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Monday, 27 January 2020 03:48

Australia's Jonestown Moment

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Donald Trump famously opined in the lead up to his memorable victory in 2016 that America had been led by “stupid people”. It seemed to resonate, because true. I wonder what Trump would make of today’s political, corporate and community leadership in Australia.

Donald Trump famously opined in the lead up to his memorable victory in 2016 that America had been led by “stupid people”. It seemed to resonate, because true. I wonder what Trump would make of today’s political, corporate and community leadership in Australia.

Equally, one might, in pondering the memory of Jonestown’s awful gullibility, wonder why so many Australians have supped of the political Kool-Aid, in that they continue to demonstrate blind allegiance to parties and leaders that say and/or do the most stupid things imaginable. The case can be made, certainly, that Australia’s current crop of leaders is either witless, gormless or suckers for ideological purity. Perhaps all three. They seem hopelessly unaware of, or indifferent to, the unintended consequences of their policies. They are prone to exaggeration and obfuscation. They crave easy, good news stories and opportunities for feel-good photo opps. They talk about and act upon issues that concern no one. They want to solve every problem going, even where the right approach would be, as John Stone once cogently suggested, “don’t just do something – stand there”.

But I want to focus here on politicians in thrall to ideology and their fear of the power of pressure groups that are themselves in thrall to various ideologies.

Australia is currently run by soldiers of the (new) left and (new) right who, in so many fields of policy, have simply abandoned common sense in the pursuit of ideological purity, at great cost to the achievement of decent outcomes for ordinary Australians. Ideology makes people, including politicians, say and do really dumb things. And keep doing dumb things even when the used-by dates are crystal clear. Take a few random examples. One only has to think of mass immigration (or “transformative immigration” as Mark Steyn has termed it), mostly through back and side doors. This is a lazy, ill-thought-through policy that is actively contributing to urban gridlock, a further drain on an already overburdened welfare state and social unease at the embedded multiculturalism that is forever changing the face of our so-called “global” cities. The ideological god here is globalism.


Or think of our school education system and curricula that merely embed green ideology and trash our Western traditions without actually educating anyone. The ideological gods this time are sustainability and post-modernism. Or the university system where impoverished and indebted graduates increasingly cannot get jobs, certainly not jobs for which they were (very expensively) trained. The god on this occasion is lifelong learning and the associated worship of the false promise of the secular university.


Or the area of foreign investment where Treasury-led governments in Canberra simply mandate the selling off of key transport and economic infrastructure and great chunks of our farmland so that an evil foreign communist regime can vertically integrate the meeting of its food needs. Here we have the god of direct foreign investment. Climate change, of course, is the daddy of them all. Kool-Aid central. Apparently intelligent people are willing to commit economic suicide in the vain hope of achieving something – climate control – that is simply not open to (human) governments to deliver.


But there is something even worse than being beholden to ideology of the left or of the right, something even dumber than the normal dumb. A Jim Carrey moment. That would be when politicians are beholden to an admixture of ideologies of both the left and right at the same time, and develop policies that are beholden to new and weird combinations of seeming ideological odd-fellows. There are three examples with current resonance that stand out.

The first relates to energy policy and the role of state governments in giving away core infrastructure (the god of privatisation) at a time when all governments are, at worst, in thrall to renewable energy ideology themselves, or, at best, scared of offending voters who are in thrall to renewable energy ideology. It is, of course, an old trick of state governments to sell off the family silver so as to then be able to dole out electoral goodies strategically in order to stay in government.


But the record of the O’Farrell-Baird-Berejiklian Government in New South Wales has been simply appalling in this area. In 2014, following the selling off of core electricity infrastructure in order to build an electoral war chest, EnergyAustralia, the purchaser of the Wallerawang Power Station near Lithgow, decided to decommission it! This cost the once-thriving Lithgow economy 600 local jobs. Yes, that would be 600 full-time jobs, not to mention all the lost secondary jobs in businesses that service the power generation sector, or the jobs of those who provide services to those 600 now unemployed folk.


Almost inevitably, local coal mines already under financial stress from all directions, not least the woke greenie banks, will close their operations following the heinous decision to close Wallerawang. One – Angus Place Colliery – already has, with the further loss of 150 jobs. This occurred hard on the heels of the Wallerawang disaster, and the mothballing of Angus Place was directly attributed to the closure of the power station. Of course. A race to the green bottom, with Lithgow simply another victim of the war on coal. The ABC reported at the time: There are fears about an even tighter jobs market in the Lithgow district following the Angus Place announcement.


It comes a week after plans by another company, Coalpac, to reopen two other local mines was knocked back by the Planning Assessment Commission (PAC). Coalpac wanted to re-start and expand the Cullen Valley Mine and Invincible Colliery and employ about 80 people for six years. The PAC rejected Coalpac's modification application, citing the unacceptable environmental risks to nearby pagoda rock formations. Coalpac has said it is likely to now go into liquidation.


Five years on, Lithgow is now losing retail businesses in the town as a result of the policy disasters inflicted upon it.


The potential of this city to move beyond being a mere satellite suburb of Sydney for people priced out of the Sydney market, or a tree change retirement destination, has been shot to pieces, while decent-minded locals try to come up with alternate, too often quaint and sadly inadequate local development strategies. And the policy disaster visited upon Lithgow was inflicted by a government containing that party whose very existence once rode upon its interest in regional development. That would be the Nationals, who now seem far more interested in same-sex marriage and infanticide on demand. And guess what? Now the NSW taxpayers have to pay for the decommissioning of the power station at the newly minted ghost town of Wallerawang. And guess what again? We cannot find out what is going on in relation to this because of a confidentiality agreement between the NSW Government and the company that bought then stripped the power station.


You couldn’t make this up. The always overrated god of privatisation has a lot to answer for. But in this case it was the awful combination of a supposedly right-of-centre government wedded simultaneously to climate catastrophism AND privatisation that led inevitably to the destruction of a town’s economy and embedded regional joblessness. Regional towns already kick into a pretty strong breeze economically, while cities inexorably grow on the back of mass immigration. They (regional towns) decidedly do not need policy stupidity as well.


The second example of ideology fuelled policy stupidity is the disgraceful state of the water “market” during the worst NSW drought in memory. The financialisation of water in a country prone to savage droughts and marginal farm operations much of the time is almost beyond belief. The creation of water property rights separate from the traditional land-based right-to-farm system and the progressive handing over of tradable water rights to robber barons since the 1980s only escalated in recent times under the watchful eye of former merchant banker and green ideologue Malcolm Turnbull, the much-to-answer-for Murray Darling Basin Commission and, yes, the good old Nationals.


But combine this policy stupidity with the crazy acceptance by state governments of both the right and the left of the green god of “environmental flows” so beloved by the green bureaucrats who run the states in Australia, and you get farms without any water in times of drought. And then billion dollar packages designed to assuage voters who by rights should long have given up thinking our clueless governments actually had a plan.


Meanwhile gloating investors with a stake in the over $2 billion water trade sector claim they are making a “s…load” of money from the system, while farmers and rural towns go down the gurgler.


The third example of multiple ideologies driving policy in bad directions is the decimation of cities and suburbs by high rise apartments, fuelled by a lethal combination of mass immigration, the power and greed of developers and state and local governments in thrall to leftist “new urbanism” and the god of compact cities.


New urbanism seeks to counter the ultimate enemy, urban sprawl and the Western worship of the automobile, by bulldozing suburbs and creating clusters of high rise residential building around transit nodes, especially light and heavy rail. This inevitably means windfall gains for the developers who fund state governments, the “meritonisation” of whole cities, the construction of typically ugly and (sadly) often jerry built apartment blocks that are likely to fall down, absent properly strict planning guidelines and processes. It also means the further atomisation of life in the city, especially for the non-English speaking migrants who live in these slums of the future. And, sadly, it seldom means less car traffic in the communities so decimated.


All this, too, is down to the god of globalism and the “global cities” that are increasingly inhabited by what David Goodhart has perceptively called the “anywheres”. These are the well off, highly educated, connected, mobile, globalist elites whose beliefs in supranational governance and open borders, and their progressive cosmopolitanism and multiculturalism, lie in direct contrast to the “somewheres”, those less well off, rooted-in-place, less well educated “deplorables” who fear endless change and who see their lives and cities forever changed in ways that cannot be reversed. The ideologies in play here are leftist globalism and new urbanism on the one hand married to the rule of the free market in development on the other.


The result is over-development on a massive scale without any benefit to the community. It is a bonus, of course, that the profitability of the best mates of state governments is massively enhanced – even if some of the buildings fall to bits. After all, it is developer contributions that help keep the otherwise impoverished states afloat.


Populism gets a bad press, as if there is something inherently wrong with politicians enacting policies actually favoured by the silent majority yet opposed by ideologues of the left or of the right. These would be policies supported by what the late Christopher Pearson called “club sensible”, policies that pass the pub test. They would be policies that would decidedly not see water that could be used to keep farm businesses alive flowing out to sea, and the water that is not lost to “environmental flows” banked by capitalists and sold during killer droughts at extortionist prices to near-bankrupt farmers who once were entitled to access that water.


That would not see thousands of regional jobs lost on the altar of climatism and the renewables energy scam, driven by ideologues wedded to the privatisation of core national infrastructure.


That would not see the destruction of urban communities through the erection of the endless, slums-of-the-future apartment blocks so favoured by leftist new urbanism ideologues and fuelled by profit-seeking developers.


The silent Australians who inhabit our suburban and country communities must shake their heads in disbelief at the sheer stupidity of our leaders’ policy endeavours, as the communities they inhabit are decimated by all the bungles that abound.


And yet, these same silent Australians continue to reward those same leaders who pass around the ideological Kool-Aid, for mass consumption by gullible voters. At least they reward them in lower houses of parliament. There is evidence that voters want to restrain dumb and dumber governments by hedging their bets in upper houses.


Sadly, as noted elsewhere, these voters haven’t yet figured out how to vote strategically for the “positive deviants” with sufficient mass appeal and policy cred to make a difference. An extremely charitable observer might suggest that all the cases described above are the outcomes of “unintended consequences” and good intentions.


Well, not I.


Our politicians and policy makers are paid very, very good money to avoid these disasters. It might help if they occasionally modified their ideologies of the left AND the right, and gave sensible, pub-test-passing policies a try.


Read 2504 times Last modified on Monday, 27 January 2020 04:08
Paul Collits

Paul Collits is a freelance writer and independent researcher who lives in Lismore New South Wales.  
He has worked in government, industry and the university sector, and has taught at tertiary level in three different disciplines - politics, geography and planning and business studies.  He spent over 25 years working in economic development and has published widely in Australian and international peer reviewed and other journals.  He has been a keynote speaker internationally on topics such as rural development, regional policy, entrepreneurship and innovation.  Much of his academic writing is available at
His recent writings on ideology, conservatism, politics, religion, culture, education and police corruption have been published in such journals as Quadrant, News Weekly and The Spectator Australia.
He has BA Hons and MA degrees in political science from the Australian National University and a PhD in geography and planning from the University of New England.  He currently has an adjunct Associate Professor position at a New Zealand Polytechnic.