All posts by Margo Kingston

Our military and diplomatic elders on truth in democracies and the downside of invading Iraq

Chugging right along. Image by Webdiary artist Martin Davies



Sunday August 8, 2004

We believe that a reelected Howard Government or an elected Latham Government must give priority to truth in Government. This is fundamental to effective parliamentary democracy. Australians must be able to believe they are being told the truth by our leaders, especially in situations as grave as committing our forces to war.

We are concerned that Australia was committed to join the invasion of Iraq on the basis of false assumptions and the deception of the Australian people.

Saddam’s dictatorial administration has ended, but removing him was not the reason given to the Australian people for going to war. The Prime Minister said in March 2003 that our policy was “the disarmament of Iraq, not the removal of Saddam Hussein”. He added a few days before the invasion that if Saddam got rid of his weapons of mass destruction he could remain in power.

It is a matter for regret that the action to combat terrorism after 11 September 2001, launched in Afghanistan, and widely supported, was diverted to the widely opposed invasion of Iraq. The outcome has been destructive, especially for Iraq. The international system has been subjected to enormous stress that still continues.


It is of concern to us that the international prestige of the United States and its Presidency has fallen precipitously over the last two years. Because of our Government’s unquestioning support for the Bush Administration’s policy, Australia has also been adversely affected. Terrorist activity, instead of being contained, has increased. Australia has not become safer by invading and occupying Iraq and now has a higher profile as a terrorist target.

We do not wish to see Australia’s alliance with the United States endangered. We understand that it can never be an alliance of complete equals because of the disparity in power, but to suggest that an ally is not free to choose if or when it will go to war is to misread the ANZUS Treaty. Within that context, Australian governments should seek to ensure that it is a genuine partnership and not just a rubber stamp for policies decided in Washington. Australian leaders must produce more carefully balanced policies and present them in more sophisticated ways. These should apply to our alliance with the United States, our engagement with the neighbouring nations of Asia and the South West Pacific, and our role in multilateral diplomacy, especially at the United Nations.

Above all, it is wrong and dangerous for our elected representatives to mislead the Australian people. If we cannot trust the word of our Government, Australia cannot expect it to be trusted by others. Without that trust, the democratic structure of our society will be undermined and with it our standing and influence in the world.


Signed by:


Admiral Alan Beaumont AC, former Chief of Defence Force

General Peter Gration AC, former Chief of Defence Force

Admiral Mike Hudson AC, former Chief of the Navy Vice Admiral Sir Richard Peek, former Chief of the Navy

Air Marshal Ray Funnell AC, former Chief of the Airforce

Air Vice Marshal Brendan O’Loughlin AO, former head of Australian Defence Staff, Washington

Major General Alan Stretton AO, former Director General National Disaster Organisation


Departmental Heads and Diplomatic Representatives

Paul Barratt, AO, former Secretary Dept of Defence and Deputy Secretary Dept of Foeign Affairs and Trade (DFAT)

Dr John Burton, former Secretary of Dept of External Affairs and High Commissioner to Ceylon

Dr Stuart Harris AO, former Secretary of DFAT

John Menadue AO, former Secretary of the Prime Ministers Department and former Ambassador to Japan

Alan Renouf, former Secretary of DFAT, Ambassador to France, Ambassador to US

Richard Woolcott, AC, former Secretary of DFAT, Ambassador to the United Nations, Indonesia and The Philippines

Dennis Argall, former Ambassador to China

Robin Ashwin, former Ambassador to Egypt, the Soviet Union and Germany

Jeff Benson, former Ambassador to Denmark and Iceland

Geoff Bentley, former Ambassador to Russia and Consul General in Hong Kong

John Bowan, former Ambassador to Germany

Alison Broinowski, former Charge d’Affaires to Jordan

Richard Broinowski, former Ambassador to Mexico, Korea and Vietnam

John Brook, former Ambassador to Vietnam and Algiers

Ross Cottrill, Executive Director Australian Institute of International Affairs

Peter Curtis, former Ambassador to France, Consul General to New York and High Commmissioner in India

Rawdon Dalrymple, AO, former Ambassador to the United States, Japan, Indonesia and Israel

Malcolm Dan, former Ambassador to Argentina and Chile

Stephen Fitzgerald AO, former Ambassador to China

Geoff Forrester, former Deputy Secretary of DFAT

Robert Furlonger, former Director General of the Office of National Assessments (ONA) and Head of JIO and Ambassador to Indonesia

Ross Garnaut AO, former Ambassador to China

Ian Haig AM, former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and UAE. Robert Hamilton, former Ambassador to Mexico, El Salvador and Cuba

Cavan Hogue, former High Commissioner to Malaysia, Ambassador to Thailand, and United Nations (Security Council)

Roger Holdich, former Director General of Intelligence and Ambassador to Korea

Gordon Jockel, former Chairman of the National Intelligence Committee and Ambassador to Thailand and Indonesia

Tony Kevin, former Ambassador to Cambodia and Poland

Peter Lloyd AM, former Ambassador to Iraq

Alf Parsons AO former High Commissioner to United Kingdom, High Commissioner to Singapore, Malaysia

Ted Pocock AM, former High Commissioner to Pakistan, Ambassador to France and Morocco, the Soviet Union, Korea and the European Union

Peter Rogers, former Ambassador to Israel Rory Steele, former Ambassador to Iraq

H. Neil Truscott AM, former Ambassador to Iraq Ron Walker, former Special Disarmament Adviser, Ambassador to the UN, Geneva, Ambassador to Austria and Chairman of the Board of Governors IAEA

Garry Woodard, former High Commissioner to Malaysia and Ambassador to China

The battle for Bennelong: Valder-v-Howard

Image by Webdiary artist Martin Davies

G’day. Webdiary has been discussing the death of Liberalism in the ‘Liberal’ Party for a while now, and the effect of this on the health of our democracy (see, for example, Why conservatives fear John HowardRekindling Liberalism: a beginning and Can liberalism fight back?). The need for Austalian citizens to set aside their political differences to fight for our democracy and to return liberalism to its central place in it is the theme of my book, “Not happy John!”.


Liberal Party elder and former ally of Howard John Valder first broke ranks with the PM when Valder wrote to Howard seeking answers on the fate of the Australian citizens detained in Guanatamo Bay and received a “non-reply” in response. He’s since become an anti-war and pro-refugee activist. After the publication of my book, Valder founded a Not Happy John! Campaign to bring together Bennelong voters from across the political spectrum to try to unseat the Prime Minister at the election.


Here is Valder’s manifesto, then a fantastic piece on the consequences of the death of the old right, “Rethinking Right and Left”, by Dr David McKnight of Sydney’s University of Technology. It was first published in the Australian Financial Review.



A wide range of men and women from right across the political spectrum are coming together to oppose the re-election of Prime Minister John Howard in his own electorate of Bennelong.

The plan is to mount a major campaign under the banner of “Not Happy, John”, the title of Margo Kingston’s new and highly successful (if critical) book about John Howard.

A former Liberal Party President, John Valder, has agreed to head the “Not Happy, John” organising committee.

This committee has attracted the immediate and enthusiastic support of a great many individuals and refugee support groups.

We are now compiling a long list of names of prominent men and women from a wide range of activities who have already indicated their support for our “Not Happy, John” project. Their names will be made public at one of our planned campaign events after the election date is finally announced.

We are now attracting both the financial and volunteer help vitally necessary for success in any campaign.

The campaign is being developed in response to widespread and growing community concern with a variety of John Howard’s policies and attitudes.

In particular has been his role in the aggressive invasion of Iraq which, for all of 16 months now, has been inflicting constant violence and awful suffering on the Iraqi people.

Combined with the Iraq issue has been widespread dismay at Howard’s unquestioned acceptance of virtually every U.S. decision, opinion or assurance given by President George Bush, not just on Iraq but on issues like the the continuing rough and gross injustice imposed on the Guantanamo Bay detainees.

All this has caused damage to our international reputation, especially in Asia and Europe, and at home to our own sense of self-respect, in contrast to the situation in New Zealand.

Then there has been his long-held harsh attitude towards asylum seekers which continues to be a cause of so much anger.

In addition there have been many other less specific but nevertheless significant issues disturbing the community’s mood and prompting the formation of the ” Not Happy , John” campaign. They include:

* Taking the Liberal party too far to the right and thereby challenging its own basic, traditional democratic values.

* His assumption of a too dominant personal control of cabinet and the parliamentary Liberal party, thus both stifling internal party debate and silencing diversity of opinion.

* Strongly discouraging objective public service advice.

* Usurping some of the roles of the Governor General.

* Spending on government advertising for political purposes. * Condoning breaches of his own ministerial code of conduct.

* Allowing his own honesty and integrity to come into question.

Many now believe that these and other factors are producing a growing fear of what happens when too much power falls into the hands of any one leader. Even without another term in office, John Howard is already show9ing the first ominous signs of being ready to use his growing power to start threatening our fundamental freedoms – freedoms that every one of us, no matter where we’ve been born, have always been able to take absoutely for granted. Never before have they been under such threat.

The ” Not Happy, John!” campaign does not intend to advocate support for any particular candidate opposing John Howard.

Despite our joint opposition to Howard himself, many of us, myself included, wish to see a Liberal Government returned but with a swing back to a much fairer, honest, decent and less divisive party based on true Liberal principles.

Many others of us are expected to support Andrew Wilkie (Greens), Nicole Campbell (ALP), or an independent candidate.

However, the one object we have in common is TO BRING THE HOWARD ERA TO AN END.

August 9 update: Since publication, Valder has slightly amended the text of his manifesto, replacing the second last paragraph. The altered paragraph originally read: “Many others of us are expected to support Andrew Wilkie or Nicole Campbell, the ALP candidate, or other independents.”


Rethinking Right and Left

by Dr David McKnight

This article is based on ‘Rethinking Right and Left’ a book to be published next year by Allen & Unwin. Dr McKnight is a senior lecturer in the faculty of Humanities at the University of Technology, Sydney.

While the death of socialism was the headline news in the 1990s, the death of the Old Right is no less dramatic.

The ideological revolution of the Right which began in the 1980s has transformed the political agenda in Australia, the UK and elsewhere. But the price of this has been the destruction of the Old Right.

This revolution on the Right represented the triumph of the subordinate strand of fundamentalist liberalism over classical conservatism and old style ‘social liberalism’. Hence today more people are referring to economic globalisation as the expression of “neo-liberalism”. In parties of the Right both liberal and conservative strands were historically intertwined and mutually supportive. Today we are seeing a disentangling of this whose consequence is that it no longer makes sense to talk monolithically about ‘the Right’ or about ‘the conservatives’. Judith Brett’s Australian Liberals and the Moral Middle Class and Marian Sawer’s The Ethical State? document this disentanglement.

The political Right no longer exists, but nor does ‘the Left’, as if that meant some kind of unified world view. The defining idea of the Left – socialism – is now not even part of the vision of one part of the modern Left, the cultural left based largely in the middle class. We can no longer capture the meaning of politics by a spectrum of Right and Left where the Right is defined as conservative and the Left as socialist.

In their place are many competing political philosophies. This is a good thing because it raises the possibility of new alliances and of new ways of grappling with old social problems which persist and with new challenges like the global economy, terrorism, the environment crisis and biotechnology.

From conservatism to neo-liberalism

To carry through a revolution, even on the Right, requires vision and daring, risk-taking and radicalism. The last element, radicalism, proved to be the unexpected quality of the free market revolution.

Once the socialists and the Left were the radicals wanting rapid social change, but now the visionaries who want to overturn the established order are the neo-liberals. Setting in place market mechanisms in almost every aspect of life leads to a society being constantly transformed.

The more far sighted conservatives are beginning to see that free markets corrode old values and the social fabric, as well as economic monopolies. The culture of the 24/7 economy, lean and mean, is based on a shrunken moral universe where competitiveness, and self interest rule. It is a society dominated by commercial values and, increasingly, only commercial values. It is in conflict not only with the Left but with the philosophical conservatives, who base themselves on a moral order that increasingly clashes with the New Capitalism.

Classical conservatism is quite different from the systematic ideologies of Marxism or of liberalism. It is much more a range of attitudes and values. Conservative philosophers like Roger Scruton (inThe Meaning Of Conservatism) talk about a “conservative attitude” and “an attachment to values which cannot be understood with the abstract clarity of utopian theory”. The British philosopher Michael Oakeshott talks about a conservative “disposition”. This is because conservatism is a pre-Enlightenment philosophy which arose organically from traditional society.

Central to its attitudes are notions of authority both within the family and within the clan or tribe as well as obligations of kinship. It is an outlook borne of a society frequently at war. Loyalty to the group is at a premium and loyalty is repaid through group protection of members. Both at the social and familial level the power of males is central along with heterosexuality. Ideas based on these practices were loosely codified as a political philosophy in response to liberalism 300 years ago.

Conservatism explicitly value traditions, institutions and the wisdom of the past. It is skeptical of novelty, experiments and utopian plans. Promises of progress and reform, especially those based on rationalist schemes, are greeted warily. A classic example of this is the recent work of former Thatcherite Professor John Gray and his attacks on the rationalist utopia of the globalisers in hisFalse Dawn.

While systematic ideologies appeal to reason and logic, conservative ideas are often powerful because they appeals to deep emotions, instincts, intuition and passion in humans’ psyche. In the glory days when conservatism dominated liberalism within the Right, this emotional-moral appeal (rather than its literal “policies”) was one of the secrets of its success.

Given all of this, conservatism has two sides. Its ugliest side can be a virulent nationalism and hatred of foreigners. Its war-like roots predispose it to militarism and the rule of the physically strong. But this is not the whole story.

Love of the nation and group loyalty can mean a belief in a common good. This is a belief that because we share something, we all have obligations to each other. It can also mean that it is possible to speak of a legitimate public interest. This was the basis on which classic conservatism and the ‘social liberalism’ of British Liberal governments began to support public health care, age pensions as of right and public education as well as other public goods.

But this conservative acceptance of a common good has been trampled by free market liberalism and individualism of the modern Right. While conservatism was rooted in the nation, the neo-liberals are militant globalisers.

Conservative values are part of matrix which gives rise to an ethic of care and protection which is antagonistic to free market economics. This is what the ‘Third Way’ sociologist Anthony Giddens was getting at when he noted -What might be called a “philosophical conservatism” – a philosophy of protection, conservation and solidarity – acquires a new relevance for political radicalism today.’

Valuing the family or the clan can mean valuing the deepest possible emotional ties that humans can have, and those which can give us the deepest personal satisfaction: love, as well as friendship and companionship. But family values are being destroyed by the New Capitalism’s demand for longer working hours, its denigration of altruism and its inability to recognise the unpaid care given by family members.

Remarkably the alarm bells about the attack on family are being rung by a new trend within feminism, typified by Nancy Folbre, (The Invisible Heart: Economics and Family Values), Arlie Russell Hochschild, (The Commercialization of Intimate Life) and Ann Crittenden (The Price of Motherhood).

The significance of all of this is that the values of classical conservatism have been cut adrift from the neo-liberal Right. They are now looking for a home in the world of politics. The vast number of instinctive conservatives know there is something wrong with the New Capitalism. Some of their desires connect with some of the values of the Left and this fact holds great significance for the direction of social change in a globalized, post-socialist world.

Green ideas and conservatism

The rapid rise of the green movement is an example of this, because it appeals to traditional conservative values.

First, Green politics have a significant component which involves the conservation of natural and heritage values, and indeed its origins lie in what was originally called the conservation movement. It aims to protect the natural world (and the heritage of the built world) from predatory forces which see the existing world as a mere raw material. Concepts such as the sustainability of the biosphere are conservative concepts.

Second, unlike the Left, green politics are not based on class and their analyses are not reducible to class. The enemy is not capitalism but relentless expansion of an industrial system aimed at generating products to satisfy a consumerism which, past a certain point, substitutes for other meaning and value in the peoples’ lives. Rather than abolishing markets, it arguably makes more sense to increase the market price of timber, of coal, of oil, and of fresh water in order to lower their destruction or wasteful use.

Third, Green ideas and conservatism have intersections at the deeper philosophical level. Consider the words of one of the classic conservative thinkers, the British philosopher Michael Oakeshott. The general characteristics of conservatism, he said, “centre on a propensity to use and enjoy what is available rather than to wish for or look for something else; to delight in what is present rather than what was or what may be”. He adds: “To be conservative then is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded , the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to utopian bliss.”

To prefer the “sufficient to the superabundant” could well be the motto of a society which rejects consumerism and which does not seek fulfilment through ever-increasing material goods.

In conservative thought tradition is important because it represent the refinement of wisdom of that past. As well as the traditions of humans, tradition presents itself to us through the existence of the ecology of the planet. The inter-dependence of living organisms which has evolved though millions of years is a tradition indeed! Allied with tradition is the conservative notion of stewardship on behalf of our ancestors and for our children’s children, which fits perfectly with green philosophy. Such conservative notions are central to indigenous and first nation peoples whose societies are extremely conservative.

Linked to attitudes toward tradition and stewardship is a skepticism towards “progress” which has shared roots in environmental and conservative outlooks. By contrast, Enlightenment-based theories of liberalism and socialism share a notion of unending progress based on the accumulation of material goods.

Finally, another important contribution from conservatism is its notion of the common good. This is recognizable in forms of nationalism or in the uniformity demanded by conservative moralists in matters of sex and private life. But another side simply recognises that we are social animals who have always lived in communities and that the community has a legitimate reason to demand that members obey certain rules.

The death of ‘socialism’

On the Left the crisis of ideas is no less dramatic. The ideas of socialism and Marxism dominated conflict and debate in the West for most of the last 100 years. In the last 10 years the intellectual framework of socialism has collapsed.

For many this is not news, nor even of interest. The undoubted flaws in the socialist and Marxist frameworks have been identified for many decades. Many of today’s intellectual and cultural Left actually have no investment in a concept of socialism which is in itself revealing of the changes underway in the meaning of the Left-Right concept of politics.

The pivotal moment for the death of modern socialism was the collapse of the Soviet Union and the liberatory revolution which swept it and Eastern Europe. These momentous events crystallised quite unrelated problems of socialist ideology which had begun with the rise of social movements in the 1960s and 70s whose analysis and vision was not based on class.

The latter was hardly recognised and the collapse of the Left at the same time as the collapse of the Berlin Wall appeared paradoxical. Almost no-one on the Left held any illusions about the Soviet model of “socialism”. Except perhaps one: that under a genuine reformer like Gorbachev it might be possible to destroy the party dictatorship and introduce democracy, elements of an economic market and political liberties.

The dream ended when it became clear that forms of democracy and freedom could not be combined with the continuation of an entirely state owned economy. It also became clear that an extensive form of market economy was needed.

Thus if socialism needs markets, indeed if it needs a significant degree of private enterprise, then what is socialism? Certainly not a radical negation of capitalism – perhaps a significant modification.

Can socialism survive as set of ideas around existing ideas of the welfare state and equality? There are problems here too.

First, both social democratic and socialist views of the world see equality as primarily an economic notion, but is it? Economic equality has today much less power to explain the causes or solutions of a range of urgent problems. Increasingly today what appears as poverty (economic inequality) is generated by the crises at the level of the family, by substance abuse, mental illness, poor education or often by a combination of these things. I happen to support equality and also a welfare state but too often these involve an idea that enough money, shared by enough people, will solve most problems.

This is inadequate and misleading because it depends on a crude kind of rationalism. It assumes human needs can be expressed in almost exclusively in material terms – food, shelter, income level and so on – and can be satisfied in those terms. In a society of scarcity these are obviously vital. Unless they are satisfied it is difficult to see how other more subtle and more elaborate human needs can be met. It also fails to acknowledge that social order and mutual respect are needed. In some communities — black and white – these are lacking in spite of material support. This has been the brave and creative insight of people like Noel Pearson.

Notions of material scarcity still anchor the paradigm of politics held by the neo-liberals and the Old Left. Neo-liberals demands ever more material abundance and productivity based on the assumption that this will lead to human happiness. The Left, Clive Hamilton argues, shares a paradigm of material deprivation for which it prescribes greater economic growth but a fairer distribution of proceeds of this growth. These rationalist paradigms assume increased happiness and wellbeing are based on increasing material wealth.

But this rational-material approach to politics based on rising living standards has great difficulty in coping with the physical limits of the world in terms of energy, minerals and productive land. To generalise to all human beings the current living standards of countries like Australia, Britain and the USA is simply not possible, given the finite natural resources of the world.

Related to the assumptions about living standards is another assumption – that the most important side of life is the public world of parliaments and other institutions and not, for example, the private world of the family or of ethnic identity.

In the 1970s and 80s feminism adopted a rationalist philosophy under the influence of liberalism and socialism.

This meant a key strategic goal was to enter the public world of work and to do so on equal terms with men. Over many years all sorts of formal and informal barriers were broken down to allow this.

But one of the unforeseen consequences of this was the continuing devaluation of what is called caring work or emotional labour both within the family and beyond. One of the most obvious signs of this (though not the most important) is the “fertility crisis” in many advanced industrial countries. This reflects the refusal by many women to pay the financial and emotional penalty for bearing and raising children.

Another is the “work-life collision” described so well in a book of the same name by Barbara Pocock. Family life and caring is placed under enormous pressure through parents’ work requirements and in which the remaining family functions are being commodified and provided by the market. Originally this problem was thought to be solved by men/husbands undertaking caring work, but this has not occurred largely because the strategy for liberation left caring work is still devalued.

The rational public world of work undermines and swamps the needs of the non-rational caring world. Production swamps reproduction. Caring work must still be done and many mothers feel this far more keenly than their husbands. To give this care many mothers tend to orient their paid jobs around caring for small children (part time jobs during school hours). But according to the dominant liberal-rationalist current of feminism this falls short of equality. But rather than trying to make mothers fit this goal of equality, the goal itself needs to be reconsidered as part of a rethinking of a new vision.

Conclusion: the need for a moral vision

We need a new moral vision beyond right and left. The 300 year process of modernization has seen scientific and rational thinking combined with a tapping of self-interest result in the ability to produce an enormous level of material wealth. Despite the terrible cost of producing this wealth, this now benefits (Western) humanity enormously and may benefit the other 2.5 billion people.

But part of this process, which Max Weber called “rationalization” is progressively replacing all values with the commercial values of the market. We are reaching the point where the process of rationalization is conflicting with the deepest human needs. It is reducing ethical values to matters of economic calculation. It is commodifying all human relationships and perhaps most dangerous of all, it is bumping up against the physical limits of the planet.

A values-based political movement is then the key and can validly draw from the ideals of parts of liberal, conservative, socialist theories and from religious philosophies. These ideals involve a society meeting human needs which include but go beyond the material wherewithal of life. They include justice, fairness, equality, the valuing of human lives, in both the public rational world and in the private life world of emotion, and of caring and altruism.

At its deepest a renewal of these ideals involves an integration of rational and non-rational values. At a less philosophical level these must be expressed in a political vision that is grounded primarily in ethical and moral values.

Comments welcome:

The FTA state of play: your say

G’day. Isn’t it funny that Australians only got a chance to have a look in on the FTA debate because Labor was divided? Thank God for it. More Labor division on policy please, so that the people get a chance to work out what’s going on and whether they want what’s being slipped through or not. As Kusha Panta in Melbourne wrote:


“‘Who will blink first?’ was an article written by a prominent journalist yesterday about the FTA debate. It was one of many with similar subjects. I am not sure what to make of the media that is treating the politics as a sporting spectacle. Is Howard going to be wear down Latham or ….? Who is going to back down? Who is more consistent? Do we prefer to get to the good policy at the end or we only care about the being consistent. There is hardly any debate or opinion on whether FTA is in the national interest. Have we become so obsessed with sports (the game of winning and losing) that we treat politics as a contest that has no bearing on the long term future of the nation?”


In similar vein, Phil Ubegang in Townsville copied me an email he sent to the Townsville Bulletin:

The Hijacking of Townsville… by the Townsville Bulletin

Last Monday Townsville was visited by both the Prime Minister and the leader of the Labour Party. A great opportunity was at hand for the community to present pressing local issues for their consideration, such as the public hospital crisis, problems with the energy and transport infrastructure, the effect of the proposed FTA on the region and the future of the mining industry.

Instead we were copped a load of nonsense about veterinary school, and this red herring was served up to our national leaders. How utterly embarrassing it is, to be a resident of Townsville. Congratulations must go to News Ltd and the TB Editors for helping to shield the government from any public controversy in our region.

Steve Turbit asks:

“Could you tell your Press Gallery colleagues that the next time John Howard makes some broad sweeping statement such as the one he made about Latham’s amendment being “dangerous” or “damaging”, could they please ask him to explain how this is so? I am really sick of him getting off so lightly.

Tonight it’s over to you on the FTA – the politics, the merits, and the ideology of the FTA, although I got too many emails to publish them all. First though, another lift from the value-for-money Crikey sealed section:

Medicos sickened by FTA

This little item in the current Journal of Australia on the effect of the United States Trade Agreement on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme makes interesting reading. Here’s the abstract:

* The Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA) contains major concessions to the US pharmaceutical industry that may undermine the egalitarian principles and operation of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and substantially increase the costs of medicinal drugs to Australian consumers.

* AUSFTA’s approach to the PBS excessively emphasises the need to reward manufacturers of “innovative” new pharmaceuticals, instead of emphasising consumers’ need for equitable and affordable access to necessary medicines (the first principle of our National Medicines Policy).

* Several features of AUSFTA may bring pressure to bear on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) to list “innovative” drugs that the committee initially rejected because the evidence for cost-effectiveness was not compelling.

* Intellectual property provisions of AUSFTA are likely to delay the entry of PBS cost-reducing generic products when pharmaceutical patents expire.

* We support the many concerned health and consumer organisations who have asked the Senate either not to pass the enabling legislation or to delay its passage until a fairer deal in terms of public health can be obtained.



Damien Hogan

It appears the Liberal Party is now divided over the FTA. Indeed, John Howard seems ready to “flip-flop” at any moment. Oh, the delicious irony!


Nick King

Re Latham proves he’s still got guts, Margo hit the nail on the head. It’s wonderful to read a concise, down to earth, refreshing and critical look at the FTA debate & what many of us suspect are the real motives behind the Liberal Party’s rushed support of the FTA. We are tired of hearing the bias coming out of the Murdoch and Packer corporate entities. As swing voters we were relieved to hear that Latham and Labor are prepared to make a stand to ensure the value and security of the people’s PBS system and to protect local content rules. Sometimes it’s the little issues that make the big difference to us, the average citizens.


Adrian Janschek

Latham should make this PBS issue as big as possible, because the average Aussie punter has little interest in finding out the realities for themselves.

WASHINGTON, Aug 4 (Reuters) – The U.S. National Institutes of Health on Wednesday rejected a nonprofit company’s challenge to Abbott Laboratories Inc.’s 400 percent price hike on a key AIDS medicine.

Washington-based Essential Inventions had asked the government for a license to produce cheaper, generic copies of the drug, Norvir, before the patent expires in 2014. The group argued Norvir was developed with support from taxpayer funds and was being sold at an unreasonable price.

NIH Director Elias Zerhouni said he felt using the “extraordinary remedy” sought by Essential Inventions “is not an appropriate means of controlling prices.”

“The issue of drug pricing has global implications and, thus, is appropriately left for Congress to address,” Zerhouni wrote in the decision.

Essential Inventions, which is run by consumer activists, said it will appeal to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson.

Abbott spokeswoman Jennifer Smoter welcomed the ruling as “good news for patients.” The company has defended the price hike as necessary to help fund future drug research. Smoter also said Federal Trade Commission staff told Abbott they were not planning to open an investigation into whether the Norvir price hike was anti-competitive, as some lawmakers and activists charge.

Norvir, known generically as ritonavir, is a protease inhibitor used to fight the HIV virus that causes AIDS. Norvir is a component of many AIDS-fighting drug regimens because it has the unique ability to make other protease inhibitors more effective.

Abbott in December raised the U.S. price of a 100-milligram Norvir capsule $8.57 from $1.71. Worldwide sales were $95 million in 2003.

Activists said it was unfair that the U.S. price was five to 10 times higher than in other developed countries. “Essential Inventions is asking the Bush administration to adopt a simple rule – U.S. consumers should not pay more for drugs invented on government grants,” President James Love said.

The activists had asked the NIH to for the first time invoke a 1980 law, the Bayh-Dole Act, to “march-in” and grant licenses to other companies to produce Norvir. The law requires government-funded inventions be made available “on reasonable terms.”

Abbott received a $3.47 million NIH grant in 1988 for early research on protease inhibitors. Abbott said that was less than 1 percent of the more than $300 million the company spent to develop Norvir.


Guido Tresoldi in Fitzroy, ALP member

Things are developing quite quickly and I must admit that Latham has been cleverer than I have given him credit for.

Let’s be blunt. The FTA (like anything that Howard has devised) is as much as a political tool to divide the Labor Party than policy.

I believe that at the end of the day the ALP was more interested on how to circumvent the minefield that Howard presented to them, rather than wanting to block the deal (the correct choice).

While we progressives are gnashing our teeth at the Parliamentary ALP decision, I wonder whether this is such an important issue to a couple living in Cranbourne with kids, mortgage and both working (one partner as a casual). I can’t see the FTA getting the ‘barbeque stopper’ status as yet. What would impact on voters is if Latham was seen as indecisive, or (and this was Howard’s ultimate aim) split the Party, draining it of spirit before the election.

I am not an expert in Australian history, but this ploy by the conservatives is nothing new: conscription during WW1? The Communist Party referendum in the 50s? The conservatives can see a mile away what would divide a party which contains a ‘progressive’ wing. Just aim for the issue and Bob’s your uncle.

Ultimately the ALP at this stage want to:

1) Keep the progressives/left in the Party united.

2) Stop primary vote drifts to the Greens/Democrats.

3) Try the ‘bring cake and eat it too’ strategy of saying that the ALP is not against the FTA, but thatAustralia needs these amendments (which according to many FTA critics are piss-weak anyway) to protect Australian interests. If the government does not play ball, they are the ones who are selling out totally to the Americans etc. etc.

On one hand Labor can say it is not anti FTA (or anti-American), they show themselves as the protector of Australian interests and more savvy about the Agreement than the Coalition. But if the Government knocks back the amendments then, it’s the Coalition which does not care about whether pharmaceuticals go up or whether we going to have only American voices on our TV. Now that’s a reverse wedgie.


James Woodcock, ALP member

Not a good week to give up drinking. I am pissed right off at this decision. It reeks of Me-tooism just like Tampa, but, as you correctly point out,Labor would have had a good chance to run a grassroots campaign on it. Many Australians are pissed off at the Americans about the Iraqi War and being lied to. This is just one more dose of economic reform that we are just supposed to swallow and not gag on.

What frustrates and angers me most is that just like the last election that there will be no decent public debate or discussion about the whole FTA now that both sides have “synchronised” their policies.

Unless Labor proposes amendments they know or hope the Coalition will not agree to, and refuse to not pass the bill without the amendments, this will be the future of the Labor in this country as well.


Margaret Morgan

On Tuesday I was thinking, Labor, you abject fools. You’ve lost the left. You’ve lost even the chance at preferences from many who were tempted to vote for you. But now I’m not so sure. I think this has been a masterpiece of politicking by Latham.

Howard is now in an impossible situation. If he agrees to the Labor Party’s demands in the enabling legislation, he loses all the high ground he has tried to claim by insisting that Labor has opposed the legislation because of anti-Americanism/indecision.

He obviously isn’t anti-American, because he broadly accepts the agreement. He hasn’t been indecisive; he’s been waiting for sufficient information before making a stance. Howard loses the big advantage of the wedge he’d hoped for.

The ball is now his. If he refuses to bat it, then the obvious question is why? He’s claimed that this agreement won’t harm our health care system or our local content regulation. If that’s so, how do the amendments cause any problems? He is pinning his electoral hopes on this issue. He sees it as the big issue of this term in government. So where can he go?

Labor’s position is one appealing directly to the concerns of the majority of Australians who are suspicious of the value of the agreement to Australia. It directly addresses their qualms. It neutralises the whining about failing to address the issue because it cuts to the quick. And it seems that if Howard refuses to accept the amendments (and I suspect he won’t, because of the political cost of doing so), Labor is going to hold fast. Latham has to, if he is to retain the pivotal loyalty of the left wing as the election approaches, and he knows it.

Watching Abbott debating Gillard on Lateline, I lost count of the number of times he bleated “anti-American”. Does he really think that’s a vote winner?

So it’s going to become an election issue. For Latham, I think, it’s a winner. This has the fingerprints of Faulkner all over it. There is no smarter politician in Australia.


David Redfearn in Brunswick, Melbourne

A friend’s comment (in verse) on Latham’s stand after I sent her ‘Latham proves he’s still got guts’:

The Libs charged Mark with “petty action”, When he talked food-and-drugs Yankeefaction, The words meant to cloak us, He brought to sharp focus, Mark’s acts not reduction, REDACTION!

Perhaps Mark Latham’s slogan could be: “It’s the kitchen table, stupid!!!” because that is clearly where he is pitching his message and you are so right in implying that the press gallery and other opinion makers still don’t get it regarding Latham’s small is big” approach.

A Labor politician of my acquaintance told me some time ago that Mark Latham should keep talking over these interests because he has a capacity to reach people that way and this latest stand over the PBS and the FTA really illustrates that if comments I am hearing are any indication. I don’t just talk to my rusted on fellow lefties in my local cafes in inner Melbourne; my recent visits to family and friends in rural NSW have been very revealing, especially in relation to the FTA and our relationship with the USA. I found deep concern about Howard among a number of rusted on National Party voters (and that’s without even mentioning Telstra!).

I personally still think the FTA is a dog of a deal but I am glad that Latham has taken the stand that he has. He is still the high roller in my view and the other mob still don’t know how to handle it.

On another note, here is a text message from my daughter, Joanne, who is travelling at present and to whom I sent a copy of “Not Happy, John”:

“I have almost read Part 1 of “Not Happy, John” and you can be sure that wherever I am in the world I will be voting against Australia’s no.1 tyrannical dictator. Margo Kingston makes me feel proud of my values and I shouldn’t be ashamed to be Australian, but allowed to be angry.”



Kevin Morton, Citizen of Australia

Whilst I would sincerely like to believe your analysis of what Mark Latham has done (honed the argument over AUSFTA down to one issue that the majority of the people can understand); I find it an irresponsible gamble using the future of Australia as “Iron Mark’s” stake in the betting.

The four central problems AUSFTA poses Australia are Australian Quarantine, the PBS, the “Buy American” US Procurement legislation and Intellectual Property Rights. After only four hours of research I found enough evidence on these four Little-Johnny “barbeque stoppers” to convince a dimmer-than-average-rhesus-monkey that the free trade deal was anything but; yet Latham has only addressed one of these issues.

IF the government doesn’t back down and IF he wins the next election he can introduce amendments on the other issues; but what happens if Howard blinks before the election? Can Latham then say “I also want these amendments” without losing his credibility with the Australian people? I don’t think so.

He has gambled not just his political future but the future of Australia economically, ecologically, and intellectually.


Patricia Murphy

Ask the Canadians what it’s like dealing with the Americans. There the Canadian government found itself in Court for giving their citizens a decent postal rate which the Americans deemed anti-competitive against their FTA with the U.S. As well, the disgraceful position in America exists where its own (non affluent) citizens have to get reasonably priced medicine from Canada or Mexico.

It is a chilling thought that the Howard government is so keen to open our door to the predatory American drug companies. We must give Mark Latham all support and praise for standing in the way of this potential disaster for Australia.


John Dalton in West Ryde, Sydney

I don’t claim to be an expert on patent and copyright law. I’m an engineer and scientist who has spent over a decade working within the constraints of the patent and copyright system, so I have some understanding of how patents and copyrights affect engineering and science innovation “at the coal face”.

I ask myself what motivates the proponents of chapter 17 of the FTA, which extends the monopolies of patents and copyrights. By my understanding someone standing for free trade should be against increased regulation and monopoly and so against chapter 17. A paradox.

The best explanation I have come up with is that proponents of chapter 17 are not for free trade but are for private ownership. They are typically against public property and against increased regulation of property, as they believe those weaken private ownership. In the case of patents and copyright they are for increased regulation as they believe it strengthens private ownership.

Perhaps chapter 17 of the “Free Trade Agreement” is really a “Private Ownership Agreement”?

Chapter 17 of the FTA allows abstract ideas to be claimed as private property. We shouldn’t be talking about whether chapter 17 of the FTA is good for free trade but whether ideas are property to be privately owned.

No idea is formed in isolation. Instead all ideas draw from those around and those who have gone before. It is impossible to have a non-social idea in that having ideas *requires* interaction with and inspiration by other people.

Witness the emphasis the scientific research community places on publishing ideas and establishing networks of collaboration.

Thomas Edison once said: “Genius is one per cent inspiration, ninety-nine per cent perspiration.” The existing patent and copyright system allows the 99% perspiration to be protected. Chapter 17 of the FTA extends the monopoly to include the 1% inspiration, thus hampering innovation.


Graham Daniell in Greenwood, Western Australia

The proposed free trade agreement between the US and Australia threatens more than just Australia’s media content and pharmaceutical prices. It also requires Australia to closely conform to American intellectual property laws, in particular the draconian DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act).

Under the treaty, Aussies must block any party that “manufactures, imports, distributes, offers to the public, provides, or otherwise traffics in devices, products, or components, or offers to the public, or provides services that; are promoted, advertised, or marketed for the purpose of circumvention of any effective technological measure; have only a limited commercially significant purpose or use other than to circumvent any effective technological measure; or are primarily designed, produced, or performed for the purpose of enabling or facilitating the circumvention of any effective technological measure.”

One effect of this will be to render impotent a previous decision by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission that “region coding” of digital media (for example DVD movies) was anti-competitive and thus contrary to Australian Competition Law.

Under the treaty, Australians will not be allowed to buy “region-free” DVD players, and will be barred from converting existing players to be region free. This will mean that it will not be possible for Australians to buy DVD movies overseas while on holiday and bring them back, and will also stop the direct importing of overseas disks.

They will also be barred from other ways of circumventing anti-competitive practices, such as “mod-chipping” computer game consoles to enable them to play games from other than the manufacturer of the game unit.

This can only have the effect (as desired by the big media companies) of driving up prices of electronic entertainment media, which have dropped dramatically since the ACCC’s ruling a couple of years ago.

Unfortunately Australian legislators are only concerned only about the effects of the treaty on pharmaceutical prices. It would seem they are unaware of the treaty’s IP ramifications.

If the unfair provisions of the FTA are to be rectified then the IP issue must also be addressed.



Re your question in Latham’s conditions for FTA support: the facts behind the politics about how Australia could be bound by the FTA treaty without parliamentary approval of legislation amending current laws, the key is chapter 11 of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

I hadn’t realised it tied in with our FTA before visiting Webdiary yesterday, as if I wasn’t already feeling sorry and sad enough. It’s been a long time coming but 3rd August 2004 was the day I was finally disgusted enough to becoming an activist.

From global exchange:

“NAFTA includes unprecedented ways for corporations to attack laws through so-called “investor-to-state” lawsuits. Such suits, established by NAFTA’s Chapter 11, allow corporations to sue governments for compensation if they feel that any government action, including the enforcement of public health and safety laws, cuts into their profits. Already, Chapter 11 lawsuits have been used to repeal a Canadian law banning a chemical linked to nervous system damage, and to challenge California’s phase-out of a gas additive, MTBE, that is poisoning the state’s ground water. Negotiators want to include these anti-democratic lawsuits in the FTAA.”

From citizen:

“Since the agreement’s enactment, corporate investors in all three NAFTA countries have used these new rights to challenge a variety of national, state and local environmental and public health policies, domestic judicial decisions, a federal procurement law and even a government s provision of parcel delivery services as NAFTA violations. While most cases are still pending, some corporations have already succeeded with these challenges. Remarkably, NAFTA also provides foreign investors the ability to privately enforce their new investor rights. Called “investor-to-state” dispute resolution, this extraordinary mechanism empowers private investors and corporations to sue NAFTA-signatory governments in special tribunals to obtain cash compensation for government policies or actions that investors believe violate their new rights under NAFTA. If a corporation wins its case, it can be awarded unlimited amounts of taxpayer dollars from the treasury of the offending nation even though it has gone around the country’s domestic court system and domestic laws to obtain such an award.”

From The Nation:

“Multinational investors can randomly second-guess the legitimacy of environmental laws or any other public-welfare or economic regulation, including agency decisions, even jury verdicts. The open-ended test for winning damages is whether the regulation illegitimately injured a company’s investments and can be construed as ‘tantamount to expropriation, though no assets were physically taken (as is the case when a government seizes an oil field or nationalises banks).

“NAFTA’s arbitrators cannot overturn domestic laws, but their huge damage awards may be nearly as crippling – chilling governments from acting once they realize they will be ‘paying to regulate’.”

This is what global competition is really about – local communities and workers competing against once another to absorb more of the production costs of the world’s most powerful and profitable corporations.



Merrill Pye in Sydney

Though people are objecting to particular examples of how this “Free Trade Agreement” may affect us badly, I’d ask us to look at the ideology at its base. This Trojan horse provides a legal way to lock us into an extreme economic kind of fundamentalism, the same as in a world trade agreement rejected a year or two ago.

The neo-liberal ideology also affects any government or charitable (“non-profit”) regulation or involvement in almost any part of society, including public schools, hospitals, heritage, arts, the environment, natural resources, national parks, even parts of defence, and calls it “unfair” or “subsidies”.

Eventually things like the Trade Practices Act and many other legal protections for the land and the people (PBS, Occupational Health and Safety) are struck down as “anti-competitive”.

The ideology says that the basis of society and democracy, particularly the Australian version *, is wrong. That public good and public service should only ever be a by-product of the drive to private profit; that the “best and highest” use of human effort and intelligence is to serve that aim, not to improve the world, express humanity, or whatever.

Any improvement or service provided in order to make money is to be the least possible, produced as cheaply as possible – whatever this means for your staff, your providers or the natural resources you use – for the highest possible price (called “efficiency” and “productivity”). This, for example, drives farmers to poor long-term land management to meet short-term price and supply demands from a buyer with the whip-hand, a situation common in Third World countries.

Another example will be the future history of NRMA, originally set up as a community based, though private, non-profit service-provider. Most of its recent troubles have been conflict over changing from that to this other basis of operation.

The costs – human, social, environmental – may be dumped on whatever poorly-funded government services are left, or in an ironic twist, also used as a source of profit, say by setting up a services company to bid for tax money provided (because government responds to public pressure) to help with the damage, as government services are cut, corporatised or privatised to follow the managerial ideology.

Representative government and accountability are, like following the letter of the law, perhaps necessary evils, but to be used as sparingly as absolutely necessary. Law-makers should be lobbied and/or “donated” to make the laws, including tax laws, as favourable as possible.

It is better to pay political parties, lawyers, public relations firms and advertisers to give an impression of a “good company” than pay the same money on *being* a “good company”. The people pay because the companies deduct these expenses from their income.

Don’t let people tell you “it’s inevitable”. So was the Thousand Year Reich, so was the Divine Right of Kings, and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. They say that because they want you to believe it and give up. They say: “Don’t ask ‘Who moved my cheese, and who has it now?’ “; just accept it and adapt. But remember evil can only triumph when good people do nothing.

It’s taken between 500 and 1000 years of struggle to get a legally-bound and legally-removable ruler, representative government with voting rights for all adults, support for the mentally and physically ill, injured workers and their families, legal rights for women and ordinary people, and everything that distinguishes a decent human kind of society from the rule of “strongmen” and their enforcers – the human equivalent of a baboon troop, ruled by force, fear and furtiveness.

Why prepare to throw away all those blood-bought lessons? Why knowingly step back down that path when we’ve seen, over and over, how destructive and brutal it is?

* Australian version – A Tale of Three Prison Camps. During the Pacific war the Japanese army set up three camps for prisoners-of-war from British, Australian, and then American forces. They provided better supplies to the officers in each camp. The British camp kept its distinctions and privileges, with antipathy between officers and enlisted men; The American camp descended into ‘free trade’ of rations, medicine, etc, so that some ended up sick, poor, without help, and others became “King Rats”. In the Australian camp, the officers and men shared and each helped the other, so the survival rate at the end of the war was better than the others.

This is the legend, and I’m sure it’s simplified, but it points to the best purpose and moral foundation of Australian society as evolved from the mid-nineteenth century until about the 1980s, when the “Free Trade” push – so reviled for many years for things like exporting wheat from Ireland during the Great Famine, because English markets could pay for it and starving Irish couldn’t – made a comeback.)

Latham’s conditions for FTA support: the facts behind the politics

G’day. The complex politics of the FTA have just got seriously murky with Latham’s shock decision to make Labor’s – and therefore the Senate’s – support for the neccessary legislation conditional on legislation to protect our cheap drugs system and Australian content in our media. I’ll have a go at working through the politics tonight and publish some of your thoughts. But today, an update from Webdiary’s FTA analyst Brian Bahnisch on what Latham’s conditions are all about. His previous pieces include The U.S. Free Trade Agreement – always a silly idea, now a deadly trap for Australia and Latham to go for the FTA dud: big business, big media win again.


As is often the case, Michelle Grattan has the most information on Latham’s shock play, see Who will blink first? The transcript of Monday Night’s Four Corners program A bitter pill is also a must read. After Brian, I’ve lifted with permission a sensational Crikey item in today’s sealed section (worth subscribing to) which explains just how rich and powerful the big US drugs are, the ones Howard wants to let get their foot in the door on Australia’s best practice drugs subsidy scheme.



Saving our world-best cheap drugs scheme from US multinationals, if we can

by Brian Bahnisch

The die has now been cast and the news has now come through that President Bush has finally signed the FTA agreement. This may be premature, but it could present an interesting legal case.

The US has an agreement duly entered into by Australia’s government. The enabling legislation in this context is domestic housekeeping this end. Professor Peter Drahos made it quite clear on Radio National’s PM program that as a nation our obligations now lie in what we have undertaken as represented in the FTA text. Under challenge in a trade dispute, this is all that matters, not any laws that we may have passed in Australia at whatever level of government. (MARGO: Can this be true? I thought international treaties had no domestic operation without legislation enacting them into law. That’s certainly true of human rights treaties an Australian governmnet signs. In America, both houses of Parliament had to approve the FTA deal before Bush could sign it. Could a constitutional law expert buy in here?)

In a trade dispute, a panel of three trade lawyers, only one of whom is appointed by us, hears the case extrajudicially and in secret, without reference to our laws or our democratically derived policies and practices. That decision is then legally binding on the parties.

Our loss of sovereignty could not be more clearly illustrated.

I’m not sure whether Labor fully appreciates this point. Certainly some of the Government ministers don’t. When One Nation Senator Len Harris asked a question in the Senate yesterday about this procedure, Senator Robert Hill’s reply on behalf of the Minister for Trade demonstrated that he was totally unaware of the real situation.

Of the two laws required by Labor, the one designed to bring the control over TV content rules back under the control of the Parliament seems a no-brainer. But even here the Government seemed to be accepting government control, via government regulation, rather than parliamentary control via legislation. I’m sure Labor and the Government will work that one out.

On the matter of generic pharmaceuticals, it seems to be a case of who blinks first. On Latelinelast night one felt confident that Julia Gillard would stare them down if it was left to her. She put the Labor case with exemplary clarity.

There are many patents in a pharmaceutical product – the Drahos study says up to 100. Overseas there has been a practice of “ever-greening”, of effectively extending to life of the patent in the branded drug. This is done by changing one of the patents within the product, often on blatantly spurious grounds and then defending the inevitable challenge in the courts.

The patent holder expects to lose, but the purpose is really to extend the life of the patent, as the profits so gained dwarf the legal costs. Labor wants to attach a significant penalty to an unsuccessful defense of a spurious patent, as a disincentive for claims that are purely strategic and lack substance.

In the FTA it appears that our government authorities will be obliged to undertake patent checking work on behalf of the patent owners in a manner that is unprecedented internationally.

This is where it gets tricky. I don’t have the legal knowledge to assess whether Labor’s proposal has merit or is doable. Lawyers will no doubt disagree.

It is worth noting that Labor’s amendment was unanimously recommended by JSCOT (The Joint Senate Committee on Treaties) including all Government members.

And the stakes are high. The Drahos study believes the new procedures in the FTA, which involve a generic company supplying a notice of intent to develop a generic version and a certificate showing that no patents will be infringed, will slow the appearance of generics “by about three years or more”. On five existing drugs due to come off patent in 2006-2009 the extra cost to the PBS will be $1.1 billion. Over time, they say, “this amount would be multiplied many times as these delays applied to more and more drugs.”

Here are two more quotes from Drahos:

Australia’s concessions in the IPR [intellectual property rights] chapter come at a time when there is an emerging view within the US that IPR protection has gone too far.

Australia has signed onto a set of US standards in the FTA at a time when there is considerable doubt in the US about the suitability of those standards for a truly dynamic and effective knowledge economy.

It would be naïve in the extreme, as Tony Abbott seemed to imply on Lateline, that it was business as usual. Because there had never been a problem in the past, there would not be in the future.

The stakes involved on this one appear very significant in terms of the value of the benefits of the entire FTA. It is true that Labor’s proposed law may turn out to be unworkable and may be struck down in a trade dispute eventually. If we are going to have an FTA such a law seems the minimum any prudent government should enact to protect the public interest.

When this proposal from Labor hit the deck, Howard was apparently confused and uncertain at first, before coming out strongly against the proposal. Perhaps Howard needed time for his minions to contact his imperial masters for direction.

What significance should we read into the fact that two of the top American trade negotiators who worked on the FTA have recently landed plum jobs with big pharmaceutical companies?


Crikey: the power of Big Pharma

If John Howard toughs it out over Labor’s PBS amendment, the major risk for the Government is that this becomes an excuse to air all the dirty linen, connections, donations and practices of Big Pharma which critics argue represent the darkest side of globalisation.

For instance, does anyone fancy doing an analysis of which former Howard staffers are now working for Big Pharma. From Crikey’s list of former Howard staffers we have the following:

  • Paul Cross: fromer Michael Wooldridge’s office, now at drug giant Merck Sharpe & Dohme.
  • Mark Elliott: former John Howard adviser, now at Pfizer as Corporate Communications Manager.
  • Catherine McGovern: former Nick Minchin staffer, now at Glaxo Smith Klein.
  • Craig Regan: formerly worked in John Howard’s office, now works at Pfizer.
  • Kieran Schneeman: former McGauran chief of staff, now the chief executive of Medicines Australia.
  • Ken Smith: formerly worked in Michael Wooldridge’s office, now at Pfizer.

In July, Fortune magazine listed the world’s largest corporations revealing just how well Big Pharma rakes in the cash: names, $US profit in 2002, revenue:

Pfizer (US), $3.9b, $45.9b

GlaxoSmithKline (Brit), $7.45b, $35.0b

Bayer (Germ), $1.5b, $32.3b

Novartis (Switz), $5.0b, $24.9b

Roche Group (Switz), $2.3b, $23.2b

Merck (US), $6.8b, $22.5b

Bristol-Myers Squib (US), $3.1b, $20.9b

Aventis (France), $2.2b, $20.2b

Astrazeneca (Brit), $3.0b, $18.9b

It makes our tiny pharmaceutical companies look like a real joke. International pharmaceutical companies are no stranger to influencing the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (the people who decide what drugs make it on to Australia’s coveted Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme).

Several years ago Big Pharma used their clout with John Howard and Michael Wooldridge to remove key players in the PB Advisory Committee responsible for keeping down the prices of Australian drugs.

Jonathan Holmes reported, “that’s not mere paranoia. In January 2001, all but two of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee were either dismissed or resigned in protest. A few weeks earlier, the Prime Minister had met with major pharmaceutical companies. A background briefing paper for that meeting was leaked to 4 Corners reporter Liz Jackson”.

At the time Jackson was following the story for 4 Corners and put together this in 2001 in the must read program, Paying the Price. One victim of the boardroom sweep was Professor David Henry (PBAC 1991-2000) the man who pioneered Australia’s radical system for evaluating the cost-effectiveness of drugs in the early 1990s. Committee decisions based on Henry’s system can cost the pharmaceutical industry hundreds of millions of dollars and worse still for the industry, it is being copied around the world – another motivating force examined by Jonathan Holmes in his 4 Corners report on Monday.

According to Jackson, Australia’s PBS dates back to 1948 when the then-Labor government decided the new drug penicillin would be made available to all Australians free of charge, in a flush of national pride following Australian Howard Florey’s role in discovering the new wonder drug. Ever since Australians have been largely protected from the high cost of drugs.

Meanwhile a subscriber writes:

No doubt you are already onto this, but it may be worth an close look at which pharmaceutical companies are contrbutors to the Liberal Party. Does that explain the current reluctance of the Government to adopt Iron Mark’s protection mechanisms?

Latham proves he’s still got guts

Image by Webdiary artist Martin Davies

Lots of political commentators write that Mark Latham is concentrating on the “little things” and avoiding the big issues. Are they stupid, ignorant, or corrupt?


He’s promised to strengthen competition laws to protect small business against big business predators. Who does that piss off? Big business. What does that mean? More money in Liberal Party coffers.

He’s promised to stop easy credit at pubs with pokies and to limit withdrawals on debit accounts to $200. Who does that piss off? The powerful pubs and gambling lobbies. What does that mean? As above.

He’s promised to stop junk food advertising during children’s television time slots. Who does that piss off? The big junk food companies. What does that mean? As above.

He’s promised a 4th television network and to keep cross media laws. Who does that piss off? Murdoch and Packer. What does that mean? You know what.

Small is BIG. He’s fighting hard, our Mark, against powerful interests few would take on, for us, the people.

And now, the US Free Trade Agreement. I think he was wrong not to veto the dud just about every economist who hasn’t been bought off by big business said it was straight off. A bad tactical error, to say the least, to put off a decision and give Howard the chance to run the ridiculous anti-American line the entire press gallery seems to have bought hook line and sinker. (Would America have signed up if it wasn’t good for American business? Of course not. Never. Ever. Would that have been anti-Australian? No. Would Howard have looked like the fool he is? Yes.)


Still, what Latham has done, to everyone’s surprise given the incredible political and media pressure on him to cave in completely, is to avoid the Beazley small target disaster and pick a do or die issue of crucial importance to the Australian people which could show Howard up for what he is.

He’s said he won’t let the FTA through the Senate without legislative safeguards to stop the huge US drugs companies with bottomless pockets maintain their super-profits by gradually destroying our PBS drugs subsidy scheme, admired around the world, which keeps medicine within the price range of ordinary Australians like you and me. Unlike in America.

The issue is complex (for more on the detail see Latham’s conditions for FTA support: the facts behind the politics). But by bringing the seemingly esoteric topic of the FTA down to one basic point, he’s given the Australian people a chance to get their heads around the big picture. Yet Howard says no to the “micro issue”. Why? First take – “unnecessary”. If so, why not agree to Labor’s proposal? Second take – it’s “dangerous”. Why?

Howard and his minions promised us over and over there’d be nothing in the FTA to threaten our PBS scheme. So why did they agree to letting the Americans have a “review” process when our experts turned their latest drug down?

And why won’t he protect Australians, and Australia’s budget, against the possibility ” no certainty ” of US drugs companies playing dirty tricks to destroy our system?

You’ll find a possible answer in the Crikey piece I published in Latham’s conditions for FTA support: the facts behind the politics. It’s about political donations and Liberal Party hacks earning big money in the drugs companies. Self interest, in other words.

What Latham has done by shocking the right of his party which wanted the FTA buried as an issue is hone down the argument to something every Australian can understand. The “small picture”. The one that affects their lives. And each small picture tells a bloody big story.

The SMH news story today said that Cabinet rejected the drugs amendment because “of its earlier insistence that it would not sign the agreement in the first place if it diminished the (PBS) benefits scheme in any way. Giving in to Labor’s demand would undermine the deal and send the public the message that it adversely affected the scheme, senior government sources said.”

Crap. It would be a one day wonder for the government to say “Good idea – let’s go with it.” It’s already said yes, effectively, to Latham’s demand for legislative protection for local content on TV. There’s something much deeper and more sinister going on here.

Giving in, while demanding a concession, is sensational politics by Latham given the mess he’d got himself into and the forces ranged against him. He won’t back down, and Australians will at last get to know a lot more about this “deal”, the one Howard said he’d never sign unless it was unequivocally good for Australia but did anyway to be SEEN to be getting some payoff for taking Australia to war against the wishes of the Australian people.

And don’t believe the rubbish reported in one Australian newspaper that unless Parliament ratified the deal by October 1 it was off. The FTA deal takes effect 60 days after Bush and Howard exchange letters saying their respective Parliaments have endorsed it. Howard wants it signed by October 1 so it starts on January 1 next year. That’s all. If it’s delayed, then the start date is deferred. Unless, of course, the deal depends on the big US drugs companies getting their foot in the door, something Howard has denied.

Over to you, John Howard. Thank you, Mark Latham, for not caving in completely, and for giving the Australian people the chance to work out what’s really going on here.

PS: I haven’t published any reader emails on this issue yet because it’s moving so fast. For the latest world trade developments see FTA lessens our world power on trade: Brazil picks up our dropped ball

Latham to go for the FTA dud: big business, big media win again

He was a shining new hope. Now he’s proved what we all knew, deep down, that the big parties are slaves to America, salesmen for big business, frightened of big media, and scared of representing the Australian people, either through avarice (big donations) or a simple failure of courage.


Opposition to the FTA could have won Latham an election, if he’d had the guts to go for it at a grassroots level. What a shame. Instead, he wants to use taxpayers money to help the losers, and there will be many. That’s us paying for American profits. Cool.

Maybe both Latham and Howard figure the disasters to follow from the agreement won’t worry them because they’ll be medium term. That’s the lack of quality of our leaders today.

You only have to read John Garnaut’s piece in last Saturday’s SMH News Review to understand the extent of the capitulation to the mighty power of American multinationals and Howard’s pure self-interest in being SEEN to get something for taking us to war against Iraq against our will. Garnaut reported that Trade minister Mark Vaile went to the US after Saddam’s statue fell with five top priorities – including ending US protection on sugar, dairy and beef, which would “account for the majority of benefits Australia might hope to gain”.


The U.S. said no to all of them, AND demanded a loosening of Australian controls on drugs prices, local media content and quarantine, all previously ruled out by Howard.

Howard then gave in on just about everything to secure the deal. Canada and other nations exempted culture policy from their deals – we didn’t even do that! This from the man who blathers on about not giving away our sovereignty to foreigners on human rights, and has now stopped future governments from protecting local content in new media!

Latham didn’t have the guts to say no immediately – he would have been supported by Australia’s top economists had he done so – and begin fighting the case for Australia by communicating with Australians. Now, he’s doing a Beazley. Like Beazley after Tampa, he’ll tell Caucus today to fall into line or risk losing the election. Latham is ushering in an era of Australia as 51st state, except without voting rights. Hurrah.

Tonight, Webdiary’s trade expert Brian Bahnisch summarises the countdown to Latham’s capitulation and Bob Phelps of the GeneEthics Network goes to town on the deal. But first, ALP member and Webdiarist Guido Tresoldi predicts what is to come for Latham as the hope he inspired turns to dust.


Guido Tresoldi

I am responding to your views about ‘Latham vs the FTA’. The deal is as good as signed, after the ALP Senators recommended that it should be passed.

I am not a fan of the FTA, and I hope that Latham will reject it. But I expect that the onslaught against Latham from yourself and many Webdiarists will be relentless if he passes it, as is likely. Again, disappointment from those on the left about how the ALP has ‘betrayed’ its principles.

But is that the case? What about if the ALP has looked at the FTA and came to the calm conclusion that while it is not great there are insufficient reasons to block it?

No, this will be seen as ‘spineless’ ‘lack of leadership’ ‘small target strategy’, ‘Latham has blown it’, same as the Liberals etc etc.

I thought that the commitment of withdrawing the troop from Iraq which caused an avalanche of criticism from the President of the United States down would show that Latham is not that spineless.

If Latham does knock the thing back expect an avalanche of obfuscation from Howard (and his supporters in the media) with a deadly mix linking the rejection of the FTA, with Latham ‘anti-Americanism’ and leaving us exposed to terrorism threats etc.

In the heat of an election campaign this could be a great ploy. After all he has done it before with the refugees (remember the subtle, but effective refugee=potential terrorist link?)


Margo: The FTA is no Tampa. Sold the right way, by bypassing the mainstream media and getting down to the grassroots, could inspire Austraians across the voting spectrum to support Latham and Labor. He’s not game. Why????


FTA update, by Brian Bahnisch, author of ‘Picking the low-hanging fruit first’ in The U.S. Free Trade Agreement – always a silly idea, now a deadly trap for Australia.

Weekend roundup

Over the weekend there was a range of articles about the FTA. Essential reading included Alan Ramsey and John Garnaut in the Sydney Morning Herald.

A new twist was that Peter Cook circulated all the chapters of the Senate Report, but wanted to hear from caucus before writing his recommendations. It seems clear that what the shadow ministry decides is what caucus decides. In this regard, the articles by Alan Ramsey and Mark Davis make clear that Latham is really the determining factor. Ramsey lined up the shadow ministry and identifies which way he reckons each will jump. He believed it to be fairly evenly divided.

Of particular interest, though, is the notion that the left is strongly against while the right is much more luke-warm in it’s support for the FTA, and many of the right and centre would be happy to support the “no” position if that is the way it goes. Ramsey’s Labor insider suggested that if the FTA was approved by Latham it will sap the enthusiasm of the foot soldiers in the election contest. They would be inclined to go home after three hours of door knocking, rather than putting in five.

Queensland Premier Beattie on Lateline was a huge disappointment. I agreed with his statements that we have to use our brains more and that to the Americans we are of miniscule importance. More so in terms of geostrategic matters and support for their military adventures than trade as such. Other than that he was off the mark and his examples were way off. Simplistic and wrong-headed in my opinion.

He spoke of Brazil taking a delegation of 400 to China. This had nothing to do with an FTA. He should have realised that Brazil is taking it up to the US on trade in the FTAA (free trade for the Americas), stuck it to them in the WTO and is trying to revive Mercosur, an EU type agreement with neighboring countries, much to the displeasure of the US.

He spoke of the need for US capital and gave the example of the AMC, the magnesium debacle near Rockhampton. This is what Beattie is referring to when he speaks of “light metals”. AMC ran out of money for sure, but I understand the real problem was bad management. A sick joke, in fact. Getting US capital 0.05% cheaper (the CIE guestimate) has zip to do with its current prospects.

John Garnaut’s piece is definitely worth a read. His story of how the deal was concluded is the first more detailed account of what actually happened, and roughly accords with what I had thought. In the end the negotiating team were divided over whether they should make the final concessions to clinch the deal. One phone call between John and George and the deal was done.

Consider the position Mark Vaile found himself in. As a National he could never have signed up to this thing. For Howard, then, it has the added advantage of separating the Nationals from their constituency. What better politics than two wedges in one!

Monday am roundup

Mark Latham was in North Queensland. Whatever meetings of caucus, shadow cabinet, the leadership group, the Senate Committee or subsets thereof occur, the important interaction was on the phone between Latham and Peter Cook as chair of the Senate Committee.

Laura Tingle in the Australian Financial Review suggests Latham’s leadership is on the line this week. It is make or break for him. Tingle is typically severe on Latham, but she could be right. The left will wear being rolled – they have had a lot of practice at it. But the enthusiasm of their foot soldiers in the actual campaign will be drained as Labor moves from a Party of restored hope to the least worst option. And that is unlikely to prevail against John Howard’s ruthless focus on the main game, ie. achieving power by any means available.

Michelle Grattan’s article Labor’s body corporate in The Age similarly sees Latham’s decision on the FTA as a test of his leadership credibility, this time with the business leadership. He must pass it or he’s got none.

I’m sorry, Michelle, but I think you’ve got this one wrong. Latham needs to introduce a few policies that the business leadership won’t like, and he needs to be seen by the Labor faithful as not getting too cosy with business, as some of his predecessors did. In a recent article in theBusiness Review Weekly we were told that Simon Crean has been having lots of discussions with individual business CEO’s, bypassing the predictable reflex positions of the peak groups. Simon has been deliberately keeping low profile to give the new leader clear air.

Ross Gittins at the SMH made another useful contribution in Trade deal a free kick for US software racketeers:

Competition is what drives the sector, the barriers to invention are very low, and any good computer science student should be able to toss off a dozen “patentable” ideas before breakfast. There is no massive intellectual investment to protect, and although in some cases the software itself that crystallises a set of ideas may take years to write, it is covered under copyright law.

Software patents are bad news for Australian companies who will be forced to play an expensive legal game against people who are ruthless professionals. They are bad news for Australian users, who will pay monopoly prices for software. And they are bad news for Australian software engineers, who will find lawyers designing their programs.

Existing copyright law is all the protection computer software needs. Anything else is a free kick for the US software patent racketeers.

The Australian’s Glen Milne had an anti-union rant. More seriously, he claimed that the AMWU has based its intellectual case on a study by the economist Peter Brain. These intellectual underpinnings of the Labor Left “have been cut and diced by Australia’s foremost trade doyen, Alan Oxley”, he wrote.

I’ll need to look into this a bit more, but on the surface I find it astonishing. Peter Brain is a respected economist, with a brain, who has a lot of credibility in regional and rural Australia. He thinks for himself, is not a camp follower, and famously predicted the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

On the other hand Alan Oxley we know has a mouth – we hear it all the time on the ABC. He will say anything to win an argument in favour of free trade in which he has a clear vested interest. Remember he was the one who assured us clearly, without any equivocation, and with derision towards those who suggested otherwise, that the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme would NOT be included in the FTA. Had nothing whatsoever to do with it, he said; a completely separate issue, he said.

Re Tony Kevin’s article in A plague on both their houses on the FTA, overall, it was right on the nail! Herewith a few comments.

We are not short of capital in this country, but we are short of risk capital especially in some industries that are important to our future. One such is the biotech area in general. We are also almost totally dependent on overseas majors to exploit our significant intellectual capital in the discovery and development pharmaceutical drugs. We have a plethora of small companies with one or a handful of products launching themselves on the market. The successful ones are easy pickings for takeover.

We don’t seem to understand that the successful Asian globalisers did it by governments picking winners, protecting growing industries while they are established and then launching them on the world. Think Korean steel, for example.

Furthermore they did it by limiting foreign investment, insisting on local equity partners and technology transfer. Now that they have successful industry clusters they can afford to take a more relaxed approach.

Tony Kevin is spot on in pointing out that the foreigners will buy up our winners. The $800 million limit on an automatically granted takeover by an American company translates into a company about the size of the Bank of Adelaide. Such companies are well established and can have an after-tax profit of up to $60 million. The hard yards have been done. The Americans will simply be able to monitor the field and buy the best without conditions attached.

Kevin is right to be concerned about the car industry, as it is one of the few genuine industry clusters we have and the heart of our manufacturing industry. We are good at complex rather than simple parts, such as lightweight brakes and we supply the wheels for Harley Davidson’s, for example. We design new models with a fraction of the fuss and manpower the Americans would use and in less time.

GMH is well integrated into a global production system and Ford could become so too. Toyota is the problem initially as it does not make special models for Australia and you would think that at some time in the future they would consolidate their operations in Kentucky.

The other problem is American part makers making cheaper parts in Mexican factories, marking them “Made in the USA” and trucking them across the border to export duty free to us. We would lack the capacity to protect ourselves from that sort of cheating. It requires the will and the resources of a multinational to do the necessary leg-work.

The car industry is essential to Australia’s industrial future and should not be put at risk, as I believe it will be under this FTA.

Meanwhile at the WTO

Meanwhile at the WTO in Geneva it seems they have a deal which promises a wind-back of agricultural subsidies in the rich countries. Note the word ‘promises’. That has been done before. This time the G90 group of poor countries will have to hold them to it.

It’s important to realise though that in many of these countries there are elites who benefit from more trade, whereas the poor do not always benefit. At least not inevitably so as the World Bank and the denizens of capital would have you believe. Sometimes too the poor get screwed by their own governments in the process of ‘globalisation’.

There are too many angles to this deal to go into here. For our farmers there is little to cheer. The majors will use “special product provisions” to protect their domestic farm sectors from harm. This means in effect that you will have the right to sell into their markets as much as you like as long as you don’t actually do so – in any quantity, that is. Then they will stop you dead with tariffs and/or quotas.

This is no surprise as it is already a feature of the gradual opening of the US market to our farmers under our wonderful FTA.

In general, however, the WTO deal will not slow the impetus to bilateral and regional deals.


Bob Phelps, Executive Director, GeneEthics Network

Australia’s national interests and sovereign independence will be gravely damaged if the ALP votes with the Coalition to legalise Howard’s and Bush’s so-called Free Trade Agreement with the USA. The ALP’s prospects of winning the federal election will also be lost among voters who want an end to the government’s sycophantic pandering to US interests.

Many Australian’s see merit in free trade, but the US economy is run by corporate interests which flout free trade rules and do not accept a level playing field for their competitors. For instance, the US government’s Farm Bill continues to subsidise US farmers with US$333 billion over the next decade and the FTA would delay more Australian farm exports to the USA into the distant future.

This bilateral agreement is not free or fair and Australia would continue to be the Deputy Sheriff, up against an economy hundreds of times bigger than our own.

The WTO’s multilateral system offers protections, such as the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Rules and dispute resolution for all parties, but the bilateral proposal does not.

Genetically engineered (GE) crops and foods would be forced down our throats and onto our farms, ending our hopes of keeping Australia as the world’s GE-free food bowl, with free access to world markets.

The FTA would open the way for the USA to insist on:

* ending our labelling of GE foods (weak as our laws are);

* watering down our quarantine rules that help protect Australia’s clean, green, GE-free farms;

* weaker risk assessments of GE crops and foods coming into Australia than those provided under WTO rules;

* ending state bans on the commercial planting of GE canola;

* permanently refusing to sign and ratify the Biosafety Protocol, to help reduce contamination by GE organisms transferred internationally;

* free access for GE and other foods from the USA, even though these are subsidised with US$33 billion pa under the US Farm Bill.

Most Australians want fair trade and the right to choose local, fresh GE-free foods.

A plague on both their houses on the FTA

G�day. The substance of the US �Free� Trade Agreement seems to have got wholly lost in venal short term domestic politics, on both sides. Howard promised we wouldn�t do a deal if it wasn�t to our advantage, but did that very thing anyway to somehow prove that his obedience on Iraq actually had a payoff. Security and Trade never mix with the Yanks, but suddenly, if Labor says no, it�s anti-American. Mainstream media debate has been scant � I wonder why? – and from what I�ve read the majority of Latham�s shadow Cabinet wants to deal to avoid the anti-American tag from Howard. The national interest? Who cares?


See Alan Ramsey�s pieces yesterday Sovereignty lost in the trade-off and Political drama without a happy ending.

It�s sick.

Tonight, ex-Australian ambassador Tony Kevin’s stunning commentary:


Latham�s fateful choice, and Peter Beattie�s cargo cult economics

The irony is that Latham does not have to reject this FTA to meet Australian voter hopes that he will show backbone. He only has to say, ” We will look at this again after our two countries� elections are over. It has good and bad points for Australia. The fact that the US Congress voted so overwhelmingly in favour of Howard�s deal means that there is room for some rebalancing to level the playing field. We will look at it again after our election is over and I win government”.

To say this would not damage Australian-US relations. It is what Whitlam or Keating would be saying now.

There is a fine article by Brian Bahnisch, “Picking the low-hanging fruit first”, introduced with some cogent words from Margo Kingston, discussing Mark Latham�s current dilemma on the AUSFTA, on Webdiary 29 July 2004.

Labor is about to cripple its electoral chances, and our nation is about to be saddled nationally with a bad and dangerous agreement, unless Mark Latham has the sense and courage to defy the misguided siren-singers now circling around him. This is a big leadership test for him – I hope he will meet it.

After Queensland Premier Peter Beattie�s bizarre ABC AM interview last Wednesday with Catherine McGrath, more needs to be said on this vital national interest issue (Thankfully, Beattie qualified his na�ve cargo cult economics by noting that he was only “talking about it from Queensland’s point of view”).

Beattie argued Australia needed to sign this FTA to encourage US investment which we now need to generate more jobs in Australia. He recited this desperate mantra:

One thing I know � and this is where I disagree with the metal workers union � if we don’t sign up to the American free trade agreement and get investment in light metals, we’re going to lose jobs. And in the long-term, their approach on this will cost jobs. That’s what it will do. It’ll cost jobs. It won’t create jobs, it’ll cost jobs. It won’t protect jobs, it’ll cost jobs. We have to do what we can to create jobs and that’s the only way I can see us doing it.

In essence his position was that the agreement will bring US capital to Australia that will create more jobs. He said:

… to become competitive, we’ve got to have an injection of capital. I’d like to see American capital injected here to build up our industries so that we can compete in a realistic partnership way, with opportunities in China and elsewhere. I mean otherwise, we’re going to be swamped.

… jobs will be at risk unless we expand our own industry with the use of American capital, and try to take advantage of those investments.

But there is absolutely no economic evidence for this. What job-creating industries is US capital establishing in Australia? Where is there data for this? (Margo: See also Beattie�s Lateline interview on Friday night, where Maxine ran a disappointing interview by not challenging Beattie on the substance of his spin.)

This would be a laughable argument, except that it comes from a Labor state premier speaking on national radio and offering advice to Labor�s leader, so it has to be answered seriously. Here is why Beattie is wrong:

� US capital enters Australia freely now, up to very large limits. If the object of the FTA were to make it easier for larger US capital investments here, why not simply – as Ross Garnaut testified to the Senate Committee – abolish Australia�s Foreign Investment Review Board? Why not support open-slather foreign investment, forgetting about issues like national ownership of key resources and industrial assets? Let us become a branch office economy. We can do it simply by abolishing FIRB. We don�t need a bad-deal AUSFTA with all its other disadvantages for us as well.

� The Beattie idea that Australia is short of investment capital is nonsense too. We still have one of the highest per capita incomes in the world. A lot of our locally-generated capital goes overseas (in recent years a lot has been wasted in ill-judged Australian corporate investments in the UK and US). Then our tax system encourages the misdirection of Australian capital into unproductive owner-occupied housing and tax-subsidised leased luxury business cars – the large McMansions springing up all around our cities, with their rows of fully imported 4WD wagons parked in front of their triple garages, finally exist because of distortions in our tax system that shelter this kind of “investment” over the investments Beattie pleads for.

Because no major party has yet had the guts to address our tax system, too much of our home-grown capital gets frittered away in such excess consumption. Not to mention the huge amount of money we siphon away in gambling. Our country has more than enough capital to employ our population and more � it�s just that we use most of it less productively than we should, in terms of generating jobs for our kids. (Whom we meanwhile impoverish under HEX loans � we stuff their chances both ways).

� American capital investment coming into Australia is not a free gift. It is a loan. It still has to be serviced in interest or dividends and eventually, at a time of the provider�s choosing, repaid to the US. Beattie�s cargo cult economics reminds me of credulous Melanesian islanders waiting vainly for their free “cargo” from US planes coming from the sky. Hey, it�s not like that, Peter. There is a price to be paid for foreign capital, in terms of loss of national economic autonomy, freedom of decision, and sovereignty. The more of our economy we allow to pass into foreign ownership, the less sovereignty we will have. It is that simple. (One way of dealing with it would be to diversify sources of foreign ownership � so that it is not all US and UK-based. But Howard would not hear of that heresy, would he?).

� Much foreign investment does not go into new jobs-creating green field�s investment in new plants. Much of it goes into buying existing winners � enterprises that canny foreign investors can see the value of, especially in terms of creative Australian talent and intellectual property and entrepreneurship. In other words, cherry-picking our best and our most potentially internationally competitive ideas and enterprises, industrial or agricultural. (Margo: On this point, seeSubsuming us into America – the economic aspect.)

� And once they have bought and own such enterprises, US owners can do what they wish with them � repatriate management and research capability back to US home base, and try to persuade the best and brightest Australian staff to go with it. Look at the history of Aspro (Nicholas), Berlei bras, Helena Rubinstein, the early Australian aviation industry � how did so many promising Australian companies in the end become American companies? Simple � the Americans bought them. That is what US investment really means. As often as not, it eventually means loss of Australian jobs, especially the most high-paying and creative ones, to the US – not new jobs. No wonder 1 million Australians are working overseas. No wonder so many are working in the US leaving lonely parents and grandparents back here wondering where their kids went. Think about it, Peter.

� But Peter Beattie doesn�t have to think about all that. It is not a state premier�s problem. But Mark Latham does have to think nationally. What happens to our thriving IT companies, our creative arts companies, our biotech companies, our garment design houses, under this agreement? Will the best of them be cherry-picked and sucked up by US capital in the new integrated commercial environment? Thanks, John, for bringing us this Trojan horse.

� Meanwhile, as US Ambassador Tom Schieffer has reassured us, we can all go back to making parts � simple low-value ones, I guess � for cars assembled in the US. Remember those low-wage assembly lines in the 1960s? The high value end of the car industry � the design, the marketing, the high technology and IT � can flow back to US parent companies. Goodbye, Holden, Falcon, Camry. Is this really where 60 years� effort to build a viable Australian car industry � that we now have finally achieved – ends? Thanks, John. Thanks, Ambassador.

Wake up, Beattie! This FTA isn�t about protecting Australian jobs or capital. This shonky deal is about John Howard trying to salvage something politically from the mess of his Iraq policy � to try to convince credulous voters that he has plucked some alleged economic benefit for Australia out of the tragic and shameful Iraq invasion imbroglio.

But he hasn�t. The Emperor has no clothes. There is not enough real benefit in this FTA for us. Even Vaile wanted no deal in the end � why are we all burying that recorded fact?

Ironically, the structure of this agreement � the small print – offers good prospect of benefits for US exporters and investors. Zoellick knew a good deal when he saw one. They are being offered preferential access to Australia�s national garage sale. Lots of good stuff to sell � but only one buyer, thank you � big, rich and white. You can see who will win there. No wonder the US Congress fell over itself to vote for this deal. As Zoellick murmured quietly, Australia offers “the low-hanging fruit”, The Canberra Times’ Jack Waterford reported the US diplomat as saying to him? “We like you Aussies, because you are such an easy lay”. Thanks again, John, for taking such good care of us. There is no net benefit to Australia in this FTA. There is only farmer disappointment, and unacceptable risk, and loss of sovereignty. We do not need this so-called Free Trade Agreement.

Welcome back, Webdiary conservatives!

G�day. As I noted in Webdiary’s ethics, my piece on the evolution of Webdiary, whenever its content tilts strongly to the �left�, whatever that means these days, readers self-balance the forum.


On July 26, Webdiarist Shaun O’Brien emailed me this complaint:

I sign off to Webdiary oblivion since really I have more fun watching my kids videos than I do trawling through Webdiary these days. I always understood that I would be in the conservative minority but now it has come to such a state that no longer does Webdiary stand for hearing alternative views. Fellow conservative and webdiary columnist Noel Hadjimichael hasn’t had an entry since April 23 and I have hardly read a dissenting view over the last couple of months – please point me to one. (Margo: Brian Harradine, man of honour.)


Maybe Webdiary no longer stands for different views as much as for scaring them away.

Margo, by all means press for “regime” change with the Federal Government, but it�s ironic that you have lost all sense of perspective in your pursuit of this goal.

Anyway I will continue to browse Webdiary on occasions to see if the tide has turned, but given the latest lot of articles I will next expecting to see that Howard/Bush were really the ones hiding behind the grassy knoll that fateful day or that Michael Moore is now your latest Webdiarist.

I still offer you my best for the future but you now have lost one dissenting voice in a roar of screaming anti-Howard vitriol.

The very next day, Noel sent me a column. The hiatus was due to a change of jobs, from solicitor to lecturer in constitutional law at the University of Western Sydney. I emailed Shaun with the good news, and got some strong views on current issues in reply. So, first Shaun, then Noel�s column, and a tidying up of the now-closed �Z� debate � a correction from Steve Sher, and what happened to the content of Rubenstein strikes again: Now Howard’s a champion of human rights!


Shaun O�Brien

Expecting me to stamp my foot and exclaim out my indignation to the horrible tree hugging leftie propaganda that has populated Webdiary over the last few months? You have certainly copped a pummelling over the Zionist article. I am strangely ambivalent over that topic since the whole Israel-v-the rest of the world is a very circular argument that will not be resolved without some sort of “big bang” event. Terrible thoughts I know, but having a pragmatic view of the world allows me to see what will probably happen versus what should happen. Israel and the Arabs act like the line out of the movie The Untouchables – “They pull a knife you pull a gun. They send one of yours to the hospital you send one of theirs to the morgue”.

Let�s get to some topics:

(1) The US

Its funny seeing everyone viewing the US through their own eyes rather than stepping back and really understanding the US psyche. I am amazed that so many think that the woes of the world have only come about because GWB is in power. How stupid are people?

Most people think that Reagan was a great president, but I see more of today�s events falling on his legacy more than any president after him, especially in the Middle East. Think about his support of the mujihadeen in Afghanistan against the Soviets that led to the installation of the Taliban, cosy relationships with Saddam during the Iran/Iraq war, backroom deals with Iran (Iran-Contra affair), poor strategic and tactical decisions made in the occupation of Lebanon and wasting so much energy on what was happening in Central America when it was never going to have an impact on the US/world anyway.

It would be ironic that in 10 or 20 years time we look back at the whole Iraq invasion and see that it led to an improvement in the Middle East. It my feeling that GWB and his invasion will ultimately be seen in this light, even though I think he is thick as two bricks.

(2) Intelligence Agency Failings

If the intelligence agencies of the world ever worked as well as the media believed they should have then we would not have had any of the two world wars, the Korean and Vietnam wars, the two Iraq wars, Sept 11 or Bali. The Pearl Harbour attack would have been stopped and the West would have not wasted so much energy in seeing the end of the Soviets, since their system of government was never ultimately going to work. The only time we have seen intelligence information working in the world was the Cuban affair, and that�s because the US had supposedly someone on the inside of the Soviets giving them info on the capabilities that allowed the US to stare them down.

But since Saddam had such tight control over his entire country, the chances of getting good intelligence from a source was near impossible, and if intelligence history tell us anything it is that the human element inside is the only way to have reliable intelligence – why do you think the Mossad is so good for Israel? – rather than the guesses we had on Iraq�s WMD.

(3) FTA

It�s good to see Latham sweat over the FTA, especially since it shows that the ALP is beholden to the unions still, and as such are the ultimate “special interest” lobby group in politics. After all the whinging about Hanson and her impact on the Liberal�s policies, it�s a pity the media don�t treat the ALP in the same vein with the unions (my favourite whipping horse).

I wonder how many of the ALP supporting music bands are complaining about the laws that are supposedly being offered in the FTA with copyright infringements. It�s my understanding that they would get much more protections from the law in stopping piracy from the internet, but not a word from them. Where are Garrett�s comments as a former musician?? I could be horribly wrong about this part of the FTA, but if so it�s the media�s fault, since that�s where I heard it from.

(4) Commonwealth-v- the States

Why is there so little comment in Webdiary over one of the most negative impacts on this country – the constant bickering and bureaucratic wastage with the responsibilities over the same areas between the Federal and States? And to have Latham and the Labor premiers all sit down for a love fest made me laugh. Just wait to the next split of GST revenues and see how long the togetherness lasts, or maybe when the southern states want Queensland to lose more water rights for the Murray. How much money is wasted in doubling up the bureaucracy? How much money for schools, unis and health benefits could be increased?

Shame on you Margo for not highlighting what REALLY is impacting on this country rather than some ideological rant about Iraq.

(5) The Media

Again this is crystal balling, but imagine if the Hawke/Keating government had as much scrutiny from the media, especially from the internet, as the Howard Government has and tell me if their standing would not have fallen just as much. I know you don�t have a good word to say about the Carr Labor government and I know that Beattie here in Queensland is a master manipulator, so it is just a change in politics that has to adapt to the greater and minute coverage offered by the media of everything it does.

The Hawke/ALP government would not have lasted as long as they did, and poor old Joh and the Nats in Queensland would not have had the chance to set up all their corrupt activities.

I see that the poor pollies have greater exposure from the media than ever before and the ridiculous standards (outside of corrupt practices of course) which the media judge them sometimes make me fear what sort of person will choose to be a politician in the years to come. If you journalists keep to a standard of reporting of the politicians that doesn�t allow some of the freedom the rest of us are afforded in our lives then the quality of people taking up the responsibilities of running our country will be bland bunch of Howard�s (see I am not a Howard lover!!!). Heaven help us!!!!!

Sorry if the above is a bit all over the place but I did have plenty on my chest to say. Till next time (maybe!!)


Conviction politics, please!

by Noel Hadjimichael

Give me conviction leadership over convenience pollies any day.

The last three months have seen Latham Labor take a few steps forward and a lot of steps back.

Latham has reinstated Kim Beazley to the ALP front bench to deflect worry about Mark Latham�s line on defence, security and all that scary stuff. Don�t expect the leader to allow Kim to speak to toddlers or even voters in outer suburban marginals in case they like him more than the boss.

We have seen Simon Crean achieve what only obscure backbenchers aim for: total and complete absence from the policy debate and the television screens of the nation. No cheerful visit to the Kerry Anne show or even the SBS news.

This new Labor crowd have done a great job on the hard issues. They have either sent them to committees (the Free Trade Agreement), left things up in the air (funding for private schools) or tried to please everyone (no tax policy until it is too late). But we have enjoyed a vision of things that matter: a return to the tired old Republic, the ambiguous offer of a better deal to East Timor on energy resources and humanitarian aid to Iraq (pity about the security situation).

What we need is to discover who the conviction politicians are – the people who actually believe in something, stand for something or even take unpopular decisions because they think them right, not expedient. Leadership is not a mastery of focus groups, it is more a reflection of strategic vision coupled with the courage to see things through. This is not a time for leadership that is untested or suspect.

This is no time for the crash through or crash politics of the trendy 1970s courtesy of Mr Latham�s apparent return to the good old days of Mr Whitlam.

Whether the progressive left like it or not, both John Howard and Bob Brown have carved out a very powerful status as conviction politicians. It is possible for voters to easily comprehend where these leaders are coming from in terms of values, heritage, policy framework and track record.

Labor must be very frightened about their prospects in seats like Banks and Greenway in Sydney�s suburbs. The appeal of generation X gimmicks will win precious few voters in the trendy cafes of Haberfield or Paddington. However, the priorities of sound economic management, security with the US alliance intact and a growing sense of mature nationalism will sway more voters in the key seats that Labor will have to keep.

A rushed spending spree from Labor funded from the black hole of waste reductions will rock interest rates. A union leadership endorsed industrial relations policy will defeat the very aspirational small business voters that Mr Latham was chosen to appeal to.

Reading books to kids will win applause from parents, jeopardising their access to affordable private schools will create distrust and a backlash.

Standing in front of an American flag will calm fears of diplomatic disasters; a lack of clarity on the war on terror will rob Labor of its right to a return to government.

Giving working families a helping hand with tax cuts would be welcome step, attacking relief for employees on about $55,000 a year is just old style class envy.

If I want a real left party with its commitment to big picture social justice, I can punt for the Greens any time soon. If I want a government that will offer a package to promote and prosper middle Australia I just can�t go past the Coalition.

Sadly, Labor has seen its star peak and must now be thinking about an exit strategy from the politics of young blood, Generation X stunts and keeping the frontbench away from the media.



Steve Sher

With regard to the recent debate about alleged Zionist “Media Control” a link was posted supplied by Ronald H Tolkien in The post-apology debate . It was to media and contained a report quoting the Israeli PM, Ariel Sharon allegedly saying to then Foreign Minister Peres in 2001: “Don’t worry about American pressure; we the Jewish people control America.”

Media Monitors’ website listed the source of this quote to “I.A.P. News”. Upon previously hearing that this quote had been fabricated, I endeavoured to contact “I.A.P. News” and get and answer. After all, surely this organisation could put the matter to rest once and for all. Alas, has anyone here actually done a search for an I.A.P. News Service?

I did, with interesting results. It appears there is no international media organisation by this name, as the web link implies.

I.A.P., where this quote originated, is the Islamic Association of Palestine. Here is a sample of their “news”. Hardly a neutral and unbiased organisation.

Upon undertaking an internet search following the alleged quote by Ariel Sharon, all reported mentions of his words alluded to it being reported by “I.A.P. News”. I.A.P. claimed the words were broadcast on Israel Radio (Kol Yisrael), in Hebrew. Israel radio denies this was ever broadcast. Interestingly, no other source has picked it up. I could not find reference to it being reported in any other media outlet. All trails appeared to lead back to I.A.P.

And I.A.P. itself is an interesting outfit. It would appear this “News Service” has been the subject of federal US investigations for possible links to terrorist groups, such as Hamas. Note the details of the FBI raid on their services as reported in The Guardian.

Margo, the alleged comments were reproduced by prominent American Universal Press Columnist Georgie Anne Geyer, in the May 10th edition of the Chicago Tribune.

Following complaints that the quote was false, Universal Press’s own research into the source of the comments led it to release a statement that the alleged words by Sharon were “widely reported in the Palestinian press but cannot be confirmed in independent sources. Geyer and Universal Press Syndicate regret not having attributed the quote more specifically”.

In fact, there was no quote by Ariel Sharon claiming “control” of America as alleged. I challenge any Webdiarist here to present its transcript, in full, as reported by any reputable news organisation.

It is a worrying sign of the times that such a blatant falsehood like this could even get a run. When false statements like this are fabricated and then propagated, they lead to further cementing of a mindset that promotes racial division.

How does it make Jews look? How did it impact upon people’s thoughts after opening the offending falsehood on Tuesday? And now, to discover that it is not true? Richard Tolkien has done himself a disservice by not investigating the links fully contained in Media Monitors.Net.

The quote contained a myth designed to sustain an even longer and more hate-filled canard, that being supposed Jewish/Israeli “control”. It would appear to me, by the amount of readers who readily swallowed this tripe, that the Palestinian PR campaign probably has the better oiled machine.

Thanks again for the opportunity to write in.


My ethics and Rubenstein strikes again: Now Howard’s a champion of human rights!

The Australian�s diary column yesterday included this item:

Fundamental foibles

AT Fairfax, after commenting in her online “Webdiary” last Thursday that “the fundamentalist Zionist lobby controls politics and the media in the US and Australia”, online journalist Margo Kingston went into damage control on Monday, apologising to those she’d offended. However, Diary understands Kingston posted the following even more incendiary remark on her website on Friday night: “Far from protecting Jewish people against future atrocities, the Fundamentalist Zionist lobby is actually promoting anti-Semitism by its actions and tactics. Neither major party in either country is game to protest, because the power of the lobby is such that careers can be ruined. It is becoming increasingly obvious that John Howard is the lobby’s strong choice to win the election, and that means big money and big power will be behind him.”

Mysteriously, as Kingston confronted claims of anti-Semitism over her earlier remark, the later comment disappeared from her website. We’re waiting to see how this squares with Webdiary’s own code of ethics, which states: “I will let you know when archives have been changed except when changes do not alter their substance, for example corrections to spelling or grammar.” Pretty rich from someone who frequently attacks the ethical standards of other media outlets.

Soon after publishing the item concerned on Friday night, I read an email from a work colleague who had found my comment in the previous day�s entry On the road again offensive. I then looked at the Rubenstein piece and cut out everything which I thought could conceivably offend anyone. I have no wish to personally offend people on Webdiary.

As often happens with ethics codes, a conflict can sometimes arise and a judgment must be made. Do I keep the lines I�d taken out in and cross them out? Or do I delete them and note that I�ve deleted unspecified material? Since the piece had not been published for long, and was published at night, when few if any people would have read it, I chose to leave it at that. So I breached one ethic to protect another. I explained this to The Australian when it called before publication of the item. I received no complaint about the Rubenstein piece in the subsequent deluge of emails about �On the road again�. It�s a bit strange, I reckon, that The Australianthen publishes a phrase it clearly finds offensive, but that�s the way it goes, I guess. In retrospect, I should have told you in my next Webdiary that I had deleted certain unspecified comments from the Rubenstein piece. My apologies for not doing so.

PS: I was about to press the ‘publish’ button on this entry when I read this email from Imre Salusinszky, the bloke from The Australian who rang me before publication of the diary entry I’ve been discusing. Here it is.

Imre Salusinszky

As you know, an item in The Australian on Thursday, July 29 claims that you wrote, and later silently removed, the following comment from your July 23 posting, “Rubenstein strikes again”:

“Far from protecting Jewish people against future atrocities, the Fundamentalist Zionist lobby is actually promoting anti-Semitism by its actions and tactics. Neither major party in either country is game to protest, because the power of the lobby is such that careers can be ruined. It is becoming increasingly obvious that John Howard is the lobby’s strong choice to win the election, and that means big money and big power will be behind him.”

Allow me to quote from your own code of ethics:

6. I will let you know when archives have been changed except when changes do not alter their substance, for example corrections to spelling or grammar. I will amend archived Webdiary entries to include corrections of fact and advise you accordingly.”

Surely you who have been so unrelentingly critical of the ethical standards of “big party” politicians and “big media” journalists are not going to try and ignore the “posting overboard” allegation?

So are you prepared now to check the electronic record and tell readers exactly when the comment was deleted? On what other occasions has the archive been silently altered? What made this case different to “On the road again?” where you eventually did insert a comment that material had been removed? And how does the secretly removed material affect your postings on Monday and Tuesday, in particular the claim that your earlier remark on the “fundamentalist Zionist lobby” was merely a “throwaway line”? To quote again from your own code of ethics:

“I want you to trust Webdiary. Trust is the ideal at the core of all professional ethics codes, which are guidelines for conduct which aim to achieve that ideal.”

Not happy, Margo!

Margo: I don’t know how to check the electronic record but I’ll ask someone who does on Monday. I amend the archive on occasions for spelling and grammar mistakes, often picked up by the army, it sometimes seems, of people scrutinising Webdiary. This situation has never before occurred. The difference with ‘On the road’ is that people had read it, and reacted, whereas the other comments were removed before – on the evidence of my email traffic – anyone who was offended had read it. The removed material, in my view, is not relevant to the debate over the comment which has generated the debate. I did not say the “fundamentalist Zionist lobby” part of the comment was throwaway, and have not retracted those words. I’ve retracted the word “controls” and explained what I meant in ‘The post apology debate’. I hope I’ve proved that Webdiary is trustworthy through my postings since this furore began.

The U.S. Free Trade Agreement – always a silly idea, now a deadly trap for Australia

It now seems that Labor will decide to support the US �Free� Trade agreement as early as Monday. Back to the small target strategy, with the national interest left out in the cold, again. And why? So as not to upset the Americans! As Webdiary�s conservative columnist Noel Hadjimichael emailed today, �Labor should stand firm on the FTA to differentiate itself on economic management – but it is gutless! Voters I suspect are suitably keen to vote for someone with a commitment to some values versus the ambiguity of the Latham soft sell lifted from the Dick Morris school of Clinton-era propaganda.�


Webdiarist Brian Bahnisch, a retired public servant who has studied trade agreements closely for years, reports. He also recommends Ross Gittins� pieces No free trade in so-called free trade agreement and Costs aplenty in ‘free’ trade IP deals with US. For the grave warnings of Australian scientists on the deal, see Subsuming us into America – the economic aspect.


The weird thing about Labor�s expected capitulation is that opposing the deal or requiring substantial amendments would allow the Australian people to get an idea of the enormous stakes and risks involved and could even be a potential election winner for Labor. At times like these it�s easy to believe we live in a one party state.


Picking the low-hanging fruit first

by Brian Bahnisch

The distinguished American scholar Immanuel Wallerstein sees multilateral trade negotiations as a means for the core economies of the world, North America, Europe and North Asia, to open the peripheral economies to trade and investment, while protecting their own. He sees this as part of the structure of capitalism and what he calls the World System. It is not a mere policy option, but rather an inherent structural feature.

Whether Wallerstein is ultimately right or not, he bases his remarks on a lifetime of study of the 500 years or so that capitalism has prevailed. We must expect, therefore, that the tendency of the strong to exploit the weak is very durable.

Trade in agricultural produce has been especially difficult to negotiate. Agriculture is heavily subsidised in the advanced economies, to the extent of about US$1 billion per day. (This figure moves, but the last authoritative figure I recall is US$312 billion about 6 months ago. Since then the dollar has fallen against most currencies.) It is generally accepted that if poor countries had access to wealthy countries for their agricultural produce, this would do more to assist them in economic development than direct aid, but only if their markets could be protected from subsidised exports from the likes of the US and the EU in the meanwhile.

In many of the advanced economies, farm subsidies are essential for the survival of many farmers, especially family farmers, and the continuance of subsidies is highly sensitive politically.

Through the many years of the GATT minimal progress was made in freeing up trade in agriculture. The WTO (World Trade Organisation), established in 1995, has fared no better. The entire WTO agenda fell in a heap in 1999, partly because of the ‘anti-globalisation protests’ but substantively because the poor countries were in open rebellion over the hypocrisy of the major powers and the unfair procedures adopted within the WTO by which the major powers controlled the agenda.

The Doha WTO ministerial meeting got things back on track largely because the major powers promised to wind back domestic agricultural subsidies, and to provide greater access to their markets for the produce of poorer countries, dubbing the Doha Round the “development round”. Also, the meeting was held in November 2001, two months after the S11 attacks. The US saw a favourable result as essential to establish faith in the ‘free world’ after the attacks of S11 and conducted a blitz of arm-twisting diplomacy before the meeting.

Even so there were no concessions on procedures made by the WTO – indeed a blatant abuse of procedure continued. And the final mix of concessions and undertakings was not particularly attractive to the poorer countries, as they had to make real concessions for promises in return. Past practice would lead them to believe that the usual hypocrisy and cynicism would result.

They were not disappointed in this sense. The US and the EU went off and increased their farm subsidies, but expected the poor countries to honour their side of the deal. The result was the collapse of the Doha Round in Cancun in September 2003.

As I write, efforts are being made in Geneva write to revive the Doha Round. The prospects are not good. It is true that the US and the EU are talking sweet about the desirability and their willingness to free up agricultural markets. Neither will do it unilaterally, however. It is a case of one in, all in. Moreover, Japan and South Korea are not showing the slightest interest in freeing markets and winding back subsidies. We need to recall that their intransigence was a large part of the problem in Cancun.

It is not surprising in this context that the focus has moved from multilateral trade negotiations to bilateral ones. The pure free traders see bilateral deals as preferential trade deals, rather than ‘free’ trade deals, as they actually disrupt trade with non-participating countries and divert it to the preferred partners. So bilateral deals are essentially a pragmatic second-best approach.

Australia is not well placed to conduct bilateral deals, as it has almost completely open markets anyway. Whatever the purists say, trade deals are about trading concessions. At the conclusion of the agreement you would expect to be doing less of the things you are not so good at and more of the things you are good at. As the whole thing nets out both sides are supposed to gain, in large part because your competitive industries become even more competitive and can sell more effectively into third markets. In addition, there are supposed to be general ‘dynamic gains’, which flow from the greater ease of transactions and interchange between the economies. This, I think, is why free traders will always recommend a deal even when no tangible benefits can be identified.

Another way Australia is different is that our farm sector is virtually unsubsidised, so it is in our interest to open all agricultural markets. We established the Cairns Group of agricultural exporting markets to further this agenda. This does not go down well in the third world, as most of those countries need to protect their markets in the short to medium term while they develop their infrastructure and industry. Robbing peasant farmers of income from cash crops causes great personal and social stress.

The US FTA – always a silly idea

The notion of a free trade agreement with the US was always a silly idea for three reasons.

First, every-one saw that we needed to make gains in terms of access for our agricultural produce if it was going to make sense. Howard reminded us at the time that we would need to make concessions in other areas, for example in our culture, if we were to make the necessary gains in agriculture.

Yet how could this ever happen? We were asking farmers in politically crucial areas of electoral support to the Bush administration to put their livelihoods in jeopardy for what in return? It doesn’t profit American farmers one bit if Hollywood or Big Pharmaceutical companies make more money out of our markets. Certainly US farmers want to weaken our quarantine provisions and get rid of our single desk selling in wheat and other grains, but this was never going to be enough. Indeed here too the benefits sought by the US do not apply to and hence mean nothing at all to the US sectors where we would make our biggest gains – beef, dairy and sugar.

So there was no pre-existing complementarity in our rural economies.

Second, if you want to take on a big guy you best get some mates to join you. It is an absolute rule of thumb, I would think, that you don’t take on the big guys bilaterally unless you have significant leverage or they particularly want to confer favours upon you. We didn’t have any leverage and conferring favours in trade matters is not generally the American way.

Third, there is a real question as to why we would give priority to the US rather than a range of other options. Both Japan and the EU (Brussels has the carriage on trade rather than individual countries) are bigger trading partners, for example. There would also be less risk involved in dealing with smaller economies. Given the size and transnational reach of US corporations, signing up with them would seem to be a recipe for becoming a branch office nation.

We need to remember, then, that we initiated this thing. It came out of Howard’s think tank just after the Ryan byelection disaster early in 2001. Howard was a dead man walking politically. The FTA was one of the ideas for making him look like a half-decent politician, let alone a statesman.

The Americans were initially bemused, but the multinationals soon saw the potential and in no time there was an organised lobby of 60 corporations, which rapidly became 120, lobbying for the deal. Trade Secretary Robert Zoellick, known for the occasional charming choice of phrase, muttered something about “picking the low-hanging fruit first”.

What’s in it for the Americans?

First of all there are strategic geopolitical considerations. You do not have sign up to every military adventure, but you do have to behave. New Zealanders need not apply. The US does see trade in terms of national security, indeed in terms of consolidating their hegemonic position in the world.

Second, the US will always act to further the interests of its corporations.

Third, this FTA is said to be the first with an advanced economy. (I’m not sure where that leaves Singapore!) As such it is important in setting standards for further deals, both bilateral and multilateral.

The US has declared themselves well pleased with their handiwork.

Where we are now – up to our navels in alligators, that’s where!

Should we be pleased?

I invite you to look at AFTINET’s summary Ten devils in the detail. Just in terms of the threat to our culture and the democratic deficit (constraints on what laws and regulations can be passed or allowed to stand at every level of government) the price seems too high. That is before you come to the lean pickings in actual monetary benefits.

On the lean pickings, $6 billion in 10 years time is the figure calculated by the government-funded study. Other studies have found lesser figures or even negative benefits. For a convenient overview of the said benefits see the graph on Professor John Quiggin’s website.

The $6 billion figure needs to be considered in the context of a GDP, which, on present trends, should be worth well over $1 trillion dollars per annum by then. Consider also that the changes in copyright and trademarks, the changes in broadcasting and quarantine, as well as the changes in the PBS (Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme) will have no significant effect according to the study. Some of the other assumptions in the study are similarly heroic.

Consider also that a major part of the gains are said to come from the so-called ‘equity premium’ which I take to mean the cheaper cost of capital because it will be easier to take over our most dynamic companies. This too seems to be based on what may roughly be termed a guesstimate, with no consideration of the negativities. There was a vigorous discussion on this issue on Quiggin’s website herehere and here.

Professor Quiggin, in his Senate submission, has termed the agreement an economic integration agreement rather than a free trade agreement. You really must ask, then, how much we will change as a nation and whether we really want to go there. American capitalism does have its own value assumptions and operating style.

Given the size disparity in the two economies it is probably a case of economic absorption, an absorption that constrains our own democratic capacity whilst giving no access to the greater polity. Nice work, John!

State Premiers have come out in favour, but I doubt whether any single one has contemplated how they may be required to change laws or be constrained in making laws and setting standards in such matters as professional practice, safety and the environment as a result of this agreement. Or how they may be required in the future to put out to tender some aspect of their portfolio of responsibilities simply because an American multinational wants to make some money out of it. If they had, they would surely be telling us loud and clear.

Nice work, John

We do need to be clear that we owe our current position squarely to our fearless leader. It was his idea in the first place, not, I think, for the general good, but to make him look like a leader when he manifestly didn’t.

At the other end of this tale, it appears from this story and others like it that the negotiators found the task undoable. Enter a little chat between George and John. To quote: “A weekend telephone conversation between Mr Howard and Mr Bush was credited by US negotiator Robert Zoellick with saving the deal.”

The problem is that the deal was resuscitated at the expense of John giving away the farm. Essentially our John gave up the gains in agriculture that were always seen as sine qua non to the deal. Unfortunately he didn’t retract the concessions already made to secure those very gains. That is my best guesstimate on what actually happened. The ungarnished truth is probably forever beyond our reach.

Labor’s self-inflicted web

Labor has got itself into a jam over this one. There seems little doubt that the left in the caucus is solidly against, but is likely to get rolled by the rest. Stephen Conroy has clearly been unable to resolve the differences. This is not a surprise. In my view the caucus contains other members with more aptitude and grasp in trade matters than Senator Conroy.

A more apt spokesman could have made hay on the FTA, which was immediately recognised as a dud by all but the most ideologically committed. The benefits are quite hard to find while the negatives stick out all over the place.

Peter Cook, who is both apt and knowledgeable, chairs the Senate Committee. My feeling is that he will leave the issue finely balanced, thus allowing it to be moved either way, a true servant to his master.

It is said that the Greens have made the rejection of the FTA a condition, not the only one, for a preference deal with Labor.

Which ever way Latham jumps now Howard will term him weak, a flip-flop merchant acting out of political concerns rather than out of principle and probably anti-American to boot.

Latham cannot pass it with loud reservations and promise to renegotiate it if he wins. Trade deals don’t work that way. While there are longer term provisions for review, no American administration is going to sit down next year and renegotiate an outcome less favourable to them. In the longer term a review is likely to tinker with the administration and the machinery of the agreement rather than throw the whole thing into a melting pot.

Should Labor be inclined not to pass the enabling legislation, the Americans do have some leverage and you can be sure Labor knows it. Much of our access to the American market and even visas are on the basis of quotas, which could be unilaterally cut back or withdrawn and allocated to other more compliant partners. Like our beef exports to the US, for example.

Right now we only have days left to influence Labor’s decision as Peter Cook has said there may be virtue in finalising the Senate Report before it is due on 12 August. I must go and send a few emails to caucus members other than those on the left who may just still be open to persuasion.

From what Kevin Rudd has said on radio it seems the first consideration will be by shadow cabinet early next week. Best concentrate on them.

Returning to Wallerstein, it is interesting to contemplate whether we are truly a core country, commanding the heights of capitalist power. I tend to think that even now we are just across the border in Wallerstein’s intermediate category, the semi-periphery. If we enter the FTA there is no doubt in my mind that we will lose some capacity to transact or to exert influence (let alone power) across the board.

Ask yourself if the Kiwis cheer every time we take over another of their companies and celebrate their good fortune? Still, on their example a pleasant enough life will still be available. But some of us will think about what might have been.

The post-apology debate

G’day. The Zionism debate is running hot after my mea culpa yesterday in Zionism: too many meanings make communication too hard?, and readers have sent in lots of information deepening it. I’ll start with this challenge from Lucy Idoleyes:

“I’ve read the waffling drivel you present as a response to the anger over your KKK-style assertion, and I’d still like to know, do you stand by your assertion that Jewish people control the media and politics in Australia? Zionists aren’t Lutherans or Catholics, so let’s be blunt about what you said. Do you stand by it?”

MargoLucy, I did NOT say that Jewish people control the media and politics in Australia. I said that “fundamentalist Zionists” did. My understanding is that most Jewish people are Zionists, but that most Jewish people are not fundamentalist Zionists who believe that they have a right given to the Jewish people by God to appropriate Palestinian land. Wikipedia defines Zionism as “a political movement that holds that the Jews are a nation, and as such are entitled to a “Jewish National Homeland”, and also as “a movement to support the development and defense of the State of Israel, and to encourage Jews to settle there.” Therefore, Anti-Zionism can be opposition to either of these objectives or their implementation”.


Some Jewish people are anti-Zionist, for example jewsagainstzionism. Some fundamentalist Christians in the United States are anti-semitic Zionists: wikpediastates that “Christian Zionism is the belief among some denominations of Protestant Christians, mainly in the United States, that the return of the Jews to the Holy Land, through the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, is in accordance with Biblical prophecy, and is a necessary precondition for the return of Jesus to reign on Earth.”

I unreservedly retract my statement that fundamentalist Zionists “control” politics and the media in Australia. ‘Raymond Allen’, a Jewish bloke who wrote to me privately yesterday and agreed to be published under a nom de plume, expressed what I meant: “Australia’s “No Vote” on the General Assembly resolution was because the fundamentalist Zionist lobby is highly influential in politics and the media in the US and Australia on the issue of Israel/Palestine”.

I again apologise for causing offence to many readers, and I’ve removed the phrase in question from the original piece, On the road again.


Webdiary columnist Jack Robertson defends my honour in a ‘Meeja Watch’ piece at Robbo-v-Bolt on anti-semitism, over a whisky perhaps? In this entry I publish every critical email I received that was not marked “not for publication” since yesterday’s piece, and some emails in my defence. Let’s start with Raymond.


Raymond Allen

I read your follow-up piece after you wrote that “the fundamentalist Zionist lobby controls politics and the media in the US and Australia” and admired that you would soul-search publicly as to how that sentence would give offence. You said you thought (in so many words) that everyone agreed. But from the examples you gave it seems that what you meant was only “control” as related to discussion of Israel/Palestine.

But what you actually wrote was “control politics and the media”. You didn’t make it issue-specific so it read exactly as the sort of far-fetched ambit claim that neo-Nazis make. To control politics and the media is to be a “secret government”. If you control politics and the media you control everything, you rule autocratically. I am not twisting your words to say that they meant that you are claiming that we are living in a Fundamentalist Zionist dictatorship, that’s precisely what “controlling” politics and media means. How can you be so terribly surprised that people took offence at such a hugely exaggerated claim normally the province exclusively of neo-Nazis?

OK, let’s assume you didn’t really mean ALL of politics of media, in which case you must admit your language was careless in the extreme. (Margo: Admitted!) I still say using the word “control” is far too strong even if you are just talking about the Israel/Palestine issue. You can’t waste a word like “control” for what happens here on any issue. Many Governments around the world really do control their media and what that means is NOTHING unfavourable to their specific cause gets published, absolutely nothing. That’s what “control” means.

To suggest that the Zionists “control” the media and virtually in the same breath to link to Moir’s passionately anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian cartoon just proves that your point is false – surely that cartoon would not get published if the Zionists really did “control” the media. Actually, take it a step further: that you can make the claim that the Zionists “control” the media and the claim gets published in that self-same media itself demonstrates the falsehood of the claim! Be realistic, the Zionists score goals in lobbying but there is heaps published every day that they have no control of and obviously would not permit if they truly had this control and did decide to use it to stifle all dissent. Anyway, the Fundamentalist Zionists as you call them really do (currently) control the Israeli Government (in this case by virtue of the democratic process) and they do not “control” the media even there – you can read many daily pieces hostile to Sharon’s policies, including the security fence, in the left-wing Israeli media (like Ha-aretz) where dissent is not stifled.

Because the fundamentalist Zionist lobby controls politics and the media in the US and Australia: That’s the “secret government” neo-Nazi claim. How could you not have noticed?


If you really only meant because the fundamentalist Zionist lobby controls politics and the media [on the issue of Israel/Palestine] in the US and Australia, then OK, it’s not quite as neo-Nazi, but crazily far-fetched because in that case it would be impossible for anyone to publish a piece critical of Israel, just as it was impossible to publish a piece critical of the Communist Party in Soviet Russia. This is a middle-class Western disease, exaggerating and being far-fetched about the degree of the perceived outrage which leaves no language left to describe the true extremes which still do exist but are so alien to us so we tend to forget what “control” of the media really does mean, where journalists such as yourself can be imprisoned, tortured and killed for dissenting from the party line.


I think if you’d written that Australia’s “No Vote” on the General Assembly resolution was because the fundamentalist Zionist lobby is highly influential in politics and the media in the US and Australia on the issue of Israel/Palestine very few people would have blinked or played the “anti-Semite” card. Not everyone would have agreed with you. They might say “I have formed my own opinion that the Israeli security fence is justified without being lobbied by Zionists, so I don’t see why the Australian Government might not have come to the same conclusion independent of lobbyists”. That’s debate, your opinion is arguable and so is theirs, they can’t prove that the vote wasn’t a result of lobbying and you can’t prove that it was. It’s all legitimate opinion.

But your careless language, which I accept was unintentional, shows that there is a line to be crossed between legitimate criticism of Israel and the Zionist lobby and language that at least at face value is certainly anti-Semitic. “Control” is far too strong a word, connoting unlimited power. Intellectually it’s dishonest. Morally it’s bankrupt because the “control” claim (the secret Jewish Government) is at the heart of every fatally poisonous anti-Semitic canard. So double reason not to use the word “control”, it’s dishonest and false, and the same untrue allegation that anti-Semites regularly make.

How could your alarm bells not go off? (Margo: I’m inexperienced in this debate, which I avoided before Ashrawi and have promised myself I will never enter again! It was a throwaway line that I deeply regret.)

I was surprised that you virtually re-iterated the claim in your follow up piece, saying that you thought everyone agreed that the Zionists had this “control”.

I think that was the problem and what was missing in your follow up. It was the word “control” that was way over the top, and is precisely this same over-the-top-ness that has had such a terrible legacy in the hands of real anti-Semites. Ultimately your use of it plays into those very hands, makes the extreme mainstream. (Margo: Agreed!)



Ronald H Tolkien: Sharon to Peres: “We Control America”: Congressional Pandering to Israel.

Sol Salbe recommends Tactic of intimidation by smear utterly repugnant, on theAustralia/Israeland Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) response to the attempt by Israeli spies to obtain New Zealand passports under false pretences.

Scott Burchill recommends Israel expands West Bank settlements: aerial photos reveal extent of land grab, say peace groups.

Allen Jay: “I suggest you read ‘The Politics of Anti-Semitism’, published by Counterpunch and edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair. See also Uri Avnerey’s The Hoax of Paris andChirac v. Sharon on how it all works – spin included. Sau Landau’s website on the media is also interesting.



Steve Sher

I just wanted to point out to Allen Jay in his off-target comparison of Israel and the “Nazi plan” yesterday that his recounting of Sharon’s political history is incorrect.

Allen states that “Sharon come to power on the back of the assassination of a PM who made peace with the Palestinians, promising to destroy that peace…..”. Well, not quite.


In fact, there were three (3!) other Israeli Prime Ministers who served between the time of the assasinated Rabin and Sharon coming to power. They were: Shimon Peres (1995-97), Bibi Netanyahu (1997-1999) and Ehud Barak (1999-2001)


Sharon’s entry into power in 2001, 6 years after the 1995 shooting, can hardly be categorised as on the back of the assasination (thereby implying a link). Sharon came to power in a completely different context, in the wake of the Camp David Peace Accords attended by Clinton, Arafat, and Barak in October 2000. Thanks for the opportunity to write in.



Boss Hog: Margo must have won a life-time free membership to the Klan with her anti-Semitic rave. Is it true that the SMH is changing its name to “Juden Raus”?


David Langsam

The current definition of anti-Semitism in common useage is anyone who disagrees with either Sharon or Colin Rubenstein. They are Jews so whatever they say must be Jewish and to oppose even their most ludicrously inhumane or stupid beliefs is ipso facto anti-Semitism. Colin likes John Howard, so criticism of John Howard may be anti-Semitism, too!

Now, I just happen to be Jewish. Pretty much as Jewish as you get. Not half, not quarter, but a full-blood, bull’s blood Kike. (Ich bin der uberJuden, jedes Deutsche schlimpster auptraum.) The sort of investigative journalist the Nazis would have been proud to pop in the head and throw into a mass grave, like more than 90 percent of my family.

So, of course, anyone who disagrees with me, particularly on matters relating to the State of Israel, is another bloody anti-Semite. The only minor technical problem we have here is that all Jews know the dictum: Two Jews, Three Opinions, so all Jews by definition must be anti-Semites.

Over the top? This abuse of language goes back a long way. Many on the non-extreme right of Israel and Jewish affairs are appalled when the extremists use the Holocaust – the deaths of our families – for their own cheap political points.

Isi Liebler is apparently fond of describing Jews critical of ultra-right wing Israeli governments as “self-hating Jews”. Others call them “Isi Liebler hating Jews”.

But the bottom line on this gang of language-abusers belongs to the mentor I share with Robert Manne – Dr Franta Knopfelmacher: “At least Spinoza was excommunicated by Rabbis. I was excommunicated by travel agents.” A reference to Liebler’s then travel agency.

As for Zionism, I am reclaiming the term and I am a Real Zionist – one who supports the Hollywood Paul Newman version in Exodus, where Jews are prepared and able to defend a homeland for Jews, while treating the indigenous peoples with the respect demanded by UN Resolution 181 (II) and be light on the hill to all nations on peaceful coexistence. I want an Israel for perpetuity, not just for Chanukkah.

PS: Note to the AIJAC functionary tasked to criticise this article – humour has been included, along with irony, so please ask a grown-up for help.


Exchange of emails between Jonathan Baral in Chippendale and an online editor, sent to me by Jonathan

Jonathan Baral: Why do you continue to publish Margo Kingston’s work (Monday 26th July- Zionism – too many means make communication too hard)? In the name of free speech? Even though it incites hatred of Jews (whether they be from Israel or Australia). Every time I read her work (published in SMH) I feel vilified. I thought that this kind of thing went out with Nazi Germany. Shame! Shame!! Shame!!! I ask you what is the legal responsiblilty of the editorial department? I for one will be finding out, and if possible will be looking to sue. How dare you publish offensive propaganda. At the barest minimum, I would expect SMH to put forward a retraction (you do bear responsiblity as you published it, even if you do not agree with it). Please note, if you choose to employ a racist, that is your perogative. But to publish their works (ongoing), that is just offensive. I look forward to your most urgent attention to this matter,

Editor: Surely the piece you refer to is self-explanatory? It sets out Margo’s explanation of her use of language and what others thought about it at considerable length. If Margo was a racist, why would she bother writing at the conclusion of the piece: “To conclude, I sincerely apologise for any offence caused, and will be happy to publish reader discussion on the matter. ” If you wish to discuss it further with her, why not take up her offer?

Jonathan: Was the put down necessary? And if it is self-explanatory, then why do you think I took so much offence? Perhaps you agree with Ms.Kingston? Please read some of Ms Kingston’s work. I am not a part of some “fundamentalist Zionist lobby” that Ms Kingston is trying to draw attention to while trying to apologise for it, or use someone else’s statements to do so. Ms.Kingston’s constant referal to “The Protocols of the elders of Zion” (the foundation for the Nazi extermination of Jews in Europe) and her suggestion that this Zionist lobby is in control of Australian/US politics and media, while apologising for making these statements is offensive. (Margo: I don’t beieve I have EVER referred to “the protocols” – could you refer me to your evidence, please?)

My family through the Holocaust in Europe (sic). This article is offensive to those that survived and those that did not. It is also offensive to those who are trying to survive now in Israel.

Why write something (and publish it!) if you know it will cause offence and then apologise for it?! Does that excuse the content? I think not. To discuss the matter further with Margo Kingston would achieve nothing. She has made her opinion very clear over a very long time. This is not a topic for discussion and I will not bring myself down to the level of this person by debating with her my right to exist (and yes, it is that personal). How can you discuss/debate with someone who clearly won’t listen anyway. This woman’s work is offensive to most Jews who live in Australia (check with the Jewish Board of Deputies – Jeremy Jones care of nswjbd). Again I urge you to take action in this matter.

Alternatively I am happy to air Ms Kingston’s article and our emails on various websites with people who share my views. Perhaps you might like to hear from them as well.

Editor: Jonathan, far from seeking to put you down, I’m encouraging you to use the vehicle of the Webdiary and contribute to the debate to get your point of view across. If Margo doesn’t listen, why would she seek – as in the piece of which you complain – to try to understand how she has given offence? I’ll copy her in on this exchange.

Jonathan: Perhaps both you and Ms Kingston might choose to read some of the letters and editorial comment from the Jerusalem Times. I would also recommend honestreporting.

Jews the world over feel as though they are under seige. Most are scared by what they see happening in the world (note metal detectors and armed security at places of worship; also concrete barriers at high holy days!). They have heard the stories of what happened 60 years ago, and see the same thing happening again. The Jewish people are being dehumanised by the world media; their enemies seek to disarm them (ie the World Court/UN resolution); the next step………..

The Webdiary is not the place to discuss this. This is not a debate – how can any Jew debate their right to exist? How can any people debate their right to exist? How can anyone debate their identity and the right for their identity to exist? How can any country debate its right to exist? These matters are not for debate or up for discussion. And anyone who wants to…how dare they!


Rami Banna

Disclosure: I was born in Damascus, Syria, raised a Christian, am existentialist by thought and don’t do hate. Unfortunately, my name and my background tend to sideline me when it comes to discussing issues of Jewish statehood or Zionist agendas ESPECIALLY in Australia: Oh, OF COURSE you’d think that, you’re an Arab! Take a number. I understand (but do not accept) that.

I too read that line and did a double take. Not because it offends. Not because its outlandish. No, I re-read it several times thinking “There goes Webdiary”! It wouldn’t go down well, and Margo/Webdiary was in real danger. Funny, because that re-enforced your point precisely!

The first international Zionist convention held towards the end of the 19th century was formed by a minority with a Fundamentalist Jewish agenda. A majority of Jews world-wide did not agree with it or condone it. In fact, many labeled it anti-semitic. The aim of the Zionists was clear. The method, however, is largely unspoken: their mission statement specifically identifies the use of lobby groups to influence international governments for the interests of the Zionist movement.

So, how can you, Margo, be labeled anit-semitic for simply stating that the Zionists have been very successful in their mission ?

Zionist does NOT equal Jew, fundamentalist does NOT equal majority Jewish practice and belief, and the use of the phrase Zionist Fundamentalist in no way misrepresents the minority agenda you refer to. Unfortunately, anti-semitic is just too easy to say and is a fast twitch reflex to any text containing both Zionist and Fundamentalist.

I applauded the Ashrawi chapter in ‘Not Happy, John!’ It promoted an open discussion of the Zionist state-of-play which was otherwise taboo. Open and frank discussion is WAY overdue in this country. And I feel very responsible as an educated positive example of a person of middle eastern descent to contribute, not for me, but for everyday Australians to understand. Middle Eastern ignorance is only going to hurt this country more in the years to come.

The tricky part about this discussion, though, is that you must approach it very humbly, diplomatically and above all, intelligently – that’s what I’ve learnt, anyway. One must be very clever in conceding the right ground, avoiding the anti-semitic trump card, and getting the facts and truth across.


Barrie Stephens

Margo, is the Israeli Labour Party a fundamentalist organisation? Which group of Israelis in Israel who support the existence of the State of Israel is not “fundamentalist”? Your answer to these questions will assist you to realise that the term “fundamental Zionist” is an anti-semitic term. If by “Zionist”, you mean someone who supports the notion of Israel’s right to exist then my guess is about 90% of the world’s Jewish population would be Zionists and, moreover, would come within the ambit of your term “fundamental Zionist”. Perhaps my analysis is wrong. I guess I could be proved wrong by your defining for me who exactly is a non-fundamentalist Zionist.

Margo: A Zionist who opposes the building of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and thus the appropriation of Palestinian land. Wikipedia states: “Zionism holds that ‘Jewish people constitute a nation and are entitled to a national homeland,’ but is often used by opponents to label the much stronger viewpoint of some in the Israeli settler movement who wish to build a “Greater Israel” on the West Bank and Gaza strip at the expense of Palestinians. Supporters of the former interpretation of Zionism regard it as a combination of nationalism and democratic plurality.”


Philip Uebergang

It seems to me that every comment made about Judaism today is made under the cloud of the Holocaust. Sadly, and ironically, fundmentalist Zionism has hijacked the Holocaust to its cause, to be dragged out as the ‘no-brainer’ for every criticism of anything Jewish. The reaction you received is the reaction of a public that has been trained to tread delicately to the point where free thinking has been suppressed.

I recently visited Gross Rossen Concentration Camp in Poland, just outside my ‘ancestral’ hometown (ancestors long gone). A marvellous young Austrian chap showed me around, working there to fulfill his National Service duties. After the experience I can honestly say that the tragedy of the Holocaust crosses all cultural and religious barriers, and it is a continuing tragedy that we stand back and allow it to be constantly misused as a tool for political and monetary power struggles.

Lest we really do forget…


Yosi Tal in Leichhardt, Sydney

This is the letter the SMH wouldn’t print.

“If we were to see the words, “the fundamentalist Zionist lobby controls politics and the media in the US and Australia” we may think we were reading something from the Ku Klux Klan, or perhaps the League of Rights. No-one should expect such comments to come from a Sydney Morning Herald journalist, yet SMH web diarist Margo Kingston posted them on the site on July 22 in response to a reader comment. If Ms Kingston does not understand that the SMH is not the place for old fashioned Jewish conspiracy mythology, the SMH needs to find itself a new diarist.”


Jackie McKerrell in Bonbeach, Victoria

Perhaps the missing words in your comment were “the views of” and “on the Israel/Palestine issue”, i.e. [the views of] the fundamentalist Zionist lobby [on the Israel/Palestine issue] control politics and media in the US and Australia. I think an extremely robust argument can be mounted in this regard, and does not imply that all Jews are Zionists or fundamentalist Zionists or even the requirement of a direct “all-powerful” Jewish hand (see the influence of the extremely dangerous and profoundly anti-semitic Christian Zionists in the US).

I think it is deeply troubling that the privately funded right wing think tank AIJAC is perceived as the voice of Australian Jewry by both the politicians and the media, and that it seems virtually impossible for alternative views to be heard, including from the left, opponents of Israel’s military occupation, supporters of a just peace with the Palestinians or even voices on the right who do not support the excesses of the Sharon Government and even less the blatant racism and ethnic cleansing aspirations of the lunatic fringe who wield inordinate power in Israeli politics.

The automatic response from the media to turn to the Rubinsteins and the Lapkins as the “voice of Australian Jewry” at every opportunity does a grave disservice to Australian Jews who do not share their reflexive pro-Likudnik stance.

It goes without saying that the coverage of the Middle East in Australia is extremely poor and almost unrelentingly pro-Israeli largely due to omission of Palestinian voices and presentation of the Palestinian experience of 37 years of military occupation, dispossession and colonisation. And what of the cost to Israeli society of this four decade long military occupation, compulsory military service and the financial and moral burden of the Jewish settlers on Palestinian land – increased crime and violence, poverty, homelessness, unemployment, marginalisation of already beseiged and disadvantaged non-Jewish minorities, racial purity laws (see new legislation regarding marriage), and the coarsening of public and parliamentary debate where talk of ethnic cleansing of non-Jews, excising whole Arab communities from Israel or withdrawing even the right to vote from Israeli Arabs are OK topics for discussion?

Why do we not hear the voices of outstanding Israeli journalists like Amira Hass, Gideon Levy, Tanya Reinhart, Neve Gordon or Meron Benvenisti in Australia? The profound and considered analysis of Ilan Pappe or Baruch Kimmerling? It is not just the voices of Palestinians that are silenced by the predominance of the fundamentalist Zionist viewpoint, it is also the dissenting voices of Israeli and Australian Jews.


Annabel Delaunay

I am not Jewish nor do I have a any close Jewish friends, nor do I have any particular ideological sympathies with Israel. Having said that I am appalled and disgusted by the blatant anti-Semitism displayed by your employee, Margo Kingston. Her subsequent ‘explanation’ merely emphasises her hate and arrogance. I will no longer subscribe to a newspaper which publishes such strident prejudice.”


Steve j. Spears in Henley Beach, South Australia

Well, who’s a naughty girl? Some folks want to hang you for — “… the fundamentalist Zionist lobby controls politics and the media in the US and Australia”. Seems to me that fewer feathers would have been ruffled had you said “has massive influence over” instead of “controls”. But, really, big f…ing deal. The Ultra-Sensitive wings within both Judaism and Zionism would be screaming “anti-semite” at you even if you’d replaced “controls” with “has no influence whatsoever over”.

The insult is the issue itself. How dare you use words which don’t parse in praise of them and all their works?

In her well-reasoned letter yesterday, Webdiarist Jenny Green says – “You have to remember that that label (“Jew”) has variously been a source of shame and fear and danger within the lifetime of my own grandparents”.

She better keep schtum about that lest the Ultra-Sensitives decide to ban goys using “Jew”.


Daniel Boase-Jelinek in Perth

I am disappointed by the attacks on you regarding your comments on the political activities of various Jewish groups in Australia and the USA, and their turning a blind eye to Howard’s violations of human rights.

I had no sense of anti-semitism while reading your column. What struck me were the parallels between Isreali displacement of Palestinians and the displacement of Aboriginal people in Australia, and the continuing denial of human rights in both places. It seems to me that what is happening in Israel may be a preview of what could happen in Australia if we continue to deny justice to Aboriginal people.

What I do find offensive is the refusal by our Government and mainstream media to consider the possibility that the festering sore of Israel is at the root of terrorism around the world, and that the war on terrorism would be much further advanced if this was addressed.


Ian McPherson

“The fundamentalist Zionist lobby influences politics and the media in the US and Australia” – OK, we can live with that. “The fundamentalist Zionist lobby controls politics and the media in the US and Australia” – Aaarrrrgggghhhh!!!! Death to the unbeliever!!! I suggest that Israel, which is happy to be the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid (much of it military), has failed to convince the world that it is using that support morally. I am not anti-semitic, and I’m not anti-Israel. I am, however, anti-oppression, and Israel has ignored more UN resolutions on its conduct in the occupied territories than Saddam Hussein.


Tim Gillin in Kensington, Sydney

Margo, you seem to have had a close encounter with what libertarian New York Jewish writer Murray Rothbard called Organised Anti-Anti-Semitism(OOAS). He wrote a fun article about this in the early 1990s when Richard Nixon’s former speech writer Pat Buchanan urged the US to revert to Ike’s “even handed” policy on the Arab-Israeli conflict. He also opposed Gulf War 1. For these “radical” views Buchanan was smeared as an anti-semite. I think you’ll enjoy Rothbard’s description of how fellow journalists use the anti-semite label, the whole Smear Bund spin cycle and his premonitions of things to come.

I suppose your words “the fundamentalist Zionist lobby controls politics and the media in the US and Australia” could have been better chosen. I would have said the “Likudniks” rather than “Zionists” and “dominates” rather than “controls” myself. But free speech is about saying what you want, how you want. So I may disagree with your adjectives and adverbs, but I will fight, or at least cuss, to the death, or at least to my old age pension comes in, for your right to use them.

There may be some good to all this. Now you know how us conservatives feel when your mob toss buckets of political correctness, anti-racism, anti-sexism etc at us for not gasping in awe at the self evident worth of all pronouncements from Philip Adams!