Haiti: history and the shock doctrine

January 31, 2010

I made a welcome appearance on National Radio’s MediaWatch programme this morning to discuss the recent coverage of Haiti with TV3’s Mike McRoberts and MW host, Colin Peacock.

MediaWatch 31 January – on coverage of Haiti – MP3

MediaWatch 31 January – on coverage of Haiti MediaPlayer

The initial prompt for the chat was the rash of stories about TV reporters rescuing survivors and getting them to medical aid – without which they faced an uncertain, if not shortly to be fatal future.

But I also was keen to make the point that, for me a real problem with the coverage was context.

Why is Haiti one of the poorest nation’s on earth? Why did the TV reporters keep referring to Haiti as “doomed” and “blighted”?

My argument is that without this context, it just seems like the reason is the “foreignness” of the Haitians. They’re black and they don’t speak English and when we see them on television they are either “victims”, or they’re criminalised into some large, organic faceless mob that has to be kept in line by the blue-helmeted UN troops wielding riot shields and pepper-spray.

UN blue helmets pepper spray hungry Haitians

This leads to a situation in which the Haitians are seen as “animals”, as this report from the Australian ABC suggests, quoting a UN soldier:

A UN trooper, who declined to be named, struggled to hold back the jostling crowd with a hard plastic shield.

“Whatever we do, it doesn’t matter – they are animals,” he cried in Spanish, when asked why the peacekeepers were not trying to explain anything in French or Creole.

Troops waved pepper spray into the queue’s front line. Others standing atop a grubby white UN armoured vehicle fired off steady rounds of rubber bullets into the air.

Well actually, the hungry people demanding food and shelter are not animals. They are human beings whose dignity has been stripped away from them in the aftermath of an awful tragedy. An earthquake is a natural disaster, but the humanitarian disaster that is now affecting Haiti so badly is of human design.

What we are seeing today in Haiti is the application of what Naomi Klein has christened the “shock doctrine”. This is the policy of taking advantage of natural disasters in order to impose some kind of austerity programme, or other unpopular measure, on a civilian population that is too traumatised to resist. Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine devastatingly demonstrates how this has been done time and time again-particularly by the Americans-in Latin and Central America, Eastern Europe and Asia. Most recently we’ve seen it used internally in Burma and in China.

Read the rest of this entry »

Burma and the shock doctrine

May 15, 2008

When the devastating cyclone hit Burma couple of weeks ago I pondered a blog post on the Shock Doctrine. I read Naomi Klein’s great book a few months ago and as soon as it was clear how devastated parts of Burma were, I thought: “this is a time for a shock doctrine intervention”. Well f*c( me with a spade, so it’s come to pass.

I first heard talk of a western military intervention this morning (15 May), so it’s time to join the blog chat on this topic. I found this interesting case for intervention on Slate, dated 12 May. Read the rest of this entry »

Is Reuters right: Covering Trump is like covering Third World dictators

February 9, 2017

The Reuters news agency says covering Washington DC is now on a par with reporting from dictatorships. Is this the right thing for journalists? Doc Martin reviews the advice being given to reporters facing Donald Trump’s shock doctrine tactics.

IT DIDN’T take long. About ten days. But now it is very clear that the White House is at war with large sections of the American – and, indeed, the global – news media.

Trump incessantly tweets about the “failing” New York Times, this week suggesting it should be sold and its print edition shut down. The White House is also refusing to send Trump “surrogates” to CNN talk shows as a way of bullying the organisation. This tactic seems to be working, CNN has dropped its initial decision not to broadcast Sean Spicer’s press briefings live.

This is a war the news media knew was coming. It’s not like Trump kept his hatred of the New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN secret. He’s been tweeting his bile and outright lies about the media for months now.

Trump’s cultivated hostility to certain sections of the news media – he is very benevolent towards the pro-Trump media – is causing conniptions among executives and editors. It is prompting deep soul-searching and even causing some outlets to reconsider their whole Washington DC news coverage.

Globally-respected journalism academic, Jay Rosen, has told IA that the White House approach to controlling press briefings is

“… as bad as I thought it would be, with ‘the media’ getting blamed for what the White House or Trump screwed up.”


Read the rest of this entry »

Welcome to a Liquid Modern Queensland & Why Tony Fitzgerald’s in Despair

January 29, 2015

by Dr Mark Hayes

Who, in his spare time, likes nothing better than grappling with some obscure and erudite tome of often European-origin high social theory and really does know where and how Habermas got it wrong. On his groaning shelves awaiting some grappling are Axel Honneth’s Freedom’s Right The Social Foundations of Democratic Life, Frank Lovett’s A General Theory of Domination and Justice, and John Keane’s Democracy and Media Decadence. He’s also a fan of Zygmunt Bauman’s Liquid Modernity theory too.

Once upon a time, Dr Hayes worked for the ABC’s then weeknight state based current affairs programme, The 7.30 Report, and helped report on, among many other stories and issues, the Fitzgerald Inquiry and its immediate aftermath.

He’s been having something of a Déjà vu rush for months but merging it with some High Theory.

Do not rejoice in his defeat, you men. For though the world has stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again.

Bertolt Brecht

Some noteworthy Updates (access the usual sources for the minute by minute cut and thrusts, which really don’t matter now unless somebody significant goes completely buggo or drops dead from exhaustion). ~

Professor Brian Costar casts an experienced Oracle’s eye over Queensland from the remove of Melbourne, and I think he’s pretty well on the money as far as my water’s telling me. Though a deeper understanding of Liquid Modernity and what it means for Queensland 25+ years after Joh and all that would assist him and others too, IMHO.

And Dr

And Jason Wilson draws a parallel between the recent Greek election result and Queensland’s looming neo-liberal ‘everything privatized’ Strong Choices paradise, arguing that people don’t like austerity even when they’re told it’s good for them.

Here’s a good wrap on mainstream media coverage of the election campaign, from Griffith Uni’s Professor Anne Tiernan, on ABC RN’s Media Report.

Read on…

Originally Posted on Thursday afternoon, January 29, 2015 ~

It’s almost gratuitous to be writing this Post after watching Tony Fitzgerald’s interview on ABC TV’s 7.30 on Wednesday evening.

Watch it, or watch it again if you saw it, read the transcript, and if you really understand what he was warning about in the Queensland context you should be very, very worried indeed.

He appears to have added to his commentary on Thursday, January 29, too.

Not so, Premier Campbell Newman said, responding to pesky reporter’s questions:

Mr Newman attempted to turn Mr Fitzgerald’s words into an attack on the Labor Party.

“Well, look,” he said, clearing his throat.

“I was asked about Mr Fitzgerald during [Friday’s] debate and I reflected that I had the utmost respect for him in the past, but I reject those comments.

“And I say to you the real issue of transparency that continues to actually haunt this campaign for the Labor Party is the lack of transparency and accountability when it comes to policies, costings and a vision for the future of this state.”

Mr Newman was asked if he still respected Mr Fitzgerald but he would not elaborate, again shifting focus to his opposition.

“I have had the greatest respect for him in the past, but I reject his comments,” he said.

“And I point to the lack of transparency and openness and accountability we have seen from the Labor Party from their failure to deliver a proper, comprehensive vision for this state.  We have such a vision, the Labor Party do not.”

So there you have it. Nothing to see here. We’ve moved beyond all that now. You’re living in the past. Move along now. The ALP etc and so forth… Little wonder many people have stopped listening to them.

But we need to be reminded, in some detail, about the Newman Government’s activities, and New Matilda’s Ben Eltham helps out on that rather well. As does Greg Jericho, running his skeptical economist’s eye over the state of the Queensland economy (this is a Must Read, IMHO, and meshes with what I touch on below too).

Ok, Ok, We haven’t had many laughs at all during this election, but Mr First Dog has explained the whole thing, so we can all rest easy knowing what’s really going on.

But I’ll also plough on, trying to add some further insights or depth to contextualize the matter.

Read the Fitzgerald Report

If you haven’t read the Fitzgerald Report, you really should. (4 Meg PDF) If only to see what many Queenslanders are on about when we mention that crucial period in our history.

It’s a masterpiece of its kind, still setting the standards about how a Commission of Inquiry should go about its work, gather, analyze and evaluate its evidence, and produce a document still being discussed and debated almost 26 years after its release. And not just by various commentators and journalists, many of whom were in primary school, or even younger, if not even born, when the Inquiry was in session. (Makes me feel old, it does, fronting journalism classes with students who look blankly at me when I mention the Fitzgerald Inquiry.)

Serious scholars in many fields still reference and interrogate the Fitzgerald Report as an exemplar of its kind, excoriating in the many instances of police and official corruption it uncovered, but, far more importantly, making governance recommendations to eradicate the political and administrative failings which provided fertile grounds for corruption to flourish.

The Fitzgerald Report is also a gripping read, not the least because, as one of the innovations Mr Fitzgerald pioneered, he seconded The Age’s reporter, Margaret Simons, from the media bench inside the Inquiry offices to help write the Report, smoothing the turgid legalese into almost flowing and certainly readily understandable prose.

Do Not Forget Queensland History

To get a feeling for the background and context of the Fitzgerald Inquiry, start with Matthew Condon’s two books, Three Crooked Kings and then Jacks and Jokers, with the eagerly awaited third book in the trilogy due later in 2015. Mr Condon’s interviews on his two books give ample sense of the territory traversed (on Three Crooked Kings and Jacks and Jokers). (And, though I lived through the years covered by Jacks and Jokers, and was steeped in Queensland affairs, or thought I was, reading Jacks and Jokers scared the living daylights out of me as I recalled what I experienced, and thought I knew was going on at the time. It was far, far worse.)

You can still watch Chris Masters’ 4 Corners exposé The Moonlight State, which, in the apt description of eminent investigative journalist, Evan Whitton, ‘detonated’ on Monday evening, 11 May, 1987, and, together with steady exposés by The Courier-Mail’s Phil Dickie, and years of growing unease that ‘things weren’t right’ in the Sunshine State, coalesced into provoking Acting Premier and Police Minister, Bill Gunn, into mounting a Commission of Inquiry into, initially at least, the 4 Corners and Courier-Mail claims, headed by almost unknown legal identity, Tony Fitzgerald. Interestingly, one of the 50 signatories to the Open Letter calling on all Queensland Political Parties to agree to some basic principles of accountability, endorsed by Mr Fitzgerald, was Greg Chamberlin, the editor of The Courier-Mail between 1987 and 1991.

The day after the Fitzgerald Report was handed to then Queensland Premier, Mike Ahern, and Deputy Premier, Bill Gunn, on July 3, 1989, and we were sitting around in the ABC’s Toowong television newsroom basking in what would be acknowledged as our previous night’s award winning national coverage of the release wondering, ‘What’s Next?’, I remarked to Quentin Dempster that ‘We’d better revisit that Report and read it like the next bunch of bent coppers, dodgy politicians, and greedy businessmen are already reading it’.

He didn’t quite get what I was on about because, no doubt he was, as we all were, exhausted after our efforts over eighteen months of often genuinely dramatic daily reportage culminating in the previous evening’s nationally broadcast effort, and fair enough too. Then we had to keep reporting on the fallout from the Inquiry’s release, including a State election.

My point to Quentin was the very high probability that, as usually happens, almost immediately after a major Inquiry or Report is delivered, and its recommendations begin to be implemented, ‘Lock, Stock and Barrel’, as Premier Ahern strongly asserted would occur, the ‘forces of darkness’ would pick the report to pieces, looking for ‘ways to get around this’.

If we were to continue to do our jobs effectively, as public service broadcasters and journalists generally, we had to remain ever vigilant to attempts at push back, erosion, watering down, deflecting, and getting around the Fitzgerald Inquiry’s recommendations.

On the Separation of the Powers

One important way to do that was sort of what Quentin and I often did when he had a major political interview lined up, which was to role play or rehearse the interview, with me playing the interviewee, and him interrogating me in role ~ we were so across the major players, so ‘into them’, that I could convincingly respond to his questions like Mike Ahern, Liberal leader, Angus Innes, or ALP leader Wayne Goss would almost certainly do. Quentin had also honed his interviewing skills from years of court, parliament, and inquiry reporting experience, watching lawyers having at each other and at witnesses, and from studying cross-examination texts also studied by lawyers.

On September 25, 1989, Mike Ahern was ousted by dissident National Party MPs led by his Police Minister, Russell Cooper, that afternoon, Quentin came back to the newsroom having secured an interview with Mr Cooper which was scheduled to go Live in Queensland and the rest of the eastern states from 7.30pm, and we repaired to his desk to role play that night’s interview. Nobody came near us when we were doing these role plays, knowing we were both concentrating and focused.

Roll News closers in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Hobart, roll to record elsewhere, Roll The 7.30 Report Opening Titles, which we could see in the Brisbane control room coming back at us via satellite feeds as ours went out, local host’s welcomes, and common-junct to Brisbane.

“Good evening and thanks for joining us, Mr Cooper,” Quentin began.

“What do you understand by the separation of the powers?”

“I beg your pardon,” Mr Cooper replied.

“What do you understand by the separation of powers in the Westminster system of government?”

Russell Cooper, newly installed Queensland Premier, didn’t have a clue.

In the control room, those of us watching struggled not to crack up laughing, or picked our bottom jaws up off the floor where they’d fallen in utter disbelief.

Here was the new Queensland Premier committing political suicide live on national television.

Quentin had hit me upstairs earlier with that straightforward opening question and, because we’d both almost memorized key Fitzgerald Inquiry evidence and incidents, and he’d been there when Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen had completely fumbled the same question, so we’d both assumed that a new Queensland Premier would also have at least some idea about the meaning and purpose of that most fundamental principle of Westminster style governance. I’d fairly adequately responded to Quentin’s role played opening question, so we’d assumed Mr Cooper would be able to do so too.

Imagine then, my Déjà vu hit while watching 7.30 on October 31, 2013, when questions were raised about how well the Newman Government understood the separation of powers doctrine, including a clip from Police State, an ABC docu-drama on the Fitzgerald Inquiry featuring Gerry Connelly as Sir Joh being interrogated on that memorable point.

Never Forget & Remain Vigilant

I was, and remain, haunted by a closing line from Bertolt Brecht’s play, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, an allegory of the rise of Hitler set in 1930s Chicago gangland: “Do not rejoice in his defeat, you men. For though the world has stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again”.

Brecht, no doubt, was directly concerned about the probable rise of future fascist demagogues, and his warning can just as effectively be deployed to any kind of dominator from whatever extreme of the political or ideological spectrum. More generally, Brecht can be interpreted as warning how indefatigable the forces of domination are, and thence how alert folk of goodwill have to be to their incessant efforts at corruption and control, and be ever prepared to resist them.

That was exactly what Mr Fitzgerald was on about when he endorsed the Open Letter on good governance earlier in January, 2015.

He explained his view to Leigh Sales ~

LEIGH SALES: And why did you feel the need to remind politicians what good governance is and what public expectations are?

TONY FITZGERALD: Well, I think, really, public expectations have dropped off those requirements because politicians have ignored them for so long. They’re really requirements of what we call representative democracy, which is a system in which a parliament is elected to represent the people and to govern on behalf of the people. Whereas the political parties of today see it rather as a contest in which whichever one wins does pretty much what it likes. And so I suppose if we’re ever going to get back to the proper representative democracy, it will have to come through pressure from the public to force the parties to acknowledge these requirements and it seemed appropriate in the present circumstances to start that pressure going forward.

We had to re-read the Fitzgerald Inquiry recommendations, I’d said to Quentin 26 years ago, as if we were figuring out how to get around, over, through, or under them, so we’d at least be mentally prepared to detect how ‘the forces of darkness’ would be responding to this major assault on their domination.

Beginning to Really Understand Domination

I’m using ‘domination’ in its technical Hegelian, Weberian, critical theoretical, and republican senses, and I’m very well aware of how each body of theory deals with or nuances this central political and sociological concept. (I hasten to add that American republican thought, as contributed to by Philip Pettit, and his followers, and as the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy makes very clear indeed, has almost nothing whatsoever to do with current practical GoP or Tea Party nonsense. It’s indeed a major obstacle that when one encounters ‘American republican thought’ one is initially repelled because it might refer to the ‘Collected Wisdom of Sarah Palin’ or similar. Prof Pettit’s 2014 Alan Saunders Memorial Lecture was a masterly discourse on some key elements of genuine and highly relevant American republican thought. For a shorter taste, go here too.)

The American republican theorist, Frank Lovett, for example, describes people as being dominated when ‘… to the extent that they are dependent on a social relationship in which some other person or group wields arbitrary power over them’ (2010: 119 passim.). Coming from a critical theoretical direction, highly informed by Weber’s lengthy discourse on domination as well as general Marxism’s many approaches to the same issue, I would argue that domination amounts to ‘socially unnecessary constraints on human freedom and the pursuit of human potentials for emancipation and enlightenment’.

In other words, when closely and carefully considering some social phenomenon or trajectory of governance, ask the question, excoriatingly, ‘Do we really, really need this behavior, belief, law, or policy if the point of the exercise is maximizing human potentials for emancipation?’

Yes; as Frank Lovett from his American republican position, and recent critical theorists from their much more Western European perspectives are both respectively very well aware, as am I, the foregoing is decidedly problematic and contestable, particularly when grounded in specific countries, societies, and locations.

And we can bring in Jürgen Habermas at this point by referencing his theory of communicative action to set out the broad terrains and ways in which we ought to wage our debates if we want to do so to arrive at a sustainable and workable outcome. Though he only touches on the matter very briefly in his voluminous and very dense writings, and therein lies a significant weakness in his theory, the clear implication is that Habermas would accept that our discourses about Things That Really Matter must be conducted nonviolently if they are to have sustainable outcomes (see, for example, Between Facts and Norms, Pp. 382 passim.).

The Fitzgerald Strategy & Its Unraveling

Looking back over Mr Fitzgerald’s Inquiry strategy, it’s clear that while the Inquiry was triggered by media exposures of alleged, and then conclusively proven, police corruption involving so-called massage parlors, much of his Inquiry’s later efforts, and most Recommendations, were aimed at permanently reforming Queensland governance, starting with the notorious gerrymander, and tunneling into how the State was run to clean out nepotism, backroom political deals and influence, and other corrosive activities. Ripping apart the political environment in which corruption could corrosively flourish.

Leaping ahead a generation, Mr Fitzgerald has periodically railed against the Newman Government’s apparent watering down of the principles and even institutions put in place and largely operative intact since 1989. If one carefully traces Mr Fitzgerald’s criticisms of the Newman Government from just after it was elected in March, 2012, a clear pattern emerges of growing alarm at the trajectory this government has taken, culminating on Wednesday evening, January 28.

Starting with a speech at the Queensland State Library on March 30, 2012, criticizing the appointment of former Howard Government treasurer, Peter Costello, to chair the Commission of Audit, which produced the real Newman Government’s policies leading to Strong Choices.

And then a piece on ABC’s The Drum, co-authored with his former Counsel Assisting, Gary Crooke QC, on February 3, 2014.

Then in his Submission to the Newman Government’s review of the Crime and Misconduct Commission, one of his Inquiry’s lasting legacies.

In June, 2014, former Chief Magistrate, Tim Carmody, was appointed Chief Justice, an appointment of which Mr Fitzgerald said, “People whose ambition exceeds their ability aren’t all that unusual,”

“However, it’s deeply troubling that the megalomaniacs currently holding power in Queensland are prepared to damage even fundamental institutions like the Supreme Court and cast doubt on fundamental principles like the independence of the judiciary,” Mr Fitzgerald said.

At the end of June, Mr Fitzgerald went even further, adding News Corporation’s The Courier-Mail to his criticism.

“Queensland is extremely vulnerable to the misuse and abuse of power,” he said in a statement.

“There are almost no constitutional limits on the power of the state’s single house of parliament.

“Unless there is an effective parliamentary opposition to advocate alternative policies, criticise government errors, denounce excesses of power and reflect, inform and influence public opinion, the checks and balances needed for democracy are entirely missing.”

Then on January 8, 2015, The Australia Institute, with advice from Tony Fitzgerald, wrote to all political parties contesting the Queensland election calling on them to agree to some fundamental principles of good governance. The letter, signed by 50 prominent Australians is here (PDF).

By Thursday, January 22, all parties except the LNP had responded.

The Brisbane Times reported that Mr Fitzgerald was again critical of the LNP:

“It’s disappointing that the LNP apparently continues to yearn for the Bjelke-Petersen era of ethics-free government,” he said.

“The LNP’s failure to commit to these basic and surely uncontroversial principles of good governance, or even to explain why it won’t is capable of only two interpretations.

“It either intends to continue to act inconsistently with good governance, or it considers that the public is not entitled to know how it plans to govern, if elected,” Mr Fitzgerald said.

On Friday, January 23, Mr Fitzgerald wrote on ABC’s The Drum that:

“During its brief term in power, the present government treated the community with contempt.

From behind a populist facade, it engaged in rampant nepotism, sacked, stacked and otherwise reduced the effectiveness of parliamentary committees, subverted and weakened the state’s anti-corruption commission, made unprecedented attacks on the courts and the judiciary, appointed a totally unsuitable Chief Justice, reverted to selecting male judges almost exclusively and, from a position of lofty ignorance, dismissed its critics for their effrontery,” Mr Fitzgerald wrote.

The same day, Gary Crooke, QC, also weighed into what was really a one-sided debate, because the LNP weren’t participating, but he generally savaged the standard of political ethics generally, including ‘pay for access’ to politicians, in which both the ALP and the LNP were indulging.

No More Envelopes of Cash

Five days earlier ABC’s 7.30 programme raised much more serious questions about political donations in Queensland, including deploying file vision from a stunt I participated in while reporting on the Fitzgerald Inquiry.

In December, 1988, while under interrogation at the Inquiry, Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen explained how people just mysteriously arrived in his 15th floor George Street Executive Building office with envelopes of cash which was, apparently, laundered through a company called Kaldeal Pty Ltd so Sir Joh could directly fund National Party candidates of his choosing. The then weeknight state based The 7.30 Report ~ Oh! How that’s missed in Queensland right now ~ decided to try doing the same thing, so reporter Anna Reynolds and I got $10,000 cash from the ABC Credit Union and, closely shadowed by an extremely nervous Credit Union employee, put the cash in a briefcase, got one of our actors doing our re-enactments of Inquiry evidence, wired him up with a radio mic, and filmed him trying to get into the Executive Building from across the street. He got no further than the foyer.

This was, and remains, one of the darker aspects of contemporary political activity, though it isn’t done in the crude ways revealed at the Fitzgerald Inquiry, though the ‘bags’ or ‘envelopes of cash’ have gone into popular folklore. It’s almost done in the open, in broad daylight, or at least brightly lit convention centers and pay for attendance dinners.

Nothing should further need to be said by me, but rather from Mr Fitzgerald:

LEIGH SALES: We had a story on this program last week about both the LNP and the Labor Party in Queensland accepting cash for access to senior figures.


LEIGH SALES: What do you make of that practice?

TONY FITZGERALD: The main thing I make of it in relation to that recent – those recent events is that neither of the major parties seems to understand the meaning of the commitments they gave. That was – I think the third commitment was that people were not to get special access, etc. and I suppose if you pay money and are allowed a visit, you got special access. So I think it’s extraordinary.

LEIGH SALES: But the parties – the major parties all did agree and sign up to those four principles that we’ve talked about. But how are they actually enforced or how are parties to be held accountable for that?

TONY FITZGERALD: Two different questions. I think to be enforced, they can’t be legally enforced. To be held accountable, they can be held politically accountable. And that’s what I’ve really been urging people to think about in this forthcoming election. I don’t care how people vote; it’s not up to me. But I think it’s terribly important that people take into account not just specific issues – who’s going to get a bridge? Who’s going to get a tunnel and so on and so forth, but who’s going to behave properly? I’d like to see it happen this time, but if not this time, the next time, and if not the next time, the time after, so that we finally get to a situation where we’ve got a parliament that that’s acting on behalf of the people and not on behalf of their own constituents and supporters and rent seekers and chancers of all sorts who tie themselves onto them – the camp followers, if you like.

Serious questions continue to be raised about political donations in Queensland, but they won’t be satisfactorily answered. Too many vested interests have too much at stake to seriously embark on even adequate disclosure, let alone needed reform. Hence, Mr Newman can make claims about the ALP allegedly receiving tainted cash from bikie gangs laundered through unions, and all the ALP can do is vigorously deny it.

Unpacking the Looming Liquid Modern Queensland

Rather, I will now look at the looming Liquid Modern Queensland, which, I am very confident, but with dread shared with Mr Fitzgerald, will emerge once the election fallout starts to settle.

Not that Mr Fitzgerald and his many agreeing commentators use anything like these highfalutin’ terms or descriptions, even in their voluminous scholarly writings. Many are lawyers or legal scholars, so they go for the constitutional or regulatory intricacies of administrative or corruption regulation and control. And Mr Fitzgerald’s reported comments at the launch of the most recent of these tomes (and a well worth reading and considering one it is too) also bear attention.

Indeed, I would argue that the Abbott Government is actually Australia’s first fully formed Liquid Modern Government, but they took many of their operative cues from the Newman Government elected 18 months earlier. Or, perhaps, wily tacticians deep within the then Federal Opposition and their many backers, seized on the unexpected massive majority in Queensland to experiment here before fully deploying their own plans federally. This would fit with a Shock Doctrine scenario too.

Here I also depart from, though not necessarily disagree with, Dr Mark Bahnisch’s very perceptive observations in The Guardian, and The Monthly, probably the most insightful deeper reflective observations during the election campaign, truth be told. He summarized several of his points on Late Night Live on Wednesday evening, including speculating on the probability that Queensland was used as a test bed for later policies from the Abbott Government.

Dr Bahnisch, in part drawing on another insightful essay by Griffith Review’s Professor Julianne Schultz from 2008, maintains that, yes, Queensland is different, but by no means in the tediously clichéd ways deployed by southern observers. You know the ones ~ XXXX is Queensland’s beer ‘cos we can’t spell ‘beer’, pilots flying north warn passengers to set their watches back an hour and their heads back 20 years, and so on (yawn).

Queensland is different because we’re disruptive, in all sorts of ways, as Prof Schultz catalogues.

Welcome to The Future as The Present Already

And we’re going to get even more so once we go fully Liquid Modern.

Knowing I am doing violence to Zygmunt Bauman’s erudite and subtle arguments in Liquid Modernity and several subsequent books, often written as co-authored lengthy exchanges with various interlocutors, I would summarize the concept thus:

The formerly solid, firm, quite readily definable and identifiable concepts, ideas, principles, and even institutions which, over centuries and with monumental, terrible, setbacks ~ I’m writing this the day after the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz ~ have built up what we can call and understand as Modernity have gone fluid, slippery, and liquid.

The Modernist principles of good governance, for example, are those advocated by Tony Fitzgerald, grounded and ideally practiced in our peculiar polity of a Westminster derived democratic pluralist society.

It is the confluence of two very broad ideologies, bodies of thought and practice which contribute to Liquid Modernity.

Really understanding either of these is tricky and difficult, as many writers have their own approaches to them, from eagerly endorsing and promoting, to excoriatingly critical and condemning.

Postmodernist Neoliberalism = Liquid Modenity

A Liquid Modern government folds and deploys attempted, often against resistance, neo-liberalism and neo-liberal principles but uses postmodernist methods to achieve and implement them.

By no means am I arguing the details of Liquid Modernity, at least as I’m sketching it out here, go uncontested, and that gives one some optimism at times. Witness the Abbott Government’s continuing grief over its 2014 budget, and the implications of that had it been fully passed, and the probably of a major swing against the Newman Government this weekend.

An important feature of the neo-liberal playbook too is the Noble Lie, which I’ve mentioned in earlier posts too. Essentially, because neo-liberal principles and goals are correct, informed by the science of economics and the inexorable logic of the free market ~ did I just hear loud guffaws from most reputable economists including those with Nobel Prizes like Paul Krugman ~ nevertheless implementing them will be difficult because politics is messy, ideologically loaded, contested, and worse. Politics also involves people who just don’t understand the rectitude and rigor of neo-liberal thought. So neo-liberals have to firstly attain, keep, and indeed extend political power in order to implement their correct policies, and thence they have to Nobly Lie about what their real policies are and involve for societies in which they are to be implemented. Quite acceptable from their point of view, and this detachment or disengagement of strong truth claims and ethics in the interests of getting and keeping power conveniently meshes with applied postmodernism.

The Real Abbott & Newman (Seeney, Nichols, whoever’s left standing) Government Policies

I touched on this in my last Post too:

Just as the Abbott Government’s real policies are contained in the Recommendations of the National Commission of Audit, and therein lies the basis of much of the angst and grief, much self-created, being endured by the Abbott Government as it tries to implement at least the less politically toxic parts of those Recommendations, the Newman Government’s real policies are contained in the Costello-chaired Commission of Audit Recommendations.

From these, we got Strong Choices, the Newman Government’s Plan for Queensland, the central part of which are asset sales, err, sorry, 99 year asset leases, which will get Queensland out of debt, restore our AAA credit rating, and fund a future of prosperity and security, and everything.

A point which has been neglected in the campaign, but which bears close interrogation in all the hyperbole about all those jobs being, to be, will be, created, is what the Newman Government regards as ‘real jobs’.

Back on January 8, 2015, which seems almost like ancient history such is the excitement we’ve been having since, Brisbane Times’ Amy Remeikis and others reported Mr Newman as saying: “Real jobs are created in the real economy, in businesses and particularly in small businesses, they are not created by government authorities and Comcos”..

“They are created by business conditions that are conducive and situations where there are long-term plans to support those businesses. That is how you get job creation in Australia and indeed any western free market democracy,” Mr Newman said.

Huh? So people employed in government or state owned or operated workplaces, like public schools, public hospitals, the police force, or even the public service, minus the 14,000 or so Mr Newman sacked during his first year in office, are not working in the ‘real economy’ doing ‘real jobs’. So what the hell are they doing?

From a neo-liberal position, the only ‘Real Jobs’ are those in private enterprise, ideally with ‘flexible’ pay and conditions individually negotiated between employee and employer with no or minimal interference in the free labour market by governments. Feel a Productivity Commission Inquiry into labour market ‘reforms’ coming on?

Doing Postmodern Politics ~ Go Juggle Smoke

The postmodernist methods appear in the often severe difficulty one has in nailing down just what LNP politicians are actually saying when their ‘facts’ and information from which they derive their ‘facts’ are constantly shifting. This goes well beyond the usual complex arrays of spin, dissembles, selective cherry picking of data, we all know and loathe in the daily spin cycles. It’s admittedly initially weird to suggest neo-liberals embrace and deploy postmodernism to further their agendas when many of them are active ‘culture warriors’, railing against ‘Cultural Marxism’ at almost every turn. But they are.

Professor John Keane’s conception of ‘monitory democracy’ intervenes here because, in our highly interconnected world, information literate and capable citizens can and do closely monitor politics, governments, and their truth claims, and are quite capable of finding reliable information, and disseminating it widely. So, if Treasurer Joe Hockey rails about there being a ‘budget emergency’ requiring urgent expenditure surgery, if not near austerity, citizens of our monitory democracy can access the World Bank or the OECD or even the Treasury Department, look up relevant, current data ourselves, make sense of it, draw on reliable commentary likewise, and, at the least, call Mr Hockey out on blogs and social media to greater accountability. Not that he’ll listen much, because he knows he’s correct, doesn’t he.

This is a development on what the Howard Government endorsed when it attempted a version of postmodern conservatism, as described by Australian scholars, Geoff Boucher and Matthew Sharpe in The Times Will Suit Them though, by the time the book was published, Howard had lost the 2007 election.

A Dead, Buried. Cremated Corpse Arises

Of course, Work Choices was straight out of the neo-liberal prescription list for the ‘reform’ of Australian employment conditions, ‘reform’ always now deeply positively encoded to mean ‘better’, ‘improvement’, ‘fixing a problem’, rather than its formerly more neutral dictionary meaning: “The action or process of making changes in an institution, organization, or aspect of social or political life, so as to remove errors, abuses, or other hindrances to proper performance” (OED; emphasis added). And Work Choices seems to be shambling back to life in some reconstructed or resurrected form, even getting past the stake through its heart, next to the sliver bullet holes, coffin scattered with garlic, drenched in sanctified waters.

Depends on how one defines or decides what is a “… hindrance to proper performance” and what that “proper performance should be”. See above bald summary of neo-liberalism.

Because, in postmodernism, there are no ‘absolute’ verifiable, ‘facts’ (i.e., postmodernism has a very weak teleology at best), all ‘facts’ being social creations, postmodernist politics can be described as ‘fact free’, which is not to say there are no facts, because to do so would finally be to embrace nihilism, which is untenable, but rather that “I will decide what the facts are, and I will develop and deploy policy on the basis of what I have decided the ‘facts’ are”. (They don’t quite argue that phenomena like the laws of gravity are socially created and thence contested, but some of the applied implications of strongly verifiable phenomena, such as climate change, are, so one can then see how neo-liberal, even neo-conservative, climate change deniers actually deploy loathed postmodernist methods to try to at least cast doubt on the very strong sciences of climate change.)

The neo-liberalism kicks in when those proposing or arguing for alternative ‘facts’ find their employment status, funding, or regulatory existence being ‘reviewed’, ‘looked at’, ‘reformed’, or just shut down through defunding due to other ‘government priorities’.

Sounds familiar once one reflects back over all those promises made before the Queensland and the Federal elections which have now been abandoned, amended, run through Commissions of Audit which found, Shock Horror!, state and then federal budgets are disaster areas needing fundamental and deep seated ‘reforms’. This is the Shock Doctrine, meaning, find, create, exploit, or concoct a ‘crisis’ ~ Budget Emergency anybody? ~ which can only be fixed by rigorous application of neo-liberal policies and prescriptions. Chaos is the only alternative. (Seen any LNP ads in the last few days?)

I’ll leave this discussion at this point, but will re-visit it during 2015 as I am very well aware I have glossed many issues which really need and deserve much deeper interrogation.

To conclude, my usually most reliable election guide, my water, tells me that the LNP Newman Government, quite possibly minus Newman himself if the latest polls are accurate, will be returned with a very reduced majority, but still a workable one to exercise the mandate they have been given by the Queensland people to continue implementing its Strong Choices.

We’ve also been told what will be done to electorates which vote “incorrectly” too.

Welcome to the truly Liquid Modern Queensland.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

CanDo Newman — a losery winner in the Queensland election?

January 7, 2015

by Dr Mark Hayes

Dr Mark Hayes is a native Queenslander, a journalism academic, and a former researcher, reporter, and producer with the then ABC TV state-based weeknight current affairs programme, The 7.30 Report. He helped report on the Fitzgerald Inquiry and its aftermath, which continues today.

We’re off to the polls on January 31. Calm yourselves. The LNP will win.

After that confident prediction, several really interesting things may occur, interesting in the Chinese curse sense.

Rather than go into all the psephological details, the ABC’s indefatigable Antony Green is on the case.

Dr Hayes predicts an LNP win – let’s hope he’s wrong

The LNP will win because it holds a huge majority of seats in Queensland’s single chamber Parliament and there would have to be a genuinely astonishing state wide swing of almost 12% two party preferred against the Newman Government for Labor to win government in its own right. Then again, the massive swing against the Bligh Government in 2012 was astonishing.

Suprised? So are we

Suprised? So are we

The LNP holds 73 seats in Queensland’s 89 seat Parliament. The ALP holds nine, independents hold three, and Katter’s Australian Party holds three seats.

Just to be clear about this, Newman and the LNP didn’t win massively in 2012 because Queensland voters eagerly endorsed, understood, or were even told what their real agendas and policies were, and remain.

The LNP largely won so comprehensively because they weren’t the tired Bligh Labor Government which had betrayed voters by privatizing some state assets, such as Queensland Rail’s lucrative freight division, after promising voters they would not do so, and Queensland Labor ran an awful election campaign. Campbell Newman capitalized on his high profile as former Brisbane Lord Mayor and the fact he wasn’t Anna Bligh.

Essentially the same reason the largely accidental Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, elected Opposition Leader by one vote and then pursuing a relentlessly corrosive attack strategy, won in September, 2013. He wasn’t Julia Gillard or Kevin Rudd and he wasn’t leading the ALP.

What has occurred since is largely backfilling the narratives to argue for ‘mandates’.

Read the rest of this entry »

TVNZ cuts – one finger now, but soon the heart?

March 17, 2009

So the axe is falling again at TVNZ. Yesterday’s announcement that TVNZ management will shave $25 million from the national broadcaster’s budget was not a surprise.  In some circles it’s what we might call a “pre-emptive buckle”.

That is, the organisation has chosen to chop off it’s own little finger, rather than have the Nationals’ Razor Gang do the job. The Yakuza has a similar punishment ritual, it’s meant to demonstrate iron discipline, instill fear and, through fear, loyalty.

Understandable really. Better to be in charge of your own destiny, even if it’s the death of a thousand cuts. At least when hacking into your own flesh (if it’s not a death wish) you can have a decent first aid kit on hand to stem the blood flow.

On paper (on screen?) it looks like the cuts are evenly spread.

The top executives have agreed to a pay-freeze (head-shaking, “Why?”). I guess this demonstrates their commitment to the organisation and it’s supposed to send a signal that the pain is being shared and that the top rung is leading from the front.

Though, if you’re lemmings heading for a clifftop fall, who wants to be in the front line. Tired cliche I know and lemmings don’t actually rush head-long off clifftops, but why let the truth get in the way of a good urban-myth-as-metaphor line.

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Their crisis – our right to resist

February 22, 2009


Protest Key’s Summit this Friday Feb 27 from 4pm till 6pm, TelstraClear Pacific Events Centre, 770 Great South Road, Manakau.

Summit programme HERE.
Contact Joe at 021 1861450

I’m not expecting this protest on Friday to be huge, after all the trade union movement will be officially represented inside – the reformist way is to attempt to deal with the bosses. However, I think it’s about time that we organise and educate ourselves about the crisis. It’s not just a few bad eggs among the banking fraternity – though there are plenty of those – it’s a systemic crisis.

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Georgia on my mind – gangsters, oil and blood

August 16, 2008

Warning: this post contains some AO language and is not really about taxi drivers at all.

I have a lot of respect for cab drivers. Most of the time they’re really well-educated and they’re all very, very  street-smart. Last night I got a ride home with Ahmad. He’s from Afghanistan and he was listening to the BBC World Service.

There were items about the conflict in Georgia and so we got to talking. It was quite funny to realise that my chat with Ahmad was the perfect dessert to my main course argument with my colleague Wayne at the Brooklyn.

Wayne and I had been talking about Russia, Georgia, gangster capitalism, transnationals and failed or failing states. Ahmad segued straight into that line of thinking off the back of the World Service reports from Georgia. Ahmad has been all over the world. He thinks the Russians are crazy and hates the American presence in his homeland. There’s a nice, balanced logic to his position and I’m instantly drawn to a stranger who’s making my journey smooth on a soggy Auckland night.

My conversations with Wayne and Ahmad  led to this little tome: gangster capitalism, the looming resource wars and ‘regime change’.

What happens when you give gangsters access to new-killer weapons of mass distraction?

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Regime Quake – good news, or excuse for incursion?

May 17, 2008

I have just read Naomi Klein’s column in The Nation, it’s online here. She makes an argument that the cyclone in Burma and the earthquake in China could lead to greater political unrest in those nations. I guess that’s always a possibility in the aftermath of such shocks, but how can people really fight back when they’re starving and their backs are literally to the wall? Read the rest of this entry »

summer reading #3: not for faint-hearted

January 11, 2008

Is there something in the wind that might make 2008 an interesting year for progessive/left politics?
I don’t put much faith in the US election system, but the “change” mantra is catching on, there’s something to it.
Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton are fighting it out for the Democrat nomination, not that either of them will “change” anything fundamental about American capitalism, but the very core of politics seems to be shifting.
The neocon ascendency may be over.

I’ve just finished Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine: the rise of disaster capitalism and Joe Bageant’s eriely amusing Deer Hunting with Jesus. I recommend both of these books to anyone who wants to understand American politics today.

Bageant’s book is an insider’s view of life in working class America today, in particular in the south. It’s not a pretty picture; but as Orwell said, “if there’s any hope at all, it lies with the proles”.
Bageant is a self-taught journalist, editor and blogger who writes at “The Smirking Chimp“,though when I checked on 11 Jan 08, he hadn’t posted anything since July 2007. [Ah good, I’m not the only blogger-slacker].
Bageant grew up in the south and he understands the people of his community; he knows why they’re obese and sick and smoke and die young and bitch about blacks etc. He pulls no punches, but he also makes the point that without these people, there will be no new American revolution. He’s right about that.

On the other hand Shock Doctrine is, in one sense a more academic book. Klein thanks a small army of researchers for helping with the detail in this massive and well-written book.

Klein’s thesis is simple, yet effective. global capitalism has, for the past 30 years, thrived on crisis. In fact, one of the key drivers of profit and sustaining the system is the use of shock tactics against entire nations and peoples.
It begins with psychological torture and physical torture of the body in the 1940s, and quickly moves on to show how Milton Friedman took these tactics into mainstream economics thanks to the “Chicago Boys”.
Latin America was their first laboratory — think Pinochet and the other dictators; then the shock doctrine was applied in Eastern Europe and China during the 1980s and early 1990s; but today it’s in Iraq and New Orleans where the shock doctors ply their evil trade.
What I really found interesting was the excellent economic analysis of capitalism, even though Klein is not an avowed Marxist.
I was also pleased to see her writing about surveillance. Her arguments about the hollowing-out of the state and the privatisation of government functions (everything from Blackwater to reconstruction in New Orleans) and the rise and importance of surveillance for both commercial and political means, echoes the arguments John Harrison and I make in Communication and New Media: From Broadcast to Narrowcast.

The surveillance economy and disaster capitalism are part of the same reordering of capital in order to maintain hegemony. You can read more about Klein and the shock doctrine at her website

However, back to the good news for 2008. It seems the class struggle has not gone away and Klein’s upbeat assessment of the resistance in Latin America was pretty convincing and I’m a real skeptic about the revolutionary potential of Hugo Chavez.