APRIL 2015

Easter 2015
I am innocent of the blood of this Person. (Mathew 27.24)

ANZAC Day 2015
His wild heart beats with painful sobs
His strained hands clench an ice cold rifle
His aching jaws grip a hot parched tongue
His wild eyes search unconsciously
He cannot shriek. (Herbert Read, 1915)

Easter 2015.
This Easter there was a stark reminder of a modern day Pontius Pilate washing his hands before the Australian multitude and intoning “I am innocent of the blood of this Person. (Mathew 27.24)
In a Perth hospital a young Iranian refugee, Saeed Hassanloo, lay dying. He is on a hunger strike, he has been in detention for four and a half years, he is a Christian. His application for a visa was rejected and he is to be deported to Shia Iran. He claims he will be tortured or killed because of his faith.
The Minister for Immigration, Mr Dutton, has indicated to the Press he is unable to assist this refugee now that his application has failed. Like Pontius Pilate, Mr Dutton is washing his hands of this professed Christian. Some two thousand years later The Minister, like the Governor of Judea, intends to hand this man over to the (Iranian) mob for some form of crucifixion. So ends the Easter message.
It is by curious chance Mrs J Bishop, Australian Foreign Minister, was in Iran discussing the the repatriation of Iranian refugees. On Saturday Extra it was disconcerting to hear Mathew Brown, ABC Correspondent, discussing the forcible repatriation of Iranian refugees which requires them to be ‘drugged and cuffed’ prior to boarding the aircraft.
In the months before Easter, Christian Europe has witnessed a plethora of nationalistic gatherings demonstrating on the dilution of ‘national’ character by a decades long influx of migrants with their attendant Islamic faith. Western governments are endeavouring to hose down this widening concern. Despite the ‘tyranny of distance’ concern has now reached Australian shores. Supporters for multiculturalism and for ‘Reclaim Australia’ have faced off across police lines. The situation is exacerbated by a birth rate below replacement in the Christian West jostling with a higher birth rate of the Moslem immigrants, it is an inexorable trend line with a cross over point some decades ahead.
The world is no stranger to mass migrations and from these history shows there are two possible outcomes. Migrants will possess a similar faith to the host country and will assimilate or the migrants or colonists will impose their faith, law and culture on the original inhabitants. Turning back the pages of history show different faiths tend to have a fractious coexistence when sharing the same tribal or national space when cultural stability or dominance is threatened. The ‘blood lands’ of Europe do not lightly wear this appellation.
Further, on Saturday Extra and germane to the above was a discussion on Australian academics in south-east Asian universities, from this followed comments on how these Asian nations do not dilute their national characteristics by immigration. In this regard Australia, United States and Canada have a comparable policies of accepting immigrants, because it is to this process they owe their existence.

Outback Degradation
From the Mount Lofty Ranges, brooding over Adelaide to Victor Harbor on the Fleurieu Peninsular, where Flinders and Baudin exchanged compliments, the pasture lands are parched blighted grey dying stubble over which token sheep or horses slowly move. Scattered vineyards in autumn undress rustle in the wind. It has been a long hot summer, in keeping with the Mediterranean climate. On a flight from Sydney to Adelaide, across the sweeping dry plains of NSW and SA to the Gulf of Saint Vincent, it is indeed a wide brown land virtually devoid of visible surface water. The flight generated the question ‘by how much has the carrying capacity of the land decreased since first European settlement?’ A lot!
Unfortunately, unless there is change in land use, the trend ‘towards a final hour’ is apparent. Trawling through the Range Lands Journal 2012 (G M McKeon), the Australian Natural Resources Atlas, the NSW State Environment Report 2000 and an Australian Academy of Science publication has unearthed disturbing information.
Since the 1890s there have been nine major prolonged droughts over eastern and central Australia. Soil scientists have have reached four principal conclusions:
* drought on its own does not cause degradation,
* persistent over-grazing is doing irreparable harm,
* European grasses are destroying natural pasture resistance and promoting woody weeds,
* fertilisers are causing degradation and soil erosion.
Following drought, pasture recovery requires above average extended rainfall with low grazing pressure. An increasing problem for the Australian pastoral industry is that improved cattle breeding ensures cattle remain on drought stricken pasture longer. A no win situation. A final conclusion is that the cattle industry is facing a major management problem at a time of degrading pasture, higher input costs, declining income and worsening climatic conditions. Degradation accelerants are:
* Soil Salinity is one of the most serious issues facing NSW agriculture. Salinity degradation has increased from 4000 ha in 1982 to 370,000 ha in 2000. It has been estimated that by 2050 60% (480,000 sq km) of NSW will be salt affected. Major salinity drivers are: clearance of native vegetation and the decline in soil nutrients particularly in wheat areas due to the application of inappropriate fertiliser. Irrigated land in the Murray Basin is also witnessing rising salinity.
* Soil Acidification is on the increase due to application of nitrogen and sulphur fertilisers which causes nitrate leaching, loss of nitrogen and removal of alkaline material which renders soil acid. Some 4% of soils were affected in 1987 but by 2000 it is estimated 7% of NSW soils may be affected. To slow down acidification, around 1.5 million tonnes of lime are required each year, but this is insufficient to halt the degradation. Forgone income in 2003 was estimated as $378 million.
* Soil Erosion. A 1987 survey indicated 38% of NSW pastoral and arable land is degraded by water and wind erosion and mass movement. The State of Environment Report 2006 concluded that in the past century erosion rates have increased by up to one hundred times.
Towards a Final Hour. Degradation trends are proven, unless there is a fundamental change in agricultural management, the area of usable pastoral and arable land will continue to decrease. The Final Hour might seamlessly merge into Gilding’s forecast of the mid-century ‘Great Disruption’.

End of Mission Afghanistan.
This was no Victory Parade. This was a Welcome Home March for the military who had served in Afghanistan in Australia’s longest war. The raw statistics over the twelve year war were 30,000 troops served, 41 died in action, 262 were seriously injured and around 10% (3000) suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Four Victoria Crosses were awarded. Cost to the tax payer is around $7.5 billion.
Australia entered the war under the ANZUS Treaty soon after the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers, New York The objective was to destroy al Qaida which had master-minded the attack. The Australian force was part of the coalition, the NATO lead International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). During the war Australian troops were involved in several missions, initially to support the United States and finally to train Afghan forces to maintain their own national security. Australian strategy in Afghanistan was often contradictory and vacillating due to:
* politicians having a poor grasp of military strategic issues
* the Australian force was a niche operation with in the large American effort resulting in friction
* there was only a critical assessment of Australia’s role with rising casualties in 2005.
( MacArthur Foundation Security Project)
Afghanistan in 2014 is very different to that of 2001. Al Qaida is a spent force but the Taliban, although weakened, is endeavouring to re-establish a political presence. The country is a fragile functioning democracy, regional control is not absolute and corruption is endemic. However, terrorist groups are no longer rampant and social services have improved. ISAF forces have left a country with a potential for development but if this falters it may become Afghanistan’s nemesis.
Following the exit strategy controlled by the United States, the Australian Government will have difficulty defining to the Australian people what Australia achieved in Afghanistan. A tangible benefit is that Australia now has a military core capable of operating in challenging political and physical conditions.
Setting aside the political and military legacy, the enduring domestic issue is PTSD among returned service personnel. This is a largely unrecognised blight in our Australian community. Sitting couch potato-like, comfortably watching pointless violent bloodless television, many of our citizens can acquire no sense of a slow agonising death or the horrific injury of children or adults, endured or witnessed by those in the armed forces. Television is there for entertainment or ratings, education is a lesser third.

ANZAC Day 2015
ANZAC Day quite rightly commemorates the bravery, suffering and sacrifice of Australian forces at Gallipoli but at the same time the concentration of Government orchestrated influence does a disservice to those Australians who served on the Western Front and other later conflicts where carnage or the carnage rate was even greater. Four battles, among many, soon after Gallipoli are significant, namely:
* 1915 Gallipoli———–26,663 casualties over nine months (awm.gov.au/encyclopedia)
* 1916 Fromelles———–5533 casualties in one night (awm.gov.au/wartime)
* 1917 Passchendaele——-38,000 casualties over three months (awm.gov.au/military-event)
* 1917 Polygon Wood——–5770 casualties over two days (awm.gov.au/event)
* 1918 Villers-Bretonneux–2400 casualties in one night (ww1westernfront.gov.au/villers-bretonneux).
Gallipoli The terrible conditions are in the public arena; it is however sad that a popular image of this campaign is Simpson and his donkey that sanitises the horrors of war.
Fromelles. This offensive has been described by senior officers as a “tactical abortion and a bloody holocaust”. After the failed attack, an eye witness records Australians writhing in agony in a nomans land covered in pieces of human meat.
Passchendaele (3rd Battle of Ypres). The “intensity and horrendous conditions” moved a military officer to say, “this offensive symbolised the great loss,tragedy and futility of this war”. Five Australian divisions were involved. From this carnage sprouted ‘Flanders Fields where poppies grow’.
Polygon Wood. Amid seas of mud, 10,000 Australian troops of the 5th Division retook this position from the Germans.
Villers-Bretonneux (Amiens). The 5th Division took this position. It was a significant victory and crucial to ending the war. The Commander was General Sir John Monash who was instrumental in changing British military tactics.
The selection of Gallipoli as a focus for national ethos and commemoration is understandable, but illogical. The “birth” of Australian ethos could have equally occurred at Passchendaele which was a far more terrible event. Perhaps Gallipoli is an easier assimilable focus than the more defuse Western Front. This is regrettable as it ensures Australian youth has a myopic view of Australian contribution and sacrifice in the First World War and later wars. Somehow the Government must bring to the public mind a better understanding of Australia’s military history. With the effluxion of time and the passing of generations, historical fact will become garnished by myth. At some stage Gallipoli will have to share its pre-eminent position with military events of perceived greater moment.
In the welter of Gallipoli remembrance there appears to be a Government inspired culture of silence on the sacrifice and achievements of Australian troops in the Second World War. The raw numbers are:
* 17,500 casualties in the Pacific theatre (wikipedia.org/militaryhistoryofaustralia)
* 2,650 deaths on the Thai-Burma railway (anzacday.org.au/history/ww2)
* 40,600 deaths in Europe and North Africa (secondworldwarhistory.com/ww2)
Again, why the silence?
Australian military history represents an interesting triumvirate of endeavour, a partial compilation illustrates the point:
* First. The support of British Empire and the ANZUS Treaty well beyond our borders, e.g. Boer War, Western Front, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan etc.
* Second. Missions and Peace-keeping in Timor Solomon Islands, Cyprus, Sumatra etc.
* Third. Timor, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Malaya etc. This third group is significant as fighting in this theatre was actually involved in the defence of Australian borders. Australia was very nearly invaded by Japanese forces but Australians hear almost nothing on Australian victories and sacrifice in the defence of the Commonwealth of Australia. Why not? This is a fraught question.
A dark development may be unfolding. Hitherto, for one hundred years, the Turkish government has encouraged a secular society. By culture and tradition, Turkey follows Islam. Voices are now raised that favour a jihadist approach to the war with Australia. If momentum grows the nature of ANZAC services could be profoundly affected in Turkey. It has not been lost on Moslem intellectuals that Australia frequently calls on the Christian God when memorialising the Gallipoli campaign. Clearly Allah must also become involved.
I commemorated ANZAC Day at Pearl Beach, a small seaside village on the Central Coast. It was a day of quiet reflection. The pomp of National marches and the camaraderie is necessary however for people all over Australia – it is a peoples’ day. Letters on display to and from the Front contain deep emotions and longings that, if reflected in our own society today, would make it a kinder gentler society.

Rural Bliss
The face of the Upper Hunter and contiguous rural regions have transformed into an almost emerald landscape. Rainfall for the month reached 92 mm (over 3.5 inches) but it is still not sufficient to fill dams or make the local rivers run. Towards the end of April, a savage East Coast low battered and flooded coastal areas north and south of Sydney. To the Winds of Climate Change (January blog) can be added this latest weather disaster. Deaths. floods and wind damage have stretched Emergency Services.

The Drug Trade
There are four issues swirling round the events in Bali:
* ‘Saving face’ in Asian cultures is important. The megaphone diplomacy employed by the Australian Government gave no option to the Indonesian President but to maintain his Government policy. A back-down in the face of increasing pressure became unthinkable.
* The Australian Prime Minister has ‘lost face’ by his constant carping, one quiet phone call would have been sufficient. It is reported the President no longer accepts calls from the Prime Minister. The remainder of the Australian Government term will require bridge building. Australia needs Indonesia rather than visa versa.
* Throughout this sorry saga there has been a murky silence on the role of the Australian Federal Police. Their informant action has been expensive, has pushed diplomacy beyond accepted norms, has probably put trade at risk and polarised the community. The Federal Police owe the Australian public an explanation.
* As a fallout the Australian public should now see a ferocious policy on drug use in Australia. Such a policy should reflect the implacable opposition to the death penalty and an even more determined effort to reduce drug use in Australia. Anything less and sincerity might be questioned.
In this tense international situation Condorcet’s eulogy on the death of Benjamin Franklin comes to mind.
“He pardoned the present for the sake of the future.”