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Book Launch Speech: Australia on the World Stage

The Rockhampton book launch of Australia on the World Stage: History, Politics, and International Relations (Routledge, 2022) took place on 9 November 2022 at Central Queensland University. It was officially launched by Vice Chancellor, Pr Nick Klomp. The below speech was delivered by co-editor Benjamin T. Jones.

L-R: Acting Dean of the School of Education and the Arts, Rickie Fisher, Benjamin T. Jones, and Vice Chancellor Nick Klomp.

I’d like to start by acknowledging that we are gathered on Darumbal country and pay respect to their elders and I acknowledge any Darumbal people who are here today. Coincidentally, Nick and I started working at CQU at the same time nearly 4 years ago and both traded the cold of Canberra for the warmth of Rockhampton and what a wonderful decision that has turned out to be. A few of my former colleagues expressed concerns at the time if I’d be able to remain as research active as I had been at a regional university but the answer is a resounding yes. This is the second book I’ve published since moving CQU and my third is well advanced, I’ve been a keynote speaker at a major international conference at the University of Texas, I’ve just returned from a Visiting Fellowship at the University of Cologne, I was elected National Secretary of the Australian Historical Association, I’ve been an invited speaker for the British houses of parliament and next month I’ve been invited to Canberra to speak at a symposium at our parliament house. And I say all this not to boast – well a bit to boast – but mainly to highlight that this is a research active university, we don’t just teach the research of others but CQU is publishing original research and taking part in important national and international conversations about history and in many other fields.

But research does take time, it is a lot of work and it requires a genuinely supportive academic environment, so before talking about the book, I’d like to thank Nick again for his ongoing support, our wonderful acting Dean Rickie Fisher, Celeste Lawson who is just the most encouraging supervisor you can ask for, and especially Mike Danaher who has been my most immediate and regularly called on mentor, supervisor, colleague and friend. I also want to acknowledge the School or Education and the Arts more generally, we have a vibrant, collegial, research active school and I impress on our students, especially those who go on to be history teachers that you should say with great pride that you are a graduate of this School. And I want to give particular honour to a man who couldn’t be here, but our former dean Bill Blayney has been a steadfast supporter since the day I arrived and I know he has gone in to bat for me on many occasions so I truly do thank him for seeing potential in me and value in my work.

So why publish a book like this? A re-examination of Australia’s history and especially of its foreign relations written by 15 leading academics. Well, definitely not because it is easy. A colleague once told me that organising a group of academics is like trying to herd cats, and there is definitely some truth to that. I found 15 hard enough so how Rickie does it so well with a whole school, let alone poor Nick with hundreds of us, I don’t know. It was probably a three year project to put this together and somewhere along the way, I swore to myself that my next book would be solo-authored but I’m very glad I persisted along with my wonderful co-editors Bridget Brooklyn from Western Sydney and Bec Strating from La Trobe because I genuinely believe that interdisciplinary works have an amazing power to open up research questions and start new rich conversations that might never have happened if we kept ourselves hidden in our respective silos.

Interdisciplinary collaboration strongly informs my research and my pedagogy, I completed by PhD at the ANU but deliberately chose not to do it in their School of History but rather in their vibrant Humanities Research Centre because the program exposed me to sociologists, anthropologists, artists, post-colonial scholars and I’m sure my own work was stronger for that. So with this book, we had an initial zoom symposium to discuss our chapter ideas and we had a leading China scholar like John Fitzgerald sharing ideas with distinguished historians like Carol Liston (both are Order of Australia recipients). We also had emerging superstars like Andre Brett who won the 2021 Crawford Medal, the most prestigious early career award in the Humanities, and James Blackwell, a proud Wiradyuri man who is a trail blazer of First Nations international relations.

So despite the occasional irritation of chasing up late chapters and the other slings and arrows that come with editing a book, it was such an honour to lead this project and I’m so grateful to our wonderful authors and most importantly, the diverse backgrounds of interests of the group means that the reader does get a truly unique history of Australia, I’m sure that no other Australian history has chapters dedicated just to Australia’s role as a colonising power in Antarctica like the one written by Elizabeth Buchannan, and Australia’s performance and influence at the United Nations, like the one offered by Jon Piccini and Roland Burke. These important chapters are the result of purposeful interdisciplinary collaboration and asking different questions to the ones a group of historian might have come up with on their own.

This book has been arranged in two parts. The first is a broadly chronological look at Australian history and the second is thematic looking at Australia’s relationships with the US, China, Japan, Indonesia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. It is a book that doesn’t necessarily have to be read in order and the chapters are coherent on their own. But taken as a whole, I hope the book challenges some of the lazy stereotypes about Australia’s place in the world. There are three chapters that examine Australia’s relationships with Britain and that reflects the historic impact of Britain on this country, but the list of chapters in part 2 demonstrate where Australia is in the world and the relationships which will be the most significant in the future.

In particular, I think Michael O’Keefe’s chapter on Indonesia is highly relevant not only for discussions of the past but especially for discussions of our future. And I’m delighted that our university has worked hard to forge a connection with Indonesia – and just by the by, my latest article for the Conversation was translated into Indonesian – they are interested in us but are we interested in them? Despite being two decades into the Asian century and more than 3 decades since the Garnaut report urged Australia to become Asia literate the old impulse to look to Britain for security is revealed in the recent AUKUS agreement.

As Paul Pickering cheekily notes in his foreword, the temptation to fall back on old habits and hide behind the ample trousers of a bumbling Etonian prime minister remain strong. Now Paul only wrote those words in June and yet it was out of date by the time the book was published not by one prime minister but two as both Boris Johnson and Liz Truss have fallen victim to the inner working of the British Conservative party – if only Rishi Sunak had gone to Eton, the line might have been accurate again. But I do think the whole episode suggests that if Australia is looking for security and stability, we might do better somewhere closer to home than 10 Downing Street.

I hope the book challenges readers to think deeply about Australia’s place in the world and also its history, ancient and modern. I have with me a few of the more significant Australian histories from the last century and if you’ll indulge me, I’d just like to read the opening lines. Keith Hancock’s Australia was first published in 1930 and was a popular school text and was continuously in print for about half a century. It begins, “Many nations adventured for the discovery of Australia but the British peoples alone have possessed her”. Manning Clark, perhaps the most influential historian ever in Australia, begins his 6 volume history from 1962 with these words: “civilization did not begin in Australia until the last quarter of the eighteenth century”. And another influential historian A.G.L. Shaw began his 1955 book the Story of Australia by stating, “During the greater part of the history of so-called civilized man, Australia remained a land unknown to the rest of the world, even to its nearest neighbours”. All three of these works are products of their time, of course, and even all these years later there is still a lot of value in reading them but the common narrative is that the Australian story doesn’t really begin until 1788. There were people here but Clark even draws the distinction between a culture and a civilization and even Shaw who throws in the qualifier “so-called” still presents First Nations as passive, static, inward-looking and with no place on the world stage. In the decades since, dozens of new histories have attempted to retell the story but as Stuart Macintyre noted in his still well-read Concise History of Australia from 1999, the British-centric story had been told to generations of Australians and it remains tenacious today.

We open the book noting that a recent prime minster tweeted that “Our modern Australian nation began on January 26, 1788”. This comment was made in the context of a culture war about the date of Australia Day but it still shows the persuasiveness of the British version of Australian history. Obviously the modern Australian nation did not begin in 1788 – that is before the states were formed, the constitution was written, the flag was designed or even the name Australia was coined. Legally at least, the Australia nation has a very clear and obvious beginning on 1 January 1901. The myth of Australia somehow beginning in 1788 has emotional power for some but is patently ahistorical. The Darumbal people here in Rockhampton were blissfully unaware on 27 January 1788 that any great change had taken place on Gadigal country the day before and carried on as normal for over half a century until the arrival of the Archers.

So one hope for this book is that it serves to decentre Britishness from the Australian story. It is an important part, but it is far from the whole story. What is now called Australia was home to engaged, open, and outward-looking people. The British arrived two centuries ago. It is now well-known that First Nations in Arnhem Land took part in what we would today call international trade with Macassans for at least than long prior to 1788. Archaeological research has found evidence of vast international trade networks that are thousands of years older. Pottery shards and other evidence on Lizard Island, 33 kilometres off the coast of northern Queensland, seem to confirm ‘an expansive seascape that linked communities from the Gulf of Papua and northern Queensland’ dating back to the late Holocene. As Billy
Griffiths writes, ‘the sheer antiquity of humanity in Australia – is difficult to fathom’.

The first substantive chapter is written by another proud Wiradyuri man, Lawrence Bamblett and it is simply called before Australia. It’s a chapter I learned a great deal from and serves as a reminder of how deep and rich the history of ancient Australia is – if indeed it is appropriate to still use the word Australia so many centuries before Flinders thought it up. The next chapter by Carol Liston starts with European contact in the early 17th century and finishes with the granting of responsible government in the 1850s. Again, it deliberately unanchors Australian history from Britain and 1788 and really highlights the role of fate and chance in history. Yes it was the British who colonised this land but it might also have been the Portuguese, Dutch, or French, or indeed the Chinese and it was never a certainty that there would be just one colonising power on the vast continent. And as Andre Brett highlights in the following chapter, the shape of the Commonwealth of Australia was never pre-determined either. The Mater Hospital here in Rocky has a particularly grand entrance because it was intended to be the Governor’s mansion after northern Queensland separated from Brisbane – a cause that probably would have been successful had the people of Rockhampton and Townsville agreed where the capital would be.

I’m interested to hear any questions people might have and the School has kindly provided a nice morning tea that I don’t want to keep you away from for much longer but if I can intrude on you patience for a few minutes longer I think there is a real contemporary as well as historical relevance to this book and I would highlight the important chapter by Bec Starting on our relationship with the United States and John Fitzgerald’s chapter on China, especially under Xi Jinping. In addition to the excellent scholarship, I think these chapters invite us to look beyond the false dichotomy of dependence and independence. They provide an alternative reading to the stubbornly persistent idea that Australia’s actions on the world stage have been limited to blindly following its imperial masters first the UK then the US. They suggest a more nuanced view, that Australia has been a deliberate actor on the world stage and that our foreign and defence policy has been shaped by a range of complex and intersecting influences.

Finally my own chapter is titled British Dominion to almost republic and traces the radical transformation of Australian national identity in the second half of the 20th century. It begins with the royal tour of 1954, the monarchic high water mark that saw rapturous crowds visit the new Queen wherever she went, including of course Rockhampton – only a two hour stop off, long enough to drive from the airport to town hall and back again but one that is still fondly remembered – the chair she sat on at town hall has even been preserved by the council and was recently on display. When the tour ended the Sydney Morning Herald uncontroversial concluded that Australia will always be a British nation.

Yet by the end of the following decade, Britain left Australia economically, militarily, and culturally – the attempt to join the European common market was seen as a rejection of preferential commonwealth trade, the east of Suez policy cemented the new reality that the US was Australia’s chief security partner – and even culturally the word British was reclaimed in 1961 to only mean the UK – though prime minister Harold Macmillan did give the prime ministers of Australia, Canada, and NZ a courtesy call to see if they objected – none did.

Generations of Australians have identified with the phrase used by Hancock in 1930 – Independent Australian Britons but following the changes of the 1960s – the Whitlam years and the dawning of a new nationalism, and especially with the passage of the 1986 Australia Acts which cut any ties to British parliament or courts – this was replaced by simply viewing ourselves as independent Australians. The republic referendum of 1999 failed of course and that story will be the topic of my next book – again definitely solo authored – and I can talk at length about the reasons why but suffice to say they are varied and multifaceted and particularly now that the long Elizabethan age has come to a close, it is likely that we will continue to debate what it means to be an Australian and what our place and role on the world stage is in the 21st century. I commend the book to you and thank you for your kind attention.

The book is available for purchase HERE

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Statement on the Livingstone and Rockhampton Boundary Survey Results

The official results of the survey can be found HERE.

I was disappointed to learn that the Livingstone and Rockhampton boundary survey returned a No vote of 54.6%. The result is unfortunate for three reasons.

The first is that the people of Glenlee, Glendale, and Rockyview have now clearly stated that they want to be part of Rockhampton Council four times and still their wishes are being ignored. Of the affected localities, 58% voted Yes, but once again their voices have been swamped. Nobody likes paying rates but there is at least some comfort when you know those funds are going to the local area where you live and work. It is fair to ask why it was not a small, simple survey only of the affected residents.

The second reason why this result is disappointing is because the survey and the campaigns were conducted at significant cost but did not return any useful new data. We already knew that the northern suburbs wanted to be in Rockhampton. We already knew that most people in Rockhampton would support it and most people in Livingstone would oppose it. What we did not get from Livingstone was a plan or vision to develop the northern suburbs and grow the whole region. Questions over the efficiency and financial sustainability of smaller councils like Livingstone remain.

Lastly, it has been disappointing to watch the debate over boundaries descend into low politics. At its nadir, there was name calling and an implication that Rockhampton Council was somehow being greedy or tricky in putting a question forward. The No campaign slogans accusing Rockhampton of a land grab were historically inaccurate and have left a rift among neighbours that will take some time to heal.

Moving forward, my hope is that we can repair some of the damage done and remind ourselves that we are all Central Queenslanders, we share the beautiful Capricornia region and our political leaders serve us best when they focus on the things that unite us.

Image from Electoral Commission Queensland
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Book Review: “Winston Churchill: His Times, His Crimes” by Tariq Ali

This book review was originally published in The Conversation.

Only one prime minister is honoured with a statue on the grounds of the Australian National University. Despite the university’s name, it is not an Australian. Rather, the stern face of Britain’s war-time prime minister Winston Churchill greets students on the Canberra campus. Although the ANU was founded in 1946, the Churchill statue is not a gesture of post-war admiration. A replica of a statue in Parliament Square, London, it is owned by the Winston Churchill Trust and was erected in 1985.

Why would the ANU decide to honour a British prime minister two decades after his death? According to author Tariq Ali, excessive admiration of Churchill, which he calls a cult, is not a result of his wartime leadership in the 1940s but was deliberately cultivated, in Britain and the wider English-speaking world, by his Conservative successors in the wake of the 1982 Falklands War.

The Churchill statue on the on the corner of Balmain Crescent and Liversidge Street on the ANU campus

For Ali, an Oxford-educated journalist and film maker and towering figure in the international left, the cult reflects a nostalgia for empire. It is now, he argues, virtually uncontested with support from “all three [UK] political parties and the large trade unions”.

A long-standing contributor to the Guardian and editor of the New Left Review, Ali is a prolific and iconoclastic author who has written scathing accounts of US Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. In Winston Churchill: His Times, His Crimes, Ali turns his attention not so much to the historical Churchill as his legacy and place in public memory.

Ali’s book is not a conventional biography. He explains that library shelves already groan under the weight of Churchill biographies, several of which, in his opinion, amount to hagiography. Rather the book serves as one long argument (at over 400 pages perhaps unnecessarily long) that the lionising of Churchill’s legacy in books and film is not only historically problematic but deleterious for modern politics.

Ali asserts, “that Churchill was a racist is indisputable”. He has plenty of primary material to sustain this claim. Instead of the usual blurb, the book’s back cover consists of a series of racist and sexist comments attributed to Churchill.

He informed the 1937 Peel Report on the British mandate in Palestine that First Nations in North America and Australia had been colonised by “a stronger race, a higher-grade race”.

According to former British PM Harold Macmillan, Churchill floated “Keep England White” as a campaign slogan for the 1955 election. Perhaps most damning is the recollection of Churchill’s friend, the politician Violet Bonham Carter: when asked his opinion on China in 1954, he reportedly replied, “I hate people with slit eyes and pigtails”.

For Ali, it is not Churchill’s racist views but the way they informed his policies that demands more attention. In popular memory, Churchill’s leadership in the second world war attracts the most praise. Ali joins a growing body of literature calling for a reassessment of Churchill’s legacy in light of the 1943 Bengal Famine where more than 3 million Indians (Ali claims 5 million) starved to death under British administration.

Churchill’s view that “Indians breed like rabbits” was surely relevant to his decision not to deliver food supplies to Bengal during this famine as a matter of urgency.

Another of Churchill’s “crimes” for Ali was the brutal suppression of the largely communist Greek Resistance to the Nazis. Stalin and Churchill had agreed that Greece should remain within the western sphere of influence after the second world war but this decision led to the Greek Civil War, which raged from 1944-49 and cost over half a million lives.

In one bloody episode in Athens on 3 December 1944, the British army fired on partisan civilians, many of whom had fought with the Allies against the Nazis. For Ali, “the British Army and its Greek auxiliaries were guilty of serious war crimes, some bordering on genocide”.

Unsurprisingly, these violent episodes are missing from films like 2017’s Darkest Hour which focused narrowly on Churchill’s refusal to negotiate with the Nazis, climaxing with his famous “fight them on the beaches” speech.

Ali does not suggest that Churchill is solely responsible for complex tragedies like the Bengal Famine or Greek Civil War but he argues that it is common practice to assign individual blame to Stalin for the Five Year Plan or Mao for the Great Leap Forward. It follows, he suggests, that Churchill should at least be “added to the list” of those responsible for these deaths. Some might dismiss this as specious logic but Ali challenges the reader to ask if Churchill’s popular veneration in books and films omits important details.

If Ali’s goal is to write a coruscating account of Churchill’s life to balance the flattering ones, he is most effective in the first substantive chapter.

Born into an aristocratic family in Oxfordshire in 1874, Churchill grew up in Ireland where his grandfather was Viceroy. Ali portrays young Churchill as a victim of “parental neglect” who found solace in dreams of imperial glory. Desperate for his father’s elusive approval, he trained for a military career and saw action in the late 19th century both as a journalist and officer.

From Cuba to India, Sudan to South Africa, Ali provides extended extracts from Churchill’s letters and memoirs to show a consistent enthusiasm for European imperialism and a profound disgust for those he felt should be ruled over.

For instance, when the 22 year old Churchill discovered the mutilated bodies of British soldiers in northwest India (today Pakistan), he denounced the Pashtun perpetrators in his diary as “miserable and brutal creatures” and “pernicious vermin”. There was no reflection on the violence the British army had carried out on the Pashtun or why British rule might be resisted. Churchill is portrayed as the epitome of Rudyard Kipling’s “White Man’s Burden” justifying all acts of military cruelty as part of a perceived civilising mission.

There is little original research in this work, or new historical insight on Churchill’s career, but Ali makes his opinion of the existing literature clear. He approves of Clive Ponting’s 1994 revisionist biography, which was one of the first to challenge the the Churchill “myth” of the 1980s, calling it the “most objective” and quoting from it liberally. He is more critical of the biographies written by Liberal politician Roy Jenkins in 2017 and historian Andrew Roberts in 2019. Both, according to Ali, downplay Churchill’s fondness for Mussolini and “tend to side-step his more gory effusions”.

Churchill had a long career and his biographies tend to be necessarily lengthy. Following his military career in the late 19th century he entered parliament as a Conservative in 1900, switching to the Liberals in 1904. He was First Lord of the Admiralty during the first world war but was compelled to resign in 1915 following a series of military disasters culminating in the bungled Gallipoli campaign. A tenacious politician, he switched his allegiance back to the Conservatives in 1924. Following Neville Chamberlain’s resignation, Churchill became Prime Minister from 1940-45 and again from 1951-55. He died in 1965.

While Churchill received a state funeral and tributes from around the world, Ali is quick to point out that against a backdrop of international decolonisation, he had his critics too. Ali quotes from Howard Brenton’s 1974 production, the Churchill Play, which opens with a debate about his legacy. “But ‘e won the war” opines one mourner. “People won the war. He just got pissed with Stalin,” comes the reply.

One of the most useful aspects of Ali’s book is highlighting how recently the cult of Churchill formed. He notes that, “rather than a subject of intense historical scrutiny, Churchill has become a burnished icon …”

Ali follows the lead of writer Anthony Barnett who argued in a 1982 issue of New Left Review that the new enthusiasm can be called “Churchillism”. The “Churchill industry” is so successful that a 2002 nationwide BBC poll voted him the “greatest Briton” ahead of Shakespeare, Darwin or Elizabeth I.

Ali estimates there are more than 1600 biographies of Churchill, most produced after 1982. Within this cult, Churchill embodies the British fighting spirit and a rugged determination to stand up to evil. Tony Blair presented a bust of Churchill to George W. Bush in 2001 in an attempt to draw parallels to the War on Terror. After Obama moved it, Donald Trump symbolically returned the bust to the Oval Office.

But the cult remains most potent in the UK. Boris Johnson’s 2014 book The Churchill Factor was an unsubtle but ultimately successful attempt to gain political capital from this legacy.

The structure of Ali’s book roughly follows Churchill’s career but Ali frequently goes off on lengthy tangents that do not necessarily strengthen his case, from a verbose discussion on Vladimir Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg to a potted history of Irish republicanism to nearly 10 pages on the history of Zionism. These digressions are interesting, if contested, but come at the expense of a tighter focus on the book’s subject. The chapter on Japanese imperialism barely mentions Churchill at all except to say he underestimated the military threat Japan posed during the second world war.

This is not an academic publication and while the book includes footnotes rather than end-notes (usually a virtue for this reader), they are so sparsely used it is not always clear where the information is coming from. The index is also poor. There is no entry for “Gallipoli” despite Ali placing great importance on Churchill’s mishandling of the campaign. The book is also littered with excessively long quotes, not just from relevant primary sources but extended extracts from other writers too. Several page-long poems also seem to serve no real purpose.

Ali finishes his book with a general assessment of modern international relations. He argues that the US has inherited the British imperial mission and the UK is now “little more than a US satrapy”. For Ali, despite the setback in Vietnam, the US used its military might to preserve the architecture of white supremacy. In a vivid metaphor, the UK and Australia are described as “two-testicle states” for their firm support of the US against China.

Ali is highly critical of the 2003 War in Iraq and argues an “extreme centre” has taken over politics in many western countries with increasing numbers of young people not seeing any point in voting. Ali draws a link between the War in Iraq and Churchill, arguing that:

it’s being carried out in different times and different circumstances, but its aims are no different to that of Churchill’s empire.

Ironically, by seeing Churchill’s long hand as something that continues to shape modern politics, Ali makes him a larger figure than even the high priests of his cult. There would have been more merit in a shorter and more tightly focused book which held up the actual historical Churchill to the romanticised patriot imagined in the 1980s.

Ali is strongest when using primary material to paint Churchill as a racist opportunist. He is weakest when suggesting that his mission was to create an “umbilical chord made of piano wire” so the Americans would continue his work in perpetuity.

Ali’s book is polemical and will have a ready-made audience with those who already see Churchill as a symbol of British imperialism. It is not a balanced (or complete) overview of Churchill’s life but the author will see his scathing account as a needed correction to the plentiful supply of fawning biographies.

The Churchill statue in London was vandalised in anti-capitalism protests in 2000, anti-student fee protests 2010, and Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. In Canberra, the replica has been the target of increased protest since 2020. The Winston Churchill Trust recently came to an agreement with the ANU BIPOC department to install a critical plaque as well as a “counter-monument”.

Debates over Churchill’s life and legacy will continue in Britain and around the world. While the contribution to historical scholarship is minimal, Ali’s book is an important addition to the Churchill debates and a warning against political deification.

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Why did the Nazis use the word socialist? Someone asked Hitler in 1923

One truly insidious aspect of the post-truth or post-fact world is that, as journalist Ali Velshi puts it, it is an incredible ‘time suck‘. Instead of meaningful debate, time is wasted having to establish even the most basic facts.

The fact that Nazism was a fascist ideology rooted in ultra-nationalism and white supremacy is well-established and uncontroversial among historians. And yet, the claim, largely pushed in alt-right circles, that the Nazis were in fact left-wing socialists has been persistent enough to prompt fact-checking site Snopes to cover the claim. It is a topic that has also excited Twitter.

The root of the claim is simply that the Nazi Party were formally called National Socialists. This, in itself, obviously does not carry the argument. North Korea is formally called a democratic republic. In practice it is neither.

So why did Hitler use the term socialist? In 1923 George Viereck interviewed him and asked that very question. Initially considered not newsworthy, the major papers did not publish it. A decade later, with Hitler set to seize power, an edited version of the interview was republished in Liberty magazine on 9 July 1932.

You can read the whole interview here: Hitler interview

Below is the relevant excerpt. Clearly Hitler is trying to redefine the word socialist. At the very least it is highly misleading to claim the Nazis were socialists without acknowledging that they had an unorthodox definition and also that the regime was openly hostile to what we would ordinarily call socialism.

It is interesting also that Hitler considered the Liberal Party as a possible title. If he had gone down that path, it would obviously have been a perverted and unorthodox version and it would be misleading to associate either classical or modern liberals with Nazism.

“Why,” I asked Hitler, “do you call yourself a National Socialist, since your party programme is the very antithesis of that commonly accredited to socialism?”

“Socialism,” he retorted, putting down his cup of tea, pugnaciously, “is the science of dealing with the common weal. Communism is not Socialism. Marxism is not Socialism. The Marxians have stolen the term and confused its meaning. I shall take Socialism away from the Socialists.

“Socialism is an ancient Aryan, Germanic institution. Our German ancestors held certain lands in common. They cultivated the idea of the common weal. Marxism has no right to disguise itself as socialism. Socialism, unlike Marxism, does not repudiate private property. Unlike Marxism, it involves no negation of personality, and unlike Marxism, it is patriotic.

“We might have called ourselves the Liberal Party. We chose to call ourselves the National Socialists. We are not internationalists. Our socialism is national. We demand the fulfilment of the just claims of the productive classes by the state on the basis of race solidarity. To us state and race are one.”

The interview is in The Penguin Book of Interviews (London: Viking, 1993), pp.292-296.

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Book Launch Speech: “This Time: Australia’s Republican Past and Future” by Benjamin T. Jones

I was thrilled to have my new book on the history and future of Australian republicanism launched in Sydney by Chair of the Australian Republican Movement, Peter FitzSimons, and in Canberra by Shadow Minister for an Australian Head of State, Matt Thistlethwaite. Below is the speech I delivered at the Sydney launch. The book can be bought HERE.

Good evening fellow citizens. Thank you for coming out to support me and this new book and more importantly for supporting the noble cause of an Australian republic.

We have just survived January, the month where Australia has its annual identity crisis and the media is littered with articles proposing change. This year has been dominated by calls to change the date of Australia Day but there are also calls to change the flag, change the coins and, of course, to change the constitution so that Australia can have an Australian head of state.

Those who are passionate about these causes tend to see them as distinct from each other. And while they are different – a republic doesn’t need a new flag or vice-versa – there is clearly some overlap. The tension points when it comes to Australia’s constitution and national symbols are all places where anachronistic emblems of empire remain.

Is it a problem that these imperial relics remain in modern Australia? I would argue that it does because the purpose of national symbols and imperials symbols is quite different. National symbols exist to promote uniqueness whereas imperial symbols promote homogeneity.

At the Canberra book launch with Michael Cooney

In my new book, I differentiate between two Australias. There is no revolution, no precise date, and no definitive turning point, but the Australia that federated in 1901 is simply not the same as the Australia that cheered Cathy Freeman onto gold in the 2000 Olympics. I call this Old Australia and New Australia.

Old Australia saw itself as British first, Britons who lived abroad. Old Australia wanted a flag that did not stand apart but was similar to the one flown by British subjects in New Zealand or Canada. Old Australia celebrated, not Australia Day but Empire Day like their fellow Britons around the world. And, of course, Old Australia recognised and revered the British monarch just as much as their kith and kin at “home”.

New Australia is fundamentally different. It is different at a psychological and philosophical level. Psychologically, Australians no longer identify as Britons abroad but simply as Australian. Of equal importance, Australia has grown into its democracy. At a philosophic level, Australians do not accept that some are born to rule and others to serve. We are all equal under the Southern Cross and the principle of egalitarianism is a national totem.

Australians are good at celebrating our sporting achievements, we are good at respecting our Anzacs and remembering our military history, and historically we have been very good at showering honour on the British royals.

But Australia also has a remarkable democratic tradition and we should get better at cherishing our democracy. From the secret ballot to votes for women to compulsory voting, Australia has been a world leader in its commitment to democracy. But our democracy cannot be perfect unless every public position is filled democratically.

This new book has a lot of interesting history in it. It looks at colonial republicanism, the identity crisis after empire, the 1999 referendum and the current republic debate. It contains many suggestions for the way forward: a proposed preamble, a hybrid republic model that takes advantage of our current federal system, and a refutation of monarchist arguments. But most importantly, the book is conversation starter.

If we really care about our democracy and want the principles of meritocracy and egalitarianism enshrined in our law as well as our hearts, then republicans must fire up and push the issue back onto the national agenda.

I say this is an expectant Dad, until we can say to our children that they can grow up to be anything they want in this great country – and mean it – until we can honestly say to our kids you can rise as far as your talent and effort will take you, even to the very top – until we can say that truthfully, the system is broken. Let’s fix it.

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Book Review: “Fight Like A Girl” by Clementine Ford

Even as I write this, the irony is not lost on me that Clementine Ford absolutely does not care what I or other men think about her book, Fight Like A Girl (A&U, 2016). It is a “love letter to the girls” and a passionate treatise calling for women to not ask but demand gender equality (p.283).

For a public figure renowned for her toughness and combative style, the book is replete with disarmingly personal moments. Ford makes herself touchingly vulnerable as she shares intimate details of her struggles with body image, anorexia, self-esteem, mental illness, and the lingering stigma associated with choosing an abortion.

Regardless of whether they agree with Ford in particular, of feminism more generally, there is a lot in this book that women will find valuable, interesting, relatable, and funny.

But, this book is also a great read for men. There are two groups of men especially who really could benefit from reading this book. First, there are men who think everything is equal now so feminism has no point (except to serve as an angry cabal of men haters). The second group is male feminists or feminist allies.

For the first group, Ford does an excellent job of pointing out the societal inequalities that still exist between the genders. Yes, women can vote. Yes, women have the same legal rights but you don’t need to be Margaret Mead to appreciate that culture defines us and regiments our behaviour in powerful ways.

For the first group, Ford does an excellent job of pointing out the societal inequalities that still exist between the genders. Yes, women can vote. Yes, women have the same legal rights but you don’t need to be Margaret Mead to appreciate that culture defines us and regiments our behaviour in powerful ways.

The discussion on childlessness and abortion is particularly poignant. Ford writes:

Why is it that men who prioritise adventure and independence over family are called ‘committed bachelors’ and ‘wanderers’ who just can’t be tied down, but women who similarly pursue a life free from burdens are called ‘spinsters’ and ‘cat ladies’  and are viewed as pitiful cautionary tales?

It’s because men are given the complexity to be fully rounded individuals while women are still treated like plants in need of a man’s attention to fully bloom (p.130).

One only has to consider the treatment of Australia’s first female prime minister to see this double standard in action. For the litany of colourful insults thrown at male politicians, none had ever been deemed unsuitable for leadership on account of being “deliberately barren” before. Anne Summers has written a depressing NSFW article that catalogues some of the gendered and often sexualised and/or violent attacks Gillard received on a regular basis.

At times, I did find myself thinking that men and boys do face many of the same struggles. Especially when Ford discusses depression, anxiety, and issues relating to body image, there is a sense that both genders suffer from stigmatisation and both are exploited by a ruthless capitalism that always has a new product to make you the perfect man or woman.

The chapter on rape culture was the most distressing. Yes, we have come a long way, and yes, women are far more free than they were 40 years ago, let alone, a century or more. We definitely still have a while yet to go. As Ford dissects the rape and murder of Jill Meagher, the inescapable conclusion is that we still place unfair and contradictory societal expectations on women that men simply do not experience.

Perhaps it is the horrific nature of rape that clouds our vision. We are so reluctant to face this issue honestly that we create list of reasons why it was really the victim’s fault all along.

Ford highlights the mixed messages we send women about their own safety and their responsibility to not be assaulted:

You know the drill. Don’t walk alone at night. Don’t wear revealing clothes. Don’t drink too much. In fact, don’t drink at all. Don’t talk to strange men, but don’t ignore men who are probably just trying to have a conversation with you – can’t a man even have a conversation with a woman these days without being accused of being a rapists, how dare you unfairly malign all men with your paranoia and man-hating … ?

What do you mean, you let him walk you home? What were you thinking? Don’t you know how dangerous that is? … What do you mean, you won’t let me walk you home? … I’m not a threat to you, how dare you make me feel like a might be a threat to you! … That’s the problem with feminism, it makes out all men to be rapists (p.237).

Depressingly, there are just too many examples of women being raped and killed only for the media to discuss the ways they brought it on themselves or how lamentable it is that a man’s life has been ruined by “20 minutes of action“.

So yes, it is great to acknowledge how far we have come in terms of gender equality, but for men to decide feminism is now obsolete is to display a woeful lack of empathy. There are instances yet, where men and women are simply not treated equally.

But what of the second group? What of the right-on, progressive, Enlightened males of the planet who happily identify as feminists? While Ford does dedicate a chapter to “the good guys” it is not the standing ovation some have come to expect simply for showing up to the feminist party. As she puts it, feminists “are under no obligation to reward men for being basically okay”.

This can be a bitter pill to swallow, but in the same way no one would expect applause for believing people of different races should be equal, there is no reason to consider men who desire gender equality particular virtuous.

Ford is especially critical of White Ribbon Day and similar events which, in her view, boils down to women heaping praise on men for promising not to be violent. As I read her critique, I remembered standing with my 10 year old nephew at a Wanderers game and saying the White Ribbon Oath. It was a good thing. And it was a great moment to reiterate that violence against women is never okay.

That said, Ford’s argument is strong when she suggests the front line workers at rape crisis centres are far more deserving, not only of funds but of the accolades that are so freely given to male sports stars for being a “champion of change“.

Glamour Magazine’s announcement that Bono is their 2016 “woman of their year” is a case in point. Ford certainly had something to say about that. It is great, of course, when men show an interest in gender equality, but the accolades should be primarily reserved for the women who have led the movement and done the thankless heavy lifting for decades.

Ford is a polarising figure. Her fans love her and will take the message and lessons from Fight like a Girl to heart. Her thousands of online haters will continue to troll her, threaten to rape her, tell her she is too ugly to rape, and spew the usual unfiltered misogyny.

For those in the middle, those who sorta agree but not always, those who support gender equality but think feminism has lost its way, those who think Ford is right in principle but is too angry and combative in her approach (that is like so unfeminine); this is a great read, if only to understand where she is coming from.

While the book is aimed at women and will (probably) be read mainly by women, there is a lot of worthwhile stuff in here for men too. There is no obligation to agree with everything (or anything) Ford says, but from one bloke to others, it is worth at least attempting to understand why feminists insist the fight is far from over.

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Attention Year 12 Students: Your ATAR score does NOT define you

I still remember feeling deflated in late 2000 when I checked my Yr 12 HSC results. There was only dial-up internet back then (for anyone under 30, computers used to make this wild noise before you could go online). After an eternity of clicking and refreshing, I eventually discovered my mediocre marks.

I honestly do not remember what my ATAR was. It was somewhere in the low 70s and I was pretty disappointed. I had not bombed but had not shone. Did this mean I was destined to be an average person my whole life?

Your ATAR does NOT define you and does not determine your future. It says little about your ability and potential and nothing about your character and worth. You are more than a number.

In my personal case, school was too rigid and constrictive and I never felt motivated to give more than a minimal effort. I left school and played guitar in a band for a couple of years. I travelled, I read, and I worked various jobs. At 22, I decided I wanted to become a history teacher.

The atmosphere and culture of a university campus is incomparable to high school (at least the stuffy, private Christian school I attended). I thrived in the university environment and ended up completing a PhD. I am now a published historian and teach at a university. I give my undergraduates the same advice every year: forget about school.

There are so many other examples. Brilliant writer and comedian, Catherine Deveny, scored 51 in her final Yr 12 English exam. In 2014, her story, The Rainbow House, was used as a HSC text. Scores of high school drop outs have gone on to become hugely successful in business, sports, and entertainment. Paul Keating left school at 15 and became one of the most successful federal treasurers in Australian history, and later prime minister.

Paul Keating went from high school drop out to Australian prime minister.

Success in life and success in the HSC are completely different things. I know people who nailed the HSC but struggled terribly at university. I know others who never sat the HSC but thrived in the business world and eventually were paid by their company to complete a degree.

The pressure placed on students to excel at the HSC is completely disproportionate to its importance. If you are committed to a particular university course and you do not get in initially, see that as an opportunity. Take time out to assess your goals. Complete a TAFE diploma. Travel. Work. Experience life as an adult. You will eventually get your shot at university and in my experience, the best students do not come straight from high school anyway.

If your ATAR is high then congratulations. You’ve worked hard and reaped the reward. If it is low, or you did not get one, do not fret. Your story is just beginning and as the years go by, school marks will fade into insignificance. If, like me, your ATAR is mediocre, remember you are anything but!

Find your passion, follow your dreams, watch the brilliant, late Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society, and carpe diem baby.

(One last post script for the under 30s: you probably didn’t get the reference but Carpe Diem Baby is a 1997 Metallica song.)