Australian Notes

Australian Notes

21 May 2015

9:30 AM

21 May 2015

9:30 AM

The latest conflict of Church and State in New South Wales began when the state’s education department banned the use of two Anglican texts in the (optional) church-related religious classes in state schools. One of the books is You: An Introduction by the Rev Dr Michael Jensen, Rector of St. Mark’s Darling Point. The other is A Sneaking Suspicion by Dr John Dickson, a director of the Centre for Public Christianity. There was no consultation. No one knew why the books were banned. A spokesman for the education department is reported to have announced cryptically that ‘the books potentially breach the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998.’ Dr Jensen is quoted in the Bible Society’s magazine Eternity: ‘This is outrageous’ and Anglican parish newsletters around the country have taken up the cause. The education department will probably find a face-saving way to withdraw its ill-advised ban. But many clergy are calling for more. They want an apology from ‘those cowboys’ in the education department. (At the moment of going to press, the Minister for Education has withdrawn the bans. More to come.)

The Mutiny on the Bounty is finally over. It happened last week when the House of Representatives on May 12 and the Senate on May 14 passed legislation abolishing the Parliament of Norfolk Island, the last home of the Pitcairners and Bounty mutineers. It was sad but inevitable. Many long years ago I did a stint as Administrator of the Island under the newly introduced system of Parliamentary self-government set up by the reforming Minister for Home Affairs R.J. (Bob) Ellicott QC. Ellicott’s idea was to find a compromise between Australia’s responsibilty for the welfare of Norfolk Islanders and the recognition of their unique and proud Pitcairn heritage, including their resistance to Australian taxation, social services and immigration laws. As Administrator I did my best to help make it work. But in the long run a population of about 1800 could not raise the revenue for the health and welfare of the Islanders, especially after the global financial crisis and the collapse of tourism. Businesses and shops have been closing down. Islanders have been getting out. (Sydney has the largest Pitcairner population in the world.) The only way ahead is to fully incorporate the Island within the Commonwealth with its Medicare, Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, pensions, social services – and taxation. An advisory regional council will replace the doomed Legislative Assembly. But don’t expect too much cheering around Burnt Pine. There will always be some irreconcilables who would rather live and die as Norfolk’s ‘noble savages’ than be run by Canberra.


A few weeks back I noted on this page a forthcoming book Let My People Go. The Untold Story of Australiaand the Soviet Jews 1958-1989 by Sam Lipski and Suzanne Rutland. Robert Goot, president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, has now launched it at the Sydney Jewish Museum. He recalls the struggling but triumphal thirty years covered by the book as a period of ‘high emotions and robust debate’, sometimes ‘too robust.’ Some Australian Jews, he said, were ‘brash, combative, obsessive and impatient’ in support of the persecuted Jews of the Soviet Union. (Among the most ‘combative’ of all was Melbourne’s Isi Leibler.) Partly in response to Leibler’s 1965 influential Soviet Jewry and Human Rights, Moscow’s anti-Semites published Beware Zionism, a communist version of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. In 1970 Prime Minister Gorton strongly protested when Soviet Jews were sentenced to death for attempting to escape Russia in a hi-jacked ’plane, while his more cautious Foreign Minister McMahon followed Departmental advice that Australian protests would invite Soviet retaliation. (New Guinea? Aborigines?) In 1978/9 Prime Minister Fraser, also against Departmental advice, backed John Wheeldon’s momentous joint House/Senate inquiry into human rights in the Soviet Union. Many readers will find some details in the book shocking. It draws on voluminous ASIO files and Leibler’s massive records now held in Israel, as well as memoirs from all over. Goot quotes, for example, from the Nixon White House tapes in which Henry Kissinger is recorded as saying: ‘If they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.’ President Nixon responded: ‘I know. We can’t blow up the whole world because of it.’ Kissinger also commented: ‘I think that the Jewish community in this country on that issue [Soviet Jewry] is behaving unconscionably, traitorously.’ Is this what foreign policy wonks call Realism? Goot calls it ‘perfidy’.

Two quiet American insiders from Washington DC dropped in at the US Studies Centre in Sydney last week for Tom Switzer’s forum on American politics. One was Tony Podesta, a leading Democrat lobbyist. He said history will see Barack Obama as a prudent and far-sighted President who ended wars and introduced health care for 20 million Americans. He was also confident of Obama’s Iranian nuclear deal: Iran would rather have an economy and no bomb than a bomb and no economy. The other American was Barry Jackson, former advisor to President George W. Bush and Speaker Boehner. He thought it was far too early to say how history will see Barack Obama. People are still arguing about George Washington. Obama sees himself as a transformational figure, above ordinary human beings. But he has yet to earn the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to him in 2009.

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