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Trouble Down Under

Howard’s End?

by BRIAN McKINLAY

It’s doubtful if there us a more sycophantic admirer of the Bush/Cheney clique than John Howard, Australia’s P.M.

The reasons are obvious. Howard is an arch-conservative, close to Bush on every policy that matters.

Anti-abortion, hostile to Gays, holding a rather old-fashioned "white-Anglo-Saxon" view of the world of "Good Guys" and "Bad Guys and a passionate Monarchist, who helped to defeat a referendum in 1999, to make Australia a Republic–free of its present constitutional links to the British Crown.

Indeed one recent Labor leader scandalized the Australian right when he described Howard an an "arselicker", leading a government that is a "conga-line of suckholes", because of his friendship with Bush. Not surprisingly, one European leader who Howard admires is Berlusconi of Italy.

Howard was quick to send troops to Iraq, and reluctant to even talk of withdrawal. He is an unapologetic friend of Israel, and was awarded a prize last year for his services to the Zionist cause. George Bush couldn’t buy a better friend.

So it’s fitting that the problem of Iraq should have help to trip-up Howard and his Ministers, and plunge his Government into a truly nasty scandal. It arose from the fact that Iraq, since WW II when a British colony, has been one of Australia’s best markets for wheat, and other cereals, taking 500, 000 tons of wheat a year. During the period of the sanctions, the Australian Wheat Board took the line that if it didn’t pay bribes to the Iraq regime it would lose markets to others–probably US wheat interests.

Having made this pragmatic decision, they went ahead and secured their markets though the sanctions period. Then came the war.

Of course the US Puppet regime installed after 2003 was a problem, being riddled with agents of US corporations. The Australians got around this by using their influence to have the head of Saddam’s Iraq Grain Board, placed in charge of similar operations under the Bremer-regime. The Australian market was saved.

When the whole matter was investigated by the Volker enquiry, and by US Senator Norm Coleman from Minnesota, the Australian government was forced to set up a committee of enquiry–the Cole Commission–which has brought the matter of the bribes to Saddam to light–$300 million worth.

Many Australian take the view that the record of corruption by US corporations in Iraq is so great that the current attack on the A.W.B. is part of a US move to take over Australian wheat sales to Iraq. In a recent radio interview, Howard went as far as to describe the US as " our bitter rival"–strange words indeed for Howard to use to describe his Great Ally.

Howard is facing nagging problems within his two-party Coalition, from his junior partners, the rural-based National Party, which has long been linked to farmers groups and interests, and whose leader, Vaile, is squirming in the hot seat over the bribe-paying. Of course the politicians’ line is that they didn’t know, and that the wicked deeds were done by subordinates

Running parallel to this crisis is a more shocking story: that the Howard government has sought to silence the scientists of the widely respected government-funded body The Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organisation. Founded in the 1930s to assist rural industries, the C.S.I.R.O is highly regard internationally for its splendid work in a wide-range of areas, which have helped the profitability and success of Australian agriculture in almost every field. The sheep industry, cereal growing, the wine industry , and many others have all profited from scientific input by the C.S.I.R.O.

However C.S.I.R.O has now fallen out with Howard on the matter of global warming and climate change. Senior scientist there have issued dire warnings and an Australian public alarmed by a succession of disastrous droughts has listened.
This doesn’t suit Howard who is close to the powerful lobby groups of the coal industry.
Australia is the world biggest seller of black coal, and also uses this product to generate much of the nation’s electric power. Indeed Australia coal is said to account for 10% of all the world’s Greenhouse gases, making Australia, in a sense, a true rogue nation, and a major source of the world’s climatic change problem.

For obvious reasons Howard and Bush both opposed the Kyoto Accord, and really don’t want anything done on reduction of Greenhouse gases. The recent report that the Bush White House sought to have stories suppressed in the run-up to the last election have direct Australian parallels.

Now a major television program has shown how several Australian scientific authorities have been harassed and eventually lost their jobs for daring to speak out on this matter.

CSIRO itself is under the hammer from Howard’s ministers, who after all provide the budget for the organisation.

Ironically this follows the hottest summer in Australian history, and research which shows steadily falling rainfalls over much of Australian over the last 20 years. Just as Bush’s Republicans have launched a War on Science, Howard and his minions have set out to silence the CSIRO experts, in the interests of the powerful Coal lobby, who are major contributors to his ruling Liberal Party.

But facts are stubborn things and they are bearing in on Howard relentlessly.

Just about the only happy event on the horizon is the visit from Queen Elizabeth herself to Melbourne in three weeks to open the Commonwealth games, a kind of School Sports carnival of former British colonies, in which major sporting nations like Australia and Canada, get to test their mettle against powers like Malawi, Bermuda, and the Falkland islands.

However the Queen’s visit is rather odd because she has chosen to spend only one day in Melbourne, before making the long 24 hours flight back to London. Perhaps even she is beginning to tire of John Howard.

BRIAN McKINLAY, is the author of a number of books on Australian history and politics, and writes and broadcasts on many topics. He lives in Melbourne. He can be reached at: bjmckinlay@optusnet.com.au