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When the Prime Minister of Hungary, Ferenc Gyurcsany, was caught telling the truth to his party about the lies he had told the electorate, and how he had "screwed up", citizens demonstrated outside Parliament and stormed state TV. When Australia's John Howard was caught falsely accusing refugees in a leaky boat of "throwing their children overboard", he was voted back into office.

Gyurcsany admitted that "f*cking Hungary" had only managed to keep its economy afloat thanks to good luck, an "abundance of cash in the economy and hundreds of tricks", which pretty much coincides with what the former governor of the Reserve Bank stated about Australia's fiscal management. But the Prime Minister is still top of the pops.

It is said that a leader who thinks of the next election is a politician, but a leader who thinks of the next generation is a statesman. By that criterion, it is no mystery where history will place John Howard. The key threats facing Australia today, including environmental degradation, the rise of militarism and the decline of free speech, are rooted in a decade of toxic federal governance. Instead of storming TV, the views of voters are shaped by it and the shock-jocks.


Once we were larrikins with a taste of defiance; now we are lapdogs with a thirst for conformity. On the matter of values, John Howard and opposition leader Kim Beazley are joined at the hip. In Oz 2006, to be a "civil libertarian" is to invite abuse, while to dismiss human rights as "no longer sacrosanct", or to deny inconvenient facts about global warming or indigenous history, is to attract government patronage. Once we had bush poets, mocking the pompous; now we have scribblers, licking the hands of their feeders.

Puffed-up politicians on both sides of the House seek from new arrivals a pledge of citizenship that endorses "Australian values" at a time when our values are tangled in a global tumble-dryer. That a government should demand such endorsement is itself a violation of a core Australian value - the freedom to think what we please. To think, for example, that numerous values exemplified by our Prime Minister are crap. Like truth avoidance, flag fetishism, excessive secrecy, anti-intellectualism, witch-hunting the whistleblowers, appeasement of George Bush, boasting about this country's generosity, whitewashing black history, bribing Saddam Hussein to buy our wheat then bombing his people, toleration of US torture and its treatment of Guantanamo inmate David Hicks, to name a few.

The stature of Australia has not only been diminished in the eyes of the world, but this country now faces a future laced with nasty shocks. By branding the intelligentsia as a loudmouth latte-slurping "elite", and turning a deaf ear to the findings of scientists, Howard finds himself surprised by the arrival of climate change. Despite over a decade of warnings, this country is woefully unprepared. Leaders of developing nations are becoming enraged by our indifference to the impact of emissions on their citizens. A statesman would recognise that the fate of the earth is a shared responsibility, but we have turned our backs on potential climate refugees from waterlogged Tuvalu. Isn't it about time John Howard was asked to sign a pledge of global citizenship?


Callous obstinacy was also on display in the lead-up to the Iraq invasion, where propaganda was put above truth. The jolly hordes of peaceful protesters in Sydney and Melbourne were branded a "mob", and those who tried to alert the nation to the manipulations of intelligence and the subsequent outbreaks of torture were gagged or slandered. The result is continuing carnage, with the fingerprints of our leaders on the corpses. In the "war on terror", Australia's fair-go reputation was traded for "future security", cheap tanks and a White House banquet.

Unaccompanied child refugees from war zones are denied basic rights by the Department of Immigration, itself a hotbed of black values, including the silencing of the right to be heard. The horrors are documented in the study Seeking Asylum Alone, by Mary Crock, who has concluded that in comparison with other advanced nations, Australia's capacity to mistreat children stands out "like a sore thumb". Seven escapees from the Burmese dictatorship have been dumped on the isle of Nauru. Is cruelty an Australian value?

Freedom of information has been re-constituted into a new value, the freedom from information. Any document with the potential of "embarrassing" the Government is quarantined from public scrutiny. Academic Johan Lidberg compared the effectiveness of our Freedom of Information Act with the ones operating in Sweden, America, South Africa and Thailand, and found that ours was the worst, having "deteriorated into dysfunctionality". When Flinders University sociologist Riaz Hassan was awarded a grant to study the incubation of suicide bombers, he planned to enrich his research by interviewing leaders of terror groups. Hassan dropped the idea when Attorney-General Philip Ruddock threatened legal consequences. Not content with extinguishing habeas corpus and shrinking civil liberties, Ruddock plans to curb the excesses of Big Brother; that is, the TV show, not the excesses of his own office.


There was a time when Aussies scorned officialdom. The boys from the farms and the factories who swarmed to the front line in the First World War, including those who landed at Gallipoli, were renowned for their disregard of red tape and for pricking the pomp of superiors. Rebellion was in their genes. In the camps on the outskirts of Australian cities, and during their journey to the other side of the world, the diggers were irreverent as well as brave.

The huge anti-war moratoriums of the Vietnam era also displayed a sharp defiance for delusions of big-wigs, the like of which has failed to be re-ignited, despite the provocations of today's smug autocrats. Perhaps the penny will eventually drop. Sport and shopping cannot keep this country under sedation forever.

The first cause of today's global terror mess is a matter of opinion. Some are using the "Muslim riots" to ramp up support for yet another war against what George Bush this week told the UN are "the enemies of humanity". (The war against germs?)


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Richard Neville has been a practicing futurist since 1963, when he launched the countercultural magazine, Oz, which widened the boundaries of free speech on two continents. He has written several books, including Playpower (71), the bio of a global (more...)
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