Was there ever a book launch like Gina Rinehart’s in Sydney during the week? It was in the Grand Ballroom of the Four Seasons Hotel. The author, ‘the richest woman in the world’, was smuggled in through the back door to avoid the massed reporters and snappers at the front door. Proceedings began with the lusty singing of ‘Advance Australia Fair’. Chairman Julian Malnic of the Sydney Mining Club urged everyone to buy Rinehart’s Northern Australia and Then Some, feel the energy, and imagine a special tax zone to develop the North. When Trevor Sykes, Australia’s top financial journalist, formally launched the book, he said he had not read it — but he launched it anyway. After a fine dinner, Jack Cowin, the Burger King, had a question-and-answer session with ‘the poster girl of Australian mining’. He noted that this day, 22 November, was a special day for her family: the 60th anniversary of the afternoon when her father, blown off course in his small, frail Auster aircraft, discovered the largest iron ore deposit in the world. Sir Lenox Hewitt (aged 95), secretary of the Department of Minerals under Minister Rex Connor in the Whitlam years, spoke boldly of Rinehart’s ‘enormous achievements’. Finally Rinehart took the microphone. She was sorry that Lachlan Murdoch had to leave early and that John (‘Singo’) Singleton was overseas. (Singo’s message was on the book’s cover: ‘Thank you, Gina.’ ) Rinehart spoke simply and persuasively on her book’s subtitle: Changes We Need to Make Our Country Rich. The changes were less taxation and less government. Asked if she would encourage immigrant women to settle in the north, she said: ‘Absolutely! Provided they are not frightened by heat, flies, snakes — and a shortage of hairdressers.’ A video clip of an exultant Barnaby Joyce concluded the formalities. A huge queue formed for the book-signing. It moved slowly as Rinehart chatted with her fans and wrote long messages in the books. This extraordinary launch was only one of eight or nine for a book with an initial print run of a few hundred!

The late Paddy McGuinness, journalist and editor, was only more outspoken than most of his fellow economists in mocking Christian critiques of economics. It is all very well to chase the money-changers out of the temple and it is a great thing to run charities, hospitals and orphanages. But the churches remain, he said, ‘at best stupid or at worst wilfully immoral’ when it comes to understanding how the economy works. But there has been one encouraging development in recent years: a recognition of the kinship between religious freedom and market freedom. Take the free market think-tank the Centre for Independent Studies. It now holds an annual Acton Lecture to examine this relationship. Lecturers have ranged from Bishop Forsyth and Bishop Frame (Anglican) to Jim Wallace (Australian Christian Lobby) to the American George Weigel (Catholic). Most recent was Ryan Messmore, president-elect of Campion College. CIS also hosts general discussions on faith and the free society. The other day the speaker was Andrew West, of the ABC’s Religion Report. His subject was ‘Tradition’. He deplored the decay of such traditions as Prayer Book Anglicanism. But he would not be drawn on the McGuinness challenge. The church, he said, must be counter-cultural in economics as in everything. (‘My kingdom is not of this world.’) He did not confront the inescapable problem that arises when so many churchmen give as high a priority to combating malnutrition and disease as to saving souls. McGuinness asked what contributes more to these social programs: policies which maximise wealth creation, productivity and enterprise, or those which encourage dependency? The churches speak eloquently on the evil of poverty but say little about productivity. If they preached more economics, they may find more listeners — and save more souls.

Out of the blue a friend has sent me a copy of a long-forgotten school magazine which I had edited in 1940 when I was a pupil at Neutral Bay Public School. I was 11 at the time. We had grandly called it The Schoolboys’ Chronicle. Browsing through its 12 quarto pages ignited memories, mainly sunny, of schoolmates and teachers. (Primary school often has more influence on your later life than secondary school.) But what shocked me was my wartime fanaticism. 1940 was the year of the Battle of Britain, a decisive British victory. Sydney Harbour was dominated by troop ships. Press and radio were saturated with anti-Nazi propaganda. The school choir sang ‘There’ll Always Be An England’. My contribution was an article in our magazine, ‘Why You Should Buy War-Saving Certificates’. It began: ‘Today the Empire is in deadly peril. Only 22 miles lie between the United Kingdom and the German Forces… Protect yourselves, your country and the Empire by buying War-Saving Certificates.’ A bit turgid even for an 11-year-old, but in a good cause. Our paper also reported that the mother of one of the school’s old boys, missing in action, would place a wreath on the school honour roll.

But what about this: ‘He that is not sure of victory is a traitor to the Empire.’ Traitor? How could a child of 11 be so war-fevered? I squirm reading it now. There were plenty of war sceptics around, even a few defeatists, but you wouldn’t call them traitors. I console myself with the story by Jack Haines which I published in the same issue. Foreshadowing Orwell’s Animal Farm, it is a parable about a rebellion of mice (Nazis?) who set out to destroy human civilisation. The onset of winter forces them to retreat. All the mice except the narrator are killed. Civilisation triumphs.