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Book review: Australia Under Surveillance, by Frank Moorhouse

Sleepless: David Irvine said threats to our security were so serious that they kept him awake at night.AUSTRALIA UNDER SURVEILLANCE ByFrank Moorhouse Vintage, $32.99
Nanjing Night Net

I wish I still had that very old Disney comic that showed ducks in raincoats on a beach, hiding one behind the other under a jetty, all peering around the pylons through binoculars. Even before I understood the perennial question, “who will guard the guardians themselves?” I found the idea of spies, counter-spies, and counter-counter spies absurd.

David Irvine does too, he admits, in an interview edited in Frank Moorhouse’s new book. But as he prepared to retire as Director-General of ASIO, Irvine candidly told audiences around Australia how threats to our security were so serious that they kept him awake at night. Then he reassured them with examples of how ASIO was protecting them. I was reminded of a former employee of the US National Security Agency who joked to an audience in Washington that the job of the NSA was to scare people so they would go on paying for it. Australians pay vastly increasing amounts for ASIO.

Shortly before Irvine retired, ASIO and the AFP deployed more than 800 officers in night-time raids on houses in Sydney and Melbourne, which resulted in several arrests but just one prosecution. Was this a fishing expedition that failed, a training exercise, a tactic to scare would-be terrorists, or an anticipatory demonstration of ASIO’s and the AFP’s need for even more powers, which were soon to come before parliament? It may have been all four. We cannot know, because the raid was one of many activities about which we have few details, and ASIO is exempt from Freedom of Information applications.

Two other possibilities: either we are paranoid, or we have learnt from 1949 of enough egregious stuff ups not to trust ASIO. Moorhouse supplies a list of these, and Meredith Burgmann’s 2014 collection, Dirty Secrets: Our ASIO Files, contains more. An agency screened from public scrutiny, no matter how well intentioned, will inevitably develop contempt for those outside its select community, even while it owes its existence to the public, and is tasked to protect them.

Irvine, Moorhouse points out, sits on the Council of the National Archives, and his former deputy at ASIO is the Archives’ Director-General. The Archives, Moorhouse observes in one of the most disturbing sections of his book, are the only historical record the public has of the workings of ASIO and our five other intelligence agencies. Yet ASIO can refuse requests for release of files on grounds of “national security” even after the normal 25-year withholding period is over. ASIO can destroy information, and can decide which of its records to make available to the Archives. In practice, Moorhouse says, that means none.

So what, after Communism, does ASIO now protect us from? Terrorism, of course, and extremism or fanaticism, we are told. These labels are loose enough to provide the national security agencies with the ill-defined enemy necessary for their perpetual operation. They appeal to moral panic. Terrorism is already “the new normal”, according to Dick Cheney. It is an intractable threat that, Moorhouse observes, seems to excuse democratic governments behaving as badly as some terrorists. Yet in the 50 years to 2005, less than 1000 Australians died from wars and terrorism (Moorhouse cites Paul Sheehan), while 134,548 deaths on Australian roads were not considered a threat to national security. Moorhouse lists nine “terrorist” incidents in Australia since 1970. By my count, of the four deaths that occurred, only one did not involve the security agencies themselves.

ASIO has for long had a negative reputation among Australians old enough to remember the Cold War, to have seen their file, and to know if they lost a job, a promotion, or a government grant because of its contents, accurate or not. Younger Australians, however, may approach Moorhouse with reasonable, contemporary questions: if I have nothing to hide, why should I fear ASIO surveillance? If others plan acts of violence, shouldn’t ASIO intercept them by whatever means? If national security is endangered, isn’t it appropriate to reverse the onus of proof onto the suspect? Doesn’t ASIO need to operate in secrecy?

I hoped for answers from Moorhouse’s book, following his prizewinning Griffith Review essay, The Writer in a Time of Terror (2006-7). I found a discussion of what he calls the Dark Conundrum, the sly behaviour of a democratic government that contradicts its own espoused values, justifying behaviour of dubious legality in the name of political necessity and national security. This since Vietnam has become increasingly obvious to most alert Australians. He doesn’t mention the much more troubling Special Intelligence Operations, about which Australian citizens are not allowed to ask questions, and which journalists can be jailed for unwittingly revealing. He doesn’t refer to the Deep State, a linked intelligence community in the Anglophone countries that, according to Canadian author Peter Dale Scott, operates as an unchallengeable, permanent authority in parallel with impermanent governments. He doesn’t cite Glenn Greenwald or Jennifer Robinson, whose views on private ownership of information would illuminate his Conundrum. He admires the leakers Manning and Snowden, but calls Assange a hacker. In fact, WikiLeaks does not hack, but publishes information leaked to it, just as the news media do (and some of them hack).

Moorhouse burrows into his Conundrum, wandering down the dark passageways of his personal predilections: censorship, the politics of sexual preference, the French Revolution, nihilism, the human condition and more. His research assistant advised him to order his material chronologically, but that thread is abandoned. Every so often he comes up from the mine with a nugget of a question, asking, for example, if a secret agency is needed for the safety of a democracy; and whether a modern state can any longer keep its own secrets, let alone those of its citizens. But these reflections are left dangling, and Moorhouse admits his proposals for reform are unlikely to be adopted. Appending an extract from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, he notes that Australia is a signatory, but doesn’t point out that its provisions have not been incorporated into Australian law. Neither have those of the Convention on Civil and Political Rights nor of the Rights of the Child. Australia is alone in the OECD in having no charter or bill of rights, a situation our political leaders show no inclination to change.

As “national security” is increasingly used to justify the erosion of such privacy and liberty as Australians have, many of us, like Moorhouse, are concerned about state surveillance of individual academics, writers, filmmakers, journalists, and particularly Muslims. But as Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs has recently argued, the situation of Australia’s democratic institutions is worse: national security is being used to marginalise and overpower the judiciary, to concentrate power in the executive, to allow the armed forces to be deployed as and where the prime minister wishes, and to imprison people without charge or trial. The deep state is the new normal.

Alison Broinowski was a Senate candidate in NSW in 2013 for the WikiLeaks Party.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Book reviews: Strange Country; 100 Moments in Australian Painting

STRANGE COUNTRY: WHY AUSTRALIAN PAINTING MATTERS By Patrick McCaugheyThe Miegunyah Press/Melbourne University Publishing, $49.99.
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100 MOMENTS IN AUSTRALIAN PAINTINGBy Barry Pearce NewSouth Publishing, $49.99.

Two profusely illustrated books have recently appeared, both in one way or another offering an account of the past couple of centuries of Australian art and both, coincidently, limited to a consideration of painting only.

Patrick McCaughey is an art critic, art academic and long serving director of the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne and of the Wadsworth Atheneum and the Yale Centre for British Art in the United States. His Strange Country: Why Australian painting matters presents a most readable account of Australian painting; one which dips into art historical research, but also has a journalistic flair in the expression of strongly held convictions.

McCaughey was born in 1943, and when he was 17 he saw the inaugural Helena Rubinstein Travelling Scholarship Prize exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1960. From then on, he was hooked on Australian painting. His book commences with a quick overview of the modern Aboriginal art movement and then moves into a broad survey of early colonial painting, in which Nicholas Chevalier and ST Gill do not rate a mention. From here the account moves straight into the Heidelberg School, where we encounter interesting insights, such as the suggestion that the swagman in McCubbin’s Down on his luck (1889) is modelled on the pose of Durer’s Melencolia I (1514), but shown in reverse. Such quirky, but interesting observations are scattered throughout the book.

Although on occasion it is difficult to agree with some of McCaughey’s opinions, it is impossible not to admire the literary flourishes with which he discusses some of his selected paintings. When writing on Hugh Ramsay’s The sisters (1904), he observes “The compression of the composition, the closeness of the sitters to artist, breeds an airless claustrophobia. The alternating alertness and ennui of the sisters, bored by having to dress up in evening gowns in the middle of the day and pose in the over-heated studio, adds to the ambivalence of the painting. Far from being an essay in the feminine, the dying painter/brother is under scrutiny of his sisters, even as they fall under his gaze. A suffocating pall hangs over the work.”

His broad brush approach to Australian art history certainly takes few prisoners. In one sweeping overview sentence he notes “Hall and Lambert are now curiosities; perennial attempts to revive ‘late Streeton’ have petered out, and Heysen is hardly taken seriously outside Adelaide.” McCaughey champions Sidney Nolan and Fred Williams as the two giants of Australian painting and concludes with a rather cursory glance at contemporary art practice and with the tactful statement “all of these painters … they stand as representative for many who must go unmentioned …” Much is unmentioned in this book, but that which is mentioned is discussed with passion and understanding.

Although I was occasionally frustrated by the laconic nature of some of the discussion, as a whole, this account of Australian painting sparkles with intelligent insights and with some very memorable expressions in which wit and perception are united in flowing prose.

Barry Pearce in 2012 retired from his position as Head of Australian Art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales after 33 years in the job. This book is his personal final tour of the collection, pausing to discuss some of his favourite paintings. Apart from personal preference, the 100 selected paintings present something of a chronological account of the development of Australian art as held at the Sydney gallery, a collection which Pearce help to form and develop.

Except for a single bark painting, Indigenous art is excluded from this selection, in part, because he saw his brief as the curator for “Anglo-European Australian” art, but also in part because he felt that Indigenous and non-Indigenous art don’t really mix and when they are put together they do not really make sense. He writes “The intention [to combine Aboriginal and non-Indigenous art] was worthy, but in the end I believe nothing much was gained, other than a temporary frisson of aesthetic confusion in an attempt to identify similarity”. This is not an argument which I personally find particularly convincing simply because so many Australian artists, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, draw on each other’s traditions and it is this, that to some extent gives Australian painting some of its distinctive character.

The strength of this book is that it is written by a person who has the eye of a curator, a person who is perceptive, passionate and at times possesses a forensic knowledge of the provenance of a particular painting under discussion. We are given wonderful accounts about the hunt for long-lost paintings involving ingenious detective work leading to profound joy on their rediscovery. There are also many passages of detailed observation of paintings and speculation on their evolution, sources and influences. Take for example the discussion of Ralph Balson’s Portrait of Grace Crowley (1939), where we learn not only the artist’s probable source, Millet, but also where he saw a reproduction of this source, an issue of the Studio magazine in the Sydney Art School library, and the reason of why he turned to this source, Julian Ashton’s teaching.

Pearce writes with passion on the paintings which he admires, for example Hugh Ramsay’s wonderful painting, The Sisters (1904), which the young artist painted virtually from his deathbed. Pearce writes “The Sisters shows not so much virtuosity or glamour in its dazzling render of gold and cream fabric, as a dance with the brush about transient beauty and an underlying sense of mortality.” It is such wonderfully evocative and insightful passages that make this book so rewarding to read.

Australian painting, which only a few decades ago in some of our art schools was pronounced dead and obsolete in the context of contemporary Australian art practice, in Patrick McCaughey and Barry Pearce has found two wonderful advocates who guarantee its high profile and ongoing viability.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Book review: The Peaceful People, by Paul Malone

Stewards of Sarawak: The Penan have survived British and Malaysian invasion of their forests. Photo: Phyllis Webster Only 20 per cent of the Penan people’s forests remain.
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THE PEACEFUL PEOPLE: The Penan and Their Fight for the Forest. By Paul Malone. Strategic Information and Research Development Centre, Malaysia. $27.

A theme in world history is Europe’s great colonial expansion and the resulting dispossession of indigenous peoples. Regular Canberra Times columnist Paul Malone documents the ironic variation wrought upon Sarawak’s indigenous Penan. They can “fondly recall” the relatively light touch of British Sarawak on their lands and lifestyle. With the Malaysian takeover of 1963, only 20 per cent now remains of the primary Sarawak forests they used to roam.

Malone had visited a remote Penan group in 1974. Back in Sarawak in 2006, he was talked out of repeating the experience. His inner reporter was galvanised to revisit the Penan the following year. He filed a Canberra Times story about Penan elder Kelesau Naan’s campaign to stop the logging. Naan’s suspicious death months later prompted further visits and ultimately this book.

The title clearly sums up the author’s view of  the Penan. “The world can surely learn something” from their peaceful society and its non-violent protests.

Malone notes the pitfalls of romanticising indigenous groups. But the colonial, ethnographic and missionary records locate the Penan as “starkly different” from other Sarawak tribes. They took no human heads nor animal sacrifices, lived by rotational hunting and sago gathering not rice cultivation, and kept to smallish jungle bands whoavoided rivers andharsh sunlight. They also memorised their significant campsites and gravesites down the generations, but their kind of land stewardship didn’t cut much ice at the land titles office.

Other tribes thought them fair game. Malone recaps several massacres of the Penan dating from as recently as the turn of the 20th century. Things got tough again when logging took off in the 1970s. Short of violence, the Penan used “every available means” of protest and blockade to halt the logging or at least get compensation. Charismatic Swiss activistBruno Manser communicated their cause to the outside world, but the deforestation went on.

Again, Malone trawls the records, re-interviewing Penan who knew Manser. The Penan being generally resistant to outside influence, he disputes that Manser manipulated them. He verifies Manser’s own reports of events.

The Penan have continued to be further displaced by a supply-side development strategy to dam Sarawak for “inexpensive hydropower” to attract industry. In Malone’s current assessment, a few Penan are still nomadic while a few hold good jobs. Most fall in between, their limited access to the cash economy constituting a shaky exchange for formerly self-sufficient lives. Groups that opted for “collaborative” negotiation seem to be better compensated than groups that resisted logging outright. But Malone visits one village that’s going its own way yet going well.

If Australia has a Sarawak, it’s Tasmania, another island economy in thrall to logging and hydropower. Critics looked askance at the cosy relationship between the Tasmanian government and former forest titan Gunns Limited. In Sarawak, critics have focused on the forest and financial interests associated with Abdul Taib Mahmud, long-term Chief Minister and now Governor of Sarawak. Malone re-presents some of this material. It is examined in depth in the Swiss Lukas Straumann’s Money Logging, recently co-launched in Sarawak with The Peaceful People.

Despite the ruthless upheaval of the Penan by capital and development, Malone ends on a buoyant note. To improve the lot of the settled Penan villagers of today, he recommends practical measures in curriculum, schooling, employment and tourism.

Paul Malone will talk about The Peaceful People at the Asia Bookroom on December 1. Lawry Place, Macquarie, 6pm. RSVP by November 30, 625 15191. Gold coin donation to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Flock is a prime teaching tool

Geoff Bromham checks the pasture quality for the ewes and lambs; Picture: KIM WOODSONE southern NSW prime lamb flock has to be not only commercially profitable but also play a role in educating the next generation of Australian sheep producers.
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The flock at the TAFE NSW Riverina Institute Primary Industries Centre, Wagga, turns off white Suffolk cross lambs at 25-26kilograms carcass weight, and comes under the gaze of hundreds of national and international agricultural students each year.

Although the primary aim of the Flockcare accredited sheep program is to be educational, it receives no government support and must be self-funding.

It caters for all levels of study, from Certificate II, III and IV to the Diploma and Advanced Diploma of Agriculture.

The institute has 265hectare of grazing country, set in a 550mm rainfall zone.

Head agricultural teacher Graeme Anderson said a flock of 300 border Leicester-merino ewes was used to mimic regional commercial operations.

White Suffolk rams were chosen for their traits of easy lambing, quick maturity and market acceptability.

The ewes are joined in the first week of December for eight weeks to terminal sires from Keith Edyvean, Pambria White Suffolk and Poll Dorset stud, Wagga.

The rams are selected on their liveweight, raw eye muscle scans, fat depth, body length and structural soundness.

Farm manager Geoff Bromham said the white Suffolks easy lambing trait meant the breed was ideal for use over maiden and older ewes.

“We like to select rams with a moderate frame but with length and loin,’’ he said.

All ewes are placed on a rising plane of nutrition pre-joining, with the maiden ewes supplemented with pellets to ensure they reach condition score three. They are run on either lucerne or phalaris and subclover pastures treated with conventional and biological fertilisers, and regularly soil tested.

“We use pregnancy scanning as a teaching exercise to make sure the ewes get the right amount of feed to suit their pregnancy status,’’ Mr Anderson said.

“Pasture samples are taken monthly to test for protein and energy, and lambs weighed so feed supply can be matched with livestock nutritional requirements.

“Last year the lambs were gaining at more than 300grams a day — we want to ensure they are ready for sale and receive no setbacks.

“We source high quality lucerne hay and make our own Arrowleaf clover hay – all hay coming onto the place is feed tested.’’

Ewes are electronically tagged while all rams and a portion of ewes are blood typed to determine parentage of the off-spring.

The Pedigree Matchmaker system uses scanning technology to provide full pedigree information on lambs.

“At sale time, we can trace back to the mother and sire to identify the better performers for educational purposes,’’ Mr Anderson said.

“If a commercial flock is stocking at maximum levels, you don’t want to be keeping animals that are under performing.”

Last year, all ewes scanned at 134per cent and marked 123per cent lambs.

Mr Anderson encouraged his students to examine forward contracts.

He said a smart marketing strategy was about keeping repeat customers.

Some of the institute’s lambs are processed at Junee abattoir to enable students to study the supply chain.

Volunteers key to firefighting

THE Labor Party announced a policy on Tuesday November 18 that we believe will have grave and disastrous consequences for the CFA.
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Our concern with the policy is that it establishes external industrial interference with the CFA chief officer’s power to decide where and when and how he of she uses firefighters.

We are also concerned that the policy will reduce CFA’s volunteer firefighting force by thousands of volunteers, pushing volunteers out of stations and hundreds of trucks off the road when we need them for major fires such as Black Saturday.

Labor has grossly underestimated the cost and impact of its policy.

Labor’s promise of $150million and an additional 350 paid firefighters actually only provides 70 more paid firefighters on the ground at any time under paid firefighter rostering arrangements.

It will also come at the expense of thousands of highly trained and professional volunteers.

We support and welcome additional paid support and resources for CFA.

That is provided these resources are required and provided that the CFA determines the need — not a union.

We need a plan that will recruit and train more volunteers, provide trucks and equipment, invest in a modern firefighting fleet, give the CFA the flexibility to deploy resources when and where they are needed and remove industrial control over how CFA deploys its workforce.

Victoria is one of the most fire- prone areas in the world.

If Labor’s policy is allowed, Victoria will not have the fire-fighting force it needs for day-to-day incidents and certainly will not have the force to deal with major incidents when they occur.


For and on behalf of the board of volunteer fire brigades, Victoria

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Deal means BJR can work on quicker cars

Brad Jones Racing #14 car and driver Fabian Coulthard will carry a new sponsors name next yearTHE red and black livery will stay but Brad Jones Racing’s leading car will have a new sponsor next year.
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What was the No.14 Lockwood car driven by Fabian Coulthard will carry the Freightliner name for the next two years after its launch on Thursday night.

Brad Jones said it meant the team could concentrate on making the cars go quicker.

“Having Freightliner commit for a number of years is invaluable because it gives us the chance to forward plan, which I am really excited about,” Jones told the V8 Supercar website.

“It is great to be able to lock something in before Christmas.

“It means we don’t have to worry about what name will be on the side of the car and instead concentrate on developing the cars to go faster.”

The new livery won’t be on the car until the first official practice sessions next year.

It is expected Jason Bright will return to race the BOC Commodore next year, while Dale Wood will also continue for a second year in the third Holden.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Man hospitalised after violent East Albury raid

Police dusted the door of the unit for fingerprints after the violent overnight attack. Picture: TARA GOONAN
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A MAN has been hospitalised following a home invasion in East Albury.

The 57-year-old East Street resident was hit with an object in what police have labelled a “vicious” attack.

Officers were called to the home about 3am yesterday and stayed on scene until about midday.

Inspector David Cottee said two men had forced their way inside the home — one of three units — and left the man with a fractured arm, fractured cheek bone and cuts and bruises.

“It’s a vicious attack that left the man with fractures and lots of bruising,” he said.

“It’s certainly a serious attack.

“He won’t be in hospital for an extended period, but he’s received reasonably serious injuries.”

Inspector Cottee said police had not seized any weapons from the scene.

“It’s believed the attack was not random,” he said.

“There was something used to strike the man.

“Police are still looking into the motive behind the attack, but it appears to be targeted.”

Nearby residents reported hearing screams from the unit prior to police arriving.

Joanne, who asked for her last name to be withheld, said her sister had heard a loud bang.

“She said it sounded like a gate slamming or someone being pushed into a gate,” she said.

“The guy was yelling ‘get out of here, get out of here’.”

She said there had been a party several doors down from the victim’s house, and said the offenders could have come from the event.

Rachel, who also asked for her full name to be withheld, said the victim lived by himself and was surprised he had been targeted.

“He’s a pretty quiet guy,” she said.

“There’s never been an issue with him.

“It’s unexpected, it’s a bit of a shock.”

Inspector Cottee said there had been no arrests, and encouraged anyone with information about the attack Police dusted the to contact Crime Stoppers or Albury Police.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

‘Too many deaths on our roads’

Acting Sgt Mal Burdett says motorists should take extra care.ANOTHER death on Border roads has led to police urging drivers to take extra care.
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A Wangaratta woman was killed instantly when her car and a truck collided at Rutherglen on Thursday afternoon.

Her Ford XR6 sedan is believed to have pulled out in front of a grain truck heading east on the Murray Valley Highway.

The woman, 46, was driving south on Federation Way when the crash happened about 5.20pm.

The truck driver, a Rutherglen man, 39, was not injured.

Wodonga highway patrol police are investigating the crash.

Acting Sgt Mal Burdett said the incident was a reminder what can happen if drivers don’t take care.

“This is a tragedy and we don’t want anyone else to have to go through it,” he said.

The crash came three days after a Melbourne man, 58, died after a Hume Freeway collision at Springhurst.

The man died at Wangaratta hospital less than three hours after the car in which he was a passenger spun out of control in the south-bound lane, crashing head-on into a truck headed in the same direction.

The latest death is the sixth on Border roads since late September.

Sgt Burdett said conditions on Thursday evening were unlikely to have contributed to the crash.

“At 5.30 at night, you can’t get much better than that,” he said.

Sgt Burdett appealed for assistance from those who might have seen what happened.

“We’ve got a number of witnesses who we’ve actually identified from the scene,” he said.

“But we’re just asking that anyone who hasn’t already contacted police or been contacted by us to do so.”

Sgt Burdett said Border roads were starting to get even busier in the lead-up to Christmas.

“We’re just calling on everyone to take that extra couple of minutes to get where they’re going, to be vigilant in their driving,” he said.

“They’re not only driving for themselves but for everyone else on the road.

“That’s not pointing the finger at anyone in relation to this latest collision.

“Police are just asking for people to slow down and to take a step back.”

Any witnesses to Thursday’s crash are urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800333000.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Growler angry at no bail decision

PATRICK Mitchell yesterday banged his head on the perspex barrier around the dock at Albury Local Court after he was refused bail on two dom-estic assault charges.
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He responded angrily after an unsuccessful bail application before magistrate Tony Murray, who was told Mitchell had a criminal history littered with such offences.

Solicitor Tim Hemsley said when speaking to Mitchell in the cells, he had displayed disturbing behaviour attempting self-harm by hitting his head on a wall and growling.

Mitchell, 28, of Alexandra Street, has been charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm against a woman he has been in a relationship with for six months.

A charge of assault and two counts of contravening an apprehended violence order relate to Mitchell’s former de facto partner.

It is alleged those off-ences happened on Monday and the assault involved him spitting on her, but he has denied the allegation.

Mr Murray was told in tendered police facts that Mitchell had been walking along East Street with his new partner on Nov-ember 14.

He was stopped by three men, a fight began and Mitchell was punched and kicked a number of times while on the ground.

“You set me up,” Mitchell later told the woman, but she denied the allegation.

He told her to get inside his house because he was going to belt her.

But he put his arms around her, cuddled her and without warning bit her on the right cheekbone.

Mitchell started walking around the yard growling and the victim went inside to sit on a lounge.

He demanded money, she gave him $100 and he said: “Where is my axe? I’m going to chop you up.”

He picked up a guitar stand and struck her with it. She received further blows from Mitchell who had been armed with a didgeridoo and a long thin piece of wood.

He threw a pedestal fan which had hit the woman in the buttocks.

She ran out of the house and hid in bushes about five houses away.

Mitchell was arrested and interviewed, but denied the incident.

Mr Murray adjourned the charges until December 8 with Mitchell to appear through a video link from jail.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Our seats are safe, but will stability be enough?

TODAY Victorians go to the polls to determine who will govern the state for the next four years.
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The polls are saying Labor has the numbers to topple a one-term Coalition government, but in recent weeks the margin has narrowed.

The final result may be far closer than expected.

In the North East there is no question Benambra and the new seat of Ovens Valley will both be in Coalition hands at the end of today.

Bill Tilley will certainly have been seen by most within his electorate as having achieved sufficient gains for this region during the Coalition’s at-times difficult tenure in government.

His Labor opponent Jennifer Podesta appears to have found her feet as a Labor candidate after previously giving her support to the Liberals and the Greens outside of Benambra and running as an independent candidate in Indi last year.

But while her profile as a local Labor candidate will help maintain the party’s support in Benambra, it’s not likely to win sufficient votes to make any significant inroads into Mr Tilley’s hold on the seat.

We saw that in 2006 when former Wodonga mayor Lisa Mahood stood for Labor but was unable to turn her significant public profile to sufficient advantage to make headway in the seat, even at a time Labor was in government and Mr Tilley was a newcomer.

In the newly created Ovens Valley, Tim McCurdy is another Coalition MP whose opponents are unlikely to be able to capitalise sufficiently on a somewhat lacklustre performance by the incumbent to make some worthwhile gains.

Former councillor Julian Fidge will be able to turn his Wangaratta supporter base to votes as the Australian Country Alliance candidate but outside that city he will find it difficult to win over those who are not keen on giving their vote to a minority party.

In the region’s second new seat, Euroa, it is a contest between Coalition partners who can chalk that one up to helping the Napthine government back into power.

The question of who will govern Victoria will essentially fall to regional areas, but well away from the North East at Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong, where margins are slim.

In the city, the Greens will retain their influence and Daniel Andrews’ vow to scrap the East West Link will hold sway with many.

After a long period of instability, Premier Denis Napthine has brought some stability and momentum to the task of leading the state and that may be sufficient to get his government over the line.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

DHS says more bosses will ease its woes

The giant Department of Human Services has responded to an administrative debacle that left 10,000 elderly Australians locked out of aged care – by appointing more bosses.
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While Human Services sheds thousands of frontline Centrelink and Medicare workers, Secretary Kathryn Campbell has told her 30,000 public servants that “that additional senior level management would be beneficial”.

Senior DHS bureaucrats will be appointed to head-up “divisions” in the complex new structure that will replace the Social Services group, and at least one highly paid public servant will be drafted in from another department to swell the numbers of mandarins at DHS HQ.

At least 10,000 elderly Australians were left in limbo, some of them in hospital beds, because Centrelink computers were not ready process the new means-testing system for aged care on its July 1 launch date.

The department said on Friday that the backlog had been cleared by early October after teams of extra public servants were drafted in and a triage system established to ensure the most desperate cases were processed first.

Ms Campbell’s political boss, Minister for Human Services Marise Payne, refused on Friday to answer questions about what she had done to help the elderly Australians caught up in the crisis.

Fairfax understands the office of Prime Minister Tony Abbott made its displeasure clear to Senator Payne in the wake of the debacle but the minister’s officer refused to answer questions about what passed between the two offices.

But Labor’s Human Services spokesman Doug Cameron was scathing of the department’s latest moves.

“The Abbott government is in chaos and a whole battalion of senior executive service won’t get them out of it,” Senator Cameron said.

Ms Campbell told her workers that the decision to hire and appoint extra executives was made after a review of the workload of the Social Service group, which runs the government’s Aged Care, Paid Parental Leave, and Participation programs.

“I have recently reviewed the workload within the Social Services Group,” the departmental secretary wrote in a memo that did not mention the aged care fiasco.

“Given the importance of these projects, I have decided that additional senior level management would be beneficial.”

On Friday the department refused to say how many overpayments or underpayments were made to aged care providers, how many old people were affected or whether any of them any died while waiting for their applications to be assessed.

The department also refused to divulge how many senior executives were assigned to solving the crisis or what was original the budget for implementation of the new system or the final cost.

Instead the department issued a statement though one of its spokesmen.

“We sincerely apologise to customers who were affected by this issue and thank them for their patience,” he said.

“Since the issue was first identified, the department established a dedicated team to process the means test assessments as a matter of urgency and to take calls from care recipients and their nominees.

“The issues that led to the delays have been resolved.

“Since early October incoming assessments have been processed within normal timeframes.

“The department is continuing to prioritise urgent cases.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

The Cunning Man: Peter Stanley reveals why war is a bizarre human phenomenon

Peter Stanley enjoys illuminating history. Photo: Jay CronanThink outside the square. Push the envelope. Go beyond your comfort zone. These are the cliches that are trotted out with monotonous regularity, as though every one of us isn’t brave enough – we’re all just lazy sods. Then again, we’re also told to be cautious of those who dare to be outspoken, not get too close to the people who rock the boat. At all costs, we should avoid those who are courageous enough to try turning truth on its head.
Nanjing Night Net

Then there’s historian Peter Stanley, who seems not to care about any of this. He just wants to get on with the job of illuminating history.

Surely if there’s anyone who is qualified to illuminate history it’s Professor Stanley. For 27 years, he was a historian with the Australian War Memorial and, after a brief stint at the National Museum of Australia, he now works out of the University of NSW’s Australian Defence Force Academy campus.

He is the author of more than 25 non-fiction works (he admits to having lost track), including the potentially blasphemous Bad Characters: Sex, Crime, Mutiny, Murder, and the Australian Imperial Force, which was jointly awarded the Prime Minister’s Prize for history in 2011. He is also president of Honest History, a relatively new ACT-based organisation that aims to debunk the myth-making that often occurs in Australian military history, particularly when it’s in the hands of politicians.

If anyone deserves the title of being one of the nation’s most prominent military historians, it is Stanley, but is he a towering, intimidating force? Not in the slightest.

We meet in his north Canberra house, which doesn’t seem to have had much done to it since it was built in the 1960s. Two small fluffy dogs appear behind the flyscreen door, before Stanley appears as well. He looks as if he’s no more significant than a suburban tax accountant, although on television, he can be fiery almost to the point of discomfort.

After asking the dogs to behave (they do), he leads me through to the kitchen, where he makes tea with biscuits. We take our places in the small, unassuming lounge with a view into a semi-neglected, semi-loved backyard that’s so peaceful it’s hard to imagine there are any problems in the world.

We are here to discuss the recent publication of The Cunning Man, Stanley’s first novel for adults. (He is the author of a novella for young adults, Simpson’s Donkey, a memorable yarn that tells the Anzac story from the animal’s perspective.) This latest work is set in 1845 and explores the world of the European soldiers who created Britain’s Indian Empire. Sergeant Major Nelson Mansergh, Bengal Horse Artillery, is given the job of searching the Punjab for a conspiracy among the company’s European soldiers. There’s a sub-plot of love and, needless to say, the story culminates in battle.

Why the move to long-form fiction?

“It was always going to be a novel,” says Stanley, after taking a good sip of tea. “The prologue came first. It started with the image of a man arriving in a horse-drawn gharry [a small cart] and I had no idea where it would go from there. I discovered character and plot and dialogue as I went.” His eyes light up, as if he’s about to share the greatest secret. “I wrote the prologue on my very first home computer, a second-hand Apple in 1998, and once I’d worked out how to type into it, this is what I wrote.”

He goes on to declare that he has always wanted to understand and express history through imagination. “I think all historians do this,” he says, “but they’re not bold enough to write it down. What I tend to do is to not invent but embroider, and to imagine the circumstances. I really do think all historians do that, because otherwise they wouldn’t be able to write it convincingly as non-fiction.

“You see, the sources on British India are scarce and opaque. There’s so much you don’t know. So I started to imagine – to fill in – the gaps. It wasn’t about coming up with a cracking good yarn set in the Punjab. It was to say something about the real historical experience through an imaginative device.”

But does fiction really do a better job with the truth than historical inquiry?

“Absolutely,” says Stanley, who doesn’t call himself a professional novelist. “The post-modernists would say that the truth is only in the imagination. I don’t go that far, because I’m a determined empiricist, but empiricism can’t exist without imagination. There is so much you just can’t know, because the sources don’t tell you. The mundane is never recorded. Historians and novelists are searching to explore and express human truth. Novelists are lucky because they have endless materials to work with, while historians are limited by the sources, but I think we need to be bold enough to go beyond the sources and embrace the imaginative.”

How about his relationship to source material? Did it change through the writing of this novel?

“Good question.” He has a think and pats the dogs, who have curled up beside him on the couch. “Writing a novel sensitises you to what you’re not getting – what sources you haven’t got or can’t get. At one point in The Cunning Man, a character burns all the original documents. We have a fragment of the total caucus of evidence that’s ever existed. So, ironically, making it up sensitises you to what you will never get as a historical writer. It pushes you to ask more questions.

“At university they say, ‘Listen to the silences’, which is easy to say, but not so easy to do, because your attention is drawn again and again to what’s in front of you. If you haven’t got it, you have to ask questions about what you haven’t got, and why you haven’t you got it, and what might it have said, and whose views might it have represented.”

After taking another sip of his tea, he says all this comes out of his fundamental approach: a fascination with the unknown people in history, the little people whose lives weren’t documented, so you have to try all the harder to uncover their realities.

“Very few historians become novelists,” he says. “I think it’s because it’s a risk. You risk reputation and ego, but it’s great fun and satisfying, even if it doesn’t come off. I’m not really an academic historian. I’m at UNSW Canberra, but I spent 30-odd years as a museum historian and often as a popular public historian, so perhaps I don’t have as much dignity as some people.”

He laughs freely. It’s not hard to imagine him as a very enjoyable and entertaining dinner-party guest. His piercing intellect is underpinned by a terrific sense of humour.

We move on to one of the most appealing elements of The Cunning Man, which is the richness of detail in how the soldiers’ lives are portrayed. Was this a conscious decision to construct the story in this way?

Stanley says yes, it was conscious, because men spent years – decades – in India, unless they died of cholera or dysentery. He felt it important to ground the writing in a visceral or actual reality.

“It wasn’t just about ideas or dialogue or character. It was based in a place, and the place is full of people, and I wanted to understand the lived experience.”

What did he learn from writing The Cunning Man about history as a way of thinking?

“This novel expresses my understanding as derived from being a historian. So the thing I try to do as a historical writer is to understand the human condition in the past, our relationship to it, the way people respond to it – in the case of war, the extreme challenge – and the relationships that underpin those responses. They’re all things that I’ve written about in non-fiction. The Cunning Man articulates those concerns in a different form.

“I do think you can understand a historical episode intuitively as well as explicitly from the sources. One of the reasons I chose this era is because I do have sympathy for those people in that setting, partly because I’ve been to India and have experienced it, but I also have sympathy for it because of my immersion in the sources.”

For many people, war is great theatre, it’s a farce. When reading The Cunning Man, it’s quite obvious that Stanley was having a lot of fun writing the book. “War is deeply tragic and horrific,” he tells me after reaching enthusiastically for a biscuit, “but it’s also intensely human, so it has elements of deep emotion and humour, the whole drama of comradeship and spectacle, especially in this period. I mean the armies looked gorgeous – lots of red and blue and, in the case of the Sikhs, lots of oranges and yellow.

“The Cunning Man is not an anti-war novel in the sense that it says war is stupid, war is hell. It says war is a bizarre human phenomenon and here are some of the dimensions of it.”

It’s difficult to not wonder how someone who is as friendly, hospitable and genuinely engaging as Stanley ended up pursuing military history as a career. He believes it all goes back to childhood. He says he was a child of the “Airfix generation” and from the age of nine to 18 collected model soldiers. He played war games and found that he was interested in military history. As he grew, his understanding of what that meant deepened and developed.

“So the 17-year-old kid who war-gamed the American Revolution had a different understanding of what war means from the 58-year-old historian who writes about the experience of war.”

Stanley takes another moment to pat the dogs.

“I’ve never been in the defence force,” he says. “I wouldn’t have been good at it. I don’t like taking orders from anyone. But extreme experience and the human response to stress have been constants throughout my working life.”

It is fascinating to think that a highly regarded career as a military historian came from gluing bits of plastic together. “Indeed, but what are you doing when you’re gluing bits of plastic together? It’s all about imagination and putting yourself in the cockpit.” And thinking outside the square.

The Cunning Man is published by Bobby Graham Publishers.

Nigel Featherstone is the author of The Beach Volcano.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Litbits: Canberra’s literary diary for the week of November 29

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November 30: The last session for 2014 of  A Brush with Poetry is on at the Black Swan Gallery, Stephen Street (Burley Griffin Way), Binalong,  at 1.30 for 2pm. Villanelle or free verse, limerick or lyric, bush ballad or city sonnet – rock from laughter to tears with poetry of all styles and a bit of music thrown in. All poets, singers, musicians – new and established – welcome to share the mike. Gold coin donation. Light lunches, wine bar. Enquiries [email protected]南京夜网; [email protected]南京夜网


December 1: Is it only the orang-utans that matter? Australian journalist Paul Malone will talk about his new book The Peaceful People – The Penan and Their Fight For the Forest at the Asia Bookroom, Lawry Place, Macquarie at 6pm. RSVP by November 30: phone 6251 5191. Entry by gold coin donation to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation.


December 5: Steve Lewis and Chris Uhlmann, authors of The Mandarin Code, will be at Paperchain Manuka for a meet the author and booksigning event from 6.30 to 7.30pm. This satirical thriller is a follow-up to the The Marmalade Files and deals with murder, treachery and revenge. RSVP: 6295 6723.


December 3: At The Front, Lyneham at 6pm, there will be readings by journalist and author of the political thriller Challenge Paul Daley, Canberra Times contributor and author of The Beach Volcano Nigel Featherstone, Drag down to unlock or place an emergency call author Melinda Smith and The Grass Castle author Karen Viggers with music by Chris Endrey. This Wild Ones/Electric Shadows Bookshop event is free but please book on 6248 8352.


December 6: Playwright John Lombard, an emerging writer with a particular focus on short plays, will conduct a workshop on scriptwriting at Playing Field Studio from 10am to 12.30pm. Cost $2. Open to anyone, no experience necessary. Bookings: [email protected]南京夜网.


December 7: British poet and performer Anthony Anaxagorou will conduct a workshop on spoken word poetry and performance at Entry 29, 1 Moore Street, Civic from 11am to 6pm (cost: $75/$55) followed by a night of live performance at Transit Bar from 7pm. More information and tickets: facebook南京夜网/AnaxagorouAustTour.


December 9: A digital culture panel talk, Where the Book Went Next, features Simon Groth, Manager of if:book Australia, Zoe Sadokierski, Vice-President of the Australian Book Designers Association and Charlotte Harper, founder and publisher of Editia, discussing the future of books. National Library of Australia theatre, 12.30pm. Admission free. Bookings: nla.gov.au/bookings or 6262 1271 (weekdays 9am to noon).


December 9: Sydney poets Stephen Edgar and Judith Beveridge will read at the next Poetry at the Gods event at The Gods Cafe, ANU Arts Centre, at 8pm. Light meals available from 6.30pm. Non-eating seats available. Admission $20/$14. Seating is limited to 80. Bookings essential: phone 6248 5538.


December 15: The Shaun Micallef ANU/Canberra Times meet the author event is sold out, capping what organiser Colin Steele says has been a record year of attendances with such speakers as Amy Tan, Bob Carr, Gareth Evans, Betty Churcher, Paul Kelly, Hugh Mackay, Geraldine Doogue and Peter FitzSimons. We can look forward to an interesting new line-up in 2015.

* Contributions to Litbits are welcome. Please email [email protected]南京夜网.au by COB on the Monday prior to publication. Publication is not guaranteed.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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