New Order changeth
I am just an ordinary man. An ordinary man like you, and an ordinary
man like me.
are warm spring breezes in Werrong Lane now, but chilly winds are blowing
down the corridors of the weird bunker-like thing that is Parliament
House in Canberra and among the armed forces buildings on Russell Hill,
and also through the halls of power in Jakarta.
Saturday night I went down to the cafe and watched the news on the TV
behind the bar. Thousands of Indonesian soldiers were streaming out
of Dili, jeered by the locals, who had strung East Timorese flags over
the road. In Jakarta, after a violent riot by tens of thousands of enraged
students, President Habibe had suspended a draconian emergency powers
law just passed by the outgoing Suharto-era parliament. The TNI and
the Javanese elite were in deep trouble, and the much-hyped anti-Australian
backlash amounted to a tiny TNI-sponsored rally by what looked like
the Islamic Trailbike Riders' Association or a mob of embittered St
old order is dying. It was known, globally, as The New World Order and
officially in Indonesia -- where it dawned early, in 1965 -- as the
New Order of General Suharto. Not many international powerbrokers drop
in on the general these days and once-faithful allies like Time
magazine accuse him of looting something like $40 billion from the Indonesian
Javanese elites seem genuinely bewildered by the events of the last
months. They thought they could rely on their friends in Canberra and
on the Australian media, but they were suddenly stampeded by a bit of
bad press, a couple of street demonstrations and some TV about people
being chopped up with machetes. In the salons of Jakarta they're asking:
don't these piss-weak bastards know how you dealt with this 'public
Canberra too, there is a sense of things suddenly flying out of their
natural place in the firmament. The political 'realities' on which political
and bureaucratic careers have been built, ever since the sixties, are
suddenly wasting into living skeletons, dying, and crumbing into dust.
of senior figures in the diplomatic service, the "intelligence
community" and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade -- people
who operated an obsequious collaboration with the Jakarta regime --
are suddenly finding their phone calls aren't being returned. Nobody
laughs at their jokes in committee meetings and their subordinates are
becoming insubordinate. Politicians who used to ring for advice are
calling some left-wing academic once regarded as a nutty loser, or Jose
Ramos Horta, or even Xanana Gusmao, whose mobile rings almost constantly.
next step is the purge. In other places (like Jakarta), and in nastier
times, yesterday's bureaucrats would have been quietly shot and the
files culled to remove their names, but this is Australia, so it is
done differently. Many will retire early, to Batemans Bay, citing "medical"
or "family" reasons, and others will shuffle off to write
self-published memoirs, breed dobermans, or make meticulous little plastic
dioramas of German Panzertruppen storming through the ruins of Stalingrad.
it isn't just bureaucrats. A whole generation of senior Australian journalists
-- the chorus boys of the pro-Suharto choir -- are trampling each other
down in the rush to adjusting their positions, cover their tracks, or
even totally re-invent themselves. Others, like Mike Carlton (who thinks
he's one of us) are covering their arse, just in case things go wrong,
and making fatuous comparisons with Vietnam.
big wheels of history are turning and many who are big men today will
be very ordinary little people tomorrow.
in Whispers from the mean streets
-- Best of 1999