A fair go education system: the advantages for all of us


Marat’s dream. Image by Webdiary artist Martin Davies. www.daviesart.com

Rising inequality presents a real threat to our collective well being, not just to the well being of those who are missing out. Rising inequality, especially in a society accustomed to seeing itself as fair, creates a nagging sense of unfairness and threatens social solidarity and stability. It undermines the perception that we are all equal. It can lead to bitter divisions and increase the psychological and social distance between the haves and the have nots. As James K. Galbraith pointed out, it can cause “the comfortable to disavow the needy” and it becomes easier to persuade people – as this government is trying to do – that defects of character or culture rather than economic history cause the gap.

As a member of the Labor Party, I have always been passionately committed to egalitarianism – the idea that each person has equal worth; that any limitations on their achievement and their ability to share in society’s goods should be systematically broken down. And that this requires public action and investment.

The conservatives embrace – if they do at all – a pallid version of equal opportunity. They think it is enough to let people step up to the mark and do as well as they can no matter what handicaps they start with. They speak from the vantage point of privilege, blind to their own advantages. They fail to understand that promoting equal opportunity actually requires active intervention to minimise disadvantage and ensure that people’s life chances are more equal, so that the accident of your birth does not cripple your future.

Most Australians still hold firm to the view that ours is an egalitarian society. Indeed, some who argue that egalitarianism is the value that defines us. While more of us are uneasy about the widening income and wealth gaps we see, many still appear to accept the boast made by our leaders that ours is a nation of equals where the ethic of a “fair go” is the norm governing our private and public relations. But is this really so?

There is now a great deal of evidence which challenges this comfortable assertion. While researchers may disagree about the extent of the problem, they generally agree that inequality amongst Australians is increasing and that egalitarianism itself may be under threat as a defining social objective. And they all agree that it matters.

I was recently asked to review three new books on the subject of inequality and poverty and was struck by the fact that, although they use different data sources and levels of analysis, all three reached the same conclusion. We are a less equal society than we have ever been. (See Fred Argy, Where to From Here? Australian Egalitarianism Under Threat, Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 2003, Mark Peel, The Lowest Rung: Voices of Australian Poverty, Cambridge University Press, 2003, Michael Pusey, The Experience of Middle Australia: The Dark Side of Economic Reform, Cambridge University Press, 2003.)

Fred Argy points out that Australia’s distinctive form of egalitarianism evolved over 70 years, and was defined by its advocacy of a strong role for government in advancing human wellbeing.

The historic roots of our egalitarian ethic lie in a pragmatic commitment to sharing the wealth of the country and the benefits of productivity, particularly through the award and wage fixing system – the “wage earners welfare state.” One of the features of this “settlement” was a recognition that government could be – and should be- a major player in achieving equality. Argy details “seven pillars” which were deliberately created by government action:

* the virtual guarantee of full-time employment,

* the protection of wages and conditions of workers,

* an unconditional needs-based welfare safely net,

* a strongly progressive tax system,

* generous government provision of non-cash benefits such as education, health and housing,

* a balanced distribution of regional economic opportunities and

* the capacity for workers to be involved in workplace decisions affecting their wellbeing.

Argy’s systematic analysis of the extent of erosion of these pillars and the reasons for the decline he identifies makes sobering reading.

Various data on Australian incomes show a widening gap between citizens. Stephen Long observed in 1998 that a map of Australia depicting the distribution of income and employment would show “a nation fracturing along class, residential and ethnic lines” (Australian Financial Review, October 24-25). The gap is not just between the rich and the poor, but between the rich and the rest of us.

The National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling calculated that in 1990 the richest 10% of Australian families received 23% of the national income (up 1.7% from 1982) while the poorest 10% received less than 3% (down 0.2%).

Income movements are reinforcing these differences. Between 1993-4 and 1998-9 the 2.2 million Australians in the lowest 20% received an average weekly increase of $9 (5%) while the top 20% received $343 ( 23.4%). Similarly, Natsem has reported that the number of low-wage earners doubled between the mid-1980s and the mid 1990s and that over the last decade, especially since the mid-90s, income inequality has been increasing.

Despite our myth-making, Australia also has relatively high levels of inequality by international standards. Incomes after taxes and transfers (benefits, rebates etc) are more unequal in Australia than in all but a few of the OECD countries (OECD, 2001), pointing to a tax/transfer system which is less effective than other developed nations. As Argy points out, while Australia has a relatively progressive tax system, it actually spendsless on redistribution than other countries.

Australia has even greater disparities in wealth, with the top 10% owning 52% of the nation’s wealth. Since 1993, the share of the nation’s wealth held by the richest 10 per cent has increased by almost five percent. The increase since 1996 has been even more concentrated. The richest 1 per cent increased their share of wealth from 12-15% and this has been made at the expense of those on middle incomes.

Inequality has many different faces apart from those captured by aggregate figures on income and wealth distribution. There are substantial inequities in Australians’ working lives, reflected in lengthening working hours for some and too little work for others, fewer full time jobs, unequal job opportunities, greater job insecurity and increasing numbers of long-term unemployed and marginal and discouraged job seekers.

As well, Australian workers have not received their fair share of the rapid productivity growth of the 1990s and the dispersion of income has become more unequal. Earnings have grown much faster for managers and those in professions and trades than for labourers, clerical and service workers. It is an affront to our egalitarian values that CEO and senior management earnings have grown at ten times the rate of award pay rates over the last decade producing a current ratio of 20:1, a figure exceeded only by the United States.

Egalitarian values are also under threat in the welfare system, in the declining progressivity of the tax system and in reduced non-cash benefits which flow from expenditure on health, education and housing.

And it is not simply a matter of inequality, but also of rank poverty. While it might be unfashionable to draw attention to poverty in Australia, it exists and causes great distress to those affected. While poverty in an affluent society such as ours does not have the same meaning as it does in many parts of the world, some Australians have so little that they cannot afford the basic goods and services the rest of us take for granted.

Accounts from people living on low incomes given to the Brotherhood of St Laurence reveal recurring themes of difficulties in meeting essential costs such as rent, food and electricity, stress in family relationships and a sense of social isolation. Social and recreation needs are rarely accommodated.

This month, Uniting Care Australia urged us to accept that all Australians are entitled to a decent life, in which they have access to work, education, housing, food and recreation. They also reminded us that a significant minority of Australians lack such a decent life.

Does Inequality Matter?

All this is doubly important because societies which have the greatest differentials in wealth and income are also the most unequal in access to other resources, including power and influence.

Societies with greatest income inequality are also the most likely to discriminate against minorities and to limit universal access to public goods, such as education and health services. The greater the inequality in wealth, the greater the social distance between citizens.

It is also typically more difficult for the least well off to move up the ladder and “elites” are more likely to exercise control and to dominate key positions of power. Inequality undermines social cohesion and weakens the bonds of co-operation. It makes democratic citizenship more difficult because some people are denied the resources – education, money and time, in particular – which are essential to exercise our democratic rights.

Rising inequality presents a real threat to our collective well being, not just to the well being of those who are missing out. Rising inequality, especially in a society accustomed to seeing itself as fair, creates a nagging sense of unfairness and threatens social solidarity and stability. It undermines the perception that we are all equal.

It can lead to bitter divisions and increase the psychological and social distance between the haves and the have nots. As James K. Galbraith pointed out, it can cause “the comfortable to disavow the needy” and it becomes easier to persuade people – as this government is trying to do – that defects of character or culture rather than economic history cause the gap. (Created Unequal: The Crisis in American Pay, New York: The Free Press, 1998)

Conversely, economic equality makes people feel similar to others and more likely to identify with them. The more inequality there is, the greater the awareness of one’s position and the more acute the knowledge about whether one is a loser or a winner; while the rich may feel more secure, the poor become less hopeful.

There is also a clear danger that increasing gaps may weaken the willingness of those who have to share by concentrating more and more resources into hands less inclined to be willing. This tendency threatens the ability of the society to provide for the weak, the poor and the old and sparks bitter debate about welfare payments and other benefits which go to the most disadvantaged. Inequality is accompanied by increasing pressure to withdraw resources from the public to the private domain – a deliberate policy drive under the current government.

Many have argued that growing inequality is likely to lead to a two tiered society where the wealthy live lives which are fundamentally different from those on low and middle incomes – an “apartheid economy”. Even Alan Greenspan sees unequal incomes as “a major threat to security”, a pretty miserable reason for addressing the problem. Work on “social exclusion” and “the culture of poverty” illustrates how readily people can be trapped in a cycle of disadvantage and poverty across generations, attracting further scapegoating and marginalisation.

More broadly, there is burgeoning evidence that unequal communities have poorer health, poorer education outcomes and rising crime rates compared with more equal communities. A joint Adelaide University – Commonwealth Government publication, The Social Health Atlas of Australia, reports a growing divide between the wellbeing of the richest and poorest Australians which mirrors the growing income divide.

Simultaneously with the “loosening up” of economic controls and the resultant growth in inequality, social control has intensified. The parallel development of laissez-faire policies in the market place and increasing social control have been noted by a number of commentators and is increasingly evident in the rhetoric and policies of the current government.

Education and Equality

There is little dispute that the universal provision of quality education is one of the keys to reducing inequality and enhancing people’s opportunities to participate in the economy and the society.

In the first instance, public expenditure on education operates as a so-called non-cash benefit, like services in health and housing, and has an equalising effect on after-tax income distribution. Assistance to families in the form of government-subsidised services increases the income families have to devote to other consumption.

These benefits are particularly important for Australians in the bottom thirty per cent, increasing their after-housing final income by at least 30%. Recent social policy changes have wound back some of these benefits with a resultant reduction in these redistributional effects. During the 1990s, the distribution of such non-cash benefits became more skewed towards higher income households. This can be attributed in part to reduced spending, relatively speaking, on public goods.

While there are few current data available, the most recent UN Human Development Index, a composite measure of GDP per capita and health care and education indicators, reveals that we have dropped from 7th to 15th place on the league table.

Education is also vital in improving life chances and reducing inequality in the long term, particularly by improving access to employment and conferring higher income earning capacity. It also opens people’s lives to enriching and enjoyable experiences.

Over the last 50 years, Australia has had a strong commitment to a high quality public education system. Under this government, that commitment is being undermined.

By international standards, Australia still has average to high standards of education (OECD 2002) but there is substantial educational inequality. And at least part of this inequality can be attributed to the education levels, occupation and income of students’ parents. Indigenous students and those from rural areas are particularly disadvantaged. Gifted students from poorer families are less likely to achieve their full potential.

It is clear that students from poorer families start behind the eight ball and are not given enough extra assistance to overcome things such as:

* poor study conditions at home;

* less encouragement by parents whose own experience of schooling has been marred by low achievement;

* language and cultural barriers;

* absence of books and other educational resources at home;

* attendance at schools with poorer facilities, a more diverse school population including more children with behavioural and social problems and teachers working under pressure; and

* lower expectations of their capacity.

International comparisons show bigger gaps between the best and the worst performers in Australia than in other developed counties. OECD data confirm that on measures of literacy, the poorest performing students here do worse than the poorest performing students in high ranking countries, including most of Europe. And the relationship between reading ability and social background is also more marked in Australia. We are one of the least equitable countries in the developed world. This points to inequalities in the functioning of our education system and a failure to compensate for pre-existing disadvantage.

Investment in public education rose impressively during the 1970s and 1980s. There are signs that this effort is stalling. For example, in the 70s 5.6% of GDP was spent on education, a figure which had been reduced to 4.5% by the end of the 90s, despite significant increases in education participation. Our spending on the all important pre-school years is low by world standards and there are too few early intervention programs for at-risk families.

Until recently the participation rate of lower socio-economic groups in post-compulsory schooling, including universities, was increasing. School retention and completion rates, after growing rapidly, stalled in the 90s and our levels are now well below those of the U.S. and Canada.

Of more concern is the failure to close the socio-economic gap in performance and retention, especially for males. The gap may, indeed, be widening. A similar trend to lower participation is evident in vocational education and training for the most disadvantaged.

As many commentators have argued, one reason for this gap is the increasing advantage enjoyed by non-government schools which educate the better off. In the thrall of narrow fiscal ideology and reduced grants from the Commonwealth, successive State governments have restricted funding to their schools. Simultaneously, the Howard Government has poured money into the wealthiest private schools at the expense of the government school sector.

Between 1995-6 and 2001 the Commonwealth cut the Government school sector’s share of funding from 42.2% to 34.7%, although the enrolment share declined only 1.9%. As a proportion of GDP, expenditure on the government sector was static while it increased by 21.6% in the non-government sector. Federal Government funding for non-government schools ballooned from $3.36 billion last year to an estimated $4.74 billion in 2004-05.

Ken Davidson has estimated that “total public and private expenditure on state school students will be $2000 a year per capita less than for non-government school students s by 2005,” a figure which other analysts describe as conservative (The Truth about Dr Nelson’s Uni Reform, The Age, 25 May 2003). Some have estimated average gaps as wide as $4000. When Catholic schools are excluded, the National Report on Schooling reports that the ‘independent’ schools are about 26% higher than the average for non-government schools – a difference of between $5,500 and $7,500 per student.

Some of the wealthiest schools operate with 200% of the resources available in government schools. The Government’s funding policies and the SES funding formula are major contributors to this reverse discrimination. Give most to those who have most; take from those who have little.

Such disparity in resources will almost certainly lead to even greater inequalities in performance. Instead of front-end loading the schools who deal with the most disadvantaged and systematically assisting those most likely to benefit from extra expenditure, the government provides derisory amounts to support literacy and numeracy programs. Last year, for example, they spent $115 million on advertising, while the current budget commits just $7 million for grants to foster literacy and numeracy.

In June last year, Ken Boston former head of Education in NSW, argued passionately that Australia urgently needs to debate and resolve some fundamental questions about the future of school education, particularly its inherent unfairness to the less well off:

Do we want to educate our children mainly in government-assisted fee-paying private schools, based on an exclusive clientele identified by socio-economic status, religion, ethnicity or some other dimension? Or do we want them mainly to be in inclusive government-funded public schools, mixing with children from a wider range of backgrounds and experiences?

We need to debate whether education should be something we purchase, like soap powder or a public good, for which we all take responsibility through our governments.

Boston makes a compelling case that “choice”, an ideology which the Howard government gives precedence over equality, should never be based on the fact that government schools are underfunded. In his view, and mine, the “overriding priority of national and state governments should be to provide universal access to first-class public education while respecting the right of parents to choose non-government schools and supporting them on the basis of need.”

John Ralston Saul argued that education is the “single most important element in the maintenance of a democratic system”.

The better the citizenry as a whole are educated, the wider and more sensible public participation, debate and social mobility will be. Highly sophisticated elites are the easiest and least original thing a society can produce. The most difficult and the most valuable is a well-educated populace.

As a former Education Minister and university lecturer, I am convinced he is right. Mass public education is costly, but citizens of modern societies have been willing to pay these costs because they have been convinced it is in the public interest; that there are public as well as private goods.

Surveys over the last few years show that whereas 20 years ago a high rate of economic growth, a stable economy and strong defence forces were considered the most important priorities for the country, today’s top priorities are:

(a) ensuring everyone has access to a good education,

(b) providing a quality life for our children, and

(c) providing quality health care for everyone

The same research reveals that preventing the gap widening between rich and poor was more important to the citizens of the 90s than increasing their own standard of living. They seemed willing to share.

Investment in public education is now under challenge and resources are stretched to the limit. Australian public education has been affected by the systematic attempts to undermine the “welfare state” – “the revolt of the rich”, as Galbraith called it.

Schools can either perpetuate or redress disadvantage. They work daily with young people who are disadvantaged in various ways and they are also a crucial means of reducing such disadvantage. Schools must work with disadvantaged students to offset the practical, psychological, cultural and economic impediments to their education. They must also seek to confront the complex social causes of inequality. They need resources for both of these tasks and the necessary commitment. The entire nation’s well-being is in jeopardy when young people are not able to participate fully in education or when their schooling is narrow and unsatisfying.

Inequalities in education persist: inequalities in retention, access, performance and subject choice. Most of these are linked to socio-economic status, gender and race. There are signs of a regeneration of income-based inequalities in education. And there are trends in current education policies which may exacerbate rather than alleviate the problems: higher funding levels for private schools at the expense of government schools, mainstreaming of “disadvantaged schools” programs, privatisation and commercialisation of public education, more standardised testing, more rigid and formal curricula and a narrow view of academic standards and basic skills.

In the past our inclusive public school system helped reduce inequality; now education appears to be reinforcing privilege and making it even harder for the kids of poorer Australians.


The trends toward inequality in our schools and our society are not inevitable and can be modified by sound public policy. Measures which improve the economic status of the least well off, increase employment, reduce inequality and “civilise” the workplace are likely to produce significant improvements in community outcomes. Conversely, passivity in the face of the “inevitable” consequences of market liberalisation is certain to lead to unnecessary and significant social dislocation.

It’s all a question of what we are prepared to do.

Abbott’s Honest Politics Trust a Liberal Party front: Donor disclosure required

G’Day. Webdiary legal contributor and electoral law expert Joo-Cheong Tham argues in this piece that the Australian Electoral Commission should require Tony Abbott to disclose the donors to his Honest Politics Trust as a matter of law. The AEC still refuses to release its legal advice to date or the HPT trust deed, but is seeking new legal advice after revelations that it conducted no investigation into the trust, asked no questions of Tony Abbott, and did not take legal advice before it reversed its demand that Abbott disclose its donors. The backdown followed a letter from Abbott in 1998 claiming he could keep his donors secret. Mr Abbott did not enclose the legal advice he claimed backed his wish to keep his donors secret, and later admitted the advice was given orally and never reduced to writing. Mr Abbott will not disclose the name of his lawyer, or say whether the lawyer saw the HPT trust deed before giving his or her opinion.

Abbott’s Honest Politics Trust a Liberal Party front: Donor disclosure required

by Joo-Cheong Tham

Joo-Cheong Tham is associate lecturer in law at La Trobe University. He has written a chapter on campaign finance reform in Graeme Orr, Bryan Mercurio and George Williams (eds), Realising Democracy: Electoral Law in Australia (2003), Federation Press, forthcoming.

The continuing controversy surrounding the Abbott-controlled ‘Australian for Honest Politics’ Trust (AHP Trust) has pushed to forefront the legal question whether AHP Trust is an ‘associated entity’ under the federal disclosure laws and, therefore, obliged to disclose the identities of its financiers.

The ‘associated entities’ provisions are a relatively recent addition to the disclosure laws. Prior to these provisions being enacted, only registered political parties were subject to annual disclosure obligations. The ‘associated entities’ provisions, in essence, extended these obligations to entities which were seen to have a sufficient connection with one or more registered political party.

When passed in 1995, the ‘associated entities’ provisions defined an associated entity to mean an entity:

– controlled by one or more registered political parties; or

– which operated wholly or mainly for the benefit of one or more registered political party.

In 1999, prompted by ALP concerns over the Liberal Party’s Greenfields Foundation, this definition was enlarged to include entities which operated to a significant extent for the benefit of one or more registered political parties.

How then do these provisions apply to the AHP Trust’ The key question is whether the AHP Trust is an entity that ‘operates to a significant extent for the benefit’ of the Liberal Party.

The conjugate phrase, ‘operates to a significant extent for the benefit’, directs attention to certain features of the AHP Trust:

– ‘operates’: who controls or directs its activities’

– ‘for the benefit’:

– what is the motivation driving such activities’

– what is the objective effect of such activities and, in particular, does any advantage accrue to the Liberal Party’

On all three counts, the evidence disclosed by newspaper accounts strongly suggests that AHP Trust is an ‘associated entity’. These accounts suggest that a senior Liberal Party figure, Tony Abbott, was a trustee. More importantly, while Abbott was only one of the three trustees, he controlled the activities of the fund. Further, while the stated purpose of the trust was to ‘support legal actions to test the extent to which political entities comply with Australian law’, (see letter by Tony Abbott to the Australian Electoral Commission in Margo Kingston, ‘AEC pulls up its socks, starts serving the people’, Web Diary, Sydney Morning Herald, 4 September 2003), its activities were more narrowly focussed at funding anti-One Nation litigation. Such litigation, in turn, was directed at advancing the Liberal Party’s interests. Finally, the adverse impact of the litigation on a political competitor of the Liberal Party clearly conferred an electoral advantage on this party.

Various arguments, however, have been made against the view that AHP Trust is an ‘associated entity’.

Firstly, there are arguments that go beyond the letter of the law. For instance, it has been contended that ascribing a broad meaning to the definition of ‘associated entity’ would be undesirable as it would mean that numerous other bodies especially those which have a looser connection to the political parties would be caught by the disclosure laws.

This concern is misplaced as the relevant provisions still require that an ‘associated entity’ have a sufficient connection with one or more registered political parties. More fundamentally, it is, in fact, desirable that bodies that engage in significant political activity whether or not they have a sufficient connection with a political party be required to disclose the identities of their financiers. Such activity, whether it be by ad-hoc political campaigns, businesses or unions, clearly affect the political debate and voters’ choices. There is then a need for voters to know who is financing such activity.

Indeed, these principles are clearly recognised by the present disclosure laws. As it stands, entities that have engaged in certain forms of political activity, regardless of their connection to a political party, are subject to disclosure obligations.

There is also a cluster of textually based arguments against the view that AHP Trust is an ‘associated entity’.

It is said that the purpose of the trust was to fund litigation against other parties, in particular, One Nation and not to benefit Liberal Party. This argument is simply fallacious as both purposes can simultaneously apply. If this argument is accepted, anti-Liberal Party litigation could not be characterised as operating for the benefit of the ALP.

It has also been argued that the purpose of the AHP Trust should be fixed objectively and, in this case, by reference to the purpose set out in the trust deed, and not by the motivations brought to bear by the main protagonists.

There is, however, no good reason for narrowing the pool of evidence in this manner. When determining the purpose/s of the trust and its activities, the objective set out in the trust deed and the motivations of its controllers are both relevant. Moreover, it is dangerous to confine the evidence to the former as it will allow parties to camouflage the true nature of their activities through the veil of the trust deed.

Finally, it has been argued that the advantage flowing from the AHP Trust’s activities is too diffuse and intangible to be ‘for the benefit’ of the Liberal Party. In one form, the argument is that ‘benefit’ should be read to mean monetary benefit.

This argument is far from convincing. While it is true that the ‘associated entity’ amendments were originally aimed at fund-raising vehicles like the Liberal Party’s Free Enterprise Foundation, the terms of the definition are not so confined. The plain meaning of ‘benefit’ extends to monetary as well as non-monetary advantages. Moreover, the term should be read in the context of an Act dealing with elections. In elections, benefit to political parties can obviously take non-monetary form. For instance, a campaign attacking the Liberal Party clearly benefits the ALP regardless of the fact whether the body coordinating the campaign channels funds to the ALP.

These objections against the view that the AHP Trust is an ‘associated entity’, in fact, reveal what is at stake in this flurry of legal arguments. On one hand, there is a position that ascribes a narrow meaning to the definition of ‘associated entity’ often through strained interpretation and flawed logic. If accepted, this narrow meaning will provide ample scope to evade disclosure obligations through non-monetary political activity and legal devices like trusts. On the other hand, there is a test based on control, motivation and effect that is more firmly based on the text of the definition and truer to the reality of electoral politics. If transparency, the overriding objective of the disclosure laws, is to be advanced, the choice is clear.


Meet Andy Becker, your fearless honest politics enforcer


Andy Becker, Australian Electoral Commissioner. Photo by Paul Harris.
- AEC reply to Sue McDonald

G’Day. Webdiary’s intrepid Honest Politics Trust investigator Sue McDonald has received a reply to her please explain letter to the Australian Electoral Commission. The head of ‘disclosure’, Ms Kathy Mitchell, is somewhat more expansive than she was in her letter to Webdiarist Michael Hessenthaler published in Abbott slush: your ideas. Ms Mitchell’s letter to Sue is attached.

Meanwhile, law lecturer Ken Parish has endorsed the legal opinion of Webdiary’s electoral law expert Joo-Cheong Tham in Abbott’s Honest Politics Trust a Liberal Party front: Donor disclosure required that the AEC should order Abbott to disclose his donors. Surely the AEC will finally do so? After all, Abbott has said over and over that he’s “happy” to disclose if the AEC tells him too. Ken’s piece and reader comments, including a couple from me, are at Ken’s weblog troppoarmadillo.

Whether it’s structural corruption or systemic incompetence, the buck stops at the top and the top man at the AEC is the Australian Electoral Commissioner, Andy Becker.

It’s worth remembering that the AEC is not just another public service department. It is an independent statutory authority with strong investigative powers to help it enforce the law on disclosure of political donations. It’s like the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission or the Human Rights Commission – it has statutory functions to perform, laws to enforce, and an obligation to act without fear or favour. It is not subject to political direction on the performance of its enforcement obligations. Its duties are not to our political masters, but to the voters – us.

I asked Fairfax journalism trainee Bonnie Malkin for a profile of Mr Becker. Be warned – it’s not pretty.


Andy Becker

Andy Becker, embattled commissioner of the AEC, said years ago that he “fell into” the role of managing elections. For someone so lacking in motivation, he has done quite well for himself.

Since starting out as a returning officer in South Australia in 1967 Becker rose though the ranks to take the reigns of Australia’s most important democratic watchdog and become one of the country’s most controversial bureaucrats.

Becker first stumbled into the media spotlight in 1997 when he was backed for the job of AEC deputy commissioner by Liberal Senator and SA state director Nick Minchin, now Finance Minister and a close political ally of John Howard. It was a case of Howard finding jobs for the boys, wrote former NSW Auditor-General Tony Harris:

In 1997, Senator Nick Minchin supported the head of the State Electoral Office in South Australia, Andy Becker, for appointment as Deputy Commissioner of the AEC. Minchin got on well with Becker, whom he had known since his term as head of the Liberal Party directorate in the 1980s. The selection committee for the job, however, advised that Becker was unsuitable.

The selection committee was overruled and Becker got the job. In February 2000, with the retirement of Bill Gray, Becker was promoted to Commissioner of the AEC. His swift rise through the ranks did not go unnoticed in Parliament. In June 2000 Alan Ramsey wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald:

And on March 16, Bob McMullan, a member of Kim Beazley’s Opposition frontbench, asked the Prime Minister in Parliament: “Can the Prime Minister explain why Cabinet appointed a new head of the Australian Electoral Commission [AEC] when the evaluation panel assessed him as ‘not recommended for the position’? Can the Prime Minister confirm this applicant was evaluated at an earlier time as ‘not recommended for the position of deputy commissioner of the AEC’, yet despite this he still got the job?

In appointing this individual to the vital position of Australian Electoral Commissioner, what extra insights did Cabinet have available to it that were not available to the evaluation panel that is, the secretary of the Department of Finance and Administration, Dr Peter Boxall, the Public Service Commissioner, Ms Helen Williams, and Mr Ian Dixon, the former electoral commissioner for NSW?

Howard’s reply: “I can inform the manager of Opposition business that appropriate procedures are always followed with Cabinet appointments under my Government.”

Just two months after gaining the top job, on May 24, Becker hit some seriously stormy weather. It emerged at Senate estimates committee hearings, after persistent questioning by Labor Senator Robert Ray, that Becker had agreed to hand over to the government an electronic electoral role to be used to send more than eight million personalised letters to voters about the new GST system. Alan Ramsey wrote in June 2000:

What set the hearing alight was when, 15 minutes into the questions, Ray asked if any government agency had asked the electoral office for an electronic version of the electoral roll and its 12 million names, along with birth dates and gender of every voter in the country, and Becker replied: “In the last few weeks? The Australian Taxation Office is one.” One of his officers added that the Tax Office had made its first request in March, and then, about April 20, asked for an “updated” version.

Did the Electoral Commission know what the Tax Office wanted to do with the roll? Yes, said one of Becker’s officers. And that was? “For a one-off mailing of ATO material to electors”, the officer read from a “safeguard agreement” between the Electoral Commission and the Tax Office.

Faulkner, startled: “A mailing of ATO material to electors?”

Officer: “Yes.”

From there the heat accelerated.


At the time Becker told the Senate he had no idea what kind of material was to be included in the mail out. One week later he sought to correct the record of Hansard saying he had become aware in mid-April that the mail out would include a letter from the Prime Minister and a booklet. Wrote Tony Harris:

On May 31, Becker wrote to the Senate correcting some of his evidence. “Since last week’s hearing,” he wrote, “I have become aware that in Mr Carmody’s letter of 19 April he indicated that the mailout would include an information booklet ‘along with a letter from the Prime Minister’. Although the letter was addressed to me, I was not in Canberra when the letter was received … and I have no recollection of having seen Mr Carmody’s letter before last week’s hearing.”

Becker’s memory later improved, and by June evidence that he twice misled parliament on the mail out issue had come to light. The Sydney Morning Herald’s Mike Seccombe wrote:

It emerged yesterday that Mr Becker had not only seen the letter, but replied to it, mentioning Mr Howard’s covering letter.

The following month the affair turned nasty. The Privacy Commissioner, Malcolm Crompton, found that Becker breached privacy laws handing over voter’s details to the government, and his independence was in question. In Electoral roll used to help peddle new tax , the Sydney Morning Herald’s Toni O’Loughlin reported some key concerns:

Democrat Senator Andrew Murray was also concerned about the use of the electoral roll by the Tax Office to advertise the GST. “I think you would accede … that some people may perceive that the use of a mailout for a particularly contentious area of Government policy could be partisan or political,” Senator Murray said.

Becker was not prosecuted for breaking privacy laws however, as the letter had not been sent and the electronic copy of the electoral roll had been handed back to the Commission. He was found to have acted unwisely and improperly by the Senate committee hearing, quite an achievement for the reluctant leader.


This is Mr Becker’s press statement of September 1 on the Honest Politics Trust. Since this statement he has not communicated further with Australian voters – the people he calls his ‘customers’ and AEC returning officers call their ‘clients’.

Electoral Disclosure Obligations

Electoral Commissioner Andy Becker today clarified a number of matters related to the role of the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) and recent media coverage of the Australians for Honest Politics Trust.

When this matter was first raised five years ago, the AEC determined at that time that the group Australians for Honest Politics was not an associated entity as specified by the Commonwealth Electoral Act, Mr Becker said.

The Electoral Act stipulates that an associated entity is an organisation set up to benefit a registered political party.

Mr Becker said that when any new information came to light, it was given careful consideration, but a knee-jerk reaction to a complex issue was inappropriate.

The Commissioner emphasised the AEC’s role as an independent statutory authority and said it will consider all the issues in a measured and deliberate way.

We are charged with ensuring that the disclosure requirements of the Electoral Act are met, even when this involves seemingly knowledgeable and articulate groups.

The AEC is a politically neutral organisation charged with monitoring the disclosure obligations of all players in the political process and will do so without fear or favour, Mr Becker said.

Further Information: Brien Hallett, Assistant Commissioner Information Education & Research, Telephone: 02 6271 4477. Mobile: 0413 274 798


For more information on Mr Becker’s idea of doing his job, see:

1. Australian Electoral Commission in the dock: Why won’t it come clean?

2. AEC claims secret political donations no business of voters

3. AEC took Abbott’s word for it to keep honest politics’ donors secret

4. AEC chief intervenes in Abbott slush fund secrets

5. Enforcing disclosure: AEC can make Abbott give sworn evidence on slush fund

Abbott’s slush fund zoo: the Western Australian connection

Tonight, the Western Australian connection in Abbott’s slush fund – including the plot to destroy the WA Democrats through the Courts – featuring John SamuelHarold CloughDavid ChurchesNoel Crichton-Browne and John Poynton. Then there’s Tim Fischer

Antony Loewenstein’s first report for Webdiary on the players in the Abbott/Hanson saga was Who’s who in Abbott’s slush fund zoo. Tonight, the Western Australian connection – including the plot to destroy the WA Democrats through the Courts – featuring John SamuelHarold CloughDavid ChurchesNoel Crichton-Browne and John Poynton. Then there’s Tim Fischer


Our anti-democratic ‘democracy’

by Antony Loewenstein

Legal experts debate the rights and wrongs of the AEC not forcing Tony Abbott to disclose donors to his quaintly titled Australians for Honest Politics (AHP) while the players and the networks of influence behind it remain in the shadows.

There appears to be a feeling, articulated widely by the Murdoch press and echoed by certain Fairfax op-ed writers, that chasing Abbott is a waste of time and that mud will never stick. Perhaps most ominously for critics of the mainstream press, numerous commentators (mainly in the Murdoch press) have suggested there is a small cabal of campaigning journalists in the (mainly Fairfax) press, determined to strike collateral damage on the Howard Government, whatever the cost.

The Abbott case is important for many reasons:

1) As articulated by law lecturer Graeme Orr in Memo to AEC: why not let the Courts decide Abbott slush fund secrets?, there are serious questions about the performance of the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC). To suggest, as Abbott has, that he wasn’t asked to disclose the donors behind the trust and therefore everything is hunky dory, ignores the AEC’s emasculation in the last 10 years. Neither major party comes out of this looking fresh, hence the current silence in parliament and the media from any ALP front or backbencher.

2) Do certain sections of the establishment media really want true accountability and transparency from our elected officials? It seems we cannot assume that a truly open democracy is their ideal political model.

3) Why has the ALP been so weak in attacking Abbott over this issue? A lack of leadership is one answer, but it’s too simple an explanation. Crean and co know full well that they have obstructed reform to the AEC over the years, so when they gain power they can conduct business not dissimilar to the Howard Government. Heard any ALP members shouting for AEC reform lately?

4) Most importantly, what connections exist between the AHP and the cabal unleashed against the Democrats in Western Australia in the 1990s? A pattern is clearly emerging of powerful forces determined to litigate away any perceived threat. It’s the perfect neo-conservative tactic – PRE-EMPTION.

5) The relative silence of most sections of the media is an issue in itself. It’s hardly a coincidence that most of the Murdoch press constantly belittle the minor parties’ interventions in our political game. It comes from a belief that our system is designed for two big players. These Big Parties rely on varying press support depending on how favourably the Parties assist the Company. It’s brutal and simple and the destroying of One Nation in Queensland through the AHP is seen as a service to this ‘democratic’ model. Hence generally favourable report cards, most noticeably from The Australian’s Paul Kelly (Tony Abbott’s holey crusade).

Western Australia – The unholy alliance of Samuel, Clough, Churches Crichton-Browne and Elliott

Big shots litigating small players are nothing new. Tobacco companies have been doing it for years and patterns have emerged of similar behaviour by leading WA figures, namely John SamuelHarold Clough andDavid Churches.

In 1994, the Democrats were on the rise with Cheryl Kernot as leader. In 1999, Fia Cumming reported in the Sun Herald that John Samuel was instrumental in gaining financial, moral and political support for the job of unseating the WA Democrats:

When Bruce Whiteside, founder of the Pauline Hanson Support Movement (PHSM), was seeking funding in December 1996 he spoke to a senior businessman with strong Liberal connections who hinted that large sums would be arranged.

“The money will be forthcoming, but it will not be used to directly assist Hanson,” Whiteside was told. “The money will be used to clear the blockage in the Senate.” The businessman said the result would be “the decimation of the Australian Democrats”, but made it clear he could not be associated with the plans.

Pressure on Whiteside to turn the PHSM into a political party was strongest from WA and one person, John Samuel. Before the 1993 federal election, Samuel bought the company name Australian Democrats WA Division, and tried to gain control of the party then led by Cheryl Kernot.

In the 1996 federal campaign, he used his legal action against the Democrats to try to minimise the party’s Senate vote.

Sound familiar? Tony Abbott undoubtedly knew of Samuel’s pedigree and that he could rely on the businessman for discretion, money and access.

It has been suggested that John Elliott, then a highly successful Melbourne business identity and potential Liberal leader, was involved in raising money to litigate the Democrats out of existence. At the time a Supreme Court action was on foot designed to destroy the then leader of the Dems, Cheryl Kernot.

In 1996, SMH journo Paul McGeough wrote a profile on the WA political scene outlining the importance of the state in deciding the upcoming federal election. A quote by Democrat Andrew Murray rings particularly true today:

“There was no vision, no philosophy or values. They [the opposition parties] all showed themselves to be issue-or opportunity-driven. They have no views on what Australia or WA should be like in the future.”

McGeough painted a picture of an intolerant political environment where opportunists and financial heavyweights could exercise almost total control. John Samuel and stockbroker John Poynton became involved in the attempted purchase of the WA Democrats, an unsurprising move from two men used to buying, and usually getting, whatever they wanted. As McGeough wrote: “With a State election only weeks away, it was expedient to hijack an existing party rather than set up their own structures.”

Interestingly, in 1996 the WA Electoral Commission never recognised the Samuel tilt at ‘ownership’ of the Dems.

A 1998 report in The Australian portrayed Samuel as a “political agitator”, and a man whose motivations needed to questioned at every turn due to his seemingly constant involvement in litigation against any political party who threatened the vote of the Liberal Party.

Chip Le Grand and Leisa Scott wrote:

He (Samuel) has made a formal complaint to fraud squad detectives that hundreds of One Nation members, predominantly from the disbanded Peel branch in Western Australia, were “duped” by the party’s unorthodox administrative structure, in which all branch dues flowed straight into the Sydney-based company Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Ltd. As with Mr Samuel’s past high-profile forays, his motivation has come under immediate question.

One Nation national director David Ettridge yesterday told Perth radio station 6PR Mr Samuel had never been a member of One Nation and had sought to endear himself to its parliamentary leader Pauline Hanson to build a power base within the Peel branch for his own political reasons (Ed: When and how did Samuel’s relationship with Abbott begin?). In Brisbane, Ms Hanson said Mr Samuel and former Peel branch executives were themselves being investigated by police for their refusal to return $2500 in campaign donations. Mr Samuel said he was directly involved in withholding the money, but denied aspiring to hold office within One Nation.”

Within four years, Samuel had switched from a Democrats ‘supporter’ to a One Nation ‘supporter’. Samuel’s role remains unclear, but his real allegiance seems increasingly obvious. This kind of role clearly requires a pay-off (in his mind), politically, financially or for his businesses. His continued scuttling of alternative parties would surely be looked at favourably by the Howard Government.

But let us not forget Harold Clough, one of Australia’s richest men, a major power broker in the Liberal Party, and a donor to the HPT. Earlier this month, Senator Andrew Murray revealed that Clough was one of the major supporters behind Samuel and David Churches’ litigious campaign against the Democrats in the mid 1990s. Senator Murray said it appeared that a pattern was emerging, and that along with the Abbott trust fund, the Liberal Party appeared to be using the courts to eradicate potential threats.

“I think the purpose in both cases was political, not moral. It was about damaging the competition. In trade practices terms, it was anti-competitive activity,” Senator Murray said.

Back in 1996, Churches claimed that no political party funded the litigation against the Democrats, but this must now be in question. When a major donor like Harold Clough donates money to your fighting fund, how separate is he from the Liberal Party? What does he expect for his donation? And what rules of disclosure should apply to this kind of ‘transaction’?

On last Sunday’s Insider’s program Barrie Cassidy asked Senator Murray about recent revelations of the links between the WA Democrats litigation and the Abbott slush fund.

There’s a consistent pattern of behaviour. I’m less interested in the personalities, although they point to the connections, than the issue of disclosure. In the Electoral Act it says two things – under gifts and under associated entities – that if a registered political party is likely to benefit from the actions or donations of others then those donors should be disclosed. Now it is quite clear in the case of the Hanson episode that the demise of One Nation or a lower vote for One Nation, would benefit other political parties and in those circumstances, to me, it is straightforward – the donors should be disclosed.(Call for names of donors to ‘honest politics’ fund)

Another player in this saga is Noel Crichton-Browne, disgraced WA Liberal power broker and former Senator. Paul McGeough reported in early 1996 that Crichton-Browne was a key player in a political landscape where financial favours and backroom deals were order of the day. Was he involved in litigation against the Democrats?

McGeough wrote:

But the Liberals still are going into this Federal election campaign with Chilla Porter as WA campaign chairman. Porter is a close associate of the disgraced Liberal powerbroker Noel Crichton-Browne, but he’s also a professional fund-raiser, through his company Controlled Marketing.

The company’s efforts on behalf of a local charity and the Coalition State Government’s tardiness in tightening the regulation of fund-raisers have angered WA charities.

Now the Government of Premier Richard Court suffers daily from revelations on what has become known as Wanneroo Inc – an emerging web of corruption and sharp business and political practice involving key Liberals in Perth’s far-flung northern suburbs.

More interestingly, Crichton-Browne was reported in 1996 as spending a disproportionate amount of time with Pauline Hanson. An odd couple to say the least. In 1996, the SMH reported the curious pairing:

The final mystery is the former WA Liberal power broker expelled from the party last year, Senator Noel Crichton-Browne, a frequent visitor to Hanson’s office. John Pasquarelli claims him as an old friend, but refuses to answer questions about what NCB is doing there. (Margo: Crichton-Browne wrote Hanson a letter detailing his blueprint for the structure of One Nation for Hanson. It was largely followed.)

Crichton-Browne was not unique in showing favour to Hanson after her infamous maiden speech, but his previous deep involvement with the Liberal Party opens up some intriguing questions:

1) Was he acting on his own when dealing with Hanson?

2) What involvement did he still have with the Liberal Party?

3) Did any of his observations end up having any connection to the eventual litigation against One Nation?

4) What was, and is, the relationship between Samuel and Crichton-Browne, and the relationship between Abbott and Crichton-Browne?

The fact that the AEC is still refusing to force Abbott to release all the names of the donors to his slush fund means it’s hard for the Australian people to get a clearer understanding of how widely the Liberal Party used litigation to destroy its political opponents.

One possibility ignored in the eastern seaboard media is whether Tim Fisher was involved in the Abbott slush fund. WA ABC reported on August 27 that an ex-One Nation member Paul Trewartha claimed that Tim Fisher rang him in 1998 to offer support for a court case brought about partly due to the Abbott Trust Fund. Fisher denies the claims, but it suggests that National Party involvement cannot be discounted and should be further investigated (Tim Fischer denies involvement in anti One Nation campaign).

One thing is clear. We need to start asking our elected officials the tough questions and holding our so-called democratic institutions, like the AEC, to account.

It’s no longer good enough to be told, as politicians (including Howard) and some media commentators do, that it’s all part of the game. We shouldn’t accept that the Big Parties have carte blanche to squash little competitors who are ‘obstructing’ their agendas.

Democracy is not founded on principles of deception, lack of transparency and lies. Depressingly, we may well have reached a stage in liberal democracies around the world where the general public no longer believe politicians’ claims or accusations. There has always been players pulling the strings of power in Australia, and perhaps there will always will be, but we shouldn’t accept it as a given, and we need to believe we have the power to demand accountability and change.

Many have suggested that the Howard Government is one of the most private and devious of modern times. Perhaps, but let us not be under any illusions that a Federal ALP Government would have acted any differently. The virtual silence that greeted news of the Abbott trust fund in 1998 is telling. Were Beazley and his frontbenchers demanding transparency? Hardly, as the Liberals were doing the work the ALP were only too happy to support. When the Big Parties are threatened, watch the bipartisan love affair emerge.

The ability of the general public to demand greater accountability presupposes that we live in a democracy. These days, who really believes that we do?

Australia’s trade in sex: a history


An East Sydney resident poses with Joy in 1995. Photo: Dean Sewell

Dr Rae Frances, associate professor of history at the University of New South Wales, delivered the annual history lecture for the History Council of NSW on Monday night. Her title: ‘White slaves and White Australia: prostitution and the making of Australian society.”


I would like to begin this evening’s lecture by introducing you to a sex worker. Her name is ‘Joy’. For eighteen months in 1995-6, her larger-than-life figure leant against a red door-frame on the corner of Yurong and Stanley Streets in East Sydney. Of course, being a statue, she is not really a sex worker. Or is she?

The story of Joy became something of sensation in the mid-1990s, not just because she was allegedly the only statue of a prostitute on display in public anywhere in the world, and not just because she personified the seedier side of Sydney. Surrounding the creation of Joy was a quite extraordinary mystery.

On the very day that sculptor Loui Fraser was shaping her striking facial features, a young woman whom she had never seen but whose face bore a remarkable similarity to these very features was dying in a hospital in a New South Wales country town. After the funeral her mother, who had been at her daughter’s bedside when she died, returned to her Darlinghurst home to find the newly-erected statue of Joy in the street outside her house. She immediately noticed the resemblance, and overcome with emotion, took a large hammer to the sculpture. She did considerable damage before being carted off in a police wagon.

When Loui later spoke to the mother about her actions, she discovered that the woman’s daughter had been a Sydney sex worker for many years. In fact, she’d been introduced to the occupation by her mother, who was herself a brothel-keeper. Joy was too vivid a reminder of the young woman’s life, her early death a result of ill-health following years of heroin addiction.

This grieving mother was not the only East Sydney resident who found Joy’s image too confronting for comfort. Many local residents found her presence too stark a reminder of the ‘bad old days’ when this part of Sydney was better known for its street walkers than its restaurants. Protestors lobbied South Sydney Council. The Council eventually succumbed and had the statue returned to its owner.

The response she provoked during her sojourn on Stanley Street is nevertheless enormously revealing about the way in which Australians deal with certain aspects of their history, about what we choose to remember, forget and celebrate.

The controversy over Joy goes to the heart of these issues. One elderly male resident who objected to the statue felt that better subjects could have been chosen: “We should put up statues to returned soldiers – worthwhile people.” Implicit in this statement is the view that soldiers are intrinsically worthwhile; sex workers are worthless. In this value system, whores can never be heroes, but soldiers will be heroes no matter what, indeed, despite the fact that the military have historically depended heavily on the services of prostitutes.

Another elderly male resident objected to the statue because it reminded people of the area’s seedier recent history: “Everybody knows it happened, but who wants to be reminded of it.”

Moral judgements about prostitutes and prostitution dictate what we choose to remember and forget. This is partly because remembering in our society (and perhaps in most societies) so often implies celebration. Which is a curious thing. At the level of the individual, we recognise that a healthy psyche requires confronting the demons in one’s past in order to deal with them and move on. Collectively, however, confronting what are regarded as the less worthy or shameful aspects of our history is seen at best as muckraking, at worst as a kind of bloody-minded, politically-motivated national defamation.

These arguments will be familiar to many of you. I would argue that the history of prostitution is caught up in a very similar contestation.

Here again the dispute over Joy is instructive. While many vocal residents objected to her, others were very sorry to see her go. The Sex Workers Outreach Project was delighted with Loui’s statue and the recognition it gave to the existence of sex workers. While she copped more than her share of vandalism, she was also treated with affection, dressed on one occasion in a pink feather boa, and draped with Christmas decorations in the festive season. She was especially popular amongst tourists, who thought it fun to be photographed arm-in-arm with a hooker.

Younger residents tended to be more impressed than the older generation, commenting on the honesty of the statue itself in reflecting an ongoing reality of the area’s social and economic life. A young mother brought her seven year old daughter to see Joy as part of a day’s outing to the Australian Museum. She told a journalist that she welcomed the statue because it departed from the hypocrisy which characterised so many of society’s attitudes to sex. In her view, unlike the many so-called ‘respectable’ and well-heeled women who had sex with husbands they did not love in order to maintain a certain lifestyle, prostitutes were at least honest about what they were doing and were no less deserving of respect.

Sentiments such as these, and the fact that Joy was approved by the South Sydney City Council in the first place, testify to the existence of a strand in Australian society which deplores hypocrisy and delights in calling a spade a spade. And again you can put this in a wider historical context.

For almost a century after the end of the convict era, there was something of a conspiracy of silence about our convict past. Many of the archivists in the audience tonight will have stories of pages savagely torn from convict registers by embarrassed descendents. It is a sign of our growing maturity as a society that we can now embrace this aspect of our origins.

But remembering the convict era did not go uncontested, at least initially. Today most of us would agree that our history is richer, more complex and more illuminating for being more inclusive of the convict era. I believe the same lessons will one day apply in the case of the sex industry. Pretending it didn’t happen is neither possible nor desirable. Our only choice is to embrace this history and to learn from it what we can.

There are many aspects to this history, but the one I want to focus on tonight has a particular currency. It concerns the international traffic in women and girls and Australia’s part in this traffic.

As most of us would be aware, over the last five years there has been an increasing amount of interest in both Australia and overseas in the transnational movement of those engaged in the sex industry. In Australia, the death of Puang Thong Simaplee at Villawood Detention Centre on 26 September 2001 became a particular focus of media attention. The tragic death of this young woman raised serious questions about the nature of the traffic in women and girls from Asia and other parts of the world to work in Australian brothels. It also highlighted inadequacies in the way in which Australian immigration and police authorities dealt with such cases.

The inquest into her death was held in April 2003. Although he did not find any evidence to support the claim that she had been sold into sexual slavery at the age of 12, nonetheless the coroner did find that there is evidence that young women are enticed to this country with false identification on the premise that they will be provided with work and earn good income only to be exploited and forced to work in brothels.

Although it was unclear exactly when and under what terms Ms Simaplee came to Australia, the coroner was reasonably confident that she was the same woman who was born in Chang Mai Province in Thailand in 1974 and who was sending money to her parents’ bank account from her earnings in a Surry Hills brothel. Her death was a result of the consequences of heroin withdrawal, aggravated by malnutrition and acute pneumonia.

The coroner also found that she did not receive proper medical treatment in the Villawood Detention Centre because of a failure of ‘suitably qualified and experienced medical staff’ to reach an appropriate diagnosis.

Ms Simaplee’s death highlighted not only the inadequate treatment she received at Villawood, but also drew attention to the immigration department’s standard response to potential victims of the alleged traffic in women: it deported the individuals as quickly as possible, and in so doing exported the evidence that might have been used against those involved in organising this traffic.

Ms Simaplee’s case is interesting to an historian not because it represents a new trend, but because it is another example in Australia’s long history as a destination in an international traffic in sex workers. And responses to this traffic – often referred to as ‘white slavery’ – tell us a great deal about Australian society.

Puang Thong Simaplee was part of an increasing movement of young Thai women who started coming to Australia from the mid-1980s to work in the sex industry, where they supplied a high demand for ‘exotic’ sexual partners. Current estimates put the number at anywhere between 200 and 1000 women arriving each year. From the research that has been done on these workers, we can identify a number of features of this migration:

* Most women come from the economically depressed rural areas in north/north-east Thailand.

* Most move first to Bangkok, where they work as waitresses and often also engage in some form of sex work, although usually in a very informal way, such as taking a paying boyfriend.

* Many remit money to family in Thailand: a 1994 study found that about 50% were supporting children, as well as siblings, parents and extended family.

* Although economic reasons dominate reasons for migrating, others are motivated by a spirit of adventure: “I’m here to learn about life. I want to take the opportunities that come my way.”

* Still others hoped to find a husband and learn English

* Many contract verbal contracts to repay cost of introduction to Australia

* Women often become vulnerable to extortion from those who contracted to bring them out – subject to threats of violence to themselves and families, and to threats to ‘dob them in’ to immigration officials; they have their documents confiscated; many are virtual prisoners, being ‘chaperoned’ between home and workplace. Many accrue ‘debts’ of up to $50,000.

* Because of their lack of freedom, they are less able to insist on safe sex practices than other workers and seem to be subject to more violence than other sex workers.

* Many women are sent back to Thailand before paying off their debt and without receiving any return for their efforts.

* And the one bright spot: those who can pay off their debts, can achieve a life of relative prosperity: some return to Thailand while others form independent lives in Australia.

There’s nothing unprecedented in all this. To the contrary. The closest parallel to the current importation of Thai women to work in the sex industry is the transnational movement of Japanese women in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the 1890s, there were approximately 300 such women at any given time working on the Eastern Gold fields of Western Australia and in mining, pearling and sugar cane centres throughout the north of Australia. Known as Karayuki-san, these women were recruited from the poorer agricultural islands of Japan and transported to destinations throughout South-East Asia and the Pacific. They were part of a wider migration of labour around the Pacific in the second half of the nineteenth century.

In the overpopulated Kumamoto and Nagasaki prefectures, girls as young as seven were sold by their impoverished parents to entrepreneurs who smuggled them out of the country in the coal-holds of steamers. Others were tricked, lured or kidnapped by procurers. The conditions of these journeys were horrific, and often resulted in tragedy when the coal shifted in heavy seas or caught alight.

A ship’s captain told another gruesome tale. He reported that on one voyage from Kyushu to Hong Kong engineers were puzzled by a sudden loss in water pressure. When they went down to the bunkers to investigate they found a group of girls almost dead from starvation and exhaustion. The girls had bitten through the pipes to secure drinking water. Buried under the coal beside them were the lacerated bodies of the two procurers whom the girls had turned on and beaten to death.

Those who did survive these terrible voyages were taken to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong where they were trained in the arts of the brothel before being re-shipped to Australia and other parts of South-East Asia and the Pacific. The words of a contemporary sorrowful song capture the experience of these girls:

Carried on the drifting current

Her destination will be

In the west, Siberia;

Or in the east, Java.

Which country will be her grave?

Lover’s chatter

Is like the dust

Of any country.

The precise terms of their engagement varied, but it seems that the girls worked for many years to pay back ‘debts’ for their transport and keep, the amount of these debts being calculated by their captors. Although they might be brought from their parents for as little as 300 yen, subsequent charges levied for transport, food, clothing and medical expenses meant that it could cost a woman up to 2,000 yen to ‘buy back her freedom’.

Having arrived in Australia, the conditions under which these women worked depended very much on geographical location. They were often among the first settlers in new mining and pearling areas of the north, and many led transient and uncomfortable lives, often operating in tents or makeshift dwellings

In 1907 a member of Queensland Legislative Assembly informed parliament that:

At Charters Towers, when [I] was there not so very long ago, in one little mean lane, known as Garden Lane, there were seventeen Japanese prostitutes carrying on their business in little cubicles made of gin cases, wher one could not swing a cat without danger to the framework of the structure. In each of these miserable tenements there was a Japanese prostitute in her kimona. The fee was 7s 6d. The boys of Charters Towers used to meet in that lane at night, put a shilling in, and the winner used to go inside.

The more fortunate led more stable lives in the bigger towns. Those who had paid their debts had more control over their work, and some seem to have accumulated considerable wealth in savings and jewellery.

A study of almost 200 Japanese women in Western Australia revealed that most were in their twenties when they arrived in the 1890s, had several trips overseas and returned to Japan in old age. During the course of their careers, they were often more than prostitutes. They also owned and managed brothels and pearling interests and other small businesses, financed originally through prostitution. Many married Japanese, Chinese and sometimes European, Filipino or Malay men. Others remained single but moved from prostitution to other enterprises, such as running boarding-houses or dressmaking. However, judging from surviving police records, like contemporary Thai sex workers, Japanese women engaged in the sex industry in general seem to have been particularly prone to violence from customers.

Of course, these women were not referred to as ‘white slaves’. Indeed, part of their attraction was the fact that they were not white. I’m not talking here about the current Anglo-Australian male’s demand for exotic sexual partners. The appeal of Japanese prostitutes in the late nineteenth century had more to do with contemporary ideas about the status of the white race relative to what were generally referred to as ‘coloured’ races.

Late colonial Australia was a much more ethnically-diverse society than it was to become in the twentieth century, especially in the north. Large numbers of Chinese were engaged in mining, while Japanese and Malays worked in the maritime industries around the northern coast. As well, the sugar cane plantations depended on the labour of Melanesian men, known generally as Kanakas. The overwhelming majority of these ‘coloured’ workers were men.

This presented something of a problem for the colonial authorities, who believed that dire social consequences would follow unless a ‘suitable outlet for their sexual passion’ could be found. They were especially worried about ‘coloured’ men raping white women. The importation of Japanese prostitutes was seen as a good solution to the need to provide some sexual outlet for ‘coloured’ men, whilst maintaining the status of the white race. As the Queensland Commissioner of Police argued:

Social evil [contemporary code for prostitution] exists and flourishes nearly everywhere in districts where large numbers of coloured aliens are located … The supply of Japanese women for the Kanaka demand is less revolting and degrading than would be the case were it met by white women.

Japanese prostitutes were also preferred for this function over Aboriginal women, who were popularly regarded as dirty, diseased and more likely to produce children of mixed descent.

After the introduction of the White Australia Policy in the early twentieth century, and the deportation of most non-white immigrants, the perceived ‘problem’ of satisfying the lusts of a large population of so-called ‘coloured’ men no longer existed. Japanese women found themselves no longer welcome in White Australia, and most left the country.

But this did not mean Australia ceased to be a destination for itinerant sex workers, for there was another traffic in women which had also begun in the late nineteenth century that continued well into the twentieth: the movement of women between continental Europe and Australia via South America or Egypt. And it is this traffic which came to be referred to as ‘white slavery’.

Although the clandestine nature of this traffic means we will never know its precise dimensions, the historian can get some insight into its operations from those cases which came under police investigations. Let me give you a couple of examples.

In 1902, sixteen year old, Assunta Spazziani was recruited in Rome through an employment agency to work as a general servant for an Italian couple about to embark for the West Australian goldfields. According to her account, her employers, Charles Cozzi and Marie Guidotti, told Assunta that Charles was engaged in the mining industry and that she would be paid her fare and good wages. The threesome sailed from Naples in March 1902 and on disembarking at Fremantle took the train to Kalgoorlie. The couple rented a house in Brookman Street and hired a Japanese cook.

Gradually the real nature of her employment dawned on the young woman. Looking out of the window of the house, she saw ‘a lot of women on the other side of the street, sitting or standing at the doors of their houses, dressed in coloured, gay, loose wrappers’. Marie explained what they were doing and told her that she too would soon ‘be in the fashion’.

The next day she was forced to sit out the front of the house and solicit customers, her employers assuring her that she would soon get used to the work. Unfortunately for them, Assunta was not so co-operative. Whenever she was sent to a room with a man, she screamed so much that the customer was happy to retreat. Despite beatings administered by Cozzi, she continued to resist her fate and seek a way to escape.

Three months after arriving in Kalgoorlie, an opportunity presented itself in the person of a young Italian tradesman, employed to do renovations on the house. She told Ricchiardo her tale and he agreed to help her, fleeing with her by train to Perth where she was deposited with ‘respectable’ friends of his. She was later moved to the Salvation Army Refuge, where the officials reported the matter to the police.

Cozzi and Guidotti were quickly arrested and subsequently charged and found guilty of procuring and sentenced to three years in prison with hard labour.

Assunta’s case was not unique. Seventeen year old Natalina Appendino was also Italian, but was living in France in 1900 and working in a Marseille factory when she was offered a job at much higher wages in Western Australia. For two pounds per month, plus board, washing and her return fare, Natalina agreed to accompany a man named Lance and his female companion to work as an assistant in a confectionery and baker’s shop in Kalgoorlie.

Like Assunta, it was only on arriving in Australia that she discovered she would be selling sex rather than candy, but her inability to speak English made escape difficult. However, also like Assunta, she proved resourceful. First she feigned illness and was admitted to the hospital.

Unfortunately, less than a week later she was visited by a Frenchwoman, Madam Galliard, who persuaded Natalina to go home with her on the promise that she would care for her. She told the girl she had bought her freedom for the sum of 65 pounds.

Surprise, surprise – this woman also turned out to be in the sex industry, and Natalina found herself once more in a brothel. Madam Galliard’s investment did not pay off: Natalina showed no enthusiasm for sex work and after a short time she was sold to another Frenchman, Paul Loubens of the Peerless Tobaccanist Shop for thirty five pounds. He placed her in Annie Smith’s brothel, but she escaped and sought refuge at an Italian wine saloon.

She formed a relationship with an Italian contractor who encouraged her to go to the police and lay a complaint against Loubens. Although there was no case of procuring against Loubens, he was convicted of living off the earnings of prostitution and sentenced to six months gaol.

These cases were unusual in that they resulted in prosecution and conviction. Other instances of procurement of European women by deception and violence were reported in the press at the time. These reports formed part of a growing international concern about the so-called ‘white slave traffic’.

This concern, and the terminology of sexual slavery, was originally used to apply to the procuration of sexually-innocent young English girls for sale to brothels in Belgium and France.

A famous case in 1880 in which the London publicist, W.T. Stead, bought such a girl from her procurers provided the opportunity for widespread discussion of the issue in the press. By the end of the century there was a growing humanitarian movement aimed at ending this ‘white slave traffic’, culminating in the first of a series of International conferences in 1899. This international concern did not go unnoticed in Australia, where people were on the lookout for anything resembling white slavery in their midst. The cases of Assunta Spazziani and Natalina Appendino seemed to confirm the existence of this traffic.

However, the issue was rather more complicated than the discourse of ‘white slavery’ implied. Leaving aside the difficult question of ‘choice’ in the context of limited economic options, here we have two cases of women who fit the classic stereotype of the ‘white slave’: young, sexually innocent women lured to a life of enforced whoredom in a foreign country.

As well as serving the men of European descent who dominated the gold fields population, these young women would also have been expected to service the large numbers of ‘coloured’ men who visited the brothels: principally ‘Afghan’ camel drivers and traders but also a smaller number of Japanese. The evidence presented to the court in these two cases indicates that the ‘white slave traffic’ was not simply a creation of the sensationalist press. The question is, how representative were they?

We will never by able to say for sure. It seems likely, though, that such extreme cases of deception and coercion were the exception rather than the norm.

By their own reports, most of the French and Italian prostitutes who came in contact with the law in WA had worked in the sex industry in their home country before coming to Australia. They were not so much innocent victims decoyed to ‘a fate worse than death’, as professionals seeking the best market opportunities. Even if not professionals in their own country, they were prepared to engage in commercial sex once abroad. They were often assisted in their business by a number of men who had a variety of relationships with the women: lovers, business partners, exploiters, protectors. Other women came independently of men and the so-called ‘syndicates’. They operated their businesses either alone or with other women.

Nor was the traffic in one direction only: some entrepreneurs brought young women from Europe to Australia and New Zealand while others recruited women to take back to the brothels in Buenos Aires and London. The record of one of these trafficking groups gives us a good idea of the way in which the trade operated.

Aldo Cellis and Alessandro Berard were described by the London police as ‘typical Continental traffickers in women’. Aldo Cellis was the dominant partner. He was born in Turin in 1879. He was charged with theft in Turin in 1900 and sentenced to 2 years and 9 months gaol. He clearly didn’t serve this sentence as six months later he was convicted in Sydney for unlawful possession.

Cellis’s criminal record in Australia shows a series of convictions for theft and unlawful possession in Sydney and Adelaide and a charge in 1908 for living on the proceeds of prostitution in Leonora, an isolated goldmining town in WA. He did not appear to answer this charge but obviously left the country, heading for New Zealand with the Australian woman on whose prostitution he had been living. The couple set up a brothel in Wellington, New Zealand close to another brothel run by a female friend in College Street. Sometime in 1910 Cellis and the woman calling herself Marie Vernon decided to leave New Zealand to try their fortunes in Buenos Aires. They made the acquaintance of a young New Zealand woman through a man who lived at the same boarding house as her. This is her account of how she became involved in the international sex industry:

My correct age is 18 on the 3rd June last. I was [working] at a photographer’s outside Wellington and used to come to town every evening and lived in Wellington with a very respectable family who took boarders. I there met a gentleman who asked me if I would like to travel.

I said “Yes very much”. He said he would introduce me to a lady and gentleman who were going to travel. The gentleman took me the same evening to 24 College St, Wellington, where he introduced me to a woman saying, “This is the lady you are going to travel with.”

She said “We are delighted to meet you – come inside.” The gentleman left and I went into a room where I saw that curtains were drawn and everything was untidy. I asked her her names and she said just call me “Marie”. She said to me, “I have been looking for a nice young girl for some time to travel with me. You know if you come with me you will have to do the same as I do.” I said “What is that?” She said “Receive gentlemen.” “You will have nice clothes and not want for anything and be quite happy.” She showed me some stockings etc. and said “These things will be yours and we shall buy you some more things.”

About 15 minutes after Mr Celli came in. She kissed him and said “Here’s the young girl who is going to come with us” He came over to me and sat [at] my knee shook hands and kissed me. He said “You are a very nice girl, you come with us and you will have no trouble or worry and be very happy. Marie will see to you.” He said “If ever you see me on the street do not recognize me on account of the Police.” Both of them took me upstairs and showed me some high legged red plush boots. He said “If they will fit you you may have them.” He also showed me some silk underclothing and Mrs Celli said “You will have to wear them when you are in the business.”

At this meeting Marie Vernon established that the young woman was not a virgin, having had sex with her former sweetheart. She persuaded Doris to accompany her and Cellis to Australia, but explained that they would travel separately to avoid police suspicion. Marie and Cellis went ahead, and Doris was left in the care of their friend, a French prostitute calling herself Mrs White.

When Doris finally got her steamship ticket, she discovered it was for Buenos Aires, not Sydney. Moreover, White informed her that the cost was 28 pounds, which she would be expected to repay along with the 5 pounds paid to the man who introduced her to the couple. Nevertheless, apparently determined on world travel, silk underwear and red plush boots, Doris set sail for South America under an assumed name.

When she met up with the couple again in Buenos Aires Marie taught her how to wear makeup and solicit men at the Casino: “If any men look at you, put your head on one side and smile.” She also explained the subtleties of pleasing her male clients and the use of ‘French letters’, about which she knew nothing.

This latter piece of information came too late, apparently, as after less than a month Doris was diagnosed with gonorrhea. Cellis and Vernon decided that Buenos Aires was bad luck, so the trio embarked for London where Doris was admitted to a Lock Hospital for treatment of her venereal disease. It was the matron of this hospital who alerted the authorities to the possible ‘white slavers’.

Given the international concern about this traffic, the London Metropolitan Police mounted an incredibly thorough investigation which resulted in the conviction of Cellis as well as his accomplice, Berard. Between them they were convicted of procuring four young women, mostly from France, for the sex industry. Like Doris, these girls were not sexually innocent but with one exception had not worked as prostitutes before agreeing to travel with Cellis and Berard. And also like Doris, these working class girls were lured away from their homes in Paris by promises of comfort and travel to distant places, in this case Australia. No doubt they would have left for Australia, too, had not the men been convicted and gaoled for procuring.

Once in Australia, they would have found their presence tolerated, if not welcomed. The visible presence of large numbers of ‘foreign’ women, be they Japanese, Italian or French, thus allowed local commentators to congratulate themselves on the advanced status of Australia. In 1915 a West Australian politician, the Honourable R.H. Underwood, told the Legislative Assembly that:

We can take credit, and I think should take credit to ourselves in WA for our social conditions when we reflect that the supply of prostitutes in this country has given out. Most honourable members know that prostitutes in WA are supplied chiefly from France, Japan, and Italy. As a matter of fact the Australian social system has kept the Australian women out of it.

This was a comfortable illusion rather than a reality: the majority of those engaged in the local sex industry were actually Australian-born, and as we have seen, some Australian women travelled abroad to participate in the international sex industry. But it was true that non-Australian and non-British women were disproportionately represented amongst the ranks of sex workers. All this was about to change, however, as Australia became increasingly determined to create a specifically British version of White Australia after the First World War, and also became more conscious of its status as an emerging nation on the world stage.

Although popularly understood both within and outside Australia as a policy of racial exclusion – hence its popular designation as a White Australia Policy – the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901 was not framed in racial terms. On the contrary, there was no specific mention of racial attributes in the selection of immigrants, the primary mechanism for exclusion being a dictation test in a European language. Those excluded were expected to believe that it was not the colour of their skin but their spelling that Australia found objectionable.

The test was used in the twentieth century to exclude not just ‘coloureds’ but also others considered subversive to Australia’s political institutions. The case of the Communist Egon Kisch, excluded in 1934 after failing a test in Gaelic, is well-known. Less well known is the use made of this dictation test to exclude persons of suspect sexuality.

The prosecution of Cozzi and Guidotti in 1902 coincided with an increase in international concern about the traffic in women. The international movement arising from this concern had close connections with existing ‘abolitionist’ groups who sought an end to all systems of state-regulated prostitution.

In the first fourteen years of the twentieth century there were three international conventions aimed at suppressing the so-called ‘White Slave Traffic’, and Australia was a signatory to them all. Australian feminists were active in this campaign at both a local and international level. Being amongst the few enfranchised women in the world at the time, Australian feminists felt a responsibility to take a leading role in the international battle to improve women’s status.

Indeed, Millicent Garrett Fawcett, in her capacity as First Vice-President of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, wrote to the Australian Prime Minister in 1913 to urge the Australian government to conduct an inquiry into the white slave traffic. In support of her case she wrote:

It was pointed out by many delegates [to the Seventh Congress of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance] from countries where women have the vote, that one of the first uses to which women have put their newly acquired political power, was to strengthen the law for the prevention of commercialized vice and for the protection of the young of both sexes. A delegate from Australia informed the Congress that the existence of women voters in Australia had enabled the women of the Commonwealth to insist upon a vigorous and impartial administration of the laws for the repression of the White Slave Trade and kindred evils, with such satisfactory results that commercialized vice had been very greatly diminished in Australia.

The delegates to this congress resolved to urge their own governments to “institute an International enquiry into the extent and causes of commercialized vice” and to “institute a national enquiry along the same lines”.

The Commonwealth Government was not prepared to take any action, believing it had already done everything within its powers under the Immigration Restriction Act. The Prime Minister suggested the matter would be more appropriately dealt with by the State governments. However, Australian authorities were not convinced that traffic in women was a serious problem in Australia and the 1914 Premiers’ Conference refused to hear from a delegation, led by the Women’s Political Association of Victoria, on the issue.

What is especially significant about the lobbying of feminists and the response of politicians is the way the focus on the white slave traffic deflected attention from the sexual exploitation of Aboriginal women within Australia exposed at the time by the Roth Royal Commission in 1905. In 1914, the Premier of Western Australia could thus write without fear of contradiction, that “the procuration of white women for immoral purposes is not now practised”. For feminists, the focus on the white slave traffic encouraged a certain blindness where the traffic in non-white women was concerned.

The outbreak of war in 1914, however, was to mark a new departure in the history of government and feminist reactions to the international sex industry. Australian troops fighting in the Middle East freqented the brothels of Cairo, a fact that was generally known both to the authorities and to feminist organisations in Australia. This intercourse (and I use this term advisedly) drew attention both to the extent of the traffic in women in Egypt and also heightened concern about the relationship between prostitution and venereal disease, and especially about the importation of new, ‘foreign’ strands of the disease to Australia.

After the war, feminist concerns about the traffic in women overlapped with eugenicist fears about the impact of sexually transmitted diseases on racial vigour. The post-war Australian government shared the fears about racial decline and was also concerned that Australia be seen to acquit itself well as a ‘civilised’ and ‘advanced’ society on the international stage.

When the League of Nations took over the administration of the international conventions on the traffic in women, Australia was keen to become a signatory and to carry out its obligations under the convention.

By the middle of the 1920s, most Australian governments no longer regarded the presence of foreign prostitutes as beneficial or even benign. As we have seen, the advent of the White Australia Policy had meant an end to the importation of ‘coloured’ Pacific Island and Chinese labourers and the enforced repatriation of most of Australia’s existing ‘coloured’ populations. The racial rationale for tolerating foreign prostitutes to service a large non-white male populatation no longer existed.

Japanese prostitutes were themselves victims of the new immigration laws: the door was firmly closed against new arrivals while most already in Australia were required to leave. French prostitutes were now targetted as the main contaminating influence, both morally and physically.

After Australia’s experiences during the war, it was not hard for the government to be convinced that a traffic in women did exist and that the Middle East had a particular role to play as a staging post en route to Australia and the Orient. In 1927 the Director of the Attorney General’s Department referred to impending Commonwealth action due to “a growth in the obnoxious traffic in this country, organised in Alexandria and Port Said”.

The question was, what action should be taken. In retrospect it is not hard to see why the policy of exclusion commended itself to the authorities. As the Director of the Attorney General’s Department explained:

As principal executive officer in Australia under the White Slave Convention of the League of Nations, I am of opinion that one of the best practical methods of dealing with the question of White Slavery is to make it impossible for the unscrupulous foreigners to import women of the unfortunate class to Australia, and that the best way to do this is to deport any such women who manage to enter and who immediately practise their profession here.

Although convenient for the government, the effects of Australia’s approach to the ‘white slave traffic’, however, were much more ambiguous from the point of view of the Abolitionists. As we have seen, the activities of the International Abolitionist Federation and the various conventions which it spawned had considerable impact on immigration policy and policing within Australia.

Activists would no doubt have been most gratified at the exclusion or deportation of men allegedly involved in trafficking in women. However, the wholesale deportation of foreign prostitutes, which was carried out as a Government strategy to discourage the international movement of sex workers, was more problematic from a feminist perspective.

Indeed, the question of the compulsory repatriation and exclusion of prostituted women was a contentious issue in the League of Nations forums, with feminists and civil libertarians arguing against discriminatory measures.

As debates in the League’s International Bureau for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women show, civil libertarians were alive to the potential for official abuse of any such measures. Monsieur Reelfs of Switzerland also pointed out that such repressive measures meant that “The prostitute was being considered as a special class which could be driven from place to place”.

Several sensational cases involving French and Italian nationals in the late 1920s and early 1930s proved his concerns justified. The first case involved a French woman of ill-repute who had married an ‘ex-digger’ to escape deportation. She soon became bored with her marriage to a suburban motor mechanic and returned to her former acquaintances. In April 1929 ‘she was hauled before the customs office charged with being a prohibited immigrant’. ‘A dictation test in German was applied, and, failing to pass it, she was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment and deportation.’ Four days later the Sun (Sydney) reported the deportation of one of her associates after failing to pass a dictation test in English. The article made it clear why he was being deported, reporting the item with a bold caption: ‘WHITE SLAVERY INQUIRY’. The Government claimed it had only acted after receiving “a communication from the White Slavery Committee of the League of Nations”.

Earlier cases made the same connection. In July 1928, the Melbourne Argus reported that two French women, residents of Perth, were to be deported after failing to pass the language test in English. “The police alleged that they kept a house of ill-fame.”

The Melbourne Age went into more detail, reporting how the women had lived in Egypt before coming to Australia with 2000 pounds which they invested in a house in Roe Street, Perth. As most Australians were aware, Roe Street was a notorious red-light district, while European women who lived in Egypt were immediately suspect.

In their defence, the women argued that the Immigration Act should not have been applied to them as they had made it clear by their investments that they intended to settle in Australia permanently. As such they were ‘citizens’, not ‘immigrants’. The Chief Justice was unconvinced, pointing out that the dictation test could be administered any time within the first three years after arrival: “Persons who entered Australia could do so only subject to Australia’s terms, and, so to speak, were here for the first three years on approval.”

Clearly, Australia did not approve of prostitutes and therefore had the right to deport them. The Australian authorities, it is implied, were behaving in the best interests of Australia. The references to the League of Nations also suggested that Australia was carrying out broader agendas as part of its responsibilities as a member of the community of (civilised) nations.

What is clear from all of these cases is the importance of an association with prostitution as a criteria for exclusion, regardless of the wealth or property of the individuals concerned. Nor were women the only targets of these deportations: men believed to be involved as procurers or associates of prostitutes were also excluded.

The description of these cases as being examples of ‘white slavery’ is also interesting. While the government and press were keen to use ‘white slave’ terminology, the situation of the women and their male companions, as reported both by the police and by themselves in evidence, suggests that the relationship was a far cry from the popular idea of white slavery. The women concerned were neither young nor inexperienced, nor did they appear to be vulnerable to the men with whom they associated. However, by using the language of white slavery, the government was better able to justify its actions – and no doubt the newspapers sold more copies.

The women who were subsequently deported from Australia had previously left Egypt in the wake of changes brought about by the activities of the International Bureau for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women, working in conjunction with the local police.

As the official files relating to the 1920s deportations show, many, perhaps even most, of the women who came to Australia from France via Egypt intended to become long-term residents. They brought property and established businesses in the relatively lucrative and safe environment of Roe Street in Perth. These women became the unintended victims of the anti-trafficking campaign, forced to sell their property at a loss and to leave a country where they had hoped to achieve modest comfort and security.

We don’t know what became of these women who were forced to ‘move on’ from Australia. Contrary to the intention of those who were trying to stop the exploitation of women’s sexuality, such deportations probably prolonged the working life of prostitutes by forcing them to recoup their Australian losses elsewhere.

The Australian government’s policy of using the dictation test to exclude persons considered ‘undesirable’ also had other unintended consequences: no proof of any offence was required, and the discretion given to immigration officials gave them enormous power, which was open to abuse. This is nowhere more clearly illustrated than in the case of Mrs Mabel Freer, who was refused permission to enter Australia in 1936.

Mrs Freer was the Indian-born daughter of an English Army pensioner and his British wife. In 1936 she was an attractive 26 year-old mother of two, divorced from her English husband, residing in Bombay. Sometime during 1936 Mrs Freer met and fell in love with a young Australian army officer. He, too, was unhappily married and separated from his wife. He decided to return to Australia and organise a divorce and she accompanied him on the same ship, hoping to marry him in due course.

Unfortunately, their plans were thwarted by the intervention of the Australian Department of Immigration. The young lieutenant’s father-in-law, concerned at the course of events, lobbied acquaintances in the army who used their position to persuade the Immigration authorities that Mrs Freer was an undesirable immigrant. When the boat carrying the couple reached Fremantle in October 1936, Mrs Freer was given a dictation test in Italian, which not surprisingly she failed. She was promptly declared a prohibited immigrant under the Immigration Restriction Act.

Mrs Freer subsequently was given permission to trans-ship to New Zealand, where she appealed against her fate for eight months before finally being allowed to enter Australia. In the meantime, however, she became something of cause celebre in the Australian press: because the Immigration Department refused to give any reason for her exclusion, the public had no limit when it came to speculation.

Was she a spy or a dangerous subversive? Was she a woman of ill-fame? Even engaged in the White Slave Traffic? Was she a ‘dope fiend’? Was she, perhaps, really of mixed English and Indian descent? Even when the Federal Cabinet learned the real history of the case and eventually decided that she should be admitted to Australia, no official explanation was given nor any apology or compensation.

As Mabel Freer put it, her ‘character was ruined’. Her solicitor protested to the Australian Attorney-General: “It seems hard to believe that any Government would, in light of the circumstances … go so far as to exclude a British citizen from its territory.” In his opinion, the way in which the dictation test was used constituted a breach of the basic principles of British justice: a denial of the “primary right to which every British subject is entitled – open accusation and open opportunity for reply”.

The reason for this denial of natural British justice was the fact that the Immigration Restriction Act targeted those who transgressed either (or both) the racial and moral ideals of White Australia. Like the vagrancy laws, the dictation test was used to police women’s sexuality. Sex workers were an obvious target, but clearly any woman whose sexuality seemed to contravene the ideal of exclusive marital relationships was also vulnerable. Like the sex workers deported in 1929, Mrs Freer was excluded despite her class background.

The Freer case shows not just the arbitrary power available to immigration officials under the Act, but also the increasingly narrow definition of ‘White Australia’ between the two world wars. The dictation test gave immigration officials the flexibility to respond to this narrowing definition without having to resort to legislative changes.

As a historian, I am constantly struck with the resonances of these past stories and past dilemmas. We don’t seem to have learnt a lot from over one hundred years experience as a destination in the transnational sex industry. We still find it more convenient to deport the victims rather than attempt any more fundamental challenge to a system which is undeniably exploitative of many of the women and girls involved.

Of course, it is true that it is difficult for one nation to solve a transnational problem. But again, we have been co-operating with other countries for overcome this limitation since the 1904 convention.

The intellectual descendents of the Abolitionists are still active in campaigns to put an end to prostitution and sexual traffic. And their solutions are still basically the same: tougher laws against all forms of prostitution and those who organise the traffic.

And perhaps the first charges brought in the last month under the 1999 Sexual Slavery legislation will act as a deterrent. An alternative strategy is proposed by workers in the sex industry who see the issue as one primarily of labour regulation: to stop the movement of women into Australia, they argue, would close off an important economic option for a large number of third world women. What is required is legislation and policing that ensures they are employed under reasonable conditions and remuneration once in Australia.

But this would require the government to take a politically difficult decision: to issue work visas to sex workers to allow them to work in Australia. Whether any government can be persuaded to take such a decision remains to be seen, but I for one will be watching the ongoing debates with great interest.

To end I’d like to return to my beginning – to Joy and the statue that once stood in the busy heart of our busy city. Joy, like so many of the sex workers we’ve examined today, has moved on. She’s safely tucked away in the peaceful grounds of Macquarie University’s sculpture gardens.

Removing Joy from the public eye seemed to offer a solution. She no longer challenges us, no longer confronts us, she’s an artistic aside, part of the scenery.

Deporting or excluding sex workers might well seem a similar kind of solution. We can marginalise them, ostracise them, hide them, and ultimately expel them. But really that avoids rather than confronts the problem.

There is one thing that we can be sure of: their destination will not be as secure or as serene as the gardens of a university.

Who plays Stalin in our History Wars?

This is the text of a speech to the Sydney Institute last night by Stuart Macintyre, co-author of ‘The History Wars’, published this month. Paul Keating launched the book last week. His speech is at Keating’s ‘History Wars’.


What are the History Wars? They take their cue from a controversy in the United States in 1994 over an exhibition at the Smithsonian Institute to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War. The curators prepared an exhibition that included the aeroplane that had dropped atomic bombs on two Japanese cities, and in consultation with historians and veterans’ organisations, they presented the Enola Gay in a way that invited visitors to ponder the moral legitimacy of using this new and terrible weapon.

There was a storm of criticism in newspapers and talkback radio alleging that the exhibition insulted the national honour. The exhibition was scrapped and the director of the museum resigned.

More generally, the History Wars are concerned with the obligations of the historian and the demands of patriotism. They arise when historians question the national story and are accused of disloyalty.

In countries such as the former Soviet Union and Japan the state requires historians to glorify the nation. In liberal democracies that respect intellectual freedom the History Wars arise when politicians and talk-back radio hosts and newspaper columnists take offence at historians who suggest that this country’s past reveals virtue and vice, heroism and cowardice, generosity and meanness, like the history of other countries.

Such arguments over the past gain augmented significance in a period of change and uncertainty that weakens tradition and unsettles older loyalties. The History Wars are an international phenomenon – they rage fiercely in Japan and Germany, Canada and the United Kingdom – yet they appeal to national loyalties. It is always ‘our history’ which is at stake. The History Wars operate on the martial principle of conquest, of us against them, right and wrong, of a single correct view of history, a misunderstanding of the discipline of history and a profound hostility to the history profession.


Episodes in Australian History Wars have been apparent for several decades. During the 1980s there was a protracted battle over the two hundredth anniversary of white settlement. Conservatives alleged that the Bicentenary was impugning the nation’s British origins and promoting ‘a patronising “noble savage” mystique of the Australian Aboriginal which fully caters to white guilt and black vengeance’. As these charges took hold, the government replaced the chief executive and removed all contentious elements from the Bicentennial program.

Earlier still, there was a campaign to dislodge Manning Clark from his pedestal as a national prophet, while Geoffrey Blainey was taken as a martyr of political correctness and the victim of academic thuggery after he gave his Warrnambool speech in 1984.

The historical profession figured in these media controversies either as accomplice or accuser, but as the History Wars proceeded, its protagonists paid it closer attention. After the Coalition’s victory in 1996 historians were condemned as part of the ‘elites’. A synonym, ‘the chattering class’, became especially popular among the conservative pundits who pontificated incessantly in the op-ed pages of the national press and intoned indignantly on talk-back radio.

These heretics had been described earlier as ‘whingeing intellectuals, busily manufacturing episodes in the nation’s past to complain about’, and this activity had created a ‘guilt industry’ that profited from its prosecution of ‘a campaign which has been designed above all to delegitimise the settlement of this country’.

Gerard Henderson asserted in 1993 that ‘Much of our history is taught by the alienated and discontented. Australia deserves better. It is time to junk guilt and alienation.’ His final rallying-cry, ‘Down with the falsification of Australian history’, had the ring of a Stalinist ideologue calling the wrath of the people on dissident intellectuals.

In the attempt to discredit the Stolen Generations, we have more recently seen a heightening of the rhetoric. Historians are part of what a tabloid columnist called the ‘moral mafia’ and another referred to as ‘white maggots’. Most Australians, he added, would support Reconciliation if only the Aboriginals and their supporters would agree to ‘stop talking about the past’.


The History Wars are conducted in extra-curricular forums. They typically appeal to some loyalty, hope, fear or prejudice that the history is meant to serve, and if they mention an alternative view they usually caricature it or impugn the motives of those who espouse it.

Let me give some examples of the technique of vilification. On the morning of the launch of my book The Australian ran a feature article that presented me as a godfather who controlled and intimidated other historians, and implied that I have acted corruptly within the Australian Research Council.

Some days later a paragraph appeared in a column of The Daily Telegraph, alleging that more than ten years ago, when the Melbourne Herald-Sun was campaigning against the Victorian Labor government and I was involved in a protest campaign against press bias, I had used the stationery of the University of Melbourne until I was dissuaded. That claim is false. In fact the editor of the Herald-Sun approached the Vice-Chancellor of my University and endeavoured to have him silence me. The Vice-Chancellor was David Penington, and he related the incident to me along with his own refusal to bow to such pressure. Such are the tactics of the History Warriors.


Our own History Wars have relied closely on precedents set in the United States and it is surely remarkable that those who seek to defend the national honour should be such slavish imitators in their methods and arguments.

The pattern was set in the early 1980s when a group of Australian young conservative intellectuals took up an argument from their American counterparts. The American neoconservatives identified a shift from the class politics to cultural politics, and they identified a new enemy, the educated professionals that they described as constituting a ‘new class’.

Robert Manne set out this argument in a book he edited in 1982 on The New Conservatism. He explained that the rapid growth of universities had provided a home for the student radicals of the 1960s who now dominated the humanities and social sciences. Their students in turn moved into careers in teaching, journalism, broadcasting and public service, ‘where the core values of our civilization were defined and shaped and passed onto the young’.

Another contributor to the collection was his colleague at La Trobe University, John Carroll, who argued that this generation was infected by ‘a paranoid hatred of authority’ expressed ‘in direct attacks on the society’s leading values and institutions’. He accused them of hedonism, hatred and ideological treason.

John Carroll had a postgraduate student, Ken Baker, whom he recommended to the business think-tank, the Institute of Public Affairs. Baker applied these ideas to the proposals of the Australian Bicentennial Authority, which he suggested was undermining the legitimacy and authority of Australia’s traditions. He orchestrated the Institute’s campaign against the Bicentenary, which was quickly taken up by Quadrant, and a covey of commentators rose to prominence by spreading these allegations of an historical guilt industry in the popular press.

A decade later local History Warriors again imported another weapon in their arsenal from the American right, political correctness. Tenured radicals were said to have imposed a tyranny of political correctness in the academy, victimising dissident colleagues, imposing restrictive speech codes, rooting out all elements of the traditional canon and poisoning young minds with their obscure and nihilistic theory.

The Australian newspaper ran hard with political correctness from 1991. Political correctness shifted the terms of the History Wars. Previously it had been conducted in the language of guilt. The new class had been accused of projecting its own guilt onto society, summoning ordinary Australians to repent for the circumstances of every group it provided with an oppressed historical identity. The new allegation of political correctness turned the issue into one of freedom of thought and expression.


Before then there had been an instructive local development in the History Wars. In 1988 John Howard released a new policy document, Future Directions, which deprecated the ‘professional purveyors of guilt’ who taught Australians ‘to be ashamed of their past’.

Future Directions was ambiguous about multiculturalism and Geoffrey Blainey had recently renewed the allegation that the policy was turning Australia into ‘a cluster of tribes’ who threatened its very survival. Howard was pressed for his views and asked if Future Directions would mean a reduction of Asian immigration. “It could”, he replied, and later on the same day said that it would be appropriate to slow the influx of Asian immigrants to preserve social cohesion.

Nick Greiner and Jeff Kennett, Liberal premiers of the two States with the largest immigrant populations, both rejected Howard’s statement. So did Malcolm Fraser. Hawke exploited the division by introducing a parliamentary motion to affirm the non-discriminatory principle and four senior Liberals crossed the floor to support it. Howard never recovered from this debacle and lost the leadership in the following year.

Howard learned his lesson. The second time round he gave no hostages to fortune. He undertook in 1996 to govern ‘For All of Us’, and fended off awkward questions about how that might affect particular segments of the national community with an insistence that he was not beholden to political correctness. Once in office, he took up the prosecution of the History Wars with a vengeance, helped this time by Geoffrey Blainey’s Black Armband.

In the Playford lecture he delivered in 1996 he alleged that “One of the more insidious developments in Australian political life over the past decade or so has been the attempt to rewrite Australian history in the service of a partisan political cause”. He condemned the way these revisionists “demean, pillory and tear down many great people of Australia’s past who had no opportunity to answer back”. That did not keep the Prime Minister from joining in The Courier-Mail’s disgraceful attack on the late Manning Clark.

In his Menzies lecture, delivered in the same year, John Howard rejected what he called the “black arm band view” that “most Australian history since 1788 has been little more than a disgraceful story of imperialism, exploitation, racism sexism and other forms of discrimination”. By 1999 the Prime Minister even proposed a new preamble to the Constitution that proclaimed “Australians are free to be proud of their country and heritage”.

As in the United States, the Australian History Wars are conducted by ukase. They are prepared in house journals such as Quadrant and the IPA Review, privileged forums such as the parliament and closed ones such as the news conference or media briefing. They are prosecuted in the popular press by columnists who have space reserved for their pronouncements, and yet portray themselves as audacious champions of the underdog. These fundamentalists hand down arbitrary edicts against any form of Australian history that is deemed to impugn the national honour.

The offenders are held up to ridicule and abuse. Their evidence and argument is not examined, the issues they raised are not assessed, and the possibility that such views are possible is not entertained. The quality of the scholarship is not a consideration. The standard of judgement is insistently political, judging the transgressor against an idealised national history.

The first casualty when war comes is truth. The History Wars respect few of the conventions that govern historical debate. History, like other professional disciplines, is characterised by lively argument as new interpretations challenge old orthodoxies: you are expected to be familiar with alternative interpretations and give a fair account of them; to demonstrate the consonance of your interpretation with the available evidence and persuade your peers of its plausibility; to present your own argument as persuasively as possible but not by resorting to personal abuse of those with whom you disagree; to allow others a right of reply.

Not so the History Warriors. They obey only Rafferty’s rules. They caricature their opponents and impugn their motives. They appeal to loyalty, hope, fear and prejudice. In their intimidation of the history profession they act as bullies. In submitting history to a loyalty test, they debase it. Australians deserve more from their history than the History Wars.

George John’s exploitation of S11 to get uglier

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at Howard’s shabby performance in Question Time. I suppose I’ll analyse his “answers”, but what’s the point? He looked to camera and said his lines and thinks he’ll win over the people with lies and evasions – stuff the dishonour of it all. His craven team – none of whom raised a word of dissent to his reckless decision to go all the way with GWB – look like they sleep well at night. I hope voters hold them all to account for what they’ve done when the time comes.

Today, a piece by US economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman on Bush’s brutal exploitation of S11 to crush dissent and avoid accountability for domestic policy disasters. The parallels with Howard are obvious, and Howard’s not letting up either. After Krugman and a Guardian piece on Bush’s latest poll ratings, a piece by Webdiary’s legal contributor Joo-Cheong Tham on Howard’s latest attempt to crush dissent by authorising the government to close down political organisations Howard doesn’t like without reference to Parliament.

Krugman predicts that the US presidential campaign this year and next will be very, very ugly. I predict the same for Australia’s federal election campaign this year or next. Emperor Bush’s antipodean visit to his always-say-yes-man in November is gunna be wild.

One of Bush and Howard’s only allies in the war on Iraq – although he didn’t send troops – was Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. He’s got the qualifications to join this select group, that’s for sure. Brian McKinlay recommends ‘Mussolini Wasn’t That Bad, Says Berlusconi’ in The Guardian on September 12, with the comment:

“This statement by Berlusconi, the man John Howard claimed to have “made a great friend” of while on his recent visit to Italy, is a disgraceful apologia for Mussolini which will be resented by Italian-Australians and is an insult to all Australian servicemen who fought against Italian Fascism.”

An extract:

In an interview published yesterday by the Spectator, Italy’s prime minister appeared to defend the actions of his country’s fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini. “Mussolini never killed anyone,” the magazine quoted him saying.

“Mussolini sent people on holiday to confine them [banishment to small islands such as Ponza and Maddalena which are now plush resorts].”

Italy’s fascist leader ordered the brutal 1935-36 occupation of Ethiopia, led Italy into the second world war and headed a Nazi puppet government which rounded up and dispatched Italian Jews to Hitler’s concentration camps.

The Spectator had earlier published quotes from Berlusconi that Italy’s judges were ‘mentally disturbed’ and ‘anthropologically different’ from other people. Shades of Philip Ruddock? Just like our Dear Leader and his media propagandists, Mr Berlusconi has “declared that he had no intention of being ‘politically correct’.

To end this entry, S11 reflections from debut Webdiarists Sarah Filetta and Jo Gates, regular Andrea Hamann, and a beautiful piece on the burden carried by US soldiers from a Webdiarist who needs to be anonymous on this one.


The ugly exploitation of Sept. 11

by Paul Krugman, Saturday, September 13, 2003

first published at iht

In my first column after the Sept. 11 attacks, I mentioned something that everyone with contacts on Capitol Hill already knew: That just days after the event, the exploitation of the atrocity for partisan political gain had already begun.

In response, I received a torrent of outraged mail. At a time when the United States was shocked and terrified, the thought that America’s leaders might be that cynical was too much to bear. “How can I say that to my young son?” asked one furious e-mailer.

I wonder what that correspondent thinks now. Is the American public – and the news media – finally prepared to cry foul when cynicism comes wrapped in the flag? America’s political future may rest on the answer.

The press has become a lot less shy about pointing out the Bush administration’s exploitation of Sept. 11, partly because that exploitation has become so crushingly obvious. As The Washington Post pointed out on Thursday, in the past six weeks President George W. Bush has invoked Sept. 11 not just to defend Iraq policy and argue for oil drilling in the Arctic, but in response to questions about tax cuts, unemployment, budget deficits and even campaign finance. Meanwhile, the crudity of the administration’s recent propaganda efforts, from dressing the president up in a flight suit to orchestrating the ludicrously glamorized television movie about Bush on Sept. 11, have set even supporters’ teeth on edge.

Yet it’s almost certainly wrong to think that the political exploitation of Sept. 11 and, more broadly, the Bush administration’s campaign to label critics as unpatriotic, are past their peak. It may be harder for the administration to wrap itself in the flag, but it has more incentive to do so now than ever before. Where once the administration was motivated by greed, now it’s driven by fear.

In the first months after Sept. 11, the administration’s ruthless exploitation of the atrocity was a choice, not a necessity. The natural instinct of Americans to rally around their leader in times of crisis had pushed Bush into the polling stratosphere, and his re-election seemed secure. He could have governed as the uniter he claimed to be, and would probably still be wildly popular.

But Bush’s advisers were greedy; they saw Sept. 11 as an opportunity to get everything they wanted, from another round of tax cuts, to a major weakening of the Clean Air Act, to an invasion of Iraq. And so they wrapped as much as they could in the flag.

Now it has all gone wrong. The deficit is about to go above half a trillion dollars, the economy is still losing jobs, the triumph in Iraq has turned to dust and ashes, and Bush’s poll numbers are at or below their pre-Sept. 11 levels.

Nor can the members of this administration simply lose like gentlemen. For one thing, that’s not how they operate. Furthermore, everything suggests that there are major scandals – involving energy policy, environmental policy, Iraq contracts and cooked intelligence – that would burst into the light of day if the current management lost its grip on power. So these people must win, at any cost.

The result, clearly, will be an ugly, bitter campaign – probably the nastiest of modern American history. Four months ago it seemed that the 2004 campaign would be all slow-mo films of Bush in his flight suit. But at this point, it’s likely to be pictures of Howard Dean or Wesley Clark that morph into Saddam Hussein. And Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has already rolled out the stab-in-the-back argument: If you criticize the administration, you’re lending aid and comfort to the enemy.

This political ugliness will take its toll on policy, too. The administration’s infallibility complex – its inability to admit ever making a mistake – will get even worse. And I disagree with those who think the administration can claim infallibility even while practicing policy flexibility: On major issues, like taxes or Iraq, any sensible policy would too obviously be an implicit admission that previous policies had failed.

In other words, if you thought the last two years were bad, just wait: It’s about to get worse. A lot worse.


Support for Bush and war slumps

Gary Younge in New York

Saturday September 13, 2003, The Guardian

President George Bush’s approval ratings have slumped to a lower point than they were in the week of the terrorist attacks two years ago, according to the latest Gallup poll.

With the economy haemorrhaging jobs and little sign of victory in Iraq, the CNN/USA Today poll gave Mr Bush an overall approval rating of 52%, compared with 55% in an ABC/Washington Post poll taken between September 6 and 9 2001.

His continuing downward trend in the polls suggests that the weekend’s televised address to the nation, in which he asked for $87bn for the war in Iraq, did nothing to reassure the electorate and may even have made things worse.

This summer has seen a steep decline in the president’s standing from a high of 71% approval in April, suggesting that he would face an extremely close battle if there were an election today. Asked whether they would vote for Bush or an unnamed Democrat, the president has only a four-point lead; in August it was 12.

Support for and opposition to Bush is deeply partisan, reflecting growing entrenchment among Democrats and Republicans. But of particular concern for the Bush teams, according to other polls, is the low number of independent voters (33%) who approve of the overall job he is doing.

“Taking a fall was inevitable, but he is increasingly vulnerable now,” Jaime Regalado, a political scientist at California State University, told USA Today. “The war in Iraq is showing escalating costs in money and human life and the American public is showing escalating doubts.”

In the latest poll 58% say “the situation in Iraq was worth going to war over”, down from 63% in August. More than half think things are going moderately or very badly in Iraq, while 59% believe the administration does not have a clear plan for handling the situation there.


How not to fight the ‘War on Terrorism’: the Criminal Code Amendment (Terrorist Organisations) Bill 2003

by Joo-Cheong Tham

Joo-Cheong Tham is an Associate Law Lecturer at La Trobe University and has appeared as a witness before parliamentary committees inquiring into anti-terrorism legislation.

Every other day the ‘War on Terrorism’ prompts a new government measure. Some of these initiatives become public knowledge. Others, however, are buried in the processes of government.

Currently before federal parliament and largely hidden from the public gaze is a measure that seeks to confer unprecedented power on the government. The Howard government has resurrected, through the Criminal Code Amendment (Terrorist Organisations) Bill 2003, a scheme that will arm the executive branch of government with far-reaching power to ban organisations.

If passed, this Bill will allow the proscription of organisations simply by virtue of the federal Attorney-General being satisfied that the organisation is ‘directly or indirectly engaged in, preparing, planning, assisting in or fostering the doing of terrorist acts’. The effect of such proscription is that membership and other forms of participation in proscribed organisations become subject to severe criminal penalties which, in some cases, can be up to 25 years’ imprisonment.

This Bill, as with many other measures in ‘War on Terrorism’, is being justified as necessary in the pursuit of terrorists. This justification of necessity, however, rings hollow.

The Bill is unnecessary simply because the government presently has the power to proscribe terrorist organisations. The Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth), for instance, presently permits the government to proscribe an organisation if such an organisation has been identified by the United Nations Security Council as a terrorist organisation. More importantly, the government has at its disposal extensive ‘backdoor’ proscription powers. Under Part 4 of the Charter of the United Nations Act 1945 (Cth), the Foreign Minister, if satisfied that an organisation is engaged in terrorist acts, can list it with the result that the assets of this organisation becomes frozen. Such freezing will invariably shut down the organisation.

Besides being unnecessary, this Bill carries serious dangers because it confers arbitrary executive power. The arbitrary character of the power to proscribe stems, firstly, from the fact that it is based on reasonably vague criteria. Secondly, it can be exercised on the basis of secret and untested evidence. Thirdly, a weak standard of proof applies with the Attorney-General only being needed to be satisfied on the balance of probabilities. Finally, the Bill provides meagre review mechanisms. The key mechanism is review under the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977 (Cth). Such review, however, is likely to be ineffectual. It is limited to questions of legality and does not extend to the merits of the decision to proscribe. Further, the courts have demonstrated a traditional reluctance to examine questions of national security after an executive decision has been made.

Such arbitrary executive power risks undermining fundamental freedoms. The mere presence of such power threatens to erode political freedoms by ‘chilling’ political activity. More than this, the arbitrary nature of such power means that its exercise is liable to lead both to mistakes and abuse. In either case, fundamental liberties like the freedoms of political thought and association are put in jeopardy.

Any proposed anti-terrorism measure should be justified as being necessary in the campaign against terrorism. Moreover, it should not unduly trespass on rights and freedoms. This Bill fails grievously on both counts.



Sarah Filetti in London

As I sit here at my desk, I watch the news on the screens around me. It is 11 September and there are memorials on all around the world. It is the 2nd anniversary. Two years. I sit here and I think about the last 2 years, about how much has changed in the world.

For my generation, the X’ers or the Y’ers or where ever you want to put us (I am 22 y.o.), this was the end of our innocence’s. We had never know a true war. Yes there was Desert Storm, but as a adolescent growing up in Australia that wasn’t really our concern, it was too far away.

September 11, 2001 was the birth of a new world for everyone, and in particular us. No longer was life care free and happy. All of a sudden we realised that we were not indestructible, we would not live forever.

We worry now. Every time you fly you are reminded of the danger, the extra security at events, the extra security measures taken in every day life. I live in London now, and I fear that I will have to do a security check soon to buy a razor, things have gone crazy. Going on the tube every day is bad enough, without constantly being reminded that un attended baggage is a security risk, that in the case of an emergency listen to staff and be calm. Yeah right, I will be running as fast as I can out of there.

You subconsciously survey every one around you, and I know that I am always looking for ways out. When you fly you have to add an extra 30 minutes now, just for security. What happened to our trust in human kind? I have sniffer dogs patrolling the building I work in and we have nothing to do with the government.

We then turn our thoughts to nearly a year ago, to a lovely tranquil island called Bali, yes it was almost a year ago. The same feelings of hopelessness and shock came flooding back but this time, well it was stronger, it was closer to home, and although, no one I knew immediately was involved, it affected me in a way I will never forget.

Going on holidays, going to work, we are no longer safe. No longer safe to live our lives the way we chose. Things once taken for granted, like rubbish bins on a train platform, well now they are totally foreign.

What gives Osama and his sympathisers the right to destroy the lives of so many millions, no sorry billions of people? Who are they to chose what is right and wrong, who will live or die?

There are many people opposed to this war against terror saying that we are not going about things the right way. I say they are wrong. Osama has already had a victory – he has taken away our freedom and with that, our way of life. We have to fight to get that back.

I do not mean fight against the Muslims, or the Afghanistan people, they are hurting too. Their lives have changed forever as well. We need to stand together and fight. We have to show them that although we no longer feel safe in our lives, we are not going to run. That no matter how much we feel like hiding, we will stand proud and not waiver.

We will not let him continue to win…


Jo Gates

I’m astonished at Channel 7’s voyeuristic bad taste to mark September 11 with the programming of a show that focused on the actual attacks on the World Trade centre, and tell us (once more) why the Twin Towers collapsed.

It was a thinly disguised opportunity for Channel 7 to show the footage of impact (do we need to show it ever again?) and try in vain to grab for ratings in a timeslot that no doubt gets beaten by the NRL Footy show every week.

It seems they’ve chosen to commemorate the accomplishments of terrorism as opposed to marking the remembrance of those lost. Even the major US stations weren’t that tacky (?)

Do we need to show that again? Did anyone miss it the first time round in 2000? The more we indulge, the more I think we reflect our ignorance and seeming disregard at all other human suffering and atrocity that has gone relatively unnoticed in other countries in the past 2 years. Then again, if CNN wasn’t there to capture it live, it never happened…


Andrea Hamann in the United Arab Emirates


I didn’t even notice when September 11 came and went this year, and to be quite honest I am glad I didn’t. It is not that I don’t feel for the victims of that day, I do. It’s that I don’t feel any less for the 800,000 or more victims of genocide in Rwanda, or those of ethnic cleansing of Albanians in Serbia, or the millions of refugees stranded on borders, or no man’s lands around the world, or any other peoples in this world who slip through the safety nets of wealth and democracy. I don’t see any of those victims being honoured with a day where throughout the world everyone pauses to reflect and think of their fates, and how it was that a world community could let it happen, and continues to do so.



That he was twenty years of age and clung desperately to his mother, umbilically, made absolute sense to me. He would not have seen it that way, of course. He had flown secret missions – he couldn’t say how many – to unnamed parts of the world, in the elite US Special Forces, under the cover of darkness, parachuting in, and, in his words, “destroying everything”. The guesswork in his family was not that he had killed a man, but how many. Or had he killed civilians as well. In fact, that is what he was trained to do: to kill.

I met him personally more than two years ago. He was tough, don’t worry about that. There was something in his eyes that hurts me still, and I can see it there, now, as real as these words on the page. It was ‘an other thing’. A ‘something else’. There was in his eyes something you do not see in the eyes of a normal citizen.

Where was he, in there, I do not know. I do know he was begging to come out. We talked a little about it. He had two more years to serve, and then he was free. “Free” – his word, used easily, and without disloyalty to his country.

On parting, I had one hope in my heart for him. I hoped he would have the time to process what had happened to him.

Two months later the Towers came down. I died a little for him that day, because I knew his fate was sealed. He had been denied time.

Those who have been to America and witnessed its culture would know that it is a military country. It’s not like Australia. Friends and family in the US are either military or they’re not, that is the distinction. We don’t have that distinction, we don’t relate to each other with that in our minds.

Everywhere there, it seems, there is a military presence. It struck me, even before the world had changed, that America was living in fear. Why else the military everywhere? What were they so frightened of? Even their anthem is bound up in war.

He told me of the life he had lived, in shortcut sentences, in matters not Classified – but his telling of it was easy, as though he had it all down pat. Or was this also part of the training? He slept at an airfield, he said, and was just twenty minutes away at all times from jumping in a plane and flying off to some unnamed country and doing what he was trained to do. Twenty minutes.

No one ‘on the outside’ ever knew the mission had been flown, not even his mother. After six months of this, he and his small unit would be farmed out to try to shiver and shake it all off, even if they didn’t fly. Then it was their turn again, and it was back to the airfield to ‘live’. At night, he would be attacked by members of his own unit, invading his sleep by stealth, to keep him on his toes, and because that was what they did. Trained killers attacking.

He was beautiful though. I believe he still is. Deeply and sincerely, when it all got too sensitive, he would bung on an Aussie accent and we’d laugh. He wished to come to Australia, but when he said this, he seemed not to know how to go about it. He knew he would not fit in. We think about sunburn and shark attacks. He thought about killing people.

Amazing. Young people there from schooling years who find themselves without a civilian future are seduced into it, into the military. I happened to meet a recruiting officer while there. I’ve never met a sharper, more seductive, smooth, trained, salesman. Amazing. A struggling and uncertain youth would have no chance, and the offers of a free laptop and certain weekly wage seem designed to be just the right bait. Unemployment and risking the streets or a laptop and everything looked after? What would you choose? It’s nice and easy.. you just sign on to the military for a few short years and then you can get out, with a cash bonus, like that set of steak knives.

What the youth of America don’t know in making that decision is that once in, you can’t get out. At least, its damn hard. Hard, hard, hard. And it’s not as if the young are equipped to make the decision in the first place.

And so to my killer. We listened to some music he had made, on his computer, in his private dog box, in the compound (not under the auspices of the special forces). Dance beats, speed-drug beats, an endless mantra. The beat was his escape. But where could he run, I thought. And outside the building, swarming, were clones of him. Same haircuts, same politeness, same robotic purpose, everywhere.

And yet he was so unique. I miss him. I pray for him. I wonder what the hell has happened to him. I loved him, still do, and I hope he can feel it. In Australia I live by the sea, and I thought about that while sitting in his dog box listening to his music beat in the middle of the US Military.

People of Australia, look out upon the blue sky of your morning and be thankful. Be thankful that your street is not built with one civilian household next to a military household. Be thankful that you don’t have to deal with that force, that presence in your life. Be thankful for your children in the neighbourhood. Be thankful that they may have a better chance. Be thankful that above you in the blue sky is not a satellite eye plotting your every move, beamed back to some country electronically connected to your country’s fear.

Realise, if you will, that America is complex. Realise if you will that when you see images on the telly of American soldiers representing American interests that they may not be there by choice. Not really. nd then, if you will, look upon the leadership of the world and demand of them in your spirit that they wish for a blue sky leading only to the heavens.

Be gentle.

Bush and Howard the living dead as our democracies awaken


Democracy is imperfect but at its heart lies our ability to hit the DESTRUCT button. Part of the imperfection is that when we destroy the incumbents, we kill off some of the good bits and replace them with not much better bits.

That said, democracy is like an Australian bush fire. The destruction of the status quo is part of the life cycle in our special version of public life. Yes, at times we end up with a scorched earth but the result can often be creativity and new growth in the most unlikely places. Renewal. Clover grows out of the crap.

I sense the forces of renewal in Australia and America.

A new era is about to dawn, but I’m not sure what it will be. We’ve been duped on a number of fronts. Being conned is not nice and citizens of the Anglo world need to weigh their choices carefully.

George Bush and John Howard are the living dead. I’m utterly convinced of this.

Democracy is so exhilarating. Breathe deeply and experience the awakening. The oxygen that gets the mind working again. An awakening where you know that no matter what happens, we have the power. At the end of it all, it is us and not them. We give power to them and then we take it away with greater vigour than we give it. It’s in the taking that we gain our greatest strength. We, the people. It’s our moment again.

Every now and then, the people of a democracy have their moment.

Who couldn’t but weep with the Swedish people? In the past few days, the weeping has not been just for Anna Lindh but for Swedish democracy. Sweden is a country with so much to be proud of. A tolerant, open, caring, diverse and pragmatic society. A society were it seems perfectly normal for the Foreign Minister to wander a Stockholm department store unaccompanied.

So much is taken for granted.

In the end though, the Swedes have found this so hard to bear. One of my best friends is Swedish and this weekend he described the feeling from the streets of Stockholm. From Stockholm to Barcelona (where I was), I could hear the incredible strength of his feeling about this tragedy. How could such a beautiful, energetic, intelligent woman be so senselessly slain? She could have been the next Prime Minister. Anna Lindh was the embodiment of all that is good about Sweden.

There was an important poll this weekend. Should Sweden adopt the Euro or not?

For the tens of thousands who turned out on the streets of Stockholm this weekend, the issue of the Euro was insignificant. The important thing was that Swedish democracy is intact and the poll would go ahead.

It is what Anna Lindh would have wanted.

In that sense, the Swedes are like the Australians. Pragmatic democrats. We don’t want extremes and we cherish democracy more than anything else.

Rest in Peace Anna Lindh, because the world you left remembers you for who you were and what you represented.

The white hot fire of democracy burns on. Construction and destruction.

What if we were allowed to dream for a second? Of a world where Anna Lindh and her ideas were writ large? A world where a kind of workmanlike dedication to social justice and pragmatism became pervasive? A world of big ideas and open minds?

That’s my kind of world and it was the world of Anna Lindh. Her legacy will live on, beyond Sweden.

Her mission was accomplished then, despite whatever that bastard intended.

Howard’s march of folly: reviewing the record

G’Day. I hope Labor asks John Howard in Question Time today: “What were the real reasons you ordered Australian troops to invade Iraq? Please come clean.”

His lies were clear at the time to anyone who cared to read the facts, consult the experts and exercise common sense. Is John Howard the most deceptive, short-sighted, narrow-minded, dangerous, amoral Prime Minister Australia has ever had?

I’ve been looking over pre-war Webdiaries in the light of the devastating British intelligence assessment released over the weekend. A terribly sad experience. The standout in my reading so far is this poem from Sydney doctor John Augustus published published on March 19 in Feelings on the eve of war:


The big eagle caught in the trap,

Feathers of failed diplomacy drifting.

Bin Laden smiling, the hapless waiting,

A swift brutal war, a fractured globe.

The terrorist wins after all.

To remind yourself of Howard’s deceptions and evasions before the war, I recommend Deconstructing JW Howard, a transcript of his last formal pre-war press conference and my analysis of the questions and answers. It was a grand performance by the press gallery – minus Murdoch’s cheerleaders, of course.

The best question then, and the one which still stands out, was from SBS Television’s Dennis Grant:

In your speech today my attention was drawn to this line where you’re talking about “people who are ready to mount the moral parapets” of this debate. Can I draw your attention to some of them? Could I draw your attention to General Peter Gration – he was CDF at the time of the last Gulf War; Major General Peter Phillips, fighting soldier in Vietnam, the National President of the RSL. On the diplomatic side, Dick Woolcott – former head of the Department of Foreign Affairs. All of them are opposed to your policy. Can you point me to a credible, non-political figure who does support your policy?

John Howard: Well, in the nature of political debate Dennis, people don’t declare and come out in favour of something that is being done, they tend to come out against something that they disagree with. And in talking about those gentlemen, particularly Peter Gration and Peter Phillips, I don’t regard everybody as everybody’s who’s been a little bit critical as having mounted the moral parapets, I don’t. I, in fact, I followed carefully what both Peter Gration and Peter Phillips have said and I don’t, you know, I don’t put them in the category of people who have branded what we’re doing as immoral and war mongering and so forth, they have reservations, they have different views about different aspects of it. As far as Dick Woolcott is concerned, well I respect his views. He, of course, was somebody who was very critical of our intervention in East Timor, now that’s his right. But in a debate like this you get a whole range of views and I’ve read what Peter and the two Peter’s have said and whilst they raise a number of questions and express some concerns, I don’t regard them as having mounted the moral parapets in the way that some others have done.

Well the question of who supports me or who doesn’t support me in the end is a judgement for the people of Australia. I regard the views of individual Australians on this as just as valuable as the views of people you’ve quoted or any people I might invoke. I mean this is something for the people to think about and the purpose of a gathering like this is for me, through this forum, to talk directly to the people of Australia. I’m interested in their views, some of them don’t agree with me, some of them do. A lot of them haven’t made up their minds and I can understand that because, as I said right at the beginning, this is the first major difficult international issue of great complexity, the world has had to grapple since the arrival of what I might call the new dispensation of which I spoke in my address.

My Comment: Howard has completely fallen apart now. By saying that in politics “people don’t declare and come out in favour of something that is being done, they tend to come out against something that they disagree with”, he’s implying that he’s decided to go to war, something he’s denied. If you take him at his word, the matter is unresolved, in which case you’d expect vigorous debate from credible people on both sides of the debate.

In any event, his claim is inaccurate. It’s a standard feature of political debate that before a decision is announced, a government lines up credible non-political figures to praise it on release. And when a government is not winning an important political debate, it’s standard practice to press supporters of its cause to go public. Howard, it seems, has been spectacularly unsuccessful in this endeavour.

The fact that he can think of not one credible non-political figure who supports his position is proof that he’s in deep trouble on the merits. To then outsource the question to the people of Australia to rack there brains over – and on a question of fact, not opinion – is breathtaking. And the fact that he gives the people this responsibility while making it clear he’s perfectly prepared to go to war in the face of contrary public opinion, shows he’s been snookered. For mine, Grant asked the question of the day.

Howard’s last doorstop before on the war is discussed in A question of legitimacy. He insisted the war was legal, a false claim exposed by Australia’s former Solicitor General Gavan Griffith QC in This war is illegal: Howard’s last top law man.

I also recommend the pre-war speeches of the father of the United States Senate, Robert Byrd, although you may cry while reading them: A lonely voice in a US Senate silent on war and Today, I Weep for my Country…

The February 5 speech of Laurie Brereton, Shroud over Guernica, is top class, as is the speech by Mark Latham on the eve of war, The march of folly. Simon Crean’s final pre-war speech hit the mark too: Australia: The war within.

For a reminder of the ideology which lead the United States and Australia to this disaster, see A think tank war: Why old Europe says no.

Need a laugh after all that? Chris Montemayor recommends clanuak for George Bush’s rendition of ‘Whatever’. “Turn up your sound! God bless!”

Here’s my Sun Herald column yesterday, with links.

Danger in striking at funnel-webs

September 14, 2003

The world spoke out against war in Iraq, writes Margo Kingston, but they were drowned out by the voice of three.

G’day. I’ll never forget February 16, 2003, when Sydney joined the world on the streets to say No to a US invasion of Iraq without United Nations support.

Three old politicians – Labor hard man Laurie Brereton, Green icon Bob Brown and former Liberal Party minister Peter Baume – led the protest shouting “No War”. North Shore matrons rubbed shoulders with parents pushing strollers and youngsters wondering which anti-war T-shirt to buy. (Sydney walks in numbers too big to ignore)

That weekend, the world’s peoples suggested that invading Iraq would make the world a more dangerous one, not a safer one, and asked their leaders to find an alternative.

But the leaders of the US, Britain and Australia knew better.

In the past week, Web Diary’s international relations commentator Scott Burchill found a quote from Harold Thorby, Australia’s defence minister in 1938: “We, the Government, have vital information which we cannot disclose. It is upon this knowledge that we make decisions. You, who are merely private citizens, have not access to this information. Any criticism you make of our policy, any controversy about it in which you may indulge will therefore be uninformed and valueless. If, in spite of your ignorance, you persist in questioning our policy, we can only conclude that you are disloyal.”

Burchill: “At least they were more honest back then.”

Before the war, when John Howard pretended he hadn’t promised George Bush he’d go all the way on a Bush nod, 70 per cent of Australians thought we shouldn’t go in without UN sanction.

Now the Americans are begging the UN to clean up its mess, Iraq looks like Vietnam and Saddam Hussein looks like he’s got into bed with his sworn enemy Osama Bin Laden. Last week, Bin Laden agreed with Bush that Iraq is the central front. In what, World War III? The Iraqi people’s suffering continues.

As we remember September 11, let’s also remember that our political elders from both sides of politics – and our military, public service, legal, church, arts and economics elders – spoke out against this war in all three pro-war nations. All were ignored.

Brigadier Adrian D’hage, Vietnam War hero and the bloke in charge of security at Sydney’s Olympics, wrote: “The [UN weapons] inspectors must be given a chance to do their job and, if that takes a year, then so be it – Iraq poses no threat to anyone while they are there. Far more distinguished soldiers than I don’t agree with this war unless it is an absolute last resort.” (The D’hage report: View from Istanbul)

On the eve of war, Labor’s Mark Latham told Parliament: “This is the march of folly and, shamefully, the Australian Government is following the United States down this path. This is the worst piece of Australian foreign policy since Vietnam.”

Web Diarist Andrew O’Connell wrote: “Growing up in country NSW, I once saw a huge funnel-web which scared the life out of me. Instinctively, I picked up a rock, took aim and threw. I hit my target, but the rock also ripped open the spider’s nest. To a 10-year-old it looked like I’d unleashed a swarm of hundreds of spiders spreading out in all directions.

“For years after I had nightmares where the spiders spewing out enveloped me, my family and everyone I knew. Ever since it’s become clear that Bush, [US Vice-President Dick] Cheney and the charming [Defence Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld have decided to invade Iraq regardless of the consequences, the same horrible dreams have come back to haunt my nights again.” (Spiders spread in all directions)

Many people who backed the war also feel betrayed and fear that the war spin – the lies told for the reasons for war – has damaged our war on terrorism.

Web Diarist Daniel Moye wrote in Faulty evidence damaging the cause that the sell-war campaign now looks like an election campaign: let’s just say whatever we need to say to win the argument and deal with the backlash afterwards.

“I support the war and see the ongoing challenges facing the West, yet I also support a vigorous inquiry into the misleading intelligence presented to justify the war. The leaders should be accountable for their actions, and if their governments fall, so be it. I appreciate the high standards that the Australian media, in particular Fairfax and the ABC, have demanded of our leaders. The cheerleading of the Murdoch press paradoxically helps the anti-war arguments by reducing the debates to a passionate brawl.” (Murdoch’s war: 175 generals on songMurdoch: Cheap oil the prize and Murdoch’s war on truth in war reporting)

Web Diarist ‘John Nicolay’ saw the jubilation in Baghdad when Saddam’s statue fell as “a marvellous affirmation of liberal values – and of the belief that, ultimately, it’s not possible to crush the human spirit entirely”. (The human spirit)

I replied: “That test is about to begin. It will be a long, long road, with no certainty of victory. So let all of us who believe in liberal values – pro-war, anti-war, ambivalent, keep Australia out of it, only with the UN – shake hands and do our best to make John’s wish come true.”

It’s up to the people, yet again. Yet again, our political leaders have failed us.

Wilkie-v-Howard: who’s the villain, who’s the hero?

G’Day. The leak of Andrew Wilkie’s top secret report on Iraq for the Office of National Assessments sets the scene for a sensational week’s Parliament when combined with revelations over the weekend that British intelligence warned Tony Blair weeks before we invaded Iraq that war would hurt the cause of fighting terrorism, not help it (Australia was told: war will fuel terror). That is the same message Wilkie gave the Australian people when he resigned from ONA before the war. Wilkie accused Howard of lying to the Australian people about the reasons he wanted to invade Iraq, and Howard’s been trying to destroy Wilkie’s credibility ever since.

Tonight the story so far, as told by Labor’s best Senate prosecutors, Labor Senate leader John Faulkner and former defence minister Robert Ray, and defence spokesman Chris Evans. For the defence, West Australian roughie David Johnston, who smeared Wilkie with venomous zeal without addressing the issue, and moderate NSW Senator Marise Payne, who did her best under impossible circumstances. Howard, of course, later distanced himself from Johnston’s remarks. That’s his style – play reasonable statesman to one constituency while setting the dogs loose to get the real message across.

Big problem: We now know the unstable, odious Wilkie sang the same song as Britain’s Joint Intelligence Committee. What sort of man would ignore such intelligence and send us to war regardless? Maybe Andrew Wilkie is a hero.

The Debate took place last Wednesday.

Senator FAULKNER, NSW, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate

I move: That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Defence (Senator Hill) to questions without notice asked by Senators Faulkner, Ray and Evans today relating to the release of confidential documents.

I remind the Senate of the chronology of the leak of this ONA document classified Top Secret AUSTEO.

On June 19 this year, former ONA analyst Andrew Wilkie gave evidence to the United Kingdom Foreign Affairs Select Committee on weapons of mass destruction. His appearance received a great deal of publicity in the Australian media. Around this time someone – I believe from within government – accessed from ONA on a return and burn basis that highly classified, top secret AUSTEO codeword document and it was provided to Herald Sun journalist Andrew Bolt. I believe that the motivation was to discredit Wilkie.

On Monday, 23 June, Mr Bolt admitted in his Herald Sun article that he was going through the only secret report that Wilkie ever wrote about Iraq. On 9 July Wilkie wrote to the Prime Minister about his concern over this leak of classified information. The Prime Minister’s office replied almost four weeks later on 31 July, stating that Wilkie’s concerns had been flicked to the Office of National Assessments.

On 6 August ONA wrote to Wilkie stating that they had referred the Bolt article to the police. (Margo: ONA referred the security breach to the AFP on July 4.) It is now 10 September, nine weeks later, and the police still have not made up their mind whether they will launch a full investigation into this matter.

In parliament yesterday Mr Howard said, Oh well, it is all okay because no intelligence material related to national security was published, and that that was the heart of the issue. That is very cynical spin from the Prime Minister, and the Prime Minister knows it.

At the heart of the issue, to use the Prime Minister’s words, is a flagrant breach of national security, a failure to investigate, covering up, using our security agencies for purposes outside their charters and passing a document that contains highly classified material – perhaps material from overseas intelligence sources without their clearance – to a journalist.

On the face of it, this is an extraordinarily serious breach of national security, covered by provisions of the Commonwealth Crimes Act. It is a crime.

As always, the government has us and them standards. If the late Merv Jenkins is suspected of leaking, the goons and the heavies come down on him like a ton of bricks, but if Andrew Bolt admits to having a classified document he is not even interviewed nine weeks later. Any other Australian would find themselves in a small dark room with a very bright light focused on their faces, but not Mr Bolt or anybody associated with this serious leak. This government has a tradition of brazenly abusing security agencies for political purposes.

We in the opposition say this: the full force of the law should come down on that person, or those persons, responsible for leaking that document and having that document or information contained within it supplied to Mr Bolt.

The full force of the law should come down on any senior member of government who was in on this dirty little fix. That is in the interests of national security, that is the task in front of this government, that is the task in front of the Australian Federal Police; and this opposition will hold the government accountable on this important matter.


Senator JOHNSTON (Western Australia)

This government will be accountable. This is the weakest, most pathetic beat-up that Senator Faulkner has been involved in since I have been in this chamber. He has sought to say that he believes the document was provided and he says perhaps involving foreign governments. This is an insult to our intelligence. He has not got a single, solitary, decent, respectable fact. He simply wants to protect his latest hero in this very dishonourable affair of a senior, allegedly ABC classified intelligence officer jumping ship and seeking to make a media career out of his former employment as a public servant.

How dishonourable and reprehensible, and I am very surprised that you would deal with such a person as this man is evolving to be. Who is he and what was he? He has sought to make mileage from his very respected and cloistered position as a fourth grade operative in the ONA. Briefing Channel 9 over the weekend, as he did, before he announced his resignation, he orchestrated the media. How low can you go?

And Senator Faulkner wants to champion this man as some sort of saviour of the Labor Party. He is just reprehensible. Everything that has been said of him is what he has said in The Bulletin and what he has said in the Financial Review in his very flagrant, extravagant and outrageous performances, where he has sought to orchestrate the whole thing to grab himself some sort of peculiar notoriety.

He did not even work in the Iraq section. He has gone to Channel 9 and told them before he even had the courtesy to announce to his employer that he was going to jump ship. He has orchestrated this whole thing to get some sort of grandiose self-enrichment from the process. And everything he said is contradictory. In the Financial Review of 12 March he is quoted as saying:

There is no doubt they being Iraq have chemical and biological weapons, but their program now is disjointed and limited.

So he is acknowledging that they have chemical and biological weapons. That is his story. He said in The Bulletin that Saddam could create a humanitarian disaster and he could do it with weapons of mass destruction. Talking about coalition forces, he said in The Bulletin that Iraq could overwhelm them with hundreds of thousands of refugees. This man is incongruous, inconsistent and unreliable and is the latest saviour for the opposition. It is a very sorry, sad situation.

Let us talk about the Andrew Bolt article of 13 March 2003 (incorrect – it was on June 23) when that journalist said:

More importantly, in saying why he opposes war, Wilkie not only badly contradicts himself but admits we should be scared of Iraq. He says that Iraq does not pose a security threat but then says Iraq, as a rogue state, should worry us as a potential source of weapons to terrorists.

Where is this man coming from? He is very unstable. At the very best, he is unreliable; at worst, he is flaky and irrational, and this is the person Senator Faulkner is pinning his hopes on in this beat-up.


Senator ROBERT RAY (Victoria)

It is almost beyond belief that the government have been so indolent on the leaking of an ONA document classified top secret. When it came to Merv Jenkins or Trent Smith, they could not have acted more quickly to send in the investigators. Countless interviews were held, phone records were searched and suspects were browbeaten. Yet we now have the circumstance of a journalist acknowledging that he had possession of an ONA document marked top secret, and the AFP are still considering whether to have an investigation – just considering. (Margo: The AFP told me the next day: “Following a thorough evaluation, the AFP moved into investigation phase yesterday.”)

It has been 48 days since the publication of extracts of an ONA document and still we do not have a full investigation. Why has the Prime Minister been asleep at the wheel?

Yesterday, the Prime Minister ran the astounding argument that he had been assured that there was nothing of a national security nature in Bolt’s article. This is just pathetic dissembling. The document is marked ‘Top secret AUSTEO’. Its unauthorised disclosure is a breach of the Crimes Act. The document is protected in its entirety. It is not okay to leak or have published parts of it that you decide have no national security implications.

ONA has in place a whole range of document-handling procedures designed to protect its material. Identifiers are placed in every document so as to trace leaks. ONA follows a return and burn policy so that every document is properly tracked. What we want to know is this: was ONA asked to provide a copy of Mr Wilkies December 2002 ONA report to any ministers office, government department or government agency just prior to the disclosures that appeared in the Herald Sun of 23 June this year?

Let us be clear about this. If a ministers office is found to have disclosed this material to an unauthorised recipient – that is, a journalist – then that minister must be sacked. It is that serious. In our Westminster system, we extend trust to ministers to properly handle security matters, but they have a duty to abide by the rules. Seeking retaliation, which the Prime Minister has asserted as a right of government, can never extend to the use of a top-secret document to

discredit a government critic.

I am not a fan of Wilkie – that is known – but I do not believe he has done anything illegal, nor have I heard anyone from the government accuse him of illegality. There is no doubt that Andrew Bolt, in quoting slabs from an ONA document classified top secret, has breached national security. Having received the document, it was his obligation to immediately return it and report the matter to the authorities.

It is now Andrew Bolts duty to put his loyalty to Australia ahead of his loyalty to the coalition government and tell us whether the ONA document was supplied to him by a minister’s office, a government department or a government agency. If he wants to argue that he is bound not to disclose his source, he should be willing to go to jail for his beliefs.

We know that most of our analysis and intelligence on Iraq comes from our overseas intelligence partners. It is given to us on the basis that it will not be disclosed. If any of the material finds its way into the hands of an unauthorised recipient, we must immediately inform our intelligence partners.

It is time for the government to front up honestly on this issue. If they know who leaked this, they should come clean, because if they try to cover it up, that would be far worse than the initial sin.

If security agencies believe they are at risk, that their political masters will leak sensitive and secret material, then they will feel inhibited in future from passing on vital information. We will all be the losers if that is the case.

Senator PAYNE (New South Wales)

I agree with all of the previous speakers on this motion to note that these are very serious matters for the Senate and I believe they are being treated as such. The Minister for Defence and Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Hill, indicated in question time that a very serious response is being undertaken by the government, that the Australian Federal Police are in the course of pursuing an investigation.

I will say – nobody else has made this observation to my recollection – I stand to be corrected – that I believe the AFP will conduct their investigation with absolute priority, with absolute diligence and with no adversion in that process to any of the political to-ing and fro-ing that goes on in this place, and I am completely confident of that.

In response to questions asked of him today, the minister also indicated that the approach taken by that investigation is a matter for the AFP. Most importantly, it is not a matter to which the hypotheses and extrapolations of the opposition can be applied with any seriousness whatsoever as they have been in this chamber today. I think it is a very unhelpful addition to the process to try to second-guess or double-guess or perhaps just creatively assume facts and options that might apply in this case and encourage ministers to respond to those in question time. It is not appropriate for ministers to comment on that investigation, particularly in reference to the operational matters occurring therein, and members of the Senate well know that.

I think the hypothetical extensions that we have been subjected to this afternoon show that the opposition is, at this point, really grasping at straws in the wind. This concerns me for a number of reasons – not just because they are hypothetical but because they are examples of what is now habitual offending; that is, the extraordinary politicisation of these issues over and above the pursuit of genuine efforts to look at matters of proper procedure, to look at appropriate investigation and to look at how the process is being undertaken. This politicisation goes way beyond that.

For example, in media reports earlier this week pertaining to another AFP investigation – the questioning of people like Abu Dahdah – I heard a politicisation that I had not heard before. Even the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, Commissioner Keelty, commented that he was being asked questions in radio interviews that pertained to operational issues. These are questions which he is simply not able to answer – and nor should he be required to. In some ways, the opposition’s pursuit, on this level, of these issues is very similar.

Senator Faulkner alleged this afternoon that there has been a failure to investigate, a covering up, and a use of agencies for inappropriate purposes – which he extrapolates as perhaps involving foreign governments, a statement which I think Senator Johnston responded to – including the passing of material to a journalist.

But the bottom line here, as the minister made quite clear in his response, is that there is an AFP inquiry proceeding. Surely that is the matter of relevance for this chamber: that the AFP are undertaking their job and their role in this process responsibly, diligently and, as I said, with the utmost propriety.

As Senator Johnston said in his remarks earlier, it seems to us that if one is so concerned about intelligence leaking, about integrity and about appropriate behaviour then one would be similarly outraged – and the opposition could employ extra mock outrage if there is any left – about the behaviour of an ONA officer in going to the media in advance of a planned resignation, briefing the media and contriving a situation around that. If you take it very seriously then I would assume that that would elicit similar outrage but apparently not.

I think we need to perhaps take a calm head in looking at these issues and take a calm head in examining them in this chamber, if that is at all possible. One would hope that in a serious parliamentary and political process – which looks at intelligence matters, which looks at security matters and which looks at matters concerning the Australian Federal Police, the ONA and all the other agencies involved – we would in fact be capable of doing that. I do not always expect the best from the opposition, and I expect to be disappointed again.

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western Australia)

I think the previous contribution by Senator Payne is somewhat startling given that she attempts to accuse the Labor Party of the politicisation of these matters when we have just had the minister responsible in this chamber, Minister Hill, admit that Minister Downers office briefed at least one Senator prior to Mr Wilkie’s appearance before the committee inquiry in order to provide the Senator with material to discredit Mr Wilkies evidence.

So if she wants to talk about the independence of the process and the important role of that intelligence committee -a committee which I think is very important and has been entrusted with a degree of independence and authority – then I think we ought to look at what is really going on in terms of the politicisation of this process.

What we have heard is an admission that a Senator was briefed with material yet to be tabled, and at the moment it is unclear to us exactly what was contained in that material, but that material was used in an attempt to discredit Mr Wilkie’s evidence before the parliamentary inquiry.

We also have a prime facie case that somebody leaked material to Mr Bolt, a journalist, because his article claims to have knowledge of that top-secret documentation. That is where the concern is and that is why the Labor Party legitimately raises these concerns.

What I find most galling are the double standards that apply here. I raise the investigation into Merv Jenkins in Washington as a stark contrast to the government’s slowness and hesitancy in coming to grips with this matter. In terms of Mr Jenkins, within four days of agreeing to the inquiry concerning him they had an investigative team in Washington and the goons – as I think Senator Ray refers to them – were putting enormous pressure on Mr Jenkins, a loyal DIO officer and ex Army officer. He was threatened with jail and disgrace in the pursuit of their concerns about the potential leaking of confidential information.

So we see this enormous and aggressive response from the government in that case. The Blunn report said that the interview of Merv Jenkins was oppressive.

Contrast that with the governments behaviour in this case. We now have information that on 4 July ONA finally wrote to the AFP requesting that they investigate the possible disclosure of classified information. So on 23 June we had the Bolt article and then some 11 days later we had a letter – after some consultations – which sought to have that investigation launched.

But now, after nine more weeks, the minister, Senator Hill, is not quite clear whether there is really an investigation or whether they are still in a preliminary stage, having a bit of a look at whether or not an investigation may be launched. He was not at all clear about whether there is an investigation.

What we know about Merv Jenkins is that, within four days, he was in extremely oppressive interviews with officers dispatched to Washington from Australia. That was the urgency involved; that was the seriousness with which that breach was taken.

But, with the breach in relation to the Bolt article, we now have a leisurely nine weeks passing and no suggestion that anyone has been interviewed. The minister cannot really confirm whether there is going to be an investigation.

The contrast could not be more stark. There was an oppressive, urgent investigation in relation to the Merv Jenkins matter which ultimately put enough pressure on that poor man that he suicided. Yet, in the case of this very serious breach of security – this clear leaking of security information – we have this sort of leisurely, manana pace where we may be having an investigation or we may not be. Nine weeks on, what is the hurry? The minister cannot really provide any information; he is not really terribly sure.

You wonder whether the government are actually serious, whether they have any interest in getting to the bottom of this investigation and whether they have any interest in having it pursued and finding out who the culprit was, because clearly the government was involved in a campaign to discredit Mr Wilkie and clearly they are one of the most likely suspects in relation to the leaking of information to Mr Bolt. It just seems that there is no hurry and no urgency.