Why Labor has to turn back the boats

The First Fleet in 1788 continue in a long tradition of "illegal immigration" by boat to Australia
The First Fleet in 1788 continue in a long tradition of “illegal immigration” by boat to Australia

A left-wing friend talking about Shorten’s boat turnback policy said Labor was making the same mistake when they rolled Kevin Rudd in 2010: not explaining to a bewildered electorate what they were doing and why they were doing it. What is it they feared and why, the person asked rhetorically, suspecting it would never be explained by those who voted with Shorten for the boat turnback policy. Shorten did explain yesterday why Labor was bringing in the policy though he didn’t explain his deepest fear. Were I a delegate it would have been a tough decision – but in the end I would have voted yes too, despite boat turnbacks being part of a vile and inhuman system.

What Shorten and Labor fear most in 2016 is defeat, despite leading the polls for most of the electoral cycle and despite Tony Abbott being our worst prime minister since the shambolic Gorton/MacMahon era. Abbott believes he can win again next year by talking up security and borders and playing to our worst fears. Most Australians believe the draconian border policy is either fine or not strong enough. The media hysteria of the real or imagined threat of terrorism is giving Australians nightmares while the issue of being “swamped” by Asians is as old as settler Australia itself.

The fear is subconscious and atavistic, and not helped by Australia’s failure to be honest about its own violent history. The country was settled by boat people at least 40,000 years ago and they dominated the continent until more “illegal immigrants” arrived in 1788 to start a new wave of conquest. The unspoken fear is a third wave of conquest is imminent and “white” Australia will be subsumed in an Asiatic and/or Islamic culture.

The governments of the day have played up mightily to those fears as has Murdoch’s media. “Turning back the boats” (even the Abbott government has admitted they can’t be stopped) is an acceptable slogan to keep the desperate at bay. Most Australian people see it as necessary regardless of the human consequences. The wars Australia fought in the Middle East have created much of the refugee tide but as long as they are hidden away overseas and cannot be humanised, they will always be suspects not victims.

The Coalition has won the information war by ending the flow of information. The ludicrous cliché “operational matters” covers a multitude of sins and allows the government to get away with any behaviour to meet its ends. Labor and the Greens are left screeching to an empty gallery. But while the Greens can afford to retain its policy purity, Labor cannot if it hopes to win government.

They need to change the conversation entirely and this policy decision yesterday allows them to do that. The coalition will run hard on borders and generate fear saying to the electorate that Labor can’t be trusted to protect the borders but they will find it harder to argue on specifics. Abbott will be reduced to touting suspicions not facts. His best hope is the Labor left sabotages Shorten’s policy.

This weekend’s debate means Labor can now argue on immigration policy, but with points of difference. Oversight of the detention centres, increasing the immigration intake, removing Temporary Protection Visas and releasing children from detention all play to Labor’s “human” side while allowing them to join the Liberals on the demonisation of “people smugglers”.

They will still be no-go areas of discussion and many ways in which the policy obscures rather than illuminates. What will happen to the people currently rotting in Nauru and Manus Island? Labor does not say, but neither do the Liberals. So it is not in either interest to open that discussion.

So while the left will appalled by Labor’s decision, it is realpolitik. If you want a coherent and humanitarian policy on immigration then vote for the Greens, however they will not form government in 2016. Labor has potentially neutralised this most damaging of matters and crucially, they did it in an open forum. The issue was far more toxic to them than climate change, despite Abbott’s past victories in that space. Abbott destroyed Rudd and Gillard’s environmental policy by labelling it a tax, but the electorate is slowly aware of a bigger problem coming if carbon emissions are not addressed. It is a problem the government does not wish to acknowledge. Abbott’s war against the benefits of solar and wind power is looking mean and vindictive.

Labor looks to fill the space left by Abbott, making another commitment yesterday to move to 50% renewable energy by 2050. More needs to be done, including a tangible plan on how to get to that target. Labor should win the next election with the current government looking out of touch, arrogant and untrustworthy. Abbott remains a deeply unpopular prime minister, though Shorten is not much better. The left will dislike him even more on the border backflip. Yet he showed in his carefully crafted borders speech yesterday he is more than a straw man. He remains the best hope of dragging Australia back to the middle ground carelessly voided by his opponent.

That Unhappy Race Part 8 – Horace Tozer accepts Meston’s Proposed System

Horace Tozer, Queensland Colonial Secretary in the 1890s.
Horace Tozer, Queensland Colonial Secretary in the 1890s.

Horace Tozer was another unlikely key figure in the fate of Queensland Aborigines, following his involvement in resolving Archibald Meston’s “Wild Australia tour” debacle. Born at Port Macquarie and educated in Newcastle and Sydney, the young Tozer went north to become an articled clerk in Brisbane, before being admitted to the bar. At Gympie he became a member of the mining court and invested in mines. Though elected as member for Wide Bay in 1871 he immediately stood aside by prior arrangement to allow H.E. King to take the seat in a by-election. Tozer became an authority on mining law and a Gympie alderman. He stood again for Wide Bay in 1888, this time holding the seat for 10 years.

Tozer joined the “Griffilwaith” government as Colonial Secretary in 1890 where Aboriginal affairs came under his remit. Busy putting down the shearers’ strike at Barcaldine, Tozer was slow to react when the manager of Glenormiston west of Boulia complained Purcell had kidnapped blacks from the station. Archibald Meston told Tozer they had let that mob free and instead obtained another group of blacks from the Northern Territory. With the blacks still stranded in Sydney, Meston vigorously defended his role saying he was left penniless calling it a “sad and disastrous termination of the tour”.

Tozer stepped in, agreeing for the Queensland Government to meet the cost of their return plus their food and accommodation debts in Sydney. When they returned, Meston changed his story about Purcell not kidnapping blacks. After interviewing them, Meston said the NT mob were “chained half the way from Boulia to Cloncurry and taken forcibly against their wishes”. Though Tozer turned down Meston’s request for an inquiry, he was becoming embroiled in indigenous issues with the people of Taroom threatening to shoot Aboriginal people over their consumption of opium in the town. Tozer urged the townsfolk to deal with the matter kindly.

Reports of opium addiction were reaching Brisbane from all quarters of the colony. Police and magistrates queried whether they could use the Poisons Act or confiscate pipes but Tozer said only fines could be imposed. In the far north, there were reports Aborigines were still being “hunted like dingoes” while in the Wide Bay region the press lamented “the abject and miserable condition of the blacks”. Like Meston, Tozer was slowly coming to the conclusion of bringing the blacks together in one spot to house the very old and very young and also those struggling for employment. However he believed local communities should pay for it and the Aborigines should be encouraged to work. “The duty is not upon the government but upon the people,” he wrote.

In 1895 Meston outlined his scheme to Tozer in an address he called “Queensland Aboriginals: Proposed System for their Improvement and Preservation”. Meston’s opening sentence outlined the problem while toadying to Tozer. “To you, Sir, a friend of the aboriginals, I submit this carefully considered plan for the improvement and preservation from extinction of that unhappy race.”  The address gathered all the ideas of the previous 60 years from GA Robinson in the 1830s to George Lukin in 1893 (who revived the idea of a Fraser Island mission). Meston’s addition was the concept of “preservation”. Tozer was impressed enough to print the document and distribute it to parliament.

Meston’s Proposed System said there were 200,000 Aboriginal people in Queensland at the start of white occupation now there was less than 30,000 heading towards “ultimate annihilation”. He noted the treaties of Pennsylvania and New Zealand and the lack of compensation for land in Australia. Religious missions had failed but now Queensland could preserve the Aboriginal people “in a manner to the eternal honour of herself and our common humanity”.

Meston’s system proposed complete isolation from the whites. The reserves must be at remote places, one in northern Queensland and another in the south, and would provide a pool of ready labour. They would be fed and young blacks would be taught agriculture, horsemanship, blacksmithing and other trades. No whites would be allowed on the reserve without permission.  Up to 5000 blacks would be brought to each reserve run by a “protector”, an honorary role to be filled by a “white gentleman”.

If this document seems ludicrous and racist today, Gordon Reid said it was a realistic and humanitarian statement when judged against the standards of the 1890s. Tozer and his fellow parliamentarians saw it as a way of solving the “Aboriginal problem” and avoiding the extinction most whites believed was the Aboriginal fate. Meston’s system accepted Aboriginal people as human beings whose customs and beliefs were worth saving, within the framework of the European economic system. The system was flawed as a solution imposed from above. Its authoritarianism would blight Queensland’s indigenous people for much of the 20th century. The reserves they created became Australian concentration camps.

See part 9.

See also, part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, and part 7.

Iran and the West: a tale of oil and Mohammad Mossadegh

Mohmmad,Mosaddegh2Iran’s nuclear deal has big ramifications for the county’s other major source of energy: oil. Iran has the fourth largest proven reserves of oil in the world but production has halved since 2011 when US and European sanctions began. Iran faces many challenges to double output back to two million barrels a day, not least with ageing infrastructure, but has a long oil history and was the first country in the Middle East to drill for oil in 1901. Iran also has a long history of western interference and if suspicious Americans look back in anger to the hostage drama of 1979, Iranians look back further to 1953 when America and Britain sabotaged their young democracy.

Iran was of massive interest to the Allied Powers in the Second World War and the site of one of the war’s most famous meetings. In December 1943 Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill met on a sunny Tehran morning to discuss how to divide the post-Nazi world. They pledged to work together “in war and the peace that will follow”. After the photographers searched their faces for smiles on the veranda, the three great men retired to a hall for a private conversation. Before they discussed weighty matters of empire, Roosevelt asked Churchill what became of Iran’s former Shah Reza, adding, “if I’m pronouncing it correctly”. Churchill told Roosevelt he became a Nazi and denied Britain and Russia the use of oil and a supplies railway. They invaded Iran in 1941 and Shah Reza was forced to abdicate to his son Mohamed Reza Pahlavi. The father moved to a comfortable life in Johannesburg where he died soon after the Tehran conference. Roosevelt’s question showed up US ignorance of Iranian affairs.

The choice of Tehran for the meeting was no accident. Iran had been zone of influence for Britain and Russia since a 1907 treaty shared the country’s spoils between them. The terms of the 1907 and 1941 conquests allowed Iranians to rule as long as they did not act against their powerful guests. An officially neutral Iran was of vital strategic importance to both. Roosevelt was happy to let the two fight it out over Iranian oil while the US maintained control of the bigger fields in Saudi Arabia.

The turmoil of the 1917 Russian revolution left Iran almost entirely a British colony. AIOC, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (nationalised by Churchill then corporatised as BP) was Britain’s main supplier of oil. Another Churchill decision, to convert the British Navy from coal to oil in 1913, saw AIOC become one of the world’s leading producers supplying Britain in two world wars. In 1947 it reported a profit of £40 million and gave the young Shah’s country just seven million. It reneged on a 1933 deal with his hard-nosed father to provide the workers with better pay, more schools, roads, telephones and job advancement. The young Shah was a playboy and had little interests in his people’s problems but as long as he kept control of the military, Britain didn’t care how badly his country fared.

Mohammad Mossadegh was less sanguine. He knew Iranians chafed bitterly about their abject poverty. Born in 1882, Mossadegh was a parliamentarian for over three decades, implacably opposed to foreign influence. In a wave of fervour, he was elected Prime Minister in 1951 with a mandate to throw AIOC out of Iran, reclaim the oil reserves and end British influence. Mossadegh was in his seventies and like Proust, did much of his business in bed. When he nationalised Anglo-Iranian, he became a national hero. Shortly after, Iran took control of the refinery.

The British were outraged. Labour prime minister Clement Attlee was conducting mass nationalisation of British assets but would not grant Iran the same licence. His government declared Mossadegh a thief and demanded the UN and World Court punish him. When neither supported Britain, they imposed an embargo that devastated the Iranian economy. Mossadegh was unmoved and said he “would rather be fried in Persian oil than make the slightest concession”. Mossadegh became a third world hero and delighted admirers when he ridiculed Britain at the World Court saying it was trying “to persuade world opinion that the lamb had devoured the wolf”.

Time Magazine made him their man of the year in 1951 saying he “put Scheherazade in the petroleum business and oiled the wheels of chaos”. They called him a “strange old wizard” in a region where, importantly, the US had no policy. Attlee warned President Truman not to interfere with the dealings of “an ally.” The US complied but would not support a British military invasion of Iran.

Events changed dramatically when Britain and the US both turned right in elections. In late 1951 the old warhorse Winston Churchill denounced Attlee in several speeches for failing to confront Mossadegh. Churchill said Attlee had betrayed “solemn undertakings” not to abandon Abadan. He saw the loss of Iranian oil as the loss of empire and considered Mossadegh “an elderly lunatic bent on wrecking his country and handing it over to the Communists.” Britain’s position toughened when Churchill won the election.

Truman was also up for re-election in 1952 but decided not to contest. As in Britain, a Second World War hero won and Dwight Eisenhower became the new Republican president. The Cold War was Eisenhower’s biggest focus and Iran was one of his first challenges. Britain played up to the new Washington regime claiming Iran was in crisis under Mossadegh and could easily fall to the Communist Party backed by Moscow.

Eisenhower’s team prepared to organise a coup in Iran. His former wartime chief-of-staff and now undersecretary of state General Walter Bedell Smith linked the campaign with the State Department and the CIA. At the head of these organisations were remarkable brothers. John Foster Dulles was a world-class international lawyer now Secretary of State while Allen Dulles ran the intelligence organisation. The brothers had a special interest in Iran and Allen went to Tehran in 1949 where he met the Shah and Mossadegh. The Dulles brothers were ideological warriors determined to prevent Communism in Iran.

Eisenhower gave implicit approval for Operation Ajax but presented a front of plausible deniability. Behind the scenes the two Dulles and Smith had authority to proceed. They appointed secret agent Kermit (Kim) Roosevelt, grandson of Theodore Roosevelt, to bring the coup together. Independently wealthy, Kim was a history professor at Harvard until he joined the newly established Office of Strategic Services in the war. His work in the OSS remains shrouded in mystery but he stayed on in peacetime when it was rebadged as the CIA.

Working from the US embassy in Tehran (which angry Iranians remembered in 1979) Roosevelt liaised with British counterparts in the Secret Intelligence Service – MI6. Iranian tribal leaders on the British payroll launched a short-lived uprising. Roosevelt met with anti-Mossadegh politicians and persuaded the Shah to sign a “firman” (a document of doubtful legality sacking the Prime Minister). By mid-August 1953 Roosevelt and his local agents were ready. He paid newspapers and religious leaders to scream for Mossadegh’s head and organised protests and riots turning the streets into battlegrounds.

At the last minute Operation Ajax failed. On August 15 an officer arrived at Mossadegh’s house to present the firman only to find he was tipped off in advance. The Shah fled the country while units loyal to Mossadegh surged through Tehran. But Roosevelt did not quit and three days later organised a second attempt. Again he launched a massive mob in the capital. Crucially Mossadegh did not call out the police to stop them. Armed units loyal to the Shah launched a gun-battle against Mossadegh’s supporters. The following morning Tehran Radio announced “the Government of Mossadegh has been defeated!”

Mossadegh was arrested and the Shah flew home from Italy in stunned triumph. The New York Times wrote “the sudden reversal was nothing more than a mutiny by the lower ranks against pro-Mossadegh officers”. Roosevelt was delighted. A day earlier he had been ordered home, now he was returning in triumph. Mossadegh was given a three year prison sentence. He served it until 1956 and was confined to home in Ahmad Abad until his death, aged 85, in 1967.

The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company tried to return to their old monopoly position after his overthrow. But the US invested too much in the coup to let that happen. They organised an international consortium to assume control of the oil. AOIC held 40 percent, five American companies held 40 percent and the remainder was split between Royal Dutch Shell and Compagnie Francaise de Petroles. The consortium agreed to split profits fifty-fifty with the Shah but never allowed Iranians to examine the books.

Though Mossadegh was a forbidden topic in Iran, new enemies emerged. By the late 1970s the Shah crushed all legitimate political parties and a religious force filled the void. When he was forced to flee the country in 1979 as a reviled tyrant, the first government to replace him was determined to invoke Mossadegh’s legacy. New Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan had been dispatched by Mossadegh to Abadan after the British fled in 1951. Another Mossadegh admirer Abolhassan Bani-Sadr was elected president. But behind the scenes Ayatollah Khomeini was consolidating power. Before long he arrested all his enemies. Mossadegh was defeated again in death.

The 1953 coup had profound impact on America. The CIA became a central part of foreign policy apparatus. While Roosevelt went home in quiet retirement, the Dulles brothers used the template to overthrow rulers such as Arbenz in Guatemala (1954) and Allende in Chile (1973). The incident also changed how Iranians viewed the US. Before 1953, Britain was the rapacious and greedy enemy. Now the US was the sinister party, manipulating in the background. The 1979 embassy hostage was a direct result of Carter’s decision to allow the Shah into America. But the crisis lasted 14 months because of the earlier distrust.

This week’s nuclear deal between the countries won’t immediately heal half a century of hurt. But it is crucial it is ratified despite hardliners in both countries. The bleatings of Israel should be ignored – with its own nuclear arsenal Israel can look after itself no matter what happens in Iran. Mohammad Mossadegh offered a template of what Iran might have been, had the west not been blinkered by its own suspicions. Now is the time to make good on his legacy and bring Iran in from the cold.

Unhappy fourth birthday for South Sudan

Children at a protection of civilians site in Juba, South Sudan, run by the UN Mission, perform at a special cultural event in March 2015. UN Photo/JC McIlwaine
Children at a civilians protection site in Juba, South Sudan, run by the UN Mission, perform at a cultural event in March 2015. UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

UN’s Secretary-General has called on South Sudan’s president and vice president to come to the negotiating table as the war-torn country celebrates an unhappy fourth birthday.  Ban Ki-Moon released a statement on the birthday eve last week where he spoke of a country where hope was in short supply after a civil war that has gone on for 18 months wreaking havoc of “unconscionable levels of violence and unspeakable sexual abuse”. The Secretary-General said more than 1.6 million people have been displaced, including over 150,000 seeking refuge with the UN. “Some 4.6 million face severe food insecurity and over 600,000 have been forced to flee into neighbouring countries,” he said.

Ban called on president Salva Kiir and his former vice president Riek Machar to find a political solution to end the war. The war in South Sudan began in December 2013 as political in-fighting between Kiir and Machar. Kiir unleashed his troops on Machar’s forces after Kiir claimed Machar had launched a coup against him.  Though the pair had fought together against Khartoum in the war of liberation against Sudan, Kiir reminded his audience that Machar had broken away from the main guerrilla army in 1991 and was now doing so again.

Hostilities quickly turned into fully-fledged conflict, resulting in atrocities and possible war crimes. Almost 50,000 people have been killed in what has developed into ethnic conflict between Dinka and Nuer groups. Sexual violence is out of control while 12,000 children have been forced to become child soldiers. The UN estimates three-quarters of a million people have fled into Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan while another 1.5 million remain internally displaced, many ending up in overcrowded “protection-of-civilians” sites run by the UN’s Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).

Yet organisations like Human Rights Watch have been critical of the UN for the failure of its Human Rights Council to appoint a special rapporteur to focus on South Sudan. It says the Council needs to to urgently create a robust mechanism to create accountability for South Sudan and put leaders on notice they would be charged for war crimes. However a US/UK proposal to create the rapporteur position was trumped by an African proposal which, HRW says, is just another “fact-finding mission”.

In any case, Kiir has rejected as “misguided” what little sanctions the UN has in place. On July 2 the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions on six military generals, three from Kiir’s government and three from Machar’s faction. The sanctions included travel bans and freezing of assets. Kiir claimed the sanctions would obstruct the peace process but at the same time justified continued attacks on Machar’s forces. “A sovereign nation, we are tasked with the greatest rights, protecting our people and our land as we are committed to filling that right in pursuit of justice for our nation,” Kiir’s spokesperson said.

An editorial in the Guardian this week says the state of South Sudan was misconceived and its constitution was troubling. “The army swelled, without unified command, and the ruling party remained unreformed from the days of revolution. It had little to offer the people,” the paper said. “Society is now bitterly divided, even between communities still at peace.”

The failure of South Sudan is a personal failure for the US. Former president George W Bush had a particular interest seeing the nation as Christian (and oil-rich) bulwark to the Muslim state of Sudan.  Though Obama was less obsessed, his Secretary of State John Kerry played a big role in fast-tracking independence and helped “midwife the birth of this new nation”.  But in 2011 the new nation had virtually no civil institutions, only 120 doctors for a population of nine million, and just over 50km of paved roads in a territory the size of France. It was also landlocked, ethnically diverse, and entirely dependent on oil revenue.

Four years later and 18 months into interminable conflict, matters have only worsened with staggering inflation, declining oil production and plummeting world prices. Al Jazeera said a water company, one of the few manufacturing businesses operating in the country, had to shut down in December unable to cope with the deteriorating business environment. The company’s owner said they couldn’t access the hard currency to pay for the imports needed for their operations. South Sudan ranks fifth worst on the world’s corruption index and the only way to trade dollars is on the black market. The country’s only hope is a lasting peace deal but it is hard to see that happening while Kiir and Machar maintain their appetite for a proxy war.

That Unhappy Race Part 7 – ‘The sacred ibis’ Archibald Meston

The Sacred Ibis: Archibald Meston
The Sacred Ibis: Archibald Meston

Archibald Meston was born in Aberdeenshire in 1851. Aged eight, his family moved to NSW to follow Meston’s older brother who grew crops at Ulmarra on the Clarence River. They switched to sugar cane in 1863 and Archibald helped out on the farm while learning the language and culture of Aboriginal groups. As a young man, Meston was a constant traveller working in canefields and learning Aboriginal vocabularies. He married Frances Prowse Shaw in 1871 and son Harold was born three years later. By then Archibald was manager at Pearlwell sugar plantation at St Lucia, Brisbane and a correspondent to the Queenslander newspaper under the pen-name Ramrod.

A year later the Ipswich Observer appointed him editor. He campaigned for small farmers and against Pacific Island workers in the sugar industry. By 1878 aged 27, he was well known enough to easily win the seat of Rosewood in the Queensland election, on the vote of German small farmers. Meston’s supporters celebrated the victory with a parade from One Mile Bridge to the centre of Ipswich where the streets were lined with flags.

In parliament Meston was ambitious, dashing and irrepressible. He was immediately made Liberal party whip and considered Premier material. Political opponent Boyd Dunlop Morehead gave Meston the nickname that stuck. Morehead believed Australia should be an exclusive British colony and attacked German immigrants as communists and socialists. Meston strongly defended his constituents in parliament. He noted the Teutonic influence on the British race in a speech littered with classical allusions including the ibis and crocodile sacred to ancient Egyptians. Morehead was grudgingly impressed with Meston’s defence and later told him he was the reincarnation of the Sacred Ibis whose plumage symbolised the light of the sun. Meston liked it so much, the Sacred Ibis replaced Ramrod as his pen-name.

Meston’s political ambitions were undone after a defamation action against German-Australian newspaper the Nord Australische Zeitung. Meston was a supporter of Premier Thomas McIlwraith. McIlwraith was investigated for corruption after he handed a lucrative railway contract to Steel Rails which he held shares in, but a Royal Commission cleared him of personal blame. Meston voted to accept the Royal Commission verdict, a decision the Zeitung asserted was “bought”. A furious Meston took the German paper to court but lost, and worse, he lost favour with his German constituents in Rosewood. At the next election the Zeitung’s editor Jean Baptiste Isambert defeated him.

Out of parliament and made insolvent by the court case, Meston edited the Observer until forced out by a syndicate of new owners including McIlwraith and Morehead. In 1882 he moved north to become editor of the Townsville Herald, and then to Cairns where he managed a sugar cane plantation and became a councillor. Meston pushed to make Cairns the northern terminus of the railway to the mining fields. He also established a reputation as an expert on Queensland Aborigines.

This was a surprise to those that knew the Sacred Ibis in Ipswich and Brisbane, despite the linguistic interests of his teen years. The Observer made little mention of Aborigines except to justify a revenge attack by whites up north. He was also reputed to have shot indigenous people during his canefield days to prevent attacks on local plantations. But by the 1890s, Meston considered himself an accomplished bushman and empathised with Aboriginal bushcraft in prolific writings. In 1889 he led a scientific expedition to the Bellenden Ker Range and gave an ethnological description of local tribes.

Meston mouthed conventional wisdoms of indigenous culture with wild assertions about cannibalism and depictions of the blacks as “savages”. He admitted to white brutality and unscrupulous behaviour but his Social Darwinism prevented him from seeing a solution. “The Australian blacks,” he wrote in 1889, “are moving rapidly on into the eternal darkness in which all savages and inferior races are destined to disappear.”

Within a few years, Meston changed his mind and began a campaign to protect and preserve Queensland’s native people. His desire to help while treating blacks with contempt, mirrored the paradox of Queensland society which grappled with its conscience on how to deal with a troublesome yet untouchable people. Meston’s campaign dominated the remaining 30 years of his life. He was a regular contributor to Brisbane and Sydney newspapers. He became an implacable opponent of the native police calling them “slaughterers” capable of “systematic outrage.”

In 1891 his reputation as an Aboriginal sympathiser took a hit with an extraordinarily ill-advised business venture. Meston assembled a troupe of indigenous people for a world tour called Wild Australia. Business partner Brabazon Purcell gathered Aboriginal people from far western Queensland, the Torres Strait and NT and took them on tour of the capital cities with “a large number of curios and weapons”. In Melbourne the tour ran into trouble as the number of Aborigines and curios did not match the advertised amount leaving Meston with unpaid debts. He “bolted” after a warrant, leaving the troupe with Purcell. When Purcell arranged a departure for England, the Queensland Government objected saying the blacks had been kidnapped and demanded their return. Purcell disappeared leaving the blacks stranded in Sydney, and the Queensland Government agreed to pay for their return.

The man behind the government’s action was colonial secretary Horace Tozer, and an embarrassed Meston was forever grateful to his support. Meston initially backed Purcell but now claimed the blacks were taken from Boulia without consent. Tozer rejected a Meston request to conduct an investigation but it became a public issue. The press found a letter Purcell wrote to Meston which spoke of an opportunity to “investigate the vile and degrading temperament of whites in western Queensland”. Meston’s eventual solution was not to do anything about the whites, but to remove the blacks.

See part 8.

See also, part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5 and part 6.

The Black and Tans: British police and Auxiliaries in the Irish War of Independence

This photo of Black and Tans interrogating a Sinn Fein suspect was on the cover of DM Leeson's book.  Photograph: Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis
This photo of Black and Tans interrogating a Sinn Fein suspect was on the cover of DM Leeson’s book. Photograph: Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis

Anyone familiar with 20th century Irish history knows the notorious reputation of the Black and Tans, the British paramilitary organisation which fought against the IRA in Ireland’s War of Independence (1920-1921). The British Government equipped them as soldiers but pretended they were police so they could continue the charade there was no war in Ireland. Their distinctive uniform (dark police green mixed with army khaki) blurred the line between police and military and gave them their evocative nickname. Irish historians painted the Tans as a violent, thuggish and murderous organisation whose members emptied British prisons before running riot in Ireland. However a book The Black and Tans by Canadian historian David Leeson questions this narrative.

Between 1920 and 1921, 10,000 British men, mostly First World War veterans, enlisted in the Royal Irish Constabulary. A second group of former war officers joined a temporary force called the Auxiliary Division (ADRIC). The Black and Tans were garrison troops defending strongpoints while the Auxiliary Division were mobile and offensive. Both the Tans and Auxiliaries quickly became known for undisciplined violence and their tactic of widespread reprisals which earned comparisons with other notorious paramilitary organisations such as Turkish bashi-bazouks and German Freikorps.

Leeson’s villains however are not the soldiers pretending to be policemen but their bumbling paymasters in London, the British Government – the “two-headed ass” of David Low’s cartoons. Prime Minister David Lloyd George insisted Ireland’s problem was a policing one. Despite being a Liberal, his Coalition was dominated by Conservatives and Unionists with little sympathy for Irish nationalism and could only offer, in Leeson’s words, “limited repression with limited concessions”.

Irish policy was the bane of British governments and Gladstone lost power twice over the Home Rule bill in 1886 and 1893. Tory and post-Gladstone Liberal governments showed no appetite to reintroduce Home Rule, but the Irish Party kept up the pressure and regained the balance of power after the second election of 1910.

A Home Rule bill finally passed the House of Commons in 1912 and the House of Lords could only delay it to 1914. Northern Irish Protestants demanded Ulster’s exclusion from the bill and civil war seemed inevitable until the First World War pushed the issue to one side. The republican Easter rising of 1916 had little support but the Irish public was dismayed by the heavy-handed British response. Opinions hardened on Catholic and Protestant sides with Sinn Fein and Unionists dominating the 1918 election in Ireland. Herbert Asquith’s Liberals were also crushed; Lloyd George’s Coalition Unionists won 478 out of 707 seats. Lloyd George wouldn’t consider Ireland while the Paris peace negotiations went on in 1919 but Irish MPs refused to sit in Westminster. Rebels began a campaign against Irish police, killing 15 by year end.

The undeclared war escalated in 1920 as the army arrested Irish leaders. Lloyd George introduced a new bill splitting Ireland into two parliaments (a partition model later used in India). The rebels intensified their campaign and Dublin Castle released republican hunger-striking prisoners in an appeasement gesture. It didn’t work and police casualties increased; 28 died between April and June, 55 between July and September. Boycotts and strikes made Ireland ungovernable. Republicans built an alternative state holding their own courts, as the British system of assizes failed.

Police were demoralised and Dublin Castle asked for military intervention, saying only martial law or an agreement with Sinn Fein could end the crisis. Conservative and Unionist members of cabinet could not negotiate with the “murder gang” because, as Arthur Balfour wrote, “the disgrace would deepen to infamy”. Despite misgivings of Dublin officials the hawks prevailed and Sinn Fein was declared a criminal organisation. Parliament passed the Restoration of Order in Ireland bill, Lloyd George saying Ireland had to “sacrifice extravagant demands and too extravagant ideas.”

Responsibility for keeping the Irish in check lay with the Irish Constabulary who policed all of Ireland except Dublin (which had the Dublin Metropolitan Police). It earned the name Royal for its part suppressing the Fenian uprising of 1867. It had a force of 10,000 men, all Irish and mostly Catholic. It was armed and with ordinary crime rare in Ireland, its crucial role was political surveillance. Unlike the more neutral DMP, the RIC were hated by Republicans who called them England’s Janissaries, “a force of traitors and spies”. When the War of Independence started, many quit the RIC angered at being forced to act as soldiers. Facing a manpower crisis, government minister Walter Long suggested some of the 167,000 British ex-servicemen receiving unemployment benefits might fit the gap. Their criminal reputation was undeserved. Leeson found most were discharged with honour from the army and few had criminal records. The first Black and Tans arrived in Ireland in January 1920. A shortage of police clothing led to their mixed costumes which attracted great attention as they marched to their barracks.

Recruiting was slow but picked up with a substantial pay rise in June 1920. Numbers took off after September 1920 when police sacked the county Dublin town of Balbriggan. The sack was discussed in parliament and made national headlines and cinema reels. Despite the notoriety, the publicity alerted many ex-servicemen about employment with the RIC. The pay was good but conditions were hard and dangerous and Irish police shunned and resented them.

Police had no love for ADRIC either. Auxiliaries were officially temporary cadets but paid as sergeants, a rank it took decades for Irish constabulary to reach. The division was Churchill’s idea to raise a “special emergency gendarmerie” of war veterans enlisted for one year. ADRIC leader Major General Henry Tudor said their role was to “crush the present campaign of outrage” using military tribunals, deporting prisoners, collective punishment and “a special penalty of flogging imposed for the cutting of girls’ hair and outrages against women”. ADRIC became known as Tudor’s Toughs and remained a separate force spending much of their time conducting raids, earning a more fearsome reputation than the Tans. When faced with resistance they lost restraint and committed atrocities which seemed to crush the IRA but in the longer term hardened republican resolve and turned the Irish against them.

As the struggle intensified, Ireland descended into a reign of terror. The guerrillas resorted to ambush and assassination which the Tans and Auxiliaries met with group reprisals and murder. Suspects and prisoners were summarily executed, homes and shops of IRA volunteer families and supporters were burned. In the 1921 summer an election was held according to the Government of Ireland Act for the House of Commons of southern Ireland (a separate election was held in the north). Republicans triumphed with Sinn Fein treating it as an election for a new revolutionary parliament. When elected members refused to take their seats in a House of Commons, London threatened to govern Ireland as a crown colony. On June 21, Lord Chancellor Birkenhead finally admitted Britain was at war in Ireland – a war it was determined to win.

The war was unpopular in England. King George V made a conciliatory speech opening Belfast’s new parliament which was welcomed in Britain and Ireland. When republican leader de Valera indicated he might compromise, and with many of the hard-line Unionists finally out of cabinet, Lloyd George was persuaded to negotiate. A truce was arranged on July 8 coming into force three days later. The Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 6 kept Ulster separate and Ireland within the realm but Britain conceded the dominion status it fought resolutely against 12 months earlier.

While Ireland descended into its self-inflicted horror of the Civil War, the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries went home to England (there were very few Scottish or Welsh in either force). Both forces entered the infamy of Irish history but they consisted of mostly ordinary men. The Auxiliaries behaved worse, but this Leeson says, was merely a privilege of rank. Their cruelties were overlooked by the British government anxious to pretend the insurgency was “a policeman’s job”.

Leeson compares how the British in Ireland behaved with Brazilian death squads of the 1964-1985 period. “Violence workers” were ordinary people trained to confine their violence against known or suspected enemies. However the margin of tolerated illegality was wide and helped insulate them from the impact of their crimes. Leeson says during the war Ireland was transformed into “a looking-glass world of crimes without criminals, police without laws, trials without judges or juries and sentences without appeal.” Lloyd George’s government must take most of the blame for turning Ireland, at least temporarily, into Devil’s Island.

That Unhappy Race Part 6: The Empty Years

Premier Thomas McIlwraith brought Queensland out of depression in the 1880s but he had no interest in Indigenous affairs.
Premier Thomas McIlwraith brought Queensland out of depression in the 1880s but he had no interest in Indigenous affairs.

After the failure of the Drew and Hale Commissions, Queensland Aboriginal policy in 1880s drifted into what Gordon Reid in That Unhappy Race called the empty years. Scottish-born premier Thomas McIlwraith’s cut government costs and then pushed economic development when conditions improved. Aboriginal affairs would have drifted out of public consciousness but for one man: editor-in-chief and part of owner of the Brisbane Courier and the Queenslander, Gresley Lukin.

Lukin wrote a stinging editorial in the Queenslander on May 1, 1880 calling for reform in response to a letter from Cooktown about the brutal war in the north. Headed “The way we civilise” Lukin said Aboriginal people in new territories were treated no better than wild animals. “Their goods are taken, their children forcibly stolen, their women carried away, entirely at the caprice of white men, and all at the butt of a rifle,” he said. Lukin said those who committed outrages were protected by the majority under a code of silence, while the government looked the other way. When blacks retaliated, they were “dispersed” by native police, a euphemism that meant “wholesale massacre”.

Lukin wrote more editorials in the same vein urging the replacement of the native police with a white force assisted by black trackers. He rebuked frontier journals for encouraging murder of Aboriginals. But Lukin’s pleas went unanswered. At Battle Mountain near Cloncurry the Native Police defeated the Kalkadoon people, while in Brisbane McIlwraith was unmoved. Each show of European superiority confirmed the attitude of powerbrokers the Aboriginal people were doomed to extinction.

The election of Samuel Griffith as Liberal premier in November 1883 offered hope of change. His government introduced legislation to protect Aboriginals and New Guineans exploited on ships in Queensland waters. However the bill was watered down in parliament and the abuses and kidnapping continued. Griffith’s Minister for Lands Charles Dutton established a new Aboriginal reserve, a Lutheran mission at Cape Bedford (Hopevale, the homeland of Noel Pearson).

Nearby Aboriginal people were ravaged by goldmining at Cooktown though the rough terrain meant they offered stiff resistance to the native police. They were brought in by hunger and the loss of traditional lands. To placate them, the settlers and the government offered rations. This peace through food plan was successful and Griffiths took notice. In 1885 he asked his police commissioner to report on the possibility of replacing the native police with a white force and he gradually rolled out a new system across the north. By the early 1890s this was government policy, keeping the blacks quiet and in places they could be watched. However a new problem added to the need for further control: opium.

One of the earliest to notice was Surat settler EH Smith who was “most shocked at witnessing the effects of opium on the ‘niggers’.” Smith said opium was everywhere with Chinese people in Roma supplying the drug at immense profit. A Rockhampton settler said an Aboriginal woman visiting Cooktown “learned the use of it” and spread it to her countrypeople, where it was endemic. “They formerly bought flour, tea, tobacco, red handkerchiefs and now the sale is entirely stopped for opium,” he wrote. Stations paid Aboriginal workers in opium and if supply was bad in some areas, the entire population moved on to other areas. A police inspector said the addiction did not lead to crime but “they lose all their animal spirits and become lethargic in their nature and disposition”.

Opium addiction had become another thing Indigenous people had suffered at the hands of the white intruder in two decades of Queensland settlement, following malnutrition, disease, dispossession, abuse and violence. In the white community the opium problem fed paranoid suspicions about Chinese influence increasing public pressure to take action. The stage was set in the 1890s for one man with political will to come up with a workable plan. That man was Archibald Meston.

See part 7.

See also, part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4 and part 5.

Vote Ochi – a Grexit foretold

grexitOn Sunday Greece takes a historic vote on whether to accept an EU bailout. It is important not because of its knock-on impact to the world economy which will easily recover any losses (markets work on sentiment and sentiment is unfaithful and forgetful). It is important because Greece is offering a template to take genuine power from the technocrats and hand it back to the people – appropriately in the country where democracy was invented. The referendum execution is leaving much to be desired but the intention is clear and a worry for politicians across the world who believe voters cannot be trusted to make the right decision in complex matters.

Greece’s referendum is certainly complex. As I write on Saturday morning Australian time – less than 48 hours from when polls open – the exact question voters are deciding on remains obscure while a constitutional challenge to the referendum was not defeated until yesterday. That gives only a day to get millions of ballot papers out to every part of the remote countryside and all the islands. If that sounds like a fiasco in the making it probably is, nevertheless the need for a speedy resolution is real and the Greeks themselves fully understand what is at stake.

The question is hard, but the answer is simple, yes or no. The discussion that has gone for weeks across Greece is based on these binary opposites. The “yes” vote (confusingly to western ears “né”) is a vote to accept the continued medicine of years of austerity and low growth. It is “the devil you know” and an easy choice to ensure more years of what Greece has endured since 2009 within the euro. The yes vote is supported by most Greek centrist political parties, the business community and Greece’s EU partners.

The no vote (transliterated as “ochi” or “oxi”) is more a leap into the unknown. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has hitched his Syriza government to ochi, demanding the forgiveness of a third of Greece’s massive debt and delayed payment on the rest. Syriza came from nowhere in 2014 to win government because they could articulately plot a future that extricated Greece from the problem – foreign debts decades of austerity would not clear. One early joke was Syriza would counterclaim Germany for $250 billion of Second World War reparations to Greece.

Tsipras’s bargaining chip was simple: give us relief or we stop paying. The ultimate action in this game of bluff is creditors would throw Greece out of the euro zone, which Syriza claims it does not want to happen. Yet this is the path “ochi” takes us on, which the people know regardless of how Tsipras frames the question. The prime minister has complicated his gambit by increasing the stakes. Syriza has pledged its future on the people voting no on Sunday. If “ochi” loses, then Tsipras and his finance minister Yanis Varoufakis will resign and the government will fall.

There is weasel room, as three results are possible: a strong yes victory, a weak yes victory and a no victory. Europe is hoping for a strong yes vote, one that keeps Greece just inside its monetary tent but placed on the naughty step for the foreseeable future. Greece would pull back from the brink and a managerialist government would replace Syriza and implement the wishes of Berlin paymasters.

But the polls are predicting a weak yes win. That could leave Greece in status quo, Syriza or some proxy paying creditors in endless last minute negotiations that only whittle away at the edges while grumbles slowly simmer. The path could be clear for a far right government (such as Golden Dawn, which supports the referendum) to blame the weakest in Greek society for their problems and replace austerity with authoritarianism.

A ‘no’ vote is the clearest of outcomes. It will set the country on the Grexit path, certainly from the monetary union, and probably the political union. The technocrats will never admit it but European Monetary Policy is set for political not financial reasons. It loosens some trade barriers but tightens others. Britain stayed out not because of the nationalistic braying of its press but because it saw how London would lose control of its destiny. Each country in the euro zone gives away its central or reserve bank and hands monetary policy to Brussels. The European Central Bank sets its main lever – interest rates – to the needs of its core constituency, Germany.

Though Germany was badly scarred by the GFC, it remains a massive and diverse economy with a well-educated workforce. The euro price reflects these factors. The lack of a drachma means not only that Greeks lose out on the cost of transferring currency (tourists love all countries on the euro), and remains expensive to visit, but a Greek exporter has no benefit over German exporters in currency fluctuation.

Leaving the euro may not save Greece from itself but it might save Greece from Europe. Tsipras should be applauded for trusting the electorate to make that decision and not leave it in the hands of faceless technocrats.

President Pierre Nkurunziza confounds world to prolong Burundi’s agony

Counting has started in Burundi’s fraudulent election despite an opposition boycott, continued protests and deaths on the street, and the refusal of the UN and AU to endorse it. The country has been in turmoil since April, when President Nkurunziza defied the constitution and sought a third term, triggering rioting which climaxed with a failed military coup last month.

The street movement known as “stop the third mandate” has not abated and Nkurunziza’s opponents say his decision to stand again violates the constitution as well as a peace deal that ended a civil war in 2005.  Burundi gained independence from Belgium in 1962 and almost immediately ethnic violence erupted between Hutu and Tutsi groups. As with neighbouring Rwanda the population had been divided into separate ethnic groups by the colonial power. According to the 2000 Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement for Burundi there is no distinguishing physical, religious, linguistic or colour characteristics yet individuals identify with one of three ethnic groups: Hutu, Tutsi or Twa.

The civil war began in 1993 following the assassination of Hutu president Melchior Ndadaye just four months after winning power. The war dragged on through the 1990s between the majority Hutu faction and the minority Tutsis. It was exacerbated by a blockade by neighbouring countries that crippled the economy. After 200,000 died in the conflict, the warring factions were finally brought to the peace table in 2000 and resulted in the signing of Arusha Agreement. At the time, more than 700,000 people were refugees – almost 10 per cent of its population.

However not all rebel groups signed the agreement. Some groups continued the armed rebellion as a three-year transitional government was established. In 2003 the government and the leader of the main Hutu rebel movement signed a peace accord in Dar es Salaam while a smaller rebel group was given three months to open talks or face consequences. While talks dragged on, the people of Burundi exercised their right to a democratic vote in 2005 for the first time in 11 years. Pierre Nkurunziza, a former Hutu rebel leader and born-again Christian, won a mandate to bring peace and prosperity to the region.

Nkurunziza was reelected in 2010 though the opposition boycotted the election. His second term was characterised by post-electoral repression, rising corruption, the shrinking of political space and authoritarian governance. Last year amid increasing paranoia, he banned jogging, fearing it was being used as a cover for subversion.

In late April this year, Nkurunziza’s ruling CNDD-FDD party announced he would would run for a third term in the June 26 election. The announcement sparked immediate protests and claims a third term would be a violation of the country’s constitution. Police prevented many demonstrators from reaching the city centre, but there were numerous clashes in the suburbs, with police using teargas, water cannons, and live ammunition. The clashes went on for days with the government becoming increasingly intolerant.

In May General Godefroid Niyombare declared a coup announcing the dismissal of Nkurunziza and his government while the president was in Tanzania. Crowds packed the streets of the capital Bujumbura while rebel soldiers holding the airport forced Nkurunziza to return his flight to Tanzania. Loyalists remained in control of the presidential palace and state broadcaster. That night the head of army went on radio to call on rebels to surrender. There followed fierce fighting but the coup impetus failed and Nkurunziza came home 24 hours later. He went on air the following day to say the coup had been crushed.

Despite the end of the coup, violence persisted through May and June. Nkurunziza claimed the violence was ethnically-based and a throwback to the dark days of the civil war. On May 23, grenades were thrown into a Bujumbura market killing three and wounding 21. An opposition leader was murdered the same day causing opposition parties to end negotiations with the government.

Yet the violence did not stop planning for the election. There was a last minute hitch as one of the vice presidents Gervais Rufyikiri fled the country saying Nkurunziza’s candidacy was unconstitutional. The government then alleged Rufyikiri was involved in the coup as students sought protection in the US embassy. A day later the opposition announced they would boycott the election.
Nkurunziza’s likely victory will be hollow and not just because there is no opposition. Sanctions are adding to Burundi’s already formidable economic challenges. Burundi is one of the poorest countries in the world with 70% of the population below the poverty line. In 2003 the World Bank estimated per capita annual income at $110. The UN ranked Burundi 169 out of 177 countries in the UNDP (United Nations Development Program) human development index.
The 2005 report of the Secretary General on the UN operation in Burundi (pdf) estimated that 90 percent of the population relied on subsistence farming for a living in a country which suffered three successive drought years. 68 per cent of the population are living below the poverty line. Much of the country is devastated with land mines. Meanwhile the disability and death rate from malaria, HIV/AIDS and other diseases remains high.
As the Kenyan Daily Nation said Burundi is disintegrating under Nkurunziza. “The international community can sit back and wait for the inevitable tragedy to unfold or step in to stop the slide to the brink, save lives, and restore political sanity before it is too late,” it says.