A collection of must-reads for 2020


Image: Forest fires in the Amazon: www.pixabay.com https://www.facebook.com/pages/PixFertig/550895548346133 Bushfires in Australia ripped through 1.6 million hectares between August and December, 60% more than the Amazon forest fires which burned out 900,000ha earlier this year.

In seeing out 2019, I thought it might be useful to direct you to some insightful essays and analysis on the burning issues of the year.

Make no mistake, when the clock counts down the seconds to midnight on December 31, the honeymoon will be short. Australia is entering 2020 with a serious list of challenges. Not necessarily in order of importance, they include drought, fire, water security, the climate crisis, a stagnant domestic economy, the spiralling cost of housing and a widening gulf between the seriously wealthy and the working poor. Welfare recipients, the mentally ill and homeless people need taxpayer-funded help more than anyone.

To date, our peerless leaders of both State and Federal governments appear to have few answers to these questions. In their stead, we rely on informed and educated commentators.

An incisive piece by Everald Compton, an 89-year-old essayist posed the question ‘Will a candidate from the left ever win an election again?”

A fair question, given the pasting politicians of the Left have received at the ballot box in Australia, the UK, America, South America and key European countries.

In reviewing the global swing to the right and why so-called social justice parties have fallen so far out of favour, Compton concludes the Left had blurred complex messages. Politicians of the Right, meanwhile, worked hard to become popular with voters.

For example, in the most recent UK election, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn campaigned on a manifesto of radical policies, such as buying back the British Rail System and freeing up traffic congestion by allowing free rail travel.

His opponent Boris Johnson simply said (over and over): “Let’s get Brexit done; let’s get rid of the pain of recent years.”

As Everald wrote, that is what most people had on their minds when they filled out their ballot papers.

Likewise with Labor’s crushing electoral defeat in May 2019, Labor Leader Bill Shorten came up with 145 policies, none of which he managed to sell to voters. His opponent Scott Morrison had one mantra: “Don’t trust Shorten, he will take all your money in high taxes.” It worked!

In the US election campaign of 2016, Donald Trump had one speech only: “I am going to drain the swamp in Washington.”

Hilary Clinton, according to Compton, directed all her speeches “to please the great and the mighty”.

“In the end, most voters did not trust her. They believed that she was not one of them.

“Voters respond to ideas and visions, not policies. They vote for Leaders not Parties.

“It is a lesson that those on the Left have not learned. They simply don’t talk the language of the average voter.”

In an article about Europe’s cult of personality, Politico’s Matthew Karnitschnig wrote that the UK election demonstrated how ‘personality rules’. Polls consistently showed Johnson to be better liked than Jeremy Corbyn. (Polls showed much the same trend in Australia, with Morrison edging out Shorten as preferred leader for months on end).

In today’s political landscape, where ideology and principle have been supplanted by pragmatism and raw opportunism, parties often serve as little more than wrapping for the larger-than-life personalities who lead them,” Karnitschnig wrote.

The list of cheeky mavericks includes “BoJo” (Johnson), “Basti” (Austrian conservative leader Sebastian Kurz) and “Manu” (French president Emmanuel Macron).

The big question is where Europe’s personality-driven politics will lead.

“They may be like fireworks that burn very bright and then burn out,” said Robin Niblett, the director of Chatham House, the London-based think tank.

Politics aside (for now), the news story of the year was Westpac’s egregious mishandling of some 23 million transactions that breached money laundering rules. So far, the scandal has claimed the scalps of the chief executive and chairman and no doubt internal reviews will result in staff being sacked or demoted. Westpac’s share price has slumped from just under $30 at the end of September to a pre-Christmas low of $24.21 That’s a 20% loss in share value, which cynics might suggest investors will find more alarming than yet another scandal for a bank which, like its three rivals, has seen more than a few over the decades.

The Australian Financial Review had the bright idea of contacting former Westpac boss Bob Joss (now dean of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business) for comment.

Joss appeared disappointed that the strong risk management culture he injected into the Sydney-based bank had failed.

“What is needed right now is a thorough investigation and analysis of the facts so the breakdown in risk management can be understood and fixed, and accountability for failure can be assigned.”

Analysis of Australia’s waning economy (like a fully laden iron ore train going uphill), is best left to experts. Here, the AFR looks at Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s determination to hold on to the first Budget surplus in more than a decade. In so doing, he is ignoring the call from the Reserve Bank to open the coffers and stimulate the economy. The Christmas shopping figures will come out soon and then we will know if the much-discussed retail recession will spread to other sectors of the economy.

Direct action by farmers who organised a rally to Canberra to protest water security and drought management is one example that PM Morrison’s constituents may be having second thoughts. The same applies to veteran firefighters who sent a delegation to the nation’s capital seeking a meeting with the PM. He didn’t want to face them either.

The government’s main response to rising public angst about bushfires, drought, water management and the climate crisis is to champion tougher penalties against those who choose the right to protest. This mean-spirited, ‘blame the victim’ response is, alas, typical of Right-wing governments the world over.

The Guardian let writer Richard Flanagan loose in an opinion piece titled “Scott Morrison and the climate change lie – does he think we are that stupid?”

Flanagan railed against the view of some commentators that Morrison is a political genius – the winner of the unwinnable election.

“But history may judge him differently: a Brezhnevian figure; the last of the dinosaurs, presiding over an era of stagnation at the head of a dying political class imprisoned within and believing its own vast raft of lies as the world lived a fundamentally different reality of economic decay, environmental pillage and social breakdown.”

Flanagan ended his well-argued tirade with an observation that Morrison is held in thrall and thus influenced by his Pentecostal religion.

When the Rapture comes, Flanagan wrote, the Chosen are saved and the unbelievers left to “a world of fires, famine and floods in which we all are to suffer and the majority of us to die wretchedly”.

“Could it be that the Prime Minister in his heart is – unlike the overwhelming majority of Australians – not concerned with the prospect of a coming catastrophe when his own salvation is assured?”

Yep, someone had to say it.

I will leave you with scientific insights (as suggested by Mr Shiraz), into what happens to native forests, particularly wet sclerophyll forests,  once they have ‘recovered’ from the ‘unprecedented’ bush fires that burned across Australia between August and December 2019.

If that is all too depressing, here is a fluffy piece of nostalgia about a man and his typewriter (recommended by Franky’s Dad).

The team here at FOMM (two people and a dog) wish you all a safe, healthy and smoke-free 2020. We will need more than thoughts and prayers.


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