12 Dec. 2006

Bikini December

It appears from its website that the Great Islamophobic Bikini March is not to go ahead. Three cheers. Unlike the death of Pinochet, this is a victory for us.* I wish to twist the knife by pointing out the absurd non sequiturs of their revanchist concession of defeat.

The scum claim firstly that they were "forced" to cancel the march by journalism. The mechanism of 'forcing' here is far from apparent. I have no idea how it 'forced' anything. It made clear that moderate(ly intelligent) members of the community (rightly) saw the marchers as crypto-fascists at worst, and irresponsible at best. This did not "force" the march to stop.

The scum then claim that free speech is not tolerated in Australia, which is particularly absurd, in that their invective is targeted precisely at the free speech of their critics. No-one attempted to silence the pitiful speech of the bikiniists; rather they claim that the free speech of their opponents constitutes an insupportable violence that must be constrained.

They claim that the media falsely claimed that the Great (sic) Australian (sic) Bikini March was partly to be held in Lakemba. This blog also reported this claim. Given however that the purported target of the march was a Lakemba-based preacher, one should be forgiven for making such a claim, and not realising the awesome irrelevant stupidity of people who wanted to protest a Sydneysider's remarks by marching on a mosque in suburban Melbourne. If anything, the media was too generous in its assumption.

* Pinochet's death is a defeat for the left insofar as it shows our inability to do to an enemy what he did to thousands of us; he was rather allowed to die free and unpunished.

7 Dec. 2006

via leftwrites, a Wollongong Undergraduate Students Association press release:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
6 DECEMBER 2006

‘Anti-terror’ Laws used to Intimidate Student Union President

Wollongong police yesterday informed Jess Moore, President of the Wollongong Undergraduate Students’ Association (WUSA), anti-war activist and member of the Socialist Alliance, that under the new ‘anti-terror’ laws, she is facing a police investigation. A Senior Constable told Ms Moore that someone had made a complaint that she had organised an action in support of Hamas on October 18 of this year.

The action in question was in fact organised on campus to combat homophobia, it had nothing to do with the conflict in the Middle East, let alone the Palestinian group Hamas. At the action, students threw balloons filled with water at placards of John Howard, to highlight their disgust with the Prime Minister’s homophobic policies. Ms Moore attended the action that was supported by WUSA, but wasn’t an organiser.

“This is a shocking case of intimidation. That anyone can ‘dob in’ anyone else merely for attending a political demonstration that opposes the Howard Government, and have the police investigate them is an outrageous attack on civil liberties,” Moore said.

“It’s really scary to be called by the police to be told you are under investigation for allegedly supporting a terrorist group. These laws are obviously designed to dissuade activists and trade unionists from speaking out against the war, injustice and
against this government. It’s well known that many Muslims and people of Arabic background fear attending public demonstrations in this country - It’s obvious why!

“Free speech is under attack. In a democratic society people should have the right to speak their mind without fear of reprisal or intimidation. This incident undermines the freedom we supposedly have.

“For me this exposes the so-called ‘War on Terror’ for what it really is: inhumane and unjust foreign policy and an excuse for this government to intimidate and silence those who oppose them,” she concluded.

Ms Moore has vowed to continue demonstrating against injustice despite the harassment she is facing. She is calling on all supporters of civil liberties to do the same.

Media enquiries:
Jess Moore
President
Wollongong Undergraduate Students’ Association
0416 232 349

4 Dec. 2006

In perhaps the only attempt at real political analysis of today's ALP coup I've seen, Michael Berrell forwards the halfway-plausible thesis that the Murdoch media engineered Beazley's displacement at leftwrites. This of course implies that this furthers Murdoch's overt ideological agenda. It also accords with my pet line, which I've been running since before the challenge last week, that Rudd is destined to be an Australian Tony Blair.

3 Dec. 2006

Bikini Overkill

While the ‘Bikini March’ programmed for later this month (un)dresses itself up as a defence of (women’s) rights, I think three features mark it out as a festival of Islamophobia.

1. The choice of the anniversary of last year’s anti-Muslim Cronulla pogrom to stage this event.

2. The choice to march not on a site specific to al-Hilaly, the man whose remarks are ostensibly being protested (not that I think that there is any site which would be specific enough to make such a protest – although see point 3. below), but rather against mosques, representing the Muslim community in general, and their religion itself.

3. The fact that there is no clear danger to the right to wear skimpy swimming costumes in public. While there are undoubtedly some religious conservatives who would like such rights curtailed, they are insignificant in number. Indeed, the right that is under threat is the opposite right, the right to wear hijab at the beach – the Cronulla pogrom was partly directed against this right. Hijab is against the norms of Australian society and is under threat. This is in fact therefore not so much a pro-bikini rally as an implicitly-anti-hijab rally. If there were any danger to the right to wear bikinis, then the rally should address itself to the public authorities, not to a marginalised community.

Update: The explicit rhetoric on the event website confirms the character of the event.

29 Nov. 2006

Sydney's self-destructive sprawl

Sydney is cancerous, metastasising ever onward. This is not to say that Sydney cannot grow in ways that preserve or even accentuate its advantageous position in the world – just that this is not happening, and that growth is of course serving the crassest commercial imperatives, as you would expect under capitalism.

Recently, we had a property magnate condemning the existence of trees in Sydney, which take up valuable space for construction. Well, try this on for size: 90% of Sydney's perishable vegetables are grown within the metropolitan area.

This accounts for many things. It accounts for the wide variety of ethnically-exotic produce available in Sydney, and the fact that vegetables are often cheapest in smaller stores in ethnically-diverse areas of town.

Sydney is built on top of some of the best arable land in the whole continent and its basin still contains a lot of good land - they with a significantly harsher climate (lower rainfall, more extreme temperatures) than the paved-over areas on the coast.

The maintenance of some areas in the Sydney basin for farming is part of what makes this city so desirable, but Sydney is also all about making a quick buck and damning the consequences.

21 Nov. 2006

Links to leftwrites

Two significant posts on Australian left group blog leftwrites yesterday:

1. the story of a man abducted off the street by police in Melbourne.

2. the story of the disgraceful and obscure preference deals being made in the Victorian state election.

1. is of course a very worrying story. One wonders how many people who were actually involved in the protests have been picked up in this way and what has happened to them. It is absurdly unnecessary to behave this way post-protest, but of course the cops are pissed off about the whole thing, so it's hardly surprising. Nevertheless, this kind of treatment is unjustifiable even given the premise of a need to persecute the protestors – it's summary punishment meted out by the police.

2. is somwhat less exciting, at least for me, but we need to break out of our NSW-centric perspective on this blog. Australia's preferential voting system ought to make it fairer, but the ability of parties to trade their votes with other parties badly undercuts this. Of course, the parties' contempt for their electors is not confined to the electoral process, and indicates a deeper malaise that really ought to see people refusing to vote for them at all.

18 Nov. 2006

Touchdown! Australia launches invasion of Tonga!

SMH article

Australia and New Zealand are jointly to invade the South Pacific nation, in support of their imperialist interests, and to prop up local feudalism in the face of violent pro-democracy demonstrations. So much for 'regime change'. No, wait – that only ever applied to regimes that didn't serve imperialism's interests.

We have comments!

Haloscan commenting is now available at the bottom of each post.

When I started this blog, I used a newly-available commenting system called TheirSay. TheirSay has proved consistently unreliable. It is operated by a right-wing Canadian called Andrew Coyne as a pet project. I removed the TheirSay commenting aabout two months ago, but couldn't get the Haloscan commenting working for some reason. After leaving it alone for a month, I went back and looked afresh at the code and saw the problem immediately, so now commenting is up. Please note that I can and will ban you from commenting if you troll this blog. No serious engagement will be banned however.

17 Nov. 2006

NSW party politics

The NSW ALP are mired in sleaze – but the incompetence of the Debnam-led Coalition is so monumental that they cannot but survive, it would seem.

The NSW Coalition, or more precisely its dominant partner, the NSW Liberal Party, is in a dire state that one might call 'unelectable'. While the ALP is mired in croneyism, an old mates' network, with ever-dwindling grassroots support and membership, supported by a coalition of big business, and febrile ethnic and labour interest groups, the Libs are simply shit. Their right-wing has been running rampant, running in completely the opposite direction to that demanded by electoral exigencies, and their leader is a tub-thumper who lacks any kind of political experience or acumen. Handed a gift in the shape of the worst possible sleaze scandal – a minister of the government abusing children, for God's sake – Debnam pushes forward by unnecessarily making unproven further accusations against Labor ministers, allowing Labor to claim the moral high ground and turn a lingering suspicion towards their ministers' morality into a righteous indignation that anyone can impugn the honour of a bunch of nest-feathering croneys.

Don't get me wrong of course. Debnam is a racist scumbag, and the weakness of the Libs is really a good thing. What we need is for people to challenge Labor from the left.

2 Nov. 2006

via TSSH, of all places

Normally sober Queensland premier Peter Beattie has lost the plot, endorsing an entirely unscientific strategy for dealing with the drought: petitionary prayer. Such religious opiates can only distract from the serious business of taking measures to deal with South-East Queensland's water problems, such as water recycling.

29 Oct. 2006

Howard puts public money into religious education in schools (smh.com.au).

This story is not being reported like this of course, but according to the political spin. The program is one to fund one chaplain, of any religious persuasion, per school in Australia. This is to be an "opt-in" scheme, meaning that schools will not to be obliged to have a full-time religionist on staff. However, it is difficult to imagine that many schools today will turn down the offer of a new, gratis staff member. Hence, hey presto, a religionist in every school. This does two things. The most obvious is to (further) religionise education. The second is to prop up religion itself through financing professional religionists. Both are Bad Things, militating against the rational comprehension of society and for quietism based on the existence of supervenient forces which determine social reality and promise intangible compensation for its injustices, hence making it neither possible not worthwhile to alter reality. Sure, there are exceptions, but the essential function of religion in capitalism is in this direction.

22 Oct. 2006

The Blatant Racism of Australian Television Advertising

Further to my post last year ,in the aftermath of the Cronulla riots, in which I pointed out that after watching a couple of hours of Australian TV after arriving in this country I already understood why non-white Australians have antipathy towards white Australians, I'd like to share some observations of the utterly blatant racism of television advertising in Australia today. In general, Australian television caters disproportionately to white people, the exception being SBS, a television channel set up to cater to the needs of migrants. However, this channel caters to the needs of non-English-speaking communities serially. Essentially, due to obvious commercial imperatives, television and the advertising which undergirds it, is aimed almost exclusively at the white majority.

A particularly revolting example of this is the current advertising campaign for Kirk's soft drinks, a nakedly patriotic campaign in which Kirk's is ultimately portrayed as the only surviving remnant of traditional Australian culture left today, while claiming (an obvious lie, but one which plants the right associations in the viewer's mind to induce them to purchase Kirk's sugar-water) that Kirk's sponsors the revitalisation of traditional Australian familial pursuits. The Kirk's compound in the advertisement features parents and children connecting over all manner of twee diversions. All these parents and children are white. This is a revitalisation of the authentic Australia and, as we all know, Australia is by definition a white country.

While television advertising in Australia primarily operates according to an exclusionary logic, it occasionally stoops to including ethnic minorities by mocking them. A confident white housewife goes to a Chinese market to found a wizened Chinaman having no food for her, but then with a cheeky grin proffering McCain's frozen Chinese vegetables. It's incredible to me the extent to which Australian television still portrays Chinese people in such a stereotypical manner when are so many Chinese people in this country defying these stereotypes. But of course, this is how things work, and the fantastic construction of the Oriental supervenes on any reality.

There is also an advertisement that almost manages to portray 'wog', which is to say 'Mediterranean/Middle Eastern' Australians. This trope is so unsaleable however, that it has to be covered with layers of padding. Firstly, the wog voices are applied to cartoon characters. Secondly, the cartoon characters themselves are cockroaches. They are simultaneously small and inconsequential and somewhat disgusting, degenerate in behaviour and language. I refer, by the way, to a specific advertisement for the V energy drink.

There is a notable exception in an advertisement for some kind of cheap telephony product, in which a young Asian woman phoning an overseas relative is non-stereotyped, while a couple of Australians phoning each other long distance within Aus are absurdly stereotyped. Commercials naturally being a commercial province, we can thankfully expect more of this on the assumption that Asian-Australians will become a larger and larger market for advertising. However, the commerciality of commercials also dictates that poor and marginal groups will always be discriminated against, and that capitalism will always be reinforced.

16 Oct. 2006

The Israeli ambassador speaks:

"We are in Asia without the characteristics of Asians," he reportedly said. "We don't have the yellow skin and slanted eyes. Asia is basically the yellow race. Australia and Israel are … basically the white race."
Well, this is a pretty bizarre statement in that it does not seem to me that the Arabs or Indians are either yellow or slanty-eyed. OTOH, it's quite clear that Australia and Israel are basically white countries, settler-states moreover, implanted in a foreign context. The ambassador is correct that this unites the two countries.

It is moreover incredible that the ambassador's remarks are being castigated as 'racist'. Certainly the vocabulary is pretty outmoded, and the claim is empirically bizarre as I previously stated, but this is a country that imprisons and shoots Arab children, but only gets disapprobation in Australia when it accuses those people of being 'yellow'.

3 Oct. 2006



> Dear Friends,
>
> On the *14th of October, 10.30 am, at Sydney Town Hall,* Friends of
> Lebanon-Australia along with other community groups has organised a
> *public memorial for the Lebanese who have died in the recent war*.
>
> In the weeks following the war it became clear that many Lebanese
> Australian families have lost friends and relatives and were privately
> in mourning. We felt it important that this mourning be public as
> well. We were also keen that such a public event does not become a
> 'Lebanese community event' but an Australian event where as many
> non-Lebanese as possible can come to join the Lebanese in their
> mourning. This is why the event is held at Sydney Town Hall.
>
> Muslim Lebanese Australians have been on the receiving end of a lot of
> negative stereotyping, prejudiced ill-feelings and discriminatory
> behaviour from various sections of our society for far too long. It is
> time for those of us who disagree with this this state of affairs to
> not only be critical with those who peddle racism and prejudice, but
> to take the more positive step of embracing the victims and showing
> them that we regard them fully and unconditionally as part of our
> Australian community. Joining them in their mourning is an important
> way of doing so. Integration is not only about migrants adopting our
> values. It is also about us learning to share their sorrow and pain.
>
> We wish this event to be focused on a politics of inclusion within an
> Australian context rather than on the Middle Eastern politics that
> clearly underlies it. This is a unique opportunity, for those of us
> who wish to do so, to assert an inclusive politics of friendhip in the
> face of the incessant politics of hatred and division that is becoming
> part of our everyday lives.
>
> We urge you to join us in solidarity and to do your best to circulate
> this invitation.
>
> Ghassan Hage
> For Friends of Lebanon, Australia.

2 Oct. 2006

Australian imperialism's new apex

Originally published in a mildly-adulterated form in the Labor Tribune; what follows is the original text.

Over thirty years ago, in 1975, Australia made Papua New Guinea independent. Following the withdrawal of Australia from Vietnam in 1973 and the granting of human rights to Aborigines in the 1960s, this represented the completion of a shift, of which the Whitlam administration was clearly chronologically the expression and not the cause, away from the racist colonialism which had been a clear part of the Australian essence since the notion of Australianness had been invented in the nineteenth century. Prior to the withdrawal from Vietnam, Australia had been involved in continuous overseas conflict since the beginning of the Second World War. Up to the withdrawal from Papua New Guinea, Australia had been controlling territories without the consent of their population since its own inception as a self-governing entity.

This is not something to be uncritically celebrated, however. This was a national modernisation, part of the great worldwide trend in the late twentieth century away from naked racist-colonialism towards something more subtle, in which the profits of Australian companies was prioritised ahead of national chauvinism. Labor, arguing consistently that the health of Australian capital is closely bound up with the well-being of Australian workers, was able to push through a number of modernising measures which eliminated or minimised contradictions traditionally present in Australian society, while allowing profits to increase.

Two factors condemn this apparently win–win situation. The first is the fact that it is a deal with the capitalist class, by which the leaders of the working class in the Labor Party get power and prestige, but the workers themselves are ultimately denied their birth-right, namely the value of what they produce. The second is the lot of non-Australians in all this. While the rhetoric suggests that the political independence of, say, the people of Papua New Guinea, represents the opportunity for them to achieve economic prosperity on a par with Australia ultimately, the simple economic facts utterly belie any such idea. On the basic, economic level, imperialism continued unabated. Australian capital would never accept an Australian withdrawal from anywhere unless it could see a profit-maximisation. Of course, occupation is also made unprofitable by resistance of various kinds, as in the case in Vietnam. Self-government of Papua New Guinea, like democracy everywhere, was always about channelling resistance in such a way that it does not become disruptive to the operations of capital, even if this meant some concession in the bottom line. This led eventually to independence. The left wing of capital accepts the reality that without such concessions to the exploited, there will be disruption to its operations in the form of direct resistance. It chooses therefore to make a strategic withdrawal from a battle, in the hope of continuing to win the war. Resistance has today on many fronts dropped to levels which allow for a regrowth in naked exploitation and accumulation, however.

The proof of the utter callousness of Australia, the Labor leadership and the left of Australian capital was its complicity with the genocidal annexation of East Timor by Indonesia in 1975. Although this in fact happened shortly after Whitlam’s dismissal, his administration had already greenlighted it. One would be right to point out of was ultimately given by the US rather than Australia. For the US, having Suharto bulldozer a left-wing enclave in the archipelago made clear sense. But for Australia too, this was true. While Whitlam’s government had policies which were left-wing enough that the US orchestrated its removal, its overseas policies were in line with America’s, which had in this period shifted to a policy of withdrawal from Vietnam and recognition of the PRC, in other words towards a new strategy for dealing with Asian communism through more subtle methods.

Now, Australia is in an odd situation apropos of imperialism given its largely subordinate relation to the US in particular. This has led to some confusion, specifically that of the now-nugatory Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist), which has maintained that Australia is a victim of imperialism, a second world country which needs to be liberated. There is some truth to such a claim, although Marxists should know better than to base their analysis on this nugget of truth. The truth in question is that Australia is not politically independent. Of course, Australia has a head of state who is a foreigner, but we all know that this means little. It is no longer Britain that controls Australia, but principally America, and often America and Britain in concert. America and Britain don't care much in general about what happens in Australia of course, but about Australia's foreign policy, its trade policy and certain domestic policies which might affect US or British interests. As a result, Australia buys American military hardware, signs a farcical, catamite's free trade agreement with the US, and sends its sons to serve as auxiliaries to the US military in its occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Much of Australia is owned by US and British concerns. However, this economic reality does not change the fact that Australian capital does exist in its own right. While it does not have clear control of its own domestic market, it is nevertheless spread widely throughout the world in close alliance with British and US capital, and is itself also rapaciously imperialist. In most parts of the world, it more or less relies on the protection of British or US military might. It is only in Australia's own 'back yard', where George Bush has appointed John Howard his "deputy sheriff", where Australian capital is often far larger than that of other countries, and where the Australian military may operate directly in small and powerless adjacent territories, that Australian imperialism is clearly visible.

Indeed, under Howard, Australia is again flexing its muscles and expanding its imperial apparatus to the greatest extent since the Whitlam withdrawal. Not only is Australia doing its bit for its alliance with the rest of the Anglosphere in helping to occupy Iraq and Afghanistan, it is also in its own right now on its own account occupying two of its neighbours, East Timor and the Solomon Islands, and threatens to invade others. The economic interests here are patent. Australia, having helped the East Timorese to liberation from a genocidal occupation by Indonesia to which it had long turned a blind eye, now shows its true colours by shamelessly trying to grab its natural resources. The Australian Federal Police (AFP) are also deployed in these missions, and in Vanuatu (where the Australian ruling class likes to hide its money, which the Australian state is trying to dig up) and Nauru (where Australia imprisons refugees) besides.

Australia is readying for further imperial expansion, moreover. Both the AFP and ADF (Australian Defence [sic] Force – the Australian military) are in the process of major expansion, on the back of recent expansions to the ADF and the extension of the field of action of ASIS (Australian Secret Intelligence Service – Australia's external secret service) in 2004.

Conventional wisdom, the kind you hear from blokes in the pub, will tell you that Australia is a country with a small population, vast size and small military, vulnerable to all comers, and in principle Indonesia. This is a grotesque miscalculation. It is analogous to claiming that the wolf is threatened by the flock of sheep because there are so many more of them. It’s true that a hundred sheep could maul a wolf to death, but equally obvious that this does not happen and will never happen. It’s true that there are enough Arabs to defeat the state of Israel, but this has never ever happened, at least until this year, when the Israeli invasion of Lebanon was halted by a new breed of sheep with horns – but this is merely a sheep the wolf does not know how to eat yet, not a sheep that will hunt the wolf.

Australia, like its pack-mate Israel, is a wolf, which is to say, an imperialist nation. Imperialism is closely correlated with richness: imperialism is essentially the control of foreign resources by one country’s companies such that profits from the other country flow to the imperialist country. Australia is rich, hence the Australian ruling class’s own diverse holdings overseas, perhaps most notably in the minerals sector, which are mined using cheap, super-exploited native labour to give Australia’s rich the greatest possible profits. In order to maintain such a grossly iniquitous arrangement against the natural tendency of humans to resist exploitation, imperialism must include a powerful coercive element. While the colonialist form of imperialism in which troops from imperialist countries were directly dispatched to colonies to discipline local people has declined in favour of delegation to local state apparatuses, there are significant signs of its resurgence. The poorer nations themselves tend to resist imperialism, and therefore need to be threatened with a coercive apparatus, ultimately leading to the carrying through of such threats in full-scale invasions, as well as bribed through the enrichment of local elites.

Hence, Australia maintains a military, which acts in concert with other imperialist militaries, those of nations with whose ruling classes the Australian ruling class is in synergy. It is true that the ADF has fewer personnel than many armies of poorer nations, about 53,000. Although it is expanding fairly rapidly, by 1,485 last year, and 2,600 this year, though of course recruitment is not easy at present, given the vastly better employment opportunities available to most young Australians (maybe Howard’s trying to bring on a recruitment crisis so large it necessitates reintroduction of conscription, though that’s never been popular in Australia), it is nevertheless miniscule compared to the military of, say, India, which has nearly two-and-a-half million members, or close to 50 times as many troops as the Australian force.

However, in modern war, the major determinant is not manpower, but technology, which of course largely means money. In the initial 2003 invasion of Iraq, the last occasion on which a first world army fought a third world army, albeit with the third world army having a defensive advantage, the purely-military kill ratio was 542:17,298 or approximately 1:32.

Certainly, Australia is not about to invade India any time soon. But nor is India about to invade Australia. Their troop carriers would be bombed out of the water before they landed. They would be lucky to take Broome and would never advance beyond it.

India spent nearly US$17 billion on its military in 2004. So did Australia. That is, they spend about the same amount on its military. That is to say that Australia spends as much on preparing to fight wars as does a country that

  • has a population of over a billion, making it the second most populous country in the world
  • has nuclear weapons
  • has two nuclear-armed neighbours, Pakistan and China, with whom it shares significant borders, and with whom it has fought bloody wars in the past, and with whom tension still simmers
  • fought a defensive war as recently as 1999
  • faces at least four domestic guerrilla movements
  • faces several actually-active (as opposed to merely suspected and invisible) terrorist movements.

    In Australia’s immediate region, Oceania, it is the superpower. In South-East Asia, China and India are also regional superpowers, but Australia is still also a force to be reckoned with in comparison with these.

    Why does Australia need such a mighty military? To conduct wars overseas in pursuit of imperialist interests, of course, the same interests that mean that Australia has about the same GDP as India, a country with 500 times Australia’s population. The two spend about the same proportion of that GDP on weapons to fight wars with (although India is today surpassing Australia on both indices for the first time – until recently it was well behind). India uses its weapons to threaten and cajole and support pliant regimes in its local sphere of influence, the even poorer nations of Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka. Australia does much the same thing in the South Pacific. Apropos of America’s vastly superior financial and military might, both are subordinates, however. For many years, during the Cold War, the Indian ruling class aligned itself as much with the Soviet Union as with the U.S. ruling class, but in the current global configuration of forces, American imperialism is effectively the only game in town. Formerly autonomous nations, such as Russia, India and China now play the game of allowing unbridled American investment, American ownership, American exploitation in their economies in the hope of becoming rich.

    Of course, for Australia, this makes little difference. Australia has been aligned to US imperialism for decades, and before that to British imperialism, which in the last fifty years has itself become an adjunct to US imperialism, as British foreign policy today demonstrates, with a supposedly-left-wing British regime falling over itself to co-operate in the reckless expansionism of radical right-wing American administration.

    Australian imperialism is tied to American imperialism because it is part and parcel of Australian capitalism, the rule of the Australian bourgeoisie, the control of Australian society by the capitalist class, whose rapacious profiteering is Australia’s ultimate foreign policy principle, and because the Australian bourgeoisie is allied to the American bourgeoisie.

    There is little discernible difference between Labor and Liberals apropos of Australian imperialism, precisely because they are both ardent supporters of Australian capitalism. While the ALP may balk at certain pieces of adventurism, perhaps because they squander young working class Australians’ lives, ultimately the only rhetoric the ALP today seems capable of producing is a left-capitalist rhetoric which argues that says that in fact the Australian economy is benefited by more peaceful policies than the Liberals are advocating. The ALP continues to peddle policies to its working class base in which the interests of Australian capital are identified generally with the interests of Australian workers. Contradiction between the two is almost never explicitly acknowledged by either political party. The WorkChoices legislation, clearly legislation for the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie against workers, is presented by neither side explicitly as such, but rather as good for Australia by the right and bad for Australia by the left – only the socialist left (small ‘s’, small ‘l’) of the ALP is capable of actually pointing out that there is a class conflict here.

    When it comes to Australia’s imperial expansion, real voices of criticism are relegated to the far left. All sections of the Australian media uncritically accept Australia’s most recent invasion of East Timor as being a simple matter of an invitation by a friendly government for assistance. Such presentations are disgraceful hogwash, however. The deployment of the military in foreign contexts is clear interference in the internal affairs of other nations, and effectively abnegate those countries’ sovereignty. There are inevitably forces in any country who would welcome any forces who intervene from without on their side. Certainly this is the case in East Timor; such was the case too in Iraq. It is quite clear however that in intervening in East Timor, Australia backs its friends, and wins favours for itself while its friends remain in power, which they assuredly will with such powerful backing. Which is to say, that Australian imperialism, both as practised by Australian companies and by the Australian state, is essentially a subversive, corrupting force in the region. Australian ministers and CEOs generally complain about corruption whenever they don’t get their way, but in reality the converse is the case: those who are pliant to Australian interests have been bought-out by Australian largesse.

  • 1 Oct. 2006

    Australia: Colonial Phatasm



    You see this figure iterated everywhere in this country, like a corporate logo, a badge of identity where none is needed, where it is completely certain to everyone that we are on the continent depicted. Other countries don't do this, but Australians need to continually claim the entirety of the continent. This is partly because they do not have much of a hold on it. Most Australians have hardly seen any of it; there are parts of it which have hardly been seen by anyone. Australians cluster together at certain sites on its eastern and southern coastlines.

    Opposing this periphery is another periphery, and outback, northern periphery. Its population is much smaller in number, and even smaller in the significance it is accorded. This is occupied territory, in which white Australia continues to impose its will on the descendents of the original inhabitants of the continent that white Australians so neurotically claim.

    Aboriginal Australia was forced to coagulate around missions and townships in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Formal freedom in the twentieth century meant the difference between forced labour and simple imprisonment. I just read this article by Alan Ramsay about Palm Island. In it, he quotes a description of Palm Island, a former penal colony for Australia's most recalcitrant Aborigines, as having been a gulag. Today, it is no longer a labour camp, but rather simply a prison camp. It is not even a ghetto, since the officials are all white outsiders.

    In 1975, Australia formally (as opposed to really) relinquished control of Papua New Guinea. Ostensibly, this was the end of Australian colonialism. But this lie could only be perpetrated via the phantasm of the single Australian continent, an indivisible nation united by the undeniable objectivity of geography. This masks completely the reality of colonialism within this continent. Even Alan Ramsey's otherwise-excellent article falls flat on this score: it dares to talk about "our Aboriginal Australians". Calling them Australians is one thing – that's for them to accept or deny, and it may be taken to express a geographical or legal fact, although of course in Ramsey's usage it is meant to say 'they are Australians too', which is a discourse which ultimately serves to legitimise their colonisation. But calling them 'ours' is really disturbing. Perhaps because there's some truth to it. Along with their land, Australia needs to give them back their selves.

    29 Sep. 2006

    Australia is based on expropriating and making money out of farming, blowing up, mining and building ugly houses on places sacred to other peoples. But in the process, Australia has generated its own sacred places. A few of these are overseas, places like Anzac Cove . . . and Kokoda, which is in Papua New Guinea, decolonised by Australia 31 years ago. Despite this fact, which one might think made this no-one's fucking business by the Papuans', John Howard has stuck his oar in claiming that, while PNG may be an independent country, he can categorically make statements about what will happen there.

    Paraphrase of PNG's response: "We would never do anything to enrage our heavily-armed imperialist overlords."

    Paraphrase of ALP's response: "Anyone would think we're a bunch of fairies the way Howard kowtows to these darkies."

    28 Sep. 2006

    I have still to tidy up and post my thoughts on the Steve-Irwin-death phenomenon, but last night I was appalled when I channel-surfed into the interview with his widow.

    The Channel 9 interviewer was putting this extraordinary question to her: "They say that behind every strong man is a strong woman. Can this you remain strong without your strong man?"

    Unbelievable. He starts by citing a platitude which in fact runs completely contrary to his line of inquiry, viz. are you, Terri Irwin, going to go nuts? Because, yeah, strong women, whatever, but ultimately if you haven't got a bloke around, and frankly part of Irwin's charm was that he behaved more or less like a nine-year-old, you're in the shit.

    The widow Irwin replied straightforwardly, in the only way one could, by saying "I have no choice but to carry on!" Damn straight. If she does manage to deal with this loss, and I certainly think she is more than capable, it will be no thanks to this moronic prat. Where are all the journalists who tore into Germaine Greer about her insensitivity about this suit's utter cluelessness?

    27 Sep. 2006

    Sinister Australian federal agency logos

    I pointed out last year how incredibly sinister the then DIMIA's logo was. They don't use it a lot anymore, and will of course have jettisoned the old stationary etc when they changed to being DIMA, but I did find this instance via Google image search:


    Yes, Australia, a writhing, twisting mass of human bodies. That's the Department of Immigration and Mulitcultural Affairs so you know. Yes.

    Today, I noticed how sinister the Australian Tax Office's logo is:

    Like every organisation, from the federal government to self-employed plumbers, in this country, the ATO feels the need not only to add the word 'Australian' to its name – I always like to point out that there is no need for this, since no-one's going to confuse what Tax Office they are – they, like DIMIA, have a logo in the shape of Australia.

    Does one really want the ATO to represent Australia in this way? A jagged continent, hewn out of angular, bureaucratic letters, it is the perfect representation of the bureaucratisation of a landmass. This of course is perfectly appropriate for the ATO. Less appropriate is the fact that the twisted shapes of the letters put one in mind of thrash metal band logos. In particular, the initial A reminds me of the initial A of the Anthrax logo:

    Read Jeff Sparrow's the global war on witches, a convincing comparative study of the early modern European witch craze and the current 'war on terror'.

    The WOT is of course a persecution of Muslims. This seems to make it different from the witch trials. Of course, witch trials were partly about cultural and religious non-conformity. One could indeed argue that they were in reaction precisely to the Muslim threat at that time – gates of Vienna and all that.

    18 Sep. 2006

    The Australian far left blogosphere today

    When I started this blog, it was in part to correct what I perceived to be an absence of far-left perspectives on Australia in the blogosphere, and moreover, in the light of Australia's invasion of the Solomon Islands and East Timor, a general lack of dedicated analysis of Australia in the blogosphere full stop.

    Political blogging at this stage was somewhat-accurately summed up on the Melburnian paean to ressentiment, The Spin Starts Here. As you might expect from apolitical jesters, they manage to characterise the economically-far-right Catallaxy as 'centrist'. Nevertheless, political blogging in Australia seemed to run the gamut from far right to centre left, without the far left bloggers that exist in other countries. The lone serious left voice (I don't count myself, because my blogging never exhibited sustained seriousness) was Evan Jones' Alert and Alarmed. As a one-man and quite understated operation, I felt it wasn't enough.

    Since starting this blog, however, welcome new forces in the blogosphere have emerged. The most recent is the mostly-Marxist leftwrites, which has some real star names on it and basically great analysis, atlhough is broad enough to have somewhat-variable quality. Another force, though not technically a blog, which started up shortly before this blog, though I wasn't yet aware of it, is the Labor Tribune.

    Still, I see us as doing complementary and not overly-overlapping work with these other blogs. While lw is made up of Australian voices looking at the world, we are, thus far, non-Australian voices talking about Australia per se. LT is closer to us here, but like lw is much more heteroclite tha we are, offering a forum for debate. While Mike and I have different perspectives, my aim is not to provide a forum for debate per se, but rather to produce a coherent critique. And that's why I'm still keeping this blog simmering and still hoping it will build.

    13 Sep. 2006

    In Afghanistan, Australian troops kill 150 natives and suffer no fatalities.

    In the Solomons, the Australian proconsul 'high comissioner' is expelled; Alexander Downer makes ominous noises about corruption.

    What the hell kind of 'battle' achieves a 150:0 kill ratio? Sounds like a massacre to me. I'm sure they'd have us believe that the fuzzy-wuzzies charged the Australian troops brandishing scimitars screaming wildly, believing that magic would protect them while the Aussies mowed them down in self-defence. Alternatively, the figures are just made up.

    And can't you see that exercising national sovereignty is the pure inverse of corruption? If there is so much corruption, it should be a doddle for Australia, and a fortiori Australian mining interests, to get the country to do their bidding?

    25 Aug. 2006

    Australian militarism: arming for imperialism

    As I pointed out last year, Australia spends more per year on 'defence' than India. India is, of course, the second most populous country in the world, is fighting at least 4 distinct internal guerilla movements, has nuclear weapons, and has two nuclear-armed neighbours (China and Pakistan) with whom it has recently fought border conflicts. Given the importance of technology to modern warfare, military spending tends to be the sole determinant of strategic capability – India has vast, cheap manpower, but Australia has the dollars. Still, just to shore things up, Howard has decided to increase troop numbers massively, by about 5%, although they were already increased by nearly 3% last year to make up a shortfall. Not on a par with India, but this is of course hardly necessary given the type of wars Australia plans to fight, and given that manpower is here much more expensive relative to high-tech armaments.


    Brutal pic courtesy of SMH

    Howard claims that the increase is needed because of 'instability in the region', 'the region' being the South Pacific. Certainly, Australia's military is overstretched. It is part of the occupying forces of two large countries, Afghanistan and Iraq, and single-handedly commited to holding down some smaller countries, like the Solomon Islands and Timor Leste. Australia was recently making noises about being part of a Israeli-proxy UN occupation force in Lebanon. To this end not only is the army being expanded, but a police force for deployment overseas – which is to say, a dedicated occupation force – is being massively increased by 1,000 personnel.

    This is being sold as an exercise in humanitarianism, as Australia being a responsible regional superpower. This is nothing short of complete nonsense. For one thing, a significant portion of Australia's deployments are not in its region at all, but in the Middle East, in support of naked American imperialism. For another thing, there is, of course, no humanitarian motive behind Australia's 'regional' deployments. Howard's bold prediction that there will be an increased need for troops in the region appears as an assertion of what all Aussies know, that the local frizzy-haired populations are in fact degenerating in their ability to govern themselves, necessitating direct intervention in their savage affairs. Of course, the reality is that Australia's interventions in the region are imperialist assaults on the sovereignty of indigenous populations, aimed not at helping them, but at protecting Australian commercial interests, primarily in the natural-resources-theft industry. Howard's prediction indicates two things: firstly, a prediction of growing resistance regionally to Australian imperialism, and, secondly, a desire for Australia to amp up the level of corporate super-exploitation of the region, something that can only occur with Australian guns to back it.

    23 Aug. 2006

    Australia's judicial 'disproportionate response'


    Gotta love the Gitmo-style orange jumpsuit.

    For three charges, Faheem Khalid Lodhi has been sentenced to twenty years in prison (quotes from SMH article):

  • "Seeking information from a chemicals company about the availability off [sic] chemicals to manufacture explosives." I'm not sure, but I suspect the enquiries weren't of the "I want to make a bomb, what chemicals do I need?" order implied here, so much as inquiries about chemicals which might be used for bomb-making.

  • "he purchased maps giving false identification, maps of the Australia electricity supply system." I have no idea what a 'map giving false identification' is; a mislabelled map? Maybe they mean that he purchased some kind of fake ID.

  • "He also had a 15-page "terror manual'', which he had handwritten in his native Urdu, which contained information about making poisons and bombs."

    This evidence convinces me that Lodhi was thinking about bombing the electricity supply system. It convinces me neither that he was going to bomb the electricity supply system, nor that he was even thinking about killing anyone. Really, he has been convicted not of acts but of being a 'terrorist', on the basis of a discernible essence, which has been determined via the equation Muslim + beard + terror manuals.

    It is the new Dranconian laws that are to blame. Under Australia's old laws, the authorities could have surveilled the guy and waited to see if he did anything, like actually acquiring the chemicals, or making them into explosives, or trying to use these explosives. Making inquiries about buying knives while also possessing a handwritten manual about how to cut people up, and the address of someone you have cause to want to stab is not tantamount to attempted murder.

    See also my post about his conviction two months back.

  • 22 Aug. 2006

    It's the Apocalypse

    Or at least, Sydney's version thereof, which can be summed up in two words:
    negative equity




    Seriously, this is a nightmare: as interest rates rise and unemployment increases – how could it not from an historic low? – not to mention that the construction industry, which employs 10% of working Sydneysiders, is being grossly undermined – the poorest decile of home-buyers, those who are the ones hit by rising unemployment and the same ones with negative equity, will be expropriated. It's good news for solvent investors, however, who can snap up fire sale properties and then rent them out to newly homeless families, which, as I understand it, is what is happening with the brick veneer pile pictured above.

    21 Aug. 2006

    The new line on David Hicks

    As I noted the other day, there seems to have been a change in Australian government policy towards the case of the illegally-detained Australian Muslim, David Hicks. Here it is again, except that Darth Ruddock has moved even further towards a pro-Hicks position. He's basically said that the government (i.e. his master, Darth Howard) are not happy about Hicks being kept in infinite detention. There is some logic to this. They were quite happy to see Hicks face a kangaroo court, but now that the court has been declared illegal, they're not happy for him to continue being detained. It's a bit bizarre to claim that they are unhappy with indefinite detention, but they were happy with a long detention followed by a dodgy and illegal trial, but presumably they think the US Supreme Court are a bunch of liberal wimps who are interfering with justice.

    OK, so the new line is that they don't like Hicks being in detention, but there's nothing much they can do about it. This seems to grossly contradict Ruddock's previous attempt to claim credit for getting the US's other Australian in Guantanamo freed; in fact, just a week ago, Ruddock was claiming that if the US didn't put Hicks on some kind of ludicrous trial, "we would be seeking his return in the same way we did with Mamdouh Habib".

    One suspects that Ruddock et al. have now approached the US administration and been rebuffed, hence this new 'we are impotent' line (to be used also to explain economic conditions, and any other negative phenomena which may arise). Regardless of whether he has tried to do anything, I don't really doubt that Ruddock is right about there not being anything much he can do in this regard. Australia is America's servant, and does not have any real power in its relationship with its imperial master – and cna grovel for favours, but the US will only grant them if it feels like it. Which means that Habib was freed because, even after the Egyptians had totrued him, they didn't find enough evidence to try him in front of even a kanagaroo court.

    Rich get richer

    Source:SMH article

    I don't have anything definite to add to the article, so what follows is really speculative. One thing that came to mind was that this graph roughly represents the state of the class struggle. By 1979, after Vietnam, the capitalist class were on the backfoot, but about to take the offensive internationally: Thatcher, Reagan and Gorbachev took power (none of them capitalists themselves per se, but all representing bourgeois interests) and the pendulum started to swing back. Although it's also true that the international and Aussie economies were in the doldrums at the same point and then recovered, which certainly indicates that economic growth doesn't trickle down all that much but rather hugely boosts income inequality. However, one wonders whether this economic recovery wasn't in part due to the regrowth of imperialism in the same period.

    A tantalising comment in the SMH article is that is that the massive growth in executive incomes is skewing the whole picture of earnings. Which makes me wonder whether this enormous growth is not a major driver of the inflation which is resulting in the flagellation of the indebted masses.

    19 Aug. 2006

    Jack Thomas is free!


    Jack Thomas, convicted of and imprisoned for receiving money from terrorists, has been freed. As I pointed out when he was convicted, the fact that what he did – take money from terrorists, but without there being any evidence he did so for any other reason than to escape to Australia – is illegal is ridiculous. He's now got off on what is a very reasonable legal technicality, that the way his confession of his actions was extraced, viz. through threats, torture and inducements, rendered it invalid.

    Read Jeff Sparrow's write-up on LeftWrites.The first commenters does, however, point out that this appeal decision may itself be appealed, so Jack is not out of the woods yet.

    18 Aug. 2006

    Australian Citizenship

    I've lived in Australia for four-and-a-half years, but I'm not an Australian citizen, or even a 'permanent resident', the necessary pre-requisite to becoming a citizen. You have to be a permanent resident residing in Australia for a minimum of two years in the previous five, of which one year has to be concurrent with your application, to get Australian citizenship. If you can't stay in the country concurrently for 12 months, you'll never become an Australian citizen.

    For most purposes, permanent residency suffices. It gives you most of the employment and legal rights citizens enjoy, and the same welfare benefits. University scholarship are generally available to permanent residents as to citizens. Permanent residents can become policemen (at least in NSW).

    There are some rights you are not accorded, however. These include political rights, such as the right to vote (which in Australia is also a legal obligation), or to run for office. You also cannot work in the Australian federal public service, what's known in British English as the "civil service". You can kind of understand why this would apply to DFAT (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade) with its overseas postings (permanent residents lose their PR if they go overseas for more than five years continuously – it would be pretty perverse for people to lose that right because they were representing the Australian government), but why on earth can't non-Australians work in the Australian Tax Office, for example? Are they inherently untrustworthy?

    The answer, of course, is that Australia is a club, and non-members don't get the benefits. This is essentially racism. Not of the narrow type that discriminates on the basis of skin-colour, although there is an element of that here. Rather that which defines people according to a racial essence and discriminates accordingly. IF I sound bitter you'd be right – although, I must admit that I enjoy less tangible advantages from Australian racism, being whtie and English-speaking.

    At the Eureka Stockade, long prior to the existence of Australian citizenship, those mostly-immigrant rebels adopted a thoroughly petty bourgeois, but nevertheless basic and reasonable slogan: No Taxation Without Representation. You can't take our money if you don't give us a say how it's spent. As non-Australian residents (I mean 'resident' for tax purposes – I reckon there's at least 2 million of us, over 10% of the population), we are in this country, paying taxes to support politicians and bureaucrats, whose jobs we are not allowed to access. Australian citizens overseas (of whom there are around a million), however, without paying taxes are legally obliged to give their opinion about how the money I pay to the government is to be spent.

    Of course, I'd rather raise a more democratic slogan: No Government But By The Governed. It's not the taxes that essentially give me the right to demand a say in how Australia is run, but the fact that I am bound by Australian law. It is therefore in my interests, not in those of Australians who do not live here, how this government operates. I do not propose this as an idea for reform; I propose it as an unconditional demand by one governed to those who govern me, bureaucrats and politicians alike.

    Appendix: Just happened to read an article about the Tampa refugees: about 10% of them, 28 people, are still in Australia. A cruel irony is that while these were ones clearly identified as refugees who the Australian government could not send back, they are kept in a limbo of temporary visas, unlike many of those shipped off to other countries with more humane migration regimes. Only 2 of the 28, five years after arriving in Australia, have Australian citizenship, and three more permanent residency – in all these cases, this is becuase they qualified for schemes like those to attract skilled labour to rural areas, not through their need as refugees. The other 23 therefore have no permanent status in this country and cannot bring over their spouses and children.

    15 Aug. 2006

    Coalition ducks and weaves

    In one day, we have three sudden jerky movements by the federal government.

    Firstly, they dropped their plan to make immigration law yet more draconian. There's no secret about why this happened: they were staring defeat in the senate in the fact, since their own senators could not be relied upon. This is basically a Good Thing, as far as I can see.

    Then, Darth Ruddock announces that they may seek to have David Hicks repatriated if the US don't charge him with anything (their previous attempt to charge him with something in a specially-convened kangaroo court having been declared unconstitutional). This is, it seems to me, a really significant u-turn by a government that has tried to completely disown Hicks for the last four+ years. Ruddock also seems to be claiming credit for the American release of Mamdouh Habib, Australia's other Guantanamo detainee now. This move is clearly, like the previous one, not about winning votes. Right-wing populism with its total disdain for the other – migrants, Muslims – is what this government's electoral success is built on. Rather, both moves are about the fact that certain very influential people – Liberal MPs, high-profile lawyers – are vociferously unhappy with the government's disregard for human rights/decency.

    Thirdly, something much more transparent: the subsidy to convert cars to Liquefied Petroleum Gas. Kind of a weird one. The obvious placatory measure would be to subsidise petrol. But of course that would mean implicitly admiting that the government can do something about petrol prices, rather than allowing the 'market' to determine the price. Weirdly, it's OK to leverage the market left, right and centre to get alternatives to petrol happening. There's a twisted logic here, and it does make the government look progressive. Not enough to get progressives voting for them, but enough to get their own voters to justify to themselves keeping their heads burried in the sand.

    The big issues are untouchable though. The government cannot backtrack on industrial relations, and it cannot influence interest rates. Which is to say, it has the capacity to do these things, but is not about to use it. And these, it seems, are the issues around which the next election will be won or lost. Well those, and the mass-delusional politics of trust, confidence and personalities.

    7 Aug. 2006

    The Wizard of Oz



    John Howard set himself up as a sitting duck when he, er, implied that interest rates would stay down if the Coalition was re-elected in 2004. It’s hard to see that manoeuvre as anything other than short-termism, since he can’t have been so stupid as to believe it, and must have known it would backfire sooner or later. But he’s right now that the government is not really to blame or credit for what happens to interest rates, and he was wrong then.

    So should we blame the Reserve Bank? The short answer: not really. Monetary policy moves within limits set by economic forces, and focusing criticism on the Reserve Bank rather than those forces is shooting the messenger.

    Cyclones and bananas are a red herring. Ross Gittins is right on that. It’s true that the headline inflation rate would have been a lot lower without them and fuel, but the Bank board was well aware of that, and Governor MacFarlane says the Board ‘abstracted’ from those outliers. It is normal practice for monetary policymakers to focus on the underlying rate, which excludes volatile prices.

    MacFarlane’s statement is clear: the Board blames the underlying inflation rate on high demand caused by two factors: 1) an international boom, which has driven up commodity prices and boosted Australian incomes; and 2) high domestic demand fuelled by borrowing. The Bank can do nothing about the first, so the burden is placed on domestic borrowing, with mortgagees suffering the most.[1]

    Cost enters the equation from the other side. MacFarlane talks of “the background of an economy operating with limited spare capacity”. Raw materials prices are well up, especially commodity prices, which is a global phenomenon. More importantly, “labour market conditions are tight.” That’s the typically oblique way of saying that the economy faces the danger of stronger worker bargaining power – especially over wages, but any worker control that undermines productivity is bad news on the inflation front.

    So the Reserve Bank board looks ripe for demonisation. But of course the Bank is doing exactly what it’s supposed to be doing. The central bank has evolved with capitalism as a kind of brake, to deal with its inherent instability. If the brake is not applied, it doesn’t mean smooth, fast riding forever, it means spinning out of control and maybe a crash.

    It is an open secret that capitalism needs a large pool of unemployment to function properly, so that labour can flow freely into new projects and to keep pressure off wages. For a quarter-century after World War II it looked like relatively full employment would be sustainable, but even then many businesspeople and economists pined for the old ways. The revolution in monetary policy since the stagflationary crisis of the 1970s was partly about how economic policymakers stopped worrying and learned to love unemployment.

    Central banks around the world have been made ‘independent’ – i.e., technocracies beyond democratic control – because politicians could not be trusted to risk unpopularity by turning on the brake. Now central banks take the heat, but then criticism sputters out because all the major players accept the rules of the game. The electoral politics of money has been reduced to the question of which side’s policies would make the Bank more likely to put up interest rates.

    Often central bankers play into the mythology about their place in the world, in which they are philosopher-kings with hands on all the economy’s levers, gracefully guiding a complex system whose ken is beyond mortals. At a charity lunch last month, Glenn Stevens, heir to the governors’ chair, casually boasted about what the Bank does:


    A large data set is monitored – a couple of thousand domestic and international data series are routinely tracked, including all the major ABS statistical releases, and at last count 16 privately compiled Australian business surveys…. The staff in our regional offices have built up a pool of over 1,500 regular contacts around the country, and visit about 100 of them every month. On the basis of those visits, they compile a comprehensive picture of trends in demand, output, labour markets, costs and prices. This is used alongside the standard economic time series in forming our assessment of the economy.
    But for what? All those statistics, and all the Board can do is put the cash rate up or down slightly, once a month. Often, reading their statements, you realise that they don’t actually feel all that powerful. In the same speech, Stevens said that he was surprised that the media focused so much on domestic factors when analysing Bank moves, when clearly the board pays a lot of attention to overseas factors. That was certainly true this time around, despite the fact that the official statement began, as usual, with trends in the world economy. The Bank’s quarterly Statements on Monetary Policy generally only start talking about domestic conditions after 15 pages on the international situation.

    Furthermore, since capital is mobile, Australian interest rates only have a limited autonomy from rates elsewhere. Stevens is at pains to show that there is some autonomy, but the evidence is pretty clear that real interest rates here, especially long-term rates, stay close to American rates. Check out the graphs from Ernst Jeurg Weber’s article in the June 2005 issue of the Journal of Australian Political Economy.



    Finally, the Bank controls only the cash rate, the rate on money lent overnight between banks. Generally other rates follow it, but they’re set by the private banks and in the bond markets. Central banks lead the market, but don’t control it, and can’t stray too far. Lately some central banks have found their tightening foiled by private banks not following their lead. The Reserve Bank of New Zealand has been complaining that the banks there have not been raising mortgage rates along with the cash rate, because of competition in the mortgage market and the availability of funds from overseas. Here in Australia this time mortgage rates rose with the cash rate, but the Bank’s official statement complains that over the last few years the private banks’ lending margins (between interest they pay and what they lend at) have compressed so that lending rates

    So, while monetary policy and the undemocratic Reserve Bank should certainly be criticised, we have to realise that its control is limited. Capital’s power is much more diffuse, and interest rates are only a symptom with much deeper causes. This is my thesis topic and no doubt I’ll be posting plenty more.

    [1] This is a relatively new development – textbooks will tell you that monetary policy works mostly through business investment, but as household debt mounts, it works increasingly directly on consumer spending by squeezing the incomes of working class borrowers.

    2 Aug. 2006

    Today's Interest Rate Rise

    Like the vast majority of people I feel like I'm not entitled to speak on matters of interest rate policy, that I don't understand what's going on. I thought everyone had gone insane, but was hopeful that I might be missing something. Until I read what Evan Jones, a professional political economist posted on the subject, which essentially confirmed that I was right.

    This is the argument that is being presented for the new interest rate hike: the value of petrol has gone up, therefore the value of many commodities (which are either partly made from or at least transported through burning petrol) have gone up. Therefore there is 'inflationary' pressure on prices.

    So far so good. This pressure will likely make wages go up, since people need the money from their employment to pay for the increasing prices. So we see the beginnings of an inflationary spiral.

    It's quite clear that there is only one mechanism which is employed in the neo-liberal order to control inflation. That is the 'interest rate', which the supposedly-politically-independent put up every time inflation rises, and are consequently called geniuses by the news media.

    The rationale for this is very clearly that it is spending which causes, or at least exacerbates inflation, and raising interest rates makes loans more expensive and saving more attractive, hence discourages consumer spending.

    However, this will not change the underlying cost of commodities. What it in fact does is increase the cost of living for the large proportion of the population who are in debt and thus puts pressure on wages. As Jones says, this in fact exacerbates inflation. While demand for commodities will fall in that fewer people can afford to pay for them, this is simply to fomet economic disaster, since it will simply render businesses unviable. It heralds a deflationary race to the bottom, of falling wages and destitution as the wages we have give us less and less spending power in an economy afflicted with high commodity price inflation.

    Well, that's my two cents. Political economist readers are sure to chime in. Obviously, this is not the end of the Australian economy per se yet, since so much of it is based on primary production for export. Urban economies like Sydeny's however, especially the urban working class who are engaged in industries of secondary and tertiary production and who have high levels of consumer debt, are in for a rough ride.

    Racial Vilification

    In Western Australia in 2005, they brought in a law against racial vilification. They did this in response to a spate of racist graffiti in Perth.

    I'm fairly sympathetic to the idea that a law might be needed here. Racist graffiti is clearly worse than street art, which generally, probably shouldn't be illegal at all.

    The first actual application of the new law is in fact however itself racist. Some black girls who allegedly verballed a white girl in Kalgoorlie in racist terms are being charged with it. I won't trivialise the incident itself, because it seems to have been a shockingly brutal assault, of a type which women I know in Sydney have also experienced at the hands and feet of teenage black girls. None of this changes the fact, however, that white people cannot in fact be vilified racially. You can try it, but it just doesn't work.

    A case in point, on a Friday or Saturday night I was in the Glebe side of Parramatta road with a friend and this young Leb guy started heckling us from the passenger side of a car stopped in traffic, calling us 'Irish bastards', or 'cunts', or something along those lines. I take it that he was doing a delicious parody of the way in which he, an Australian, is always referred to as 'Lebanese', despite the fact that he is quite possibly from an Iraqi background anyway, etc. The thing is, that if he was trying to racially vilify us, it didn't work, in that calling us Irish will not make us as alienated as calling him a Leb would. I was just worried he wanted to fight us. And if he had done, it would have undoubtedly been partly as a result of a lifetime of racial vilification. I take the same view about Bilal Skaf, scumbag though he undoubtedly is.

    The Kalgoorlie is a perfect example of the post-Apartheid mentality in Australia: from the oppression of blacks by treating them unequally, to the oppression via formal equality, by applying the same standards to people who've had everything stolen from them. The Australian right is oblivious to how farcical it is to steal everything someone has, so that you are rich, and then urge them to work to get back a fraction of what they once had. The incident is also highly indicative of a general oppression of black people, and the working class more generally, on the basis of the punishment of people's inability to particpate properly in the right linguistic games. John Howard can be as racist as he likes, as long as he doesn't call anyone a 'boong' or a 'chong'.

    30 Jul. 2006

    'PM's car pelted, mobbed by angry anti-war protesters', The Sun-Herald, Sydney



    Ha ha! It's a good job none of them had screwdrivers (at least that we know of – no doubt ASIO and Channel 7 have people working through the night analysing footage, looking for the telltale flash of yellow plastic in a protestor's hand). Still, scant explanation in the article of quite why Lebanese-flag-waving citizenry might engage in the most concerted physical attack on the PM since the 2004 incicent in which he was hexed by an Aboriginal woman, apparently to no avail (yet). The article does point out that Howard had said he 'understood' why Israel is scourging Lebanon. Well, I understand too – they state of Israel is psychopathic. So too, indeed, is Australia. The article fails to mention the very real support given by the Australian state to the Israeli state, or the very real network of paranoia and imperialism in which Australia supports Israel. I obviously don't expect them to say that, but they might have dug up something to say about Howard's support for Zionism rather than paraphrase some apparently ambiguous recent statement.

    28 Jul. 2006

    Israel and Australian heritage

    The first thing I thought when I heard about the Australian-Israeli man killed in his capacity as an Israeli soldier by Hizb'allah in Lebanon was that John Howard must have smiled when he heard the news that the guy had been an Australian. Maybe I'm being unfair to Howard, and he really does believe in the cause so much that the soldier's death will have caused him to shed a tear. Still, this incidental fact, that an Australian has apparently been killed by Hizbollah, does much to remove the, admittedly very modest, media pressure on the Australia state as an arch-supporter of Zionism's unfettered right to impose itself on the Levant.

    While the metrics taken on human terms are 42–510 Israeli–Lebanese (although you can bet that the Lebanese, with their infrastructure disabled, are way behind in their body count), in Australian terms, the numbers are now 1–0. Of course, some of those Lebanese dead, known or unknown, might be Australian too. We'll see how much fanfare and interviews with their school chums the SMH treats us to when and if they are identified.

    Non-Lebanese Australian solidarity with Israel is, of course, natural. The SMH has an article, 'Serving here is part of our Australian heritage', in which Sydney emigrĂ© Guy Spigelman, an IDF Captain, is quoted as saying just that, "Australians have a long history of serving in Israel, all the way back … to the Second World War. Serving here in Israel is part of our Australian heritage." One shouldn't of course neglect Australia's glorious ANZAC heritage either. To go to the Middle East and kill some dirty Mohammedans is what historically defined Australia as a nation, as we continually told, although not in those terms, of course. Yes, Australian soldiers in those days were on the side of the Arabs against the Turks, but what came of that was the lasting encroachment of Western imperialism on the region. That's not to say that ANZACs were evil. Far from it. They were all the things which are said of the diggers. They showed great solidarity for one another. They were the salt of the earth. One might be able to say the same things about IDF soldiers to some extent. But that does not mean, in either case, that they are not utterly racist. Again, their racism is not indicative of a lack of moral fibre—it's because they come from racist societies. The facts are simple: ANZAC or IDF, these are racist-imperialist formations in the Middle East. We should not be proud of being a racist-imperialist country. This is not our nature, but rather a cause to which the Australian character has been co-opted.

    26 Jul. 2006

    Happy Birthday, Our Dear Leader

    It's difficult to know what to make of this story from the AAP.

    Several young women patted Mr Howard on the back, while he was hugged by an exuberant young man amid cries of "Good on you, Johnny" and "Keep up the good work".
    It's got a touch of Pyongyang about it, although in Australia at least this kind of thing is reserved for the dear leader's birthday, and then tucked away at the back of the paper.

    Can it be true that the people of Melbourne love Howard? The Labor Party also wish him a happy birthday, but this is transparently part of a culture of mutual respect between the alternating parties of government which is insurance for both of them against the day when they swap places.

    Some of the Melburnians' comments are somewhat ribald, as indeed are Labour's, but of course this is the way an Australian shows their deepest affection for someone. To treat a leader as a mate is the highest compliment. Of course, some mates are more equal than others.

    The question I would really like an answer to is whether it's that people don't know, or whether it's that they don't care, that this man is a racist war criminal. Perhaps they love him because of these aspects. This guy wildly exceeded Howard on both measures, and the adoring crowds were commensurately larger:



    From Andrew Montin, check out this example of the kind of respectful criticism that Howard is treated to from allegedly-Marxist news organisations. Howard's complicity in the slaughter in Lebanon, and even the slaughter itself are well-hidden. But that's only a veneer for the sake of (mass-)deniability really, not a thoroughgoing subterfuge. Johnny's trick has always been to allow people to be as racist as they like, while also fervently denying that racism is racist. I gigantic, poker-faced confidence trick. That's why they love him. He has the confidence for all of us, smiles while the bombs drop and assures us all that it's OK, that it's OK to be privileged and racist and complacent and weak and exploited, in short to be whatever we are.

    Update: I got home tonight to television news spinning the news quite a different way. Turns out the guy who hugged the PM was holding a screwdriver! He could, it's true, have had a go at killing Howard with that. Apparently, this is a security issue. Apparently, our dear leader should stay out of the limelight.

    The whole thing is ridiculous. Everyone in Sydney who cares to knows that the PM walks in by the harbour every morning in such a way that anyone who wants to assassinate him easily could. No one wants to assassinate him. There's really no point, unless you're one of those who wants to succeed him, i.e. Beazley or Costello. No one wants to kill Howard and this of course is the narcissistic wound for the Australian media: if a guy with a screwdriver tried to cuddle President Bush, he'd have has brains shot our of his ear, whereas Howard is like a teddy bear for every retard in the country. Rather, we should hide him away from the public, thus creating the illusion that he, and by extension we, matter.

    23 Jul. 2006

    Ken Buckley, 1922-2006

    Ken Buckley died last Sunday. I never knew him personally but ever since I arrived in Australia his name kept coming up for one reason or another. He was a writer, a teacher and a doer of the Sydney left, present at the creation of a number of its institutions. Most famously, the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, which was established after police raided a Kings Cross party he was at in 1963. He was its first secretary, and later president of the national body.

    He was also a major player in the establishment of Political Economy at Sydney University, as a supporter and as a member of the committee of inquiry that turned the tide against its enemies in Economics. He had moved to Australia from his native Britain to take up a lectureship in Economic History in 1953 – opposed by ASIO, as he later found out, because of his active role in the Communist Party. (In fact, he was a member of the Marxist Historians Group along with Eric Hobsbawm, E. P. Thompson, Christopher Hill and Maurice Dobb.) He became a gadfly at the university, setting up the union which became the National Tertiary Education Union, along with Ted Wheelwright.

    But I first came across Buckley’s name in Sydney’s second-hand bookshops. Looking to get up to speed with Australian political and economic history, I came across the series he edited with Wheelwright in the 1970s and 80s, Essays in the Political Economy of Australian Capitalism. It’s a fantastic set of books collecting about fifty articles on Australian history and contemporary political economy from various Marxist perspectives. The pair used the material they collected to write their own economic history, published as No Paradise for Workers (covering 1788-1914) and False Paradise (1915-1955). Unfortunately the planned third volume won’t be written.

    The whole lot are well worth reading. Unfortunately, they’re all out of print. As it happens, plans are already afoot to digitise the essay collection. I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, they are worth hunting down second-hand. Gould’s in Sydney has remainders of the Paradise books.

    The Sydney Morning Herald has a good obituary, and his own autobiographical reflections are here.


    22 Jul. 2006

    Protest reports

    The coverage of today's protests against the Israeli depradations of Lebanon and Gaza has been deeply problematic.



    On the one hand, we should be thankful that no one is trying to make capital out of (or perhaps they simply didn't notice) a couple of disgracefully anti-semitic signs at the Sydney rally. Certainly, no attention should be paid to a couple of isolated signs like that in a crowd which police recognise was over 10,000 strong.

    However, there nevertheless seems to be real dissimulation about the content of the protests and their meaning. The protests are being reported as protests against the violence in Lebanon, as if they were non-partisan peace vigils. In reality these were protests very pointedly against the US and Israel. The chants and signs were predominantly against Israel and Bush. While I saw absolutely no overt support for Hizbollah, no one was protesting against Hizbollah, and rightly so, because the issue is not Hizbollah but Israel's wanton and murderously indiscriminate aggression against the people of Lebanon.

    The AAP article at smh.com.au fails to mention Israel or America. It mentions that we marched to Martin Place but fails to mention that we did this only to protest outside the US consulate, since we correctly recognise the US as the real source of the bloodbath in the Middle East. The ABC are saying almost nothing. News.com.au is much the same as Fairfax, except that on their frontpage they make the absolutely misleading claim "Protestors march for ceasefire".

    This is all of a piece with the contrived neutrality of the Western media, to say that there is a war going on in which both sides are to blame, rather than accurately reporting Israeli aggression. This protest is being reported as if it were an outpouring of emotion about some natural disaster, not a political, anti-imperilaist manifestation. If they were to tell their readers that there are 20,000 people in Sydney marching to stop US-Israeli Zionist aggression, they would have to explain why we thought there was such aggression, since they have been telling their readership otherwise. Of course, they could say we are crazy anti-Semitic fascists, and maybe they will do that yet, but it's a lot easier to pretend everyone in Australia is saddened and baffled by these 'senseless' events in Overseas.

    Sunday: all mention of the protest(s) seems to be gone from the news websites. I woke up this morning cheered to hear ABC radio reporting protests as anti-Israeli, but these were the overseas protests, mainly London's '7,000' (see lenin), with no mention of Sydney own, ostensibly larger, protest.

    21 Jul. 2006

    Australia's migration regime: enforcing slavery

    If you introduce harsh penalties for people found to be illegally in Australia, this makes it less desirable to be illegally in Australia.

    Short of attaching tracking devices to all new arrivals, or the total collapse of the Australia economy (and I think it's perfectly possible that one or other of these things will eventuate within the decade), however, the existence of illegal migrants in the form of visa overstayers is inevitable, since there are so many other places which are worse to be in.

    For those who are illegally in Australia, a harsh migration regime means that anyone who knows you are here illegally has significant power over you. One call to the "Dob-In Line and you're off to Villawood. This then gives those in possession of such information, such as your employer, who would in fact quite likely know damn well that you're not allowed to work here, an enormous amount of power over you. For example the power to make you work 7 days a week. Indeed to keep you in virtual slavery (whether or not this has happened in this case, it most certainly does happen, for example in the sex industry).

    This goes not only for the approximately 50,000 visa overstayers in Australia, who, if they are still alive are likely in a position where they must work to survive, but also to the much larger number of people, such as those on student visas, who are living in Australia on visas which restrict their rights to work to the point where they cannot support themselves other than by working illegally, hence at risk of 'dob-in', hence at risk of blackmail.

    This pool of labour is in fact very important to Australia's economy. All Western countries make use of a cheap pool of illegal labour. This is the form it takes in Australia: visa overstayers and international students. Effectively, the Australian migration regime forms a synergy with unscrupulous employers for the massive exploitation of an illegal workforce.

    The third term in this system, along with the threat of the concentration camps run by DIMIA, is the horrendous conditions obtaining in so many countries that serve to make deportation so undesirable an option. This third term is imperialism, which is made possible by the militaries and the boundaries to the movement of peoples which tie them to a territory and allow for the concentrated exploitation of populations.

    18 Jul. 2006

    Australian–Lebanese Friendship, 2006

    I feel that I ought to issue some kind of statement here on the Israeli aggression against Lebanon.

    The Sydney Morning Herald reports over 200 Lebanese dead. Of these, perhaps 2% are Hizbollah fighters, the stated targets of the attacks.

    Australia is unsurprisingly unmoved. The Australian media reports the mass killings by the Israeli 'Defence' Force on a par with the comparatively few Israelis killed in Hizbollah's retaliatory attacks, following the grotesque li(n)e that this is a 'war', that Israel's wholesale investment of an entire country is somehow equivalent to some guerillas taking pot-shots at them from said country, or as not-quite-war, but an event with no identifiable logic, "an upsurge of violence in the Middle East".

    This situation is complicated however by the fact that Australia has a significant Lebanese minority, that Israel's utter callousness about Arab life involves a certain callousness about technically-Australian life. Australia doesn't care about Arabs either, but is in a difficult position. Consequently, it must try to evacuate its citizens from Lebanon. This is not just for their safety, but also so that Israel does not kill any 'Australians'. Israel can kill as many Arabs it likes and maintain Australian friendship, so long as those Arabs are not Australians. Of course, even if Israel does kill large numbers of Arab-Australians, the friendship with Israel will continue – it's more a matter of it producing public relations problems for the Australian government, particularly with its already-dissatisfied Arab citizens. So Australia must get its citizens out of the firing line, but without in any way disrupting Israel's depradations against Lebanon, its massacring of non-Australian Lebanese. For shame.

    12 Jul. 2006

    The E-3 visa sham

    moved up to front with updated info

    In the 'free trade' agreement Australia made with America in 2004, there was a much-trumpeted provision to allegedly make it easier for Australians to go to America to work. A unique class, the E-3 visa, just for Aussies – what a rare privilege!, we were told.

    In the SMH's fatuous MyCareer supplement last week, this puff piece about E-3 appeared. "For most of us, working in the United States has been the stuff of fantasy. Not any more." it thundered. Given that this visa scheme's been in place for over 18 months now, there isn't much cause for excitement. Particularly as the article actually reveals that no-one is really using it. The scheme allocates 10,500 places for Aussies annually, but it seems about 20% max of that is being taken up. What gives?

    Well, for one thing the visa criteria are very restrictive. Only highly-qualified people are eligible for it, and even then, it seems to be discretionary, not based solely on objective criteria, whether one ultimately qualifies. What this means, it seems to me, is that this visa is designed to allow people who will obviously be able to land good jobs in the US the right to go there. But these people don't need a visa class, because if you can land a good job, you can do just that and get sponsorship in most cases. My suspicion, though I can't prove it, is that the couple of thousand people who are using the new visa are people who could have got work permits by existing means but find this new visa to be easier to get or to have less stringent conditions.

    Either way, on the best case scenario, it's an elite visa, which is not about freedom of movement for Australian labour, but rather a selectively-permeable membrane allowing skill-drain to the US, with nothing passing in the opposite direction. Like everything else about the FTA, America gets the right to take what it wants from Australia and give nothing back in return. The Australian government does not represent Australian workers in its dealings with the US government. It represents US-owned corporate interests.

    Update:
    A week after the original post (5th July), and MyCareer is at it again. Puffing the E-3. OK, this time, they do have an apparently bona fide E-3 recipient! Well, no, her partner is one. But she feels that that entitles her to be utterly dismissive of the unhip fucks who can't go and work in NYC, like her. Although she hasn't got a job yet.

    How did her partner get in?

    He was headhunted by his employer, the Japanese bank Nomura Securities, on the recommendation of an Australian friend who has worked there for four years. Peter is a software developer specialising in financial markets with more than 20 years' experience in Sydney and London. He met the requirements for the E-3, but it was still an arduous process, with a lengthy round of telephone interviews with his future employers in Manhattan, reams of detailed paperwork for the immigration lawyers and a professional assessment by an academic working in the field.

    Well, what's stopping you, Australia? See you for NYE in Times Square?