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Wry & Dry #18 FY-24: China: Echo Wall. Epidemics: RDS. Iran.

Enjoy Wry & Dry: a cynical and irreverent blend of politics, economics and life.

Ten stories you may have missed

  1. China: at the Echo Wall
  2. Epidemic: RDS going global
  3. Iran: a deeper dive
  4. Optus: the wrong questions
  5. US: Republican sandpit fight
  6. US: 14th Amendment can kicked
  7. Queensland: no merit
  8. Qantas: material non-public information
  9. Victoria: smoke and mirrors financing
  10. Photography: “A long time ago…”

1. China: at the Echo Wall

The Australian media was weirdly transfixed with Albo’s latest overseas vacation. This time to China. Readers will remember that it has been 52 years since iconoclastic and later PM Gough Whitlam shocked the world with his Chinese vacation. Whitlam was still 18 months away from becoming Prime Minister1 when he strode into Beijing… just to have a photo taken of him at the famous Echo Wall:

Gough Whitlam at Beijing’s Echo Wall, in 1971.

Albo’s major purpose in visiting Beijing was to also visit the Echo Wall. But Albo was careful not to be seen to emulate his hero, and merely stood alongside the wall:

Albo at Beijing’s Echo Wall, in 2023.

The difference is clear, Whitlam attracted a group of onlookers, curious at seeing such a giant of a man (1.94m). Albo’s height (1.74m) didn’t arouse much attention, so he was on his own, but for Foreign Minister Penny Wong, who took the photo on her iPhone.

Meanwhile, later at the main game – China v Australia: Emperor Eleven played chess. Albo played noughts and crosses.

1 Whitlam was berated by then PM Billy McMahon (Australia’s worst PM until Scott Morrison strode in to see the Governor-General on 24 August 2018) for allowing himself to be “played as a fisherman plays a trout” by Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai. McMahon was somewhat embarrassed when he later found out that US National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger was secretly in the Chinese capital one week after Whitlam, arranging a visit by Nixon.

2. Epidemic: RDS going global

The news last week that former PM Keating had lost it completely with a recurrence of RDS2 was only a modest surprise. The bad news this week is that RDS is spreading.

Readers will recall that former PM Scott Morrison hailed his 2019 election victory as a miracle, for which he himself was entirely responsible. Clearly hoping for another miracle in the epicentre of miracles, Morrison flew into Israel over the weekend. The purported aim of the visit was to “show solidarity’. Or perhaps turn ire into balm.

Readers will know better. He obviously got jealous of Keating’s headline grabbing comments of last week. And feared that unless he did something he might be forgotten by Australians.

Allow Wry & Dry to give Readers the whisper: Australians will never forget Scott Morrison. But no-one will be playing the Last Post in his memory.

2 Relevance Deprivation Syndrome.

3. Iran: a deeper dive

This is the fourth of more serious articles since the Hamas pogrom, the aim of which is to add some intellectual rigour to the debate.

After the initial massacre of Israelis, little has been made of Iran’s role in Hamas’ pogrom. And even less about understanding its more recent actions in the Middle East.

Firstly, Iran isn’t getting what it wanted from the war. It’s objective in arming, training and encouraging Hamas wasn’t solely to cause humanitarian pain to Israel. The real objective was to disrupt the gradual deepening of the strategic ties between Israel and its most important Arab neighbours, namely Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Some weeks ago Wry & Dry wrote of optimistic negotiations between Saudi Arabia, Sleepy Joe and Israel. These talks have been deferred.

Secondly, aside from the expected and aggressive tut tutting, the Arab world has not lifted a finger to assist Hamas. Or support Iran.

Thirdly, Iran’s regional hegemonic ambitions are in tatters. Its actions have left a trail of ruined countries and bloody corpses. Consider that Tehran’s support for Bashar al-Assad in Syria is responsible for many times more deaths and refugees than all of the Israeli-Palestinian wars combined. Or that Iran’s support for Hezbollah converted once-prosperous Lebanon into a poverty-stricken Iranian satellite. Tehran’s operatives keep Iraq in a state of miserable unrest. Iranian support for Houthi forces in Yemen drove one of the greatest humanitarian disasters of our time.

Really. What’s the point of all of this? Iran didn’t and doesn’t care about Arabs in Syria, Lebanon Iraq or Yemen. Much less Palestinians. It doesn’t wish a peaceful Middle East, unless it is on its terms.

4. Optus: The wrong questions

Optus: everyone asked the wrong questions.

WQ1. What went wrong?

Even if told within a nanosecond and people actually understood the answer, does it matter on Day 1?

WQ2. Why/ how/ where did Optus’ CEO really mess up?

Does it matter on Day 1? This ‘give me a head on a platter’ scenario is right only after some facts, and lots of facts, are known. For example: consider Qantas and Alan Joyce. The facts are now known. And Wry & Dry has the platter.

WQ3. What about compensation?

Wry & Dry gives it one week before Sue ‘Em, Screw ‘Em & Ruin ‘Em commences a class action.

Right Q1: If one of the major mobile phone/ internet providers has a bad hair day (e.g. from a mobile tower burn-out or nationwide blackout), why cannot users of that service be automatically switched to one of the other providers?

The answer is: because the telcos don’t like the idea.

5. US: Republican sand pit fight

Some Readers consider US politics to be the dregs of human existence. Especially since the Trumpster got top gig in 2016. Others focus intently on the unarguable fact that, regardless of its idiocy, of all elections the US presidential election has the greatest influence on the globe.

Consider the recent good outcomes: Johnson, Reagan and Clinton. And the shockers: Nixon, G.W. Bush and Trump. The problem is that the damage done by the bad can be almost irretrievable.

So, it is understandable to indulge those Readers who see the US election, even at this early stage, as critical to world events. Which brings Wry & Dry to the US Republican Party presidential debates. These events are designed to shape opinion for the ‘primaries’ (i.e. pre-selections) that commence early next year. Of course, the Trumpster won’t participate, seeing himself as above it all.

Mindful of Readers’ time, the summary of the three debates to date (the third being last night) is best represented by a chart in the New York Times. The below is the opinion of seven Times’ journalists, averaged and ranked:

Nikki Haley was the Trumpster’s Ambassador to the UN. DeSantis is the governor (i.e. premier) of Florida. Give the rest the DCM.

6. US: First 14th amendment can kicked

Last week, Wry & Dry reminded Readers of the possibilities for They-The-People-of-the-US of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. The possibilities for the Trumpster to be banned from standing for the top gig because of his attempted ‘insurrection’ are underway in Colorado, Michigan and Minnesota. The latter case is the first to be settled.

The Minnesota Supreme Court has partially quashed the attempted ban, based on a technicality. That being the Trumpster’s name could go on a ballot for the primary (i.e. pre-selection) as that was a political party matter. But that wouldn’t stop the challengers from “bringing a petition raising their claims as to the general election.”

The can has been kicked down the road.

Meanwhile, in one of those fatuous ‘rich list’ announcements, Bloomberg Billionaires Index breathlessly stated on Wednesday that the Trumpster is worth US$3.1 billion, up exactly US$500 million since 2021.

The man would not be happy. He said in 2022 that he was worth $8 to $9 billion.

7. Queensland: no merit

Queensland is a strange place. And its government is a microcosm of strangeness.

Its public service has abolished the hiring of people on the basis of ‘merit’. Selection will now be based on ‘suitability’.

In these times of self-identification (e.g. Wry & Dry identifies as an elite athlete), candidates for roles in Queensland can simply identify as being ‘suitable’ for a role. As this is a much more subjective basis than merit, Readers can imagine that unsuccessful candidates will lawyer-up.

8. Qantas: material non-public information

The Australian Financial Review had some time ago stated that Qantas had received compulsory information notices (which require companies to hand over documents) on 26 April 2023.

Documents filed by ACCC’s lawyers on Wednesday state that on 29 May 2023, Qantas supplied the ACCC with details of some 18,000 flights relating to its case against Qantas (for selling tickets on flights that it had cancelled).

On 1 June, former Qantas CEO Alan Joyce sold some $19m of Qantas shares, having been given consent by Qantas Chairman Richard Goyder, so to do. Mr Joyce’s sale price was $6.74.

Yesterday, Qantas share price was $5.32, having slid 21% since the ACCC legal action was announced. The ASX All Ordinaries Index has increased by 0.36% over the same period.

Is it possible that Mr. Joyce was aware of the ACCC’s request of 26 April and Qantas’ response? Is it possible that Mr. Joyce would not have advised Qantas’ board, if not the chairman?

Is it possible that Mr. Joyce was in possession of material non-public information when he sold his shares?

Is this now a matter for ASIC?

Just askin’.

9. Victoria: smoke and mirrors financing

The Victorian government is going full steam ahead with Emeritus Chairman Dan’s Suburban Rail Loop (SRL), notwithstanding the federal government announcing on Monday that it would not provide any more dosh than the $2.2 billion already offered.

The first stage is now estimated to cost $34.4 billion. The distance is about 26 kilometres.

On Monday (quoted in the media on Tuesday), a spokesperson for the Victorian government, parroting new Premier Games-What-Games Allen, stated that, “Victorians have endorsed SLR at the two previous elections…”

Err, no. Victorians certainly didn’t endorse spending $1.3 billion per kilometre on the project. Really? Yes, that’s $1.3 million per metre! But wait! There’s more. Something is going on…

On Wednesday (ditto: Thursday), a spokesperson – possibly the same person who spoke on Monday – hinted that a ‘public-private partnership’ was being considered to help finance the project. The idea would be that the winning construction consortium would itself borrow money to cover construction, maintenance and operating the SRL. The state government would then pay the consortium ‘monthly access fees’ over decades once the SRL opens.

Who are they kidding? Really.

Firstly, as the consortium would borrow at higher interest rates than the government, the project cost would increase significantly, even if the debt was guaranteed by the government. And if that were the case, the rating agencies would treat the consortium’s debt as Victoria’s.

Secondly, the suggestion that the fares collected on the SRL would pay for all of the accumulated costs is farcical. The current cost recovery of Melbourne’s Metro is about 20% – one of the lowest of any city in the world1.

As the government would wish to keep fares modest to encourage use of the SRL, it is likely that the cost recovery would be the same. Not that there is much room to increase prices: Melbourne’s fares are among the world’s highest.

Wry & Dry will keep Readers appraised on any further ideas to come from the poor public servants who have now been given the task to finance this [insert your chosen colour here] elephant.

10. Photography: “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”

As Readers silently read of the increasing shambles of this world, there is merit in seeing one of the beautiful photos from Euclid. Euclid is the European Space Agency’s recently launched (July) and massive space telescope. It is now ‘parked’ some 2.2 million kilometres from the sun, at a point called Lagrange 2, where gravitational forces cancel out.

The photo is of the Horsehead Nebula, some 1,375 light years from Earth. A person in the nebula looking through a telescope back at Earth would today see in Arabia the mourning following the death of Prophet Muhammad.

Snippets from all over

1. USA: WeWork collapses

WeWork, the flexible-workspace company filed for bankruptcy, capping the remarkable collapse of what was once the nation’s most valuable start-up (US$47 billion). (Wall Street Journal)

Wry & Dry comments: looks like WeWork Didn’tWork (groan).

2. Democrats win locally

Joe Biden’s Democratic party has secured victories in a series of US state and local elections, providing a boost for the president as he confronts declining approval ratings ahead of a fight for re-election next year. (Financial Times)

Wry & Dry comments: It will be a small boost. Sleepy Joe’s name wasn’t on any of the ballot papers – it was all about local issues.

3. France: anti-Semitic acts leap

France has recorded more than a thousand anti-Semitic acts since the deadly October 7 attack by Hamas gunman on Israel. (Le Monde)

Wry & Dry comments: France’s Jewish population, estimated at over 500,000, is the largest in Europe and the third-biggest in the world, after Israel and the United States.

4. USA: Biden behind Trump in key states

President Biden is trailing Donald J. Trump in five of the six most important battleground states one year before the 2024 election, suffering from enormous doubts about his age and deep dissatisfaction over his handling of the economy and a host of other issues. (New York Times)

Wry & Dry comments: Deep analysis shows that Sleepy Joe’s multi-racial and multi-generational coalition is fraying. But the Democrats are in denial. They are sleepwalking to a loss.

5. Italy: Bunga bunga leftovers

An Italian model intends to sue Silvio Berlusconi’s children for €3 million after they decided to cut off monthly cash payments made to her and other bunga bunga partygoers. (UK Telegraph)

Wry & Dry comments: Italy: focusing on the big issues of the day.

6. Afghanistan: Fewer poppies

A UN report said that the cultivation of opium poppies in Afghanistan had fallen by 95% since the Taliban criminalised its farming in April 2022. (The Economist)

Wry & Dry comments: When the Taliban returned to power in 2021, Afghanistan was the source of 85% of the world’s opium.


  1. Australia: the Reserve Bank lifted interest rates to 4.35% from 4.1%.
  2. US: annualised interest payments on US government debt climbed past US$1 trillion in October, doubling in the past 19 months.
  3. China: recorded its first ever quarterly deficit in foreign direct investment.

And, to soothe your troubled mind…

“I’ve never seen a bunch of people less well-equipped to run a country.”

Simon Case, former UK Cabinet Secretary, speaking of Borisconi’s cabinet, in a social media comment released in the UK’s covid enquiry.

This enquiry will provide even more quotes that any of the civil and criminal trials to which the Trumpster is subject.

PS The comments in Wry & Dry do not necessarily reflect those of First Samuel, its Directors or Associates.


Anthony Starkins

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