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7 November 1997. Thought for the Week: "At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to state this or that or the other, but it is 'not done.' Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press, or in the high-brow periodicals."
THE QUESTION OF THE IRISH PRESIDENCY
by David Thompson
The "winner" of the election was Mary McAleese, an Irish nationalist and professor of law from Belfast. She was the Fianna Fail candidate, and now the Irish perception is that the Fianna Fail-Progressive Democrat government not only dominates the parliament, but has also "won" the Presidency. To become the Fianna Fail candidate, McAleese first had to beat former Irish Prime Minister Albert Reynolds in a pre-selection battle. McAleese is clearly a "Fianna Fail" President, having won on 46% of the primary vote. The "loser", or the next most successful candidate was the opposition Fine Gael candidate, Mary Bandotti, who achieved 32% of the primary vote.
It is impossible to argue that the Irish Presidency is not "politicised". It is impossible to argue that the Irish Head of State is above politics - it was a political party that put her there! Another fascinating aspect of the McAleese victory is that for the first time the Irish have taken the unusual step of electing a President from another country. McAleese comes from Northern Ireland, which is under British rule, although the Irish constitution allows the Northern Irish to take out Irish citizenship. Can the Australian republicans explain this, or is it just a product of "Irish logic"?
One of the main arguments trotted out by Australian republicans is that we have a "foreign" Head of State in the Queen. They deliberately ignore the well-established fact that the Queen is distinctly Queen of Australia. The republican slogan of "a resident for president" appears to be a basic part of the republican platform, yet their republican brothers in Ireland seem quite happy with someone from outside the state to hold the presidency. Republicans affect to be affronted that Australians grow up without being able to aspire to be "Australian Head of State", as though we have somehow robbed ourselves of an honourable goal. But the British have never been able to aspire to become Head of State of Great Britain. Has this produced poorer government in Britain, or a less stable society? Compare this with the United States, where the Presidency is the ultimate political prize open to every citizen. Is there any evidence to suggest that the United States is or has been better governed than Britain? The reverse is the case.
It was a United States Head of State
who was forced out in disgrace when Nixon was widely believed
to be guilty of corruption in the Watergate case. Now the
United States Head of State is under investigation, and appears
certain to face a court case, involving sexual impropriety
during his first presidential election campaign. There are
also questions hanging over the Clinton presidency concerning
campaign donations from Asian countries in return for political
favours. It is most difficult to make the case that "a resident
for president" in the United States has resulted in more stable
It is difficult to argue that the hereditary principle is obsolete. In an age when the temptation to corruption is higher than ever, the principle of the hereditary monarchy becomes even more relevant.
WILL LIBERALS COMPROMISE THE CROWN?
Under the pressure of the republican assault, it has been suggested that the Liberal Party may agree to a compromise first suggested by former Victorian Governor Richard McGarvie. His proposal was reported to be to change the Australian Constitution to prevent the Queen appointing the Governor General, perhaps in favour of the Parliament or the Executive Council doing so. If a Bill could then be forced through the Parliament naming the Governor General as the titular 'Head of State', this has the "merit" of fulfilling the republican demand that an Australian must be head of state. The Liberals could then attempt to placate the monarchists by arguing that this process will "save the monarchy", since it remains in place in the Constitution.
Such a compromise should be thoroughly rejected, as it serves only to undermine the crown. Once monarchists begin to retreat, they will continue to retreat, and the republican demands merely escalate. In essence, the republican demands are akin to a form of cultural terrorism. When one demand is met, the next appears, until surrender is inevitable.
THE WIK DEBACLE CONTINUES
Three Queensland National Party backbenchers crossed the floor of Parliament, and voted against the Coalition (but with Graeme Campbell and Pauline Hanson) on the Government's Wik legislation. Although it did not prevent the Legislation passing the House of Representatives, Bob Katter, De-Anne Kelly and Paul Marek, with strong assistance from Campbell, were making a powerful point on behalf of pastoral constituents. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of their challenge to Mr. Howard and Senator Minchin was that the press hardly reported this significant news.
Although Noel Pearson and other aboriginal interests are scathing about the Native Title Amendment Bill, the fact is that interests of pastoralists will not be addressed by Howard's amendments. Under this legislation, anyone with any aboriginal heritage at all could lodge native title claims over pastoral leases, so long as some tenuous traditional physical connection with the land in question can be alleged. If the courts decide that such claims are valid (and in many cases they will be) for one member of a tribal or family group, the title then extends to all those in the group, which could be thousands of people.
What is native title? As yet, this is not clear. The courts will have to decide whether title is on the basis of hunting, prospecting, cultural, or other connections with land, but for a pastoralist, there is no certainty that he can prevent all kinds of people from wandering over his leases if title is granted to co-exist with his grazing leases. No other Australians are subjected to such an intolerable situation.
The amendments put forward by Katter, Kelly, Marek, Campbell and Hanson were designed to give certainty to graziers and aborigines alike. The Howard Wik amendments satisfy no one, except lawyers. and will be almost unworkable. Pastoralists could be tied up for years in courts and tribunals, with legal fees quickly strangling them. The Wik amendments obviously generate plenty of tension, with the Senate threatening to either block the legislation, or amend it in a manner unacceptable to the Coalition. This could provide Prime Minister Howard with a "trigger" for a double dissolution of the Parliament, any time after March next year. The A.L.P. claim that they are prepared to fight an election on the Wik and aboriginal issues, but they would prefer to avoid it. For Mr. Howard to go to an election on such an issue, which satisfies nobody, could be suicidal.
The plea that the High Court ruling on
native title should stand ignores present realities. City
Australians should be acquainted with a few facts concerning
aboriginal circumstances in Australia. According to Mr. Ian
McLachlan, (Liberal. Minister for Defence):
With the High Court's Wik decision leaving an open-ended opportunity for endless negotiation for more native title, which even the A.L.P. under Keating had believed to be extinguished, the Coalition has little choice but to extinguish native title, and close the pork barrel.
ASIAN MARKET FALL OUT AND THE DEBT CRISIS
The instability in the Australian share market may be partly because Australian stocks are over valued, and due for a "correction" as the experts say. But it is quite clear that the problems experienced here have been triggered by what has happened in Asia, particularly the collapse of a number of Asian currencies. If nothing else, the jittery Australian market is a valuable lesson that the more Australia is welded into the "global market", the more vulnerable we become to problems in other parts of the world. The truth is that we become subject to decisions made by someone else somewhere else. That is, we surrender our sovereignty.
While industries dependent on Asian economies
now expect a difficult future, it should be noted that the
wool industry, which still depends heavily on European customers,
has experienced a sudden upsurge in prices. The importance
of the European connection is thus underlined. But the price
surge comes more from the changes in the value of the Australian
currency than it does from a genuine increase in the prices
The more the Australian economy depends upon export markets to function, the less functional the economy becomes. It becomes progressively more difficult to service the debt, rather than the reverse. That is, Australian sovereignty progressively declines, and the decision making process moves offshore in both economic and political matters.
PAULINE HANSON AND AID TO INDONESIA
Independent Member for Oxley Pauline Hanson has successfully embarrassed the mainstream political parties by asking refreshing questions in the House. She asked the Prime Minister about the proposed financial facility of over A$1billion to bail out the Indonesian economy. She disturbed a few sacred cows by asking whether the President of Indonesia, Mr. Suharto, an extremely wealthy head of an extremely wealthy family, would be contributing to the bail out, since he had helped to cause the problem.
The question of aid to Indonesia to support the currency in the face of a falling market is explained away as a matter of mutual economic advantage by both Mr. Howard and the Opposition. A blind eye is turned to the matter of morality. The A.L.P. left has complained long and loud that this is the regime that mounted the brutal invasion of East Timor, while Australia did little. Neither Mr. Howard nor Mr. Beazley were interested in addressing the question of Australia assisting in propping up the Indonesian military dictatorship. That it is also a Muslim military dictatorship is hardly relevant, but nevertheless true, and the way both government and opposition M.H.R's. squirmed under the Hanson questioning was salutary.
Perhaps Mrs. Hanson might also have asked whether the Indonesians would consider returning the massive oil reserves in the Timor Sea, which Australia seems to have handed over, although a substantial proportion of the known oil reserves fall within the Australian continental shelf. Mr. Howard's statement to Parliament that "It is in the national self-interest of Australia to help when it can to strengthen an economy as large and as potentially powerful as that of Indonesia" is only half the answer. Such help also assists Indonesia to strengthen its military, which in the hands of a dictatorship amounts to underwriting tyranny.
WHY HAS BORBIDGE ABANDONED A QUEENSLAND UPPER HOUSE?
Queensland must go to the polls in 1998, and it is almost certain that they will, by now, have forgotten one of Mr. Rob Borbidge's promises made in 1995 before the last election. In attempting to cement a pre-election deal with the Queensland Greens, Borbidge guaranteed a referendum on the restoration of Queensland's Legislative Council. In fact, funds were later allocated for the referendum to go ahead, but the issue has been dropped as quietly as Mr. Borbidge could manage.
Queensland's upper house was abolished in 1923, when the then A.L.P. Premier, "Red" Ted Theodore, managed to stack the Council with enough candidates who were prepared to vote for the destruction of their own House. Inevitably, there was an "incentive": they would continue to receive their salaries for life. Premier Borbidge is arguing that the issue has been 'overtaken' by other issues, and that it would be difficult to argue that Queensland should have more politicians.
The Queensland Democrats are strongly critical of Borbidge's backsliding; not only because here is a firm promise broken, but also because they support a Legislative Council. Clearly, the Democrats had hoped to occupy a number of seats, which they appear unlikely to win in the Legislative Assembly.
We suggest that Queenslanders raise this question with both Premier Borbidge and their own State M.P. Perhaps Mr. Borbidge should be asked why National Party supporters should continue to vote for his candidates, since the Party betrayed them on the firearms issue and welshed on the promise for the restoration of an upper house that could, perhaps, have had an impact on the weak Queensland response to the Howard proposal for national firearms legislation.
THE LEGACY OF DR. COOMBS
The death of Dr. H.C. "Nugget" Coombs has prompted descriptions of his statesmanship of which Australians should be wary. It should be remembered that Dr Coombs was a centralist. He carried this philosophy with him throughout his life and public service, and the truth is that everything Coombs did reflected this philosophy.
As a public servant, Coombs advised six different Prime Ministers from Chifley to McMahon, and as a permanent fixture of the bureaucracy, he served in posts like Director of Post-War Reconstruction, Secretary to the Treasury and Governor of the Reserve Bank. It is sometimes recalled that when Menzies campaigned before the 1949 election to "put the shillings back into the pound" with the use of the war-time measure of subsidising items on the consumer price index to control inflation, it was Dr. Coombs who frustrated this promise. Why? Because inflation was essentially a centralising influence, and those in control of financial policy (like Coombs) well understood this. It is perhaps a reflection on Menzies' judgment that he refused to remove Coombs "the socialist" when more junior Liberals urged him to do so soon after being elected.
In the years that he spent at the elbow of the Treasurer, or in the Cabinet room, Coombs was able to exert immense influence. It should not be forgotten that once he left the centre of influence in financial decision-making, Coombs went straight to the land rights industry. He was responsible, as much as anyone, for promoting such issues like a 'treaty' between aborigines and Australia.
In his book "Hasluck versus Coombs" Professor Geoffrey Partington highlights the basic cleavage between Coombs and his predecessor, Paul Hasluck, in the field of aboriginal policy. Coombs was the father of the policy of "self-determination" for aborigines, which encouraged two different races living in two different societies with all the tensions this involves, as opposed to the previous policy of assimilation. Dr. Coombs was a committed centralist, but towards the end of his life, there is evidence that he did not approve of some of the results of his policies. For example, he is said to have had reservations about the all-pervading influence of "the market" and its impact on social issues in Australia. Nevertheless, Coombs was a socialist, a centralist, and his entire record reflects this.
COOMBS AND PEARSON
Whatever the Howard government might be trying to achieve with its Wik legislation, part-aboriginal Noel Pearson's intemperate accusations of "racist scum" and "absolutely obscene" directed respectively at the Government and its legislation cannot help the cause he promotes so passionately. In some respects, Pearson is the ideological successor to Coombs - so far as aboriginal affairs are concerned. The cause, which Pearson promotes with whatever passion he has is little more than the establishment of separate aboriginal state(s) within Australia. Pearson promotes himself as the most powerful advocate of a downtrodden aboriginal race who have a long history of resistance to the (white) settlement of Australia, and a powerful rejection of aboriginal involvement in western culture.
A very different picture emerges from the pages of Dr. Geoffrey Partington's book "Hasluck versus Coombs - White politics and Australia's Aborigines" (Quakers Hill Press, 1996). In chapter 3 Before Assimilationism, Partington writes: "Hasluck claimed that by 1934 in the south of Western Australia not only people of mixed descent but many full-blooded aborigines had few direct links with their grandfathers and grandmothers. He cited a press report of a March 1928 deputation to the Premier of Western Australia led by William Harris, a part-aboriginal 'speaking in perfect English, and showing no small signs of erudition', who complained mainly that 'educated natives' were treated as though they were 'wild black fellows'. Harris considered that all natives educated up to the standard of white men should be exempted from the Aborigines Act.
"The outstanding leaders of aboriginal public activity during the 1930s in other States were also strongly assimilationist and sought educational, employment and other policies which would further that aim through 'the removal of all disabilities, political, social or economic, now or in the future borne by aboriginals and to secure their uplift to the full culture of the British race'.
Typical viewpoints expressed included: "We have no desire to go back to primitive conditions of the Stone Age. We ask you to teach our people to live in the Modern Age, as modern citizens.' "We want to be absorbed into the nation of Australia, and thus to survive in the land of our forefathers on equal terms'.
These aboriginal assimilationists were not ashamed of their ancestors or of aborigines still living in traditional ways, but they wished to advance to modernity, just like the British.
"Hasluck versus Coombs" by Dr Geoffrey Partington, available from all League bookservices. $15.00 or $18.00 posted.
DIALECTICS AT ITS MOST AMBITIOUSMr. David Crosbie of the Alcohol and Other Drugs Council was interviewed on the ABC Radio's The World Today on the question of the drug problem regarding heroin. Overdoses of heroin, he attempted to claim, were not actually the cause of drug-related deaths; its just that people stop breathing . . .. it's not the heroin that's to blame. . . . really. Really.
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