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.

QLD FARMERS NEED HELP NOW

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Something to THINK ABOUT …

While our Federal politicians obsess about which card to play next in the border protection game, they’re missing a very real and immediate disaster in our North where unprecedented floods have covered an area twice the size of Tasmania.

Farmers in north-west Queensland have lost up to half a million cattle in the floods and they need help from the national government now or they’ll be wiped out. They need urgent financial support and they need the Army to provide the facilities to help them bury their animals.

The AFR reports this morning that one Julia Creek farmer lost 6000 of his 7000 steers. That’s his next two years’ income gone. The losses to the industry in the region will probably exceed $1 billion 

It’s time for the government to pull its collective head out of the Canberra bubble and act. The farmers can’t bury their dead animals until the floods subside and they can’t even think about restocking until they have the money and the capacity to rebuilt the thousands of kilometres of fencing that’s been destroyed.

Both the government and the opposition are daily pulling real and imaginary funds out of hollow logs for election pork barrelling. They must immediately find the funding to help the flooded farmers and their communities who face months and probably years of rebuilding.

Some are suggesting that we divert our overseas aid to help the flooded farmers. We’re quite capable of maintaining our commitments to improve the lives of our neighbours and coming to the aid of our beleaguered graziers. 

But we have to do it now when they need it most.

LATHAM ... THE REPTILE RETURNS

I’ve been scratching my head trying to find a good reason for voters to give Mark Latham another chance in parliament. I can’t find one. Not one.

For the past 14 years (since he resigned as Labor Leader after losing the 2004 Federal Election) Latham has spent his time randomly and crazily sniping from the sidelines. Now, he thinks he sees a chance to become a powerbroker in the NSW Upper House … this time as a far-right politician!

In one of the most bizarre political transformations in living memory, this avowed ‘hater’ of conservatives has jettisoned a lifetime’s political beliefs to throw his lot in, first with David Leyonhjelm’s Liberal Democrats and, when rebuffed by them, with arch-conservative Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party.

Current Labor Leader, Bill Shorten, said Latham “showed all the attributes of a dog, except loyalty”. That’s a libel on dogs. Latham shows all the attributes of a reptile. He was an early adopter and a leading exponent of reptilian politics here, driven by his ‘hate’ of anyone – friend or foe – who disagreed with him. 

He continued this approach after he left politics - joining what Christopher Pyne today called “the shouty press” as a commentator - and leaving behind a long list of failed or abandoned media programs, columns and positions. In 2002 he summed up his approach: “I'm a hater. Part of the tribalness of politics is to really dislike the other side with intensity. And the more I see of them the more I hate them.” 

Latham expects us to judge him on what he claims he now believes and what he claims he will now do instead of on his previous form. Of course, everyone is entitled to reassess their beliefs but we’re equally entitled to question their motivation and their commitment, especially when they unleash an about-turn as dramatic as Mark Latham’s.

Latham’s early political career followed the path of the classic apparatchik: while completing his uni degree he served as an ‘adviser’ to Labor politician John Kerin (1980-82), former Labor PM Gough Whitlam (1982-87) and then NSW Opposition Leader Bob Carr (1988-91). In 1987 he was elected a Labor member of Liverpool City Council and was Mayor from 1991-94. 

Latham enjoyed a rails run as a young politician, ushered into the party’s revered seat of Werriwa, famously held for 26 years by Gough Whitlam, in 1994, aged just 33. Nine years later, in December 2003, with no ministerial experience, he was elected Labor’s Federal Leader and Leader of the Opposition. 

To win the leadership, Latham had to sublimate his instincts as a wide-thinking, open-minded political strategist and adopt the Labor canon of the day, a structure he described as “statism, unionism and class”. Locked into that mindset, Latham was a disaster as leader, lasting a little over a year in the position.

In typical Latham style, after he lost power he lashed out at his former colleagues, fuelled by a seemingly endless supply of bitterness. He called Bob Carr, Peter Beattie and Geoff Gallop “arseholes” and said of his successor as leader, Kim Beasley: “Labor got the leader it truly deserves – it is well suited to a conservative and stand-for-nothing type of leader”. 

So now, even though Latham was still a member of Leyonhjelm’s Liberal Democrats as late as last November, he claims to be “the driving force” of One Nation’s NSW Election platform. “They are my policies. I’m the State Leader,” he told the SMH last month.

One Nation says it wants to “put common sense back into NSW Government”. Among the platitudes and generalities in its policies are: “Getting our schools back to basics, studying the 3Rs instead of political fads” and “Ending the PC madness and the discrimination against men and boys”.

It also proclaims: “We are the only political party to question climate science.” And it says “… there is a growing concern about the evidence on which the claims of man-made global warming rests.” In addition, it wants Australia to withdraw from the UN’s Refugee Convention “because it is no longer in Australia’s interests”.

As weird as this latest political manifestation of Mark Latham seems, pollsters and even his opponents, give him a very good chance of winning a NSW Upper House seat - that’s a term of eight years - a paid platform for this human loose cannon to spew his mean-spirited, myopic rantings under parliamentary privilege, untrammelled by traditional party strictures. 

The reptile is back at the gate.