Some interesting comparisons of life-chances

The good news is that there are many skilled Asians happily working in Australia, although only the very high income businessmen (newly arrived) and the medicos (who have been around for a while) are comparatively well off. The rest are relatively income-poor and status-denied but hope-rich for their children. Regretfully, there is already evidence that some of these children are being seduced by the Aussie ‘she’ll be all right, mate’ attitude to hard work, even to dropping out of university courses offering a high-income career.

Rewards for skill in Malaysia/Singapore are high. But they have to earn these rewards. For example, relatives of mine (both teachers) can afford an overseas trip each year; they could not afford that if they worked in Australia. The offset is that, there, they need to produce desired results. In Australia they would not be judged on outcomes – not yet, anyway.

… … The Australian worker is able to acquire a good home much more cheaply. Labour costs in the two countries overseas are low, especially if one is looking for skilled tradespeople. That is, there is a very wide spread of income there that would not be tolerated in Australia. Those on the bottom of the economic pile there are paid so little, even with overfull employment. I saw Indonesians living in prefabricated huts, together with their families, on a building site in Kuala Lumpur. Their living standards and quality of life, by Australian standards, were abysmally low.

The white-collar skilled in Singapore and Malaysia, however, receive a relative fortune and their lifestyle reflects it. And the very skilled live like princes.

Australia, however, is learning fast. Directors and other chiefs of business enterprises are rewarding themselves in the US and Malaysian styles; their shareholders do not seem to have much say. Their success in raising their remuneration is based on what it would cost to attract a foreigner – a very clever argument. This argument was also used by Australian public servants to boost senior executive service wages, i.e. they could receive these high wages in the private sector (we were all too polite to ask how many of them would risk or survive the decision-making required in the private sector).

Then, because of a previously-engineered link between the bottom rung of the executive ranks of the public service and the member of parliament, the latter now receives an executive-level wage too – and he does not need my qualifications for his job, or to produce anything either. A good job, if you can manipulate the pre-selection process in your electorate. This is democracy – one has to accept what bobs up to the surface … …

… … The smug Australian is coming to learn not to sneer at reported corruption overseas. He is reminded, almost daily, at the high levels of corruption in this country: by ‘mates’ being looked after by government, by ‘mates’ getting plum jobs, by open corruption at all levels, including the police. The worst kind of corruption is the industrial brigandage by some unions, whose leaders are apparently paid at the same level as directors of major companies.

… … In the national capital, independent subcontractors are required to join the building union; the government sanctions this abrogation of the usual divide between an employee and an independent service provider. There is also talk of money paid to unions at different levels – some into the official ‘kitty’, some into pockets. Employers play ball, because government has done little to stamp out this corruption.

(Politics, industrial relations, and corrupt practices are surely moveable feasts. Current public enquiries are highlighting more recent practices in Australia than referred to in the above extracts from ‘Destiny Will Out.’ What will be the outcomes?

A cross-comparison of life-chances in Australia and Malaysia/Singapore suggests that Australia is the place to be if you are relatively unskilled. We collect immigrants as if there will be a shortage in the offing. But there is no evidence of any planning of a desirable population, needed infrastructure, the quality of school leavers, or the skills required of university graduates. Do our universities (obviously not all) and private training colleges turn out graduates like the factories of old, which produced goods of great variety without quality control?

Ah, the beauty of market forces, and the wisdom of foreign investors, including those non-residents investing in residential property in Australia against the law.)

‘There is too much Asia, and she is too old’

Why do we seek Asian entrepreneurs? So that they could take us into Asia, particularly the poorer, developing areas such as China and Vietnam. It may well work out. It is certainly a more beneficial policy than family reunion, which costs the taxpayer a great deal. Yet our lack of independence becomes audible when Australia squawks about wanting APEC. When Malaysia’s PM was described as recalcitrant for not supporting APEC, I found myself almost taken to task; the reference was to “your PM”, the recalcitrant one. It doesn’t take long for the xenophobia to come out, I thought. When asked for an explanation, I gave my enquirers the following folk tale.

I said, “Let’s assume that there is this American drover, with his Aussie sheepdog, which is renowned for its skill and obedience. At the drover’s whistle, the dog rushes into the Asian paddock and tries to round up some very experienced and tough rams, each an emperor in his own paddock. Eventually, most of the emperors having been enticed by the drover offering an appropriate side inducement, the dog confronts the last one. There is no purpose in the dog bad-mouthing this ram who (like the proverbial Aussie ‘digger’ of yore), knows his rights and will not budge, and he is in his own terrain. Switching analogies, it is the drover and his dog who are outside their patch and, as Kipling said, ‘A fool lies here who tried to hustle the East.’ As I expected, my folk-tale went down like a lead balloon!

My challenge to my enquirers was, why on earth should not the Asian countries decide their own destiny, the configurations they wish to adopt, and the timing of any changes? Is this a modified form of gunboat policy, such as the European nations’ incursion onto China’s coast of not that long ago? We say, “We want a part of your trade – make way not only for us but also our godfather.” In the meantime, the godfather naturally is busy doing his own hustling. Are we afraid that we might be left out? What trade-off can we, and do we, offer? As Ali Baba must have discovered, shouting is not very effective in opening the door to riches.

As I asked my somewhat large audience at a Probus club meeting, what is it that Australia is offering for entry into South-East Asia? We obviously have much to offer, but is it enough? Is it wanted? Is it more than offered by other nations? We may be happy the way we are, but developing nations may not want the union control of so much of our economic policies, the emphasis on welfare rather than on creating wealth, and on savings and growth.

The high infrastructure costs (e.g. shipping, stevedoring and inland transport, government charges and controls), an anaemic work ethic (aided by current industrial relations legislation), and the sanctimonious shibboleth about the supremacy of the white man’s social systems, e.g. electoral, criminal justice, and law-and-order structures and family responsibility. Quoting Kipling again, “Asia is not going to be civilised after the methods of the West. There is too much Asia and she is too old.”

Sadly, I found in the early Nineties that many Singaporean and Malaysian professional people had returned after a short stint of work (under permanent resident status) in Australia. The reason was a better lifestyle back home. Even some medical specialists had returned. But they had left their children behind. … … What holds skilled Asian immigrants in Australia is the availability of tertiary courses for their offspring, and the low cost of it. The best combination for many of them is work in Singapore and Malaysia, and study in Australia for their children, who retain their right of return to their countries of parental origin.

(When the nations of south-east Asia formed ASEAN, which developed its own policies, leading Western nations rushed to form APEC, which naturally included them. The burgeoning economic ‘tigers’ and their associates were not to be too independent. Then, when the top 5 ASEAN nations had their economies and currencies attacked in the 1990s, APEC was not heard of. Did it do anything to protect the Asian economies?

The IMF, of course, offered its normal prescriptions, which would have imposed even more hardship on the poorest of the peoples in these nations. By the time the crisis was over, there should have been quite a number of Western corporations within the hardest hit of the ASEAN nations, having acquired businesses in ‘fire sales.’ ASEAN’s policies would now benefit these foreign enterprises.

The above extracts from ‘Destiny Will Out’ do not bring out the geo-politics involved when the independent nations of south-east Asia sought to develop themselves. They had to counter the ‘dog-eat-dog’ globalisation process which said, effectively, that the West wanted a share of any growth in the new nations.)

The Dreamtime – Quo Vadis?

There is a Third World black nation, co-existing but only just, within white Australia. The White Australia immigration policy was finally heaved overboard with great fanfare, officially in the early 1970s; yet its generic roots remain embedded in the roots of Australian attitudes and social policies. Indeed, it is the rooting by white men which is responsible for the plight of the Aboriginal population.

The heritage of these people is of being rooted and dispossessed, or is it the other way round? Despite the political rhetoric about ‘compacts’ and reconciliation, this heritage includes being disowned socially and economically. From the very first contracts with British colonisers, the Aboriginal people were rooted out of their land, with which they had lived in harmony for thousands of years; their women were rooted, if not killed; resulting offspring were rooted out of their homes and communities, and offered assimilation in the role of slaves in white homes. The people who survived ethnic cleansing, which was carried out systematically (occasionally sneakily), became slaves on pastoral properties or were herded into reserves located on unwanted, unproductive land (following US practice with its ‘Red’ Indians).

The founders of this nation were like the founders of the USA; they had the gun and the Good Book in their hands, and greed and lust in their eyes and loins. They took what they wanted, chanting ‘Terra Nullius’ with each step they took. … And men of the cloth apparently blessed this physical and cultural genocide. Greed overcame the recorded objections to this practice from fair-minded and knowledgeable people in the UK, who asserted that the Aboriginals had indeed ‘occupied’ the land. … Some say that this is why a highwayman is a national icon in Australia.

Even in the early 1960s, an Aboriginal community was forcibly removed from land wanted by the mining industry. This industry, mainly foreign owned, has received (at least, to date) some credit for successfully preventing any form of justice to the Aborigines in relation to land rights and other forms of national reconciliation. … The pastoral interests are closely behind the miners in their opposition to justice for blacks, claiming that a (government) lease (of pastoral land) equals freehold (wouldn’t that be lovely for the rest of us?). So Australian governments genuflect in the face of export dollars and the power of foreign investors, and justice can go to hell. What does one say about a woman who asks the man who repeatedly rapes her not to leave her, because she would then lose the replacement underwear he regularly provides her; that she worries too much about the draught?

… … Historically, both pastoralists and miners were not alone in pretending that the Aboriginal was not human or was an inferior pre-human. Convicts from Britain (including many of Irish extraction), the priests and the politicians, all collaborated with the pastoralists and miners in their cultural imperialism and sexual exploitation. Shooting and poisoning were normal means of clearing the land. Yet the Aboriginal people did not disappear from the face of their land …

… … Thus after two centuries of the white man’s benevolence, the black people were, in the main, landless, almost cultureless, almost tribeless, nearly family-less, stateless (denied citizenship). They were also denied a vote, personal dignity, legal rights, pride, self-respect, education, a place they could safely call their own, freedom, gender equality, class equality, ethnic equality, a share of the largesse of multiculturalism policies, an opportunity to better themselves, hope and, in heir marginalised places of living, limited to no health care, sanitation, water, and freedom from fear of further dispossession, harassment, or incarceration. …

(As my first memoir ‘Destiny Will Out’ was written in 1995, from which these extracts were drawn, it reflects the historical record of Australia (not one to be proud of). Is it any different from the history of the First Peoples, the indigenes of the Americas? Did not the despoliation of the pre-invasion rights and associated cultural practices in these two continents continue well into the twentieth century?

Whenever I read about Western nations (including the former colonial ‘powers’) preaching to developing (emerging?) or materially less-developed peoples everywhere about freedom, human rights, property rights (that too), and democratic structures of governance, I keep wondering when they will begin to practice what they enjoy preaching.

This situation also reminds me of those missionaries accompanying the invaders who successfully converted to Christianity some of the ‘natives’ at the lowest socio-economic levels, but provided them with no material benefit from being clutched to the bosom of Christ – for whom I have the greatest of respect.)

Foreigners buying up Australia

The screening of foreign investment was fascinating and satisfying. It meant participating, even from the outside, in a facet of the real world. We met some of the movers and shakers of this world. We also met some of the legal people who ate well as intermediaries between that real world and the cushy world of government policy.

The Australian concept of screening foreign investment was questionable from the very start. First, it originated as a bipartisan policy and our office naturally ensured that it remained so. However, when both sides of Parliament agree on a policy, the people can be screwed – and could have no protection politically. Second, the screening was to ensure that a take-over or a new investment was not against the national interest.

What did that mean, asked everyone who came to us? We, too, asked the same question. Indeed, a foreign take-over would have to be demonstrated by us to be very damaging before it could be stopped. Could a new foreign investment be damaging? That would be the day! Third, we were working for the Treasury, the non-interventionists whose credo had been that all foreign capital is good capital.

My first case involved a man I had come to know well in my days on tariff matters. His foreign-owned company wanted to buy a small Australian-owned manufacturer. The owner of the Australian enterprise opened the batting: what right did the government have to stop him selling his business to anyone?

Seeking inspiration, while a senior colleague looked at me quizzically, I looked at my friend and said with a grin, “What right would an Australian manufacturer have if it allowed government to place one foot into its door – by accepting tariff protection – to say to that government that it cannot now place the other foot in the door to screen an intended foreign take-over?” That broke the ice that had been evident from the moment of their arrival. On the other hand, I could have said, “If a camel’s head gets in the tent, his body will follow,” but that would not have been proper.

I then explained that our job was not to defend government policy, which was a political decision, but merely to explain it. We could also explain our developing procedures. The government’s objectives were set out in Hansard (the record of Parliament’s deliberations) mainly in the Second Reading Speech. Decisions would be taken only at the political level, i.e. by the Minister. And both the decisions and our processes, including our interpretation of legislation, could be tested in the courts.

That approach seemed to satisfy them and others whose proposals came to us. Later, I was to brief lawyers and industrialists not only on a case-by-case basis but occasionally in small groups. It was satisfying to have the lawyers agree with the way we interpreted legislation (with the help of lawyers in the Attorney-General’s department) and, later, additional non-legislative policies. No one took us to court. That could also mean that the decisions taken were either acceptable or not worth contesting. Most proposals were approved.

It was rather a surprise for us when, in later years, the government passed legislation setting out how to interpret legislation. We presumed that this was for the benefit of certain judges and lawyers who apparently took a literal or semantic interpretation of specific words in legislation. Creative accounting was burgeoning into a major art form and some lawyers apparently became skilled in the deconstructionist analysis of the written word. Our interpretation of our legislation was validated.

One of the funniest experiences I had was when a European entrepreneur received an offer for his Australian company from a foreign corporation. The European was an Australian citizen, as I was, and so was the CEO of the Australian subsidiary of the foreign corporation. The CEO went through the usual argument that he and his management were true-blue Aussies and that his company was surely Australian too. The European and I agreed, adding that we were Aussies too, although obviously not local-born.

I was explaining the nature of our policy when, all of a sudden, the three of us saw the humour of the situation simultaneously, and we started to laugh. The true-blue Aussie had to satisfy a migrant Aussie that his company would not damage the national interest by buying the other migrant Aussie’s business. The CEO then kindly agreed that, when the appropriate foreign person snapped his fingers, only he would have to salute.

(These extracts from ‘Destiny Will Out’ will surely indicate that I am not just a pretty face. Personnel management, by taking me out of a hot fry-pan, had found the one person in the agency who had the necessary experience to operate the new policy. This was to deal with the movers and shakers of the private sector on a case-by-case basis, but yet within the umbrella of both the law and prevailing business practices.

The agency was extremely fortunate in this, because the 4 members of the team were, I knew, seen as surplus to need. Unfortunately for the high-nosed ones, I did not need to consult anyone to establish my procedural approach, and my case-recommendations; the near-retirement senior official set above me approved everything I put before him.

Progressively, 8 sections grew out of the work of my team, leaving me with the very diverse service industries, which suited my need for variety in my work and an on-going challenge. I just made sure that no one could better my work! A loyal and reliable team will ensure that.)

Of persons and personalities

I enjoyed working in that office. The staff were obviously selected for their personal and communication skills, apart from necessary skills in analysis and report-writing. The members of the Board were generally courteous and competent, even though the odd senior public service appointee could be preoccupied with his relative status.

… Of all the members of the Board I had worked with, one was a particularly charming man. He was often seen dining or even travelling with attractive, polished ladies, all of whom seemed to be his nieces. He had a lot of them. He had no airs and was always willing to ask for explanations.

One day, he claimed to have difficulty with the idea of the high cost of final products resulting from the tariff applicable to the materials in the intermediate chain of production. I offered a reasonable analogy of the process whereby DDT accumulated in meat. “Aha!” he said, “I now understand!” He represented the rural sector.

Unfortunately the humourless chairman of that enquiry apparently felt that my ‘bizarre’ sense of humour would one day get me into trouble – but he was a stuffed suit. “No bird soars too high if it soars with its own wings.”

During the six happy years I spent in that office, I was promoted twice, rising to be the first operational team leader, or sectional head. On each occasion, the question was raised: how would the Aussie staff accept me? However, did anyone ask how I would manage a team of Aussies? Apparently there was no doubt about that. I had learned to call a spade a spade and, occasionally, a bloody shovel or, for that matter, a f***ing shovel. That is, I spoke the language of the masses and had the approach of an Aussie manager to staff. I also worked ridiculous hours, rewrote pages of our reports, and took full responsibility for anything I put up the line, i.e. I gave my team total protection and loyalty.

My colleagues were a mixture of Masons, Catholics, golfers, other Christians and “calathumpians” (a term used by my mother-in-law to refer to religious people with no readily identifiable label). The Masons complained that they had to be twice as good as the others, as the CEO (another Mason) leant over backwards to prove that he did not favour the Masons. The Catholics were never heard to complain. The golfers, being a species apart, were happy to be promoted when opportunities arose, as long as they were free to stop and tell anyone who was not smart enough to avoid them, about their weekend golf – hole by hole, stroke by stroke.

The other Christians and calathumpians were normal people with no special distinguishing features. Irrespective of faith, affiliations, or interest, we all drank together every Friday evening. The only risk was that a third-generation Irish-Aussie would bring out his ancestral accent by seven o’clock in the evening and, on Monday morning, would want to tell you the joke that you had told him on Friday – with one variation; he told you the punch line first. It was a cohesive office.

Relating to industry was interesting. I found co-operation and courtesy at every level. … One company came for increased protection for almost every product; yet the company as a whole usually made a great profit. The difficulty for us was that the piecemeal approach to a company’s tariff needs did not enable the agency to examine the company as a whole.

In my last year in that agency, I let an accountant loose on that company (when many of its products came under examination). He came to the conclusion that the company had a profit centre from which all supplies, including furniture, needed anywhere in the company’s operations, were marked-up heavily before being sent out to operational centres. How clever and how profitable.

… However, by the end of my term in the agency, there had been another sea-change. The office began to recommend reduced effective protection to inspire increased competitiveness in global markets. When this began to happen, the industry department’s social club threw out those of us who worked for the agency (although we still worked for the same Minister). We were the free traders, and thus operating against the received wisdom of government. So we formed our own social club, which I led for a year.

I then left, looking for different work. Strangely enough, many of the economics-oriented people also left at about the same time.

(The above extracts from ‘Destiny Will Out’ suggest how, in the 1960s, the Australian government protected an inefficient manufacturing sector dominated by foreign enterprises. These were allowed to produce only for the local market; the car industry today – with 3 remaining manufacturers – is an excellent example.

The enabled high-consumption nation is increasingly dependent upon service industries. It seems that we do not want to learn from dynamic nations such as Singapore in preparing for a competitive long-term future, which includes manufacturing.)

The economic conundrum that is Australia

As soon as you look at Australia’s economic situation, you know that the country’s industrial base is substantially owned, and therefore controlled, by foreigners. There are not many major industries not under the control or influence of overseas shareholders. You find out, too, that the people are either indifferent to this situation or think that it is all right; or they simply deny it.
… The necessary emphasis is on expanding production. Without expansion, the economy stagnates, affecting employment, income flows, and all the rest of it. … And how is this growth – industrial growth, not population growth – to be achieved? (Although there was once a senior public servant and his politician master who supposedly coined the rallying cry, “Root for Australia” as a solution to Australia’s population needs.)

… A few decades ago, it was reported that Australia is unique among relatively developed nations. In a very short time after entering the industrial development phase, the country skipped the normal phase of widening and deepening its industrial foundations and became a high consumption nation – through redistribution of incomes policies. This was done for socially desirable motives, but it ignored, and continues to ignore, the need for national savings to fuel future growth.

So, who provides this fuel? Why, foreigners of course. … When you look at Australia’s balance of payments data, you will find that it is the continued inflow of foreign capital which upholds the Australian economy.

It’s against this background that I joined an agency whose role was to assess the protection Australian manufacturing industry needed through duties or tariffs imposed on competing imports. … The executive staff of this small agency were very courageous in appointing a migrant, especially a coloured one, to deal with senior representatives of industry in the early Sixties. Most of the latter would be ‘old’ Aussies employed, to a large extent, by foreign owned enterprises.

I would have been the first foreigner in their dealings with government. It was fascinating to watch the expressions on some faces when they came to realise that I was the initial and main filter of their sworn public and confidential information on their productive viability.

… My first report was on a single product. I apparently introduced, without any such intention, two major changes in the operation of that agency. I wrote an eleven page report, when apparently others had produced much longer ones in a comparable context. I had also recommended removal of tariff protection for that product. I therefore became the first “free trader” in that office; in the prevailing atmosphere of protection that was not a great reputation.

Hence I was privileged to have my first report examined by the CEO (Chief Executive Officer) line by line; every fact was checked, and every statement was examined for accuracy, fairness, grammar, and style. I passed. … He approved my inspection of production facilities. He knew what I was really after; to get behind the smooth witnesses and their beautifully packaged data. I thus managed to talk to production engineers, research staff and marketing peoples, formed my impressions, and asked the Board to seek the information which would either confirm or deny my suspicions. I also obtained approval to visit the applicants’ opposition who spoke freely outside the ambience of court-like hearings.

… I got to know the deputy chairman of the Board well, early in my career, when he summonsed me. Quite gently, he pointed out that I had no right to ask a witness for any information … I was to give him my questions and my reasons. Once he understood how I operated, reasons were not necessary.

… It was therefore a surprise for me (and for everyone else) when, in a difficult case, the deputy chairman asked a really curly question and literally forced the witness to deal with it. He then looked over at me sitting at the next level, which was above that of the audience, and gave me a broad wink. That was the best way to tell the whole industry whose question it really was. But he was a great man, seconded from industry. It was a pleasure to work with him, provided no mistakes were made; otherwise one could come out looking like the proverbial pancake.

(These extracts from ‘Destiny Will Out’ indicate that I continued to have wonderful bosses. The CEO of my first public sector agency, who wanted me to remain, understood my need to expand my skills. The next CEO and the Deputy Chairman of the Board liked my approach; I was allowed to inspect facilities as I wished because I ferreted out necessary background. Most importantly, I was accepted by those in the private sector: perhaps they sensed my support for private enterprise.

Yet, we were upholding economic and technical inefficiency in the manufacturing sector. I therefore attempted to infuse a free trader perspective into our work, as this could contribute to greater efficiency in those firms and industries living behind a tariff wall. I spent 6 years in this agency, and was promoted twice.)

Where goes my nation?

Today’s Australia is not the nation I entered in 1948. Then, it was (ridiculously) officially racist; today, any intended racism is likely to be subterranean (the yobbo excepted). Then, it was mono-cultural, mono-lingual, and mono-coloured, and very British (the ‘wogs’ of white Europe had not arrived yet); today, it is multi-ethnic and thereby multicultural, multi-lingual, multi-coloured (although recent black humanitarian entrants are viewed askance by some, mainly because they may not be economically viable for a very long time), and traditionally egalitarian.

That is, while the nation has evolved into a modern cos¬mopolitan, generally integrated people, the ‘fair-go’ ethos of the ‘old’ Anglo-Australian underpins both official policies and much of interpersonal relations. As a communitarian small-l liberal, metaphysical Hindu, and a card-carrying Christian, I applaud this. I believe that Australia could become a beacon for our neighbouring nations were we to deal with them with our feet on this platform

Yet, because of the ‘Asian values’ which formed me in colo¬nial British Malaya, I do not accept, as an all-embracing ethos, the individualism which underpins Western nations, especially those created by immigrants, viz. the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Their human rights record is deplorable.

These nations seek to shove a ‘one-size-fits-all’ Western view of human rights onto those nations of interest to us. The intent of this approach is the destruction of tribalism and communitarian values.

In the meanwhile, exaggerated and often self-selected individual rights have led to the breakdown of family, which has traditionally been the backbone of society everywhere. Excepting those few involved in civil society (I am one of them), there is a rising tide of ‘takers.’ These are found at all levels – from foreign investors, corporate leaders and politicians, down to the many professionally work-shy welfare recipients.

Pockets of well-meaning individuals, seemingly unable or unwilling to consider seriously relevant policy issues, form glee clubs supporting the takers or those who seek to take, e.g. asylum seekers. Communal responsibility and personal respect are thinning out like an outgoing tide at the beach. Since our politicians are pre-occupied with short-term politics rather than long-term policies, the community, by and large, reminds me of the movement of an empty stoppered bottle floating on rough seas.

Where goes my adopted nation, to which I have made a substantial contribution?

(The above represents the Preface of my last book ‘Musings at Death’s Door: an ancient bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society.’)

Is the problem an over-filled belly, yet driven by expectations, ‘rights’ and demands? If foreigners do not keep investing in the country (that is, buying up more and more of it), will we continue to eat as well as we do?

The West undermines itself morally

A bicultural Asian-Australian who can straddle both banks of his river of life is not much tarnished by the exploits of powerful Western nations. Australia, while it claims to be a ‘middle power,’ is merely the imputed Deputy Sheriff for the Pacific. It is a caring nation.

It thus promotes in its bailiwick: Western democracy on a one-size-fits-all basis; unfettered (that is, raw) capitalism of the kind long rejected by the West; and human rights (even as it rejects a statute encoding such rights for itself). These are the same promotions sponsored by the rest of the West. Does Australia have a say about this message? What are its benefits to the West?

Such simplistic approaches do not necessarily apply directly in Australia. While compulsory voting applies, the structure of democracy has hitherto marginalised independent politicians and minor parties. High levels of welfare, including ‘middle class welfare,’ distorting capitalism, have achieved a somewhat somnolescent populace, which is steadily fed a lot of pap about personalities, and a litany of foreign disasters, partly by a foreign-controlled media. We cannot fairly be described as a highly intellectual nation.

Foreign interests also seem to control much of the core economy; the Roman Catholic Church (representing only about 25% of the population) influences significant social policies; and the USA determines Australia’s defence and Middle Eastern policies. Life is good.

Ignoring its own brutal and relatively recent history of colonisation, slavery, and racism, the West now thrashes around seeking to achieve regime changes (cost not relevant) all over the globe; to avoid a multi-polar international power structure; and to give access to the resources of the under-developed world to its own entrepreneurs; even spouting furiously about capitalistic freedom and democracy for one and all. (Read Amy Chua, an American academic, for some insight.)

All this is normal human behaviour of course, with more-than-needed antecedent practices backing such approaches. Freedom to live as one might want to, is not available to many communities any more. Ask Fiji, Afghanistan, and other nations whose people are being killed, or maimed (but only as collateral damage) by certain policies of the West; a couple of nations upheld by the other 2 ‘desert religions’ of Islam and Judaism are reportedly involved in some of these policies. An interesting coalition of the killing!

Having achieved great technological, scientific, and other progress in recent times, might we now expect a certain moral development in the leading nations of the West? Should greed for yet more power and material possessions bury traditional ethical values, whether drawn from religion, or ecology, or just a sense of shared humanity?

Ethnic conflict in free-market economies

Democracy is said to empower the people. Ask the Indians living on the streets if that is so. Religious institutions are said to uplift the poor. Ask those despairing of even finding enough to eat, and to provide for their families. These are to be found in every continent, except for a few exceptional nations of the Western world. Then ask those elected rulers of poverty-driven people why, in the name of their religions, or their tribal responsibilities, they do not provide for some income-redistribution, or a basal level of necessary support services.

Author Amy Chua (see ‘World on fire’) claims that democratic rights raise expectations of fairer treatment by their rulers, including obtaining a share of the wealth generated within their nation. When only the rulers are seen to benefit from this wealth, which is generated by an ethnic minority (whether local or of foreign origin), there can be expected some ethnic conflict. She does provide a few examples. But these are not persuasive.

An Indian commentator said recently that a politician enters parliament in India owning one house, but leaves with 10 houses. One might ask why anyone would want to become a politician, with all its negative connotations, unless wealth beckons.

As for conflicts between a market-dominated ethnic minority (such as the Chinese in all the nations of Southeast Asia) and a poor majority composed of other ethnicities, where is the evidence? In the meanwhile, the Gross National Product may rise a great deal, the (statistical) per-capita income may appear encouraging, while the actual incomes and lifestyles of the bulk of the people remain low.

This reflects the raw capitalism and instant suffrage foisted by the powerful rulers of the West on poor developing nations, which enables the buccaneer investors and politico-financial controllers of the West to have a field day. Colonialism is not died yet.

Democratic, globalised market economies

When every adult in a polity is granted a vote, that is called democracy. As we already know, by voting for one of the candidates chosen by tightly-controlled political parties, we are expected to believe that we have indicated how we wish to be governed. Our choices are the policies uttered by the parties seeking election. I prefer to believe in Santa Claus, as must all those living in poverty in countries ruled by rich elites holding hands with the barons of commerce, industry, and anything else which has a $ sign.

After election, the party in government may distinguish between ‘core’ policies (to be implemented) and ‘non-core’ policies (to be jettisoned); or introduce policies it had said that it would not implement. An example is the value-added tax (the GST) introduced in Australia in breach of the election promise. It is a regressive tax, because it hurts the poorest the most. Politicians and tax collectors just love it; revenue grows with inflation. Then, those people elected to rule us do not have to possess any specified skills, or relevant experiences, or operational aptitudes, even to become Ministers – those responsible for key policies, eg. going to war, the economic and social development of the nation, and so on.

That is Western capitalistic democracy – open to manipulation by self-seekers. The author of ‘Worlds on fire’ (see my previous post) provides examples from all over the world. The ordinary people remain poor, while only the ruling class gets any benefit (lots of it) from successful private entrepreneurship. This is not to deny the entrepreneur his just reward, provided it is earned without corruption or exploitation.

Some East Asian governments have a divergent concept of citizen-participation in politics and capitalistic governance. They prefer command economies, while not denying democracy in some form. (Would there not be scope for some private benefit for some family members?) Where ‘market forces’ may benefit an economy such as Australia in an unplanned manner, because they represent the net effect of collective opportunism (or greed?), a command economy is planned and controlled by the authorities (possibly with less spin-doctoring about personal freedom and the right to fail).

Globalising offers, but perhaps only definitionally, greater economic efficiency in the utilisation of scarce resources in a market economy. But, at what price? The transfer of control of the nation’s resources to investing capitalistic foreigners and/or to powerful minorities within the nation, with little to no residual or resulting benefit to the bulk of the people? The concept of ‘trickle-down’ benefits to the poor can be demonstrated by a poor child seeking alms outside an expensive restaurant.

Should those people living in poverty be considered to have a right of some kind to share in the wealth being developed? Or, does the concept of a capitalistic democracy deny such an entitlement? Would it be fair to ask the religious leaders in such impoverished nations to respond to my question?