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.’

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

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8 VENEZUELA LIES THE US GOVERNMENT & MAINSTREAM MEDIA WANT YOU TO BELIEVE — Desultory Heroics

By Makia Freeman Source: Waking Times Venezuela lies abound. Both the USG (United States Government) and its lapdog MSM (Mainstream Media) have been going into overdrive, exaggerating or just plain lying about the state of affairs in Venezuela. Truth is always a casualty of war, and it’s also a casualty of pre-war, as the NWO […]

via 8 VENEZUELA LIES THE US GOVERNMENT & MAINSTREAM MEDIA WANT YOU TO BELIEVE — Desultory Heroics

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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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Everyone Has Fallen for the Lies About Venezuela — Desultory Heroics

By Lee Camp Source: truthdig There are three things I know for sure in this fanciful, sometimes inglorious experience we call life: You will never have a safety pin when you need one, and you will have thousands when you don’t need one. Wild animals are breathtakingly majestic until they’re crawling up your pant leg. […]

via Everyone Has Fallen for the Lies About Venezuela — Desultory Heroics

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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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MyMaster essay cheating scandal: More than 70 university students face suspension

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A bad joke that can be compared to drug dealing – the little fish get caught, shamed and punished while the big fish, those in power, are honoured and protected. Their shit never stinks.

The most ruthless, treacherous, despicable cheats and thieves are those who work in academia. Why do I state this?

It is one thing for a common thief to steal – they do so without ethical pretence.

Thieves in academia, with their titles, tassled caps and glorious flowing gowns (the further up the food chain, the more impressive) lay claim to and trumpet the highest intellectual and ethical standards – standards used by the universities as primary recruitment and marketing tools.

In secular societies, the universities position themselves as the guardians of those values.

Academics regularly warn students (in class, online and in print) not to breach those standards, telling them that if they do, they will face dire consequences – then, ever on the look-out, ever scanning the flow of papers before them, these same academics wipe their boots on those standards at the first opportunity.

Such people regard exploitation as their right.

‘Guilty conscience’ in relation to their self has no meaning for them (although possibly they lecture with profundity on it). Looking you straight in the face, their lies flow with educated ease.

To lie as a justification for exploitation is their right.

In a culture dripping with shame, such people people are shameless.

You are their student, they are your master. Like the Upanishads, your place and that of the results of your intellectual efforts is at their feet – the first in awe, the second as offering.

These people are motivated, contrary to the hype and blather pumped out by the universities as they compete for funding and students every semester, not by a love for knowledge and its development and by a commitment, above all, to that most un-Australian of concepts – vision – but by the acquisition and use of knowledge in the service of their masters the bourgeoisie, by the maintenance of their position and power, and a lust for more power and kudos.

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Article in The Sydney Morning Herald 21.03.15

Logos: COFA (now UNSW Art & Design)/UNSW/University of Sydney

‘A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do’

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Remembrance Day in a fearful, servile culture

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…The historian Peter Cochrane recently reminded us in his book Best We Forget that prime minister Billy Hughes spelled it out explicitly. “I bid you go and fight for White Australia in France,” he told Australians in 1916.

It underlined a complicated truth: one of Australia’s central reasons for entering World War I was not as simple as standing with the “mother country”. It was to seal in blood a relationship to ensure Britain would protect White Australia against the feared future expansionist ambitions of Japan, even though Japan was an ally in World War I.

White Australia remained an article of domestic faith and international condemnation until the policy was dismantled in the 1960s and replaced with multiculturalism in 1972.

Yet, a century on, echoes remain. Australians and their parliamentarians in 2018 are restive about immigration, express anxiety about the expansionist ambitions of Asians to our north – it’s China now – and recently, senators even tied themselves in knots over the question of whether it was “OK to be white”.

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The Mongolian Octopus: his grip on Australia 1886

White Australia began dealing with those it deemed “undesirable” or a threat at home during the Great War by detaining and deporting thousands of mainly German-Australians, including naturalised Australians.

More than 7000 were detained in what were called “concentration camps”, and more than 5000 were deported. Scores of German-sounding towns were renamed — 69 of them in South Australia alone under an Act of Parliament known as the Nomenclature Committee’s Report On Enemy Place Names.

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A century later, Australia still detains and deports those it doesn’t want on its shores. And today’s Australia – which long ago switched its hopes of protection to the United States, marching and sailing off to American-led wars from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan – remains a constitutional monarchy, its head of state the Queen.

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Old ties, sealed in blood, die hard. …

Tony Wright, ‘The long reach of old war ties, sealed in blood’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 09.11.18

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It is proved in the pamphlet that the war of 1914-18 was imperialist (that is, an annexationist, predatory, war of plunder) on the part of both sides; it was a war for the division of the world, for the partition and repartition of colonies and spheres of influence of finance capital, etc.

Proof of what was the true social, or rather, the true class character of the war is naturally to be found, not in the diplomatic history of the war, but in an analysis of the objective position of the ruling classes in all the belligerent countries. In order to depict this objective position one must not take examples or isolated data (in view of the extreme complexity of the phenomena of social life it is always possible to select any number of examples or separate data to prove any proposition), but all the data on the basis of economic life in all the belligerent countries and the whole world.

It is precisely irrefutable summarised data of this kind that I quoted in describing the partition of the world in 1876 and 1914 (in Chapter VI) and the division of the world’s railways in 1890 and 1913 (in Chapter VII). Railways are a summation of the basic capitalist industries, coal, iron and steel; a summation and the most striking index of the development of world trade and bourgeois-democratic civilisation. How the railways are linked up with large-scale industry, with monopolies, syndicates, cartels, trusts, banks and the financial oligarchy is shown in the preceding chapters of the book. The uneven distribution of the railways, their uneven development—sums up, as it were, modern monopolist capitalism on a world-wide scale. And this summary proves that imperialist wars are absolutely inevitable under such an economic system, as long as private property in the means of production exists.

The building of railways seems to be a simple, natural, democratic, cultural and civilising enterprise; that is what it is in the opinion of the bourgeois professors who are paid to depict capitalist slavery in bright colours, and in the opinion of petty-bourgeois philistines. But as a matter of fact the capitalist threads, which in thousands of different intercrossings bind these enterprises with private property in the means of production in general, have converted this railway construction into an instrument for oppressing a thousand million people (in the colonies and semicolonies), that is, more than half the population of the globe that inhabits the dependent countries, as well as the wage-slaves of capital in the “civilised” countries.

Private property based on the labour of the small proprietor, free competition, democracy, all the catchwords with which the capitalists and their press deceive the workers and the peasants are things of the distant past. Capitalism has grown into a world system of colonial oppression and of the financial strangulation of the overwhelming majority of the population of the world by a handful of “advanced” countries. And this “booty” is shared between two or three powerful world plunderers armed to the teeth (America, Great Britain, Japan), who are drawing the whole world into their war over the division of their booty. …

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Private Alfred Jackson Coombs was one of at least 1000 Indigenous Australians who fought in WWI (and who were pushed aside on their return).

…The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk dictated by monarchist Germany, and the subsequent much more brutal and despicable Treaty of Versailles dictated by the “democratic” republics of America and France and also by “free” Britain, have rendered a most useful service to humanity by exposing both imperialism’s hired coolies of the pen and petty-bourgeois reactionaries who, although they call themselves pacifists and socialists, sang praises to “Wilsonism”, and insisted that peace and reforms were possible under imperialism.

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This man was not named. The only information with this image: ‘Australian War Memorial PO6131.006, PO6131.004’

The tens of millions of dead and maimed left by the war—a war to decide whether the British or German group of financial plunderers is to receive the most booty—and those two “peace treaties”, are with unprecedented rapidity opening the eyes of the millions and tens of millions of people who are downtrodden, oppressed, deceived and duped by the bourgeoisie. Thus, out of the universal ruin caused by the war a world-wide revolutionary crisis is arising which, however prolonged and arduous its stages may be, cannot end otherwise than in a proletarian revolution and in its victory.

V.I.Lenin, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, 1917, Preface to the French and German Editions

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The most powerful country of capital

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Trotsky in a 1922 ‘cubist’ portrait by Yuri Annenkov. A version of this appeared on one of the earliest covers of Time magazine – November 21, 1927.

In the United States, the most powerful country of capital, the present crisis has laid bare frightful social contradictions with striking forcefulness. After an unprecedented period of prosperity which amazed the whole world with its fireworks of millions and billions, the United States suddenly entered a period of unemployment for millions of people, of the most appalling physical destitution for the toilers. Such a gigantic social convulsion cannot fail to leave its traces on the political development of the country. Today it is still hard to ascertain, at least from this distance, any measure of important radicalisation in the American working masses. It may be assumed that the masses themselves have been so startled by the catastrophic upheaval in the conjuncture, so stunned and crushed by unemployment or by the fear of unemployment, that they have not as yet been able to draw even the most elementary political conclusions from the calamity that has befallen them. This requires a certain amount of time. But the conclusions will be drawn. The tremendous economic crisis, which has taken on the character of a social crisis, will inevitably be converted into a crisis of the political consciousness of the American working class. It is quite possible that the revolutionary radicalisation of the broadest layers of workers will reveal itself, not in the period of the greatest decline in the conjuncture, but on the contrary, during the turn toward revival and upswing. In either case, the present crisis will open up a new epoch in the life of the American proletariat and of the people as a whole. Serious regroupments and clashes among the ruling parties are to be expected, as well as new attempts to create a third party, etc. With the first signs of a rise in the conjuncture, the trade union movement will acutely sense the necessity of tearing itself loose from the claws of the despicable AFL bureaucracy. At the same time, unlimited possibilities will unfold themselves for Communism.

In the past, America has known more than one stormy outburst of revolutionary or semi-revolutionary mass movements. Every time they died out quickly, because America every time entered a new phase of economic upswing and also because the movements themselves were characterised by crass empiricism and theoretical helplessness. These two conditions belong to the past. A new economic upswing (and one cannot consider it excluded in advance) will have to be based, not on the internal ‘equilibrium’, but on the present chaos of world economy. American capitalism will enter an epoch of monstrous imperialism, of an uninterrupted growth of armaments, of intervention in the affairs of the entire world, of military conflicts and convulsions. On the other hand, in the form of Communism the masses of the American proletariat possess – rather, could possess, provided with a correct policy – no longer the old mélange of empiricism, mysticism and quackery, but a scientifically grounded, up—to-date doctrine. These radical changes permit us to predict with certainty that the inevitable and relatively rapid, revolutionary transformation of the American proletariat will no more be the former, easily extinguishable ‘straw fire’, but the beginning of a veritable revolutionary conflagration. In America, Communism can face its great future with confidence.

Leon Trotsky, Germany 1931-1932, New Park Publications Ltd., London, 1970, 5-7

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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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