Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

My Op Ed column for the Daily Advertiser this week: Watering Down 18c a Retrograde Step

Malcolm Turnbull has announced a watering down of the Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, in a major victory for the conservatives in the Liberal Party.

The change was introduced on Harmony Day, 21 March.  That might strike readers as an exercise in extreme bad taste, and they’d be right, but the timing is of even greater significance given the origins of Harmony Day, and the political chicanery behind its adoption. It is not a pretty story, for it is a watering down of its original title, the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

True, since its inception 15 years ago the main message of this day is “Everyone Belongs,” a very pro-multiculturalism motto, a praiseworthy sentiment that only the most racist would argue against, even though the original intention of the day has been lost. 

Harmony Day was born from analyses carried out by Eureka Research for the Howard-led Coalition Government that was dealing with the rise of multiculturalism and the resultant racial disharmony. There was internal strife and our international reputation was often being bogged down by the reputation it created.

The Government needed a way out, and it needed to be done without airing any negativity or implying that anyone was racist, despite widespread racism being clearly recognised by 85% of individuals surveyed in Eureka’s report.

The hook came in a recommendation in the Eureka report that the Government build on the belief that harmony in the community already existed, despite the vast majority recognising that racism was widespread. And so in a canny and very Orwellian political masterstroke Harmony Day was born.

However, despite 15 years of celebrating harmony, racism and racial discrimination still exist in Australia, so there is no room for complacency. Work still needs to be done to ensure intercultural harmony and an end to racial discrimination.

Which brings me back to the government’s proposal, under which the words “offend, insult, humiliate” will be replaced by “harass”. The word “intimidate” will remain. So the change will mean that it’s in order to insult and humiliate people because of their skin colour or race. Go figure, and of course, be appalled at this change for the worse that will worsen, not improve the situation.

The Coalition party room overwhelmingly backed the measures, but several MPs, opposed the change in wording. There is concern among some Liberals that the issue will lose them votes in seats with large ethnic communities. Let’s hope so.

Even Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce told the party room if MPs kept talking about 18C, votes would be lost because it would distract from the government’s agenda, but not, note, because it was a retrograde step that would legislate for even more bigotry than exists already.

Thankfully Labor, the Nick Xenophon team (if they hold firm) and the Australian Greens say they will keep standing with the community to protect Section 18C.

“In his rush to become Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull sold out those who would face discrimination to secure power for himself. It’s disgraceful,” said Greens Leader Richard Di Natale.

Greens legal affairs spokesperson Senator Nick McKim said “The Greens will fight to retain strong protections against racial discrimination.” Good on them. And while they are on about it, why not fight to bring back Harmony Day’s original and intended name, the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

My op ed column for 21 March 2017: Privatisation has failed to deliver cheaper electricity

By the time this column appears much water may have passed under the bridge of our energy security, electricity supply and prices debate, but at the time of writing I am struck by one particular aspect of it, namely the collapse of the political consensus that held sway over the last twenty years or so that privatisation of the electricity retail market would lead to lower prices.

And a very good thing too, for evidence shows that privatisation leads to price gouging and deterioration of service levels, as so clearly demonstrated by what has happened to vocational education, child care, job centres, Sydney airport, and many other services.

With regards to electricity pricing, this aspect of neo-liberal deregulated laissez-faire capitalism has elements of the ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ about it, and though thankfully some are now seeing through this myth Malcolm Turnbull, Josh Frydenberg & Co fail to see it, unfortunately. They have focussed solely on supply augmentation, with part-solutions such as Snowy Hydro 2.0, which will be beset with problematic issues, all they can do is call for gas companies, and the state governments that regulate drilling, to produce more gas, which can only mean coal seam gas, produced by fracking, just when we thought that one had been firmly put in its box.

Only South Australia is prepared to go look at a public service approach, though as Greens Senator for South Australia Sarah Hanson-Young said: “All kudos to the South Australian state government for standing up to fill the gap left by the missing-in-action “Innovation Prime Minister” Malcolm Turnbull, but they’ve backed the wrong horse in funding a gas-fired power plant and letting rip on fracking.”

Back to electricity pricing. In the latest Grattan Institute report, Price Shock: Is the retail electricity market failing consumers?, Tom Woods, its Energy Program Director, provides evidence that in the electricity retail sector the anticipated price reductions have not happened, and innovation has been very slow in coming.

The privatisation of Australia’s electricity retail markets dates back to 1993. The ensuing decade saw a raft of reforms that initially delivered increases in productivity, lower prices and business innovation. But in the decade after that, this progress became much harder to sustain.

The idea was for states to create regulated monopolies in electricity transmission and distribution (poles and wires), while deregulating the retail side (the supply of gas and electricity to customers).

The competition in electricity generation largely delivered lower wholesale prices through the National Electricity Market (NEM), but not at the retail level.

Yet so far there have been few genuine innovations in electricity pricing. The most common tactic has been a discount for paying on time or by direct debit, although consumers are often frustrated when they discover that at the end of their contract they lose the discount even if they continue to pay the same way.

Products that offer different prices for electricity use at different times of the day have been slow to appear. These products have the potential to deliver major savings, yet the industry has failed to deliver them in a way that makes them easy for customers to understand and adopt.

My Op Ed column in the Daily Advertiser for 14 March 2017Australia set to ramp up the lethal power of its drones?

 Hot on the news that President Trump plans to make America’s nuclear arsenal even larger than it already is, and that he is to spend an extra $70 (Aust) billion on America’s conventional defence forces comes news that Australia is moving towards acquiring armed drones, a military tool of questionable ethics.

In detail, it was revealed on the ABC’s 7.30 Report on 7 March that Australia is considering the purchase of possibly armed drones. The two salient points are whether or not the drones will be armed, and if so whether the use of armed drones in warfare is ethical.

Firstly, the ethical issues. Though Australia already uses drones for intelligence and surveillance, adding weaponised ones would represent a significant escalation for the Defence Forces, one which we should oppose.

As part of the war on terror president Barack Obama approved drone strikes mainly in the Middle East, which are estimated to have killed around 7,000 people, some found to be innocent bystanders, otherwise euphemistically known as ‘collateral damage’.

The killings sparked political controversy and ethical concerns, voiced in newspapers and spilling over in to  social media, television documentaries, and film such as ‘Eye in the Sky’, amongst others. Over and over again we have seen these drones piloted and given the order to fire their missiles from bunkers in the Nevada desert, close to Las Vegas, which is no doubt useful for the R&R of these drone jockeys.

Here planning is already well advanced within Defence for future combat missions using remotely piloted aircraft capable of killing. I wonder from where they will be controlled? Pine Gap, perhaps?

Despite such concerns, Defence Minister Marise Payne, in typical double-speak weasel words, said Australia would always consider its legal and ethical obligations “It’s really about extending the impact of what we can do in the Air Force, minus issues like fatigue or those sorts of things and ensuring that we have an Air Force that is as capable as it can possibly be” she told 7.30.

Rather more open and honest was last year’s Defence White Paper, which confirmed that the Government would “introduce enhanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, including armed medium-altitude unmanned aircraft in the early 2020s, with regular capability upgrades to follow”.

Apart from the inclusion of the word ‘armed’, the strategic document offered very little detail, except to say the “unmanned aircraft will provide enhanced firepower and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support to a range of missions including counter-terrorism missions overseas”.

The issue of the two types of armed drones the Defence Force are considering is also of concern, for though one of the  frontrunners in the race for the contract is the MQ-9 Reaper, manufactured by US Company General Atomics, the other is the Heron TP, made by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).

IAI, a state-owned company, does not publicly acknowledge its product as an armed drone but stresses the plane can carry “anything” up to 1,000 kilograms, which presumably refers to bombs and/or missiles. It is public knowledge that the Heron TP has most certainly been used in this way against Palestinian targets in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, again often involving the euphemistically termed ‘collateral damage’.

So taking everything into account we have to ask ourselves if the acquisition of these armed drones by the ADF is a step forward or a descent into an unethical quagmire.

Nuclear arsenal: be afraid, be very afraid

Ray’s Reasoning: my column from today’s Daily Advertiser

On top of President Trump’s announcement last week that he is going to raise America’s defence spending by a massive $70 Aus. billion (10% no less), paid for largely by short-sighted cuts to foreign aid, also  came two very disappointing news items about nuclear weapons that added together warrant the much more serious adjective of ‘disturbing’. Downright frightening in fact for anyone who cares about the future of the planet and everything living on it.

Firstly, I read from Washington the President Donald Trump has said he wants to build up the US nuclear arsenal to ensure it is at the “top of the pack,” saying the United States has fallen behind in its atomic weapons capacity. So the scariest Commander in Chief wants to have his finger on the button of even more weapons of mass destruction. We should all not just be alarmed, but very, very afraid.

Secondly, and much closer to home, came the news from Australia’s Paul Barratt’s former secretary of the Department of Defence and Sue Wareham, vice-president of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons that Australia is about to boycott forthcoming major UN multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations.

In more detail, on March 27 in New York, negotiations will commence on a treaty to ban nuclear weapons, following a strongly supported resolution passed in the General Assembly last December – with 123 nations in favour, 38 against and 16 abstentions – for “a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”.

The UN resolution and the forthcoming negotiations are the result of intense government and civil society action in recent years that has highlighted the catastrophic humanitarian impacts of these most terrifying and destructive of all weapons, and the imperative to prevent any further use.

Australia’s boycott of these disarmament talks, will have grave implications, quite apart from the unconscionable act of snubbing the most promising disarmament initiative in decades. It calls into question our commitment not only to the UN but also to the 1968 nuclear non-proliferation treaty, article 6 of which obliges all member states to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to … nuclear disarmament”.

The key to a ban treaty’s effectiveness lies in its power to delegitimise and stigmatise weapons that kill and maim whole populations indiscriminately. Which nation would boast of a “smallpox deterrent” or a “nerve gas deterrent”? Yet despite the existence of treaties to ban these other weapons of mass destruction, there is still no equivalent treaty to ban the only weapons that can destroy a city in an instant and leave human suffering and environmental devastation on a scale we can’t imagine.

It also beats me how will Australia be able to condemn nuclear missile tests by, say, North Korea, or other possible future proliferators, when we support a nuclear apartheid and oppose efforts to place all nuclear-armed nations on the same legal footing?

So Australia will yet again stick out as merely an appendage to the US rather than an independently minded nation that considers global interests and its own interests above those of its ally. Have we learnt nothing from the recent exposure of John Howard’s sycophantic motives for taking us into the disastrous US invasion of Iraq in 2003? (Secret Iraq Dossier: Australia’s Flawed War, SMH, 25 February 2017)?

Australia’s decision is irresponsible and unworthy of a nation that – notwithstanding our support for extended nuclear deterrence – has had a long history of engaging with UN disarmament initiatives.  his decision should be reversed.

Shame on Australia’ government for welcoming an accused war criminal

It was pleasing to see that not everyone in Australia welcomed Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel and accused war criminal as enthusiastically as PM Malcom Turnbull and his yes-men colleagues did last week.

Indeed, the collective oppositional voice was very strong, with large demonstrations against Netanyahu and Israel’s anti-Palestinian expansionist policy in most capital cities. I was pleased to attend the Sydney demo and heard an impressive array of speakers passionately tell of Israel’s aggression, including Greens MP David Shoebridge.

Opposition to Netanyahu’s unwelcome presence wasn’t limited to demonstrations. The Australia Palestine Advocacy Network organised a statement signed by over 60 prominent Australians, Facebook and the Twittersphere were replete with condemnations of Israel’s policies, and the Australian Jewish Democratic Society also added its voice to the protests.

So what is wrong with Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians? Words such as ‘plenty’ and ‘heaps’ come to mind. For example, Israel continues to defy all United Nations calls for it to comply with international law in respect of its illegal settlement building, and its treatment of the indigenous Palestinian population.

For over the last 50 years, Israel has held the people of Palestine under military occupation and continues to illegally build settlements on Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. It continues to confiscate Palestinian land and continues to demolish Palestinian homes. Its policy of continuing the imprisonment of Palestinians without trial even of children as young as 12 continues, as does its blockade of the 1.8 million civilian inhabitants of Gaza.

Those actions are not symbolic of a nation desirous of building peace with its neighbours. They build understandable resentment, anger and desperation amongst Palestinians.

The Australian Government needs to rethink its one-sided support for the Israeli Government. Like thousands of others, I was appalled that our Government opposed the recent UN Security Council resolution supporting the application of international law to Israel and Palestine, when most nations, including the United Kingdom, Germany, France and New Zealand, support it. Even the USA did not oppose it.

As Greens Foreign Affairs spokesperson Senator Scott Ludlum said, “The Australian Government should stand condemned for its warm welcome to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Mr Netanyahu seems determined to wreck any chances of a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” he pointed out.

Many people might not realise that Mr Netanyahu’s Government is under preliminary investigation for war crimes in the International Criminal Court. On his orders, the expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank has accelerated, as has the demolition of Palestinian homes and seizure of their land and water. Hence the appellation ‘accused war criminal’.

In 2008 and again in 2014, Mr Netanyahu authorised ground invasions and heavy bombardments of the densely populated Gaza strip, resulting in thousands of civilian casualties.

Readers will remember that only a matter of days ago Mr Netanyahu stood smirking by the side of President Trump while the US Commander in chief casually trashed Palestinian’s aspirations for statehood.

So amidst this brazen contempt for international law and all attempts to promote a peaceful settlement, I utterly reject Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s glib assurances that the Australian people would ‘warmly embrace’ Mr Netanyahu on his arrival.

 

 

Complimentary supplements provide us with nothing more than expensive urine

My Op Ed column in today’s Daily Advertiser reads:

Last week’s 4 Corners (ABC TV) report on complementary supplements showed unequivocally that multivitamins are a waste of money and just create ‘very expensive urine’. The Australian Medical Association president also says there is a lack of evidence showing multivitamins work.

This demonstrates quite clearly that in a world of unregulated capitalism where companies are free to manufacture and market just about anything we are in urgent need of stringent, genuinely evidence based testing rather than the shonky ‘scientifically proven’ claims used by these companies.

These claims are in fact fraudulent because they are based on samples so small they prove nothing. We haven’t really moved on from the ‘snake oil’ salesmen of the nineteenth century, have we?

In commenting on these fraudulent claims and misleading advertising I am not asserting that all complimentary medicines are unnecessary. Though with a proper diet and exercise most of us don’t need such supplements, but some of us do, due to certain genetic deficiencies, or, indeed, a poor diet. My point is that we need proper scientific testing, and regulations to back up that testing, to avoid false and misleading claims.

Let’s look in more detail at what both examinations discovered. First of all, the basic statistic: seven out of 10 Australians take some form of vitamin or supplement.

Adjunct Associate Professor Ken Harvey from the department of epidemiology and preventive medicine at Monash University told the ABC’s Four Corners program there’s little evidence to suggest multivitamins actually work.

Furthermore, a consumer group Choice survey finds therapies with little to no evidence of their benefits, including Bach flower remedies and homeopathic products, being suggested to shoppers

Buying multivitamins benefits the companies that manufacture them by boosting profits, but for the average Australian multivitamins provide “no benefit”.

Naturally enough, the Australian Self Medication Industry says complementary medicines are useful because many Australians have poor diets. However, they would say that, wouldn’t they?

“Vitamin and mineral supplements can play an important role for the 52% of Australian adults who do not eat the recommended intake of fruit or the 92% who do not eat the recommended intake of vegetables each day,” the ASMI said in a statement.

However, there is good news on the horizon, in that the vitamins and supplements you buy could soon have a government tick of approval if they are found to be genuinely effective.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration is looking to reform regulation on complementary medicines so consumers have a better understanding of whether the billions we spend on them is giving us any health benefit.

At present, a listing on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods only means the product is safe, not that it delivers its stated claims.

But a review into regulation of the industry has recommended companies apply for approval if research finds its product effective.

Monash University Associate Professor Dr Ken Harvey said the change would make Australia a world leader by building trust in the industry.

“This would greatly advance the future of complementary medicine if it gets implemented,” he said.

The TGA also released a consultation paper last week seeking feedback into the review, which means we can all have our say. The consultation closes on March 28, which gives us all plenty of time to make a submission.

Childcare reform package hides stringent welfare cuts: My Daily Advertiser column for February 2017

Almost lost last week amidst the fuss over Senator Bernardi’s resignation from the Liberal Party, whilst at the same time keeping his Senate seat, salary and entitlement, was an important piece of government legislation that rolled welfare cuts into childcare reforms.

In a secret deal between the Government and crossbenchers on the family tax benefit (FTB) sneaked through stringent cuts to the social safety net that hurts families, young people and aged pensioners.

The Turnbull government has been accused of holding parents “hostage” by combining its childcare reforms with $8 billion in cuts to unemployed young people, welfare recipients and families whose employers provide paid parental leave.

The government had previously flagged it would combine its childcare changes with cuts to family tax benefits, but went further last Wednesday by rolling several previously rejected welfare cuts into the same bill. This is of course the oldest trick in the books, burying cuts that are likely to be unpopular within a reform that is otherwise likely to be supported.

 The bill now includes measures such as: increasing the age of eligibility for unemployment benefits from 22 to 25, a move that would cut payments to young jobseekers by $45 a week. People aged under 25 without a job will be receive Youth Allowance worth $438 a fortnight rather than the $528 Newstart Allowance; jobseekers under 25 will have to wait four weeks before accessing income support; abolishing the Energy Supplement, worth up to $14 a fortnight, for new welfare recipients; capping government-funded and employer-paid parental leave at 20 weeks a year and stopping pension payments to Australians who travel for more than six weeks overseas.

Jo Briskey, executive director of parent advocacy group The Parenthood, said the plan was akin to “holding families to ransom”.

Australian Council of Social Service chief executive Cassandra Goldie said: “The so-called concessions the government has made will be wiped out by other changes in the bill, leaving many low-income people worse off.

“Of course we all want greater support for families to get better-quality childcare but it cannot be funded on the backs of some of the most disadvantaged people in our country.”

Labor families spokeswoman Jenny Macklin said the opposition was opposed to the package, but One Nation leader Pauline Hanson said welfare payments need to be “reined in”.

Also  key crossbench senator Nick Xenophon said the government was “moving in the right direction” by softening its family payment cuts.

“I think the government has improved the package, improved the childcare package and in terms of Indigenous and remote communities there are some real improvements there as well, so that’s welcomed,” he said. 

However, and quite rightly, “Nick Xenaphon and other crossbenchers should think long and hard before getting behind the legislation”, Australian Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said today.”

The Government has painted this legislation as a compromise to get the childcare package through the Senate but it is just a shopping list of the nasty social safety net measures that they have not been able to get through the senate in the past. It is an attack on families, young people and the aged.

Also tucked away in this hodgepodge legislation is the reduction of people receiving their aged pension once out of the country from 26 weeks to six weeks.

The Government is unrelentingly going after young families, and those relying on our social security safety net.

 

 

Trump is certainly no diplomat

Trump certainly no diplomat

Todays column in the Daily Advertiser:

I was spoilt for choice as to my topic this week, as PM Turnbull has blotted his copybook quite spectacularly in three different ways. As they were all of his own making he needs calling out on them.

First came the news that he had timed his $1.75 million donation to the Liberal Party during the 2016 federal election so as to avoid immediate disclosure. “He would have known that his $1.75 million donation would not be publicly disclosed until 19 months after his re-election on 1 February 2018” pointed out Greens Democracy spokesperson Senator Lee Rhiannon. Regardless of the timing, eventually it would come out, making clear to one and all he had bought his way to power.

Next came his National Press Cub address on the topic of our energy future. Not only did he say that he was ‘agnostic’ on energy policy and did not rule out dumping our Renewable Energy Targets (RET) he also included ‘clean coal’ in our energy mix. As countless scientists have pointed out, there’s no such thing. It doesn’t exist. Far better to fund the CSIRO to develop super batteries that can provide long term storage for electricity generated from renewable energy sources, thereby providing reliable base load power. Or perhaps he’s hoping private enterprise in the form of Tesla will do it for us. If so, say so.

But top of the list comes his first telephone conversation with President Trump. Leaving aside Mr Turnbull’s failure to condemn the President’s refugee and migration executive orders as other world leaders have quite rightly done, what rankles here is Mr Turnbull not letting us know that the conversation was a failure, abruptly ended after 25 minutes instead of the scheduled hour. Of course Mr Turnbull was being diplomatic, but a bit of truth-telling would have been welcome, rather than for us to be told on the front page of the Washington Post.

However, apart from the theatre provided by the conflict of the loud, bullying New York real estate developer approach of the President versus the honeyed words of merchant banker Turnbull, I’m concerned about this issue on two counts, and both will apply even if the issue is settled by the time this column goes to print.

If President Trump scuttles the, deal what will come of the refugees stranded in the hell-holes on Nauru and Mannus Island? There is one clear solution, and that is to do the right thing and settle them here. It is extremely doubtful if that will re-start the boats, as the original announcement of the American deal certainly didn’t, so the right wing of the Liberals, Nationals and ALP need not bother us with that argument.

But if President Trump agrees to go ahead, at what price will it be? There certainly will be one, for one thing we know about the President is that he is a deal maker. It will almost certainly be secret, the details not to be revealed for decades. For the past week commentators have speculated that it will be an increased Australian military commitment, perhaps in the Middle East, or in the South China Sea. Anyone fancy having the RAN join in a blockade of the sea lanes?

To conclude on a bright note rather than one pointing towards Armageddon, in the past week I had a day procedure at the (newish) Wagga Wagga Rural Referral Hospital, and I’m pleased to report that is appears to be an excellent facility, light, bright, airy, spacious, and well decorated. High praise too to all the staff, from clerical to aides, technicians, nurses, doctors and specialists. Exemplary service with a smile all round.g he needs calling out on them.

 

 

 

 

 

Newspeak is alive and well and living in the White House

My Daily Advertiser column for Tuesday 31 January 2017

There is much about the Trump administration that is eerily and frighteningly reminiscent of totalitarian regimes, including the Fascist and Nazi ones of the 1930s.

Extreme nationalism, xenophobia and racism are some examples, as are exclusivist immigration policies and the call to by-pass democratic processes and rule by decree or ‘executive orders’. War mongering is another example, as is the adoption of protectionist economic policies.

Wall building, either to keep people in or out, is another example, yet President Trump is going ahead with his Mexican Wall. Presumably he is blind to the problems such walls have caused over the decades.

Trump’s plans to return factory jobs to America also includes the rampant overturning of environmental protection policies, most notably, for the moment, approval of the Keystone pipeline, which President Obama had banned. Obama also did ameliorate, albeit to a small degree, America’s use of torture, which Trump seems hell bent on reviving.

However, the totalitarian trait exhibited by President Trump I would like to focus on in this week’s column is his use, by both himself and by members of his Administration, of what George Orwell’s satirical masterpiece of totalitarian dystopias, ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ referred to as Newspeak.

It was the official language of Oceania, a totalitarian state portrayed in the novel, created to meet the ideological needs of the all-controlling Party in power. It was designed to limit freedom of thought by eliminating political concepts such as free will, self-expression, personal individuality, peace, and so forth that were ideological threats to the regime of Big Brother and the Party.

Newspeak loudly, aggressively and boorishly surfaced in Trump’s vocabulary when he and his Administration tried to defend the blatant lie that his inauguration crowd numbers were as large as former President Obama’s.

Of course, we all saw the evidence as we watched coverage of the event. Every media outlet ran contrasting pictures, and it was as clear as the noses on all our faces that Trump’s numbers were way down on Obama’s. Trump’s numbers were also much smaller than the number of women who marched in protest both in Washington and across the country the following day – and world-wide too, of course. There were also very large crowds here in Australia

How did Trump & Co react? By blatantly lying, repeating over and over that his crowd numbers were larger, and when pressed by journalists to explain how this could be so by claiming to be in possession of ‘Alternative Facts’.

Of course, outright lies are what we have come to expect from Trump himself, but soon members of his newly appointed team chimed in, and the Newspeak Prize must go to Trump’s former campaign manager and now White House counsellor KellyAnne Conway when interviewed on NBC a couple of days later.

Tackling her on Press Secretary Spicer’s bizarre press conference the previous day, host Chuck Todd wanted her to explain the absurdity of Spicer being sent before the cameras to argue what Todd said were “provable falsehoods”. Conway was quick to respond by saying “You’re saying it’s a falsehood, but our press secretary Spicer gave alternative facts.” Alternative Facts are Newspeak for lies, Ms Conway.

George Orwell, you didn’t know how worse it could get, for in what claims to be “The land of the free and the home of the brave” Newspeak is clearly flourishing.

There is much about the Trump administration that is eerily and frighteningly reminiscent of totalitarian regimes, including the Fascist and Nazi ones of the 1930s.

Extreme nationalism, xenophobia and racism are some examples, as are exclusivist immigration policies and the call to by-pass democratic processes and rule by decree or ‘executive orders’. War mongering is another example, as is the adoption of protectionist economic policies.

Wall building, either to keep people in or out, is another example, yet President Trump is going ahead with his Mexican Wall. Presumably he is blind to the problems such walls have caused over the decades.

Trump’s plans to return factory jobs to America also includes the rampant overturning of environmental protection policies, most notably, for the moment, approval of the Keystone pipeline, which President Obama had banned. Obama also did ameliorate, albeit to a small degree, America’s use of torture, which Trump seems hell bent on reviving.

However, the totalitarian trait exhibited by President Trump I would like to focus on in this week’s column is his use, by both himself and by members of his Administration, of what George Orwell’s satirical masterpiece of totalitarian dystopias, ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ referred to as Newspeak.

It was the official language of Oceania, a totalitarian state portrayed in the novel, created to meet the ideological needs of the all-controlling Party in power. It was designed to limit freedom of thought by eliminating political concepts such as free will, self-expression, personal individuality, peace, and so forth that were ideological threats to the regime of Big Brother and the Party.

Newspeak loudly, aggressively and boorishly surfaced in Trump’s vocabulary when he and his Administration tried to defend the blatant lie that his inauguration crowd numbers were as large as former President Obama’s.

Of course, we all saw the evidence as we watched coverage of the event. Every media outlet ran contrasting pictures, and it was as clear as the noses on all our faces that Trump’s numbers were way down on Obama’s. Trump’s numbers were also much smaller than the number of women who marched in protest both in Washington and across the country the following day – and world-wide too, of course. There were also very large crowds here in Australia

How did Trump & Co react? By blatantly lying, repeating over and over that his crowd numbers were larger, and when pressed by journalists to explain how this could be so by claiming to be in possession of ‘Alternative Facts’.

Of course, outright lies are what we have come to expect from Trump himself, but soon members of his newly appointed team chimed in, and the Newspeak Prize must go to Trump’s former campaign manager and now White House counsellor KellyAnne Conway when interviewed on NBC a couple of days later.

Tackling her on Press Secretary Spicer’s bizarre press conference the previous day, host Chuck Todd wanted her to explain the absurdity of Spicer being sent before the cameras to argue what Todd said were “provable falsehoods”. Conway was quick to respond by saying “You’re saying it’s a falsehood, but our press secretary Spicer gave alternative facts.” Alternative Facts are Newspeak for lies, Ms Conway.

George Orwell, you didn’t know how worse it could get, for in what claims to be “The land of the free and the home of the brave” Newspeak is clearly flourishing.

Another elephant in a very crowded room

My Daily Advertiser column for today, Tuesday 24 January 2017

Last week an Australia Day billboard showing two girls in hijabs was taken down after the advertiser received threats. The two girls featured amongst revolving images of many other different Australians.

According to the Victorian government the billboard was taken down from a site in Melbourne after threats and abuse were directed at the advertising company, and whilst there is no doubt superficial truth in this its removal also smacks of giving in to intimidation by xenophobic and Islamophobic extremists. From this perspective its removal is shameful and puts a huge dent in our claim to be a multicultural society.

The electronic billboard at Cranbourne, in Melbourne’s south-east, was part of a Victorian Government campaign to promote Australia Day events in the city.

The United Patriots Front, a far-right group opposed to immigration, published an image of the billboard on its Facebook page on January 13, which has since been widely shared.

“State government billboard in Cranbourne spotted by a supporter — they’re making every effort to redefine your nation and gradually erase you from history,” the post read.

Victoria’s Minister for Multicultural Affairs, Robin Scott, said the company that operates the billboard, QMS, took the ad down after receiving a number of complaints. “There were a series of complaints, some of which were of an abusive and threatening nature, that were made to the organisation QMS that put the billboard up,” he said.

“And they’ve made a decision based on the safety of their employees and business infrastructure to temporarily remove the billboard.” Taking Workplace Health and Safety into account such a response is of course appropriate when viewed superficially, but there are other ways of ensuring the wellbeing of staff without pandering to threats from extreme right wing bullies, and it would have been pleasing to have seen some of those tried.

From this perspective Mr Scott’s statement that he was not aware of whether the matter had been referred to the police is disappointing, to say the least, and makes his comments that “Whatever background people come from, images of people celebrating their love of this country should not be considered something that is offensive in the society,” and that “I think it is something we should celebrate” somewhat disingenuous, to say the least,

Greens Leader and Victorian Richard Di Natale was slightly more on the ball when he said he was “disgusted” the campaign to remove the billboard was successful.

“Islamophobia is a genuine threat to Australian democracy and to the multicultural society that the vast majority of Australians cherish,” he said.

“We must stand against racial hatred wherever we encounter it, and stand with those communities suffering from its vile effects.” Quite.

This incident brings to mind the wider question of that enormous ‘elephant in the room’, whether or not we should be celebrating Australia Day on 26th January, for to many it was and remains ‘Invasion Day’, and to others (White) ‘Settlement’ Day.

The establishment of the British convict settlement had a devastating impact on the land’s first people, something most politicians and their parties manage to ignore, though thankfully not all, for as Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon said last year, “On Jan 26 thousands of Australians will remember the Frontier Wars when this land’s First Peoples fought against British colonisation. Tragically their struggle continues.”

Indeed it does. We really do need to seriously consider if this is the most appropriate date to celebrate Australia’s diversity.