The age of entitlement is over, according to Tony Abbott, but not for his own family. While he orders Australians to tighten their belts to rein in the ballooning deficit, Abbott is loosening his own, and we are footing the bill.
The family’s latest taxpayer-funded scam is to turn the historic Kirribilli House into their Sydney weekend retreat. They are following in the footsteps of John Winston and Janet Howard who made the National Trust mansion their permanent Sydney residence during his 10 years in the prime ministership.
Chifley, Menzies, Holt, Gorton, McMahon, Whitlam, Fraser and Keating refused to take up residence there, but Howard changed all that and now Abbott has followed suit.
Upon his election in 2013, Abbott directed a $120,000 refurbishment which included $64,988 on landscaping and $13,000 on a rug.
When it was revealed his 23-year-old daughter Bridget was living at Kirribilli, Abbott generously offered to pay $250 a week to cover her rent.
Anyone else would get a cardboard box, a sheet of iron or a corner of a backyard garage for $250 a week. Ms Abbott has servants, free meals and premier wine, harbourside views of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, a swimming pool, gymnasium and home cinema for the same price.
Now we learn that Abbott has hired a gardener for $200,000 a year for the next three years. VIP Home Services will be paid about $17,000 a month to trim the lawns and hedges.
A couple of years ago the company was providing the same services to other clients for $10,000 to $12,000 a year but the Abbott garden obviously requires premium care.
Pat Conroy, Labor’s waste watch spokesman, remarked: “It’s not just the fertiliser that stinks at the Prime Minister’s house.”
Churchill: Lest we forget
Mustard gas leaves a bad taste in the mouths of the Mitchell family and our relations in the wider Wilesmith family from which we sprang.
My uncle, Edward Joseph Wilesmith, known as “Joe”, born on 8 December 1892 in the North Queensland mining town of Watsonville, was gassed in the trenches of France in World War One. He never recovered and died on 16 December 1924 at Kuranda on the Atherton Tableland, aged 32.
All sides on the Western Front used deadly gas warfare. The British Army began in 1915 and were still firing chemical weapons at German soldiers until September 1918.
In 1919, when British troops invaded and occupied Mesopotamia they bombed Arab nationalist rebels with gas weapons. Winston Churchill, Secretary of State for War and Air (and the author of the Gallipoli massacre), wrote to War Office in May 1919:
“I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. We have definitely adopted the position at the (WW1) Peace Conference or arguing in favour of the retention of gas as a permanent method of warfare. It is sheer affection to lacerate a man with the poisonous fragment of a bursting shell and to boggle at making his eyes water by means of lachrymatory gas.
“I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes. The loss of life should be reduced to a minimum. It is not necessary to use only the most deadly gasses: gasses can be used which cause great inconvenience and would spread a lively terror and yet would leave no serious permanent effects on most of those affected.”
Just over a year later Churchill had deployed four RAF squadrons in Iraq to drop mustard gas bombs “which would inflict punishment upon recalcitrant natives without inflicting grave injury upon them”.
When I hear John Winston Howard and Tony Abbott and a flock of other eminent Australians giving worshipful tributes to the old brute, my flesh creeps. I’ll grant that Churchill was an outstanding wartime leader in the fight against Nazism but there it starts and finishes. To all those Winnie lovers I simply say, “If he was all that flash why did British voters unceremoniously chuck him out of office in a landslide victory to Labour’s Clem Attlee at the 1945 general election?” Sorry, I can’t hear you.
Legacy of Ms Bell
These days no one mentions Churchill’s strident advocacy of using mustard gas against “recalcitrant natives” but they are highly vocal when it is allegedly used by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
I say “allegedly” because most of the recent stories emanate from unnamed sources in Washington, the British Foreign Office and Tel Aviv. I don’t believe the TV footage either. It could have been devised on a backlot in Hollywood, as far as I’m concerned.
The vested imperialist interests are committed to regime change in Damascus and they won’t let telling lies get in the way of their objective.
Gertrude Bell, 1868-1926, was an early opponent of Churchill’s chemical warfare strategy. In August 1920 when gas bombs were being dropped on Arab fighters in Mesopotamia, she wrote that “it’s a very doubtful triumph to restore [order] at the expense of many Arab lives”.
The daughter of England’s fifth richest man, a steel baron, Bell lived in Baghdad where she became a noted Arabist, explorer, linguist and meddling spy on behalf of Whitehall’s Arab Bureau. She later became an outspoken opponent of voting rights for women, becoming secretary of the women’s Anti-Suffrage League.
Tory MP Mark Sykes, who gave his name to the notorious Sykes-Picot Agreement, described Bell as a “silly chattering windbag of conceited, gushing flat-chested, man-woman, globe-trotting, rump-wagging, blethering ass”. Sykes was typical of the upper class louts of the time.
During the late 1970s Vanessa Redgrave, my former comrade in the British Workers Revolutionary Party, became fascinated by Bell’s adventures in the post-Ottoman Empire and tried to produce a movie on her life.
She invited the Iraqi Ba’athists to finance the project because it would lay bare the intrigues of imperialism in the country’s 20th century history. While they showed keen interest, there was never a serious offer of funds so the idea simply died.
Earlier this year a Bell biopic called Queen of the Desert was released in Berlin and the US to mixed reviews. Written and director by Werner Herzog the title role is played by Nicole Kidman.
Although Bell toyed with the concept of partitioning the infant Arabic nation and creating a caliphate under Sharia law, I don’t expect that episode in the film, nor her verdict on imperialist influence in the region: “There’s no getting out of the conclusion that we have made an immense failure here.”