Saturday, January 11, 2003

Conservatism revisited

For those interested there is a posting on conservatism at Christopher Pearson: A junk intellectual?. It explores Pearson's, 'Dissenters of attention', article in the Weekend Australian from the perspective of cultural criticism. C. Pearson is the editor of The Adelaide Review

Pearson strikes me as being pretty thin on the ground. Maybe I am missing something? An email from Dareen, which responds to the previous Sunday's post on Christopher Pearson, Junk intellectuals: A conservative laments offers an insight:

"I thought the SNAG piece [by Pearson] was bad enough (and was suitably annoyed to write an e-mail to Gummo), but this week's topped it. What irks me most is how Pearson uses ordinary, working people to back up his theories when he basically could not give a toss about them. I wonder when he last crossed Grand Junction, or Daws Rds? I certainly never saw the Adelaide Review in the foyer of the TAB at the Somerset Hotel.

The rehash of the 'end of history' stuff was just another tired cliche and ignores the numerous contemporary struggles of unionists (however socially conservative) against employers.Rarely do I get upset about what people write, but when you see yourself invoked as fodder for someone like Pearson, it's hard not to be."

It seems that a lot of these 'commentators' and'intellectuals' just create a non-existent phenomena and then put out some badly-argued dross. No wonder they hate blogs and self-produced or truly independent 'zines."

C. Pearson has a lot of work to do if he is to convince people that his conservatism is saying anything interesting or worthwhile on public issues.
Manas back online & with Aboriginal stuff

Manas is back and concerned about the bloody war. She has posted links to some of her material on 'Aborigines, Sovereignty and the Law' and 'Colonization and Genocide' from her academic studies.

Those interested should check this material out. There is very little commentary on these issues in the blogworld. Those who do actually work in this area do not write about them to inform public opinion. Congratulations to Manas for breaking the silence.

For those readers interested in the issue of Aboriginal rights and the complex relationship between citizenship rights and indigenous rights see Tim Rowse

In an important post on the current historian wars called The massage of history Ken Parish makes the following comment about the appalling violence in Aboriginal communities:

..."the appalling violence ... is the constant reality for far too many Aboriginal Australians. The situation is even worse in many (if not most) bush communities. I can't help wondering why the Australian "quality" press, not to mention much of the blogosphere, has been so obsessed for the last few weeks by an obscure, if entertainingly bitchy, squabble between academic historians about the extent of white massacres of Aborigines in Tasmania in the first half of the 19th century. It doesn't seem to have occurred to any of them that Aboriginal Australians in the early 21st century are killing, bashing and raping each other, not to mention sexually abusing their children, at rates that make the most brutal early Tasmanian settlers look like veritable saints".

It has Ken, it has .It is difficult to avoid the violence and abuse. So why no writing on this?

I don't really know. Unease? Not sure what to say? Lack of familiarity with the research material? But also because, it has been said very well by Aborigines themselves. As you say in your post:

"The current experience of Aboriginal people in northern Australia shows that such a goal [return of former traditional lands] is utterly irrelevant to the central practical tasks of tackling poverty, disease, violence, unemployment and the like. For these people the sorts of remedies advocated by Aboriginal leaders like Noel Pearson (education, training, jobs, development of sustainable commercial enterprises) are far more important priorities than pursuit of the chimera of regaining former traditional lands'.

The social democratic solution of welfare has caused welfare dependency and culture of Aboriginal society. This has to be broken because the traditional welfare approach has not worked in terms of delivering outcome of flourishing Aboriginal communities. Pearson says it so very well that I have nothing much to add.

And another reason perhaps. Things play out differently in the southern cities, such as Adelaide. Here urban and homeless aborigines have originally have come down from the Pit Lands and are in transition. They are generally seen as a public nuisance to be moved on by authorities. For instance, they have traditionally gathered in Victoria Square to drink, chat and pass the time of the day. But a hard core become aggressive, hostile and violent with booze. The solution adopted by the former Olsen Government has been to move them on, to the western and southern parklands of the city where they are out of sight. Since the booze, aggression, hostility and violence continues amongst the hardcore (who suffer from physical and mental health problems due to drug addiction), white people give them a wide berth. A booze bus----Mobile Assistance Patrol---come across in the evening to make sure they alright and/or to take them back to the sobering centre in Whitmore Square.

On the other hand, Adelaide is also a city with a rapidly increasing population of white homeless, who live in the Parklands and are dependent on the "soup kitchens" run by the Sisters of Mercy in Hutt Street.

Friday, January 10, 2003

New & Old Australian weblogs

I just came across this new Oz weblog Paul Watson. Paul's, The Kirby Link, is great. Very witty and on the money as they say in media land. Link courtesy of Keep up the good work Paul. Good to see that critical spirit.

Lets hope that old Mayne boy keeps up the good Socratic work in 2003 and the political thugs who don't like criticism kneecap him. There is no resignation with the Mayne boy. This is no grumbler who has capitulated before reality. This is critique in action.

That Mayne boy is keeping the lifeblood of democracy flowing at a time when the conservative tendency in culture disparages a critical political reasoners and mocks the starry-eyed reformer, as if they were some form of underlying who did not know their rightful place in the order of things. is an expression of the critical Australian spirit when Australian democracy is unguarded and vulnerable. is the watchdog of Australian democracy when the big Australian media has become the lap dog of an executive itching to go to war with Iraq. is a rebellion against the misuse of the critical spirit in a democratic society in need of the support of public opinion. The quality mass media as the bearers of public opinion now pontificate: they assume a position of political wisdom or statemanship standing above the political controversies. They make sage -like pronouncements----or at least they reckon that's what they are should be doing. Behind their pontifications stands an anti-critical spirit that sees the dissenting person as a fool.

I cannot shake off the feeling that our political institutions have a damaged relationship to critique.
Resignation: Tony Abbott on Welfare Reform

Tony Abbott, the federal Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations is in a Big Bang welfare reform mode.

To his credit Minister Abbott has put his finger on the-welfare-to-work system. In an edited version of a speech published in The Australian he says that people moving from unemployment to work generally face effective marginal tax rates of nearly 70 per cent and sometimes 100 per cent. He says:

"Adults on Newstart who earn an additional dollar pay 17c income tax. On top of the 17c lost through tax, they lose an additional 50c through benefit clawback once they've earned $31 a week, producing a 67 per cent effective tax rate for part time work in excess of about three hours."

As the Minister notes, this effective marginal tax rate is greater than the 48.5 per cent that cuts in at $60,00 per annum and which is seen to be constitute a significant disencentive to earn and achieve. Yet a 67 per cent effective marginal tax rate is not seen as a discentive for people to move from unemployment to work.

Newstart indeed. It is Falsestart.

Governments have known about this disincentive for a couple of decades and done nothing about it. On the contrary, they carefully crafted an image of unemployed as welfare bums and cheats for their middle class families struggling to make ends under a high tax regime. Government Ministers kept on saying that plenty of part-time work was being created through economic growth. These opportunites were not being grabbed with both hands by the welfare bums because they lived in a culture of dependency. So the unemployed needed lots of stick to discipline them into getting a job and embrace the work ethic.

The ministers knew that the 1980s neo-liberal economic policies had created long-term unemployment and that the unemployed needed to re-skill if they were to get jobs in the new information economy. But they did next to nothing to facilitate this. The 67 per cent effective marginal tax rate signifies the obstacles that were placed in the pathway to meaningful work. Much better for the educated unemployed to drop down the ladder to poorer jobs such as cleaning toilets.

Those who aspired to improve themselves were called job snobs. Instead of knuckling down and getting their hands dirty they stood on their dignity.

So they had to run faster without advancing on the economic treadmill. For the reality see "meika vonsamorzewski's" Dolebludger a blog and Yobbo's Unemployment, Mutual Obligation, HECS and more! that describe his experiences in WA.

Why the punishment of the unemployed? Genuine welfare reform for work in the new information economy is expensive. Under a neo-liberal mode of governance governments reasoned that what governments should do is become small and mean. This meant cutting back on public expenditure on the welfare state and on retraining whilst calling for a fair go for Australian families.

Newstart indeed. It is nothing like it. Its a pathway to the reinvented Victorian poor house.

Minister Abbott is a bit of a conservative intellectual and he likes to reflect on why things are so and not otherwise; on why governments have created the long-term problem of unemployment. Is this not a problem of their own making? Has not the federal Government wrought this on its own people in the name of making the economy efficient?

The reason for why things are this way, the Minister says, can be traced back to the nature of democracy. He quotes Keith Hancock, who says that "perhaps it is a weakness of democracy, that having willed an end, they try to shuffle out of willing the means." Minister Abbot interprets this along the following lines:

"In the end, Hancock's rueful judgement is a reflection on the historical quality of our political leadership. When democratic electorates reject good policy its the leadership rather than the voters who have failed."

Is it too much to expect that Minister Abbott include himself in this judgement? He has done very little to facilitate the reskilling to the new information economy. Don't believe me? The section on reskilling in Yobbo's Unemployment, Mutual Obligation, HECS and more! says:

"I wanted to work, so I opted to join a "work for the dole" program. Administration was my chosen field, so I was signed up for a 2-week "Adminstration Skills" workshop. "Great!" I thought, "Free Training!".

Lesson 1: Turning on your computer.
Lesson 2: How to find the little button that launches Microsoft Word.
Lesson 3: Learning decimals and fractions.

No, I am not making this up. After the compulsory two weeks, I changed my mutual obligation to "University Studies". Hey, Presto! No longer "unemployed". Another Work for the Dole success story."

You cannot call work-for-the-dole reskilling, other than being disciplined in the work ethic for low grade jobs. Its all pretty basic stuff premised on the assumption that the long-term unemployed are primarily unskilled, working class kids who need help with interview techniques and cv's.

Is Minister Abbott sufficiently self-reflective to see that the primary response of the Howard Government to the unemployment problem has been to punish them for being welfare bums? That it has failed to develop policies that facilitate the movement of long-term unemployment through decent pre-employment training and into the new jobs? Are Ministers Abbott and Vanstone sufficiently self-reflective to see that after nine yearsw in ofice the Howard Government is only beginning to connect its Sustainable Regions programme to good pre-employment training for the long-term unemployed.

A whole generation of highly educated Australians has also been tossed onto the scrap heap. The country has invested $100,000 in their education. There are no jobs commensurate with their skills. The lucky ones leave the country and become global citizens. Others work the checkout counters at Coles, drive taxis, do casual teaching and dream of full-time employment in a liberal university. Their employment security is purchased with the sacrifice of critical thinking. Others are told to jump on their bicycle, start up a small business and reinvent themselves as entrepreneurs.

Its called creating a low wage country on the US model. It means giving up the Australian dream, lowering your expectations, resigning yourself to the valuations of the marketplace and abolishing the ego. There is something regressive about this process-----a form of renunication of our desires for happiness; its what happens when the unemployed are treated as numbers not people.

What happens to the rage from this form of humiliation? Where does it go at a time when we are supposed to be alert but not alarmed; when we are supposed to be with George Bush or with the terrorists?

To his credit Minister Abbott has put his finger on the crux of the problem of genuine welfare reform: money.It can only be done; if the billions of dollars from "bracket creep", which are set to flow to the Treasury coffers over coming years, is used to fund welfare reform instead of being used to fund tax cuts for middle-income earners.

Don't hold your breathe. Everything points to tax cuts to keep the economy moving whilst continuing to create a low wage economy.

Thursday, January 09, 2003

The writing of Australian history revisited

For those interested there is a posting on the above issue at called Multiple interpretations of history. It responds to some remarks a posting by John Quiggin called More from Ron Brunton.

In this Quiggin post it is implied that, if history is a `complex terrain in which multiple stories and interpretations are represented', and if there is no way of deciding between such strikingly different accounts, then there is no reason for having university departments of history.

A little bit of philosophy is done on that second 'if'' so that we can have a debate on the vexing issues of writing Australian history. It is an attempt to bring the broader issues into play.

You only need a small coffee this time as the post is unfinished.

Cathie Clement has done a stirling job by updating the links to the history issue at Historians Discussion Forum.

The crux of the conflict is this. Keith Windshuttle argues that the Aborigines did not constitute a risk to the British settlers in Tasmania because they were too few in number. The so-called Black War was merely "a minor crime wave by two Europeanised black bushrangers". The interpretation he constructs from these considerations states that the Aborigines did not die out by being killed by the British colonists. They did so due to the effects of introduced diseases and because they "traded and prostituted their women to such an extent that they lost the ability to reproduce themselves".

In contrast, Lyndall Ryan reached an alternative interpretation in her 1981 book Aboriginal Tasmanians 1981. This interpretation holds that the Tasmanian Aborigines did indeed constitute a threat to British settlers and that the Black War was "a conscious policy of genocide", though not in the end a successful one, as the Aborigines survived.

What we have are different historians using the same sources to build different arguments and arrive at different conclusions. Two competing interpretations of frontier history in Tasmania are on the table, and these have become involved in, and an integral part of, the culture wars raging in this country. Frontier history is one of the battlegrounds so to speak.

Things get very messy at this point because politics and culture are involved in the history disputes. What Ryan does in her op.ed piece in The Australian Tuesday December 17. (no link) is pose the right question. She states that, 'No historian enjoys a monopoly over the truth', then asks:

"Two truths are told. Is only one "truth" correct"?

Basically, she argues that we should dump the idea of the ONE BIG TRUTH ----what philosophers call Absolute truth. By this it is mean that Truth that arises above history and it is eternally truth. Ryan proceeds to displace this conception of truth as complete objectivity by asking more questions:

"How is it that one historian reading these sources can find there was no frontier in Tasmania while others reading the same sources find there was Aboriginal resistance? Is it that one researcher has read the sources more carefully than anyone else? Is it that the story has been deliberately manipulated to fit particular political beliefs or ideological positionings? The answer is no."

The answer she gives after displacing Absolutet truth is to begin to walk down the pathway of interpretation:

"The nature of historical interpretation lies at the heart of such differences [between historians]. We can see history as a complex terrain in which multiple stories and interpretations are represented. Or we can see it as a one-dimensional discipline in which all ambiguity must be removed."

She favours the former over the latter, then says:

"The history of the Tasmanian Aborigines cannot be definitively written. Indeed, as we continue to uncover and examine the evidence, responsible scholars realise that no one can claim a final and complete "truth".

So what is discarded is absolute truth of God's eye in favour of historical interpretation and different perspectives within history. And she is right to dump this conception of truth because it is a part of the natural sciences and makes little sense in the writing of Australian history.

However, Ryan then confuses things with her language: throughout her text she deploys the positivist scientific langauge of 'fundamental proposition', and ' essential validity' throughout. This suggests that history is a social science concerned with Truth. Something has to give here. Either we are inside history constructing our interpretations or we are outside history like God.

The philosophical background to this crossroads can be found at under the postings, 'Windshuttle, empirical history, language', on January 2nd and 'Windshuttle, Fabrication & writing Australian history' on January 6th. These take up the interpretative pathway. From this perspective we can say that Ryan, in taking the interpretive pathway has yet to extricate herself from the positivist tradition of history as a social science. She has embraced interpretivism (or hermenutics) but still finds herself speaking the language of positivism.

However, Ryan leaves us with a key problem. How do we adjudicate/evaluate, decide between the competing big picture historical interpretationsofered by Herself and Windshuttle ? She doesn't tell us, but its an issue should take up.

Should we hold it against her that Ryan doesn't indicate how we decide between competing interpretations? Well, I reckon that Ryan has done enough in her op.-ed piece. Its a long way ahead of the junk often churned out by the regular journos. There is no reason to attribute a view to her that we cannot evaluate the competing interpretations, anything goes, or that there is no way of deciding between different interpretations. That would be unfair. All we can say is that she did not address the problem.

Update: Do check out the lively discussion that is taking place in the comments on Quiggin's More from Ron Brunton post.

Wednesday, January 08, 2003

Australian Conservatism
A tectonic cultural shift has taken place in Australia as a result of the war on terror and the Bali Bombing. This shift has reflected in the conservative op.-ed pieces in The Australian, the culture wars over the National Museum of Australia, the battles over the writing of the Australian history, an anxious, fearful and suspicious public mood and the emphasis on national security as the top priority.

What is the mentality of this new conservatism? Three op.ed pieces in The Financial Review give us an indication.

The first of these is Peter Robinson's piece, 'White Picket Fence Revival' (subscription required), and it describes the conservative mentality in terms of an inward-looking,"little Australia". This Australia has turned its back on the:

"...promises of multiculturalism in a flight away from the suburbs with strong ethnic populations. Even internationalism (in this island nation so dependent on trade) is becoming a dirty word."

"Little Australia" has also embraced a nostalgia for an older, partly mythical Australia of its dreams --captured in the image of John 'Howard's 1980s campaign advertising of the neat nuclear family and a white picket fence.

The second op.-ed is Howard Dick's,"Australia must shed white man's burden', (subscription required). This focuses on Australia relationships with other nation states and describes the mentality of "little Australia' as a preference for slanting towards the Anglo-American sphere. Howard Dick says:

" the highest level of federal cabinet we have ministers whose attitudes to Asia range from indifference to aversion and downright hostility. they encourage such attitudes in their departments and expound them in the media, which in turn relays them to our region.

Our "strategy" therefore portrays us a part of the a defiant axis of rich, white, Christian, English-speaking nations...All this was encapsulated in the Prime Minister's unfortunate "deputy sheriff " remark and his recent assertion of a right to pre-emptive strikes offshore."

This mentality encourages the revival of stereotypes of colonial, anti-Islam, white Australia. Dick says:

"Our high risk "strategy" is to turn our back on Asia; to arm Fortress Australia against our neighbours at immense cost; and to cultivate economic and political ties with America and Europe, as if were were in the North Atlantic.

The third op.ed. is John Carroll's, "Howard navigating a safe diplomatic course', (subscription required) which spells out the conservative mentality in terms Australia being a Western country located in Asia. Carroll says:

"Our culture is built on a Graeco-Christian base, with liberal democratic institutions and a commitment to universal human rights. This will not change. "

The big consequences of "little Australia" is the 'clash of a civilizations' . Carroll accepts this without flinching.

"There is enough truth in Samuel Huntington's 'clash of civilizations' thesis to take its conclusion seriously. The present "clash" is with Islam; or more precisely, with a fundamental terrorist organization driven to destroy the West.The next "clash" is likely to be with China. Huntington argues that Australia's security depends on maintaining the vitality of its core European culture, and forging as close an alliance as it can with the dominant Western power, the US."

These descriptions of the conservative mentality give us something to work with. There are different strands within this mentality, eg.,. the inward-looking Australia versus fostering solid relationships with Asian neighbours without pretending to be Asian. But what has been sketched about are the horizons of the new conservative mentality.
Californian Water Crisis

The saga of water politics in California continues. And the similarities with what is happening in the Murray-Darling Basin keep on increasing. This piece, California Report Supports Critics of Water Diversion in The New York Times states that that 33,000 fish died on the lower Klamath River last fall because the Bush administration allowed too much water to be diverted to farmers."

Sound familiar?

The 230-mile Klamath River, which flows from Oregon to the Pacific Ocean near Redwood National Park in California, supplies irrigation water to about 200,000 acres of farmland through the federal Klamath Reclamation Project. The water has been overcommitted and the demand for water by farmers has to be brought back into balance with the supply. that diversions from the river for agriculture are harmful. The 230-mile Klamath River, which flows from Oregon to the Pacific Ocean near Redwood National Park in California, supplies irrigation water to about 200,000 acres of farmland through the federal Klamath Reclamation Project.

According to the state scientific report the water flows in the new 10-year plan designed to keep water flowing to the farmers were too low to support fish. The low river flows threatened coho salmon, which are protected by the Endangered Species Act.

It is the same with the Murray River cod, the Murray River's wetlands and theCoorong's bird life.

And the farmer's response in California to this argument? Its the same response as in Australia. Attack the science as politically motivated.

Thus Dave Solem, manager of the Klamath Irrigation District, whose members farm about 40,000 acres of land irrigated with Klamath water, said he also viewed the state report with deep suspicion.

"All of these things are focused on one thing: to be used as evidence in court," Mr. Solem said. "I can guarantee this will be regurgitated many times over and over. It becomes scientific fact just because they put it out."

But there are differneces as well as similarities. Not all farmers in the Murray-Darling Basin disparge ecology. For instance, The Advertiser (no link) reports a Jeff Parish, the chief executive of Central Irrigation Trust, which operates the nine irrigation districts along the River Murray from Mannum to the state's border with Victoria, as saying that South Australian agricultural producers should look to halting the expansion of irrigated land, if they expected the eastern states to take seriously the calls for a reduction in upstream River Murray water consumption.

The continual expansion of agricultural land is what is behind the calls for water security and keeping the flow of water to irrigators. And wasteful practices continue: such as citrus growers watering during the middle of a hot day with the north wind blowing strong; or the refusal by rice and cotton growers in the Basin to change their current flood irrigation practices by upgrading their technology.

Much is made of the consequences of water reform. But it would only cost
to give the River Murray a chance to recover its health. Thats what it would cost on the trading market for 1500 gigalitres for environmental flows. So why not buy back some of the water licences?

Then Australia would be a world leader in resolving the water wars. the question is: Does it have the political courage to do so?

Tuesday, January 07, 2003

Plain talk

Laurie Brereton, that old Labor headkicker, from the NSW Right, can talk plain and talk sense when it comes to the war with Iraq. In his op-ed piece Keep us out of Bush's war on Iraq Brereton says:

"....overthrowing the government of a sovereign state is an extraordinary undertaking. And in any case I haven't seen much evidence to suggest that human rights is a driving element of US or UK policy. Nor is this part of the war against terrorism.

The truth is, US policy toward Iraq is less about the threat of weapons of mass destruction than it is about redrawing the strategic map of the Middle East. "Regime change" is about installing a pro-American regime in Baghdad. It's about changing the regime that controls Iraq's oil wealth. It's about putting in place a regime supportive of the US military presence in the Middle East."

It is naive to think otherwise.

At long last Australians are beginning to raise the geopolitical issues that sit behind the 'good versus evil' Iraqi war talk. Laurie then asks the right question:

"Where does Australia fit in all this? The short answer is we shouldn't fit in at all.

Having recently returned from the US, I must say I'm appalled by the poverty of debate on this issue – both in the media and the federal parliament."

So true Laurie. So true.

Something sad is happening to this country of ours. Laurie puts his finger on some of it:

"A substantial element of the Australian media, led by Rupert Murdoch's pro-US, pro-war The Australian newspaper, has failed to ensure effective scrutiny of the Government's gung-ho diplomacy. "

Laurie makes his position very clear:

"THERE can be no case for military action while UN weapons inspections continue without impediment. In the event of Iraqi obstruction of inspections, military action should only follow explicit authorisation from the Security Council. The ambiguous warning of "serious consequences" is insufficient".
In the event that the UN does authorise military force, Australian involvement should be limited to our present bilateral intelligence co-operation with the US. UN endorsement is not a determining factor in whether Australian troops should be committed. Nor does our strong alliance oblige Australia to automatically lend direct support to each and every US military action.

There is no substitute for an independent assessment of Australia's strategic and diplomatic interests. There is no compelling case for Australian troops to fight in Iraq – period."

This is good strategic thinking. Who else is doing it in public? Very few Why do so many wimp out? Why does the Australian Labor Party duck and weave? To ensure 'constructive ambiguity'? Or allow for 'wiggle room'?

And The Australian's response? It is summed by Brereton does his party no service. Brereton is acting to destablize the Labor Party and Simon Crean's leadership by not debating his views about war with Iraq in the party room. The argument put forward by Brereton is dismissed without engaging with it.

"The personal spleen he appears to exhibit ill becomes anyone who has often been given top billing by Labor but who seems to think that he has a unilateral right to bring the party down in public."

Maybe there is no engagement with the argument by The Australian against its own pro-war, all the way with the USA position because its editorial writers no longer know how to argue in a public debate?

Ironic isn't it. Our national newspaper's response to the geopolitical argument confirms Brereton's claim that the Australian media is responsible for the poverty of debate on the Iraq war issue in this country. Trouble is they don't realize it. Sad really.

If you stir up anxiety and fear with a war between 'us and them', 'be alert and look out for anything suspicious' and 'Islam is shaking the foundations of our liberal order', then this is what happens.

Would an attempted strip search in a Sydney street have happened to a well-known, contentious Australian politician pulled over by the police for committing a traffic offence?

Are the police becoming more paranoid? Or is their commitment to liberal principles diminishing?

Update: Its neither. Its the ghostly hand of ASIO as reported in Mufti denies having weapon. Apparently, the police were acting on intelligence reports that he had a gun, which is why 11 officers turned up to arrest him for a traffic offence in Sydney's southwest. The police accessed the 3 year "information" from their computerised COPS s databased and believed that Sheik Taj al-Dinal-Hilali was carrying a gun under his robes. The police insisted searching Sheik Taj al-Dinal-Hilali, he refused and was arrested.

The NSW police were alert and alarmed. They saw the spectre of al- Qa'ida inspired terrorism in Sydney's southwest and paniced. They had failed to take John Howard's message to be alert, but not alarmed, on board.

Interesting Blogs

On a lighter note. Have a look at these weblogs.

seablogger. Good content & excellent design.Takes weblogging into new territory. Literary in orientation
William Gibson.You know who.
Windshuttle: doing philosophy by numbers?

There is a post at on how Keith Windshuttle uses the philosophical underpinings of his empiricist history to tar his opponents. It is called, Windshuttle, Fabrication & writing Australian history. It shows how Keith does philosophy by numbers and the bag of tricks he uses to fight dirty.

Its rather a long post. You know what philosophers are like. Read it over a cup of coffee. Is it fisking? Sorry, I don't know what that bloggging term means.

Monday, January 06, 2003

The Australian Shifts to the Right Again? confirms what I had begun to suspect with the history wars. Our national newspaper, The Australian, has embraced cultural conservatism in a big way.

Stephen Mayne, who knows about these things, says the following in his daily comments to subscribers. It is by way of a response to a readers observation that the new editorial team has all the diversity, tone and cultural war energy of a Quadrant issue:

"Today's [Thursday 2 January] line-up is similarly unbalanced with Greg Sheridan hopping into Manne and the SMH for being too left wing and anti-US, Tim Blair attacking left-wing myths, former Liberal Paul Hasluck on Billy McMahon and the less clearly political Alan Dupont from ANU's Strategic and Defence Studies Centre. Since taking over as opinion editor, Tom Switzer has certainly thrown his pages open to a bunch of conservatives. There is Tim Blair, Janet Albrechtsen and now they've even picked up Christopher Pearson who was discarded by The Age for poor performance. "

Dead right. The Australian's pages have been thrown open to a bunch of conservatives.

The conservative shift has been reflected in this weblog in terms of my responses. See the post below Responses to the SMH Iraq War Editorial, which deals with The Australian'seditorial Case already made against Iraqi regime.It is reflected in the extensive attack on lefty interpretations of frontier history launched from the national newspaper.

This national platform undercuts the conservative lament that they are hard done by and a persecuted by (lefty) political correctness that drowns out alternative views when conservative op ed pieces are central to the national newspaper's opinion page.

The micro media is responding. On the history wars we have a post by David Morgan THE MASSACRE OF HISTORY; John Quiggin's Dead to Rights; and Robert Corr's Chipping away at a wall of lies;

Go bloggers go.

Historians on culture wars & rewriting Australian history

There is now a full on political debate taking place about the writing of Australian history that is scattered across the media and the small journals (links below) even attracting the interest of philosophers at in relation to fact, interpretation and text.

What are other historians saying about this far reaching public debate and the impact the cultural wars are having on their discipline? In the interest of opening up the debate, public opinion has given over its pages to a guest weblogger, Dr Cathie Clement, who put together a lot of the links in the previous weblog Windshuttle and the historians. The weblog below is a political intervention by a working historian concerned about the impact of the cultural wars on the telling and writing of Australian history. It clearly shows what issues the historians consider to be crucial, gives a detailed account of the conservative strategy in the field of history and shows us the tactics and strategies deployed by conservatives as they fight the cultural wars.

The battle for Australian minds
Dr Cathie Clement

Australia’s past is under the microscope. Allegations are flying thick and fast as scholars endeavour to defend “orthodox” history against the version preferred by Keith Windschuttle and his supporters. The term “orthodox”, as it is being used in the press, is misleading because, until the battle over Aboriginal history began, the historiography now targeted by conservative commentators was generally viewed as left-wing rather than orthodox.

A letter from Anne Brewster (Australian, 31/12/02) sums up the “orthodoxy” issue as follows:

"It’s misleading to refer to the work of Henry Reynolds and Lyndall Ryan as constituting a general orthodoxy. It’s not as if the arguments of these two historians have been adopted as commonplace beliefs in the broader Australian community. These two historians and others like them have attempted to intervene in widespread mistaken beliefs about contemporary Aboriginal advantage which prevent us from understanding the continuing impact of the violence of colonisation on Aboriginal people’s lifestyles. Keith Windschuttle’s “polemic” is an example of a conservative backlash which reinstates an “orthodox” disavowal of Aboriginal people’s suffering and deprivation of civil rights.

It is of interest and concern that, in the massive amount of publicity given to both Windschuttle’s book and the forthcoming review of the National Museum, no newspaper has identified the two issues as part of a long-running battle. That battle involves the use of press and political power to replace left-wing philosophy with right-wing philosophy in the writing, interpretation and general understanding of Australia’s Aboriginal history.

Whilst any extreme left-wing view of history is, at best, a fanciful version of the past, it is questionable whether the “conservative” view now being touted is any less flawed. That is why the strong views of “conservative” commentators are so worrying. They argue that “leftist” and/or “orthodox” historians have misled the Australian public but some of them are happily passing off speculation and unfounded assertions as “facts” in their bid to “disprove” the “politically correct” view. If people object to the influence of left-wing philosophy, eg museum displays that refer to massacres, let them use scholarly research and rational debate to prove that a problem exists. There will be no winners if the need for factual material is ignored in the haste to replace “politically correct” history in museums and school curriculums with history of another persuasion.

The battle mentioned above is now several years old. Its aim, it seems, is to prove that the government owes Indigenous Australians neither a national apology nor compensation, consciousness raising (through curriculum changes, museum displays, etc), land tenure, native title, reparation, or Sorry Days.

The current media focus is on the forthcoming review of the National Museum and the credibility of various accounts of race relations in Van Diemen’s Land. Seen as part of the long-running battle, those attacks are seen by some people to constitute part of a bid to undermine the credibility of the Mabo judgement, the High Court, the Bringing Them Home report, the new “orthodox” historiography, university history departments and museums.

Keith Windschuttle and Rod Moran have been the most vocal in the current debate. Commentators and editors who support their views include Paddy McGuinness, Miranda Devine, Christopher Pearson, Michael Duffy, Roger Sandall and Paul Sheehan. Those who have put forward alternate views include Bain Attwood, Shayne Breen, Graeme Davison, Mark Finnane, John Mulvaney, Robert Manne and Anne Summers.

It is unfortunate that some commentators are using the press in a bid to discredit people who tell of Indigenous Australians having suffered as a result of past government policies and/or violent action implemented by colonists and/or people responsible for the enforcement of British law. Errors made by high profile people have been targeted but subsequent press coverage has shown that all was not as it was made out to be. The detection of the so-called errors nonetheless remains, as is the case with remarks struck from the record in courts, part of people’s consciousness.

The aspects of the long-running battle that worry me the most are:

a) the use of journals, newspapers and complaints to government boards and ministers to attack museum professionals who dare to present information about massacres in their displays;

b) the denouncement of written and oral material that points to indigenous people having suffered (in any way) at the hands of “white” Australians;

c) selective use of written source materials to indicate that accounts of past suffering have been exaggerated;

d) the recasting of information from the public domain to imply that specific massacre stories lack credibility;

e) the suggestion that official records provide an accurate and complete account of colonisation activities and/or the administration of indigenous affairs;

f) the suggestion that written records can prove what happened in now controversial historical events;

g) the dismissal of oral testimony about the removal of children as ‘recovered memory’;

h) the dismissal of massacre stories as ‘bush gossip’ and ‘tales my granny told me’;

i) the making of unfounded allegations against indigenous storytellers to diminish their credibility;

j) the use of acknowledgments that not all removals of indigenous or mixed-blood children were “bad” to argue against use of the term ‘stolen generations’;

k) the magnification of errors of “fact” made by high profile Australians to undermine the credibility of the Mabo judgement, “orthodox” historiography, and university history departments; and,

l) the implication that individual errors of “fact” invalidate entire bodies of work.

In the recent press coverage, Dawn Casey, Sir William Deane, Henry Reynolds and Lyndall Ryan have all come under fire. They have all responded with admirable courtesy. Whilst that is as it should be, it is unfortunate that the current newspaper coverage ignores the Indigenous people who have come under fire. Is history repeating itself? An example follows.

The November 2002 issue of Quadrant dealt with stories about a massacre on Bedford Downs Station (WA). That massacre is the subject of several paintings in the “Blood on the Spinifex” exhibition, which will go from Melbourne to Canberra later this year, and it was the subject of the Joonba (corroboree) “Fire, Fire Burning Bright”, which premiered at the Perth International Arts Festival in 2002 and then travelled to other places.

Few people are aware that the Quadrant denouncement of the storytellers connected with the Bedford Downs massacre is without foundation. The article states, as one of the grounds for rejecting the stories, that ‘the yarn has not preserved the identity of either of the two alleged eyewitnesses to, or the “survivors” of, the supposed killings.’ The point is also made that the storytellers decline to name the killers. Both statements are true of accounts seen by the Quadrant contributor but other readily available published accounts do name eyewitnesses, survivors and killers.

Of much greater concern is that the Quadrant article denigrates the storytellers. One statement reads: ‘A further indicator as to Dottie’s reliability concerns another story she tells in From Digging Sticks to Writing Sticks. It centres on Violet Valley station. In the yarn she names two police officers, Bill Bunn and Martin Gleeson-but no one by those names has ever been a member of the West Australian police.’

Suffice to say that Dottie did not even tell the story that is supposed to be an indicator of her “reliability”. It begins with the words ‘My name is Ruby; I was born here at Violet Valley’. The story is quite credible and the names of the policemen, spelt correctly, would be Bill Bunt and Martin Glasheen. They worked together at Turkey Creek police station near Violet Valley and would have been known to both Dottie and Ruby.

An open mind and a little research would have prevented the Quadrant contributor making such basic errors. It might also have prevented such a scurrilous article being published in an influential magazine. Aboriginal history might be an academic subject for historians, journalists and commentators but it is part of Indigenous people’s lives.

If scholarly research shows that flaws exist in oral history, so be it. In this instance, as with the Mistake Creek massacre in the same region, a high correlation exists between the information in the Aboriginal people’s “stories” and the information contained in archival records for the period. It takes months, and sometimes years, of assiduous archival research to show those correlations. It takes only a few hours to cobble together an article that denigrates storytellers in a misguided attempt to prove that their accounts cannot be trusted. Yet, such an article has been published in a magazine that is said to be one of Prime Minister John Howard’s favourites. It is frightening to think that it will have helped to convince a lot of people that left-wing philosophy has had a totally negative effect on our understanding of the past.

The interpretation and integrity of Australia’s history is surely at the crossroads. It is not a question of whether written records are more accurate than oral history. Neither tells the “true” story. Neither is “fact”. Each one can offer insight into what happened, and that is it. It is time for people to acknowledge that violence and dispossession were part of Australia’s past and, if we are to gain anything positive from the current debate, to be more aware of the need to analyse all writing and interpretation of history critically.

Posted by, Dr Cathie Clement, Historian and heritage consultant, Perth (WA) 7.30 pm.

Sunday, January 05, 2003

Windshuttle and the Historians

For those interested in what the historians are saying about the battles over Australia's history, there is a Discussion Forum maintained by the Australian Council of Professional Historians Associations here.The forum is structured so that you can check easily and quickly for messages posted during either the last day or the last week.

Check out the work of Dr Cathie Clement who has provided extensive links to this debate, links that the Oz bloggers have missed and which provide an insight into what is happening. Her currently available pieces are the ones posted on 29 December 2002 (extensive links) 2 January 2003 (the deficiencies on the Howard Government's National Museum of Australia review panel & more links) and 5 January 2003. She has pulled an enormous amount of material together and makes a judgement about the significance of what is happening: she argues that when this public material is pulled together it shows show that scholarship and credibility in Australian historiography are under seige.

This is the latest battle in the culture wars: the historians have no doubt.
Culture wars and the National Musem of Australia

You can find a good piece of journalism on the culture wars around the rewriting of Australian history by the National Museum of Australia in The Age by Ray Cassin. Called The cringe of the culture warriors, it provides a historical cultural context for what is happening in the rewriting, and reinterpretation, of Australian history. This article pays attention to the popular culture of suburban Australia, which is where most Australian live their lives, and it shows that this rewriting is not a trivialised history of white Australia. The National Museum presents a different of suburbia to the conservative mocking of it by Barry Humphries whose Dame Edna Everage makes "suburban" a synonym for "philistine".

For the cultural politics involved, see the excellent work done by notable Oz blogger Robert Corr. He has a good understanding of what has been taking place, who has been involved in the wars and the way that the journalist David Barnett and the former Howard speech-writer Christopher Pearson have acted as conservative cultural warriors. Classy work. Bookmark this weblog.

Another good piece of writing is by Stephen Hill at Rambling Man called FRONTIER 2002 (November 25, 2002)
War for Oil?

Its more openly discussed in the US and the issue is more clearly defined. Is the war that the Bush team is preparing to launch in Iraq really a war for oil? Well it is posed in the flagbearer of the liberal media of the New York Times in an op-ed piece by THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN. He says:

"My short answer is yes. Any war we launch in Iraq will certainly be — in part — about oil. To deny that is laughable. But whether it is seen to be only about oil will depend on how we behave before an invasion and what we try to build once we're there.

I say this possible Iraq war is partly about oil because it is impossible to explain the Bush team's behavior otherwise. Why are they going after Saddam Hussein with the 82nd Airborne and North Korea with diplomatic kid gloves — when North Korea already has nuclear weapons, the missiles to deliver them, a record of selling dangerous weapons to anyone with cash, 100,000 U.S. troops in its missile range and a leader who is even more cruel to his own people than Saddam?

One reason, of course, is that it is easier to go after Saddam. But the other reason is oil — even if the president doesn't want to admit it. (Mr. Bush's recent attempt to hype the Iraqi threat by saying that an Iraqi attack on America — which is most unlikely — "would cripple our economy" was embarrassing. It made the president look as if he was groping for an excuse to go to war, absent a smoking gun.)

Let's cut the nonsense. The primary reason the Bush team is more focused on Saddam is because if he were to acquire weapons of mass destruction, it might give him the leverage he has long sought — not to attack us, but to extend his influence over the world's largest source of oil, the Persian Gulf."

You don't here this in Australia. 'War for oil talk' in this country is immediately dismissed by conservatives as liberal, peaceloving, anti-American and so on. Refresh by reading the post Responses to the SMH Iraq War Editorial last Friday, where The Australian states that thsoe who talk this way view 'President George W. Bush as a warmonger intent on attacking innocent Iraq remain little more than an exercise in whineing-whimsy' and who 'portray the [Iraqi] dictator as a victim of a sinister American conspiracy to secure control of Middle East oil.'

But Friedman is different. He says that there:

" nothing illegitimate or immoral about the U.S. being concerned that an evil, megalomaniacal dictator might acquire excessive influence over the natural resource that powers the world's industrial base.I have no problem with a war for oil — if we accompany it with a real program for energy conservation. But when we tell the world that we couldn't care less about climate change, that we feel entitled to drive whatever big cars we feel like, that we feel entitled to consume however much oil we like, the message we send is that a war for oil in the gulf is not a war to protect the world's right to economic survival — but our right to indulge. Now that will be seen as immoral.

And should we end up occupying Iraq, and the first thing we do is hand out drilling concessions to U.S. oil companies alone, that perception would only be intensified."

Refreshing huh? Why aren't our journalists thinking this way---in terms of ethics and foreign policy?


Ethics and foreign policy. You never this coupling in Australia outside of East Timor. But why not think this way with Iraq? The big name journo's are capable of doing this aren't they? Not all of them think like Greg Sheridan surely? Some have some respect for their profession don't they?

Consider the next argument from Friedman. He says:

"If we occupy Iraq and simply install a more pro-U.S. autocrat to run the Iraqi gas station (as we have in other Arab oil states), then this war partly for oil would also be immoral.

If, on the other hand, the Bush team, and the American people, prove willing to stay in Iraq and pay the full price, in money and manpower, needed to help Iraqis build a more progressive, democratizing Arab state — one that would use its oil income for the benefit of all its people and serve as a model for its neighbors — then a war partly over oil would be quite legitimate. It would be a critical step toward building a better Middle East."

So here is a pro war with Iraq position argued in ethical terms that take us beyond the good and evil of us and them. We never hear this being argued in terms of 'regime change' in Iraq by the Howard Government ministers or senior journalists. But they could.

Friedman makes no bones about going to war with Iraq:

"I have no problem with a war for oil — provided that it is to fuel the first progressive Arab regime, and not just our S.U.V.'s, and provided we behave in a way that makes clear to the world we are protecting everyone's access to oil at reasonable prices — not simply our right to binge on it."

The significance of this voice in an Australian context is that it highlights how we need to hear different voices in Australia about the war. We desperately need to hear a diversity of views. We do not have them. Thats why I have introduced The New York Times op-ed piece: to try and open things up.

Part of doing this is to be more respectful of those Australians who are sceptical about the necessity of going to war Iraq----we need to to listen to their arguments rather project the enemy onto them and then mock them. The latter is what The Australaian does. As Michael Walzer, the liberal political philosopher, says:

"... opposition is necessary; we need to argue among ourselves about what form it should take and how it should be focused. What policies of the contemporary right is it most urgent to oppose? How should people committed to democracy, civil liberties, and equality deal with, join in, and resist Bush's version of the war against terrorism? "
Bush makes his move
I see from the The New York Times that President Bush is to Propose $600 Billion Economic Stimulus Package based on tax cuts for the very rich (those earning over $1 million) and money for state governments wrestling with huge budget shortfalls.

John Howard must be envious. He and Peter Costello, the Federal Treasurer, talk about possible tax cuts butthey cupboard is bare. They blew all the budget surplus on getting themselves re-relected. That is called sound economic management in Australia.