Australia’s split identity

While I do not pay much attention to the sheer childishness of what passes for ‘politics’ in Australia, I am intrigued by its split identity.

Let me put it this way: about 60,000 years ago a planned migration took place. Those who became the first peoples in Australia came from south-east Asia, heading southward across a series of islands to the mainland. They were homo sapiens, while Neanderthals still roamed Europe. But their arrival made it clear that the country was part of south-east Asia.

Some 240 years ago – by comparison a very short period of time – some Europeans arrived, tried to wipe out the most ancient continuous culture in the world, and tried to shape this part of the world as a western European outpost. It worked for a while, when the immigrants were mostly from the UK. For example, after the Second World War, the total population was 7 million, of which the vast majority were from the UK.

Since then, the shift has been dramatic. Waves of wider European immigration took place, and after 1972, more and more people emigrated from the Middle East, Africa and especially Asia. At the time of writing, the population is almost 25 million. Now those of English ancestry are a clear minority, and in the not too distant future those of European ancestry (like me) will also be a minority.

Why? Each year almost 200,000 immigrants move to Australia – apart from those who come to Australia to study and work. Of these, more than half come from Asia. Indeed, as I write, more than 2 million people who are Australian citizens were born in Asia, let alone those born in Australia of Asian parents over the last few decades.

Anecdotally, earlier this year I attended one of many citizenship ceremonies held each year. About 500 people were present, of which perhaps ten percent were white and most likely of European extraction. The vast majority were from everywhere else in the world.

Some time soon, the country may well revert to its former identity, but in the meanwhile it faces a continuing problem of split identity. Is it a ‘western’ European country that somehow – by a quirk of geography – found itself in another part of the world? Or is it really part of Asia, or perhaps the Asia-Pacific?

Or as a rather insightful article in the Global Times put it, with more immediate relevance:

Canberra must pursue an independent policy toward China. The key issue is Australia’s self-positioning. On the one hand, Australia identities itself as an Asia-Pacific country because Asia is the fastest-growing economic region, so involving itself in Asia’s industrial chain will bring tangible benefits to Australia’s economy. If Australia wants to follow that strategy, it has to carefully deal with its relations with China to enhance bilateral ties.

On the other hand, Australia is used to seeing itself as a member of the Western camp, acting as a US ally over political issues. But politics is bound to affect economic ties and economic problems between the two countries are essentially a political issue. Rethinking its identity will help Australia adopt an appropriate policy to deal with Chinese issues.

 

This article puts it in economic and political terms, but I would add cultural identity in light of the rapidly changing demographics.

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Local DPRK friendship societies

If you look beneath the media and political hype, there has been quite an upturn in the work and energy of DPRK friendship societies in my local area. One is the NZ-DPRK Society. Established in 1973, the long-standing chair was the Reverend Don Borrie. After he retired, Tim Beal took over. Incidentally, by far the best book on the DPRK is Tim Beal’s North Korea: The Struggle Against American Power (Pluto 2005). It carefully pulls apart much of the sheer fake news about the DPRK.

In Australia we also have the Australia-DPRK Friendship and Cultural Society. It too has been around since the 1970s, but has recently gained renewed interest and energy.

These groups are certainly growing: in August 2017, 180 delegates from 61 countries gathered in the DPRK for a large solidarity conference.

Australia: least friendly country for Chinese in 2017

A dubious achievement at the close of 2017: Australia was voted the least friendly country for Chinese in 2017. In an online poll, out of 14,667 respondents, 8,751 listed Australia as the least friendly, or 59.6%.

Why? Treachery or betrayal was cited as the main reason. On the one hand, bilateral ties have increased, the largest number of tourists in Australia come from China, tens of thousands of students study and work here. China is Australia’s largest trading partner, ensuring that Australia has not had a recession for 31 years. On the other hand, Chinese students have been physically attacked, leading to the Chinese Embassy issuing an official warning to Chinese students about such matters, and the all-show-and-no-substance prime minister (Malcolm Turnbull) has been whipping up Sino-phobia concerning CPC ‘influence’ in Australia.

As one commentator observed: ‘In Chinese culture, treachery is really despised, and this is a key reason why Australia received the most votes’.

So who came second and third: India and the United States (a significant rise, with many rethinking their connections to the USA).

 

How to buy political influence in Australia

The normal way to do business in Australia is open the cheque book and start handing over dollops of money to politicians and political parties. Soon enough, decisions will go your way and you will make even more cash. Indeed, the vast majority of those who have made their millions and billions in Australian history have done so through the government.

But – and it is a big but – you have to be the ‘right’ sort of person. I usually don’t pay much attention to this corporate news source, but there is one economist – of the neo-classical sort – who has a sharp eye. Michael Pascoe is his name, and he has penned a piece called ‘There’s five rules in the business of buying influence‘. It arose in response to a kerfuffle, in the context of a wave of Sino-phobia, of Chinese influence – specifically the generous Huang Xiangmo who is currently deemed not the ‘right’ person by some (I admire him a lot) .

So Pascoe lists not only a few of the more egregious examples of earlier influence-buying by those deemed acceptable, but also offers the following rules:

1.   Hire lobbyists to do it at arm’s length. There’s a conga line of them waiting for your direct deposit, many of them recently ex-politicians and staffers, all with excellent access to power to push your case. For example, who do you think really formulates our tax policy?

2.   Use industry bodies.  They provide tax-deductable funding for absolutely political ends just when the government is threatening charities with the loss of tax-deductible status if they indulge in “political” (i.e. anti-government) activities.

The Minerals Council comes to mind, or the National Automotive Leasing & Salary Packaging Association – McMillan Shakespeare certainly didn’t like Labor’s policy of abolishing the novated lease lurk, but it was the NALSPA that donated the $250,000 to the Liberal Party. And Labor subsequently fell into line.

3.   China links. Try and not be a successful mainland Chinese with the somewhat inevitable relationships with the Chinese government. It’s perfectly fine to organise and push Israeli or American policy of dubious value to Australia, but not Chinese.

4.  The art of disguise. Adopt an anglicised name and have your PR people start referring to you as “Aussie” e.g. “Aussie Moe” Huang will work better than “Huang Xiangmo” – and you’ll be spared Australian newsreaders being unable to pronounce it.

Become a prominent supporter of such bodies as the American Australian Association and the Australia Israel Chamber of Commerce that ASIO is less likely to be bugging. And sponsor events that no politician can avoid and many will get taxpayers to fund attending – State of Origin, Melbourne Cup, Grand Prix, Grand Finals.

5. Be Rupert Murdoch, or at least own some prominent shock jocks.

Australia – Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Committee in Pyongyang

Among the many intriguing delights of Pyongyang is the Juche friendship wall:

2015 June 209 (640x478)

Plaques from nearly every country in the world represent the various Juche study groups and DPRK friendship groups. I even managed to find one from Australia:

2015 June 213 (640x382)

Many of the plaques date from the 1970s and 1980s, but a few from more recent times. However, since the Australian one comes from 1976, I thought it was time to update the representation. I gathered the Australians in our group for a photograph:

2015 June 219 (640x475)

Call for Papers: Historical Materialism Australasia 2015

Australasia’s own Historical Materialism conference will meet again this year: 17-18 July at the University of Sydney. More information here, but I have copied the call for papers.

Historical Materialism Australasia 2015: Reading Capital, Class & Gender Today

The year 2015 marks a series of conspicuous anniversaries. Three books in particular celebrate significant milestones this year. Raewyn Connell and Terry Irving’s seminal Class Structure in Australian History was published thirty-five years ago, Louis Althusser and his students published Reading Capital fifty years ago, and Silvia Federici produced Wages Against Housework forty years ago. These works function at once as indices of the diversity of approaches licensed by the Marxist tradition – historical sociology, philosophical inquiry, polemical ardor – while also sharing that singularly Marxist commitment to the ruthless criticism of all that exists (including Marxism itself) in light of the real movement that abolishes the present state of things. It is in that spirit of diversity and critical engagement with the world as it is that we announce the 2015 Historical Materialism Australasia Conference.

The diversity in the works commemorated above is not limited to their methodology. The issues they address remain alive today, as questions of politics or scholarship or both: the interaction of class and race in settler colonial societies; the place of class and labour in historical inquiry; the concept of a transitional period; the philosophical status of Marx’s work and its relationship to other forms of knowledge; the concept of critique itself; the question of Capital’s continued reproduction; the relationship between feminism(s) and Marxism; the role of care labour in a theory of work; the place of the wage in capitalist society. This list does not exhaust the challenges these works undertook to address nor, of course, the specific challenges and opportunities that confront us today. But it is the wager of this conference that the vitality of historical materialism is precisely in this propensity, even bias, towards interdisciplinarity, seen not as a conference buzzword, but as the only adequate response to the society that faces us.

With that in mind, we welcome submissions of 250-word abstracts for papers on the questions above or any others that engage with this broader tradition, critically or otherwise; panel proposals should include short abstracts for each paper coupled with an outline of the panel as a whole. We especially welcome contributions from activists and scholars outside of (or peripheral to) the academy. All submissions should be emailed to hmaustralasia [at] gmail.com by Friday the 15th of May.