On Saturday 9 October 2004 Australia went to the polls and gave a convincing victory and record fourth term to the conservative Liberal and National Party Coalition led by Prime Minister John Howard.
The election campaign was essentially devoted to domestic issues and the winning but false proposition from the Coalition – the Big Lie – was that victory by the Opposition Australian Labor Party led by Mark Latham would increase interest rates on home loans.
Humanitarian and ethical issues relating to the appalling treatment of Muslim refugees, the illegality of the war in Iraq and horrendous civilian casualties in that sorry country are of compelling concern to a large body of decent Australians but were essentially ignored by BOTH PARTIES in the election campaign.
In the run-up to the election, the Labor leader promised that he would bring our soldiers back from Iraq before Christmas. This brought immediate criticism from the US ambassador, the US president and US administration officials – an outrageous intervention in Australia’s internal affairs. Former President Bill Clinton made it clear that he would NOT have behaved thus. The Australian Labor Party leader subsequently all but draped himself in the American flag, declared his loyalty to the US alliance and brought the leading pro-US Labor politician onto his team.
The “spin doctors” running the Labor Party election campaign evidently decreed that the issue of Iraq – a major issue in the UK, the US and for many decent Australians – would be greatly downplayed in the election campaign for fear of upsetting the Americans or a highly conservative Australian electorate.
Put simply, Australia was saved from Japanese invasion by the US in World War 2 and since then conservative Australian voters have believed in joining any US military adventures (albeit parsimoniously) in order to ensure future US protection from “the Asian hordes” to our north.
Anti-Asian racism is entrenched in conservative Australia. In the mid- to late-19th century Chinese gold miners were excluded, persecuted, deported and massacred, this complementing the genocide of Australian aboriginals that (through violence but mostly through introduced disease) reduced the aboriginal population from about 1 million to 0.1 million in 100 years. The White Australia Policy largely excluded non-Europeans from Australia from 1901 to 1974. Perhaps the most definitive statements on White Australia came from post-war Labor immigration minister Arthur Calwell: “We will not let the yellow hordes contaminate our golden shores” and “Two Wongs do not make a White”.
Because of increasing trade with Asian countries and increasing Asian immigration to Australia after the abolition of the White Australia Policy (1974) and Federal legislative constraints on racism (1975), so-called “political correctness” entered Australian public life – by and large, explicit racism was removed from the public arena.
However anti-Asian racism re-surfaced in public life in the late 1990s with the phenomenal success of the anti-Asian One Nation Party of Pauline Hanson. Conservative leader John Howard has had great political success in recent elections by attracting the racist element in Australia but doing so in a “politically correct” way – a sneaky process described by incisive writers Marian Wilkinson and David Marr as “dog whistling” (after devices that dogs will respond to but which humans cannot hear).
Just before the 2001 election, the Australian Labor Party led convincingly in the polls. However this altered dramatically after the appalling treatment by the Australian Government of hundreds of wretched Muslim refugees rescued off Australian territory in the Indian Ocean by the Tampa, a Norwegian container ship.
The Australian electorate overwhelmingly supported confinement of Muslim refugees (including mothers and children) in remote, off-shore island detention camps throughout the Pacific. Muslim refugees who made it to mainland Australia were incarcerated behind razor wire in harsh detention centres, mostly in remote desert areas.
Notwithstanding the outrage of many decent Australians, including churchmen, psychiatrists, other doctors, psychologists, lawyers and child welfare specialists, Australians have remained committed to an obscene, CONTINUING and judicially-upheld policy in which thousands of Muslim refugees – including hundreds of innocent children – have been incarcerated behind razor wire for the “crime” of fleeing repressive regimes. It is notable that while there are supposedly scores of thousands of illegal, “white”, Anglo-Celtic immigrants and visa over-stayers in Australia, the detention camps are overwhelmingly occupied by Muslim refugees, including mothers and traumatized children.
The appalling events of 9/11 added anti-Muslim bigotry to this cocktail of profound anti-Asian racism in Australia. The conservative Coalition won the 2001 election after a cowardly Labor Opposition refused to face up to the issues of resurgent racism, anti-Muslim bigotry and gross abuse of refugee children for fear of offending the majority of racist voters or of being seen to be “weak” on issues related to “national security”.
In the October 2004 election the Australian Labor Party Opposition removed gross abuse of Muslim refugee children and the illegality and appalling human consequences of the invasion of Iraq from their agenda in a cowardly and unprincipled attempt to pander to the racist and anti-Muslim elements of the Australian electorate and the media that inform them.
Iraq – THE major political issue in the US and the UK – was also off the opposition agenda in Australia for fear of offending the Americans and renewing allegations of “anti-Americanism”. In his policy launch Labor leader Mark Latham declared that he would “render the United States the best service any Australian prime minister ever could” and that this would help the US “develop its true role of world leadership”.
Labor’s cowardly denial and sycophancy was still not good enough for the American-dominated Australian press (70% of Australian city daily newspapers are owned by News Corporation headed by American citizen Rupert Murdoch). All but two major city newspapers advocated return of the conservative Coalition to power – one major newspaper declared a policy of “neutrality” and only one newspaper (in a strong Labor electorate) supported Labor.
The Australian Government has an appalling recent record in “foreign affairs” including: war mongering; illegal invasion of Iraq; complicity in appalling mortality in Occupied Iraq (estimated from UNICEF figures to be about 100,000 under-5 children ANNUALLY); sustained lying over refugees throwing children into the sea (a gross election-winning lie in the 2001 election); sustained deception over weapons of mass destruction in Iraq (prompting public protests by scores of senior retired service chiefs, eminent public servants and distinguished diplomats); threats to pre-emptively attack our near neighbours (bringing protests from the Philippines and Malaysia); and continuing, sustained inhumane treatment of Muslim refugees and their children (prompting the descriptive of “child abuse” by numerous medical and paramedical experts).
However this “gift” to the Opposition of gross Australian Government misconduct in “foreign affairs” was removed from the election campaign agenda by Labor because of their fear of offending racist and bigoted elements of the Australian electorate and of being portrayed as “soft” or “anti-American”.
It appears very likely that the conservative victors will have control of BOTH houses of Parliament, allowing them to pass all kinds of legislation previously blocked by Labor and minor progressive parties in the Senate (including some legislation of considerable benefit to small business, a major employer in Australia). However their legislative program also includes draconian attacks on human rights that have been compared with post-1933 legislation in Nazi Germany. Thus one proposed law would mean that if one talked to a person (e.g. a relative, neighbour or fellow commuter) on TWO occasions one would face a mandatory three year prison sentence if the interlocutor belonged to a proscribed (typically Muslim) organization – with ignorance of such association being no defence.
I am a senior biological scientist and over the last year I have been calculating “excess mortality” for every country in the world for the last 54 years using United Nations demographic data. “Excess mortality” is the difference between the ACTUAL mortality in a country for a given period MINUS the mortality EXPECTED in a peaceful, decently-run country with the same demographics. “Excess mortality” is thus effectively “avoidable mortality” – noting that if an Iraqi child is shot or dies from disease (in the absence of sanitation infrastructure, clean water, medicine and adequate health care) then the end result is still the same.
Shocked by horrendous mortality statistics (especially in relation to Iraq and Afghanistan), some month ago I commenced informing media and NGOs in Australia and around the world and repeatedly informed essentially all members of the Australian Parliament. In one Open Letter I invited the 24 most senior State and Federal Law Officers of Australia to investigate Australian Government complicity in war crimes in Iraq, specifically illegal invasion and mass mortality, principally of CHILDREN, in an occupied country. My carefully researched and written letters and articles have been variously published throughout the world (to readily access these writings, simply do a Google search for the phrase Gideon Polya).
Of course, when you invade another country on the other side of the world that represents no threat and indeed is one of your bigger trading partners it would be sensible and moral to consider the ACTUAL HUMAN COST of the enterprise – however this has been near-comprehensively IGNORED by mainstream Australian media.
Here are some salient statistics sent repeatedly to Australian media and politicians that did NOT become part of the pre-election public discussion in Australia: “excess mortality” in Iraq was 5.2 million since 1950 and 1.5 million since 1991 (these figures being consonant with UNICEF-derived estimates of under-5 infant mortality totalling 3.3 million since 1950 and 1.2 million since 1991); “excess mortality” in Afghanistan has totalled 16.2 million since 1950 and 1.2 million since the Coalition invasion in 2001; according to UNICEF, the under-5 infant mortality in 2001 was 109,000 in Iraq (population 24 million), 277,000 in Afghanistan (population 22 million) and 1000 in Australia (population 20 million); in 2004 the per capita medical expenditure is US$40 in Occupied Iraq but US$1000 in Australia.
After a cowardly, dishonest and lack-lustre campaign by Australian Labor – which strenuously avoided the issue of Iraq in craven deference to the US administration, the American-dominated Australian press and an ill-informed, prejudiced and conservative Australian electorate – the conservative Coalition Government won a decisive victory thanks to bigotry, ignorance, fear and small-minded selfishness. But how will the World judge prosperous, selfish, thoughtless Australia – the Lucky Country – as death continues to come to 300 children every day in Occupied Iraq?