Christmas letter to our leader

Dear Sir


by Jack Robertson

14 December 2002

Jack Robertson


The Honourable John Howard, MP

Dear Mr Howard,

I write to you as a former Army officer and Aide-de-Camp to Governor-General Bill Hayden, and also as the brother of a current serving member of the Australian SAS, to express my growing unease at international Human Rights organization accusations made against our serving personnel, in particular the ugly suggestions that your government’s ‘Border Protection’ policies of recent times may have placed them in difficult non-military situations which resulted in Human Rights violations on their parts.

Prime Minister, I am of course only making a shrewd guess, but I am fairly sure that my brother was a member of the SAS party your government ordered to board the Tampa in late 2001, and I certainly know that he was also among the first contingent of Australian troops who later fought so courageously to help liberate Afghanistan.

I of course have not spoken to him in detail about his unit’s activities in these two markedly different ‘operational’ environments, nor he to me – as is only right and proper from a unit and national security point of view.

I am, however, growing anxious at the apparent fact that your government, and in particular former Minister for Defence Peter Reith and current incumbent Robert Hill, seems at best ambivalent, and at worst wilfully dismissive, towards what I regard as an increasingly urgent need for it take a pro-active interest in protecting the reputation, morale and perhaps even exposure to future prosecution, of our armed services. This is especially so given the real possibility that your government may soon be asking those men and women to embark on dangerous military service in Iraq next year.

Prime Minister, I refer you in particular to the recent study of Australia by the internationally-respected organization ‘Human Rights Watch’, an independent Human Rights NGO whose reports the United States has often referred to in the past – for example, when seeking moral justification for military action in such countries as Afghanistan and Iraq.

The following frightening quote is taken from the Press Release advising of this Report’s release, on 10 December 2002, under the heading: “By Invitation Only: Australian Asylum Policy”:

“Human Rights Watch’s evidence shows that the Australian Defence Forces violated the rights of asylum seekers on board boats intercepted in October 2001. They detained the single men under inhumane conditions, beat several of them with batons and used other unnecessary force against vulnerable refugee families. These findings contradict the report of the Australian Senate Select Committee on a Certain Maritime Incident [issued on October 23, 2002] that praised the humanitarian conduct of the naval operations. Unlike the Senate Committee, which could not collect refugee testimony, Human Rights Watch interviewed dozens of refugees present during the naval operations.”

Prime Minister, as I said, my brother has naturally never discussed in any detail what exactly your government’s policy and orders required him (and/or his colleagues) to do on the Tampa, as is only proper for matters of ‘national security’. However, it unsettles me deeply that such an influential organization feels it is justified in making such ugly and unambiguous public accusations, and yet your government apparently feels no need to respond publicly to them, in order to defend our soldiers’ honour.

I refer you also to your government’s repeated ‘ducking and weaving’ on similar related matters, like the ‘children overboard’ affair (especially your personal refusal to pressure Mr Reith to appear before Senate committees); the government’s failure (in my view) to adequately defend our senior RAN and Defence Department civilians there; and your government’s continued silence over the growing calls – from such people as former diplomat Tony Kevin – for full disclosure of your government’s and our navy’s knowledge, if any, of events leading up to the tragic sinking of SIEV-X.

Prime Minister, my family are strong supporters of Australia’s firm stance against international terrorism. I have admired your national leadership in the immediate aftermath of both the S11 attacks and the Bali bombings. Furthermore, it may well be that these HRW Report accusations, and others from such people as Mr Kevin, are ill-judged and unfounded. However, as an ordinary Australian with a family member who has been thrust by you onto the ‘front line’ of both this country’s approach to asylum seekers and the war on terror, I feel justified in asking that you personally, your Ministers, and your government extend the full and proper public support in these matters that my, and other ADF families, surely deserve.

To that end, I now respectfully request you to a) publicly respond on behalf of my brother and his ADF colleagues to the HR abuse accusations in the HRW Report, and do your best to ensure that the mainstream press gives that response the fullest coverage; b) publicly state for the record – ‘before the fact’, so to speak – that responsibility for any such accusations against any member of our ADF that are subsequently proven correct lies ultimately not with them, but with you, your Ministers and your government for placing them in such difficult, non-military situations in the first place; and c) re-affirm that all past, present and future activities relating to ‘border protection’, on the part of our soldiers, sailors and airman, along with our AFP and ASIO, have been, are, and will continue to be, carried out with your government’s full authorisation, support, supervision and acknowledgment.

Prime Minister, thank you.

Jack Robertson

Via email, hard copy to Electoral Office (Bennelong), and hand-delivery to Kirribilli House Information copies: all Federal MPs and Senators (via PH email); Canberra Press Gallery

PS: I tried to deliver my PM’s letter to the Security Office at Kiribilli on Sunday arv, but they won’t accept anything there at all. Sigh. I’m getting sick of humiliating myself like this!

This article was first published in ‘Christmas letter to our leader’ at webdiary20Dec2002.

The hope we deserve

I wear one of David Makinson’s descriptions of me with pride: “John’s philosophy… is deeply and darkly hopeless.” (Never give up your disbeliefwebdiaryDec10).

I’m very glad he said this, because it makes the difference in our views clearer.

I’ll elaborate on David’s description. Against the backdrop of absolute blackness, the delusions and self-deceiving hopes in which one seeks sanctuary stand out starkly in relief.

I salute the brave people who have diagnosed their self-deceptions, who strive to live in full knowledge of the absurdity of their lives, and strive to feel what it is like to be human without mitigating faiths that soften life’s blows and dilute and falsify the experience of living.

Diluting the experience is a form of death. Such clouds of comfort kill human life – also in the conventional sense, when instantiated in political theories or imperatives for action. Or, in David’s case, in imperatives for obfuscation.

I pity those that have seen the darkness and have taken fright, and have committed intellectual suicide by taking up the debilitating crutches of religious-like faith.

There are also those that have this faith but cannot recognize it in themselves, no matter how much you reflect it back at them. “Unselfrecognizeable” is an invented word I saw somewhere. It’s a real phenomenon, though, because others see it clearly. But these just deny any attempt to “catch” their “philosophy” with concepts, even glancingly, with grains of truth touching possibly widely separated truths. They use phrases like: “You said that, not me”. Maybe it’s just a coincidence.

I have contempt for those that preach disbelief, yet when you scratch the surface of their arguments, the marks of intellectual suicide are ubiquitous – and they refuse to admit that they are the pied pipers of a faith. They are two-faced, and incorrigible liars.

David says about me that “He offers no light, yet castigates those who would try to find the switch”.

But I offer the light of honesty and intellectual integrity, at least insofar as my efforts at striving for these succeed.

Delusions flee the searing light of an honest intellect, leaving only the possibilities – if there are any. These constitute the only hope we deserve to have.

I “castigate” those that chase hallucinations while claiming to be serious. They make pronouncements that give susceptible people false hope, thus preventing these people from comprehending their condition, from experiencing what it is to be human, from living.

The pied pipers are tricksters and con artists and deserve to be exposed.

David understands well the non-existence of his professed position: “I am doubtless kidding myself, but I earnestly hope that in my own very small way I am promoting [the avoidance of war on Iraq and the prevalence of ‘reason’].”

He continues: “Some might say this is a complete waste of time, but it is born of hope, not despair, and I will keep trying.”

But as I demonstrate below, that which “is born of hope” – the sort of anti-real “hope” David subscribes to – is not what he thinks it is.

That’s because the warm feeling he names “hope” is really a space where the searing intellect is not allowed in, lest one comes too close to “despair”. So it is just a sanctuary for unexamined choices, a breeding ground for self-deception and delusions.

The politically conscious project these outward into the world, where they appear as bogus citations, or misguided debunking of invented positions, or other null-content arguments that amount to nothing more than wishful thinking.

The facade of disbelief is applied unevenly – statements that do not conform to the desired, comfortable goal are disbelieved more avidly than the ones that do. That’s why bogus citations are immediately treated credulously, while obvious propaganda from “the enemy” is paraded – in something akin to a show-trial – as conformation of one’s position.

It’s really just wishful thinking, retreating into a comfort zone and refusing to consider the self-delusions it is based on.

But anti-real hope is not beautiful, unless you feel it is beautiful to be forgetful of history – or, equivalently, of the face of a person close to you.

Forgetfulness – irrespective of who you are – ought to be diagnosed as an affliction that one strives to overcome, however difficult or hopeless it may seem. The stuff of reality – particular, base facts, the “ground-level details” as I say – is absolutely essential, just as is the other side. Too many dictators have used anti-remembrance as a tool of power. Forgetfulness must be resisted.

Moreover, I mention in passing, David’s clinging to a non-existent position – his (positive) assertion of it, of something that can be born into the world only as a deception or not at all – gives rise to a bifurcation in the meaning he conveys: he becomes two-faced, or, as the Germans say (I love this word), januskoepfig.

He makes claims as if he himself is exempt from them – as if he is outside the world and can therefore say anything about it with impunity, clearly because he thinks he is powerless (disempowered) yet wishes that a difference could be made, if only the switch could be found. The hope-that-cannot-be-realized – that dictates one keeps trying to find the switch despite knowing that one is “doubtless kidding themselves” – makes him think so.

David’s piece amounts to a farrago of negativity, with an unspoken faith dominating all and sundry. Disbelief is just a facade that gives the faith a seductive veneer. Beware the religious ambush that comes later.

An example was furnished on October 15, in Searching for hope, in response to the Bali bombing, David wrote: “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…”

He then draws the reader in with his lamentation that “politicians and commentators of all persuasions will seek to portray their particular cause as noble because we have lost our friends”.

Then comes the ambush – he finds a meaning in the Bali bombing: it resonates with the faith that he holds deeply, which is why he felt compelled to write it down. It was 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.”

But he promotes his own bandwagon – of the internationale of “innocents” that he imagines share his abhorrence for what he imagines to be the only type of solution world leaders ever come up with; namely, Manaechian visions:

“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.”

Good. Evil. Left. Right. Left. Right. Left. Right. David’s Webdiary pieces on Iraq are testimony to an obsession for denying Manaechian visions that he imagines others hold.

On the one hand, he denies opposites even when they are clearly there. On the other, he invents a division into opposites when there is none.

The entire Tolkienesque parable is a Manichaean caricature that is utterly irrelevant to my argument in Saddam Hussein and the Heart of Darkness, as my view is not a manichaeistic division of the world into Good and Evil.

David appears to be obsessed with manichaeistic divisions – he imposes them on his descriptions of the world, then laments how wrongheaded they are. It amounts to just wishful thinking, retreating into a comfort zone and refusing to consider the self-delusions it is based on.

The world approximated by ever more densely packed “yes/no” computer circuits. This is his concept of “complexity”. Concepts that transcend the details are treated with disbelief, and dismissed.

The Tolkienesque parable sets the scene for the rest of the piece, in which the innocent refugees from the alleged Good/Evil dichotomy – number one among them being David Makinson himself – seek sanctuary by exposing the flimsiness of the dichotomy they (according to David) think they have fled.

This is the point of the silly “debunking” of something Donald Rumsfeld said – as if this opinion of Rumsfeld’s is pivotal for the justification of stopping Saddam Hussein.

David is simply lying to himself. There is no such dichotomy – despite what the Bush muppet says. I have already explained (in Saddam Hussein and the Heart of Darkness) why David should not believe some of what Bush says – and also why some of it is right.

But Makinson has ignored my entire argument, every point of it, and instead sets up straw men that he knocks down with childish delight.

He has ignored every point I have made in three or four long pieces. Many of the basic ground-level details I have cited should be informing his work. Or he should explain why he feels justified in ignoring them. What’s the point of continuing?

Despite my attempt to get him to raise his standards by doing some basic groundwork before he makes claims in public, and backing up his argument, he continues to make claims that look pretty on the outside but are just totally wrong once you scratch the surface.

He makes a facile argument for why al-Qaeda “is” an enemy of the Iraqi regime, by exaggerating the dichotomy between the fundamentalists and the secular Ba’ath party. (Again, he imagines a dichotomy.) But he ignores the reality of the region, how Arab secular nationalism rose in prominence following the fall of the Caliphate in 1924, and gradually morphed into fundamentalism following the humiliation of the Six Day War in 1967.

In “The Challenge of Fundamentalism”, University of Gottingen professor Bassam Tibi (a Syrian Muslim) writes, “the continuity of the Islamic world view, persisting even in the midst of social change, has facilitated the recent shift from secular ideologies to those of political Islam and to the worldview it reflects… one cannot escape the fact that secular ideologies were never able to put down strong cultural roots in Islam, or to affect the prevailing worldview. Thus, secularization as a separation of religion and politics has remained a surface function” (p. 147).

In the chapter on “World Order and the Legacy of Saddam Hussein”, Tibi writes: “When Saddam Hussein invoked Islamic principles as a legitimization of his invasion of Kuwait, he was clearly exploiting a pretext. Nevertheless, it is the symbolic meaning… that matters. [He made reference to] the historical fact that the existing boundaries were drawn up by Western colonial powers and therefore, in the World of Islam, lack all cultural legitimacy…

“In the West today, the Gulf War is no more than a pale memory. The undeniable inheritance of that war is… the ‘legacy of Saddam Hussein’ [whose religious references] ‘served to mobilize Islamist sentiment in a range of countries in support of [himself and fueled an Islamic revival].’ ‘The Gulf War…was a struggle over values; or more precisely, part of an ongoing struggle over who will define the direction and limits of appropriate political behaviour in the modern world.’

“…one should not be too quick to ridicule those fundamentalists… who called for installing Saddam Hussein as the new Caliph for all of Islam. … When Saddam reminded the Arabs and Muslims of their past glory, while indicting the West for ‘having entered Arab lands,… divided Arabs and established weak states’ to facilitate the imposition of Western supremacy, he not only evoked sentiments of nostalgia but also expressed a widely felt outrage over the subordination of Muslims to Western dominance…

“In recalling the days of Muslim supremacy, ‘when Baghdad was the centre of Islamic rule and civilization,’ Saddam Hussein raised at least a rhetorical claim to establishing Muslim power anew.” (p. 39-41)

David may also wish to contemplate the significance (in a balanced way) of the following: the fact that pan-Arab nationalism and Nazism have specific German romantic ideological roots in common (the fascist, Fichte); the fact that the fundamentalist, so-called Grand Mufti of Jerusalem (Yasser Arafat’s uncle) was a Nazi collaborator who met Hitler – even though Hitler hated Arabs, he was quite prepared to have them as allies – and was responsible for organizing a number of Muslim SS divisions in Bosnia as well as for the redirection of 300,000 Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz; that Iraq was briefly allied with the Axis powers in 1941; that a symbol currently commonly seen in Arab countries is the black eagle with straight, powerful wings last seen in Nazi Germany (see my photograph at the Bethlehem police station); and that the Hezbollah have been seen to greet each other with a Hitlergruss.

Also: the neo-Nazi sympathizer, Jorg Haider, and Russia’s ultra-right-wing nationalist, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, visited Baghdad together two months ago, not for the first time. (A photo in the corresponding Austrian magazine, Format, shows the two coming out of a lift, with George Bush Snr.’s face staring up from the tiled floor at the soles of Haider’s shoes.) Moreover, over the last five decades, there have been proven, concrete connections between neo-Nazi financial brokers, as well as groups, and Arab groups. This has led to suspicions in some quarters that neo-Nazi extremists are helping finance al-Qaeda in Europe.

What sort of spiritual resonances make for such strange bedfellows?

I caution against jumping to sinister conclusions – but what should be jettisoned is the illusion that Islamist fundamentalism and Arab secular nationalism form an unbridgeable dichotomy, and that in many cases, they cannot been drawn closer by, at least, a common insane desire to annihilate Israel.

I do not care for David Makinson’s fatuous pleas for absolution from the duty to get himself informed about what he is claiming in public: “I struggle for expression, unlike so many of the talented people who contribute to this place. I lack their education, their wit and, occasionally, their knowledge, as some of them delight in pointing out. It is like pulling teeth for me. And despite my very best efforts, I find I am consistently misinterpreted.”

Many share David’s predicament that, until recently, they had been “completely asleep when it comes to matters of international politics. To our consternation, we now find ourselves at something of a loss as the world and times we live in start to slap us in the face on an almost daily basis.”

But while David, a university professor, uses his frailties and inadequacies to gain sympathy from the reader – and underhandedly to gain rhetorical advantage – some have gone out and got themselves an education: via Bassam Tibi, Bat Ye’or, Abdallah Laroui, Muhammad al-Mubarak, Sadiq Jalal al-Azm, Fouad Ajami, Ibn Warraq, Ali Sina, Hashem Aghajari, or even Khaled Abou El Fadl. And all the other Islamic dissidents.

Knowledge – and a desire to share it – makes one lucid.

But knowing where to seek out knowledge – how to undertake the journey of understanding – is a function of one’s world view, or “philosophy”.

David Makinson has a habit of seeking the rhetorical authority of famous people by blindly citing them when they seem to be supporting what he wants them to support. He does this without putting in the hard work of checking the sources, or actually thinking about the words he cites.

He persists in doing this even after my criticism (Saddam Hussein’s Desire for Genocide) of his piece, Fools and fanatics, where I warned him that he was making himself look foolish.

In Fools and fanatics, David quoted Bertrand Russell and Mahatma Ghandi.

Bertrand Russell, according to David, said: “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.”

I pointed out that Russell plainly did not mean that “what makes some people wiser than others is that they always retain doubt about what they believe,” since otherwise he could not have stated his aphorism with the certitude that he had.

Why did David Makinson place so much faith in an aphorism that is manifestly empty of meaning?

Indeed, Bertrand Russell’s life and philosophy are notorious for their serial hopeful certitude: serial dreams of “this is the meaning of life” – where doubt evaporated – that consoled him until each dream was extinguished in turn by irrepressible reality.

I would recast Russell’s aphorism as follows: “Unscrutinized convictions manifest the tragedy of an individual’s life.”

Bertrand Russell’s quote is a poor one, but David swallowed it hook, line and sinker – because of the authority of the surface.

Makinson regurgitates Mohandas:

John – you may wish to ponder this – from a man whose morality, unlike yours or mine, is not in question: “What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?

(a) David is wrong. We stand up to Saddam Hussein to avoid a Holocaust. This is not a “cause” – or ideology – like Democracy or Communism or Marcusean Peacenikism. We need not align our spirit in any particular direction, nor regiment it to fit an overcoat. We just deal with the reality, and banish self-deception.

(b) What to make of Gandhi’s quote? Of course, the cause makes no difference to the dead. The dead have no rights, no needs, no wants. But it makes a difference to the living.

Moral choices are about the living, not the dead.

Mahatma Gandhi’s observation about the dead was facile. But he also mentions “the orphans and the homeless”.

Now, a pivotal question: what was the difference between the Axis forces and Allies in World War Two?

Here’s part of the answer: if the Nazis had won the war, and if Gandhi’s orphans and homeless had been Jews, they would have all been murdered, and not one Jew would have been left on this planet.

And if Gandhi had been a Jew he would not have had the chance to forsake his career as a lawyer and be wise.

But when the Allies won the war, not only did they NOT wreak genocide on Germans, they spent billions reconstructing Germany. And Germany is now an important member of the international community.

Today, the American president is even talking about “political and economic liberty triumphing in the Middle East”, following US-led rebuilding of the country.

Are nuclear weapons acceptable in the hands of Saddam Hussein, who preaches and practices explicit, racist pan-Arab supremacism; has an indominatable will to acquire weapons of mass destruction; and repeatedly vows “revenge” against Israel and the United States? Vows that he will perpetrate a Holocaust?

If not, how do you propose to take them away from him, or stop him from obtaining them within the next 18 months, given that he plays to win?

The “purity of the soul” that the Mahatma preached is useless if there are no people left.

Why do you disbelieve Saddam Hussein, but believe Bush’s more idiotic, Manaechian pronouncements?

Why do you disbelieve Saddam Hussein, while disbelieving the eye-witnesses, the scientists, all the defectors that argue for the same result as Bush but in different words and mannerisms?

The facade of disbelief is just that – unless it is accompanied by intelligent analysis. But then, “disbelief” is part and parcel of the process, as the best historians have known for centuries.

David’s plea for disbelief simply removes the “intelligent analysis” element from a centuries-old formula. Again, what it amounts to is a plea for the authority of surfaces. David’s plea is a sham.

David applies disbelief according to the circumstance: actually, he is merely reinforcing prejudices that he already had.

There are other grave contradictions in Mahatma Gandhi’s views. For example, before World War Two, Gandhi opposed the establishment of Israel in Palestine, on the grounds that it would displace the “rightful inhabitants” of the land.

However, these “rightful inhabitants” used force to win the land several hundred years before. Gandhi’s position amounted to justification for the use of force to gain territory.

Gandhi’s entire way of thinking was centred on the here and now – with him at the centre, and concentric circles in time and space stretching outward ever further from his perception.

Gandhi advocated non-violent submission to the Nazis. He never comprehended Hitler’s genocide of the Jews. His flaw was that he projected what he knew about the colonialist British onto Hitler and the Nazis. He could not see past himself.

He could not “secularize” his thinking by initiating a “French revolution” in his mind.

In Saddam’s Desire for Genocide, I explained how David Makinson’s way of thinking is centred on himself like this too – Iraq never attacked “us”, so we have no quarrel with Iraq. So genocide cannot be any of our business.

Despite the warning, when choosing his quotes, David has persisted in blindly choosing authoritative surface over substance.

Catherine M. Harding has already dealt with the bogus Julius Caesar quotation. “Rights of the citizenry”? Just a hint of anachronism. The history website Catherine suggests explains the urban legend nicely.

The Albert Einstein quote is another major clanger. I actually thought that David was joking when I read it, but I then realized that he was being serious – David saw the surface and liked it, and never asked any more questions.

I have tried to do David’s groundwork for him, in seeking the precise date and background details of the quote; but no Internet site bothers with such things.

Nevertheless, I’m prepared to believe Einstein said it, since he was, indeed, a “pacifist”. However, the citation was almost certainly made by Einstein before World War Two; ie while he was living in Europe.

He was reacting to the sight of Nazis marching up and down the streets in Germany.

Despite his pacifist tendencies – and Gandhi’s advice for Jews to grin and bear it – Einstein soon found the threat of Nazism unbearable, and emigrated to the United States.

His first-hand experience of Nazism evidently jolted some sense into him: unlike Gandhi, he comprehended the threat that totalitarianism posed.

This is why in August 1939, one month before the start of World War Two, Einstein wrote a letter to President Roosevelt urging him to build an atomic bomb as soon as possible, because the Nazis were already onto the idea, and if the Nazis got one first, it would be disastrous.

The parallel with Saddam Hussein is strong.

Unlike Makinson, Einstein comprehended the reality.

David Makinson desperately wanted a surface of authority, but in stealing one, he neglects to take into account the most important decisions of Einstein’s life, and how they affected his thinking. Einstein’s letter is viewable at anl .

The Hitler and Goering citations are probably correctly quoted, but they are irrelevant. Even Makinson agrees that war can sometimes be necessary.

He has explicitly stated that he would consider Saddam Hussein an enemy under certain circumstances; however, this set of circumstances is so narrow – the transgressions so absolutely verifiable – that – as I argued in Saddam Hussein’s Heart of Darkness – Saddam Hussein would have to make an extremely stupid mistake to be caught. (Or he would have to be allowed to fulfil his manifest ambition, which would be catastrophic.)

As I explained in “Heart of Darkness” with regards to the fallacy in David Ritter’s thinking (he is a former UNSCOM employee), Makinson’s empiricist criterion gives an opportunity for ambitious and tenacious liars to deceive the world community on weapons of mass destruction by erecting plausible facades.

The most important argument I want to make in this Webdiary piece is that David’s sort of anti-real “hope” entails corruption (intellectual and moral) because of its obsession with surfaces, leading to either history being deliberately falsified, or to history simply being forgotten through negligence. After that, proper judgements can’t be made.

Virtually every one of David’s points are lacking in some way, because he has focussed on the surface, rather than using his brain to make the assertions solid. I just haven’t got the time now to go through them all one by one – although I could, if anybody requests it.

I stress that in David’s thoughts, I see a clear outline of a faith that erases the details of reality. It is a barrier that prevents him from comprehending the basic details of reality, as well as from expressing himself in an unambiguous way.

On October 2 in Loving Hitler, I wrote that “Despite the word [“naive”] 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.”

There comes a time when “we have a duty to inform ourselves”. Moreover, we formulate our view according to standards that we have somehow kept in our mind during the long slumber. These are intuitions that are left over from our previous journeys of understanding after we forgot the details. The intuitions are an echo of many trial and error processes, of facts learned, worldviews formed, then lost, because human memory is fallible.

Some of these standards, pertaining to checking sources, and forming an opinion as to the reliability of sources, were pointed out by Catherine M. Harding ( webdiaryDec13).

It’s quite possible that some tendency in one’s way of thinking prevents these standards from gelling adequately. The tendency might be a willed philosophy, or it might just be the way one’s brain is “wired” – one has never even realized that this tendency exists within oneself, so it can’t be changed. One has unconsciously developed it into a way of thinking – an unexamined one.

In any case, such journeys of understanding are undertaken more or less often. It’s like Sisyphus condemned to roll a boulder up a hill and come back down repeatedly, forever. While sitting in solitude at the top of the mountain, wistfully surveying the landscape below, he contemplates how some part of the landscape used to be familiar to him, but he hadn’t been there for years, and now only the outlines are familiar. But he knows how to get there once he returns to the bottom of the hill, and how to refamiliarize himself with it if he had to.

Compare that to somebody who never knew the landscape – or doesn’t even know what a landscape is. Sitting at the top of the mountain after undertaking the upward journey, he sees just clouds, unaware of any details below, unaware of how to go about surveying the territory at ground level even if his life depended on it.

In an essay on Russian film director, Valery Ogorodnikov, which seems to be apt here, I wrote the following:

“In Prishvin’s world, in contrast, a break with the past has occurred, since Stalin is no longer there. The villains – such as Stalin – are not a burden any more, for they have been forgiven and their real deeds, in order to heal the malformed soul, concealed behind a mask of jokes, and forgotten.

For if one already knows that one will avoid influences that deform the soul, one ought to forgive the villains immediately – and resolve to avoid unpleasant facts as soon as they come into the field of vision – thereby remaining undisturbed in the cloud of ignorant bliss. The landscape below is not a carpet woven from the stuff of history, whose details one could investigate if one really had to, but consists of a cloud, behind which the details of history have already been erased.

As true enemies do not exist anymore, one may safely let the “innocent” lambs, with wills as relentless as they are incorrigibly unable to recognize themselves, do whatever they please.

… As there are no true enemies anymore, the rebellious tendencies within are fundamentally senseless and futile; but, more importantly, they can only remain futile, because the act of rebellion cannot trigger a growth in knowledge: the nature of the problem cannot be recognised, all solutions have the same appearance, and all views over the landscape are featureless – the view, too, that might contain a way out – because the stuff of history, and its normative influence (which guides the intuition when words are lacking), have been erased.

Inexpressible and unknowable, these rebellious tendencies can only then remain instances of “personal problems” (as Andrei Tarkovsky once said); they must therefore only be short-term, if they exist at all, or they metamorphose forever into nefarious creatures with a variety of faces, who never find a way out of their predicament. These creatures of the imagination are slaves of ignorance, they can only believe the surfaces of all the things that are presented to them. Albert Camus would have been able to rebel neither against Russian nihilism, nor the nihilism of Nietzsche, if he had not had a deep feeling for history.

Developer heaven on hold, for now


Austinmer: A headland worth saving

Hi. Since I started writing on overdevelopment in NSW, I’ve been inundated with emails from readers detailing the hot developments in their seats, and the community protests to stop or modify them. We’re hoping to report on some of these early next year in the lead-up to the election, so send me your nominations!

Today, Tim Vollmer, a journalism student at Sydney’s University of Technology, reports on a controversial coastal development in Austinmer, south of Sydney near Wollongong. Wollongong voters spat the dummy at State and local Labor vandalism by recently electing a Green as their MP in Cunningham. It looks like they’re getting a lot of bang for their vote – at least until the election. Here’s Tim’s report.


Headlands Hotel – Austinmer

by Tim Vollmer

A group of locals have just delayed a controversial coastal development proposal in the latest environmental skirmish around Wollongong.

The past year has seen swinging council opinions and wholesale indecision on the 56 apartment, three-story complex, however Wollongong City Council finally made a stand by demanding a complete redesign of the structure during the December 16 council meeting.

Council recognised that the applicant, Canyork Pty Ltd, who had already begun proceedings in the Land and Environment Court, would likely continue this action, but community demands – and political pressure from both the state member and the Minister for Planning – appeared to win.

While the development itself seems minor in nature, it exemplifies a rebirth of community political involvement – and demonstrates the growing level of discontent with ALP representation on the issue.

While the land is zoned 6(c) tourism in the Local Environmental Plan (LEP), meaning no residential developments, the developers used Clause 38A to use the zoning from 50m away across the road: residential. The resulting development contained 24 residential units, and the potential for the 32 serviced apartments to be converted at a later time to residential.

And while this area is low density residential, the proposed residential was medium density, verging on high density, apartments.

Honorary Secretary of the Headlands Community Action Group (HCAG) Ian Rodden described the area as “one of the most scenic headlands in NSW”, adding that Austinmer, the neighbouring beach, won the Cleanest Beach in NSW award in March.

“We want a better design on such a critical coastal headland,” he said. “We didn’t want a complete refusal. We want a nice development on that site, but not what was proposed. The proposal was 3.5 times the volume of existing building.”

Residents are also relieved that the council didn’t set a precedent by allowing something that violates the Coastal Councils guidelines.

Resident Steve Allan expressed community concerns arising from the charettes (public meetings) that the developers refused to rectify:

* that the development’s footprint and height should be the same as the existing structure (the proposal more than doubled these);

* that it protect the site’s history of use, specifically, the hotel which has been part of the area for 50 years.

However, the decision now rests with the Land and Environment Court (LEC). “We thought that if council did oppose it, PlanningNSW (the State planning department) and the Coastal Council (a State government advisory body) might hold enough weight in the Land and Environment Court to stop it,” Allan said.

Pressure on council came from State MP for Keira David Campbell, with all local councillors received a letter requesting they reject the development application.

“David Campbell had lobbied the councillors. Obviously after the Greens win in Cunningham he didn’t wish to lose green support,” said Rodden.

The Minister for Planning, Andrew Refshauge, is also believed to have requested council to reject the proposal.

The spokesperson for Minister for Planning, Dan Blyde said: “It is quite proper and normal for a Minister, if he has concerns about an issue, to speak to the council itself and indicate his concerns. The minister has expressed his concerns that any developments in the coastal zone must be appropriate.”

However, while the minister can “call in” any development he deems inappropriate, he ;left it instead to the councillors – risking the Development Applications’s (DA’s) approval – perhaps to deflect any blame from either side.

The major concern for Councillor Christian was the size and bulk of the development. “The community is sick of the development,” she said. “Members of the community are increasingly becoming activists. They are using email and the internet to organise.”

Council resolved to demand a complete redesign “in accordance with the advice of PlanningNSW”, whose demands closely mirrored those of community members: the bulk, height and footprint, as well as the sustainability of residential on this headland.

Interestingly, council also voted to change clause 38A in the WCC LEP which Canyork had used to propose the residential element. Clr Martin said that “Wollongong City Council has been discussing the closure of that clause for 3-4 years.”

PlanningNSW was far less willing to discuss the proposal, given the case is due to go before the LEC during February. However, an employee confirmed that PlanningNSW “have objected to the development. The building is to big and bulky; the footprint is too large; it is too high; and the scale overpowers the site.”

Paul Miller spoke to a community mediation meeting on behalf of Canyork Pty Ltd recently, and argued that Canyork had been willing to change the plans to appease the local residents, including the cutback of residential apartments to 30% of the development. However, given the current refusal to redesign the development in line with council demands, and their insistence on going through the LEC, their desire to abide by all demands appears minimal.

Any major redesign that results in a new DA will need to abide by the 1997 NSW Coastal Council Policy. The Coastal Council is a state advisory body regarding coastal development. The Coastal Policy states that “any developments on headlands already developed should be strictly limited to height and scale no greater than existing buildings and will require an environmental assessment, including an assessment of visual impact from adjoining beaches”.

However, this policy – binding in much of the state – lacks weight in Wollongong, because the Carr government excluded council areas from Newcastle to Shell Harbour from it.

Coastal Council Chair Professor Thom said that “had this Local Government Area been under the Coastal Policy when the Development Application came in, we could have taken a stronger position”.

“However, all I could do was inform Wollongong City Council and PlanningNSW that this is the policy and that they should work within the spirit of it.”

In June 2001 NSW Premier Bob Carr announced the Coastal Protection Package, which stated that Wollongong would now come under the Coastal Policy. This was long before the development proposal was placed with council – but the Policy won’t be binding until after February 7.

The protracted battle of the headland was the result the initial developer-friendly ALP decisions of 1997, this protracted battle has occurred, and the community may still result lose it to a development the community, council, and the state all oppose if the LEC backs the developer.

The insanity of excluding these councils from the environmental protection of the Policy is evident, especially in light of the much more publicised Sandon Point development. There a 20 stage development of more than 1200 dwellings threatens to destroy an area of Indigenous and European heritage, as well as coastal floodplains which house endangered species and rare migratory birds.

With that development being a key catalyst to the Greens’ Cunningham win, Local Greens Convenor Ian Miles is confident the Greens candidate for Keira, local resident Michael Sergent can win the seat.

“All major elements of the ALP have failed to represent the people of the area,” Miles said. “State government is where a lot of damage is being done to this area through overdevelopment, because Carr supports development.”

The Greens not only expect a similar vote to that which occurred in the Cunningham byelection, but they believe there is the opportunity to grab much more of the vote.

“We expect to get somewhere between 25 and 30 percent of the primary vote. We are a good chance of winning. It’s a very real chance,” he said.

David Campbell is beginning to feel the pinch, and while denying any fear of a Green win, several aggressive statements regarding “populist independents” and allegations that HCAG is being controlled by the Greens for political purposes show a level of tension in the electorate of Keira which could produce another Cunningham-style upset.

Pollie Waffle awards, 2002

Pollie Waffle awards, 2002

by Polly Bush

Jack Robertson rightly gave the ‘Most Memorable Person of the Year’ award to the ‘Ordinary Australian’ (webdiaryDec13). Lurking behind this “Most Memorable, Forgettable, Miserable Un-person of the Shithouse Year” is one of our esteemed representatives, someone out there, no doubt also like “The Man Who Wasn’t There”, who might just also deserve a gong.

The Pollie Waffle Awards celebrate the drone and the dribble, the babble and the drivel, and the pure porkies our nation’s finest have serenaded us ordinary, extraordinary and not-so-ordinary folk with during 2002.

[drum roll]

The Most Visually Inspiring Award for 2002 goes to … Employment Minister Tony Abbott, for describing the pickle of being mates with both Bill “Woohoo” Heffernan and Justice Michael Kirby. Abbott left some of us praying for heavy rains and a mass mudslide, when he said:

“As a friend of both those gentlemen, I have to say that I find myself in the indelicate position of having a foot planted firmly on either side of a barbed wire fence.”

Tony Abbott also picked up the Workplace Exploitation and Wife-Basher Award for this one:

“If we’re honest, most of us would accept that a bad boss is a little bit like a bad father or a bad husband. Not withstanding all his or her faults, you find that he tends to do more good than harm. He might be a bad boss but at least he’s employing someone while he is in fact a boss.”

For these prizes, Tony Abbott wins copies of Natalie Imbruglia’s ‘Torn’ and Britney Spears ‘Hit me baby one more time’. Not exactly new releases, but at least moving beyond the 1950s.

Abbott’s not the only multi-award-winning Pollie Waffle recipient of 2002. His arch-nemesis Mark Latham is also the winner of two awards this year, although it could have easily been several more. For his comments on former Liberal Party president Tony Staley, who, after a car accident is subject to using crutches, Mark Latham wins the Disability Discrimination Award:

“That deformed character Tony Staley … He’s deformed in his views and actions because he’s in the garbage bin of Australian politics.”

Apart from Latham looking like a goose on national television by Chris Pyne of all people (who, during this debate on the ABC’s Lateline, said, “I don’t know how you can sit there and not laugh at yourself”), he wins a mystery tour cab ride around the streets of Sydney. If he fails to claim his mystery tour, Latham wins the prize of being publicly flogged.

Latham also wins the Bring Back the Battlers through Filthy Language Award for his comments describing John Howard after his visit to the United States. No doubt Latham charmed The Bulletin’s Maxine McKew over lunch when he said:

“Howard is an arse-licker. He went over there, kissed some bums, and got patted on the head.”

For this prize Latham wins some barbed wire, courtesy of Tony Abbott.

The 2002 Whoops! Wrong Party Award goes to … former Tasmanian Liberal leader Bob-turn-the-other-Cheek, who forgot which party he was leading during the 2002 Tasmanian Election campaign, when he declared at a business lunch at Wrest Point Casino: “On July 20, we aim to be the first state back in Labor hands.”

Cheek, who failed to win his seat in the election, wins a constipated look from John Howard, who managed to squeeze out such a painful expression from the audience when he made the comment.

Finance Minister Nick Minchin wins a gong for Gross Hypocrisy and Best Spin on Not Coughing Up the Dough for saying paid maternity “reeks” of “middle class welfare” and “means non-working mothers are being discriminated against”.

For this prize Minchin wins a lunch with Pru Goward, not to be confused with last year’s Wooldridge/Phelps lunch prize.

The prize for Mental Health Insensitivity goes to … Senator Helen Coonan, who, on encouraging the states to apply limits on psychiatric harm claims, said: “People who might be just malingering, if you like, or just have an anxiety condition or depression, that they really do need to get over it and get back to work.”

Coonan’s prize, which she can use at any residence of her choosing, is a week’s worth of Jerry Springer tapes, job application rejections, and a stint engaging in some mindless work for the dole style activity. As she’s the best drag queen lookalike in parliament since Pauline Hanson, she may also receive a float in next year’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

The prize for the Most Entertaining Moment During the Victorian Election Campaign (which in itself wins a gong for putting the whole of Victoria asleep) goes to … Labor candidate Janice Munt, who took on the Liberals’ Geoff Leigh. Munt came up with a very clever campaign badge which read: “I donated to Janice Munt because the other guy is a —-.”

Equally clever was Munt’s defence of the tactic, when she said, “Yes, I think Geoff Leigh is a runt”. Munt receives the prize of the seat of Mordialloc, effective immediately.

The Hearing Impaired Award for 2002 goes to … Victorian Opposition leader Robert Doyle, who clearly needs someone to pump up the volume. On knifing Denis Napthine to become leader in August (the Doyley replacing the Nappy), Doyle said, “From today, hold on to your hats” (but for chrissake, don’t pull them over your ears).

During the televised election debate in early November, the man who Jeff Kennett said “is not leadership material now and … certainly not leadership material in the future”, spoke of the pain and suffering of life since the messiah went to heaven:

“Opposition is a hard lesson. We’ve had to go out and listen to people and to learn from what they have said to us and we have done that, we have done the hard yards.”

Oh the agony. On election night, following a disastrous result for the Liberals, Doyle forgot the years of hard listening and three months of holding onto hats when he said: “My pledge is that we will start working from now, because that’s what we need to do … the job starts from tonight. I give you 100 per cent of me to start that work from now”.

Perhaps the hearing aid was just kicking into gear, when two days later, he told the ABC’s AM program: “It wasn’t long after the polls closed that we got a very, very clear message from the electorate and we will be listening to that message and we’ll be acting on it.”

Indeed. On announcing his depleted new look opposition team last week, and in the wake of an eight per cent swing to the Greens Party, Doyle’s decided to give Environment and Water the flick, removing the portfolios from shadow cabinet. Who needs ’em anyway. Naturally Robert Doyle’s prize is a new hearing aid.

The Speaking for Myself Again Award for 2002, goes to … former Victorian Shadow Treasurer Robert Dean. The bloke who was supposed to be saving us from economic chaos had varying reasons for why he failed to fill out a change of address card and enrol on the electoral roll … including unsuccessful IVF attempts and a bitter pre-selection battle. Crying foul, he had this parting shot at the media:

“I think the press have to look pretty closely at themselves – the way they have been knocking on my door, ringing – 6 o’clock in the morning, pounding on my front door. They’ve been leaving cigarette butts all around the front of my place (… Margo?). They’ve stolen one of my statues.”

For this prize, Robert Dean wins a garden gnome, who, by no coincidence slightly resembles Gareth Evans.

Still on the Victorian election, the prize for 2002 Fashion Victim goes to … Member for Melbourne (just!) Bronwyn Pike, who said of the Greens who almost picked up her seat:

“The Greens are a brand name and we live in a culture of branding. Kids, when they’re 12, like Nike, when it’s a bit older, it’s Mambo. Somehow to be young and with it is to be Green. “People have to remember that the Greens are a political party.” Crikey.

For the Fashion Victim Prize, the Member for Melbourne gets the easy-peasy portfolio of health, just in case she forgot there was a death wish out there for her.

Keeping with the theme of patronizing political comments, The Most Patronising Parental Comment Award this year goes to … Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock (resounding applause), remarking on his daughter Kirsty’s opposing stance on mandatory detention. Ruddock said: “I’m proud of the fact that she does care.”

For this, Philip wins an overnight stay on the tropical shithole Nauru. And he can take Julia Gillard along for the ride too.

Moving along, The Just Plain Funny Award for 2002 goes to … former Democrats leader Natasha Stott Despoja, who told The 7:30 Report, just a fortnight before resigning: “I think we’ve demonstrated, particularly in the last week, that we can be a functioning, workable unit. In fact, we can be a united group.”

The former Democrats leader wins a special prize from the Sydney Morning Herald’s Alan Ramsey, who blessed her with, “Kournikova and Stott Despoja are who they are … Each is a beguiling clothes horse with minimum talent in what they do for a living”.

Now to a serious matter – the war on terror. Australians have been warned to remain alert in these uncertain times, and thank christ for the members of the Howard Government, because without them, who knows how we would keep up our vigilant terrorist neighbourhood watches. The How to Detect a Bomb Award goes to … Justice Minister Chris Ellison, who provided these wise words of wisdom should anyone spot someone acting suspiciously:

“Well you can always make inquiries and say, ‘excuse me, are you doing something untoward there?’ or ‘you’ve left your bag, can you take that with you?’ I mean that’s the sort of thing that you can have with community awareness.”

For this, Chris wins a good slapping from his predecessor, Senator Amanda Vanstone.

Also on this serious note, is the potentially pending action of Australian troops in Iraq. The You’re Joking! Award for 2002 goes to … the one and only, Prime Minister John Howard, when he told ABC Melbourne’s Jon Faine:

“The other point I make is that in the end I have to take a decision that I think is in the best interests of Australia, and that is not a decision that can vary from day to day according to the volume of talkback callers.”

The Prize for this award is a second chance draw to keep the dream alive, during a good chat with another John.

Which leads to the Dog Whistle Award. And the winner is … John Howard (again!) for his initial reaction to Fred Nile’s call to ban the chador: “I don’t have a clear response to what Fred has put. I mean, I like Fred and I don’t always agree with him, but you know Fred speaks for the views of a lot of people.”

For this prize, all is forgiven.

And finally, the Most Honest Political Comment of 2002 Prize … [drums] … and the winner is:

Carmen Lawrence, who said, “John Howard, as I say, is the most deeply ordinary person that I’ve ever confronted in Australian politics”.

For this, Lawrence cements a cult following, a seat on the back bench, isolation from almost everybody in the Labor Party, and encouragement towards retirement.

The most deeply ordinary person Carmen Lawrence ever confronted in Australian politics also wins a special prize … representing Jack Robertson’s ‘Ordinary Australian’ as “The Most Memorable, Forgettable, Miserable Un-person of the Shithouse Year of 2002”.

This article was first published in ‘Webdiarist awards, 2002’, webdiary19Dec2002.

Carmen’s fans

Hi. I’m pleased to announce that Carmen Lawrence will write a fortnightly column for Webdiary next year.

She’ll join John Wojdylo and Harry Heidelberg as regular columnists. Each will be linked from the right-hand column of Webdiary, and their columns will be archived. I’ll let you know on the main Webdiary page when I publish a column.

After her resignation, I asked Carmen for a piece on public reaction.


What’s really going on

by Carmen Lawrence

My resignation from the frontbench of the Federal Labor Party a couple of weeks ago released a wave of pent up anger and anguish from many Labor members and supporters. Paradoxically, perhaps, many of them also found renewed hope that the ALP could again represent their vision of Australia, “that our once great Labor Party can see its way clear to return to its grassroots and.move forward to create a country that extends a hand to the oppressed people of this world”; that it represented “a chance for Labor to be a real Opposition.”

A common sentiment was that it gave people heart. As a 72-year-old woman from Launceston told me, that as a life-long Labor voter, she had “never been so disillusioned as at these times and at the time of the last election. Your actions and words have given me new hope.”

This response, one of approximately 6000 faxes, e-mails, phone calls and letters, is typical:

“You are saying exactly what many ordinary members of the party have been saying for a long time now. It is absolutely clear that the party has got itself into the car salesman mode. You no doubt know what I mean, it’s about closing the deal ‘What do I have to say to get you to vote for me?'”

Another long-time Labor supporter complained that our “policies are too close to Howard’s and (we are) falling into the trap that Howard has set – ie Howard dictates the agenda and issues. This way Labor will be seen to play catch up and has no policies and direction of its own.”

Norm from Dapto put it even more bluntly:

“Labor’s agreeing with Howard on so many things is a disaster. Apart from the human values involved, no opposition worth its salt should be agreeing so much. They are trying to play on Howard’s pitch by his rules and he has the game sewn up.”

Others included papers and detailed analyses of the current state of the Party and how it has influenced the development of the refugee policy. For example, a former natural resource manager and planner wrote:

“I learnt early that there were three basic steps in planning – philosophy, principle, practice. Labor has fallen into the common trap of deciding out of logical order a practice it proposed to implement to achieve its goal before developing a ‘policy’ inevitably devoid of philosophy and principle. In following this course it has developed a strategy, not a policy. A recognised planner/author called this process ‘solutioneering’.”

Many argued strongly that the Labor Party needed to be clearer about its values and to stick to them, instead of compromising every time.

As one long term member of the ALP put it:

“The Labor Party, in fact any political party, does have a responsibility far beyond reflecting populist sentiment. Political activism is about building, and implementing a vision. In the past, the party has had a resilient and open approach that enabled political vision to be built on the input of people concerned over equality, redistribution of resources, open debate and open decision making processes. Now, it appears, the first goal is to attain power, and political goals are built according to how they facilitate the achievement of that goal. This necessarily limits debate and visioning to those directly involved in strategy, excluding the majority from the thinking process, and necessarily alienating them from the final positions established, and alienating the political leaders from the passions and concerns of the people in the party.”

Others urged the Party to speak clearly for the oppressed and “those without a voice” – including the refugees who ask for our help. A good number urged me – and others with similar views – not to stop talking because they are “afraid for the country we have become”.

Some drew attention to the deficiencies in the modern political system and the reasons why many people felt so disenfranchised; that politicians generally are driven by “a concern for vote buying by deception rather than defining and advancing workable social programs”.

Many responded to what they regarded as the policy failures over the treatment of asylum seekers, others to the broader issues of the current state and direction of the ALP. A lot agonised over the damage that the Howard Government is inflecting on our society and on our place in the world. The extract below it typical.

“I’m just writing you to let you know that you speak for many, many people, who have until now felt totally disenfranchised. Like me, many of my friends and relatives would never vote for the Right, but have been loathe to support the Labor Party while it maintains a refugee policy which seems to be based on 19th-century xenophobia and 21st-century poll-ophobia.”

Despite the claims that these sentiments are confined to the inner city areas of Sydney and Melbourne, messages of encouragement came from all around the country from the cities and the bush, from men and women, from young and old. Some of those who wrote were professionals accustomed to expressing their views; others clearly struggled to express accurately why they were so worried, often with stunning effect.

Union officials and ALP Branch and Electorate Council officers joined former Labor Ministers, their families and staffers in calling for a change of direction. The moderate and conciliatory tones of ministers, priests and nuns who wrote in support of more compassionate and humane policies arrived simultaneously with seditious e-mails from students burning up virtual space with their indignation that we could even begin to contemplate engaging in a bloodbath in Iraq.

Included in list of those who made contact were former immigration department and ACM employees and a number of professionals who had worked at Woomera and Curtin. One said he saw detainees in Woomera “harassed and abused and their personalities crushed”. He had personally observed many cases of mistreatment, self-harm and suicide and reminded me that witnessing such abuse can also cause psychological damage to many of those who have worked in these dehumanising places.

A gentleman from Cooma expressed the view that:

“The way we are currently treating asylum seekers is a disgrace, as attested to in the human rights report released today and in previous UN criticism. We are destroying our image in the world as ‘fair minded’. We are also creating future potential enemies.”

On the same issue, a former Labor staffer observed that “what I don’t think has been understood by the ALP is how it has let down, not only its rank and file members, but other Australians”. She said she had been struck by “the feeling of uneasiness and despair in the wider Australian community” and the fact that many people “felt dispossessed, or outraged” since the Tampa incident.

In longhand, a man from Tamworth wrote that:

“I was a dyed in the wool believer that they were ‘queue jumpers’, but all can’t be, because as I thought it through, if our town was suddenly attacked, burnt, ravaged etc like some of those place, I would panic and try to get my family to safety or anywhere out of the line of fire.”

Some lamented the “lost opportunities” which came with the community euphoria and good will generated by the Olympic Games and the Reconciliation marches. As one put it, “opportunities lost because of a Prime Minister who not only has no capacity for imagination but is actively destructive of our ‘common wealth”.

“His only interest is the maintenance of his own power. He has no understanding of our history.”

Two women friends from a block of flats in Clifton Hill in Victoria wrote jointly to say:

“Recent years have displayed the most profoundly inhuman, selfish, stupid and utterly destructive policies in living memory, whether it be concerning asylum seekers, public education, public health and housing, Aboriginal affairs or the horrifying warmongering over Iraq. We believe Australia stands at the most critically dangerous point in its history.”

Some wept for the damage being done to our society. A ‘first generation immigrant’ told me that she was “very disturbed at what is happening to our Muslim citizens – I am not a Muslim, but because of my brown skin, I know what it is like to be labelled as ‘other’.” In her impassioned pleas for the adopted country she loves, she expressed fear that Australia “is being led by unenlightened men down a very dark road which seems to be only creating greater factionalism and discord”.

Opposition to a possible attack on Iraq was frequently mentioned, stirring people to passionate objection. A couple from Evans Head in NSW argued that “such a war would be as futile and ineffectual as the Vietnam war and would cause even greater numbers of innocent civilian casualties”. Many were alarmed that Labor had not distanced itself sufficiently from a possible U.S. pre-emptive strike and many wrote disparagingly of the “Deputy Sheriff” approach of the Howard government.

While some sections of the media took the opportunity to give me a wallop over my resignation, only a handful of their fellow citizens communicated similarly hostile reactions to me. Most of those who made contact were more interested in solving our nation’s problems and looking hopefully for signs that their political representatives understood the perilous state of politics in this country.

As one correspondent begged us to understand:

“Australia is in a unique position to capitalise on its many strengths, but don’t let its myopia and insecurity stop it from unleashing its potential as a truly great, compassionate, peace-loving nation.”

To which I can only say, “hear, hear.”

Howard’s strip-search for patriots

By popular demand, here is the text of Bob Brown’s speech to the Senate on the ASIO bill last Friday, the one Alan Ramsey quoted from in his Saturday column. I also publish the speech of former Labor defence minister Robert Ray, in my view the best orator in the Parliament, who heard the evidence on the ASIO bill as a member of the Parliamentary ASIO committee.

Back in May, in Take ’em on Beazley (webdiaryMay2), I wrote about Howard’s first, horrendous AISO bill in a story on the Sydney hearings of the ASIO committee. I began:

“I hope Labor has the courage to tell the government to get stuffed on its utterly sinister laws and to nut out an effective, decent solution with other Australians of goodwill.”

As it turned out, the entire committee – ALP, Liberal and National Party – was appalled by Howard’s blueprint. For the committee report, see ASIO: Right beats might again! (webdiaryJune5).

Many still are, but the Howard-led new political correctness crushes them as much as anyone else. Is the ALP’s defiance the last gasp of resistance to the dark new Australia fashioned by Howard, or the beginning of the end of his cultural and political hegemony?


Senator Bob Brown

When the leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Hill, said that the Labor Party’s amendments – and by imputation the crossbench support for the amendments – would damn the safety of Australians, he reached a new low in the debate.

What it uncovered coming from the Prime Ministers office was the new political correctness which says, ‘If you do not agree with the Prime Minister of this country, you are in some way on the side of those who are anti-Australian or who would create terror in this country’.

That is no way to facilitate a debate in a great parliament like this. There is no doubt that this is a very complex and difficult piece of legislation, which demands resolution today. Therefore, it demands that both sides listen to each other and seek the best outcome in this debate that is possible.

We have had the leader saying that he has been horrified by the de facto government that the Labor Party presents itself to be. In fact, what he has been saying is that this parliament does not have a role as a check on the government, or in improving legislation coming from the executive of Prime Minister Howard.

There is this idea that anything the Prime Minister puts forward, in these increasingly tense and dangerous days, cannot be countermanded even by the elected parliament of Australia. The Prime Minister stands aside and above that in his mind. That is a very dangerous mistake in thinking.

This is a collectively represented parliament elected by the people of this country. The office of Prime Minister was elected by his party, not by the people of this country, and it is the parliament which is supreme.

When legislation is brought into the parliament by the executive – by a minister – and the parliament determines that there should be amendments to it, the government should listen. If the point of view of the government and the Prime Minister is that they will not brook improvement through the workings of the Senate and the parliament, it is democracy itself which is being questioned.

The Greens have said that we oppose this draconian legislation. We and the Democrats have nevertheless supported the amendments that the Labor Party has put forward and supported the passage of the legislation so that it can go back to the House of Representatives for consideration.

That is proper process. The Labor Party say they have come up with a tough, compulsory, coercive questioning regime for ASIO to deal with terrorism. Whatever else the government might say, that regime gives ASIO unprecedented powers to take people off the streets and question them in the first instance without a legal representative and without other people knowing where they are, effectively in secret and with their usual rights taken away.

These are not people suspected of terrorism, knowledge of terrorism or potential involvement in terrorism; these are innocents who ASIO suspects may have some information. This is indeed, as Senator Faulkner (ALP Senate leader) has said, a tough, compulsory, coercive questioning regime.

The government say that this legislation is needed; nevertheless, because the Prime Minister wants to appear to be above the parliament in these dangerous days, the government and the Prime Minister will reject it.

They would leave ASIO with nothing rather than accept the Labor ‘moderate’ proposition, as I heard the leader describe. Be that on Prime Minister Howard’s head if the result of this is nothing. It is incumbent on the Prime Minister, if he believes that greater powers must be given to the surveillance agency ASIO – to accept what the negotiations between the Labor Party and the government have produced.

I am talking about bringing this out from the Prime Minister’s realm of ownership of democracy in this country and having him accept that this parliament is working in the national interest.

How dare he or his ministers say that the workings of this chamber would damn the safety of Australians! How dare he or his ministers say that about representatives in this place! That is the new political correctness: trying to silence critics and constructive debate. The Prime Minister is now in the dock for that.

I have watched in this chamber for 18 months as the Labor Party has sided with the government on the Tampa incident, on legislation to bring in the Army against peaceful protesters before the Olympics, and on a series of laws which have eaten into traditional civil liberties and political rights in this country. But we are seeing something different here today. The Labor Party has said: We are going to stand for something different. We recognise that there is a difficult decision to make between our political rights and our democracy on the one hand and the threat of terrorism on the other.

The Prime Minister and the government feel that they cannot accept this situation where, for once, the opposition is acting as an opposition. They will not accept it. Well, they are going to have to accept that this is a democracy where the parliament ultimately makes the decision.

If the Prime Minister walks away from that, be it on his head. It is his responsibility if, where he believes there must be strong laws, he opts instead for no laws. That is the Prime Minister’s responsibility, and he has to recognise that.

If this legislation fails today – I am talking about the democratic process here – there will be a void of new legislation for months to come. The Prime Minister will be out there, today and tomorrow, saying it is the fault of the Labor Party, the Democrats and the Greens.

But he cannot maintain that. It will be on the Prime Ministers shoulders; and the test is on here. Does he want the stronger laws which the Labor party are now offering to him for ASIO to handle this situation – which, by the way, is a situation much closer to that which the Greens maintain is the better outcome – or will he opt for none at all?

My submission is that the Prime Minister has had a little too long being dictatorial from the executive, because the Labor Party have let him.

Today, they have become an opposition again. The Prime Minister and the government have to understand that. From where I sit, if there is a zero outcome here today, it is not on Mr Crean’s head. It is not on the opposition’s head.

It is because of an intransigent Prime Minister who has lost sight of the democratic process.


Senator Robert Ray

Senator Ian Campbell (Lib, Western Australia) read into the record what are basically the views of the Attorney-General’s office in regard to these matters. He did not actually address the specific clauses or issues under discussion here. He talked in generalities, as did Senator Hill. Rather than getting an analysis of where the differences lie and where the solutions may lie, we simply got polemics.

… You would have to be silly to say that the bill in its current form, whether it is adopted or rejected, has not changed since the original bill. My point was that the government argued for that original bill, with all its faults, with the same passion that they have argued with tonight – except that, on the way through, they have dumped 10 or 12 of those principles with no passion at all.

Those principles do not exist any more. There is no guilt for coming up with such cryptofacist nonsense as appeared in the first bill. That is just a blank in history. That is just thrown overboard.

What of your proposal to strip-search 10-year-old girls? Oh, that doesn’t exist anymore. Well move the argument on. The same passion with which they defend some of the more extreme measures in this bill will equally be dropped off at some stage in the future. The fact is that this government has shown that what is an immutable principle one moment can be jettisoned the next.

It is true to say that commitment to civil liberties is not the preserve of any one person or any side in this chamber; it is shared across the chamber. There is no question about that. There might be differences of opinion as to how civil liberties apply and when they should be suspended in specific circumstances, but there is a commitment to civil liberties generally across this chamber. That has to be conceded.

But the Liberal Party will never concede that there is also a shared view of patriotism across this chamber.

The Liberal Party seek to position themselves as the only patriots in this chamber. It is a despicable attitude that belittles anyone else in this chamber who is critical or who does not agree with them, as being unpatriotic, as putting the country at risk, as being soft on terrorism.

These are the sorts of words of war used by Liberals in trying to establish their way on this particular legislation. It is a despicable tactic. I reject it; I know all my colleagues reject it, and I get infuriated when I hear, time and time again, these people opposite assuming for themselves a patriotism that no-one else can share. It is simply not the fact.

The fact is that I do not believe we have got to the specifics. One indication is Senator Ian Campbell’s statement from earlier. He says the ALP has rejected security-cleared lawyers. Why don’t you actually read the bill? In certain circumstances, we approve of the use of security-cleared lawyers. In an urgent situation, which would prevent a person from using their own lawyer of choice, or if their own lawyer of choice is rejected by ASIO, then the security-cleared lawyers come in. So the statement Senator Campbell made tonight is simply not true.

We would prefer a regime where you could have a lawyer of your own choice, but we put two provisos on that. Firstly, if that person is a security risk, they cannot have them. Secondly, we put in a very tight provision to say that, if a lawyer representing one of these people who is detained for a questioning regime in fact discloses that, there are very heavy secrecy penalties that apply. That covers that off. It covers off the original objection of trying to isolate these people so that the message does not get back to any terrorist groups, or any people that might have knowledge of such, that they are under suspicion.

Senator Campbell says – and so does Senator Hill – that, by not agreeing with the government, in some way we strange individuals, we isolates on this side, are putting the community at risk. This is a massive criticism of President George W. Bush, Prime Minister Chretien, Prime Minister Clark and Prime Minister Blair. Guess what? I have named the four like-minded countries with which we share a very common democratic heritage and a security relationship in the intelligence field that goes back to the end of the Second World War. The club has been in existence and has operated profitably to all our advantage for the past 57 years.

Not one of these other four countries has adopted a regime identical to this. There are some similarities, yes. But with regard to the more extreme parts of the bill in terms of being able to detain people – if it went through in its original, unmodified form according to the government’s wish – none of these other four countries have adopted legislation so draconian.

Are we missing something here? Has Mr Blair suddenly gone soft on terrorism? Has President Bush gone soft on terrorism? Has Prime Minister Chretien in Canada suddenly gone soft on terrorism? I think not. They look for alternative ways of dealing with it. President Bush has brought in legislation that deals with aliens, those who are not US citizens. Even that is not as tough as parts of this particular regime.

So we have a situation where we are accused of being unpatriotic, of being soft on terrorism, of not backing up the government in times of crisis, but where none of these four other comparable countries has gone as far as this particular government has.

You have to ask yourself why. The answer to why they have not is that each of these countries has sought a balance between combating terrorism and maintaining a fundamental dedication to civil liberties in their own country – something that those opposite seem willing to sacrifice at the drop of a hat.

The government claims that it has moved on two issues. Exactly six hours ago these two issues, again, were immutable principles. We were told that the sunset clause was absolutely abhorrent to this type of legislation. Now, at 9 oclock, Senator Campbell comes and tells us, ‘Yes, well, we didn’t really mean that. You can have a sunset clause.’ Oh, really? What has changed in that six hours?

But even more amazing is the government’s change of attitude in one of the silliest arguments we have ever had, and that is, over who constitutes a prescribed authority. I do not think it is any secret that we indicated that, if we thought for a moment that the notion of a prescribed authority was in danger constitutionally of voiding the bill, we would jettison it. We said that, and people in this chamber know that we have said it. Yet in fact this is where the government have moved in our direction and said, ‘Well, after all, maybe the Labor Party proposition is not so bad.’

They have read our legal opinion from Gavin Griffith QC and they know others exist. They argued then that they had a counter-opinion from Mr Orr QC. Where is it? We are still waiting. By all means let us have a letter from the Attorney-General purporting to say what Mr Orr said, but where is the legal opinion so we can clear this up once and for all?

Senator Ian Campbell: You don’t need to now.

Senator Ray: Oh, we don’t need to know! Then in that case you can come in here, Senator Campbell, and table that before we finish this debate,if it exists. Does it exist? Does Mr Orr’s opinion exist as a legal opinion signed off by him? I would like to see it because so far we have seen absolutely nothing. Of what was true six hours ago for the government – of what was an entrenched principle, like some of these other matters that they say are entrenched principles – they now say: ‘Oh, no, it didn’t really matter. We can certainly cede ground on those particular points.’

Then they come in and say, ‘The Labor Party are totally divided on this issue.’ I have attended all the caucus committees and meetings and most of the discussions on this and I have not in fact found much or any dissent on these particular issues.

We do know that every time there is a parliamentary committee inquiry into these things some government members on some issues have taken a different position to the government. If you are talking about disunity and those sorts of things, look to your own ranks – not that, of course, anyone on your side participated in the debate in the committee stage (the phase in Senate debate of a bill where the amendments are debated one by one).

… On offer here today are two possibilities apparently: the government adopting the modified bill – something they have rejected – or no bill at all. Why don’t they go back and ask ASIO what they want? Go back and consult with ASIO to see whether the bill as amended would give them sufficient powers to carry things out. The reason they will not is that politics will always prevail here.

The Prime Minister has just given a press conference in which he said that any terrorist incident from now on will be on the heads of the Labor Party because we have not passed their legislation.

We have never ever tried to say that any acts of terrorism that have occurred or that are likely to occur in Australia are the responsibility of Australian governments. We know it is a far more sophisticated argument than that. We know how difficult it is to track down intelligence on terrorist matters. We know that the government are reconfiguring the apparatus of the intelligence community to concentrate in these areas. We support them in that. We support them in their endeavours to expand both Sigint and its human resources so that they can attempt to detect future terrorist acts.

For the record, there are no guarantees that you can anticipate and abort any future terrorist activity either in this country or in the region. There are no guarantees because for every action there is a reaction; every terrorist group that understands what array of powers will be put against them will adopt policies so they cannot be detected and thwarted.

We must understand that. We cannot have an expectation that a government can necessarily prevent a future terrorist act. That is not possible. If the government are going to say of any terrorist act, Oh, well, that’s the Labor Party’s fault because they did not give us this piece of legislation, what errant nonsense that is.

It is political positioning at its absolute worst. It is putting the national interest behind political interest, and that does not advance the cause of this nation’s fight against terrorism one iota.

It is not as though we are suggesting to those on the other side that the culmination of this is that the bill as now amended is some inept pathetic piece of legislation. It is still stronger than any legislation carried in a comparable country. Have a look at the UK security legislation, with their history of the IRA, and compare that with the Labor Party amended legislation and you will find this is tougher.

There were big asks here. It is not easy to come into the parliament and say, after 101 years of federation, ‘We want you to give up the right of silence, especially when you are not a suspect’ – because, let us face it, most of this legislation will be directed against nonsuspects rather than suspects. There is a whole range of legislation that can be brought in to deal with potential suspects and terrorists. This legislation will concentrate mostly on nonsuspects who have relevant information which, if they are forced to divulge it, will protect Australian lives.

You can go to the legislation of Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US and you will not find a more stringent set of requirement than those that appear in this legislation. The reasons why the government will not come to accommodate our position on this are purely political, purely exploitative and purely a matter of positioning.

There is no question that up until about 10 days ago negotiations were under way. Then the old orders come out of YAG central around the corner – the Prime Minister’s office – and what do we get? The end of negotiations; the positioning; the backgrounding of The Age newspaper for that article that says, ‘This is nitpicking. We will go no further’.

In fact, we have come to the party and we have offered reasonable, well argued and well thought through amendments. For political reasons, this government has decided to reject those and has decided to create an atmosphere such that if anything goes wrong, at any time, in the intelligence community or with terrorism, it will be the Labor Party’s fault. What a despicable attitude!

War of words

Here are the speeches of John Howard and Kim Beazley last Friday, when the government refused to pass the amended ASIO bill and promised to resubmit its bottom line bill to the Senate in three months. Who will back down?

I’ve highlighted the sentences and phrases I reckon you’ll hear lots more of. Simon Crean’s speech is in Fighting for our trustwebdiaryDec13.


Mr John Howard

The purpose of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Legislation Amendment (Terrorism) Bill 2002 is to enable ASIO to question people in emergency terrorist situations in order to obtain the information we need to stop terrorist attacks before people are hurt or killed.

In the new environment in which we sadly find ourselves, preventing attacks by gathering information before the attacks occur has acquired a premium it never previously had. We have a new situation that requires a new solution. The reason that we are laying aside the bill that came from the Senate – we are not laying aside the government’s bill – is that it is in a completely unacceptable form.

Labor’s amendments will wreck the bill and render it inoperable. From the very beginning, Labor have not been serious about serious and necessary amendments to the ASIO legislation (sic). That is why they sent it off to a committee and gave that committee an unreasonably late reporting time, which has meant that consideration of this bill has been jammed up against the rising of the House and the parliament for the Christmas period.

I invite the House to listen very carefully to this: Further evidence that the Labor Party are not fair dinkum about this legislation is that the protocols that are proposed – in other words, the guidelines that will govern the operation of the questioning process – must, according to Labor’s amendments, be made subject to parliamentary disallowance.

Even if I had agreed with what the Leader of the Opposition had said and we had passed their bill, when we came along with the protocols, the Labor Party, the Democrats and the Greens would have disallowed them in the Senate. Talk about double jeopardy! That is a great example of their hypocrisy.

The Labor Party realise that they are going to be judged as soft on this issue by the Australian public. That is why we have seen the Leader of the Opposition come into this parliament with a whole lot of confected outrage. He knows that his amendments will destroy the bill. He knows that, if you adopt the procedures that they propose, this bill will be rendered inoperable.

We have no intention of parading a pretence, a fabrication, a fraud, to the Australian public. We have no intention of going out to the Australian public and saying, ‘We have passed a bill which will guarantee that ASIO has the necessary additional powers’, when we know in our hearts that that would be a monstrous lie to the Australian people. That is why we are not prepared to do it.

The Leader of the Opposition comes in here pleading with me to rescue him from the political dilemma he now finds himself in. That is basically what the Leader of the Opposition has tried to do. People on the other side – not least his predecessor – know the need for this new legislation. Many of them know, as indeed we know on this side of the House, that if we accept the amendments that have been put forward, the questioning process from a practical point of view will be rendered inoperable. (Margo: Note he gives no proof of this and provides no examples.)

If we were to agree to the bill in the form agreed by the Senate and as sought from us today by the opposition, that does not mean that that bill would come into effect, because you still have to get Senate acceptance of the protocols that govern the question.

There is no guarantee that, having agreed to the legislation today, the Labor Party would not then turn around and disallow the protocols in the Senate. They want the opportunity to have another go.

The Leader of the Opposition comes in here, pleading with me to accept a flawed measure – a measure that from a practical point of view will not give the additional power to ASIO that is necessary in the new circumstances in which we find ourselves – but just for good measure he has in his back pocket the capacity through the Senate to disallow the guidelines under which the questioning will take place. (Margo: Again, Mr Howard gives no practical examples of why the Senate’s bill is impractical.)

Mr Crean – That’s not right.

Mr Howard: It is right, Mr Speaker, and he knows it is right…

He is not only asking us to accept a bill that from a practical point of view is unworkable; having got what he has asked for today, he is also asking us to accept a capacity to change his mind yet again and demand even more, under the threat of disallowing the passage of the protocols. He is asking for a situation where, having passed the bill he has sought, the protocols that will govern the questioning – which go into details such as meal arrangements, sleeping arrangements and all those sorts of things, which are not normally part of legislation but which are contained in police guidelines or police rules – can be disallowed.

What we have today is another illustration of the Labor Party being unwilling to see the real national interest. The real national interest of Australia at the moment demands a stronger stand against terrorism.

Opposition members interjecting

Mr Howard: We have proposed a bill which is going to provide that sort of stand.

Mr Zahra interjecting

Mr Howard: We have witnessed from the Australian Labor Party –

The Speaker: The member for McMillan is warned.

Mr Howard: From the very moment this bill was introduced the Labor Party have set out to obstruct and delay. They sent it off to a committee with an unreasonably long reporting time. They knew that Christmas was approaching and that at the onset of the Christmas season we would inevitably reach this stage – and we have reached that stage.

I say to the Australian public that what we have proposed is necessary for their protection. It is a reasonable and proper response to the new situation in which we now find ourselves.

The Leader of the Opposition seeks to draw distinctions between this legislation and the situation in New South Wales. I remind the House that it is perfectly okay in New South Wales to strip search children between the ages of 10 and 18 without a warrant, where there is a threat of terrorist action, on the whim not of a judge, not of an Attorney-General but of Michael Costa. That is fundamentally what has been proposed. In those circumstances, there is no warrant, there is no judicial oversight -just the authorisation of the New South Wales police minister. But did we get a peep out of the Labor Party on that? Did we have the confected outrage and civil liberties concerns of the member for Banks and others on that legislation? Oh, no; that is perfectly all right because that is New South Wales Labor.

We do not accept the Senate’s amendments because, from a practical point of view, they will destroy the bill. (Margo: Yet again, Howard does not deign to explain to the Australian people why.) Therefore, we would be perpetrating a fraud on the Australian public if we went out and paraded this bill as an acceptable bill. Labor are weak on this issue.

Opposition members interjecting

Labor are very weak on this issue, just as they were weak on border protection. They remain weak on border protection. They are weak on this issue, and the more the crescendo in the Leader of the Opposition’s voice rises, the more we realise how sensitive they are. The redder his face got and the more personal he became, the more I knew that what I had said is right. He is weak on this issue, he does not have the courage to tell his party what is in Australia’s interests. He said somebody once said in the Labor Party, ‘Who’s party is it?’ That is not the relevant question. It is not a question of party interests; it is a question of Australia’s interests. And Australia’s interests require that we need a strong bill –

Opposition members interjecting

The Speaker: I warn the member for Corio.

Mr Howard: What the Senate have done to this bill is nothing short of security vandalism. They have vandalised this bill, they have made it unworkable, they have failed the national interest, and that is why we will not accept a bill that does not give the people of Australia the protection they need.

Opposition members interjecting

The Speaker: There is a number of people on the floor of the chamber who have been warned and who will be dealt with shortly. The courtesy extended to the Leader of the Opposition by the Prime Minister will be extended to the Prime Minister by the Leader of the Opposition, and the restraint exercised by the Prime Minister will be exercised by the Leader of the Opposition.


Mr Kim Beazley

We have just heard the Prime Minister in full kids overboard mode –

Mr Cameron Thompson (Liberal member for Blair) interjecting

The Speaker: The member for Blair will excuse himself from the House under the provisions of standing order 304A. (The member for Blair then left the chamber.)

Mr Beazley: I find it quite extraordinary. Prime Minister, I think you were in the chamber when I last spoke here five hours ago. If you were in the chamber, you would have heard me say this with absolute clarity: in the course of the discussions that Senator Faulkner, Senator Ray, Mr Melham and I had with Mr Williams, your Attorney-General, prior to that phase of the debate of this issue in the House, we offered to abandon the position that we had taken on the issue of a disallowable instrument in the Senate and to move instead to a regime which meant it was not vulnerable to the Senate but had some other form of process whereby there was consultation but the decision was in the hands of the government.

That is what we proposed. We proposed it to the Attorney-General and then I reiterated it in public, here in this chamber, five hours ago.

There was no approach, even though there has been constant tick-tacking between both sides of the House on this matter, because we both accept that this is a critical issue to Australian security. No call came from the Attorney-General’s office to Senator Faulkner to test that proposition. It was a proposition that we had already issued, but we reiterated it because we considered that the government had shown us good faith in their gesture on the issue of the sunset clause and by accepting our propositions in relation to the authority associated with the bill.

We responded with good faith, but there was no call to Senator Faulkner. After checking repeatedly with Senator Faulkner over the subsequent hours, I assumed that in that period of time the call would be made and that, if it was not, it would mean that the government considered that what the Prime Minister based almost the entirety of his speech upon was not a matter of relevance, that as far as they were concerned that issue was not central and that the other concerns they had – such as a so-called interrogation regime – as opposed to a detention regime – were the critical issues, not the issue of Senate disallowance.

Prime Minister, we would have abandoned Senate disallowance, just like that. On this the Prime Minister rests his case against the Labor Party. It is unbelievable.

This is the second time in two weeks that the Prime Minister has knowingly or unknowingly trashed the national interest in relation to –

Honourable members interjecting

Mr Beazley: I know he may not know. I am prepared to extend a slight benefit of doubt on his performance last week in trashing the relationships that we have with those with whom we must build an anti-terrorist coalition. I am prepared to believe the Prime Minister may not have known what he was doing.

He subsequently came to know it, and did not correct it, even though he had his foreign minister out there paddling like a duck on the water, desperately trying to make up for the Prime Minister’s mistake. I suspect he thought he was positioning the Labor Party domestically, the way he tried to use this bungle by the government to position us domestically.

I suspect he was doing that. But I will also give him due credit: He probably did not know what he was doing when he did it. It is inadequate for a Prime Minister of a nation under security threat. Nevertheless, it is a culpability of omission rather than commission.

Frankly, Prime Minister, in this case, it is a culpability of commission. Was that your central problem with the Labor Party’s amendments? We offered, both in private conversation and here publicly in the chamber – and every member here heard it, and I see the Independent member nodding his head – to abandon that position five hours ago.

I am sorry, Prime Minister, but I listened for the tonality of your remarks. They were not the remarks and the tone of a man defending the national interest; they were the remarks and the tone of a man who saw a political opportunity.

There are people on both sides of the House with a deep sense of patriotism and a deep fear of the situation in which we find ourselves. I have had the privilege, since I have become a backbencher, of sitting with some of your backbenchers. I have come to admire their patriotism. I have come to admire the way they try to take a dispassionate look at the issues that are placed before them.

I admire their courage, because I know that you run a rougher race in the Liberal Party than most other Liberal leaders. I admire their courage on that front. I do not challenge their patriotism, and they do not usually agree with me on things. But I sit down with them on the basis that I assume that what they are worried about is the lives of their children, my children and everybody elses

children in this country. I assume that that is what they are like. Therefore, when we sit down and negotiate with them and discuss things with them, I am fully confident that we bargain and discuss things in good faith.

The original bill that is being laid aside here could have, firstly, included the removal of your central objection and, secondly, put in place a regime permitting ASIO to question a person suspected of having knowledge of an imminent terrorist attack or some other matter related to terrorist activities for a period of 20 hours – which in effect means two to three days. And if that person tried either silence or dissimulation, that person would be jailed.

Remember, your version of the bill also permitted legal representation for the persons so caught up. Ours was slightly different. We took the protective strength of those undertaking legal representation of a person so interrogated a point further. Because of the particular character of the legal representation, we were prepared to propose – and we did in the amendments that you have rejected from the Senate – that a further regime of secrecy be imposed on both people who have been picked up and anyone who represents them legally. Failure to conform with that regime of secrecy would render them liable to a jail term. That is actually tougher than anything that was in the original bill.

But I am not here to do comparisons of toughness; I am here to establish that we stood for the national interest. We bargained in good faith and, when you came back to us in good faith, we responded in good faith.

We regarded your approach on being prepared to drop the position you had adopted towards the appointment of judges and your proposal to pick up the idea of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on ASIO, ASIS and DSD on a sunset clause as being in good faith, and therefore we responded in good faith. But no approach was made to us, Prime Minister.

I know at least as well as the Prime Minister the level of threat to the Australian community that is out there. As I listen to the briefings I get from intelligence officers, I have before me constantly – as no doubt you do yourself, Prime Minister – the faces of ordinary Australians going about their daily business, be they in government offices, in private offices, at sporting venues, in nightclubs or wherever.

I love them and I want them protected. I assume you do too, Prime Minister. So I do not play games. None of us on this side of the House plays games when we are presented with serious propositions to defend the national interest. We do not play games with those.

We all bring to the table our own views on what we see as the essential civil liberties of the Australian people, and so do you. Your fellow Liberals on those various committees who made propositions about eliminating children from the regime and trying to get in place decent legal representation were obviously informed by their concerns for civil liberties.

The organising principle of the parliamentary Liberal Party is the defence of individual freedom. That is not necessarily a central feature of a social democratic creed, but it is of the Australian Liberal Party. I therefore expect to see when I deal with members of the Liberal Party – and I do see it when I sit on committees with them – respect accorded to that fundamental tenet of liberal ideology, and I respect them.

They have their views – and they showed their hands on those views on those committees – and we have our views on civil liberties as well. We are trying to marry the particular views in the propositions we put forward and introduce a regime that will permit those views to be protected, but at the same time hand to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation authority that the FBI in the United States could only dream of.

The United States Constitution would not permit this legislation, either in your form or ours. This is a serious extension of powers to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. Had your bill or our bill got through, it would have seen a substantial extension of the capacity to do the job.

What do I find here as I listen to the Prime Minister marshal his forces and his argument against my successor? He has as the central point of his criticism of the Labor Party position what seven hours ago we indicated to the Attorney-General we were prepared to give up and what five hours ago I indicated to this parliament that we were prepared to give up.

Mr Melham:It was raised in earlier discussions, too.

Mr Beazley: And Senator Hill (defence minister) was there, too. We made the offer and they did not tell the Prime Minister. They did not wake him up. I mean, really, Prime Minister. I suppose there are not terribly many people listening to this debate but, by golly, if there are people out there in Australia listening to this debate, you can be absolutely certain that we will make sure that the full Hansard is available to anyone who asks for it.

They will see a massive prime ministerial error in the negotiations. It is a massive prime ministerial error, given the prominence he assigned it. When the telephone call failed to come, we assumed that the negotiating parties thought it was irrelevant. We said: ‘That’s a shame. We thought that was a good response to their good gesture, but they’re not interested.’

Prime Minister, all it would have taken was a phone call from you if that was your central problem. We would have needed your draftspeople, of course, because you have better draftspeople. We could have got the authority of the Commonwealth behind it and provided that for you completely, and we would now have a bill before the Australian people which would have protected us instead of an opportunity for political exploitation.

Message from Vaclav Havel

‘The most savage acts of all have often been committed in fights against savages in the name of a ‘one and only’ truth.” Vaclav Havel.

Vaclav Havel, the Czech Republic’s poet president, rules a country whose citizens endured the tyranny of two totalitarian regimes last century – the Nazis and the Communists – and recently joined the European Union. Czech refugee, librarian and Webdiarist Jozef Imrich reckons Havel has wise words for us all as we near the end of a tragic, frightening year, and sent in this speech Havel delivered last month on NATO and world security.


Opening speech by Vaclav Havel, President of the Czech Republic, at the conference “The Transformation of NATO”

Prague, Sovovy mlyny, 20 November 2002

I shall open your deliberations with five remarks that bear a relation, direct or indirect, to the agenda of this year’s NATO Summit meeting in Prague.

Remark one: Thirteen years after the collapse of the Iron Curtain, during a time of horrible terrorist attacks on civilian populations, it must have become clear to everyone that currently the principal adversary of the values espoused by the Alliance is not a State power or a great power that could somehow be located in one way or another.

The enemy is now represented by an evil that is widely diffused and very dangerous indeed – an evil that we find very difficult to grasp, or even to fathom. Therefore, we all must know by now that if the Alliance is to continue to fulfill its original mission in today’s world it should transform itself much more distinctly and much more swiftly. That means that it should transform itself into an instrument that will be capable of effectively confronting an entirely new set of threats.

It can no longer be merely a large, but somewhat empty, structure possessing many commanders without troops, and numerous committees and commissions without any substantial influence, that the member States are merely prepared to fill with allocated parts of their military forces if the need arises.

If the Alliance is to be meaningful today it must be an organization equipped with a large quantity of information processed promptly and professionally; an organization capable of taking split-second decisions and, wherever this becomes necessary, of immediately engaging either its permanent rapid deployment forces, perfectly trained and constantly ready, or specialized forces of various armies that will be capable of confronting modern dangers such as terrorism and nuclear, chemical or bacteriological weapons.

Although some may object, at least a part of these units should not be purely military but should also have substantial police functions.

What would impede such a transformation, or slow it down? To my mind, nothing but inertia, bureaucracy, habitudes that have built up for years and have implanted in their bearers a fear of anything that is new. This inertia must be resisted before it is too late.

The documents being prepared for the Prague NATO Summit follow along the line of strategic intentions adopted previously and move toward the direction that I have outlined here, representing a new important step along this path. These documents will probably not be very entertaining to read and few newspapers would print them in full. But anyone who can influence this should act all the more earnestly with a view to translating their content into reality.

Remark two: The Prague Summit will substantially enlarge the Alliance. This will be the most extensive enlargement experienced by NATO until now, an enlargement of a truly explosive nature. Inevitably, it will bring the Alliance a number of serious complications. However, I believe that these complications will be a thousand times recompensed by the fundamental and long-standing significance of this enlargement.

Only by its accomplishment will the Alliance make it absolutely clear that it has taken the end of a divided Europe truly seriously. While the recent incorporation of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary may have been viewed by some as a sort of trial gesture; as a cautious acknowledgement that something has changed; or, merely as a concession to the consequences of those changes or an act of altruism, the present enlargement can no longer be seen in that light by anybody.

On the contrary: it represents an unmistakable sign that the Alliance is not merely a club of Cold War veterans slightly apprehensive of the mystifying developments in post-Communist countries, but that it truly intends to be an organization encompassing the entire sphere of Euro-American culture, regardless of who once made claim to its individual parts or what those claims were.

If the past centuries witnessed various great powers dividing the small, or smaller, European countries among themselves without asking the latter’s opinion – whether this happened in direct forms such as the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact or indirectly through arrangements such as those at Yalta – the present enlargement of NATO carries an unequivocal message that the era of such divisions is over, once and for all.

Europe is no longer, and must never again be, divided over the heads of its people and against their will into any spheres of interest or influence.

Fifty-seven years lie between the present and World War II; to this day, as is known, there has been no peace conference unambiguously settling all the affairs associated with that war. After a shared readiness to respect the will of all European nations has been affirmed in such an explicit manner, who knows whether the time has not grown ripe for such a conference, or for something that could substitute for it in some way? I do not know, maybe it has not; maybe such a conference can no longer be held for a variety of valid reasons, now or ever; and perhaps it is no longer necessary. I have mentioned this long-forgotten subject simply to underscore the importance that I ascribe to the present NATO enlargement.

When speaking about the enlargement of our defense organization we must not, however, bury our heads in the sand when questioned about where the enlargement process should end, where should the limits be, whether an organization of this type can expand without end.

I am convinced that the enlargement of NATO has logical boundaries and that overstepping those boundaries would result in depriving the entire institution of its meaning. In my understanding, NATO is – among other things – an organization of regional character. It encompasses a very specific sphere of civilization that has been commonly referred to as Euro-Atlantic or Euro-American, or simply as the West.

The countries within this sphere have a similar history, similar traditions, a similar culture, similar political systems, and a similar perception of values and of humanity’s position in the universe. At the same time, this sphere is relatively clearly delimited in geographical terms as well. That is why, for instance, no one would think of offering membership in NATO to New Zealand, which is obviously closer to Britain in terms of civilization than a country such as Albania, while Albania, undoubtedly, will be offered membership sooner or later. Russia, on the other hand, makes up a great part of Europe but obviously represents a Euro-Asian power of such a singular character that its membership in NATO would make no sense either; the only result might be a profound mutual weakening of both bodies and a reduction of their partnership to nothingness.

I have previously stated a number of times, and will gladly repeat it now, that the primary prerequisite for sound cooperation between two States, or regional organizations, consists in clear awareness of where each of them begins and ends, where their borders are and, in particular, where they border each other. Wherever borders are blurred, the situation usually results in conflict, or outright war.

So where is the beginning and where is the end of the cultural sphere that is encompassed by the Alliance, or what the Alliance should encompass or may reasonably be expected to encompass?

In the West, the line apparently runs along the border between the United States and Mexico.

I am less certain about the Eastern border. Much depends not only on the strategic thinking of the organization in question, but also on the self-perception of the individual nations. An open-minded discussion on this subject is obviously called for. The only thing that seems certain to me at the moment is that, in addition to the States to whom the invitation to NATO

will be extended tomorrow, membership in the Alliance should sooner or later be also offered to other Balkan countries – Croatia, Albania, Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina – and that this already should be clearly stated now.

And between west and east? I believe that the Alliance should declare permanent accessibility to all the European democracies that have remained neutral until now, from Finland to Switzerland to Ireland. Many of these nations profoundly cherish the historical traditions of their neutrality, and we all respect that.

Nevertheless, I believe that all these countries sooner or later will ask themselves what the purpose or the content of neutrality is in the world of today; what neutrality actually means; what it makes possible; and, what it makes impossible.

It is certainly understandable that if there are two major power blocs it is of great importance to many countries, for many reasons, to preserve their neutrality, regardless of what they may think of either bloc. But what should one think about neutrality in a situation when such blocs no longer exist, and when the common enemy of all consists of organized crime, terror or the advancement of weapons of mass destruction? Can one be neutral, for example, toward assassins who perpetrate large-scale murders of civilian populations?

Remark three: NATO represents a unique combination of two parts of the world – North America and Europe – closely related to each other and yet fairly distant in many ways, both geographically and mentally. Numerous circumstances indicate that the present era – when so much is changing, so much is being born and so much is subjected to examination – is becoming, among other things, a time of serious testing of the relationship between America and Europe, and that the fate of NATO in the future depends, to a substantial extent, on how those concerned will stand this test.

My personal opinion is that although the two components of our alliance may, in the future, divide various tasks between them in a greater measure than they have until now, they will always need each other. Actually, they may need each other even more in the future than they do now and it would, therefore, be an historical mistake of immense consequences, possibly close to a disaster, if they were to begin to move away from one another at the political level in any major way.

What needs to be done in this situation?

I believe that the first requisite, above all else, is a quest for better knowledge of each other, better mutual understanding and a greater capacity for empathy with one another’s positions and one another’s dilemmas.

Europe should perhaps remind itself, more than it has before, that the two greatest wars in the world’s history to date grew on its soil from conflicts between European countries; and, that on both occasions it was the United States – which had no part in the outbreak of those conflicts – that eventually made the decisive contribution to the victory of the forces of freedom and justice.

And more than that: Who knows whether Western Europe would have been able to hold its ground during the Cold War and withstand the Stalinist, or the Soviet or the Communist, expansion if it had not been backed by the immense potential of strength brought in by the United States, among other things within NATO?

And it was, again, the United States that acted as a driving force in the solution – though apparently belated and imperfect – of certain European conflicts that emerged after the collapse of the Iron Curtain. Would Europe have been able to resolve them on its own?

I am not certain. Looking back at all we have been through during the twentieth century, and witnessing all that is happening today – with the United States being inevitably involved in some way or to some extent – Europeans should be more conscious of the roots and the type of the American responsibility and, if necessary, show a certain amount of understanding for the occasional insensitivity, clumsiness or self-importance that may come with this responsibility.

I would even go so far as to profess my feeling that every European who blames the United States for the manner of subjugation of the world’s economy by its global corporations should realize that it was Europe that gave birth to the entire culture of profit and economic expansion and laid this culture in America’s cradle. It is not very wise to blame our own mirror. Actually, is this not an inadmissible ethnic interpretation of the problem? It is no accident that the large corporations are called “supranational”!

On the other hand, America should realize not only the fact that it owes a substantial part of its greatness and strength to the European roots of its civilization.

First and foremost, it should be aware that it might still need Europe very badly indeed. It is not so difficult to imagine that other powers, equally advanced as today’s USA, might emerge on various continents of our planet ten or twenty years from now and that a close cultural, political and security link with half a billion Europeans might prove to be very useful for the United States, even if merely for the purpose of maintaining balance.

Perhaps all those complicated debates with that fussing gaggle that Europe may occasionally resemble in the eyes of the Americans have meaning after all and are worth pursuing again and again. Where but on European soil, for that matter, can America find a spiritually closer ally or partner in the future?

Remark four: Six months ago, at a NATO-Russia meeting in Italy, we subscribed to the validity of a new, firmer institutional relationship between these two important entities. I will be very keen to hear how this new partnership works, the results it brings and how it helps to promote cooperation in the fight against terrorism and other contemporary dangers threatening both of these cooperating bodies.

Nevertheless, I should like to restate that which I pointed out in Rome already: this firm link between NATO and Russia should by no means create the impression that the wealthier northern hemisphere is forging some kind of a special bond at the expense of the poorer South, or of other continents in general.

We are entering into an era of a multipolar world whose political and security order should emanate from a principle of equality of the various spheres of culture and civilization, various religious worlds, various regional organizations and various continents.

In addition to building good relations with Russia, we should, to my mind, proceed immediately – before it is too late – with a view to establishing and defining NATO’s relations with other crucial entities of today’s world, be they States or regional groupings of nations.

I often stress that NATO represents an alliance designed to defend certain values, usually understood to mean democratic political order, human rights, the rule of law, market economy, freedom of expression, etc. This is clearly true.

Nevertheless, I would recommend that we sometimes use a subtler language and speak not of values, but of a certain perception – in our case a Western perception – of human values that are universal. If we limit ourselves to the terse statement that we represent and protect certain values it may – though obviously unintentionally – create the impression that we may see others as those who profess or defend only some quasi-values.

I do not think that humankind has fared very well on those occasions when some claim that they are the only guardians of truth and the sole worshippers of true deities, thus suggesting that they are somehow superior to those barbarians, pagans, misguided creatures or savages who constitute the rest of the population. On the contrary, the most savage acts of all have often been committed in fights against savages in the name of a ‘one and only’ truth.

Needless to say, this type of understanding for other people, other cultures and other traditions, and of an effort to refrain from looking down at them and to build networks of relations on an equal footing instead, does not mean that we should have to detract in any way from our own standards or to conceal our conviction for the sake of an auspicious climate. On the contrary: genuine friendships cannot be based on a lie; they can thrive only on the life-giving soil of openness to one another.

Let me give you two small examples: I can hardly imagine how someone could combat global terrorism together with the Russians without stating an opinion about their war against the people of Chechnya; or, how someone could join forces with the People’s Republic of China in fighting for the right of peoples to autonomy without mentioning its policies in Tibet.

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to conclude with my fifth remark.

Extensive debates are now under way on the subject of whether a general threat can be resisted preventively at its very inception, before growing into a general disaster, even if it were to be done at the cost of violation of State sovereignty; or, whether such prevention should be inadmissible as a matter of principle. From NATO’s point of view, this means a debate on whether intervention is possible beyond the purview of Article 5 of the Washington Treaty.

This is a very tricky issue indeed, and it is probably necessary to ask and to look for an answer again and again on each particular occasion. There is no universal answer that would be applicable to every imaginable situation and whoever might try to offer one would be moving on extremely precarious terrain.

I have usually leaned toward the opinion that evil should be combated rather in its germinal stages than in its expanded forms, and also toward the belief that human life, human freedom and human dignity represent higher values than State sovereignty. This leaning, perhaps, gives me the right to raise this serious and complex issue.

In my lifetime, my country experienced two situations whose consequences turned out to be far-reaching, deep and long-lasting. The first of them was the Munich capitulation when two principal European democracies, supposedly in the interest of peace, yielded to Hitler’s pressure and allowed him to dismember the then Czechoslovakia.

They did not save any peace at all. On the contrary: Hitler took their conduct in Munich as the final indication that he was free to unleash a bloody European war, and eventually a world war. I believe that the greater part of my fellow citizens join me in perceiving the Munich experience as evidence in favor of the belief that evil should be resisted as soon as it is born.

We have also had another experience – the occupation by the Warsaw Pact States in 1968. At that time the entire nation reiterated the word ‘sovereignty’, cursing the official Soviet interpretation that the intervention was an act of ‘brotherly help’ offered in the name of a value that ranked higher than national sovereignty – in the name of socialism that was allegedly endangered in our country, which allegedly meant a danger to the prospects for a better life for the human race.

Almost everyone in our country knew that the sole objective was to preserve Soviet domination and economic exploitation, but millions of people in the Soviet Union probably believed that the sovereignty of our State was being suppressed in the name of a higher human value.

This second experience makes me very cautious. It seems to me that whenever we think of intervening against a State in the name of protection of human life we should always ask ourselves – even if only for a moment, or in our innermost thoughts – the question of whether this would not be some kind of a ‘brotherly help’ again.

Three years ago I saw hundreds of thousands of villagers in Kosovo returning to the homes from which they had been expelled. I know of no other instance in modern history when almost a million people would have returned no more than half a year after they were driven out. Those villagers thanked me then – as a very fresh representative of a NATO member State – with tears in their eyes for the intervention against Milosevic’s criminal regime. Once again, I realized that the earnest and responsible debates conducted within the Alliance on whether or not to intervene resulted in the right decision at that time.

But it does not automatically have to be so every time. It is always necessary to weigh on the finest scales whether an envisaged action would really be an act helping people against a criminal regime and protecting humankind against its weapons, or whether, by any chance, it would not be another variation of ‘brotherly help’, though more sophisticated than the Soviet version back in 1968.

We can never lie our way out of responsibility for the decisions we have made. No matter whether they have been right or wrong, we shall always be accountable – to our fellow citizens, as well as to history.

But there is one thing that we can do and that we should do. Before making a decision, we should always subject the matter to the most serious debate on all possible alternatives and all their conceivable consequences and listen most attentively to those whose views are least close to our own.

That for which we are fighting

Hi. I’m trying to lighten up the end-of-year Webdiary, but gee it’s hard. Anyone got something good to say about the year?

On December 15, former Webdiarist supremo Tim Dunlop, now in the US writing his weblog roadtosurfdom, wrote a compelling piece on the ASIO debacle called ‘Beyond left and right on an issue of national importance’. I highly recommend it.

Just as Queenslanders seemed to be the only people to realise what Michael Costa was starting with his ban on the recent WTO street march, maybe ex-South Africans have something to tell us about where we’re headed with draconian new police and spooks powers. Today Mel du Toit and Mike Johnson tell their stories.

Then Jack Robertson and Peter Woodforde respond to Gerard Henderson’s pronouncement of the death of fighting for principle in politics, Concede or you die, a lesson for lefties (smh). I reckon these hard-as-nails commentators who so dominate our newspapers are way-out-of-touch, and that NSW voters will let them know by just how much in March.

The new political correctness dominates the media much more that the political correctness it replaced after 1996 ever did. One Nation knocked the old form for six, and the Greens and community-focused independents will do the same for the new form. For signs of the times, see Alex Mitchell’s piece Mayors begin push on Parliament at sunherald.

For another antidote to high cynicism, read Alan Ramsey’s Saturday column, Brown pricks, PM deflates, at smh. If no-one fights for principle, there’s nothing to compromise about. It all becomes, as Alan wrote, an ever nastier game of who’s got the best spinner, the most powerful media allies, and the most cash from the richest mates:

“The Greens live in the forests, with all the other elves and goblins. But you have to admire their resolution and their values. And increasing numbers of voters, sick to death of debauched major party behaviour and slick, prostituted political values, look to the Greens as the conscience of political life.”

To end, Kate Wildermuth on SIEV-X.


Mel du Toit in North Sydney

As a new Australian hailing from South Africa, I find the unfolding recent events so similar to SA. God help us if ASIO gets the Howard powers. Having lived through all the tumultuous tragic events in SA and detention without trial, I see so many glaring parallels.

Where will it stop? People “disappearing”? Newspapers with solid black panels of copy blocked out by “security” legislation? Pre-emptive strikes into Malaysia and Indonesia? Late night court sittings to extend detentions? And then the hatred and the inevitable bombs as the fundamentalists on opposing sides decide that detente is not working and the only solution is a “military” one?

Oh yes, and like what happened in Angola, our buddy Bush will then decide to pull the plug on monetary support for Howard’s military sojourns to blow up our neighbours and we’ll all be left to clean up the shit.

It looks like my personal political struggle will continue here in Australia backing the underdog – Bob Brown and The Greens.

Is this still the lucky country?


Mike Johnson in Sydney

I lived though the apartheid police powers, predicated on the [white] perceived terrorist threat from “communists”. . . “amongst us, and advancing from the north [of Africa]”. My view is that Australians now just have no FRIGGING idea what they’re letting themselves into.

Under the SA regime:

1) No policeperson would talk to a journalist unless they had a police pass [issued by police with pic], and they could boot you out of a “crime” scene if you didn’t have one. I think I still have mine somewhere.

2) My share house was raided by security police twice. Once they took away my housemate, Jacqui Boulle [national head of the “end conscription campaign”] and held her in detention without access to lawyers, courts, family or doctors for two weeks. My phone was tapped – we used to get calls in the small hours of the morning with either heavy breathing or anonymous warnings that we were “being watched”.

3) Newspapers faced fines and closure and journalists and editors imprisonment if they did “anything that threatened the security of the state”. The catch? There was no government lawyer you could run anything by. They’d just say, “Well you just publish it and we’ll tell you tomorrow whether you’ve broken the law”!! The result: Self-censorship.

So our paper had a brainwave: Run all stories in full and lay them out [paste-up days], then get the company lawyers in, strip out just the sentences/words they’re worried about and we print the paper with lots of white space to give our readers an idea of what was being withheld from them. It worked for about a fortnight until the GOVERNMENT PASSED LAWS MAKING IT AN OFFENCE TO PUBLISH WHITE SPACE!!

4) As court reporter I covered a number of “terrorism” trials where the evidence that the government wanted heard was dealt with in open [show] court, while the rest was heard in camera by the judge [no jury trials there!]. I saw more judges return from adjournments wearing the black cap to pronounce the death sentence than I can count.

5) And yes, to reflect on your point about Bob Carr’s new police powers, once you’ve got these powers, like Mahatir you don’t have to worry about any political or journalistic opposition any more.

Now, instead of pressuring the Howard regime to drop the US and work with the UN to find a fix for the Palestinian question (a legit “fair go” cause in the Australian book, surely?) THE FRIGGING AUSTRALIAN POPULATION IS FAST ASLEEP OR WATCHING CRICKET!!!

There’s an old Boer cry to battle, “Opsaal, die bloedbad kom!” (used as the title of an article in the late 80s by political satirist Tom Sharpe, deported from South Africa for his books “Riotous Assembly” and “Indecent Exposure” which took the micky out of draconian apartheid laws). It means “Saddle up, the bloodbath is coming!”.

It’s the way I feel right now.


That for which we are fighting

by Jack Robertson

If I was feeling ungenerous, I might take Gerard Henderson’s article on pragmatism versus principle in politics as an implicit suggestion that we should all try to find some ‘compromise’ with the way Osama bin Laden reckons the world should be run.

I’m not, so I won’t, but as a former soldier, I find his curious ‘general call to surrender’ on matters of principle more than a bit unsettling. This is especially so given the likelihood that our SAS may soon be risking their lives in Iraq to defend just that: democratic political principles.

Henderson seems to think that ‘pure principle’ is somehow not worth defending, not ever, and that idealistic ‘luvvies’ like me, who support Carmen Lawrence, fail to realise that ‘times have changed’; that because the majority is against her, she should simply ‘compromise’ before she even tries to make any stand. This is defeatist nonsense, not to mention entirely disingenuous, anyway.

For a sound ‘compromise’ is exactly what the ALP achieved here; Lawrence made her ‘pure’ stand, and the Labor Caucus duly responded with precisely the kind of ‘practical politics’ Henderson advocates. The formal position to which Crean and his troops worked their way was that she gracefully departed the shadow cabinet, but remained in the Parliamentary party.

This is how it should be. The modern ALP is a broad church, after all, and Lawrence will continue to argue her case from within on behalf of refugee ‘luvvies’ like me, thus ensuring that the party remains the forum for diverse ideas it has been ever since Gough Whitlam so radically reshaped it.

Henderson does correctly identify the important role ‘compromise’ plays in modern politics, but funnily enough he uses it to poke the wrong side. The Liberal Party, originally a broad, secular-liberal ‘church of many faiths’ but now a rather more narrow and ‘personalised’ political vehicle altogether, might benefit greatly from a more ‘compromising’ internal approach to dissenting views.

Who knows what kind of imaginative solutions our government might have come up with to a ‘problem’ like the Tampa, if it had heeded Henderson’s advice? (A more inclusive approach last October might also have had the ‘pragmatic’ wartime advantage of our RAN not being lumped with the ‘Pacific Solution’ now, leaving them free to concentrate on fighting terrorism alone.)

Despite what Henderson claims, political ‘principle’ is in fact the bedrock upon which any secure country must brace, and the real trick is in knowing when exactly it must be invoked.

Just imagine if that old ‘Lefty Luvvie’ John Curtin hadn’t got that ‘trick’ right, and had followed Henderson’s formula – ‘concede or die’ – when confronted by the pressure Winston Churchill placed upon him to divert our soldiers to fight in India, rather than return for the battle at home?

Churchill, who knew a thing or two about when not to ‘concede’ on ‘principle’ himself, must have been a formidable man to face down, and all Australians should be grateful that our greatest wartime Prime Minister made the right ‘pure’ choice on that occasion, and then had the grit to ‘stand firm’ when it mattered.

For what Henderson apparently fails to grasp is that political ‘pragmatism’ and political ‘principle’ are not always mutually exclusive. In fact, in times of war, when we ask our young people to risk death on our behalf, it is more often that the ‘principled’ stand is also the ‘practical’ one.

Our leaders must inspire our soldiers sufficiently to be willing to sacrifice everything, and the only way to do this is to embrace ‘pure’ core principles themselves. Greater love hath no woman than she should give her life for her country’s backroom political number-crunchers? I think not.

On balance, I think Henderson has got it dangerously wrong. Ultimately, our soldiers fight precisely so that leaders like Lawrence, Simon Crean, Brian Greig, Bob Brown and Len Harris will remain free to stand firm on principle when necessary, as these resolute politicians all did when John Howard, as it happened, refused to compromise on his ASIO Bill.

I do partly agree with Henderson, in the sense that the Prime Minister’s judgement here illustrates well how a stubborn refusal to compromise can sometimes represent an attempt to force, as he puts it, a ‘harsh right-wing or left-wing agenda’ upon the ‘overwhelming majority of Australians’. I also agree that at other times – as in Lawrence’s case – the parties to which such ‘uncompromising’ politicians belong might decide that the ‘pure’ stand is too electorally damaging to embrace.

But at yet other times – wartimes especially, as both ‘lefties’ like Curtin and ‘righties’ like Churchill knew well – the apparent ‘middle path’ of ‘easy compromise’ can in fact turn out to be the slipperiest slope there is. So Henderson is only half-right in his cynical view of the ‘art of democratic politics’: yes, it does require compromise, but the real art lies in not simply giving way on everything you believe, like some value-free ‘political fixer’, but in knowing when to compromise, and when to stand resolute and firm.

Right now, our ADF is counting on our politicians getting that balance right. Let’s hope there’s another John Curtin who proves up to that subtle task, whether she be ‘soppy lefty luvvie’, ‘stern righty pragmatist’ or perhaps somewhere in between.

Jack Robertson is a former Aide-de-Camp to Governor General Bill Hayden and the brother of a current member of the Australian SAS.


Peter Woodforde in Canberra

Here is one word in reply to Gerard Henderson’s laborious, pencil-chewing essay on “expressive v instrumental politics” – Medicare. It was relentlessly hard-fought and hard-won (of course, these days Howard’s Liberals are working meanly and trickily to destroy it by stealth).

Concede or die, Gerard? No. Concede and die, probably in a degraded public health system.

Gerard needs to remember that the Australian idea of a fair go is both expression and instrument, which is why it is such anathema to the Right.


Kate Wildermuth

I would like to make a correction to Brett Harrison’s statement in Where have all the flowers gone… (webdiaryDec16):

“The only people in Australia who even think about SIEV-X are refugee advocates and political opponents of the current Government, both for obvious reasons.”

There is at least one other person who cares enough to write about the issue. It’s Brett Harrison himself. He took the time to write. Instead of asking him why he felt so compelled to take the time to write and say he didn’t care about the drowning of 353 people, I’ll ask him something easy.

What is he doing to have Abu Quassey brought to Australia for trial? After all, it was not Tony Kevin who first raised that possibility. It was Senator Ellison and Mick Keelty from the Australian Federal Police. Megan Saunders’ article in The Age, ‘Minister draws smuggler hit list’ (28/07/02) says:

“The man alleged to be behind the disastrous Siev X vessel, which foundered off the Java coastline drowning 353 asylum-seekers, Abu Quassey, is also being sought by Australian police. Senator Ellison said three warrants were out for his arrest in relation to people-smuggling offences.

“Mr Quassey is in the custody of Indonesian police and is being tried in Indonesia for immigration offences. ‘We are liaising with Indonesian authorities in relation to Mr Abu Quassey and we have received great co-operation from Indonesian authorities,’ Senator Ellison said. ‘We are very keen to have Mr Quassey front an Australian court to answer those three charges.”

John Howard cared enough to proclaim that SIEV-X sank in Indonesian waters when it did not. Senator Ellison cared enough to say they were very keen to have Mr Quassey front an Australian court. There are 354 reasons for bringing Abu Quassey to Australia for trial. Only one of them is that the Howard Government said they were keen to do so.

Mr Harrison, instead of telling us you don’t care now, answer this. Did you write a letter to complain you didn’t care when Senator Ellison was keen to have Abu Quassey brought to Australia for trial? Or is it only now the disruption activies have been raised?

Mr Harrison, what are you are doing to keep this Government to its word to bring Abu Quassey to Australia for trial?

Where have all the flowers gone…

I’ve spent most of the past week in Berlin where the city is experiencing one of its most bitter winters in memory. The sun has been shining but with daytime maximums of minus ten it has been hard to get too excited about going out. In the background on CNN there were debates about war with Iraq and announcements from President Bush about vaccinating around ten million Americans to prepare for a smallpox bio terror attack. A pretty average week as far as 2002 goes.

Meanwhile, no one likes Schroeder anymore and the economy has gone to hell in a hand basket. And it’s Christmas time……ein bier bitte! I want a Berliner curry Bratwurst! Anything to escape reality. Give me comfort in the form of beer and sausages!

I went to a party last week at the famous, or perhaps infamous Studio Babelsberg. This one facility itself seems to tell so much about the history of Berlin (and the world really) in the last century or so. It is in the former East Germany and is actually closer to Potsdam than Berlin.

The lessons of Babelsberg are many. The studio was massive in the 1920s and 1930s and rivalled the best of Hollywood. Marlene Dietrich started her career there with the incomparable Blue Angel. The early days at Babelsberg were special and beautiful. Then it became ugly. Hitler saw the power of modern media and with Goebels, Babelsberg became the main centre of Nazi propaganda. As civil society and the rule of law were rolled back, Babselsberg was transformed into something quite evil.

Later it became a propaganda setting for East Germany. More lies were propagated. So many lies for so many years. It’s now owned by Vivendi Universal, a true symbol of globalisation. From a place of art to the horror of fascism, to the crushing nature of East German communism to today’s global capitalism, Babelsberg has seen it all.

Wandering the streets of this history laden complex, I couldn’t help but think of Marlene Deitrich. It was minus twelve degrees in the early hours of the morning and in looking at the ice, traces of snow and thick frost in the gardens, the thought occurred to me that there wouldn’t be flowers for months. So incredibly bitter this winter.

I once saw Marlene Dietrich sing the Pete Seger anti-war song “Where Have all the Flowers Gone”. She was old but somehow her defiance was stronger than ever. It was most beautiful when translated into German. She was prepared to say no to the Third Reich. The world around her was changing bit by bit and then later at a faster pace. She could see it was wrong.

In another era the composer of this song, Pete Seger, was hauled before Senator Joseph McCarthy’s infamous committee for being unAmerican. Like Dietrich, he could also see his country changing bit by bit.

Where have all the flowers gone in 2002? I don’t see many. It can be depressing but we need to look for flowers and we need to hold onto the ones we still have left.

We are now certainly in an era that has some similarities to the Cold War. There seem to be no easy solutions and the threat seems to have no end. We’d be wrong to ignore the threats but how much of what it means to be us are we prepared to risk? How much is necessary?

I’m going to quote something back to you Margo. You said:

“The essence of our way of life is the rule of law – that the certainty of abuse of State power against the innocent, proved over and over again by history, is addressed by insisting that we are ruled by laws, not men. The judiciary – independent of government and owing its duties to the law and the citizen, not government – are the bulwark of the rule of law. The right to legal representation when detained by police or other instruments of state power is essential to our freedom.”

Patriots should indeed gain some comfort from those words. I’m scared though that a seemingly clear statement of who we are could be interpreted as controversial in the new environment. I can almost imagine people attacking you for quoting words which are part of our unwritten creed. We may not have these things written in one place but they are the things that make us who we are. We need to remember in Australia where we started and what was thought of authority in 1788. We need to remember what authority did to the Aborigines. We need to remember refugees and all the other people who came to Australia to escape authority. We are right to be sceptical of authority. This is core for us and we know where we have authority. Don’t mess with us, the Aussie people. We are ALL refugees from authority in one form or another.

Authority has shown us that it deserves constant questioning and the very essence of that defines us.

I’m not fool enough to say we don’t face a real threat. We must face this threat while remaining true to ourselves. Who are we as a people and what do we really represent? I sure hope it is the things you mention above. Those things are fundamental to who we are. We must have due process. We must have separation of powers. We have to find ways to defend ourselves but if we start undermining our foundations, we could be transformed into a very different society relatively quickly. Sometimes we Australians can take our good fortune for granted. History proves unexpected transformations are commonplace. Sometimes you only realise in retrospect how easily you have given up cherished rights.

We don’t have much time left. It’s super urgent. We need to be very clear about this. Let’s look line by line at every law. More than that, let’s look carefully at every word in every line. It is a time for level headed people to take a hard look at what is needed. We ARE a society of laws. That’s words on paper so let’s be serious. Cut the crap. The laws are made by the people we elect and they are accountable to us on a regular basis. I am really starting to become alarmed that I feel the need to remind myself of an implicit foundation of our society.

Are we really prepared to mess with the foundations? I sure hope not. Unless you want to unwind the best parts of our entire history as a country.

Some compromises are needed. We have to be smart though. We can compromise around the edges but we can’t compromise at the core. We can never do that. Compromise the core and you have a meltdown and lose everything. Then it becomes quite hard to come back.

It’s a bit by bit thing. Like “Where have all the Flowers Gone”. Long time passing.

This article was first published in ‘Where have all the flowers gone…’ (webdiaryDec16).