John Pilger on why Julia Gillard is the new warlord of Oz

The rise to power of Australia’s first female prime minister led to hopes for political change. But her leadership promises little movement on land rights.

The Order of Mates celebrated beside Sydney Harbour the other day. This is a venerable masonry in Australian political life that unites the Labor Party with the rich elite known as the big end of town. They shake hands, not hug, though the Silver Bodgie now hugs. In his prime, the Silver Bodgie, aka Bob Hawke, or Hawkie, wore suits that shone, wide-bottomed trousers and shirts with the buttons undone. A bodgie was a 1950s Australian Teddy Boy and Hawke's thick grey-black coiffure added inches to his abbreviated stature.

Hawke also talked out of the corner of his mouth in an accent that was said to be "ocker", or working class, although he was of the middle class and Oxford-educated. When he was president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, his popularity rested on his reputation as a hard-drinking larrikin, an Australian sobriquet once prized almost as much as an imperial honour. For Hawke, it was the disguise of one whose heart belonged to the big end of town, who cooled the struggles of working Australians during the rise to power of the new property sharks, mineral barons and tax avoiders.

Indeed, as Labor prime minister in the 1980s, Hawke and his treasurer Paul Keating eliminated the most equitable spread of personal income on earth: a model for the Blairites. And the Great Mate across the Pacific loved Hawkie. Victor Marchetti, the CIA strategist who helped draft the treaty that gave America control over its most important spy base in the southern hemisphere, told me: "When Hawke came along . . . he immediately sent signals that he knew how the game was played and who was buttering his bread. He became very co-operative, and even obsequious."

After the coup, capitulation

The party overlooking Sydney Harbour on 12 July was to launch a book by Hawke's wife, Blanche d'Alpuget, whose effusions about the Silver Bodgie include his single-handed rescue of Nelson Mandela from apartheid's clutches. A highlight of the occasion was the arrival of the new prime minister, Julia Gillard, who proclaimed Hawke her "role model" and the "gold standard" for running Australia.

This may help explain the extraordinary and brutal rise of Gillard. In 48 hours in June, she and Mates in the party's caucus got rid of the elected prime minister, Kevin Rudd. Her weapons were Rudd's slide in the opinion polls and the power and prize of Australia's vast trove of minerals. To pay off the national debt, Rudd had decreed a modest special tax on the profits of giants such as BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto. The response was a vicious advertising campaign against the government and a threat to shut down mines.

Within days of her coup, Gillard, who was Rudd's deputy, had reduced the new tax and the companies' campaign was called off. It was a repeat of Hawke's capitulation to the mining companies in the 1980s when they threatened to bring down a state Labor government in Western Australia. Like her predecessors, Gill­ard is complicit in a land-grab of the one region of Australia, the Northern Territory, where Aboriginal Australians have land and mineral rights. The deceit is spectacular and historical. The government claims it is "protecting" black Australian children from "abuse" and "neglect" within their own communities. Official statistics show that the incidence of child abuse is no different from that of white Australia and the true cause of Aboriginal suffering is a systemic colonial racism that denies housing, water, roads, adequate health care and schools to indigenous people, and which harasses and imprisons them at a greater rate than in South Africa under apartheid.

Since her coup, Gillard has reaffirmed this racism at the heart of policymaking. Australia takes fewer refugees than almost any other country, yet Gillard is using their "threat" to outdo the hysterics of an especially primitive opposition. Gillard's "hard line" on refugees has been welcomed by the openly racist former MP Pauline Hanson as "sweep[ing] political correctness from the debate". Hanson's One Nation is the equivalent of the British National Party. Gillard, an immigrant from Wales, demanded that refugees heading for Australia be "processed" (dumped) in East Timor, an impoverished country whose genocidal occupation by Indonesia was backed by Australian governments. Now liberated, the East Timorese have read their huge, underpopulated neighbour a moral lesson by saying no.

High risers

Many of the refugees come from Afghanistan, which Australia invaded at Washington's insistence. "Our national security is at stake in Afghanistan," said Gillard on 5 July, linking a faraway tribal war and resistance to foreign invaders with three terrorist attacks in Indonesia in which Australians were killed. There is not a shred of evidence to support her statement. Australia's security is unique; since 1915, an estimated 22 people have died as a result of politically motivated violence.

The new prime minister's partner is a former hair products salesman named Tim Mathieson. This would be of no interest, had he not been given the job of "Australia's men's health ambassador" by one of Gillard's colleagues, the health minister, even though he had no experience in health care. Mathieson is now a "rising star" in real estate, thanks to one Albert Dadon, whose company is seeking planning permission for a contentious high-rise in Melbourne. Dadon is a Mate. As head of the Australia Israel Cultural Exchange, he arranges admiring tours of Israel for politicians and journalists. Gillard went on such a junket last year in the wake of Israel's massacre of 1,400 people in Gaza, mostly women and children. She who would be the first female prime minister of Australia drooled her uncritical support for their killers.

John Pilger, renowned investigative journalist and documentary film-maker, is one of only two to have twice won British journalism's top award; his documentaries have won academy awards in both the UK and the US. In a New Statesman survey of the 50 heroes of our time, Pilger came fourth behind Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela. "John Pilger," wrote Harold Pinter, "unearths, with steely attention facts, the filthy truth. I salute him."

This article first appeared in the 26 July 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Wanted: leader of the Labour party

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Will George Osborne soften the tax credit cuts for low-earners?

Labour MP Frank Field offers the Chancellor a partial escape route. 

The Conservatives are the real "workers' party". That is the message that will be delivered repeatedly at the party's conference in Manchester. To this audacious rebranding, there is no more awkward rejoinder than the coming cuts to tax credits. The new "living wage", which will reach £9 by 2020, will not compensate for the losses that low and middle-income families will endure. As the IFS has calculated, three million households will be £1,000 a year worse off. When MPs recently voted in favour of the cuts, there was a small but significant Tory rebellion (former leadership candidate David Davis and Stephen McPartland voted against). It is the loss of income that low-paid workers (the "strivers" in Conservative parlance) will suffer that they object to. 

Now, Frank Field, the chair of the work and pensions select committee, and one of the Labour MPs most respected by the Tories, has offered George Osborne a partial escape route. In a letter to the Chancellor, the former social security minister argues that he should protect the poorest by raising the withdrawal rate for those earning above the new minimum wage. At present, the planned increase in the taper rate from 41 per cent to 48 per cent and the reduction in the earnings threshold from £6,420 to £3,850 will result in 3.2 million families losing an average of £1,350 a year. 

Field writes: "As you will know I welcome wholeheartedly the introduction of the National Living Wage. But its potentially revolutionary impact will be extinguished next year by these cuts to tax credits. Might I therefore ask please whether you would consider introducing a mitigation policy, at nil cost to the Treasury, to protect the lowest paid while the National Living Wage is phased in?

"There is one cost neutral policy in particular which could protect National Living Wage-earners: a secondary earnings threshold paid for by a steeper withdrawal rate for those earning above this new minimum rate.

"This option would retain the existing £6,420 income threshold but introduce a second gross income of £13,100, the equivalent of working 35 hours a week on the National Living Wage. For gross earnings between £6,420 and £13,100, the taper rate would be kept at 41 per cent. The lowest paid working families, therefore, would experience no reduction in tax credit income compared with the current system. To keep the policy cost neutral, gross earnings above £13,100 would need to be tapered at 65 per cent.

"Might this be something you are willing to consider for the Autumn Statement?"

It might indeed be something Osborne is willing to consider. The Sun reports that Boris Johnson, the Chancellor's chief rival for the Conservative leadership, has been studying the proposal and has warned him of "political disaster" if the lowest-paid are not protected. The Mayor of London, frustrated by Osborne's deft appropriation of the "living wage" he championed, is looking for new means of differentation. Past form suggests that Osborne may well give himself some protective cover when he delivers his joint Spending Review and Autumn Statement on 25 November. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.