I am commencing this article on July 3, 2016. The date is significant as it is exactly twenty-five years since leaving Australia in 1991 to return to the United Kingdom to take-up an appointment in Northampton, England, as the Manager for Domestic Programmes with World Vision UK. I have remained a resident of Northampton ever since then.
In my previous article ‘Much ado about something’, I mentioned my first arrival in Australia on Monday, June 12, 1955. From this information, the reader will realize that movements between the UK and Australia, and the reverse, have been a significant aspect of my life and the lives of my family members. Having spent roughly half my life in each of the respective countries, the reader will appreciate that I duly refer to myself as a British Aussie – British (more particularly Scottish) by birth and holding a British passport, and Australian by outlook and in virtue of having an Australian Resident Return Visa. Both possessions are prized.
Reflections such as those in the above came to me as, following the recent British referendum on whether or not the UK should remain in or leave the European Union (the nation chose the latter – BreXit), I began reading the book A Secret Country, by the Sydney-born Australian journalist, documentary film maker and author, John Pilger. Recipients of my emails and readers of my blog in both the UK and Australia, or elsewhere for that matter, will know that I am a great admirer of John Pilger and a fervent advocate of his work.
Since retiring from life as a schoolteacher in 2012, one of my projects has been to watch each and every television and film documentary that he produced and presented, and to read every book that he wrote or was written about him. This project currently proceeds. When Australia finally assumes its full stature as an independent nation and decides to become a republic with an Australian as its head of state, then the republican John Pilger would, along with a number of Indigenous Australians, be a most worthy candidate.
This article is being published on July 10, 2016. This is the date on which my family and me arrived in the UK in 1991, after spending a week on the west coast of the USA re-acquainting the family with such places as Disneyland, Knotts Berry Farm and Universal Studios. It also gave me the opportunity of catching-up with colleagues associated with World Vision’s Urban Advance team and taking-in the spectacle of a July 4 Independence Day parade at Claremont. The time on the USA west coast was an enjoyable interlude en-route to the UK.
During the past week, as well as reflecting on the week in 1991 spent in Lost Angeles, I have managed to complete my reading of Pilger’s book, A Secret Country. I have done so against a background that saw the British nation vote in favour of BreXit and commences an awareness of what it will mean to leave the European Union; further news of the determination of the Scottish government to oppose BreXit and remain within the EU; a contest within the Conservative Party to elect a new leader and, therefore, a new British Prime Minister (a contest that revealed just how factional the Tory party remains); and a leadership crisis in the Labour Party involving the very identity of this movement and what kind of future it envisages for itself.
It is often said that ‘a week is a long time in politics’. The past week has seen a number of changes in British politics and governance, changes that will rumble on for some time and will permanently alter the face of British social, economic and political life.
A significant chapter in John Pilger’s book recounts the events during the 1970’s when the Australian Labour government of Gough Whitlam was dismissed from office by the appointed Governor-General of Australia, Sir John Kerr. Pilger persuasively argues that this event involved the interference of both the USA and the UK in the processes of Australian governance. His argument hinges on the view that, because of the changes that the Whitlam Labour Government wished to introduce into Australian political, social and economic life, Gough Whitlam presented a threat to established, if not entrenched, interests in Australian governance.
As a republican, I could not help but notice the intrinsic criticism that Whitlam had for a royal appointee dismissing a sovereign Australia government. At that time, John Kerr had powers that allowed the Governor-General to ‘sack the government…appoint and sack individual ministers…dissolve the House of Representatives…need not assent to a Bill to alter the Constitution”, and more besides.
As a fellow republican, Pilger carefully enunciates an extended list of the insidious powers of an unelected public and political figure in Australian governance – powers and privileges that speak volumes about Australia’s ongoing deference at that time to a former colonial power. There is little to suggest that this situation has altered in the forty or so years since.
The year after the dismissal of the Whitlam Government in Australian, my wife Vicky and I were married in the UK and, within two years, we had taken up residence in Melbourne. Our stay in Melbourne was to last until the aforementioned return to the UK in 1991. Therefore, we lived through the turbulent government of Malcolm Fraser and the seemingly successful and progressive Hawke-Keating partnership (redolent of the New Labour administration in the UK 1997-2010).
The period of power of the H-K administration was, of course, the years which witnessed the rise and rise of such colourful and controversial Aussie characters as Rupert Murdoch (media baron), Kerry Packer (casinos and World Series cricket), Alan Bond (gold dealing and Four X beer brewing) and Neville Wran (a frustrated New South Wales State Labour Party leader who wanted what Bob Hawke got).
In the well-resourced and documented Pilger analysis, Bob Hawke, a former President of the Australian Council of Trades Unions (ACTU), presided over a period of governance in Australia that has been characterized by the concept of ‘mates’. In a saying which recalls the words of the former British PM, Tony Blair, to the former USA President, George W. Bush, to wit ‘I will be by your side whatever’, Bob Hawke was quoted as saying, ‘If I see my mates attacked without justification, my mates will find me shoulder to shoulder with them’. He was, of course, not referring to the Australian people per se, but to Murdoch, Packer, Bond and the like – his wealthy and well-placed mates.
An article which appeared in the Australian Financial Review stated: ‘If this was South America, a people’s liberation movement would be under way…’
Much has been said and written concerning the view that the result of the recent EU Referendum was a victory for a form of voter’s liberation movement, that is, the fact that British voters wished to register their perception that Westminster politicians are out of-touch with the ordinary British people. Whilst I do not necessarily wish to argue against this viewpoint, I feel that when the events of recent times in the UK, as previously described, are analysed by future historians, social scientists and political analysts, the outcomes of this referendum will be seen to have been influenced, if not determined, by factors that, so far, have been out of sight and comprehension.
The XXXX title of this article is not so much a reference to the brand of beer brewed by Alan Bond (one of Hawke’s closest mates) as it is a reference to the unknown future now faced by BreXit UK. Apart from the repetitious mention of the Australian ‘points system’ for immigration, little else seems to have been known by contemporary British commentators about the history of Australian politics since the era of Bob Hawke (1983-1991) and since.
Since the Hawke ascendancy, Australian politics has experienced a volatile generation of government, with coalition and minority governments, internecine party conflict and constant leadership changes – irrespective of whether the Liberals (conservatives) or Labour have held power. A similar situation has confronted recent British governments and their oppositions. It remains to be seen as to which direction British politics will go in the foreseeable future of the post-BreXit generation.
John Pilger’s book, A Secret Country, is a patriotic book and, as the London Daily Telegraph commented, ‘it is an essential text for anyone wishing to understand the real Australia obscured by the advertising industry’s image of a nation of white Anglo-Saxon Crocodile Dundees with the wit of the cast of Neighbours. It is also a necessary book for those of us who believe in the redeeming power of truth.’