Monday 21st of April 2014

indeed .....

indeed .....

There was a time young Americans would stitch a Canadian flag on their backpacks and pretend to be Canadian so they would not be blamed for the awful things being done by their government.

It may now be time for Australian travellers to pretend to be New Zealanders, though the flag trick would probably not work.

Brand Australia is not looking good at the moment. To use that horrible Rudd term, Brand Australia is doing it tough. Or to use the Howard phrase, Brand Australia is one of the battlers among those seeking high national reputation worldwide.

It’s all through our own making, of course.

The latest assault on the brand comes with the assertion that Australia bugged the offices of the East Timorese government during the negotiations over the $40billion Timor Sea oil and gas fields in 2004.

We cannot even plead national security this time. It was just grubby commercial gain.

What was Australia’s response: denial, no comment, raids on the offices of a whistleblower – the intelligence agent in charge of the bugging operation – and his lawyer.

The whistleblower had earlier gone to the ‘‘proper authorities’’ – the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security – but nothing happened. When institutions fail, small wonder people go to the media or other outsiders.

Attorney-General George Brandis asserted that the raids were in response to an ASIO request because the agent had broken the law.

What hypocrisy. Who is the more serious law-breaker here – the Australian authorities who authorised the bugging of a building in a foreign country, or the agent who disclosed the illegality?

Before that, we had tapping of the mobile phones of the Indonesian President and his wife. Illegal, immoral and unnecessary. What was the response: no comment and no acknowledgement of wrong-doing.

The bugging was done while Labor was in office. Moreover, in the Timor case, the Gillard government had an opportunity to renegotiate the treaty and right the wrong, but refused.

The malfeasance has infected both sides of politics.

Earlier, Brand Australia was battered by our inhumane live sheep and cattle trades, or at the very least our turning of a blind eye to the cruelty inflicted on these animals once they left our shores. This trade is, again, immoral, unnecessary and verging on the illegal.

Again on the commercial side, government-owned corporations have been caught in corruption by bribing Saddam’s officials in Iraq so AWB could sell wheat, and by bribing officials in various countries so a Reserve Bank offshoot could sell plastic currency to them. Again, hypocrisy, immorality and illegality.

At a government level, we have bullied and, in effect, bribed Nauru and Papua New Guinea into taking our refugees. Again, neither side of politics is immune.

We have abrogated our responsibility to join world efforts to reduce human-induced climate change. We have dissembled and denied. We have selfishly accrued the wealth of the carbon economy and denied any duty to do anything about the damage it is already inflicting. Again, hypocrisy and immorality.

Successive governments have recklessly set in train unsustainable population growth by refusing to stand up to wealthy lobby groups whose sole concern is immediate-term profit.

We have a well-functioning economy but all we do is whinge about ‘‘doing it tough’’ and ‘‘battling’’. Worse, we have selfishly slashed foreign aid rather than spending on ourselves just to help the government bottom line.

Half our media (News Corp) has given up on the true ethic of journalism – holding authorities to account – and instead become a lapdog for the conservative side of politics. (It would be just as bad if it were a lapdog for the left side of politics instead.)

News  Corp propagandists have turned on journalists in other media (Fairfax and the ABC) for exposing the Australian tapping of the Indonesian President’s phone, accusing them of breaching national security or even being traitors.

In fact, true patriots expose any illegality of their government, not join the conspiracy.

The News Corp line is that if only the media did not expose all these things, Australia’s reputation would be intact and the government could get on with the job.

That is a dangerous path. As soon as governments, corporations and others get away with illegality once, they do it again and again. Even when caught, they go into denial and dissembling, but at least they know someone is on to them and it will be harder next time.

In the scheme of things one or two rogue incidents would not matter. And the odd broken election promise would be of little moment. But when you add up this litany of lies, illegality and immorality at the highest levels of government and business you have to ask whether something serious and fundamental has gone wrong in our country.

Even at the second-highest step in the hierarchy of our polity, a hypocrisy is exposed. Our Governor-General, the representative of the monarch in Australia, says we should become a republic. If she thought that, why, in all conscience, did she take the job? Of course we should be a republic. Why haven’t we got the courage to put aside our insecurities and get on with it?

Perhaps the worst part is that so many of our government and commercial leaders do not see a problem with all this. The self-satisfied, dismissive smugness is despairing.

Don’t they see how others see us?

And perhaps equally as bad is the fact that there is so much that is so good about Australia. We really can do better than this. We can acknowledge malfeasance when it is exposed and take steps to ensure it is not repeated.

Obviously, other countries and governments behave equally as badly or worse, but they do not hold themselves out to be the compassionate, tolerant, liberal democracies under the rule of law that we do. Those that do, by-and-large, behave as such.

Australians All Let Us Regret For We Are Devoid Of Integrity


craving justice .....

Australian intransigence over East Timor is nothing new, and neither is the courage of some of our citizens in standing up for justice. Bernard Collaery is one of those rare people, writes Shirley Shackleton.

This week the home and offices of Australian barrister Bernard Collaery were raided, while he was in the Hague seeking arbitration for a fair deal for the Timorese over their share of their own oil.

As Collaery said, soon after the star witness in his case had his passport confiscated on the orders of the Attorney-General George Brandis, Australia's bugging of the East Timorese for Woodside petroleum's commercial interest is tantamount to "insider trading".

"If this had happened in Bridge Street, Collins Street, Wall Street, people would go to jail," he said.

Intimidation won’t work on Collaery, a respected former ACT attorney-general and deputy chief minister. He has a long history of defending Timorese and Australian citizens who took part in protests for a free East Timor, even when it left him out favour with those in power in both Indonesia and Australia.

One of the first to be invited into East Timor after InterFET forces took over, Collaery witnessed unforgettable events as he accompanied Xanana Gusmao around the countryside.

"Everywhere we went," he told me when I was in Balibó with him recently, "starving people brought us food which Xanana refused to accept. He saw to it that the food was given to the worst of the starving. I have never been so hungry in my life."

When they entered each village, young lads waited to honour their leader, Maun Boot Kay Rala Xanana. These fatherless boys carried objects representing their dead fathers while walking backwards to lead their hero into the centre of their burned villages occupied by orphans and widows.

Each and every morning they came upon processions led by priests followed by Timorese families carrying small bundles containing dead babies and toddlers. It’s a pity that oil company executives and Australian bureaucrats cannot be taken to Timor now, because the death-rate of babies and toddlers is still high. In other words, East Timorese need a fair deal from wealthy nations.

Crucial to an understanding of the Australian government's attitude to East Timor today is Alexander Downer’s first speech as foreign affairs spokesperson for the Coalition in 1995, which he delivered to Amnesty International on the topic of human rights and Indonesia:

"We cannot simply speak with a loud voice when injustice occurs on the other side of the world, whilst whispering softly or remaining silent when similar events take place within our own region."

Those were his words; but Timorese remember Downer for his bullying actions. He thumped the table and screamed insults at Timor’s representatives when they questioned the injustice of the terms of the agreement he was touting over the legality of vast deposits of oil.

Those present have told me that they were not frightened by Downer’s bullying.

They’d had 24 years of torture and murder. They were disgusted by the disregard for the tenets of democracy shown by representatives of the Australian government, which Clinton Fernandes detailed in the Guardian this week:

So what was the Timor Sea Treaty that Australia went to such great lengths to secure that allegedly places all Australians in danger when they are working in Timor Leste?

Signed in 2002, it replaced the Timor Gap Treaty, a notorious instrument signed in 1989 by former foreign ministers of Australia and Indonesia, Gareth Evans and Ali Alatas, as they clinked champagne glasses in an aircraft over then-occupied East Timor’s maritime resources.

Since 2002, when then-foreign minister Downer signed the Timor Sea Treaty, the oil giants Woodside, Shell and Greater Sunrise have become players. Timorese were not surprised when Downer then landed a consultant's job pushing western oil interests.

The intransigence shown by Tony Abbott, Downer and Brandis over the Collaery affair is nothing new. I remember how Whitlam stood by in 1975 while the Timorese Democratic Union (UDT) staged a coup against the remnants of the Portuguese regime. The UDT had a following among the colony’s small elite. It was comprised mainly of high-ranking colonial officials, hold-overs from the fascist regime, plantation owners and regional chieftains, whereas Fretilin had the support of the ordinary East Timorese.

Senator Neville Bonner, a Liberal from Queensland, travelled to Dili in September 1975, two months before East Timor unilaterally declared independence. He returned to Australia after 10 and a half hours, and reported that:

"Fretilin representatives appeared to be acting in a very responsible manner and were trying to get the people back to their crops and bring peace to Timor. I’ve tried to tell Mr. Whitlam this, but haven’t been able to get his ear."

The UDT coup was put down in only 11 days by Falintil, the fighting arm of Fretilin. But it was promoted by the Suharto regime as "the Civil War" and this propaganda was manipulated as an excuse for the invasion of East Timor, by western fellow-travellers who became known as the Jakarta Lobby. Twenty-four years of genocide was the consequence.

Thirty-eight years ago, when my husband was reported missing in Balibó along with four colleagues, I received messages from concerned Australian citizens who claimed that their relatives worked for a receiving station for electronic interception in Shoal Bay. They insisted that the journalists had been murdered on 16 October in Balibó and the Australian government knew all the facts.

Everyone seemed to know about our superior electronic intelligence activities except successive Australian governments, who obviously failed to supervise our spy agency, the Australian Signals Directorate’s activities.

A succession of lies followed the atrocity at Balibó. Some remain in circulation today. Greg Shackleton was blamed for his own murder at the hands of Team Susi, an Indonesian military assassination squad sent to shut him up.

No Australian government department over the past 38 years seems to have understood that human beings thirst for justice. It’s a given and you don’t have to be a victim to understand its legacy.

However, you do have to possess a shred of decency sadly lacking in some of our leaders. Bernard Collaery does possess that spark of justice and dignity, as do the Timorese. They know the more repressive the regime the more we crave justice.

Intimidation Won't Work On Collaery