Wedge watch


Urban folk, by Martin Davies.

‘In the modern politics practised by the conservatives, campaign strategy has to be watched more closely. That’s because the actions of a few are starting to endanger our society. Their actions are tearing apart Australia’s social cohesion.’ Craig Emerson

Labor’s spokesman for industrial relations Craig Emerson gave this speech to the National Union of Workers in Melbourne on November 14.


I�m here today to talk about an unusual topic for one of these gatherings. But it is a topic that is vital for us to address if we are to have a proper contest of ideas at the next election � if the next election is to be about the nation�s future.

Politicians don�t often venture to comment on campaign strategy. It�s meant to be an invisible art, practised by a few experts and not of much interest to those outside politics. But in the modern politics practised by the conservatives, campaign strategy has to be watched more closely. That�s because the actions of a few are starting to endanger our society. Their actions are tearing apart Australia�s social cohesion.

Let me give you an example from a sport we all know at least a bit about � boxing. As much as it may not always look like it, boxing has rules. One of the most important rules in boxing is that you can�t hit below the belt. It�s there for a good reason. For one, it�s pretty unpleasant for the person who�s fighting fair, but for another, it would end most bouts straight away � no contest, no skill, no sport.

Well, I�m here to tell you that our political opponents have form in this type of dirty boxing. John Howard, Philip Ruddock, Amanda Vanstone, they all keep a close eye on the ref, and the moment he�s not looking, they deliver the low blow or lift the knee.

And if we don�t want the politics of ideas to become history in this country, we have to stop the cheating and see how they go in a fair fight.

I�m talking about that phrase you might have heard a bit lately: �wedge politics�.

Few Australians outside the world of professional politics understand what the term �wedge politics� actually means. But it is important that they do understand � because it�s playing an increasing and damaging part in the conduct of election campaigns. Only by fully understanding it can we stop it.

In essence, �wedge politics� is simple. It involves:

� Picking fights on divisive issues like race, sexuality and welfare and forcing your opponents to defend the minority;

� Pushing national security issues to the top of the political agenda and calling into question the patriotism of your opponents; and

� Using dirty tactics to divide your opponents from their major public supporters.

Ultimately it comes down to this: splitting the nation in two and picking up the bigger half.

These are the tactics the Liberals imported into Australia in the lead up to the 2001 election. Now they�re at it again, casting around for a racially or socially divisive issue.

It�s obvious that the Howard Government�s strategy for the next election is to distract people from their highly unpopular domestic agenda through dirty wedge politics.

The Government knows that the Australian people will never support their plans to destroy Medicare, massively increase university fees and make Australia a more unjust, unfair and unequal place.

I want to use this opportunity today to remind the Australian media and alert the Australian people to the fraud that the Howard Government will attempt to foist on the Australian people over the coming months.

It is my belief that only by confronting wedge politics head on can we ensure that the tragedy of the 2001 federal election � which John Howard grabbed through a shameful campaign of dog whistles and lies � is not repeated in the 2004 federal election.

I want to spell out John Howard�s long and consistent record of playing vicious and divisive politics, suggest some issues that we should all look out for between now and the next election, and state how I think we can defeat wedge politics and return our elections to what they should be � a contest of ideas and policies about how to take our nation forward.


John Howard has a long and consistent record of wedge politics. He�s never been �honest John�. We sometimes forget that the term was originally meant to be ironic.

In fact, John Howard�s whole career has been a sequence of probes to find the one issue with the power to incite the needed degree of resentment and fear in the Australian electorate.

When his probes found the issue of race 2001 he drilled down and sucked dry the well of fear and hatred.


John Howard first tried to elevate race to the top of the political agenda in 1988. It�s important to recount the history of that story and the lessons Howard learned.

On 15 May 1988 Howard made a press statement calling for a �full and open debate on the direction of Australia�s immigration policy�.

As he intended from the start, it sparked off a fierce and hostile debate in the community about the level of Asian immigration. During the course of the debate, Howard called explicitly for Asian immigration to be slowed down.

In August, the then Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, put a motion to the parliament denouncing Howard�s views. While the Liberal Party voted against the motion its then Shadow Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock and a number of other Liberal Party MPs crossed the floor and voted with the Government.

With his moral authority destroyed, Howard�s leadership collapsed soon after.

Howard learned the key lesson from this episode: appeals to xenophobia must be implicit, never overt. A veneer of respectability must be maintained at all times.


When Howard got the opportunity to use xenophobia as an electoral issue again in the 2001 federal election, he got it right. The Tampa episode wasn�t just a lucky break for John Howard. It was the pay-off from a search for the ultimate wedge issue that had taken up the whole of his second term.

His first term had of course been marked by his aggressive use of the Native Title issue � displaying false maps in support of his assertion that indigenous Australians would make Native Title claims over most of Australia.

Between 1999 and 2001 an increasingly desperate Howard had been trailing badly in the polls and began thrashing around for wedge issues to deflect attention from his unpopular policies:

� In 1999 he set Tony Abbott against �job snobs� and Jocelyn Newman against �lazy single mothers�.

� In April 2000 he allowed his then Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, John Herron, to stir up anti-indigenous sentiment by denying the existence of the stolen generation.

� In the same month, he let Alexander Downer attack the United Nations, pandering to far-Right views that its human rights agenda was too dominated by flaky, unelected (black) African Nations. Howard reinforced this himself with a speech to the UN General Assembly in New York in September.

� And in August 2000 he tried to appeal to social conservatives by introducing a bill to deny single women and lesbians the right to access IVF treatment.

It was a consistent strategy � which a senior coalition figure admitted at the time was derived directly from American-style wedge politics.

Throughout that term Howard�s pollsters and strategists were testing which wedges would work and where his Rottweilers should be directed.

All of this was happening against a backdrop of increasingly strident anti-refugee sentiment within the electorate. In April 2000 nightly news bulletins began carrying images of asylum seekers rioting in the Woomera detention centre.

Philip Ruddock moved to exploit the issue and fan the flames of resentment. He warned of four million potential refugees being smuggled around the world. He claimed that whole villages of asylum seekers were on the verge of arriving to spread TB. He started calling them �queue jumpers� and he accused them of demanding luxuries denied hard working Australians.

As the election approached, political pollsters of all parties started to identify a profound lack of interest in politics and party policies. Few issues connected. But one issue stood out. Focus group participants � especially those most affected and annoyed about the GST � were consistently venting their hatred of asylum seekers.

Few remember, but even before the Tampa arrived the Liberal Party had started distributing leaflets in marginal seats highlighting the Government�s strong stance against refugees and detention centre inmates.

But it was the arrival of the Tampa that gave the issue the sense of drama it needed to achieve critical mass. Howard � who had been preparing for such an event – saw an opportunity for a populist campaign, and the rest is history.

Of course, concern about asylum seekers and cultural difference has always been present, beneath the surface of Australian politics.

But this time there were two new factors: a desperate John Howard who was already predisposed to exploit race as an election issue; and a sophisticated Liberal campaigning machine that had learnt the art of successful wedge politics from George Bush�s chief strategist, Karl Rove, and his Republican masters.

As a reward for his success, John Howard was elected as President of the International Democratic Union (IDU) � the union of the world�s right-wing political parties� and the only union he�s ever supported!

It was telling that when John Howard went to Washington in June 2002 to address the IDU he took his chief strategist, Lynton Crosby, who was introduced to President Bush as �the Karl Rove of Australian politics�.

Howard�s actions in turning back the Tampa sent a message that was ostensibly about border protection and stopping terrorists entering Australia, but there is little doubt that it was really the same appeal to prejudice he tried in 1988.

In a revealing aside during the 2001 election, he claimed to Paul Kelly that he regretted his Asian immigration comments in 1988, condemning them as � in his own words – �clumsy�. Sharp observers will note the careful words � not �wrong�, not �racist� – just �clumsy�. The John Howard of 2001 had learnt how to make racial appeals much more dexterous (or Textorous).

Howard�s strategy in the 2001 election campaign is familiar to all students of political campaigning. It was the same strategy employed by George Bush Senior in the infamous 1988 US Presidential election campaign, and was derived ultimately from Nixon�s famous �Southern Strategy� of the 1968 and 1972 elections that used appeals to prejudice to split the Democrats� blue-collar base from its growing white-collar wing.

Political junkies know the story well: the Bush campaign, well behind in the polls against the Democrat Michael Dukakis, made aggressive use of Willie Horton, a black prisoner who raped a white woman while on a weekend prison release program. Horton’s case and his image were used in Bush campaign advertisements, ostensibly to paint Dukakis as soft on crime, but in reality to profit by inciting racist sentiment against him.

Like most racial appeals, this one�s greatest strength was its deniability. The Bush campaign publicly insisted it was about crime. But no one was in any doubt about the real dog whistle at the core of the strategy.


The good news is that there is a good chance that the wedge strategy of John Howard will not succeed again � but only if we�re prepared to call a spade a spade.

I did that this time last year and was condemned for it. I�m back � but am laying out the analysis to back up my claim.

Recent research shows that covert appeals to prejudice tend to work only when they are allowed to remain covert. They lose their effectiveness when they are called for what they are.

An important new book by US political scientist Tali Mendelberg, The Race Card, analyses George Bush Snr�s tactics in 1988, and uncovers a paradox. She shows that although Bush ended the primaries behind Dukakis in the polls, his numbers soared in June with his first mention of the Horton story. In October, when the Horton message reached its greatest intensity, Bush pulled ahead decisively. Soon after race entered the discussion, however, Bush’s ratings began a steep slide.

In the end, of course, Dukakis lost the election. The debate about race came too late to completely undo the effect of the Horton message.

What made the difference? Mendelberg reminds us that on 21st October 1988, former Democratic presidential hopeful the Reverend Jesse Jackson attacked the Bush campaign for conducting a racist campaign with Willie Horton. Bush�s numbers began to slide. Mendelberg offers and then proves a theory that once explicit, a racial campaign falls in upon itself. Unfortunately for Dukakis, a few weeks were not long enough to get him back into the race.

Mendelberg has two prescriptions:

(1) political candidates can turn an implicit racial campaign into an explicit one by calling it what is; and

(2) the counter-claim must be broadcast and debated to encourage voters to re-evaluate the issue.

That�s why it is so important for journalists and commentators to call a spade a spade when it comes to race-based campaigning.

The George Bush campaign didn�t work twice. Bush tried it again in 1992 against Bill Clinton, but it didn�t succeed � because it had already been exposed by journalists and Democratic politicians as the naked appeal to race that we all, deep down, knew it was.

That�s why it is so important that John Howard�s wedge politics are denounced as the appeal to prejudice that they are. Being up front is the only way to head them off and restore integrity and policy debate to our political system.


It is in that spirit today that I want open a discussion among the press and the people about the campaigning tactics now being employed by John Howard to prepare the ground for the next election.

We know what the likely issues will be. Some have already begun to be pushed by John Howard.


Just last week the Government used the arrival of 14 refugees on Melville Island to reintroduce regulations to excise 4,000 islands from Australia�s migration zone. The Government would have us believe we�re being overrun by 14 Kurds and that to repel the invasion we have to remove 4,000 islands from our migration borders.

Listen to Minister Vanstone�s rhetoric:

�Fourteen today, it might be 1400 tomorrow. What would people then say?�

It�s a naked appeal to fear and xenophobia. Let�s say so, loud and clear.

I applaud the recent editorial in The Australian newspaper warning Howard that he won�t get away with a Tampa 2. The same newspaper editorialised against Howard�s cynical manipulation of the original Tampa incident, only to make him Australian of the Year. Let�s hope The Australian�s latest warning is reflected in its news pages.

And let�s hope television news bulletins reflect the growing cynicism about Howard�s shameless manipulation of a few asylum seekers arriving by boat. Terrorists like Willie Brigitte have plenty of money. They don�t have to risk a long, hazardous boat trip. They arrive by plane, equipped with tourist visas issued by the Howard Government.

Anti-terrorist Laws

At every step since September 11, Labor has gone out of its way to be bipartisan on national security, and to find the right balance between defeating terrorists and defending the rights that we are fighting for.

Despite this, John Howard repeatedly refuses our offer of bipartisanship because his real objective is clear � to paint Labor as weak on terrorism. It�s a disgraceful slur and an attempt to question the patriotism of Labor members.

I well remember TV news bulletins carrying pictures of one of Howard�s Rottweilers, Peter Slipper, saying – on the day that Labor voted down a bill that would have legalised murder by authorities boarding vessels in Australian waters – that Labor MPs were traitors to their country. Voters got the message loud and clear. Howard never repudiated Slipper.

The Willie Brigitte fisaco has demonstrated the incompetence of the Howard Government, not any inadequacy of the current anti-terrorism laws that give ASIO stronger powers than the FBI or MI5. But Ruddock immediately called for stronger ASIO powers. Tougher laws wouldn�t have stopped the Howard Government issuing a tourist visa to a terrorist.

By calling for yet more anti-terrorism laws when it is failing to use the laws at their disposal, Howard and Ruddock are seeking to capitalise on anti-Muslim sentiment, especially in Western Sydney.

It�s dirty wedge politics, playing on anti-Muslim prejudice. Let�s say so, loud and clear.

Gay marriage

In August the Prime Minister raised the issue of gay marriage in a direct copy of a tactic used the previous week by George W Bush.

Here�s what he said:

�Marriage� is about children, having children, raising them, providing for the survival of the species.�>/I>

Even though legislation is both unnecessary and hasn�t got a chance of passing the Senate, don�t be surprised if John Howard introduces a bill into the House before the election to ban gay marriage.

It�s a direct appeal to prejudices against gays, lesbians and single parents. Let�s say so, loud and clear.


In the search for votes, the rights of the unemployed, the rights of minorities and the rights of genuine refugees, come last. It�s the action of gutless bullies. It�s government by focus group. And it�s the ultimate surrender of moral and political leadership.

Is this the sort of political system we want? Where a political party seeks to set Australian against Australian, to exploit race as an election issue, to tear apart our social cohesion for its own electoral survival?

Anyone can win a boxing match by punching below the belt. But a referee won�t let a boxer get away with dirty tactics. It�s got to be the same in politics. It�s up to those who believe in a proper contest of real ideas and not cheap prejudice to call John Howard and his team on every low blow.

Let�s see how they are on the real issues. What have they got to fear from a fair fight?

Our elections should be a contest of policies, unclouded by bigotry or racism. And for that to occur, the media must not condone John Howard�s wedge tactics again.

When the wedges are hammered into Australian society, Howard as wedge-master should not be lauded by the media as a ruthlessly brilliant politician, as he was for his manipulation of the Tampa. The media must be prepared to call a spade a spade.

Instead of being praised as a political genius, Howard must be condemned for his lack of real leadership, his immorality and his destruction of social cohesion in this country.

Let�s keep American-style wedge politics out of Australia and make the Tampa election an aberration never to be repeated.

Journos v pollies: the final edition

It seems readers don’t want to stop talking about the failings of journos, so this is the last day for outpourings, OK? The pollies lead the journos in the most trustworthy poll 430 to 409. Not wanting to admit defeat, I adopt the interpretation of HENK VERHOEVEN of Sydney: “Journos versus pollies: surely, that somewhat bloated pollies score can be due only to the latter having voted for themselves.”




This Jack Robertson (the man who began the debate, Webdiary November 3) speaks so much sense it is scary. I mean this guy is right on the money about everything.


Imagine a married journalist covering the Clinton sex scandal when that journo is himself having an affair. That is where Jack is heading. I mean, Stan Grant’s credibility was just crucial at the front of a tabloid TV current affairs show, and then he dumps his wife and three kids for a younger woman.


A politician can get floored for taking drugs, yet how many of the journos who cover the story use or have used drugs, and I don’t mean alcohol? Let he without sin throw the first stone.


You don’t put Dracula in charge of the blood bank. Love this debate. Keep up the good work – old Jacky boy is making you earn your keep….Go Girl!



MARGO: You’ll find that press gallery journalists don’t go near drugs and sex stories about pollies unless there’s a clear and indisputable contradiction between his or her public statements and private behaviour: when hypocrisy is the story, not consensual sexual adventures or drugs experimentation.

Because of this convention, the news breaks in these areas are by journos outside the gallery, for example the Cheryl Kernot affair with the school captain and the pictures of former Senator Bob Woods arguing with his wife in their backyard. To our head office bosses, we seem squeamish. To us, one very good reason for staying clear – and if we can’t, not judging harshly – is the glass house argument.

In January, I flew around Australia with the acting Prime Minister John Anderson. He told a public meeting that sexual propriety in marriage was vital because if your family couldn’t trust you, why should the people? I reported this diabolically dangerous statement, and if you read the media clips you’ll find that political journalists tagged his statement sheer folly, pointing out that he’d literally invited journalists to dig up dirt on colleagues and give him with the evidence, ie HE’D made private lives a matter of public importance. Talkback public opinion backed Ando all the way.


GREG ABBOTT, in London, puts the privacy line, but mistook the views of contributor CON VAITSAS (Ink v Inc , Webdiary Nov 6), for mine.


I normally enjoy reading your columns on the Internet from London, where I’m living, however I’m shocked and appalled at the following piece of writing:


“I also want the media to report on a politician’s morals. Yes, I want to know which pollie has been unfaithful, is watching porn videos, visiting brothels, and is homosexual, and not necessarily all at the same time.

“The reason we need to know is that politicians regularly inflict policies or statements about morals on the rest of the public expecting us to abide by them while they have been indulging in the supposed immoral behaviour.”


Sorry, back up there Margo. How can you loosely lumber “is homosexual” in with being unfaithful, watching porn videos and visiting brothels. Even though you may not be homophobic, for gay people reading your column the unnecessary association can be hurtful. Replace “is homosexual” with “is Asian” and you can see the extent of your (perhaps blissfully ignorant) bigotry.


You are tacitly legitimising people who argue homosexuality is immoral by making this association. A person can quite validly argue that going to a brothel (ie. a voluntary human action) is immoral without being prejudiced, but this is not the case if that person is arguing that being homosexual renders a person inherently less moral – that’s blatant bigotry.


I think I can see what you might have intended to say that those politicians who condemn brothels while frequenting them should be exposed, that those politicians who block attempts to allow gay people certain basic rights enjoyed by everyone else, and who themselves are gay, should also be exposed etc. In that context only, perhaps a politician’s private sexuality is relevant to the public.


If this is indeed what you were meaning to say perhaps you could have said it a little more clearly. Instead, you seem to suggest that all gay politicians should be “outed” (a hideous term) just because there are bigots out there who say bigoted things about the supposed immorality of being homosexual.


In summary, I’ve waffled on because I’m a bit fired up at your loose language. Sometimes the SMH displays basic bigotry by not taking some things for granted about people who are homosexual eg. it has news polls with questions like (and I’m paraphrasing) “do you agree with Michael Kirby (when he said that gay people are no different to anyone else)” and “do you think Fred Nile is right when he says that filthy homosexuals should be excluded from the opening ceremony)” etc etc.

Once again, despite the fact that there are still idiots out there who hold racist, sexist, homophobic views, you take certain things for granted and don’t run polls like “Do you think Aborigines should be able to get married?”, “Do you agree with Joe Bloggs when he says that women should never have been given the vote?” “Do you agree with John Howard for apologising to the Asian community over his late 1980s racism?”.


There’s still a long way to go. Why isn’t your newspaper picking up the issue of gay rights. In some ways, gay people are the most discriminated against of all now. The fact that you and I pay our taxes, live as law abiding citizens, but that you can get married and I can’t (assuming you’re heterosexual) is appalling. Its dark ages stuff. Its renders me a second class citizen and reinforces to me, to gay teenagers, to schoolyard bullies, to psychotic murderers, that a gay person’s sexuality is second class, unnatural and unfortunate.


MARGO: Having been outed recently in the Australian’s media section, on the grounds that my sexuality was somehow relevant to my professional life, I can only say I agree with you whole heartedly.





I guess that both politicians and journos, collectively, have credibility problems. However expressing the problem in such simple terms (who do you trust more, politicians or journalists), masks the wide discrepancies that I as a voter and reader feel about individuals within these professions, which is why I never vote in such polls (except on election day).


It’s an unfortunate consequence that the actions of Reith et al drag down the reputations of all politicians, whether they deserve it or not. And there are politicians (and journalists) for whom I have a great deal of respect, in all of the major parties (though P Reith has never been one of them).


The point is that the good and the positive things that politicians do are never reported on. Instead the stuff ups, the rorts and controversies are given an overwhelming and disproportionate coverage. Of course the press has a responsibility to report on these matters, but too often it seems to me to simply dissolve into an endless recycling of easy stories, where nothing new is ever reported. This feeds a cynicism and negativity in the community about both politicians and journalists as the creators and bearers of bad news.


Criticism of the political system is a vital and important part of a democracy, and the media is more than willing to play this role. However perhaps sustaining faith in the democracy is also important, and while this is fundamentally the responsibility of politicians, surely the media also has a part to play here, and perhaps the odd positive word might encourage all those pollies who don’t abuse their privileges and do actually do a good job. It might even help journos, by breaking the accepted stereotype of what constitutes political reporting :).


Hope this hasn’t been too pompous.




As I read the debate thus far I am faced with the catch 22 (ie. to vote either way would leave me with the feeling of unfair betrayal of the other side) which thus far was only really raised by Jack in his original comments. This is fundamentally a result of the fact the vote is one of generalisation.


If the question was do you trust ALL politicians or do you trust ALL journalists, then I am sure the overwhelming answer would be negative. This raises two interesting aspects of the debate:


1. Unlike our choice when trowelling through journalistic offerings (we can change the channel or flip to the sport section), we voters are faced with the unenviable position of not, for the most part, being able to select (or cull for that matter) individuals pollies who are part of the preferred team.


I agree wholehearted with Jack when he expressed his disgust at John Howard for claiming “the mandate” for every individual policy stance or portfolio selection (Jack’s second piece, Webdiary Ink – Inc, November 6) when even though I believe in the superior abilities of the government in economic issues, the performance on social policy issues has been appalling.


I am sick of being labelled an apologist for the government’s social policy performance by my family members every time I try and defend an economic policy initiative. But unfortunately given the 2 party system we can’t have it both ways.


Let me put it this way. Would I trust John Howard and the Coalition to take the initiative with respect to reconciliation? No way, but neither would I trust Kim Beazley to maintain fiscal constraint with respect to the budget surplus and revised taxation structure. So for me, like all swinging voters, I am faced with the choice of backing the social misfits who are good with the calculator until I can’t stand the smell of their social policy or Labor,when their financial management is not in order.


I suppose that’s what stands we voters apart from media moguls. There will come a time when the electorate puts the bite on the government for social policy disarray, whereas you can rest assured the media moguls will vote with their wallet every time.


2. In many cases (certainly with television) the journalist controls the line of questioning, and therefore, it could be argued, the responses. Now Margo, I can hear you already, arguing that controlling the line of questioning is just a journalistic tool, and it is how it is used that requires the trust.


I agree, however in many cases this is where the greatest abuses of trust are made by journalists. Who can forget Bob Hawke and Dicky Carleton’s famous stoush? (Where Carleton – then at the ABC – asked Hawke, just after he’d staged a coup against Bill Hayden’s leadership in 1983, how it felt to have blood on his hands.) Realistically, would you trust 60 Minutes to cast an unbiased light on anyone?


Just as Jack challenged you to put your salary up for everyone to see (by the way where do I get a bit of this six and a half weeks leave from – that’s a perk if ever I’ve seen it) what I believe would be far more interesting is if we allowed the pollies a chance to interview a couple of journalists on their journalistic efforts (it would make great television too).


Just for starters maybe we could have Jeff Kennett interviewing someone from The Age on their coverage of his government, or anyone, just anyone (I’m thinking Peter Reith would be particularly good) interviewing Dicky Carleton about his journalistic (?) contribution to fine food and wine in East Timor ? Then they could re-cut the scenes (edit out all the bits they didn’t like) and have Reithy staring poignantly over a pair of Dicky’s Maggie Tabbera eye glasses a precisely the wrong moment !!


Now if you, like me, would be horrified to give this power for manipulation and betrayal to people like Reithy and Jeff (elected officials who have faced and won popular vote and had their credibility questioned and tested over and over) why then should we not be similarly sceptical about how this power is exercised by journalists or media proprietors with agendas of their own?.


MARGO: Re the six week holidays, this is in compensation for the fact that journos get no public holidays. Re the pollie interviews journalist idea, I love it. I’ll see if any pollie would interview me, and write a piece for Inside Out, uncensored.





It’s always a pleasure to read your work, but on journalists or politicians? I’ve been watching both for twenty years and on every issue upon which I’ve had a detailed knowledge or seen from the inside, the journalists have got it wrong in major ways.


I don’t think many journalists really understand the issues, people, institutions or events they are reporting or commenting on. Most don’t write very well, which simply means they can’t think very well. They do horrible things to people who attract their attention, they are not accountable, they don’t have to be accurate, and they control the medium through which one might seek redress. They have a habit of abandoning their mistakes and moving on to the next issue.


With the political journalists, the fun in reading them is trying to work out which politician, apparatchik or bureaucrat they’ve been speaking to. Of course there are exceptions, but… At least with politicians you know where they stand, you can call them to account, you can go and see them and they can’t hide.


MARGO: You really know where politicians stand? In my experience, they NEVER tell you why the real reason they’re doing something. As for our lack of inside knowledge, that’s usually because the people who know won’t talk to us. Partly that’s because they don’t trust us, but more often, in my experience, because they’re too scared to talk because their masters would take revenge.






I do think Jack makes some good points. Those who live in glass houses etc. Some of his questions were a bit cheeky, and I applaud you for revealing your income. But it’s beside the point. So is whether or not we trust journalists more than politicians or vice versa.


Trust them to do what? Give us the unvarnished truth, with no opinions? Never happen. There is no way you can be completely objective when reporting a story. You always have biases, even if you don’t realise it. They come from your upbringing, education and life experiences. We ALL have them. (Just for the record, I have a BA in Journalism, but have only ever done some freelance feature work.)


What are we trusting politicians to do when we elect them. Hopefully, to represent the voters of their constituency fairly, and to be honest and straightforward. That’s what I expect, anyway. Can’t ask for the moon. Some individuals will always turn out easily corrupted, in any sphere.


So I think Jack’s a bit too ‘pie-in-the-sky’, although in a perfect world . . . Keep up the good debate, it’s very healthy.




It is difficult to decide who is more trustworthy between journalists and politicians, since neither group has covered themselves in glory during the Reith Telecard affair and the proximate Trish Crossin affair.


The Liberals dissembled from the outset about the whole Telecard affair while Labor were relentless in their pursuit, which would have been fair enough except for their feeble response to the Senator Crossin affair. They quickly closed ranks and little more has been heard about this apart from today’s article in The Sydney Morning Herald.


The journalists are guilty of the same thing as the Labor politicians: gross inconsistency. While I was happy to see Mr Reith pursued, I feel that Senator Crossin should similarly have been asked to account for her actions.


MARGO: The Trish Crossin affair is fascinating. Just the slightest ripple of fightback by the Libs, then nothing. I hear that the government car of a Coalition MP was written off in similar circumstances, which if true would explain the dead bat. I’ve put questions to our beloved Special minister of State, Senator Ellison, but have no answer so far. His first response was to say that the cars were leased from DASFLEET, once a government body, now private, and that therefore the issue was one for them. Pardon? So how does the government find out if MPs breach their entitlements regarding the car, for example allowing unauthorised people to drive it? Senator Ellison is getting back to me.




I have written to you before but assume that the message did not penetrate the SMH maze. Since you have made a lot of the running over the Reith affair can I ask a rhetorical question? What is the difference between Reith and his acknowledged rorts and a Prime Minister who hands a very expensive car parking space to his daughter in the Sydney CBD so she can park close to her work in a legal firm? The amounts are similar, the intent is similar but the outcome is wildly different. Are there so many politicians personally embarrassed over this (due to their own arrangements) that it is not raised, though very widely known? How about an article on hypocrisy to stir the possum? Always enjoy your work.


MARGO: My Herald colleague Mike Seccombe broke this story a year ago. In a recent column on the Reith Telecard, he opined that Howard’s “So what?” reaction to Reith wanting the taxpayer to pick up the tab for his son’s private calls was in accord with Howard’s “family values”, like allowing his daughter to park at taxpayers expense in the CBD. Howard replied in a letter to the editor that there was nothing improper in this, and that he’d given his daughter the park on security advice. Mike has an FOI in asking for the alleged security advice, details of any similar arrangements for Howard’s other children, and whether any previous Prime Minister had done the same thing.

His lie-master’s apprentices


Martin Davies.

‘A growing proportion of the media are behaving as propagandists, not as journalists.’ Margo Kingston, in HQ Magazine. ‘And Margo would know.’ Amanda Meade, inducting Margo into The Australian’s Media Diary ‘Talking Turkeys’ hall of ignomy, November 20. Welcome to a Jack Robertson Meeja Watch special.

�A lie told often enough becomes the truth.” Lenin


�The Great Teacher.� Rupert Murdoch�s description of Lenin while a student at Oxford University, where he also kept a bust of Lenin on his dresser.

�A growing proportion of the media are behaving as propagandists, not as journalists.� Margo Kingston, in HQ Magazine.

�And Margo would know.� Amanda Meade, inducting Margo into The Australian�s Media Diary �Talking Turkeys� hall of ignomy. November 20.

Well now. At the risk of us all disappearing up our own bums in a frenzy of postmodern media introspection, let�s just see if Meeja Watch can expand, for Ms Meade�s benefit, what Saint Margo of the Sisterhood of Serious Independent Journalism was on about. Margo, of course, was far too well-bred to name names in her quote, but since Rupe�s information war foot-soldiers have sprung into defensive action � and you�d have to say there�s just a hint of protesteth-too-much in Amanda�s dig � we here at Meeja Watch feel moved to do likewise.

Regular Webdiary readers know me: always with the icky urge to go on the attack when Our Great Leader is professionally-slighted. Don�t be alarmed, Margo, I swear I�m not the obsessive weirdo type. And I know you�re busy with a book just now, but it�s just that Uncle Rupert�s Luddite snipers are starting to piss me off. The humungous puffs for Paul Sheehan�s �Electronic Whorehouse� assault on all of us meeja amateurs here in cyberspace were bad enough, but this latest little direct attack means all-out information war, mate!


From: Jack Robertson, Webdiary Meeja Watch

To: Rupert Murdoch (via Tom Switzer, Opinion Editor, The Australian)

Date: 20 November 2003

Subject: The �missing link� between Rupert Murdoch and the neo-con propagandists?

Dear Tom,

Hiya mate. My name is Jack Robertson, Electronic Whore Supreme – I write an amateur media-watch column for Margo Kingston�s on-line Webdiary. I�ve written an analysis of The Australian�s Monday feature extracted from the Stephen F. Hayes Weekly Standard piece, which was on the supposed �proof� recently revealed, via the leaked Doug Feith memo, of operational links between Saddam and al-Qaeda. I�ve attached my piece, which as you can see also includes this �embedded� email to you, and although she�s busy with a book just now, I hope Margo�ll run it in the next day or so. I�m not after a reply myself, Tom � like Amanda Meade, I�m just a lowly foot-soldier in the information war, too – but I�m sure Margo will give you Luddite Murdochians all the Electronic Whorehouse right-of-reply space you may desire.



As you can see if you wade through my analysis, it�s my assertion that your editorial team ran the Monday extract � a whopping two page spread � knowing full well that the US Department of Defence had issued a vigorous rejection of the Hayes conclusions on the same day it appeared in Washington (Saturday 15 November); that is, a couple of days before you republished it �almost� unqualified.

My own conclusion is that this is quintessential Murdoch modern propagandising-in-action, probably in content but more importantly in methodology, too: namely, re-publishing from another Murdoch source what was originally (and remains) at best loaded, agenda-driven speculation, and doing so in the guise of factual reporting, solely to add to the retrospective global misinformation mix �justifying� the invasion, which of course almost every News Corps outlet famously supported.

You�ll obviously disagree, but my �counter-propaganda� is all here if you care to read it, anyway. Maybe you could pass it on to Chris Mitchell your Editor-in-Chief, or better still, Rupes himself. (Also, can you chuck it over to Amanda at Media if you�ve got time? Third Millennium Propaganda 101, lesson one, if you like. Ta.)

You may of course be disinclined to actually read the whole thing yourself, because it�s hellish long, I know you�re busy, and of course as a feature the Hayes extract may have been outside your Op Editor orbit. On the other hand, you�re a regular at the editorial eleven o�clocker, so below are some briefer questions which should give you the thrust of my analysis, and which maybe you could put to whoever did shot-gun the Hayes thing to Oz re-fruition.

Yeah, yeah, I know I�m coming on like a presumptuous little tosser, not to mention a wannabe Dandy Marr, but I�m happy to risk making a nong of myself publicly in order to stop people like Chris Mitchell propagating bulldust about this �war on terror�.

You could say I�ve got a vested family interest in nailing those who insist on telling lies about where the Islamofascist threat really festers, Tom. Whatever the links between Saddam and Osama do eventually turn out to have been, Iraq was never remotely close to being his most important �state sponsor�, and you know it. It pains me to see any public muddying of the waters as to where our true �war on terror� enemies hang out, and I�ve been particularly interested in querying Australians who tell fibs about these links ever since I heard the PM doing just that on 3AW back in March.

On the other hand, my spin on Hayes may well be completely wrong, too – it has been known to happen before! So as part of the joint Luddite-Cyber �Information Revolution� process of finding out either way, maybe you could put the following specific questions to Rupert via Chris and/or whoever made the call to run this piece of still-speculative junk as it appeared in nation-wide hard-copy on Monday?

1. Was The Australian aware, prior to its re-publication of the Hayes piece on 17 November, of the US Department of Defence Press Release of 15 November describing as �inaccurate� the key claims he makes in it?

2. If so, why did The Australian decide to describe the piece as a �report� without any mention of the DoD denials, especially given the stark divergence of the Hayes description of �much of� the memo annex �evidence� as �detailed, conclusive and corroborated by multiple sources�, and the DoD counter-description of the same (whole) annex as �not an analysis of the substantive issue of the relationship between Iraq and al Qaida, and it drew no conclusions�? Was it a reasonable editorial call to describe the Hayes piece as a �report�? Was it at least worth mentioning the DoD rejection somewhere? As I read things, it was in the public domain the same day as the article.

3. If you were unaware of the DoD denial, why then did The Australian editorial team decide to soften small but crucial presentational elements of what was, copy-wise, a completely-unambiguous piece? Why place the word �proof� in the article headline in those safety-buffer �quotation marks�, and frame the front-page teaser as a question? Why the need for this tiny but significant editorial �distance� from the Hayes thesis, since he himself finishes the piece on that resolute �no longer any serious argument� line? Was it your editorial intention to present the Feature to unknowing Oz readers as a news report, opinion, or a sly, hazy, propagandising little mixture of both?

4. Will The Australian be giving equal prominence in future editions to, or indeed including ANY antipodean coverage of, that DoD Press Release and the debate in Washington that the Hayes feature kicked off? It�s now Thursday, Hayes�s means and thesis has been (at least) seriously discredited in Washington, and The Oz has not said another word about it. Not one, mate. Nada.

Thanks, Tom. Look forward to reading your boss�s response in Webdiary. And Amanda�s riposte in next week�s parish pumper, too! Maybe that �Saint Margo of the Sisters of Serious Independent Journalism� line of mine is a starter for Talking Turkeys? Or maybe it, like her HQ quote, is not so very wide of the mark after all.

Onward to the Whorehouse Information Revolution, Comrade! Isn�t the Internet just the cutest little media-watching thang you ever did see?

Jack Robertson BALMAIN NSW 2041 02 9810 6816



Monday�s Australian ran a long feature on the on-going saga of the alleged links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. It was stunning in detail, depth, intricacy, scope and plausibility. Complete bullshit, too, or at very best cynical and disingenuous in its Australian presentation. In fact, it just might be a magnificent reprised example of how Rupert helped spruik up the invasion of Iraq in the first place. Here�s the opening few grafs:

US �Proof� of Saddam�s al-Qaeda link � The Australian, 17 November 2003

Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein had an operational relationship from the early 1990s to 2003 that involved training in explosives and weapons of mass destruction, logistical support for terrorist attacks and Iraqi financial support for al-Qa’ida � perhaps even for September 11 lead hijacker Mohammed Atta � according to a top-secret US government memorandum. The memo, dated October 27, 2003, was sent from the US Undersecretary of Defence for Policy, Douglas Feith, to senators Pat Roberts and Jay Rockefeller, who head the powerful Senate Intelligence Committee. It was written in response to a request from the committee as part of its investigation into pre-war intelligence claims made by the Bush administration.

Intelligence reporting included in the 16-page memo comes from a variety of domestic and foreign agencies, including the FBI, the CIA, the Defence Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency. Much of the evidence is detailed, conclusive and corroborated by multiple sources. Some of it is new information obtained in custodial interviews with high-level al-Qa’ida terrorists and Iraqi officials. The picture that emerges is one of a history of collaboration between two of the US’s most determined and dangerous enemies. According to the memo � which lays out the intelligence in 50 numbered points � Iraq/al-Qa’ida contacts began in 1990 and continued through to mid-March 2003, days before the Iraq war began.

The feature goes on to cite and expand grandiloquently on dozens of those 50 numbered points; specific meetings between Saddam�s men and al-Qaeda, specific interactions, specific training links, specific planning and funding links, specific statements by captured al-Qaeda and Saddam personnel, and so on. It is the concreteness and precision of these citations that make the writer�s own authorial expansions of them, his interspersed cross-references to other media reports and Administration statements over the last few years, and especially his overall conclusions, so compelling. That author is Stephen F. Hayes, an American who titled the original from which this Oz article is extracted �Case Closed�, and who leaves us in no doubt of what he meant by that, with this unambiguous finishing flourish:

Critics of the Bush administration have complained that Iraq-al-Qa’ida connections are a fantasy created by White House warmongers to fit their preconceived notions about international terror. Yet one of the most interesting things to note about Feith’s memo is that it covers only a fraction of the evidence that will eventually be available to document the relationship between Iraq and al-Qa’ida. For one thing, both Hussein and bin Laden were desperate to keep their co-operation secret. Feith’s memo is best viewed as an outline of the relationship. It contains the highlights, but it is far from exhaustive. But there can no longer be any serious argument about whether Hussein’s Iraq worked with bin Laden and al-Qa’ida to plot against Americans.

Now, it�s not remotely possible to Fisk the thing, because the source document is top secret and each citation impossible for a terrorist-intelligence nebbish like me to check factually. It may one day turn out that some, or even many, of the individual bits and pieces Hayes stitches together into his grand narrative are indeed solid fact. But Hayes presents them all as already-established solid fact, leaving me the layman reader no room to do anything but a) accept the whole piece at face value, or b) ditch the whole thing as just more Rupert propaganda. For various reasons, including Rupert�s past record on the Iraq/al-Qaeda �link�, my natural scepticism, and external reasons that will soon become crystal clear, I�m not remotely inclined to extend Stephen Hayes the journalistic courtesy of the former option.

But fortunately, I don�t need to simply flounce darkly about in an ill-defined, anti-Rupert conspiracy huff either, because the US Department of Defence has already come to our assistance, issuing a Press Releaseon the same day of the original Hayes publication in Washington (last Saturday, 15 November), advising me the layman reader why he might best at this stage treat this entire piece as � well, Hayes himself said it perfectly: yes, a �fantasy created by White House warmongers to fit their preconceived notions about international terror�. The bold is mine.

DoD Statement on news reports of al-Qaida and Iraq connections � 15 November 2003

News reports that the Defense Department recently confirmed new information with respect to contacts between al-Qaida and Iraq in a letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee are inaccurate. A letter was sent to the Senate Intelligence Committee on October 27, 2003 from Douglas J. Feith, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, in response to follow-up questions from his July 10 testimony. One of the questions posed by the committee asked the Department to provide the reports from the Intelligence Community to which he referred in his testimony before the Committee. These reports dealt with the relationship between Iraq and al-Qaida.

The letter to the committee included a classified annex containing a list and description of the requested reports, so that the Committee could obtain the reports from the relevant members of the Intelligence Community. The items listed in the classified annex were either raw reports or products of the CIA, the NSA, or, in one case, the DIA. The provision of the classified annex to the Intelligence Committee was cleared by other agencies and done with the permission of the Intelligence Community. The selection of the documents was made by DOD to respond to the Committee�s question. The classified annex was not an analysis of the substantive issue of the relationship between Iraq and al Qaida, and it drew no conclusions. Individuals who leak or purport to leak classified information are doing serious harm to national security; such activity is deplorable and may be illegal.


Just to be crystal clear, then: Stephen Hayes writes of the DoD Annex information: �Much of the evidence is detailed, conclusive and corroborated by multiple sources�. The DoD, which wrote and compiled the annex, counter-describes it thus: The classified annex was not an analysis of the substantive issue of the relationship between Iraq and al Qaida, and it drew no conclusions.

OK, so perhaps Stephen F. Hayes is just an outright fantasist-on-the-written-record. Briefly, here�s what�s happened so far: Douglas Feith, one of the key neo-conservative architects and champions of the invasion, testified before the Senate committee, making reference in his testimony to many reports regarding the so-called links between Saddam and al-Qaeda. The committee afterwards wrote to him asking for a list of those reports. The DoD compiled the list, presumably at Feith�s direction. Feith wrote his memo, attached that list of reports, and sent it back.

Someone � and it�s hard not to suspect Feithian neo-con allies, or maybe even Feith himself � then leaked that memo to Stephen Hayes. Hayes then bodged the various specific bits of intelligence date on that raw annex list of reports up into a thesis that represented the whole thing as a �top secret government memo� proving that the links between Saddam and al-Qaeda were, according to the Department of Defence (and the FBI, CIA, DIA and NSA, et al) now a matter of �case closed�.

Ten out of ten for chutzpah, the cheeky little grub.

However, what�s more relevant for us down under is The Australian�s decision to re-publish this dubious-from-day-of-publication piece without so much as a squeak about the DoD denials. That Press Release was put out two days before re-publication down here. And, if at best the time zone/deadlines were against them for Monday�s issue, why hasn�t The Australian given equal prominence to the DoD rebuff in later issues this week? It�s hard to be sure from this distance, but the Hayes thesis seems to have been killed off in Washington almost straight away. Will that two-page screamer of a scoop as it was translated by Uncle Rupert-Lenin down under � Is this the �PROOF�!? � simply now be dropped quietly, and thus allowed to fester away out in reader-land as �kind of�, �sort of�, yeah-OK-case closed?

If so, then to me this is a perfect example of how Rupert Murdoch and his neo-conservative patrons-cum-beneficiaries use each other in the global misinformation relay to help prosecute their mutually-advantageous agendas. Since Hayes, The Weekly Standard and The Australian were all routinely right at the centre of the pre-war propaganda too, let�s deconstruct exactly how this modern version of Lenin�s Game of Repeated Lies works, to remind ourselves of how, together, these guys sold the world the invasion. It�s always most illuminating to nail propaganda in real time if you possibly can.

1. Who are all these naughty little boys?

Firstly, we need to check out the principle players. The Australian�s article is an edited version of the Stephen F. Hayes original, written for the US Weekly Standard. Here�s how The Oz leads into their reprint (my bold):

�Under the headline �Case Closed�, US news magazine The Weekly Standard reported yesterday that the Bush Administration has conclusive proof of links between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. Following is an edited version of the report by Stephen Hayes.�

At the very end of the edited extract, the Oz editorial team advises us that �Stephen Hayes is a staff writer on The Weekly Standard�.

A couple of things need to be said, here. For starters, to describe The Weekly Standard as a US news magazine is like describing Fox News as a US news television station. The Weekly Standard is in fact (or rather, in my subjective opinion) a purpose-built Murdoch propaganda rag with a small but highly-influential Washington political readership. It was launched in 1995 and reportedly runs at a loss, if so one Rupes appears happy enough to bear to give himself a voice at the Executive heart of US politics. Everyone in the Washington Beltway (= our �Canberra Bubble�) from Dick Cheney down reads the Standard, apparently.

To give you a better idea of how �straight newsy� this �news magazine� is, co-founder and editor William Kristol also just happens to be the Chairman of the Project for the New American Century, the spiritual and intellectual driving force behind the Bush Pre-emptive Revolution; co-founder and Executive editor Fred Barnes has been a political commentator on Fox News since 1995; and the list of contributing editors includes many important neo-conservative/Murdochian power-pundits � Max Boot, Robert Kagan, John Podhoretz, Charles Krauthammer, Brit Hume, Irwin Stelzer, Tod Lindberg and more. When us wacky feral conspiracy-theorists prattle on about naughty cabals of neo-cons in Washington, these are some of the guys we�re talking about, and this type of Weekly Standard �misinformation episode� is exactly what we mean.

And as for the article�s writer, as well as being a Standard staffer Stephen F. Hayes is currently a Lincoln Fellow at The Claremont Institute. Again, nothing at all sinister about this. However, we as readers of his extracted Oz �report� do need to factor in the knowledge that the Claremont Institute is � yawn – yet another one of those tedious, quasi-academic, conservative/neo-conservative �think tanks� whose sole raison d�etre is apparently to churn out the reams of updated Cold/Terror War tripe about �re-embracing American values� and the �looming totalitarian menace� that now masquerades as scholastic primary research in so much contemporary American debate. Check out some of their kookier �projects�. (I particularly like �Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership�.) Now, the intellectual sludge all these wannabe Beltway pundits and dewy-eyed post-grads produce in think-tanks like this, as a kind of Republican junior-apprenticeship, gives you a good idea where the West�s modern-day lurch back to the social conservative hard Right gets its supposed intellectual momentum from.

Oh yes; every Miranda Devine column rabbiting on about a �new American study� that �proves� how much kids need book religion or corporal discipline or family values hard lovin� in their precious formative years very probably has its �academic� origins in a yabber-shop like Claremont.

So the key post-modern point is that this Hayes article on Saddam and al-Qaeda was NOT originally written by a news reporter, based on his independent investigative research and then published in a �news magazine�. It was carefully-crafted by a neo-conservative Republican fellow-traveller with a strategic agenda based on a leaked memorandum written and compiled by a neo-conservative Republican Administration heavyweight with a very strategic agenda and published in a neo-conservative Republican magazine with a very, very strategic agenda.

The original article�s text and especially its conclusions were thus a mixture of a) writerly fiction � that is, the authorial construction of a loaded �grand narrative� involving Saddam and al-Qaeda; and b) selective and deeply-misleading citations of specific bits of harder information from that Feith memo�s DoD-compiled annex. Those bits of harder information, gaily plucked from the annex like Christmas decorations for the as-yet threadbare Hayes tree-thesis, remain never-the-less still highly-ambiguous, according to those who compiled it.

All those hard numbered bits that look so precise and factual to us in The Oz re-print way down here are in fact simply taken from a list of reports, chips and chunks of unanalysed intelligence community data of unknown and doubtless wildly-varying provenance, value and pedigree, the sum total from which the DoD officially said – two days before Oz re-publication – that no conclusion at all had been drawn.

And yet that combination of fictional fantasy plus bits and pieces of unqualified specifics was published in hard journalistic copy in the Weekly Standard and duly republished in hard journalistic copy in The Australian� the former a mag read by everyone who�s anyone in at least Washington, the latter a national broadsheet read by everyone who�s anyone, everywhere in Australia. The subject matter of the fantasy was the operational terrorism link between Osama and Saddam, and the thrust and twice-propagated title was �Case Closed�.

In other words, Lenin�s Lie is written down for the first time somewhere, in very elegant, plausible and convincing detail, and then almost immediately written down again elsewhere practically-verbatim (that is, merely edited-down), despite having been already categorically denied by the originating source of the piece�s definitive contents.

And a lie told often enough becomes the truth. Don�t forget it. Rupert sure hasn�t, apparently.

2. The propaganda leverage of Rupert�s satellite publications.

Now if the original Hayes piece of itself had just come out, been blown away, and then died, there�d be nothing much wrong with it. Everyone who reads the Weekly Standard knows where it�s �coming from� only too well, and everyone in Washington is well aware that there is a serious information war going on just now between the Bushies and much of the US Professional Intelligence Establishment.

I�ve said before that I support a full removal of all media ownership laws, an �opening up� of the media floodgates to allow the �information level playing field� to prevail as it will. Free speech must be just that, and thus I cheerfully concede that Stephen F. Hayes has every right to bodge up his big picture view of the world however he sees fit, and if he can get it re-published in Rupie�s grander newspapers worldwide as �fact�, then good luck to him.

Furthermore, for all I really care, he can chuck as �fact� into his big picture view quotes from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the collected speeches of Princess Diana and all the lyrics from Steely Dan�s Greatest Hits too, if he really wants. Indeed, what I am doing right now and right here is no less than what Hayes himself did � giving my view of the Way Things Trooly Are. Maybe Tom Switzer or Chris Mitchell will tear my analysis of what they did with the Hayes piece to bits even more effectively than I�m trying to monster their methodologies. In a battle of information, which is basically words versus words, there�s no way any raw ammunition can be �illegitimate� as such. It�s the means and leverage of the information delivery that constitute the propagandistic element, and here is where Rupes is King.

As Lenin�s quote implicitly tells us, a lie is just a (harmless) lie. But a lie repeated ad nauseam can easily become something else altogether. At this stage in the battle for �Saddam/al-Qaeda link� word-spin supremacy, in my arsenal I�ve got that US DoD Press Release, truth, logic and scepticism (I reckon), and my little glass-fronted cubicle in Margo Kingston�s Electronic Whorehouse from which to flash my wordy wares.


The Australian push has Stephen F. Hayes�s elegant source fairytale, other PNAC & Co types and indeed all the rest of Murdoch�s global outlets on theirs. We�re both using what we�ve got to fight as best we can, in the hope that our analyses prevail in the long run. It�s no conspiracy. It�s just words, information and the way both work their way out into the real world of human beings.


Still, down this way, given Rupert�s unchallenged Luddite media firepower here, the dice are loaded far more heavily in his favour than they are in Washington, since the diversity of mainstream assets in the US means that the counter-propagandists can better counter-attack against such probing sallies as what I shall hereby call that Weekly Standard �Lenin Lie�.

For example, the Washington Post and others noted DoD denials, along with bit of disapproving Op Ed chatter. No-one has really run with the story; there�s a fair bit of on-line yabbering, but strictly along partisan blog lines. Maybe no-one�s sure what to make of Hayes�s thing yet. Maybe they all think he�s too hopelessly-compromised to bother with. The latter is certainly my stance, but again, it�s less about Hayes than how The Australian received him.

Because of course it�s a very different Luddite landscape here than it is in Washington, just in terms of outlet numbers for starters. Furthermore – local neo-cons, US politics junkies and Net addicts aside – the arcane subtleties of Beltway internecine warfare and the dodgy �news magazine� pedigree of The Weekly Standard are hardly common knowledge down here. The Australian is our single national broadsheet, and highly-credible. So the re-publishing of this article as a feature �report�, with no real qualification except some crucial minor stuff we�ll come to in a moment, coupled with no follow-up coverage of the DoD denials, makes it very influential.

And this is what truly makes running the piece rank propaganda down here, rather than just plain old fibs and/or misinformation. As the DoD and I have shown, Lenin�s Lie is in itself easily identified and defused at source, and in the US duly appears to have been, just so. Only when Lenin�s Lie is told again elsewhere (isolated from that source), and only then in a way that disguises the nature of that source, can it really begin to work its black magic. And in the Hayes case, that�s exactly what�s happened.

The original Lenin Lie was on-published faraway from Washington and the DoD rebuttal not as a �speculative neo-con fantasy�, or even as an �opinion piece from a pro-invasion writer extracted from a pro-invasion magazine�, but simply as a �report� from a �news magazine�. And it was on-published in this way even though we know that the on-publisher � The Australian – knows that it is not a �report� at all. And how do we know this? Well, the giveaways lie in the two tiny editorial escape routes Mitchell and Co leave themselves.

Firstly, The Australian puts those �quotation marks� around the word �proof� in the main headline. It also runs a front page tease-line to the article that asks: �Is this the evidence of collusion between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein?�

Since the article originally carried the title �Case closed�, and nothing in the �report� from the faraway �news magazine� indicates the tiniest doubt in the �reporter�s� mind about his unambiguous conclusions, there�s absolutely no reason for this ambiguity � unless, of course, Mitchell was re-publishing that �report� in very bad faith, having got wind of an external cause for such editorial caution. Er, like that DoD Press Release, say. Or, er, his knowledge of what the Weekly Standard really is, which is not a �US news magazine�, but an unapologetic Murdochian and neo-conservative Lenin Lie factory. In my subjective opinion. But go and have a Google for yourself.

And yet crucially, apart from those two telling editorial fudges, everything else about The Oz re-print, from the verbatim (albeit edited-down) running of all Hayes�s most concrete and eye-catching conclusions; to the pictorial essays-in-linkage that The Oz (independently) bodged up to accompany it (huge pictures of Saddam and Osama side-by-side, and intricate little pictorial terrorist-webs); to the �hard fact� stand-out quotes with which The Oz (independently) chose to pepper those two Feature pages; and indeed to the very act of The Oz (independently) deciding to dedicate two national broadsheet Feature pages to the article in the first place – everything else Chris Mitchell�s �newspaper� team has done with that original Lenin Lie, save those two little editorial safety valves, screams:


That�s why it�s rank propaganda � the critical leverage that is given to Hayes by the global Murdochian process of repeating the first Lenin Lie as, essentially, truth. Why does Mitchell bother with those two little editorial give-away fudges at all, then?

Well, a number of reasons: he�s a newspaperman running an allegedly respectable mainstream newspaper, and even an old McCarthyite Lefty-basher like him doubtless baulked at stripping away the last of his self-delusions regarding his own media professionalism.

Also, this is a free speech democracy, the internet is available to all of us, and you always need those safety escapes when tedious dandy-pedants like David Marr are sniffing about.

But you can just about imagine the edit head-shed sitting around the News Corps editorial table at eleven clock on Sunday (or whatever), deciding what to do with this piece. Let�s be uber-generous, and presume General Chris Mitchell and his assembled Staff Officers really were blindsided at a late stage. It�s all slotted in for Monday, ready to go, just say. Then some dopey News Corps sub-editor who�s usually more at home cruising porn on the internet comes in flapping that hard-core Department of Defence rejection, hot off the Whorehouse cyber-presses. What do you do? Well, you bung a �quotation� around that �PROOF� and a �?� on the front page link. And then you fire-and-forget. You publish the Lenin Lie as vague newsy-truth and plan to say nothing more about it (unless the source-story rolls on overseas), knowing full well that the majority of your readers will take it all on board as pretty much just that � news and/or truth. With three little grammatical inserts, end of potential editorial credibility problem. If you get nailed, you just point out that you made it �perfectly� �clear� that �it� was �not necessarily� either �news� or �truth� at all. Did you misinterpet�?� Oh dear.

How will Chris Mitchell respond to this email, then, this Electronic Whorehouse piece of mine trying to ping him? Ignore it completely, I�d say. Why would you waste and/or risk your time engaging with a pipsqueak who might have a point? Maybe if something new turns up in Washington on this episode, The Oz might pick Hayes up again, maybe even use said new information to flame my sorry amateur ass.

But I doubt that, too. The first rule of any war, and especially an information one, is never to engage on any ground but that of your own choosing. You can see this in the way The Oz handled the Albrechsten matter.

Rather than fight it out on the doomed quagmire (for his newspaper) of the key issue, which was that one of his highest-profile columnists grossly and knowingly misquoted � lied about – foreign academic research to make it �support� her infamous Muslim rape column, Oz daily editor Mike Stutchbury instead unleashed the full offensive force of his Luddite information assets.

These included the very-heavy artillery of his own personal by-line AND The Oz�s own in-house Media-watch forum, and he used both and more in an information counter-blitzkreig designed solely to skew that unwinnable tactical fight onto strategic ground on which The Oz at least stood some vague chance of not losing. (Namely, a bit of standard News Corps lefty/elitist-bashing.)

Rupes and his Luddite Generals know all too well that truly engaging with your critics, and especially your nobody cyber-guerrilla critics, is unwise. You just never know where it might end up leading your whole damned information army!

So where does that leave us on the Hayes thesis? Well, the Hayes thesis is not really the point here. Whether or not parts or even all of the original Lenin Lie are eventually confirmed as true is largely irrelevant to this analysis, which is less about content and more about its propaganda mode of delivery. The conclusion: as best I can ascertain in good faith (mostly from internet surfing) as to where things now stand in Washington with the original Hayes piece, The Australian�s treatment of it on Monday, especially its failure to mention the DoD response then and its utter silence on the whole Feature since, can surely only be described as fundamentally dishonest, anti-journalistic, propagandistic.

Maybe I�m being harshly anti-Rupes, but I personally have little doubt that The Oz team recognised, well before re-publication, the thoroughly-disingenuous nature of the Hayes piece, knew exactly what they were doing when they went ahead and ran it as they did anyway, but simply didn�t then and don�t now give a blind journalistic shit about lying to every last one of their own readers.

And thus, Amanda Meade, there is simply no other word for what the neo-conservatives and Murdoch�s Australian engaged in here but �propaganda�, I�m afraid. The Macquarie Dictionary says it best:

a. The systematic propagation of a given doctrine. b. The particular doctrines or principles propagated by an organization or movement. c. Dissemination of ideas, information or rumour for the purpose of injuring or helping an institution, a cause or a person. d. Doctrines, arguments, facts spread by deliberate effort through any medium in order to further one�s cause or damage an opposing cause. e. A public action or display aimed at furthering or hindering a cause.

Which makes my piece here equally propaganda, note. Which leaves you all left to choose whichever doctrine, cause, organisation, movement, institution or person you prefer to embrace: those my Hayes propaganda is promoting, or those Rupert�s Hayes spin would have you support.

3. Pedantic, tedious, moot, smart-arsey – but this MUST be worth doing.

Right throughout this Iraq debate, then, Stephen F. Hayes, the Weekly Standard and all of Rupert Murdoch�s other global media assets have repeatedly pushed and hyped and circulated lying words in exactly this way � in this example, accusations of links between Saddam and al-Qaeda they know to be at best still speculation disingenuously dressed up as news, reportage, fact, truth.

Even though they got their invasion, they continue to push the same lines and lies in the same way, now. Me, I suspect they are growing evermore desperate to retrospectively �justify� their war, as the fruits of it grow more tragic, disastrous and perhaps even strategically-catastrophic for America.

It�s pretty clear now that serious WMD are never going to turn up in Iraq, and not even Rupert can spin up a convincing lie about something as concrete as 5,000 gallons of VX or a dozen nuclear warheads �suddenly discovered just outside Baghdad�.

But links to terrorism are a far more abstract and malleable proposition, and so perhaps this is why we are now seeing the other half of the neo-con �Iraqi terror nexus� Lenin Lie intensify instead: Saddam and al-Qaeda were operationally linked. Saddam and al-Qaeda were operationally linked. Saddam and al-Qaeda were operationally linked. Saddam and Osama. Osama and Saddam. Saddam and Osama.

Again. Again. Again. Again. Again. Again. All over the Murdochian world.

But if we let this go on without getting right up in their faces and challenging them in every way we can, loudly and aggressively and repeatedly, then the words they insist on misusing like this will gradually cease to mean anything real at all. Intelligent, nuanced human interactions based on the give-and-take exchange of shared language and meaning will become impossible. Our public discourses will deteriorate into just these kinds of long, tedious, �information war� stand-offs. My occasional cyber pot-shots fired back at Rupert�s continuous Luddite barrage, as here-in – but to what end if each side just keeps ducking the others�, before going on firing the same unchanging shots, over and over again?

Endless Fisking, cyber-sniping at Luddite journos, lofty Luddite disdain for us cyber-nobodies, blogland rants, mainstream Op Ed warfare of the current Sheehan-Manne kind, the infinite introspection of �media-watch� self-analysis, Boomer opinion writing as both on-going vanity publishing and retrospective reputation defence � all this is not the way of the public debate future.

It can�t be. It�s dull, time-consuming, moot, an interminable �he-said-she-said� chatter-fest that can�t possible do any of us who care about ideas-as-interactive-evolution, whether Professional Luddite High Class Escort or Amateur Electronic Whore, the slightest bit of human good.

Who�ll win such an information war? Well, undoubtedly the sheer Luddite firepower of a dude like Rupert gives him a short-term advantage. But more and more people are jumping on the Net and chasing their own preferred and isolating �news niches� every day. Don�t like Rupert�s spin on Hayes? Fine, stick to Margo�s Webdiary and mine. Think I�m a hysterical anti-Rupe Margolian? Read Tim Blair or Professor Bunyip exclusively, instead.

None of this self-selectivity can possibly be healthy in the long human run, because as an information-consuming community that never-the-less will always live in the concrete world, we rely for social stability and workability on all of us embracing certain abstract, but mutually-conceded, information benchmarks. One plus one equals two. Black is black, not white. This is called an �apple�. A weapon of mass destruction is just that: a weapon � a nuclear missile, a VX artillery shell, a drone-borne anthrax spore delivery system. NOT a �WMD program�, a �terror nexus threat�, a �Hitleresque bogeyman�, or a tossed-off Madison Avenue marketing riff.

And an operational terrorism link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda means exactly what those words describe, too. In literal fact, in spirit, in good faith, in mutually-understood and thus usable meaning. It�s called sentient human communication, and at this transitory juncture in the information revolution, I�d say we�re all in danger of overlooking just how buggered we human animals are if we forget how it�s supposed to work.

And besides, if our public debates do become no more than exercises in post-modern �competing narrative� warfare, then the first and biggest losers won�t be shit-stirring Whorehouse anarchists like me, but those mainstream Luddite journalists � men like Tom Switzer and Chris Mitchell, in fact � who still rely absolutely on the principle that written words can be trusted to describe what happened yesterday, in a cheap, accessible and universal forum where many different readers can and WILL happily meet on common readership ground.

In an information world in which any one of us out here can bodge up a Stephen Hayes-ish �Lenin Lie� single-handedly, and then spruik it to the farthest ends of the blogosphere by doing no more than hijacking comments boxes and chat rooms, the definitive essence of a newspaper like The Australian, which should be its editorial credibility, becomes all the more precious.

These Murdochians are supposed to be the professional wordsmiths, right? All the rest of us are just mucking about cheekily in cyberspace. Me, I�d trade my Meeja Watch opportunities for a regular hard-copy column in a flash. Well, maybe not, but those Luddite writers who misuse their niches � two whole Oz Feature pages for that piece of speculative junk, dammit – break my envious heart, anyway.

Lenin said that all you had to do to make a lie become truth was to repeat it often enough. What he forgot to mention was that if you performed this ugly, brute-force feat of industrial word-engineering with real world success too many times, sooner or later the word-tools you used to do so would crumble, wear and break into useless pieces.

When he was at Oxford, Rupert Murdoch, who without usable word-tools can maintain no global empire at all, used to call Lenin �The Great Teacher�, anyway.

At first glance, perhaps both master and pupil � both the great Communist propagandist and his prot�g� the great Corporatist propagandist – would be proud of the work Chris Mitchell and The Australian have done with the Stephen Hayes piece this week. At second glance, maybe not.

And perhaps Amanda Meade � another professional wordsmith for whom life without usable words would be grim – might like to urge Chris Mitchell to explain to Webdiary where exactly he thinks he is taking this country�s solitary, and once impressively credible and nationally uniting, national broadsheet.

As she implied, when it comes to the long-term dangers of propaganda-as-journalism, Margo would know. But does your Editor-in-Chief, Amanda?

Hansonism: Then and Now

In the two years since the annihilation of One Nation at the 1998 election campaign, despite attracting more than one million first preference votes, the effects of the Hanson phenomenon have intensified. I believe its impact on Australian politics and society will not be understood for at least ten years.But it is high time that we in the media think through what is happening in our society from the perspective of the forces unleashed by Hansonism, and respond better than we have to date in exploring and interpreting their impact.

In my view, the cargo cult of Pauline Hanson triggered the rusting-off of rural and regional Australians voting traditions. Through Hanson, they saw the raw power of their vote, and have put it on the block for sale to the highest bidder, not only for cash but for reassurance that their experience and concept of being Australian is incorporated into our emerging national identity.

Five months after the federal election, the New South Wales election saw the National Party lose its safest seat, centred on Dubbo, to the independent, Labor-leaning Dubbo mayor. New South Wales now boasts three rural independentsall respected local identities, none of them rednecks. They represent three large, proud regional cities: Dubbo, Tamworth and Armidale. Their needs are being well catered for by the New South Wales Labor government, because if the rural independents hold their seats, Labor has a buffer against losing government. Meanwhile, New South Wales Labor has established Country Labor, with its own spokespeople and policies.

Who can forget the extraordinary climax of election day in Victoria, the home of small ‘l’ liberalism, in September 1999? Victorian regional and rural voters had given the thumbs down to Hanson. But then they did something no one who ruled or reported on Australia dreamed of: they put their traditional enemy, the Labor Party, into office. Victorian premier Steve Bracks worked hard for that result, but even he was shocked by the extent of his success. Jeff Kennett is still in shock, the Victorian National Party has split from the Coalition in opposition, and the rural seat of its former leader has fallen to Labor in a by-election.

On the federal level, the Victorian election loss has seen the Coalition fall over itself to cash up the bush. Daily press releases announce rural specific programs on everything from domestic violence to rural transaction centres. The Adelaide to Darwin railway is on the agenda, yet again. The Coalition and Labor believe that if they win over the bush (and the blue collar workers also attracted to Hansonism) they will win government, and any useful political analysis will filter all major political plays until the next election through that lens.

John Howard and Kim Beazley are still as one on the core issues of globalisation. Beazley differentiates himself only on Telstra, where he is playing to the bush’s conviction that a privatised Telstra will mean fewer services. Howard’s differentiation play is insidious, potentially disastrous for the nation, and means the trashing of the small ‘l’ liberal tradition of the party he leads. He is deliberately pushing the bush’s socially conservative buttons, and has rolled-gold credibility with the bush on these matters because he too is unashamedly socially conservative.

Howards downgrading of our commitment to United Nations human rights treaties feeds off the widespread feeling in the bush that one-world-government is the ruin of us all. It is intellectually dishonest and destructive of our established identity as a tolerant nation and a world leader on promoting international human rights standards. It works because Howard is blatantly appealing to prejudice and not doing his duty in informing the public of the facts. He is abusing country Australians, not helping them. And he knows it.

In reality, the civilising of the forces of economic globalisation – in which there is already a strong one-world regulation through groups such as the World Trade Organisation (strongly supported by Howard) – will only occur with the parallel development of world human rights standards. Human rights mean rights for country people too, such as the right to a decent education and accessible medical services. In addition, the fight for protection of the environment, child labour, and the wish of many countries to preserve unique economic/social traditions will only come through engagement with global economic forces, and again, this can only come through the mechanism of the United Nations.

Yet Howard does not chose intelligent, engaged debate. He does not respect the citizens he is appealing to, he exploits them. He chooses social populism, and refuses to argue his case on the merits to equally informed citizens. He has rejected rational debate and opted out of conversation with the informed, which in my view is the most dangerous game any political leader can play.

By the end of the 1998 election, I hoped that the two nations of Australia would begin a conversation. I saw rural and regional Australians as a minority in their country, like many ethnic groups are. I thought what they were really demanding were special benefits just like other minorities, and not equal rights for all Australians as they claimed. I thought they deserved special treatment. But the opportunity for conversation and consensus was not taken. Instead, Hansonite social concerns have become central to Australian political debate.

When Labor leader Kim Beazley ended Labor’s commitment to Aboriginal land rights by backing the Queensland Labor government’s modification of the right to negotiate for purely political reasons (that One Nation vote again) and then ran dead on the United Nations human rights debate, I felt that the worm had turned. Now the politically correct Australians, those who saw tolerance and acceptance of difference as central to Australia’s identity, are the new oppressed minority. Neither major party represents us any more. We have been forced to the Democrats and the Greens. So much for engagement. Instead of talking and working together after the Hanson shock wave, the political establishment has just replaced the hegemony of one group with another.

I want to go back to the beginning.

In launching my book on Pauline Hanson’s 1998 election campaign last year, Jana Wendt noted that the general havoc the Hanson phenomenon caused in the community was more than matched by the specific chaos she caused in the media.


“How to deal with her? Should she be laughed off the stage or was she a serious political force? Should she be reported in the same way that John Howard and the rest are, or was she a subversive who had to be flushed out of the works for fear that she might undermine a civilised polity? Back in 1996, many media outlets opted at first to ignore her in the fervent hope that she would implode or more conveniently just fade away. The others, who found her simply irresistible, felt the need to justify their fascination with her by crash-tackling Hanson at every turn. Few dared to authentically engage with her. Fewer still were prepared to write anything other than what their left liberal journalistic peers expected of them.”


However, once we’d acted out our instincts on Hanson, we realised that our input only intensified her support; that the very fact that she was under attack by the media became an essential element in her appeal.

That shocking realisation triggered a rare self- consciousness in the media. In some media, news judgement was replaced with political judgment – would running a story help or hinder Hanson? If the editor judged it would help her, it was run small or not run at all; if it would hurt, it was featured, sometimes without the usual checking. This attitude, not only anti-democratic but also self-defeating (the public really aren’t that dumb and wed better get used to it) led to an extraordinary judgment by Brisbane’s daily, The Courier-Mail, in the last week of the federal election campaign. An unprecedented attempt by One Nation to have police arrest the media was run in a single column on page eleven. While most media outlets believed the incident would help One Nation, itself a startling acknowledgement of the odour in which the media is held, the TV news led with it and the Herald and the Age ran the story on page one. Laurie Oakes, in accord with conventional wisdom, said in his report that the media had played into One Nations hands.

The Courier-Mail, after burying the story, then grotesquely ran a comment piece predicting that because of the medias behaviour One Nation would win six to eight Lower House seats. In other words, the paper openly admitted the importance of the story it buried, and chose to lecture the media on how it should have made a political judgment not to demand access to the costings document it was promised. As it happened the Courier-Mail’s judgment was wrong, and Hanson’s support remained stable. But then, the media so often gets it wrong in picking public reaction, don’t we? Weve become specialists at it.

I don’t want to single out The Courier-Mail for criticism here – my paper was as guilty as any other of being caught out on Hanson. When Hanson made her maiden speech in September 1996, I was chief of staff at the Herald Canberra bureau, and unsuccessfully argued that her speech should not be reported at all. I also had a personal policy of refusing to speak to Hansons then adviser, John Pasquerelli, and not to write news stories about Hanson or her party. I even quietly cheered when watching violent protests at formation meetings of One Nation.

I was wrong. Most of us were wrong. The shock waves of the Hanson phenomenon had lessons not only for the political establishment but also the media. The media’s roller-coaster ride with Pauline Hanson was a perfect starting point for our industry to engage in a most unusual exercise – self-reflection. It could, if we so chose, be used to focus the vague, cloudy certainty of all of us that the media isnt quite doing its job, that our readers, listeners and viewers arent happy with what theyre getting from us, and that we are losing relevance as a result.

Dick Morris, former spin-doctor to president Clinton, said in his book The New Prince: Machiavelli for the 21st Century that the media play the key role in bringing the private pains and needs of real people to public attention. This role, along with its corollary, to scrutinise the powerful to ensure they are telling the people the truth, is the reason we have a privileged role in a democracy. The Hanson phenomenon exposed it as unfulfilled.

Why did the media and the politicians get such a shock at the appeal of Hansons populism? And even after the bombshell she threw at us, why was the media again caught embarrassingly short at the recent Victorian election, when the country moved so strongly to Labor?

The incident that first pricked my conscience on this point was a letter from a listener to Late Night Live, Ms Susan Leembruggen. She was responding to my passionate advocacy of an independent Fairfax on the ABC program Late Night Live.

My advocacy focused on the need for diversity of news and views, and for the freedom of some parts of the press from ownership by big businessmen with their own barrows to push. Ms Leembruggen attacked my argument on the basis that none in the press – independent or otherwise – were doing their real job anyway.

I quote from my book:


“You have lamented the so-called Pauline Hanson phenomenon, saying that Queenslanders are mostly good, tolerant peopleamongst other such patronising comments. Both you and Phillip expressed your contempt and dismay over the consequent rising tide of social discontentinter alia racism and its perceived concomitant, unemployment. On Monday night you spoke with passion and conviction about media ownership and the importance of maintaining the Fairfax newspaper as the last chance for some kind of impartial freedom of speech.”


Yet what was the point of a free press, she asked, when the media had not addressed the real issues of the day – anxiety about unemployment and the disenfranchisement of large sectors of society through diminution of standards of living?

‘This media neglect is a significant factor in the rise of Hansonism, she wrote. Instead of academic arguments about Aussie tolerance and fair play (remember tolerance really means apathy, not acceptance) and the sense of abhorrence which goes with racism, you could more productively question the status quo in this country that gives rise to division and bigotry.”

In short, Hansonism was partly the medias’ fault for failing to act as the interface between the people and the powerful, and for turning our backs on the public to become just another part of a complacent establishment.

I was sufficiently disturbed to reply to Ms Leembruggen, and I wish I’d kept a copy so I could remember what rationalisation I used. But what finally pushed me into focusing on Hansonism was the Newspoll halfway through the 1998 Queensland election campaign, which showed that Maryborough, my hometown, could fall to One Nation. Had I really lost touch with my roots to such an extent that I could not understand, let alone empathise with, the mood of Maryborough? Studied avoidance of Hansonism became an obsession to work it out.

After a unique experience covering Pauline Hansons campaign, my views on journalism and its future will never be the same. In the 1996 campaign, I was depressed at its studied stage management – it was an exclusive pantomime in which only the politicians and the media could play. On Hanson’s campaign in 1998, the media became chasers and had to fight for its right to be present, as all the rules of etiquette and self-interest were thrown out the window, and the people – God forbid – took centre stage.

I describe in the book the media pressures and split second judgments – some wrong in retrospect – which resulted. A major reason I wrote the book was to describe what happened when the rules that have imprisoned us were disregarded, and thus hopefully open up debate on a possible third way between all rules and no rules.

Coming out of the campaign, I was convinced that the health minister, Michael Wooldridge, was correct in his essay on the rise of Hansonism in the 1998 book Two Nations when he wrote:


“Why this malaise in the relationship between power and people? This is an Australia of two cultures, which have little in common and find it hard to understand or appreciate each others views and attitudes. The policy culture sees the community culture as uneducated, ignorant, backward and occasionally comic in its primitive beliefs. The community culture sees the policy culture as arrogant and divorced from reality. The policy culture often sees the community culture as a barrier to the better future it is trying to build, and views with suspicion and contempt political leaders who pander to the concerns of the backward mass. The community culture sees the policy culture as responsible for the mess were in, and sees political leaders as captives of the narrow elites, governing for the noisy few and ignoring the real people.”

To the community culture, the quality media seems part of the elite, and is treated accordingly. Some elements of the tabloid media simply exploit fears and distrust and feed off them. It seems to me that the media groups which wish to serve their elite readership should be striving to report and understand the community culture, because if the two cultures continue to drift apart, the elites will suffer in the end. Thats the self-interested motive to examine our role and how we are fulfilling it. The idealistic motive is to help restore a coherence and common purpose among Australians, so the media deserves its place as an institution central to democracy.

Wooldridg’s analysis seems to rely heavily on Canadian philosopher John Ralston Saul. His definition of the elite in The Doubters Companion should, I believe, be required bedtime reading for all our elites, including the media, because in the end, it can only be the elites who are to blame for Hansonism. Ralston Saul wrote:


“Every society has an elite. No society has ever been without one. The thing elites most easily forget is that they make no sense as a group unless they have a healthy and productive relationship with the rest of the citizenry. Questions of nationalism, ideology, and the filling of pockets aside, the principal function of an elite is to serve the interests of the whole. They may prosper far more than the average citizen in the process. They may have all sorts of advantages. These perks wont matter so long as the greater interests are also served. From their point of view, this is not a bad bargain. So it really is curious just how easily they forget and set about serving only themselves, even if it means that they or the society will self-destruct.

“There is no reason to believe that large parts of any population wish to reject learning or those who are learned. People want the best for society and themselves. The extent to which a populace falls back on superstition or violence can be traced to the ignorance in which their elites have managed to keep them, the ill-treatment they have suffered and the despair into which a combination of ignorance and suffering have driven them.”


As I said in the book:


“Now easy-going, egalitarian Australia had its own unique brand of far right populism feeding off disgust with our elites. In our version we had a female leader and an amateur at politics, which had made her both easier to pull apart and much harder, since Pauline’s People, despite everything, admired her refusal to abide by the rules and her dogged insistence on coming back for more. Surely it was the duty of the elites to solve the causes of Hansonism, because Hanson was only the symptom, not the disease. After all the anger and pain of Hansonism, that was the lesson I felt I’d learned from her campaign. Pauline’s People felt they no longer understood their society and what it was for, and many of them felt they were being told they no longer belonged to it. They couldn’t make head or tail of the political discourse, and no one could explain it to them or even wanted to, let alone help them join the brave new world their elites insisted was inevitable.”

So what could the media do to assist in restoring a real national conversation, and to heal the misunderstandings and resentments in our society? We all expect our politicians to adjust, but what about us?

Lets start with election campaigns. What on earth do we think were doing thinking we’ve covered a campaign if we follow around the leaders and try and find a gaffe in their manipulative image making? That process not only locks out voters, it is more and more irrelevant to them.

Nicolas Rothwell’s reports in the Australian during the 1998 campaign show the way ahead. He travelled the country talking to all sorts of people, and tried to distill themes and moods from those grassroots contacts. The standard gambit of going to an electorate for a day or two and reporting it is now drab and meaningless, and as formulaic, as most other election coverage. We really do have to connect with reality, and that takes time and effort.

I’d like to see the Herald send a reporter to two marginal seats – one in the city and one in the country – for the whole campaign. They would live there, get the daily direct mail, get to know the candidates and the electorate, and file daily reports. The reporters would thus be actually experiencing the campaign on the ground, and their position would also make them ideally placed to see what both parties actually saw as the main issues on the ground. Readers would get to know the main grassroots players quite intimately, as well as the lives of their voters. Reporters would also, like the voters, be on the outside looking in when the leaders road shows visited, and be able to judge far more accurately their impact where it countson the ground.

Between elections, I’d like to see specialist reporters in the press gallery spend at least three months a year observing how their specialties play out on the ground. Immigration specialists could visit immigration centres for example, education reporters schools and universities, health reporters public and private hospitals. Now, we have a separation of abstract policy and the politics of it in Canberra, from the working realities covered by others, often without the big picture policy expertise. We need to connect policy and practice much more directly.

More radically, I think there’s place for reporters to live for extended periods away from their middle-class lives. After the election, my editor gave me permission to live in Bourke for three months. The idea was to observe and report black-white relations and the difficulties and challenges of life in the country first-hand, I backed out of the plan when One Nation started a regular smear campaign against me on their website, for fear that I might be targeted for abuse, but I hope to try such an experiment sometime. One of the common complaints of political reporters, including myself, is that many grassroots groups cant give us a useable quote quickly, but seek time to discuss the matter between themselves. I am starting to think that instead of constantly demanding that real people meet our demands, it might be time for us to reach out and adjust to the way they operate.

There is also an urgent need for the media to make itself accountable. We spend so much time enforcing accountability on other establishment institutions; it is becoming increasingly untenable that our own house is in total disorder. Heaven forbid that the State regulate our behaviour, but really, surely we have an obligation to do so ourselves, if only to begin to restore our credibility with readers.

The Herald is now finalising a code of ethics, written by a committee of journalists, which will be published in the paper. The method of reader complaint is still under discussion, but I would like to see us appoint an ombudsman modelled on that position in the Washington Post, with regular columns from him or her responding to complaints and suggestions.

I also believe that the days when editors could refuse to report the media, its excesses, and the publics concerns with its behaviour on the basis that all this is just navel gazing are nearing an end. The public is well aware that the media is not an impartial observer, but a major player. They want to know how the game works, and to critique it. To me, there is no excuse for the Herald not to have its version of Media Watch, and I am amazed that the Australians media magazine has not taken the plunge. I would like to see the Herald solicit readers queries, and complaints about media behaviour, and reply to them in print. This step alone would help force us to examine ourselves, as well as help convince readers that we exist for them. If the public have faith in us, they will support us when our freedoms face erosion. If they dont, the State will find it much easier to constrain us.

At the press council, a complainant usually faces a newspaper executive with no knowledge of the story in dispute, who fudges and prevaricates in arrogant fashion. This only adds to the public perception that the media is a faceless octopus. I would like to see the reporter front instead, and engage with the reader. Having done this myself late last year, I found that the public members of the council had little or no idea of the pressures or constraints faced by a journalist, or the politicians codes it is the political reporters job to deconstruct. Although the complainant lost his case, we shook hands at the end of it, and he was satisfied both that he had a fair hearing, and that the reporter was a human being who wanted to communicate with him.

In its review of my book, The Courier-Mail said it should not have been written. According to the paper, the book showed that I had lost objectivity, whatever that is, and had become too close to my subjectas if the purpose of political journalism was not to get as close as the politician will allow. Is telling the truth about how journalism was practised on the campaign so frightening that it should be censored? Aren’t Australians allowed to look each other in the eye any more?

There is much in my behavior in the campaign to be critiqued, and many journalists will profoundly disagree with my approach. But surely, if the book does create a debate on how journalism should be practised, that can only be a good thing. The time has come for journalists to abandon their raincoats of self-protection – the myth of objectivity for example – which serve only to stop debate in its tracks without engagement with the realities of journalism. Only if we are honest with ourselves and our readers can we adjust to the demands of the new millennium.

But has there been a real debate since the 1998 federal election? I believe that most mainstream media is still not listening, either to its chattering classes or its redneck readerships. Both groups now, on several fronts, have the same concerns, but the media is not seeing the significance of this, let alone reporting it.

There are two recent examples. This year, the Coalition and Labor did a cosy little deal to pass a law giving the prime minister the power to call out the troops to any State or Territory, without their request or even permission. No cause for such action was stated, so industrial disputes and civilian protests were included. Troops were given the right to search and seize, block off streets, and even shoot to kill.

The issue created not a ripple in the Canberra press gallery. My attention was drawn to the story when I began receiving emails from readers of my Herald online column setting out the proposed law and asking how this could possibly be true?

Herald reporter Toni OLoughlin was interested, and began reporting the story. We were the only major newspaper to do so. Lo and behold, our readers were outraged, and the mail flooded in. John Laws asked Greens senator Bob Brown – who was running a sophisticated one-person campaign to amend the laws – onto his program for the first time. It was incredible, the John and Bob show. Laws even invited Brown back soon after, and publicly endorsed Brown’s stand. Lo and behold, the sole One Nation senator, Len Harris, backed Brown all the way. The far Left and far Right were as one, and a whole lot of people in the middle agreed with them.

Grassroots feeling drove this story and deeply embarrassed the Labor Party, which was forced (partly due to union pressure) to reverse its public support for the bill and seek amendments.

The second example concerns the Melbourne protests outside the World Economic Forum. The unions were scared they would be implicated in violence and lose public support, but marched anyway. Peter Reith predicted union violence in the streets. There was none. What will the Hansonites make of thisthe horrible unionists as core supporters of civilising economic globalisation? Who will the Hansoiites relate to in this battle for the streets of Melbourne? My guess is the protesters.

Who organised these protests? Young people with all sorts of wild and woolly causes, operating outside the mainstream media. And what did the baby-boomer writers of the major papers do? Screamed cheap abuse at their successors, who have emulated the protest culture of the 1960s in a much less classist way. Sure, the only thing that unites the protesters is an emotional antipathy to the effects of economic globalisation. Just like the Hansonites. But that emotion is powerful, and is forcing the rich-list in world capital to listen, and to adjust. We must report this matter without malice or condension to remain relevant.

Two years on from Hansons defeat, the media has got much better at reporting issues of importance to country people, but is still just as blind to some of the needs and concerns of its readers. The identity of our nation is being reshaped as we speak, and write. Our job is to understand and report these changes. Lets start doing it.

Ways of thinking: Stuart Rees on the lessons of the Ashrawi ‘debate’

“The Governor General of Australia Mike Jeffery might have had the controversy over the 2003 Sydney Peace Prize recipient in mind when he observed to the Melbourne Institute last week that unless debate in Australia becomes more civilized, a drift towards a destructive polarization of views is inevitable.” Professor Stuart Rees

Professor Stuart Rees is director of the Sydney Peace Foundation. The Australian newspaper refused to publish this piece on the Ashrawi debate.


The Governor General of Australia Mike Jeffery might have had the controversy over the 2003 Sydney Peace Prize recipient in mind when he observed to the Melbourne Institute recently that unless debate in Australia becomes more civilized, a drift towards a destructive polarization of views is inevitable.

If anything is to be learned from the controversy surrounding Dr. Ashrawi, polarized ways of thinking should be identified, beginning with the views of those whose identity is tied up with leadership of a specific religious or ethnically based group.

The leader of such a group is in a difficult position. Even the slightest deviation in commitment to a cause could be perceived as betraying followers, but questions need to be asked. Does loyalty to a cause prevent the adoption of roles other than those of victim or accuser? When is it possible for extreme opponents to comprehend one another let alone work together?

Another disempowering way of thinking can be observed among politicians, newspaper columnists and letter writers whose stock in trade is point scoring via the use of derisory adjectives. I have been referred to as an anti-semitic misogynist from the feral left, actress Judy Davis � despite her conservative background – is dismissed as a lefty activist and Dr. Ashrawi – despite her dignified address in the State Parliament of NSW – was described by someone who was not there has having used �weasel words�.

At regular intervals a gentleman from Bondi writes the same letter to The Australian and the Sydney Morning Herald in which he claims that I play a race card and am only interested in �the peace of the grave�. Argument by insult demeans humanity and intellect.

Reliance on stereotypes about enemies or about peace is also unproductive. In peace negotiations a first step involves unmasking stereotypes so that a realistic and dignified way of communicating can proceed. No matter how many times Hanan Ashrawi rejected violence and condemned suicide bombers her critics said she had not done so or that her condemnation had been insufficient. Once people are locked into their good versus bad perspectives, the prospect of a so called bad person being not as bad as you thought threatens the comfort of a familiar world view.

The labelling of the Peace Prize as being concerned with the achievement of peace rather than with contributions to peace with justice is another illustration of arguments persisting despite evidence and statements to the contrary.

Hanan Ashrawi, in common with previous recipients of the Prize, was recognized for her decades of work for peace with justice within her own community: for civil liberties, for human rights, in particular the rights of women and for contributions to democratic governance. The case for rewarding decades of efforts to promote civil liberties and civility must be heard. Without those efforts, an eventual peace treaty would not materialize and would not hold.

Finally there is that way of thinking which seems reluctant to find that crucial capacity for tolerance, for touches of magnanimity and even forgiveness. It is as though the debate in Australia should be conducted along the same lines as violence in the Middle East. One side must win, the other must not only lose but must be taught a lesson from which they may never recover.

The horrific numbers of dead and injured on both sides of this conflict are testimony to that dead-end way of thinking. Yet without the qualities of humanness – of compassion and generosity – including a willingness to occasionally leap into the mind of the other, personal relations are almost impossible to conduct and a civil society cannot be built.

In common with business organisations and peace coalitions, Palestinian and Jewish communities are not monolithic. Many Jewish groups have expressed shame at a debate conducted with such vehemence. Certain leaders � Stephen Rothman of the Jewish Board of Deputies and Vic Aladeff the Editor of Jewish News – have been constructive in their efforts to avoid acrimony and to realize the potential for rapprochement and reconciliation. My colleagues within the Peace Foundation are happy to do the same.

The business of conducting an argument or writing a newspaper column with a view to winning or humiliating can be replaced by communication which promotes dialogue and contributes to understanding. Following the visionary examples of former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, we might even make friends with enemies.

More than two sides to Ashrawi fallout story


Australian dream, by Martin Davies.

“The Israel Palestine debate can engender rationality, fairness and balance, despite appearances. Hanan Ashrawi’s recent visit caused an outpouring of responses from Jews, Zionists, non-Jews and Muslims, with many determined to have their say on this most important matter. No longer simply about the Sydney Peace Prize, thoughts have shifted to more fundamental questions.” Antony Loewenstein, guest editor of your latest reactions.

Margo note: Webdiary will be largely on hold for a while as I get stuck into my book. Please keep in touch – I’m reading all my emails and will continue writing a Sun Herald column each Sunday which will include some of them. The column can also be read in the opinion section of I’m working on the Abbott slush fund at the moment, so any tips or info would be much appreciated.


The Israel Palestine debate can engender rationality, fairness and balance, despite appearances. Hanan Ashrawi�s recent visit caused an outpouring of responses from Jews, Zionists, non-Jews and Muslims, with many determined to have their say on this most important matter. No longer simply about the Sydney Peace Prize, thoughts have shifted to more fundamental questions:

* What is the likely future of the Israel/Palestine question?

* What will come of the much-discussed Road Map to Peace?

* What is the influence, power and coercive powers of the Jewish lobby in Australia?

* What kind of debate is continuing within the Jewish community about the fallout of the Ashrawi affair? Moreover, how are Jews viewed in the general community?

* Is the Palestinian narrative rarely heard in the mainstream press?

* What constitutes racist material against Jews or Muslims?

* Why is there so much coverage of the Israel/Palestine in our newspapers, and from which perspectives?

* How do we achieve greater understanding between Jews and Palestinians?

An indication of the bigotry in this debate struck home last week when I received a call from a man who identified himself as �David�. After initial pleasantries, he said, �You would have been gassed with the rest of us.� He went on to suggest that there could never be a Palestinian state �because that would be the end of Israel� and that my views as a Jew were a �disgrace�.

That�s the mentality I hope all sides will try to avoid. It may well be a minority opinion, but it suggests that absolutist policies will never solve the problem. Mutual respect, understanding, compassion, dialogue and compromise are the only way forward.

Over to your comments on Battle for mindsAshrawi and Brandis: the great debateReal Sydney people meet Hanan Ashrawi and Ashrawi leaves behind a fresh air debate on the Israel Palestine question.


Kerri Sinclair

Antony Loewenstein has misconstrued the intentions of those opposed to the peace prize being awarded to Hanan Ashrawi when he claims:

“The Jewish lobby doesn’t want people like her in the public sphere talking about Palestinian aspirations, hopes, fears, angers or dreams.”

If he is correct, then why is it that there was no campaign against her appearing at the Adelaide Festival of Ideas in 1999 where she was the keynote speaker? On that visit she also met with representatives of the Jewish community.

The criticism on this occasion was not intended to “intimidate and silence her” as claimed by Rawan Abdul-Nabi but to show why she is not a suitable recipient for the peace prize.


Jeff T

This comment by Margo needs analysis:

“I have no problem with people strongly opposing the decision by the Sydney Peace Foundation to award the prize to Ashrawi. I take strong objection to attempts to force the withdrawal of the award and the putting of financial and political pressure on people to withdraw their support for the prize. This level of intimidation could lead to a surge in anti-Semitism, the very thing no-one sensible wants to happen.”

She implicitly acknowledges that in a democracy interest groups have a right to lobby on issues important to them. However she draws a line in the sand as to what is acceptable and this needs looking at, particularly as she asserts Jewish groups have crossed this line to an extent that could result in a “surge in anti-Semitism”. All this on the basis of her insinuations that certain things have a place, which she makes without providing any supporting evidence.

Surely people who strongly oppose a decision, and lobby against it, wish to convince others of the correctness of their view. The outcome they would be hoping for is a reversal of the decision, so why else lobby? How do you distinguish between people “strongly opposing the decision” (and obviously seeking the outcome of its reversal) and people “attempting to force the withdrawal of the award”? On what basis does she characterise the actions of sections of the Jewish community as “attempting to force the withdrawal of the award” which she finds unacceptable rather than the acceptable “strongly opposing” the decision?

Anyone strongly opposing a decision is attempting to have it reversed, but of course this distinction she makes turns on the word “force”. Force means that a metaphorical gun of some kind has been put to someone’s head, so rather than attempting to convince with the power of their arguments they have gone “Do it – or else!”

Please tell us who within the Jewish community has done this to whom, what was the nature of the threat made etc? I have read no reports to support her insinuations of “force”, all I have seen is evidence of strong lobbying by Jewish interest groups, “strongly opposing” the decision, eminently defensible by her own account.

Margo: For evidence see Alan Ramsey’s columns on the matter, the comments of Kathryn Greiner and the sudden, dictatorial reversal of policy by Sydney mayor Lucy Turnbull. To me, pressuring people to withdraw their support for the award is challenging the good faith of the body which chose the winner. There is a big difference between opposing the merits of an award and trying to destroy the body which awarded it. That smacks of closing down free speech to me, not exercising the right to it. It suggests that to certain lobbyists it is simply unacceptable to have views contrary to theirs. It’s the Voltaire point – I may disagree with everything you say but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.


Andrew Byrne

Sorry to jump in late on the Ashrawi discussions. May I say that the response to Dr. Ashrawi receiving the piece prize has been astounding.

What I’m about to say may come across as harsh and the fact that I must explain myself before hand is an example of the difficulties of the issue I’m writing about. I find it a disgrace the way the Jewish faith and western guilt over the horrors of the Holocaust are used by some elements as a shield from behind which they can safely throw stones at their “enemies”. They use this shield just as a person would hold up an antique vase against an attack, essentially preventing their enemies from throwing stones back lest the vase be broken to the horror and disgust of all assembled.

I’m tired of hearing any criticism levelled at Israel or Jewish military/economic/territorial interest being venomously classified as anti-Semitic. Simply rebutting that an accusation of anything Jewish or Israeli is anti-Semitic is a cop-out of the least gracious and most disgraceful order. If anything, anyone using the anti-Semitic card as a regular defence is actually behaving in dishonour of the very historical/cultural elements they’re using as that defence.

So to those who so viciously attack Dr. Ashrawi or Margo Kingston or anyone who has ever said the Palestinians are also victims in this war of mutual legitimisation with Israel, I say stop behaving like a victim. Stop being childish. Stop behaving like this. It’s a disgrace to any concept of fairness, an insult to a horrible past, encouragement to a disgraceful present and in the long run it damages everyone.


Bren Carlill, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel

Antony Loewenstein is very good at confusing the issue. When the ‘Jewish Lobby’ in Australia condemns Hanan Ashrawi’s record of implicit support for Hamas and explicit support for attacking Israeli civilians in the territories, he seemingly purposefully misinterprets that as being a blanket condemnation of all Palestinians.

Surely Loewenstein realises that the ‘Jewish Lobby’ is not one voice, and not of one opinion, just as he lambasts it for – according to him – not recognising that the Palestinians are not all bloody-thirsty savages crying out for Jewish blood (regardless of what is still propagated on official Palestinian TV).

Some of Israel’s policies do not promote peace between themselves and the Palestinians. Some are even wrong. But just because he believes that, does Loewenstein have to overlook the crimes of the other side?

If an Israeli politician or public figure appealed for purposeful attacks against Palestinian civilians, I am sure Loewenstein would be publicly upset. Is it therefore hypocritical that he isn’t when a well-known member of the other side does the same?


Steve J. Spears

Edward Baral said:

“I am shocked and appalled and somewhat frightened by the Webdiary posted on today (Battle for minds).

Ignoring factual inaccuracies and one sided viewpoints presented (which were copious) and looking only at the language of vilification I counted:

– 8 references to “The Jewish Lobby”

– 3 references the “The Zionist Lobby” (and 1 “Zionist ploy”)

– 3 references that compare Jews to Nazis (ie “jackboot” and “militaristic mindset”)��

Yada, yada yada.

Then Mr Baral said:

“I ask that you withdraw this article, publish an apology and advise what steps you will take to ensure that vilifying material such as this are not published in the future.”

I say: Mr Baral, Jews do actually lobby. Zionists do actually lobby. There is a good case to be made that the Israelis are using jackboot techniques. For Margo to withdraw the article would make as much sense as her refusing to publish your letter of indignation. And who the hell are you to be Margo’s media manager? I ask that you get over this love affair with censorship, pull your head in and advise me what steps you will take to keep said head pulled in in future.



Robert Green

I refer to Webdiary, edited by ultra left wing journalist Margo Kingston. Why is there no range of views on the award of the Sydney Peace Prize to Hanan Ashrawi? Why is it only fellow left-wingers Ian Cohen andAntony Loewenstein?

I thought the Herald was about presenting both sides on significant issues.


Steve Brook and Randa Abdel-Fattah

Australians have heard a lot recently from people presuming to speak for the whole Australian Jewish community about Hanan Ashrawi’s suitability for the Sydney Peace Prize. Much harder to hear have been the voices of those Australians – Arab and Jewish, Palestinian and Israeli – who do actually speak to one another in tones other than those of abuse and recrimination.

Dr Ashrawi has been accused of being “the matriarch of PLO terror”, of only ever condemning terrorism on pragmatic grounds and of being unworthy of the honour that NSW Premier Bob Carr bestowed upon her in the state parliament.

Many of these charges are distortions. Dr Ashrawi is quoted as saying that violence is the only language Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon understands, and this remark is used to show she advocates violence. Yet Israeli journalists regularly make the same assessment without any such slur being attached to them. The claim that she has only ever rejected terror on pragmatic grounds is disproved by an article she wrote on December 11, 2001 for the Palestinian website MIFTAH, in which she asks:

“Why and when did we allow a few from our midst to interpret Israeli military attacks on innocent Palestinian lives as licence to do the same to their civilians? Where are those voices and forces that should have stood up for the sanctity of innocent lives (ours and theirs), instead of allowing the horror of our own suffering to silence us?”

More recently, in an interview with Jane Hutcheon on September 16, 2003, the “matriarch of terror” had this to say about Hamas and Islamic Jihad:

“They have to understand that there are requirements for democracy and if you want to be a player in the political arena then you have to become political and not violent and you have to abide by the law.”

Those of us who, as Jews and Arabs, Palestinians and Israelis, believe the only way forward out of the madness of conflict is to recognise and honour the humanity and diversity of others, also believe that one of the worst aspects of war is its creation of false dualities: either you are a true believer or an infidel, with us or against us.

Dr Ashrawi is a critic of Oslo, of the Road map, of Israelis and Palestinians. In this, she mirrors the reality that produced her. But are these above criticism? Those who would deny her the Sydney Peace Prize would find it easy to deny any Palestinian such an honour.

When Prime Minister John Howard and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer tell us that former Palestinian premier Mahmoud Abbas would be a better choice, they show how little they understand these moves to demonise any Palestinian voice. Were Mr Abbas – a far less articulate advocate of peace than Dr Ashrawi – to be chosen, the same groups which have attacked her would reach into their archives to condemn the man Ariel Sharon and George Bush shook hands with at Aqaba as a Holocaust denier – indeed, they have already done so.

The Nobel Peace Prize has been given to a number of Israeli politicians and to one Palestinian. Yet nowhere can one find in Dr Ashrawi’s past an affirmation of violence to compare with then Israeli defence minister Yitzhak Rabin’s instruction, to troops facing stone-throwing children, to employ “force, might and beatings”. Neither has Dr Ashrawi ever expressed an utter rejection of the two-state solution in the manner of Nobel laureate Menachem Begin:

“The partition of Palestine is illegal�Eretz Israel will be restored to the people of Israel. All of it. And for ever.”

We need not remind anyone that Yasser Arafat was no pacifist in the years before Oslo.

Would those who have questioned the choice of Dr Ashrawi have questioned the choice of Mr Begin or Mr Rabin? Dr Ashrawi is a politician and an academic – not once in all the wild accusations levelled at her in recent weeks has she been accused of any violent crime. Yet Mr Begin led a terrorist group that bombed a Jerusalem hotel, killing Jews, Arabs and others. A group that kidnapped British soldiers as hostages and then executed them.

Those of us in the Jewish and Arab communities who believe in dialogue understand that it begins with an effort to walk in another man’s or woman’s shoes. Those who cannot distinguish between the shoes of Dr Ashrawi and the shoes of a terrorist – those for whom every Palestinian is irretrievably on the ‘other’ side – are, we believe, not interested in any kind of talking at all.


Rateb Chalak

I feel I have to say sorry first when I am asked where do you come from. I fear where this country is going. Anything against Israel is considered to be against all Jews.

Small man with big pockets push and bully in the name of being true Jews and they are called true Australians.

I say, please sir, I don’t share your ideas, and I get called a fanatic Jew hater.

They say we have the right to kill anyone that might be thinking of defending their land and our Australian leaders say they have to live in peace so they have to kill to have security.

I say, please sir, can I have a little freedom and I get called fanatic.

The true fanatics call me a non-believer and I should be killed as a matter of priority. At this moment we are getting a fair deal in this country but I fear the small man in Melbourne with big pockets would like to see all Arabs locked up and anyone that doesn’t share what he believes in should be locked up with us. Where are we going with all this madness?

God save us all from all hate loving people that think money can buy respect.


Tim Gillan

The directive from “President Merkin Muffley”, alias Peter Sellers, to two battling underlings in Kubrick’s “Dr Strangelove” seem oddly appropriate for the Sydney “Peace” Prize brouhaha. “You can’t fight in here, this is the War Room!”

One Nation’s Queensland parliamentary leader Bill Flynn discussing the wheels and deals behind “Australians for Honest Politics” has pointed out:

“One eager contributor to Australians for Honest Politics was former Kerry Packer executive and Rene Rivkin business associate Trevor Kennedy who, it has been revealed, put profits from a Sydney business deal into a Swiss bank account…”

This suggests a suitable method for compensating Hanson for her hard time. Along with Rio Tinto, it was Kerry Packer’s PBL who helped put the money up for the recent Sydney Peace Prize. So maybe the easy way out is simply to get Hanson awarded the prize next year. This shouldn’t be a problem. After all, the previously unknown Sydney Peace Prize is now no stranger to controversy. And all the really glitzy peace prizes go to gaol birds anyhow.


Mike Lyvers � �very proudly non-Jewish, non-Christian and non-Muslim�

Margo, I have no problem whatsoever with your posting the views of people (Jews or otherwise, that’s irrelevant) who support the prize. I was just expressing my personal disappointment with your endorsement of the prize. For the record I support a two-state “solution” but I don’t think the violence will end even with a prosperous Palestinian state established. More than half of Palestine is currently “occupied” by Jordan but you don’t see suicide bombers attacking civilians there. The problem is really one of religion – the fact that certain Islamist elements don’t want an “infidel state” in the Middle East.

Antony Loewenstein cites PLO propaganda-meister Hanan Ashrawi as referring to the part of historic Palestine occupied by Israel (but curiously not the part occupied by Jordan) as “being on the receiving end of the last remaining colonial situation in the world [Dr Ashrawi pointed out that the US Occupation of Iraq can now be added to this grim reality].”

The racism on display above is breathtaking. What about Tibet? Or does “colonial situation” to Ashrawi only apply to situations where Arabs are the ones claiming to be colonized? And does Ashrawi really regard the temporary US occupation of Iraq as “grim” compared to the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein? Too bad the meeting with Ashrawi was (apparently) just a love-fest where no one called her reams of bullshit on her.

By the way, Margo, thanks for posting a diversity of views on Webdiary about the “peace prize” controversy. Webdiary is at its best when all sides of an issue are expressed there.


David Moses

I think just enough has been said about giving this woman the “Peace” prize, but I cannot let her words pass without comment.

No matter how eloquently she may speak, we should not be fooled and allow her to equate suicide bombers with Apache helicopters – her direct words. One targets the MAXIMUM murder of innocent people in order to create terror, the other are precise attacks on military targets, designed in every way to MINIMISE, if not eliminate, civilian casualties. Not only are they unequal, they are at opposite ends of the spectrum.


Simon Grant

It’s embarrassing that there even needs to be a response to such a ludicrous fool as George Brandis (Nazi Greens an enemy of democracy, government decrees). If debate stoops so low as to entertain his position then the battle is already lost.

This and the general Middle East question are forever hijacked by reactionary, simplistic nonsense that does nothing to further humanity or realistic solutions.

Many have seized the way Ashrawi avoided responding to direct questions because her ‘true’ beliefs would be exposed. Nonsense! She judiciously avoids the sort of simplistic and sensational questions seeking to lay blame or demonise. She should be applauded for seeking to use her own words to express her beliefs rather than be subjected to the prejudicial contexts of others pushing their own agenda.

First we have journalists and politicians taking Hanson’s views seriously and now we have the dills debating Brandis!

PS: Congratulations to Prof Rees for having the strength of his convictions while all around turned to Turnbulls.


David Roffey

Reading the ongoing debate on peace and Israel on your Webdiary continues to be a mix of relief that there are some sane voices in the world and despair at those who think that name-calling is debate and violence is the only route to peace.

I don’t know if you saw this Guardian article in September translated from an original Hebrew article in ‘Yediot Aharonot’ by Avraham Burg, until recently speaker of the Knesset – and therefore difficult to decry as anti-Jew. He presents a series of stark choices for Israel:

Do you want the greater land of Israel? No problem. Abandon democracy. Let’s institute an efficient system of racial separation here, with prison camps and detention villages.

Do you want a Jewish majority? No problem. Either put the Arabs on railway cars, buses, camels and donkeys and expel them en masse – or separate ourselves from them absolutely, without tricks and gimmicks. There is no middle path. We must remove all the settlements – all of them – and draw an internationally recognised border between the Jewish national home and the Palestinian national home. The Jewish law of return will apply only within our national home, and their right of return will apply only within the borders of the Palestinian state.

Do you want democracy? No problem. Either abandon the greater land of Israel, to the last settlement and outpost, or give full citizenship and voting rights to everyone, including Arabs. The result, of course, will be that those who did not want a Palestinian state alongside us will have one in our midst, via the ballot box.

The prime minister should present the choices forthrightly: Jewish racism or democracy. Settlements, or hope for both peoples. False visions of barbed wire and suicide bombers, or a recognised international border between two states and a shared capital in Jerusalem.


Lloyd McDonald

Hanan Ashrawi’s visit has surely made us realise one thing – we need an Arab perspective more than anything else. To listen to Howard and Downer parrot stock Israeli responses as if the Palestinians were irrelevant has added to the numbness one feels being an “Australian” in this current political climate. To watch this sad travesty that is ‘Tampa rerun’ over 14 boat people really makes you question your values as a human being. Are we really going to swallow this again? How sad would it be if we did!


Daniel Greengarten

It is quite obvious having observed Mr Loewenstein’s recent works that he has in the past faced ridicule from inside the Jewish community for his endeavours to report on the Palestinian aspect of the conflict.

Whatever sympathy he may have elicited has evaporated through his obvious attempt at retribution against the entire Jewish community by his constant referral to ‘Zionist’ and ‘Jewish’ lobbies as if they represent a conspiratorial entity. His reference to these aforementioned ‘Lobby Groups’ is clearly Mr Loewenstein’s attempt to strike back at those in his community who have criticised his reporting in the past.

They (the Jewish Community), like you Antony, have the right to articulate their concerns, however unlike you Antony, you have access to the medium to express your views on a far-reaching scale. If you believe it is your responsibility as a journalist to convey your perceptions, then be prepared for criticism.

You have lowered yourself below your critics by collectively punishing the Jewish community with your references to the ‘Zionist/Jewish’ lobby, knowing that you gain favour amongst those readers who believe such an organization actually exists. To be for Palestinian self-determination is not anti-Semitic – however to portray the entire Jewish community as members of the ‘Zionist/Jewish’ conspiratorial lobby is to promote a widely held anti-Semitic belief. You have failed in your responsibility, Mr Loewenstein!


Nick Smith

The Israel /Palestine issue always seemed to me too far away, too foreign, so unAustralian in its seeming senseless unremitting violence. It was too easy around the BBQ to dismiss it all as “the whole lot are just animals or mad”.

Then came 9/11, a western experience of apparent Arab terrorism. Then Bali, more terrorism closer to home. The BBQ was a little more subdued when it was mentioned. Then an immediate threat of WMD from more Arabs meant our soldiers actually were sent to this violent region and were directly involved in war by invading to protect us from this imminent threat.

What is next? Will some local Arab Australians appear responsible for some huge violence that cancel all BBQs for weeks? When will everyone who can think take a break in their busy lives and have a long think about it all? The terrible escalating violence encapsulated in spin that bears no scrutiny, and the increasing suffering of the many – soon to be us too – and only benefiting a ruthless few has to stop. The one thing these events all lack is scrutiny at a public level. The destiny of sheep is slaughter, for BBQs.


Rawan Abdul-Nabi

I wanted to respond briefly to some remarks made by Dan Meijer in She’s got it! who responded to a comment made by Dr Hanan Ashrawi at a public forum on Saturday November 8.

The UN Partition plan (Resolution 181) on Palestine was not equal as he says. For Palestinian Arabs who represented just about 70% of the population and had been living and cultivating on their land for centuries and centuries, the partition plan gave them 47% of the land.

The Jews, who developed a new collective identity (even though before the immigration, Palestinian Arabs compromised of Jews, Christians and Muslims), had rapidly being streaming in from Europe since the 1890s, and were given 53% of historic Palestine although they contributed to about 30% of the population.

Anyone faced with such a drastic measurement would have protested such inequality. Further, Israel declared itself a state very quickly – knowing that the Arab states were trying to work out another feasible solution with the UN. They were proposing one state for all people, not a division which would bring further conflict and war.

The only people expelled were about 750,000 Palestinians (over half the total of the Palestinian population at the time), a process that began in 1947, increased in May 1948 and continued until 1949. This created the longest standing refugee question in the world today, and is yet to be solved.

Every year the UN General Assembly sit and passes its resolutions on the Question of Palestine and any prospect of peace. That resolution lies in compensating those refugees or their descendants or granting them their right to return.

Further, Ashrawi was not referring to the partition plan as Dan asserts. She was referring to the creation of Israel itself – which divided and usurped Palestinian society. This is the history that has been ignored, washed away and kept silenced.

Tampering with asylum: confessions of a Jesuit priest


Martin Davies image.

“In my wanderings around the corridors of Parliament House, I met with Mr Bill Heffernan, a member of the Howard government, who explained the government strategy starkly and simply. Having been a local councillor and being a lifetime farmer, he described to me the moral dilemma that confronts you during a major bushfire. You have to build a firebreak. You have to choose someone’s property as the firebreak. Destroying their property, you will save the neighbourhood. Bill said, “It’s not pretty. These are hard moral decisions. But you have to do it.” Father Frank Brennan

The Melville Island scandal is hurtling towards a Tampa-style confrontation between the government and the courts. As I write the High Court in Sydney is hearing an urgent application for orders that Vanstone bring the Kurds back and process them according to law. The High Court in Canberra is hearing a crucial human rights case about whether the government can throw away the key on some detained asylum seekers, the government hasn’t got away with another children overboard lie, and Indonesia is sticking the boot in. Things are moving so fast it’s hard to catch your breath!


Last Wednesday, on November 5, Father Frank Brennan, associate director of Uniya, the Jesuit Social Justice centre, launched his book “Tampering with asylum’ at the National Press Club in Canberra. That morning the media reported that the government had excised Melville Island from Australia overnight to retrospectively deny the Kurds their right to claim asylum.

Here is Frank’s speech, to bring back the memories and put the current scandal in context. He noted, when forwarding it to me:

“You will appreciate that the main need for the excision of the islands is to ensure that asylum seekers do not have access to the courts in the same way that Pauline did. We would thus not have judges overruling the decisions of faceless public servants. As for the new minister’s pledge that the 14 Turks can now apply in Indonesia, in three years, we have taken only 39 asylum seekers from Indonesia. This has been a deliberate policy because we have agreed with Indonesia that it would be undesirable to set up a honey pot effect with asylum seekers reaching Indonesia with some hope of resettlement in Australia.”


Tampering with Asylum

by Frank Brennan

In 2001, I was directing the Jesuit Refugee Service in East Timor which was assisting with the return of tens of thousands of East Timorese from the squalid camps on the Indonesian side of the border.

On Monday morning 27 August 2001, I awoke in Dili to the sound of the BBC World Service News. A Norwegian, Captain Arne Rinnan was telling the unlikely tale that Australian authorities had asked him to pick up a boatload of persons in distress on the high seas and that the Australian authorities were now denying him permission to land his human cargo in Australia. They were even denying him permission to enter Australian territorial waters. At my regular round of meetings in Dili that day, United Nations workers from every country on earth were asking me what my country was up to. Australia had such a fine reputation for its humanitarian intervention in East Timor, driving the pace for UN peacekeeping and making up the shortfall in the interim with the leadership of INTERFET. Here now was the same government, the same nation refusing humanitarian aid to a boatload of asylum seekers.

Then came word around the streets of Dili that Australia was sounding out the interim administration of East Timor about taking the Tampa refugees for detention and processing in East Timor. I could not believe that my own government – which well knew the devastation and lack of infrastructure in East Timor just one year after the conflagration – would seek such a return favour from its newest most mendicant neighbouring nation state. The UN was still in control and the late Sergio de Mello had the courage and integrity to tell Australia where to get off.

How could we so jeopardise our international humanitarian reputation by exploiting the vulnerability and indebtedness of the recently liberated East Timorese? At the time, I thought – and I still think – that there are some problems that a country like Australia should solve at home inside its own borders. We should be neighbourly and we should carry our weight.

Soon after my return to Australia in January 2002, I made my first visit to the Woomera Immigration Reception and Processing Centre, six hours drive from Adelaide, on the outskirts of the small town owned and run by the Defence Department. Afghan asylum seekers had sewn their lips in protest at the government’s decision to suspend the processing of their asylum claims, despite their ongoing detention in the middle of the desert, in light of the changing political situation in Afghanistan.

From there I came here to Canberra. In my wanderings around the corridors of Parliament House, I met with Mr Bill Heffernan, a member of the Howard government, who explained the government strategy starkly and simply. Having been a local councillor and being a lifetime farmer, he described to me the moral dilemma that confronts you during a major bushfire. You have to build a firebreak. You have to choose someone’s property as the firebreak. Destroying their property, you will save the neighbourhood.

Bill said, “It’s not pretty. These are hard moral decisions. But you have to do it.”

The government’s boast two years later is that the firebreak has worked, at least for the moment. The boats have stopped coming. The borders are secure and Australia can choose those refugees to whom it wishes to offer places under its generous offshore refugee selection program.

For these last two years I have I visited centres such as Woomera, Port Hedland and Baxter every month. Every two months I have come to Parliament House Canberra and met with the political architects of this policy, thinking there must be a better way than rhetorical stand-offs in the media. The politicians remain as convinced of their decency in implementing the policy as I am in decrying it. Now I have published a book entitled ‘Tampering with Asylum’.

My concern about the detention of boat people was heightened when I was conducting a worship service in the Woomera detention centre on Good Friday in 2002. At the end of the service, a riot broke out and demonstrators together with detainees managed to breach the security fence.

I was allowed back into the centre on the Tuesday after Easter. There I met for the first time Nasrin Hosseini, who is in the audience here today. Nasrin arrived in Australia with her six year old son in April 2001. They spent more than three years in detention before being released on their temporary protection visa last month.

Spare a thought for another woman with two children who won her case in the Full Federal Court with Nasrin on 13 June 2003. Having already been in detention for 3.5 years, they may have to wait in detention and in suspense for another year while the government seeks to appeal their 3-nil win to the High Court.

On Easter Tuesday last year, Nasrin described to me the assault on her son by an ACM guard which had taken place on Good Friday night. Her son had been struck by a baton as well as being hit with tear gas. I observed bruises on her boy’s left knee and right ankle. The ACM Centre Manager told me that it was unfortunate that children had been hit by tear gas “because the wind happened to be blowing the wrong way”. I immediately wrote to Minister Ruddock explaining all that I had seen and heard, concluding:

“My three hours in the detention centre on the evening of Good Friday convinced me that it was time to put the message to you very plainly despite its public unpopularity and despite your government’s immunity to moral outrage: “Minister, this is no place for kids.” When children end up in the sterile zone against the razor wire with tear gas and batons around them in Australia, it is time for all parties including the Commonwealth government to stop blaming others and to effect policy changes so that it can never happen again.”

After a two week silence from government, I then spoke publicly about this assault. On the very day that the newspapers carried my remarks, DIMIA was able at 2.41pm to place on its website a denial of any injury to children, stating:

“If Father Brennan has information or evidence of mistreatment of detainees he should report it to the appropriate authorities for investigation.”

As far as I knew, Minister Ruddock was the appropriate authority. I realised that enthusiastic idealism of some public servants in handling the troublesome public was getting a little beyond the pale. The Children Overboard mindset had taken root in the Public Affairs section of DIMIA. This is very unfortunate, especially given the dedication of many of the DIMIA officers in the detention centres – those who actually meet the traumatised, incarcerated asylum seekers face to face.

Even if the detention of children is a vote winner and even if it is effective in deterring unauthorised arrivals (which I do not concede and which government does not claim), every political party and every citizen has an interest in ensuring that the human rights of these children are not further undermined by actions of the state or of its private contractors. Now that only two boats have made it close to Australia in the last 18 months, it is time to review the firebreak and to assess the permanent measures that are now in place.

The firebreak has consisted of five key elements:

� Payments to Indonesian authorities to engage in upstream disruption activities that would never be reported to the parliament of either country

� Instructions to our navy to engage in brinskmanship on the high seas requiring non-intervention until persons including children have ended up in the sea abandoning unseaworthy vessels

� Long term detention of asylum seekers in remote desert locations

� Detention and processing of asylum seekers in Pacific locations out of the reach of Australian courts, lawyers and those of us now affectionately known as the do gooder cappuccino set

� Three year temporary protection visas denying the right to travel and return to Australia (in breach of the Convention on Refugees), denying the right of family reunion and denying access to permanent protection and residence if the person transited a country such as Malaysia for seven days where they could be deemed to have had the opportunity to seek protection. This deeming exercise is very artificial when you consider that Malaysian minister Dr Rais Yatim explained last week why Malaysia would not sign the Refugee Convention:

“We have had a series of understandings with (other countries), that once their people come here and claim asylum, we automatically tell them to return. Our policy is very simple, those who have no valid documents will not be allowed to stay in our country.”

We Australians have always enjoyed the benefits and suffered from the disadvantage of acute geographic isolation. Since World War II we have been a strong net migration country. Though generous to refugees, we have always demanded the right to determine who comes to Australia. That clarion call was not invented by Pauline Hanson. Nor was John Howard the first Prime Minister to repeat it. Sir Tasman Heyes who headed our immigration department from 1946 to 1961 informed the diplomatic community back in 1948:

If it is intended to mean that any person or body of persons who may suffer persecution in a particular country shall have the right to enter another country irrespective of their suitability as settlers in the second country this would not be acceptable to Australia as it would be tantamount to the abandonment of the right which every sovereign state possesses to determine the composition of its own population, and who shall be admitted to its territories.

The wave of nine thousand boat people principally from Afghanistan and Iraq, lasting from 1999 until the interception of the Tampa, was the fourth wave of boat people arriving on our shores since the end of the Vietnam War.

The second wave, including boat arrivals from Cambodia, came during the prime ministership of Bob Hawke. In June 1990, Hawke told Jana Wendt:

We have an orderly migration program. We’re not going to allow people just to jump that queue by saying we’ll jump into a boat, here we are, bugger the people who’ve been around the world.

Who will ever forget his declaration:

Do not let any people, or any group of people in the world think that because Australia has that proud record, that all they’ve got to do is to break the rules, jump the queue, lob here and Bob’s your uncle. Bob is not your uncle on this issue, other than in accordance with the appropriate rules. We will continue to be one of the most humanitarian countries in the world. But it is not an open door policy.

It was a Labor government that first instituted a policy of universal mandatory detention for unauthorised arrivals. What was the rationale for this policy? At first, government had two reasons. First, detention was considered a deterrent to future unauthorised arrivals.

Government had to formally abandon that rationale once the High Court said that detention without judicial order would be unconstitutional if it was designed to be punitive or a deterrent. That is why Mr Ruddock took to explaining: “Detention is not arbitrary. It is humane and is not designed to be punitive.” Executive government spared parliamentary, judicial and media scrutiny can make words mean what they like.

Government’s second rationale back in 1990 had nothing to do with our immigration policy. Gareth Evans was justly proud of his peace plan for Cambodia. A central plank of the plan was the return of 300,000 Khmer from the Thai border. They were no longer classed as refugees. Their return was deemed to be safe thought the civil war smouldered until 1998. The peace plan could have come unstuck if Australia had made a prompt determination that the Cambodians arriving on our shores were refugees. These boat people had to be kept away from the lawyers. So the first immigration reception and processing centre was set up at Port Hedland.

By 1994, there was bipartisan support in our Parliament for universal mandatory detention. Our politicians admitted that there was some inconvenience and cost in putting people at remote Port Hedland but thought there were benefits in “placing detainees in a centre which is in reasonable proximity to where most of the boat arrivals first land, and where the remoteness of the location provides a disincentive to abscond from the centre”.

We had completely lost track of this rationale by the time a boatload of Vietnamese turned up at Port Hedland in July this year. They were transported to Christmas Island for processing even though there were plenty of spaces and trained personnel at Port Hedland. Now the talk is of sending signals, though without mentioning the constitutionally embargoed word “deterrent”.

Especially since September 11, no one quibbles with the entitlement of government to detain unauthorised arrivals who come without documents while their identity, health and security status are established. Equally, there can be no problem with the detention of persons justifiably awaiting removal from Australia, especially if they be a flight risk. However there is a problem with detaining people to coerce them into “voluntary return” when it is not safe for them to return.

What is the rationale for keeping people, including children, in protracted detention during the processing of their claims?

Let’s remember that 90% of those in the fourth wave of boat people and held in detention were proved to be refugees. Many of those refugees have stories like the young Hazara Sha Hussain Hassani, who is here with us today. Sha had been on the run in the mountains for months when his father came one night with food and a message. He was to leave with smugglers that very night. His father had sold enough goods to employ a smuggler so that Sha, the eldest son, might leave immediately, he being the one most at risk. Sha’s father hoped to be able to afford to have all his family leave Afghanistan eventually. “There was no place to go and no one to trust any more. It was too dangerous to wait. I had to go immediately.”

Sha has heard nothing from his family since that night. He does not know whether they are still in Afghanistan. He does not even know if they are still alive.

Government has suggested only two other rationales for detaining people like Sha when they arrive here: ease and efficiency of processing, and ensuring that people are available for removal once they are rejected as refugees. These rationales are also flawed.

With the fourth wave of boat people, it has now been shown that those in detention were six times more likely to succeed in their appeals to the Refugee Review Tribunal than those asylum seekers living lawfully in the community. So much for ease of processing. Most migration agents, lawyers, public servants and tribunal members could do their work better if they were able to meet asylum seekers face to face in their offices.

If government’s chief concern was an increase in the number of unlawful overstayers in the community, the savings from holding unlawful arrivals in protracted detention during the processing stage could be devoted to increased surveillance of all overstayers in the community. This would facilitate their orderly departure from Australia regardless of their racial, national or religious identity.

We have 60,000 overstayers a year. On average there have been 222 boat people a year removed from Australia over the last three years. Each year there are 10 – 14,000 other removals. The others are persons permitted to live in the community, including failed asylum seekers who came having made incomplete disclosures in their applications for business, student or tourist visas.

Would it really have mattered if those extra 222 boat people each year had been in the community rather than in detention at taxpayer expense?

There is no coherent rationale for keeping all unauthorised asylum seekers in detention during the second stage of their processing. Despite ten years of such detention, there is no proof that it operates as a deterrent. No Australian deterrent will ever match the horror of Saddam Hussein or the Taliban who caused these people to flee in the first place. It is not good enough for us Australians to say they can flee anywhere but here. If we insist on securing our borders and making them impregnable, why shouldn’t other countries be allowed to do the same?

We Australians have allowed ourselves to be easily spooked. Having just returned from the United Kingdom and the United States, I know that even the most rampant Republicans and Conservatives would find it laughable that the nation work itself into a lather over a boatload of 56 Vietnamese off Port Hedland or 14 Turks off Melville island.

The boats have stopped coming, in large measure because the Indonesians have come to the table with the Bali conference on people smuggling and they are no longer under threat that we will embarrass their generals with calls for war crimes arising from their activities in East Timor. Also the sinking of SIEV X with large scale loss of life sent a clear signal.

So is there any justification for resurrecting Operation Relex with the requirement that Australian navy personnel await direction from Canberra while boat people, including children, are forced to jump into the sea?

Why can’t Australia support Norway’s proposal to the International Maritime Organisation “ensuring ship masters that they will be permitted and able to deliver persons rescued to a place of safety in some suitable State in all cases and circumstances”?

We have now started excising Aboriginal communities from our migration zone (see Eddie Mabo proclaims great southern rainbow republic). If only our indigenous communities had been able to avail themselves of such legal artifices two centuries ago. Most of us could be deemed never to have arrived.

We Australians enjoy many advantages including our geographic isolation. We are an island nation continent. We have set up a virtual offshore border with our computerised visa system. Just last month, I was present at a US Congressional Committee hearing where our electronic travel authority was being espoused to the US legislators. We live in a neighbourhood which rarely produces refugees.

And we do not have a constitutional bill of rights, so our governments are much more free to interfere with the human rights of asylum seekers in the name of national interest and security, immune from judicial supervision.

Instead of going it alone, we Australians should put the firebreak behind us and co-operate with other countries seeking international solutions to these problems. It is shameful that we have exploited the desperation of Nauru, paying them to set up isolated detention facilities such that ordinary visitors from Australia have to be excluded.

In August this year, I was to visit Nauru as a guest of the local Catholic Church. My visa was duly issued. The day before travel, the Government of Nauru cancelled the visa with this advice:

“Noting that Fr Brennan’s request to enter Nauru is not for the purpose of conducting parish or pastoral work with the Catholic mission, I wish to inform you that his application is denied at this stage.”

Nauru is more closed to Australians such as myself than was East Timor a year after the Dili massacre in 1991.

For the moment, the boats have stopped coming. Make no mistake. At some time in the future, there will be a fifth wave of boat people regardless of our laws and policies. When a country like Iraq or Afghanistan implodes in future, people will justifiably flee to the four corners of the globe seeking security and protection for themselves and their families. Some people will even turn up in Australia.

The effect is the same as throwing a stone into a pond. Water and ripples emanate even to the remotest corners of the pond. A simple thought experiment highlights the immorality and inequity in world burden sharing resulting from our firebreak. Imagine that every country signed the Refugee Convention and then adopted the Australian policy. No refugee would be able to flee from their country of persecution without first joining the mythical queue to apply for a protection visa. If anyone dared to flee persecution, they would immediately be held in detention awaiting a determination of their claim. All refugees in the world would be condemned to remain subject to persecution or to proceed straight to open-ended, judicially unreviewable detention. The purpose of the Refugee Convention would be completely thwarted. After the 2002 Christmas fires in the gulag of Australian detention centres, one detainee who offered to assist police with their inquiries was given a guarantee by senior immigration officials in Canberra. He would not have to return to a detention centre. He was moved to a motel for nine days and provided information to the police. The guarantee from Canberra was then withdrawn. He had no legal remedy and no political leverage. I thought the treatment he received was unAustralian. But on reflection, I concluded in the wake of Tampa that the treatment was very Australian. Asylum seekers who have arrived in Australia without visas have been used by government as a means to an end. Their detention has been used to transmit a double signal warning other asylum seekers to take a detour to any other country but ours and luring those voters who appreciate a government prepared to take a tough stand against the one who is “other”. It is time for the nation once again to respect the dignity and basic rights of those who come to our shores seeking asylum. We should abandon our funding of unaccountable upstream disruption. We should spare our navy life-threatening actions in peace time. We should detain persons, including children, without court orders, only if there is a coherent rationale for such detention. We should abolish the Pacific solution and look after our own asylum seekers on shore. We should permit proven refugees to remain in Australia if they are still proved to be refugees after an initial period of up to three years temporary protection. We should not force people home to places like Afghanistan and Iraq unless satisfied that the cause of persecution has been removed and “that security and access to justice in areas of return is of an acceptable level”. We should stop tampering with asylum.

Ashrawi leaves behind a fresh air debate on the Israel Palestine question


Martin Davies image.

“Here’s the logic: “unattractive” behaviour by some Jews can legimitise antipathy to all Jewish people, unwarranted as that may be. What it’s really saying is that Jews are not free to engage in the full range of behaviour that is allowed from other groups (although Muslims would feel a kinship here) because if they act in a way other people find unacceptable, then it legitimises an illegitimate view of all Jews.” Michael Visontay

G’Day. All sides agree that resolution of the Israel/Palestine dispute is central to ending the ‘war on terror’ and to reconciliation between Muslims and Judeo-Christians. The Ashrawi debate drew Australia briefly into world debate on the matter.


On the eve of Bush’s thank you visit to Blair in Britain, Sidney Blumenthal, a senior adviser to President Clinton, wrote an explosive piece in The Guardian alleging that, under pressure from Sharon’s backers in the United States, Bush broke an agreement with Blair to sponsor the middle east roadmap for peace (Bush and Blair – the betrayal. America’s first loyalty was to Ariel Sharon, not the prime minister). He wrote:

Flynt Leverett, a former CIA analyst, revealed to me that the text of the road map was ready to be made public before the end of 2002:

“We had made commitments to key European and Arab allies. The White House lost its nerve. It took Blair to get Bush to put it out.”

This man knows what he’s talking about. In addition to his CIA role, Leverett is a former senior director for Middle East affairs at the national security council, an author of the road map, and a fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.

“We needed to work this issue hard,” he says, “but because we didn’t want to make life difficult with Sharon, we undercut our credibility.”

… The key to the road map’s success was US support for the Palestinian prime minister, Abu Mazen, indispensable as a partner for peace, but regarded as a threat by both Sharon and Arafat. At the June summit on the road map, Bush told Abu Mazen:

“God told me to strike at al-Qaida and I struck them; then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did; and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East. If you help me I will act.”

Abu Mazen was scheduled to come to Washington to meet Bush a month later. For his political survival, he desperately required US pressure on the Sharon government to make concessions on building settlements on the West Bank. Abu Mazen sent a secret emissary to the White House: Khalil Shikaki. I met Shikaki in Ramallah, where he gave his account of this urgent trip. He met Elliot Abrams and laid out what support was needed from Bush if Abu Mazen – and therefore the road map – were to survive.

Abrams told him, he says, that Bush “could not agree to anything” due to domestic political considerations: Bush’s reliance on the religious right, his refusal to offend the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the demands of the upcoming election. Shikaki pleaded that Abu Mazen presented “a window of opportunity” and could not go on without US help. “He has to show he’s capable of doing it himself,” Abrams answered dismissively.

Inside the NSC, those in favour of the road map – CIA analysts Flynt Leverett and Ben Miller among others – were forced out. On September 6, Abu Mazen resigned, and the road map collapsed.



In my view, the Ashrawi controversy has liberated Jewish Australians who do not support Sharon and his policies – and believe that his approach is inimical to peace – to express their views to the wider public.


There is NOT a united pro-Sharon position among Jewish Australians, but those who do back him and what he stands for seem to have the power, money and clout to dominate public debate and wield enormous political and financial power behind the scenes.

The Ashrawi debacle has exposed this secret power and liberated Jewish Australians who disagree with the big boys to assert their right to have a say outside the Jewish community.

Hungarian Jew George Soros, a billionaire US investor, recently blamed the policies of Sharon and Bush for the rise of anti-semitism in Europe.

“There is a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe. The policies of the Bush administration and the Sharon administration contribute to that,” Soros said. “It�s not specifically anti-Semitism, but it does manifest itself in anti- Semitism as well. I�m critical of those policies.”

“If we change that direction, then anti-Semitism also will diminish,” he said. “I can�t see how one could confront it directly.”

Soon after, he declared that he would donate millions to the progressive website Moveon which is backing Democrat liberal Howard Dean for US president:

Mr Soros says a “supremacist ideology” guides the White House. He hears echoes in its rhetoric of his childhood in occupied Hungary: “When I hear Bush say, ‘You’re either with us or against us,’ it reminds me of the Germans.”

It conjured up memories of the Nazi slogan, “Der Feind hoert mit” (The enemy is listening): “My experiences under Nazi and Soviet rule have sensitised me,” he said.

Soros’s Open Society website has just published a piece about corruption:

Corruption has no easy definition�behavior tolerated as normal, or at least necessary, in one place may be seen as deviant and punishable by fines and jail time in another. Yet all forms of corruption, even the seemingly trivial, erode the bonds of society. Corruption must be recognized for what it is: a looming global crisis.

The Summer-Fall 2003 issue of Open Society News reveals the variety of forms corruption can take and how its impact can be felt from Angola to Kazakhstan to Washington, D.C. It describes the pressure and intimidation that potential whistleblowers face from friends, colleagues, and authorities who extract benefits from corruption as it seeps through society. It focuses on the undisclosed deals between multinational corporations and governments.

Meanwhile back in Australia, The Sydney Morning Herald spectrum editor, Michael Visontay, in a deeply felt and honest piece, argued in the SMH today that several commentators, including myself, were legitimising anti-semetism:

Here’s the logic: “unattractive” behaviour by some Jews can legimitise antipathy to all Jewish people, unwarranted as that may be. What it’s really saying is that Jews are not free to engage in the full range of behaviour that is allowed from other groups (although Muslims would feel a kinship here) because if they act in a way other people find unacceptable, then it legitimises an illegitimate view of all Jews.

As I’m at home NOT writing my book I responded by email:

Hi Michael

Very thought provoking piece this morning. A question that arose from it for me was: What’s the ethics of exercising your right to free speech when it involves threats of seriously adverse consequences to others if they exercise the right to theirs? The Voltaire question.

I strongly disagree with your assertion that anything I wrote implied a legitimation of anti-semitism. The opposite is true. I fear what might happen if what seems to me to be political correctness gone mad doesn’t loosen up. We know what happened in 1996 and beyond re Aborigines and refugees. This fear is shared by several Jewish Australians of my acquaintance, who believe extreme elements of the community have hijacked the entire voice of Jewish people in Australia, to the extent of trying to silence Jewish voices to do not agree with their position.



Ashrawi and Brandis: the great debate has provoked lots of emails, and Antony Loewenstein has agreed to guest edit a discussion Webdiary entry on the issues raised. Many readers, Jewish and non-Jewish, are relishing the opportunity to discuss this extremely sensitive and fraught issue in an open, safe way.

Have a good weekend.

Eddie Mabo proclaims great southern rainbow republic


Martin Davies image.

“John needs to be a bit careful which bits of Australian waterfront property he shitcans, otherwise he might have to shift back to the bloody Lodge himself! And we all know what Janet would have to say about that.” Jack Robertson

Jack Robertson is Webdiary’s media critic. His archive is at Jack.


MELVILLE ISLAND, ANTIPODEAN STANDARD DREAMTIME: The eternal spirit of Eddie Mabo officially proclaimed the the Great Southern Rainbow Republic of Antipodea late today, in a small ceremony on the island formerly known by British Colonial Office bureaucrats as �Melville�.

The ceremony was attended by over a dozen spirit generations of �Australians� of all nationalities, races and creeds, along with countless numbers of the island�s original inhabitants, stretching back beyond all recorded White Man�s time.

The unexpected but proud declaration by Mabo of the world�s newest sovereign territory, one which has yet to be recognised formally by the United Nations, came after the Australian representative of the British Caretaker Government, Mr Howard, finally surrendered his long struggle to claim ownership of the various islands to the �Australian� mainland�s north on behalf of his Monarch, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second.

Mr Howard, who has spent much of his long political career championing �traditional� British concepts such as the �rule of law� (including the illegitimacy of retrospective legislative change, such as that inherent in an earlier Mabo proclamation), is understood to have finally conceded the pointlessness of fighting to retain British sovereignty over the islands.

According to a senior government Minister who could hardly stop laughing at the absurdity of recent events, Mr Howard last weekend decided to rid himself of the problem of �all those pissant little specs of dirt up there� altogether, including Mr Mabo�s own ancestral home of Mer Murray) Island, by simply �chopping the bastards off the Aussie map� and declaring them �terra nullius� again.

This in turn allowed Mr Mabo�s spirit to take possession of the islands and re-assert a newly-independent sovereignty.

It is understood that a Rainbow Republic legal delegation is already in New York seeking formal recognition of the new country, and membership of the United Nations. Enthusiastic sponsorship and support for the ratification of the Great Southern Rainbow Republic of Antipodea is understood to be forthcoming from those 188 countries who did not participate in the recent trilateral invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Said one senior diplomat, the UN Ambassador for a permanent member of the UNSC: �Mon dieu, we are tres keen to give zese new blokes a go. Obviously Australia herself, she have � how you say – �blown off� zee UN completement, so oui! We are happy to have someone down zere who is serious about zee international co-operation, zee human rights and zee consistency in matters of international law. Tres bon, tres bon! Also, we promise never to bomb zee new southern island nation with zee nuke, non? Viva la Republique!�

Senior members of the British Government and the Crown are understood to be �concerned and alarmed� at what some in Whitehall are describing as an �abject surrendering of hard-won British Crown Land to certain European Powers and International Bodies which have long had their eye on such Pacific prizes.�

But Mr Howard was insisting that his recent abject flip-flop on the issue of White Man�s Land Rights had not made him, and Australia, look like complete idiots in the eyes of the international legal community. Asked to comment on the proclamation of Australia�s newest sovereign neighbour, Mr Howard said from his cubicle in the British Colonial Office in London today: “It’s quite irrelevant. It doesn’t really matter.�

When told that the Southern Rainbow Republic had flagged its intention, if granted status at the UN, to abide rigorously and conscientiously by all International Covenants and Conventions on the Environment, Arms Control and the Proliferation of WMD, Security Council Resolutions, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the 1951 Convention on Refugees, Mr Howard said:

�That is why the act of excision was so important and that is why the Labor Party’s opposition to excising those islands means that the Labor Party is against our policy of deterring illegal arrivals.�

Other members of the government, however, are understood to be less confident. Contacted for comment in the Treasurer�s office, one very senior Minister who certainly did not want to be named, smirked: “John needs to be a bit careful which bits of Australian waterfront property he shitcans, otherwise he might have to shift back to the bloody Lodge himself! And we all know what Janet would have to say about that.�

Newly-elected President of the ALP, Carmen Lawrence, cautiously welcomed Mr Mabo�s proclamation, congratulating the Great Southern Rainbow Republic of Antipodea and wishing it well at the UN:

�If the world�s newest nation does indeed succeed in being recognised in New York, the Labor Party will certainly look forward to forging a strong, friendly and productive relationship with her.�

�In fact, I�ll be arguing passionately and idealistically that, once we take government, rather than using the GST budget-surplus for a tax cut, we should use it to build a mighty bridge to the Southern Rainbow Republic, clean across all the various cultural divides that have widened between John Howard�s older ideas of Australia, and her newer ones. And then the new government and the new opposition could take a bipartisan �spirit-walk� across the bastard. Maybe try to join the very best of both worlds together, as one young, green, forward-looking, third millennium nation again. I think a leader like Peter Costello might just come at that. And I think that maybe �it�s time� again, too. Australian Dreamtime, so to speak.�

Real Sydney people meet Hanan Ashrawi

Dr Hanan Ashrawi addressed a public forum at the Petersham Town Hall on Saturday November 8, 2003. Her message was of peace, reconciliation and a reassurance that ‘the Palestinian people do have friends and allies and there are people’in solidarity with them’. The overflowing crowd greeted Dr Ashrawi with a standing ovation, as she hit back at her critics: ‘Unlike many others, I don’t have any skeletons in my closet, despite what they say.’
In a wide-ranging opening speech, Dr Ashrawi outlined her vision for a future peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians with ‘people who recognise not just Palestinians suffering but also their dignity’. She discussed the role, historically, of all colonial powers, and the inevitable result of the Israeli occupation ‘ freedom for the Palestinian people. She talked of the continued victimisation of her people, the ‘deliberate cruelty’ of the current Sharon Government and her desire that the world ‘doesn’t wake up one day and act for the Palestinians out of guilt, because guilt is a negative emotion’. She then issued a challenge to the audience: ‘when governments fail, it is the job of individuals to take it upon themselves to provide protection, genuine recognition and real human solidarity.’

In numerous swipes at the Zionist lobby, Dr Ashrawi talked of legitimate ‘rights of resistance’ to occupation, and while not condemning Hamas – desired by many of her critics in Australia – she focused on the ‘perpetual injustice [of Palestinians], and where every type of freedom has been systemically negated and where you aren’t even safe in your home’. She argued that for many on the other side of the debate, ‘The only good Palestinian is a Palestinian who accepts victimisation and who accepts intimidation and blackmail”.

“The only good Palestinian is a broken Palestinian. They don’t believe that there are people who genuinely want peace.’

Speaking with a freer tongue than previous events in Sydney, due in part to the informal nature of the meeting, Dr Ashrawi gave a powerful reminder of the effect of 1948 on Palestinians:

‘It is now more than 55 years ago that the Palestinian people were slated for national obliteration and were denied their very existence and identity. We were cast outside the course of history. We had to spend decades proving to people that ours was not a land without a people to give to a people without a land. For all those who thought that the Palestinians would conveniently disappear from the stage of history, we did not, we persisted, and we remained on our land. For people who have been so horribly and systematically victimised, refused to lose their humanity, and refused to succumb to all those negative emotions, of revenge and hate, it was actually the Palestinians in the earlier Intifada who said we will transcend the hatred and the pain, and reach out even to our oppressor.’

She warmly embraced those Jews and Israelis who live with the daily reality of Occupation and those ‘brothers and sisters’ who fight on the side of justice and truth. ‘It is very difficult for those in the occupied country who disagree’, she said. She encouraged those supporters of Palestine to continue the struggle for ‘the integrity of the Palestinian cause and the Palestinian narrative”.

Before Dr Ashrawi entered the Town Hall, numerous groups gathered outside to welcome the Sydney Peace Prize winner. ‘Jews Against the Occupation’ read one sign, while another stated, ‘Sydney Welcomes Dr Hanan Ashrawi’. The positive welcome was in sharp contrast to the negative campaign run in past weeks by sections of the Zionist lobby in Australia. They were nowhere to be seen on Saturday.

A mixed crowd filled the hall – Jews, Palestinians, recent migrants, and Anthony Albanese MP, Labor Federal Member of Grayndler There was a woman who had arrived from Lebanon in the mid 1970s, wearing a white headscarf covering all her face. ‘Thank God Australia took me in then. I love this country’, she said while asking a question to Dr Ashrawi. Questions from the public ranged from the specific to the general. Dr Ashrawi was questioned about her belief in the Europeans ‘getting a backbone’ and becoming more involved in the peace movement in the Middle East. She responded by suggesting the Americans were always centre-stage in negotiations and the Europeans were only called if the US needed help, little more. She was asked about life under Occupation and responded that the daily struggle of Israeli military control hadn’t lessened her resolve to find peace with Israel. In relation to the Occupation, she was recently quoted as saying:

”despite all these things [the Occupation], despite my living under captivity and seeing the worst horrors of violence, being on the receiving end of the last remaining colonial situation in the world [Dr Ashrawi pointed out that the US Occupation of Iraq can now be added to this grim reality], I have never succumbed to hate. I have never allowed hate to take over, and I have never accepted any kind of revenge as a motivation.’

Dr Ashrawi finished the one and a half hour event with a powerful enunciation of optimism. Despite suggesting that the Sharon Government is ‘probably the most conservative and repressive the country has ever had in its history’, she knew the struggle must continue. Her message was that ‘Palestinians deserve freedom, democracy, our own state on our own land, integrity of our identity, as equals to everyone else’.