Monday, March 26, 2007

BBC pays 200,000 pounds to 'cover up report on anti-Israel bias'

The BBC has been accused of "shameful hypocrisy" over its decision to spend 200,000 pounds blocking a freedom of information request about its reporting in the Middle East. The corporation, which has itself made extensive use of FOI requests in its journalism, is refusing to release papers about an internal inquiry into whether its reporting has been biased towards Palestine.

BBC chiefs have been accused of wasting thousands of pounds of licence fee payers money trying to cover-up the findings of the so called Balen Report into its journalism in the region, despite the fact that the corporation is funded by the British public. The corporation is fighting a landmark High Court action, which starts next week, in a bid to prevent the public finding out what is in the review, which is believed to be critical of the BBC's coverage in the region.

BBC bosses have faced repeated claims that is coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict has been skewed by a pro-Palestianian bias. The corporation famously came under fire after middle-east correspondent Barbara Plett revealed that she had cried at the death of Yasser Arafat in 2004.

The BBC's decision to carry on pursuing the case, despite the fact than the Information Tribunal said it should make the report public, has sparked fury as it flies in the face of claims by BBC chiefs that it is trying to make the corporation more open and transparent. Politicians have branded the BBC's decision to carry on spending money, hiring the one of the country's top public law barrister in the process, as "absolutely indefensible".


Why are SUVs so incorrect?

Comment from Britain

How did the 4x4 - that big-wheeled, boxy jeep beloved of `Chelsea mums' and footballers - become public enemy no.1 in the environmentalism debate? Listening to anti-4x4 campaigners, you'd be forgiven for thinking that this one breed of car is responsible for destroying the planet. It is widely expected that UK Chancellor Gordon Brown will announce in his Budget tomorrow that Vehicle Excise Duty for the 225,000 least fuel-efficient cars bought in Britain since last April - which includes most 4x4s and also sports cars - will be doubled, rising from 210 to 400 pounds a year. This falls short of what green anti-4x4 campaigners are demanding; they want road tax to be raised to somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 pounds for `the worst offending cars', especially 4x4s, which are described as `vile', `vulgar', and damaging both to the environment and to social cohesion.

The 4x4 has become the bˆte noire of the chattering classes. Pop into any dinner-party gathering in the leafiest of Britain's leafy suburbs and you are guaranteed to hear someone bemoaning these big vehicles as they pass around the pesto. There is more to this anti-4x4 fever than a desire to protect the environment or pedestrians from exhaust fumes. Rather it seems to be underpinned by a snobbery against the `wrong' kind of consumption, especially the kind indulged by apparently unsophisticated noveau riche types who garishly like to flaunt their wealth with their mock-Tudor homes, big hair and big cars.

When you think about it, the obsessive focus on 4x4s in the debate about cars and pollution is pretty crazy. These jeeps make up a tiny minority of the cars in action across Britain. There are an estimated 30million regularly-used vehicles in the UK, and those labelled the `least fuel-efficient' - which include sports cars and other vehicles as well as the hated 4x4 - number only 225,000. Putting motorists off buying 4x4s by making them more expensive to run will do Sweet FA to reduce the level of pollution caused by car use.

The level of CO2 coughed up by a 4x4 is not that much greater than various other modern machines. Campaigners say that 4x4s emit more CO2 than most other cars - that may be true, but they emit less CO2 than some of the things we use in the home day in and day out. According to research published in 2005, one cycle of a kitchen dishwasher releases around 756g of CO2, more than double that produced by a short spin in a Range Rover Turbo Diesel, which releases 299g per kilometre. Using a petrol lawnmower for an hour releases more than 1,000g of CO2. Why are there no campaigns against `evil' dishwashers, or demands that Gordon Brown slap big fat taxes on lawnmowers?

There is also little hard evidence that, when involved in collisions, 4x4s are more dangerous for motorists and pedestrians than other cars. Of course, none of us would like to be on the receiving end of a speeding 4x4 - but nor would we want to be hit by a big red bus, a delivery truck, a black taxi or even a Mini for that matter. According to Chris Patience, head of technical policy at the Automobile Association (AA): `There is no shared characteristic of 4x4s that make them any more or less aggressive towards pedestrians compared to a "normal" car.' Patience even claims that 4x4s might be less harmful to pedestrians when there is a collision. `Typically, pedestrians hit by cars wrap around the front of the car and their head hits the bonnet', he says, and because 4x4s tend to have more space between the bonnet and the engine beneath it, they create something of a `crumple-zone for the head'.

It is not really what these cars do that winds up campaigners, but rather what they represent. They're big brash symbols of conspicuous consumption. And at a time when we're encouraged to be meek and to constantly consider what impact our behaviour might be having on the environment, buying a 4x4 and showing it off to the other mums at the schoolgates or your mates at the football ground is the contemporary equivalent of a mortal sin.

It isn't so much the car that the campaigners can't stand (after all, they like big red carbon-producing buses) but rather the people who tend to drive them - whether it's uppity working-class-done-good people, or country folk who talk in posh tones and probably watch Top Gear. You can tell this is about more than pollution and pedestrians if you listen to the language used to describe 4x4 drivers. They're talked about in the most vituperative terms, not only as polluters but as Bad People. The website of the UK campaign group the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s describes itself as a collection of `concerned citizens' and 4x4s as `The Bad Guys'. It says its aim is to make driving a 4x4 as `socially unacceptable as drink-driving'.

London mayor Ken Livingstone says mums who drop their kids at school in 4x4s are `complete idiots'. A left-leaning British think-tank, the New Economics Foundation, describes 4x4s as `Satan's little run-arounds'. In the US, a website called What Would Jesus Drive? (not a 4x4, apparently) says pollution from 4x4s `has a major impact on human health and the rest of God's creation'. So 4x4 drivers are not only dangerous and greedy and anti-social - they're ungodly, too.

These are clearly moral judgements masquerading as concern for the environment. Look into the trunk of the anti-4x4 campaign and you will find generous doses of snobbery, mean-spiritedness and neo-luddism.


Immigrants being blamed for the negativity spawned by the British Left

Can immigrants be blamed for lack of loyalty to a country that seems to have lost faith in itself?

UK Chancellor Gordon Brown's recent initiative to ensure that immigrants feel a proper sense of loyalty to Britain has been criticised for being either too little too late or just plain daft. Brown said last month that immigrants should do some `community work' before being granted British citizenship. For Brown, citizenship should be a `kind of contract' with `rights and responsibilities'. This follows on from other proposals suggesting that immigrants should be `encouraged' to learn English and should take tests to demonstrate that they know what Britain is all about and that they wish to be part of it.

Enforced community service is unlikely to engender a sense of belonging. But then, what really seems to be behind the latest demands for immigrants to buy into Britishness is a lack of any positive, coherent sense of what it is to be British amongst the British elite itself. This weakened sense of Britishness has nothing intrinsically to do with immigrants. And yet, more and more, a situation that is the result of various complex historical and political factors is being represented as a problem to do with immigration. This is itself a problem for the rest of us, as it means attention is misplaced upon immigrants and energy is misdirected towards helping immigrants to fit into something that isn't really there.

Take education. It is argued by some that there has been a `downward drag' in standards due to there being too many immigrant children in the classroom. My guess is that pupils today are more disadvantaged by an educational establishment which is not able, or willing, to assert the need for teaching English language and literature to take precedence over the need to be `multicultural' than they are by the presence of pupils who do not speak English very well.

Some believe that a big problem in the health service today is that patients don't understand their doctors, and apparently have to strain to make sense of what the man or woman with the strange accent is saying. What about all the other major problems with the health service, from a lack of resources to the transformation of the NHS into a behaviour-policing outfit? Time and time again, problems that are the result of the actions and policies of the British authorities are being ascribed to immigrants `failing to fit in'. Few ask what exactly there is for them to fit into.

Most Indian immigrants of my parents' generation felt positively hostile to certain British institutions. For example, many were distrustful of the British Army and supported the Quit India Movement, the civil disobedience movement launched in India in 1942 in response to Mahatma Gandhi's call for the immediate independence of India from Britain. Yet simultaneously they felt an affinity with British society and culture. This meant they wanted to make a break with their country of birth in order to be part of a society perceived as going forwards.

Financial gain was not uppermost in their minds. Individual freedom, meritocracy and social mobility were high on the list of attractions. Even when they arrived in the UK and realised that these things were not available to all on an equal basis, their belief in, and desire to be part of, British life remained. They believed that by working through institutions and popular organisations such as trade unions and political parties, many people - themselves included - could improve their lot.

The dynamic engendered by British society at that time was strong enough to inspire people all over the world. Today what immigrants once sought to do spontaneously (learn the language and culture) has to be imposed by government - not primarily because immigrants have changed, but because British society represents less of what they want to sign up to.

Rather than address more difficult issues - that Britain today is less than inspirational on the world stage, is less of a meritocracy, more socially stratified and a place where individuals are more closely monitored in virtually all aspects of our lives - politicians and pundits tear their hair out wondering why on earth immigrants don't appear to want to be part of and to celebrate British culture.

Maybe they do. Maybe they don't. I can see no reason why it should matter to anyone. Many people live outside their countries of birth; they work and socialise without conflict. Yet they do not feel that they necessarily belong to, or have to belong to, the country they have chosen to live in. People may feel contradictory affiliations; and something as subjective as a sense of belonging frequently waxes and wanes over time. A more confident, forward-looking society would be more relaxed about these facts.

Whatever measures or cod `solutions' the British political caste comes up with, people's subjective sense of belonging cannot be created by diktat. One of the few positive virtues of British society that politicians often cite is its tolerance. It is ironic, then, that the present government is so intolerant of people who do not conform to its increasingly long list of absurd criteria of what makes for a `good British citizen'.

Still, as long as the focus remains on what immigrants do or don't do to prove their loyalty, the heat is off looking at ourselves, and identifying what the real problems are and what some real solutions might be.


Keep politics out of science – and vice versa

Comment from Britain

Since Channel 4 aired Martin Durkin’s film The Great Global Warming Swindle on 8 March, in which various scientists questioned the scientific consensus that manmade carbon emissions are causing global warming, there has been an increasingly shrill spat between mainstream climate change scientists and an ever-dwindling number of climate change sceptics. ‘We are right and you are wrong’, say the mainstream scientists. ‘No, we are right and you are wrong’, claim the sceptics. Both sides have wheeled out graphs and pie charts to demonstrate their rightness and their opponents’ wrongness, giving rise to a war of words and stats and scientific facts that has no doubt helped to bamboozle great numbers of the Great British public.

For me, the infuriating thing about this debate is that it overlooks the main problem with the mainstream science on global warming. No, not that it is wrong, or that it is ‘swindling’ people, but rather that it has become deeply, almost irrevocably politicised. As a layperson largely following this debate via my laptop, I can see that a scientific consensus has been reached which says there has been some global warming, and most scientists believe that man’s carbon emissions are contributing to that warming. There is still a clear need for debate, it seems, over whether manmade CO2 alone is the cause of warming, how much warmer the planet is likely to get, and what the consequences will be. The problem, however, is that this scientific consensus is being used by the powers-that-be to justify all sorts of inhumane, illiberal and repressive political measures, often with the support, or at least complicity, of the scientists.

Even when the science is ‘right’, it is never right to prostitute science for political ends. History shows us that the mixing of science and values, the use and abuse of science to direct the political and social life of a society, is never a good idea. It is bad for politics, and it is bad for science.

Spiked is all in favour of good and rigorous science. We have frequently challenged the petty and pernicious government restrictions on scientific endeavour, especially in relation to stem-cell research and animal experimentation. And we have ruthlessly challenged the panics around the genetic modification of crops and food, the bad science that informed the MMR-autism debacle of the past 10 years, and the lazy pseudo-medical science that says an ‘obesity epidemic’ means that the kids of today are unhealthier than earlier generations and will likely die before their parents (1). Some of those currently posing as defenders of scientific integrity in relation to global warming have not been so keen to defend science in these instances. Today, newspaper columnists such as George Monbiot at the Guardian and Geoffrey Lean at the Independent write long pieces attacking Durkin as a lone maverick undermining the scientific consensus. In the past, however, they bigged up lone mavericks who made scary and unsubstantiated claims about how GM foods might poison humans, increase the risk of miscarriage amongst women, and even cause cancer – all of which went against the sensible scientific consensus that GM is actually safe.

Spiked has also consistently called for scientists to be given the independence and the resources they need in order to experiment, discover, improve our understanding of the natural world. That is how science works best: as a kind of pool of fascinating findings and ideas that progressive societies can draw inspiration from, in the name of developing medicine, technology and exploration. Science can inform open political debate, for example in areas of health, but it should not determine it.

Something very different – and dangerous – is happening with the science of global warming. Public figures are using the language of climate change science to force through a new political consensus. The scientific consensus around CO2 emissions and global warming is now used to justify reining in development, narrowing people’s ambitions, and policing our behaviour in an ever-more petty fashion. Elites don the garb of ‘scientific fact’ as a cover for their own loss of nerve and ambition, and as an argument for holding back the potential for further progress and development. From the demand for small-scale ‘sustainable development’ in Africa to new taxes designed to determine what kind of cars we Westerners drive and how many holidays we may take a year, politicians, activists and commentators increasingly marshal the men in white coats to show that we have no choice but to narrow our horizons because the science demands it.

In truth, there is no straight or logical line from the scientific finding that manmade CO2 is contributing to warming and the demand that we slow down development and change the way we live. Rather, such small-minded policies are a product of today’s politics of low expectations, which is dressed up in the language of science. In the past, humanity faced up to great challenges, whether they were thrown up by nature or by man’s own actions, by seeking to forge ahead and advance society, by applying the greatest minds to come up with solutions to our problems. Today we are told that the only legitimate response to predictions of global warming is to drive less, build less, develop less and generally do less in the here and now. George Monbiot confesses that one of his aims is to ‘make people so depressed about the state of the world that they stay in bed all day, thereby reducing their consumption of fossil fuel’ (2). The science demands it, apparently.

Scandalously, over the past five to 10 years the science of climate change has been used as a political weapon, both to transform our behaviour and to silence those who dare to question today’s narrow political outlook. And some mainstream scientists, by allowing this to happen, have been far more complicit in the bastardisation of science than those small numbers of climate change sceptics with their allegedly dodgy graphs. While mainstream science writers attack Martin Durkin and the various talking heads in his film for muddying the science on global warming, they seem blind to the far graver undermining of scientific integrity represented by the relentless politicisation of climate change science.

Over the past two weeks, a handful of climate change scientists have instinctively kicked against the politicisation of their work. At a conference in Oxford, England last weekend, Professors Paul Hardaker and Chris Collier of the Royal Meteorological Society slated the ‘catastrophism’ of scientists who predict that climate change will cause floods, droughts, famines and other assorted horrors. ‘There is no evidence to show we’re all due for very short-term devastating impacts as a result of global warming’, said Professor Hardaker, warning that mixing ‘science with unscientific assumptions’ is a dangerous pastime (3).

Last week some very respectable scientists told the New York Times that some of the claims made by Al Gore in his film An Inconvenient Truth were exaggerated and erroneous. (Funnily enough, these scientists were not given anywhere near the same amount of airtime as those who claim to have been duped into appearing in Durkin’s documentary.) ‘I don’t want to pick on Al Gore’, said Don J Easterbrook, emeritus professor of geology at Western Washington University. ‘But there are a lot of inaccuracies in the statements we are seeing, and we have to temper that with real data.’ (4) In both Oxford and New York, serious scientists seem to be reacting against the use of science to tell a fearful and exaggerated tale about the fate awaiting humanity. In the words of Professor Hardaker, they seem uncomfortable with the mixing of ‘science’ (the data drawn up in labs and research units) and ‘unscientific assumptions’ (the notion that we are all doomed).

Also last week, in an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel, Hans von Storch, one of Germany’s leading researchers on climate change, attacked scientists for ‘doom-mongering’ over global warming. Von Storch compared the moral message that is attached to today’s climate change science with earlier religious and mythical stories about the Earth punishing humanity for its hubris. ‘The fear of climatic catastrophes is an ancient one’, he said. In reference to the tendency to single out flying holidaymakers in particular as the new ‘sinners’, von Stroch argued: ‘In the past, people believed that the climate almost always changes for the worse, and only rarely for the better – God’s punishment for sinful behaviour. And nowadays, it’s those hedonistic wastrels who pollute the air so that they can look at some pretty fish in the South Seas. It would be better if we only ever rode bikes. Oh, there’s always someone wagging a finger in disapproval.’ (5)

None of these scientists can be denounced as ‘climate change deniers’, the scurrilous tag normally attached to anybody who questions the consensus on global warming – all of them accept that manmade carbon emissions are contributing to the warming of the planet. Nor can they be written off as oily mouthpieces for ExxonMobil or some other fat conglomerate – they work/did work at respectable universities and institutions. Rather they are voicing their discomfort with certain scientists’ willingness to see their work used to tell stories of catastrophe and to shape people’s behaviour and expectations.

The real scandal in the debate about the science of global warming is not the airing of sceptical or dissenting or plain wrong views, but the exploitation of those who claim to be ‘right’ in order to push forward some pretty poisonous political campaigning. The subordination of science to politics has a horrendous historical track record. In Russia in the 1930s and 40s, the Stalinists championed the ‘agricultural science’ of Trofim Denisovich Lysenko in order to clamp down on research and advances in genetics, which they viewed as ‘bourgeois science’. That had a dire impact on the forward development of agriculture in Russia for more than 30 years. (Interestingly, Lysenko was celebrated in the slavish Soviet press as a natural, earth-loving ‘barefoot scientist’, a little bit like the Observer’s trendy green columnist the ‘barefoot doctor’, perhaps.) The Nazis, of course, used the science of eugenics to justify their racism and anti-Semitism.

The Stalinists’ and Nazis’ science may have been junk, whereas the consensus around manmade global warming is more respectable. Yet the marshalling of the science of global warming to bolster political campaigns today has echoes of the Nazis’ use of science to back up their poisonous politics of race and the Stalinists’ use of science to stifle research on genetics. Whether your science is right or wrong, respectable or racist, its prostitution for political ends is bad news – both for politics and for science.

It is bad for politics because it rigidifies debate. Great important questions about people’s lives and futures are reduced to findings made by scientists and plotted on a line graph. Decisions are taken less on the basis of human interest and need, and more on the basis of what scientists predict is possible and desirable. So today we have the quite shocking situation where the Third World is discussed in terms of how much the River Nile might rise by over the next 100 years, as ruminated over by scientists and experts, rather than in terms of what living, breathing Africans need and expect from life today. The use of science for political ends dehumanises debate. The Nazis’ scurrilous science reduced humans to a hierarchy of beasts. Today’s exploitation of the science of global warming by political elites doesn’t do that, of course, but it does reduce humans to Problems, who are apparently both causing global warming and whose needs and desires cannot be met because to do so would further contribute to global warming.

The use of science in politics also serves to shut down genuine, open political debate. When one side can argue that its political programme is underpinned by Scientific Truth, then its opponents and critics can easily be written off as ‘deniers’ of the Truth, as ‘liars’ and ‘anti-science charlatans’. Question the agenda of ‘sustainable development’ in Africa, which consigns millions to grinding poverty, and you will be accused of ‘ignoring the facts on global warming’; ask whether it is right to restrict people’s ability to travel the world in aeroplanes, one of the great advances of the past hundred years, and you will be told to ‘look at the science!’ Political criticisms are written off as anti-science yelps. The exploitation of science by political elements gives rise to a politics that is narrow, fatalistic and censorious.

The use and abuse of climate change science is bad for science, too. When politicians look to science for their moral authority, believing that scientists can provide a gravitas to their political campaigning, it inevitably pollutes science. The aim of science becomes less to uncover scientific truths than to lend authority to political prejudices – and science inevitably becomes bent in the process. While some scientists, such as those in Oxford, New York and Germany cited above, seem keen to resist the pollution of science by ‘unscientific assumptions’, others have unfortunately gone along with the use of their work to back up political campaigning.

As Professor Hardaker in Oxford pointed out, even an august body such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science talks about global warming in hysterical, unscientific terms, predicting ‘intensification of droughts, heatwaves, floods, wildfires, and severe storms….’ (6) The politicisation of the science of climate change may have the long-term effect of skewing the science, as some scientists fall for the promise of global authority – stardom, no less – if their findings can be made to fit in with today’s narrow political priorities.

There has been a great deal of witch-hunting of Martin Durkin and the contributors to his film The Great Global Warming Swindle over the past two weeks. This witch hunt does not only point to a high level of intolerance in the global warming debate – it also suggests widespread ignorance about who and what is really undermining science today. It is not Durkin, a lone filmmaker with few friends in high places, who is damaging science, but rather those mainstream figures in politics and the media who are using science for cynical and narrow political campaigns.

There is something profoundly inhumane in the politics of global warming, in the widespread discussion of humans as problems to be worked around rather than beings with needs and desires. Anyone interested in real and meaningful dissent today – who believes that questions about the future of humanity are not reducible to graphs and pie charts – should aim their fire at the denigration of both science and politics by today’s Great Global Warming Consensus.



"Warming" makes poor people feel the cold

The number of households facing a choice between heating and eating has almost doubled in the past two years. Spiralling gas and electricity bills have left nearly 4m having to spend at least 10% of their disposable income on heating and lighting - the definition of 'fuel poverty'. This is an increase of more than 1.7m, according to an independent study.

The research was commissioned by the Energy Efficiency Partnership for Homes - a group of 700 industry bodies concerned with domestic energy efficiency. It shows that the Government is hopelessly failing to hit its own targets to stamp out fuel poverty. In 2001, the Government publicly stated that it would eradicate fuel poverty for all vulnerable and low-income households by 2010 and all other households by 2016. Given the increase in the problem over the last two years, it would seem that this is now an impossible task.

The research pointed out that electricity prices surged by 39% and gas prices by 61% between 2003 and 2006. The Government has cashed in on the increases, with a huge rise in the tax paid by North Sea gas companies and VAT on bills. Very little of this has been used to help families struggling with their bills, however. Some 650,000 local authority or housing association households - one in three of the total - struggled to meet rising energy bills in 2006, paying an average 814 pounds a year. These households are now three times more likely to be fuel poor than tenants in 2004, who spent 590 pounds a year on bills.

The report was commissioned by the Managed Homes subgroup of the EEPH which is chaired by Places for People - the UK's largest housing and regeneration group which is responsible for 60,000 homes across the country Project director Nicholas Doyle warned: 'For thousands of people, the prospect of a warm and comfortable home is now a luxury that they cannot afford. The stark reality is that many people from low-income backgrounds are now faced with the choice of deciding whether to heat their home or provide for their family. ...


Australia's humane British founders

Leftist historians give the impression that Australia's founders were genocidal military dictators. But many of Australia's early colonial leaders were human rights activists ahead of their time, as Keith Windschuttle documents below. Australia's first governor, Capt. Phillip was anti-slavery before Wilberforce! Following the documentation below is a summary of what the Leftists say -- and a rebuttal of it

According to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the 200th anniversary of his country's abolition of the slave trade tomorrow offers the chance to say how profoundly shameful slavery was. Equally, however, it provides the occasion to commemorate those who abolished the trade. In 1807, the British were the first people in the world to do so. This was one of the great feats in the history of human freedom and its originators and their motives deserve to be understood and celebrated today.

Moreover, there was a strong connection between the British colonisation of Australia and those who campaigned against slavery. Today, our contemporary historians avoid this topic. Hence, few Australians are aware of how powerful the abolitionist sentiment was in colonial Australia or how strongly English abolitionists influenced the political and moral foundations of this country.

Soon after British secretary for home affairs, Lord Sydney, appointed him the first governor of NSW in September 1786, Arthur Phillip drew up a detailed memorandum of his plans for the proposed new colony. In one paragraph he wrote: "The laws of this country (England) will of course be introduced in New South Wales, and there is one that I would wish to take place from the moment his majesty's forces take possession of the country: that there can be no slavery in a free land, and consequently no slaves."

In all of Australia's founding documents this statement stands out starkly. There are no other appeals to great principles, no declaration of independence, no constitutional preamble full of nation-building sentiment. Instead, we were founded by bureaucratic correspondence from the British Home Office to the Admiralty, the Navy Board and the Treasury, by other letters, commissions of appointment and warrants for transportation, and by one act of the British parliament concerned mostly with "the transportation of felons and other offenders". Hence Phillip's paragraph above, especially his unequivocal and spare avowal, "there can be no slavery in a free land", is probably the best founding proclamation we have.

It was a remarkable declaration to make at the time. For a start, it demonstrated that its governor and those who appointed him had more ambitious plans for the new colony than they made public. "A free land" meant much more than a dumping ground for convicts. Phillip clearly expected NSW eventually to be composed largely of free settlers. Moreover, Phillip's objection to slavery was noticeably ahead of his time. At this distance, it may seem part of the stock opinion of the day, just one more expression of the abolitionist movement that persuaded the British parliament to outlaw the transportation of slaves on the high seas. But there was more to it than that. As Phillip said, the laws of England did not permit slavery. The ownership and sale of human beings had been illegal in England since the early Middle Ages, but by the 1700s the growth of the slave trade to the Americas saw thousands of black slaves employed as servants in London, Edinburgh and other urban centres. In the celebrated James Somerset case of 1772, Lord Mansfield found that English law did not permit slavery and that black servants were free to go as they pleased.

Nonetheless slavery still thrived across the British Empire. The merchant fleet of Liverpool dominated the transport of slaves from Africa to the Americas; the sugar plantations of Britain's Caribbean colonies were dependent on slave labour; and slavery was widespread in the Muslim realms of British India. Moreover, Britain's former colonies in North America had just formed an independent union based on an appeal to freedom and equality, yet still they housed almost 700,000 slaves.

Phillip wrote his memorandum before the abolitionist movement gained public momentum. At the time, to take a stand for this moral cause put him decidedly on the progressive side of politics. The abolitionists' parliamentary leader, William Wilberforce, decided to take up the issue only in May 1787, eight months after Phillip declared his own attitude. The abolitionist evangelicals in the Church of England and their Quaker supporters were then a marginal group of activists. Their spokesman, Thomas Clarkson, had not yet begun the speaking tours of British cities that were to make abolition a popular cause. By 1791, when Wilberforce introduced his first bill to abolish the slave trade, the movement had made progress but parliament still rejected it decisively by 163 votes to 88.

Although the evangelicals were the main force behind the abolitionist movement and Wilberforce its best-known politician, Phillip had not been greatly influenced by them. Indeed, he was not an especially religious man. His 1786 memorandum discussed his proposed colony's housing, health care, clothing, relations with the Aborigines, rewards and punishments for convicts, land grants, shipping regulations, exploration and trade. Conspicuously, he mentioned neither religion nor the church. In practice, he seemed to regard religion primarily as a utilitarian device for maintaining social order and good behaviour.

Instead, he took a more secular political position that saw slavery as an offence against the tradition of "the freeborn Englishman" that defined his country. This was a political and a folk tradition that extended back at least to the English Civil War but probably much further. It meant that no one in England could be born into slavery, bondage or vassalage. All were born with inalienable rights to freedom.

Phillip was also the inheritor of the British naval tradition that looked down on Europe's original imperial powers, Spain and Portugal. Since the Spanish Armada, English Protestant sailors had been nourished on a diet of anti-Spanish stories designed to show that the adherents of the Catholic Church were capable of any cruelty. Tales of the atrocities of the Spanish Inquisition and the brutal treatment of African slaves and the indigenous people of the Americas entrenched the sentiment.

A further influence on Phillip was the humanitarian movement that emerged within the British Enlightenment in the late 1700s. This movement, which had support from early British anthropologists and the Anglican Church, emphasised the unity of humankind. All human beings, whatever their skin colour, were members of the one species and were thus equal, both at law and before God. This sentiment led several Scottish intellectuals to openly condemn slavery, especially Adam Smith in The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), plus George Wallace and Adam Ferguson. In England, William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765-69) made a firm break with Roman law on the subject.

In April 1787, Phillip made another memorable statement that applied this egalitarian sentiment to the Aborigines of NSW: "Any Man who takes the life of a Native will be put on his Trial the same as if he had kill'd one of the Garrison. This appears to me not only just but good policy."

Since his early 20s, Phillip had found slavery repugnant. As a junior naval officer on a tour of duty to the Caribbean in 1760-62 he saw the Spanish and British slave plantations on Jamaica, the Leeward Islands and Cuba. "By the time he left the lavish islands," writes his biographer Alan Frost, "Phillip has come to see that behind their gleaming skin lurked a gruesome skull." The evil commerce and the lot of the slaves, Frost records, made an abiding impression on the young naval officer. Phillip spent the years 1775-78 in Brazil as a captain in the Portuguese navy. During a lull in duties at sea, he made an investigation of the king of Portugal's Brazilian diamond mines. He discovered much about Brazil's "Forbidden District", where 5000 African slaves mined diamonds under the constant gaze of their individual overseers. This experience confirmed his aversion to slavery.

Phillip's successors as governors of NSW, John Hunter, Philip Gidley King and William Bligh, were all naval men who shared similar ideas and experiences. All had served in the West Indies or North America and subscribed to the same naval values and humanitarian spirit. They had directly encountered or heard tales of the slave trade to the Americas much like that experienced by Lachlan Macquarie in August 1809 while en route to NSW. Off the Brazilian coast, Macquarie's ship accosted a Portuguese slaver bound for Rio de Janeiro carrying 540 African females. Disease had broken out and, to prevent the infection from spreading, the captain had thrown 50 live women overboard. Elizabeth Macquarie was shocked. Her husband's biographer, John Ritchie, records: "Elizabeth's humanity shuddered at this monstrousness and caused her to think of the abolitionist William Wilberforce."

As well as the Enlightenment tradition of the naval officers, the Australian colony harboured a vigorous evangelical movement. Evangelicalism was a reform movement that arose within the Church of England in the late 18th century. It aimed to apply the principles of the Gospels to social life. Its main causes were penal reform, the abolition of slavery and missions to the native people of the empire. The founding of NSW as a convict society in the Pacific, where the Australian and Pacific Island tribes seemed ripe for conversion, was tailor-made for the movement. Although Wilberforce's main project was the abolition of slavery, he was also concerned with improving the living conditions of convicts, Aborigines and Pacific Islanders. From the outset, he took a close interest in NSW, soliciting reports from his evangelical followers in the colony and acting as patron of their appointments. He successfully nominated the colony's first two chaplains, Richard Johnson and Samuel Marsden.

He thought the key to good colonial order was religious observance. In 1792 he wrote to home secretary Lord Dundas saying he had information from NSW that among "the higher, as well as the lower ranks, a degree of open profligacy and vice is allowed if not encouraged there". He urged Dundas "to introduce and keep alive amongst the bulk of the people such a sense of religion as will make them temperate and orderly, and domestic and contented".

Until 1796, Lachlan Macquarie had unquestioningly accepted slavery. He was then a captain in the British army in India. At the time, India had a population of eight million slaves and the institution had existed since time immemorial. Indeed, in 1794, when he joined his regiment in Calicut, Macquarie purchased two slave boys from the market in Cochin. His first wife, Jane, was the daughter of the chief justice of Antigua in the West Indies and she owned a small number of slaves there. Jane died of consumption in 1796 and in her will she set her slaves free. Her husband followed her example and emancipated his Indian slaves, enrolling them in a parish school at Bombay to learn to read and write.

Later, as military secretary to the governor of Bombay, Jonathan Duncan, and as a friend of wealthy merchant Charles Forbes - two Englishmen who endorsed the emerging humanitarian sentiment of the time - Macquarie became a critic of slavery. He returned to England in 1807, the year of the abolitionists' victory, and caught the enthusiasm for their cause. That year he married his second wife, Elizabeth, and came under the influence of her religious outlook, especially her belief that all human creatures were equal in the eyes of God.

These views changed the course of Australian colonial history. Determined to avoid any comparison between convict transportation and slavery, Macquarie radically reformed the punitive regime for convicts, turning it into a program for their regeneration. He moderated corporal punishment, reduced life sentences to 15 years and reprieved numerous convicts sentenced to death. Where Bligh had granted two pardons during his 18-month term as governor, between 1810 and 1820 Macquarie gave 366 absolute pardons, 1365 conditional pardons and 2319 tickets-of-leave (certificates of exemption from compulsory labour). He granted land to emancipists (pardoned convicts) and expirees, and even invited some to dine with him. He appointed former convicts as magistrates, as assistant surgeon, acting surveyor, civil architect and poet laureate. To celebrate St Patrick's Day in 1810, Elizabeth Macquarie invited to dinner 58 convicts and their overseers.

Although Lachlan Macquarie's generosity and clemency sowed seeds of dissension among the free settlers that eventually brought him down, he demonstrated that a penal regime of this kind worked. Most successive governors kept his policies largely intact. The long-term result was that probably more than half of the 160,000 convicts transported in 80 years were transformed from the criminal subcultures of their youth into useful citizens: farmers, tradesmen, soldiers and, in a small but notable number of cases, successful professional and business men and women. Transportation to Australia became history's most successful large-scale experiment in penal reform.

Macquarie translated Wilberforce's agenda into policy towards the Aborigines. He established the Native Institution for Aboriginal children; he settled Aboriginal adults on a farm at George's Head and gave them seed and tools; he built huts for others at Elizabeth Bay and gave them a boat, fishing tackle, salt and casks; in 1814 he inaugurated an annual gathering and feast for all the Aborigines of the Sydney region.

Left-wing historians today record with some satisfaction that all his Aboriginal policies eventually failed. They still demonstrated Macquarie's intention towards the Aborigines, which was to give them the gift of British civilisation. He regarded them as his equals and thought that with only a little assistance they could make the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture.

In the 1820s, two other Australian colonial governors, Ralph Darling and George Arthur, owed their positions partly to the reputations they gained for actions against the slave trade. Other prominent Australian colonists who had dealings with Wilberforce in London or who gained positions here on his recommendation included navigator Matthew Flinders, lieutenant-governor Charles La Trobe, judge Barron Field; merchant and philanthropist Robert Campbell, banker and newspaper editor Edward Hall Smith, author Nicholas Liddiard, pastoralist John Leake and Anglican clergyman Thomas Hassall.


Leftist historians hide Australia's humane past

The idea that slavery was an affront to humanity that had no place in a free land was part of the original definition of what it meant to be an Australian. Unfortunately, in today's academic climate in which the Left dominates history and the prevailing mind-set is to disparage our origins, very few academic historians discuss these issues. Anyone looking to the Oxford Companion to Australian History for insight will find its editors, Graeme Davison, John Hirst and Stuart Macintyre, did not think the abolitionists worthy of an entry or even a mention in the subject index.

Moreover, although NSW founder Arthur Phillip's original anti-slavery declaration was once well known to earlier generations of students, historians today rarely mention it. Even when they do, their intention is usually to qualify it heavily. For instance, in The Europeans in Australia (1997), Alan Atkinson calls Phillip's statement "almost gratuitous", then tries to make him look the odd man out in the colony by saying that once he returned to England, the officers of the marines hoped the Aborigines "might be harnessed to a form of slavery on the current American model".

This claim is hardly credible. The sole evidence for it is half a sentence written in 1795 in the diary of the alcoholic, dissolute magistrate Richard Atkins, a long-time adversary of the officers, who did not name those concerned. Moreover, Atkinson neglects to inform his readers that the other half of Atkins's sentence mocks the very notion. The full sentence Atkins wrote was: "They seem to adopt the Idea that the Natives can be made Slaves of, than which nothing can be more false, they are free as air and Govr. Phillip's conduct was highly approved of for reprobating that idea."

Worse still, students of Australian history taught by the present generation of university lecturers are swamped by allegations that colonial officials were guilty of genocide against the Aborigines. According to Ann Curthoys and John Docker of Australian National University, joint editors of the 2001 edition of the academic journal Aboriginal History, Britain was the most "overtly genocidal" of the European colonial powers and its colonisation of Australia produced a genocide comparable to that of Nazi Germany. Most other authors in that journal agreed with them.

Since genocide is a crime of government and a crime of intent, this accusation is disturbing. If true, it means that all those Australian colonial officials who supported the abolition movement, who were proteges of William Wilberforce and who publicly declared that all human beings were equal before the law, must have been liars and hypocrites. Moreover, their words must have been the opposite of their deeds not just once but consistently across several decades and throughout many colonial administrations. In other words, the accusation is implausible on these grounds alone and is evidence not of the intentions of our founders but of how something has gone seriously wrong with the historical interpretation that prevails in this field.

Today, on the rare occasions it is discussed in Australian history books, the abolitionist movement that triumphed in 1807 usually figures only as an introduction to the campaign in the late 1830s to end convict transportation. Those colonists and their English supporters who were opposed to transportation often compared it with slavery. It is true that Britain's Molesworth Committee of 1838, whose report effectively ended transportation to NSW two years later, did use the comparison with slavery to capitalise on abolitionist sentiment in the wake of the 1833 act outlawing the ownership of slaves in the British Empire.

This makes recent historians think they are licensed to repeat the charge as if it were true. In her volume of the Oxford History of Australia (1992), Jan Kociumbas calls the convict regime variously "slavery" (her scare quotes), semi-slavery and a system of slave labour. This analogy is false since convicts could not be bought or sold in Australia and most were sentenced to fixed terms, after which they were free to remain here or return home. And unlike slaves, their children were always born free. Hence, it is historically inaccurate to use the term today to describe what the convict system was really like.

However, in an era when readers of Australian history are so readily seduced by the pseudo-scholarship of books such as Robert Hughes's bestseller The Fatal Shore, which portrays the convict era as Britain's equivalent of Joseph Stalin's gulag archipelago, bad news is obviously what sells. That Australia's founders were so closely connected to, and so strongly motivated by, one of history's great movements for human liberation is, for some perverse reason, something we now prefer not to know.


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