Wednesday 27 September 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 27/9/2023

The Monocle Minute

The Opinion

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Andrew Mueller

Losing our voice

Australian prime ministers do not hold referendums lightly. Since the country’s federation in 1901, my fellow citizens have proved reluctant to tinker with our constitution: of the 44 referendums that Australia has conducted, the proposition has been defeated on 36 occasions. Nevertheless, the current prime minister, Anthony Albanese, has staked considerable political capital on a referendum that will be held on 14 October. The question is whether Australians wish to constitutionally enshrine a body that will make representations to parliament on behalf of the country’s indigenous peoples. The trajectory of polling suggests that the idea is becoming less and less popular as the vote gets closer.

Anecdote is not data but, on a recent visit to Australia, I was surprised by how many in my own circle were somewhere between “hesitant yes” and “reluctant no”. All were absolutely in favour of constitutional recognition of indigenous Australians. Almost all were in favour of something resembling the Voice (as the proposed federal advisory body is known). But there was confusion – and irritation – as to why the government didn’t simply legislate such a thing into being, as opposed to cementing it into the constitution.

There were two reasons for this vexation. One was broadly utilitarian: what if we find ourselves lumbered with something that doesn’t work – some revival of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, abolished in 2005 amid bipartisan consensus that it had been an expensive failure? The other reason involved memories of the 2017 vote on same-sex marriage. Though this was a plebiscite in which voting was optional (rather than a referendum in which voting is compulsory) and the result was a resounding “yes”, it sparked a nasty, divisive culture war, waged with inane scaremongering about the people at the heart of the issue – as the Voice campaign now inevitably is.

At moments such as this, putting a question to the people looks less like an expression of faith in the electorate and more like a demonstration of cowardice in the government.

Andrew Mueller is a contributing editor at Monocle and presenter of The Foreign Desk on Monocle Radio. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.


Central Asian heads of state

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / Global

Friends and influence

Germany’s chancellor, Olaf Scholz, will meet the presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan on Friday. It will be the first joint meeting of its kind to be hosted by an EU country. Scholz hopes to strengthen political and economic ties with the Central Asian nations after relations with Russia fell apart following the invasion of Ukraine, resulting in a steep fall in German exports to Russia.

Scholz will receive Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan, Sadyr Zhaparov of Kyrgyzstan, Emomali Rahmon of Tajikistan, Serdar Berdimuhamedow of Turkmenistan and Shavkat Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan. The energy-rich Kazakhstan is of particular interest to the German chancellor, who is looking for new ways to reduce its dependence on Russian energy. At a time when much of the EU is severing ties with Moscow, creating alternative alliances is crucial.

Image: Alamy

Defence / USA

Delays are expected

A lack of spare parts and technical data, poor training of maintenance staff, and a lagging effort to expand repair depots are dragging down the US military’s ability to keep the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter programme in the air. According to a new report from government auditors, the jets are only available to fly 55 per cent of the time and the majority of replacement parts must be sent back to suppliers because the Pentagon’s maintenance depots are inadequate.

The programme is one of the Pentagon’s most expensive, costing almost $1.7trn (€1.6trn). Of that amount, $1.3trn (€1.2trn) has been spent on the cost of operating and maintaining the fighter jets. “What we’re finding with this new generation of engines is that they require spare parts that simply aren’t available,” Flightglobal’s Asia managing editor, Greg Waldron, tells The Monocle Minute. “In the coming years, we’re going to see hundreds of aircraft that have to be taken offline for engine repairs and this is a very long, very difficult process.”

Culture / Timor-Leste

Screen time

The fifth edition of the Dili International Film Festival (DIFF) opens tomorrow in Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste. The three-week event is the first of its kind in the small Southeast Asian nation, which gained independence in 2002 and opened its first (and so far only) cinema, the Platinum Cineplex in Dili, in 2013. Screenings will take place at the cinema, on the beach and even at the embassy to the Holy See. “There was always this idea of, ‘Wouldn’t it be great, in Asia’s youngest country, to host an international film festival?’” DIFF director Lena Lenzen tells The Monocle Minute. Timor-Leste’s president, José Ramos-Horta, whom Lenzen calls “the biggest film buff”, will give a speech to kick off the festival. This year’s event will include screenings of movies from around the world, filmmaking workshops for aspiring Timorese auteurs and a nationwide short-film competition. With only one cinema and no film school, DIFF is one of the best opportunities for Timorese film fans to watch a wide range of international features on the big screen and learn about the craft.

The list


Election watch

Over the next three weeks, three European countries will hold elections whose results could have significant repercussions on both the economic stability and foreign policy of the region. Here’s what to look out for:

1. Spain: The Gordian knot
The country needs to get itself out of a political deadlock. Though Alberto Núñez Feijóo won the most seats in Spain’s general election in July, he failed to secure a majority. The Spanish parliament will be holding a “yes or no” vote among lawmakers today and another ballot on Friday to approve or oppose his bid to become prime minister.

2. Slovakia: Populism on the rise
The country will be holding parliamentary elections this Saturday. The latest opinion polls suggest that Robert Fico, a pro-Moscow populist, will become prime minister for the third time. His party, Direction – Social Democracy, has gained momentum by arguing against sending aid to Ukraine and opposing sanctions on Russia.

3. Poland: At loggerheads
Campaigning for the parliamentary elections on 15 October has already generated headlines. The country’s prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, extended a ban on Ukrainian grain imports into the EU in a bid to appease rural workers. The latest polls have his right-wing Law and Justice party in the lead, ahead of the centrist, Donald Tusk-led Civic Coalition.

Follow Monocle’s coverage for more insight and analysis on forthcoming elections. Tune in every weekday to ‘The Globalist’ at 07.00 London time, ‘The Briefing’ at 12.00 and ‘The Monocle Daily’ at 18.00 – all onMonocle Radio.

Image: Jordan Cronenweth/A24

Monocle Radio / On Culture

‘Stop Making Sense’

We celebrate the 40th anniversary of Stop Making Sense, Jonathan Demme’s film with Talking Heads, which is often regarded as the greatest concert movie of all time. Robert Bound is joined in the studio by Will Hodgkinson and Simran Hans to discuss the new 4K restoration of the film, the impact of Stop Making Sense more widely and to recommend the best of the concert-movie genre.


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