The Morrison Government is taking advantage of the collapse in oil prices occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic to start laying in a strategic fuel reserve. As I write this Regular Unleaded (to earlier generations, Standard) petrol is retailing for under one dollar a litre for the first time in nearly two decades. Initially it (the crude oil) will be stored in the United States but hopefully only as a stopgap measure. This is all well and very good. but it needs to go further. We need to look at boosting domestic fuel production, increasing oil exploration particularly (and preferably) onshore. While there is no need for us to do so now, I must repeat the call I made in the first post on this issue for the drawing up of contingency plans, for the production of synthetic fuel from our abundant resources of coal and natural gas. A saying variously attributed to Churchill and Machiavelli goes, never waste a crisis. Hopefully Morrison will exploit this one to maximum effect with usually noisy minorities and vested interests effectively sidelined and silent.
Coming hard on the heels of the devastation wrought by the bushfires, the COVID-19 Coronavirus could hardly have come at a worse time. There are already predictions of a recession, and the airline and the hospitality industry sectors to name just two have taken a heavy hit. With any luck, economically we may come out of this better than many feared. Hopefully lessons have been learned from the Global Financial Crisis of 2008. As I write this, I have just learned the Australian Banking Association has announced a six-month loan repayment pause for small businesses, in effect a voluntary moratorium by another name. Soon after the announcement, National Australia Bank said home loan customers could pause repayments for up to six months and has also cut its fixed-rate home loans, and the other banks will no doubt follow suit But one really good thing may come out of this; namely the long overdue cessation of immigration. As it is immigration would be at a standstill at the time of writing. There will almost certainly be a recession; with the double whammy of the bushfires and the Coronavirus it could hardly be otherwise. Hopefully it will not as long or severe as “the recession we had to have”, but certainly there will be an increase in unemployment and probably a substantial one. Under such circumstances cutting immigration would the only responsible course of action for any government. Right now with immigration at a standstill, we have a historic opportunity to reset immigration policy. About somewhere from twelve to eighteen months ago if I remember correctly, I was listening to ABC Radio National and I heard this immigration advocate whose name escapes me unfortunately, make the fatuous claim that “No government that wants to get re-elected is going to go cutting immigration”. I was frankly taken aback at the time, but on reflection I realised that he had not cited any studies or surveys to back up his implied claim, that there was a level of support for immigration as strong as that. I don’t think this fellow can draw much comfort from the most recent polls. In 2018, the annual Lowy poll showed for the first time more than 50% of Australians preferred a lower annual immigration intake. The result was a 14-point rise from 2017’s 40%. 2019. After a sharp spike in 2018, fewer than half of Australians this year (47%, down seven points) say that the total number of migrants coming to Australia each year is ‘too high’. Even if the 2019 poll is five points out ,this still means 42% of respondents a not insubstantial plurality favoured a lower intake. A YouGov/Galaxy poll in 2018 showed that a large plurality (46%) in higher income postcodes and a clear majority (57%) in lower income postcodes favour cutting immigration. These are only two examples. I think that this pandemic will have two effects. Firstly it will dispel the ‘myth’ for want of a better term that not a few people seem to believe, that immigration will inevitably continue, that ‘there is nothing we can do’, that it is ‘out of our hands’, that the decisions are made by some mysterious unelected power, for which Parliament, Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Governor-General (or if Australia was to become a republic, the President) are mere rubber stamps. Well, Prime Minister Morrison, was able to close the borders and bring immigration to a standstill; one would think he would have been vetoed by the supposed mysterious unelected power. The second thing is, that a protracted period of no or virtually no immigration would change peoples outlook in many ways. For a start housing prices could be expected to fall substantially and people would quickly connect the dots. Secondly immigration would have to be kept well down, under 100 000 until the post pandemic recovery was well and truly underway. By this time public opinion might well have hardened against a return to high immigration. The upshot could be that come the next election if Labor and the Coalition run on the ‘unity ticket’ on immigration that they have in the past, then whichever wins could find they have at three, possibly four or five One Nation Senators to deal with, instead of the present two. This would not be a prospect either of them would welcome. To add to their woes, the demise of the Group Ticket Voting system makes it much more difficult to keep One Nation out of Parliament. Along with many others, they have ample reason to curse the name of Glenn Druery. It may well be that the COVID-19 virus achieves what all the efforts of One Nation and the (now defunct) Australians Against Further Immigration (AAFI) party could not. To have any chance of achieving its aim AAFI would have not only had to have one or more Senators sharing the balance of power in the Senate, they would probably also would have had to have the balance of power in a hung House of Representatives, and the odds of that happening were minimal to say the least. I remember hearing one smug immigrationist saying that “I believe it (immigration) is set to continue, the efforts of those who would have it otherwise not withstanding”. However he never heard of COVID-19. If it does albeit indirectly, bring about the permanent cessation of mass immigration, then this is a definitely a silver lining to this very black cloud.
Today’s date is a contentious one, particularly so in few more places than Moree. It happens to be the anniversary of the Waterloo Creek Massacre in 1838 when several hundred indigenous Gamilaraay were slaughtered. The Australia Day celebrations in Moree will be held this morning and in the afternoon there will be a commemoration ceremony in which a memorial to the massacre will be unveiled. I can’t help thinking that they are doing this back to front. The Aboriginal issue is not one I am highly exercised over. To be sure, I share the sense of profound regret, abhorrence and revulsion felt by all right thinking people with a shred of decency, at the cruelties, injustices and general mistreatment inflicted on indigenous Australians, but I do not see that it has anything to do with me personally. I was not there when it happened, neither were my parents, and so far as I have been able to ascertain none of my lineal forbears were involved. The present generation of Australians are no more guilty, than the present generation of Germans are for the Holocaust or the present generation of Japanese are for the Rape of Nanjing and divers other atrocities perpetrated by the Imperial Japanese Army, before and during World War II. The last word here I will leave to 18th century British statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke: “I do not know the means of drawing up the indictment of an entire nation”. All that said, there is something to be said for ‘Changing the Date’. The problem is what date? If there was a date on which a broad consensus could be achieved, then Australia Day proper could be moved to that date with the 26th of January redesignated as ‘First Fleet Day’. But so far no such consensus has been achieved nor does it look like it will be any time soon, so for the forseeable future we are stuck with the 26th of January. Why I would favour changing the date is for an altogether different reason. Immigration is something that played an important role in modern Australia in its early days and in the making of our nation generally, but I hold that it is a concept whose time has now passed. High immigration rates have been a pet peeve of mine for the last two decades and more. It’s economic benefits are overrated and outweighed by its downsides particularly its pressures on infrastructure such as roads, schools and hospitals, telecommunications networks, electricity and water supply systems and sewerage networks which become overburdened, and require expensive new infrastructure to be built. Other downsides include downward pressure on wages because of increased competition for jobs and upward pressure on housing costs. At the end of the day it is the socially disadvantaged and vulnerable (among whom indigenous Australians are disproportionately represented) who suffer most in consequence. All this not withstanding there are influential elements who would see immigration continue. The 26th of January marks the beginning of the formation of modern Australia, of which immigration was an integral part. A National Day detached from this would not be so easy for the immigrationists to hitch to their chariot to, and neither would the 26th of January rebadged as First Fleet Day. I will finish, with an offering of a slightly reworked second verse of Advance Australia Fair I came across. While acknowledging and honouring the contribution immigrants have made to this country it does so clearly and properly in the past tense. For what it’s worth here it is.
“Beneath our radiant Southern Cross We’ll toil with heart and hands To make this Commonwealth of ours Renowned of all the lands With those who came across the seas Our destiny to share With courage let us all combine To Advance Australia Fair”
Preamble In the paper entitled A Second Reserve Force the writer briefly touched on the subject of mounted infantry in an appendix of two paragraphs. There is however room for further amplification on this subject and it is worth a paper on its own. Keeping in mind the necessarily limited role of the horse soldier in the 21st century all in all there is only a comparatively limited amount that can be said, but what there is, is worth saying.
Mounted Infantry In And From World War II Onward World War II is often thought of as the war of massed armoured divisions, blitzkrieg and airpower. What is not generally known is that horses played a far larger role than is generally realised. For example in 1939 the German Wehrmacht, on paper the worlds most modern force still possessed a considerable number of horse drawn vehicles. Away from the areas of high intensity war, the Axis Powers had to conduct several counter-insurgency campaigns. The most notable with regard to the use of horses was the German counter-insurgency campaign in Yugoslavia from 1943 -1945. A major element of the German forces involved in operations against Tito’s Communist partisans was a Cossack division. It was recruited from Soviet Prisoners-of-War and Russian emigres living in Yugoslavia and Germany. With the exception of one brigade, the Cossacks were commanded by German officers and maneuver units were augmented with German combat/service support troops. The types of missions assigned were:
Security of lines communication, specifically of railways telephone and telegraph lines
Deep penetration raids into partisan strong-hold areas
They were successful at both missions and gave Tito’s partisans a severe hammering. On the Allied side of the lines the Army Ground Forces Board, Mediterranean Theater of Operations, US Army surveyed several US corps and division commanders about the suitability of horse cavalry employment in Italy. All voiced their opinion that horse cavalry could have been well employed and with one exception, were enthusiastic. These were regular Army officers who had seen the battlefield evolve from Pershing’s pursuit of Pancho Villa in 1916 through First World War France to the North African-Sicilian-Italian campaigns and therefore had an experiential basis for their professional opinions. Two opinions quoted below are:
Major General Willis D. Crittenberger, Commanding General IV Corps:
“Italy, as many other countries in the temperate zone, is well suited for the use of horse cavalry to exist on the country. In the rapid advance of the IV Corps from Rome to the Arno River, horse cavalry could have been used to great advantage. Three or four squadrons would have been very helpful in a pursuit role using secondary routes and trails to cut off elements of the withdrawing German Army. At the present time there is none available. In the ten months campaigning north of Rome, there had never been a time when I would not have welcomed some good horse cavalry.”
Similarly, Major General Geoffrey Keyes, Commanding General, II Corps opined:
“The terrain of Italy is much more suitable for the use of horse cavalry than for mechanized cavalry. It is rough and mountainous with limited plain or valley areas, and many sections are inaccessible to vehicular traffic, even the 1/4 ton truck. “Jeep trails” are constructed as far as possible into these areas and then the pack mules take over. In general, only the main and secondary highways are suitable for vehicular traffic; almost all the local roads and trails are built for animal traffic only. It is believed that horse cavalry could operate advantageously in this theater under either of two conditions, both of which have been present from time to time throughout the Italian campaign. The first condition is that the enemy withdraw at a rate of two or more miles per day. The second condition is that the enemy lines be thinly manned. Under the first condition, horse cavalry can be used: To move across country to cut off delaying forces, and/or operate in rear of covering forces to harass enemy columns or raid newly set up positions; as covering forces for infantry elements moving on foot, to quickly outflank enemy delaying positions and/or develop new defensive positions; as flank guards to cover gaps in our lines and maintain contact with adjacent units. Under the second condition, horse cavalry can be used as reconnaissance patrols, or with Partisan guides, as raiding parties in rear of enemy lines. Finally, under any condition horse cavalry can operate as foot soldiers in the same manner as regular infantry. In this connection it may be pointed out that horse cavalry units have a larger proportion of fighting strength than have the mechanized cavalry units.”
In fact, a provisional horse-mounted reconnaissance squadron was formed in the 3rd Infantry Division in Sicily in July 1943. The unit conducted combat reconnaissance operations for the Division in Italy and was very successful. Typical missions were:
Reconnaissance to the flanks and to the rear of enemy positions.
Reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance screen .
Flank contact with neighboring units in the mountains.
These operations were conducted in coordination with mechanized reconnaissance elements of the Division. The unit used captured German horses and equipment and ultimately had to be disbanded in December 1943 because the US Army could not provide replacement personnel, horses and equipment. This example demonstrates that horse-mounted troops could effectively operate in mountainous terrain while engaged on the “modern battlefield” of the Second World War.
Post World War II The most notable employment of mounted infantry in this period, occurred in Africa, where during the 1960s-1980s, the Portuguese, Rhodesians and South Africans used horse-mounted troops successfully in the prosecution of counterinsurgency operations. The first example to be dealt with is the Portuguese in Angola. The war in Angola began in 1961. There had been revolutionary activity prior to that and two insurgent groups had evolved: the Frente Nacional De Libertacao De Angola (FNLA) and the Movimento Popular De Libertacao De Angola (MPLA). In 1966, the MPLA splintered and a third group, Uniao Nacional Para a Indepencia Total De Angola (UNITA) was formed. All of these groups were Communist-oriented and received support from either the Soviets or Chinese. The support varied in degree amongst the groups as they were all in competition against each other as well as against the Portuguese. In fact, they spent more time fighting each other than fighting the Portuguese and this was taken maximum advantage of by the Portuguese. As the main threat to Portuguese interests came from Zambian based MPLA and UNITA, most counter-insurgency operations were oriented in the Eastern and Central areas of Angola. The first experimental horse-mounted platoon was organized at Silva Porta in 1966 and was so successful that by 1968 it had grown into the 1st Cavalry Group (Grupo De Cavalaria No.1) consisting of three company-sized squadrons. Unofficially, the mounted troops were called dragoons (Dragoe) because they functioned as mounted infantry. The two missions assigned to the dragoons were long-range patrolling and providing flank security for the movement of conventional troops, particularly in-country where the nature of the terrain confined motorized movement to roads. The dragoons were recruited locally from amongst Portuguese colonists in Angola. They were highly effective in the high grass region of the Eastern Angola, were less vulnerable to landmines and had the advantage of being able to control the area around them, with a clear view over the grass (which foot troops did not have). Moreover, they had a substantial psychological impact over the enemy, who were not accustomed to dealing with horse troops and had no kind of training or strategy with which to face them. Another advantage they had, was surprise effect. The relative silence of horses and the ability to suddenly “appear” on the battlefield made them superior to helicopter borne troops when conducting raids. A similar type of unit was in the process of being raised in Mozambique, when the war there ended in 1974.
Rhodesia: Grey’s Scouts The Rhodesian Bush War started in 1966 and pitted the government of Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith against the guerrilla forces of the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) and the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU). One of the greatest problems that beset the Rhodesian Security Forces was the alarming attrition rate among soft-skinned vehicles. Not only had large numbers been destroyed by land-mines, but many more were simply incapable of surviving the gruelling conditions. The problem was further exacerbated by the fact that strategically, Rhodesia was almost completely isolated, having become a “pariah” state on the world scene, making the procurement of replacements difficult. Tough, cross-country mine-proof vehicles, such as the ‘Hyena’ and ‘Rhino’, existed, but were not large enough to be used as personnel or supply carriers. Another pressing problem lay in the difficulty of applying adequate ground coverage when man-power resources were limited and already over-stretched. Of course, a few troops could patrol and establish a presence over an extensive area if they were mobile – but, vehicles had tactical disadvantages in the bush. They invariably became bogged down in the rains, while, in the dry season they advertised their approach with long columns of dust; at night, their lights could be seen for great distances, often for miles – and nothing could be done about the noise. Undoubtedly noting the success of the Portuguese in Angola, in 1975 the Rhodesian Army raised an experimental troop sized Mounted Infantry Unit. Initial trials in the Eastern Highlands with that first troop worked out well and further ‘bush-trips’ of trial troops in the East and South-East of Rhodesia ironed out most of the teething troubles, and convincingly demonstrated the value of mounted infantry in counter-insurgency operations. The experience gained by these trial troops revealed hitherto unexpected advantages to patrolling on horseback. It was found that, when mounted, a man could track not only faster, but more accurately, than on foot. Line of spoor could be followed more easily, and unexpectedly large areas could be covered. Generally, a normal day’s patrol would cover about 40 kilometers. In 1976 the Mounted Infantry Unit was expanded to a full regiment named Grey’s Scouts after a mounted infantry unit that had seen service in the 1896 Matabele Rebellion. It consisted of a headquarters and three squadrons plus a support squadron. Each of the three ‘sabre’ squadrons was divided into three troops plus headquarters. Interestingly the strength of each troop not counting the command element was 32 – the same as a World War I Light Horse troop, the only difference being that instead of the troop consisting of eight 4-man sections, it was subdivided into four 8-man sections [each broken down into two 4-man half sections]. Clearly the Rhodesians had studied the records of previous wars and had noted the span of control problems the old ‘octagonal’ structure would have presented. The effectiveness of the Grey’s Scouts regiment was demonstrated the fact that there was only one unit feared more by the guerrillas of ZANU and ZAPU, namely the Rhodesian Light Infantry. The following capabilities and advantages of Grey’s Scouts have been cited:
A horse could carry a quarter of its weight (approximately 330 lbs) and were used to carry mortars, mines and explosives.
Horses offered speed of reaction.
Horses were quiet (As the Portuguese had discovered).
Horses could extend the range of a ground patrol (average 40 kilometers/day).
Horses increase the rider’s field of visibility thus improving the rider’s ability to track.
In the same time period the South African Army employed mounted infantry to good effect in counterinsurgency operations in South West Africa (Present day Namibia). The most notable recent use of horses is that of Operational Detachment Alpha 595, (ODA 595) part of the 5th Special Forces Group, United States Army, sent into Afghanistan in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington to assist the Northern Alliance who were fighting the Taliban. Once they arrived in-country, the Northern Alliance troops provided the US forces with horses, the only suitable transportation for the difficult mountainous terrain of Northern Afghanistan. When details of their mission were declassified they were chronicled by author Doug Stanton in The Horse Soldiers (2009) which in turn was the basis for the movie 12 Strong (2018).
Second Reserve Force Mounted Infantry Instructive as the above examples are though, it is important to take into account their contexts. The example of the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division in the Italian Campaign was in steeply mountainous terrain unlike any the Australian Army has operated in on a large scale, with the possible exception of Greece in 1941. The Angolan and Rhodesian examples were in the context of counter insurgency operations. With Auxiliary/Territorial/Territorial Auxiliary Reserve mounted infantry units, while keeping in mind their primary mission in the context of a medium to high intensity conflict would be first and foremost reconnaissance, the experience of Angola and Rhodesia demonstrate they have at least three singular advantages here:
Mobility: Horse-mounted troops can cover far more ground than infantry on foot. In Rhodesia a normal day’s patrol would cover about 40 kilometers. (25 miles)
Stealth: Horse-mounted troops can not only cover more ground than infantry on foot; they can do so much more quietly than motor vehicle mounted troops can. Motorcycles in particular, are notoriously noisy.
Security: Horses, like most animals, have much greater developed senses than man. Generally, horses have sensed the presence of hostile forces before the rider and have been able to alert the rider to that presence.
These advantages would apply even in a medium to high intensity conflict if the terrain in the area of operations was such as to be advantageous to the employment of mounted infantry in the medium to long range recon role.
Organization Given mounted infantry’s limited and specialised role on the 21st century battlefield, organisation needs to be looked at. While during World War I mounted troops both mounted infantry and cavalry proper, were deployed in brigade and division sized formations, regimental organisation seems to have been designed to allow for even parcelling out, if a regiment was attached to an infantry division; one squadron to each infantry brigade, one troop to each of the (as then) four battalions. Troop organisation of eight 4-man sections would seem to have been designed to suit the pre 1913 eight company battalion, allowing one 4-man section attached to each company as mounted forward scouts. The old eight company battalion, each company consisting of two half companies, each of two 20 man sections, dated to the Napoleonic era and earlier and was suited to the close order linear tactics of that time, but in the Boer War (1899-1902) had been found sadly wanting on the modern battlefield, and in 1913 was reorganised into four companies, each formed by merging two of the smaller companies and the half companies were reorganised into platoons of four ten man sections. In the contemporary context, the old 32 man troop (counting the command element 36) would be larger than needed. The current eight man 2×4 section organisation has its shortcomings for ‘leg’ infantry, but it is really the only feasible organisation for mounted infantry given that the necessity of one man in every four as a horse holder, dictates a four man basic element. There basically two options for troop organisation. One is a 16 man pure NCO led unit of two 2×4 sections, one led by a Sergeant and other by a Corporal, each consisting of besides the leader NCO, a Lance Corporal and six Troopers, the Lance Corporal leading one of the half sections. The other is a 20 man unit; two 2×4 sections each led by a Corporal plus a four man command section.
Recruitment And Training This is where things could get problematic. The Australian Light Horse in World War I had the advantage of being in a time and place where horses and people who could ride them were commonplace. The standard of horsemanship high to begin with, rose even higher when it was discovered there was a surplus of mounted volunteers who could be used in the infantry or other mounted arms such as the artillery and accordingly the riding tests were made more difficult so that only the cream of the riders passed them. A century later it would not be possible to be so fastidious. With the pool of potential recruits with any experience of horses shallow enough as it is, anyone who to use the colloquial knew one end of a horse from the other, would almost have to be accepted. In the initial phase of the Auxiliary/Territorial/Territorial Auxiliary Reserve’s formation it might be better to concentrate on the development of a horse-mounted capability within the structure of the Second Reserve infantry battalions, with formation of actual horse-mounted units left until further down the track. This would make things easier when the time was right to start forming actual horse-mounted units. Identifying suitable soldiers could be done ‘surreptitously’ by formalising the recommended practise whereby Leaders of the 9 to11 man basic ‘Patrol’ light infantry unit are urged to find out what civilian acquired skills their men have that could be useful. This could be done by issuing a questionaire with a list of aforementioned civilian acquired skills and a tick box beside each and naturally the list would include “Handling and Riding Horses’ or words to that effect. In the case of ODA 595 only two men in the whole 12 man unit had experience with horses and this points up another problem, namely aspiring potential recruits with no prior experience of horses, and given the limited pool of personnel available with any experience of horses it may be necessary to accept such recruits. Initial equitation training could be conducted on a civilian contract basis, but this could be problematic as it would increase the likelihood of the media picking up on it, given the potential for controversy using horses in any sort of military capacity would entail. In the initial paper A Second Reserve Force the writer recommended that with the basic unit it would be better to start off with four or five men, six at most, train them up to a modicum of proficiency and then bring the unit up to full strength one or two recruits at a time. If need be a similiar approach could be adopted when forming mounted infantry units, though given their smaller size perhaps not to the same extent. With this sort of arrangement any initial equitation training needed could be done ‘in-house’ so to speak, thereby obviating the need for any outside involvement. Most recruits would be drawn from Auxiliary Reserve infantry battalions; direct entry would be rare. While the Australian Army has no current mounted infantry manual, there is plenty of material available from other sources that could utilised.
* * *
The only issue remaining to be dealt with, is what to call them. As much as ‘Light Horse’ might appeal to the romantic traditionalists, given the potentially controversial nature of having horse-mounted troops in any way shape or form, something that did not mention horses would be preferable. Given that their primary mission would be reconnaissance, “Reconnaissance”, “Scout Reconnaissance” or similar would be an accurate description, one that would clearly describe their function without saying they were horse-mounted units.
Horse-Mounted Troops in Low Intensity Conflict by Lieutenant Colonel Peter Onoszko, U.S. Army
The Horse Soldiers by Doug Stanton
The Cavalry of World War II by Janusz Piekalkiewicz
The Equus Men: Rhodesia’s Mounted Infantry: The Grey’s Scouts 1896-1980 by Alexandre Binda
A new study released by the Lowy Institute titled Typology of Terror contains some disturbing revealations on the background of Austrlian Islamic extremists. The majority are second generation Australians; only six per cent of Australia’s jihadis are refugees or the children of refugees. Though there is not sufficient data to produce a portrait of an ‘average’ Australian jihadi, if we were to construct one from the aggregated data, they would likely have many of the following characteristics:
Lives in Sydney
Is or has been married
Born in Australia to overseas-born parents who are still married (with one or both from Lebanon)
No prior criminal record
Completed high school at a government school
Employed in a blue-collar job
No mental health issues
Not contrite and judged to have relatively poor prospects of rehabilitation
90 per cent are from Sydney’s western suburbs and north Melbourne.Two thirds have no prior convictions. Discounting driving offences which in any case, are often dealt with administratively rather than through the courts, almost 80 per cent have not been in trouble with the authorities. Australian terrorists also include fewer Muslim converts. Just eight per cent of Australian jihadis are converts to Islam, compared to 20 per cent of US and European extremists. All in all very disturbing findings. As to what to do, in my opinion everything that can be done within the letter of law to discourage Islamic immigration should be done. To those would scream ‘discrimination’ I say that we have every right to discriminate against the admission of people, whose presence would be prejudicial or potentially so, to the peace, order and good government of our country.
I have just watched again, a clip on ABC television featuring ABC chairwoman Ita Buttrose, calling for legislation to protect press freedom. While she has my full in principal agreement, legislating piecemeal on an ad hoc basis is not the best way to go about protecting rights. What we need as I called for in my previous post, is a comprehensive and and encompassing bill or charter of rights, like all other Western democracies have and Australia should have had a long time ago.
Australia has the dubious distinction of being the only major Western democracy without a Bill of Rights. When the Australian Constitution was drawn up the prevailing view was that Australia did not need a Bill of Rights. It was argued that the combination of the common law and the democratic election of the legislature, would be sufficient safeguards of rights. This is true as far as it goes. But there was a darker agenda. It was recognized that a Bill of Rights could cause serious problems with some of the discriminatory provisions of the law at that time, that disadvantaged Aboriginal people. At the same time it was understood even then, that there was no such thing as a race based Bill of Rights. A Bill of Rights applied to everyone, a principle that could I suspect, be traced back to Clause 40 of the Magna Carta: “To no one will we sell, to no one will we delay or deny right or justice”. Any Bill of Rights ending with a provision that excluded Aborigines was out of the question. The end result was that Australia didn’t get a Bill of Rights. In consequence of this omission the way was opened for the injustices and cruelties of the Stolen Generations. Another unfortunate legacy of the absence of a Bill of Rights, is there not a few people around who seem to think that we are still a penal colony. Modern Australia started out as one, because convicts could no longer be sent to the American colonies after the War of Independence. There still seems to be some sort of mentality inherited from that era that ‘rights’ are something doled out by government. The irony is, that it came about albeit indirectly, because the Americans said ‘No’ to that very idea. When it comes to the form of a Bill of Rights ideally a Constitutionally embedded one would be preferable, but appreciating as I do the difficulties involved in Constitutional change, in the end a legislated Bill of Rights could be accepted on the principle that half a loaf is better than none. But in a best case scenario a legislative Bill of Rights, could be a stepping stone to a Constitutional one as happened in Canada. The Canadian Bill of Rights enacted by the Canadian Parliament in 1960 led in 1982 to the Constitutionally embedded Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The powerful symbolism of even a legislated Charter of Rights cannot be understated. In a speech couple of Australia Days ago my local mayor said “Things happened in our past, things that we’re not proud of, but we can’t change history”. Though a Charter of Rights could not undo past wrongs and injustices, as a statement of repudiation and condemnation of them it would be powerful, the more so if it was signed into law on Australia Day. The unprecedented federal police raids on journalist Annika Smethurst and the ABC, and the more recent case of public servant Michaela Banerji, highlight the need for a Charter of Rights. It is telling that that the FBI in the United States could not carry out raids in the way the AFP did on Ms Smethurst and the ABC. This speaks volumes for the constitutional protection of media freedom in America, which is where the U.S. whatever its faults which are many, is ahead of us. A Charter of Rights is not a left issue, it is not a right issue. It is a matter that concerns all Australians who care about rights and freedoms, irrespective of which way they might lean politically or cast their vote on election day. For those who might wish to become active I am providing the following link: https://charterofrights.org.au/