Hawke and Keating – the bosses’ men

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Eight Hour Banner, Melbourne, 1856

Contradicting the immediate elevation to national sainthood of Bob Hawke (soon to be Australia’s Abe Lincoln?) by the capitalist media and political agents of the bourgeoisie (regarding the Labor Party, note the American spelling of ‘labour’), across the board from ‘left’ to ‘right’, following his death yesterday, the article below points to why the bourgeoisie and their lackeys thought and think so highly of both him and Keating.

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Luke Faulkner, ‘When did unions become the bad guys?’ ABC News, updated 25.09.07

How things have changed since April 1983 when Bob Hawke’s union credentials were seen as a big plus in his quest to get into the Lodge.

Hawke’s ability to work in partnership with the union movement through the Prices and Incomes Accord was a direct result of his ACTU history.

While a drover’s dog could have won the 1983 election for the Labor Party, it is unlikely that the Accord would have been introduced, let alone remain in operation for the entire period of the Labor Government, had Hawke not had a union history.

The union movement, the Accord and the federal Labor government worked well together during the Hawke years.

The fact that the Labor Party was the political child of the union movement was not only openly confessed to, but proactively touted; especially come election time. And it worked, time and time again.

The wider Australian community which benefited from tax cuts, funding for job creation and training, extra child care places and other benefits negotiated as features of the Accord, was also happy with the role of unions.

This period of widespread union popularity and acceptance under Hawke and the Accord was not unusual but, rather, a reflection of how things had always been in Australia. Unions were an acceptable, indeed a necessary, feature of Australian working life.

So, when did unions become the bad guys? As always, there is more than one explanation.

Poisoned chalice

First there was the Accord itself.

Odd though it may seem, it could well be argued that the period in which unions had most input into the formulation of government policy was also the one which heralded their downhill slide; with one addition – Paul Keating.

Each of the ‘editions’ of the Accord (and there were eight of them) specified how, when and where pay improvements could be secured.

Pay rises were no longer won – they were awarded and any union which tried to step outside the very strict stipulations of the Accord was quickly and severely punished.

The airline pilots’ dispute in 1989 is the most obvious example of the Government response to rogue union action, though there were a number of others.

Unions became complacent. Life was easy.

The fighting spirit that had been honed over previous generations and which had resulted in great benefits being won for working people was weakened by the Accord.

With this loss of spirit came a loss of respect – from friend and foe alike.

Union members noticed the inability to strive for improvements in pay and conditions over those stipulated, and the concurrent (though possibly not related) decline in real wages over the Accord.

They blamed their full-time officials and then questioned the benefits of spending their weekly union dues when most of the same benefits negotiated under the Accord were accessible to the wider, non-union, community. The decline in union popularity started with their own members.

Keating’s EFAs

Paul Keating is another reason for the demise of union popularity. Keating wasn’t Hawke. He believed that unions inhibited organisational flexibility and productivity.

He introduced ‘Enterprise Flexibility Agreements’ (EFAs) – organisation-specific non-union collective bargaining mechanisms.

This was the first in a series of anti-union changes to the industrial legislation laws.

Between 1991-1996 he increasingly divorced himself and his government from being perceived as being political tool of the union movement. The last three editions of the Accord clearly reflect this change.

The Accord became a series of motherhood statements rather than a comprehensive policy document.

We are all aware that anti-union laws have increased over the years. What was forgotten is that Keating started it with the introduction of EFAs. …

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Eight hour day procession

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As I predicted…with a lot more of this to come

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Assange makes a statement outside the High Court in London in February 2016, when he had already spent three years holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy.

Suelette Dreyfus, ‘EU hails Assange while Australia does nothing’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 18.04.19

The European Parliament passed a law this week to protect whistleblowers across 28 countries, with support from 591 MEPs to just 29 against, while some abstained and some were absent. This new EU “directive” may have been inspired in part by WikiLeaks’ reporting, but it will not help its founder, Julian Assange, who is already sitting in a British high-security prison, Belmarsh, under harsh conditions.

Assange faces a UK charge of skipping bail. He always said he skipped bail because the US government wanted to put him in a US prison. He was correct.

Now the US is attempting to extradite Assange to face criminal proceedings. Its single charge against him is about an event that happened nearly a decade ago – and it is a serious threat to media freedom.

This was the view of many in the meeting rooms at the European Parliament in Strasbourg this week. On Monday night the Parliament’s plenary passed a motion to discuss Assange’s plight. A stream of MEPs from different countries told the chamber of their worry for his safety, proposed giving him asylum in Europe, and insisted he not be extradited to the US.

A few journalists have claimed US criminal proceedings are not a threat to press freedom because “Assange isn’t a journalist”. Why? Because he “just dumped” US military documents, the “War Logs”, in an unredacted form. This is inaccurate.

When WikiLeaks published the Afghanistan War Logs, it withheld more than 15,000 records. Its next major publication, the Iraq War Logs, was more heavily redacted – so much so that other media outlets complained.

Assange is both a journalist and a publisher; he has led fearless news reporting over more than a decade. His digital media outlet has worked like a wire service: it publishes straight, fact-based news pieces, supported by data sets of redacted original material. Media around the globe have taken these news pieces and expanded them by enhancing the stories with local content, as they might with an AP news story.

Traditional media outlets have now copied many innovations by Assange. These include installing anonymous digital drop boxes, publishing large redacted data sets in support of investigative news stories, hiring data science journalists, and encouraging reporters to improve their cybersecurity to protect sources.

I previously worked with Assange, writing the book Underground, and other journalism. What I witnessed was an investigative journalist at work. He had a strong news sense, sought to report the facts accurately, was a good writer, and believed in reporting news in the public interest. Since 2007, he has been a member of the journalists’ trade union, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance.

That the EU Parliament is moving to protect whistleblowers, and many of its members are so concerned about Assange, begs the question: why isn’t the Australian government using its special relationship with Britain to ask for its own citizen to be sent safely home? Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s throw-away lines about Assange’s case raises questions about whether he is a leader who will look after Australians in strife overseas. This is one of the roles of a government.

Labor leader Bill Shorten could easily follow the lead of his British Labour counterpart, Jeremy Corbin, who stated he does not think Assange should be extradited to the US. But he hasn’t yet.

The US criminal charge puts at risk the public interest chain of investigative journalism: the information path of whistleblower from journalist to publisher to the public. This chain depends on technology, particularly for security and anonymity protections. An attack on any part of this chain will weaken this corrective mechanism that exposes corruption in our society.

Whether you agree or disagree with Assange, he has transformed journalism, and turned whistleblowing from a corruption issue into a freedom-of-expression issue. If this extradition goes forward, expect the chill of a coming winter in media freedom.

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Two courageous Australians

Although John Pilger and Julian Assange lack class analysis they are two fine Australians. No aping of the US accent here, no Texan pronunciation of ‘Iraq’ nor beginning every response with ‘So…’.

Principles and no servility, unlike that of their culture and government which can’t wait to abandon Assange to the enraged US capitalist class and their agents (that the ‘Christian’ Prime Minister Morrison said that Assange ‘won’t get any special treatment’ by the Australian government to represent him is an early indicator), just as they did Mamdouh Habib and the token white Taliban David Hicks, even while every other country, including Britain, was demanding the return of their citizens from Guantanamo Bay).

I highly recommend this video.

Watch developments as the Australian government (either Liberal or Labor – note the American spelling – post the upcoming federal election), so big and tough in relation to China (but not too much – as ex-PM Abbott said, ‘fear and greed’ are the drivers in Australia’s myopic relations with China), abandons a fine Australian to his fate.

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Two letters to the editor: on the servility and racism of a fearful nation

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Prime Minister Harold Holt and President Johnson

Two letters to the editor, The Sydney Morning Herald, 27.03.19

Memorial a sham that glorifies wars fought for other countries

I’m looking for a letter which says “don’t extend the Australian War Memorial, demolish it”.

None of the Australian personnel who served, suffered and died in World War I, and subsequent wars, made their sacrifice for Australia.

It was all for the Mother Country, or to keep sweet with the US.

Everybody remembers Menzies saying: “It is my melancholy duty to inform you officially that, in consequence of the persistence of Germany in her invasion of Poland, Great Britain has declared war upon her, and that, as a result, Australia is also at war”.

Everybody remembers Holt’s “all the way with LBJ”.

Everybody remembers Hasluck pressuring the Americans to request an Australian battalion to join US combat troops in South Vietnam.

I except the 624 regular army and Citizen Military Forces members killed on the Kokoda track while defending Australia against the Japanese.

I also except the tens of thousands of unknown partisans who were hunted and shot down defending their homeland in the bitter guerrilla war fought on Australian soil from 1788 to 1928.

The present war glorification park is a joke.

It is a sham hatched by John Howard and Professor Geoffrey Blainey and about to be brought to fruition by Dr Brendan Nelson.

Kenneth Griffiths, O’Connor

Face up to early conflict

Brendan Nelson (“Indigenous gargoyles to stay at Australian War Memorial”, canberratimes.com.au, June 4, 2015) said the AWM did not have the resources to deal with the armed conflict between Indigenous and white Australians.

However, $350 million was spent on the Anzac Centenary and $485 million allocated for memorial expansion.

There are still no plans to memorialise the Frontier Wars. The director’s argument is surely not sustainable.

The AWM, or the director, have also argued from time to time that war was never declared against Indigenous Australia, nor were the Frontier Wars fought overseas.

Once again these are weak arguments as we never declared war on North Vietnam but we rightly memorialise the conflict.

The AWM seems also to have overlooked that significant armed conflict occurred on Australian soil in Darwin in World War II. This is dealt with appropriately in the galleries.

One can conclude that our past is just too grim and we haven’t matured enough to acknowledge these wars.

But we must.

Germany has been able to face its Nazi past and emerged stronger as it faces the future.

We cannot grow as a nation until we have come to grips with the blood that was spilt in the Frontier Wars; wars that may have taken more Australian lives than World Wars I and II combined, and wars that shaped our nation.

Digby Habel, Cook

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To illustrate the depth of Australian servility to their latest anglophone bully-boy-on-the-block-master, I add a quotation from the Australian War Memorial website which addresses the ‘award’ as a ‘battle honour’ of an American word to the name for the Track on which approximately 625 Australian soldiers died and on which no American soldiers fought (If you search the War Memorial website for ‘Kokoda Track’ up will come links to ‘Kokoda Trail’. Do you think the Americans would re-name any of their trails ‘track’, let alone one on which so many of their citizens had died fighting for their country?):

From: http://www.awm.gov.au/units/event_291.asp

“Kokoda Trail” and “Kokoda Track” have been used interchangeably since the Second World War and the former was adopted by the Battles Nomenclature Committee as the official British Commonwealth battle honour in October 1957.

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Ozzies find their meaning and worth in acting for their masters

Australia, the 51st state

Jennifer Duke, ‘Huawei executive hits out at Turnbull’ The Sydney Morning Herald 14.03.19

‘A senior Australian Huawei executive has hit back at former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull for urging the UK to ban the Chinese telecommunications equipment giant for its future mobile networks.

Last week, Mr Turnbull told prominent British MPs at a London think tank event that a recent hack of Australian political parties proved agile responses were need to counter growing cyber threats and urged them not to allow companies like Huawei to participate in building the ultra-fast 5G mobile networks.

The Australian government imposed a ban on Huawei’s involvement in 5G in August on security grounds, shortly before Mr Turnbull was replaced as prime minister by Scott Morrison.

In a lengthy response provided to this masthead before publication on the Huawei website, the telco’s director of corporate affairs, Jeremy Mitchell, under the title “Australia pays for Malcolm’s 5G muddle”, criticised the former PM for swallowing “hook, line and sinker” a “myth” there was bigger security risk in a 5G network.

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The Mongolian Octopus: his grip on Australia 1886

He said the “myth was born after [Mr Turnbull’s] visit to the US in February 2018” and said Huawei knew “more about 5G networks than any agency would, or could”.

Mr Mitchell argued Huawei was willing to share information and work with governments to ensure privacy and security but”[u]nfortunately, under Mr Turnbull’s watch this didn’t happen”.

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“Now that Huawei is excluded from the Australian 5G mix, telco operators will be paying around 30 per cent more for the second-best technology,” he said.

…Mr Turnbull was approached for comment.’

Australian servility 4

Ex- prime minister Julia Gillard, The Sydney Morning Herald n.d.

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Australia Day 2016 – a servile, shame-based culture

Cringe on the beach

Whoever made this image has a feeling for dialectics.

A castle on the beach (white Australia’s holy of holies), topped by the white Australian flag, itself topped by the flag of its parent nation and first master.

A vertical red strip from the cross of England’s patron saint balances on a white Antipodean star. The emphatic rays of the former drown those twinkling from the latter.

A block of monochrome certainty, a fortress sans entrance floats on a pale yellow expanse, equally uncertain.

The ideal sands of laid-back, nature-loving egalitarianism? Or indistinguishable hovering hordes eyeing paradise at the arse-end of the earth?

The castle, clearly a symbol in its simplified starkness appears to utterly contrast with its ground, yet it is built from it. Moisture maintains its fragile form.

What appears most certain is threatened, even in its building, with uncertainty and destruction.

Will it be kicked down and disappear, or will the next tide (of whom? from where?) wash it away?

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Image: The Sydney Morning Herald 26.01.16

Middle class Australian to bathroom mirror ‘Oh God, I’m so decent it hurts. It’s like a haemorrhoid!’

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Kaye Fallick, ‘Fixing pension poverty is the main issue’, YourLifeChoices 22.02.19

‘First, let’s get some facts on the table.

Above is an index of 14 OECD nations with which Australia regularly compares its wealth and economic indicators. But you will rarely see this particular index, because we come last out of the top 14 OECD economies, and second last out of the full list of 35 nations. The table measures the percentage of citizens aged 66 and over who live in relative poverty, defined by an income of less that 50 per cent of the median household disposable income for that nation.

You will note the OECD average is 12.5 per cent. Older Australians living in poverty measure 25.7 per cent. This is the second worst ranking, after Korea at 45.7 per cent. Nations with similar economies to Australia – say Canada, United Kingdom or United States – measure 9 per cent, 13.8 per cent and 20.9 per cent respectively.

So, what has gone wrong?

Put in simple terms, since the early 1990s, with the introduction of compulsory superannuation, at a flat percentage, regardless of your salary, this system has worked to reward those on higher salaries. So, if you earn $40,000 in today’s dollars, your superannuation guarantee contribution (SGC) of 9.5 per cent should add $3800 per year to your retirement savings.

However, if you earn $150,000, your SGC will add $14,250 to your retirement nest egg. And because you have more discretionary income, you may take advantage of salary sacrifice or extra contributions adding further to your future retirement income.

So, what seemed like a good idea at the time has contributed to a widening gap between the retirement haves and have-nots.

This gap has widened in Australia compared with the world’s advanced economies, with the exception of Korea, we have the most older adults living in poverty – more than one quarter of our senior population. And it is no surprise that those in the ‘cash-strapped’ retirement tribe (the 15 or so per cent of Age Pension recipients who rent) are doing it toughest. They manage to ‘exist’ on the pension, but often go without essential nutrition, household heating, or much needed preventative healthcare. …’

Then there’s the on-going behaviour by middle-class Australians (of course, at arm’s length, through their representatives) towards Australia’s first people and their on-going behaviour towards refugees and asylum-seekers – the most calculating and brutal policies of any Western nation towards these people and a model for them – even Trump was impressed by them.

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Shame and the need to shame – a nation of little spirits

In the mid-1990s, Ansett painted a Waltzing Matilda mural on the side of one of its Boeing 737-300s

In the mid-1990s, Ansett painted a Waltzing Matilda mural on the side of one of its Boeing 737-300s

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Email sent to Phillip Adams 02.12.04

Dear Mr. Adams,

I listened to your interview of Peter Conrad a couple of weeks ago with interest. I particularly appreciated not only his dismissal of ‘Gerald’ Henderson, but the way in which he did it, making it perfectly clear that for Conrad, Henderson’s sufficient descriptor is ‘pompous non-entity’ – and I would add, ‘in a provincial pond’. That Henderson should be given regular airings in the Herald and particularly on the ABC’s Radio National is sad evidence for the second part of my assertion.

I have also read the text of Conrad’s first three Boyer lectures. And they are, as I expected from an academic in the humanities, very frustrating. They barely move beyond a cascading display of learning, a preening of feathers, facilitated by a telling of tales, through the soft-focus of history. Charming and informative anecdotes follow upon each other. Bitterness – yes, material to work with – yes, but Conrad has so far given no indication of engaging with the depth of meaning and content that exists in the subject. His lectures sketch an interesting stream leading to our provincial pond, but the exposure and analysis of the destructiveness of the pond and how that destructiveness functions runs very weakly.

Nothing that Conrad has said so far can explain, e.g., the depth of cultural sickness in this country as displayed in that part of the closing ceremony of the 2000 Olympics when a song ‘celebrating’ the suicide by drowning of a failed petty thief, as he ran from authority, was sung by ‘candlelight’ by a packed stadium – as a hymn. Contrast this song with that of ‘John Brown’s Body’, a song of the U.S. Civil War which justifiably celebrates the courage of a man who stood against both authority and prejudice in the defence of black rights and was hung.

When one speaks of ‘Australia’ rhyming with ‘failure’ one speaks, essentially, not of what others have done to us and have told us about ourselves, but of what we have done and continue to do to ourselves and to each other. Although progress has been made and is being made, particularly as a result of immigration, Australian culture has shame and therefore the need to shame – this is where ‘tall poppy syndrome’, ‘nation of knockers’ come in – at its heart and coursing through its veins.

Our culture is built around the ‘celebration’ of (‘nobility’ in the face of) loss, failure and defeat. You are one of the very few people I have heard raise this and show interest in examples: Burke and Wills, Kelly, Breaker Morant, Dad and Dave, the heroes of Paterson and Lawson, Lasseter, Phar Lap, Les Darcy, Haines and Whitlam. Roy and HG’s savagely titled ‘The Dream’ (as Doyle said ‘If it rises above a blade of grass, cut it down.), the ABC’s Australian Story…

And in particular, Gallipoli. In 1990, when the inevitable letters from Private Jones to his mother began appearing in the papers, ex-pat Phillip Knightley argued that if we, as Australians, are going to ‘celebrate’ our involvement in the First World War (the first capitalist world war over areas of exploitation), rather than celebrating a defeat experienced on behalf of a dominant power, we should celebrate the victories of the Australian troops, e.g. on the Western Front. The ABC’s Richard Glover responded with a most bizarre article in the Sydney Morning Herald ‘Bruce Ruxton is right: we should embrace the legends of defeat’, (SMH 20.04.90 – I emailed him about this) arguing that we celebrate Gallipoli, as with our other failures, precisely because it was a defeat.

What is the sickness that runs through the above? More than that they focus on defeats and failures, it is that these are made a cause for celebration. The message in these ‘celebrations’ is the dark side of the myth of Australian egalitarianism, a myth cultivated in affluence and sunlight – the cultural imperatives ‘Thou shalt be laid back!’ and ‘Thus far and no further!’ Dream to (or worse) go beyond the cultural limits and you will be broken.

And the cultural limits are those of capital (I understand the words of Waltzing Matilda were shaped by the requirements of advertising) – you can dream, but only the small dreams of consumption – 1/4 acre block, $60,000 + p.a., 2 and 1/2 kids etc. The celebration of defeat is still not the fundamental issue, it is the celebration of a lesson. Will Conrad address this basic issue of shame as a means of class control. I doubt it increasingly as his lectures progress. He is too much the comfortable gentleman.

On the global stage we relate shame-based – both servile to a dominant power – first England, now the US (cultural imperialism only partially explains our dilemma) – and bullying in our region (Asia and the Pacific). That the ‘Deputy sheriff’ won’t sign a non-aggression pact with ASEAN is entirely consistent. What is not licked should be kicked. Our need for approval has led us into a closeness of relationship with the US as a result of which, I believe, serious consequences for this country are yet to happen.

The same need for approval (this time, awarded by ourselves) has been used by the government to cover its purpose for ‘going to the aid of’ the East Timorese – after 25 years of silence by Liberal and Labor governments and the deaths of 400,000. What else could explain such sickening, back-slapping hypocrisy, so many white, beaming faces, such an absence of geopolitical and economic analysis? The on-going corporate attempt to rape this poorest nation, even as it was declared a nation is the clearest pointer to the reality of Australia’s ‘rescue’ of East Timor.

Our self-loathing lies at the heart of the kicking Hanson got, and continues to get, even after she departed from politics. That those competing to sink the boot into Hanson the hardest were, without exception, the ‘educated’ middle-classes indicates how deeply shame and self-loathing run in our culture. Hanson was a test of how successfully we have dealt with our shame and the need to shame – and we failed that test – spectacularly. Her treatment by our ‘intelligentsia’ shows how deep and powerfully the current I write about flows. It is to her credit that Kingston showed Hanson some understanding.

That this nation has failed the test of national confidence, both internally and internationally is proven by Howard. He is in no way an aberration. He has risen from the heart of our culture and understands its meanness, shame and therefore the need to shame, intimately and instinctively. He has exploited this with absolute consistency to win four elections in a row. There could never be a clearer pointer, despite all assertions to the opposite, to how little this country has progressed in dealing with its cringe than this man and his government. Even Bush bases his meanness and aggression on his perception of the greatness of his nation, on its ‘right’ to impose itself on the world.

The greater one’s perceived capacity to achieve intellectual excellence and particularly one’s commitment to intellectual excellence, the greater the determination in our society that you should be broken, the more subtle, insidious and poisonous will be the range of devices employed against you – by family and friends. Ian Thorpe, recognising this, has assiduously (and successfully) cultivated a persona that bows to this Australian viciousness.

White, too, saw this nastiness and destructiveness – and to disguise the hurt of one who both loved and loathed what he saw and experienced, specialised in paying that nastiness back in kind. I don’t think he ever rose above that fundamental tension.

Australia will always be a servile nation until the shame – and the need to shame – that lie at its heart are named, focussed on and rooted out.

Phil Stanfield

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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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