Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Divide and rule....

The SMH reports Peter Costello accuses Australia's Muslims of tolerating a message of hate by Sheik Taj el-Din al Hilaly for a decade too long as the leading cleric stood down yesterday from preaching duties at Lakemba Mosque.

Whilst I have no sympathy for the Islamist propaganda running through the Sheik's rantings, he is far from being Robinson Crusoe in Australian public life in terms of propagandizing extremist sectarian social and political views. There is a history of religious leaders inciting fear and prejudice and advocating views at odds with the mainstream culture. Just a casual stroll through Australian public discourses during the last century will reveal some real doozeys.

Let's put aside religious leaders as the general population does'nt elect them. Throughout our history many have had a 'clubby' tendency to advocate a narrow sectarian point of view to their followers. If someone has broken a law they can be charged with an offence. However, freedom of speech remains a central pillar of our democracy.

On that subject and more to the point, we currently have a PM who has made fear and prejudice one of the underpinning themes of his public posturing. His dog whistle politics won him an election in 2003 and he and his lieutenants continue to ramp up racial and sectarian intolerance to shore up their electoral standing. The current uproar over the Sheik is a heaven sent opportunity to dog whistle with impunity and boy are they lining up with relish.

Howard constantly refers to the 'Islamic community' as having to put its house in order and to integrate more successfully. As if the Muslim community was an homogenous cultural and political entity that can speak and act with one voice. That would be like asking Australia's Catholics to act as one entity. We are on a slippery slope indeed if this continues.

The new line is to blame the Sheik and his ilk for criminal behaviour and the Cronulla riots. Take this offering from Costello: "These kinds of attitudes have actually influenced people," Mr Costello said in an interview with the Herald. "So you wonder whether a kid like Bilal Skaf had grown up hearing these kind of attitudes and you wonder whether kids rioting down at Cronulla have heard these sort of attitudes." Nothing to do with the hate mongering of shock jocks or yobbos who respond willingly to the dog whistle - it was the sheik's fault! Individuals must take responsibility for their own actions. If the Sheik influences credulous minds, the same could be said for the polemical tirade coming from Howard, Costello et al on the failings of the 'Islamic community'.

I remember other countries at other times, when particular communities got blamed for everything. We should not forget what can happen when religious,racial and ethnicity stereotyping becomes central to the mainstream political discourse. It can be manipulated by unscrupulous politicians to consolidate their power base by presenting themselves as the purveyors and custodians of 'security', 'integration' and 'civil harmony'. The threat is made to seem real and the consequent actions justifiable!

And one last cautionary note - beware of the 'chaplain' in your Christmas stocking!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Insiders interview with Chistopher Hill, US Assistant Secretary of State

The Insiders interview reveals journalists are not prepared to analyse and challenge the accepted orthodoxy on the US alliance. Barry Cassidy's interview came across as a paid up commercial for US & Australian government interests. The North Korean situation has been mishandled by the Bush administration. Iraq is a disastrous travesty and Australia's prosecution of good governance strategies in the South Pacific takes place within a neo-colonial construct that disempowers local leaders and does'nt address sustainably the underlying structural causes of institutional weakness and poor services. Australia has not modeled good governance (AWB, Pacific Solution etc ) but hectored and lectured on the subject. We have reinforced our stance with threats of aid withdrawal and other bullying.

The Howard Government has undermined our long term strategic interests by slavish acceptance of US unilateralism, preemption and other tragically flawed foreign policy postures. These approaches will be discredited and Australia will be seen as complicit in not contesting their basis and for our simple minded pliability. The Bush administration has badly misjudged global realities, exacerbating security tensions and the various divides between rich and poor nations on vital issues such as global warming, trade, refugees etc.

Anyway, I'm sure Mr Hill went away comfortable in the knowledge that not even enquiring journalists challenge the propaganda nonsense of 'cut and run' and 'stay the course' - heaven forbid we should actually contest the dangerous mindset that got us into this morass in the first place and which prevents the prosecution of strategies to minimise the damage and to retrieve our international position.

The Minister for amnesty...

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Hundreds of women reclaim the day...

Hundreds of women took part in a Reclaim the Streets rally in Sydney last night, in protest against comments made by Sheik Taj el-Din Al Hilaly.

Click here to hear the ABC radio report.

The Sheik's dangerous remarks will likely spawn another round of Muslim bashing, when the real issue is the world-wide mistreatment of women. Australia has an horrendous problem with domestic violence, commercial media routinely devalues and belittles women, rape is prevalent and the criminal justice and community welfare systems do not provide adequate support for victims.

As many rush to put the boot into this reactionary cleric, I hope we take the opportunity to sit back and take a sober look at the broader picture and whether our house is in order.

Iraq daze...

Nicholson in The Australian

Pacific Solution update : Refugee claims by Burmese men on hold

Asia Pacific reports, "Five weeks after arriving on Nauru, seven Burmese asylum seekers are yet to be told by Australian authorities how their refugee claims will be assessed. In an unusual move, the group's lawyer has decided his clients should apply for protection in the same way asylum seekers and refugees, worldwide, apply for resettlement in Australia.

Earlier this month, refugee lawyer David Manne went to Nauru to meet the Burmese nationals sent there as part of Australia's so-called "Pacific Solution". Nauru, which is now keen for Australia to settle refugee claims within months, not years as occurred with the Tampa boatpeople, facilitated Mr Manne's visit so he could provide first-hand legal advice to the seven Burmese asylum seekers. The eighth remains in hospital in Perth.

Mr Manne says the men fled Burma several years ago after suffering what he says was "horrific abuse". Ending up in Malaysia, being deported to neighbouring Thailand, they kept returning to Malaysia before fleeing to Australia.

Click here to hear the full interview with David Manne.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Friday update - New Element on Periodic Table

The scientific community is abuzz with news that "A major research institution has just announced the discovery of the densest element yet known to science. The new element has been named “Bushcronium.” Bushcronium has one neutron, 12 assistant neutrons, 75 deputy neutrons, and 224 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 311. These particles are held together by dark forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons. The symbol for Bushcronium is “W”. Bushcronium’s mass actually increases over time, as morons randomly interact with various elements in the atmosphere and become assistant deputy neutrons in a Bushcronium molecule, forming isodopes. This characteristic of moron-promotion leads some scientists to believe that Bushcronium is formed whenever morons reach a certain quantity in concentration. This hypothetical quantity is referred to as “Critical Morass”. When catalyzed with money, Bushcronium activates Foxnewsium, an element that radiates orders of magnitude more energy, albeit as incoherent noise, since it has 1/2 as many peons but twice as many morons."

Ha, the wonders of science...

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Maoists in our midst? You'd better believe it!

An opinion piece in The Age by Dr Trevor Hay, faculty of education, University of Melbourne, caught my eye. I've become alert & alarmed at the growing tendency of Howard's new orthodoxy toward Chairman Mao-like 'command and control'. Following is an excerpt:

"Federal Minister for Education Julie Bishop has apparently stepped back from her comment about Maoists in our midst, but, as a person who has studied and written on Chinese education for 30 years, I feel she should stick to her guns. There are indeed some defensible parallels between our present ideological environment and that of the Mao era.

In the first place, all public discourse was conducted by means of slogans and campaigns, not debate and reason. Mao often made some striking, media-friendly phrase or gesture and then entrusted his loyal supporters to conduct a denunciation and persecution of those who disagreed, rather than entering into argument himself. He often let his supporters know what they were supposed to think and do by means of informal, folksy declarations that could mean almost anything, leading to chaotic battles between factions, the weakening of his opposition and the reinforcement of his own unassailable authority over the surviving clique.

As far as education is concerned, perhaps the most pervasive and dynamic idea of the Cultural Revolution was his statement of May 7, 1966, in which he declared that the "domination of schools by bourgeois intellectuals should by no means be allowed to continue". That is, the old elites, who thought they had a superior education to that of his supporters, should be overthrown by the "masses" of right-thinking people, who could demonstrate that they were right-thinking, not by fancy clever-dick argument and reason and evidence, but by their hatred and intolerance of the elite.

Then there was the concentration of the media and entertainment in the hands of Mao's wife and the chief of the army, leading to the exclusive presentation of a handful of entertainments that clearly showed who were the goodies, who the baddies, and how decent folks should simply love their leaders and trust the People's Army and its commander-in-chief.

And of course the constitution was discarded, there were arbitrary arrests, torture enjoyed a resurgence, dissenters were branded with labels that were impossible to shake off in the face of strident public condemnation by a handful of demagogues, and certain books were destroyed because it was too dangerous even to have them in a university library.

The great leader Mao himself had an uncanny instinct for photo opportunities, and once demonstrated his ageless energy and vigour by taking a dip in the Yangtze and having pictures of his exploit splashed all over the state-owned media."

Tonight's TV news will figure Howard putting his 'deeply troubled' face on while he listens to the hardships faced by farmers, and the photo opportunities are excellent!

Iraq daze...

Tandberg in The Age

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Send The Prime Minister A Prayer Flag

The Australia Tibet Council is arranging to send PM Howard a Tibetan prayer flag to urge him to publicly support the Dalai Lama’s Middle Way approach and to offer Australia as a neutral venue for talks between China and the Dalai Lama.

For centuries, Tibetans have strung colourful prayer flags (or Lung ta meaning “Wind Horse”) outside their homes, at mountain passes, across rivers and in other places considered sacred to their culture.

The yellow, green, red, white and blue prayer flags are inscribed with blessings, prayers and mantras which are broadcast on the wind. Tibetans believe that the fluttering prayer flags bring happiness, long life and prosperity to the one who hangs them, the surrounding countryside and to all beings wherever the wind blows.

It is hoped that the sight of the prayer flags submitted through this campaign will encourage the Prime Minister to publicly offer his practical support to the Dalai Lama’s Middle Way approach.

Click here to reach the ATC website. They will deliver your message to the Prime Minister on a prayer flag.

Monday, October 23, 2006

good governance - don't do as I do, do as I say ... and...do the hokey pokey with me!

Petty in The Age

RAZIQUEH HUSSAIN - 'Why hijab is an act of faith and liberation for me'

Raziqueh Hussain is a sub-editor with Khaleej Times. In this piece she writes about her active choice to wear a hijab and the liberating nature of her decision.

Following is an excerpt:

"“THAT'S so unfair! Have your parents forced you to dress this way?"

I have lost count of the number of times this query has been flung at me from the age of nine. And all because I made a conscious choice to dress in an Islamic way. Most people I meet for the first time somehow seem to think that I am coerced to cover up. Probably the first thought that crosses their mind is that I'm an oppressed female living in barbaric Muslim patriarchal environment.

But they are sadly mistaken. I dress the way I do because I am free to decide how I look. I believe in modesty and chastity which are the hallmark of a Muslim woman. For me, hijab is an act of faith that allows me to lead my life with honour, respect and dignity. I see it as a liberation for women; the veil is a symbol of my freedom to live with dignity and respect.

Contrary to popular belief, the covering of the Muslim woman is not an act of oppression but a liberation from the shackles of male scrutiny and the wordly standards of attractiveness. The objective of wearing hijab is to save myself from lustful and perversely judgmental gazes. I know that no one is looking at me and making assumptions about my character from the length of my skirt. There is a barrier between me and those who would surely exploit me if they got the chance. I am first and foremost a human being, equal to any man, and not vulnerable because of my gender. And the hijab is my shield...

Every woman has a right to choose what she wants to be. Probably this has given the so-called liberals a massive complex: they know that a woman in a hijab will not dance to their tune.

I am not denying that there are myriad problems in the Muslim world. Women are not as empowered as they should be.

They are fighting for their rights in many Muslim societies. But women, let's admit it, face similar problems across the world. It is a myth that skimpily clad women are modern and liberated.

What sort of liberation is it where women are reduced to commodities? Their bodies are used to sell products from colas to cars. I am perfectly happy with the way I look. My beauty lies behind my hijab. This is liberation. Oh, only if the world understood it as well as I do."

Food for thought....Raziqueh can be reached at raziqueh@gmail.com.

Another thinkpiece on this subject can be found at the On Line Opinion website, written by Rayann Bekdache.

History lessons V

Wilcox in the SMH

the great leader...

Wilcox in the SMH

News Alert & Alarmed: PM tells Pacific to lift game, declares Iraq a win-win and assists AWB avoid relegation!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Deportees' fate shows there's no solution in the Pacific

Writing in New Matilda, Anna Samson, Ben Spies-Butcher and Phil Glendenning explain why the 'Pacific Solution' is an horrific abuse of human rights for which those responsible should be held accountable. Following is an excerpt from their bleak tale that reveals an approach that goes beyond mere negligence and abuse of the principle of 'duty of care':

" Because of the changes to refugee law and the demonstrable failures of the system, the Edmund Rice Centre decided to coordinate its own investigation of those deported from our shores. In 2003 the Centre released its initial report, Deported to Danger. It revealed that the Government had issued inappropriate documentation to returned asylum-seekers, effectively leaving them stateless within a few months. Time and again the Edmund Rice Centre found asylum-seekers living in dangerous situations, outside the law, and unable to gain the protection of any government.

Since publishing this report, little has changed. The Edmund Rice Centre has just released the second part of its research, Deported to Danger II, which examines the cases of 41 asylum-seekers deported from Nauru to Afghanistan. Thirty nine remain in danger, with two having found a safe haven in New Zealand.

The findings of this report are deeply disturbing for three reasons. Firstly, these asylum-seekers were not returned voluntarily under any sensible definition. They were told they had no choice. If they stayed in Nauru they would never be let out of detention. They would never see their families again and they were likely to be transferred to remote locations on the mainland where they would be left behind razor wire. Some were told that if they did not agree to leave, they would be forcibly removed. These stories were consistent across a range of people who were in Nauru at different times, who are now living in different countries, and who speak different languages.

Secondly, those asylum-seekers being deported were promised help they never received. They were told that Afghanistan was safe. They were told they would receive assistance with housing and employment. Yet, when they returned, they were left to fend for themselves within a few days.

And finally, these people were deported to extremely dangerous situations. Thirty nine of the 41 people interviewed were clearly living in peril, moving between towns often without appropriate documentation. Some have since been killed. In two cases asylum-seekers lost children in bomb attacks on their homes.

This was not just the result of the general level of violence in Afghanistan. These people were targeted by the resurgent Taliban. They were targeted for precisely the reasons that had led them to seek asylum in Australia in the first place. One had married for love across religious lines. The other was associated with the pre-Taliban government. But their claims were not believed by Australian officials and so they were sent home. Now their children are dead...

...Given the serious problems associated with refugee processing on Nauru, including the increased risk of refugees being returned to countries where they or their families will be persecuted, it is simply criminal to punish asylum-seekers because of the mode of their arrival in Australia by forcing them to go to Nauru. It is cruel to make these vulnerable people ’examples’ in the hope that it will deter other refugees from making similarly difficult journeys to escape persecution.

Deported to Danger II provides yet more evidence that the injustice of offshore processing of Australia’s refugees in Nauru must end immediately. The consequences of a policy that routinely fails refugees are far more serious than violations of international law. The ‘Pacific Strategy’ has clearly relegated numerous asylum-seekers to lives of persistent insecurity, danger and death; consequences that could have easily been prevented had their protection applications been processed in Australia. Any government professing a commitment to compassion, fairness and respect for human rights cannot, in all conscience, justify the continuation of such a policy."

This policy must ultimately be the subject of a Royal Commission. Those most responsible should be held to account so that future governments will not step so willingly down the path of persecution to win votes. The populist demogoguery that lies behind the Pacific Solution should strike a chord with those familiar with similar appeals to fear and xenophobia at other times in recent history. These 'episodes' have all too often been dressed up in the garb of protecting 'national security', 'cultural identity','social integrity' and the like and invariably bear witness to the 'banality of evil'.

Friday, October 20, 2006


Marg Hutton writes that "half a decade after the sinking of SIEVX, the Australian Government still refuses to release the names of the victims and continues to spread propaganda about the tragedy including halving the number of children who died in the sinking. Yesterday the Government-dominated Senate defeated a motion from the Greens demanding that the Government table the lists of SIEVX names that it holds.

It is crucial that the names of the victims are acknowledged. Even if the Government has only partial information it should be released - out of respect for the dead, and out of compassion for people around the world who fear that their missing relatives may have perished on SIEVX. Earlier this week I received another email from someone asking for help in finding out if a family member perished on SIEVX - a heartbreaking request, one that comes in far too often. If the Government's lists were in the public arena at least there would be some idea of whose relatives died that day.

But now, on the fifth anniversary of the sinking, the Government continues to resist calls to publish the information. Instead it promulgates inaccuracies from the CMI Report."

A reminder of how we treat people who come to us for help

Writing in The Age, Arnold Zable recounts stories from five years ago when 353 people died in the ocean trying to reach Australia.

"TODAY marks the fifth anniversary of the largest maritime disaster off Australian waters since World War II. At 3.10 on the afternoon of October 19, 2001, a 19.5-metre fishing boat carrying 398 refugees sank en route to Australia. A total of 353 Iraqi and Afghan asylum seekers drowned, including 146 children and 142 women desperate to join fathers and husbands living in Australia on temporary protection visas."

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Secondary students study Siev-X case - the history curriculum gets an update!

SECONDARY school students could be asked to decide whether Howard government policies were to blame for the sinking of the refugee boat Siev X, under a proposed new modern history case study.

The course unit, proposed by the Siev X Secondary School's Case Study Committee, would ask Year 11 Modern History students to examine the role of the Howard government policies in the 2001 sinking, which claimed the lives of about 350 asylum seekers.

Students would consider a number of disputed claims, including whether or not the Australian navy sabotaged the boat before it left Indonesia, The Australian newspaper reports.

Federal education minister Julie Bishop slammed the case study, to be launched in federal Parliament today, as an “outrageous attempt to disguise a political agenda as school curriculum”.

Siev X Committee spokesman Don Maclurcan said the material had been developed in consultation with the NSW Board of Studies, and aimed to sharpen history students' analytical skills.

The Board reportedly denied this claim.

Sharpened analytical skills for history students has got to be good for democracy, has'nt it Mr Howard?

Rule of law.......R.I.P.

The Generals don't like it, the diplomats don't like it, the press don't like it but Howard and Downer keep plugging the Iraq war as a winner...

Colin Powell (former US Secretary of State) and Britain's top general have both slammed the idiocy of the Iraq war strategy. Even Dubbya is starting to doubt his own 'brilliance'. Now one of Australia's distinguished former foreign envoys and erstwhile Head of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Richard Woolcott, has described Iraq as a 'catastrophic blunder'. Speaking at the University of Newcastle's annual Human Rights and Social Justice lecture, he told the audience:

"The Iraq war has been a disaster and has substantially increased the terrorist threat Mr Howard said it would reduce,".

"The aim of foreign and defence policy is to make Australia secure - ironically some of our policies have placed Australians at greater risk."

Mr Woolcott called on the government to come up with an exit strategy.

The only politicians who just don't get it, or think that if they go on dissembling long enough someone will beam them up, is the Howard/Downer 'son et lumiere' tragedy, played out yet again in Parliament this week.

Downer was verging on the apoplectic, trying to paint Iraq as a raging success. He is quickly becoming a charactiture of himself - bullying Melanesian leaders, frightening the North Koreans into abject submission - a legend in the annals of AWB!

History lessons IV

Tandberg in The Age

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The world after Bush (and, hopefully, his parrott)

Writing in Prospect, Michael Lind (senior fellow at the New America Foundation and author of "The American Way of Strategy: US Foreign Policy and the American Way of Life," published by Oxford University Press), paints a grim picture of the post Bush world. Much of what he has to say about global settings and the foreign policy response of the Bush administration are applicable to the Howard years, notwithstanding the much narrower sphere of impact.

Following is an excerpt:

"...Much of America's weakness will be the result of self-inflicted wounds: the unnecessary invasion of Iraq, along with the Bush administration's gratuitous insults to allies, its arrogant unilateralism and its hostility to international law. But as tempting as it may be to put all of the blame on the Bush administration, the truth is that most of the trends that will limit American power and influence in the next decade are long-term phenomena produced by economic, demographic and ideological developments beyond the power of the US or any government to influence. The rise of China, the shift in the centre of the world economy to Asia, the growth of neo- mercantilist petro-politics, the spread of Islamism in both militant and moderate forms—these trends are reshaping the world order in ways that neither the US nor any of its allies can do much to control....

Whatever happens, it is clear that the long 1990s are finally over, their utopian hopes beyond realisation. The neoconservative vision of one big global market policed by the hegemonic US in a unipolar world now looks quaint. So does the related neoliberal vision of an alliance of north Atlantic democracies repudiating post-1945 notions of state sovereignty in order to dispatch soldiers and democratic missionaries to end ethnic conflicts, enforce human rights and bring democracy and liberty to the middle east and Africa. The multipolar and mercantilist world coalescing around us looks very different from the unipolar free-market order described by Clinton, Blair and Bush, even though it would have seemed familiar to Richard Nixon and Charles de Gaulle.

The neoconservative fantasy of unilateral global hegemony has been discredited, and the neoliberal dream of a UN-led international order is an illusion as well. A concert of great powers, organised and led by the US, offers the best hope for reconciling international peace with liberal order, in a world in which the perfect remains the enemy of the good."

UN goodwill ambassador, Jolie, attacks Australian refugee policies

Even Hollywood stars are becoming aware of Australia's draconian asylum seeker policies. Of course, Angelina Jolie is more informed than most due to her UN role, but it is an indicator of just how 'on the nose' these policies have become.

Your Movies reports she "has slammed Australia's refugee policies, saying that we are turning a blind eye to those in need.

The actress and United Nations goodwill ambassador wrote an article in the latest issue of UN magazine "Refugees" condemning Western nations for their treatment of asylum seekers.

"Many people have died trying to get to the US and Australia but we don't notice," she said.

"How dare they try to eat at our table? How dare they come to build our roads, clean our hospitals and office blocks, wash dishes in our restaurants and make beds in our hotels?... It's a scandal in such a rich world we are not even finding a way to help feed refugee families properly."

SIEV X - in memoriam

Last Sunday a memorial service was held on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra, featuring timber poles held up by mourners to signify each of the victims.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Bush's parrott...

Petty in The Age

News Alert & Alarmed: PNG & Solomon's told aid dependent on good govt - PM re-commits Australia to wrong war, undermines ABC & media diversity!

Labor's big shift on refugees

The Age reports "the Labor Party is set to abandon its policy of giving refugees who attempt to come to Australia by boat only temporary protection, in a fundamental shift in its attitude towards asylum seekers since the Tampa episode of 2001.

Opposition spokesman on migration Tony Burke is expected to announce today the shift to permanent protection — which represents a sharp contrast with government policy — after it is endorsed by the shadow cabinet.

The decision will mean Labor will go to next year's election opposing the two key aspects of the Government's policy — offshore processing in foreign countries, Nauru and Papua New Guinea, and temporary protection visas (TPVs).

More than 900 mainly Afghan and Iraqi refugees remain on the temporary visas after being found to have genuine fears of persecution if returned to their countries."

This blog has called for the scrapping of TPVs from its outset. They place unnecessary burdens on traumatised asylum seekers and represent a further violation of their human rights.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Permanent SIEV X Memorial thwarted by National Capital Authority

Hazam Al Rowaimi lost his mother, wife and children when the SIEV X sank.

The Age reports "organisers of a memorial to 353 asylum seekers who drowned during the 2001 federal election campaign say their efforts have been thwarted by a "mean-spirited" Canberra bureaucracy.

A coalition of church, community and school groups had planned the exhibition on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra to mark the fifth anniversary of the disaster.

Organiser Steve Biddulph said a month ago the group had received a letter from the National Capital Authority — the federal government agency responsible for the proposed site — telling them 10 years must pass after an event before a permanent national memorial could be established.

"We were quite devastated because it was too late to do much about it," Mr Biddulph told theage.com.au.

Mr Biddulph says while the group hopes to eventually establish a permanent memorial, it had only applied to stage a temporary exhibition."

What a convenient bureaucratic obstacle! Nothing will stand ultimately in the way of a permament reminder of a dark event the federal government hopes will fade from the collective conscience. Moreover, one day the facts will be exposed to the full glare of public examination...

Friday, October 13, 2006

SIEV X - a helpless human cargo

Tony Kevin has revisited the horror and tragedy of the SIEV X 'incident' in On LIne Opinion. Tony is one of the most informed commentators on refugee issues and has made a particular study of SIEV X. An excerpt follows:

"One February day in Canberra in 2002, I was having coffee in Manuka with my friend Professor Tony Milner of ANU, outlining my forebodings over the Australian Government’s implausible official statements regarding the sinking of the boat I was soon to name SIEV X (“Suspected Illegal Entry Vessel, Unknown”) (Canberra Times, March 25, 2002).

This small overloaded boat sank in a storm on its way from Java to Australia’s Christmas Island on October 19, 2001 - almost five years ago - drowning 353 asylum-seekers. Most were women and children, drowned trying to reunite with husbands and fathers already arrived in Australia over the previous two years.

I ran through the ways in which the government story was not making sense. Tony replied “Whatever the truth may turn out to be, you won’t let go of this: you’ll be like a dog with a bone because once you get your teeth into an issue that is what you do”...

Powerful people, from John Howard down, want SIEV X forgotten. They have failed. When it became clear the Senate investigation was going nowhere, I wrote my prizewinning investigative book, A Certain Maritime Incident - the Sinking of SIEV X, because I wanted SIEV X to be remembered. It sold well. It is still available on order from the publishers - there was a recent small second printing to meet continuing demand.

Australia’s political establishment and senior commentariat, on both Left and Right, with honourable exceptions like John Faulkner, Carmen Lawrence, Andrew Bartlett and the Greens, mostly turned away from SIEV X after 2002. The issue does not sit easily in the present Coalition-Labour mainstream political discourse which agrees that “robust” (read “ruthless”) border protection is necessary. There are too many powerful interests - the Howard national security departments and agencies, and the ADF and AFP lobbies - that work to discourage any public mention of SIEV X as an unresolved issue of government accountability.

Fortunately the people of Australia are not afraid to honour SIEV X as a major human tragedy in Australia’s history of migration. People who have come into actual contact with any of the thousands of former Middle Eastern boat people now living quietly in Australia know their grief over wives, children and friends lost on SIEV X; people like the good folk of Rural Australians for Refugees and the many church and secular-based volunteer organisations engaged in the day-to-day work of helping refugees....

I now believe SIEV X sank at the height of a covert undeclared war between powerful Indonesian national security elements that had encouraged and protected so-called people smugglers in Indonesia, with the aim to send large numbers of Middle East origin asylum-seekers down to Australia as punishment for Australia’s alleged betrayal of Indonesia in the 1999 East Timor secession: and Australian national security agencies determined to stop this plan while not publicly announcing their knowledge of it.

Many of the strange episodes noted in my book are more readily understandable under such a hypothesis. It would help explain the acute national security sensitivity of the story, the extreme ADF hostility towards the Middle Eastern asylum-seekers who came through Indonesia, all the contrived official cover-ups of fact since the sinking. It would help explain why the numbers of unauthorised boat people arrivals exploded, from 921 in 1998-99 to 4175 in 1999-2000 (DIMA Fact Sheet 73 “People Smuggling”, revised Oct 2002 (pdf 24 KB)).

It would help explain the high-level Indonesian protection of Quassey, the obsessive Australian police pursuit and sentencing of some “people smugglers”, and much more.

Most dramatically, such a view is now retrospectively supported by remarkably explicit Indonesian Government warnings to Australia earlier this year, that people smuggling of Middle Eastern asylum-seekers from Indonesia to Australia which ended in 2002 with the help of the Indonesian authorities might resume if Australia were to go on accepting West Papuan boat people as refugees. I understand statements by President Yudhoyono and Foreign Minister Wirayuda to be clear warnings.

Is this latest twist in the SIEV X story provable? Not yet. Probably now it will take deathbed confessions, sworn notarised statements by men or women of conscience who are in the know. But it makes some sense in explaining the political context for an otherwise inexplicably cruel and ruthlessly covered-up event.

If the people on SIEV X were a helpless human cargo, innocent collateral damage in a secret war between two neighbouring countries’ intelligence and special operations agents, this still does not explain how their boat was allowed to sail for over 30 hours out into the perilous open sea where it predictably sank and hundreds died without help from any quarter. My original questions remain unanswered. One day they will be answered."

Yes, they will Tony, and thanks for helping us to remember SIEV X.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

History lessons III

Moir in the SMH

History lessons II

Moir in the SMH

History lessons I

Rod Clement in the SMH

Aussie values....

Leunig in The Age

Canberra asylum seeker memorial in jeopardy

Catholic News reports "Dozens of Catholic schools participating in the preparation of a Canberra memorial to the 353 people who drowned in the SIEV X asylum seeker boat tragedy in 2001 are still awaiting for word from authorities as to whether their planned three week exhibition can go ahead.

SIEV X, an acronym for "Suspected Illegal Entry Vessel X", is the name given to the overloaded Indonesian fishing boat carrying asylum seekers that sank en route to Australia's Christmas Island on 19 October 2001 at the height of the Government's harsh border protection operations.

353 people - mostly women and children - drowned in the worst maritime disaster in our region since World War II.

According to a media release by the SIEV X Memorial Committee, permission has so far only been given for a one day ceremony to mark the fifth anniversary of the tragedy planned for this Sunday 15 October.

Large wooden poles decorated by school students around the country will be raised to show the planned design of a permanent memorial.

The design features a procession of poles from the water's edge and stretching over 300 metres of hillside at Weston Park in Yarralumla. The poles are each named for one of the children and parents who died on the vessel, and each pole is an individual artwork sent by a different school, church or community group."

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

URGENT ACTION: Speak Up About the Shooting of Tibetans

Dear Friend of Tibet

A young Tibetan nun is reported to have been shot dead by Chinese border patrols and at least one other Tibetan was killed while on their way into exile in Nepal. A number of international climbers at Mount Cho Oyu base camp saw Chinese military personnel kneel down, take aim and open fire on a group of 70 Tibetans, some of whom were children as young as ten.

Please write to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, and Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, and urge them to investigate these shootings. Follow this link for more information.

Please take a few minutes to send two emails now.

Thank you for your support.

Monday, October 09, 2006

War on Terror threatens solutions to terrorism

Writing in On Line Opinion, George Williams and Edwina MacDonald take aim at the 'war on terror' for subverting academic freedom and robbing sociey of key arenas for accumulating knowledge, contesting ideas and developing sensible strategies: Following is an excerpt:

"Australia’s response to the ‘war on terror’ is threatening academic freedom. Researchers run the risk of committing an offence and being jailed, or being brought in for questioning by ASIO. While the risk of jail is low, the lack of clarity in the law combined with its severe impact is leading to self-censorship.

Academic freedom is essential to the work of Australian universities. Their role in educating students and advancing human knowledge depends upon academics and students working and learning in an environment in which they can freely exchange ideas, challenge conventional wisdom and debate controversial issues.

However, recent changes to the Australian Research Council and the allocation of research funding allow for greater political interference. The pressure on universities to become more like commercial enterprises, such as the need to support core activities no longer funded by compulsory student union fees, is also a continuing cause for concern...

...Academics play an important role in ensuring that Australians are protected from terrorism. ‘Safeguarding Australia’, including ‘Protecting Australia from terrorism and crime’, is a National Research Priority for ARC funding. However, if academics do not have access to relevant books, cannot conduct interviews and fear that they may have to hand over their research to intelligence agencies, they may become reluctant or even unable to undertake research in the field.

Surveillance, policing and controlling finances alone will not beat terrorism. If we are to win the ‘war on terror’, it is essential that we understand the motivations and rationales behind it. In order to understand the mindset of a suicide bomber or a home grown terrorist, it is vital that academics are able to interview potential terrorists and have access to the books they read."

Click here to read other articles on the 'war on terror' and access related links.

Howard's end - or "how I won the war and lost everything else"

Writing in The Age, Robert Manne illumines the Howard legacy: "Last week, at Quadrant's 50th anniversary dinner, John Howard effectively claimed victory in Australia's culture wars. The boast was premature but far from empty.

During the past 10 years Australia has undergone a profound conservative-populist transformation. The Howard Government has abandoned the quest for Aboriginal reconciliation. It has ended discussion of the meaning of multiculturalism. It has closed our borders, by the use of military force, to all those seeking refuge by boat. It has adopted a foreign policy of a more uncritically pro-American kind than was seen even in the era of Menzies. And, by its refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, it has turned its back on the international fight against global warming.

A new kind of political culture, even a new kind of Australia, has begun to emerge. How?"

Click here to read the full article.

Spare me, drug courier begs

"I apologise unreservedly for all the pain I have caused my family and so many others"

The SMH reports "An emotional letter from the convicted drug trafficker Scott Rush pleading for his life has prompted a move in Federal Parliament to help save him.

Labor's defence spokesman, Robert McClelland, has prepared a private member's notice of motion that calls on Indonesia's President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and the people of Indonesia to "note and understand Australia's strong opposition to the death penalty".

It calls on Dr Yudhoyono to extend clemency and commute the sentences if a legal challenge to the executions fails."

I would be surprised if Howard does'nt continue to play a low brand of politics with the Bali Nine, but even he may be able to rise above the populist fray to do the right thing , for a change!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Robert Manne and Gerard Henderson on the culture wars

Lateline featured Manne and Henderson in a debate last night on the culture wars. Henderson was dismissive of the claims that Howard's side of the intellectual divide (yawning it appears to me) is laying all before it in the culture wars.

If true, this is good news, but the climate of public intellectual debate seems to belie this position. When intellectual giants like Andrew Bolt and Piers Ackerman are trotted out on the public broadcaster as cogent commentators and public debates are held between 'thinkers' of this ilk and so-called 'left-wing' intellectuals (that seems to mean these days anyone who disagrees with the neocons), Huston, we have a problem!

The right wing polemicists are dismissive of concerns over trashing pillars of the law such as habeous corpus and presumption of innocence, cruel and unusual interrogation techniques, use of torture, unilateral military preemption, highly selective adherence to international law, bullying the neighbours, hectoring aid recipients on good governance whilst turning a blind eye to the worst corruption scandal this country has seen.

The civil libertarian fellow travelers clearly just don't understand the new global rules. Bush and allies can basically do what they want in the name of freedom and democracy and in protecting national security. The new conservatives have developed a multi-layered construct to rationalise this new order. When large holes appear in the edifice (often in the form of forensic analysis and evidence) 9/11 is trotted out as the touchstone for all things 'right' and 'on message'. The threat remains and we must be on our guard!!

And Gerard looks sadder and wearier by the day (its a weariness born of having to explain himself constantly to us dullards) as he trots out his moth-eaten version of reality and repels all boarders from his reactionary bastion. Eventually he will have to face up to the fact that the neo-cons are a big con, and that their social darwinian mindset and reliance on the politics of fear is bad news for humanity as a whole and will be totally discredited. Even one-time intellectual band-wagoners like Francis Fukuyama are leaping off this lurching behemoth as the stench of corruption, human rights violations and flagrant abuse of executive power becomes overwhelming.

In the end, no amount of intellectual apologism will cover up the complete disaster the 'new order' folks have been for world stability and humankind. Of course, Gerard will not get it even then, and will just go on looking weary wise........

Friday, October 06, 2006

Not all Libs in tune with Howard's dog whistle...

Bless him, Petro is at again, voicing opposition to the narrow-minded citizenship construct Howard has trumpeted over the last few weeks, enthusiastically supported by the Robb cipher et al.

Mr Georgiou says the proposed test of migrants' English skills, knowledge of Australian history and values could prevent many "model citizens" from taking up citizenship.

He has also warned that the liberal traditions of the Liberal Party were under assault, with the social justice that was once a cornerstone now "forgotten by many members of the Liberal Party, and … reviled by others".

Howard is fertilizing the ground for another 'fear' led election campaign where he decides who is an ideal citizen and the values they will have. Mr Howard's values are code for exclusion, religious and racial prejudice and xenophobia and are far removed from a sound basis for a society built on freedom, equity and respect for all. I sometimes wonder whether he actually believes any of his rhetoric or whether it is just carefully crafted to push voters' fear and prejudice buttons. I expect a bit of belief resides in him, especially the belief that people will be afraid, very afraid...the conviction politician, wringing his hands, and telling us about his version of what is right and proper.......run!!!!

When will we ever learn...when will we everrrr learn!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Lowy Institute Poll - troops in Iraq don't reduce threat of terrorism

Confirming the bleeding obvious, a Lowy Institute Poll has found that a majority of Australians do not believe the war in Iraq has reduced the threat of terrorism.

Click here to read the findings in full.

I think it also certain that the invasion of Iraq has further destabilised the Middle East in alarming ways, acting as a lightning rod for fundamentalist Jihadi Islamists who have seen Iraq as an opportunity to galvanize the Muslim 'street' against perceived US interests.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Islamophobia - a dogma of prejudice and political success

Writing in The Monthly, Robert Manne analyses the divide between Islam and the West and examines how right wing ideologues are associating the fascist ideas of 'jihadist Islamism' with mainstream Islam and thereby whipping up irrational fear of all Muslims to achieve political goals. Thus we see the phenomenon of drive-by shootings targeting mosques and other acts of terror against Muslim citizens.

Following is an excerpt of the Manne article, "Yes, Virginia, there is a Clash of Civilisations":

"In the history of Australia, maritime border control had been dominated by fears about the arrival of Asians. With the Tampa these fears were displaced onto Muslims...a new and uncontested kind of anti-Muslim language...has insinuated itself and become increasingly respectable among conservative politicians, journalists, public commentators and religious leaders. I would like to reveal that blindness by asking what would happen if the kind of things now routinely said about Mulsims were to be said about another complex and diverse, non-Anglo-Australian group bound by ties of religion, culture and ethnicity...It is no longer uncommon for Australian parliamentarians, such as Bronwyn Bishop and Sophie Panopoulos, to demand that Muslim women remove their headscarves in public. What would be the response it they were also to demand, as the French did, that Jewish boys remove their skullcaps if they want to attend government schools?

...It is not uncommon for conservatives such as John Howard or Peter Coleman, not conspicuous in other contexts as defenders of feminism or women's rights, to express outrage at the supposedly patriarchal nature of traditional Islam. What would be the response if these conservatives expressed a pseudo-feminist outrage at the separation of men and women in the Orthodox synagogue?

...On a similar theme, several Australian politicians have, either implicitly or explicity, warned Muslims to accept something they call "Australian values" and remind them that they must obey the law. What would be the reaction of government ministers thought Jews needed similar advice?

...Three hundred thousand Australians are now routinely being informed, in one way or another, that their manners are unpleasing, that their loyalty is questionable, and that they do not really belong. As this atmosphere grows, one of Australia's great national accomplishments is being placed at risk. With the rise of anti-Muslim and anti-Arab feeling in Australia, we have reasons to be alert and, yes, alarmed."

Indeed, and it is disturbing to find how easily these vicious sentiments, brimming with hate and prejudice, can be expressed blithely in daily discourse by otherwise educated, tolerant, progressive-minded people. This worries me more than the bile that spews out of the mouths of neo-Hansonites.

News alert and alarmed: Australia calls for greater democracy in Middle East - PM tells sovereign PNG no mining at Kokoda!

Last man standing

Mohammed Sagar outside his cabin in Nauru.

The Age reports on the Australian Government's verdict on an asylum seeker held on Nauru
: "On August 19 last year two Iraqi asylum seekers on Nauru were informed by letter that they had been "assessed by the relevant Australian authority to be a risk to Australia's national security".

Therefore, they were told, they were not owed protection under the United Nation's refugee convention.

Unlike criminals, these two were given no inkling of the basis of the case against them, and no opportunity to answer it. Was it something they had said, done, represented or thought before, or even after, they fled Saddam Hussein's dictatorship? Or was it something ASIO thought they had said, done, represented or thought?

The punchline to the letter might have won points for black humour if the consequences had been less serious. "When you choose to depart Nauru, the [International Organisation for Migration] will assist with your voluntary repatriation," it said.

It overlooked one critical detail: it had already been established that the men's fear of persecution if they returned to Iraq was genuine. So where was it suggested they might go? Paris? New York? London?"

Oh yes...the Howard show marches on!