The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

Keeping them honest hasn’t worked. Let’s kick the bastards out.

Once upon a time, there was an Australian political party called the Australian Democrats. They were formed in 1977 via the merger of two existing parties – one with the geographically-accurate name of the Australia Party, and the other the somewhat optimistically named New Liberal Party. Following the merger, they stepped forward with the noble purpose of disrupting the exhaustingly monotonous Liberal-Labor political dichotomy. Or in the words of their founder, Don Chipp, they wanted to “keep the bastards honest”.

The bastards, of course, were whichever major party happened to be in government, and keeping them honest basically meant having enough people in the Senate to stop the damn bastards from doing whatever they liked. And keep them honest they did, at least for a while. At one stage they held nine of the 76 Senate seats, so if the bastards wanted to do bastard stuff, like, say, implement the GST, they were forced to play nice. It all turned a bit cräp for them at the 2004 election, however, and the last Democrat Senator left office in 2008. They were then de-registered in 2016 for not having the required 500 members. Which is all a bit sad.

Or is it?

Maybe the Democrats aren’t needed any more. Maybe politicians have reformed. Maybe they’ve returned to the once precious ideals which underpin our noble democratic institutions. Maybe they stride purposefully into the halls of parliament, fully cognisant of the magnitude of their office, and intent on fulfilling the wishes of their constituents.

Maybe.

Let’s have a look.
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1 – It’s OK to be white

I’m going to mention this first, because it’s the one thing that I absolutely cannot wrap my head around.

The facts are these:

  1. Pauline Hanson proposed a motion in the Senate stating, among other rocks of wisdom, that it’s OK to be white.
  2. “It’s OK to be white” is a well-known white-supremacist slogan.
  3. When the motion was put to a vote, 23 members of the Coalition voted in favour, including a number of ministers. As a result, the motion was only narrowly defeated 31-28.
  4. In response to the inevitable backlash against this infantile ridiculousness, the government’s Senate leader blamed support for the motion on an “administrative error”. It’s not clear how administrative errors cause people to raise their hands, but, to his credit, the Prime Minister called it “regrettable”.
  5. Despite this, several prominent Senators later tweeted their support for the motion, including the ironically named Christian Porter, who said that the vote obviously proved that “the Government deplores racism of any kind”. At this stage, it is unknown whether it was an administrative error or Jesus that led a Christian to tweet in favour of a racist Senate motion, but we’ll keep you posted.

Honestly, if there is one event that sums up the complete lack of respect the government has for our intelligence, their position as our elected representatives, Australia’s parliamentary processes, or the vaulted ideals of democracy itself, it’s this.

2 – The leadership merry-go-round

Nelson vs Turnbull. Nelson vs Turnbull (again). Turnbull vs no one. Turnbull vs Abbott. Abbott vs no one. Abbott vs Rudd. Gillard vs Rudd. Rudd vs Gillard. Gillard vs no one. Rudd vs Gillard. Abbott vs Gillard. Abbott vs no one. Turnbull vs Abbott. Dutton vs Turnbull. Bishop vs Dutton vs Morrison vs Turnbull.

Thirteen leadership challenges in twelve years, leading to six different Prime Ministers, and the most boring Game of Thrones season in the history of the Seven Kingdoms. The most recent circus, initiated by the Liberals in 2018, saw two challenges in four days, and even has its own Wikipedia entry.

Whatever your political leanings, it’s pretty clear that our elected officials aren’t really that interested in serving the country, but love wasting everyone’s time playing leadership musical chairs.

3 – Expensive human rights polls

Speaking of wasting everyone’s time, how about that Marriage Equality plebiscite? Originally forecast to cost $122m, the eventual cost of $81m was still $81m more than the cost of the countless readily-available polls that showed that a large majority of Australians were in favour of this minor legislative change that adversely affected no one.

One year later, it’s pretty clear that life has moved on, no one really cares, and we wasted $81m to find out something we knew already.

4 – Adani #1

Speaking of things we knew already, it should come as no surprise that even if the proposed Adani mine was the very last place in Australia to dig up coal, and even if climate change is a huge world-wide hoax, it’s still utter madness to give billions of dollars to a foreign company to open up a coal mine right next to the Great Barrier Reef.

But it’s not the last place in Australia to dig up coal. And Climate Change isn’t some world-wide hoax. So going through with it isn’t just utter madness, it’s outright lunacy.

5 – Adani #2

Speaking of outright lunacy, you may have heard that the Federal Environment Minister, Melissa Price, recently signed off on Adani’s groundwater management plans, after the CSIRO and Geoscience Australia found that the plans complied with all environmental and scientific standards. Following this clearance, the only obstacle remaining is the approval of the Queensland Government. Hooray!

The only problem is that the CSIRO and Geoscience Australia said no such thing, advising instead that the modelling “does not ensure the outcomes sought by the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Protection Act are met”. They further said that Adani’s approach is “not sufficiently robust to monitor and minimise impacts to protected environments”.

According to the ABC, which received a copy of the actual advice tendered by the CSIRO and Geoscience Australia, “Adani had underestimated the toll on bore water that farmers in the region rely on, which would be drained more severely and more quickly than predicted. And the mine could drain an ecologically sensitive and ancient natural springs complex, exceeding strict limits on draw-down of the springs’ waters.”

So basically, it would appear that the Minister’s advice was the exact opposite of what the government-appointed scientists had said, and the whole thing stinks. What on earth could be going on? Incompetence? Stupidity? An inability to read?

Whatever it is, it seems clear that scientific advice is no great barrier to destroying reefs, and everyone has their Melissa Price.

6 – The Great Barrier Reef Foundation

Speaking of the Great Barrier Reef, who could forget that time the Government gave nearly $450m in one year to a tiny foundation that only asked for $5m over five years?

Now, I know I’m only a partially qualified actuary, but according to my hastily concocted but beautifully formatted spreadsheet, that’s 450 times what the Great Barrier Reef Foundation actually asked for. If that happened to me I’d now have 902 arms, 540,000 bottles of whisky, 225m of hair in a man-bun, and 450 tropical islands.

Add to that the fact that the foundation had only six employees, was assisted by the government when preparing their submission, and approval was granted in three days with no proper tender process, and the whole thing not so much stinks but results in the complete destruction of all olfactory senses.

7 – Opaque government tenders? That’s a Paladin

Speaking of big fat stinks, there is the curious case of Paladin, a company with no previous security experience, registered to a shack on Kangaroo Island, that was awarded $423m in a closed tender to run security at the Manus Island detention centre, despite one of the company’s directors being banned from entering Papua New Guinea (where Manus Island is located), and another charged in Papua New Guinea with money laundering and fraud. Or in the words of Labor Senator Murray Watt, “I think the very biggest question to be answered is — how on earth did this tiny unknown company with no track record ever get $423 million in contracts from the Australian taxpayer?”

Good question, Murray.

___

Speaking of good questions, I have another one. Are you still wondering if politicians are bastards?

If your answer is “yes”, you need to give yourself an uppercut, and then look up the definition of “bastard”. Because if the above seven stories show anything, it’s that our elected officials are not just bastards, they are well and truly taking the pïss.

This goes beyond Labor and Liberal, progressive and conservative, left and right. This is about whoever is governing the country having a massive laugh at our expense, and not even trying to hide it. And with no well-meaning, relatively sensible third-party alternative to check their worse impulses, there’s really only one option.

We need to kick the damn bastards out. It’s the only way they’ll learn.

Let’s talk about… Quotas

No, not quokkas. That conversation has been had already, and everyone agrees that quokkas are the cutest marsupial-rat-type-thing going. I’m talking about quotas – the idea that equality can be achieved via the implementation of mandatory levels of representation in proportionally under-represented groups. In other words… more chicks, less dïcks. Not that it’s all about chicks and dïcks, but more on that later.

So, why talk about quotas now? Well, there’s a federal election just around the corner. And here in the previously-not-too-bad state of NSW, an election has just been had. I say “election”, but there wasn’t even a democracy sausage at my polling station, so it was more like “standing in line without food”. But it wasn’t just the polling station that was short on sausages – according to the Sydney Morning Herald, only 34% of lower house candidates were women. The statistic was even worse for the incumbent Liberal party, where less than one in four were women. And if we head to Canberra, which everyone loves to do, we can see a similar picture in the hallowed and very manly halls of Federal Parliament, where more than three-quarters of government seats are occupied by the pasty blue-suited bums of Liberal men. In fact, the situation is so bad that one analysis suggests the Liberal Party could soon have more Andrews than women. And if that doesn’t scare you, nothing will.

To everyone’s credit, it seems that both sides of politics recognise that this is a problem. The Labor party has had a quota in place since 1994, when it was set at 30%. Meanwhile, some guy in the government, who’s not even called called Andrew, said that “parliament is better when there is more diversity, and there is a challenge on our side to make that happen”. Good on ya, Daz… change your name to Andrew and you could really go places. But Daz isn’t the only one. Even the current temporary Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, conceded that “we are, I think, under-represented here in our parliamentary ranks”. Sure, given the statistics, his use of the “I think” qualifier is a little bit like saying “we are, I think, on a planet”. But he at least seems to be trying.

So… we can all see that it’s a problem. The issue, then, is what to do about it.

As I said above, the Labor party has already done something about it, by introducing a quota of 30% in 1994, and raising it steadily to a solid 50% as of right now. The Liberal party, on the other hand, has so far held off on an actual quota, preferring to… well… I’ll let ScoMo fill you in.

I am a merit person… Of course I want to see more women in the Federal Parliament. We have not done as well in that area as I would like us to do but the party members are the ones who have to take on that responsibility and they are the ones who have to make those decisions.

I have to admit, there is a certain logic to ScoMo’s reasoning, even if it is self-defeating. But we’ll get to that later. For now, we just need to ask ourselves one question – are quotas a good idea?

Through a purely outcomes-focused lens, we can see that, yes, they are a good idea. That is to say, if your aim is to increase the number of women in parliament, then making everyone increase the number of women in parliament will increase the number of women in parliament. And given that both sides of politics seem to be agreed that representative diversity is a great destination, quotas would be a quick and easy way to get there.

But is it the best way?

To answer that question, we need to look at why we’re having this discussion in the first place. Why are there so fewer women in our parliament, and in the parliaments of just about every other country on the planet?

Let’s go through the possible options.

1 – Chance

If we’re going to include all possible explanations, I guess we need to consider whether women and men are equally likely to be elected, but we just happen to be living in that one universe where a billion leadership coin tosses all came up males.

Thankfully, this explanation is ridiculously easy to dismiss. The plain truth is that for most of human history, if you were to randomly cast your gaze to one of the world’s cold thrones of power, you would almost always have found a couple of balls and a healthy sense of entitlement keeping it warm. And given the history of succession and property inheritance rules; rates of female employment; divorce law; attitudes to contraception, marital rape and abortion; and the need for a long and arduous universal suffrage movement, I think we can all agree that the current situation is less about chance, and more about the fact that kicking a four- or five- thousand-year-old habit can hurt like hell. Especially if you’re kicking it in the dïck.

In conclusion, I think we can safely ignore this one.

2 – Willingness

Given it’s not due to pure chance, another possible explanation is that despite being equally capable as men, women simply don’t want to be elected to parliament, so they don’t put themselves forward as candidates.

Historically, I think it’s difficult to argue otherwise. A woman’s place was in the home, you see. Men were perfectly suited to rule because they love to argue and yell and make laws about other people, and women were not suited because not only were they not even wearing suits but they were too busy looking after the kids and making doilies and being told what to do by men. Who on earth would take them seriously? It’s hardly surprising, then, that for a good long while women were a little reluctant to put themselves forward for public office.

And yet… quite a few of them did, and a story from my own family illustrates this quite nicely.

You may not be aware, but the first woman to be elected to the Federal House of Representatives (and Cabinet) was one Dame Enid Lyons, who was married to Joseph Lyons, the tenth Prime Minister of Australia, and also my great-grandmother on my father’s side. The first thing to note is that this means I’m kind of a big deal. The second thing to note is that, despite women being granted the right to be elected in 1902, Dame Enid’s trailblazing feat wasn’t accomplished until more than 40 years later, in 1943. But that’s not the family story.

In addition to being the first woman elected to the House of Representatives, and doing so while also raising 12 children, and being Commissioner of the ABC (created by her husband’s government), and living to a very respectable 84 years old, she was also kicked in the shins by my brother Daniel when he was three. But that’s not the family story.

The family story is that, when she first arrived at Parliament House, there were no female toilets. Yes, you read that right. Even more remarkable is that it’s not just a family story, it’s an actual fact, and even more amazing than that is that the first female toilet wasn’t installed until 1974. Given what I know about my family, I assume Dame Enid used to just go in Menzies’ filing cabinet, but that’s a story for another time. The main thing to take away is that it took us 50 years to give women the vote, 40 years to actually elect one, and 30 years to give them a toilet. And they still put themselves forward.

So, no, I don’t think a lack of willingness is the problem.

3 – People don’t vote for women

Of course, there’s always the possibility that no matter how many female candidates there are, people just won’t vote for a woman, because reasons.

In response, I would only suggest that if a bunch of 1940s Tasmanians managed to elect a ridiculously-named woman called “Enid”, who was a prolific baby-maker and married a man twice her age, then I don’t think the problem is with the voters.

4 – Ability

So… if it’s not due to chance, and it’s not due to a lack of willingness, and people have shown that they’re perfectly happy to elect a woman named Enid, could it just be that men are simply better at politician-ing than women?

This brings us back to our current temporary Prime Minister, who, as you will recall, is a “merit man”. Apart from having the worst super hero name of all time, Merit Man also has as his super-power the ability to always seek out and employ the best person for any job you care to mention. So when a Liberal party branch is trying their darndest to figure out who they should put forward for election, they just have to get Chief Wiggum to send up the Merit Signal (basically a Cronulla Sharks logo), and Merit Man will be there in a jiffy to pick the absolute bestest candidate for the job.

It’s a fine ideal. Who wouldn’t want to employ the best person for the job? It does, however, create an interesting perspective on the lack of female representation.

Just think about it for a second. You set up a system where you are absolutely determined to pick the best person for every job. But you end up in a situation where around four in five of your positions are filled by men. What could that possibly mean? Merit Man is never wrong… so… that must mean that… wait a minute… OMG! It obviously means that men are better than women! Right?

Well as far as I can tell, no one from either side of politics has tried to claim that men are inherently better at yelling in Parliament or going on taxpayer funded junkets or lying to their constituents or knocking down stadiums or stopping boats, which is apparently what being a politician is all about. So if no one is suggesting that men are actually better politicians than women, what, for the love of all that is holy, is the reason for so few women in parliament?

5 – Something else

We’ve ruled out chance. We’ve ruled out a lack of willingness. We’ve shown that people are perfectly willing to vote for women, even if they’re called Enid. And we’ve shown that no one is even considering the possibility that men are simply better politicians than women.

So, it has to be something else. And there is literally only one option left.

It goes by a few names. Systemic prejudice. Unconscious bias. Rampant misogyny. But at the root of it all, is something so simple and so ingrained in our collective conscious that we are apparently only just realising its full effect and extent. Good old fashioned sexism.

As I said, it’s the only option left.

_____

So what do we do about it?

To my mind, there are only two options. We can either reverse four or five thousand years of ingrained bias, or we can enact a simple fix that will guarantee the right result.

I think we should go with the latter. Because, as I said, kicking a four- or five-thousand-year-old habit can be tough. Especially when you’re kicking it in the dïck.

– Tim

Don’t Take (non-excisable) Drugs

When white middle class kids start dying, we can generally be pretty confident that there will be calls for change.

One disadvantage of this excellent system, however, is that the initial conversation tends to be made up of people who have decided to weigh in on an issue after decades of failing to take any active interest in it. Issues of pill testing, and the looming elephant in the room – prohibition – are no exception. A lot of genuine and laudable emotion is being aired and expended on both sides of what we must laughingly term ‘the debate’, but there is a big – a bloody enormous – gap in all of this. And this comes with the failure to ask a single simple question: “Is there a good reason for the prohibition of narcotic substances?”

Despite the fact that almost everybody assumes that there is, it’s actually far from being uncontested. The origins of prohibition trace back to surprisingly stupid roots. Global substance control has its origins in the US Temperance Movement, a movement which, by today’s standards, is actually quite extremist. It was arguably pretty whacky in its own day too. There’s lots of history on the subject, and it’s actually unusually unanimous when it comes to how and why prohibition came about. Put simply, the discovery of the process for extracting vegetable alkaloids was a major revolution in humanity’s unceasing quest to find ways to both enhance and inebriate consciousness. There followed a period generally known as ‘The Great Binge’, in which cocaine and heroin were found in pharmaceutical, beauty, and fad products, and seemingly everyone in the western world was off their trolley all the time. In the wake of the big world wars, necessary re-definitions of the contract between citizen and state impacted the types of laws being proposed and accepted by most western nations. It’s in these periods we find stuff we’re still very much in step with today. Laws about workers’ rights and safety, grand social security mechanisms, our current attitudes to education rights and suffrage, and also the attempted prohibition of alcohol, and the successful prohibition of most of what we today classify as narcotics. It’s generally agreed that the substances which came under most fire fell into the following categories:

  • Popular with ethnic minorities and the poor
  • Not one of the USA’s biggest exports (tobacco)
  • Largely imported from non-western countries

It’s the first point which needs to be stressed. The prevailing belief at the time was that the poor and ill-educated were helpless children, incapable of stewarding their own lives, and that they also needed their souls saved from the damnation inherent in self-indulgence. So they could get to Christian heaven. It’s arguable, but it’s probably reasonable to assume that a combination of organisational inertia, mission creep, and the kind of amnesia pretty well unique to western cultures is what has resulted in these motives not only remaining unquestioned, but being actually forgotten.

Drugs kill people, certainly. I’d be willing to bet that the chilling statistics around overdose deaths and whatnot are actually true. Pretty well as true as those same (and much larger) numbers that we associate with alcohol and tobacco. But whereas with alcohol it was recognised that its prohibition had resulted in the sudden creation of a murderous and obscenely wealthy new criminal class without causing any appreciable drop in its consumption or its harms to individuals and society, no such thought process has occurred with relation to narcotics. But the facts speak for themselves. Taking only a single case – the Mexican and Colombian cartels – drug prohibition has created a situation in which addiction and usage rates have dropped 0% (and this is using the lowball figures we get from activities that are illegal), and criminal organisations large enough to represent existential threats to actual modern states are running global, multi-billion dollar businesses, with side enterprises in sex trafficking and contract murder. No matter how much we might deplore big pharma’s practices, it’s unlikely that legalisation would lead to, say, Pink Pharmaceutical running hookers from Guatemala, for example. Or killing thousands of people in gang firefights before stringing the dismembered corpses up on telegraph poles.

Put very simply, our current global drug policy is three things:

  • Utterly ineffective
  • Deeply irrational
  • Actively harmful

And you don’t have to take my word for any of that: https://www.unodc.org/wdr2018/prelaunch/WDR18_Booklet_1_EXSUM.pdf

But it’s interesting – very interesting – to note that despite a multi-volume report outlining the manifold failures of prohibition, there is little to no mention of legalisation. It’s all coded into the US friendly phrase ‘harm reduction’. Which is ludicrous.

All this brings me back to our fearless Premier as a case in point. She is, in fact, representative of the people in this case, in that she has a knee jerk, deontological response predicated by personal morality, and an ingrained refusal to think about its actual origins. The thing is, personal morality really doesn’t trump half a million deaths per year world wide. It doesn’t automatically negate the need to think in broad policy terms for a person who’s ultimately responsible for the welfare and safety of a whole state. And, in my opinion (and this is the only actual personal opinion contained in this piece), is like all other personal beliefs, opinions and prejudices, in that it’s a citizen duty to think past and beyond them when discussing matters of state and national import.

On The Sudden Love Of Bush

(AP Photo/Dennis Cook) 

This is not an article about the demise of the Brazilian, but rather of the sudden outpouring of bipartisan love for George H W Bush. Now I’m definitely not saying that this is completely inexplicable. Former President Bush was an undoubtedly moral man, and an important one. The Bush family belong, though in a very different part of the spectrum, in the same space as the Kennedy clan when it comes to great American dynasties. And Bush’s life after office was arguably exemplary, with friendships that reached across the aisle, across class boundaries, and which he leveraged for various altruistic and civic causes. And when it comes to his flaws, his affection for political expediency when it came to negative campaigning and dog whistling, his antediluvian attitudes to race relations, drugs, and foreign policy, these are certainly being remembered as well. One of my enduring memories of Bush is of him waving a bag of crack at a camera in the oval office, Bush having mobilised the Secret Service to buy him an astonishing quantity in Lafayette Park. I remember wondering if those agents actually believed Bush’s explanation of why he wanted the stuff, and also, given how quickly and easily they made the purchase, how often they’d had to do this in the past.

Bush’s war on drugs was an utter catastrophe, and as far as that goes, his legacy is people who went to jail in his administration and are still there for crimes like possession, and an appalling body count. And then there’s the natural targets of any war on drugs in that region. It’s really not too difficult to draw a straight line from US interventionism in the cartel homelands to the caravan pressing up against the US/Mexico border today. Quite a few people are also pointing out his attitudes to abortion, birth control, gender equality, LGBTI rights, AIDS, and a raft of other issues which are hot button topics today. Actually, I can’t just let the AIDS thing go as a casual mention. Bush’s response to the AIDS epidemic was classically inept and moralising, and it’s very easy to describe his do-nothing prudishness as lethal to a great many people. But context needs to come into play. Bush’s attitudes on these issues were not actually that far from the median for the time. It’s an unpalatable truth, but for those of us who were alive and sentient in those days, it’s not too hard to remember that our current and highly laudable embrace of all things minority was, in fact, far from being a mainstream or median belief at the time.

And here we come to the nub of all this affection for his memory. Whatever else he was, George H W Bush was a gentleman, in the patrician sense of the word, and as such, while it was always possible to disagree with him, it was never really feasible to dismiss him as an insane bigot. For me, his service record, both military and civilian, softens the lens through which I remember him. His publicly known attitudes to what relationship there should be between a president and the state, a president and their government, and a president and their citizens, were highly admirable. This is a man who very clearly did the best he could to serve his country and his people according to his own lights, however dim or bright we might consider those lights to be. So it is definitely by contrast that we surround him with the halo he currently enjoys.

And that’s really it, isn’t it? In contrast to the current POTUS, even Dubya’s starting to look good. To be completely honest, a faeces-coated burning sofa on a garbage pile looks statesmanlike and intelligent next to President Trump. But I really don’t think this should take away from the essence or core of this outpouring of feeling for the last of the warrior statesman presidents of the USA. I personally deplored George H W Bush’s politics, and disagreed, often vehemently, with almost every one of his broad policy positions. Such is the right and prerogative of everyone resident in the western world, given that every one of us is directly impacted by the direction and character of any POTUS. But George H W Bush never once gave the impression that he’d forgotten or didn’t care about this. He operated with integrity, courtesy, and an earnest desire to serve something other than (or as well as) himself. And what this does is present a stark and deeply depressing counterpoint to the current ‘leader of the free world’. So yes, I’m happy to go with the love for Bush, because what it really signifies is my profound disapproval of Trump.

In which I am proven to be an amazingly prescient genius person and not just because I know the word “prescient”

Hi there. I’m Tim. Sometimes I make predictions. Sometimes they are hugely false, like that time I predicted Trump would resign after six months because he would get sick of working eight hour days. Silly me… I should have figured he’d only work a three hour day. But sometimes… sometimes I prove to be amazingly prescient. Like the time I predicted this:

Once marriage equality comes in, the objections [to it] will stop. The bigoted fear-merchants who fought for so long, and warned of such dire consequences, will put down their tooth and nail, pack up their placards, and fade into obscurity.

You see, today marks the first anniversary of that time the Liberal government made us all waste $120 million to spend a few months vilifying the LGBTIQ community to re-verify the results of countless already-available public polls and decide on an issue that wasn’t the public’s business and parliament could have voted on for free. So it’s a perfect time for me to reflect on my prediction and check in on how amazing I can be. And lemme tell you… all signs point to me being quite amazing.

You see, I have noticed a little bit of a trend in conservative objections to progressive ideals, which seems to be thus:

  1. An injustice is recognised.
  2. A proposal is made to correct the injustice.
  3. We are told that correcting the injustice will lead to the wholesale destruction of society.
  4. The change is made anyway.
  5. Society is not destroyed.
  6. All the people who said society would be destroyed forget about it and move on to something else.

This exact sequence of events has played out in a multitude of historic advances. Female suffrage, inter-racial marriage, no fault divorce, IVF, and the decriminalisation of homosexuality, to name but a few. In each case, we were told that to make the change would be to ring the death knell of life as we knew it, and usher in a new era of calamity and universal suffering.

We know, of course, that in each case, no such calamity ever came to fruition. Instead, we collectively benefited from a society that was more accepting, more kind, and one step further along the long path to true equality. Every time these disastrous changes were made, we saw that, ultimately, life went on, and after a while, most people didn’t care.

I should point out that, logically speaking, this does not at all prove that their objections were unfounded (there are many other reasons that prove that). What it does highlight, however, is the perfidy of their professed sincerity.

Let’s just think about this for a second. Female suffrage, we were told, would be an absolute disaster. One poster that depicted the dangers of female suffrage showed “a grim-looking man arriving home from work to a scene of domestic chaos, with weeping children, a dangerously smoking lamp, and a casual note attached to a suffrage poster – ‘Back in an hour or so’”. My god, that sounds horrendous! Can you even imagine? If you can’t imagine, the people of the time were happy to produce gems like this to help out:

Yes, friends… if women were allowed to vote, it would definitely, definitely result in never ending nagging.

So, with so much on the line, what did such people do when women were finally granted the right to vote? Did they fight to their last breath to have universal suffrage overturned? Are they still fighting today? Or did they all die from incessant nagging? The answer to all of those questions is a resounding “No”. I wonder why.

Which brings me to my prediction about marriage equality in Australia. We were told that it would destroy families. We were told it would result in people marrying their cats. We were told that there would be another stolen generation, which was a rather oblivious objection, coming as it did from the sort of Christians who instigated the original. Even I can admit that, if true, that would be a high price to pay indeed.

History now shows that they lost, as they were always going to. That’s not particularly interesting, given the multitude of polls that showed that defeat was inevitable. What is interesting, is what happened next.

And what happened next was… nothing.

Sure, there were a few whinges on social media. Lyle probably cried, not there’s anything wrong with that. But apart from that… nothing. No extended campaigns to reverse the decision. No marching in the streets demanding the maintenance of the status quo. No bills introduced to parliament to prevent this catastrophic change to Australian society.

Which means one of two things. They’re just a fear mongering bag of dïcks, or they don’t really believe the shït they’re shovelling.

And just to be fair, I’ll let them decide which.

A picture tells a thousand words… and lots of them are racist

It’s now been a little over a month since Mark Knight published his cartoon depicting Serena Williams at the US Open. Yes, yes, I know what you’re thinking. Jeez, Tim, that was ages ago, and we’ve all moved on to needles in strawberries, Billy Slater, needles in bananas, Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump’s mushroom pee-pee, horse racing on Opera Houses, kicking gay kids out of schools, the TPP, wondering whether it’s OK to be white, administrative errors, moving our Israeli embassy, journalists being murdered in the Saudi embassy, and needles in cucumbers. And you are of course right. We have indeed moved on.

Or have we?

Sure, we’ve all found new things to be outraged about. In fact, the only thing more outraging than being outraged at things, is not having enough outrage to be outraged about the sheer number of things we have to be outraged about, which is, quite frankly, outrageous. But there is another, more important sense, in which we haven’t moved on at all. To wit, we all seem to be very good at forming a quick opinion on something, but we don’t seem to be very good at revising that opinion, when presented with new information. Or, put another way, people are fond of basing outrage on gut reactions, and are also fond of hunkering down and doggedly ignoring all evidence to the contrary.

For the Mark Knight cartoon, I, like most people, had an initial gut reaction when I first saw it. I hadn’t watched the women’s final, and hadn’t seen Serena’s dispute with the umpire, but I had heard enough about it to get the “joke”. Mark Knight thought that Serena had thrown a huge, unnecessary hissy fit, and there she was, jumping up and down, with a spat out dummy on the ground. So, apart from lacking cleverness, and not being at all funny, I didn’t really see much wrong with it. Here it is again, in case you’ve forgotten.

Haha, boy that Serena sure is grumpy! Point made, fair and square. Right?

Well, not quite. Call me old fashioned, or a (partially qualified!) actuary, but I happen to think that it’s always a good idea to check your assumptions. In a spreadsheet, ideally. And so despite my assumption that Mark’s cartoon was merely a bit cräp, the fact that so many people thought it had transcended cräp and jumped feet first into full on racism gave me pause. So I did what every reasonable person would do and just ignored them to make myself feel better. Oh wait, no I didn’t. I actually went and read about why people were upset about it. Interestingly, it had absolutely nothing to do with the point Mark Knight was trying to make. No one seemed to be upset about his claim that Serena had thrown a massive hissy fit, or that she seems to be playing with a wooden racquet that is smaller than her head, or that he’d coloured the whole court blue when the perimeter is clearly green, or that professional athletes very rarely use a dummy due the risk of choking. What was clear, however, was that many, many people were objecting to the way he had drawn Serena, and, perhaps even more so, the way he had drawn the other player in the cartoon, Naomi Osaka.

Serena was hard to miss. Not only is she the subject of the cartoon, but Mark had depicted her as a ridiculously large woman, with huge arms, huge hair, huge face, huge mouth, and huuuuuuge bum. I mean, the size of her bum is something to behold, assuming you could even find enough hands to hold it. It looks to be six times as wide as her racquet, which would make it around four and a half metres across, and happens to be the same length as my car. Haha… Serena big!

Now, I know what some of you are thinking. “But, but… it’s a caricature! And she is a large woman!”. Let’s park that for a second.

There is a second player in the cartoon, being Serena’s opponent, Naomi Osaka. In contrast to Serena, Naomi is depicted as a small, svelte, white woman with a blonde ponytail. This must obviously be a caricature, because that’s what Mark did to Serena, so in real life I guess Naomi must be less skinny, less blonde, and have fewer ponytails. Imagine my surprise, then, when I learned that Naomi is actually of Haitian-Japanese descent, has dark skin, dark hair, is 5cm taller than Serena, and weighs only 1kg less. And has exactly one ponytail. Interesting.

But back to Serena. Why was everyone upset about his depiction of Serena? Two seconds on Google was all I needed. He had basically drawn her in the same way as 19th and 20th century cartoonists who openly admitted they were racist.

At that point one might have hoped that either Mark or his publisher would take all the feedback on board and issue some kind of explanation. Something along the lines of “Look, I didn’t realise at the time, but I can see now that my cartoon is offensive to people of colour”. But no, of course what we had as a doubling-down on the next day’s front page, with cries of political correctness, and dire warnings of the demise of free speech. Which, when added together and yelled by the same person, invariably means they just want the right to be a massive ärsehole.

So far, so predictable.

But it shouldn’t be. And to make things easier for people like Mark Knight, I’ve prepared this handy guide, The Official Good Bad Asinine Guide to What to Do When You’ve Drawn a Cräp Cartoon That Lacks Cleverness and Isn’t At All Funny and Lots of People Get Upset Because It’s Pretty Racist. Enjoy.

The Official Good Bad Asinine Guide to What to Do When You’ve Drawn a Cräp Cartoon That Lacks Cleverness and Isn’t At All Funny and Lots of People Get Upset Because It’s Pretty Racist

1
If you want to make a point about someone having a hissy fit, and you’re able to make the point without drawing them with a 4.5m butt, then you should do that.

2
The people with the most insight into whether something is offensive are generally not the people doing the offending.

3
If someone explains to you why something you did was racist, complaining about political correctness just makes you more racist.

4
There’s no shame in admitting you’re wrong. But there is plenty of shame in being racist.

Hope that helps!

Religious Protections? How Astonishing!

scott-morrison

It’s generally a good rule that you can determine what’s important to a country by observing what its government or laws protect. Of course, in the case of Australia, the phrase ‘unrepresentative swill’ has a curious persistence in the public mind, possibly created by the fact that we are, in fact, governed by unrepresentative swill. Just as cream rises to the top, so too does scum, and generally in unregarded places – the dark corners and byways of our great nation where we can’t be bothered to go. It’s worth thinking about how we actually got our current crop of leaders. It would seem that the main ways would be through the kinds of community networks churches are so good at (more of which in another post), and through the internal mechanisms of the two major parties and their feeders, being the union movement and big business/big Jesus respectively. So for Australia, what needs to be said is that you can tell what the government, without reference to the people, cares about by observing what it’s most willing to protect by law.

Back in the heady days of the Same Sex Marriage Don’t Call It Marriage Equality Debacle And Signal Failure Of Parliamentary Responsibility, which I call ‘The Coward’s Plebiscite’ for short, many questions were raised, some by this author, as to whose job it actually was to make laws. Now this is quite a basic question, and it was quite tricky to expand the answer – parliament – into a six hundred word post. I did this mainly by impugning the character, tolerance, and courage of our fearless leaders, being hesitant to address that which is much more difficult to determine, i.e., what they were actually thinking. In the light of hindsight, and with our nation’s new First Creationist, I mean, Prime Minister, having emerged from his gratuitous bloodbath to set his policy agenda, it has, in fact, become a bit easier to determine what it is this particularly trollish coterie known politely as ‘the conservative faction’ were actually thinking. Basically, our first impression was correct. So unwilling were they to institute equal civil rights for homosexuals, they followed a template from their favourite bedside book and did a Pontius Pilate. Washing their hands of the responsibility, they devolved the power of execution onto the mob hoping, I’m now absolutely certain, that the mob would be nasty and vote to crucify the progressive movement. The fact that they were so emphatically wrong still keeps me warm on cold nights with the memory of the time I fell even more deeply in love with my country.

But that’s all ancient history in the rough and tumble of politics, right? Well, not exactly, as it leads me back to my original point that you can tell what a government thinks is important by looking at what it’s willing to protect with legislation. The review on religious protections, commissioned by Turnbull as he bravely ran away from yet another of his political principles, has reported. The government is now getting ready to implement its recommendations, and all of this is going very smoothly. The report’s still secret (not officially, just in a ‘not yet released’ way), but even the Jesuits on the panel are saying that it’s just a matter of putting ‘some small tweaks’ into existing anti-discrimination laws. I really don’t have a problem with this. Religious freedom is key, and is the very principle which allows me to say that Scott Morrison’s religion is only separated in craziness from Scientology by its age and pedigree. But the problematic part is what it tells us about the nature of this government.

Basically, this Liberal government was so unwilling to make laws protecting the equal civil rights of people outside their own template of normal that they spent twenty million dollars of our money taking a punt on the Australian public being as ungenerous and backward as themselves. Simultaneously, they’re so willing to protect their own atavistic, myth-loving kind, that they’re announcing legislation to do so, almost as a first action after the chaos of their own utterly self inflicted wounding. So it’s pretty clear that religion is the most important thing to these people. I would hazard a guess and say that this is simply not the case for the majority of Australians, but I don’t have to thanks to the census. Which leads me back to the idea of ‘unrepresentative swill’. Worth thinking about, if you live in Wentworth or, if you don’t, as a thought to save up for whenever God tells our PM to call an election.

Jordan Peterson – The World’s Most Popular Halfwit

jordan peterson

I know I’m going to cop a lot of flack for this one. Jordan Peterson is much loved as an inspirational figure, a voice of reason and morality in a crazy world of hyper-liberal relativism, a light in the darkness of a post-feminist, post-structural, post-everything-good world. The thing is, I get it. I have no intention of hitting the same old tired tropes of most Peterson critics – his unintelligible Jung and Hegel derived flights of rhetoric, the fact of his worldview being actually and technically fascist, his apparent (but almost certainly nonexistent) misogyny, his rarely acknowledged political funding sources, his severe logical deficits and habit of eliding definition resistant generalities into chains of reasoning which are invalid in all possible universes. None of these things really matter when it comes to him or his followers because nobody who is actually a philosopher can accept him as one, and nobody, therefore, who thinks of him as one, tends to forensically examine his arguments, such as they are. In the same way that the Sermon on the Mount, taken from a certain point of view, doesn’t make a lick of sense, Peterson’s pronouncements are not, as far as I can tell, valued because they make sense or are specific, but because they don’t and are not.

What Peterson is primarily selling is a feeling. It’s very easy when looking out at the world, especially if one’s lens on that world is the internet, to get the feeling that masculinity is, in fact, in crisis. An entire generation weeping over puppy dogs and irrelevant causes, drowning in political correctness, and in headlong flight from tried and tested values like masculine pride, personal responsibility, and freedom of speech. Peterson’s clear and apparently sincere indignation at these regressive tendencies has an appeal which is very easy to understand, and his habit of reducing the solutions to these problems to simple, self-help style commandments makes for compelling stuff. Follow the twelve simple rules, and you can immediately cast yourself as a warrior for freedom, an island of sanity in an insane world. And when it comes to things like taking personal responsibility for one’s failings and actions, keeping one’s space and oneself neat and tidy as a nod to both universal order and self respect, parsing all politics through an aggressive dialectic and forensic lens, I find myself in complete agreement with the man. All of these things are vitally important. As important as it is to be proud of one’s manhood, in whatever form it is expressed, to set boundaries and draw lines around tolerance, to avoid at all costs pandering to pity and outrage merchants, or to the blind knee-jerk advocacy of partisan causes. I more than agree with all this stuff. In fact, I actively proselytise it. The problem with Peterson does not lie in this side of things in which, as a clinical psych, we’d sort of expect him to be rock solid. Where there is a massive problem is in the elision of this very sensible thinking with a world view which is not just parochially narrow, but actually crazy.

It should be freely acknowledged that the regressive left is a problem. In the rarefied atmosphere of some university campuses, and in quite a bit of the feminist and LGBTQI press, a certain kind of victim rage insanity festers and spits at the rest of the world and, because media largely trades in emotions like outrage and shock, gets wildly disproportionate and unrepresentative airplay. It should also be acknowledged that Canadian universities seem to have a particularly bad time with these idiots, with faculty losing their jobs on political grounds, blatant propagandising, and the espousal of frankly loopy positions. I would point out, though, that Peterson’s own dismissal appears to have been the simple result of a refusal to follow a reasonable instruction from his employer. But that’s by the by – and highly arguable – my point here is that when we look at the environment from which he’s come, it’s very easy to identify the dragon which he wishes to slay. But Canadian higher education – Canada in general, to be brutally honest – is not even close to being the whole world. What we see from Peterson, however, is a classic narrative of threat which seems to be predicated on the opposite assumption. It never ceases to amaze me how people who can be cynical about the manufactured threat narratives of global terrorism, Macarthyism, AI alarmism, and so on, can so utterly fail to see that the exact same methodology is at work in Peterson’s message.

Let’s take a look at some of his more classic statements in order to explain what I mean here. “For thirty years now, nobody – at least nobody who is on their side – has been talking to kids about responsibility.” What in the name of sanity does this statement actually mean? Parse it as closely as possible, sieve it for nuance, make all possible allowances, and all we can really get from this statement is that the world is going to pot because this new generation hasn’t been brought up properly. Leaving aside problems such as the appallingly invalid assumption that every young person across the globe is in the same boat, or the galling refusal of the speaker to provide even a working definition of ‘responsibility’, it should be pretty obvious to anyone not blinded by love or ‘me-too-ism’ that this is a sentiment (and I use that word advisedly) which can be found in the writings of cranky old men from 2000BCE to the present day. Or let’s take this doozy: “Medical science isn’t about welfare, it’s about science.” Well, yes, if you’re willing to suspend the three seconds of thought it takes to arrive at the conclusion that medical science is, in fact, one branch of the entire medical endeavour which, for the entirety of civilisation, has been about the welfare of individuals and groups, among other things. Or the nanosecond of thought required to understand that something as huge as all of medical science cannot possibly be summed up in a fortune cookie bon mot. But that’s the thing with Peterson. It’s not about logic, or fine points like parsing the actual meanings of statements. No, what it’s about is furious and indignant agreement – an extrapolation of personal responses to our own ant’s-eye views of the world into global positions predicated on the basis of ‘stuff was better when I was a kid’ and ‘I’m disturbed by what I’m seeing’.

I honestly think that the vast majority of Peterson supporters are intelligent, decent people. I also suspect that almost all of them engage with his actual content at the same level most people do with the law. They think it’s a very good thing, will fight vigorously to defend it, and, for the vast majority, have never actually read a word of it. I read the pieces which attack Peterson, and by no means are all of these from the left wing press. The majority of articles I’ve read have been from faculties of philosophy, political science, and, weirdly, international relations. They come from a broad spectrum of people from left and right of centre (I’m sorry – I really can’t be bothered with the extreme ends of the spectrum, so don’t know what they have to say about him) – and uniformly express utter disbelief at just how childishly simple it is to spot that his entire body of work is deeply irrational and founded on reasoning so invalid it isn’t actually reasoning. And that’s the biggest problem – Peterson’s framework does not stand up to even the most cursory rational examination, sure, but for as long as he so effectively touches the right emotional chords in his audience, they’re never going to subject him to it. And given that he seems to be genuinely half-witted enough to believe that his ramblings are actually cogent chains of ratiocination, he’s going to be imbued with the kind of Messianic sincerity which practically guarantees this result indefinitely.

Scott Morrison’s ‘Upbeat’ Church

Australia is under threat from extreme ideologies. The creeping influence of these vile theologies has penetrated our civil society, soured our political discourse, and impacted every level of our nation, right up to its highest office. I am talking, of course, about Christianity.

There has been some recent and very polite attention drawn to the church of our new Prime Minister, Horizon Church, particularly in the SMH, wherein can be found an extremely soft soap profile of their high priest or pastor or god whisperer, or whatever they call themselves. In this article which, the more I read it, the more it looks like a masterful exercise in misdirection, senior Jesus Wrangler Brad Bonhomme is asked a series of searching questions about his energy levels and the fact that he is not a member of the Liberal Party. Or, at least, that is the only inference which can be drawn from the content of the article. He describes his church as ‘upbeat’, and then spends a long time being utterly irrelevant in a beguiling way by explaining that he has no input on the Liberal Party’s policy direction. Which is one of those truths which is actually a lie. But nowhere is there any exploration of what a Pentecostal church actually believes.

The Pentecostal churches and I are old adversaries. I have always contended that they are a cancer on society, exploiting the poor and vulnerable, openly operating for profit, hiding toxic and hateful beliefs beneath their manic smiles and doing all of this, of course, not only without paying any taxes, but with a fair amount of government money and, around election time, courtship. It’s probably enough to say that among the council of churches of which Horizon is a part is that cankerous boil on the backside of religion known as Hillsong, but I feel it’s important to go where the SMH either didn’t dare or think to tread, and provide answers to some actually important questions about the church.

It’s telling that it takes four clicks to get to their doctrinal basis. For those not as intimately familiar with religious doublespeak as this Catholic educated author, I should explain that the doctrinal basis is like a theological constitution. It describes core and broad beliefs, but like a constitution, limits itself to those which are fundamental and non-negotiable. Basically, it’s a useful document because it’s a valid assumption that all members of this church either believe, or say they believe, the stuff on the list. And as far as this list is concerned, it’s actually quite worrying stuff. The preamble uses the phrase ‘inspired Word of God’ in describing the bible. This is usually code for ‘I’m a fundamentalist nut job’, but not always. You’ll find a similar phrase in the Baptist doctrine, for example, but Baptists are generally free to interpret the bible in their own way. But not in this case. The phrase appears multiple times with the addition of words like ‘direct’, ‘sufficient’, and ‘accurate’. Basically, the Pentecostal churches are biblical literalists.

What this means is that we have a Prime Minister who believes that the world was literally crafted and made by God, that humanity was literally created by God from the clays of the earth, that Moses literally received the law in tablet form on Mount Sinai, and that every word of the books of the law should be followed. If you click through their bible reading plan, you’ll find that the first reading is Leviticus, that famous book of laws about stoning gay people and people who wear clothes of different fabrics. Now you might think I’m overstating this, but click through to the doctrine and scroll down to the end, past the bit about getting the world ready for the second coming, and the one about believing that sinners burn in hell for all eternity, and you’ll see that there’s a simple, clear statement of belief in creationism.

Now, I should point out that we live in a pluralistic society. I firmly believe that everyone has the absolute right to believe whatever crazy garbage floats their boat, whether it be Ickean lizard monarchs, gay frogs, or immortal Jews with revolutionary tendencies. But I also think it’s important to be aware of just who the crazy people are. Given the last census, it’s worrying to see just how unrepresentative the Parliament generally is when it comes to religion. Fraser Anning: Evangelical. Mike Baird: Fundamentalist. Tony Abbott: Catholic. Cory Bernardi: Catholic. Scott Morrison: Happy Clappy Tongues Speaking Lunatic. And these aren’t just vague religious affiliations – they’re forward deployed, staunchly held positions. Morrison himself has been quoted as saying that faith informs everything he does. So no wonder he doesn’t like climate change scientists. The man has apparently got a B.Sci himself, though I have no idea what kind of insanity is required to reconcile that with creationism in this day and age. But what I mostly wonder is, if faith does inform everything he does, then what steps will he be taking to prepare us for the Millennial reign of Christ at the End of Days, as his church instructs him is necessary? And what steps do we think he’ll take to try and save all Australians from the eternal hellfire?

The biggest question, though, is this: Should we accept a Prime Minister who has beliefs incompatible with basic sanity?

I say no.

China – Paper Tiger or Hidden Dragon?

In the lead up to the Crimean war, historian and novelist George MacDonald Fraser noted that a sudden and inexplicable obsession with Russia, as feverish as it was hysterical, gripped the British public. Given that Russian and British mercantile and security interests had been colliding in Central Asia for decades, and that Russia had just made one of its more successful periodic lurches in the direction of The Black Sea, threatening a sudden shift in the global balance of power, the casus belli underlying the French and British intervention on behalf of the Ottomans was eminently rational in that an analysis of the situation reveals clear and clearly understandable reasoning. What MacDonald Fraser is pointing out is that the conflict was undertaken for reasons of high statecraft and geopolitics, but that the public, enthusiastically backing their government, simply did not understand it in those terms. Many analysts are pointing to strong parallels between nineteenth century Russia’s collision with Britain, and China’s resurgence today, and I agree. But what I see as the strongest parallel is that gulf of incomprehension which sits between the actions and decisions of government, and the sentiments of the people.

THE LANDSCAPE OF THE DISCOURSE

Trump Doomsday Scenario

Image Courtesy DeviantArt via SiberanBearOk

The fact is that there are a great many people who have a direct interest in overstating both the soft and hard power of China. This interest is not always and often not purely mercenary. The security services are a case in point. In the marketplace of access to public funding, hyperbole and fashion have as much to do with resource allocation as actual threat, and China watchers see it as their duty to beat the war drums in order to secure the funding and personnel they know are necessary to cope with China’s changing status. They have many helpers in this process. Without going into too much detail, there is a close and long standing relationship between sections of the security community and the popular mass media, and the calculated sharing of analysis and other intelligence for broadcast is an old and familiar method of influencing the political mood to help secure allocations. This kind of marketing, however well-intentioned, does have a tendency to produce less than ideal second and third order effects. The first and most obvious is polarisation of the discussion. Academics and other analysts, upon seeing this overstatement, will immediately respond by understating or dismissing the threat. This is all well within the bounds of the rules of argument, and within the upper circles of the discourse, does not tend to have the effect of creating blind spots or false beliefs. But the way that discussions like these are simplified for mass broadcast leads to the inevitable formation of polarised opinion – one set of outlets and their adherents will scream a narrative of Chinese apocalypse, while the other will swear blind that China is a peaceful nation of public benefactors and perfect institutions. Obviously, neither of these narratives can be entirely true.

I think that on some level, people are well aware of this dissonance. When viewed as either an invincible superpower or benign plucky underdog, China’s status and actions simply don’t make sense, which is why those who wish to cast it in either of those lights need to shout and obfuscate in order to do so. The attenuation of meaning and complexity of an idea travelling from specialist to non-specialist circles is to be expected, but when it comes to issues like this, I personally believe that the discourse itself is the most dangerous part of the whole picture. To that end, I feel it becomes important for everyone who is capable of so doing to push as much balanced, untainted information out into the public domain as possible. A quick search of Google analytics tells me that the most prominent topics for Australians in the China discussion are Chinese foreign investment and Chinese influence/interference.

FOREIGN INVESTMENT

There is not a little hint of the ‘yellow peril’ mentality when it comes to discussions of Chinese foreign investment. Foreign investment needs to be encouraged and should generally be seen as a positive, and the extent of Chinese investment in Australia is relatively small, and largely driven, it would seem, by individuals buying homes and other properties. Given this, however, the proportion, small as it might be, is in fact exceptional. People whose job it is to know these things wish to understand why so many Chinese are buying so much property, and this question is often asked publicly, giving rise to the public’s vague notion that ‘The Chinese’ are buying our country out from under us, when the truth is that China’s slice of the foreign investment pie is somewhere around five percent. But that’s not to say that we can simply ignore Chinese investment. Where there is real concern is in the lack of transparency in China’s state systems. Careful work needs to be done to ensure that Chinese state and corporate interests are not able to hide their investment using Trojan Horse style tactics. So far, there’s not a lot of evidence for this happening, but for those whose job it is to watch these things, this is a possibility which deserves serious attention. The issue here isn’t so much private homes or farms – Chinese ownership of these assets doesn’t really matter one way or another, from a security point of view. The Commonwealth has a duty to protect the property rights of citizens and foreign investors, certainly, but the rights of that second group can easily and very rapidly be suspended. What’s worthy of close attention is the acquisition of intellectual property as a consequence of investment in other kinds of property. As a favoured member of the US military tech circle of love, we have firewalls up around sensitive and critical industries when it comes to foreign investment, and quite a lot of the noise we’re hearing about this is focussed on reminding those in power that these walls need to be assiduously maintained in the interest not only of national security, but the status and trust in which we are held by our closest ally.

INFLUENCE PEDDLING

Much of the current concern around Chinese influence seems to centre around a book with a highly sensationalist title and blurb, but which consists, in fact, of a reasonably comprehensive shopping list of ‘facts’ sewn together with a mixture of valid analysis and typical misunderstandings of Chinese culture and practice. Academia, as always, has been less than helpful, demonstrating their usual weird inability to express anything to the public in a manner likely to correspond with their intended message. The current debate surrounding Chinese ‘suppression of free speech’, and influence in academia is, in essence, a family dispute which is being aired in public. Some academics, many of whom are in fact Chinese, are deeply concerned about the readiness with which universities and schools are snatching up funds in exchange for the establishment of CCP friendly or even affiliated friendship groups, think tanks, or other influence vectors. They also point out, with justifiable concern, that Chinese and Chinese Australian students are vulnerable to these vectors as, to the same degree which they offer support and companionship, they generally demand loyalty and advocacy. This kind of organisation has parallels with every national power’s presence in and relationship with other countries, but in the case of China, the concern is that theirs are blatant, and more than likely effective, recruitment centres for Chinese foreign intelligence assets. While this needs to be watched and controlled, it is certainly not worth panicking about. In a counter-intuitive sort of way, we sort of want our allies and trading partners, as well as our enemies, to have agents here. To a certain extent, the more they know about us, the less likely they are to act in an insane manner, and any reasonably competent security service will know enough about their presence to occasionally use them as a useful diplomatic back channel. I’m not saying we should throw open the gates and let the nosy and indiscriminately ravenous CCP intelligence arms into our house, but a reasonable and reasonably well monitored foreign presence is basically just a sign of normal relations. But I wander from the point. The point is that the current spat we are seeing played out in the media is basically a pamphlet war between academic factions which, in typical academic style, is wrangling over funding sources couched in high concept multisyllables around morality, democratic principles, and national interest, with typical academic blindness when it comes to how their messaging will be received by a public not in the habit of knowing or understanding anything in complex ways. This is not to say that China’s influence is confined to obscure Chinese student associations – the recent furore over Labor funding sources proves this isn’t the case. But I think there is a tendency to see Chinese influence as monolithic and centralised. In some cases it certainly is, but in most instances the hand of the CCP is enmeshed in subtle and complex ways, and there are also a great many ethnically Chinese influence peddlers who are not in any way aligned to the current Chinese government or its interests. As with most great power presence, the dogfighting factions of the home state are more or less reflected in the makeup of the interest groups present on foreign soil.

SUMMING UP

So is China a credible threat worthy of our attention? Yes, of course they are, but we need to remember context. Responsible strategists need to weigh the threat potential of every major player, and it’s vital that we remember that these calculations do not necessarily imply the existence of a live and current threat. What we’re most often talking about is threat in the abstract – a complicated function of potential, current capability, and intent. Does China represent the kind of threat presented by the USSR at the height of The Cold War? On all three of those metrics the answer is ‘no’. Where China is most a threat to the world is in its rapid development, expansion of influence, and frankly toxic attitude to the rule of law both domestically and internationally. The ‘rise of China’ has strategists and historians worried because the lesson of history is that rapid shifts in the balance of power cause war. But strategists and historians are generally incapable of thinking in units of time smaller than a decade, and are generally far more concerned with what can be done than with what will actually happen. This arises from a duty to inform government of potential contingency as part of the process of ensuring readiness for the maximum number of possible futures. What this does not translate to is any valid reason for thinking of China as a current urgent existential threat. As dangerous and morally repugnant as the CCP’s regime is, their interface with the international community is complex, and driven at least as much by a desire for inclusion as by the aspiration, universal amongst large nations, to dominate their region and be a major player on the world stage. This means that we need to tread a fine line. It’s very important that a player as volatile and rapidly accelerating as China be watched and managed very carefully indeed, but a frame of thinking which casts China as an immediate and implacable threat is as dangerous as it is foolish.