Sunday 20th of April 2014

the lingering stench of a rattus .....

the lingering stench of a rattus ....

It is still not clear why Tony Abbott seems determined to trash Australia’s hard-won reputation as a good citizen of the world, but there can be no doubt that he no longer cares what our erstwhile friends and neighbours think of us – provided that he can achieve his short term domestic objectives.

First there was the casual dismissal of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s complaints about the bugging of his and his wife’s personal phones, which led to an unnecessarily severe rift between the countries. Then the there was the contemptuous handling of the climate change conference in Poland which offended just about all the serious players. There has been the ongoing disregard for the United Nations Convention of Refugees, which Australia claims to observe but clearly does not and couldn’t care less about.

And now we have the deliberate sabotage of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, where Timor Leste has a case attempting to correct a manifestly unjust treaty thrust upon it by Australia shortly after the country gained its independence. Not content with nobbling a key witness, we have done our best to nobble Timor’s lawyer as well.

Attorney-General George Brandis justifies as a matter of national security the confiscation of the passport of the former ASIS agent who was preparing to give evidence that Australia had bugged the Timorese cabinet room during negotiations; this is barely credible but given the nature of the man’s defection, Brandis can perhaps receive the benefit of the doubt. But when he extends the national security blanket to cover the raids on the Canberra offices of the prominent human rights lawyer Bernard Collaery, there can be only one response: bullshit, George.

This is simply a continuation of the bully-boy approach the then foreign minister Alexander Downer brought to the original talks, where he made a take it or leave it offer to the poverty-stricken Timor with the threat that if it was rejected, he would delay indefinitely any development of the Timor oil and gas fields which constituted the new nation’s only real source of income.

Downer now boasts that he gave Timor 90 percent of the income from the development, but this, like most of Downer’s boasts, is also bullshit. In fact, he offered 90 percent of the income from one small part of the huge resource while reserving the real plum – the lucrative Sunrise field – for the multinational Woodside, for whom, by a remarkable coincidence, Downer now works as a highly paid consultant.

A nasty and grubby business all round, but far nastier is Brandis’ use of what can only be described as police-state tactics to hinder the proceedings of the international court hearing the case. Abbott is employing the same strategy on foreign policy as he brought to the boxing ring: forget subtlety, all out attack. It won him an Oxford blue, but it is likely to reduce his country to pariah status on the rather larger and more sophisticated world stage.

Pariah On The World Stage


the real meaning of foreign aid .....

East Timor's government believes it has identified the members of a team of four Australian spies who allegedly bugged its government offices, describing it as "very disturbing" that they apparently used the cover of an aid program.

The revelations came as intelligence and development experts expressed their deep misgivings that aid was apparently used as the pretext for installing and then removing the eavesdropping equipment, saying it jeopardised important aid projects and potentially put Australian aid workers at risk around the world.

"We think we have identified the team of people who came in to do the bugging. We have their names," said Alfredo Pires, East Timor's Natural Resources Minister. "They are males, along with a possible lady spy."

East Timor would keep the names secure, he said. But he noted that at least one of them was still working overseas under the same name and may be at risk "if the names get out over the internet".

"Australian authorities may have to check on them," Mr Pires said.

He said the names were uncovered by going through flight and other records. The investigation had also uncovered that the listening devices were smuggled in by "diplomatic couriers".

The alleged bugging was done in 2004 under the auspices of an aid program to renovate East Timor's dilapidated government buildings.

The listening devices were allegedly installed in the prime minister's office and rooms used for cabinet discussions.

At the time, Australia and East Timor were negotiating the terms of a treaty governing the massive oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea. The claims of spying come from a former Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) agent who turned whistleblower.

East Timor wants the treaty, the Treaty on Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS), declared invalid and the retired ASIS agent has sworn an affidavit detailing the alleged spying operation, which he led. Premises of the ex-agent and the lawyer representing the East Timorese government in arbitration over CMATS, Bernard Collaery, were raided by ASIO last week.

Mr Pires said East Timor wanted the seized documents returned, at least those that do not relate directly to security matters.

He said the alleged espionage by spies undercover as aid workers had ruptured trust.

"The allegation that aid was used as a cover for espionage is very disturbing," Mr Pires said.

"I know many aid workers from Australia. They are good people and this doesn't help them."

It was a sentiment endorsed by Stephen Howes, director of the Development Policy Centre at the Australian National University.

"It's obviously not good for aid agencies, for the relationship of trust required for an aid program."

He pointed to the CIA using a fake polio vaccination drive as part of its attempt to track down terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.

After it was disclosed, at least nine Pakistani health workers involved in polio eradication were killed and the United Nations withdrew its program.

Clinton Fernandes, a former army intelligence officer now with the University of NSW, said an inquiry was necessary.

"The use of the aid program to facilitate espionage, if true, is so serious that the person who is responsible for it ought to resign," he said.

The former ASIS officer has alleged former foreign affairs minister Alexander Downer ordered the operation, Mr Collaery said.

Mr Downer has declined to comment on intelligence matters, citing long-standing practice.

East Timor Claims It Knows Which Australian Spies Bugged Its Offices