Webdiary Watch

There’s no better way to start work on Friday than with a message to call Media Watch. Stomach drops. Breath quickens. The call was about Webdiary, so here’s the facts and my response. The matter goes to the philosophy of Webdiary, so I’d appreciate your thoughts.

The Media Watch call also gives me the chance to return to the topic of Webdiary’s direction which I raised in Loving Hitler. Contributors are Emma Bridge, Richard Chapman, Ted Grayson, Shawn Sherlock, Ian MacDougall, Justin Whelan, Max Phillips, John Wojdylo and David Davis, who has read Webdiary since it began.



In Blood on the wattle (smh) I published two wattle poems by poet Henry Lawson and linked to the site where I found them, membersozemail, for those who wanted to read more Lawson. This is how it happened.

John Howard suggested that day that we wear a sprig of wattle on the national day of morning. A flyer for a novel called Blood Stains on the Wattle was on my desk:

“Former Treasurer of Queensland in the 1990s, author Keith De Lacy, has now created a uniquely Australian working class novel. He takes us behind the scenes to show what really happened in the notorious lock-out of the miners in 1964 and why the miners were suspicious of their own union leadership in far away Brisbane.

“The title, Blood Stains on the Wattle, is a deliberate evocation of the insurrectionist Henry Lawson poem Freedom on the Wallaby, written at the time of the great Shearers’ Strike of 1891 which was instrumental in the founding of the Australian Labor Party under the tree of knowledge in Barcaldine.”

We’ll make the tyrants feel the sting

O’ those that they would throttle;

They needn’t say the fault is ours

If blood should stain the wattle!

I searched the web and finally found a page called “The Poetry of Henry Lawson. The name of the sponsoring organisation, “Australian Nationalism Information Database”, was prominent, under which was this precise:

It is the aim of this site to reproduce most, or all, of the poetical works of Henry Lawson, so that his legacy to Australia’s culture may be accessed via the Internet by all interested persons. However, it should be noted that this is an extremely large project, and will therefore take quite some time to complete.

Henry Lawson was born on the Grenfell goldfields, on 17th June 1867.

He is one of the most famous and most popular of all Australian writers. His poetry and short stories are still widely read and republished today.

His writings were a significant influence upon the development of the Australian culture and national identity, and played a strong part in the expression of that identity.

Henry Lawson continued his vast literary output right up until his death on 2nd September 1922.

I didn’t press the sponsor link. If I had, the following would have come up:

This site has been established to promote Australia’s National Identity and Culture, and to expose Mass Immigration, Multiculturalism, and Asianisation as major threats to our environment, our People, and our way of life. A whole range of publications and articles are provided on these issues, as well as on other issues of interest to Australian Nationalists. Also, information is provided on how to contact several Nationalist organisations within Australia.”

If you click to enter the site, this comes up:

Australian Nationalism is the modern political force that has set itself the task of saving the Australian Nation – its People and its Culture – from the grave dangers that loom before it.

This site has been established to provide Australians with information about Australian Nationalism and the Australian National Identity and Culture; as well as to especially inform both Nationalists and the general public about the problems that face our Nation.

However, being in possession of such information without acting upon it is truly useless, and therefore contact points (via Internet Sites) are given for several Nationalist organisations within Australia.

It is high time that Australians stood up, and won their nation back.

If you’re sick and tired of the denigration of our Australian heritage and identity by Internationalists – Multiculturalists – Asianisers – mass immigrationists, YOU CAN DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.

Join with the new forces of Australianism, in reconstructing the Australian Nation for the 21st century, a society built on our OWN heritage and culture, not the Asiatic graveyard promoted by media stooges and the political hirelings of the Liberal-National-Labor-Democrat parties, who are nothing but elements of the Traitor Class.

Media Watch wanted to know whether I’d known that the link I’d provided directed readers to a racist site. No. Then the interesting question: Would I have done the same thing with that knowledge?

The implication, I assume, is that if I had done so I would have been knowingly promoting a racist site, something which right-minded people would not do. I thought hard about the question, and finally decided I would have done the same thing, but added something else.

At the time of reading and being moved by Lawson’s wattle poems, I had a thought which I put away about whether I was falling into sentimental nationalism. I put it away because I felt that Bali had, in its bitter sadness, served to wipe out the many differences I have with fellow Australians on fundamental identity issues, and to reinforce positive aspects of the Australian identity at its best under pressure, aspects which make our culture unique to us. I agreed with Webdiarist Redmond Lee “that in time, Bali will be regarded by Australia as a modern-day Gallipoli. Once again, 87 years onwards, Australia has tragically lost her innocence outside of her borders”.

Innocence has its dark side, and for me that dark side was most graphically exposed in our treatment of boat people post Tampa. But I thought that having felt the brutality of targetted terrorism first hand, the shock of our lost innocence might have an upside in tempering our feelings on boat people, their circumstances, and our treatment of them. Yes, it could go the other way, but that wasn’t the vibe that developed over the first few days – indeed, it was the opposite.

This line of thought is deeply offensive to some. On Monday I was on the panel at the opening session of a conference called “Art of dissent’, run as part of the Melbourne Arts Festival. The topic was “Dissent and Democracy”, and I took off from a speech by festival head Robyn Archer the day before, where she suggested that perhaps art was by definition an act of dissent. I suggested that at certain moments, like the Bali bombing, the artist is also a person who can purify experience – describe it to us and capture its essence. In the space created by a terrible national tragedy and shock like Bali, the artist could by fusing the essence of the experience for us as a nation help nurture a space for a constructive, positive reaction to the grief. An Australian response to terrorism. It was just a thought – pretty unprocessed, an opening gambit for discussion. But another panelist accused me of “girlish” sentimentality and of concocting my emotionalism as a means to sell newspapers. I was shocked to be accused of corrupt motives and fake views and walked out, but the panellist’s decision to go straight to personal attack, and its vehemence, suggested there’s something very basic at issue here which might be worth teasing out. I was also gobsmacked that what I’d said could be so controversial!

Anyway, if I had clicked the sponsor’s link, the flicker of concern which I’d let pass would have been in my face. He’s the first great poet of Australian identity, Lawson, and he was also deeply racist, antagonistic in the cruellest sense to both the Aboriginal peoples and Chinese migrants. This was a mainstream view then, and since Tampa you’d have to say it hasn’t left the mainstream yet. But does that take away from Lawson’s importance, or artistry, or capacity to move us?

So I told Media Watch I would have still provided the link, and raised the fors and againsts of a nationalistic response to the bombing,with the poetry and political views of Lawson as a case in point.

I pointed out to Media Watch that during the terrorism laws debate I’d published a press statement from the far-right National Civic Council, which worked hard to stop the laws, claiming they paralleled Hitler’s actions in the prelude to World War 11. Is that promoting racism? No – it’s acknowledging that groups of opposing persuasions can come together on certain issues. And it’s inviting readers to consider what those groups have in common, and why.

And that’s what the Webdiary space is partly about – providing a safe space for people with articulate, coherent views from all sectors of Australian opinion to discuss issues of importance. I run One Nation nationalistGreg Weilo quite regularly, for example, and his contributions often provoke interesting debate.

I’ve got no problem with my readers finding a racist site through Webdiary. My views on racism are crystal clear, so I assume there could be no question mark over my motivations. What do you think?



In Loving Hitler (smh), I wrote:

I’ve had a number of emails bemoaning the fact that there’s less of me in Webdiary at the moment. Robert Henderson, for example, writes: “I guess it is just me, but I much preferred your Webdiary when it mainly contained YOUR comments.”

I sought advice from Noel Hadjimichael, a long time reader and contributor. His response:

(1) Your comments have been lacking in recent weeks … you could best beef up your contribution to about 30-35% of the content on most days.

(2) Links to other sites or speeches are excellent – but not the full script (too cumbersome)

(3) Maybe some modest limit on contributions (say 150-200 words)

(4) Need to have interchange (comment on the contributor’s copy) every day – even if posted item is say only 250 words and mostly your copy

Your contributors and I would suggest many regular readers would “log in” every day. If we want this to work, you might need to have a daily comment – even if times of contribution are varied … the Webdiary has yet to reach the efficiency of the daily situation reports of the CIA ….

smh.com.au producer Mike Barton is working on an expansion of SMH Connect to embrace high-level interactivity with our readers. This could see more than one thread to Webdiary so I could spin off discussion topics according to reader’s wishes. This would help alleviate the mix problem.

I accept the criticism that I’m not doing enough of my own comment, and will do more, including responding more often to reader’s contributions. Be assured that my responses will in no way seek to diminish or ridicule contributors. The space is safe.

It is bloody impossible to please everyone though. Reader Dan Meijer blasted me for my post-Cunningham comments on the basis that “your recent columns on the ALP loss in Cunningham smack of the diatribe of a NSW Labor Left member, using the column as an outlet to vent your dislike of the ALP Right…I’d hoped Webdiary might be a forum, moderated and commented on by you, for reasoned and balanced discussion, not as a platform for your own personal agendas, Margo. I hope to see it change back soon. Sore loser type columns are a bore.”

I responded: “I don’t feel like a loser. It’s my opinion. The space is open to publish anyone elses. Including yours. What’s wrong with that?”


Emma Bridge

I continue to really enjoy Webdiary and log in as often as possible. I too miss your comments and get a bit frustrated when the whole thing gets taken over by those who write long ‘this I believe’ pieces. It may be my imagination, but it seems over the years that the gender balance has shifted to many more men contributing I don’t know if this is a result of men having more time to contribute (!) or women lacking the confidence to engage in the extended essay form or what. However, it would be good to hear from more women plus a greater variety of voices generally, and if the shift in format has resulted in this dropping off it would be good to try and get them back.

I note the Webdiary charter includes two potentially conflicting points in its mission – to help meet the unmet demand for conversations AND to provide an outlet for talented writers and thinkers.

Whilst neither precludes the other completely, my idea of conversation is not sitting back while someone talks at me, which some of the outlets for talented writers have become. Whilst I don’t want Webdiary to become a sort of online talkback radio, I did enjoy the moderated snappy discussions we used to have with you editing people’s emails and giving webdiarists only the flavour and key points in debates.

Perhaps the solution is to have some link to extended discussion pages on each topic (which you then wouldn’t need to moderate to the same degree) but keep the diary pages for snappier conversation. I think that would help some of those who may be silenced by feeling it is only okay to contribute if you can write an academic essay.

I guess ultimately it is a time thing, both yours and ours. How much time do you have to spend moderating and how much time do we have to write essays or one liners? Webdiary will continue to evolve regardless. Ultimately if it evolves too much in one direction, it will either get pulled back by diarists or there will be a split (those of us with leftist pasts are well versed in these!) and another forum for those feeling disengaged will emerge. Time will tell.

Thanks heaps for all your efforts. I still feel very positive about Webdiary and what it is and can provide. I remember being greatly challenged to think about some of this by your book Off the Rails, where you ponder how the media engages with its readers and what drives the form of its engagement. Webdiary is having a bloody good stab at grappling with it all. Thanks.


Richard Chapman in Melbourne

After reading YET ANOTHER long interchange between two of your contributors – I’m finding the usual Left-Right twostep is getting a little dull.

I proudly lean to the Left, and have always enjoyed Webdiary as a counterpoint to the Colonel Blimps who tend to dominate the Murdoch and to a lesser extent Fairfax press. There is a open debate going on in the Australian media, unlike the garbage I see on CNN, where ‘anchors’ parade their jingoistic views, with one I heard via the ABC who regarded even Congressional Democrats as traitors to be hung from trees.

Like a visit to the lions at the zoo, I get a perverse enjoyment from reading Right Wing contributors. (Webdiary is acquiring a fine menagerie). Some make my blood boil, others make me laugh and some lead me to tears. All provide useful intellectual exercise as I tease apart their arguments and hyperbole and develop my reasoning. Some of these guys will write in saying “There is no Right Wing” – which would be true if they didn’t so predictably fall into line with Howard, G Dubya, Joe McCarthy and Genghis Khan on just about every issue.

However, my point is that I can also concede that my thoughts and contributions have been ‘constrained’ intellectually by my ideology. I don’t know why this occurs – I suspect people on both sides develop reactions deep in the pits of their stomachs (or core of their brains) which are instinctive and reflexive, and their upper brains dress up these reactions in reason and evidence to make them acceptable.

I’m doing the Christian thing – trying to remove the log from my own eye so I can better see the forests in the eyes of the Right. However, I doubt there can be real intellectual debate between people with such immutable positions.

Should we give up on Webdiary? Or set a challenge – for one week, people with known views are to devils-advocate against those views? A Michelin guide rating system for ideological content – so that you know before you read what a person’s worldview is? Or can we just have a word-limit and response-limit, say 3 per contributor, before a cooling off period. I also agree more of the content should be yours, as in earlier times.

Margo: As the volume of emails rises, I’ve had to become selective. My current bias is not to run stuff that’s stock-standard but stuff that pushes a boundary, or tries to formulate a new idea, or asks an interesting question.


Ted Grayson, retired public servant, Adelaide

Thank you for the opportunity to give you feedback on Webdiary. I’ve been tempted to do this anyway and your invitation is just what I need to get started. Hope you don’t mind, but my comments range from the highly complimentary to severe criticism.

1. Your video interviews are excellent. Please do more. And please do some hardhitting interviews of federal politicians on subjects other than the ‘war’. And every time you do an interview, promote it in your column so we don’t miss any.

2. Noel Hadjimichael is absolutely right – I’m sure most of your readers will tell you they want to read more of you and less of everyone else. I would have thought it is your job to write opinion pieces, not to sit back at your desk enjoying reading what everyone else has to say and pondering your ignorance- although its nice to hear your honesty on that subject. Just do it. You should be writing something every day and you should also comment much more on contributor’s pieces.

3. Can you please write about issues other than the hypothetical war. Wars and the threat of wars are a great distraction for politicians away from domestic issues. The Howard government is enjoying an unprecedented holiday from media scrutiny of their domestic policies. The work you did on SIEV-X was an exception to this and I thought it was excellent, but please apply your investigative skills to domestic issues as well as international issues.

4. Can you please put long pieces such as those by John Wodjylo and Tim Dunlop in separate postings? I’m sure many readers like to print out Webdiary but don’t want to print out 10-20 pages of Wodjylo.(Margo: Agreed. I’ve already started doing this.)

5. I much preferred Webdiary when it included shorter pieces on a wider variety of topics and more commentary from you.

6. Can you provide your readers with information on the number of hits your Webdiary receives and how this varies depending on the topics? (Margo: Good idea. I’ll do a monthly summary starting with October’s results.)

7. I am really concerned at the low quality of political reporting coming out of the Canberra Press Gallery and very disappointed to see Michelle Grattan leave the Herald. Ramsey is boring and tedious most of the time although occasionally he’s great. I’d like to see you critique the work of your colleagues more, although I expect you won’t do it. It’s too much of a club, isn’t it?

Here’s a challenge for you – why not introduce a new subsection of Webdiary for readers to provide critical commentary on the work of the Canberra Press Gallery? Sort of like a mini media watch. If you are unable to criticise them directly, you could at least provide a forum for others to do it. And don’t tell me you’ve done it before. We know that. The point is no-one is criticising them now.

8. Hope you don’t mind my honest criticism. I believe that at your best you are an outstanding journo and I’d like to see you doing the best work you are capable of, more frequently.

Margo: I am sometimes critical and sometimes an ardent supporter of the press gallery. I usually put my comments in a general, not individual context, because I don’t want to do the tit-for-tat insult thing many commentators do. It’s boring. A waste of time. I routinely run reader’s criticisms of gallery members, the gallery, and me. This is part of my philosophy for Webdiary – the journalist sits with the reader around the same circular table, rebalancing the power dynamic between writer and reader and creating a creative charge between them.

I want to wave goodbye to the model of reader as passive object and journalist as bearer of privately pre-digested truth to the passive object. The priority becomes process, not outcome, and the ‘decision’, the ‘truth’ emerges from the conversation. For the journalist, this is exciting but dangerous, as the journalist must state an opinion while being prepared to change her mind as discussion proceeds. This often means being damned by, in my case, both right and left wing commentators. (Perhaps this is a reason why I’ve become averse to quick opinion?)

I agree that a running thread of media critique would be good. Hopefully the technology to allow this will be up and running soon.


Shawn Sherlock

At the risk of sounding like I’m taking the piss, I’m a ‘long time reader, first time contributor’ flushed out of his hole by your request for suggestions as to the Webdiary future. In particular I want to argue against the suggestion that you should limit the ‘whole text’ of speeches/press releases.

Surely one of the key roles played by your Webdiary is in giving the space and time for the whole statement to be presented, to move us away from the 30 second grab and into the realm of real argument and debate based on something approximating the whole story.

The Latham speech you recently presented (Labor: Outsider Party?!smh) was a great example of what I’m talking about. We got to read the whole unedited speech and were forced to engage with it using our own brains rather than being force fed an ‘analysts’ opinion.

I know from previous posts of yours that we probably have different views on this, but I think it vital that we at least occasionally get unvarnished access to what our politicians/public figures actually say, rather than the edited, ‘here’s what we think you need to know’ version we generally get in the mainstream press. If people don’t want to read it all then they can move on, but don’t deprive the rest of us of the access.

Your Webdiary is important for many reasons, but in my mind one of the key ones is this ability to present information in full for us to think about and digest in our own way in our own time. So please don’t stop giving us the full text just because some of the readers find it all a bit tedious. There are many more of us out there who find this one of the strengths of the diary in the first place.

Margo: There’s no way I’m going to stop publishing long pieces occasionally, for the reasons you give. The mix is very hard to get right, and depends largely on what you decide to write to me. However it is also true that shorter, more instinctive/emotional pieces mightn’t get written or sent if people feel pressured by the longer, more academic pieces into feeling there’s no place for their input. The last thing I want is for Webdiary to become an elitist space. It’s a space for everyone interested in political thought, political events, and policy and identity issues. The basic task I set myself is to ensure that people of good will feel comfortable contributing to it, with the result that a smorgasbord of Australian voices and views are available to Webdiarists. It’s about constructive conversation, not closure – which the standard left-right culture war rhetoric has degenerated into. It’s about hope, not fingerpointing.

Last year, out of the blue, Tim Dunlop sent me a 7,000 word piece deconstructing the economic arguments for dairy deregulation. That piece triggered the most exciting, broad-based, discussion Webdiary had ever had, from all sorts of Australians with all sorts of perspectives. A bottom-up piece, from micro detail to macro questioning, was what many people were clearly hungry for. There was a lesson in that, and I won’t forget it.


Ian MacDougall

I disagree with Noel Hadjimichael’s assessment. The great thing about the web is that the space constraints operating in the print media need not apply – either to publisher or reader. How could John Wojdylo’spieces on Saddam’s Heart of Darkness have ever been edited down to 250 words?

I remember well the controversy in the press at the time over the Vietnam War. Letter writers to the editor on both sides of the debate wrote what would today be considered abnormally long letters, with reasoned argument being easily their most important aspect. Unfortunately today we seem to be in an age of truncated literacy, with letters to the editor having most chance of publication if they are one paragraph, or better still, one sentence. Hence the abundance of glib one liners, and the triumph of sarcasm. I for one will no longer bother logging on if Webdiary degenerates to that.

If the reader thinks a piece is too long, there is this key labelled Page Down which is a great help, and one does not even have to be a speed reader to use it.


Justin Whelan

Margo, you asked for suggestions about improving the (excellent) Webdiary. A few thoughts from an “every day” reader.

1. I don’t know who is responsible for the layout of each section, so I don’t know if a better design is too much to ask. But it is hard to figure out where one contribution ends and the next one starts when all you use is bold type for many purposes. Perhaps start each new section with the contributors name in red? Or a bigger size? If you’ve got a ‘proper’ designer doing it they could even go for a more jazzy and reader-friendly setup.

Margo: When Webdiary started in July 2000, the designers produced the framework. The space inside was a blank page. I didn’t know when I started that reader’s contributions would become fundamental to Webdiary. And it was not until April last year that I thought about what Webdiary was all about and wrote the Webdiary charter. So the internal design of each entry is just me mucking around trying to make it work. I’ve just asked a designer to impose a design structure on the blank page I start with each day to make it more reader friendly.

l2. One of the great merits of Webdiary is that people can respond in more detail and with more consideration than, say, the letters page. But recent events have also shown me the problems with a “no limits” approach. Personally I find that John Woydylo’s essays are so long that they have the effect of overwhelming the other responses much like a person who talks too much in a debate. I used to think that with internet discussions such comparisons were false as one has the chance to delete or skip over unwanted material, but many years of participating in such online discussions has led me to realise that the intuitive feeling of a discussion is actually affected in the same way as in face to face contact. Perhaps a limit of about 1000 words could steer a middle path? (For what it’s worth, John managed to write 4415 words in Loving Hitler, 2/10/02; 6027 words in Saddam’s Will to Power on 30/9/02; and 17,328 words in the original essay Saddam and the Heart of Darkness on 26/9/02. I don’t want to shut him up – he’s the most reasoned supporter of the war on Iraq I’ve read, and the debate should be had – but maybe this is overkill?)

3. I’ve now gone back and read (almost all of) the previous comments and noticed a general theme of limiting the size of contributions! But a few people pointed out that some of the essays were in fact of the highest standards of reason and accessibility. Perhaps try to separate the ‘essays’ from the ‘contributions’ – you are making a start at this already, and of course the lines are blurry when someone responds to an essay with 500 words of their own. So some mess is unavoidable. But it might be worth a try.

4. Reading over the earlier comments, a number of people recalled the original intention of the site partly to be a vehicle for some better investigative journalism. There were two elements of this: One was not letting pollies fob off the questions (recent SIEV-X thread is picking up this request) and the other is to try to be more proactive (like people requesting questions you or your colleagues could ask, as is happening). You’re already doing this and it’s fantastic.

5. I’d be interested to hear your reflections on the role of Webdiary within the SMH/media world, ie. what do your colleagues think of it? Do they read it?

Margo: I don’t ask and they don’t tell.

6. I take it time and money, but mostly time, are limiting factors with this site. Given a significant number of people seem to be regulars, some of whom have time for frequent multi-thousand-word essays, perhaps you could call for volunteers? Or point out to your boss (you’ve got plenty of backup on this!) the value and significance of the site and get your own webmaster…

7. No site will be perfect. No site will suit everyone. The fact is you are doing something unique and special and you can read in people’s comments their appreciation for this meeting place of journos, academics, students, and plain old concerned citizens. More power to you.


Max Phillips

1) Limit John Wojdylo to a few hundred words at absolute maximum. If he can’t say what he wants to say in a few hundred words (or less) then I don’t think Webdiary is the correct forum. It seems of late that Webdiary is becoming a Wojdylo Web Blog. He can have a separate site if he likes to write his polemic essays, and you can link to it. But less Wojdylo. He is boring, rarely says anything new or interesting and comes across as an egotistical wanker. Yes he gets a response, but so does Miss Devine. Trolls are lame. I only have so much time to read Webdiary, and if I see Wojdylo’s name I tend to allot that time to another site.

I quote him: “Compassion is of no use in solving the horrific dilemma we face: If we don’t act soon, when we are relatively powerful, we may be condemning free civilization to oblivion.” I mean that could straight from Dubya’s autocue. We get enough of that bullshit in the rest of the media, I don’t need Wojdylo regurgitating it, inserting some quasi-philosophic academic jargon and deriding anyone who disagrees as stupid or uninformed.

Wojdylo again: “And on the contrary, there is nothing more cynical than the United Nations proclaiming the noble ideals of its charter while obligingly paving the way for the rise of a dictator who wills the destruction of all that it stands for, together with the free world, and thinks nothing of ending tens of millions of lives to achieve his ambition” – or nothing more cynical than a President who halted democracy in his own country, withdraws from the 1972 ABN treaty, raises military spending to astounding heights, then whips up hysteria so he can go kill a lot of Iraqis in the name of disarmament and democracy! Ha!

He questions Chomsky’s objectivity – claiming his “view is quasi-religious” without any evidence. Yet he’s the one talking about these vague, almost crusade like visions, of defending “the free world” and “free civilisation”. Give me a break! Chomsky’s record and thorough, almost pedantic, documentation trumps a Wojdylo Web Diary polemic in my book.

Margo: Sorry, Max, but I love John’s work and will continue to publish it, and at length if he writes long. I find John’s work deeply challenging, perhaps because it’s based in European intellectualism rather than English or American. Please forgive this idiosyncracy.

2) I’d like to see more short, cutting and witty comments. One liners. Haikus? (especially Haikus!) Perhaps even a separate section for these short bits and pieces. There are lots of smart people out there who don’t have time to read the Wojdylo’s et al, let alone reply in great detail. But they could contribute a short and valuable ditty.

Margo: Agreed. More short, cutting and witty emails please! During the Tampa debate I had a section called one liners which worked well, but I’m not getting enough of them any more!

3) Rejected submissions. Perhaps once a month you could give us a page of the most outrageous and strange submissions you receive. Sort of like a “Webdiary out-takes”. The best part about those smh.com.au reader’s feedback forums they sometimes have on the front page is reading the crackpot-loony comments (Perhaps I’m one of them?).

Margo: Good idea. Since I’ve now agreed to publish the stats on Webdiary each month, I could do an end of month Webdiary incorporating your suggestion too.

4) Polls. Could you run web polls on various subjects (related to the contemporary Webdiary debates)? I think polls are pretty easy to set up and run automatically. Lots of sites have them. I’d like to see how skewed and elite we Webdiarists really are.

Margo: We dropped polls because they were too subject to manipulation. An improved poll system is nearly ready to go.

5) Moderation – see slashdot.org style http://slashdot.org/faq/com-mod.shtml. Or some kind of rating system on published submissions.

6) Keep following stories like SIEV-X and the Democrats split. It is interesting to see how they continue to develop after the mainstream media has dropped them.

That’s all for now. Otherwise it’s great. Especially when domestic politics is hot.

Oh, and I disagree that you need to write more. I think it is fine to step back when there is a lot of debate. Although I do like it when you do a little [editors note, commenting on the comment]. Maybe more of them.


John Wojdylo

I think Webdiary has huge potential. It gives people the choice to read and interact with potentially a great range of material. And it’s so easy to choose what you want to read. Webdiary can fill a huge gap in the Australian media.

The problem with virtually all the commentary I read in the column format of Oz newspapers is that the columns are limited to about a thousand words. So the author can’t bring in enough background material (excerpts etc) to flesh out their argument, and they tend towards form instead of content – and often descend into disjoint bald assertions or partisan shouting.

In Webdiary you can present things so that they make sense.

Long and deep commentaries are commonplace in the big German newspapers, for example, but almost non-existent in Oz. It’s a pleasure to read a long, well thought-out article. Wouldn’t it be good to get mainstream commentators involved in Webdiary, so that they could flesh out their ideas here? Would they work for free? (Margo: There’s nothing to stop mainstream writers seeking publication in Webdiary. None have, and I have no desire to be proactive in encouraging such input as such writers already have a public space and a public voice. Part of Webdiary’s charter is to discover and promote new talent.)

The internet has great advantages that Webdiary benefits from. There’s very little extra cost in putting up long articles, and it’s easy to scroll down to the next article if you’re bored or haven’t the time. It gives the reader a wide choice of material at the press of a button.

Putting in excerpts can put the reader in contact with material that they might not normally come across. Background material about Iraq is a current example – the way you view the news can change after you have read a few choice extracts. But in Oz it’s almost as if we’re being kept in the dark – where else would you find the testimony of experts with first hand experience of Iraq but in Webdiary?

It’s too easy for media to wield influence with their spin. In Webdiary you can get beneath the spin and see what’s inside. If you want. Nobody has to.

(By the way, I think replacing all excerpts with links would diminish the reading experience. If you’re bored with an excerpt, assert your choice: scroll down. Others might find the excerpt interesting. The writer usually puts them there because they think the text is important. Also, links make for a bit of laziness.)

And with well thought-out articles, you can see how bits and pieces of the news fit together, how it makes sense. There’s just not enough of that around, largely because of space (ie commercial) constraints.

I think Webdiary’s coming along nicely. You’re getting close to a good mix of two broad streams: shortish, formless, off-the-cuff opinion pieces; and formal, well-argued pieces, both long and short.

Both are important in bringing people and ideas together.


David Davis in Switzerland

I can’t say I have many complaints or suggestions re WebDiary, because it is so fluid. It is hard to hit a moving target. I think the basic concept is right. Sometimes aspects bug me but then they go away again…..only to reveal something better. I don’t think you keep the format the same and I think you alter your stance from time to time re contributions.

There was an early stage where I think you published most of what you received provided you believed it contributed something new. Then later you introduced more structure and more themes. I could be wrong but I think you are more into themes than you used to be. Its a sort of “annointing of the topic”. You annoint the worthy topics…….and then the rest follows. Am I being harsh? (Margo: You’re right!) )

As I said in feedback ages ago I love it when you put in one liners throughout other people’s contributions because it’s informal, entertaining, thought provoking and fun. People need to get over themselves. It is fine if you chip in midstream. It isn’t supposed to be an elite thing. Sure it is an unfair advantage to you but then after all you do sort of control the space.

As I did in the past, I would also salute the serious contributors, the ones who make such a brilliant effort and contribute really thought provoking stuff. Not just raves, but really original and deep perspectives. The most recent prime example would be the long time diarist John Wodjylo.

I think though that Webdiary should remain a “broad church”. A welcome home for all. A Polly Bush pub where deep conversations and light hearted banter can be within earshot of each other. The banterers should not be dismissed. Amidst the banter can be true insight.

Finally, can I make a special request? It is regarding SIEV-X. I know the gist of your allegations. They frighten me if they are true. I admit to being less than diligent in getting into the detail. I know that’s lazy and without the detail perhaps it can’t be understood……but PLEASE can you do a bullet point summary of the key aspects lending support to the conspiracy theory? I’m certainly prepared (if sadly) to accept it could be true but I just can’t get my head around it in the time I have had. Can you do a simpleton’s guide to it? A sort of “well this is where we are” thing that sums up everything so far. I certainly respect your judgement so am loathe to dismiss the whole thing. As I say, I have just been a bit complacent and have had a “dont want to know” attitude. Disgraceful but true. On the other hand…… I don’t want to forget it totally. I hope you are wrong but want to really understand your case in a nutshell. I have been VERY slow on this but now I really want to know the truth. What is it?

I suppose you don’t really know and that is why it at once becomes frustrating but more importantly it becomes worthy of deeper inquiries. Three hundred and fifty three. Quite chilling.

Rather than being something I have become immune to over time, SIEV-X is starting to get under my skin. Now I just want to know what happened more than ever

Margo: David, I’m asked what really happened so often, and you’re right, I don’t know and I’m not going to pretend I do. Too many questions. Not enough information. Systematic answer avoidance and bloody-minded obfuscation. I’ll have a go at the summary thing next week.

Inquiry damns Reith’s ‘deliberate distortion’

The former defence minister, Peter Reith, deliberately misled the public during last year’s federal election campaign, a Senate inquiry into the “children overboard” affair has found.

The majority report also found the Government failed to correct the public record before the November 10 election – despite repeated navy and Defence Department advice to the Prime Minister, John Howard, Mr Reith and their offices that initial reports of asylum seekers throwing children overboard were false.

The findings, released last night, were fiercely denounced by Government Senators involved in the inquiry, who said they were unsupported by evidence.

Mr Reith also issued a strong defence of his actions, which first came to the public’s attention on October 7.

It was then that the Immigration Minister, Philip Ruddock, told the media that people on board the vessel, known as SIEV 4, had thrown their children into the sea – claims to which Mr Howard referred repeatedly in the days following.

Three days later, Mr Reith released photographs purporting to support the claims, but the pictures of children in the water were later revealed to have been taken when the vessel sank on October 8.

Senator John Faulkner, Labor, said the committee had exposed “an extraordinary story of deceit” and said the Government owed Australians an apology.

“The committee has established on no less than 13 occasions that the Prime Minister, his department, or his office were informed that children had not been thrown overboard, or that photographs purporting to represent that event were false,” Senator Faulkner said.

“The committee has also found that on no less than 14 occasions the minister for defence at the time, Mr Peter Reith, or his office had been informed that children had not been thrown overboard from SIEV 4 or that the photographs of people in the water represented that event.”

The committee heard 15 days of evidence, beginning in March, but failed to take evidence from Mr Reith, whom it declined to summons. It also did not question key figures such as his media adviser, Ross Hampton, his military adviser, Mike Scrafton, or the Prime Minister’s international adviser, Miles Jordana.

Partly because of this, the committee said it was unable to establish what the Prime Minister knew about the falsity of the “children overboard” claims.

On the controversy surrounding the sinking of the so-called SIEV X, in which 352 boatpeople drowned, the committee said it found no grounds for believing that dereliction of duty was committed by Australian agencies.

But the majority report – dominated by Labor and Democrat senators – said it was disturbing that no review of the SIEV X episode was conducted in the aftermath of the tragedy.

The overloaded, unseaworthy vessel sank between Indonesia and Christmas Island on October 20, the day the Australian Federal Police became aware it was en route – information that did not reach Defence surveillance agencies.

The committee found it “extraordinary that a major human disaster could occur in the vicinity of a theatre of intensive Australian operations and remain undetected until three days after the event, without any concern being raised within intelligence and decision-making circles”.

Other figures who came in for heavy criticism included the former Chief of Defence Force, Admiral Chris Barrie, who the committee accused of failing to ensure Mr Reith knew an error had been made.

The committee also said there was a “serious accountability vacuum” in ministers’ offices and it was “deeply disturbed” by the actions and omissions of Mr Reith’s staff in the handling of the children overboard affair.

It made a number of recommendations, including that there be a full independent inquiry into allegations of possible involvement of Australian authorities in the disruption or sabotage of people smuggling boats from Indonesia.

It recommended a code of conduct for ministerial staffers, and that the Chief of the Defence Force and the Secretary of Defence jointly develop protocols to guide future ministerial directives concerning public communications.

Labor’s latest travesty

I’ve already written heaps on Labor’s cop out on the unthrown children inquiry. Labor closed it down without using the indisputable power of the Senate and its committees to call key witnesses, one result of which is that it is unknown whether or not John Howard was complicit in the children overboard lie.

To this day, Labor has never said publicly why it did what it did. Their reasons are too awful to see the light of day. They might be in government one day and don’t want to be accountable when they are, and most Australians don’t care about the truth anyway and might resent a tough approach.


Labor’s itself damns its gutless failure to call Reith to account in the inquiry report released today, making these findings against him:

The former Minister for Defence (Mr Reith) was, on several counts, in breach of the requirements of the Prime Minister’s Guide on Key Elements of Ministerial Responsibility. In particular:

*Mr Reith undermined public confidence in himself and in the government by his handling of the ‘children overboard’ controversy during the period October-November 2001, and in the course of various inquiries related to the matter conducted by Defence, PM&C and the Senate.

* Mr Reith was not honest in his public dealings in that, having placed inaccurate statements on the public record, he persisted with those statements having received advice to the contrary, and did not seek to correct any misconceptions arising from his statements.

* Mr Reith engaged in the deliberate misleading of the Australian public concerning a matter of intense political interest during an election period. Mr Reith failed to provide timely and accurate advice to the Prime Minister concerning the matters associated with the ‘children overboard’ controversy.

* Mr Reith failed to cooperate with the Senate Select Committee established to inquire into the ‘children overboard’ controversy, thereby undermining the accountability of the executive to the parliament.

* Mr Reith failed to respect the conventions of the relationship between a department and a minister as specified in the Prime Minister’s Guide. In particular, Mr Reith required the Department of Defence to act in ways which called into question their political impartiality – in express contravention of the Prime Minister’s Guide.

* Mr Reith bears responsibility for the haranguing interventions of his ministerial staff into the Department of Defence, and for their failure to adequately assess and give proper weight to advice from the department. Mr Reith therefore failed to maintain the standards specified in the Prime Minister’s Guide with respect to the conduct of ministerial advisers.

* Mr Reith and his staff frequently acted in ways which undermined the establishment and maintenance of trust between public servants and the ministerial office, thereby contravening the provisions of the Prime Minister’s Guide.

* Throughout the Inquiry into a Certain Maritime Incident, the actions of the government have militated against the efficient and comprehensive conduct of the Committee’s activities. In particular:

# The government directed Commonwealth agencies not to provide submissions to the Committee. Such an action is almost unprecedented and contravenes the accountability obligations of the executive to parliament.

# The Minister for Defence refused to agree to the appearance of certain Commonwealth officials in breach of a government undertaking that officials other than MoPS Act employees would not be prevented from appearing before the Committee. The Minister’s refusal hampered the Committee in fulfilling its obligations to the Senate.”


Laughably, Labor committee members dare to make loads of recommendations for improving the accountability of public servants and ministerial advisers. Those same members, under the instructions of their political leaders, utterly failed to use their powers to get that accountability through the Senate inquiry process. They’ve got to be joking.

My detailed criticisms of Labor’s decision to blink when the government bluffed are in Labor backdown opens black hole of accountability (smh).

Simon Crean’s misrepresentation to concerned constituents on Labor’s close-down is in SMH Connect. His standard form email, sent in July and August, read:

Dear …

Please check your facts before you accuse us of being craven. We have pressed, and are continuing to press for the truth at the children overboard inquiry. The public hearings have ended, at the committee’s decision, not ours, and if necessary the committee can reopen them. The committee is now continuing its consideration of the issues and its conclusions, and the Labor members will continue to press for the truth to be told.

It is obvious that you feel strongly about this, as do we all, but this does not mean you can malign honest and hardworking Labor members of this committee.

My last word on the matter was in SMH Connect on August 20:

Here’s the rotten rub. Labor Senator John Faulkner worked hard earlier this year to convince journalists that Labor hadn’t walked away from the big call – to subpoena Peter Reith and key ministerial and prime ministerial staffers to give evidence. You’ll recall there were several media reports that Labor was ready to subpoena Reith and co to get the truth. Instead, Labor came up with an unprecedented ploy.

It asked the Clerk of the Senate, Harry Evans, to recommend an independent expert to assess the evidence, decide whether any of the reluctant witnesses had a case to answer and, if so, to set out that case. Labor argued that the independent report would put pressure on the witnesses to front up and defend themselves. If they didn’t, Labor would have the moral authority to go in hard, as the Government could not claim that the case against the witnesses was only political.

Faulkner specifically told me and others he did not rule out subpoenas if Reith and co maintained their refusal to account for their actions after the independent report was completed.

I bought the line. Sucker punched. Now, the draft report is ready BEFORE the expert, Stephen Odgers SC, has even sent in his report.

So the last word should go to Liberal Senator George Brandis, who, it must now be said, has brilliantly led the defence team at the inquiry.

“The independent report was a completely confected excuse which you were silly enough to swallow – that this was a bona fide attempt to advance the committee’s work,” Brandis told me today. “It was nothing but a red herring to get the Labor Party over the embarrassment of not being prepared to exercise the subpoena power when it had insisted for months that these people must give evidence.”

“One the Liberal Senators called their bluff, they ran away at a million miles an hour.”

Brandis called their bluff when Dems Senator Andrew Bartlett moved a motion at a private meeting of Senate inquiry members that the reluctant witnesses be subpoenaed to appear. Brandis specifically conceded that the committee had the power to do this, and the three Liberal committee members abstained. Labor voted against, so Bartlett, and the Australian people, lost.

Brandis reminded me today that the inquiry “opened the batting between Crean and Howard after the election – look at how comprehensively Crean has wrong-footed himself.”

Personally, I just don’t believe that John Faulkner caved in off his own bat. He’s put too much hard work and passion into it – particularly on the SIEV-X tragedy – to do so. I reckon he’s been rolled.

A detailed analysis by public service expert John Neathercote on the terrible precedent Labor has created for Governments to avoid accountability by banning just about anyone they like from giving evidence to Parliamentary committees is in What servants are for (smh).

The children overboard report contains no surprises. The major players who’ve escaped Parliamentary scrutiny are flying high, as is the man they may or may not have been protecting, John Howard. Peter Reith: Lobbyist for a multinational defence firm and new chairman of the Liberal Party’s elite fundraising group the 500 club. Ross Hampton: Media adviser to health minister Brendan Nelson. Peter Scrafton: Senior defence department executive. Peter Hendy: Head of one of Australia’s most powerful business lobby groups.

I stopped believing Labor stood for anything apart from getting power – including courage, principle, or vision – quite a while ago. The Senate Committee report is just another testament to its betrayal of itself, its supporters and the Australian people. To read the report, go to aph.

Published below is the independent assessor’s report – a conservative, extremely credible document which Faulkner had pledged to use to put the pressure on the missing witnesses to turn up, but which instead has become documentary proof of Labor cowardice. It’s long, so I’ve published it in two parts.



S. J. Odgers SC

Forbes Chambers

21 August 2002


1.1 On 13 February 2002 the Australian Senate established a “Select Committee on a Certain Maritime Incident” to inquire and report on a number of matters, including the so-called “children overboard” incident of 7 October 2001. In June 2002 I was briefed to assist the Committee in a number of respects. This Report is the result of that brief.

Nature of Brief

1.2 I was briefed to assist the Select Committee in the following terms:

“To assess all evidence and documents relevant to the terms of reference of the Committee, obtained by the Committee or by legislation committees in estimates hearings, to:

(a) determine what evidence should be obtained from former minister Mr PK Reith and advisers, Peter Hendy, Michael Scrafton, Ross Hampton and Miles Jordana, and what questions they should answer, to enable the Committee to report fully on its terms of reference; and

(b) formulate preliminary findings and conclusions, which the Committee could make in respect of the roles played by those persons with the evidence and documents so far obtained.”

Senate Select Committee Terms of Reference

1.3 The terms of reference for the Select Committee are in the following terms:

“For inquiry and report on:

(a) the so-called ‘children overboard’ incident, where an Indonesian vessel was intercepted by HMAS Adelaide within Australian waters reportedly 120 nautical miles off Christmas Island, on or about 6 October 2001;

(b) issues directly associated with the incident, including:

(i) the role of Commonwealth agencies and personnel in the incident, including the Australian Defence Force, Customs, Coastwatch and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority,

(ii) the flow of information about the incident to the Federal Government, both at the time of the incident and subsequently,

(iii) Federal Government control of, and use of, information about the incident, including written and oral reports, photographs, videotapes and other images, and

(iv) the role of Federal Government departments and agencies in reporting on the incident, including the Navy, the Defence organisation, the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and the Office of National Assessments; and

(c) operational procedures observed by the Royal Australian Navy and by relevant Commonwealth agencies to ensure the safety of asylum seekers on vessels entering or attempting to enter Australian waters;

(d) in respect of the agreements between the Australian Government and the Governments of Nauru and Papua New Guinea regarding the detention within those countries of persons intercepted while travelling to Australia, publicly known as the ‘Pacific Solution’:

(i) the nature of negotiations leading to those agreements,

(ii) the nature of the agreements reached,

(iii) the operation of those arrangements, and

(iv) the current and projected cost of those arrangements.”

Material Briefed

1.4 I have been briefed with transcript from the Select Committee hearings, as well as transcript from hearings of a number of Senate estimates hearings. In addition, I have been provided with copies of two earlier reports into the ‘children overboard’ affair (the Powell and Bryant reports) and associated documents. I did not attend any of the hearings nor have I communicated in any way with any of the persons involved in the affair.


2.1 The background to the Select Committee inquiry, and to this Report, may be expressed in brief and relatively uncontroversial terms.

2.2 On 6 October 2001, in Australian waters in the vicinity of Christmas Island, HMAS Adelaide made initial contact with an Indonesian vessel (sometimes referred to as “SIEV4”) which was suspected to be carrying a number of persons intending to make an illegal entry into Australia. This contact was part of a defence force operation called Operation Relex.

2.3 On 7 October an incident occurred in which a number of persons on the Indonesian vessel went overboard and were rescued by crew from the Adelaide who returned them to the vessel. The precise nature of this incident is discussed below, but the overwhelming weight of the evidence now available indicates that only one of these persons was a child (13 years or older) and that no children were thrown into the water. Some of this incident was video-recorded from the Adelaide. Some hours after the incident, the Minister for Immigration, Mr Ruddock, was informed that “children had been thrown in the water” by other persons on the vessel and he released that information to the media.

2.4 On 8 October SIEV4 began to sink and a number of passengers, including women and children, entered the water. All were rescued by crew from the Adelaide. During that rescue, a number of photographs were taken showing, among other things, children in the water.

2.5 On 10 October, two of these photographs were released by the then Minister for Defence, Mr Reith, as evidence of the incident on 7 October. Mr Reith also stated in a radio interview that a video existed of the incident on 7 October which showed children being thrown into the water. In fact, it did not.

2.6 On 7 November an article appeared in the Australian which reported that officers on the Adelaide had told Christmas Islanders that no children had been thrown into the water. On 8 November, Vice Admiral Shackleton, Chief of the Navy, was interviewed by the media and made a statement that included the words “Our advice was that there were people being threatened to be thrown in the water, and I don’t know what happened to the message after that.” Later that day, Vice Admiral Shackleton issued a clarifying statement to the effect that Defence had initially advised Mr Reith that children had been thrown into the water. The Federal election was held on 10 November 2001.

2.7 In October and November 2001, three of the staff in Mr Reith’s office were Mr Peter Hendy, Mr Michael Scrafton and Mr Ross Hampton. Mr Hendy was Mr Reith’s Chief of Staff. Mr Scrafton was Mr Reith’s Senior Adviser (Defence). Mr Hampton was Mr Reith’s Media Adviser. Mr Miles Jordana was a member of the Prime Minister’s staff.


3.1 It is apparent from this background that the primary aspects of the Committee’s terms of reference which require to be addressed for the purposes of my brief are (b)(ii) and (iii).

3.2 The rules of evidence do not apply to the inquiry or my Report. Nevertheless, they provide some assistance in the approach to be taken to evidence before the inquiry. For example, hearsay evidence, and particularly remote hearsay evidence, should be approached with great caution.

3.3 Equally important, the nature of my brief and the material briefed necessarily circumscribes the proper approach to this Report. Because I have not attended any of the select committee hearings or communicated with any of the persons involved in the affair, great caution is required in drawing any factual conclusions.

3.4 Another important point is that none of the specified persons (Mr Reith, Mr Hendy, Mr Scrafton, Mr Hampton and Mr Jordana) has given evidence before the Select Committee, although the first four persons made statements to the Bryant Inquiry. All were given the opportunity to contribute to the Select Committee in writing and in person. All declined, as was their right. As a result, I do not have their (full) account of events. Further, they have not had the opportunity to test or challenge the evidence relating to them. Accordingly, no firm conclusions should be drawn on factual issues relating to them where any possibility of controversy exists.

3.5 For the most part, only factual conclusions which are entirely uncontroversial will be drawn. Where uncertainty or dispute exists and it is necessary for a some factual determination to be made in order to comply with the brief, only tentative or provisional views will be expressed. The brief requires only “preliminary findings and conclusions” and that requirement will be rigidly adhered to.


4.1 In order to comply with the brief it is necessary to come to a preliminary conclusion on the question of whether any children were thrown into the water from SIEV 4 on 7 October 2001. As indicated above, the overwhelming weight of the evidence now available indicates that only one of the persons who entered the water on that day might be regarded as a child (aged somewhere between 13 and 20 years) and that this person jumped into the water voluntarily.

4.2 It is true that one of the crew of the Adelaide who was operating the Electrical Optical Tracking System (EOTS), which produced the video partially recording the incident, subsequently stated that he witnessed persons “jumping off the siev by their own choice, and I believe one child also went overboard”. However, whatever was intended to be conveyed by this statement, no other member of the Adelaide crew reported a child being thrown into the water, there is no other direct evidence tending to suggest that it happened and it may now safely be concluded at least on a provisional basis that no children were thrown into the water.

4.3 There is no doubt that, some hours after the incident, the Minister for Immigration, Mr Ruddock, was informed by Mr Bill Farmer, the Secretary of his Department, that “children had been thrown in the water” by other persons on SIEV4. Mr Ruddock was informed that the information came from “Defence”. At the time Mr Farmer conveyed this information, he was attending a meeting of the “People Smuggling Taskforce” Inter-Departmental Committee. The information had been passed to the Chair of the Taskforce (Ms Halton) by Air Vice Marshal Titheridge (Head of the Strategic Command Division). The information was recorded in a written note prepared by the Taskforce for the Prime Minister later that day. Air Vice Marshal Titheridge also passed on the information to Mr Hendy and Mr Reith. On the same day, the Maritime Commander, Australia (Rear Admiral Smith), passed on the information to Dr Brendan Nelson, Parliamentary Secretary for Defence.

4.4 The source of the information for both Air Vice Marshal Titheridge and Rear Admiral Smith was Brigadier Silverstone (Commander Joint Task Force 639) who had spoken to the captain of the Adelaide, Commander Banks, on the morning of 7 October and understood from that conversation that a “child” had been thrown over the side of SIEV4. It is not clear whether that was said by Commander Banks, or whether there was some misunderstanding. For the purposes of this brief, it is not necessary for me to attempt to resolve the issue. Equally, it is not necessary to determine how it was that “child” became “children”. It is sufficient to conclude that senior Defence personnel did in fact communicate to the Government on 7 October that children had been thrown in the water.

4.5 On 9 October 2001, the Office of National Assessments issued a report which stated that “asylum seekers wearing lifejackets jumped into the sea and children were thrown in with them”. No source was identified in the report but it was subsequently established that it was based on media statements by Mr Ruddock, Mr Reith and Mr Howard.


5.1 During the sinking and rescue on 8 October, a number of photographs were taken showing, among other things, children in the water. On 9 October, these photographs were sent electronically by email from the Adelaide to a number of addresses. The emails included explanatory text which made it clear that the photographs were taken during the rescue on 8 October. The explanatory text read:

“ABBM Laura Whittle was recently photographed as the Navy value ‘COURAGE’. During the 08 Oct rescue of 223 SUNCs from a sinking Indonesian fishing vessel, Able Seaman Laura Whittle again typified this true quality through her immense courage in leaping 12 metres from the ship’s 02 deck into the water to drag women and children to the safety of a liferaft. Selflessly she entered the water without a lifejacket and without regard for her own safety to help others in need.

“LSCK Jason ‘Dogs’ Barker shows dogged determination as he helped rescue women and children by dragging them to safety during the rescue of 223 SUNCs from a sinking Indonesian fishing vessel. The big hearted Leading Seaman also demonstrated Navy’s core value of COURAGE.”

5.2 However, on 9 October, the two photographs subsequently released by Mr Reith were sent to his Media Adviser, Mr Hampton, without the explanatory text. On 10 October, Mr Reith called the Chief of the Defence Force, Admiral Barrie, to discuss whether the photographs could be released. Admiral Barrie stated that Air Vice Marshal Titheridge would call back with advice. Titheridge advised that he had no objection to release and, later on that day, the two photographs were released by Mr Reith as evidence of the incident on 7 October.

5.3 In relation to the “video”, some of the incident on 7 October was video-recorded by the EOTS system from the Adelaide. Rear Admiral Ritchie testified before the Select Committee that he was advised on 10 October that the video “showed that there were no children thrown overboard” or, at least, it did not provide evidence that children had been thrown overboard. A copy of the video was sent from the Adelaide to Rear Admiral Smith on 14 October. The video was released on 8 November and it is clear that it does not show any children being thrown into the water.


6.1 On 7 October an operation report sent by Maritime Command stated: “Fourteen SUNCs have jumped or have been thrown overboard.”

It was based on a situation report sent from the Adelaide on that morning. On 8 October, in an “update brief”, Strategic Command reported that persons on the ship “threaten or throw themselves overboard” , and did not state that children had been thrown overboard. This report was distributed throughout the Defence Force and, according to the distribution list, the Government (although not, apparently, to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet ). The copy addressed to the Chief of the Defence Force was sent to his Chief of Staff but it was not shown to the Chief of the Defence Force.

6.2 On 10 October, the captain of the Adelaide sent a signal to the Maritime Commander, Australia (Rear Admiral Smith) containing a “list of chronological events”. It referred to threats to throw children overboard but did not contain any statement that a child was thrown into the water. Equally, it did not contain a clear statement that no child was thrown into the water. However, by the middle of the day, the captain of the Adelaide had concluded that no children had been thrown overboard and he communicated this conclusion to Brigadier Silverstone and Rear Admiral Smith. It was also communicated at some stage to Rear Admiral Ritchie.

6.3 On the same day, 10 October, Strategic Command produced a chronology of events which concluded with the statement: “There is no indication that children were thrown overboard. It is possible that this did occur in conjunction with other SUNCs jumping overboard”. This statement has been referred to in the Select Committee hearings as the “footnote” and this expression is used in this Report, although the Head of Strategic Command emphasised to the Select Committee that it “was in no sense a mere ‘footnote’.”

6.4 On the morning of 11 October, the Chief of the Defence Force, Admiral Barrie, was telephoned by Rear Admiral Ritchie and a conversation took place in which Admiral Barrie was at the very least informed that there were doubts about whether children were ever thrown overboard. Later that day, Brigadier Silverstone notified Rear Admiral Ritchie that no one on the Adelaide had seen children being thrown overboard. By this stage, Rear Admiral Ritchie was satisfied that no children had been thrown overboard. However, this information from Brigadier Silverstone may not have been passed on to Admiral Barrie.

6.5 While Admiral Barrie was informed on 11 October that there were doubts about whether children were ever thrown overboard, and informed by Air Marshal Houston on 12 November that he (Air Marshal Houston) believed that no children had been thrown overboard (CMI 743) , Admiral Barrie testified to the Select Committee it was not until 24 February 2002, when he spoke to the captain of the Adelaide, that he became convinced that no child had been thrown into the water (CMI 744-5). Until that time, his view had been that, without compelling evidence that no children had been thrown into the water, he would stand by the original advice given to the Government.

6.6 Some other members of the Defence Force, outside the chain of command, also may not have known for some time. Air Vice Marshal Titheridge, Head of Strategic Command, informed Ms Bryant on 21 December 2001 that he had not become aware of doubts about the incident until late November. He informed the Select Committee (CMI 700) that he had not been made aware by his staff of the 10 October chronology which ended with the words “[t]here is no indication that children were thrown overboard”. Rear Admiral Smith has testified that, in a conversation between him and Air Vice Marshal Titheridge on 17 October, Smith had told him that “none of it was true” (CMI 586). However, Air Vice Marshal Titheridge informed the Select Committee that he had no recollection of this conversation (CMI 717-8). Rear Admiral Ritchie told Ms Bryant on 20 December 2001 that he did not know if Air Vice Marshal Titheridge received the results of the initial inquiry revealing that there was no evidence to show that children had been thrown overboard.


7.1 Before summarising the available evidence regarding correction of the 7th October incident report outside the Defence Force, it should be noted that the Public Affairs Plan for Operation Relex contained a paragraph which stated that “[a]ll comment and media response/inquiries [in relation to Operation Relex] is to be referred to MINDEF [Minister of Defence] Media Advisor, Mr Ross Hampton”. This meant that Defence’s capacity to correct the public record was limited (see CMI 1122). The Director General of Communication Strategies within the Department of Defence, Mr Brian Humphreys, testified before the Select Committee that “the minister’s office was responsible for decisions as to information going out and the clarifying statements” and he agreed that corrections could not be made “unless the Minister agreed to those corrections or misrepresentations being corrected” (CMI 1156). He understood from discussions with staff in Mr Reith’s office that the guiding motivation of this plan “was to ensure that the minister’s office could see the information before it was released, was aware of information before it was released and had had an ability or opportunity to decide which information was released.”

7.2 In terms of correction of the 7th October incident report within the Government itself, it is clear that, to put it neutrally, there were problems with effective communication. To give one example, Ms Halton, Deputy Secretary in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and Chair of the “People Smuggling Taskforce” Inter-Departmental Committee which met on 7 October, testified to the Select Committee that, between 7 October and the beginning of November, there was never a suggestion made to her that there was doubt about the incident having occurred (CMI 941). It is true that, on 9 October, she asked officers in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to obtain elaboration and confirmation of details of the incident from Defence. However, although the “update brief” of 8 October from Strategic Command was distributed throughout the Government, she was never made aware of it. In relation to the Strategic Command chronology (with footnote) of 10 October, it was emailed to the Social Policy area of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Ms Halton testified that she was not made aware of this document but one of her officers, Katrina Edwards, did receive a copy of the chronology and understood on 10 October that Strategic Command had no documentary evidence that children were thrown into the water. However, either just before, or immediately after, being informed that Strategic Command had no evidence that children were thrown into the water, Ms Halton, according to her testimony before the Select Committee (CMI 961), received a telephone call from Mr Reith who referred to the existence of a video. In addition, either Mr Reith or Air Vice Marshal Titheridge told her about the photographs and the existence of witness statements (CMI 953, 1015, 2073). As Ms Halton testified, “[t]he issue of the footnote was not taken further as it was overtaken by the information that there were photos of the event that had been released to the media, there was a grainy video and Defence was collecting witness statements” (CMI 902).

7.3 Ms Halton testified (CMI 902) that the next time an issue was raised about SIEV4 was in November, when she was informed of “tearoom gossip” from an officer in Defence that the photographs released on 10 October were in fact taken on the day of the sinking. The origin of this “gossip” was a conversation on 11 October between Commander Chatterton, Navy Director of Operations within the Defence Department, and Commander Steffan King, the Australian Defence Force Liaison Officer in the International Division of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Commander Chatterton informed Commander King that the photographs related to 8 October and not 7 October (CMI 1163, 1166, 1490). Commander King decided to “provide this advice to my two senior officers in International Division, such that they could advise their seniors as appropriate” (CMI 1491). He spoke to his supervisor within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Ms Harinder Sidhu (Senior Adviser, Defence Branch) and her superior, Dr Hammer (Assistant Secretary, Defence Branch) on that day (CMI 1491). It is apparent that Commander King, Ms Sidhu and Dr Hammer have given somewhat different accounts of what was said on this occasion. For the purposes of this Report, it is not necessary to determine what exactly was said. What is clear is that neither Ms Sidhu nor Dr Hammer took any steps to pass on the information received from Commander King , although on 7 November Ms Halton was informed that “rumours” or “gossip” were “circulating in Defence that the photos have been wrongly attributed” (CMI 1289-1290).

7.4 There is no evidence that any officials within the Department of Immigration provided advice to the Minister that there was doubt about the veracity of the original claims (see CMI 1256). The Secretary of the Department, who had passed on the initial information to the Minister on 7 October, testified to the Estimates Committee that he was unaware of any doubts about the incident until 7 November. There is no evidence that any officials within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet provided advice to the Prime Minister that there was doubt about the veracity of the original claims (see CMI 1256).

7.5 On 7 November an article appeared in the Australian which reported that officers on the Adelaide had told Christmas Islanders that no children had been thrown into the water. On 8 November, Vice Admiral Shackleton was interviewed by the media and made a statement that included the words “Our advice was that there were people being threatened to be thrown in the water, and I don’t know what happened to the message after that.” The press report included the proposition that “the navy had never advised Defence Minister Reith that boat people threw children overboard from an Indonesian vessel”. Subsequently, Vice Admiral Shackleton issued a statement to the effect that Defence had initially advised Mr Reith that children had been thrown into the water.


8.1 At this point, it is appropriate to summarise the evidence relating to the five named persons in my brief. A chronological approach will be adopted.

7-9 October 2001

8.2 There is evidence that Mr Reith, Mr Hendy, Mr Hampton and Mr Jordana are all (orally) informed on 7 October that children had been thrown into the water by other persons on SIEV4. The “People Smuggling Taskforce” Inter-Departmental Committee also prepared written advice which referred to “passengers throwing their children into the sea”.

8.3 Ms Edwards informed the Select Committee that she believed that “Mr Jordana rang either Ms Halton or myself or both on either October 8 or 9 seeking further details around the events of 7 October”.

8.4 About 12.30 on 9 October, Mr Bloomfield, Director of Media Liaison within the Defence Public Affairs and Corporate Communications Section, informed Mr Hampton of the existence of digital photographs taken by crew of the Adelaide (and referred to by the captain of the Adelaide in an interview with a Channel 10 reporter). Mr Bloomfield, in an interview with Ms Bryant in December 2001, stated that he described the photographs to Mr Hampton as “UBAs in the water”. He told Ms Bryant that he had been aware that the photographs related to the sinking but he had not stated this to Mr Hampton in this or subsequent conversations with him and he told Ms Bryant that he “could not be certain that Mr Hampton was similarly aware”. Mr Bloomfield assumed that Mr Hampton was aware and did not correct any misconception. He accepted that it may have been the case that Mr Hampton was not aware that the photographs related to the sinking on 8 October.

8.5 Mr Hampton stated in a letter he wrote to Mr Hendy on 12 November, which was provided to the Powell Inquiry, that, “On Tuesday 9 October, 2001 I spoke with someone from Defence Public Affairs to confirm that they had two still photos taken after the children were thrown into the water. Unfortunately I did not keep a record of that person’s name. I was sent the two still photos with no accompanying text by Mr Andrew Stackpool. I printed the photos for the Minister.”

8.6 An email from Mr Stackpool, Media Liaison Officer, sent to Mr Hampton at 15.26 on 9 October, contained the two digital photographs with titles (“laura the hero1.jpg” and “dogs and his family1.jpg”) but no other information about them. In particular, the email did not include the explanatory text noted at paragraph 5.1 above, which had been in the email sent from the Adelaide. In interviews with Ms Bryant in December 2001, Mr Bloomfield agreed that there had been “a breakdown in the system when the photographs were provided to the Minister’s office without ‘captions’ (explanatory text)”. Later in the afternoon, Mr Hampton was advised by an email from Mr Bloomfield that the media was seeking “copies of photographs” that were understood to have been “sent to Defence Canberra by HMAS Adelaide”.

10 October 2001

8.7 Rear Admiral Ritchie testified before the Select Committee that he had a telephone conversation with Mr Scrafton early (CMI 370) on 10 October in which Mr Scrafton asked for evidentiary support for the claim that children had been thrown overboard (CMI 368-9). Rear Admiral Ritchie testified that he was advised later on 10 October that the video “showed that there were no children thrown overboard. It showed that there was one child held over the side, that people were jumping over the side of their own volition and that one 13-year-old – and he has variously been described as 13 to 15, or 17 to 18 but at that time I recorded him as a 13-year old – was pushed over. I was also told that the CO Adelaide had thought that there might be reports able to be taken from sailors who were on the disengaged side – that is, the side that the camera could not see – that indicated that there might be children in the water. At 12.42, I passed that information back to Mr Scrafton.” (CMI 368-9; see also CMI 370)

It may be noted that there is a little ambiguity as to what information was communicated to Mr Scrafton, but Rear Admiral Ritchie clearly testified later that Mr Scrafton was informed that “the video” did not show that children had been thrown overboard (CMI 370-1).

8.8 A copy of a contemporaneous diary note made by Rear Admiral Ritchie was provided to the Powell Inquiry:

“Kids – was reported EOTS footage – people jumping, 1 13 yr old pushed over side, 1 man holding baby over the side – RHIB paused underneath and stopped it On disengaged reports from sailors picking up children from the water told M Scrafton”.

It should be noted that the words “13 yr old” are placed above a word “child” which has been crossed out. Rear Admiral Ritchie has never been asked when he made the change.

8.9 Mr Scrafton’s account, given on 14 December 2001 to Ms Bryant, is recorded as follows by Ms Bryant:

“Mr Scrafton stated that he (or the office more generally) had become aware fairly early that there was a tape ‘confirming that the incident had happened’, but that it was of poor quality. The office asked to see the tape initially, but this was then overtaken by other issues and not followed up.”

Ms Bryant also recorded the following: “Mr Scrafton said he did not recall being told clearly by Admiral Ritchie in their conversation on 10 October that children had not been thrown overboard. He did recall that statutory declarations were being collected from the sailors. Mr Scrafton said that his recollection was that Rear Admiral Ritchie stated that he had not seen the tape.”

8.10 Ms Halton, Chair of the “People Smuggling Taskforce” Inter-Departmental Committee, testified that on the afternoon of 10 October, after being told by Mr Reith “that there was a video”, she spoke to Mr Scrafton“who confirmed that that was accurate” (CMI 992).

8.11 In his statement to the Powell Inquiry of 20 November 2001, Mr Reith stated:

“Michael Scrafton, from my Canberra office, told me that we had a film of a child being pushed into the water and that children were in the water on their own, separated from any adults.”

8.12 As noted above, Mr Hampton was sent the two photographs showing children in the water on 9 October. Mr Hampton stated in a letter he wrote to Mr Hendy on 12 November, which was provided to the Powell Inquiry, that the following occurred on 10 October:

“Whilst I was in the Minister’s office prior to us departing for the ABC for a 3LO interview, Peter Reith called the Chief of the Defence Force (CDF) Admiral Chris Barrie. He wanted to check that the two still photos of children in the water after being thrown overboard could be released to the media. ADM Barrie agreed to this as long as identities were obscured. He provided additional information to Peter Reith including the fact that a female sailor jumped 12 metres from the ship into the water to save people. Peter Reith used some of this information in his subsequent media interviews.”

8.13 In an interview with Ms Bryant conducted on 21 December 2001 (subsequently verified by Mr Hampton on 8 January 2002), Mr Hampton agreed that, in hindsight, “the extra information CDF had provided about the female sailor jumping overboard to rescue people indicated that he may have ‘mixed up’ information”. He stated that the CDF was not asked explicitly if the photographs related to the 7 October incident because this was assumed to be the case.

8.14 Mr Reith gave his version of events in his statement to the Powell Inquiry of 20 November 2001:

“On 10 October my office was besieged by media requests for photos in the possession of Defence which showed children in the water. Mr Ross Hampton, my Media Adviser, told me that he had received a phone call from the public affairs unit of Defence that they had the photos but that they were not available for the press. Mr Hampton received two photos from Defence which depicted people in the water being rescued by ADF personnel. Ross had these two colour photos printed on our black-and-white printer and he brought them into my office and put them on my desk. … I thought it prudent to ring the Chief of the Defence Force, Admiral Barrie, to discuss whether the photos should be released. He was aware that there were requests from the media for photos which supported the claim that children were thrown into the water. I asked him if there was any reason why the photos could not be distributed. He said there was no reason for them not to be distributed but he wanted to make sure that there was no particular problem with showing the identity of the ADF personnel and he said that he would have AVM Titheridge phone me back.”

8.15 Admiral Barrie testified before the Select Committee (CMI 742):

“On 10 October, in the afternoon, Minister Reith telephoned me about the release to the media that afternoon of certain photos that he had in his possession. I told him that I had not seen any photographs. But because the operation with SIEV4 had been successfully concluded, I could see no reason why photographs should not be released into the public domain, subject to a security check by the Head of Strategic Command Division that the identities of ADF personnel involved were not compromised. I then telephoned HSCD about the minister’s requirements and tasked him to vet the photographs and advise the minister appropriately.”

8.16 In an interview between Mr Reith and Ms Bryant on 17 January 2001, the following is recorded:

“Mr Reith commented that a suggestion that Admiral Barrie had not seen the photographs and had accepted Mr Reith’s description of them, was ‘the wrong way round’. He said that it had been Admiral Barrie who was describing the incident. He further stated that there was no confusion over what the subject matter was – no-one would have been in any doubt that they were discussing the overboard incident as the media were seeking proof of this incident. However, he agreed that in hindsight it was reasonable to conclude that it was possible that Admiral Barrie may have confused the details of the two incidents, given his comments about a sailor jumping off the Bridge, which Mr Reith went public with. Mr Reith stated that he had not asked Admiral Barrie whether he had seen the photographs. Mr Reith said that he had had two black and white photographs in front of him while he was speaking to Admiral Barrie.”

8.17 In his statement to the Powell Inquiry of 20 November 2001, Mr Reith stated that, after he had spoken to Admiral Barrie, “AVM Titheridge rang me back within about five minutes or so and said that from his point of view the photos could be released.”

8.18 Air Vice Marshal Titheridge gave his account to Ms Bryant on 18 January 2002:

“I recall there being two lots of photographs in existence – one lot on the sinking and another lot taken after the rescue. I also recall that the second lot had at least one photograph of UBAs on the deck of Adelaide and photos with naval personnel visible. Although I do not recall the telephone call, CDF would have, as he told the Minister he intended to do, rang me to see if there was an issue with releasing photographs of service personnel. I would have believed he was referring to the second lot of photos and rang the Minister to tell him there were no problems with photographs of service personnel in such a situation. I do not recall whether or not I actually checked the post rescue photos; it was the principle that I would have cleared and there was no need to check. To infer that I had cleared for release the photographs of the sinking is incorrect.”

He gave much the same account to the Select Committee (CMI 732-3). He emphasised in a written answer to a question on notice that he had “no recollection of the call although I do not dispute that it took place”.

8.19 In his letter of 12 November, Mr Hampton wrote that after Mr Reith had spoken to Admiral Barrie:

“I called Defence Public Affairs and advised Mr Tim Bloomfield that CDF and the Minister had approved release of the two still photos to the media. I had a discussion with Mr Tim Bloomfield of Defence Public Affairs about removing the captions from the two still photos which read ‘laura the hero’ and ‘dogs and his family’. It was mutually agreed with Mr Bloomfield that these captions should be removed as they could identify the two sailors.”

Mr Bloomfield does not dispute the substance of this account.

8.20 Brigadier Bornholt (Military Adviser, Defence Public Affairs and Corporate Communication) testified before the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Estimates Committee on 20 February 2002 that he became aware on 10 October that Mr Hampton wanted to release photographs of the incident on 7 October. In his testimony, he said that he telephoned him and said:

“My advice to you is that the photographs could not be of 7 October because Strategic Command have informed us that that, of the 14 people that they understood were in the water, there were no women or children.”

According to Brigadier Bornholt, Mr Hampton “expressed concern about my advice and told me that the CDF had confirmed with the minister that the photographs could be released and that there were women and children in the water.” Brigadier Bornholt testified that he said “I can’t believe that”. He further testified:

“[I]t became apparent to me that the minister’s media adviser and I were actually talking about two different sets of pictures. I did not have the two photographs during that telephone conversation that were subsequently released. The only photographs that I had on my system were the five photographs that had been sent from Strategic Command. They were the shots … that showed, at a distance, the SIEV sinking and, eventually, the people in the water.”

8.21 A contemporaneous note apparently made by Brigadier Bornholt appears to show that Mr Hampton was told that there were “no children in the water”. It records that Brigadier Bornholt “spk to RH + briefed him on this detail” (the detail including the proposition that no children were in the water”). It goes on to note:

“Hampton was concerned when I raised issue of photos + veracity. He said CDF had provided them to the Minister include cfm that they were of the 7 Oct overboard event”.

It is apparent that this note was not strictly contemporaneous in that it also refers to events which occurred later in the day. However, Brigadier Bornholt confirmed to Ms Bryant on 18 December 2001 that “he informed Mr Hampton in his first phone call that there were no children in the water”.

8.22 Mr Hampton gave an account of this telephone conversation in the letter he wrote to Mr Hendy on 12 November:

“[Brigadier Bornholt] said there may have been a mix up and the photos may be of the wrong event. He said he was looking at a set of four photos of people on a ship and as the people were not in the water they clearly were not of the throwing overboard event. When I said we had been sent from Defence Public Affairs a set of two photos not a set of four – and they showed people, including children, in the water Brigadier Bornholt concurred that he must be talking about something altogether different. He agreed he hadn’t seen these particular photos and he must be looking at another set of photos. I proceeded from the conversation confident that a mistake had not been made and that Brigadier Bornholt had additional photos showing the asylum seekers after their vessel sank”.

8.23 A contemporaneous note apparently made by Mr Hampton records:

“3.30 10/10 Gary B – Strategic don’t have breakdown of the nos of kids & adults who jumped/pushed – They do have 4 photos – Not the 2 photos we’ve referred to today – Different set of photos – OK. 13 people jumped or were thrown off – Doesn’t talk about other photos – some came by way of written brief/Navy”

8.24 Mr Reith’s interview was held at 16.10. He referred to the photographs. He also stated:

“The fact is that children were thrown into the water. … I have subsequently been told that they have also got a film. That film is apparently on HMAS Adelaide. I have not seen it myself and apparently the quality of it is not very good, and it’s infra-red or something but I am told that someone has looked at it and it is an absolute fact, children were thrown into the water.”

8.25 In the Estimates hearing, Brigadier Bornholt testified that, after the telephone call with Mr Hampton, he went to another Defence Department building and found the two photographs that were later released. It was clear from the accompanying text that they were taken on 8 October. He discussed the issue with Ms McKenry, Head of Defence Public Affairs and Corporate Communication, who advised him to inform Mr Hampton. Before 17.00 he telephoned Mr Hampton and “left a message on his mobile phone answering machine to say, essentially, ‘The advice I had given you earlier is correct. Those photographs do not represent the events of 7 … October’.”

8.26 In an interview with Ms Bryant on 21 December 2001, Mr Hampton is recorded as saying that “he had not received a message on his mobile phone from Brigadier Bornholt later that day. However, he noted that he received a large number of messages when an interview such as 10 October occurs, and that he may have therefore missed a message from Brigadier Bornholt due to a full mailbox.”

8.27 Ms Halton testified that, on the afternoon of 10 October, she received a telephone call from Mr Reith who referred to the existence of a video. “Based on that conversation” she then rang Air Vice Marshal Titheridge. Either Mr Reith or Air Vice Marshal Titheridge told her about the photographs and the existence of witness statements (CMI 953, 1015). Ms Halton testified that “[t]he issue of the footnote [in the Strategic Command chronology] was not taken further as it was overtaken by the information that there were photos of the event that had been released to the media, there was a grainy video and Defence was collecting witness statements” (CMI 902). This account was confirmed in general terms by Ms Edwards (CMI 1705). Ms Halton testified that she passed on this information to Mr Jordana and the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (CMI 990).

8.28 Ms Edwards informed the Select Committee that, pursuant to the request from Mr Jordana on either October 8 or 9 seeking further details around the events of 7 October, he was provided on 10 October with “talking points derived from the [Strategic Command] chronology” (the “talking points” did not mention children overboard). Ms Edwards did not suggest that he was given the chronology (with the footnote) although “I assumed at the time, however, that Ms Halton would also advise Mr Jordana of the difficulties around the chronology, as well as the ‘footnote’, as well as the subsequent advice from Mr Reith and his office of that afternoon”. However, as noted above, Ms Halton testified that she had no memory of the chronology or the footnote, although she did not dispute Ms Edwards’ account that she had been advised of the chronology (notwithstanding her lack of recollection). But, also as noted above, her account was that “[t]he issue of the footnote was not taken further as it was overtaken by the information” she received from Mr Reith and his office on the afternoon of 10 October, and which she passed on to Mr Jordana.

8.29 Admiral Barrie was informed on the evening of 10 October by both Rear Admiral Ritchie and Vice-Admiral Shackleton that the two photographs released by Mr Reith related to the sinking of SIEV4 on 8 October and not the incident of 7 October.

11 October 2001

8.30 On the morning of 11 October, the Secretary of the Department of Defence, Dr Allan Hawke, was informed that the two photographs had been taken on 8 October and not 7 October (CMI 3) and he directed the Head of Defence Public Affairs and Corporate Communication, Ms Jenny McKenry, to contact Mr Scrafton “to inform him of the misrepresentation” (CMI 4). He testified that “I also asked that this advice be put in writing”, although Ms McKenry herself testified that she could not recall the words “in writing” used (CMI 1102). Dr Hawke did not give any direction in relation to Mr Reith nor did he advise Mr Reith himself, either in person or in writing.

8.31 Ms McKenry testified that she then spoke by telephone to Mr Scrafton. During this conversation Brigadier Bornholt was with her. Brigadier Bornholt confirmed this in the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Estimates Committee hearings on 20 February 2002. Ms McKenry testified to the Select Committee regarding her conversation with Mr Scrafton:

“We discussed the photographs that had been released. We made it very clear that they did not represent what they were purported to represent. Brigadier Bornholt did explain the attempts to clarify that the previous day with Mr Hampton. We then talked about what our limited understanding at that time was of how the photographs had been released. He then phoned off to go and check the photographs, because I said to him, ‘There are captions which actually say that the photographs were taken on the 8th.’ He rang off, he went to check the photographs and at that stage he came back and said there were no captions to his knowledge in the minister’s office. … We then described the photos to make sure we were talking about the same photos. “ (CMI 1100-1101)

Ms McKenry then “told him that I had an email and that I would send him my email, which quite clearly had the date on it”. The substance of this account was corroborated by Brigadier Bornholt in the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Estimates Committee hearings.

8.32 Subsequently, according to Ms McKenry, she sent him a copy of the email with both the photographs and the explanatory text. She testified further:

“He did acknowledge receipt of that email in the sense that he phoned back because there was information on that email which we raised in conversation afterwards.” (CMI 1101)

Ms McKenry was “left in no doubt that Mr Scrafton understood what we were saying about the photographs” (CMI 1101), that there had been a “misrepresentation” (CMI 1102). However, Ms McKenry accepted that no advice was put in writing to the effect that there had been a misrepresentation in relation to the photographs. If Dr Hawke gave an instruction in that regard, it was not carried out (see CMI 38).

8.33 Mr Scrafton’s account, given on 14 December 2001 to Ms Bryant, is recorded as follows by Ms Bryant:

“Mr Scrafton said that he was later contacted by Ms McKenry (on 11 October), who advised him that the photographs were being misrepresented, and that they related to the sinking rather than the ‘children thrown overboard’ incident. Mr Scrafton stated that he discussed this advice with Mr Hampton, including the issue of whether Mr Hampton had directed that the ‘captions’ be removed. Mr Hampton said that he had asked for titles to be removed because they contained people’s names. Mr Scrafton stated that he then had another discussion with Ms McKenry, and was told that the photos were all over the Defence “Restricted” system and asked her to compile a record of events, including the advice received by Mr Bloomfield from Mr Hampton. Mr Scrafton said that he did not advise Mr Reith, as this would have been Mr Hampton’s role. He said that he does not know whether Mr Reith was informed about the true nature of the photographs.”

8.34 In the letter he wrote on 12 November, Mr Hampton gave an account of the information he received about the two photographs on 11 October:

“… someone from Defence – I do not recall who – informed our office that there may be new doubt about whether the two still photos supplied were taken after the children were thrown from SIEV 04 or after SIEV 04 sank. This doubt was based on the fact that the separately recorded video of the jumping overboard incident was reportedly ‘infra-red’ – suggesting it must have been dark when the jumping overboard incident occurred. There was also a suggestion that text accompanying the photos cast doubt about which event was depicted. The official Strategic Command Minute to the Minister and log describing the events were immediately checked and it showed that the time the children were thrown from SIEV 04 was about 6.00 am Christmas Island Time. Checking revealed this was half an hour after sunrise which therefore supported the initial advice that the photos were of the jumping overboard incident as the two still photos (taken in a non infra-red camera) were clearly taken in daylight hours. On Thursday October 11, I telephoned John Clarke, Media Adviser to Chief of Navy, to try to obtain a copy of the original email (with the 2 still photos attached) which had been sent to Defence Public Affairs from HMAS ADELAIDE to clarify the situation regarding supposed additional text which we had not seen. John Clarke sent me that email. This email had the text attached which suggested the two still photos were of the rescue after the sinking of SIEV 04. I also note that at this time Mr Mike Scrafton, Senior Adviser to the Minister, sought from Defence Public Affairs a copy of the email carrying the two still pictures that had been sent to me. What was initially sent to Mr Scrafton following this request was an email attaching the two still photos with extra text. It was immediately apparent that this was not the email that was originally sent, as this original email contained no explanatory text – just the two captioned still photos. Mr Scrafton then again sought, and received from the Department of Defence, a copy of the actual email sent to me – which contained just the two still photos. Given all this the Minister asked for a formal response from Defence as to the veracity of the still photos and definitive advice of the time they were taken. The Minister was aware of rumours that the photos may have depicted events after SIEV 04 had sunk, but the Minister decided not to respond to these rumours because the matter is not yet resolved. It should be emphasised that there have been two instances, noted above, of where Defence Public Affairs have provided obviously incorrect advice and the status of the photos is still uncertain. First Defence suggested the two still photos were taken when it was dark when the two still photos themselves were clearly taken in broad daylight, and secondly Defence sent on the wrong email when a copy was requested. At this time we have not yet received a conclusive reply to this matter from Defence.”

8.35 The email from John Clarke to Mr Hampton was sent at 11.00 on 11 October. In an email to Ms Bryant on 17 January 2002, Mr Hampton explained that the information about the 7 October incident occurring “during night hours” was “quickly proven incorrect and doubt was therefore cast on the email author as well – we had to ask ourselves whether perhaps” the explanatory text was the result of a mix-up. “The text of the email … was therefore not considered official advice from defence”. In the interview with Ms Bryant on 21 December 2001, Mr Hampton is recorded as saying that “he had not seen the email advice from jenny McKendry to Mike Scrafton of 11 October”.

8.36 Mr Hendy gave his account in a conversation on 8 January 2002 with Ms Bryant during her inquiry (subsequently verified by Mr Hendy on 16 January 2002). He is reported as saying that

“he recalled being told that the Department said the reason for their doubt was that the children overboard incident had occurred at night but that the photos were clearly taken in daylight. Mr Scrafton had found the ship’s log of the event and ascertained that the event had occurred after sunrise. The Department had been told they needed a better reason for doubt, and they were told to check and come back.”

8.37 At this point it may be noted that Mr Scrafton, in his interview with Ms Bryant on 14 December 2001, does not refer to this question of whether the incident occurred before sunrise. He does not say whether he examined the ship’s log. If he did, it would have been apparent that there was no written account in the log of children being thrown into the water.

8.38 Mr Hendy was reported as saying on 8 January 2002 that “they never got a clear answer on whether or not the photos were from the sinking”. He was asked about the email advice sent by Ms McKenry, which included the explanatory text, and he is reported as saying “people were not as clearcut in their oral advice”. Ms Bryant’s note of the conversation with Mr Hendy continues:

“Mr Hendy said that when the question of the accuracy of the attribution of the photos came up, the Minister made the decision within 24 hours that he would not change the public record until he had conclusive advice about what had actually happened with the original reports and the photos. The Minister had asked for an Inquiry, which was the Inquiry conducted by General Powell.”

He also said “that email advice from Jenny McKenry in relation to the photos did not provide conclusive advice because PACC were among the people under investigation”.

8.39 It may be noted at this point that the Powell Inquiry was commissioned by the Chief of the Defence Force on 20 November 2001. In an interview between Mr Reith and Ms Bryant on 17 January 2001, Mr Reith is recorded as saying that “he had not set General Powell’s inquiry in train – CDF had initiated it and informed Mr Reith”. No written request was ever made by Mr Reith to Defence to investigate the SIEV4 incident.

8.40 During a doorstop interview on 11 October, Mr Reith was reported as saying that the video might never be released to the public because it was unnecessary and there may be “operational security” problems.

My Sunday


I was in Melbourne and watched the Sydney Domain service on TV. An Aboriginal man on stage played the didgeridoo while below him mourners lined up to pick up a flower petal and place it in a bowl of water. Australian and Balinese mourners put their petal in the water and performed Hindu, Christian or non-religious rituals with their hands. Special.

David Davis, Switzerland

John Howard and others have referred to their own words in this time of national tragedy as being inadequate. We all struggle to find meaningful words in the face of such horror. Nothing is really adequate. Our gestures and words can seem small in the face of such enormity.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try because bit by bit the words and gestures can help us to rebuild. The victims will need much love and support for an extended period. The victims are many.

Firstly there are the dead. In many cases, we still don’t even know their names and this deepens our pain and aguish. We mourn for the loss of the identified dead and the yet to be identified. Then there are the injured. The extent of the physical and emotional brutality unleashed on them remains beyond our comprehension. Beyond all of this, there are the loved ones, the mates and everyone else who has been traumatised by it. We’re all in this together, inextricably bound.

It’s early Saturday evening in Europe and this time last week the blasts in Bali had just happened. Back home right now most Australians would be sleeping and tomorrow they awake to the National Day of Mourning.

All should feel free to express their grief in the way that feels right for them. There are no rights and wrongs in such expression. An organised event, a church service, or merely catching a wave and remembering Bali and life as it was meant to be. All of it is more than adequate.

Regardless of religious beliefs, national origin or whatever, people can say something or do something indicating their solidarity with the dead and those that remain behind. A sense of oneness for all. This will of course last for much longer than one day.

I’ve been travelling a bit in the last week. I have been in Spain and I have been in Italy. In both countries, people reached out to me as an Australian to express their shock, their sorrow and their support. It was quite moving to see such support from such distance. In both places I encountered people who had been to Australia as tourists and for them the highlight of their Australian holiday was the people. This is not the first time Europeans have made this point to me. I have heard it over and over again. Everyone loves the friendly, easy going nature of the Aussies. It’s the sense of fun, the freedom and the openness that is so attractive.

I made my gesture today. A gesture for my country and for the others. The others being from Bali, here in Europe and elsewhere in the world. Late in the afternoon, as the sun was setting and at about the time a week ago the horror was unleashed in Bali, I tossed an autumn wreath into the Rhine River in Basel. These wreaths are popular symbols of autumn with fruits of the forest and such like covering them. These truly beautiful works of middle European culture have been made for centuries at this time of year. Autumn can be a happy time because it is the time of the harvest. The wreaths look good on doors in the way the Christmas wreaths do (also originally from this area).

Mine looked better floating down the Rhine at the point where the Swiss, German and French borders meet – the Dreilaenderick. I thought the wreath might sink when it hit the rushing green water of the Rhine with a big splash. Instead it bobbed around and quickly floated out of Switzerland and into the centre of the river where it was hard to tell if it was in Germany or France.

An autumn wreath had been launched on a fantastic journey through the heart of Europe. When it hit the water in Switzerland it was in the homeland of Gian Andrea Rupp. Only Gian Andrea’s body will make it back home to Switzerland. She was killed last Saturday night. Minutes later, the autumn wreath was in Germany, the homeland of a 24 year old girl, Alexandria Koeppike. She was also killed last Saturday night, together with many of her fellow Germans. Who knows, since the wreath was in the middle of the river it may have drifted slightly toward the French side. If it did it would have been in the homeland of Arnard Vender, also killed last Saturday night, again with other French who were at the Sari Club. After some days if my wreath manages to keep afloat, it may drift into the Netherlands. If it does it will be in the home of Marianne Van Lynen-Noomen. Only Marianne’s body will return to Amsterdam.

We will not forget what happened in Bali.

Regardless of our cultural background we are drawn to natural elements in times of tragedy. In Bali people have been going to the beach and lighting candles. The Balinese have so many traditions rooted in nature and they show their grief to their own and their guests in this terrible time.

Many Australians will wear wattle and use other symbols to show their support. We show our common humanity by doing these things. They are often small things but are powerful signs to others. It provides great strength.

I was drawn to the Rhine today and I tossed something into it. In all cultures, this kind of gesture is seen. When William Deane came to Switzerland to mourn the deaths in the canyoning tragedy, he threw a sprig of wattle into the river that lead to Lake Brienze near Interlaken. People have their ashes spread at sea. Wreaths are thrown into the ocean. We do these things all over the world to symbolize loss, to cope with tragedy.

We do have a common humanity and Australians are ever curious to see how humanity manifests itself around the world. They want to reach out and discover what it means.

In Bali, the Prime Minister said: “We will never lose our openness, our sense of adventure. The young of Australia will always travel. They will always seek fun in distant parts. They will always reach out to the young of other nations. They will always be open, fun-loving, decent men and women.”

How true that is. Just before they were killed, I am sure many Aussies in the Sari Club and nearby were delighting in getting to know those of other lands. The joy of discovering a different outlook but a shared humanity.

In a small and inadequate way, as an Aussie, today I reached back to the Europeans killed last Saturday night. They will never get to come back home to Europe and say “I had such a great time in Bali……..there were all these Aussies there……they are such fun people…… that Saturday night in Bali was so wild….. next year I want to go to Australia……… I made some Aussie friends in Bali who want me to stay with them.” All the things that could have been. All the reasons why people love to travel and meet others. Love and friendship spanning continents, crossing oceans, soaring into the heavens. All snuffed out in an instant.

That WA footy team pic from the Times in London last week will remain etched into my mind forever. I’m not sure that any of this will ever make any sense to me. It was senseless.

The picture is of the sculpture “Helvetia” on the Rhine in Basel, Switzerland. She sits with bare feet looking out at the river in the autumn. She is serenity personified in art. The worst is behind her. Behind her are arrows and other accoutrements of war. She no longer needs them because she is enlightened and she lives in an enlightened world. I suppose we will never live in such a world but in sculpture we can at least dream of how it would be. It would be really great wouldn’t it Margo?

…..tomorrow…….we mourn again……that the dream of this simple sculpture seems every bit as elusive it ever was.


Meagan Phillipson

In the aftermath of the Bali Blasts, I’ve experienced exactly the same kind of sorrow and bewilderment I felt last September. I cannot understand how there can be so much hatred in humans that they would feel propelled to kill absolute strangers…it just doesn’t compute with what I know of humanity.

Maybe, in part, this is why I harbour no feelings of anger and retribution towards whoever perpetrated this latest crime. For lashing out in darkened revenge only leads to more sorrow, more hatred, more misunderstanding and distrust amongst ourselves and others.

I noticed in the Webdiary people have been trying to find some way of expressing the events in poetry or symbols that can serve as anchors for our collective grief and confusion. It’s not exactly Henry Lawson, but since last Sunday the first few verses of the U2 song Sunday Bloody Sunday have been playing on a constant loop in my mind. Although it was written about a completely different situation, the rawness of the lyrics have been brought into a chilling new light for me after the latest terrorist attack.

I can’t believe the news today

I can’t close my eyes

And make it go away

How long…

How long must we sing this song?

How long? How long…

’cause tonight…we can be as one


Broken bottles under children’s feet

Bodies strewn across the dead end street

But I won’t heed the battle call

It puts my back up

Puts my back up against the wall

Sunday, Bloody Sunday

Sunday, Bloody Sunday

Sunday, Bloody Sunday

And the battle’s just begun

There’s many lost, but tell me who has won

The trench is dug within our hearts

And mothers, children, brothers, sisters

Torn apart

Sunday, Bloody Sunday

Sunday, Bloody Sunday


El Gibbs, Sydney

You asked your readers to tell you how we spent our Sunday. Did we watch our secular bishop Geraldine Doogue preside over a chaotic, relaxed, soppy and lovely ceremony? Did we bake under the Sydney sun near Coogee with Bob Carr? Did we wear black arm bands at the Livid Festival?

Maybe you did. I did the washing.

I woke up early, cursing the lack of daylight savings. My heart is heavy even as I crawl out of my over bright bed. I know what savage, unpredictable, unexplainable death of someone I love feels like. And this brings it all back.

So I walk slowly downstairs with my dirty clothes. I put them carefully into the machine, remembering to turn the taps on and pour the cleaning stuff in on top. I shut the lid and just stand there, contemplating my desire to clean my clothes for work tomorrow.

I come back upstairs and wait for the machine to finish. I read the paper and listen to the radio. Tears on and off.

As those in the Domain were rising for the national anthem, I went downstairs again. My clothes were clean and wet. I pulled them into my basket and walked over to the line. Each time I reached up to peg my wet clothes out in the hot sun, I thought of homes where this is the last thing they are thinking about. Grief can drown out the petty demands of domesticity for a while. But one day, you run out of socks and have to make a decision. Do I go and wash the clothes for work tomorrow?

My clothes are still on the line.

Sadness and shock are so overwhelming, it can feel as though it will never end. But you will make room for the hurt; not forget it, or deny it. It will become part of who you are. And one day, you will go out to the washing machine, notice the beautiful day and take a deep breathe.

Clean clothes smell so good. Have hope.


My Saturday

By Mark McPherson in Coburg, Melbourne

This afternoon in Melbourne we attended the inter-faith memorial service to remember the 354 human beings who died 12 months ago when SIEV-X capsized in international waters. The service was held at Edwardes Lake in Reservoir, 30 minutes by car from the CBD, in the northern suburbs. Thirty years ago, for this boy from country Victoria, Reservoir was a tough, poor, working class suburb and a breeding ground for fanatical Collingwood FC supporters.

It was a whim to attend the memorial service. I heard about it on the ABC radio news on the way home from shopping, then read about it in The Age newspaper.

The park at Edwardes Lake is popular with families. It was an inspired choice of venue given that the majority of those who died were women and children. It is not far-fetched to imagine that if SIEV-X had arrived on Christmas Island, some of the women and children would have eventually come to Melbourne, lived in the northern suburbs and enjoyed picnics at Edwardes Lake.

In the park, photographs (mainly of children) of some of those who died were displayed in front of the row of speakers and the assembled crowd of approximately 400 people. A white sheet was spread out on the grass in front of the photographs. Children moved among the crowd offering a flower to hold.

In addition to reflecting on the tragedy of the sinking of SIEV-X, many of the speakers acknowledged up-front the atrocity in Bali and offered condolences to the family and friends of the victims and survivors of the bombings.

At the conclusion of the speeches, we were invited to lay our flower on the white sheet in front of the photographs. A surge of people occurred. It was spontaneous and respectful, taking only a few minutes. As we laid our flower and moved away to make space for the next person, tears welled up in most of us. Near us, our silent tears were punctuated by the sobbing of some of the Iraqi women.

Then at 3.10 pm, we were asked to observe a minutes silence. 3.10 pm was the time SIEV-X capsized.

Amal Hassan then told us her story of the moments and hours after SIEV X capsized, of the separation from her teenage son in the water and the reunion hours later. She told her story in English and Arabic, with tears and determination. She spoke of fright, hope and dreams even on a temporary protection visa (Arnold Zable writes about Amals story in Saturdays Age newspaper). We cried with others.

The service was simple, dignified, poignant and the grief of the tragedy utterly moving.

Our drive home was largely in silence. We both reached to switch off the car radio when the ignition key was turned on. Words were superfluous to the grief we felt about this tragedy. I also felt ashamed and betrayed by the indifferent political and institutional response to this tragedy. This is an Australian tragedy. People who live in our community are victims and survivors of this tragedy. It is our tragedy.

In the future I would like to see the memorial services of the Bali bombings and the sinking of SIEV-X enjoined, with photographs of the Prime Minister of the day, whoever she is, offering the same comfort and support to the victims, survivors and families of both these Australian tragedies.

Ricochet thoughts

Hi. My column for the Lismore Northern Rivers Echo this week is a collaboration with Webdiarists. It’s at smh. For an analysis of worldwide web coverage see The Internet Tells an Agonizing Tale of Remote Disasterin Online Journalism Review at ojr.

Today feelings on the tragedy from Australians at home and in Germany, England and the United States, including discussion on an appropriate national symbol for our unity in grief . Contributors are John Bennett, Andrea Hamann, Alan Banford, Brigid Delaney, Bob Howard, Peter Funnell, K. Michael Pollard, Nigel Culshaw, Redmond Lee and Darren Spain.

Merrill Pye in Sydney suggests this quote from Subaltern on the Somme, by Max Plowman, is pertinent:

“Facts are mere accessories to the truth, and we do not invite to our hearth the guest who can only remind us that on such a day we suffered calamity. Still less welcome is he who would make a Roman holiday of our misfortunes. Exaggeration of what was monstrous is quickly recognised as a sign of egotism, and that contrarious symptom of the same disease which pretends that what is accepted as monstrous was really little more than normal is equally unwelcome.”


John Bennett

I caught you on Late Night Live last night (audio is at abc) and agreed strongly that how we think must be tempered and that writers can help. So here is a poem a few minutes old (always dangerous). It is a reply to Auden as well as to our current mess.

Bali Bombing

Sydney, 14.10.2002

Girl in intensive care, about 5 years old, 130 cm, fair skin, Caucasian with reddish brown hair. She has a purplish belly button ring. Notice board, hospital under a section Identity Unknown.

Thought ricochets from the eager news to

discount holidays to an ambulance cavalcade

wailing through dusk up Parramatta road

with Police escort. A silhouette

glimpsed through a side window reveals

a nurse, leaning forward with a drip.

The din of sirens is that song whose words

you have forgotten. Pretty clouds are being bruised

purplish over mountains by the gathering rush of night.

The clouds seem meaningless,

the drought is kicking on and angels can’t

be seen or heard over the noise of news bulletins

What exactly would you like to know,

her name? If she’s still alive? Who

planted the bomb? Who would use

a term from the gardening lexicon?

You have to listen to the stories

of those hurt and hurting

the courage and fear

signs of love pushed out

from blackened lips.

Each breath we, the audience, take of anger

is Tyrian purple squeezed from whelks,

heart songs of might and vengeance.

The moon is polished, leave it where it is

though it does eclipse and shines wan

disembodied light on blackened ground

and bodies with no weight in Bali,

an island I remember for the colours,

so many species of Raja udang –

Javan, blue-eared, rufous-backed,

stork-billed, collared and sacred

flashing down the Petanu river.

I can hear, in a pause in the traffic,

a brassy willie wagtail singing

I’m here, where are you?


Andrea Hamann in Frankfurt

For the first time ever in my life I scanned a list of victims, both injured and casualties, for names of people I might know. I guess I was naive to have believed that I would never be in that situation. So far there is no one I know personally on the list, but every single name rings familiar.

Stephens, Armstrong, Thompson, Acheson, Mavoudis, Andrew, Kristy, Tim, Angela. They all are the names of people we grew up with, names of people we went to school with. Australian names, names of footballers, names of old boyfriends, names of girlfriends, names of best friends and names of family. They are names which ring familiar to all Australians, just as the names of victims from Bali, Germany, France or any other nation will ring familiar to their nationals.

I cannot help but feel an emptiness and helplessness, but above all such a profound sorrow and sympathy for those who have lost loved ones.

I keep thinking of the names on black marble at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, the names on war memorials in almost every town in Australia, in France, in so many countries, the names of the victims of wars all over the world

There are new memorials to be built. This time the names will be of victims of the War on Terror.


Alan Bamford of Preston, Victoria

At the moment I am in Taiwan, the guest of some beautiful, generous people who play music and have offered me the opportunity of a lifetime to be part of their small vibrant scene for a little while. At their house the other day CNN was turned on and the appalling event in Bali became part of my life.

Very quickly, remembering the experience of the world Trade Centre broadcast, I asked it be turned off. I am on holiday.

Despite assiduously avoiding the TV the fact of its occurrence has eaten at me and via newspaper web sites I became informed of the extent of the suffering.

I truly feel like I am living in twin universes as I explore the extraordinarily alive and friendly city of Taipei, inspired and touched by the humour and warmth of the people I meet and their arrangements for living while at the same time aware that this thing has happened.

About the actual events and their consequences for the thousands of grief stricken people whose lives are forever tarnished I can say nothing that all Australians and all people who care about the happiness of others have not already thought and said.

My contribution is to recollect the end of a recent period of human conflict known then as the Cold War. As a father I rejoiced when the Berlin Wall fell, during the period of Perestroika, and as the warheads began to be decomissioned. No longer would children be sentenced to a life of residual fear. A permanent low level background fear, as I had grown up with, of war, of nuclear fallout, of unimaginable destruction.

As anyone knows, children need to grow up in the unspoken certainty that they are safe – safe to be alive in their own space. I am aware very well, having been a young child in a Middle Eastern country where my father worked, that enjoyment of this right is uncommon in many many places around the world.

As it became apparent that my own child would now most likely be unable to escape this consequence of the new threat, I cried for all the children who will have nightmares and all those children who will fear what they do not understand and what they believe they cannot control and what might get them one day.

I hold no particular brief for any of the contesting arguments concerning the most appropriate responses nations and international bodies might make to this intensification of a problem that has been with us for the last 40 years or so.

I write only to express my sadness that another generation of young people are destined to grow up in a world geopolitically defined by threat, fear and a sense of danger everywhere.


Brigid Delaney, Sydney Morning Herald journalist

For many Australians the echoes of September 11 were too great to ignore. We woke on Sunday to news of an attack on foreign soil. Australians were certainly amongst the estimated fifty dead. There was a sense of a greater reckoning ahead – that the toll would climb and stories of horror would emerge.

And they did.

The Prime Minister, John Howard spoke to a packed press conference from Canberra – his voice close to breaking he told us to brace ourselves – that “there would be many Australians among the dead”. And surely enough the toll climbed during the day and into the night, reaching 189 people missing.

Glued to our television screens we saw the same raw news footage played, then replayed. It was of a Balinese night sky turned orange, burnt out cars, white body bags lining the streets and a soundtrack of sirens. They seared in the memory as strongly as those planes surging into the twin towers and New York City covered in ash.

But amongst the breaking news, there was an air of disbelief – could this really happen to us?

For many Australians it is the familiar details of the attack that make it heart wrenching. It was the football teams, the surfers, the backpackers, the families, the beach lovers, the groups of mates all in a holiday spot so close to home, visited by so many Australians.

It was the footage of tough men in singlets and thongs weeping as they searched overcrowded hospitals for their mates.

And it was the sight of AFL players returning home. At the airport they were not the invulnerable heroes that they had been that season – but looked scared, clutching at their loved ones.

Familiar too was the footage of rural towns such as Forbes in NSW and Sturt in South Australia, where the young men of the community, many aged in their early twenties had gone to Bali together for their end of season footy trips.

Those left behind, girlfriends, parents and club presidents were left holding photos – pointing out the boys that were still missing.

Their hopes that the boys may be found alive was cruelly juxtaposed with other news images – eyewitness accounts of body parts strewn across the streets, horrific burns and a hospital system unable to cope.

But amongst the carnage there are stories of amazing heroism – of people being pulled out of the wreckage and carried up onto the roof, of expats arriving at hospitals with cloth for bandages and medical teams forming around Australia fly to Darwin and Indonesia.

In offices, pubs and homes across Australia the Bali tragedy has gripped the imagination.

There are stories of horror as survivors return home, and there will be more. A horrible question has emerged – will we ever be the same again?


Bob Howard in Albany, Western Australia

A year ago today I was in Phuket in Thailand. It was my first trip outside Australia and it was only because I had won a raffle (another first). I had my 13 year old son with me, and his mother had been quite worried about the potential for something to go wrong.

America was about to invade Afghanistan. I reassured her that it was a buddhist country and unlikely to be involved. I said that the threat would be much greater in a year’s time.

I wasn’t surprised on Sunday, but I was saddened by the naivety of much of the commentary about the war on terrorism. The ‘bleeding heart are fools’ commentary by Gerard Henderson (smh) is stupid and foolish in its lack of understanding about the realpolitik of the 21st Century. To me he is the bleeding heart locked in a hopeless romantic nostalgia for an America that never was except in its movies.

On Monday I listened to Liam Bartlett on WA ABC morning radio to hear the talkback and interviews. Liam is a typical talk back host, at times abrasive, but Liam is also dedicated and conscientious and had broadcast live on Sunday. He started his program at 8.30 am with a 20 minute live interview with the coach of the Kingsley football club that left me in tears. During talkback he gave short shrift to a couple of naive left wing apologists, but what was surprising was that the majority of his more reasonable callers were scathing about the Howard government’s policies.

When the more rabid right wingers got their say they sounded cliched and stupid in comparison. The most interesting call was from an indigenous land owner from the the Pilbara who had recently obtained native title to his land – he spoke passionately from a Christian point of view, preaching peace with our enemies in such coherent and persuasive fashion that Liam could only respond with an “Amen” and thank you.

Politically, John Howard would be acting extremely ‘courageously’ if he were to commit our troops to a war against Iraq at the moment. It is notable that the letters column in the West Australian is dominated by people joining up the dots like Liam’s callers.

On the other hand, I must say that the Government’s response has been markedly different from the response of the US government to Sept 11, and I think the cooperative approach between Oz and Indonesia is likely to lead to a quicker results in bringing the perpetrators to justice.

Many people have said that Bali will never recover, but I think this represents a tragic opportunity to repair bridges with Indonesia. The antipathy created by Timor has been washed away by this atrocity. Our biggest moral obligation in the next 12 months, after we have buried our own dead, will be to the people of Bali to assist them to recover.

As a nation we have extracted a lot of happiness and good times from this island and we must ensure that we don’t desert them now.

When in Thailand, except for the war on Afghanistan the biggest news story was a barter deal between Thailand and South Africa exchanging beef for rice worth many millions of dollars. America gives the impression that it is the centre of the world and that its currency is (through the IMF) is the vital blood that keeps the world going.

It’s not true. Soft headed tragic nostalgics like Gerard Henderson and his ilk are doing the country a great disservice by their misguided macho posturing.


Peter Funnell in Farrer, Canberra

I don’t think I know anyone killed or injured in the Bali explosion. Well, not yet anyway. But I feel a strong bond to these my fellow Australians. That is the horror of it.

The statistics we crave to hear in order to quantify, to give spatial dimension to the story, mark the horror of it. So many dead, so many dead and identified, so many injured and identified, so many dead and injured and not identified, and finally so, many, many missing. The numbers don’t add up like some simple maths problem. The horror of it! If those missing are not located in Bali or in Australia, waiting or having just got a flight out of the place, only one possibility is left. They are dead and never coming home.

I can’t imagine how it feels not to know where my wife or our son might be. I don’t know how I would manage if it had been my son or wife that were missing. As I hear the latest statistics I find I can’t sit still in the chair. I listen to the families speaking of their fears and the tears well up in my eyes and I wonder at their courage. How do they bear it? As one said – “What choice do we have, you can’t give up”. No you can’t!

Right out of the blue and in a rush my father’s experiences as a prisoner of war of the Japanese return. I recall he was reported “missing”. My mother refused to believe it – for years. She was right. The depth of her anguish suddenly hit home and I finally understood the depth of feeling and commitment that characterised their lives together.

I’m not sure this note is making sense. But I found myself returning to my father, the only point of reference I have for this Bali slaughter and the world of the “missing”. He was firmly against war, not a ounce of retribution in him. He thought every day was a “bonus”. Mum was different, she hated what his “missing” had done to her.

I hope the “missing” are found as quickly as possible, because without closure, their loved ones will not even able to grieve properly. Hope it seems is not an external well spring but an instrument of torture. The horror of it! The best I can say is that all these people can rely on the deepest feelings of support and compassion from every ordinary Australian. I know it’s not enough, never will be, but it’s good.

I never cease to be amazed at how well our citizens perform in adversity. The stories are already coming out about how Australians banded together for no other purpose than to help others. So many rallied to the call for help, did it instinctively. Our consular officials and ADF personnel have been magnificent. Why does it take this to make it so obvious that nothing is more important than our people?

I truly hope the injured and the families of the diseased will not be forgotten. Our nation’s generosity and concern should not pass with time and other issues. Life will certainly go on, but we are all diminished by this dreadful business. Taking lots of other lives will not change that one little bit. Time to pause and reflect on the value of a human life, of relationships and friendships. Without it we don’t have much at all.



K Michael Pollard in San Diego, CA, USA

Darren Spain in London wrote in Searching for hope:

“Let’s not rally around an overtly Australian symbol as the Americans did when they flew the flag everywhere and on everything as a sign of solidarity with relatives and friends of the victims. To do so will deny non-Australians their need to share their grief, empathise with us and feel empathy in return.

“… As I walked around Manhattan and my old neighbourhood in Brooklyn I should have been feeling empathy but instead I felt anger every time I saw a US flag. It was like I was being told that as a non-American my grief was of lesser importance.”

As an Australian living in the US for over 15 years I felt insulted. The attacks of Sept 11 have galvanized this country and its populace in a way that seems to have been lost on Mr Spain, and its not solely focused on revenge as seems to be the view of many outside the country.

Yes citizens from many countries, including Australia, died, and yes they should be mourned not only because of the senseless act of violence that took their lives but because they are citizens of the world. Americans have appreciated this (from my perspective far more than Mr Spain has) but at the same time a great hole was cut into the fabric of this country and it remains. as the bare earth in New York still testifies.

How would Mr Spain have the country heal such a wound? He suggests a symbol that unites, nothing more, nothing that the grieving can grasp for support. Americans knew what to do, they flew their flag. How else do you stand up and say “Here I am, I’m proud to live in a country you despise and wish to destroy”. As an Australian I went out and bought an Australian flag and flew that. This past Sept 11 we flew both the Australian and US flags side by side. No one complained that the Aussie flag flew. Americans understood the grief was not all their’s, but simply by sheer weight of numbers of grieving their’s was overwhelming.

Nigel Culshaw in London

I am grieved by the horror which struck such a peaceful part of the world in Bali, until I have discovered all the names of those missing or dead I am unsure whether I have lost anyone I know.

Instead of Margo’s suggestion of using Uluru – an Australian icon – as a symbol, why not use a symbol which drew people to Bali initially? The beach, symbols of paradise and another world which did not know (nor care to know) the ugly culture that infects the world in the form of terrorism.

People travel to Bali to escape, so why not use something Balinese as the symbol which will unite all the Nations involved in this tragedy…that which brought them to Bali in the first place.


Redmond Lee in London

In the midst of this undeniable tragedy for the nation, could I please ask those people such as Darren Spain to refrain from pushing their flag changing agenda? Warts and all, this is our flag, for better or for worse. There are proper and decent times for these debates. There are appropriate channels and organisations to join in order to effect a change – until then, our flag is the national symbol of our country. If you don’t like it, then don’t mention it.

Mr Spain’s call for the victims of other nations to be recognised is one which means well. However it is hard for a nation who has suffered the bulk of the loss of innocent life, appears to have been the prime target of terrorist action and lots of whose sons and daughters were engaging in an activity which is archetypically Australian (end of season trips), not to feel the bulk of the outrage.

Let us grieve, and if we choose our nation’s flag as a rallying symbol, let us do so.


Darren Spain in London

In addition to my three pleas published yesterday, I have one more request of Australians. It is motivated by an event I remember reading about in the days following the 11 September 2001 attacks.

The story I remember is of a Muslim family in the New York City borough of Queens. For several days following the destruction of the World Trade Center they were too scared to leave their house. They feared hostility and reprisals. When the husband of the family did finally open the door to the house he was prevented from leaving it, not by someone with a gun, but by the fact that all the steps leading up to his front door were covered with flowers, baked goods and cards from neighbours stating that they did not blame them for what had happened.

One card didn’t pretend to know the family concerned, it simply stated something like “To our neighbour. At this time we want you to know that we are there for you and it is our sincere prayer that you are not subject to any unpleasantness.” Seeing him standing in the doorway, one of his neighbours who happened to be outside at the time walked over to greet him and found him and his wife (who he had called to the door) in tears.

Considering that Arabic is the second most spoken language in Sydney, it’s highly likely that Sydneysiders will know someone of the Muslim faith. He or she may be a neighbour or a co-worker or a fellow student. If none of these apply to you then there is a good chance that in coming days and weeks you will encounter a Muslim as you go about your daily routine who is a total stranger.

Please tell them that you do not blame them for what has happened in Bali. If some idiots take it upon themselves to attack Mosques or businesses belonging to Muslims or if people of the Muslim faith come under personal attack in coming days you may even choose to apologise for “everything that has been going on lately”. It will be an unexpected relief for them and you will both feel the better for it.

Searching for hope

Webdiary is a culture war free zone until families, friends and lovers have found their missing and identified their dead. This is a time for our writers and artists to describe our grief and help us feel the pain together. I’d like to publish your poems and visualisations. I think finger-pointing and blame and jumping straight into anger and visions of revenge is dangerous displacement of feeling before feeling is fully felt. It also ignores the absence of facts upon which to analyse what has happened. This is our experience, and those who wish to define it for us and appropriate it to their cause can get stuffed.

These are frightening times in world affairs. An Australia split to its core, paralysed by mutual contempt, is an Australia poorly placed to withstand the terrible challenges ahead. To unite in grief, to give each other the time and space to think about how we will spend our nation’s day of mourning on Sunday, is a vital precursor to mature consideration of our national response.

Herald writer Jennifer Hewett wrote a piece from the morgue I will never forget (smh). She is shaken and was unable to sleep last night. I spoke to her this morning. To listen, click “Horror hunt” in the right hand column.

Today I publish people whose words, like those of Jennifer, can bring us together in mourning, and which help us feel safe to openly, honestly discuss our response to this terrible crime once the facts are on the table and its context explored. They are Stephen Blackwell, David Makinson, Daniel Boase-Jelinek, Noel Hadjimichael and Darren Spain.

To end, Herald journalist Juan-Carlo Tomas does the journalist’s job. He asks questions to which we must get answers before we decide our next step as a nation.


Stephen Blackwell

Already claim and counter claim is being aired about what the blasts in Bali mean – what we should do.

I get a sense that the dialogue has been written in advance. We don’t know – really – what to make of the tragedy so we resort to conventional scenarios: “terrorists” are “out there” and, for some reason, have struck against something or someone for some cause or some hatred indicating God only knows what has gone wrong.

The utter haziness of what we know is covered over by a staunch determination to be tough and definite in our responses. This flows on both sides – those who want to fight and those who want to understand.

It happened with September 11 – we needed bin Laden to make it all coherent. The evil genius. Just like others needed Chomsky to counter the dumb paranoia with a smarter paranoia. So long as we know where we stand!

We know so little but, with carnage on the news and our hearts on fire we stride forward anyway – wars fought in the dark, history written in ignorance – places the angels fear to tread.


David Makinson

This is an extract from a letter I wrote to a friend (of socio-political bent) last night. I usually try to be constructive, but I cannot find it in me at the moment. I think I am beginning to despair.

It surprises no-one I suppose, but it still defies belief, that commentators from across the political spectrum are using (yes, “using”) the Bali atrocity to score points off their rival pontificators. It is deeply sickening.

So now it’s definitively established to those of the right that the bleeding hearts have been exposed as fools, whilst it’s equally clear to those of the left that here is proof-positive that the macho, militaristic posturings of the right continue to rain catastrophe upon us.

I want to scream: Wake up, people! These horrible events prove neither faction right. Surely it’s obvious by now that we’re all wrong? Our romanticised assessments of what we define as good and evil, and our yearnings for the simplicity of black and white solutions, are delusions. The world lurches from futile rhetoric to ineffective response and still our people are dying.

Unnecessary deaths. Politicians and commentators of all persuasions will seek to portray their particular cause as noble because we have lost our friends. We must reject this cynicism. Be clear that these poor, poor people died for nothing – a tragic symbol of an abject failure of leadership.

Politicians failed to protect them. The experts of right and left have had no effect. We must not reward them by jumping on any of their various bandwagons. Just cry and cry and cry for the wasted victims and the torment of their loved ones.

The left says our government’s public support of the US makes us a target. We sense the truth in this. The right says that it is folly to think that a passive stance will protect us. We sense the truth in this.

The right says a military solution is the only solution. They may be correct. The left says violence begets violence, and they too may be correct. Neither group can recognise the merits in each other’s case, and so the true, far more complex solution eludes us.

President Bush said, in the seeming long ago, “You’re either with us, or you’re with the terrorists”. Wrong, George. We’re against both of you. We wonder if perhaps you deserve each other, but we’re certain we have done nothing at all to deserve you. We, the cannon fodder, oppose you. We are the innocent people of Australia, the US, Palestine, Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan, the world, and we are opposed to you. It’s not as simple as us and them. It’s about all of us.

For myself, every instinct I have says we need to seek an active path of peaceful action and engagement if we are to have any chance of working through these troubles. I believe this is the test of courage we need to confront – to engage these people at the root of their grievances and hurts – both real and imagined.

I am not optimistic that we can pass this test. I fear our bravery does not run that deep. The pragmatist in me recognises that we will resort to force. We will dress this up in words of action and purpose, and imagine it a considered and effective response. We will convince ourselves it is necessary and just. It is neither – and it will not work.

It is a dark time. I fear for my children. I am conscious that I offer no solutions. Doubtless the right and the left will have many. Let us pray that somewhere amongst the dross is a kernel of constructive thought which can be built into hope.


Daniel Boase-Jelinek in Perth

I think I am getting a sense of the way many people in Germany might have felt during the rise of Nazism in the 1930s, a feeling of helplessness as public figures manipulate events and people’s responses to those events to lead the country ever deeper down the slippery slope into the mire of war.

I agree with David Davis (Autumn in October) that we (Australia and the world) are in deep trouble. The search for blame and vengeance is an infection that denies us the capacity to pause and make space to put things into perspective. Every action and reaction appears to be making the situation worse, adding to the fury, and edging us ever closer to the abyss. It seems like everyone is shouting. I think it is time to start listening.


Noel Hadjimichael, Camden

Up until now the debate over culture wars, radical Islam, the Indonesian regime, September 11 and even the Iraq situation was very academic, very distant and thankfully relatively painless. The Bali bombings have now turned the debate into one that requires a thoughtful pause, a policy rather than knee-jerk response, and a desire for appropriate action.

As I suggested in Webdiary some time ago, we just can’t have it both ways (affluent western democracy without doing some of the hard work) and look away when substantive threats loom. Peacemongers are both right (we do not want to escalate the current conflict) and wrong (we cannot shy away from taking decisive security/military actions).

Australia is no longer so far away from this troubled world.


Darren Spain in London

Let’s not make the same mistakes that the Americans did after the terrorist attacks in Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, New York City and Washington D.C.

I have three pleas for Australians and the Australian media:

Let’s not rally around an overtly Australian symbol as the Americans did when they flew the flag everywhere and on everything as a sign of solidarity with relatives and friends of the victims. To do so will deny non-Australians their need to share their grief, empathise with us and feel empathy in return.

As a non-American who lost a friend and acquaintances on 11 September 2001 I could not use the Stars and Stripes as a focus for my grief. As a consequence I found myself alienated and left out of the healing process going on around me. As I walked around Manhattan and my old neighbourhood in Brooklyn I should have been feeling empathy but instead I felt anger every time I saw a US flag. It was like I was being told that as a non-American my grief was of lesser importance.

If Australians choose to rally around a symbol it should be one that unites not divides. The Australian flag is not a suitable symbol.

In twelve months time let’s also not find ourselves rounding the number of casualties and implying by omission that the total number dead were all Australians. Let’s not be stating that more than 200 Australians died as a result of the bomb blasts on 12 October 2002 in the same way that the US media now generalises that nearly 3,000 Americans died as a result of the attacks on 11 September 2001. Let’s always quote exact numbers and also mention that twenty (or whatever the number turns out to be) other nations’ dead are also counted in the total number of casualties.

When we know the numbers, let’s also not forget to separately mention the dead and injured Balinese in any future description of those who died that day. Let us not be like the Americans who have long forgotten the number of dead and injured Kenyans and Tanzanians but always quote that 17 sailors were killed in the attack on the U.S.S Cole. (For the record 214 died in the Kenyan capital. Twelve of them were US nationals, and of the almost 5,000 injured nearly all were locals. In the Tanzanian capital 10 locals died and 72 were injured. There were no US nationals killed or injured.)

Margo: I’d like our symbol of unity in grief to be Uluru.


Juan-Carlo Tomas

Despite everything we know about the bombings in Bali on October 12, there’s one thing which has, so far, eluded all of us.

We know that the bombings have, to date, claimed the lives of 20 Australians.

We know that over 200 others are missing, and we hold grave fears for their safety.

We know about the brave and valiant efforts other Australians who went to rescue friends, colleagues and strangers caught in the inferno.

We know that the local Balinese have been just as shocked and horrified at this senseless slaughter of innocent people, cut down at the prime of their lives.

We know that the international community shares our sense of loss, our anger, and our disbelief. We are united in our stand to bring to justice those that perpetrated such a horrendous act of murder.

The one thing we don’t know is this: Who are we standing against? Who do we bring to justice? Radical Muslims? Peeved off Hindus? Local triad gangs? Indonesian military elements gone haywire? Who knows?

The US doesn’t hold much hope for the local investigation. And with hordes of people trampling through the crime scene, what chance is there of finding direct, incontrovertible proof in the first place?

As the Oklahoma bombings showed US officials, closing a crime scene and vacuuming up everything for analysis is critical to a conclusive finding. Three days on, and still nothing has been found. But everyone’s had a chance to walk through and see it.

Another interesting point to note is today’s date, October 15. Ramadan – the Muslim holy month of purification, fasting and debt-paying – starts in a month, and is the traditional ‘quiet time’ in the Middle East. Hostilities, wars, feuds and the like slow down as Muslims worldwide turn their attention to their faith and the 15th, today, marks a period moving into preparation.

Radical Islamic groups have never attacked or bombed targets during Ramadan, in the same way that Western nations at war have traditionally observed ceasefires during Christmas. But we also have to recognise that we’re not dealing with traditional, “normal” Muslims here either.

One interesting news wire report – one of the earliest to be received here – suggests the explosions were accidental. Freelance cameraman Mark Taylor claims the blasts were the result of LPG gas cylinders exploding, a fact not that unbelievable when you consider the business of the evening and uncertainty of the weather, being between wet and dry seasons. Here is the report in full:

Bali explosion not a bomb, LPG gas explosion

An Australian cameraman says a blast believed to have killed more than 50 people in a Bali nightclub overnight was caused by exploding gas cylinders, not a terrorist attack.

Freelance cameraman MARK TAYLOR has told Sky News from Bali that fears of a terrorist attack are inaccurate.

He says it definitely wasn’t a bomb.

He says it was an explosion of an LPG cylinder.

Mr TAYLOR says gas is supplied to locals in bottles because there’s no gas pipeline to the island.

He says the explosion and fire has destroyed the Sari Club and another nightclub adjoining it, as well as about 60 vehicles.

Mr TAYLOR says a second explosion near the United States consulate about the same time looks more like a car accident.

AAP RTV ld/jmt

So what if the “bombings” were accidental? What if terrorism hadn’t reared its ugly head on our doorstep? What if the events of October 12 were due to a faulty cylinder head or wayward cigarette, rather than a sophisticated multi-nation terrorist strike. What if the Sari Club had been closed that day? The mind boggles at the possibilities, but the pain, heartache, and loss is still there.

There’s one more thing we know. We need time to grieve. We need time to mourn. We need time to feel our pain, our loss, and our sorrow. We need time to celebrate their lives. We need time to build our strengths, and stand up again. And we don’t know how long that will take.

October 13: Bali

The Prime Minister said a true thing today, that the Australian people will take some time to absorb what happened in Bali in the early hours of October 13, our time.

For the families still looking, we cry with and for them. For those who are injured and those who saw their pain, we hold them and hope they will one day again sleep an innocent sleep.

There is no meaning yet. We don’t yet know for sure what happened. We don’t know who did this. We don’t know why. Shock needs to be deeply felt before we’ll know how we want to respond. Time needs to pass. Our casualties need to be identified and grieved for.

There are close links between us and Bali. We go there to surf. Many of us have businesses in Bali and live there. I was in Byron Bay on holidays when someone rang with the news. In this morning’s local paper, The Northern Star, Byron Bay resident Sai Frame, 25, described the horror. He and his grandparents were at Kuta Beach to celebrate the opening of a friend’s shop, across the road from the Sari club.

“I was at the Sari club a few days ago. You couldn’t get a higher concentration of young tourists anywhere in Bali,” Sai said. “It’s so hard to believe. Bali has always been considered the safest place in Indonesia. Noone thought this would ever happen. Much of the wealth of Bali is in Kuta Beach, and most of it is dependent on the tourist industry.”

Beautiful Bali is finished for us. We won’t want to go where we’re not welcome.

I know little about Bali, and whether we’ve respected and nurtured the place we love to visit or colonised it with our wants. A friend in Byron Bay said Australians had taken Bali over, business wise, and that acquaintances with businesses in Bali were considering coming home before this horror. They sensed resentment, and felt a growing unease.

Maybe part of it is the lack of services for locals. A completely inadequate hospital, for instance, so graphically exposed in the aftermath of the horror. Some people – foreigners like us, elite big-city Indonesians – make their fortunes. Have residents lost their place, their power to define it? Did the big money fail to give enough back to the people who belong there, whose home it is? Have Muslim extremists destroyed the vibe of Hindu Bali to force us out?

Will we now swing behind war with Iraq or pull out and focus on our home? The Pacific. South East Asia. East Timor, especially, where we’re protecting a baby, Christian democracy. The places where we have duties and responsibilities and, in the end, where our self interest lies. I don’t know.

The image staying with me is in this morning’s Northern Star. Cartoonist Rod Emmerson drew the Grim Reaper clutching a surfboard called ‘Terrorism’. From the skull, the words “…And I’ve been to Bali too.”

Two Americans, Catherine Rondeau and Joe “Doc” Kralich, wrote to Webdiary today with condolences. International relations academic Scott Burchill sent in his first take on possible ramifications. To end, a piece shivering with prescience by the Herald’s Indonesian correspondent Matthew Moore, published on Saturday.


Catherine Rondeau in Fairfield, CT USA

Dear Friends,

As an American, I could find no other appropriate way to address you and I hope this letter will make it to those for whom it is intended. Words have yet to be developed which can express the pain you are experiencing in Australia today. My heart breaks for you as it does all humans who are so brutally victimized by others who would have us believe they too are humans.

My heart aches for each and every one of you who have seen your world destroyed so senselessly. I lost a loved one in a fire and can relate somewhat, but in her case it was an accident. The fact that this was no accident makes your loss something I cannot begin to fathom.

I believe that the heavens weep for us all, children who destroy each other in the name of God. The only thing thought that kept me sane at the time of my loss was that Karen was in a safe, loving, and peaceful place and that we would be together again in time. l know this holds little consolation for you today. Know that there are literally millions around the world who are with you in this moment. You are in our thoughts, our hearts, and our prayers. I wish you love,


Joe “Doc” Kralich, US Army (Ret.) in Pueblo, Colorado

Dear Margo Kingston,

As a “Yank” I am again devastated and enraged that terror has crawled again from some dark place targeting those who could not fight back.

Bali is about the most obscure place I can think of from my home in southern Colorado. Australians are now facing anguish and loss, days of searching for missing loved ones, a constant blitz of news that will go on, and on. American officials have been shouting for months that Indonesia was a safe harbor for al-Qaeda, and now some smug little people are again rejoicing while it is Australia who grieves.

My personal perspective on Australia dates from my years in Vietnam and the comradeship I had with many Aussies. I know the Aussie spirit will prevail and that her people will all join together, but things will never be the same.

The bombing Saturday was on the second anniversary of the al-Qaeda linked attack against USS Cole. Our President Bush said on “9-11” that this would be a long war. Be assured that many of us “Yanks” are with each of you this day and send what prayer and comfort we can to Australia Fair.

Vaya Con Dios, Mi Amigos


Scott Burchill, Lecturer in International Relations, Deakin University, Victoria

The latest chapter in Bali’s violent modern history may re-write both the Australia-Indonesia relationship and the Howard Government’s response to Washington prospective war against Iraq.

Australia-Indonesia relations

In the short term the key question is whether Jakarta will allow either US or Australian investigators to help identify the perpetrators of the bombings. Jakarta is notoriously sensitive about this and will be under considerable domestic pressure not to “undermine Indonesia’s sovereignty and dignity” by allowing either the FBI or the AFP in.

Without such assistance there must be considerable doubt that the perpetrators will be found or that anyone actually responsible for the attacks would face a fair trial. Megawati has been unwilling and/or unable to crack down on indigenous Islamic militant groups such as Laksar Jihad and Jemaah Islamiyah. She will be under enormous domestic pressure not to even now, and equally strong external pressure from Washington and Canberra to do so.

The identification of the perpetrators may not easily explain their motives. Australian and US actions in East Timor, Afghanistan and Palestine are all causes of resentment within Indonesia’s Muslim communities. They would also be aware that despite promising to do so, Canberra has not consulted with Jakarta over its policies towards Iraq.

If Washington ramps up considerable pressure on Jakarta to clamp down on domestic Islamic militants, and Jakarta resists, the Howard Government faces a nightmare scenario: siding with its traditional Western ally on this issue could poison Australia-Indonesia relations for many years.

Despite all of Canberra’s emphasis on intelligence dossiers (from the UN, US and UK) allegedly proving Iraq’s development of weapons of mass destruction, Mr Downer has withheld Australian intelligence which would convict senior Indonesian military officers and their militia proxies of heinous crimes committed in East Timor in 1999.

He has even sought to (unsuccessfully) prosecute Australian officials for allegedly leaking this intelligence to the media. One consequence of withholding this intelligence (from both Jakarta’s prosecuting authorities and the UN human rights commissioner) is that no prosecutions of these individuals is likely in the Indonesian legal system. Only an independent UN tribunal holds any hope for justice now. Mr Downer must now be wondering whether protecting these individuals from conviction was worth the moral cost to Australia’s reputation.

Indonesia is not a failed state but in many ways it is failing. It is struggling for systemic legitimacy and economic viability. It desperately needs the confidence of the foreign investment community.

These attacks will be devastating for the Balinese economy specifically and Indonesia’s economic recovery more generally. They may also be used by Megawati’s political opponents to discredit her, regardless of how she responds to them.

The bombings are another reminder of the extent to which Australia’s regional engagement has taken a back seat to the US alliance. Adventures in Afghanistan and possibly Iraq do nothing but damage to our neighborhood relationships and remind the region just how thin our commitments to their part of the world actually are.


The Bali bombings are a dramatic reminder of the region’s instability and Indonesia’s fragile political and social legitimacy. Will Mr Howard be prepared to commit Australian forces to a war in Iraq on the other side of the world when Australians face actual threats to their safety much closer to home?

Howard will be watching public opinion carefully. If he sees an opening to conflate this attack with the wider war on terror and the need to attack Iraq, he will take it. There are already some hints of this in his initial comments about “no-one should think we are invulnerable to terrorist attacks”.

But if public opinion sees the Bali attacks as a completely separate issue to Iraq, he will be under even more pressure to abandon meaningful support to President Bush. Last week Howard was already playing down the size of any Australian contribution to a war on Iraq by talking about regional instability and the possibility that Australian peacekeepers may be needed in the region some time soon.

Howard is already playing down the fact that Australia is more at risk because of Canberra’s closeness to Washington, but he cannot avoid the fact that our participation in the ‘war against terror’ gave us a profile we didn’t previously have in the Arab and Islamic worlds.

There is going to be guilt by association, in the same way that Australia’s hosting of so called ‘joint facilities’ such as Pine Gap was the only reason the Soviet Union ever took any notice of us.


Jittery US poised to pull staff from Jakarta embassy

By Matthew Moore, 12/10/2002

The United States may withdraw non-essential staff from its embassy in Indonesia because of increasing concerns about the security of its citizens, well-placed sources say.

The US embassy has finally convinced Indonesian authorities that al-Qaeda has a foothold in the country, but it has grown increasingly edgy about security forces’ responses to recent attacks.

The first was a bomb explosion 20 metres from a US embassy house in Jakarta three weeks ago that police initially said was a bungled terrorist attack on the house. They have since revised their public version and now say it was to force a debt repayment from a nearby house an incident unrelated to the US.

But as a cache of guns and explosives was found in the bombers’s houses, the US embassy has rejected the unlikely police version and is convinced its property was the target.

Yesterday The Asian Wall Street Journal reported that US officials had uncovered evidence that the September 23 attack on their embassy house was ordered by an Islamic cleric called Abu Bakar Bashir, who has been accused of heading Jemaah Islamiyah, a group with suspected links to al-Qaeda, and of planning a bombing attack on the embassy about September 11.

Although Indonesia has been under pressure to arrest Abu Bakar, it has refused to do so, saying it has no evidence linking him with the terrorist activities the US and Singapore say he is involved in.

On Thursday Abu Bakar held a media conference in Jakarta warning of the repercussions of arresting him.

“I defend Islam. Now it is up to the Indonesian Government, police and people to also defend Islam, or to choose to defend America … I am not afraid of arrest. But if they do so without following the law, I will use all my power to fight it. I have lots of Muslim brothers, and they can help me.”

He has denied involvement in terrorist activities and in the explosion near the US house.

Another incident concerning the US was the shooting in August of 15 people, mainly US citizens, at the Freeport mine in Papua, which left three people dead, including two US school teachers.

Four FBI officers were in Papua for several days this week talking to Papua’s police chief, I Made Pastika, who is in charge of the operation and interviewing the one known witness. This is the second visit by the FBI to Papua since the shooting, which increasingly points to an ambush by members of the Indonesian Army.

General Pastika said his officers had repeatedly interviewed a Papuan known as Decky Murib, who has identified from photographs members of a group of 10 Kopassus special forces members who he says were involved in the attack.

Murib, who says he travelled with the attackers to a place several hundred metres from the ambush site, has also named a Javanese man, Captain Markus, as the Kopassus commander of the soldiers who used automatic weapons to shoot the teachers in two Freeport Land Cruisers.

Although the police have tracked Markus down, General Pastika says he does not want to interview him because he only believes half of what Murib tells him.

Any finding of Indonesian military involvement in the shootings, even by rogue elements, could have serious ramifications on attempts by the US to restore military ties with Indonesia.

Loving Hitler

Hi. Today, John Wojdylo replies to his critics, but before that, it feels like time to navel-gaze about Webdiary.

I’ve had a number of emails bemoaning the fact that there’s less of me in Webdiary at the moment. Robert Henderson, for example, writes: “I guess it is just me, but I much preferred your Webdiary when it mainly contained YOUR comments.”

I sought advice from Noel Hadjimichael, a long time reader and contributor. His response:

(1) Your comments have been lacking in recent weeks … you could best beef up your contribution to about 30-35% of the content on most days.

(2) Links to other sites or speeches are excellent – but not the full script (too cumbersome)

(3) Maybe some modest limit on contributions (say 150-200 words)

(4) Need to have interchange (comment on the contributor’s copy) every day – even if posted item is say only 250 words and mostly your copy

Your contributors and I would suggest many regular readers would “log in” every day. If we want this to work, you might need to have a daily comment – even if times of contribution are varied … the Webdiary has yet to reach the efficiency of the daily situation reports of the CIA ….


When the contributions get hot, I like sitting back, enjoying the conversation between readers, and butting out. I like the academic stuff and the feelings stuff. It’s part of the philosophy of Webdiary, which developed as the page got going and was inspired by my experience chasing Hanson around, when I realised lots of us couldn’t or wouldn’t communicate with each other.

I’m also conscious that Webdiary is archived by the government’s ‘Pandora’ project as an electronic publication of national significance. Re-reading the incredible outpouring of emotion post-the Tampa in Webdiary I see how close historians of that milestone will be able to get to the “moment”. So when an issue like that is at boiling point, I like to let readers take over.

And to be honest, the longer I do Webdiary the more I realise how ignorant I am about lots of stuff, and the more reluctant to just sound off!

I wrote the Webdiary’s charter after this email from Paul S. McLaren in April last year: “Please excuse my ignorance, but I am perplexed by the object of your section of the Sydney Morning Herald. Could you please tell me why I should contribute? It seems very interesting but a little pointless unless, like I suspect, I am missing something.”


April 26 2001

I believe:

* that widely read broadsheet newspapers are essential to the health and vibrancy of our democracy

* that they are yet to adapt to a multi-media future pressing on the present

* that there is a vacuum of original, genuine, passionate and accessible debate on the great political, economic and social issues of our time in the mainstream media, despite the desire of thinking Australians in all age groups to read and participate in such debates

* that newspapers have lost their connection with the readers they serve

* that the future lies in a collaboration between journalists and readers

The mission of the Webdiary is:

* to experiment in the form and content of the Herald online

* to assist in the integration of the newspaper and smh.com.au

* to help meet the unmet demand of some Australians for conversations on our present and our future, and to spark original thought and genuine engagement with important issues which effect us all

* to link thinking Australians whoever they are and wherever they live

* to insist that thinking Australians outside the political and economic establishment have the capacity to contribute to the national debate

* to provide an outlet for talented writers and thinkers not heard in mainstream media


The last time we debated what Webdiary is and how it should develop was in April 2001, before big budget cuts at F2 stymied innovation. To review reader’s ideas back then, see

Cut and pastesmhNot too wankysmh and Costello toasts Woodsidesmh.

Money’s still very tight, but there’s a mood for doing a few things online at the moment. So over to you. What do you like and dislike? What technical innovation would improve your experience, and do you want changes to the mix?


We’ll start with Hamish Tweedy’s response to David Makinson’s surgical strike on John’s case to take out Saddam in It’s about judgement, not belief, then John replies with a piece called ‘Loving Hitler’.


Hamish Tweedy

I thought David Makinson did a reasonable job of countering John Wojdylo’s Saddam’s heart of darkness from the point of view of support for a unilateral US led strike on Iraq prior to any attempt by the UN to assess his WMD program (if that is what Tony Blair, George Bush and John Wojdylo are advocating).

However I would to hear from David on the very real possibility that:

1. The weapons inspectors re-enter Iraq;

2. The weapons inspectors withdraw from Iraq as they are unable to complete their task in a free and unfettered manner; and

3a. The UN authorises the use of force to ensure compliance; or

3b. The UN doesn’t authorise the use of force to ensure compliance.

The significant difference in these circumstances is that Saddam has specifically curtailed the UN’s ability to determine the extent of threat posed by his WMD program. The point I am attempting to determine is whether;

1. David and those who share his view believe that Saddam’s ownership of WMD and the fact that he won’t destroy them and desist from their construction is not grounds to attack Iraq under any circumstances; or

2. The inability of the Security Council to back up its own resolutions with force would provide sufficient grounds for a unilateral attack led by the US on Iraq, and what the reasons are for not supporting an attack in those circumstances.

I believe Saddam does have a WMD program and I expect he will do everything within his power to prevent it from being destroyed, up to and possibly including going to war (based on the failure of the last weapons inspection program).

I therefore support a conflict in the circumstances outlined in 3a but am less certain about my support for the circumstances outlined in 3b and this is why I found John Wojdylo’s assessment interesting.


Loving Hitler

By John Wojdylo


Just some short replies to what appeared in It’s about judgement, not belief.

I wasn’t playing the man at all in my initial reply to Zainab Al-Badry. So, relax, Zainab! “If” contemplations (What if…?) are logical alternatives: We use them to explore the consequences of choosing another view. Sometimes, suddenly, the alternative might seem more real to us than where we began. But what you believe is for you to decide. If I have a direct question to a person, I’ll try to make it obvious.

1. Zainab writes that “the US and… every other country” is acting out of self-interest. For Zainab’s sake, I hope he does not rule out completely the possibility that one can act out of more than self-interest (self-interest plus something else, at least). Because if he does, then he must believe that democracy in Iraq is impossible for the foreseeable future (see next paragraph), meaning he would be unable to judge that his deepest wish can be fulfilled. Worse, he wouldn’t even be able to believe in it even if he had the hope.

That’s because – supposing a Coalition force is successful in deposing Saddam Hussein – with so many self-interested countries around, all jostling for the oil riches in the Middle East and Caspian Sea area, it would be much more in American interests to install a strongman faithful to Washington right from the start, without any prospect to transition to democracy.

This would be the law of the jungle. Acting unilaterally to create a democracy is not.

Present signs suggest the opposite: the Americans seem to be willing at least to give democracy a chance after removing Saddam Hussein. The extent to which the Americans actually go through with this is the extent to which they are not acting entirely in self-interest. The Kurdish autonomous zone in the north shows that a reasonably free democratic system might be possible in Iraq.

If, for you, it truly is axiomatic that all parties always act exclusively in self-interest, then you shouldn’t even be thinking the question, “How can I trust the Americans this time?” There is no risk, because there is no alternative for you: Democracy is impossible under the Americans. You should just blame the Americans for being belligerent. As many people do.

I’m saying this, Zainab, because you seem to be halfway between the view that “parties always act exclusively in self-interest” and “maybe sometimes they don’t”. The risk – if you perceive one – is always yours to take. I know what it means to you; so I’d advise you to look for signs that the Americans are acting more than in self-interest.

And I’d also advise you (if you don’t do it already) to treat with scepticism journalists and commentators who take self-interest as axiomatic, and who therefore impregnate their opinions and observations with a quasi-religion that denies in advance any hope you could legitimately have.

Why might anyone have confidence that the Americans are committed to democracy this time? For one, the US military appears to be planning an invasion of Iraq by one hundred thousand or more American soldiers – this time, the US is staking the lives of many of its sons and daughters on regime change.

The immense stake the Americans are laying down this time seems to me to signal a far greater commitment than in 1991; a commitment, for one, to seeing a stable government in Iraq following Saddam’s removal. Other signs suggest the Americans are encouraging democratic elements in the Iraqi opposition in exile (the recent meeting in London is one).

Should you believe what the signs seem to be telling you? It’s always your call.

I should mention that many commentators and journalists (Chomsky, Fisk, the Herald’s Paul McGeough) do take American self-interest as axiomatic, to the point that they are incapable of distinguishing between self-interest and a wider good, even if it did exist. They rule it out in advance and are therefore not objective. Their view is quasi-religious. Another example of such thinking is market fundamentalism.

2. “… he said that I think “Saddam is harmless” because I don’t support the US campaign.” I did not say this, nor imply it.

3. “…if Saddam found himself with his back to the wall. He would use whatever was in his hands, regardless of the consequences.”

This indeed seems to be his strategy [Kenneth Pollack, New York Times. Quoted in Saddam Hussein’s Will to Power]:

“In August 1990, after he realized that America might challenge the invasion of Kuwait, he ordered a crash program to build one nuclear weapon, which came close to succeeding. (It failed only because the Iraqis could not enrich enough uranium in time.) His former chief bomb-maker has said that Saddam intended to launch the bomb as a revenge weapon at Tel Aviv if his regime were collapsing.

Iraqi defectors and other sources report that Saddam told aides after the war that his greatest mistake was to invade Kuwait before he had a nuclear weapon, because then America would never have dared to oppose him…”

Other defectors have said similar things. The recollections and judgements of hundreds of defectors – scientists, diplomats, military officers – are disturbingly consistent.

4. “In an attempt to justify the “mistake” of George Bush Snr in 1991, John said, “Why might Bush Snr’s betrayal in 1991 not be equivalent to Stalin’s betrayal in 1944?”. The answer is that two mistakes do not make one right…”

I did not justify any “mistake”, and I did not imply anything about “two mistakes”. I said there might have been a legitimate reason not to invade Baghdad – to avoid the annihilation of that city by biological and nuclear weapons.

The world is soaked to the bone with injustice. But sometimes nothing can be done because of wider consequences – no nation is an island. Sometimes injustice happens because of evil intentions; but sometimes it is permitted to continue because of tragic bad luck. Was the latter the case in Iraq at the end of the Gulf War? Must the decision by Bush Snr be compared with that of Stalin in 1944?

In Saddam’s Will to Power I suggested that at that time, a policy of containment may have appeared a better option than getting rid of Saddam at the expense of the annihilation of Baghdad. The key issue may have been the political situation in Russia and the former Warsaw Pact countries. Recall that this was just after the fall of communism in the Soviet bloc, at a time when Russia was teetering on the edge of falling back into communism, and communists (particularly in the military) were looking at any way to grab back the power they had lost. Remember the attempted coup d’etat in August 1991?

The Soviet Union/Russia had (and still has) close ties with Iraq: it, too, was playing geopolitical power games. The point is, if Baghdad had been annihilated, conservatives in the Russian military would have thought their worst fears of American imperialism confirmed and may well have “insisted” on having much more to say about the make-up of any future Russian government than they did, just as they tried to do in August 1991. The communist dictatorship in Russia would have been kick started again.

Stalin had no such excuse in 1944 – his motivation was to conquer Poland and annihilate all opposition, particularly officers and intellectuals. In numbers, he executed the equivalent of the entire university academic population in Australia. Bush Snr clearly did not have this intention when he chose not to enter Baghdad. And he may well have had mitigating circumstances in making his decision.

Why risk the annihilation of Baghdad now? Because Saddam Hussein has become much more dangerous. He is on the verge of acquiring a nuclear weapon, if he hasn’t one already. Zainab Al-Badry agrees that by not acting now, it “would give him the power to threaten us with unleashing the Holocaust unless we submit to his will”.

If we act now, the war may not be nuclear. But if we wait, it undoubtedly will be.

And Zainab: A democratic Iraq might be on the horizon if we act now, though the risk of failure exists; but if Saddam Hussein is allowed to win, a democratic Iraq will be impossible.

* * * *

Regarding Con Vaitsas’s argument, if only one defector was saying these things, then depending on the level of proof they were offering, we might have grounds to hesitate. But here we have literally hundreds of Iraqi defectors, former scientists, diplomats, military officers, as well as independent foreign experts on Iraq, giving consistent judgements.

Mark Sergeant makes a good point that I anticipated but didn’t include because I was knackered. He writes, “I do not read this as evidence of “Saddam’s explicitly stated ambition and his manifest intention to fulfil it”. I read it as a threat of retaliation if Qatar allows itself to be used in an attack on Iraq. It isn’t evidence of WMD, either, as it seems likely to me that Saddam would issue the threat in the same terms whether he had WMD or not.”

The operative words in Saddam Hussein’s outburst are: “completely destroy”. Saddam wants to “totally annihilate” Qatar, to wipe it off the face of the map, if it allows the Americans to use bases there.

The outburst betrays an absence of limits. When, say, Pakistan and India rattle their sabres, they always talk about “limited engagement”. Their intentions, at least, are small-scale, despite the obvious danger. Israel, too, does not begin with the intention of “totally annihilating” its enemy, and has never even got within a light year of it.

Saddam is willing to act without limits outside his country’s borders, just as he does inside them. He is prepared to universalise his terror.

Saddam’s words, taken alone, may have been a figure of speech. Or just the normal way they do things over there. President Assad of Syria once had the residents of an entire village killed and the houses razed to the ground when somebody from there said something about challenging his power. Saddam appears to be applying this principle to a sovereign country.

We try to see the “manifest intention”: knowing that he has WMD, including possibly a nuke, we cannot risk the lesser interpretation, given what is at stake.

(Incidentally, one might wonder to what extent repeated expressions of concern on the part of neighbouring Arab/Muslim states (“hell’s gates will open”) are influenced by similar explicit threats from Saddam.)

* * *

David Makinson mentions naive belief. Despite the word being mostly used these days as a term of abuse, there’s nothing wrong with being naive – not having knowledge of some situation or milieu – if there’s no reason for you to have that knowledge. But naivety – especially willed naivety – is certainly blameworthy if one ought to know better.

If the stakes with Saddam Hussein really are as high as knowledgeable people say they are, then we have a duty to inform ourselves as best we can of the facts that these people say underpin their reasoning, because if they are right, not only our future, but that of the free world, is at stake.

So, a man of David Makinson’s reputation should certainly have known better than to accuse me of “complacently elevating his own opinions to the status of authoritative truth”.

The excerpts and links in “Heart of Darkness” and “Will to Power” contain the considered judgements of hundreds, probably thousands (if you follow the many links to the documents and essays therein), of people, many of them Iraqi defectors, former scientists, diplomats, military officers, as well as foreign experts on Iraq.

It should have been clear that the bulk of what I have been writing is not uniquely my opinion, and is shared by many.

Their accounts are disturbingly consistent. I have absorbed their arguments, their conclusions, and their mortal dread. These people are far more familiar with the ground-level details than either I or David Makinson are.

Now I ask David Makinson, by what criterion do you dismiss these witnesses’ and scientists’ claim to the “authoritative truth” with regards to Saddam Hussein? By what authority do you elevate your own relatively paltry knowledge of Saddam Hussein over theirs?

David Makinson writes: “I would very strongly suggest that people go beyond the limited extracts he provides and do some proper homework.” I couldn’t agree more! It is impossible to include all the material on the matter published by the 30 organisations (like the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace) whose contributions are to be found at just the Iraq Watch link alone, which I provided in my pieces.

David Makinson is reacting to the style of my interlocution, not its content. If he really does have the knowledge of the reality in Iraq to justify the certitude with which he states, “Iraq is not a “clear and present danger” to the US or its allies”, then he should have immediately been able to recognize that the substance of my opinion is shared by many who have intimate experience with Iraq; and he should have addressed the substantive points I made, rather than elide the substance as he did. I welcome a serious effort at engagement on his part.

David has not even begun to account for the consistent and dense matrix of signs over the last three decades that outline Saddam’s intention to fulfil a dreadful ambition, many of which I cited from a number of sources. Instead, he’d rather see “a far more balanced account of Saddam”, one that no doubt does not hurt his delicate sensibilities too much, and allows him to marvel at the dictator’s great achievements.

Indeed, there’s much to marvel at with Saddam Hussein. In the years 1968 to 1979 “there were also ambitious drives to build schools, roads, public housing, and hospitals. Iraq created one of the best public-health systems in the Middle East” [Mark Bowden]. Saddam’s literacy drive was so successful, UNESCO gave him an award. And the Yanks were fooled into thinking he was the dictator of choice, and gave him some germs to play with, including West Nile virus, which happens to be doing the rounds in Florida and surrounds of Mohamed Atta’s house at the moment. (Not that there’s any proven link.)

Anybody who did not attend Saddam’s literacy drive was sentenced to three years’ jail or worse.

I suppose Saddam might win a few architecture awards for his splendid mosques, but like the railways in Siberia, I wonder how many lives they cost.

But it’s all rather pointless: David Makinson has a gun pointing at his head (we all do) and is marvelling at the gunmen’s French suit while pangs of conscience are paralysing him because he recalls how he nurtured the gunman when he was young. It’s all his own fault, you see, and he dare not hurt the gunman because he must burn in hell for his old transgressions.

I wonder how many passengers in the hijacked jets on 9/11 thought this way, when 5 men were allowed to assert their will over hundreds. Or how many did what they were told because they were unable to take the risk, and kill.

I’ve noticed that people who’ve done the analysis of Iraq, who have gone close to Saddam Hussein and returned to report what they saw, generally share a mortal fear. And having rationally comprehended the catastrophe currently facing the free world, they are often appalled by the reckless carelessness being shown towards Saddam Hussein by the civilized world (e.g. the UN not being true to its charter and stopping this dictator earlier – or even now).

Since indications are that David Makinson does not rely much on background knowledge, my guess (I apologize in advance if I am wrong) is that the process by which David arrived at his conclusion that Iraq is not a “clear and present danger” is akin to a game of logic, a game in the sense that he does not really have much of a personal stake in either the input nor the outcome, a soi disant little intellectual fiddle whose atomic propositions and threadbare logic vaporize the instant they are tested against reality.

Something like: “Saddam is not an idiot (or suicidal), therefore he will not use his weapons of mass destruction.”

Robert Manne made the same argument in Monday’s Herald, for a different reason (smh). The argument allows him to back away from the dreadful moral choice facing us, as well as to judge the American actions as catastrophically unjustified. “Kill first, ask questions later.” (But the choice is: kill now, or face the Holocaust later.)

Robert Manne certainly should have known his history better; I don’t know about David.

Let the historical record be a guide. Hitler wasn’t suicidal in 1938 (or 1933, depending on your view) when he embarked on building the thousand year Reich; but he ended up destroying his country, killing 8 million of its inhabitants (and all the Jews), and committing suicide.

That was point one. Now consider this. It is a matter of record that Saddam Hussein gave orders for his special units to use WMD should Coalition forces enter Baghdad during the Gulf War (see, for example, Pollack’s article at the end of Saddam’s Will to Power). He has most likely done likewise this time. As Saddam is no idiot, he will see to it that he is not in Iraq when the Coalition invasion begins. There are already rumours (only) that he is in Egypt. [Der Spiegel, 30/9.]

So this is how Saddam Hussein can achieve his ambition (see Saddam Hussein and the Heart of Darkness) and save his own skin. Puff goes David Makinson’s little logical bubble.

So let’s get real, and let me help David with his homework.

David Makinson: The essence of the question at hand is whether or not we (the US and its allies) should launch a pre-emptive strike against Iraq.

No. The essence is, “What are the consequences if we do not act now?” We act when not acting becomes untenable. We are facing a Holocaust, therefore we act now. The emphasis of our deliberations and motives is completely different to what it would be in David’s formulation. Read Camus.

Having checked out the links I’ve already given, consider the findings of the Iraq Watch round table discussion of former weapons inspectors and scientists, June 11, 2002 ( iraqwatch ).

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the question: “In light of eleven years of non-compliance by Saddam Hussein and the failure of previous inspections to fully expose and eradicate Iraq’s weapon programs, how likely is it that new inspections can succeed without a change of heart in Baghdad?”

Here is an excerpt from the article. A long justification is given for each judgement. I urge the reader to read the justifications at the link above. I should stress that the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control has nothing to do with the US government. In fact, it has been a thorn in the US government’s side for decades.

“The panelists took up the following questions:

Can inspections disarm Iraq under the present rules?

Is the new UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) more likely than UNSCOM to defeat Iraqi concealment efforts?

The panelists found, in sum, that UN inspectors have virtually no chance of disarming Iraq under the present rules unless Iraq suddenly decides to cooperate, which it has not done for the past eleven years. The reasons for this conclusion are as follows:

* UNMOVIC, the new inspection agency, is not set up to use intelligence information effectively, and may therefore have difficulty receiving such information;

* UNMOVIC is not likely to be able to conduct surprise inspections, even if intelligence information were provided;

* Iraq has made much of its secret weapon work mobile, allowing it to be removed before inspectors can arrive at a suspect site;

* UNMOVIC may not have the personnel needed to defeat Iraqi concealment efforts;

* Iraq’s right to designate large geographical areas as “presidential sites” – making them virtually impossible to inspect – creates sanctuaries for illicit activities;

* UNMOVIC will be reluctant to accuse Iraq of not complying with inspection obligations.” [Iraq Watch Round Table, June 11, 2002; see link above]

Again, I urge the reader to read and consider the justifications for each of these conclusions; otherwise they become empty slogans.

I mention in passing that the International Atomic Energy Commission was ignorant of the Saddam’s nuclear weapons program until Coalition forces discovered a nearly completed atomic bomb. This was despite two decades of regular inspections. In the decade before the Gulf War, the IAEC was headed by Hans Blix, currently the head of the UN weapons inspection team. [“Inside Saddam’s Secret Nuclear Program”, Khidhir Hamza, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 1998. iraqwatch . I recommend this essay, which details the extraordinary lengths the Iraqis went to deceive IAEC inspectors. This is precisely what UNMOVIC is up against.]

The only purpose UN weapons inspections will serve is to give Saddam’s efforts to acquire nuclear devices the rubberstamp of official approval. (Officially, his WMD program will be pronounced non-existent.) Saddam Hussein wins again. Little wonder Iraq is so eager to allow UN weapons inspectors back.

(And the media – BBC, SMH et. – are willing accomplices: Over and over again, we read that the inspections will be “unconditional”. Why is the West so gullible? Where are the editors? Where are their ethics?)

So we may begin our deliberation of what the consequences of present inaction might be with the assumption that, 12 months or so from now, Saddam Hussein will possess two, three or more nuclear weapons.

Suddenly Saddam’s manifest intention of establishing a pan-Arab nuclear dominion in the Middle East, and exacting “revenge” against the US and Israel, makes ample sense. And his name will be remembered among Arabs “for 500 years”, as one of the great men of history. Just as he wants it.

David Makinson: If I understand him correctly (and I may not, so I’ll apologise in advance) the assessment of the rights and wrongs of the current Iraq dilemma is driven to large degree by “what you believe and why”. The implication is, of course, that those believe differently to Mr Wojdylo are just fooling themselves.

Just as those who don’t believe their computer screen are fooling themselves. Absurd. Why do you shoot the messenger?

DM: I’m sorry, but this focus on “belief” is patent nonsense. It’s about judgements and probabilities – about guesses of people’s intentions and future events and outcomes. It’s about applying reason, intuition, compassion and common sense – and yes, ethics – to a complex set of contributing factors.”

Compassion is of no use in solving the horrific dilemma we face: If we don’t act soon, when we are relatively powerful, we may be condemning free civilization to oblivion. But if we act now, many, many people may die.

In fact, it’s about making a judgement of the “manifest intention”, using science, logic and historical record. “Manifest intention” might be described as the dense matrix of indicators that outline intention; for these signs can point to the potential for catastrophic acts in the future. Twentieth century history has taught us this: knowing what is at stake, since we cannot know the true mind and can only suspect it from flimsy signs, we have to act to avoid the potential catastrophe – the apparent aggressor must prove they do not intend to perpetrate the catastrophe. If they refuse to provide credible proof, we must force the issue, or be prepared to accept moral responsibility for our inaction.

Apology accepted.

In an interesting contrast – not that it necessarily proves anything – David Makinson does not agree with Zainab Al-Badry, who has first-hand knowledge of what Saddam Hussein is capable of, and believes that Saddam Hussein is a great threat, that not acting now would give Saddam Hussein the power to threaten us with unleashing the Holocaust unless we submit to his will.

Finally, David Makinson writes that my writings “show a degree of careful bias which is quite breathtaking in its scope – a wilful and cynical bias which sadly is becoming more and more common in these times”.

Unfortunately, my kind of willed bias is all too rare. I will myself to understand dictators and their methods, to learn about the terror they have instigated, and to remember their victims. And on the contrary, there is nothing more cynical than the United Nations proclaiming the noble ideals of its charter while obligingly paving the way for the rise of a dictator who wills the destruction of all that it stands for, together with the free world, and thinks nothing of ending tens of millions of lives to achieve his ambition.

We’ve seen all this before, in 20th century history. The historical record is also littered with academic apologists for Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Milosevic, and Saddam Hussein – the logicians, the analytical philosophers, these cobweb-spinners and their friends, the disciples of the Nazi, Martin Heidegger – who could not bear to hear too much ill of those upstanding citizens that they secretly admired.

They demanded “balanced accounts” – not true accounts – so that they never had to be confronted with their hypocrisy and cowardice, or with the suffering of their hero’s victims.

For the sake of balance, evidence of the tool of moral degradation so beloved by Saddam and his ilk (see the passage by Christopher Hitchens in Saddam’s will to power) is replaced in the apologist’s mind by some fine mosque or deed or illusion of some hidden virtue or guilt-cum-self-aggrandiseme=nt that he had something to do in the dictator’s rise. His whole understanding of the dictator is therefore skewed in such a way that degradation – such as the state the UN now finds itself in – appears normal, and indeed, desirable. He becomes the tyrant’s willing collaborator.

So the willed ignorance of “balance” – the black hole in the historical record, where not a trace of the victims exists – leaves its imprint on the apologist’s every judgement of the tyrant. How can the apologist possibly condone a pre-emptive strike against Saddam Hussein when so terribly little solid information exists – and when he so loves the man?

It’s about judgement, not belief

Webdiarists have dug in for detailed debate since John Wojdylo presented his case for a first strike against Iraq.

Today’s war issue:

1. Peter Briggs catches out Bernie McComb on ‘Septics’.

2. David Makinson deconstructs John Wojdylo’s case, Zainab Al-Badry replies to John’s comments on his argument against a first strike and Mark Sergeant and Con Vaitsas critique John’s conclusions.

3. G Hassan says I’m biased against Arabs.

4. Graham McPherson says it’s really a war against OPEC.

5. Gina Bowry looks for a third way.

6. Scott Burchill compares the US position on Iraq and Israel.

7. John Halse relies to American Ken White.


Jozef Imrich recommends:

* “Eye on the empire”, on the economics of the war, at antiwar.

* ‘Policy as if the public interest mattered’, a speech on the war by Charles Kennedy, leader of the Liberal Democrats in England, at libdems

* ‘Neo, Nader, next door neighbour: Citizenship’, by Jeanne E Hand-Boniakowski at metaphoria

* ‘A replay of Vietnam in Iraq?’ by Derrick Z. Jackson, at bostonglobe

* “We should all be pursuing a lasting victory over world want” by James Cumes at onlineopinion


Peter Briggs in Belconnen, Canberra

Strange but true: Australia’s finest journalist is now sourcing Facts On Americans from this guy who knows this guy who once went out to dinner with one. (Bernie McComb in Power and weakness.)

Suspicious, one of her intrepid readers types ‘septic tank’ into a search engine to find out…

Flashback: It’s a week after 9/11, the Great Nation is in crisis, but the 1-in-4 Americans who have one still need to know, “How often do I empty my… whatchamacallit?” usatoday


David Makinson

I’ve just worked all the way through John Wojdylo’s Saddam’s heart of darkness and Saddam’s will to power. You urge those who want to understand Saddam to read this. I would very strongly suggest that people go beyond the limited extracts he provides and do some proper homework.

I am reading the Said Aburish biography and can report that it is a far more balanced account of Saddam than the selective quotes in Mr Wojdylo’s offering. It also provides extensive insight into the role of naked US and UK self-interest in the making of modern Iraq.

Mr Wojdylo’s writings are disturbing. Not because they reveal anything new, for they do not, but because they show a degree of careful bias which is quite breathtaking in its scope – a wilful and cynical bias which sadly is becoming more and more common in these times. Mr Wojdylo comfortably criticises the naive beliefs of others, whilst complacently elevating his own opinions to the status of authoritative truth.

If understand him correctly (and I may not, so I’ll apologise in advance) the assessment of the rights and wrongs of the current Iraq dilemma is driven to large degree by “what you believe and why”. The implication is, of course, that those believe differently to Mr Wojdylo are just fooling themselves.

I’m sorry, but this focus on “belief” is patent nonsense. It’s about judgements and probabilities – about guesses of people’s intentions and future events and outcomes. It’s about applying reason, intuition, compassion and common sense – and yes, ethics – to a complex set of contributing factors.

The essence of the question at hand is whether or not we (the US and its allies) should launch a pre-emptive strike against Iraq.

The things we believe include:

* Saddam is a bad man. This seems to be uncontroversial – a given. We do not need another several pages of carefully selected quotes to grasp this extraordinarily challenging concept.

* Saddam has weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and would like more. Similarly uncontroversial. We did not need the Blair Dossier to know this.

* Iraq has not attacked the US (or Australia for that matter) at any time. The truth is a strange and fleeting thing, but this statement is probably as close to an historical fact as we can get (until proved otherwise).

None of these things that we believe provides any support for a pre-emptive strike.

The judgements/assessments we might make will be varied and individual. Some of mine are as follows:

* Iraq is not a “clear and present danger” to the US or its allies. A judgement, not a belief. Based in part on my assessment that Iraq’s WMD are not as big and bad as those of the US and its allies, and Saddam is not, for all his other faults, an idiot.

* Saddam’s intention – or lack of intention – to mount a threat is unclear. No matter what Mr Wojdylo and others assert, it is unclear. Without such clarity, no military intervention can be justifiable (a judgement).

* An attack on Iraq would be an unprovoked act of aggression. A straightforward conclusion, based on the absence of any attack from Iraq. I would judge such an act of aggression to be an evil thing. This is both a personal view and a moral judgement. It is also flat out repudiation of the Bush doctrine that a pre-emptive attack is acceptable. It is not.

The Bushes and Howards of the world have drawn different conclusions based on (as far as we are told) broadly similar inputs. According to this world view:

* Iraq is a “clear and present danger” to the US or its allies.

* Saddam’s intention to mount a threat is clear. With such clarity, military intervention is justifiable.

* In these circumstances, a pre-emptive attack is acceptable.

These positions are unfounded. They do not pass the smell test. All Messrs Bush, Howard and Wojdylo have are a set of irrational opinions. This is their right and privilege. But they want us to go to war on the basis of these opinions.

Many commentators have tried the “appeasement” argument. Again, it’s terribly short in the logic department, but it has a certain emotive appeal so I’m not above using it. If we continue to appease US self-interest and let Bush et al get away with this, our children will hold us to account one day.


Zainab Al-Badry

Disclosure: I am an Iraqi who opposes the US possible attack on my country and was old enough during the Iraq-Iran war to understand all the surrounding circumstances of it.

I don’t know for how long we can go back and forth with this issue but John Wojdylo has raised some important issues that I again feel need to be answered. Many thanks for having this window open for all of us. (Zainab’s piece and John’s response are in Saddam’s will to powersmh.)

1. I am not accusing the US alone of acting out of self-interest with regard to the Iraqi problem. In fact every other country is doing so, whether that interest be oil or something else. Let’s not forget that France built the first nuclear reactor for Saddam, which Israel destroyed in 1981, and Russia is the biggest supplier of arms and weapons to Saddam. What hurts more than anything else is that Saddam’s brutality and evil deeds are/were known to those countries for decades, so why did no one think of freeing the Iraqi people 10 or 20 years ago?

2. John is implying that I am a naive or stupid person (without saying so) when he said that I think “Saddam is harmless” because I don’t support the US campaign. No Iraqi thinks even for a split second that Saddam is harmless or that he is not capable or willing to use any method in his hands to destroy his opponents or enemies. In fact there is no Iraqi who has not suffered directly or indirectly from this brutal regime.

3. In an attempt to justify the “mistake” of George Bush Snr in 1991, John said, “Why might Bush Snr’s betrayal in 1991 not be equivalent to Stalin’s betrayal in 1944?”. The answer is that two mistakes do not make one right, and that Bush Snr’s mistake, which I believe was a deliberate one, is not forgivable because Bush Snr and his administration knew Saddam first hand from their previous dealing with him during the 80s. They had in front of them enormous amounts of proofs and witnesses of Saddam’s evil and mentality, so there is no excuse for them. To try and tell me now that they acted the way they did because they naively thought that Saddam would be contained by the UN resolution is really beyond me.

4. John argued that one of the reasons the US stopped short of toppling Saddam in 91 was for fear of him using biological weapons against them. What makes the US so sure now that he would not do the same if he was cornered? What makes the US willing to sacrifice its soldiers this time? Or maybe the US is absolutely sure that he in fact does not have WMD left. I do not believe this last theory, in fact the most terrifying scenario I could imagine is if Saddam found himself with his back to the wall. He would use whatever was in his hands, regardless of the consequences.

5. John also said that by not acting now “this would give the power to threaten us with unleashing the Holocaust unless we submit to his will”. I couldn’t agree more. On the other hand, Saddam had his own Holocaust back in the 80s when he used his chemical weapons against Iran and then against his own people virtually under the nose of the whole world, yet no one lifted a finger to stop him, especially not the US who to my knowledge (please correct me here if I am wrong, and I do want very much to be proved wrong) vetoed a UN resolution condemning Saddam’s acts against the Kurds.

6. Finally, I have no doubt that Saddam has a mind of his own and an evil one for that matter. What I am saying is that the US and the West helped and encouraged him to achieve his goals simply because they seemed to be in line with those countries interests at the time. Now when those interests have changed, Saddam suddenly becomes the bad boy who must disappear from the scene. Saddam would never have been a problem now if the US and the rest of the world acted and stopped him earlier. If the US was willing to overlook what Saddam did to my people simply because it wasn’t in its interest to stand up to him, what guarantees do I have that the US will not do the same thing again??


Mark Sergeant

In Saddam’s heart of darkness, Part 2, John Wojdylo makes much of an alleged threat on Qatar by Saddam.

“The encounter at the end of August began brotherly enough. The newspaper report, citing Iraqi sources, said that at the meeting between the Iraqi president and al-Thani, the Qatari foreign minister had at first urged Saddam Hussein to allow UN weapons inspectors back into the country. Otherwise “hell will be unleashed.” “At the American military base al-Udeid in Qatar,” said al-Thani, “I have seen weapons that I have never laid eyes on before.” Hussein listened to this calmly.

“Al-Thani continued, saying that “these weapons would be used against Iraq in the event of an American attack”. Saddam jumped up in rage. He shouted at the foreign minister. According to the Cairo newspaper, he asked his guest whether Qatar was prepared to be an agent of the USA and, on the side of the enemy, strike against the Arab nation. Should the small Gulf emirate “allow the US army to attack Iraq from al-Udeid”, he would “completely annihilate” the country.”

In Saddam’s will to power, John wrote: “Four weeks ago Saddam threatened a sovereign nation (Qatar) with “total annihilation”. Why do commentators like Paul McGeough not address Saddam’s explicitly stated ambition and his manifest intention to fulfil it, and instead write conspiracy theories about American motives, or banalities about Toyota truck mechanics in Baghdad?”

I do not read this as evidence of “Saddam’s explicitly stated ambition and his manifest intention to fulfil it”. I read it as a threat of retaliation if Qatar allows itself to be used in an attack on Iraq. It isn’t evidence of WMD, either, as it seems likely to me that Saddam would issue the threat in the same terms whether he had WMD or not.


Con Vaitsas in Sydney

It is obvious that John Wojdylo is itching to get a job on George Bush’s public relations team, or maybe he really wants a job with the New York Times, which too many of us accept as the greatest newspaper on this earth without knowing its seamier side.

Unfortunately his piece reads like a uni essay and wouldn’t convince too many apart from those who want to believe his theory. And why he quotes the New York Times as though it is authoritative I will never know, as they have been caught out several times recently.

Remember the case of Wen Ho Lee, the Taiwanese-born nuclear scientist who was the centre of a federal investigation into alleged Chinese espionage in the USA during the late 1990s after allegations that he turned over to China design information about a key US nuclear missile warhead?

All of this arose from a series of articles in the New York Times which launched an anti-China spy scare campaign to embarrass the Clinton administration. It reckoned that tens of millions of people were threatened by Lee’s spy activities and criticised the White House for not taking appropriate action.

Wen Ho Lee was held for nearly a year in solitary confinement, but the Justice Department found no evidence to support the story and released Lee. The New York Times had to apologise, but hey, who cares?



G. Hassan in Sydney

It is a shame that you called the Middle East a “mess” in your column “When politics is in the blood” (smh).

I do not think the Middle East had any “mess” until you and your government brought it to the people of the Middle East. What have the Iraqi children got to do with your two rusty frigates in the Gulf stopping food and medicine reaching the dying children? According to very reliable sources 5000-6000 children die every month because of the Anglo-American (and Australian) blockade.

With the resources available you could have mentioned the Palestinian children dying because of the Israeli fascism and your government’s support for it.

You and Miranda Divine are either ignorant or have a racist hidden agenda. You represent a very racist government which is maltreating imprisoned women and children in concentration camps because of their skin colour and cultural backgrounds.

Hopefully not too many “Australians” are listening to you and people like you.


Graham McPherson

My congratulations go to Paul McGeough for his excellent piece What the White House really wants (smh). It goes a long way to restoring my faith in the ability of journalists to report on reality and not just spin.

It’s important to try to tease out all of the motivations from the tangled web of White House rhetoric before they become lost in the imperative of war, and Paul did a great job.

At the moment it would seem that the US is lining up for several wars. We have, obviously, the war against terror, and the war against Saddam (two separate things the White House is tying itself into knots to try to conflate). Less obviously we have the war against OPEC and the war against non-US oil interests. Then there’s the war against the UN. In fact, there seems to be a war against anything that stands in the way of the maximal use of other peoples resources by the US at minimal cost.

But all of that is in the long term. In the short term the significant date in this debate is not September 11, it’s November 5. Throughout this matter Bush has had one eye on Saddam and the other firmly fixed on the US Senate. His comments earlier this week confirmed this by effectively accusing Democratic Senators of disloyalty because they haven’t yet gone completely belly up over his Iraq policy.

In fact the whole Iraq campaign has been incredibly fortuitous with regards to the fortunes of the Republicans in the upcoming mid-term elections. Somehow it has managed to extinguish virtually all comment on the economic downturn, corporate mismanagement and the failure to exterminate al-Qaida in Afghanistan. The appropriate catchphrase for George W, as opposed to his father, has become, “It’s NOT the economy, stupid”.

Bush is absolutely aware that by turning the heat up on Iraq it’s the Democrats that feel the flames. So successful has this policy been, and given the obvious parallels, I briefly wondered if the Republicans might have had an observer last year here during our own election, but given the proximity of Sept 11, I rather doubt it. It also explains why Bush has been so willing to alienate virtually everybody in the world, except the American voter, in pursuit of a goal which is no more urgent today than it was ten years ago.

The upshot of all this is that I’m willing to go further than most Webdiarists and make some predictions. After the November 5 elections, the Iraq debate will move into an entirely new phase. Bush will not be nearly so dismissive of inspections and the war rhetoric will tone down. Inspections will go ahead, and then only if (or when) they are sabotaged by Saddam, will the US move into Iraq with full UN support. I don’t doubt that Howard will give a great sigh of relief.

By the way, if you want to know how I feel about Saddam, let me put it this way: If they can get rid of him without killing 10,000 people, I’ll even go with them.


Gina Bowry

There are too many things that concern me regarding the “war on terror” and Iraq.

I believe that Saddam Hussein is a dangerous leader who is developing WMD, but I do not know why. I think he will not use them directly against any country – at least not right now – without the justification of a first strike against him. He has to understand that that is one thing that would certainly be the end for him, as it would be reason for the US to unleash their vast array of weaponry on him with the support of the rest of the world.

While I understand that he is dangerous, I have less understanding of the motives of other world leaders in their stances either for or against war.

I think that Bush and his colleagues are too motivated by the “oil” side of the debate. I also am cynical of the timing of the rhetoric, knowing that Hussein has had these plans for years .

I am more believing of Blair, although I don’t know why I feel like this. Without his input, I would be more likely to think of Bush and Howard et al merely as the caricatures that have recently been drawn.

However, I am more inclined to believe that there is genuine cause to be concerned with Saddam, and that Bush is the sabre-rattling, war-mongering, oil-grabbing US bad cop so Blair has the chance to get a more moderate and (hopefully) peaceful outcome through the UN Security Council. If all Saddam Hussein takes seriously is the extreme threat of force, then the threat needs to be seen and be seen as immediate.

I want to know what will happen if he calls their bluff and the US is really forced to go to war. Then will he use the WMD? And just against the troops in the field, or against other countries in his range? Once Iraq has been invaded, he will feel justified in their use as he will have nothing left to lose, knowing that regime change is the ultimate aim.

What of Australia’s involvement in all this? We obviously do not have the capacity for military involvement of any real impact. We only have a defence force, not a standing army. I think most Australians do not want their children going to war – and unless there is a long drawn out war there is little chance there will be much involvement except for navy vessels.

I think that our position should be one of facilitation of a peaceful solution that does not allow the dictatorial regime to continue, without simply setting up a US puppet government or allowing anarchy (don’t ask me how to do that!). That the US has been unable to complete this solution in Afghanistan is not a good start.

Another issue that concerns me was touched on by Marise Payne in Thank God for Australia because…: What of the other nations in the UN that are not ruled by democratic means? Are any of them developing WMD? And what of the nations who may be democratic but also have hopes of developing these weapons? Saddam is not the only thug in world politics today – look at Zimbabwe. There are also all those nations in turmoil that never get mentioned in the news in Australia. Who is next on the hit list – and why?

I am not a fan of US powerbrokers or Australian Liberal arsekissing. I do not agree that you are either “for us or against us” – I think there must be a middle ground. I am one of those bleeding hearts who is trying to choose between waiting for Saddam Hussein to use his WMD capability before going to war, or going to war before he can. How do you explain to the innocent people who will die either way? Sorry Israel, but that bunch of people had to die before we could justify getting Saddam? Or, sorry citizens of Iraq, we had to kill you so that Saddam wouldn’t be able to kill off any more Kurds or sponsor any more terrorists? Neither is a satisfactory outcome.


The Israel comparison

Scott Burchill, Lecturer in International Relations, Deakin University, Victoria

As soon as Western governments made Baghdad’s non-compliance with UN Security Council resolutions the issue, it was inevitable that comparisons would be made between Iraq and Israel. As discomforting as it clearly is for the Australian Government, it wasn’t going to be possible for Canberra to copy Washington and just ignore the question of why Iraq’s non-compliance constituted a grave threat to the credibility and future of the UN but Israel’s longer standing violations cast no reflection on the organisation.

The comparison was even harder to avoid when at the very time UK Prime Minister Tony Blair released his much vaunted dossier on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, the UN Security Council was passing resolution 1435 (2002) which, amongst other concerns, demanded that Israel “immediately cease measures in and around Ramallah including the destruction of Palestinian civilian and security infrastructure” and withdraw its “occupying forces from Palestinian cities towards the return to positions held prior to September 2000”.

The resolution passed 14-0 with one abstention, the United States. Israel immediately announced that it would disregard the resolution.

So how has Canberra sought to avoid the Iraq-Israel comparison, while insisting, in Prime Minister Howard’s words, that “if the United Nations Security Council doesn’t rise to its responsibilities on this occasion [with regard to Iraq] it will badly weaken its credibility”? There have been two different tactics.

At the National Press Club on 11 September and later on commercial talkback radio, Mr Howard claimed that because Israel was a democracy it shouldn’t be judged by the same standards as Iraq, the clear implication being that democracies are not under the same obligation to observe international law as authoritarian states. The claim that a state’s external obligations are determined by its internal political complexion has no basis in international society or law. One might have thought that a higher commitment to the rule of law could be expected from countries which pronounce their democratic credentials.

The second tactic was revealed by Foreign Minister Downer on 26 September in the following ABC radio interview:

ABC Journalist: “Israel is currently ignoring UN resolutions?”

Alexander Downer: “It’s not ignoring. I mean that ‘s another debate. The resolutions in relation to Israel are Chapter Six. In the case of Israel these are Chapter Six, not Chapter Seven resolutions. There’s a technical difference and it has an obligation to negotiate final settlement status in the Middle East and we hope that Israel will do that obviously we urge them to do so. There are a lot of bad governments around the world. I ‘m not sure I’d say any of them is worse than the government of Saddam Hussein.”

This line of argument, emanating from Tel Aviv, was faithfully echoed by journalist Greg Sheridan in The Weekend Australian on 28 September. Sheridan claimed that Security Council resolutions under different chapters of the UN Charter meant that “even in terms of UN legality, there is no comparison between Israel and Iraq”.

In line with Washington and Tel Aviv’s instructions, he also went on to argue that “it is clear Israel is not in breach of” UN Security Council resolutions 242 or 338 which call for its withdrawal from Palestinian territory illegally occupied since 1967.

A range of subsequent UN Security Council resolutions calling on Israel to implement both resolutions expose the lie in this assertion, which has about as much veracity as his other claim that in 2000 Ehud Barak “offered 97% of the [Palestinian] territories” to Yasser Arafat. This is another Israeli state myth uncritically reproduced by compliant journalists which cannot withstand the smallest scrutiny.

This second tactic is almost comical. According to the Foreign Minister, first Israel isn’t ignoring UN SC resolutions, then it is but because its resolutions aren’t Chapter Seven resolutions they don’t matter. Chapter Six resolutions apparently do not carry the same legal weight or impose the same degree of obligation on states for compliance. In other words, he is saying is that only certain Security Council resolutions need to be enforced and this is determined by the particular Chapter of the UN Charter which they are invoked under.

This argument has no basis in fact or international law, but it does demonstrate the extraordinary lengths he and his echoes have been forced to go to in order to explain why only Iraq’s violations of UN SC resolutions constitute a threat to the authority, integrity and future of the UN. And why Israel’s violations since 1967 don’t.

The reason there are no UN Security Council enforcement resolutions against Israel under Chapter Seven of the UN Charter is because since the 1970s the US has used its veto 32 times to protect Israel from internationally authorised action. This is apparently a minor detail neither Howard, Downer nor Sheridan believe is worth mentioning.

While ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, genocide in Rwanda, illegal land occupations in Kuwait and Bosnia, and state terrorism in East Timor have all recently elicited enforcement action from the UN, 35 years of brutal, humiliating and illegal occupation of Palestinian land by Israel have not produced one enforcement resolution. Perhaps even more remarkably, Israel’s attacks against Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Tunisia have all been protected from a multilateral response by Israel’s North American patron.

Washington clearly has an idiosyncratic view about states complying with UN Security Council resolutions. If the US objects to non-compliance, the country can be attacked. If the US favors non-compliance it either vetoes the resolution or disregards it, in which case it is as good as vetoed.

Iraq has violated or ignored 16 UN resolutions. The equivalent figure for Israel is 69. It’s no wonder Canberra would prefer no comparisons of any kind were made, although it is difficult to see tactics as impoverished as these succeeding for very long. If Russia, France or China use their veto to block a new Chapter 7 resolution against Iraq promoted by Washington and London, the howls of protest and outrage from Washington, London and Canberra can be expected to reach a crescendo of hypocrisy rarely seen even in the tawdry world of international diplomacy.


Ken White in Florida (first published in Thank God for Australia because…)

Interesting commentary from many folks. One of the less cogent was from John Halse in Letters from America and War conversations. We could wish for a peaceful world in which all nations got along but we’re certainly not there yet. Mr Halse seems to argues that the United Nations is the path to this Nirvana.

I submit that the larger the governmental entity, the more likely it is to lose touch with reality and become overbearing and oppressive and that we should be very suspicious of such – look at the European Union and its governance by stealth and subterfuge for a cautionary example.

If he wishes to entrust his life and future to “the laws of this body (the UN)…” that is certainly his prerogative. I’m not inclined to trust elected politicians of any stripe very much and I certainly don’t want to hand my future to unelected bureaucrats, the majority of whom have proven to be consistently hostile to European values, particularly to the English speaking nations – including Australia.

Mr Halse cites “Chile, Nicaragua, Columbia, Panama, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Lebanon, Grenada, Dominican Republic and numerous other nations which your government and its armies or clandestine organizations have attacked militarily and economically”. All true.

Mr Halse should also visit most of those countries, as have I, and ask the residents for an assessment of the overall well being before and after U.S. involvement. I believe he will discover that all, save the Southeast Asian nations and Lebanon, where we either lost or left too soon, will say they are thankful – grudgingly in some cases perhaps but still thankful – for the change.

Somehow in his polemic he neglected Iraq (possibly because he senses their invasion of Kuwait legitimized US involvement? Interesting omission, that).

We didn’t finish that one either, as Papa Bush and his advisers were worried about “world opinion.” We are not likely to repeat either mistake.

John Halse in Singapore

Mr White, I am sorry that you found my argument for a world body to determine laws and policies ineffective. However you failed to offer a more convincing case for any other system. I find it difficult to understand your solution. On one hand you state you are “not inclined to trust elected politicians of any stripe” then on the other you don’t want to “hand your future to unelected bureaucrats”.

What then Mr White? Leave it up to the military and the covert agencies of the United States to, as you say ,”not repeat mistakes again” and finish things off regardless of world opinion?

My idea of the United Nations making decisions regarding the laws and policies may be Nirvana. The UN certainly needs reform. I would hope discussions like ours and other people – especially the democratically elected leaders – will be able to make the United Nations work. I have faith in democratically elected officials as I know I can always vote again if dissatisfied.

I am appreciative that you have talked to citizens of the countries I mentioned in my previous letter and they supported your view that they are better off since US intervention.

I wonder who you spoke to in Chile, Mr White? Did you speak to the thousands of relatives of the victims of General Pinochet’s regime. The same Pinochet who was supported by the CIA and later lost power due to overwhelming public disquiet with his governance?

In Colombia, Mr White, have you spoken with the 55% of the population living under the poverty line or the countless victims of torture from the actions of the US trained and supported para-military and police?

The reason I “omitted” Iraq, Mr White, was due to the fact that I was listing countries your governments had attacked without United Nations approval.

If the people you spoke to feel better off after US intervention, why then do you need to attack Iraq? Surely this nation is led by a person that your country helped to power, supporting him and his government during attacks on the Kurdish tribes and Iran. Why after this US intervention are the people not better off?

I am cheered by the many letters from your countrymen that oppose your and your President’s blatant warmongering.

It is appropriate, Mr White, that Saddam Hussien and all countries listen to “world opinion”. I do not have the answers, but I know there must be a more sane way than war to solve disputes between nations and help nations to democracy.