ON BOGONG MOTHS AND GREENS IN CANBERRA
- IN AUSTRALIA'S OCCULT CAPITAL, CANBERRA, THE STATE APPARATUS TRIES
TO KILL THE BOGONG MOTHS, BUT WIPES OUT CURRAWONG BIRDS AND
By Bob Gould
The Bogong Moth is a fat, substantial, nourishing, flying insect that swarms
every year, in Spring, in many parts of Eastern Australia, particularly on a
massive scale in the high plains area around the inland capital, Canberra.
Australian Aboriginal tribes, particularly the ones in Southern NSW, used to
regard the moths as a particularly nutritious delicacy, and for hundreds of
years they used to hold an annual regional tribal gathering near Canberra,
where they combined cultural interaction with feasting on the moths.
As most Australians know, except Keith Windschuttle and a few others, the
Aboriginal tribes around Canberra were wiped out in the course of white
settlement, and the other tribes that used to attend this important cultural
event were vastly depleted, so it ceased.
The natural ecological balance between the Bogong Moths and the human
species was therefore disrupted, and they are now regarded as a bit of a
pest in Canberra, when swarming.
The Australian ruling class, via the mechanism of the state in Canberra,
apparently decided that the swarming of the moths would be an embarrassment
during the visit of the American imperial emperor, Bush, and the Stalinist
leader from China. A discrete but, we are now told, massive programme of
spraying with dangerous insecticides was implemented to kill the moths.
Well, I can tell you from my own experience and that of the other thousands
demonstrators who marched around Canberra against the visit of the
reactionary leaders, the spraying against the moths wasn't particularly
effective. The vast clouds of Bogongs around Canberra's dusty spring
hillsides gave the demonstration a nice Canberra feel.
Apparently, however, dangerous insecticides being what they are, it was very
effective against Canberra's bird life. The currawong is a small native bird
a bit similar to a magpie. Around Canberra it actually competes for the same
ecological niche as magpies, which are also in evidence around Canberra.
New Parliament House in Canberra is designed to blend into the landscape and
is actually constructed in the side of a hill, according to Burley Griffin's
original occult plan for the city. For many years the currawongs and the
magpies have been a pleasant feature of the Parliament House, being often
fed on the lawns by civil servants at lunch time.
Hundreds of currawongs have now turned up around Parliament House and indeed
all over Canberra, quite dead from the insecticides, and the magpies, wise
birds that they are, have disappeared from the environs of Parliament House.
There's some dispute over whether the currawongs were killed directly by the
insecticide, or whether they ate some of the moths, carrying the insecticide
in their systems. The centrist Democrats in the Australian Senate have
become very angry about this mad poisoning of the environment, and are
making a considerable fuss about the question. More power to their elbow!
Meanwhile, in the absence of the vanished Canberra Aboriginal tribes, the
Bogong moths still swarm in plague proportions, despite the insecticides.
Some adventurous Canberra residents still catch and eat Bogongs, much as the
Aborigines did. I'd advise them to lay off the Bogongs for a while, because
of the insecticides.
LABORITES DEFEND GREENS RIGHT TO PROTEST IN THE SENATE
A small but important debate played out in the Australian Senate this week.
As the immense popularity of the Greens parliamentary protest against Bush
became apparent across Australia, it has obviously set the smarter minds in
the ALP thinking about future electoral and governmental perspectives.
The two shrewdest minds in the parliamentary Labor Party are both in the
Senate. John Faulkner, the Labor leader in the Senate, is a major left
faction leader. Robert Ray, his deputy, is the leader of the Victorian
right, and is regarded by all as a most accomplished ALP factional operator
and head kicker.
Obviously both these men are attempting to come to terms with the
possibility of a Labor electoral victory with the Greens dramatically
increasing their electoral vote. This has two aspects.
To win government, the Laborites need the Green preferences. Secondly, a
Labor victory in this framework, with Green preferences, will deliver to the
Greens the pretty well total balance of power in the Senate.
The following speeches by John Faulkner and Robert Ray, give some insight
into their current thinking.
You can almost hear their minds, particularly Robert Ray's mind, ticking
over, as they grapple with both the dangers and the possibilities, for them,
implicit in the forward march of the green monster.
16542 SENATE Tuesday, 28 October 2003
"Senator BRANDIS (Extreme right wing Tory Liberal Government Senator)-And I
intend to continue to call to the attention of the Australian people the
extremely alarming, frightening similarities between the methods employed by
contemporary green politics and the methods and the values of the Nazis."
Senator FAULKNER (New South Wales-Leader of the Opposition in the Senate)
I listened enraptured to Senator Brandis's contribution. What a wonderfully
pretentious speech that was. All the Rumpolian rhetoric was rolled out by
Senator Brandis. There was all this overblown self-importance, so pompous,
so bombastic. There was an argument made for 20 minutes that Senator Brown
and Senator Nettle are not representatives of the Australian Greens in the
chamber but really, underneath it all, they are Nazis. That is what we have
heard from Senator Brandis. it is not of concern to the government to
provide a soapbox to the Australian Greens senators. What Senator Brandis
was about was his own soapbox. We have had 20 minutes from him of his rather
creative and eccentric analysis of the political position of the Australian
Bartlett, the Democrat, whose party looks like being wiped out by the
"What the Senate is probably in danger of here today from Senator Brown's
opening comments and Senator Brandis's even more ferocious rejoinder is both
sides saying they are standing up to fight to defend the integrity of the
parliament and, in doing so, throwing so much mud at each other that the
entire parliament looks even sadder and sorrier than it did at the start of
the debate. The Democrats do not want to enter into that whole scenario."
""`You mongrel umpire, let them fight!' That is my attitude today: let the
Greens and Liberals fight it out. What, really, has this got to do with the
opposition? "There are some more substantial issues that we should address.
The first one is: why wasn't this motion declared formal and voted on in the
normal way? Because the Liberal and National coalition got a bit
self-indulgent today. Their more gung-ho characters said, `We really want to
come in here and get stuck into the Greens. Therefore we'll declare it not
formal and we'll have a fully-fledged debate.'"
"A lot of people here today have criticised the Greens behaviour. They have
implied that minority groups and the Greens are opportunists. So they are -
so what? They are good opportunists. They like publicity. Senator Brown has
never found a bad microphone yet - and good on him. That is one of the
skills of politics. It is not a skill I have, but it is a skill he has, and
that is greatly resented by those opposite for some particular reason. The
fact is that what happened last time will happen next time. We will hear all
the bleats from those over there."
The 110 year old Australian "Bulletin" magazine, which in Australia,
incorporates the "Newsweek" international edition, had as its cover story
this week, an article about the Australian Greens Party and its leader, Bob
Brown. Below are some extracts.
On the cover, next to a photo of Bob Brown, are the words, in horror-movie
YOU'LL DIE OF FRIGHT!
BOB BROWN IS .
Then, in smaller type:
He saved the Franklin.
He took on the US President.
Why Everyone's afraid of the Greens.
By Tony Wright.
The article inside begins with this large print intro:
It was a defining moment in Australian politics, a simple plea to the
president of the planet's most powerful country: hands off our citizens.
Enter Bob Brown, Green champion and now the de facto opposition leader.
The text begins:
As Bob Brown waited for his plane out of Canberra last Friday night, he
found himself shunned in the crowded airport lounge reserved for politicians
and senior public servants. MPs from both major parties, seething at his
antics the previous day when he interrupted US President George W. Bush's
speech in parliament and then threatened to disrupt Chinese President Hu
Jintao's appearance in the same forum, had sent him to Coventry. There was a
seat or two beside him but no one would take them. He was poison. Then some
wag called out: "Hey Roscoe, why don't you sit beside Mr. Green over there?"
Roscoe turned out to be Ross Lightfoot, the right-wing Liberal Senator from
Western Australia who had managed to get an elbow into Brown's solar plexus
during the brief melee that erupted as Bush left the House of
Representatives. And so two politicians who might have come from different
plan-ets found themselves perched side by side, politely ignoring each
other, while colleagues all around sniggered and muttered into their gin and
Shortly after, as Brown settled into his allotted pew right down the back of
a jet heading to Melbourne, a steward called out to him, loud enough for all
the other passen-gers to hear: "Terrific, Bob Brown, well done, you're
standing up for us." A fellow steward chimed in, chuckling indulgently: "Oh,
you mustn't say that; he's been a bad boy."
When the plane landed at Melbourne air-port, five or six young men from a
sporting team spotted Brown as he walked into the gate lounge. "Good on yer,
Bob," they cho-rused. A large section of the crowd in the lounge suddenly
"It has never been like this, not even during the Franklin," Brown says,
referring to the heady years of the early 1980s when he led the fight to
save Tasmania's Franklin River. During the weekend in his home state of
Tasmania, Brown, along with the leader of the Tasmanian Greens, Christine
Mime, wandered into Hobart's popular Retro Cafe in Salamanca Place. The
crowd rose, cheering and clapping. A similar reaction followed him through
the streets. Even a Hobart petrol-sta-tion owner filling Brown's tank told
him she was a Democrat who moved in conservative circles but she now
supported him. "In the old days, someone would be sure to kick you in the
shins as well," he says. "It's not like that this time."
Up to a point. Plenty of talkback radio callers would clearly love to give
Brown a kick in the shins and a bit more besides. Let-ters-to-the-editor
pages have been crammed with correspondence that veers from rever-ence to
hatred. Newspaper columnists have damned his behaviour during Bush's speech
as boorish, juvenile, cynical and opportun-istic. Commentators have accused
Brown of being "all care and no responsibility" and have speculated that he
could have put at risk billions of trade dollars if he had managed to
personally affront Hu. Democrats leader Andrew Bartlett has been quoted as
call-ing Brown "a sanctimonious prick" Brown himself admits there have been
a couple of anonymous death threats among the calls that have jammed his
He seems unconcerned. This is, after all, a man who during his environmental
battles in Tasmania was shot at, jailed and roughed up by experts. Years
ago, as a young medi-cal intern in Canberra, having admitted to himself that
he was gay, he spent a long night staring at the waters of Lake Burley
Griffin, finding their dark depths too eas-ily inviting and choosing instead
to live as he was made.
Besides, he is quite sure that within all the babble - and beyond Canberra's
cloisters there are plenty of new recruits for the Green vote. Oscar Wilde
might have been speaking for the leader of a minor party on the make when he
quipped that the only thing worse than being talked about was not being
talked about. Brown's take on the matter is simpler. "My experience is that
the public supports human rights more than good manners," he told The
Brown's adviser, Ben Oquist, says his office has been deluged by emails:
almost 3000 had been received by Saturday, the phone had been ringing off
the hook and the fax machine had kept running out of paper. About 80% of
these contacts had been positive. "The same thing is being reported from
Greens offices all around the country," he says.
If this is so, the consequences for the Greens and the major parties - and
in particular, Labor - at next year's election could be profound. There have
not been many galvanising moments in Australian politics in recent years.
Pauline Hanson's maiden speech to parliament in 1996, when she spoke of
Australia being swamped by Asians, was one. John Howard's declaration during
the 2001 election that "we will decide who comes to Australia, and the
circumstances in which they come", was another. Both these events polarised
public opinion, and both were seriously detrimental to the electoral
fortunes of the ALP: Hanson stripped large numbers of traditional
working-class Aus-tralians from Labor, and Howard grabbed them from Hanson.
At the other end of the political spectrum, Bob Brown's Greens have been
quietly bur-rowing in to Labor's environmental and social justice Left
support base for several years. Until now, it has been done without the
flash of a galvanising moment.
A couple of weeks ago, the Newspoll pub-lished by The Australian newspaper
found that primary support for the Coalition had dipped significantly.
Normally, this would mean Labor's vote had gone up. It hadn't; it had fallen
a percentage point. The leakage in major party support had flowed to the
Greens, whose support had grown to 8%, making it by far the most
consequential minor party in the country. Commentators some years ago were
near meltdown when Hanson's One Nation achieved a similar figure.
Much was made of the Newspoll finding that Labor had gained a winning
position over the government on the two-party preferred basis. But this is
not as clear as it may appear. Newspoll uses the last election to assume how
preferences might flow; about 75% of Greens preferences have in the past
gone to Labor, bolstering the ALP'S final position. But with the near demise
of the Democrats since that election and the potential for a more dispa-rate
array of voters to start voting Green, this is no longer quite so assured.
And what if Green candidates actually start winning some inner-city seats
Indeed, when Michael Organ won the NSW south coast seat of Cunningham for
the Greens in a by-election last year - a seat previously held by Labor for
50 years - he became the first member of a minor party to enter the House of
Representatives since World War II (Hanson helped create, and became leader
of, One Nation after being elected but she originally stood for her seat as
a disendorsed Liberal).
In the late 1990s, after West Australian Senator Dee Margetts bowed out,
Brown was the only Green in federal parliament.
Early this month, when the Australian Greens held their national conference
in Canberra, a dinner was held at a restaurant called the Bamboo Hut for
Green parliamentar-ians and their staff members. More than 40 people
attended, and 17 were MPs: three from federal parliament, five from Western
Australia, four from Tasmania, three from NSW and one each from South
Australia and the ACT.
According to Oquist, membership of the Australian Greens has risen from
about 2000 to 7000 in just 2 years.
Several decisions were taken during the national conference - almost
entirely unre-ported - that are likely to transform the Greens into a more
professional and organ-ised political force as the next federal election
approaches. The WA Greens decided to abandon their independence and join the
central body, and the various state groups chose to throw in their lot - and
their money - to establish a national election campaign commit-tee. It is
likely there will be about $1m initially available for the campaign, part of
which will be used to setup an internet Vote Green web site.
The web site may seem a mundane enough initiative - everyone has one these
days - but it is likely to be the key to much more money and slicker
organi-sation. The Greens have had their own people in the United States
studying the extraordinary use of the internet by the Democrat presi-dential
candidate Howard Dean, who has pioneered email and other high-tech systems
to raise tens of millions of dollars - often over the space of a few days -
for his campaign. The Greens are putting the finishing touches to their
plans to transpose Dean's techniques to Australian conditions, not just to
raise money but to organise vol-unteers and campaigns in every seat in the
country. Major targets will be inner-city seats held by left-wing ALP
The decision by Brown, then, to con-front Bush can be analysed not simply as
a theatrical gesture by an ideologically driven politician, but a moment
designed to galvanise part of the electorate in the interests of a party
itself in the process of metamorphosis.
When The Bulletin suggested to Brown that some critics believe he should
adhere to the agenda that made his name - the environ-ment - he became
annoyed. "People who say things like that would love us to stick with the
trees because it would marginalise us. If I was just about the environment I
would have stuck with the Wilderness Society. The single-issue tag went when
we took our stand over the Tampa. The Greens core issues globally are social
justice, democracy, peace and the environment."
The back-to-back appearances in the Aus-tralian parliament of the world's
two most powerful men - Bush from the West, Hu from the East - were the most
momentous two days in Australia for years, at least in symbolic terms
related to Australia's place in the world. Brown and the Greens are
antipathetic to both leaders. They see US- style capitalism as rapacious to
the environ-ment, unsympathetic to social justice and reliant on war as a
diplomatic tool. They regard the Chinese government as a dicta-torship that
has carried out near-genocidal activities against Tibetans and imprisons
thousands of its own citizens as a hammer against any form of dissidence.
Brown, searching for a suitable subject with which to make a point to Bush,
settled on the issue of the US holding two Australian citizens - David Hicks
and Mamdouh Habib - after the ABC'S Four Corners program screened the BBC
investigation of the treatment of detainees in Guantanamo Bay. It was
extremely high risk - there is little sympathy in Australia for either man.
Hicks fought for the Taliban and Habib is suspected of being a terrorist
sympathiser. Brown simplified the message to its barest bones: Australia
should deal with its own citizens, not the US.
He says he did not know if he would have the nerve to interrupt Bush's
speech to make this point until the moment he did it. "My heart felt as if
it was going to burst," he said.
The impact was instantaneous, even if Brown's words were indecipherable. The
agonised efforts of some Labor MPs to protest against Bush - some wore peace
badges, one wore a white armband, some refused to applaud, some sat while
others stood, an anti-war letter was handed over to Bush's National Security
Adviser Condoleezza Rice - were overshad-owed immediately. Simon Crean had
made a sophisticated speech stating Labor's view of the Australian-American
relationship, papering over the glum divisions in the ranks behind him. His
speech would disappear into thin air. John Howard, having been told for the
second time by the world's most powerful man that he was a "man of steel';
looked as if he had. been bit with a. crowbar. Howard soon rallied with an
improvised wedge, introducing Bush to the Labor frontbench to force
handshakes all around, and calling Kim Beazley down from the backbench to
introduce him to the president, as if Beazley not Crean, was the leader.
Brown's colleague, NSW Senator Kerry Nettle, over played the moment by also
interrupting Bush with an inane plea to save Australia's farmers and
pensioners from a free-trade agreement but it hardly mattered. Brown had
stolen the day, and he and Nettle would be saved from doing it all over
again with Hu (while broadcasting their views anyway) when they were banned
from the House for 24 hours. Hardly surprising that Brown found himself in
Coventry in the airport VIP lounge; the MPs from the major parties knew what
he had done.
Oquist explained it perfectly later. "We're a party on 8%," he said. "If we'
ve got half the country supporting us and half against us, we're doing
pretty well." With an election no more than a year away, it is hardly
surpris-ing the power of a simple message from a party that will never be
inconvenienced by the complexities of governing causes dread in a VIP lounge
when it can win a standing ovation in a trendy cafe.
Sent by Bob Gould
Gould's Book Arcade
32 King St, Newtown, NSW