Modest Expectations Septimus

Jeff Kennett recognised during a trip to New York that the colour yellow stood out in the visual spectrum. He had seen the New York taxis were all yellow and they stood out somewhat better than the various muted colours of the taxis in Melbourne at that time. So he decreed the yellow taxi for Melbourne.

Clive Palmer has recognised his party’s colour stands out like wattle in springtime.

Mr Palmer is a clever man. The hoarding owners know that and make him produce the cash before they agree to display his message.

On the hoardings Mr Palmer’s image appears to be photo-shopped so he looks much lighter and younger than he actually is – he is a very heavy gentleman and sometimes when he was captured asleep in Parliament, I wondered whether he had Pickwickian Syndrome named after the fat boy in that Dickens novel who was always falling asleep.

But while the heavyweight Mr Palmer is barely on view in person in this campaign, his messages are there: “Fast Trains”, “More Wages”, “Cheaper Energy”, “Free Cake” and they have apparently resonated with some in the electorate. Clive has perceived the end stage of the information revolution; photo-shopped images and two word policies. “Clive Palmer” itself is a policy.

Mr Palmer has been underestimated. His Chinese partners have found that out. His nickel workers have found that out – shimmering generosity followed by real famine. It is now up to the Australian electorate not to overestimate Mr Palmer.

And remember! Yellow is also the colour used for biohazard warnings.

The Psychopathology of Politics

I once toyed with going to Yale to undertake a doctorate in the psychopathology of politics. It was the early 1970s and I had come under the influence of Alan Davies, the then Professor of Politics at the University of Melbourne. “Foo”, as he was affectionately called, continued to influence much of my thinking in this area, and enabled me to write about it, getting some currency in the 1970s when I was considered to be “someone of promise”.

I didn’t go to Yale, but my interest in politics remained. I have two aphorisms that have stood the test of time: “all politicians proceed from a basis of low self-esteem” and “politics is the systematic organisation of hatreds”. The first is attributed to Harold Lasswell, a major American political theorist, and the second to one of that political Adams family which yielded two American Presidents.

However in the potpourri of personal politics where the pathology lurks, it is the ability to see yourself through the eyes of the viewer, which is a saving grace. Jacinda Ardern has that skill. She is an art gallery of images; so many images she is able to project and yet remain that singular woman I described in an earlier blog.

On the other hand, one thing about Bill Shorten is that he doesn’t have the intuitive sense of image that Ardern has. If I were his adviser, every time I saw him jogging I would tell him to jog away from the media lens. Or if he insists in exercising to find a medium in which he does not look like a duck, paddling along, paradoxically without a bill. Watching him jogging, it’s hard not to expect him to quack. But then again when you’ve got a critic like Murdoch, who presumably was not called “Boof” for nothing at Geelong Grammar, then your jogging gait is only a small irritant.

Morrison understands this image aspect of politics much better than Shorten. Whether his “aw shucks” approach has worked, we will find out in about a week’s time if the independents don’t cruel the pitch. Morrison abandons images that don’t work, like his “happy clapper” church routine. He is the ultimate pragmatist. Research obviously is telling him that the baseball cap is working. Remember Turnbull venturing into Queensland with his brand new Akubra? He was referred to as “that tent peg” – wide hat thin body.

You don’t want your audience laughing at you; only with you. This is another aphorism and one of perspicacity in being able to tell the difference.

Of Australian politicians, Penny Wong is wonderfully deft in a way that is not Ardern, yet from the same school; those who can stand outside themselves and see their image as others do. Her minimalist approach to herself is extremely effective. 

Dental Benefits

Stephen Duckett, well remembered in a past life as the Raider of the Lost Cookie Jar, has instigated a discussion on one of the most neglected areas of Australian politics – establishing a national dental health scheme. There was a somewhat insipid yet positive response from Shorten but as far as I can see nothing from the Liberal Coalition.

The paper is timely and whether you agree with the detail or not, it is important. However, it is 67 pages long and I don’t intend to critique it – rather it is useful to emphasise a few points and place the accent on different areas.

First of all, let us say that the advocacy for a dental benefits scheme, along with a medical and pharmaceutical scheme, has never had a champion in the Australian parliament. In fact I cannot establish whether there has ever been a dentist in the Australian Parliament.

After the Constitutional amendment in the 1946 referendum, the ubiquitous Earle Page, (a rural medical practitioner in his own right) championed the adoption of a national medical scheme, which was established in 1953, and massively updated following the Nimmo Report in 1969 with first Medibank and then Medicare.

Yet government policy has been silent on a universal dental policy. First of all, organised dentistry was opposed to it as they saw it as unnecessary government intervention in affairs of the mouth.

However, there are a number of matters that need to be addressed before the detailed question of coverage and affordability can be considered.

The first is the matter of fluoridation. Australia has a vocal fringe group opposed to fluoridation of water. To these people, it is yet another of the many tentacles of the Giant Conspiracy. There are many rural local government areas, particularly in Queensland, that do not have fluoridated water.

It is not only the Conspiracy Theorists, but also some Big Business that wishes to thwart fluoridation. I experienced this side of the debate where a community, in a public meeting, supported fluoridation without dissent, but the largest industry in the town – Murray Goulburn, which was not present at the meeting – went direct to government to say it would not put fluoridated water in the milk products. The reason given was that the Asian market rejected fluoride in milk products.

The community decision was ignored. Business triumphed over public health. Until a separate water pipe bringing unfluoridated water was provided at taxpayers’ cost to Murray Goulburn, the children of the Victorian township of Cobram unnecessarily forwent fluoridated water for nearly a decade after the community decision.

The point is that any universal dental scheme must take into consideration the requirement for universal fluoridation in the water (with the only exemption being those communities that have the recommended level already naturally present in the water supply), and not to be prisoner to the vagaries of some local governments. This whole question of national fluoridation needs to be addressed before benefits are paid for dental treatment.

The second consideration is the Australian Constitution and the question of “what are ‘dental benefits’?” If the dentists had encouraged the provision of a dental benefit scheme from the outset, then the definition of “dental” would have been clear. However, there are a number of health professions that have “dental” in their title. Not are the least of which are “dental hygienists”. These professions with dental in their title could argue that their services should be eligible for benefits under the Australian Constitution. Unlike “medical” which has been defined, any profession with “dental” in its title could be recognised as an independent profession. For instance, the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) lists dental hygienist, dental therapist and dental prosthetist.

I am a great supporter of a universal dental scheme, but I am also opposed to shovelling out money without consideration of the consequences. This will be a recurrent theme as my blogs keep piling up.

A Child Care Parable

There once was a young post-graduate student, who was pregnant. She had graduated in medicine and then there were restrictions on pregnant women being interns in hospital. Some reasons had a trace of validity, but most were the consequence of male prejudice in a male dominated profession. Her husband was newly graduated in medicine but the annual wage for an 80-100 hour week was about 1,000 pounds including his board, but not hers. She remembered escaping being machine-gunned by a low flying American plane in the war. Although a small child in the street in Ljubljana, and the plane was so low she saw the face of the pilot, who aborted his strafing run when he saw that it was a child. He was black.

She was thus of migrant parents who had been refugees from central Europe. So her upward progress had been though determination and sheer hard work. She wanted a career, but she also wanted her child to be looked after in a safe environment in which she had a role in assisting. So she started a group with friends, who initially raised funds by serving coffee and biscuits at the university theatre. Eventually she secured a premise in an old Jewish school in the inner city near the university.

Then the battle for recognition and viability started – making ends meet and battling a government department headed by conservative male bureaucrats and complicit older women, whose model was the wartime nursery. These were set up so that women were freed to work in the factories and elsewhere. After the war, it was assumed women would know their place and retire behind the white picket fence. Those who wanted careers could resort to parents or nannies.

A fire had occurred six years before in a childcare centre, in which a number of children had died. Regulations were tightened, some justified, others less so. For instance, there needed to be a dining room with spatial dimensions of ten square feet for the first ten children and then eight square feet per child after that, presumably on the basis that the more children there were the smaller they became. Really?

Attitudes hardened and the idea of providing for parents to run a co-operative was resisted. However the co-operative was formed with parents as directors and the government reluctantly provided funds to renovate and equip a centre in accord with their strict regulations.

Parents paying fixed term fees from one to five days a week solved the question of financial certainty and hence assured financial viability.

The Centre had a trained registered nurse with child and midwifery qualifications as the executive officer and a kindergarten teacher, and others trained to various skill levels, both full time and part time, meeting the requirement for one staff member per five children for infants and one for fifteen when they were at kindergarten level. I use the word “skill” because education here requires in-service training, more males, and adequate salaries. Of these aspirations, she never enticed a male onto staff. Otherwise she was very successful.

She was adamant that all the staff be trained and cared for by the executive. The turnover rate as a result was low.

She had two sons, one who went into care at six weeks. They are now in their fifties, successful in different fields, each with a working spouse and each with three children.

Her advice even now could help a government intent on bringing in a childcare scheme, free of rorts. Subsidising the for-profit sector without demonstrable parent involvement is not the right business model.

The Centre she set up is still going strong.

Mouse Whisper

Experienced at the lunch table at the Magill winery in the suburbs of Adelaide when asked whether she preferred to be called “woman” or “lady” the young waitperson responded: “established female”.

Modest Expectations Fathom

This question may be seen as a bit odd for those who don’t have a father who was a young man in the 1930s, and I say father not mother – not to be disrespectful to women – but as a sign of the times in the 1930s.

“Which side were you on during the Spanish Civil War?” Did you back the republican government or Franco? It is a double-barrelled question, because that war can be interpreted as a battle between fascism and communism for two reasons. Hitler was testing out his military might, not only on the Republican army but also the Spanish citizens and Stalin was making sure, in the guise of supporting the Republican cause that he sacrificed socialists and anarchists to his form of authoritarianism, laughingly described as communism. However, the Republic was the legitimate government.

The Spanish Roman Catholic Church supported the Franco insurgency as also did the Church in Ireland. An Irish brigade was formed to fight for Franco. It was so ill-disciplined that Franco sent them home. However, the Irish connection is a recurring theme.

Most of those men from other democratic countries, including Australia, who went to fight were on the Republic side. The only recorded Australian who actually went to fight for Franco had a change of mind and he was killed while flying for the RAF in 1940.

However, it is a textured question. The cloth for the Spanish Civil War was woven years before. The Italian Futurist movement, which glorified war and dismissed history as bunk, was hidden beneath its paintings and poetry that provided the warp for the rise of Mussolini. Disaffection and perceived decay of the Weimar republic among other factors led to the rise of Hitler in Germany.

This was manifest not only in Australia, but as the New York Times noted this week in an editorial: In the 1930s and the 1940s, The Times was largely silent as anti-Semitism rose up and bathed the world in blood. That failure still haunts this newspaper.

A young Sydneysider, Phillip Morey, experienced its rise in the early 1930s, when he recognised the Fascists with that expressive word “rodomontade”. Below is taken from a memoir written about Philip’s experience:

He loathed the fascist New Guard that had been cavorting around New South Wales at the time. He considered the rhetoric of Eric Campbell, its leader, to be a “bombastic rodomontade”.

Philip remembered Campbell from two years before when the antics of Captain De Groot on Saturday 19 March in 1932 had initiated a confrontation with the Lang Government. Not that Philip had much sympathy with Jack Lang …

Francis De Groot was an Irish fascist who lived on his own bravado. Campbell was the populist Fascist — organiser of clandestine training for his New Guard for whom Mussolini in Italy and this new fellow Hitler in Germany seemed to have some answers to the world disorder.

Philip was determined that he was not going back to this world where the colour of the shirt seem to dominate — whether they were “black shirts” or “ white shirts” — Philip had thought Campbell’s posturing all very puerile — playing soldiers with his band of followers in various parts of Sydney. He had heard just before he’d left that they had been drilling in Killara, further up on the North Shore. Campbell had even issued a directive on street fighting — how to march with fixed bayonets and how to clear buildings with grenade, tear gas and rifle.

The text rings true when you see the antics of the extreme right today. The current mob has the ethnic hatred of Eric Campbell and later Eric Butler with his League of Rights. Then the target were Jews, and there is still residual anti-Semitism, but Muslims are now the prime target, and unlike the pathetic followers of Eric Campbell, their spiritual descendants have access to murderous weaponry.

How more insidious are the inheritors of Bartholemew Augustine Santamaria, in the 1930s, a rising intellectual within the Labour movement and protégé of Archbishop Mannix, once an avowed member of Sinn Fein? Santamaria was an avowed admirer of Franco, the only difference between Franco and Mussolini was that Franco stayed neutral during World War II and died in bed.

The Santamaria playbook mimicked his perceived communist foe in the union movement. He created industrial “Groups” within trade unions, backed by a secretive “Movement” designed to plant Catholic operatives in key positions throughout the Australian Labor Party – only now they are embedded in the Liberal Party.

But back to the question of 1936, how many of those who now support the heir to the Movement in the Sydney Institute would have voted Franco if they had been in the time of my father? However, I do not want to limit that question only to that select few – anybody can answer.

And the relevance? Franco was a tyrant who clothed himself in the Roman Catholic Church – currently in the western world, we would have one would-be tyrant, who clothes himself in fundamentalist creationism and another in the Orthodox Church. They are most prominent but not potentially the only ones. Franco is their shroud.

The “textured” metaphor is apt.

And my father? I believe he would have voted for the Republic, but then I never asked and he was unpredictable.

Fanfare for the Common Man – A Reflection on Anzac Day

Across the water from the small township of Lubec, Maine is Campobello Island in Canada. I have crossed the bridge to the island. Campobello Island is synonymous with Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Roosevelt smiled. Roosevelt exuded optimism. He was also a cripple, struck down by poliomyelitis one morning on this most beautiful of islands. Yet he strove for independence.

Until the ghastly event in Christchurch, I thought I came from a country where to “bare arms” is to get down to work with my fellow citizens. Yet I live a country where our major commemoration is a World War One disaster at Gallipoli and our national day is called by some “Invasion Day,” when Great Britain dumped a bunch of their unwanted – convicts and marines – in a desolate place called Botany Bay in 1788. Despite its apparent vigour, Australia is a country rooted in pessimism.

By contrast, the USA national day celebrates something more than putting a British foot on a distant shore.

Australia has a dirge for a national anthem. That of the USA was forged as the smoke from the British bombardment of Fort McHenry cleared and the American flag was still flying. Francis Scott Key was inspired to write the words of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Today Fort McHenry is one of two places in the United States where the fifteen-star flag still flies. The other is at the end of the Oregon Trail.

I have seen much of Australia.

But then I have been privileged to roam the United States too. I have sponsored two musk oxen called Amethyst and Pixie Stix in Alaska. I have sat in the South San Franciscan courtyard of Genentech just after it had started listening to the late Bob Swanson’s aspirations and then writing about it. I have eaten king salmon in Salem, Oregon, and crab in Sabine Pass, Texas – both sublime experiences. I have stood at the door of that miracle of Minnesota, Mayo. I have gazed at Mount Rushmore and know now why those four presidents were carved. I have wept at Shiloh. I have stood in the wheel ruts of the Oregon Trail in Douglas, Wyoming. I have joined in a march to the San Francisco Tenderloin on January 15 to honour Martin Luther King. And oh, so much more!

The United States in all its diversity has been my energiser from the first time I ever went. Even in adversity, this country has always exuded optimism, irrespective of Trump.

“Make America great again!”

What rubbish! America remains great so long as it never lose its Smile, it never loses its Optimism; but above all it never loses July the Fourth and its Constitution.

If we want to replace January 26 as Australia Day…

“The first celebration of Wattle Day was held on 1 September 1910 in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. Plans in 1913 to proclaim the wattle as a national emblem and to celebrate Wattle Day nationally were interrupted by World War I, but wattle remained a strong symbol of patriotism during the war years.”

This Google entry sums up Wattle Day succinctly.

One can only be struck by the colours of the Australian countryside in early spring. The yellow displayed is not only because of the wattle but also because of the canola in the broad acres and broom along the roads – there are so many yellow wildflowers but elsewhere it is the yellow of the prickly gorse scourge. So every symbol has its downside.

Intermingled with these patches of yellow is the eucalyptus green countryside – the wattles themselves, the gum trees and then there are the green pastures and cereal crops yet to ripen.

And when the land is so green and yellow should this be the time to remember our country with a national day? After all, the Argentinians, whose national day is May 25 say you can look up into the sky and see their flag. In September we would have the option of both looking up to see the Southern Cross but also to see our national colours across the land.

Even D.H. Lawrence in his rather dismissive novel about Australia, Kangaroo, wrote: In spring, the most delicate feathery yellow of plumes and plumes and plumes and trees and bushes of wattle, as if angels had flown right down out of the softest gold regions of heaven to settle here, in the Australian bush.

And what a time of the year! September is the gateway to the football finals; the cricketers are emerging from their chrysalides; and the festival finishes on the first Tuesday in November. A September 1 Australia Day would be a time of rebirth and not one stained by the metaphors surrounding colonisation and invasion.

Leave January 26 to New South Wales to work through those first years of the Rum Rebellion – and with climate change the temperature will probably be the same in September as it is now in January.

The Doctors’ Dilemma

In 1946 the Australian Constitution was amended to include the provision of health benefits for medical treatment, dental treatment, hospital and pharmaceutical benefits. Very specifically defined. In 1946 when this question was asked of the people of Australia, there was not the diversity of health professionals operating outside an institutional framework.

Therefore whenever any other professional group (apart from the dentists) wants access to Medicare, they have been blocked by the Constitution. Except that there have been a number of instances where the Constitution has been sidestepped, notably in the 1970s when optometrist benefits were introduced. It so happened that at that time there were a number of optometrists who were politicians on both sides of the House – and bingo, benefits were introduced because optometrists in the provision of these services were deemed “medical”.

In fact, many areas of medicine could not operate without the inclusion of the cost of the nurses, technicians and scientists, as occurs in pathology, radiotherapy and diagnostic imaging. The fee for Medicare benefit can incorporate a professional component (the doctor moiety) the technical moiety (including the non-medical staff) and a capital component (for the machinery). This is best exemplified in the structure of radiotherapy benefits.

However with the expansion of the Medicare Benefits Schedule after 2000, payments were made to a whole variety of health professionals through the Medicare Benefits Schedule but all were contained within or linked to medical care.

This interplay with doctors is shown by the midwife eligibility criteria:

A collaborative arrangement is an arrangement between an eligible midwife and a specified medical practitioner that must provide for:

(a)  consultation with an obstetric specified medical practitioner;

(b)  referral of a patient to a specified medical practitioner; and

(c)  transfer of the patient’s care to an obstetric specified medical practitioner, as clinically relevant to ensure safe, high quality maternity care.

There is no independent set of benefits. “Collaborative” is the closest the government legal advice has allowed given that “deeming” would be a red rag to the bull for the present generation.

However, this cute sidestepping trying to avoid the Constitutional restrictions only survives unless there is a High Court challenge.

Currently this manoeuvring does not threaten the doctor’s livelihood, but once the threat of another health professional group threatening general practice incomes then it is not only the politicians who will hit the fan.

Obviously if your basic income is government guaranteed who would not want that? The AMA is reported as being opposed to nurse practitioners obtaining Medicare benefits for their patients as with the independent stream of allied health professionals. If the government were to do so, would nursing be deemed “medical” or would the Government have to put nursing benefits as a Constitutional amendment to a referendum? With the backing of powerful nursing unions in an atmosphere ignited by the MeToo movement, any referendum would be a forgone conclusion.

Getting an amendment into the Constitution would be one achievement; it would then be a case of setting the scale of benefits. All the arguments about relativity would explode both between professions and within the nursing profession and each of the other professions included in the Constitutional amendment.

Talk about Pandora’s Box. In amongst this mayhem the central agency boffins would be tearing their hair out over the fiscal consequences of all this.

And compounding all this political noise is the proposal put forward by Shorten to set up a universal dental scheme – I shall deal with that in my next blog. Ah, the joys of policy formulation.

Mouse Whisper

The owner of the Dry Dock pub on the Finke River was heard to say to the customer in white:

“Son, when are six feet eighteen hands? Not too difficult to fathom the answer.”

Modest Expectations V

The Roman V for five reminded me of this anecdote which some may find trivial and others may see as something more profound.

It was the time when Vic Garland, the then Opposition whip, was giving the second reading speech in reply to the legislation on the Australia Council Bill. Bill Snedden, then the Leader of the Opposition, was to have given the speech but his wife’s unexpected illness precipitated his early departure from the House that day.

It was an impressive speech, and Vic Garland had an equally convincing delivery. However, there are always pitfalls when the speaker, no matter how impressive his diction, has a basic unfamiliarity with the topic. In referencing the costly purchases of Jackson Pollock’s “Blue Poles” and of de Kooning’s “Woman V”, he said “Vee” instead of five. In Hansard it stays correct, and a mispronunciation was a zephyr wisp drifting across a somnolent chamber. Like Vic Garland, a zephyr comes from the West.

Perhaps Vic would have been somewhat surprised that the speech had been written by Jack Hibberd, the playwright of “Dimboola”, and John Timlin, who was the administrator of the Melbourne based anarchic Australian Performing Group with their outlet the Pram Factory in Carlton. Snedden had read the speech and given it the “thumbs up”. He did not care how either of them had voted. He just agreed with the sentiments in the speech.

Vic might also have been somewhat surprised had he known who the authors were. The words that Vic uttered inter alia may have been seen to be somewhat radical:

I have pointed out that less than 5 per cent of ACA funds have been directed to community arts by the Whitlam Government – a so-called populist crew which rows its fiscal boat to the already well-endowed shores of those few cultural monoliths who have for years fed well on the subsidy cake.

And further on: “To spread available funds widely through the community seems now to be a shared aim of both the Government and the Opposition. A basic requisite then is close consultation with the State directors since these are the people closest in touch with regional local groups. We reject totally the notion that the Council should consist of itinerant and possibly ignorant friends of whatever government happens to be in power.

All parties want our culture preserved and developed. We wish to see diversity of the culture maintained. We wish to see Aboriginal cultural efforts expanded without destroying the intrinsic requirements and tenets of that culture.”

 Vic had delivered it well apart from the “Vee”. Hibberd and Timlin, watching on, may have shuddered but in the long term what did it matter? In any event, a month later, Snedden was gone.

Trying to establish policy where the aim is to seek views from all sides of the political spectrum is a tough task, and you lay yourself open to yon Cassius. After all, being the centre should be purple – the place where blue and red mix.

I remember well the judgment by the Coalition backbencher of the Snedden staffer who was seen talking to the young Charlie Perkins around a campfire outside Parliament. “Who is that bloody communist working for Snedden?” Talking to Charlie Perkins. Shock … horror.

Trolls always have difficulty with the concept that my adversary may only be as close as my policy neighbour. Their angst, alienation and ethnic hatred is a bar to anything.

Later Snedden would be a good friend of the Pram Factory in assisting its survival. He was very loyal.

The Triennial Comedy Festival

It is strange that when there is a national election, I always think what would it be like if Australia were a Republic. I am a republican, and have been since I was very young. Even though I had a privileged Anglican education, it was always my Irish roots that called me to the Republican cause. I was comforted by the fact that the early great Irish revolutionaries like Robert Emmet and Wolf Tone were Church of Ireland and not Roman Catholic.

I may say I am “committed” but I never joined the Turnbull caravan nor the current Red Bandana Brigade. One reason is that with Elizabeth on the British throne, it is an exercise in futility.

For no reason other than most of the population have known no other monarch and she is such a closed, controlled individual – a metaphor for a colonial lounge room, comfortable, cream coloured walls with flashes of colour in the curtains. The flashes of colour signal how good the British Royals are at pomp. However at the same time, monarchy is a symbol of nostalgic stagnation glossed over as “certainty” – and who expects her to die?

Yet there is a second reason for going easy on my republican stance and that is the Australian election cycle.

The current Australian election campaigns are run as if they are Presidential, but only in style. Presidential substance, however, comes against constitutional barriers, which are impossible to avoid.

We have to ride the carousel every three years to elect a new government. The community finds it hard to keep up the interest at the best of times when elections are so frequent, hence the media attention on the bizarre array of peripheral political buskers.

However, if we removed all the trappings of a foreign monarchy, most politicians would be comfortable with a system where the end point would be “me” as President. Australians would now have a flexible “Republican” constitution, the Presidential hand would be on patronage, the bizarre fringe would be in the government or in an asylum depending on Presidential whim, and I nearly forgot: “pesky” elections would be held once every ten years.

Currently the autocratic President is the fashionable model, a person who alters the constitution to remain in power with a series of coercive institutions to maintain that power. Trump yearns for this power; democracy is a hindrance. When one looks back on the Trump legacy, the end point will have led to the destruction of trust and paralysis in rational policy formation. Government decision-making becomes a game of dice for the rent seekers and mercantilists.

Now if we got rid of Elizabeth, then elections could become real American vaudeville. Roll up, roll up and see the Screaming Circus Strong Man. We sober people are shocked; we avert our eyes from this grease-painted figure.

However, this behaviour does not seem to affect his following any more than stage performers shed their audience. That is a republic!

Trump has an audience. It is only that Trump has an unusual spiel for a politician – he insults and his audience squeal with delight. It is a well known trick of the comic. However, remember, beware the mob that in the end invariably pulls down the figure that it has created.

Maybe our election campaigns freed from our Constitution would become festivals of the absurd – after all, the Italians have Beppe Grillo, a comic who is the eminence grise of the Five Star Movement in Italy; the Ukrainians have just elected a comic, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, as President for the next five years.

Of course nothing like this would happen in Australia, proclaimed the Best Country in the World. Our politicians are serious people. They are not comics; desist, you with your hand on the voting paper, desist from saying anything. Let us not have cheap irony; and anyway the “word” is comical.

So let the republican idea lie for the present.

In three years time when this campaign is all repeated and when the climate is teetering on the edge of the irreversible, when rent seekers and short-term carpet baggers seem to have retained their ascendency, it is only a hope that the electorate as a whole will have at last awakened – listening to the sounds of our descendants, pawns sizzling on the barbecue of climate change. Hopefully Australia would have stopped drawing the Joker from the pack of policy options!

Then in six years, there will be only two words on the election campaign trail – “Water” and “Climate “. Nevertheless, all may not have changed. Hannah Gadsby may be leading the new Social Democrats. Then we can think of a Republic – when it is a necessity.

A magnificent obsession

Tim Fischer is a great Australian. When he looks at you, you feel as though he is peeling away the layers of crap that you pick up in a lifetime of being in the System and seeing whether there is something underneath. He speaks in his own unique argot, but he does not need a translator. You know perfectly well what he is about.

Sir John Monash

One of his obsessions over at least the past decade is Sir John Monash posthumously being raised to the rank of Field Marshal. Many have attributed this not happening in his lifetime to the fact that he was Jewish at a time when being Jewish excluded you from such institutions as the Melbourne Club and when the Roman Catholic Good Friday liturgy made mention of “perfidious Jews”. In fact Monash had been sent to Scotch College over Melbourne Grammar School because Scotch taught Hebrew.

Another reason was that Monash was “militia” and not “regular army”. After all, “the traditional” Haig insisted on sending the cavalry in to the last stages of the War, notwithstanding that Monash the engineer, because of his technical superiority, had virtually won the War already.

Monash was loved by his troops; to him one Australian casualty was one too many – and in the final offensive which defeated the German army, some of the feats performed by Australian soldiers were extraordinary – frighteningly murderous to Germans in their own way but building upon the stuff of the Australian legend.

I know that Tim Fischer wanted to see the posthumous award of Field Marshal in 2018. He asked Turnbull and Turnbull, as was his wont, deferred the request to the armed forces hierarchy. They said no; Turnbull said “no”.

Fortunately, Bill Shorten was a proponent of recognising Monash. All the obfuscation about not doing so is at the feet of academics and of course Brendan Nelson. Chattering about precedent, one hears the voices: “You know, he never commanded enough men to be a field-marshal; he was only a lieutenant general at the outset of the final campaign” – and on it goes.

The Digger, emerging from the shadows of war, can be heard saying: Mate, he won the War. Don’t give me this stuff about a posthumous award being a dangerous precedent for others to be promoted after they have died. There was only one Monash.

And by the way, there is only one Tim Fischer.

Mouse Whisper

“No matter how rational, logical and ingenious Monash was, there was nowhere to escape the insanity of war. “

Roland Perry the author of these words is a remarkable wordsmith – first published in 1979; 7th book 1994; 17th book 2007; 28th book 2014.

Modest Expectations Hiru

“This is a serious horse, Mary Lou!”

These slightly reproachful words were uttered by a Spanish dressage instructor on a property west of Theodore in Queensland, where he was conducting a dressage training weekend. The owner had dared to turn away from watching him put her elegant black horse through its paces to chat to her friend. She should have been closely watching the intricacies of what the rider was doing, hence the sharpness of the tone. I was just an onlooker, but these words have entered my lexicon as words when you want to concentrate the mind.

I have followed Winx since her first win as a two year old in 2014. She has grown in stature since that time – a serious horse in every meaning of the word.

As she faces her last race, I note that the Liberal party are having difficulty pre-selecting candidates in some seats.

Just a silly thought to believe that you could put Winx on any of those ballot papers, now when politicians are so much on the nose. I would wager she would get more than just the “donkey” vote.

After all, the Emperor Caligula made his horse a consul. And they thought he was mad. However, I believe that horse won his election in a canter.

(Painting of Bowman and Winx by Garry Higgin)

The Protoplasm that is Politics

The Coalition Government in 1972 was a remarkable beast. It was caught up in Menzian aspic in a culture of internecine strife, which had been plated during the Holt days as Prime Minister. While John McEwen was around, this protoplasmic mess was controllable. However, he retired in 1971, and McMahon was let loose.

At the apogee of Australian civilisation as we knew it then was Prime Minister William McMahon, a prissy spiteful destabiliser, whose contest with the truth was in most cases found wanting. He had married late in life, and used his wife as a fashion plate accessory – remind one of someone? His government had difficulty in disentangling itself from the Vietnam War – and remember China was then indeed the Yellow Peril – a place for Australians to be quarantined against. Policy considerations were neglected by a Government exercised by whim and patronage spiced with payback.

Gough Whitlam by contrast provided an articulate alternative, offering Australia a new way. His election campaign was vigorous and enthusiastic. He had vanquished the Old Guard and promised so much – his clarion call being “It’s Time.”

Yet even with support of Rupert Murdoch, Whitlam ended up with a majority of only nine seats – and five of the ALP gains were in NSW.

Morrison – compared to McMahon? Time will tell. The Liberal party in 1972 had the DLP albatross, but now the continuing DLP cohort is embedded in the Falangist arm of the Liberal party. The Liberal party branches, once conceived to provide policy advice – “listening to the people mythology” – in reality are the vehicle for partisan pre-selection. It is thus unsurprising the so-called Liberal party has the crop of politicians it now has, seemingly out-of-step with the electorate.

That seemed so true in Victoria; but does it matter what candidates you have when one ignores the yearning for centrist politics where the art of negotiation is preferred to the strident megaphone?

In Victoria at last year’s State election, Daniel Andrews achieved an electoral landslide. In NSW Gladys Berejiklian has held the line for the Liberal party. Each has been pouring money into infrastructure, in a way that Whitlam promised to do in 1972 – into cities, regional centres, health and education. You can imagine Andrews and Berejiklian preferring the first way rather than yelling at one another, especially now they have both been re-elected for four years.

Morrison clings on, his hand on the megaphone. He should look at the 1972 and get some comfort, where in the end the overall swing was 2.5 per cent and even with McMahon, the Liberal Party still won four seats from the Labor party. At that time there were three Liberal and one National party premiers, including NSW, Victoria and Queensland. Today there are three Liberal party premiers in NSW, South Australia and Tasmania.

And Shorten is no Whitlam. He does not have the charisma. Unlike Whitlam, he has two strong lieutenants, Wong and Plibersek who, as the election nears, may become more prominent. However, with the media concentration on the two leaders, because the imagery of the prize fight is much more easy to convey in an election, emphasise the ‘may’. Therefore with all the talk about gender equality will these powerful women resonate – or be allowed to do so – in rural and regional Australia.

Even if the players are different, the scenario is reminiscent of 1972.

The long term lesson for what should follow as could have occurred from 1973 onwards? Defining and constructing the hard centre of politics, combatting this tiresome fearmongering, remembering what David Owen, the British politician, once said to me – never get caught in the soggy centre of politics. One might say that his is a re-interpretation of that familiar mantra – drain the swamp.

But that is only the start … hard… please define!

A few thoughts on the first salvos in health policy – Chris Brook comments

The budget and budget reply 2019 are now completed and no one could mistake that each was effectively a campaign launch for a Federal election – ending up as six weeks after the Budget.

Both have committed to expansion of funding for MRI and imaging more generally, (well done whoever lobbied this through both parties because there has been longstanding underinvestment in this technology). However, the ALP proposes to invest in greatly reducing out of pocket costs for cancer care, most of which is non-inpatient.

It seems ironic that the ALP is prepared to pay to repair a problem that is partly due to withdrawal by States of public oncology clinics. Thus, patients cannot access free care. The end result of the ALP’s plan hopefully will restore free care in public hospitals. It will be interesting to see if the Commonwealth chooses to claw back funding from the States for this, in effect exacting a punishment.

The Coalition has committed $450 million on chronic disease payments, especially for diabetes. Missing so far is the detail of what is new funding as opposed to just altering MBS descriptors.

The literature suggests such programs improve patient perception of care, which is a positive, but neither reduce cost nor hospitalisation rates.

Mental health funding is boosted in the Budget, though spending more on Headspace where its evaluation has given at best tepid endorsement. Nevertheless, any money directed to early psychosis is welcome.

Both sides promote their resumption of indexation for GP attendances, and not before time. It was always a cruel means to cut outlays.

The Coalition commitment to fund new drugs is welcome, though I note that the cost of the PBS is rapidly becoming the major cost driver in health , approaching $14 billion per annum. However, since “Big Pharma” makes a number of concessions and discounts from the list price, the real cost is closer to $9bn.

The rest is snippets and bits although the absolutely uninspired changes to Aged Care and Disability will have a strong indirect impact. If patients cannot access care, the putative expansion of care lends an air of unreality. By default the aged and infirm are forced to attend local general practitioner clinics or hospital emergency departments.

From my objective standpoint, the ALP wins this round, but it is early days in the campaign, so keep alert for further comment.

Mouse Whisper

Heard in the back of the Melbourne Club Caboose: “These three blokes born in December were given a portrait of Winx, each with Hugh Bowman atop. Why? Because a Sagittarius is half horse, half bowman.”

Modest Expectations

I have always liked writing. I was encouraged to write by Alister Brass. He was very much my mentor.  He died of AIDs in 1986. He was a great guy. I have kept writing. He had taught me a lot about myself, and how someone who was a little older than myself could have lived a fuller life than mine.  I miss him every day.

I always wonder where Murdoch fits in all this. Alister’s father, Douglas, was one of Murdoch’s first editors. I think he had a big effect on Murdoch, in the days when his world may have been that of the idealist.

However, I worry about all this technology that has sprung up in an unregulated space and where the forces of good and evil are constantly doing battle. Can I for whom my first written words required an inkwell; and when even the biro did not exist, adapt.

I find myself living in a world in a space which is getting smaller because the demands for instant anything have become the norm – money and fame are generally high on the instant agenda. Words are airbrushed away.

So why bother to write? Because I want to, and I have little time left. So here goes.

A singular New Zealander

One of the growing problems with my generation who grew up in a world where men were conditioned to take the lead is that some of us never adapted. After all, when I first went to dancing classes, men went forward in the dance and women went backwards. My mother stayed at home; it was the expectation that women would be in a helpless situation where we men were expected to open the door, let women go first; we made sure we walked on the gutter side of the footpath. It was called chivalry. Thus we grew up in a world where women were considered to be inferior (they were paid less and still are). If the parents had money, the girls went to finishing school; if not, they were selected for lower paid jobs, which were considered “suitable”.

Since then I have lived through a period of progressive gender assertiveness, but I wonder whether anything much has changed over my lifetime in the relationships between the sexes. For instance we may have the first Anglican woman bishop, but the Vatican looks to be much the same, old passive aggressive men in fancy dress and curious red hats.

However there is always a tipping point. Perhaps that tipping point is Jacinda Ardern.  When I read her CV, all my prejudices are invoked – lapsed Mormon, professional student politician – yet when she spoke and when she moved around after the Canterbury massacre – her very presence evoked in me a sensation that I have not had since I was a young man – the same as I had about John Kennedy.

Not that I was an early convert to Kennedy; I think I much preferred Hubert Humphrey, a remnant from the New Deal days but with a passion for social action.

However, Kennedy was a reformer. He grew on a young man’s consciousness. He made mistakes but while he lived, he served to remind us that there was a better world and he was there to inspire us to take responsibility for our actions and to say it as it should be. In those days communication was grainy black and white and the sound tended to blur the voice, but the intent was there. He made life all seem worthwhile – somebody, however distant, to try to emulate. I cried when I heard that Saturday morning in November 1963 that he had been assassinated.

And what happened next? Kids a bit younger than me died in a pointless war, which succeeded in dividing the world in which I grew up and left me confused in a way I was not when Kennedy was alive. I think others have labelled it “political entropy” and one wades on through this disorder for a long time.

Over this period, politicians have lost the confidence of the public. Camelot never existed, and the raft of exposés have portrayed Kennedy as less than the Camelot myth.  But the important point is missed – in those years from his inauguration in 1961 to his death in 1963 – to me and many others he could be summed up in one word – a paragon.

Now I am an old man, and seeing this woman, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, she is the first politician since Kennedy to cause me to believe, perhaps that to me she an exemplar against the fear and loathing that has characterised so much of what passes for political debate. I, like many, am just frustrated by the low level of debate. There is no longer any consideration in this Me All The Time rent-seeking political crop for policy discussion.

Yet Jacinda Ardern gives me hope. Her words – her demeanour of grace, compassion, resolve, her ability to call out the bully – the courage of making herself a target for all the “unspeakables”. She is indeed a paragon.

Just as I learnt from Alister, watching him succumbing to AIDS; now at a distance and not knowing the woman I think I have now adapted. Taken a long time, I must say.

However, Prime Minister if I have the privilege of ever meeting you, please do not hug me. I am not a hugger.

“True” is the not only word that starts with “Tru”

President Harry Truman wrote to his wife from New York on 14 June 1946:

Went to Hard Rock Club party at the Statler last night and had a good time. Lost twenty-six dollars, a quarter at a time, between 9:00 P.M. and midnight, but enjoyed the evening.

The President loved playing poker. I have been to his “Little White House” at Key West and seen the innocuous worktable flipped over to become a green baize card table.  Thus, I recognised that “good time” meant such a poker game. The Hard Rock Club were associates who had campaigned and accompanied him to the Potsdam conference.

Meanwhile, over in the Jamaica Hospital in Queen’s County, for Mary and Fred a child was born – for them a son was given. And he would be called Donald who, as he found later “the government is indeed upon his shoulders” and he of course would totally agree with the prophet’s summation that he be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

But some would dispute “of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end and from his throne and over his kingdom establishing righteousness from that time on forever”. But then one would not expect Isaiah to get everything right.

However, there are interesting parallels in the presidential careers of Truman and Trump.

Truman scarcely rated a mention when he became Vice-President and seems to have been selected as an afterthought by Roosevelt for the 1944 election. Trump was dismissed as a New York businessman with a checkered past when his candidacy was mooted.

Yet each man won elections against “establishment” candidates. None of the pundits gave Truman a hope in 1948; nor did they give Trump any hope in 2016.  Thomas Dewey, the Republican candidate, had been as successful a person in public life as Hilary Clinton, both with New York affiliations. They projected a starchy appeal to the people.

Both Truman and Trump have been accused of making impetuous decisions. One instance involved Percy Spender, the Australian ambassador to the United States. He chanced upon Harry Truman in a foul mood. Truman’s daughter was an aspiring singer whom the press loved to lampoon. He had been enraged by one of these reports when Spender turned up. Sensing an opportunity, since Truman was in one of those moods, Spender got him to agree to the substance of the ANZUS pact. At the time the State Department had been strongly opposed to this. Truman was obviously in a volcanic mood. Criticism of his daughter amounted to “fake news”, and the presence of another “outsider” requesting something which had been blocked by the establishment – “well, give ‘em hell” (meaning the State Department).

Both men inherited the aftermath of a world at war. However, Truman, despite being myopic, saw active duty as an artillery officer in World War One. In contrast, Trump avoided military service.

The war experience left a deep impression on Truman.  He was the only United States President to authorise the use of the atomic bomb. It was a calculated assessment about a nation unable to recognize that “it was all over” – and it took two bombs. Hiroshima was not enough; Nagasaki brought realisation, at least to the Emperor, that Tokyo might be next.

The nuclear option has been regularly canvassed by Trump as a piece of braggadocio, because the North Koreans continue to taunt him, even though resolution of the Korean Peninisula standoff would be his Ultimate Deal.

Truman went through a very tough period after the North Koreans invaded the South in 1950. This coincided with the rise of the fervent anti-communist Senator McCarthy, whose fear-mongering activities played out in the interrogation of people who had become the “foe” – a secret Communist fifth column determined to undermine the American Way – conspiracy theory run amok. He was abetted by Roy Cohn, then a young New York lawyer. Cohn survived the eventual downfall of McCarthy, went back to the law and in 1986 was disbarred as a lawyer for “unethical,” “unprofessional” and, in one case, “particularly reprehensible” conduct. He by that time had become a mentor for a young Donald Trump.

Truman, the populist, tried to restore order to a chaotic world – he knew the importance of wise counsel, sensible advice and being able to listen. Truman was self-centred; most politicians are. It comes with the territory. But his response to chaos was to agree to the Marshall plan, indispensible in the resurrection of Europe. Yet just as he could go against advice as he did with the ANZUS pact; he could take blame. His decision to fire Macarthur at the height of the Korean War was very unpopular, although later he was supported unanimously by a bipartisan Senate Committee in the decision.

Trump, the populist, has initiated chaos, although his apologists would say that he has shaken the system up and it was about time that somebody did that. The world remains at war, just as it did with Truman. The ultimate North Korean aim of reunification of the Korean peninsula remains as true today as it was then.

The Middle East still suffers from the disastrous drawing of borders by the so-called Great Powers after World War One. Truman against the opposition of his foreign affair advisers ensured that his was the first country to recognise the creation of Israel. Unlike the decision involving Spender, this was a very considered decision, which fractured many relationships in government.

Nevertheless, Truman became so unpopular that he did not bother standing again in 1952, and after an abortive try by Macarthur for Republican Party candidate, another general, Dwight Eisenhower was selected – outwardly a much calmer person than Truman.

Both were leaders; they consulted and they made decisions based on facts as they knew it. They did not confabulate, nor go out of their way to encourage the meaningless or antagonise capriciously. Leadership requires a sense of humour to counteract the destructive triad in politicians, which I have previously written about: insomnia, isolation and boredom. A sense of humour is one of the less explored areas in its contribution to good leadership.

Truman had a sense of leadership. In time his legacy has been recognised so that he is now considered one of the great US Presidents. Unfortunately, Trump seems not to provide the same level of mature leadership.  “Tweeting” threats and insults that may play to a selected audience is no substitute.

Truman was a constructive populist; Trump’s basic instinct seems to be to destroy, with no other aim than to bully others.  It is best remembered that those that you have created have the power to pull you down. Truman never built such a group, but Trump has such a group, which he has to continually oil lest it dry out and crack.

For me, for many years I have had a replica in my study of the sign that Truman had on his desk; it reads: “The Buck Stops Here”.  Trump, as far as I know, does not have this sign, but he may as well have. However, it would have a different meaning than it did for Truman.

MOUSE WHISPER:  Heard in the Versace corner shop in Dirranbandi: “Of course the Liberal Party is a broad church, it is full of knaves.”