Miscellany: The Age, Ivan Molloy, Afghanistan and fish-net stockings

The Age, Ivan Molloy, Afghanistan and fish-net stockings

There is an enduring Melbourne myth that The Age is a left-wing newspaper.

Generally it has always been broadly liberal in the best sense of that word but the left-wingery has been just another figment of the Right’s many imaginings about evil conspiracies by dangerous elites.

At its best as a newspaper it has been campaigning, probing and unsettling to those in authority and all that journalism ought to be but rarely is. At its worst it’s been just another part of the lifestyle industries along with the rest of the media. There are many indications that it might be entering one of its great periods again – a period which will inevitably be characterised by those it unsettles as left-wing. It’s edgy, aggressive and keen to break news stories rather than simply rely on comment. You actually think you might need to read it to get insights into what’s going on in Melbourne and Australia.

Thorough and large scale stories on the Yarra, Port Phillip Bay dredging and other topics are good examples of the newsworthiness.

Recent editorials on Habib are another example of the new feel. They are simple, straightforward defences of the rule of law, human rights and the obligations nations have to their citizens. It is tragic that such exemplary positions should be considered radical in Australia – or indeed anywhere – but that’s another story.

The January 15 Good Weekend was another good example with a feature by Frank Robson on the smear campaign conducted against the ALP candidate Ivan Molloy. It should be said that I know the Molloy family (of which more later) so I have an interest in the matter. However, Robson basically gets to the real story – the witch-hunt which was conducted by the Courier-Mail and the Murdoch media through selective quotation and distortion. They were aided and abetted by both a Labor Party organisation which took take time out from arranging its how-to-vote cards in such a way as to get Family First elected to “mind” and “silence” Molloy; and, the Liberals’ dirt operators.

One of the great advantages of creating a climate of fear is that you can more easily get away with suppressing dissent – the Inquisition, McCarthyism, the “war on terror: etc etc – by defining some views as dangerous, unpatriotic, treasonable, evil or whatever.

That’s exactly what was done to Ivan Molloy and has been done to various other people in the US. The real story was how the smear was developed and why the witch-hunt worked. Nearly everyone missed that story. Even the crikey man himself – legend and national treasure as he is – made a quick and erroneous judgment to come out against Molloy. To crikey’s credit, however, it seemed to be the only media outlet to pick up the fact that Molloy improved Labor’s vote in the electorate despite the campaign against him.

Now Robson has demonstrated just how much of a nasty and vicious beat-up the campaign was.

Miscellany has a personal interest in the matter for two reasons – one because of an incident more than 25 years ago and one because he knows the Molloy family.

While working as a Press Secretary for Frank Wilkes, then Victorian Labor Leader, yours truly wrote an article for an internal Labor magazine about the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. Most of the article talked about some of the historical Great Game stuff but it also talked about the nature of the government the Russians had invaded to support. In a sort of preview of some current views of pre-emption, it was supporting a secular government opposed to such things as oppression of women, drug production, religious extremism and so on. The article included an ironic phrase to the effect that rather than attacking the Russians we perhaps ought to rejoice that for once they were not acting in an actively counter-revolutionary way.

That ironic phrase was the cause of Malcolm Fraser launching a personal attack – there was a Federal election on at the time – and various Libs and Labor people demanding Frank sack me. Frank didn’t and the issue died down when people puzzled over why Fraser was attacking a nonentity as representative of the ALP as a whole and when it was realised that this dangerous Soviet agent of influence was also a Vietnam vet and a member of the Naval and Military Club (if only to play squash). At the time it was draining and immensely stressful to be subjected to attacks and dismissal demands just for expressing a view.

The issue disappeared and Australia and the US got on with attacking the Russians, boycotting the Moscow Olympics and Ronald Reagan funded and armed the various groups who went into Afghanistan to rid the country of the evil invader. As everyone now knows, among these defenders of freedom were Osama bin Laden and the Taliban.

If there is a moral to the story it’s possibly that the dissenting views which people want to stifle might just be more accurate guides to the future than the conventional wisdom. It would also be interesting to know whether, in retrospect, Malcolm might concede some misgivings about it all.

Demonstrating the moral, perhaps, the CIA think tank the National Intelligence Council, recently found that Iraq has now replaced Afghanistan as the training ground for the next generation of terrorists.

For views rather like the NIC’s Ivan Molloy got much worse than Miscellany did, as the Good Weekend article showed.

Now to the Molloy family. Unlike one Ivan’s chief accusers – Alexander Downer – the Molloy father and uncle have actually worn an outfit that did not include fish-net stockings. Their outfit was the Royal Australian Engineers uniform and they served, alongside Miscellany’s father, in New Guinea during the Second World War. The Molloy brothers are both strong, brave men who are still active among returned servicemen if not always in agreement with the RSL. When you hear the Right talking about what Australia owes the diggers, and how they made our freedom possible, they are actually talking about people like the Molloys.

The phrase “in the trenches” has been trivialised by those business people who can’t help using sporting and military metaphors to describe corporate operations. But, despite that, among veterans there is no greater compliment than referring to someone in the context of the words: “when you’re in the trenches there’s nobody I’d rather have alongside me than…..”

Miscellany certainly wouldn’t want to be in a trench with the chicken hawk neocons advising George W., nor with the vast majority of the current Federal Cabinet, but he would be happy to be there with the Molloy family.

The Labor leadership

Speaking of Alexander Downer brings to mind the current Labor leadership problems.

Whenever you read someone suggesting that the ALP is in terminal decline, that they can never be elected or some other variation on the theme, just remember that once the Liberals were in the same position. Indeed, it even got so bad Alexander Downer was elected leader. On that basis any political party can recover from almost anything.

Oil for food scandal

US demands for Kofi Annan’s resignation are starting to mount again. So it was interesting to see the FT issue of January 13 feature a joint investigation (with Il Sole 24 Ore – the Italian business daily) of the oil-for-food program.

The investigation shows that the “single largest and boldest smuggling operation in the oil-for-food program was conducted with the knowledge of the US government.”

The smuggling was allegedly justified on the grounds that it was helping Jordan build a stockpile before a war in Iraq, but whatever the reason it is clear that the US Government “participated in a major conspiracy that violated sanctions and enriched Saddam’s cronies.” The upshot was that a Jordanian entity pocketed some $US150 million and the cronies some $US50 million.

Both the US and UK UN Missions informed their governments of the smuggling while it was happening but neither government took any action. But apparently it was all OK because, as Paul Volker had confirmed, the US claims the smuggling was done in “the national interest”.

Stifling dissent

There are many ways to stifle dissent – both politically and commercially – as the New York Review of Books (16 December 2004) shows.

In a review of a variety of books about Wal-Mart Simon Head cites Barbara Ehrenreich’s book Nickel and Dimed about low-waged work in the US (the sort of work we are going to get much more of post-July 1 and further “labor market reform”.)

Ehrenreich took the aptitude test that Wal-Mart uses to weed out potential trouble-makers. She was told she answered wrongly when she replied “strongly” to whether she agreed with the proposition that “rules have to be followed to the letter at all times.” The correct answer was “very strongly”. George W. Bush’s nominee for Attorney General would have failed that one fairly badly wouldn’t he? Another question – which might be termed the NAB question –  asked for a response to the proposition “there is room in every corporation for a non-conformist”. The only correct answer to this one – “totally disagree”.

According to the Head review the average pay of a Wal-Mart sales clerk was $US8.50 an hour which, annualized, works out at $1000 less than the defined poverty line for a US family of three.

This is what all that talk about “flexibility” actually means.

Missing donations

Without doubting the sincerity of all the various national donors to the tsunami disaster, Miscellany has mentioned (along with others) that often donations get committed but not actually delivered.

The Economist (8 January 2005) mentions that of the $1.1 billion pledged to help Iran after a 2003 earthquake destroyed Bam only $17.5 million was sent. Honduras and Nicaragua were promised $8.7 billion after Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and two-thirds of that has still not been delivered.