[Also just published at Independent Australia.]
Back in the 1960s authorities were very exercised that cells of violent hippie peacenik leftists were plotting to overthrow the Government and establish an anarchist hippie socialist dictatorship (there were no greenies yet). This would inevitably morph into communism, the dreaded embodiment of all evil.
The conspirators were a very small fringe of a very large but not very coherent movement that wanted more love, less war, less consumerism and healthier living. Oh, and some drugs and weird clothes, or no clothes. There was the odd kidnapping and a few small bombs let off, some of them doing more harm to the conspirators than to the Establishment, but the large anti-war movements did not automatically join the revolution and the whole thing fizzled. The hippies got mortgages, Ronald Reagan was elected, and Big Business resumed gobbling up the world.
There followed various other conspiratorial groups, some of them real terrorists, including the Palestine Liberation Organisation and the Irish Republican Army. They did some damage but never really threatened our way of life.
More recently there have been others, including al-Qaeda (remember them?) and ISIS. They have done more damage, mostly but not only in their home territories. They have affected our way of life significantly, not directly but through the extreme over-reaction of our authorities. Our authorities have proceeded to turn our somewhat open, somewhat democratic societies into nascent fascist police states, to protect us. And our lot persist with actions that for some reason seem to stir them up, for example invading their homelands on false pretexts.
Threats to the established order are nothing new, and those just mentioned rate rather low on the scale. Earlier in the twentieth century a mercantile war killed 20-odd million people. Then a fascist war killed 50-odd million people, 20 million of them in Russia. Then a nuclear confrontation threatened to kill everyone, and everything, 150 times over. Kill us dead, dead, dead, dead, … but it hasn’t happened, yet. That was called MAD.
Perhaps it would be a good idea to keep an eye on merchants, fascists and nuclear physicists.
In the 1950s the big threat to our way of life was communism. It was in fact a potential threat, as its ideas directly challenged the right of rich people to make money however they liked. There were communists in Australia, not many but they were quite smart at rising through the ranks of trade unions and occasionally infiltrating the media. They were also alleged to be able insidiously to manipulate the minds of the unsuspecting and turn them into Fellow Travellers, who could be distinguished by their subtle pink colouration.
No doubt the stroppy Australian labourer was made a bit more stroppy, and the Labor Party was nudged a bit to the left, but the Aussie communists never came close to the potential attributed to them by our ever-vigilant guardians. Even so, many a faithful Liberal voter has failed to notice that not only is Bill Shorten not a very good communist but Labor has been well to the right of Bob Menzies for some decades now. But I’m getting ahead of our story.
The question is, why have our ever-vigilant saviours and protectors failed to notice a conspiracy that has proceeded quietly and steadily to take over many of the key institutions in our once-laconic and carefree society?
Perhaps it’s a figment of my over-educated left-liberal imagination, but consider the following story. In 1947 a meeting of economists, historians and philosophers was convened by one Friedrich Hayek in the Swiss resort of Mont Pelerin to consider the threat to personal freedom from communism, Keynesianism and other extant forms of wickedness. They formed the Mont Pelerin Society. They said markets should rule and we should be able to make money however we like, so rich people gave them lots of money to keep saying it and they became highly influential, but only behind the scenes.
In Hayek’s vision, things like cooperation and altruism were old hat, evolution-wise, and humanity would advance triumphantly forward into the future relating strictly through monetary transactions, with the market automatically optimising our lives. By this time Jesus was no longer around to offer his opinion on the morality involved.
Many economists were already on board, and with a bit of extra help the neoclassical, market-fundamentalist strain took over academic economics. If you questioned the revealed truth you couldn’t get the best jobs nor publish in the best journals. Their student disciples fanned out and filled Treasury Departments and financial commentary slots around the world.
But still the politicians persisted with the old Keynesian ways, which might have had something to do with them yielding the greatest prosperity for the greatest number than ever before in history. Or since.
In 1964 Barry Goldwater ran for president in the US on some of the Mont Pelerin policies, now called neoliberal, but everyone laughed and said he was much too right wing and Lyndon Johnson beat him handily. Then that limp left-liberal Johnson bombed the bejeezus out of Vietnam, but he forgot the atheistic Asiatic hordes didn’t have Jesus in the first place, so his bombing campaign failed.
Richard Nixon took over in 1968 with a secret plan to save Vietnam, which turned out to be letting them go communist after all. Then the hard-right Republican President imposed price controls, which would not have pleased the still-sidelined neoliberals. I didn’t say this was going to make sense.
The oil cartel came to the rescue in the 1970s by quadrupling the price of oil, which threw all the Western economies into recession, except the one run by Gough Whitlam. At the same time the US paid for its Vietnam war making by printing money and thus stoking inflation. Economists, never very quick on the uptake, couldn’t understand how you could have recession and inflation at the same time, because their models said you couldn’t.
The neoliberals seized their chance. Our useless models are better than your useless models, they crowed. They said the problem was obviously wicked Keynesianism, and got Ronald Reagan elected President in 1980. Margaret Thatcher, a Hayek disciple, had got herself elected in the UK the year before saying things like “there is no such thing as society” and “tina”, which turned out to mean There Is No Alternative.
Ronald wasn’t very clear about what he was in favour of, except America, but Margaret explained he should leave it all to Hayek and Milton Friedman. So Reagan set about cutting taxes on the rich, hacking at Big Government and running up a huge deficit. I said he was a bit vague about what he was supposed to do.
Meanwhile in Australia the flinty arch-conservative Malcolm Fraser wouldn’t do what the neoliberals wanted because he was too soft in the middle. But then in 1983 those socialists and friends of the working man person Bob Hawke and Paul Keating took over Labor and government. Paul’s father had once had trouble getting a bank loan, and Paul prided himself on being a quick study. Treasury said you need to deregulate the banks (and everything else) and gave him lots of briefs to strut around with. No, paper ones, not red ones.
Anyway Bob and Paul did everything they were told until 1996, and only caused one little boom and bust. Well, actually it was the biggest since the 1930s but Paul said we had to have it. Then John Howard did some more deregulating. But Howard was pissed because there was hardly anything left to do, so he Stopped the Boats instead, thus mainstreaming a new era of fear and loathing in Oz.
Howard did something else. He and his network made sure every new appointment to a government body, semi-government body or vaguely influencable other body was a neoliberal, or at least someone who said useful things.
Historian Geoffrey Blainey said some people were worried about Asian immigrants, which was true, but he didn’t mention that nevertheless Australia’s record of welcoming immigrants was spectacularly good on balance. Alleged historian Keith Windschuttle said only 13.5 aborigines had died in frontier confrontations and anyway they gave away their women and so clearly should yield the land to superior types.
Janet Albrechtsen, Paddy McGuinness, Miranda Devine, Andrew Bolt and lots and lots of other neoliberal journalist Fellow Travellers said lots and lots of useful things, over and over again.
One reason there were so many Useful People in the commercial media was because the Institute of Public Affairs recruited, trained and placed many of them, though the Murdoch press could manage quite well on its own. How else do you think predictable parrot Chris Berg could get a job? They also recruited, trained and placed many Liberal politicians. Not all of them. Nobody could have invented Cory Bernardi.
This is only a conspiracy story, but if you doubt any of this you might look up the IPA. Look up the Mont Pelerin Society with which it continues to be closely associated. Since the late seventies there has been a coherent strategy promoting radical people and policies in Australia. By a remarkable coincidence that’s what seems to have been happening.
Roger Neave, Menzies-style liberal and Liberal, was in 1978 and 1979 the Director of the IPA. Then he got the heave-ho, because the IPA was taken over by Hayek disciples, backed by such luminaries as miner, nuclear advocate and climate denier Hugh Morgan, who sat on the Board. Since then the IPA and quite a few other think tanks, like the H. R. Nicholls Society, have been generously funded by enlightened types like Lang Hancock and his doughty daughter Gina Rinehart, who happened to have a lot of money they wanted to keep.
Former Liberal Minister Ian McPhee concurs with Neave that the modern Liberal Party is a disgrace and embarrassment. Flinty Malcolm Fraser agreed too, and resigned.
The commercial media have always been right wing, and the ABC used to provide some balance to them, by having things like a broader coverage of actual news, and opinions from people who actually knew a bit about what they were going on about.
But then Senator Nick Minchin changed the definition of “balance”. Everyone has the right to free speech, but People Who Know Too Much are left-wing, and the ABC is full of them. He knew, because he kept score of all the lefty things said on the ABC. So the ABC has to have people who know bugger all as well. Or mostly. Or only.
In the brave new world, the ABC has to be balanced because it is Taxpayer Funded, and we can’t have taxpayers subsidising a nest of lefty vipers. “But,” said a lonely little voice in my head, “why don’t the commercial media have to be balanced?” “Because” thundered the good Senator “they are owned by the rich, and, well, the rich can do whatever they want because it’s their money.” “Oh.”, said my little voice “But what about responsi …”. “Silence” thundered the Senator.
So our ABC is brought to you by the Liberal Party. That’s why John Howard stacked the Board with people like Keith Windschuttle and Janet Albrechtsen. And that’s why they had a Liberal Managing Director, and a rich, big-business, Tony-Abbott-loving, climate-denying, windfarm-hating, imminent-ice-age-doomsaying, non-scientific Chair of the Board.
So now Chris Berg is on the ABC too, or was until almost all discussion of any kind was shut down, along with fact checking, with the acquiescence of the new, ex-Murdoch, ex-Google Managing Director.
So really John Howard did a pretty bang-up job of having his mates infiltrate nearly everything. The funny thing is none of the clever media commentators seem to notice. Oh, that’s right.
The funnier thing is Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, who were the next Prime Minister, didn’t seem to notice either, even as they were bashed daily from all media directions. Instead of getting rid of the zealots on the ABC Board they cut its budget some more. Not the brightest lights ever to shine in The Lodge.
So, we’ve got a conspiracy and we’ve got extremists (Morgan, Minchin, Bernardi, …). Now the juicy bit. The Rule of Law can be annoying, as can democracy and other such middle-class indulgences.
John Howard showed the way when he kept adjusting our borders to exclude any bit of the continent reached by Boat People. He didn’t actually lop off each bit of beach, he just said that for administrative purposes, especially as relating to human or refugee rights and obligations, that bit didn’t count. We still owned it and we could still sell it to the Chinese.
It’s funny though, because we don’t really have a border, we have the sea, so where does that leave all the talk of Border Security and all the Border Force Facilitation Solutions we have these days?
So Howard pioneered the infinitely adjustable law, which is a very useful concept when you think about it. Tony Abbott didn’t mess around with such subtleties, he just got on with ignoring, over-riding, changing, abolishing and stomping on any law he didn’t like, and vilifying anyone who complained. That is, if he even noticed there was a law. (Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull were our next Prime Minister. They still are.)
So now the government can imprison people without saying they have, or why, they can snoop on all of our metadata, it’s a crime to talk about secret on-water activities and secret torture and abuse in our outsourced, off-shore, out-of-the-media concentration camps for innocent children, and ASIO can’t be punished for anything short of flagrant murder. There’s more, but you get the idea.
They even reduced the time you have to register to vote to one week after the election is called, explicitly to deny the vote to indolent lefty young people who sleep in their parents’ basement instead of going out and getting a non-existent job. There are other ways they interfere with democracy, like vilifying and silencing everyone they disagree with, but you can look them up yourself, this is just a story.
The rule of law – subverted. Civil and human rights – subverted. Democracy – subverted. Who is it that subverts? Subversives!
They’re everywhere and they’re dangerous. They’re in the Parliament, they’ve hijacked the Liberal Party, they’ve got their people in the media, the public service, the Royal ANZ College of ObGyn, you name it. They use violence and coercion too, just ask Afghanistan, Occupy and the Knitting Nanas.
It’s a sinister conspiracy to place extremist subversives in all our institutions, all so rich people can do whatever they want. And all done sneakily right there in front of our faces, the gall. Where are the authorities when you need them? Oh. Yeah. That’s right.