Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Communist influence in the Labor party

Some interesting history below by the ultimate Communist insider, Mark Aarons. Mark inherited leadership of the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) from his father Laurie and not long afterwards wound the party up. Outside the universities, Communism is now dead in Australia. It is interesting that Mark does not defend the CPA below -- probably to protect his present high status in the Labor Party. The vile things he has written about the Vatican suggest that his underlying views are still Soviet-style.

From all that I know of the matter, however, I think Mark's basic point that the influence of Communism on the Labor party was indirect and confined to a small minority is correct. And I did have a fair bit to do with Communists (AND the DLP) in the period concerned, for one reason or another. In fact Mark and I were taking out sisters at one stage. That was when he still had hair

THE relationship between the ALP and the Communist Party was complex. Bob Carr has revised his view of Labor Party history based on my recently published book The Family File. But he pushes it too far.

The ASIO files demonstrate that important figures in the ALP Left were dual members of the Communist Party of Australia. That does not support Carr's conclusion that the "impetus" for policy positions advocated by the ALP Left originated entirely with such people.

There has always been a strong Labor Left, both before and after there was a CPA (1920-91). Most such members pursued policies during the Cold War because they believed in them, not because they were so instructed by secret communists. My reading of well over 100,000 pages of ASIO files reveals scant evidence of a direct connection, although there were ties between some CPA leaders and ALP members who were completely loyal to their party.

One such relationship was between my father, Laurie Aarons, and Tom Uren, who long ago publicly acknowledged Laurie as a significant influence, along with "Weary" Dunlop, among others. Carr quotes me as accepting "Uren's denial" that he was a CPA member. The position is much clearer: in Uren's ASIO file I found one agent's report claiming he had been a CPA member from 1948 to 1958. If that were true there most certainly would have been other reports from that period, as in similar files. ASIO's coverage of the CPA at this time was ubiquitous; it would have been impossible to hide Uren's "membership" from ever-present agents and telephone bugs. The official record substantiates Uren's denial.

Uren was undoubtedly influenced by the ideas of some communists, but many of these were positive: for example, his pioneering work for the environment. Jack Mundey's green bans stimulated Uren's thinking, and rightly so.

The period leading up to and after the Labor split of 1955 was more complex than Carr's version. I recently made the point to him that during the first half of the 1950s the battle inside the ALP was really between two unpalatable opposites: Bob Santamaria's attempt to impose a somewhat medieval, rural-based Catholic social policy on the ALP, and the communists' effort to build a powerful base to shift the ALP Left from "reformism" to "revolution".

Carr's critique of Bert Evatt, and his endorsement of the Democratic Labor Party's anti-Labor position in the 50s and 60s are oversimplifications. After he became ALP leader in 1951, Evatt maintained an alliance with Santamaria's forces against the Labor Left. Santamaria's "movement" was established in 1941 as a "mirror image" of the CPA, thus inheriting some of its Stalinist characteristics. It was an official arm of the Catholic Church, working with the ALP Industrial Groups to defeat communists in trade unions.

Evatt's decision to repudiate this alliance arose because he believed that Santamaria had reneged on an improbable deal: in return for delivering the Catholic vote at the 1954 election, which he expected to win, Evatt would accept Santamaria's conception of what sort of party Labor should be. As revealed in Gerard Henderson's book Mr Santamaria and the Bishops, as early as 1952 Santamaria had declared that he had the power to turn the ALP into a Catholic party, based on his own narrow "Christian social program". But after Labor lost in 1954, Evatt renounced Santamaria and did a deal with the Left.

Evatt was the architect of his own defeat, propounding the conspiracy theory about the Petrov royal commission and declaring there was no espionage because the Soviet government said so. The commission's conclusions about the KGB spy ring, operated by CPA member Wally Clayton, were actually understated. Clayton's confession to Laurie Aarons, revealed in my book, lays the conspiracy theory to rest.

Carr's revision of history lacks nuance. The DLP, which he now praises, was not simply "anti-communist". Contrary to his denials, Santamaria controlled both the DLP and the National Civic Council, which was established after Rome decreed that the "movement" breached doctrine about the separation of the church from the political activities of Catholics. The DLP pursued both anti-communism and Santamaria's Catholic "social program". The NCC also had a clandestine and well-organised presence in the ALP, despite being proscribed, like the CPA. Indeed, it was far better organised, for several decades running sophisticated intelligence operations, which provided invaluable material to ASIO.

As Carr correctly says, his NSW Right faction emerged victorious in the battle that raged for 50 years between Left and Right extremes. This faction has been dominant, both in NSW and federally, precisely because of its pragmatic view that it was better to hang on to power than pursue ideological chimeras, Left or Right. Carr quotes former prime minister Paul Keating as correctly identifying the communist influence in the ALP. More recently, however, Keating has slammed his old faction, the NSW Right, for lacking "an ideology other than the pursuit of power". What a pity that Ben Chifley's "Light on the Hill" has come to that.


Hey, big spenders, hands off our money

JULIA Gillard can learn much from the principles of Hayek and Friedman.

WHILE the Prime Minister has started her informal election campaign with a pitch to the future, a more honest and telling indicator of a Gillard Labor government is a focus on the recent past.

Even a cursory look at the Green Loans scheme, just the latest Labor debacle, suggests a consistent message. Labor in the 21st century is committed to a deluded philosophy where a big spending government believes it can spend our money better than we can. It can't, of course.

While Julia Gillard has taken deliberately bold moves to change direction over the mining tax, immigration, population and climate change, there is no sign that a Gillard government will free itself from the costly fantasy that took hold under Kevin Rudd about the omnipotence of big spending government brimming with expensive and grand designs.

And that's a shame. The systemic mismanagement of the Green Loans scheme, made public last week, was the perfect chance for Gillard and Labor to move away from Rudd's outdated philosophy. Instead, there were just murmurs of doing better, just like the promises made by Rudd after the disastrous home insulation scheme blew up in his face.

The Green Loans program, with an initial budget of $300 million, later cut to $175m, promised government-funded energy assessments in 300,000 homes and up to 75,000 interest-free loans of up to $10,000 so households could reduce the environmental impact of their homes. Sounds too good to be true. And it was.

Predictably, and understandably, shonks and sharks sniffed the easy money. And three independent reports reveal a litany of government and bureaucratic failings. For example, an independent external review by Patricia Faulkner, a former head of the Victorian Department of Human Services, with support from KPMG, found: 96 per cent of procurements reviewed were done without open competition, evidence of contract splitting to avoid authorisation by senior management, repeated breaches of the Financial Management Act and Regulations, non-compliance with Commonwealth Procurement Guidelines, unaddressed conflicts of interest, lack of documentation, poor contract management, lack of commercial terms (advance payments were often made), huge cost escalations (an original contract for $49,588 skyrocketed to $462,000, while another for $770,000 ended up costing $3.4m), weak budget controls, delays in implementing an audit process and the absence of a quality assurance program.

In short, no one cared too much about how money was spent, how much money was spent and what quality of services it was spent on.

Other reports confirmed the predictable mess that emerged from the Rudd government's rush towards stimulus spending.

While the former prime minister devoted thousands of words to rejecting (and misunderstanding) the free-market teachings of Friedrich von Hayek, the economist is making a timely and popular comeback. His 1944 bestseller The Road to Serfdom, recently topped the bestseller list on The diminutive Austrian with big ideas even features in a new video, Fear the Boom and Bust ( where he and his rival John Maynard Keynes put the battle of ideas to rap music. With more than 1.3 million hits, the YouTube video by two economists shows a big-spending arrogant Keynes waking up after the global recession with the mother of all deficit hangovers while the fiscally restrained Hayek teaches him some lessons about wasting other people's money. Hayek's first principles cannot be repeated often enough.

Hayek's book is a rare economic feat: a readable, concise explanation of economic principles, political philosophy and human nature. Dedicated "to the socialists of all parties", it resonates more than half a century later because, as Milton Friedman once wrote, even after the demise of socialism, "the bulk of the intellectual community almost automatically favours any expansion of government" if it is sold the right way to punish evil corporations, to relieve poverty, to protect the environment and so on. No one sensible calls themselves a socialist any more. They adhere to new, fuzzy labels like democratic socialism to justify their pursuit of centrally enforced, moral objectives. Like spending billions of dollars to stimulate an economy by building school halls, installing free insulation and providing green loans to make houses more environmentally friendly. The list is limitless. Yet the consequences of big, interventionist government are so often the same: vast amounts of money are wasted because a small group of people wrongly assume they know better how to spend other people's money.

Hayek called it the fatal conceit and said "the curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design".

Gillard, who has the historical hallmarks of being another grand designer yet wants to be known as the great pragmatist, ought to check whether the myriad failings of the Green Loans scheme are explained by first principles.

Freidman, who wrote the introduction to Hayek's book, best described the four ways we spend money: "You can spend your own money on yourself. When you do that, why then you really watch out what you're doing, and you try to get the most for your money. Then you can spend your own money on somebody else. For example, I buy a birthday present for someone. Well, then I'm not so careful about the content of the present, but I'm very careful about the cost. Then, I can spend somebody else's money on myself. And if I spend somebody else's money on myself, then I'm sure going to have a good lunch! Finally, I can spend somebody else's money on somebody else. And if I spend somebody else's money on somebody else, I'm not concerned about how much it is, and I'm not concerned about what I get. And that's government."

And that's the Green Loans scheme. And the insulation program. And the national roll-out of new school halls.

In the 1960s, Hayek's ideas about fiscal prudence lost out to the sexy "new economics" of Keynes, premised on government spending as the economic saviour. But Hayek has had the last laugh. While Rudd wants to be remembered for saving Australia from the global recession, it's not hard to do that by spending a $20 billion surplus and leaving the nation with a $40bn deficit.

Even when smart people like Rudd do it, they do it badly because that is what happens when people spend other people's money on other people. Gillard is also smart.

The question is whether she is intellectually honest enough to learn that lesson.


Not happy, Julia

Comments by Left-leaning economist Ross Gittins

Excuse me, but what's the tearing hurry? We've had a new Prime Minister for five minutes, but we're being rushed off to an election before we can get her measure. Why? Is there a fear, if the election were delayed until October, the gloss would have worn off and we'd see Julia Gillard in a less hopeful and flattering light?

Is the new leader's fleeting honeymoon all that stands between Labor and electoral defeat? Is Labor's record in government that bad? Is Tony Abbott such a formidable opponent?

I'm not impressed by what we've seen of the Gillard government so far. We've seen the triumph of political expediency over good government. From her first day she's left little doubt three running political sores - the mining tax, resentment of boat people and the vacuum left by Labor's abandonment of its emissions trading scheme - needed to be staunched quick smart if the government's re-election were to be secured.

But what hasty, amateurish patch-up jobs we've seen. Wayne Swan has fudged up figures purporting to show the revenue cost of the deal done with the three biggest mining companies was minor, whereas sharemarket analysts are saying the extra tax to be paid by the companies will be minor. Then we had the fearful muddle over the Timor solution the Timorese hadn't agreed to, and now we're getting the climate change policy you have when you don't have a climate change policy.

The trouble with all this is it's terribly reminiscent of Kevin Rudd. Lacking in courage, not thought through and thrown together at the last moment. None of these stop-gap solutions will have been legislated before the election. So is that to be Gillard's agenda for Labor's second term: finishing off all the stuff not finished in the first term? Is that to be as inspiring as it gets? First re-elect my government and then I'll have time to think up my own agenda?

I'm sure the government has plenty of announcements up its sleeve to make between now and election day, but I'm not sure they'll add up to anything more than a grocery list. Bit of this, bit of that, tinker with this, fine-tune that. Nothing controversial, of course, and (given the budget deficit) nothing too expensive.

Before we vote on whether to retain Gillard we need to know a lot more about her and, more particularly, where she proposes to take us.

She tells us she believes in hard work, egalitarianism and the value of education, and she's proud of her mum and dad. I doubt if there are many who'd disagree, but if that's as big as her vision gets she's not ready to be our leader.

One of Rudd's biggest problems was he couldn't set priorities for himself. He took on too much, wanted the biggest and best in everything, and ended up not getting much achieved. He took on a couple of big economic reforms - the emissions trading scheme and the resource rent tax - but took them far too cheaply, underestimated the amount of explaining that needed to be done, then when the going got tough, turned turtle.

So what are Gillard's priorities? What does she plan to devote most of her attention to at the expense of all the other things she could focus on? Does she know but doesn't want to tell us, or hasn't she had time to think about it? Will she work it out as she goes along?

We know, despite her protestations, climate change won't be one of her second-term priorities. She says (correctly) we need to put a price on carbon, but then says she won't get ahead of public opinion and won't act on a carbon price until after 2012. Her next term will be spent doing the explaining that should have been done this term.

I fear most of what passes for economic debate in the election campaign will be of little consequence. Labor dumped its emissions trading scheme and emasculated its resource super profits tax for fear of being accused of introducing ''a great big new tax'', but that won't stop both sides accusing each other of planning to do just that.

Both sides will express their determination to get the budget into surplus as soon as possible and eliminate our (tiny) public debt post haste, while accusing the other of profligacy.

If there's one thing we don't need to worry about it's deficits and debt. Why not? Because we worry about it so much. The Libs make such a fuss about it it's a crime Labor wouldn't dare to commit.

The big economic issues facing us include how we'll make room for a greatly expanded mining sector in an economy already close to full employment, whether there's more tax reform in the Henry report we should be getting on with, and how we'll fix the ever-growing shortage of housing, including improving public transport to make homes in the outer suburbs more accessible.

Far from spending the next three years chatting about whether to get serious about combating climate change, we need to debate our unquestioned commitment to unlimited economic growth.

Does ever-rising affluence - much of it used to fuel an unending status competition - make us happier as both sides of politics assume? Are we paying a hidden price for it in damage to our family and social relationships? Is it really possible for the rich world to keep increasing its consumption of natural resources while the developing world - led by China and India - rapidly raises its standard of living towards Western levels without this irreparably damaging the ecosystem?

A bit too much for a prime minister from the left desperate to prove she's not left-wing? Far too threatening a subject for either of the political parties? I fear so. Much safer to have a furious argument about great big new taxes and the budget deficit.


Welcome to adland, where all men are morons

It was a few years ago that I first noticed men were being depicted as idiots in advertising. I'd put the issue aside, but Sarah McKenzie's article about the sexism of the Brut aftershave campaign brought it all crashing back.

I have no doubt that women have historical and ongoing problems about their portrayal in advertising, particularly being sexually objectified. I remember such scandals as the sexist Windsor Smith shoe ads, which showed women placed close to men's crotches as if about to perform a lewd act. But along with the creeping sexualisation of women has come the creeping moronification of men. If the default position in advertising for women is sex object, then the default position for men is that of imbecile.

Men used to be depicted as heroic characters in ads, products being the rewards for their manly efforts. "You got to work it hard, to be a Solo man. You're gonna take the lead and let the others follow," crowed the voice-over as our champion braved rapids in a canoe to be rewarded with a frosty, refreshing Solo at the end. "You can get it walkin'! You can get it talkin! You can get it working a plough! Matter o' fact I've got it now! Victoria Bitter! . . ." went the beer ad, run along with images of hard-working men engaged in back-breaking, yet satisfying, endeavours, the VB being the prize for their labours.

Today's ads don't seem to give a tinker's cuss about the nobility of men's endeavours. Men are no longer heroes but consumers. Worse, they're idiots. They might as well be saying, "Hey, dickhead! We don't care about your job and who you are! You're a worthless, interchangeable cog in the capitalist system! Catch!" as a six-pack is hurtled towards some poor bloke's melon.

Just as the soul-destroying messages in women's magazines are crafted by their female staff, so too are the negative messages about men crafted overwhelming by men in advertising agencies. For some reason, they have deduced that delivering a psychic kick to men's testicles is the best way to sell a whole host of products.

"Darwin was right," our faceless adman might say, "men are descended from apes! APES!"

"So let's treat them as the knuckledraggers they are," his pony-tailed sidekick might respond.

So it goes. The evidence is everywhere. Take the hapless boyfriend in the feminine hygiene ads who is too stupid to know what a tampon is or who runs away to the bedroom and refuses to come out until his girlfriend stops talking about them. Or the sap who wonders what "being regular" means in that cereal commercial featuring comedian Julia Morris, only to be told he doesn't get it. (If he gets bowel cancer that'll teach him, the stupid fool.) Or the ads where men's love of cars is treated as some kind of male-specific mental illness, his wife/partner rolling her eyes as he waxes the hood. Or the insurance ad where the bloke wouldn't know his arse from his elbow if a cyclone wiped out his uninsured home — fortunately his clever wife is there to help the simpleton understand. Even that "small penis" anti-speeding ad demeans men . . . and quite frankly wants to make me speed even more in revenge.

(One suspects that advertising targeted at the rich and wealthy has a somewhat more respectful tone: "Hey moron! You've made millions in computer software! Now buy this Learjet, you unreconstructed ape!" is unlikely to work with Bill Gates and his ilk.)

Then there are the dads – those chumps stupid enough to provide for their family and perpetuate the human race. Ad after ad depicts dad as some kind of daggy embarrassment, a Neanderthal more comfortable in the shed working with his tools or back in the Stone Age. Thank God mum is here to meet all of our emotional needs, prepare our food and discuss important life issues in baffling code ("I found something in your room"). Need more proof? As my friend Graham suggested, just take a look at what is written on the back of one syrup tin: "Pancakes — easy enough for dad to try!". Men built the rockets that went to the moon, but in 2010 man is barely intelligent enough to open a tin of pancake syrup.

In fact, there used to be a Japanese sitcom whose title translates roughly to "Stupid Dad", the story of a middle-aged Japanese salaryman who works himself to death in the traditional Japanese manner, only to be regarded as an idiot by his wife and family.

That's how modern advertising regards men – as an ageing salaryman unworthy of respect and who will buy any crap, no matter how it is pitched at them. Surely we deserve better.


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