Sunday, December 5, 2010


Kellie Tranter

Kellie Tranter

At this time of year we should spend a few minutes mulling over John Lennon's question:

And so this is Christmas.

And what have we done?

Political "spin" continues relentlessly, both nationally and internationally, the euphemism circumventing mendacity's moral turpitude. Apparently lying's politically and socially acceptable that way.

We continue grovelling to an international bully which speaks truthfully when behind our backs it describes our country as not "packing enough punch", and when "outed" says of itself: "….governments deal with the United States because it's in their interest, not because they like us, not because they trust us, and not because they believe we can keep secrets…" That makes us an accomplice but not an ally, and there is a difference.

It's thanks mainly to Julian Assange and Wikileaks that people around the world finally have a little insight into the brutality and venality of US foreign policy. Assanges' quest to let people all over the world know the truth and his refusal to stand mute in the face of duplicity and injustice deserve our praise. Moral courage of that calibre is rarely seen nowadays, and people need to know what is really happening and why. If he didn't publish these documents you can bet we would never have known the truths they contain.

Yet a concerted program of personal vilification and an international manhunt continues. After all, hell hath no fury like bruised, frustrated Capitol HillillHill and Wall Street egos. Do political leaders really believe that Assange is the only person on the planet who wants governments to be open, transparent and accountable? Do they think he's the only person who understands that our governments are almost pathologically incapable of telling the truth, or that they authorise the commission of despicable acts in our names behind hypocritical calls to freedom and democracy?

Now Assange, an Australian citizen, is calling home. And guess what response he gets? Prime Minister Gillard condemns him, Attorney General McClelland considers cancelling his passport and - surprise, surprise - Tony Abbott supports his prosecution. It looks strikingly similar to the good old "bipartisan support" that came out for the invasion and continuing destruction in Afghanistan and for the abandonment of David Hicks. Assange's thoughts of family and home are not unnatural when things seem to be closing in, so it's important that Australians know that "the real Julia" - the one who likes footy and mates and kids and the Aussie spirit of a fair go - will be answering the call from one Australian to another.

Next, the war we continue fighting to "bring democracy and peace" to the innocent and impoverished men, women and children of Afghanistan. Ten years to go. Will that occupy conversations around Australian Christmas tables this year? What about breaches of the Nuremberg Principles, the Geneva and Hague Conventions, the Geneva Protocol and numerous subsequent treaties, principles of distinction and proportionality and customary international law. What do you care? Please yourselves. Yeah, I'll pass the turkey.

Did you know that less than one in 10 Afghans were aware of the 9/11 attacks and their precipitation of the war in Afghanistan? An International Council on Security and Development (ICOS) survey showed 92 per cent had never heard of the events of September 11, but four in 10 Afghans believed the US is on their soil to "destroy Islam or occupy Afghanistan." Good job of winning the "hearts and minds"!

Back at home we've had another year of the privatisation of essential services, with the details hidden from the public - as usual - under the banner of "commercial in confidence". What rubbish is this, when taxpayers inevitably underwrite the deal, guaranteeing the "free marketeers" a sure profit or paying a fortune in "compensation" when the government does a backflip?

And good old Aussie entrepreneurship's still going strong. Unregulated water brokers drum up the idea of establishing a water tender. If the tender is successful who's the buyer going to be? A "good corporate citizen" promising to keep water and food prices affordable? I've been asked whether the Farmers Federation will have enough foresight to purchase the water for its members so farmers can keep growing food: I can only wonder, will they? And will they have enough money to win a bidding war?

Apart from leaving it to the market, good governance in Australia continues to involve scrapping successful services not generated from the belly of the political party of the day, removing the voice of those directly affected by political decisions, wastefully duplicating services because of lack of communication, irregular data collection and inadequate systems to support evidence based decision making and funding models that make organizations - even in the welfare sector - compete rather than work together. A particularly helpful model for society's most vulnerable? Anyway, isn't economic growth the answer to all of our problems?

Donella Meadows, a famous systems thinker, pointed out that:

…the new world trade system was explained to me. It is a system with rules designed by corporations, run by corporations, for the benefit of corporations. Its rules exclude almost any feedback from any other sector of society. Most of its meetings are closed even to the press (no information flow, no feedback). It forces nations into positive loops "racing to the bottom," competing with each other to weaken environmental and social safeguards in order to attract investment and trade. It's a recipe for unleashing "success to the successful" loops, until they generate enormous accumulations of power and huge centralized planning systems that will destroy themselves…

If we look around us, isn't that synopsis accurate?

We're full of self congratulation about our escape from the global financial crisis, but have we really sailed through? Have our governments and the "big four" banks made a full and frank disclosure of their contingent liabilities? All of them, I mean, including those flowing from off balance sheet transactions? Disclosing their full exposure in the derivatives market isn't a bad place for them to start, and that certainly isn't where the confessions should stop.

All in all it's hard to be much impressed by what we've done in 2010, and by what we haven't. Perhaps if society at all levels heeds what Lennon said - "Let's stop all the fight" - we'll be able to look forward to 2011 and "…hope it's a good one, Without any fear".

Kellie Tranter is a lawyer and writer.

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