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Tony Abbott in Arnhem Land: a display of farce and cynicism Australia’s prime minister took his government and the media to the NT to better understand the needs of Indigenous Australians. We’re already awash with that knowledge by John Pilger

 ‘He beams, as if incredulous at the success of his twin stunts: “running the nation” from a bushland tent on the Gove Peninsula while “taking the nation to war”.’ Photograph: AAP

There are times when farce and living caricature almost consume the cynicism and mendacity in the daily life of Australia’s rulers. Across the front pages is a photograph of a resolute Tony Abbott with Indigenous children in Arnhem Land. “Domestic policy one day,” says the caption, “focus on war the next.”

Reminiscent of a vintage anthropologist, the prime minister grasps the head of an Indigenous child trying to shake his hand. He beams, as if incredulous at the success of his twin stunts: “running the nation” from a bushland tent on the Gove Peninsula while “taking the nation to war”. Like any “reality” show, he is surrounded by cameras and manic attendants, who alert the nation to his principled and decisive acts.

But wait; the leader of all Australians must fly south to farewell the SAS, off on its latest heroic mission since its triumph in the civilian bloodfest of Afghanistan. “Pursuing sheer evil” sounds familiar. Of course, an historic mercenary role is unmentionable, this time backing the latest US installed sectarian regime in Baghdad and re-branded ex-Kurdish “terrorists”, now guarding Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Marathon Oil, Hunt Oil et al.

No parliamentary debate is allowed; no fabricated invitation from foreigners in distress is necessary, as it was in Vietnam. Speed is the essence. What with US intelligence insisting there is no threat from Islamic State to the US and presumably Australia, truth may deter the mission if time is lost. If yesterday’s police and media show of “anti-terror” arrests in “the plot against Sydney” fails to arouse the suspicions of the nation, nothing will. That the unpopular Abbott’s various wars are likely to be self-fulfilling, making Australians less safe, ought to be in the headlines, too. Remember the blowback from Blair’s wars.

But what of the beheadings? During the 21 months between James Foley’s abduction and his beheading, 113 people were reportedly beheaded by Saudi Arabia, one of Barack Obama’s and Abbott’s closest allies in their current “moral” and “idealistic” enterprise. Indeed, Abbott’s war will no doubt rate a plaque in the Australian War Memorial alongside all the other colonial invasions acknowledged in that great emporium of white nationalism – except, of course, the colonial invasion of Australia during which the beheading of the Indigenous Australian defenders was not considered sheer evil.

This returns us to the show in Arnhem Land. Abbott says the reason he and the media are camped there is that he can consult with Indigenous “leaders” and “gain a better understanding of the needs of people living and working in these areas”.

Australia is awash with knowledge of the “needs” of its First Peoples. Every week, it seems, yet another study adds to the torrent of information about the imposed impoverishment of and vicious discrimination against Indigenous people: apartheid in all but name. The facts, which can no longer be spun, ought to be engraved in the national consciousness, if not the prime minister’s. Australia has a rate of Indigenous incarceration higher than that of apartheid South Africa; deaths in custody occur as if to a terrible drumbeat; preventable Dickensian diseases are rampant, including among those who live in the midst of a mining boom that has made profits of a billion dollars a week. Rheumatic heart disease kills Indigenous people in their 30s and 40s, and their children go deaf and suffer trachoma, which causes blindness.

When, as shadow Indigenous health minister in 2009, Abbott was reminded by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Indigenous people that the Howard government’s fraudulent “intervention” was racist, he told Professor James Anaya to “get a life” and “stop listening to the old victim brigade”. The distinguished Anaya had just been to Utopia, a vast region in the Northern Territory, where I filmed the evidence of the racism and forced deprivation that had so shocked him and millions of viewers around the world. “Malnutrition”, a GP in central Australia told me, “is common.”

Today, as Abbott poses for the camera with children in Arnhem Land, the children of Utopia are being denied access to safe and clean drinking water. For 10 weeks, communities have had no running water. A new bore would cost just $35,000. Scabies and more trachoma are the result. (For perspective, consider that Labor’s last Indigenous Affairs Minister, Jenny Macklin, spent $331,144 refurbishing her office in Canberra).

In 2012, Olga Havnen, a senior Northern Territory government official, revealed that more than $80m was spent on the surveillance of families and the removal of children compared with just $500,000 on supporting the same impoverished families. Her warning of a second Stolen Generation led to her sacking. This week in Sydney, Amnesty and a group known as Grandmothers Against Removals presented further evidence that the number of Indigenous children being taken from their families, often violently, was greater than at any time in Australia’s colonial history.

Will Abbott, self-proclaimed friend of Indigenous people, step in and defend these families? On the contrary, in his May budget, Abbott cut $534m from the “needs” of Indigenous people over the next five years, a quarter of which was for health provision. Far from being an Indigenous friend, Abbott’s government is continuing the theft of Indigenous land with a confidence trick called “99-year leases”. In return for surrendering their country – the essence of Aboriginality – communities will receive morsels of rent, which the government will take from Indigenous mining royalties. Perhaps only in Australia can such deceit masquerade as policy.

Similarly, Abbott appears to be supporting constitutional reform that will “recognise” Indigenous people in a proposed referendum. The “Recognise” campaign consists of familiar gestures and tokenism, promoted by a PR campaign “around which the nation can rally”, according to the Sydney Morning Herald – meaning the majority, or those who care, can feel they are doing something while doing nothing.

During all the years I have been reporting and filming Indigenous Australia, one “need” has struck me as paramount. A treaty. By that I mean an effective Indigenous bill of rights: land rights, resources rights, health rights, education rights, housing rights, and more. None of the “advances” of recent years, such as Native Title, has delivered the rights and services most Australians take for granted.

As Arrente/Amatjere leader Rosalie Kunoth-Monks says: “We never ceded ownership of this land. This remains our land, and we need to negotiate a lawful treaty with those who seized our land.” A great many if not most Indigenous Australians agree with her; and a campaign for a treaty – all but ignored by the media – is growing fast, especially among the savvy Indigenous young unrepresented by co-opted “leaders” who tell white society what it wants to hear.

That Australia has a prime minister who described this country as “unsettled” until the British came indicates the urgency of true reform – the end of paternalism and the enactment of a treaty negotiated between equals. For until we, who came later, give back to the first Australians their nationhood, we can never claim our own.

Where now for Scotland?

Revolutionary Eye:-Winning Scottish Independence only mattered if we could build a fairer society.Well, we lost but,most importantly,we demonstrated massively that that desire is still there in the people of Scotland.It need not die but needs to find urgent political expression to continue to grow.That will be our task and we need to build on the Radical Independence Campaign’s achievements in uniting the Left by immediate discussion on the way ahead.

"The result of the independence referendum is the beginning of a conversation, not the closing statement of a soliloquy. It became clear, relatively early on, that the conversation had mutated beyond nationalism into a profound discussion on the sort of country we want for the future. There are large swathes of mostly unheard voices which are no longer satisfied with the neoliberal view of the world put forward by leaders. Let that tremendous adrenaline now flow into the political bloodstream of the rest of the UK. Let that momentum for change join with the many millions across the other three nations who also demand an alternative to a cynical view of a future in which education and health are a privilege rather than a right; where poverty and division are the norm rather than a source of deep national shame.

That can be the yes legacy. It is significant.”

Ireland’s class society exposed

imageClockwise from top left: Terry Wogan, John Bruton, Garret Fitzgerald, Cian Healy, Brian Lenihan and Cardinal Desmond O’Connell all went to the same fee-paying school

A RECENT study has suggested that Britain – multi-cultural, Olympics inclusive Britain – is ‘deeply elitist’.

The study suggests that in everything from politics through to media and even in to sport that privately educated Oxbridge graduates are over represented in a way that does not paint Britain as an open society.

So only 7 per cent of the British population attended a private school and fewer than 40 per cent went to university but 36 per cent of the Cabinet were privately educated, 43 per cent of newspaper columnists and 35 per cent of the English rugby team.

Which might explain why a minority sport like rugby is so grossly over-reported and why media is so unquestioning in the face of power. I mean, I didn’t attend a private school but the maths of that equation seems fairly self-evident to me.

Of course, we don’t have this in Ireland. There is no class system in Ireland and I have heard that said and seen it written down so many times that it is clear that people widely believe that.

The ‘we’re all in it together’ mantra heard on both sides of the Irish Sea during the recession has echoed in Ireland down the years through any number of decades of poverty and emigration.

But what if that weren’t the case? What if Ireland was as class-riddled as Britain but just without the knowledge? Would that explain a lot about this country or would it simply be something for academics to argue over?

In class-free Ireland in the 1990s only 6 per cent of the population went to fee-paying schools and by 2007 that had only risen to 7 per cent, which puts Ireland nicely on a par with Britain.

But Ireland, as a country without a class system, would surely not then reflect those British levels of elite education entry into elite sections of society would it? How could it when Ireland, this Republic of ours, does not have a class system?

Which makes the fact that 49 per cent of top business executives, 62 per cent of the top positions in medicine, architecture and the law, and over 50 per cent of our Cabinet, over 50 per cent of the government of the class-free Republic, attended fee-paying schools a little odd doesn’t it?

I mean Britain is riddled with class, is notorious for it, yet only 36 per cent of their Tory, Eton friends’, government paid lots of money for their education whereas here in the Republic over 50 per cent did. Who’s ‘deeply elitist’ now?

Indeed such does the influence of the old school tie seem to be here in the class-free Republic that even though 83 per cent of TDs went to non-fee-paying schools, leaving 17 per cent fee-paying ones, by the time we get to the summit of power over 50 per cent of them are running the country.

In what way then, can someone explain to me — and I didn’t go to an elite fee-paying school remember, either in Britain or in Ireland, so I need someone to explain this to me — in what way is Ireland not a class based society?

So as part of the research for this article I trawled through the websites of some of Ireland’s fee-paying schools in order to see which people in politics, the media and sport attended these schools.

I did so in order to see if Ireland was in fact much like Britain in terms of access to power and success arising from an elitist education based purely on parental wealth. And to be honest after a while I couldn’t do it any longer. There were just too many.

Garret Fitzgerald, Richard Bruton, Brian Lenihan, Conor Lenihan, Cardinal Desmond Connell, Cian Healy, Cian O’Connor and Terry Wogan all went to the same fee-paying school.

Frank Duff, Bob Geldof, Brian O’Driscoll, Leo Cullen, Shane Byrne and Ryan Turbridy all went to the same fee-paying school.

Fergal Quinn, Jamie Heaslip, and Geordan Murphy all went to the same fee-paying school.

Michael O’Leary, Paul McGuiness, Tony O’Reilly, Simon Coveney, Gordon D’Arcy and Rob Kearney. Ben Dunne, George Hook, Declan Kidney, Ronan O’Gara and Peter Stringer. Brian Cowen, Conor Brady, Dick Spring and Gavin Duffy. Fee-paying schools all.

Now I won’t bother pointing out the preponderance of rugby players on that list just in case I’m accused of being lazily anti-rugby again and I am sure many of the people on that list are talented and skilled people.

But if such a high percentage of people in Irish political, media and business life attended fee-paying schools when such a small percentage of Irish people do, does that not suggest something?

Does it not suggest class and influence? Move over Britain, does it not suggest that Ireland too is ‘deeply elitist’?


How the media shafted the people of Scotland Journalists in their gilded circles are woefully out of touch with popular sentiment and shamefully slur any desire for change

‘Here is the chronic inability to distinguish between a cause and a person: the referendum is widely portrayed as a vote about Alex Salmond … a Telegraph ­editorial ­compared him to Robert Mugabe.’ Photograph: Andrew Milligan/PA

Perhaps the most arresting fact about the Scottish referendum is this: that there is no newspaper – local, regional or national, English or Scottish – that supports independence except the Sunday Herald. The Scots who will vote yes have been almost without representation in the media.

There is nothing unusual about this. Change in any direction, except further over the brink of market fundamentalism and planetary destruction, requires the defiance of almost the entire battery of salaried opinion. What distinguishes the independence campaign is that it has continued to prosper despite this assault.

In the coverage of the referendum we see most of the pathologies of the corporate media. Here, for instance, you will find the unfounded generalisations with which less enlightened souls are characterised. In the Spectator, Simon Heffer maintains that: “addicted to welfare … Scots embraced the something for nothing society”, objecting to the poll tax “because many of them felt that paying taxes ought to be the responsibility of someone else”.

Here is the condescension with which the dominant classes have always treated those they regard as inferior: their serfs, the poor, the Irish, Africans, anyone with whom they disagree. “What spoilt, selfish, childlike fools those Scots are … They simply don’t have a clue how lucky they are,” sneered Melanie Reid in the Times. Here is the chronic inability to distinguish between a cause and a person: the referendum is widely portrayed as a vote about Alex Salmond, who is then monstered beyond recognition (a Telegraph editorial compared him to Robert Mugabe).

The problem with the media is exemplified by Dominic Lawson’s column for the Daily Mail last week. He began with Scotland, comparing the “threat” of independence with that presented by Hitler (the article was helpfully illustrated with a picture of the Führer – unaccompanied, in this case, by the Mail’s former proprietor). Then he turned to the momentous issue of how he almost wrote something inaccurate about David Attenborough, which was narrowly averted because “as it happens, last weekend we had staying with us another of the BBC’s great figures, its world affairs editor John Simpson”, who happily corrected Lawson’s mistake. This was just as well because “the next day I went to the Royal Albert Hall as one of a small number of guests invited by the Proms director for that night’s performance. And who should I see as soon as I entered the little room set aside for our group’s pre-concert drinks? Sir David Attenborough.”

Those who are supposed to hold power to account live in a rarefied, self-referential world of power, circulating among people as exalted as themselves, the “small number of guests” who receive the most charming invitations. That a senior journalist at the BBC should be the house guest of a columnist for the Daily Mail surprises me not one iota.

In June the BBC’s economics editor, Robert Peston, complained that BBC news “is completely obsessed by the agenda set by newspapers … If we think the Mail and Telegraph will lead with this, we should. It’s part of the culture.” This might help to explain why the BBC has attracted so many complaints of bias in favour of the no campaign.

Living within their tiny circle of light, most senior journalists seem unable to comprehend a desire for change. If they notice it at all, they perceive it as a mortal threat, comparable perhaps to Hitler. They know as little of the lives of the 64 million inhabiting the outer darkness as they do of the Andaman islanders. Yet, lecturing the poor from under the wisteria, they claim to speak for the nation.

As John Harris reports in the Guardian, both north and south of the border “politics as usual suddenly seems so lost as to look completely absurd”. But to those within the circle, politics still begins and ends in Westminster. The opinions of no one beyond the gilded thousand with whom they associate is worthy of notice. Throughout the years I’ve spent working with protest movements and trying to bring neglected issues to light, one consistent theme has emerged: with a few notable exceptions, journalists are always among the last to twig that things have changed. It’s no wonder that the Scottish opinion polls took them by surprise.

One of the roles of the Guardian, which has no proprietor, is to represent the unrepresented – and it often does so to great effect. On Scottish independence I believe we have fallen short. Our leader on Saturday used the frames constructed by the rest of the press, inflating a couple of incidents into a “habit” by yes campaigners of “attacking the messenger and ignoring the message”, judging the long-term future of the nation by current SNP policy, confusing self-determination with nationalism.

If Westminster is locked into a paralysing neoliberal consensus it is partly because the corporate media, owned and staffed by its beneficiaries, demands it. Any party that challenges this worldview is ruthlessly disciplined. Any party that more noisily promotes corporate power is lauded and championed. Ukip, though it claims to be kicking against the establishment, owes much of its success to the corporate press.

For a moment, Rupert Murdoch appeared ready to offer one of his Faustian bargains to the Scottish National party: my papers for your soul. That offer now seems to have been withdrawn, as he has decided that Salmond’s SNP is “not talking about independence, but more welfarism, expensive greenery, etc and passing sovereignty to Brussels” and that it “must change course to prosper if he wins”. It’s not an observation, it’s a warning: if you win independence and pursue this agenda, my newspapers will destroy you.

Despite the rise of social media, the established media continues to define the scope of representative politics in Britain, to shape political demands and to punish and erase those who resist. It is one chamber of the corrupt heart of Britain, pumping fear, misinformation and hatred around the body politic.

That so many Scots, lambasted from all quarters as fools, frauds and ingrates, have refused to be bullied is itself a political triumph. If they vote for independence, they will do so in defiance not only of the Westminster consensus but also of its enforcers: the detached, complacent people who claim to speak on their behalf.


Revolutionary Eye:- Rather a disappointing piece from Monbiot in that he failed to address the misinformation and lies from Westminster.Perhaps that is a future column.
Surely there must be a propaganda unit inside the BBC.There has been many instances where rebuttals to the Yes Campaign stories or the polls has appeared suspiciously well-coordinated.Surely someone must be able to spill the dirt?

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