By Mike Head 22 January 2015 With Australia’s economic situation rapidly worsening, and the Abbott government still unable to push through parliament major social spending cuts from last year’s budget, the opposition Labor Party is signaling its readiness to impose an austerity program on the working class. Giving his first media interview for 2015, Labor’s […]
Category Archives: Australia
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When surrounded, how does one deal with Machiavillians? What to do? If Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent experience at this year’s G20 Summit ‘down under’ in Brisbane Australia is any indicator, the short answer is: with great difficulty. Even not at all. Truth be told, Western neo-cons have an aversion to truth. And it shows; […]
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Researchers, officials and residents hold Sydney Sheikh Fedaa Majzoub responsible for two appalling massacres and kidnappings in Northern Syria. Worse, the sectarian sheikh has for some time enjoyed protection from the Australian media as well as from some political figures. By Tim Anderson Majzoub has been implicated in the mass atrocities at Ballouta and Kessab, […]
By Mike Head
13 November 2014
Brisbane, the venue of this weekend’s G20 summit, increasingly looks like a city under police occupation. Much of the inner city and the adjoining Southbank precinct, where the event is being staged, resembles a ghost town, with police outnumbering people on the streets.
Everywhere throughout the centre of Australia’s third biggest city, large groups of police are present, some with dogs. Others are patrolling on horses, motorbikes or bicycles, or in squad cars. Police buses, dark vans and motorcades are a constant sight.
All the police are armed, and most are wearing dark blue para-military uniforms. Snipers are on the roofs of hotels, Black Hawk helicopters hover overhead and military aircraft, including F/A18 Super Hornets, have criss-crossed the sky.
This was already taking place yesterday, well before the arrival of most of the leaders of the world’s 19 largest economies, plus the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and other global financial institutions.
The measures being taken to protect the government leaders—at a cost officially approaching half a billion dollars—stood in stark contrast to the impact on ordinary working people, who faced three kilometres of barricades, street closures and shutdowns of educational and cultural facilities.
Pedestrians were warned that police were ready to use special powers, which can include conducting strip searches, ordering people to leave declared zones and making mass arrests. To shield 4,000 G20 delegates and officials, the operation involves at least 6,000 uniformed police on active duty and 2,000 military personnel, mostly on standby.
Hundreds of surveillance cameras have been activated, transmitting images from streets, buildings, airport terminals and police drones and helicopters. They are monitored via a new “state-of-the-art” security operations centre, giving what police chiefs boasted was “unprecedented footage” for an Australian city.
This is a deliberate show of force, backed by multitudes of security guards, plain-clothed police and intelligence agents, foreign security detachments and a military presence in the air and at checkpoints. Brisbane, the capital of the state of Queensland, is providing a rehearsal ground for police-state conditions.
Queensland Deputy Commissioner Ross Barnett said residents would “notice a sea of police” and “snipers on buildings” but should feel reassured, because this is “one part of the security planning required to make sure leaders have a safe and enjoyable stay.”
Judging from the near-deserted streets, however, and the interviews given by young people to the World Socialist Web Site, many residents felt intimidated, alienated and disgusted by the security blanket surrounding the G20 gathering, and by the summit itself.
Under the guise of preventing terrorist attacks on the event—although police say none have been identified—and averting violent protests—none has been specified—the security operation is designed to both prevent demonstrations near the summit and condition public opinion to such a repressive atmosphere.
While police claim to have permitted 26 planned protests, they imposed severe restrictions and issued dire warning against any departures from approved venues or routes. Participants are banned from wearing masks, holding megaphones or carrying large banners. A water cannon is ready to use against deviating demonstrators, along with several “sound cannons”—giant vehicle-mounted speakers that blast ear-piercing shrieks.
Queensland Premier Campbell Newman aggressively defended the lockdown, declaring that it would pay dividends by displaying Brisbane as a safe “world city” for investors and tourists. He emphasised the bipartisan support for the summit within the political establishment, noting that the event was originally assigned to Brisbane by the former federal Labor government of Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
The clampdown on the city was highlighted yesterday when the police commissioner extended the summit’s “declared zone” to cover the main University of Queensland campus, and the adjacent Brisbane River and surrounding areas. The campus will be the venue for an address by US President Barack Obama, described by the White House as a major speech on American leadership of the Asia Pacific.
Significantly, this address, which is expected to declare Washington’s determination to dominate the region, economically and strategically, throughout the 21st century, will be delivered to a carefully invited audience of 1,500 people, behind an immense security cordon.
University students, who are in the middle of exams, will have difficulty accessing their own campus and will certainly be unable to get anywhere near the event. Everyone entering the zone will be subject to searching and screening.
Security is so tight that Obama will arrive via one of the huge US military helicopters that held noisy training runs over Brisbane yesterday. At one point, two of the choppers landed near a freeway, causing a dust storm that halted traffic.
When a WSWS correspondent photographed the security barricade near the summit venue yesterday, police officers immediately intervened. Claiming that taking such pictures “caused a lot of tension,” they insisted on questioning the reporter and recording his ID. Asked if all people taking photographs were being accosted, a police officer declined to say, but stressed that police had these powers under the G20 legislation passed by the state parliament.
According to the Australian, its reporter saw “a pedestrian furiously berated by an officer on a motorbike for legally crossing the road when a motorcade was stopped at traffic lights. ‘You might get shot, mate,’ the officer yelled.”
In other incidents, a solitary woman lining up paper boats in a row along the edge of Brisbane convention centre was ordered by police to move on or face an “exclusion notice.” A man was arrested after taking photos near the summit venue and refusing to provide his details.
Homeless people were also harassed and pushed out of the area. Roby Curtis, a co-ordinator of Blind Eye Ministries, a homelessness charity, told the media it was “pretty obvious that they don’t want the riff raff around,” noting that “where the summit is happening are some of the poorest areas in Brisbane.”
At the other end of the social scale, the G20 summit budget—officially put at $478 million—includes the purchase of a fleet of 16 bomb-proof limousines for $1.8 million to protect heads of state and other dignitaries.
In its own way, this disparity illustrates the agenda pursued by the G20 since the 2008 global financial meltdown, which has been to enrich the financial markets and corporate giants at the expense of the working class. According to an Oxfam media briefing, during the past year alone, when Australia held the G20 presidency, the total wealth in the G20 countries grew by $17 trillion, but a staggering 36 percent went to the richest one percent of their populations.
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Heavy military presence at G20 summit in Australia
[5 November 2014]
The progress has been conspicuous, and while it would be foolish to deem the Australian state a democratic one, its rudimentary Westminster form, as it is, finds itself being whittled away by attempts to hollow out protest – or at the very least the means of protest.
The international law canon on this is clear enough, but in a global system still policed by states suspicious of how far such laws go, they sound like noble words across empty spaces. Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 makes the point that people do have a right to freedom of peaceful assembly, a point reiterated in the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights 1966 (Article 21). There is also a right to engage in participatory democracy “without unreasonable restrictions” under the same covenant (Art 25).
In Tasmania, the Government was only frustrated in part by amendments in the Legislative Council to punish protestors who trespass on workplaces. The initial legislative package introduced mid-year included mandatory fines and minimum jail terms. The fines regime was promised to be particular brutal – a hefty on-the-spot $10,000 for trespassers. As Leader of Government Business, Vanessa Goodwin, observed, “We do support this [compromise] reluctantly if it comes to the crunch.”
Effectively, it amounted to a deal scrapping mandatory 3-month jail terms for repeat offenders for increased maximum penalties, though Goodwin refuses to rule out a review at a future date. The desire to punish rarely sleeps an easy, let alone long rest.
Former Greens Senator Bob Brown, and long time environmental campaigner, did not mistake the intended message, which was couched in the language of hyper-legal propriety for those keen on getting on with business. And if history is anything to go by, what is good for Australian business is catastrophic for the environment. “The four-year jail sentence for nature lovers, people who defend Tasmania’s forests peaceably, are totally out of kilter.” Even the Launceston independent Rosemary Armigate had to remind listeners that, “Just because I don’t support mandatory sentences doesn’t mean I don’t support businesses in this state.” The connection between a punitive regime and a successful regime was made all too clear.
It also showed a disproportionate nature, one exceeding that for those “who fail to go to the defence of a distressed child” or those negligently killing their fellow citizens on the road. “It is legislation that you’d think would be more at home in Putin’s Russia than in (Will) Hodgman’s Tasmania.” Evidently, Hogdman does not agree.
Certainly, the Resources Minister, Paul Harris, felt that the Tasmanian voter wanted a tougher stance on protests, seeing it as a matter for “worker rights”. “We took this to the election, there was no ambiguity on this whatsoever.” While Harris was visibly irritated at the pruning of the more savage aspects of the bill, he still claimed that the “core principles” in the original bill had been “achieved”. All this said, while licking his wounds.
Tasmania is by no means the only state to be undergoing this abridgment of liberties to protest. In March, Victoria demonstrated the vital importance of having laws guarding and protecting freedom of assembly. (Australia remains exceptionally negative towards converting liberties into enforceable rights in that sense.) The Summary Offences and Sentencing Amendment Act was a grand investiture of bruising powers for the police to move on protesters blocking buildings, obstructing people or traffic (termed an “unreasonable obstruction”), and those deemed at risk of violence.
In a manner similar with the Tasmanian law, habitual violators face the possibility, first, of exclusion orders preventing them from entering the space of protest for up to 12 months or two years’ imprisonment for violating the orders. This is the attitude of authorities in Australia: killing the spirit of protest and dissent by the conformism of regulated exclusion.
Like many such laws, the move-on powers were born out of puritanical enthusiasm to quell alcohol-related violence. Sensuousness, and overall the passions, are dangerous. There was something archaic and Georgian about it, the need to stomp out irresponsible behaviour, while actually seeking to draw a ring around all forms of contrarian behaviour. Deputy Commissioner Kieran Walshe would have none of that soppy critique that this was intrusive to civil liberties. The community, that odd entity that has neither form nor substance, had “rights to be safe”. That is should also have some phantom right to be safe from government was quite something else.
But the true intention of the laws passed in 2009 became clear at the second reading of the bill by the Attorney General. Victorian voters got a true sense about what sort of community the government had in mind. Such “move-on powers may be used in respect of people engaged in picket lines, protests and other demonstrations.”
With passage of the Summary offence changes in 2014, Greens MLC Sue Pennicuik claimed that it was “an absolute assault on the democratic of Victorians to protest – whether it be on the streets or on public land – about issues of concern to them.” Of course, Victorians, or Australians, have no such thing. As that plain but useful précis to Victorian law from the Fitzroy Legal Centre explains, the international rights outlined in accepted conventions is one thing; domestic law, however, is quite another, often impervious creature. It is “difficult to assert these rights in Australia, because most of the rights have not been incorporated into Australian domestic law”.
The appetite for a bill of rights in Australia is small and undernourished, numbed over decades by an almost mystical worship of Parliament’s infinite wisdom and the reasonableness – whatever that means – of the common law. But the persistent attempts by parliamentarians to essentially treat their representative chambers as closed shops in opposition to their constituents, whom they regard with both contempt and suspicion, suggests the ever greater need for enshrined laws of protest and disagreement. Governments need watching with keen, informed eyesight. Wilful blindness is their friend. It follows that the angry, persistent protester is their foe.
Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: email@example.com
By Mike Head
3 November 2014
One of the police-state measures in the Abbott government’s barrage of “terrorism” laws has generated a revealing debate within the media and political establishment about the media’s key role in managing and manipulating public opinion in the so-called “war on terror.”
At issue is section 35P of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) Act. It was inserted by the ASIO powers bill, which was passed by parliament a month ago, without one vote being cast against it.
This provision puts a major new power in the hands of the government and ASIO, the main domestic spy agency. The attorney-general can now authorise “special intelligence operations,” in which ASIO agents infiltrate and act as provocateurs within targeted groups or political parties.
ASIO operatives are not only granted civil and criminal immunity for these illegal activities. Under section 35P, anyone, including a journalist, who “discloses information” about an operation can be jailed for five years. If that information could “prejudice the effective conduct” of the operation, they can be imprisoned for 10 years.
If these laws had been in place a decade ago, they could have blocked a string of revelations of government-AFP-ASIO frame-ups that helped expose the methods of the police/intelligence agencies and discredit the “war on terror.” One of the most prominent cases was that of Dr Mohamed Haneef, whose lawyers courageously leaked to the media police documents showing there was no evidence against the young Indian doctor.
The introduction of section 35P points to a stepping-up of such operations in the latest “terrorist” scare campaign about Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which is being used to justify Australia’s involvement in the renewed US-led war in the Middle East.
Over the past decade, undercover ASIO and Australian Federal Police (AFP) agents have already entrapped victims into making alleged vague terrorist threats or preparations, resulting in major prosecutions, accompanied by sensational media headlines about terrorist plots.
In 2008, for example, there was Operation Pendennis. Muslim cleric Abdul Nacer Benbrika and six followers were jailed after a police infiltrator offered Benbrika ammonium nitrate and took him to a remote hilltop to demonstrate how to detonate the explosive. That was the only “bomb” exploded by anyone in Benbrika’s group. Nevertheless, they were convicted of being members of “a terrorist organisation.”
Section 35P also provides a wider mechanism for jailing members of any political party who expose an ASIO infiltration of their own organisation. ASIO has a 65-year history of such operations, directed almost exclusively against socialist parties and protest groups. This activity will no doubt escalate as public opposition grows to the bipartisan program of war, austerity and the overturning of basic legal and democratic rights.
Initially, as last month’s parliamentary vote demonstrated, there was almost universal agreement within the ruling elite to back the extraordinary powers being handed to the government and the intelligence apparatus.
Attorney-General George Brandis insisted that section 35P could prevent damaging leaks, especially by whistleblowers like Edward Snowden, Chelsea (Bradley) Manning and Julian Assange. The Labor Party’s shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus claimed credit for the proposal, which originated from the previous Labor government, and pointed out that Labor introduced similar powers to shield the AFP’s undercover operations.
The Greens, who posture as critics of aspects of the “terrorism” laws, opposed the five-year jail term for disclosures that did not “prejudice” operations, but backed the 10-year sentence for damaging revelations. “We accept, as the Greens, that there should be some limits on revealing information that could potentially endanger an operation,” the party’s deputy leader Adam Bandt told parliament.
A September 29 editorial in the Australian, the Murdoch media’s national flagship, denounced several journalists for objecting to possibly being jailed for reporting on intelligence operations. The editorial accused the objectors of being “complacent” about the threat of terrorism.
Concerns, however, began to be raised within the establishment about the implications of section 35P. While couched in terms of opposing “censorship” and protecting “press freedom,” these concerns essentially related to the media’s function in shaping public opinion, particularly in dealing with sensitive revelations that could be politically embarrassing for the government of the day.
Notably, in an October 23 speech, News Corp co-chairman Lachlan Murdoch warned against muzzling the media, while arguing that “responsible” journalists could be trusted to serve the best interests of the “nation.” He pointed out that his grandfather Keith, who in 1915 defied British war censorship to alert the Australian government to the World War I defeat being suffered by the British-led Australian forces at Gallipoli in Turkey, thus helping to bring the catastrophic operation to an end.
News Corp and Seven West Media, another media conglomerate, launched a public campaign for an amendment to section 35P to exempt a report published in the “public interest” by a “professional” journalist, where the report did not identify an undercover agent.
Responsive as ever to the media owners, Labor Party leader Bill Shorten wrote to Prime Minister Tony Abbott last week asking him to amend the laws. In reply, however, Attorney-General Brandis insisted that section 35P should remain as it is, but the attorney-general should disallow any unwarranted prosecution of a journalist.
An editorial in last Saturday’s Australian (without mentioning its earlier editorial) condemned Brandis’s proposal, saying it could make prosecutions under section 35P look “political,” thus undermining “public understanding and support” for the intelligence agencies. It insisted that “small amendments” were necessary to “better safeguard Australia’s interests.”
The editorial’s main argument was summed up by its headline, “Responsible journalism assists national security.” Arguing that “good editors would never jeopardise such operations,” it declared: “To the contrary, the responsible reporting of their work, while it might occasionally embarrass governments, enhances public understanding and support for such agencies.”
The editorial pointed to two considerations. The first was the media’s role in promoting terror scares, often involving information from spying operations, in order to create the pretext for expanding police state powers. The Australiangave the example of Operation Pendennis, which led to the jailing of Benbrika’s group, during which the Australian and other outlets ran false headlines that it planned to blow up a football grand final.
The second consideration was the media’s role in damage control in the event that exposures occur that are harmful to the state apparatus—such as the leaks by Edward Snowden revealing that the Australian Signals Directorate had bugged the phones of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife and inner circle. In this case, the Australian had “enhanced public understanding and support” by revealing the supposed rationale for the operation—to probe links between the presidential palace and various Islamic groups—despite the government’s objections.
Far from being concerned about the draconian powers being given to the security apparatus, however, the campaign launched by the media owners, echoed by Labor, has the opposite agenda. It seeks to retain the media’s capacity to manipulate public opinion so as to protect and enhance the security apparatus that will be directed against the working class.
By Terry Cook
1 November 2014
Amid the deepening impact of the 2008 global financial crash, real wages in Australia are being driven down to transfer an ever-greater share of social wealth to profits, dividends and executive salaries.
A National Australia Bank (NAB) quarterly business survey released last week showed labour costs rising at an annual average of just 1.5 percent since 2012. This is well below the current 2.3 percent official inflation rate.
It is also the lowest figure in 25 years, except for a brief period during the 2008-09 global financial crisis. The NAB survey noted that during the previous decade, labour costs, about 90 percent of which are wages, rose at an average of 3 percent a year.
With the help of enterprise bargaining agreements (EBAs) struck with trade unions, business operators expect real wages to fall further. According the survey, “wage increases under EBAs are expected to average just 2.7 percent over the next year, or 1.6 percent after allowing for productivity offsets.” These “offsets” point to increasing speed-up and reversals of working conditions.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) wage price index also rose at an annualised rate of just 1.7 percent in the first half of this year, compared to the long-term average of 3.6 percent. The wage price index measures the underlying price of wages and salaries by excluding changes in the nature of jobs. Falling real wages are also confirmed by other ABS data showing that full-time average weekly earnings rose by just 2.2 percent, to $1,515.80, in the year to June.
The National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM) at the University of Canberra found that in the year to June, household incomes fell by 0.2 percent after accounting for Consumer Price Index (CPI) increases. NATSEM research shows that living standards have fallen by 2 percent over the past two years, contrasting sharply to the five years before 2008 when real incomes rose by an average of 3 percent a year.
Working people are being hit by constant price increases in some of the most basic requirements. During the September quarter, the CPI rose by 0.5 percent, but many essentials jumped by far more. Fruit and vegetable prices were up by 14.7 percent, property rates and charges by 6.3 percent and services for motor vehicles 5.8 percent.
Over the year, alcohol and tobacco prices rose by 7.3 percent, followed by education 5.2 percent, and health care 4.7 percent. While automotive fuel prices dropped by 2.5 percent, they will rise from November 10 due to the Abbott government’s decision to increase the fuel excise from 38.143 cents a litre to 38.6 cents to extract an extra $2.2 billion from motorists over four years.
Australia is no exception to the offensive by the financial elite internationally to slash wages and living conditions in order to boost profits and impose the burden of the deepening economic crisis onto the working class. Corporations based in Australia are demanding far greater cutting of labour costs, welfare and social spending, to match developments in Asia, Europe and America.
This drive is intensifying amid the implosion of the two-decade-old mining boom, with export prices falling sharply and thousands of jobs being destroyed by mine closures.
Last month, the Australian Financial Review featured remarks by Mitsui Australia CEO Yasushi Takahashi condemning “prohibitive labour costs” in Australia’s mining sector. He said the company, whose coal and iron ore venture partners include Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, was moving to “improve productivity to match up with high costs.”
The Australian Financial Review suggested the need to halve wages in the mining industry. It reported that the “average mining wage in Australia was $US122,000, more than double that of the US.” It also maintained that labour costs in Australia “make up about 25 percent of on-site coal mine costs,” compared to “10 to 15 percent in China, the United States, South Africa and Indonesia.”
Corporate profits are increasingly generated by massive job shedding. An estimated 10,000 banking jobs have been eliminated over the past two years, while the banks post record profits. The “big four”—the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, National Australia Bank, ANZ Banking Group and Westpac Banking—are expected to report combined cash earnings of $29 billion for the past financial year, up from $27.3 billion the previous year.
The combined remuneration packages of the “big four” CEOs this year soared 23 percent, from $36 million last year. Commonwealth Bank chief Ralph Norris received $16.2 million, NBA boss Cameron Clyne $7.7 million, Westpac’s Gail Kelly $9.6 million and ANZ’s Mike Smith $10.9 million.
In the mining sector, Fortescue Metals CEO Nev Power received a 31 percent pay rise to $3.87 million last year. During the 18 months to February, Fortescue eliminated hundreds of jobs, including 1,200 at its Kings and Christmas Creek iron ore projects in Western Australia.
In retail, Department store Myer’s chief executive Bernie Brookes received a pay rise of 11.1 percent during 2013-14, to $2 million a year. Over the same period, retail workers, mostly employed in low-paid casual positions, received a wage rise of just 2.4 percent.
Wage rises in other sectors have also been kept near or below inflation, with the assistance of the trade unions—2.9 percent in construction, health care and social assistance, just 2.4 percent in information and telecoms, transport, post, stores, rental hiring and real estate and only 2.5 percent in mining. At the same time, major companies continue to hand out large dividends, with the lion’s share going to the super-rich.
Wesfarmers, a retail conglomerate that includes supermarket chain Coles and hardware retailer Bunnings, this month announced a more than $1 billion capital return to investors. Communications company Telstra, which has axed thousands more jobs during the past 18 months, including 1,500 at its Sensis phone directory business, returned $1 billion to investors through a share buyback.
By Mike Head
31 October 2014
The Australian data retention bill, released yesterday, reveals the underlying agenda behind the expanded “anti-terrorism” laws that the Liberal-National government is pushing through parliament with the backing of the opposition Labor Party.
The “metadata” bill provides for mass surveillance, via the storage of vast amounts of phone and on-line information, directed against the entire population.
The bill will compel all Internet providers and social media platforms to retain data for two years so that the security services can trawl through it. This will permit them to compile a detailed picture of everyone’s life, including political views, friends and associates, geographical locations and even spending habits.
That surveillance will facilitate the use of the draconian powers handed to the government and the police/intelligence agencies under two bills already passed this month. It will also feed into the global network headed by the US National Security Agency (NSA), whose spying on hundreds of millions of people around the world was exposed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
On the pretext of protecting ordinary people from Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other Islamic extremists, these laws go far beyond that supposed purpose. They demonstrate the real “enemy,” as far as the political establishment is concerned, is the population itself.
When the data retention power was first proposed by the previous Labor government in 2013, it aroused such widespread opposition that Labor shelved the plan until after last year’s election. During that campaign, both major parties buried any mention of it. Now, it has been brought forward once more, against a backdrop of renewed US-led war in the Middle East and constant “terrorist” scares.
Unveiled without notice yesterday, after months of backroom discussion, the bill does not define the “metadata” that must be stored. Instead, that will be prescribed by regulations, effectively giving the government a free hand.
At their media conference, Attorney-General George Brandis and Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull insisted that the bill did not cover the “content” of communications, nor permit the tracking of web browsing. Those assurances are meaningless, however, even though they are covered by vague clauses in the bill.
That is because the information to be kept will include everything relating to the identities of users and anyone with whom they communicate; the time and duration of every use; and the locations of mobile devices and computers involved. As intelligence commentators have explained, that is enough to amass a comprehensive dossier on anyone.
The bill’s memorandum contains a table of the data that must be stored, but then states that this is “not exhaustive.” Vodafone, a major telecommunications operator, warned that the system could extend to automated machine-to-machine devices, which include Eftpos terminals, vending machines and in-car navigational systems.
Earlier this month, iiNet, a large Internet provider, published a reportdisclosing the extensive information that the government wants retained. It demolished the government’s claim that the bill would only involve what the telco companies already stored. The list included “upload/download volumes” and the “identifiers” of all people communicating with a subscriber.
Yesterday, the government admitted that the data would exceed the information that the companies currently keep. Communications Minister Turnbull said the companies would get “substantial” payments to store the extra data. He refused to put a figure on the amount, but iiNet said its initial bill alone could run to $600 million.
iiNet chief regulator officer Steve Dalby warned that the industry would look for the cheapest cost option—cloud storage hosted out of China. Such cloud storage heightens privacy concerns. Narelle Clark from the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network said: “This kind of system will create a large honeypot with people who don’t have good intents and purposes.”
There will be an unprecedented expansion of government monitoring. Already, according to Australian Communications and Media Authority statistics, more than 580,000 telecommunications intercepts were permitted last year. These intercepts, by many government bodies, require no judicial warrants, simply “self-authorisation” by the agencies involved—a practice that will continue.
The government claimed that the data retention bill would limit this system by confining it to “criminal law-enforcement agencies.” Yet, this covers all the police and intelligence services. Moreover, the bill states that the list of authorised agencies can be expanded by the communications minister.
Australian Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin admitted that the bill could “absolutely” help authorities target anyone who “illegally” downloads or shares content. Industry analysts said media and entertainment conglomerates would subpoena the data to sue those accused of using free or cheap download services.
In another attempt to defuse public opposition, the government declared that access to metadata was critical for criminal investigations. Turnbull told parliament that included “murder, serious sexual assaults, drug trafficking and kidnapping,” as well as “counter-terrorism, counter-espionage, cybersecurity, organised crime.”
Turnbull was seeking to divert attention from the universal character of the data storage, which is designed to track the activities of the vast majority of people. This is under conditions of increasing social unrest and political disaffection with the ruling elite’s agenda of war, austerity, widening inequality and abrogation of basic legal and democratic rights.
The data bill is the third tranche of Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s government’s “counter-terrorism” legislation. The first bill, already passed, expands the computer hacking powers of the spy agencies and imposes jail terms of up to 10 years for anyone (not just journalists) who exposes an undercover “special intelligence operation,” such as the infiltration of a political party.
The second bill, the “foreign fighters bill” that parliament rubberstamped yesterday, extends the terrorism laws in many ways. Notably it outlaws “promoting” terrorism, which could include posting social media content opposing Australian involvement in the Iraq-Syria war.
The Labor Party, which unconditionally supports the war, has already assisted the government to get the first two bills passed as quickly as possible. It immediately signalled its readiness to do the same on the data retention powers.
“We believe fundamentally in the promotion of national security,” Labor leader Bill Shorten said yesterday. “The security agencies say that they need metadata retained for two years.” He declared that Labor would help “get the balance right” on “legitimate concerns for privacy” via a review by the bipartisan joint parliamentary committee on security. The same committee signed off on the first two bills, with purely token “oversight” measures.
The Greens spokesman, Senator Scott Ludlam, claimed that his party would “draw a line” at mandatory data retention. But he accepted the official rationale for the bill, telling the Business Spectator there were “entirely legitimate law enforcement and anti-corruption uses for metadata, and no-one really contests that.”
The Greens have a long record of posturing as critics of terrorism legislation, while voting for key measures to strengthen them. As on the Abbott government’s first two bills, their “opposition” will consist of moving cosmetic amendments to try to lend some kind of legitimacy to unvarnished police-state provisions.
Universities at the Service of Big Business and Military Interests. The Fate of Australia’s National University (ANU)
They don’t quite get it, but given their stance on education, the answer is simple. Australia’s Abbott government have always had an elementary understanding of how tertiary education operates. They are the wreckers who got to university on affordable, in some cases even free education. Perhaps their very existence is an object lesson of sorts, the warning that every education brings with it the potential to turn the pupil into a Trojan horse.
Government members are particularly riled this month by moves from the Australian National University to divest its interests in various fossil fuel and resource companies. Such actions made Coalition members purple in the face. Treasurer Joe Hockey, in repudiating his own stance on supposedly “free market” choices, took issue with the university’s investment choice to jettison its shares in Santos, Illuka Resources, Independence Group, Newcrest Mining, Sandfire Resources, Oil Search and Sirius Resources.
Becoming a cranky, and somewhat amateurish financial advisor, Hockey suggested that the ANU were “removed from the reality of what is helping drive the Australian economy and create more employment. Sometimes the view looks different from the lofty rooms of a university.”
Others have taken the move as a denigration, again revealing the rather bizarre perception that mining giants and resource companies are gentle, noble creators of wealth rather than inefficient purloiners of the earth’s resources. It has left such individuals as Tim Buckley, former head of equity research at Citigroup, baffled. “I find it absolutely bizarre because, the last time I checked, investment managers have the right to change their portfolios.”
The view has been expressed in an open letter signed by various Australian luminaries, including former Liberal leaders John Hewson and Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser. “For politicians to try to bully, coerce and influence this university is just outrageous.” For Hewson, the dark hand of the Minerals Council might have been involved. “It virtually owned the previous government and appears to have large influence over this one.”
The Coalition’s childish indignation has ignored the fact that there is a global divestment campaign of various groups, be they religious, educational or financial, to step away from companies whose aims and objects vary from their own. The Rockefeller family stole a march last month, shifting its focus from fossil fuels to renewables.
Others have followed. The Anglican Diocese of Perth, Bishop Tim Wilmott, would rather see the Church’s money invested in renewables. He does not speak purely terms of dripping altruism for the environment – he is also aware of good business sense. The “smart money” as he terms it, is also “moving into renewables as well.” The universities are merely following the same track.
Funding and investment decisions for universities is always contentious. In a sense, the autonomy of the modern university in terms of its governance and decisions is fictitious. They have become part of the military industrial complex, standing shoulder to shoulder with the same companies that produce drones and missiles and carve up the earth’s fossil fuels. US President Dwight D. Eisenhower was already putting his finger on it in his departing speech (Jan 17, 1961) famous for noting the preponderance of the military complex in American life:
“Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity.”
Universities, notably in such highly industrialised societies as the United States, have become receiving institutions for representatives of big business and military interests. In Australia, the focus is more on unhealthy links to polluting industries such as coal. Mining magnates roam the continent like giants, when in truth they should be treated like museum piece dinosaurs. Donations, funds, and raising money have become hopelessly linked to appointments and positions of power, suggesting a toxic romance between government policy and university production. Hockey, in that sense, is proving to be brazenly ignorant about the links. Far from being loftily distant, the university room shares facilities with those of government in all too many areas.
University spots have become parking sinecures for the war machine just as they have become places for those who have served their country with appropriate messianic zeal. As noted by Darwin Bond-Graham, specifically with regards to the University of California system, “Plenty of UC’s leaders, from Chancellors to the Regents to the President have been insiders in the Pentagon, the nuclear weapons complex, and other branches of the warfare state.”
The UC’s tenth president, David Prescott Barrows, was a supreme example. During his time as head of the Bureau of Non-Christian Tribes, he proved to be a patrician moulder of Filipino subjects in terms of culture and a good splash of racial enticement. “The race is physically small, but agile, athletic and comely.” The bullying Hockey, should he ever find himself in the unlikely position of being a University chancellor, will prove far less colourful.
Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
By Mike Head
29 October 2014
Australia has become the first Western country to impose a total entry ban on people from Ebola-stricken West African countries. Medical experts, UN agencies and African government leaders denounced the move as discriminatory and damaging for international efforts to combat the catastrophe.
The callous, short-sighted and nationalist decision has set a new benchmark for the response of governments around the world toward the disaster. The World Health Organisation last week warned that the Ebola virus could affect 1.4 million people across West Africa unless 70 percent of infected people were treated within the next two months.
As well as shutting out all residents of these countries, the Australian government went beyond the US government and US states that have imposed arbitrary quarantine regimes on soldiers and health workers returning from fighting the disease in West Africa. The Liberal-National Coalition government has stopped the re-entry of Australian residents—health workers as well as African-born Australians—unless they have undergone a 21-day quarantine before departing for Australia.
This punitive requirement, which may not even be always possible in West Africa, will deter or prevent Australian volunteers from joining the Ebola effort. The decision intensifies the impact of the government’s refusal to send medical teams to the affected countries.
Australia’s visa ban triggered international headlines and condemnations, but it was not officially announced, and has gone largely unreported in the local media. Immigration and Border Protection Minister Scott Morrison simply exercised the vast executive powers that the government has under Australia’s restrictive immigration regime to lock out refugees or anyone else regarded as undesirable by the powers-that-be.
News of the ban only emerged when Morrison answered a “Dorothy Dix” question from a government backbencher in parliament on Monday. Morrison said all immigration from “Ebola-infected countries,” including under the refugee humanitarian program, had been suspended. In addition, all non-permanent visas would be cancelled, and permanent visa holders would have to submit to a 21-day quarantine.
This amounts to a blanket ban on people from any country designated as “Ebola-infected”—including refugees, immigrants, students, tourists and relatives of Australian residents. It also means three weeks of forced confinement for doctors, nurses and other health workers, and all other Australian residents, trying to return from these countries.
Health experts said such measures have no scientific or health justifications, since people without symptoms of Ebola, even if they later manifest the disease, are not contagious. Adam Kamradt-Scott, of the University of Sydney’s Marie Bashir Institute for Infectious Diseases and Biosecurity, told Reuters the travel ban would do nothing to protect the country from Ebola, while potentially having a negative health impact by creating a climate of panic.
Australian Medical Association (AMA) president Brian Owler told CNN the government’s announcement came as a surprise. He explained that the chance of Ebola entering the country through a migrant from West Africa was very low. Owler said the government sought the advice of “very few people” and had excluded the AMA, which represents doctors.
Anthony Banbury, head of the UN Ebola Emergency Response Mission (UNMEER), told Reuters: “Anything that will dissuade foreign-trained personnel from coming here to West Africa and joining us on the frontline to fight the fight would be very, very unfortunate.”
Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf told a news conference that Australia’s ban meant “stigmatisation” and the quarantine or exclusion of people “many of whom are just normal.” Sierra Leone’s Information Minister Alpha Kanu said the ban was “discriminatory in that … it is not (going) after Ebola but rather it is … against the 24 million citizens of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.”
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, however, vehemently defended the ban. He declared that his government’s priority was to protect Australians, even though Australia has not recorded a case of Ebola despite a number of media-hyped scares.
Abbott claimed that his government’s $18 million ($US15.9 million) donation to the anti-Ebola operation in West Africa proved that his “government are taking very serious steps to address the Ebola crisis.”
In reality, this pittance is a drop in the ocean compared to the $1 billion that the UN says is urgently needed to stem the epidemic. Underscoring the government’s indifference and hypocrisy, the $18 million stands in stark contrast to the estimated $500 million a year allocated for Australia’s involvement in the renewed US-led war in Iraq and Syria.
Abbott continued to defend his government’s refusal to send any medical teams to West Africa, restating the claim that any health workers who became infected could not be guaranteed treatment. This fraud has been exposed by revelations of requests, dating back to last month, for Australian personnel from the US and Britain, both of which have the required facilities available.
In a Senate hearing last week, a senior foreign affairs official, Blair Exell, confirmed that Britain had asked Australia to send personnel to Sierra Leone, while the US had requested help in Liberia. Sierra Leone and Liberia have also made direct requests to Australia for medical teams.
As it has done on the treatment of refugees, the Australian political establishment is setting a reactionary global precedent for the demonising and exclusion of some of the world’s most impoverished and exploited people. Successive governments, Liberal-National and Labor alike, have gone further than any other government in incarcerating all asylum seekers, repelling refugee boats and dumping people in hellhole camps in remote or poverty-stricken locations.
Having scapegoated refugees to divert attention from the worsening social conditions in Australia, including the destruction of jobs and the deteriorating public health system, the government is now using the same “border protection” regime to shut out Africans, while refusing to come to their aid in the face of the Ebola crisis.
Far from condemning the travel ban, the opposition Labor Party asked the government to release the advice on which the decision was made. “We need to be absolutely certain that this government isn’t being tough but dumb when it comes to protecting Australians from the risk of Ebola infection at home,” Labor’s foreign affairs spokesman Matt Thistlethwaite told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
This nationalist stance is in line with Labor’s unconditional support for the government on the Iraq-Syria war, which is based on calculations of the interests of Australian imperialism, as a junior partner of the US. West Africa, unlike the oil-rich Middle East, is regarded as not pivotal to Australian business operations or the US alliance.
The Greens’ immigration spokesperson, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, labelled the ban a “cruel announcement” by Morrison, and called on Abbott to “pull his out-of-control minister into line.” As has become customary, the Greens expressed moral outrage at this latest application of the immigration rules, branding the decision “shameful,” while continuing to accept the nationalist “border protection” framework.
By Oliver Campbell and Zac Hambides
27 October 2014
The so-called “day of action” by the National Union of Students (NUS) on October 16 at campuses in some capital cities was testimony to the political dead-end into which it has led students angered by the Abbott government’s regressive plans for higher education.
The many protests organised by the NUS since the government’s budget in May, have been aimed at promoting the fraud that the deregulation of, and cutbacks to, higher education can be opposed by pressuring Labor and the Greens to vote them down in the Senate.
In reality, both Labor and the Greens demonstrated their essential support for the budget’s austerity measures immediately, passing the appropriations bills in the House of Representatives in June, which included $80 billion of cuts to education and healthcare over the next decade.
The pitiful turn-out for the “day of action” was product of this bankrupt outlook. Declaring absurdly that its campaign had “almost won,” the NUS deliberately wound back its action and did virtually nothing to publicise the rallies. At the University of Sydney, one of the country’s largest campuses, around 50 people attended.
As at previous NUS protests, student leaders turned over the rally at the University of Sydney to the Greens, and supporters of the Labor Party, to fraudulently posture as defenders of education. Federal Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon presented the political horse-trading in the Senate as a defense of education. “Labor had been strong on this, they did reverse their position when they wanted to bring in their own cuts of $2.3 billion,” she declared.
Rhiannon was referring to the fact that just last year the Greens-backed Gillard Labor government, introduced $2.3 billion of cuts to higher education. This was part of a broader agenda that involved the introduction of a market-based funding system, resulting in the axing of hundreds of university jobs throughout the country, along with the closure of courses and entire faculties. Only after losing office in the 2013 federal elections did Labor claim to oppose the very cuts that they had introduced.
Rhiannon also promoted the right-wing populist Palmer United Party (PUP), founded by the billionaire mining magnate Clive Palmer, declaring it had “come into this parliament on a platform of free education.” She called on students to lobby PUP representatives to oppose Abbott’s education legislation in the Senate.
Pseudo-left organisations such as Socialist Alternative, whose members occupy key positions in the national leadership of the NUS, have played a critical role in promoting the fraud that the parties of big business can be pressured to oppose the assault on education that they themselves are responsible for.
Socialist Alternative member April Holcombe expressed support for Rhiannon’s remarks, declaring: “We’ve almost won, the Senate looks pretty strong in blocking, but as Lee said they are not all particularly reliable so putting pressure from the ground up, that’s the way we are going to stop this and stop all the other attacks.”
In reality, the NUS and its pseudo-left supporters are promoting the lie that the attacks on education are all but defeated, right at the point that the Abbott government is engaged in backroom negotiations with Labor, the Greens, PUP and other crossbench Senators to push through the essentials of its education legislation.
To this end, the Senate has just concluded an inquiry into the proposed education legislation, at which organisations such as the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Group of 8, which represents the country’s “elite” universities, called on the government to press ahead with fee deregulation that would greatly increase the cost of degrees for students.
Last week, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the Abbott government had indicated a willingness, behind the scenes, to reach “compromises” with various cross-benchers in the Senate so long as the fundamentals of the new education legislation, including fee deregulation, is pushed through.
In its submission to the Senate committee, the NUS declared that the union was “not opposed to every measure in the bill,” but was in favor of amendments that would remove aspects of the bill that “will not serve the long-term interests of Australia” such as outright fee deregulation. It called on the government to “retain a cap on student contribution rates.”
Within this narrow framework, students will lose both ways. If fee deregulation is accepted, degree costs will soar. If the NUS gets its “victory” and higher fees are blocked, the results will be just as devastating. As university administrations have already made clear, given the cutbacks to public funding, the only way they can make ends meet is by cutting costs—that is, jobs, courses and services.
In April, University of New South Wales Vice-Chancellor Fred Hilmer wrote an article stating that tertiary education, as it currently exists, is “not sustainable.” He noted that, “Funding per student is declining and has been for 30 years.”
The NUS covers up the fact that the measures contained in the Abbott government’s budget, including fee deregulation, and higher interest rates on Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) government loans, are a continuation of a bipartisan assault on education that has been implemented by successive governments, Labor and Liberal alike.
It was under the Labor governments of Hawke and Keating that fees were introduced, beginning with the dismantling of tertiary education, which was continued over the ensuing decades, with successive governments implementing major fee hikes. It was the previous Greens-backed Gillard Labor government that paved the way for fee deregulation, lifting enrollment caps to create a “competitive market” for student placements.
Under conditions of global capitalist breakdown, governments internationally are implementing an agenda of austerity that means a relentless assault on public education and all the social rights of the working class. Students can only fight for their right to free, high-quality education by turning to the working class on the basis of a political struggle for a workers’ government and socialist policies. The banks and the major corporations must be placed under public ownership and democratic control to pour billions of dollars into essential social services including education.
By Mike Head
24 October 2014
The Abbott government, backed by the opposition Labor Party, is stepping up Australia’s military involvement in the US-led Iraq-Syria war. This week, Australian fighter jets conducted further air strikes in Iraq while Foreign Minister Julie Bishop flew to Baghdad to insist on the finalisation of a delayed legal agreement for the deployment of 200 elite SAS troops.
Vice Admiral Ray Griggs, the Vice Chief of the Australian Defence Force, told a Senate estimates hearing on Wednesday that Australian war planes had dropped bombs on alleged Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) targets on three occasions. He said Super Hornets had flown 56 sorties over Iraq, clocking up more than 400 flying hours.
During an earlier briefing in Canberra, Chief of Joint Operations Rear Admiral David Johnston explained that Australia’s operations had “surged” in Iraq to enable “other coalition forces to intensify their efforts in Syria.” Apart from Britain and France, Australia is the only US ally to have conducted air strikes in Iraq.
Despite the government’s claim that its mission is confined to Iraq, with no “current intention” to join the fighting in Syria, Australian forces are assisting the US to focus on the real thrust of the war—a renewed drive by Washington to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
ISIS “terrorists” have never been Washington’s primary target. In fact, the US and its allies in the Gulf States have funded, armed and trained Sunni extremist groups, including ISIS, as part of the regime-change operation against Assad.
Washington’s appreciation for Australia’s contribution was evident when US President Barack Obama held a half-hour phone call with Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Wednesday. According to a White House statement: “The President thanked Prime Minister Abbott for Australia’s significant efforts in Iraq.”
In an attempt to whip up enthusiasm for the war, the tabloid press has reveled in the gory detail of reports by military chiefs that Australian planes hit ISIS targets. “Aussie jets kill dozens of terrorists in the Middle East after successful operations,” was one headline in the Sydney Daily Telegraph.
Abbott’s government was anxious for Australia to be among the first countries on the frontline of the US war, and received unconditional support from the Labor Party. However, Australian pilots aborted their first strike in Iraq on October 5, reportedly under a “red card” system that military spokesmen claimed was designed to minimise the risk of civilian casualties.
Chief of the Defence Force Mark Binskin referred to “targeting directives” set by the government, consistent with rules of engagement. These rules are kept secret from the public, as they were during the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Earlier, in announcing the government’s approval of air strikes, Abbott declared that “you can never guarantee that there will be no collateral damage,” but “the Australian armed forces never ever deliberately target civilians.”
That flies in the face of the record of Australian forces in Iraq and Afghanistan in killing scores of civilians, including in ground attacks on homes.
Australia’s commitment of 200 SAS elite commandos is also critical to the threadbare US war coalition. At present, it is the largest contingent of ground forces other than the US which has 1,400 military personnel in Iraq, including “special adviser” units in Baghdad and the northern Kurdish city of Irbil. Britain has sent a “small specialist team” of 12 to Irbil, officially to train Kurdish peshmerga forces, and Canada has 69 special forces personnel there on the same pretext.
The Abbott government has provided no explanation for the month-long delay in finalising an agreement with the Iraqi regime for the SAS deployment. Despite intense pressure on Iraq for such a deal, the SAS troops remained stranded in the United Arab Emirates. Bishop’s trip to Baghdad to demand an agreement was the second visit by an Australian minister, following an unsuccessful trip by Defence Minister David Johnston.
One thing is clear. The Abbott government insisted on a “status of forces agreement” that gave Australian SAS commandos the same protections from liability for civilian deaths as those already given to US special forces. On October 18, Abbott hinted at irritation with the delay, insisting that it was “only right and proper” that legal immunities be granted.
This preoccupation with shielding the SAS troops from prosecution exposes the government’s lie that they will be involved only in “training, advising and assisting” the Iraqi army. Australia’s SAS forces are highly valued by the Pentagon precisely because they have a record, reinforced in the US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, of carrying out assassinations, detentions and other criminal covert operations.
The SAS deployment has provoked opposition in Iraq. Paul McGeough, a veteran Middle East correspondent, reported in Fairfax Media newspapers that senior figures in the Shiite militias that are propping up the Iraqi army condemned the proposed “status of forces” agreement.
Haji Jaafar al-Bindawi, chief of training and logistics for the Imam Ali Brigades, told McGeough that the Australian SAS soldiers “should go home.” Adnan al-Shahmani, an MP who serves as a liaison for several militias, said: “Foreign forces? Never! We don’t need them … in combat or as advisers.”
McGeough reported that the militias’ objections were part of a broader distrust of Western intentions, following the US-led occupation of Iraq in 2003 and its catastrophic aftermath. He said the militias also saw the selective use of air strikes as pursuing an agenda directed against Iran, which backs Assad in Syria and supports the Shiite-dominated government in Iraq.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Al-Jafari, who belongs to the dominant Shiite coalition of parties, hinted at these objections at a joint media conference with the Australian foreign minister. “We consider ground troops from other countries entering Iraq is a red line,” he said.
In media interviews, Bishop provided no information about the status of forces agreement. She claimed that the Iraqi government wanted it kept confidential because “they don’t wish to let the terrorist organisations know the details of the operations.” In reality, the secrecy serves only one purpose—to hide from the Iraqi people, and the Australian people, just what the SAS forces will be carrying out and the extent to which they will be shielded from prosecution.
On her return to Australia, Bishop announced a $15 million increase in humanitarian aid for Iraq and Syria, taking the combined total to about $150 million since the US-backed regime-change operation began in 2011. This pittance—an estimated 16 million people inside Iraq and Syria need help—stands in contrast to the $500 million a year being allocated for Australia’s military operation.
The latest US intervention is no more a “humanitarian” or “anti-terrorist” mission than the 2003 invasion of Iraq was about “weapons of mass destruction.” Obama, like his predecessor Bush, is determined to shore up US dominance in the energy-rich Middle East. The bipartisan lineup in Canberra is based on a calculation that the economic and strategic interests of Australian imperialism depend on continued US global hegemony.
It evidently is not on. Disclosing a state of affairs surrounding the Prime Minister of Australia, through revealing a secret scholarship that his daughter received is something that can land you a sentence. It shows the absurdity of understanding the quality of information, and its effect. Such material was hardly even of the order of hacked files from Department of Defence servers. It did not involve an individual carting off the nation’s pearls on national security.
But the key was that it happened at all. It involved a young journalist from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) discussing a form of conduct on the part of Tony Abbott that would have been relevant to his role as an office holder. Newman had accessed student records revealing that Abbott’s daughter had received a secret scholarship from the Whitehouse Institute of Design to the value of $60,000. (The scholarship was kept secret from students and senior staff.)
This brought obvious questions into play. Was it awarded on merit? (Such merit is hard to identify when there is only one candidate.) All it took was one meeting with college owner Leanne Whitehouse, and the bursary was in the bag. This did cause consternation to Whitehouse Institute staff such as former employee Melletios Kyriakidis, who suggested that, “Even from her class, I could name 10 people more deserving either for merit or financial need or both.”
It was all opportune – Newman, working as a part-time librarian at the Sydney-based institute, accessed the internal computer system. Abbott’s daughter, Frances, was working at the Melbourne campus of the same institute, though she lacked any specific role.
Such papers as The Australian smelled a rat, but if they did, that rat was emitting a strange odour. Grand claims were made of Newman’s role in a plot that was intended to sabotage the Prime Minister. She had been part of a dirty scheme that involved “access to the files of Ms Abbott and more than 500 other students.” Chris Graham, the owner of New Matilda, and contributing editor Wendy Bacon, were seen as part of this grand scheme, with Newman keen on “talking tactics” with them on the subject of the obtained material. Such is the lot of those whose fingers find themselves in the tills of power – there is always a conspiracy afoot to find them.
In September, Newman pleaded guilty to breaching the relevant section of the NSW Crimes Act prohibiting access to restricted data held on a computer. She was due to be sentenced on October 23, but it was decide that the sentence be deferred for another month.
While the sentencing awaits, the punishment of such conduct demonstrates, yet again, the woeful state of whistleblower protection in the country. Loopholes abound in the laws. Exemptions and dispensations are replete through legislation dealing with national security, freedom of information and employment. But the most notable thing about Newman’s case was that she fell into the loophole of loopholes, not being a government employee.
“If Newman had been working in a government organisation and had made an equivalent revelation from public service records,” argues the Australian human rights lawyer, Julian Burnside, “she would likely have been able to claim whistleblower protection.”
Instead, critics can point to the problems that this verdict will do – create a curious, but troubling variant of political prisoner on Australian soil. This is not as extreme as it sounds. Globally, a species of detained individual has become the norm, be it such individuals as Jeremy Hammond and Barrett Brown in the context of exposing the behaviour of Stratfor, or more conventional agents like John Kiriakou who spend time behind bars because of revealing the use of torture by the Central Intelligence Agency.
The barrister representing Newman has had to resort to working within the most unsatisfactory rules, suggesting that the case was “very much at the lower end” in terms of seriousness which did involve a breach of “her employer’s trust”. Nor did the disclosed material reveal “overtly sensitive” details, be they in the nature of bank account details or an address. She undertook her conduct in a state of ignorance of the law, and did not gain the material “seeking personal notoriety”.
The defence from Payne seemed meek, taking a leaf out of the book of defendant cripples and the confused. That’s usually done by rubbishing your client in the hope she gets a lesser sentence. She was, for instance, immature, suggesting that whistleblowing is something children or less mature do. She did not see the consequences of her action. In what must be an old fob to the good old values of exposing a public interest case, Payne did everything to suggest that Newman was somewhat crazed, sincerely believing in that distant voice called justice. “She sincerely believed she was acting in the public interest and was unaware she was committing an offence.”
It has been left to far more robust positions to be taken in the public domain, be it from such publications as Crikey, who claimed that Newman “should be applauded for her bravery” in blowing “the whistle on a secret scholarship awarded by a private design school to Tony Abbott’s daughter”. Facebook groups and online petitions for her release have been actively gathering signatures and supporters. The Change.org petition seeking to “Stop the pursuit of Freya Newman” calls for enshrining “freedom of the press in the Australian constitution.”
The person who has ambled off merrily into the political sunset is Prime Minister Abbott, who seems more Teflon-like the longer he ambles through office. That a young journalist may well spend time behind bars for revealing a deal of good disgrace is suggestive of a man who holds ideas of liberty in contempt. All this, despite claiming before the conservative Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) in August 2012 that he, and his party, “stand for the freedoms which Australians have a right to expect and which governments have a duty to uphold.” This is the raison d’être of retribution – to punish disclosures, however small, that give the game up on the lie of governance.
Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: email@example.com
By Alan Leigh
23 October 2014
More than two and half million people, or nearly 14 percent of Australia’s population, are living in poverty, according to a report released this month by the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS).
“Poverty in Australia 2014,” which is based on 2011–2012 Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data, paints a bleak picture of deepening poverty during the final term of the previous Labor government. This social crisis is now worsening under the current Liberal-National government, whose austerity budget measures are slashing welfare and other social spending.
The ACOSS report sheds light on the depth of the assault on welfare recipients, jobs and wages already begun by the minority Labor government, kept in office by the Greens, in the wake of the global economic breakdown that erupted in 2008.
Forty percent of social security recipients lived below the poverty line, including 55 percent of people on the Newstart unemployment allowance, 51 percent of those on Youth Allowance, 48 percent of those receiving Disability Support Pensions and 47 percent of those relying on the sole parent payment.
Also in poverty were mounting numbers of “working poor.” A third of those living in poverty were from households with wages as their main income. More than half of them were working in part-time jobs. These figures point to the continual driving down of real wages and the growing prevalence of casualised employment.
ACOSS notes that 603,000 children, or 17.7 percent of all children, lived in poverty. Of these, 36.8 percent were from single parent families.
The situation facing children has deteriorated since 2012, under a Labor government agenda to force their parents into low-paying part-time or casual jobs. From January 2013, sole parents were stripped of parenting allowances and forced onto lower Newstart payments once their youngest child turned eight. Sole parents suffered weekly incomes losses of up to $200.
ACOSS reports an increase in the national poverty level from 13 percent in 2010 to 13.9 percent in 2012, adding nearly a quarter of a million people to the total. This was on top of an earlier rise from 2004, when the rate was 11.8 percent, by a slightly different measure.
Ironically, the poverty rate rose to 14.5 percent in 2007, then fell during 2008–09, before starting to rise again. That is largely because the poverty line is defined as 50 percent of median income, which initially dropped during the global financial crisis.
For that reason, the latest poverty data is an indicator that inequality, as well as poverty, is intensifying again as the burden of the economic crisis is shifted onto the working class, while income levels once more soar for the wealthiest layers.
The poverty line—half the median disposable (after tax) income adjusted for housing costs—translates into weekly income of just $400 for a single person and $841 for a couple with two children.
When the poverty line is defined as 60 percent of median income, a measure adopted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), more than 4 million people (22 percent of the population), including 870,000 children (25.5 percent), were living in poverty in Australia in 2012.
Contrary to the myth of Australian prosperity and egalitarianism, Australia’s poverty level of 13.9 percent ranked fifth worse among the 34 OECD developed countries. Only South Korea, Spain, the US, Turkey and Mexico had higher poverty rates.
Those living in poverty in Australia are often unable to meet basic living costs, let alone have full access to decent health care, education, entertainment and the other essentials of modern life. One ACOSS affiliate, the Salvation Army, reported that more than 60 percent of the people using its relief services had been forced to cut down on necessities.
ACOSS notes that during 2011–2012, the Labor government’s weekly maximum rates of the Youth Allowance for singles were $97 below the 50 percent poverty line, and for independent young people, $193 below the line. Parenting payments for a single parent with two children were $20 below the poverty line, or $70 below for sole parents not eligible for rent assistance.
By refusing to index the Newstart and youth allowances to inflation, Labor forced jobless workers into insecure part-time and low-paid jobs. As the report notes, the Newstart allowance has not been increased in real terms since 1994.
The report is an indictment of Australian capitalism and its political servants, Labor, Liberal-National and Greens alike. Speaking at the Sydney Opera House during his campaign launch for the 1987 federal election, Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke pledged: “By 1990, no Australian child will be living in poverty.”
Far from that promise being met, the numbers of poor children continued to rise. The 20 years of uninterrupted economic growth from the early 1990s, largely based on the mining boom, benefited only the financial and corporate elite.
Today’s Abbott government is escalating the offensive on working people. An analysis of the 2014–2015 federal budget by the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM) indicated average annual income losses of $2,500 to $3,800 for low- and middle-income families by 2017–2018. This included losses of 6.6 percent for low-income couples with children and 10.8 percent for single parents.
ACOSS, the peak group covering charities and welfare organisations, used its findings to issue an appeal to Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s government to collaborate more closely with ACOSS and its affiliates. ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie said the report “provides an opportunity for the government to work with the whole community to reconfigure its first budget and national policy priorities around the urgent need to address poverty in Australia.”
No such “reconfiguration” will take place. On the contrary, the government is under intense pressure from the corporate elite to step up its efforts to push through its remaining austerity measures, and the underlying agenda of abolishing “welfare entitlement.”
In the preface to the ACOSS report, David Thompson, CEO of Jobs Australia, which represents non-profit employment agencies, delivered what amounted to a warning to the political establishment: “A lack of money inspires not just shame, anxiety, and occasionally stoic resignation, but also a powerful sense that things could and perhaps should be different.”
Thompson’s comment is a pale reflection of the underlying class tensions being produced by the austerity program and the increasingly glaring social gulf between the wealthy and the rest of society.
By John Pilger
John Pilger marks the death of former Australian prime minister Gough Whitlam with the one story missing from the ‘tributes’ to a man whose extraordinary political demise is one of America’s dirtiest secrets.
Across the political and media elite in Australia, a silence has descended on the memory of the great, reforming prime minister Gough Whitlam, who has died. His achievements are recognised, if grudgingly, his mistakes noted in false sorrow. But a critical reason for his extraordinary political demise will, they hope, be buried with him.
Australia briefly became an independent state during the Whitlam years, 1972-75. An American commentator wrote that no country had “reversed its posture in international affairs so totally without going through a domestic revolution”. Whitlam ended his nation’s colonial servility. He abolished Royal patronage, moved Australia towards the Non-Aligned Movement, supported “zones of peace” and opposed nuclear weapons testing.
Although not regarded as on the left of the Labor Party, Whitlam was a maverick social democrat of principle, pride and propriety. He believed that a foreign power should not control his country’s resources and dictate its economic and foreign policies. He proposed to “buy back the farm”. In drafting the first Aboriginal lands rights legislation, his government raised the ghost of the greatest land grab in human history, Britain’s colonisation of Australia, and the question of who owned the island-continent’s vast natural wealth.
Latin Americans will recognise the audacity and danger of this “breaking free” in a country whose establishment was welded to great, external power. Australians had served every British imperial adventure since the Boxer rebellion was crushed in China. In the 1960s, Australia pleaded to join the US in its invasion of Vietnam, then provided “black teams” to be run by the CIA. US diplomatic cables published last year by WikiLeaks disclose the names of leading figures in both main parties, including a future prime minister and foreign minister, as Washington’s informants during the Whitlam years.
Whitlam knew the risk he was taking. The day after his election, he ordered that his staff should not be “vetted or harassed” by the Australian security organisation, ASIO – then, as now, tied to Anglo-American intelligence. When his ministers publicly condemned the US bombing of Vietnam as “corrupt and barbaric”, a CIA station officer in Saigon said: “We were told the Australians might as well be regarded as North Vietnamese collaborators.”
Whitlam demanded to know if and why the CIA was running a spy base at Pine Gap near Alice Springs, a giant vacuum cleaner which, as Edward Snowden revealed recently, allows the US to spy on everyone. “Try to screw us or bounce us,” the prime minister warned the US ambassador, “[and Pine Gap] will become a matter of contention”.
Victor Marchetti, the CIA officer who had helped set up Pine Gap, later told me, “This threat to close Pine Gap caused apoplexy in the White House. … a kind of Chile [coup] was set in motion.”
Pine Gap’s top-secret messages were de-coded by a CIA contractor, TRW. One of the de-coders was Christopher Boyce, a young man troubled by the “deception and betrayal of an ally”. Boyce revealed that the CIA had infiltrated the Australian political and trade union elite and referred to the Governor-General of Australia, Sir John Kerr, as “our man Kerr”.
Kerr was not only the Queen’s man, he had long-standing ties to Anglo-American intelligence. He was an enthusiastic member of the Australian Association for Cultural Freedom, described by Jonathan Kwitny of the Wall Street Journal in his book, ‘The Crimes of Patriots’, as, “an elite, invitation-only group… exposed in Congress as being founded, funded and generally run by the CIA”. The CIA “paid for Kerr’s travel, built his prestige… Kerr continued to go to the CIA for money”.
When Whitlam was re-elected for a second term, in 1974, the White House sent Marshall Green to Canberra as ambassador. Green was an imperious, sinister figure who worked in the shadows of America’s “deep state”. Known as the “coupmaster”, he had played a central role in the 1965 coup against President Sukarno in Indonesia – which cost up to a million lives. One of his first speeches in Australia was to the Australian Institute of Directors – described by an alarmed member of the audience as “an incitement to the country’s business leaders to rise against the government”.
The Americans and British worked together. In 1975, Whitlam discovered that Britain’s MI6 was operating against his government. “The Brits were actually de-coding secret messages coming into my foreign affairs office,” he said later. One of his ministers, Clyde Cameron, told me, “We knew MI6 was bugging Cabinet meetings for the Americans.” In the 1980s, senior CIA officers revealed that the “Whitlam problem” had been discussed “with urgency” by the CIA’s director, William Colby, and the head of MI6, Sir Maurice Oldfield. A deputy director of the CIA said: “Kerr did what he was told to do.”
On 10 November, 1975, Whitlam was shown a top secret telex message sourced to Theodore Shackley, the notorious head of the CIA’s East Asia Division, who had helped run the coup against Salvador Allende in Chile two years earlier.
Shackley’s message was read to Whitlam. It said that the prime minister of Australia was a security risk in his own country. The day before, Kerr had visited the headquarters of the Defence Signals Directorate, Australia’s NSA where he was briefed on the “security crisis”.
On 11 November – the day Whitlam was to inform Parliament about the secret CIA presence in Australia – he was summoned by Kerr. Invoking archaic vice-regal “reserve powers”, Kerr sacked the democratically elected prime minister. The “Whitlam problem” was solved, and Australian politics never recovered, nor the nation its true independence.
Republished with permission from johnpilger.com.
(Copyright 2014 John Pilger)
20 October 2014
The recent remarks by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott that he was going to “shirtfront” Russian President Vladimir Putin at the upcoming summit G20 leaders in Brisbane next month, over the downing of Malaysian Airlines MH17, may at first sight appear somewhat bizarre.
But far from being a strange antipodean outburst, Abbott’s remarks are an expression of intensifying geo-political tensions, especially the US push against Russia, and the increasing replacement of diplomacy with militarism and sabre rattling.
The term “shirtfront” is derived from Australian rules football and refers to a player running headlong into an opponent, with the aim of knocking him to the ground, possibly causing injury.
While the choice of words may have been Abbott’s, and in that sense accidental, the belligerence of the remarks was not. It was an expression of the increasing global role being played by Australian imperialism as a point man for the US war drive, directed against both Russia and China. The Russian government made it clear it understood that, while the voice was Abbott’s, the message came from Washington.
Australia has already been fully integrated into the US “pivot to Asia” against China. Its role was prepared by the ousting of former Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in an inner-party coup in June 2010 orchestrated by factional operatives within the party with close ties to the US embassy. The removal of Rudd, who had expressed the need to accommodate the growing economic power of China in East Asia, followed the ousting of Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama just weeks before, after he had evinced a foreign policy orientation directed towards China.
Since the events of June 2010, Australian foreign policy has proceeded in lockstep with the US. The pivot to Asia, which was announced by US president Obama from the floor of the Australian parliament in November 2011, has been followed by the ever-closer integration of Australia into the military and political offensive being directed against China. Last November, after China’s declaration of an Air Defence Identification Zone including around the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, over which it has a dispute with Japan, Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop issued some of the most strident denunciations Beijing’s actions.
In January, Bishop, in contradiction to the prevailing conventional political wisdom that Australia is economically dependent on China, insisted that given the closeness of financial ties and the level of American investment, the US was not only Australia’s most important strategic partner but its most important economic one as well.
This year has seen a rise in Australian political, diplomatic and military activity in line with US interests, which has assumed an increasing belligerent character.
When MH17 went down on July 17, Abbott’s initial reaction was somewhat cautious, pointing out that the facts of the disaster were not yet clear. But just hours later, following a discussion with Washington but with no change in the established facts, Abbott issued statements denouncing the role of Russia—a position which has been maintained by the entire political establishment over the past three months.
Almost from the outset, the question was raised as to whether Australia, the host nation of the upcoming G20 summit, should withdraw the invitation to the Russian president. That question was settled on the sidelines of the International Monetary Fund over the weekend of October 11–12, when the US made it clear that it was not in favour of Putin’s exclusion. The motivating factor was the clear opposition of the other members of the BRICS group of countries—Brazil, India, China and South Africa—to such a move. Earlier Russia had been cut out of meetings of the G8, but the US decided that this was not possible at the G20.
However, the US is determined that the anti-Russian rhetoric should be intensified at every opportunity. Australia plays a unique role in this regard. As a middle level imperialist power, completely dependent on the US strategically, and without economic and other ties to Russia, it is free to function as a kind of political attack dog for Washington as it pursues its drive for global domination. The only possible area where there may have been a conflict was over China. But that issue was settled by the coup against Rudd four years ago.
Australian imperialism’s new global role has also been exemplified in its fulsome support for renewed US military intervention in the Middle East. Australia was one of the first countries to sign on to Obama’s new “coalition of the willing”, committing military aircraft to bombing operations in Iraq and the use of special military forces in that country.
As part of its role on the political and military front, Australia has also been heavily involved in seeking to stifle anti-war opposition by manufacturing one terror scare after another to magnify the alleged threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The largest police operation in Australian history on September 18, supposedly organised to thwart an ISIS plot to carry out a public beheading, was eagerly seized upon by US Secretary of State John Kerry as he sought to drum up Congressional and international support for US military action. The raids resulted in the arrest of just one person on highly dubious, terrorist-related charges
There is another key aspect of the increasing militarism of the Australian government that also forcefully expresses global processes—the attempt to project rising social tensions outward.
Australian capitalism was to some extent insulated from the initial impact of the financial breakdown of 2008, due to its economic connections with the expanding Chinese economy. But now the full effects of the global crisis are coming home, in some cases with added force because of the delay.
The mining boom, which has been of crucial importance in sustaining the Australia economy, is well and truly over. Mass sackings are being carried out in coal mines, while revenues from iron ore sales, which constitute one fifth of the country’s exports and which form a key component of government tax income, are being hit by price falls amounting to 40 percent so far this year.
Social inequality is increasing, real wages remain stagnant, or are being cut, while poverty is on the increase. In common with the situation in all the major capitalist powers, the official political establishment is regarded with growing hostility by ever-wider sections of the population.
Placed within this context, Abbott’s “shirtfront” confrontation with Putin, is another expression of the rise of militarism internationally, which is leading to another world war unless it is stopped through the political intervention of the international working class.
A case study in hypocrisy
By Mike Head
17 October 2014
Anthony Albanese, a former deputy prime minister and a candidate for the Labor Party’s leadership last year, this week claimed to have concerns about “draconian” features of the “anti-terrorism” legislation that passed through parliament earlier this month with Labor’s total support.
Interviewed on Sky News, Albanese said provisions that could see journalists jailed for up to 10 years for reporting on “special intelligence operations” conducted by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) may need to be modified.
The interview prompted extensive media coverage, promoting the illusion that Albanese was mounting a challenge to his party’s backing for the legislation. The misleading headlines included: “Albanese breaks ranks on anti-terror laws.”
Albanese’s comments are a case study in hypocrisy. They also reveal anxiety within the media and political establishment at the prospect of rising popular opposition to the police-state laws being introduced by the Abbott government, and the US-led Iraq-Syria war that is providing the excuse for these laws.
First, Albanese did not vote against, or utter a word of criticism of, thelegislation when it was debated and passed. He joined hands with the government, as did every other Labor MP, in defeating limited amendments by independent and Greens MPs purporting to curb any threat to journalists. Albanese also backed Labor leader Bill Shorten in brushing aside similar criticisms by one Labor backbencher, Melissa Parke.
Second, Albanese did not call into question Labor’s backing for the “anti-terror” bills. He was at pains to deny any such intent. Asked by Sky News interviewer Paul Kelly, the Australian’s editor-at-large, whether he thought Labor had “rolled over too far,” Albanese insisted that he was merely suggesting, to Abbott’s government, the need for a possible review of the media provisions. “This should not be a partisan issue,” he stated.
Third, Albanese did not explain the origins of the legislation. It was originally proposed by the previous Labor government, in which he served as a key minister, and agreed to, with token amendments, in bipartisan parliamentary committees. Conscious of public hostility to the measures, Labor deferred the bill until after last year’s federal election.
Fourth, Albanese made no mention of the Labor government’s own legislation, passed in 2010, that has almost identical secrecy provisions, and 10-year jail terms, to protect “covert operations” conducted by the Australian Federal Police (AFP).
Finally, Albanese confined his reservations to the threat to journalists presented by one secrecy provision, the new Section 35P of the ASIO Act. It imposes five-year jail terms on anyone who, discloses a current or previous “special intelligence operation” (SIO). Anyone who discloses a SIO and “endangers the health or safety of any person or prejudices the effective conduct” of the SIO faces 10 years’ imprisonment, even if the harm is unintentional.
Section 35P is not directed only against journalists. It is aimed at anyone who tries to expose or oppose such operations. If these laws had been in place during the attempted AFP-ASIO frame-up of Dr Mohamed Haneef by the Howard government during its “terrorism” scare campaign before the 2007 election, Haneef’s lawyers and others, including WSWS correspondents, who revealed the lack of any evidence against him could have been imprisoned.
Moreover, Section 35P is part of a wider scheme to formally legalise, and protect from civil and criminal liability, the covert operations of ASIO. For many years, it has infiltrated targeted groups, often to provoke or entice their members into incriminating conversations or supposed terrorist preparations. Many of the terrorism cases prosecuted in Australia have depended on such entrapment operations, in which police agents themselves engage in criminal activity.
By banning any reporting of “special intelligence operations,” even long after they have concluded, the legislation again exceeds any law known to exist in the US or UK. And this is just one aspect of a far-reaching extension of the powers of the security apparatus. Along with the SIO provisions, the firsttranche of the legislation allows the spy agencies to covertly hack into, monitor and take control of computer networks of any size.
Tranche 2, the so-called Foreign Fighters Bill, will permit anyone to be jailed for five years for even recklessly “promoting” terrorism, which is defined broadly enough to cover many forms of political dissent.
Tranche 3, yet to be released, will compel Internet and phone companies to keep all telecommunications and social media data for two years, allowing the spy agencies to monitor everyone’s movements, political and personal contacts and online activities.
Far from opposing these measures, Albanese declared: “I believe our security agencies do a great job for this nation, including ASIO.” He reiterated Labor’s bipartisan support for the terror laws overall, and for Australia’s involvement in the Iraq-Syria war.
Shorten, who narrowly defeated Albanese in a Labor Party leadership ballot a year ago, after Labor’s election defeat, indicated that he was not troubled by Albanese’s remarks. “I understand the concerns about press freedom,” Shorten told reporters. He rejected suggestions Labor was wrong to support the terror laws, noting: “We had a good discussion within the ranks of Labor before voting for this legislation.”
Shorten knows that Albanese’s interview was partly aimed at appeasing concerns expressed by media proprietors and some prominent journalists about their exposure to imprisonment under Section 35P. The “Right To Know” coalition, which includes the Murdoch and Fairfax companies, as well as the Australian Associated Press, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and other traditional media outlets, made a submission to the government about the new law last week.
The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, which represents proprietors in 120 countries, also urged the government to amend the legislation, calling the secrecy and computer hacking provisions a “threat to the future of journalism.”
At the same time, Albanese is positioning himself to provide a lightning rod for mounting public opposition to the police-state laws and the war itself. In his interview, although he continued to dress up the resumed US-led military intervention as a fight against “the brutality of Islamic State,” Albanese suggested “there should be more debate on the floor of the House of Representatives” about Australia’s engagement.
This is a shameless pitch to the Greens, who proposed a parliamentary vote on the deployment, without actually opposing the war, as a means of heading off anti-war opposition. Having voted with the government to block any such move, Albanese’s belated suggestion of a debate is revealing. It betrays a nervousness that the war, like the terror laws, lacks credibility among broad layers of working people, who have experienced more than a decade of lies and fabrications, from “weapons of mass destruction” to the witch-hunting of Haneef and many others.
No confidence should be placed in Albanese or any other Labor figure to oppose the “terrorist laws” or the war. Their preoccupation is to contain the emerging opposition, and divert it back into the parliamentary establishment that is presiding over the intensifying program of militarism, austerity and repression.
By Mike Head
16 October 2014
Revelations over the past week highlight the extent of the electronic surveillance already being conducted by the Australian spy agencies against the entire population, and the far-reaching scope of the “metadata retention” bill about to be unveiled by the Abbott government.
With the backing of the Labor opposition, the government is using the pretext of combatting Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorism to introduce legislation that will expand and legalise the operations conducted by the Australian agencies, as part of the US National Security Agency (NSA)-led global intelligence network, to monitor Internet communications.
As yet unseen, the proposed metadata bill will compel all Internet providers and social media platforms, including Google and Facebook, to retain immense amounts of data for two years so that the security services can trawl through it, permitting them to compile a full picture of everyone’s spending habits, political views, friends and associates and geographical locations.
This bill will be the third tranche of the Abbott government’s “counter-terrorism” legislation. Among other things, the first bill, already passed, expands the computer hacking powers of the spy agencies and imposes jail terms of up to 10 years for reporting on “special intelligence operations.”
The second bill, now before parliament, extends the terrorism laws in many ways, including to outlaw supposedly “promoting” terrorism by posting social media content that encourages opposition to Australian military operations such as the involvement in the US-led Iraq-Syria war.
Last week, iiNet, one of Australia’s major internet providers, published a report disclosing the information that the government wants retained for two years. The company said the list included material that iiNet does not currently retain, demolishing Attorney-General George Brandis’s claim, made on October 1, that the data retention law will not “involve anything beyond what the telcos do at the moment.”
According to iiNet’s paper, the categories of data on the list cover a vast array of personal information, starting with the name, date of birth, phone numbers and residential, postal and IP addresses, and billing status of each subscriber.
Also on the list is information designed to link subscribers with other government and financial records, such as: “Identification and verification data—may include passport number, Medicare number, other credit cards, rates statement.”
Other data to be stored includes “upload/download volumes,” records of the time and duration of all communications, and the “identifiers” of all people communicating, or attempting to communicate, with the subscriber.
Finally, the list requires: “Physical and logical location of device—at start of call, at end of call.” This provides a means of monitoring the geographical movements of all subscribers.
As iiNet states, the long list exposes the fraud pushed by the Australian government, together with the US and UK governments, that “metadata” is just like a letter’s envelope, giving the authorities no access to the content of communications. The stored information will be so comprehensive that the spy apparatuses can compile detailed dossiers of political targets.
The company’s paper quotes NSA general counsel Stewart Baker’s statement that “metadata absolutely tells you everything about somebody’s life. If you have enough metadata, you don’t really need content.” iiNet concludes: “Blanket data retention is mass surveillance.”
iiNet’s paper also warns of wider privacy dangers, noting that “the retention of a vast set of personal information would likely prove to be an appealing target for hackers all around the world—creating a risk of identity theft in the event of a data breach.”
The company says government officials have provided “no guidance” on the security protocols that would apply to storing the data. “For example, will offshore cloud storage be acceptable or will the data be required to be stored in Australia?”
Further material published from the documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden sheds more light on how far the NSA’s Australian counterpart, the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), and its “five eyes” partners in Canada, Britain and New Zealand are integrated into the NSA’s global surveillance.
According to a 2006 document published by the Intercept, the ASD has conducted secretive programs to help the NSA hack into computer networks. These programs, codenamed PAWLEYS, involve the NSA’s clandestine human intelligence capabilities (Humint), as well as “computer network access intended to obtain cryptographic information and materials.”
The document states that the Canadian, Australian, British and New Zealand agencies “all operate PAWLEYS programs and NSA collaborates with each on targets of mutual interest.”
The exact nature of the programs in which the ASD participated is unknown. Other documents published by the Intercept, however, show that the NSA’s “computer network exploitation” activities include working with US and foreign companies to undermine encryption systems and physically or remotely subvert computer systems.
Snowden’s previous disclosures have demonstrated the ASD’s involvement in the NSA’s surveillance of millions of Australian residents, as well as hundreds of millions of people around the world. Earlier leaks showed that, for example, the ASD offered to share “bulk, unselected, unminimised metadata” about Australians with the NSA and the other “five eyes” services in 2008. This is data in its raw state, with nothing deleted or redacted in order to protect the privacy of anyone.
Further documents published in August 2014 by the Intercept showed that the ASD may have fed information into the NSA’s ICREACH search engine, designed to share billions of call, email, location and chat records. Last month, Snowden described being able to access XKEYSCORE, another NSA system, which allowed NSA to mine the data of people in Australia and other “five eyes” countries.
None of these operations has anything to do with fighting small bands of terrorists, whose groups have long been known to the security agencies. These are police-state programs, directed against the population at large under conditions of deepening disaffection with the ruling elite’s program of austerity, war and erosion of fundamental legal and democratic rights.
All these mass surveillance operations, and no doubt many more, will be facilitated and expanded by the Abbott government’s data retention regime, which is being prepared with the full support of the Labor Party opposition, just as Labor has backed the first two tranches of the so-called terrorism laws.
In fact, it was the previous Labor government that first proposed the data retention legislation, then cynically deferred it until after last year’s federal election, fully aware of widespread hostility to the plan. On this front, as on the Iraq-Syria war itself, there is a completely bipartisan line-up on defying and suppressing popular opposition.
By Erika Zimmer
15 October 2014
Teachers’ jobs are being destroyed at an accelerating rate, and student fees are rising sharply, in public Technical and Further Education (TAFE) colleges across Australia as the Abbott government intensifies funding cuts and pro-market restructuring begun under the previous Labor government.
Last month, the New South Wales Teachers Federation (NSWTF) revealed that at least another 1,200 TAFE jobs are being cut in that state. That is 50 percent more than originally announced by the Liberal-National state government, whose 2012 budget called for 800 TAFE job cuts over four years and a 9.5 percent increase in student fees.
By next year, students will pay up to 45 percent of course costs. Apprentices will pay $2,000 for a course—up from the current $500 a year. Basic certificates will cost up to $4,000, and a two-year Diploma of Electrical Engineering $8,190, more than double the current $3,038. Already, fine arts course fees have skyrocketed from a few hundred dollars to between $8,000 and $12,000 a year.
The hefty fees flow from the creeping privatisation of vocational education and training nationally, with for-profit operators now receiving about 40 percent of government funding. Chronically under-funded TAFE colleges are competing with private providers that pay lower wages, employ fewer staff and “cherry pick” the most lucrative courses.
As part of its overall pro-business agenda, Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s government used funding arrangements to pressure all states and territories into signing a 2012 National Agreement for Skills and Workforce Development. That established a “market” in which students must pay exorbitant fees for the basic social right to education. Private operators are essentially subsidised via a student loan scheme, while students are left with heavy debts.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s Liberal-National government has taken that framework further. In its May budget, it slashed another $1 billion from the sector, on top of the $1 billion cuts under Labor. Last month, it foreshadowed plans to reshape the vocational education system further in a pro-employer direction, gutting existing programs to set up what Abbott described as an “employer-led and outcome-focused” apprenticeship system.
According to the prime minister, the program will be shaped by industry and “local chambers of commerce” and seek to provide employers with the skills they most need to “grow their business.” In other words, the education will be narrowly tailored to satisfy the requirements of the corporate elite and local businesses, not the needs and aspirations of students. Putting it crudely, Industry Minister Ian MacFarlane said the initiative was about “training to get a job” and not “training for training’s sake.”
Nationally, thousands of TAFE teachers’ jobs are being axed, and student fees are increasing up to fourfold. In Victoria, where the Liberal-National state government has taken the privatisation process the furthest, over 2,500 teachers’ jobs have been cut, and TAFE’s “market share” of vocational education delivery has dropped from 75 percent in 2008 to 38 percent. By moving into selected niches, private operators can make substantial profits. One college, Vocation, listed on the stock exchange in 2013, netting its principals $225 million.
This offensive is bipartisan, as is demonstrated in South Australia, where the state Labor government has cut TAFE budgets by more than 25 percent in recent years. Since 2011, nearly 300 jobs have been eliminated, with a further one in every three slated to go over the next four years.
In NSW the Teachers Federation, which is affiliated to the Australian Education Union (AEU), is solely blaming the state Liberal-National government of Premier Mike Baird for the deepening cuts, and urging teachers, students and parents to help return Labor to office. Pat Forward, the AEU’s TAFE secretary, recently blogged that the election of a Labor government in NSW at the 2015 election “could be a turning point” for TAFE.
The union, however, is responsible for the inroads being made into TAFE. Last year it pushed through an enterprise agreement that is assisting Baird’s government introduce its version of the Gillard plan, called “Smart and Skilled.” Due to commence next year, it will make all vocational courses “fully contestable” by cut-price commercial operators.
In 2012, TAFE NSW, the largest TAFE system in Australia, demanded a fundamental restructure of the workforce, via a new enterprise agreement. It sought to replace full- and part-time qualified teachers with less qualified or even unqualified assessors and education support officers, to be paid at less than half the hourly rate of part-time casual teachers. Teachers voted twice, in December 2012 and March 2013, to reject these demands.
A third vote on the enterprise agreement, carried out in September 2013, was supported by the NSWTF and AEU leadership, which falsely claimed that the deal was “very different” to earlier proposals and protected teachers’ jobs and working conditions.
The agreement called for a ratio of one paraprofessional to every two teachers, with the “business needs” of each TAFE institute to determine the number of paraprofessionals to be hired. While the deal stated that the paraprofessionals would not “teach,” the fact that they were to be used to do work previously performed by teachers, such as assessment, meant that fewer teachers would be needed. By pushing through this sellout, the union directly paved the way for the 50 percent increase in TAFE jobs axed.
Having laid the groundwork for this assault, Labor, the Greens and the union are professing outrage at the outcomes. “The increase to the fees of TAFE courses under [Premier] Mike Baird’s changes will put vocational training out of reach for many people in NSW,” state Labor Party leader John Robertson declared in his budget reply speech in June.
However, Robertson tabled a bill in parliament on August 14 to merely cap TAFE fees and private funding at their 2014 levels, plus inflation, even though this would still leave government funding at less than 50 percent below its 1997 level.
Likewise, the Greens’ John Kaye declared last month that TAFE was “too precious to lose” and urged teachers to email Liberal and National MPs “who are presiding over the ‘Smart and Skilled’ reforms” in order “hold them to account for this unfolding devastation.” He moved an alternative “moratorium” bill that would freeze fees and funding at their 2010–11 levels, insisting that this would represent a victory. It would, however, still leave government funding well below the 1997 level.
On the back of this posturing by Labor and the Greens, the NSW Teachers Federation is trying to block any independent fight by teachers and students against the cuts, and appealing to them to support Labor and the Greens in the 2015 state election. However, any return to a Labor-led government would only mean a further intensification of the destructive processes demanded by the corporate and financial elite.
By James Cogan
15 October 2014
Close to three months after the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over Ukraine on July 17, Prime Minister Tony Abbott told reporters on Tuesday that he was “going to shirtfront” Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 Leaders’ Summit in Brisbane next month. “I am going to be saying to Mr Putin, Australians were murdered,” Abbott asserted. “They were murdered by Russian-backed rebels using Russian-supplied equipment.”
A “shirtfront” is when an Australian Rules Football player charges at high speed and crashes his shoulder directly into the open chest of an opponent, with the intention of violently knocking him to the ground. More often than not, it results in injuries.
For a G20 leader to threaten another with physical violence—even if figuratively—indicates how far diplomatic norms have broken down under the impact of rising global geopolitical tensions and economic turmoil. Abbott’s words were not the language of diplomacy, but the language of war, directed toward the head of a nuclear-armed state and the world’s fifth largest economy.
A bemused representative of the Russian embassy in Canberra, Alexander Odoevskiy, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) that, as no requests had been made by either Australia or Russia for a meeting of the two leaders during the G20, “we are not sure where exactly and when the Australian prime minister would like to ‘shirtfront’ President Putin.”
Odoevskiy blandly stated to the ABC: “It is quite obvious that Russian-Australian relations are at a historic low.”
While the drumbeat of accusations continues, blaming pro-Russian separatists for the downing of MH17, other evidence points to the involvement of the Ukrainian military. On August 7, the Malaysian New Strait Times published explosive claims that the airliner was shot down by missiles and machine guns fired by Ukrainian jet fighters. A supposed independent investigation has not been completed and there is no indication as to when it will.
The Abbott government, however, has shamelessly exploited the deaths of 38 Australian citizens and permanent residents in the MH17 disaster to serve as Washington’s cat’s paw in a campaign to demonise Moscow. Within hours of the aircraft’s downing, Abbott made the unsubstantiated assertion that it was “almost certain” that it been “shot down” by a “Russian-supplied surface-to-air missile.” He accused Moscow of directing and arming the Russian-speaking separatists in eastern Ukraine who are opposed to the pro-US, fascist-backed government in Kiev.
On July 21, utilising Australia’s temporary seat on the UN Security Council, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop moved a resolution demanding a ceasefire in the separatist-held area where MH17 crashed and for “all parties” to cooperate with the deployment of an international investigation team. Russia, confronting threats of greater sanctions by the US and European powers, agreed to the wording of the non-binding resolution, reportedly after “long, drawn-out and fraught” negotiations with Bishop and Australian diplomats.
On July 25, Abbott provocatively announced that Australian Federal Police officers would be deployed to provide “security” for investigators at the Russian separatist-held crash site, at the invitation of the Ukrainian regime.
Over the following weeks, the Ukrainian military and fascist militias, fully backed by the US, Germany, other European powers and Australia, utilised the situation to wage bloody offensives against the separatists, killing hundreds of civilians and displacing thousands more. Moreover, the purported threat posed by Russia has been exploited to deploy greater NATO forces into Eastern Europe and hype up calls in Germany for a massive build-up of its military forces and capabilities.
In Australia, the Abbott government’s aggressive stance toward Russia has been supported by the opposition Labor Party, the Greens and the establishment media. The Greens, in fact, have been the most bellicose, demanding that Putin be banned from setting foot in Australia for the G20.
Abbott’s “shirtfront” comment on Tuesday followed provocative statements by Labor leader Bill Shorten the same day, after the government acknowledged that it had no power to stop a G20 leader attending the summit. Shorten alleged there was “plenty of evidence to indicate indirect if not direct Russian involvement” in an “act of murder.” He declared it was “extremely frustrating to see this Putin fellow come to Australia” and asserted the Russian president should “show enough conscience” to not attend the G20, “because he’s rubbing our faces in it.”
Greg Sheridan, the foreign editor of the Australian, wrote yesterday: “The Abbott government should make it so clear to Russia’s Vladimir Putin that he is not welcome here, that he is shamed into staying home… The Russians committed a crime, and Australians were the victims… Putin is the author of those policies. He should not be welcomed into Australia for any reason on any pretext.”
Australia’s stance toward Russia underscores the key international role it is playing as an adjunct for US imperialism, not only in Asia as part of the anti-China “pivot” and in the wars in the Middle East, but also in relation to Washington’s intrigues in Eastern Europe. As a middle-order imperialist power, Australia is reliant on US support in order to prosecute its own strategic and economic interests in the region and internationally.
What makes Canberra so useful to Washington is that Australian politicians can voice things that the US and its other allies cannot, or do not want, to say immediately. If Obama had used such war-like language against Putin, alarm bells would have sounded about a confrontation between the nuclear-armed powers. Germany, France, Britain and Japan are all embroiled with Russia over complex issues in Europe and Asia, and, as a result, tend to choose their words more carefully. Abbott, the prime minister of a remote middle power, can play the role of crude provocateur with relative impunity.
Abbott would not have spoken about the Russian president in such a manner without prior consultation with the Obama administration. He is not about to pick a political fight without US backing. As for Obama, while not wanting to formally block Putin from the summit, Abbott’s words are clearly designed to send a message to Putin that the US confrontation with Russia continues and his reception at the G20 will be a hot one.
Russian parliamentarian and Putin advisor Vyacheslav Nikonov indicated that the message was received. He told the ABC’s “Lateline” program: “It’s quite [a] predictable statement because Tony Abbott is known as one of the closest allies to the United States and his political position is not at all different from that of Washington DC. And we know what they say about Russia in Washington DC.”
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A bipartisan conspiracy Australian imperialism and the Middle East war
[13 October 2014]
By Joe Lopez
14 October 2014
Western Australia’s Liberal state government last week announced plans to axe another 1,500 public sector jobs through “voluntary redundancies,” alongside a raft of spending cuts, adding to the those already unveiled in May’s state budget.
Premier Colin Barnett and Treasurer Mike Nahan said even further job cuts and austerity measures would be implemented in the mid-year budget review, due in December, and the next state budget, to be handed down next May.
Barnett told reporters: “People in the public sector will have to work harder. We are asking the public service to do more with less.” Nahan commented: “[E]ven with restraint in public sector wages and government job cuts, more has to be done.”
The latest austerity measures seek to save $2 billion over the next four years to overcome a deepening budget crisis. The former mining “boom state” has been hit by a sharp decline in commodity prices, particularly for iron ore. This is driven by the downturn in global economic growth, including in China, the major export destination for Australian mineral resources.
All government departments, except education, will suffer job losses. Last August, 350 education assistants’ jobs and 150 education department administrative positions were cut, along with a hiring freeze on teachers.
Another one percent “efficiency dividend” will be extracted from all government agencies, on top of the two percent annual cost-cutting over the past several years. Road maintenance spending will be reduced by 15 percent, as will procurement budgets across all sectors for consumables, stationery, communications, travel, administration and consultants.
There will be a 10 percent reduction in subsidy payments to gas and water utilities, a 10 percent reduction to Landcorp, which develops housing projects and a five percent cut in agency spending on capital works.
The Western Australian (WA) government relies on mining royalties for no less than a fifth of its revenue. The government’s May budget optimistically predicted that iron ore would trade at around $US122 a tonne during 2014-15, but prices have slumped to below $80. Every US dollar reduction per tonne reduces government income by $A50 million. This year’s budget already faces a revenue hole of $1.5 billion to $2 billion.
The latest cuts follow the slashing of 1,200 jobs last August, after Standard & Poor’s downgraded the state’ credit rating from AAA to AA+ for the first time in a decade, intensifying the pressure of the global financial markets.
The WA Chamber of Commerce and Industry praised the deeper cuts, saying they laid “the foundation for reform to be carried into the mid-year review with a clear focus on restoring the AAA credit rating.”
Similarly, the Labor Party opposition endorsed the austerity measures, accusing the Barnett government of “reckless spending.” Shadow treasurer Ben Wyatt told reporters: “I have been warning for years and years that there would have to be a consequence for the way Mr Barnett has spent.”
Community and Public Sector Union secretary Toni Walkington told the media the public service had already been reduced by 7,500 workers since 2010, and salaries as a share of total government expenses had fallen. Yet this is an indictment of the trade unions, which have blocked any struggle against the cuts and instead collaborated with the government in imposing them, via so-called voluntary redundancies.
Thousands more jobs are set to be destroyed in the mining sector during the next few months. Junior miner Atlas Iron recently announced the axing of 75 jobs at its Pilbara operations in WA’s northwest.
Mining giant BHP Billiton has unveiled plans for cost-cutting measures aimed at reducing iron ore production costs by 25 percent to $20 per tonne. Mining analysts estimate that 1,000 to 3,000 jobs will be eliminated.
This move, which will have to be matched by other mining conglomerates like Rio Tinto and Brazil’s Vale, is designed to drive higher cost producers such as Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) and other smaller ventures to the wall, as well as competitors in India, China and elsewhere.
Premier Barnett protested against this process in comments reported by theWest Australian newspaper in an article headlined: “WA budget pain sparks rebuke for Rio, BHP.”
Barnett stated: “This seeming strategy of the two major producers to flood the market and force the price down, I mean … That’s hurting Western Australia. Their strategy is flawed. To manage the price of a world commodity, when anyone who has tried to do that, whether it’s a mineral or agriculture, it usually ends in tears. Right now, there are tears within the WA government.”
The premier urged BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto to remember “who your landlord is.” He threatened to increase the mining royalties rate, a response that would certainly provoke retaliation by the mining giants and the banks that finance them.
The mining boom has created intense social polarisation. A handful of billionaires have accumulated enormous fortunes, and a layer of the upper-middle class benefitted from the rising share and property prices. Iron ore heiress Gina Rinehart was named “the world’s richest woman” in 2012, with a personal fortune exceeding $20 billion.
For the working class, however, the mining boom generated steep increases in the costs of housing, utilities and other basic necessities. Now, with the boom’s reversal, what is developing is a rapid descent toward mass unemployment and permanent social austerity, with both the Liberal government and the Labor opposition agreed that the working class must pay the price for the collapse.
Tony Abbot, the Australian Prime Minister, and opposition leader Bill Shorten shocked senators of the green continent with their harsh statements about Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Jacqui Lambie, an Australian MP from the Palmer United Party, stated that one should put an end to the attempts to prove who is the “toughest guy” on the football field. They are [Abbot and Putin] are like “hormone affected schoolboys trying to out-macho each other on the footy field,” she said. “It’s important to act in a mature manner and keep lines of communication open with [Mr Putin],” Lambie added.
Lambie also stated that she only welcomed Putin’s visit to Australia for the G20 summit. According to her, she did not believe even for a moment that the Russian president wanted the catastrophe with the Malaysian Boeing to happen.
Mr. Abbott, who promised to “shirt-front” Putin, as well as Mr. Shorten, who did not want the Russian leader to visit the summit in Brisbane, were ridiculed by Australian comedian Jazz Twemlow. “Perhaps he’s trying to impress the public, in which case, if this is the image of the Australian public Abbott has, shame on us. How much more machismo does he think we can mentally ingest?” Twemlow wrote on his blog.
The satirical stand-up and writer also said that it would be best to hold the G18 summit without Putin and Abbot, who would be settling personal scores with each other, while others would be discussing most important international issues.
Tony Abbott, a former boxer, is known for his criticism of Russia. In August, he proposed to introduce tougher sanctions against Moscow. Abbot is also known for his attempts to blame Russia for the crash of the Malaysian Boeing 777 in Ukraine, even though the case has not been investigated still.
The Russian embassy in Canberra responded to the statement from Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott of the forthcoming “tough conversation” with Vladimir Putin.
Second Secretary of the diplomatic mission, Alexander Odoevsky, called the head of the Australian Government’s immature and reminded that Putin was an expert in judo.
“I know Prime Minister Abbott is a very keen bicyclist. The Russian president does a lot of judo, which is a type of wrestling,” Odoevsky said, The Telegraph reports.
“As I understand, shirt-fronting is quite an old fashioned term, which is not widely used in the modern-day game. Also, it is illegal,” the official added.
According to Odoyevsky, the Russian Embassy in Canberra continues to receive numerous messages from Australians, who apologize for their prime minister.
By James Cogan
13 October 2014
The Fairfax press revealed last week that the inscribed Arabic sword seized during unprecedented police raids on September 18—and portrayed by the media as the weapon that would be used in an Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)-inspired plot to kidnap a random person and behead them in the street—was actually a plastic ornament. Moreover, it is a plastic Shiite ornament. Its inscription pays homage to the first Imam, Ali, who is considered by the Sunni Wahhabist extremists who make up ISIS as an apostate to Islam.
The revelation adds to the numerous, disturbing questions about the raids on 15 homes in five Sydney suburbs, which was the largest anti-terrorism operation ever carried out in Australia and involved some 800 state police, federal police and Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) agents.
Police armed with military assault rifles and supported by armoured vehicles cordoned off entire neighbourhoods. People were ordered to lie on the ground as their homes were ransacked. Fifteen people were arrested and hauled off to police stations for interrogation. Video footage and photographs of some of the detainees were published by the police on Twitter and the official police media site and then re-published by every television and print outlet.
The media went into a frenzy, recounting sensational information they received from “unnamed” sources. However, it was the photo of the sword, being carried by police officers in a transparent evidence bag, which provoked some of the most lurid assertions. The Daily Mail breathlessly headlined its report: “Was this the lethal sword terror cell planned to use to behead an innocent victim on a Sydney street?”
From the beginning, there were glaring discrepancies between the initial police statements and the claims that an imminent terrorist attack had been thwarted. A press release issued shortly after the raids stated that the police had “no information regarding a specific attack, including dates, time or location.” However, by the end of the day, 22-year-old Omarjan Azari had been named as a “terrorist.” The media was full of reports that he had taken a phone call from an Australian ISIS member in Syria in which he had been instructed to film the beheading of someone and post it on YouTube. Press coverage dwelt at length on the police seizure of an unspecified weapon from one home, and the ominous photo of the sword.
The government and the police subsequently made no attempt to explain that the sword was plastic and thus allowed the idea to circulate that Muslim fanatics had been on the verge of beheading someone. It has directly contributed to a hysterical and xenophobic atmosphere and the abuse and assault of Muslims, especially veiled women, by racist elements.
The revelation about the sword fully confirms what the World Socialist Web Site wrote on September 18: “Everything about the raids reeks of a cynical and sinister attempt to justify Sunday’s announcement by the government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott—with the full support of the opposition Labor Party—to send Australian F-18 jets and Army special forces to join US military operations in Iraq against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).”
Not long after those words were published, US Secretary of State John Kerry also utilised the alleged terror plot to justify the US-led intervention into the Middle East on the pretext of fighting ISIS. He told a congressional hearing that Australia had “arrested a large group of people that they suspected of being ISIL [ISIS] members, supporters, sympathisers … who were planning some kind of extravaganza of brutality. So we have to decimate and discredit a militant cult masquerading as a religious movement and claiming with no legitimacy to be a state.”
Three-and-half weeks later, the following can be said about the preparations for an “extravaganza of brutality.”
There were no plans to commit an ISIS-inspired murder, let alone behead someone, in Sydney. Omarjan Azari has been charged with the offense of “conspiring to act in preparation for, or plan, a terrorist act or acts.” This charge, which was introduced in 2005 as part of draconian “anti-terrorism” legislation, means only that the prosecution will allege that Azari was intending to do something. The character of the charge leaves the door wide open for a frame-up.
The evidence against Azari is a purported phone conversation two days before the raids with Mohammad Ali Baryalei, a man who travelled to Syria to join the Al Qaeda-linked Al Nusra Front and then allegedly transferred his allegiance to ISIS. The police have admitted that the word “behead” was not used. Baryalei, who is an unstable and dubious individual, allegedly stated that Azari should “kill a random kaffir [non-Muslim].”
What Azari said in the phone call has not been released by police. One of his cousins told journalists that the young man had stopped using his mobile phone because he believed it was being monitored by ASIO. His passport had been revoked six months earlier on the grounds he might leave Australia to join the Islamist groupings fighting as part of the US-backed civil war against the Syrian government.
The possibility cannot be excluded that Baryalei acted as a police provocateur. His alleged phone call can only be described as very timely for the US and Australian governments. It gave them their “evidence” of an ISIS conspiracy in a western country, under conditions in which they were using ISIS as the pretext for not only war, but another round of anti-terrorism laws that strip away more democratic rights.
After the mobilisation of 800 police and ASIO agents, Azari was the only person who has been charged with a terrorism offense. Another man was charged with illegal possession of what had been reported as a firearm but turned out to be a taser. The only other charges were “resisting arrest,” which have been levelled against two women who allegedly interfered with the police who were ransacking their homes.
The arrests in Sydney, and in separate raids in Brisbane, were nevertheless utilised to place three detainees under Preventative Detention Orders (PDOs), which give police the power to hold and question someone for 14 days without any charges. This was the first time PDOs have been applied. According to the federal police, one man was put on a PDO simply because he ceased cooperating with interrogations.
One family that was subjected to a raid has launched legal action over police brutality. A woman was dragged from her bed by officers after she refused to expose her uncovered body. She was also allegedly punched. The “men” in the house, two boys aged 14 and 15, were handcuffed while the premises was searched for 12 hours. Dogs were brought in, computers seized and their backyard dug up for unexplained reasons.
As for the owner of the plastic sword, he is 21-year-old painter Mustafa Dirani, from a Shiite Afghan immigrant family. He does not know Omarjan Azari and has no history of involvement with any Sunni extremist grouping. Everything suggests that he and his friend Maywand Osman were included in the raids solely to increase the number of targets. They appear to have been selected because they were recently involved in a car accident that has been linked to a brawl. The warrant issued to search his parent’s home dramatically stated that he had engaged “in preparation or planning terrorist acts” between May and September 2014.
The entire affair underscores the advanced decay of every institution of bourgeois democracy. The government, the parliamentary opposition, the judiciary, the police and the media all participated in an operation, which could have been taken from a military handbook on psy-ops, to instil fear in the Australian population and to justify war and stepped-up state repression.
By Richard Phillips
11 October 2014
The centrepiece of the Australian government’s multi-million dollar World War I commemorations is next year’s Anzac Day—the 100th anniversary of the military invasion of Gallipoli, on Turkey’s Dardanelle Peninsula, on April 25, 1915.
Over 44,000 Allied soldiers, including 11,000 Australian and New Zealand troops, and more than 85,000 Turkish troops, died in the eight-month campaign before the British-led high command admitted defeat and ordered a withdrawal.
Gallipoli—the first major WWI battle by thousands of Anzac (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) forces—has for some decades been turned into a nationalist touchstone. The patriotic and militarist bombast surrounding next year’s centenary, however, will be unprecedented.
Veterans’ Affairs Minister Michael Ronaldson has been given a special cabinet position—the Centenary of Anzac Minister—to oversee proceedings. Planned events include a re-enactment of the military landing at Gallipoli, a surfing boat race across the Dardenelles, a marathon swimming competition and an evening concert at the battle site for 8,000 Australians, who have been selected from 30,000 applications in a national raffle.
Running in tandem with these events is Camp Gallipoli, a mass overnight camp-out to be held on April 24 in five Australian state capitals and locations in New Zealand. Initiated by Chris Fox, a South Australian businessman, advertising executive and former charity CEO, the $20 million extravaganza has been endorsed by the government and its Anzac Centenary Advisory Board.
Those attending will be entertained by actors, musicians, sporting figures and the screening of Gallipoli documentaries, followed by dawn military services.
Up to 250,000 people are expected to attend, with smaller gatherings in regional towns and cities. Everyone will be presented with the service number of a soldier, whose records can be located on the Australian War Memorial’s web site.
Tickets for metropolitan events cost between $70 and $100, with those attending encouraged to purchase a $275 souvenir military “swag” (small tent). “Limited edition” versions, stamped with an Anzac military service number, will sell for $375. The family-oriented event, the promotional material gushes, will “take your emotions on a roller coaster as its blends celebration with commemoration.”
While Camp Gallipoli is a registered “not-for-profit” foundation, it has extensive business and media backing. Its principal partners include the Bendigo Bank, APN News & Media, TVNZ, the Aboriginal body-hire company Interact, football and cricket peak bodies, and the Jolly Swagman camping equipment company, which is producing thousands of souvenir sleeping swags.
Olympic gold medal winners Cathy Freeman and Leisel Jones, Australian and New Zealand cricketers and footballers, and various actors and musicians have been appointed Camp Gallipoli “ambassadors” to sell the event. School students are being encouraged to nominate their own ambassadors, with one selected to read an Anzac tribute at the Camp Gallipoli gatherings in each state.
“Anzac flame” torches have been launched. Torch relays will travel to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra and around various parts of Australia and New Zealand to the Camp Gallipoli venues on April 24. According to the promotional material, the torches represent “the spiritual return of the 11,000 brave Anzacs who made the ultimate sacrifice.” Keeping the flame “continually alight represents eternal life.”
Camp Gallipoli’s web site is dominated by quasi-mystical nationalist invocations, along with patriotic boilerplate that Gallipoli represented “the birth of the Australian nation” and that the “Anzac spirit”—courage, mateship and unwavering service to nation—was part of a struggle for “democracy” and “freedom.”
The “democratic” ideals imparted to Gallipoli are thoroughly bogus. The incursion was one episode in a four-year imperialist slaughter for capitalist profit—for control of resources, markets and geo-strategic advantage—and resulted in the death of millions. Turkey was attacked with the aim of forcing it to surrender control of its sea lanes and allow military assistance to the brutal Tsarist autocracy in Russia, then allied with Britain and France.
Australia’s and New Zealand’s participation in the war, moreover, was in line with their status as Dominions of the British Empire, which was seeking to defend its global hegemony. As Australian Prime Minister Joseph Cook declared in August 1914: “Remember that when the Empire is at war, so is Australia at war.”
Within that framework, Canberra and Wellington advanced their own imperialist ambitions, using the war to seize control of Germany’s Pacific Ocean territories—New Guinea, Bougainville, Solomon Islands, Nauru and Samoa. The tens of thousands of Australian and New Zealand soldiers killed in WWI was the human price paid for the seizure of these territories.
It is not possible here to fully describe the harvest of death and suffering at Gallipoli. The incursion was a military disaster and a hell on earth for the poorly-trained and equipped soldiers involved.
Along with those killed by artillery, machine-gun fire and hand-to-hand combat, thousands died from enteric fever, dysentery, diarrhoea and various fly-borne diseases. Some were burnt to death in out-of-control scrub fires. Others were killed in heavy storms or blizzards, or drowned in sewage. Winston Churchill, who devised the disastrous campaign, became known as “the butcher of Gallipoli” and was forced to quit his ministerial post in the British government in disgrace.
Camp Gallipoli, of course, cannot discuss the ruthless economic and political calculations that produced this horror. Invocations of the “Anzac spirit” aim to condition the population, particularly younger generations, to accept the increasing militarism of life and new imperialist wars.
A key element in the spin is that the Gallipoli incursion forged a special “multi-cultural spirit.” It was “a rare time of racial inclusion and tolerance,” the Camp Gallipoli web site declares.
Camp Gallipoli CEO Fox told the Australian newspaper last month that racism “vanished” among the Allied forces in Turkey. “We came together and it’s now in our DNA… Not only did all these nations get on, they formed a bond that is now called the Anzac Spirit.”
Camp Gallipoli’s “multi-cultural” spin is all about manufacturing a “modern” Australian patriotism. This means acknowledging the vast social demographic changes since 1914—about a quarter of today’s Australian residents were born outside the country—while promoting obedient acceptance of war and “sacrifice for the nation.”
Camp Gallipoli’s board of management, which includes senior military officials, appointed Ben Roberts-Smith, Daniel Keighran and Mark Donaldson, three decorated Australian veterans of the US-led occupation of Afghanistan, to promote next year’s events.
Roberts-Smith, who served six tours of duty in Afghanistan, and Donaldson were both members of the SAS and hailed as heroes by the government and corporate media for “putting their lives on the line” for “all Australians.” The ostensible role of the SAS is long-range reconnaissance, surveillance and raids on enemy targets. In the “war on terror,” the SAS has functioned as little more than death squads.
The fact that such veterans are playing a key role in the promotion of Camp Gallipoli is another indicator that Australia’s ruling elite is attempting to prepare the population for new imperialist wars. No doubt some of those involved in the latest US-led assault on Iraq and Syria will be given pride of place at next year’s events.
By Mike Head
10 October 2014
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has revealed the deeply anti-democratic character of his government’s “terrorist” legislation. First, in an interview with right-wing radio personality Alan Jones on Wednesday, Abbott signaled a move to outlaw an Islamist group because it “campaigns against Australian values” and “Australian interests.”
Yesterday, Abbott stepped up the offensive, denouncing Hizb ut-Tahrir as “an organisation which is very careful to avoid advocating terrorism, but is always making excuses for terrorist organisations.” The prime minister declared that this was “un-Australian.”
This is a recipe for banning political groups that allegedly “excuse” terrorism—for example by seeking to explain its roots—even if they explicitly oppose terrorism. More broadly, the banner of harming “Australian interests” could cover any opposition to the predatory military and bullying activities of Australian imperialism, in league with the US, around the world.
Abbott told Jones that he was just as “angry and frustrated” as the radio host that no ban had been imposed on “organisations like Hizb ut-Tahrir,” which publicly opposes the US-led war in Iraq and Syria, and Australia’s involvement in it.
Abbott said the group could be proscribed under laws currently before parliament to make it illegal to “promote terrorism.” The prime minister also vowed to use existing immigration powers to stop “hate preachers” getting visas to enter Australia.
These comments are part of a systematic whipping up of anti-Muslim xenophobia by the government and the media, in order to try to divert and split the working class along ethno-religious lines amid a drive to war and deeper austerity. They also demonstrate the capacity of the government’s laws to be used against a range of opponents of the renewed imperialist war drive in the Middle East.
The “Foreign Fighters Bill,” the second tranche of the government’s barrage of terrorism laws, contains a wide array of draconian provisions that go far beyond the ostensible aim of dealing with the small number of Australian residents allegedly fighting with, or supporting, Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other jihadist militias.
One key measure, highlighted by Abbott, will make it a crime for anyone to “advocate” terrorism, even if they are merely “reckless” as to whether any terrorism would occur, and no act of terrorism actually occurs. “Advocating” includes urging, promoting, encouraging or counseling.
The government will also be able to ban, by decree, any group allegedly “advocating” terrorism, and this will automatically make all its members, “informal members” and supporters liable to imprisonment.
Such sweeping legislation could be used against a wide range of organisations. The Muslim Legal Network has pointed out that “promoting terrorism” could apply to condemning Israel or, in the past, supporting the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.
In the case of Hizb ut-Tahrir, it is a global organisation espousing a reactionary ideology, the establishment of an Islamic caliphate based on sharia law. But it has a record of opposing, on religious grounds, terrorist acts against civilians. It has also been under close surveillance by the Australian intelligence and police apparatus for more than a decade, without the authorities producing any evidence that it engages in, finances, supports or even incites terrorism.
The Abbott government’s assault on freedom of political expression and other fundamental democratic rights is going much further than the earlier Liberal-National government of John Howard, which moved to outlaw Hizb ut-Tahrir during the first wave of the “war on terror.”
On two occasions, in 2005 and 2007, Philip Ruddock, Howard’s attorney-general, ordered the spy agencies to investigate the group, only to be told that its activities did not breach the terrorism laws rammed through between 2002 and 2005, which banned “incitement” of any terrorist act.
During his radio interview, Jones asked Abbott why his government had not used section 24AA of the Crimes Act against Hizb ut-Tahrir. This makes it an offence to “do any act or thing with intent to overthrow” any government “by force or violence.” Abbott replied: “Well, that’s a very good question Alan,” adding that he would investigate whether the section could be “deployed against [groups] like Hizb ut-Tahrir.”
Again, this provision has the potential to be invoked more broadly against opponents of the ruling elite, including socialists.
Another police-state aspect of the terror laws emerged last week when the Australian Federal Police (AFP) revealed that a man arrested in last month’s massive police raids on homes in Sydney and Brisbane was placed under a preventative detention order (PDO) because he refused to answer questions, exercising his right to silence.
AFP assistant commissioner Neil Gaughan told the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security, which is conducting a token two-week review of the “Foreign Fighters Bill,” that the PDO, which can last up to 14 days without charge, was imposed after the man stopped cooperating with police. The man was originally arrested under the AFP’s “investigation” powers, which allow people to be detained for up to 8 days without charge.
This is the first official information disclosed about the detention during the raids of three men, who were all released without charge. An indefinite court suppression order remains in place, preventing any public scrutiny of the detentions. Under PDOs, prisoners are held in isolation, without knowing the reasons for their incarceration.
The so-called Foreign Fighters Bill lowers the threshold for police to obtain PDOs. During the parliamentary hearings, Karen Horsfall, the principal legal officer at the attorney-general’s department, said this change could allow people to be placed on PDOs, removed for questioning, and then placed back in detention.
This revolving door scenario highlights the fact that the AFP and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) have four different methods of holding people without trial, all in violation of the centuries-old principle ofhabeas corpus, which forbids imprisonment except by judicial order.
Almost certainly, as the AFP’s admission indicates, these powers are being exploited more than officially reported, with people being threatened with detention unless they cooperate with the police and ASIO, the domestic spy agency.
Wider use of a further form of arbitrary detention came to light this week. Australian Crime Commission (ACC) chief executive Chris Dawson said his agency had conducted 42 “coercive examinations” on 26 people allegedly linked to terrorism. Like ASIO, the ACC can force people to undergo secret questioning, effectively detaining them incommunicado, unable to alert their families, supporters or the media.
As a number of submissions to the parliamentary committee have pointed out, Australia’s “counter-terrorism” laws already exceed those of the US and the UK in stripping away basic legal and democratic rights, and the planned new measures will go further still.
Just as the Abbott government, backed to the hilt by the Labor Party opposition, has placed Australian troops and war planes at the forefront of the renewed US-led aggression in the Middle East, so has the government, withbipartisan support, brought forward the most far-reaching laws designed to intimidate and persecute opposition to the war drive and the accompanying accelerated austerity program.
By Terry Cook
7 October 2014
Amid signs of downturn nationally, the Tasmanian state Liberal Party government of Premier Will Hodgman announced late last month that it will slash a further 500 public sector jobs, on top of the 700 it unveiled in its August budget. The announcement followed a parliamentary vote to defer a planned wage freeze.
These cuts will also be in addition to 1,000 job losses announced by the previous state Labor-Green coalition government, but not yet implemented. In total, these retrenchments will cut the public sector workforce in Australia’s smallest state by up to 10 percent.
The government withdrew its pay-freezing Crown Employees Salaries Bill after the Legislative Council, the state’s upper house, voted on September 25 to adjourn debate on the legislation to allow for further negotiations with the public sector unions.
The bill would have allowed the government to impose a 12-month freeze on wages and increment payments for public sector workers and then place a 2 percent annual cap on future wage increases.
At the time of its budget, the government insisted that the pay freeze was essential for it to avoid extra job cuts. Following the adjournment vote, state Treasurer Peter Gutwein stated: “It was the pay pause, or 500 jobs.” Gutwein also declared that frontline staff would no longer be exempt from the jobs cull.
The budget, the Hodgman government’s first since gaining office in March, is part of the sweeping austerity measures being imposed at both federal and state levels to meet the demands of the corporate and financial elite. Global ratings agency Moody’s, which lists Tasmania at AA1-negative, welcomed the pay freeze and job cuts, saying “some comfort” could be found in the move to lower wage growth.
After Hodgman’s announcement, the trade unions quickly declared their willingness to work with the government to impose its cost-cutting agenda. Seven public sector unions wrote to the premier, calling for “urgent negotiations.” Their letter said the unions were committed to “engaging in constructive discussions to achieve wage-restraint” in line with the government’s budget requirements.
The unions announced their intention to call membership meetings. However, the purpose of the meetings is not to fight the job cuts. Instead, the union bureaucrats will try to use them as a lever to pressure the government to come to the negotiating table and include them in the budget slashing process.
Responding to the government’s flat rejection of further negotiations, Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) state secretary Tom Lynch told the media: “We will first of all make ourselves available every single day to negotiate, and if they (the government) won’t come to the table to negotiate we will look at all the ways.”
Lynch assured the government that “industrial action was not on the cards at this stage” and confirmed that the unions would restrict any activity to conducting “a community campaign in favour of talks.”
The unions then began writing directly to government department heads offering discussions on wage restraint measures. Unions Tasmania president Roz Madsen said: “We hope the agencies will be in a position to commence the negotiations with us to deliver the government the savings it needs to address its budget concerns.”
Unions have already offered the government options to impose cost savings. The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, for example, previously put forward a slate of 60 possible cost cutting measures.
The unions had accepted the original 700 jobs cuts, asking only that the government stand by an election pledge to refrain from using “forced redundancies.” The unions fear that compulsory retrenchments, rather than so-called voluntary redundancies, could spark opposition by public sector workers that could get out of the unions’ control.
Tasmania’s water and sewerage corporation chief also warned of further job destruction. TasWater chief executive Mike Brewster said he could not guarantee job security. Hundreds of TasWater workers walked off the job for two hours last Thursday, as part of a six-month dispute over the corporation’s demand for the removal of job security clauses from its industrial agreements.
Both the state Labor Opposition and the Greens supported the move to adjourn debate on the pay freeze bill. However, neither has any disagreement with implementing sweeping cuts to jobs and workers’ conditions to deliver the cost savings demanded by big business.
In fact, both parties attacked the government from a pro-business perspective, with Labor leader Bryan Green accusing it of axing jobs to pay for more than $400 million in “excessive” election commitments. Greens leader Kim Booth said the budget did nothing to improve the state’s financial bottom line.
The Hodgman government’s budget is deepening the austerity program that was pursued by the previous state Labor-Greens coalition government. After coming to office in 2010, the Labor-Greens government worked tirelessly to impose a pro-market agenda, including cuts to hospitals and the public healthcare system. Its 2011 budget sought to shut down 20 public schools, axe 1,700 public sector jobs and increase water and electricity charges.
These measures fuelled widespread popular outrage, leading to the Liberals being swept into office in the March election. Labor’s vote plummeted to a historic low of 27 percent while the Greens vote dropped from nearly 22 percent in the previous election to 13.5 percent.
Labor and the Greens are acutely aware that any eruption of opposition by public sector workers to the public sector cuts could become a focal point for the broad discontent over mounting unemployment, the attacks on health and education and the gutting of social programs.
From their own experience in carrying out the austerity program, the former coalition partners consider it vital to use the trade unions as a mechanism to contain the opposition and derail any struggle. Former Labor premier Lara Giddings urged the government to “sit down sensibly and maturely with the union movement and actually progress this issue.”
By Mike Head and Ellen Blake
6 October 2014
New information from local residents has raised further questions about why and how heavily-armed police commandos fatally shot a man after surrounding him for several hours in the Brisbane working class suburb of Inala last week.
After training about a dozen guns and semi-automatic rifles at the man for hours, para-military police commandos killed him in a hail of automatic gunfire. Police fired multiple shots at point-blank range after he emerged from a car allegedly holding a handgun. He died at the scene a short time later.
People living in the small cluster of public housing townhouses where the victim was shot were traumatised and shocked by the heavy-handed tactics that police used. They said the confrontation with the man, now known to be Shaun Kumeroa, a 42-year-old former oil rig worker, could have been resolved by police negotiating with the obviously troubled man.
Those who spoke to the WSWS described the police Special Emergency Response Team (SERT) siege of their complex and the nearby streets as a show of force designed to terrify people. It took place amid the scare-mongering produced by the federal government’s raising of the official “terrorism” alert level, and was a trial run for the use of SERT during next month’s G20 summit in Brisbane.
For five hours, the police declared an “emergency situation.” They utilised their emergency powers under the state of Queensland’s Public Safety Preservation Act to lock down entire blocks of Inala, near the main shopping centre, the Inala Plaza. They imposed “no go zones,” took control of the homes facing the car park where the shooting occurred, and seized mobile phones and video cameras of the residents who filmed the events.
Last Monday’s fatal police shooting was the second in Australia within days, following the previous Thursday’s police killing of 17-year-old Abdul Numan Haider in the Melbourne suburb of Endeavour Hills. It occurred during the same week that Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced that Australian troops and war planes would join the US-led combat operations in Iraq.
Unlike Haider, Kumeroa was not accused of being an Islamic “terrorist suspect.” Nonetheless, the police turned the incident into a major emergency involving about 100 officers, the establishment of a command centre in an adjacent street, and the deployment of SERT commandos with an armoured vehicle that blocked in Kumeroa’s car.
Residents of the public housing complex talked to Kumeroa during the siege, warning him against a showdown with the police. They later discovered, from one of Kumeroa’s relatives, his identity and some information about his circumstances.
Originally from New Zealand, Kumeroa had difficulty reading and writing. He lost his job on a drilling rig in 2008 and struggled financially and emotionally, leaving him nearly homeless, unable to pay child support or his utility bills. He was depressed by being separated from his partner and losing custody of their three-year-old daughter.
It seems that the police followed Kumeroa when he drove his car into the car park in front of the townhouses, but it remains unclear why he was being tailed. The police have not disclosed any details about their reasons for pursuing Kumeroa in the first place, nor produced the handgun that they allege he brandished during the siege.
Shelly Redding and Nigel Butowski watched horrified as the police operation mounted outside their front door. Butowski told the WSWS: “The saddest thing was that he [Kumeroa] was calling out his mobile phone number. He wasn’t aggressive or agitated. He wasn’t on drugs. He was crying and depressed. The police had guns drawn on him all day long. When they rolled a bottle of water to him, he said: ‘You could have given it to me; I’m not going to shoot you.’”
Nigel Butowski and Shelly Redding
Redding explained: “We were watching all this, when suddenly the police told us we had to exit. Every townhouse had police officers inside them, and there were more in the back, all with guns. The police should have gotten someone who could deal with a depressed person, but they behaved like a commando regiment, with machine guns.” She added: “If they had lowered their guns, he would have talked to them. The SERT officers all had white knuckles from holding their triggers.”
Redding showed us a bullet hole in her letterbox, which was near Kumeroa’s car. “I hate to think where that bullet went through his body and into our letterbox,” she said. “The police took over our house and didn’t even tell us when we could return. When we returned the next morning, we found that they had left the house unlocked overnight.”
Butowski said he was terrified at one point, when a detective seemed ready to shoot him. “I had a video camera in my hand, and I turned suddenly because I heard someone coming in through the back door. The detective went for his gun, and I shouted: ‘It’s only a video camera.’”
Butowski commented: “It’s like everyone’s a terrorist. The police shoot first and ask questions later. Everything is being exaggerated. I’d hate to see civil unrest, but times are getting hard and people are starting to falter. Now the government is going to war again, and people could start turning on each other.”
Redding added: “It was like a training exercise. During the G20 summit, these are the blokes [the SERT] who will be in charge. It’s like they did this to show that they’re ready. It was like living in a war zone. The police were making a statement.”
Inala is a sprawling working class community of about 14,000 people. It has long been blighted by poverty and high unemployment—currently 24.6 percent, even according to official figures—primarily because of decades of factory closures, including that of the GM plant in nearby Acacia Ridge during the mid-1980s.
A younger couple living in the townhouse complex also said they were terrified by the shooting. The police took command of their home during the operation and then confiscated their mobile phone, on which they had recorded the events.
“The cops told us all along they thought it would end with a shooting,” a young mother said. “But that man needed help. His life didn’t need to be ended. He didn’t wave his gun around at all. The police could have tasered him anytime … I have been rattled to my core. This has shaken my belief in the police.”
The young woman’s partner commented: “The police hyped this up to scare the people and get them ready for another war. The government says it is worried about people living on the dole but they have been selling off our jobs for years, all for private profit.”
Mid-November’s G20 summit in Brisbane will see a massive police-militaryoperation to block any protests against the gathering of government leaders, many of whom are now participating in the new US-led war in the Middle East.
By James Cogan
4 October 2014
The Australian government yesterday committed six Australian F/A-18F Super Hornet fighter-bombers to indefinite combat missions in Iraq. The Hornets were deployed, along with a refuelling plane and a surveillance aircraft, to a base in the United Arab Emirates more than a week ago. Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s announcement that Australian forces were joining the US-led war was immediately endorsed by Labor Party opposition leader Bill Shorten.
Initial reports indicate that the Australian warplanes will be used to attack the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), also known as ISIL, and other militias that control areas of western and northern Iraq. At this stage, they will not be used to bomb targets inside Syria, which is the main focus of US air strikes in the region.
Contained within Abbott’s short statement announcing the combat missions were all the propaganda and lies being used by the Obama administration to justify renewed US military operations inside Iraq and its direct intervention into the three-year Syrian civil war.
“ISIL,” Abbott stated, “has effectively declared war on the world.” He asserted that air strikes in Iraq were an “essentially humanitarian mission… to protect the people of Iraq and ultimately the people of Australia from the murderous rage of the ISIL death cult” and “absolutely in Australia’s national interest.” Claiming ISIS was a threat to Australia, Abbott alleged that 60 Australian citizens were fighting with it in Syria, and that 100 Australians are involved in supporting it financially or in other ways.
Washington’s main target, however, is not ISIS, but the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In September 2013, the previous Australian Labor government was ardently supporting the Obama administration’s plans to launch a massive air war in Syria to assist ISIS and other so-called Syrian “rebels” overthrow Assad. Since 2011, Washington, working through its regional proxies such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, has funnelled money, arms and fighters to anti-Assad forces, with much of it ending up in the hands of ISIS or the Al Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra.
The US and its allies largely turned a blind eye to the atrocities by ISIS and other Sunni Islamists against Syrian soldiers, Assad supporters and the Alawite and Christian minorities. ISIS only began to be portrayed as a threat to US interests when it joined forces with Sunni militias in Iraq against the Shiite-dominated US puppet government in Baghdad. After driving government forces out of areas of western Iraq, ISIS launched an offensive from Syria into Iraq’s north in June to take control of major cities such as Mosul and Tikrit and push south to the outskirts of Baghdad.
Washington has seized on ISIS as the pretext to return military forces to Iraq and to intervene into Syria. While the initial target of air strikes in Syria has been ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, the US objective is to oust Assad and install a puppet regime in Damascus. It is only a matter of time before the US and its allies in the Middle East—Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and now Turkey—attack the Syrian military.
In Iraq, American, British, French and now Australian aircraft are serving as the air force for the Iraqi government and the autonomous Kurdish Regional Government to suppress ISIS and allied Sunni militia. As well as the F/A-18s, the Abbott government has dispatched 200 Army special forces’ commandos to train and advise Iraqi government troops.
To justify Australian involvement in the war, the government and intelligence agencies have manufactured one terror scare after another in the past several weeks. On September 18, over 800 police and Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) agents raided the homes of alleged ISIS supporters across Sydney. Lurid claims filled the media that the operation had thwarted preparations by an ISIS cell to kidnap random people and video them being beheaded. US Secretary of State John Kerry invoked the alleged plot as evidence of ISIS’s global reach to justify US military operations.
In fact, just one person detained in the raids, 22-year-old apprentice motor mechanic Omarjan Azari, has been charged. He is being held without bail on the vague allegation he was “conspiring to act in preparation for, or plan, a terrorist act or acts.” Police admitted following the raids that they had “no information regarding a specific attack, including dates, time or location.”
On September 23, the media published claims that Abdul Numan Haider, a 17-year-old Afghan immigrant who was shot dead after he allegedly attacked two police with a knife, intended to behead the officers in the name of ISIS. All available evidence indicates that far from being a “lone wolf” ISIS terrorist, Haider was an unstable young man who was tipped over the edge after his passport was revoked and police searched his home without a warrant.
The only other allegation of ISIS sympathisers active in Australia has been the arrest of a 23-year-old man for purportedly sending $12,000 to an American citizen who went to Syria to join one of the Islamist militias.
The Abbott government’s deployment of military forces and stoking of fear and paranoia has been facilitated by a compliant media and the bipartisan support of the Labor Party opposition. Labor leader Shorten told a press conference yesterday that ISIS was the “enemy of all us… the enemy of freedom, the enemy of tolerance” and that Australian forces were going to Iraq “in the name of the defenceless and the vulnerable.”
The Greens, while rejecting Australian participation, have not opposed the US-led war as such and lend credence to the US pretext by calling for the curbing of ISIS by other methods. Greens leader Christine Milne simply questioned whether the involvement of Australian forces was in the “national interest.”
Everything has been done by the media and political establishment to confuse and disorientate the population and prevent any expression of the widespread opposition to involvement in yet another neo-colonial US-led war.
The Obama administration issued a statement acknowledging the role that the Abbott government has played in legitimising its war plans. “With these deployments,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told a press conference, “Australia demonstrates its continued leadership and resolve in addressing the urgent and critical security challenges that threaten Australia, its people, and the broader international community.”
The White House comments underscore the degree to which Australian imperialism functions as Washington’s junior partner in all its militarist actions and intrigues, from the Middle East to the confrontational “pivot to Asia” to undermine and destabilise the Chinese regime.
By Mike Head
3 October 2014
Just a day after Treasurer Joe Hockey declared that greater social spending cutbacks would be imposed to cover the costs of the war in Iraq and Syria and the domestic “anti-terrorism” measures, the Labor Party opposition voted with the Abbott government to support the first instalments of its welfare cuts.
Unable to get all its May budget measures passed immediately, the government has begun hiving off aspects of them into separate legislation. In the House of Representatives yesterday, Labor backed bills that will severely affect working class families, students and disabled workers, enabling the legislation to pass in a single day. Altogether, the bills slash benefits worth $2.7 billion over four years, mainly targeting some of the most vulnerable members of society.
Among the harshest measures are the scrapping of scholarships for university students moving within and between major cities, which are worth $400 million over four years, and the “reviewing” of disability support pension (DSP) recipients under 35 years of age to determine whether they have “some capacity to work.”
Thousands of disabled workers will face “reviews” aimed solely at forcing them off DSP payments, which can amount to a miserable $400 a week for single people, and onto poverty-level Newstart unemployment benefits, which are around $250 a week.
Newstart allowances carry onerous “work test” obligations. Recipients are cut off benefits unless they endlessly apply for jobs—which they have no hope of obtaining, because of rising joblessness. Even according to the official understated statistics, the combined unemployment and under-employment rate stands at a 16-year high of 14.6 percent, which means that about 1.5 million people are looking for work or more work.
The DSP “reviews” will sharpen the assault on the disabled that began under the previous Labor government, which introduced draconian eligibility tests. As a result, already one in four people on Newstart has a significant disability, according to official estimates. Labor began the broader dismantling of welfare entitlements by pushing all sole parents off their benefits and onto Newstart—a fate that now confronts disabled jobless workers.
Labor’s votes also secured bills reducing the income test for Family Tax Benefit B from $150,000 to $100,000, and limiting the FTB-A large family supplement to families with four or more children. Almost half a million families with a stay-at-home parent will lose Family Tax Benefit B. Those excluded will be mainly working and lower middle class families.
After months of posturing as a champion of the mass opposition to the budget, Labor leader Bill Shorten claimed that these measures represented a victory. He described the agreement as a “retreat” by the government that “destroys the credibility of the Budget and destroys the credibility of the Prime Minister.”
In reality, the Labor-government package is only the start of a series of sordid backroom deals to deliver on the demands of the corporate elite for root-and-branch social spending cuts, and to finance the war abroad and the “war on terrorism” at home.
A similar package is being touted on higher education, based on a so-called compromise that will deregulate university fees, sending them soaring, but postpone plans to impose interest payments on student fee debts.
Government ministers also hope to finalise a possible pact with the Greens that will hit about 294,000 elderly people who do not qualify for the age pension. They will lose a seniors’ supplement worth $886 a year for singles and $1,300 for couples.
Mining magnate Clive Palmer and his Palmer United Party (PUP) senators are equally anxious to strike bargains with the government, as they have already done on the repeal of the so-called mining and carbon taxes.
While cutting the deal with Labor, Treasurer Hockey and Prime Minister Tony Abbott reiterated their determination to push ahead with the full agenda set out in May’s budget. This includes forcing young people to wait up to six months for Newstart payments, imposing $7 upfront payments to see doctors, raising the retirement age to 70 and reducing the annual indexation rates for pensions.
Hockey rejected a front-page report in the Australian Financial Reviewcomplaining that he was in “retreat” on the budget measures. Choosing a military analogy, he declared: “The bottom line is: if you can win a battle, you take that victory, but you never give up on the war.” Abbott restated the government’s commitment to the budget. “We don’t walk away from anything—we stand by everything,” he said.
Earlier, on Wednesday, Hockey announced that more budget cuts were being drawn up to cover the estimated $500 million a year cost of the deployment of troops and war planes to join the US-led war in the Middle East, and the government’s $630 million four-year funding increase for the security services to combat “the threat of terrorism.” Hockey will unveil these cuts in the mid-year budget update, due in December.
Labor has unequivocally backed the higher military and spy agency spending. As the WSWS foreshadowed last week, it did not take long for the unity on the war and terrorist scare campaign to extend to a partnership on the budget.
Billions of dollars are now being poured into military hardware, war deployments, the police and the intelligence apparatus, yet there is “no money” to provide basic social rights and services for retired workers, working-class families and students.
When it comes to making the working class pay the price for the deteriorating economic situation, and the escalating militarism, there is no disagreement within the parliamentary establishment, and that includes the Greens.
While the Greens criticised yesterday’s Labor-government vote on the welfare bills, they also portrayed it as a victory. Senator Rachel Siewert, the Greens’ community services spokesperson, stated: “We have seen thousands of people rallying against Tony Abbott’s cuts and joining the Bust the Budget campaign, and today’s back down from the Government is an important win.”
In reality, the organisers of those rallies promoted the illusion that Labor, the Greens and others, such as Palmer’s PUP, could be relied upon to block the budget or defeat its key cuts. These formations are now lining up to help the government get major aspects of its budget into law.
The Greens themselves are ready to strike similar deals, including on seniors’ payments and universities. Already, at the end of June, they joined hands with Labor to pass the budget’s main appropriation bills, which contained multi-billion dollar cuts to social spending, as well as huge boosts to military expenditure. Labor and the Greens said blocking the budget would cause a political crisis that could destabilise parliamentary rule.
In other words, the fear preoccupying the parliamentary elite for months is that the immense public hostility to the May budget could erupt out of its control. Now that the initial mass protests against the budget have dissipated, the various parties are showing their true colours.
Despite yesterday’s vote, however, the political crisis revealed by the budget is far from over. In fact, the budget deficit is rapidly blowing out further because of plunging export commodity prices, amid warnings of a global crash that could exceed that of 2008. And the costs of the war in the Middle East are certain to rise.
The financial elite and its media mouthpieces are ratcheting up their demands for the government to find ways to inflict a more far-reaching austerity program. “This is only the beginning of the government’s real-life problems with the budget,” News Corp’s Steven Scott insisted today.
By Mike Head
2 October 2014
Less than three weeks after the Abbott government declared a “terrorist” alert and dispatched troops and war planes to join the US war in Iraq and Syria, the Labor Party has helped push through parliament the first package of bills to hand unprecedented powers to the intelligence apparatus.
Not only was there unity between the Liberal-National Coalition and Labor on the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill. Not a single vote was cast against its final reading in the House of Representatives yesterday, despite limited objections to some clauses by the Greens, two Independents and a Labor backbencher.
Among a long list of enhanced powers, the legislation allows the spy agencies to covertly hack into, monitor and take control of computer networks of any size—potentially entire Internet platforms. It also shields their undercover operations with secrecy provisions that could see anyone, including journalists, jailed for up to 10 years for blowing the whistle on their activities.
In addition, as a result of amendments moved in the Senate by mining millionaire Clive Palmer’s Palmer United Party, the Act increases the jail term for disclosing the identity of any intelligence operative, from one to ten years.
Attorney-General George Brandis thanked the Opposition for its “ongoing bipartisanship” on the government’s “comprehensive examination and reform of Australia’s national security legislation.”
Brandis also announced increased funding for the main domestic spy agency, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), of almost $200 million over four years, as part of a $630 million package announced earlier by Prime Minister Tony Abbott to boost the security agencies.
Brandis said the money would enable ASIO to “strengthen” its own intelligence capacity and “increase its liaison with counterpart security agencies overseas,” which most essentially are Washington’s FBI, CIA and National Security Agency (NSA).
ASIO’s expansion is on top of a more than trebling of its size over the past decade. The previous Labor government increased ASIO’s staffing by 32 percent over five years and its budget by 27 percent. Last year, Prime Minister Julie Gillard boasted that the Labor government had spent $18 billion on “national security matters” since 2008.
Yesterday’s parliamentary vote sets the precedent for a similar political line-up behind the second and third tranches of the Abbott government’s proposed so-called anti-terrorist laws. Within the political establishment, which includes the Greens, there is no disagreement on erecting a police-state framework, on the fraudulent pretext of protecting ordinary people from terrorists.
Tranche 2, unveiled last week, is the falsely named Foreign Fighters Bill. It contains criminal offences and powers that far exceed the supposed purpose of protecting people from the small number of Islamist extremists allegedly fighting in the Middle East. In particular, it will permit anyone to be jailed for five years for even recklessly “promoting” or “advocating” terrorism, which is defined broadly enough to cover many forms of political protest.
Tranche 3, yet to be released, will compel Internet and phone companies to keep all telecommunications and social media data for two years, allowing the spy agencies to monitor everyone’s movements, political and personal contacts and online activities. This regime will bolster the global mass surveillance exposed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Before yesterday’s vote, some journalists and legal experts expressed concerns about the attorney-general’s new power to authorise “special intelligence operations,” in which ASIO agents act as provocateurs within targeted groups. ASIO operatives are granted civil and criminal immunity for their illegal activities, and anyone who “discloses information” that could “prejudice the effective conduct” of an operation can be jailed for 10 years.
These provisions point to a stepping-up of such operations. Undercover agents have already entrapped a number of victims into making alleged vague terrorist threats or preparations, resulting in key prosecutions in Australia that produced false media headlines about terrorist plots to blow up army bases or football grand finals.
During yesterday’s perfunctory House of Representatives debate, Justice Minister Michael Keenan indicated that the secrecy provisions are aimed against whistleblowers like Snowden, Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning, who have revealed the NSA-led mass surveillance and other crimes of the US and allied security agencies.
“As recent, high-profile international events demonstrate, in the wrong hands, classified or sensitive information is capable of global dissemination at the click of a button,” Keenan said, with “devastating consequences for a country’s international relationships and intelligence capabilities.”
Labor’s shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus sprang to the government’s defence, reiterating that the bill originated under Gillard’s government. Dreyfus vehemently defended the computer hacking power, declaring: “No attorney-general of Australia will authorise a warrant for ASIO to access the whole Internet.” He offered no reason to believe this assurance, nor his assertion that “these laws will not criminalise the good-faith activities of journalists.”
Greens deputy leader Adam Bandt and independent MP Andrew Wilkie moved several amendments, while defending the intelligence apparatus itself. Bandt declared the Greens’ readiness to support the “uncontroversial” parts of the bill, because “everyone in this place wants to make Australia safer.”
In reality, the entire “war on terror” is a fraud, seeking to justify wars abroad and police-state measures domestically. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other jihadist groups have been created, funded and armed by the US and its allies, through their intelligence networks, as part of their neo-colonial military interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria.
“People could go to jail under this legislation,” Bandt objected. But his amendments sought to excise just one sub-section imposing five years’ imprisonment for reporting on an ASIO undercover operation where the disclosure did not “prejudice” the operation. He backed the other provisions punishing disclosures that could endanger ASIO’s dirty tricks activities.
“We accept, as the Greens, that there should be some limits on revealing information that could potentially endanger an operation or endanger the life of someone who is involved in an operation,” Bandt emphasised.
In the same vein, Bandt proposed an amendment to limit to 20 the number of computers that ASIO could hack into via a single warrant. Bandt said that should be “ample” for ASIO’s needs, but the Greens would be “happy” to agree on a higher number.
Bandt’s role echoed that of the Greens in 2005, following an earlier “terrorist alert,” when they voted for a crucial change to the terror laws to allow people to be convicted without any evidence of a specific terrorist plan, let alone a concrete plot, time, location or weaponry.
Andrew Wilkie raised the spectre of “spies kicking in doors” as “another step towards a police state,” yet said “we do need to modernise our national security legislation.” His amendment sought to grant oversight powers to the joint parliamentary committee on intelligence and security—the same committee that recommended the bill.
Two other MPs, independent Cathy McGowan and Labor backbencher Melissa Parke, criticised some aspects of the bill and called for further “consultation” before it was rammed through. But none of these four parliamentarians called for a division on the third and final reading of the bill, nor cast a vote against it. This can only be interpreted as agreement with the legislation, once the cosmetic amendments were brushed aside.
By Mike Head
1 October 2014
Legislation introduced into the Australian parliament last week will make explicit the trashing of international refugee law by successive Australian governments, Labor and Liberal-National alike.
Since the infamous turning away of the 433 Tampa refugees in 2001, who were forcibly transported by the Australian navy to be detained indefinitely on the remote Pacific Island of Nauru, it has been bipartisan policy to defy the asylum requirements of international law in an attempt to stop refugees getting to Australia.
That contempt for fundamental legal and democratic rights is now to be formally incorporated into legislation. The 112-page bill features clauses that specify that an asylum seeker who has been denied a visa can be removed from Australia “irrespective” of any “non-refoulement obligations.” These are obligations under the Refugee Convention and the Convention Against Torture.
The Australian government is effectively repudiating the central principle of the Refugee Convention—that people seeking asylum must not be “refouled” (deported) to countries where they face the danger of death or other forms of persecution. The government is also overturning the ban on removing people to face the likelihood of torture.
The bill further explicitly authorises the immigration minister to disregard Australia’s “international obligations” in ordering the interception of refugee boats and the removal of their passengers to anywhere in the world. No such decision would be invalid “because of a failure to consider Australia’s international obligations.”
Moreover, “the rules of natural justice”—which give people the right to be heard before official decisions are made against them—“do not apply.”
This would legalise operations modelled on the treatment of 157 Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers who were imprisoned on an Australian naval ship on the Indian Ocean for nearly a month during July in an unsuccessful bid to hand them back to Sri Lanka or India.
The explanatory memorandum attached to the bill states that it is not the government’s intention to “resile from Australia’s protective obligations” under the Refugee Convention, but rather to “codify Australia’s interpretation of these obligations.”
That flies in the face of the bill’s unequivocal language dismissing Australia’s “international obligations.” Moreover, for the first time, the legislation drops the Refugee Convention’s definition of “refugee” and replaces it with a more restrictive one.
The Convention already excludes most people commonly regarded as refugees—those fleeing wars, civil wars, famines, natural disasters and oppressive dictatorships. It only protects individuals who have fled persecution for one of five reasons: race, religion, political opinion, nationality or “membership of a particular social group.”
The bill goes further by excluding (1) all Palestinians, (2) those who cannot prove they have a “real chance” of persecution, (3) those who can “reasonably” relocate to safety in another part of a country, and (4) those who can “modify” their behavior to avoid persecution. These tests would, for example, require a political dissident to abandon any public activity in order to avoid persecution.
A “fast track” processing regime will be established, giving the immigration minister arbitrary power to deny visas, without any right of appeal, to anyone who makes a “manifestly unfounded claim for protection.” Other applicants may appeal, but only to a new Immigration Assessment Authority, which will review visa refusals “on the papers” without any form of hearing.
The bill seems likely to pass with the backing of mining magnate Clive Palmer’s Palmer United Party (PUP), giving the government three of the six cross-bench votes that it needs in the Senate. Palmer struck the deal in order to create a new type of temporary protection visa (TPV) designed to exploit asylum seekers as cheap labour in remote regions of the country.
The Safe Haven Enterprise Visas (SHEVs) were proposed by Palmer, who represents a layer of mine operators and other rural employers who want fresh supplies of low-cost labour. “There are a lot of places in Australia where you just can’t get (workers),” Palmer told reporters.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison informed a media conference that SHEV holders who work in designated zones in “regional Australia” for three and a half years without seeking welfare support will be eligible to apply for other visas “where they satisfy the relevant criteria.”
Answering questions, Morrison revealed that employers could nominate to obtain labour under this scheme. No mention was made of any guarantee of even minimum wages and conditions. SHEV holders will also be denied the right to reunite with their family or re-enter Australia if they leave to visit their family.
Another kind of TPV, limited to three years, will allow visa holders to work and apply for limited welfare assistance, while also denying them family reunion and re-entry rights. These TPV holders will never be permitted to apply for a permanent visa, leaving them forever in an insecure limbo.
The Labor Party opposition declared it had an “open mind” on the bill. Shadow immigration minister Richard Marles only criticised the package for allowing refugees any hope of eventually settling in Australia—in other words, for not being even harsher on asylum seekers.
This underscores the unity between the Liberal-National Coalition and Labor, which implemented its own draconian measures while in government to “stop the boats”—that is, bar all refugees. Labor reopened the detention camps on Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island and declared that all boat arrivals would face indefinite detention.
Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young described the bill as “shocking,” but claimed that Palmer’s PUP, with whom the Greens are negotiating their own grubby deals, had simply been “played by the ruthless Abbott government.” She objected that very few refugees would meet the requirements for the SHEVs.
The Greens, who kept the previous Labor government in office as it imprisoned refugees, have no difference with the profit calculations of the Australian corporate elite, or the underlying framework of “border protection.”
As the deal with Palmer demonstrates, the scapegoating of asylum seekers as “illegal migrants” serves several purposes. One is to divert in a reactionary xenophobic direction the mounting popular opposition to growing unemployment, falling real wages and deteriorating social conditions. Another is to use selected refugees as a source of super-exploited labour.
At the same time, the overturning of international law for refugees, who are among the most vulnerable members of the global working class, sets precedents for wider use against the basic legal and democratic rights of all working people.
By Mike Head
30 September 2014
Amid an ongoing campaign of terrorism scare-mongering and large-scale police raids and operations, heavily-armed officers from a police para-military unit shot a 42-year-old man in a hail of automatic gunfire in the Brisbane working-class suburb of Inala yesterday.
TV news footage showed police commandos firing multiple shots at pointblank range at the man after he emerged from a car allegedly holding what police said appeared to be a handgun. The man, whose name has not been released, was then dragged out of the vehicle by officers who handcuffed him at about 4 p.m. before declaring he was in a critical condition. He died at the scene a short time later, unable to be revived by an ambulance crew.
It was the second fatal police shooting in Australia in a matter of days, following last Thursday’s police killing of 17-year-old Abdul Numan Haider in the Melbourne suburb of Endeavour Hills.
Unlike Haider, who was immediately branded a “terror suspect” by the police, the media and Prime Minister Tony Abbott, before any investigation into his death even began, no such allegations were made against the man shot in Inala. A police spokesman said there was nothing to suggest the incident was terrorism-related.
Nevertheless, the police turned a confrontation with the man into a four-hour siege, during which they declared an “emergency situation” and locked down residential areas extending hundreds of metres. Traffic was blocked from the “exclusion zone” and residents told to remain indoors, creating an atmosphere of alarm.
Despite police commanders indicating that the man made no threats to anyone, the 60-man Queensland police Special Emergency Response Team (SERT) was mobilised. It used two armoured “Bearcat” vehicles and squads of police marksmen to besiege the man in a car parked at the front of a block of apartments.
The man, who appeared to be agitated but was regarded as unlikely to present a danger, was initially given a mobile phone in order to negotiate with police. Then he was suddenly surrounded by police in full armour, pointing heavy weapons at him from all sides.
Earlier in the day, Inspector Richard Kroon said police were conducting an investigation at the apartments when they began speaking to the man. “There’s no real threat,” Kroon told reporters, saying that police were speaking to the man by phone.
After the shooting, Queensland Police Union president Ian Leavers quickly declared that the police officers acted lawfully in self-defence “to protect their lives.” He said officers did not know whether the man’s gun was real and they had to make a split second decision. “As we now know, a firearm was pointed at police,” he said.
No handgun has yet been produced by the police, however. Leavers’ comments, which were featured uncritically throughout the media, make a mockery of the promised internal investigation by the Police Ethical Standards Command, which will form the basis of a report for the state coroner.
Police were called to the scene about 11.45 a.m. and declared an emergency situation 20 minutes later. The declaration, made under Queensland’s 1986 Public Safety Preservation Act, was eventually revoked just after 5 p.m.
It was the second emergency declared in Brisbane yesterday. At about 7.20 a.m., police invoked emergency powers in Ipswich, another large working-class community, after an abandoned suitcase was reported at a bus stop. Surrounding streets near the Ipswich City Mall were cordoned off and several buildings evacuated. The supposed bomb scare proved to be false. Police said the suitcase contained only “personal items” and the emergency was revoked at 9.15 a.m.
This was also the third bomb scare in Brisbane since September 12, giving another indication of the atmosphere of fear and police mobilisation that has been whipped up since the federal government raised the official “terrorism alert” level on that date. The alert was followed by Australia’s largest-ever police and intelligence agency “counter-terrorism” raids on September 18, conducted on homes and premises in Sydney and Brisbane. Further such raids, involving about 100 state and federal police, were underway this morning across five Melbourne suburbs.
The deployment of the SERT squad in Inala underscores the expansion and increasing use of para-military police, which regularly train with the military. SERT took delivery of its first Lenco BearCat armoured vehicle in 2011, under the previous Labor state government, and a second was provided by the federal Labor government in 2012.
Similar commando units have been created in every state and within the Australian Federal Police since the late 1960s. They have featured in the “terrorism” raids and are often dispatched to provide an intimidating presence at political protests.
Yesterday’s Public Safety Preservation Act declarations highlight the far-reaching authority in the hands of the police and governments, both state and federal, to declare emergencies that give the police draconian powers that tear up basic legal and democratic rights.
Queensland’s legislation permits a police commander to declare an emergency simply if he is “satisfied on reasonable grounds” that “an emergency situation has arisen or is likely to arise.” An “emergency situation” can be an explosion, fire, natural disaster or “any other accident” that “causes or may cause” any one of the following: death, injury, “distress to any person,” property damage or pollution.
A police emergency commander then has wide-ranging powers, such as to shut down entire areas, issue directives, enter and search premises, seize property and forcibly remove people. Anyone who fails to comply with a directive faces imprisonment for up to a year.
Police shootings and fatal taser attacks have occurred with increasingfrequency in Australia in recent years, always followed by official justifications by governments and police chiefs that the police involved feared for their own safety. This recurring pattern points to an institutionalised “shoot to kill” policy, which is now being pursued within the framework of the Abbott government’s renewal of the “war on terror.”
The show of force in Inala also occurred in the lead-up to mid-November’s G20 summit in Brisbane, which will see a massive police-military operation to block any protests against the gathering of government leaders, many of whom are now participating in the new US-led war in Iraq and Syria, and the threats to Russia over Ukraine.
Just last Friday, the Queensland police announced an extension of the dates and locations of the heavily-fortified security zones that will be established in and around the city for about 10 days, manned by more than 5,000 police. Special police powers will be in place, clearly directed against anticipated political demonstrations.
These preparations underline the real purpose of the police-state conditions on display in Inala and in the “terrorism” raids. The security agencies are establishing precedents to deal with the mounting opposition to the agenda of war and austerity being imposed by the ruling corporate elite and its political representatives.
By our correspondents
29 September 2014
World Socialist Web Site correspondents again spoke with workers and young people in Melbourne over the weekend about last Thursday’s police killing of Abdul Numan Haider in the south-eastern suburb of Endeavour Hills. People were scathing of the media coverage and deeply concerned that Haider has been labelled a “lone wolf” terrorist in order to stampede the population into supporting Australia’s involvement in military operations in Iraq and Syria and attacks on democratic rights.
Haider was shot dead after he allegedly attacked two police officers with a knife in a car park adjacent the Endeavour Hills police station. Police had arranged to meet him after he called the station to protest over the fact his family’s house had been searched a few hours earlier without a warrant. He was reportedly already upset over being denied a passport on the grounds that the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) believed he might have been considering travelling to Syria to join the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). His communications and activities were clearly being monitored by ASIO and the police.
Everything suggests that Haider was highly emotional and unstable due to the police pressure he was under. In an interview with the Special Broadcasting Service “Dateline” program, Nasir Andisha, the Afghan ambassador to Australia, described the youth as “disturbed and disillusioned” and someone who “needed more help, guidance, counselling, a helping hand.” Haider was the son of Afghan immigrants.
Haider was only 17-years-old, not 18 as the media reported. He would not have reached voting age until next February. He had ended his brief association with an Islamist grouping in Melbourne which, while holding extreme religious views, has publicly opposed violence and terrorism.
Ambassador Andisha explained that Haider came from a “very educated family” who “were doing very well” since migrating to Australia. He noted that the family were waiting for authorities to present the evidence regarding the weapon allegedly used by the boy to attack police, to see whether it was “a kitchen knife or something.” Andisha stated that the police made no attempt to inform the family that officers had shot and killed their son, which they found out from the television news.
The outrage among those who knew Haider and his family, and the broader anger over the boy’s death, was reflected at his funeral on Friday afternoon. The mosque where the service took place could not accommodate the hundreds of relatives, friends and supporters who rallied to mourn. Many people participated outside in the courtyard.
Dozens of police were deployed in surrounding streets. The Melbourne HeraldSun reported that “two plainclothes men—one of them armed—were wearing ear pieces and kept a close watch on who was attending.” Camera crews, not necessarily all from media outlets, filmed everyone entering and leaving the mosque.
Prime Minister, Tony Abbott continued to stoke fears, declaring on Saturday that he was “deeply concerned about the threat that ‘lone wolf’ terrorism poses to people.” To further condition the public to the increased public presence of the security apparatus, the Australian Football League’s Grand Final match on Saturday was the target of a massive police operation. The number of police deployed in and around the stadium was doubled; streets sealed off to vehicles; spectators were subjected to multiple searches; and undercover police were infiltrated throughout the crowd.
Workers and youth spoke with WSWS correspondents on Saturday in Dandenong, a suburb near where Numan Haider was killed, and in the western suburb of Footscray.
Safar, who is originally from Afghanistan, said: “I don’t know about the background, but I think they could have just arrested him. They didn’t have to kill him. They are using this to create hatred against Muslims. The media headlines just say ‘terrorist’ but we don’t know the real facts. I have checked Facebook and people are now commenting differently about Muslims. After this news, I heard of an Afghan family being bashed.”
Mohamed, a factory worker who migrated to Australia from Afghanistan, condemned the shooting: “Nobody deserves to be killed like that. I don’t know what the truth is. The media say anything. I’m angry that every time a Muslim does something wrong, they are labelled a terrorist. When Christians, or Jews, or Buddhists do something wrong, they are never called terrorists.
“I don’t like ISIS. They are cowards. They act as the police, the judge, and the executioner. But where did ISIS come from? Who made them? If you have cancer, you have to find out where it has come from to cure it. They were a small group, and now they’re massive and they have high-tech weapons. One hundred percent they have been supported by America, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE [United Arab Emirates].
“They are using ISIS as a reason to invade Syria, like they used WMD to invade Iraq, because Syria is the only country in the Middle East allied to Russia. It was the same thing in Afghanistan with Osama Bin Laden. They needed Osama Bin Laden to justify the war in Afghanistan. The whole war is about Russia and Iran, and controlling Syria. It is just like in Ukraine. We are heading for a war which is going to be big. I love the American people, but I am 100 percent against US foreign policy. What is happening in Iraq and Syria is affecting everybody.”
Fariha, a young supermarket worker in Footscray, said: “I don’t agree with the Victorian police shooting a boy. It shouldn’t be done so easily. They could have shot him somewhere not fatal. The media are also taking a part. They don’t go into what is the truth behind it. I’m not sure why it is happening, but I totally agree that it is an excuse for war.”
Emma, a Dandenong local, raised the possibility that Haider may have been suffering mental health problems: “In America the police said a young man was attacking them, but he had mental issues. The guy who was killed here probably had mental issues. My partner has schizophrenia, and he got in trouble with the police very often.
“I work in the city and a lot of people come in there who have nowhere to go and who have problems. They need to go somewhere. I think it’s ridiculous. With the state of things at the moment I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like for my son. It is scary.”
Marcus, a hotel worker in Footscray, said: “They want to justify billions being spent on fighter jets. I get so angry. In my opinion unless you have 100 percent concrete proof that someone is about to do a terrorist act, you don’t have the right to brand them a terrorist. The current government is further and further into control and further and further into power. As for the role of the media, it makes me sick. It is trying to make us scared.”
A shopkeeper in Dandenong told WSWS correspondents: “What the guy [Haider] did was not the right way, but they shouldn’t have killed him. I saw him the day he came to the [Dandenong] Plaza. He was just walking around with an ISIS flag. There were 10 or 15 police. They held him and took photos of the flag, and asked him questions. They asked him what the meaning of the flag was, and he didn’t know. He was just a young innocent guy. There was obviously something wrong with him. I don’t trust what we are being told in the media. No-one knows exactly what the truth was. The police should have given him a chance to live, and now it is too late. I am very fearful of the police.”
What we’ve seen [tonight] is, I think, a scary, disproportionate and unnecessary expansion of coercive surveillance powers that will not make anybody any safer but that affect freedoms that have been quite hard fought for and won over a period of decades. Senator Scott Ludlam, Australian Greens, Sydney Morning Herald, Sep 26, 2014
So much for Parliament and its representative functions. So much for politicians who have a rather nasty habit of forfeiting duties and, in the name of duties, smoothing the path to a surveillance and policing imperium. Where is the mettle, the determination in Canberra? Distinctly absent, given the recent vote on the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No 1), which promises to be a first in a serious of laws that will fatten the executive while impoverishing needling oversight. The paranoids in hunt for the permanent enemy will be gleeful.
When specific, localised incidents become the premise for general applications in legislation, you know that democracy is ready for the chop. Security environments in Australia have tended to be stable in its history, and notions of exceptional emergency should be treated as the ranting monologue of a fantasist.
Unfortunately, the insecurity fantasists, be it the strangely extra-terrestrial Australian Attorney-General, Senator George Brandis, or the even less believable Prime Minister Tony Abbott, are in charge. According to Brandis, we live in a “newly dangerous age”. For that very fact, the Australian domestic intelligence agency ASIO is half way to a general mandate to target the internet with an engorged power of surveillance. The means by which this will be done will be through one warrant for a computer system, negating the specific need of seeking several authorisations.
The explanatory memorandum behind the amendment being sought by ASIO on the subject of how broadly a “computer” might be defined is relevant. It “clarifies the ambiguity around the current definition of computer in relation to a ‘computer system’ by extending the definition to ‘computer networks’ and by making it clear that the definition of ‘computer’ under the ASIO Act, means all, or part of, or any combination of, one or more computers, computer systems and computer networks.”
Professor George Williams was already warning an indifferent Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security that the definitions ASIO would be working with would be too broad, effectively watering down any warrants regime.
When oversight mechanisms for intelligence gathering are diluted, or simply evaded, the prospects for abuse are all but inevitable. Organisations have a habit of getting lazy over time, and this rule of sloth is rather hard to resist in the field of intelligence gathering.
When espionage outfits should be on a trimming course, specialised and specific in wading through data and material, the converse is happening to the agencies of the Five Eyes arrangement. Perhaps the greatest revelation of the Edward Snowden disclosures was not that that spooks were drooling and voyeuristically tapping into the world of the private citizen. It was more the point they were doing so with so little discrimination, clumsily sifting through a world of metadata. The skills set, as modern human resource companies like harping about, has been somewhat emptied.
Turning off the spigot on information about government activity is a fundamental aim of the new laws, a regime in desperate search of an enemy. The enemy, rather than being tangible, security threats of the “existential” sort actually become the writing class, the intelligentsia (if such a term ever deserves to be used in Australia) and those who so happen to publish material on special intelligence operations, notably of the abusive sort.
Naturally, if these operations fall short of the criminal exceptions for which ASIO and its associate personnel would otherwise be held accountable, any member of the fourth estate disclosing it is bound to be found in a tight fix. Brandis has tried throwing water over the claims, bringing the focus back on punishing the likes of Snowden, who remains something of a devil’s incarnation for the intelligence fraternity in Australia.
Is greater accountability to be sought after the disclosures of mass, unwarranted surveillance? No. Instead, the information disclosures will be punished, and indiscriminate activities shrouded. “These provisions have nothing to do with the press”, claims Brandis, though he is very quiet over instances when activities such as the bugging of East Timor’s cabinet by the foreign spy agency ASIS, or the Australian Signals Directorate’s tapping of the Indonesian president and his wife’s phone are revealed. Who, then, to jail?
Australian journalists, given the essential duopoly they tend to be employed by (Fairfax or Murdoch) are bound to remain silent. Modern journalism has lost its investigative sting and critical faculties, and such laws will simply put the kibosh on any closer scrutiny.
The Abbott government, knowing it has the opposition frontbenchers for the most part in their pocket, anticipated little opposition from Labor in the upper house. They got none. Australian Labor, a somewhat listless, non-ideological unit, merely serve and points of echo in the current national security debate. It is not that they are impotent – it is, rather, that they actually agree in a characteristically seedy way in Abbott’s rather clownish but dangerous security program.
Such laws are not merely dangerous but poisonous for states. That particularly effective hemlock has already been taken by Australian politicians. The poison is taking hold, and will be confirmed on Tuesday, when the lower house will all but allow it through.
By Richard Phillips
27 September 2014
High-level Australian government and military officials travelled to Papua New Guinea this month to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the battle of Bita Paka, near Rabaul—the first significant military engagement by Australian forces in World War I.
The event, which was given extensive media coverage, is part of Canberra’s four-year WWI centenary program, a repulsive multi-million dollar promotion of militarism and nationalism. The Bita Paka battle on September 11, 1914 was, according to one media report, the “young nation’s first taste of war, the first shedding of blood by those serving an Australian force, led by Australians and given its orders by an Australian government.”
Bita Paka location 1914
Six Australians died in the brief military encounter against a heavily outnumbered German force defending a nearby radio transmitter. One German officer and 30 natives under his command died in the battle. The Australian military subsequently seized Kaiser Wilhelmsland or German New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Nauru and other South Pacific German colonies long coveted by the Australian ruling class. Japanese imperialism took control of Germany’s Asia Pacific colonies north of the equator.
The centenary service, addressed by Minister for Veterans Affairs and the Centenary of Anzac Michael Ronaldson, Australian navy chief Vice Admiral Tim Barrett and various other speakers, was broadcast live by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).
Ronaldson declared that the six Australians “did not die in vain” and “their sacrifice was in defence of values they held dear.” The centenary event, he later told a press conference, was “about educating young Australians about the enormous price paid for the freedoms that we enjoy today.”
No speaker could refer to the real reasons for the predatory military expedition—the capture of colonial possessions, new markets and resources and geo-political advantage—nor the immediate consequences for those living in the former German colonies following the Australian takeover.
The Melanesian and Pacific islands peoples certainly gained no “freedoms.” In fact, the transfer of one imperialist master for another led to more ruthless and harsher forms of exploitation.
This month’s “celebration” involved the deliberate suppression of what actually happened. A day after the ceremony, Ronaldson angrily denounced the ABC’s Radio National for broadcasting a recently discovered audio interview, recorded about five decades ago, with a Kabakaul village elder who witnessed the events at Bita Paka.
The elder stated that Australian soldiers executed two German soldiers and scores of native police. “They shot all the men who were lined up on one side. Only one boy was alright, a young boy such as this, he ran away. So they all died and the trench they dug was full with dead bodies,” he said.
The ABC story, Ronaldson declared, was “insensitive and totally inappropriate.” Australian War Memorial curator Michael Kelly joined in, demanding that the ABC apologise for “tearing down the AIF [Australian Imperial Force].”
What occurred at Bita Paka has never been subject to an independent investigation. But the audio interview, recorded in the 1960s by a plantation owner who lived near Rabaul, adds to the evidence of war crimes committed in New Guinea by the Australian military in 1914.
Where Australians Fought—The Encyclopaedia of Australia’s Battles,published in 1998, raised similar claims. The book noted the higher number of native forces killed compared to Australian and German personnel. It asserted that the larger number of Melanesian fatalities “were the result of the Australian practice of bayoneting all those that fell into their hands during the fighting.”
A Special Broadcasting Services (SBS) broadcast this month also alleged that the Australian military breached the rules of war when it used a wounded German officer as a human shield in the battle. The officer was reportedly forced to walk ahead of advancing Australian troops, calling out to German soldiers to surrender.
Colonel William Holmes
The report was based on a 1988 interview with Basil Holmes, who in 1914 was an aide de camp to his father, Colonel William Holmes, the leader of the Australian military intervention. Other violations occurred during Colonel Holmes’ four-month command of the occupation.
Three weeks after the Bita Paka battle, five Australian soldiers attacked Rabaul’s Roman Catholic mission, holding two priests at gunpoint as they looted money, liquor and cigars. About a month later, Australian military police raided a home in Rabaul’s Chinatown looking for opium. They dragged the Chinese homeowner outside, demanded his keys and stole 5,200 German marks.
While Colonel Holmes officially condemned these actions, he responded with his own brutal methods to allegations that four German planters beat up a local Methodist priest. Holmes dispatched troops to capture the planters and had them publicly flogged, without trial, as punishment. He claimed to have had nowhere to lock them up.
The flogging occurred on November 30 in Rabaul with Australian troops—“half a battalion”—lined along three sides of Proclamation Square and all German male residents ordered to make up the fourth side. A 20-year-old Australian soldier who witnessed the punishment told the press decades later about the cruel procedure.
Holmes declared that Melanesians could not attend, the witness said, because “it would have been bad for morale to see a white man flog another white man.” Dozens of the postcard prints, however, were produced of the event and sold as souvenirs.
The four Germans, including a teenage boy, were lined up near a flag pole in the centre of the square and whipped one by one. The purported German ringleader was stretched across a travelling trunk, his hand and legs chained to the ground.
Public flogging of Germans in Rabaul (Photo courtesy of Australian War Memorial A02630A)
Before initiating the punishment, Holmes made a speech, which ended with him pointing to the flag and declaring: “This is a British flag. Under this flag you shall be given protection … and you shall also be flogged. Order, commence flogging.” (A detailed description can be read here.)
Holmes, who was never officially reprimanded for his actions, was promoted to command the 5th infantry. The public flogging of the German planters—“white men”—set the tone for even harsher treatment meted out to Melanesian natives by Australian colonial authorities in the ensuing decades.
Australia’s participation in WWI sought to ensure that the South West Pacific came under its economic and political control. As Melbourne’s Age newspaper bluntly admitted on August 12, 1914, just eight days after the declaration of WWI: “We have long since realised that we have a Pacific Ocean destiny… By virtue of the European war an unexpected path has been opened to the furtherance of our ambition [for] the foundations of a solid Australian sub-empire in the Pacific Ocean…”
Ten days after the Bita Paka battle, all German soldiers and their Melanesian troops surrendered. German New Guinea remained under Australian military control until 1921 when Canberra was given a League of Nations special “Class C mandate” to govern them.
Apart from a short-lived Japanese occupation during WWII, Australia ruled Papua New Guinea (PNG) until its formal independence on September 16, 1975, plundering its mineral and other natural resources while keeping the overwhelming majority of its population in poverty.
Australian banks, mining and other corporations continue to have significant stakes in the oppressed, underdeveloped country. Moreover, Canberra has frequently intervened in PNG politics to secure Australian economic and strategic interests.
Relations between the two countries were on display during the centenary commemoration. The PNG government not only rolled out the red carpet for Australian politicians and military officials at Bita Paka, but mobilised several hundred school children to attend the event. Like his Australian counterparts, Deputy Prime Minister Leo Dion, who addressed the ceremony, made no mention of the real history of Australia’s military seizure of the country or the brutal colonial rule that followed.
By Terry Cook
26 September 2014
Job losses are deepening in Australia, spreading from manufacturing to mining and mining-related industries under the impact of sharp falls in export commodity prices. Austerity budgets at the federal and state levels are adding to the toll.
In the past week alone, coal mine closures in central Queensland have directly destroyed another 700 jobs, with the knock-on effects likely to destroy the jobs of thousands of workers in support industries. Some mining communities will become ghost towns.
Despite the seasonally adjusted official jobless rate produced by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) falling from 6.4 to 6.1 percent last month—most likely due to data sampling problems—thousands of retrenched workers are being flung onto a shrinking jobs market, with little prospect of finding equivalent employment.
A more accurate picture of the growth in unemployment is gained from the ABS’s trend figures, which show that since August last year unemployment has increased from 5.7 to 6.2 percent.
Because of budget cuts at the ABS itself, its data is based on limited surveys, and, in any case, its statistics exclude anyone who has worked for more than one hour a week. The less restrictive Roy Morgan survey put August’s unemployment rate at 8.7 percent.
The ABS figures also revealed that the number of hours worked fell and that under-employment—workers wanting more hours of work, rose to 8.5 percent, up 0.7 percentage points from May. The combined official unemployment and under-employment rate stands at a 16-year high of 14.6 percent.
Hit by falling iron ore and coal prices and stalling demand, particularly in China, major mining companies are shutting or restructuring their operations. Thermal coal prices have fallen to the lowest level this decade, while iron ore prices have dropped more than 40 percent this year to below $US80 a tonne, the lowest since 2009.
The magnitude of the downturn is also driving up the Abbott government’s budget deficit, by eroding tax revenues. Treasurer Joe Hockey announced yesterday that the deficit for the 2013–14 financial year was $48.5 billion, $30 billion more than forecast, with 60 percent of the deterioration due to a write-down in tax receipts. This will place even more corporate and financial market pressure on the government to slash public sector jobs and services despite widespread continuing hostility to its May austerity budget.
BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA) announced this week it will axe more than 700 jobs across seven of its eight coal mining operations in Queensland’s Bowen Basin, and would not rule out further job losses in the future. BHP Billiton recently culled 163 coal mining jobs at its Mt Arthur coal mine in the New South Wales (NSW) Hunter Valley.
Glencore will axe 100 jobs at its Clermont open cut coal mine by October and eliminate a further 100 at its Newlands open cut coal mine, both in Queensland. US-owned Peabody Energy will reduce production and slash up to 100 jobs at its Central Queensland Burton coking coal mine and Rio Tinto is scrapping around 100 jobs at its Kestrel underground hard coking coal mine, also in Queensland.
Port Waratah Coal Services cut another 32 jobs from its coal handling terminals in Newcastle, on top of the 34 slashed in July. Mining exploration company Bandanna Energy went into voluntary administration after failing to gain funding for its planned Springsure Creek coal mine in Central Queensland, which had been expected to generate 500 operational jobs.
In the iron ore sector, BHP Billiton will cut 35 jobs at its Nelson Point operations in Port Hedland, Western Australia (WA). Over the past few months the company has slashed 500 jobs, including 170 at its WA Mount Whaleback mine in June and 100 job cuts at its iron ore sector headquarters in Perth.
Tasmania, the small island state, is also affected. TasRail is to cut 14 positions in the wake of the closure of the Mt Lyell Copper Mine in Queenstown and the Shree Minerals iron ore mine at Nelson Bay River.
Joblessness among mining industry professionals has risen to 12.2 percent, double the official unemployment rate, according to a survey by the Australasian Institute of Minerals and Metallurgy, which represents mining staff such as geologists, metallurgists and chemical engineers.
Manufacturing, retail and service job cuts have continued, on top of the planned closure of the entire car making industry.
In South Australia alone, biscuit maker Arnott’s confirmed it will cut 120 jobs over the next 18 months at its Adelaide plant, while Aldinga Turkeys cut around 80 jobs. Glass bottle producer ACI will slash 60 jobs and bus makerCustom Coaches closed its plant, shedding 75 jobs.
Nationally, petroleum company Caltex Australia will axe a further 350 jobs during the next 12 months as part of a “cost and efficiency” restructuring strategy that eliminated over 600 jobs in 2012.
Supermarket giant Coles will abolish 378 jobs and 60 contractor positions at its support centre in Melbourne.
The Australian Red Cross will shed 500 jobs due to reduced funding for the asylum-seeker assistance and support program. At the end of August, Health Care Australia closed the LaTrobe Private Hospital at Bundoora, Victoria affecting 150 jobs.
Budget cuts are eliminating hundreds of public sector jobs. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation will shed about 300 jobs and may axe high-profile programs, including “Lateline,” its television news and current affairs show.
Another 2,000 jobs are expected to go at the Australian Tax Office as a result of efficiency “reviews,” on top of 3,000 redundancies due to be finalised by October. The Federal Treasury itself will cut 45 jobs.
The Department of Environment will impose 480 redundancies over the next 36 months, and, as a result, Parks Australia will axe 13 staff, including park rangers, at the World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park.
Tasmania’s government will cut the equivalent of 700 full-time public sector jobs, with 361 to go in the current financial year. About 1,200 jobs will be axed from NSW TAFE colleges. In Victoria, more than 380 mental health workers have lost their jobs under a “recommissioning process” to reduce the number of organisations delivering community-based mental health services from 45 to 16.
By Mike Head
25 September 2014
The Australian government’s so-called Foreign Fighters Bill, a far-reaching 160-page piece of legislation, was introduced into the Senate yesterday, just hours after being released the night before. Opposition leader Bill Shorten immediately wrote to Prime Minister Tony Abbott pledging that the Labor Party would do “all in our power” to facilitate the bill’s passage through parliament within a month.
Under the cover of combatting “jihadists” fighting with, or supporting, Islamic extremists in Syria and Iraq, the Abbott government and Labor opposition are now pushing through parliament two bills that substantially extend the police-state framework already erected over the past decade.
With Labor’s backing, the Abbott government is fanning media terrorist scares and anti-Muslim hysteria as a means of securing the passage of “anti-terrorism” laws that could be readily used for political repression amid conditions of war and a deteriorating economic and social crisis.
Tranche 1, the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill, initially drawn up under the previous Labor government, primarily expands the surveillance and computer hacking powers of the domestic political spy agency, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).
Tranche 2, the misnamed Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill, contains criminal offences and government, police and intelligence agency powers that go far beyond the supposed purpose of protecting people from the small number of Islamist extremists allegedly fighting in the Middle East.
Tranche 3, yet to be released, will compel Internet and phone companies to keep all telecommunications and social media data for two years, giving the police and intelligence agencies a comprehensive picture of everyone’s movements, political and personal contacts and online activities. This regime will dovetail with the mass surveillance conducted by the US-led global spy network, as revealed by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The mainstream media has deliberately buried the details of the “Foreign Fighters Bill.” Its violation of basic legal and democratic rights is so great that the bill’s Explanatory Memorandum lists 13 rights under international law that it erodes. These include the rights to life, freedom from arbitrary detention, the right to a fair trial, prohibitions on cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and freedoms of association, expression and movement.
The bill’s five most significant features are:
1. Life sentences (up from 10 or 20 years’ imprisonment) are imposed for a range of “foreign incursion” offences, which have been redefined, from joining or supporting “armed hostilities” in a specified foreign country to cover “hostile” or “subversive” activities in any other country.
“Subversive activity” is defined so broadly that it could include any conduct that “creates a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public.” This definition, which echoes how terrorism is defined throughout the terror laws, is wide enough to include many forms of political activity or advocacy.
As Justice Minister Michael Keenan emphasised, anyone even sending money overseas for these purposes could now be jailed for life. In addition, people can be jailed for 10 years for entering any “declared area” overseas, unless they can produce evidence that their trip was solely for a recognised “legitimate” purpose, such as a family visit.
2. Anyone can be jailed for five years, or groups can be outlawed (making all their members and supporters liable to imprisonment) for “advocating” terrorism, even if no act of terrorism occurs and they are merely “reckless” as to whether any terrorism would occur.
“Advocating” includes urging, promoting, encouraging or “counseling” (and “praising” in the case of a group). This formulation can cover general statements of sympathy for, or calls for the understanding of the root causes of, terrorism.
3. Passports and visas can be secretly suspended, without any notice or right of appeal, on vague and arbitrary grounds, such as that ASIO considers that a person may leave Australia to engage in activity that might prejudice the “security” of Australia or a foreign country, or might pose a risk to the country’s “security.”
Those whose passports or visas are revoked can also be cut off all welfare payments, including pensions and family benefits.
4. Control orders, which can include house arrest—a form of detention without trial introduced in 2005—can be imposed on anyone where the police merely “suspect” (instead of “consider”) that the order would “substantially assist in preventing a terrorist act.”
The grounds for control orders will be expanded to cover anyone suspected of participating in terrorist training, engaging in “hostile” or “subversive” activity in a foreign country or who has been convicted in Australia or a foreign country of a terrorist-related offence.
This will likely mean a major increase in the number of control orders imposed, and their transformation from temporary into effectively indefinite orders on those ever convicted or suspected of terrorism offences. So far, only two people have ever been subjected to control orders—former Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks and Jack Thomas, who was originally convicted on the basis of statements extracted via torture in Pakistan.
5. Homes and other premises can be surreptitiously entered and secretly searched by the Australian Federal Police, without the occupier being notified for up to six months. Victims will be stripped of the right to observe any such search, an essential protection against the planting of incriminating material by the police.
After rapidly being given its first and second readings in the Senate yesterday, the bill was referred to a bipartisan government-Labor parliamentary committee for an “expedited” two-week review. This is a charade, given Labor’s vow of support. The same committee signed off on the first “national security” tranche of the laws with only minor and cosmetic changes.
Attorney-General George Brandis said the committee would consider a call by a government backbencher, former counter-terrorism police officer Jason Wood, for another provision in the bill, expanding the use of preventative detention orders, to allow the police to interrogate detainees. The police can already question people for lengthy periods, if they arrest them, before laying charges (Muhamed Haneef was held for 12 days in this fashion in 2007) and ASIO can secretly detain and interrogate people suspected of having “information” relevant to terrorism.
The “Foreign Fighters” bill contains a barrage of other anti-democratic measures, which are outlined in the accompanying article.
The unity within the parliamentary establishment on the “anti-terrorism” barrage is by no means confined to the government and Labor. During yesterday’s debate on the “national security” bill, Glenn Lazarus the Senate leader of mining magnate Clive Palmer’s Palmer United Party (PUP) declared the “clear and unequivocal support” of PUP and Senator Ricky Muir of the Australian Motorist Enthusiasts Party for that bill.
Lazarus, in fact, proposed a strengthening of the measures, calling for the penalty for publicly identifying an ASIO agent to be increased from one to ten years’ imprisonment. The bill already imposes a 10-year jail term on anyone, including journalists, disclosing information about a covert intelligence operation—a provision that could have been used to block the exposures that led to the unraveling of the frame-up of Haneef.
The Greens, who have voted for crucial elements of the terror laws over the past decade, while posturing as critics of aspects of them, signaled their readiness to assist the government by giving the legislation a veneer of “checks and balances.” The Greens and independent Senator Nick Xenophon have moved several cosmetic amendments to provide the appearance of judicial or official scrutiny of the bill’s implementation, while keeping the draconian measures themselves intact.
By Mike Head
24 September 2014
When the Australian parliament resumed this week, the bipartisan front formed by the opposition Labor Party with the Abbott government on war in the Middle East, and last week’s massive police “anti-terrorism” raids, was quickly extended to outstanding austerity measures in the government’s May budget.
Moves are already underway, via backroom talks, to secure deals between the government and Labor to pass severe cuts to pensions, family benefits and student allowances. These measures will all be hived off from budget-related bills that faced being stalled in the Senate.
These developments highlight the domestic agenda behind the political establishment’s rush to join the renewed US-led war in Iraq and Syria, the declaration of a heightened terror alert and Australia’s largest-ever police raids on homes across Sydney and Brisbane. They provide the means of directing outward, against an external enemy, the pent-up class tensions produced by increasing social inequality and the mounting corporate assault on the jobs, wages and conditions of the working class.
Just weeks after US air attacks commenced in Iraq, the political impasse over the budget has given way to an emerging parliamentary front to impose the government’s draconian budget measures. At the same time, the “war on terror” has been revived to provide the pretext for new anti-terror laws to boost the state apparatus that will in the future be used to suppress opposition to war and austerity.
When the budget was first handed down in May, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he was confident that he could rely on the “good sense” of the Labor opposition to pass it. However, the budget, which set out a sweeping assault on essential services including lifting the pension age to 70 and ending free GP visits, provoked a groundswell of opposition.
Labor leader Bill Shorten was compelled, temporarily at least, to posture as an opponent of what was widely regarded as blatantly unfair measures targeted at the most vulnerable sections of society—including pensioners, the unemployed and the disabled. The opposition parties, including the Greens, never had any fundamental opposition to the austerity agenda. Indeed, the previous Greens-backed Labor government imposed the largest-ever cuts to public spending.
In late June, even as the organisers of “March Australia” anti-budget demonstrations were promoting illusions that Labor and the Greens would help block the budget, the two parties combined to pass the budget’s main appropriation bills, saying that it was essential to avoid a paralysing political crisis. They approved multi-billion dollar cuts to social spending while voting for a huge increase in military spending.
However, weeks of intensive negotiations between Treasurer Joe Hockey and various cross-bench senators, including from the right-wing Palmer United Party, failed to produce agreements on other measures that required separate legislation. Now Labor is moving to broaden its partnership with the government on war and terrorism to resolving the political impasse over the budget.
Late last week, in the wake of the police raids, Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews signaled a shift to striking deals with Labor, listing the government’s “welfare reform” legislation for debate in the Senate this week. Government sources told the Sydney Sunday Telegraph they hoped the amended legislation would be passed by the following week.
Labor quickly confirmed it would support a new means test axing family tax benefits for families earning over $100,000. Previously, the means test was $150,000. Labor will also vote for a tighter means test for the seniors’ healthcare card, including untaxed superannuation income.
In addition, the Abbott government hopes that the Greens’ senators will support axing the Seniors Supplement, worth up to $876 a year to around 300,000 Australian retirees.
In return, the government will delay until next year seeking a vote on other long-term measures to cut pensions, including by reducing inflation indexation rates, and to force young jobless workers to wait six months for unemployment benefits.
A similar agreement has been mooted on cutting tertiary student allowances by freezing the indexation of student payments, student income bank limits and income and asset test thresholds until 2018. Labor will also support restricting the amount of time students can spend overseas while still receiving payments and removing relocation assistance for students moving house to take up scholarships.
Prime Minister Abbott confirmed the new direction on Monday, while reiterating the government’s intent to deliver its planned budget cuts in full. “We absolutely stand by all of the proposals in the budget but we absolutely accept and understand that in the end (we) must get parliamentary support,” he told parliament, adding “that is why we will talk to the opposition.”
Labor frontbencher Jenny Macklin, who was social services minister in the previous Labor government, fatuously claimed that “people power” had forced Abbott and Hockey to retreat. Macklin said the government had “lost control of its budget.” In reality, Labor is assisting the government to impose all the essential features of the budget.
The deals being prepared are prototypes for further pacts to salvage the thrust of the budget. Macklin assured the media that her party was prepared to support “sensible reforms.” She told reporters: “I call on the government to get real—support Labor’s amendments and scrap forever these cruel cuts.”
Monday’s editorial in Murdoch’s Australian gave its stamp of approval to these moves. After months of lashing the government for failing to publicly “sell” its budget measures and get them passed, it declared: “Governments should push their agenda through parliament any way they can but this newspaper has always believed that sensible accommodations between the major parties are preferable to deal-making in order to placate fringe parties such as the Greens or Palmer United.”
While insisting that there are “no policy links between the budget challenge and the national security debate,” the editorial drew the direct connection. “Tony Abbott has been eloquent and assiduous in explaining the rationale and impact of his terror response. And Bill Shorten has been sensible and articulate in offering bipartisan support. Imagine if both sides could apply this approach to the never-ending race of economic reform.”
In other words, amid a rapidly deepening economic crisis, the agenda of the ruling class is war abroad and class war at home. Billions of dollars are being poured into military hardware and war deployments, and the police and intelligence apparatus, yet there is “not enough money” to provide basic social rights and services for retired workers, working-class families and students.
By James Cogan
24 September 2014
Last night, at approximately 7.40 p.m., police shot and killed Abdul Numan Haider, an 18-year-old man of Afghan background, after he allegedly attacked two officers with a knife in front of a police station in Melbourne’s outer south east.
The teenager’s death is the first in the “anti-terrorism” operations taking place across Australia, accompanied by a media fear campaign about “terrorist cells” among the country’s Muslim population. According to at least one account, Haider was running away from the two police when he was shot.
Allegations filled the Australian and international media today that the teenager made “threats” against Prime Minister Tony Abbott, suggesting that he was planning some type of terrorist act. The banner headline of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, which is in the forefront of fomenting anti-Muslim hysteria, declared “Cops Kill Fanatic.”
In statements that prejudice any investigation into the incident, Justice Minister Michael Keenan declared this morning that Haider was “a known terror suspect.” Australian Federal Police commander Bruce Giles fanned media speculation that the youth “may have” held up the black flag of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) at a shopping centre.
Victorian police later amplified the accusations against Haider, telling journalists he was carrying an ISIS flag and intended to “behead the officers, cover the bodies in the flag and then take photos to post via the internet.”
Whatever Haider’s alleged intentions, he was clearly not considered by police agencies to be an immediate danger to anyone, let alone the prime minister. He was not arrested or charged with any offence. He was asked to attend an interview at the Endeavour Hills police station with counter-terrorism officers over what Giles stated was a “routine” matter. Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius told the media: “Our members had no inkling that this individual posed a threat to them.”
According to the police version of events, the youth complied with the interview request and voluntarily came to the station. He was met by an Australian Federal Police (AFP) officer and a senior Victorian state police officer. As they were shaking hands, police claim he produced a knife and attacked. The Victorian officer was stabbed in the arm, while the AFP officer was severely wounded in the face and chest.
Unnamed witnesses cited in today’s Age and Sydney Morning Herald said Haider was not attacking the police when he was shot. They reported he was running toward the station entrance, shouting “insults” about Abbott.
Before any inquiry even began into the use of lethal force by police, Abbott and his ministers explicitly endorsed the killing. Justice Minister Keenan declared “it is exactly this type of bravery and dedication shown by these officers that will continue to keep our communities safe and secure.” Abbott asserted that the incident “indicates there are people in our community who are capable of very extreme acts” and that “the police will be constantly vigilant to protect us against people who would do us harm.”
The young man has been branded a fanatical “lone-wolf” terrorist. No information has been published regarding his mental state or whether he was receiving medical treatment. Nothing is known about the circumstances of his family’s arrival in Australia from Afghanistan, or their conditions since then. Many Afghans endured severe war-related trauma, compounded by perilous voyages across the Indian Ocean and prolonged detention as so-called “illegal refugees.” Once settled in Australia, many suffer entrenched poverty and systemic discrimination, including at the hands of the police.
Islamic Council of Victoria secretary Ghaith Krayem was among the few to make the obvious point that, without an investigation, “we don’t know really what happened when this young man arrived at the police station.”
Krayem told the Special Broadcasting Service the young man’s family was “struggling.” Narre Warren, the outer Melbourne suburb where they live, is a deprived working class area. It suffers high rates of unemployment, especially among immigrant youth.
Krayem confirmed that Haider was once involved with the conservative Islamist group Al-Furqan, but was not in recent contact with them. A bookshop operated by Al-Furqan and 11 homes in Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs were raided by police in late 2012. Only one man was charged as a result of the operation—with possessing digital magazines that promoted Al Qaeda.
Haider was not among those targeted in 2012. Police reported only that he has been “a person of interest” for some time.
Police requests for “persons of interest” to attend interviews are essentially invitations that cannot be refused. Any refusal could be used to justify anything from greater surveillance to secret forced questioning by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO). The teenager’s passport had already been revoked, most likely due to his past relationship with Al-Furqan.
The incident points to the sheer scale of the intrusive, intimidating and provocative operations being conducted by intelligence and police agencies on the pretext of suppressing domestic terrorist threats.
Last Thursday and Friday, dozens of homes were raided in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne on dubious claims that an Australian citizen fighting with ISIS in Syria phoned a young Sydney man and asked him to commit a random murder. This was inflated by the media into an ISIS conspiracy to behead someone and record the killing on video. Only one person, the 22-year-old who allegedly received the phone call, has been charged with a terrorist offence.
There is no information about many people, primarily young Muslims, who have been issued with such a police interview request, or had their homes or workplaces visited by intelligence or police agencies. Nor is it known how many people have their communications and movements monitored on the grounds they are “persons of interest.”
The manufactured fear of imminent terrorist attacks is being deliberately heightened by major security mobilisations at public events and buildings to accustom the population to accept a heavy police presence.
In unprecedented scenes yesterday, police carrying military assault rifles were positioned outside the Australian parliament, purportedly in response to threats against Abbott and other politicians. The tens of thousands of fans who will attend the Australian Football League grand final in Melbourne on Saturday will confront armed police, police dogs, bag and body searches and video surveillance.
Predictably, last night’s police killing was immediately seized upon by the Abbott government and the media to insist on support for the so-called Foreign Fighters Bill, the second tranche of the government’s “anti-terrorism” legislation, which was released earlier in the evening. The draconian measures in the 160-page bill go beyond even the selected features that were leaked to the media over the weekend. They include wider powers to jail individuals or ban groups for “advocating” terrorism, and life sentences for assisting, preparing for or undertaking “an incursion” into a foreign country to engage in “hostile” or “subversive” activities.
The entire campaign over terrorism is based on shameless lies and distortions, aimed at providing the political and media establishment with the pretext for the deployment of Australian military forces to the Middle East to join the US-led war in Iraq and Syria and sweeping new police-state powers for the intelligence and police agencies.
This hysteria has now directly contributed to the police killing of an 18-year-old man.
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Australian terror raids provide pretext for police-state laws
[22 September 2014]
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[19 September 2014]
By John Pilger
There are times when farce and living caricature almost consume the cynicism and mendacity in the daily life of Australia’s rulers. Across the front pages is a photograph of a resolute Tony Abbott with Indigenous children in Arnhem Land, in the remote north. “Domestic policy one day,” says the caption, “focus on war the next.”
Reminiscent of a vintage anthropologist, the prime minister grasps the head of an Indigenous child trying to shake his hand. He beams, as if incredulous at the success of his twin stunts: “running the nation” from a bushland tent on the Gove Peninsula while “taking the nation to war”. Like any “reality” show, he is surrounded by cameras and manic attendants, who alert the nation to his principled and decisive acts.
But wait; the leader of all Australians must fly south to farewell the SAS, off on its latest heroic mission since its triumph in the civilian bloodfest of Afghanistan. “Pursuing sheer evil” sounds familiar; of course, an historic mercenary role is unmentionable, this time backing the latest US installed sectarian regime in Baghdad and re-branded ex Kurdish “terrorists”, now guarding Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Marathon Oil, Hunt Oil et al.
No parliamentary debate is allowed; no fabricated invitation from foreigners in distress is necessary, as it was in Vietnam. Speed is the essence. What with US intelligence insisting there is no threat from Islamic State to America and presumably Australia, truth may deter the mission if time is lost. If this week’s police and media show of “anti-terror” arrests in “the plot against Sydney” fails to arouse the suspicions of the nation, nothing will. That the unpopular Abbott’s reckless war-making is are likely to be self-fulfilling, making Australians less safe, ought to in headlines, too. Remember the blowback of Bush’s and Blair’s wars.
But what of the be-headings? During the 21 months between James Foley’s abduction and his be-heading, 113 people were reportedly beheaded by Saudi Arabia, one of Barack Obama’s and Tony Abbott’s closest allies in their current “moral” and “idealistic” enterprise. Indeed, Abbott’s war will no doubt rate a plaque in the Australian War Memorial alongside all the other colonial invasions acknowledged in that great emporium of white nationalism — except, of course, the colonial invasion of Australia during which the be-heading of the Indigenous Australian defenders was not considered sheer evil.
This returns us to the show in Arnhem Land. Abbott says the reason he and the media are camped there is that he can consult with Indigenous “leaders” and “gain a better understanding of the needs of people living and working in these areas”.
Australia is awash with knowledge of the “needs” of its first people. Every week, it seems, yet another study adds to the torrent of information about the imposed impoverishment of and vicious discrimination against Indigenous people: apartheid in all but name. The facts, which can no longer be spun, ought to be engraved in the national consciousness, if not the prime minister’s. Australia has a rate of Indigenous incarceration higher than that of apartheid South Africa; deaths in custody occur as if to a terrible drumbeat; preventable Dickensian diseases are rampant, including among those who live in the midst of a mining boom that has made profits of a billion dollars a week. Rheumatic heart disease kills Indigenous people in their 30s and 40s, and their children go deaf and suffer trachoma, which causes blindness.
When, as shadow indigenous health minister in 2009, Abbott was reminded by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Indigenous people that the Howard government’s fraudulent “intervention” was racist, he told Professor James Anaya to “get a life” and “stop listening to the old victim brigade”. The distinguished Anaya had just been to Utopia, a vast region in the Northern Territory, where I filmed the evidence of the racism and forced deprivation that had so shocked him and millions of viewers around the world. “Malnutrition”, a GP in central Australia told me, “is common.”
Today, as Abbott poses for the camera with children in Arnhem Land, the children of Utopia are being denied access to safe and clean drinking water. For 10 weeks, communities have had no running water. A new bore would cost just A$35,000 (US$31,100). Scabies and more trachoma are the result. (For perspective, consider that the Labor government’s last Indigenous Affairs minister, Jenny Macklin, spent A$331,144 refurbishing her office in Canberra).
In 2012, Olga Havnen, a senior Northern Territory government official, revealed that more than A$80 million was spent on the surveillance of families and the removal of children compared with just A$500,000 on supporting the same impoverished families. Her warning of a second Stolen Generation led to her sacking. This week in Sydney, Amnesty and a group known as Grandmothers Against Removals presented further evidence that the number of Indigenous children being taken from their families, often violently, is greater than at any time in Australia’s colonial history.
Will Tony Abbott, self-proclaimed friend of Indigenous people, step in and defend these families? On the contrary, in his May budget, Abbott cut $536 million from the “needs” of Indigenous people over the next five years, a quarter of which was for health provision. Far from being an Indigenous “friend”, Abbott’s government is continuing the theft of Indigenous land with a confidence trick called “99-year leases”. In return for surrendering their country – the essence of Aboriginality – communities will receive morsels of rent, which the government will take from Indigenous mining royalties. Perhaps only in Australia can such deceit masquerade as policy.
Similarly, Abbott appears to be supporting constitutional reform that will “recognise” Indigenous people in a proposed referendum. The “Recognise” campaign consists of familiar gestures and tokenism, promoted by a PR campaign “around which the nation can rally”, according to the Sydney Morning Herald – meaning the majority, or those who care, can feel they are doing something while doing nothing.
During all the years I have been reporting and filming Indigenous Australia, one “need” has struck me as paramount. A treaty. By that I mean an effective Indigenous bill of rights: land rights, resources rights, health rights, education rights, housing rights, and more. None of the “advances” of recent years, such as Native Title, has delivered the rights and services most Australians take for granted.
As Arrente/Amatjere leader Rosalie Kunoth-Monks says: “We never ceded ownership of this land. This remains our land, and we need to negotiate a lawful treaty with those who seized our land.” A great many if not most Indigenous Australians agree with her; and a campaign for a treaty – all but ignored by the media – is growing fast, especially among the savvy Indigenous young unrepresented by co-opted “leaders” who tell white society what it wants to hear. That Australia has a prime minister who described this country as “unsettled” until the British came indicates the urgency of true reform – the end of paternalism and the enactment of a treaty negotiated between equals. For until we, who came later, give back to the first Australians their nationhood, we can never claim our own.
Used with permission of John Pilger. See www.johnpilger.com. First published in the Guardian.
(Copyright 2014 John Pilger)