This week’s news has been dominated by two and a half subjects. The first was that four-year-old Cleo Smith, abducted from a tent at a remote campsite in Western Australia eighteen days ago, was found alive and well in nearby Carnarvon. I think the unexpected sigh of relief circled the globe. I don’t think anybody expected a good outcome to this story. Now, the focus is on what happened and why. The abductor, a single man in his thirties, had an obsession with dolls and he was not on a paedophile list. It seems the little girl was not molested or harmed. It will be interesting to know why he abducted her, what was going through his head. And having learnt a little more about him over the last few days, I feel very sorry for him. It’s time the media left him, and little Cleo, alone. The child must be allowed to get back to normality and t seems to me the man needs help more than punishment.
The media was full of the France’s President Macron’s reaction to the Australian decision to cancel its contract for French submarines. Macron accused Prime Minister Morrison of lying and ex-Prime Minister Turnbull was happy to join the French cause. To me, it was an unedifying display from Macron and Turnbull. The submarine contract (signed by Turnbull) has been under fire pretty much from when it started. We should have bought Japanese subs which fit the specs and were immediately available. The contract was just about signed when Turnbull ousted then-Prime Minister Abbott. Turnbull wanted to support ship-building jobs in a shaky South Australian electorate and went for the French subs on the proviso that they would be built in Australia. Oh – and the nuclear power plant would be replaced with diesel engines.
This sort of approach to major projects is far too typical in Australia. I saw it many times in my years in IT. Government Departments like Defence and Health and large companies like the major banks and mining companies etc would put in a tender for a system. They would pick an off-the-shelf product available right now, but then they would want it customised to suit their arbitrary requirements. Or they would write such a crappy spec that what they accepted was never going to work without major modifications. Defence has a particularly bad track record for making crummy purchases. This French sub deal is an excellent example. Like so many companies, the French signed the contract as it was presented. Then the amendments came out, with the rising costs, and the infeasibility of the subs being built in Australia, and the date of delivery slipping ever further out.
Just as well there were a set of deliverables and opportunities for either party to withdraw from what was a steadily worsening deal.
Australia withdrew. The rest was Macron throwing his toys out of the pram – and that was for domestic consumption. He’s up for election next year and he’s slipping in the polls. There’s nothing like a bit of Gallic national pride to get the locals going.
All this acerbity went on during the Glasgow climate conference, which becomes the half-subject I alluded to earlier. Old (mainly) men in suits attended extravagant meetings to dream up pie in the sky deliverables for 2050, with nobody being held accountable. Most of them will be dead by that time. The crass hypocrisy of the whole event was hardly unexpected. All the ‘dignitaries’ arrived in their private jets. Joe Biden’s motorcade ran to eighty-five (85) vehicles. And, of course, President-for-life Xi Jinping, who presides over the world’s worst polluter, wasn’t there. Neither was Vlad Putin, who was too busy putting the screws on Europe by raising the price of Russian gas.
However, one good thing came out of the conference – agreement was reached to end deforestation. One of the signatories was Brazil, the site of the vast Amazonian rain forest. Ending the destruction of the world’s forests is something we can actually do and it’s great to see. Here’s hoping it won’t end up being empty words. There should also be more action to clean up the ocean, particularly those two whirlpools of plastic waste in the North Atlantic and the Pacific. 
While all that was going on, here in Australia the Victorian Government is about to pass a bill which is downright scary. Henry Ergas, eminent scholar and columnist in The Australian newspaper, described it thus:
“…legislation that grants the state’s premier an effectively unchecked ability to declare a health-related emergency and, having done so, to suspend virtually every civil liberty – including the protections against arbitrary detention – for what amounts to an indefinite duration.” [The Australian ‘Emergency powers must never stifle our rights’, 5 Nov 2021]
He pointed out that Adolf Hitler invoked similar powers to end the Weimar Republic in Germany in 1933. His excuse to invoke the powers was the destruction of the Reichstag building in a fire that the Nazis lit but blamed on communists. Hitler had absolute rule and the rest is history.
Steven Waterson has read the entire Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021 bill, all 113 pages, with a further 73 pages of an explanatory memorandum. He wrote a scathing commentary of the bill in The Australian. I wish everyone could read his article but there is a paywall so I will quote a couple of items.
“The power to declare a pandemic shifts from health officials to the Premier, who, conveniently, “may make a pandemic declaration whether or not … the relevant disease is present in Victoria”. That should be handy; no need for that infuriating wait for an actual case of infection to justify the next lockdown and suspension of parliament.”
“An order can be applied to any person “identified by one or more of the following – (a) their presence in a pandemic management area or in a particular location in a pandemic management area; (b) their participation in or presence at an event; (c) an activity that they have undertaken or are undertaking; (d) their characteristics, attributes or circumstances”. That covers things pretty well. I fear (d) means trouble for the sarcastic, for people with small ears, for the bewildered, but insert your own target group.” [The Australian ‘Beware the long tail of government overreach’, 29 Oct 2021]
What has our democracy come to when measures like this can be passed with barely a murmur from the Victorian parliament? Dan Andrews’ Labor party has moved a long way from supporting workers’ rights. Democracy is on the back foot just about everywhere. I’m not suggesting that a dictatorship is on the cards in Australia – not yet, anyway – but there’s too much happening that is reminiscent of George Orwell’s novel ‘1984’. “We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end.”
On the home front our longed-for holiday in New Zealand, slated for the end of January next year, has had to be cancelled. Border closures, you see. We’ve rescheduled and are hoping against hope that things will have settled a few months down the track. We’re rather hoping our planned trip to the Balkans will also be cancelled. Covid is rife there, and vaccination is not. We shall see.
Here are some New Zealand pretties to end on a high.