Academic servants of the common good

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In the comment from today’s Herald republished below, Connor and Riemer express not simply their opposition to Howard’s being awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Sydney (not ‘Sydney’ as they grandiloquently call it) but their offence in the name of ‘those of us committed to the ideal of universities as servants of the common good’ at this award being given to a racist, bigot and militarist.

They condemn the university management’s ‘tawdry and shambolic Realpolitik’ and write that ‘universities should be institutions that provide ongoing challenge (sic) to the terms of institutional power.’ Powerful words indeed but, in true academic style, hollow and hypocritical.

Universities in class-based societies such as Australia’s first and foremost are institutions for the propagation of the ideology of the dominant (capitalist) class, not, according to the myth, centres of abstract intellectual excellence.

The challenge should not be to ‘institutional power,’ it should be to class power – to the domination of the capitalist class and their ideology – to exposing and confronting their ‘system of belief delimited by interests’.

Connor and Riemer make no mention of this in their ‘principled’ posturing.

The management of the university is one aspect of universities as centres of capitalist ideology, the academics employed in them are the other – those who attend to the form and those who attend to the content.

For more than thirty years I have been utterly committed to understanding and exposing the influence of mysticism on Western culture. During those years I have been enrolled at the universities of NSW and Sydney.

I was told over and again by time-serving academics that I was wrong, that I didn’t know what I was doing. At the University of Sydney I was threatened going into my honours year. At the College of Fine Arts, the University of NSW I was refused supervision for three years even though I had been accepted into a research program.

Now that those stages of bourgeois ideology known as modernism and post-modernism have run out of steam, some of the ideologues of the bourgeoisie, on the lookout for the next ‘new flavour’ listened to me, refused to assist me and then took and began teaching those aspects they consider now safe of what they never dared to go near before.

On 21.04.15 I sent an email to the Chair of Philosophy at the university of Sydney about my dedication and experience over more than thirty years, involving both universities. I copied it to the vice-chancellor Michael Spence and to Kate McClymont (‘Australia’s most-awarded journalist’) on the Senate. The only reply I have received was one to acknowledge receipt, on behalf of the vice-chancellor.

The matter concerns not only myself – the treachery, hypocrisy and deliberate ignorance I have experienced at both universities from academics – but, particularly, the greatest failure in social and intellectual responsibility by generations of ideology-serving academics on this matter. The very things Connor and Riemer claim to uphold.

I have experienced the ruthless efficiency with which the same ideology Howard was such an unrelenting advocate for and the control of it is maintained by academic ‘servants of the common good’ – again, just as Howard claimed he was one.

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Linda Connor and Nick Riemer, ‘Why “racist” John Howard doesn’t deserve an honorary doctorate,’ The Sydney Morning Herald, 29.09.16

Sydney University’s choice to award an honorary doctorate to John Howard is a decision to celebrate racism, bigotry and militarism. The award is unjustifiable in an institution claiming to serve the public good that says it is committed to rigorous standards of analysis and deliberation.

Along with many of our colleagues, we are appalled by the actions of the University Senate in making this award. That is why we are boycotting the graduation ceremony on Friday at which the doctorate will be conferred, and joining staff and students outside the University’s Great Hall in protest.

The university administration’s justification of the award does not withstand even the most rudimentary scrutiny. Along with contributions to economic management and Australian relations with China and Indonesia, the Chancellor, Belinda Hutchinson, has cited Howard’s gun law reform and leadership in East Timor as the reasons for the doctorate.

If arms and international relations are the question, Howard’s principal “achievements” lie elsewhere entirely.

What Howard will be remembered for in these fields is hardly his gun control measures or Australia’s role in East Timor. The latter, in any case, arguably had more to do with Timor’s gas reserves than it did with peacekeeping. Far more significant, both internationally and at home, was Howard’s crucial support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. This illegal and unjustified war cost the lives of almost 25.000 civilians in its first two years alone. The recent Chilcot report puts the number of Iraqi deaths at 150,000 by 2009. Awarding Howard for his contribution to international relations is like awarding BP for its contributions to green energy. In honouring him, the University of Sydney does its bit to dampen the pressure for a Chilcot-style enquiry in Australia.

What will Howard say in his address at the graduation to the audience of students and researchers? That instinct is a better guide than science to public policy, or that politicians must not be “browbeaten by the alleged views” of climate scientists, as he told a London conference in 2013? That professional historians have got it wrong about the past and that he, without specialist training, is better placed to decide what should be taught? It is a singular irony that a politician contemptuous of science, whose government regularly attacked academics and researchers, should be accepting an honorary doctorate. It says even more that he is being offered one.

Sydney’s administrators have tried to deflect criticism by pointing to the frequency with which honorary degrees are conferred on former prime ministers. Exactly. It is the very regularity of the practice that is objectionable. The customary granting of honorary degrees to former politicians degrades academic distinction for political purposes. It says that political power, not an outstanding contribution to the advancement of society, is the determinant of the university’s recognition. Universities should be institutions that provide ongoing challenge to the terms of institutional power. Through the routine award of honorary degrees to prime ministers no matter what their record in office, they end up courting it.

Granting doctorates to ex-PMs sends a clear message: no matter what you have done in office, you can expect, as a former PM, to be feted by the academy. Follow the US to war on confected and untested evidence, plunging Iraq and the wider Middle East into chaos: honorary doctorate. Militarise social policy in the Northern Territory: honorary doctorate. Obstruct the UN declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, refuse to apologise to the Stolen Generation and exacerbate racial tensions: honorary doctorate. Ban same-sex marriage: honorary doctorate. Wage class-warfare against the union movement: honorary doctorate.

Universities’ responsibility to provide a source of rigorous independent analysis and expertise can only be discharged if they stand above the horse-trading of political influence and favour. This was exactly the principle at stake when La Trobe University tried to appease politicians by suspending Roz Ward, the Safe Schools program co-founder, earlier this year. In normalising honorary degrees for former PMs, universities signal they have no interest in maintaining a critical independence from political power.

It doesn’t take much wit or acuity to confront university managements’ rhetoric with their actual practices – which are often no more than a tawdry and shambolic Realpolitik. Nevertheless, doing so is essential. Words have meanings; we should hold university managers to the values they say they respect. Sydney management’s decision makes a travesty of the ideals it claims to uphold. These include critical thinking and problem solving, cultural competence, and ethics. In their foreword to the university’s current “strategic plan”, Michael Spence, Sydney’s VC, and the Chancellor, Belinda Hutchinson have listed “a deeply held commitment to challenging ordinary thinking, and a genuine desire to do good in the world” as two “extraordinary strengths” of the university.

The emptiness of these declarations is demonstrated by Howard’s award. Howard’s record in office expressed the opposite ideals. The Middle East and Indigenous social policy are two domains that call for the most delicate and reasoned consideration. Instead, Howard just sent the army in. In both cases, his rationales for doing so turned out to be spurious. This is the model our university is holding up to students and society.

Vocally opposing Howard’s doctorate is the only possible course of action for those of us committed to the ideal of universities as servants of the common good.

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What?! Academic honesty at the University of Sydney?!

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Jordan Baker, ‘English academics reject a Ramsay-funded great books program’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 01.11.18

Sydney University is divided over the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation’s offer to fund a three-year, great books-style program. Supporters argue it is a good opportunity for students, while opponents say it is an ideological Trojan horse for right wing critics of universities.

The latest letter, which was sent on Thursday and is believed to have received unanimous approval during a department meeting, said no rationale had been given for the proposed program.

“This leads us to suspect that the unspoken rationale is a disregard on the part of the Ramsay Centre for the values that inform our teaching and a desire to pursue a political agenda under the guise of, and with the legitimacy given by, an academic program,” it said.

If the centre’s interest in the critical consideration of canonical western texts was genuine, it said, “it could give immediate effect to it by offering financial support to those areas of the humanities and social sciences … that already study those texts in depth.”

Five other departments, including government, political economy and sociology, have also written open letters rejecting any partnership with Ramsay.

But not everyone in those departments is opposed. Salvatore Babones, an associate professor in sociology, would like to see a Ramsay-funded course proceed.

“The Ramsay Centre proposal is clearly ideological, but everything we teach is ideological,” he said.

“Professors’ claims to the contrary are absurd.”…

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A fundamental difference between China and Australia: vision and the lack of it

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‘Light rail construction in the CBD. Secret document warns vision for Sydney’s light rail ignored realities.’

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Images: 1st/2nd/3rd ‘China Watch’/China Daily, The Sydney Morning Herald, 26.10.18/4th

 

It’s safe to come back Jørn, we’ve changed!

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N.S.W. Premier Gladys Berejiklian has instructed the Sydney Opera House to allow its sails to be lit up with colours, numbers and a trophy to promote next Saturday’s Everest horse race.

“This is one of the biggest events of the year. Why not put it on the biggest billboard Sydney has?” Prime Minister Morrison said.

“I come from a tourism background, these events generate massive opportunities for the state, for the city.”

From this

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‘Amazing clouds, brilliant moonlight, and the fabulous Sydney Opera House make a spectacular trifecta (sic).’ Photo: Australian Broadcasting Corporation website

to this

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‘The Racing NSW advertisement will be beamed onto the Opera House from Tuesday.’

Come back Jørn! Now we understand what ‘big picture’ means and how important vision is to culture! Honest!

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Australians should want a US governor not ambassador

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US President Donald Trump has yet to nominate an ambassador to Australia.

Nick O’Malley, ‘For two years Australia has been without a US ambassador, but that may not be a bad thing’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 08.09.18

‘“I’ve had it,” said Donald Trump during his now infamous first phone call with an Australian leader, then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull. “I have been making these calls all day and this is the most unpleasant call all day. Putin was a pleasant call.”

The conversation, which took place in February last year, was scheduled for an hour but lasted just 25 minutes. Today, 18 months later, the President has yet to appoint an ambassador to Australia and next month the post will have been unfilled for two years. This is the longest the post has been empty since Australia realigned its foreign policy to rely upon the United States during World War II.

The absence is not going unnoticed.

“We are all heartsick about it,” the former US ambassador to Australia, John Berry, told Fairfax Media this week.

An American source plugged into the Washington, DC, diplomatic circuit said as far as he was aware there were not even rumours of a replacement in the wings. In a statement, a spokesman for the US embassy in Canberra said simply: “We have no news to report regarding the nomination of an Ambassador to Australia.”…’

Contrary to his abject obsequiousness to Trump in person, (now ex-)statesman ‘Trumbull’ ‘got even’ by making a savage mockery of him to an audience of his fellow lickspittles back on home soil.

Why do Australians want a US ambassador when their absorption of and need for American culture to validate themselves is to such a degree that they even began pronouncing ‘Iraq’ like Bush when they blindly followed him in attacking that country?

A US governor for Australia is the way to go.

Australia, the 51st state

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Best we forget: the war for white Australia, 1914-1918

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(Prime Minister) Billy Hughes addresses the troops. (Caption) ‘The Hon William Hughes stayed true to his belief in the White Australia Policy.’

‘Did the fear of Japan send us to war in 1914?’, ABC, Late Night Live, 02.08.18

‘Tensions were high between Australia and Britain after they signed a military alliance with Japan.

Australia was not happy because Britain was selling naval warships to the country they perceived as their biggest threat.

Britain was not happy with the young Australian nation insisting on legislation to guarantee a white Australia which was offensive to Japan.

Australia was adamant about keeping Australia white, and were (sic) willing to do whatever it took to keep it that way.’

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World War One enlistment poster

‘In the half-century preceding the Great War there was a dramatic shift in the mindset of Australia’s political leaders, from a profound sense of safety in the Empire’s embrace to a deep anxiety about abandonment by Britain.

Collective memory now recalls a rallying to the cause in 1914, a total identification with British interests and the need to defeat Germany. But there is an underside to this story: the belief that the newly federated nation’s security, and its race purity, must be bought with blood.

Before the war Commonwealth governments were concerned not with enemies in Europe but with perils in the Pacific. Fearful of an “awakening Asia” and worried by opposition to the White Australia policy, they prepared for defence against Japan—only to find themselves fighting for the Empire on the other side of the world. Prime Minister Billy Hughes spoke of this paradox in 1916, urging his countrymen: “I bid you go and fight for white Australia in France.”

In this vital and illuminating book, Peter Cochrane examines how the racial preoccupations that shaped Australia’s preparation for and commitment to the war have been lost to popular memory.’

(from the Text Publishing page)

Peter Cochrane, Best We Forget: The War for White Australia, 1914-1918, Text Publishing

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Big land, big heart, big spirit

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Patrick Hatch, ‘Supermarket backs down on plastic bags’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 02.08.18

Coles has hoisted a white flag in the face of angry shoppers aggrieved by having to pay 15c for a “reusable” bag and has promised to give them away for free until customers get used to bringing their own.

The supermarket chain’s decision has raised the ire of environmental campaigners who say it is a return to the “bad old days” where plastic bags were used once and then discarded.

Coles and Woolworths removed thin “single-use” plastic bags from their checkouts nationwide in July and late June, respectively, as a growing number of state governments ban the environmentally damaging items.

But offering only thicker, “reusable” plastic bags for 15c each has elicited howls of outrage and led to a series of backflips – including giving the reusable bags away for free for a short period of time while customers adapted to the changes – to quell the outcry.

The uses of plastic bags

In the latest backflip, a Coles spokeswoman confirmed yesterday that the supermarket would give the 15c bags away for free, until shoppers had “become accustomed to bringing their own bags”.

“When Coles phased out single-use plastic bags on 1 July…some customers told us they needed more time to make the transition to reusable bags,” she said.

“Many customers bringing bags from home are still finding themselves short a bag or two, so we are offering complimentary reusable Better Bags to help them complete their shopping.”

Coles said the free bags were an “interim measure to help customers transition to reusable bags”. …

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The Ozzie spirit in 2018

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Melissa Cunningham, ‘Cranky customers cause Woolies to backflip on plastic bags’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 30.06.18

Woolworths has backflipped on its plastic bag ban after irate customers refused to pay for plastic bags at the checkout.

The supermarket giant will hand out free reusable plastic bags for 10 days, after stores were inundated with complaints from customers who refused to pay for bags or did not have enough of their own stored up.

It comes a week after Woolworths issued a ban on single-use plastic bags in stores across NSW, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia. The reusable plastic bags, which usually cost 15 cents, will be available free until July 8, the supermarket giant said.

“Since we phased out single-use plastic bags nationwide on June 20, some customers have told us that getting into the habit of bringing their own reusable bags has been a challenge,” Woolworths managing director Claire Peters said. “We’ve listened to these customers and heard they just want a little extra help from us to get through the transition to a more sustainable way of shopping. This will not only help support customers as they work to form new habits, but also ensure they’ll have reusable bags on hand when they next shop with us.” …

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‘Civilisation’ pushes back the hordes of its own creating

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Iranian refugee Omid Masoumali died having set himself on fire after UNHCR told him he would remain on Nauru. He had been on the island for three years and was requesting to be sent to a third country.

Antony Loewenstein, ‘Australia’s brutal refugee policy is inspiring the far right in the EU and beyond’, The Nation, 30.06.18

In an age of refugee demonisation, Australia was well ahead of the curve.

Soon after President Trump assumed office in January 2017, he had a phone call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. The transcript of the conversation, leaked in August, revealed that the new US president admired his Australian counterpart because Turnbull was “worse than I am” on asylum seekers. Turnbull had proudly stated, “If you try to come to Australia by boat, even if we think you are the best person in the world, even if you are a Nobel Prize–winning genius, we will not let you in.”

In their phone call, the prime minister begged the US leader to adhere to a deal struck by Turnbull and former President Barack Obama the year before, in which the United States had agreed take up to 1,250 refugees imprisoned by Australia for years on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Nauru in the Pacific. In exchange, Australia would take refugees from Central America.

Trump didn’t understand why Australia couldn’t take the PNG and Nauru refugees in. Turnbull responded, “It is not because [the refugees] are bad people. It is because in order to stop people smugglers we had to deprive them of the product.” Trump liked what he heard. “That is a good idea,” he said. “We should do that too.”

Turnbull was proudly explaining the complex system established by Australia many years earlier: Refugees are imprisoned in privatised remote detention centres on the Australian mainland and on Pacific islands. Trump isn’t the only one who is impressed; many Western leaders have not only expressed admiration for Australia’s draconian refugee policies but have initiated ways to implement them in their own nations to contend with the recent surge of people fleeing Africa and the Middle East.

The mainstreaming of xenophobia regarding refugees was perfected by Australian politicians more than 20 years ago. Along with a media-savvy mix of dog-whistling against ethnic groups with little social power, refugees have been accused of being dirty, suspicious, lazy, welfare-hungry, and potential terrorists—and they’ve been accused of refusing to assimilate, despite the country’s largely successful multicultural reality.

Australia hasn’t been shy in offering advice to European nations struggling with an influx of refugees. Former prime minister Tony Abbott warned his European counterparts in 2016 that they were facing a “peaceful invasion” and risked “losing control” of their sovereignty unless they embraced Australian-style policies.

“Effective border protection is not for the squeamish,” he claimed, after pushing the concept of turning back refugee boats at sea and returning people to their country of origin, “but it is absolutely necessary to save lives and to preserve nations.” Abbott refused my requests for comment.

Australia has accepted about 190,000 people annually in its permanent migration program in recent years. This year, however, the migrant intake will be the lowest in seven years. There’s an inherent contradiction in Australia’s migration policy: The country quietly accepts many refugees who come by plane, but treats those arriving by boat with contempt and abuse. Between 1976 and 2015, more than 69,600 people seeking asylum—mostly from Afghanistan, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East—have arrived in Australia by boat.

Unlike some European nations, such as Britain, Spain, and Italy, where about 65 percent of people oppose immigration, authoritative polling by Australia’s Scanlon Foundation found that a majority of citizens back new arrivals: 80 percent of respondents rejected selecting immigrants by race, and 74 percent opposed the idea of selecting immigrants by religion—and yet growing numbers of people expressed opposition to or suspicion of Islam. And calling for a large cut in immigration has entered the Australian mainstream. The latest polling from the Lowy Institute in 2018 found that a majority of Australians now back a curb in migration. Many of those pushing this argument claim that caring for immigrants is too costly and that priority should be given to improving the infrastructure and environment. It’s possible, of course, for such a rich country to do both.

The internationalisation of Australia’s refugee stance has, unfortunately, coincided with Europe’s right-wing populist surge. Europe has recently faced millions of asylum seekers arriving on its shores. Many want them stopped and turned back. It’s a view shared by some of the continent’s most extreme political parties; Italy’s new right-wing government is already turning refugee boats away. Some far-right Danish politicians tried but failed to visit Nauru in 2016 to see how it was housing refugees. Punitive attitudes are moving from the fringes to the mainstream, so it’s not surprising they want to see how Australia does it. If this democratic country can warehouse refugees for years, with little tangible international sanction—apart from increasingly scathing UN reports on its migration program—why not European states, with far more people crossing their borders?

I heard this argument regularly when talking to European fans of Australia. Jens Baur, chairman of the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany’s Saxony region, told The Nation that he praised Australian “success” against refugees because it was an effective “deterrent.” For Baur, Europe used “ships of the navies of European states as a ‘tug-taxi,’ bringing refugees from the North African coast to Europe.” He wanted Europe to follow the examples of Australia and anti-refugee Hungary.

A more influential European politician, Kenneth Kristensen Berth of the ultranationalist Danish People’s Party, Denmark’s leading opposition party, has increasingly copied Australia’s hard-line position as his party has grown in popularity. Berth said that he liked the “efficiency” of Australia’s system and had no sympathy for refugees trapped on Pacific islands.

“It is their own choice,” Berth told me. “They have been warned by Australian officials that they will never be able to call Australia their home if they tried to reach Australia illegally. As long as they are not manhandled in these detention centres, I do not find any fault at the Australian side.” (In fact, countless refugees have been assaulted.)

One of the key architects of Brexit, former far-right UKIP leader Nigel Farage, praised what a fellow UKIP MP called Australia’s “innovative” refugee approach and wanted the European Union to follow. Farage ignored my repeated requests for comment.

The ideological underpinning of Europe’s far-right support should be understood as a politically savvy mix of racism, a kind of nationalist socialism, and isolationism. Sasha Polakow-Suransky, author of the recently published book Go Back to Where You Came From: The Backlash Against Immigration and the Fate of Western Democracy, explains that many far-right leaders are “defenders of a nativist nanny state.” He told me, “They are not neoliberal dismantlers of the welfare state but defenders of social benefits for only the native born. This is a populist pitch that has been extremely effective at drawing ex-Communists and social democrats into their ranks. These politicians are seeking ways to protect their comprehensive social safety nets and avoid sharing with newcomers.”

Polakow-Suransky finds that in this worldview, Australia’s generous social benefits to its citizens should be copied in Europe but not for “what they perceive as the grasping hands of undeserving new arrivals who are seeking to leech off their welfare state.”

The Australian methods are ruthlessly effective; waves of refugees have attempted to arrive by boat since the early 1990s. Thousands have been physically and psychologically traumatised after being locked up, and one was even killed in detention by local guards (a subsequent Senate inquiry found that Australian authorities failed to adequately protect him). They’re often refused necessary medical care, and sometimes returned to danger in countries such as Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. A fundamental element of international law, which Australia routinely breaks, is the concept of non-refoulement, the principle that refugees should not be sent back to a place where they will be in danger.

Australia’s refugee policy has been condemned in reports by the United Nations, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International, as well as in eyewitness accounts by activists and journalists. I’ve visited many of the most extreme facilities myself—such as Christmas Island, in the Indian Ocean—and have heard horror stories from asylum seekers and guards. Successive Australian governments have paid tens of millions of dollars in compensation to many of these refugees, and yet the policy continues, with strong public support. In an age of refugee demonisation, Australia was well ahead of the curve.

These policies were developed before the September 11 terror attacks, but they gained greater currency after that infamous day. After that trauma, it was easier to brand boat arrivals as potential terrorists and Islamist extremists; there’s been almost complete bipartisan political support for this view ever since.

Australia’s anti-refugee campaigns are targeted at a scared white population, of course, but their appeal is broader than that. According to the 2016 Census, nearly half of citizens were born to first- or second-generation migrants—and there are plenty of conservative former migrants who have little sympathy for more recent arrivals by boat. As journalist James Button wrote recently in the Australian magazine The Monthly, “Most Australians, including migrants, accept the brutal bargain: you have to be invited, there’s a right way and a wrong way.” The “wrong way” apparently deserves no sympathy. It doesn’t help that there are still very few nonwhite mainstream journalists in Australia, which means the perspectives of the growing number of non-Anglo residents are not getting the media attention they deserve.

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Australian activists opposed to these policies have spent decades campaigning against them, including attempts to refer Australia to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity over the country’s abuse of refugees in detention. Human-rights lawyer Madeline Gleeson, a lecturer at the University of New South Wales Law School in Sydney, told me that there were “persuasive grounds for arguing that certain conduct of Australian officers could engage their individual criminal responsibility,” but prosecution in an international court faces major obstacles, such as whether such a court could even be convinced to hear a case about abuses committed by a Western, democratic nation.

It’s now impossible to deny that Australian refugee policy is inspiring some of the most draconian asylum directives in the EU and beyond. How did a nation with such a positive international reputation become a global leader in harming asylum seekers?

For most of its existence as a settler-colonial nation, Australia had an official White Australia policy, preferring migrants with a British background. This began to change in the 1950s, and by the late 1970s, Australia was welcoming tens of thousands of refugees fleeing the chaos in Southeast Asia after the Vietnam War. But in the early 1990s, the Labor government introduced mandatory detention for asylum seekers, who mostly came from Cambodia at the time (survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime, the numbers were modest; they didn’t surge until the early 2000s, partly due to the “war on terror” under more conservative Prime Minister John Howard). The prime minister at the time, Paul Keating, said recently, “To be honest, it was not a great human rights issue for [the] cabinet at the time”—because they feared an avalanche of asylum claims from global conflict zones and troubled countries in the region, including China. It was the beginning of a process that has become increasingly harsh.

The scale of Australia’s detention network is difficult to fathom. With a population of around 25 million, and a land mass not much smaller than that of the United States, Australia has room for many more refugees and a need for skilled newcomers. But the country has long had a fear of the outsider (this sentiment may be partially rooted in the fact that Australia, established as a British colony in 1788, committed genocide against its first inhabitants, the Aborigines). Whereas once it was the Chinese and Vietnamese arrivals who were viewed with suspicion, today many Australians are convinced that brown, black, and Muslim refugees deserve the harshest treatment imaginable.

The cost of maintaining Australia’s detention camps is astronomical. The latest figures, released in early 2018, show that in the 2016-17 fiscal year, Australia spent $4.06 billion on “border protection.” This included “offshore management” of over $1 billion. The annual cost for each refugee housed in detention was $346,178.

Australia spent $10 million in the 2015-16 fiscal year (and millions more on other, similar projects) on overseas advertising directed at citizens in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia. The message was clear: Do not come to Australia by boat, because the path is completely blocked. The world’s surging refugee population—the largest since World War II, at more than 68 million—has done nothing to soften Australia’s resolve (aside from a small effort to welcome 12,000 refugees from war-torn Syria and Iraq). On the other hand, when white South African farmers faced threats earlier this year, the Australian government said they “deserve special treatment” and could be fast-tracked into the country.

In 2013, the Australian Parliament passed legislation removing the country’s mainland from its migration zone, allowing the government to send all arriving asylum seekers to PNG and Nauru. The point of offshoring refugees was that the Australian government could claim that any abuses or problems there were the responsibility of the countries in which they occurred, client states such as PNG and Nauru. It was a blatant lie, but it allowed multinationals that run those facilities to make a fortune (I attempted unsuccessfully to get a response from the company currently running the Manus Island facility, Paladin Solutions PNG). The offshoring in these poor and corrupt countries consigns the people imprisoned there to a legal black hole, in locations akin to Guantánamo Bay or even so-called “black sites” where journalists are rarely allowed access.

Operation Sovereign Borders was the name given in 2013 to the Australian government’s program to deter refugees at sea; it included paying Indonesian people-smugglers to turn boats around. Since 2013, the Australian Navy has turned back at least 31 boats carrying 771 people. Despite the fact that many asylum seekers were found by Australia to have legitimate claims, this had little effect on their treatment at the hands of officials, who often delayed decisions about their fate for years. The Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection ignored my repeated requests for comment.

European support for Australia’s refugee policies goes way beyond rhetoric. I’ve spent years investigating this issue and found evidence that officials from both individual European nations as well as the EU are secretly meeting senior Australian officials to understand how to adopt Australia’s policies on a continent-wide scale.

A former senior official at the UN, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed to me that in 2016 Australia’s Ambassador for People Smuggling and Human Trafficking, Andrew Goledzinowski, undertook a tour of Europe, trying to convince governments and the UN of the virtues of Australia’s offshore processing model. Goledzinowski is now Australia’s High Commissioner to Malaysia. The Australian government refused to comment on the inner workings of its refugee strategy.

“I am certain that this tour was part of a much broader and longer-term Australian effort to export and legitimise its approach to the refugee issue,” the UN official said. “In that respect, looking at the trajectory of EU asylum policy, it has been pretty successful. The interceptions by Libyan coast guards [of refugees fleeing to Europe who are then sent back to horrific conditions in Libya] are essentially an arms-length version of Operation Sovereign Borders.”

In early 2017, Australian media reported that at least six European countries were asking Australia for advice in managing the refugee crisis. A spokesperson for Peter Dutton, who was then Australia’s immigration minister (he’s now home affairs minister), told the press then that “a number of European nations and the European Union have sought advice from the Australian Government on Operation Sovereign Borders. The minister has personally had discussions with several of his European counterparts.”

Last year the EU openly embraced Australian-style border-protection policies, while still denying it was doing so. When Italy announced it was sending its Mediterranean navy into Libyan waters to intercept refugees and send them back to Libya, along with plans to train the Libyan coast guard to manage the job on its own within three years, refugee rights were ignored.

The Libyan coast guard is underfunded and has been accused of abuses, including firing on refugee boats, but the EU and Italy are committed to boosting Libya’s role as gatekeeper of new arrivals, even though the country is engulfed in civil war and asylum seekers have experienced rape, torture, and enslavement. Amnesty International has accused the EU of complicity in mistreatment—including torture—of refugees by paying Libyan officials to work with people-smugglers and militia groups.

Despite these problems, Italy and the EU plan to spend 44 million euros between now and 2020 to help Libya build a vast search-and-rescue enterprise at sea, according to documents obtained by Reuters in late 2017. And French President Emmanuel Macron said last year he wanted to build refugee-processing centres in Libya to assess applicants before they come to Europe (France currently processes some refugees in a small outpost in Niger).

The EU already gives huge amounts of money and aid to Libya and Niger—two nations that have been cited by Amnesty International and other human-rights groups for numerous violations in their treatment of refugees—to effectively keep Europe-bound refugees in Africa. The EU, which has for years been quietly militarising its response to border security, plans to spend billions to create an EU army.

When I asked the European Commission about contacts with Australia on its immigration policies, it claimed there had been none. But commission officials also told me that they had “enormous concerns” about security in Libya and were therefore focused on “strengthening our cooperation with neighbouring countries to intervene before migrants embark on perilous journeys to Europe and to prevent deaths at sea by ensuring that migrants find a refuge in partner countries and by opening legal ways to Europe through resettlement.”

Critics of European policies have been increasingly marginalised. Jeff Crisp, former head of policy development and evaluation at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, told me that the EU strategy was “smarter than that of Australia. While Canberra employs its own military personnel to implement Operation Sovereign Borders, the EU has contracted out the dirty work to the Libyan coast guard and associated militia groups. And while the Libyan slavery scandal threatened to expose the failings of EU refugee policy, it is now being used by Brussels to suggest that the best solution to the refugee issue is to send them all back to their countries of origin.”

It was perhaps imaginable that Australia would become an inspiration for all the wrong reasons. And with Trump in the White House, Washington could follow suit. Author Polakow-Suransky argues that the Trump administration could “attempt an Australian-style policy on a mass scale and pay off poor Central American countries to stop the flow of migrants or detain them.” In fact, Washington is already paying Mexico to keep migrants away from the US border and has helped militarise the Mexican-Guatemalan border to stop the refugee flow. Private contractors are currently reaping financial rewards from the Trump era’s harsh border policies.

Australia is one of the most successful multicultural nations on earth, and yet its legacy is now tainted by extreme efforts to dehumanise the most desperate people alive. The world is watching and learning.

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Foreign meddling in Australia’s affairs – part nine

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CIA agent, Harry Goldberg, looks at Australia in 1960

Australian Report

G. Conclusions and Comments

That’s about the story. I just want to say that it’s good we went. We did make an impact that was felt. All those fighting versus the commies on all levels were grateful that we did come.

They all urged strongly (just as Zenro and the DSP did in Japan) that an AFL-CIO representative be stationed in Australia in view of the difficulty of the fight versus the commies, and the important position of Australia. This I pass on for what it’s worth.

I think we ought to pay more attention to Australia than we have in the past. There are some things we can do. I have a number of proposals I’ll want to make when we get together.

That’s all!

Harry Goldberg

Honolulu

April 9, 1960

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Who’s Who (from Tribune article) 

Oscar Rozenbess: Former secretary of the Melbourne Taxi Drivers Association. Former Labor Minister Cameron was probably referring to Rozenbess when he told parliament last Thursday about “a CIA operative who covered by working as a taxi driver”.

Richard Krygier: Sydney book importer who founded the CIA funded Australian Association for Cultural Freedom which published Quadrant. Named in parliament as a CIA agent by Cameron.

Laurie: Mr L Short, national secretary of the Federated Ironworkers Association (FIA). Former Trotskyist now on the ALP’s extreme right.

Harry Hurrell: FIA national president, regarded as the real power in the union until recently.

Joe Riordan: Former secretary of the NSW Clerks Union, a rightwinger who later fell out with Maynes. Elected ALP member for Phillip he became a minister in Whitlam’s cabinet but lost his seat in 1975.

Fred Campbell: Former NSW secretary of the Electrical Trades Union (ETU).

Harry Jensen: ETU official who became Lord Mayor of Sydney. Now Minster for Local Government in the Wran ministry.

Dr Evatt: Federal Labor  leader after Chifley. Former High Court judge and brilliant lawyer, Evatt appeared before the Petrov Commission accusing Menzies and ASIO of securing Petrov’s defection as an anti-Labor stunt. This led to the 1955 ALP split.

Arthur Calwell: ALP leader after Evatt retired. A rightwing Catholic, he moved to a centre position and finally opposed the Vietnam war.

Bland: Sir Henry Bland, top public service bureaucrat (Holt’s secretary of Labor and National Service, then Defence Department secretary). Briefly chairman of the ABC under Fraser.

B.A.Santamaria: Director of the National Civic Council (NCC) and power behind the now almost defunct Democratic Labor Party (DLP).

Sir Wilfred Kent Hughes: Attorney-General and Minister for the Navy in the Menzies government.

Jim Kenny: Former rightwing secretary, NSW Labor Council.

Jack Maynes: Federal president, Federated Clerks Union, NCC supporter and DLP member.

Littleton: Probably Little, Victorian THC president.

Vic Stout: Secretary of the Victorian Trades Hall Council for many years who finally opposed the NCC.

Bill Evans: Federal secretary of the Federated Enginedrivers (FEDFA), ACTU and THC vice-president. 

Albert Monk: ACTU president for many years and a “centre-right” force in the ALP.

Frank Knopfelmacher: A Sudeten German from Czechoslovakia, a notorious anti-communist academic.

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