Why the major theme of this issue is about Comrade Rudd, the ALP and China Inc. links.
Spend, spend, spend. Spin spin spin.
Corruption in the Body Politic (in full at end of this page)
Linked articles on:
• Labor’s Chinese Mates - big donors
Now that Chinese government-owned enterprises are bidding to buy into Australian resource companies at rock-bottom prices, perhaps it’s time to note the Chinese connection in donations to the ALP,
• Senate defeats the Government’s electoral reform bill
The Opposition and the Family First Senator combined to defeat the Government’s bill to compel disclosure of political donations over $1,000; to outlaw foreign donations; to prevent donations being split among State branches to below the maximum allowed before disclosure is necessary.
• Political advertising by lobbyists.
Rudd, Fitzgibbon and China. Compromised by free travel and personal links with agents of influence.
China Inc. (in full at end of this page)
The FIRB and ASIC should treat all Chinese Inc. investments as one.
Is Comrade Rudd the Manchurian Candidate? (in full at end of this page)
Examining the evidence from policy decisions taken.
Inverell Forum 2009
A personal summary of another very successful meeting.
Consumer Task Force
About as useful as the abandoned Grocery Watch.
Hanson Case Puts Media In A Poor Light. (in full at end this page)
Alan Fitzgerald dissects a flagrant case of sloppy journalism.
Spotlight On The Hill (part in full at end of this page)
Foxhunter provides a review of idiocies in society.
Geoff Mosley reviews an unusual book which deals with our personal ability to respond to environmental problems.
Travels in Arctic Sunshine
Alan Fitzgerald reviews a book containing some unpleasant truths which maybe we wish to forget.
An Irish Songman (in full at end of this page)
More an essay than a book review, Nigel Jackson on the varied achievements of Vincent Buckley, one of Australia’s most significant public intellectuals post WW2.
CORRUPTION IN THE BODY POLITIC
Linked articles on:
• LABOR'S CHINESE MATES - big donors
Now that Chinese government-owned enterprises are bidding to buy into Australian resource companies at rock-bottom prices, perhaps it’s time to note the Chinese connection in donations to the ALP, Last year, the largest political donation to the ALP was made by China-based entrepreneur Stanley Ho, who gave the party $800,000. Ho’s fourth wife, Angela Leong, attempted to donate a further $500,000 but the Federal ALP returned the donation, according to the Australian Electoral Commission records. No reason was given.
The $800,000 from Ho was made up of $200,000 from him and $600,000 from Hungtat Worldwide of which he is chairman. The company owns the Palm Meadows golf course on the Gold Coast and is involved in several developments in Queensland. A spokesman for Hungtat said ‘The money comes from China….They have to use an Australian company to make the donations …as long as it is for the Labor Party we are happy to donate’ (The Australian Financial Review 3/2/09).
The NSW ALP also accepted a cheque for $400,000 from Stanley Ho but returned a further donation of $600,000 from Hungtat Worldwide. The State branch general secretary Matt Thistlethwaite claimed the donation was returned because the State ALP had sufficient funds to finance its expenditure at the time. This sounds barely plausible. A political party knocking back a huge donation? Perhaps there was a fear that Mr Ho’s generosity and that of his associated company would lead to a perception that he was buying shares in the party. However, the NSW ALP did accept some $1.4 million in donations from Mr Ho and his associates.
Mr Anthony Chan, who is listed at the same Hong Kong address as Mr Ho, donated $100,000 to the NSW Labor Party. Mr Ho, who appears in Forbes magazine list of the 100 richest people in the world, was the highest bidder at a NSW ALP fund raiser in 2006, paying $48,000 for the opportunity to lunch with the State Premier Morris Iemma. However, he didn’t bother to show up to collect his prize.
In 1986, Mr Ho was deemed ‘unsuitable’ to hold a casino licence in NSW when he was part of a consortium involved in a bid for a share of the gambling market. Instead of granting a second casino licence the NSW Government of Morris Iemma extended its exclusivity agreement with the Tabcorp owned Star City Casino at Darling Harbour. Hong Kong Kingston Investments were also happy to donate $281,000.
Ian Tang, head of Beijing Aust China Technology, based in China paid for 16 visits by ALP politicians to China before the last federal election. Tang’s subsidiary company, Beijing Aust China Investment and Development Pty Ltd paid for Mr Rudd to visit China in 2006 with a side trip to USA, Britain and Sudan on the way. In the same year, Mr Rudd spoke at a ceremony in Beijing to unveil a $1.3 billion retail development. Tang paid for Wayne Swan to travel to China and Hong Kong and for Tony Burke (then Shadow Minister for Immigration) to take multiple trips. On the day Tony Burke flew out of Sydney bound for Manila, Beijing and Hong Kong at Tang’s expense (8 days) Tang’s company made a $59,000 donation to the Australian Labor Party. Tang’s company made two more donations to the NSW State ALP the following month, in total $94,000.
The NSW ALP is so anxious to remain on good terms with Chinese residents of Sydney that it has a full time liaison officer devoted to keeping in touch with them. There are a number of inner urban seats - both State and Federal - in which Chinese Australians are concentrated (including Bennelong). Their votes can make the difference between the ALP holding the seats or losing them to the Coalition.
Similarly the NSW ALP has maintained close links with Muslim community - particularly Lebanese - who are concentrated in several seats. They have provided the foot soldiers for branch-stacking but the community at large lacks the financial clout that the Chinese bring to the table.
Is democracy really served by these deals between political parties and ethnic lobby groups? There is always a price to be paid by governments for this form of support. Immigration issues are prominent - relaxing rules in favour of individuals or groups, or changing regulations to admit more of a particular ethnic group while banging on about the wonders of multiculturalism. Without admitting of course that multiculturalism has a become a tool for vote buying.
The Chinese of course are involved in other issues. When Chinese state-owned enterprises want to buy into Australian minerals producers or telecommunications providers they and the Chinese Embassy can always whip up support from the resident overseas Chinese community for their agenda. As the federal Opposition have found out, any doubts about the wisdom of Chinese takeovers or investments are countered with cries of ‘racism’, ‘jingoism’ and ‘fears of the old ‘yellow peril’.
And who is first off the block with these allegations? Labor MPs and Ministers who have been the beneficiaries of free travel in China, courtesy of the Chinese lobby.
SENATE DEFEATS GOVERNMENT ELECTORAL REFORM BILL
The Opposition and the Family First Senator combined to defeat the Government’s bill to compel disclosure of political donations over $1,000; to outlaw foreign donations; to prevent donations being split among State branches to below the maximum allowed before disclosure is necessary.
Unlike other major democracies, such as Canada and the United States, Australia has no laws in place to prohibit or control foreign donations. The Australian Democrats made several attempts to introduce legislation but it was blocked by the ALP and the Coalition. After the 2004 Federal election, the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters looked into the issue of foreign donations but failed to make a recommendation to ban them. Only the Democrats issued a minority report that advocated such a change to the law.
Then Special Minister of State, Senator John Faulkner, wanted changes to political disclosure laws that would ban foreign and anonymous donations for all political parties, whether State or Federal. The bill would also lower the threshold for personal donations from $10,000 to $1,000, and for disclosure to take place twice a year instead of annually. (The Coalition government raised the personal disclosure threshold from $1,500 to $10,000 in 2004.)
The result of the defeat of the Rudd Government’s bill is that the old Howard legislation which condones rorts remains in place. The Coalition rationalized its vote against the reforms by claiming ‘it was inappropriate to debate these changes other than as a part of comprehensive campaign reform’ (Senator Michael Richardson).
Family First Senator Steve Fielding told the Senate that the bill didn’t go far enough. ‘Labor has only proposed to limit public funding of political parties to actual campaign expenses but will do nothing to rein in the excessive campaign spending’. While what Fielding says is true, surely some incremental electoral reform is better than none at all.
Senator Fielding proposed a cap of $10 million on what each major party could claim in public funding. Since public funding was introduced in 1984 (an amount of money for each vote received above 4 per cent of the formal vote), ‘it has been rife with rorting to the degree that public funding of election campaigns has skyrocketed by more than 55 per cent over the past four elections’ .
(There were 1,421 candidates for the 2007 elections who were required to lodge returns on their expenses to the Australian Electoral Commission by March 2008. Some 1,076 endorsed candidates declared a ‘nil’ return because their expenses were included in the parties’ annual returns).
From the size of the donations made during the 2007 election campaign, the influence of donors on the parties must be considerable. Will the new Special Minister for State reintroduce the reform bill?
POLITICAL ADVERTISING BY LOBBYISTS
Organisations, whether supporting Labor or the Coalition, do not hand over money without expecting something in return. The amount of money from ‘third parties’ sloshing around at the last Federal election was extraordinary. The 2007 national election marked an interesting development in the way in which powerful lobby groups moved into direct advertising to influence the campaign rather than quietly donate to the political parties.
The 2007 national election marked an interesting development in the way in which powerful lobby groups moved into direct advertising to influence the campaign rather than quietly donate to the political parties. Faced with the expenditure of $16.5 million by the Australian Council of Trade Unions in support of the ALP, and a further $11 million by other unions, business groups spent $5 million in defence of the Howard Coalition Government.
The issue of contention was the unpopular Work Choices legislation which the ACTU vowed to have repealed by an incoming Labor Government. In response, a National Business Action Fund was created for the purpose of financing a series of pro-Work Choices advertisements. The major contributor was the Business Council of Australia which provided $2.5 million, the Minerals Council of Australia, $1.5 million, NSW Business Chamber $1 million, Victorian Employers Chamber $750,000, Australian Mines and Metals Association $500,000, WA Chamber $500,000, Business SA $116,500, Employers $100,000, Commerce Qld $90,909, Australian Hotels Association $75,000, Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry $64,081, Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce $50,000, Victorian Automobile Chamber and the Motor Trades Assn. Qld $18,181.
What was notable was who didn’t contribute.
Those major lobby groups who kept their hands in their pockets either thought a Labor win was inevitable or in the event of a Kevin Rudd victory it didn’t make political sense to antagonize Labor by being seen to be on the wrong side of a possible two term government.
However, a spokesman for the Business Council of Australia, Scott Thompson, sought to rationalize the BCA’s direct involvement in the political advertising campaign. Thompson said ‘We don’t see that the campaign we were involved in as being a party campaign. We saw it as a campaign in support of workplace principles relating to the benefits of 20 years of reforms undertaken by both sides of politics’ ( The Australian Financial Review, 2 February 2009). He claimed the BCA was promoting an issue rather than a party, and denied BCA was overtly supporting the Howard government‘s bid for re-election. Frankly, this is a bit hard to swallow.
Other lobby groups spent money on advertising that indirectly advantaged Labor.
The environmental group – The Climate Institute – outlaid about $1.4 million on pre-election advertising. Some of this money was spent in marginal seats. John Conner, CI’s chief executive, claimed that the Institute was careful not to endorse one party over others, despite rating Labor better on score cards than the Coalition. ‘Some people might say it is semantics but that was actually really important to us, that we remain independent’ (Australian Financial Review, 6 February 09).
Getup, a ‘progressive’ anti-Coalition organization, spent $1.28 million on election advertising. National director Simon Sheikh claimed the group was ‘not partisan but very political’ (Australian Financial Review, 6 February 09) and campaigned on issues. Issues, of course, that were adverse to the re-election of the Howard Government. Funds were raised from Getup members – average donation $45 – and $50,000 from the Community and Public Sector Union, hardly a nest of neo-conservatives. Tony and Maureen Wheeler, founders of Lonely Planet, also weighed in with a further $50,000.
On the other side of the Work Choices fence a one-person Queensland based lobby – The Focus on Australia Foundation – spent more than $1 million, much of it in defence of the Work Choices legislation. FOAF operated from a post office box in Queensland’s Gold Coast. Ms Gayle Le Bon was the sole director and secretary. The elusive Ms Le Bon also authorized 29 anti-Greens billboards in marginal electorates around Australia.
The unions spent millions of dollars on a clever advertising campaign for the repeal of the work choices legislation. Work Choices was the issue that polarized the community leading to the interventions by groups distinct from the campaigns run by Labor and the Coalition, but it is likely that this precedent of action by bodies outside the parties will be followed in future elections when Work Choices is no longer an issue.
China Inc. is occasionally used in the media to signify that the business dealings of the State owned companies are all ultimately controlled by Beijing. This is vehemently denied by the Chinese, who maintain that the entities act independently.
As far as iron ore is concerned it is probably true of purchases of spot lots. Most of their purchases are bulk deals set every year. Nobody seems to pursue this example of anti-competitive behaviour; indeed it is practised by all the Asian countries. Yet the Chinese express concern about the BHP/Rio joint facilities deal, arguing that the deal will set up a near monopoly situation.
As far as investment in Australian resources is concerned, an interesting point has been raised by Rebecca Urban in The Australian, 13 June 2009) on whether more than one Chinese state entities taking shares in a company could be declared associates. This would mean that the entities would have to declare their interests if the combined holdings exceeded 5%. The Australian Stock Exchange will consider it if it arises. The Australian Securities and Investment Commission, after a bit of nudging finally held that rules applying to subsidiaries would apply to State owned companies as well. The Takeover Panel has already ruled that two Chinese companies were associates in one case, but it was clear cut as they shared the same chairman.
It is time that ASX and ASIC recognize that all the Chinese entities are part of China Inc, and so any Chinese application should be treated as such. In other words, applications by entities would be treated as an application by China Inc. and scrutinized for anti-competitive behaviour on that basis. It seems inconceivable that Chinese state owned entities would bid against one another for control of a company in Australia, any more than subsidiaries of a privately owned company would do so. A similar view should be taken by the FIRB.
However, in Australia opposition to Chinese Government purchases can be (and is) labelled xenophobic, which makes people cautious. Among sections of the media there are people eagerly sniffing around for any suggestion of racism that they can excoriate in order to satisfy their moral vanity.
IS COMRADE RUDD THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE?
In the preceding articles Alan Fitzgerald has detailed some ALP connections with the Chinese Government. In The Howard Legacy, Rudd was dubbed as the Manchurian Candidate. This article looks at the his performance from that perspective.
It is generally accepted that Kevin Rudd is a detail man about running the country. Hence we can assume that four significant developments in Australia have his approval. These four developments are:
(1) Investment in the resource industries (covered below). The Chinese Government investment is so widespread and pervasive that they would have a better dossier on the resource industries in some details than the Australian Government.
(4)‘Soft power’ - e.g... the establishment of Confucius ‘Institutes’ in the universities (also covered below).
(3) Large scale immigration of Chinese via the educational institutions so that the Chinese are beginning to dominate the professional and managerial classes. This the theme of The Howard Legacy so that there is no need to go into it here, save to note that one of the first actions of the Rudd government was to increase immigration rates to record levels. At the same time their was little financial help for Australian universities, so that they continue to be dependent on international students. This will lead to increased dominance and will be the topic of a future article.
(4) Becoming a large holder of Australian Government bonds issued to sustain the spiralling deficit. There is no information about who is buying Australian bonds, although it is understood that such information will be released soon. It seems highly probable that the Chinese are large buyers, as they have of US bonds. Once a capital importer like Australia becomes a perennial client of a sovereign state it must influence policy.
Infiltration of Resources Sector
Mineral and energy resources are the only areas in which Australia has some natural advantage in world trade. It seems obvious that Australia should be keeping control of their development. The Howard Government was content to let overseas companies buy many Australian companies, which many thought bad enough. However the arrival of China Inc. as large scale buyer is a different matter.
The Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB), located within Treasury, scrutinizes foreign take over proposals and gives expert advice to the Treasurer. The Chinese allege that it gives Chinese entities a harder time during evaluation than other overseas companies. There are two very good reasons.
Firstly, it means customers are owning the resource. One can prattle on about the Australia Tax Office ensuring that transfer pricing will be applied to make certain that correct Australian tax is paid. There are many ways of allocating overheads.
Secondly, foreign Government ownership of resources leads to delicate diplomatic issues if Australia wishes to operate in the best interests of Australia in regulating such companies. Behind the scenes pressure can be exerted at government level.
According to an article in The Australian 24 June 09 the manager of the FIRB told the Senate inquiry that they were seeing‘... a fair degree of overt commercial behaviour with Chinese companies’. Presumably they were seen to more competitive with each other and more independent of central control. That could be true at an operational level. However there is little doubt that acquisitions must be approved by the Chinese Government. Furthermore even comparatively small firms like Chinalco can raise huge sums of money in China to back their plans. Total control is preferred, but always board representation is required if holding minority positions.
In the same Australian article Glenn Stevens, Governor of the Reserve Bank, refers to the fact conditions applied to the Chinese entity Hunan Valin which had two directors compared with no conditions for Leucadia (US venture fund), also two directors. He plays down the fact that Hunan Valin is a customer and the whole article reads like a briefing from Chinese interests. Most conditions are unenforceable and if any attempt was made to enforce them it could create a diplomatic issue. China of course uses bureaucratic and convoluted procedures as well as outright fiats to control foreign investment.
When the controversial bail-out of Rio was announced early this year, Xiao’s (the then Chinalco chairman) achievements were recognised when he was elevated to the Chinese Government’s cabinet, a clear sign of the links between business and government in China.
How the Rudd government was going to sell this to the Australian public was a problem, especially with people like Senator Barnaby Joyce leading a crusade. The FIRB was allegedly asking for many conditions. These are worthless, unenforceable in practice, as shown by companies everywhere. Fortunately for the Australian government the rapaciousness of the deal aroused existing shareholders and it was called off.
While Rio occupied attention the Chinese government was quietly picking up smaller acquisitions, growing in total size to be the third force in Australia’s resources. There does not seem to be any academic or government study on the size, but Stephen Mayne, in his maynereport.com, makes an attempt to note developments reported in the media. The following draws on that, together with some other sources, and adds information. Maybe some have been missed. By the time that you read this more investment will have been made. Indeed Treasure Wayne Swan has announced that he is authorising
Rio Tinto got itself into financial trouble because the chairman and managing director did not wish to lose their jobs under a proposed takeover by BHP. Instead they bought an aluminium business at the top of the market, making the BHP offer unsustainable. Loaded with debt, when the global financial crisis occurred, Rio turned to selling an extra 8% share to Chinalco, a modest sized Chinese entity, but with unlimited bank backing. The deal was extraordinarily complex, with Chinalco’s fingers in every pie, but above all, two unsackable directors on the board.
Rio already has alliances with Chinese interests in the Pilbara, China Iron & Steel has a 40% interest in the Rio Tinto-operated Channar iron-ore mine. Shanghai Baosteel Group owns 46% of the Rio Tinto-operated Eastern Range iron ore mine in Pilbara. China Metallurgical Investment Co (CMIC) put in $400 million for the Cape Lambert Iron ore project in WA in 2008. Nearby Emergent Resources is setting up a 50/50 venture to develop the Beyondie project after an approach by CMIC.
Hunan Valin will have two directors on the Fortescue Metals board after acquiring a 17% shareholding.
Shougang Corp China’s fourth biggest steel bought 13% of iron ore developer Australian Resources and had an option to go to 50% of the $US2.1 billion development of the Balmoral South mine and port project in WA through an interest free loan and also to buy the entire output. However it appears that Shougang will not go ahead because it cannot gain control.
In the WA Mid West the Chinese Government has made a determined effort to be dominant. Sinosteel completed a takeover of WA iron ore hopeful Midwest Corp. and would like to buy neighbouring Murchison Metals, but FIRB has limited it to a maximum 49%. It has 5.85% of the shares and one director on the board. Anshan Iron & Steel has 36.5 % of iron ore prospective Gindalbie and signed joint venture deal to develop the Karara Iron Ore project in Western Australia. It has a director on the Board, but obviously will have more say in the joint venture. Ansham has strong Chinese Government support for securing sources of long term iron ore supply. (From the press release announcing the FIRB approval.) The bulk of the money to start up will be funded by the China Development Bank.
In Tasmania the Savage River operation has a complicated structure, but clearly the Chinese are in control with the chairman and two board members. Shadong enabled the operation to consolidate debt with the Bank of China.
CITIC has a 22.5% stake in the Portland Aluminium Smelter. In September 2007 the Queensland Government awarded Chalco rights to develop $3 billion bauxite project near Aurukun, which Noel Pearson has claimed includes an unfair forced land grab.
In May 2009 China Nonferrous Metal Mining Co (CNMC): secured a 51.66% shareholding of rare earths company Lynas, subject to regulatory approval in Australia and China. There will be four CNMC directors on the board. CNMC also provided a corporate guarantee to a Chinese Bank. What is significant is that China already has 90% of the world’s supplies. Rare earths are used extensively in green technology. Yet ASIC allowed this deal to increase China’s near monopoly. The FIRB is examining the proposal, but has let another Chinese entity to buy 25%in the less advanced rare earths explorer Arafura Resources (The Age 18 July 2009).
Zhongjin, China’s third largest zinc producer took 52% of the Broken Hill based Perilya without any FIRB conditions in early 2009. Immediately ZL installed a majority of directors, despite protest from the Australian Shareholders Association that it was not good governance practice,.
OZ Minerals Limited was Australia’s third largest diversified mining company. It was the world’s second largest producer of zinc, a substantial producer of copper, lead, gold and silver and was also growing its production of nickel. The Ozmin takeover also added to Chinese zinc holdings through the Century and Rosebery mines. The Ozmin proposal had a newly developed copper mine inside the Woomera restricted area excised, leaving Ozmin as a listed company.
Kagara is a small mining company with polymetalic mines; major products are copper and zinc. Kagara has some interesting prospects as well. The FIRB has recently granted approval for Guadong Foreign trading Group to acquire a 19.9% shareholding, which entitles them to a seat on the board.
It would appear that China Inc now has control, over, or a substantial interest in, Australia’s zinc producers; maybe heading for a monopoly.
Yunnan Tin is purchasing an exploration project, the Hera gold -base metal deposit in NSW. YTC admits the prospect is normally too small, but it part of an acquisitions plan.
China Petrochemical Corporation: China’s biggest energy distributor secured 60% and control of the Puffin oil field in the Timor Sea from the struggling AED Oil in 2008. The deal values the assets at $1 billion. CNOOC holds a 25% share in China LNG, a new joint venture within the existing $19 billion North West Shelf structure that diluted the other six joint venture parties down to 12.5% each.
CITIC: spent $113 million in July 2007 lifting stake in Macarthur Coal from 11.6% to 19.9% but is now losing on the investment after the resources bubble burst.
Treasurer Wayne Swan has said that he is approving a Chinese investment proposal every week. Obviously China Inc. is in it for the long term and by swallowing small companies and exploration rights will eventually become a powerhouse in Australian resources.
Soft Power and the Confucius Institutes
The Confucius Institutes are an interesting development in Chinese diplomacy. The headquarters is in Beijing and it is under the The Office of Chinese Language Council International, i.e.. an arm of the Chinese Government. According to Wikipedia the first Confucius Institute was opened in 2004 and now there are 328 in 82 countries. Wikipedia records criticism inasmuch as these institutes are located within universities and exert influence over what is taught. It has also been suggested that they can be used for intelligence gathering (as distinct from spying). Australia had four established during the Howard regime, all in prestigious Group of 8 premium universities - UWA, Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney. All offer Chinese language assistance, calligraphy and painting. There has been a sudden increase in 2009 - University of New South Wales, University of Queensland and Queensland University of Technology. (The latter two in Rudd’s home state) This brings the total to seven; well over Australia’s share. The Chinese Government has clearly marked Australia for special attention. The Rudd Government has splashed cash around, but no more than a smidgen to the universities. The universities, strapped for funds, have welcomed investment without thought of compromising their integrity.
Professor Jocelyn Chey, a former diplomat and now lecturer in Chinese Studies at Sydney University, said Confucius institutes were primarily propaganda tools for the Chinese Communist Party and should not be integrated into the regular academic system. She told The Epoch Times* (15 October 2007).
I was concerned that the University of Sydney was entering into an agreement with the [Chinese] Ministry of Education without considering what the objectives of the Chinese side were, I understand that the university might see some benefits in doing that but they should be doing that with their eyes open.
Exactly. University academics, administrators and intellectuals are notoriously gullible when it comes to being taken in by flattery; e.g... many were blind to the horrors of Stalin and Mao and joined ‘Friendship Societies’, i.e. fronts.
The following material is drawn from the websites of the Institutes.
UWA won a Confucius of the year award in 2007. This institute is strategically highly important. Its mission reads: ‘...Forge strategic alliances with business, industry, government and other institutions with an interest in closer and more productive ties with China..’.
The Confucius Institute at the University of Adelaide, together with the Institute of Mineral and Energy Resources at the University of Adelaide held a forum on Chinese Investment in Australian Resource Industry on the 8th April 2009 at the National Wine Centre, Adelaide. The inaugural China Briefing was launched within the context that although Chinese investment in Australia is tiny in comparison to other foreign countries, there is a profound worry among some sectors of the Australian society about Chinese state owned enterprises buying up resource companies in Australia. It will come as no surprise that ‘... The forum reached a consensus that Chinese investment in Australia resource industries should be welcomed because it would bring many benefits to the Australian economy.’
At Melbourne University ‘With funding from both the Chinese and Victorian Governments, the Institute is co-located with the Australian China Business Council.’
Sydney University Confucius Institute staff (no less than 6) are exclusively Chinese. It offers what appears to be a comprehensive service to people wishing to travel to China on business and is less overt about promotion.
* The Epoch Times is published in English and Chinese. The headquarters are in New York, but an Australian edition is published. It is a strong supporter of Falun Gong, a spiritual discipline, which has been persecuted in China.
HANSON CASE PUTS MEDIA IN POOR LIGHT
News Ltd. publishers of The Sunday Herald Sun (Melbourne) and The Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph in Sydney, are down but not out, despite a groveling apology to Pauline Hanson, for publishing nude photographs wrongly claimed to be of her as a young woman. A very large cash settlement will follow. This story is not one of journalism’s finest moments, writes Alan Fitzgerald.
The amazing aspect of this case is how careless News Ltd’s editors were in not checking whether the photographs they purchased for $15,000 were of the Queensland politician. They seemed so eager to damage her reputation ahead of the Queensland State election that they went ahead with the publication and statements of the man who sold them the pictures. When I saw the photographs reproduced in The Sunday Telegraph my first reaction was that the young woman was not the 19 year old Pauline Hanson, although she looked similar to her. Others I spoke to that day had a similar impression.
I had only seen Pauline Hanson in Parliament House and on television during her subsequent political/celebrity career but I had my doubts about the photos authenticity. I also thought the young woman looked older than 19, more likely in her early twenties and she had a ‘harder’ face than Pauline Hanson. On closer comparison of published photographs of both women, it became apparent there were differences in the structure of the nose, chin and cheekbones of the women. On Sunday 15 March, the panel on the ABC Insiders program discussing what the weekend papers say had no doubt the woman in the photographs was Pauline Hanson. They didn’t express any sympathy for her but one member wondered why the boyfriend had taken so long to sell the photographs.
As they say, it did not require a degree in rocket science to spot the differences. However, the editor of The Sunday Telegraph, Neil Breen, had no doubts. This is what he said (as reported in The Australian on 17 March).
‘We spent all day checking making sure the photos were not doctored’, he said.
But what if the photographs were of another woman?
‘Oh (the chance) is about one in a million. The pics are of Pauline Hanson’.
That seems to be the limit of their checks yet had the editor or his assistants bothered to read Pauline Hanson’s Untamed and Unashamed autobiography or those books written about her, they may have realized two things: At the age of 19, Pauline was married and with two children. She wore her hair at shoulder length not cropped like the woman in the photograph.
Nick Leys, a reporter for The Daily Telegraph, had no doubts. His story on 15 March, said this:
‘Pauline Hanson’s political comeback has been derailed with the emergence of nude photographs taken 30 years ago by a boyfriend she met in a Brisbane shop. The photographs were taken in the mid-1970s and show Hanson, who was roughly 19 at the time, posing seductively in various states of undress’.
Mr Leys then went on to quote the so-called boyfriend of Pauline Hanson, one Jack Johnson, who sold the photographs to The Telegraph. Mr Johnson is reported as saying he was in the army at the time and met Pauline in a Brisbane grocery shop and they began seeing each other on a regular basis. Mr Johnson said she travelled with him to Coffs Harbour when he was invited to stay free at the opening of the Pelican Bay Resort. It was at this place that he took the photos of Pauline Hanson.
There is a basic flaw in this story to which I can attest. The Pelican Bay Resort didn't exist in the 1970s. It wasn’t built until the mid-1980s. I was given free accommodation there for a travel story in The Age, that’s how I know.
Melbourne’s Sunday Herald Sun which had published the photographs in tandem with its Sydney counterpart, tried to justify their publication. Robyn Riley told readers, ‘Public people are public property whether they like it or not. If Ms Hanson expects to be elected then her ideals, opinions, behaviour and beliefs must be scrutinised. People have a right to know the type of person they are being asked to endorse. Well, here she is’.
Pardon me, but I don’t think any law court in Australia would necessarily agree with that proposition. Playboy magazine style photographs taken 33 years ago have a bearing an candidate’s election prospects today? And if only journalists were subject to the same scrutiny that Robyn Riley demands for political candidates. Knowing a little about the person writing the article might give readers an insight into their beliefs, and the bias and prejudice they bring to their reporting.
Unfortunately for News Ltd, the scoop began to unravel by 17 March, when Mr Johnson interviewed on the Seven Network’s Today Tonight, did not rule out the possibility that he may have been mistaken. He said he only knew the woman to be Pauline from the name tag she wore in the grocery shop.
‘I my heart of hearts I believe it is Pauline Hanson, but what if I am wrong?
By this time the story had gone international. There were reports in the media in Britain, New Zealand, Asia and South Africa The Independent (UK) described the scandal as another dent to an already damaged reputation. Warming to the task, The Independent rashly proclaimed:
‘It’s hard to imagine that the reputation of Pauline Hanson, the former fish and chip shop owner turned right-wing firebrand, could sink any lower in Australia. But today her few remaining fans were cringing following the publication of raunchy photographs of her posing in lingerie, and nearly naked’.
Sorry it’s untrue. So how could her reputation ‘sink any lower’. [‘May I ask for aggravated damages, m’Lord’!]
The Straits Times in Singapore running an AFP story reported that Ms Hanson’s bid for a State Parliament seat had been ‘thrown into disarray’ by the scandal. In New Zealand, Network 3 News tried to weasel out of what was looking to be a problem for the Murdoch media. It said: ‘Pauline Hanson was only too happy to squeeze into skin tight black lycra and dance provocatively on national TV (Dancing With the Stars). But the woman who penned Untamed and Unashamed is more than a little ashamed by untamed photographs taken 33 years ago’.
Well, no and no.
At no time has Pauline Hanson admitted she was ashamed of the photos. She simply said it was not her, and she had never met Jack Johnson and had never gone to a motel/resort with him for a photo shoot.One also wonders at Network 3 New Zealand and its viewers who would regard ‘Dancing With the Stars’ as a venue for ‘provocative’ dancing. Hand my maiden aunt the smelling salts, please.
But let’s say the near nude photographs were of Pauline Hanson. What public interest is served by their publication? And how did what she may have done as a consenting adult in private 33 years ago square with dancing ‘provocatively’ on Dancing With the Stars? Surely, having your privacy invaded by a newspaper and TV network and choosing to participate wearing ‘skin tight black lycra’ (shock, horror!) . In a popular television program Dancing with the Stars is a no brainer. Can’t they see the difference?
The Age could not resist putting the proverbial boot into Pauline Hanson.
Rick Fenelly (17 March) claimed that Pauline Hanson might have to reveal her navel to prove she is not the woman in the photographs, when she takes News Limited and the Nine and Seven Networks to court for defamation. ‘ It would be one of many humiliations in her public life, including jail for electoral fraud of which she was later cleared’. To have an Australian court find on appeal that you had been wrongly imprisoned is not a public humiliation. It’s called vindication and justice. And Pauline Hanson got little of either because she was denied compensation for the time she spent in jail, unlike a Queensland magistrate who was also wrongly convicted but gained substantial damages.
By 18 March, The Australian (part of News Ltd) ran a story by Tony Koch in which it quoted the opinion of two experts – Associate Professor Gale Spring and forensic anatomist, Meiya Sutisno - who said the nude photographs were not of Pauline Hanson by comparing the facial features. Incredibly, the editor of The Sunday Telegraph, Neil Breen, continued to insist that the photographs were of Ms Hanson.
‘I have to say that I can’t look at those pictures without wondering how someone else could look at them and think it was anyone but Pauline Hanson’.
A colleague on the Telegraph praised ‘Breenie’ for having taken part in more than 30 interviews and having ‘navigated some fairly difficult waters’. And whose fault was that, we may ask?
For sheer front and bravado, the Sunday Telegraph took the prize in the following week when it ran a headline ‘We Prove the Hanson photos Were a Con’.
Why, we may ask, didn't you prove that before ypu chose t publish them?
By this time the game was up and Neil Breen was forced into a grovelling apology to Pauline Hanson. To try and cover his very bare arse, editor Neil Breen also then devoted two pages to attacking the persons from whom he bought the photos as a ‘Paparazzo involved in grubby deception’ and ‘Jack Johnson is a Liar and a Con Man’.
These miscreants had deceived our man at the Sunday Telegraph by not telling him about a another set of photographs about another famous woman claimed to have been taken by the man providing the ‘Pauline Hanson’ pics.
A nice try, Neil but frankly the misjudgment in publishing the’ Hanson’ photographs was yours alone. The editor might have written a story about himself headed,
Editor is Gullible and Incompetent Fool
but apparently he thought better of it. No public interest in the story, I suppose.
Pauline Hanson, who ran third in her latest attempt to win a seat in Parliament on the previous Saturday, can take comfort from the fact that a very big cheque will be on its way to her courtesy of News Limited. They have not a leg to stand on and would be foolish to defend the publication of the photographs in court (costs would be awarded against them).
Ms Hanson has engaged former journalist and defamation lawyer Stuart Littlemore to represent her. You may remember Littlemore as the formidable first presenter of Media Watch, excelling in sarcasm and caustic comment. He was like a headmaster admonishing small boys. He will enjoy this case, despite his left leanings. An out-of-court settlement involving somewhere between $500,000 to one million dollars should see the end of this tawdry episode in Australian journalism.
It is also interesting to note that none of the usual suspects in the civil rights industry and the feminist cause saw fit to comment on what had been done to Pauline Hanson by the media.
If one of the trendy left had been 'outed' in the way the Sunday Telegraph chose to treat the alleged photographs of Pauline Hanson, the public rending of garments and gnashing of teeth would have been loud and heartfelt. Indignation and rage would have filled the land.
Perhaps, next time.
SPOTLIGHT ON THE HILL
Foxhunter finds many incidents where the public interests are overridden by politicians, bureaucrats and laws designed by ‘touchy-feely ‘ and politically correct groups
MULTICULTURAL MADNESS 1
Foxhunter does not always agree with Cardinal George Pell but he was correct when he said many in the West have grown used to practicing self-censorship when it comes to Islam. “You can be persecuted for hate speech if you discuss violence in Islam, but there is little fear of hate -speech prosecution for Muslim demonstrators with placards reading, ‘Hamas, Hamas Jews to the Gas’.
The Cardinal was delivering a speech at Oxford University in which he said that the expense and time of defending frivolous hate-speech allegations and the anxiety from being ‘enmeshed in a legal process straight out of Kafka’ stifled robust discussion.
‘No one in the West today would suggest that criticism of Christianity should be outlawed’, said Cardinal Pell. What the Cardinal didn’t say was that the United Nations is considering a resolution that would make criticism of Islam an offence under International Human Rights law. This would be a preposterous infringement of free speech if adopted.
It is also interesting to note that Sydney’s Gay Mardi Gras parade continued its tradition of mocking Christianity but offered no satire or critique of Islam which condemns homosexuals to death and is hardly at the forefront of human rights.
Could it be that our gay and lesbian community is afraid of the deadly backlash from local Muslims if they mocked Islam?
MULTICULTURAL MADNESS 2
Cornelia Rau, the mentally ill German resident of Australia ,who received a $2.6 million payout for ‘wrongful’ detention when she refused to reveal her real identity to the Department of Immigration, for 10 months, continues to cost the Australian taxpayer a lot of money.
Once again off her medication – most recently in Jordan – Rau was picked up in the street and jailed for her own protection while the Jordanian authorities began preparations to deport her to her native Germany. Her relatives in Australia intervened and asked the Australian government to facilitate her return to Australia. The government obliged.
Consequently, her sister and another women believed to be a nurse, a male guardian and AFP officers accompanied her home on the flight from Amman to Australia. Two teams were involved. The second team taking over at Bangkok airport.
At Sydney airport Ms Rau was escorted by AFP officers to a waiting van and driven to a secure section of the domestic terminal where she showered, and changed her clothes before being escorted to the business section of the terminal to board her Adelaide flight. On arrival at Adelaide Ms Rau was escorted to a government vehicle and driven, accompanied by her nurse and guardian, in convoy to the Queen Elizabeth hospital
How much of this circus is being paid for by the Australian taxpayer and how much has been paid by her family out of the $2.6 million handshake Ms Rau received for her own confusion and refusal to cooperate with her lawful detainers?
Meanwhile, Ms Rau has been banned from visiting Turkey and forcibly hospitalized in Germany. You can bet she did not receive any ‘compensation’ there.
MULTICULTURAL MADNESS 3
A Mosque for Muslims at RMIT? Not yet. But don’t bet on it not happening. In some ways this is a test for the maintenance of secular values at Australian tertiary institutions. RMIT already provides eight Muslim prayer rooms as well as providing Muslim students with preferential access to two prayer rooms at its multi-faith Spiritual Centre.
The RMIT University Islamic Society is demanding that the two multi-faith prayer rooms at the city campus be designated for Muslims only. RMIT is a secular institution and does not provide consecrated religious spaces for Christians, Jews or Muslims. And why should it? Universities are not Islamic institutions but places for learning rather than blind faith. Australia is not an Islamic state.
And lastly, perhaps when Islamic nations themselves recognise diversity of belief and allow churches and prayer rooms for non-Muslims, then and only then should some of their more outrageous demands – like separate swimming pools for women – be considered. Despite being obliged to face Mecca and pray five times a day, Muslims appear no better behaved than other groups of people. They are as given as others are to murder, theft, robbery and infidelity.
MULTICULTURAL MADNESS 4
The following could happen soon in Australia, so it is worth recording.
At the conclusion of its second six-month tour of duty, the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Anglian Regiment paraded through the streets of Luton. They were applauded by most of the crowd in the street except for Muslims who held up placards with slogans including ‘Butchers of Basra’ and ‘Anglian soldiers, cowards, killers, extremists’. These protestors also accused the soldiers of gloating over the killing of innocent women and children.
There was a counter demonstration and two arrests were made. You guessed it – two white men – not the Muslims waving the placards and shouting abuse!
AN IRISH-AUSTRALIAN SONGMAN
Vincent Buckley: Collected Poems
edited by Chris Wallace-Crabbe
(John Leonard Press) pb 542 pages $34.95
Journey Without Arrival
The Life and Writing of Vincent Buckley
by John McLaren (Australian Scholarly Publishing) pb 387 pages rrp $39.95
Nigel Jackson reviews two books which commemorate the poems and life of one of the most significant literary figures post WWII, both as a poet and as a public intellectual.
Vincent Buckley (1925-1988) was a man of exceptional intelligence and rare sensibility who has left a very substantial literary legacy to Australia and the world, as is evidenced by this newly published collection of his poetry. The editor, Chris Wallace-Crabbe (himself a noted poet and longtime friend of Buckley), explains that the complete texts of all his earlier published books of poetry have been included, except for the first two, from which selections only have been chosen.
John McLaren, a successful academic and author of a number of earlier books, has provided a very sound and delightfully readable account of Buckley’s many-sided character and multi-stranded life. Modestly keeping himself very much in the background, McLaren explains in his preface that his book is neither authorized nor intended to be definitive. He states that he has tried to allow Buckley’s own voice to be heard as much as possible, and has hit on a clever method of regularly and often using italics to indicate Buckley’s actual language in the body of the text. ‘The poems are the product of his meditations on his own life and its intersections with history and eternity,’ McLaren writes. ‘Buckley’s writing recorded his lifelong search for home, community and love. When he died, he had arrived at no place where he could realise all three, but his mind and desk were filled with ideas to continue the journey.’
That, of course, explains the ingenious title; but in another sense Buckley arrived each time he completed a poem (to say nothing of his prose books and other writings); and this Collected Poems, escorted by McLaren’s biography, shows that he has arrived as a major figure in the tradition of Australian literature. We can anticipate in time the appearance of further studies of Buckley’s verse, as others wrestle with his by no means always easily comprehensible diction and attempt to ‘place’ him in comparison to the other significant poets Australia has produced.
Major strands in his life, which McLaren gracefully intertwines in his running narrative, include the following: his character, personality and nature; his poetry and views on poetry and poets; his lifelong membership of, and struggles with, the Catholic Church and its modes of Christian teaching and witness; his political commitments and activities; his family life, involving a difficult upbringing, two marriages and four daughters; his education and academic career in the English Department at the University of Melbourne over three and a half decades; his voluminous publishing output; and his ever deepening love of Ireland, birthplace of his ancestors and the source country of much of his finest imagination.
‘The child is father to the man.’ This was certainly true of Buckley, who was born of humble Irish stock in the Victorian countryside north of Mount Macedon just a few years before the Great Depression and would always thereafter be temperamentally a defender of the under-privileged and oppressed. He suffered from a blight thrown on to his family by his father’s suffering and loss of self-esteem in those hard times.
‘In new settlements,’ McLaren writes, ‘home is never a given, but is constructed by projecting our experience of time on to a particular place. It was a particularly painful concept for Buckley, partly because his experience of his father cast a shadow on his childhood home, and partly because he believed that his forebears had neither preserved their sense of a home in Ireland nor projected their desire for home on to their new land. In the most literal sense, he believed he had lacked a homeland.’ This contributed to his lifelong sense of being an outsider, despite the brilliant literary and academic career that led to his receipt of a personal chair in English.
Another key trait of Buckley’s was his impassioned love of freedom, whether for the writer or university teacher as an individual person, for the Christian as a member of a great but flawed sacred tradition, or for a whole people such as the Hungarians after their famous 1956 uprising against communist tyranny. ‘He was never reluctant to enter combats,’ notes McLaren, ‘however doubtful the outcome, if he thought the issue was important.’
Important insights into Buckley’s mature character are provided in tributes by various other poets and friends. Seamus Heaney, for example, commented on ‘the presence of his strong good mind, the mixture of ungullible intelligence, a sense of justice and a restrained, tempered disposition,’ and celebrated ‘the verity of his company’. ‘He was vigilant and unbegrudging at once,’ the great Irish poet added, ‘and had an authority that only came through his own traversing of various inner bridges. The force of his mind and the fact of his courage gave both his praise and his blame great weight.’
Buckley’s difficulty, as he matured, in maintaining a location for himself within the Catholic Church is not surprising. ‘I am not a canonical person,’ he wrote eventually, ‘and find orthodox formularies hard to remember, let alone believe in.’ In his twenties he had idealistic but unrealisable hopes of contributing to the establishment of a better society. McLaren sums this up succinctly: ‘For a few years he had a dream of freedom that allowed Catholic imperatives to be realized in fantasies of a world without bigotry where people turned aside to greet the stranger.’ Working for the Lay Apostolate in the University, Buckley and others were motivated by an ‘idea of the Incarnation’ enshrining ‘a God constantly revealing Himself in the world, not a God who has already spoken the final words on doctrine and morality.’
In his autobiography Cutting Green Hay Buckley wrote: ‘Great literature promotes development of our organic sensibility, enlarges our imaginative capacity; therefore expands redemptive work by enlarging understanding of the numinous. It opens people to the possibility of Christ, and to a sense of mystery.’ As McLaren observes, ‘Buckley was trying to find a position which would be as free as possible within the confines of Catholicism but which would recognize the sacramental and mystical strengths of traditional Catholicism that were in danger of being by-passed’ by trends such as liberation theology and the ‘social Gospel’.
It seems that a decisive moment came for him in 1970, when he delivered a paper in Canberra at a joint conference of the Universities Catholic Federation and the Student Christian Movement, entitled ‘The Strange Personality of Christ’, which was later published in the September-October edition of Quadrant. In this penetrating study Buckley writes of Christ as follows: ‘What most markedly characterizes him is the following three things: he has power, concentrated in his being, which is in part the power of an immensely concentrated emotional life; he is totally autonomous, and is the opposite of what Riesman called “other-directed man”, the man who governs his actions and attitudes by what other people want or expect; and he is, in Eliade’s term, an hierophany, and a creator of hierophanies.’
McLaren deals too briefly with this paper, although he does report Buckley’s opening summary that ‘the figure of Christ which is dramatized in the Gospels is far stranger than is usually acknowledged, and defeats all human expectations.’ McLaren also notes that Buckley’s realization of the significance of negative responses to the paper ‘moved him decisively beyond theological speculation and the authority of the Church.’
Nevertheless, Buckley’s funeral was thoroughly Catholic. ‘Eleven priests in their regalia, all friends, entered in procession to celebrate the Mass.’ Those present will remember the extraordinary intensity of living silence within Newman College Chapel just before the service began, as well as the utterly appropriate stirring and elegiac testament to a departing warrior played on the Irish pipes as Buckley’s body was taken out. It is a pity that McLaren does not testify to these extraordinary atmospheres, which themselves testified to the extraordinary life that had just ended.
Buckley had, among other things, lived his way through to an awareness that mainstream Christianity stands in need of a greater reformation than that of the 15th Century. It is curious that, though he knew of Mircea Eliade’s profound anthropological writings, he does not seem to have been significantly influenced by the ‘Perennialists’ of the school of Rene Guenon, who have done more than anyone else to define the nature of the necessary restoration of Tradition.
Most of Buckley’s political battles are a matter of past history now, but one, in particular, needs to be mentioned, and that is his struggle with other left-wing idealists who disapproved of his de facto alliance with Bob Santamaria and the National Civic Council in the effort to defeat communism on various fronts including Vietnam. There was a controversial phase of Buckley’s life when he came under the influence of the strongly anti-communist Psychology lecturer, Dr Frank Knopfelmacher. McLaren explains that Buckley ‘saw life as a battle between freedom and tyranny that made any dialogue (with communists) impossible….. (he) thought that the advocates of dialogue were wilfully neglecting necessary distinctions in favour of a general spirit of goodwill.’ McLaren is to some degree adversely critical of the positions Buckley took, but is fair-minded enough to admit in his preface that Patrick Morgan, another strongly anti-communist associate of Santamaria and Knopfelmacher at the time, is in strong disagreement with some of his analysis. One aspect that McLaren could have spent more time on is Buckley’s superbly insightful and magnanimous account of Santamaria in Cutting Green Hay. Buckley, of course, was not attracted to Santamaria’s rigidity of approach to Catholic dogma; but he did not let this deter him from what he believed were the political exigencies of the day.
Likewise, many of Buckley’s frustrations with ‘academic bastardry’ within his university faculty are now largely of archival interest only. However, his concept of a university remains relevant and admirable. McLaren explains that he ‘saw himself as a pluralist, believing that “there are no orthodoxies in evaluation or interpretation which we ought to support; that no ideology is privileged over others.”’ Buckley believed in ‘the principle that appointments should not be made nor courses established, nor research funded, on politico-ideological grounds, and “that people of quality should not be disadvantaged for research and teaching by their failure to toe a line or conform to a paradigm.”’ McLaren notes that throughout his career Buckley ‘remained faithful to his ideal of a university as a communal society and of teaching as a collaborative venture in learning: “open-minded, culture propagating, gradualist, not revolutionary.”’
By the time that he came to study at the University in 1946 Buckley already knew that his vocation was poetry. ‘His model for this was Yeats,’ McLaren explains, ‘whose creative life Buckley described as a sustained effort to uncover a “representative significance” in the actualities of life. This effort required a sustained discipline of self-knowledge, “a vocation and apprenticeship to living” that would use feeling and intelligence together to turn personal preoccupations into poetry that presented “representative conclusions drawn from life with joy.”’ Poetry was a way of discovering the truth. ‘Buckley believed that poetry would show the truth by uncovering the order of an immanent God whose indwelling made the world sacred.’
Another powerful influence on his writing was James Joyce. ‘The great topic that concerned them both’ was ‘the spiritual and moral paralysis that gripped the modern world.’ Where Buckley differed from Yeats, according to McLaren, was that, while he acknowledged ancient Ireland, including that of pre-Christian times, as the source of his imagination, ‘he did not share Yeats’ romantic absorption in the mythology and did not write about it directly in his poetry.’
Periodically McLaren provides his own helpful commentaries on milestones in Buckley’s career. One poem he does not mention but which is surely one of the very best ever composed by an Australian is ‘Buckham Hill’. In this short review this must serve as the chosen exemplar of Buckley’s achievement. Here is the first of its five sections:
Evenings thinned out like oilstains,
the roads turn, paths into woodland,
fences strain with moisture; and at
every halt you smell the rank
freshness of Surrey like an aureole
round each lamp; until, peering,
come on the house spread, volatile
in its stone rows of light,
settled and grainy in its banks of mist.
What a wonderful evocation this is of a complex experience of sensual and emotional delight in the approach to a home being visited in ‘the garden county of England’! The use of couplets establishes a slow but peaceful approach to the dwelling, while the abandonment of capital letters at the beginning of the lines avoids any kind of ‘pomp and ceremony’ crudity.
The opening image is at once arresting and strikingly original. It suggests a curious mixture of murky brown, gleaming surface and muted rainbows in an oil smear; thus, somehow, it conveys an unexpected beauty in what the ordinary gaze might have seen as only another rather drab English dusk. As the poem proceeds, we are given hints of an abundant natural life (‘moisture’, ‘rank freshness’) and of the presence of light within the general dimness (‘like an aureole/round each lamp’). ‘Aureole’, a splendid choice, also gently connotes the sacred; and these images indicate inner experience in the observer (first the poet, then the reader) as well as simple and delightful external experience. There is a very effective use of long syllables in the description of the house itself: ‘stone rows of light’ (the windows in the wall, evidently) and ‘grainy’. This helps convey the welcoming security of the home being approached; and the later word ‘settled’ enforces this lovely feel of stability, assurance and peace. Oddly echoing ‘aureole’ in sound values, ‘volatile’ provides a contrast with its invocation of something dynamic, furiously alive; while ‘grainy’ connotes the beauty of wood grain and the nourishment of grain foods – both relevant associations in this context. Finally, the concluding phrase ‘banks of mist’ has a touch of Romantic, even Celtic, beauty and just intimates the presence of living mystery.
And this extraordinarily rich and dense orchestration of words continues through the following four sections. Buckley may at times in his life have had wild revels, melancholy plunges, wanderings through hours and days of alienation or irritation; but here he has found out and redeployed the archetypal experience of happy homecoming – and with an amazing verbal inventiveness. In maturity, writes Peter Steele in his dagger-like introduction to the Collected Poems, Buckley ‘intensified his practice of instituting a personal ‘lore’ of places.’ Buckham Hill supports perfectly that perceptive observation.
Nigel Jackson is a poet (four books published), essayist, political commentator specializing in the defence of free speech and civil liberties, best known to the wider public for contributions in the Letters to the Editor columns in the newspapers.