Australia: the new 51st state
By John Pilger
John Howard’s servility to the US is even greater than Tony Blair’s
and has earned him the nickname Bush’s deputy sheriff. The conspiracy
between Washington, the media and politicians is eroding the
In June this year, 26,000 US and Australian troops will take part in
bombarding the ancient fragile landscape of Australia. They will
storm the Great Barrier Reef, gun down “terrorists” and fire laser-
guided missiles at some of the most pristine wilderness on earth.
Stealth, B-1 and B-52 bombers (the latter alone each carry 30 tonnes
of bombs) will finish the job, along with a naval onslaught.
Underwater depth charges will explode where endangered species of
turtle breed. Nuclear submarines will discharge their high-level
sonar, which destroy the hearing of seals and other marine mammals.
Run via satellite from Australia and Hawaii, Operation Talisman Sabre
2007 is warfare by remote control, designed for “pre-emptive” attacks
on other countries. Australians know little about this. The
Australian parliament has not debated it; the media is not
interested. The result of a secret treaty signed by John Howard’s
government with the Bush administration in 2004, it includes the
establishment of a vast, new military base in Western Australia,
which will bring the total of known US bases around the world to 738.
No matter the setback in Iraq, the US military empire and its
ambitions are growing.
Australia is important because of a remarkable degree of servility
that Howard has taken beyond even that of Tony Blair. Once described
in the Sydney Bulletin as Bush’s “deputy sheriff”, Howard did not
demur when Bush, on hearing this, promoted him to “sheriff for south-
east Asia”. With Washington’s approval, he has sent Australian troops
and federal police to intervene in the Pacific island nations; in
2006, he effected “regime change” in East Timor, whose prime
minister, Mari Alkatiri, had the nerve to demand a proper share of
his country’s oil and gas resources. Indonesia’s repression in West
Papua, where American mining interests are described as “a great
prize”, is endorsed by Howard.
This sub-imperial role has a history. When the six Australian states
federated as a nation in 1901, “a Commonwealth . . . independent and
proud”, said the headlines, the Australian colonists made clear that
independence was the last thing they wanted. They wanted Mother
England to be more protective of her most distant colony which, they
pleaded, was threatened by a host of demons, not least the “Asiatic
hordes” who would fall down on them as if by the force of gravity.
“The whole performance,” wrote the historian Manning Clark, “stank in
the nostrils. Australians had once again grovelled before the
English. There were Fatman politicians who hungered for a foreign
title just as their wives hungered after a smile of recognition from
the Governor-General’s wife, who was said to be a most accomplished
Australia’s modern political class has the same hunger for the
recognition of great power. In the 1950s, prime minister Robert
Menzies allowed Britain to explode nuclear bombs in Australia,
sending clouds of radioactive material across populated areas.
Australians were told only the good news of being chosen for this
privilege. An RAF officer was threatened with prosecution after he
revealed that 400 to 500 Aborigines were in the target zones.
“Occasionally we would bring them in for decontamination,” he said.
“Other times, we just shooed them off like rabbits.” Blindness and
unexplained deaths followed. After 17 years in power, Menzies was
knighted by the Queen and made Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports.
An undeclared maxim of Australian politics is that prime ministers
become “statesmen” only when they serve imperial interests.
(Honourable exceptions have been dealt with by smear and subversion).
In the 1960s, Menzies connived to be “asked” to send Australian
troops to fight for the Americans in Vietnam. Red China was coming,
he said. Howard is more extreme; in his decade of power, he has
eroded the very basis of Australia’s social democratic institutions
and cast his country as the model of a Washington-style democracy,
where the only popular participation is that of voting every few
years for two “opposing” parties which share almost identical
economic, foreign and “cultural” policies.
For “cultural”, read race, which has always been important in
creating an insidious state of fear and compliance. In 2001, Howard
was re-elected after manipulating the “children overboard affair”, in
which his senior advisers claimed that Afghan refugees had callously
thrown their children into the sea in order to be rescued by an
Australian naval vessel. They produced photographs that were proven
false, but only after Howard had touched every xenophobic nerve in
the white electorate and was duly re-elected. The two officials who
brought the “crisis” to its fraudulent fever pitch were promoted
after one of them admitted that the deception had “helped” the prime
minister. In a more scandalous case, Howard claimed his defence
department had been unaware of another leaking, stricken boat filled
with Iraqi and Afghan refugees heading for Australia until after it
had sunk. An admiral later revealed this, too, was false; 353 people
were allowed to drown, including 146 children.
Above all, it is the control of dissent that has changed Australia.
Rupert Murdoch’s influence has been critical, far more so than in
Britain. Whenever Howard or one of his more oafish ministers want to
bend an institution or smear an opponent, they carry out the task in
alliance with a pack of rabid mostly Murdoch commentators. As Stuart
MacIntyre describes in a new book, Silencing Dissent, the Melbourne
Herald-Sun columnist, Andrew Bolt, conducted a campaign of ridicule
against the independent Australian Research Council which, he
claimed, had fallen into the hands of a “a club of scratch-my-back-
leftists” whose work was “hostile to our culture, history and
institutions”, as well as “peek-in-your-pants researchers fixated on
gender and race”. The then minister of education, Brendan Nelson,
vetoed one project grant after another without explanation.
The National Museum of Australia, the national child benefits centre,
Aboriginal policy bodies and other independent institutions have been
subjected to similar intimidation. A friend who holds a senior
university post told me: “You dare not speak out. You dare not oppose
the government or ‘the big end of town’ [corporate Australia].”
As embarrassing corporate crime rises, the treasurer, Peter Costello,
has blithely announced a ban on moral or ethical boycotts of certain
products. There was no debate; the media was simply told. One of
Costello’s senior advisers, David Gazard, recently distinguished an
American-run seminar in Melbourne, organised by the Public Relations
Institute of Australia, at which those paying A$595 were taught the
tricks of conflating activism with “terrorism” and “security threat”.
Suggestions included: “Call them suicide bombers . . . make them all
look like terrorists . . . tree-hugging, dope-smoking, bloody
university graduate, anti-progress . . .” They were advised on how to
set up bogus community groups and falsify statistics.
Schoolteachers who do not fly the flag or music concert organisers
who discourage the attendance of racist thugs wrapped in the flag are
at risk of a dose of Murdoch poison. Equally, if you reveal the shame
of Australia’s vassal role you are deemed “anti-Australian” and,
without irony, “anti-American”. Few Australians are aware that
Murdoch, who dominates the press, abandoned his own Australian
citizenship so that he could set up the Fox TV network in the US. The
University of Sydney is to open a United States Study Centre, backed
by Murdoch after he complained about the inability of Australians to
appreciate the benefits of the bloodbath in Iraq.
Having recently spoken at overflowing public meetings in Brisbane,
Sydney and Melbourne, I am left in no doubt that many are deeply
worried that freedoms in their sunny idyll are slipping away. They
were given a vivid reminder of this the other day when Vice President
Dick Cheney came to Sydney to “thank” Howard for his support. The New
South Wales state government rushed through a law that allowed
Cheney’s 70 secret service guards to carry live weapons. With the
police, they took over the centre of Sydney and closed the Harbour
Bridge and much of the historic Rocks area. Seventeen-vehicle
motorcades swept theatrically here and there, as if Howard was
boasting to Cheney: “Look at my control over this society; look at my
compliant country.” And yet his guest and mentor is a man who, having
refused to fight in Vietnam, has brought back torture and lied
incessantly about Iraq, who has made millions in stock options as his
Halliburton company profits from the carnage and who has vetoed peace
Almost every speech he gives includes a threat. By any measure of
international law, Cheney is a major war criminal, yet it was left to
a small, brave group of protesters to uphold the Aussie myth of
principled rebellion and stand up to the police. The Labor Party
leader, Kevin Rudd, the embodiment of compliance, called them
“violent ferals”; one of the protesters was 70 years old. The next
day, the headline in the Sydney Morning Herald read: “Terrorists have
ambitions of empire, says Cheney.” The irony was exquisite, if lost.
John Pilger’s bestselling history of Australia, “A Secret Country”,
is available through https://www.johnpilger.com
This article was first published at the New Statesman