The death of “old Australia”? Perhaps that’s premature.

‘Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated,’ is a well known quote from Mark Twain. This quote came to mind while reading Craig Emerson’s column – Why Australia Day will just die of old age – in Monday’s edition of the Australian Financial Review.

Emerson’s column argues that the Grim Reaper of demographics is stalking old Australia, its people and its national day. A new cohort of settlers will arrive to replace us and usher in a republic, he asserts. When, you may ask, will this happen? The answer: sometime in the middle of this century.

Reading Emerson’s column reminded me of another prophet of doom, aka a frustrated republican. Some decades ago, the author Thomas Kenneally blamed the lack of movement on an Australian republic on an older generation. Musing about the coming death of that generation, who he saw were holding back republicanism, Kenneally’s appeal was to their children who he thought would readily throw off the “colonial shackles,” once their parents were gone.

With still no actual movement for change on the horizon, Emerson realises a “Plan B” will be needed. To see in an Australian republic and deliver the coup de grâce to our constitutional monarchy and national day, immigration, he argues, will be that weapon.

Quoting from the most recent Intergenerational Report, Emerson writes:

‘It’s not that the citizens who oppose change to any of these absurdities will have changed their minds by 2050, it’s that there won’t be many of them around.

net overseas migration is projected to contribute a whopping 75 per cent of Australia’s population growth in 40 years’ time.

The two biggest source countries for immigrants nowadays? China and India. And the fastest growing countries of birth between the 2016 and 2021 census periods were India, Nepal, the Philippines, Vietnam and China. Not many monarchists there.

To assert that our Constitution and national day will not last, because we will not last, shows how unconvincing is the republican case for change.

Moreover, the lack of grace to his fellow Australians and exultant wish to replace our people – our families, friends and neighbours and those who have fought for this nation, who have protected its people from natural disasters and from wars and conflicts- to bring in a republic, is distasteful.

Distasteful as well and also presumptuous, is to assert that new immigrants, wherever they may come from, will not share a regard for our institutional arrangements, traditions and culture. What Craig Emerson forgets is that some of the most ardent supporters of this nation and our way of life are its most recent arrivals who see a just people and place of opportunity and safety. But like all collectivists, Emerson does not accept that everyone is an individual and differences of opinion can and do exist.

On one thing Emerson is right: death (like taxes) is certain. But he should know that nothing else in life is inevitable. I can think of many things that were claimed about the future, until they were not. And what about Global Warming in all this? Are we not all due to expire well before mid century, thereby making a future republic academic?!

Left out of Emerson’s presumptions about what Australia will be like mid century is that medical advancements and better nutrition have greatly increased the span of human years and made old age a much more active and engaging experience. Maybe our immortality will be just around the corner, to the chagrin of every republican who, with Craig Emerson, desires to be rid of us all and the old Australia!

Flag flying on Australia Day

On Australia Day I fly the national flag from our front balcony. From both directions along our street it can be seen. Never once have I thought this action is a political statement. Until now.

Australians tend to shy away from overt displays of politics. Yes, we vote; that is a given in a compulsory voting system. But looking around the suburbs, among the callistemons, camellias or cacti, you would never know your neighbours’ political opinions or voting intentions. This is not to say they, or we, do not have them. It is just that we do not ordinarily share them with the neighbours via lawn signs and other showy displays. It is not our thang!

However, flying the flag is something different. Flag flying became de rigueur during the Sydney Olympics in 2000 when we were all encouraged to get behind our sporting heroes. As a sporting nation, this was not a hard thing to do.

From then on Australia Day really became a “fun-ly” patriotic day of BBQs, sporting activities and free events organised by community groups, state governments and town councils. Business got into the act by sponsoring different activities and events, both locally and nationally. All manner of Aussie themed merchandise from bunting and napkins to beach towels and bikinis gave retail sales a lift between Christmas and Easter, and for which the big (and small retailers) were truly thankful. Along with the AOTY awards, fireworks displays and citizenship ceremonies, the Australian Open, and what was once the Adelaide Test Match fixture, this was a day to celebrate being Australian.

My Australia Day flag flying has always fitted perfectly with the tenor of the day: pride in the Australian way of life, pride in its people and their achievements, and pride in our past and in our future.

This year, numerous large and important companies decided to ignore the day because of the ubiquitous “diversity and inclusion.” Some companies have even offered to allow their employees to work and take another day off at some other time. Message to these imbeciles, many people work on Australia Day and on the other national days and holidays throughout the year. Working Australia Day does not mean that Australia Day is of no importance to those workers. But such statements fit nicely with the current fashion to delegitimise us and our national day.

Will I take down the flag? Not on your life! Will I fly the flag on January 26 next year? You betcha! Today, I made a political statement.

No State Funeral for Cardinal Pell

The first State Funerals in Australia honoured the explorers Robert Burke and William Wills in Melbourne in 1863 after their attempt to cross the continent from south to north ended in failure. Today, State Funerals in Australia more often recognise statesmanship (politicians), and the more human level of endeavour than was the case in the past.   This in no way demeans any recipient of a State Funeral, but recognises the modern world and the reality of the fewer truly heroic exemplars in the historic sense of that term.

In some cases, the passing on of the individual fully resonates with the populace – thousands turned out for Burke and Wills.  In other cases, the societal reaction may have been more subdued. This in no way invalidates the granting of a State Funeral: State Funerals are not popularity contests. Nor are outpourings of loss the yardstick for the granting of a State Funeral, although such emotion may be palpable among the many attendees.  Were it so then most, if not all, politicians would never be granted a State Funeral. A State Funeral is meant formally to acknowledges the service, courage, and endeavour of the individual. Last week, Cardinal George Pell, Australia’s most senior Catholic, died in Rome. Immediately, both the Victorian and New South Wales Premiers ruled out a State Funeral for the Cardinal.

In Victoria’s case, Daniel Andrews was quick to reference the victims of child sexual abuse to imply the Cardinal’s disqualification from the honour of a State Funeral.  This was a shallow attempt to rehash the now discredited and false criminal accusations made against the Cardinal and over which the High Court had fully dealt.  But also the Premier (and others) want to widen the claims of culpability against Cardinal Pell – having not “got their man” in the courts, Pell’s detractors want to forever hang the crimes of others around his neck by redrawing him as some sort of ignoble cut-out character of popular fiction.  The refusal of a State Funeral being the “reasonable” evidence of his guilt and disqualification.

Through all these turnings, including the Cardinal’s fortitude while being incarcerated for 404 days in solitary confinement before his full exoneration, admirers saw a man who faced his tormenters with grace, humility, and courage. For those who followed his career from the beginning, this was the man they knew and not the contrived depiction drawn by his enemies.

“Be not afraid” – the episcopal motto of Cardinal Pell – stands now as a fitting epitaph for a man of God and becomes a witness to those who would doubt themselves at their own time of trial. Premier Andrews may think he has finished with Cardinal Pell, but the Cardinal’s legacy shines a light on the State of Victoria under this Premier.

A new Winslow Boy case

The Brittany Higgins sexual assault case – now aborted – has left in legal limbo the accused, Bruce Lehrmann. This is unacceptable in a country that has the common law doctrine of innocent until proven guilty at the heart of its justice system.

Lehrmann’s current difficulties remind me of another case. Though of very different circumstances, like Lehrmann, the accused in that case was unable to clear his name. Known as The Winslow Boy because of the play and subsequent movie of that name, this was the story of George Archer-Shee v The King.

In 1908, George Archer-Shee, a young cadet aged thirteen at the Royal Naval College at Osborne, was accused of stealing a five-shilling postal note from another boy and cashing it at the post office. The result of this accusation was that Archer-Shee was expelled from Osborne. Unfortunately, the Admiralty would not review the case despite the boy’s assertion that he was innocent. However, the boy’s father refused to accept that young George had committed the crime.

This was a time when one’s name was of the highest of value to a family. Reputations then were of even greater importance than they are today. Today, for example, sports “stars” can be resurrected reputationally with some good PR work, despite a major misdemeanour. Then, doors would have closed permanently and few if any options would arise under the same circumstances. And even under normal circumstances, without the support of a patron willing to vouch for another, one’s prospects were slim.

A celebrated barrister and Member of the Commons took up the case after spending some hours with the lad to ascertain if truly he was telling the truth. But hurdles remained. Here we can identify some similarities with Bruce Lehrmann’s current situation in the ACT DPP’s decision to withdraw the accused’s right to a second trial because of the plaintiff’s reported medical condition, and yet state that the case had merit.

Because Archer-Shee was a naval cadet the civil courts were not an option. Second, the boy was not entitled to a court martial because he was not enlisted. The only recourse was a petition of right against the crown. The legal principle being challenged was the doctrine that the king (and the Admiralty as a result) could do no wrong. Consequently, George Archer-Shee’s reputation wallowed longer in legal limbo than it otherwise should have (as does Lehrmann’s reputation today).

Finally, the government succumbed and George’s case went before the High Court on 26th July, 1910. George was cleared. (Tragically, George was killed at the age of nineteen at the First Battle of Ypres, on the 31st October, 1914).

The Winslow Boy, with screenplay by Terrence Rattigan and with Robert Donat playing the barrister and Sir Cedric Hardwicke in the role of the father in the film version, is wonderful. Though like other cinematic treatments of historic events and characters, it, too, melds art and history, it is still well worth the watch (challenging our prime Cat movie man reviewer, Wolfie, here.) And especially so because it upholds powerfully the right of all those who stand accused the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial.

A new appreciation of our culture and heritage? I think so!

The death of Queen Elizabeth II and the beginning of the reign of King Charles III has been a revelation. Five million Australians watched the Queen’s funeral. Many more would have viewed the ongoing, multiple television station coverage of reporters on the ground everywhere it mattered over the full ten days of mourning. A Roy Morgan poll conducted after King Charles took the oath showed 60% of Australians want to retain our system of government. Once again, republican claims that we are not interested in our constitutional monarchy have been disproven.

Something more than the standard position against change, – the, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” argument – justifiable though that is, has occurred to us at the Queen’s passing. Something much bigger and altogether more basic. Something we thought lost in the decades since the Queen ascended the throne in 1952 and for which we have realised no republican model of government could replace. What it is, is the full majesty of our culture and heritage.

When the new King, Charles III, took his oath at Westminster Hall, in accordance with the law and the assent of the people, and with all the arcane language, traditional vestments, processions and many constitutional acts and religious ceremonies, which culminated in the Queen’s funeral service at Westminster Abbey and her procession to Windsor Castle for her interment, a thousand year history played out before us. And we were in awe because it was the nation’s history.

“The Fixer”

Over the past few days excerpts from Simon Benson’s and Geoff Chambers’ new book, Plagued, have appeared in the media. (Admission: I have only read the first excerpt, which appeared in the Weekend Australian, but since then through the media more details have emerged.)

What initially struck me about this first report was the reason given for the addition of the health portfolio to Scott Morrison’s then prime ministerial responsibilities, and the level of power, (and therefore risk to the nation), that section 475 of the Biosecurity Act could afford to the Federal Health Minister if invoked by the Governor General, (*though with the subsequent disclosures today in the press this aspect of what was going on in the previous government during the pandemic is being overtaken by events, but I will plug on).

Reported in the excerpt is that the first aspect to the change to the ministerial responsibilities of Scott Morrison as prime minister arises because the Victorian president of the Australian Medical Association, Julian Rait, advised Minister Hunt that,

Hunt and the other political leaders of the day needed to draw some crucial lessons from the 1919 pandemic. Chief among them was how federalism almost collapsed when the politicians let themselves believe they were medical experts. They needed a mechanism that put the expert health advice at the apex of political decision making, along with a unified national approach from all levels of government. Hunt swiftly relayed Rait’s observations to Scott Morrison.

The second aspect to the change to Scott Morrison’s ministerial responsibilities arises the authors tell us because,

A declaration under section 475 gave Hunt as health minister exclusive and extraordinary powers. He, and only he, could personally make directives that overrode any other law and were not disallowable by parliament. He had authority to direct any citizen in the country to do something, or not do something, to prevent spread of the disease. Morrison knew that if he asked the Governor-General to invoke section 475, he effectively would be handing Hunt control of the country. If they were going to use them, Morrison wanted protocols set up as well as a formal process to impose constraints. The protocols required the minister to provide written medical advice and advance notice of his intentions to the national security cabinet.

Revealed, is that the Federal Government did indeed have extraordinary powers to control, direct or constrain what the state premiers were doing during the pandemic if s. 475 was invoked. And with the addition of protocols to provide written medical advice and to provide advance notice of the Federal Health Minister’s intentions to the national security cabinet, the control and direction during the pandemic did have the prime minister at the centre of that decision-making and far enough in front to be well beyond the premiers’ preview. Conversely, if s. 475 was not invoked, then why take this course of action?

But this revelation of the question of using s. 475 is at odds with what Morrison said at his February 1, 2022, National Press Club Address, and which I wrote about and quoted from on NewCat on February 5:

There, Morrison said:

‘The pandemic did not suspend the constitution or the federation. It did not change what the States and the Commonwealth have always been responsible for: they didn’t get any more powers they didn’t get any less; and I have always sought to put the national interest first by seeking to work together with the Premiers and the Chief Ministers through the National Cabinet and not engage in petty fights…my job was keep everybody together in the room working together…and I have sought to work together…’

When Scott Morrison made those remarks at the National Press Club on February 1, 2022, those words were not correct. S.475 did materially alter what the Commonwealth and the States were doing – and could do – during the two and half years of the pandemic and without the constraint of the constitution or the federation. Through the position of (“shadow”) Federal Health Minister and the powers of s. 475, to allow or disallow the state governments’ blanket vaccine mandates, police powers abuse, and the banning of healthy people from earning a living were entirely within his control.

(*The revelation today that using the same administrative instrument that circumvented the requirement to be sworn in by the Governor General, Scott Morrison also became the Finance Minister alongside Matthias Cormann and, later, Energy Minister alongside Angus Taylor and Resources Minister alongside Keith Pitt, and without the knowledge of these ministers, or seemingly the remainder of the Cabinet, the Coalition, the Parliament or the people.)

An Independent Review

Yesterday, the new federal health minister, Mark Butler, announced a government inquiry with Jane Halton in charge into the Australian Government covid-19 vaccine contracts, pricing and existing supplies of vaccines. This inquiry, he advised, will be a forward looking review: a “where to from here” examination of what will be needed in the next 12-18 months including ‘likely developments in vaccines this year and into 2023’ ( 30/6/22). The inquiry will be undertaken very soon and report quickly rather than referencing the last two years of the country’s pandemic response. However, the Minister was quick not to rule out a more fulsome examination such as a Royal Commission at a later date, although no timeframe was announced.

I note two things about this announcement, 1) the choice of Jane Halton as the head of the inquiry, and 2) what I hope is not a deliberate attempt to refocus attention away from what Labor had promised during the election: the release of “National Cabinet” documents and the move away from the secrecy provisions used by Scott Morrison in his dealings with the State Premiers and Chief Ministers – and which Anthony Albanese advised in a press conference after his first “National Cabinet” meeting two Friday’s ago, that the Commonwealth had not rescinded the confidentiality provisions. According to the Guardian, Mr Albanese refused to answer questions on the matter (The Guardian, 17/6/22).

To the second point first, and what should be of the utmost importance, I will only say that were a Royal Commission, or inquiry of similar standing, to be announced then all items of evidence should be examined, including everything that transpired between the previous Coalition Government through its leader, the former Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, his Covid “Supremo” Lieutenant General John Frewin and the Premiers and Chief Ministers much of which originated inside the “National Cabinet”. These items of evidence should include all “National Cabinet” documents for the period of the National Pandemic Response, without which the country can never hope to truly learn from these last two years.

On the first point, when asked why the Dept of Health would not carry out the inquiry, according to the ABC, Butler ‘…defended the decision to have the review done by Ms Halton and not the health department, saying he did not think it was out of the ordinary that the new government would want an independent opinion on deals done while it was in opposition.’

I make no inference about the choice of Jane Halton – Mr Butler himself has noted her independence – to undertake this review, simply I refer to Ms Halton’s Wikipedia page, which notes her previous position in government as departmental head of the Australian Department of Finance (as well as in many other significant positions in government over the years), which she resigned from in October, 2016. Subsequent to her resignation, and after joining a couple of boards (ANZ Bank and Vault Systems), she became the chair of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

From Wikipedia: (quote) ‘The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) is a foundation that takes donations from public, private, philanthropic, and civil society organisations, to finance independent research projects to develop vaccines against emerging infectious diseases (EID).[4][5]

CEPI is focused on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) “blueprint priority diseases”, which include: the Middle East respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus (MERS-CoV), the Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the Nipah virus, the Lassa fever virus, and the Rift Valley fever virus, as well as the Chikungunya virus and the hypothetical, unknown pathogen “Disease X”.[6][5] CEPI investment also requires “equitable access” to the vaccines during outbreaks, although subsequent CEPI policy changes may have compromised this criterion.[7]

CEPI was conceived in 2015 and formally launched in 2017 at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland. It was co-founded and co-funded with US$460 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust,[3] and the governments of India and Norway, and was later joined by the European Union (2019) and the United Kingdom (2020).[3][5] CEPI is headquartered in Oslo, Norway.[4]…

CEPI was formally launched at the 2017 WEF in Davos, with an initial investment of US$460 million by a consortium that included the governments of Norway, Japan, and Germany, The Wellcome Trust, and the Gates Foundation;[10][3] India joined a short time afterwards.[11][12] In a launch interview with the Financial Times (FT), Gates said that a key goal was to reduce the time to develop vaccines from 10 years to less than 12 months.[3]…

In 2020, CEPI was identified by several media outlets as a “key player in the race to develop a vaccine” for coronavirus disease 2019.[4][19][15]’ (end of quote)

Australia, Belgium, Canada and the UK have also contributed funding. Total funding by February 2020, according to Bloomberg News, (via Wikipedia) was US$760 million.

Knowing Hiding where the bodies are buried

Moving to a “post pandemic world,” two Australian states – Queensland and Western Australia – have made two of their most senior pandemic response public servants – QLD’s former CHO Jeanette Young and W.A.’s Commissioner of Police, State Emergency Co-ordinator and previously its Vaccine Commander, Chris Dawson – their respective state’s new vice-regal appointees. In doing so it would seem both governments have created an insurmountable obstacle against these previous “servants of the people” being required to give evidence at any future, formal inquiry into the pandemic.

Will some of the other States move also to stymie the airing of what really happened over these last two and a bit years and utilise as well a “vice regal strategy”? In the case of Victoria, the sidelining of certain minions must be tempting for Daniel Andrews, given the debasing of individual liberty and the abuse of citizens’ rights, including the shooting in the back with plastic bullets of innocent people at The Shrine.

In Victoria, Linda Dessau, the current governor, has been in place since July 2015, while in NSW Margaret Beazley has held the vice regal position since May 2019. It would not be inconceivable therefore for either Premier soon to announce a change to their state’s vice-regal position.

So will we see Victoria’s CHO, Brett Sutton, or their Police Commissioner, Shane Patton, get elbowed upwards? Rather than giving evidence before a Royal Commission, what are the odds for Kerry Chant becoming the next NSW Governor? At the federal level, could we expect Dr Brendan Murphy, our previous CMO and now head of the Federal Department of Health, or Adjunct Professor Skerritt, the current head of the TGA, being re-moved up and away to a “safe haven” in the not too distant future?

But any hope for a formal inquiry will be up against it and what would be examined should one actually be announced. Reported yesterday by the ABC was changes to the W. A. State’s Emergency Management Act (2005), which enables the government to declare an emergency, thereby enabling the government access to the emergency powers, including the declaring of a pandemic, which first requires the State’s Emergency Coordinator, currently Police Commissioner Dawson, provide that advice to the Emergency Services Minister who then makes a declaration every two weeks. In moving to extend W.A.’s pandemic powers until January 2023 in State Parliament on Tuesday, the Emergency Services Minister, Stephen Dawson (no relation to Chris Dawson it would seem) revealed that the fortnightly advice from the Emergency Coordinator was given verbally at each fortnightly meeting. With no formal written advice to examine, evidence taken under oath from W.A.’s Emergency Coordinator (Police Commissioner Dawson) would be central to an examination of how decisions were made in that State during these two long years.

One thing is clear: no one at any level of government is even slightly interested in examining formally how Australia came almost within a hair’s breadth of dictatorial government and the mandating of vaccinations despite our constitutional limitations, if Scott Morrison is to be relied on to announce such an investigation. When asked on the campaign trail about a Royal Commission into the pandemic, Morrison responded that “the pandemic was not over” so an examination of the last two years, he said, could not be had. Yet some days earlier in relation to the Reserve Bank increasing interest rates, his spin was that this move amounted to the “strengthening of the economy,” because we were “through the pandemic.”

Throughout this election campaign there have been few questions from any quarter on what the government did or allowed to be done to citizens during the pandemic, apart from whether the vaccine roll-out was too slow. In fact, the PM has only really conceded on that one point, saying at the leaders debate on Nine last Sunday night, and in response to a question from the Opposition Leader, that “it really was a race.” Thus showing that neither the media or the Opposition is really interested in what happened.

So we sit and we wait for the truth to be revealed, which will happen, sooner or later. And as we wait, our level of trust in government is at an all-time low, which is why the right-of-centre minor parties it would seem have gained momentum.

It’s Hiding in Plain Sight.

On Saturday, the Marshall Government went the way of the dodo with a significant swing to Labor on the 2pp. Interestingly, both Liberal and Labor commenters, Nicolle Flint (Lib-SA) and Amanda Rishworth (Lab-SA), on the Sky News post election analysis agreed with each other that it was the loss of the V8 Supercars to Adelaide in 2020, which was the dominant and deciding factor. On his show on Sunday night, Paul Murray also agreed – “it was the Supercars wot dun it,” he asserted.

I could not help but be a tad sceptical that a car race, which in its final year (2020) had attracted only 206,000 fans over the four days made all the difference, considering what the entire country, including South Australia, had been through in the last two years.

To me, the rationale for the election loss seems all too convenient and, besides, if Marshall’s polling through the last two years could be put down to one issue, surely he would have had enough nous to do a back flip and ensure the race returned to Adelaide post pandemic? Was this issue, as Murray and those South Australian HoRs were contending, really front and centre in this election?

InDaily, an Adelaide independent on-line news site reported 7/9/21 that a statewide poll conducted by Dynata, an on-line market research company, in July, for The Australia Institute – an organisation not known for leaning “right” – had the Liberals in front 51-49 on the 2pp, with health reported as the ‘…dominant issue of the campaign’ and noted that the polling ‘…mirror[ed] the last statewide poll taken in SA, a Sunday Mail-YouGov poll published in March.’

Nowhere in the polling reported by InDaily did the V8 Supercars decision make it as a concern of electors. In fact, InDaily noted that ‘[T]he Australia Institute’s SA Director Noah Schulz-Byard said the polling suggested “voters can expect a strong campaign with a focus on health [38%], the economy [24%] and climate change [(12%] over the next six months…In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, health is shaping up as the key political battleground in South Australia.”‘

Continue reading “It’s Hiding in Plain Sight.”

The Prime Minister’s mea culpa?

What did we learn from Scott Morrison’s mea culpa and precis of his Government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic at the National Press Club on Tuesday?

While referring to the up-ending of lives and livelihoods and how exhausting ‘…financially, emotionally and psychologically’ the last two years have been for Australians. Primarily, the decisions made, he said, were about ‘…getting the balance right [between the] twin goals to save lives and to save livelihoods, [and to] balance health objectives with our broader societal and economic wellbeing.’ What seemed the only concession was that ‘decisions are made in real time but with hindsight the view does change.’

Continue reading “The Prime Minister’s mea culpa?”