The quest for trust

Hi. I’m still working on a children overboard inquiry analysis – it should be ready on Monday. In the light of the SIEV-X drowning tragedy I discussed in Cover-up or stuff-up and the machinations of Peter Reith and his apparatchiks on the children overboard scam during the election, Webdiarist Jozef Imrich recommends a recent BBC lecture called “License to deceive”. It’s about the media, and it’s brilliant.

“As someone who has been unsuccessfully observing and studying political and leadership trust for 25 years, I highly recommend this lecture for Webdiarist’s digestion,” he writes. After the lecture, a piece on the Australian media by Webdiarist Charles Richards.

Today the Herald looks like it’s lost its Canberra bureau chief, Michelle Grattan, to The Age. It is a devastating blow. I haven’t felt so upset over the loss of a colleague since Michelle left The Age in the early 1990s to become editor of the Canberra Times. I left The Age to work for her soon after, and that stint was the highlight of my career. She proved a courageous, dynamic and scrupulously ethical editor who trusted her reporters and stood by them when the heat was on. I wrote my best work under her editorship. Michelle has always been a difficult bureau chief to work for, and we have often disagreed, often intensely. She is also the most thorough, ethical, intelligent and balanced journalist I have ever met. In short, Michelle Grattan is irreplaceable.


BBC Radio 4 Lecture number 5, 2002

License to deceive

By Onora O’Neill

1. Testing and Trusting

We all know the story of the hero who goes courting a Princess. Her father refuses consent and sends him on demanding quests in distant lands. On the face of it this is not the ideal preparation for marriage, or for ruling the kingdom. But the point of the quest is that the King needs to judge the hero’s commitment and steadfastness. If the hero persists in his quest the King will have reason to trust him; if Princess and hero remain steadfast through long years of questing, each will have reason to trust the other’s love and loyalty, and they will live happily ever after.

Quests are tests of trustworthiness.

Everyday tests of trustworthiness are simpler. A brief exchange of words, a few questions, a short meeting and we begin to place some trust, which we then revise, extend or reduce as we observe and check performance. But how are we to test strangers and institutions? How can we judge claims and undertakings when we can’t talk with others, or observe them, let alone send them on lengthy quests? How can we tell that they are not deceiving us?

Perhaps we are in luck. We live in an age of communication technologies. It should be easier than it used to be to check out strangers and institutions, to test credentials, to authenticate sources, and to place trust with discrimination. But unfortunately many of the new ways of communicating don’t offer adequate, let alone easy, ways of doing so. The new information technologies are ideal for spreading reliable information, but they dislocate our ordinary ways of judging one another’s claims and deciding where to place our trust.

When Kings of old tested their daughters’ suitors, most communication was face-to-face and two-way: in the information age it is often between strangers and one-way. Socrates worried about the written word, because it travelled beyond the possibility of question and revision, and so beyond trust. We may reasonably worry not only about the written word, but also about broadcast speech, film and television. These technologies are designed for one-way communication with minimal interaction. Those who control and use them may or may not be trustworthy. How are we to check what they tell us?

2. Informed Consent and Trust

Informed consent is one hallmark of trust between strangers. For example, when I understand a pension plan, a mortgage, or complex medical procedures, and am free to choose or refuse, I express my trust by giving informed consent. We give informed consent in face-to-face transactions too, though we barely notice it. We buy apples in the market, we exchange addresses with acquaintances, we sit down for a haircut. It sounds pompous to speak of these daily transactions as based on informed consent: yet in each we assume that the other party is neither deceiving nor coercing. We withdraw our trust very fast if we are sold rotten apples, or deliberately given a false address, or forcibly subjected to a Mohican haircut. So everyday trust is utterly undermined by coercion and deception.

Informed consent is supposed to guarantee individual autonomy or independence. But I think this popular thought is pretty obscure, because so many views of autonomy are in play. Some people identify individual autonomy with spontaneous choosing. A New York student of mine once decided that she would strip and streak across Broadway with a group of male students, and so convinced herself that she was autonomous. She had at least shown that she could act in defiance of convention, and probably of her parents, but hardly of her male contemporaries. Her eccentric choice was harmless enough, but in other cases spontaneous choosing can be harmful or disastrous.

Other people identify individual autonomy not with spontaneous, but with deliberate choosing. But deliberate choosing doesn’t guarantee that much either. The real importance of informed consent, I think, has little to do with how we choose. Informed consent is every bit as important when we make conventional and timid choices, or thoughtless and unreflective choices, as it is when we choose deliberately and independently. Informed consent matters simply because it shows that a transaction was not based on deception or coercion.

Informed consent is therefore always important, but it isn’t the basis of trust. On the contrary, it presupposes and expresses trust, which we must already place to assess the information we’re given. Should I have a proposed operation? Should I buy this car or that computer? Is this Internet bargain genuine? In each case I need to assess what is offered, but may be unable to judge the information for myself. Others’ expert judgement may fill the gap: I may rely on the surgeon who explains the operation, or on a colleague who knows about cars or computers or Internet shopping. But in relying on others I already place trust in my adviser: as Francis Bacon noted, “the greatest trust between man and man is the trust of giving counsel” 1. When we draw on friendly– or on expert– help we ultimately have to judge for ourselves where to place our trust. To do this we need to find trustworthy information. This can be dauntingly hard in a world of one-way communication.

3. Trust and the Media

Today information is abundant, but it’s often mixed with misinformation and a little spice of disinformation. It can be hard to check and test what we read and hear. There are easy cases: we can check weather forecasts for their accuracy by waiting for tomorrow; we can rumble supermarkets that don’t sell goods at advertised prices. But there are hard cases: how can parents judge whether to have a child vaccinated or to refuse a vaccination? How can we tell whether a product or a service will live up to its billing? Yet for daily and practical purposes we need to place our trust in some strangers and some institutions, and to refuse it to others. How can we do this well?

We know what we need. We need ways of telling trustworthy from untrustworthy informants. And we have tried to make this possible by promoting a revolution in accountability and requirements for transparency in public life. I have argued in previous lectures that we need more intelligent forms of accountability, and that we need to focus less on grandiose ideals of transparency and rather more on limiting deception. Do we really gain from heavy-handed forms of accountability? Do we really benefit from indiscriminate demands for transparency? I am unconvinced. I think we may undermine professional performance and standards in public life by excessive regulation, and that we may condone and even encourage deception in our zeal for transparency.

Meanwhile, some powerful institutions and professions have managed to avoid not only the excessive but the sensible aspects of the revolutions in accountability and transparency. Most evidently, the media, in particular the print media – while deeply preoccupied with others’ untrustworthiness – have escaped demands for accountability (that is, apart from the financial disciplines set by company law and accounting practices). This is less true of the terrestrial broadcasting media, which are subject to legislation and regulation. (Margo: The Labor government, through communications minister Kim Beazley, gutted accountability for commercial radio and television in Australia.) The BBC (I thought I had better mention that, given where I am!) also has its Charter, Agreement and Producers’ Guidelines 2, and those include commitments to impartiality, accuracy, fairness, giving a full view, editorial independence, respect for privacy, standards of taste and decency – I am not claiming that compliance is perfect.

Newspaper editors and journalists are not held accountable in these ways. Outstanding reporting and accurate writing mingle with editing and reporting that smears, sneers and jeers, names, shames and blames. Some reporting `covers’ (or should I say `uncovers’?) dementing amounts of trivia, some misrepresents, some denigrates, some teeters on the brink of defamation. In this curious world, commitments to trustworthy reporting are erratic: there is no shame in writing on matters beyond a reporter’s competence, in coining misleading headlines, in omitting matters of public interest or importance, or in recirculating others’ speculations as supposed `news’. Above all there is no requirement to make evidence accessible to readers.

For all of us who have to place trust with care in a complex world, reporting that we cannot assess is a disaster. If we can’t trust what the press report, how can we tell whether to trust those on whom they report? An erratically reliable or unassessable press might not matter for privileged people with other sources of information. They can tell which stories are near the mark and which are confused, vicious or simply false; but for most citizens it matters. How can we tell whether newspapers, web sites and publications that claim to be `independent’ are not, in fact, promoting some agenda? How can we tell whether and when we are on the receiving end of hype and spin, of misinformation and disinformation?

There is plenty of more or less accurate reporting, but this is very small comfort if readers who can’t tell which are the reliable bits. What we need is reporting that we can assess and check: what we get often can’t be assessed or checked by non-experts. If the media mislead, or if readers cannot assess their reporting, the wells of public discourse and public life are poisoned. The new information technologies may be anti-authoritarian, but curiously they are often used in ways that are also anti-democratic. They undermine our capacities to judge others’ claims and to place our trust.

4. Press Freedom in the Twenty-First Century

So if we want to address the supposed `crisis of trust’ it will not be enough to discipline government, business or the professions – or all of them. We will also need to develop a more robust public culture, in which publishing misinformation and disinformation, and writing in ways that others cannot hope to check, is limited and penalised. Yet can we do so and keep a free press?

We may use twenty-first century communication technologies, but we still cherish nineteenth century views of freedom of the press, above all those of John Stuart Mill. The wonderful image of a free press speaking truth to power and that of investigative journalists as tribunes of the people belong to those more dangerous and heroic times. In democracies the image is obsolescent: journalists face little danger (except on overseas assignments) and the press do not risk being closed down. On the contrary, the press has acquired unaccountable power that others cannot match.

Rather to my surprise and I think ultimately my comfort, the classic arguments for press freedom do not endorse, let alone require, a press with unaccountable power. A free press can be and should be an accountable press.

Accountability does not mean censorship: it precludes censorship. Nobody should dictate what may be published, beyond narrowly drawn requirements to protect public safety, decency and perhaps personal privacy. But freedom of the press does not also require a licence to deceive. Like Mill we want the press to be free to seek truth and to challenge accepted views. But writing that seeks truth, or (more modestly) tries not to mislead needs internal disciplines and standards to make it assessable and criticisable by its readers. There is no case for a licence to spread confusion or obscure the truth, to overwhelm the public with `information overload’, or an even more dispiriting `misinformation overload’, let alone to peddle and rehearse disinformation.

Like Mill we may be passionate about individual freedom of expression, and so about the freedom of the press to represent individuals’ opinions and views. But freedom of expression is for individuals, not for institutions. We have good reasons for allowing individuals to express opinions even if they are invented, false, silly, irrelevant or plain crazy, but hardly for allowing powerful institutions to do so.

Yet we are now perilously close to a world in which media conglomerates act as if they too had unrestricted rights of free expression, and therefore a licence to subject positions for which they don’t care to caricature and derision, misrepresentation or silence. If they had those unconditional rights they would have rights to undermine individuals’ abilities to judge for themselves and to place their trust well, indeed rights to undermine democracy.

Like Mill we may support freedom of discussion, and think that it is fundamental to democracy, and so support the freedom of the press to foster what in the US is charmingly called wide-open, robust debate. But for that very reason we cannot support freedom for media conglomerates to orchestrate public `discussion’ in which some or many voices are unrepresented or caricatured, in which misinformation may be peddled uncorrected and in which reputations may be selectively shredded or magnified.

A free press is not an unconditional good. It is good because and insofar as it helps the public to explore and test opinions and to judge for themselves whom and what to believe. If powerful institutions are allowed to publish, circulate and promote material without indicating what is known and what is rumour; what is derived from a reputable source and what is invented, what is standard analysis and what is speculation; which sources may be knowledgeable and which are probably not, they damage our public culture and all our lives.

Good public debate must not only be accessible to but also assessable by its audiences. The press are skilled at making material accessible, but erratic about making it assessable. This may be why opinion polls and social surveys now show that the public in the UK claim that they trust newspaper journalists less than any other profession.

5. Assessable Communication and Kantian Autonomy

The received wisdom on press freedom assumes that freedoms and rights can be free-standing. In fact there are no rights without counterpart obligations or duties. Respecting obligations, performing our duties, is as vital for communication as for other activities. At the very least we have obligations to communicate in ways that do not destroy or undermine others’ prospects of communicating. Yet deceivers do just this. They communicate in ways that others cannot share and follow, test and check, and thereby damage others’ communication and action. They undermine the very trust on which communication itself depends: they free ride on others’ trust and truthfulness.

Duties not to deceive owe more to the classical notion of autonomy advanced by Immanuel Kant than to John Stuart Mill’s discussion of individual autonomy. Kantian autonomy is a matter of acting on principles that can be principles for all of us, of ensuring that we do not treat others as lesser mortals – indeed victims – whose abilities to share our principles we are at liberty to undercut. If we deceive we make others our victims, and undermine or distort their possibilities for acting and communicating. We arrogantly base our own communication and action on principles that destroy trust, and so limit others’ possibilities for action.

Ways of communicating can be unacceptable for many reasons: threats may intimidate and coerce; slander may injure. But the most common wrong done in communicating is deception, which undermines and damages others’ capacities to judge and communicate, to act and to place trust with good judgement. Duties to reject deception are duties for everyone: for individuals and for government and for institutions and professions – including the media and journalists.

At present the public have few reliable ways of detecting whether reporting is deceptive or not. We could improve matters without any trace of censorship, and without imposing regulatory burdens of the excessive, centralising sort that are failing us elsewhere. A lot could be altered by procedural changes, such as requirements for owners, editors and journalists to declare financial and other interests (including conflicts of interest), and to distinguish comment from reporting, or by penalties for recirculating rumours others publish without providing and therefore checking the evidence. Chequebook journalism might be reduced by requirements to disclose within any `story’ who paid whom how much for which ‘contribution’. I leave it to this knowledgeable audience to suggest how one might ensure that journalists do not publish `stories’ for which there is no source at all, while pretending that they are protecting a source.

Only if we build a public culture – and especially a media culture – in which we can rely more on others not to deceive us, will we be able to judge whom and what we can reasonably trust. If we remain cavalier about press standards, a culture of suspicion will persist. We will still place our trust for practical purposes, but we will do so suspiciously and unhappily.

Our present culture of suspicion cannot be dispelled by making everyone except the media trustworthier. To restore trust we need not only trustworthy persons and institutions, but also assessable reasons for trusting and mistrusting. These cannot be found by rehearsing suspicions, or by recirculating them again and again, without providing evidence.

We say that we want to end the supposed crisis of public trust, and we’ve tried to do so in part by making many professions and institutions more accountable so that they are trustworthier. In these lectures I have queried both diagnosis and remedy. We may constantly express suspicion, but it is not at all clear to me that we have stopped placing our trust in others: indeed that may be an impossible form of life. We may constantly seek to make others trustworthy, but some of the regimes of accountability and transparency developed across the last 15 years may damage rather than reinforce trustworthiness. The intrusive methods that we have taken to stem a supposed crisis of trust may even, if things go badly, lead to a genuine crisis of trust.

If we want to avoid this unfortunate spiral we need to think less about accountability through micro-management and central control, and more about good governance, less about transparency and more about limiting deception. If we are to restore trust we shall have to start communicating in ways that are open to assessment, and to do this we need to rethink the proper form of press freedom. The press has no licence to deceive; and we have no reasons to think that a free press needs such a licence.


Charles Richards

I think in all my years observing the media establishment I found its general political outlook to be not as most people see it to be. The Australian media has the least diverse political views in the world, the legacy of being a small country. Many on the right accuse the media of being biased to the left, I find this untrue.

Generally the vast majority of journalists support a free market economy and further economic de-regulation. Granted there are dissenters who think that the government should play a larger role like in the areas of health and education.

However there are very few socialist (read Marxist) commentators in the press. Most journalists have a socially progressive outlook on things, although a large minority holds socially conservative views. Oddly enough there are very few far right wing journalists out there. For instance, very few journalists supported One Nation in the press. When One Nation was a going concern 10% of the voters supported the party and it’s agenda (although some did not vote for One Nation).

Their view of the Howard government has been most interesting; the Howard government enjoys widespread support in the media. However Howard’s populism does raise eyebrows in the media, but despite this a large minority of journalists in the press are complete apologists for the Howard government. While most are luke-warm in their support for Howard, their criticisms of Howard are interesting from the view of Joe Average.

Most journalists have criticised Howard for not going harder enough on economic de-regulation. Government critics Greg Barns, who is in the Liberal party left, admire admire the high priest of economic neoliberalism former Liberal party leader John Hewson. He also criticised Howard for backtracking on the reduction of trade protection.

Overall Howard enjoys a higher approval rating among journalists than among the public in general, and very few people in the press support the Labor party these days. At the last federal election every major newspaper bar The Age supported Howard’s re-election, despite being quite critical about Howard’s policy to illegal immigrants (a major election issue). Even left-wing journalists, who hate Howard and his government, have nothing nice to say about the Labor party.

It’s true that most of the time the press is out of touch with public opinion, but in interesting ways.

Payne and gain

NSW Senator Marise Payne is a classic small `l’ Liberal. She fought hard to stop mandatory sentencing of kids in the Northern Territory, is disturbed by the demonisation of boat people, and – in her greatest contribution to the health of the polity so far – chaired the Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee inquiry which deconstructed the Government’s jack-boots terrorism legislation.

That inquiry saw Liberal and Labor Senators produce a powerfully argued joint report which changed the goal posts of the debate. It gave Labor some backbone and, most importantly, forced the players to use its blueprint for new laws, not the government’s, as the basis for a negotiated settlement. That means we’ll get better, tighter, more civil liberties-friendly laws than even the inquiry’s bottom line.

The irony for Payne is that she is in the Senate for another six years courtesy of the Tampa. She lost a battle with Helen Coonan for second spot on the second ticket after Coonan renounced her moderate history and turned hard and dry to win with Howard’s support. In normal times, the Liberals would not have won three Senate spots in NSW. They did due to Tampa emotion.

After her committee’s report, Payne joined Liberal colleagues on the backbench committee overseeing the Attorney-General’s portfolio – Julie Bishop (WA) George Brandis (Queensland) and Christopher Pyne (SA) – to reject the government’s terror bills and several compromise offers. George Brandis in particular, a genuine as distinct from reactionary conservative from Queensland and a brilliant lawyer, has led the charge to force the government to dump its plan to allow the banning of political organisations.

The battle is in stalemate, although I understand there is a new compromise offer floating around since John Howard took charge of the matter after a stormy special party meeting this month. Last week parliamentary draftspeople were busy working on new clauses to put to the Liberal dissidents.

After Howard’s startling statement in China last week that the Australian people were right to reject Menzies’ referendum to ban the Communist Party, the feeling is growing that he might drop his ban plan. This is reinforced by a private Howard comment to backbenchers that the Communist Party matter was “a powerful precedent” against banning powers.

If the ban does go, congratulations are due to some determined and principled Liberals. Without their stand, Labor could have agreed to a compromise.

A reader recommends a new weblog with a Muslim perspective –



1. Marise Payne on the terror legislation

2. Daniel Maurice, Wayne Beswick, Pater Woodforde and George Ooi on the SIEV-X mystery (see Cover-up or stuff-up?)

3. Fiona Katauskas on detention policy in practice.

4. Michael Rowney, Con Vaitsas, Glenn Condell and Tim Dunlop box on in the Third Way debate.



Fattening the wedge

By Marise Payne

Issues which generate quite a bit of heat in the political process have a way of creating employment in the local post offices of our parliamentarians. Increasingly, correspondence on key policy issues has taken the form of email campaigns, which bring the electorate into direct and instant contact with their elected representatives.

One “chain email” circulating within Australia’s on-line community in June 2000 drew attention of parliamentarians to the plight of Afghan women under the Taliban regime and to honour deaths – resulting in the Parliament’s Human Rights Committee deciding to raise the matter in the United Nations to focus the attention of the world community.

I have received over 250 emails in the last ten days that relate directly to the Taliban regime, an Australian parliamentary committee and to human rights – but the rights in question are those of Australians – not Afghans.

The agreement reached by the major party members of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Legislation Committee in its recent inquiry into draft anti-terrorism bills shows that the modern function of the Senate – to review bills – is in good health. The upper house is well regarded by international standards as an extremely effective house of review.

The legislation was developed and the report was handed down in a climate of fear and urgent haste following the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US and in the midst of a public debate on reforming the Senate. As it warns against applying the thin end of the wedge to our basic freedoms, I believe it speaks volumes for the effectiveness of the committee system in the Australian parliament as a public forum on important issues.

While the bulk of letters to MPs and Senators urge amendments to protect civil liberties, they rightly don’t argue that the legislation should be shelved. A few, under the title: “End them, don’t amend them!” pointedly refuse to acknowledge the clear and present threat of terrorism.

ASIO has noted a number of factors that have contributed to the heightened level of terrorist threat including: The attacks of September 11 themselves, Australia’s role in the response to those attacks, the specific mention of Australia by Usama Bin Laden on two recent occasions, the domestic presence of militant groups that view terrorism as legitimate, and the allegation that some Australians have trained in al-Qa’ida terrorist camps in Afghanistan.

Prior to September 11, Australia and the international community were reasonably satisfied that a comprehensive multilateral approach to countering terrorism existed. Australia is a party to 9 of the 12 internationally recognised counter terrorism instruments and is in the process of becoming a party to two of the remaining 3. Since September 11, the United Nations Security Council has also adopted Resolution 1373, representing a new approach: If you cut off the life blood of the terrorists it will be more difficult for them to carry out their activities.

In Australia’s Report to the Counter-Terrorism Committee of the UN Security Council and elsewhere, the government has stressed that holes in our defences could relate to a range of issues including the extraterritorial reach of our laws, the absence of specific terrorist offences or terrorist financing provisions or, simply, the disjunction between the terrorist phenomena and the various existing laws. Witness the uncertainty about whether the Australian David Hicks had committed any crime under our law by making common cause with al-Qa’ida.

In an effort to fill these gaps and in response to the new security environment, the Government has introduced a package of counter-terrorism legislation that became the subject of the Senate Committee’s inquiry. The report, recommending adjustment of the draft legislation, has been acknowledged by the government, and currently the Prime Minister and the Attorney General are reviewing it. This commitment is to ensure that the legislation is a design which fulfils its intent but ideally also addresses the issues of the Senate Committee’s report.

One area in need of attention is the necessary tightening of the definition of terrorism. Terrorism must refer to those who have an intention to intimidate the public or coerce the Government – as provided for in similar Canadian and UK legislation.

The bills also take the almost unprecedented step of imposing absolute liability in relation to offences carrying a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Such offences include possessing a `thing’ connected with a terrorist act. The effect is that people may be convicted of terrorism offences where they had no intention to assist or participate in terrorist acts, and in the current draft legislation they can apply to offences that may not have occurred.

It is crucial that with terrorism charges must come proof that at least the accused was reckless to whether his or her activity was `connected with’ terrorism. The banking industry’s concerns that tellers who unwittingly receive terrorist funds would themselves be engaging in terrorism provides adequate example of the uncertainty under the legislation as drafted.

The power to proscribe organisations should be vested in more than an individual (the Attorney General) and representatives from banned organisations should have adequate rights of appeal. A variety of options to challenge an act of proscription are available here, from widening the grounds of review by the Courts to allowing parliamentary scrutiny.

We need a free and open society which is also reasonably secure from terrorism. While basic freedoms should indeed be unassailable, it would indeed be a “braver” new world that disarms itself of protection from violent fanatics. Clearly, the government has a mandate to address the terrorist threat with appropriate legislation – and while our system of government remains so inclusive, constructive input in all forms into the debate is most welcome.

Footnote: Payne’s website is The Senate committee’s summary of evidence and recommendations are in Liberalism fights back on terror laws (May 8). The text of the anti-terrorism legislation is in Coming soon: Too many terrorists (April 26).



Daniel Maurice

Your admiration for the “forensic” children overboard inquiry apparently knows no bounds. One question. Why don’t the fearless Labor senators just compel Reith and the Ministerial staffers to appear? Obviously this will set a precedent for similar “forensic” inquiries by a future opposition into a future Labor government, but why should that be a worry to the current inquisitors, who are obviously soley motived by the a search for the “truth”?

Why would they fear a future search for the “truth”? It couldn’t be, for example, that our good senators are seeking to exploit the asylum seeker issue for base reasons of their own political advantage – the very charge they lay against the Government? Surely not!

I’d find your take on the issue if interest.

Margo: Excellent point. I want to analysis this and other children overboard inquiry issues by the end of the week.


Wayne Beswick

I remember feeling physically sick a number of times during the election last year – Tampa was one and the extraordinary story of 350 women, children and men drowning at sea another. Mundaroo Yanner on Latelinethe other night got it right – how can one group of boat people tell another group of boat people they’re not welcome? We are rapidly becoming a tawdry, mean, opportunistic and expedient culture, which I suppose reflects our political leadership on both sides.

What I would like to know is how the PMs office was interacting with Defence and intelligence during the period of SIEV-X and WHO WAS GIVING THE ORDERS?


Peter Woodforde in Canberra

So much for prayers (see my message of April 23 below). I’m really not looking forward much to the probing work of John Faulkner on the SIEV-X, admirably forensic though it will be. I just feel horror and disgust.

I wonder, though, what sort of values would be applied to the SIEV-X tragedy by the folk intent on thumping the small group which gathered at Nancy Crick’s side as she took her own life. Nancy, of course, wanted to send a message, but unlike the women and children of the SIEV-X, she had a choice. Unlike the central figures in the most ghastly reported image of the SIEVX’s victims – the drowned mother with her drowned new-born child trailing its umbilicus in the water – Nancy appeared to have led a full and secure life. Her pro-euthanasia friends and intimates were secure in their moral knowledge and capacities when she took her fatal dose.

Meanwhile, Australia has a navy and a federal administration which has not only applied Force 10 effort to detecting and catching or rescuing SIEVs but also had an enviably impressive rescue record, as the sensational Autissier and Bullimore sagas demonstrated.

What is morale like among the young men and women of the RAN? After all, their work on the Indian Ocean is underwritten by the constant application of international maritime and humanitarian law, unsullied by Liberal Party campaign needs.

On April 23, I wrote:

Did you collect stamps as a child, Margo? There’s a pathology to it you know.

Justin Tauber of St Peters in Sydney asked: “What would it take to produce an effective deterrent against people desperate enough to do anything to escape the conditions they lived under in Afghanistan?” and replied that odious conditions comparable to Afghanistan would do. He might be right, but Tony Kevin’s submission to the Senate inquiry suggests that Justin may be optimistic.

Kevin’s submission suggests something too horrible to contemplate. I sincerely pray (bleeding heart, poorly educated, redneck leftists do pray, Ma’am; it’s one of the things that make us entertaining to the knuckledragging $lobbering classes) that he is wrong. Justin’s deterrent, diabolical though it is, is worse than bad enough.

Even if Kevin is wrong, I still have to look at my innocent children and know that there are people in power in my country who would, given the right circumstances and their need for power, imprison them behind razor wire in the desert like so many little philatelic items arranged by country or “theme.”


George Ooi in Melbourne

Our Navy has much to answer for this tragedy, be it a conspiracy or stuff-up! I wish we had Geoffrey Robertson to cross-examine those top naval brass. Have you read his book “The Justice Game”? His account of a couple of cases exposing lies by the British PM John Major’s ministers and the cover-up by top civil servant-mandarins is a required background read for anyone who still believes in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the word of our Ministers and top public servants!



Fiona Katauskas in Sydney

I’ve been visiting Villawood detention centre lately and have discovered some stuff you might be interested in. On the wall in the entrance area is a plaque proudly stating that one of ACM’s missions is to “Cheerfully uphold our financial responsibilities to our stakeholders” (I’m not sure I’ve got the wording exactly right, but it’s very close to that). One of the ways this corporation upholds these financial responsibilities is by employing detainees in the kitchens, mowing the lawns and cleaning the stairwells. Kitchen workers earn $70 per week, lawnmowers $60 and cleaners $48. They are not paid in cash, but in phonecards – cash is not allowed inside.

I tried to verify this by visiting the ACM website ( which offers absolutely no information other than contact details and links to a promotional website for their parent company Wackenhutt. I then called ACM and politely enquired as to whether I could get some information about detainees being employed in the centres. The receptionist told me they did not give out information and I would have to talk to the department. When I replied that it was not a departmental matter, but a commercial one, I was bluntly told that no information is given out. I asked to speak to someone else and was told that I could only continue if I gave my name and contact details. I refused, stating that I was a member of the public, and was told that I could go no further.

Is there any way of finding out what ACM does behind the commercial in confidence facade?



Michael Rowney (nom de plume)

Mark Latham actually believes that personal service labour and consulting fundamentally change the relations of production and are more liberating than work in a production-line manufacturing plant. Wow!

A couple of decades ago I worked as a floor sweeper in a sewerage plant. The work was mind-numbingly boring, true, but I was always aware that our labour was essential for the survival of the city. Also, the conversations with my workmates, which ranged over all areas of philosophy, science, religion and politics were wonderful. I was active in the union, attended conferences where fierce debates raged, and functioned as and was respected as a member of a class and community.

Eventually I quit that job and more or less by accident moved into adult education and training. Lovely, white-collar “personal service labour”, in fact. Where once I had a steady job with dependable hours now I was a consultant working occasionally for 60 hours a week for months with no time for my family but with a river of gold. Occasionally, for months, I worked for zero hours a week with no money for my family.

Where once I had a union and dependable workmates to defend my interests now I swam with the sharks and was occasionally bitten.

Where once I was a shit-shoveller with dignity I became a shit-shoveller with a necktie (the tie is meant to bestow dignity). The money was better (when it was flowing) but the relations of production were actually worse.

Last year during the election the ACTU website, for a short period, carried a graph showing the transfer of Australia’s national wealth from the working class to the rich. The graph was pulled pretty fast because the researchers had done their work too well. The timeline went back decades, and it was perfectly obvious that the growth in inequality began with the election of the Hawke Labor government and merely continued its trend under Howard.

Mark Latham’s Third Way is the latest justification for this process. The post-modernist jargon is just a fig leaf to cover the poverty of ideas.


Con Vaitsas in Sydney

You’ve gotta hand it to Mark Latham. The bloke is consistent and endless on how he has the solution to end poverty for all those who dwell in the suburbs. Surely the most prolific pollie opinion writer in the media, he was at it again on Monday with a piece in the Australian paper giving us a new word to contemplate. It’s `communitarianism’, which he describes as “governments facilitating the rules of community engagement, acting as brokers in the relationships and connections between people”. “This is a vital strategy for combating individualism and restoring social capital.”

The word reminds me of the Liberal Party’s `incentivation’ word in the early 90s. Try mentioning the `communitarianism’ to an unsuspecting voter out your way Mark and you’ll end up in another scuffle. Still, at least you’re trying.


Glenn Condell

Dr Aaron Oakley in Dalkeith, Western Australia wrote: “Responding to my comments in `For those who give two hoots’, Glenn Condell in `Third Way revisited’ engages in argument through false analogy. He tries to argue that although brain surgeons would agree about technique, economists wouldn’t. Sure, a marxist economist would disagree with a free-market economist. But similarly, a new-age quack healer would disagree with a brain surgeon.”

Marxist economists are still economists. ‘New age quack healers’ aren’t brain surgeons. My analogy may not be waterproof, but it’s safer than yours.

Clearly, Mr Condell and most other Webdiarists don’t like what they sneeringly refer to as `rational economics’.

I made no such reference. If asked, I would indicate my opposition to `economic rationalism’ as it is normally understood (ie the elevation of market logic at the expense of human beings), but such opposition does not imply support for `economic irrationalism’ or anarchy. I’m sure all sensible people would support the less loaded term `rational economics’ but it’s pretty vague and would mean different things to different people.

The funny thing is that most real economists don’t talk about `rational economics’ in the same way that most scientists don’t talk about voodoo.

Scientists don’t talk about voodoo because it’s a superstition, not to mention irrelevant. Is the implication that `rational economics’ is also beyond the empirical pale? I’m afraid I’m a bit lost with this reference.

They tend to talk about Austrian Economics, Keynesian economics etc. An economically literate friend of mine said that people don’t like so-called rational economics because it tells them harsh truths that they don’t want to hear.

What exactly are these `harsh truths’? Here’s one: capital is flowing from the third world to the first in record amounts in the same way as it is trickling up the economic food chain in the US rather than down as we’d been promised. Truths like this aren’t told to us by `rational economics’; indeed they are hard to find even if you’re looking. No, the relationship of professional economics to facts such as these is rather closer to the bone. Political adherence to `economic rationalist’ (or `free’ market) policy at the behest of neo-liberal economists over the last 25 to 30 years has led to deeply flawed institutions of global financial governance which minimise risk for investors (read US and the West) and maximise it for the peasants and workers they purport to be helping. They may do a lot of good when things are going swimmingly; everyone wins for a while. But when push comes to shove, who gets shafted?

Mr Condell sets up a straw man by attacking me as an economist for commenting on economics. I am not, and I never claimed to be.

I apologise unreservedly for implying that you were an economist! Seriously, I think you referred to Mr Jackson as `my editor’ so I assumed you were in the same game. In any case, your airy dismissal of Tim Dunlop’s economic literacy led me to believe you were qualified (that word again!) to comment on it. I may have attacked a straw man, but you created him.

Nor do I occupy a “mountaintop eyrie”, as Mr Condell sneeringly puts it.

My face hurts from all this sneering. Have a look at your original contribution and see how it rates on the sneerometer. In fact, it was the tone rather than the content of it that prompted me to respond at all.

If he read my contribution properly, he would have seen that I deferred to a certain Mr Gerry Jackson, who knows a great deal more economics than most people, and provided links to his articles that debunked the nostrums Tim Dunlop preached. So why doesn’t Mr Condell address what Mr Jackson said?

In the same way you’ve so comprehensively addressed Mr Stiglitz’s comments? I was addressing what you said and, more to the point, the way you said it. I also made the point that respected economic opinion could be found to support almost any shade of policy, and I’m sure Mr Jackson’s work eloquently does so for one stance as Mr Stiglitz’s does for another. Like yourself, I’m not qualified to dissect these professionally, but interested enough to have a look and venture an opinion.

Is it too much work? Is Stiglitz? You read Stiglitz and I’ll read Jackson. If you’re as time poor as me, it will have to wait til next week.

Mr Condell refers to books by Joseph Stiglitz as some sort of proof that Dunlop et al have a point.

Just as you referred to Jackson to prove he hasn’t.

But how can he judge the economics of those books? Could he tell whether the arguments stood up to scrutiny?

Could you do so for Mr Jackson? You obviously think Mr Dunlop’s don’t and that Mr Jackson’s do, but how would you know, not being an economist and all? (There’s a Pythonesque element creeping in to this conversation.) You must first impose upon yourself any test you set for me. It was you after all who threw the first stone.

Wouldn’t it help to have some sort of economic training to do so? Could he read a detailed technical work on quantum physics and identify its errors as well?

Economics isn’t quantum physics. What was that about false analogies?

While Joseph Stiglitz may have something valuable to add to the debate, how can economic illiterates like Tim Dunlop, Glenn Condell, and, indeed, myself judge?

We simply do because it’s too important to leave to the pointy-heads. How many people are vitally affected by trends in quantum physics theory? Economics is a human science that crosses all sorts of borders affecting the range of human activity. You seem to be implying that you and I and Mr Dunlop should desist from putting our two bobs worth in on a subject if we don’t have a degree in it.

Webdiary would be a poor wee thing indeed if everyone thought the same way. Sometimes it does seem like there’s too many voices to hear anything distinctly but this is preferable to the past when very few spoke outside their ken and it’s certainly better than societies where people don’t even have the freedom to make gooses of themselves.

To me, especially after September 11, everything is everyone’s business should they wish it – the more the merrier. These voices are the sound of a functioning democracy in action and they have a way, in that environment, of sorting themselves out eventually into some sort of harmony; partial perhaps, but again, better than the alternative.

The role of `experts’, `professionals’ et al is perhaps even more important now than it ever has been, but I feel that to elevate them to a position of final arbiter is to invite gullibility or apathy from the public, not to mention hubris from them. They ought to be seen as advisers, in much the same way as courts give weight to expert testimony but see it as only one contributing factor to a decision.

A more informed, active, engaged community driving policy debates – exemplified by the sort of effort Mr Dunlop made and occasionally perhaps corrected or supplemented by `experts’ – is a more desirable scenario than an increased reliance on professionals. The world, `changed, changed utterly’ since last year, needs ordinary people to stick their necks out, get involved and say their piece. Anything else, particularly deferring to experts, is an abdication. Use them by all means, but come to your own conclusions.

The idea of civics has fallen on hard times, but reviving it requires that people get off their butts and become more informed so that they are able to contribute, to partake in their democracy. Before September 11 you could count the number of times I’d written to editors or politicians on one hand. Since then my extended family wouldn’t have enough digits to cover the missives I’ve sent to unfortunate movers and shakers all over the world.

I may not have changed anything but I feel I’ve contributed. It seems to me a lot of people feel the same; the huge spike in Webdiary readership after major events recently is a good indicator. My trawls through the work of Stiglitz (and yours through Jackson) should be seen as an essential element of our contribution to the democratic process, but their obvious erudition shouldn’t cow us into accepting their conclusions.

OK Mr Dunlop, Mr Condell and friends, tell us where Mr Jackson, who actually knows something about economics, is wrong on what he considers to be the interventionist failures of South East Asia. Once again, here are the relevant links: ( and ).

Something to look forward to…


Tim Dunlop

Aaron Oakley in For those who give two hoots writes that, “Clearly, Dunlop has simply chosen economic thought that reinforces his prejudices, and cobbled it all together in his long-winded article”. If he means by this that I’ve gathered expert opinions that support my argument, then I have to agree with him.

Nonetheless, Dr Oakley is correct to question a person’s grasp of the facts. What I think is illegitimate, however, is to seek to discount all non-expert opinion as having nothing to contribute to a debate and to seek to demean and bully non-experts. It is an unfortunate rhetorical ploy, as I doubt my lack of expertise would have been an issue if I had chosen economic thought that reinforced Dr Oakley’s beliefs. Still, I’m not surprised. Where I do have expertise is the sociology of knowledge (the area of my PhD) and I can assure him that he is far from alone in being a credentialled person who uses this technique.

It is worth noting, too that the opinions I gather are hardly from the looney left, or even from the left at all: Paul Krugman, George Soros, Joseph Stiglitz, for example. Even the ones I long-windedly quote, Galbraith and Ormerod, are not exactly anti-capitalism, free markets or globalisation. So any questioning by Dr Oakley of economic credentials must extend to these people as well.

As I made clear, there are no knock-down arguments and there is legitimate disagreement even amongst like-minded experts. What I invited third wayists to do is to acknowledge this, rather than blithely highlight what they perceive as the benefits of particular economic settings and to disregard the down-side. My mustering of economic argument goes not much further than that.

The interesting thing about the articles Dr Oakley gathers to support his case is that they throw no doubt at all on the statement of mine he quotes. He quotes me as saying, ‘”Far from being the beneficiaries of `free trade’, the economies of East Asia owe any success they’ve had to an increase in international trade made possible by and coupled with strong government control”.

The article Dr Oakley recommends argues exactly that, though with a different emphasis. For example, the thrust of Dr Oakley’s first source is that interventionist policies have led to misallocation of resources and would have been better left to `market’ allocation. Wherever the emphasis lies, it makes the same basic point I do, that Singapore cannot be considered a guiding light of `free market’ economics. Dr Oakley would therefore be better advised to direct his criticisms at the likes of various third wayists who DO claim Singapore and other `Asian tigers’ as exemplars of free market economics.

Anyway, maybe Dr Oakley should read my article again (or read it). He won’t find someone trashing neo-liberalism in its entirety, just its misuse by third wayist and other advocates who make claims for it that can’t be sustained, and especially that can’t be claimed as `democratic socialist’.

Also in the `two hoots’ entry, Paul Walter says he thinks I don’t like Mr Latham. Untrue. I don’t know him. I just don’t like the Third Way. (And I really warmed to him with his recent attack on the hypocrisy of the Coalition, published in Talk tough, young man.) Nonetheless, I can see why Paul made his claim, so I’ll add a paragraph that didn’t make it to the final draft of my article. “To address the third way in Australia is to address Mark Latham. He is its most articulate, prolific and well-read supporter. So there is nothing personal in the singling out of his work for criticism: it’s just inevitable. Whatever others think of the analysis offered here, there is no doubt a debt owed to Mr Latham for his vigorous advocacy of the Third Way.”

Rear Admiral Bonser’s testimony

This is a lightly edited text of the evidence of Rear Admiral Marcus Bonser to the children overboard inquiry on May 22 …

BONSER, Rear Admiral Marcus (Mark) Frederick , Director General, Coastwatch, Australian Customs Service: I intend to first outline the role and the operations of Coastwatch and then describe Coastwatch’s role in the SIEV operations after 3 September 2001, when Operation Relex took effect. I will then turn to the specific incidents relevant to Coastwatch activities that have been focused on during the course of this inquiry, namely the SIEV4 and what has become known as SIEV-X, and I will detail my knowledge of them and the Coastwatch involvement in them.

… The Coastwatch division of Customs manages and coordinates Australia’s civil maritime surveillance and response program using a combination of contracted aircraft, Australian Defence Force patrol boats and aircraft and seagoing vessels of the Customs National Marine Unit … The primary function of Coastwatch is to conduct coastal and offshore surveillance in order to generate information on potential or actual breaches of legislation as they relate to Australia’s maritime zones. This information is passed back to relevant client agencies in order to allow those agencies to make informed decisions on whether further action is warranted and, if so, the nature and extent of that action. This information includes, as a matter of course, the content of signals traffic relevant to maritime surveillance from Defence assets operating on behalf of the civil maritime surveillance and response program. Where appropriate, Coastwatch also coordinates the response to a maritime incursion or incident.

The centre for Coastwatch operational activity is the National Surveillance Centre, located in Customs House in Canberra. The National Surveillance Centre is a secure facility, accommodating the Coastwatch operations directorate and providing highly secure links to a range of government agencies. It provides a 24-hour, seven-day a week oversight for all Coastwatch operational activity and an analytical capability that draws together information from a range of sources to inform surveillance planning and operations. Under normal operational arrangements Customs Coastwatch has the lead in all civil maritime surveillance and response matters, with Defence providing support through its Fremantle class patrol boats and PC-3 Orions as required and when available. This is not the case under Operation Relex arrangements, which I will outline later in my statement.

… Following the arrival of the SIEV KM Palapa 1 off Christmas Island on 25 August 2001 and the subsequent rescue of its crew and passengers by the MV Tampa, the Australian government instituted new arrangements for the detection of and response to SIEV arrivals. Under Operation Relex, Defence took on the lead role in all SIEV related activity within an area of operations that stretches from Gove in the east, west to Christmas Island and south to Port Hedland on the Western Australian coast. From that time, Coastwatch ceased surveillance activity off Christmas Island and concentrated on the residual national surveillance program around Australia and the provision of support for Defence in the Operation Relex areas in the Timor and Arafura Sea approaches.

Within the Relex area of operations, Coastwatch and the Customs National Marine Unit operate in support of Defence. This represents a reversal of the arrangements that normally apply to civil surveillance matters in Australia’s maritime zones.

… I have read the submission to this committee by Mr Tony Kevin, and the Hansard record of the evidence he provided to the committee on 1 May 2002. I intend to detail my knowledge surrounding the vessel known by this committee as SIEV-X. However, I would first like to make a general comment on the nature of information provided to Coastwatch in relation to SIEV departures. Information in relation to possible boat departures from Indonesia is often imprecise and subject to frequent change. It is not unusual for a vessel’s projected departure dates and times to change on an almost daily basis over a period of days or even weeks. Even given an apparently firm departure date, the time of arrival in Australian waters can vary depending on the nature and speed of the vessel, the sea conditions and whether or not the vessel makes a break in its journey to Australia. For example, of the last 15 SIEVs, Coastwatch had prior information of a possible departure date that was within seven days of the vessel’s arrival in Australian waters in relation to only eight of the vessels. There were in fact 29 departure dates provided for these eight vessels and in excess of 30 assessments as to the possible additional departures from Indonesia that did not culminate in an arrival. These figures do not include indicators in relation to SIEV-X. Information provided to Coastwatch is used therefore as a guide for informing surveillance activities rather than the foundation on which these activities are programmed.

Coastwatch originally received information as early as August 2001 that Abu Qussey was allegedly in the process of arranging a boat departure of illegal immigrants, probably to Christmas Island. In the ensuing period, Coastwatch received information that the vessel was expected to depart, or had departed, Indonesia on four different dates in August, anywhere within a seven-day block in September and on five separate dates in October. The normal practice was for this advice to be passed by secure phone call to the Australian Theatre Joint Intelligence Centre and Headquarters Northern Command. The information was then normally passed on by them to the Defence commands involved in Operation Relex. Additionally, Coastwatch included a precis of the relevant information in its daily operation summary message. This classified opsum was addressed to the Defence commands and agencies involved in Operation Relex.

On 19 October, the vessel codenamed SIEV6 was intercepted by HMAS Arunta off Christmas Island. At this time, Coastwatch and Defence had advice of potential arrivals from at least six people smugglers, including the indications about a possible Abu Qussey departure. The organiser of the SIEV6 was identified on 20 October. The next indicator about the Abu Qussey vessel was on Saturday 20 October 2001, when Coastwatch received telephone advice from the Australian Federal Police that a vessel was reported to have departed from the west coast of Java the previous day. The information included advice that the vessel was reportedly small and overcrowded. The full detail of the advice is classified. This information was passed by telephone from Coastwatch to the Australian Theatre Joint Intelligence Centre and to Headquarters Northern Command. The Australian Theatre Joint Intelligence Centre and Headquarters Northern Command included this information in classified intelligence reports, both of which were issued to Defence operational authorities on 20 October 2001.

On Monday, 22 October 2001, AFP provided further advice to Coastwatch that corroborated the previous advice about the departure of the vessel and that, by now, the vessel should have arrived in Australian waters. Coastwatch agreed that the vessel was potentially overdue, although it noted this was not unusual and might be due to a range of factors, including diversions. In the normal course of operations, Coastwatch informs AusSAR about any vessels that have been sighted and may be in difficulty or distress. When Coastwatch has confirmation of departure dates for a SIEV and when it is known to be overdue, Coastwatch also provides this advice to AusSAR. SIEV-X met these criteria, based on the additional information received from the AFP on 22 October and, therefore, Coastwatch contacted AusSAR.

On Tuesday, 23 October 2001, advice was received from the Australian Theatre Joint Intelligence Centre that a SIEV had sunk. Later that day, CNN reported the sinking of a SIEV and the rescue of 45 survivors. That evening, Coastwatch assessed the sunken SIEV to be the vessel allegedly organised by Abu Qussey. That concludes my opening statement.

Senator Cook, Labor, Western Australia Chairman: …I announce for the record that this morning we made a decision to release a series of documents, being corrections to evidence by various witnesses to this inquiry. One of those documents was a document from Admiral Smith. The committee has made a decision to recall that document and rescind its decision to release it, subject to that document being properly cleared. I put that on the record.

Senator Bartlett, Democrats, Queensland: … You are monitoring signal traffic, but Defence also has access to that separately from you so you do not need to pass that on to it?

Bonser: That is correct, yes.

Bartlett: You have spoken about the photographic abilities of the Orions. Firstly, do all the Orions that are doing surveillance operate under Coastwatch or are there others that operate through the Air Force?

Bonser: No, the Air Force operates the Orions. They provide some air hours with the Orions in support of the Coastwatch civil surveillance program. The Coastwatch contracted aircraft that I referred to have photographic capability with TV, infra-red cameras and digital hand-held cameras.

Senator Faulkner, Labor, NSW: Yes, but are you able to get access? There are two different sets of planes, aren’t there? There are the RAAF planes and there are the Coastwatch planes, effectively. That is right, isn’t it?

Bonser: That is correct.

… Bartlett: How much RAAF activity is there in the Operation Relex area, in terms of surveillance?

Bonser: There is a RAAF P3 flight daily at the moment.

Bartlett: So if they pick up some potential SIEV, they do not necessarily let you know – they may just pass that straight on to Relex?

Bonser: They would certainly pass it on through the Defence chains of command, and I would expect that we would see that information.

Bartlett: Sorry? You would expect that you would receive that as well?

Bonser: Yes.

… Bartlett: And the legal authority for SOLAS situations rests with Search and Rescue?

Bonser: That is correct, Senator.

Bartlett: Was that the same before and post-Relex? Is there no difference there?

Bonser: Nothing has changed.

Faulkner: How do you describe the Coastwatch role and responsibility, Admiral? For those of us who are not experts in this area, could you give us a very brief summary of the Coastwatch role and responsibilities during the period that Operation Relex applied?

Bonser: Coastwatch’s responsibilities and operations in all areas outside the Relex area of operations remained the same as they had been beforehand. Within the Relex area of operations the only thing that had changed was that the lead authority for conducting any response and the surveillance for detecting and intercepting SIEVs had transferred from Coastwatch to Defence.

Faulkner: How did the relationship then work between Coastwatch and Defence? I think we understand that Defence becomes the lead agency. How does this affect your day-to-day operations? How do you relate to the lead agency? How does that work?

Bonser: In the normal course we have a very close ongoing day-to-day relationship with Defence because, prior to Relex, Defence provides support to Coastwatch. That is provided through Fremantle class patrol boats that are available for response to sightings and also the P3 aircraft that supplement our own surveillance aircraft on occasion. When Relex came into being, the lead agency changed and instead of Defence providing support to Coastwatch, Coastwatch provided support to Defence in the form of surveillance. All of the mechanisms we had in place for operating with Defence in support of Coastwatch simply went to allow us to transfer to that new arrangement quite smoothly and we proceeded with that as a matter of course.

Faulkner: Do you operate effectively, for the purposes of Operation Relex, under the direction of Defence?

Bonser: No. We operate in support of Defence and we provide surveillance support, which is coordinated with their surveillance, but I am not under any direction from Defence and I report through Customs.

… Bartlett: In terms of the general process, you get intelligence and Defence may get intelligence that a vessel is potentially leaving – and you have indicated in your opening statement that you receive information about vessels potentially in the process of arranging a boat departure. Presumably Defence is made aware of that as well, either through you or separately. In fact, I presume separately – you are not usually passing on intelligence information to Defence, I guess.

Bonser: Quite often the information is going to both of us in parallel. Sometimes it comes to Coastwatch, and we pass it on.

Bartlett: Wouldn’t you normally say that you had better fly out there and have a look to verify that it is out there somewhere? Wouldn’t Defence ask you to do that?

Bonser: In the main, the indicators are not precise enough to be able to specifically target a point in the ocean. The surveillance that has been put in place is quite comprehensive and covers a broad area, and it is intended to pick up the boats as they pass through the area.

Bartlett: If you had received information that a boat was potentially departing, wouldn’t you send a plane somewhere in that vicinity? Or would you pretty much cover it all as a matter of course anyway?

Bonser: The whole general area is being covered by what is probably the most comprehensive surveillance that I have seen in some 30 years of service.

Bartlett: Were any photographs taken at all of this particular vessel of controversy – the SIEV-X?

Bonser: Not to my knowledge.

Bartlett: So there is no observation at all of that vessel, despite – according to your own statement and even more detail in some of the other information that we got – there being regular intelligence reports that this vessel was departing or had departed or was believed to have departed?

Bonser: There were many and varied and often changing indicators of that particular vessel’s departure, but it was never cited or detected.

Faulkner: Let us go back to the photographs. You said not to your knowledge. So there was no Coastwatch generated photographic surveillance of SIEV-X?

Bonser: Coastwatch was not flying within 1,000 miles of the area where that particular vessel was allegedly proceeding.

Faulkner: And you are not aware of any possible RAAF surveillance photographs of SIEV-X?

Bonser: No, I am not.

Faulkner: I am not saying there are. I am just trying to be clear on this because we were talking a little earlier about the fact that there are effectively two agencies involved in the aerial surveillance from aeroplanes: You and the RAAF. You can categorically assure us about Coastwatch surveillance planes that there are no photographs?

Bonser: Yes.

Faulkner: But is it an open question as to whether there are any RAAF surveillance photographs in relation to SIEV-X as far as you know?

Bonser: I would not think it was an open question because I have absolutely no knowledge of any detections of that vessel at all. It is really a question you would have to ask Defence.

… Faulkner: You know of no such RAAF surveillance activity or photographs? That is right, isn’t it?

Bonser: I know of none.

Faulkner: And it is very likely that, if it had occurred, you would be aware of it?

Bonser: Yes, it is.

Bartlett: In your opening statement you said that in the normal course of operations you inform Search and Rescue about any vessels that have been sighted and may be in difficulty or distress. Could you define `difficulty’ any more precisely than that? How do you assess whether something is in difficulty? Is it when it looks likely to sink? Is it when something is just out of the ordinary?

Bonser: It is something that appears unusual – perhaps a vessel that looks like it has broken down.

Bartlett: In this case, you got information that a small vessel, with 400 passengers on board – obviously extremely overcrowded, much more so than any of the other SIEVs – had appeared in our waters. Would that count as an unusual event? Did you notify Search and Rescue about that one?

Bonser: Given the imprecise nature of the information we had, the fact that we did not have a confirmed departure date and that there was a very comprehensive surveillance operation in place, no, Senator.

Bartlett: There was a comprehensive surveillance operation?

Bonser: The comprehensive surveillance that was in place. At this time, all we knew was that there had been a possible departure.

Faulkner: What are your inputs to this, Admiral?

Bonser: The information comes from a variety of sources – in this case, the primary information came from the AFP.

Faulkner: In the case of SIEV-X, were there other inputs, apart from the AFP?

Bonser: Around that time, not that I am aware of, Senator.

Bartlett: Did you pass that on to Search and Rescue, or RCC, which is the same thing, as I understand it?

Bonser: At that time, no, because it did not meet the threshold of being a confirmed departure or, indeed, being overdue. That information did not arrive until 22 October.

Bartlett: But you did pass on that information to Relex?

Bonser: Yes, all that information was passed on to all the Operation Relex authorities.

Bartlett: Obviously, as part of all the SIEV interceptions, there were at least three safety of life at sea situations; the Tampa example, which I realise is pre-Relex, is another. For example, with the Tampa situation, did awareness of that come about through a Coastwatch sighting or interception?

Bonser: It was a Coastwatch sighting of the original SIEV, which appeared to be broken down and later showed a distress signal. Coastwatch reported that information, as we normally would, to AusSAR.

Bartlett: And then there was AusSAR or Search and Rescue or RCC – they’re all the same thing, aren’t they?

Bonser: Yes, they are part of the same organisation.

Bartlett: They put out a general alert, which the Tampa picked up, and went to the rescue. In this case, the information you passed on to Relex, but not to Search and Rescue, was not based on any sightings; it was simply unconfirmed intelligence.

Bonser: That is correct, Senator.

Bartlett: Going back to your statement, … you inform Search and Rescue about any vessels that have been sighted and may be in difficulty or distress. Do you actually wait until a sighting? If your intelligence information was `We think this boat is heading off and it’s looking pretty dodgy’ would that be enough for you to pass it on to Search and Rescue or would you wait until you had more solid confirmation about it?

Bonser: We work on the threshold basis of there being some form of confirmed departure and some assessment that the vessel is actually overdue if we do not have any distinct indications of a vessel being in any form of distress or difficulty.

Bartlett: So if you never got a confirmed report that it had departed, how did you come to the assessment that it was overdue and then pass that on?

Bonser: That was based on separate information that we received on 22 October that corroborated the original advice of a possible departure and confirmed for us that this vessel had most probably departed. On the basis of that we were able to assess that it was, indeed, overdue.

Bartlett: So it got up to a higher degree of probability, in effect?

Bonser: It reached that threshold, yes.

Bartlett: What is the threshold – 80 per cent or 75 per cent?

Bonser: That we had a confirmed departure and that, indeed, the vessel was now overdue.

Bartlett: You had a confirmed departure and confirmed information that it was heading our way?

Bonser: And on the basis of that that it was now overdue, yes.

Bartlett: So that information came through AFP as well?

Bonser: Yes, it did – on 22 October.

Bartlett: You said you got advice on the 22nd that it was overdue and you notified Search and Rescue. On the 23rd, you got advice from Australian Theatre Joint Intelligence Centre that a SIEV had sunk. Later that day, CNN (reported) the sinking and the rescue of survivors. Was that the first time you or any of the Australian operations were aware of survivors being located – hearing it through CNN?

Bonser: Yes, it was.

Bartlett: So we have got a comprehensive surveillance operation, the strongest we have ever had, and CNN could find out what was happening before we could?

Bonser: In this case the vessel clearly was not detected prior to its sinking.

Faulkner: Do you know why not?

Bonser: No, I do not.

Faulkner: Have there been any inquiries at all – internal Commonwealth inquiries – into this issue since the sinking that you are aware of?

Bonser: I do not know of any.

Bartlett: You have not been asked to provide information for any inquiry or report?

Bonser: No.

Senator Jacinta Collins, Labor, Victoria: Can you tell us where it actually sank?

Bonser: No; I do not know. I can only go off what I have seen in media reports that indicate it was somewhere between the Sunda Strait and perhaps 80 miles south of Sunda Strait, or 80 miles south of Java.

Bartlett: Is any of that in the area under your surveillance? Eighty miles south would be in areas that you have under surveillance?

Bonser: I believe so, but that area was under surveillance from Defence and not Coastwatch. You would really have to talk to them about that.

Bartlett: Surveillance by Defence through what?

Bonser: During Operation Relex.

Bartlett: But how were they surveilling it?

Bonser: They had ships with helicopters and aircraft there.

Collins: You are saying that Coastwatch was not surveilling that zone at that period of time?

Bonser: No. From 3 September, Coastwatch had moved away from Christmas Island. We were operating in the Arafura and Timor Sea approaches to Australiathe Kimberley and Arnhem Land coasts.

… Faulkner: Are you aware that Admiral Smith provided additional information -a correction – to evidence presented at this committee?

Bonser: Yes, I am.

Faulkner: Have you read the admiral’s letter?

Bonser: I have now seen that, yes.

Faulkner: Were you asked to provide any input for the admiral’s letter?

Bonser: No, I was not.

Faulkner: Or Coastwatch?

Bonser: No, other than to provide copies of operation summaries, which we provided to Maritime Command.

Faulkner: So Coastwatch did provide some input for it?

Bonser: Coastwatch was asked if it could provide copies of our operation summaries for the period, which it did.

Faulkner: When were you asked to do that?

Bonser: Bonser That was either late last week or early this week.

Faulkner: Who asked you?

Bonser: Someone on the staff at Maritime Headquarters asked my chief of staff.

Faulkner: Was it explained to your chief of staff why those operational summaries were required?

Bonser: I presume that it was because they were preparing some clarification of Admiral Smith’s previous evidence, because prior to this – about a month ago – I called Admiral Smith’s office after I had seen a letter to the editor that he had written in the Canberra Times, to say that I thought there were some inconsistencies between his evidence and the flow of information as I knew it, and I thought they ought to check a range of other messages.

Faulkner: Could you go through those inconsistencies with us in detail?

Bonser: The primary one was the comment on when the first time that notification of SIEVX occurred, which was not consistent with the flow of information as I knew it. I believe there was earlier information that was available.

Faulkner: What earlier information?

Bonser: That is the information that was provided by Coastwatch from AFP on a variety of dates in October, including 20 October. That was relayed to Defence intelligence staff and repromulgated by them to the Defence operational authorities.

Faulkner: You saw Admiral Smith’s letter in the Canberra Times. That is what drew this matter to your attention?

Bonser: That triggered it for me, yes.

Faulkner: Did you contact Admiral Smith directly?

Bonser: I tried to contact Admiral Smith. I got on to his office. He was overseas at the time, so I spoke to his chief staff officer (operations) and his chief of staff. I advised them that I thought that there were some inconsistencies with the flow of information as I knew it and that they ought to refer to a certain range of messages. I did not say what the inconsistencies were, just that there were inconsistencies, as I saw it, with respect to the flow of information.

Faulkner: Was this communication done telephonically?

Bonser: That is correct.

Faulkner: How did this matter progress in the lead-up to Admiral Smith’s letter?

Bonser: I made that call on 16 April. Subsequently, on 22 April, I was speaking with Admiral Gates, who was running the CDF/Secretary task force and coordinating defence matters in this regard. I also brought it to his attention that I believed there were some inconsistencies.

Faulkner: Was there any written communication there with Admiral Gates?

Bonser: No, there was not.

Faulkner: Was that communication telephonic or face-to-face?

Bonser: That was face-to-face (on 22 April).

… Faulkner: What happened then?

Bonser: The other person that I advised on 10 May was the Chief of Navy. I advised him that I had the view that there would be inconsistencies between Admiral Smith’s evidence and mine when I appeared at the Senate committee, and he should be aware of that. He acknowledged that fact.

Faulkner: Is it fair to say that the issue of concern here was that you might be asked questions today which Admiral Smith had canvassed, and that inconsistencies would become apparent?

Bonser: That is correct. I wanted to give people the courtesy of telling them that.

Faulkner: So, in a sense, you were being proactive about it. You were concerned about what might happen at today’s hearing, effectively, as opposed to any evidence you may have given in the past. Would that be right?

Bonser: No, I was not concerned about any evidence I may have given.

Faulkner: What was the response on 16 April from Admiral Smith’s staff?

Bonser: My message was acknowledged.

Faulkner: It was just on the telephone, wasn’t it?

Bonser: That is right, and I was thanked for the advice.

Faulkner: On the telephone?

Bonser: Yes.

Faulkner: There was nothing in writing with Admiral Gates? Again, it was a face-to-face conversation that you had with him?

Bonser: Yes, it was.

Faulkner: Was the admiral able to indicate to you what sort of action he might take as a result of that?

Bonser: I think he just said to me that he would speak to Admiral Smith.

Faulkner: Did you get any feedback from any of that communication?

Bonser: Not straightaway, no.

Faulkner: What was the feedback?

Bonser: I received a phone call from Admiral Smith on 16 May to tell me that he was writing to the secretariat of the committee and providing clarifying information. He did not provide me with the detail of that information.

Faulkner: … On 10 May, after your call to Admiral Gates, why did you determine it was necessary to talk to the Chief of Navy about this?

Bonser: I wanted to ensure that the Chief of Navy was aware that there may be inconsistency in the evidence and confirm that he was aware of it.

Faulkner: But you were only concerned about Admiral Smith’s evidence. Was there any other evidence you were concerned about?

Bonser: No.

Faulkner: Just Admiral Smith’s?

Bonser: Yes.

Faulkner: Did you have a worry that speaking to Admiral Gates was not sufficient?

Bonser: No. I just wished to make sure that the Chief of Navy had been given the courtesy of being told, and I thought I should do it myself.

Faulkner: Did the Chief of Navy indicate to you what action he might take as a result of that communication you had with him?

Bonser: I think his words to me were, `If there is any ambiguity, it needs to be clarified’.

Faulkner: Did he indicate how that should be done?

Bonser: No, he did not.

Faulkner: Admiral Smith contacted you on 16 May to indicate that he was taking the course of action that we are now aware of, which is the letter that he has written to the committee?

Bonser: Yes, that is correct.

Faulkner: Were there any other contacts with either Defence personnel or others about this matter?

Bonser: Only in a discussion I had with Air Commodore Blackburn, who is Admiral Gates’s deputy in the task force, where it was confirmed for me that the task force had received a copy of Admiral Smith’s clarification. That occurred yesterday.

Faulkner: So that happened just before today’s hearing.

Bonser: That is correct.

Faulkner: That is the sum total of it?

Bonser: That is the sum total.

… Bartlett: From my memory of accounts of it, people when they were rescued had been in the water for at least 24 hours. You did not detect any radio communication amongst any boats or other aircraft in that period of time or even when they were rescued by fishing vessels? Did you pick up any communications indicating that they had been rescued?

Bonser: No. Coastwatch does not have that capability.

Faulkner: No, but other agencies would have, wouldn’t they?

Bonser: There are other agencies that do that and I have seen no indications that anything was intercepted of that nature.

… Cook: Have you requested of those other agencies a check to see if anything they retain indicates that messages or broadcasts were intercepted by them?

Bonser: No, I have not.

… Faulkner: The only agency report that you received in relation to the whole SIEV-X issue was the original intelligence from the AFP. That is as I understand the evidence that you have given us.

Bonser: … There were no other indicators.

… Collins: On 14 October SIEV-X was referred to in one of your operational summaries. On 17 October it was referred to in one of the operational summaries … on 20 October we get the report that there had been a departure with 400 passengers on an overcrowded, small ship. According to your evidence this morning, on that occasion that information was passed on by telephone rather than the earlier simple inclusion in an operational summary report. Why was that?

Bonser: There is no difference between any of the reporting. The normal practice for Coastwatch for advice that came in to us was for it to be passed by a secure phone call to the Australian Theatre Joint Intelligence Centre and Headquarters Northern Command.

Faulkner: That is what you said in your opening statement.

Bonser: That is correct. That information is then normally passed on by them to the Defence commands involved in Operation Relex. In addition to that, Coastwatch includes a precis of the relevant information in its daily operations summary.

Faulkner: Yes, but I think that, as a first step, Senator Collins is canvassing whether normal practice and procedure were followed in the instances that are referred to in relation to SIEV-X. In paragraph 36 you outline the normal practice. That is fine and it is understood and appreciated. The next step along the way, before we get to where Senator Collins is going, is this question: was normal practice followed in relation to SIEV-X? I appreciate that that may be the normal practice but did it happen?

Bonser: Yes, normal practice was followed.

Collins: So, on an operational summary report that included the summary on 14 October about the potential departure of SIEV-X, a phone call had been made to NORCOM on that occasion?

Bonser: I would assume so. I would have to go back and check that exactlytake it on noticebut that is the normal practice and I would have expected that that would have happened.

Faulkner: That is the point of my question and of Senator Collins’s questions. We are trying to go beyond what is a very helpful description from you of how your agency undertakes its normal activities. That is helpful. The issue goes to the individual instances that are outlined in Admiral Smith’s clarifying statement of whether normal practice actually did apply. Your answer to Senator Collins’s follow-up question was qualified.

Bonser: As far as the reports on SIEV-X go, certainly on 20 and 22 October normal practice was followed … I would have to confirm the detail of previous reports but I would be quite confident that normal practice was followed.

Collins: What concerns me, though, is that it has been put to us that there was no confirmed departure up until the 22nd.

Bonser: That is correct.

Collins: Yet on 20 October we know that Coastwatch made a call and followed through with a report about intelligence – which is presently classified – indicating that a departure had occurred, that there were 400 people on a small ship and that some people had refused to embark because of the overcrowding. I want to know what constitutes a confirmed departure. If that much information cannot form the basis of some level of confirmation, what is required?

Bonser: That was the fifth report we had had in that particular month about that boat departing.

Collins: But with that level of detail?

Bonser: We had similar detail on previous occasions. There is this great history of boats that depart, divert, go to other ports, do different things, perhaps break downthere is no real confirmation of the boat actually departing or the fact that it has left the archipelago.

Collins: After this report of the 20th, from intelligence gathered on the 19th, there is nothing else reported until the 22nd.

Bonser: The only new information after that arrived on the 22nd, as far as I am aware.

Collins: Do we know why that was the case?

Bonser: No. Coastwatch was not collecting the information, so I do not know.

Collins: This is a question for the Federal Police, is it?

Bonser: I presume so.

Faulkner: Yes, but you are the link between the AFP and Defence, aren’t you?

Bonser: In this instance we were, yes.

Faulkner: That is normal practice, though, isn’t it?

Bonser: Yes.

Faulkner: So it is not just this instance, is it?

Bonser: No, that is correct. AFP information normally comes through Coastwatch.

Faulkner: So the AFP provides intelligence information to you. Normal practice for you is to pass it on to NORCOM and the Australian Theatre Joint Intelligence Centre. Is that what it is called?

Bonser: Yes. That is correct, Senator.

Faulkner: In fact, you outline in your opening statement what NORCOM and the Australian Theatre Joint Intelligence Centre might do with that information. But I accept that is a process and that, at the end of the day, you are not responsible for that. Because of concerns about the SIEV-X issue, would it be possible for you provide to the committee, in each of the instances outlined in Admiral Smith’s letter, when the AFP intelligence material was received by Coastwatch, how and when it was provided by Coastwatch to NORCOM and Australian Theatre? Maybe that would help us.

Collins: It does, except for one issue – that is, if the report that was passed on to Defence on 20 October was accurate, what further intelligence would you have expected to confirm it, other than a potential aerial surveillance of the ship?

Bonser: It goes back to the fact that this was the fifth report about a departure in that month, plus a range of previous ones in months prior to that, and the history of these boats being recorded as possibly departing and then having no arrivals.

… Bonser: With respect to the information that we received on 20 October, that was received from the AFP at 9.30. It was passed on to the Australian Theatre Joint Intelligence Centre at 9.50, and we saw them disseminate that information by message at 10.00. At 10.05, we briefed Northern Command on that information by telephone and we saw them repeat that information to the Defence Operational Authority in message traffic that had a date/time group of 12.03 … On the 22nd, we received the information from AFP at 10.03. The assessment was made that the vessel was overdue and AFP were contacted about what information could or could not be conveyed. They requested a stay of the notification while they put together some suitable words. That was provided to us at 13.50. After they authorised release of that at 14.05, Coastwatch advised AusSAR using the words that were provided by AFP.

… The standard addressee list was from Coastwatch Canberra and it was sent to Commander Australian Theatre, Commander Joint Task Force 639, Maritime Commander Australia, Air Commander Australia, Commander Task Force 641, Commander Task Unit 646.2.2which is the `P3 world’Australian Theatre Joint Intelligence Centre, Task Group 639.0 and the 92 wing detachment at Learmonth, and for information to Australian Defence Headquarters Operations in Canberra, Headquarters Australian Theatre, Maritime Headquarters, Headquarters Air Command Air Operations and my Regional Coastwatch Base.

Faulkner: Was there no input to the People Smuggling Task Force that was operating at the time?

Bonser: At the meetings of the People Smuggling Task Force input was provided from all of the agencies. I did not see much of that. I presume some of it was provided outside of the meetings. At the meetings that I attended, I normally provided a brief overview of how many boats might be expected in the next period, but it was simply an overview based on the rather imprecise information we had at the time.

… Senator George Brandis, Liberal, Queensland: At the time that the report came through saying that the vessel was overdue, was any estimate made in that report as to how overdue the vessel was?

Bonser: No, only that we would have expected that it would have reached Australian waters by then.

Brandis: So it was not a matter of it being a day overdue, two or three days overdue or a matter of hours overdue; it was just an unqualified report in that respect.

Bonser: Yes, it was.

Cook: So this was from an intelligence source; it was not from surveillance that we knew that it was overdue.

Bonser: That is correct. We received additional intelligence information that corroborated the previous report of the departure. That confirmed that we had most probably had a departure and, on the basis of that, that the boat should have probably arrived and was therefore overdue.

.. Collins: .. What did you say about the advice on the 22nd that provided confirmation?

Bonser: The advice we received corroborated the previous report that a boat had possibly departed.

Collins: So it was additional intelligence?

Bonser: It was additional information that confirmed for us that a boat had most probably departed and, on the basis of that, was therefore overdue.

… Faulkner: Do you know if the question of the SIEV-X was actually discussed at the People Smuggling Task Force?

Bonser: I am aware (from other customs officers) that the subject was raised at the meeting on 22 October. I do not know what was said because I was not at the meeting; I was in Cairns on that day.

… Faulkner: And when did you become aware of that?

Bonser: I was advised while I was in Cairns that the additional information about the boat had arrived and that Coastwatch was going through the process of clearing the information with AFP, to provide that information to AusSAR. My chief of staff at the time advised me of that and also advised me that they were going to pass on that information at the IDC (the task force) on that particular day.

Faulkner: Was your chief of staff present at the IDC then?

Bonser: He would have been present on that day along with the DCEO of Customs, Mr Drury.

Faulkner: Are you aware of SIEV-X being raised at the IDC before the 22nd?

Bonser: No, I am not aware of that at all. (Bonser then says that as far as he knows, it was not discussed at the task force before October 22 or after that date.)

… Faulkner: I think this is relevant to our inquiry, so would you be able to take it on notice for me please as to when any matters in relation to SIEV-X were discussed at the People Smuggling Task Force and what the role of Coastwatch was in those discussions – they may have been generated, for example, by Coastwatch or they may not. If that detail could be provided for any matters relating to SIEV-X, I would appreciate it. You will obviously need to go to the officers who represented your organisation at the time.

… Bonser: I will take it on notice and provide what I can.

… Bartlett: Just going back one last time to 22 October, Rear Admiral Bonser, you advised Search and Rescue that the vessel was overdue because SIEVX met the criteria that you had confirmation of departure dates and it was known to be overdue. According to Admiral Smith’s information, you notified via an opsum to Admiral Smith that the vessel was overdue possibly due to poor condition of the boat and the large numbers on board. The Rescue Coordination Centre also independently reported to Admiral Smith that the vessel was overdue. But it does not seem that Search and Rescue or anybody else actually requested anybody to do anything about it, to go and look for it. They did not ask you to go and look at all to see where it was and whether it was in difficulty?

Bonser: What Search and Rescue then implemented you would have to ask them but, as far as Coastwatch are concerned, we were still conducting all of the surveillance that we had had in place which was specifically dedicated to finding just those boats.

Bartlett: But they did not give you any specific request or direction or anything to go and look over in this area? Based on your earlier evidence, that is not necessarily where you go anyway.

Bonser: No.

Bartlett: And they did not seem to do so with the Relex people either. You have said before that, as far as you are aware, there has been no report or even any form of informal investigation into this situation. This was a circumstance where admittedly it was probably in international waters and closer to Indonesia than here, but we have been involved in fairly extensive efforts to rescue a single yachtsman or yachtswoman a huge number of kilometres from the Australian coast. We have had a few fishermen drown at sea and had coronial inquests and Senate inquiries when there were three or so. We have had massive inquiries when we have had two or three people die on the Sydney to Hobart yacht race. All of those circumstances have their own specifics and I am not trying to say they are all the same thing, but we have an incident in which 353 people drown and nobody has even made a general comment about whether there is some way we can perhaps stop this happening again or whether there is anything we can do better.

Bonser: I have seen nothing about that.

Cook: That is equivalent to about one jumbo jet going down with a full passenger load.

Brandis: Those questions assume that Australia has responsibility for the problem. We have yet to hear a syllable of evidence to suggest that we did have responsibility for the problem.

Bonser: I have certainly seen nothing to indicate that.

Collins: I did not hear a question that suggested there had been an Australian investigation. I think the question was whether there had been any investigation.

Faulkner: Is it true that there was input to Coastwatch from the AFP that effectively detailed, if you like, the size and the state of SIEV-X? Would that be fair to say?

Bonser: We knew that it was small and overcrowded.

Faulkner: And by `overcrowded’ would that mean that you would know that there might be around 400 passengers embarked?

Bonser: We had an indication of the numbers, yes.

Faulkner: Were you aware that some passengers were not able or were unwilling to be boarded?

Bonser: I understand that there was an indication in some of the advice that that was the case, that people either had not got on or had got off the vessel.

Faulkner: So there is no doubt, effectively, that you have got intelligence inputs here basically indicating that the vessel is barely seaworthy. Would that be right?

Bonser: We did not know that because we had not seen it. What we knew was that this vessel was reported as being small and overcrowded, and that was the information we advised to all of the relevant operational authorities.

Faulkner: Does the surveillance task change in that sort of situation, where there might be a possible safety of life at sea situation?

Bonser: In this case, with, as I have said, the imprecise information about departures – the departure after departure that does not eventuate, the comprehensive surveillance that was in place out there and the fact that we did not have a confirmation of the departure and that the vessel was not yet overdue – no.

Faulkner: You know the figure of the people who have embarked on it, so one assumes that it must be pretty close to going if there is that number of people who have embarked?

Bonser: But that number is not inconsistent with previous boats, either.

Faulkner: Yes, but if there is a possible safety of life at sea situationan unseaworthy vessel that is massively overcrowded and the like -and it is ready to go or about ready to go – does that change the surveillance task that you have?

Bonser: It would not have changed our surveillance task because we were not conducting surveillance in that area.

Collins: Let us say you had been. Let us say Coastwatch had been directly responsible for the surveillance in the zone, would Coastwatch have instigated surveillance after notification of the departure on the 20th?

Bonser: One of Coastwatch’s tasks is to conduct surveillance to detect all these boats before they reach Australia.

Collins: So the answer is yes?

Bonser: We would have done that, irrespective.

Collins: Of the safety of life at sea situation?

Bonser: Yes, which was what was happening here already. A comprehensive surveillance pattern was in place doing nothing but looking for these boats.

Faulkner: But it is not just a small, overcrowded, unseaworthy vessel, is it? It is full of SUNCs, as these people are described – an unhappy acronym – suspected unlawful noncitizens. That makes a difference too, doesn’t it?

Bonser: All of these boats are full of people.

Faulkner: Yes, but I am interested in how that affects the surveillance task.

Bonser: The surveillance task was in place looking for all of these boats throughout.

Collins: But what we have from Admiral Smith indicates that surveillance at the time was not as comprehensive as you seem to be indicating. Surveillance was brought back closer to the contiguous zone, as I understand Admiral Smith’s report – it was brought right back to the immediate area around Christmas Island.

Bonser: I do not know about that, Senator. I think it is something you would have to address to Admiral Smith.

Brandis: I would like to ask a question about the surveillance area as well. Are you aware of how close to the southernmost reach of the Sunda Strait the limit of Coastwatch surveillance was at this period?

Bonser: Coastwatch was not within 1,000 miles of Sunda Strait.

Brandis: Have you read Mr Kevin’s evidence? Mr Kevin’s conjectures that the vessel foundered some hundreds of miles south of the southernmost point of the Sunda Strait. Are you familiar with that evidence?

Bonser: I am familiar with the evidence, yes.

Brandis:Did the limit of the Coastwatch surveillance area ever reach even the point at which Mr Kevin conjectures that the vessel foundered?

Bonser: No, Coastwatch did not, because we were 1,000 miles away to the east. Defence was conducting surveillance around Christmas Island.

Brandis: Are you aware of the limit of the Defence surveillance?

Bonser: Bonser It was about 30 miles south of Indonesian territory.

Brandis: Thank you.

Cook: Where is that, for my benefit, in relation to Mr Kevin’s conclusion of where the boat foundered?

Bonser: It would be within the surveillance area.

… Collins: But, Rear Admiral, the point I was coming to a moment ago was that we were advised by Admiral Smith that on 19 October – when this vessel departed Indonesia and foundered, he claims, in the Sunda Strait – air surveillance assets and Navy service units were conducting layered surveillance operations and responding to SIEVs close to Christmas and Ashmore islands. So comprehensive surveillance was not occurring at that time; it had been pulled back close to Christmas and Ashmore islands. From what I understand you to be saying, that is not ordinarily the case.

Bonser: I was talking about the overall surveillance that was in place right across Northern Australia, which was, in my experience, the most comprehensive that I have ever seen. What was happening out at Christmas Island was purely defence assets; you would really have to ask them about that.

Collins: I am also trying to understand what happens with the flow of communication, because pre these arrangements it would have been an exclusively Coastwatch situation: Coastwatch gets the report, Coastwatch is alerted possibly to a safety of life at sea scenario, Coastwatch has its comprehensive aerial surveillance in place and would anticipate identifying if such a ship were foundering in that region. But in this scenario we have Coastwatch passing that information on to Defence, Defence saying, `No, our assets are busy elsewhere,’ and no aerial surveillance occurring, as it seems.

Bonser: I do not know about that; that is something you would have to ask those that were conducting the surveillance.

Faulkner: Who would make the decision? Accepting that this is outside the area, under the auspices of Operation Relex, that Coastwatch has surveillance responsibilities for – which is the point you make, isn’t it?

Bonser: Yes.

Faulkner: Just accepting that, who would make the decision in Defence, as you understand it – based on the material that you provide, the AFP reports and the like – that surveillance of this particular SIEV-X is warranted? Where would that decision be made? Would it be made at NORCOM; would it be made elsewhere? Can you assist us with that at all?

Bonser: I would expect that it would be made in that operational chain of command: between the Theatre Command, Northern Command and indeed the assets in location.

Faulkner: Once you pass on the intelligence material you have available, is there no follow-up from Coastwatch?

Bonser: Only to continue to provide any additional information that comes to us.

… Faulkner: If Defence decided that they were going to undertake surveillance of SIEVX, for example, would Coastwatch in the normal course of events have been notified?

Bonser: Probably not. We would have had information that they were conducting the surveillance in that general area with the assets that were available. We were not seeing the actual detail of the surveillance patterns, not that level of detail.

Faulkner: Do you think, in relation to SIEV-X, that there were process failures in terms of the role of Australian agencies? I appreciate you can only make a comment from where you sit and it is in that context I ask you the question.

Bonser: From what I have seen and from the information that has been passed on I would say no. All of the information has been handled properly and passed on.

Faulkner: So you think it is perfectly reasonable that Australian authorities should learn about the sinking of SIEV-X from CNN? You are quite satisfied that that is acceptable?

Bonser: If that is the only information you get, then that is all you have.

Faulkner: But it is not the only information we have got in this situation, is it?

Bonser: That is the only information that we have about the vessel sinking.

Faulkner: It might be the only information at that time about the vessel sinking, but it is not the only information you have about the vessel leaving. It is in that context I asked the question. I probably should clarify it. My question does not go specifically to the sinking of SIEVX; it is the whole exercise from the time 400 people embarked and the boat left Indonesia. If the government decided to inquire further into the events surrounding the sinking of SIEVX, given your extensive responsibilities in relation to Coastwatch, could you identify any process failures in relation to this particular SIEV?

Bonser: I cannot see any course of action that any Australian authority could have taken that would have prevented the sinking of the vessel.

Faulkner: Can you think of a situation where Australian agencies should have had a great more knowledge and detail about what occurred with this SIEV after it left Indonesian shores?

Bonser: No, I cannot.

Faulkner: Can you draw a distinction between the state of knowledge that agencies had of that SIEV and a range of the other SIEVs – some of this you have dealt with in your opening statements – particularly the number of SIEVs. I am using SIEVs 1 to 12.

Bonser: The information is remarkably similar about all of the vessels, in particular the on again off again nature of the departures. The only thing that was different about this vessel was that we had information at the last report of the possible departure that it was small and overcrowded.

Faulkner: You have not been asked since the sinking of the SIEV, in your role at Coastwatch, for any investigation or inquiry into those events at all?

Bonser: No, I have not.

Faulkner: Does that surprise you?

Bonser: No.

Collins: Let me take you to one area where there are issues of a process nature regarding the reporting, and that is your statement “In the normal course of operations, Coastwatch informs AusSAR about any vessels that have been sighted and may be in difficulty or distress.” You are probably aware that the evidence we had from AusSAR was that they were never advised that there was a vessel in distress, even on 20 October. How could you get into that situation?

Bonser: Because there was nothing to indicate there was a vessel in distress.

Collins: You said that you advise AusSAR, in the normal course of events, when a vessel may be in difficulty or in distress, and you did so on this occasion.

Bonser: What we did on this occasion was to advise AusSAR that there was a vessel that was potentially overdue.

Collins: Your statement says: In the normal course of operations, Coastwatch informs AusSAR about any vessels that have been sighted and may be in difficulty or distress.” And you did this on this occasion. You said that SIEV-X met this criteria.

Bonser: SIEV-X was not a vessel that had been sighted and was observed to be in difficulty and distress. When Coastwatch has confirmation of the departure date of a SIEV, and then when it is known that it is overdue, Coastwatch provides that information to AusSAR. After we had received the additional information on 22 October, SIEV-X met that criteria, and that was why Coastwatch contacted AusSAR and advised them that there was a vessel that was potentially overdue.

Collins: This is where there is a lack of clarity. You are saying that you advise AusSAR when a vessel may be in difficulty or distress. That is why you advise AusSAR, isn’t it?

Bonser: When we sight a vessel that may be in difficulty or distress, yes.

Collins:So, in this case, you had confirmation of departure and you knew it was overdue. Presumably you felt that met the criteria of probably being in difficulty or distress, and so you would advise AusSAR?

Bonser: No. That met the criteria for a vessel being overdue, and so we advised AusSAR.

Brandis: Is this the situation? There are different categories of criteria that trigger the advice to AusSAR: one is the sighting of a vessel in difficulty or distress; and another and independent criterion is that a vessel is overdue.

Bonser: That is correct, and they are independent.

Brandis: In this case, it was the second and not the first of those two categories which triggered your advice to AusSAR. It is as simple as that, isn’t it?

Bonser: That is correct.

Collins: Then, when you get to the first of those criteria, what action is AusSAR meant to take? My question is: what is the point of advising AusSAR?

Bonser: And that is for which criteria, Senator?

Collins: The first, the `overdue’.

Bonser: For an overdue vessel – and you would have to clarify this with AusSAR – my understanding is that they would issue a broadcast alert, asking shipping to keep a lookout for a vessel that was overdue.

Collins: They tell us they only do that when they have information that there is difficulty or distress. They are not aware of this two-level criterion that Senator Brandis has put to you.

Brandis: No, not two-level criterion; two separate criteria.

Collins: Okay, two different criteria. It seems that AusSAR is not aware of these criteria.

Bonser: I do not know about that. You would have to clarify that with them.

Collins: I suggest that you look at the evidence they gave this committee. Their answer for not responding to a report from Coastwatch is that there was no indication of distress.

Bonser: And we did not tell them that there was an indication of distress. We provided the information to them that there was an overdue vessel.

Collins: What I am asking you is this: if it has this other criteria, which is vessel overdue, what is your understanding of what AusSAR does with it? What is the point of reporting overdue to them, if all they simply say is `We’ve done nothing, because there’s no indication of distress’? Why bother with this criterion?

Bonser: Because that has been a standard procedure and, in the past, there have been broadcasts issued asking for vessels to keep a lookout for overdue vessels.

Collins: That is additional information that was not provided to us from AusSAR. We need to get to the bottom of why they did not do that on this occasion, because they did not – and we do not know why they did not, but we do know that many lives were lost.

Brandis: I think it is clear that there was never a time at which this vessel was under surveillance.

Bonser: That is correct.

Brandis: There was never a time at which any report was received by Coastwatch that the vessel was in difficulty or distress.

Bonser: That is correct.

Brandis: There was never a definitive piece of information conveyed that the vessel had, in fact, definitely departed Indonesian shores; there were merely intelligence reports that the vessel may have departed Indonesian shores.

Bonser: That is correct.

Brandis: On the assumption that this vessel may have departed Indonesian shores on a given date, there was a report that the vessel was overdue, and that report came to you?

Bonser: Yes, it did.

Brandis: A report was received that the vessel had sunk, which report was received after that event had happened.

Bonser: Yes, that is correct.

Brandis: That was also a report in the public media on the international news programs.

Bonser: Yes, it was – in addition to the report we received on 23 October from the Australian Theatre Joint Intelligence Centre.

Brandis: As far as I can follow your evidence, there was never a time prior to the sinking of the vessel that Coastwatch received any information causing it to arrive at a conclusion that the vessel was in peril or distressed.

Bonser: That is correct.

Brandis: That is what I thought. Thank you.

… Bartlett: My understanding of the answers you gave part way through there is that you had a range of intelligence reports of possible departures here and there, but there was no confirmed sighting or confirmation of a departure date.

Bonser: The only time we received information that corroborated a departure and indicated to us that this vessel had probably departed and could therefore be considered overdue was when we received information on 22 October.

Bartlett: You are saying `probably’. What is the difference between probability and confirmation?

Bonser: We could not tell whether the vessels had really left or not until they turned up.

Bartlett: You said in your opening statement that you had told AusSAR about the confirmation of departure. Was it confirmed or wasn’t it?

Bonser: That was the best indication we had of a confirmation of a departure and, on the basis of that, we assessed that the vessel was overdue and advised AusSAR accordingly. I cannot really go into any further detail in public about the nature of that information or why it led us to that belief.

Bartlett: We can pursue that with the AFP. I am not trying to divulge state secrets, I am just trying to get an idea of what constitutes confirmation and when probable departure becomes confirmed departure.

Bonser: I think the nature of the information that was provided on the 22nd, if provided in camera, would make that clear.

Cook: … My understanding, based on the corrected evidence of Admiral Smith, is that SIEVX departed Sumatra, which is a small coastal town in west Java, and that was the last place it touched on its ill-fated voyage. After that, it sailed on and foundered somewhere. The evidence that you have given us and reiterated a number of times – and I thank you for that – is that you received information on 22 October that this vessel may be overdue. That information was received from the AFP, as I recall you saying. I went through this before. The sole source of information that the vessel was overdue was the AFP, as far as Australia is concerned?

Bonser: That is correct.

Cook: You first learnt that the vessel was overdue from the AFP?

Bonser: Yes, and that assessment was made based on the information we received from the AFP on 22 October.

Cook: Did you receive information from the AFP that the vessel was overdue or that the vessel had departed at a certain time and then, by your own calculations, conclude that it was overdue?

Bonser: It was both. Part of the information and the detail of the information would help clarify that. There was an assessment that it was overdue, and we agreed with that assessment.

Cook: That is the point I want to be clear about. The AFP advised you that the vessel was overdue and, when you did your sums about where it was likely to be, you confirmed in your mind that, `Yes, obviously it is overdue.’ Is that how it went?

Bonser: That is correct, Senator.

Cook: The point I am concerned about is that the originating idea that the vessel was overdue came to you. You did not calculate that or deduct that from other informationfrom raw material. You got that conclusion, you checked it and then reaffirmed that it was overdue.

Bonser: That is correct, Senator.

Cook: And then you were asked to wait before that knowledge was broadcast so that it could be put in an acceptable form of reporting by the AFP?

Bonser: Yes.

Cook: You will tell me if I am intruding into areas that are sensitive and ought to be protected, which `may’ be matters for us to consider in camera when I ask these next questions. The advice that the Australian Federal Police gave you after this interregnum of nearly four hours from the initial report about what you may notify as an overdue vessel was essentially the same advice, in the same terms, that they had given you earlier or was it advice that was not in the same terms?

Bonser: It was not in the same words – because of the nature of the original information – but it was in the same terms, that this vessel was overdue. The original information inferred that same conclusion.

Cook: All right. The RAAF were flying surveillance in the area where Mr Kevin concluded SIEVX sank. Were they flying surveillance at the time that this vessel may have been in that vicinity?

Bonser: I do not know. I do not know whether it was ever in that vicinity or, if so, when.

Cook: You are aware though, as you said in your opening statement, of what Mr Kevin has said, you have read his evidence before us and you have doubtlessly seen the maps or the charts that he has presented to us and would therefore know where his hypothesis leads in terms of where he believes the vessel sankthat is, in an air surveillance area of Australia.

Bonser: Yes, it would be, Senator.

Cook: For the ADF?

Bonser: Yes, if that is where the vessel sank.

Cook: Do you happen to know whether a PC Orion, if that was the type of aircraft used, is equipped with life rafts and things that it could drop from the air if it comes across a SOLAS situation?

Bonser: I know they can be, Senator.

Cook: You do not know whether the operating aircraft in the area were, though?

Bonser: I do not know the answer to that question.

Cook: Maybe it is a question we should ask Defence. How long after 22 October, when you had broadcast this information, did CNN report that this vessel had in fact sunk?

Bonser: It was the following day, 23 October. That was the same day that we received advice from the Joint Intelligence Centre that there had been a report that a vessel had sunk.

Cook: The report that the Joint Intelligence Centre was referring to was the CNN report or another report?

Bonser: I do not know. We received two separate reports: one from the Joint Intelligence Centre and we also saw what was on CNN.

Cook: You actually saw it on the screen?

Bonser:Rear Adm. Bonser I did not, but I heard about it.

Cook: Officers of your agency saw it on the screen?

Bonser: Yes.

Collins: But you do not know that they were separate reports?

Bonser: No, I do not know what the source of the Joint Intelligence Centre report was.

… Cook: Taking you back to your remarks in your opening statement about reviewing the Kevin hypothesis, for want of a better description, and Mr Kevin’s evidence, has Coastwatch done its own reconstruction of the events to test that hypothesis?

Bonser: We have looked at the information but it is so imprecise that you really cannot reconstruct much from it, I would have to say.

Cook: So you have done some sort of exercise.

Bonser: We have plotted estimated times of departure, possible speeds, different diversions and where the vessel may have gone but it is very difficult to reconstruct. The best we have been able to work out is that it was somewhere between the Sunda Strait and perhaps about 80 miles south of it that this vessel unfortunately sank, but we have not been able to determine exactly where.

Cook: Calculating wind speeds, drifts and currents and plotting where boats might be and those sorts of things would be an expertise of Coastwatch, wouldn’t it?

Bonser: We have some skills in it, but the experts are the search and rescue authority.

Cook: You have presented to us that the analysis you have conducted was, in a way, a back of the envelope sort of exercise, or that is the impression I have. Was it an exercise like that, or was it a more considered sit down with the charts, the calculators and the navigational instruments to try to work it out? Was it a fairly full-on exercise?

Bonser: We certainly would have looked at a chart, at estimated times of departure and at how far a vessel might have gone at certain speeds, but to get any precise information even of the courses that the vessel might have taken would have been pure guesstimation. We just had no detail about what the vessel did, or might have done, after it allegedly sailed to indicate even what direction it went in.

Cook: And the intelligence reports did not provide a clue to you as to that.

Bonser: All we had was that there was a possible departure on a date, and I think that was the fifth possible departure that month. We had no idea whether the vessel was actually departing the archipelago or going somewhere else in the archipelago.

Cook: Does this exercise that you have just described appear in writing anywhere?

Bonser: I do not know that we actually have any of that recorded. We would have sat down with the chart, but it may well have been rubbed off again by now.

Cook: Can you check to see if you have anything?

Bonser: I can check.

Cook: You leave me with a terrible void in trying to package this. I understand and respect what you say about there being so many variables here and how do you know where it may have foundered. If you have no information after it leaves port, the fact that another agency can tell you that it is overdue suggests that another agency may have some of that information. So I will give some thought as to whether or not we might want to go in camera on some of that evidence.

Senator Brett Mason, Liberal, Queensland: Admiral, I think you said, in response to questions from my colleagues, that you are familiar with Mr Kevin’s evidence on Hansard and perhaps also some of his opinion pieces. Is that correct?

Bonser: Yes, I have read some of them.

Mason: I will quickly put some of them to you in a second. Let us get a bit of context to our discussion this afternoon. On page 1327 of Hansard of 1 May 2002, Mr Kevin says – and this is the nub of the issue: “There is clear public knowledge now from Australian official sources that there was some Australian official foreknowledge of the circumstances that led to the deaths of these 353 human beings. This cries out for explanation and accountability.”

And on page 1325, he says: “Coastwatch Australia knew from an intelligence source when this boat had left, where from, its likely speed and that it was heading for Christmas Island.” Are you across that information?

Bonser: Yes.

Mason: They are the claims that Mr Kevin in effect makes as they relate to Coastwatch. The nature of the information has been discussed this afternoon, and I think Senator Bartlett referred to paragraph 32 of your opening statement, which reads: “Information in relation to possible boat departures from Indonesia is often imprecise and subject to frequent change. It is not unusual for a vessel’s projected departure dates and times to change on an almost daily basis over a period of days or even weeks.” I think you gave evidence that on five different occasions there were intelligence reports that SIEV-X was about to depart. Is that correct?

Bonser: That is correct – either about to depart or had departed. That was just in the month of October.

Mason: In paragraph 3 of Admiral Smith’s statement of clarification dated 17 May, he says: “The intelligence reporting from Coastwatch was used as indicators of a possible SIEV arrival in an area within a probable time window.” Do you agree with that?

Bonser: Yes. That is in fact the way that Coastwatch used the information as well – as indicators rather than any firm navigation evidence that a ship was in a particular position.

Mason:You have also given evidencein answer to a question by Senator Brandis, I think, that this vessel was never under observation by the ADF or Coastwatch. Is that correct as well?

Bonser: That is correct.

Mason: I will briefly put some of Mr Kevin’s assertions to you. This is from the Canberra Times opinion page, page 11, on 21 May. He writes: “So it’s a reasonable inference from Operation Relex practice that timely intelligence reached Canberra on October 18 or 19 saying that SIEV-X had left Sumatra on October 18 bound for Christmas Island and that it was a 19-metre fishing boat carrying around 400 people.” Is that right?

Bonser: No. We did not get an indicator – well, we got the fifth indicator that the boat had departed somewhere on the 19th. We received that on the 20th. We certainly did not know the dimensions of the boat.

Mason: So what would you say to the implication or insinuation that Coastwatch is responsible or partly responsible for the deaths of these 353 people?

Bonser: I find it personally affronting.

Mason: That is part of the assertion that is being made here by Mr Kevin.

Bonser: I completely disagree with it.

Cook: Is that assertion specifically made?

Collins: I am not sure that is a fair representation of the assertions either.

Mason: I think it is.

Cook: It is a fairytale.

Mason: Taking it to its conclusion, it is.

Collins: The AFP are an Australian agency, and they received the information on the 19th.

Mason: We can get to them. I am happy to examine

Collins: But a moment ago you represented it as Coastwatch.

Mason: No, I said Coastwatch and the ADF. I am aware of what I am saying.

Collins: We know you are aware of what you are saying. You are misrepresenting the case.

Mason: I am not misrepresenting it at all. We can debate this later. I am quite happy to call anybody you want and we will examine them as well and do that and the truth will come out.

… Mason: So you would say that the assertions made by Mr Kevin as they relate to Coastwatch are rubbish?

Collins: Which assertion is that?

Bonser: I disagree with them.

Collins: According to Rear Admiral Smith, the one on 14 October was a potential departure as opposed to a departure, and the one on … 18 October was an actual departure. I am also curious as to whether those reports did in fact report movement of the ship – meaning that it did actually depart and then move to Suma – or whether it was a misreport, and any assessment you are aware of to that effect.

Bonser: I am aware that the report on the 17th was a movement from one port to another.

Collins: So the report of the 17th was a movement and the report of the 20th was a movement – we know that according to the corroboration we got on the 22nd.

Bonser: That is correct.

Collins: And the report of the 14th was a potential movement which did not end up being a movement.

Bonser: I believe that is the case, but I will have to confirm that.

Collins: I am also then interested in the earlier reports. I am interested in the accuracy of the reporting. I am interested in whether the reporting you had for August and September equally accurately reported movements of this ship. On the map, the ship moves around the strait area, eventually coming to Suma before it enters the strait, and then it founders somewhere.

Bonser: We would not have that information, because we do not know what the vessel did after it departed its final port.

Collins: No, I realise that. The case that is being presented to us is that we had a mixture of reports, and that clouded the picture. So we were not terribly confident of the report that we had on the 20th. Is that an accurate depiction?

Bonser: That is correct.

Collins: What I am seeking to understand is whether this confused picture of reporting is actually a fairly accurate report of a ship making its way down to close to the strait, which is the vicinity, ultimately, of where it ended up foundering. I would like to see the detail – so far as it does not compromise any sensitivity on intelligence purposes – of all of those reports: where the ship was, when it was being reported, precisely what it was being reported as possibly doing and whether it did in fact do that.

Bonser: That goes to the nature of the reports which are still classified and need to be declassified by the originating authority.

Collins: Yes and no. You could look at those reports and answer those questions without compromising the full detail of the report, I would have thoughtat least in many instances, maybe not in all.

Bonser: It would still have to be cleared with the originating authority.

Collins: Again you are saying this is perhaps more appropriately a Federal Police issue.

Bonser: To look at the information in detail, yes.

Collins: I also wanted to clarify what you indicated before, which was that you believe it foundered somewhere between the Sunda Strait and 80 nautical miles south of Java.

Bonser: I do not know where the vessel sank. All the reports that I have heard, which all come from what I have heard in the media, indicate somewhere between Sunda Strait and perhaps 80 miles south of Java.

… Collins: What component of that region falls within our aerial surveillance zone?

Bonser: My understanding is anywhere up to about 30 miles from Indonesian territory.

Collins: … So if we take it from the coast and 30 nautical miles down then that is where our zone of aerial surveillance would be.

Bonser: That was the area in which Defence was conducting surveillance. You would really have to clarify the detail of that with them. I understand that there was a stand-off distance from Indonesian territory for diplomatic reasons.

Faulkner: In Admiral Smith’s letter he talks about the Coastwatch assessment of the Abu Qussey vessel that assessed that the vessel could possibly arrive at Christmas Island late 18 October or early 19 October 2001. Who makes those assessments?

Bonser: That is done by analysis staff. They would base that broadly on the reports that they might get of departure dates and then estimate an arrival time based on possible speeds of these vessels, which are invariably slow. Sometimes these things do not even occur because the vessels divert to somewhere else.

Third Way terror

There should be movement at the terror legislation station this week, with the House of Representatives sitting and Senators in town for Estimates Committee hearings, the Senate’s biannual review of department spending. To set the scene, here’s the piece I wrote for the Herald last week.

Then Victorian lawyer Damien Lawson, who’s been lobbying on the issue since the package was released, wonders if John Howard is backing down. Glen Wright says people like me are just sore losers, `Lionel Mudsticks’ reckons we’re already under ASIO email surveillance and Tim Dymond reviews the Weird Right’s latest diatribe on the left and terrorism.

To end, more debate on the Third Way: Tim Dunlop critiqued it in The Third Way: Window dressing for Capitulation, the debate began in For those who give two hoots and continued in Third Way revisited. Today,David Davis, George Ooi and Michel Dignand join in, Dr Aaron Oakley replies to criticisms of his contribution by Glenn Condell and Tim Dunlop responds to his harshest critic, David Eastwood.


Never mind the wedge, feel the splinters

By Margo Kingston

May 21 2002

A funny thing happened on the road to sticking another wedge into the Labor Party courtesy of the terrorism legislation. John Howard stuck a great big wedge into his party instead.

It seemed so easy to rely on the precedent of the first border protection legislation just before the federal election, where he rode public emotion to produce intolerable legislation, forced Labor to oppose its excesses, then accused it of liking boat people. With terrorism, he rode public fear post-September 11 to release a voluminous package of new legislation one night and get it through the House of Representatives the next. Labor organised a quickie Senate committee inquiry to salve its conscience.

Labor, rigid with fear after the border protection experience – which some blame for the loss of the election – then kept its head down. The media were in no mood to tell the public the facts, either. They protested loudly about an element which affected them – a crushing clampdown on whistleblowers – and the Attorney-General, Daryl Williams, backed down.

Most media then did nothing to bring Australian’s attention to the trashing of civil liberties – including the right to protest and to picket – of the ordinary citizen.

Despite this, the Senate committee was inundated with 431 submissions – from the former NSW Liberal attorney-general John Dowd, the Law Council of Australia, a bevy of legal and security academics, Amnesty International, the Uniting and Catholic churches and individual Australians.

The result: overwhelming evidence of a wholesale assault on freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, even freedom of thought. The Liberal committee members – moderate NSW senator Marise Payne, conservative Queensland senator Brett Mason and Country Liberal Party senator Nigel Scullion – joined Labor members to condemn the legislation. All wanted the power for Williams to unilaterally ban political organisations dumped, a significant tightening of the definition of “terrorist act” and the addition of intention as an element of new criminal offences.

That was just the beginning of the collapse of Howard’s wedge strategy. The Senate report emboldened Labor to put up stronger amendments, and when Williams put a few amendments to the Liberal backbench committee overseeing his activities early last week, they said no. South Australian moderate Christopher Pyne, centre-right Queensland senator George Brandis – Howard’s personal choice as defence counsel at the children overboard inquiry – and West Australian moderate Julie Bishop stared him down.

At last Tuesday’s joint party room meeting, Howard told Williams to negotiate a solution but, despite more backtracking, he still got nowhere. Howard faced a full-on assault on the bill by a growing number of Liberals across the factions – a de facto debate on the core values of the Liberal Party.

On Thursday, he called an emergency cabinet meeting to discuss the crisis. At a 6.30pm special joint party meeting, at which MPs were sworn to secrecy, the backbench remained split on one key point – the banning of political organisations, now to be done only by Parliament – and almost united in opposition to the plan to reverse the onus of proof for new offences carrying the penalty of life in prison. Howard promised to take on board the dissidents’ comments and come back to them with another compromise.

Howard’s wedge play has backfired. Labor now wonders just how few of its amendments will be needed. The Liberal Party has told Howard point-blank that his border protection tactic was a one-off (many Liberals kept their mouths shut to win the election), not a precedent to do whatever he wants to split Labor.

Federal politicians have already received thousands of emails from the public protesting against the proposed legislation. The far Right – the Citizens Electoral Council and One Nation – is fighting against it as hard as are the Left, small “l” liberals, and right-wing libertarians including Bronwyn Bishop.

The Liberal impasse wrecked Williams’s plan to get the package through the Senate last week. He must now wait until June 17 when the Senate resumes sitting, leaving a month for more Australians to understand what the Government is trying to do to their democracy and their liberties. Watch this space.


Damien Lawson

Did you see this? Is this the PM’s coded message to his back bench: “Don’t worry, I am not for banning either.” Or was it just a slip of the tongue.

Either way it is a remarkable statement. John Howard on the Menzies communist party referendum : “Well I think the Australian people made the right decision in rejecting the proposal.”

John Howard press conference, St Regis Hotel, Beijing, 22 May 2002

Journalist: At the school for the cadres today you seemed to indicate that perhaps Sir Robert Menzies was wrong to have held a referendum to try and ban the Communist Party in Australia. Do you think he was wrong at the time to have done that?

Howard: Well I think the Australian people made the right decision in rejecting the proposal.

J: Do you think the Prime Minister of time was right to put the referendum ?

Howard: Well I find it sort of difficult to separate that out from the response that I’ve given. The view I hold now is that that was, you know, the right decision was taken. And I suppose you can extrapolate from that an argument that maybe it shouldn’t have been put but it doesn’t mean to say that. That doesn’t automatically follow. I just believe that the right decision was taken by the Australian people. That’s a view that I’ve held for quite a lot of years too. It hasn’t just sort of come upon me, if you want the complete history.


Glen Wright in Wollongong

Regarding Never mind the wedge, feel the splinters, it sounds like you are still pissed at Howard winning his third term. No matter what else he does, he succeeded in getting rid of the refugees after you left leaning journalists said nothing could stop them. After he deports them all, he will win the next election again, no matter how much you dream of Costello taking over.


`Lionel Mudsticks’

I’m using a pseudonym for obvious reasons.

Like Phill Parsons in Momentum Against Terror Australis, I have experienced some strange email `interceptions’. Phill asks if he is being paranoid. I don’t think so, but from my experience many people will probably cast aspersions on his mental capacities just because he is open to the possibility that something weird is going on with our intelligence services.

Can any readers tell me what legal powers Australian intelligence agencies have to hack into emails? Under current law can they do this without a warrant? What redress does an Australian citizen have if they feel they are the subject of `unwarranted’ surveillance?

Quite frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if ASIO hacks into journos’ emails. How do we know if ASIO is behaving appropriately, and not politically, in their choice of surveillance targets and methods of surveillance? How do we, average Australian citizens, know if the parliament is ensuring ASIO is fully accountable for its intelligence operations and activities? Where is the transparency in the accountability process?

Margo: Easing ASIO access to emails is part of the terror package. Labor amendments would require ASIO to jump the same bar to get an interception authority as it has to for telephone taps. The government wants the bar lower for emails.


Tim Dymond in Perth

If Webdiarians would care to turn to the Appendix of the latest essay collection from the right wing commentariat, `Blaming Ourselves: Sept 11 and the Agony of the Left’ they will see themselves featured prominently among the examples of Leftist victimizing of `the West’.

This collection purports to dissect the apparently widespread `Anti Americanism’ and raising of Bin Laden to hero status by Left media commentators and contributors since Sept 11. Here is a clear case, according to the publicity, of the Left `blaming the victim’ instead of the perpetrators by implying that the USA had it coming.

Naturally I looked to the Appendix expecting juicy and trenchant abuse of the USA and praise for the virtues of fundamentalist Islamic resistance to the Great Satan. Imagine my disappointment when I found scarcely any such sentiments. There was an incoherent letter to the editor that seemed to blame the WTC attacks on `economic rationalism’, an ill informed ramble by Bob Ellis, and Guy Rundle made a silly comparison between the effects of globalization and the death toll in Nazi and Communist Concentration Camps. But generally speaking there was very little in the Appendix with which I disagreed.

Which is rather confusing, because I actually support the War on Terrorism. I thought it was right that the US attacked Afghanistan, and I agreed with the US conservative editor William Kristol that the US was right to switch strategies away from a combination of bombing and searching for `moderate elements’ within the Taliban, to outright support of the Northern Alliance. I even agree that this was a justifiable case of American `unilateralism’ – the Administration was right not to waste time getting corrupt Arab autocracies on side and appeasing the Pakistani military’s strong links to the Taliban.

Pushing out the Taliban doesn’t by itself solve Afghanistan’s problems – at the moment it has arguably made them worse. But clearly nothing else could improve in Afghanistan unless the Taliban were overthrown.

Yet according to the editors of `Blaming Ourselves’ I’m still guilty of the thought crime of believing that an unacceptable amount of anti- Islamic sentiment has been whipped up in the West. I also believe you can’t separate the Sept 11 attacks from the long term effects of US foreign policy towards the Islamic world. Certainly the `Jihadi’ strand of Islam would still be hostile to the West even if the USA suddenly completely changed it’s policy and started doing all the things I think it should do to make the world a better place. Violent theocratic intolerance should always be resisted, but I don’t feel schizophrenic for holding that view and criticizing US policies at the same time.

Nevertheless, it seems that Sept 11 2001 has become another rhetorical club in the `culture wars’. Commentators of both the Right and the Left seem to have latched onto it as an excuse for pushing their own ideological barrows. I suspect, however, that in the future what `commentators’ thought of the WTC attacks will be least important part of the story.



David Davis in New York

Tony Blair was recently subjected to an in-depth interview on the BBC’s Newsnight. Parts of it are quite interesting in the context of the the Third Way discussion. I quite liked this part:

Jeremy Paxman: Prime Minister, do you accept that many people think you have no core political beliefs?

Blair: I accept that people say that, yes, for a very obvious reason, which is that they can’t often handle the concept of new Labour as opposed to traditional Labour Party views, or old-style socialism.

The full interview can be found at It’s very interesting for those who like to see this old Third Way pro at work.


George Ooi in Melbourne

I agree with Tim Dunlop in his critique of Mark Latham and The Third Way. In Victoria there is a growing opposition to the `new’ ALP by traditional ALP members and supporters. My local Yarra City Council used to be completely dominated by ALP: now the Greens hold 4, independent 1 and ALP 4. In their futile attempt to woo the middle class from the Coalition with their `me too’ policies they have lost their neglected traditional supporters.


Michel Dignand in Wagga Wagga, NSW

Unlike most of your published Webdiarists on this subject, I only have a couple of hours each day to spare. Reading the arguments presented from both sides of this debate so far, I have to answer `bullshit’.

Concisely, here is the problem: Labor is the party of the Left. The Left means Socialist. Without pause to consider the intricacies of the matter, roughly fifty percent of our population want a party that leans more or less to the Left. Many Labor politicians, stupid, ignorant or just plain power-crazy, think they can move the Labor party to the Right.

Concisely, here is the answer: Those politicians who think the Third Way is a winner should be in the Liberal (hah!) Party. Or maybe the National Party.

The Labor party will happily find new socialist leaders, once freed of the scourge they’ve been lumbered with for so long.


Dr Aaron Oakley in Dalkeith, Western Australia

Responding to my comments in For those who give two hootsGlenn Condell in Third Way revisited engages in argument through false analogy. He tries to argue that although brain surgeons would agree about technique, economists wouldn’t. Sure, a marxist economist would disagree with a free-market economist. But similarly, a new-age quack healer would disagree with a brain surgeon.

Clearly, Mr Condell and most other Webdiarists don’t like what they sneeringly refer to as `rational economics’. The funny thing is that most real economists don’t talk about `rational economics’ in the same way that most scientists don’t talk about voodoo. They tend to talk about Austrian Economics, Keynesian economics etc. An economically literate friend of mine said that people don’t like so-called rational economics because it tells them harsh truths that they don’t want to hear.

Mr Condell sets up a straw man by attacking me as an economist for commenting on economics. I am not, and I never claimed to be. Nor do I occupy a “mountaintop eyrie”, as Mr Condell sneeringly puts it. If he read my contribution properly, he would have seen that I deferred to a certain Mr Gerry Jackson, who knows a great deal more economics than most people, and provided links to his articles that debunked the nostrumsTim Dunlop preached. So why doesn’t Mr Condell address what Mr Jackson said? Is it too much work?

Mr Condell refers to books by Joseph Stiglitz as some sort of proof that Dunlop et al have a point. But how can he judge the economics of those books? Could he tell whether the arguments stood up to scrutiny? Wouldn’t it help to have some sort of economic training to do so? Could he read a detailed technical work on quantum physics and identify its errors as well? While Joseph Stiglitz may have something valuable to add to the debate, how can economic illiterates like Tim Dunlop, Glen Condell, and, indeed, myself Judge?

OK Mr Dunlop, Mr Condell and friends, tell us where Mr Jackson, who actually knows something about economics, is wrong on what he considers to be the interventionist failures of South East Asia. Once again, here are the relevant links: ( and (


Tim Dunlop in Washington

This is my response to David Eastwood’s piece `Longing for the past’ in Third Way Revisited.

He writes: Tim Dunlop argues long, intricately and passionately against the Third Way from a traditional leftist position, but his case against the Third Way has to be judged `Not Proven’. It is argued politically, not objectively. It seeks to attack, and not offer alternatives.

I can never understand this sort of `criticism’. Of course I argue politically: on matters of social issues, how do you do anything else? I have an opinion; I make a case. My article is therefore political. Big deal. To quote that great journo Martha Gellhorn: “Write what you see. I never believed in this objectivity shit.” This is not to say (lest David jump at the bait) that there is no such thing as objectivity, only that the sorts of issues that the Third Way raises are inherently political. And no, I didn’t in the 13,000 word critique of the 3W offer an alternative to it, though one is implied. Again, so what? David should stick to criticising what I did write, not what I didn’t write.

Tim’s argument is internally incoherent. He presents a damning indictment of his Second Way (Economic Rationalism). He also (quite rightly) mentions that the Third Way seeks to humanise capitalism through an envelope of policy and regulation that constrains the free market. But he ignores this distinction in concluding that failings in naked, free-market economics systematically undermine the Third Way.

I don’t ignore it at all. I argue that a reliance on `free markets’ undermines the 3W’s humanising project. David’s point here completely sidesteps the issue. I’d further ask: Given the 3W wishes to `outsource’ most economic control from individual states to non-democratic quasi-private institutions like the World Bank, what institutional framework does the 3W offer to replace the institutions of the state that have been the only source of mitigation to the excesses of the market? Without such alternative institutions it is difficult to see how they are going to `humanise’ anything.

In describing the Third Way as a synthesis of two principles often considered contradictory, Tim relies on a traditional, bi-polar political spectrum. He discards the Third Way simply because it combines elements traditionally considered left and right. I’m reminded of a brilliant web diary piece from Christopher Selth last year ( Left, right … how politics will march forwards, 27/9/01, reproduced below). It demonstrates ably the possibility that the political spectrum can now be defined in more than one dimension. Many of our elites, often economically right and socially left would agree that the underlying philosophy politics is changing.

I understand perfectly that a new synthesis can arise from a reconsideration of former opposites. My point is that the third way doesn’t do this: I don’t miss the possibility, I argue they fail to deliver. Partly this is because what little of `the left’ is in the third way is purely rhetoric – it is not really leftist at all, and therefore David’s multi-dimensional synthesis is non-existent because the elements necessary for it to occur aren’t there in the first place. In short, David needs to show what is `left’ about the 3W, which might be difficult for him in the short-term as he also says `I’ll confess to being poorly read on the topic and only intuitively familiar with its principles’. `Intuitively familiar? How does this sit with your avowed need for objectivity?

Tim discounts the purported distinction between the Third Way and Economic Rationalism to zero, without presenting any evidence to support this. He presents no analysis of how effective Third Way principles might or might not be in mitigating the pain caused by free market economics.

The point is, they don’t offer any such principles, making it a bit hard for me to present them.

Tim’s piece presents and analyses examples poorly and (by admission) incompletely to support his position. For example, an attestation that dairy deregulation has failed is what I would term an IBA (Intellectually Blank Assertion) when presented without any evidence as to the impacts on all stakeholders. Has the price gone up? Dunno, haven’t seen the evidence. Have displaced dairy farmers been successfully re-integrated to society? Dunno, no evidence for or against presented in this piece.

Far from being an intellectually blank assertion, the evidence about the price of milk is overwhelming, not least by that old fashioned empirical method of going and buying some. Try and find anyone anymore who argues that the price of milk has gone down thanks to deregulation. (Even Paul Kelly and Imre Salsinszky have given up this line.)

In the deregulated market, Coles and Woolies put their milk business out to tender and half a billion dollars was wiped off the farmgate price of milk (see Mark Westfield’s article in The Australian business section, 13 Feb 2002). Some of this was passed onto consumers, most wasn’t: It went into Coles’ and Woolies’ bottom lines (registering Woolies CEO as a corporate genius and pumping Woolies share price and even their operating profitability).

However, by October 2001, even Woolies realised the trouble this was causing producers (farmers) and offered to renegotiate the contracts. CEO Roger Corbett said he hoped the processors would pass on part of the wholesale price increase to dairy farmers “in distress”. The price went up by 15cents a litre (having dropped by perhaps 10cents a litre immediately after dereg, according to the ACCC) and has since risen again.

As to whether those hundreds of farmers forced out have `reintegrated into society’, the answer is mixed. The ones who committed suicide haven’t (according to various farmers I’ve spoken to there are at least 5 cases). Some have found other work, I’m sure – perhaps Neil Baker, a former dairy farmer who has contributed to Webdiary in the past would be a better person to talk with.

Anyway, my basic point was that dairy deregulation was a farce no matter what your economic preferences are, and that it seriously called into question the almost religious faith 3Wers have in competition policy. Even Woolies CEO Roger Corbett agrees with me, a remarkable thing given that Woolies were undoubtedly the biggest beneficiary of deregulation. Speaking of the deregulation of the market he has said: “I think it’s quickly becoming a disgrace for Australia,” and that “My strong view is the time has come for Australia to produce a green paper that canvasses these major issues, followed by a government white paper… It’s my view that the debate should be bipartisan….My argument is that it’s a community-wide problem for all of us in Australia….I think the time has come in terms of a fair go that we as a country at least have a fair dinkum attempt at government level of having a strategy and a policy that everyone understands.”

The bottom line is that just because someone doesn’t include every bit of supporting evidence for every point they make, is not a reason to presume they don’t have the evidence, and it is therefore a bit risky to dismiss their comments as `intellectually blank assertions’.

Tim’s analysis of the Boston Bakery draws parallels between the former, artisan (my term) workforce and their output and the much smaller factory baker workforce, their technological solution and the impact on their lifestyles, while ignoring the impact of that change on the displaced bakers. If 20 factory workers replaced 80 artisans, what happened to the other 60? Unemployment in Boston (using this as a parallel for western economies as a whole) hasn’t exploded through economic development. While a handful is no doubt unemployed (around 6% on average here), how many displaced artisans joined or started boutique bakeries? How many bought Bakers Delight franchises? How many are now happily real estate agents, dog washers or the like?

David is again chastising me for what I haven’t written. I would counsel him, however, not to rely on unemployment statistics, when one hour worked in a week is considered to make you `employed’. With such rubbery figures, any interpretation is possible. As to how many people have ended up in other work, well about 27. I suggest also that he reads the book I took the example from: Richard Sennett’s The Corrosion of Character.

Tim’s economic analysis is coloured by his guilty until proven innocent view. His attestation that free trade policy had little to with the express economic development of nations like Singapore and Japan, Korea et al ignores the facts. Free trade policy in their customer jurisdictions made these countries success. By granting them access to large and hungry markets for their inexpensive and rapidly improving products the West helped them grow. Surely, this only strengthens arguments made by the proponents of globalisation that the best way to obliterate world poverty is through free trade. Tim’s revisionist analysis is incomplete.

Actually, it strengthens my argument – why do touts for economic rationalism always to fail to follow what is being said when people question their certainties? As Dr Aaron Oakley so ably pointed out on these pages, these countries are not examples of free trading miracle economies but of ones where strong central governments had serious control over resource allocation. It’s you, David, who have the facts wrong.

Tim’s analysis ignores the temporal dimension of economic change. If change and globalisation create short-term losers today, (and certainly they do) the theory says this is for the longer term good. More efficient distribution of economic resources will improve future welfare. Fewer unnecessary dairy farms means less pollution. Fewer dairy farmers means less subsidies in future. As I understand it, the Third Way seeks to lubricate this transition by creating substantive support mechanisms and change programs for people displaced by economic development as, ironically, was attempted in the case of dairy deregulation.

It’s becoming a cliche to quote Keynes on this, but it remains the best response. When chided by free marketeers that even if `free markets’ weren’t working now they would work `in the long run’, Keynes replied: “In the long run we are all dead.” As a side point, dairy deregulation has caused more pollution, not less – see Dr Jim Scott (University of new England) for the most thorough analysis.

Tim’s analysis seems predicated on a dated view of sovereignty. Today’s sovereign states are largely geopolitical constructs, as were their predecessors dating back to Stone Age times.

Largely? Try entirely. There are no naturally occurring states that I know of. What’s your point?

From the tribe, through the fiefdom, the city-state, the empire, the colony, the nation and the supranational federations now emerging, sovereignty has evolved. Globalisation is this process fuelled, as arguably it always has been, by improved information flows and technology.

And who fuels the information and technology? And to what end? Part of the point I was making is that the new technologies commodify information and therefore tend to lock it up rather than disperse it. If you disagree with that, it would at least make for a more interesting discussion if you wanted to argue the point.

If the Third Way tolerates a managed short term dislocation in a developed market (say, for example killing Australia’s uncompetitive textile industry) in return for creating many more jobs elsewhere (productivity is much lower in poor countries), and if in turn that sustains and delivers self-esteem to many more humans in less developed worlds, isn’t that a good thing? Does the fact that `they’ are not `we’ prevent us from acting in their interests?

Now who’s making assertions? Where your evidence for even half of this? The creation of jobs is one thing economic rationalism in Australia is particularly poor at, though advocates are more likely to blame `outdated’ employment laws etc. It’s worth reading John Quiggin and John Langmore on this topic or you could try the recent J. Borland, B. Gregory and P. Sheehan book Work Rich, Work Poor, Inequality and economic change in Australia (Centre for Strategic Economic Studies, Victoria University, 2001) which paints a less than rosy picture than you seem to be asserting here.

Viewed collectively, nations and their societies are at very different levels in Maslows hierarchy. Tim’s view of economics and communities is based squarely on a parochial frame of reference within a society seeking self-actualisation. What about those societies for whom the basic needs have not yet been met. Could we be morally obliged to further their fundamental needs over our luxuries? Our broadly Judaeo-Christian faiths speak of the common man, not of arbitrarily defined nationalities.

This is waffle. How do you get this out of my article? Again, pots and kettles should watch who they accuse of `assertion’. But to take up the point briefly, why does David think that some societies are without necessities while others bathe in luxury (and more insanely, why does he seem to imply that I approve of it?) You might want to look at your basics of market allocation (the worth of which, remember, I am sceptical of) and consider why we have millions affected by diseases like TB and AIDS while the market is busy withholding drugs from poor countries thusly affected, while at the same time allocating such marvels as Viagara and fat-burning pills in more affluent markets. In market terms this might be legitimate `allocation’, but if David doesn’t think it is, then he should be agreeing with my analysis, not arguing with it. Don’t ask me rhetorical question about morality – ask `free markets’.

Despite his avowed contempt of sentimentality for the past, the community dislocation Tim laments late in the piece suggests a profound longing for earlier times and telegraphs our natural fear of change. My interpretation of the Third Way recognises this and seeks to mitigate it. Tim seems to discount the value of this out of hand. Tim’s view seems to be more that change is inherently bad.

Is this what your arguments against me are reduced to – mind reading? I can disavow certain beliefs as carefully as I like, but on David’s reading, I’m actually hankering after `earlier times’. I am at one with PJ O’Rourke: “If you think that, in the past, there was some golden age of pleasure and plenty to which you would, if you were able, transport yourself, let me say one single word: “Dentistry”.

Third Way revisited

Tim Dunlop’s attack on Mark Latham’s political philosophy in The Third Way: Window dressing for capitulation (May 7) has produced some passionate, in depth debate. Today, pieces from David Eastwood, Brian Bahnisch and Glenn Condell.

The Herald’s online’s deputy night editor Kim Porteous has kindly put up Max Moore-Wilton’s report on alleged witness tampering by one of his senior officers, Dr Brendon Hammer, in connection with the children overboard inquiry. You’ll find it in Webdiary at the top of the inquiry archive in the right hand column. The history of the mess is in Edging towards the desk where the buck stops (May 3) and PM’s man out on a shaky limb (May 7). The Moore-Wilton report came down last Monday, the day before the budget, but I haven’t had time to write an analysis of it yet. I’m going the Canberra to report on the inquiry hearings on Wednesday and Thursday, and hope to have an analysis up by the end of the week.

The report and its attachments are a great read (please forgive my scribblings). The documents are:

1. Howard’s press release, May 13

2. Moore-Wilton’s report, May 10, pages 2 to 6

3. Defence department minute to Robert Hill, April 29

4. Letter from the PM’s office to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PMC), April 30

5. Report from PMC to Howard, May 1

6. Letter from Dr Hammer to Commander Stefan King, April 30

7. Letter from Moore-Wilton to Dr Hammer, May 1

8. Letter from Moore-Wilton to Harinder Sidhu, May 1

9. Letter from Dr Hammer to Moore-Wilton, May 6, pages 16 to 20

10. Letter from Harinder Sidhu to Moore-Wilton, May 6

11. Letter from Moore-Wilton to Michael Potts, May 7

12. Letter from Potts to Moore-Wilton, May 8, pages 26 to 27 (The last bit of page 27 has been cut off in error. It contains nothing of significance)


One liners

Cathy Bannister: Loved the Tim Dunlop piece on Mark Latham. That analysis was spot on and timely. Anyone who can use such high falutin’ principles to come up with such populist rot as a reintroduction of corporal punishment in schools deserves a caning.

Phil Drayson in Perth: Politics confuses me – the left is in disarray! Bob Dylan said:

“Is the scenery changing,

Am I getting it wrong,

Is the whole thing going backwards,

Are they playing our song?

Where were you when it started

Do you want it for free

What was it you wanted

Are you talking to me?”

What was it you wanted

Oh Mercy


Longing for the past

By David Eastwood


I’m no devotee of the Third Way. I’ll confess to being poorly read on the topic and only intuitively familiar with its principles. I’m also deeply sceptical of Latham’s political agenda and the possibility, or worth, of swinging the Labour battleship in this direction. Labor’s traditional constituencies have already signalled that they won’t take this lying down.

What I do believe is that the arguments for the existence of a Third Way are compelling at face value. They deserve deep analysis and consideration in an objective fashion. The world has changed more than a little this past century. It’s intuitive that our political philosophies must evolve too.

Tim Dunlop argues long, intricately and passionately against the Third Way from a traditional leftist position, but his case against the Third Way has to be judged `Not Proven’. It is argued politically, not objectively. It seeks to attack, and not offer alternatives.

One of its key arguments is internally incoherent. It is based on a traditional, bi-polar political spectrum. It selectively and incompletely analyses supporting examples. It ignores the temporal dimension of economic theory. It argues the case from a definition of sovereignty becoming inevitably dated. It contains strong elements of sentimentality and a longing for the past.

1. Tim’s guilty-until-proven-innocent frame of reference is an inherently political stance. This can’t be a good way to assess or illuminate an issue being presented politically. It will typically ignore relevant facts in presenting its arguments (Tim does this in this piece) and will tend to draw conclusions not supported by the evidence presented. A broader paradigm taints analysis (Tim does this too).

2. Tim’s argument is internally incoherent. He presents a damning indictment of his Second Way (Economic Rationalism). He also (quite rightly) mentions that the Third Way seeks to humanise capitalism through an envelope of policy and regulation that constrains the free market. But he ignores this distinction in concluding that failings in naked, free-market economics systematically undermine the Third Way.

3. In describing the Third Way as a synthesis of two principles often considered contradictory, Tim relies on a traditional, bi-polar political spectrum. He discards the Third Way simply because it combines elements traditionally considered left and right. I’m reminded of a brilliant web diary piece from Christopher Selth last year (Left, right … how politics will march forwards, 27/9/01, reproduced below). It demonstrates ably the possibility that the political spectrum can now be defined in more than one dimension. Many of our elites, often economically right and socially left would agree that the underlying philosophy politics is changing.

4. Tim discounts the purported distinction between the Third Way and Economic Rationalism to zero, without presenting any evidence to support this. He presents no analysis of how effective Third Way principles might or might not be in mitigating the pain caused by free market economics.

5. Tim’s piece presents and analyses examples poorly and (by admission) incompletely to support its position. For example, an attestation that dairy deregulation has failed is what I would term an IBA (Intellectually Blank Assertion) when presented without any evidence as to the impacts on all stakeholders. Has the price gone up? Dunno, haven’t seen the evidence. Have displaced dairy farmers been successfully re-integrated to society? Dunno, no evidence for or against presented in this piece.

Tim’s analysis of the Boston Bakery draws parallels between the former, artisan (my term) workforce and their output and the much smaller factory baker workforce, their technological solution and the impact on their lifestyles, while ignoring the impact of that change on the displaced bakers.

If 20 factory workers replaced 80 artisans, what happened to the other 60? Unemployment in Boston (using this as a parallel for western economies as a whole) hasn’t exploded through economic development. While a handful is no doubt unemployed (around 6% on average here), how many displaced artisans joined or started boutique bakeries? How many bought Bakers Delight franchises? How many are now happily real estate agents, dog washers or the like? These are Latham’s new constituency, core to his arguments, but Tim’s analysis ignores them. Its a philosophy for winners, not workers. AJP Taylor, come on down.

Tim’s economic analysis is coloured by his guilty until proven innocent view. His attestation that free trade policy had little to with the express economic development of nations like Singapore and Japan, Korea et al ignores the facts. Free trade policy in their customer jurisdictions made these countries success. By granting them access to large and hungry markets for their inexpensive and rapidly improving products the West helped them grow. Surely, this only strengthens arguments made by the proponents of globalisation that the best way to obliterate world poverty is through free trade. Tim’s revisionist analysis is incomplete.

6. Tim’s analysis ignores the temporal dimension of economic change. If change and globalisation create short-term losers today, (and certainly they do) the theory says this is for the longer term good. More efficient distribution of economic resources will improve future welfare. Fewer unnecessary dairy farms means less pollution. Fewer dairy farmers means less subsidies in future. As I understand it, the Third Way seeks to lubricate this transition by creating substantive support mechanisms and change programs for people displaced by economic development as, ironically, was attempted in the case of dairy deregulation.

7. Tim’s analysis seems predicated on a dated view of sovereignty. Today’s sovereign states are largely geopolitical constructs, as were their predecessors dating back to Stone Age times. From the tribe, through the fiefdom, the city-state, the empire, the colony, the nation and the supranational federations now emerging, sovereignty has evolved. Globalisation is this process fuelled, as arguably it always has been, by improved information flows and technology.

If the Third Way tolerates a managed short term dislocation in a developed market (say, for example killing Australia’s uncompetitive textile industry) in return for creating many more jobs elsewhere (productivity is much lower in poor countries), and if in turn that sustains and delivers self-esteem to many more humans in less developed worlds, isn’t that a good thing? Does the fact that `they’ are not `we’ prevent us from acting in their interests?

Viewed collectively, nations and their societies are at very different levels in Maslows hierarchy (see chiron). Tim’s view of economics and communities is based squarely on a parochial frame of reference within a society seeking self-actualisation. What about those societies for whom the basic needs have not yet been met. Could we be morally obliged to further their fundamental needs over our luxuries? Our broadly Judaeo-Christian faiths speak of the common man, not of arbitrarily defined nationalities.

8. Despite his avowed contempt of sentimentality for the past, the community dislocation Tim laments late in the piece suggests a profound longing for earlier times and telegraphs our natural fear of change. My interpretation of the Third Way recognises this and seeks to mitigate it. Tim seems to discount the value of this out of hand. Tim’s view seems to be more that change is inherently bad.


Christopher Selth (Webdiary, September 27, 2001)

Disclosure: Christopher is the former head of international equities at Bankers Trust (BT)

In response to Greg Weilo’s view of left and right, I am not sure whether or not Greg is confused about the appropriate labels to apply to his position. He is either naive or disingenuous with respect to the label appropriate to his positioning on the political spectrum. More significantly, the underlying politics of his position reflects the deep fissures in our society that the tragedy in New York is opening up.

I would like to respond to the underlying philosophical points Greg raises before coming back to labels. The two issues are, however, very linked.

Firstly, one must distinguish between underlying belief systems, and the strategies adopted by political parties. This distinction can be seen either as reflecting the notorious disconnect between politicians and voters, due to the cynical pursuit of power, or alternatively as the disconnect between high principle, or abstract theory, and its application to the practicalities of government.

A further problem appears from the difficulties, if not bankruptcy, of left and right wing economic theories in generating convincing practical outcomes. Marxism and Socialism, and Economic Rationalism no longer offer the political machines of left and right easily saleable policy stances. Note, so-called Economic Rationalism is in f act the pure application of a brand of capitalist, neo-classical economic theory. It has become clouded with the realiti es of practical, rational, economic policy.

Political parties need to be understood in terms of the electoral base to which they appeal, and the strategies they need to adopt in order to get over the line, to win elections. So-called left wing parties have two traditional constituencies; the working class, which tends to be economically left wing, but culturally conservative; and the liberal humanist intelligentsia, which is more economically rational in orientation, but culturally very liberal.

The right wing parties have a parallel fault line. One constituency is old money and small business. There are a number of sub groups here, including owners of businesses that are often local monopolists, but tend to be averse or incapable of taking on global challenges, farmers, and small businesses. These groups tend to favour state intervention to protect their positions from globalisation and the stresses of change. Their politics can ironically parallel the socialism of the working class, but for powerfully different reasons. Their cultural politics tend to conservatism.

The other group comprises global capitalists and technocrats. This group is not defending its position, it is seeking to expand its wealth. It is confident and pro-globalisation and economic rationalism. It is culturally liberal humanist.

You can see in this matrix the divides that have been evident within the Australian political landscape for some time. It is why the Labor Party has resisted homosexual law reform, and why the Coalition has locked in the positions of Kerry Packer, Qantas, and parts of the agricultural lobby, rather than promoting free trade. Left and right wing parties pursue policies in stark divergence from some simplistic understanding of their supposed underlying support base.

This is why right wing parties tend to push socially conservative and populist policies that appeal to the working classes. It will transfer votes from the traditional left to the populist right. It is key to winning a parliamentary majority. In America these were the so called Reagan democrats.

Pauline Hanson undermined the Australian right wing’s ability to claim this ground. That’s why she was so dangerous. This was why the Tampa was such a crucial turning point for John Howard. Behind this rhetoric, however, the right has little interest in the broad agenda of the working class, other than protecting jobs when it simultaneously protects the economic interests of its support base.

The globalist faction in the right, witness Peter Costello, is invariably outraged by this positioning.

The old left was interested in pushing its liberal humanist agenda to win middle class champagne socialist support, whilst being careful of not alienating its working class base. This was the Gough Whitlam strategy. You can see how long Labour stayed out of power in Australia and the UK as a result.

The new left added to its arsenal by embracing elements of economic rationalism. This was particularly the case as Marxism and Socialism were seen as failing to deliver under the pressure of global capital and change. It owed few favours to old money. The more sophisticated members of the new left, such as Paul Keating, saw that the only way to improve job prospects in the nation longer term was by making the economy more efficient. This would also win middle class votes.

The problem was that the short term pain would always leave it at risk with its traditional voting base. That is what ultimately brought Labor down. It is why Kim Beazley is so scared of declaring his hand. He is castrated by these internal tensions.

Both sides are constantly doing deals that alienate part of their traditional support base. This is reality. It is a clear outcome of the structure of our electoral process and parliamentary system.

An interesting insight on these issues can be found in the work of the now dead US sociologist, Christopher Lasch. His last book before he died, The Revolt of the Elites: And the Betrayal of Democracy is particularly thought provoking. The core thesis in this book is that the global technocracy, visible in all our major cities, working for globally focused organisations, have more in common with each other than the culture of their particular national hinterland.

I think there is a great deal of truth in this proposition. People like me, educated affluent technocratic elitist bastards, have more in common with our class compatriots in London, Paris or New York, than we do with the average man of our particular economic hinterland. In Sydney this can be metaphorically conceptualised as the difference of culture and beliefs between inner city and coastal dwellers, and the suburbs.

Lasch comments that this global class tends to be socially liberal humanist. He notes the irony that the elite might support gay rights, but at the same time feel it is for the best that inefficient industries be shut down, even at the expense of jobs and communities This is what Greg would refer to as left wing, social ideology. At the same time it is economically rationalist, which Greg identifies as right wing economic philosophy.

The important question that arises is what is the motivation behind the elite’s espousal of these values? Is it legitimate compassion, or a self-serving identification with the fashionable causes of the day, a champagne socialism that can go hand in hand with the process of personal enrichment?

It is the new religion of the upper class, which John Howard often, to his chagrin, runs up against. The have nots of our society often feel these values are hypocritical. Despite all of this, many of these values are of great merit. The irony is that it is this great Western tradition that George W. Bush keeps saying we are fighting for.

Lasch’s work is filled with dark irony. It transcends the distinction of left and right. It hits the fault line on which Greg sits. Whilst Lasch unquestionably has captured a key thread, he does not reach any conclusions. It is a provocative piece.

The attack on liberal humanism, and economic rationalism and globalisation, reflect a common factor, fear of change, fear of the unknown. Human history has seen at these moments objective analysis give way to extremism and hysteria. Legitimate criticisms from both sides are lost. We are at risk of being swept away by this tide. Extremist politics are on the rise.

The question confronting us is: Can we integrate liberal humanism with a new paradigm in economic management? Economic policy needs to balance the dynamic drive of capitalism, with appropriate measures to reduce the shock waves and to humanise the process. Regrettably most such strategies in recent times have been hijacked by traditional interest groups: old money, old unions, and old farmers. The power of governments to act in the face of global forces is itself suspect.

A new economic philosophy and social philosophy is required. We must move forward, not backward. The conservative chest beating post the World Trade Center attack risks the worst outcome.

Greg’s thinly veiled piece emphasises this point. It is not hard to decipher. Greg groups all elements of the community that are not part of his pure national core as dangerous; homosexuals [of which I am proudly one!!!], feminists, pro-abortion groups, multi-cultu ralists. On this front he calls himself a Nationalist. On the economic front, he calls himself a Socialist. A national socialist?

Is it by accident that Greg says that left wing extremists have been running things for the last 50 years, ie the post war period? Fifty years ago there was another National Socialist who was arguing the same thing. His name was Adolf Hitler.

I am afraid that the fight is just beginning against this conservative backlash. I agree with Margo that a new opposition movement is needed. It needs to do more than just say bigotry is wrong. It must address the philosophical and political roots of this problem. It must be a broad movement. It must be self critical to avoid the accusation of elitism. This must be more than just the liberal humanist intelligentsia saying how awful everyone else is.


A Kind of Madness

By Brian Bahnisch


I thought Tim Dunlop did pretty well in his demolition of The Third Way. For me it was another reason not to read the principal tomes of the Third Way literature.

The first reason came in 1998 soon after the publication of Mark Latham’s Civilising Global Capitalism. My son Mark Bahnisch, who lectures in sociology at the Queensland University of Technology, wrote a review of Latham’s book in Overland no. 152. It was a negative review, concluding that “the reconstruction of the social democratic project in Australia is a task still awaiting a beginning”.

Soon thereafter, at my son’s strong suggestion, I read two stunning books, Zygmunt Bauman’s Work, Consumerism and the New Poor and Richard Sennett’s The Corrosion of Character. Since then I have been reading a fair bit about globalisation, trade, liberalism, neoliberalism, postmodernism and related matters. Along the way I have read about the third way, read many of Latham’s newspaper columns and heard lots about it on the ABC, so I claim my knowledge of the Third Way as adequate working knowledge for my present purpose.

In late 1999 Dr Mary Walsh and Mark Bahnisch wrote a review article entitled “The Third Way”: Intellectuals and the Future of Social Democratic Politics (See Journal of Sociology, March 2000) covering the works of “a sociologist, two `intellectual’ politicians and a `talking head'”, that is Anthony Giddens’ book The Third Way, Lindsay Tanner’s Open Australia, Latham’s book, plus one other book that need not concern us here. This article is a densely argued piece with few concessions to the lay reader. However what I learned includes the following:

1. The third way discourse is firmly located within the single pole of a putatively bipolar world, that pole being free market capitalism.

2. The third way discourse is going nowhere. For example it has “no effective politics that would shift or even effect the imbalance of power between an individualised society and the collective action of elite or capital groups”. Giddens accepts, in fact, that “liberal democracy is the teleological end of history” and that there is no alternative to capitalism.

3. Whereas the third wayists are concerned about the decline of trust and the atomisation of society, their solution seems to be for a weakened and untrusted state to call into being dense webs of community communication, cooperation and trust.

4. There is little if anything new in their proposals except calling into being some new and mysterious `radical centre’.

Last year my son advised me that I should get hold of a speech Mark Latham gave in July 2000 at a Globalisation Seminar hosted by the North Queensland Branch of the Australian Institute of International Affairs at the James Cook University, Cairns Campus. You can find it at

He started by saying that globalisation was a hot-button issue. The only thing that people agreed about was a definition of globalisation. He then gave some of the characteristics of globalisation, some of which I found quite contestable.

He said that the changes brought by globalisation had “produced new political tensions and controversies” (agreed). But then he took a step that in one fell swoop set the ground of the argument and made it’s outcome pretty much inevitable. He said:

“The debate has split into two camps: the pessimists and the optimists; those who fear the future in a globalised world and those who welcome it. Through the eyes of the pessimists and the optimists it is possible to gain a snapshot of the globalisation dilemma.”

But hang on Mark, I thought. I’m not wholly pessimistic or optimistic about these things. I’m a realist for God’s sake! What you are going to do is polarise the debate, declare yourself an optimist and make the pessimists look like dills. You, on the other hand, will look like a visionary.

And that is what he did.

He made eight statements of contrast between pessimists and optimists, declared himself an optimist, then gave each of the statements a heading (Free Trade, Skilled Labour, Economic Decentralisation etc). Under each heading he expounded his views. It was a performance of considerable virtuosity, with references to Adam Smith, Marx, Thatcher, John Ralston Saul, Keynesian pump priming, Francis Fukuyama and many more including something he calls “the Rose Porteous principle”. Along the way he took a swipe among others at Pauline Hanson (of course) and Queensland academic Mark Bahnisch (clearly a dill).

He began his conclusion with an approving reference to Thomas Friedman’s “golden straitjacket of globalisation” (TINA – There Is No Alternative!). What followed was a rising crescendo in which he saw glorious opportunities for the future, the future in particular of left-of-centre politics. It was quite impressive, really. He paid tribute to the vision of former Labor leaders such as Curtin, Chifley and Whitlam (more recent leaders were strangely missing).

Along the way Latham states that “(globalisation) offers a golden opportunity for creative policy making and the revival of social democracy. In particular, I am attracted to the politics of the Third Way, with its agenda for economic stakeholding, mutual responsibility, social entrepreneurs and learning beyond the classroom.” Thus he locates his thinking within a broader stream.

Two weeks ago I received an email from my son with a short review article for The Journal of Australian Political Economy on the Peter Botsman/Mark Latham compilation The Enabling State. My Mark finds that ‘The Third Way’ “becomes a wonderfully versatile (because empty) political signifier” which is used to make assertions, to negate or dismiss ideas not in favour rather than to engage with them. Apparently the `Hegelian Dialectic’ is also pressed into service, which in this context actually exposes “a series of gross and unsupported generalisations and simplifications which mask the surrender to transhistorical forces of globalisation – read neoliberal markets”. That should earn him another swipe or two!

The real trick with the Third Way, it seems, is that you can put into it any content you like. But you can also use the authority and power of the brand to deal with contrary views without the inconvenience of supplying supporting argument. Meanwhile, the neoliberal project is at the very least left intact or even supported.

Back to the Cairns speech, in which there is some interesting stuff in the Cairns speech along with some errors and distortions. My interest is not in engaging with the particularities but in looking at how Latham structures his argument. He takes issues that are multi-faceted and polarises them into black and white alternatives.

For example, you have to be entirely in favour of free trade. The given alternative for a country is complete protectionism and an attempt at total self-sufficiency. In fact he sets up a series of false binaries. Here again I am indebted to my son, who has done a lot of work on the tendency in Western thought to binary forms. Such forms lead to distortions, exclusions, elisions and the establishment of hegemonies. (Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am”, for example, solidified an unnecessary and undesirable cleavage between mind and body, between mental and physical activity, with the former valued over the latter.)

We need to ask who Latham’s pessimists and optimists are. The optimist is easy. It’s him. The pessimist is more difficult to identify. It not only includes all those protesters around the world who have turned up at meetings of the perceived power brokers of capitalism, protesters who are in fact impossibly diverse in their positions and purposes.

It also includes all of us who struggle with these issues in a spirit of enquiry. We may have areas of clarity that hold for a time but vary in the light of new evidence. It includes those who want fair trade rather than free trade, and many more who have positive suggestions for solving the problems of an unjust world. No trouble to Mark Latham, however. It has all been sorted and is perfectly clear. The “pessimist” is in fact a construct of “non-him”. Optimists are those who agree with Mark Latham. Pessimists are everyone else.

This is not the work of an intellectual politician. It is the work of an ideologue, some-one who has found the truth, fixed it in a collection of ideas and viewpoints, and then proceeds to bring the rest of the world to his view.

It is the fixing and the persuading that is the problem with ideologues. The fixed standpoint ossifies while the world moves on. Means not normally acceptable (such as muscling up to that other bunch of ideologues, adopting their methods) become OK because the stakes are high and the ends are good.

I see reality in terms of constant change. Everything around us changes, but most of all we change. We fix things in memory, otherwise we could not operate. But those memories are not fixed. They change as we call upon them in new situations for new purposes. Knowing is not so much a matter of finding the truth for all time, but rather a temporary fix on something that is fluid but decidable (another thank you here to my son). Such deciding is done in particular circumstances, by particular and changing person(s) for particular purposes. Knowing is best seen as a conative act, a part of human striving.

Once you have decided the decidable, you have to ask whether what you have is firmly based enough to be used as working knowledge for the purpose you have in mind. The problem with the Third Way is that it is used to support significant “truth” claims when in itself it means nothing much at all.

For the political ideologue, knowing is a done deal and reality has to change to conform. The reality that is targeted here (because we are dealing with ideas) lies inside the heads of others. So what was Latham’s purpose in Cairns? The prime purpose was not, I think, to transmit information. He piled in too much for that. Information as he employed it had two functions. Firstly it built up the authority of the presenter. Secondly it distracted from what the presenter was doing, namely positioning all those who disagree with him, his “other” in a neat little place where he could blow them away.

But there is another subtext or “hidden curriculum” as we used to say in schooling. I suspect that it is main game, whether or not Latham so intended.

Let me put it this way. The audience leaving the speech, unless they were exceptionally well informed in the area, would have retained only a few snippets of information. In the main they would have gone away thinking, Gee, that Latham fellow is impressive. He knows a lot and has thought a lot about it. He’s really got it sorted and knows where he’s going. Remember that in political ideology the ideologue’s bottom line is power. What he needs is your vote. Best you just vote and leave the thinking to him.

Well sorry, mate, it just does not stand up and I cannot bring myself to wish you well with it.

Mark Latham often has interesting things to say, but they need to be considered in their own right, not with the extra gloss of being part of a new approach to political economy. There is no philosophy underpinning the Third Way. It means nothing substantive; it is an empty signifier. But when it is called into service in the political arena to demolish the ideas of others it no longer functions as a pointless piece of rhetorical fluff, as in academia, it becomes demagoguery.

Mercifully the Third Way may already be receding into history with a residual life for a time in the colonies. In my son’s most recent review he tells us that the Guardian on 22 March this year reported that Tony Blair had replaced the “philosophy” of the “Third Way” with a new “project” of the “Third Phase” (ugh!) in a speech at Tony Giddens’ stomping ground, the London School of Economics.

Mark Latham may produce good ideas from time to time but the problem is that you can’t argue with him. Bob McMullan and Kim Beazley found his education proposals unpalatable in 1999 and dispatched them into the waste paper bin. Simon Crean looks as though he may learn the hard way.

I am inclined to think Latham will never be leader. He is almost certain to self-destruct at some stage, given his inflexibility and aggression. If he does become leader, there will be no shortage of ideas. Whether these ideas will filter up from the masses and the ministry is another matter.

Now I must tell you about the reference that got me reading the Cairns speech in the first place. It went thus:

“The most absurd claim of the anti-globalists concerns the deskilling of labour. A Queensland academic Mark Bahnisch, for instance, has linked “the deskilling of work with the growth of personal service labour”. Obviously his parents and grandparents never had to work in a production-line manufacturing plant.”

My reaction? Not even a cheap shot, just – well, weird! Also unnecessary and irrelevant. As for his substantive comment, he goes on to say that tourism and leisure services such as those in Cairns provide a “more comfortable and interesting work environment” than the “degrading tedium and discomfort of production-line work.

Well, yes maybe, but this illustrates the nub of the problem. Latham and, apparently, the third wayists generally, simply fail to understand that the whole character of the work environment has changed in late capitalism.

Sennett and others have written eloquently about the uncertainties and discontinuities of the modern work place. Their conclusion is that it is increasingly difficult to construct a career, or even an abiding identity of substance. Indeed, the pressures and threat to the individual from the new capitalism are such that it is difficult to construct a satisfying life-narrative.

Latham fails to understand that this applies to all kinds of jobs, even to his heroes, the entrepreneurial self-employed and consultants, the highly skilled workers, who, he claims, have turned Marx’s theory of the surplus value of labour on it’s head. (I think not). Thus he ends up supporting a capitalism that actually threatens the individual in very substantial ways while seeming to provide a smorgasbord of personal freedom and choice.

Psychiatry, I understand, includes these days something called “schema therapy’. The basis of this therapy is that patterns of coping behaviour (schema) learned in one setting are then misapplied in changed circumstances. This gives rise to social and mental dysfunctions and depression. The Third Way may have been useful to launch the Blairite project in Britain. Perhaps its use-by date has now passed. Certainly the political ideologue who has fixed the truth and continues to promulgate it irrespective of changed circumstances risks a kind of madness.


Ego exercise

By Glenn Condell

I was irritated by Dr Aaron Oakley’s response to Tim Dunlop in For those who give two hoots (May 10). My reply addresses his points one by one.

Oakley: Why is it that people with little understanding of economics like Tim Dunlop feel free to give economic advice? Perhaps he should also be telling brain surgeons how to do their jobs.

Well brain surgeons get things right most of the time, don’t they? Do we need to recite the economics `hall of shame’ chapter and verse? Brain surgeons generally agree about the aims and methodology of their profession – there is `best practice’. Six economists in a room could well have six different opinions on an issue and they could all be wrong. It is about as exact a science as palmistry and unlike brain surgery, is inherently political. I wonder if Mr (oops, sorry, Dr) Oakley ever avers on opera or sport or German history. If so, how dare he without a gown and a scroll of paper asserting his right to do so?

In any case, Mr Dunlop isn’t so much `giving advice’ from the sort of mountaintop eyrie Dr Oakley obviously inhabits; he’s expressing his anger and disillusionment and groping for answers to crucial questions about global problems. Answers that economists like Mr Oakley have long been unable to provide. Perhaps they’re not politically interested, perhaps they lack the wit and compassion to tackle them. Perhaps they’re just not good enough, despite all the letters after their names.

One intelligent but unqualified man makes an attempt to impose some sense on an amorphous and complex issue and gets predictably slapped-down by another man; qualified but contemptuous of the other’s effort. One is making a contribution; the other is exercising his ego. One mind is open, the other closed.

Oakley: He asserts that “far from being the beneficiaries of ‘free trade’, the economies of East Asia owe any success they’ve had to an increase in international trade made possible by and coupled with strong government control”. This myth was debunked by my editor, Gerry Jackson , some time ago… Perhaps Mr Dunlop could tell us where Mr Jackson has erred. I won’t be holding my breath. My experience is that the Tim Dunlops of our world fall silent when challenged by the genuinely economic literate.

So there, Tim. Don’t bother next time. Silence from the start is apparently the form. Only the Genuinely Economically Literate of this world may speak to issues that affect us all.

Not being an economist, I tend to read around an issue and form a view (as it seems to me Mr Dunlop does). Recently on my travels I read a review by Joseph Stiglitz. His bio runs like this: Recipient of the 2001 Nobel Prize in Economics, Professor of Economics and Finance at Columbia. Author of Globalization and Its Discontents, to be published in June. Former chief economist and senior vice-president of the World Bank and chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. Qualified enough? He recently reviewed a book by a certain George Soros who also knows a thing or two about economics (see nybooks).

Both of these men support the thrust of Mr Dunlop’s argument and note the stability that government controls have brought to Malaysia, for example . Perhaps Dr Oakley would care to take issue with them, providing they’re qualified enough. But you don’t need to be Stiglitz to understand that global financial architecture is cynically skewed against developing countries; everyone except neo-liberal economists appears able to see this clearly. Even John Anderson lost his nut at the US last week for flippantly ignoring the very strictures it insists on for poorer nations…again. Dr Oakley may have missed Mr Dunlop’s inverted commas around `free trade’ – it’s risk-free for IMF protected US investors and subsidy protected industries, but costly indeed for the citizens in developing countries.

Oakley: Clearly, Dunlop has simply chosen economic thought that reinforces his prejudices, and cobbled it all together in his long-winded article.

As Stiglitz demonstrates, there is significant `economic thought’ to support Mr Dunlop’s views. Just as there is to contest them. Mr Dunlop chose one school, Dr Oakley another. Pot, kettle?

We’re not talking about some abstract calculus known only to initiates – Mr Dunlop was addressing political issues, not purely economic ones. If you were to exclude people from discussing subjects in which economics played a part no one would ever be able to talk about anything. You’ve obviously got your laurels, Dr Oakley – stop resting on them. If Mr Dunlop is wrong in the details of his critique – spell it out, don’t just redirect him to someone even more qualified than you. I’m sure Mr Dunlop,and many other diarists, would relish the chance to respond.

Crisis of conscience

The terror laws imbroglio has reached crisis point for the Government. It has rapidly developed into a passionate and overdue debate about core Liberal values, and across the factions some talented, articulate and ambitious backbenchers have put their foot down and said no. More than that, at least one junior minister has whispered “Good on you” to backbenchers leading the charge against the package.

There’s an element of atonement in the determination of a couple of backbenchers. They know that Kim Beazley rightly rejected Howard’s truly appalling first border protection bill, and that this could have lost him the election. They want Howard to know he can’t have carte blanche to trash traditional liberal values based on that precedent, where some Liberals kept their mouths shut to win an election.

Howard called a special Cabinet meeting for 4pm yesterday to work out how to close down this embarrassing public split. I have no information about what took place in Cabinet. It could have endorsed Daryl Williams’ latest compromise offer to put to the backbench or, more likely, decided that John Howard would take the whole thing over, listen to backbench concerns, work out a final position, and move on.

As the Herald reported today, last night’s joint party room meeting did not resolve the impasse between Daryl and the backbench. An edgy government neither announced that the special meeting would take place or gave the usual post-meeting media briefing. MPs were sworn to secrecy. When we asked the Prime Minister’s office last night for a post-meeting comment, we were told the PM would put out a statement today. He didn’t.

Another problem for the government is that it has not announced changes to the package already agreed between Daryl and the backbench. If the silence continues, community protests will focus on aspects of the legislation Daryl has agreed to tone down. But it’s pretty hard for the government to announce agreed changes when there’s still disagreement. What a mess!

The meeting began at 6.30pm last night and lasted for half an hour. My sources say Daryl gave his usual muttering performance and gave no compelling reasons why his will should prevail. Howard watched from the sidelines.

Williams has been backing down all week – he’s already offered a significant tightening of the definition of “a terrorist act” which appears to have satisfied the backbench. There are still two sticking points.

Daryl wants to keep the reversal of the onus of proof for his new terrorism offences. Not one person at the meeting supported him. The speakers against included Petro Georgiou (Lib, Victoria), Bruce Baird (Lib, NSW), Julie Bishop (Lib, Western Australia) and – to the shock of all present – Bronwyn Bishop! Is this part of her payback to Howard for dumping her from the ministry?

She also led the charge on the other sticking point – the power to ban political organisations. Daryl has been sliding on this one all week. First he offered to relieve himself of the sole power to ban, and that instead four ministers would decide and banned organisations could get a review on the merits by the Courts. Last night, he suggested that bans be imposed by the Parliament. The party room split.

This issue is opposed by some as a point of high principle. Former Queensland barrister and Howard favourite George Brandis – who Howard chose as defence counsel at the children overboard inquiry – is implacably opposed to proscription. In the party room, Williams found a supporter in Christopher Pearce, the bloke who triggered Howard’s change of fortune last year when he won the Victorian seat of Aston in a crucial byelection. Discussion centred on alternatives to proscription.

The backbench did not endorse Daryl’s latest offer. Howard said he would “take it all on board and come back to the party room”, a source said. Crucially, he praised the backbench, not lectured it on the need for unity. He said he would ensure the party room process continued to have “the credibility and integrity it is showing in this case”. I suspect leadership tensions are a factor in Howard’s appeasement, as most of the strongest opponents of Daryl’s assault on civil liberties are Costello supporters.

So where are we? Neither the Government’s or Labor’s position is finalised as we head into a month of campaigning by opponents of the package. The Senate resumes sittings on June 17 – on June 11 the parliamentary committee examining Daryl’s bill to give ASIO police-state powers will hand down its report. My guess is that, as with the terror committee, this one will unanimously propose amendments. This is a conservative committee for Labor – two former defence ministers Kim Beazley and Robert Ray are on board.

If Daryl has learnt anything – and if he hasn’t I’m sure Howard will give him a few pointers – he’ll get a draft of the recommendations from Liberal committee members and try to get agreement from his backbench and Labor before the report is released.


Today, Labor Senate leader John Faulkner’s speech on Labor’s approach to the terror legislation – its current bottom line. Caucus agreed to a long list of amendments on Monday, but has refused requests from the media and the minor parties for the list. This failure suggests that Labor open to horsetrading with the government.


Labor’s bottom line?

Senator John Faulkner, speech to the Senate, May 16

The events of September 11 sent a tremor through the world. Many innocent lives were lost at the hands of terrorists. There is no doubt that as a result we had to urgently recalibrate our domestic security laws and capability. Of course, the government did not schedule parliamentary sittings until three months after the elections. When it did, it scheduled only nine weeks of sittings, six for the Senate, in the first six months of the year.

It did not produce its legislative response to September 11 until 12 March this year. When it did introduce its package of five security bills, it tried to force the opposition to pass the legislation within 24 hours of the bills’ introduction by bringing them on for debate on 13 March. No time was allowed for scrutiny, no time for discussion or consultation and no time for considered thought.

Fortunately, the opposition was able to insist on the bills being referred to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Legislation Committee for examination. In an acknowledgment of the urgency of the legislation, we agreed to a reporting date which facilitated consideration of the bills as soon as the Senate resumed on 14 May. We also offered to agree to a commencement of 12 March for the bills if we were satisfied with their final form. In the short time available to it the committee did an outstanding job in scrutinising the bills, and I will have more to say about the committee’s report shortly.

Now, eight months after the event which prompted this far-reaching package of national security laws – certainly the most far-reaching since the Second World War-the bills which the Howard government, by its own admission, says provide for extraordinary intelligence gathering and coercive powers have still not been brought on for debate.

The parliament bears a heavy responsibility in dealing with this legislation. We must be vigilant in ensuring that, as far as possible, Australia is safeguarded from international terrorism. We also have a responsibility, given that terrorism knows no borders, to help protect others from terrorist attack. At the same time, we must be equally vigilant in defending the democratic values we hold dear.

As we in the parliament consider the bills, it is worth recalling how governments have handled such matters in the past. In two world wars Australian governments responded to perceived threats with draconian national security laws. Large numbers of Australian citizens of German or Italian descent were arrested and held in internment camps. Many lives were disrupted, indeed ruined, often on the basis of little more than malicious gossip.

The postwar Menzies government also secured the passage of the Communist Party Dissolution Act in 1950. The Act dissolved the Communist Party and provided for persons to be declared communist and subject to sanctions. Fortunately for the future of our democracy, the act was struck down as unconstitutional by the High Court and rejected by the Australian people at a subsequent referendum. Fifty years later, the Howard government’s anti-terrorism bills risk repeating past mistakes, and pose very significant challenges to civil liberties and democratic freedoms.

The Senate committee, to its credit, has shown itself to be both alert and responsive to these risks. The committee provided a forum for 421 individuals, community groups and eminent lawyers to air their concerns about the government’s proposals. Almost all stated that, unless significantly amended, the bills would erode rights and freedoms that are a fundamental part of our democratic way of life.

As well as those submissions, I – like most of my fellow members of parliament – have received thousands of emails communicating similar concerns; not one that I received supported the bills. The government must not ignore the unanimous report of the Senate committee, a committee which is chaired by a government senator and on which the government has a majority.

Labor shares the committee’s strong concerns that the definition of terrorism is too broad and may criminalise activities which are not terrorist acts, that the offence provisions involve an unacceptable reversal of the onus of proof and that the proposed proscription regime gives the Attorney-General extraordinary and unwarranted power to unilaterally and arbitrarily ban organisations to make their activities illegal.

Overwhelming evidence to the committee from the community and experts has shown that the draft bills contain sloppy definitions and are riddled with unintended consequences. If law, these bills could lead to draconian consequences for innocent people. They are not good law. In a very out of touch commentary last week the Attorney-General, Mr Williams, said: “We believe the community is prepared to make sacrifices of individual civil liberties in order that the community generally is protected from those threats.”

Perhaps it is time that the Attorney-General and the government tuned in on these issues. Australians will not sacrifice their freedoms lightly; that much is crystal clear from the Senate committee process and the enormous amount of correspondence that has been received by all parliamentarians.

Labor believes that if the legislation is drafted properly, sacrifices of civil liberties will not be necessary. With improved drafting and tighter definitions peoples’ rights will remain protected. Labor will be vigilant in the fight against terrorism and equally vigilant in protecting Australians’ democratic values and freedoms; we are absolutely committed to safeguarding both.

Some people question why this legislation is necessary at all. To them I say that September 11 was a quantum leap in the scale of international terrorism. A `business as usual’ response is not enough. An enhanced level of terrorism requires an enhanced response capacity, both legislative and operational. The legislative framework we have to counter terrorism is outmoded and inadequate. It does not specifically criminalise the full range of terrorist acts. For example, the training and financing of a terrorist organisation is not captured.

Australia also needs to play its part as a good international citizen to combat international terrorism. Two of the bills in the government’s package give domestic legislative effect to our obligations under United Nations conventions for the suppression and financing of terrorism and terrorist bombings. Australia also supported United Nations resolution 1373, which was passed on 28 September last year. That resolution requires United Nations member states to prevent and suppress the financing of terrorist acts, criminalise the wilful provision or collection of terrorist funds by their nationals and freeze the assets of those connected with terrorism.

It also requires member states to take necessary steps to prevent the commission of terrorist acts, to ensure that terrorists, their accomplices and supporters are brought to justice and to ensure that terrorist acts are established as serious offences in domestic laws and that the punishment duly reflects the seriousness of such acts. This package of legislation gives effect to our obligations as expressed in that resolution. That is its aim.

The Labor Party supports tough laws against terrorism and terrorists, but those laws must target the terrorists. We must remember not only whom we are fighting against but also what we are fighting for. When these bills come on for debate, Labor will be moving amendments so that we can fight terrorism without sacrificing key elements of our democracy. Labor will be moving a number of amendments to the bills to correct what we believe are serious flaws. Our amendments tighten the definitions, protect important principles of liberty and, importantly, save the bills from serious questions regarding their constitutionality.

Key amendments

Similar to the problems with other aspects of the legislation, there are potentially unintended consequences from the bills’ proposed definition of treason. In particular, we are concerned that humanitarian activities, such as Care Australia or the Red Cross, are not caught up by this poorly drafted definition. Often, such groups are helping people in a situation where the politics and sides are not clear. Their motive is to help people, and the definition of treason needs to be redrafted so that they can do their important humanitarian work without fear of being charged with treason.

The proposed definition of terrorism is sloppy and will potentially have significant unintended consequences. I understand why people have reacted so strongly to them. Labor will be making sure these laws target terrorists and no-one else.

The definition of a terrorist act is very important because it is at the core of the bills. Clearly, the definition is very wide, and we are concerned that civil protests may be criminalised as terrorist acts under the definition. For example, farmers, unionists or other protesters marching, blockading or mass emailing could fall within the definition as soon as their actions were unlawful in any way-be it trespass, nuisance, property damage and the like. The proposed definition does not distinguish terrorist violence from offences or forms of violence covered in other acts. Labor believes the definition must refer to the use of violence to influence the government or to intimidate or coerce the public or a section of the public.

The onus of proof has been reversed in many of the offences so that people facing life sentences will have to prove their innocence, as opposed to the prosecution having to prove their guilt. Labor does not supportreversing the onus of proof for the offences created by this legislation. The presumption of innocence is a cornerstone of our law. It is reasonable to expect the prosecution to prove the elements of an offence before a person is sentenced to life imprisonment.

It is also reasonable that the prosecution be required to show the requisite intent for each of the offences. Frankly, if someone does not have the knowledge or the intent, they are extremely unlikely to be terrorists and should be dealt with according to other criminal laws if and as appropriate.

We are not convinced that emails should have any lesser protection than telephone calls-that is, you need an interception warrant that offers appropriate privacy protections, as opposed to a search warrant.

I now come to what is, for many in the parliament and in the community, and for me personally, the most significant issue in these bills-that is, the proposal to give the Attorney-General the power to ban organisations at the stroke of a pen. Personally, I am strongly opposed to proscription in any form. The government is proposing that the Attorney-General, or any other minister he nominates, can ban an organisation simply by issuing a press release – no warning, no hearing, nothing. In our view, that is totally unacceptable.

Labor has never supported, and does not support now, giving such incredible arbitrary powers to any minister of government. Such powers are too open to abuse. Australians need to think very carefully not only about expanding the powers of a government that has so often abused the powers currently available to it but also about giving an open cheque to future governments. Australians have never accepted that the civil liberties of a group of people could be wiped out by the stroke of a pen by a single minister. That is why they opposed the anticommunist referendum in the early 1950s; that is why the public will not swallow these bills in their current form.

Labor’s case

Proscription generally works for a government if the organisation they want to ban is visible, has a known membership and, usually, is also a political or industrial organisation. Governments, historically, have proscribed for political advantage – the Nazis, communist regimes, the South African apartheid regime. Historically, proscription has been a tool of political repression, not law enforcement.

But the terrorists of the 21st century are not on the radar. They are very secretive, loose networks. They do not necessarily have any label. Terrorist groups split, evolve and mutate just like viruses. They may have names, they may change their names or they may not have names at all. Why risk the democratic rights of any non-terrorist visible organisation at the expense of the invisible murderers and give a government of the future the ability to exercise massive power against its political rivals?

Proscription is simply an administrative step to put in place a preliminary fact or status before criminal proceedings. It will be a honey pot for practitioners of administrative law. The hard-headed, effective approach is to properly define the offences and let the police, intelligence service and the courts do their jobs.

Let me just ask: if the Prime Minister or the Attorney-General suddenly announce that we have banned, say, Al-Qaeda, how much safer would Australians feel? I suspect not much at all. The point is, we need to target terrorist acts and terrorist organisations, not the names of organisations which can be changed from one minute to the next. You will never get an up-to-date list of terrorist organisations.

But, apparently, the government’s concern is that the evidence required to prosecute terrorists is too sensitive to be exposed in the courts. But the courts are ready, willing and able to deal with highly secretive and sensitive evidence. They do that every day in murder, fraud and espionage cases. Of all the arguments supporting proscription, the need for secrecy surrounding the Attorney-General’s decision is the flimsiest argument of all. Courts can hear evidence in camera or make non-publication orders. The courts do have the tools to handle these sensitive matters.

Labor has proposed a set of legislative mechanisms to target terrorists, their actions and their organisations-what terrorists do and what they intend to do. We support legislation that will cut off terrorist funds. We support the legislation that classifies terrorism as a heinous crime and puts terrorists in jail for 25 years.

Labor’s proposals will target the people in terrorist organisations, not the name of the organisation, and Labor will not at all target those who are not involved in terrorist activities. Our model will target terrorists; it will not target innocent bystanders.

Proscription is a clumsy and unsophisticated approach to dealing with sophisticated terrorist organisations. Every lawyer that we have spoken to, conservative lawyers included, think that the proscription of organisations is a very bad idea. Most of the commentators in the media – again, including some very conservative people – also think it is a bad idea.

Maybe the government believes it can wedge the opposition on this issue but, if so, that is not a good reason to make bad law. Robert Menzies tried to wedge Labor in the 1950s by banning the Communist Party and, even though the vast majority of Australians did not like communists or communism, they voted down a referendum because proscription was a bad idea and because they thought it was antidemocratic, And they were right.

The Australian people were right then; they are right now. We do not need proscription to target terrorism. We need tough measures, and Labor will support tough measures. But we will not support those measures in the form proposed by the government. The bills need to be substantially amended, and it is our view that that is the task that lies ahead of this Senate when the government determines they be brought on for debate.

Momentum against Terror Australis

The terror laws saga is getting murky. It seems Attorney-General Daryl Williams is still unable to get the tick from his backbench on his fervent wish to give himself to power the ban political organisations.

A joint party room meeting planned for this afternoon to tick an expected agreement between Daryl and the backbench legal committee staring him down has been put off till 6.30 tonight. Daryl’s plan to rush his package through the Senate this week is off.

It now won’t be debated until the Senate sits again on June 17. That’s four weeks for his opponents to exploit the increasing momentum against his legislation. Protests and meetings around the country are already being planned by lawyers, students, unions and environmentalists. As foreshadowed, One Nation Senator Len Harris will oppose the package of bills too, today calling them “draconian and oppressive bills … normally associated with military juntas and police states”.

And Williams has just got kicked from a surprising quarter, the Australian Bankers Association. ABA spokeswoman Heather Wellard said the ABA had joined the lobbying queue outside Daryl’s office. “The bill establishes a strict liability offence where a person directly or indirectly receives funds or makes funds available to a proscribed (banned) organisation,” she said today. That meant bank tellers would be on the block “for simply carrying out duties of their position’ and tellers, not the prosecution, would have to prove they didn’t know an organisation was banned.

Williams’ sloppy, overreaching, autocratic, civil liberties-blind legislation is unravelling before his eyes, and his performance has been so bad you’d have to wonder how long he’s got long left as Attorney-General. He was reduced to this in today’s Question Time. “We must make sure that we are in the best possible position to identify, prevent and punish those responsible for terrorist acts and those planning terrorist acts…I recently returned from discussions with my counterparts in the United States, Canada and the UK and I can report to the House that our commitment to dealing with the threat of terrorism in a comprehensive and responsible way has earned us the appreciation and respect of these important allies, and, in particular, the respect of the United States.” As usual, not the scintilla of an answer to his critic’s case.

Labor, which had largely shut up and hoped to get a nice little deal with the government to get the thing out of the way, has been inundated with protests. Labor Senate leader John Faulkner, the man responsible for presenting Labor’s position, said that “I – like most of my fellow members of parliament – have received thousands of emails…not one that I received supported the bill.” He let Daryl know he couldn’t rely on Labor to get the power to ban through, setting out Labor’s position in the Senate this morning. I’ll put his speech up tomorrow when it becomes available online.

In summary, Labor wants:

1. An exemption from the crime of treason for humanitarian groups

2. An addition to the definition of `a terrorist act’ to include the requirement of “the use of violence to influence the government or to intimidate or coerce the public or a section of the public”.

3. Dumping of the reversals of the onus of proof, and of strict liability by requiring the prosecution to prove that the defendant intended to commit the act in question..

4. Raising the bar for permission to intercept emails to the same level required for telephone intercepts.

5. Scrapping the power to ban political organisations.

Faulkner’s speech was also the first outing of Labor’s rhetoric on the matter. “Our model will target terrorists; it will not target innocent bystanders.” Like it?

Labor has moved, no doubt about it, under pressure from the Left faction and a huge effort from community groups and lawyers. And Daryl Williams has moved too, under pressure from his own backbench. But there is further room to move if the protests take off. As far as I know, the issue has not yet reached the shock jocks desks. How will they play it?


TODAY, more terror laws comment from Damien Lawson, Phill Parsons, Lindsay Peters, Hamish Tweedy, Sean Richardson and John Fielding.

Tomorrow is the first anniversary of my weekly column in the Echo News, a weekly community paper in Lismore. Editor Simon Thomsen is simultaneously super-charged and laid back, and is great to work for. Since buying the Echo with local partners some years ago, he’s transformed a loss maker into a profitable paper through total commitment to reporting from the ground up and a high degree of reader involvement, including pages of readers letters each issue. The online version of the paper is at

Some of the big media boys could learn a lot from Simon’s success – his focus is not on design (the “look”) but on content, content, content. He wants his staff on the streets getting the news, not processing press releases and phoning PR flaks from the office.

Lismore is a diverse and dynamic town. This week 100 opponents of the terror laws gathered outside the office of the federal National Party member Ian Causley. Aidan Ricketts, a law lecturer at Southern Cross University in Lismore, helped organise the event. “Our action involved a 5 point quiz to determine whether a person is a terrorist, followed by numerous confessions of such acts by the people present. We then staged a procession reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution in China, where we marched the dissidents to the police station with boards detailing their crimes around their necks, for example “Terrorist: I donated to Greenpeace” or “Terrorist: A lawyer who gave legal advice to protesters”.

As the terror package moves into the intense backroom phase prior to landing in the Senate, Damien Lawson from the Victorian Federation of Community Legal Centres is in Canberra knocking on doors to put his case. The federation has led the email campaign through appeals like the one I published in Sniffing terrorism. Here’s his bulletin from the frontline.

Damien Lawson

Like me I am sure you are crossing your fingers on the ALP standing solid on their decision to not support the banning of political organisations – the first time the Left has had a win since the MX missile crisis!

Of course the devil is always in the detail. I am concerned they are still not willing to address other problematic aspects of the bills that have not had proper discussion, in particular the financing of terrorism provisions. This can be illustrated by looking at the Senate Committee Recommendations, as they will form the basis of negotiations.

My comments:

Security Legislation Amendment (Terrorism) Bill 2002 [No. 2]

Recommendation 1

The Committee recommends that proposed section 80.1 in the Bill be amended so that the terms `conduct that assists by any means whatever’ and `engaged in armed hostilities’ are defined, in order to ensure that the humanitarian activities of aid agencies are not caught within the ambit of the offence of treason.

This fails to address two problems:

i) Australian citizens involved in one side of a civil conflict will potentially be committing treason if the Australian Defence forces are sent in as peacekeeping and/or to support one side, and

ii) Family and friends of someone in that situation and who know they are there will be committing treason if they fail to inform the Australian police.

Recommendation 2

The Committee recommends that the definition of ‘terrorist act’ in proposed section 100.1 in the Bill be amended to include a third element, namely that the action or threat of action is designed to influence government by undue intimidation or undue coercion, or to unduly intimidate the public or a section of the public.

This is a significant improvement, but does not address the fundamental problem that by trying to define terrorist offences you are criminalising motive rather than action. Some political and union activity could still be labelled terrorist. The existing criminal law should be used.

Recommendation 3

The Committee recommends that:

(i) the Bill be amended to remove proposed sections 101.2(2), 101.4(2) and 101.5(2), which impose absolute liability in respect of certain elements of those offences; and

(ii) the offences in proposed sections 101.2(1), 101.4(1) and 101.5(1) be amended to provide that they are committed if the person knew or was reckless as to the required element in 101.2(1)(b), 101.4(1)(b) and 101.5(1)(b).

This is a significant improvement. Before the action alone without any intent was enough to convict. So, for example, possession of a `thing’ connected to a terrorist act, regardless of what you knew about the thing or intended to do with it could get you life imprisonment.

However recklessness still lowers the bar for the prosecution and allows people without a specific intent to receive life imprisonment. For example the prosecution could argue that a flight instructor who who trained someone to fly should have known he was a terrorist.

Recommendation 4

The Committee recommends:

(i) that proposed Division 102 in the Bill in relation to the proscription of organisations with a terrorist connection not be agreed to; and (ii) that the Attorney-General review the proscription provisions with a view to developing a statutory procedure which:

* does not vest a broad and effectively unreviewable discretion in a member of the Executive;

* restricts the proposed ground under which an organisation may be proscribed if it has endangered or is likely to endanger the `security or integrity’ of the Commonwealth or any country, by defining `integrity’ as meaning `territorial integrity’;

* provides detailed procedures for revocation, including giving a proscribed organisation the right to apply for review of that decision;

* provides for adequate judicial review of the grounds for declarations of proscription;

* more appropriately identifies and defines the proposed offences in relation to proscribed organisations, particularly in relation to the offence of `assisting’ such an organisation; and

* does not create offences with elements of strict liability, given the very high proposed penalties.

The Committee correctly highlights the problems, but does not rule out proscription all together. Whether done by the Attorney General or a judge proscription should not be allowed. There are reports that the ALP will not accept any form of proscription, which is a significant success. We are awaiting the detail on negotiation with the government before we can say the ALP has adopted the appropriate position, but they seem to be heading in the right direction.

By the way, there is no requirement from the UN Security Council for a general proscription power to be enacted. The Attorney General’s Department have conceded this in their written answers to the Senate Committee.


Telecommunications Interception Legislation Amendment Bill 2002

Recommendation 5

The Committee recommends that the Attorney-General review the current law on access to stored communications of delayed messages services with a view to amending the Telecommunications Interception Legislation Amendment Bill 2002 so that the accessing of such data requires a telecommunication interception warrant.

This is suggesting that ASIO should at the very least have to get the same type of warrants they obtain for phone tapping if they want to read email and SMS messages. Once again need to see detailed amendments. The Democrats have been very vocal on this.


Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism Bill 2002

Recommendation 6

The Committee recommends that proposed section 103.1 in the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism Bill 2002 be amended so that the financing of terrorism offence includes an element of intent.

Comment: Excepting that offences of terrorism will be created (see comments above), removing recklessness in the provision of funds is a good recommendation.

Recommendation 7

The Committee recommends that:

(a) provision be made, either by way of an amendment to the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism Bill 2002 or under regulations, that before any decision is taken to freeze assets in respect of a proscribed person or entity, the Australian Federal Police set an appropriate course of action in consultation with the relevant financial institution or institutions before any asset is frozen; and

(b) Once action has been taken to freeze an asset, the owner of assets must be advised in writing as soon as possible and their rights and obligations explained.

This is to address some of the problems of “innocent people” having their assets frozen, such as the Collingwood music business owner of Shining Path Records , who had his assets frozen by the bank for a month after being confused with the Peruvian guerilla group! (See Brian Toohey’s report of the farce at the end of this entry.) However this does not address the problem of people and groups placed on the UN list with no natural justice or due process and their assets being frozen around the world.

UN Resolution 1373 does require member states to attack the financing of terrorism, but does not specify exactly how this must be done. There is a difference of opinion about how this should be done. Some states have fulfilled their obligations by pointing towards the conspiracy and preparatory act offences in their existing criminal law. Others have gone down the route of listing like Australia.

The trouble with listing is who decides who goes on the list and how do you get put on it and off it. There have already been problems with the UN listing where member states put forward names to a committee, other states have 48 hours to object and then you are on. There’s no natural justice and no process to get off. Already Swedish citizens named in this way have had big problems. Only intense lobbying of the Swedish government got them moving and then of course they had to convince the Security Council to take them off.

The effects of all this on particular individuals and business is profound, particularly small business, which unlike IBM can’t just say `Don’t be ridiculous, I am not connected with terrorism”. Given that there is no natural justice and the information on which decisions are made is from informants and the like, it could be easy for competitors to defame you, and by the time you are able to get off a list the damage has been done.

Given the information is able to be shared between country’s various agencies, a mistake can affect you capacity to do business all around the world. With finances frozen and difficulty in getting visas etc, in many ways this can be worse then a criminal charge, where at least you have the capacity for a court to review the evidence.


Phill Parsons

Am I being paranoid? I received an email from Forest Ethics – unusually it took 11 days from its date to receipt. Usually it is one day. I am awaiting an explanation. Yesterday I received my daily New York Times email dated 1/01/70 for the May 13 edition!

In the first was advice about logging in Malaysia and included the names of organizations. The NYT had the word Terrorism in a headline. If they are watching, who are they? Both emails arise in the US. However if it is an Australian organisation is it legal and will the watch be so obvious, with delays or silly dates giving away the activities of the spooks?


Lindsay Peters

In a perverse sort of way I kind of wish the mad legislation of terror got passed, for then Australians might get to see the REAL John Howard. Remember, nobody buys a gun so they can leave it locked away and not use it. Howard has asked Australia to give him the scariest gun he could imagine, and the business end is pointed at us.


Hamish Tweedy

I imagine that more often than not I would find myself on Daniel Maurice’s side in an argument (see Pre-budget terror), however I disagree with him on this occasion.

The Government decided that in light of September 11 current Australian laws are deficient, and has proposed legislation designed to address these deficiencies. Those who oppose these laws argue that the legislation impinges far too much on civil liberties and strikes at the heart of some of the basic tenants of our democracy and judicial system. In this debate the burden of proof must lie with the Government to demonstrate the necessity of the proposed legislation.

In response to Daniel’s points:

1. “Do you seriously believe that ANY Australian government – Howard’s or one following sometime in the foreseeable future – would get away with using these proposed laws to prevent “garden-variety” protest, eg Greenpeace, Free Tibet? In the real Australia I live in such a government would not survive long under the weight of media, judicial and electoral responses. Sure, it’s possible to envisage a gradual slide into a police state, but there are a many, many other scenarios for the future of Australia that are both more likely and more worrying.”

Daniel admits it is possible to envisage a slide into a police state, but justifies the legislation by the fact that there are many other scenarios for the future of Australia that are both more likely and more worrying. The problem is that these laws almost certainly will not prevent an 11 September type scenario but definitely will provide the basis for a police state.

2. “Do you acknowledge that, using your logic and argument, there are already many laws, including the constitution which if taken as literally as you wish to take the proposed anti-terrorism laws, provide extremely wide and draconian powers to government authorities who seek to abuse them?”

I don’t know the current laws to which you refer but I can’t accept that argument as justification for adding to them.

3. “Do you understand how self-defeating it is for the `bleeding heart’ cause to constantly use extremist and exaggerated language to argue your point of view? Just in the last couple of days we’ve had another example of this, with critics of the Government’s detention policy describing Australia’s detention of children as “worse than Nazi Germany”. Really? I can’t recall the last time I saw any evidence of gas ovens at Woomera. Nonsense like this turns off people in droves.”

I couldn’t agree more. The issue is: What in a practical sense can Australia do to prevent an 11 September scenario? My opinion is that in the short term you increase security at facilities that can be used for mass destruction and over the medium term you try to address the circumstances that allow people like Osama bin Laden to thrive. I don’t believe you do it by reducing our civil liberties.


Sean Richardson in Sydney

I was surprised you didn’t answer Daniel Maurice’s questions in Pre-budget terror then and there. In relation to the Governor General’s power under the Constitution, I’d have reminded him of a certain democratically elected government which was dismissed against all custom and discretion. And would ANY Australian government EVER use legal powers to stop legitimate protest? Has he ever heard the words “Bjelke-Petersen”? Mr Maurice must have a short memory.


John Fielding in Zagreb, Croatia

I agree about the outrageous anti-terrorism bills but am more concerned about how the ALP will deal with it. I have just sent an email to Senator John Faulkner and will be interested to see if any response is forthcoming. Incidentally, do you have any readout on how Laws and Jones are reacting to the proposals?

Dear Senator Faulkner,

I have just caught up with your recent column in SMH with Mr Melham (Labor’s justice spokesman). I think you expressed a sound point of view and wish you luck with it.

As I spend most of my time working out of Australia I can only keep up with events through the Net, and I run some risk therefore of seeing things through the eyes of people such as Margo Kingston. However it seems to me that the proposed anti-terrorist legislation represents a watershed in the life of the Howard Government and the ALP Opposition. In particular it provides the ALP with a clear opportunity to take a stand on some of the basic elements of its social democratic beliefs.

If you fail to take this opportunity to the fullest, it seems to me entirely possible that the party will once again in my lifetime fall into semi-permanent opposition and irrelevance. In the present political climate, you cannot assume that such a party is guaranteed to survive.

I am not a member but have been an ALP voter all my adult life. There have been occasions when I found that I disagreed with some policies, but never sufficiently to shift my allegiance. That is, until recently.

Last year while working in China I watched the national election campaign unfold with a feeling of disbelief. I waited for some expression of policy and approach that would even hint at providing the nation with a way forward in redressing the effects of five years of Howardism. Nothing worthwhile was placed on the table. Issues such as the GST were obviously too hard to address in a sensible way. There seemed to be no clear attempt to hold Howard accountable for five years of appealing to the worst in us, even as new events unfolded during the campaign itself.

The face of ALP policy for that period was a mix of me-tooism and what I felt was fear of the electorate. This latter factor is something new to me and to ALP policy and politics as I have always experienced it.

Not necessary to point out that much good it did the party. Both factors demonstrated to voters at a gut level that leadership was lacking. In hindsight, how much better to have failed while at least tackling the difficult issues and stating a coherent policy and a vision of the future, all features lacking in government for five years. The 1969 Whitlam election points to the benefits of clarity in policy and direction, even when losing, as a means of showing discipline and leadership. And also readiness to enter the responsibilities of government.

As a result of last year’s campaign, it seems to me that the party is no nearer to, may be further from, electoral success than before. Nothing that has happened since has suggested to me that we can expect any fundamental change in this flawed approach.

The challenge you now face with the anti terrorist bills provides an opportunity to significantly change this situation, and one that must be grasped. The bills demonstrate either extraordinary cynicism or wedge politics on a scale not attempted since Menzies. Either way it provides a great chance for the party to claim its rightful place as a proclaimer and defender of true democratic values and as an important element in Australian political life. In the process you may well reclaim many of the instinctive ALP voters who, like me, are now feeling serious doubts about the ability of the party to speak for those of us with centre-left views.

You must reject these bills. It is not enough to support them with amendments and qualifications, unless those are so deep as to fundamentally change the government’s approach, a situation the government will probably

not accept. The best line, as you have already shown, is to pursue the

complete failure of the government to display just where current laws fail

to address the present situation.

If this results in the infamous wedge, so be it. The ALP should be prepared to wear with pride the badge of the refusenik.

The fear and loathing that will no doubt be stirred up by the government (aided by Jones, Laws should be addressed by serious efforts to get out to the electorate and conduct a campaign involving some education of the public. There is some precedent in the Evatt situation of so many years ago.

In all areas of policy there is scope for this approach. It seems to me that one of the principal difficulties of the party since the Hawke years (particularly from 1988 to 1991) and the Keating era has been its turning inward to solve problems. Looking to the factional system and left-right deals for answers in policy and leadership debates may seem to provide some relief, but to ALP supporters among the public (and I suspect many Branch members) it is transparent unproductive and unattractive. The party must learn to trust its public supporters and risk the appearance of a division of views which most people in any case accept as fairly normal in the development of policy.

Open up the party. Let the party groups and members bring forward policy proposals for open discussion in party assemblies, the media and (once again) the homes of the nation. You must once again learn to trust the electorate. I have the view that there is a natural centre left majority out here awaiting information and a chance to see our wishes once again expressed by a major political party.

Don’t keep us waiting too long.

Best regards

John Fielding

Zagreb, Croatia



A-G’s war swings from tragedy to farce

By Brian Toohey, Australian Financial Review, March 9, 2002

Some pretty rough justice is being meted out in the war on terrorism, as a Melbourne businessman, James Milne, has discovered to his cost. Milne had his bank accounts frozen three months ago, without the slightest scrap of evidence that he was in any way connected to terrorism.

Milne’s sin was to unwittingly name his music business Shining Path – which happens to be the same name used by a violent political movement in Peru. Milne had never even heard of the Peruvian group until he asked the manager of his Commonwealth Bank branch what was going on after his cheques started to bounce in January.

The answer was that his business’s name was on a list of terrorist groups sent to banks by the Attorney-General’s Department. The accounts were only unfrozen after Milne went to the Herald Sun in mid-February.

Shining Path was one of the names gazetted by the Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, and the Attorney-General, Daryl Williams, on December 21. Why anyone would assume, however, that Milne would finance terrorism, via bank accounts opened in the same name as a Peruvian terrorist group, is a complete mystery.

Although Williams refuses to discuss the issue, Downer at least has the grace to admit that the accounts were frozen as a result of a case of mistaken identity.

The Australian Federal Police administers the crackdown on suspect bank accounts under the quaintly named Operation Drava. Milne says that he has asked the AFP to clear his name by giving him a letter stating he is not a terrorist. But an AFP spokeswoman denied on Friday it had received a “formal” request. If one were received, it would be considered.

The spokeswoman said the AFP could refuse to give the letter admitting the error, even though it accepts Milne is innocent. The AFP has asked this newspaper not to publish its background explanation about how national security could be threatened by such an acknowledgment. The explanation is nothing short of ludicrous. Essentially, the attitude appears to be that the accounts have been unfrozen, so what is Milne complaining about?

When asked about the case, a spokeswoman for Williams refused to comment, other than to say she was surprised that Milne would want his name mentioned in a terrorist context. This might well be true if he were a terrorist. But he’s not. He’s a Collingwood pub owner and rock music entrepreneur who has every right not to have his bank accounts frozen in such a capricious manner.

Williams, as first law officer of the Crown, would seem to be getting a little carried away by the war on terrorism in other regards. Apart from drawing up legislation to jail people associated with leaks of government information even where it has nothing to do with national security he has conspicuously refused to protect the rights of Australian citizens imprisoned without charge.

Williams has described a young Adelaide man, David Hicks, who was captured in Afghanistan during the fall of the Taliban, as “about as dangerous as a person can be in modern times”. At the same time, he is investigating whether Hicks should be brought back to Australia to face criminal charges. Given that an attorney-general has described Hicks in such extraordinarily prejudicial terms, it is difficult to see how he could get a fair trial in Australia.

Hicks is being kept in a cage at a US military prison in Cuba. He has still not been charged with any offence, despite being captured three months ago. If the US ever gets around to charging him, it will be before a military tribunal where the normal protections of a civil court do not apply.

Despite some hysterical legal commentary in Australia, based on the implausible presumption that Hicks helped plan the September 11 terrorist attacks, the US has not said whether it has any evidence against him.

But Williams has refused to ensure Hicks is allowed normal consular assistance, let alone access to his own lawyers, which should be the right of any Australian citizen locked in a cage on a US military base without charges. The lack of charges might be acceptable if Hicks were regarded as a prisoner of war, but he’s not. If he is not returned to Australia as a prisoner of war, Williams should insist he is either charged or released.

In the meantime, he should ensure that law-abiding Australian citizens do not have their bank accounts closed without some minimal attempt to stop the process descending to farcical levels.

PS: The Senate Committee wanted answers on this matter, but despite prior notice the Federal Police bosses turned up unbriefed. They did admit that they did nothing to get Shining Path out of the jam the AFP got it into. Instead the AFP walked away and expected the Commonwealth Bank to clean up the mess. And no compensation, either, just like there’s no compensation for wrongs done by Daryl if he gets the powers he wants to ban political organisations.

For those who give two hoots

“Webdiary seems to have degenerated largely into another outlet for the views of the leftie elite … the ‘Radio National set’, whose views on most issues are entirely predictable and formulaic.”

To end the week, contributors take over. After one liners, comment from Graham Bousen, Greg Loder, Peter Gellatly and Suresh Rajan. on Max Moore-Wilton and the children overboard scandal. (See Edging towards the desk where the buck stops and PM’s man out on a shaky limb.)

Then a tart contribution from ‘Richard’ on the IVF debate (see Sperm for singles – round three) and David Davis, James Woodcock and Robert Lawton on the medical insurance crisis (see Blaming the victim, again).

To end, early reaction to Tim Dunlop’s attempt to destroy Mark Latham’s ‘Third Way” and Carmen Lawrence’s attempt to resurrect the caring left from Aaron Oakley and Paul Walter. (See The Third Way: Window dressing for capitulation and The Carmen Way.)


John Clark: On the search for a definition of ‘bleeding hearts’, Alex Downer seems to see it as bleeding obvious: ”Pseudo- intellectual bourgeois lefties”. And Mark Latham had the balls to point out those in the Libs party who have deformities: Well done Mark for a bit of pot calling the kettle aggression.

Paul Walter: After reading The Carmen Way I now clearly see my future. When I read people like you and Carmen Lawrence it’s like talking to a brick wall. What’s Left? Become a scab, look after number one and f… the lot of you?

Peter Woodforde in Canberra: Did Mark Latham suggest that Staley get kicked off his disability allowances and pushed into Newstart?

Peter Kelly: Tim Dunlop has revealed the “third way” to be simply a game of “good cop, bad cop”. One sentence summed it up. “…the third way is not an alternative to the market it claims to want to ‘knock the rough edges off’, it is merely window-dressing for it”.



Graham Bousen

Margo, the punter does not give two hoots about this children overboard inquiry. They have been told that on other occasions children were used as pawns, so if the Government was wrong on this one, they were right on the rest. Hence the apparent forgiveness for the fibs. It really is old news that the media keeps perpetuating with its holier than thou indignant approach – have they never fudged the facts themselves?

Sad is it may be, the punter does not give a damn.


Greg Loder

As a long standing public servant, albeit in the State system, I find it inconceivable that the information on the kids overboard photos did not go to the top of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (at least).

The passing on of information is basic modus operandi for public servants of all persuasions, and they are taught from day one to keep the boss informed, even about gossip! I would go as far to say that if there was a situation that involved sensitive material (as the kids overboard material was) then any public servant down the line who did not pass on the info would find themselves sitting on the very rough end of a pineapple, perhaps counting tins of jam in a container on a wharf somewhere.

Moore-Wilton, more than any of his predecessors, has brought USA-style government to the Australian public sector. His clear political stance and his “personalised” remuneration package (outside the norms) reflect a vision of a public sector which will not provide the public with the civil service it deserves.

He said over the issue with his son, “Who would want to be a senior public servant?” Unfortunately the answer is increasingly fewer because of the way in which people like he have taken the service.

Keep the blowtorch alight: To flourish our democracy needs those who serve us to be accountable, and no one does this better than the press.


Peter Gellatly in Canada

You say: “…it is now crystal clear that traditional public service culture – we are servants of the people not the government, we are apolitical, we give honest advice, we tell politicians the facts – has virtually collapsed under pressure from government and hand-picked department heads on short-term contracts and performance pay.”

Maybe short-term contracts and performance pay for top officials have made things worse (I’m too far away to make an assessment), but I doubt whether your idealised “traditional public service culture” ever really existed. Certainly, during my own brief 1980s involvement, I perceived the whole spectrum: from principled stance or (separately) dispassionate advice/execution, through fearful self-coercion, to outright toadyism and careerist currying of favour.

But that assertion itself reflects a personal view. The public service is, after all, comprised of individuals who hold disparate political and moral outlooks. My stickling for independence and/or “factual” analysis might be someone else’s obtuse intransigence and yet another’s interference with legitimate government policy by the unelected.

If there are firmer grounds for criticism, they might be these:

(1) ‘Protecting the Minister’s backside’, an all too well worn intra-service value aphorism, is diametrically opposed to the notion of Ministerial responsibility.

(2) Information is subject to ‘interpretation’ at each level as it passes up the chain of authority. Thus, it does not require outright dishonesty or malice for an original report from a journeyman analyst or observer to be fundamentally metamorphosed by the time it reaches a Ministerial desk. (Margo: Unless, of course, the original report has been put in writing, something allegedly no-one seemed to do on this occasion.)

(3) One of the historical attractions of the public service has been its ‘career for life’ security. This security included a reasonable prospect of plodding advancement for those who were diligent but thoroughly inoffensive, and the sanction of ‘transgressors’ (ie the independent minded, be they correct or in error) – not by sacking, but by transfer to internal oblivion.

Frankly, my expectation has been that the introduction of short term contracts for middle managers – and even for the rank and file – would improve public service independence by increasing the proportion of self-reliant candidates, ie those who would rather quit or be sacked than knuckle under. After all, pressure from above is less successfully applied when it is vigorously resisted by its targets.

However, base as things may generally appear, this Senate Enquiry demonstrates – as have earlier reported snippets concerning the “overboard” affair – that principled individuals who know the identity of their true employer are still to be found below the hallowed pinnacle of the public sector. Whatever their nominal service rank, they are the ones who deservedly carry the public’s trust.


Suresh Rajan in Perth

Congratulations for highlighting the important issue in this whole sorry saga: Who exactly is running the defence of this country? Max Moore-Wilton seems to have achieved a level of control that defies the classic definition of the need for separation of Administration and Policy.

We now have a totally politicised bureaucracy that takes their orders from a Prime Minister keen only to have his political will imposed on the people of the nation. So what happened to the separation of the military from the government? Are we any different to a number of military regimes that have the control of the defences in the hands of the Prime Minister and his cronies?

The Four Corners programme exposed the line of command that went from the Navy Frigate to the Tampa straight through to the Prime Minister’s Office. We now have to concern ourselves about where this leads to. The chain of command issue has to be examined critically.

Already we have seen the interception of the phone calls to the Tampa. Is this the start of something far more sinister being perpetrated on us, the unsuspecting people of Australia? And before anyone starts accusing me of being a conspiracy theorist, take a deep breath and start thinking about where this can lead? Will Prime Minister assume control over some of our other essential services?




I am a new contributor, although I’ve followed Webdiary for some time. Because of the position I hold for the time being, I’d like to be known simply as “Richard”.

It is a pity that Webdiary seems to have degenerated largely into another outlet for the views of the leftie elite – what I’d call the ‘Radio National set’, whose views on most issues are entirely predictable and formulaic. A bit boring really, all that whingeing in unison!

Is the ‘everyone has a right to a baby’ issue passe now? If not, I’d like briefly to pose an open question or two to the woman in Melbourne whose Court proceedings sparked the current debate, and all women like her who want to reproduce without male involvement, except in the minimal mechanical way necessitated by the technology:

If you do succeed in your desire, and the resulting child is a son, what will you tell him about his expected role in family life when he grows up? Will you tell him that his opportunities for real involvement in a loving family of his own have significantly reduced and are continuing to do so, as women increasingly make the choice you made?

What do you think the consequences will be for the society he will experience of a substantial proportion of males being alienated from deep involvement in family life?

What do you think will be the effect on his chances of living a happy life, or for that matter of people generally experiencing a safe and secure society?

Are these issues perhaps ones that governments, and society as a whole, are entitled, perhaps even have a duty, to take into account when considering the uses of reproductive technology?

Or perhaps I’ve simply missed the point here. Perhaps this is simply a single step in a broader agenda. Is perhaps the next ‘right’ women will demand of science and society that of choosing the gender of their children, so as to eliminate the problem altogether?



David Davis in New York

I can confirm there is a medical crisis going on via direct experience. My mother was involved in an accident recently in Brisbane and had to go to hospital to be operated on within hours. She was still drowsy from anaesthetic as I spoke to her a few hours ago.

We certainly had more things to be concerned about than insurance or politics, but she did make the comment that she was turned away from the first hospital because of the professional indemnity insurance crisis. Understandably, she did not seem impressed by that aspect.

In terms of medical outcome I am sure she is in the best hands now. She also says that where she is now is better because of recovery and rehabilitation facilities. As a son that is the main thing but I have made a BIG TIME mental note about this.

The reality is my mother was rejected from a top hospital when she was in pain, in a crisis, in an ambulance. Why? Over an insurance issue! Not her insurance (she is in top cover) but the DOCTOR’S insurance. Who is to blame for such a situation developing? How can it get to such a ridiculous stage?

You mentioned the New Zealand scheme. I am not so sure about that either. I have a friend who is an Australian doctor over there (in the ski season) and he thinks the New Zealand system promotes a lack of concern for safety and is unfair on victims. He strongly supports the current system in Australia, with modifications. We should be careful about removing blame from the system in Australia. The “duty of care” is fundamental and ought not be removed lightly. Be very wary of the NZ model.

I may be offering two conflicting anecdotes, but the one involving my mother is as close to home as it can get. In her case I can confidently say it had zero negative outcomes in a technical medical sense, but it leaves me with an uneasy feeling. More than that, it leaves me angry. Insurance shouldn’t come into a decision when people are in need of help. Call me naive, call me old fashioned, but most of all call me NORMAL and reasonable.

We shouldn’t run away from blame. Blame exits. People get things wrong. Every one likes to blame the lawyers. Some of my best friends are lawyers (hahaha) BUT don’t blame them for operating within a legal framework. Who develops the legal framework? The courts and the legislators. I say blame the legislators, blame the government. Only they can correct a broken system. How unfortunate we cannot sue them for THEIR negligence.

This is a debacle. For my mother it didnt have serious consequences but for others I fear it may have.


James Woodcock

I could not agree with you more regarding the NZ no-fault accident compensation scheme. Readers may like to go to the NZ scheme’s website for a definition of the basic principles, Although not originally included, ‘medical misadventure’ and sexual assault crimes are now covered, and The NZ government has recently pulled Workers Comp back into the general no-fault system.

PS: I am not a New Zealander!


Robert Lawton in Adelaide

Working as I do in the world of worker’s compensation, the wrap you give to the NZ accident comp scheme is perhaps a bit too big.

Schemes that emphasise a continued ‘pay packet’ each week of incapacity for work and pay medical costs rather than a pot of gold and the end of a legal process require real effort by governments to avoid creating lifetime welfare dependence. This has been the bane of the NZ system.

The key is the rehabilitation process: The creation of a profession which is prepared to be unpopular with both claimants and employers, and which states its goal to the whole of society: getting injured people well AND back to productive work.



Dr Aaron Oakley

Why is it that people with little understanding of economics like Tim Dunlop feel free to give economic advice? Perhaps he should also be telling brain surgeons how to do their jobs.

He asserts that “far from being the beneficiaries of ‘free trade’, the economies of East Asia owe any success they’ve had to an increase in international trade made possible by and coupled with strong government control”. This myth was debunked by my editor, Gerry Jackson, some time ago. See Singapore and industry policy: another interventionist failure at newaus and The truth about Asia’s growth rates at newaus

Perhaps Mr Dunlop could tell us where Mr Jackson has erred. I won’t be holding my breath. My experience is that the Tim Dunlops of our world fall silent when challenged by the genuinely economic literate.

Clearly, Dunlop has simply chosen economic thought that reinforces his prejudices, and cobbled it all together in his long-winded article.


Paul Walter in Adelaide

I don’t think you like Mark Latham, Tim Dunlop. I too was taken aback by Latham’s comments on share ownership last week, as Labor’s persistent perseverance with its flirtation with neo-liberalism frustrates me, too. But I think the real reason you dislike him is because he has,in effect, ‘crossed’ you over the boat-people.

I thought you press people would have latched onto the ugly farce occurring at Port Pirie at this time, as a foreign shipping line attempts to dictate labour policy to the working people of this country with the connivance of John Anderson. A little bit of solidarity and support for these people whose livelihoods are under such dire threat from the media, Labor, Greens and Democrats may have restored a little confidence in the masses of ordinary people in this country.

These, feeling threatened by neo-liberalism, have retreated from embracing large numbers of new arrivals coming here for fear of further disempowerment. Ordinary people know from long, hard experience what Tim Dunlop is talking about; they know all about ‘reform’ and ‘freeing up the market’ and all the other twaddle neo-liberals crap on about; what that stuff is REALLY worth!

So, a little support from the right quarters for an issue close to their hearts may have convinced them to be less cautious on the boat-people issue, confident that if the occasion arose there would be adequate defenders of sufficient quality to also help them protect own their interests when, invariably, they were threatened again by the Howardists. Never mind.

Sniffing terrorism

Now NSW Labor’s latest outrage, putting sniffer dogs on public transport. A pattern is emerging across the mainstream parties – ever increasing surveillance and control over our personal lives and beliefs, coupled with the dumping of rights and freedoms we had taken for granted. No free market on this circuit, folks.

Today, Rebecca Saunders and Andrew Mclean on sniffers, an update of the government’s line on its terror laws and views on the matter from Jozef Imrich, Daniel Maurice, David Davis, Jess Rosman, Gavin Greenoak, Ian Farrell, Anthony Clark, Martin Oliver, Alistair Noble, Martin Davies and Peter Kelly .


Dog sniffers

Rebecca Saunders

I’m not usually one to broadcast my opinions in an open forum but I am amazed and disgusted at the audacity of Michael Costa in proposing to allow sniffer dogs on public transportation.

Do the words public transportation mean anything to Mr. Costa? We have not been told to what degree these dogs are going to operate, nor whom they are going to target – indeed, if there will be any discretionary measures taken.

I happen to have friends who occasionally use marijuana on a recreational basis, and I would imagine therefore that I carry the smell on me at times, so does that mean I will be subjected to the indignity of a public search for something I do not partake in, or use?

Where is the line to be drawn? Surely this does not do anything towards targeting the real perpetrators in this, the dealers. I do not condone drugs but neither do I see the point in targeting the end user.

And is this not a gross invasion of privacy? Do I not have the right to refuse to be searched? Or does that extend only when I’m walking down the street and not while I’m taking a train home?

This is ludicrous, and I do not recall the public being asked in any way what their opinion of this is. I do not appreciate being told what I must accept, with no recourse for argument. Again I reiterate my point that I do not condone drug use…but what is the point going after the workers when the main target should surely be the queen bee?


Andrew Mclean

I do believe the government is determined to get people off public transport and into their cheap smelly cars. The Olympics cruelly gave Sydneysiders (indeed people from all over) a taste of what public transport can be like – on time, efficient, consistent – but that is all merely an illusion.

I rarely use public transport as I’m rarely in need of it, however next time I go to or from a party, club or pub and require transport, I shall either take a taxi (often not possible as I have no money left) or drive. And what the hell, I’ll probably drive under the influence of drugs AND alcohol!

Hmmmmm, but that has it’s legal dangers as well. Oh well, I reckon I’ll just stop going out and I’ll encourage any tourists, family and friends who visit Sydney to do the same because Big Brothers are increasing in numbers and are just around every corner.


Terrorism laws

1. Daryl

Since Daryl Williams is the architect of the terror package and will gain the most power if it passes, it’s important to know where he’s coming from. Here’s an extract from his speech on terrorism yesterday.

”We have introduced a package of legislation designed to bolster our ability to combat terrorism. The bulk of this package of legislation has passed through the House of Representatives and is now being examined by a Senate Committee. In short, the proposed legislation will:

* Create a specific offence for involvement in terrorism.

* Dry up the funds that terrorists rely on.

*Allow life imprisonment of those found guilty of delivering or placing a bomb with the intent to cause death or economic destruction, and

* … strengthen the capabilities of our intelligence agencies to prevent and combat terrorism.

”The clear purpose of this legislation is to allow us to identify terrorist plots, to prevent the terrorist acts and to prosecute those involved. The Bills are aimed at denying terrorists the means to organise, legitimise and carry out their activities. This legislation gives our security agencies the tools they need to protect the Australian community. And we have balanced those tools with safeguards for the rights of law-abiding individuals and groups.

”There are some who seem incapable or unwilling to accept the need for or the intent and application of the legislation.

”They can not accept that since September 11 our world has changed forever and that the changed security environment has necessitated the type of legislation currently before the Parliament. It is simply naive to suggest that what we are proposing is unnecessary or an over-reaction on the basis that there is no known specific threat of terrorism in Australia. The reality is that our involvement in the war against terrorism has raised our profile as a terrorist target.

While I support healthy debate as a reflection of our strong democracy, it must be a debate on the facts, not simplistic slogans. The Australian Government is not in the business of outlawing legitimate political and community organisations. And we are not in the business of confiscating their funds.

”We understand and we share the broader community’s instinct to protect our civil rights and liberties. And we have worked hard to ensure an appropriate balance between these and the need to protect our families and our friends from the devastating impact of terrorism

In the current debate, some critics seem not to fully understand the legislation and the safeguards within it, or they are deliberately misrepresenting the legislation to further their own political agendas. Either way they are not contributing to informed public debate.” ……

So who are these critics who are either too stupid to understand the package or are wilfully misrepresenting it? John Dowd, perhaps, the former NSW Liberal Attorney-General who now heads the International Commission of Jurists? The Law Council of Australia, the body Williams chaired before he entered politics?

No, it must be Liberal Senators Payne, Scullion and Mason, who determined after hearing the facts, not the simplistic slogans of Daryl, that the package needed extensive tightening to stop people engaging in normal political behaviour from coming within its net, and the dumping of William’s plan to give himself power to ban political groups which don’t suit the government’s political interest.

We believe you, Daryl Williams QC, really truly, that ”the Australian Government is not in the business of outlawing legitimate political and community organisations”. But you more than anyone in the government understand that it’s not what you say you intend that matters, it’s what the law actually says, and that laws apply to all future governments, not just yours. And if you assume that the Courts will clean up your mess, this wouldn’t be the same Courts your government constantly vilifies and tells not to make law, would it?

If Williams had bothered to read the evidence before the Committee, he’d know that his critics understand the legislation than he does, if his comments are anything to go by. They don’t deny the terrorism threat, and several have proposed amendments and alternatives which would mean what you say you intend to mean.

Notice that Williams fails to respond to any of the factual criticisms of the bill. Citizens are not concerned with what Williams allegedly ”intends” the bill to do, but what it DOES do. Do we really want the writer of this speech to have the power he wants? Rhetorical abuse, no facts, and non-engagement with the genuine and informed criticisms marks a man unfit for them.


2. Howard

The only thing I’ve found from Howard on this issue recently was in an interview with Neil Mitchell on Melbourne Radio 3AW last week. Mitchell asked about the ASIO bill, on which Parliament’s ASIO committee will report next month.

John Howard: Well I want it (the terrorism package) to arm us with what is needed consistent with our traditions as a liberal democracy, what is needed in order to fight terrorism.

Neil Mitchell: How far do you go with that?

Howard: Well you’ll never get complete agreement on that. We think this legislation – which goes a little further than in the past particularly in the relation to the 48 hour period (new ASIO power to detain a citizen without arrest for two days without Court approval) – we think that is justified in relation to the sort of threat that we now face. You have this eternal dilemma. People say what’s the Government doing about the new terror threat, when we do something about it we are then accused of going too far. We think we’ve got the balance right but we’re listening to what people have got to say. I don’t want this country to lose its strong tradition of civil liberties and its tradition of being a liberal democracy. Its treasuring of the principles that somebody is innocent until proven guilty. All of those things are very important to our society.

Q: Can people be jailed for five years for not answering questions?

Howard: There are new offences created by this and we think they are fair.

Q: Can people be jailed for five years for not answering questions?

Howard: That is one of the new offences created by it yes.

Q: How is that fair? If you’ve got a presumption of innocence surely you’ve got a right not to answer questions?

Howard: Well, but if that is part of a pattern of deliberately obstructing the proper investigation of an allegation I’m not sure that I would agree with you.

Q: But how far do you extend that, I refuse to answer questions? Five years?

Howard: So you think it’s perfectly alright for somebody to do that indefinitely no matter what the circumstances?

Q: I think it’s the base of any democratic judicial system at the moment that you have the right to refuse to answer questions.

Howard: I think you have to look at the whole bill in the context of the new environment in which we are.

Q: So how far do we go?

Howard: I think the bill strikes a good balance.

Q: I’ve just had a line from a caller you’ll love, they said if you put people in jail for not answering a question you wouldn’t have many politicians walking around free. Do you agree with that?

Howard: Well we don’t always answer questions, no.


3. Recommendations

Readers have suggested these sites for articles on the package:

Political scientist Jude McCulloch’s ”The end of our liberal democracy” at theage

”Terrorism and Terrible Laws: An Open Letter to Australians” at globalist

The Commonwealth Parliamentary Library research paper ”Terrorism and the Law in Australian: Legislation, Commentary and Constraints” at library

Harold Hark has forwarded an email being circulated by Damien Lawson of the Federation of Community Legal Centres in Victoria


Public hearings of the Joint Committee on ASIO, ASIS & DSD finished in Melbourne yesterday. With the Senate inquiry finishing the week before. The two inquiries will now report back to Parliament and the legislation will be debated and voted on in the Senate.

The next two weeks will be crucial in determining the ALP’s policy on the legislation, with their Federal caucus meeting on May 13 to determine their position, and therefore what laws are finally passed.

It is clear that public pressure and growing debate in the media has already had some affect with the ALP indicating they are considering some amendments, but amendments are not enough as these laws are fundamentally undemocratic and no amount of tinkering will change that. It is crucial we all do what we can to influence the ALP to join with the Greens and the Democrats in opposing these laws.

If you do nothing else in the next two weeks you must ring, fax or email (or all three) the ALP Senators in your State and the office of Simon Crean and John Faulkner. For most this is just a few calls – please make the effort.

If you have time also make contact with as many other Senators or Representatives you can. You can find their details at

The crucial issues remain the same:

1) no new terrorism offences, the existing criminal law can be used

2) no banning of organisations or lists that label individuals or organisations as terrorists

3) no new powers for ASIO

Simon Crean: Parliament House: Tel (02) 6277 4022, Fax (02) 6277 8495, Electorate Office: Tel (03) 9545 6211, Fax (03) 9545 6299, 401 Clayton Road, Clayton Vic 316, PO Box 5295, Clayton Vic 3168

John Faulkner: Tel 02-9719-8100, Fax 02-9719-8078,


4. Reader views

Jozef Imrich

I can only imagine how the devil is rejoiced by the ASIO taking steps of becoming STASI. I doubt that anyone can stop the current madness just as my parents could not stop WWII or the spread of Stalinist communism. However, at least today we know what we are really buying when we engage in terrorism to combat terrorism.

The terrorists have won. The devil is pleased with himself.


Daniel Maurice

I’ve come back to your Webdiary after a few days absence to discover that you (and apparently lots of your readers) are riding a new wave of hysteria, this time about anti-terrorist legislation. The way you tell the story anyone and everyone will soon be liable to draconian penalties because of these proposed laws.

Time to get a grip, I think. Whatever their “theoretical” application, do you seriously consider that any Australian government would get away with applying these laws to garden variety dissent? This in a country where even the most minor transgression by a political figure regularly generates media and public outrage? (Elsewhere governments kill thousands of their citizens, or siphon off billions of dollars through graft and corruption – in Australia we have weeks of page one headlines because a Minister gave his son access to his government-provided phone card!).

A simple question: if we are to focus on the literal, or potential application of these anti-terrorist laws, why aren’t you campaigning to curb the “dictatorial” powers of the Governor-General? The last time I looked the G-G is perfectly entitled under the constitution to sack the Government, take personal control the armed forces and declare war, among other things. Actually your average policeman already has the power to arrest you on the flimsiest of pretexts, from jay-walking to swearing at him. Yet as individuals we enjoy personal liberty, protected by democratically elected governments, free press and an independent judiciary, to say nothing of common sense, convention and shared social values.

In this, as in so many other of the issues that Bleeding Hearts take up, a reasonable point of view – in this case the need for carefully crafted legal responses to terrorism – is lost because of absurd exaggeration born of blind hatred of your political opponents.

Margo: Daniel, these laws don’t just apply to this governments but all governments which follow. The idea of the rule of law, especially in criminal law where the citizen’s liberty is at stake, is for offences to be clearly, tightly, set out so the Court can readily apply them. To argue, as you do, that it’s not dangerous to leave citizen’s liberty and democratic rights to the discretion of police and government is, I reckon, a recipe for losing the very democracy you and I treasure.


David Davis in New York

No one is closer to the catastrophic impact of terrorism than New Yorkers, so in that sense it makes it all the more interesting to see that they are hotly debating the attack on civil liberties post September 11.

Here is a link to a special in the Village Voice on the topic of “The Attack on Civil Liberties”: villagevoice.

On the other hand it is not so surprising. New York is about as diverse a place as you would find on the planet, and of course it is the home of the world’s most renowned monument to liberty. If New Yorkers stop caring about civil liberties, then we are all in trouble! The good news is: they haven’t.


Jess Rosman in Sydney

I found out about these laws at a public meeting in Newtown about a month ago I was horrified. As a student of history I often wondered how full on police states managed to get the power they did, why people allowed the passing of laws that would deny them basic freedoms. After that meeting I got a frightening glimpse into how this could happen.

I was at a large meeting of about 100 people, but if you think of how big Sydney is, it’s a painfully small amount. To stop things like this from happening you need tens of thousands to say no, not hundreds.

Once laws like these are passed, there is more room for the government of the day to do what ever it wants. Any opposition can be locked up as threats to the ‘state.’ So far the media has been incredibly quiet on this issue, considering the ramifications. Imagine how quiet they’ll be if it gets through.

The other aspect of these laws I’d like to address is the threat of ‘terrorism.’ So far there has been no critical understanding of why terrorist acts like suicide bombings happen. I would support the bill being scrapped completely, and not replaced with anything.


Gavin E. Greenoak in Sydney

I was invited to present my position on the anti-terrorism bills at a Senate public forum held at the Mitchell Library on May 1. It would be difficult to fault the forum given the organisational limitations of such a meeting. We spoke, some listened, none replied, we were recorded.

The problem for me, and I suspect for many Australians who have not been whisked away from themselves in the gale of propaganda, is that fundamental issues underpinning the War on Terrorism are beyond the pale of serious scrutiny, and yet, I would suggest, that these are the real issues.

For example: I have no prejudice against the people of any race or nation, but I do have a prejudicial suspicion of all governments, which history insists upon. Australia is NOT its government. Australians do not at its intelligent heart merely go along with the US Government which by the same token is not “Americans”.

Howard made all Australians a target for terrorism on the basis of an allegiance which did not undergo the scrutiny it absolutely should have received. A mere glance at the the Israel/Palestine conflict returns the impossibility of using this word “terrorist” with any likelihood of clear and sober meaning.

The Western Alliance has already moved to a position where the terrorist and terrorism is like a virus and its disease rather than a human violence which proceeds from human violation. Who the terrorist is, and why, has submerged beyond view and with these questions, the absolute need for critical self-examination.

There was a real choice after September 11. It is crucial to understand that while governments have made the choice for a radical demonisation of the terrorist threat, this choice is not a representative choice, and is a real departure from the often difficult requirements intelligence demands before going off and killing people.

Very little courage was required to invade and attack an already stricken Afghan Nation which had already been a target for an oil hungry government. Great courage was required to forestall yet another escalation of the revenge cycle, and it was not forthcoming.

Speaking on May 1 at the Senate Public Forum, I knew that I was merely going through the motions, and it was a very bad feeling. Far, far away from what seems to be acceptable public debate linked to any reality of action which might make such debate worthwhile, is that the Western Alliance is like a ship in a storm which stays afloat against first this wind, then that wave, and so on, but not because it has anything resembling a firm grip upon where it is going.

Such a grip can only come from the strong and sober heads, clean hands, open hearts, and clear eyes of individual men and women for whom a self-responsibility must underpin any public one if it is to hold that power of integrity which alone saves it from mere expedience. Only these men and women command the reality of respect. To ask where they are seems a vain exhortation.

I opposed the Bills because they confirm our target status, will not protect Australians, will conceal if not prevent necessary self-examination, and cannot be drafted in a way that will prevent the threat of terrorism becoming the threat of government.

These Bills doubtless will go through, because it is in the interests of government(s) that they do so. That these interests in no way engage with those of any human being seeking to dissolve barriers and transform necessary boundaries between people is blindingly obvious, and utterly shameful.

In a participatory democracy no adult is innocent, which is why I write, albeit against a tide, but not I believe against the tide of life more abundant.


Ian Farrell in the United States

I am a former lawyer currently doing my PhD in law and philosophy and am working on an article about the hunger strikes at Woomera, placing their actions in the context of the tradition of civil disobedience from Thoreau through Gandhi and MLK. The incredibly broad definition of terrorism would appear to include all acts of civil disobedience, including Gandhi and MLK’s principled, peaceful law-breaking.

Do we really want to set up a situation in which the fact that people are protesting what they consider to be an unjust law is IN AND OF ITSELF is a crime?

Further, the power of ASIO to hold people incommunicado has disastrous consequences for those involved in civil disobedience, because one of the primary functions of civil disobedience is communication: to communicate to the public the strength of ones convictions, and demonstrate the injustice of the laws being protested and the lengths the authorities will go to in order to enforce them. None of this will be possible if people can be held incommunicado.

I am working and studying in the US right now, and the government’s actions are making it harder and harder for me to be proud to be Australian.


Anthony Clark in Dundas, NSW

I was wondering just how widely the anti-terrorist legislation could be interpreted, in particular the phrase ‘serious harm to a person’. Does this just mean physical harm? Or can it mean psychological harm? Emotional harm? Harm to a person’s reputation?

If it has any meaning other than physical harm, then arguably the teachers’ union, in committing a political act by banning the Governor-General from entering public schools, has committed a terrorist act. As all teachers are indirectly involved in directing how the union operates, every single teacher in Australia (who is a member of the union) could end up being jailed for life.

Of course this is an extreme interpretation of the legislation and would not happen, but it does illustrate the problem with having poorly drafted legislation.


Martin Oliver

The government has now admitted that ASIO would be able to hold people incommunicado for more than 6 days – because the allowed 48 hour periods are infinitely renewable. Under the ASIO bill, a member of the Free Tibet Movement in Australia could be charged with terrorism and extradited to China as long as an extradition treaty had been previously set up. It’s like a bad comedy skit.


Alistair Noble

I can’t believe this “anti-terror” legislation isn’t the scandal of the century in Australian politics and law. I have no doubt it will one day be viewed as such – probably when it’s way too late.

Just as in pre-Nazi Germany, ordinary folk like us think the legislation will never be applied to us. It’s surely only for really, really naughty people. The trouble is a government’s definition of naughtiness can change from moment to moment and is, as you point out, subject also to external pressures.

Australians, be very afraid. It’s not only Free Tibet stickers or a coffee with the nice Moslem family next door that might land you in jail – writing an email like this might have the same result.


Martin Davies in Canada

After your summary of the anti-terrorism bills I realised once again how draconian the proposal is in light of the fact that Australia does not have a bill of rights or charter to at least provide some sort of constitutional protection against such legislation.

Oe thing these bills take aim at “freedom of association”. Now I’m not saying I would feel comfortable with this legislation if Australians were constitutionally protected in this way, but it would be a way that citizens could defend themselves.

To continue placing faith in Governments to extend citizens the rights and freedoms that are specifically declared in both the US and Canada is no longer acceptable. The Howard Government through legislation like this and the way it has sought to challenge the legitimacy of the Courts makes me no longer willing to have that faith.

The sooner we begin to talk about promoting a bill of rights for the nation the better we might all sleep. The reason a constitutional bill of rights is worthy of consideration is that it it not only makes our behaviour less suspect but more defensible if and when the Government decides it is time to lash out and penalize our associations. To not have such protection means we are more vulnerable than we ever cared to admit.


Peter Kelly

The anti-terrorist bill before parliament is the biggest threat to democracy since Menzies tried to outlaw the communist parties. It is interesting to compare those times to the present and it is interesting to compare the sort of party the Labor Party was back then to what it is today.

Doc Evatt courageously took an unpopular position at a time when the party was at pains to present itself as NOT being in sympathy with communists. The “threat” facing the world was the red scare and Menzies was using the same sort of language to describe the “changed” world as Howard is today.

Principle counted for something. It was thanks to the Doc that Australia was saved from a truly draconian law. But 50 years latter it seem we are to get it in spades, with more to come, and Australians don’t care. Keep the masses scared about the “millions of refugees” and the “open flood gates” and you can get away with anything, up to, and including, instituting a police state.

In Menzies’ time it was the “yellow peril” and it tied in nicely with his political agenda. The Petrov affair was played so skilfully by Menzies that the Labor Party was denied any chance of government for at least the following 10 years and did not gain government in any case for another 20 years.

The opposition is scared of being called names by the government and will do anything up to, and including, selling democracy down the drain, to avoid this. They are moral cowards and well deserved their loss at the last election. They are a bunch of pussy cats. I believe history will identify the Tampa incident as the one event that kept Labor in opposition for over 20 years. It to early 21st century Labor what Petrov was to 1950s Labor.

Labor is a dead carcass floating in the water legs up, drifting past the smoking ruins of freedom and democracy. One difference between the 2 Labor Parties is the absence of anyone like Doc Evatt today.

The Carmen Way

The future of the Left in Australia, indeed worldwide, has been much discussed in Webdiary since it began in July 2000. Now that Tim Dunlop has ripped into the Labor leadership’s latest ‘vision’ (The Third Way: Window dressing for capitulation), you might be interested in what the disenfranchised fringe of the Party is doing.

Carmen Lawrence and others in the Western Australian Labor Party have started a website called Labor 21 (labor21). It has a draft charter for a new Labor and invites ALP members past and present to contribute ideas on policy and internal reform.

Lawrence now sees herself and others on the ‘left’ as dissenters from both Coalition and Labor policy. On April 26, she gave a speech to the Labor Women’s National Conference on dissent, and how to increase dissenter numbers.

Take one example of where mainstream Labor is right now. Federal Labor has had nothing to say about the rush of the Labor States, with federal support, to wipe out rights of the victims of negligence by professionals, builders and the like. Why tackle the problem at the little end of town – and with a sledgehammer – with nothing done about the structures of the insurance industry and the lawyers who feed off it? (See Webdiarist Dell Horey’s analysis of medical insurance in Blaming the victim, again)

The least you’d expect from Labor is a holistic approach – alternative dispute resolution, perhaps, small claims courts, a reduction in legal costs scales, tax reform to encourage regular payments rather than lump sums, a clean-up of hospital work practices. It would be fanciful to hope they’d go for something more radical – pushing the insurers and the lawyers and their fat profits out of the equation and having a national insurance scheme, but surely SOMETHING. Nothing on policy at all; instead the usual political pointscoring against the Coalition. .

Today, Lawrence’s answers to questions on Labor 21 which I sent her late last month, and an edited text of her speech.


Question: How did Labor 21 begin life, who is involved, and what is its purpose?

Lawrence: Following the last election, a number of members (and ex-members) of the ALP here in WA got together to discuss the disappointing election result and the direction in which the Labor Party was headed. One described it as a meeting of the “shrieking Diaspora”. Labor 21 is the initiative which resulted and it reflects our belief that the time is right for a fundamental re-evaluation of the Party. Although triggered by the November 2001 Federal Election result, the initiative goes far beyond identifying what Labor needs to do to be elected in 2004. The objective is clarification of the raison d’etre and processes of the party to ensure that it is a powerful, progressive force in Australian politics in the years and decades ahead – Labor for the 21st century.

We believe that there is very little chance that any review of the party’s objectives and policies will succeed without such reform. Membership needs to be broadened, real participation facilitated and a genuinely democratic structure devised. Only a radical rethink of the ALP’s membership and procedures will produce the necessary long-term improvement in the Party’s political fortunes and in our democracy.

Our party was founded on the great struggle between capital and labour in the early 20th century and is responsible for most of the progressive social outcomes in Australia of the last century. However it is a new century and we need to evolve to meet the new priorities we confront. Only a broadly based, genuinely democratic party with strongly enunciated principles can begin to address these priorities and meaningfully re-engage the Australian public in the political process that is at the heart of our democracy.

We have devised, as a starting point, a Draft Charter that we have called Labor 21. It is a brief document that, we hope, distills the key principles that should guide our policy development and internal reform.

Labor 21 has no factional affiliations – it is a forum dedicated to an open and public dialogue leading to specific proposals for change – and welcomes participation from all party members and supporters.

The objective of Labor 21 is re-invigorate the Labor Party by engaging in a broad-ranging public debate about:

* The party’s principles

* Membership, party organisation and processes

* The major issues confronting Australia

The direction of Labor 21 has been formulated to date by small group of people who have pooled their resources to establish this website and to organize public events and discussions. We are keen to expand this group as the initiative develops. We also hope to contribute to the formal review of the Federal ALP that is currently underway. We want to reach as many ALP members and supporters as possible and encourage them to develop a Labor 21 group in each state/territory to progress the initiative, and of course make suggestions about future policy and party reform. We will also facilitate an on-line discussion forum and, if we can get support around the country, public meetings and forums as well.

Q: Is this the first attempt to seriously engage Labor members, supporters and former supporters in helping to define a new vision for the Party? How successful has it been so far, and, ideally, how would you see its role in discussion about the party’s future?

We believe it is. The Hawke – Wran review is, unfortunately, not particularly visible to the wider community and the process does not allow for discussion. Neither does it include former members or supporters from whom a lot can be learned both about the Party’s failings and what needs to be done to maintain our appeal in the wider community.

While we still need to publicise the site more substantially and engage a more participants, we are pleased with the initial response. The fact that it is largely a voluntary effort, however, does limit our capacity to keep it fresh and relevant. We’re working on it.

Q: What’s gone wrong with the Labor left, when did the rot start, and is it united in seeking to regain a strong influence on policy?

That’s partly what we’re trying to flesh out – and a number of contributors to the discussion forum have already posted some of their analyses. We have also invited a number of academics and policy analysts to contribute to the discussion. It is my belief – shared by many on the left, that a fairly fundamental reworking of the Party’s principles and processes is required.

Q: What percentage of Labor members and senators would you see as left, what subfactions exist within the left, and why is it so divided?

I’ve, personally, given up on trying to understand the factions and their arcane rivalries. They are increasingly Balkanised and revolve around personalities and ancient regional and union disputes rather than differences in philosophy. There are people in the Left who are right of the Right and in the Right who are left of the Left ad absurdum. This is one of the features of the contemporary Labor Party which most alienates branch members and potential members.

Unfortunately, the grip of the factions is so firm, that most new members quickly find that there future in the Party is pretty bleak unless they attach themselves to a faction to provide them with a support base. It’s one of the reasons that reform is so important.

Q: Does the left as a whole support the Labor 21 vision, and if not, which faction/s of the left is behind it and why do other factions oppose the concept?

We haven’t sought endorsement and there are interested members from all factions. A lot of the people who contacted us are trying to break out of the factional constraints.

Q: Is the party itself generally supportive of Labor 21?

We seem to be tolerated, as long as we do not purport to be an official Labor Party website – which we are not.

Q: If Webdiarists would like to contribute to Labor 21, what particular areas are you most keen to seek their views and ideas on?

We’d be delighted to hear from webdiarists. We are seeking structured feedback in the form of short papers or comments that address the key policy and organisational issues confronting the party.We would also like comment on the Draft Charter and suggestions for improvement. We regard it as a “work-in-progress” to be improved via the dialogue generated by this forum.

We will try to stimulate debate on a range of issues under broad headings then assimilate these, firstly to finalise the Charter, and then to formulate specific proposals that can be communicated to the Party. We would also welcome suggestions on which issues should be the focus of our discussions over the next few months.

Short papers/suggestions are invited. We will add to and expand over the next few months. We will also post papers/articles that are pertinent to the discussion in the Discussion Papers section.

We are committed to achieving:

A fair, just and cohesive Australian society, respectful and proud of its aboriginal history and cultural diversity, mindful of its responsibilities to the global community, and unified by a commitment to secure sustainable quality of life for all its peoples through an inclusive political and community agenda which integrates social, economic and environmental priorities.

We will work to develop a society that:

Creates a new, inclusive national identity built on the diverse cultures of its citizens;

Is built on the genuinely democratic will of its members;

Applies sustainability principles to align economic, environmental and social goals;

Ensures that all share fairly in the wealth and resources of the community;

Respects the human rights of its citizens and peoples everywhere;

Values and respects our indigenous people;

Encourages and rewards education and innovation;

Emphasises the well-being of its citizens and prevention of illness and disability;

Treats stewardship of the environment seriously and effectively;

Regards creativity and freedom of expression as essential components of everyday life; and

Ensures that the satisfaction and security associated with a rewarding job is within the reach of everyone.


Fighting the ‘fingers in the air’ brigade

By Carmen Lawrence

We need to ask ourselves – why we got involved in politics, why we joined the ALP or why we support it. I’m sure, like you, I did not get involved in politics simply to be a loyal foot soldier for the ALP no matter what it stood for or what it did.

I’m sure we did not agree to abandon our principles and passions.

It is certainly reasonable to ask for the majority views to be reflected in policy and strategy. But are they? The Party should be, after all, what its members agree it to be But is it? And in any case, should we always abide by the majority decisions without demur? Are there occasions when dissent is the only honourable course?

Have women fought so hard to become involved only to be engulfed by the lowest common denominator of decision-making, by the dealmakers and fixers, by those who regard themselves as hard-headed realists and the rest, presumably as softheaded idealists?

We are at risk of being overwhelmed by those who’re obsessed with process and not principle, for whom open and energetic debate is said to indicate division and to be avoided at all cost. By those who fear the community and would rather follow it, with fingers in the air to see which way the wind’s blowing rather than taking a lead and bringing out the best in us. The alternative is the Howard mode, as Peter Carey put it of “feeding on the worst”.

I believe we are at a critical juncture in Australia’s history and that of the ALP. We are in disputed territory where all transformation occurs. A lot of the certainties of the past are under challenge – it takes brave souls to ride the boundaries and dispute the certainties of Howard’s brave new world.

We need progressive women who:

1. Oppose and argue against equating our well-being solely with the acquisition of more and more material possessions, although for those who genuinely have little this may be important.

As Mungo MacCallum writes entertainingly about the discovery of the “aspirational” voter,

“Of course, all voters are aspirational in that they aspire towards something, in most cases, a better life for themselves and their children. But today’s commentators are talking about someone with narrower goals. This key inhabitant of marginal seats is assumed to have (wrongly, I think) only one real aspiration: to gain as much as possible as quickly as possible and to hell with everyone else. He is uninterested in community and contemptuous of altruism; if he had a theme song, it would be that of the old working-class favourite, “The working class can kiss my arse, I’ve got the foreman’s job at last,” performed with immense gust and not a trace of irony. The aspirational voter is in fact the old Up-You-Jack punter a couple of steps further up the ladder.”

We need progressive women who:

2. Assert that inequality, not just poverty, does matter; that it corrodes the sense of commitment we have to one another; that is makes us uneasy; that it produces social problems and poor outcomes in health and education.

3. Resist the push toward individual solutions for all our social and economic problems; who argue persuasively for the adoption of solutions which narrow the gaps between us; which, “shock, horror”, redistribute wealth.

4. Are not afraid to stand against what are said to be majority views on Indigenous Australians and on asylum seekers; who affirm decent human rights standards. And who are prepared to say unequivocally why we do so – it’s not about process but about principle.

5. Who recognise that part of our task should be to bring the Australian community with us; not to treat them as incapable of changing their views and of being terminally bigoted. If people hear their leaders telling them that it’s OK to be racially intolerant – as Howard has often done- they may well be encouraged to do so. Howard has often signalled in code that bigotry is natural, that it is not only expected, but accepted.

6. Who also understand just how determined Howard is to remake Australia in his own image.

If we are to develop good polices, consistent with our claim to be progressive, we need to start with as set of values, yes, of ideals, to which we aspire as political activists.

They should not be for decoration, the detachable preamble to our policy documents. Rather, they should underpin everything we do – and they should not be abandoned at the faintest whiff of grapeshot.

Yes, there will always be a need to compromise and sometimes we will get it wrong (and I’ve done both), but I know that there are many people on the left of the political spectrum (not the ALP) who are feeling rudderless, even abandoned by our Party.

This is not just some pathetic nostalgia, or baby boomers being totally unrealistic or lacking in pragmatism; it is, I believe, born of a genuine desire to do better.

Many of those most vocal in expressing their discontent are indeed the young – and we are losing a great many of them.

I’m sure none of you got involved in politics just to play the game, satisfied with being in power to oversee incremental change; to aspire to modest gains, barely distinguishable from those which might be achieved by our political opponents.

I know we are constantly told that when it comes to the economy and the role of government – there is no alternative.

There are alternatives.

I believe we should at least explore an alternative intellectual framework which gives due weight to the distribution of wealth and work, which advocates environmentally sustainable growth, which encompasses the special circumstances of our Indigenous people, which rebalances the shares going to wages and profits; which improves working conditions, which sees that the huge gaps between the wealthy developed world and the desperately poor billions is not sustainable – or just.

There are alternatives – one size need not fit all.

As I said earlier, progressive women need to reignite enthusiasm for the protection of human rights; to affirm basic decency in our policies for Indigenous people and asylum seekers.

We need to repudiate prejudice and hatefulness wherever it occurs.

Good policy development should be based not only on values and the collection of evidence, statistics and information, but, fundamentally, on an understanding of the experiences and circumstances of those for whom policy is developed.

We should not enmesh ourselves in abstract issues and deflect attention from individual experience.

Understanding begins with sympathy – recognition of the shared human condition. We need to employ empathic imagination- how would I feel? What would I do in these circumstances?

We need to piece together the circumstances of people’s lives; to infer the intentions behind their actions from our general store of knowledge about human motivations and responses.

We should not fall for the propagandist’s three-card trick, which as Aldous Huxley put it is to “make one set of people forget that certain other sets of people are human”.

We need to remind ourselves in framing our policies that luck, rather than virtue, is one of the great determinants of life. H.G. Wells and his socialist friends began their influential Declaration of Rights with the observation that “since a man (sic) comes into the world through no fault of his own” and they might have added and with no choice over where and in what circumstances

I believe we need to revive Labor’s position as a champion of Human Rights – we were energetic in framing the original U.N. declaration and influential beyond our size in pulling others with us.

This is all the more important because as Mungo MacCallum put it so vividly in his essay “Girt by Sea”, “Having discarded politeness, the Howard mob now seeks to promote a sort of Forrest Gumpish ignorance as the national ideal.” Add to that a big dollop of meanness.

Of all nations, we should be in an ideal position as a people to understand and empathise with those who come to our shores:

* Some of us are descended from convicts who were extruded from their homelands and abandoned;

* Many of us are the grandchildren and great grandchildren of the Irish, exiled by oppression and starvation;

* Many of us are the children and grandchildren of the post-war refugees who were fleeing loss and persecution.

It doesn’t take a giant leap of the imagination to understand the self destructive and irrational behaviour of those who are detained in remote, dehumanising camps in remote locations; people who are held without the support of family, with no knowledge of their likely fates; without hope.

And all this after fleeing destruction, persecution and trauma.

The responses of depression, frustration, anger and destructiveness of self and others are all predictable – and most of us would do the same in comparable conditions.

Through hunger strikes and self harm many of these people are actually trying to maintain a modicum of control – albeit perversely- over their own loves.

They are also resisting the exercise of absolute power over their lives.

To deal with these issues – and the many others we face as a nation – we need progressive women, brave women, women of purpose and passion. We need you.