putting him down in a way that allowed the proper hierarchy of greatness to be restored in his favour.

Eventually Trump could not endure Bannon’s prominence and he fired him in August 2017, after which he belittled Bannon’s role and denied his influence. In fact, he trashed Bannon as merely “a guy who works for me” and said “sloppy Steve” Bannon “cried when he got fired and begged for his job”.

Eighteen months after he was dismissed, and well before he was arrested on fraud charges, Bannon was able to work his way back into the emperor’s favours, in part by publicly calling him “a great leader as a president” and a “great campaigner” — whereupon Trump felt able to say that Bannon was “one of my best pupils” and “still a giant Trump fan”. Notice that even in his renewed praise he keeps himself as the central object of admiration.

Trump has fallen out with other close court advisers — none of whom has lasted for more than 18 months — including chiefs of staff Reince Priebus and General John Kelly, and national security adviser John Bolton. Most recently his health expert on the coronavirus, Dr Anthony Fauci, incurred Trump’s displeasure, primarily because the president cannot abide anything less than devoted cheerleading from his courtiers.

When a subordinate’s advice is later shown to be well based, and Trump appears to have been publicly at odds with it, he reacts severely, as was the case with Fauci. This happened when, in a CNN interview earlier this year, Fauci said Trump had “pushed back” against his early advice about mandating social distancing to combat the spread of the coronavirus — an initiative, Fauci said, that had it not been delayed “would have saved lives”.

This was too much for Trump, and he retweeted a conservative call for Fauci to be fired. In effect, he was projecting his inner wish for retribution at the suggestion that his imperial rule was flawed. It is only when Fauci walked back from the meaning of his comments and praised the president for his handling of the pandemic response that Trump disavowed banishing him.

Others have not been so lucky. Months after Trump’s impeachment, for example, he was still paying out by firing those government officials who honoured their ethical duties in relation to the Ukrainian quid pro quo. Trump cannot ever accept the betrayal he feels about their conduct: in his mind, their loyalty is not to the republic or to their office, but unquestionably to him as emperor, and any deviation is met with aggressive disparagement and ultimately (in his mind) obliteration — by firing them.

Incidentally, there are interesting echoes here of Trump’s TV program, The Apprentice, where his signature statement was “you’re fired!” In the Middle Ages it would have been “off with his head!”

A central feature of Trump’s personality is his pronounced lack of empathy. At his press briefings, when he has conjured the numbers of COVID-19 cases or deaths, he has expressed little sympathy or empathetic understanding for those who have lost family or loved ones.

Back in March, in one of the more insensitive expressions of this trait, he conceded that he wanted to keep a cruise ship in limbo off the California coast rather than allowing it to dock because he wanted to keep the reported number of coronavirus cases artificially low. “I like the numbers being where they are,” Trump said. “I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship … If they want to take them off, they’ll take them off. But if that happens, all of a sudden your 240 [cases] is obviously going to be a much higher number, and probably the 11 [deaths] will be a higher number too.”

More recently, Trump seems to have given up on accepting responsibility for managing the pandemic, using distractions about employment numbers and the economy and law and order to divert attention from mounting infection rates and deaths. He has also urged reduced testing for the virus in the deluded belief that less testing means fewer cases.

The flip side of Trump’s narcissistic self-regard is paranoia, which manifests as a kind of persecutory anxiety: nobody is spared, he sees friend and foe alike as attacking him, and his emblematic expression is one of distrust in others. “I don’t trust anybody but myself,” he seems to be saying. “Everyone else is trying to undermine me and my claim to greatness.”

As we’ve seen earlier, a feature of his political persona is his denigration of his political colleagues as a way of raising himself up in his own estimation. One expression of this is the extensive list of disparaging nicknames he gives to both his political opponents and his erstwhile supporters.

Competitive rivalries between politicians in leadership positions are normal and inevitable. But in Emperor Trump’s case this takes a somewhat relentless and extreme form: he systematically belittles and demeans the activities and efforts of his party colleagues, as if only his actions are worthy and good. This destructive envy spreads to anyone he feels stands taller than him and, hence, one by one his colleagues — whether supporters or rivals — are characterised as “crazy” or “crooked” while his activities are extolled as “tremendous” and “perfect”.

Trump has a characteristic way of belittling real and imagined rivals who even momentarily challenge his elevated regal authority. They are variously “crazy”, “sleepy”, “sloppy”, or “lying”. Going back to the Republican presidential nomination process in 2015 and 2016, his rivals were “low energy Jeb” Bush, “little Marco” Rubio, and “lyin’ Ted” Cruz.

Four years later, as the Democratic party nomination process got under way, he targeted “sleepy, creepy Joe” Biden, “crazy Bernie” Sanders, “fake Pocahontas” Elizabeth Warren and, later in the process, “mini-Mike” Bloomberg.

Trump’s denigration of rivals or would-be rivals reveals his inner self: anyone who emerges to challenge his pre-eminent position of entitlement is a threat to his sense of himself and has to be cut down to size. His Democrat Congressional detractors are put down in the same way (“crazy Nancy” Pelosi, “little Adam” Schiff, “cryin’ Chuck” Schumer), as are his supposed tormentors in the media (“crazy Jim” Acosta, “sloppy Carl” Bernstein, “crooked H Flunkie” Maggie Haberman, and “little wise guy” George Stephanopoulos), among many others.

It’s no surprise, incidentally, that Trump hates the media, since journalists are most frequently the source of the critical reporting and commentary that he finds demeaning and threatening to his grandiose inner sense of self. It’s why he brands anything less than unqualified admiration, if not idolatry, as “fake news”.

Trump’s deadliest venom in recent times has been directed at his former opponent in the race for the White House, Hillary “lock her up!” Clinton. Trump has never accepted that while he won the presidential election through his majority of delegates in the Electoral College, Clinton nationally polled 2.8 million more votes than he did. Unable to be gracious in victory, he still has to belittle her as “crooked Hillary”, lest anyone think she might have been more popular than him.

It is worth considering who Trump likes and admires. Mostly it’s other national leaders — all of them autocrats — with whom he can appear on an elevated world stage. Foremost in his relationships has been his enduring admiration for Russia’s modern-day tsar, President Vladimir Putin. In new evidence reported by CNN at the end of June, veteran journalist Carl Bernstein cites US national security officials with authorised access to Trump’s classified telephone conversations with Putin as dismayed by the pandering approach he took to the Russian leader — in sharp contrast to the abusive tone he adopted in speaking to democratic allies in German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former British PM Theresa May.

Trump’s clear preference for authoritarian bullies has been obvious in his relationships with rulers such as Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, and more recently Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro.

Trump’s relationship with China’s authoritarian president Xi Jinping has been admittedly on-again, off-again, and he has been ambivalent about North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. At some points, Trump liked Kim, perhaps because when they met in the demilitarized zone between South and North Korea in June 2019, Kim appeared deferential and compliant in his body language. This was appealing to Trump because he could satisfy his grandiose sense of himself as the dominant party strutting the world stage. Of course, lest anyone think Kim eventually got the better of him through his diplomatic game-playing, Trump looked to cut Kim down to size, once again describing him as “Little Rocket Man.”

(Image: YouTube)

 

There are any number of “A” letters that a decipher of Emperor Trump’s signature suggest: angry, ambitious, amoral, anti-democratic, adolescent, abusive, antagonistic, aggressive and autocratic commend themselves, as does attention-seeking, which characterises Trump’s pursuit of the presidential throne in the first place. This was not about Trump seeking to realise a developed vision of leading and governing in the national interest. This was about leveraging the foremost position in the country to attract attention to himself, to become more powerful and more famous than anyone.

The “A” word that fits best, however, is “arrogant” — a belief that he is better than others and knows more than anybody, even when the reality is that he doesn’t have a clue.

Trump’s arrogance is a defence against his profound inner sense of inferiority. He has claimed countless times while in office that he had extraordinary special knowledge about politics and public policy. Typically he has expressed this as: “Nobody knows more about [x] than I do.” He has claimed he knows more “than anyone on earth” about defence, nuclear weapons, Islamic State (IS), the courts, technology, the environment, renewables, money, taxes, trade, banks, healthcare, infrastructure, construction and campaign finance among an extensive list. It comes as no surprise that he has described himself as “a very stable genius”.

He invoked his claim to “genius’ again in March on a tour of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, when he felt obliged to overcome his lack of any real understanding of the laboratory experiments into infectious diseases that CDC medical researchers are distinguished for. So he bragged to the media accompanying him about his “great super genius” uncle, an MIT medical engineering professor, to assert that he himself had a natural ability as a medical doctor and researcher: “I like this stuff. I really get it. People are surprised that I understand it … Every one of these doctors said: ‘How do you know so much about this?’ Maybe I have a natural ability, maybe I should have done [become a medical researcher] instead of running for president. But you know what? What they’ve done is really incredible. I understand that whole world, I love that world. I really do. I love that world.”

Trump cannot even for a moment accept that he has — like the rest of us — merely a rudimentary understanding of complex medical science, so he has to exaggerate — in this case by invoking his connection to his highly accomplished uncle — to momentarily project into the minds of the media audience the thought that he could have been a “great super genius” too.

There have been other occasions when Trump has looked to present himself as the guy who could cure coronavirus, notably with drugs such as chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine. When his medical advisers warned that these were untested and potentially hazardous he pushed back: “I disagree. I feel good about it … I’m a smart guy. I’ve been right a lot.”

On April 23, Trump continued his “super genius” delusion by suggesting at his daily press briefing that a combination of UV light-zapping and disinfectant injected into the lungs could be a possible cure for coronavirus-infected patients. As CNN reported, when a journalist asked “why he was touting rumoured cures and not medically proven science”, the president reacted angrily, accusing the reporter of pushing fake news.

The next day, “Lysol” Don sought to further deflect the outrage from medical scientists by claiming he was only being “sarcastic”. Since then he has claimed that he had started taking hydroxychloroquine himself. Consistent with his relentless disposition to never let go, this seems like an attempt to buttress his first claim and reassert his authority after being widely ridiculed.

(Image: YouTube)

 

The letter “L” presents a number of possible interpretations — lewd, liar, licentious are just a few — but “lawless” is appealing, aligning as it does with Trump’s sense that he is above the law, that the law is whatever he says it is. The basis of the impeachment proceedings started in the House of Representatives were that Trump had abused the power of his office and unlawfully obstructed the Congress in breach of the constitution. As we know, while the House voted to impeach, he was acquitted by the Senate on both counts.

The point to make about Trump’s lawlessness is not that he recklessly flouts the law or wilfully breaks it, but that as a reigning emperor he doesn’t believe he is bound by the law. Like Richard Nixon before him, who famously said that “when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal”, Emperor Trump has the inner conviction that his tremendously important position means he is above the law. As he said at a conservative student conference in July 2019: “Under Article II [of the constitution], I have the right to do whatever I want as president.” In effect, he believes he has an unimpeachable entitlement to rule.

Trump repeated the point in his media briefing on April 13 when he claimed “total authority” over the states in relation to COVID-19 lockdowns. This is less an expression by Trump of a developed argument about the limits or otherwise of presidential powers than a reflection of his inner sense of his dominant, unquestioned royal authority.

Indeed, his April 17 tweet inciting his supporters to protest against social distancing lockdowns by state governors — “Liberate Michigan”, “Liberate Minnesota”, “Liberate Virginia” — provides a hint of his inner state of mind in asserting his legitimate dominance, and that the law is whatever he says it is.

(Image: YouTube)

 

The second “D” offers a number of deciphering possibilities: devious, disordered, disturbed, destructive, deranged, demented, dissolute, distrustful or despotic; or perhaps — given its second occurrence in the signature — double-down, which is tempting given that when challenged on something he says that is shown to be false, Trump simply doubles-down and says the criticism of him is just “fake news”. Through his imperial powers, the truth is whatever he says it is.

But the “D” that looks closest is “distrustful”. This quality of never really trusting anyone was foreshadowed early in Trump’s term by his treatment of FBI director James Comey in a meeting at the White House on January 27, 2017, shortly after Trump’s inauguration. At the one-on-one dinner — which took place amid the FBI probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election — the new president improperly sought to extract a commitment of personal loyalty from Comey, superseding the FBI director’s oath of allegiance to the constitution and the duties of his high office.

Having failed to secure such a pledge of fealty from Comey, Trump could never trust him, later calling him “an untruthful slime ball” and a “proven LEAKER and LIAR”, and eventually firing him in May 2017. As Comey later wrote in his memoir, Trump’s behaviour in office was “unethical and untethered to truth” and — in respect of his demand for personal loyalty as the basis of any trust and working relationship — like that of a Mafia boss.

(Image: Reuters/Francois Lenoir)

 

“J” is a central letter in the Trump signature, and it has a singular character, perhaps aligned with jealous and judgemental, both of which traits Trump frequently exhibits. And then there is jingoistic, an extreme nationalism in framing US foreign policy, which conveniently matches Trump’s inner need to dominate, even globally.

With Trump, even the political campaigning objective of “Make America Great Again” takes on an aggressive quality as he runs down allies and enemies alike to elevate the US — but particularly himself — in the global leadership stakes. (It’s tempting to think of “America first” as really “me first”, because in his mind Trump and America are one and the same.)

Jingoistic he certainly is, but the most compelling “J” is “juvenile”, a Trump trait abundantly in evidence through his immature, even childish, behaviour. This was on show at a NATO meeting in Brussels in May 2017 in what came to be known as “the shove”. Walking with other leaders to a planned photograph at NATO headquarters, Trump momentarily found himself positioned behind a group of presidents and prime ministers slowly shuffling toward the photo-op point. Like a child in a playgroup, Trump abruptly shoves out of the way the NATO colleague inadvertently blocking his path — who happens to be the leader of tiny Montenegro, Prime Minister Duško Marković.

Trump’s intent is to assert his entitlement to be at the front of the group (not unreasonable in the global scheme of things, of course), especially ahead of this Balkan nation state, which has a population of a mere 620,000. His abrupt manoeuvre successful, Trump self-consciously flaps his suit coat as if to say: “Outta my way. I’m the king of this sandpit!”

(Image: AP/Alex Brandon)

 

The “T” is a big deal in the Trump signature: along with the opening “D” and the final “P”, it is the tallest letter on the signature page, over-reaching the others like Trump Tower on the Manhattan skyline. Treasonous and treacherous are possible, and transactional appeals too. Certainly Trump has been quintessentially transactional in his presidential behaviour, as in the Ukrainian quid pro quo, where his presidential negotiations and positioning were clearly motivated by the prospect of personal political advantage rather than advancing US national interests.

This has been a consistent approach, well documented over time, harking back to his early business dealings as a New York property developer where he made political donations to elected city officials, Democrat and Republican, to create a political obligation that could be called in to his financial advantage when required.

Transactional though Trump certainly is, the “T” word that best expresses a core personality trait is “tyrannical”. That is not to say Trump is a tyrant per se, although his propensity to fire those administration officials who cross him comes close to tyrannical behaviour. Indeed, there is a litany of officials Trump has fired because they have been doing their job in respect of Congressional and intelligence community oversight, but in ways that Trump perceives as offensive to his sense of himself as perfect.

Trump’s tyrannical trait reflects the fact that he has an inner wish — a compulsion — to dominate, to exercise unfettered power and control absolutely, to never be constrained by laws or principles or ethics or counter-balancing institutional authority. Like so many of Emperor Trump’s behavioural political instincts, it derives from his inner conviction that he is unique, he is a tremendously majestic and powerful person, one without peer or blemish on the national and global stage.

(Image: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

 

There are several “R” words that fit the bill — reckless, rabid, remorseless, rivalrous and raging — but the closest reading is “resentful”. Like Nixon, Trump is a serial collector of resentments and at times his political outlook is dominated by extreme suspicion and distrust, hostility, and a pervasive preoccupation with enemies, real or imagined. He stores up his resentments and takes every opportunity to get even, usually by firing courtiers who offend his sense of superiority.

Trump has an extremely low threshold of tolerance for anyone who doesn’t vow fealty to his imperial sense of himself and so he has forced out multiple senior White House counsellors, advisers and special assistants, national security advisers, the US deputy attorney-general, the secretary of state, the FBI director and deputy director, Justice Department officials, the secretary of Health and Human Services, as well as competent senior officials in many other departments.

This is especially true for a raft of independent inspectors-general, officials in oversight roles in the US administration who have incurred Trump’s wrath just for doing their jobs with integrity. In fact the turnover rate in the Trump administration has been record-setting. No doubt some staff have left of their own volition, but a number of reports have pointed to a toxic culture within the Trump administration — the consequence of capricious expression of presidential resentments — as the cause.

It is tempting to suggest this is not the promised “draining the swamp” as Trump might have it, but the trashing of vital administrative capability on the whim of a deluded and resentful emperor. Trump’s resentful trait was further in evidence recently when — hypersensitive to any hint of criticism about his “perfect” performance on the COVID-19 outbreak — he ordered a cut in US funding to the World Health Organization (WHO). Since then he has taken action to withdraw the US from WHO altogether.

(Image: YouTube)

 

There are myriad Trump traits associated with the letter “U”, beginning as it does numerous “un” words. These are the contra versions of the positive qualities so conspicuously absent in Emperor Trump: unprepared, unruly, unethical, unsympathetic, untethered, unstable, unforgiving, unthinking, unprincipled, unscrupulous, unreflective, and unrepentant. Unempathetic also has a certain appeal.

Unforgiving is relevant too, capturing that vindictive trait that he can never let go of a slight and has to pay out on the source. This was how he behaved toward his Republican rival, the late Arizona senator John McCain, the Vietnam War pilot and prisoner of war he periodically disparaged in a 20-year feud because McCain stood in the uniquely elevated position that Trump knew he could never reach, much less surpass — that of American war hero.

Perhaps feeling humiliated as the former military academy student who never served during the Vietnam War (granted multiple deferments because of his college status and later exemption because of supposed bone spurs in his feet), the best Trump can do in his unforgiving way is mock McCain as a captive of the North Vietnamese: “He’s not a war hero,” he said in a July 2015 interview. “I like people who weren’t captured.”

Trump’s evident contempt for US military sacrifice was reportedly on display during a presidential visit to France in 2018. According to The Atlantic, Trump cancelled a visit to war graves at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near Paris because (as he allegedly said to senior staff members) the American soldiers who had fought and died in World War I were “losers” and “suckers” for getting killed.

This is Trump rationalising to himself the “smartness” of his own unwillingness to serve in Vietnam. Any reasonable comparison, even in his own mind, between his avoidance of military service and the bravery of those combat soldiers who put themselves in harm’s way would be deeply humiliating for him, so to maintain his inner sense of superiority he has to disparage their sacrifice as meaningless or stupid.

“Unhinged” is the signature word of choice here, however, referring as it does to the emotionally unbalanced way in which Trump has often behaved, especially in relation to the present COVID-19 pandemic. When the coronavirus outbreak first appeared, Trump went on the attack, accusing the Democrats of fostering a new hoax.

“They tried the impeachment hoax,” he said on February 28. “This is their new hoax.” A little over two weeks later, on March 17, Trump was insisting he knew before anyone how serious COVID-19 was: “I’ve always known this is real — this is a pandemic. I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.”

Trump has been consistently unhinged in his responses to the health crisis. How else to explain his unwillingness to adopt a disciplined and focused leadership of the US response? Since the outbreak, he has relentlessly advanced and backtracked, uneasily trying to juggle the demands of evidence-based, scientific health advice in the best interests of the American people with his inner imperative to give priority to his own political interests through a booming and unconstrained economy.

Trump has been unfit and mentally unprepared to articulate a coherent strategy through this crisis — a pathway that Americans can heed and have confidence in, and the rest of the Western world can respect and follow. Through his unhinged leadership, Trump has untethered the US from its near century-long great-power role on the world stage.

(Image: YouTube)

 

The letter “M” offers interesting decoding possibilities such as manipulative, megalomaniacal, mad and mendacious. The one that gets it, though, is “misogynist”. This is not normally a term describing a narcissistic personality trait, but in Trump’s case it is important because it provides yet another revealing expression of his hyper-sensitivity to slight.

Trump commonly sees women as inferior, dependent, and even — in his entitled way — as his sexual playthings. The latter emerged in 2005 in a hot-mic conversation recorded on a bus when travelling to film an episode of the TV program Access Hollywood. Trump boastfully related his sexual exploits with women made possible by his status as a TV star: “When you’re a star, they let you do it. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”

Women are a special challenge for Trump. Defining them in his mind as inherently dependent, lesser beings, he cannot allow any turning of the tables when he encounters smart, highly educated and assertive women –as he did in the Republican presidential debate in August 2015 when Fox News journalist and debate moderator Megyn Kelly got the better of him. In a question to Trump, Kelly called him out on his record of insulting and disparaging women.

“You’ve called women you don’t like fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals,” Kelly said. “Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president?”

Skewered by the question, Trump was doubly offended because he has been taken down by a woman — one he later disparaged in a repulsive tantrum as “crazy Megyn” Kelly, who had “blood coming out of her wherever”.

Trump is also consumed with resentment and envy when he feels that his entitlement is breached by others undeserving of his celebrity position, as he did in December last year when teenage Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg was chosen as Time magazine’s Person of the Year for 2019. Even though Trump had been the Time Person of the Year in 2016, he evidently felt humiliated by her elevation over him, depriving him of an opportunity to equal his rival, Barack Obama, who had been named Time Person of the Year twice.

One of 10 short-listed nominees with Thunberg in 2019, Trump’s humiliation was perhaps deeper because Thunberg was only 16, and he lashed out at her in a way that was designed to further cut her down to size. “She beat me out on Time magazine,” he commented testily, after tweeting his ire about her being named for the award: “So ridiculous. Greta must work on her Anger Management problem, then go to a good old-fashioned movie with a friend. Chill Greta, Chill!”

Here again is an expression of Trump’s preoccupations revealing his inflated but fragile sense of self — a sitting US president feeling diminished by the celebrity of a teenage girl he momentarily regards as a rival for the high accolades to which he feels entitled.

(Image: AP/Kazuhiro Nogi)

 

So to the last imposing letter in the Donald J Trump signature: the letter “P” and the distinctive final signature flourish of a plutocratic, petty, paranoid, predatory, petulant, punishing and psychopathic personality. Fitting as these descriptions might be, the “P” word that best describes Trump is “Putinesque”. Like the word misogynist, Putinesque is not a psychological term but it expresses a behavioural trait of Emperor Trump in an instructive way.

Trump reveres Putin because the kleptocratic Russian president has the attributes that Trump aspires to for himself: unconstrained imperial power, seemingly unlimited terms of office, vast wealth, and no political rivals to contend with — primarily because Putin “locks them up”, or worse. Such is Trump’s infatuation with Putin that he cannot even bring himself to denounce the covert bounties paid by Putin’s Russia to Taliban-linked militants to kill American combat troops in Afghanistan.

Putin is arguably the most autocratically powerful person in the world — an achievement shared perhaps only with China’s President-for-life, Xi Jinping — and his personal wealth is estimated to be somewhere between US$70 billion and US$200 billion. By contrast, Trump’s fortune is thought to be just US$2.5 billion.

For Trump, Putin’s unchallenged position of authority represents the ideal of his own grandiose ambition to be the most powerful, the wealthiest and tremendously superior person on the planet. (It didn’t hurt either that — as Trump reported in May 2019 — Putin wrote him “beautiful letters”.)

Putin was also recently successful in rewriting the Russian constitution to allow him to serve two further six-year terms. Is it really outside the bounds of possibility that, if Trump looked to be defeated at the presidential poll in November, he could assert that the COVID-19 crisis “demanded” he intervene to delay the election (to a politically more advantageous date), despite the constitutional and statutory provisions denying such a power?

Trump has already started to manipulate the election with his assault on the capability of the US Postal Service to manage mail voting for the election. The most concerning possibility would be for Trump to invoke the National Emergencies Act 1976 in the lead-up to the election to disrupt elements of the vote.

And if he is defeated in the election, might he move to disallow “invalid” votes in the Electoral College to keep himself on the throne? Or would he unleash armed and lawless protesters, as he encouraged those who menacingly entered Michigan’s state parliament in late April, describing them as “very good people”?

Certainly, such manoeuvres would be entirely consistent with, if not exemplify, some of the core traits of the emperor complex we have now deciphered in Donald J Trump: delusional, omnipotent, narcissistic, arrogant, lawless and distrustful. Juvenile. Tyrannical, resentful, unhinged, misogynist and, perhaps most worrying of all, Putinesque.

Does Art Matter

Does art matter?  Does culture matter?  It is tempting to say that our belief in these things is a matter of faith: it is axiomatic – we assume as a first principle that art matters, and we use this assumption as a starting point for arguments about philanthropic support for the arts.

By contrast, economic rationalists would point out that most artists are economically unviable.  That is true.  Creative artists generally have miserable incomes from their art, and survive by teaching or waiting on tables.  Performing artists do not have it much better.  Depending on their speciality, they may have just as difficult a time as creative artists.

Economic rationalists would argue that pouring money into the arts is irrational unless the consumer considers the transaction to deliver a nett benefit to them.

The economic rationalist will buy the painting which delivers them the greatest pleasure for the lowest price, allowing that part of the pleasure might derive from the conspicuously famous name of the artist.

The economic rationalist will not be tempted to provide philanthropic support for the arts, because that produces no saleable return; the economic rationalist will not be tempted to commission music unless it has a good chance of generating royalties.

I want to explore briefly the assumption that Art matters, and set the argument against economic rationalism.

Vincent Van Gogh sold very few paintings, and those for very little money.  Cezanne was once booted out of his lodgings and the angry landlord hurled some of his paintings out of the attic window into the courtyard below.   Similar examples can be multiplied endlessly.

Would the world be poorer if Van Gogh had never painted Starry Night, or if Cezanne had not painted Les Bagneuses; or if van Gogh and Cezanne had never painted at all?

Would the world be poorer if Michelangelo had never painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or designed the Duomo in Florence;  if Leonardo da Vinci had never painted;  if Beethoven or Shostakovitch had never written a note of music?

Imagine a world without Shakespeare or Balzac and ask whether it is better or worse than this world.

It is no answer that paintings by Van Gogh and Cezanne now sell for tens of millions of dollars; that original scores of Beethoven are priceless, likewise the manuscripts of Balzac and Shakespeare.

We do not value these works because of their price tags: the price tags are almost entirely irrelevant to the value we see in these works.  Few people would accept that a person who buys an iconic painting could withdraw it forever from public view.

No-one would accept that the purchaser of a great work of art was entitled to destroy it.

The reason this is so is that we all acknowledge that a work of art is more than simply a physical thing capable of being bought and sold.

In profoundly important ways, every work of art carries part of our shared culture and it is that fact which gives the work its true value: a value which bears very little relation to the operation of a market for unique commodities.

The destruction of the library at Byzantium in 1204 and the looting of the national museum of Baghdad in 2004 represent losses which not even the crassest economist has tried to measure in economic terms, because the calculation would be seen by everyone to miss the point completely.

In a remarkable short story by Frederic Raphael, the author speaks of a man whose father was a judge.  He grows up with the unstated expectation that he will be a lawyer.  In his early adolescence starts writing poetry.  He is quite good a it, and keeps writing poetry when all his friends have returned to the cricket pitch.  He does well at school and is accepted into a law course, but keeps writing poetry. During his university days, he meets the girl he later marries.  She gently persuades him to forget about poetry and concentrate on law.  He abandoned a hopeful career as a poet for the much more prosaic career of a lawyer.  He prospers in his choice and is eventually appointed to the Bench.  Upon his appointment, he has to vacate his chambers and this leads him to the bitter-sweet task of going through the accumulated papers of decades to decide what may be disposed of and what should be retained.

“He had quite forgotten about his adolescent poetry and was astonished to come across a batch of it at the bottom of a cupboard.  He smiled – golly! – at the sight of it and took it out and started to read, for a laugh.  He expected clinching evidence of the folly of youthful pretensions.  His whole happy life had been founded on the assumption that he had been right to abdicate before his wife’s gentle, unmistakable judgment.  He sat on the floor of his chambers, boyishly grey, and prepared to be embarrassed by those unburnt embers.  Instead, the poems passed sentence on his life.  At last, he closed his eyes to escape their indictment, but the unblinking eye in the centre of his forehead gazed and blazed with unique and undeniable vision.  He cowered on the floor of the dusty cave and saw that the years of his life had escaped, like Odysseus’s men under the panicky sheep of the blind, deluded Polyphemus.  ‘Who are you, who are you?’ he cried.  And the voice of the man who had blinded himself replied ‘No-one.  No-one.’”

In that short, compelling paragraph the author shows the result of comparing the valuable with the priceless.

If we suspect that the world would be poorer without Beethoven and Mozart, without van Gogh and Cezanne; without Shakespeare and Balzac, we acknowledge the value of art for its own sake.

None of those people created material wealth.  None of them derived great material wealth in their lifetimes.  The value of unique paintings is a quirk of the market for commodities:  the true value of the works is spiritual.

If the manuscript score of all of Beethoven’s symphonies were destroyed, it would be tragic but we would still have the works themselves and our cultural heritage would remain intact.

I recently heard an enchanting story from a friend of mine called Mary who works in a large Melbourne bookshop.  She told me about a middle-aged Melbourne woman who ventured shyly into the bookshop.  Noticing her bewildered hesitancy, Mary approached her and asked if she was looking for a book.  “Yes” she said, “I’ve never bought one before.”  This startling comment turned out to be literal truth.  She had never bought a book in her life, and was unsure how to go about it.  My friend helped identify a book she was likely to enjoy, and the transaction was settled.  A couple of weeks later she was back and bought another book.  And so it went for some months and as Christmas approached she confided in Mary that she had suggested to her friends that books would be welcome Christmas presents.  Mary asked her how she felt now that she had begun reading books:  “It is wonderful” she said, “I no longer live in a flat in Kensington – I live in the world.”

There is great force in that comment.

There is great force in the notion that art connects us to the world, to each other, to others we can never meet or know.  It affirms and reinforces our integral relationship to the rest of humanity.  The wider our encounter with art, the richer that connection becomes.

So art is valuable, in and of itself.

Human language has a vocabulary adapted to accommodate our daily needs and functions: the vocabulary of any human language maps approximately to the needs and activities of our mundane lives.

But few would deny that there is another dimension of human existence which transcends the mundane: call it the soul, the spirit, that part of the human frame which responds to the call of the non-rational.

In the domain of the human spirit, other vocabularies emerge.

Painting, music, poetry, sculpture are all different languages, each with its own unique vocabulary.  The vocabulary of each artform gives it access to areas of human experience which are not available to other sorts of language.

This is why works of art are considered less meritorious – at least less interesting – as they become more literal and narrative.  If an idea is best expressed in words, why bother expressing it in paint or music instead?

By contrast, some ideas can only be expressed in paint or music: the vocabulary of paint and music share little of the vocabulary of spoken language.  I once heard someone ask an abstract expressionist to say what one of his paintings meant. He said “No, I can’t tell you, but I will try to hum it.”

It is neither useful nor interesting to ask what Beethoven’s 5th symphony “means”, or what Carl Vine’s 4th string quartet “means”, if the questioner wants you to say in words what Beethoven  or Carl Vine said in music

This is the key to understanding why Art matters.  Every form of art is a unique way of seeing, and at its best each form of art says things which cannot be said, or said as compellingly, in any other way.

Deny this, and you close off part of the human spirit.  As Victor Hugo said:

Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.

A history of the Weimar Republic speaks of the same things which occupied Kathe Kollwitz and George Grosz, but their work reaches out to us in a quite different way.  The story of that time and place would be incomplete without their work.

Try to imagine this country if all practising artists perished overnight.  Imagine this country if, for the next generation, there were no new paintings made, no new novels or poems written, no new music, no new sculpture.

Imagine looking back on that bleak and wasted generation in 50 or 100 years time.  Like a layer of ash in the archaeological record it would stand as a silent marker of a period of desolation.

Culture is the accumulated record of artistic expression of a time and place.  It may present an unattractive picture, or a brilliant one, but it is an essential record unless we take the nihilist view that human existence itself is irrelevant.

The nihilist would see no point in having children.  If any one of us matters, then art matters and culture matters.  A Society without culture leaves no children; with no past it can have no future.

Climate Change

Helen Sykes has published more than 30 books in the Future Leaders series (see https://www.futureleaders.com.au .  The next Future Leaders book is Climate Change and Health.  She asked me to write a chapter, and said I could put it on my website:

Climate Change and Human Rights

Climate Change represents the greatest challenge to human existence we have ever experienced.

This is not a universal view.  On 29 April 2019, Dr C.J. Hamilton wrote:

“Climate Change” alarmists base their case for man-made Global Warming on two key claims.  Their first claim is that carbon dioxide is “dirty” and a pollutant – it is not.  Their second claim is that the increase in global temperature since the onset of the industrial age around 1850 is primarily due to the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide caused by the combustion of fossil fuels – it is not.  There is no evidence in all the historical scientific records to support this claim.  The real cause of “Global Warming” is the repeat of the Warm Period cycle which made Greenland green a thousand years ago during the Medieval Warm Period and caused the Little Ice Age from 1350 to 1850.

It’s not a view I do not share.  If Dr Hamilton would consider me a “Climate Change alarmist” so be it.  But although I am persuaded that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the principal cause of Climate Change, I do not regard it as “dirty”, or a “pollutant”.  And, despite Dr Hamilton’s sharp views, I regard Climate Change as very important and a major threat to our species.

A lot of people think that our knowledge of Climate Change dates from Rachel Carson’s The Silent Spring (1962) or Al Gore’s later expressions of concern about it.  In fact, we have known the mechanism of Climate Change for much longer: roughly 160 years.

It is worth considering the earlier history of Climate Change.  In the 1820s, Joseph Fourier calculated that a planetary object the size of Earth should not be as warm as it is, given its distance from the Sun, and the relatively small amount of sunlight falling on its surface.  We now know that Venus and Mars both have atmospheres, as does the Earth.  The atmosphere of Venus is about 100 times as dense as the atmosphere on Earth. Venus is closer to the sun than Earth is; Mars is further away.  To make sense of the table that follows, it is worth bearing in mind (in relation to Fourier’s observation) that Venus and Earth are roughly the same size; Mars is much smaller than both. The atmosphere of Mars is about 1% as dense as the Earth’s atmosphere.

Planet        distance from Sun           av. temperature

Venus         108 million km                  461o C

Earth          150 million km                  61o C

Mars          228 million km                  -60o C

The temperature on Mars ranges from 20o C in daylight  to -73o C at night.  As most commentaries on Mars note, its atmosphere is so thin that it does not have a thermal blanket to trap heat.  The contrast between Marrs, Venus and Earth is obvious.

In about 1859, Tyndall discovered that water-vapour was an important heat-trapping agent, and that it tended to trap carbon dioxide, which was also very good at trapping heat, by preventing the escape of infra-red radiation. The trapped heat enables the atmosphere to hold more water vapour, more CO2  and so on.  He demonstrated this on 10 June 1859 in a Royal Society lecture, pointing out that coal gas and ether strongly absorbed infrared heat

The central insight was in fact given earlier in a paper by Eunice Newton Foote, in about 1856, but Tyndall gets the credit.  Some things just don’t change.   Eunice Foote was an American scientist, inventor, and women’s rights campaigner from New York.  At a conference in 1856, she presented a paper titled “Circumstances Affecting the Heat of the Sun’s Rays” which suggested that changing the proportion of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would change the Earth’s temperature.

In the 1890s, Svante Arrhenius demonstrated that CO2 trapped infra-red rays, and that the consequent warming would enable more water vapour to be held in the atmosphere, and that water vapour would in turn trap more heat in the atmosphere.  He worked out that if you halved the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide, the temperature of Europe could drop by as much as 4-50C.  Conversely, increasing the level of CO2 in the atmosphere would increase the average temperature of the Earth.  His calculations were remarkably accurate.  (The concern of 19th Century scientists with water vapour is probably a reflection of the fact that the Industrial Revolution was, in large part, powered by steam).

Between the four of them: Fourier, Foote, Tyndall and Arrhenius showed us what we needed to know about the mechanism of Climate Change.  We ignored the science, but now it’s getting critical.  Let’s hope we don’t allow politics to distract us too much: our future depends on understanding the implications of what we have known for more than a century.  Al Gore simply reminded us of this “inconvenient truth”.  And Dr C.J. Hamilton shows plainly that it is a very divisive issue.  The sad fact is that it has become highly political.

in 2011 the Israeli writer Yuval Noah Harari wrote a book called Sapiens. It is a history of our species, homo sapiens. He makes the point that we have been around for about 200-300 thousand years.  Until we discovered agriculture we lived in extended family groups, hiding from our predators. But when we discovered agriculture, about 12 thousand years ago, we started living in villages, towns, cities.

Harari raises a fascinating  question, which he does not answer: Are we genetically disposed to be concerned about the immediate group rather than the entirety of our species? It’s a good question, and all the more important because Climate Change is the first phenomenon in history which threatens our entire species.  And that threat is now at its most visible and critical phase: in November 2018, the IPCC reported that we have until 2030 to take serious steps to defeat Climate Change, or it will be too late.  Despite the urgency of that warning, the government in the USA seems to deny the reality and seriousness of Climate Change; Australia’s major political parties seem incapable of formulating policies which accept the sorry facts, the mechanism for which has been known since 1856: both of Australia’s major political parties seem contented to ignore the science (as well as the evidence of our warming climate), and to keep exploiting our fossil fuel resources, either for use or sale.  Is it too cynical to think that their attitude to Climate Change might be different if they did not receive large donations from the fossil fuel industry?

Dr C.J. Hamilton’s disdain for Climate Change is reflected in the fact that (in Australia) the only political party to take Climate Change seriously is the Greens, and that party is treated as a refuge for people whose ideas do not deserve to be taken seriously.

Harari’s question has immediate importance for all of us: unless we are willing to be so selfish that we will accept the best the planet has to offer us, despite the fact that future generations will probably be unable to survive on this planet.

It troubles me that, as a species, we seem unwilling to accommodate the idea that it will be difficult for us to keep going like this; that we need to recognise that Climate Change is a serious threat; a serious threat to us, and to the whole of our species.

In Australia, we seem able to accept all that is good, while ignoring the dangers we have created. If the bushfires over the summer of 2019-2020 were a kind of warning, we seem able to ignore the warning.

Perhaps it is because we have a government which has denied the existence of Climate Change for a long time and a PM (Scott Morrison) who took a lump of coal into the parliament, apparently to show us how safe it is! Perhaps it is because we have a dis-spirited Opposition which does not have a clear policy on Climate Change.

Perhaps politicians in both major parties see that they will be long gone before the harshest consequences of Climate Change are apparent; and for that reason they are willing to accept huge donations from the fossil-fuel industry. I have a different view.

For my part, I expect to live out my life before the worst effects of Climate Change make human life on Earth impossible, but I think we all have an obligation to make sure that we leave the planet as liveable for the future as possible, or at least foreseeable.

It would be a fine thing if the science of Climate Change turned out to be wholly wrong, but that seems highly unlikely.  So far, all the evidence seems to support the science.  It is interesting that politicians who are willing to dismiss the science of Climate Change would probably not be willing to board a plane if science told them it had a 20% chance of crashing before it arrived at their destination.  And most politicians who are willing to dismiss or ignore the science of Climate Change nevertheless use mobile phones, the functioning of which is plainly a product of science.

The rich, advanced countries in the world have benefitted greatly from the phenomena which are responsible for Climate Change: the use of fossil fuel to power the remarkable enterprises of the post-industrial revolution world.  But Climate Change has consequences for every country, rich and poor; for the entire planet.  The phenomena responsible for it are, essentially, fossil fuels used to create light, heat and energy.

While the mechanism of Climate Change has been known for about 160 years, the precursors go much further back: to Newton’s time.  Newton’s law of the conservation of energy teaches us that energy can neither be created nor destroyed; rather, it can only be transformed or transferred from one form to another.    So, an explosion of petrol in an engine is transformed into motion, heat, noise etc..

Fossil fuels (coal, natural gas and oil) were produced tens of millions (or hundreds of millions) of years ago as a product of the sun’s energy (Sunlight provides the energy for plant growth; plants eventually die and become coal, etc.).  Fossil fuels store energy in the bonds between the atoms that make up their molecules. Burning the fuels breaks apart those bonds. This releases the energy that originally came from the sun.  That is why timber can be burned to produce (release) heat.  Allowed enough time, the timber becomes a fossil fuel. Simply stated, the sun is the original source of energy on this planet (and all others in our solar system).

It is worth remembering that the fossil fuels we use today store energy from the sun from millions of years before our species existed.  And since the start of the industrial revolution, at least, we have been releasing that energy with increasing enthusiasm, to the great profit of some, but at a terrible risk, eventually, to us all.

The difficulty (and the confusion) about the conservation of energy arises where the transformation of stored energy to noticeable energy results in wasted energy.  So, the heat and noise produced by fuel in a car engine are forms of energy which are difficult or impossible to capture and re-use.  When a stick of dynamite explodes, the chemical energy is transformed into heat, noise (sound energy) and movement of objects (motion energy).

Energy which dissipates that way is difficult to harness for useful purposes.  Because of this, Newton’s law of the conservation of energy is not self-evident.  The simple fact is that all the energy we use ends up going somewhere.  Using fossil fuels releases energy which arrived on the Earth  many millions of years ago.  If we use fossil fuels now, the stored energy has to go somewhere.  Using fossil fuel means that energy will be released which arrived on the Earth millions of years ago.  The science of Climate Change shows that the stored energy ends up warming the vast amount of water in the oceans, and causing catastrophic weather effects: increasing average temperatures, storms and so on.

And where a by-product of the transformation of one form of energy to another is CO2 (or water vapour, nitrous oxide, methane or ozone), the tendency of those chemicals to trap infra-red radiation in the atmosphere means that our planet gets warmer.

The fact that the sun is the original source of energy on this planet raises interesting possibilities for Australia.  I have heard that if just 3% of the centre of Australia was covered with solar panels, we would produce enough electricity for the entire globe.  There are many obvious practical difficulties with implementing that approach, but it makes a very important point about Australia’s natural advantages.

Sunshine could easily create enough electricity for all of Australia, and there would be a lot of energy left over.  That’s important, given that the sun does not shine brightly every day, and does not shine at all at night.

But on days when the sun shines brightly, the use of surplus sunshine, in a country like Australia, raises many possibilities, especially as the spare sunshine could easily be used to create energy which can be stored and used later.  For example  Alan Finkel, Australia’s chief scientist, has suggested using the energy from surplus sunshine to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen.  Later, the hydrogen  could be burned (as a source of energy) and the by-product of this is, of course, water.  Hydrogen is readily transportable.

Other suggestions include using sunshine to superheat various salts which can be stored underground as a medium- to long-term heat storage.  Another suggestion is to use surplus sunshine energy to lift water in projects like Snowy 2.0.

Wind power is another obvious energy source.  Europe, especially, has many wind-turbines in use.  The number of wind farms in Australia is increasing, but depends largely on government encouragement which at present is sorely lacking.

And Elon Musk has shown how efficiently energy can be stored in Lithium ion batteries.  Australia has vast deposits of Lithium: one prediction says that Western Australia could supply half the world’s Lithium.  Whether Lithium ion batteries remain a preferred way of storing energy is not clear, but it offers immediate possibilities.

Right now, the wealthiest countries in the world are run by the luckiest generation in history.  The baby-boomers are a generation which has not seen a World War, or a Depression, although it remains to be seen if the Covid-19 pandemic changes that.  It is a generation which has had the very best the world can offer.  This has been managed (in part) by massively exploiting the fossil fuel resources of the Earth, the impact of which is being felt, especially, in poor countries which cannot afford to protect their people against it; and in low-lying countries, which are becoming increasingly unliveable.  And yet, the richest countries in the world are doing little or nothing to protect poorer countries from the impact of what we have done.  The injustice of it is obvious.

Australia is in an interesting position.  Our domestic CO2 production is relatively small by world standards: China is the largest producer, USA number 2; Australia number 17. However on a per capita basis Australia is at the top of the list: per head of population, Australia is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than any other country.

Unfortunately it is easy for us, who have benefitted from the use of fossil fuel, to deny that there is a problem or to assert that it will resolve.   After all, the consequences are comfortably remote.  By contrast, the world’s reaction to Covid-19 was much sharper because it showed immediate consequences.  That said, America’s response was tragically relaxed.  As at the start of June 2020, about 105,000 people had died in America because of Covid-19.  It took a delayed (and relaxed) approach to the pandemic, and had the biggest death toll in the world.  In Australia we responded much more actively, and our per capita death rate was very low, as at the start of June 2020.

But even America’s death toll was way less than 1% of its population.  Yet its approach to the threat of Climate Change, which threatens 100% of its population (as well as the population of the rest of the world), is to deny it or ignore it.  And the reason for that striking difference appears to be simply this: Covid-19 is an immediate threat, with consequences which are visible right now; Climate Change is a threat that might not destroy us for 50 or 100 years.  Our “leaders” will be long dead before the consequences of their short-sightedness are noticed; but ignoring Climate Change rewards Americans with a booming economy.  As a result, political pressures mean that warning about Climate Change (let alone taking steps against it) looks politically difficult; politically disadvantageous.

To those of us who are old enough to remember early advertising about smoking, this is a familiar response.

The fact that smoking tobacco was associated with adverse health outcomes was known from the 1890s.

When science first raised doubts about the health consequences of smoking, the tobacco industry responded with advertising lines like “You’ve got nothing to lose but your smoker’s cough”.

In the early 1950s an English study showed a clear link between smoking and lung cancer, although it could not predict that a given individual who smoked would certainly get cancer: the likelihood increased, but it was not a certainty.

On 11 January, 1964, the U.S. Surgeon General‘s Report on Smoking and Health was published; it led millions of American smokers to quit, and it resulted in certain advertising being banned.

Cigarette advertising was banned progressively over the following 40 years.  Australia slowly followed, so that many types of tobacco advertising are no longer legal in Australia.

In short, the known ill-effects of smoking were resisted (or doubted, or denied) for a very long time, because there was good money in pretending the truth lay elsewhere; and the effect of smoking on any given individual was almost certainly a long way in the future and impossible to predict with any confidence.  The parallel with Climate Change is obvious.

For most people, the idea that our planet will become impossible for human life is nearly impossible to accept.  Denying the possibility is easy and comforting.  Not one of us would like to think that the quality of our lifestyle will cost a future generation the possibility of continued existence.  If the science was plainer, or more definite, or more precisely predictable, it is likely that our response (as a species) would lie somewhere between our recent response to Covid-19 and our current attitude to smoking.

The human rights implications of Climate Change are profound, and obvious.  The rich, lucky countries have got richer and luckier, while the whole world pays the price.  Those of us who live in New World countries enjoy the benefits of the consumption of fossil fuels: in the USA there are 838 motor cars for every thousand people in the population; in Australia, there are 790 motor cars for every thousand people in the population.  But our avoidable production of Greenhouse gases has an impact in every country, and on all the oceans.

It is tragic that concern about Climate Change and Greenhouse gas emissions has become so mired in politics and commerce and blind optimism.

 

Are We There Yet?

I’m a bit late posting this: just came across it again.  it’s the Barry Jones Oration I gave in 2013.

Are We There Yet?  

It is a great privilege to be giving a talk in honour of Barry Jones.

Like many others, I first became aware of Barry when he was an apparently permanent fixture on Pick-a-Box. Most of us remember that he often tangled with Bob Dyer and quibbled about the expected answer, most famously when he was asked who the first British Governor-General of India was. He gave the expected answer, Warren Hastings, but then pointed out that, strictly, Hastings was only the Governor of Bengal. The first Governor-General of India was Lord William Bentinck.

But what distinguished Barry’s participation in Pick-a-Box was a disconnect between his purposes and Bob Dyer’s purposes. For Bob Dyer, the show was all about competing for material reward; for Barry it seemed to spring from a genuine interest in knowing things. I will never forget how excited I found it to see a person who knew so much about so much.

His extraordinary run on that show started in 1960 and ended in 1968. Viewed from the present, that may not seem such a long time but, to orient it to my own life, it began when I was in year 6 and ended when I was in my second year at Monash University. I did not imagine then that I would later be able to count him as a friend.

No-one who lived through those years could forget the mark Barry made in his mighty struggle to save Ronald Ryan from the gallows. While Barry did not manage to save Ryan from the crazed vindictiveness of Henry Bolte, he won the larger fight: although Ryan was eventually hanged, in February 1967, he was the last person to be executed in Australia.

Barry once predicted that one day there would be more computers than cars in Tasmania. He was ridiculed for this.

The received wisdom then was in line with what had been said for years by people who should have known:

  • In 1943, Thomas Watson, the chairman of IBM said: “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”
  • In 1957 the editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall said: “I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won’t last out the year.”
  • And 20 years later, in 1977, the president of Digital Equipment Corporation, Ken Olson, said: “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”

In this and many other things, Barry sees much further than any of us. It is no accident that he is the only Australian to be a Fellow of all four learned academies: the Australian Academy of Science; the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia, the Australian Academy of the Humanities and the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering.

In 1962, when I was in year 8 at school and Barry was cleaning up all comers on Pick-a-Box, I discovered the writing of James Thurber. In particular, his Fables for our Time and Further Fables for our Time. These were little stories in the style of Aesop’s fables: short, simple stories which generally had small animals as the main protagonists and ended with an explicit moral.

Thurber’s reason for choosing that style was probably the same as Aesop’s: it meant he could write subversive things, but get under the radar of government censors. He wrote during the McCarthy era, when dissident thinking was even more dangerous and unwelcome in America than it is today.

In the last of his fables, Thurber tells of a lemming who, on his way home after a late night, stumbles, hits his head and, dazed, starts running towards the cliff. He accidentally starts a stampede. The other lemmings who follow him toward the cliff are no more certain why they are running than he is. They hurtle over the cliff, some shouting “We are saved” and others shouting “We are lost”.

The moral of the story was: “All men should strive to learn before they die, what they are running from, and to, and why”.

As a 12-year old I was greatly impressed by that moral. It has stood the test of time: I am still impressed by it, as the most unassailable single sentence of philosophical truth.

Thurber’s question shares a frontier with the question all children ask, as the miles roll tediously by: Are we there yet?

The answer depends on where you trying to go.

For human beings, we discover we are there just as we go over the cliff. At that moment it is a bit late to deal with Thurber’s question.

For Societies, Thurber’s question is just as important, but the cliff is a much more abstract idea. But every Society should ask: Are we there yet? Because asking that question focusses the mind on where we are trying to go.

Barry has a 17 year advantage on me, and his memory is far better stocked than mine. He would certainly have details which would illuminate the present landscape better than I can. But even with my more limited vision, it looks as though Australia has not worked out what it is running from, or to or why.

As a country, we are performing way below our potential. We have never been perfect. No country is. But I am old enough to remember how things were in the 1950s.

Post-war migration to Australia presented some interesting challenges for us.

I remember during the 1950’s hearing people of my parents’ generation talking about the DPs and dagos and wogs who were coming into the country. Old Australians complained that New Australians were too religious, they had too many kids, they didn’t learn English, they didn’t fit in. Their women dressed all in black from head to foot and their food was weird: coffee, with froth on the top. Spaghetti which didn’t come from a tin. And, heaven help us, they ate squid.

They challenged our view of ourselves.

What I did not notice at the time was that, by small degrees, those same people began to adopt some of our ways, and we began to adopt some of theirs. It became smart and fashionable to eat at Italian and Greek restaurants.

The stereotypes of the 1950s faded, and our fear of wogs and dagos evaporated.

One way or another, things seemed to work out fairly well. Bit by bit the White Australia policy was dismantled. In 1967 we overwhelmingly supported a referendum to recognize Aboriginal Australians as part of the human population of the country which we had colonized in 1788.

The Pill and the Swinging Sixties did not spell the end of civilization.

Despite the direst predictions, it turned out that 6 o’clock closing was not essential to the good functioning of Society.

And some time in the 1960s the divide between Catholics and Protestants – something which had broken families in the past – faded away.

In the late 1970s there was another wave of new faces, this time refugees who had fled Vietnam and Cambodia. Fraser persuaded Whitlam that we should let Vietnamese boat people come to Australia. A lot came: about 25,000 a year for a few years. Fraser said we had been part of the problem and we had to be part of the solution.

The problem was brought to us in terrible images and in real time. For the first time in the history of human conflict, we saw events as they unfolded. Previously, we had to wait until the hostilities ended before we got the pictures. We only learned of the concentration camps when allied troops conquered Germany and the world was exposed to the skeletons, living and dead, in Belsen and Auschwitz and Dachau and other places, and suddenly we understood what the Jewish refugees had been running from when we turned our backs on them at the Evian conference in 1938.

But the Vietnam war came to us each night on the TV news. And newspapers showed us the appalling image of a Buddhist monk who set himself on fire in 1963; and by another photograph of a police chief blowing a man’s brains out in the street.

Later, a photograph of a naked child running, terrified, from her burning village. And images of vast areas devastated by napalm.

It was to Fraser’s credit that he persuaded Whitlam not to make a fuss about the arrival of refugees from Vietnam and Cambodia.

We took another small step forward in 1992, when the High Court departed from centuries of learning and held that Australia had not been terra nullius in 1788: that Aborigines had been here as the owners of the land when white settlers arrived. Rai Gaita illuminated the significance of the Mabo decision when he explained the thinking which had supported the doctrine of terra nullius for so long:

“We love, but they ‘love’; we grieve, but they ‘grieve’; and of course we may be dispossessed, but they are ‘dispossessed’. That is why, as Justice Brennan said, racists are able ‘utterly to disregard’ the sufferings of their victims. If they are to see the evil they do, they must first find it intelligible that their victims had inner lives of the kind which enable the wrongs they suffer to go deep”.

So far, so good. As a Society, Australia had come to grips with a lot of contentious issues. It hadn’t been perfect, but it was not bad. And we knew that the idea of a fair go was in our DNA: it was not just a marketing idea.

But in 1998, something important and fundamental started to shift. Or perhaps that is just when I began to pay attention. By chance I was briefed to act for the Maritime Union of Australia in what turned out to be a fairly contentious case.

Patricks was one of the two big stevedoring operations in Australia. They were caught out training an alternative, non-union workforce in Dubai and never offered a convincing explanation.

Early in 1998, rumours began to circulate that Patricks were about to do something drastic. As the weeks went by, the rumour firmed into a suggestion that Patricks were about to dismiss the entire unionized workforce on the Australian waterfront. Rumours are not evidence and so there was not much to work with. Innocent of any knowledge about the Workplace Relations Act, I asked what would happen if Patricks acted as the rumour suggested.

Those in the team, who were cleverer and better informed than I was, told me that the workforce would be reinstated, because of the provisions of the Workplace Relations Act. I asked innocently if there were any exceptions to that. They said that the only exception was if Patricks were going out of the business of stevedoring. Well, if they were to go out of the business of stevedoring, Patricks would have to sell their assets, so I suggested that we should write to Mr Corrigan asking for an undertaking not to dispose of Patricks’ assets and not to dismiss the workforce. If he did not give the undertaking sought, then his refusal would provide the evidence we needed.

He treated the request dismissively. He did not give the undertaking. We prepared a motion for injunctions, returnable on the Wednesday before Good Friday. The motion simply sought an order restraining Patricks from disposing of its assets or sacking its workforce.

On Wednesday morning, 8th April 1998, Australia woke to headlines saying that the entire workforce of Patrick Stevedores had been dismissed and had been replaced by an alternative, non-unionized workforce. When I arrived in court, Counsel for Patricks told me that administrators had been appointed to Patrick Stevedores. This was a surprising turn of events. My time practising as a commercial junior in the 1970s and 1980s made me think immediately of Bottom of the Harbour schemes. I thought that probably the court would be unimpressed by Patricks acting precipitately and doing the very thing which the court had been asked to restrain.

The Judge granted a holding injunction and directed that the matter should come back for further argument after Easter. Patricks were required to provide us with all relevant documents showing what had gone on. The picture revealed by those documents was truly astounding.

The previous year, in September 1997, the assets of the main stevedoring companies had been sold to new companies and the resulting credit balances were sent upstream to a holding company. The companies which had always employed the workforce – apparently large and successful stevedoring companies – were left with two assets only: their workforce, and contracts to provide the workforce to the new owners of the assets. These labour hire contracts were, in effect, terminable at will by the company with the assets. The employees had no job security whatever and no means of knowing the fact.

The effective result of this arrangement was that the labour hire company could be jettisoned without harming the enterprise. This made it possible to dismiss the entire workforce in a single stroke. On the ground, nothing at all had changed: Patrick Stevedores still had the appearance of prosperity which it had enjoyed for many decades, but it was a mere shell. The workers were hostage to a corporate shadow, and a CEO with secret plan.

The only party bound to gain from this strategy was the company which owned the assets. The only people bound to lose were the employees. As it happened, an obliging Federal Government had agreed in advance to provide the labour hire company with enough cash to pay the accrued entitlements of the employees when the workforce was sacked en masse. Thus the risks associated with the stevedoring venture were transferred to the workers and underwritten by a Government enthusiastic for waterfront reform at any price.

The case ran at an astonishing pace. We resumed argument before Justice North on the 15th April. The argument ran for three days. On the 21st April, Justice North delivered his Judgment and granted injunctions pending trial. At 3 o’clock that afternoon the Full Federal Court convened. They ordered a stay of Justice North’s orders pending appeal.

The Full Court appeal began the next day, 22nd April and ran over to the 23rd April. At 7 o’clock that night the Full Court gave judgment, upholding the order of Justice North. At 10 pm Justice Hayne in the High Court granted a stay of the Full Court’s orders, pending an application for special leave to the High Court.

The following Monday, 27th April, the seven judges of the High Court convened in Canberra and began hearing Patrick Stevedores’ application for special leave to appeal from the Full Federal Court’s orders. The application ran until the afternoon of Thursday, 30th April.

The following Tuesday, 4th May 1998, the High Court delivered judgments upholding the judgment of Justice North. The process of going from Judge at first instance to appeal to a final hearing by 7 judges of the High Court took three weeks. Ordinarily it would take between three and five years.

For me at least it was a shock to learn that any Australian government would conspire to break its own laws in an attempt to break the union movement: it’s not how patrician blue-bloods are meant to behave. But the Coalition government argued all the way to the High Court that it was OK. They lost.

Then things got worse.

Since the Russians had left Afghanistan, the Taliban had escalated their attacks on the Hazara minority. Millions of Hazara fled Afghanistan. A few thousand reached Australia.

In August 2001, the Palapa I was carrying 438 Hazaras towards Australia.

It began to sink. Australia asked the Norwegian cargo ship, the Tampa, to rescue them. But when it tried to put them ashore at Christmas Island, Australia sent the SAS to take command of the Tampa at gunpoint.

John Howard said the people rescued by Tampa would never set foot in Australia. He said any asylum seeker trying to get protection in Australia would be sent to Nauru: a tiny Pacific Republic with a population of 10,000 people and an area of just 21 square kilometers. He ordered that no humanizing images of the Hazara refugees were to be allowed.

Then September 11 happened. And the Liberal government headed into the 2001 election on the indecent slogan that “We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which thy come”. Liberal propaganda called asylum seekers “illegals” and “queue-jumpers” and said that asylum seekers had thrown their children into the sea.

The Labor party said nothing to contradict the lies. The Liberals, it seemed, had turned into a party which was prepared to lie to the electorate, and gain popularity by mistreating the most helpless people in the world.

For the next few years the cruelty and dishonesty continued. Asylum seekers, innocent of any offence, were held in detention for years until they collapsed into hopelessness and despair.

A little girl, ten years old, held in detention in Melbourne, hung herself.

A little boy, eight years old, held in detention in South Australia, slashed his arms with razor wire.

A man who had been in detention for five years cut himself so often he had ten meters of scarring on his body, but the government insisted that the only treatment he needed was solitary confinement and Panadol.

The Liberal government argued all the way to the High Court that a man who had not committed any offence and was not seen as a risk to anyone, who had been refused a visa but could not be removed from Australia because he was stateless, that this man could remain in detention for the rest of his life.

What was shocking was not only that the government won, but that a Liberal government was prepared to make the argument in the first place.

The Immigration Department held Cornelia Rau in detention for more than a year, in wretched, degrading conditions. She was filmed as she was dragged, naked and protesting, from her cell in Baxter detention centre, being manhandled by a group of guards.

Eventually the Department discovered that she had a visa and was entitled, all along, to be in Australia. It paid her a huge sum in compensation for the brutality and humiliation she had suffered.

We deported Vivian Alvarez-Solon from Australia and dumped her in the Philippines. The Department then realised that she was legally entitled to be in Australia: but it ignored that fact and did nothing to correct its mistake for the next two years.

We ignored the fact that David Hicks was being held and tortured in Guantanamo Bay by our allies, the USA. The Americans told him that, even if he was charged and found not guilty, he would not be released from Guantanamo. We knew this.

Hicks was held without charge for five years and the Australian government did nothing to help him. The Howard government eventually interceded on his behalf when public opinion swung in his favour, and Howard saw that there was an advantage to be had from helping him.

Then Kevin Rudd became leader of the Labor party and won government in late 2007. He promised a better, more humane, policy concerning refugees. And he delivered it.

But then Tony Abbott became leader of the party which still called itself Liberal.

He re-started the anti-refugee rhetoric. Rudd responded by attacking people smugglers. He called them “vermin” and the “vilest form of human life”. He seems to have forgotten that his moral hero, Dietrich Bonnhoeffer, was also a people smuggler.

The attack on people smugglers was ham-fisted at best, and hypocritical at worst. For a start, it lumped all people smugglers into one irredeemable moral group: they were the “scum of the earth”. When today’s refugees wash up on our shores, Abbott and Morrison speak with concern about the boat people who die in their attempt to get to safety, but their concern is utterly false. Instead of attacking the refugees directly, which is their real purpose, they attack the people smugglers instead.

Because, aren’t people smugglers the worst people imaginable? We overlook the fact that Oskar Schindler was a people smuggler, and so was Gustav Schroeder, captain of the ill-fated MS St Louis which left Hamburg in May 1939 with a cargo of 900 Jews looking for help. He tried every trick in the book to land them somewhere safe, but was pushed away. He ended up putting them ashore again in Antwerp, and more than half of them perished in concentration camps.

We also overlook the fact that, without the help of people smugglers, refugees are left to face persecution or death at the hands of whatever tyranny threatens them.

Many recent boat people are Hazaras from Afghanistan. They are targeted ruthlessly by the Taliban, who are bent on ethnic cleansing. The Hazara population of Afghanistan has halved over the past decade, as Hazaras escape or are killed. The Taliban want to get rid of all of them. We have overlooked, it seems, that we are locked in mortal combat with the Taliban; and that my enemy’s enemy is probably my friend.

For a couple more elections and a couple more fractured administrations, things kept sliding to the right. It is a striking fact that the Labor party’s stance on refugees is well to the right of John Madigan – a DLP Senator.

The Pacific Solution was begun by Howard’s Liberal government in 2001, it was abolished by Rudd’s Labor government in 2008, and it was re-started by Gillard’s Labor government in 2012. In 2013, Rudd topped it with the PNG Arrangement.

Then in 2013 we had an awful election campaign in which Rudd and Abbott competed with each other in their promises to mistreat asylum seekers. It’s tempting to think that if Pauline Hanson had been asked to help Rudd, she might have been concerned that he was too far to the right for her taste.

The Liberal won the election. Australia lost.

The Labor party lost a lot of talent when half its front bench followed Gillard out the door.

The Liberals quickly showed their true colours when we learned that senior members of the new government had been rorting their parliamentary expenses. That was no surprise: but it was interesting to see that the new Attorney-General was involved. Haughty, supercilious, self-righteous George Brandis had elbowed his way to the trough with the best of them.

After all wasn’t Brandis the one who had ferociously attacked Peter Slipper for visiting a winery and charging the taxi ride to the Commonwealth? Brandis went to a friend’s wedding and billed the Commonwealth $1600. When he was found out two years later, Brandis repaid the $1600 but said he had done nothing wrong.

Peter Slipper is still facing criminal charges for much less.

And Tony Abbott has billed the Commonwealth for every fun-run and lycra cycle-fest, not to mention his Tamworth photo opportunity which apparently cost us about ten grand. Over the last couple of years he has had his hands in our pockets for about $3 million.

Just last week, Scott Morrison issued a directive to Immigration Department staff that boat people were to be referred to as “Illegal Maritime Arrivals”. Calling boat people “illegals” is now official Coalition policy, it seems.

It is a lie.

Scott Morrison and Tony Abbott know it is a lie.

But they lie to us deliberately, in order to dehumanize asylum seekers. That way they can mistreat asylum seekers and gain political advantage from doing so.

What is striking about the “illegals” lie is that Abbott and Morrison, and others in Cabinet, claim to be devout Christians.

But with their stealing from us, and lying to us and their claim to Christian belief smells like hypocrisy.

Since very recently, people held in our detention centres are again being addressed by use of their camp number, rather than by name. There are 1700 children in detention – innocent children, jailed indefinitely. Ostensibly for our protection. It is monstrous.

So here’s the problem.

By 1998, we had stopped running from our fear of foreigners and our fear of Communism; we had come to enjoy the idea that the world saw us as part Crocodile Dundee, and part Jack Thompson; part Kath and Kim, and part Edna Everage.

It’s a strange mix, but kind of endearing. It was a good place to be.

Now, we have a hard right-wing Liberal government, led by dishonest, self-seeking hypocrites.

Now, we have a weakened, right wing Labor opposition.

Now, we believe it is good policy to mistreat people who are escaping persecution.

Now, we are a country which is seen overseas as selfish, greedy and cruel and we have no political leadership at all.

We are well into the process of redefining Australia and what it is to be Australian. Most of us have not noticed because, for most of us, life is good. But a surprising number of people have admitted to me that they are ashamed to be Australian.

The sight of the major parties competing in their promises of greater cruelty to boat people was new in Australian politics. We have never been perfect, but this was something without precedent.

It is painful to recognize that we are now a country which would brutalize one group in the hope that other people in distress will choose not to ask us for help.

What are we running from? No one can say.

It’s not hard to see what we might be running to: but why?

The new path we are on has plenty of precedents in history. We know what can happen when governments conspire to break their own laws. We know what can happen when a Society thinks it is acceptable to see one group as less human than the rest, and use that as an excuse to mistreat them. We know what can happen when governments start stealing from the people and lying to them.

We know where those paths lead.

Are we there yet? Not yet. Not quite.

It is not too late to turn back.

Julian Burnside

Domestic and family abuse

An essay by Sarah Ruby

Domestic and family abuse is currently at the forefront of our national discourse, due to the horrifying murder of a Brisbane mother and her three beautiful children, by a man who decided that if they weren’t going to live ‘his way’, they had no right to live.

As a survivor of domestic abuse, I know I was only one of thousands of women around Australia who watched the aftermath of the attack with that sinking feeling in our stomachs, the familiar internal refrain of “that could have been me”- or, for some of us, “that could be me one day”. I certainly never expected to live to see 2020.

There is something frightening, impossible to prevent, and without and end-date happening in communities around Australia. The victims are men, women and children. They are hidden from sight, intimidated into silence, afraid of the consequences if they speak out. I’ve witnessed one such threat personally.

Therefore, with the freedom I have to do so, I believe it is necessary for me to inform the Australian public of this fact- the men, women and children in immigration detention in this country, and their friends and family, are being subjected to domestic abuse. The perpetrator is the Honourable Minister for the Department of Home Affairs, Peter Dutton.

Allow me to tell you what I’m watching unfold, from the perceptive of a domestic abuse survivor- men and women who have left situations of domestic abuse can usually, at some point in the future, identify the key elements that define the situation as abusive. In my case, that took years of therapy. Hopefully I can save you that time.

Emotional abuse- being belittled, dehumanised, being told at every turn that what you’re doing is wrong, that you’re a bad person or a bad parent, name-calling.

Financial abuse- having your access to money restricted, not being allowed to work or study, having your spending examined and essential items withheld from you.

Physical abuse- including, but not limited to, assault.

Sexual abuse- including, but not limited to, sexual assault.

Restriction of movement- being told where you’re allowed to go, and when. Having a curfew. Being isolated from family and friends.

Medical abuse and reproductive coercion- not being allowed to keep your medical visits or records private, being denied medical treatment, being denied contraception.

Gaslighting- blaming complaints about the above on your ‘mental health issues’, telling other people you’re unstable or that you’ve harmed your children, in order to isolate you from anyone who might support you.

Let’s examine how these play out in Immigration Detention.

Firstly, it needs to be said- the ‘kids off Nauru’ campaign was successful, but the vast majority of these children are now living in Community Detention.

In both custodial and community detention scenarios, the abuse criteria play out as follows:

Emotional abuse – parents are told by Australian Border Force caseworkers and Immigration staff that they’re ‘bad parents’ for bringing their children to Australia. The children are told that their parents made a mistake in bringing them to Australia, that this will never be their home, and that they have no future here. I witnessed one speaker-phone call with a minor in which an Australian Border Force caseworker told her that if she continued to complain about her unsuitable accommodation (strange men were frequently at the home, on one occasion under the influence, because the owner was allowing it- I physically removed a drunk man from their backyard), ‘the Minister might reconsider his generosity in allowing you to live in the community’. This was a threat to put the child back into Villawood Immigration Detention Centre, and I immediately cut the call.

Financial abuse – nobody in detention is allowed to work. Families in Community Detention rely on food banks and charities in order to survive. When rotting fruit and vegetables are all that can be procured, mothers cut the rotten bits off, and freeze them. Once teenagers turn eighteen, they are no longer allowed to study in any form. Young women whose mothers fled their country of origin so that they can receive a tertiary education are relegated to sitting at home, unable to work or study.

Physical abuse – Beatings from guards in detention are common, and have always been. Beatings from other detainees are a risk, some claim at the behest of the guards. What you won’t know, however, is that refugee children were beaten on Nauru by locals. One boy I know, as a ten year old, was badly beaten by an adult Nauruan man for trying to assist a child half his age who was also being beaten.

Sexual abuse – for some detention guards, sexual assault is a game. They target Muslim men during pat downs, then laugh, knowing homosexual activity is considered ‘haram’; I don’t know a single detained woman who wants to fall pregnant. Everyone identifies as too traumatised to care for a newborn.

An Australian Citizen is being repeatedly hospitalised against her will because her carer, her partner, has been detained. His detention has been officially declared arbitrary (yet in 2019, a man who murdered his wife walked free from Immigration Detention).

Gaslighting: You’ve all seen the claims of ‘asylum seekers being coached to self-harm by advocates’, ‘parents harming their children to come to Australia’. Not a shred of evidence has ever been offered, or found, to support these claims. After two years of searching extensively for proof of these claims from the Government, my only findings are:

children being bullied at school due to the stigma of having been a refugee on Nauru – bullied not only by students, but by teachers, and parents of other children.

I witnessed a speaker-phone call between a caseworker and teenage boy, where the boy was refusing to sleep in his allocated granny flat because the men in the house at the front had repeatedly accosted him, his mother, their friends, and threatened to shoot him – the caseworker told him that he couldn’t sleep in a car because ‘there could be snakes’. My own son is the same age – 16; if I forced him into an unsafe living situation, with an active threat of violence, I would be rightly investigated by Family and Children’s Services.

I wish I didn’t know any of this. I wish I could go all ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ and erase what I’ve seen over the past five years. The reality is, I cannot.

We are taught as a society to speak up when we see domestic abuse being perpetrated. As a survivor, I strongly believe this principle must be upheld.

So, Australia, I must inform you: in my opinion, from both lived experience and what I’ve witnessed, the biggest perpetrator of domestic abuse against men, women and children, is your elected Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton.

What will you do about it?

 

5 November and the Gunpowder Plot

5 November 1605: The Gunpowder Plot

 

Those of us old enough to remember “Cracker Night” will associate it with the name of Guy Fawkes. Some might remember that Guy Fawkes’ name is synonymous with the Gunpowder Plot. Very few indeed will recognise that the Gunpowder Plot was the 17th Century equivalent of September 11.

It is a pity that the Gunpowder Plot has slipped from popular memory. It has striking parallels with contemporary events, both in its origins and in its consequences. Just a few years before the Gunpowder Plot, Francis Bacon wrote that “[h]istories make men wise …”. Our response to September 11 might have been wiser if only we had read history more carefully.

The last years of the reign of Elizabeth I were marked by increased persecution of Roman Catholics in England. Recusants were fined for not attending the Protestant churches, and the recusant fines had become a significant source of revenue. Catholic priests – especially Jesuits – were persecuted terribly, and many were put to death for their faith.

As Elizabeth’s health failed the question of succession had not been settled. Among the several possible candidates to succeed her was James VI of Scotland. He was Protestant, but the son of Mary Queen of Scots, the Catholic daughter of James V of Scotland. Mary had been put to death by Elizabeth in 1587. James was married to Anne of Denmark. She was born a Lutheran but had converted to Catholicism. This made James’ position on religion decidedly ambiguous.

Many high-placed Englishmen established contact with James in advance of Elizabeth’s death, in order to test the ground. Among these was Thomas Percy, a recusant and protégé of the Earl of Northumberland. He returned from Scotland with enthusiastic accounts of the religious toleration James would introduce. Sir Robert Cecil, the Queen’s trusted adviser, also ascertained that James was not inclined to persecute the Catholics so long as they “lived quietly”. Thus it was that, when James VI of Scotland succeeded as James I of England there was real hope that the time of religious persecution would end.

The hopes engendered by Thomas Percy’s account and James’ ambivalent correspondence were not realised. By 1605, things had become markedly worse and more anti-Catholic legislation was expected.
The Gunpowder Plot

Robert Catesby was the son of a rich Warwickshire family. He was 30 years old at the time of James’ coronation. His father had been persecuted under Elizabeth. He was intelligent, pious, conscientious and (by all accounts) charismatic. Frustrated by the absence of real reform, he conceived the idea of destroying at a single stroke the Royal family and the Parliament which had passed the harsh, anti-papist laws. For this purpose he proposed to blow-up the Parliament at its opening, when the Royal family would be present. In March 1604, he recruited Thomas Winter and John Wright. Others were drawn into the conspiracy. In May, Thomas Percy and Guido Fawkes joined.

In July 1604, new anti-Catholic legislation was passed by Parliament. In January 1605 John Grant, Robert Winter and Thomas Bates joined the plot; in September Sir Everard Digby, Ambrose Rookwood and Francis Tresham joined.

Apart from the folly of the entire enterprise, it was probably the introduction of Francis Tresham which brought the plot down. The conspirators had arranged to store 36 barrels of gunpowder in an apartment adjacent to the Hall of Parliament. The recall of Parliament had been postponed several times, but was eventually fixed for Tuesday, 5 November. Someone – apparently Francis Tresham – wrote a cryptic letter to Lord Monteagle, advising him to absent himself from the opening of Parliament. Monteagle was a Roman Catholic, married to Tresham’s sister. But instead of heeding the warning, Monteagle took it to Robert Cecil. In due time, the Parliament building was searched, Guido Fawkes was discovered and the plot was undone.

Fawkes was taken into custody as the other conspirators fled from London. Under the law of the time, torture was illegal. However in exercise of the royal prerogative King James personally authorised the use of torture to discover the identity of the other conspirators. His letter of authority, dated 6 November 1605 reads in part:

“The gentler tortours are to be first used unto him et sic per gradus ad majora tenditur [and thus by degrees to the worst] and so God speed your goode worke”.

The gentler torture was the manacles: Fawkes was hung from a wall by iron manacles tightly bound around his wrist, with his feet above the ground. This has a physiological effect similar to crucifixion. The worst torture was the rack. This involved lying the victim on a horizontal frame and binding cords around his wrists and ankles. These cords were wound around rollers at each end of the frame. By use of winches, the rollers slowly wound in the cords, thus stretching the victim until the major joints came apart. It is accounted the most excruciating form of non-lethal treatment yet devised.

Under this treatment, Guido Fawkes made three confessions. The third bears a signature which hardly looks to be the work of a human hand: mute testimony to the effects of the rack.

Fawkes’ third confession led to the capture of the other conspirators. Catesby, Percy and Jack and Kit Wright were killed whilst being taken. Francis Tresham was badly wounded and died before he could be tried.

The Gunpowder Plot was the work of over-zealous extremists, isolated from their co-religionists. The Roman Catholic hierarchy in England had tried to dissuade any violence against the State. Nevertheless, when the conspirators were charged, the first name on the indictment was Father Henry Garnet, the Jesuit Superior of England. He was unquestionably innocent of the plot. But it was deemed important to pitch the Plot as a Catholic attack on England.

Those conspirators who had survived were tried on 27 January 1606 and were sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered. Henry Garnet, who was not captured until later, was also brought to trial. His conviction was certainly unjustified, but reflects the public frenzy of anti-Catholicism which the plot had released. He was executed on 3rd May, 1606.
Divine right of kings

A key feature of the reign of James I was his belief in the divine right of Kings, and with it the unlimited scope of the sovereign prerogative. In his speech to Parliament on 21 March 1610 he said:

“Kings are justly called Gods for that they exercise a manner or resemblance of divine power upon earth. For if you will consider the attributes of God you shall see how they agree in the person of a King. God hath power to create or destroy; make or unmake at his pleasure; to give life or send death; to judge all and to be judged nor accountable to none; to raise low things and to make high things low at his pleasure. And the like power have Kings.”

(Note the echo of King Lear, written in 1605: “as flies to wanton boys are we to the Gods, they kill us for their sport”).

Even though torture was illegal in 1605, the King could order it in the exercise of the royal prerogative. Furthermore James I, and after him Charles I, insisted that the Royal prerogative entitled them to rule without Parliament and to act beyond the laws made by Parliament or to suspend those laws in particular cases as they chose. As the notion of parliamentary democracy took shape, two questions became an increasing source of tension: did the King rule under the law, or did he stand outside it; and if Parliament made a law, was the King free to dispense with it? This was one of the great constitutional questions which dominated 17th century England.

The Gunpowder conspirators had been prosecuted by Sir Edward Coke, the then Attorney-General. In his capacity as Attorney-General, Coke had been an advocate of the right of the King to dispense with the law as he saw fit. When Coke was appointed Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, his views changed. He insisted that the King ruled under the law: in a famous confrontation with James I, Coke declared that “the King cannot change any part of the common law nor create any offence by proclamation which was not an offence before”.

Judicial independence was unknown in the time of James I. After many manoeuverings, James I dismissed Coke from his judicial office and Coke subsequently entered Parliament in 1620. In 1627 (the second year of the reign of Charles I) the King ordered the arrest of Sir Thomas Darnel and four others who had refused to advance a compulsory “loan” to the King. They sought habeas corpus. The jailer answered the suit by saying the five were held “per speciale mandatum Regis” [by special order of the King].

Darnel’s case in 1627 prompted Coke to draft for Parliament the Petition of Right (1628). The Petition raised, with exquisite politeness, the following complaints about the King’s conduct:

he had been ordering people, like Darnel, to be jailed for failing to lend him money;
he had been billeting soldiers in private houses throughout the country against the wishes of the owners;
he had circumvented the common law by appointing commissioners to enforce martial laws and those commissioners had been summarily trying and executing “such soldiers or mariners or other desolate persons joining with them as should commit … (any) outrage or misdemeanour whatsoever …”;
he had been exempting some from the operation of the common law.

The Parliament prayed that the King “would be graciously pleased for the further comfort and safety of your people, to declare … that in the things aforesaid all your officers and ministers shall serve you according to the laws and statutes of this realm …”.
The emergence of the Rule of Law

The Petition of Right was the opening shot in the battle for the Rule of Law. The principle of the Rule of Law in a parliamentary democracy insists that the Parliament is the supreme lawmaker and that all people, including every member of the Government and the head of state, are subject to the law; it requires that the laws be enforced by independent judges appropriately skilled, enjoying security of tenure so as to free them from extraneous pressures.

The struggle for the Rule of Law was waged in various forms over the balance of the 17th Century. Charles I prorogued the Parliament which had presented the Petition of Right. He ruled without Parliament until 1640 and then called the Short Parliament which refused to grant supply and was dissolved. He called the Long Parliament in November 1640 which confronted the King and declared it illegal to levy tax without the authority of Parliament.

The power struggle between Charles I and Parliament led to the Civil War (1642-1649) which ended with the surrender and execution of Charles I. It was followed by the Commonwealth period under Cromwell. That experiment collapsed after increasing mismanagement, and Charles II was restored to the throne, but only after issuing a promise (the Declaration of Breda) that he would meet the demands articulated in the Petition of Right 22 years earlier.

After Charles II came the truncated reign of James II and then in 1688 William of Orange and his wife Mary (daughter of King James) were offered the English crown and with it they were offered a Declaration of Rights prepared by the Parliament. This required regular, fair elections, protection of Parliamentary debates, no tax without Parliamentary consent, and the King was not to suspend or dispense with laws properly passed by the Parliament. They agreed.

Later, the Act of Settlement declared the sovereign to reign subject to the law. In the meantime, the Habeas Corpus Act had been passed, which ensured that no person could be held except by the authority of laws duly passed by the Parliament.

Thus were all the central principles of the Rule of Law put in place: the monarch is subject to the law and cannot set aside the common law or the laws passed by the Parliament; Judges are independent of the executive; no-one can be detained except as provided by law and the legality of their detention can be tested by the writ of habeas corpus.

These principles were won in the great constitutional struggles of 17th Century England. The chain of events which led to these momentous changes can be traced back to 1605 when those perceived as dangerous religious fanatics could be put to the torture on the authority of the King acting outside the law.

This tectonic shift was reflected in John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government. Published in 1689, it demolished the theory of the divine right of kings, and proposed that the only true authority of the government came from the consent of the governed. In addition, Locke reasoned that the obligation to obey the laws of the state was conditional on the state protecting person and property, and that if the sovereign breached the terms of the Social Contract, he could be overthrown.
America and the Rule of Law

Echoes of the Petition of Right and the Act of Settlement can be found in the constitutional documents of the United States. The American colonists expressly adopted Locke’s reasoning in their preamble to the Declaration of Independence:

In Congress, July 4, 1776

The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.–We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,–That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. …

The US Constitution (1789), especially the Bill of Rights, adopts the principles first demanded in the Petition of Right 160 years earlier. From the beginning, the United States of America adopted the Rule of Law as fundamental and unchangeable. But in the aftermath of September 11, it all went badly wrong.

The attack on America created, or brought into sharp focus, another form of religious animosity: not between Protestants and Catholics, but between Christians and Muslims. Like the Gunpowder Plot, September 11 was an attack of unprecedented horror, the likes of which could not have been imagined. Like the Gunpowder Plot, it was the work of a small group of religious fanatics striking at the very heart of a group seen as a religious oppressor. But there are two obvious differences: the Gunpowder Plot failed, but it set in train the events which ultimately laid the foundations of the Rule of Law in a parliamentary democracy; September 11 succeeded, and set in train events which are undermining those very foundations.

In the aftermath of September 11, America raided Afghanistan in pursuit of al Quaeda. With the help of Northern Alliance troops, they swept up tens of thousands of supposed al Quaeda operatives and sympathizers. Suspects were captured in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and other places.

As a matter of legal principle, combatants captured in Afghanistan during the hostilities there are Prisoners of War.Otherwise they are criminal suspects. Domestic and international laws deal comprehensively with both cases. There is no ground between the two possibilities.

The regime for treatment of Prisoners of War is clear: it is established by the Geneva Convention in relation to Prisoners of War, to which USA is a party. Relevantly, it provides for:

(a) humane treatment;

(b) no interrogation beyond name, rank and serial number;

(c) release at the end of hostilities

The regime for treatment of criminal suspects is also clear:

(a) humane treatment;

(b) no obligation to answer questions;

(c) no detention without charge;

(d) prima facie entitlement to bail when charged;

(e) (importantly in these circumstances) criminal charges are generally to be dealt with in the country where the offences occurred.

In either case, and in all circumstances, there is an absolute prohibition on the use of torture. This is recognised as a universal norm of international law, and is the subject of the Convention Against Torture to which most countries, including the USA and Afghanistan, are parties.

Unfortunately, there comes a time in the history of nations when, for some unaccountable reason, basic values and accepted principles are diluted, betrayed or cast aside. The pretext may be external threat, internal strife or other great forces which call for extraordinary responses. Faced with very clear legal limits, President Bush stepped back to the 17th Century and acted, in substance, as James I did. He acted as if he could set aside the law and implement his own conception of right. He did so with obliging help from Department of Justice employees.

Suspects who had been rounded up during the war in Afghanistan were taken to the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. There they are held in cages, and are interrogated, humiliated and tortured. They are denied proper legal help. The Bush administration has argued that the American Constitution, and the American courts, have no authority in Guantanamo: that it is a legal black hole.

The basic features of the regime at Guantanamo were founded on an enabling memo from Alberto Gonzales. He advised that President Bush could declare prisoners held at Guantanamo not to be amenable to the protections of the Geneva Convention relating to Treatment of Prisoners of War (the GPW). He identified several points in favour of this position:

“Positive:

· Preserves flexibility:

As you have said, the war against terrorism is a new kind of war. It is not the traditional clash between nations adhering to the laws of war that formed the backdrop for GPW. The nature of the new war places a high premium on other factors, such as the ability to quickly obtain information from captured terrorists and their sponsors …

Substantially reduces the threat of domestic criminal prosecution under the War Crimes Act (18 U.S.C. 2441).

That statute, enacted in 1996, prohibits the commission of a “war crime” by or against a U.S. person, including U.S. officials. “War crime” for these purposes is defined to include any grave breach of GPW or any violation of common Article 3 thereof (such as “outrages against personal dignity”). Some of these provisions apply (if the GPW applies) regardless of whether the individual being detained qualifies as a POW. Punishments for violations of Section 2441 include the death penalty. A determination that the GPW is not applicable to the Taliban would mean that Section 2441 would not apply to actions taken with respect to the Taliban. …”

The author of the memo is unmistakably urging a path which would facilitate torture of prisoners and protect the torturers from the inconvenience of criminal charges. The author of the memo is now US Attorney-General.

Six months later Mr Jay Bybee wrote another memo to President Bush, which in substances authorises mistreatment of al Quaeda suspects. This memorandum, the existence of which was denied for several years, contains the most startling and convoluted justification of torture imaginable. Its legal reasoning is profoundly flawed. The memo says:

“it is difficult to take a specific act out of context and conclude that the act in isolation would constitute torture.”

It identifies seven techniques recognised as torture, including severe beatings, threats of imminent death, burning with cigarettes, electric shocks to genitalia, rape or sexual assault, and forcing a person to watch the torture of another. It then observes that:

“While we cannot say with certainty that acts falling short of these seven would not constitute torture, . . we believe that interrogation techniques would have to be similar to these in their extreme nature and in the type of harm caused to violate law…For purely mental pain or suffering to amount to torture, it must result in significant psychological harm of significant duration, e.g., lasting for months or even years.”

Here are some first hand accounts of what has been happening at Guantanamo:

“every day we were stuck in a cage of 2 meters by 2 meters. We were allowed out for 2 minutes a week to have a shower and then returned to the cage. Given the extreme heat, we sweated a lot and the area obviously began to smell. During the day we were forced to sit in the cell (we couldn’t lie down) in total silence. We couldn’t lean on the wire fence or stand up and walk around the cage.”
“very often the guards would refuse to take us to the portaloo outside and therefore people started to use the buckets in the cells. Many of the people [were] … suffering from dysentery … and simply couldn’t wait until the guards decided they would take them to the toilet. … The smell in the cell block was terrible.”
“We had the impression that at the beginning things were not carefully planned but a point came at which you could notice things changing. That appeared to be after General Miller around the end of 2002. That is when short-shackling started, loud music playing in interrogation, shaving beards and hair, putting people in cells naked, taking away people’s ‘comfort’ items, … moving some people every two hours depriving them of sleep, the use of (air conditioning). … After [General Miller] came, people would be kept [in solitary] for months and months and months. We didn’t hear anybody talking about being sexually humiliated or subjected to sexual provocation before General Miller came. After that we did.”
“… This time I was short shackled. I was left squatting for about an hour and then this Bashir came back again and he started questioning me again about the photographs and trying to get me to admit that I was in the photographs. I was telling him that if you check you will find out that I was in England during this time. After a while he left the room and I was left again in the short shackle position for several hours (I think for about 4 hours) before I was eventually taken back to the cells.”
“I was interrogated repeatedly about my presence at this meeting. … I said it wasn’t me but she kept pressing that I should admit it. She was very adamant. She said to me “I’ve put detainees here in isolation for 12 months and eventually they’ve broken. You might as well admit it now so that you don’t have to stay in isolation”.

These statements are all from the Tipton Three: three English boys who went to Afghanistan to give humanitarian aid after the Americans attacked that country. They were eventually released and sent back to Britain: they were never charged with any offence. They were there simply by mistake.

Another person later released because his capture had been “a mistake” was a 99 year old shepherd. He was incontinent. Because of his age and frailty, he could barely hobble around the camp; he was chained to a walking frame. Other inmates reported that he spent much of his time weeping.
Values at risk

It is impossible to reconcile these events with the values which are basic to our democratic system: no arrest without lawful authority (enforced by the ancient writ of habeas corpus); no arbitrary search and seizure; no prison except by authority of law; the presumption of innocence; criminal charges to be proved beyond reasonable doubt; no torture; an assumption (although not a legal right) of privacy. These values can all be traced to the events in 17th century England and equivalent events elsewhere in Europe. It is interesting to remember that most of those excesses arose from the supposed threat presented by unpopular religious beliefs.

It has long been recognised that these basic values, so hard won, are always at risk. In a speech in Boston on 28 January 1852 Wendell Phillips said:

“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty—power is ever stealing from the many to the few…. The hand entrusted with power becomes … the necessary enemy of the people. Only by continual oversight can the democrat in office be prevented from hardening into a despot: only by unintermitted Agitation can a people be kept sufficiently awake to principle not to let liberty be smothered in material prosperity.”

In America, in Australia and elsewhere, there is a retreat from basic values. Pragmatism is emerging as a sufficient justification of measures which, until recently, would have been abhorrent. The dictates of pragmatism can be very appealing, especially to those (always the majority) who take the benefit. In the wake of September 11, Australia and other Western governments introduced draconian anti-terrorist laws. These laws, unprecedented in recent history except in time of war, betray the basic values on which democratic systems are established.
“Anti-terrorism” legislation in Australia

In 2002 the ASIO legislation was amended to permit the incommunicado detention, for a week at time, of people not suspected of any wrong-doing: it is enough if they are thought to have information about others who may have been involved in terrorist offences. The person may be taken into isolated custody, and will not have a free choice of legal help; they will not be permitted to tell friends or family where they are; they must answer questions, or face 5 years imprisonment. When released, they are not permitted to tell anyone where they were or what happened to them, on pain of imprisonment.

In 2005 further anti-terror legislation was introduced.

Division 105 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code provides that a member of the Federal Police may apply for a preventative detention order in relation to a person. A preventative detention order will result in a person being jailed for up to 14 days in circumstances where they have not been charged with much less convicted of any offence. The order is obtained in the absence of the subject and authorises that the person be taken into custody. When the person is taken into custody pursuant to the order, they will not be told the evidence on which the order was obtained: they will be given a copy of the order and a summary of the grounds on which the order was made. The summary need not include any information which is likely to prejudice national security (within the meaning of the National Security Information (Criminal and Civil Proceedings) Act (2004).

Thus, a preventative detention order can be made not only without a trial of any sort, but in circumstances where the subject of the order will not be allowed to know the evidence which was used to secure the order.

Division 104 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code allows the Federal Police to obtain a control order against a person. A control order can include an order confining a person to a single address for up to 12 months, without access to telephone or the internet. When the subject of the control order is served with the order, they are to be given a summary of the grounds on which the order was made, but not the evidence. Thus, a person’s freedom of movement can be grossly interfered with for up to 12 months in circumstances where they have no opportunity to know the evidence on which the order was obtained much less to challenge it. The summary of the grounds on which the order was obtained need not include any information disclosure of which is likely to prejudice national security within the meaning of the NSI Act.

Secrecy provisions prevent publication of the fact that people are held for incommunicado questioning, or held on preventative detention, or the subject of a control order.

Lying behind these draconian laws is something even more sinister: National Security Information (Criminal and Civil Proceedings) Act (2004)) (the NSI Act). It is perhaps the most alarming piece of legislation ever passed by an Australian Parliament in a time of peace. The Act as originally passed was confined in its operation to criminal proceedings. In early 2005 it was amended so as to extend to civil proceedings as well. It provides that if a party to a proceeding knows or believes that they will disclose in the proceeding information that relates to national security, or the party intends to call a witness and that witness would, by their presence in court or by the evidence they could give, disclose information that relates to national security, then the party must notify the Commonwealth Attorney-General of the fact. The party must also notify the opposite party and the court. The court is then required to adjourn the proceeding until the Attorney-General acts on the matter. If the Attorney-General chooses, he may sign a conclusive certificate to the effect that the evidence proposed to be called, or the proposed calling of the witness, would be likely to prejudice Australia’s national security interests.

The certificate must then be provided to the court and the court must hold a hearing to decide whether or not to make an order preventing the evidence or witness from being called. During that hearing, the court must be closed. The Act authorises the court to exclude both the relevant party and his or her counsel from the closed hearing in which the question will be decided whether or not the evidence may be called or the witness brought to court.

In deciding the balance between the interests of a fair trial and the national security interests, the statute directs the court to give the greatest weight to the Attorney-General’s certificate that the evidence would present a risk of prejudice to national security.

These provisions are immediately alarming to anyone who understands the essential elements of a fair trial. They are all the more alarming when the real breadth of the provisions is understood. Their breadth comes from two things:

(a) the notion “likely to prejudice national security” is defined as meaning that there is a “real, and not merely remote, possibility that the disclosure will prejudice national security”;

(b) the definition of national security which means: “Australia’s defence, security, international relations or law enforcement interests”.

The apparently uncontroversial definition of national security is rendered astonishingly broad by the definition of “law enforcement interests”. That expression is defined as including interests in:

(a) avoiding disruption to national and international efforts relating to law enforcement, criminal intelligence, criminal investigation, foreign intelligence and security intelligence;

(b) protecting the technologies and methods used to collect, analyse, secure or otherwise deal with, criminal intelligence, foreign intelligence or security intelligence;

(c) the protection and safety of informants and of persons associated with informants;

(d) ensuring that intelligence and law enforcement agencies are not discouraged from giving information to a nation’s government and government agencies.

By reference to this definition, Australia’s national security is affected by each of the following things:

(a) evidence that a CIA operative extracted a confession by use of torture;

(b) any evidence which tended to reveal operational details of the CIA, Interpol, the FBI, the Australian Federal Police, the Egyptian Police, the American authorities at Guantanamo Bay, etc.;

(c) evidence which tended to show the use of torture or other inhumane interrogation techniques by any law enforcement agency.

These provisions are likely to have profound effect in several types of case.

First, in cases of people charged with terrorist offences. In such cases confessional statements may be received, but evidence that torture or other improper practices were used to obtain the confession may be excluded, in the name of national security.

Second, where a person is the subject of a preventative detention order or a control order they have a right to challenge the making of the order. However their challenge will be made difficult or impossible if they are prevented from knowing the evidence against them, or if they are prevented from calling other evidence which would qualify or explain the evidence against them.

Third, in cases where a person’s ordinary rights have been interfered with because of an adverse security assessment by ASIO. In those circumstances, it may prove impossible to have effective access to the material which provided the foundation of the interference.

There may be examples of the first and second type, but we are not allowed to know. The secrecy provisions surrounding control orders and preventative detention orders means that, in effect, the general public will not learn of them until many years have passed.

However examples of the third type can already be identified. An adverse security assessment from ASIO can result in a person’s passport being cancelled, or their job application being refused, or (for foreign visitors) a visa being refused or cancelled. In those circumstances, getting access to the material which provided the foundation for the adverse security assessment may prove difficult or impossible. Attempts to challenge the material can be met with the Attorney-General’s certificate.

Adverse security assessments from ASIO create another, related problem. An adverse security assessment will result in the cancellation of a visa or passport as the case may be. Cancellation of a passport may be challenged in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. The Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act contains provisions enabling the Attorney-General to grant a certificate which, in substance, prevents the applicant and the applicant’s lawyer from being present in the Tribunal whilst certain evidence is given and submissions are made on behalf of the Government. Here is the text of one such certificate, issued early in 2006:

“I, Philip Maxwell Ruddock, the Attorney-General for the Commonwealth of Australia … hereby certify … that disclosure of the contents of the documents … described in the schedules hereto, and the schedules, would be contrary to the public interest because the disclosure would prejudice security.

I further certify … that evidence proposed to be adduced and submissions proposed to be made by or on behalf of the Director-General of Security concerning the documents … are of such a nature that the disclosure of the evidence or submissions would be contrary to the public interest because it would prejudice security.

As the responsible Minister … I do not consent to a person representing the applicant being present when evidence described … above is adduced and such submissions are made ….”

In 1894, Captain Alfred Dreyfus was falsely accused of treason, and wrongly convicted. The heart of the problem was that the trial was held in camera, and documkents were provided to the judges which were withheld from Dreyfus and his counsel, on grounds of national security. The documents were forgeries.

The campaign for Dreyfus’ freedom is still remembered, not least for Emile Zola’s famous newspaper article “J’accuse…” which exposed the appalling nature of the “trial” which convicted Dreyfus. It was many years before justice was finally done: 13 July 2006 marks the centenary of his ultimate exoneration.

It is all too easy to look back on the Dreyfus Affair and imagine that it could not happen here today. Two matters made the Dreyfus Affair possible:

(a) a secret trial and the use of evidence concealed from the accused and his counsel, and

(b) racial or religious prejudice which ran so deep as to blind people to any concern about the quality of justice accorded to Dreyfus.

In the certificate set out above however, the Attorney-General produces the conditions which led to the wrongful conviction of Alfred Dreyfus in 1894. The applicant who seeks to have his passport restored will face an impossible burden in knowing what evidence must be called, because neither he nor his counsel will be allowed to know the nature of the case against him. And he is a Muslim.

Anti-Semitism no longer exists in any significant measure in Australia, at least not in the virulent form which characterised 19th Century France and the first half of the 20th Century in Western Europe generally. However there are other groups who are sufficiently unpopular that, for practical purposes, most members of the community do not regard the rights of those people as mattering. Those unpopular groups include alleged paedophiles, alleged terrorists, aborigines, people with mental disorders and Muslims. This is not to say that the feeling against each of those groups runs as deep and as strong as anti-Semitism at the time of Dreyfus’s trial. But it is strong enough that a large majority of people in our society do not regard the rights of those groups as being important enough to deserve recognition or protection.

The possibility of secret trials and trials in which evidence is concealed from the accused and their counsel already exist in Australia as a matter of law, because of the NSI Act and related legislation.

Fair trials are one of the basic promises of democracy. It is a tragedy that we have abandonned the guarantee of fair trials, ostensibly to help save democracy from terrorists. What we will achieve in fact by these measures is a growing concern that the real danger to democracy is our own government.

In December 2004 the House of Lords decided a case concerning UK anti-terrorist laws which allow terror suspects to be held without trial indefinitely. By a majority of 8 to 1 they held that the law impermissibly breached the democratic right to liberty. Lord Hope said that “the right to liberty belongs to each and every individual”. Lord Bingham traced these rights to Magna Carta, and made the point that the struggle for democracy has long focused on the need to protect individual liberty against the might of executive government. Lord Nicholls said:

“Indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial is anathema in any country which observes the rule of law. It deprives the detained person of the protection a criminal trial is intended to afford. Wholly exceptional circumstances must exist before this extreme step can be justified.”

Lord Hoffman said:

“The real threat to the life of the nation … comes not from terrorism but from laws such as these.”

How much more forcefully could that be said of Australia’s “anti-terror” legislation.

By these laws, the Howard government  betrayed the rule of law in Australia. It  damaged Australian democracy more than any terrorist could. It created the new Terror.

Seventeen years on, there has been no improvement.  We would do well to remember the lessons of the Gunpowder Plot.

 

The Australian Government can save Julian Assange

Julian Assange is an Australian. He is in trouble overseas.  He needs the Australian government’s help.

For six years he has been virtually a prisoner in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.  The reason he is there is because he is the founder and editor of WikiLeaks, which published evidence of war crimes leaked by an American soldier, Bradley (later Chelsea) Manning as a matter of conscience. WikiLeaks has since revealed the secrets of the world’s unaccountable forces. This Australian has provided an historic public service.

The Americans have made it clear from the start that they want to get Assange, who has good reason to fear he will be mistreated the way Chelsea Manning was. That’s why this week’s events in London are so critical. Will the Ecuadorean president Lenin Moreno, at present visiting London and under pressure from Washington, abandon the man his country has so honourably protected?

Julian Assange has never been charged with any crime. In 2010, Sweden wanted to extradite him from Britain under a European Arrest Warrant. When it became clear that Sweden was likely to hand him over to the Americans, he sought asylum in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.

The Swedish case has been dropped, but the British authorities still want him for jumping bail.  If he steps out of the Embassy, they will very likely hand him over to the Americans.

This Australian needs Australia’s help.

He has not seen sunshine or felt rain for 6 years. Try to imagine what it is like to be stuck indoors for 6 years.  Whatever your view of what he did, 6 years inside is enough.

His health has deteriorated badly over those 6 years.  I visited him at the Embassy  in the middle of June: he is looking much frailer than when I saw him there in mid-2012.

His teeth are causing great pain: a dentist can’t visit him.   He needs root-canal surgery, which is not possible except in a fully equipped dental surgery.

He is suffering from oedema: his legs are swelling.

His eyesight is fading, because he cannot look into the distance: the most distant thing from him inside the Embassy is a view down the corridor, which is perhaps 10 metres.

His bone-density is reducing seriously, because he has not been in the sunshine for 6 years, and exercise is difficult.

The government of Ecuador changed recently, and conditions in the Embassy have changed as well: it is now much more difficult for Assange to receive visitors, and he does not have access to a phone or the internet.

Because the British authorities are likely to hand him over to the Americans, Assange does not dare to step out of the Embassy.  That’s why he needs the help of the Australian government.  Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop could easily reach a diplomatic agreement with Britain to allow Assange to be brought safely back to Australia, where his family is.  If the Americans want to extradite him, they can apply to an Australian Court. The Australian Government has given help to other Australians in trouble overseas – such as the journalist Peter Greste in Egypt.

It in era of diminishing rights, of widespread insecurity and injustice, it is time to recognise one who has stood against the tide. Julian Assange needs our help, urgently. The Government should give it without delay.

 

Hobart Oration 23 July 2018

I was honoured to be invited to give the 2018 Hobart Oration.  It is sponsored by the Bob Brown Foundation.  Here is what I said.

Hobart Oration 23 July 2018:  Justice for the next Generation?  The Collapse of Values.

The two great issues our generation is leaving the next are climate change and the treatment of refugees.

Climate change

I have no hesitation in saying that climate change is the number one issue today: refugees are a second-order issue, but they just happen to be the issue which has captured my attention.

Both are issues which the next generation will have to solve, if humanity is to survive and flourish.

It is often overlooked that climate change has been known about for a long time.  The foundations were laid by the French mathematician Joseph Fourier, who noted that the Earth was too far from the Sun to account for a temperature which could support life, unless the atmosphere trapped some of the sun’s heat.

Later the Irish physicist John Tyndall identified the role of water vapour, CO² and methane as the key factors in trapping infra-red heat and thus maintaining atmospheric temperature.

Fourier’s work was done in 1824, Tyndal’s in 1859.  Later a Swedish chemist, Svante Arrhenius, named the ‘Greenhouse effect’ and calculated the relationship between CO² levels and atmospheric temperature with astonishing accuracy.  That was in 1896.

Let’s take a moment to look at what Australia is doing — or not doing — on climate change.

In November 2016 an expert advisory panel reported that coal-fired Queensland, with just 7% of its power generation from renewables at present, could lift that to 50% by 2030 with very little cost to electricity consumers.  The Queensland government would subsidise renewables.  The federal energy minister, Josh Frydenberg criticised the report.

We are a uniquely embarrassing case on the global stage: the Gillard Government put in place a fairly comprehensive domestic climate policy with a carbon price by that was later dismantled.  Our emissions have risen every year since.  Malcolm Turnbull has failed to adopt policies any more advanced than those of the troglodyte Tony Abbott.   Conservative politics in Australia will have to be dragged kicking and screaming towards energy sector reform.

To watch Malcolm Turnbull fade into a shadow of what he could have been is to watch the slow destruction of a man the country once respected on many of our most important issues. He seems unable to lead his party, and has capitulated to the hard right: intellectual giants like Tony Abbott, Peter Dutton and Eric Abetz – particularly on the issues of climate change and refugees – that Australia’s global reputation on climate change has gone from global leader to global threat.

Since the world signed the Paris Agreement, here are some of our “achievements”:

  • Tony Abbott asked the mining industry to “demonstrate its gratitude” to the retiring Federal Resources Minister – Ian MacFarlane – who had dismantled the mining tax. The Industry paid attention, and MacFarlane got a $500k per year job with the Queensland Resources Council — on top of his $140k Parliamentary pension — so he can spruik for the Adani Carmichael coal mine in Queensland.  And Abbott recently expressed regret that he had signed Australia up to the Paris Agreement in the first place.
  • The government fast-tracked the Adani coal mine in Queensland – one of the biggest coal basins in the world which, if developed, would blow any chance the world has of remaining below 2 degrees of global warming.  It continues to press for the Adani mine to go ahead.
  • It has attacked environmental groups standing up for the world’s climate and trying to protect our natural environment. The Turnbull Government launched a two-pronged attack on environmental groups – the first attack: seeking to amend the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. This Act allows groups and individuals to legally challenge resource projects if they are a threat to water or the environment. It is an incredibly important provision – introduced by the Howard Government – that allows for a check on the Government’s power. The second attack: on the tax-deductible status of environmental not-for-profits. This is an attempt to silence groups who are standing up against fossil fuel projects.  Recent changes introduced by the National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill 2018 present an additional threat to environmental groups with foreign affiliation.
  • In May of 2016 it was revealed that the government censored a UN report on the extent of bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef and how much of a role climate change had to play in it. In 2016 the health of the reef got a “D” on the Australian government’s annual report card for the fifth year in a row and large-scale bleaching in the northern part of the reef threatens to see it never return to a productive state.  To put this in perspective, the world’s coral reefs have perished before, but they recovered… 10,000 years later.  That should be encouraging for the Great Barrier Reef tourist operators.
  • The Government launched an ideological war on renewable energy after the notorious South Australian blackout. It culminated in Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg trying to bully the states out of their ambitious renewable energy targets and pushing them instead to focus on promoting onshore gas production.
  • The Australian government actively resisted and watered down restrictions on financing of coal plants by OECD export credit agencies in 2015 because the government wants more coal plants to be built so that there are new markets for Australian coal.

And we thought Donald Trump was embarrassing!

By exporting our coal, we are exporting our emissions to other countries that we are not required to take responsibility for under our UN climate commitments. Just Australia’s domestic emissions equate to 1.5% of the world’s carbon emissions – 16th in the world.

However, if we add emissions from our exported coal to our domestic emissions, Australia’s carbon footprint trebles in size and we become the 6th largest emitter after China, the USA, Russia, India and Indonesia – all of which have populations over 250 million.

Even worse is that if the proposed Adani coal mine and development of the Galilee Basin goes ahead, we would be responsible for 705 million tonnes of CO2 per year.

This is at a time when reports are telling us that if there is any chance of avoiding the ‘safe’ 2 degree warming scenario that no new fossil fuel projects can go ahead, and that current ones need to be scaled back.

It is up to us – Australian citizens – to lead the way on climate and make the moral case for climate change leadership.

And still the climate change deniers are taken seriously by our media.

We need to force our politicians to consider the precautionary principle.  About 97% of the world’s climate scientists accept that climate change is real, anthropogenic and dangerous.  Deniers would point out that science is not decided by popular vote.  True enough, although it is sometimes useful to listen to people who know what they are talking about.  But let’s accept it: the scientists may be wrong.

Let’s give odds of 80% against the scientists: that is, let’s assume there is an 80% chance they are wrong.  But if they are right, if the 20% chance comes in, the result will be catastrophic and avoidable.  20% chance of a catastrophic, avoidable result is worse odds than Russian Roulette. So next time someone argues the denialist case, ask them if they are willing to play Russian Roulette with their children or grand-children.

And let’s face it: if we spend the money to avoid climate change, and if the denialists turn out to be right, the worst you can say is that we cleaned up the planet for no reason…

Refugees

It is tempting to reach far back into history for the origins of human rights thinking.  But it is not necessary to go back further than 1948.

The Universal Declaration was the work of a surprising activist: Eleanor Roosevelt.  She was the widow of Franklin Delano Roosevelt who had died shortly before the end of the Second World War.  She was also cousin to Roosevelt and had grown up in the rich surroundings of the Roosevelt family.  But Eleanor Roosevelt was a genuine egalitarian and had set her heart on responding decisively to the horrors of the Second World War.

The Universal Declaration begins as follows:

PREAMBLE

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law, …

It’s not widely remembered that Australia was advocating that the rights it declared should be enforceable. The inspiration for that of course came from the fact that Ben Chifley was the Prime Minister at the time and Doc Evatt, uniquely among Australians, was the President of the General Assembly on 10 December 1948 when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations.  Australia’s influence in the formation of the declaration was very significant, especially considering that we only had a population of about 3.5 million back then.

I like to think that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a genuine reflection of the sentiment of the times: across Australia and across the world.

But things changed.  At the start of 2001, John Howard was facing an election to be held in November that year.  He played what he probably hoped would be a trump card and which turned out to be more successful than his devious mind could have dared hope for.  He became aware that a small boat, the Palapa, carrying Hazara refugees from Afghanistan was falling apart in the Indian Ocean.  He knew the Norwegian container ship the MV Tampa was in the area.  He asked the Tampa to rescue the people on the Palapa.

The captain of the Tampa agreed, and when he found the Palapa he thought it might hold maybe 50 people.  He was astonished when 434 people climbed out of the water, up the rope ladder and onto the deck of the Tampa.

Australia – indeed the whole world – knew about the Taliban’s murderous attitude to Hazaras.  In February that year, the Taliban had publicly destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas.  The statues had been erected 1500 years earlier by Hazaras – thought to be descendants of Genghis Khan – when they arrived in the area now known as Afghanistan.  Hazaras are readily identifiable, because they look Asian.  They were Buddhists when they arrived, but later converted to Islam.  But they embraced Shia Islam.  The Taliban are Sunni Muslims, and claimed that they wanted to clear Afghanistan of idolatry.  The division between Shia and sunni Muslims is as sharp as the division between Protestants and Roman Catholics used to be.

When the Tampa had rescued the refugees on the Palapa, there were two problems: some of them were in bad shape and needed medical help.  And the Tampa was licensed to carry 50 people: it had 47 crew, and (suddenly) 434 unexpected passengers.

Captain Arne Rinnan decided to put the refugees ashore at Christmas Island, which was on his planned route.

Christmas Island is a speck of Australian sovereignty in the Indian Ocean.  It is close to the equator.  It is about 2000 kilometres to the nearest point on the West Australian coast and is almost 3000 kilometres from Perth or Darwin.

When the Tampa tried to reach Christmas Island, Howard sent out the SAS, who took command of the bridge at gunpoint.

A stand-off followed.  Howard closed the airspace above Christmas Island, and issued a command that no “humanising images” of the people rescued (they were called “rescuees”) should be taken.  A group of us went to the Federal Court to try and resolve the impasse: after all, there were more than 400 people – men, women and children – being held hostage on the steel deck of a ship, in the tropical sun.  The trial was heard straight away by Justice North in the Federal Court.  He delivered judgment at 2.15 pm, Eastern Australian Time, on 11 September 2001.  The attack on America happened about 8 hours later.

John Howard, always quick to scramble for a political advantage, started calling boat-people “illegals”.  The Federal election was held two months later.  Howard went to the polls with the slogan “We will decide who comes to the country, and the circumstances in which they come.”  The coalition election campaign had Philip Ruddock – the walking spectre – as its pin-up boy.

Australia’s unhappily named “Pacific Solution” involved taking boat-people from Christmas Island to Manus Island or Nauru.

Manus is part of Papua New Guinea. Nauru is an independent republic.  Both are close to the equator.   Both are tiny: Nauru is smaller than Tullamarine airport in Melbourne.

Until 2013, when boat people arrived at Christmas Island, they had typically spent eight or 10 days on a rickety boat.  They had typically come from landlocked countries and had typically never spent time on the ocean.  Typically, they had not had enough to eat or drink on the voyage.  Typically, they had not had any opportunity to wash or to change their clothes.  Typically, they arrived distressed, frightened and wearing clothes caked in their own excrement.

They were not allowed to shower or to change their clothes before they were interviewed by a member of the Immigration Department.  It is difficult to think of any decent justification for subjecting them to that humiliation.

When they arrived, any medical appliances they have would be confiscated and not returned:  spectacles, hearing aids, false teeth, prosthetic limbs: all were confiscated.  If they had any medications with them, those medications were confiscated and not returned.  According to doctors on Christmas Island, one person had a fulltime job of sitting in front of a bin popping pills out of blister packs for later destruction.

If they had any medical documentation with them, it was confiscated and not returned.  The result of all of this was that people with chronic health problems found themselves denied any effective treatment.  The results could be very distressing.

Doctors were required to determine within 48 hours whether a person was suitable to be moved to Manus or Nauru.  The tests which are necessary for that assessment take seven days to complete.  They were not given the opportunity to complete the tests properly.  The detainees were nevertheless moved to Nauru or Manus.

One doctor who worked on Christmas Island told me of a woman who had been detained there for some weeks because she was generally regarded as psychotic.  Her behaviour was highly erratic, but for reasons no-one understood.  The consultation with this woman was very difficult because, although the doctor and the patient were sitting across a table from each other, the interpreter joined them by telephone from Sydney: over 5000 kilometres away.

Eventually, the doctor worked out the problem: the woman was incontinent of urine.  She could not leave her cabin without urine running down her leg.  It was driving her mad.  When the doctor worked out the cause of the problem, she asked the Department to provide incontinence pads.  The Department’s initial response was “we don’t do those”.  The doctor insisted.  The Department relented and provided four per day:  more than that would be a fire hazard, they said.

In 2012, the Pacific Solution was revived by Julia Gillard and in 2013 it became much harsher thanks to Kevin Rudd, in his second incarnation as PM.

From 2013, boat people were sent for offshore processing more or less regardless of circumstances.  So, for example, we know of cases where some members of a refugee family arrived in Australia before the cut-off date, were assessed as genuine refugees, and have since been settled in the Australian community.  But their family had been split up in the course of the journey, and some of the arrived just after the cut-off date, and are still held in Manus or Nauru.

From 19 July 2013, boat people have been sent offshore as a deterrent to others who might be tempted to seek asylum in Australia.  Behrooz Bouchani is held on Manus.  He has written a book called No Friend but the Mountains.  In it he says, at page 133:

“Can it be that I sought asylum in Australia only to be exiled to a place I know nothing about? … Clearly they are taking us hostage.  … We are being made examples to strike fear into others, to scare people so they won’t come to Australia. …”

Tony Abbott became PM later in 2013 (there’s a thought to conjure with) and appointed Scott Morrison as his Immigration Minister.  Later, Malcolm Turnbull rolled Abbott, and Turnbull appointed Peter Dutton as his Immigration Minister.

I mention Morrison and Dutton specifically because they are, arguably, the most dishonest hypocrites ever to hold high office in this country.  “Dishonest” because they call boat people “illegal”, even though the fact is that boat-people do not commit any offence against Australian law by arriving the way they do.  “Hypocrites” because they both claim to be Christians, and yet their treatment of asylum seekers has been criticized by every Christian denomination and by the World Council of Churches. Their conduct is irreconcilable with Christian teaching.

So we are led by dishonest hypocrites who trade on sanctimony and imprison innocent children.  Right now there are about 125 refugee children on Nauru, living in misery and hopelessness.  40 of them were born in detention and have never experienced a day’s freedom in their lives.

Nauru

In the middle of 2017 The Guardian Australia published the Nauru files: more than 2000 incident reports, compiled by workers employed by Australia.  More than half of the Nauru files concern mistreatment of children.  They range from a guard grabbing a boy and threatening to kill him once he is living in the community to guards slapping children in the face. In September 2014 a teacher reported that a young classroom helper had asked for a four-minute shower instead of a two-minute shower. “Her request has been accepted on condition of sexual favours. It is a male security person. She did not state if this has or hasn’t occurred. The security officer wants to view a boy or girl having a shower.”

Reading the Nauru files, you learn that in September 2014, a girl had sewn her lips together. A guard saw her and began laughing at her. In July 2014 a child under the age of 10 undressed and invited a group of adults to insert their fingers into her vagina.

Morrison in his maiden speech in parliament said this:

“So what values do I derive from my faith? My answer comes from Jeremiah, chapter 9:24:

… I am the Lord who exercises loving-kindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things, declares the Lord.

From my faith I derive the values of loving-kindness, justice and righteousness, to act with compassion and kindness, acknowledging our common humanity and to consider the welfare of others…”

The Abbott government, with Scott Morrison as Immigration Minister renamed the Department of Immigration and Citizenship: it became the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.  Under Peter Dutton’s “leadership” it became Australian Border Force and was later swept into Home Affairs.  Home Affairs was established on 20 December 2017.  It combines the national security, law enforcement and emergency management functions of the A-G’s Department, the transport security functions of the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development, the counterterrorism and cybersecurity functions of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, the multicultural affairs functions of the Department of Social Services, and the entire Department of Immigration and Border Protection.  It controls the Federal Police, Border Force and ASIO.

Home Affairs is the most powerful ministry in the country, and it is headed by Peter Dutton.  It is hard to imagine a worse or more dangerous choice than to elevate a dishonest ex-cop from Queensland to the most powerful ministry in the land.  If you feel comfortable and sleep well, you clearly do not understand what is going on.

Manus

The UNHCR recently delivered a report on the state of affairs on Manus.  Their report includes these observations:

“UNHCR protection staff and medical experts observed a high level of tension and further deterioration in the mental health of refugees and asylum-seekers on Manus Island. Separation from family members and a deep-seated fear of being abandoned in Papua New Guinea by Australia without adequate support has contributed to an acute sense of insecurity and helplessness…

Caseworkers visit refugee and asylum-seeker accommodation sites for the purpose of identifying and providing support for vulnerabilities such as medical needs and mental health issues. For people who have withdrawn and are unable to seek assistance, however, no follow up interventions are made. For those with serious mental health needs, such withdrawal may in fact be a sign of greater vulnerability. There is no systematic, ongoing process to identify those at low, medium or high levels of risk, and tailor assistance accordingly. This means that those with the most significant needs have not been monitored on a regular basis since October 2017.

UNHCR staff asked diverse stakeholders who is responsible for follow up of identified vulnerable people, and received inconsistent answers. Service providers work in silos, without clear information as to the role of others – which should be complementary and coordinated.

The Government of Australia has no continuous or regular on the ground presence to coordinate and supervise the fulfilment of contractual obligations by those it has engaged to provide basic assistance and support to refugees and asylum-seekers on Manus Island. The Government of Australia, rather than the Government of Papua New Guinea, is the contracting party for all medical, security, infrastructure, garrison and caseworker services…”

The report includes recommendations:

“…The Government of Australia should ensure that a clear strategy and critical incident response plan includes significantly bolstered mental health support…

The Government of Australia should immediately identify and secure alternate durable solutions outside of the bilateral arrangement between Australia and the United States of America, including acceptance of the continuing New Zealand offer. Clear information on all appropriate available options outside of Papua New Guinea should also be communicated to refugees…

Given the increasing mental health needs of the refugee population, the number and expertise of caseworkers should be increased to a level commensurate to different degrees of risk and vulnerability…

There is an urgent need for outreach medical care, enhanced general medical and specialist mental health care. The tragic death of a Rohingya refugee on 22 May 2018 underscores the criticality of these unmet needs…”

Reza Berati

In February 2014 Reza Berati was killed on Manus Island.  Initially, Australia said that he had escaped from the detention centre and was killed outside the detention centre.  Soon it became clear that he was killed inside the detention centre.  It took nearly five months before anyone was charged with the murder of Reza Berati.

Curiously, tellingly, Scott Morrison went public after Reza Berati was killed.  He said Berati had escaped the detention centre, and had been killed by locals.  He said:

“…[T]his was a very dangerous situation where people decided to protest in a very violent way and to take themselves outside the centre and place themselves at great risk…”

By making up this lie, Morrison inadvertently disclosed a serious truth: that the locals on Manus are extremely hostile to the refugees.

Just a couple of weeks after Reza Berati was killed, I received a sworn statement from an eyewitness, Benham Satah.  The statement included the following:

“J … is a local who worked for the Salvation Army.  …  He was holding a large wooden stick.  It was about a metre and a half long … it had two nails in the wood.  The nails were sticking out …

When Reza came up the stairs, J … was at the top of the stairs waiting for him.  J … said ‘fuck you motherfucker’ J … then swung back behind his shoulder with the stick and took a big swing at Rezaa, hitting him on top of the head.

J … screamed again at Reza and hit him again on the head.  Reza then fell on the floor …

I could see a lot of blood coming out of his head, on his forehead, running down his face.  His blood is still there on the ground.  He was still alive at this stage.

About 10 or 15 guards from G4S came up the stairs.  Two of them were Australians.  The rest were PNG locals.  I know who they are.  I can identify them by their face.  They started kicking Reza in his head and stomach with their boots.

Reza was on the ground trying to defend himself.  He put his arms up to cover his head but they were still kicking.

There was one local … I recognized him … he picked up a big rock … he lifted the rock above his head and threw it down hard on top of Reza’s head.  At this time, Reza passed away.

One of the locals came and hit him in his leg very hard … but Reza did not feel it.  This is how I know he was dead.

After that, as the guards came past him, they kicked his dead body on the ground …”

A short time later, Benham Satah was taken into the Wilson Security cabin in the detention centre.  Wilson Security provide the guard services on Manus and Nauru, and in your local park.   They are incorporated in Panama, presumably to avoid the inconvenience of paying Australian tax on the vast amounts they are paid by the Australian government.  The Wilson Security people tied Benham Satah to a chair and beat him up.  They told him that, unless he withdrew his witness statement, they would take him outside the camp, where he would be raped and killed by locals.

By their threat, the Wilson Security people echoed what Morrison had conveyed: that the locals on Manus are extremely hostile to the refugees.

Several Australians involved in the killing of Reza Berati were, conveniently, able to return to Australia before any charges were laid.  The people who were, eventually, two years later, convicted of murder were somehow able to escape from prison.

Benham Satah is still on Manus, still living in fear of retribution.

The treatment of boat people in offshore detention is dreadful, and I am glad that Behrooz Bouchani will be speaking to us later: it’s our loss that he has to speak to us electronically rather than in person.

Peter Dutton recently had to deal with a suggestion that some people should be brought from Manus to Australia as a matter of compassion.  He said:

“It’s essential that people realise that the hard-won success of the last few years could be undone overnight by a single act of compassion in bringing 20 people from Manus to Australia…”

How many people in this country – how many people in this hall – would have believed it possible, even 5 years ago, that a senior Minister of the Crown would publicly dismiss the possibility of compassion?

And this from the most powerful politician in the country.  But he’s not invincible: for some years now I have publicly called him a dishonest hypocrite, but he has not sued for defamation.  I repeat it now: Peter Dutton is a dishonest hypocrite.   Dishonest, because he calls boat-people “illegal”.  They aren’t.  A hypocrite because he claims to be a Christian, but his wilful mistreatment of refugees is the exact opposite of what Christianity teaches.  And now he is arguing against compassion!

In the tumult of news we get every day, especially that rich and varied diet produced by Donald Trump, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that a Minister of the Crown urged us not to act with compassion.  He is the same person who recently reduced the social welfare entitlements of people living in the Australian community as they wait for their refugee status to be decided.  The government has just cut the Status Resolution Support Service (SRSS) program that provides a basic living allowance, casework support, help in finding housing, and access to torture and trauma counselling.  Before the cuts, the SRSS payments amounted to about 89% of Newstart allowance:  just $247 per week.

Newstart is hardly the most generous scheme in the world.  Surviving on $247 per week ($35 per day) would be unbelievably hard.  In 2016, between 28 March and 2 April, Dutton attended the UNHCR high-level meeting on global responsibility sharing through pathways for admission of Syrian Refugees.  He claimed expenses of $36,221.80 for those days.   That is, roughly $8000 per day on top of his parliamentary salary, which amounts to a bit over $940 per day ($343 thousand per year).  And since we are talking numbers, keeping refugees in offshore detention costs us about $570 thousand per person per year.  To put that in perspective, it is equal to about 44 years worth of SRSS payments.  So, if we decided to put an end to the cruelty of indefinite offshore detention, we could put every refugee on SRSS for 40 years, and actually save money.

Many members of the Coalition seek to make their anti-refugee stance look respectable, and even morally worthy, by saying that they are worried about refugees drowning, so they need to deter people from using people smugglers to get to Australia.  More hypocrisy: I do not for one minute believe them.  They are not being sincere or honest when they express concern about people drowning: if they were genuinely concerned about people drowning, they would not punish the ones who don’t drown.  They would not use the survivors as hostages, to deter others from trying to get here.

If our politicians were genuinely concerned about people drowning in their attempts to escape persecution, why are we not allowed to know the fate of people whose boats are turned back?  We are told this is an “on-water matter”.  If boats are turned back, there is clearly a risk of people drowning, but we know nothing of it.  If people are deterred from trying to come here and instead head to the Mediterranean, they still risk drowning, but we know nothing of it.  And if our deterrent measures  persuade them to stand their ground and they are killed by their persecutors, they are just as dead as if they had drowned, but we know nothing of it.

We are not well-served by our Coalition government: it has lied to us repeatedly on this issue, and has induced the country to descend into behaviour which contradicts our national values.

We are not well-served by the Labor party, which has never contradicted the Coalition’s lies.  If the Labor Party had a shred of decency, Bill Shorten would make a speech before the next election in which he would tell the nation what we are actually doing.  Imagine the impact if the Murdoch press reported Shorten saying:

“Men and women of Australia.

We are not behaving well.

Australia is paying billions of dollars a year to hold people hostage on Nauru and Manus.

They arrived in Australia seeking to be protected from persecution.  Most of them are genuine refugees.  Australia took them to Nauru or Manus by force, against their will.

For 17 years, the Coalition has, called them “illegal”.  They aren’t “illegal”.  We should have pointed out that the Coalition was lying to you.  We didn’t.  I am sorry we didn’t.

The way we are treating refugees is a betrayal of what Australia stands for.

What does this country stand for?  The statement of national values, which was introduced by the Turnbull government and is now part of the citizenship ceremony, says in part:

“I understand Australian society values respect for the freedom and dignity of the individual, freedom of religion … and a spirit of egalitarianism that embraces mutual respect, tolerance, fair play and compassion for those in need and pursuit of the public good; …”

If that is who we are, then what we are doing to refugees is simply un-Australian.

It is un-Australian to mistreat innocent people, which we are doing to people held on Manus and Nauru.

It is un-Australian to hold innocent people hostage, which we are doing to people held on Manus and Nauru.

It is un-Australian for political leaders to lie to the public in order to frighten them into tolerating the wilful mistreatment of innocent people.

If the Turnbull government was honest, it would have included something about cruelty and dishonesty in the statement of Australian value

I am sorry it has taken us so long  to tell you truthfully what is being done in your name…”

But somehow I don’t think Bill Shorten has the courage to make a speech like that.

And, if I may return to the issue of climate change, here’s a thought to finish on.  If the Tony Abbott attitude to climate change ultimately prevails, then in 8 or 10 generations we will all be history.  The collapse of agriculture and of complex supply lines will spell the end for most members of the human race.  Presumably there will be some survivors: the Kalahari bushmen, the Inuit, the outback aborigines…

So: if the Tony Abbott view of climate change ultimately prevails, the Aborigines will get their land back.   I’m not sure that is what he intends.

 

Hypocritical politicians

I have said before, and I repeat it here, that I regard as hypocrites any Federal politicians who claim to be Christian, and yet go along with the deliberate mistreatment of people seeking asylum.  The key offenders are Scott Morrison, Tony Abbott Peter Dutton and Malcolm Turnbull.

Abbott, Morrison, Turnbull and Dutton claim to be Christians, along with most other members of the Australian Parliament.  For fear of being misunderstood, I should declare that I was brought up in the Christian tradition, but I no longer adhere to any religion.  But I do remember some of the fundamental  tenets of Christian teaching: compassion for those in need; treat others as you would want to be treated…

These men lie to us, and they are hypocrites.  They lie when they call boat people “illegal”, when it is not an offence to arrive in Australia, without a visa, seeking to be protected from persecution.  And by their wilful mistreatment of people seeking asylum they betray the Christian values they pretend to hold.

Christ told the parable of the Good Samaritan.  A Jewish traveller on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, has been stripped and beaten and left, helpless, beside the road.  A priest and a Levite both pass him by and avoid engaging with him. A Samaritan sees him and helps him, even though Jews and Samaritans were traditional enemies.

Tony Abbott, who claims to be a devout Roman Catholic, once suggested that the parable of the Good Samaritan might have been different if a number of travellers had been found beside the road.  It takes someone like Abbott to claim that he can reconstruct Christs’s teaching.

Abbott, Morrison, Dutton and Turnbull are dishonest hypocrites.  Their conduct is impossible to reconcile with their asserted Christian beliefs.

Today I got a very snippy email from a person who did not like my views on this subject.  He wrote:

Dear Mr Burnside,

You have on several occasions publicly berated and condemned Australian leaders for failing to live up to your understanding of the teachings and example of Jesus Christ(15).

Yet you deliberately and wilfully ignore the terrifying(3) implications of Muslims living in accordance with the teachings and example of Mohammed(11), as Islam commands them to.

You appear to be ideologically incapable of progressing beyond your own facile, self-serving understanding of what Islam actually teaches:

– Islam incites hatred against Jews, Christians and all non-Muslims(1)

– Islam incites violence against all non-Muslims(2)

– Islam incites terror against all non-Muslims(3)

– Islam’s prophet Mohammed was a self-professed terrorist(4)

– Prophet Mohammed tortured people to death(5)

– Mohammed beheaded men, women and children(6)

– Mohammed advocated killing non-Muslim children(7)

– Mohammed advocated global Islamic supremacy through violence(8)

– A Muslims highest goal is martyrdom, Islam’s only sure path to paradise(9)

– Islam’s prophet Mohammed sexually enslaved women after killing their menfolk(10)

– Prophet Mohammed is Islam’s perfect example for all Muslims(11)

Islamic State follow the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail”(12)

– Mohammed slaughtered anyone who insulted him(13)

– Islam demands the death penalty for anyone who questions or criticises Islam(14)

Pots in glass houses should be careful when throwing black stones at kettles.

(There followed an impressive number of footnotes quoting passages from the Quran)

I replied:

Thank you for advancing my education on religious matters.

Quoting extracts from the Quran is probably no more helpful than quoting selected extracts from the Bible: some well-known passages from Leviticus, for example.

In any event, your fundamental point (as exemplified by the subject line of your email) was the difference between the conspicuous Christianity of some of our political “leaders” and their conduct.  As best I recall, Christ never taught people to despise or mistreat people of other religions, so politicians who make a public virtue of their Christianity (Abbott, Morrison, Turnbull…) can hardly justify their mistreatment of refugees because many refugees are Muslims.  That would be difficult to square with, for example, the parable of the good Samaritan.  The point of that parable, of course, was that the Samaritan helped someone who adhered to a different faith and was part of a despised group.  But the hypocritical Christian politicians, who are our political “leaders” apparently think it’s OK to mistreat members of a despised minority, buoyed by the fact they are (or might be) Muslims.  If you can tell me how that is acceptable as a matter of Christian teaching, I would be fascinated.

And then there is the small matter of comparing mainstream Australian values (mateship, “fair go” etc) with  what the politicians do.  And it seems pointless to notice that they lie to us: calling boat people “illegal”, even though they commit no offence by coming here the way they do, and calling the exercise “border protection”, although speaking for myself I feel less need to be protected from people fleeing persecution than I need to be protected from our dishonest, hypocritical politicians.

I have met people from many faiths.  I have never feared any of them on account of their religious beliefs.  But it is a major concern to see dislike of Islam becoming so vocal: it’s the new anti-Semitism.

In this context it is worth recalling that in July 1938 an international conference was held in Evian-Les-Bains, France.  The purpose of the conference was to arrange help for the increasing number of Jewish refugees fleeing Germany.  The Australian representative, T. W. White said: “as we have no real racial problem, we are not desirous of importing one”.  Most countries said they could not accommodate any more refugees.

History soon showed us how terrible this response was.

 

 

Trolls

Not surprisingly, I get a lot of trolls sniping at me on Twitter.

I posted a suggestion recently that we should identify the trolls, without wanting to give them any publicity.  People have been writing to me with suggested trolls.  The list follows.  I will update it as time goes on.  Let’s make social media #SocialAgain

Here’s a short-list of people on Twitter who seem unable to tweet anything but false allegations or meaningless insults:

@AstralCowboyz

@bennalongtime

@BoyfromBurleigh

@bush_bushy1961

@ClubMadManus

@Colt_Of_Freedom

@form0sa

@germ_nation1

@GondwanaLands

@GreattobeAussie

@Home_Oh_Hamish

@LeroyGJacobs

@Mabels_Message

@PrimaBaci

@ResistingHate_

@scammersbeware_

@scratchmynose

SchitCunce

@TiberiusMcGreg1

@UFC_fanboy

@wingisforever

@Yeahnahtoyou

Peter Dutton

In mid-March 2018 I retweeted a tweet which included a photo-shopped image of Peter Dutton as a Nazi.

The Jewish Anti-Defamation Commission criticised me for it.  Andrew Bolt published a piece on his blog which was very critical of me.  He did not bother to contact me about it for comment, before or after.

At the outset, I would say that I am very sorry that some people were offended by the tweet.  It is worth noting that I did not compare our present conduct with the events of the Holocaust, and I never would.

Twitter is not an ideal place for complex ideas.  I agree with the ADC that nothing in the Western world today is equivalent to the Holocaust, which cost the lives of millions of Jews.  Australia’s detention centres, onshore and offshore, are not death camps.

However it is important to recognise that the Nazi regime spent years generating in the German community a hatred and fear of Jews, without which the Holocaust would not have been possible.  The Nazis took control in 1933.  By degrees they generated fear and hatred of Jews.  If they had introduced the ”final solution” in 1933, I think the German public would have revolted,   By spending years spreading lies about Jews, the Nazis were able to get away with increasing mistreatment of Jews: mistreatment which reached flash-point in November 1938 (Kristallnacht) and rapidly descended into the events we call the Holocaust.

Peter Dutton is not doing things equivalent to the unspeakable acts which we call the Holocaust; but he is cultivating a climate of fear and hatred of some (I emphasise some) refugees: in particular Moslems and people who are not white.  His wish to encourage white South African farmers to come to Australia under “special arrangements” stands in marked contrast to the fact that he is encouraging  Rohingya refugees to return to Myanmar, by offering them money if they will go back: but we all know that the plight of Rohingya Muslims is far worse than that of white South African farmers.

The Jewish community in Australia is to be congratulated for its strong advocacy in favour of decent treatment of people seeking asylum.  And no wonder: they understand better than most what can happen if fear and hatred are allowed to govern the way people are treated.

I retweeted the image because I regard Peter Dutton as a dangerous force in Australian politics: he is leading the dogwhistle charge to make ordinary Australians fear Moslems generally, and Moslem refugees in particular.  He is making life increasingly difficult for them.  The pattern of his conduct is familiar: certainly they should be alarmingly familiar to the ADC.

Presumably it suits Peter Dutton for arguments like this to break out, driving a wedge between advocates who broadly agree with each other.

As I say, I am sorry that the tweet offended some people, but the direction in which the conduct of Australia is being taken by Peter Dutton is very troubling: we must be aware of what he is doing.

As George Santayana said “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

PS: the whole thing was brought to light by an article in the Australian, a Murdoch newspaper.  It is easy to forget that just before the 2013 Federal election a Murdoch paper ran front page pictures of Rudd and Albanese in Nazi uniforms!

PPS: Since posting this piece on my blog, I received a number of emails.  Here is one of them, and my response:

“Mr Burnside
YOUR COMMENTS RE Peter Dutton were inappropriate and wrong
How dare you slander this politician who has done in my opinion a great job in protecting Australia
Yes he has even cleaned up Labor’s mess in getting children out of refugee camps.
Why can’t you give him some credit you righteous person.
Love to hear your comments sorry Mr Bolt didn’t talk to you ….did you ring him first before you published?
Who do you think you are
Regards …”

My response:

“Dear …

Thank you for your email.  I am sorry you take such strong exception to my comments about Peter Dutton.

I will not match your personal abuse of me because I do not know who you are or what you do.

However I do know a bit about Peter Dutton, and what he does.

Peter Dutton kept many children in detention (on Nauru) despite his plainly dishonest public claims that there are “no children in detention”.  Apparently his dishonesty fooled you.  You may not have caught up on the news that being held on Nauru has caused terrible harm to the children who have been sent there.  In the past 4 months 2 children have been transferred from Nauru for treatment in Australia.  Both were suicidal.  Both were about 10 years old.  All the experts said that the children could not get appropriate treatment on Nauru.  Mr Dutton’s department resisted attempts to bring the children here so that the damage we had done to them could be treated.

Incidentally, you may not have caught up on the fact that self-harm and suicide is extremely rare in children under the age of 12 or 13: except in Australia’s detention system, where it is common.

Peter Dutton says we have to put people in offshore camps in order to prevent asylum seekers from drowning.  I do not believe he is troubled about people drowning.  In fact I think he is lying about that: if he was truly concerned about people drowning, he would not punish them for not drowning.  But if people try to escape persecution and survive the perils of the journey, he forces them to Manus or Nauru and keeps them there for years, in conditions which have attracted criticism from around the world.  Of course, he won’t tell you that, because he is too dishonest to admit that he is doing it all for electoral advantage.

Most of the people seeking asylum who are now held on Manus or Nauru have been there for 4 years or more.  New Zealand has offered to take 150 people a year from our offshore camps.  Peter Dutton has actively discouraged that by making dark noises about trade arrangements.  Did you know that Australia spends about $570,000 per refugee per year to keep them offshore: that’s roughly 5 times more than it would cost to keep them in immigration detention in Australia, and roughly 20 times more than it would cost if we let them live in the community until their refugee claims were assessed.

Peter Dutton has been at the forefront of dog-whistling about boat people, in order to persuade a lot of Australians (apparently including you) that cruelty to innocent people is OK: that is what the Nazis did between 1933 and 1938.  Oh, by the way, they are innocent people.  Even though dishonest politicians call them “illegal” they do not break any law by coming here the way they do in order to seek asylum.  None of them is ever charged with having  come here without a visa, because it is not an offence.  We just jail them indefinitely.

If you have read this far, please feel free to tell me if any of the facts I have set out above is incorrect.  Because I am confident that the facts are as I have set them out, I regard Peter Dutton as dishonest, and I regard his dishonesty as profoundly dangerous: it has persuaded decent Australians to tolerate things which would have appalled us 10 or 20 years ago.  Peter Dutton is doing what the Nazis did between 1933 and 1938.

Very best wishes… “

 

Some random ideas to improve Australia

I don’t claim to have the answers to all our problems.  And I recognise that Australia has a lot going for it: great climate; great natural resources; great people.  Maybe our good fortune is the source of our complacency.  We’re a bit like Middleton’s Rouseabout (see the poem by Henry Lawson here).

It’s hard to go to any public function in an Australian city these days without the MC intoning recognition of “…the traditional owners of the land we meet on.  The people of the …Nation; their leaders past, present and emerging…”.

It is one-sided and self-indulgent.  It does not recognise that our ancestors took the land from them, and caused them immense harm.  And we don’t intend to give it back.  Then we added to the harm by taking their children from them.

It is easy to overlook that Aboriginal settlement in Australia goes back about 65,000 years.  Compare that with recent developments like ancient Egypt (about 4,000 years ago) and ancient Greece (about 3,000 years ago) and blow-ins like ancient Rome (a bit over 2,000 years ago).

Aboriginal people are about 2.8% of the Australian population.  So how about this:

  • A once-off tax of 2.8% of the capital value of the land we took. The proceeds would amount to billions of dollars.  Use that money specifically to fund programmes designed – genuinely designed – to repair the damage we did to members of the oldest, longest-lasting civilization on earth.

The Arts struggle to get genuine, meaningful support from governments and big-Australia.  Of course there are exceptions, but it is rare to see a head of government also holding the Arts portfolio.  And most practising artists in Australia can’t make enough from their art to cover the cost of surviving, so they take a job as a teacher or as a waiter.

But in the long sweep of history, it’s artists who are remembered.  Try this experiment:

Take a room of 50 or 60 people of fair intelligence and reasonable education.  Give them a list of names from the past 6 centuries.  They will recognise the names of painters, sculptors, composers and writers out of proportion to the number of practising artists from time to time.  They will not recognise the names of lawyers, accountants, sporting heroes…They will recognise the names of a few politicians, but mainly the ones who were tyrants.  By this experiment you will demonstrate the real, transcendent value of the Arts.

  • So: when governments at any level (from local to Federal) put out a request for tender, they could include this question: “What does your company do to support the Arts?”. It’s a fair bet that a lot of companies would want to be able to give a good answer and might just start supporting the Arts creatively – and generously.

In 1974 the parliament passed the Trade Practices Act which, by section 52, decreed that a corporation should not “engage in conduct which is misleading or deceptive”. It was  new norm of conduct for companies in Australia.  While it was resisted at first, it is, by now, a deeply ingrained idea of the way companies should behave.

But parliamentarians are not subject to similar restrictions. We accept without questioning that the norms of conduct, which parliamentarians set for commerce in 1974, do not apply to politicians.

Most people expect politicians to lie. Not many politicians have shown the capacity for dishonesty and hypocrisy which Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull, Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton have displayed in connection with people seeking asylum.

But should we expect better?  I propose:

  • Parliament should pass an Act which provides that “A politician, in his or her capacity as a politician, shall not engage in conduct which is misleading or deceptive, or likely to mislead or deceive”.

Imagine how our politics would be transformed if politicians were expected to behave with the same honesty they demand of companies…

Trump’s Gettysburg Address

I am grateful to Barry Jones for drawing this to my attention: the Gettysburg address as Trump would have made it.

First, the original:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.  Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate…we can not consecrate…we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government: of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Now, the Trump version:

It was many, many years ago that our beautiful founders created this great nation for Americans to love deeply. It’s been 400 years, or 700 years. That’s the information I was given. We’ve had a tremendous number of years. And they’ve been good years, believe me, the best. No country in the history of the world has had years like ours. Because we were conceived in winning and dedicated to the proposition of America first. Always America first.

Now we have a huge fight on our hands. I’m telling you folks, we’re fighting to take back our country and start winning again. We’re fighting to make America great again. We’re fighting to make America first again. Some people have taken some very unfair hits in this fight. They’ve been hit by liberal activists and the dishonest fake news media. They’re gone now, but we remember their dedication to our movement, and we will be even more dedicated in their memory. We will commit ourselves to secure borders to keep our nation safe, extreme vetting to keep out the bad dudes, and the best trade deals to guarantee that our great American economy does not perish from the earth.
Chris O’Carroll/Donald Trump