Author: urbanwronski

Urban Wronski is an Australian free-lance writer whose work appears regularly in The Independent Australia, The Tasmanian Times and also in The Australian Independent Media Network. He has also been published in Guardian Australia. An acute observer and analyst Urban continues to advocate for a just, tolerant and compassionate society.

Slippery Slope

Christopher Pyne is not one of Australia’s most popular politicians. Opinion polls show he hovers either just above Joe Hockey or just under him at the bottom of the nation’s esteem. Say what you like, it can’t be easy being Christopher. Some of, the Member for Sturt brings on himself with displays of spectacular ineptitude as Education Minister, (he makes State Education Ministers look good) or in his behaviour in the house. Calling Shorten a c**t in parliament and then lamely denying it does not endear you to the electorate. His personal manner and bearing do not help his cause. He’s been called prissy and precious and precocious and other ‘p’ words. And it is true that his style does not help his own cause. His parliamentary and press performances are almost a form of self-parodying performance art, a campy caricature of the consummate politician, now complete with new, enhanced technology: Pyne on line. Or an overcharged Energiser Bunny. It would be amusing if he did not demean himself, his audience and all other interested parties. For even as Pyne performance art, audience members are being short-changed.

Yet we must not be dazzled by the spectacle that is Christopher Pyne. We must look past the performance art. Indeed, his own razzle-dazzle can function as a strategic distraction, just as Liberace’s costume hid more than the occasional bum note. Let’s not be fooled by Abbott’s Fool. Let us put public spectacle to one side. The critical issue is what Christopher achieved when he set out to sink Peter Slipper. For whatever his motives, he has succeeded in diminishing all of us. He may also have further undermined, mired and befouled his own government.

What was he thinking at the time? Doubtless, his stiff the Slipper strategy appealed on many levels. In a sort of Black Ops way, attack dog Pyne could fetch his master’s Slipper, bring down the Gillard government, advance his own career and extend a bit of camaraderie, counselling and beer support to an attractive young staffer who was clearly in need of a mentor. And at first blush, it seemed to go off so very well. Judging by Pyne’s own après schmooze text message to James Ashby, he very much enjoyed their meeting. And Ashby appears to have been gladdened by the prospect of a political job after Slipper’s office and the knowledge his legal fees would be taken care of.

Today, however, Christopher’s plan has unravelled. And as it unravels it threatens to take its conspirators with it. First, the full bench of the Federal Court in February of this year found that in essence Ashby’s case was politically motivated, vexatious, and an abuse of process. It was effectively an attempt to bring down the speaker and damage his reputation. Then Pyne, of course, never kept his promises to James Ashby. There has been no job in politics and no payment of the staffer’s legal fees. Ashby will no longer have the costs of his sexual harassment suit against Peter Slipper paid for by the former speaker because his decision to drop the case robbed Mr Slipper of the opportunity to contest the allegations. In the Federal Court on Thursday, Justice Geoffrey Flick vacated a costs order made in August 2012 that would have required Mr Slipper to pay Mr Ashby’s considerable lawyers’ fees on an indemnity basis. Ashby has had to resort to Sixty Minutes to recoup some of the costs. And to get his revenge.

The circumstantial evidence is damning. Pyne conspires with Ashby to end former Speaker of the House of Representatives Peter Slipper’s political career. He induces the young staffer in Slipper’s office, to bring a sexual harassment case against his boss. Slipper resigns after indelicate misogynistic text messages to Ashby are made public. Pyne disavows any wrong-doing. And of course he claims to be unaware of any involvement by Tony Abbott and Mal Brough who both had their own good reasons to sink the boot into Slipper. And, of course, neither Abbott nor Brough know anything although Mal Brough does concede publicly that if the public thinks that he got rid of Slipper because he was after Slipper’s seat then that must be what happened.

After 60 Minutes goes to air. Pyne goes into damage control. For Pyne this is an especially risky manoeuvre. The more he protests, the more he indicts himself. His denials are evasive, wordy and completely unconvincing. Even for Christopher Pyne. He is in it over his head.

With barefaced audacity, he fronts cameras in a Colourbond fenced suburban backyard somewhere, Chateau Pyne sur Sturt, perhaps, and makes an embarrassingly lame attempt to divert the heat on to the previous Labor government. It is farcical, consummate Pyne performance art. Then he sings the set piece from the libretto to his comic opera. It is typically, tortuous, wordy, hair-splitting and evasive:

‘I had a brief meeting, we discussed the fact the Queensland state election was coming very soon, he indicated he was uncomfortable in Mr Slipper’s office and I indicated to him that if we won the Queensland state election that would be a chance potentially for him to get out of Mr Slipper’s office but the fact is there was no job ever provided for Mr Ashby,’ Mr Pyne said.

‘My intention was never to lead him to believe that a job would be provided to him but obviously if we won the Queensland state election and then subsequently the federal election, when you are in government there are a lot more jobs available than when you are in opposition and that if he felt uncomfortable in Mr Slipper’s office, that would be an opportunity for him to get out of the office.’

Get him out of the office is a key phrase. Freudian, perhaps. Pyne did not counsel the troubled staffer to follow normal procedures in such cases. Canberra public service protocols provide a framework and an expectation that such matters are resolved by other means and that legal action be considered only as a last resort. The “Genuine Steps Rule”, a procedure introduced in 2011 requires parties to try and resolve their disputes before taking court action. In Ashby’s case, the Judge questioned why a relatively minor matter like sexual harassment claims could not have been settled another way. Clearly by his own admission, here, Pyne has at best been a false friend. He has counselled courtroom conflagration and led the young staffer on to play with fire.

It matters not that Ashby did not proceed to take up a position in politics or government. What matters a great deal is that all evidence points to Pyne’s complicity in a plot to remove a member of parliament, a plot that surely Abbott and others in the then opposition knew about. Furthermore, Pyne seems to have been rewarded with a cabinet position. For fifteen long years no Liberal leader would even give him the time of day, let alone a portfolio.

Yet Abbott maintains he was unaware of the machinations surrounding Ashby’s complaint against the speaker, or the support of the Daily Telegraph. Astonishingly, Abbott’s press release calling for Slipper’s resignation was ready to print the moment the Telegraph went to press with the story. It may even have been prepared before the Slipper story broke.

Pyne encouraged Ashby to lay charges against Peter Slipper with two inducements.  He offered to pay Ashby’s legal fees. He promised him a job afterwards. Ashby agreed to help Pyne ‘get’ Slipper. He was to lay a claim of sexual harassment against former Speaker of the House. Pyne says he knew that Ashby had been ‘uncomfortable’ with Slipper’s behaviour. He took the opportunity to exploit the situation.

Peter, “Salty cunts in brine” Slipper is himself an odd fish. And certainly, James Ashby also appears to be an unusual sort of chap. You wonder what was in it for him. What sort of job was he likely to get when it transpired that he had acted illegally? What was it that caused him to overlook his responsibility towards the ‘Genuine Steps’ process of conflict resolution in favour of a high stakes gamble with Pyne as banker? Why has he changed his testimony now? In court documents filed in 2012, Mr Ashby said he was not offered or did not receive any inducements or rewards for making the high-profile sexual harassment claims against Mr Slipper. Or could he simply have given up on his erstwhile Liberal mentor and supporters and elected to tell the truth. Is it coincidental that he was recently accused of having sexual relations with underage boys?

Above all, why, on 17 June did Ashby drop the case against Peter Slipper?

He gave these reasons:

Mr Ashby said he was aware of reports Mr Slipper was mentally unwell and he did not want to continue lengthy proceedings that could cause further harm.

“After deep reflection and consultation with those close to me, I now have decided to seek leave to discontinue my Federal Court action against Peter Slipper,” he said in a statement. “This has been an intense and emotionally draining time for me and my family, taking its toll on us all.”

Or perhaps, the more plausible explanation is that he was paid to shut up. The LNP fearing scandal paid him to drop the case.

Delegated or self-appointed agent provocateur, Pyne, would no doubt have leapt eagerly at the chance to help his master and his own career advancement.  Doubtless there was more than a nod and a wink from his boss. Abbott’s ambition to win power at any price combined with his desire to wreak revenge on Peter Slipper for leaving the party and becoming speaker, allowing Labor government to remain in power.

Others on Team Abbott did their bit. Mal Brough, who would step into Slipper’s electorate at the following election, appears to have leapt at the chance to ask Ashby to download Slipper’s diary, a diary which was later leaked to News Corp. David Marr writes:

“Tony Abbott also has a stake in the appeal. He has stood by Brough despite his friend being caught trying to hide his role in the campaign to destroy Slipper. Abbott has never criticised his part in the operation. Despite Brough’s lies, he praises his candour: “I want to make it clear that Mal has been very upfront about his involvement in this”.

Since the 60 Minutes programme was broadcast there has been an unnatural silence.

Christopher Pyne prides himself on the correspondence he has with his constituents in the Blue Ribbon seat of Sturt. He sends constituents birthday cards on their 21st and significant birthdays. They love him, he says. He tells them he signs every card. By hand. They feel relaxed and comfortable with him. He believes.

Real power in Sturt even more than anywhere else in the country has little to do with politics. You would think you could win this wealthy, leafy Liberal seat just by putting on a blue tie. Over the years, however, Pyne has seen his majority decline to the point where Sturt is regarded as the most marginal seat in the country. Now that’s quite an achievement. No doubt changing demographics, as they say, have contributed to marginalising Sturt. Pyne cannot take all the blame. Ultimately, perhaps, as in parliament, to be an effective MP, you really do have to more than act like a politician. Pyne needs to heed the message his electorate is sending him. He needs to get relevant. Get real. Given the length of his career, however, he is either a slow learner or he just doesn’t have it in him. What is likely to happen is events will conspire to take the decision away from him. In a process of natural selection, he stands to lose his own seat at the next election.

In the meantime, Pyne needs to remember his place and station. He is pre-eminently Sturt’s Louis Vuitton manbag. He is Abbott’s fool in the House. He needs to give up the hanky panky and the covert ops. In his misguided zeal he stepped out of role as agent provocateur for Abbott and other like-minded Liberals and LNP members. Now lap-dog Pyne has ensured that his master, Tony Abbott has further tricky questions to answer. Questions that may well prove to be his undoing. Be that as it may, Abbott can now be assured of a place in history for his agency in the Peter Slipper scandal — a covert political conspiracy by the Coalition to bring down the Parliamentary Speaker, Peter Slipper, and through him the Federal Government of Australia.

Operation Groundhog Day

Prime Minister, you say you are ‘disgusted’ by the beheadings of journalists recently carried out by IS. If only we could take that for granted. If only you did not feel that you had to tell us. Preferred that it were a safe assumption. Preferred that we were given credit for our intelligence. Treated like adults.

Public decapitations filmed for propaganda purposes are disturbing, shocking reminders of the darkest parts of the human condition, the barbarism and atrocity of war. The taunting and gloating of the young men carrying out the executions confront and disgust us. But let’s not let moral indignation supplant our reasoned understanding of this latest hideous brutality. 

Yes, Mr Abbott, most of us are disgusted. Just as we are disgusted and ashamed to be denying basic human rights in our lethal detention centres and fetid camps where we pen up asylum seekers for indefinite periods before they are processed. Whatever processed means. It seems to include untimely and preventable death through neglect.

But thank you for sharing. We see it now. You do seem to have a blind spot. A disturbing moral blindness in many areas. Perhaps you are wise when you feel you do need to tell us. Duly noted. Just don’t expect us to take it as gospel.

Allow your electorate some intelligence. Credit us with some faculty of reason.

Prime Minister, you appear highly selective in your outrage. Where, for example, is your moral outrage over Saudi beheadings of women? Six women have been decapitated by sword this year. The public floggings of women? Or could it be that you voice moral indignation whenever it’s political expedient? When it helps your cause?

Over the last year, Saudis have executed eighty people. Twelve were women. Most were decapitated in public. Last August a mother and daughter were beheaded before an audience of men in a Dharan market. It was alleged the mother had colluded with her daughter to kill her husband. Saudi beheadings are typically not publicised for fear of Western censure. 

Mr Abbott, tell us straight. You don’t have to soften us up for the coalition of the wilting’s latest military misadventure. We know you. We know you can’t resist. You believe it will boost your popularity. In the short term this may be true. In the long term, however, it is bad for all of us. Groundhog day is upon us. Eleven years on we are going down the same track. What’s that? Another war on terror? Again we have a rallying cry. And an emblem, the grotesque atrocity of public execution of the innocent. One again it is a humanitarian cause. It is moral. It is the right thing to do. Righteous. Let us not be deceived, however, it is another war in Iraq. A war that threatens to repeat all of our earlier disasters.  It will be long and bloody. It will create further chaos and suffering.

The rise of Jihadist terrorism in Iraq cannot be seen in isolation. Nor is it useful to assume the moral high ground, (assuming there is any space left on that overcrowded premium real estate). We need to take a broader and deeper view. A Prime Minister’s expression of disgust is his prerogative as a private citizen. And one which will be widely shared. Keep it private. In public it is a risky gambit because it manufactures a spurious legitimacy and identity of purpose. We are drawn irresistibly to don the mantle of the righteous in pursuit of the damned.

The PM’s expression of disgust privileges a reductive perspective. Demonising the barbaric executioners helps mobilise us against them but it is not conducive to understanding them or to any enduring solution to the problem they represent.  It begs prejudging and trivialising of the horrific acts we are being made to witness. We may even feel comforted in our moral outrage, supported as we are by our nation’s leader. Before too long we are complicit in a lynch mob or posse.

The reality is confronting and disquieting. First, we must identify and accept our own responsibility, repugnant as this may be.  For we helped to create this Jihadist monster. Whilst it may make some of us feel good, at the moment, to point the finger, we must accept some blame. Just as we must be part of the solution.

In joining the United States in the ‘war on terror’, we helped create the painful chaos that made the rise of ISIS and similar groups possible. Western intervention caused massive dislocation, instability and resentment: a perfect breeding ground for unrest. Fanatical jihadist groups thrived.

It is true we deposed a tyrant in Saddam Hussein. But other monsters were fostered by his overthrow and by the collapse of his modern state. Demonising helped distort our perspective. We were unwilling to face even the most fundamental of realities such as the huge death toll occasioned by our intervention.

At an early part in the war with Iraq, an estimated 400,000 to 900,000 civilian deaths occurred. Yet Bush dismissed the figures, claiming it was based on flawed techniques, even though it used estimation techniques his own government agencies taught others to use. Instead we were positioned to expect Iraqis to rush to democracy and nation-building. Our willful self-deception appeared limitless. 

Violent sectarian conflict ensued. It continues today. The Iraqi state is unlikely to survive. Together we have helped destroy it. We supported PM Nouri al-Maliki in his self-destruction, his corrupt, incompetent government and his campaign of Sunni persecution. Little wonder, ISIS found eager recruits among the Iraqi Sunni population.

The Coalition of the Willing was our last outside invasion’s grand title. It was predicated on a lie, the convenient fiction that the Iraqi leader had Weapons of Mass Destruction. Other mythologies included the fiction that Osama Bin Laden was the master mind behind the September 11 attack. In the end the ‘war on terror’ cost the US three to four trillion dollars, helping to send it broke in fiscal terms and also in terms of reputation. If Bin Laden had hoped to bring about the end of the American Century, he succeeded. Gone was the mythic invincibility of US foreign power. In its place was the spectacle of small bands of rag-tag guerrilla soldiers defying or frustrating the greatest power in world history.

Yet we are tooling up to do it all again. By now we would hope we have learned from our earlier lack of regard for the consequences of our immediate actions. We do not need to join any coalition of the willy-nilly however well our impulsivity matches our leader’s personality, or however much our great and powerful friend the United States may expect it of us. 

Let us not again jump on our moral high horses and rush into a complex and lethal struggle we don’t understand to follow a noble cause instead of a battle plan.  Let us do some hard thinking about what it is we want to achieve lest we be fooled once again into indulging in the luxury of moral outrage at the cost of due diligence. We need to be clear-sighted about what we want to achieve and how we should best go about it. Disgust may be a starting point but it must be followed by informed and dispassionate analysis. Otherwise like a latter day Don Quixote we are in danger of being seduced by the ideals of chivalry and ignoring the voice of reason. Not chivalry but practicality should be our watchword. Romantic ideals of vengeance will ultimately destroy us unless they are tempered with the wisdom of strategic thinking based on the best possible evidence and advice.

 

 

 

Abbott takes the (yellow) cake.

Fresh back from Delhi, globe-trotting, Tony Abbott has achieved another personal milestone. He has now racked up the same number of frequent flyer points as Kevin Rudd. He will no doubt apologise to the former PM for his vacuous, annoyingly mindless criticism of him when as leader of the opposition he wasted everyone’s time and tried everyone’s patience pouring scorn on everything Mr Rudd did including daring to travel overseas and exercising diplomacy.

Unapologetic about his past and his fast track world statesman trajectory, Abbott has been spruiking India’s “impeccable credentials” in nuclear non-proliferation. It’s nonsense but it’s what you say when you are between a rock of yellowcake and a hard political place. 

Fortunately Abbott was able to do something useful while he was in the subcontinent. He repatriated a looted statue of Shiva which some Australian had “lifted” and flogged to a major Australian gallery. “Leaner” Bruce Billson and who until recently was widely believed to be Australia’s Minister for Small Business was despatched in search of some signed cricket bats to oil the wheels of future diplomatic initiatives such as asking India to repatriate asylum seekers from Sri Lanka.

Billson, who bears an uncanny resemblance to a well-filled but undercooked Samosa with eyes was last sighted negotiating a film project with a major Bollywood producer for a suitable product to replace Question Time.

“Of course there will be time for any number of Dorothy Dixers, in the new format but they will danced and sung by professional actors. It is just another way the Coalition demonstrates its relevance”, he said.

Making diplomatic inroads into a Rogan Josh, the North Frankston MP, was attended by a bevy of starlets who were keen to be signed up on 457 working visas as personal research assistants. All present fell silent, however, when Mr Abbott took to his feet, proudly wearing a pair of Jaipur Jodphurs. Very practical, he said, flashing his ankle. No need for bicycle clips.        

Returning Shiva to his country of origin brought a winking man’s smile to Mr Abbott’s lips. If you enter Australia illegally, you can expect to be sent back to where you came from.

Others in his entourage and around the table flashed their gold teeth, ivory cufflinks and blackberries, shook hands with each other and agreed that putting Shiva back in his rightful place was a diplomatic coup and a living testimony to the fact that Australia and India has so much in common beyond the game of cricket.

Now I’ve got a bit of a surprise for you, Mr Abbott whispered in Narenda Modi’s ear as he grasped his host around the shoulders in a rugby embrace. It’s not just a stolen statue I have in my suitcase. I’ve brought a bit of hot yellowcake with me. Well, not exactly stolen, he winked, but negotiated by BHP from its traditional owners for a good price.

My God, man, the Indian PM expostulated, wincing at the force of Abbott’s embrace and a blast of Lynx aftershave. His Cartier watch, a gift from Putin, slipped off his fine wrist into his dahl.

We are having Uranium imports from countries all over the world. Even Kazahkstan can’t wait to get into bed with us on uranium sales. But you can never have too much.  The extra could always be put to good use making bombs to aim at China or Pakistan or sent on down the line to Tamil Nadu to even up the imbalance in their war with Sri Lanka. In the meantime it could be stored on a shelf in a local food supply facility because in India we have very flexible working practises. And very many entrepreneurs. Yes. Mr Abbott, we are open for business. It is true we have had a run of nasty accidents with our reactors but the early Russian ones were not very well made. And no cities have been destroyed. We are thinking very positive on the outcomes, Mr Tony.

Abbott’s spin team high fived each other and the wait staff and emailed all Australian media outlets with a release they had prepared earlier. News Limited ran a front page which had Mr Abbot’s photo in cycling helmet on it and the headline: our radioactive PM out for a spin on his nuclear cycle.

Uranium sales to India an amazing achievement, trumpeted the seventy per cent of Australian press owned by Murdoch. On page three, a photo of a topless Bollywood starlet carried a detailed report of a thirty word speech in which Mr Abbott praised India for being a model citizen in nuclear non-proliferation.

“Utter nonsense” commented another nutter on the ABC (probably an intellectual or a scientist) who went on to explain that India, Abbott’s ‘model citizen’ refuses to sign the non-proliferation treaty. It has moreover gone on to develop nuclear weapons outside the non-proliferation treaty. And it is refining Uranium at a pace which is double that required for its nuclear submarines and other peaceful uses. They have no independent nuclear watchdog. Their nuclear industry is run by the state. And monitored by the state. And their new PM is a hawk.

Bruce Billson who appeared unfit for duty was not available for comment but the Prime Minister’s Office released a statement that the Abbott deal was a bold step towards greater prosperity for Australia by an enterprising and fearless leader. Forget the nabobs of negativity in the communist ABC. They know they’ve got funding savings to look forward to. 

ABC news reported that sales will be one billion dollars. No big win for average Australians.

Profits from uranium sales go to the Big Australian, BHP which despite its slogan is a multinational company. The Australian government stands to gain incidental taxes no greater than 100 million dollars. It’s a tiny return on a risky venture. In essence, Abbott has flown to Dehli at our expense to trade a lethal substance to a dodgy customer for the benefit of a multinational. But that’s Bollywood. And Shiva has been returned. Bruce is still missing.

Tell it like it IS in Iraq, Mr Abbott.

Truth was always going to be the first casualty of office for the Abbott government. During the election campaign voters were showered with lies, hollow promises, empty slogans and just plain hokum. Lies about no surprises. Lies about balancing the budget without cutting spending. Lies about a fair budget. Lies about education funding. Lies and secrecy about asylum seekers. About superannuation.

The government’s lies reflect an apparent arrogance and superiority which is costing it dearly.  At worst it suggests contempt for the intelligence of the average voter. At best voters feel they are taken for fools. Taken for a ride. Embedded with its advisors in a culture of spin, where a convenient version of events is concocted hourly for public consumption, the government has apparently overlooked a prime prerequisite for democracy: trust. Without trust there can be no true partnership, no social or political compact.

Or else, seduced by a rampant aggressive narcissism, as practised by its top dogs, such as Scott Morrison, it cynically believes it can bulldoze its way through the trust barrier, too.

 Sally McManus itemises the coalition’s 282 broken promises. It may be a record for a government in its first year of office. Little wonder then, that opinion polls show a record low in popularity for Abbott’s adults in charge for their first year. And a mounting anger and frustration with a government that appears to have no clear agenda beyond the maintenance of power.

That low opinion is likely to decline even further given the betrayal of trust involved in Abbott and Bishop’s pronouncements about Iraq. Ironically, the short military adventure which may, to his advisors, have seemed guaranteed to boost Abbott’s flagging personal popularity could ultimately cost him and his government dearly. Sadly, it will also put at risk the lives of innocent men and women. 

Yet Iraq also presents Abbott with an opportunity to stop the rot. Tell it like it is. Build on the bit of himself that has attracted positive attention. Forthright is how they see him overseas, according to some elements of the press. Outspoken. Direct. Not a truth twisting weasel who is economical with the truth and who backs away from commitments. Not an arch manipulator with a pathological desire to tell you what you want to hear. Or what the focus groups have scripted. Abandon pretext and pretence just this once. Step up to the plate. Behave like an adult in charge.

Iraq offers the Prime Minister a chance to begin to rebuild his popularity. It will be a long journey. But it begins with a simple step. All he has to do here is step up and tell the truth. Can the humanitarian mission crap. Crap is a word he’s already broken in with regard to climate change. It’s catchy. But it’s applicable this time.

Do your duty, Mr Abbott. Make the captain’s choice. Tell Team Australia it’s all about oil. IS controls most of Syria’s oil and gas production. Next step will see it in control of Iraq’s. It already controls half the country. Tell voters you have decided we need to follow our leader, the United States. Follow the Great Satan as its many enemies in the region call it, into a complex and dangerous theatre of war. Tell them we are joining a Kurdish counter revolution, a conflict where we don’t belong to interfere in the lives of people who mostly don’t want us there. And who will kill to make the point. Locals will resent our alien presence and will already suspect our pretence of liberation as a cover for our commitment to defending the interests of western capitalism.

Or you can call the whole thing off. Or hold your high horse, Napoleon Cockatoo. Reflect awhile. Consult. You pay for good advice. Man up and listen to it. It will not be flattering. But it will be real. And you need to get real. You are making a big mistake. You don’t need another doomed, inglorious and dangerous intervention in the shifting sands of unwinnable wars abroad at a time when domestic affairs warrant your full and undivided attention. You need to pull things together. Call your ministers into line. Let’s be frank. You don’t even have a coherent budget strategy. And your treasurer is not one you can safely leave alone to get the job done.

Come clean about Iraq, Mr Abbott. Its government has persecuted Sunnis for the past eleven years. It has shown proficiency only in two areas: venality and alienating and radicalising the Sunni majority in the region. It has provided fertile ground for IS recruiting. And another western intervention will be just the drawcard needed to persuade the waverers into joining up. Why give IS what they want?

Stop the spin about saving Iraq. There’s not much to save. The Iraqi government is in a state of delusion or denial. They have just lost half their country to IS. Yet they go about their daily political affairs as if none of this was happening. They are crippled by incompetence and beset by corruption. Their army is nimble in retreat.

Iraq’s defence capability is symbolised by the single helicopter that buzzed ineffectually over its troops as they briefly engaged IS troops in Tikrit on 15 July. There were supposed to be many, many more.

“I wonder what on earth happened to the 140 helicopters the government has bought over the last few years,” asked a former Iraqi minister. It’s highly likely that it was stolen by one of the most corrupt states in the world where the motivation for public office is to secure as many kickbacks as possible. Iraqi soldiers who headed to the Tikrit front rushed home after they discovered that the rations were pitiful, they had to supply their own weapons and buy their ammunition.

Iraqi security forces are an oxymoron, a disturbing contradiction in terms. Beyond help. We are rushing to the aid of a hopelessly corrupt state’s hopelessly dysfunctional armed forces, forces which have not won a single counter attack against IS. Not only is Iraqi security it a liability in combat, it is a gift to its enemy. It’s real function is to supply munitions and materiel to the other side. It acts as a virtual armoury, a cornucopia of easily captured modern weapons for IS to further strengthen its military capacity.  

Now there has been talk of supplying the Kurds with a weapons drop. You tell us that our intervention is to save the Kurds and support the Iraqi government. The two aims are contradictory. Have you overlooked the bitter enmity between Iraq and Kurds? Have you not listened to your advisors who would have told you that the Kurds have been the scapegoat for the failure of Iraqi security forces? 

Isis is not a bunch of Bedouin bovver boys who have galloped out of a David Lean desert set to raid and return to base leaving life to go on much as it did. Nor are they about to be frightened off by the sight of uniformed westerners in uniform. Or by modern weaponry. Quite the reverse. Ruthlessly efficient, ISIS has modern weapons already and it knows how to use them.  It is an organised and capably administered military organisation. It controls an area larger than Great Britain containing around 6 million people. It is the superior force in the Syrian opposition. And it appears to be consolidating power over an expanding area. There is little sign of successful local checks on its rise. Syrian and Iraqi opposition is in disarray. And it would relish the chance to have infidel western adversaries to add legitimacy to its regime of brutal terror.

Trivialising ISIS is no solution. It is no lightweight fly by night insurgency as it is typically constructed in the shortened attention span of our media. It is financed by its control of oil wells and by its control of key roads. It has powerful outside regional backers keen to foster any anti-Shia forces. It has local roots and it has had Saudi and Qatari outside financial backing. Monstrous, yes but a monster others have helped to create.  Saudis have helped many Sunni movements in Iraq and this support has been crucial in boosting ISIS recruiting of Iraqis.

TV grabs of public executions are sickening and are guaranteed to get any viewer to want their government to do everything it can to stop them. But it has to be the right thing. Not some half-baked military intervention masked in moral posturing in a desperate attempt to secure oil supplies. If we simply supply arms in a divided front there is every chance that those arms will be captured and used by ISIS. Or other local terrorists such as PKK. Time for mature and deep consideration, not a knee jerk reaction. Less demonising and more dispassionate, rational analysis.  More thinking and less emotive hyperbole.

The place to start is to tell it like it is. The way to be a statesman begins with acknowledging reality. Iraq’s Shia leaders were boosted by US intervention against Saddam Hussein. Their day is over. Their power has been squandered in corruption and ineptitude and by the events of 2011 in Syria when Sunnis gained the ascendancy and upset the sectarian balance of power in Iraq.

The war on terror failed. The result of western intervention in 2003 and its policy towards Syria has been to pave the way for a Jihadist movement vastly more powerful than Al Qaida which spans Syria and Northern Iraq. In Patrick Cockburn’s words, a new and terrifying state has been born.

 

 

Refuse transfer station gold

A visit to the tip is said to be like a good bowel evacuation. Or better. Our local tip offers even further pleasure. Philosophy, nuggets of wisdom, argument and analysis. And other treasures. Should you spot something you fancy amidst the broken, forlorn castoffs, rejects and discards, you can take it home with you as well. You don’t have to have an immediate use for it. Come in handy. It’s the handyman’s insurance policy. But first you have to get it past the operator.

“What do you think of the business in Iraq?”

Tip operator, Aristotle Bob opens topically. He’s a newshound in between tippers. Sits in his porta cabin glued to his recycled National 10 band transistor, an icon of the seventies. Things people throw away these days.

Waddles over to my driver’s window to issue his standard challenges:

“What have you got? What’s new?”

The John Wayne waddle helps him avoid arguments. Conveys authority. So does his height. Must be six foot six with his hat off. He’d be a good man to have on your side in an insurgency. He’s come over to assess what you’ll pay today. He’s agile for sixty five. True, he’s got a crook leg, crook knees and a crook back, diabetes, diverticulitis and a heart condition and PTSD from his time in ‘Nam but he’s always in good form. Sizes you up in flash.

“Ten dollars this time.”

“Iraq?”, I say.

“Iraq is just a distraction. Smokescreen. Sneaky bastards want to cover their domestic stuff ups.” 

“Our boys will give ’em hell.” He smiles and takes my money. Give ’em a hiding. A real hiding. They won’t know what they’ve struck.”

“Distract us from their buggered up budget.”

“Wronski, you need to have more faith in your government.”

Aristotle is in typically good form. Helpful. As quick to point out errors in a man’s thinking as he is to put you right on your rubbish sorting. Let you know which is household and which recycling. Don’t dare get them muddled. He checks each bin as you unload. Bob’s up just when you think he’s mentoring another tipper. Ferrets through to check your selection. What’s this? In the other bin, thanks, Wronksi, if you don’t mind.

Ari’s never short of a word. Talks at you like a taxi driver. Or a hairdresser. Only more to the right. And a fair bit louder. Put you straight on all sorts of matters from abortion to gun control.

Doesn’t pause to draw breath. Being deaf means that he hears his own voice better than yours. Who needs talkback radio. Crafty, too. Getting you to repeat yourself gives him more time to think up a reply.

Hawkeyed, he scans the driveway, without taking his eyes off you and your load. Other locals enter warily, utes and trailers laden with cargoes of lawn clippings, dead truck batteries, discarded BBQs, broken microwaves, rusty bicycles, outgrown play equipment, uncle’s bowling trophies and sundry other household and workshop detritus. Some tippers give him a cheery wave but none of them gets past him. Everything at the tip has its place.

Today an abandoned still fabricated from a gas cylinder by some home moonshiner doubtless poisoned by the results, glints in the spring sunshine. Catches my eye. I think better of asking to take it home. He’s probably got his eye on it himself. Anything good, he’s got first dibs on. No hard feelings. He’s only got others’ well-being at heart.

Today Aristotle Bob is putting me straight on politics. Again. Foreign policy. But nothing’s off limits. He’ll also take care of other misconceptions, illusions or misunderstandings. Including right of reply.

Former prison officer, father of six, pocket philosopher, and public guardian of proper recycling and correct waste disposal. Ari is a local hero. Renowned throughout the district for his symposia. Impromptu. Gratis. He’s on duty Wednesdays and Sundays if you want to catch him.

The weathered blue sign tacked to a scribbly bark says Transfer Station. But it’s so much more. It’s our own University of the Open Pit. Topics are suitably wide ranging, eclectic, topical. They embrace politics, philosophy, modern culture and society with a special focus on modern youth’s moral decline and the throw-away society. Everything you need to know that’s fit to be put on a fridge magnet.

Many locals choose to specialise in sport but it’s not compulsory. I was withdrawn from that elective when I told him that I was football illiterate. Told him to his face. It took a bit of doing.

He looked at me as if to say what are ya made of? Rolled his eyes. One of those. Still we remain on more than speaking terms. Ari always greets me like a brother. A daft, eccentric brother who needs a word to the wise about the ways of the world. And my job is to listen.

You, see, Wronski, those idiots over there would not last five minutes against our boys. No discipline. No stamina.

It’s more complex than you seem to think, Ari, I say regretting the challenge instantly. I need to be home before dark.

Won’t keep you, he says. Then he tells me that the enemy are just a bunch of thugs and wanna-be tough guys who will wet themselves when they have to deal with real soldiers. Go to water. Run away, he tells me. Only take a few good hidings and they’ll crawl away into hiding.

It’s a view which is repeated on national media when I get home. It seems we have a Defence Minister.

Australia has a “lot of capability” at its “fingertips” including the “incredibly capable Super Hornets” says David Johnstone who must have been away getting his teeth fixed for the last twelve months. Either that or embedded with top secret “on sand matters” in Canberra’s many golf courses and watering holes. All so hush hush we’ve never heard of him.

He’s geeing us up. Like Aristotle Bob, he knows we are invincible. Besides the enemy is known to be untrained in modern warfare. And we’ve got a moral cause. It’ll be a walkover. We’ll go through them like a dose of salts. A humanitarian dose, of course. 

Operation Skywalker

They are two very different situations, in 2003 there was a campaign in Iraq against the will of the Iraqi government. What’s happening now is a humanitarian involvement, it is at the request of the Americans with the support of the Iraqi government,” the Prime Minister said this morning.


A year out from his great electoral victory, the Abbott government is struggling. Lagging in the polls. Very few runs on the board. Still grappling to translate its fabulous mandate into real support. True, it’s had a few wins but generally at high cost. It’s been forced to water down its plans and promises. Abandon or break them. Even resort to threats of raising revenue by other means.

Abbott’s platoon is looking less than stellar now it has seen a bit of action. Joe Hockey has self-destructed, taking most of the ‘budget savings’ with him. Morrison has just gone overboard. Up river, He’s Kurz in Apocalypse Now. Underperformers have been underwhelming except in leaking to the media. Key Ministers are missing in action. Beset by bullies, boofheads and blowhards in Cabinet ranks and overwhelmed by the opportunities of his office, the PM needs help. His own popularity is lower than a snake’s belly. He’s on the nose and he knows it.

Suddenly Abbott gets an idea. He’ll turn his back on the fickle electorate. Spurn the unwashed and the unworthy. Ignore pressing realities in favour of a romantic fling. A bit on the side. A little war that it is. A fetching little military adventure beckons.

Abbott needs the political mileage he sniffs in this. What a gift!. It’s a heaven sent distraction from the heavy collateral damage he and his troops have suffered on the domestic battlefield. And it has an attractive scent. A whiff of macho aftershave. Along with elevating his testosterone, war will make him more appealing to voters. Or make him less on the nose.

Finally, an overseas war can lift a PM’s popularity at home. At the onset, anyway. 

Abbott knows he needs that boost. He’s mad keen. He is reaching out with both fists. Over-reaching. He’ll do anything to get it. It doesn’t matter that he has no plan. No objective. No strategy.

He can talk it up. He’s all over the media with a flurry of reassurances. No boots on the ground. No one is going to get hurt. He’s always been quick to make promises. Gifted in this area. Promises he has no hope of keeping. No intention. Here he goes again.  

His gift keeps on giving. No. He won’t rule out a future military commitment. A possible military involvement. When the US has had time to give him the word.

No Aussie Blundstones on the tarmac? No risk? Mission Impossible beckons. Australians will fly into the middle of a raging civil war. A shit storm. An environment so hostile that no one has ever really wanted to live there. Be there. Unless they had to. Or wanted the oil. But we have a mission. A sacred duty. Our mission is to get the bad guys killed. Because we are humanitarian. We do this by giving our guns and ammo to the good guys.

Of course we will be able to spot the good guys. They wear white hats, ride big horses and talk real slow. Of course we will be able to get to them safely. Our boys will be issued with the best Chinese made GPS. And each one will be equipped with a transponder, whistle and flare to help us locate them should they go, ahem, missing. 

So here’s our brief. Boots firmly in the sky we drop guns, bombs, signed photographs of Bronwyn Bishop, Christopher Pyne’s address book, an audio of Eric Abetz speaking and other lethal weapons with precision. With fiendish accuracy. We become gunrunners for fighters we don’t know, for causes we don’t understand. For reasons unexplained. For as long as it takes. For God only knows how much cost.

Operation Skywalker allows us to morph into missionary gunrunners. We arm Kurdish Peshmerga. PKK terrorists become our brothers and sisters in arms. Our mission will be a runaway success in winning local hearts and minds. It will soothe those Sunnis who cluster round the IS recruiting tables. Those millions we alienated and radicalised in our last inspired intervention when we joined up with the US WMD crusade. The time when we toppled Saddam’s Evil Empire and installed chaos. A chaos which fostered the rise of IS. But it will be different this time.  

Different? The situation is even more complex and volatile. The PKK, or the Kurdistan Workers’ Party has about 20,000 fighters in Syria. As many as 40,000 are believed to be fighting the IS in Iraq and Turkey. The Iraqi army has collapsed and the Peshmerga have beat a strategic retreat. Far from seeing them as liberators, Iraq has formally complained to the United Nations that the movement of PKK fighters into its territory is a “flagrant violation” of its sovereignty and said it would complain to the UN Security Council. Washington which at Turkey’s behest long ago declared the PKK a terror organisation will not officially work with them. Yet Australians are told that we have been invited by the Iraqi Government, the Kurds, read PKK and Peshmerga. How can this be true? We are being sold a fictive version of the battle which has barbarians on one side and the forces of humanity on other. Add to this the fiction that the IS supporters are somehow recent blow-ins who can be stopped by military means. IS is embedded across Iraq, Turkey and Syria. We helped make that possible in our last intervention. True they have attracted some considerable support amongst western psychopaths who have flocked to sign up to commit atrocities but IS is a far wider and deeper movement than recent media coverage suggests.

Abbott reiterates that this is not troops on the ground involvement. Yet. Our parallel import Chinese made imitation Rossi boots will remain firmly planted in the rose-coloured desert sky. At this stage. It is a sky raining death every day on the unwary. Yet we are somehow going to guarantee delivery. We guarantee that our munitions will not end up in the hands of the IS. Or any other local psychopaths. Or shoppers at local Sunday market stalls.

Let’s clarify our intervention. We are not just following the US, Joe Hockey snarled at Fran Kelly on ABC Radio National. We are doing the right thing. Hmm … OK there’s always a first time, Hockey but how will you know? How will any of us know?

We are not going to be allowed to say. No need to involve parliament, of course, Abbott has been quick to cite tradition. Christine Milne and Andrew Wilkie and others have challenged this. Not so, sadly, the ALP.

An intelligent move would have been to have broken with precedent, Mr Abbott. A smart move would have been a democratic approach. Canvass widely all viewpoints. Built you a little political credibility. A little much needed political capital. Listen to others who might know a bit. Listen and learn. Exercise some due diligence. Otherwise we will have learned nothing from the past. Worse, we will have shown that we are incapable of learning from the past.

In the past we were able to stipulate our boys’ location. They were located so far behind the lines in Iraq they were practically in Saudi Arabia. Yes it was a token commitment. But it was a safe placement. Today, there is no safety zone. Yet we dash headlong into the fray. We are rushing to side with the devil we don’t know. Why? Because they seem better than the devil we think we know. Brought to us by FOX and SkyNews and US intelligence.  We are rushing into a dangerous liaison in a notorious hellhole. We may never get out of it. unscathed. Never extricate ourselves. But if it takes the heat off you and your government, then it’s got to be all OK. Who are we to stand in your way?

O Solar Mio!

Getting solar power is a richly attractive idea, when you sit down and think about it. Part of a wonderful dream. In your mind you imagine independence, freedom. Freedom from the dirty brown coal burning multinational power generating industry. Independence. No longer will Heartless Bastards, a member of the Bullies International Incorporated Group push your buttons. You will save on power bills. You can even make some money by feeding some of the electricity you generate back into the grid. Your power company will pay you for it. You can put that big fat lazy old sun out to work for you as you snuggle up in your freely and cleanly heated, cooled and lit cottage. Make yourself another cup of tea. With free hot water ever on the boil.

It doesn’t even have to be fine and sunny. Overcast or cloudy works fine – just as long as there’s enough UV around to make those photo-voltaic cells in your solar panels work properly.

You will be green. And clean. You will reduce your household’s carbon footprint. You will become a more responsible global citizen. Respectable. Like Adam Bandt. You feel a warm inner glow. 

Your independent spirit surges:

“Let’s go it alone. Let’s be entirely self-sufficient in electricity. Self-sustaining.

You can go off grid by purchasing a system big enough to meet your needs and an adequate storage system or battery.  All you need to do is spend another $10,000. of course this part will need replacing after seven years. But improving technology means batteries keep getting better and cheaper.  Don’t let the costs bother you. Think of it as an investment.

Of course even a feed in system will cost you a bit at first. Systems have dropped in price but they are still expensive. When you consider the rising price of electricity, however, your average system will pay for itself in a short space of time. Or so you hope. Best of all a government rebate will help you and your family towards a more self-sufficient, eco-friendly life style. You’ll be set forever.

Sounds simple doesn’t it? What could go wrong? What are you waiting for? Just do it, whispers your inner green hippie child.

Look at the facts, here. We are being priced out of the electricity market. We cannot afford not to grow our own power. Our last bill was nearly $600.

Heavenly Sunbeams, your independent local power broker’s website made it so simple. Imperative, too. HS promised to us three independent local quotes. Quickly. They would make the calls. All they needed first was to know a bit about us. Quite a bit. We entered our details. This was the first time we would be asked for our data. It would not be the last.

A day later an email from HS explained that because of our location, there was only one company on its list. Luckily, for us, however, and HS, it turned out to be Spark Group – the biggest solar company in the world. Heavenly Sunbeams thoughtfully suggested ways we could contact other contracting firms outside our area. If we still needed to. But that step was up to us. 

“Firms outside our area?” Sounded expensive. Travel charges to add to installation costs. And would they still be keen to help us should anything go wrong, further, as they say in the bush, down the track. Should we go with in the area but off the list? The fine print on the website suggested otherwise. In their no cowboys clause they explained that only reputable, honest and reliable firms made it to their list. 

We had a light-bulb moment. That dull voice of reason again. Things solar were not, perhaps, as they seemed. Our green consumer dream of independence, freedom was fading before our eyes. It gave way to Franz Kafka’s nightmare. Authority ruled. It was everywhere. It was arbitrary. Independence was all well and good provided it was approved by those with more (ahem) power than you. You could do as you liked provided you did as you were told.

Within days, however, things were (as they say), moving forward. Inexorably. Rapidly. Before we knew it, Sales Rep Radiant Teeth had invited himself over to have a chat over a cup of tea. Our tea? He didn’t specify. I wasn’t going to suggest he packed a thermos. Teeth did tell us that he represented the biggest group in the industry. The biggest in the world. I couldn’t delay making the appointment. Into the future, as they say. He rang back the next day to bring it forward.

Teeth tooled up in an SUV. A big white rhino appeared in our driveway,menacing our little old Camry.

Teeth’s car was nothing special. Just an ordinary, common or garden 4WD. $40, 000 without options. It had options. No sign, however, of any tea pot. But it looked hungry for fuel. And dangerous to any other road user. The Camry trembled.

We introduced ourselves.  A roo topic sprang up apparently out of nowhere, commending itself to both of us. Radiant had run into one or two. We exchanged tallies.

Impossible to dodge. Dangerous. You feel so powerless. At their mercy. His firm bought him a better car. You do feel safer in a bigger vehicle, I volunteered. Bugger the planet.

In a bit of an awkward gap, I proudly offered him a cup of our finest Aldi coffee. I avoided any mention of hunger.

He would love a coffee, he said. Perhaps I had misheard him about the tea. Or was it a salesman’s ambit claim? But first, he had to check our supply and our meter. 

You realise, he said, alongside the transformer, your limits.

Limits?

Limits set by your power supply company. Powercorp will not permit you to generate more than 5KW.  Your transformer is rated 2.5KWH. This limits you to a 5KWH system. Or less. The earlier you get solar installed the more likely it is you are going to be able to connect a larger PV system. Too late and you may miss out entirely. If PV is already prevalent in an area you may not be able to connect at all. At all?  Until network upgrades are made in that area.  Or you pay for them yourself.

I am still trying to come to terms with this. You have to go cap in hand to your local electricity mafia to beg them to be allowed to generate your own juice? Only if you are going to feed it back into the grid, he says.

At least we will be able to say goodbye to power cuts.

Not if you are feeding into the grid. Only if you are going to go off grid.

Like a minnow swimming up to a white pointer, I ask him one of the questions they say you should ask your installation contractor. I have my research. I printed it out from Heavenly Sunbeams’s site. It sits beside my coffee cup on the dining table.

Let’s do it my way, he says. I will go through my presentation and you can ask questions afterwards.

He talks for one hour. I do ask questions. He tells me my questions are good. I thank him and tell him that I need to get at least two other quotes. His pitch is that his company is the biggest. The gear that they use is the best. Their installers are all fully trained in their own academy.

He has a colour ink-jet print out. Three options. The best panels in the world as used by NASA. The Canadian panels, stand up to extremes. The best value panels.

His cheapest top tier system, with twenty panels guaranteed for 25 years to generate up to 80% capacity. His top of the line Austrian inverter with 10 year extended warranty.  (Average life is up to 20 years.) price after rebate is $8900.

The government could abolish all rebates in a few days. The RET could be abolished. The findings of Warburton’s review are being considered now. Not that he wants us to feel pressured. Just needs to state the context.

The following Tuesday Rapunzel of Spark rings to say that the boys will be out tomorrow. Takes five to seven hours to install. And how would I like to pay the balance owing?

We’ll have to put the cat in the cabin with her tray. And keep a close eye on our chooks. They have just started to lay.

an email appears with a design for our approval. Ten panels face East and ten West. Unlike some aspects of the solar industry, the roof, happily has a low pitch.

To be continued …