The Weekly Notebook

PM Malcolm Turnbull surrenders to Pauline Hanson’s One Nation … Critical moment in French presidential race … Albert Namatjira legacy needs your help … Remembering England’s Shrewsbury pickets … Real news from Afghanistan and Ecuador …

Turnbull & Pauline: A love story

In the 1990s France’s far right National Front under the leadership of Jean-Marie Le Pen bellowed the slogan: “Love France or leave it.”

In the 2000s Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) said: “We do have, I’m sad to say, a fifth column within our own countries that is utterly opposed to our values, we’re going to have to be a lot braver … in standing up for our Judaeo-Christian culture.”

In Athens in 2012, campaigning for the pro-Nazi Golden Dawn, candidate Ilias Panagiotaros said: “This is our party’s programme – for a clean Greece, only for Greeks, a safe Greece.” During the campaign another Golden Dawn official, Ilias Kasidiaris, said that all illegal immigrants should be deported immediately and that Greece should plant minefields along its border with Turkey. “Not to kill the immigrants but to clearly define an area that would stop anyone from thinking of accessing the country.”

At his presidential inauguration in January, Donald Trump boomed: “From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first, America first.” Trump this week signed a presidential order called: “Buy American, Hire American.”

And this week Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull joined the anti-immigrant, nationalist bandwagon announcing the Coalition would abolish 457 visas which allowed overseas workers temporary residence in Australia.

“We must ensure that the foundation of our immigration system is seen to work in the national interest; that it is seen to deliver for Australians; it is seen to ensure that Australian jobs are filled by Australians wherever possible.”

Bizarrely, Australia’s Immigration Department will not accept applications from overseas workers wanting to work here as police officers, firefighters, actors, dentists, shearers, pilots or zoo keepers while English language skills will be upgraded. That leaves the door open for magicians, professional climate deniers, lobbyists, bankers and defrocked priests.

The new four-year visa will cost $2400, up from the current charge of $1810.

Far right One Nation leader Pauline Hanson tweeted: “The government will deny their tough talk on immigration & plan to ban 457 visas is because of One Nation but we all know the truth!”

When the racially-discriminatory policy was unveiled on Thursday Turnbull was in full cry saying that all new arrivals “must prize Australian values” and “prove their commitment to Australia”.

Anyone with a record of family violence or organised crime (when did they become equal?) could be banned and the stricter English language test would include “reading, writing and listening” components.

Don’t be under any illusions; this is not simply window dressing by Turnbull who is making an electoral appeal to the rednecks; it is like chucking raw meat into a mad dog cage, they will simply want more.

Whether he knows it or not, Turnbull is plodding in the footsteps of fascists, racists and Trump.

The French connection

French voters go to the polls this weekend in the first round of an election of the next president from a field of 11 candidates. A final run-off between the top two finishers will be held on May 7.

For the first time in post-war history, none of the front-runners are from the mainstream establishment parties – the Republican (Gaullist) Party or the Socialist Party.

The candidate to watch on this Sunday’s poll is Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the maverick leftist who has made a startling impact on the polls in the past two months. Mélenchon, 65, a Trotskyist, socialist and independent member of France’s National Assembly, is standing as the candidate for his own La France Insoumise (Unsubmissive France) movement.

An admirer of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, Mélenchon was languishing on 4% of the vote earlier this year. Things changed when he held a rally in Paris’s Place de le Republique on March 18 and expected a turnout of around 80,000. In fact, 120,000 joined the rally. The unexpected record numbers were repeated in Marseilles on April 9 and his numbers have been climbing ever since. In a nationally televised debate, he outscored all of his rivals, giving an added boost to his candidacy.

Mélenchon is supported by Communist Party rank-and-filers (their party is not standing a candidate), disillusioned anti-Hollande Socialists , have-a-go young and older voters, radicals and assorted leftists. His manifesto after establishing a Sixth Republic includes the redistribution of wealth, the transition to a sustainable green economy, environmental planning and renegotiating treaties with the EU.

His popular standing has been boosted by attacks from the mainstream media. The right-wing Figaro gave him the blaring front-page headline: “Mélenchon: The Insane Program of the French Chavez.” In additional counter-productive fear-mongering the paper continues to brand him “Maximilien (Robespierre) Ilitch (Lenin) Mélenchon”.

Currently the field is led by ultra-rightist Marine Le Pen who is counting on anti-Islam and anti-refugee sentiment and Emmanuel Macron, 39-year-old founder and leader of his own En Marche! movement. A former Socialist Party minister and a patrician from France’s most elite academies, Macron was trained as a banker at Rothschilds. Money is pouring into Macron’s campaign from multi-nationals, banks and Brussels.

Can Mélenchon squeeze out either Ms Le Pen or Macron to gain a place in the run-off in May? Stay tuned.

Remembering Namatjira

Growing up in Townsville, North Queensland, the main living room of our house was always dominated by a framed print of Ghost White River Gums painted by the great Aboriginal artist Albert Namatjira from the Arrernte people near Alice Springs.

Whenever we moved home – and that was every couple of years – the painting went with us and I can still recall the white gum swirling out of the rocky landscape in the foreground with a range of hills, or bluffs, in the background. Somewhere along the way the print was lost or given away but I distinctly remember its presence in our lives at Eyre Street in North Ward and Victoria Street on Stanton Hill.

In the 1950s when we first obtained the print (I don’t know how) Namatjira was a notable public figure; today he would be called a “celebrity”.

He made his mark by painting the Central Australian bush with passion and authenticity using the style he had acquired from white artists like Tom Roberts, Hans Heysen, Arthur Streeton and Russell Drysdale. Some sections of the snooty art world were critical of his prowess and many critics refused to accept that he was the artist responsible for the works.

H Cook’s portrait of Namatjira

For years when the White Australia policy was still in force, Namatjira struggled to have his paintings exhibited and appreciated. Even when he won the 1956 Archibald with a portrait of fellow artist William Dargie there were strains of resentment of his artistry and his success. During the most prolific period of his career, he wasn’t counted in the census, he could not move from one State to another without permission, he could not buy or drink alcohol and he could not vote. (In 1957, when his reputation had become worldwide, the greatly embarrassed authorities relented by granting him “limited” citizenship, the right to vote and to own land.)

Namatjira copyright scandal

Recently, I was shocked to learn that Namatjira’s relatives (he died in 1959, aged 57) have received nothing from his estate for decades. Let me explain what happened …

In 1957, two years before his death, Namatjira reached a copyright agreement with the late John Brackenreg and received royalties from that agreement. In his will, Namatjira passed the copyright to his wife Rubina who died in 1974.

The Public Trustee in the Northern Territory continued to manage the copyright until it was sold in 1983 for a measly $8,500 at which point payments to the Namatjira family stopped. The purchaser was Legend Press, owned and operated John Brackenreg (now by his son Philip).

In other words, while the Namatjira mob have received nothing for 35 years, the Brackenreg family have received tens of thousands of dollars, possibly millions.

After his retirement, the NT public trustee John Flynn could not explain why he sold the copyright for such a pittance but believed he was transacting the rights for a limited period of seven years.

As Melbourne barrister Colin Golvan QC of the Namatjira Legacy Trust wrote recently: “The same treatment would never have been accorded to Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd, or any of Namatjira’s peer group of well-known Australian artists.”

I am joining the campaign to help in any possible way to undo this injustice. I hope that you will too. As Golvan, chair of Australian Book Review, said: “There are a number of sound arguments for the grant of this status to the copyright of Namatjira for the charitable purpose of assisting the artistic endeavours of the Namatjira family and members of their community.

“First, the copyright has been lost to the family for nearly 35 years.

“Second, it would a very significant national statement of regret and reconciliation, acknowledging the great contribution of Namatjira to Australia’s artistic legacy.

“Third, it would provide some means of redress in circumstances where Namatjira himself faced immense prejudice and disadvantage in his life.

“Fourth, it would be an act of symbolic recognition of the importance and enormous contribution of the Aboriginal arts to the visual arts culture of Australia. In that sense, it may be seen as an act of reconciliation going beyond meeting the specific concerns of the Namatjira family.”

Google the website, Big hART, and check it out.

Legacy of the Shrewsbury pickets

In England in the 1970s the industrial relations flashpoint between the Tory Government and the unions was the Shrewsbury 24 case. Amid media hysteria, members of the building workers’ union UCATT were charged with a variety of offences but their essential “crime” was secondary picketing.

(Why do Tories always choose to demonise building workers? I suppose they are an easy target for scaremongering about picket line violence, flying pickets, stand-over tactics and other issues which terrify the sedate middle class and drive employers to demand capital punishment and transportation.)

Des Warren, left, and Ricky Tomlinson

All the publicity focussed on two building workers, Ricky Tomlinson and Des Warren, both members of the Communist Party of Great Britain. On his release from jail, Tomlinson pursued a successful career as an actor, comedian, author and political activist. You may have seen him as Jim Royle in The Royle Family, DCI Charlie Wise in Cracker and Bobby Grant in Brookside. At 77, he recently enjoyed a cameo role in Ken Loach’s terrific film, I, Daniel Blake.

Warren, who died in 2004, had a very different career. Out of jail, he quit the Communist Party and joined the Trotskyist Workers Revolutionary Party led by Gerry Healy. His reasons were understandable. He had been betrayed by the CP leadership and when Labour Home Secretary Roy Jenkins came to office in 1974 he refused the TUC’s call for his release.

He wrote a biography/history of the UCATT strike called The Key To My Cell, New Park Publications 1982, with the help of an outstanding Workers Press/News Line journalist, the late Chris Corrigan.

Des Warren vindicated

From the very start of the Shrewsbury campaign, Warren was the “hard man” and Tomlinson was the “joker”. Warren was convinced that the Tory Cabinet, the police, the legal system and the London media were part of an organised conspiracy to frame the building workers, send them to jail, demonise the trade union movement and mount a legal crackdown on picketing and other lawful union rights.

Fresh evidence has recently been unearthed proving that a secret Cabinet committee masterminded the persecution of the building workers. Woodrow Wyatt, a former Labor MP who became an ultra-reactionary columnist, led the operation under the cover of the government’s Orwellian-named Information Research Department (IRD).

Eileen Turnbull, secretary of the Shrewsbury 24 Campaign, is waiting to learn whether the Criminal Cases Review Commission will re-investigate the case. With Prime Minister Theresa May in charge – don’t hold your breath.

Until his dying day, Des Warren passionately believed his workmates, his union and the wider labour movement had been illegally attacked by the Tory state.

He served almost three years in jail – several months of his term in solitary confinement. His death at 66 was hastened by drug overdoses forced on him in jail. He was pumped full of largactyl – the “liquid cosh”. When he came out he was a mental and physical wreck and suffering the first stages of Parkinson’s Disease.

CPGB industrial organiser Bert Ramelson wrote to Warren and Tomlinson in jail pleading with them to end their hunger strikes to demand the right to be declared political prisoners.

Ramelson wrote: “It is my advice, therefore, for whatever it is worth, that you would help to develop the official movement, which you realise is so important, by ending your individual protest.” (The Key To My Cell)

Tomlinson ended his protest and was released from jail; Warren didn’t.

Things you may have missed (1)

Hamid Karzai, ex-president of Afghanistan, was feted by successive Australian prime ministers, John Howard, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull.

Karzai, a corrupt nationalist maintained a balancing act between the Taliban and Washington DC for 10 years. But it all came to an end in last year’s election when he was defeated by an oily Pentagon and CIA puppet, Dr Ashraf Ghani.

Last week after President Donald Trump dropped the “Mother of All Bombs” on Afghanistan, Ghani enthusiastically welcomed the US military escalation.

But Karzai condemned the bombing in an interview with The New York Times describing his successor as “a traitor” and “an accomplice”.

“Shame on him for saying that, shame, shame,” said Karzai. “No Afghan with self-respect would do that. He is a traitor, a traitor.” It amounted to a fatwa (death sentence) on Ghani whose CIA bodyguard was immediately doubled in size.

Karzai asked why the Pentagon waited two years to conduct the bombing raid when US military officials were fully informed that Islamic State (IS) terrorists were using the border area for operations inside Pakistan.

“The conclusion is that Daesh (IS) was a US contractor, like DynCorp, like other US companies, that they used to empty an area of its population and create a cause, create an environment, a psychological environment in which the US can then test its weapon,” he said.

More significantly, he said he would mobilise all sections of the population against the continued US occupation of his country.

NB: Only a few days after the bombing, the Australian Defence Department chief, Dennis Richardson, abruptly resigned. Richardson is a former chief of ASIO, head of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Australian ambassador to Washington from 2005 to 2010.

Are Trump’s bombing mission and Richardson’s resignation in any way related? We should be told.

Things you may have missed (2)

The American CIA spent hundreds of millions dollars attempting to subvert the presidential election in Ecuador.

The Yankee candidate was Guillermo Lasso, a wealthy merchant banker and former Cabinet minister in an earlier conservative government.

Money was no object as Western journalists flooded Quito to write supportive articles for Lasso’s Creating Opportunities party and demonise the candidate from the left seeking to replace president Rafael Correa.

Unhappily for Lasso, the so-called “Panama Papers” were sent to the media revealing that he was associated with 49 offshore companies in tax havens.

When he was briefly in Cabinet as “superminister of the economy” his wealth jumped from $1 million to $31 million and it has grown ever since. His close relationship with the reactionary Catholic organisation Opus Dei was the final straw for many voters.

During the campaign, Lasso said one of his first decisions on becoming president would be to ask Australian journalist Julian Assange to leave the Ecuadorean Embassy in London – an announcement which was hailed by the stable of toadying hacks at The Australian and endorsed by the ABC’s Matt Bevan.

After all the votes were counted, Lasso lost. The new president is Lenin Moreno, a wheelchair-bound politician from Correa’s Alianza PAIS party who was shot by a mugging gang in 1998.

Assange and his worldwide supporters celebrated and the Wikileaks founder vowed to continue his campaign for honesty and independence in journalism.

As expected, there have been no apologies from the scribblers.

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