Unf*cking Down Under: And the Long Arm of the Chicago School

Australian 60c postage stamp depicting a kangaroo laying on the beach. Image Description: Australian 60c postage stamp depicting a kangaroo laying on the beach.

Summary: The time has come to honor our Down Under F*ckers who have been supporting UNFTR since we launched. As we’ve done in prior shows about other countries, we attempt to explain the Australian political system, provide an overview of key issues and draw parallels between our experiences. Basically, a rough translation of Aussie politics for American listeners that only scratches the surface of this incredible nation. There’s an election coming up and several hot button issues facing the Australian people, so it’s a good time to level set on what’s up down under. Note to our beloved Down Under F*ckers: This will be hilariously rudimentary to you, but hopefully amusing enough to keep your attention. Now, piss off.

Warning. The content you’re about to consume was put together by a bruce who’s never set foot in Straya. Fuck me dead if he gets some things right. And good on ya if you do. It’s heaps of bloody work to understand how things go around here. Oh, and down under, the word “Tucker” means food, so don’t confuse it with that wanker from the idiot box in the states. Now. Piss off.

G'day, Unf*ckers.

Well, we’re finally here. Taking the show on the road again like we did with our Canada episode. Only today, we’re heading to the bottom of the globe to unpack the mysteries of down under politics and pay homage to our beloved Down Under F*ckers. And as it was with our Canadian episode, I want to state up front that no one show can ever do justice to the political history of an entire nation. Our goal is to learn a bit about the Australian system, dissect some of their most pressing issues and create a baseline of understanding about their government and beliefs. For Down Under F*ckers, it will no doubt be amusing to hear me try to Yank-splain their entire political system, but it’s worth a shot.

We’ll start with a brief history of the commonwealth, talk about Australia’s government structure and elections, give an overview of their territories and political parties and dig into their economy. There are a number of parallels between the American trajectory of political life and the ideas that have taken hold in Australia that are fascinating, frustrating and familiar so we’ll draw on some regular themes of the show to provide some context. As one might imagine, there are major issues facing Australia today. The COVID hangover, geopolitical consequences of the global trade disputes, strained relations with the First Nations people and harsh effects of climate change.

{A quick note about the term First Nations people. Some of the texts we rely upon, and much of our casual understanding of Australian history, uses the term Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, so we will try to be clear when it’s being used in text. Language in Australia, like many other colonized parts of the world, is evolving, so we’re using the Australian style manual as our guide and will be using First Nations people to describe native Australians, as they are ethnically, culturally and linguistically diverse.}

It’s estimated that, on the mainland of Australia alone, more than 250 languages were once spoken. Today, that number has decreased, and much of the aboriginal population has moved from the Outback, the interior parts of the country, to the coastal areas where individual languages have mixed with English. Most of the time, First Nations people are grouped together, so here’s a snippet from a video that does a better job of explaining the distinction between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people:

“As Indigenous peoples, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are mentioned a lot together and share similar cultural traits, but we’re both distinct from each other in many ways too. Originating from a group of about 274 small islands between Papua New Guinea and Cape York, Torres Strait Islanders speak Meriam Mer, Kala Lagaw Ya, and Torres Strait Creole languages. Out of all Australians who identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, we make up about six percent.”

So, again. As outsiders, when we reference these cultures, we’re going to group them together under the Aussie style guide as First Nations people going forward.

Aside from the fact that we’ve cultivated a healthy number of Australian listeners, it’s a really good time to be digging into Aussie politics because there’s an election coming up. It’s a parliamentary system, so the fate of current prime minister Scott Morrison depends upon the parliamentary results. And, as of right now, it doesn’t look good for Morrison. But we’ll get there. Then, of course, there is the recently announced AUKUS alliance between the U.S., UK and Australia as a bulwark against China’s global expansion.You might remember that AUKUS made headlines last year with the bait and switch of nuclear submarine purchases from France as supplier to the United States.

99: Perhaps the most pressing issue that looms over the nation is climate change.

That’s right. Australia is a bit of a bellwether when it comes to global warming and the past few years have been disastrous. Between wildfires and floods, the nation has been ravaged, so the conversation there is a bit more robust than it is in the United States, although the same diseased, anti-science thinking made it into the conservative consciousness and, as a result, policy making.

So get your unf*cking passport and visa ready as we head to the bottom of the map to unf*ck Australian politics and commune with our legion of Down Under F*ckers, who will undoubtedly have a lot to say about this episode and whether we got it right.

Welcome to Australia. People think we’re big because we’re at the bottom of the map, and it’s kind of an optical illusion. We’re only about the size of Rhode Island. Our only building is the opera house in Sydney, and only about a quarter of us even wear clothing. The average temperature year round is about 80 degrees Celsius, which is about a thousand degrees Fahrenheit, I believe. We have spiders the size of large recreational vehicles, commute to work on surfboards and can fetch a beer with a boomerang. Nicole Kidman is the prime minister. Russell Crowe is in charge of defense. Oh, and New Zealand isn’t a real place. We just made it up!

Chapter One

Aussie History 101

Alright. Let’s do this!

It’s estimated that Australian society is around 60,000 years old. The Dutch started poking their noses around it in the 1600s and, of course, named it New Holland because it must have reminded them sooo much of the Netherlands. But it wasn’t until the late 1700s that the Brits began to actively colonize the country. Not to be outdone by the Dutch, they decided to call it New South Wales. And, yes. It’s true that it was used as a penal colony by the Irish and British until 1868, with more than 150,000 convicts being banished to, um, paradise? I’m sure it didn’t seem that way to the convicts, of course.

At the turn of the 20th Century, settlements expanded rapidly, with the British occupying many coastal areas of the continent and pushing First Nations people further inland and destroying much of their heritage and culture along the way. As one does when you believe the world is yours to pillage and plunder.

According to the CIA World Factbook, systematic annihilation of First Nations people in Australia led to a decline in population from an estimated 700,000 before contact to a low of 74,000 in 1933.

The Brits began aggressive colonization with the discovery of gold in the 1850s, and one-by-one over the 19th Century, the modern colonies of Australia were established and ultimately drawn together into the commonwealth in 1901 under its own constitution, though still loyal to the crown. From The Parliamentary Education Office:

“Before 1901, Australia was not a nation, but rather six British colonies. These colonies were under the law-making power of the British Parliament. During the 1890s, representatives from the colonies met to discuss the idea of joining together to form a new nation. A written constitution was developed to set out the rules for how this new nation would work.”

The opening paragraph of The Parliamentary Government of the Commonwealth of Australia—a treatise on Australia’s founding that is in the creative commons now—talks about the founding of the federal government:

“There was no Damascus Road miracle about Australia’s federal conversion. It took 60 years of spasmodic official effort and fluctuating public interest to bring the Commonwealth into being. The final federal movement of the 1890s had been preceded by almost every kind of individual and group advocate of federal union which democratic colonial government afforded. British Colonial Secretaries and governors, colonial political leaders and public petitioners, inter-colonial conferences and parliamentary select committees, local demagogues and factions—all, by 1890, had at one time or another peddled the cause of union.”

So, although it was technically beholden to the crown and would ally through the 20th Century through today with British causes and rule, Australia developed its own political life and culture distinct from its rulers in the UK. Eventually, as it was in Canada, Australia formally separated from Britain in 1985 and was declared a sovereign and independent state, though the monarchy remains as a figurehead, and there’s an appointed governor that exceeds the role of any other ambassador to the country.

Chapter Two

Parliament, It’s Australian for Government

Let’s dig into the Aussie government structure a bit so we’re better equipped to understand the upcoming election and how shit works. I’ll try to draw as many parallels as I can, because I’m a stupid American that has to relate everything back to our culture.

First off, like the U.S., Australia is dominated by two major political parties. It’s not a two party system, per se, but might as well be because they have been so historically dominant. The first is the Labor Party, or NLP, headed today by a gentleman named Anthony Albanese, which is probably closer to the Democratic Party here in the states. Although, as you might have inferred from the name, it has a different relationship to labor, and that’s a very important distinction that we’re going to spend some time on in a bit.

The other major party is the Liberal Party, headed by Scott Morrison, the current prime minister. There are two sides to the Liberal Party that caucus together at the federal level, for lack of a better explanation. The National Party and the Liberal Party are distinct political parties at the regional and local level, but at the federal parliamentary level they’re ostensibly the same thing. They’re sometimes referred to as the Coalition Party, so you might hear these terms used interchangeably on national issues.

Now, to American ears, the term “liberal” is a misnomer because the Liberal Party, the National Party and Coalition is actually conservative. These are the Republicans of Australia. We talked about this in our ISMs and Libertarian episodes. For many in politics, especially where classical economic theory is concerned, the term “liberal” is typically associated with conservatism. It’s fucked. I know. But now you know that the liberals down under are conservative. Red is blue. Up is down. There you have it.

As it is in Canada, the minority party in parliament is called the Opposition. Sometimes, it’s referred to in Australia as “The Alternative Government.” The opposition is a creature of the house, by the way. Aussie’s have a bicameral legislature as well, so the opposition is always tethered to the House and not the Senate, though there can obviously be members of the opposition in the Senate. There are smaller parties that have played the spoiler role throughout history, though most of them are nowadays defunct. But there is a progressive party that is starting to gather some momentum called the Australian Greens.

In tightly contested elections, these smaller parties play a really important role because it means that one party or the other has to try and create an alliance with them to create a governing coalition and elect a prime minister. So, again. In a parliamentary system, the people elect their representatives and the majority party, or majority coalition in a tight race, installs the prime minister. To really understand the importance of the balance of power in a parliamentary system, let’s pull from Juice Media, the creators of Honest Government Ads to explain:

“A hung parliament is when you tell both major parties to get fucked, by ensuring that neither one of us wins the 76 seats required to form the next Australian government on our own. A hung parliament sounds like a bad thing, and that’s how we want you to think of it… A hung parliament means that to form government, we’ll be forced to negotiate with the “not-shit” MPs you elected to the Crossbench. The Crossbench is that group of seats at the bottom of the “U” that aren’t held by either one of us. It’s where democracy happens. (Eww) And in a well hung parliament, a not-shit Crossbench holds what’s called the balance of power. Which means that, in exchange for their support, those not-shit MPs will want us to adopt their not-shit policies like an anti-corruption commission, which we don’t want because we’re corrupt as fuck.”

By the way, we’ve played clips from Juice Media before. If you haven’t subscribed to their channel, please do. They’re the fucking best.

Anyway, there are 151 members in the Australian House of Representatives, which is one for each of their territorial electorates. For us, these would be congressional districts. They have to run elections a minimum of every three years, and it’s up to the prime minister to determine when, which is still one of the weirdest things to me about parliamentary elections. In the other house, there are 12 senators for each state, and two for each territory. We’ll get into these in the next section. These fuckers are elected every six years, half rotating every three, but only for the states because territory senators are elected for three years, but at the same time as the members of the House and half of the Senate, and elections are usually held at the same time as the House elections, but they don’t always have to be.

(If you understand that, then please email unftrpod@gmail.com and explain it to me.)

By the way, the Aussies vote by something called preferential or proportional voting, which is essentially what we call ranked choice. We talked about ranked choice in a previous episode. Essentially, you select the order of the candidates you prefer, and votes are thrown out and reapportioned when they don’t get enough to win and are thrown toward your next preference, and so on, until all the votes are cast and the ballots are spent.

Now, unlike America, the Prime Minister of Australia has no specified term limit. As long as they enjoy the support of parliament, they can remain in the position. Also, recall from our Canadian episode, that the provinces and territories up north have a good deal of legislative and economic autonomy. Same holds true for the states and territories in Australia. Both federal and state parliaments can make laws regarding education, health and taxation. Although, when the laws don’t agree in very specific areas, the federal legislation takes precedence.

So, that’s the Aussie system in a nutshell.

Chapter Three

Island. Country. Continent.

So let’s talk about where they’re from. There are six states and ten federal territories. Each has a level of self-governance and even some regional party affiliations. Regarding the territories, there are three internal territories and seven external, basically islands or groupings of islands on the coast of Australia. Let’s start with the states.

New South Wales (NSW) • The First State

Wine regions, quaint seaside villages and mountains, New South Wales has it all. Most know it by the capital of Sydney, the largest city in Australia. NSW is the most populous of the states, with a population of 7 million, and home to the financial district of the nation.

Queensland (QLD) • The Sunshine State

Known as the Sunshine State, Queensland possesses some of the greatest natural beauty on the planet, from the Daintree Rainforest and plentiful islands to the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland is a tourist paradise. If the coast and countryside isn’t your thing, there’s also cosmopolitan capital Brisbane, or as the Aussies call it, Brissie. Apart from the droves of tourists that find their way to this down under wonderland, about 4.5 million Aussies call Queensland home.

South Australia (SA) • The Festival State

Relax and chill in South Australia’s capital Adelaide, or explore the state’s many wineries and natural wonders, including Kangaroo Island. Sharing a border with every mainland state, it has a population of 1.5 million people and boasts a Mediterranean climate and is Australia’s first free state.

Victoria (Vic) • The Garden State

Victoria’s capital Melbourne has been voted “Most Liveable City” in the world multiple times due to its cultural diversity and thriving urban culture. It also boasts The Twelve Apostles National Park, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. With more than 5.5 million people, it also has more familiar seasons, with chilly winters and dry summers.

Western Australia (WA) • The Golden State

Capital Perth is one of the most geographically isolated cities in the world. Tucked inside Australia’s largest state on the west coast of the nation, you can find just about anything in Western Australia, from wine to surfing, parks to islands. With a population of just over 2 million people, it’s also the heart of the mining and petroleum industries, two of the primary drivers of the Australian economy.

Tasmania (Tas) • Island of Inspiration

Last, but not least, we have the island and state of Tasmania. Beaches, mountains, wilderness and rivers, Tasmania is home to nearly every natural wonder. Capital Hobart is a small city with only a little more than 200,000 residents that make up the bulk of the half a million people on the entire island.

So that’s it for the states. Outside of these main areas, we have the ten territories, starting with the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), which is home to the nation's capital of Canberra. It’s kind of like Washington, D.C. in that it’s located within New South Wales, but has its own independent government. When it couldn’t be decided whether Sydney or Melbourne would become the nation’s capital, a compromise resulted in the planning and creation of Canberra as the administrative home of the country. The entire territory has a population of 350,000.

To the north, there’s the Northern Territory known as the “Top End.” With only a quarter of a million inhabitants, the Top End is known for its sprawling national parks and canyons.

The last of the internal territories is Jervis Bay, a 40 sq. mile territory along the coast of New South Wales known for its iconic white sand beaches and gorgeous bay. And, yes. I put the size into miles, not kilometers, because we’re stupid.

The external territories are Ashmore and Cartier Islands, Christmas Island, the Cocos (or Keeling) Islands, the Coral Sea Islands, Heard and McDonald Islands, Norfolk Island and the Australian Antarctic Territory.

Chapter Four

Neoliberalism Creeps In

We’ve done the happy horseshit, and now it’s time to get down to some unf*cking and set the table to bring in our friends from Chicago. Yes, them. But first, let’s talk about what makes the Aussie economy tick.

Australia operates under a classic market economy system, with membership in the WTO and G20, and several other important bilateral agreements with Korea, Japan, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand and the United States, among others. In recent years, it put an even greater emphasis on expanding relations with Gulf and Asian states, most notably, China and India.

We’ll talk about how the nature of the internal economy has changed, particularly with respect to labor and inequality, but their market approach has greatly benefited their large natural resource industries, such as mining, energy and food. The Australian government and industry have been able to attract a significant amount of foreign investments into the country to help extract its abundance of reserves such as coal, iron, copper, gold, natural gas and uranus.

MANNY: Uranium.

That too. One such investment of national importance is the Gorgon Liquid Natural Gas Project, located in Western Australia in partnership with Chevron, to the tune of $54 billion and completed about five years ago. And there are three additional major projects on the drawing board that have drawn the ire of environmentalists.

Australian GDP growth has been relatively stable over the past couple of decades, with periodic surges and declines related to recessions. But, for the most part, the economy has been stable and productive, though in recent years growth has begun to cool off as export prices have begun to fall and expected demand in energy from Asia has grown less than anticipated. Just prior to the pandemic, growth was about 1.8%, which is subdued, but not terrible. Recent tensions with China and general economic fallout from the pandemic caused the economy to tank like all others in 2020, but 2021 saw a healthy rebound in GDP, a reduction in unemployment and, amazingly, they’ve been able to keep inflation largely under control with estimates being around 2.5% for 2022 and 2023.

While industry and agriculture make up about 30% of the Australian economy, with specialties ranging from sugar cane, wheat, beef and poultry to chemicals, steel and mining, it’s largely a service-based economy with a half a trillion dollar budget. In terms of trade, Asia is the largest export partner of the country, with 40% going to China and 15% to Japan. Likewise, Australia imports about 25% of goods from China and 7% from Japan, with the United States making up only about 12% total.

99: Is it time yet?

It certainly is, 99. It most certainly is.

So one of my primary resources for this episode is a fantastic book by Dominic Kelly called Political Troglodytes and Economic Lunatics. This phrase is attributed to former prime minister Bob Hawke, leader of the Labor Party, who served from 1983 until 1991. It came during a radio interview with Hawke where he was tearing into an organization called the H.R. Nicholls Society, the protagonist of our story from this point forward today.

One of the most crucial elements of Australian society, and I’m talking about the settlement class, not the First Nations people, is its historically labor centric and worker friendly ethos. Kelly quotes what he calls a comprehensive account of Australian politics by a writer named Paul Kelly, no relation, in the 1980s to illustrate the importance of industrial relations in the country since its founding. Here’s a excerpt:

“Arbitration was the greatest institutional monument to Australian egalitarianism and its quest for social order…However, during the 1980s, this industrial consensus collapsed, and the H.R. Nicholls Society was a key actor in the process of creative destruction that brought the consensus to an end.”

At its founding, the Commonwealth was faced with a structural challenge to determine how workers and industry would collaborate when it came to wages, rights and settling disputes. Essentially, the Constitution granted the federal government powers to make laws with respect to wage protections and arbitration, thereby taking that power away from not only the states, but from industry as well. The idea was to establish fair wages across the board, and it gave tremendous power to the unions and the working class. For 80 years, centralized wage fixation was the bond that held the working class together in Australia. Held together until the ideas of Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman began to infect the minds of industrialists, nativists and the wealthy who set about the same path as those in the United States, lagging about a decade behind.

The pivot came with the birth of the H.R. Nicholls Society, the one club that we’ll focus on more than others, though Kelly identifies several conservative organizations and think tanks that were established over the past several decades, because the sole purpose of H.R. Nicholls was to subjugate labor, deregulate industry and drive corporate profits all under the familiar refrain of free market capitalism.

They began by attacking union bosses, calling them corrupt and their leaders pigs. They issued reports, similar to the now familiar white papers of conservative and libertarian think tanks in the states like Heritage and Cato.

Their policy statements are rife with familiar language to Unf*ckers. It is the coded language of The Chicago Boys. Here’s an example:

“To support the reform of Australian industrial relations with the aim of promoting the rule of law in respect of employer and employee organizations alike, the right of individuals to contract freely for the supply and engagement of their labour by mutual agreement, and the necessity for labour relations to be conducted in such a way as to promote economic development in Australia.”

Serial Unf*ckers could give a master class in decoding this language by now. The rule of law. Always wrapping it in some sort of conservative rule framework for everyone’s security. The rights of individuals, which is a way to separate workers from unions to make their own choices. Economic development, as if giving more money to industrial owners promotes economic growth rather than working class success, taking the shape of the ultimate form of wealth redistribution only from the bottom up instead.

Societies such as H.R. Nicholls played an outsized role in shaping public opinion on issues of labor and wage controls, and its success came from a severe focus on chipping away at worker protections. Other think tanks and groups followed suit by narrowly focusing on key tenets of neoliberalism. Kelly identifies the other big players as the Samuel Griffith Society, designed to make Australia’s constitution more favorable to the wealthy industrialists, the Lavoisier Group, dedicated to climate science denial and the Bennelong Society, which aimed to turn back any gains made by First Nations people.

Other right wing groups over the years in Australia are Centre for Independent Studies, which was heavily influenced by the ideas of the Mont Pelerin Society, The Centre of Policy Studies, which took aim at deregulation of industry, The Crossroads Group, Society of Modest Members, Australian Lecture Foundation, Centre 2000, Australian Adam Smith Club and Council for National Interest.

Back to H.R. Nicholls, though. The two most influential figures behind H.R. and the neoliberal movement in general were Ray Evans and Hugh Morgan. I doubt any American has ever even heard of these assholes, but they’re as instrumental as anyone in undermining the protections of labor in Australia. Morgan was born in 1940 and was a highly educated executive who moved into the mining industry. As Kelly notes:

“Morgan had come to realise that industry could not simply sit back and hope that its good work would be appreciated. Businesspeople, it appeared to him, had to actively persuade the community in the same way their adversaries did.”

Morgan’s revelation was sort of a Powell Memo moment for the Aussies, one where it was just decided that business had enough and it was time to go on the offensive.

By his side for decades was the faithful Ray Evans, whom Kelly describes as sort of a “corporate theologian.” Born in 1939, Evans was responsible for most, if not all, of Morgan’s controversial stances and public speeches, writing more than 200 public addresses for front man Morgan. To get an idea of what kind of person Evans was, here’s an anecdote from the book:

“When Ray Evans was asked about the lack of women among the ‘pinstriped suits and greying heads’ at the $100-a-head launch of Arbitration in Contempt in 1986, his glib explanation was that ‘we did not think that people could afford to pay $200, so we did not invite wives.’”

Evans and Morgan didn’t have to guess at the best approach to promoting neoliberal ideas down under. Edwin Feulner, the president of the Heritage Foundation, visited Australia in the 80s to give the Aussie business class a primer in how to influence public opinion through think tanks and publications, and he found an all too willing audience already mesmerized from prior visits by Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, who extolled the virtues of free markets and the evils of wage controls and unions.

It was one thing to develop neoliberal policies, but like the conservative media in the states, the Aussies needed an outlet for their ideas. As Kelly states:

“Of particular note were the Institute of Public Affairs, Quadrant magazine and the Centre for Independent Studies, which played key roles in developing a new conservative political consensus that would come to dominate the Australian political landscape.”

Quadrant was of particular importance to H.R. Nicholls and the other single issue think tanks. Quadrant actually had deep roots in disinformation, as it was originally an extension of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, an international anti-communist group founded in the 1950s. Again, Kelly:

“In 1966, a New York Times investigation confirmed long-held suspicions that the Congress for Cultural Freedom had been secretly funded by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) since its inception.”

With the specter of communism dwindling on the world stage, Quadrant was free to shift focus over the years, but remained a stalwart of conservative thought. Or liberal thought, as it is down under. For years, Quadrant was run by a man named Robert Manne, who was a faithful conservative, until his fateful decision to publish a report called “Bringing Them Home” about First Nations child removal, similar to the forced removal of native children in the Americas. Because of his leniency toward native issues, Manne was replaced by a man named Paddy McGuinness, who could rightly be compared to Steve Bannon here in the states. His promise upon taking over was to “throw off the mawkish sentimentality which has become prevalent on a number of policy issues, most importantly on Aboriginal issues.”

Throughout the '80s and '90s, the Liberals would chip away at labor. It was never enough for Ray Evans and the H.R. Nicholls members. But then, in 2004, the right wing unexpectedly took control of the Senate and began planning the demise of labor. In May 2005, “Work Choices” was announced, the government’s scheme to radically overhaul the industrial relations system. According to Kelly:

“Protections that workers had enjoyed under existing legislation were to be stripped away, unions more heavily regulated, and the maligned Industrial Relations Commission sidelined in favour of a new Fair Pay Commission.”

By this time, the right had control of the house and the senate, and the historic protections for labor were legislated into oblivion. The neoliberal takeover appeared to be complete. But Work Choices would be short lived and replaced in just a couple short years by the Fair Work Act, which sought to correct what many came to view as a horrible affront to working class Australians.

Since then, H.R. Nicholls has greatly waned in influence, and there has been a pitched ideological battle. Tony Abbott briefly took control as prime minister but was ousted shortly thereafter by a more refined and less hardline Liberal Party member Malcom Turnbull, who resigned in 2018 and cleared the path for current dickhead in charge, Scott Morrison.

Nevertheless, the damage had been done, as labor has only been in charge six out of the last 25 years, with its influence diminished significantly due to the efforts of neoliberal assholes inspired by Hayek, trained by Friedman and sold by conservative media and the H.R. Nicholls think tank.

Chapter Five

Truth and Reconciliation

As we noted in our Canada episode, one of the greatest challenges today’s Anglo nations face is coming to terms with their violent pasts. And, like Canada, Australia is at a minimum having the conversation, unlike the United States. The similarities in experience between the First Nations peoples in Australia and those of the U.S. and Canada are horrifying and real.

And, like the U.S., Australia’s ruthless colonial violence extended to other parts of the world as well, notably with the “Kanakas,” a Hawaiian word for man. Between the 1860s and turn of the 20th Century, somewhere in the neighborhood of 60,000 Islanders were forcibly brought to Australia to labor in the fields and farms in Queensland and New South Wales. As it was among First Nations people, most of these men were brought against their will through forced removal.

In terms of the First Nations, there have been attempts over the years to reconcile the past through legislation, commissions, groups and movements. It wasn’t even until 1967 that First Nations People were granted citizenship in a nationwide referendum:

“The overwhelming yes vote was the culmination of a ten-year campaign by white and black Australians, led by the daughter of a South Sea Islander slave, Faith Bandler. At the time, it was widely hoped the referendum would also deliver something closer to equality for Aborigines, but after more than 100 years of deep inequality, Aborigines were also looking for justice.”

Today, First Nations people continue to battle for rights and justice under the Australian system, and election years always have a tendency to put justice on the ballot; though, with so many issues plaguing the Morrison administration, it’s unclear how much his coalition can move the needle and whether anyone even believes his government is capable of addressing them with any seriousness or empathy.

Like the reconciliation efforts underway in North America, one of the areas that advocates are making headway in is facing up to the reality of Australia’s brutal colonial past. Here are a few resources to show the ongoing research documenting the locations and histories of massacres that took place over centuries. The University of Newcastle has been at the forefront of documenting massacres across Eastern Australia and The Guardian has been compiling the work of this and other organizations to create a full interactive map. Newcastle researchers believe the figure to be in excess of 500 massacres of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people after contact.

Relations with First Nations people is just one of the issues that haunts the Morrison administration, as the nation continues to recover from wildfires and is currently under siege by flooding in several coastal areas. Because of its geography and location, Australia has been on the early receiving end of the brutal effects of climate change, a chilling premonition of what’s to come for most of the planet as we continue to lose the battle.

Mining and fossil fuel industries have dominated the political landscape since the likes of Ray Evans and Hugh Morgan began to infect the nation’s politics with an industry first, worker second, planet third and First Nation people last mentality.

Take, for example, the Great Barrier Reef, one of the most fragile and important ocean ecosystems in the world. Scientists believe that at least two thirds of the reef has been damaged in some way and that it should be protected at all costs. Yet, the Australian government lobbied the UN to keep it off the endangered list.

Accusations flew against former Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull, who was present in the room when a small Barrier Reef foundation with almost no capacity to actually manage a budget of significance was awarded almost $450 million dollars in a no bid contract. Not to be outdone, the Morrison government extended the small agency business benefits and grants during the pandemic. The agency was accused of being a slush fund because it seemed that literally no one, including the agency itself, understood why it was getting the money or what to do with it.

So, the foundation and the government said that it was to stake the agency with a substantial base of funds that would attract other donors and reach $800 million that could be invested. Except that according to The Guardian, “The foundation said it had raised $21.7 million in in-kind donations from research and project partners, about 6% of the total $357 million target.”

Then there’s a fella named Barnaby Joyce, the Deputy Prime Minister put in charge of managing droughts, even though he seems to believe climate change is all part of god’s plan. According to Joyce, he’s produced a bunch of reports for the prime minister about droughts. The only problem is, no one can seem to find them. Or how about Angus Taylor, the Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister—a real fucking title, his job is to reduce emissions—who got the Morrison government to set aside a billion dollars in funding for companies to help modernize and green the country’s grid. Except it was revealed that of the 12 projects selected, five were natural gas and one was a coal project.

These—very questionable at best, corrupt at worst—actions on managing climate initiatives have made the Morrison government look uncaring and out of touch. And, now that chickens are coming home to roost, Morrison is having trouble putting moments like this behind him:

Scott Morrison: “Mr. Speaker. Those officers have an ideological, pathological fear of coal. There’s no word for ‘coalaphobia’ officially, Mr. Speaker, but that’s the malady that afflicts those offices.”

That’s Morrison talking about coal in parliament before he was prime minister. A stance that surely hasn’t aged well. Being tone deaf and demonstrating a lack of empathy is kind of a hallmark of Morrison’s persona that follows him on the campaign trail and prompts interviewers to talk to him like this:

Karl Stefanovic: “Does it sometimes take you a while to get this through your thick head, the emotions of it all?”

P.M. Morrison: “No, I feel it and bleed like everybody else.”

Karl Stefanovic: “Do you?”

P.M. Morrison: “Of course I do.”

Karl Stefanovic: “How do you bleed?”

P.M. Morrison: “Well, I do it privately and I do it quietly in the arms of my wife and family.”

How do you bleed? Jesus Christ. That’s 60 fucking Minutes Australia. How do you bleed. I’ve pulled clips from Australian media before, and it never fails to make me laugh. The disdain they show for elected officials is fucking hilarious, and it’s totally normal. In fact, here’s a question at a press club event recently that still has Australians doubled over:

“I’ve been provided with a text message exchange between the former New South Wales Premiere and a current Liberal cabinet minister. In one, she describes you as ‘a horrible, horrible person,’ going on to say she did not trust you and you’re more concerned with politics than people. The minister is even more scathing, describing you as a ‘fraud and complete psycho.’ Does this exchange surprise you, and what do you think it tells us?”

We think Peter Doocy from Fox is tough on the White House here. Good lord.

Anyway, time is running out for Morrison, who has seen his poll numbers plummet over the past two years at the worst time possible for the Liberal majority.

Australians believe Morrison handled the Omicron outbreak poorly and think he’s a corporate and industry shill who lacks any understanding or empathy for working class people. All of which sets the stage for labor to come out ahead in the May election, and for Albanese to become the next prime minister.

Bringing it home

My big takeaway from immersing myself in this majestic faraway land down under is that New Zealand isn’t a real place. I just can’t believe it. But also, how the Aussies are… well… they’re just like us. Only funnier.

Like us, they sacked a previously undisturbed part of the world and nearly annihilated the local population, while extracting precious minerals and resources from the ground in our relentless pursuit of destroying the very planet that gives us life. That they’re just as susceptible to evil right wing propaganda and the beguiling ways of Uncle Fucknugget. It is, after all, the land that gave us Rupert Murdoch.

Unlike us, they actually have a rich history of protecting the working class. Subjugating labor is only a recent development, which should give some hope that it can be undone. Perhaps as soon as the next election. And, unlike us, they have the strength to own up to their homicidal past, even if no amount of truth or reconciliation can ever make up for two and a half centuries of atrocities.

Australia is home to great natural beauty and wonder. But our shared colonial past and U.S. exported ideas from the Chicago School bind us together in a pitiful club that is destroying what gives us life. That being said, I’m far more optimistic about their ability to speak truth to power, coalesce around the most important climate justice issues we face and to pursue justice initiatives that begin with understanding, and someday lead to healing. Perhaps that’s naive and based upon too small of a sample set of Down Under F*ckers who communicate with us. But, this much I know, whether it’s on the way to hell in a handbasket or to salvation through empathy and cooperation, our journey forward will be funnier and more fun with a few Aussies in the passenger seat.

Good luck to labor in May.

Climate justice and First Nations justice are the same.

Now go on, and piss off.

Here endeth the whatever this was.

Max is a basic, middle-aged white guy who developed his cultural tastes in the 80s (Miami Vice, NY Mets), became politically aware in the 90s (as a Republican), started actually thinking and writing in the 2000s (shifting left), became completely jaded in the 2010s (moving further left) and eventually decided to launch UNFTR in the 2020s (completely left).