Costello spin exposed on charity free speech clampdown


The silent and the free. Image by Webdiary artist Martin Davies.

The government’s hand-picked charity reform inquiry has blown Peter Costello’s cover on his attempt to censor charities, saying that it recommended AGAINST such action.

Committee member Robert Fitzgerald, the NSW community services commissioner, last night called on the Government to amend its charities legislation, saying “the three people on the inquiry all concluded that there was no public good, no public benefit to be served by trying to exclude this particular behaviour (advocacy for policy changes by government)”:

“Australia has an exceptionally strong civil society and exceptionally strong volunteer not-for-profit sector. Part of it is encapsulated in two things that Australians hold dear. The first thing is to have a go and the second is to have a say. And charities by and large get in there and have a go and try to make a difference. But the other thing Australians value is the right to have a say when legislation isn’t appropriate and I think that’s what the recommendations of the inquiry were about about trying to come up with a contemporary framework for charities that recognise that trying to make policy changes is a legitimate part of the activities.”(Lateline interview)

Fitzgerald is a former head of ACOSS and now chairs a round table of non-profit organisations. The charities inquiry was chaired by former NSW Supreme Court Justice Sheppard, with businessman David Gonski and Fitzgerald the other members. They recommended AGAINST disqualifying a charity from tax free status if it promoted a political cause or sought to change government policy. (See inquiryreport. For clarification by the Australian Tax Office of the tax status of charities published in the wake of media reporting of the controversy, go to ato. My analysis of the legislation is at Charitable free speech on endangered list! and my examination of Costello’s form on free speech is at Costello’s free speech record.)

Here is the inquiry’s UNANIMOUS conclusion:

The Committee recommends that charities should be permitted to engage in advocacy on behalf of those they benefit. Conduct of this kind should not deny them charitable status even if it involves advocating for a change in law or policy. Submissions from both charities and governments have demonstrated that charities are increasingly asked to represent to governments the interests of those they seek to benefit and to contribute to the development and administration of government policies. The Committee considers that the definition of a charity should not prevent these developments as they represent an effective means of delivering outcomes for individuals, charities and governments.

However, we also consider it important to maintain the independent status of charities. Their independence from government or any particular political grouping is an important feature of their ability to serve their beneficiaries and to contribute more broadly to the public good. Independence allows charities to identify groups needing support and to make decisions about the best way to provide assistance to them ‘without fear or favour’. The independence of the charitable sector is also an important factor in their gaining the confidence and trust of the wider community.

Supporting political parties or candidates for political office risks compromising charities’ independence. The Committee supports the need for a distinction to be drawn between such party-political activities and other types of lobbying activity. The Committee recommends that charities be prohibited from having purposes or undertaking activities that advance a political party or a candidate for political office. This would include direct support of or opposition to political parties or candidates for political office or encouraging members of the public to support or oppose particular parties or candidates for political office. Such support could include donations as well as undertaking research on behalf of political parties or candidates or making other resources of the entity available to a political party or candidate, for example staff or office supplies and equipment. If a charity engages in this type of activity its charitable status should be lost.

Non party-political purposes or activities such as advocating on behalf of their causes or needs, contributing to the development or implementation of public policy, entering into the public debate, or seeking to change a particular law or public policy, should be assessed against the same principles as other purposes and activities. The principles recommended by the Committee are that to be a charity an entity’s dominant purposes must be charitable and any other purposes must further, or be in aid of, the charitable purposes or be incidental or ancillary to them. In line with these principles it is the Committee’s view that if an entity has a non-party political purpose that purpose must further, or be in aid of, the dominant charitable purpose or be incidental or ancillary to the dominant charitable purpose. Any non party-political activities of a charity should not affect its charitable status provided it acts in good faith and its activities are not illegal or against public policy.

Recommendation 17

That charities be permitted neither to have purposes that promote a political party or a candidate for political office, nor to undertake activities that promote a political party or a candidate for political office. (SeeChapter26.)

So why did Costello ignore that advice? As well as disqualifying groups as charities for supporting a particular party or candidate for political office, Costello also banned advocacy of ‘a political cause”, and “attempting to change the law or government policy”. WHY???

My suspicion is that Costello and co were trying to slip through a sting without publicity – to strip proactive groups like Greenpeace of charitable status as well as add to the government’s tactical weapons in trying to keep inconvenient charities quiet on controversial issues.

This story took off after the Australian Financial Review’s political correspondent Laura Tingle read the detail of the legislation. So often in politics the devil is in the detail, but far too few political reporters take the time to read that detail, let alone analyse it. Laura is a rare breed – a political journalist who takes her democratic role – to keep the public informed and the government honest – seriously.

Costello is now exposed as one of the Howard government team working on a deliberate, long term agenda to reduce free political speech and informed public debate in Australia. Without charity advocacy – in health, medical research, education, welfare, the environment and human rights – voices opposed to the government’s ideology and the interests of big money in the big media would be further silenced. The rich and the the powerful – Howard’s winners – would further dominate mainstream debate. The advantages for the government are obvious. Its contempt for the health of our democracy is equally so.

But it’s worse for Costello. He’s trying to distinguish himself from Howard, albeit very cautiously. So we got a recent speech called Building social capital, where he urged Australians to volunteer and extolled the virtues of community involvement. He said:

Recognising the importance of the non-government sector and the positive values arising from it, what are the lessons for policy? The first thing is the very important maxim for government, any government, on any issue: “Do no harm.” These social networks are neither established by, nor controlled by government. They are voluntary. That is their strength. So while the Government cannot establish these associations and should not force engagement it should be careful to do no harm. Secondly if Government has a choice between delivering services in a way that enhances engagement and one that does not, then, all other things being equal it should prefer the former. Thirdly Government should be alert to deal with any threats that arise to the voluntary sector.

So what’s he really saying? Join up, help the community on the ground, and shut up about the political and policy issues which impact down there? C’mon Peter, you’re wearing no clothes.

Fitzgerald played a sophisticated game in his Lateline interview, congratulating Costello on the bill generally and giving him room to back down gracefully. His warnings, however, were stark. Some highlights:

There is absolutely no public good by trying to exclude organisations from being involved in advocacy by trying to promote change to public policy or government legislation. It’s absolutely appropriate that organisations that promote political parties or political candidates or act in their legal way should not be charities. But it is going too far then to add this extra bit which actually says at some point, when you do too much, your charitable status is at risk. That means all organisations now look over their shoulder to determine whether or not they’re at risk.

* Tony Jones: Also it appears the point where you lose your status or are in danger of losing it is quite vague. It says you can(not) be disqualified if the lobbying activity is more ancillary or incidental.What does that mean?

At the end of the day this is the other danger. Once you start to go down this track the question is not only what the threshold but who actually determines it. At the end of the day, it will fall to the tax office, public sector officials, to determine when somebody has or hasn’t gone over that line.

* Jones: Why do you think it’s been inserted? Indeed, is this part of the Government’s wider agenda for social and cultural change? In other words you can see there’s a deeper point here – why should taxpayers be funding lobby groups that are arguing against Government policies.

There are 40,000 charities. Many of those charities have engaged to greater or lesser degrees in trying to lobby governments of all persuasions about policies and about legislation. We can take any area – the health care area, you know the campaigns about trying to reduce cancer through tobacco smoking have all been geared to changing government policy and legislative changes. The huge reduction we’ve seen in the reduction in aged care poverty has been as a result of organisation lobbying to get change over 20 years. Now nobody in the Australian community would say that’s a terrible thing. Nobody would say those organisations should not be regarded as danger. But you start to cherry pick who you like and who you don’t. If you agree with them, that’s OK but if you don’t agree, then that’s a problem.

* Jones: The Government was quite happy – when you were head of ACOSS – to use one of these organisations to effectively lobby in the community for a major change to public policy, that is bringing in a GST. That’s a bit ironic when potentially ACOSS could be in danger now.

Well I think that’s true. And I think we’ve got to go back and say, look, Australia has an exceptionally strong civil society and exceptionally strong volunteer not-for-profit sector. Part of it is encapsulated in two things that Australians hold dear. the first thing is to have a go and the second is to have a say. And charities by and large get in there and have a go and try to make a difference. But the other thing Australians value is the right to have a say when legislation isn’t appropriate and I think that’s what the recommendations of the inquiry were about about trying to come up with a contemporary framework for charities that recognise that trying to make policy changes is a legitimate part of the activities.

* Jones What do you think Mr Costello is getting at here? Is he basically saying these are political organisations publicly funded by another name?

There are some organisations and some thinking that in fact non-government organisations who receive government grants or government support shouldn’t have a right to speak out. We’ve seen that at State level and at Commonwealth over time. If we go down that track in any way shape or form, we do a number of things. We will actually damage the very thing that Australia is good at – engaging civil society in a very robust way. The second thing we will actually damage the democratic process and I don’t think anybody wants to do that.



Philip Gomes in Redfern, Sydney

What a wedge! I’m torn between applauding Peter Costello’s initiative on charities and deploring it. I’m sure many Australians would feel the same. You have an axe to grind about public policy – go for it – not at the expense of the humble taxpayer, but…

As a former Catholic and avowed Atheist I would love to see all religious bodies pay the ultimate price and join the community as a fully paying participant, but for one thing. The fundamentalist economic and cultural policies pursued by this Government has resulted in our commonwealth being sold from under us by hook or by crook, so there has to be institutions that redress this loss of social capital (your words Peter) between the Government and the people it is supposed to serve.

Peter, you have now shifted the burden from what is your elected duty and responsibility on to us! This burden is shouldered by groups that exist on the smell of an oily rag, be they religious or otherwise. Shouldered by well meaning and caring citizens who show more spirit and community than that exhibited by your so called leadership.

Many of these groups would die without this meagre morsel, but of course you know that. Instead you pursue charitable corporate welfare in the guise of tax breaks and massive taxpayer funded transfers of cash to non-government institutions like private schools and health funds that are supposedly free market operators. Why are they incapable of paying their own way? And don’t they lobby you for changes to policy and endless handouts to save their corporate arses!

But of course there is another more sinister agenda. The Government seeks to kill two birds with one stone. This is to slowly break down the last remnants of the social glue holding us together in pursuit of the holy grail of a fully Americanised version of Australia – an every man for himself ideology. The individual as the supreme representation of Australian society and to hell with our traditional egalitarianism.

They wish to divide us so that we are powerless to challenge their agenda. And in doing so they deny Australians another of the rapidly closing avenues for expressions of dissent. Totalitarianism comes in several ways, sometimes with a hammer, or in increments, the treasurer and his ilk seek to incrementalise us into a mano-a-mano struggle for survival in our own personal gulags.

But of course we shouldn’t expect anything less from a Government that wedges it’s way through Australian society. They seek to attack on so many fronts that we are left reeling from the blows and incapable of response.


Peter Woodforde in Melba, ACT

What happens to all those good old Mick nuns who aid and comfort (and harbour) junkies and all sorts of “criminals”? The whole idea of church sanctuary for refugees also comes to mind. The good sisters never do jug, unless my recall is faulty, but I bet the Bishops would go funny if there was any chance that Tax were waiting in the wings with a big stick.

Another hypothetical – does this mean that looming is closer examination of those churches which conduct vast, lucrative non-taxed businesses “more than ancillary or incidental to the other purposes of the entity concerned”?

Peter Costello will have to eat a lot of Weetbix if he wants to grow the political muscle to try that one out. Face it Pete – you’re weak and silly and without a future and you’ve just proved it again. You haven’t got a cracker of John Howard’s political guile.

PS: A question for Peter Costello – will the Tax Office shut down free speech for the Salvos if they keep spending money sticking their heads up John Howard’s fundament, or will they get a special by-law?


Darren J Godwell, Chief Executive of LUMBU Indigenous Community Foundation, Lumbu

Thanks for the story on the draft Charities Bill 2003. There are some serious concerns for Indigenous charities too. The draft bill could lock indigenous peoples into disadvantage and preclude any advocacy for legislative and/or policy change whatsoever. Here are my detailed comments:

Some potential implications for Indigenous Australians

1. Recognition of intervention as a legitimate form of charitable activity

Indigenous Australians remain the most socio-economically disadvantaged in Australia. The Federal Government, to date, has failed to halt this decline. The band-aid approach of ‘relief of disadvantage’ as derived from the historical definition is inadequate. The definition must be changed to better reflect the times and circumstances of the twenty-first century. In this century charitable purposes must be expanded to include work that goes to the sources of disadvantage. Our work will only ever have sustainable impact if intervention strategies are recognised as legitimate activities i.e. capacity building, community development, youth empowerment, training etc.

2. Public awareness and advocacy are instrumental to sustainable change

Without the capacity to research, build public awareness and lobby political change then LUMBU’s work in Indigenous affairs is consigned to the patch-up work of eighteenth century blankets and soup kitchens. Indigenous interests are not well served by the existing social policy and infrastructure – hence the continued disadvantage. Structures and policies must change for improvements to be made and sustained.

LUMBU must be free to advocate this change otherwise there is no hope, no hope whatsoever to break the cycles of disadvantage and poverty. Who will generate the new approaches? Where will the new ideas be generated from? Who will invest in the propagation of these ideas and approaches? There is no commercial imperative so the private sector would not justify its presence. The vested interests and organisational culture of the public sector inhibits innovation and precludes risk taking. This is why there is a need for the third sector, the community controlled organisations such as charities and not-for-profits. We need to enshrine the right of charitable organisations to explore and then advocate new ideas, including lobbying the requisite reform of public policy and amendments to legislation.

Howard-v-the ABC: Your say

G’Day. Free speech is under pressure in Australia, as the charity censorship controversy this week illustrated. Last week the ABC was under the gun, after Howard floated appointing his own panel to judge complaints of ABC bias. In Good one John, but why stop at the ABC? I tried to broaden the debate to suggest greater accountability for the government and the commercial media, too.

Sydney University journalism student Lachlan Brown helped me process your emails on the matter, which include some interesting explorations on the role of the ABC in our democracy.

Contributors are John Hanna, Ian North, Dennis Pratt, John Carson, John Devlin, Stuart Skeleton, Chris Munson, Craig Martin, Luke Mason, Shaun Cronin, Moira Smith, Peter Woodforde, Gary Fallon, Michael Cooperand Peter Funnell.


John Hanna: Can I suggest an independent enquiry into what the hell Alston has achieved in his time as a Minister? This could be followed by another on the small matter of the corporate ‘loan’ of a high definition plasma TV from Telstra.

Ian North visiting Research Fellow (History), University of Adelaide: I’ve looked at Senator Alston’s complaint and the ABC panel’s findings. Senator Alston should resign. He clearly fails to understand or respect the idea of a politically independent, publicly funded broadcaster.

Dennis Pratt in Willow Vale, NSW: Alston has already cost the ABC time and money rebutting his trivial concerns. Who is going to pay for his next round of paranoia? Is the cost of his tribunal to be taken from the ABC budget, or is he going to ask the taxpayers to pay for his idiocy by setting up a separately funded body? My suggestion is that it be taken from his parliamentary allowance.


John Carson in Copacabana, NSW

I applaud your article on Howard’s push for an independent body to review charges of ABC bias. Howard’s hypocrisy in advocating for the ABC what he opposes in almost every other context is breath-taking.

The really worrying thing is that Howard and Alston expect the public to view their complaints about the ABC as credible. They seem blissfully unaware of their own partisan position, believing instead that their opinions (no matter how poorly grounded in the facts) define the centre of rational debate.

A reading of the ABC report into Alston’s allegations shows that Alston has been sloppy and ill-informed in his complaints. One might even accuse him of bias. It is curious that someone who demands such high standards of others should demand so little of himself. Instead of retreating with his tail between his legs, as any decent person would when so thoroughly exposed, Alston just ploughs ahead regardless.

When politicians cease to regard themselves as partisan figures and instead confuse their own interests with those of the community as a whole, we are in deep trouble. We are in even deeper trouble if people take their claims seriously.


John Devlin

Dear Margo Freakshow,

You write: How about extending the “independent panel” model to assess complaints of bias or owner interference in news against the commercial TV and radio media? A bit of balance on the commercial talkback radio networks, perhaps? A requirement that Alan Jones correct himself on air after he makes a false claim?

Commercial outlets can say what they like . . . they pay their way.

If the chattering classes want to fund the ABC, they also can say anything they like on their anti-government station. The point you so obviously glide over is that we the taxpayers fund the ABC wankers.

Margo: Not so. I made it clear that because the ABC is publicly funded it must be accountable to the people, as it is, through comprehensive complaints procedures.

The point you glide over is that our media has an essential democratic role separate from making money. Sure the commercial media pays its way, but does that mean it should NOT be accountable at all to the people? Lawyers pay their own way, but they also have ethical duties to the Courts and the integrity of the legal system. Auditors pay their own way, but they also have legislated responsibilities to tell investors the truth about a company’s accounts. Why shouldn’t the commercial media have ethical responsibilities to their readers, listeners and viewers? After all, it’s more powerful than the ABC in many ways, and plays a crucial role in public discourse.


Stuart Skeleton in Germany

Imagine my horror at actually agreeing with you on an issue. (Margo: Stuart had a big go at me in Unholy alliances.) You are right, an independent panel should be formed, and not stop just at the ABC. Although I suspect your article might be rather tongue in cheek, you have, either consciously or not, made a palpable hit.

The absolutely laughable reportage about Murray Green and his complaints department upholding only two of the 68 points raised is beyond comical. The gross negligence displayed by ABC journalists in reporting the Iraq war is absolutely scandalous. Errors of omission, factual mistakes, and the worst type of “opining” imaginable.

Then follows the ‘Internal Review’. Of course the ABC rejected the claim of bias! What choice does it have? The same people who come out in support of the ABC’s internal investigation are those who claim constantly that all OTHER enterprises (all NON governmental, of course!) should be subjected to external independent review. But let the hallowed halls of the ABC be included in such independent reviews? Perish the thought!

Yet again we see the transparent bias of the media and Intelligentsia Left; ‘Let everyone undergo independent external review . . . Except for us!’

Of course, if the ABC are really smart, they should own up to mistakes and bad reporting, but lay the blame on ‘sexed up’ intelligence, no doubt received from that paragon of journalistic and editorial virtue, The New York Times!

Smell the coffee. The ABC is ALWAYS anti-Government, no matter who the government is! It was anti-Hawke, anti-Keating, and now anti-Howard. The ABC appears to believe that its sole purpose to criticise the Government, whatever its politics. Strange tactic, relying totally on biting the only hand that feeds it!

Margo: A strange tactic, perhaps, but also a noble one requiring considerable courage given that – unlike the BBC – the ABC has no guaranteed funding base and can thus be brutally punished for not toeing the government line. The ABC’s role is to be skeptical and to put governments to proof. It’s one of the accountability mechanisms which help keep governments, of whatever persuasion, honest. And that’s what the people want, isn’t it?


Chris Munson

John Howard’s quote about the ABC was interesting. “I guess it’s inevitable if you have an internal review assessment, there’s always a tendency to declare yourself not guilty.”

I have been involved in local community organisations for nearly thirty years now (I’ve got two handicapped sons). My involvement has nearly always been at a board level. My experience is that your quote from John Howard comes only from people who are corrupt of moral values. In all my years on these boards, I have only come across one or two people who would have tried to influence outcomes against absolute honesty and truth – no matter what the decision. The outlook we always had was ‘a complaint is always an opportunity to learn and improve’.

I’d say that Johnny was not speaking as an Australian, but as a politician, and that he was probably being profoundly honest, providing an insight into the inner John. Since becoming a politician, he probably has forgotten that the mums and dads in the community still teach their kids not to tell lies and to be good honest citizens. I assume this was the thinking behind the investigations into “Kids overboard…” etc…


Craig Martin in Perth

When I first heard that Alston was making complaints regarding the ABC’s coverage of the war in Iraq, I didn’t expect much. I never expect much of our political classes at the best of times, but when they are mounting a challenge to the bias of the ABC, I invariably smell a rat. In the good Senator’s case, the timespan between recognising that a rat might be in the room, and smelling him, is invariably a short one.

Having read the Minister’s complaints and the ABC’s reply to them, I believe the Minister’s own methodology in making the complaints should be of much more concern to us. As expected, the complaints have nothing to do with the quality and professionalism of ABC journalism or reportage, and much to do with the government’s own agenda to subvert the remaining quality news outlets to its own world view.

This process needs to be challenged. If the commercial networks were ever involved in a serious attempt to inform the public they have long since abandoned it. I rely on the ABC and SBS to provide the only decent news and current affairs programming on free-to-air TV. I’m sure I am not alone in this view.

I sent an email to the minister informing him that I expect to hear of his resignation in coming days. I fear he will not bow to my pressure but I live in hope.

I never cease to be amazed at the manner in which our political classes carry themselves. Is it a flaw in our system of government, in the manner in which political candidates are selected or a combination of both? The only sense of commonality I have ever felt with the Hansonite rabble was that our current political classes are failing us.

I have only recently come across your Webdiary, and enjoy it. Thanks for your contribution to the great leftist media conspiracy which so oppresses conservative governments around the world.


Luke Mason

Alston’s complaints were apparently about “bias and anti-Americanism”. I didn’t know anti-Americanism was illegal now. Damn.

The problem with bias is that it is impossible to escape. Your own bias colours your perceptions. To someone who is pro-pro-Americanism, neutral-Americanism would sound like anti-Americanism. Not blindly accepting the Pentagon press-releases, or the output of embedded reporters could be considered anti-Americanism by pro-pro people.

Our current ‘conservative’ leaders (can we have a referendum to force them to change their party name?) have clearly sided with America, and could be considered pro pro pro (pro to the power of 3!). How would a neutral comment sound to them?


Shaun Cronin

Public Service Announcement

The Australian Government has announced the formation of the Committee of Un-Australian Activities to combat anti-government bias in Australia. The task of the committee is to investigate and punish any Australian who does not accept without question the Australian government’s pronouncements regarding the War against Iraq, the subsequent war on terror, asylum seekers, the sale of Telstra or any other issue where the government is right and the ABC and their listeners are wrong.

The House of Un-Australian activities, to counter the obvious leftish bias in the media, will consist of right wing journalists to ensure lack of bias and integrity. Senator Richard Alston will head the hearings and root out those fifth (or op-ed) columnists that dare to criticise the wonderful Australian government. All hearings will take place behind closed doors as to eliminate any unwarranted interference from the media and those brought before the committee will be denied any legal counsel as this will just get in the way of justice and may mean sitting beyond lunch therefore missing a good table at Otto’s. As this is a government hearing it in the good of public interest, and they’re all nice blokes so you know that they can be trusted.

The first agenda item will be to examine bias at the ABC. During Gulf War II it was evident that the ABC had the temerity to question the veracity of some reports regarding progress of the war emanating from the US and Australian governments. Indeed since the war has ended, the ABC has been at the forefront of scurrilous reports that no weapons of mass destruction (WMD) have been found in Iraq. As if WMDs had anything to do with the war and liberation of the Iraqi oil and the Iraqi people. Some people have taken far too seriously the remarks prior to the war that Iraq’s WMDs posed a threat to world peace. It is obvious, now that the war is over, that WMDs were never a threat and such remarks by Prime Minister Howard and members of his government to justify the war by referring to WMDs were never made. If they were made, they were taken out of context.

In light of the impending free trade agreement with the USA there are also concerns that the ABC has been programming local content at the expense of American content. It has been noted that radio station JJJ, will often play Australian artists when that 4 minutes could have easily been occupied by a hard working American artist (Dixie Chicks excepted). ABC TV shows obvious bias by running the 7:30 Report, whose time slot could better be occupied by a fine example of American artistic and cultural ascension such as Everybody Loves Raymond.

Once the committee has finished with the ABC and imported the directors of Fox News to create an impartial national broadcaster in line with the mandate John Howard received from the Australian people, the following people can expect an all expenses paid trip to Woomera to live in luxury as did those illegal immigrants who didn’t drown before arriving in immigration exclusion zones just before we bombed their countries:

*Any who has voted for The Greens

*Anyone who has not voted Liberal

*Chardonnay drinkers

* Latte drinkers

* Those that do not drink Chardonnay or Latte but have had secretly thought about doing so

Sydney Morning Herald subscribers

* Anyone living in Sydney’s inner west.

To save time, anyone in the above group please turn up at your local ‘Committee For Un-Australian Activities’ center where you will be speedily processed and re-educated. Thank you.


Moira A Smith in Kambah, ACT

My first reaction to Alston’s criticisms of the ABC was that they were ridiculous. This opinion was only confirmed by the findings of the review. The considered and sourced rebuttals of Alston’s flights of fancy make him look very silly indeed.

It reminds one of the spectacle of Heffernan leaping down a flight of steps in Parliament House yelling “yoo hoo” when reporters attempted to question him about his attack on Chief Justice Kirby.

Howard appears to have unleashed his most ridiculous henchmen to make fools of themselves. But we should beware of not taking their attacks on the judiciary and the media seriously.

I recall being told that in the lead up to WWII there was an opinion in Britain that Hitler was a ridiculous little man. [????]


Peter Woodforde in Melba, ACT.

The ABC’s Max Uechtritz got it a little bit wrong when he said: “We now know for certain that only three things in life are certain – death, taxes and the fact the military are lying bastards.”

It was four things – he forgot “but all Howard Government Ministers, without exception, are weak, venal, unctuous, vacuous, vituperative lying bastards.” Particularly that perfumed, swishing, laughably incompetent lap-dog, Alston.

Perhaps Max was trying to be “balanced”.


Gary Fallon

Howard/Alston want the ABC to mirror the Murdoch Press and uncritically provide support to them. The tenor and actions of this government are daily reflecting those of an unelected right wing dictatorship with no concern for democracy. As a result an independent ABC is a significant threat to them.

It is imperative that ethical journalists such as yourself continue to question the actions of this government in its attempts to remove itself from any accountability to the public. As someone who became eligible to vote the year that Howard was elected to Parliament, I have seen this extremist politician express his contempt for democracy since his election. It is therefore important that his duplicity and neo-fascist views (NOT neo-conservative – that is an oxymoron!) are brought to the public’s attention.


Michael Cooper

I heard you last week on Richard Glover’s Sydney ABC radio show and agree 100% with you on the crypto-facist tendencies of the Howard government and the dangers it poses to society. The concentration of media owners only makes it easier for them to control the message and spin to the hapless punters. The ABC is one of the few sources of quality information left in the country, hence Alston’s desire to muzzle and control it. I must say I also find myself agreeing with Wil Anderson’s pithy assessment of the Senator.

What a comprehensive wally Richard Alston is. Just as well we don’t have ‘lemon laws’ for politicians because senator wally would be a guaranteed candidate for ‘recall’. I note they have these kind of laws in California and are hoping to ‘recall’ their governor because he is a lemon.

Since the lemon swore his ministerial oath he has managed to comprehensively stuff up communications policy in digital TV, datacasting, telephony competition and cross media ownership laws. Four out of four failures. Kick him out of class.


Peter Funnell in Farrer, ACT.

The Howard Government has the ABC firmly in it’s sights and they appear determined to subjugate it to their will. There has not been one moment of peace for the ABC since Howard came to Government. The PM sure knows how to hate hard! This is not working for the good for our democracy or the standard of public broadcasting.

The government has ravaged the ABC with a procession of administrative interventions and Ministerial sniping. Running parallel to this campaign of organisational disorientation is the Howard government’s old favourite – progressively reduced funding without reduction in responsibilities.

It is a credit to the staff, management, Board and Chairman that the ABC continues to deliver a high quality of service to our community, local and national. With few exceptions, the commercial radio stations don’t come close.

I recall my family and everyone else in our neighbourhood monitoring the local ABC during the ACT bushfires to get vital information that might save our lives and property. It was a truthful and reliable means of communication in our community, a lifeline. When it came to the crunch, no other means of communication with the people could be trusted to do the job.

The Government has a different view. Senator Alston launched another attempt to subjugate the ABC by lodging a raft of complaints about one program and alleging systemic failure, a thinly disguised political attack that was too much for the Howard appointed Chairman, who to his everlasting credit has stood his ground and rebutted the allegations. It was a setup and the ABC was on a hiding to nothing if, as commonsense demanded, the complaints were substantially rejected. And they were.

Without missing a beat, the Senator proposed an new independent authority to handle complaints. This is no act of petulant fancy. But independent from whom, and who said the ABC complaints body was wrong in it’s judgement against the Senator’s scribblings? Only the Senator! And what is the Senator doing to ensure that commercial stations presented a fair portrayal of the Government’s actions in relation to the Iraq War, or is the Government only satisfied with favourable and supportive comment.

The Prime Minister and Senator can huff and puff for all their worth, but the ABC is a first rate service to all in our nation. Reliable, to be relied upon and ,yes Minister, by a good margin truthful, fair and informative. This vendetta is too silly for words and must stop, instead of joining so many other things the Howard Government is spinning at the moment which end in farce and damage.

Truth: Who needs it?


Wretched liberty. Image by Webdiary artist Martin Davies.

Lateline interview with Robert Baer, a former CIA operative in Iraq, got me thinking about the fallout from the exposure of bad faith by the Anglo alliance in persuading their people to support war on Iraq.

We usually find out that our government misled us on war thirty years later. This time the deception has unravelled almost immediately, raising grave questions about the future of vibrant democracies in the Anglo nations and the strength of the democratic institutions meant to protect and uphold our democratic values.

For if there are no consequences from this scandal for the three leaders concerned, where are we then? We’re already seeing one answer – the need for the Americans to show reporters the bodies of Saddam’s sons before the world will believe the Americans are telling the truth. We’re yet to get an answer to the paramount question – will the leaders suffer the normal, expected consequences of such deceit and resign or be sacked? If they don’t, won’t that mean that the requirement for truth in public office is no more? If so, what does that mean for the relationship between the people and their leaders?

The political response has been to pressure the segment of the media committed to the role of sceptical observer searching for truth behind spin to desist, and either become a part of the government’s propaganda apparatus or shut up about and not investigate sensitive matters. The government doesn’t want its media to search for the truth, it wants it to report what it says the truth is.

Baer discusses the spin within spin of modern politics, the use Bush made of the quality media to prove his case for war, and the quality media’s failure to stop itself being used – either because reporters could not penetrate the spin or simply failed to check claims made by the US administration president and instead presented them as fact.

Critics of Bush’s preemptive strike, unilateral foreign policy are beginning to suggest they got it right. They warned that invading Iraq would make the world less safe. Our regional neighbours were very strongly of this view, and this week’s attempted coup in the Philippines seems to suggest they were right. The quagmire in Iraq is also solidifying the critics’ case, as is the resumption of the WMD arms race by North Korea and Iran.

The Anglo alliance is desperate to silence such views. And what better way than to trash the BBC and the ABC, which for all their faults set the standards on accuracy for the entire media. Without them – and the accountability they face – truth might no longer be grounded in our media, and we, the public, may lose all trust in it.

Tony Jones introduced Baer as a CIA agent for 21 years. “For much of that time he was a field agent in the Middle East and worked with Iraqi dissidents against the Iraqi regime. He’s also the author of several books including ‘See No Evil’ – his personal account of the decline of the CIA.”

Here’s some highlights:

TONY JONES: Do you maintain that the American President actually lied to his people about the reasons for this war, or was he himself misled?

ROBERT BAER: I think what happened was that this group in the White House decided to go to war. They went to the intelligence agencies and asked for talking points for the press. The intelligence agencies, as they well do, will give them everything and put all the caveats they like, but the White House decided, for whatever reason, that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and needed to make the best possible case.

JONES: So what do you think then, was the biggest flaw in the pre-war intelligence that we were given here in Australia from the United States and also in Britain?

BAER: There was no intelligence. I mean, it’s apparent now that since the UN inspectors left in 1998, that they weren’t collecting information. You look at the national intelligence estimate line by line, it’s all weak and it proved to be wrong.

It came from the Iraqi Opposition. The Iraqi Opposition had a tendency to exaggerate this intelligence, but we knew – when I was in the CIA, we got the information (but) we never disseminated and put no credence in it. Suddenly in 2000 we started taking their information and spreading it as if it were the truth. So did the American press, by the way… Most of the stuff on the nuclear program came from the dissident groups, from public relations groups. The Washington Post and the New York Times picked up the same stuff and ran it. There was this drum beat for war that sucked in all this bad intelligence.

JONES: So what then was the role of the traditional intelligence services like the CIA in all of this because you know from working in the organisation for many years, that is not the way they collect intelligence?

BAER: There was a clandestine revolt. They went to the Inspector-General and complained, but it never made its way out of the CIA. And the CIA does a good job. If the CIA doesn’t know something, is perfectly happy to tell the President we don’t know, we can’t tell you for sure. But when the President says I don’t care whether you’re certain or not, just put it in paper, the CIA does it. It works for the executive branch.

JONES: Are you aware of the specific evidence given by Mr Hadari who claimed to be an engineer who helped build bunkers in which secret chemical and biological weapons facilities were supposed to have been?

BAER: Yes, he was, as I understand it, he was working with Chalabi in the north to create some sort of fake database that there was a nuclear program going on, an active one.

JONES: And how significant was he? Obviously this broadcaster has a particular interest in him since he broadcast the exclusive interview with him late last year?

BAER: Well, my understanding is that his information was also given to the New York Times in Bangkok who ran a front page above the fold article describing the nuclear program, which convinced a lot of Americans that the President was right.


If Baer is right here, the quality media allowed itself to be used by Iraqi dissidents to bolster the case for war. Here’s where it’s vital that sources are checked and not reported as fact until checks have been made. This basic journalistic duty seems to have almost disappeared in some quarters, and at times is not even being fulfilled in the quality media.

The media has been TOO TRUSTING, not too skeptical. In Australia, we now know that we should not have trusted the government’s word on children overboard. We should not have reported the claim as fact, and we should have focused from the very beginning on the lack of supporting evidence for it.

But the government wants us to trust its word and not look around for the truth, particularly now that it’s proven it has no qualms about lying or about suppressing the truth when it discovers it has unintentionally misled.

Today, more from you on the many aspects of spin in play during the Iraq war saga and the implications of its exposure to the light of day. The Webdiary spin conversation keeps getting better – contributors today areStacey FoxDarren Urquhart, Daniel Moye, Terry O’Kane and Colin McKerlie.


Stacey Fox in Perth, Western Australia

I’ve been giving some thought to the question of anger (Spin, anger, ethics: Your say) and concluded that there is a certain sort of productive anger, which pushes you past that feeling of impotent rage, which banishes complacency and gives you a sense of personal responsibility for the issue at hand.

I had been meaning to write to my local MP and WA Senators about my concern regarding the cross media bill and it wasn’t until I read Jack Robertson’s discussion of anger that I actually sat down to do it. Today I got my first response, from West Australian Labour Senator Ruth Webber, who said that “I strongly believe that the fabric of Australia’s social political and civic life will be irreparably torn if ownership – and editorial control – of the media is allowed to concentrate in the hands of a few powerful moguls” and affirmed that she was committed to the ideal of independent and diverse scrutiny of the actions of this country’s political leaders.

This emphasised for me the importance of anger which results in action (non-violent of course) and the necessity of making connections and alliances – particularly with members of parliament. So thanks Jack for spurring me to action, for insisting on being pedantic, and for your willingness to deconstruct Howard’s obscuring drivel.


Darren Urquhart

In his parliamentary speech Laurie Brereton suggests that the attack on Iraq is not a part of the War on Terrorism (Shroud over Guernica). Many have suggested the same, usually then moving to the point that what it is really about is oil control.

But maybe the occupation of Iraq IS part of the War on Terrorism, maybe even a central pillar. Sure there’s oil-control at stake and ridding Saddam of WMD is important, but the major consideration is facing off with the real enemy – radical Islam.

US forces in Iraqi cities will be honey for the bees. Maybe that’s the point.

An Iraqi invasion and occupation is a seizing of the initiative. We will fight you but not on your terms. We will fight you in Baghdad, not New York. Arab civilians will suffer, not Americans. The world’s most fearsome war machine will engage you at close quarters and destroy you. The showdown at noon. The OK Corral.

In today’s Sydney Morning Herald we get this from Wolfowitz:

The United States Deputy Defence Secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, has put new emphasis on the fighting in Iraq, calling it the central battle in the Bush Administration’s war on terrorism. Asked about the increasing casualties among US soldiers in Iraq, Mr Wolfowitz told US television: “It is a sacrifice that is going to make our children and our grandchildren safer because the battle to win the peace in Iraq now is the central battle in the war on terrorism.”

And this:

The commander of US ground forces, Lieutenant-General Ricardo Sanchez, said the sophistication of the raids had increased over the past 30 days. “This is what I would call a terrorist magnet where America, being present here in Iraq, creates a target of opportunity, if you will.” (Iraq put at core of US war on terrorism)

There is little doubt that the strategies the leaders of the US, UK and Australia are publicly selling are not the real strategies they are implementing. Wolfowitz himself said that the WMD issue was chosen as the issue everyone could agree on for a reason to invade Iraq. What are the reasons that were not unanimously agreed upon?

There are radical right-wingers in the US who publicly call for a war with Islam. Just how far right are the likes of Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld and Cheney? And just how far will the Howard Government go in supporting them?

Webdiary contributors pushing the “Anglofacism” line put a compelling case, but it is miles away from the thinking of mainstream Australia – the true holders of power here. To many Howard is a strong father-figure, not some emerging WASP facist. And no amount of rudeness, anger or preaching will turn the minds of these Australians.

Calm, well thought analysis is slower and requires much more patience but is more likely to appeal to our sense of social justice. Howard has brought out the worst in us, made us ugly. No one will be thanked for shoving a mirror in front of this nation. Our reflection will be revealed slowly and painfully. Attempts to hurry the process will not help.

The issues to focus on are the strategic options this Government is pursuing. It is not clear-cut. Frankly, a well intentioned intervention in the Solomons does not sit well with the “Howard as the Devil” caricature. Howards critics have been pretty silent on this one.

Of course the problem with understanding his strategy is that he does not publicly discuss it and as Jack Robertson has pointed out he is very good at avoiding the hard questions (see Fisking John). The onus is on the media and the people to try and dissect the governments actions and build a picture of the strategy.

To just assume that Howard is a sort of Dr. Evil character bent on total domination is a cop out. It over-simplifies a complex situation and, worse, just will not fly with his voters. Most people believe Howard is well intentioned and many believe he is the right man for the times. The challenge then is to explain how and why the strategy options being chosen are the wrong ones.


Daniel Moye in Roseville, Sydney

Among all its bile, there is some merit in Jack Robertson’s passionate calling to account of John Howard’s War on Iraq policy (in Countering spin: An attempt). While I do not agree with the tactic of personal abuse nor with most of his conclusions Jack’s article and the response by Liberal MP Alan Cadman do hint at the underlying problems that have led to the foreign policy quagmire Australia now faces.

The central issues facing Australia Foreign Policy are:

1. Spin Doctors

If we take the conservative politicians who have not directly led the debate on the reason for war on Iraq at their word, we find a distinct gap between their views and those that their leaders choose to emphasise in their case for war.

In Spin, anger, ethics: Your say, I described how conservative congressman Christopher Shay placed great emphasis on how a tolerable position had become intolerable,m as did Alan Cadman in his response to Jack.

Readers may ultimately choose not to take Alan Cadman at his word and believe he is ducking the question, but if you look at his long email to Jack it is clear that the failure of the UN to enforce its restrictions on Iraq over a sustained period of time presented a clear and present danger to the region and the world particularly viewed through the prism of 9/11. These are clearly the main reasons these ‘backbenchers’ supported war on Iraq.

But the leaders of the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ instead focussed on more media friendly or popularly understandable arguments of a ticking WMD bomb. The campaign to sell the War on Iraq looks more and more like an election campaign: ‘Let’s just say whatever we need to say to win the argument and deal with the backlash afterwards.’

This tactic is infamous in Western democracies but is more associated with backing down on tax cuts or on hidden problems rising to the surface than with debates about going to war. The hands of spin doctors appear to be guiding the politicians in their presentation of foreign policy and Australians could pay a heavy price for this.

2. Informed Debate

There are significant drawbacks to emphasising the short-term and immediate reasons for any foreign policy decision. By focusing on the minutiae rather than emphasising the big picture arguments for war, the Coalition of the willing’s leaders left the arguments for the War on Terror dangerously dependent on the WMD controversy.

Without clearly outlining the framework for Australian foreign policy in the 21st century, the Howard government has left itself open to charges of political opportunism, outright deception and being an American lackey, however spurious the claims. I understand what John Howard is trying to achieve in Australian foreign policy but am deeply concerned that he is not carrying enough of the nation with him. I suggest he addresses the nation on the following issues:

* the historical ties with the U.S. and why that relationship has such a central place in Australian foreign policy. Is it purely for defensive and strategic reasons, or are we allies of conviction? What are the shared values and what is different?

* What are the principles that guide Australian foreign policy in the Asia/Pacific? How does Australia’s approach to the region differ to the US? What are the principles governing our approach to the UN?

These questions could also be posed to all major Australian political parties. The commonalities could be used as a basis for re-forming some consensus again to Australian foreign policy.

3. The Media

Clearly the Murdoch press are cheerleaders for the Coalition of the willing globally, and my expectations for them are low. Other newsagencies should put a greater effort in contextualising our current foreign policy debate and examine where each side is coming from. It is important to follow the details, but it is equally important that in informing the public a balanced framework for Australian foreign policy is provided.

4. Parliamentary Accountability

The Senate should have the power to fully examine the foreign policy decisions of the government. Rather than view Senate committees as there to apportion blame or score political points, the Howard government should recognise that Senate inquiries help not only to exemplify democratic accountability but also allow mistakes to be openly examined and policy solutions or remedies found. Spin doctors should be required to front the Senate if requested.

Perhaps through these measures conservative policy makers will be able to remove the shackles of urban myths like American Lacky, Deputy Sheriff and big bad suited white boys.


Terry O’Kane

Why spin the information when all you need do is simply leave out the details? Here’s The Age online report on Monday about the raid on a house in Baghdad which Saddam was suspected to be in:

“Reuters correspondent Miral Fahmy said a road in the Mansur district had been sealed off and the area was swarming with troops. Soldiers on the scene refused to comment and military spokesmen said they had no immediate information on the raid. Officials at a city hospital said five bodies had been brought from the scene of the raid.”

Here’s Robert Fisk’s on the spot report in The Independent on 28th July:

“Obsessed with capturing Saddam Hussein, American soldiers turned a botched raid on a house in the Mansur district of Baghdad yesterday into a bloodbath, opening fire on scores of Iraqi civilians in a crowded street and killing up to 11, including two children, their mother and crippled father. At least one civilian car caught fire, cremating its occupants.

The vehicle carrying the two children and their mother and father was riddled by bullets as it approached a razor-wired checkpoint outside the house.

Amid the fury generated among the largely middle-class residents of Mansur – by ghastly coincidence, the killings were scarcely 40 metres from the houses in which 16 civilians died when the Americans tried to kill Saddam towards the end of the war in April – whatever political advantages were gained by the killing of Saddam’s sons have been squandered.”

At the scene of the killings, there was pandemonium. While US troops were loading the bullet-shattered cars on trucks – and trying to stop cameramen filming the carnage – crowds screamed abuse at them. One American soldier a few feet from me climbed into the seat of his Humvee, threw his helmet on the floor of the vehicle and shouted: ‘Shit! Shit!’

Fisk is a well known and renowned journalist who captures not only the facts but the emotion of the incident and gives us some perspective on why the Americans are having such a difficult time in Iraq. The Age report not only tells us nothing it goes further in that it reduces human life to numbers devoid of even basic information about whether the dead are civilian, children etc and allows us the fantasy that because they live in an area were Saddam was believed to be that perhaps they were his supporters, were probably men of fighting age and were perhaps armed etc. Lack of information can allow us to create convenient fictions of the type that John Howard has so successfully promoted by restricting information on a range of issues from Iraq, David Hicks to refugees and the detention centres.


Colin McKerlie in Perth, Western Australia

Dear Jack Robertson,

I share your interest in finding ways to expose the lies we have been told by our government (Countering spin: An attempt).

I tend to think it would be a relatively simple job for an intelligent, competent journalist who wasn’t scared to lose his or her job to get the truth, but it is very difficult to get any journalists to accept that possibility. It makes it hard to debate methods when the people who are the problem control the debate.

But that is another issue. I am writing to suggest there is a much more simple way of exposing the lies told by the Americans and dutifully repeated by Howard about links between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. Typically, I have yet to see a single mainstream commentator or journalist point out this really obvious flaw in the argument. It is a deceptively simple observation, so take a minute to consider it.

In September, 2001 the American Congress passed a War Powers Act that empowered Bush to wage war on anyone who had been involved in the 9/11 attacks, or any country which helped or harboured anyone who was involved in those attacks. Bush and the Congress made it very clear that they would act absolutely without consideration of anyone else’s opinion in attacking the perpetrators of 9/11.

While the United Nations supported the invasion of Afghanistan, it has to be remembered that if every country on Earth had threatened to declare war on America if it invaded Afghanistan, the Americans would not have hesitated for a second. We can be sure that if they had any evidence at all of any other country harbouring or helping Al Qaeda, either before or after 9/11, they would have attacked at will.

It is a slightly circular argument, but the reason we know America has no evidence at all of links between Saddam and Al Qaeda is because if they had any evidence they would have invaded Iraq without any concern for what the rest of the world thought. The fact that they floated the allegation of links between Saddam and Al Qaeda in fact proves that they had no such evidence. Do you get my point?

It is a measure of how desperate the Americans were to persuade other countries to support the invasion of Iraq that it apparently never occurred to them that by claiming they had evidence of a link between Al Qaeda and Saddam and not taking action on that evidence, they were demonstrating that they themselves did not believe there was any link. If they believed it, what else did they need?

Of course, they eventually did invade Iraq, but if the Bush administration actually believed they could prove a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq, they have to explain why they did nothing about it for nearly 18 months. I first heard the allegations about Mohammed Atta meeting Iraqi intelligence in Prague in October, 2001. If Bush believed he had evidence, he would have attacked Iraq a year before he did.

This point seems absolutely beyond argument to me. Maybe you could think about it and let me know if you can see a flaw in the reasoning. Maybe you have seen someone in the mainstream media make the same point. If you don’t and you can’t, then maybe you could make the point in the Webdiary and ask the mainstream media why they have missed such an obvious flaw in the justification of this invasion.


Jack Robertson recommends this Guardian piece “on the futility of committed, deathless prose!!”

Pointless prose

by DJ Taylor

July 29, first published in The Guardian

Given the current international situation, the densely printed circular that fell on to the doormat a week or two ago was half-expected. Headed ‘Authors Take Sides on Iraq’, dispatched by the publishing firm of Cecil Woolf and presumably copied to a couple of hundred phantom colleagues, it invited a response to two questions:

1. Were you for, or against, the American-led military action against Saddam Hussein’s regime in March and April 2003?

2. Do you believe that the intervention will bring about lasting peace and stability in the region?

For a fortnight now this catechism has been sitting quietly on the study desk – mute, unanswerable but at the same time stirring all kinds of reflections on that eternal stand-off between, on the one hand, the mystical figure of “the writer” and on the other, what used to be called, and perhaps still is, “commitment”.

The ‘Authors Take Sides’ booklets have a long and distinguished history. The first, sent out in 1937 by Auden, Spender, Louis Aragon and Nancy Cunard and asking: “Are you for, or against, the legal Government and People of Republican Spain?” had Orwell, in an unpublished response, demanding would they stop sending him this “bloody rubbish” and Evelyn Waugh apparently coming out for Franco.

Thirty years later a similar volume canvassed literary opinion – no less intense or divergent in its views – on the war in Vietnam. A decade-and-a-half after that followed ‘Authors Take Sides’ on the Falklands. Now, a further 20 years down the road – a 1991 Gulf war symposium perished in a fire at the publishers, alas – comes a chance for us all to say what we think about weapons of mass destruction, road maps and shock and awe.

No disrespect to the editorial sponsors, Cecil Woolf and his partner Jean Moorcroft Wilson, who are doubtless animated by the best of motives, or to the dozens of poets, novelists and dramatists currently shaking their heads over the respective merits of Dubya and Saddam, to say that among the various futile exercises that could be proposed for a writer at the present time, this is quite possibly the most futile of all.

When I first set out on my journey through what the Victorian novelist George Gissing called the Valley of the Shadow of Books – contributing novel reviews to the London Magazine at 30 a time – I took the proper attitude, common to practically every British writer since the 1930s, that in however marginal a way I was “committed”.

At the heart of the business of being a writer, I assumed – apart from the necessity to earn a living – was an urge to right wrongs, to expose injustice. To this end one preferred to write for the New Statesman rather than the Spectator, and for this newspaper rather than the Daily Telegraph (even though the rightwing papers offered better money) because in the last resorts, and without waxing too pretentious about it, sides had to be taken.

From all sides came cheering evidence of how literary interventions of this sort could produce practical results. Hadn’t Upton Sinclair’s expose of the Chicago slaughterhouses (The Jungle, 1906) actually forced a change in American law? And hadn’t Alan Sillitoe claimed that Robert Tressell’s novel The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropist helped to win the 1945 election for Labour? That was the kind of thing one wanted to write, even when it became clear that the world was changing and the old political certainties no longer held.

The moment at which I first dimly divined that the age of the writer as activist was passing came when I read the famous multi-signature letter to the broadsheet newspapers protesting at the short-lived Russian coup of 1991. Never, it seemed, had literary presumption and literary futility been so unhappily combined. Who gave a damn what novelist X and playwright Y, Harold Pinter and his inky battalions, thought about it all? What could they do? And who among their public cared?

And so here I am a dozen years later trying to establish – an exercise that seems to demand a great many thousands of words – what I, who know nothing but what I read in the newspapers and see on television, think about Iraqi corpses and slaughtered British military policemen. There is, it hardly needs saying, no point, just as there is no point – to descend a little further down the activist scale – in writing a letter to your MP. All you will get back in answer to your reasonable request for information – a recent missive to Charles Clarke bore this out in excelsis – is a sheet of platitudes.

In an environment where art has lost all formal influence, all the writer can do is to keep on writing, in the hope that somehow he or she can make an impact at bedrock, on the series of individual moral sensibilities that read books.

Meanwhile, this particular writer has reached a state that his 20-year-old self would have regarded with astonishment and horror. For the first time in my life, awful to relate, despite Bush, Blair and the terrors of “liberation”, I feel thoroughly degage.

DJ Taylor is a novelist and critic.

A Gender Agenda

John and Janette, Joint Residency Arrangement, Chapter Two


(Background: Are your shoes mucky?)

John finds himself facing the most difficult dilemma of his life – an awful choice between what’s good for the country, and what’s good for his children. It was the invite that threw him – a date to dress up in Hawaiian shirts and flex some pearly whites at the annual APEC meet. His best mate Dubbs would be going, along with Asia-Pacific leaders more vertically challenged than our Prime Miniature, but doh, the meeting date landed on a week he had the kids.

Worse still, Janette was becoming more and more hard to deal with. She had serious difficulty getting back into her teaching career following the years she’d taken off, plus Brendan Nelson’s new policy of subsidising schools that took on male teachers was proving to be a real hurdle. There were also her constant nag-nag-nags of why there weren’t as many GPs who offered bulk billing in the neighbourhood.

She’d even been so desperate she’d tried to get assistance from a lefty welfare organisation. Didn’t matter though, as the charity’s doors were closed because its lifeblood had been cut with the loss of its tax deductibility status. That’ll teach ’em for trying to clothe and feed those grubby would-be-terrorists on temporary protection visas.

The renovations to Kirribilli were also becoming a nuisance. The kids had complained that shifting between Mum and Dad each week was a real drag. Melanie was concerned her marks were suffering from the constant change in environment, and as such she feared she mightn’t get into law school. Janette was already worrying about the kids’ pending HECS debts with the increased costs of higher education. Janette also needed a lawyer.

To ease the logistical difficulties, John decided to build a wing for Janette that had access to each of the kids’ rooms so they wouldn’t have to shift each week anymore (reno costs split 50/50 of course). But the builders were now proving problematic, with Tony ‘paid maternity leave over my dead body’ Abbott’s threats to conduct site visits on the premises. Tensions all round were rising. ABC journalists seemed to be asking more questions than normal.

Then came that APEC invite. It didn’t help that Peter Costello kept muttering on about this word ‘tolerance’, so much so that he’d offered John the option of job sharing because of his unique situation. But it wasn’t all that unique. Thanks to his Government’s introduction of joint residency as the presumption in family law, he was just like most other separated parents with children (except with more money). Finally, he felt like a man of the people. But for how long? While polling showed divorce rates were on the decline, it seemed the mothers of Australia, minus Pauline, were becoming increasingly unhappy.


Shared parenting scenarios aside, the emails Margo forwarded in response to ‘Are your shoes mucky?’ are divided on whether there is a gender agenda at play with the proposal to introduce rebuttable joint residency as the presumption in Family Law.

Chantal Bock wrote, “Being a good parent has nothing to do with gender so please stop making it a gender issue.”

Trevor said, “The only reason gender comes into the debate is because of the biased way the system rewards the custodial parent (female most of the time as the Family Court still talks about mothers as the primary carers even though women want equality in the workplace it seems they want to stay at home and play mummies too!)”, while Kathleen Swinbourne argued, “anybody who thinks this is not a gender issue is seriously deluded.”

Whether you believe there is or isn’t a gender agenda to this proposal, the responses arguing for or against the introduction of rebuttable joint residency are divided almost entirely between the sexes. In the lead into ‘Are your shoes mucky?’ Margo described the issue as a “fraught” one. The emails in response certainly back this up.

The common threads in the responses from supporters of this proposal (predominantly men) is that the Family Court currently unfairly favours mothers, that some mothers see children as “prizes” following separation, and that rebuttable joint residency would provide separating parents with an “equal” starting point. Phil Sutcliffe echoed the sentiments of several emails in support of the proposal, by arguing the current system is a “one-size-fits-women-only policy”.

The responses from Dads reveal feelings of frustration and powerlessness when it comes to family law, with the argument that joint residency will solve this. While shared parenting arrangements are to be commended (and could perhaps work in some of these situations), the introduction of joint residency as the presumption in family law for all separating couples with children still raises serious concerns.

The responses against the proposal are almost entirely from women. Some of their concerns/fears include the background of the chief lobbyists of this proposal, the connection of male role models with fathers, the proposal’s potential to trap women, and the threat of an increase in family violence if rebuttable joint residency makes it to the legislative table.

When The 7:30 Report covered the story last week, Children and Youth Affairs Minister Larry Anthony responded to concerns about an increase in family violence. He said, “We’re not talking about the case where there’s clear evidence of abuse or there’s been neglect, or where there’s a very good reason why there shouldn’t be that contact or there shouldn’t be that shared care. So I think you’ve got to separate that and I think that’s an easy point of criticism.”

It is an easy point of criticism Larry, but the problem with family violence is the hidden nature of it. It is already grossly under-reported. Too often, there is not “clear evidence” as the Minister suggests. While the crux of the debate on joint residency should lie with shared parenting, and whether this would currently work for the majority of children of separated couples, the fear of an increase in family violence is very real for some people and has a relevant place in this debate. The reality of family violence is that women and children are the overwhelming victims. Without “clear evidence” of family violence, how would survivors/victims rebut the presumption of joint residency?

Again, it comes back to the main beef with this proposal: the presumption, and the presumption this proposal will be in the best interests of the majority of children. Presumptions in law are best put in practice when it suits the vast majority of cases. Despite some very emotional emails from fathers on this issue, the argument that rebuttable joint residency will suit the majority of children of all separating parents is not convincing. Far from it.

Responses to the issue have been divided into each side – those for the introduction of rebuttable joint residency and those against. This was the easiest way of divvying up the arguments and in a way it demonstrates the great divide between responses. It also ties nicely into the issue of 50/50 time share.

First, a response from Lindsay who is in a shared parenting arrangement with his former partner and daughter. Then, a response from Michael Keayes who had an issue with my scenario of John and Janette Howard in a joint residency arrangement, followed by emails supporting the proposal from Peter Parkinson, Trevor, Julian Fitzgerald, Erich and Chantal Bock (the only woman to email in favour).

Responses against the proposal are from Jennifer, Marilyn Shepherd, Helen Smart, Debbie Kirkwood and Kathleen Swinbourne.



I know the whole issue of shared (joint) parenting and residency (aka custody) is a fraught issue.

My daughter has been 50:50 share parenting and residence (week about) now for 6 1/2 years (from age 7-13). So far so good, but there have been hiccups along the way, but for her it has worked well. It may change as she gets older and studies and friends become more central, and that’s to be expected.

We essentially came up with our own shared parenting plan (with a little help from a friendly FCA counsellor, who helped iron out a few things initially, while feelings were raw) and had it registered with the FCA. Since then it hasn’t been referred to much, but has guided things and is being varied much more now as we’ve got the hang of it.


Michael Keayes

Polly, the scenario you put up is stupid. If John Howard wanted equal shared care of his kids if he ever got divorced, he would as a matter of necessity quit his job and take another job. That is what a good father would do. If he didn’t quit he would not get shared care. That is the whole idea of rebuttable!! Most dads are not the Prime Minister. Most dads can arrange their lives around their kids. If they can’t then they will not ask for shared care, or will agree on something else with the other parent.


Peter Parkinson

I believe that joint custody should be the starting point in all divorce proceedings. I have 13 years bad experience with the FCA and CSA to prove it!

Sure, there are situations where joint custody is inappropriate, like pedophilia, violence against the children or geographically impossible sharing. But, if shared custody was the starting point in all cases, it would remove the legal conspiracy from the equation and not have legal conspiracy scum put ideas into mothers heads that they can get a cushy lifestyle and never have to work again, where the father pays everything through the CSA “for ever”, if they seek custody.

It would also eliminate 39% of CSA case fathers from the dole! = around 400,000 fathers!

Of course this will be challenged by the legal conspiracy scum, as they will become redundant in most cases – pity, all those years at university and no Mercedes or BMW at the end of it – our hearts bleed!

It will also stop the hated FCA’s Alistair Nicholson from quoting false data into the media such as only 6% of cases are contested, when he knows only too well that most cases settle by consent because of his legal conspiracy friends needs for costs and where fathers are told it will cost $50,000 to contest custody and in the end the Family Court will give custody to the woman.

So there you have it – a sensible idea that will work. Fathers will get access to children, mothers will be asked to stop leaning on the Australian Taxpayer for family benefits (and be asked to get a job after divorce), the Child Support Agency will be able to function as only a collection agency when mothers really do have custody, the Family Court won’t be tied up with Legal Conspiracy scum out to get all the money for their Mercedes in one weeks work, and all legal conspiracy scum will be sidelined to earn a living in the real world.

Only positives and everyone wins – whets wrong with that?



It seems that Polly Bush rationalises and analyses at a superficial level. She only looks at parts of the BIG picture. 50-50 Shared Parenting is far broader than she concedes or possibly comprehends.

Firstly, by removing the children as the prize, divorce will not be so attractive as the majority of divorces in this country are initiated by the mother. This could affect terms of the property settlement. Thus the ‘prizes of divorce’ will be diminished. Result = Less divorce. This is better for families AND kids.

Her statement “Anthony has been quick to argue the Inquiry is “not about gender politics”. But isn’t it? One of John Howard’s public reasons for holding the Inquiry is out of concern for boys and the lack of so-called male role models. This nicely ties in with Federal Education Minister Brendan Nelson’s recent agonising over the lack of male teachers in schools.” shows her dated feminist concepts and gender bias. The only reason gender comes into the debate is because of the biased way the system rewards the custodial parent (female most of the time as the FC still talks about mothers as the primary carers even though women want equality in the workplace it seems they want to stay at home and play mummies too!). This author needs to read some modern feminist

literature. (Polly: I’m curious to hear your suggestions.)

She goes on to quote Justice Nicholson as saying: “The fact is that we do live in a society where the mother is the primary care giver in most intact marriages. It is therefore not surprising that parents are most likely to decide that mothers should retain that primary responsibility it is also not surprising that judges will choose an environment that provides the greatest continuity and least disruption for children.” Nich lives back in the 1950’s it seems.

He has made more appropriate statements like “Chief Justice Nicholson gave at the 25th conference of the family court in Sydney in July 2001. On page 287 the CJ concurs with the following: “The original architects of the [Family Law] act recognised that the adversarial system was an inappropriate vehicle for the resolution of family disputes in the vast majority of cases, particularly where the continued parenting of children was an issue.”

The Chief Justice also states in the Advertiser on 2nd July 2003 “I have long advocated a less adversarial system, as practised in a number of European countries, and the Family Court is investigating ways in which this approach may be introduced in order to reduce the conflict and tension of court appearances”. Why not use a Family Matters Tribunal? FC only for Appeals? Much cheaper, efficient and faster. Less work for the legal parasites.

My daughter travels from Brisbane to Sydney regularly to spend time with me. She loves it. It is an exciting time to look forward to. She actually prefers to be in my company. How is this bad for kids? Surely better than not spending time with Dad. These type of arguments are grasping at straws and most superficial. Arguing the logistics is stupid. Parents will work them out in the best interests of their kids. Mediation can help this if required.

(Polly: I never argued against Dad time – am generally a fan of it. I also think the logistical requirements involved in shared residency are very important to the debate.)

She goes on: “A study released by a University of NSW researcher last week calculated the amount of time working mothers and fathers of young children had each day for their own leisure time. Of the 4000 families researched in the study, working fathers are said to have one hour and 12 minutes a day free time. For working mothers, it’s estimated at less than a second per day.” So if this is so does not this indicate that Dads have more time available to spend with the kids? More Shared parenting time? Dads should be the primary carers if this is true! It indicates that working mothers don’t have time for their prizes, sorry, kids. Is she suggesting that ALL mothers should not work but be mummies full time?

(Polly: In response to your questions above- yes; if only; and no)

She writes: “If legislation orders joint residency as the presumption, the number of couples appearing in the Family Court to alter this arrangement could actually increase. This would add significant costs to the separating couples involved, which in turn could cause debt to spiral and the rest. The Law Council of Australia’s Michael Foster estimates that with rebuttable joint residency in place, “there would be many more [court] proceedings … and far fewer settlements”.

I believe the opposite will be true. There will be less divorce. The prizes will be reduced. Responsibilities placed upon parents re the children will increase. Fewer will go to the FC in the hope of snaring a big win. The odds will not appear so good any more. Perhaps mediation will be mandated re contact arrangements.

She then quotes Patrick Parkinson: “There’s no way you could say it is in the best interest of the majority of children. If there’s a presumption, a lot of women will be pressured into it because they can’t afford $20,000 to litigate.” Who is in this exact situation now re residency? FATHERS are. Who are pressured into signing Consent Orders for contact now? Fathers are. Who are restricted to 109 nights of contact per year because of the reduced prize for the mother? Fathers are.

She simply is re-stating all the old stuff and failing to see the BIG PICTURE. This concept has had a huge effect where it has been introduced. Removing the prizes from the board lowers the divorce rate and allows the kids to have two parents again even if they are divorced.


Julian Fitzgerald

I have read your piece in the Sydney Morning Herald and I think you have simply misunderstood what rebuttable presumptive equal custody does.

You seem to think that it is about splitting time equally and changing fathers’ and mothers’ roles in the family. You also seem to think it is a one-size-fits-all solution.

So the main body of your article is designed to lampoon such ideas, and you strive to do this by comparing before and after, by comparing what fathers normally do in a marriage or partnership, with what they would do if there was this ludicrous obsession with equal time between parents.

So, let me tell you what the equal parenting concept actually means. It means giving children absolute security on the key issue of having both their natural parents, whether the parents live together or apart. This relational confidence, by the way, is about the most critical factor in a child’s stability, it comes first, not last.

It means giving separated parents the same EQUAL say in how their children are brought up as the parity of esteem parents are given, under the law, when they live together.

It means giving parents who disagree, but don’t live together, the same rights to disagree and sort out their disagreements as they would have if they lived together – without their children being threatened with the loss of one of their parents.

It means giving ALL parents, without discriminating on grounds of sex, the ability to have a say in how they organise their lives, on an equitable footing, without having the courts designating who does how much.

It means allowing all natural families, not just those who are designated as family units by officials, the same rights under the law, with the same penalties if they transgress the law as any other citizen.

It’s actually about fairness, security for children and adults, and allowing people to run their own families.

I can tell you something very simple as a hands-on, caring parent, who has been excluded from my daughter’s life, illegally, in breach of mine and my daughter’s family rights, by the courts, for seven years now.

You can’t look after children if you’re not there to care. You can’t be a good parent if the whole system is conspiring against your being a parent at all. You can’t be the father in your daughter’s life if she knows this is conditional on your ex-wife and the courts’ permission, on the school’s correct behaviour in maintaining contact with you, on the 101 areas in which you ARE being discriminated against as a parent, with the full backing of the state.

I happen to think that having a loving father is at least as important for a little girl as it is for a little boy. I don’t agree with John Howard there. I know, both from my own experience as a child of divorce and from my experience as an involuntary ex-father, that the system is so inherently biased against good parents when they are fathers that the way to start any change is to give a child an equal right to both parents, and proceed from there.

That’s what rebuttable presumptive equal parenting MEANS. It allows both parents to choose how they parent and when they parent, just as it does in a marriage, or a partnership. That is after all the commitment both parents have entered into when bringing their children into the world.

You need to re-write your article. It’s based on a false premise. The only way in which the present proposals to change the law are one-size-fits-all is that they are non-sexist, and they give children an equal right to both parents, whether together or apart, a right that presently doesn’t exist, in practice. It’s not the children who need to get this message, it’s the parents and the professionals who have supported female gatekeeping and the exclusion of fathers from children’s lives. It’s not the business of the state to put itself between children and their parents – either of them.



You say that “residency issues should still be judged on an individual basis, therefore I’m against a one size fits all policy”.

I couldn’t agree with you more, but the reality is that there is in place a policy of just that. Unless you have a very large bucket full of money, and you happen to get a reasonable judge, as a father you have almost no chance of obtaining residency. There is an industry set up which has robbed my children of their future (over $250K in costs) just so that I can fulfill my kids strongest wishes to see their dad.

There are some very simple solutions for most of the arguments against shared parenting, even with difficult breakups. The only thing really missing is the political willpower to realise two things:

1) The role of fatherhood has changed dramatically for the better in the last 30 years, and is not being recognised.

2) Women are no better or worse than men when it comes to abuse. It takes different forms, but an abusive woman will cause just as much damage as an abusive man, although it is normally more sophisticated and difficult to trace.

I only get to see my kids every two weeks, yet when my wife and I were together, I spent more time with the kids than she did.

What most people don’t realise is that in most cases the parents will work it out for themselves. It is precisely in the cases that go to court that the presumption of equal contact should exist. This is necessary to prevent a spiteful parent from preventing meaningful contact with the other parent. I find it impossible to repair the neglect that my son receives in two days a fortnight. He is not receiving the therapy he needs for his disability.

There is no doubt that a stable home with both parents is optimal, but if that can’t be the case, my kids should not be suffering the loss they are currently feeling because my ex is hell bent on revenge.


Chantal Bock

Wake up Polly, not sure where you have been but the current system is one size fits all.

The mother gets the kids the father becomes the visitor. She gets the prize, oops, I mean children and therefore up to 80% of the assets and he gets to visitation rights to his children but all the financially burden towards maintaining his kids and ex spouse.

Being a good parent has nothing to do with gender so please stop making it a gender issue.

Your reporting is selective only taking bits that suit your argument a good example poor journalism. Perhaps you should talk about the mothers who constantly deny contact, who raise false allegations of sexual abuse and false AVO’s all for the sake of a few dollars. Are these examples of good parenting?

It is your brand of feminism that keeps women from achieving true equality. Why should men not be able to look after the children 50% of the time? So what if men might only work part time to have the children 50% of the time. Are women afraid that it would mean that they might have less money?

It seems like the real argument that women like you have against joint custody is that women might have to finally pull our weight when it comes to providing for our children. It is time women stop treating men as walking wallets to be rip off when it suits us.




I am one mother who if the legislation for rebuttable presumption of shared custody had already been in place, would not have seen her children again.

I fled with the children from an isolated rural property at a time when they were being hurt. As Polly’s article says, the best interests of the children are being lost in this new notion about family break up.

All the odds under the new proposals would have been in the abusive father’s favour. As it is now, I am scared for my daughter’s future if this legislation is enacted.


Marilyn Shepherd

Unlike John Howard I have been involved in a child custody case, would that it was as simple as this man seems to think. In my case I had a step-father trying to take my daughter from me by declaring that I was mad – not really technically, certifiably mad – just mad for leaving wonderful him. He was her step-father by the way, not mine, but he lost the case anyway and she’s now married with kids of her own.

Other women cannot afford even basic legal aid so they get screwed over time and again. I remember one woman I counselled for three years.

Her husband beat the crap out of her and molested their little girl. She finally left him, took the kids and hid in a women’s shelter for the next year. Then he found her, followed her, spied on her, beat the kids on his access visits and kept getting away with it.

When shared custody was worked out he rarely took the children when he should have, and bashed the son every time he did. He also refused to stop sleeping with the little girl for the next year – she was the ripe old age of 6 by then, and the mother was rendered totally powerless. Each and every time she reported him he said she was lying and hired more lawyers and spies to trail her.

If she refused to take the children she was threatened with losing them, if she had a boyfriend her husband threatened him, he even had her followed to my home on a number of occasions and had me followed.

Spooky stuff, and all because she had to leave to save her life.

She got almost full custody of the kids after two years, she got the house back with a huge mortgage and he kept right on threatening and following her.

I really wish Howard would tell me how that one could have worked and what sort of life the little girl could have had.

Helen Smart

(Background: I blogged about this at castironbalcony)

As someone who isn’t directly involved in the issue, my concern is that the PM has used a very suss lobby group which may include John Abbott, the “Blackshirts” leader. I’m sure you have heard of him. My concern is not just for the fact that this impracticable policy might be brought in, but the poor quality of the lobby groups and think tanks which are given such enormous power. In other words, if the best advice John Howard can get access to is via groups like rhfinc then we are all in trouble.

Another slant you might find interesting is Trish Wilson’s blog.

In the US, where rebuttable joint custody is already law, “moveaways” have become an issue. In other words, once rebuttable joint custody has become the norm, there will be increased pressure on women not to move interstate, overseas or more than some statutory distance away from the father. The upshot is, the mobility of separated mothers will be extremely limited.

(Polly: When Murray Mottram reported on the lobbying efforts in The Age, he wrote, “John Abbott’s main claim to fame is that he is the cousin of the “Postcard Bandit”, bank robber Brenden Abbott, whose infamous deeds were depicted in a telemovie. But if John Howard goes ahead with changes to Family Court custody battles, John Abbott and two other Adelaide advocates of father’s rights will take credit for laying the groundwork”. What Mottram’s report did not mention was whether this was the same John Abbott whose claim to fame is leading the Blackshirts, a vigilante father’s group.)


Debbie Kirkwood

I really like the story about John and Janette because I’m not sure we should be taking this whole issue too seriously. I just can’t believe that it could ever work. People have these fantasies that we live in a world where mum and dad are both ace parents and have wonderful relationships with their children and with each other. If it was so great, people would not be separating in droves and we would not have such a high prevalence of family violence, sexual abuse and child abuse. This is the reality we have to deal with.

People say that rebuttable joint custody is good because it reduces the divorce rate. This is ludicrous. What it means is that women are forced to stay in relationships which at the very least make the whole family unhappy and which may place women and children at risk of violence and other forms of abuse. It is difficult enough for women to leave violent relationships due to social and economic reasons and fear of violent retaliation. We should not forget that 50% of women killed by their violent partners are killed trying to leave the relationship.

This proposed policy will only make it more difficult for women to leave because they will fear losing access to their children and fear the resulting situation in which men will have access without the woman being present. Given what we know about the sexual abuse of children I feel very concerned about this.

But really, I just can’t see men taking responsibility for children in the way this proposal would require. They generally don’t do it now so what is going to make this change?

The other scary aspect of this issue is the angry men’s lobby who have succeeded in bullying this on to the agenda. They epitomise the whole reason why this policy is dangerous for women and children. They don’t even have an awareness of the inappropriateness of their actions such as has been displayed by the ‘Blackshirts’ in Victoria for some time now.

This idea is part of a backlash against feminism and an attempt to constuct men as victims. It is ludicrous.


Kathleen Swinbourne, President, Sole Parents Union

It was with a sense of relief that I read Polly’s piece on joint custody. Finally – somebody in the media seems to have got it! The argument is not about whether joint custody can be good for kids – but in what circumstances. Yes, some couples do make it work, but as she pointed out, they have chosen to do that and put intense effort into succeeding.

This is something that won’t work for everybody – and certainly not for those couples, or their children, who appear before the Family Court. These tend to be the most intractable, hostile cases, often including issues of domestic violence and/or child abuse. Even where violence or abuse is not present, these couples are hardly likely to be able to put aside

their differences and hostilities to concentrate on what’s best for their kids.

Anybody who thinks this is not a gender issue is seriously deluded. Of course it is. It is about the concept of mothering generally, and whether ‘mothers’ are good for boys, whether they are ‘tough’ enough to impose discipline or whether they’re turning their sons into effeminate males rather than real men. Nowhere have I seen the question asked just what does constitute a good male role model.

The suggestion that just because boys are raised in female headed sole parent households they lack male role models is ludicrous in the extreme. While I agree the numbers are small, men do work in primary schools. Or are those men not considered sufficiently ‘male’? Men also work as cub and scout leaders, soccer coaches, police, shopkeepers, bus drivers, cleaners, television presenters, and the myriad other places, including their friends’ fathers, where boys come into contact with people on a daily basis. And men make up the majority of their sporting heroes.

Perhaps the most insulting assumption in all of this is that just because boys live with their mothers they never see their fathers. In the vast majority of cases this is just wrong. Most non-resident fathers are good fathers. They see and care for their kids to the best of their ability. And for those cases where fathers don’t take an interest in their kids,

Are they good role models anyway?

I was in Canberra a few months ago to lobby against the Harris bill. Many overseas jurisdictions where a presumption of joint custody has been imposed have found that it doesn’t work for court ordered cases. In fact many have found worse outcomes for children. Hardly surprising really.


Submissions for the Howard Government’s Inquiry close on August 8. For more info, go to childcustody


The 7:30 Report, Inquiry to look at child custody arrangements, Reporter: Rebecca Baillie.

Family Planning, Howard-style by Michelle Grattan, The Age

One size does not fit all, especially kids by Adele Horin, The Sydney Morning Herald

Degrees of Separation by Gary Tippet, Ian Munro, Phillip Hudson, The Age

Fathers in Law by Catharine Lumby, The Bulletin


Positive Shared Parenting in Children’s Best Interest

Polly: This site has been created by an alliance of groups opposed to the introduction of rebuttable joint residency. As the name ‘positive shared parenting’ suggests, they are by no means against shared parenting – just the presumption in law. Their main concerns with rebuttable joint residency include:

– it privileges the rights of adults over those of children;

– it denies children the right to unique consideration of their needs and wishes, which change over time;

– it is not evidence-based, but is driven by narrow ideological and political interests;

– it will expose abused mothers and children to more danger;

– it will disadvantage parents who have sacrificed careers and education to be a stay-at-home or primary carer;

– it will provide some parents with opportunities to reduce their child support obligation, while not leading to more equitable sharing of core parenting work;

– it ignores evidence that shared residence works for only some families and can be disruptive and distressing for young children in particular; and

– it will increase litigation and prolong instability and uncertainty for parents and children.”

Thanks to Gerry for forwarding on this address to me.

Gag on charities not on



11 AM Wednesday, 30 July 2003


The threat to charities and church groups that criticise government policy of losing their tax-free status is simply “not on” according to Jesuit Social Services Policy Director, Father Peter Norden.

This draft legislation is contained in the Charities Bill 2003 and is part of the Government’s response to the Report of the Inquiry into the Definition of Charities and Related Organisations.

Federal Treasurer, Peter Costello, who has introduced draft legislation that suggests that “attempting to change the law or government policy” is a “disqualifying purpose” or an unlawful activity for a charity will need to think again according to the Jesuit’s social policy centre in Melbourne.

“This attempt to silence the churches and the non-government sector was tried on by the Kennett Government here in Victoria during the 1990’s”, according to Peter Norden, “but they soon found out that it simply could not be implemented”.

“On that occasion, the gag was concealed in confidentiality clauses and intellectual property clauses in government contracts and we simply refused to sign. When Jesuit Social Services moved to engage our peak bodies of Catholic Social Services and VCOSS, the Kennett advisers backed right off”, Father Norden explained.

“Government policy advisers simply have to learn that it is a central mission of charities such as ours not only to do good but to ensure that harmful legislation and regulations are changed to protect the vulnerable members of our community,” he said.

“The Jesuits have been around for more than 450 years, and I think we will be around after the Howard Government, and even after an Abbott or Costello Government,” he insisted.

“Moral issues are our bread and butter and we will not be starved out of this activity by such misguided and poorly grounded legislation,” said Father Norden.

“A responsible and mature government encourages open and independent public debate and does not try to gag its critics as part of the democratic process,” insisted Father Norden

“The church and the non-government welfare sector makes a serious attempt to understand the complex role of government, and, in turn, we expect government to do its homework in understanding the essential role of our sector as well,” he concluded.

“If the Treasurer attempts to proceed with this legislation, without amendment, the Government will be in for a big surprise!”, he added.

FOR FURTHER COMMENT, CONTACT: Father Peter Norden, S.J., 03 9427 7388 (office), 0409 0409 94 (mobile)

Costello’s free speech record

As Peter Costello tries to hose down his incendiary assault on free speech through tying tax relief for charities to their willingness to drop or downgrade public advocacy for the underprivileged and the powerless, perhaps he’ll take time to reflect on what he used to believe in.

Back in 1992 Costello, then shadow Attorney-General, led a vigorous campaign on free speech grounds against the Labor government’s law banning political advertising on television and radio. In the end, the High Court threw out the laws after finding that the Australian Constitution guaranteed citizens the right to free speech on political matters.

When I interviewed Costello on the ramifications of the High Court’s finding, he called on Labor to establish a parliamentary rights and freedoms committee to ensure that legislation contrary to human rights did not become law. He said the Courts should not be forced to protect our rights and freedoms, and had done so because Parliament had failed in its duty to do so. (See article republished below)

The High Court was activist in those days, and has since retreated from protecting citizens rights by constitutional implication as the Howard government began stacking the Court with legal conservatives.

At the time, Justice Toohey said there were virtually no parliamentary checks on “arbitrary government”, and that the judiciary would limit abuse of power by implying constitutional protections of “core liberal-democratic values”.

Then Chief Justice, Sir Anthony Mason, said that “human rights are seen as the countervailing force to the exercise of totalitarian, bureaucratic and institutional power, widely identified as the greatest threats to the liberty of the individual and democratic freedom in this century”.

As it happened, Labor did not set up a parliamentary human rights and freedoms committee. Since gaining government John Howard has often tried to curb our democratic rights and freedoms and disowned several human rights treaties Australia had committed to complying with.

Peter Costello’s Charities Act in its present form is the greatest threat to free speech in Australia since John Howard tried to define political protests and union pickets as “terrorist acts” last year. It took a backbench revolt to change his mind (see Crisis of conscience).

Costello claims the charity furore is all a mistake, and that he merely intended to codify existing judge-made law on charities. His office assured charities today that no current charity would lose its status under the new law.

It’s hard to credit that Costello would seriously peddle that line. As a lawyer he knows about “the rule of law”, the cornerstone of functioning democracies. It decrees that political leaders don’t have power over us because they want it or have police to enforce their will, but because the law delivers it to them. The law is what it says it is. Governments pass laws, and Courts apply them. To pass a law saying one thing with the assurance that it is not intended to mean what it says or that the government would never enforce the law as it is written is meaningless spin.

Costello’s plan would give the Australian Tax Office the power to close down participation by charities in political debate. Early on in government, Howard asked charities in receipt of government funds to promise not to speak out against or challenge government policy. The implied threat, of course, is that if they did they’d be defunded. Since then, Howard began coopting charities into doing traditional government work like job support services, and the big money they’re getting gives him more power to shut them up.

But Costello’s plan goes much further. Even a charity which gets nothing from government is at risk of losing its tax free status or the tax deductibility of its donations.

If Costello is fair dinkum that it’s all a misunderstanding he should fix the drafting pronto. A good start would be to put down in black and white his pledge that no registered charity is at any risk of losing its charitable status unde his proposed new law.


Parliament must reclaim role on rights – Costello

by Margo Kingston

The Age, 7-10-1992

The Federal Opposition last night urged the Government to establish a parliamentary rights and freedoms committee to ensure that legislation contrary to human rights did not become law.

The shadow attorney-general, Mr Costello, who will ask shadow cabinet to consider making the plan party policy, said it was vital for Parliament to reclaim its role of protecting citizens from interference with their rights.

The committee should be given the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Australia is a party, as the basis of its scrutiny, he said. The covenant includes rights to free association, freedom of movement, and of equality before the law.

Mr Costello was responding to last week’s High Court decision implying a constitutional right to free speech, and the statement of a High Court judge, Mr Justice Toohey, this week that the court would develop a bill of rights.

The call came as a prominent Labor backbencher, Senator Chris Schacht, lashed out at the decision as undemocratic, in contrast to statements by the Minister for Administrative Services, Senator Bolkus, welcoming an implied bill of rights.

Senator Schacht said the decision was clearly political, and that “no unelected body has the right to frustrate the will of Parliament (by) making political decisions”.

Senator Schacht said the community would now demand that if the judges persisted in playing politics, they should “reflect a wider cross-section of the community than those who have served the law all their lives”.

“Six of the judges are WASP men (white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant), and the other is a female WASP. The demand will come very quickly that we should appoint people to the High Court who do not represent the legal community alone,” he said.

Mr Costello said he opposed a legislative bill of rights, which would be applied by the courts, because that would mean “seven unelected judges deciding these issues, and if you don’t like what they do you can’t vote them out”. He said the court had become activist because Parliament had failed in its traditional role.

Mr Justice Toohey said this week that there were virtually no parliamentary checks on “arbitrary government”, and that the judiciary would limit abuse of power by implying constitutional protections of “core liberal-democratic values”.

Mr Justice Brennan has said that control of the political process by political parties “favors the creation of poll-driven policies which will appeal to the majority … whether or not they unjustifiably discriminate against minority groups or against the weak”.

The Chief Justice, Sir Anthony Mason, has said that “human rights are seen as the countervailing force to the exercise of totalitarian, bureaucratic and institutional power, widely identified as the greatest threats to the liberty of the individual and democratic freedom in this century”.

The Attorney-General, Mr Duffy, has so far refused to comment on the ramifications of last week’s decision, but Senator Bolkus has ruled out at this stage any renewed Government move for a legislative bill of rights.

Charitable free speech on endangered list!

How Costello’s planned Charity Act affects the charity you belong to or donate to (Costello accused of bid to muzzle charities):

1. It defines what charities will continue to receive tax-free status and tax deductibility for donations. The Australian Tax Office will decide whether a charity will keep or lose tax and tax deductibility benefits, depending on its interpretation of the definition of charity set out in this legislation.

2. In general, a charity is a not-for-profit body with a charitable purpose for the public benefit which ‘DOES NOT HAVE A DISQUALIFYING PURPOSE’. If a charity does have a disqualifying purpose it is not a charity, and will be denied charitable tax benefits. (section 4)

3. Section 8 sets out two disqualifying purposes:

(1) engaging in ‘activities that are unlawful'”.

This test means the Tax Office could strip Greenpeace of its charitable status, as Greenpeace does engage in trespass and other breaches of the law in furtherance of its aim to help create a cleaner, safer planet. Animal welfare groups which raid battery chicken farms or otherwise trespass on private property to uncover animal cruelty could also be stripped of their charitable status.

Greenpeace and other proactive charities may even be excluded altogether from the definition of charities BEFORE the “disqualifying purpose” test even comes into play. Section 2 of the Act says a body is NOT a charity if it “has engaged in conduct…that constitutes a serious offence”. Once Costello’s plan becomes law, Greenpeace could be stripped of charitable status immediately by the Tax Office citing its incursion into the Sydney nuclear reactor to prove that security was lax. A Greenpeace spokesperson said today: “We are concerned that this does smack of censorship of those who criticise the governmment or provide an alternative policy framwork. We are seeking legal advice on our position.”

(2) It is also a disqualifying purpose to advocate “a political party or cause”, to support a political candidate, or “attempting to change the law or government.

This test potentially disqualifies a vast number of charities which see it as one of their core duties to advocate for policy changes. In particular church groups, charities and medical research groups which actively lobby in public, and produce reports for public consumption to further their cause, could be under threat.

Treasurer Peter Costello today denied that he intended to strip existing charities of their tax-free status or to ban free speech by charities. But he has so far not promised to change the wording of his planned law to ensure charities are not at risk.

Here is today’s press release from the Jesuits:



11 AM Wednesday, 30 July 2003


The threat to charities and church groups that criticise government policy of losing their tax-free status is simply “not on” according to Jesuit Social Services Policy Director, Father Peter Norden.

This draft legislation is contained in the Charities Bill 2003 and is part of the Government’s response to the Report of the Inquiry into the Definition of Charities and Related Organisations.

Federal Treasurer, Peter Costello, who has introduced draft legislation that suggests that “attempting to change the law or government policy” is a “disqualifying purpose” or an unlawful activity for a charity will need to think again according to the Jesuit’s social policy centre in Melbourne.

“This attempt to silence the churches and the non-government sector was tried on by the Kennett Government here in Victoria during the 1990’s”, according to Peter Norden, “but they soon found out that it simply could not be implemented”.

“On that occasion, the gag was concealed in confidentiality clauses and intellectual property clauses in government contracts and we simply refused to sign. When Jesuit Social Services moved to engage our peak bodies of Catholic Social Services and VCOSS, the Kennett advisers backed right off”, Father Norden explained.

“Government policy advisers simply have to learn that it is a central mission of charities such as ours not only to do good but to ensure that harmful legislation and regulations are changed to protect the vulnerable members of our community,” he said.

“The Jesuits have been around for more than 450 years, and I think we will be around after the Howard Government, and even after an Abbott or Costello Government,” he insisted.

“Moral issues are our bread and butter and we will not be starved out of this activity by such misguided and poorly grounded legislation,” said Father Norden.

“A responsible and mature government encourages open and independent public debate and does not try to gag its critics as part of the democratic process,” insisted Father Norden

“The church and the non-government welfare sector makes a serious attempt to understand the complex role of government, and, in turn, we expect government to do its homework in understanding the essential role of our sector as well,” he concluded.

“If the Treasurer attempts to proceed with this legislation, without amendment, the Government will be in for a big surprise!”, he added.

FOR FURTHER COMMENT, CONTACT: Father Peter Norden, S.J., 03 9427 7388 (office), 0409 0409 94 (mobile)


Key Charity Act clauses

3. Definitions

(1) In this Act, unless the contrary intention appears:

advancement includes the meaning given by subsection 10(2).

advancement of social or community welfare includes the meaning given by section 11.

disqualifying purpose has the meaning given by section 8.

dominant purpose has the meaning given by section 6.

entity has the meaning given by section 960-100 of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997.

government body means:

(a) the Commonwealth, a State or a Territory; or

(b) a body controlled by the Commonwealth, a State or a Territory; or

(c) the government of a foreign country; or

(d) a body controlled by the government of a foreign country.

not-for-profit entity has the meaning given by section 5.

open and non-discriminatory self-help group has the meaning given by section 9.

public benefit has the meaning given by section 7.

serious offence means an offence against a law of the Commonwealth, of a State or of a Territory, that may be dealt with as an indictable offence (even if it may, in some circumstances, be dealt with as a summary offence).

Part 2 – Charities

4. Core definition

(1) A reference in any Act to a charity, to a charitable institution or to any other kind of charitable body, is a reference to an entity that:

(a) is a not-for-profit entity; and

(b) has a dominant purpose that:

(i) is charitable; and

(ii) unless subsection (2) applies, is for the public benefit; and

(c) does not engage in activities that do not further, or are not in aid of, its dominant purpose; and

(d) does not have a disqualifying purpose; and

(e) does not engage in, and has not engaged in, conduct (or an omission to engage in conduct) that constitutes a serious offence; and

(f) is not an individual, a partnership, a political party, a superannuation fund or a government body.

(2) The entity’s dominant purpose need not be for the public benefit if the entity is:

(a) an open and non-discriminatory self-help group; or

(b) a closed or contemplative religious order that regularly undertakes prayerful intervention at the request of members of the public.

8. Disqualifying purposes

(1) The purpose of engaging in activities that are unlawful is a disqualifying purpose.

(2) Any of these purposes is a disqualifying purpose:

(a) the purpose of advocating a political party or cause;

(b) the purpose of supporting a candidate for political office;

(c) the purpose of attempting to change the law or government policy;

if it is, either on its own or when taken together with one or both of the other of these purposes, more than ancillary or incidental to the other purposes of the entity concerned.

Part 3 Charitable purpose

10 References to charitable purpose

(1) A reference in any Act to a charitable purpose is a reference to any of the following purposes:

(a) the advancement of health;

(b) the advancement of education;

(c) the advancement of social or community welfare;

(d) the advancement of religion;

(e) the advancement of culture;

(f) the advancement of the natural environment;

(g) any other purpose that is beneficial to the community.

(2) Advancement includes protection, maintenance, support, research and improvement.

Democracy and censorship


Senator Kate Lundy. Photo: Mike Bowers

Here’s a piece on the censorship debate Labor’s shadow minister for the arts and information technology, Senator Kate Lundy, wrote for Webdiary. It’s got resonance with Howard’s refusal to tell us the truth about why he wanted to invade Iraq and what that momentous decision means for our foreign policy direction and our security in the region. What I like about the piece is that Kate is not afraid to discuss what democracy means, and to apply her concept of it to the case in hand. Isn’t that what we’d love our pollies to do more of?

Classification, not censorship

by Kate Lundy

There is a seductive simplicity to banning things you don’t like or find scary. Like a child covering his eyes and ears, there is instant relief. At least, there is relief for as long as you can convince yourself that the nasty thing has gone away because you can’t see or hear it.

When governments start covering the eyes and ears of the whole nation, however, there is a real problem. We only need to look at those governments that have taken it to the extreme and burnt books to understand that. But there are more subtle ways to inhibit the flow of ideas that we need to be just as alert to.

Democracy is at its heart about a plurality of ideas and opinions, all in constant competition. Some of them are always going to be offensive to some, or even most, because that is the nature of the new.

But democracies survive and thrive when they find ways to look at things that are confronting or disturbing or ugly or strange. One of the ways it does that is through the classification of material. What we are really doing, of course, is classifying people – identifying those who are too young, vulnerable and impressionable to have the fully formed opinions or sexual maturity to be able to understand the sometimes complicated context within which sit the messages and meaning of particular art works. It has never been about denying the entry of ideas.

The recent controversy surrounding Ken Park in Australia shows have far we have strayed from these important principles into the simplistic world of “just ban it” thinking.

Film festivals have long been afforded a special status in the classification world: theirs is an audience of film connoisseurs drawn to occasions where the unusual, un-commercial, peculiar or even the confronting and scary are given an airing. These events are much closer in nature to the art gallery than the cinema multiplex. As such, films that were restricted to the greatest extent by our classification laws could still be shown, watched, critiqued and discussed.

It seems that is no longer the case, and this is the development that means we must not allow the issues raised by the Ken Park controversy to fade away like another one-week wonder story from our news media.

What has happened to this film has much to say about the way this Government has conducted itself, and the ugly results this is having on our national character and body politic. A hallmark of this Government has been the way it has moved by increments to have us accept situations that a few years ago would have been unthinkable.

Banning access to this and that has been a case in point. It began with Senator Alston’s trying to “ban” some content on the Internet that was legal in other media. This was a cynical political strategy to ingratiate himself with Senator Harradine when he needed votes for the original Telstra sale legislation. Alston has forever more been branded as the “world’s greatest Luddite” by the international technology press. At the same time, Labor’s calls for a sensible approach: giving parents the skills to ‘classify’ what their children accessed through supervision and filter tools at the desktop were ignored.

Emboldened rather than shamed, Alston has since tried to “ban” interactive (online) gambling, with just as little success. At least it could be said that there was little of merit in what the Government was seeking to keep out, even if its methods were half-witted and doomed to failure.

But the same forlorn, arch-conservatism that has crept into our treatment of motion pictures through the attitude of the Attorney-General toward controversial films over recent years. And what truly betrays this Government’s failure of imagination and respect for diversity is that no-one in the Coalition Government has stood up for the arts and the right of Australians to exposed themselves to confronting as well as new ideas and images.

It is time that as citizens we reminded ourselves that the only way to maintain a healthy democracy is to expose ideas to the light of commentary and intellectual challenge. Evil grows in dark corners, not out in the full glare of public attention.

Is Ken Park “kiddy porn” as conservatives would have us think, or does it have something to say about the endurance of the human spirit? Australians should not accept that they live in the only modern country in the world too immature that make up its own mind. We are not zombies to be manipulated, we should not be told what to think, and we should not be protected from an ugly truth, any more than we should tolerate being lied to.

The new global mosaic

This is a speech on the new world order – economic and strategic – which Paul Keating made in New Zealand yesterday. His website is also worth a look. I like his introduction:

This website exists to contribute to a national debate about what sort of country Australia is in the opening decades of the 21st century and where it should be going. We hope visitors will find ideas they agree with – or which at least prompt them to think about why they disagree…

The transforming impact of the information revolution on our society and the world has only just begun. If Australia is to remain a prosperous economy and a community which values equality and justice, few things will be more important for us than the hard task of public policy making and engaging in the national reflection and debate that must accompany it.

The new global mosaic

by Paul Keating

A speech to the Local Government Unlimited Conference, Queenstown, New Zealand, Monday 28 July 2003

In the business of nation building – which is the business of all of us in public life – we are creatures of our time and circumstances. Of the prevailing geo-political and geo-economic moods. And we are always searching for the Rosetta stone, that code stone that tells us how best we might find that happy mix between what should be rendered unto Caesar – and what may properly be left to the individual.

New Zealand and Australia have much in common, including a very serious effort on the part of each of us in remodelling our economies. With a notion that markets, more efficiently organised, could deliver better outcomes, we each attempted to change our old, protected and closeted industrial societies into more outward-looking, competitive and innovative ones.

The interesting thing about both our countries is that these efforts were, in the main, undertaken by Labor Governments. It was, once, par for the course that Labor Governments tended to centralisation and protection, eschewing openness and competition of a kind that, in the event, we both chose. If I could say where I think this process has been different between Australia and New Zealand, in Australia these things were done in the context of a formal set of long-run consensual policies set out between the trade unions and the Government of the day.

While the great wish and want of society will be for economic growth and the pursuit of income, people always yearn for something else as well and that is to belong, to be included. A sense of nation and well-placed nationalism, based on the family of the country. A sense that change is directed to a point, which extends beyond economic growth to individual and community happiness and fulfilment. It is why those of us in the nation building business always keep an eye out for the country in the broad, and for those at risk of missing out. It is why the bindings that come with good social policy end up being good economic policy.

The question is, where do we go from here? Much has been achieved, but what do we do now? How do we do things better? How do we move on a wider front, yet move together, and how do we make the interests of any one of us work for all of us?

I have never been in local government in an elective sense, but I have always had a great regard for it, for the authenticity that comes from proximity to the people and their very real problems. Local government in most countries is at the coal face of government and any system which improves the representativeness and effectiveness of government will make society that much better and stronger. So I am pleased to be with this distinguished group of local government representatives gathered to think about their country, to share ideas and consider the future.

I suppose the first trick for you, indeed for all of us, as we survey the world, is to find our coordinates – the degree of strategic longitude and the degree of commercial latitude which reveal exactly where we are. Perhaps, in this discussion, I should deal with the economic latitude first. I will return to the strategic dimension in a few moments.

It is worth noting that there were three economic long waves in the 20th century – 1904 to 1929, 1947 to 1974 and 1982 until now. Each had a duration of about 25 years; and each was technology driven.

The first wave, from 1904 to 1929, was driven by breakthroughs in petrochemicals, industrial production and transportation.

The second wave, the post-war wave, was driven by the economic rebuilding of Japan and Europe, along with technological breakthroughs in areas like plastics and aviation, and, of course, motor vehicles.

The wave we are currently living through has been driven by, the third wave, has been driven by – in the 80s – low terms of trade which was a subsidy from the developing world to the developed world, and in the 90s by telecommunications and micro-processing. By all reckoning, if the past is to be any guide, this wave should run until about 2007 or 2008. Weve already had two legs, two business cycles, 1982 to 1990 and 1992 to 2000. The second one saw an enormous increase in stock market values around the world and in personal incomes and real wealth.

The good news is, I believe, that there will be a third business cycle. From about now. The bad news is that it won’t be so richly laden as the second one and we are beginning it at relatively high valuations for equities compared with those which obtained in 1982 or 1992. Or those which obtained at about this same point in the second long wave, which would have been about 1965. What will be different about this leg compared to the last two is that towards its end, the technological edge may have dissipated and the demographics will have acted to reduce unemployment substantially. Towards the end of this cycle, in say five to six years from now, we may see a pick up in real wages and with it wage inflation of a kind which may encourage central banks to do what they have traditionally done, and that is cool the economy to keep wages and prices under control.

Where the last wave ended with an exogenous shock, from the inflationary OPEC pricing of the early 1970s, and the one before that with the Depression in 1929, this one may actually go down for endogenous reasons as we struggle to maintain workforce growth in countries like our own. At any rate, we’ve probably got half a dozen years left in this cycle before more negative economic forces materialise.

One of the caveats which could affect this scenario is the potential for East Asia to mark itself out as the growth engine of the world. China, with its WTO mandates, holds out the promise of being the most important growth economy in the world outside the United States. And China is no typical East Asian top-down command economy of the kind we see in Japan or Korea, where financial intermediation is managed largely by banks in the absence of efficient capital markets. China will, over time, have a range of financial markets and instruments. As it grows, it will reveal itself to be an economy built around the individual and small to medium enterprises an economy far more reminiscent of New Zealand’s and Australia’s than Japan’s. It will become, I believe, a place that New Zealand and Australia, in a corporate sense, will want to do business. It is also likely to become, in geo-strategic terms, the second pole in what has become a unipolar world. China has the certainty of knowing who and what it is and the cultural confidence to cope and deal with the United States.

Japan, a great trading partner of both our countries, has been in a structural recession for 14 years and there is a distinct possibility that its financial system will be subject to seismic fractures of a kind that could bring its economy to its knees. There is also an acceleration in the deterioration of its demographics.

Whether North Asia and its poorer cousins in South East Asia can make a difference as to how the world behaves economically, five years from now, remains, of course, open to conjecture. But it is the part of the world in which we live; and its future matters mightily to us, because more of our bread is going to be buttered by what happens there than in any other place.

Some believe that Europe’s aggregation of populations and economies would make it a logical alternative pole to the United States. But it is yet to be seen whether the one-size-fits-all fiscal and monetary policies agreed under the Treaty on European Union will be capable of working smoothly. The arrangements are providing financial management at the broad fiscal and monetary level, but at an obvious cost. We can already see how they are limiting Germany’s capacity to restimulate its economy through fiscal policy or to run a monetary policy more appropriate to German conditions.

Perhaps more importantly, Europe remains diverse and politically fractured. It simply does not possess the coherent cultural confidence of, say, the United States or China. It may have a common market and a common currency, but it is burdened by centuries of ethnic and national suspicions. It also lacks the force projection and the arsenal of conventional and nuclear weapons, enjoyed by the United States.

Let me now say a few things about the American economy. The first thing is its absolute size. At 10 trillion US dollars, its GDP is twenty times larger than Australia’s and about one hundred and fifty times larger than New Zealand’s.

The United States has pulled the world economy along for over a decade. The American consumer, in effect, saved the rest of us. Its great strength is that it has a fungible capital market which can take capital from less productive places and put it into more productive places in its economy, faster than in any economy in the world. The administration of President Clinton also took the United States from historically large central government deficits to large central government surpluses. By reducing the relative size of the public sector in America, ipso facto, the private sector became that much bigger.

But another very important thing happened. The Governor of its central bank, Alan Greenspan, uncharacteristically for central bank governors, pursued a policy of growth to maximise wealth and incomes. Most central bankers of his standing and responsibilities would normally keep a baton of price stability in the knapsack and not much else. Greenspan thought he could, and, in the end, did, see a paradigm shift in productivity of a scale which he knew could deliver rising real incomes in the context of falling unit labour costs. So he kept monetary conditions accommodating to growth through the 1990s; believing that the productivity wedge would pay for the wages growth which in other times would have come at the expense of profits. He had the golden circle working for him rising real wages, rising profits, falling unit labour costs and falling inflation. The consequence of this extended period of his management was to increase the capacity of the American economy to grow at a rate faster by half than we had formerly witnessed.

Notwithstanding this achievement, Alan Greenspan is not without his critics. Some say he should have dealt with the asset price bubble of the Dow and NASDAQ even after his warning in 1996 about irrational exuberance.

But this opens an old argument. Should central banks focus solely on activity in the real economy and inflation or should they also attempt to operate policy to deal with asset prices? Personally, I’ve always seen activity, inflation and the real economy as being the monetary touchstones. In the end, high stock prices imply low dividend yields and these, over time, correct themselves. Investors can turn to bonds. And in the United States, you can purchase Treasury Bonds which are indexed for inflation – where the real interest rate is constant and known at the time of purchase. Markets do work as prices adjust to yields.

Greenspan, I believe, saw the main chance to move his economy up a notch to a sustainable new plateau of activity, having its inflation rate protected by productivity. Few central bankers are this brave or entrepreneurial. But it is prudent public entrepreneurship of this kind which can give a country a once in a century break. This, I believe, Greenspan has done.

In the past quarter century, the speed limit for American GDP growth was of the order of 2.0 to 2.5 percent or thereabouts. That limit now has a substantial 3 in front of it. And to have a base of $10,000 billion growing at an extra one percent in the context of continuing low inflation is a mighty achievement. And a lot of new wealth.

These are some of the reasons why America has been the motor economy and why we owe Clinton and Greenspan, in these respects, so much. I might say, but only in passing, that following the microeconomic reforms in Australia over the same period, the Australian economy grew by an even greater degree – from an average of 1.7 percent in the decade to the mid-1980s to an average now of over 3.5 percent – with endemically low inflation made possible by a doubling of trend productivity. Put in place by a Labor Government. That productivity wedge is, in the end, what the game is all about. Its not just the icing on the cake – it is the cake. It is the reason why real incomes in Australia grew by 20 percent across the 1990s – the fastest real income growth in any decade of Australias history. It did for Australian competitiveness the very same thing that Mr Greenspan and his productivity dividend did for the United States and its consumers.

But America has been in a growth recession for the last couple of years. It has not experienced negative growth, but its growth has been much slower – something like 1.5 percent – because its investment cycle topped out in 1997. Business cycles are, of their essence, investment cycles, and there has been an investment drought in America now for just on six years. Thats why we owe the American consumer so much for taking up the slack. But even the American consumer couldn’t keep it up forever. So now we await the turn in the American investment cycle. The question is when will that occur? My best guess is: any time now. Stock markets invariably pick the turn well before the real economy, and faster than the rest of us, and such a turn normally leads the investment cycle by nine to twelve months. When we look back I think that we will find that the stockmarket turn, this time, came between November last year and March, heralding a turn in the business cycle for later this year.

Now there have been, as the Americans call it, headwinds. These are not necessarily economic forces but they do matter things such as the corporate scandals (the Enrons, the WorldComs), the war in Iraq and other negatives. But the fundamentals out themselves in the end. The cycle turns.

So let me recap: I think there’s going to be a third leg, a third business cycle; the downside is that it won’t be as rich as the last one. But a third leg anyway.

The real imponderable is the geo-strategic setting. We should know, if weve forgotten, that the strategic climate governs everything. We should never forget that globalisation started in earnest in the last quarter of the 19th century when the biggest sinew of trade was between Great Britain and Germany. This did not stop either country drifting into the First World War, the repercussions of which only saw the world economy get back to sustainable growth as late as 1947 and to strategic equilibrium in 1989.

We are, they tell us, living in a unipolar moment, when the US has decided to eschew liberal internationalism and multilateralism for a winner-take-all, me-first strategy. The whole political and strategic framework of containment has been tipped over for an aggressive pre-emptive first strike doctrine which gives the rest of us very little to be part of, or little to attach ourselves to.

I think what happened is that when the Cold War finished and the Berlin Wall came down, the Americans cried victory and walked off the field. You might remember the slogan that Clinton used against George Herbert Bush, It’s the economy, stupid. Clinton was scathing at Bush’s adventurism, as he saw it, in Iraq in 1991. And before the investment cycle kicked back for the second leg in 1992, George Herbert Bush was defeated and American public policy focused on a peace dividend. It also focused on its economy and the magic of the Internet. It seemed as though the Cold War had not ended for the Americans, but simply faded away.

Of course, it did end for the Americans. It ended when the Twin Towers came down in September 2001. It ended with a bang. Clinton and Gore would have handled this strategic moment very differently from Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz. The current Administration has responded by jerking American policy into a unilateral response, rejecting in its application any notion of cooperation or resort to multilateral frameworks.

The real question is whether this policy is rewarding or sustainable or whether it will leave America exhausted by the self-wrought responsibility of dealing with errant states and groups which it deems to be a threat to its security. This policy comes, I believe, at a very high price. It has fractured the 50 year long spell of Atlantic unity and tugs away at the notion of Americas righteous might a notion to which President Franklin Roosevelt so often referred.

Churchill said in 1940 that Britain was fighting by ourselves alone, but not for ourselves alone. A lot of people, I am sure, think today that the United States is fighting by itself alone, for itself alone. This is not good. The big question is – can the world be run from one city? Does the American Congress have the wit and the wisdom – let alone the resources – to run the globe? I, for one, do not believe it does. For all of its glory, indeed its past magnanimity, any attempt by America to take on the mantle of Empire is to deny the very precepts of its founding.

The really bad news in all of this is that by walking away from multilateral arrangements such as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and by their failure to live up to commitments made under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Americans have given a signal to the rest of the world that they too can be part of a resumed nuclear arms race. Believe you me, this has well and truly begun. Not just in India or Pakistan, or Iran and North Korea or even Israel, but in lesser states which believe they need their pocket nuke to make the world deal with them respectfully. I hope the Americans have not led us into a Mad Max world – while they seek to shield themselves in the cocoon of national missile defence.

All of this has let a lot of hares run – and as relatively small states with a broadly European complexion, tucked away in the bottom of Asia, none of it is much good to us.

Nationalism is generally built on arbitrary and parochial distinctions between the civic and the human community; why we are worthy, and someone else isn’t. The interests of the human community, I believe, deign that the world must be run cooperatively. This period of strident American unilateralism and militarism cuts across this notion while putting no adequate or alternative framework into place.

Let me conclude then, by returning to the positive things. There are, I believe, half a dozen quite productive years left in the international economy and it might be longer if the North Asians can keep their act together. But unless the current American administration returns to a more liberal notion of internationalism we will overlay these positive economic prospects with geo-strategic uncertainty of a kind that is debilitating and broadly unnecessary.

All of this may seem a long way from the considerations of local government. But as I said, you need to take your coordinates before you start any journey.

Countering spin: An attempt

G’Day. Yesterday on SBS community television I debated the head of the Australian Broadcasting Authority David Flint on the government’s proposed cross media changes. He will administer the new cross media regime if it gets through the Senate next time round. The audio of the interview, arranged and presented by Tanveer Ahmed, is in the right hand column of Webdiary.

Professor Flint, a monarchist conservative from way back, has broken ranks from most conservative opinion on this issue. Like our resident conservative commentator Daniel Moye, ultra conservative New York Timescolumnist William Safire – a strong supporter of the war on Iraq – is also against more media power for Rupert Murdoch and the other US media giants. As I’ve said before, Murdoch would have less media dominance in the USA AFTER Bush’s reforms than he has NOW in Australia. Besides abolishing the cross media rules to give Murdoch and Packer a stranglehold on our media, Howard also wants to abolish foreign ownership limits on our media, opening the way for the other US media conglomerates, including Viacom, to take over Australia’s media. I’ve republished Safire’s column below.

After that, Iraq war maestro columnist Jack Robertson runs the spin meter over Howard again, in a companion piece to his essay on Howard war spin last week in Anger as an energy. He reveals that the government WAS warned before the war that its claim of solid evidence linking Saddam and Osama was false.

Jack writes:

Sorry if I’m harping on pulling Howard’s lies to bits, but watching Max Moore-Wilton try to shaft the RAN Captain involved in kids overboard today on Howard’s 64th birthday Sunday special – putting the blame back on the military just as I feared when I wrote my Christmas letter to our leader – has made me explode with rage all over again – just when you’d calmed me down. (The transcript of John Lyons’ ‘Man of Steel turns 64’ piece on yesterday’s Sunday program is at Sunday.)

Margo, these people have ZERO shame. Somebody – anybody – has to nail them down at last.

I hope my latest piece is not too anal, finicky or self-centred. But I kind of figured during the war debate that a careful, written paper-trail of some kind might be needed after the dust had settled, and this ‘deconstruction’ business is necessarily complex and tedious. In particular, I think it would be worth including the entire ‘roll-call’ of Parliamentary email recipients as shown at the end of Cadman’s (sole) reply – it kind of highlights starkly the fact that every MP in the joint received my urgent – if slightly hysterical – demand.

We’ve got to smash the firewalls down, mate. Not one of those listed MPs can pretend they ‘didn’t know about doubts’, etc. I’m not much of a demo-type dude, and I can’t think of any other way to do so than by pedantic precision + written records + occasional outright rudeness. Sorry.

And even the admirable things about our Iraq commitment are being undermined now: Yanks are still dropping like flies over there, but Howard – the Man of Steel – has effectively made it look like Australia has run away from the TRUE heavy lifting there, which was always going to be the democracy and human rights reconstruction side, not the regime change fight itself.

American Republicans and Bushies observing Howard’s latter-day ‘firewalling’ of himself from any serious domestic-electoral fall-out arising from a prolonged, casualty-sodden (ie fighting force) Australian component of the occupation in Iraq – exactly the kind of heat Blair and Bush are both experiencing now – must be feeling pretty bemused. If Australia was fair dinkum about ANZUS and TRULY supporting America when it needs us, our PM would be sending MORE troops to Iraq NOW, not trying to distance him/ourselves using handy excuses – however admirable – like the Solomons.

And let’s face it – as recently as January, Downer was saying we’d never, ever intervene in such ways and places anyway. Suddenly, just when the going gets rough in Iraq, it’s an urgent local priority? I mean, I support the Solomons intervention very strongly in itself, but it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if our ‘Coalition of the Willing’ allies are suddenly feeling a tad ripped off.

Some wartime PM, eh?

I’ve got stacks of emails on the latest Howard/Alston assault on the ABC (see Good one John, but why stop at the ABC?) and will pull them together tomorrow.


Bush’s Four Horsemen

by William Safire

On the domestic front, President Bush is backing into a buzz saw.

The sleeper issue is media giantism. People are beginning to grasp and resent the attempt by the Federal Communications Commission to allow the Four Horsemen of Big Media – Viacom (CBS, UPN), Disney (ABC), Murdoch’s News Corporation (Fox) and G.E. (NBC) – to gobble up every independent station in sight.

Couch potatoes throughout the land see plenty wrong in concentrating the power to produce the content we see and hear in the same hands that transmit those broadcasts. This is especially true when the same Four Horsemen own many satellite and cable providers and already influence key sites on the Internet.

Reflecting that widespread worry, the Senate Commerce Committee voted last month to send to the floor Ted Stevens’s bill rolling back the F.C.C.’s anything-goes ruling. It would reinstate current limits and also deny newspaper chains the domination of local TV and radio.

The Four Horsemen were confident they could get Bush to suppress a similar revolt in the House, where G.O.P. discipline is stricter. When liberals and conservatives of both parties in the House surprised them by passing a rollback amendment to an Appropriations Committee bill, the Bush administration issued what bureaucrats call a SAP – a written Statement of Administration Policy.

It was the sappiest SAP of the Bush era. “If this amendment were contained in the final legislation presented to the President,” warned the administration letter, “his senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bill.”

The SAP was signed by the brand-new director of the Office of Management and Budget, Joshua Bolten, but the hand was the hand of Stephen Friedman, the former investment banker now heading the president’s National Economic Council.

Reached late yesterday, Friedman forthrightly made his case that the F.C.C. was an independent agency that had followed the rules laid down by the courts. He told me that Bush’s senior advisers had focused on the question “Can you eliminate excessive regulation and have diversity and competition?” and found the answer to be yes. He added with candor: “The politics I’m still getting an education on.”

The Bush veto threat would deny funding to the Commerce, State and Justice Departments, not to mention the federal judiciary. It would discombobulate Congress and disserve the public for months.

And to what end? To turn what we used to call “public airwaves” into private fiefs, to undermine diversity of opinion and – in its anti-federalist homogenization of our varied culture – to sweep aside local interests and community standards of taste.

This would be Bush’s first veto. Is this the misbegotten principle on which he wants to take a stand? At one of the White House meetings that decided on the SAP approach, someone delicately suggested that such a veto of the giants’ power grab might pose “a communications issue” for the president (no play on words intended). Friedman blew that objection away. The SAP threat was delivered.

In the House this week, allies of the Four Horsemen distributed a point sheet drawn from Viacom and Murdoch arguments and asked colleagues to sign a cover letter reading, “The undersigned members . . . will vote to sustain a Presidential veto of legislation overturning or delaying . . . the decision of the FCC . . . regarding media ownership.”

But they couldn’t obtain the signatures of anywhere near one-third of the House members – the portion needed to stop an override. Yesterday afternoon, the comprehensive bill – including an F.C.C. rollback – passed by a vote of 400 to 21.

If Bush wishes to carry out the veto threat, he’ll pick up a bunch of diehards (now called “dead-enders”), but he will risk suffering an unnecessary humiliation.

What next? Much depends on who is chosen to go into the Senate-House conference. If the White House can’t stop the rollback there, will Bush carry out the ill-considered threat?

Sometimes you put the veto gun back in the holster. The way out: a president can always decide to turn down the recommendation of his senior advisers.


Fisking John II

by Jack Robertson

Four more dead American soldiers in Iraq. Meanwhile, post-invasion debate here at home continues about the roles government spin, Liberal and National Party Parliamentary acquiescence, watery public language, politicised and timid bureaucracy, firewalling, dog-whistling and imprecise reportage played in helping John Howard temporarily sell his case for war.

Here’s another deconstruction of how the unilateral war-spinning worked, and also a reminder of how many people worldwide tried hard to counter it when it still mattered, using their Democratic freedoms and Parliamentary mechanisms (Britain and Turkey spring to mind, in particular). My comments are in bold.

1. The nasty in-swinging jagger is boringly dead-batted away through point:

Melbourne’s Radio 3AW, March 14, Neil Mitchell interview.

MITCHELL: Do you have any proof that Saddam Hussein is working with al-Qaeda?

A superbly crisp, clear and unambiguous question. A real cracker.

PRIME MINISTER: We have plenty of intelligence suggesting a number of things of the toleration of al-Qaeda people in Baghdad, of links between an al-Qaeda related organisation and Iraqi intelligence. Now they’re that’s the solid evidence we have of links.

It is of course no such thing, but by merging these two statements into one and slickly substituting the soft-verb ‘toleration of’ and the soft-noun ‘links’ for Mitchell’s rock-hard verb phrase “working with’, the PM has spun a sellable approximation of a ‘yes’ answer, at least as far as Public Opinion is concerned. The ball – though seemingly only dead-batted away – is never-the-less past the man at point and well on the way to the boundary.

What I have argued is not what some people have suggested, that I didn’t prove yesterday. What I’ve argued is that if a country like Iraq is able to keep possession of chemical and biological weapons, other rogue states will want to do the same thing and the more countries like that that have those sorts of weapons, the greater it becomes the possibility that they’ll get into the hands of terrorists.

Sure, John. But so what? The (implied and) direct question Mitchell is asking is DOES Saddam have possession of such weapons and DOES your government have evidence that he will very likely pass them on to al-Qaeda in future because, as Mitchell asked, ‘he has been working with them’ in the past? That’s the crux of Mitchell’s excellent question, in relation to the urgent matter at hand, which is whether or not we should help America invade Iraq. Your Tony Blair-esque answer: “Golly, Neil, wouldn’t it just be really bad if they do/did, and we didn’t do anything about it?” is irrelevant drivel.

That’s my greatest concern and that really lies at the heart of my belief that something should be done.

Duly bedding the drivel in with contrived conviction politics, those Newt Gringichian ‘good’ words – ‘greatest concern’, ‘heart of my belief’, and especially that classic slice of Talkback-ese: ‘Something should be done’, Neil! The ball is running away from the chasing point fieldsman; can he catch it? (For the Gingrich handbook of spin, see Grant Long’s piece in Spin, anger, ethics: Your say.

MITCHELL: Do you really believe Australia is facing its own Pearl Harbour?

Mitchell, for time or flow reasons, keeps motoring on ahead, unable or unwilling to stop, back up, and then pick up and pull to pieces the Prime Minister’s outrageous – casual – claim of ‘solid evidence’. Now third man is racing around the boundary to cut off the dead-bat shot.


2. The newsworthy bits are spin-snowballed into firmer shape by a third party:

From the Sydney Morning Herald report:

…[Mr Howard] said many were still undecided and he hoped to win them over. “In the end, governments have got to do what they believe is right and suffer properly the consequences or otherwise of their decisions at the ballot box,” Mr Howard said on Melbourne Radio 3AW. “You can’t make policy, particularly on national security, according to the latest opinion poll.” Mr Howard said Australia had solid evidence of links between Iraq and the al-Qaeda terrorist network, blamed for the September 11 attacks. But if Australia had to wait for criminal jury proof, it could result in another Pearl Harbour style attack, he said.

But the third man can’t cut it off, either. Or rather, he kicks it into the fence accidentally while trying to do so – that ‘solid evidence’ soundbite takes on ‘extra’ resonance and credibility when re-cited out of context and by/in the third person. Note, too, the way the memorable, simplistic ‘Pearl Harbour’ riff gets good traction. Howard/Mitchell’s out of nowhere segue into what is (at least) a middle-older electorate dog whistle security/invasion/border protection/ooh, they’re coming to get us! riff is bedded in here, with that (unwitting) clause-connecting ‘But’. What Pearl Harbour and al-Qaeda – let alone Saddam Hussein – ever have/had remotely in common, is militarily mystifying. Conservative wartime governments always fail by trying to fight the last war instead of the current one, of course, but JH should re-read Churchill’s History of WW2, methinks!


OK, so I’m sorry about the pedanticism (and the cricketing analogies), but this was utterly typical of how the case for war was sold. And once fighting started, the war was always going to gather public support simply on the basis of us naturally supporting our soldiers (look at Crean’s gutsy and honest but doomed attempts to split the two).

There was nothing politically courageous about the PM’s decision to take us into war. Nothing at all. Howard pretended it was all terribly hard and brave and electorally-dangerous, but I’ve got a hunch he loved every minute of ‘playing Winston’.

So what? As with the WMD lies and spin and hyping, I’m just a bad loser on the Saddam al-Qaeda link lies and spin and hyping? Maybe so. But those of us who opposed this invasion and occupation for good reasons did try hard to expose this kind of concrete, identifiable misleading back when it still mattered:

3. Futile Saddam-al Qaeda ‘solid evidence’ Counter-Spin Attempt One

In response to reading the precise 3AW quotes and the Sydney Morning Herald’s necessarily-truncated reporting of them, your angry, hysterical, feral Left, un-Australian, anti-Howard, linguistically anally-retentive but security and Westminster-Government respecting Concerned Citizen (who reckons he smells a dead rodent), tries in real time to by-pass the frustrating ‘Journo V. Spinmeister’ information barrier by cutting straight to the Representative Horses’ Mouths.

His instinctive scepticism of the PM’s public ‘solid evidence’ claim may be based on linguistic close deconstruction and his memory of the children overboard affair; publicly-available other information; the failure of the PM (or anyone else in the Coalition) to prove such claims; and especially the powerful (and personally costly) protests of experts like Andrew Wilkie. Or – hypothetically – his scepticism may arise from having recently spent Christmas chatting at some length with a loved one who has considerable recent experience fighting Fundamentalist terrorism, and who has spent the last six months on exchange with a foreign Special Forces unit that has been planning future operations against Ansar al-Islam in Iraq’s northern regions which are, of course, mostly beyond Saddam Hussein’s control.

Then again, this Concerned Citizen might just hate John Howard’s guts. It doesn’t matter.

For whatever reason, boldly, recklessly, rudely, hysterically, the Concerned Citizen takes out his trusty Green Cyber Pen and tries to encourage someone important and democratically-accountable to tell the public the full truth about the PM’s ‘Saddam al-Qaeda solid evidence’ claims, to help him make an informed decision about whether or not to support Australia’s commitment to invading Iraq.

From: Stephen John ‘Jack’ Robertson


To: All Australian Liberal and National Party Senators and MPs

Information copies: All other Australian MPs, the Parliamentary Press Gallery, ABC Media Watch, Margo Kingston’s Webdiary,, all Australian journalists.

14 March 2003


Dear Liberal and National Party Parliamentary member,

I draw your attention to the Prime Minister’s address to the nation at the National Press Club yesterday, in which the Prime Minister outlined his case for Australia’s frontline role in the impending American-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. I draw your particular attention to his arguments about the general WMD and terrorism nexus ‘lethal threat’, and to his repeated attempts to give this added weight by linking, either directly or by so-called ‘dog whistle’ semantic agility, the terrorist group al-Qaeda to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. I also draw your attention to the Prime Minister’s comments of today, on Melbourne’s radio 3AW, that your government has ‘solid evidence’ linking al-Qaeda and Saddam.

I put it to you that Prime Minister Howard is lying when he uses the phrase ‘solid evidence’. This phrase and the context in which it is used explicitly carries with it an implication that there is a direct terrorism-enabling and supporting relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda. There is in fact no such ‘solid evidence’ to date of this kind, and you all know it. I draw your attention to the statements of former ONA officer Andrew Wilkie and the many, many repeatedly expressed views by terrorism experts worldwide that such a link to this time is both a) unlikely on account of the historically-apposite and hostile differences between Saddam’s extremist secular philosophies and al-Qaeda’s extremist theological ones, and b) in any case utterly unproven by the revealing of any serious evidence against that first principles argument.

I draw your attentions to the fact that not even the US Secretary of State has been able, or has seriously attempted, to make such a ‘solid’ link. I draw your attentions to the recent tape-recording allegedly of Osama bin Laden, in which he once more described Saddam Hussein, an implacable target of his past hostility and contempt, as an ‘infidel’ to be ultimately overthrown.

I put it to you that Prime Minister Howard is well aware that at best, any link at all between Iraq and al-Qaeda – such as those he cited on 3AW – has to date been purely incidental, and in no way could be characterised as solid evidence that the Saddam-al-Qaeda nexus is anything but a purely opportunistic and cynical lie, one designed to dishonestly lend subtle weight to his more general, and in any case erroneous and illogical, arguments about WMD and terrorism.

Member of the government, your Prime Minister is once again lying through his teeth to the Australian people. You know it and I know it. If any such solid evidence did in fact exist, it would have been presented by the US, Britain and Australia long, long ago. If I am wrong in my accusation and there IS such solid evidence, then he MUST present it now.

If the Prime Minister has a case for war, then he should make it without lying. I deeply resent being lied to by our government to win support for its dangerous, fear-mongering policies. This divisive lying and fear-mongering has been a Liberal Party tactic for too long, now. Your party is now tearing this country apart day-by-day, piece-by-piece. The Liberals will surely reap the whirlwind that your Prime Minister has long sown, even if he manages to retire in personal glory following a temporary triumph in Iraq. The strategic doctrine to which he is about to commit the Liberal Party will, of course, be with the rest of you for many, many years. That is your choice, I suppose.

However, since the Prime Minister’s lies on this occasion relate not to a ‘trivial’ matter – such as whether or not children were thrown overboard by Iraqis fleeing Saddam’s brutal regime, say – but to the matter of whether or not Australian soldiers, one of whom is my brother, will be committed to the first pre-emptive war in Australia’s history, I therefore write demanding individual acknowledgement from each member of the government as to whether or not you, as a member of the government, support Mr Howard’s claim that your Executive is in possession of solid evidence linking al-Qaeda to Saddam’s Iraq. Please advise me as a matter of urgency – personally, member-by-member, in writing – your answer to this simple question:


Your CANNOT keep lying to us like this, for Christ’s sake. This is WAY, WAY beyond party-politics and personal ambition, now. It will be critically-important for us as Australian Citizens, in the long and messy strategic aftermath of this invasion and occupation, to be very precisely clear on exactly which members of the Liberal and National Party Government that committed us to it stood where, and publicly so. For the public record.

Come on, guys, this is NOT NOT NOT in the best long-term interests of either the Liberal or the National Parties, OR the future of our two-party democratic Parliamentary stability. This is pure, one-man-band, Presidential propaganda, and we can all see it, as plain as day. This is political suicide for the Libs in the long-term, especially.

I require a reply to this email as a matter of primacy. You may ring, fax, email or snail-mail me at the addresses and numbers below.

Stephen John ‘Jack’ Robertson


4. …but alas! All our Concerned Citizen receives is more waffle and spin!

To be precise, a whole lot of vague, irrelevant tosh about UN Resolutions – a body which itself is urging the Coalition not to invade Iraq! (There’s also a rather silly government accusation that France’s opposition to the invasion is all about oillll!!!! Naturally, fellow Webdiarists, your Concerned Citizen ignores that silly conspiracy theory, too.)

From: Alan Cadman, MP

To: Steve Robbo

Date: 20 March 2003

A number of people, including Simon Crean, are saying Australia should not be going into conflict now but should be waiting for yet another resolution of the United Nations. Everyone admits Saddam Hussein has done the wrong thing. He should reform, but we should wait for him to agree to change.

The history of requests for this tyrant and murderer to change began in 1990 – 13 years ago. The words used by the United Nations to endorse and enforce the views of the nations of the world began with resolution 678 on 29th November 1990.

“Noting that, despite all efforts by the United Nations, Iraq refuses to comply with its obligation to implement resolution 660 (1990) and the above-mentioned subsequent relevant resolutions, in flagrant contempt of the Security Council …” (resolution 678)

2nd March 1991: “Provide all information and assistance in identifying Iraqi mines, booby traps and other explosives as well as any chemical and biological weapons and material in Kuwait, in areas of Iraq where forces of Member States cooperating with Kuwait pursuant to resolution 678 … (1990) are present temporarily, and in adjacent waters …” (resolution 686)

3rd April 1991: “Conscious also of the statements by Iraq threatening to use weapons in violation of its obligations under the Geneva Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare, signed at Geneva on 17 June 1925, and of its prior use of chemical weapons and affirming that grave consequences would follow any further use by Iraq of such weapons …” (resolution 687)

5th April 1991: “Gravely concerned by the repression of the Iraqi civilian population in many parts of Iraq, including most recently in Kurdish populated areas, which led to a massive flow of refugees towards and across international frontiers … “


“Condemns the repression of the Iraqi civilian population in many parts of Iraq, including most recently in Kurdish populated areas, the consequences of which threaten international peace and security in the region …” (resolution 688)

15th August 1991: “Recalling also the letter of 11 April 1991 from the President of the Security Council to the Permanent Representative of Iraq to the United Nations in which he noted that on the basis of Iraq’s written agreement to implement fully resolution 687 (1991) … the preconditions for a cease-fire established in paragraph 33 of that resolution had been met.

“Taking note with grave concern of the letters dated 26 and 28 June and 4 July 1991 from the Secretary-General to the President of the Security Council, conveying information obtained from the Executive Chairman of the Special Commission and from the high-level mission to Iraq which establishes Iraq’s failure to comply with its obligations under resolution 687 …” (resolution 707)

(11th October 1991: Resolution 715, 15th October 1994: Resolution 949, 27th March 1996: Resolution 1051, 12th June 1997: Resolution 1060, 21st June 1997: Resolution 1115.)

23rd October 1997: “Reaffirming its determination to ensure full compliance by Iraq with all its obligations under all previous relevant resolutions and reiterating its demand that Iraq allow immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access to the Special Commission to any site which the Commission wishes to inspect.” (Resolution 1134)

(12th November 1997: Resolution 1137, 2nd March 1998: Resolution 1154, 9th September 1998: Resolution 1194.)

5th November 1998: “Noting with alarm the decision of Iraq on 31st October 1998 to cease cooperation with the Untied Nations Special Commission, and its continued restrictions on the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)…” (Resolution 1205)

(17th December 1999: Resolution 1284, 8th November 2002: Resolution 1441)

The United Nations and the Security Council have expressed in the strongest terms their condemnation and rejection of the Suddam Hussein regime in resolution after resolution, year after year. The expressions in resolution 1441 are not just a recent occurrence.

From 1990 to October 1992, all the requests were unfulfilled or ignored.

Nothing was done by the United Nations in the pursuit of peace. They made the strongest complaints and concluded all of their motions with the statement that the Security Council “Decides to remain actively seized of the matter”.

There has never been such inactive seizure of any important issue. Time and again the UN has requested Saddam Hussein to comply. The UN has complained when he did not take these resolutions seriously. The UN moved motions of criticism when he failed to comply, and said that they would follow through with strong actions. None of which they did. By its failure to act the UN encouraged denigration and non-compliance.

(On) 21st June 1997 the UN condemned Iraq for: “… the repeated refusal of the Iraqi authorities to allow access to sites designated by the Special Commission, which constitutes a clear and flagrant violation of the provisions of Security Council resolutions 687 (1991), 707 (1991), 715 (1991) and 1060 (1996) … “ (resolution 1115).

The UN has acted on the premise that it does not have to take action. Australia cannot be restricted to accepting that a belligerent decision by France in the UN can control our actions. The French decision to exercise a veto should not handcuff Australia. If the Chinese decide to exercise a veto, does that mean we should not be involved?

Such a policy allows anybody to make decisions for us, but we will not make them for ourselves. We would be captive to the UN veto-and it only needs one country to exercise the veto. One country alone could stop Australia exercising its sovereign right. We would never do anything the United Nations does not endorse.

France does not come to the table with clean hands. Saddam Hussein expressed the opinion to a Lebanese journalist in 1975, that his dealings with France were ‘the first concrete step towards the production of the Arab atomic weapon’. The first negotiations after the Kuwaiti war with Iraq for access to their oil were recorded in May 1992 when Hussein Kamel, Saddam’s son-in-law and then minister for industry and oil, and the adviser of Monsieur Jacques Chirac started negotiations. Before bodies were cold, the French were in there negotiating for their cut of oil. The Iraqis preferred to deal with the Elf company because of its high political connections with the French government.

France should not be able to control our resistance to terrorism, genocide or tyranny simply because it has a veto in the UN.

My views coincide with those expressed in an email by an Australian Army officer to an Australian radio station. He said, “I’m catching snippets of Australian news up here yet the more I’m exposed to it the less I understand of the politicians. In my view the opposition is committing political suicide with its ill informed and puerile views on many related issues.”

He concludes:

“I fully endorse Australia’ involvement as a key member of the coalition in response to terrorism. The common belief that we are simply jumping blindly into bed with George Bush must be replaced with the understanding that peace is not America’s gift to the world, it is God’s gift to humanity”.

Yours sincerely

Alan Cadman

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Oy, oy, oy, Alan – all I wanted was a specific answer to a specific question, mate, not a heart-felt lecture on the failures of the poor old United Nations! My thanks anyway to Alan Cadman, Liberal Party MP for acknowledging receipt in writing on the government’s behalf. And my apologies for not even bothering to reply to your waffling, side-stepping nonsense, mate. But in the end, even a Green Pen crank gets fed up with reams of rote-delivered government bullshit posing as individual Rep civic responsiveness.

On the other hand, at least Alan’s email reply is a sound written record proving that, if and when the Government starts trying to pretend that it was unaware of the doubts over intelligence assessments that there was, as John Howard claimed on 14 March on 3AW, ‘solid evidence’ linking al-Qaeda to Saddam Hussein, the Prime Minister can’t honestly claim that nobody tried to tell him.

Because as you can see, every member of the Australian Parliament was alerted in writing on 14 March to such doubts by at least one Concerned Citizen (and, in fact, millions of others, including counter-terrorism experts worldwide). Now that the (politically-delayed) US Congressional Report into 9/11 has indeed confirmed that the al-Qaeda/Saddam link was always, as far as the weight of the global intelligence community’s expert opinion was concerned, a great big pile of politically-manufactured bullshit, that angry Concerned Citizen wants to know why NOBODY IN THE AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT, OPPOSITION OR THE CROSS-BENCHES ANSWERED, OR PURSUED, OR WAS ALLOWED TO PURSUE, VIA A LONG, DETAILED PARLIAMEMTARY DEBATE ON THIS WAR, HIS CONCERNED CITIZEN’S EMAIL QUESTIONS IN TIME, IN DETAIL, AND ON THE OFFICIAL AND PERMANENT PUBLIC RECORD.

Firewall all you like, Prime Minister, but in my opinion, you were on 14 March this year, and you remain now, a liar. I respectfully request you to produce the ‘solid evidence’ of the Saddam al-Qaeda link you told us you possessed on that date, and if you can do so, I will happily withdraw that accusation and apologise. Alternatively, you should resign.

By the way, happy birthday.