Post Saddam sadism, posed for pictures

G�day. Tonight, your reaction to the sadism photos, including a piece by Webdiary columnistNoel HadjimichaelDell Horey recommends Poll: Iraqis out of patience, and notes that �it came out BEFORE the awful news about the treatment of Iraqi prisoners became known. I hate to think what is going to happen when those photos are shown in the Middle East�:


Only a third of the Iraqi people now believe that the American-led occupation of their country is doing more good than harm, and a solid majority support an immediate military pullout even though they fear that could put them in greater danger, according to a new USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll.

We�re torturing people here, too. See the court judgement about Iranian asylum seeker Mastipour.

A reminder that the North Shore Peace and Democracy Group�s forum Secrets and lies destroy democracy: the impact of decisions behind closed doors on democracy in Australia is on Monday at the Willoughby Town Hall. Speakers are Kevin Rudd MHR (Labor), Senator Marise Payne (Liberal), Senator Kerry Nettle (Greens) and Senator Aden Ridgeway (Democrats). The questions to be asked are:

1. We were told the invasion of Iraq was necessary because of Saddam�s weapons of mass destruction. �If Iraq had genuinely disarmed, I couldn�t justify on its own a military invasion of Iraq to change the regime� � John Howard, 14 March 2003. How can we trust future justifications for war in the light of what we now know?

2. There has been little informed democratic debate in Australia about the causes of terrorism � in particular Israel�s occupation of Palestine. The War on Terror cannot succeed by dealing with the symptoms alone. How can Australia work to address the causes?

3. Does a request for support from the US automatically and always pre-empt Australian policy and budgets at the expense of education, health and welfare, and if not, how should we decide which requests to refuse?

4. The present rigid control of Australian political parties over members effectively hijacks much of the decision-making process from open debate in the parliamentary chambers to behind the closed doors of party rooms, and is more coercive than in the US and UK. Why should this be permitted?

5. Australians are very cynical about the political process, and the extent to which secrecy and falsehood are used to justify policy decisions. How can our faith in the system be restored?


Lesley Snow

I am utterly repelled by the photographs and reports of treatment of Iraqi prisoners by US troops. Iraqi people are generally modest and shy people so it is hard to imagine how humiliated they must be by being photographed as part of a pile of naked bodies and jeered at by their captors. What else is the US army doing to its prisoners?


Time to win the public relations war before it’s too late

by Noel Hadjimichael

Photos of US service personnel allegedly humiliating, mistreating or abusing prisoners in their care will severely damage the moral and political claims of the coalition of the willing.

Regardless of the technical arguments about conventions over prisoner welfare, the role of US personnel in prison management or the need to retain large numbers of prisoners in sub-standard facilities, the war of images between good and evil has swung against the Americans for the first time.

Passionate believers in the benefit of ridding Iraq of the despotic Saddam regime, such as myself, are appalled by the image of gun-happy US military tourists treating ‘lesser breeds’ like this.

This must be disowned by the US military and its leadership. This sorry event must also be disowned by the political players so keen to ensure that we get the job done.

Those killed in the fighting, thankfully no Australian, will be forgotten if the occupation of Iraq is allowed to take on soap opera overtones. The sacrifices of coalition forces will be for nothing if the wider world and in particular the Islamic world believe that Americans are culturally insensitive and overtly arrogant in this endeavour.

Conservatives and social democrats who support the war demand the highest standards of professional soldiering. The pictures released to the media of smiling and arrogant occupiers will do more damage than any flash oil deal or convenient political outcome.

Voters from the mainstream don�t expect unsullied heroes in our military forces. But they do expect self-restraint and good common sense judgment. Professionalism is not a luxury but a benchmark standard.

If we can restructure Germany after the World War with financial aid and de-nazification, surely we can give Iraq a fresh start. Swift and substantial action by the relevant authorities on these outrageous allegations of prisoner mistreatment will do much to restore the moral and political case for intervention, invasion and reconstruction.

Iraq is not the next Vietnam but akin to 1946 Germany/Austria. We have occupation and resistance. We have ideological enemies and friends. Fortunately we have no carve up of the Iraqi nation into warring localities backed by different political occupiers.


Mike Lyvers

I’m concerned over the deterioration of Webdiary lately. It seems to me that the days of intelligent debate and commentary on your site are over. Why? I’m not referring to spelling errors but rather to the quality and diversity of analysis. Your site seems to have become that of a leftie, Latham cheerleading squad (which is surprising given that two-stroke is no more a leftie than little Johnny).

You wrote:

“I’m still trying to breathe after seeing on Lateline the photos of American soldiers smiling as they pose with tortured Iraqi prisoners, if torture is the word for the horror.”

Surely you must have considered the possibility that, if psychopaths constitute between 1 and 5% of the male population worldwide, then there must logically be a similar percentage of psychopaths in the volunteer US military. They will be subject to court martial and severe punishment for their crimes, if that makes you feel any better.

“The images are out of a Caligula movie.” A Caligula movie? I thought there was only one!

“The world has gone to hell. George Bush’s war on Iraq will haunt all our lives. I recant my objections to Latham’s policy. Out now! There must be a better way, there must be.”

Out now, and leave the long-suffering Iraqi people to their fate: either total anarchy or oppression by a brutal Islamofascist regime. Is that really what you want?

“We must find leaders fast, real fast.” What sort of person do you think wants to be a “leader” anyway? Think about it. I’d bet the proportion of psychopaths is far higher in that category than in the general population.

Just a reality-check, Margo


Matthew Cleary

Why recant your objections to the early removal of Australian troops in Iraq? You are saying that your attitude to Australia’s ongoing commitment in Iraq has changed because of the disgraceful actions of individuals. It is not the policy of any government in the coalition to mistreat Iraqi prisoners, and now caught those responsible are to be tried. (Margo: Oh really? See Accused in POW scandal, soldier tells of questions. Is reckless indifference a policy?)

The actions have quite rightly been condemned by the Prime Minister and I have not heard one word in support of the mistreatment. That you now think the troops should leave is akin to thinking jails should be abolished because there are instances of prisoner abuse by guards.

I read Webdiary often and rarely agree with you or many of your correspondents. That is OK with me; however I get really irritated by the articles full of emotion and a lack of pragmatism.


Harry Heidelberg in Switzerland

I totally agree with you that the world has gone to hell. It is yet another reminder of the evil that comes out of every war – on both sides. Oh and I am not self-conscious/embarrassed about using the word evil. Treating prisoners like that is evil. There is no point in using a more fashionable or lighter word.

Not everything in the world is bad though What is happening in Europe today and tomorrow is a miracle. Communism and fascism left deep scars on this continent. War has never been far. Even this is forgotten. Tomorrow 10 new countries join the union. A union united in diversity. 75 million join the union to make a total of 450 million. A union of countries committed to peace and democracy.

It is easy to be a cynic. Skepticism is cheap and comes for free. Hope requires commitment and hard work. Are wars in Europe long ago? No.

This time last week I was in Paris with two of our Swiss based employees. One was a French speaking Swiss and the other a Swiss citizen who grew up in Serbia. At 18 he was stabbed 8 times as part of the war. It was possible he could have died. He spent 6 months in hospital and thought a lot about the rest of his life. His parents wanted to get him out because they feared he would end up dead.

There were two possibilities, the Czech Republic or Switzerland. He arrived in Geneva speaking only Serbian. He learnt French and English and won a prize in accounting at the university in Geneva. His fourth child was born on Tuesday this week.He is married to an Italian. I gave him a job here last year. He is young, successful and a victim of war in Europe. He’s in his 20s.

EU expansion is a very hopeful thing.


Peter Funnell in Canberra

The treatment of Iraqi prisoners, no matter what they might have done or were suspected of doing, is beyond appalling. This was sadistic sport. It implicated every nation that is involved in this awful war. We are shamed beyond words.

It would have been better if they had fallen on the field of battle. But once captured, they were in our care. Every well trained soldier understands this. It is the very bottom of human conduct to assault and abuse people in custody.

That it has happened in Iraq at all is just amazing. Wouldn’t you think they would have the good sense to see that anyone they captured in battle was likely to be released back into the community, just as all the former Iraqi soldiers who fought in some capacity during the original invasion?

Honestly, the US Government and military couldn’t be trusted to run a chook raffle. They’d endanger the chooks!

The US General in charge in Iraq asks that we do not judge the whole of the US Army by these rotten incidents. Wrong general! That is exactly what we should do!

There have been several video sequences of the US troops in action on TV which I have found very disturbing. The manner in which they have treated Iraqi citizens is disgraceful and ensures they make enemies at every turn in a country that understands retribution as a form of conflict resolution.

It indicates poor training and at times, a lack of effective rules of engagement. Shoot first; ask questions later are what the US military does best. This is beyond them.

It is reminiscent of all the dreadful images that came out of Vietnam at its worst. Has the General forgotten the prisoners incarcerated at the US base in Cuba? It is hard to know what to call them, as the US Supreme Court is finding out. But there they are languishing in appalling circumstances and are treated to any handling that their jailers feel appropriate completely out of view of the international community. The standard of treatment is now well established as illegal and inhumane.

General, your army and your government is in complete accord with the fools that abused Iraqi prisoners and posed for the happy snaps. Your bloody army is well and truly out of control in a situation that is getting well and truly out of control and beyond your ability to contain. Discipline is shot to pieces. In these circumstances, the excesses will only increase, as will the grotesque nature of the retaliations.

The situation is a direct reflection of two things – the attitude and values of the US Government and its troops, and the miserable level of training and discipline of significant number US troops on operations, the majority of whom is now National Guard. You think these troops don’t reflect your leadership and that of your subordinate commanders, and most particularly, your society?

General, you are going the right way to lose this conflict. Everything, including the professionalism of your troops is against you. Australians have bitter experience of our soldiers, sailors and airmen being taken prisoner in war. Many were treated as appallingly as some seem to be in Iraq or Guantanamo Bay. I have not met one Australian ex-prisoner of war who would endorse this corrupt human behaviour and I have met a few of them, among them including my father (Japanese POW /Changi/Burma railway).

We had no business going to war and we must now get out as soon as possible. The suggestion that because we broke it we own it is rubbish. The Iraqis don’t see it that way. They want us out and unless we go they will fight on.

Andrew Bolt: I did ‘go through’ leaked top secret report by Wilkie

I’m still trying to breathe after seeing on Lateline the photos of American soldiers smiling as they pose with tortured Iraqi prisoners, if torture is the word for the horror. The images are out of a Caligula movie. The world has gone to hell. George Bush’s war on Iraq will haunt all our lives. I recant my objections to Latham’s policy. Out now! There must be a better way, there must be. We must find leaders fast, real fast.


All we can do is what we can do. This week, Webdiary columnist Jack Robertson interviewed Andrew Wilkie, an Australian hero who did and is doing what he can do, and decided to do what he could to find out what was happening to the Australian Federal Police investigation into the leaking of Wilkie’s top secret ONA report to Howard cheerleader Andrew Bolt, columnist with the Herald Sun and invitee to Rupert Murdoch’s recent gathering of his worldwide army of propagandists in Cancun. Jack is doing what he can do. Here is his preliminary report. More to come.

To begin, here’s my summary of the story as of last September, from Howard on the ropes: Labor’s three chances for a knockout blow:

The leak of intelligence whistleblower Andrew Wilkie’s top secret ONA report on Iraq to Government-friendly journalist Andrew Bolt in June began to haunt Howard last week after his government brazenly briefed government backbencher Sandy Macdonald on its contents to hit Wilkie over the head with in the parliamentary inquiry into Howard’s pre-war intelligence.

The leak of Wilkie’s report is a serious breach of security and a criminal offence which went unnoticed back in June. The Macdonald drama lifted the lid on the scandal, revealing that ONA had referred the leak to the Australian Federal Police for investigation on July 4. NINE WEEKS later, the AFP had not interviewed Bolt! The AFP now joins the Australian Electoral Commission as an ‘independent’ body under strong suspicion of having been so politicised under John Howard that it no longer performs its duty without fear or favour.

I rang the AFP last week to ask when the investigation began and why Bolt had not been interviewed. The reply: “Following a thorough evaluation, the AFP moved into investigation phase YESTERDAY.” The AFP said it was also investigating the use of top secret material by Macdonald. In other words, a government MP is under criminal investigation and the leaker could well be a government staffer or minister guilty of a serious crime and a serious breach of security in a security-conscious Australia.

I was the subject of an AFP investigation many years ago when I was leaked a Simon Crean Cabinet submission. These types of leaks – unlike leaks of classified security documents like Wilkie’s – are usually ignored, because often it’s politicians doing the leaking. I was interviewed at the Canberra headquarters of the AFP within days of Crean’s referral, and said “no comment” to all questions asked because my source was confidential. But the police had good reason to interview me. I could have got the document anonymously in the mail or found it in a rubbish bin, and in either case could and would have been frank with the AFP. So why wasn’t Andrew Bolt interviewed? Two reasons spring to mind – either the police already knew who leaked it and didn’t want to pursue the matter, or had decided not to investigate at all.

This is an intolerable situation and, as other writers have pointed out, makes a despicable comparison with Australian defence force officer Merv Jenkins, who took his own life in Washington after vicious government retaliation for his failure to obey a directive not to give US intelligence contacts information on East Timor prior to the independence vote despite government-to-government agreements to do so (see Mike Carlton’s A leak by the bucketful and Michelle Grattan’s It’s no secret: let he who is without spin…).

But the significance of the Government’s Bolt play is much greater than further proof of its entrenched double standards and dangerous politicisation of Australia’s core democratic institutions. If it’s OK to leak intelligence to discredit the whistleblower, why isn’t it OK to release intelligence to refute Wilkie’s accusations that Howard lied about his reasons for invading Iraq? Why not declassify the intelligence which would prove Howard’s constant claims in arguing the case for war that invading Iraq would REDUCE the risk of terrorism, REDUCE the risk of WMDs finding their way into the hands of terrorists, and make the world a SAFER place for Australians? Why won’t Howard disprove Wilkie’s assertions by proving his own case?

He sure needs to now. Sensational documents just released by the British parliamentary inquiry into Blair’s stated reasons for war reveal what the British Joint Intelligence Committee told Blair (and the Australian intelligence services) six weeks before the war:

“The JIC assessed that al-Qaeda and associated groups continued to represent by far the greatest terrorist threat to western interests, and that threat would be heightened by military action against Iraq,” the British parliamentary report says.

“The JIC report, ‘International Terrorism: War with Iraq’, also said there was no evidence Saddam Hussein wanted to use any chemical or biological weapons in terrorist attacks or that he planned to pass them on to al-Qaeda. “However, it judged that in the event of imminent regime collapse there would be a risk of transfer of such material, whether or not as a deliberate regime policy.” (Australia was told: war will fuel terror).

Wilkie made these very points upon his resignation from ONA before the war. Why did Howard invade? Didn’t he care about increasing the threat of terrorism? Did he judge that our security reliance on the United States was so large that he had to agree to a request from a mad president? So large that he ignored the best available intelligence and passionate warnings from Indonesia and and other neighbours that invading Iraq without UN sanction would greatly destablise the region, thus increasing the risk to the safety of Australians?


Special report on the Andrew Wilkie leak

by Jack Robertson, Meeja Watch columnist for Webdiary

Andrew Bolt, the Herald-Sun journalist at the centre of an on-going Australian Federal Police investigation into the alleged leaking last year of a Top Secret ONA report, said yesterday he did �go through� the report while writing a June 2003 article discrediting the analytical credibility of its author, the former ONA analyst Andrew Wilkie.

The confirmation comes amid fresh claims by Wilkie about the internal distribution and handling of the report which re-kindle suspicions that elements of the government were involved in the leak.

The controversy first erupted after 23 June last year, when Bolt�s article ridiculed Wilkie�s credibility as a critic of the government�s Iraq policies, apparently based upon his access to top secret pre-invasion assessments Wilkie had prepared in late 2002. The article, titled �Spook Misspoke�, said:

�When I go through the only secret report that Wilkie ever wrote about Iraq as an Office of National Assessment analyst, I wonder just who fell for a �fairytale�.

Asked whether this description of his access to the report was correct, he said, “Of course it is. Otherwise why would I have written it?”

�Everything I wrote about that [Wilkie] report … is accurate, and raises serious doubts about the credibility of Andrew Wilkie that need to be investigated by those who would like to elevate him to Sainthood.�

Asked whether he had gained this access at a time �closer to December 2002, or closer to 23 June 2003�, Bolt would only say that “I can tell you that my [article] is accurate, and I�d like [Wilkie supporters] to deal with the revelations it [contains] that go to the credibility of Andrew Wilkie.”

“Andrew Wilkie was making wild claims that traded on what he has promoted as his superior knowledge of Iraq. [His supporters] need to question whether [they] should put so much faith in this man.”

Bolt declined to comment about his source for the report. Asked if he was prepared to exclude the Prime Minister�s and the Foreign Minister�s offices as his source, he responded:

“Don�t insult my intelligence and yours. If you claim to be a journalist, these questions are just so preposterous…they�re an insult. You would not put them to anyone else that had revealed documents that supported a thesis with which you whole-heartedly agreed. The only reason you�re asking me is that you want to elevate Andrew Wilkie against the evidence.”

Bolt did not respond to a separate written enquiry on whether or not he had been interviewed to date by Australian Federal Police over the matter.

Since resigning from ONA in March 2003 in protest over what he said was an untenable disparity between the pre-invasion �exaggerations� of Saddam Hussein�s WMD threat and links to al-Qaeda presented publicly by the Howard government and the more measured assessments of the professional intelligence community he was seeing at the time, Wilkie has come under sustained personal and professional attack from Mr Howard�s government and his media supporters. Last year the Prime Minister apologised to Wilkie after acknowledging that a member of his staff had leaked untrue allegations to the media about the state of Wilkie�s marriage and mental stability.

Wilkie said that Bolt�s article lampooning his humanitarian risk assessments was part of a concerted campaign to neutralise his broader criticisms of the decision to invade Iraq, in particular his consistent querying since he resigned of the WMD and terrorism-link arguments John Howard used to sell the war.

However it has always been the deeper security implications of Bolt�s references to his classified report, rather than Bolt�s �mischievous� spin on it, that primarily concern Wilkie. After reading the article last year, he wrote to the Prime Minister urging an investigation into a serious breach of national security. It is an offence under the Crimes Act for an unauthorised person to receive access to classified material.

In fact when Wilkie wrote to Prime Minister Howard, the ONA had already initiated an AFP investigation into the alleged leak � an investigation that continues nearly ten months later. A second leak investigation � arising from an alleged leak that came to light well after the Bolt article appeared, and involving the same report and the National Party Senator Sandy McDonald – has already concluded with no charges being laid.

It is not known what is causing the Bolt leak investigation to progress so slowly.

Wilkie said on Tuesday that he had now been interviewed by AFP as part of the on-going investigation:

“I was finally interviewed [by the AFP] late last year. As far as I�m aware, there�s been no outcome of that. I don�t know if it�s been completed … I got the impression from the police when they interviewed me that I was pretty well towards the end of their list. I got the impression they�d �made their enquiries�. I also got the impression that they had a strong sense of what had happened, but were not optimistic they�d ever be able to prove it.”

In response to questioning in Parliament last year, Prime Minister Howard and senior Ministers stressed that the initial distribution of Wilkie�s report, in December 2002, involved �in the order of 300 copies�. The Opposition countered by pointing out that the nature of the distribution and handling of classified material is such that it is unlikely that any of the original issue copies would have remained in circulation � that is, in a position to be leaked to Bolt � as late as June.

On 10 September last year then Opposition leader Simon Crean asked the Prime Minister:

“Can the Prime Minister inform the House who in his office had access to this top-secret report? Did the Prime Minister or any member of his office who had access to this top-secret report fail to return it before 23 June 2003, or request a copy of it in the weeks prior to the publication of its contents in the Herald Sun newspaper? Will the Prime Minister ensure that this information is made available to the Australian Federal Police?”

Mr Howard replied:

“I would have to talk to my staff about that. I am not going to give an answer on the run without talking to them.”

A week later, on 17 September, Lateline�s Tony Jones asked Opposition Foreign Affairs spokesperson Kevin Rudd, a former diplomat:

TONY JONES: The PM, of course, says there were 300 copies of this document in circulation. How are you hoping to pin it on one particular person, or one particular office, when of those 300 copies there could be thousands of photocopies, for example?

KEVIN RUDD: Well actually photocopies is not authorised of these documents – I used to work in the system. What happens is you’re given one, you effectively sign for it and you have to hand it back or attest to the fact that it’s been destroyed. But on top of that, you have to put the chronology in order here. Andrew Wilkie, who I think has probably been interviewed on this program before and certainly on other outlets of the ABC, wrote this document back in December last year, from memory.

Now it’s not until June of this year that Andrew Bolt of the Herald Sun in Melbourne then begins to reproduce bits of it, or what he asserts to be bits of it, in his newspaper column. Now this document would have been in quite large circulation within Government in December, January, maybe even February, in the lead-up to the Iraq war. Why does it suddenly appear in June? One of the questions I put to Mr Downer – which he didn’t really answer, in fact he didn’t answer at all – was, “Did anyone from your office, Mr Downer, request a copy of this document in the weeks leading up to the article appearing in Mr Bolt’s column in the ‘Herald Sun’ on 23 June? Again, duck and weave, evade the question. If Mr Downer had a robust answer to that, I’m sure he could have provided it. He did not.

There has been no indication since the controversy peaked in September that the AFP investigation has made progress. Andrew Wilkie is not confident that the official investigation will trace the leak, but echoed Mr Rudd�s Lateline comments with regard to the handling and circulation of his report�s original round of issues.

“As you can imagine, [classified reports] all go out in one hit � hundreds go out, electronic and paper… at the time, [which in this case] would be December. And there�s a �burn-or-return� policy, basically. You�ve got to destroy them, and say you�ve destroyed them, or you�ve got to return them. Parliament House does not hang onto copies. They just don�t want the trouble, and they don�t have the facilities for storing vast amounts of Top Secret documentation… [Bolt�s article came out] at least six months or so from when the report came out. So by that stage, the Prime Minister�s office, the Foreign Minister�s Office wouldn�t have had a copy.”

He also revealed that since his AFP interview last year he had been made aware of further information relating to the leak that may re-ignite Opposition speculation on the matter.

It is already a matter of public record that a copy of Wilkie�s report was sought from and issued by ONA some time in June last year. On September 10, Senator John Faulkner told Parliament:

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

Why the big parties won’t keep Big Media honest

John Howard and Alan Jones are friends. They�re also political allies. Mutual backscratchers, in other words, for mutual advantage. So Howard invites Jones to his exclusive barbecue for George Bush last year. And Howard chooses Jones, every time, when he�s in political trouble and wants a supportive radio interview.


Of course Alan Jones has political power. And he uses it, big time, to get his way, in politics and to line his pocket with advertising dollars.

Cool. But what happens when the third party in the mutual admiration and mutual benefit society is the bloke Howard appoints to enforce the law on radio broadcasting licence holders � in this case 2GB, in which Jones is a substantial shareholder � and to set standards of conduct to protect citizens from abuse of power?

And what happens when a big company � in this case Telstra, which is majority owned by the Australian people – joins the cosy circle?

It�s a recipe for corruption, deceit, and outright betrayal of the foundation of our democracy � the public�s right to know.

Watching Lateline�s discussion with former Australian Broadcasting Authority executive Kerrie Henderson and opposition communications spokesman Lindsay Tanner last night, I was struck by the fact that Tanner proposed no REAL, SUBSTANTIVE changes to the law to protect the citizens politicians allegedly represent. Henderson raised the issue, but Tanner wouldn�t touch it. No, let�s just have an inquiry on who said what to whom at THAT dinner party.

Why won�t Labor bite the bullet and promise to do what needs to be done to halt the mainstream Australian media�s slide into effectively lying, consistently, to its readers, listeners and viewers for profit. BAN CASH FOR COMMENT. Criminalise the disgraceful, unethical practice of media selling the news and comment it pretends to be independent? AND ban companies from offering to buy media comment?

I wrote about a scheme by Howard�s tawdry government to spend citizen�s money to buy favourable comment in regional newspapers in Whatever it takes: the Howard Government’s cash for comment playIs the government ethical? No comment and Howard’s cash for comment: an update. At the time, I asked Tanner whether Labor would stamp out cash for comment for once and for all. It hadn�t been considered, he said.

Of course not. Which major political party would dare offend Alan Jones and John Laws and the other shock shocks who abuse their positions of trust with Australians for personal financial gain? Let alone Kerry Packer, another lucky invitee to the Bush barbecue?

A few years ago, just after the first cash for comment scandal involving Laws and Jones, I was travelling with the Deputy Prime minister John Anderson when he got a call from Laws� producer asking for an interview. �You won�t agree, surely,� I said. �He�s unethical.�

�I have no choice,� Anderson replied. Laws had clout with voters and he couldn�t afford to get him offside. Same for Labor.

And Labor, in truth, is responsible for the diabolical state of ethics in Australia�s radio and commercial television media. There was once a strong, independent, ethical and courageous regulator. It was called the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal and its head was Miss Deirdre O�Connor, who later become a Judge.

Back then, there were licence renewal hearings every three years � TV and radio licences are PUBLIC assets – at which complaints could be aired and licence holders called to account. O�Connor, silly woman, took the law seriously. When Alan Bond, then the owner of Network Nine, effectively admitted bribing Sir Joh Bjelke Petersen by paying him $400,000 to settle a defamation action against Nine so he could do business in Queensland, she called an inquiry into whether he was �a fit and proper person� to hold a licence, as required by law. Her inquiry decided he wasn�t.

The Labor Government, through communications minister Kim Beazley, then abolished the Tribunal and replaced it with a ‘light touch� regulator, the one now headed by David Flint. The industry would self regulate, and most investigations would be in private.

This disastrous move, made at the behest of Big Media, has led to this sad state of affairs. As Professor Graeme Turner argued in Remote Control: new media, new ethics (Cambridge University Press, 2003), the decline in ethical standards in radio is �a consequence of increased and unregulated competition between broadcasting organisations since the deregulation of the radio industry formalised in the Broadcasting Services Act (1992)�.

“The Act understood the media more as a business than a cultural industry and the media have behaved increasingly unequivocally like a business ever since. Issues of media ethics dropped off the regulatory agenda as a result of the so-called co-regulation arrangements that effectively allowed the industry to police its own ethical standards. The expectation of civic responsibility that underpins a commitment to media ethics also, necessarily, dropped off the agenda as regulatory environments were increasingly designed to ensure the profitable operation of commercial media companies rather than to serve the interests of citizens (or even consumers).”

Add to this a twice appointed sycophant of John Howard as industry regulator and, it is now clear, Alan Jones, and anything goes. Telstra�s involvement in paying huge money to get favourable comment from Jones to deceive its own major shareholder, the Australian people � without a word of protest from the trustee of the people�s shareholding, the Howard Government, just adds to the stench.

Come on, Labor, are you game to clean this up? If you are, make sure you include newspapers in your ban on cash for comment too.

But how could Labor be game. Who�s REALLY got the power? Certainly not the citizen.

Is Australia still a democracy or have the Big Parties, Big Media and Big Business taken it away from us? The big parties will only act if citizens tell them to or else. Do we care enough to take them on?


One of the great virtues of the blogosphere is the way it can push radio and TV transcripts into the public debate. Twisted images of the week come from last Thursday�s interview on Triple J’s Hack with George Gittoes, found by Troppo Armadillo. The audio files are there only till Thursday the 29th; maybe they will post a transcript.


It covers George�s frequent returns to Iraq, this time to make a film about music in a time of war. He moves through a network of musicmanic mates, balanced by his memories of Afghanistan and Timor. People tell him they expect a twenty year cycle of civil war fed by payback. They ask him for help to come to Australia. They grieve for a heavy metal guitarist murdered by fundamentalists.

To Gittoes, Baghdad seems full of contemporary Western music. In corners, hiding from the religious maniacs, is a flourishing Iraqi rock and roll scene. In tank and humvee territory, the camps and trucks echo to the competitive rants of ghetto hiphoppers and wailing guitarists composing music to dead comrades. They are mixed in computerised studios mounted under army trucks, and sent as CDs to mourning families at home. The PC apocalypse.

Road to Surfdom recasts the war in Iraq as something from Mad Max. Since the Humvee manufacturers turned production to civilian versions, there are not enough armoured bodies produced. So the Humvee lite, or SUV as the troops call it, has been deployed instead, and the soldiers are jury rigging them with anything they can find. Beyond the jokes is the brainbending recurrent story that the army of the richest nation in the world is badly equipped.

Elsewhere, Iraq seems to be in a state of strategic stasis as the Iraqi Governing Council revealed its new national flag. Amazingly, as Josh Marshall reports, it looks like the flag of Israel. That is a small problem � our very own ubereconomist John Quiggin is reporting that the June 30th handover of power is a sham:

Anybody silly or corrupt enough to join the new ‘government’ will be in the same position as the Iraq governments of the British Mandate/Treaty period, taking responsibility for policies dictated by a foreign occupying force, while having no effective power over anything that matters.

The specialist Iraq tracker Agonist has a useful roundup of military activity in Southeast Asia. And Body and Soul has a doorway into the extraordinary attempt by right wing Catholics to deny John Kerry communion because he supports abortion.

Anzac Day put the blogosphere in a contemplative mood. Surprisingly, the Right tended to avoid it, except for a thoughtful piece on Paul and Carl’s Daily Diatribe (via Troppo) which manages to coolly and emotionally invert nationalism. Back Pages takes us back to C.E.W. Bean, the official WW1 historian:

By mid-August around Pozieres and the British sector of the Somme the road and the trenches were strewn with the dead. The shrapnel left human bodies ‘mere lumps of flesh’. A lieutenant cried like a little child. Some struggled and called out for their mothers, while others blabbered sentences no one could make out. The moans of the wounded and dying were heard above the din of battle…

Tim Lambert, normally writing on science, brings a sad photograph and a homely family touch which bites almost deeper than the horror. Gary Sauer-Thompson asks about “Anzacs, regionalism and national identity”, with powerful illustrations to break up his challenging polysyllables. I added my usual pacifist outrage.

With a blogosphere infiltrated with academic lawyers, economists, and public moralists, the Timor Gap and its oil revenues were bound to set the keyboards rattling. Troppo Armadillo started the ball rolling with a learned and lucid opinion about the legal position and the government�s hardline machinations, aided and abetted by Gary Sauer-Thompson, who added the links to DEFAT and other bloggers.

Cast Iron Balcony runs a fine line in moral outrage: Can nations be selfish? Bloody oath they can!

Meanwhile, Latham�s alleged plagiarism was a gift to bloggers. Of course everyone divided on partisan lines, but various commenters revealed themselves as sometime speechwriters. Chris Sheil at Back Pagesconfessed to popping bits of Gorbachev into a National Party minister�s speeches, while ‘Nabakov’ admitted:

I’ve “borrowed” stuff from sources as diverse as CS Lewis, Ian Fleming, Simon Schuma, Bruce Sterling, Larry Ellison, Nye Bevan and Sir Richard Burton.

Andrew Norton took up the debate from the right, but was not concerned:

Yes, sure, it is better to be original, and if you can’t to acknowledge your sources. But Latham’s offence is at most very trivial.

Hot Buttered Death is a dab hand at the outrageous story. He located a pretty tale about a homeless student who lived in the New York Public Library for seven months – and ran a blog from his nest. Soul Pacific has found a new BBC game show, about soldiers who solve humanitarian crises in the Third World. Let the soulfull describe why it�s such a sick idea.

To temper outrage, The Spin Starts Here (normally so acerbic) creates an endearing vision of shared households and a younger brother barely more lively than a tree sloth.

Yobbo, never endearing, attempts a defence of McDonalds on the grounds that the horrible filmed experiment in which someone makes themselves sick on the stuff is actually cheating.

Gummo Trotsky, possibly inspired by last week’s story of his unaccustomed silence, has now turned his coyness into 34 comments. How much further can it go?

Sadly, Jason Soon at Catallaxy touched my heart with the news that John Maynard Smith, theoretical biologist and inspiring provocateur, has died.

Last week, I asked for news of small treasures. Here they are:

Wood’s Lot poems, pictures and ideas from Canada,

Tooles – A Sydney journalist hunts for work and the meaning of stuff…,

J-Walk blog – some American fun,

Lakatoi – cross-cultural observations and reflections by a former Australian Ambassador and High Commissioner, Dr James Cumes,

(Southern Cross) Words – Cross-cultural observations and reflections by a former New Yorker on Sydney Australia,

Dolebludger – a Tasmanian wonder,

Henka’s Journey – more Tasmanian wonder, and

Random Prose – stuck at the moment on Hamas and the NBL, but has lighter moments.

I have two which always inspire me:

Boynton – wry, writerly and with a lovely sense of the found picture, and

Laputan Logic – a genuine sense of wonder. And from Melbourne.

NEXT WEEK: What are the good sites that cover the Israel/Palestine conflict? Suggestions to Barista.


Blogjam6 by Barista, Heartstarters for the hungry mind.

Howard’s clever country: make ’em pay more for less at university

Last November’s shake-up of higher education is set to make life even tougher for students and staff. Judith Ireland, a final year student in media and government at the University of Sydney, reports on what’s gone down in our universities in the eight years of Howard’s rule, and what is yet to come.



“We have no intention of deregulating university fees The Government will not be introducing an American-style higher education system. There will be no $100,000 university fees under this Government.” John Howard’s promise to Parliament in 1999.

Fees are on track to be deregulated by 25 per cent in 2005, after the four independent Senators passed John Howard’s higher education package last November. But some domestic undergraduate full fee paying students (DUFFS) are already paying more than $100,000 for their degrees, and fee increases would see Australian students paying more money as a percentage of their public education than students in the United States, the home of user pays higher education .

Since Howard’s election in 1996, $5 billion and 20,000 government-funded places have been cut from the higher education system. HECS fees have increased between 33 and 122 per cent. And next year at eleven universities, fees are due to rise as much as 168 per cent above 1996 levels.

In 1997, DUFFS places were introduced for up to 25 per cent of students. For those with the cash to pay up front, University Admission Index (UAI) cut-offs were lowered by five points. This has lead to unfavourable comparisons with the pre-Menzies era of university education, where only the very rich and the very smart were able to study. (See Destroying Menzies’ noble revolution.)

So far, the take up of DUFFS places has been relatively restrained, generating just $69 million in 2002. But next year the number of available DUFFS places will rise by 10 per cent if the Liberal Government is reelected, and a new HECS-like loans scheme called FEE-HELP will make it easy for students to acquire a debt of more than $50,000 before they leave their teens.

Since 1998, Austudy payments, for students over 25, have put recipients as much as 39 per cent below the poverty line. Austudy is the only Australian social welfare category that doesn’t include Rent Assistance. Youth Allowance payments for younger students are 20 per cent below the poverty line. In 1999, cutbacks to Abstudy saw a 15 per cent drop in Indigenous Australian enrolments for 2000.

Education Minister Brendan Nelson claims recent reforms are “finally placing students at the centre of the university experience” He has certainly tried to place them at the centre of university funding.

In 1987, 85 per cent of funding for higher education came from the federal government. By 2002, government funding had fallen to 44 per cent at a time when the scope of higher education and the demands placed upon it increased dramatically. Between 1985 and 1989 there was a 63 per cent increase in enrolments. Over the last decade more than 300,000 extra students have entered the system. The number of universities has also grown since Labor reforms in the late 1980s saw colleges of advanced education either amalgamated with old universities or re-opened as new ones.

But under a changed and stressed system, the Liberal attitude is that higher education is a privilege, and students shouldn’t complain about fee increases. Education minister Dr Brendan Nelson said last September: “A doctor leaving university with a $43,000 debt to the Australian taxpayer and lifetime medical earnings ahead, carries dreams many kids – brickies included, would love to share.”

However, the vast majority of students and staff are “not talking about a system where you don’t pay for your degree,” Sydney University Student Representative Council President Felix Eldridge said, but a funding system which does not deter poorer students from attending university.

“I don’t have a problem with people paying HECS, but it must be kept at a very low level such that it can be payed by almost everyone, ” Suzanne Jamieson, a senior lecturer in Industrial Relations and fellow of the Senate at Sydney University, said. “The large core funding must come from the federal government and what the students pay is what it’s called – a contribution. We are moving towards [students paying for] the cost of the education, and I think it’s absolutely wrong.”

In its present incarnation, the effectiveness of HECS is questionable at best. If Universities increase HECS fees by 25 per cent across all courses next year, it is estimated that the extra income will be absorbed by the system within three and a half years, leaving universities with no option but to ask the government to ask for more money. If they’re asking a Liberal Government, students can expect yet another rise in HECS fees.

HECS looks even more ineffective in the face of a national HECS debt now close to $10 million. Almost 20 per cent of HECS may never paid back because graduates aren’t earning enough to make the current $25,348 repayment threshold (to be raised to $35,000 in 2005).

Even Alan Jones sees the stupid side. Last October in a 2GB editorial, he asked: “Wouldn’t it be better to send them [students] for free in the first place? What is the point?”

After years of funding cuts which began under the Hawke Government in an increasingly profit driven environment, it’s easy to be believe that nothing can or should be done.

University administrators are between a sandstone rock and a hard place over HECS increases. It’s the only way to go to cope with less government funding and more students. The University of Sydney vice chancellor Gavin Brown is a self-confessed “unashamed advocate” of full deregulation, and Suzanne Jamieson notes that within university administrations there are some “fairly aggressive businessmen”.

“I often wonder to what extent things might have been different in the whole political debate if the universities had not acted as competitors with one another,” she says. ” If they had acted in a more cooperative sense than they did.”

In Facing the Music, the 2001 documentary about Sydney University’s music department, associate professor Winsome Evans said of the drastic funding cuts: “I think that too often we give in. We accept the status quo.”

Australian students pay some of the highest fees in the world for a quality of education even Nelson admits is poor by international standards. There is no Australian university in the world Top-100. In 1999, the only OECD countries with less public funding for higher education than Australia were Japan, Korea and Luxembourg.

Between 1990 and 2002, student to staff ratios rose from 14.2 per cent to 19 per cent. In my first year at university, students complained that tutorials were packed with 40 students. The department’s answer: it changed the name to ‘seminars’. Once upon a time, before HECS, a ‘tutorial’ meant eight students.

In the 1980s, an Arts degree had about 20 hours of face-to-face teaching per week. Today, most full time Arts students have ten to twelve hours a week.

In 1989, during a recession, the Hawke Government introduced a flat HECS fee of $1,800 that didn’t rise about levels of inflation until the Liberals got their hands on it in 1996. The ALP now pledges that a Labor Government would “immediately” legislate to reverse next year’s increase in HECS payments and abolish all full-fee paying places for undergraduates.

Under its Aim Higher package, Labor would pump an extra $2.34 billion into higher education, the University of New South Wales vice chancellor Kwong Lee Dow doubts that Labor could deliver. Still, it’s a step in the right direction.

The National Union of Students president, Jodie Jansen, insists an accessible, affordable and quality higher education need not be a pipe dream. “It’s a matter of our priorities and our values.”

Top diplomats to Blair: stop Bush’s policy of war without end

This is an open letter to Tony Blair from some of Britain’s most distinguished former diplomats decrying his backing of the Bush-Sharon deal on Palestine. Thank you to Laurie Cousins for the find, and see ‘I have never seen such despair among diplomats’ for how the letter was organised.



Dear Prime Minister,

We the undersigned, former British ambassadors, high commissioners, governors and senior international officials, including some who have long experience of the Middle East and others whose experience is elsewhere, have watched with deepening concern the policies which you have followed on the Arab-Israel problem and Iraq, in close co-operation with the United States.

Following the press conference in Washington at which you and President Bush restated these policies, we feel the time has come to make our anxieties public, in the hope that they will be addressed in Parliament and will lead to a fundamental reassessment.

The decision by the US, the EU, Russia and the UN to launch a “road-map” for the settlement of the Israel/Palestine conflict raised hopes that the major powers would at last make a determined and collective effort to resolve a problem which, more than any other, has for decades poisoned relations between the West and the Islamic and Arab worlds.

The legal and political principles on which such a settlement would be based were well-established: President Clinton had grappled with the problem during his presidency; the ingredients needed for a settlement were well-understood and informal agreements on several of them had already been achieved.

But the hopes were ill-founded. Nothing effective has been done either to move the negotiations forward or to curb the violence. Britain and the other sponsors of the “road-map” merely waited on American leadership, but waited in vain.

Worse was to come. After all those wasted months, the international community has now been confronted with the announcement by Ariel Sharon and President Bush of new policies which are one-sided and illegal and which will cost yet more Israeli and Palestinian blood.

Our dismay at this backward step is heightened by the fact that you yourself seem to have endorsed it, abandoning the principles which for nearly four decades have guided international efforts to restore peace in the Holy Land and which have been the basis for such successes as those efforts have produced.

This abandonment of principle comes at a time when, rightly or wrongly, we are portrayed throughout the Arab and Muslim world as partners in an illegal and brutal occupation in Iraq.

The conduct of the war in Iraq has made it clear that there was no effective plan for the post-Saddam settlement. All those with experience of the area predicted that the occupation of Iraq by the coalition forces would meet serious and stubborn resistance, as has proved to be the case.

To describe the resistance as led by terrorists, fanatics and foreigners is neither convincing nor helpful. Policy must take account of the nature and history of Iraq, the most complex country in the region.

However much Iraqis may yearn for a democratic society, the belief that one could now be created by the coalition is naive. This is the view of virtually all independent specialists on the region, both in Britain and in America.

We are glad to note that you and the President have welcomed the proposals outlined by Lakhdar Brahimi. We must be ready to provide what support he requests, and to give authority to the United Nations to work with the Iraqis themselves, including those who are now actively resisting the occupation, to clear up the mess.

The military actions of the coalition forces must be guided by political objectives and by the requirements of the Iraq theatre itself, not by criteria remote from them.

It is not good enough to say that the use of force is a matter for local commanders. Heavy weapons unsuited to the task in hand, inflammatory language, the current confrontations in Najaf and Fallujah, all these have built up rather than isolated the opposition.

The Iraqis killed by coalition forces probably total between ten and fifteen thousand (it is a disgrace that the coalition forces themselves appear to have no estimate), and the number killed in the last month in Fallujah alone is apparently several hundred including many civilian men, women and children.

Phrases such as “We mourn each loss of life. We salute them, and their families for their bravery and their sacrifice”, apparently referring only to those who have died on the coalition side, are not well judged to moderate the passions these killings arouse.

We share your view that the British Government has an interest in working as closely as possible with the US on both these related issues, and in exerting real influence as a loyal ally. We believe that the need for such influence is now a matter of the highest urgency.

If that is unacceptable or unwelcome there is no case for supporting policies which are doomed to failure.

Yours faithfully,

Sir Brian Barder, former high commissioner, Australia;

Paul Bergne, former diplomat;

Sir John Birch, former ambassador, Hungary;

Sir David Blatherwick, former ambassador, Ireland;

Graham Hugh Boyce, former ambassador, Egypt;

Sir Julian Bullard, former ambassador, Bonn;

Juliet Campbell, former ambassador, Luxemburg;

Sir Bryan Cartledge, former ambassador, Soviet Union;

Terence Clark, former ambassador, Iraq;

David Hugh Colvin, former ambassador, Belgium;

Francis Cornish, former ambassador, Israel;

Sir James Craig, former ambassador, Saudi Arabia;

Sir Brian Crowe: former director-general, external and defence affairs, Council of the European Union;

Basil Eastwood, former ambassador, Syria;

Sir Stephen Egerton, diplomatic service, Kuwait;

William Fullerton, former ambassador, Morocco; Dick Fyjis-Walker, ex-chairman, Commonwealth Institute;

Marrack Goulding, former head of United Nations Peacekeeping;

John Graham, former Nato ambassador, Iraq;

Andrew Green, former ambassador, Syria;

Victor Henderson, former ambassador, Yemen;

Peter Hinchcliffe, former ambassador, Jordan;

Brian Hitch, former High Commissioner, Malta;

Sir Archie Lamb, former ambassador, Norway;

Sir David Logan, former ambassador, Turkey;

Christopher Long, former ambassador, Switzerland;

Ivor Lucas, former assistant secretary-general, Arab-British Chamber of Commerce;

Ian McCluney, former ambassador, Somalia; Maureen MacGlashan, foreign service in Israel;

Philip McLean, former ambassador, Cuba;

Sir Christopher MacRae, former ambassador, Chad;

Oliver Miles, diplomatic service in Middle East;

Martin Morland, former ambassador, Burma;

Sir Keith Morris, former ambassador, Colombia;

Sir Richard Muir, former ambassador, Kuwait;

Sir Alan Munro, former ambassador, Saudi Arabia;

Stephen Nash, ambassador, Latvia;

Robin O’Neill, former ambassador, Austria;

Andrew Palmer, former ambassador, Vatican;

Bill Quantrill, former ambassador, Cameroon;

David Ratford, former ambassador, Norway;

Tom Richardson, former UK deputy ambassador, UN;

Andrew Stuart, former ambassador, Finland;

Michael Weir, former ambassador, Cairo;

Alan White, former ambassador, Chile;

Hugh Tunnell, former ambassador, Bahrain;


Charles Treadwell, former ambassador, UAE;

Sir Crispin Tickell, former UN Ambassador;

Derek Tonkin, former ambassador, Thailand;

David Tatham, former governor, Falkland Islands;

Harold “Hooky” Walker, former ambassador, Iraq;

Jeremy Varcoe, former ambassador, Somalia.

Mordechai Vanunu: the price of truth telling

I forget what does it mean to be free (sic). To have the freedom to choose. There are many simple things that I have forgotten and lost in this very barbaric, brutal, cruel and concrete life.


So wrote Mordechai Vanunu from an Israeli jail to actress Susannah York in 1996, eight years before his release from jail and 10 years after he revealed secrets of Israel�s nuclear capability to the world through The Sunday Times in the United Kingdom. Many Israelis still despise him for his Christianity, support of Palestinians and contempt for Israel�s nuclear stance of ‘ambiguity’.

Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East which celebrates a free press, free elections and free speech. Supporters of the Jewish State promote these virtues, but the Vanunu case requires a serious re-examination of Israel’s democracy.

The former technician at the Dimona nuclear reactor suffered terribly for his outspokenness – 12 years in solitary confinement, severe restrictions on communications with the outside world and a concerted campaign in the last months of his incarceration by a number of Likud politicians to keep Vanunu in jail indefinitely. This is not a sign of a healthy democracy.

More ominous is America�s acceptance of Israel as a nuclear power. To claim, as many prominent Zionist supporters have, that Israel never signed up to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and that therefore its arsenal should remain unknown, is ludicrous. The �Coalition of the Willing� invaded Iraq on the premise of it having WMD; surely knowing the true nature of Israel�s weaponry is a given.

A nuclear-free Middle East can only benefit world stability and peace. Indeed, when did one last hear about Israel undergoing the same necessary weapons inspections as Syria, Iran and Libya?

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw recently articulated Israel�s �difference� in the eyes of Western power brokers when he said that the Jewish State�s threat of annihilation “places Israel in a different security category from any other country in the world”. This helps explain why the Arab world believes that the ‘rules’ by which the Bush administration engages with the region are stacked against them.

As The Independent�s Robert Fisk noted last week after Ariel Sharon�s visit to Washington:

Every claim by Osama Bin Laden, every statement that the United States represents Zionism and supports the theft of Arab lands, will now have been proved true to millions of Arabs.

By any definition, Vanunu was a trail-blazing whistle-blower. He believed that breaking the laws of his homeland came second to world security and accountability.

Australia has recently seen two whistleblowers treated disdainfully by the government. Andrew Wilkie spoke out about the Howard government�s claims of WMD and Lieutenant Colonel Lance Collins believed that our intelligence services had become a conflicted and corrupting influence on Australia�s national interest. Both men, like Vanunu, ended their careers to expose �dirty� secrets our government would prefer to keep hidden.

Israel and its supporters cannot continue to jusitfy Israel’s defiance of innumerable UN resolutions, treatment of Palestinians and illegal assassinations as terrorism prevention. Vanunu stood up to a State that has never played by the world�s rules.

For Israel to be accepted into the global community, it needs to dispel the victim myths and embrace a multilateral worldview. The alternatives are too horrible to contemplate.

Time for tit-for-tat leaders to grow up

This piece was first published in yesterday’s Sun Herald.


Who do we blame for the superficial sludge that was Australian politics last week? Do we blame the party leaders for each insisting that the other was a dreadful excuse of a man for nicking a few words from other people? Or do we blame the media for putting the story in lights with arched eyebrows?

Iraq is ablaze. Israel is going for the kill against the Palestinians even after it got George Bush’s blessing to permanently seize sections of Palestinian territory in the West Bank. A new book published in the US reports that Bush gave the Saudi Government an exclusive preview of his Iraq war plan and that the Saudis promised him they would get the oil price down by the US presidential election.

Bob Woodward’s Plan Of Attack says that John Howard begged Bush to keep him informed exactly when we’d go to war so he could pretend we made our own decision. Lance Collins is still trying to get the Government to address his concerns that our intelligence services are corrupt and potentially dangerous to our national security.

Where was the questioning on these big issues?

Take the claim that Mark Latham used the same wording as Bill Clinton once did to set out appropriate education benchmarks for our kids and ourselves. So bloody what? Latham announced some big aims – how about some questions on what would it take to get us there and how much would it cost?

I reckon the media and the pollies are locked in a demeaning game they get off on because it’s easy! Howard tries to make Latham look small and Latham returns. Both look small. The media gets a cheap yarn. Big deal.

Web diarist Christopher Selth wrote: “The cries of plagiarism coming from Canberra remind us how far away a new politics is. We find yet again our so-called leaders are engaged in point scoring of the pettiest nature.

“It debases their obligation to deal with the challenges facing our community. It makes a mockery of our political processes. Its immaturity is both outrageous and embarrassing. It truly represents a style of politics where the only objective is the defeat of your opponent, where the political class are lost in their own struggle and utterly disconnected from their responsibilities and the community they are supposed to represent.

“The new Mark Latham should not have risen to the bait. If he wants to represent a new politics and new hope he must stay on the issue. Not play tit-for-tat games. We must demand that these men behave like adults, not schoolboys. Enough is enough. We are paying them to do the job of running our country.”

I blame the media too. Why aren’t we demanding answers to questions the pollies want to run away from instead of the ones they feed the chooks with?

What do both parties think of the latest Israeli actions? What struck me at the joint press conference between Bush and Sharon when Bush gave Sharon everything he wanted was that Bush looked small and weak and Sharon looked like the boss. It seems the sky’s the limit for him now that the US has no other unambiguous friends after its misadventure in Iraq. Yet Israel’s actions seem designed to further inflame Arab enmity and up the ante in the Middle East. What do our leaders think about this?

A group of active citizens of all political stripes on Sydney’s North Shore are showing us a way through the meaningless game the politicians and the media play. North Shore Peace and Democracy will hold its second big community forum on the theme of Secrets and Lies Destroy Democracy? on Monday May 3 at Willoughby Town Hall. Like its first forum last October about why Australia invaded Iraq, this one will see politicians on all sides – Labor’s Kevin Rudd, Liberal Senator Marise Payne, Democrats Senator Aden Ridgeway and Greens Senator Kerry Nettle – take the stage.

Before the forum the group works out six questions to ask each politician in turn. The pollies have prior notice of the questions, and, after they answer, the person who put up the question asks a follow-up. It’s polite, civilised and compelling; it gives politicians the space to speak beyond sound grabs, and citizens the chance to hear answers to the questions they want asked.

The highlight of the October forum was an impassioned plea from former Liberal Party president John Valder to his friend Tony Abbott to recognise that Howard may have committed a war crime in invading Iraq.

You’ll find details of the community forum at The group’s motto is: “Our lives begin to end when we become silent about things that matter.”

Yet another JWH go at ANZAC appropriation

G�day. John Howard copycats George Bush and does a �surprise� visit to our troops in Iraq on Anzac Day (except that the big media knew, but were �sworn to secrecy� – at least the big US media were lied to by Bush so it was a real surprise.)


More partisan political photo opportunities, more abuse of our troops for his personal advantage. Yuk. This bloke wants to single handedly destroy our one day of the year as a unifying moment for Australians. No shame, John. No shame.

He pulled out most of our forces after Saddam�s statue fell and organised fake �victory� parades while our hapless soldiers� colleagues from Britain and the US were dying in Iraq trying to create a peace. Now he’s finally admitted it’s still war, and says we could send more troops, reneging on a long standing commitment not to do so.

Who in Iraq told him the latest line to run? Here�s what Downer said on Meet the Press on Sunday:

PAUL BONGIORNO: So, are you saying there would be no foreseeable situation where our Government would send more troops back into Iraq?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: No, I can’t imagine a situation where we would send more troops.

Here we go, here we go, here we go.

Scott Burchill recommends The Los Angeles Times story �Insurgents fortify positions in Najaf, at,1,3286292.story?coll=la-home-headlines (subscription required):

NAJAF, Iraq – As U.S. troops await orders to enter this Islamic holy city, militant Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr and his militia are strengthening their control here, stockpiling weapons, seizing key religious sites and arresting or detaining those who challenge him.

In the last two weeks, Sadr’s followers – many rushing here from Baghdad, Fallouja and other areas of Iraq – have fortified their positions in the city and the neighboring town of Kufa, including at Najaf’s gold-domed shrine of Imam Ali, one of the most revered mosques in the world…

The open challenge to the U.S.-led administration in a city seen as sacred to Shiite Muslims, who make up 60% of Iraq’s population, has put coalition authorities in a quandary. Two weeks ago, U.S. military officials amassed 2,500 troops on the outskirts of Najaf and declared their intention to restore order to the city and kill or capture Sadr. Last week, they softened their stance, saying they wanted to allow more time to reach a peaceful settlement in Najaf.

But on Sunday, L. Paul Bremer III, the civil administrator of Iraq, called Sadr’s growing weapons cache “an explosive situation.” Brig. Gen. Mark Hertling, deputy commander of the U.S. Army’s 1st Armored Division, said soldiers probably would advance into an area on the edge of Najaf being vacated by withdrawing Spanish troops. He said that although the Americans would not interfere with religious institutions, the move would further squeeze Sadr’s forces.

“We’re going to drive this guy into the dirt,” he said.

And see U.N. Iraq Resolution a Tough Sell for the Yank�s latest (last?) attempt to get the UN to take the nightmare off their hands:

The Bush administration is preparing a broad U.N. resolution to endorse its plan to transfer power in Iraq, but it may face a tough sell on proposals guaranteeing legal protection for foreign troops and letting Washington make the final judgments on Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs, according to U.S. and U.N. officials.letting Washington make the final judgments on Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs, according to U.S. and U.N. officials…

The general goal of a new resolution is to rally international support behind the new provisional government, which is still being negotiated by U.S. and U.N. officials, and ease year-long international friction over the U.S.-led military intervention to oust Hussein.

With serious deliberations on a draft now underway within the administration, U.S. officials are optimistic about rallying enough Security Council support – unlike the resolution authorizing the use of force last year. “We are working on such a resolution, and I’m confident we’ll be able to obtain such a resolution,” Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told Dutch RTL television Friday.

Yet what some U.S. officials have already dubbed the “mega-resolution” may be in trouble even before a draft is finalized. “This could be the last big diplomatic battle over U.S. Iraq policy,” said a senior U.S. official involved in Iraq policy.



Phil Henry

My father penned the letter that appears below earlier today. As a returned serviceman, my father has very strong feelings about this issue. I wasn’t optimistic that his letter would get a run in the paper’s letters column but I thought maybe Webdiary might provide a forum to explore his ideas. Later today, I ran across this online piece. It’s brilliant. I thought about my father’s letter and decided he’s right on the money. Please make of this what you will.


25 April

To Margo Kingston, Webdiary, Sydney Morning Herald

Lest we forget! Enough, already! Another Anzac Day has passed, but lest we forget will be with us throughout the year.

When I attended reunions of the unit of which I was privileged to be a member, at formal dinners after the usual toasts had been honoured a speaker would recite The Ode:

“At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them”.

The assembled company, still on their feet, would repeat “We will remember them”. And then the speaker would intone “Lest we forget” and the mob would dutifully repeat it.

WHY?? We had just acknowledged and confirmed our enduring memory of the sacrifice of our comrades� lives, and by extension the sacrifice of all those who had done the same. Not only “why”, but also “what”?

It is my contention that the phrase has come to be used to stifle rational thought by invoking some supposed axiomatic belief which may never be doubted. Or some other weasel purpose.

To counter this tendency, I suggest reference to its origin in the poem addressed to the British people, oddly entitled “Recessional.” The date was 1897, the poet Rudyard Kipling, the world was a very different place, but the message is even more relevant today. It should be read and pondered, and the closing lines of the verses should be spoken aloud as written.

Lest we forget! Lest we forget!

Yours sincerely

Leon Henry, Kenmore, Queensland



by Rudyard Kipling

God of our fathers, known of old–

Lord of our far-flung battle line

Beneath whose awful hand we hold

Dominion over palm and pine–

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,

Lest we forget – lest we forget!


The tumult and the shouting dies;

The captains and the kings depart:

Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,

An humble and a contrite heart.

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,

Lest we forget – lest we forget!


Far-called, our navies melt away;

On dune and headland sinks the fire:

Lo, all our pomp of yesterday

Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!

Judge of the Nations, spare us yet, Lest we forget – lest we forget!


If, drunk with sight of power, we loose

Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe–

Such boasting as the Gentiles use

Or lesser breeds without the law —

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,

Lest we forget – lest we forget!


For heathen heart that puts her trust

In reeking tube and iron shard —

All valiant dust that builds on dust,

And guarding, calls not Thee to guard–

For frantic boast and foolish word,

Thy mercy on Thy people, Lord!


Antonio Yegles (Antonio�s �Who am I� piece is at Mate, where is my country?)

Good to see Howard is following his master Bush�s stunt by secretly turning up in Iraq; as any loyal lapdog should of course. He forgot the fake turkey though. Shouldn’t he have taken a slab of VB and a few Meat Pies to give to the troops? (Margo: One of Howard�s boys did the can of Milo handover – Howard�s spinners must have had fun with that.)

I wonder when he is going to don the fighter pilot suit, go for a taxpayer funded joyride and land on a aircraft carrier to declare: Mission Accomplished! Or should this be: Until the Job is Done!

Or should this really say: Whatever, whenever and however you want Dubya! War Crimes? What War Crimes? – All the way with Dubya!


Peter Funnell in Canberra

The Governor-General of Australia gave a superb address this ANZAC Day at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. The GG took no side, save the fallen, did not glorify the horror, offered no endorsement of war and spoke of the basis of sacrifice and the precious gift that is our democracy.

It was a first rate example of leadership and plain common sense. Just what the nation needed to hear at this time. Well done GG!

Margo: Why wasn�t he the bloke who went to Iraq for Anzac Day? He�s the commander in chief under our monarchist Constitution, the one Howard pretends he supports. The speech is not yet on the GG�s website.


Georges Mayes in Ingleburn, NSW

My immediate thought was that Howard has used Anzac to promote his political survival, to boost his popularity whilst defusing the question of the recall of the Australian soldiers from Iraq.

Words like “Howard uses the dead of Anzac as human shields to deliver his political Iraq message unharmed because Latham will not dare fire any political missile” come to my mind. And I shiver at the thought that grown-up men, “honourable men” in Shakespearean parlance, came up with this “great ploy”.

And I shiver even more because I realise that “my thoughts” classify me as mentally unstable, whilst Howard’s ploy will lead him to political victory, the pinnacle of his career as the greatest Australian prime minister.

Cry, Cry Australia


Tim Gillin in Kensington, Sydney (Webdiary�s seriously pissed off conservative contributor)

Columnist Paul Sheehan writing in the SMH last year provided some interesting arithmetic about the human costs of Australia’s foreign policy.

In World War I, when (our) population was only 5 million, 300,000 men enlisted for duty and the majority, 216,000 of them, were either killed, wounded or captured. To put this in perspective, it was the equivalent of today’s US (with 290 million people) suffering 12 million military casualties.

Despite this, Sheehan went on to sing the praises of a century of our Governments’ foreign policy of “Imperial Fealty”, first to the UK and then the US, a policy that started with the Boer War and now sees us with troops in Iraq. A war that may end up, if the pessimists are right, with us opposing Iraqi patriots fighting for their homeland. Just as we opposed Afrikaner patriots fighting for theirs in the Boer War. We’ve come a long way.

Unfortunately Paul Sheehan did not do a cost/benefit analysis. Sheehan and a lot of ANZAC day commentators seem to think that “the cost is the benefit”.

What would the lives of these “sacrificed” men been like if they had lived? Did they want to be sacrificed? What would their families, children and grand children have wanted? How many potential leaders in business, government and sport did our country lose? Could it be that we really did lose the flower of our manhood then, that the bravest and most honourable were shot down? This could be an explanation of why Australia in the decades since has been run by a conga line of second raters.

If we look at the negative side of the ledger we have to ask some serious questions of a practical political kind too. What exactly did those “12 million modern US equivalent” casualties obtain for us in terms of British support during WW2 and beyond?

The saga of Churchill and FDR’s unwillingness to release Australian troops from mid-east service to reinforce their homeland is so well known in Australia it is hardly worth repeating.

Surely the lesson is clear. Imperial powers, even relatively benign ones like Britain and the US, talk the language of collective security to mask their own interests. Not only is the UN is willing to sell them a mask, but like The League before it, was always camouflage for the great powers. Smaller states cannot realistically expect the power elite in a far off global powers to repay us for past favours. Things just don’t work that way. (For a great analysis of “The UN Charter and the Delusion of Collective Security” see Joseph Stromberg’s paper.

Australia’s massive casualties in the Great War, what Joseph Schumpeter called the “Meaningless Catastrophe” of World War I , did not help us in WW2. We paid our ‘insurance premium’ many times over but when we needed to make a claim the office was shut. Too busy, sorry.

It’s worse than that. There is a strong case to be made that Churchill and FDR “sexed up” a previous dead letter dispute they had with Japan to pave the way for US intervention in the War against Hitler. Northern hemisphere scholars may argue this ultimately had a great result for mankind, Mr.Stalin certainly liked it. But the risk and the cost to our homeland was too great.

In his piece Why are we surprised by war lies? Spiked Online’s Brendan O’Neill says:

On 25 November 1941, just two weeks before Pearl Harbor, there was a top-level meeting at the White House where, according to then US secretary for war Henry Stimson, President Roosevelt ignored the agenda and ‘brought up entirely the relations with the Japanese’. ‘He brought up the event that we were likely to be attacked, perhaps [as soon as] next Monday’, wrote Stimson in his diary, ‘for the Japanese are notorious for making an attack without warning, and the question was what should we do. The question was how we should manoeuvre them into the position of firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves’.”

In Britain, Churchill’s government concurred that some kind of Japanese attack was bound to take place. ‘America provoked Japan to such an extent that the Japanese were forced to attack Pearl Harbor’, said Captain Oliver Lytletton, production minister in Churchill’s cabinet, in 1944: ‘It is a travesty on history ever to say that America was forced into war.'”

So it is possible that it was the policies of Churchill and FDR that helped put Australia under Japanese threat in the first place, a threat removed mostly by the determination of Australian troops at Kokoda and Milne Bay, the equally courageous US Marines at Guadalcanal, and the USN and Australian Navy in the Coral Sea and Bismarck Sea.

The young Americans who fought with us are honorary ANZACs in my book, even if it makes sense to listen to America’s own founding fathers and distrust the leaders of all great powers.

I have as much admiration for our own veterans as anyone. Their loyalty to each other and their sacrifice should be honoured. Their advice should be listened to with respect. In some ways the respect and admiration ordinary Australians have for our diggers helps make us a better country.

The point is to avoid new Gallipollis, not replay them. We can’t risk another century of Imperial fealty. Maybe that’s the lesson the next generation should learn from Anzac Day.


REACTION TO Time for tit-for-tat leaders to grow up


Judy Wood

There are so many people in the community disillusioned by the current political parties and the way the media runs with every little issue put forth by Howard and his team. The game playing is so obvious and the media often is the messenger of the spin. I no longer believe anything in the papers or what comes out of the politicians mouths. It is so bad now that one is not sure whether it is spin or a truthful statement.

If the world was not in such a mess due to the invasion of Iraq it may not matter, but the times are tricky at the moment and we need to know the truth. The current leaders are very dangerous people.

The Bennelong Friends of Refugees group is also holding a meeting � May 14 at St. Anne’s Centre Top Ryde at 7.30 pm. Speakers are Andrew Wilkie, John Valder and Dr Carmen Lawrence. Yes, the community is finding other ways to seek information.


Jenny Haines in Newtown, Sydney

I think it is idealistic to expect that politics is not going to be adversarial and competitive when everything else in our society is! Having observed the corridors of power from afar and close up over the last 28 years, it must be almost impossible to survive without fighting with all your strength to get your views heard above the din, even if you are Mark Latham, and probably especially if you are Mark Latham.

So for all the idealists out there, it would be nice to have a new politics, but that is not going to happen now, in our current society. So cut Mark Latham some slack – he’s trying hard to define a new path for Labor and he’s making some courageous stands for which he is taking a beating, especially on Iraq.

I don’t agree with everything he says and does, but I’d far rather have him as PM than John Howard!


Malcolm Manville in Killara, Sydney

You raise an interesting concept in asking our politicians to grow up, although you�re expecting a near impossibility.

No matter how you perceive politics across the spectrum, by acting like adolescents politicians ensured we turn away. It seems to be their ploy to create indifference, cynicism and a lack of interest from the electorate. They do it because it suits them to do it.

When I see Messrs Howard, Abbott, Downer, Rudd, Ferguson et al appear on TV I feel I’m to receive a Logie winning performance. This was illustrated about a week ago when John Hewson referred to Paul Keating apologising for some of the things he�d said about him in public during the months leading up to the election, and said that he actually liked him. Very nice for Hewson, but did we hear an apology to the electorate?

Regarding your reference to the upcoming forum arranged by the North Shore Peace and Democracy group, which is at least trying to engage pollies in some form of open dialogue, why are they giving politicians the privilege of being presented with questions in advance? Most likely because they wouldn�t turn up, is my cynical response.

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David Tester in Cairo

I’m at the tail end of a 5 week trip through Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Israel. I just had a quick look at the SMH and was unsuprised to see you writing nonsense again.

In case you haven’t noticed, Sharon is about to put his planned END OF THE OCCUPATION OF GAZA to his party�s vote for approval. The IDF is hammering the terrorists as they were in the process of making it appear the Israeli’s are being chased out.

The reality is Bush has told him to get out and Sharon has told his Cabinet that more than once. The end of the occupation of the West Bank will follow in a form that will depend on the outcome of the Gaza withdrawal. Perhaps by then, with Hamas governing Gaza, Arafat will come to his senses and negotiate the West Bank withdrawal process.

Yes, the Israelis will keep some settlements, but if the Egyptians etc hadn’t attempted to “drive the Jews into the sea” in 1967 they would never have been able to. I wonder if the Jordanians intend making a more complete Palestine by donating the East Bank to the new state. After what the Palestinians attempted in Black September I doubt it.

Dreams becoming nightmares

About 2 weeks ago I had a dream where JOHN HOWARD was the central figure. I remember waking up and thinking �how bizarre�.


I’ve never had a dream before where a public figure is involved. Usually it is friends, family, work colleagues, or I guess what you would call ‘composite’ characters, but never a public figure.

The Howard dream wasn�t significant except that he was bloody in my head while I was sleeping. I AM NOT SO SURE I LIKE THAT!

As far as I can remember, the substance of the dream was that I was fighting with him verbally. It wasn�t about politics and for the life of me, I can�t remember now exactly what it was about. It was endless rounds of him telling me what to do and me refusing.

Anyway, I hope him or anyone else like him never reappears in my sleeping hours. I really don�t want to start dreaming about politics.

The dream I had an hour or two ago was more bizarre. It had in it terrorism, ethics and politics. This is now the SECOND time in a couple of weeks with public affairs in a dream. I was one of the good guys (what a surprise). It started with me being the leader of a mission in counter terrorism. There were terrorists on board a plane and my mission became to blow them up. All the planning was going along fine and I was happy with what we were doing.


Then part way through I started worrying. I said, “This bomb is going to pierce the fuselage� yes it will kill the terrorists but��it will also bring the whole bloody plane down.”

To my HORROR, they all looked at me as if I was some kind of na�ve child. It was said that I needed to think about “the message we are sending”. So in the end I was being sent on a suicide mission where either the terrorists would blow up the plane or I would blow it up. Somehow it was “sending the right message” if I did it.

I don�t normally have nightmares but I think this qualifies.

Then there was this extraordinary chase. I was running all around the world but they kept reappearing. It wasn�t like I was under arrest or something, more like, “Well the flight is about to depart, do you have everything ready or not?”. Then somehow I would escape from them to another city and they would reappear again. London, Zurich. Prague and Berlin…

In between times I kept ending up at an Australian beach place which was a composite of Terrigal, Byron Bay and Pt Lookout (Stradbroke Island). I�d be with friends at a WONDERFUL outdoor area behind a house and we�d be having a great lunch etc etc. The phone would ring, and the doorbell, and I�d keep saying JUST IGNORE IT.

Then they would catch up with me and I�d be back in Europe again, pretending to be getting ready for the flight, even though I was determined that I would NEVER take that flight.

I�m not sure what the message is but the initial premise for the whole thing is interesting. There is a plan I agree with it but I am duped. The plan makes no moral or ethical sense. Then I run from it but somehow there is no proper resolution. The dream ends with me still running. As long as I don�t board the flight I am OK? Who knows.

I can say one thing – I do NOT appreciate having public affairs now in my dreams! I suppose it is a reflection of the state of the world. Perhaps I�m not the only person for whom the public sphere is suddenly interfering with my private sphere.

I don�t like these things to be in my subconscious. It’s scary.