June 14, 2016 | Graham

Manchurian candidate or just a cuckoo?

I said to my good friend David Davies that I thought Australia had been invaded by the whites. He looked at me and said he was sure it was settlement. This would have been around about 1978 or 1979. He was studying law, I was studying English literature.

I had a lot of respect for David, so I thought harder about the issue and came to the conclusion that we were both right. At times it had been an invasion, but mostly it was just settlement.

Two hundred years ago the world was quite different. There was a lot of spare land around, and the might is right model of international governance still held sway.

When the English turned-up in Australia in 1788 the continent was underutilised and there was little governance. Aboriginal tribes had areas that they tended to visit and live in from time to time, but there was no idea of title in the modern sense.

When the strangers turned-up the evidence is that the Aborigines tended to disperse to accommodate them. It wasn’t much different to what happens on Fraser Island in the summertime. People camped, and as long as it didn’t create too much trouble everyone was happy.

But what happens when the newcomers start putting in infrastructure and invite their mates over?

The camping model doesn’t work so well after a while. Tensions arise, and fights break out. Were these wars? Some might have been, but most were skirmishes.

One might just as well call the movements of refugees around the world today invasions, as to call what happened in Australia between 1788 and the twentieth century, one.

The end result might be dispossession, but it is much more a consequence of demography than it is military might.

I doubt whether the Anglo Saxon and then Danish settlements of England were much different. There was certainly more pillaging and looting, but most of it must have been poor families from Europe looking for a better life and finding plenty of spare land in England in 400-800 AD.

The idea that Australia was conquered is a political tool used by the opponents of current Australian society to deligitimise that society. As an English Literature student I was exposed to that culture in a way that a law student (at least at that time) wasn’t.

I wasn’t across the reality of what actually happened and was fair game for a fantasy version of how it worked out. Except that when confronted with a conflicting point of view I was capable of examining the facts anew.

Malcolm Turnbull is a law graduate. He has the tools to understand the reality of the settlement of Australia. What is he on about when he says it is an “invasion”, and more, that Australia is still “Aboriginal land”?

I do not know.

What I do know is that week by week this election is drifting away from him.

His position on this issue will further alienate him from the Liberal base, and from the minor party voters whose preferences he needs to win.

I’ve been poring over my polling, and he is not now winning votes in the middle and on the left, despite his early success, because they want him to go much further than he is on this and other issues like climate change.

So he loses preferences from minor party voters, because they see him as a less sympathetic politician than Bill Shorten, but one who has a similar political position, so where is the reason to vote for him over Shorten?

The end result, if this continues and the Liberal campaign fails to find an authentic voice which appeals to minor party voters, will be the first Shorten government.

If this happens it will be because Malcolm Turnbull was not a contemporary Liberal in the first place, so the campaign never had an authentic voice to start with.

Some people will suggest Turnbull was always on the other side, and others that he had  no idea in the first place.

Posted by Graham at 10:41 pm | Comments (4) |


  1. The Manchurian Candidate option seems unlikely because it requires a conspiracy. I doubt anyone in the political class has the capacity to formulate such a long term strategy and then carry it out. Turnbull may have been a friend of Neville Wran et al of the Labor right, but he seems likely to have just wanted to be PM at any cost. Others have observed that Turnbull knew he would never cut it with Labor’s Board of Directors in the ACTU, so he had to try for the PM role via the centrist side of the Liberals.

    Your point about Turnbull failing to appeal to anyone very much is true. He annoys conservatives for being fake, and has failed to be sufficiently left of centre to retain the initial support shown by Labor voters who don’t understand that they are becoming more conservative as they get older.

    The fundamental problem seems to be that Labor is returning to the first half of the 20th century by once more becoming a trade union party. The unions represent less than 15% of the workforce, and many of them are members either without their own knowledge or by intimidation. So Labor is founded upon, primarily staffed by, and controlled by, a tiny proportion of the voting population that still hates Evil Capital. Australia doesn’t have a social democratic party which properly represents the centre left, so some people go off on tangents and vote for populist dysfunctional independents and Greens.

    For conservatives who don’t like Turnbull’s pretence of being one of them, the alternatives are some similarly populist dysfunctional independents. However even Turnbull as PM, under pressure to keep somewhat to the right by his colleagues in the Coalition, would be preferable to the ACTU Party in conjunction with the Loony Left.

    Comment by Rick — June 15, 2016 @ 10:37 am

  2. It might be useful if you did some background reading in history and anthropology before posting.

    1. ‘Aboriginal tribes had areas that they tended to visit and live in from time to time, but there was no idea of title in the modern sense.’ Certainly no idea of title in the introduced British legal sense (how could they even know about that, given that they were not in Britain?). But definitely in their own legal sense. They lived on country identified as theirs by handed down tradition that tied them to specific places in the landscape (even if they moved around within it), and recognised as theirs by neighbours. So it wasn’t written down in a western legal document, but the key points of ownership existed: ability to describe the land and know where and how to utilise its resources, continuity from past generations of ownership, land knowledge and usage, and recognition of ownership by neighbours.

    2. ‘When the strangers turned-up the evidence is that the Aborigines tended to disperse to accommodate them’. They may have hidden initially, or fled to other parts of their land to escape being shot, but in general the extensive ‘evidence’ is that Aborigines directly interacted with newcomers, until they were mistreated, but even then hung on wherever they could on their own country. It was easier and obvious in pastoral areas, but it even happened in Sydney over 200+ years (unknown to the later majority white population).

    3. ‘I doubt whether the Anglo Saxon and then Danish settlements of England were much different …most of it must have been poor families from Europe … finding plenty of spare land in England in 400-800 AD.’
    It was the same in one respect: invading Anglo-Saxons etc didn’t move onto ‘spare land’; they took land someone else owned. It was different in another respect: the invading groups were culturally and linguistically closer, and there was inter-marriage right from the start (speaking as descendant of the Danish invasion of Yorkshire, and Scandinavian immigrants to Devon and Ireland). These invasions did not create a dispossessed and mistreated racial minority.

    Finally, ‘The idea that Australia was conquered is a political tool used by the opponents of current Australian society to deligitimise that society’. For me, acceptance of the ‘idea that Australia was conquered’ is not to delegitimise current Australian society, but to make it more honourable by recognising the bad as well as the good of our past, and redressing past wrongs. (Does Germany, by recognising the evils of the Nazi period, delegitimise current German society? On the contrary, it is the basis of a strong and honourable society, whatever you may think about the current EU refugee crisis.)

    Comment by Jeannette — June 15, 2016 @ 12:49 pm

  3. I don’t believe Malcolm has ever pretended to be anything other than a centrist Moderate and that’s where all Australian elections are won!

    Labor might seem to be in front as a two party prefered, but their primary vote is still down in the basement, which will need to be much higher come polling day.

    And they keep rejecting the green evocations and patent political blackmail, which at the end of the day could cost them more support than they’d gain by getting into bed, with folks who think it’s politically expedient to preference the Fred Nile Party ahead of them or the liberals?

    Even so, deny critical preferences to Labor? Labor does have a weakness that the liberals could exploit? And that is on expensive renewables.

    Which could be trotted out as a granny killing energy policy? And then contrasted against carbon free alternative innovation that still mitigate against climate change will boosting the economy?

    Those folk white anting from within need to decide what side they’re on and who they want to win? The coalition or a seemingly less divided Labor?

    Were I in Malcolm’s shoes I would issue an internal ultimatum. Fall in behind or accept my immediate resignation!
    Alan B. Goulding

    Comment by Alan B. Goulding — June 15, 2016 @ 1:58 pm

  4. Aboriginal people persisting in Sydney:

    Comment by Jeannette — June 15, 2016 @ 4:52 pm

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