Image for NATION: Nothing but blue ties? Or academic and democratic freedoms ... ?

*Pic: of Brian Schmidt ... Image from here of Schmidt, where there is a full biography ...

Blue ties

Smiling at me

Nothing but blue ties

Do I see

(With apologies to Irving Berlin)

“Blue ties … nothing but blue ties” is the theme of this week’s Canberra soap opera. It’s about the Coalition’s vain attempt to flog off a hugely ignorant, intellectually bankrupt concept which “suppository of all wisdom” Tony Abbott once pitched to Liberal donor and private health Czar, the late Paul Ramsay, as a cure for our national identity crisis.

The Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation, would confer an undergraduate degree that would supply what ‘this current generation was missing ... familiarity with the stories and the values that had made us who and what we are’.

Like any snake oil or hair restorer salesman, Abbott suggested other key deficiencies in our national psyche would also be cured.  Above all, bigotry and dogmatism would thrive. “Almost entirely absent from the contemporary educational mindset was any sense that cultures might not all be equal, and that truth might not be entirely relative.”

Desperately, the Turnbull government begs the ANU to take on The Ramsay Centre; confer ersatz academic legitimacy on a cheer squad for cultural supremacists. It woos the university for six months but is flatly rejected Thursday.

Vice-Chancellor Brian Schmidt BS Phys, BS Astro, AM Astro, PhD Astro is polite but firm as he lets Ramsay know it’s on the nose. ANU has “serious concerns about its autonomy”, he says. His objections expose The Ramsay Centre utterly. And by extension they are a trenchant criticism of a Coalition keen to undermine if not silence a free and open society.

Professor Schmidt tells Fairfax Media, Thursday, that the Ramsay Centre had “sought a level of influence over our curriculum and staffing that went beyond what any other donor has been granted, and was inconsistent with academic autonomy”. This would set a precedent that would completely undermine the integrity of the university,” he continues, noting the ANU had declined donations before and “will again”.

The word integrity mystifies the PM of an anti-academic, coal-powered, business-friendly government. He just cannot fathom Schmidt’s decision, he declares sounding less confounded than condemnatory:  “I find it very hard to understand why that proposal from The Ramsay Foundation would not have been accepted with enthusiasm, he tells Fairfax.

Rejecting Ramsay is quickly conflated with rejecting western civilisation

Rejecting Ramsay is quickly conflated with rejecting western civilisation. Publicly, the PM vows to drum some sense into ANU’s curmudgeons. PM of a mercantile government of mean, narrow and contracting horizons, Turnbull might find himself out of his depth, however, with Schmidt, winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize and leader of the High-Z Supernova Search team which in 1998 made the wonderful discovery that the expansion rate of the Universe is accelerating.

At stake is the very idea of the university, a place for inquiry, academic freedom and intellectual rigour, concepts, ironically that are central to the Enlightenment a part of what it suits some to call the western tradition.

On the other side of the ledger is Paul Ramsay’s $3 billion legacy. The late corporate oligarch, was a former land surveyor who put away theodolite and tape to open a Sydney psychiatric clinic in 1964, a portal into a Mad-man meets Wall Street world of profiteering via his Ramsay Health Care, a thriving private hospital business empire until it “diworsified” overseas.

A market darling, Ramsay Healthcare’s motto is people caring for people. But only for people with money, darling.

While Ramsay may struggle a bit now, with underperforming overseas investments, Bank of America Merrill Lynch analysts see a healthy profit in private healthcare. Australian hospitals enjoyed 13% earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization, (EBITDA) margin ten years ago. Now it’s 18%-20%. Ramsay has been a nice little earner.

In the five years to 2016, Ramsay Health Care Limited shares rose 321%: 14.6 times better than the return offered by the ASX during the same time period. Since Winston Howard’s 1997-2000 private health subsidies and other ways of getting government to foster private enterprise in the private health industry, Ramsay has never looked back.

Ramsay’s inspiring devotion to profit, the public good and the undermining of our public health system also included his building regional TV: the mighty Prime Network which along with a mind-boggling swag of products to flog, including pay-day lenders’ usury, gambling and scams such as health and funeral insurance and banking, still manages to find space for daily crusades to expose welfare bludgers and for other truthiness to enlighten our benighted nation.

Forget culture war, The Oz declares a holy war.

An army of jeremiahs at The Australian don sackcloth and ashes. Poison barbs are lovingly fashioned by News Corp hacks. Forget culture war, The Oz declares a holy war.  A broadsheet, broadside ensues. Like the heads Christians cut off the Turkish wounded and dead and catapulted into Nicea in 1097, the word Ramsay is now hurled at all infidels; evidence the great white way of the West is superior to Islam, the East or anything anyone else might have to offer.

Surely all that money talking must be heeded, suggests policy-free, Federal Education Minister, Simon Birmingham, who blames ANU’s student associations and the National Tertiary Education Union for “stoking negativity” about such a “significant bequest”. He warns other universities “to resist politically correct objections” whatever that means.

Never get between a Vice Chancellor and a source of funding say the wags. Sydney University, The Canberra Times reports, now may take the money and run - (the degree). Yet more than 100 of its academics sign an open letter declaring that they are “strongly opposed to the university entering into any arrangement with the Ramsay Centre”..

The Australian smears this protest as “including refugee and pro-Palestine activist Nick Riemer, fellow boycott Israel campaigner Jake Lynch and Tim Anderson, who courted controversy by defending Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.”

On economic fronts it’s all good news for Pollyannas. We are world’s best in the GDP, a contest to equate a statistical blip caused by mining and government spending in health with progress. The economy is booming. Except for wage-earners. For the first time on record, less than half of all workers now enjoy secure work reports The Australia Institute.

Scott Morrison may well boast that real wages for those in the best paid job category – permanent full-time jobs – have grown but wages for casual workers are declining. Part-time workers in marginal self-employed positions, including so-called ‘gig economy’ workers fare the worst, with real wages falling 26 percent in the past five years.

“There are one million more Australians in work than there were when we were elected,” boast con-artists Turnbull and Morrison. No hint that our adult population has grown by 1.4 million in that time. One million jobs is inadequate. An endlessly-repeated hollow boast; the lie has sadly now by dint of repetition become accepted as a Coalition success.

Bugger the facts. Everyone is fabulously well-paid at bullshit castle

The Australian Financial Review’s Michael Stutchbury appears on ABC Insiders, Sunday, to cheer on the government’s fantasy employment boom although he does get a rise out of News.com.au’s ( https://www.news.com.au/ ) Malcolm Farr when Stutchbury smugly dismisses workers on low wages as “whingers”. Bugger the facts. Everyone is fabulously well-paid at bullshit castle.

Everyone gets a share of our national magic pudding featured in ScoMo and Co’s big show this week. Even his PowerPoint tables groan under the weight of his porky-pies. In a feast of aspirational mind-setting, the treasurer flogs a drop-dead gorgeous set of figures. And takes credit. Our hero is on a mission to ease our “tax burden”.

Like a favourite footy team, homespun metaphor-king Morrison, the Malcolm Roberts of economics, bellows, Australia has “climbed back to the top of the global leaderboard”, growing faster than all seven of the biggest rich countries.”

No. ScoMo our economy only looks as if its growing faster because our population is growing faster.

None of ScoMo’s boast is true. Above all, it is impossible to measure our economy from quarter to quarter. Such is the faith-based fervour a Neoliberal government invests in anything to do with the economy - it’s heresy to dispute ScoMo’s misrepresentation of what’s caused the GDP to become a bigger, sexier figure. Or whether it really has changed.

Ross Gittins in Fairfax points out that for the last two years we’ve endured implausibly weak figures on quarter and implausibly strong the next. The only possible meaning lies in the trend. And even jobs are now 600 a day.

Nor dare anyone dare challenge the Prophet of Trickle Down’s wilful distortion of tax bad; cuts good. Or the tax burden.

Spare us your second-hand Tea Party evangelism about burdens, ScoMo

Tax burden? Taxes are only a burden if you don’t want roads or schools or hospitals. Spare us your second-hand Tea Party evangelism about burdens, ScoMo. The Treasurer runs into a spot of bother when reporters ask him to comment on how women will do three times worse out his proposed personal tax cuts than men. With a well-practised display of confected anger, he trivialises the issue and patronises all with a quip about tax forms not being in pink and blue.

Job done. Journos are silenced. GDP’s making whoopee and we’ll all be on easy (Ramsay?) street on the back of mining exports; a random figure plucked out for show which looks good only because of government spending on health and its NDIS cock-up. GDP is there to remind us that what matters often doesn’t count and what counts often doesn’t matter.

In other fabulous news, a quixotic Craig Kelly jumps on his high horse and rides off in all directions in search of traitors.

‘Leftist academics’ not only hate ‘Western civilisation’, but they ‘have a dislike of our nation, that is simply why they do not want this course’ blue tie Liberal MP Craig Kelly rants. A grateful nation gives thanks for our heroic monocultural warrior’s wake-up call. Fifth columnists infest our universities. Gays. Feminists. Environmentalists. Cultural Marxists.

Our way of life is at risk. Luckily the anti-government Jihadists at the ABC has been fixed. Mitch Fifield, who sees no conflict between his membership of an IPA dedicated to closing down our public broadcaster and his role as Minister for Communications, has helped his Coalition cut $254 million in funds and cull 600 staff members since 2013.

Complaints have been stepped up in the meantime as resources have been denied in a bastardisation strategy. Fifield slams Barrie Cassidy, ABC Insiders’ genial host with the gentle question technique for allowing Andrew Probyn together with ring-ins Phil Coorey and Mark Kenny, who work for other media, to repeat the “Labor lie” that the Super Saturday by-elections date was chosen in an act of political bastardry to conflict with Labor’s National Conference.

Laura Tingle opines that the ABC has morphed from being a perennial political whipping-boy to an election issue in its own right. Some tip an early election to be timed to start with disgraced former HSU head and Coalition model unionist Kathy Jackson’s trial but she may not go before a jury until 2019 given the backlog of trials before the County Court.

... a great way to bully our public broadcaster into submission

Cutting the funding and staffing the ABC needs to do its job while complaining about its performance, is a great way to bully our public broadcaster into submission. But even a government cheerleader can’t get out all the good news.

Christian Porter, the poor man’s George Brandis, urges the nation to get behind the government’s latest attempt to turn the nation into a police state, in its Espionage and Foreign Interference Bill which has nothing to do with foreigners interfering and everything to do with the Turnbull government’s obsession with secrecy.

While Porter screams urgency, it should be remembered that in 2009 it was the Coalition which blocked Labor’s attempts to ban the most direct form of foreign interference, foreign political donations.

It’s an “egregious, blatant breach of the democratic rights and civil liberties of Australia” says GetUp!‘s legal director, Alice Drury. Porter’s bill is not about foreign influence it’s about increasing government secrecy laws.

Some of the excesses of George Brandis’ original gonzo legislation remain in the proposed new legislation. Bernard Keane sums up. Whistle-blowers remain unprotected but must go through the labyrinthine APS processes laid down by internal whistle-blower laws.

Worse, you can still be prosecuted for viewing, sharing and republishing Wikileaks-style leaked governments documents unless you can prove you believed the information would not “cause harm to Australia’s interests” and non-journalists who receive or use information can still be prosecuted.

Above all it is a move to silence dissent. GetUp! believes it will be forced to declare it is not independent when its grassroots effectiveness is entirely based on “people power” through the digital and social media revolution with crowdfunding campaigns like marriage equality and opposition to the Adani Carmichael export coal mine in Queensland.

The Turnbull government may say it wants a Ramsay Centre to perpetuate Western Civilisation yet beneath the rhetoric is the desire to promulgate propaganda to support the conservative cause and perpetuate the blue tie ruling elite.

In other ways, also its actions betray a police state agenda. Anyone may soon expect to be asked for their “papers please” at an airport. Your private information can be leaked to damage your credibility if you dare to criticise a government department such as the DHS.

Add growing draconian surveillance laws and factor in the ongoing mistreatment of Witness K a former ASIS agent who revealed ASIS’ illegal bugging of the East Timorese government in 2004 for the benefit of Australian resources companies and you have a brave new Australia that a visitor from 2013 would barely recognise.

Yet with the nobbling of the ABC’s independence and culture warriors such as Abbott and Howard actively undermining the foundations of a free, open and democratic it looks like nothing but blue ties from now on.

Unless, of course, the blue ties have already overplayed their hand and gravely underestimate the power of grass-roots opposition and the average Australian’s capacity to see right through the blue ties’ lies, the spin, the evasions and diversions.

*David Tyler (AKA Urban Wronski) was born in England, raised in New Zealand and an Australian resident since 1979. Urban Wronski grew up conflicted about his own national identity and continues to be deeply mistrustful of all nationalism, chauvinism, flags, politicians and everything else which divides and obscures our common humanity. He has always been enchanted by nature and by the extraordinary brilliance of ordinary men and women and the genius, the power and the poetry that is their vernacular. Wronski is now a fulltime freelance writer who lives with his partner and editor Shay and their chooks, near the Grampians in rural Victoria and he counts himself the luckiest man alive. A former teacher of all ages and stages, from Tertiary to Primary, for nearly forty years, he enjoyed contesting the corporatisation of schooling to follow his own natural instinct for undifferentiated affection, approval and compassion for the young.

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