A case for postal banking in “Taking on the banks: The truth about the Australia Post Cartier watches affair”

“Taking on the banks: The truth about the Australia Post Cartier watches affair” (Citizens Insight / Australian Citizens Party, 19 February 2021)

In this video, the Australian Citizens Party makes a strong case that the Australian government’s sacking of Christine Holgate as CEO of Australia Post for awarding senior Australia Post managers Cartier watches worth $20,000 as performance bonuses masks an agenda to enforce a privatisation of the postal institution which would effectively prevent Holgate from developing Australia Post as a postal bank offering an alternative banking service to the Big Four banking corporations (Westpac Banking Corporation, Australia and New Zealand Banking Group, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, National Bank of Australia) that would actually benefit all Australians and the Australian economy in the long term. Narrator Glen Isherwood explains how supporting Holgate is an important step in supporting the creation and development of a postal bank that works for the public’s interests, and in forcing the Australian banking and financial industry to clean up the corruption among its largest companies which enjoy oligarchic cartel-like control over the industry.

Isherwood leads off with examples of corruption such as liar loans, faked payslips, forged documents and cash bribes in the Australian banking and financial industry. Liar loans amount to nearly $500 billion and customers have been charged up to $1 billion worth of services they never received. Despite a recent Royal Commission in 2018 uncovering instances of bank corruption and predatory behaviour on bank customers, the Coalition government under Prime Minister Scott Morrison claimed the Commission did not uncover any criminal behaviour that his government did not know about. Isherwood then returns to the topic of Australia Post and Holgate, and reels off how Australia Post saved bank customers across the country when the major Australian banks closed down branches and left many towns and communities without a banking service. For this, Holgate compelled the major Australian banks to pay commissions amounting to $70 million to Australia Post. Isherwood then demonstrates how the Australian government contrived to create a case around Holgate and the Cartier watches to push for her sacking by paying $2 million for a report whose authors Maddocks even admitted Holgate had not engaged in illegal activity but nevertheless found there were no rules governing Holgate’s decision to award the watches to the senior manager (which could be interpreted to mean that she had broken no rules at all).

An interesting comparison between Holgate’s performance as Australia Post CEO and her predecessor Ahmed Fahour’s performance then follows, showing up how effective Holgate has been in turning around Australia Post’s business and forcing the major Australian banks to cough up what they owe to Australia Post. Isherwood’s report is supported by interviewee Angela Cramp, the executive director of Community Licensed Post Offices Group, an organisation representing the interests of the people who are owner-managers of licensed post offices.

At the time of this review, a swelling group of prominent politicians (including Barnaby Joyce and Bob Katter), journalists, analysts and others have come forward to support Holgate. The Australian Labor Party is attempting to distance itself from its early castigation of Holgate and portraying itself as a staunch supporter of Holgate by piling criticism on the Morrison government. Two more interviewees, solicitor Robert Butler and former ANZ Bank director John Dahlsen discuss Holgate’s performance as CEO: Butler describes the craven behaviour of Board of Directors of Australia Post in supporting privatisation of the Australia Post and desertion of Holgate once her views about Australia Post becoming a postal bank became known; and Dahlsen praises Holgate’s achievements in a difficult working environment.

Using interviews and newspaper articles, the Australian Citizens Party exposes the agenda of the Morrison government and the elites it answers to as a predatory one antagonistic to the interests, needs and desires of the Australian public. Privatising Australia Post would deliver huge profits to a small number of companies and individuals while Australia Post employees lose their jobs and post offices in rural or remote areas are forced to close, leaving communities without banking services. The Australian Citizens Party cites sources such as Daisuke Kotegawa, a former senior Ministry of Finance public servant in Japan, who explains the difference between financial benefit (usually immediate and short-term) and economic benefit (usually associated with major infrastructure projects, and long-term and often hard to quantify), to support its call for a postal bank service. Viewers sceptical that the Australian Citizens Party is cherry-picking and citing sources to support its push for a postal banking service are urged to do online searches on the advantages and disadvantages of postal banking: the article by Mehrsa Baradaran at this link is a good introduction to the topic .

Red Rover: a sparing character study of human behaviour in extreme situations

Brooke Goldfinch, “Red Rover” (2015)

In less than 15 minutes, “Red Rover” explores very minimally in a character-driven study the reactions of individuals and a community to an imminent global disaster, with the suggestion that future apocalypses and the destruction of civilisation are more likely to be caused by humans themselves than by whatever natural disaster triggers the apocalypse. In a world where lockdowns, mass hysteria and the sudden wipe-out of civil liberties may have caused far more deaths than the mystery COVID-19 pandemic itself has done to justify such government actions, this short film gains more relevance than it would have done otherwise. Two teenagers, Lauren (Natalie Racoosin) and Conrad (Christopher Gray) plot their escape from a remote and insular Christian religious community when they discover that everyone in the community has agreed to commit mass suicide via a communal Thanksgiving-style feast ahead of a supposed imminent asteroid crash into the planet. The two youngsters plan to take Lauren’s young brother John (Ian Etheridge) with them but disaster intervenes. With their families dead, the teenagers travel into town to find shelter. They accidentally come across a group sex orgy in which all the participants are high on drugs. The youngsters continue their search and muse on their future together: marriage, children, establishing a home together. Unfortunately too late Lauren and Conrad discover their time together to achieve what they want is much, much shorter than they’d prefer.

With spare acting and even more spare dialogue, Racoosin and Gray infuse life and credibility into young people who have had limited life experiences and who are at a loss in dealing with a world outside their community. They are forced to grow up more quickly than they expected to; at the same time they cling to remnants of the world that has suddenly destroyed itself, in heart-breaking scenes where Lauren dons a ballgown and Conrad talks about taking her to the prom and marrying her. The minor cast playing the teenagers’ parents do good work sketching out their families’ cult-like behaviours in very early scenes. The film crew pay close attention to the details of background surroundings: the dining room scene with a table heaped up with poisoned foods, the barren township with abandoned cars, plastic sheets scuttling across empty roads and broken glass in shopfronts.

An impression of the world falling apart, even before the asteroid may arrive, and the sad, passive resignation and melancholy that greet Lauren and Conrad wherever they go, linger long after the film ends in a blaze of light. In spite of this, the two teenagers seem determined to experience freedom and the joy of living in the short time they have together. The film drives home the point that even in the face of imminent extinction, people can still choose to live life defiantly and to its full extent. The reactions of two communities, at first utterly unlike each other but with more similarities than either of them can imagine, to the asteroid strike are sure to provoke much personal reflection or communal discussion about the nature of human denial and passivity in extreme situations.

Reforming Australia’s financial industry in “Japan Post Bank: The great postal banking success”

“Japan Post Bank: The great postal banking success – Interview with Daisuke Kotegawa” (Citizens Insight / Australian Citizens Party, 15 February 2021)

In this informative interview conducted by Robert Barwick with Daisuke Kotegawa (Research Director at the Canon Institute for Global Studies, and former Deputy Director at Japan’s Ministry of Finance and representative of Japan to the IMF), the case is made for the separation of commercial banks and investment banks and for Australia to reintroduce a savings bank for individual deposits. First of all Barwick stresses that the main aim of the interview is to emphasise the need for Australia to have a savings bank separate from the Gang of Four banks (Australia & New Zealand Banking Group, Commonwealth Bank, National Australia Bank, Westpac Banking Corporation) if the country is to restore and rebuild its manufacturing capabilities and national and state infrastructures. He then allows Kotegawa to give a history lesson on how having a savings and commercial bank for individual depositors and businesses played a large role in stimulating Japan’s rise as an industrial power during the late 19th century under the Meiji emperor and beyond. This financial foundation helped fuel the resurgence of Japan as an industrial powerhouse after the devastation of World War II.

Barwick and Kotegawa do not discuss how Australia might go about creating a savings and commercial bank from scratch – Citizens Insight / Australian Citizens Party has previously touted the possibility of Australia Post taking on the role of a savings bank in the way the Japanese postal system acts as a savings bank in other presentations – but they do discuss the consequences of not separating savings and commercial banks from investment banking, or what they refer to as “Glass-Steagall” separation. “Glass-Steagall” is the popular term referring to the provisions of the 1933 United States Banking Act (the so-called Glass-Steagall act) separating savings and commercial bank functions from investment bank functions. This act was repealed by the Clinton government in 1999, paving the way for investment banks to take over commercial and savings bank functions to plunder their deposits, thus helping to set the scene for the 2008 Global Financial Crash.

At one point in the interview Barwick and Kotegawa discuss how a public savings bank and investment banks operate: generally investment banks are looking for financial returns which are usually short-term in nature, requiring projects to generate profits quickly, whereas public banks invest for the long term in projects that generate financial returns many years, even decades, later. Such long-term projects usually involve large amounts of spending upfront and tend to involve infrastructure construction and maintenance. It is apparent then that investment banks are not interested in funding projects that have a nation-building and uniting aspect and which would generate benefits more intangible and abstract than what investment banks can conceive of. The interests of investment banks can be predicted to lead them into supporting projects that appeal to their directors or shareholders’ interests, and we can surmise that they will have an agenda premised on immediate reward gratification.

The most significant part of the interview comes late where indeed Kotegawa points out that the lack of separation between savings and commercial banks on the one hand and investment banks on the other encourages financial gambling and instability in the entire financial system leading to the 2008 GFC and forcing governments to bail out investment banks using hundreds of millions, even billions, of taxpayer money that could have been invested in improving infrastructure and social welfare so as not to lose the confidence of ordinary savers and businesses in the financial system. In addition Kotegawa points out that Australia still has significant industries in the mining and agricultural sectors that could benefit from the existence of commercial banks whereas nations like the United States and the United Kingdom no longer have very significant industries for which a viable commercial banking sector is needed.

Viewers may have some trouble understanding Kotegawa while he speaks and perhaps some subtitling for both him and Barwick could have helped as the topic is quite specialised and requires some general knowledge on the part of viewers of how banks operate and the history of banking in Australia and the United States. One criticism I have is that the interview does not address how a public bank in Australia, once established, does not eventually go the way of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia in being privatised and coming under the thumb of Wall Street. Perhaps that is a topic for another Citizens Insight interview.

Interestingly this interview caught the attention of African Agenda, a website that focuses on socialist development and positive change for Africa and Africans.

The American Colony of Australia: how a master-slave relationship came into being

Carlton Meyer, “The American Colony of Australia” (Tales of the American Empire, 19 February 2021)

In this installment of his ongoing series of the extent and depth of the United States’ imperialist clutches on nations around Planet Earth, director / narrator Carlton Meyer surveys how Australia quickly passed from British imperialist control to US imperialist control during the 20th century; and how from the 1970s onwards, with the infamous November 1975 coup that felled Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, the US tightened its grip on Australian politics and society to the point that Australia is no longer an independent sovereign player in its part of the world (southwest Pacific) but through its security and military links is beholden to Washington DC and can make no independent decisions of its own without US approval. Meyer briefly points out that before the 1920s, Australia (even after declaring itself a dominion within the British Empire in 1901) was still very much a British colony, having to supply soldiers and raw materials to Britain during World War I in which almost an entire generation of young Australian men was wiped out, setting the stage for future decades in which political, economic and social leadership for want of talented men stagnated in this wide brown land. After World War II, during which Australians worked together with Americans to push back Japanese military forces, Australia fell quickly into subservience to the US: this meant supplying cannon folder to fight US wars in the Korean peninsula, Vietnam and other nations over the rest of the 20th century and well into the 21st century, with at least hundreds of Australian troops still stationed in Afghanistan since 2001.

Meyer’s main focus in this short documentary sketch is on two US-backed coups against the Australian government in 1975, when Gough Whitlam was sacked as Prime Minister by Governor General Sir John Kerr on the day when Whitlam planned to reveal in Parliament the extent of American spying on Australia through its Pine Gap facility; and in 2010, when Kevin Rudd was replaced by Julia Gillard as Prime Minister just days before federal general elections. In Rudd’s case, his crime in American eyes was to advocate working with China, Australia’s largest trading partner, rather than against China: a point of view that did not sit well with then US President Barack Obama’s “Pivot to Asia” policy which aimed at isolating China by drawing in neighbouring states including Australia away from Beijing in trade and other forms of co-operation and into the US orbit. Gillard was seen as a suitable replacement for Rudd in part because of her support for Israel. After Rudd was deposed, Gillard quickly gave the US armed forces the use of military bases in places like Darwin and Fremantle around the nation, so that now US troops are more or less permanently stationed (through rotation) at these bases and train there. US penetration of the Australian armed forces is now wide enough and deep enough that the Australian military has become dependent on the US for orders and is incapable of acting on its own initiative, though Meyer does not go into detail as to how that situation began and developed over time.

Photographs and video stills are used to emphasise and support Meyer’s narrative and a map shows the extent of US military and surveillance bases in Australia. Many Australians may be alarmed (but not surprised) to know that all phone and email conversations and transactions in Australia are captured by the US. The highlight of the mini-documentary is a film of US political commentator John Mearsheimer, while visiting Australia, addressing an audience in a speech sponsored by an Australian think-tank, in which he explains how Australia, if it chooses to work with China or any other nation the US does not like, will be regarded as an enemy of the US and treated accordingly. That is to say, Australia will be subjected to economic and other pressures, some of which will be of a kind considered as war crimes if they were enacted by any other country, and to regime change of the sort suffered by Whitlam in 1975 and Rudd in 2010.

In such a short mini-documentary as this, the narrative tends to flit from one topic to another at a speedy pace in spite of Meyer’s minimal presentation. As a result, analysis is thin and sketchy, and viewers are best advised to do further research themselves on particular issues raised in the film that they are interested in. The value of this short documentary is to demonstrate to Americans and Australians alike that the relationship between the two countries is not a friendship of equals but a master-slave relationship in which the slave nation must know its place and accept its inferiority or be punished severely. For most people in both countries, this short documentary will be a real eye-opener.

All flash and style but little substance in “Occupation: Rainfall”

Luke Sparke, “Occupation: Rainfall” (2020)

Here’s a brisk and flashy science fiction action film done on a small budget with plenty of Australian bravado and no little ambition to prove that the Australian film industry can compete with the big guns in Hollywood. The film is the sequel to the even lower-budgeted “Occupation” in which Kali aliens first landed in Australia and humans began forming resistance cells to fight them off. The action in “… Rainfall” takes place a number of years later after intense war between the Kali and the humans has left Sydney a smouldering wreck, the aliens having done their best to obliterate decades of bad urban planning and the humans living in the sewers like rats. Refugees, human and Kali alike (some Kali having decided to become allies of the humans), have come into the sewers but the extent to which they can live in peace varies, with some humans being more accommodating than others. The Australian military command discover from some aliens that the Kali enemy in the skies is planning a final offensive and is also seeking a mystery object hidden somewhere near the former US military base known as Pine Gap, in central Australia. The humans decide to evacuate everyone out to refuge in the Blue Mountains region west of Sydney and to send a team out to Pine Gap to find the object before the Kali enemy does.

The film then splits into two parallel plots, one in which the Sydneysiders just manage to reach their Blue Mountains haven, having narrowly escaped being blown up along with what remains of Sydney … amazing that the substandard buildings in Sydney managed to resist years of bombardment by aliens wielding far superior technology and firepower than what can be mustered by humans … and the other being a good cop / bad cop plot in which human Matt Simmons (Dan Ewing) and the Kali alien nicknamed “Gary” (Lawrence Makoare) must put aside their mutual suspicions and prejudices in order to work together and succeed in their mission to reach Pine Gap and discover what it is that the enemy wants. With stowaway Marcus (Trystan Go) in tow, Matt and Gary fight the Kali in an improbable aerial battle and take on a huge alien spider before finding refuge with a group of humans living in a country settlement. They meet the Bartletts (Temuera Morrison and Izzy Stevens) who decide to accompany the trio on their mission to Pine Gap.

In the meantime the Sydney refugees must contend with their own internal quarrels between Wing Commander Hayes (Daniel Gillies), who rules the Blue Mountains haven like a fascist leader and who has sent all the aliens into underground cells where they are starved, tortured and experimented on by people loyal to Hayes, and the more compassionate humans led by Amelia (Jet Tranter), the older sister of Marcus, and Abraham (David Roberts).

The plots run at a brisk pace and are very straightforward in execution with no twists, save for one where Matt, Gary and their followers reach Pine Gap and discover two loopy American misfits (Ken Jeong and Jason Isaacs) running the place. There are continuity issues – how are Matt, Gary and their team able to reach Pine Gap in a matter of two or three days through rugged countryside even with the help of Kali alien horse substitutes? – and both plots are heavy on delivering moral messages about tolerance, how adversaries become brothers in arms through mutual suffering, being humane to all and layering on the identity politics but light on character development and battle strategy. The misfits provide comic relief to the intensity of the film’s actions and main characters although the jive stuff sometimes holds up the action. Fighting sequences have all the reality of video-game battles and Hollywood fights in which the good guys are always vastly outnumbered 10 to 1 by the bad guys yet when the dust settles the good guys are the one standing tall among a heap of fallen baddies. At least the actors put in solid and straight-faced performances with little histrionics in roles that are little more than stereotypes.

While visually impressive, and at times breath-taking in the scale of its sets and the use of Australian landscapes to give the film a distinct style, “… Rainfall” turns out to be an ordinary flick in its story-telling with an ensemble cast not given very much to do. At least the film has plenty of breezy energy and gusto, and barely bogs down for very long.

Magnitsky Acts are dangerous laws based on a hoax – Interview with Lucy Komisar: how human rights legislation is being degraded

Glen Isherwood, “Magnitsky Acts are dangerous laws based on a hoax – Interview with Lucy Komisar” (Citizens Insight / Australian Citizens Party, 28 October 2020)

In light of news that politicians Andrew Hastie and Kimberley Kitching are pursuing a bill through the Australian Parliament that would empower Canberra to target and impose sanctions on officials and individuals for supposed human rights abuses – the so-called Magnitsky legislation – Australian Citizens Party researcher Robert Barwick interviews US investigative reporter Lucy Komisar on the work she has done exposing such legislation using supposed human rights abuses to target and blacklist nations such as Russia, China, Iran and Venezuela and set them up for strategic confrontation and regime change. This interview is very detailed if selective (mainly due to time constraints), starting with Komisar’s early work as an investigative journalist and human rights activist across three continents in the 1960s through to the 1980s and then jumping to her work investigating the activities of Bill Browder in Russia through his Hermitage Capital Management Fund in the 1990s to capitalise on the privatisation of Russian state corporations under the Yeltsin presidency.

Taking the form of a conversation in which Barwick allows Komisar to explain at length what Browder did over the 1990s and the early 2000s, setting up shell companies for the purposes of transfer pricing (originally a legitimate practice in which two related companies in different taxation jurisdictions exchange goods and the price at which the exchange takes place is settled by the tax authorities in those jurisdictions according to rules and methods those authorities agree upon; companies may take advantage of such rules and methods to reduce the amount of tax they pay) and taking advantage of and abusing legislation in Kalmykia (an administrative region in Russia where the major ethnic group is Buddhist Kalmyks) in which companies got tax concessions if they employed people with disabilities, the bulk of the interview can sometimes be hard for viewers to follow unless they are already familiar with the history of Browder’s activities and of Magnitsky himself. The truth is Magnitsky was arrested and jailed for tax evasion as Browder’s accountant, and that Browder himself was being pursued by Russian authorities for stealing millions through the shell companies he set up with Magnitsky’s advice and assistance. The notion that Browder and Magnitsky are or were human rights champions keen on uncovering and exposing corruption in Russian politics in the 1990s and beyond – a notion that Browder promoted in the US and the EU, and is now promoting in Australia – proves to be a smokescreen covering up Browder’s own venality which as Komisar explains extends back in time even further than his adventures in Russia with Hermitage Capital Management Fund.

The more interesting part of the interview comes late in its second half when Barwick and Komisar discuss how her submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade – Human Rights Sub-Committee exposing Browder as a human rights fraud and that the Magnitsky sanctions legislation is based on lies was redacted and virtually ignored by the sub-committee. (As a result of her submission, Komisar was accused by Browder of being allied to or working in some capacity for the Russia government.) This leads among other things into a discussion on how the weaponisation of human rights in the form of sanctions legislation can be an attack on the concept of human rights itself, in that sanctioning individuals for supposed human rights crimes makes a mockery of human rights legislation and can be used to attack genuine human rights activists. If the bill backed by Kitching and Hastie were to be passed in Canberra, people targeted by the legislation would have no right of due process if they were to try to challenge it. (Even Australian citizens themselves might fall foul of such legislation, if they were to try to send money or gifts to relatives linked to sanctioned individuals or relatives living countries whose governments have been sanctioned.) The Human Rights Sub-Committee is deliberately ignoring submissions like Komisar’s submission in driving the new Magnitsky sanctions legislation, and the reason for doing so is purely political: to persecute and isolate individuals, organisations and even entire nations that follow policies or agendas that the US, the UK and their allies disagree with. Australia is expected to follow what the US and the UK decree, even at its own expense.

The danger of the West adopting the Magnitsky laws is that they set a dangerous precedent and model for other governments to target the political opposition and dissidents within their own nations. Laws that purport to uphold human rights are instead twisted into laws that degrade human rights. In addition, adopting Magnitsky laws that sanction individuals, organisations and nations when laws already exist to censure such entities can only result in confusion for governments to enforce and for courts to interpret if the new legislation contradicts current legislation.

The interview deserves to be seen at least twice or three times for viewers to understand the danger that passing the Magnitsky sanctions bill in Parliament poses to human rights activists in Australia. Viewers will need to do their own research on Browder and Magnitsky’s activities in Russia in the 1990s and the early 2000s that resulted in Magnitsky’s arrest and imprisonment. The implication that even in death Magnitsky is being used as a pawn by Browder to escape trial and imprisonment and to enrich himself, at the expense of people living in countries targeted by Magnitsky legislation where it has been passed, and of genuine human rights activists, is not lost on viewers. That Bill Browder can continue to cause havoc wherever he goes, and is seemingly unstoppable, given his history, might encourage some viewers to consider that he may be an intelligence asset.

Is China committing genocide against Uyghur Muslims? Interview with Jerry Grey yields intriguing answers

“Is China committing genocide against Uyghur Muslims? Interview with Jerry Grey” (Citizens Insight / Australian Citizens Party, 28 October 2020)

Here is a very fascinating interview conducted by Research Director Robert Barwick of the Australian Citizens Party with British-Australian citizen Jerry Grey who had a varied life as a police officer and security officer who then retrained as a teacher and found a teaching job, initially for a year, in China. Grey enjoyed living in China so much that he ended up staying there permanently, established a charity with his wife whom he met in China, and began travelling around the country. His cycling travels took him to and through Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Grey is thus in a good position to be able to confirm whether the Chinese government has singled out Uyghur Muslim people for discrimination, harassment and incarceration, including incarceration in concentration camps where they are supposedly forced to perform hard labour in factories or on farms. In particular Uyghur Muslims are supposed to be subjected to cultural genocide, being forced to give up their own language and much of their traditional culture and religion.

Grey describes his experiences of travelling and living in Xinjiang with interviewer Robert Barwick, demolishing as he does so the Western propaganda narratives of Uyghur Muslims being singled out for discrimination. Grey gives an example of how such propaganda may be generated in the case of an Albanian journalist who visits a school in China, asks various questions of the teacher in a class, records the teacher’s answers and then returns to Albania to present the Q&A session with his television station employer in such a way as to remove the context in which the teacher replies to the journalist. Of course religion is not taught in school if the school is not a religious school, yet the journalist presents the teacher’s answer of “No’ to suggest that religious education is banned in China. A second example of propaganda misusing information is the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s use of satellite imagery showing large building complexes surrounded by fencing to insinuate that these complexes are concentration camps when in fact the buildings may be senior high schools with boarding facilities or other major institutions. (Later in the interview Barwick notes that ASPI itself is funded by the US government and corporate sources that employ slave labour in the US.) Since Xinjiang region has been experiencing numerous terrorist attacks – in ten years up to 2017, the area suffered 800 deaths from terrorist incidents – many major building complexes now have elaborate security systems and travellers are subjected to many security checks. While the surveillance may be very intrusive, in the context of terrorist incidents occurring in areas as far apart as Xinjiang and Yunnan, the vigilance is often welcomed by local people. Interestingly in Xinjiang region, the police force is made up of Uyghurs themselves.

On the issue of terrorism in Xinjiang, Barwick and Grey discuss Beijing’s response to preventing more terrorist attacks in the form of a massive poverty alleviation scheme which has reached out to the most remote and / or impoverished communities in China and provided them with access to markets, transport and education for their children. Children of senior high school age are enrolled in city schools with boarding facilities (which media sources hostile to China misinterpret, deliberately or otherwise, as concentration camps) where they learn and study the Mandarin language which will enable them to find work in China. The youngsters are allowed to visit their families on weekends and are brought back to school by bus.

Significantly Grey notes there are no Western journalists on the ground in Xinjiang; furthermore most news about Xinjiang appearing in the MSM can be traced back to three sources, all of which source their information from the US State Department, and thus their information is highly suspicious as the US has an interest in destabilising China and breaking it up. One of these three sources often consulted by the Western MSM is German-American Christian fundamentalist theologian Adrian Zenz who believes in The Rapture (when true-believing Christians will be suddenly and physically drawn to Heaven by God and the rest of humanity will burn on Earth) and regards himself as having been appointed by God to pursue and expose China’s supposed crimes. He is a member of a far-right organisation known as Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation which was founded in 1983 by the US government and had a connection to Ukrainian ultra-right nationalist Yaroslav Stetsko, a former associate of Stepan Bandera, former head of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (Bandera faction) and a Nazi collaborator during the 1940s. The other sources include the aforementioned ASPI and the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders, an organisation founded by the US government.

Grey talks about his personal experiences with security in Xinjiang, noting that entry into and exit out of the region is monitored closely by Beijing to the extent that the region is locked down against unauthorised entry by outsiders. He notes that his movements around Xinjiang, which included taking cameras with him, have been unrestricted. People curious about his reasons for travelling around Xinjiang turn out to be generous with their time and hospitality when he tells them; no-one tells him he can or cannot travel to particular parts of Xinjiang.

An interesting detour is taken by Barwick when Grey talks about Uyghur expatriates complaining to mainstream Western media that they are not allowed to contact relatives in Xinjiang: Grey says this happens because the expats have broken Chinese law – which explains why they are expats in the first place (they have fled justice by going overseas and finding asylum as “refugees”). Barwick says many Uyghur organisations in Australia have “East Turkestan” as part of their names; in doing this, they declare themselves to be enemies of China, as “East Turkestan” implies that these organisations are encouraging separatism and working towards breaking Xinjiang away from China.

The interview finishes up with Grey describing his experiences of lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic in China. He notes that the Chinese government used the lockdown to mobilise healthcare resources in hospitals, relying on government bureaucrats of all levels to lead the response, and to introduce an effective contact tracing and testing scheme which has resulted in the disease being stopped dead in its tracks early in 2020.

While the interview frequently meandered from one topic to the next, it makes clear that allegations of discrimination, harassment and imprisonment of Uyghur Muslims on the basis of their religion and ethnicity are baseless and are part of an agenda to raise support for a US-led war and possible invasion of China among Western publics. Unfortunately the interview does not clearly identify the main sources of disinformation about China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims (incidentally not all Uyghurs are Muslims and Muslims in China are a highly diverse religious community with the majority of Muslims being Han Chinese themselves) though viewers familiar with the issue will be aware that ultimately the US government and the supposedly humanitarian and human rights NGOs it funds feed these sources and in turn rely on them to spread the propaganda.

It would appear that much Western resentment directed at China’s treatment of its Uyghur population stems from Western awareness that what China is doing for its underprivileged is exactly the programs and policies that Western nations should have pursued for their impoverished minorities. Fake narratives such as the concentration camp narrative feed on real facts and distort them into an evil mirror image that exploits Western public guilt over and horror of Nazi German atrocities and genocides of targeted groups like Jews, Roma and Sinti, Slav peoples, homosexuals and people born with mental and physical disabilities. It can be no coincidence that increasingly Chinese Communists and the former Soviet Union are being equated with Nazi Germany through deliberate distortions of the 20th-century histories of China, Russia and Germany.

Nullarbor: laconic little road movie on the need to work together

Alister Lockhart, Patrick Sarell, “Nullarbor” (2011)

Across the longest stretch of straight road through the flat desert that is the Nullarbor Plain in southern Australia is raced this animated riff on the classic Aesopian fable “The Tortoise and the Hare”. A brash young man (we’ll call him Bernie) driving through the Outback in his souped-up convertible nearly has an accident with a semi-trailer while distracted by an elderly motorist (we’ll call him Waddy) in his decrepit old motor vehicle. Blaming his near-disaster on Waddy, Bernie seeks to outrace the old codger but ends up encountering one obstacle after another, including one memorable one where his convertible is prevented from crossing a railway line and the endless line of train carriages with the word “HA” painted on their sides passing over the line appears to be laughing at him. Eventually catching up with Waddy, Bernie and the older fellow agree through their facial expressions and gesticulations to a race across the featureless desert. The race though has unexpected consequences for both men and they end up humbled by the harsh physical environment of the desert and the sea.

Old age is pitted against youth, and the slow and steady approach is held up against the speedy (and also hasty) in this very likable animated character study. Ultimately Waddy is not any wiser than Bernie when it comes to taking care of his car or pushing it beyond what it can handle. The two men eventually come to a compromise and an understanding (that likely results in a real and long-lasting friendship) when confronted by the immensity of the Australian landscape and the results of their foolish rivalry.

The film’s humour relies a great deal on slapstick and exaggeration, and there is some crude and even violent humour at Bernie’s expense, but all the humour adds individual flavour to the men’s characters and advance or underline the plot in some way. The problems Bernie encounters illustrate how out of depth he is in the Outback. Sooner or later we know he will need the old man’s help. While Waddy has a more laid-back personality and he and his car have seen and experienced much in this part of Australia, even he cannot always rely on experience and familiarity with the environment and this leads to an oversight on his part that results in his car’s unexpected demise. The destruction however leads to an understanding between the two men and from then on they start to work together to get out of their common predicament. Nature always bats last.

The animation is spare and emphasises the isolation and vastness of the Australian desert and its brilliant colours as day changes into night. The laconic tone of the film – there is no dialogue and the characters communicate with body language – is distinctive and highlights its Australian character. The stereotype of Australian masculinity and men’s behaviour comes under the spotlight in this very concise little film.

The Disappearance of Willie Bingham: portrait of a society exploiting emotions and desire for vengeance

Matt Richards, “The Disappearance of Willie Bingham” (2015)

A truly unsettling short realist film about a bureaucracy gone insanely inhuman, pandering to the lowest common denominator in Western cultural ethics, this Australian psychological horror piece justifies wading through much dross on the Omeleto channel. Prisoner Willie Bingham (Kevin Dee) has been selected by the State of Victoria to undergo a new kind of punishment for having killed a child while intoxicated: the punishment involves the participation of the victim’s family who can demand that Bingham undergo a series of amputations while family members watch. The victim’s father (Tim Ferris) requests that Bingham’s left hand be chopped off first. After this operation, Bingham is then taken by his prison supervisor George Morton (Gregory J Fryer) and the police on a circuit of primary and secondary schools to demonstrate to youngsters the consequences of committing serious crimes: they too can expect to undergo progressive amputation. Over time, Bingham suffers more amputations: his right hand goes, then his left leg, and various organs also disappear. With each operation, the victim’s sisters refuse to watch and leave, and the father steadily becomes more disheveled. Bingham’s mental state deteriorates with each operation as well until he becomes completely traumatised, withdrawn and uncommunicative.

The acting is excellent and Dee’s performance as Bingham is heart-rendingly pathetic, not least because there is a possibility that he is innocent of several charges against him relating to the rape and murder of the child victim. As the convicted criminal in a prison system that has been largely privatised, pandering to public calls for Old Testament eye-for-an-eye vengeance against those deemed to have committed unspeakable crimes, Bingham has no say in his punishment and is caught up in a spiral of a relentless and deranged prison bureaucracy that acts with a demonic life of its own. The film does not say who ultimately is responsible for having set this Kafkaesque machine system in progress, literally chewing through each and every prisoner guilty of a serious crime. At the end of the film, Bingham is left a literal husk.

Other characters fare little better than Bingham: the victim’s father undergoes degradation as well and ironically appears to reach a state similar to Bingham’s initial state when he murdered the child. (One almost expects a late plot twist in which the father admits to the crime.) Bingham’s supervisor Fryer appears a broken man by the end of the film as he resignedly takes Bingham on yet another circus tour of various schools. The high school students view Bingham as a figure to be made fun of. What lessons they might learn are very different from what they are supposed to learn. Yet the bureaucracy carrying out the progressive amputation punishments on Bingham and others like him continues regardless.

Aside from obvious questions about how the State should deal with heinous acts of crime and the people who commit them, and whether effective justice can be served by the punishments attached to these crimes, there is a wider issue of the potential consequences of privatising prisons and other functions of the State, opening up these privatised functions to the whims of the general public and pandering to people’s emotions and instincts rather than their reason. The horrific, dehumanising effects of such privatisation and a populist approach to punishing prison inmates, on inmates, prison administrators, victims’ families and the people who carry out the progressive punishments are made plain to the audience. Even the supposed benefits of the punishments are questionable.

Much of the film’s power comes from its plausibility and its realist tone. All the characters are to some extent stereotypes and audiences can very readily identify with these stereotypes. The plot is very original but its inevitable and relentless trajectory cannot sustain a running time much longer than 15 minutes. For a film of its type to work, it needs to bring in philosophical issues about the role of the State in delivering justice to victims of crimes, in deciding the appropriate levels and types of punishments for crimes, and in accepting (or outsourcing) responsibility for imprisoning people and punishing them. The film also needs to say something about the nature of a society that enables an inhumane system of punishment exploiting emotions and desire for revenge and extreme punishments to exist and thrive.

The Power of Falun Gong: a timid presentation of a dangerous and deranged fascist cult

“The Power of Falun Gong” (Foreign Correspondent, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 21 July 2020)

Purporting to be an expose of Falun Gong’s activities as a secretive religious organisation with very disturbing cult-like tendencies, and its promotion of current US President Donald Trump during the 2020 US Presidential election year, this episode of Foreign Correspondent ends up flogging the organisation with a light feather. A very brief sketchy survey of how the cult arose in China in the early 1990s starts the program, with very little information about how the cult’s founder Li Hongzhi began the organisation or about his background prior to becoming a government clerk. The program claims that Li’s ability to rally thousands of Chinese to his cult, using a mix of Buddhist and Daoist ideas that include taijiquan exercises and meditation practice along with Scientology-style beliefs about aliens coming to Earth and conservative politics, was what led the Chinese government to outlaw Falun Gong and persuade Li Hongzhi to flee to the United States. (Another source I read says the Chinese government shut down Falun Gong for persuading its followers to abstain from medical therapies and rely entirely on meditation and conforming to Li’s teachings to recover from illness. This is backed up at this blog here.)

Skipping from interviewing a young defector from the Falun Gong cult, whose mother raised her in its beliefs, to a family who lost their grandmother to the cult whose teachings on shunning medicine led to the grandmother’s death, the program presents some very heart-rending stories in a superficial way. We do not learn how the defector managed to make her own way in the world after leaving the cult and her mother. Reporter Eric Campbell meets two activists living in upstate New York, where the cult has built a huge compound that continues to grow and devour local properties, who are campaigning against Falun Gong’s greed to acquire more land and build more structures that violate local environmental laws and building safety codes; but even the activists’ story is dealt with in a vague way. We never learn if they and their followers have ever won a lawsuit against Falun Gong or managed to have much influence on their own communities and others beyond their area.

The last and most interesting part of the documentary concerns Falun Gong’s media empire, known as The Epoch Media Group, centred around flagship newspaper The Epoch Times and its increasing forays into social media platforms and advertising on Facebook. The report looks at how Falun Gong companies and websites create false social media identities and accounts on Facebook, often for the purpose of astroturfing (running fake grassroots campaigns with support from fake accounts). Unfortunately the program fails to ask where the money comes from to finance The Epoch Media Group and other media and entertainment-related groups such as the Shen Yun Dance Company, and other activities. At least the source I referred to earlier comes to my rescue with the revelation that Falun Gong’s media empire and other operations, including its compound in New York state, are funded by the US government and its agencies (possibly including the CIA and the National Endowment for Democracy) which use the cult as a de facto attack-dog propaganda outlet.

Foreign Correspondent significantly fails to connect Falun Gong’s support for Donald Trump with its worldview which believes the End Times are close by and that Trump is a divinely inspired warrior committed to ending Communism in China. How the program could have missed this damning aspect of a cult says much about its mealy-mouthed and timid approach in covering the organisation, such that Falun Gong comes over as an eccentric cult with a reclusive leader, instead of the dangerous and deranged fascist front for the US government it actually is. At the end of the day, the producers of Foreign Correspondent and the reporters who work for the program must ask whether flaying a dangerous cult like Falun Gong, which happens to be anti-Communist, lightly with a feather is more moral than lambasting China for having a style of government and a particular political ideology that its people want but which the West fears and resents.