WHERE IS THE RSL WHEN OUR VETS NEED IT MOST?

Something to THINK ABOUT …

We are still in the shadow of Anzac Day and yet the Victorian Coroners Court was told this week that as many as five of our veterans may have taken their lives since this year’s commemorations.

One Afghanistan vet, Bradley Carr, tragically took his life on Anzac Day on the Gold Coast.

Surely, it’s time to listen to these terrible cries for help. The one thing we have learned down the years from the experiences of our returned veterans from all our conflicts is that everybody exposed to war is affected in some way.

Some are able to recover, some are damaged but manage to adjust and, sadly, many pay with their lives, either during the conflict or in the melancholy years following it.

It has always been thus. Experts now believe that the 62,000 Diggers who died during WWI were joined by at least that number again in the ten years immediately after the war (those who succumbed to their injuries or illnesses or who took their own lives).

Despite improvements in the care available to them, our most recent returned veterans seem to be suffering at least as much as their predecessors - perhaps even more than them.

In addition to the suicides, our recent veterans are beset by an array of physical and mental health issues and are greatly over-represented among our cities’ homeless.

The organisation best placed to care for these vets is the RSL. But it’s been sadly silent during this crisis, possibly because it’s been riven by its recent internal turmoil. But that’s no excuse. A sacred duty is calling our once revered RSL.

It must answer the calls: it must focus fiercely on the issue, seek the facts and the causes and urgently embark on a national campaign aimed at preventing even more tragic losses.

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Something to THINK ABOUT …

THE CENTENARY OF THE GREAT HOMECOMING

Over the last four years, year by year and battle by battle, we’ve commemorated the centenary of world war one. This year marks the Centenary of the Great Homecoming … the start of the aftermath of that war, the realisation of the cataclysmic damage that it caused and the first steps of our nation’s long, slow and painful recovery.

This year also marks the centenary of the official end of the war, in June 1919, when the Versailles Peace Treaty was finally signed. The armistice of the 11thof the 11th1918 that we commemorate each year as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day was actually just a truce for a ceasefire.

Two days before our then Prime Minister, Billy Hughes, was to sign that treaty in Versailles, the delegates were told that they would have to affix their national seals in wax on the document when they signed.  Now, that was a problem for Billy Hughes and his team: Australia had no seal of its own. So Hughes scoured the Paris antique markets, trying to find something suitable, without any luck. Finally, someone had a wonderful idea: they fashioned a seal from the tunic button of a digger’s uniform. And so Australia’s first treaty as an independent nation was signed with a symbol of the 60,000 diggers who died in the conflict.

Sadly, even before the world began its recovery from the war, it was hit by the global spanish flu pandemic, which killed 50 million people around the globe - almost three times more than the war!  It was actually the opposite in Australia: our war deaths outnumbered flu deaths by five to one.

Today, one hundred years later, it’s hard for us to imagine the devastating impact the first world war had on countries all around the world. It wiped out the flower of an entire generation.

Remarkably, clear evidence of that devastation still lingers on those battlefields today.  And each year in north-eastern France and Belgium they gather what they call ‘The Iron Harvest’, the annual collection of rusted unexploded ammunition, gas shells, shrapnel, etc ploughed up by farmers. 

Bomb disposal teams collect around 900 tonnes of this deadly harvest every year in France and another 250 tonnesin Belgium. That’s not surprising when you realise that the battle for Verdun alone lasted 303 days and left just under a million dead and a further 1.25 million injured. It worked out at 1000 dead for every square metre of territory fought over.

Today the central area of that battlefield has been declared as zone rouge or red zone the definition of zone rougeis: “completely devastated, damage to properties 100%, damage to agriculture 100%, impossible to clean, human life impossible”.  Experts claim it will take 500 years before some areas around the Somme are free from that deadly harvest 

Against that background of death and destruction, the ANZACs’ contribution stands out starkly. Our WWI Diggers suffered proportionally more deaths, wounds and illnesses than the armies of Britain, Germany, France, the United States or Canada. And this damage was visited on more than half of the eligible Australian males between the ages of 18 & 55.

One Australian scholar, Dr David Noonan, who forensically researched our records, believes that just three percent of diggers who served in theatres of war in WWI were left unscathed 

One in every four Australian families lost a husband, a son or a brother in that war … imagine how many more lost a cousin, an uncle or a friend. In fact, experts now reckon every second Australian family suffered a loss from that conflict.

The scale of the first world war was simply astonishing … 65 million men took up arms from around 50 nations … and over four years, 37.5 million people were killed, wounded, taken prisoner or went missing. At the time our population was fewer than five million … so, roughly 2.5 million men. Of these, 416,000 enlisted. One street in the then working-class suburb of Paddington, Bent Street, had 30 houses. It sent 29 men off to war.

To put things in perspective: based on our current population, it would be the equivalent of two million enlisting, with 300,000 killed and almost a million wounded.

Some experts now believe that the 62,000 Diggers who died in the conflict were joined by at least that number again of returned veterans who died in the first decade after the war: those who succumbed to their illnesses or injuries, or, who took their own lives.

And then there were the missing … 23,000 diggers were listed as missing … those who simply disappeared in the deep fog of war. Imagine their families? … dealing with the nagging doubt of not knowing what had happened to their loved ones.

The story of the missing diggers from the battle of Fromelles shows how the war even today has a lingering impact on hundreds of Australian families. At Fromelles, a tiny village in north-eastern France, the Diggers fought their first battle after Gallipoli and their first on the Western Front in France, on 19 July 1916.

It was an unmitigated disaster. Of the 7000 diggers who attacked, almost 2000 were killed and 3,500 were wounded or captured - in 12 hours!  To this day, the worst night in Australia’s history! We lost more killed on that day than we did in total in the Boer, Korean and Vietnam wars and all subsequent conflicts.

Of the 2000 who died at Fromelles, almost 1,300 were declared ‘missing’ and their families were thrust into that terrible netherworld, not knowing how their loved ones had died  or even whether they had died at all.

Some mothers kept their front veranda lights on for the rest of their lives in case their sons came home.

Thanks to the work of a Greek-born, retired Melbourne art teacher and amateur historian, Lambis Englezos, we learned that the Germans had buried 250 Diggers who were killed at Fromelles in a mass grave. Since then, using DNA-matching with descendants, 166 of those 250 Diggers - or two-thirds of them - have now been identified and given graves and headstones in the newly-created pheasant wood military cemetery in Fromelles.

In fact, another seven missing Fromelles Diggers will be given an official burial and headstones on this year’s anniversary of the battle, as the work of Lambis and his team continues.

Sadly, the impact of the war on many of those who actually survived and returned home was almost as devastating as it was to those they left behind in France. One young man’s story illustrates this perfectly.

Rowland Lording was born in Balmain. He’d just turned 16 when he enlisted on 19 July 1915. He trained as a signaller and served in Egypt before arriving in France just in time to take part in the battle of Fromelles. Young Rowley was dragging signal wire across no man’s-land when a machine-gun burst caught him and shrapnel penetrated his back, leaving him with massive wounds to his chest and arms and semi-paralysed. 

He was given up for dead but, against all the odds, he survived and was dragged back to his lines by his mates. He was bedridden in England until January 1917, then returned to Australia. Rowley Lording endured 53 operations over the next 15 years, with six ribs removed and his right arm later amputated. 

Despite living in constant pain, Rowley married, had three children, built an accountancy business, founded the 30th Battalion Association, worked for limbless soldiers and wrote a truly remarkable book about his experiences in 1935. 

Sadly, in trying to combat his constant pain, Rowley became addicted to morphia and his life began to unravel and he died in 1944, aged just 45 - another uncounted casualty of ‘the war to end all wars’. For so many veterans, like Rowley Lording, the war never ended.

So how did Australians deal with their grief? The reality was that few Australian families would ever be able to visit the grave of their loved ones on the other side of the world. Travel in those days was a genuine luxury 

So we built memorials. Cenotaphs and memorials sprung up in every town and suburb across the nation, immortalising the names of the fallen and giving grieving families a sacred place where they could honour their loved ones and where they could project their emotions and memories in their own ways. So why is it important for us to reflect on a war that ended more than 100 years ago? Because “to understand where we are going we must understand where we’ve come from.”

Perhaps the one universal lesson we can take from the Great Homecoming of WWI is that everyone exposed to war is affected by it. Sadly, we see this in all our returned veterans … from WWI through to Iraq and Afghanistan … some recover … many do not … and many pay the ultimate price for their patriotism, either during the conflict or in the years following it 

And what do they ask of us?  Simply, that we always remember them and their sacrifice … 

Lest we forget

www.patricklindsay.com.au

TURKEY NEEDS ANOTHER ATATURK NOT ERDOGAN

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Something to THINK ABOUT …

With his latest divisive outburst as he seeks re-election, Turkey’s Executive President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, underlined the chasm between him and his great predecessor, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Ataturk was one of the Turkish heroes of the Gallipoli campaign before becoming his nation’s first President in 1923. He showed his wisdom and compassion in 1934 when he addressed visiting Anzac and British veterans and said:

“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives … you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace, there is no difference between the Johnnies and Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours … You the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now living in our bosom and are at peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”

Has there been a more generous sentiment of forgiveness and humanity from a victorious warrior to his foes?

Ataturk’s wonderful gesture of reconciliation opened the way for an uniquely warm relationship with our former enemy. Prior to Erdogan’s authoritarian rhetoric, Turkey made some remarkable overtures to the Anzacs. After all, how often does one nation name part of her beloved land after soldiers from two countries on the other side of the world who came to invade her?

That’s what the Turks did in 1985 when their government officially named the beach where the Anzacs landed on April 25 1915 as Anzac Koyu or Anzac Cove. At the dedication ceremony at Ari Burnu Cemetery at the northern end of Anzac Cove those words from Ataturk were unveiled and immortalised on a beautiful stone memorial.  

That same year the Australian Government reciprocated by naming part of Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra as ‘Ataturk Reach’ and by naming the entrance to Albany Harbour in WA, the departure port for the Anzacs, as ‘Ataturk Entrance’. 

And, at the same time, the New Zealand Government dedicated the Ataturk Memorial on a hill at the entrance to Wellington Harbour, the departure port for the NZ contingent.

As early as 1951, two years after the Australian and Turkish forces fought side by side as allies in the Korean War, they co-celebrated Anzac Day. The Victorian RSL even has a Turkish Sub-branch that marches on Anzac Day.

But, since he came to power in 2014, Erdogan has been working to water down the influence and legacy of the great Ataturk, a noted secularist and social reformer who modernised Turkey, enabling the emancipation of women, abolishing Islamic institutions and introducing western legal codes, dress, calendar and alphabet.

While Ataturk pursued a policy of friendly neutrality with Turkey’s neighbours, Erdogan has whipped up sectarian division and hatred. His latest diatribe, where he showed footage of the Christchurch massacre at one of his local election rallies, while linking the Anzacs’ involvement in the Gallipoli campaign with some kind of religious crusade – Christians trying to invade Muslim Turkey – is consistent with his approach to taking Turkey back to an Islamic state.

Would that we had another Ataturk to lead our Turkish friends with wisdom and compassion.

AUSTRALIA'S OWN COLONEL KURTZ FROM 'APOCALYPSE NOW'

Lt-Col Barry Petersen MC at Hellfire Pass in 2008

Lt-Col Barry Petersen MC at Hellfire Pass in 2008

Something to THINK ABOUT …

Late last month Australia quietly lost one of its finest warriors, Lt-Colonel Barry Petersen MC, the man whose Vietnam War exploits many believe were the inspiration for the central character in Francis Ford Coppola’s movie ‘Apocalypse Now’, played by Marlon Brando.

Petersen always pointed out that the movie was based on Joseph Conrad’s classic novella, ‘Heart of Darkness’, and it was. 

But many believe Barry Petersen’s remarkable service at least in part inspired the Brando character, Colonel Kurtz, a rogue officer commanding a guerrilla army, who draws his nemesis Captain Willard, played by Martin Sheen, further and further into the heart of darkness, all the time wrestling with growing ethical dilemmas. 

In reality, Barry Petersen’s achievements amongst the tribesmen in the highlands on the border between Vietnam and Cambodia surpassed those of the Kurtz character because Petersen’s operation was spectacularly successful and, unlike Kurtz, he maintained his sanity and his discipline throughout his service.

In 1963, 28-year-old Captain Barry Petersen was a member of the elite Australian Army Training Team, the first of our soldiers committed to the Vietnam War.

He’d already served in the Malayan Emergency and his experience there training Malays in counter guerrilla tactics against the communist insurgents, saw him seconded to the American CIA and running an independent field operation based out of the Darlac Provincial capital of Ban-Me-Thuot, supplied and funded by the CIA.

Within twelve months he’d amassed a guerrilla army of more than 1000 Montagnard tribesmen who caused havoc with their ‘hit and run’ tactics against the Viet Cong (the North Vietnamese Communists) along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Petersen was revered by his Rhade tribal warriors. He learned their language, adopted their customs and native dress and led them in battle. They made him a tribal chieftain and gave him the name Dam Sam, after a legendary Rhade tribal warrior who was undefeated in battle.

Indeed, Petersen and his Montagnard army were so successful that the Viet Cong placed a bounty on his head. Petersen played up their successes, even creating a tiger badge for his troops, who became feared as the ‘Tiger Men’ of Truong Son Force.

The Australian’s success also raised the ire of his CIA handlers who thought he had too much power and set about reigning him in. For their part, the Montagnards hated both the South and North Vietnamese, who had suppressed them for centuries, and they distrusted the motives of the Americans. In late 1964, they threatened to revolt against the South Vietnamese.

Petersen intervened and convinced his Tiger Men to stay out of the fight. It was an extremely dangerous task and he was later awarded the Military Cross for his bravery in the action.

But that was the final straw for the CIA and Petersen’s handlers warned him that if he didn’t leave the highlands of his own volition, he’d have an accident and leave in a body bag. 

It took orders from his Australian commander before Petersen left his Tiger Men army, after an elaborate tribal farewell ceremony that confirmed the suspicions of some of his colleagues that he had ‘gone native’.

Barry Petersen served another tour in Vietnam as a major with an Australian unit but he knew his future promotion path was limited and he retired from the army as a Lt-Colonel. 

He settled in Bangkok and worked to help Montagnards who fled Vietnam and set up a consultancy business which strengthened his reputation as an ‘international man of mystery’, with deep connections with the region’s many spooks 

In 2002 I interviewed Barry Petersen for my book, ‘The Spirit of the Digger’, and found him a humble man who was intensely proud of his service and of that of his Montagnard comrades.

Former Governor-General and commander of the SAS, Major-General Mike Jeffery, said: “Barry Petersen was one of the very best of the Australian military profession because he took on such and difficult and unique task.”

Petersen’s Montagnard regalia rests in the Australian War Memorial.

Vale Barry Petersen MC

RSLs MUST USE WAR CHESTS TO HELP OUR STRUGGLING DIGGERS

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RSL Sub-branches in NSW alone have as much as $500 million in cash languishing in bank accounts at a time when thousands of veterans, especially recent ones, desperately need their help.

The money is held by about 350 Sub-branches scattered around the State, the majority outside the Sydney Metropolitan Area. 

By consolidating a substantial portion of these funds, the RSL could develop and operate programs to make a dramatic impact on the urgent problems of homelessness and mental health being faced by thousands of veterans.

But too many of these Sub-branches operate like independent island-states in an archipelago of anarchy, controlled by well-meaning amateurs with a vision limited to their own areas and, sometimes, their own interests. 

And they’re disconnected with the modern veteran, as evidenced by the fact that, of around 80,000 returned veterans who qualify to be members, only a 1000 or so have joined their local Sub-branch.

I say this out of concern as a long-term and continuing supporter of the RSL movement. My father was one of the founding members of the Sub-branch where I grew up and I’ve admired the spirit and good works of the movement all my life. I’ve filmed and written about veterans and their problems and their contribution to our nation for more than 40 years. But I fear that unless there’s a major rethink, the movement will become obsolete.

NSW’s Sub-branches represent about 40,000 members and they theoretically report to RSL NSW which manages a vast and disparate portfolio of assets, including 150 properties, one of which is the 97-room Hyde Park Hotel, that it owns and operates.

RSL NSW has a substantial interest in RSL LifeCare, whichcares for 7000 individuals in independent living, community care, assisted living, dementia and nursing homes and additional extensive services. In 2016 RSL LifeCare recorded a $42m surplus from total revenue of $218m, had total assets of $1.3bn, net equity of $405m and no material external debt.

RSL NSW is currently struggling to set its house in order after a massive failure in its stewardship, highlighted in an Inquiry by the Hon Patricia Bergin SC, that she handed to the NSW Government in January last year.

Bergin found that “widespread ignorance in each of the entities of the Act, the Regulations and the terms of the respective fundraising authorities exposed during the inquiry is a deep cause for concern.” And that “… there was no transparency in respect of the use of funds raised from the public that the statutory regime was designed to achieve.”

This played out against the “chilling statistic of 41 suicides of veterans in the first six months of 2016” which Bergin pointed to as “the stark reality of the urgent need for support and expert assistance for those returning from combative deployments and/or transitioning out of the Defence Forces to civilian life.”

It’s hard to imagine a more devastating failure by the revered organisation at a time when young Diggers are crying out for its support. 

Indeed, Bergin referred former RSL NSW State President Don Rowe’s “reprehensible conduct” (expenses, his resignation and its aftermath) to the NSW Police. In January this year, Rowe was charged with fraud and he will face court next month.

Happily, RSL NSW is under new management and they are working hard to recover the trust of its members and the community. But that will take years and a massive restructure.

In the meantime, Diggers are dying in alarming numbers and a wildly disproportionate number are living on our streets. If the Sub-branches could shake themselves out of their lethargy and consolidate, say, half of the cash they’re sitting on into some form of safe (ideally, government guaranteed) impact investment, it would generate at the very least $10 million a year. 

Combine that with a dollar-for-dollar matching arrangement with government and you have a war chest capable of making inroads into our veterans’ most urgent problems … now, when it’s needed most!

PALADIN UNDER GROWING PRESSURE

Something to THINK ABOUT …


The Paladin saga continues as news filters through from PNG that some of its Manus Island staff have gone on strike over "low pay and poor working conditions".

This is hardly surprising considering the amount Paladin reportedly pays its 500 guards is embarrassingly low, even by PNG standards: about $450 a month … $2 an hour! And recent reports from the island point to poor working conditions - including deficient food and water - 12-hour shifts and no risk allowances.

The local resentment has risen after revelations of Paladin’s fruitless early attempts to hire Fijians as guards with offers of $A3000 a month.

And all this from contracts worth about $423 million over less than two years, equal to $1600 a day per person on Manus.

The Guardian reports that Paladin's staff at Pomwan Paladin Security have petitioned management and held sit-ins citing overtime, risk allowances, and cuts as key concerns. 

And as a result, Paladin's hospital, cleaning and transport staff have walked off the job, concerned about safety issues. Not surprisingly, detainees have expressed similar concerns about their own safety.

There is much more to come ... mounting evidence indicates this is a scandal of epic proportions

PALADIN CONTRACTS DON'T ADD UP ...

Something to THINK ABOUT …

As the Paladin scandal is increasingly overshadowed as we move into the election maelstrom, it’s worth bearing in mind how sweet a deal Paladin struck with our government.

To put it into some perspective, the $423 million Paladin contracts are almost as much as the entire 2018-19 Australian aid to PNG ($520 million) and roughly the same as the total value of the entire PNG security industry ($400-500 million), as assessed in a 2017 report by the Lowy Institute.

The Paladin contracts work out at an astonishing $1600 a day for each of the refugees housed on Manus. For that you could snap up a ‘romance package’ room at Sydney’s Park Hyatt Hotel with an unparalleled view of the Opera House.  

It adds up to about $20 million a month to Paladin. Comparable mining camps provide superior services for about $100 a day a person, say 1.2 million a month 

Part of the justification for the outlandish contracts is that it costs much more to provide similar services in PNG. Sure, travel, compliance, logistics and structures cost more in our nearest neighbour but the actual cost of the services seems to leave an astonishing profit margin for Paladin. 

That is evidenced by revelations by the AFR that Paladin pays 500 guards about $450 a month … $2 an hour … try getting security for that in Australia!

And it was a sweet deal from the start: Paladin was paid a total of $89 million even before it signed a contract with Home Affairs. Now it can look forward to another $333 million from last February to this coming June.

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ONE DOWN ... FOUR TO GO

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Something to THINK ABOUT …

 The death in Long Bay prison last night of one of the murderers of Anita Cobby, Michael Murphy, brings back chilling memories of one of the most cold-blooded and brutal homicides in Australian history. 

The public outcry following the crime and the subsequent court case was so visceral that it led to calls for the reintroduction of the death penalty. 

Murphy was the oldest of a gang of five sub-humans who abducted, beat, raped, tortured and murdered 26-year-old Sydney nurse, Anita Cobby, at Prospect in February 1986. On conviction, their papers were marked “never to be released”.

Murphy, 66, was joined in the crime by two of his younger brothers Leslie and Gary and two teenagers, John Travers and Michel Murdoch. Michael Murphy was the oldest of the group but the youngest, Travers, was regarded as the ringleader 

Murphy is the first of the gang to die, the rest remain in remain in high-security cells in undisclosed locations in the NSW Corrective Services system. The abhorrence of their crime still lingers among inmates and over the 33 years of their incarceration, rumours have periodically emerged of ‘rough justice’ being dealt to them by prisoners.

None of the gang has ever expressed remorse. Indeed, in 1916, Channel Seven aired an audio tape in which Travers confessed to the murder and laughed after saying: “I said she’s got to be done … and they said go on Johnny do your bit, so I just cut her.”

Each of the gang was a product of deprived upbringings and they were all of below-average intelligence. Travers was an alcoholic by the age of 14 with a history of sexual violence and bestiality.

Many experts have pointed to the gang’s antecedents as an example of the depths to which humans can descend without the civilising influence of familial love and community care.

When told of Murphy’s death, Anita Cobby’s widow John Cobby, said he hoped his death “was painful for him. One down, four to go.”

CHINA THREATENS TO CHOKE AMERICA IN ITS OWN WASTE

Something to THINK ABOUT…  The world’s “Super Sized Consumer”, the United States, could find itself slowly strangled by its own waste products as China plays its famed long game in the ongoing trade war with Donald Trump.  One potentially disastrous unforeseen consequence of Trump’s onslaught is Beijing’s retaliatory tariff on “recovered fibre materials” (the paper the Yanks put in their bins).  China has combined the new charges with a dramatic cutback in the amount and types of recyclables it buys from America. The result: America’s paper-recycling industry is teetering on the edge of financial disaster.  Its collapse would have vast flow-on affects as America previously sold up to 40% of its recyclables to China. America may find some capacity for recycled paper in India and other parts of South-East Asia but apparently nowhere near the amounts previously taken by China.  The US paper-recycling business grew rapidly once it discovered the remarkably cheap costs of shipping the paper by back-loading it in empty containers returning to China after they had delivered products from the one-sided trade with Asia.  The cheap container capacity resulted from the huge imbalance in the trade between the two nations: China exports about $US500 billion in goods and services to the States but only imports about $US150 billion in return.  China soon became the leading importer of American recycled paper – 2.73 million tons of cardboard in the first half of last year and 1.4 million tons of all the other US-sourced “recovered fibre”.  But in July 2017 Beijing started refusing many types of plastic and what it called “foreign garbage” and turned its eyes on its own burgeoning recycling problems. It slashed its US plastic purchases by 92% in the first six months of 2018.  So as Trump continues his cavalier approach to international trade and diplomacy, he may well find the first signs of revolt coming from his own backyard. Many US cities are simply incapable of handling their own waste recycling and the biggest of them are already in crisis mode.  By unwittingly removing the China option, Trump has forced one industry to the brink and open up the possibility that the Great Consumer may choke on its own vomit.

Something to THINK ABOUT…

The world’s “Super Sized Consumer”, the United States, could find itself slowly strangled by its own waste products as China plays its famed long game in the ongoing trade war with Donald Trump.

One potentially disastrous unforeseen consequence of Trump’s onslaught is Beijing’s retaliatory tariff on “recovered fibre materials” (the paper the Yanks put in their bins).

China has combined the new charges with a dramatic cutback in the amount and types of recyclables it buys from America. The result: America’s paper-recycling industry is teetering on the edge of financial disaster.

Its collapse would have vast flow-on affects as America previously sold up to 40% of its recyclables to China. America may find some capacity for recycled paper in India and other parts of South-East Asia but apparently nowhere near the amounts previously taken by China.

The US paper-recycling business grew rapidly once it discovered the remarkably cheap costs of shipping the paper by back-loading it in empty containers returning to China after they had delivered products from the one-sided trade with Asia.

The cheap container capacity resulted from the huge imbalance in the trade between the two nations: China exports about $US500 billion in goods and services to the States but only imports about $US150 billion in return.

China soon became the leading importer of American recycled paper – 2.73 million tons of cardboard in the first half of last year and 1.4 million tons of all the other US-sourced “recovered fibre”.

But in July 2017 Beijing started refusing many types of plastic and what it called “foreign garbage” and turned its eyes on its own burgeoning recycling problems. It slashed its US plastic purchases by 92% in the first six months of 2018.

So as Trump continues his cavalier approach to international trade and diplomacy, he may well find the first signs of revolt coming from his own backyard. Many US cities are simply incapable of handling their own waste recycling and the biggest of them are already in crisis mode.

By unwittingly removing the China option, Trump has forced one industry to the brink and open up the possibility that the Great Consumer may choke on its own vomit.

PALADIN: HAVE GUN - WILL TRAVEL

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An old friend of mine used to say: “Mate, it’s only a rort if you’re not in on it!” This thought came to mind today when I was reading the amazing story in the Australian Financial Review on the $423 million worth of contracts for providing services to the refugees on Manus Island.

The beneficiary of this astonishing largesse is a little-known company called Paladin Group, which apparently had its head office in a shack on Kangaroo Island 

Older readers will relish the irony of the name Paladin. An iconic 1950-60s American Old West TV show called ‘Have Gun - Will Travel’ featured a central character played by Richard Boone. We never knew his real name. He was simply known as Paladin. His business card had a chess knight symbol with the words “Have Gun - Will Travel”. He worked out of a swank hotel in old San Francisco and operated as a “gentleman gunslinger” for hire 

Younger readers will recognise Paladin as one of the “character classes” from the fantasy game Dungeons and Dragons – holy knights crusading in the name of good.

Both these incarnations derive from the original paladins, reputed to be warrior knights famed for their heroic and chivalrous deeds around the time of Charlemagne. They were probably mythical representations.

And that brings us back to Manus Island and the Paladin Group, a company itself shrouded in mystery, which the AFR called “little more than a series of post boxes at registered offices in Singapore and Hong Kong and that beach shack down a dirt road on Kangaroo Island in South Australia” 

Singapore-based Paladin Holdings Pte Ltd, the ultimate beneficiary of the government contracts apparently has registered capital of $50,000. And almost nothing is known of its principals, 38-year-old former soldier Craig Thrupp, and his partner, Ian Stewart. They have no biographies on the company’s website and apparently no social media profiles.

Yet, in early 2017, when Transfield (by then known as Broadspectrum) stepped away from its refugee processing contracts on Nauru and Manus, after intense pressure from activists, Paladin Group won a “limited tender” from the Department of Home Affairs to be appointed the main service provider on Manus.

Paladin’s previous experience seems to have been providing security and cleaning services for the 60-person respite centre on Manus Island. Mind you that contract was still worth an amazing $15 million according to the AFR!

Many PNG operators are angry at the Home Affairs tender process. When they heard that Broadspectrum was relinquishing its contracts, they eagerly awaited the announcement of an open tender. Home Affairs decided on a “limited tender” process that cut them out.

The Minister responsible, Peter Dutton, has been on the back pedal all week, saying effectively that it’s hard to find a company willing to take on the contract.

This coming week’s Senate Estimates should provide some fireworks. And this story could play a major role in the upcoming federal Election.