31 March 2007

"Worst of the worst" sentenced to 9 months' imprisonment and 12 months' gagging

To be worst,
The lowest and most dejected thing of fortune,
Stands still in esperance, lives not in fear:
The lamentable change is from the best;
...the worst is not
So long as we can say 'This is the worst.'

- Edgar
King Lear Act 4, Scene 1

David Hicks, who has reportedly been described by some in some high places as "the worst of the worst", has been sentenced to nine months imprisonment, following a plea bargain and collateral negotiations in a US Military Commission.

There are some strings attached to the sentence, not least that he is forbidden to speak to the media for 12 months and that he has agreed not to pursue any allegations that the US authorities abused him. The head sentence is seven years, of which six years and three months has been suspended, apparently as part of the plea bargain. No discount has been given for the five years and four months which he has already spent confined in Guantanamo Bay.

For a selection of media reports see the Australian sites News.com.au (check out Tim Dunlop's Blogocracy post while you're there),
ABC Online, SBS News, The Age and, from the rest of the world, the BBC , Al jazeera , CNN (includes link to a video interview with Tim Bugg of the Law Council of Australia), Reuters, The Guardian , Telegraph.co.uk, The Washington Post , and The Economist.

The Economist report "Justice Shackled", published after the plea but before the verdict, makes some good comments:

The Pentagon will be relieved that the tribunals have started to show results after five years of controversy over the status of “enemy combatants”, claims of torture, the admissibility of forced confessions and a Supreme Court ruling last year that halted an earlier version of the tribunals. Yet the Hicks case is hardly an impressive start for America's offshore justice.

Many in Australia regard Mr Hicks as more of a lost soul than a dangerous terrorist (see article). Indeed, his charge sheet portrays him as little more than an al-Qaeda foot-soldier, and a poor one at that. His jihadi CV is pitiful compared with the evidence being given by some of the 14 “high value detainees” belatedly brought to Guantánamo from CIA secret prisons in September.

Where to from here? Prime Minister Howard and Foreign Minister Downer (who as recently as three days ago didn't reject the "worst of the worst" tag) have come out dissembling but they haven't, at least as far as I'm concerned, confronted the major flaws in the process, which Julian Burnside QC succinctly enumerated before the hearing :

The “trial” will have at least three distinctive features:
  1. it will be dealing with offences which did not exist at the time of the acts in question;

  2. it will receive hearsay evidence;

  3. it will receive evidence obtained by coercion.

[For more discussion of some key legal principles of the case see the transcripts of the ABC RN radio programs featuring Burnside which were broadcast earlier this month here and here.]

Despite the apparent tightness of the settlement, eg no media comment by Hicks for 12 months, I'd like to know how enforceable all the provisions are, and, moreover, who will do the enforcing. What is its precise status in Australian law? Have Mr Howard/ Mr Downer/ Mr Ruddock by decree or something similar imported some US "law" into Australian law? If so, what happens if the US Supreme Court rules that the current iteration of the military commissions are unlawful?

We have not, I'm sure, heard the last of these matters, even if, as Messrs Howard, Downer and Ruddock would doubtless wish there is some lessening of public interest in the matter.

30 March 2007

UK talks the talk with Iran, but what about walking the walk?

The current stand off, if that's the most appropriate term for it, between the UK and Iran over the latter's detention and "interrogation" of 15 British sailors for allegedly venturing into Iranian territory has, as spiked points out "shown up Britain's impotence on the world stage".

I hope that Leading Seaman (sic) and mother Turney, who has appeared on Iranian TV wearing a headscarf and smoking, not to mention looking very distressed , will soon, preferably with her shipmates, be extricated from the terrible mess they've got into. I also hope, even though this is a much bigger ask, that the much more convoluted mess (or messes) in the region might be sorted out in the not too distant future. That, I know, is most unlikely to happen given the entrenched positions of all the governments involved.

27 March 2007

Hicks pleads guilty

David Hicks has pleaded guilty before a United States military tribunal to a charge of providing material support to terrorists. The news has just broken.


Australian media

ABC, The Age , News.com.au

International media

BBC , New York Times, CNN, Al Jazeera.

No doubt more details will emerge over the following hours and days.

I notice that, according to ABC news (see link above) Foreign Minister Downer believes that all along he has occupied the middle ground:

Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer says he is pleased there is an end in sight to Hicks's captivity.
"First off [ sic] all there was the sort of view that he clearly couldn't have done anything wrong and we hate the Americans and all of that," he said."There were people who thought David Hicks should just be strung up and was obviously a horror and there were people in the middle, which was where I was really - my view was always that the trial had just taken too long, the legal process was far too long."

Some people will believe anything.

26 March 2007

"Prison guard shoots dead police"

Headline from The Australian online: "Prison guard shoots dead police".

Death of blogging?

Both The Australian and The Sunday Times have recently published articles (actually the same article, albeit downsized in the Oz) announcing the imminent death of blogging. Some of the evidence they put forward, eg the large number of blogs commenced but then, and often soon, abandoned, is quite compelling, but it overlooks or ignores the fact that many, many bloggers continue to post, if not always as frequently or as succinctly or as lucidly as they might wish.

Just because a few celebrities like Lindsay Lohan have thrown in their blogging towel doesn't mean that blogging is a nine day's (or five year's) wonder. Plenty of people, including me, have started, and abandoned, diari
es. I don't recall seeing anyone announce the death of the diary (or did I miss something?). That's not to say that all blogs are alive and well, just that there is no requirement for bloggers to maintain a regular flow of postings (and for those postings to be interesting). I'd be surprised if blogging in its present form(s) ever died out, but it could be that technological changes (of which I know nothing) will make other forms of interpersonal communication more popular. The worst case scenario would be for more governments to intervene and censor blogs. This has already happened in some countries eg Egypt where last month Abdul Kareem Soliman was sentenced to four years' imprisonment for insulting Islam and the President of Egypt.

24 March 2007

Our new man in London

This is Adelaide Now's headline reporting Premier Rann's announcement that Mr Bill Muirhead will be South Australia's new Agent-General in London. ( The Premier's own website hasn't mentioned the appointment yet even though he described it as "critically important").

Mr Muirhead, we are told, "attended Lockleys Primary School". He's an executive director of the global advertising firm M&C Saatchi, whose website profile of him tells us that he worked in London from 1971 and implies that he's been living in New York since 1994, so perhaps he only lived in SA as a child (like Tony Blair).

There's a photo of Mr M on the Saatchi website, and a 1999 portrait of him in the British National Portrait Gallery's collection which shows him as a Dennis Waterman lookalike gingerly bestriding a pinball machine.

The Agent-General's position is not a diplomatic one (if it was Mr Downer or Mr Howard would have to appoint him). It is essentially a marketing one. As Mr Rann says :
"This appointment is critically important because it involves how SA is positioned in Britain and Europe... The area we want to concentrate on is building SA's profile in Britain. This includes areas such as defence, mining, tourism and skilled migration." The disclosure that Mr M will be a part-time Agent-General raised my eyebrows when I read of it, but I can see the wisdom of engaging him for what looks like a two year consultancy.

Mr M himself is quoted as saying
"This is a great chance for me to spread the word about SA to the rest of the world." A very general statement, but appropriate for the announcement of his appointment, especially as M&C Saatchi's business is based upon "one word equity". As the firm's home page says "the global ownership of one word is the most priceless asset a company can have in the digital age".

I wonder whether Mr M will come up with a single word which SA can own and, if so, what that word might be. Not, I hope, a variation on one of his company's recent attempts to promote Australia.

Subtitling subtext

The Times recently published an amusing piece (also reprinted in The Australian) about the limitations and shortcomings of subtitling. Times Online added its own comment under the headline "Here's Looking At You, Baby Goat". [Geddit?]

Like most movie buffs I've had some bad experiences with subtitles, sometimes because they've been badly translated, but more often because they're not sufficiently detailed to explain what's happening onscreen. Despite these moments I must confess that for me one of the advantages of watching DVDs is being able to opt for the "English for the hearing impaired" subtitles, even though my hearing isn't (I believe) too bad. Subtitles often clarify mumbled or heavily accented conversations (eg Walk the Line); occasionally they identify the background music, which is a real bonus for someone like me whose musical knowledge is relatively thin.

22 March 2007

National Treasures

The National Treasures Exhibition or, to give it its full title, National Treasures from Australia's Great Libraries, is about to finish its Adelaide season, after which it moves to Darwin and then Perth.

Despite their library associations the exhibits aren't limited to books. Ned Kelly's helmet, one of Don Bradman's bats (and blazers), and a convict uniform from Tasmania are there, while the printed items include old prints, maps, and handwritten diaries, journals etc (though these aren't always easy to read) as well as more conventional books.

I've been several times, once for a general reconnaissance, subsequently to look at particular items. I recommend it highly, even though the exhibits have been shoehorned into a relatively small area. The guide book (
$25 a copy or $35 for two from the exhibition bookshop, and $34.95 online) is informative though limited in its coverage: it discusses a selection of items in detail and provides a list of all items on display (also available online here) .

At the exhibition several items which didn't make the guidebook cut caught my eye, eg the seating plan for an official dinner attended by the then Duke and Duchess of York in 1927 (how many lobbyists or journalists of the time were invited, I wonder?), and the diary of Frederick Bradshaw, one of the first white people to take up occupation in the Victoria River District. Those reservations aside, what is included is good, the printing is of high quality and the binding (touch wood) looks sufficiently robust to survive repeated consultation.

21 March 2007

Tom Crean - Antarctic Explorer

I've an interest in Antarctic exploration (even though I'm more or less reconciled to never visiting that continent) so tonight I went to see Tom Crean Antarctic Explorer, a one man person performance by Aidan Dooley about Tom Crean , who early last century accompanied three Antarctic expeditions, the first two led by Captain Scott , the third by Ernest Shackleton .

Although Crean spent all his lengthy service with the Royal Navy on the lower deck, at crucial times during both the
Terra Nova and the Endurance expeditions (click on the links above to find out more about these) he demonstrated strength of character well above and beyond the call of duty and indeed, above which might reasonably be expected of any human being in extremity.

Unlike several of the expeditions' officers, Crean left no diaries, but enough has been written about him and his achievements to for Dooley to have shaped the 70 minute performance. To call it a monologue does an injustice to Dooley's ability to bring Crean to life. Nor was it a lecture, as the dramatic focus was on Crean the Antarctic explorer, dressed in his polar regalia, whose occasional harrowing descriptions of extreme moments were interleaved with lighter elements of self-deprecatory humour.

While it helps to know something of the context of the events (and the program notes give some background detail) I'm sure that many in the audience who didn't have this knowledge were captivated by Dooley's ability to capture the essence of the man. If you get a chance to see a performance, do so.

For reviews of the Edinburgh performance see here, here, here and here.

18 March 2007

No De Groot moment spoils Bridge's 75th birthday

The 75th birthday of the Sydney Harbour Bridge was celebrated today.

The ceremonies have passed off without any disruption similar to that which occurred in 1932, when Francis De Groot , a member of the New Guard, a right-wing paramilitary group, evaded security (riding a horse helped him do this) and "opened" the bridge by cutting the official ribbon. The ribbon had to be retied or replaced (accounts differ) before the official opening, by the then Premier of NSW J T Lang, who had annoyed many people by insisting on cutting the ribbon himself instead of the Sir Philip Game the state Governor.

In an ironic echo of the 1932 contretemps over who should open the bridge the ABC reports

[ NSW] Opposition Leader Peter Debnam
says it is a shame the Premier did not keep the celebrations politician-free.Mr Iemma was among the official party on the bridge this morning and, alongside his family, was one of the first to complete the walk.

Mr Debnam also took part in the walk, and then travelled to Sydney's south-west where he delivered the last of his so called Liberal Party 'headland' speeches announcing the Coalition's road infrastructure package.

Mr Debnam says it is disappointing Mr Iemma was involved in the official proceedings.

"He's in Government and incumbent governments use their power ruthlessly - that's fine I suppose, that's the way he plays the game - I suggested to him that it be a politician-free day - well he obviously didn't agree," he said.

Tonight ABC TV screened what it described as a "doco-drama" about the bridge construction and opening. It was a mixture of archival footage, dramatised reconstructions and talking heads, some of whom, eg Andrew Moore, who has published a biography of De Groot which I've just read thought had a better grasp of the historical context of the times than others.

Whatever you think, it's undeniable that, as this story attests, 75 years on, De Groot's action has become embedded in our folk memory and will always be associated with the opening of the bridge.

For more info about the Bridge (and some very good photos) see

Update 19 March

Today's Australian
provides more details about yesterday's event , including the prominent played role played by NSW Governor (insensitively described in the headline as "the Queen's woman" and in the body of the report as "Professor" ) Marie Bashir.

The greatest irony, however, was that the Governor reiterated the ideas of J T Lang:

Professor [sic] Bashir cut the ribbon and echoed the words of Lang, re-dedicating the bridge to the people of Australia and Sydney.

"It is a bridge of dreams," she said. "Purchased by the coins of our people, it has paid us back a hundred-fold. It is our landmark, our achievement, our conquest, our bridge."

If you'd like even more information, see this.

15 March 2007

The sweet smell of excess

A number of sources, including the BBC and Reuters, report that police in the Indian state of Gujarat are to be issued with new cotton uniforms impregnated with special fragrances which also glow in the dark and make overweight officers look more svelte :

The co-ordinator of the apparel design section of India's National Institute of Design (NID), Somesh Singh, told the BBC that the idea to design more fragrantly pleasing police uniforms was agreed with the police authorities last month.

"The purpose is to do away with the perspiration odour," he said. "We have decided to make these uniforms more sweet smelling. Three different fragrances - jasmine, rose and citrus will be incorporated into these uniforms."

Mr Singh said that the designs would use the latest fibre optic technology to make sure the uniform not only smells good but glows at night so officers can be seen more clearly. He said the uniforms had also been specially designed to make overweight policemen look more streamlined when they are on the beat.

"They have been designed in a manner to ensure that the paunch of the wearer does not draw the attention of anyone looking at him," Mr Singh said.

In the Reuter's report Mr Singh alludes obliquely to the Indian police's reputation (also suggested by the photos accompanying the BBC report and depicted in several contemporary novels eg Vikas Swarup's Q&A) for robust operational methods:

"Most policemen look hassled, drenched in sweat after coming from any scene of crime," said Somesh Singh...They are surely not the best person one would like to meet, but if they smell good and fresh one might as well approach them."

And the police? The Reuters report quotes an Indian English speaking officer:

"We are tired wearing the thick cotton brown colour uniform with a broad belt and plastic badges for several decades now," said R.K. Patel a senior police officer."If the new uniforms makes us stand out in the crowd, keeps us active with pleasant aroma and is yet very formal, then we are all for it."

PS The Indian cricket team is also hoping to steal a march (or a few runs) on its opponents by adopting a uniform which is 15% lighter in weight than its predecessors. I'll say more about this on Nudges and Deflections.

Awards for defenders of free speech

The BBC reports that five "defenders of free speech" have been honoured at a ceremony in London:

The annual Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards salute people who have contributed to the defence of freedom of expression. ..They are given to those who use film, the law, books, journalism, campaigning or whistleblowing to achieve this.

The whistleblower award went to Chen Guangcheng, a self-taught lawyer in the Shandong province of China. Known as the "barefoot lawyer", he is a blind activist who publicised reports of forced abortions, as late as eight months pregnant, and sterilisations in the city of Linyi to enforce China's one-child policy.
Mr Chen was sentenced in August 2006 to over four years in prison for property damage and organising a crowd to disturb traffic.

The 2007 award for journalism went to 22-year old blogger Abdel Kareem Soliman, who wrote under the name Kareem Amer.He was recently sentenced to four years in prison after using his web log to criticise the country's top Islamic institution, al-Azhar university, and President Hosni Mubarak, whom he called a dictator.

Other awards went to an assassinated Lebanese journalist, an Aids activist and an Israeli film maker.

Reading their stories, and those of others such as Morgan Tsvangirai , puts the vicissitudes of my life into perspective.

For more about Chen Guangcheng see here. It's interesting disturbing to note, among other things, how China discriminates against blind people's attempts to educate themselves.

For more about Kareem Amer see here.

14 March 2007

Warhol moment averted

It's not often that my neighbourhood makes the news, but it did so today. As Adelaide Now reports:

Fast-acting emergency services averted a potential disaster in the eastern suburbs this morning, after a high pressure gas main was ruptured by workmen causing a major leak...
Roads around the leak - near the corner of Portrush and Beulah roads at Norwood - were closed as emergency services were called to the scene.

Fortunately normal services were restored very swiftly. In fact I didn't notice anything amiss: the first I heard of the problem was on ABC Radio News. If there'd been an explosion I suppose I'd have had my 15 minutes of flame.

13 March 2007

New species of taipan found

The Australian reports that researchers have found a new species of taipan in the outback central deserts about 200km north west of Uluru/Ayers Rock. A report of their findings, which non-specialists may find heavy going, is here.

Of the other two species one is commonly known as the inland or western taipan , the other as the coastal taipan. For more information about them from another source see
here. I hadn't realised that both species have a wide distribution across many areas which I've visited (and camped out in).

12 March 2007

Important South Australian anniversary overlooked by government

Peter Brent, speaking on ABC RN's Perspective on Friday, drew attention to a significant anniversary: 150 years since South Australia's first election under self government. As Brent explains, the event has an added significance: it was the first election in the world run by a chief electoral officer, W R Boothby.

The transcript (click the link to read it) is brief and well worth reading, Here's an extract describing some of the Boothby-driven innovations:

Boothby also changed the ballot paper. The Victorian version had voters crossing out the candidates they did NOT want; under Boothby's alteration they now put a cross in a box next to the candidate they DID want. By the end of the century this system had swept much of Europe and America, where it is still often called the Australian Ballot.

Perhaps even more importantly, he re-invented the way electoral rolls were constructed. Previously it had been left to electors to enrol, now the government door-knocked every house in South Australia.

As the decades rolled by, Boothby's power, and the organization below him, continued to grow, and eventually his enrolment procedure, other reforms and the very structure of his electoral fiefdom, were adopted around the globe.

After his death in 1903, a federal electorate was named after him. As far as I can tell, nowhere else on the planet has named an electorate after an electoral official.

Yes, they took their elections seriously in South Australia in the second half of the nineteenth century.

Nowadays in South Australia we don't seem to take our history very seriously. True, last week there was a conference "The Politics of Democracy in South Australia"arranged by the History Trust of South Australia and the State Electoral Office. The History Trust also has an exhibition "The Voice of the People: Democracy comes to South Australia" which runs until 31 August, but there's nothing about the anniversary on the Premier and Ministers' website, which you may think, as I do, is a pity.

09 March 2007

Gunboat diplomacy and marketing as Spanish fly flags in Adelaide

The flag in the photo is the Spanish one. It's flying from the stern of the Alvaro de Bazan, a naval vessel variously described as a frigate or destroyer which is visiting Adelaide for what The Advertiser describes, in an article which isn't online but is at p16 of Thursday's print edition, as a "marketing and goodwill visit":

An Australian version of the ship, built by the Spanish firm Navantia, is one of two competing designs for the $6 billion air warfare destroyer program.

The other is by US - based firm Gibbs & Cox, which is being developed by the 50 people working at its Adelaide office.

Three destroyers will be built at Outer-Harbor based ASC, which won the construction contract in 2005. Federal Cabinet is expected to decide the winning design in July and construction will start in 2009.

The Navantia design is thought to be the favourite because it is reportedly at least $500 million cheaper, would require a smaller crew and could be delivered two years earlier.

The Gibbs & Cox design would inject an extra $1 billion into Australian industry, while its rival would benefit Spanish industry.

The Australian also reports the visit, and implies that the selection has already been made:

A visiting Spanish frigate competing to be Australia's next air warfare destroyer was yesterday dubbed "a great ship" by a key federal minister who will help make the $7 billion decision in July.
Finance Minister Nick Minchin made the comment as he toured the Alvaro De Bazan, a 147m, 6000-tonne Spanish frigate which docked in Adelaide's outer harbour yesterday.

The Government will choose between the Spanish F100 design, of which Alvaro De Bazan is an example, and an as-yet-unbuilt warship being designed by US company Gibbs and Cox.

The "evolved design" will be a larger ship, based on the US navy's Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, which is 155m long and weighs more than 9000 tonnes.

As an untested warship, the evolved design is thought to carry higher risks of budget and equipment problems.

Yesterday, Senator Minchin said he appreciated the opportunity to board the ship. "It is a great opportunity to see one of the two possible designs in the flesh," he said.

"As one of the decision-makers, I'm personally pleased to see this vessel in real life."

Since the Alvaro De Bazan was commissioned in 2002, Spain's navy has added another three F100 frigates to its fleet.

Built by Spanish shipbuilders Navantia, the F100 has long been regarded as a stalking horse for the Gibbs & Cox option.

But with $7 billion at stake, an Australianised F100 is now thought to be an even-money bet to win the contract.


Senator Minchin said "value for money will be a primary consideration in that choice" along with capability.

The Alvaro De Bazan and its crew of 200 men and women, including 20 heavily armed marines, will stay in Adelaide until Saturday. The ship will visit Sydney from next Monday for a week and will arrive back in Spain on May 19.

Unlike Senator Minchin and Premier Rann (a photograph of whom with the Spanish captain is in the 'Tiser) I was unable to get close enough to the vessel to have a good look. Security at Outer Harbor [the correct spelling] is very tight to protect not just the Spanish navy but also the car exports which occupy the fore and middle ground of my picture, so I decided to concentrate upon the flag, which I think is unlikely ever to have been seen here on a Spanish fighting ship before. Training ship maybe, but fighting ship I very much doubt. Of course a few people have claimed that Spanish (and Portuguese) mariners did discover parts of Australia, usually by being shipwrecked there. But, in the absence of more details I'm not going to buy into that one.....

Update 11 March

Patrick Walters in The Weekend Australian sheds more light on the history of Spanish naval contacts with Australia. He says that the visit to Australia by the Alvaro de Bazan is the first by a Spanish warship since 1859. The rest of the article is also worth reading not least for Mr Walters' advocacy of the claims of the Spanish (publicly owned) shipbuilding firm Navantia and for his admission that his recent trip to Spain was paid for by Navantia.

Further Update 14 March

Yesterday's Australian had a full page ad about the "Armada" which was paid for by the Spanish government.

06 March 2007

More on dumbing down curriculum

In today's Australian John Hirst has a good opinion piece "A chance to instil a sense of civic duty". He laments that subjects such as history, which the Prime Minister and his various Education Ministers have insisted be given more prominence in secondary school education, effectively cut out at the end of year 10:

Last year's history summit was invited to say what students should know of Australian history by the end of Year 10. Compulsory education ends at Year10, so education policy-makers think that if there is a subject that all students should know, then it has to be offered in that year or before. But the proportion of students who go on to Year 12 has risen rapidly and these last two years of schooling immediately precede the assumption of the right to vote. No one has been considering how schooling should be used to help in the transition to this adult responsibility.

I estimate that 80 per cent of children in the last years of school study nothing that links them to their country: no Australian history, no Australian literature, no Australian art, no Australian politics, no Australian geography. An overseas visitor to most of our years 11 and 12 classrooms would not know they were in Australia.

In these years students are left free to choose their subjects except for the compulsion to study English language. Some need to take certain subjects in preparation for tertiary studies. But many choose their subjects not because they relate to the course they want to take at university but because they hope to get a high score in the subject and so improve the chances of getting into the university course they want. So a would-be student of law may take physics or psychology instead of history or politics.

In these vital years we have abdicated the responsibility to prepare students to be citizens of this country.

Of course this point has been made many times before. It's also easy to identify the problem than to enunciate a solution. Mr Howard and Ms Bishop seem to have a view of history where certain facts, opinions and dates are set in stone: these are relatively easy to put across to year 10 students and to assess. As a longstanding professional historian of good repute Hirst is to a degree protecting his own patch by asking for more higher level teaching of humanities subjects, but he has a good point. Whether he can persuade other influential people to support him on this will be interesting to see, but I'd like to see it happen, ideally as a result of frank and open debate rather than resorting to the likes of Brian Burke.

Much slinging of mud, but what are the consequences?

All the mud slinging and abuse in the wake of the revelations about the lobbying activities of Brian Burke have produced a lot of comment, yet surprisingly little discussion of how best to manage situations where lobbyists appear to pull the wires. Honourable exceptions include Christian Kerr in Crikey, who sums the situation up pithily: "all the major parties are not just very, very busy operating in an ethical grey area.They’re also actively engaged in a process that is profoundly anti-democratic."

Surely, given the rise of lobbyists to positions of influence and, as the Burke affair suggests, power there needs to be a more transparent regulatory regime, with information about who is lobbying whom much more freely available. A public register of some kind would be a good start, though no doubt any attempt to introduce one would require bipartisan support, which means that it would almost certainly be watered down. As with so many other matters in the body politic, I won't expect too much too soon.

That said, the last few days have elicited some vintage comments from key players and interested bystanders. Yesterday Paul Keating on ABC Radio's The World Today gave his own party a rap over the knuckles on what he described as the "more technical issue"of superannuation. He then switched to attack dog mode, turning on the government , or more precisely the Prime Minister:

ELEANOR HALL: Okay, you're clearly unhappy with the Labor leader, Kevin Rudd, on this issue of policy. How do you think he's handling the politics, with this attack that he's facing from the Government over his contacts with Brian Burke?

PAUL KEATING: Oh, look, it's just Howard being Howard, isn't it, you know. The little desiccated coconut's under pressure and he's attacking anything he can get his hands on.

You know, I mean, look, Brian Burke and Julian Grill, they're the Arthur Daley and Terry of the Western Australian Labor Party, you know. They're like the wallpaper over there. You can't visit Perth without running into them, you know.

It's a bit like Kevin Rudd coming to Sydney, somewhere you're going to meet Johno Johnson who runs the raffle tickets and things. I mean, it's just part of life.

And the idea that … I mean, what are they? They're are a couple of small-time lobbyists. So what, you know, so what?

ELEANOR HALL: Was Kevin Rudd, though, naive to meet Brian Burke at that dinner in 2005?

PAUL KEATING: Well, he was the shadow minister for foreign affairs talking about China and what have you. I think, you know, you can't apply … I mean if, have a look at all the bagmen in the Liberal Party, for God's sake. I mean, if you applied a sanitary test to those guys, I mean, no minister would do any business in this country.

ELEANOR HALL: He's said, though, that he didn't know that Brian Burke was off-limits for state ministers.

PAUL KEATING: Well, look, the real problem about Western Australia is this - look, I haven't seen, myself, seen Burke for 20 years, but the fact is Burke is smarter than two thirds of the Western Australian Labor Party rolled together. That's why he keeps bobbing up. And instead of leaving him out in the cold, what Gallop and Carpenter should've done was bring him in simply as a lobbyist and legitimise him like all of the other lobbyists over there, so all this nonsense goes away, you know. Instead of that they leave him out there so he turns up at these various things or tries to, you know, get himself a quid doing one thing or another.

Now, you know, I mean, Burke was Richardson's candidate against me for the prime ministership, so I'm not a Burke barracker, you understand, but the idea that someone as clever as that is going to be sat on forever by a Carpenter or a Gallop is of course nonsense. And that's why he's been friendly with Beazley for years, you know.

Another trenchant comment, from a somewhat surprising source given its propensity to support the government come what may, was yesterday's Australian
editorial "Campbell sacrificed in pursuit of Rudd":

THERE appears to be only one standard of ministerial accountability in the Howard Government: you may remain as a minister until the political advantage of your departure exceeds that of your retaining the job.

Human resources minister Ian Campbell did nothing which, by the standards the community is entitled to expect of its politicians, could be considered a hanging offence.

John Howard himself described Senator Campbell's meeting with Brian Burke and racing industry representatives as "benign". No favours were asked for and none were delivered. His sin, Mr Howard said, was exercising poor judgment in meeting Mr Burke, given "the circumstances" surrounding the former West Australian premier.


The circumstances of both Senator Campbell and Kevin Rudd's meetings with Mr Burke in 2005 do not include any knowledge of the corrupt dealings that it took the extraordinary phone-tapping powers of Western Australia's Crime and Corruption Commission to uncover. It would be unreasonable to retrospectively judge meetings held two years ago in the light of revelations of the past six weeks.

A criminal conviction punishable by imprisonment is a bar to parliamentary election. But politicians are not prevented from meeting people who have been imprisoned. It is a healthy element of Australia's culture that someone who has completed a prison term has expunged their debt to society and is entitled at least to a hearing.

It was no more a gross error for Senator Campbell to meet the delegation of racing officials assembled by Mr Burke than it was for Mr Rudd to accept an invitation to meet a group of businesspeople Mr Burke had invited to dinner.

The worst that can be said is that it was naive at a time when the West Australian premier had banned his colleagues from meetings with Mr Burke. It is ludicrous to suggest that Mr Rudd was enlisting Mr Burke's support for a leadership tilt, given that the leadership was held by Mr Burke's good friend, Kim Beazley. It is perfectly normal that a frontbencher with leadership aspirations should tour the country, accepting invitations to meet and greet coming from all quarters. It should be noted that Mr Burke did have extensive contacts in Perth with business leaders and other people of influence, including the editor of the local paper.

Mr Howard's burst of rectitude over Senator Campbell is all the more extraordinary for the slack approach he has shown to ministerial accountability over the past nine years.

Mr Howard came to office promising a much higher standard than that of his predecessors and introduced an extensive guide on ministerial responsibility. It covered such matters as share ownership, employment of family and using ministerial office to obtain favours.

Within the first two years, it cost seven ministers and parliamentary secretaries their jobs. Assistant treasurer Jim Short, parliamentary secretary Brian Gibson and small business minister Jim Prosser were all fired for investments and business interests conflicting with their responsibilities. Four others - John Sharp, Peter McGauran, David Jull and Bob Woods - were caught in a scandal concerning abuse of travel allowances.

And then the spotlight fell upon minerals and energy minister Warwick Parer. He held an investment of more than $2 million in the coal industry. Was not this a clear breach of the code? "At the end of the day, they are guidelines, they are not a death sentence and you do have to look at the totality of his behaviour," Mr Howard said, explaining his decision to keep Mr Parer in the job. From that day until this, no minister has been held to account for breaches of the code.

The code was updated in 1998 to include a section on lobbyists, requiring that public duty not conflict with private interest. But when the parliamentary secretary for regional partnerships, De-Anne Kelly, hired former National Party secretary and lobbyist Ken Crooke and subsequently approved a $1.2 million grant to one of his former clients, no action was taken.

The code says that ministers should not accept any benefit which might give rise to an appearance of improper influence. But former immigration minister Philip Ruddock accepted political donations from Lebanese groups in Sydney whose visa applications he was favouring with ministerial discretion.

As forestry minister, Wilson Tuckey was able to use his ministerial letterhead to plead for his son to be excused a traffic fine, in breach of the code's requirement that ministers not use their position to gain any improper benefit for themselves or anyone else.

The code holds ministers responsible for failings about which they knew or should have known. Both Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and Trade Minister Mark Vaile should have known about the Australian Wheat Board's dealings with Iraq. Mr Downer personally approved the contracts that shamed Australia.

The sacrifice of Senator Campbell has nothing to do with the code. The only reason for his departure is to further the attack on Mr Rudd. As Mr Howard put it, Senator Campbell has behaved with integrity, so what about Mr Rudd?

It could have been hoped that 2007 would bring the Australian public an election fought on ideas. Let people decide on the basis of education, industrial relations, national security and economic management. True, the character of leaders must form part of the judgment. But the opportunism displayed in the dismissal of Senator Campbell reflects poorly on the judgment of the Prime Minister.

PS The Oz's second editorial " Monument to crime: ACT's grotesque decision to honour Al Grassby" is also worth reading.:

THE proposed erection of a monument to the Whitlam government's immigration minister, Al Grassby, borders on the grotesque. Grassby, who died in April 2005, was an associate of the Calabrian mafia and its Australian connections based in Griffith, NSW. He tried to spread the fiction that anti-drugs campaigner Donald Mackay was not murdered in 1977 by the mafia, alleging that Mackay's wife Barbara had been responsible, an attempted smear that brought charges of criminal defamation. Yet the ACT Government led by Chief Minister Jon Stanhope plans to honour Grassby with a $72,325 bronze statue to adorn the foyer of a multicultural centre in Canberra....in the ACT, rusted-on multiculturalists cling to the tattered reputation of Grassby as if he was the saintly embodiment of inclusiveness. The fact that the Stanhope Government has overlooked, or forgiven, his extensive contacts with criminals and his use of political influence to avoid investigation of those links is a cause for great regret.

02 March 2007

Another step in the Hicks case

Hard on the heels of today's Age report of allegations of torture made by David Hicks comes news of the next stage in the process laid down by the US authorities (which prompted an on air exchange between Terry Hicks and the Prime Minister: reported on the same link):

Hicks was charged today with providing material support for terrorism and referred to trial by a special military commission at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the Pentagon said. But a second charge of attempted murder was dismissed after Judge Susan Crawford concluded there was no "probable cause" to justify it.

For other comments see here(whose headline "Clock ticking for Hicks" implies that the charge will now automatically proceed to a hearing) and here (an unfortunate greengrocer's apostrophe in the headline "Hick's father feels no relief at charges).

01 March 2007

Homeless people inconvenienced

During the last few months parts of the East Parklands have been reclaimed by a group of people, whom the media describe as "homeless". I frequently walk or cycle there, so I can confirm that they are mostly, if not all, Aboriginal people.

The Adelaide City Council, to judge from the few media reports which I've seen, has been wringing, though not washing, its hands about them. The Council'sReconciliation Policy states:

Adelaide City Council acknowledges that we are meeting on the traditional country of the Kaurna people of the Adelaide Plains.We recognise and respect their cultural heritage, beliefs and relationship with the land. We acknowledge that they are of continuing importance to the Kaurna people living today.

The Council has also given (or restored)
Aboriginal names to many parks .

I took the photo above today in Rundle Park/ Kadlitpinna ("Captain Jack"). It shows a public convenience with the camping equipment of the homeless/ Aboriginal people on the roof. Presumably they did this because the low level harassment they've endured for the time they've been there has given way way to the annual encroachment of the motor race and, to a lesser degree, the Fringe Festival, on the land they've reclaimed.

Is this the best the ACC can do?