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Fixing Australia

Australia is broken. Democracy has holes in it, cracks in it, and it needs fixing. Since the 2004 Federal election we know that our government is not going to fix it. I think we need to do that fixing, and this blog is a start of getting some ideas together.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Australian Courts free themselves from draconian Migration Act laws

Protesters in front of the Australian High Court on 16 November 2004Moves are afoot from the judiciary, indicating it's sick of the intransigence of the Howard government's Department of Immigration, the draconian Immigration legislation as laid down in the Migration Act, and the deepseated misery it has created amongst asylum seekers and refugees.

There is some good news today, and I think it stands in a context of developments around Australia which are also good news. The judiciary is developing some independence and opinion. Of course it always has had an opinion, but it seems that there is a shift. Below is news from the NSW Law Council, announcing it will embark on a project seeking to ask questions about permanent detention of asylum seekers, it will even question the need for detention itself. The judiciary are not just public servants, following laws made by politicians, but the courts have a duty to test laws against a broader framework, even in Australia, where we, I think, are in dire need for a Bill of Rights.

Last week Justice Justice Michael Kirby, at the University of Wellington, delivered Deep lying Rights - A Constitutional Conversation Continues as the 2004 Robin Cooke lecture, and he indicated that under the majority government of Howard since the 2004 election, the judiciary has a mandate to even more so scruninise the material presented before it. He also argued, and not for the first time, that Australia may need a Bill fo Rights:

"In Australia, we have a written Constitution that is accepted as enjoying a superior and entrenched status. As Justice McHugh remarked in Al-Kateb, Australia may now need a written Bill of Rights despite the opposition to that notion on the part of those on different sides in politics who cling to the idea of unrestrained legislative power and talk misleadingly of 'parliamentary sovereignty'."

Further, Justice Kirby goes on to remark about the role of the courts under a majority government:

"Where governments enjoy large majorities in a unicameral parliament, or effective majorities in both houses of a bicameral parliament, the role of the courts in protecting minority rights becomes more important. It is a power to be exercised lawfully, wisely and for the purpose of protecting the true sovereign - all of the people of the polity concerned... The temper of the present time is, sadly, often angry. In such a time, the calm and resolute voice of the judges, listening to the centuries, upholding fundamentals when they lawfully can, is more needed than ever before."

Opinion writer for The Australian Dennis Shenahan doesn't like it much and a discission item on the Kirby speech and the need for a Bill of Rights ensued on Margo Kingston's Web Diary.

Elizabeth Colman, in The Australian (Kirby prepared to curb Howard, November 25, 2004) writes about Kirby's speech:

HIGH Court judge Michael Kirby signalled last night that he was prepared to rein in the Howard Government's enhanced mandate, saying the rights of minorities were at risk of being abused.

Justice Kirby warned the Government that it still had to share constitutional power with the judiciary, despite the October 9 election granting the Coalition an absolute majority in the Senate.

Attorney-General Philip Ruddock hit back, saying the judiciary's role was to back parliament.

"There is in Australia respective roles for the legislature and the judiciary and I would anticipate any judge in any proceedings would uphold the law of Australia," he said.

Justice Kirby emphasised the reluctance of the High Court to override federal laws out of concern for human rights, pointing to the decision to overturn the Family Court's ruling that children be released from detention.

In a speech to the University of Wellington in New Zealand, Justice Kirby said the Constitution denied parliament "uncontrolled power".

"A democracy, and especially a federation such as Australia, is a place of shared powers. It has many checks and balances," he said. "The calm and resolute voice of the judges ... upholding fundamentals when they lawfully can, is more needed than ever before."

Judges' traditional role as parliamentary watchdogs would become "more important" after the Howard Government gained control of the Senate on July 1, he said.

"Where governments enjoy large majorities in a unicameral parliament, or effective majorities in both houses of a bicameral parliament, the role of the courts in protecting minority rights becomes more important".

Judges were a "calm" voice in the face of the largely reactive political landscape, Justice Kirby said.

"The protection of fundamental human rights, and especially the rights of minorities, is one of the great issues of the law and of the world today ... The judiciary has an essential role in achieving that end."

Justice Kirby said he was particularly concerned about the rights of minorities in the new era of government power, and renewed calls for an entrenched bill of rights.

"Parliaments, from time to time, overlook or even override the fundamental rights of minorities. In Australia, this has been done to those of minority religions, communists, refugees and others, including a minority I understand well, homosexual people," he said.

"Australia may now need a written bill of rights, despite the opposition to that notion on the part of those on different sides in politics who cling to the idea of unrestrained legislative power and talk misleadingly of 'parliamentary sovereignty'."

"To talk of parliamentary 'sovereignty' is ... misleading. It leads parliamentarians to believe that they enjoy a plenary and uncontrolled power. At least under Australia's constitutional arrangements, that is never so".

Link to the article in The Australian

Today three Woomera escapees went to the Magistrates' court in Adelaide. AAP reports:

"The Afghan men escaped the now-closed Woomera detention centre, in SA's far north, in 2002. The court was told the men, all of whom suffered mental illness and had attempted self-harm while in detention, had not intended to escape but had been encouraged by protesters. Chief Magistrate Kelvyn Prescott did not record a conviction against the men but ordered them to enter a $100 12-month good behaviour bond. "Your particular circumstances evoke a great deal of sympathy," Mr Prescott told them."

And the ABC reports: "The men's lawyer, Claire O'Connor, urged magistrate Kelvin Prescott not to record a conviction because her clients were suffering mental illnesses brought on by their detention. Mr Prescott agreed, saying psychiatric reports clearly showed that the men were under severe mental strain."

The results of this court case may not be earthshattering, but they are significant in terms of the incalculation of the growing body of evidence about circumstances of detention, built up over the last three years. For me, today is a day of celebration.

Refugee group backs Woomera escape ruling

Wednesday, December 1, 2004. 2:05pm (AEDT)

There are hopes a court ruling against the conviction of three escapees from the Woomera Detention Centre will have wider implications for Australia's immigration laws.

South Australia's chief magistrate, Kelvin Prescott, yesterday ruled that the Afghan asylum seekers were suffering from mental illness at the time of the escape in 2002.

Jack Smit from refugee lobby group Project SafeCom says the ruling indicates the courts are fed up with what he says is the atrocious way Australia treats asylum seekers.

"I'm just glad that the courts now have, in terms of mandatory detention, come of age, if you like," he said.

"Because... for three years it has been clear to me and many, many other people around Australia and around the world that Australia's methods of dealing with asylum seekers is atrocious."

Move to change migration law

Sydney Morning Herald
By Cynthia Banham
November 29, 2004

A group of high-profile lawyers, appalled by a recent High Court decision to uphold the Federal Government's right to detain asylum seekers indefinitely, have banded together to seek an overhaul of migration law.

In an unexpected move, the Law Council of Australia has set up a working group to examine possible legal reform of mandatory detention, saying lawyers have a responsibility to fight for the "fundamental human right" to liberty.

In August the High Court said the Migration Act - which allowed failed asylum seekers who could not be deported because no other country would accept them to be locked up for indefinite periods - was valid, a fact one of the majority judges, Justice Michael McHugh, said was "tragic".

The working group, which will be chaired by the Law Council president, Stephen Southwood, QC, and includes Sydney barrister Bret Walker, SC, will examine whether any further legal challenges are possible to the act.

If the lawyers decide no further challenges are possible, the group will consider whether legal reform is needed to give the courts a greater role in overseeing the long-term detention of asylum seekers, in terms of reviewing how long people had been detained, why they were still there, and what steps had been taken to finalise their refugee claims or deport them.

But the Law Council's working group will also look at whether detention is necessary at all, or whether there should be time caps of 18 months or two years on detention periods, after which asylum seekers should be released into the community under monitoring arrangements.

Because mandatory detention had bipartisan political support, Mr Southwood conceded the working groups faced significant obstacles.

But the Northern Territory barrister, who cited the example of the successful campaign begun by lawyers to repeal the Territory's mandatory sentencing rules, said the difficulty in the task did not mean "the argument should not be put, or an appropriate attempt made".

"Someone has to start the debate," Mr Southward said.

He said the working group's starting point was that the "liberty of the subject, and the liberty of aliens, is really the most fundamental of the human rights", and that lawyers had "a major role in ensuring the liberty of individuals".

The Immigration Department says there are 42 people in immigration detention centres who have been there for four years or more. Peter Qasim, a stateless asylum seeker born in Kashmir, has been in detention the longest - for six years and two months.

Mr Southwood said the Law Council's aim would be to "elevate the debate" over immigration detention, and try and demonstrate it was possible to achieve the Government's objective of national security while also maintaining people's right to liberty.

He pointed to a number of factors which he said meant an overhaul of immigration detention might be achievable today. Among them were that people were being held longer and longer, and that the Government had set up better systems to stop human trafficking.

"I think if [governments] continue to invest resources at the core area as opposed to the other end in terms of the detention, people will be more confident that the floodgates aren't going to open and we aren't suddenly going to be overwhelmed by populations of people," Mr Southwood said.

Link to the SMH article

Judge renews call for bill of rights

The Age
By Meaghan Shaw
November 26, 2004

High court judge Michael Kirby has urged the judiciary to be vigilant to protect human rights and counterbalance governments with large majorities.

In a speech delivered in New Zealand yesterday, he also rekindled debate on an Australian bill of rights.

Justice Kirby said Australian parliamentarians did not have uncontrolled power - rather their powers were subject to the written constitution and court scrutiny. "Where governments enjoy large majorities in a unicameral parliament, or effective majorities in both houses of a bicameral parliament, the role of the courts in protecting minority rights becomes more important," he said.

He lamented Australia's history of parliaments overriding the fundamental rights of minorities. "In Australia, this has been done to those of minority religions, communists, refugees and others, including a minority I understand well - homosexual people."

Justice Kirby raised the issue of a bill of rights as he referred to recent High Court decisions upholding the mandatory detention of children and the indefinite detention of stateless asylum seekers. In those cases, the court found Parliament's laws to be valid despite a breach of international law. He said it was inevitable that calls for a constitutional bill of rights would grow as the High Court's "willingness" to find rights implied in the language and structure of the Constitution receded.

Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said the Government was not convinced of the need for a bill of rights: "We've been committed to the protection of human rights and we consider our democratic institutions - our Constitution, common law and current law including the anti-discrimination legislation we have in place - are adequate for that purpose."

Link to article in The Age

High stakes, when the right to detain is a given

Sydney Morning Herald
November 30, 2004

Lawyers' associations have a vital role to play in questioning new laws, writes Bret Walker.

Murderers sentenced to life, and political calls for them to be cemented in jail. Prisoners sentenced to long imprisonment for terrible crimes, unrepentant and unreformed, serving their entire punishment, and then being held in custody to prevent them committing further offences, to public acclaim.

Unsuccessful asylum-seekers, refused entry because their claims of persecution are not believed, but unable to be returned home, or somewhere equivalent, because of threats, unrest or even war - and detained in custody in Australia, indefinitely.

What do these people, wretched as they are, have in common apart from that state? Some are being punished for what they have done, some have been punished in full for what they have done and are now jailed not to be punished but to prevent crimes not committed, and others have committed no offence and are not being punished, yet are in jail. Some know when they will be released; others could not possibly guess.

Parliament has enacted laws which authorise some people to be detained indefinitely, in some cases it seems for life, who have committed no crime and are not considered dangerous. So the High Court recently held, rejecting a challenge to the validity of laws permitting unsuccessful asylum seekers to be detained in custody, pending deportation. The indefinite duration arises when deportation is impossible, for various reasons including reasons not the fault of the detainee.

The loss of any individual's liberty is always serious. Now the High Court has declared such laws are valid, the question is whether those valid laws are good laws.

This is why the Law Council of Australia has set up a working group to examine possible reform of mandatory detention. People may ask whether it is appropriate for lawyers be involved in an issue like this.

Among the few voices raised to question the merits of the laws that create and continue the plights of persons mentioned above are the several strands of advocacy championed by the legal profession. Mostly, we speak through our peak body, the Law Council of Australia, or through local or specialised associations, or groups focused on criminal, migration or legal aid issues.

Apart from the differences one can spot between these various groups, it's not to be forgotten that the tens of thousands of lawyers in whose names, supposedly, those reform pleas are voiced, do not all oppose those penal, criminal or migration laws. Lawyers probably divide, politically, on these issues more or less as the general body of voters is split.

Three problems are, I think, unavoidable with such lawyers' advocacy. First, the more the legal bodies rely on their members' deeper and more detailed acquaintance with the rough end of these controversial polices, the more our general audience or readership - and their lightning-rods, our parliamentarians and ministers - distrust what is too easily dismissed as special pleading by a self-absorbed coterie of specialists. That answer is nearly always wrong about the lawyers' motives, but then none of us wants self-described experts to monopolise the debate, let alone decision, on these important public policies. The trouble is, why would anyone prefer the thunder of ignorance to the complaints of experience?

Second, there will forever be the confusion between lawyers arguing for fair process and tolerable principles on the one hand, and defending or promoting appalling, dangerous or illegal conduct on the other. How often is it sneeringly said of such lawyers that they should be ignored because no one decent could countenance supporting murderers, rapists, illegal aliens, etc? And some of those who sneer will never be persuaded by being asked to imagine their son, brother, mother in trouble and then the independence of critical lawyers is suddenly prized, by them at least, for once.

Finally, simply because the laws which are criticised by lawyers on those occasions manifest the policy choices of some government, the lawyers' organisations are taken to be partisan opponents of the Government. That is nearly always inaccurate or an overstatement. For one thing, in law and order debates, it's a rare thing for parliamentary oppositions to oppose the Government apart from urging further and further in the same direction.

For another thing, it reduces matters of transcendent importance, individual liberty, the international obligation to relieve the victims of disaster, and mercy - to mere aspects of day-to-day politics.

The wide range of people whose cases attract interventions by the legal profession at this political level defies simple description. The principles at stake are important for all manner of people and emergencies. If lawyers did not speak up to question the lengths these laws go to, their details as they are administered and their human consequences, who should? The Government won't, the Opposition daren't, and lawyers' organisations can.

Bret Walker is a Sydney SC, and a member of the Law Council's working group on the indefinite detention of asylum seekers.

Link to the SMH article

Law Council seeks to challenge High Court decision on asylum seeker detention

ABC Radio | The World Today
Monday 29 November 2004 12:26:00
Reporter: Jayne-Maree Sedgman

ELEANOR HALL: Even as he ruled that the Government's immigration detention policy was legal, one of the High Court judges who made the decision described it as tragic.

Now the Law Council of Australia is moving to overturn the controversial ruling which found that the Federal Government does have the right to detain asylum seekers indefinitely, even if no other country will accept them.

The Council has established a working group to determine if the High Court decision, handed down three months ago, can be challenged. And the Council's President, Stephen Southwood QC, says that if there are no legal avenues available, then the Law Council will lobby for reform of the system.

Stephen Southwood has been speaking to Jayne-Maree Sedgman.

STEPHEN SOUTHWOOD: It's not that we so much disagree with the decision of the High Court. The High Court's function is to declare the law as it is. We have been monitoring the workings of the migration act and the position of asylum seekers for some time now.

It's really the effect of those decisions which has caused us to decide to review the state of the law as it is now, to see whether there are any additional arguments which may be put to the High Court and if not to look at making recommendations as to what we think might be appropriate amendments to the migration act in circumstances where it now does seem as though people can be detained for very long periods of time.

JAYNE-MAREE SEDGMAN: Realistically, are there many areas of legal challenge open to you, are there many apparent at this stage?

STEPHEN SOUTHWOOD: On the face of it, it looks as though any potential for further argument is very limited, so I think our major emphasis will probably end up being on a review of the legislation and considering what amendments we think can be made with the aim of trying to ensure maximum liberty, while at the same time recognising the need for there to be proper steps taken in this area to ensure national security.

JAYNE-MAREE SEDGMAN: Once you've examined the current system and come up with a number of reforms, can you take us through the process from there?

STEPHEN SOUTHWOOD: Well, what we will then be doing is in effect making a submission, firstly to the directors of the Law Council of Australia for their consideration and approval and if they approve the submission we make and the recommendations that are contained therein, we will be making a submission to both the Minister for Immigration ... or for Migration I should say, and also the Attorney-General.

JAYNE-MAREE SEDGMAN: You're looking for the courts to play a greater role when it comes to determining what should happen to people who have been in detention long term.

Are you optimistic that you will get the Government onside when it comes to reforming this process? I mean, you're effectively taking away some of the power that the current government currently has.

STEPHEN SOUTHWOOD: I think convincing the Government of the view that amendments are necessary will be difficult. However, simply because the job's hard it shouldn't mean that we shouldn't undertake it.

So we are anticipating that it will be a matter which will involve fairly extensive submissions and is going to take time. But I think when you have people being locked up for more than four years, and those people could have contributed to society, whether it be in Australia or somewhere else, it's time to have a real good look at what's happening.

ELEANOR HALL: President of the Law Council of Australia, Stephen Southwood QC, speaking to Jayne-Maree Sedgman.
Read more ...

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Antony Loewenstein: Australia reports Arafat's death and legacy

Antony Loewenstein writes the Engineering Consent column for Margo Kingston's Webdiary on the workings of the media. He also wrote a chapter in Margo's book Not Happy John!, and he writes for Counterpunch. This article was first written for and published at Margo Kingston's Webdiary, and it is reproduced here with his permission. You can e-mail Anthony at antloew(at)

Yasser ArafatIsrael has a population of about five million Jews and nearly 1.3 million Arabs. There are around four million Palestinians registered as refugees by the United Nations. The death of Yasser Arafat will not, despite the rhetoric suggesting otherwise, inevitably lead to a more likely resolution of the Israel/Palestine conflict, although if one only read the Australian media after the PLO leader's death, one could be forgiven for thinking that a road block to peace had been removed.

Yet many astute commentators suggest that Islamic fundamentalism may in fact rise in prevalence in the Palestinian territories. Juan Cole, professor of Modern Middle East and South Asian History at the University of Michigan, wrote in Newsday on November 19:

"Arafat's secular nationalism was supple enough to compromise with Israel and to imagine a two-state solution, if even the negotiations remained rocky ... Even if local Palestinian leaders remain strong enough to keep al-Qaeda out, the festering Israeli/Palestinian struggle remains among the best recruiting posters for al-Qaeda with young Muslim men. Resolving this conflict would be the most effective weapon the United States could deploy in its war on terror."

This kind of nuanced analysis was nowhere to be found in Australia. Instead, our mainstream media outlets seemed to take their cues from American and Israeli government sources, and, in a familiar pattern in the reporting of the conflict, dissenting voices were essentially ignored.

On November 12, the Canberra Times page one lead read, "Arafat's death brings hope". On the same day, Murdoch's Australian offered, "Death gives peace a chance". Its foreign Editor Greg Sheridan wrote that if the Palestinians behaved themselves and offered something acceptable to the Israelis (and therefore the Americans) they would get their own state. The paper editorialised on November 13 under the headline "Thirty years of death -- and all for nothing". It is a viewpoint unlikely to be shared by many in the Arab world.

Despite Arafat's corruption and other failures, of which they were many, he articulated a Palestinian nationalism that remains too confronting for many in the West. Afif Safieh is the Palestinian General Delegate to the UK and the Holy See. Writing in The Guardian on November 12, a clearer picture of Arafat's legacy emerged:

"His message was: we the Palestinian are the victims of the victims of European history. We have become the Jews of the Jews. But we do not want to make them the Palestinians of the Palestinians..."

The Sydney Morning Herald's page one headline on November 12 was "Palestinians mourn passing of an era". The paper's coverage was the least unbalanced in the country, featuring a number of differing viewpoints on Arafat's life and times, though remarkably for a leader so rooted in the Arab world, opinion pieces or comment from the region were absent. It was as if only Western commentators fully understood the seriousness of the developments.

The Age editorialised on November 13 with a screed on the newfound responsibilities for the Palestinians: "If [they] truly want to honour the memory of Mr Arafat, then they must move beyond terrorism as a means to achieve an end." No mention was made of Israel's 37 year-old Occupation of West Bank and Gaza, the ever-expanding settlements, the military invasions into Palestinian territory and the ongoing Israeli policy of what some see as essentially ethnic cleansing. The Palestinians needed to reform, said The Age, and the Americans and Israelis will be watching and judging accordingly. There was no discussion of the reality that the number of Jewish settlers doubled during the Oslo "peace process" -- the period Israel was supposedly preparing to withdraw from the territories.

The Independent's journalist Robert Fisk wrote after Arafat's death:

"That the final demise of the corrupt old guerrilla leader should be a sign of optimism demonstrates just how catastrophic the conflict in the Middle East has become. It's a bit like Fallujah. The more we destroy it, the crueller we are, the brighter the chances of Iraqi democracy."

"It's the same old agenda [in the Israel/Palestine conflict.] The Palestinians have to have a democracy. They have to prove themselves; they -- not the Israelis -- have to show that they are a worthy 'negotiating partner'."

Even Murdoch's Herald Sun tabloid entered the debate, publishing Colin Rubenstein, Executive Director of the Melbourne-based pro-Zionist group, AIJAC. "[Arafat] personified the destructive contradiction that was the heart of Palestinian nationalism,", he wrote.

Rubenstein's offsider Ted Lapkin, associate editor of AIJAC's Review magazine, expressed similar disadain in the Australian Financial Review on 15 November:

"The Palestinians are world class rememberers, to the point where they either do not recall things as they happened, or they recollect things that neve happened at all."

Every Australian paper editorialised on the importance of the Americans in the peace process and hoped that a re-elected George W. Bush would more fully 'engage' in resolving the crisis. The fact that the last four years of Bush's presidency has seen a deterioration of the situation, due in no small part to his administration's extreme closeness to Ariel Sharon's positions, was not mentioned.

Equally off the agenda were the unpleasant truths surrounding the Israeli leader's proposed Gaza pullout early in 2005, wholeheartedly endorsed by the Americans, Europeans and Australians. It is, simply put, a charade.

Upon Arafat's death, world leaders offered the usual platitudes, with notable exceptions, including Nelson Mandela, who called the PLO leader "one of the outstanding freedom fighters of his generation, one who gave his entire life to the cause of the Palestinian people".

Aside from the comments of Israeli Justice Minister Yosef Lapid -- "Without Arafat there could have already been peace in the region and a Palestinian state...the Government of Israel will continue with its efforts to reach peace", Prime Minister John Howard was the only world leader who condemned the Palestinian leader. "I think history will judge him very harshly," Howard said, "for not having seized the opportunity in the year 2000 to embrace the offer that was very courageously made by the then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, that involved the Israeli agreeing to about 90 per cent of what the Palestinians wanted." (Robert Fisk seeks to debunk these 'facts' in Death, Delusion and Democracy).

The Palestinian Foreign Affairs Minister, Nabil Shaath, condemned Howard for his lack of "empathy". "I mean, he is probably the only leader in the world who actually demonised President Arafat after his death," Shaath said, "something that not even the Israelis have done, or the Americans".

The Wall Street Journal in Europe praised Howard's comments:

"Lionising a leader who espoused violence does the Middle East a great disservice. If only more Asian regional leaders could have grasped this in the way of some of their more forthright counterparts Down Under."

But most commentators thought it unseemly, a complete misunderstanding of the importance of Arafat to Palestinian self-determination and counterproductive in bringing the many sides back to the table.

Labor's Foreign Affairs spokesman, Kevin Rudd, was more conciliatory:

"Yasser Arafat was a passionate, controversial leader of the Palestinian people. Whatever people thought of Arafat, there was wide consensus that he was a symbol for a secular Palestinian state."

Indeed, when the Senate returned to business on November 18, Greens senator Kerry Nettle moved a resolution noting the PLO leader's death and extending condolences to the Palestinian people:

"Many Palestinians were offended by the Prime Minister's uncharitable attack on the recently deceased Palestinian leader. This motion was in part intended to show that most Australians are capable of expressing appropriate condolences."

In Israel itself, life-long peace activist Uri Avnery spoke of the "37 years of occupiers [that] have bestialised our society and left it bereft even on common decency".

"Minister and fishmongers, TV icons and university professors, "leftists" and outright fascists tried to outdo each other in utter vulgarity ... No Arab leader -- and very few world leaders -- evoke such profound love and admiration among their people as this man, whom Israelis consider a veritable monster in human form. The Palestinians trusted him, relied on him, let him make all the big decisions that demanded courage, derived from him the strength to defy the intolerable conditions under a brutal occupation.

"Ariel Sharon has absolutely no interest in sitting opposite a democratically elected leadership enjoying international legitimacy and respect, perhaps even weakening his control over President Bush and obstructing his plan for the annexation of most of the West Bank. He will do everything to prevent elections, and of course, blame the Palestinians."

While John Howard has always been a strong supporter of Israel's position in the conflict, his position has hardened in the last years. At a press conference at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on May 2, 2000, a journalist asked Howard for his opinion of Arafat:

"Very interesting. A man who's gone through an enormous amount. A man who is searching for peace. Who is conscious of the extremist elements that seek to undermine and overthrow him. I found him a fascinating person to meet and it has been quite an experience to taste the new approach here and that is true in relation to the Israelis as well."

Howard's praise of Arafat began at another press conference the day before, May 1, 2000:

"...The people who Mr Arafat leads and the people of Israel are keen and passionate about achieving peace. They want to put the past behind them and if Australia can make a small contribution, given its history in this part of the world and the special significance it has to millions of Australians then we ought to do so in a very positive frame of mind without debating particular stances in the past."

Yet during an address at the American Jewish Committee in New York in January 2002, Howard then laid the blame for the failure of a Palestinian state firmly at the feet of Arafat:

"...Until stronger and more effective efforts are taken by the Palestinian Council, by Yasser Arafat and others, we can only continue to condemn them for what they have done and for what they have failed to do in relation to restraint, necessary restraint being imposed on the random acts of terror which are so frequently visited upon the people of Israel."

Howard's shift in attitude can be traced to similar overtures by the Bush administration, and then their shutting out, with Israeli support and advice, of Arafat and the Palestinian Authority. Mike Clear of Penrith, NSW wrote a letter to The Canberra Times on November 13 on this shift:

"I think we reveal a vulgar national character when we can join a pre-emptive war and occupation against people in the Arab world and then, at the death of one its much-loved leaders, not have the PM or a senior minister represent us at the funeral. If President Arafat's death represents an opportunity for some renewal of the peace process, as our Foreign Minister rather fatuously likes to tell us, then surely it also represents an opportunity for the most aggressive protagonists of war to identify with the pain of the Palestinian people and their abject oppression from decades of hostile occupation. John Howard and Mr Downer should understand that this failure to regard the pain of others is a significant aspect of the cycle of suffering and violence that racks the globe."

The Herald Sun's Andrew Bolt parroted the government's line on November 19: "There is a sickness in Palestinian culture -- and an anarchy in its government -- that makes talk of peace with its people seem as grounded as the sweet dreams of a sleepwalker in a crowded minefield."

Neither the Bolts of this world, nor the Australian government, appear capable of seeing past Arafat's corruption and frequent duplicity. Writing in bitterlemons on November 13, Yossi Alpher explained the duality of the PLO leader's legacy:

"Israelis will not mourn Yasser Arafat. But they should take the time now to reflect on how, under his leadership, the Palestinians got where they are -- to world recognition, national pride and the brink of statehood, but also to the depths of the present brutal conflict, with its accompanying humiliation and impoverishment."

Where to from here? For the last three years of his life, Israel isolated Arafat in his Ramallah compound, publicly arguing that he was the main obstacle to peace and therefore should be sidelined. America agreed and although British Prime Minister Tony Blair talks constantly about a Middle East peace settlement, he has made little progress with Washington.

It's clear that the Palestinian leadership must be allowed time and space to conduct free and fair elections. Whether the Americans and Israelis like the Palestinian peoples' choice is another matter. The situation could prove remarkably similar to that in Iraq, where elections, if they occur at all, may favour Islamic leaders with close ties to Iran, something that the Bush administration will find less than acceptable.

Aside from the death of Arafat, the world has been transfixed in the last months on Ariel Sharon's proposed "disengagement" from the Gaza Strip in 2005. Although most of the "quality" media has praised Sharon's apparent about face (father of the settlements turns his back on his legacy, being a familiar refrain), the actual details of the plan expose something else. Human Rights Watch stated in a November report that even after the supposed pull-out, "Israeli forces will continue to surround Gaza on land, patrol its coastline and its skies. That military cordon will allow Israel to continue to control the flow of all goods and people into and out of the territory. Gaza will remain dependent on Israel for water, sewerage, electricity, telephone access, trade and currency, which will remain the Israeli shekel."

Yet much of the Western media and its leaders appear to have been hoodwinked. Closer examination of Sharon's plan reveals a devious definition of Israeli "disengagement". Israeli academic Tanya Reinhart has examined the plans and concludes that it is yet far from clear whether the pullout will occur and under what terms:

"Throughout the Western world, Sharon is now depicted as a messenger of peace, because he has declared that he is willing to evacuate some of the territories. All of a sudden, Sharon is viewed as a sane centre of Israel, withstanding right-wing pressure [but] the Israeli army terrorises the Gaza strip, dozens of Palestinians are being killed, including children on their way to school, houses are demolished and agricultural land destroyed."

For more detail see Reinhart's Sharon's Gaza Pullout: Not Gonna Happen.

Finally, two sobering accounts of the current political environment in Israel put paid to the myth that Arafat was the only stumbling block to peace. Reports have recently surfaced of Israeli soldiers using dead bodies of Palestinians, whom they thought were innocent, as trophies to take pictures with. Echoes of Abu Ghraib abound. Many Israelis are outraged by the discoveries. Daily paper Yedioth Ahronot reports that the practice has become widespread in the Israeli army. Israeli academic Idan Landau writes of the affair:

"Hundreds of reports during the Intifada on the horrors committed by the IDF against live Palestinians haven't managed to scratch our collective elephant hide. They did not move the very people who are now so outraged by what uniform wearing animals committed upon dead Palestinians. Senior politicians, IDF commanders and newspaper columnists maintained a thundering silence while watching the wholesale killing of innocent unfortunate Palestinians who somehow end up in a forbidden zone or in the path of a straying shell. But the moment the media gets hold of a photo or two of exposed Palestinian flesh, the same people beat their chest in disgust ("we've turned into animals") and turn their heads in revulsion. Demolishing occupied people's houses, killing children on their way to school -- that's OK. But if a Zionist soldier places a dead Palestinian's head on a pole -- then our world collapses upon us."

A close friend and colleague of Sharon, Dov Weissglas, gave an interview recently to Haaretz newspaper on what he said were the true aims of Sharon's "disengagement" plan, quoted in The New York Times Review of Books, Weissglas explained that the plan pushed through by Sharon, President Bush and both houses of Congress, was in fact designed to prevent a peace process, ditch the much-discussed "Road Map to Peace" and preclude the emergence of a Palestinian state:

"Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda.

"And all this...with a [US] presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress."

He explained that the "disengagement" was "actually formaldehyde":
"It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians."

Ephraim Sneh, a Labor member of the Knesset, replied: "Formaldehyde, it should be noted, is the liquid in which dead bodies are preserved."

Reading the Australian media after Arafat's death, these truths were not spoken.
Read more ...

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Eureka 150 years: Howard snubs Australian history

Eureka Flag It really is a remarkable state of affairs when the Head of State of The Australian Commonwealth, John Howard, snubs a major historical event such as the 150-year anniversary commemorations of the Eureka Stockade, which started yesterday with a major celebration in Ballarat, and with events planned in all States and Territories around the country. So, it's not just the ALP member for Ballarat, who should be prepared to speak out about it and name Howard. Everyone around Australia should be clear that Howard really fails in his national duty. Mark Latham: "I am disappointed ... the prime minister won't attend any of the Eureka celebrations, and nor will the senior ministers of his government", as reported in The Australian.

PM's Eureka snubbing shows he is unable to govern for all Australians

Project SafeCom Media Release
Saturday November 26 2004 15:00pm WST
For Immediate Release
No Embargoes

"The fact that prime minister John Howard has snubbed the Australia-wide Eureka celebrations that move millions of Australians, students, children as well as adults and families during this week, shows Howard is too selfish to celebrate the Australian national character and Australian history", Project SafeCom spokesman Jack Smit said today.

"The Eureka stockade was the birth of a defining moment in Australian history, it was the birth of a central piece in our larrikan nature as well as our democratic principles, and it has inspired millions of Australians, old and young people, workers and citizens alike."

"From Eureka we received our model of citizens' protests and rallies for causes. And, as was related during a discussion in Melbourne on Friday evening, Indigenous people as well as women were also amongst the groups that make the Eureka events into what they were."

"Mr Howard would like Australians to believe that Eureka is about a Labor Party celebration, but his shunning of the events and his refusal to fly the Eureka flag from Parliament House, make him into an old and stubborn man, who refuses to celebrate Australia for what it is and participate in it."

"Mr Howard is Un-Australian, and his attitude is an affront to the celebration of modern democracy. Mr Howard would like our country to be an Australia without citizens' protest and workers' rights, he would like to snuff out the strength of the union movement, and all of us need to 'be alert and alarmed' that Mr Howard does not further create a "John Howard's Australia" in his image. This is especially true for Refugee Rights advocates, Aboriginal people, and more recently, people in receipt of a Disability Pension."

Michelle Grattan in The Age reports: Mark Latham last night celebrated the spirit of Eureka and criticised John Howard and the Coalition for missing its symbolism and significance. Mr Latham told the Eureka democracy conference in Ballarat the Eureka story "resonates with Australians today".

He said he might be sentimental, but he loved the thought of Eureka. "The spirit of solidarity. Tough and ambitious self-made men, fighting for their rights against the self-serving establishment. And through this struggle, forging a new national identity: the authentic Australian character with its rebellious, larrikin streak. This is a great Australian story.

"And one that we must always tell. Because ultimately it wasn't so much who won and lost at Eureka - it was the spirit of dissent and defiance that defined the Stockade. It was the struggle, not the victory, that mattered."

He said the story of Eureka was fundamental to Labor's story, but "it's fundamental to Australia's story... it should be embraced by all Australians, across the political spectrum".

Mr Latham said he was disappointed that Mr Howard and senior ministers would not attend any of the Eureka celebrations.

"Labor is the true party of the self-employed, the small entrepreneur, the economic independents," he said. "We know their history here in Ballarat and honour their achievements. The other side of politics has missed the point - the true meaning of Eureka and its economy."

He said the Prime Minister had refused to fly the Eureka flag in the Parliament House precinct in Canberra, saying it was not officially appointed as a flag under the Flags Act. But next week state parliaments and local government authorities would fly the flag "with its dramatic and inspired design".

"Undoubtedly, some federal members and senators will stand up for their rights as parliamentarians and the rights of their constituents by displaying the flag in various parts of the Parliament building," Mr Latham said. "We too shall salute the Southern Cross."

He said that Australians had always interpreted Eureka in the context of their own time in history. In 1904, in a nation that had just experienced bitter strikes, Eureka's 50th anniversary was celebrated as a milestone in formation of the Australian Labor movement. In the 1970s, the Stockade took on special significance. Australia was experiencing a new confidence and sense of independence, and Eureka symbolised its new nationalism.

Rightly so, Catherine King is one of the folks who want the flag registered, as we're told by John Huxley in The Age (PM to snub Eureka's 150th party).

The Eureka flag may have been used by unions and at workers' rights protests, it may have developed an association with the union movement - I keep seeing it on building sites - and it may even have been "hijacked" by some right-wing militant groups around Australia - but this does not diminish its historical significance, it merely confirms it. The Eureka Stockade brought democracy closer, and faster, into Australia. Eureka and The Southern Cross are amongst the most solid foundations underpinning Australian society.

Some exquisite summaries of the Eureka stockage and its historical significance have sprung up in the Australian media, especially in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age - go have a read of them. It's our history, it's our nation, mister Howard. The links are below.

Ballarat: Eureka 150 website

Victorian Eureka Celebrations website

The Age: PM to snub Eureka's 150th party

Sydney Morning Herald: The miner's skirmish that created a legend

Sydney Morning Herald: Eureka Stockade unravelled

The Age: James Button, Children of rebellion maintain the rage

The Age: Birth of a notion

The Age: Eureka legend grows

And a discussion of Howard's stab at "militant unionism" in Victoria:

The Age: Memo PM: unions aren't the only ones at fault

The Age: Have the day of the demos passed?

Latham to visit Eureka 150, while PM says no

The Ballarat Courier
Tuesday, 16 November 2004

FEDERAL opposition leader Mark Latham is to visit Ballarat next week for the 150th anniversary of the Eureka Stockade. Mr Latham is set to arrive on Thursday, November 25, and stay for the official opening at the Eureka Centre on Friday, November 26.

Mr Latham will be the most senior federal politician to attend the Eureka 150th celebrations, with Prime Minister John Howard declining to attend. A government spokesman yesterday said Mr Howard was not scheduled to attend at any stage. Mr Howard has not visited Ballarat since October 10, 2001. Victorian Premier Steve Bracks is to officially open the celebrations on Friday morning.

Ballarat MHR Catherine King accused the government of "snubbing" the Eureka Stockade and its role in history. Ms King said Federal Parliament would be the "odd one out" as all states and territories are to fly the flag during the next month.

Still, more than 200 of the navy blue and white Eureka flags will fly in Canberra. Eureka flags are to be raised outside the ACT's parliamentary building. During this year's election campaign, Mr Latham promised to fly the flag at Parliament House if Labor won.

Ms King vowed to raise the issue again when parliament sits during the anniversary. She added she would fly the flag in her office. "It's ridiculous that the flag is flying in every state and territory parliament across the country but not at Federal Parliament," she said. "The government is snubbing the Eureka Stockade's significance to the development of democratic principles in Australia."

Australian Capital Territory chief minister Jon Stanhope said it was important to display the Eureka flag prominently during the anniversary.

Ballarat Courier: Latham to visit Eureka 150, while PM says no

Importance of Eureka, past and future

The Ballarat Courier
Friday, 26 November 2004

THE Eureka 150 Democracy Conference opened yesterday with Federal Opposition Leader Mark Latham taking the Howard Government to task over its record on Eureka.

The Labor leader said the government had "missed the point" with the historic event in its refusal to fly the Eureka flag at Parliament House and attend the 150th celebrations.

"The celebration of Eureka is an event of national significance, it's at the centre of our history and our national identity," he told the audience at the opening.

"So I'm disappointed that the Prime Minister won't be attending, nor any of the ministers of his government."

Mr Latham was one of about 200 guests and dignitaries at a cocktail party officially opening the Releasing the Spirit of Democracy Conference.

Other dignitaries included East Timor Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta, Premier Steve Bracks and former Northern Ireland Secretary of State Marjorie Mowlam.

The two-day conference - hosted by the University of Ballarat - has attracted delegates from across the world and kicks off an 11-day calendar of events across the city.

Mr Latham will attend part of today's conference and said it was a great honour to take part in celebrating "one of the great stories of Australian history."

"The Eureka story is vitally important not just to Australia's past but also to our future. I reckon Eureka says a lot about the Australian character, our love of the underdog and support for those who have a go... our tradition

of defiance and dissent (and) the larrikin spirit that makes us truly Australian."

University Vice-Chancellor Kerry Cox said 270 delegates had registered to take part in the landmark conference.

"It's fantastic, we have a very diverse group of extremely experienced people who have a deep understanding of the levels of democracy and are willing to discuss how democracy can be made even better."

Ballarat Mayor David Vendy said a democracy conference was a fitting way to begin the 150th anniversary celebrations.

"Eureka was essentially about the right for a fair go, it was a defining event in the development of democracy and our great way of life. It was the birthplace of the Australian spirit and indeed the birthplace of democracy," he said.

Ballarat Courier: Importance of Eureka, past and future

Rebellion over Eureka Walk
December 2, 2004

THE father of suspected al-Qaeda terrorist David Hicks has defended his decision to lead Sunday's Eureka dawn lantern walk in Ballarat.

Walk organiser Graeme Dunstan is understood to have invited Terry Hicks to lead this year's walk on the theme of fighting injustice.

The walk, which is being held as part of a ceremony marking the 150th anniversary of the Eureka Stockade uprising, will include about 1000 people following in the path taken by police and troopers in 1854.

But Former Ballarat Liberal MP and Senator-elect Michael Ronaldson said the choice of Mr Hicks to lead the walk had angered Ballarat residents.

"I've got no personal issue with Terry Hicks," Mr Ronaldson said.

"My issue is with the organising committee who at best have been stupid and naive and at worst are giving recognition to an alleged terrorist.

"This is totally opposed to the principles of Eureka."

Mr Hicks today said he was invited to lead the walk.

"I was invited to walk, and I thought a lot about this, and the overall picture is that it (Eureka) was something that changed the democratic face of Australia," he said.

"I can see a similar line with what the miners fought for - they fought for their rights and their say - and I can see a similar line with what I am fighting for now."

Mr Hicks has fought hard for the rights of his son who been held in a US detention camp at Guantanamo bay, Cuba, for almost three years on terrorism charges.

The march will follow the 3.5km track the police and soldiers used before their dawn attack on the diggers at the stockade at the Eureka goldfield on December 3, 1854.

About 150 miners established the stockade to protest against the 30 shilling fee for a digger's licence and to demand a charter of rights.

About 400 soldiers and police overpowered the diggers in about 15 minutes.


Link to the article at
Read more ...

The Top 25 Censored Media Stories of 2003-2004

The Mission of Project Censored is to educate people about the role of independent journalism in a democratic society and to tell The News That Didn't Make the News and why.

Project Censored is a media research group out of Sonoma State University which tracks the news published in independent journals and newsletters. From these, Project Censored compiles an annual list of 25 news stories of social significance that have been overlooked, under-reported or self-censored by the country's major national news media.

Between 700 and 1000 stories are submitted to Project Censored each year from journalists, scholars, librarians, and concerned citizens around the world. With the help of more than 200 Sonoma State University faculty, students, and community members, Project Censored reviews the story submissions for coverage, content, reliability of sources and national significance. The university community selects 25 stories to submit to the Project Censored panel of judges who then rank them in order of importance. Current or previous national judges include: Noam Chomsky, Susan Faludi, George Gerbner, Sut Jhally, Frances Moore Lappe, Norman Solomon, Michael Parenti, Herbert I. Schiller, Barbara Seaman, Erna Smith, Mike Wallace and Howard Zinn. All 25 stories are featured in the yearbook, Censored: The News That Didn't Make the News.

See Project Censored Exposed

1: Wealth Inequality in 21st Century Threatens Economy and Democracy

Wealth inequality increased dramatically in the United States in the late 1990s. The top 5% is now capturing an increasingly greater portion of the pie while the bottom 95% is clearly losing ground, resulting in the rapidly vanishing middle class. This trend is the product of legislative policies carefully crafted and lobbied for by corporations and the ultra-wealthy over the past 25 years. America's economic trends have a global footprint. Today, the top 400 income earners in the U.S. make as much in a year as the entire population of the 20 poorest countries in Africa. A series of reports released in 2003 by the UN warn that further increases in the imbalance in wealth throughout the world will have catastrophic effects if left unchecked, such as the collapse of the entire global economy.

2: Ashcroft vs. the Human Rights Law that Holds Corporations Accountable

Attorney General John Ashcroft is seeking to strike down one of the world's oldest human rights laws, the Alien Torts Claim Act (ATCA) which holds government leaders, corporations, and senior military officials liable for human rights abuses taking place in foreign countries. Organizations such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) vehemently oppose the removal of this law, as it is one of the few legal defenses victims of human rights violations can claim against powerful organizations such as governments or multinational corporations. By attempting to throw out this law, the Bush Administration is effectively opening the door for human rights abuses to continue under the veil of foreign relations diplomacy.

3: Bush Administration Censors Science

In Washington D.C. more than 60 of the nation's top scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates, medical experts, and former federal agency directors, issued a statement February 18, 2004 accusing the Bush Administration of deliberately distorting scientific results for political ends. They are calling for regulatory and legislative action to restore scientific integrity to federal policymaking. Under the current administration, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has blacklisted scientists who pose a threat to pro-business ideology, and many unqualified scientists with close industry ties have been appointed to advisory boards.

4: High Levels of Uranium Found in Troops and Civilians

Civilian populations in Afghanistan and Iraq and occupying troops have been contaminated with astounding levels of radioactive uranium as a result of post-9/11 use of tons of uranium munitions by the U.S. Four million pounds of radioactive uranium were dropped on Iraq in 2003 alone. Most American weapons (missiles, smart bombs, bullets, tank shells, cruise missiles, etc.) contain high amounts of uranium that on detonation, release a radioactive dust. Once ingested, these subatomic particles slice through DNA. With a half-life of 4.5 billion years, it is a permanent contaminant distributed throughout the environment. Scientists from around the world testify to the huge increase in birth deformities and cancers wherever uranium munitions have been used. The effects of the U.S. deployment will be felt in all the neighboring countries in the Middle East and Asia, as well as in our returning troops.

5: The Wholesale Giveaway of Our Natural Resources

The Bush Administration's environmental policies are destroying much of the environmental progress made over the past 30 years. Between the "Clean Skies Initiative," a recent policy that allows power plants to emit more than five times more mercury and twice as much sulfur dioxide, and the "Healthy Forests Initiative," which allows the wholesale liquidation of ancient forests by corporate timber interests under the guise of fire prevention, resource extraction and pollution is occurring at unprecedented rates.

6: The Sale of Electoral Politics

Conflicts of interest exist between the largest suppliers of electronic voting machines in the United States and key leaders in the Republican Party. While the voting machines themselves present some technical issues, the political affiliations within the voting machine industry pose even more serious questions. The three major companies involved in implementing the new, often faulty, technology at voting stations throughout the country have strong ties to the Bush Administration, Republican leaders, and major defense contractors.

7: Conservative Organization Drives Judicial Appointments

In 2001 George W. Bush eliminated the longstanding influence of the American Bar Association (ABA) in the evaluation of the prospective federal judges. ABA's judicial ratings had long kept extremists from the right and left off the bench. In its place, Bush has been using the Federal Society for Law and Public Policy Studies--a national organization whose mission is to advance a conservative agenda by moving the country's legal system to the right. One of the most important issues in the country is the control of one of the three branches of government, the judiciary. While Presidents and Congress-members get elected every few years, judicial appointments are for life, Our courts deal with nearly every aspect of life; work conditions and wages, schools, civil rights, affirmative action, crime and punishment, abortion and the environment, amongst others.

8: Cheney's Energy Task Force and The Energy Policy

Cheney Energy Task Force documents turned over in the summer of 2003 by the Commerce Department as a result of the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by Sierra Club and Judicial Watch contain maps of Iraqi oilfields, pipelines, refineries and terminals. The documents, dated March 2001, also contain plans of occupation and exploitation that predate September 11, confirming suspicions that the Bush Administration energy policy is driving U.S. military strategy.

9: Widow Brings RICO Case Against U.S. government for 9/11

Ellen Mariani became widowed when her husband Louis Neil Mariani perished in the collision between United Airlines flight 175 and the South Tower of the World Trade Center. In addition to her refusal of the government's million-dollar settlement offer, Mrs. Mariani has filed a 62 page complaint in federal district court charging that President Bush and officials: (1) had adequate foreknowledge of 911, yet failed to warn the country or attempt to prevent it; (2) have since been covering up the truth of that day; (3) have therefore abetted the murder of plaintiff's husband and violated the Constitution and multiple laws of the United States; and (4) are thus being sued under the Civil Racketeering, Influences, and Corrupt Organization (RICO) Act for Malfeasant conspiracy, obstruction of justice and wrongful death.

10: New Nuke Plants: Taxpayers Support, Industry Profits

Senator Peter Domenici (R-NM), along with the Bush Administration, is looking to give the nuclear power industry a huge boost through the new Energy Policy Act. The Domenici-sponsored bill will give nuclear power plants credits costing taxpayers an estimated 7.5 billion dollars, to build six new privately owned, for-profit reactors across the country. Safety standards will be lowered and liability will be passed on to taxpayers. This is in addition to the $4 billion already provided for other nuclear energy programs.

11: The Media Can Legally Lie

In 2003, a Florida Court of Appeals ruled that there are no written rules against distorting news in the media. It agreed with an argument by Fox Television that, under the First Amendment, broadcasters have the right to lie or deliberately distort news reports on public airwaves. Under the current ruling, it is up to the public to discover whether or not they are being lied to.

12: The Destabilization of Haiti

On February 29, 2004, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was forced into exile by American military. While U.S. officials were eventually forced to acknowledge the kidnapping allegations, they were quick to discredit them and deny responsibility. Meanwhile, the circumstances that led to the current situation in Haiti, as well as the history of U.S. involvement, are being ignored by U.S. officials and the mainstream media.

13: Schwarzenegger Met with Enron's Ken Lay Years Before the California Recall

In 2002, while the California Governor and his deputy were attempting to re-regulate the energy industry (and get back the $9 billion that was defrauded from California taxpayers by Enron and other energy companies) Arnold Schwarzenegger was being groomed to overthrow Governor Davis in a recall - and cancel plans to re-regulate or to recoup the $9 billion. Back in May of 2001, in the midst of California's energy crisis, Schwarzenegger met with Enron's Ken Lay to discuss "fixing" California's energy crisis.

14: New Bill Threatens Intellectual Freedom in Area Studies

The International Studies in Higher Education Act of 2003 threatens academic freedom and classroom curriculum. Under this act, professors whose ideological principles do not support U.S. practices abroad can have their appointments terminated, any course curriculum containing criticism of U.S. foreign policy can be censored, and any course deemed anti-American can be barred from the classroom.

15: U.S. Develops Lethal New Viruses

Scientists funded by the US government have developed a way to make pox viruses incredibly deadly. The stated goal of this research is to fight possible bio-terror attacks. The new virus kills all mice even if they have been given antiviral drugs along with a vaccine that would normally protect the victim from death.

16: Law Enforcement Agencies Spy on Innocent Citizens

With little media comment, federal, state and local agencies have begun working as partners in the collection, analysis, and dissemination of intelligence information. Under the "Global Intelligence Working Group" (that oversees the new network) police departments receive increased funding for surveillance activity. This has resulted in the recent COINTELPRO-style instances of police infiltration of groups critical of government policies.

17: U.S. Government Represses Labor Unions in Iraq in Quest for Business Privatization

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Bush Administration has "sweeping plans to remake Iraq's economy in the US image." The US is calling for the privatization of state-owned industries such as oil and water. But it has chosen not to overturn Sadaam-era edicts that outlaw unions. Every day the economic policies of occupying authorities create more hunger among Iraq's working people, transforming them into a pool of low-wage, semi-employed labor, desperate for jobs at any price.

18: Media and Government Ignore Dwindling Oil Supplies

Even industry executives affirm that oil is close to reaching, or may have already reached, its highest levels of production potential. Once the peak is reached, oil prices will start to rise (as they have every year since 2000). As oil decline accelerates, prices will rise even faster, with devastating effects to the US economy. Over the years, U.S. leaders, bowing to oil industry pressure, have not worked to develop viable alternatives (as they have done in Europe).

19: Global Food Cartel Fast Becoming the World's Supermarket

Agribusiness and supermarket alliances are transforming the agri-food system into a powerful network of transnational corporations. They now have the power to control the world's food supply at every stage of food production. As fewer corporations control food production, traditional farming is becoming a high-tech form of serfdom. Lack of competition is leading to higher prices, lower choice and quality, and employee abuse.

20: Extreme Weather Prompts New Warning from UN

In 2003, The UN's World Meteorological Organization reported unprecedented levels of extreme weather and climate occurrences all over the world. The report emphasized an alarming increase in global warming and pointed to the impact of human activity. The significance of this particular report is that the highly respected UN organization is known for its normally conservative predictions and statements.

21: Forcing a World Market for GMOs

The Bush Administration is trying to force Europe to drop trade barriers against genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Meanwhile, the agricultural biotechnology industry is focusing even more intently on developing countries, where regulations governing their use are generally more lax. At the same time, biotech promoters continue to suppress studies that show GMOs may have adverse effects on health and the environment.

22: Censoring Iraq

After the fall of Saddam, Paul Bremer told journalists they were now "free to criticize whoever, or whatever, you want." But when negative critiques of U.S. policies appeared in the Iraqi media, Bremer quickly placed controls on its content. And rather than hiring a media outlet to run the Iraqi media (or simply allowing the news groups already there to continue reporting), the Pentagon chose a defense contractor to define the news.

23: Brazil Holds Back in FTAA Talks, But Provides Little Comfort for the Poor of South America

The Free Trade Area of the America's (FTAA) could become the biggest trading block in history, expanding NAFTA to 34 countries from Canada to the bottom of South America. This deal is unlikely to meet its January 2005 deadline, now that the second largest player in the negotiations, Brazil, is holding back. However, Brazilian President Lula has begun, of his own volition, to institute his own brand of FTAA austerity policies that are sure to drive the poor of the region deeper into poverty.

24: Reinstating the Draft

The Selective Service System (SSS), the Bush Administration, and the Pentagon have been quietly moving to fill draft board vacancies nationwide in order to prepare for a military draft that could start as early as June 15, 2005. Several million dollars have been added to the 2004 SSS budget. Meanwhile, through an on-going militarization of public school systems, the Pentagon has begun efforts to double the number of Latinos in the U.S. military by 2006.

25: Wal-Mart Brings Inequality and Low Prices to the World

The vision of the international division of Wal-Mart is one where Wal-Mart becomes a global brand, just like McDonald's or Coca- Cola, monopolizing the global retail market. The next five or six years could see about 5,000 to 6,000 Wal-Mart stores outside of the United States. Wal-Mart is Americanizing retailing around the world and exercising an inordinate amount of economic power.
Read more ...

Friday, November 26, 2004

Fallujah, The US Elections and 9/11: A matter of normalising the unthinkable

by John Pilger
from The John Pilger website
11 Nov 2004

In his latest column for the New Statesman, John Pilger demonstrates how the attack on Fallujah has been 'normalised' by the media. The same process of suppression has been applied to the 'blizzard of platitudes' that was the US election campaign and, as if nobody noticed, to the revelations of the Kean report on 9/11.


Naomi Klein writes: Its idolisation of 'the face of Falluja' shows how numb the US is to everyone's pain but its own

Edward S Herman's landmark essay, "The Banality of Evil", has never seemed more apposite. "Doing terrible things in an organised and systematic way rests on 'normalisation'," wrote Herman. "There is usually a division of labour in doing and rationalising the unthinkable, with the direct brutalising and killing done by one set of individuals... others working on improving technology (a better crematory gas, a longer burning and more adhesive Napalm, bomb fragments that penetrate flesh in hard-to-trace patterns). It is the function of the experts, and the mainstream media, to normalise the unthinkable for the general public."

On Radio 4's Today (6 November), a BBC reporter in Baghdad referred to the coming attack on the city of Fallujah as "dangerous" and "very dangerous" for the Americans. When asked about civilians, he said, reassuringly, that the US marines were "going about with a tannoy" telling people to get out. He omitted to say that tens of thousands of people would be left in the city. He mentioned in passing the "most intense bombing" of the city with no suggestion of what that meant for people beneath the bombs.

As for the defenders, those Iraqis who resist in a city that heroically defied Saddam Hussein; they were merely "insurgents holed up in the city", as if they were an alien body, a lesser form of life to be "flushed out" (the Guardian): a suitable quarry for "ratcatchers", which is the term another BBC reporter told us the Black Watch use. According to a senior British officer, the Americans view Iraqis as untermenschen, a term that Hitler used in Mein Kampf to describe Jews, Romanies and Slavs as sub-humans. This is how the Nazi army laid siege to Russian cities, slaughtering combatants and non-combatants alike.

Normalising colonial crimes like the attack on Fallujah requires such racism, linking our imagination to "the other". The thrust of the reporting is that the "insurgents" are led by sinister foreigners of the kind that behead people: for example, by Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian said to be al-Qaeda's "top operative" in Iraq. This is what the Americans say; it is also Blair's latest lie to parliament. Count the times it is parrotted at a camera, at us. No irony is noted that the foreigners in Iraq are overwhelmingly American and, by all indications, loathed. These indications come from apparently credible polling organisations, one of which estimates that of 2,700 attacks every month by the resistance, six can be credited to the infamous al-Zarqawi.

In a letter sent on 14 October to Kofi Annan, the Fallujah Shura Council, which administers the city, said: "In Fallujah, [the Americans] have created a new vague target: al-Zarqawi. Almost a year has elapsed since they created this new pretext and whenever they destroy houses, mosques, restaurants, and kill children and women, they say, 'we have launched a successful operation against Al Zarqawi'. The people of Fallujah assure you that this person, if he exists, is not in Fallujah... and we have no links to any groups supporting such inhuman behaviour. We appeal to you to urge the UN [to prevent] the new massacre which the Americans and the puppet government are planning to start soon in Fallujah, as well as many parts of the country." Not a word of this was reported in the mainstream in Britain and America.

"What does it take to shock them out of their baffling silence?" asked the playwright Ronan Bennett in April after the US marines, in an act of collective vengeance for the killing of four American mercenaries, killed more than 600 people in Fallujah, a figure that was never denied. Then, as now, they used the ferocious firepower of AC-130 gunships and F-16 fighterbombers and 500-pound bombs against slums. They incinerate children; their snipers boast of killing anyone, as snipers did in Sarajevo.

Bennett was referring to the legion of silent Labour backbenchers, with honourable exceptions, and lobotomised junior ministers (remember Chris Mullin?). He might have added those journalists who strain every sinew to protect "our" side, who normalise the unthinkable by not even gesturing at the demonstrable immorality and criminality. Of course, to be shocked by what "we" do is dangerous, because this can lead to a wider understanding of why "we" are there in the first place and of the grief "we" bring not only to Iraq, but to so many parts of the world: that the terrorism of al-Qaeda is puny by comparison with ours. There is nothing illicit about this cover-up; it happens in daylight. The most striking recent example followed the announcement, on 29 October, by the prestigious scientific journal, the Lancet, of a study estimating that 100,000 Iraqis had died as a result of the Anglo-American invasion. Eighty-four per cent of the deaths were caused by the actions of the Americans and the British, and 95 per cent of these were killed by air attacks and artillery fire, most of whom were women and children.

The editors of the excellent MediaLens observed the rush - no, stampede - to smother this shocking news with "scepticism" and silence ( They reported that, by 2 November, the Lancet report had been ignored by the Observer, the Telegraph, the Sunday Telegraph, the Financial Times, the Star, the Sun and many others. The BBC framed the report in terms of the government's "doubts" and Channel 4 News delivered a hatchet job, based on a Downing Street briefing. With one exception, none of the scientists who compiled this rigorously peer-reviewed report was asked to substantiate their work until ten days later when the pro-war Observer published an interview with the editor of the Lancet, slanted so that it appeared he was "answering his critics". David Edwards, a MediaLens editor, asked the researchers to respond to the media criticism; their meticulous demolition can be viewed on 2 November. None of this was published in the mainstream. Thus, the unthinkable that "we" had engaged in such a slaughter was suppressed - normalised. It is reminiscent of the suppression of the death of more than a million Iraqis, including half a million infants under five, as a result of the Anglo American driven embargo.

In contrast, there is no media questioning of the methodology of the Iraq Special Tribune which has announced that mass graves contain 300,000 victims of Saddam Hussein. The Special Tribune, a product of the quisling regime in Baghdad, is run by the Americans; respected scientists want nothing to do with it. There is no questioning of what the BBC calls "Iraq's first democratic elections". There is no reporting of the fact that the Americans have assumed control over the electoral process with two decrees passed in June that allows an "electoral commission" effectively to eliminate parties Washington does not like. Time magazine reports the CIA buying its preferred candidates, which is how the agency has fixed elections all over the world. When or if the elections take place, we will be doused in cliches about the nobility of voting as America's puppets are "democraticaly" chosen.

The model for this was the "coverage" of the American presidential election: a blizzard of platitudes normalising the unthinkable that what happened on 2 November was not democracy in action. With one exception, no one in the flock of pundits flown from London described the circus of Bush and Kerry as the contrivance of less than one per cent of the population, the ultra-rich and powerful, who control and manage a permanent war economy. That the losers were not only the Democrats, but the vast majority of Americans, regardless of whom they voted for, was unmentionable.

No one reported that John Kerry, by contrasting the "war on terror" with Bush's disastrous attack on Iraq, merely exploited public distrust of the invasion to build support for American dominance throughout the world. "I'm not talking about leaving [Iraq]," said Kerry. "I'm talking about winning!" In this way, both he and Bush shifted the agenda even further to the right, so that millions of anti-war Democrats might be persuaded that the US has "the responsibility to finish the job" lest there be "chaos". The issue in the presidential campaign was neither Bush nor Kerry but a war economy aimed at conquest abroad and economic division at home. The silence on this was comprehensive, both in America and here.

Bush won by invoking, more skilfully than Kerry, the fear of an ill-defined threat. How was he able to normalise this paranoia? Let's look at the recent past. Following the end of the cold war, the American elite - Republican and Democrat - were having great difficulty convincing the public that the billions of dollars spent on the war economy should not be diverted to a "peace dividend". A majority of Americans refused to believe there was still a "threat" as potent as the red menace. This did not prevent Bill Clinton sending to Congress the biggest "defence" bill in history in support of a Pentagon strategy called "full spectrum dominance". On 11 September 2001 the threat was given a name: Islam.

Flying into Philadelphia recently, I spotted the Kean Congressional report on 11 September on sale at the bookstalls. "How many do you sell?" I asked. "One or two" was the reply. "It'll disappear soon." Yet, this modest, blue-covered book is a revelation. Like the Butler report, which detailed all the incriminating evidence of Blair's massaging of intelligence before the invasion of Iraq, then pulled its punches and concluded nobody was responsible, so the Kean Commission makes excruciatingly clear what really happened, then fails to draw the conclusions that stare it in the face. It is a supreme act of normalising the unthinkable. This is not surprising as the conclusions are volcanic.

The most important evidence to the commission came from General Ralph Eberhart, commander of the North American Aerospace Defence Command (Norad). "Air force jet fighters could have intercepted hijacked airliners roaring towards the World Trade Center and Pentagon," he said, "if only air traffic controllers had asked for help 13 minutes sooner... We would have been able to shoot down all three... all four of them."

Why did this not happen?

The Kean report makes clear that "the defence of US aerospace on 9/11 was not conducted in accord with pre-existing training and protocols... If a hijack was confirmed, procedures called for the hijack coordinator on duty to contact the Pentagon's National Military Command Center (NMCC)... The NMCC would then seek approval from the office of the Secretary of Defense to provide military assistance..." Uniquely, this did not happen. The commission was told by the deputy administrator of the Federal Aviation Authority there was no reason the procedure was not operating that morning. "For my 30 years of experience..." said Monte Belger, "the NMCC was on the net and hearing everything real-time... I can tell you I've lived through dozens of hijackings... and they were always listening in with everybody else." But on this occasion, they were not. The Kean report says the NMCC were never informed. Why? Again, uniquely, all lines of communication failed, the commission was told, to America's top military brass. Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld could not be found; and when he finally spoke to Bush an hour and a half later, it was, says the Kean report, "a brief call in which the subject of shoot-down authority was not discussed." As a result, NORAD's commanders were "left in the dark about what their mission was".

The report reveals that the only part of a previously fail-safe command system that worked was in the White House where Vice-President Cheney was in effective control that day, and in close touch with the NMCC. Why did he do nothing about the first two hijacked planes? Why was the NMCC, the vital link, silent for the first time in its existence? Kean ostentatiously refuses to address this. Of course, it could be due to the most extraordinary combination of coincidences. Or it could not. In July 2001, a top secret briefing paper prepared for Bush read: "We [the CIA and FBI] believe that OBL [Osama Bin Laden] will launch a significant terrorist attack against US and/or Israeli interests in the coming weeks. The attack will be spectacular and designed to inflict mass casualties against US facilities or interests. Attack preparations have been made. Attack will occur with little or no warning."

On the afternoon of 11 September, Donald Rumsfeld, having failed to act against those who had just attacked the United States, told his aides to set in motion an attack on Iraq - when the evidence was non-existent. Eighteen months later, the invasion of Iraq, unprovoked and based on lies now documented, took place. This epic crime is the greatest political scandal of our time, the latest chapter in the long 20th-century history of the west's conquests of other lands and their resources. If we allow it to be normalised, if we refuse to question and probe the hidden agendas and unaccountable secret power structures at the heart of "democratic" governments and if we allow the people of Fallujah to be crushed in our name, we surrender both democracy and humanity.

John Pilger is a visiting professor at Cornell University, New York. His latest book, Tell Me No Lies: investigative journalism and its triumphs, is published in the UK by Random House.

First published in the New Statesman -


Smoking while Iraq burns

Its idolisation of 'the face of Falluja' shows how numb the US is to everyone's pain but its own

Naomi Klein
Friday November 26, 2004
The Guardian

Iconic images inspire love and hate, and so it is with the photograph of James Blake Miller, the 20-year-old marine from Appalachia, who has been christened "the face of Falluja" by pro-war pundits, and the "the Marlboro man" by pretty much everyone else. Reprinted in more than a hundred newspapers, the Los Angeles Times photograph shows Miller "after more than 12 hours of nearly non-stop, deadly combat" in Falluja, his face coated in war paint, a bloody scratch on his nose, and a freshly lit cigarette hanging from his lips.

Gazing lovingly at Miller, the CBS News anchor Dan Rather informed his viewers: "For me, this one's personal. This is a warrior with his eyes on the far horizon, scanning for danger. See it. Study it. Absorb it. Think about it. Then take a deep breath of pride. And if your eyes don't dampen, you're a better man or woman than I."

A few days later, the LA Times declared that its photo had "moved into the realm of the iconic". In truth, the image just feels iconic because it is so laughably derivative: it's a straight-up rip-off of the most powerful icon in American advertising (the Marlboro man), which in turn imitated the brightest star ever created by Hollywood - John Wayne - who was himself channelling America's most powerful founding myth, the cowboy on the rugged frontier. It's like a song you feel you've heard a thousand times before - because you have.

But never mind that. For a country that just elected a wannabe Marlboro man as its president, Miller is an icon and, as if to prove it, he has ignited his very own controversy. "Lots of children, particularly boys, play army, and like to imitate this young man. The clear message of the photo is that the way to relax after a battle is with a cigarette," wrote Daniel Maloney in a scolding letter to the Houston Chronicle. Linda Ortman made the same point to the editors of the Dallas Morning News: "Are there no photos of non-smoking soldiers?" A reader of the New York Post helpfully suggested more politically correct propaganda imagery: "Maybe showing a marine in a tank, helping another GI or drinking water would have a more positive impact on your readers."

Yes, that's right: letter writers from across the nation are united in their outrage - not that the steely-eyed, smoking soldier makes mass killing look cool, but that the laudable act of mass killing makes the grave crime of smoking look cool. Better to protect impressionable youngsters by showing soldiers taking a break from deadly combat by drinking water or, perhaps, since there is a severe potable water shortage in Iraq, Coke. (It reminds me of the joke about the Hassidic rabbi who says all sexual positions are acceptable except for one: standing up "because that could lead to dancing".)

On second thoughts, perhaps Miller does deserve to be elevated to the status of icon - not of the war in Iraq, but of the new era of supercharged American impunity. Because outside US borders, it is, of course, a different marine who has been awarded the prize as "the face of Falluja": the soldier captured on tape executing a wounded, unarmed prisoner in a mosque. Runners-up are a photograph of a two-year-old Fallujan in a hospital bed with one of his tiny legs blown off; a dead child lying in the street, clutching the headless body of an adult; and an emergency health clinic blasted to rubble.

Inside the US, these snapshots of a lawless occupation appeared only briefly, if they appeared at all. Yet Miller's icon status has endured, kept alive with human interest stories about fans sending cartons of Marlboros to Falluja, interviews with the marine's proud mother, and earnest discussions about whether smoking might reduce Miller's effectiveness as a fighting machine.

Impunity - the perception of being outside the law - has long been the hallmark of the Bush regime. What is alarming is that it appears to have deepened since the election, ushering in what can only be described as an orgy of impunity. In Iraq, US forces and their Iraqi surrogates are no longer bothering to conceal attacks on civilian targets and are openly eliminating anyone - doctors, clerics, journalists - who dares to count the bodies. At home, impunity has been made official policy with Bush's appointment of Alberto Gonzales as attorney general, the man who personally advised the president in his infamous "torture memo" that the Geneva conventions are "obsolete".

This kind of defiance cannot simply be explained by Bush's win. There has to be something in how he won, in how the election was fought, that gave this administration the distinct impression that it had been handed a get-out-of-the-Geneva-conventions free card. That's because the administration was handed precisely such a gift - by John Kerry.

In the name of electability, the Kerry team gave Bush five months on the campaign trail without ever facing serious questions about violations of international law. Fearing that he would be seen as soft on terror and disloyal to US troops, Kerry stayed scandalously silent about Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay. When it became painfully clear that fury would rain down on Falluja as soon as the polls closed, Kerry never spoke out against the plan, or against the other illegal bombings of civilian areas that took place throughout the campaign. When the Lancet published its landmark study estimating that 100,000 Iraqis had died as result of the invasion and occupation, Kerry just repeated his outrageous (and frankly racist) claim that Americans "are 90% of the casualties in Iraq".

There was a message sent by all of this silence, and the message was that these deaths don't count. By buying the highly questionable logic that Americans are incapable of caring about anyone's lives but their own, the Kerry campaign and its supporters became complicit in the dehumanisation of Iraqis, reinforcing the idea that some lives are expendable, insufficiently important to risk losing votes over. And it is this morally bankrupt logic, more than the election of any single candidate, that allows these crimes to continue unchecked.

The real-world result of all the "strategic" thinking is the worst of both worlds: it didn't get Kerry elected and it sent a clear message to the people who were elected that they will pay no political price for committing war crimes. And this is Kerry's true gift to Bush: not just the presidency, but impunity. You can see it perhaps best of all in the Marlboro man in Falluja, and the surreal debates that swirl around him. Genuine impunity breeds a kind of delusional decadence, and this is its face: a nation bickering about smoking while Iraq burns.
A version of this column was first published in The Nation,3604,1359871,00.html
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Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Got a disability? "Get over it, get a job", says Howard

Here we go folks - first it was refugees and asylum seekers, last week it was High Noon for Australian Indigenous people, and today Wild West Honest John targets people with a disability. To recap with a broad brush stroke: first, there were the Middle Classes and Upper Classes who had employ and the dollars, and the poor and the frail, including people on a disability, fell by the wayside. And we had the Poor Houses....

Then Social Policies came into the world, and created some semblance of justice for folks who had a disability - they would only receive a Disability Pension after an extensive assessment. It was some grace - and the notion was here to stay that those welfare measures were a right in a good society.

"Come in spinner", says Yi-haa (or Jihad?) John, and he puts one big bomb under all the Commonwealth Disability legislation.

Ken Livingstone, the former Mayor of London, is right after all then: "You can judge politicians by how they treat refugees; they do to them what they would do to everyone else if they could get away with it".

Govt pressures disability pensioners into work

ACB Radio - AM
Wednesday 24 November 2004 08:00:00
Reporter: Alexandra Kirk

ELEANOR HALL: The Federal Government is considering a system of coercion and incentive to get disability pensioners off welfare and into the workforce. The scheme has been trialled for the past six months and the Government says it's a success.

There are almost 700, 000 Australians on disability pensions and the Government wants to encourage them to look for work or training.

From Canberra, Alexandra Kirk reports.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: The disability support pension bill has now reached seven-and-a-half billion dollars a year and is still rising. In a bid to stem the burgeoning welfare expenditure, the Government spent $800,000 on a six month pilot program to ask more than 1,000 disability pensioners to sign up to job search and training programs.

The results are in and the Government says they show people with disabilities wanted to work, but weren't aware of existing support services in the Job Network and were fearful of the effect undertaking paid work would have on them continuing to receive the pension and associated concessions.

According to Peter Dutton, the minister for Workforce Participation, the trial was an unmitigated success, with just under a quarter getting a job. The rest were receiving support to become job ready.

PETER DUTTON: Well, they're very encouraging - we're very pleased with the fact that we now know that there are many people on a disability support pension who are willing and able to engage in work, and we need to provide them with assistance and every encouragement to try and find a job.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: What about assuaging their concerns that in taking up some work, they may lose the ability to go back on to the disability pension if they need to, and also maybe lose concessions?

PETER DUTTON: Well, that's a widely held misconception in the community and I think one of the main findings of this report is that if people are better educated, that are on a disability support pension, they realise that they don't automatically lose all of their entitlements.

In fact, many can work in a part time capacity until ... before they lose any of those entitlements. And for that reason, people think it's a good thing to be out looking for a job if they're able to.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: So you'd like to expand the program now, to include all disability pensioners?

PETER DUTTON: Well, I think ... I think the Government's been very clear in our intention to support those people who are able to work to get back into work, and the growth in the disability support pension over the last 20 years has been staggering, and we need to make sure that the disability support pension is there for those people who have a disability, that need the support of Government.

The disability support pension shouldn't be seen as a way of life, of a way to opt out of work requirements, and I think the Australian taxpayer would also ask that the Government look very closely at this.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: So how many of Australia's close to 700,000 disability pensioners do you think have a capacity to work, as shown in this trial?

PETER DUTTON: Well, we can't ... we can't quantify the number, but what we can say is that we know that there are a significant number of people that would be better off if they were in work. If they're able to work it's a better outcome, not just for them but for their families.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: And when you say significant, what 100,000, 200,000, 300,000?

PETER DUTTON: Well, we just can't quantify it at this stage, but we know that they're - from the study in particular - that there are a number of people that are in a position where they would be able to work, at the very least in a part-time capacity.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Now, this trial was conducted on a voluntary basis, that is, people were asked to undertake job search and training programs. In expanding the idea, do you think that there should be an element of compulsion in it?

PETER DUTTON: Well, I think what we've shown is for the majority of people there is a willingness to participate to look for work. For those people that we think aren't there legitimately, then we need to try and adopt some coercion, and that's unfortunate in that minority of cases.

The vast majority of people are very legitimate about improving their own circumstances, and if they understand that they're not going to lose the majority of their benefits by way of the healthcare card, etcetera, if they realise that they can go into a part-time job, that they can improve their own circumstances, then we think that's a very good outcome.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: And how would you introduce this element of coercion?

PETER DUTTON: Well, that's something that I'm keen to consult with the community on, and in particular with the disabilities sector on.

We want to make sure that those people who are most deserving of government assistance, that those who are most disabled enjoy every support from the government, and we want to make sure that we can work with the sector to see that we can quarantine and provide every assistance to those people, and we don't want the Labor Party going forward with a scare campaign from here.

It's quite the opposite, it's about helping people lift their self-esteem, about providing more for their families, and about improving their own circumstances in life.

We are determined to say to people that are able to work on a disability support pension, please go out and look for a job now, you will be surprised by the benefits that that brings to you, and we think that that's an overwhelming successful story for those people that are able to find a job.

ELEANOR HALL: Peter Dutton, the Minister for Workforce Participation, speaking to Alexandra Kirk.

Fed Govt pushes for disabled to enter the workforce

ACB Radio - The World Today
Wednesday 24 November 2004 12:10:00
Reporter: Alexandra Kirk

PETER CAVE: First though to the national capital, where the Federal Government is raising the prospect of introducing coercion and incentives to get more of the ballooning number of people on the disability support pension looking for work again.

The Government says that the number of Australians on that pension is alarmingly high, costing taxpayers almost $7.5 billion a year, and that's still increasing.

It's released the findings of a six-month employment pilot program, but the results of the trial have also raised some significant challenges for the Government, as Alexandra Kirk reports from Canberra.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Between December last year and June this year the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations asked 1,100 disability support pensioners to take part in a voluntary job search and training pilot program, in other words, to look for work.

The results are now in - 36% of those who started customised assistance got a job or were in education, most of them in work.

The Workforce Participation Minister, Peter Dutton, says the results are very encouraging, showing disability support pensioners are keen to work but unaware of government support and unnecessarily concerned about paid work affecting their benefits and concessions.

PETER DUTTON: We're very pleased with the fact that we now know that there are many people on a disability support pension who are willing and able to engage in work, and we need to provide them with assistance and every encouragement to try and find a job.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: And part of that "every encouragement" the Government wants to provide people on the disability support pension get off welfare and into work is the element of coercion.

PETER DUTTON: What we've shown is for the majority of people there is a willingness to participate and to look for work. For those people that we think aren't there legitimately, then we need to try and adopt some coercion, and that's unfortunate in that minority of cases.

The vast majority of people are very legitimate about improving their own circumstances, and if they understand that they're not going to lose the majority of their benefits by way of the healthcare card, etcetera, they realise that they can go into a part-time job, that they can improve their own circumstances, then we think that's a very good outcome.

We are determined to say to people that are able to work on a Disability Support Pension, please go out and look for a job now, you will be surprised with the benefits that that brings to you, and we think that that's an overwhelming successful story for those people that are able to find a job.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Labor's Penny Wong says it appears the trial was reasonably successful.

PENNY WONG: I think what that shows is that there are a great many people on DSB who want to work and who, when given the right support and opportunities, are able to do so.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: As for supporting Mr Dutton's coercion plan, Senator Wong is non-committal.

PENNY WONG: We're not opposed, in principle, to any obligation being introduced, provided it's not overly punitive and unfair, and to date that has been the case. We also believe it has to be matched by appropriate levels of support services and encouragement.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: The Government is now considering how to apply its "work first, welfare second" approach to many more of Australia's almost 700,000 disability pensioners.

It's remaining silent for now, on whether it plans to reintroduce the disability support changes the Senate's already rejected twice, but it's clear the Coalition is back on the path of welfare reform.

In the interim, the Employment Department's provided the Government with some food for thought, gathering evidence of "significant disincentives and widespread ignorance inhibiting DSP recipients' take-up of work opportunities".

A major disincentive is the fear of losing the pension and/or concessions, if they take up paid work. They're concerned about their ability to either retain the DSP as a safety net or re-establish eligibility for the DSP if their health deteriorates.

It seems, too, DSP recipients don't understand the available work incentives, and many jobseekers had bad experiences, with job agencies reporting employer ignorance and discrimination.

Maurice Corcoran heads the newly formed Federation of Disability Organisations. He says if the Government is serious about increasing workforce participation, then it must get rid of the disincentives and boost employment opportunities.

MAURICE CORCORAN: So that people who really do want to move off the disability support pension are not disadvantaged and have real opportunities for paid and open employment.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: And Maurice Corcoran says the Government must spell out its coercion idea so it doesn't add to the already existing high level of anxiety among disability pensioners.

MAURICE CORCORAN: We certainly have some concerns about those words and how they can be interpreted, and I think that's only going to make it even more fearful for some people, and for some parents who have got a son or daughter on a DSP who might be working part-time, and the assurances that a DSP and some of those benefits bring with them.

So, again, we need to find out the sort of facts and we need to find out what the Government has got in mind, so that we can make an informed decision or judgement on what our position will be in that.

PETER CAVE: Maurice Corcoran from the Federation of Disability Organisations.

Latham slams Govt disability pension proposal

Wednesday, November 24, 2004. 6:15pm (AEDT)

Opposition Leader Mark Latham has attacked plans to coerce disability pensioners into joining the workforce.

The Federal Government is considering a report that found many on disability pensions would work if they had more support.

Mr Latham says any use of force to get other less willing pensioners into work would be unfair.

"Its totally inappropriate for the Government to be talking about coercion when we're dealing with people with disabilities," he said.

"We've got to invest in them, get it right, for their training, skills, their work processes before they've got any decent chance to try and move from the DSP into the Australian workforce."

Minister for Workplace Participation Peter Dutton says if the plan goes ahead, only a small number would be "forced" into work.

A range of welfare groups say forcing people on disability pensions to take up work ignores the reasons why people have been put on pensions in the first place.

Andrew McCallum from the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) says there are many barriers preventing those on disability pensions from going back into the workforce.

"Take the case of someone with a mental illness - the episodic nature of that makes it quite difficult for those people to fit any particular compliance regime that may get put around them, because they are well one minute, they may be unwell the next," he said.

"That's very hard unless employers understand the actual complexities of those sorts of illnesses."

Read more ...

Feed them mushrooms: the reporting failure from Fallujah

"Even for a hardened cynic like me, the brazen enormity of Fallujah as a successfully spun and covered-up massive US atrocity against what was 16 days ago a dissident but functioning civilian city of 300,000 people - the "city of mosques" takes my breath away." -Tony Kevin.

The Australian of Nov 24 savages former diplomat and SIEV X researcher Tony Kevin, through its 'infamous' mouthpiece Jane Albrechtsen, in "Knee-jerk judgments". Then, the next day, The Australian conveniently "chopped up" Kevin's rebuttal of Jane Albrechtsen's scathing attack on him.

Here's what Albrechtsen wrote:

More grotesque is the claim by former diplomat and academic Tony Kevin in The Sydney Morning Herald on the day the battle began that this US-led attack was a war crime -- and for having soldiers in Iraq, Australia was morally complicit in these war crimes. "This will be no neat, surgical strike," Kevin wrote. "To get the measure of this, think of the Warsaw rising in 1944, or the Russian army's destruction of the Chechen capital, Grozny."

To compare coalition and Iraqi forces trying to restore law and order in Fallujah before January's democratic elections with the barbarous actions of Nazis in Warsaw in 1944 is morally offensive and intellectually bankrupt. To get a measure of Warsaw, as Kevin beseeches us, consider that Heinrich Himmler's orders to the Nazis talked of "every inhabitant to be killed", "no prisoners to be taken" and "every single house to be blown up and burned".

The Australian - Jane Albrechtsen, "Knee-jerk judgments"

Tony Kevin writes, after sending me two highly significant and not-so embedded news articles from Xinhua, a Chinese News service:

"I think both stories are important correctives to the false impression of Fallujah that the mainstream media are now giving us. Thank goodness for Xinhua which has no axe to grind in this affair."
"The facts that US says now that reconstruction cannot start till February (after the election!), and that the few Red Cross aid convoys being allowed in by US forces are being told to leave the city before night falls, adds credence to a view that real fighting is still continuing in the ruined city - just as it has done for years in Grozny, Chechnya."

"I suspect the US, having now made its punitive point by razing the city and making a quarter of a million people homeless, has no appetite for more US military casualties by trying to subdue what is left. They will leave much of the ruined city as a no-go area controlled by the resistance."

"This status quo suits the US well enough, as long as it is not exposed in too much uncensored reporting such as the rare Xinhua examples [below]. The US will claim it is the Resistance's fault that the US is unable to commence rebuilding the city. Meanwhile, the US military propaganda machine is able to invent and spin fairytales about finding torture chambers etc, with no-one to contradict them."

"Even for a hardened cynic like me, the brazen enormity of Fallujah as a successfully spun and covered-up massive US atrocity against what was 16 days ago a dissident but functioning civilian city of 300,000 people - the "city of mosques" takes my breath away. It is the Western mainstream media's worst reporting failure in the whole Iraq War - it is as if the media have just given up. As modern atrocities go, it does not get any bigger or worse than this, unless the US Army now does the same thig to Mosul - a city of 1 million people. I guess having done it to Fallujah, why stop there?"

"Janet Albrechtsen savages me in the Australian today ("Kneejerk judgements") for comparing it to the Nazi suppression of the Warsaw rising in 1944. I think she actually helps me to make my case, by getting a few more people thinking about the real issues here."

Tony Kevin, letter
24 November 2004

Fallujah and The Australian - another shameful day for a once great Australian newspaper

Media Release
Tony Kevin
25 November 2004

The following facts are put on public record.

A letter from me was published in The Australian today, 25 November 2004:
Fallujah was punished

THE US destruction of Fallujah was Nazi-style collective punishment. US troops calmly destroyed this city of 300,000 people, that posed no military threat to the US-supported Allawi regime, as a warning to other Iraqis of the heavy price they will pay for politically defying the US-protected regime and for sheltering insurgent fighters.

There are horrifying incidents as reported by independent non-US embedded journalists of hospitals forced to close and patients pushed from their beds into the streets; of unarmed men shot in cold blood while seeking safe passage out of the city with their wives and children under white flag; of injured people pulled out of buildings into the street and then run over by tanks; of photographers shot down as they filmed battle; of people shot as they tried to swim rivers to safety. Albrechtsen should read Google and begin to absorb the facts on Fallujah.

Tony Kevin, Forrest, ACT
Below for comparison is my 350-word letter as submitted, after I had complained in writing to the Opinion Page Editor of the Australian that Janet Albrechtsen?s opinion page piece on 24 November, 2004, "Knee-jerk judgements", had misrepresented my views, defamed my judgement, and publicly attacked my professional reputation as a Visiting Fellow at the Australian National University, Canberra.

I requested a right of reply in the form of an opinion piece. Instead, the Opinion Page Editor offered me a letter which, he wrote, "We'll be sure to run it asap. You can send me the letter and I'll organise everything from then on".

There was no length limit stipulated in the Opinion Page Editor's letter to me. I wrote concisely, but expecting that in the circumstances of my protest at Albrechtsen's article, room would be found for a 350-word letter, as my response to an article I believed seriously defamatory of my public reputation.

The letter as published above was cut to 150 words - The Australian's normal requested length limit. My letter was published last in a selection of seven - the first two were "pro" - Albrechtsen, the next five "anti". There is no indication to readers that I was replying as a person named prominently and negatively by Albrechtsen, and who believed he had been defamed by her article and was seeking a public right of reply. Following my letter appears a 300-word letter from an academic on labor market flexibility - length constraints do not appear to have been a problem in the case of that letter.

So it appears that I have again been treated with manifest contempt by The Australian's editorial management. And I have, once again, been misled by management reassurance from this powerful organisation that it would respond fairly to my protest.

The lesson is that high-profile staff commentators like Albrechtsen can use defamatory public language about people who express dissident views on major public issues like Australia's involvement in criminal military actions in Iraq, and those people have no proper right of reply in the pages of The Australian.

If any lawyers practicing in the defamation field and reading this and the Albrechtsen article think I may have a sound case for defamation against Janet Albrechtsen and The Australian, I would be glad to hear from them. I could not begin to fund such a case myself - it would have to be on the basis of "if we win, I pay my lawyers". Any surplus after costs and fees would go to a non-US embedded relief fund for Iraqi victims of Fallujah.

What is far more important than my public reputation is that in its excisions, The Australian took out of my letter the very sentences that gave it credibility and strength: the judgements of senior US media columnists Jonathan Schell, Jim Hoagland and Mark Bowden that the real purpose of the US destruction of Fallujah was exemplary collective punishment of a city that had sheltered insurgents; the concerns of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour and the International Red Cross that the US attack on Fallujah had involved war crimes; the admission of Defence Minister Robert Hill that Australian defence force personnel seconded to US forces had probably been involved in the planning and execution of the US attack on Fallujah; and the references to un-embedded news reporting sources Xinhua and Al Jazeeera.

And this sentence:

"The indiscriminate and disproportionate use of weapons of mass destruction (cluster bombs, flesh-melting phosphorus weapons, 2000 kg blockbuster bombs) in a civilian-inhabited city, of itself defines Fallujah as a war crime under the Geneva Conventions."

Without all this, my letter was left simply as the unsupported expression of one person's opinion.

Clearly, those facts were too disturbing to be allowed to reach readers of The Australian, even in a compressed 350 word letter, from a person whose considered judgement that Fallujah was a US war crime had been personally attacked by one of The Australian?s stable of right-wing correspondents as "grotesque", "morally offensive and intellectually bankrupt", "unconcerned with facts and blinded by political motivations" and "hysterical".

In this way, The Australian had proved my point - that our mainstream media, by not passing on to the Australian public more than a small sanitised fraction of what is coming in on international news wires, are shielding us from knowing the full horror of the US destruction of Fallujah and Australia?s participation in this war crime. And The Australian has shown the lengths to which it will go to try to discredit and silence the public voice of anyone who dares to say that two and two make four.

Tony Kevin
25 November 2004

For further information on this media release:
Tony Kevin [phone numbers posted]

Letter from Tony Kevin as submitted to the Australian, 24 November: 2004
Dear Sir,

The US destruction of Fallujah was Nazi-style collective punishment. US troops calmly destroyed this city of 300,000 people, that posed no military threat to the US-supported Allawi regime, as a warning to other Iraqis of the heavy price they will pay for politically defying the US-protected regime and for sheltering insurgent fighters.

Reputable American columnists Jonathan Schell, Jim Hoagland and Mark Bowden all agreed this week that the main purpose of the US action in Fallujah was to send a clear deterrent signal to all Iraqis - resist us and we will destroy you, as we destroyed this city.

The indiscriminate and disproportionate use of weapons of mass destruction (cluster bombs, flesh-melting phosphorus weapons, 2000 kg blockbuster bombs) in a civilian-inhabited city, of itself defines Fallujah as a war crime under the Geneva Conventions.

There are also horrifying incidents as reported by independent non-US embedded journalists, e.g., representing Xinhua News, Al Jazeeera News: of hospitals forced to close and patients pushed from their beds into the streets; of unarmed men shot in cold blood while seeking safe-passage out of the city with their wives and children under white flag; of injured people pulled out of buildings into the street and then run over by tanks; of photographers shot down as they filmed battle; of people shot as they tried to swim rivers to safety - no wonder the UN Commissioner for Human Rights (Louise Arbour) and the International Red Cross are protesting vigorously.

Yes, Fallujah is entirely comparable to the Nazi destruction of Warsaw in 1944 and the Russian Army?s destruction of Grozny in 1999. And Defence Minister Hill admits that Australian military planners and soldiers took part in this savage attack.

But our mainstream media, by not passing on to the Australian public more than a small sanitised fraction of what is coming in on international news wires, are shielding us from this awful knowledge. Janet Albrechtsen, read Google and begin to absorb the facts on Fallujah. If you have any humanity, you will be as horrified and ashamed as I am.

Tony Kevin, Canberra

Ten days in Fallujah battlefield"

22/11/2004 11:59
Xinhua News

Twelve days after losing contact with a correspondent based in Fallujah, Xinhua reporters were relieved to see him report back for work in deplorable shape on Saturday.

Abdul Rahman, a 30-year-old Fallujah resident working for Xinhua, made a phone call to the Xinhua office in Baghdad with his Iraqna mobile on Nov. 9, which became the last message Xinhua received from him.

He reported on that day that Fallujah had been ripped into two parts controlled by US-Iraqi forces and fighters respectively.

With his words still resonating, Xinhua reporters were happy to see Rahman safe and sound.

Relaxing on a sofa for the first time after 10 days in hell, Rahman calmed down and recounted his experience as a correspondent and eyewitness of the bloody fighting in the past two weeks, as well as his tale of escaping alive.

"I could either escape for life or stay to cover the truth. I chose the latter," he said.

"At the beginning, the resistance in the Jolan district was strong and the American troops backed up. After rounds of air bombings, the area became relatively silent and the Americans pushed into the city with limited resistance," he recalled.

Rahman could not confirm if the US forces used any chemical weapons as some newspapers claimed.

But he told Xinhua that some doctors in Fallujah were shocked to see that many bodies were charred without apparent injuries.

With fierce clashes on the ground and bombardment by US aircraft, many houses were leveled or people were killed.

"My friend and I heard the groaning of some injured people under ruins of some destroyed houses, but we could do nothing for them."

He was the witness of a scene where six injured Iraqis dragged by several US soldiers to a street were rolled over by a tank.

He also saw an Iraqi cameraman gunned down by a sniper while shooting in face of US vehicles.

"I don't know how long it will take me to get over this," said Rahman, still reeling from what he saw.

During the hardest period, helpless Rahman ran and crawled around, looking for shelters and food.

In the last days, Rahman was pushed to the Shuhada district, where US Marines said they trapped most insurgents and geared up for a duel.

Weighing the dangerous situation, Rahman decided to leave the city with the help of a friend whose shop was destroyed in the US raids.

"I thought Abdul Rahman was killed before he came to my house a week ago and asked me to escape with him," said Qahtan Mohamed Jawad, an agricultural engineer.

"We stayed together, ran in Baghdad and there and looked for food and drinks," said the Samaritan.

Rahman said in the city he had ever met a woman whose husband and two sons were shot dead in front of her eyes when the family went to US soldiers to turn themselves in.

Hearing her story, Rahman decided not to go to a mosque in the north which US forces said receives civilians.

The duo also avoided the routes in the west, where helicopters and snipers were taking full positions.

"South is the only chance," he said, "but the roads were full of dangers and we had to crawl with bare hands in darkness and hide in houses in daytime for fear of being shot by American snipers."

"We had only one bottle of water and drank little each time. As for food, we only had dates," said Rahman.

"On the way, we saw groups of insurgents and some spotted us. They let us go after we told them we were reporters," he said.

For consecutive nights, Rahman and Jawad crawled on unpaved roads and rough fields for about 3 kms before they reached the Euphrates river and were ferried to the southwest bank.

On Nov. 19, they were saved by the hospitable locals in the rural area and driven to makeshift refugee camps outside Fallujah.

In Amriahat, a small town near Fallujah, Rahman was reunited with his brothers who were Islamic humanitarian workers and other family members who fled the city ahead of the massive offensive.

"The moment when we reached the other side of the Euphrates, I realized that we were safe," recalled Rahman, whose left arm was wrapped with gauze, a reminder of the arduous journey.

The US-Iraqi forces mounted the major attack against Fallujah on Nov. 8 to retake the city from fighters loyal to Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as they claimed.

A senior US commander said last Thursday that about 1,200 insurgents had been killed in the all-out assault, and 1,025 prisoners were held.

Neither the Iraqi government nor the US military released any figure about civilian casualties.

Link to the English Eastday article

Militant groups control 60 percent of Fallujah: witnesses
2004-11-22 00:07:56

NEAR FALLUJAH, Iraq, Nov. 21 (Xinhua)
-- Militant groups in battle-torn Fallujah have controlled 60 percent of the central Iraqi city and surrounded dozens of US Marines in Jolan district, witnesses said Sunday.

"Defenders of the city are controlling 60 percent of the city and they are encircling dozens of US soldiers in Jolan neighborhood," eyewitnesses who managed to sneak out of the city told Xinhua.

Residents of Fallujah said the southern part of Fallujah, which is still under control of the militant groups, constitutes the larger part of the city, and US troops only control the north and small eastern spots in the city.

"Some American troops are based in government buildings and they are pounded by fighters," they said.

"In daytime, groups of mujahedeen (Holy War fighters) engage with hit-and-run attacks with US Marines, and at the same time they gear themselves up for the night battles," they said. Fierce fighting and loud explosions resonated throughout Jolan district before the sunset.

US troops continued pounding the area as plumes and columns ofsmoke covered the sky over Jolan and the southern al-Shuhadaa district.

Early this month, US and Iraqi forces launched a major offensiveto crush insurgents, including Zarqawi group, in Fallujah, 50 km west of Baghdad.

About one week later, the US military claimed it had controlled the city.

Read more ...

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

SIEV X: Where Do We Go From Here Now?

Reflections and a proposed strategy, on the occasion of the third anniversary of the sinking of SIEV X

website commentary
by Tony Kevin
Sunday 17 October 2004

This is unavoidably a longer commentary than usual - but it is probably the most important thing I have ever put up on my website. Please, give it wide distribution to anyone who might be interested and in a position to contribute to the planned strategy as outlined here. TK.

Three years ago, 353 people drowned on 19 October 2001 when their criminally overloaded refugee boat sank 60 nautical miles south of Sunda Strait, in international waters that were being intensively patrolled and monitored at the time by Australia's defence force, under the major declared border protection exercise Operation Relex.

This boat, and its organiser Abu Quassey, had for months been closely monitored by an undeclared Australian government people smuggling disruption program, that was being jointly conducted out of the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, by officers of the Australian Federal Police and DIMIA (possibly also with covert help from Australia's spy agency ASIS, according to sources cited by David Marr and Marian Wilkinson's book Dark Victory).

To quote Senator Brandis on BBC World Service Radio recently, "the disruption operation was an onshore [Australian] policing operation [in Indonesia] to attack and dismantle the networks of people smugglers".

AFP Commissioner Mick Keelty's own Senate evidence in 2002 has admitted that at the time SIEV X sank, this disruption program was operating illegally: because Indonesian government approval for the Australian police program had been cancelled six weeks before SIEV X sank.

Australian authorities, from John Howard down to Mick Keelty, have claimed since the sinking became public news on 23 October 2001, that they had no knowledge of the distress at sea of the people on board SIEV X until it was too late to try to save them. The ADF admitted in Senate evidence that no Australian search and rescue operation was ever mounted.

John Howard claimed that SIEV X sank in Indonesian waters and that Australia was in no way involved. His claims were subsequently - but too late to affect the 2002 Senate inquiry - found conclusively, by Australian official evidence itself, to be false. These were only the first of three years of official lies about SIEV X.

The Australian Government's lies about where the boat sank, and about how much it knew about the deaths of these 353 people, and how and when it came to know it and from whom, have been protected over the past two years - with declining credibility - by an ADF, AFP and senior public service all marching in lockstep to sustain what is by now a very convoluted and threadbare cover-up.

With the exception of the stolen aboriginal children, a different kind of ongoing gross abuse of human rights, there has never been an official lie as big as this, and so well protected and obscured by so many different people on the public payroll, in Australia's history.

It is an utter disgrace. This was not just a bit of unavoidable minor collateral damage from a necessary [sic] covert policy of deterrence of illegal immigration. This was the taking of 353 mostly young lives, mostly women and children, who should have had their whole lives to look forward to in the happiness of their reunited families, but whose lives were instead brutally and horribly cut short. At best, what happened to the people on SIEV X may have been a result of a reckless disregard for other people's lives. At worst, it may have been deliberate state-sponsored murder.

The very improbability - in terms of normal public assumptions of how Australian governments would or should behave - of the questions I have asked about Australian official conduct in relation to the sinking of SIEV X, has been the Howard Government's greatest protection. Faced with the growing weight of evidence-based questions arising out of Senate enquiries, the Government has had recourse to repeated personal abuse of those who raised these questions, or to vehement and outraged protestations of innocence. None of the questions have ever been answered.

Yet, revealingly, at no time have I ever been warned of litigation arising out of my questions. This suggests to me a strong probability that much of what I have written or said about SIEV X and the disruption program is on the right track, because any process of litigation against me would inevitably focus public attention on the questions of official misconduct that the SIEV X public history raises.

Australian investigative journalism, overburdened over the past few years with so many manifest abuses of proper government process and accountability that such abuses have by now almost become accepted as "business as usual", has not been up to the task of uncovering what really happened in the drowning of 353 people on SIEV X. The mainstream media's fear of the subject, and its exhausted silence in the face of manifestly implausible official whitewashes, has become part of the problem.

A few days ago, celebrating his fourth election victory, John Howard promised the Australian people that his renewed mandate "is not a mandate to do reckless, disruptive things and we don't intend to do either."

It is strange how sometimes our very choice of words can betray us. I believe it was precisely the recklessness with human lives of the Government's people smuggling disruption program in Indonesia in 2000-2001, which won Howard the 2001 election. Indeed, Howard stopped the boats coming. But at what human cost?

This week, some of the key witnesses (and persons who should have been witnesses, but were ordered or allowed not to be) in the blocked Senate investigation of the sinking of SIEV X continue to prosper in their public service, police or military careers. Others have already retired or moved into other kinds of careers. I wonder what they might be thinking today? I wonder how many of them are even aware of this third SIEV X anniversary?

The only official spokesman who was recently prepared to say anything of substance about SIEV X is Senator George Brandis, the Government's chief defender and inquisitor in the 2002 Senate Select Committee into a certain Maritime Incident. A few weeks ago, he boldly assured the BBC World Service's huge global audience that, in that Senate Committee:

"Both the Government and the Opposition were of the view that there was no involvement by, either direct involvement by or negligence on the part of, any Australian authority in the sinking of SIEV X".


The lie is given to this misleading statement by the very first recommendation of the CMI Committee, which called for a full independent enquiry into the disruption program. That recommendation is still being ignored by the Government, despite three Senate motions reaffirming it on 10 December 2002, 16 October 2003, and 22 June 2004.

The cock has crowed three times in three years, but in Senate Estimates committees, Government ministers, senior civil servants, police and defence officials are still lying, obfuscating or remaining scandalously silent about the deaths of 353 human beings on Australia's watch.

Though the boat sank in international waters nominally part of Indonesia's "search and rescue zone" (an area of high seas which actually extends to south of Christmas Island, and includes all of Operation Relex's declared operational area), the fact of the Australian disruption program, and the scale of Operation Relex military resources and operations in the area, gave the Australian Government the prime duty of care - a duty they manifestly did not carry out.

Heroic, mostly unreported by media, personal efforts by Opposition Senators Faulkner, Cook, Collins, Bartlett, Brown and others to draw out the truth in 2002-2004, using all of their Senate watchdog powers to the limit, have so far not succeeded - though useful new layers of evidence have been laid down (eg that Senator Ellison was forced to admit to the availability to AFP of a SIEV X passenger list, but that he refused to make it public).

In the now less favourable Senate climate after the 2004 election outcome, it is hard to see - barring dramatic insider whistleblower disclosures, which are always possible - how the Senate opposition parties can do much more about SIEV X. Opposition Senators can go on asking committee questions but will lack the numbers - unless Family First joins the SIEV X cause - to follow through in the full Senate.

We can be pretty sure that John Howard won't set up an independent full-powers judicial inquiry into the disruption program and the sinking of SIEV X. If he does do anything at all under pressure, it will be one of those whitewashing pseudo-investigations such as he has already honed to a fine art in office.

So has the government cover-up finally prevailed? Have they worn us all down and seen us all off? The answer is No.

But where are the many Australians of conscience, who care about accountability for the unexplained deaths on our national watch of so many fellow human beings, now to go?

I believe we will finally go - all Australian avenues for judicial accountability having apparently been blocked so far - to one place where the writ of John Howard does not run: namely, the International Criminal Court, whose Statute Australia signed on 9 December 1998 - the 50th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. On that day, Mr Downer told a Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Conference in Sydney:

"Australia can be proud of the role it played throughout the difficult negotiating process which led to acceptance of the Statute. The establishment of the Court will be a great achievement for Australia and like-minded countries that have fought to ensure that the perpetrators of crimes against humanity are brought to justice. It was on International Human Rights Day on 10 December 1996 that I announced that the Court's establishment was one of the Government's prime multilateral and human rights objectives. It is, therefore, fitting that we have chosen celebrations surrounding the same anniversary date to make our announcement on signature."

(Joint media release by Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Downer and Attorney-General Daryl Williams FA149, 9 December 1998)

However, Australia did not formally ratify its membership of the ICC Statute until June 20 2002 - eight months after SIEV X sank. On that day, John Howard said:

"The decision has been reached after a very lengthy but beneficial and widespread consultation within the government party room.... The declaration will reaffirm the primacy of Australian law and the Australian legal system in relation to prosecution of offences under the legislation giving effect to the Statute.... It will declare that no person can be arrested on a warrant issued by the court or surrendered to the court without the prior consent of the Attorney-General of the Commonwealth.... It will also declare Australia's understanding that the offences of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes under the International Criminal Court statute will be interpreted in accordance with Australian law"

("Australia will join ICC, with conditions", The Age, 20 June 2002).

I don't think that it would ever have occurred to our Prime Minister, Attorney-General or Foreign Minister in June 2002 - or to most newspaper editors, then or since - that John Howard's command responsibility over Australia's border protection system, in both its people smuggling disruption program aspect and its border protection maritime surveillance and military interception aspect, might one day raise questions as to whether he might be implicated in an alleged crime against humanity as defined by the ICC Statute. Yet I believe that, when SIEV X whistle-blowers from within the national security system come forward as they eventually will, this chicken may unexpectedly come home to roost in Kirribilli House.

Meanwhile, the evidence set out in readable summary form in my recent book A Certain Maritime Incident: the sinking of SIEV X (Scribe Books, August 2004), and the far more comprehensive compilation of all relevant Senate-based and media-based public documentary evidence that Marg Hutton has assembled on her indispensable website, may already provide a basis for an investigative file to be opened at the ICC, under the ICC Prosecutor's independent powers to initiate an investigation proprio motu (i.e., of his own initiative) of any suspected crime against humanity.

I recommend a careful reading of the second edition of Geoffrey Robertson QC's excellent book, "Crimes Against Humanity" (Penguin Books, 2002).

ICC Definitions

Article 7 of the ICC Statute (annexed in Robertson's book) defines crimes against humanity (which can happen in peacetime as well as in war) as including:

"...any of the following acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack:

(a) Murder; ...etc...

(k) Other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health."

An "attack directed against any civilian population" is under the same Article 7 defined as:

"a course of conduct involving the multiple commission of acts ...against any civilian population pursuant to or in furtherance of a State or organisational policy to commit such attack:

(a) ...etc...

(g) "persecution" means the intentional and severe deprivation of fundamental rights contrary to international law by reason of the identity of the group or collectivity " ... (my underlinings)

The challenge here would be to establish to the ICC Prosecutor's satisfaction that the people whose lives and human rights were, in my view, recklessly and cruelly put at risk under the Australian Government's people smuggling disruption program, had had an "identity" as a "civilian population", "group" or "collectivity".

I think the public history of the Australian Government's disruption program and of the ADF's Operation Relex - and the present state of public knowledge of the group of persons against whom these activities were primarily being directed in practice - can establish the applicability of this ICC definition. The disruption program may have been aimed to "attack and dismantle the networks of the people smugglers" (Brandis), but the people who were being robbed blind, terrified by real or simulated threats to their lives, enduring the fear and shock of having boats "lost" or sunk under them, and in some cases killed by drowning, were - the passengers.

I think the 353 asylum-seekers who perished on SIEV X and the 45 survivors, and other asylum-seekers whose lives were manifestly put at risk in other earlier voyages that I believe were subject to disruption and/or negligence of rescue at sea obligations, eg Palapa, SIEV 4, and other sunken boats whose history is not as yet fully known to us, form a civilian population within the meaning of the ICC Statute definitions cited above. That is, these were a group of people of mostly Iraqi and Afghani nationality and mostly Muslim religion, who were trying to reach Australia from Indonesia as asylum-seekers, in order to reunite their families separated under Australia's draconian TPV legislation, and to make new lives as legally accepted refugees in Australia.

And I believe that the Australian Government's people smuggling disruption program in Indonesia in 2000-2001 was a multiple commissioning of acts against this civilian population, pursuant to or in furtherance of a State or organisational policy to commit such attacks.

If these two crucial definitional elements of ICC jurisdiction can be established to the point where the ICC Prosecutor would be prepared to open a file proprio motu, there is then no doubt in my mind that, if even half of the questions asked in my book prove to be based in fact as judged by the rules and standards of courtroom evidence, Mr Howard could one day find his conduct as head of government in question under Article 7 of the ICC Statute.

Technically, Howard supporters could argue that because SIEV X happened eight months before Australia ratified the ICC Statute, there is no ICC jurisdiction. But if that were all they could come up with as a defence, what a pathetic and unconvincing defence it would be!

Australia signed the Statute - which it played a leading role in helping to draft and negotiate - nearly three years before the tragedy of SIEV X, in 1998. This was part of Gareth Evans' legacy of work in progress in DFAT and Attorney-General's Department, which Alexander Downer inherited in 1996 and to his credit directed be pursued. The present Australian Ambassador to Sweden, Richard Rowe, an expert international lawyer, has played a major role.

There is also some circumstantial evidence that Australian Government systematic disruption activities may have continued in the years since SIEV X, i.e., within the period since Australia ratified the ICC Statute in 2002. Three boats reached Australian territory, fortunately without loss of life, after voyages whose suspicious history suggest possible Australian official manipulation, deliberate failure to intercept in a timely and humane way, and even entrapment - in July 2003, November 2003 and March 2004.

I believe that asylum-seekers' lives, sand the lives of their families and friends in Australia, are still being cruelly and cynically played with by the Howard Government. The disruption program apparatus is all still in place, and future crimes against humanity on the precedent of SIEV X are entirely feasible in the future, if the tragic SIEV X history is not properly judicially addressed by Australia.

Until and unless he sets up a genuine full-powers independent judicial enquiry into these matters, John Howard can have no credible defence against an appeal by Australians of conscience to the ICC Prosecutor to open a proprio motu file on the SIEV X case and the people smuggling disruption program: since the Australian police and judicial authorities have failed in their clear duty to investigate properly this serious potential crime against humanity, of the deaths of 353 persons who came under the Australian Government's duty of care. Senator George Brandis, for all his advocacy skills, cannot rescue John Howard from this potential sword of Damocles hanging over his celebration of a fourth term.

SIEV X - more than any other issue of misgovernance, whether it be bungled Bali travel advices, or acts of pre-emptive illegal invasive warfare against Iraq, or cover-up of US atrocities at Abu Ghraib, or violation of the human rights of Hicks and Habib - creates this possibility. Because there is no getting around the fact of 353 unexplained deaths on Australia's watch.

Proposed strategy

This is the course of action I intend to pursue in the months ahead.

First, I hope to have the ideas set out in this commentary critically "work-shopped", by a voluntary group or groups of Australian legal experts, people of high established public reputations and professional standing. I hope also that some of our best graduate law students might research this further and discuss their findings with their peers. I hope that Australian lawyers with first-hand experience of war crimes investigations and proceedings of international criminal courts (e.g., on crimes in former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, or Cambodia) might consider these questions.

If enough people in such expert groups come to the view that there is credible scope for moving forward, we would then seek over time - there is no great hurry, and it is more important to get this all right the first time - a basis of public support from people of high standing in Australia, who will be prepared (as I have been for the past two years) to put their public credibility on the line in signing off on a suitably well-composed appeal to the ICC Prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, asking him to exercise his personal powers under Article 15 of the ICC Statute to initiate his own investigation into the sinking of SIEV X as a suspected crime against humanity.

It would be premature and unhelpful for anyone to do this now.

That is my plan for the future. I urge anyone potentially interested, who has the necessary professional skills and public standing to contribute in this new phase, to first critically read my book on SIEV X, and Geoffrey Robertson's book Crimes Against Humanity.

In conclusion, the issues here are crucially important to Australia's future as a decent country. If we now shrug off the 353 deaths on SIEV X as past history, if we complacently or fearfully say "what's done is done", and turn our backs on the need to establish proper accountability, worse will follow.

At least for the time being, the political door has probably closed. But the international judicial door may only now be opening.

Tony Kevin
17 October 2004

Read more ...

Monday, November 22, 2004

The ongoing drama in Fallujah

Freedom at last

After the cowardly attack on Fallujah, an American soldier was captured on film and sound, shooting a wounded un-armed Iraqui resistance fighter in a mosque. Bound not to be an isolated incident but the inevitable result when cowards release the dogs of war.

Allan Nield
November 17 2004

Freedom at last for a hundred thousand,
Freed from pain and disease,
By coalition 'willing to kill',
Anyone that their soldiers please.

Coalition of the cowardly,
Who sent other's sons off to kill,
To murder and maim and shoot on sight,
Or be shot if they lacked the will.

A hundred thousand; man, woman and child,
Several cities of ours,
And your silence shields the killers,
As their soldiers trample the flowers.

The flowers of Iraq that never will bloom,
A hundred thousand blank stares,
Crushed at the rate of a hundred to one,
One of ours to a hundred of theirs.

You cannot run and you cannot hide,
From a million litres of blood,
That drenches the halls of Parliament,
When will you stop the flood?

How the Fallujah battle played in the media

website commentary
by Tony Kevin
15 November 2004

World media interest in the siege of Fallujah peaked the day the US attack started last Tuesday. It began to fade, as soon as it became clear this was not going to be a decisive "last battle" between the US Army and insurgents, but just another distressing chapter in the cycle of collateral civilian death and destruction that life in Iraq has become since the US invasion in March 2003.

The death of Yassir Arafat at 9.30 pm on Wednesday night overwhelmed the Fallujah story. Media interest in Arafat's imminent decease had been building for days. There ensued several days of intensive world reporting of his funeral rites, historical significance, and what may now lie ahead in Israel/Palestine. Effectively, the Fallujah battle story was marginalised.

Meanwhile in Fallujah, the main insurgent force (an expected 6000 fighters) melted away. A few hundred guerilla fighters continued to fight a rearguard action in the narrow alleys of Fallujah, using booby-traps and sniper fire against 10,000 US and 2000 (mostly Kurd) pro-Allawi soldiers. US forces responded with massive destruction of roads and suspect buildings by air and artillery strikes.

The media mainstream reported little about the horror of this ongoing battle for the 300,000 people of Fallujah - how it destroyed their streets, mosques, marketplaces, hospitals and schools, made 200,000 of them temporarily or permanently homeless, and killed, wounded or just plain terrified the unknown number (variously estimated between "a small number" and 100,000) of them thought still to be hiding from the combat in their homes and cellars, some of whom may by now be starving. No aid convoys have got into Fallujah for a week now - the city has been sealed off by the US military.

According to the latest ABC Australian news (15 November), the US military says 38 US soldiers have died in the week-long offensive to recapture the Iraqi city of Fallujah from rebels and 275 have been wounded. The US military says about 1,000 insurgents have been killed and 450 to 550 captured.

There is no US official figure for civilian casualties. Residents say many people have died. There have been reports of large numbers of bodies of women and children lying unburied in the streets, of hospitals invaded and forced to close or left without supplies, one specific incident of a young boy who bled to death in his father's arms at home after being hit by stray shrapnel - his father was afraid to leave the house and in any case there was no hospital to go to.

We only get fleeting glimpses of the scale of this ongoing suffering from television footage and the odd reported observation by embedded Western journalists with US forces. Their main reporting focus has been on the military battle as such, on its sights and sounds. But we read or hear a little ... the stench of rotting corpses, minarets and palm trees destroyed. However, the spectacle of overwhelming US military firepower methodically ripping a city of 300,000 people apart in pursuit of a few hundred diehard snipers, does not make for pleasant television. The Fallujah footage is mostly being sanitised, or simply dropped as too disturbing for viewers.

Very little news has come out in mainstream Western media about this battle as experienced by the Iraqi civilians or by the insurgents. Two honourable exceptions: The Guardian newspaper in the UK, and BBC News radio which ran some memorable telephone reports from Fadhil Badrani, an Iraqi eyewitness journalist who had stayed in the city. You can still catch these texts on Google News.

We are also starting to hear from the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Iraqi Red Crescent Society about the humanitarian plight of the civilian people trapped in the city and sheltering in villages around it, and about Red Cross/Red Crescent aid convoys not being allowed yet into the sealed-off city. Again, Google has these up-to-date stories.

It will be some days or even weeks before there are any reliable observer estimates of the numbers of non-combatants killed or wounded in Fallujah since the attack began last Monday. This was a peaceful city - a major centre of Sunni population and culture - 20 months ago, when the US invaded Iraq. Now it is an empty and ruined desolation.

The US speaks of a determination to inject massive funds for reconstruction before next year's proposed elections, to try to win back Sunni hearts and minds. But surely that is a futile hope. What has been done here this past week cannot be undone.

Was it militarily or politically necessary for the US to attack this city in such massive and lethal force? Kofi Annan did not think so. Much of the world did not think so. According to editorials in the Canberra Times and Sydney Morning Herald early last week, no discernible military purpose could be seen, beyond a show of force and exemplary punishment of a city that was sheltering Sunni insurgents.

The US Commander-in-Chief, General Richard Myers has now admitted that the Sunni insurgent soldiers have simply regrouped and launched new operations in other cities, eg Mosul, Samarra.

Were the gains in Fallujah commensurate and proportionate to the destruction?

Greg Sheridan is in no doubt that they were ("Fallujah had to be fought", Sunday Telegraph, 14 November, 2004):

"Thus the American operation, in which Australia is cooperating intimately, to train and equip Iraqi forces, is critical. None of this can occur if the terrorist forces are allowed to roam free, murdering and kidnapping at will and taking whole cities hostage. Thus the necessity of the Fallujah operation. It is tough, terrible street-by-street fighting. The coalition forces are doing everything they can to avoid civilian casualties, but undoubtedly some civilians are suffering grievously. But there can be no doubt who bears the moral guilt for this situation. It is the terrorists..."

To access well-argued, factually backed alternative views of the significance of Fallujah, I have gone to the Internet. Here are some sites and articles that impress me as offering responsible compilations of international media reporting, and commentary: - hear their online audio military commentator Fred Kaplan. - read "Four Times Fallujah Equals?" by Tom Engelhardt and Mark LeVine. - read "'Success' in Fallujah?"

Perhaps Fallujah will remain a ruined and sniper-haunted battleground, like the ruins of the Chechen capital Grozny. US military spokesmen now speak of a 30-day "mopping-up" period; they say the "main battle" is almost over. But it depends on the insurgents whether they will want to keep some sort of battle going in Fallujah. Clearly, they can do so if they wish.

There is still dispute as to how much of the ruined city the US Army actually occupies and controls - as distinct from US armored vehicles being able to drive down ruined main streets. Is it 70%? Or 30%? In any case, there seems no prospect of any kind of normal civic life returning to Fallujah soon.

When I commented last Tuesday 9 November in the Sydney Morning Herald

[see ]

that I feared Fallujah would be a US war crime as measured by the definitions of the Geneva Conventions and the International Criminal Court Statute, I was sadly accurate in my expectation of the kind of battle it would be.

Fallujah is now part of the ongoing civilian horror of Iraq. But its name will come particularly to represent and symbolise that horror, as more data emerges on what happened to the people of this city last week.

Though the US attack on Fallujah faded last week as a story in mainstream world news, in dissenting and antiwar internet sites it has just kept growing.

The siege of Fallujah seemed last Monday to be the break-out issue that might put the Iraq war back into mainstream consciousness. Its drama and enormity threatened to revive mass antiwar demonstrations. That may still happen, if people search out the news of what has happened here. Australian Iraqis understand this, and the rest of us should too.

Tony Kevin
15 November 2004


In Mourning for Margaret Hassan and for the dead of Fallujah

Media Release
by Tony Kevin
17 November 2004

I never knew Margaret Hassan. But her decency shines through every photograph I have ever seen of her. Her Iraqi husband's love and admiration for her was manifest. I grieve for her, her family and her friends.

She was the kind of rare person the world cannot afford to lose: the bridge-builders between cultures and religions, the people who live to break down barriers, the people who believe life is about helping others less lucky than ourselves.

I have known many people like Margaret Hassan in Cambodia: brave Australians who worked to help the Cambodian people, in the dangerous years when the Khmer Rouge were kidnapping and murdering Cambodians and aid workers alike. I know at first hand the courage and integrity of such people.

I also grieve equally for the dead of Fallujah. The battle of Fallujah, now grinding to an ugly close after eight horrific days, showed conclusively that 10,000 US soldiers were sent into war with orders to suppress and destroy a city of 300,000 ordinary Iraqi people.

Thus the US-led military attack on Fallujah was a war crime, in that it was an attack on an undefended civilian city, for no legitimate and commensurate military purpose. The very fact of this attack - even if it had been conducted by honourable means - violated the laws of war.

In fact, the attack on Fallujah was not conducted by honourable means, but by particularly cruel and internationally illegal means. Weapons that have indiscriminate and uncontrollable effects on civilians, and particularly inhumane weapons - huge 4000 kg bombs, cluster bombs, phosphorus weapons that melt human flesh, city-block destroying missiles - were used freely. Wounded soldiers were shot dead on the ground in cold blood. Unarmed men trying to leave the city with their wives and children under a white flag were turned back into the burning city. Hospitals were invaded, closed down and their patients ordered out into the streets. Red Cross food and medical aid convoys were refused entry. People were shot dead trying to swim to safety across rivers. Whole streets of houses were flattened in pursuit of a single sniper.

So now we know the answer to the question the armchair strategists have been asking - how will the US Army conduct war in heavily-populated Iraqi cities? Answer - in exactly the same way as if there were no people there at all - by a ruthless military elimination of anyone that moves, and of every building that might shelter anyone that moves.

The horrors of this attack on the people of Fallujah, when the truth is known, will equal or surpass the horrors of the Wehrmacht's destruction of Warsaw in 1944, or the Russian Army's destruction of the Chechen capital, Grozny. This is as bad as it gets.

The US is thus manifestly at war on the people of Iraq, because it is determined to control the oil resources of the Muslim Middle East, and because control of the Iraqi oil heartland - if necessary by naked force - is seen as pivotal to that strategy.

Fallujah shows finally that this war is not about bringing democracy to the Iraqi people - that figleaf is now finally swept away. Both the Shia and the Sunni Iraqi people desperately want to exercise real democracy in their own country, but it is being denied to them by Washington - and Washington's puppet leader Allawi is as cruel as was the former US puppet leader Saddam Hussein.

The fact that Allawi sanctioned the US attack on the people of Fallujah showed he is nothing more than a US figurehead - a man ready to betray the very lives of his own people.

There is one important symmetry, and one important asymmetry, in the deaths of Margaret Hassan and the deaths of who knows how many people in Fallujah this past week.

Both sets of killings are acts of barbarism and savagery - that is the undeniable symmetry.

The asymmetry - that the men who died taking up arms against the US invaders in Fallujah were defending their homes and their personal honour in their home city Fallujah. But the US soldiers who killed them killed under orders, as part of an invasion force sent in to suppress the city. To say - as Amnesty has naively and unhelpfully said - that there were "atrocities on both sides" in Fallujah, misses this essential point of difference.
We will hear many words of grief for Margaret Hassan in coming days. We will read a lot of moralising about the bestiality and cowardice of those who killed her.

I wish it could be balanced by some words to honour people like the Fallujah father who watched his young boy bleed to death in his arms in their home, after being hit by a piece of US shrapnel - a son whose life could have been saved if there were a working hospital to take him to, and if it had been possible to get there without being shot dead in the street by US troops. For Margaret Hassan, that boy's life would have been worth as much as or more than her own life. But who mourns for him?

I wish it could be balanced by some words of respect for the brave and hopelessly outgunned men who died as soldiers defending their homes in Fallujah against overwhelming firepower and troop numbers, but who are routinely reviled now in the media as worthless and treacherous enemies.

There are important policy consequences from the deaths of Margaret Hassan and the nameless dead of Fallujah this week, if only our politicians had the wit and moral courage to see them and act on them.

Australia should no longer have any presence - military, diplomatic, aid or commercial - in Iraq, until the US occupation ends and the puppet Allawi regime is replaced by a genuinely Iraqi government.

Because the Allawi Government has forfeited any legitimacy by sanctioning the US attack on its own people in Fallujah, it follows that there is no reason for any Australian diplomatic mission to be accredited to this government. What has happened in Fallujah this week calls for the suspension of all Australian Embassy operations in Iraq, and the withdrawal of all Australian-based staff from Baghdad.

No matter how worthy their aid or humanitarian purpose, no Australian aid agency has any proper business to be in Iraq at this time. For two reasons at least; the security risks are unacceptably high - if Margaret Hassan can be executed by insurgents, no Westerner is safe in Iraq. And there is no way useful aid or reconstruction work can be done while the whole country is rising up against, or passively resisting, the US occupation. Australia's reputation in the Islamic world can only suffer if we maintain a diplomatic or aid presence in Iraq in present circumstances.

Similarly with Australian commercial activities in Iraq: the same personal security and wider policy arguments apply, calling for immediate withdrawal.

And of course there should be no Australian military presence in Iraq either - either in war-fighting, war-planning, security guarding or training roles. (One very small piece of good news I read from Fallujah last week - that the same Iraqi soldiers and police trained by the Australians over the past year were reported to be abandoning their weapons and throwing away their uniforms, refusing to take part in killing their fellow Iraqis in Fallujah. Only Kurdish brigades fought in Fallujah with the US - no Shia, no Sunni. I do not regard this as cowardice - simply as an ethical choice made by the Iraqi soldiers and police concerned).

I wish Australians were all gone from Iraq by Christmas. I wish they were all gone tomorrow. I fear Australians will die in Iraq, as Margaret Hassan has died. But that is not the only reason I want my fellow Australians out of Iraq. We just should not be there now.

This commentary will certainly be attacked by critics as disloyal, and as giving comfort to a ruthless enemy who is trying to kill our soldiers in Iraq. But if the enemy has now become the whole Iraqi people, surely the time has come to admit we should not be in Iraq at all, until the illegal US-led occupation is ended and peace is restored to that suffering country.

Here are some recent thoughts by Keysar Trad, an honourable Australian Muslim community leader whom I am proud to acknowledge as a friend. As I mourn for Margaret Hassan, I support his views:

"This war [on Fallujah] is wiping out a city. Its cost will haunt humanity from now to eternity."

"The US cannot succeed in Iraq by replacing one dictator with another who is at the very least, equally brutal".
"The US-appointed interim Iraqi government's endorsement and participation in the bombing of Fallujah, brands it as a betrayer of its nation and people."

"There is a solution to the quagmire in Iraq. It starts with a full withdrawal of foreign troops, and then an appeal to the neighbours of Iraq, who share their culture and traditions, to work together with the Iraqi people to restore order to that great nation. This has worked with Lebanon. It can work again with Iraq."

"As free and fair-minded Australians, we don't need to blindly acquiesce in coalition atrocities in Iraq. We have our conscience and our tradition of fairness and justice. This is the Australian ethos, and each and every Australian expects this ethos to be upheld."

Tony Kevin
17 November 2004


Margaret Hassan's suspected execution will be seen as 'proof' of evil

November 17, 2004
The Star, Zouth Africa
By Robert Fisk

Beirut - Who killed Margaret Hassan?

After the grief, the astonishment, heartbreak, anger and fury over the apparent murder of such a good and saintly woman, that is the question her friends - and, quite possibly, the Iraqi insurgents - will be asking.

This Anglo-Irish woman held an Iraqi passport. She had lived in Iraq for 30 years, she had dedicated her life to the welfare of Iraqis in need.

She hated the United Nations sanctions and opposed the Anglo-American invasion.

So who killed Margaret Hassan?

Of course, those of us who knew her will reflect on the appalling implications of the videotape (sent to Al Jazeera yesterday and apparently showing her execution).

Her husband believes it is evidence of her death.

If Margaret Hassan can be kidnapped and murdered, how much further can we fall into the Iraqi pit?

There are no barriers, no frontiers of immorality left. What price is innocence now worth in the anarchy that we have brought to Iraq? The answer is simple: nothing.

I remember Margaret arguing with doctors and truck drivers over a lorry-load of medicines for Iraq's children's cancer wards in 1998. She smiled, cajoled and pleaded to get these leukaemia drugs to Basra and Mosul.

She would not have wished to be called an angel - Margaret didn't like clichés. Even now I want to write "doesn't like clichés". Are we really permitted to say that she is dead?

For the bureaucrats and the Western leaders who today will express their outrage and sorrow at her reported death, she had nothing but scorn.

Yes, she knew the risks. Margaret Hassan was well aware that many Iraqi women had been kidnapped, raped, ransomed or murdered by the Baghdad mafia.

Because she is a Western woman - the first to be abducted and apparently murdered - we forget how many Iraqi women have already suffered this terrible fate; largely unreported in a world which counts dead American soldiers but ignores the fatalities among those with darker skins and browner eyes and a different religion, whom we claimed to have liberated.

And now let's remember the other, earlier videos. Margaret Hassan crying. Margaret Hassan fainting, Margaret Hassan having water thrown over her face to revive her, Margaret Hassan crying again, pleading for the withdrawal of the Black Watch regiment from the Euphrates River.

In the background of these appalling pictures, there were none of the usual Islamic banners. There were none of the usual armed and hooded men. There were no Qur'anic recitations.

And when it percolated through to Fallujah and Ramadi that the mere act of kidnapping Hassan was close to heresy, the combined resistance groups of Fallujah - and the message genuinely came from them - demanded her release.

So, incredibly, did Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the al-Qaeda man whom the Americans falsely claimed was leading the Iraqi insurrection, but who has definitely been involved in the kidnappings and beheadings.

Other abducted women were freed when their captors recognised their innocence.

But not Margaret Hassan, even though she spoke fluent Arabic and could explain her work to her captors in their own language.

If anyone doubted the murderous nature of the insurgents, what better way to prove their viciousness than to produce evidence of Margaret Hassan's murder?

What more ruthless way could there be of demonstrating to the world that the US and Interim Prime Minister Iyad Alawi's tinpot army were fighting "evil" in Fallujah and the other Iraqi cities?


The FALLUJAH Protest Rally

20 November 2004, 1200 noon
Martin Place, Sydney
Speech by Tony Kevin


I believe the US Army's attack on the Iraqi city of Fallujah, as planned and as executed, was a major war crime - both in terms of its strategic intention - to attack and destroy a city whose only crime was that it was passively resisting the authority of the American-installed interim Iraqi government led by Iyad Allawi - and in terms of its military methods, which grossly violated the Geneva Conventions: the rules of warfare negotiated over centuries. It was a barbaric and shameful attack on a defenceless civilian city.

The three governments of the allied coalition in Iraq - US, Britain and Australia - are in public denial over the nature of the destruction of Fallujah at the hands of the US Army. Western mainstream media, who were embedded with the invading army, tried initially to sanitise the story, to present it as an honourable military battle. But the pictures on television tell their own story - of a destroyed city, destroyed as totally as was Grozny in Chechnya a few years ago. Of 300,000 people left homeless. And of who knows how many civilian dead.

US writer Jonathan Schell, in a forthcoming article in Nation magazine - already on-line on "The battle for minds, forget the hearts", argues that the attack on Fallujah was planned and executed for one big reason: to inculcate fear. He cites two US political commentators close to Washington who admit that, unlike in Vietnam, the US military is not even bothering in Iraq "to reach hearts and minds".

Their only concern in Fallujah was to send a brutally simple deterrent message to Iraqis - resist US power, and we will destroy you utterly. We destroyed this city, to show you what we can do everywhere in Iraq if you resist us.

Jim Hoagland's article in The Washington Post, "Fighting for Minds in Fallujah" said "the immediate objective is to dissuade Sunni townspeople from joining, supporting or tolerating the insurrection" and "the price they will pay for doing so is being illustrated graphically in the streets of Fallujah."

Mark Bowden in the Los Angeles Times took up the same theme. He said "ordinary people" can be won over by fear: by the spectacle of the subjugated city, which "works as a demonstration of will and power." describes how the US Army left Fallujah as "the Carthaginian solution". Rome finally defeated its sworn enemy the Carthaginian state, by razing the capital Carthage to the ground and sowing the land with salt so that nothing would ever grow there again. And that is the term applies to what happened in Fallujah in these past 12 days.

It is hard for me to find the words to express the horror of this. Such extreme deterrent destruction of a large city for the alleged actions of a small number of insurgents has not been the conduct of any civilised modern state. It is conduct we associate with ancient cruel times, with the Mongol invasions, or with some ruthless Chinese emperor two thousand years ago. In World War Two the Nazis did terrible things in towns and cities that resisted them: Guernica in Spain, Oradour in France, Lidice in Czechosvlovakia, Warsaw in Poland. Fallujah takes us straight back to these Nazi atrocities.

The military men who planned and executed this attack must have had utter contempt for the lives of the civilians they would so casually kill in Fallujah. It is as if the people of Fallujah simply were not there - the battlefield was effectively defined as empty of humanity except the declared "enemy" - who turned out to be nothing more than a few hundred brave but pathetically outgunned militiamen. For this, a city of 300,000 people was destroyed. And anyone found dead was counted as an enemy combatant.

We are seeing a lot now of an incident as captured in TV footage, of a US soldier shooting a wounded Iraqi combatant on the ground in cold blood. This incident is a useful diversion, a minor incident in a much bigger horror. The soldier concerned will be scapegoated, as junior torturers were scapegoated in Abu Ghraib.

The real story of the Fallujah military operation is being shunned by mainstream media because it is too disturbing Such as: the deliberate effort over many weeks to clear the city of women and children by frightening them into leaving, and the refusal to allow men of military age to leave the city under white flag with their families. All of those men later found killed in the city could be claimed as enemy combatants. The policy of shooting to kill any unarmed people who were trying to flee the city, for example as they tried to swim rivers. The deliberate occupation and closure of hospitals so that the wounded would have nowhere to go, and there would be no photographic record of casualties. The use of massive indiscriminate weapons like 2000 kg bombs in city streets, and particularly cruel weapons like cluster bombs that spray deadly shrapnel in all directions, and phosphorus bullets that melt human flesh. The razing of entire city blocks in pursuit of a single sniper. The blocking of Red Cross food and medical supplies aid convoys after the battle. The refusal to provide water to civilians. The reported use of captured Iraqi civilians as human shields, forced to sit on top of US armoured vehicles.

All of this is documented on multiple internet sites around the world, from eyewitness reports now coming out of Fallujah. We will hear a lot more in coming days.

This is why the International Red Cross, the Iraqi Red Cross, and the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, seeing that their discreet diplomacy is having no effect on the US command, are now finally protesting vigorously in public.

The UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, yesterday expressed deep concern about the plight of civilians in Fallujah. She called on the US-led forces to probe and prosecute deliberate killings of wounded people and civilians, and to take every possible precaution to protect residents. She demanded that all violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law be investigated. She said:

"Those responsible for breaches - including deliberate targeting of civilians, indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks, the killing of injured persons and the use of human shields - must be brought to justice, be they members of the Multinational Force or insurgents."

She was "particularly worried" about poor access for delivery of humanitarian aid and the lack of information about casualties.

For me as an Australian, the most shaming thing about this week was Defence Minister Robert Hill's casual admission in the Senate on Thursday, that Australian troops may have been involved in the planning and execution of the attack on Fallujah.

In reply to a question from Senator Kerry Nettle, Hill said he was not aware of exact numbers but believed a small number of troops may have been assigned to Australia's allies in the battle. He said "Australians certainly had some personnel within the multinational force headquarters, and it's reasonable to assume therefore some role in relation to planning or incidental support of the operations," He said "There may well have been a small number of Australian forces who were assigned to forces of our allies."

In making those statements, Hill admits that Australian soldiers serving in Iraq may be implicated in the war crime that is Fallujah. I don't know how Hill, or Defence Secretary Smith, or Defence Force Commander General Cosgrove, or Army Commander Leahy, can honourably remain in their jobs after the past 12 days in Fallujah. The honourable thing would be to set up an enquiry into the Australian role in Fallujah, and take leave from their posts until it is over.

Failing that, these may all be guilty commanders, because they may have authorised Australian military participation in the planning and execution of a major war crime.

Most of our Australian media are still keen to shelter our public from the full horror of Fallujah. They want us to go on believing that we and our US and British allies are trying humanely to make Iraq safe for democracy, and that the "unrest" in Iraq is only being caused by a few fanatical insurgents helped by Al Qaeda terrorists. They don't want us to know that this is a broad-based national liberation struggle that is growing as the number of martyred insurgent fighters keeps growing. Just as it was in Vietnam.

Yet that truth is everywhere, so readily accessible on so many alternative news websites:

For example, Alexander Cockburn's webmagazine Counterpunch, Slate magazine,,,

One only has to Google in the words "Fallujah, civilian casualties, Red Cross". Up come dozens of website entries.

The information is everywhere - yet our media barely notices it. We see footage of a blasted flattened field that was once a city, while the reporter solemnly tells us, "This was a classroom where people were being taught to make bombs". It is as if they do not see what their own cameras are showing us.

And there is so much to read in the liberal international print media too: in The Guardian, in The Independent, even in the London Times which recently ran a piece by Editor Simon Jenkins whose very title tells the story: "A wrecked nation, a desert, a ghost town. And this will be called victory".

So what do we do about it? Those of us who care about honour and decency in Australian governance?

We demand that our government disconnect utterly from Iraq while this cruel and criminal military occupation, under the figleaf of the brutal Allawi interim government, continues. That means - no Australian diplomatic presence. No Australian aid presence. No Australian commercial presence. And most important of all - no Australian military presence.

And that means now - not by Christmas, but now. There is absolutely no reason of honour or national interest for us to be there. The honourable thing is to withdraw now.

And we should then have a proper independent judicial inquiry to establish the exact facts of our military role in Iraq since the invasion began on 18 March 2003. Our people - the families and friends of our servicemen and women who served in Iraq - need to know exactly what they were called on to do, during this war and occupation. They need to know - we need to know - whether the laws of honourable military conduct, as Australia has always understood them, were violated in Iraq.

We have to get out, and then we will need an honest accounting for what we did in Iraq. This is what I will continue to strive for.

Tony Kevin
20 November 2004


Open letter to the ALP: Troops out now!

With the Iraq war escalating, Stop the War Coalition in Sydney is urgently seeking sign-ons to this open letter below which will be given to Mark Latham in Sydney on Monday, November 22, at the Leichhardt Town Hall where he will be addressing a community forum.

Please forward on, and apologies for cross postings. You can return the sign-ons to this email, or to stwcoalition(at)

Open letter to the Australian Labor Party:

Troops out now!

John Howard's Liberal-National Coalition government sent Australian troops to join the illegal US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. Until recently, Labor's policy was to bring the troops home by Christmas. But after the election, and to the dismay of many, the ALP leadership seems to be retreating from this policy arguing, among other things, that it isn't practical.

Abandoning the troops home call would signal a retreat from the biggest moral and political issue of our time.

We, the undersigned call on the ALP not to junk its "troops out" policy.

Mark Latham's call for the troops to be brought home came soon after the Spanish people had voted overwhelmingly against their pro-war president. If the ALP leadership had decided to campaign against the war in the last election, it too would have been rewarded - as was the Greens' Andrew Wilkie who ran a strong anti-war campaign in Bennelong, NSW.

Public opinion was on side, and it gave inspiration to the peace movement. Finally, it seemed, the ALP had brought its policy into line with the views of the majority - that Australia has no business in an unjust and illegal war in Iraq.

Calls for more humanitarian assistance mean nothing when little can be done while a full-scale war of occupation continues.

Some 100,000 Iraqis are now presumed dead in this war - one hundred times the number of coalition troop losses. More than half were women and children killed in air strikes, according to a report in the respected medical journal The Lancet. And the current Coalition assault on Iraqi cities and towns to "eradicate" the resistance in the lead-up to the Iraqi elections scheduled for January is likely to massively increase that figure.

Farnaz Fassihi, an American journalist born in Iran who writes from Baghdad for The Wall Street Journal, describes the war as a "disaster". "The genie of terrorism, chaos and mayhem has been unleashed onto this country as a result of American mistakes and can't be put back into a bottle", she said in October.

This is why the occupying troops must leave. They are not liberating Iraqis - they are killing them, indiscriminately. The departure of the relatively small number of Australian troops will send a powerful political signal - that the war in Iraq cannot end through military occupation.

As the former weapons' inspector Scott Ritter put it "...100,000 dead Iraqi civilians in the prosecution of an illegal and unjust war not only condemns us, it adds credibility to those who oppose us".

Iraqis have the right to decide how to run their own country, and the majority wants the occupying forces to leave.

We call on the ALP not to back away from its pre-election pledge, and to campaign actively to bring the Australian troops home from Iraq.

Signed: Ian Cohen, Greens MLC, NSW; Rachel Siewert, Greens Senator-elect WA; Greens Senator Kerry Nettle; Randwick Botany Greens; Lee Rhiannon, Greens MLC, NSW; Socialist Alliance.
Read more ...

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Refugees: ensuring renewed national attention

Massive refugee advocates' contingent to converge on Parliament

Media Release
Friday November 12 2004 13:00am WST
For Immediate Release
No Embargoes

A massive contingent of refugee advocates, supporters and activists is expected to descend on the lawns of Parliament House in Canberra this Tuesday under the theme "Stand Up for Refugees" to make their presence felt during the opening day of the new parliament and the start of a new term of the Howard government.

Related pages:

bullet  Photos - a full record the Rally

bullet  The Call to attend the Rally

People from all States are expected to travel - many in large groups in buses - to be present, from the RAC (Refugee Action Collective) groups of Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and representatives from Perth, and from Rural Australians for Refugees, ChilOut, Project SafeCom and many other collectives and groups. Mr Ian Rintoul of RAC Sydney expects the numbers may well swell to more than 1500 to 2000.

While groups such as Project SafeCom and the group Women in Black will make their presence felt from 10:30am onwards, others will arrive with buses, in time for the main speakers line-up at 12:30, convened by Big Brother protester Merlin Luck. At 11:30 the vast array of groups are expected to start their march on Federal Parliament from the pond in front of the High Court of Australia, to symbolize the grievances with the decisions of the High Court supporting the right of the Howard administration to detain asylum seekers "for the term of their natural life".

Women in Black will 'welcome' parliamentarians back to work as they arrive for the 10:30 start with an silent protest at the entrance, while Project SafeCom will prepare its mailout to all MP's, which will include a juicy summation of the political achievements of "The Man Who Stopped The Boats" - the politician who claims to qualify for the "boat-stopping medal" as well as a Christmas card linking the Magi at the birth of Christ to the forced deportations from Australian camps to Iran of failed asylum seekers.

The march will be likely to be a display the colourful and vast array of many alliances, including Rural Australians for Refugees groups, many of whom plan to march under their individual RAR Group banners in what promises to be a long procession from the High Court to Parliament House.

Project SafeCom spokesman Jack H Smit said that the tens of thousands of refugee advocates from around the country simply will not allow the government as well as the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party to silence and manipulate public opinion over refugee issues. "The scandal once was TAMPA, then Woomera, then the traumatisation of TPV holders", Mr Smit said.

"Since the 2004 election campaign the scandal has shifted to John Howard as well as Mark Latham, who are both actively working to silence this issue. It was extraordinary to have the Great Debate, where all issues that count for voters, such as the Iraq War, ATSIC, most of the education and health issues, as well as refugee issues, were avoided for fear of a backlash."

"This Tuesday the government will be powerfully reminded that Australians will not allow Mark Latham and John Howard to bury the issues that have dug so deep into the social conscience of many Australians, that they will not be erased by spin and avoidance of the major parties."

Online Event resource:
Project SafeCom Canberra Convergence page

Canberra - 11,000 HEARTS transplanted

Hearts for RefugeesFrom the west to the east, from north and south, from cities and towns, Australians are moving on buses, cars and planes towards Canberra for the opening of Parliament. There they will plant 11,000 hearts around the Parliament to remind this Government that their hearts are breaking. They will plant the multi-coloured hearts with messages of hope from thousands of Australian, calling on the Government to show some compassion to refugees. Fifty-one Asylum Seekers from Melbourne will be amongst the thousands on this day, asking for recognition.

Throughout the election campaign Prime Minister Howard and his busload of journalists avoided the refugee issue. Indeed Minister Vanstone's "only one child left in detention" lie went unchallenged by the media despite the evidence of 86 children in detention.

On this day Australians will remind their government about:

bullet The 101 children (as per figures to date) still held under guard in detention camps on- and offshore.

bullet The 972 asylum seekers still detained.

bullet Their disapproval of this Government's fight in the High Court for the right to lock up adults and children indefinitely.

bullet The Stateless people held in Indefinite Detention in camps, who have nowhere to call home, and this government's fight to hold them forever if it wished.

bullet The empty promise of visas for refugees given during the 2004 election campaign, when hundreds of Iraqis are being refused permanent protection and told to go home.

bullet The thousands of Iraqis living on Temporary Visas in Australia who fled the same regime which Australia has sent troops to attack.

bullet The fifty-five Iraqis imprisoned on Nauru waiting for [more than] three years for freedom.

bullet The twenty-eight Afghanis waiting on Nauru for freedom.

bullet The two Ahmadi's waiting on Nauru for freedom.

bullet The Stateless man from the Bihari refugee camp who has nowhere to call home.

bullet The farce that DIMIA claims that "asylum seekers on Nauru are not in detention".

bullet The Vietnamese asylum seekers on Christmas Island - waiting and waiting.

bullet The estimated eight thousand asylum seekers living in the Australian community on Bridging Visa E (BVE), destitute, with NO right to work and NO right to Medicare.

bullet The thousands of women and children "warehoused" in Indonesia by the Australian government who is paying The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) to feed and house them, but give them no money or right of movement, while their husbands and fathers are in Australia pining for them.

bullet The 353 people from "SIEV X" who drowned during Operation Relex.

bullet The two women who died under the eyes of the Navy during Operation Relex.

bullet The houses, motels, schools and hospitals designated "place of detention" so that DIMIA can maintain a fiction of asylum seeker as threat.

bullet The asylum seekers now entering their seventh year in detention.

bullet The teenagers who grew up in Australia's camps being brutalised.

bullet Those who have died in Detention.

bullet The lonely fathers waiting years to be reunited with their families and those whom the government will never allow to see their families again.

"The 16th of November is a day for the people who represent the soul of Australia. These are the Australians who have not forgotten the second verse of our national anthem and yearn to see our government remember it. 'For those who come across the seas we've boundless plains to share'", Says Pamela Curr of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne.

Pamela Curr
ASRC Campaign Coordinator
13 November 2004

Protesters rally over refugee treatment

Tuesday, November 16, 2004, 2:01pm (AEDT)

About 400 people have rallied outside Parliament House in Canberra, protesting against the Howard Government's treatment of refugees.

The protesters include representatives of several refugee groups as well as refugee campaigner Tony Kevin and former television contestant, Merlin Luck.

They have used the first day of Parliament to say to the Federal Government that it can not continue to keep asylum seekers in detention centres.

They say the treatment of these people, particularly children, is inhumane and a crime according to international law.

Speakers at the rally have attacked the Howard Government for failing to end the detention of asylum seekers.

Many of the speakers were particularly angry at the detention of children, describing it as inhumane.

Riz Wakil spent time in the Curtin detention centre as a former Afghanistan asylum seeker and has told the rally that despite the Howard Government's election victory, people should not give up on those seeking refuge in Australia.

"They might have control of both rooms in the building behind us but they do not control the many more spaces in all our schools, our campuses, our workplaces, other communities and our streets.

"No Australian government has a mandate to brutalise asylum seekers and refugees."

Also addressing the rally was 16-year-old William Mudford, who expressed his dismay at the detention of children.

"The Howard Government has created this century's stolen generation," he said.

Greens Senator Bob Brown referred to a church service this morning at which the Prime Minister, John Howard, prayed that God would help Australia recognise unjust discrimination.

"Now I say Prime Minister, don't ask God to do that which you can do, Prime Minister," he said.

Democrats Senator Andrew Bartlett asked people at the protest not to give up the fight for asylum seekers.

Protesters rally for refugees

NineMSN News
17:38 AEDT Tue Nov 16 2004

Hundreds of protesters converged on Parliament House in Canberra to demand the government release refugees from detention.

As cannons were wheeled out for a 19-gun salute to mark the opening of parliament, asylum seekers told the 300-strong rally Australia was abusing human rights.

"The government and the regime who abused the human rights ... of innocent people in detention centres including myself - I spent nine months in Curtin Detention Centre - is back as a winner of the election," Afghani refugee Riz Wakil said.

"We will be fighting against any inhuman legislation which will be brought by this government in future and any action against refugees will not be accepted."

Merlin Luck, the 24-year-old from Sydney who arrived on stage for his Big Brother eviction with his mouth taped shut and holding a sign that read: "Free th(e) Refugees", said the rally showed the refugee movement was alive and stronger than ever.

"It's time Australia stepped into line - the international community is appalled, the United Nations is appalled and millions of Australians are appalled," he added.

In a church service on Tuesday morning, Prime Minister John Howard and MPs prayed that Australia "will continue to be the land of the fair go and that Australians from all backgrounds will continue to learn and practise acceptance" - a prayer Australian Greens leader Bob Brown told protesters was hypocritical while children remained in detention.

"I think prayers, particularly from the nation's leaders, should mean what they say," Senator Brown said.

"It's hypocrisy on the one hand to pray to a power to implement the very things that you have the power to do yourself but do not.

"John Howard should go back over the words of the church service this morning and change course."

Mr Howard's office declined to comment but Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said Australia had a long history of bipartisan support for providing protection to those in need.

"Australia's commitment to ensuring protection for those most in need cannot be questioned," Senator Vanstone said.

"It's why Australia is ranked behind only the United States and Canada in the size of its refugee intake."

This year the government increased its refugee intake by 50 per cent, to 6,000 places out of a total 13,000 places in the refugee and humanitarian program, she said.

However, youth ambassador for Children Out of Detention (ChilOut), 16-year-old Canberra schoolboy Will Mudford said he expected better of the government than to lock up children.

©AAP 2004

Refugee-rights movement here to stay

Green Left Weekly
November 24 2004
Kerryn Williams & James Caulfield, Canberra

"The refugee movement is here to stay. We are becoming stronger by the day. We will fight on to free the refugees!" This declaration from Big Brother's Merlin Luck captured the determined mood of up to 1000 people who converged on Parliament House on November 16, the day parliament resumed.

Chaired by Luck, the refugees' rights rally followed a march from the Aboriginal Tent Embassy to the High Court. People came from as far as Melbourne and Brisbane, and Rural Australians for Refugees groups were represented from across NSW. At least three busloads of people made the trip from Sydney.

Brisbane Murri community and Socialist Alliance activist Sam Watson told the crowd that "PM John Howard used the people on the Tampa to hijack the 2001 federal election" and that again at the October 9 election "he tapped into people's innermost fears to steal the election".

Rejecting Howard's mandate, Watson declared that "No man, woman or child who comes to our country as an asylum seeker should be put behind barbed wire. [Asylum seekers] have broken no Australian law or Aboriginal law. According to our customs they are welcome."

Greens Senator Bob Brown received a "rock star welcome" at Luck's request. Describing how the prime minister had prayed that morning that "Australians of all backgrounds will continue to practice love and acceptance, that we continue to be that land of a fair go", Brown urged Howard: "Do not ask God to do that which you can do!"

Brown assured "those behind wire and without rights on temporary protection visas" that regardless of government policy, "the spirit of your cause will be through the halls of parliament for the next three years".

Three young ambassadors from refugee-rights group Chilout (Children out of Detention) spread 102 pairs of small shoes on the stage to symbolise all those children still locked up in Australian immigration detention centres.

Rob Simpson from Rural Australians for Refugees told the crowd: "If the prime minister claims to govern for all the people, let's see him put it into practice, because we are the people."

Democrats Senator Andrew Bartlett, Afghan refugee Riz Wakil, Labor Senator Linda Kirk, former diplomat Tony Kevin and Gillian Davies from the Victorian Refugee Action Committee also addressed the protest.

After loud chanting directed at those within parliament, the protest concluded with a march to the attorney-general's office. Canberra Refugee Action Committee activist and protest organiser Andrew Hall told Green Left Weekly that "the rally was a spectacular success. It really showed the diversity of the refugee-rights movement and that we will not be going away until there is justice for refugees."

'Join the parliament of the streets!'

Green Left Weekly
November 24 2004

The following is abridged from an address by Sydney-based Afghan refugee Riz Wakil to the November 16 convergence at federal parliament in Canberra.

Thank you for coming here on the first sitting day of parliament to say: "It doesn't matter who won the election - No Australian government has a mandate to brutalise asylum seekers and refugees."

Despite the Coalition being returned to government, the refugee-rights movement had an important victory this year. It forced [PM John] Howard's government - against its will - to grant permanent residence to almost all Afghan refugees in this country. The government would have been much happier sending us all back to Afghanistan, but the constant commitment and campaigning of the refugee-rights movement over the last half decade, your refusal to be silenced by politicians' and media lies, made it impossible for Howard and his mates to get their way.

It is important that we recognise this victory, because it tells us that we can make a difference over time. We can force the government to back down even when it doesn't want to.

After the federal election, we can no longer use the Senate to block or reverse the government's inhumane anti-refugee legislation. We have to take this job into our own hands - the hands of the people, not the politicians.

So we will have to use every available avenue outside of parliament to create so much public support for policy change that the government simply cannot afford to ignore us. They might have control of both rooms in the building behind us, but they don't control the many more spaces in all our schools and campuses, our workplaces, our communities and our streets.

We cannot wait another three or four years to change the parliamentary line-up. There are still hundreds of asylum seekers - including many children - locked up in detention centres who won't last that long. There are still thousands of refugees and asylum seekers who have not been granted permanent residency, let alone citizenship. And there are still millions of traumatised and oppressed people outside of Australia in urgent need of a safe haven, many of whom will literally die if we wait.

Now more than ever we must keep speaking out, keep the issue on the public agenda, keep educating and organising more people to demand that mandatory detention is abolished and every detention centre is closed, that temporary protection visas are replaced with citizenship rights, and that the so-called "Pacific solution" is dismantled.

But as we do this, we also have to be clear that solving the personal problems of those asylum seekers and refugees who've been fortunate enough to make it to Australia is nowhere near enough. To really achieve our goals, we have to create a situation where any peoples suffering war, poverty and persecution in any other country can find sanctuary and a better life in Australia.

The Australian government is doing exactly the opposite. It is not just making it almost impossible for asylum seekers to get into Australia, it is also creating countless more refugees. The government's participation in the occupation of Iraq, and its support for the United States' war of terror on the Third World, creates more destruction, more displacement and more refugees.

And don't think these problems are going to end in Iraq with the elections next January. They certainly did not end in my country after the US-sponsored elections last October. War still ravages many parts of the country. Unemployment, poverty, lack of education and health care are still the norm, and women's and other human rights abuses continue.

Thousands of my Hazara brothers and sisters, who cannot survive in devastated Afghanistan, have fled to Iran or Pakistan, where they continue to be exploited, persecuted and killed every day.

Five years after the overthrow of the Taliban government, Afghanistan shows - just as Iraq will show - that without real self-determination, without real democracy, and without real equality in the world, all talk of "liberation" and "freedom" by the powerful countries is just propaganda intended to justify their control and plunder of our countries, and to justify the barriers they are erecting to prevent their victims from claiming sanctuary in the rich countries.

The government and Labor Party's enthusiastic support for the so-called "war on terror" is creating second-class citizens in this country too - political refugees in our own country. Muslims and people of Middle Eastern background are being presented as untrustworthy, or violent or outright terrorists. Racism and fear has been whipped up to divide us one from the other, because the more that Australians are scared of people from different ethnic backgrounds, cultures and religions, the more the government will be able to get away with its warmongering foreign policies and its brutal domestic policies of imprisoning refugees and anyone else who speaks out against it.

Thanks to the work of the refugee-rights movement, and the anti-war movement, fewer people believe the lies politicians tell to justify these crimes against humanity, and John Howard no longer represents majority public opinion on the treatment of asylum seekers or even the occupation of Iraq.

We represent the majority, and we will continue to speak out, to tell the people of Australia and the world the truth, until the demands for justice are met.

Rallies like today's are a very important part of doing that. By taking public action, we are saying what the majority believe - that the government has no mandate to lock out or lock up asylum seekers, or to occupy other countries. By speaking out today we are also encouraging others to take a stand, to say "No" to this parliament and join the "parliament of the streets", which can and will stop the wars and free the refugees!

Faces of protest

Green Left Weekly
November 24 2004

Green Left Weekly's James Caulfield and Kerryn Williams spoke to some of those present at the November 16 convergence on parliament about why they joined the protest.

Lesley Bond was representing the Taree Residents For Refugees, established less than two months ago. "What galvanised us into forming was meeting Janeel, a lovely refugee who was locked up for three years before finally being released. He had fought for freedom for women in his home country of Afghanistan. He had lost sight in one eye, he had lost a leg through bombs, planted by those who felt threatened by his advocacy of freedom for women, yet our country considered this man an unsuitable citizen."

Marty Morrison, part of the Great Lakes Rural Australians for Refugees group, left home at 3.30am to reach to rally. "We are ashamed of our country and the way we lock people up. Not only the children, which many people are concerned about, but everybody, locking them up when they have escaped from such terrible circumstances - countries that we are prepared to bomb, invade, but we don't let the people come and live here."

Part of a contingent from Sydney's Community Action Against Homophobia, James Wilson attended the rally in solidarity with refugees but also to highlight homophobia. "We want the federal government to repeal the ban on same-sex marriage, which I feel to be a completely draconian law, one that serves no real purpose except to marginalise minority groups further back to the 1950s." More than 150 people in total travelled from Sydney to protest.

Sixteen-year-old Will Mudford from Chilout (Children out of Detention) said, "Refugees should not be detained, especially children. There are over 100 children refugees still in detention and this is a disgrace. I met a guy the other day who hasn't been able to speak for three years because of detention and this is what Howard has done to our country."
Read more ...

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Howard's way with The First Australians: shame, shame, shame

Welfare for showering yourself with soap

So - today is Howard's day for Howard's way with indigenous people. The PM is quietly, bit by bit, announcing his hardline welfare policy for indigenous people, he raids the only Indigenous newspaper we have, the National Indigenous Times.

Wedge into small population groups, Mr Howard, that won't hurt your ratings. Manipulate the information, choose your wording carefully, so even some of the Indigenous groups welcome your policies, and soften up any resistance amongst some groups of the population. Well done, Mr Howard. The Indigenous Council is in place - and nobody cares anyway when Geoff Clark states his fury with that council - they don't represent me!

"The fact that this is an imposed structure takes this system back to, you know, early 1800s where the colonisers appointed tribal leaders." - former ATSIC Chief Geoff Clark on ABC Radio

Let's compare the Council with the interim government in Iraq, shall we - lackeys of the US Government. We're waiting the next chapter of Howard's way. I reckon unemployed people will be next. We're on the way to a unemployment benefits system, that's like the system in the US - after a time you loose your payouts. Now, where was that guy again who makes cardboard houses for homeless people?

Skeletons and kitchen cabinets

From Black voice, deaf ears, Sydney Morning Herald 12 Nov 04:

"The Australian political landscape is littered with the skeletons of indigenous advisory bodies discarded or ignored. I respect the people who have been selected but their task is impossible. For 8 years many indigenous people have tried different ways of engaging with this Government but it fails to understand the need to involve indigenous people in decision-making." - Aden Ridgeway, former Democrat Senator

"We've had many kitchen cabinets in indigenous affairs over the past 30 years and the idea that we're going to make some progress with an advisory body, I think, is entirely incorrect." - Noel Pearson, Cape York leader

Howard's 'sit-down welfare'

Welfare plan reeks of 'apartheid' (SMH 12 Nov 04):

The acting Race Discrimination Commissioner, Tom Calma, said he would be deeply concerned if conditions were to be introduced placing restrictions on access to services for one part of the community defined by race. "It would be unacceptable for indigenous peoples to be denied basic citizenship services that all other Australians take for granted," Mr Calma said.

Howard orders police raid on Indigenous paper

Thursday, November 11, 2004. 5:50pm (AEDT)

Federal Police have confirmed the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet ordered a raid on an Indigenous newspaper which published leaked cabinet documents.

The search warrant was executed this morning at the Canberra office of the National Indigenous Times.

The secret Cabinet documents allegedly related to the consequences of abolishing ATSIC.

The newspaper's editor Chris Graham has defended the decision to run the stories.

"We're not critical of the Australian Federal Police at all, they're just doing their job," he said.

"But it is mind-numbingly stupid, or breathtakingly arrogant for the Government to believe they can raid the offices of a newspaper and not spark the interest of a great many journalists, and that's precisely what they've done."


Newspaper raid followed complaint from PM's office: AFP

National Indigenous Times
Wednesday, 27 October 2004

CANBERRA: Police today raided the offices of the National Indigenous Times (NIT) in Canberra after a complaint from Prime Minister John Howard's department.

A team of five Australian Federal Police (AFP) officers raided the NIT office in suburban Garran just after 8.30am (AEDT).

"The AFP received a referral from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet relating to the unauthorised disclosure of commonwealth documents," an AFP spokeswoman said.

"Today the AFP executed a search warrant on the work address of the Indigenous Times newspaper and as this is an ongoing investigation it is not appropriate for me to make any further comment."

Newspaper editor Chris Graham said the officers held a warrant to seize two documents, but left with six in total after being on site for about two hours.

Among the documents seized was a cabinet submission on a tougher government approach to Aboriginal welfare, Mr Graham said.

"They got what they were after and more," Mr Graham told AAP.

A spokesman for Indigenous Affairs Minister Amanda Vanstone said he was unaware the raid had taken place.

"That's the first I've heard of it," he said.

The paper has run a series of stories in recent weeks critical of the government's handling of Indigenous affairs, relying on a string of leaked cabinet and departmental memos and letters.


National Indigenous Times

Editor says more damning stories to come

The Age - AAP
November 12, 2004 - 7:09AM

An Aboriginal newspaper which had leaked cabinet documents later seized in a police raid had more embarrassing papers ready to publish, its editor said.

Federal police on Thursday raided the offices of the National Indigenous Times in Canberra, seizing six documents, including a cabinet submission on a plan to shake up Aboriginal welfare.

Editor Chris Graham said the Prime Minister's Department ordered the raid because the documents, which the newspaper published, were embarrassing to the government.

But the newspaper had more secret documents it was preparing to publish, he said.

"I can assure you there's more to come and it's not pretty," he told ABC radio.

"This government has been dishonest in the way it's dealt with Aboriginal people and Aboriginal affairs generally.

"And I can understand them not wanting it to get out, but I can't for the life of me understand how they thought raiding our offices would have assisted their cause."

Among the documents seized was a controversial submission from the Department of Immigration, Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA) discussing the introduction of requirements for Aboriginal people to receive welfare.

The leaked document made its way into major newspapers this week and while no immediate timeframe has been given, the government has confirmed it was looking at changing indigenous welfare.

Another document was a letter from former indigenous affairs minister Philip Ruddock to Prime Minister John Howard in April 2003, saying that nearly all government ministers had failed to undertake a major review of how services could be better delivered to Aboriginal people.

There was also a cabinet submission dated April 7, 2004, which revealed cabinet had been misled about Cape York Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson's support for the government's new National Indigenous Council when he actually opposed it.

Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance federal secretary Chris Warren condemned the raid.

"The only crime that's potentially been committed is a bit of embarrassment for the government and a bit of embarrassment for some of the bureaucrats," he told ABC radio.

"To turn that into this sort of assault on press freedom, to take that embarrassment to that stage of raiding newspaper offices with police, is an extraordinarily serious step."

© 2004 AAP

Link to The Age

The real story behind the abolition of ATSIC

National Indigenous Times
Wednesday, 10 November 2004

Five days after ATSIC formally lodged a High Court challenge to the federal government's removal of its powers to make funding decisions, Prime Minister John Howard was warned the abolition of ATSIC had now become "a matter of urgency".

The revelations are contained in a leaked cabinet-in-confidence document, dated April 7, 2004, which was written to brief the government on the proposed abolition of ATSIC, a copy of which has been obtained by NIT.

The federal government has always maintained the creation of ATSIS on July 1, 2003, which removed the power of the ATSIC Board to decide who receives its money, was legal and that ATSIC's legal challenge was a "frivolous waste of taxpayers' money".

But the leaked document reveals a less confident federal government which was caught out by a series of strategic errors made by the Prime Minister and the former Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Philip Ruddock.

It reads: "Action in relation to ATSIS is urgent in light of ATSIC?s decision to challenge the establishment of ATSIS.

"It is therefore proposed that the government?s decisions be announced immediately and that legislation be drafted as a matter of urgency with a view to passage before July 1, 2004.

If the legislation is not passed by July 1, action could be taken to abolish ATSIS administratively and to move staff functions and programmes to relevant agencies..."

But a second, far more explosive cabinet-in-confidence document obtained by NIT reveals the government?s fears were well-founded.

In April 2003, the Prime Minister was strongly warned against the creation of ATSIS by his most senior bureaucrat, cabinet secretary Peter Shergold (see full story page 8).

Mr Shergold was responding to a letter Mr Ruddock wrote to the Prime Minister on April 10, 2003 in which he urged the government to remove ATSIC's powers to control its own funds - the first time the plan to gut ATSIC had been floated (the letter, ironically, was written three days after Mr Ruddock informed the Prime Minister that every government minister "almost without exception" had failed to properly undertake a major review of government programs to see if they could be better tailored to Indigenous needs - see previous edition of NIT).

Mr Shergold's advice was also based on a legal opinion provided by the Australian Government Solicitor's office (AGS), a copy of which has also been obtained by NIT.

Robert Orr QC, the government's most senior legal adviser, agreed there was a "reasonable argument" that agencies other than ATSIC could spend ATSIC's money, but he warned ATSIS was not the best way to achieve it.

Stripping ATSIC's powers through the creation of ATSIS "would be unusual, and involve some risk" he wrote, adding that the move could be subject to a High Court challenge and if that were to occur, the government's entire $1 billion Indigenous Affairs budget could be frozen while the court ruled on the matter.

In layman?'s terms, that means no Aboriginal communities or organisations previously funded by ATSIC would receive any money until the issue was resolved.

The leaked April 7, 2004 cabinet document also reveals:

* The federal cabinet was mislead about the nature of support for the National Indigenous Council. It claimed that influential Cape York leader, Noel Pearson was in favour of ATSIC being replaced with a government appointed body. Mr Pearson has publicly advocated for an elected chairman (see full story page 9).

* The National Indigenous Council was intended as a replacement to ATSIC, despite recent claims by Indigenous Affairs Minister Amanda Vanstone to the contrary (see full story at

Other leaked federal government documents reveal:

* ATSIC commissioners were threatened with legal sanctions and financial ruin if they did not take immediate steps to abandon the legal challenge (see timeline, page 7).

* The government was provided with information from within ATSIC which was designed to damage ATSIC's legal challenge (see timeline, page 7).

At the time of press, the Prime Minister's office had not responded to NIT's requests for comment.

Amanda appoints without a mandate

National Indigenous Times
Issue 68

The NIC has been named. That's the National Indigenous Council or the No Idea Committee depending on where you sit on the political spectrum.

To those who support the Howard Government's decision to abolish ATSIC, turn its back on 30 years of Aboriginal self-determination and replace the democratically elected body with a self-elected one, it's the National Indigenous Council.

To those who don't it's the No Idea Committee.

A body composed of Aboriginal people with no idea what damage their decision to self elect, ie accept an appointment to it, has done to the aspirations of those Aboriginal people who aspire to progress self-determination and those who fought for it.

It was no surprise that the story was leaked to The Australian, the American-owned national daily which has led the sustained mainstream media mugging of ATSIC.

The story announcing the make-up of the Council appeared on the front of The Weekend Australian which hit the streets across the country on Saturday under the headline "PM's Blacks not that sorry".

I'll repeat that... "PM's blacks".

The rest of the headline was in reference to a statement by the head of the NIC, Sue Gordon, a magistrate from Western Australia, who was taken from her parents as a four-year-old.

She told The Australian she was not interested in an apology to the stolen generations, nor did she see herself being used for political purposes against other Aboriginal leaders.

"I don't believe I'm a sell out to any community. I belong to an Aboriginal organisation and they won't think I'm a sell out."

I'm not sure what Aboriginal organisation she was referring to but I know at least a couple that think she is... and anyone else thick enough not to know they are... the PM's blacks.

Is there anyone other than The Australian's Aboriginal Affairs reporter who believes an apology from Howard was higher on anyone's agenda than fixing the practical problems bedevilling Aboriginal Australia?

This is almost as laughable as the claim, deep in The Australian story that Labor "heavy" Warren Mundine's acceptance of a place in the PM's blacks "is expected to send shock waves through the Labor Party".

If it does then they clearly know little about Mr Mundine, the national junior vice president of the party.

His decision to accept the offer of a spot on the NIC does raise some interesting questions though.

The first: just how "heavy" is a political gadfly? The question has no doubt occurred to the other "heavies" in the Australian Labor Party, particularly the newly appointed Federal shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Kim Carr.

His initial public reaction to the announcement of the NIC was that federal Labor was opposed to the concept of an unelected body "no matter who was on the council".

"I disagree in principle with the concept of a hand-picked group of experts, no matter how prominent or respected they may be individually," he said.

Mundine was not mentioned by name but the statement does raise the question: who now speaks for federal Labor on Aboriginal Affairs?

The PM's blacks or the party's shadow Minister?

How can the shadow Minister oppose a body which contains one of the party's vice presidents?

Who did Mundine consult before he accepted the appointment?

When was he invited and when did he accept?

Basically, what the hell is he doing there?

You might recall that federal Labor announced its Aboriginal Affairs policy during the recent federal election in Darwin through its then Shadow Minister, Kerry O'Brien.

Despite L-plate Latham's prior announcement that he intended to abolish ATSIC, O'Brien made it crystal clear that Labor, in Government, would replace it with another elected body.

He made it clear Labor opposed Howard's plan to replace ATSIC with the NIC.

Sitting beside him was, you guessed it, Mr Mundine.

At about the same time Howard's Indigenous Affairs Minister, Amanda Vanstone announced that the NIC had been selected but no announcement would be made until after the election.

One assumes that Mundine must have known at the time he sat next to O'Brien in Darwin knocking the NIC that a Howard victory would see him appointed to it.

At the very least he must have received his invitation to be a part of it.

Unless I'm mistaken opposition to the NIC is still Labor Party policy.

Mundine?s participation on the NIC is even more curious given he's the Chief Executive Officer of Native Title Services in New South Wales.

It is funded by ATSIC, an organisation he's now helping the Howard Government destroy, by fair means or foul.

He's also largely come to public attention in New South Wales by assisting the Sydney Morning Herald in a relentless campaign to have the democratically-elected New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council dismissed.

The newspaper succeeded in pressuring the Carr Government to dismiss the Council in one of the sorrier chapters in the history of Aboriginal Affairs in that State.

The campaign was at its height when Mundine was endorsed as an ALP federal presidential candidate by delegates to the 2003 annual conference of the ALP in NSW.

That vote came on the same day Mundine moved and had endorsed an Aboriginal Affairs policy that gave lip service to the principles of self-determination inside the conference while seeking to bury a duly elected Aboriginal council through the pages of the Sydney Morning Herald.

If you are getting confused, spare a thought for those Labor Party members who used to think their party officials and elected members were meant to abide by the party's principles and policies.

According to my arithmetic, Mundine is due to assume the national presidency of the ALP in the run up to the next federal election.

Cynics in the Howard camp would suggest it'll just be in the NIC of time.

But back to Ms Gordon, a West Australian Children's Court magistrate who headed, according to The Australian, "a watershed inquiry" into domestic violence.

She said her focus as chairwoman of the National Indigenous Council would be on stamping out child abuse and domestic violence in Aboriginal communities.

One can only wish her luck.

She might begin by asking Minister Vanstone why, as Justice Minister, she sat on a watershed report on violence in Indigenous communities for 18 months before publicly releasing it?

She might also ask why the federal government ignored the "watershed" work done by ATSIC on domestic violence in the early 90's and began claiming in its first years in office that the Commission had done nothing about the crisis.

She might also ask why, after spending hundreds of million of dollars in this area, a new report commissioned by the federal government says services for victims of domestic violence are in a "tragic" state and getting worse.

The report's author, Julie Oberin from the Women's Services Network, said last week that in some states refuges are turning away as many women and children as they are taking in.

Ms Oberin said that while governments were encouraging women to seek help from domestic violence, many were forced to return home because help was not available.

"Research tells us that post-domestic violence separation is actually more dangerous for women and children up to 18 months after that separation, and we set them up to fail, or set them up for further danger if there's no appropriate response there for them," she said.

The federal Family and Community Services Minister told the media when the report was released that she and state ministers responsible for women's affairs would use the study to lobby for more funds from their Cabinet colleagues.

Ms Gordon might ask Ms Vanstone what happened to the report she sat on and why the need to "lobby."

Is there a crisis or not?

Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty thinks so.

He said the statistics were shocking, and many men and teenage boys still regarded violence against women as acceptable.

"The statistics show that mostly women will allow themselves to be assaulted something in the order of 35 times before they actually initiate a phone call to police," he said.

"Sixty per cent of these domestic violence situations are witnessed by the children themselves and if you look at most police shootings, the majority of them have come out of domestic violence situations."

This is nothing new to all of the Aboriginal women who have lobbied for years through ATSIC to have something done about the scourge of violence in their own communities.

The more they lobbied, the more they were ignored.

I have many memories of the five years I worked at ATSIC.

One of the most enduring was a meeting in Brisbane on the Ministerial Council of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs (MCATSIA).

The council comprised the federal and all state Ministers for Aboriginal Affairs.

If you followed the mainstream media at the time, particularly the Brisbane Courier Mail, you would be forgiven for thinking domestic violence existed only in Aboriginal communities and ATSIC had done nothing about it.

ATSIC organised a delegation of Aboriginal women to travel to Brisbane for the meeting.

It was the first time Aboriginal women had ever addressed the Council.

Their submissions were heart-wrenching.

I'll never forget sitting behind the then Federal Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Philip Ruddock, watching him earnestly flicking through a thick folder of ministerial briefs he'd hauled to the meeting from Canberra.

Not once did he look up at the women.

I'm sure he heard not a word.

When the women stopped talking, the politicians started squabbling.

It was all about responsibility, territory and money.

Nothing came of it. It never does.

Good luck, Ms Gordon. You?ll need it.


* Brian Johnstone is a fortnightly NIT columnist and a former Media and Marketing Director of ATSIC. He is currently also employed on a contract basis to the NSW Aboriginal Land Council.

A great leap forward for 14 chosen ones, a disaster for everyone else

National Indigenous Times
Issue 68

What can you say about the announcement of the National Indigenous Council, other than it's a great leap forward for 14 chosen blackfellas, and a massive step backwards for the remaining 399,986 (or thereabouts)?

The abolition of ATSIC and its replacement with a government advisory board sets the fight for Indigenous rights back decades.

There's nothing wrong with the composition of the NIC, per se. Indeed it's staffed by some very impressive people. West Australian magistrate Sue Gordon is undoubtedly an eminent Aboriginal woman and will bring strong and relevant advice to the government. Similarly, Brisbane-based lawyer Tammy Williams is an immensely talented young woman. John Moriarty, Joseph Elu... the list goes on. The NIC looks good on paper, no dispute.

The problem is not who is on the NIC - Jesus Christ himself could preside over quarterly meetings and it would still be an unmitigated disaster - the problem is the NIC itself. It can never and will never speak for Aboriginal people. The fact that it replaces a body that could - ATSIC - dooms it to failure.

NIC members may be able to convince themselves - like Indigenous Affairs Minister Amanda Vanstone seems determined to do - that the NIC is not a replacement for ATSIC.

But they won't convince anyone else.

NIC members might also be able to convince themselves that, in spite of nine years of remaining deaf to Aboriginal disadvantage, this government will listen to them. After all, why would they go to so much trouble to appoint an eminent body of people, only to ignore their advice?

Two words. Mr Djerrkura.

He was the last appointed head of ATSIC and he was comprehensively sidelined when he started saying things the government didn?t want to hear.

Two more words. ATSIC Review.

It cost Australian taxpayers $1.5 million and was similarly staffed by three eminent Australians - Jackie Huggins, John Hannaford and Bob Collins.

The ATSIC Review found that the future for service delivery of government programs to Indigenous people lies with a strengthened ATSIC model, not an abolished one.

The NIC might like to ponder that thought when it sits down to meet in December.

It might also like to ponder its 'no win' position.

If the NIC provides the government with frank and fearless advice - as it should - it will be sidelined. Irrefutable fact. But even worse, if it works 'effectively' with the government, the NIC will be accused of only providing the advice the government wants to hear.

There can be no other outcome because to believe otherwise means believing this government does want justice for Aboriginal people.

It doesn't. All it wants is to get re-elected. Period. And you don't achieve that by 'pandering' to two percent of the population.

While they're at it, NIC members may also like to ponder how some might view it as the height of arrogance to believe that abolishing a full-time, democratically-elected body which boasted 406 representatives and replacing it with a part-time, hand-picked council of 14 people - eminent or otherwise - could possibly be considered a better outcome for Aboriginal people.

Countless international studies have shown that self-determination is the only way way to beat Indigenous disadvantage.

How the new NIC members rationalise their part in its demise is a matter for them.

But how the Howard government - in the absence of a black scapegoat in the form of ATSIC - explains away the inevitable failure of its Indigenous Affairs policy in three years time is a matter for us all.

Our early forecast? They'll blame the states ... and the Australian media will swallow it hook, line and sinker.

Chris Graham
Read more ...

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

John Howard refuses protection for Australia's Highest Court

Nauru attacks Australian law, bankrolled by Australian government;

High Court abandoned, unprotected by Australian Prime Minister

With the report by the Melbourne paper The Age (Meaghan Shaw, Canberra funds Nauru legal attack, 11 Nov - also pasted below) about what surely must be a deliberate refusal on the part of the Howard government to protect Commonwealth legislation as vested in the High Court of Australia, it leaves no choice but to conclude that the Australian Prime Minister John Howard is seriously in contempt of Australian law, and in contempt of The High Court.

Deliberate refusal

The actions of the Prime Minister have created a situation where now a foreign nation attacks Australia's highest legislature and its highest legal institution, The High Court of Australia, but the Australian government has no intention to defend that institution, because it does not fit with its agenda of mandatory detention of asylum seekers.

Politics instead of Protection

Mr Howard wants this challenge by this foreign nation Nauru to succeed, because his government - and solely his government in terms of his party-political interests - wants the challenge to be brought by Australian lawyers before the High Court over the legality of indefinitely detaining of asylum seekers under Nauruan law, to fail. The Prime Minister is doing this because he places a higher value on his political framework of his dealings with refugees above the protection of The High Court.

High Court should demand or Parliament should dismiss

What surely must follow now, is that the Justices of The High Court issue a demand for the Prime Minister to appear before the Court to explain himself; and, if the Justices of The High Court do not issue this demand, then the Federal Australian Parliament must surely dismiss the Prime Minister from office.

Constitutional Crisis?

There is no need to call this a Constitutional Crisis, because there is no unresolved conflict of Justice that cannot be served. There is a mandatory duty on the Prime Minister to defend and uphold Australian law and Australian Courts, and indeed especially The High Court of Australia. Mr Howard is the Prime Minister, and this is one of his primary duties.


If the High Court does not bring Mr Howard before the Justices of the Court, and the Parliament does not dismiss the Prime Minister, then surely the Governor-General must cause him to be dismissed.

Jack H Smit
Project SafeCom Inc.

Canberra funds Nauru legal attack

The Age
By Meaghan Shaw
November 11, 2004

The Federal Government has bankrolled a challenge to Australian laws that, if successful, would prevent the High Court ruling on the fate of asylum seekers detained in the Pacific.

Nauru's challenge, heard by the High Court yesterday, was not defended by the Government - a situation described by Justice Michael Kirby as "remarkable, bordering on astonishing".

"I've never heard of such a thing," he said. "It is embarrassing to a court, I think, to have suggestions of this kind made to it by counsel for a foreign country and to have no assistance from the Government of the Commonwealth of Australia.

"I find it embarrassing because this is a matter that touches the foreign relations of this country."

Nauru is challenging a Commonwealth law that makes Australia's High Court the final arbiter for appeals from Nauru's legal system.

The action aims to prevent the High Court hearing an appeal lodged by Melbourne lawyers against a decision by Nauru's Supreme Court that upheld the legality of detaining asylum seekers on the island.

The appeal could decide the fate of the 81 asylum seekers who remain on Nauru, and was lodged on behalf of an Afghan asylum seeker, Mohammad Arif Ruhani, who has been detained for nearly three years.

An Immigration Department spokeswoman yesterday confirmed Australia was funding the challenge under arrangements for Nauru to host the offshore processing centre.

If Nauru lost the challenge and was ordered to pay the costs of the other party, Australia would cover "all reasonable costs" incurred, she said.

Peter Hanks, QC, acting for the Nauruan director of police, argued that Nauru's processing centre and its use of special-purpose visas to restrain the movements of asylum seekers was a matter of Nauruan law.

Refugee lawyer Eric Vadarlis said the Government's actions were "a joke".

"You would not expect a sovereign government, an advanced democratic Government like Australia, to be behaving in this way," he said. "Our Government is engaged in getting others to do its dirty work."

From The Age, 11 November 2004

Federal Government funds Nauru asylum action

SBS World News
11.11.2004. 11:57:25

Lawyers acting for asylum seekers say it is disgraceful that the Federal Government is funding a challenge to its own laws which could prevent the High Court ruling on the fate of asylum seekers on Nauru.

The case lodged in the High Court in Melbourne was prompted by legal action on behalf of some of the 81 asylum seekers still held on the Pacific island.

They say they are being illegally detained on behalf of Australia and are challenging the Nauruan visas which they were forced to accept.

Their lawyer Eric Vadarlis says the Australian government's decision to pay for the Nauruan legal action, rather than challenging it, is appalling.

"Any appeals from the Supreme Court of Nauru go to the High Court in Australia.

"That is an agreement that our government reached with the Nauruan government some years ago.

"And what the Australian government is now saying is that via the Nauruan government that arrangement is basically unconstitutional.

"The Australian government is paying the Nauruan government to do its dirty work and hiding behind the Nauruan government in a constitutional challenge."

Read more ...

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Falluja: All the makings of a war crime

All the makings of a war crime - with Australia silently onside

Sydney Morning Herald
Opinion - Tony Kevin
November 9, 2004

A US-led attack on the Iraqi Sunni-stronghold will breach the Geneva conventions, writes Tony Kevin.

We need to be clear on what is about to happen in the Iraqi city of Falluja, about 64 kilometres west of Baghdad and a key centre of Sunni population in Iraq. This city has for many months held out as a centre of Sunni-based political-military resistance, refusing to accept the authority either of the former US-led occupying authority nor, since July, of the interim Iraqi administration led by the Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi.

Falluja is now to be brought to heel by overwhelming military power. As I write this, the US attack on the city has begun. The message to Falluja from the US armed forces in Iraq and from Allawi was brutally simple: submit now to Baghdad's authority or face attack.

It is still possible that resistance in Falluja will melt away in the face of US attack. While this would be a more optimistic scenario, I think it more likely at this point that the insurgents will fight, because too much is at stake politically for them to accept a bloodless Allawi victory. I look here at the - in my judgement, now more likely - scenario that Falluja insurgents will dig in and defy the invasion force.

What I believe is then likely to be done to Falluja will be a war crime and crime against humanity, morally indefensible by any civilised standard or for that matter, by the Statute of the International Criminal Court (to which, conveniently, neither the US nor Iraqi Government adheres).

This will be no neat, surgical strike. To get the measure of this, think of the Warsaw rising in 1944, or the Russian Army's destruction of the Chechen capital, Grozny. In 1999 this already battered city (of originally 400,000 people) was finally destroyed by massive Russian bombardment. Today, insurgents still fight it out with Russian troops among the ruins.

Eighteen months ago, before the US-led invasion of Iraq, Falluja was a living city of 300,000 people. Now - depopulated of most of its civilians by intimidation and fear - what is left looks like it is about to be blasted out of existence, simply as a demonstration of overwhelming US power in Iraq.

Of course, the US Army has been for weeks "humanely" encouraging women and children to leave the encircled city through checkpoints while there is still time to save their lives.

The Russians did the same before and during the destruction of Grozny. In a few days, as the battle and the flight of civilians expands, there may be tens of thousands of new refugees in tent cities, and tens of thousands of women left without husbands, and children left without fathers.

If this attack goes ahead as appears inevitable, it will obviously breach the laws of war and the Geneva conventions. First, it will grossly exceed proportionality in terms of ends and means. What intended political or military objective could justify so much death, the creation of so many new refugees, and wholesale destruction of homes?

What threat does the city of Falluja pose to the Iraqi state at this point? Allawi has claimed that free elections cannot take place unless Falluja is subdued. What a spurious argument.

The truth is that this city, which has become a symbol of Sunni-Iraqi political resistance to the occupiers, is to be made an example of, to deter others. The message the siege of Falluja sends is brutally simple: resist us and we will destroy you. It is the same message that the Wehrmacht sent in Warsaw in 1944, and the Russian Army in Grozny in 1999.

This attack will also violate the rules of war and the Geneva conventions in having grossly indiscriminate effects on civilians and civilian homes and infrastructure. America's largely untrained in battle but over-armed forces will start their attack "humanely", but as they inevitably take numbers of lethal casualties, their tactics will quickly escalate to indiscriminate bombing and shelling of the city using their WMD armouries.

Eventually, the attackers will flatten the city and kill everyone that still resists in it. Falluja will be the Iraqi people's Masada, and it will sow seeds of deep anti-Western hatred in the Middle East for decades to come.

The UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, understands all this, in pleading for a negotiated solution. And as usual, Washington is summarily ignoring his pleas.

As a military ally with our troops in Iraq, Australia is morally implicated in this. While Australian former SAS commanders, the Governor-General, Major-General Michael Jeffery, and the Australian Christian Lobby's executive chairman, Brigadier Jim Wallace, moralise about abortions and gay marriages, Australia's military ally is about to destroy a living city and its families.

An unnamed US military commander in the tightening military ring around Falluja proudly boasted (as heard on ABC Radio yesterday) that this battle will go down in US military history as another Hue. Indeed it will - who can forget the wholesale artillery destruction of that sacred, historic Vietnamese city? "We had to destroy it in order to save it" was the line at the time. Now it looks like our military ally in Iraq is about to do it all over again in Falluja.

What are Australian political leaders - Government or Opposition - saying to Washington at this point? Are they saying anything at all? We reap what we sow.

Tony Kevin, a former Australian diplomat, is a visiting fellow at the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University, Canberra.

From The Sydney Morning Herald
Read more ...

Tony Kevin: No need for a dirt unit on John Howard

No need for a dirt unit on John Howard, because the charge sheet is on public record now

website commentary
by Tony Kevin
7 July 2004

Watching Mark Latham confronting allegations from his first wife, disgruntled local councillors, and the alleged Howard government 'Dirt Unit' in recent days, left me wondering - why are Howard's alleged serious crimes of state still not being properly discussed or investigated?

If we value the protection of human life - and at least at the level of assertion, most Australians do support this core value - then why aren't we more interested in pursuing the charge sheet against Howard as Prime Minister since 1996?

With no difficulty, I can produce a check list of disturbing questions about improper and possibly criminal actions on Howard's watch as Prime Minister, many going to issues of the loss of human lives, that have never been properly investigated or accounted for.

We won't read stories of Howard getting into fights in pubs or clubs or council chambers because he has never been that sort of a bloke. But I think we can see a steely determination to exercise Australian state power in ruthless ways that have left many innocent people traumatised or dead. I have been thinking and writing about such things over the past few years. Below is my checklist of "the charge sheet against John Howard". Putting it all onto one list like this is pretty frightening.

But first, a brief contextual discussion: in recent weeks, arising out of reporting on Abu Ghraib and the Saddam Hussein trial, we have learned useful things about the command responsibilities of Presidents or Prime Ministers for acts of criminal misconduct committed on their watch.

Anthony Lewis, in Making Torture Legal, 15 July 2004, New York Review of Books, writes about the US government-sanctioned tortures of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib:

"A committed prosecutor would do what investigators of official crimes have done since Nuremberg: apply the principle of command responsibility and work his way up the chain to the source of the misconduct. That principle is why Slobodan Milosevic is in the dock in The Hague."

No one could argue with that principle. And on ABC Radio The World Today, Friday 2 July 2004, Eleanor Hall spoke with lawyer Grant Niemann, a former prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal in the Hague, now at Flinders University Law School, about the Saddam trial in Iraq:

Hall: Do you think it will be hard to prove these charges against him [Saddam], given that he was apparently quite a clever politician, and may not have his fingerprints on the crimes?

Niemann: This is always difficult, because, yes, for precisely that reason. If you're going to establish superior responsibility, or command responsibility, which I imagine would be the way they will go, you've got to show that he had some knowledge, either that the crimes were about to be committed, but one way they can approach it is that there's a double element to crimes in command responsibility, and that is that if you can show that he knew the crimes had been committed and did nothing about it, then that also is a basis upon which command responsibility can be visited upon you. And certainly I would imagine it wouldn't be that difficult to show that he saw these incidents occur where these crimes against humanity had occurred, and he didn't do anything about it. And so he can be responsible on that basis.

Now let us apply these same two principles of command responsibility to the conduct in office since 1996 of the present Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard. Here are some of the things for which I believe John Howard could be found to be criminally indictable, if they were ever to be properly investigated by independent judicial enquiry.

These are not, be it noted, matters of state policy or community values on which there could be legitimate policy disagreements. They are matters of a prime minister's command responsibility for alleged criminal actions of state - potentially indictable alleged offences under Australian criminal law and under Australia's international legal obligations.


Did the Howard government deliberately ignore repeated Australian official intelligence reports, and public reports, of serious Indonesian Army-sponsored killings and other human rights abuses in East Timor throughout 1999 that culminated in the massacres of up to 2000 East Timorese, forced expulsions of 100,000 East Timorese, and the scorched-earth destruction of scores of towns and villages in East Timor, in the three weeks after the UN-supervised referendum in September 1999? Was it Australian policy to maintain Indonesian acquiescence and international diplomatic momentum towards the UN referendum and subsequent UN authorisation of the international peacekeeping force INTERFET, regardless of the human rights abuses suffered by the East Timorese on the way? Was this policy of turning a blind eye to these human rights violations in East Timor contrary to Australia's international legal obligations under the UN Human Rights convention?

The decisions were Downer's, but the command responsibility was John Howard's. (Sources: the public record, and writings by John Birmingham, James Cotton, Tony Kevin, William Maley, Jon Martinkus).

Was there criminality in Australia's setting-up and operating at arms-length a mostly covert people smuggling disruption program in Indonesia 2000-2001, involving the use of Australian-recruited Indonesian police disruption teams (i.e., our mercenaries) and undercover civilian agents (eg Kevin Enniss), and which allegedly contributed to the deaths by drowning of unknown numbers of asylum-seekers in unsafe boats that were deliberately sunk off the coasts of Indonesia?

Responsibility for this potentially criminal program lay within the portfolio responsibilities of Ruddock and Ellison (in respect of DIMIA and AFP), and possibly Downer (in respect of ASIS) but the command responsibility was John Howard's. (Sources - public record, "Dark Victory", Marr and Wilkinson, and "A Certain Maritime Incident", Tony Kevin, Scribe Books 2004)

Did Australian border protection and maritime rescue authorities criminally put over 400 people's lives at risk on the asylum-seeker vessel Palapa, which in August 2001 very nearly sank in an overnight storm 60 miles from Christmas Island, after Australian authorities had twice overflown and inspected it on the previous day, but had chosen to ignore the passengers' obvious hand-signals appealing for rescue from their damaged and immobilised boat? Did this negligence, which very nearly caused over 400 deaths, violate Australia's safety of life at sea international and domestic law obligations?

The decisions were made by Coastwatch and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority under the ministerial portfolio responsibility of Ellison. The command responsibility was John Howard's. (Sources: the public record, "Dark Victory", Marr and Wilkinson, and "A Certain Maritime Incident", Tony Kevin, Scribe Books 2004).

Did Australian authorities criminally put at risk the lives of over 200 asylum-seekers, who could well have drowned during an illegal 22 hours circular tow by HMAS Adelaide on 7-8 October 2001, during which time they were ordered to remain on board their unseaworthy and sinking vessel Olong (SIEV 4), within 24 miles of Christmas Island? Did Canberra's orders to Commander Banks of Adelaide to keep the people on board their boat under post-rescue tow violate Australia's safety of life at sea international and domestic legal obligations?

The decisions were allegedly made by the Prime Minister's Department-chaired People Smuggling Taskforce and by the ADF (under Defence Minister Reith), but the command responsibility was John Howard's. (Sources: the public record, CMI Senate Committee evidence, "Dark Victory" by Marr and Wilkinson, and "A Certain Maritime Incident", Tony Kevin, Scribe Books 2004).

Did Australian border protection authorities fail in their duty to conduct a legally required safety of life at sea search for the 353 people who drowned when their asylum-seeker boat SIEV X sank in the Australian border protection surveillance and interception zone on 19 October 2001? Have these authorities made deliberate efforts from then until today to cover up the facts of this alleged serious evasion of Australia's safety of life at sea legal responsibilities?

The decisions were made mainly by the ADF under Defence Ministers Reith and Hill, but the command responsibility was John Howard's. (Source: the public record, CMI Committee evidence, and "A Certain Maritime Incident", Tony Kevin, Scribe Books 2004).

Did Downer, aided by his department DFAT, choose to take no action over a period of 13 months prior to the Bali bombings in October 2002, pursuant to at least three ONA and ASIO generic intelligence warnings of possible terrorist attacks on Western bars in holiday resorts in Indonesia? Was the failure to amend DFAT travel advices in respect of Bali on the basis of these clear warnings, a manifest breakdown in the Foreign Minister's duty of consular care to Australian citizens travelling abroad? Is there a legal case of contributory Australian government negligence in respect of the deaths of over 200 people including 88 Australians in the Bali bombings?

The decisions were made by Downer, but the command responsibility was John Howard's. (Source: the public record, including and testimony in the Senate committee currently investigating this matter)

The attempt to destroy Justice Michael Kirby's public reputation and tenure as a High Court of Australia judge, based on a libellous forged paper trail and associated unfounded accusations, is on public record. The circumstances of Senator Heffernan's public claims were defamatory and potentially litigable had Justice Kirby chose to go that route.

The actions were apparently initiated by Parliamentary Secretary Senator Bill Heffernan, but the command responsibility was John Howard's. Howard to some extent accepted this, in demoting Heffernan: but he never made a proper apology to Justice Kirby. (Source: the public record)

The successful destruction of Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party by highly dubious legal manoeuvres, culminating in her unjustified (and three months' later judicially overruled) jailing. Pauline Hanson would have a strong legal criminal case against those who allegedly set out clandestinely to destroy her party and violate her rights as a citizen, should she ever choose to mount such action.

The legal actions were allegedly set in train by a group set up by Tony Abbott, but the command responsibility was John Howard's. (Source: the public record, and Margo Kingston, Not Happy John!, Penguin Books, 2004)

The misrepresentation and misuse of coalition intelligence re alleged WMD in Iraq, prior to the coalition invasion. It appears that Howard took our nation to war on false pretences.

The action and command responsibility were John Howard's. (Source: the public record, and Andrew Wilkie's new book)

The government decision to involve Australia's ADF in the invasion of a sovereign nation Iraq, an invasion that did not have UN Security Council authorisation and was therefore illegal according to the general consensus of international government and expert opinion.

The action and command responsibility were John Howard's. (Source: the public record, and Howard's War, Alison Broinowski, Scribe Books 2004)

The launch of secret pre-emptive ADF armed combat inside Iraq 30 hours before the expiry of a declared 48-hour coalition pre-war ultimatum to Saddam, and the misleading by Howard of the Australian Parliament and people at the time as to when Australian combat would start, and the subsequent attempts (after the timing of the covert pre-emptive attack had been exposed) to pretend that the pre-emptive attack was properly authorised and in accordance with the laws of war. How many Iraqi soldiers died during these 30 hours of illegal undeclared warfare?

The action was under Defence Minister Hill but the command responsibility was John Howard's. (Source: the public record, and analytical articles by Tony Kevin)

The now admitted denial and cover-up of what Australian ADF officers serving with American forces in Iraq may have known and reported back to Canberra since September 2003 about ongoing tortures (including deaths under torture) of Iraqi prisoners in American-run military prisons in Iraq. Why was nothing was done by Australian authorities to protest against this obvious misconduct by their coalition partner in the military occupation of Iraq? Were Australian human rights obligations and obligations as a signatory to the international Convention against Torture thereby breached?

The action was under Defence Minister Hill's portfolio but the command responsibility was John Howard's. (Source: the public record, and recent hearings of the Senate Defence Estimates committee).

The neglect over nearly three years of the Australian government's legal duty of care to its citizens Hicks and Habib who have been imprisoned without charge or prospect of fair trial at the US military prison of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Were Australian consular protection and international human rights obligations, and possibly Australia's obligations as a signatory to the international Convention against Torture, breached by this neglected duty of care?

The actions were under Attorneys-General Williams and Ruddock, but the command responsibility was John Howard's. (Source: the public record)

Continuing well-documented cruelties from 1999 to the present day towards asylum-seeker men, women and children, in detention or under house arrest in Australia or Nauru, or living under the cruel uncertainty of never-ending (at the immigration minister's pleasure) Temporary Protection Visas. It seems clear that Australia's human rights obligations, and possibly Australia's obligations as a signatory to the international Convention against Torture, were thereby breached.

The actions were under immigration ministers Ruddock and Vanstone and Attorney-General Ruddock, but the command responsibility was John Howard's. (Sources: the public record, the report of the parliamentary committee examining detention centres, the HREOC Report, and books and articles by writers such as Peter Mares, Julian Burnside, Robert Manne, Frank Brennan, Louise Newman, Mary Crock, Hilary Charlesworth)

Against this lengthy charge sheet of apparent or alleged misconduct by the Prime Minister in office - on fourteen rather serious questions - the material recently circulated against Mark Latham is obviously trivial.

If the principle of command responsibility is as applicable to Australia as to Iraq - as it surely ought to be - then it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Prime Minister John Howard might at some future time come under investigation in terms of his command responsibility for serious acts of criminality, both against Australian citizens and against non-Australian citizens to whom the Australian government had a duty of care - or at least a duty to observe international law obligations that Australia had entered into.

That is, if Australia had a political culture of accountability. We probably do not have this. We are happy to prosecute the alleged criminal misdeeds in office of people like Saddam or Milosevic, but we don't care to apply the same standards to testing allegations about our own leaders.

Maybe one day this will change. Meanwhile, we can at least vote.

Next time you see a story about an alleged Latham peccadillo, remember this charge sheet against John Howard. Show it to your friends. It's a pretty long and frightening list.

Of all these charges, the one with the most political resonance for the upcoming election is the allegation of alleged neglect of Australian agency terrorism intelligence warnings in 2001-2002 - warnings that had obvious relevance to Bali where 88 Australians subsequently died in an attack that happened much on the lines that had been predicted in these ignored intelligence warnings. Watch how the current Senate Committee reports on this issue.

Tony Kevin, Canberra 7 July 2004

Read more ...

Monday, November 08, 2004

The Politics of Fear

by Andy Blunden
Ethical Politics writer
November 2004

Draft for a Talk to Rural Australians for Refugees

The scare campaign is one of the most powerful weapons of modern politics. From the yellow peril to McCarthyism, law-and-order and interest rates, the right-wing has always used the politics of fear to great effect.

However, identifying and mobilising against threats is by no means the exclusive property of the Right. The real problem to be addressed is why certain scares, at certain times resonate more than others and what to do about it.

Recently, election wins for the conservative side of politics in the US and Australia have focused our attention on this problem. Can I point to two opposite characterisations of the politics of fear.

Barry Glassner titled his catalogue of recent scare campaigns in the US The Culture of Fear. Why Americans are afraid of the wrong things, pointing to the fact that it is not fear itself, which characterises support for oppressive political regimes, but fear of the wrong things. For example, instead of being afraid of growing inequality and social exclusion, we get afraid of catching an exotic disease or feel threatened by outsiders. What determines what we choose to see as a threat and who we blame?

On the other hand, Democrats John Kerry and Bill Clinton urged us to choose hope over fear. This suggests that optimism is an inherently progressive attitude, and pessimism inherently conservative or reactionary. But where does the disposition towards optimism or pessimism come from?

There is an element of truth in both approaches, and both leave important questions unanswered. Consider the following questions.

Who causes the greatest danger to our children on their way to school: men who download pornography from the internet or traffic jams caused by parents chauffering their kids to and from school? Who creates the greater risk of terrorist infiltration: refugees in leaky boats or well-dressed businessmen arriving by plane? Who creates litter in our streets: manufacturers of fast food or undisciplined youth? Which poses the greater risk to the health of our children: smallpox vaccination or smallpox? Who caused the AIDS epidemic: promiscuous homosexuals or scientists experimenting with monkey blood products in Africa? Who poses the greatest danger: outpatients of the mental health service or trigger-happy police?

Could I suggest that reflection on statistics and calculation of risk has little to do with how you answer these questions? Your answers more likely reflect an ethical position, responding according to moral outrage, distrust, disgust or empathy. Which is not to deny that cool and rational reflection on the facts is not an integral part of debunking scare campaigns, but what makes such rational deliberation difficult, or even impossible, is the readiness of people to believe in threats which reinforce their moral prejudices or function subconsciously in relieving insecurity or managing feelings of guilt.

Politics is essentially about promoting and realising your vision of what is good. In this sense, your conception of what is disgusting and threatening is just as much a part of politics as your idea of the good. Different sections of the population have different interests, and therefore conflicting conceptions of what is good and what is threatening. You rarely hear wealthy people warning about the decline of public education and health services, do you? But nowadays, the ruling elite promotes the idea that government is a technical task, like managing a business, and this tends to make it difficult for ordinary people to formulate critical opinions about politics. The ethics has been taken out of politics, and this excludes ordinary people.

Also, it has been said that nowadays, people find it much easier to imagine a global catastrophe than even the smallest step towards socialism; we live in very pessimistic times. So, drawing people's attention to threats is going to be easier than mobilising people around a vision of a better world.

Now, I want to look at what it is about today that makes people particularly vulnerable to fear, what it is about today that makes people open to certain kinds of threat and not others, and what disposes people to apportion blame in the way they do. After that we'll look at the technology of running scare campaigns, and how to fight them, and what distinguishes an emancipatory mobilisation against threats, from right-wing scare campaigns, which reinforce existing forms of subordination.

What makes us especially vulnerable to fear campaigns today?

Firstly, there is what is referred to as "generalised anxiety." There are different ideas about the origins of this generalised anxiety, and it's not something unique to the present day, but I think the most compelling explanation is the anxiety coming from the radical uncertainty of modern life, the lack of any job security, uncertainty about what is right, how we should relate to the opposite sex, lack of confidence that other people hold to the same set of values as we do because of multiculturalism, the fact that no school-child knows what job they will do when they leave school and no-one can look forward to working at their job until they retire. So all these uncertainties make us anxious, but we have no specific threat to focus on, we are just generally anxious. In this situation, it is actually a relief when we identify some threat, which we can focus on, and we tend to latch on to it when we see it.

Despite the threat of nuclear war and accidents, global warming, AIDS and so forth, the fact is that the current generation of decision-makers in the West have never known real fear, as a generation, compared to the economic catastrophes, world wars and mass migrations that previous generations lived through. This brings us to a second point. It's the uncertainty of everyday life that is the main source of modern anxiety.

If you lived in a black ghetto in 1950s America, or under French colonial rule in Vietnam, or whatever, then not only did your enemy confront you in the face, but it was not difficult to think how your situation could be improved, and campaigns to remove the sources of oppression received support, without people worrying too much about the terrible consequences of the fight they were entering into. Today, people see on their televisions a continual stream of images about how their situation could be a lot worse than it is.

Think about this: poker machines are located in poor suburbs, insurance is sold in the wealthy suburbs. It is quite rational for poor people to take a gamble, while rich people ensure themselves against loss. And yet the dangers which really threaten our relative security are not those which feature in scare campaigns, are they?

What kinds of threats are effective nowadays?

When we talk about insecurity today, then this insecurity is particularly tied up with the decline of all sorts of safety net apart from a bank account. Family, the welfare state and other voluntary organisations such as churches and trade unions, used to provide a kind of security which is no longer there. With some good reason, people feel that the only security they have, as an individual, is the security that they can buy.

This is somewhat different from, for example, the post-war decades, when welfare systems, family, unions and churches were there to catch you if you fell over. The other side of this "communitarianism" was a somewhat oppressive atmosphere of conformism. Accordingly, in the 1950s the kind of threats which the Right wing mobilised around - MacCarthyism for example - were presented as threats to the entire community. People relied on the community for their support and threats to it (however spurious) were cause for outrage. The effect of such scare campaigns was to reinforce this conformism.

During the 70s and 80s, most of the scare campaigns were centred around industrialism, the end of the post-war boom and newly growing economic instability. People took opposite positions on this new situation, some mobilising against the threats posed by industrialism, some mobilising against threats to on-going economic growth and expansion.

Today people tend to get alarmed about threats to them personally, or their children. People get afraid of new diseases, food additives, violent attacks by foreigners, sexual predators, and so on, while the very fabric of society which could keep them safe is being withered away. These individualised threats have the effect of further accentuating the isolation and fragmentation of society, reinforcing the very forces which generate this kind of anxiety. This is a general rule. Just like a society's vision of the good reinforces the kind of society that it is, a society's perception of what is dangerous is not only normative (people who do not respond to the same threats in the same way are seen as deviant), but act to reinforce the dominant ethos and sustain existing forms of domination.

Why do people apportion blame the way they do?

This leads to a peculiar and rampant tendency in the way we apportion blame, manifested in the craze for litigation. Apportioning blame is always an ethical question. Whatever the causality of a threat, how we answer the question as to who is responsible for protecting us from it is essentially an ethical question about the distribution of responsibility.

Those of you who work in Universities will already be aware of the tendency of students to believe that if they have paid their fees, then they ought to be given their degree. The idea that passing their exams is their own responsibility is increasingly unacceptable to students. If they are failed, then the University has defaulted on its promise to deliver the qualification that has been paid for.

This is increasingly the case everywhere: people believe that security, longevity and happiness can be purchased and if they have earned an income and paid their taxes, then if they do not enjoy happy eternal life then someone is responsible; they have obviously been swindled.

This is because of the modern gutting of the concept of virtue; nowadays, virtue is restricted to what are really the external rewards of a practice, rather than a virtuous practice in itself. If you are well-paid, then ipso facto, you are a virtuous person. So people who have earnt a good living believe they are entitled to whatever they want. If they trip over, the council is responsible, if they get stressed out, their employer is responsible, if they get drunk, the publican is responsible.

In former times, people were willing to ascribe ill fortune to bad luck or Nature, but nowadays, we don't believe in Nature or even accidents; someone is always responsible.

Also, we no longer believe in authority. Authorities are not to be trusted. We are very ready to believe in a cover-up. So when they are under attack, bureaucracies and authorities cannot close ranks and defend their members - liability is devolved down to the individual. Faced with the risk of being blamed for anything that goes wrong, individual professionals resort to insurance. Lacking any confidence that they will enjoy solidarity from their colleagues, professionals like doctors buy security from blame.

Justice and security has therefore been privatised, purchased and sold on the market like everything else. This marketisation of risk and security is both very unequal and very isolating in its effect. All human relationships become a matter of calculation of vulnerability and trustworthiness, and as people become more and more isolated within themselves, the capacity to trust anyone else becomes less and less. People feel very anxious.

What this shows is that it is going to be very easy to launch a scare campaign if it is one which reinforces the existing power structure, reinforces existing moral prejudices and offers relief to anxious people looking to fix the blame for their problems on a socially accepted scapegoat.

Why do people respond to a far-flung threat?

People advertise to a threat, even a far flung threat, as an expression of moral outrage. Sometimes this moral outrage is a simple expression of self-interest, mobilising against a threat to their own life-style, like celebrities that complain about invasion of privacy while publishers complain about threats to freedom of speech. Less obviously, people claim something or someone to be a threat because really, they find the person or their lifestyle disgusting and morally reprehensible - and therefore dangerous. We heap shame on to the targets of our attack by painting them as threatening. But sometimes the reason for the moral outrage is more convoluted. People get angry as a cover for their own feelings of guilt.

So for example, we have a scare about the mistreatment of old people in nursing homes. But really, it is not the laziness of the staff in these homes, but our own neglect of our old people which is driving us, but we displace these feelings of shame on to someone else. It's these displaced forms of blame which are the most irrational and infuriating; sometimes the guilt runs very deep.

How to launch a scare campaign

If you're going to launch a scare campaign, then to start with it has to align with a moral sentiment. The reality is we are all over-intrepid; we only respond to scares which line up with our moral sentiments.

Secondly, you need a human face, ideally the sympathetic face of a victim, someone with whom we all can and want to identify with, or it could be the image of a villain, looking just like someone we all know. But it needs to be an individual person, not some vague notion or generality.

Thirdly, you need an expert, a respected authority, which will put a name on the scare and validate it as socially truthful and rational.

Fourthly, you need to have people putting their hand up all over the place and saying "This happened to me." If you don't have much to go on, there's always "the tip of the iceberg" or "a growing new trend" to help things along. If you can bring these three elements (human face, authority and instances) together in a way which lines up with a moral prejudice and therefore can function to relieve anxiety and guilt, then you have a scare campaign very quickly and easily. The interplay between political leaders, experts, the media and the arts, each feeding off the other, can build up a phenomenon from an unsubstantiated allegation to a socially accepted and commonplace truth by stitching the idea into the social imagination, through a combination of fact and fiction.

Myths and Archetypes

Scare campaigns are not invented anew every week however. The villain in the scenario is probably a well-known character because these villains are cast in the role of archetypes, well-known mythological figures, some of them national creations, some of them as old as time itself. Myths are not fairy-tales, and invariably have some basis in reality, but that reality is not necessarily just as we imagine it.

The wayward son and the ungrateful daughter, and their associates, the violent youth and the immoral woman - these are ancient archetypes which reappear in every family and down the ages. Along with these ancient bogeys are the infidel and the dangerous stranger. But we seem to discover them anew, in supposedly "rising" tide of youth violence and teenage pregnancy, not to mention the fanatical terrorist and the invading refugees.

But there are also national archetypal bogeys: in Australia the main one is the foreigners arriving by boat and taking over the country. The obviousness of the fact that this bogey is a displacement of our own guilt in relation to the Australian Aborigines is amusing really, but it continues to generate irrational anger. In the US, the "government cover-up" and the "foreign zealot" connect with longstanding national problems, while in Britain, the "conspiracy" is a favourite theme.

Because these archetypes have haunted the national imagination for so long, they are thoroughly integrated into both official history and folklore, and they are the easiest possible vehicle for scare campaigns.

How to debunk scare campaigns

What we have said about the perception of threats expressing moral outrage and irrational fears, rather than a sober evaluation of risks, should not be taken to mean that scare campaigns cannot be debunked. They can, and a sober critique of the facts of the case by a recognised authority is indispensable.

Conversely, the scaremonger's experts have to be debunked as well, and preferably you need to show their vested interest and ideally demonstrate that they were engaged in a cover-up of the real dangers, since these are accusations which have the most ready traction today.

If the scare has been launched with a human face, then that human face needs to be shown in a different light, like the Kuwaiti nurse, who turned out to be the wife of the Ambassador to the United States and was not even there. And again, ideally, you will have a human face which demonstrates the harm done to the victims of the scare campaign, the wrongly accused son, and unrecognised hero, and so on.

The implicit moral message contained in the scare campaign has to be made explicit - "Mary, who has worked in such as such a nursing home for 20 years, caring for old people, has aged parents of her own whom living in a granny flat in her own home. ..." and replaced by an alternative moral reading of the phenomenon: "The government has cut grants to nursing homes at a time when low interest rates are cutting into their income and the growing aged population is straining the efforts of nursing staff. ..."

The supposed proliferation of reports of the phenomenon has to be either debunked or given an alternative reading. In this regard, the technique of "relocating" myths is worthy of attention. The facts underlying a myth may be valid; for example, there may be a lot of street crime. But what there is not is a rising tide of street crime. Young people have been rebellious and troublesome since time immemorial and concerns about the misbehaviour of wayward youth needs to evaluated in the light of the falling incidence of serious crime, ... and so on.

Likewise, Gulf War Syndrome is real, but it needs to relocated out of AIDS and Watergate into Battle fatigue and shell-shock.

So, respecting the vulnerability that people feel as a result of the loss of social supports and the anxiety people feel about the whole meaning of their lives, and their tendency to feel that someone else is to blame for their misfortune, look for the moral message in a scare campaign and the archetypes it is drawing upon and use these techniques to fight it.

But remember: turning around perceptions of threats which express the ethos of today's society and the generalised anxiety people feel requires more than a good argument and good communication; it needs a change in the way people live. The farmers who found jobs for Afghan refugees in country Victoria, did something that no amount of argument and debate could ever achieve, by bringing people into a real, productive relationship with each other.

It is also necessary to find an alternative set of ethical principles to those which are dominant today. It's a kind of chicken-and-egg situation. Before people are going to be afraid of the right things (like the danger of authoritarian government, racism, growing inequality, the collapse of public health and education and social disintegration) they are going to have to start living in a different way. The struggle over what is good and what is bad is a part of the struggle to change the way people live and the way they see the world.

Let's look at a couple of recent scare campaigns.

The Children Overboard scare campaign

Since 1788 poor refugees from Europe have been arriving in Australia by boat and settling on land stolen form the Australian Aborigines. Until we make our peace with the Australian Aborigines and acknowledge their ownership of the land we will go on displacing this guilt on to someone else.

The man who refuses to say "Sorry" understands this very well. The fake photographs and video footage of mothers supposedly throwing their own children overboard in order gain entry to Australia connected instantly with this archetypal fear of the Australian settler community. That such people would throw their own children overboard is believable only to the frightened settler haunted by this nightmare.

Howard was of course quickly shown to be a liar, but to our dismay, this did not cause those who chose to believe this lie not to vote for him. Howard had demonstrated that he was prepared even to lie to protect them from this threat, so his lying was transformed into a virtue, in the eyes of those who shared this fear. Howard would not bow to the diktats of international treaty obligations and precepts of justice which pretended that these invaders were human beings like us. If necessary he would lie to protect us.

Howard's lies justified a policy of abandoning refugees from Afghanistan (which we were bombing at the time) and Iraq (which we were blockading at the time), and even letting them drown, which was the fate of the next group that tried. Truth in government wasn't the issue unfortunately.

The Interest Rate scare campaign

The assertion that an ALP government would see interest rates rise also drew on age-old Australian national prejudices. Nothing in the actual economic record of the ALP would justify the assertion of course, but the ALP still retains the vestiges of its history as the party of the trade unions. Both sides supported the idea that government is a kind of business. All that was necessary was to run frequent advertisements depicting Latham as the Labor Mayor of Liverpool, and contrast this with running "Australia's $8 billion economy" to draw on the deep-running prejudice that managers should manage and workers should work, and keep their fingers out of the affairs of management. If you accept the idea that a government is just like a big business, then of course you would want businessmen to run the government. The whole idea of electing the government by popular suffrage would be absurd actually, but at least you would be inclined to vote for the incumbent conservatives, and certainly not vote to turn the national business over to the workers.

How does radical mobilisation differ from a scare campaign?

I said at the outset that mobilising against threats is not the exclusive property of the right - in fact, it is difficult to imagine how any social movement could be built without mobilising against threats or actually existing evils, or any way of confronting a social danger other than by raising a social movement. And I have pointed out that what people fear and who they blame is not just a factual question, but very much an ethical question.

This does not mean however that there is some kind of moral equivalence between scare campaigns (like Howard's children overboard scandal) and mobilisation against threats like campaigns against polluting or noisy factories, workplace hazards, monopolisation of the media, US threats to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and Australian content in TV, etc..

In any society, at any given time, there is both a dominant ethos, with its conception of the good as well as what is threatening and risky, and counter-cultures which challenge the dominant ethos. A scare campaign either reinforces existing forms of domination and problematic forms of practice, or challenges them; they make statements about what is disgusting and threatening and what is worth protecting; about what are good risks and justified exposure to risk, and what are bad risks and unjustified or exploitative exposure to risk.

"Scare campaigns" therefore have to be evaluated in their historical context. I would say that today, any scare campaign which accentuates social isolation, intolerance and inequality, which sustains the idea that the good things in life are not free but available for purchase, is a reactionary scare campaign, which is supporting existing forms of subordination and hindering people's capacity to be architects of their own lives. Any campaign which challenges those things which inhibit people's capacity to collaborate for the common good is worth supporting.

Whatever the issue though, it never helps if people are moved by irrational and subconscious motives like transferred guilt or mislocated myths, or by false information, bogus theories or scapegoats, and patient exposure of all these ruses is a social obligation.

Read more ...

Tony Kevin: "Another Country: Writing from Exile"

By Tony Kevin
Melbourne Writers' Festival panel
22 August 2004

Chaired by Arnold Zable

Tony Kevin spoke around this prepared text, later published in Issue No. 4, October 2004, of the newsletter of the Melbourne Centre of International PEN. It is reproduced here by permission of Melbourne PEN. Other panellists were Eva Sallis, Cheikh Kone and Xiaolu Guo.

It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.
'By thy long beard and glittering eye
Now wherefore stopp'st thou me?

The Bridegroom's doors are opened wide,
And I am next of kin;
The guests are met, the feast is set:
May'st hear the merry din.

He holds him with his skinny hand,
'There was a ship,' quoth he.
'Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!
...and so on!

Many of the people I have tried to engage with the SIEV X story over the past two years may have felt like Coleridge's wedding guest being importuned by The Ancient Mariner. They didn't want to hear but, fascinated in spite of themselves, they were unwillingly forced to...

Another example, taken from Samantha Power's book on genocide: Jan Karski, a young Polish diplomat and Holocaust eyewitness who escaped to the United States during WW2. He met with Supreme Court justice Felix Frankfurter, who graciously heard his account of the horrors he had seen in Nazi-occupied Poland. Frankfurter then replied, "I don't believe you." He then clarified "I do not mean that I think you are lying. I simply said I cannot believe in the possibility of what you are telling me." The judge could not conceive of the atrocities Karski was describing.

Like Karski and The Ancient Mariner, I have been trying for the past two years to tell an important but unwelcome story to my fellow Australians about ourselves: a task that has made me into a kind of "internal exile", a species familiar from Russian literature.

For we are talking about societies reluctant to hear bad news about how they operate. One could argue that serious writing, if it challenges society, is always written from a kind of exile. This is not a literary conceit - because I have lived through this now.

SIEV X has been so big and confronting a story that the natural instinct of many has been to push it away. And that instinct has also pushed me away, into a kind of internal exile.

The Ancient Mariner was a man with a message from exile. He had to be urgent, insistent, even rude: he held them with his glittering eye: "there was a ship, said he" ... Finally, he got their reluctant attention.

Today, he would have had to write a book. The attention span of our newspaper and television media, the three-day news cycle, is too brief to handle a story of this strength.

A feeling akin to helpless rage has so often come over me in the past two years - why won't you engage with this story? Because this story is about our Australian Government quite possibly implicated as a criminal accessory in, and certainly covering up through misleading and false evidence about, the deaths of 353 innocent people.

My urgency, my rage, could in the end only be assuaged by writing my book [A Certain Maritime Incident: the sinking of SIEV X, Scribe Books, August 2004]. Finally I can enjoy some peace, a sense of a necessary job having been done, of a sacred trust to the victim families having been fulfilled to the best of my ability. It is a burden lifted at last.

The interesting question now is what effect this book will have. Will it reach the mainstream Australian reading public? To this point [22 August 2004] there have been no reviews in any major newspaper or magazine. I suspect the book will be a slow burner. Its significance will gradually creep up on us. [The book has since been widely reviewed - TK 23.10.2004].

In the hope of getting some kind of attention for the book, I went outside Australia - to Noam Chomsky, who wrote the powerful tribute that appears on the back cover:

"With impressive courage and determination, Tony Kevin has unearthed the grim and deeply moving story he recounts in this remarkable book".

There have been similarly generous tributes by book-launchers Julian Burnside, Margo Kingston and William Maley.

Writers trying to tell society something it is not keen to hear have to try to write well. I think of some examples: Orwell's and Dickens' exposes of working-class poverty in England, Zola's condemnation of French anti-Semitism in J'Accuse, Harriet Beecher Stowe's indictment of slavery in Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Such writers broke out from internal exile because their work was so good. They built bridges between what they believed about human dignity, and the prevailing values of the more complacent societies they were living and working in. It was harder for the C19 Russians. Many failed to bridge the gap, and wrote unpublished work "for the drawer", but some of them - Chekhov, Tolstoy, Turgenev, Dostoeyevsky - succeeded.

That is what I tried to do in writing A Certain Maritime Incident: the sinking of SIEV X. I knew it would be an unpalatable message to many in the mainstream: I tried to write it well. I tried to convey a message to and about the people who died on SIEV X, the survivors, and those who waited for them in Australia in vain: that their lives are worth something, that they have important meaning.

And I tried to say to my fellow Australians that we must never again try to deter so-called 'people smuggler' voyages of unauthorised boat people to Australia by such murderous means: setting up covert Government disruption programs under which people died, and by instructing our ADF to set aside their humanitarian obligations to strive to protect life in the case of such people.

That is a big message. In our society it is easier to get across small messages than big ones. Talk about government-falsified Navy photographs of a sea rescue, and you will be heard. Talk about drowned children in Australia's maritime area of duty of care, and it is a lot harder to be heard.

This is because stories of such magnitude challenge our presumption of ourselves. They force us to look over the edge and down into the abyss.

This has been my story over the past two years: trying to tell an important Australian story, about the sinking of a boat in waters our government was responsible for at the time under a proclaimed border security operation.

I try in my book to give an account, based firmly in the existing public record, that raises disturbing questions: were Australian government, defence and police agencies implicated in actions that contributed to the deaths of 353 asylum-seekers on the boat that I named SIEV X?

In writing this book, whatever its literary merit may be, I think I have become part of the tradition of books written from internal exile. For I did not write this book only for human rights campaigners and refugee rights activists. I also wanted - hoped - to reach the unconvinced middle ground of Australia.

Like the recent Group of 43 statement calling for a restoration of truth in Australian governance, my book advances a "revolutionary" proposition: that if Australia had anything to do with the deaths of these 353 people who had committed no crime in trying to come here to seek asylum as refugees, this needs to be fully investigated in a judicial inquiry.

Saying that has made me a kind of internal exile in my own city Canberra and in my own country. I now understand better what it felt like for dissident writers in the softer, late Communist period in Eastern Europe. They were no longer in gulags, but their integrity was abused, they were socially shunned, and they were denied work for which they were qualified. They were in internal exile. That has to some degree also happened to me.

Why the anger, why the exclusion? Because writers in internal exile are telling stories that most people involved in their countries' state apparatus do not want to hear - cannot stand to hear, if they are to remain comfortable in their jobs. They need to hold onto the belief that their government is basically decent, that police and government officials and military service professionals would not do bad things, that if they were given such orders they would defy them. People need to keep those blinkers on, because if they do not, they look down into the abyss. That is why the Abu Ghraib torture disclosures in US-occupied Iraq were so frightening, more so than the course of the Iraq invasion itself.

Am I overstating this? I don't think so. All my experience over the past two years has been that most Australians are really frightened of big stories about official misconduct or evildoing. We try to trivialise them, to turn them into stories about more minor transgressions - misrepresented official photographs, alleged "intelligence failures". Or we ignore them.

We cannot confront the really big questions: Why HMAS Adelaide risked over 200 human lives at sea during 24 hours of illegal towing of the stricken SIEV 4, why our Foreign Minister did nothing to tell us the public about intelligence warnings given to him that had obvious relevance to Australian holiday-makers in Bali, why our ADF forces invaded Iraq 30 hours before the Prime Minister told our Parliament that our ADF was now at war in Iraq?

All these stories are so big that we push them away. And the sinking of SIEV X was the biggest story of them all.

Tony Kevin

Read more ...

We are just being born...

'We must accept finite disappointment; but we must never lose infinite hope' -Martin Luther King-

At first it seems that something may have died within us on October 9th. This is reflected in the quietness that has descended. There is an inability to talk about the depth of despair we feel, as the reality of the democratic verdict is too painful. The 'side' we wanted to be defeated, has won. Now November 2nd has also come and gone. Again a triumph for those who trumpet division and hatred; a win for those who use words which appeal to the darker side of the human soul.

Is it going to keep us down? Is the solution to look for some other place to live? Do we truly think we'll find another place where the darker side will not surface, as it surfaced unexpectedly in the Lucky Country on 26th August 2001? Are we to simply give up? Give up, on what we believe! Did we truly think that this was a sprint, and not a marathon? Do we have the stamina to stay the course? The walk we are on, is not a Sunday afternoon's protest march. It is a road that many inspirational people have trod. Think of Mahatma Gandhi, of William Wilberforce, of Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa, and of Nelson Mandela... It is a long road. We have 'miles to go, before we sleep...' Have we the capability, and the heart?

We have only to think back to those days of 'Post Tampa Australia', when we felt so helpless and impotent against lies being used for political gain. The majority's silence made us feel then that the flames of prejudice would burn the soul of this Great South Land. Instead of engulfment, the flames only served to heat the crucible of Australia's soul. And from within it, there emerged a precious core. A core made up of people all around the country, in its cities and bush towns, from all walks of life. Refugee Action Committee, Rural Australians for Refugees, A Just Australia, Circle of Friends .. and many more.

These spontaneous community based organisations that sprang up, are a testament to Australia's true national character. We've got to draw strength from one another, and continue the journey together. There are so many dedicated hearts and minds to inspire each other to the great tasks that lie ahead.

Arundathi Roy said it best on 'Enough Rope' on 18th October -".How do you define a battle that's lost and a battle that's won? It's a very, very complicated thing... you still see that what has been won is a tremendous spirit among the people? They're not broken. They're just being born, in a way .... Whether we win or lose is a separate matter. On which side will we fight?"

So it appears, that we are just being born, ... and the pains we've experienced are the pangs. We may have done some kicking before birth. Let's show Australia, and the world, that we've plenty of kicking left in us!

"..I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only
finds that there are many more hills to climb...."
- Nelson Mandela
Read more ...

Sunday, November 07, 2004

George Bush, Peter Singer, God and Family First

Hi all

I don't think the last word has been said about the US elections in November 2004, have a look at here.

One of the main issues of debate that's starting also, both in the US and here in Australia, is what may well be the rise of the new religious right, for us in the form of Family First. I'll be decent, and admit that I like Andrea Mason, the party leader. She wrote to Vanstone about deportations of Iranians soon after I phoned her and gave her an exhaustive briefing about what we do when we deport Christian Iranians back to Iran, and the letter was pretty much a no-nonsense epistle. Thanks also to the many of you who responded to my call to write to Family First about deporting Christian Iranians. Update of Nov 21, 2004: See Andrea Mason's letter below the report from Russell Skelton in The Weekend Age: Family First has shown it's got teeth!
Family First: Asylum policy brief 5/10/2004 (PDF file)
Below an opinion piece from the Sydney Morning Herald - it's a hoot, but also, it gives an insight into the issues at play. I've inserted some links to book reviews of Peter Singer's book, about 'the Ethics of George W. Bush'.


Those things we were liable to read into the Bible - it ain't necessarily so

Sydney Morning Herald
By Richard Glover
November 6, 2004

Exactly what kind of Bible is being read by all these evangelical Christians: the ones who have voted George Bush back into the White House? Do they have a special copy which skips the passage about the "meek inheriting the Earth"?

In their copy, is the world inherited instead by the sleek or the bleak, or perhaps by the clique - that group of defence contractors and petrol-pumpers surrounding the President? Does it approve of the coveting of one's neighbour's ass, because that's aspirational, but not his arse, because that's gay and therefore weird?

Does their copy say you can extract revenge by attacking someone unconnected with the original crime, as has happened in Iraq? Does it say that a War in Error can replace a War on Terror?

Have they a Bible which celebrates the transfer of resources from the poor to the rich through tax cuts; even unto billionaires such as Bill Gates (the Geek who will inherit the Earth). Is there a passage about Alaska, and the God-given right to drill for oil? And does their Bible bless the moneylenders, as this military and social charabanc runs up its ever-more staggering deficit?

Bush is the most divisive and geopolitically radical president in living memory, and yet he has been put there again by the Christian vote. All that time I spent at Sunday school, fashioning little lambs out of cotton wool and Clag glue, must have given me the wrong idea about these people. In Sydney, in the Sunday school of the '60s, they all seemed, if anything, a bit wet. It was all about peace and love and helping those less fortunate than oneself.

The teachers themselves seemed fragile and delicate, as if they too were fashioned out of cotton wool and Clag: the ladies with their wispy white hair, haloed around their head, and thin, bony limbs that looked as if they were made from twisted pipe-cleaners. Maybe that's why they worked us so hard at craft: it would be up to us to make a fresh generation of teachers once these ones passed on.

But, even as we twisted the pipe-cleaners into the shepherd's crook, we knew these people defined an idea of goodness: kindness, self-sacrifice, peace. We took them to be the Christian values.

No longer. Over there at least, there's nothing wispy or fragile about what seems to be the defining brand of Christian, with their belief in war, wealth and welfare-reform. Look at the voting patterns and they sure are good haters: many of them tempted into voting for the first time by the chance to condemn gay marriage. Hate got them out of bed and voting in a way love never did.

So what do these Bushite Christians make of the Bible and its scenes of Jesus washing the feet of the poor? Talk about rewarding the lazy: they should be washing the feet of the rich, under a work-for-the-dole scheme. Ditto all those prostitutes, beggars and thieves, with whom Jesus is always hanging out. Surely that can't be right?

In his book 'The President of Good and Evil: The Ethics of George W. Bush', published this year, [See review here, here and here] the philosopher Peter Singer compares Bush's policies with his professed Christian beliefs. Singer demonstrates that, judged against the central principles of the Bible, Bush's actions don't stack up.

When Singer came on my ABC radio show, I suggested he had used a pretty large hammer to crack a pretty small nut: surely no one imagines Bush is simply acting out Christian beliefs. They would see him as just another politician, wouldn't they: in this case following a neo-conservative ideology, while posing in the raiments of faith?

I now accept I was wrong. Singer has used a big hammer, but, boy, these are pretty big nuts. On Tuesday, millions voted on what they took to be Christian values: 21 per cent said they voted on "moral values" ahead of the war or the economy. I now think Singer's book, with its methodical arguments from biblical sources, should be given to every evangelical in the US. We could start by smuggling it into every hotel room: we could call it Gideon Plus.

Some say this faith-based politics is now coming to Australia, with Family First in the Senate and arguments about abortion and homosexuality. I just hope we keep a little of the traditional Australian tolerance and, yes, levity.

Which brings us to the late parliamentarian Fred Daly. In his book From Curtin to Kerr, Daly recounts one of the early debates over abortion within the Labor Party.

"I just don't know what to do about the abortion bill," one worried backbencher confides to another. Comes the response: "Mate, if I were you, I'd pay it."

By all means, have a laugh. After this week, I reckon we need it.

From the Sydney Morning Herald

Deporting Christian convert angers Family First

The Age
By Russell Skelton
November 21, 2004

A serious rift has developed between Family First - the party expected to be the principal ally of the Coalition in the Senate - and the Howard Government over the deportation of an Iranian asylum seeker who converted to Christianity.

Andrea Mason, the former Family First leader and party spokeswoman, yesterday called on the Prime Minister to stop further deportations following the forced removal of the Iranian last month from the Baxter Immigration detention facility near Port Augusta.

"What the Government is doing is repugnant to all Christians and should not be allowed to continue. Iran is a country that punishes people who renounce Islam, and these people are being placed in danger by being sent back," she said.

It is believed that there are about 50 Iranians in immigration detention who have converted to the Christian faith since their arrival in Australia by boat four years ago. Most face deportation under a secret agreement the Australian Government struck with the Islamic Republic of Iran last year.

Ms Mason said she had received a letter from Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone during the week purporting to explain the circumstances surrounding the recent deportation. "It did not explain anything, really; it just looked like something dashed off by her department. It does not allay our concerns in any way," Ms Mason said.

The letter from Senator Vanstone said, in part, that although she could not discuss the individual case in question "unauthorised arrivals are not removed . . . until all review and legal actions have been completed".

She said Australia took seriously its obligation of not returning asylum seekers to a country where they might suffer persecution, but made no specific reference to the situation in Iran.

Earlier, Ms Mason wrote to Senator Vanstone warning that "the Iranian Government is repressive and there is much evidence of persecution, disappearance and killing of political and religious dissidents."

Ms Mason's church, the Assemblies of God, is campaigning internationally to force Iranian authorities to release Hamid Pourmand, a 47-year-old lay pastor, and 85 evangelical church members arrested in September for proselytising, a practice outlawed under Iran's religious codes.

The Iranian asylum seeker, whose name has been withheld at the request of Christian groups and the Immigration Department, was deported after attending the weekly Baxter Christian service. Detainees and pastoral care workers said the man was called to the administration office on what appeared to be a routine matter.

He was never seen again. Sister Anne, a Sister of Mercy, who attended the service, said: "He literally disappeared; we are still in a state of shock".

Immigration authorities have since confirmed that an Iranian who abandoned Islam for Catholicism three years earlier while in detention was deported to Tehran, where renouncing Islam in Iran is a capital crime, punishable by either hanging or stoning to death.

It is understood from Amnesty International that, on arrival at Tehran international airport, the man was interrogated for 48 hours before being charged with leaving the country illegally and released into the care of his family. He is yet to appear in court.

The deportation has alarmed human rights, Christian and refugee groups, who suspect the deportation signifies a sudden hardening in the Federal Government's attitude to the 91 Iranians remaining in detention.

Inquiries confirm that the man was deported on October 15, days after the federal election and before Senator Vanstone was sworn in again as Immigration Minister. He was the first Iranian to be deported by her although two were deported by her predecessor, Philip Ruddock.

Refugee and church groups had believed Senator Vanstone was willing to take a more sympathetic approach to the issue of deporting converts. In the weeks before the election, Senator Vanstone re-examined the cases of 13 Christian converts at Baxter, issuing eight with visas. Clergy who minister at Baxter subsequently submitted a list of 40 detainees they assessed as genuine converts - some deemed to be more worthy than the eight granted visas - to the minister's office for further consideration. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees also has a list of Iranian religious converts at risk if returned. The deported man is believed to be on both lists.

Senator Vanstone's office denied that she personally ordered the deportation. A spokesman said she had not authorised the removal and was not required to. "This is a departmental matter; when all the processes have been exhausted, the law requires that unauthorised persons be removed," he said.

But a government official who has worked closely with Senator Vanstone and Mr Ruddock said it would be a controversial step for the department to deport an asylum seeker to Iran, a country with a dubious human rights record, without informing the minister or at least her office.

"It would never have happened under Philip Ruddock. It is extremely unusual for the department to take it upon itself to deport a person before the minister was even sworn in. I think it indicates how her office has been run," the official said.

The decision to deport the Iranian also appears to signify a shift in Senator Vanstone's decision making. After becoming minister a year ago, she has reduced the number of Iranians in detention by half.

Since January, the number of Iranians has dropped from about 200 to 90, with many being granted visas after making applications to the minister.

The deportation has provoked an angry response from clergy of all denominations. A petition has been circulated by Sister Anne Higgins and Father Arno Vermeeren, protesting about the deportation and accusing the Immigration Department of placing the man's life at risk. It has attracted several thousand signatures. The petition states: "The fundamentalist nature of the regime in Iran is well known and there is no doubt of its intent and practice of punishing apostates." Apart from the petition, Catholic, Anglican and Uniting Church bishops have also written to the Prime Minister urging him to stop the deportation of converts.

The Department has denied any policy shift. "The department takes seriously its obligations under the refugees convention and does not return people to a place where they have a well-founded fear of persecution," the spokeswoman said. "To date, no evidence has been provided to the department to substantiate claims that Iranians returned by Australia are being persecuted."

This is disputed in a recent report prepared by the Edmund Rice Centre for Justice and Community Education, titled Deported to Danger. Based on interviews with more than 40 returned asylum seekers, the report claimed that many voluntary returnees to Iran had been detained for days, interrogated about religious affiliations and asked for detainees' names in Australia who had converted to Christianity.

Phil Glendenning, president of the Edmund Rice Centre at the Australian Catholic University, said that other Iranians interviewed but not included in the report to protect their identity, complained that on return to Iran they found it hard to get work, were denied travel documents and banned from government jobs and universities.

There were, however, no recorded incidents of apostates being executed, even though the law provides for it.

The department spokeswoman said claims for asylum based on religious conversions were now taken into consideration when assessing protection claims. But she cautioned:

"The decision on whether a person is owed protection will depend on individual facts in each case."

So why was the Iranian, regarded by clergy ministering at Baxter as a Catholic of sincere and genuine belief, deported directly after a church service he attended to a country where the harsh treatment of apostates has been criticised by a wide range of groups from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to the US State Department?

An examination of the man's Refugee Review Tribunal hearing reveals that the man's conversion to Catholicism three years ago was not regarded as genuine and dismissed even though those who have prayed with him disagree with that evaluation.

A spokeswoman for the Immigration Department said the Iranian had been lawfully deported after all his claims for asylum, including a High Court appeal, had been rejected.

Family First's reponse to Iranian deportation

Senator Amanda Vanstone
Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs
C/O Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

Dear Minister

Re: "Mr M"

I was recently informed that "Mr M", a gentlemen who had been endeavouring to obtain refugee status in Australia and who, until recently was being detained in the Baxter Detention Centre, Port Augusta, was on the weekend removed from the facility and deported to Iran.

I am extremely concerned about his return to Iran. From correspondence received, I understand he is a convert to Christianity. It is my understanding that Iranian Muslims who convert to Christianity face imprisonment, severe punishment and even death.

I would appreciate your explanation as to the action of deportation by the federal government. Specifically, would you explain the grounds upon which "Mr M"'s application failed to meet the criteria for refugee status or other special humanitarian considerations. Would you also explain what criteria was used in the assessment of his application, and the decision to deport and whether "Mr M" had exhausted all avenues of appeal.

Understanding that "Mr M" is now in Iran, is the government willing to accept the responsibility to monitor the safety of "Mr M"? The Iranian Government is repressive and there is much evidence for persecution, disappearance and killing of political and religious dissidents.

Article 33 of the UN Refugee Convention says that no state shall return a refugee to a place where his or her life or liberty is threatened. The UN Convention Against Torture says that no state can send a person to a place where there is a real prospect of torture. I am deeply concerned that the deportation of "Mr M" to Iran has placed him in serious danger of physical harm.

I would ask that you take urgent action in regard to ensuring, to the best of the Government's abilities, the safety of "Mr M". I would appreciate your advice in regard to the other matters raised in this letter. I can be reached on (08) 8368 6113 or via email andream(at)

Yours sincerely

Andrea Mason
SA Senate Candidate
Party Leader
Family First

Read more ...

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Arundhati Roy: Peace & The New Corporate Liberation Theology

Arundhati Roy

Hi all

Here's Arundhati Roy's full speech delivered in Sydney last night, as published by the Sydney Morning Herald. It will probably rattle most of the nice folks in Australia, and so it should. Have a peek at the other page by Arundhati on our website here. I adore her - she's one of the world leaders we're gonna need, especially after Dubya's win in the US. Love you, Arundhati Roy!


The 2004 Sydney Peace Prize lecture delivered by Arundhati Roy, at the Seymour Theatre Centre, University of Sydney.

Wednesday, November 3 2004

It's official now. The Sydney Peace Foundation is neck deep in
the business of gambling and calculated risk. Last year, very
courageously, it chose Dr Hanan Ashrawi of Palestine for the Sydney
Peace Prize. And, as if that were not enough, this year - of all
the people in the world - it goes and chooses me!
However I'd like to make a complaint. My sources inform me that Dr Ashrawi had a picket all to herself. This is discriminatory. I
demand equal treatment for all Peace Prizees. May I formally
request the Foundation to organize a picket against me after the
lecture? From what I've heard, it shouldn't be hard to organize. If
this is insufficient notice, then tomorrow will suit me just as

When this year's Sydney Peace Prize was announced, I was
subjected to some pretty arch remarks from those who know me well:
Why did they give it to the biggest trouble-maker we know? Didn't
anybody tell them that you don't have a peaceful bone in your body?
And, memorably, Arundhati didi, what's the Sydney Peace Prize? Was
there a war in Sydney that you helped to stop?

Speaking for myself, I am utterly delighted to receive the
Sydney Peace Prize. But I must accept it as a literary prize that
honors a writer for her writing, because contrary to the many
virtues that are falsely attributed to me, I'm not an activist, nor
the leader of any mass movement, and I'm certainly not the "voice
of the voiceless". (We know of course there's really no such thing
as the 'voiceless'. There are only the deliberately silenced, or
the preferably unheard.) I am a writer who cannot claim to
represent anybody but herself. So even though I would like to, it
would be presumptuous of me to say that I accept this prize on
behalf of those who are involved in the struggle of the powerless
and the disenfranchised against the powerful. However, may I say I
accept it as the Sydney Peace Foundation's expression of solidarity
with a kind of politics, a kind of world-view, that millions of us
around the world subscribe to?

It might seem ironic that a person who spends most of her time
thinking of strategies of resistance and plotting to disrupt the
putative peace, is given a peace prize. You must remember that I
come from an essentially feudal country -and there are few things
more disquieting than a feudal peace. Sometimes there's truth in
old cliches. There can be no real peace without justice. And
without resistance there will be no justice.

Today, it is not merely justice itself, but the idea of justice
that is under attack. The assault on vulnerable, fragile sections
of society is at once so complete, so cruel and so clever - all
encompassing and yet specifically targeted, blatantly brutal and
yet unbelievably insidious - that its sheer audacity has eroded our
definition of justice. It has forced us to lower our sights, and
curtail our expectations. Even among the well-intentioned, the
expansive, magnificent concept of justice is gradually being
substituted with the reduced, far more fragile discourse of 'human

If you think about it, this is an alarming shift of paradigm.
The difference is that notions of equality, of parity have been
pried loose and eased out of the equation. It's a process of
attrition. Almost unconsciously, we begin to think of justice for
the rich and human rights for the poor. Justice for the corporate
world, human rights for its victims. Justice for Americans, human
rights for Afghans and Iraqis. Justice for the Indian upper castes,
human rights for Dalits and Adivasis (if that.) Justice for white
Australians, human rights for Aboriginals and immigrants (most
times, not even that.)

It is becoming more than clear that violating human rights is an
inherent and necessary part of the process of implementing a
coercive and unjust political and economic structure on the world.
Without the violation of human rights on an enormous scale, the
neo-liberal project would remain in the dreamy realm of policy. But
increasingly Human Rights violations are being portrayed as the
unfortunate, almost accidental fallout of an otherwise acceptable
political and economic system. As though they're a small problem
that can be mopped up with a little extra attention from some NGOs.
This is why in areas of heightened conflict - in Kashmir and in
Iraq for example - Human Rights Professionals are regarded with a
degree of suspicion. Many resistance movements in poor countries
which are fighting huge injustice and questioning the underlying
principles of what constitutes "liberation" and "development", view
Human Rights NGOs as modern day missionaries who've come to take
the ugly edge off Imperialism. To defuse political anger and to
maintain the status quo.

It has been only a few weeks since a majority of Australians
voted to re-elect Prime Minister John Howard who, among other
things, led Australia to participate in the illegal invasion and
occupation of Iraq. The invasion of Iraq will surely go down in
history as one of the most cowardly wars ever fought. It was a war
in which a band of rich nations, armed with enough nuclear weapons
to destroy the world several times over, rounded on a poor nation,
falsely accused it of having nuclear weapons, used the United
Nations to force it to disarm, then invaded it, occupied it and are
now in the process of selling it.

I speak of Iraq, not because everybody is talking about it,
(sadly at the cost of leaving other horrors in other places to
unfurl in the dark), but because it is a sign of things to come.
Iraq marks the beginning of a new cycle. It offers us an
opportunity to watch the Corporate-Military cabal that has come to
be known as 'Empire' at work. In the new Iraq the gloves are

As the battle to control the world's resources intensifies,
economic colonialism through formal military aggression is staging
a comeback. Iraq is the logical culmination of the process of
corporate globalization in which neo-colonialism and neo-liberalism
have fused. If we can find it in ourselves to peep behind the
curtain of blood, we would glimpse the pitiless transactions taking
place backstage. But first, briefly, the stage itself.

In 1991 US President George Bush senior mounted Operation Desert
Storm. Tens of thousands of Iraqis were killed in the war. Iraq's
fields were bombed with more than 300 tonnes of depleted uranium,
causing a fourfold increase in cancer among children. For more than
13 years, twenty four million Iraqi people have lived in a war zone
and been denied food and medicine and clean water. In the frenzy
around the US elections, let's remember that the levels of cruelty
did not fluctuate whether the Democrats or the Republicans were in
the White House. Half a million Iraqi children died because of the
regime of economic sanctions in the run up to Operation Shock and
Awe. Until recently, while there was a careful record of how many
US soldiers had lost their lives, we had no idea of how many Iraqis
had been killed. US General Tommy Franks said "We don't do body
counts" (meaning Iraqi body counts). He could have added "We don't
do the Geneva Convention either." A new, detailed study,
fast-tracked by the Lancet medical journal and extensively peer
reviewed, estimates that 100,000 Iraqis have lost their lives since
the 2003 invasion. That's one hundred halls full of people - like
this one. That's one hundred halls full of friends, parents,
siblings, colleagues, you. The difference is that there
aren't many children here today - let's not forget Iraq's children.
Technically that bloodbath is called precision bombing. In ordinary
language, it's called butchering.

Most of this is common knowledge now. Those who support the
invasion and vote for the invaders cannot take refuge in ignorance.
They must truly believe that this epic brutality is right and just
or, at the very least, acceptable because it's in their

So the 'civilized' 'modern' world - built painstakingly on a
legacy of genocide, slavery and colonialism - now controls most of
the world's oil. And most of the world's weapons, most of the
world's money, and most of the world's media. The embedded,
corporate media in which the doctrine of Free Speech has been
substituted by the doctrine of Free If You Agree Speech.

The UN's Chief Weapons Inspector Hans Blix said he found no
evidence of nuclear weapons in Iraq. Every scrap of evidence
produced by the US and British governments was found to be false -
whether it was reports of Saddam Hussein buying uranium from Niger,
or the report produced by British Intelligence which was discovered
to have been plagiarized from an old student dissertation. And yet,
in the prelude to the war, day after day the most 'respectable'
newspapers and TV channels in the US , headlined the 'evidence' of
Iraq's arsenal of weapons of nuclear weapons. It now turns out that
the source of the manufactured 'evidence' of Iraq's arsenal of
nuclear weapons was Ahmed Chalabi who, (like General Suharto of
Indonesia, General Pinochet of Chile, the Shah of Iran, the Taliban
and of course, Saddam Hussein himself) - was bankrolled with
millions of dollars from the good old CIA.

And so, a country was bombed into oblivion. It's true there have
been some murmurs of apology. Sorry 'bout that folks, but we have
really have to move on. Fresh rumours are coming in about nuclear
weapons in Eye-ran and Syria. And guess who is reporting on these
fresh rumours? The same reporters who ran the bogus 'scoops' on
Iraq. The seriously embedded A Team.

The head of Britain's BBC had to step down and one man committed
suicide because a BBC reporter accused the Blair administration of
'sexing up' intelligence reports about Iraq's WMD programme. But
the head of Britain retains his job even though his government did
much more than 'sex up' intelligence reports. It is responsible for
the illegal invasion of a country and the mass murder of its

Visitors to Australia like myself, are expected to answer the
following question when they fill in the visa form: Have you ever
committed or been involved in the commission of war crimes or
crimes against humanity or human rights? Would George Bush and Tony
Blair get visas to Australia? Under the tenets of International Law
they must surely qualify as war criminals.

However, to imagine that the world would change if they were
removed from office is naive. The tragedy is that their political
rivals have no real dispute with their policies. The fire and
brimstone of the US election campaign was about who would make a
better 'Commander-in-Chief' and a more effective manager of the
American Empire. Democracy no longer offers voters real choice.
Only specious choice.

Even though no weapons of mass destruction have been found in
Iraq - stunning new evidence has revealed that Saddam Hussein was
planning a weapons programme. (Like I was planning to win an
Olympic Gold in synchronized swimming.) Thank goodness for the
doctrine of pre-emptive strike. God knows what other evil thoughts
he harbored - sending Tampax in the mail to American senators, or
releasing female rabbits in burqas into the London underground. No
doubt all will be revealed in the free and fair trial of Saddam
Hussein that's coming up soon in the New Iraq.

All except the chapter in which we would learn of how the US and
Britain plied him with money and material assistance at the time he
was carrying out murderous attacks on Iraqi Kurds and Shias. All
except the chapter in which we would learn that a 12,000 page
report submitted by the Saddam Hussein government to the UN, was
censored by the United States because it lists twenty-four US
corporations that participated in Iraq's pre-Gulf War nuclear and
conventional weapons programme. (They include Bechtel, DuPont, ,
Eastman Kodak, Hewlett Packard, International Computer Systems and

So Iraq has been 'liberated.' Its people have been subjugated
and its markets have been 'freed'. That's the anthem of
neo-liberalism. Free the markets. Screw the people.

The US government has privatized and sold entire sectors of
Iraq's economy. Economic policies and tax laws have been
re-written. Foreign companies can now buy 100% of Iraqi firms and
expatriate the profits. This is an outright violation of
international laws that govern an occupying force, and is among the
main reasons for the stealthy, hurried charade in which power was
'handed over' to an 'interim Iraqi government'. Once handing over
of Iraq to the Multi-nationals is complete, a mild dose of genuine
democracy won't do any harm. In fact it might be good PR for the
Corporate version of Liberation Theology, otherwise known as New

Not surprisingly, the auctioning of Iraq caused a stampede at
the feeding trough. Corporations like Bechtel and Halliburton, the
company that US Vice-president Dick Cheney once headed, have won
huge contracts for 'reconstruction' work. A brief c.v of any one of
these corporations would give us a lay person's grasp of how it all
works. - not just in Iraq, but all over the world. Say we pick
Bechtel - only because poor little Halliburton is under
investigation on charges of overpricing fuel deliveries to Iraq and
for its contracts to 'restore' Iraq's oil industry which came with
a pretty serious price-tag - 2.5 billion dollars.

The Bechtel Group and Saddam Hussein are old business
acquaintances. Many of their dealings were negotiated by none other
than Donald Rumsfeld. In 1988, after Saddam Hussein gassed
thousands of Kurds, Bechtel signed contracts with his government to
build a dual-use chemical plant in Baghdad.

Historically, the Bechtel Group has had and continues to have
inextricably close links to the Republican establishment. You could
call Bechtel and the Reagan Bush administration a team. Former
Secretary of Defense, Caspar Weinberger was a Bechtel general
counsel. Former Deputy Secretary of Energy, W. Kenneth Davis was
Bechtel's vice president. Riley Bechtel, the company chairman, is
on the President's Export Council. Jack Sheehan, a retired marine
corps general, is a senior vice president at Bechtel and a member
of the US Defense Policy Board. Former Secretary of State George
Shultz, who is on the Board of Directors of the Bechtel Group, was
the chairman of the advisory board of the Committee for the
Liberation of Iraq.

When he was asked by the New York Times whether he was concerned
about the appearance of a conflict of interest between his two
'jobs', he said, "I don't know that Bechtel would particularly
benefit from it [The invasion of Iraq]. But if there's work to be
done, Bechtel is the type of company that could do it." Bechtel has
been awarded reconstruction contracts in Iraq worth over a billion
dollars, which include contracts to re-build power generation
plants, electrical grids, water supply, sewage systems, and airport
facilities. Never mind revolving doors, this -if it weren't so
drenched in blood- would be a bedroom farce.

Between 2001 and 2002, nine out of thirty members of the US
Defense Policy Group were connected to companies that were awarded
Defense contracts worth 76 billion dollars. Time was when weapons
were manufactured in order to fight wars. Now wars are manufactured
in order to sell weapons.

Between 1990 and 2002 the Bechtel group has contributed $3.3
million to campaign funds, both Republican and Democrat. Since 1990
it has won more than 2000 government contracts worth more than 11
billion dollars. That's an incredible return on investment,
wouldn't you say?

And Bechtel has footprints around the world. That's what being a
multi-national means.

The Bechtel Group first attracted international attention when
it signed a contract with Hugo Banzer, the former Bolivian
dictator, to privatize the water supply in the city of Cochabamba.
The first thing Bechtel did was to raise the price of water.
Hundreds of thousands of people who simply couldn't afford to pay
Bechtel's bills came out onto the streets. A huge strike paralyzed
the city. Martial law was declared. Although eventually Bechtel was
forced to flee its offices, it is currently negotiating an exit
payment of millions of dollars from the Bolivian government for the
loss of potential profits. Which, as we'll see, is growing into a
popular corporate sport.

In India, Bechtel along with General Electric are the new owners
of the notorious and currently defunct Enron power project. The
Enron contract, which legally binds the Government of the State of
Maharashtra to pay Enron a sum of 30 billion dollars, was the
largest contract ever signed in India. Enron was not shy to boast
about the millions of dollars it had spent to "educate" Indian
politicians and bureaucrats. The Enron contract in Maharashtra,
which was India's first 'fast-track' private power project, has
come to be known as the most massive fraud in the country's
history. (Enron was another of the Republican Party's major
campaign contributors). The electricity that Enron produced was so
exorbitant that the government decided it was cheaper not to buy
electricity and pay Enron the mandatory fixed charges specified in
the contract. This means that the government of one of the poorest
countries in the world was paying Enron 220 million US dollars a
year not to produce electricity!

Now that Enron has ceased to exist, Bechtel and GE are suing the
Indian Government for 5.6 billion US dollars. This is not even a
minute fraction of the sum of money that they (or Enron) actually
invested in the project. Once more, it's a projection of profit
they would have made had the project materialized. To give you an
idea of scale 5.6 billion dollars a little more than the amount
that the Government of India would need annually, for a rural
employment guarantee scheme that would provide a subsistence wage
to millions of people currently living in abject poverty, crushed
by debt, displacement, chronic malnutrition and the WTO. This in a
country where farmers steeped in debt are being driven to suicide,
not in their hundreds, but in their thousands. The proposal for a
Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme is being mocked by India's
corporate class as an unreasonable, utopian demand being floated by
the 'lunatic' and newly powerful left. Where will the money come
from? they ask derisively. And yet, any talk of reneging on a bad
contract with a notoriously corrupt corporation like Enron, has the
same cynics hyperventilating about capital flight and the terrible
risks of 'creating a bad investment climate'. The arbitration
between Bechtel, GE and the Government of India is taking place
right now in London. Bechtel and GE have reason for hope. The
Indian Finance Secretary who was instrumental in approving the
disastrous Enron contract has come home after a few years with the
IMF. Not just home, home with a promotion. He is now Deputy
Chairman of the Planning Commission.

Think about it: The notional profits of a single corporate
project would be enough to provide a hundred days of employment a
year at minimum wages (calculated at a weighted average across
different states) for 25 million people. That's five million more
than the population of Australia. That is the scale of the horror
of neo-liberalism.

The Bechtel story gets worse. In what can only be called
unconscionable, Naomi Klein writes that Bechtel has successfully
sued war-torn Iraq for 'war reparations' and 'lost profits'. It has
been awarded 7 million dollars.

So, all you young management graduates don't bother with Harvard
and Wharton - here's the Lazy Manager's Guide to Corporate Success:
First, stock your Board with senior government servants. Next,
stock the government with members of your board. Add oil and stir.
When no one can tell where the government ends and your company
begins, collude with your government to equip and arm a
cold-blooded dictator in an oil-rich country. Look away while he
kills his own people. Simmer gently. Use the time collect to
collect a few billion dollars in government contracts. Then collude
with your government once again while it topples the dictator and
bombs his subjects, taking to specifically target essential
infrastructure, killing a hundred thousand people on the side. Pick
up another billion dollars or so worth of contracts to
'reconstruct' the infrastructure. To cover travel and incidentals,
sue for reparations for lost profits from the devastated country.
Finally, diversify. Buy a TV station, so that next war around you
can showcase your hardware and weapons technology masquerading as
coverage of the war. And finally finally, institute a Human Rights
Prize in your company's name. You could give the first one
posthumously to Mother Teresa. She won't be able to turn it down or
argue back.

Invaded and occupied Iraq has been made to pay out 200 million
dollars in "reparations" for lost profits to corporations like
Halliburton, Shell, Mobil, Nestle, Pepsi, Kentucky Fried Chicken
and Toys R Us. That's apart from its 125 billion dollar sovereign
debt forcing it to turn to the IMF, waiting in the wings like the
angel of death, with its Structural Adjustment program. (Though in
Iraq there don't seem to be many structures left to adjust. Except
the shadowy Al Qaeda.)

In New Iraq, privatization has broken new ground. The US Army is
increasingly recruiting private mercenaries to help in the
occupation. The advantage with mercenaries is that when they're
killed they're not included in the US soldiers' body count. It
helps to manage public opinion, which is particularly important in
an election year. Prisons have been privatized. Torture has been
privatized. We have seen what that leads to. Other attractions in
New Iraq include newspapers being shut down. Television stations
bombed. Reporters killed. US soldiers have opened fire on crowds of
unarmed protestors killing scores of people. The only kind of
resistance that has managed to survive is as crazed and brutal as
the occupation itself. Is there space for a secular, democratic,
feminist, non-violent resistance in Iraq? There isn't really.

That is why it falls to those of us living outside Iraq to
create that mass-based, secular and non-violent resistance to the
US occupation. If we fail to do that, then we run the risk of
allowing the idea of resistance to be hi-jacked and conflated with
terrorism and that will be a pity because they are not the same

So what does peace mean in this savage, corporatized,
militarized world? What does it mean in a world where an entrenched
system of appropriation has created a situation in which poor
countries which have been plundered by colonizing regimes for
centuries are steeped in debt to the very same countries that
plundered them, and have to repay that debt at the rate of 382
billion dollars a year? What does peace mean in a world in which
the combined wealth of the world's 587 billionaires exceeds the
combined gross domestic product of the world's 135 poorest
countries? Or when rich countries that pay farm subsidies of a
billion dollars a day, try and force poor countries to drop their
subsidies? What does peace mean to people in occupied Iraq,
Palestine, Kashmir, Tibet and Chechnya? Or to the aboriginal people
of Australia? Or the Ogoni of Nigeria? Or the Kurds in Turkey? Or
the Dalits and Adivasis of India? What does peace mean to
non-muslims in Islamic countries, or to women in Iran, Saudi Arabia
and Afghanistan? What does it mean to the millions who are being
uprooted from their lands by dams and development projects? What
does peace mean to the poor who are being actively robbed of their
resources and for whom everyday life is a grim battle for water,
shelter, survival and, above all, some semblance of dignity? For
them, peace is war.

We know very well who benefits from war in the age of Empire.
But we must also ask ourselves honestly who benefits from peace in
the age of Empire? War mongering is criminal. But talking of peace
without talking of justice could easily become advocacy for a kind
of capitulation. And talking of justice without unmasking the
institutions and the systems that perpetrate injustice, is beyond

It's easy to blame the poor for being poor. It's easy to believe
that the world is being caught up in an escalating spiral of
terrorism and war. That's what allows the American President to say
"You're either with us or with the terrorists." But we know that
that's a spurious choice. We know that terrorism is only the
privatization of war. That terrorists are the free marketers of
war. They believe that the legitimate use of violence is not the
sole prerogative of the State.

It is mendacious to make moral distinction between the
unspeakable brutality of terrorism and the indiscriminate carnage
of war and occupation. Both kinds of violence are unacceptable. We
cannot support one and condemn the other.

The real tragedy is that most people in the world are trapped
between the horror of a putative peace and the terror of war. Those
are the two sheer cliffs we're hemmed in by. The question is: How
do we climb out of this crevasse?

For those who are materially well-off, but morally
uncomfortable, the first question you must ask yourself is do you
really want to climb out of it? How far are you prepared to go? Has
the crevasse become too comfortable?

If you really want to climb out, there's good news and bad

The good news is that the advance party began the climb some
time ago. They're already half way up. Thousands of activists
across the world have been hard at work preparing footholds and
securing the ropes to make it easier for the rest of us. There
isn't only one path up. There are hundreds of ways of doing it.
There are hundreds of battles being fought around the world that
need your skills, your minds, your resources. No battle is
irrelevant. No victory is too small.

The bad news is that colorful demonstrations, weekend marches
and annual trips to the World Social Forum are not enough. There
have to be targeted acts of real civil disobedience with real
consequences. Maybe we can't flip a switch and conjure up a
revolution. But there are several things we could do. For example,
you could make a list of those corporations who have profited from
the invasion of Iraq and have offices here in Australia. You could
name them, boycott them, occupy their offices and force them out of
business. If it can happen in Bolivia, it can happen in India. It
can happen in Australia. Why not?

That's only a small suggestion. But remember that if the
struggle were to resort to violence, it will lose vision, beauty
and imagination. Most dangerous of all, it will marginalize and
eventually victimize women. And a political struggle that does not
have women at the heart of it, above it, below it and within it is
no struggle at all.

The point is that the battle must be joined. As the wonderful
American historian Howard Zinn put it: You Can't Be Neutral on a
Moving Train.

Arundhati Roy

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Robert Bosler and John Howard

Australian artist Robert Bosler, at Margo Kingston's Web Diary is being quoted by Margo. The painting hung just two doors up from the PM's Bennelong campaign office during the 2004 federal election, see the story. The painting is a must-see - that's why it's here. Oh, and it's called "False Prophet". Says Robert Bosler:

"This painting questions John Howard's fitness to serve. It is not about evil. It's not about the bible. It's about John Howard purposely allowing himself to be susceptible to forces of negativity."

"People need to see this image. It shows the whole picture of a leader. We have to learn to look beyond clever words. This picture shows what is really going on - not all the time, but far, far too many times John Howard has chosen to open himself to forces that would do our nation harm.
It is not meant to hurt Mr Howard. This should do him some good. Hopefully he will see, finally, that the office of prime minister has been so denigrated that the best thing for him, now, is to leave quietly, and to look instead to his own well being."

"I wish you well, Mr Howard. Should you want to continue misleading, Sir, I give you this painting, your mirror."

"From our country's point of view, this painting is a sign of a country gone too far. It should never have had to have been done. Many of our most decorated citizens have spoken up against Mr Howard's choices, and he has chosen not to listen. This is my humble shot at it, given in the hope that he might see."

"It is about choices, Mr Howard."

"And you will notice, Mr Howard, that this is not a personal attack on you. Have I captured your smile, Sir? Isn't this how you look? Rather, I have given a more complete picture, and as different from a personal attack, this is the more fulfilling."

"Australia is a nation of greatness, of joy, of beauty, of freedom and of goodwill. Words cannot express how inspired I would have been to have given a painting that showed a leader in genuine full flight, a leader who had taken it upon himself to celebrate our true Australian qualities. A leader who had chosen to grasp his time in office as one of tremendous opportunity and excitement, time given him as a gift from the people, and with that time chosen to nurture our country's vast, deep and colourful majesty. A leader who would cherish our goodwill, and to walk side by side with us as we all shared our nation's greatness with the willing world."

"Instead, we have this."

"It is long overdue. It had to be done."

Robert Bosler's website

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Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Brendan Nelson: First strike in Howard's Culture Wars

Howard wants control of a University near you

OK, here we have it. Howard will never get your hearts, and he will not try. His appreciation ratings have never been high enough to even rate in any rankings. While Latham has a PhD and has written several books, and also has several biographies on the bookshelves, Howard remains absent in the hearts of Australians, and I think he knows it.

So, after getting our votes, he now wants our minds instead. With Nelson's announcement that Howard wants Australia's Universities, you can be sure that the first strike had been launched in the culture wars - an ongoing isssue for Howard. Remember the war over Keith Windshuttle vs Henry Reynolds - see The Road to Surfdom, ABC Hindsight and The Australian's Who's still afraid of Keith Windschuttle. Remember the revamping of the Canberra National Gallery, see also How politicians are subverting national icons?

Again, the start of one of Howard's masterstrokes. By comparison, the ALP's weak-kneed start to the new term with Laurie Ferguson's appointment to the immigration portfolio, while it confirms that the Latham administration is not interested in social conscience issues, pales in significance. When will the backbenchers Carmen Lawrence, John Faulkner and Bob MacMullan raise their protest placards?

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