Modest Expectations – Box Hill to Port Melbourne

You know if a line was drawn from the Perth GPO to the Sydney GPO to represent the history of the Earth, reptiles would appear in Canberra and intelligent human life would evolve in Balmain Author Craig Cormick then calculating in the Federal Department of Science Set Square.

More than just a Nuance 

Below is a lightly edited extract from The Boston Globe last week. Maybe it is the foretaste of more irritating daleks on benches and mantelpieces with stupid names ostensibly doing my bidding, but who knows.

There’s nothing subtle about Microsoft’s US $19.7 billion, all-cash acquisition of Burlington-based Nuance Communications. It’s a bold statement that Microsoft intends to be the dominant provider of speech-based artificial intelligence systems to the world’s biggest enterprises, particularly in health care.

This acquisition is Microsoft’s biggest since the company paid $26 billion in 2016 to acquire the business-oriented social network LinkedIn. Microsoft bought Skype in 2011 for $8.5 billion

Nuance, which employs around 7,100 people worldwide, is famous for its artificial-intelligence software that enables computers to recognize human speech. These days, plenty of companies make similar software for consumers. In fact, Apple’s Siri voice system was based on Nuance technology.

Amazon, Google, and even Microsoft have all built their own speech software and virtual assistants for mainstream users. Nuance also used to dabble in consumer markets. But in recent years, the company has specialized in enterprise-grade AI software that understands the meanings behind words, with a particular focus on medical applications.

Today, Nuance makes software smart enough to automatically generate medical records, assist doctors in their diagnoses, and refill patients’ prescriptions. And demand for such software is likely to surge, as millions worldwide replace face-to-face doctor visits with online and remote health care — a process accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The acquisition will enable Microsoft to tap a global health care market worth $500 billion per year, it has been predicted.

And that could be just the beginning. Nuance also makes an array of intelligent programs for customer service and security applications. It makes software that can accurately figure out what a caller wants, even if they don’t use exactly the right words. It even makes a product for financial services companies that can identify fraudulent callers pretending to be someone else. The software can spot crooks not only by analysing their tone of voice, but by tracking which words they use.

And now Microsoft will be able to market all of these capabilities worldwide.

Nuance had net income of $28 million on revenue of $1.48 billion for its fiscal year ended Sept. 30, compared to a net loss of $12.2 million for the previous year.

It has been pointed out that Microsoft’s success with Nuance is by no means assured. IBM’s Watson Health initiative has also tried to apply AI technologies to health care but earlier this year, The Wall Street Journal reported that IBM is considering a sale of the business, which generates annual revenue of $1 billion, but no profits.

Nuance’s artificial-intelligence products are more advanced than IBM’s. Still, doctors and hospitals are often slow to embrace new technology, no matter how good it is because the health care industry itself is a very conservative industry.

The Nuance acquisition is expected to close later this year.

I can’t wait!

Digger’s Rest is now in Oxfordshire

It is interesting that Murdoch’s star is setting in every country apart from his old Digger’s Rest in “my beloved Australia” but, as Google will show, it’s in Oxfordshire.

The migration of News Corporation from Australia to Delaware in 2004 for reincorporation was seen at the time to be ambiguous. While News Corp asserted that the re-incorporation would enhance shareholder value, critics of the proposal claimed that its real purpose was to strengthen managerial power vis-à-vis shareholder power. Now assuming that the move has been the cornerstone of Murdoch family control, presumably it would not have escaped the President’s notice that Murdoch has nestled in his state where the Democrats have massive majorities in both Houses. Far be it from somebody in far off Australia to suggest that the Delaware legislature would be contemplating their version of a “poison pill” to make this old Oxfordshire squire’s life a little harder, but the White House does not seem to have a welcome mat out for Murdoch and Son.

I doubt if Boris Johnson owes the same Squire any favours. either, but Rupert has had this serpentine way of intruding into the political boudoirs of the rich and famous. Boris realises that if you watch the eye movements of a snake, you can very much know when it is about to strike. Pandering to a snake is not the best way to run a government, nevertheless as one source has written:

It may seem extraordinary that the worship of the serpent should ever have been introduced into the world, and it must appear still more remarkable that it should almost universally have prevailed. As mankind are said to have been ruined through the influence of this being, we could little expect that it would, of all other objects, have been adopted as the most sacred and salutary symbol, and rendered the chief object of adoration. Yet so we find it to have been, for in most of the ancient rites there is some allusion to it.

Some of the more uncharitable among us might believe that above is a perfect description of “Dear Rupert” at work. It is worthy to note that ophiolatreia, the worship of snakes, apparently burns out in the colder climes, when the snake is no longer seen an influential symbol.

Doing the rhumba

Yet there is a band of contrarians. I can categorically deny that Hillsong has invited any of them, their many fraternal Pentecostal mates in the Appalachian Mountains, to come to Australia with their rhumba of rattlesnakes. They follow the dictum as expressed in Mark 16:18 which says, “They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them”.

Unfortunately, like many a tabloid newspaper, one verse can always be taken out of context.  Being bitten by a snake, according to these believers in the literal translation of the verse, has resulted in many a pastoral death among these Hill people, with the pastors being particular sacrifices. As He may have said “Mark my words!”

But then again Rupert’s version of the rhumba may have caused enough political demise for us not to need any spiritual injection from the Pentecostalist hills of Kentucky and Tennessee.

We Australians are all that is left of the “downsized” Rupert global injection room retreat.  Poor us. Son Lachlan has moved back to Australia. Really, do we deserve that?  Remember how his brilliance has shone previously in the Australian business world. 

Andrew Peacock – Not a Bad Bloke

I saw Andrew Peacock at close quarters when we were both active and ambitious young men. Most people go through life without the privilege that he had and indeed cultivated. He went to a private school, where he coveted being Captain of the School and where he sustained a rivalry for the post with Tony Staley, later to be a less successful politician in same Party. In the end neither of them attained Captain of the School. The captain was a quiet studious chap who played the piano well.

Peacock and Hawke

Peacock avoided student politics, while Staley was my successor as President of the Student Representative Council. However, Peacock was along a different trail. After a preliminary tilt at Federal politics unsuccessfully challenging Jim Cairns then inherited the retiring Prime Minister Menzies’ seat of Kooyong, with the appropriate blessing of the incumbent.

Peacock was well suited to the then Liberal Party, especially in Victoria where noblesse oblige played a large part, and he himself was mildly centrist in his views. Nevertheless, there were limits. I well remember the debate in Parliament on abortion, where the Liberal Party then in Opposition were universally supportive, to a man and the few women, of the anti-abortionists. When the matter came to a vote in the House of Representatives Peacock theatrically stood up as though to vote for its legalisation against the wishes of the Party, looked around at the back bench and realised that nobody was following – and promptly sat down.

Peacock performed one particularly lasting service during his relatively short stint as Minister for External Territories in 1972. He befriended the charismatic Michael Somare. Peacock was refreshingly modern, as had followed a series of Ministers who still looked on that emerging nation of Papua New Guinea as a place for the continuation of patrol officer paternalism. Together he and Somare cemented the foundations which led to Papua-New Guinea. The relationship since has not been easy, but Peacock ensured with Somare that it would be ordered and peaceful. That is his legacy, and all the stuff about him being a “ Treasure” will dissolve with the attendant crocodile tears.

Peacock and I fell out, after a savage speech I made directed at what I perceived, rightly or wrongly, as some of his actions. Like many things I have done, I probably regret it, but what does it matter when one old man reflects on the legacy of another old man now gone and who lived most of his last 20 years in Texas. Perhaps his $2.5bn mishap in the Gold Coast hedge fund accelerated that exit.

I believe if he had been given the opportunity Peacock would have made a good Prime Minister, but as he was never one for detail, he would have needed very good staff work. However, he knew how to handle his colleagues, except for Howard. In the end I believe he also got tired of having to deal with Howard, who was assiduous whereas he was not. In effect he was outlasted, even though there were a few interim Party leaders between him hanging up his political boots and Howard eventually gaining complete control of the Liberal Party.

After he left Parliament having never made Prime Minister, the zeal of public life with which he had pursued this Grail probably deserted him as he drifted into the cocktail circuit of diplomacy and mixing with other world “treasures”.  Howard was shrewd enough to offer him an official sinecure for such a pursuit. I hope Peacock was happy, because he wasn’t a bad bloke.

Nevertheless, as a wise associate of mine with a dry sense of humour said: “Only children, especially boys, should have ‘only child’ stamped on their foreheads to warn people.”  Maybe that would have been a better epitaph for Andrew.

The Shambles is not only a street in York

I have always been a great supporter of the Howard Springs facility in the Northern Territory. However, I understand that at present there are insufficient people with the appropriate qualifications to keep the facility open. Why? Because so many of the regulars are committed to trying to staunch the COVID-19 outbreak in PNG.

Not enough resources. Is it time for that Morrisonian war footing?

Should this war footing the Prime Minister is trumpeting concentrate the attention of Australians – mobilising the country – get rid of all frippery – world surf carnivals and the like, and then truly putting the whole country into vaccination khaki.  Does he really mean to emulate John Curtin?

Or Prime Minister, are you just trying to run this country as though we are in the middle of a Mortein ad?

No social distancing at this ritual

The increasingly erratic Prime Minister has been essentially advocating tossing away the hard-earned gains of lock down and border closure by advocating home quarantine and people being able to in effect freely travel into the pandemic areas, because allegedly some Liberal Party donor has a villa in Tuscany and/or his Hillsong mates want to import singing and clapping in viral bags from all over the world for some Convention. Somebody may have seen the success of such religious festivals in India in spreading the Virus and want to emulate these by mass baptisms in the Hawkesbury River or some such spectacular event where social distancing is perceived as a heathen ritual.

It is slowly becoming clearer about the efficacy of vaccinations, and unfortunately it seems that the Australian Government has plumped for the inferior, if cheaper vaccine. When I see only poor old John Skerrett wearing the pelt of scapegoat, assuring the Australian public about how well the Australian vaccination world is, you know the politicians have lengthened their bargepoles.

Australia has done a remarkable job in suppressing the virus, in preventing variants from gaining a hold and allowing us to live a normal life.

Therefore, for Australians, the words “war footing” either jar or are ignored. What is needed is for the Federal Government to assume its constitutional responsibility and not “tar baby” the States. It should prepare mass vaccination facilities and train enough vaccinators so that when supplies of vaccine become available, they can be manned immediately so the program can start. Part-time vaccinators, trained and ready, should have similar entitlements as if they were a uniformed force reserve, ready to present to their particular vaccine centre when called up. The vaccinations will require military precision.

The question of which vaccine needs to be resolved. Transparency is essential. Thus, as a start, it is important to know how many politicians hold shares in AstraZeneca or CSL or, for that matter, in any suppliers of essential goods. That should be done immediately. Let us get some real transparency into the decision making. Then repeat the justification for such vaccines, slowly identifying also all the consultants, their role and achievements, if any.

Then, continue with the AstraZeneca vaccine for all those over 65 – first and second injection.  As with America, weekly totals are placed on public view. If the AstraZeneca can be modified to one injection, that option should be pursued. You are dealing with many elderly people and one injection is easier to remember than two.

It seems that Pfizer and Moderna technology is far superior, and now that they can be stored in a conventional refrigerator without fear of interruption of the cold chain integrity, supplies must be obtained, and a definite timetable set. The new public relations scenario is roping poor old John Shine in for speculation on whether Australia will get into the business of manufacturing the effective mRNA vaccines somewhere sometime in the future. I don’t say it cannot be done, but a timetable for completion and distribution needs to be calculated. In the interim, McKinsey continues to be financially enhanced.

The Prime Minister should be gagged unless his utterances can be confirmed to be true by an independent panel headed by Norman Swan or his equivalent in order to regain lost political credibility.

The unknowns are gradually becoming clear. There will be a need for booster injections to counter the viral variants beyond the first one; there will be a real necessity for Australia to improve its home-based technology. The advances that Pfizer have apparently achieved in reducing the age at which children can be injected should be monitored closely. Increasingly, being unvaccinated at all ages will be a risk when our world opens up to that villa in Tuscany.

That villa in Tuscany …

Razors – how the land scrape has changed

In my whole life the longest time I have ever gone without a shave after I reached the “age of the bristle” has been three days. That occurred at Easter 1958 which fell in the first week of April that year.  I was induced by two fellow medical students to go on a camping trip in the high plains area of Victoria.

I had never been camping before, and instead of a sleeping bag I had an old eiderdown, which proved to be a very comfortable substitute – we were lucky it didn’t rain.  The nights were very cold in the high country – the Porepunkah caravan park and the Bruthen tip. I am sure the eiderdown did not conform to the kit of a conventional camper. I forgot to take a razor.

Since that time razor technology has changed to such an extent that the ritual of yesterday with badger brush, to mix the shaving soap in a custom made Wedgewood porcelain bowl for a lather prior to the application of the razor was not a two minute exercise. That was a morning ritual, and many of the professionals in my father’s and grandfather’s generation paid a visit to the barber in the morning before work for a shave, complete with hot towels and all the fragrances that substituted for our modern deodorants – underarm and elsewhere. Presumably a presiding judge never wanted to appear as a Norman Gunston figure – but it would have done wonders for court humour.

When I started to shave, I used to have to screw the razor into the so-called safety razor which took no account of a wrinkly face; you need to tighten the skin to avoid the inevitable cuts as the razor encountered adolescent pimples underneath the softened lathered face. This whole process was interrupted by constantly having to run the shaver under water to remove the facial hair. Often this was not a pretty sight.

The electric razor followed. This was an apparent advance, but it came with a pre-shave conditioner and an aftershave lotion, most of which smelt like a French bordello – well, an imagined French bordello.  Brut was the champion odour. Old Spice was equally repugnant.  Aramis too was another turnoff among the few young women who ventured near. The problem with the electric razor is that despite the hype, it never gave a close shave; to such an extent that I was accused of presenting for a final year obstetric oral examination as an unshaven and untidy “colt from Carlton”. I well remember I was wearing a very expensive pale grey suit, and these days such a facial presentation would have been considered fashionable. Apparently, I lost marks for neatness, which was the way the senior medical profession operated in those days, especially when they thought one had the mien of a rebel and needed to be sent to an eastern suburban Siberia as an intern.

Facial salvation eventually came with the modern disposable razor, which has been constantly tweaked so that one can shave without any of the former ritual, although it does help to wet your face. And the time taken? Well, if you can’t do it in under two minutes, you must have latent narcissist tendencies trapped by your vision in the mirror of your post-shaven purity.

Seriously, we forget the time saved by the modern razors, and as long as one does not use the same one more than 24 times, then it gives the facies a very close approximation to a member of human race, unlike those who bury their jaws in home grown hedges.

Mouse Whisper

The Minister for Cultural Correctness, Admiral of the Swift, Pedro Dutônão has a issued a twerking ban on the Dill Squadron. Twiggy and his sidetwiglet ScãoMão have been severely reprimanded for their inappropriate antics before the start of the Collingwood clash with the West Coast Eagles. The Admiral was reported as saying that the crowd reaction of booing one of these perpetrators was completely justifiable in view of that earlier disgraceful mass action. The Admiral went on to regret any hurt that may have been caused to any Australian viewing the original performance but failed to mention the level of reparations due to the Australian community.

Modest Expectations – Ohotata Kore

I once had a Welsh friend, the navigator who sat beside the driver in those car rallies where the object seems to be to charge along tracks in the bush, often at night, at terrifying speeds. The navigator’s job was to keep his eyes on the map under torchlight and bark at the driver the instructions in regard to what the road in front was about to do. In other words, he did not look at the road; his only instrument was the map. Therefore, his accurate reading of the map was crucial to survival. Year after year he did this. Then one day, in mid rally, he told the driver to stop. He folded the map, got out of the car and never rallied again. In his case, he had lost his nerve.

In my case, I am writing my 105th blog – 105 being the non-emergency contact number for the police in New Zealand, and “non-emergency” at the head of this piece in Maori. In my case, have I lost the inclination to keep writing? Mine is not writer’s block. I know what “writer’s block” is. I have stopped writing for months while I have wrestled with not being able to see the logical or credible path forward. It is not that I have run out of ideas; it is just that there is a spaghetti junction in my mind, and which strand is the best to follow is not immediately clear.

I always admired Alistair Cooke. I listened to his “Letter from America” for years until his death. Yet when I re-read them, many are covered in the crustiness of age. Not all; some remain very relevant. Nevertheless, I always wished to emulate Cooke. There is always in him the adventurous, curious, cultivated mind. There is always something or somebody you wish to emulate at any point of time. That is the nature of civilisation, and dare I say, democracy.

This is a soliloquy in working out whether by writing this blog, I have said all I have to say to myself. After all, a blog to me is an aide-memoire before old age murders my facility not only to remember but also to make some sense of the trail that has twisted and turned in front of me for so many years. Generally, it depends on whether your map has coincided with that in front of you – and whether, if ever, you lose your nerve. However, unlike my friend, the navigator, you need a clear rear vision mirror and not one clouded in bulldust.

Our St Patrick’s Day

I have Irish ancestry; in fact, since my grandfather was born in Ireland, I am eligible for Irish citizenship. I looked at what is involved some years ago and said why would I do that at my age? I am Australian; I do not need a dual nationality, irrespective of what ephemeral advantages that might bring, such as the national anthem. The Irish national anthem is one forged by fire in 1911; Australia’s doggerel was composed for a concert of the Highland Society of New South Wales in 1878.

I have been registered to practise medicine in the Republic for years and like all good unionists joined the Irish Medical Organisation and even attended some of their conferences. I am shedding membership in Irish organisations of which I am a member. I have done courses in Irish, both contemporary and Old – and nothing has stuck. Except I can pronounce Niamh and Saiose.

Thus, what is left to us is acknowledgement of St Patrick’s Day. Gone are the days of faux leprechauns decked out in four-leaf clover (I was reminded this week that the world record for a stalk of clover is 56 leaves). However, blarney is what those blessed with Irish genes are contained in each Bushmill drop.

Why is it that on one day of the year Irish whiskey becomes palatable, but that is a trifle harsh, especially when it is 10 years’ old malt. The Irish drink Guinness; the elderly elsewhere call it stout. To me they are equally to be avoided. I dislike the creaminess, which spills over to many of the other Irish beers. Yet after the first two pints, it does become more tolerable.

Now Irish cuisine is another matter. It has the breadth of experience of a mashed potato abetted by cuts of meat, including mince, a step up from offal – some of which incidentally I like, as long as it is not brains, heart, lungs or sweetbreads.

In any event, we sat down to a meal of shepherd’s pie with red cabbage and apples. We did have enough potato not to add colcannon and enough cabbage not to need corned beef – other staples of Irish cuisine! Potato bread was piled up on a separate plate.

As it coincided with my Portuguese language class, I offered a toast to the class with green coloured water. You see, the Portuguese have a variety of wine which they called vinho verde. Actually, it is not green, it is straw-coloured. In fact, it is a white wine from that eponymous region of Portugal along the River Douro. I don’t think my teacher got the joke.

My celebration of my Irish heritage thus is reduced to an annual meal of modest proportions and a certain latter-day sparseness in my quaffing.

I am not one for Bloomsday, although at one of those pub celebrations, I once saw across the bar somebody who in profile uncannily resembled Katherine Mansfield. She is one of several women in history who have always fascinated me and whom I wished that I could have met.

I have shivered in the Celtic Twilight and stood in homage of William Butler Yeats and his wife, George, at their grave in Drumcliff Co Sligo. As the Irish Times reported at his final interment in 1948, he having died in France in early 1939 and his remains transferred after WWII to Ireland.

THERE WAS a veil of mist over the bare head of Ben Bulben yesterday afternoon when the remains of William Butler Yeats were buried in Irish soil. Soft grey rain swept in from the sea, soaking the Irish tricolour that lay upon the plain wooden coffin, as the body of the poet was laid at last in the churchyard of Drumcliffe.

Ben Bulben

But strangest of all my experiences in the Emerald Isle was the day I was striding across the Burren in Co Clare and I began to run because it had started to rain. I then had the strongest feeling I have ever had of déjà vu. A small boy also running, a boy in shreds and patches. No, I’m not completely mad; just Irish.

Let me fish off Cape St Mary’s

It is just a matter of my association of St Patrick’s day and the Western Australian election. It is tortuous but let me explain.

Western Australia has just witnessed the biggest rejection of being an Australian that one could ever imagine. I immediately thought of the landslide elections which have taken place in Queensland in 1974 and then in 2012. It was a matter of personalities, and if Queenslanders take a set against you then it’s “good night nurse”, as multiple “Mexicans” have found out.

However, the genesis of the Western Australian terramoto is different. The population has embraced secession with an unbridled intensity.

What WA thought of us in 1933

While the victory may partially be attributed to the current strength of the Western Australian economy, with the iron ore prices being high and Brazil being a “basket case”, the root cause lies in secessionist sentiments. Premier McGowan has been able to pull off what his State tried to do by legislative changes in the 1930s. He has seceded from the rest of Australia by just closing the borders when the Virus appeared, continuing it well after it was justified on public health reasons, thus thumbing his nose at the Prime Minister. His course of action was endorsed by the Liberal Party wipeout at the recent election.

Yet if there was one incident that set McGowan off, it was the Ruby Princess affair. He was incensed by the NSW Government’s cavalier handling of that incident, and he has used Premier Berejiklian as a punching bag ever since when it has suited him. Berejiklian seems to evoke this visceral response from other Premiers. They see through her “goodie-two-shoes teacher’s pet” persona.

The border issue made some sense when Australia was working out the adversary Virus and NSW was allowing the Virus to rip through Australia via the Ruby Princess debacle. Then progressively as Australia worked out a uniform public health response, it made less and less sense in any public health interpretation and more to political animosities to keep the borders closed.  The pain in developing this uniform strategy should not be underestimated nevertheless.

Border closure became an overt political device by the less populous States, none better manipulated than by McGowan.

It is interesting to note that during the 1890s the group that pushed Western Australia towards Federation were Eastern Goldfield miners around Kalgoorlie. Given that gold had not been discovered until a few years before, it showed how quickly a mining group could gain an influential position. Western Australia then had a small population located in a huge land mass, where cattle occupied grass castles; grain was been grown in fertile south-west; whaling was concentrated around Albany; a pearling industry had been started around Broome; and for a time, sandalwood was the major export.

Some voices suggested that New Zealand would be more relevant within the nascent Federation, but in the end by 1901, Western Australia had joined but New Zealand had declined.

Nevertheless, secessionism always close to the surface. If the Federal Government had paid heed to the history of the Western Australian secessionist movements, it would have recognised the dangerous course McGowan has pursued. It is extremely difficult now to achieve actual secession constitutionally, as the path to this was effectively closed during the 1930s. The border closure issue remains and will persist as long as the Federal Government fails to confront the situation.

Now why would I connect this secessionist movement with St Patrick’s Day?

Iceberg alley, St John’s

Whenever I think of the Irish, apart from my Australo-Irish heritage, I think of Newfoundland. When one goes to Newfoundland, one realises that Mother Nature is Irish. In the St John’s harbour on the first day of summer, there are icebergs still. Well, actually summer begins on 16 June when the trees have burst into foliage, and then there is a two-week moratorium before the mosquitos emerge, and the battle is joined.

The other factor in my memory was how Irish Newfoundland felt for me. The “Newfie” accent has more than a hint of the brogue, but it was the music which confirmed that Newfoundland was part of Irish diaspora. To hear the group, the Irish Descendants, singing Let me Fish Off Cape St Mary’s is to hear the heart of the diaspora. The cliffs from which this fishing port overlooks the Atlantic Ocean could be part of the West Coast of Ireland. It was ironic when I was there that fishing for cod, once the mainstay of the fishing industry, was prohibited so far had the fish stocks fallen. The ban came in 1992, and it was 20 years before the cod returned in numbers. One could still get cod’s tongue, a local delicacy but then it came from “aways”. I think somebody might have said Iceland.

And what the hell has this to do with Western Australia? Well, Newfoundland had been created a separate dominion apart from Canada in 1907. In effect it was a separate country. At the same time in 1934, while certain elements in Western Australia were agitating for secession, the Newfoundlanders were doing the opposite. The Great Depression had sent them perilously close to the financial wall, and so they joined the Canadian Federation giving up their self-governing status and adding Mainland Labrador to form the present province. The fact that Newfoundland is much the same distance to Dublin as to Ottawa did not influence the “Newfie” intent, but then it is not in their makeup to calibrate distance as a sign of loyalty.

Both in Australia and Canada shift in status has depended on constitutional recognition. In the past when there are concerns of disease spread, the methods of quarantine including border closure are constitutionally the responsibility of the Federal Government. Setting up a public relations manoeuvre and calling it a “national cabinet” in the end showed that the Federal Government was just shifting its constitutional responsibility to the States so they could cop the blame if matters went wrong as they did in Victoria.

McGowan is in the favourable position of being able to have the same advantageous GST position, as heading a State of the Commonwealth of Australia.

However, he is perceived as having had a landslide electoral victory when he shook the secessionist tambourine for all its worth, Western Australia the de facto nation holding as hostages many of the electoral Federal foes including the controversial duo of Porter and Reynolds. Moreover, Western Australia in all likelihood will lose one of the seats in coming redistribution, and therefore the already nervous Liberal Party will be forced to play “musical seats”. Thus, an already factionalised Liberal Party has all the ingredients to tear itself apart

McGowan now knows that if the Federal Government holds back GST money from Western Australia or take any other perceived discriminatory action, it will be beaten up electorally there.

McGowan knows that the Federal Government is not willing to stop him meddling with the borders. He does not need any constitutional change to effect secession without metaphorically “leaving the building”. He has effectively done so, and any arcane legal processes were brushed aside when he effectively usurped the quarantine power of the Commonwealth, which unequivocally is a constitutional power of the Federal Government.

Therefore, the Prime Minister is faced with this situation, first enunciated by Bishop Morton, of Morton’s fork.

Ironically, one of the Prime Minister’s strongest acolytes is named Morton, a Pentecostal blow-in from NSW who was in charge of the WA Liberal Party, who inherited Tangney, a very safe Liberal seat along the Swan River. No longer if the recent State election is any guide.

What happened in the 1930s was because the Federal Government of both Australia and Canada held the cards. The constitutional barriers were too great in Australia once the deed had been done in 1901; and Newfoundland simply could not afford being a separate nation.

But as they say in the native argot, McGowan is “giving it a red hot go” to create his own nation.

Oh, not another transparent bureaucrat

“At ASIO, we’re conscious that the names and labels we use are important,” he said. “Words matter. They can be very powerful in how they frame an issue and how they make people think about issue.”

Thus, spake Mr Burgess, the head of the Australian academy of spooks. He is “friendly” Mike to us punters. In a recent media interview, we get the full story of the poor boy from a migrant family who was the first in his family to go the University and moreover to undertake electrical engineering. Before the image of the “log cabin” childhood is further invoked, he outs himself as being a cyber nut, and thus he lives in a world where his simulacra in other jurisdictions try to out-hack one another.

Nevertheless, there is a cloaked anecdote about the “nest of spies” that his outfit has been able to quash or whatever – there is no detail; just an enticing tit-bit for the writer. Spooks must invoke mystery and plot right back to Walsingham.

One of the most concerning situations is when somebody in the spook business embarks on this sort of exercise, because those who run the organisation can try and present themselves as an ordinary person, you know the football team follower, has a dog et cetera and that – at the same time at budget time invokes all sorts of horror befalling the nation if the “Spook Budget” is not increased.

The security services exist to keep their rival services at bay, foiling disablers of major computer networks, and preventing such anti-community activities such as the recent Neo-Nazi gathering at Hall’s Gap.

The essential ingredient is to have a critical evaluation of the effectiveness of such activities. Burgess in the comments quoted above also maintains that no longer will they reveal whether the dangers are from the extremist right or left wing groups or delineating whether the terrorist groups are linked to ISIS or whatever. He said that his service will restrict itself to saying that such activities will be characterised as being “belief or ideologically based”. It is subtle, but in fact he is saying he will be further constricting information, but generalising the threat.

I wonder, as I pass through the airport screening how useful testing for explosives has been, because some mad guy tried to detonate explosives in the heels of his shoes on a Miami bound flight in 2001. How many copycats have been detected at Australian airports, at what cost, given also that there is a large group that is not tested anyway?

The January episode in Washington showed how useful security is when a crowd is determined to riot to the point of insurrection.  Mostly not at all.

I want to be assured that our security services don’t spend their money on profiling their operatives. I would like to believe that given the Australian security service has a history of conservative political association, this has dissipated and been replaced by a politically neutral service. Parliamentary surveillance needs to include people able to contain the secretive authoritarian technocrat that Burgess embodies.

Brigadier Sir Charles Chambers Fowell Spry CBE, DSO

Attempts were made to recruit me when ASIO, under Brigadier Spry, was a political action committee for the Menzies Government concerned with “reds under the bed”; and riddled with proto-fascist operatives such as elements of Moral Re-Armament, the leader of which Frank Buchman openly praised Hitler.

Charles Spry himself was an affable chap, with a penchant for Scotch whisky which he shared with the Prime Minister. However, behind that persona was a very determined anti-communist and where scruples could be left on the dressing table as if they were cuff links.

Whitlam set up the Hope Royal Commission in 1974, the report from which has formed the basis for the modern-day intelligence services. A raid on ASIO as ordered by Lionel Murphy, then the Commonwealth Attorney-General in 1973, would today be unimaginable.

In a very perceptive thesis on the organisation published in 2018, Coventry concluded:

Intelligence and security have become second nature to Australians and anyone else in the US ‘hub and spokes’ system. To argue for the abolition of ASIO in the present time is unpalatable; for good reason. The neoliberal phenomenon of globalisation means that targets of terrorism are, as Nixon feared, ubiquitous. Any citizen or corporation or NGO located overseas can be seen as an extension of a targeted government; all it takes is a careless comment by a public official. It is often overlooked that governments have a clear role in provoking terrorism, including within in society, though many may wish to believe this threat comes purely from the mental illness, barbarity and jealousy of others.

In 2010, the former director general of MI5, Eliza Manningham-Buller, told the Chilcot Inquiry that she had warned the Blair Government (1997-2007) that involvement in the Iraq War would result in higher levels of home-grown terrorism. She was of course vindicated. It must be said that ASIO has done well so far to keep the Australian Government and citizenry from the kind of harm exhibited overseas.

That last comment is reassuring, but that was written before Burgess became the ASIO Director-General in 2019, and he is running the line of foreign interference and espionage being the paramount dangers (rather than terrorism) which suits his technologically-driven agenda. He reminds me of the old “cold war warriors”, himself ideologically driven as far as his background has given meaning to that word (or words).

Australia needs an Attorney-General to withstand Burgess’ undoubtedly very powerful personality coupled with his wide access to information. To believe that Australia’s security organisation does not actively participate in cyber warfare would be incredibly naïve.

I am now an avid watcher of the activities of Mike Burgess. I look forward to his first interview with Crikey.

Mouse Whisper

I never did like that skunk Pepe Le Pew. His characterisation gave rodents a bad name, but he is the latest casualty in the war against the predatory male. Looney Tunes have shown him the door.  The comedian, David Chappelle, who once said that the famous can always become infamous but not unfamous, says of the skunk: Pepe, whom he laughed at as a kid, later through an adult lens makes him realise: “What kind of … rapist is this guy?” 

Wait a minute! I stand corrected. Skunks are not rodents; they are of the same ilk as Tim Wilson’s cabal of wolverines.

Pepe Le Pew, about to be cancelled