Category Archives: Australia

Condescension and Climate Change: Australia and the Failure of the Pacific Islands Forum

It was predictably ugly: in tone, in regret, and, in some ways, disgust.  Australia emerged from the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting isolated, the true spoiler of the party which saw 17 states facing the obstinacy of one.  It had taken place on Tuvalu, some two hours flight north of Fiji.  The capital Funafuti is located on vanishing land; the island state is facing coastal erosion, the pressing issue of salinity, the very crisis of its existence.

Pacific Island leaders were already wise to the accounting cosmetics of Canberra’s accountants prior to the Forum.  It reeked, for instance, of a gesture for permissive pollution to the tune of $500 million: we give you money to boost “resilience” and sandbag your countries against rising water levels; we will keep polluting and emitting with expanded fossil fuel projects because that is what we are good at.

Alex Hawke, Australia’s Minister for International Development and the Pacific, called the cash promise the “most amount of money Australia has ever spent on climate in the Pacific”.  As Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga explained, “No matter how much money you put on the table, it doesn’t give you the excuse not to do the right thing.”  That right thing was a reduction in emissions, “including not opening your coal mines”.

The PIF leaders were also aware about what disruptive role Australia was going to play.  Australian politicians of the past and present have done little to endear themselves to a forum they have only recently felt more interest in because of China’s increasingly conspicuous presence.  In 2015, when Tony Abbott held the reins of power, his culturally challenged immigration minister Peter Dutton, in conversation with the prime minister, quipped rather darkly that “time doesn’t mean anything when you’re about to have water lapping at your door.”  The remark was a response to a meeting on Syrian refugees which had been running late, or on “Cape York time”, as he put it.

Ahead of the leaders’ forum, an annotated draft of the Pacific Islands Forum declaration revealed a sprinkling of qualifications, repudiations and rejections on the part of the Australian delegation.  The comments from August 7 sought to restrict any total decarbonisation, bans on the future use of coal power plants, opt out clauses for the 1.5C limit in temperature rise, phasing out fossil fuel subsidies and the very mention of the term climate change.

When it came to proceedings, Prime Minister Scott Morrison showed his true garish colours: Australia was a small contributor to emissions; it was a global problem, and so others had to do more.  In short, the weak excuse of any emission producing state.  Besides, he kept trumpeting, Australia was a leading investor in the sector of renewables.

Back in Australia, the Australian broadcaster and regular vulgarian Alan Jones was busy attacking the leaders of the gathering, most notably New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern, who had suggested that Australia “had to answer the Pacific” on the climate change issue.  A sock, he suggested, should have been strategically placed down her throat.  He subsequently suggested that this was a “wilful misrepresentation of what I said obviously distract from the point that she was wrong about climate change and wrong about Australia’s contribution to carbon dioxide levels.”

Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama was sickeningly unimpressed, having expressed open admiration for New Zealand’s efforts to combat climate change.  “Easy to tell someone to shove a sock down a throat when you’re sitting in the comfort of a studio.  The people of the Pacific, forced to abandon their homes due to climate change, don’t have that luxury.  Try saying it to a Tuvaluan child pleading for help.”

Michael McCormack, Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister, added the most revealing touch on Australia’s position at the PIF during a revealing business function in the rural town of Wagga Wagga on Friday.  (McCormack, it should be noted, is on record as disputing evidence of an increase in global temperatures.)  With an address heavy with bruising paternalism, he thought the PIF leaders were bellyaching, needlessly lamenting their fate.  He admitted “getting a bit annoyed when we have people in those sorts of countries pointing the finger at Australia and saying we should be shutting down all our resources sector so that, you know, they will continue to survive.”  He had little doubt they would continue to do so, due to the “large aid assistance from Australia” and “because their workers come here and pick our fruit, pick our fruit grown with hard Australian enterprise and endeavour and we welcome them and we always will.”  The only thing lacking in the statement was a Boris Johnson-styled garnish: a reference to cannibalism, or the toothy water melon smiles.

A neat summary of the entire encounter between the Pacific Island leaders and Australia was provided by Tuvalu’s Sopoaga.  “You [Scott Morrison] are concerned about saving your economy in Australia… I am concerned about saving my people in Tuvalu.”

The final communique proved lukewarm and non-committal, a feeble reiteration of existing understandings that climate change was a serious matter.  Bainimarama supplied an acid opinion on the final text.  “We came together in a nation that risks disappearing to the seas, but unfortunately, we settled for the status quo of our communique.  Watered-down climate language has real consequences – like water-logged homes, schools, communities, and ancestral burial grounds.”  Sopoaga was even more dramatic in assessing the response to the weakened language of the communique.  “There were serious arguments and even shouting, crying, leaders were shedding tears.”

Sadly, the main Australian opposition party would not have done much better.  Efforts on the part of Senator Penny Wong to claim a drastically different Labor approach must be put to rest. This is a party torn on the subject of King Coal, energy costs and renewables.

The hysterical aspect to PIF is that Australia’s denuding contribution will only serve to damage its own interests.  In the short-term, Chinese diplomats will be delighted by the self-sabotaging efforts of the Morrison government.  Beijing’s Special Envoy to the Pacific, Ambassador Wang Xuefeng, was on hand to tell the forum that “no matter how the international situation evolves, China will always be a good friend, partner and brother of Pacific Island Countries.” Expect a surge of interest towards the PRC in the forthcoming months.

A longer term consequence is also impossible to ignore.  Fine to joke about having refugee islanders pick the fruit of your country, but to do so requires places to grow fruit.  Rising sea levels may will cause the dreaded vanishing of the island states, but it will also submerge a good deal of Australia’s precariously placed coastal cities.  What a bitter, if not deserved, outcome that would be.

CPAC Down Under

It was a time for Australian conservatives to be boring, and bore each other.  CPAC, otherwise known as the Conservative Political Action Conference, had arrived in Sydney.  The real entertainment bill was to be supplied by such figures as Brexiter supremo Nigel Farage and former editor-in-chief of Breitbart News London, Raheem Kassam.  The rest was poor filling, the tired, cranky Fox and Sky News set.

CPAC 2019 was described in the usual, fun filled way on the organisation’s website.  “The American Conservative Union and LibertyWorks are proud to bring CPAC to Australia for the first time!” Participate, went the message; the “shy voters” might have kept the Australian Labor Party out of office, but, and here Ronald Reagan was quoted with gusto, “The future doesn’t belong to the light-hearted.  It belongs to the brave.”

For only the second time since coming into existence in 1974 with 400 registrants, CPAC was holding a gathering outside the United States.  Its existence owed much to the initial explorations of the conservative magazine Human Events, and the creation of the American Conservative Union. The ACU was itself a gathering spurred on by the defeat of Senator Barry Goldwater in 1964.  As Human Events described it, “The CPAC Conference was seen as a way of rebuilding the morale of conservatives and of refocusing the energies of the movement for future battles.”

Farage did not disappoint, filling the forum with the invective that keeps him afloat.  He, for instance, had little time for those he termed “fake” conservatives, the foremost of them being former Australian Prime Minister, the very much knifed Malcolm Turnbull.  He also demonstrated certain non-too conservative credentials of his own, aiming a few salvos at members of the Royal Family back home in conversation on a Sky News panel, and during a speech at a gala dinner on Saturday.

While describing the Queen as “an amazing, awe-inspiring woman”, her misguided, degenerate offspring and their issue were quite a different matter. “When it comes to her son, when it comes to Charlie Boy and climate change, oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.”  The Duke of Sussex, Prince Harry, had lost the plot in desiring a modest brood of two children, being worried about climate change.

Where had that old Harry gone, “this young, brave, boisterous, all male, getting into trouble, turning up at stag parties inappropriately dressed, drinking too much and causing all sorts of mayhem”?  Instead of putting this down to age and, unusually for some royals, the maturing process, Farage had the answer: Meghan Markle.  Once they met, his credibility fell off a cliff, ignoring, for instance “the real problem the Earth faces, and that is the fact the population of the globe is exploding but no one dares talk about it.”

This was a chance for Australian conservatives to feel loved and thought relevant by their Anglo-American cousins.  Noses were powdered, outfits tailored.  US-UK contingent could hardly have been that impressed. Senator Amanda Stoker’s speech on industrial relations was soporific; polemical scribe Janet Albrechtsen struck an odd note of insecurity by deeming contempt cold. “When someone treats another person with contempt, they’re putting that other person down and making themselves feel superior.” (Albrechtsen, take note.)

To the Anglo-American set went the guns, the demagogues, the reactionary ballast.  On the subject of guns, Kassam was happy to offer his own theory about the murderous bounty reaped by such devices in the United States: “the establishment media and the left”; and the pharmaceutical industry.  The children of America were being pumped “with these medications […] and these lies.  The want them to have a little anger, but not too much.”  Mental instability, anger, and the gun toting solution: all reasonable progressions in Kassam’s reckoning.

Otherwise, the current Human Events global editor-in-chief proved conventional, lobbing grenades at Islam, recalling his role in establishing an anti-radicalisation group seeking to prevent people “throwing homosexuals off buildings, FGM (female genital mutilation) and lightly beating your wife” and mocking gender politics.

The Australians, as they often do at events where Britannia and Uncle Sam hold hands, were eclipsed.  Former Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson lamented “empathy culture” and the left’s abuse of “people who dare to disagree with you”.  Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who has had his mild spell of demagoguery in Australian politics, took issue with Victoria’s assisted dying laws (“morally shocking”, no less), identity politics, and the loss of faith. “This is why it is so easy for people to put forward fundamentally inhuman ideas and have them taken much more seriously than they should be.”

The CPAC Conference tends to function like a reassuring echo chamber rather than an arena for debate.  Added publicity is only generated by those who fear its reach.  One such unwitting promoter of the event was Labor’s spokesperson for Home Affairs, Senator Kristina Keneally.  Having made it her personal, and failing mission, to prevent certain attendees from coming into the country, she was bound to make a mention at CPAC 2019. She did so by winning the CPAC Freedom Award, one earned for promoting the conference.

This is something she did repeatedly, suggesting that Kassam be banned for his “extensive history of vilifying people”.  Kassam, for his part, suggested that the senator, that model of Catholicism, had made him feel unsafe on the streets of Sydney.  “She should be ashamed of herself…  There is nothing Christian about silencing your opposition.”

What Keneally ended up doing was demonstrating, yet again, how free speech in Australia functions as a mutable construction, easily forgotten in the face of insult and the hold exerted by an odious opinion.  Just let them babble and fume.

CPAC Down Under

It was a time for Australian conservatives to be boring, and bore each other.  CPAC, otherwise known as the Conservative Political Action Conference, had arrived in Sydney.  The real entertainment bill was to be supplied by such figures as Brexiter supremo Nigel Farage and former editor-in-chief of Breitbart News London, Raheem Kassam.  The rest was poor filling, the tired, cranky Fox and Sky News set.

CPAC 2019 was described in the usual, fun filled way on the organisation’s website.  “The American Conservative Union and LibertyWorks are proud to bring CPAC to Australia for the first time!” Participate, went the message; the “shy voters” might have kept the Australian Labor Party out of office, but, and here Ronald Reagan was quoted with gusto, “The future doesn’t belong to the light-hearted.  It belongs to the brave.”

For only the second time since coming into existence in 1974 with 400 registrants, CPAC was holding a gathering outside the United States.  Its existence owed much to the initial explorations of the conservative magazine Human Events, and the creation of the American Conservative Union. The ACU was itself a gathering spurred on by the defeat of Senator Barry Goldwater in 1964.  As Human Events described it, “The CPAC Conference was seen as a way of rebuilding the morale of conservatives and of refocusing the energies of the movement for future battles.”

Farage did not disappoint, filling the forum with the invective that keeps him afloat.  He, for instance, had little time for those he termed “fake” conservatives, the foremost of them being former Australian Prime Minister, the very much knifed Malcolm Turnbull.  He also demonstrated certain non-too conservative credentials of his own, aiming a few salvos at members of the Royal Family back home in conversation on a Sky News panel, and during a speech at a gala dinner on Saturday.

While describing the Queen as “an amazing, awe-inspiring woman”, her misguided, degenerate offspring and their issue were quite a different matter. “When it comes to her son, when it comes to Charlie Boy and climate change, oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.”  The Duke of Sussex, Prince Harry, had lost the plot in desiring a modest brood of two children, being worried about climate change.

Where had that old Harry gone, “this young, brave, boisterous, all male, getting into trouble, turning up at stag parties inappropriately dressed, drinking too much and causing all sorts of mayhem”?  Instead of putting this down to age and, unusually for some royals, the maturing process, Farage had the answer: Meghan Markle.  Once they met, his credibility fell off a cliff, ignoring, for instance “the real problem the Earth faces, and that is the fact the population of the globe is exploding but no one dares talk about it.”

This was a chance for Australian conservatives to feel loved and thought relevant by their Anglo-American cousins.  Noses were powdered, outfits tailored.  US-UK contingent could hardly have been that impressed. Senator Amanda Stoker’s speech on industrial relations was soporific; polemical scribe Janet Albrechtsen struck an odd note of insecurity by deeming contempt cold. “When someone treats another person with contempt, they’re putting that other person down and making themselves feel superior.” (Albrechtsen, take note.)

To the Anglo-American set went the guns, the demagogues, the reactionary ballast.  On the subject of guns, Kassam was happy to offer his own theory about the murderous bounty reaped by such devices in the United States: “the establishment media and the left”; and the pharmaceutical industry.  The children of America were being pumped “with these medications […] and these lies.  The want them to have a little anger, but not too much.”  Mental instability, anger, and the gun toting solution: all reasonable progressions in Kassam’s reckoning.

Otherwise, the current Human Events global editor-in-chief proved conventional, lobbing grenades at Islam, recalling his role in establishing an anti-radicalisation group seeking to prevent people “throwing homosexuals off buildings, FGM (female genital mutilation) and lightly beating your wife” and mocking gender politics.

The Australians, as they often do at events where Britannia and Uncle Sam hold hands, were eclipsed.  Former Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson lamented “empathy culture” and the left’s abuse of “people who dare to disagree with you”.  Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who has had his mild spell of demagoguery in Australian politics, took issue with Victoria’s assisted dying laws (“morally shocking”, no less), identity politics, and the loss of faith. “This is why it is so easy for people to put forward fundamentally inhuman ideas and have them taken much more seriously than they should be.”

The CPAC Conference tends to function like a reassuring echo chamber rather than an arena for debate.  Added publicity is only generated by those who fear its reach.  One such unwitting promoter of the event was Labor’s spokesperson for Home Affairs, Senator Kristina Keneally.  Having made it her personal, and failing mission, to prevent certain attendees from coming into the country, she was bound to make a mention at CPAC 2019. She did so by winning the CPAC Freedom Award, one earned for promoting the conference.

This is something she did repeatedly, suggesting that Kassam be banned for his “extensive history of vilifying people”.  Kassam, for his part, suggested that the senator, that model of Catholicism, had made him feel unsafe on the streets of Sydney.  “She should be ashamed of herself…  There is nothing Christian about silencing your opposition.”

What Keneally ended up doing was demonstrating, yet again, how free speech in Australia functions as a mutable construction, easily forgotten in the face of insult and the hold exerted by an odious opinion.  Just let them babble and fume.

Militarising Australia: Talisman Sabre and the US Military Build Up  

Deemed the Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations strategy, the military method is a US Marine special, still spanking new, featuring “the amphibious landing of troops on islands for seizure and capture as part of a forward projection of sea and airpower aimed at the mainland.”

That particular description comes from Bevan Ramsden, an active member of the coordinating committee of IPAN, the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network.  IPAN has been decidedly concerned about what it sees, rightly, as an enthusiastic, boisterous build-up of US military forces primarily in the Northern Territory and ambling across the continent and along the shorelines.

The Australian Defence Department adds to Ramsden’s overview in a discussion of Talisman Sabre, a joint US-Australian military exercise conducted since 2007.  “TS19 will be the eighth iteration of the exercise and consists of a Field Training Exercise incorporating force preparation (logistic) activities, amphibious landings, land force manoeuvre, urban operations, air operations, maritime operations and Special Forces activities.”

On this occasion, Talisman Sabre had a new addition: Japan’s 1st Amphibious Rapid Deployment Regiment, which joined in beach landings alongside Australian, US and British forces on July 16.  Australian commander Major General Justin “Jake” Ellwood was notably impressed by the showing.  And a sight it proved to be: some 34,000 troops, 200 planes and 60 naval vessels.

What the Australian Defence Force cannot shy away from is that it remains, ultimately, an annex of the US military machine.  In a report from the Headquarters, Joint Operations Command (HQJOC) from April, an acknowledgement is made that TS19, “is focused on enhancing the readiness and interoperability of ADF Defence elements and exposing participants to a wide spectrum of military capabilities and training experiences.”  It is presumed, and never challenged, that such exercises are “in support of Australia’s national interests” begging the question whether a state should ever be so utterly interoperable with foreign military forces.

The US imperium was keen, using Australian facilities, to test the EABO in scenarios which envisage a concept of island seizure and, in the words of the official website of the US Marines, “distribute lethality by providing land-based options for increasing the number of sensors and shooters beyond the upper limit imposed by the quantity of seagoing platforms available.”  The integration of the Marines into the broader operations of the US Navy is an essential feature of this move.  This would, in turn, deny access to enemy vessels and aircraft, making the target of this clear: any power keen to challenge US power in the Pacific.  As James Lacey, who teaches at the Marine Corps War College suggests, “the Marines will help ensure that the US Navy retains its freedom of manoeuvre throughout the Pacific, while curtailing China’s ability to get much beyond its littorals.”  What a lovely future confrontation this promises to be.

The TS19 show was also a display of military plumage and provocation. US Marine Colonel Matthew Sieber made the aim of it clear: “to walk away having strengthened that relationship [between participants] and to demonstrate to our would-be partners or adversaries the strength of that alliance.”

The scale of TS19 has proven hefty, comprising whole swathes of the country.  An important feature of this is not to frighten the locals, who might be put off by the sheer scale of it all.  Do not, for instance, give the impression they are living under the cloud of occupation.  “Welcome,” comes the jolly opening to the Australian Defence Department’s information site, where “you will learn about TS19, the importance of the exercise to preparing our military, how we involve the community and protect the environment.”

The Defence Department leaves us this impression of movement and deployment across the country, and even then, struggles to make the monster innocuous: “Large convoys will be on the roads from June to August 2019 and includes Australian, US and New Zealand military vehicles travelling from across Australia and converging at Rockhampton and Shoalwater Bay Area.”

To reassure environmental activists and residents, TS19 emphasises a lack of “live fire activities”, something seen as a marked improvement.  In other words, no underwater detonations or demolitions, naval gunnery and aerial bombardment; in place of that, dummy ammunition would be used, with added pyrotechnics to give effect.  But as Friends of the Earth Australia noted in May, this would not be the case at Shoalwater Bay, nor various lead-up or follow on activities.  These “are not assessed as part of Talisman Sabre because they fall outside of the official exercise dates.”  Hair splitting operatives will eventually get to you.

Even since Talisman Sabre became a regular feature of joint Australian-US operations, a nervousness among activist circles has grown.  What, for instance, are the neighbours to think about such displays of force?  The Chinese People’s Liberation Army, for instance, was very keen to monitor TS19 activities with a general intelligence vessel, known as the Type 815.  This was a repeat performance from 2017, when a Type 815 AGI also kept an eye on the Talisman Sabre exercises.

More broadly speaking, protests against the US military juggernaut Down Under remain skimpy, with efforts of resistance confined to conferences intended to raise awareness.  The latest word from Washington is a promise to build more than a quarter of a billion dollars-worth of naval facilities in Darwin and its environs, a move that delights more than alarms.  In 2015, for instance, a solitary stand was made by Justin Tutty off Lee Point, Darwin, a modest effort that led to his arrest.  Two other protestors made their way to the Shoalwater Bay live-firing range in a disruptive effort.  This year, IPAN intends holding a national public conference in Darwin from August 2 to 4 with the theme “Australia at the Crossroads: Time for an independent foreign policy.”  It promises few converts, given the continuing presence of the faithful at such gatherings.

More common, and creepily voyeuristic, is the spectator element of such exercises, the weak-at-the-knee individuals aroused by displays of power.  Ready your deckchairs and chilled chardonnay and observe the proceedings unfold.  That, at least, is how the owners of beach land at Stanage Bay, Ivonne and Fred Burns, saw it.  In the words of Ivonne Burns, “It’s incredible just to watch it all… to see it all happening before your eyes, in your own backyard.” Or not, if Washington’s adventurism gets out of hand, leaving Australia with more than just a bloody nose.

Top End Travels: The Tiwi Islands, the Catholic Church and King Joe of Melville Island

Lush mangroves, the spray of emerald water from the Timor Sea, the sense of the untainted: the journey to the Tiwi Islands, some 80 kilometres north of Darwin, was crudely advertised as one of the Things to Do in the Northern Territory. “Take the opportunity to have a truly fantastic day out.  Visit Bathurst Island for this special day and a chance to view and buy Tiwi Island artwork and watch the grand footy final.”

The ferry service seemed a sloppy operation. Locals heading back to the Tiwi Islands knew something visitors did not: do not bother pre-purchasing tickets.  Do them on the day itself, and avoid the queue.  On getting to Bathurst Island, the elegant wooden structure that is St. Therese’s Church is swarming with worshippers and guests: a wedding is about to take place.

Background reading on the Tiwi Islands lends one to squirming discomfort.  They are glossily advertised as singular in their indigenous quality.  But this count soon unravels.  The populace on both islands, Bathurst and Melville, became witness to both the Catholic Church and the obtrusive efforts of roughing pioneers of the British Empire.

One such figure was Robert Joel Cooper, a figure who looks like a man who killed everything he came across.  Anybody termed a pioneer in this particularly harsh environment would have to have a certain acquisitive tendency.  What was seen, witnessed and met had to be possessed.  His grave stone in Darwin’s ill-kept Gardens Cemetery suggests the flavour, reminding us of his known title of “King Joe of Melville Island”, “a man of courage and love for everyone”.

He had all the attributes of the ruthless frontiersman: patriarchy, a tendency to sow his not-so-royal oats, a capacity for a certain work regimen, a firm disciplinarian.  He established the buffalo industry on Melville Island, extracting some thousand hides a year.  He took an Aboriginal wife, Alice, in what seemed like a primordial gesture.  One of his brood, Rueben, became a figure of sporting repute, adept and talented across a range of codes and ultimately minting history as a formidable player of Australian Rules Football, known colloquially in these parts as “footy”.

Cooper’s resume reads like that of any figure of conquest deemed important after the fact.  His entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography shows suitable wildness, with hints of admiration from the authors.  Along with his brother George Henry (Harry) Cooper and pastoral lessee E. O. Robinson, he ventured to Melville Island “despite hostile Aborigines”.  He did not seem discouraged in being speared in the shoulder; if anything, it emboldened him to “to abduct four Tiwi Aboriginals”.  While such acts might well have been seen as those of a traditional looter of specimens and possessions, the authors of the entry condescend to suggest that he “treated his captives kindly and learned their language.”  (The rough pioneer as accomplished linguist?  Go figure.)  In 1905, Cooper became the first “settler” since Fort Dundas was abandoned in 1828, using twenty Port Essington Aborigines to allay the fears of any locals as to what his intentions might have been. The ruse worked; he established his name.

Cooper’s profile matched like attitudes adopted to the indigenous populace more broadly speaking.  They were there to be used, abused and infantilised, their autonomy relegated to the level of trinket exotica.  Indigenous parenting was effectively disregarded: the Chief Protector in the Northern Territory, by virtue of the Northern Territory Aboriginals Act 1910, became the “legal guardian of every Aboriginal and every half-caste child up to the age of 18 years” irrespective of whether the child had parents or other relatives.  This came with the power to confine “any Aboriginal or half-caste” to a reserve or Aboriginal institution.  In the Aboriginal Ordinance of 1918, the clutches of the Chief Protector were extended to Aboriginal females from birth to death unless married and living with a husband “who is substantially of European origin”.

Cooper, the hunter, was also Cooper the connected figure.  The Catholic Church, through the figure of Father Francis Xavier Gsell, was convinced by him to focus on neighbouring Bathurst Island to set up a Catholic mission.  The good Father got to work, landing on Bathurst Island in 1911 and buying rights to marry Tiwi girls.  Fiancées and fathers were won over (again, the message of seduction and appropriation are never far) with cloth, flour and tobacco.  With due boastful extravagance, Gsell would recall his time on the island in his memoir, Bishop With 150 Wives.

The influence of Gsell and the church has become part of a formidable public relations exercise executed by the Vatican, masking the effects of what came to be known as inculturation.  Publications of praise such as Australia: The Vatican Museums Indigenous Collection, conveys the impression of church guardianship and preservation of Tiwi tradition.  No tincture of irony is present in the work.  The collection itself boasts an early set of Pukamani poles (tutini) from the islands, grave posts that had made their way into church possession.

Anthropologists were not be left out of the stealing game, and German anthropologist Hermann Klaatsch, the first anthropologist to successfully make his way to Melville Island on September 20, 1906, recounted several feats of theft of Pukamani poles, lamenting that, “due to the smallness of my boat I could not transport more examples.”  The penny, he was relieved, never dropped. “Luckily, we remained unnoticed by the blacks in our grave violating enterprise.”

The account might have been somewhat different.  A certain Harry Cooper, no less the brother of Joe, may well have distracted the islanders by firing shots over their heads while Klaatsch did his deed.  “There, that sounds more like it,” wrote Marie Munkara acidly.

The lingering Catholic presence, through immersion with Tiwi custom as both position and adjustment, has left its own traumas.  The missionaries used “psychological warfare”, insists Munkara, a process which “corroded our ancient beliefs.”  And much more besides.

Having assumed the role of converters and educators, the Church mission on Bathurst Island would eventually be shown in its ghastly manifestations.  Protectors, whether religious or secular, became ready abusers.  In 1993, claims that some 40 children who had been to St. Xavier’s Boys’ School on Bathurst Island had been sexually abused by Brother John Hallett were reported.  Two years later, he received a five year jail sentence, one quashed five months later by the Northern Territory Court of Criminal Appeal.

Cooper’s circle of intimates supplies a direct line to the spoliation of the Tiwi Islands, but more broadly, the indigenous population in the Northern Territory.  Professor W. Baldwin Spencer, the anthropologist who became Chief Protector in 1912, stayed with the King of Melville Island at stages in 1911 and 1912 as he was conducting his own investigations.  There was a meeting of minds: one appropriator to another.

Spencer’s 1912 report furnished the natives with a terrifying vision, executed with brazen cruelty towards children who had, by law, been executively entrusted into his care.  “No half-caste children should be allowed to remain in any native camp, but they should all be withdrawn and placed on stations.”  The mother should, as a matter of necessity, accompany the child “but in other cases, even though it may seem cruel to separate the mother and child, it is better to do so, when the mother is living, as is usually the case, in a native camp”.  Unsurprisingly, Cooper, having obtained the confidence of Spencer, would himself be deputised in this less than protective role.

Visiting the Tiwi Islands has the discomforting effect of moving around in a historical zoo.  The islands are haunted by Church, the Coopers, and civilizational predations.  While the idea of the reserve is now regarded as a vestige of administrative barbarity, the Tiwi message and advertisement is one of false purity and the deceptively unspoilt.  This has the effect of a museum feel with damaged artifacts.  The wondering tourists with heavy wallets, backpacks, hats and sunscreen resemble the plundering pioneers of old.  This time, instead of abducting native residents and doing a spot of grave robbing, they prefer to purchase the art.

Idealisation becomes hard to ignore; the spectator and viewer effectively participate in an exercise of unwarranted elevation and the words of Klaatsch in his Ergebnisse meiner australischen Reise (1907) come to mind.  “When you see the black man walking by, with his erect posture, his head decorated with feathers, with the spear in his right hand, then who cannot help form the impression that you have a ‘savage gentleman’ in front of your eyes, a king in the realm of the surrounding nature, to which he is so well adapted.”

The brochure language does little by way of improvement on Klaatsch’s observation.  In fact, it replicates it as a timeless fib, a gallery caption.  Instead of the “Island of Smiles”, you are greeted by dazed wanderers of the walking wounded playing out a distorted cultural play.  In 1999, attention was brought to the fact that the Tiwi Islands was facing a suicide epidemic.  The then resident medical practitioner, Chris Harrison, noted a number of instance: 100 attempts, meaning that 1 in 16 or 1 in 20 on the islands had attempted some form of suicide.  Nothing to smile at, let alone induce cheer.

When suggestions were made that such rates might be attributed to the influences, amongst other things, of the Church and its predatory practices, officialdom fumed.  As then Bishop Ted Collins explained with irritation, “I think they’re trying to put the blame somewhere outside the people rather than acknowledge that it’s happening within the people.”  How ungenerous of them to think otherwise.

Beside the Bathurst Island cemetery are two men, seemingly hypnotised, finding shelter under a lonely eucalypt.  They gaze aimlessly at a billy boiling over a roughly made fire.  There are no fragrant smells of cuisine, no sense of culinary wonder.  Instead, there is a distinct sound of eggs clanking against the rim, no doubt hard boiled to oblivion.  On the island, there are no food markets or stalls of fresh produce.  Food items, canned and frozen, are imported.  It is the afternoon, and the islanders migrate from their homes to the various shady spots under suitable vegetation.  Lit fires across the island send their bluish plumes towards the sea.  The church, in its wooden majesty, is quiet but for the whirring fans.  The guests have left, the singing done.  We leave Bathurst Island with a sense of loss, and not a smile in sight.

Manus, Nauru and an Australian Detention Legacy

It could be called a gulag mentality, though it finds form in different ways.  In the defunct Soviet Union, it was definitive of life: millions incarcerated, garrisons of forced labour, instruments of the proletarian paradise fouled.  Gulag literature suggested another society, estranged and removed from civilian life, channelled into an absent universe.  Titles suggested as much: Gustaw Herling’s work was titled A World Apart; Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago likewise suggested societies marooned from the broader social project.  But these were intrinsic to the bricks and mortar, in many cases quite literally, of the Soviet state.

In the case of countries supposedly priding themselves in the lotteries of exaggerated freedom, the influence of this carceral mentality is less obvious but still significant.  In Australia, where offshore processing of naval arrivals and its own offerings of gulag culture were made, six years has passed since Nauru and Manus Island became outposts of indefinite detention.

During the years, legislation has been passed encasing these outposts in capsules of secrecy, superficially protected by island sovereignty.  Whistleblowing has been criminalised; concerned doctors have been expelled; suicides, sexual assault and psychological mutilations have been normalised in the patchwork monstrosity that involves compromised local officials, private security firms and funding from the Australian tax payer.

A most obvious consequence of this is the cultivation of a thuggish lack of accountability.  Australian politicians keen to visit the handiwork of their government have been rebuffed.  Greens Senator Nick McKim had been trying to splash out some publicity on the anniversary, paying a visit to Manus Island.  He noted a deterioration in conditions since his 2017 visit.

On Thursday, he was approached by two immigration officials who informed him that he would be deported.  He had been attempting to see East Lorengau camp, was denied entry, and his passport confiscated.  To SBS News, he expressed his disappointment “that they are threatening to deport me because I am here to expose the truth about the treatment of refugees, to lift the veil of secrecy that’s been draped over Australia’s offshore detention regime.”

A mistake is made in assuming clear dates of commencement in terms of a distinct Australian approach.  Australia was, after all, itself a penal colony, an experiment in distant punishment and obsessive control.  It made, in turn, prisoners of the indigenous population.  Brutally, its various authorities relocated individuals to missions, camps and compounds.  A paternal mentality, one that has never left, took hold: we know what is best for you, be it the Bible or the dog tag. Infantilism, exploitation and dispossession thrived as mentalities.

Despite being an active participant in the post-war movement to establish an international refugee regime protecting human rights, Australian approaches have remained, as immigration law specialist Mary Crock puts it, “controlled and highly selective.”  For decades, Australian administrators and decision makers remained unperturbed by jurisprudence relevant to the UN Refugee Convention of 1951.  The country’s isolation, its continental expanse, and not sharing land borders, have offered governments an unparalleled luxury: “the ability to achieve near perfect control of immigration.”

During the 1960s, Manus Island was set up to take refugees from West Papua.  Salasia Camp, located near the current Lombrom detention centre, was established to isolate a certain number of West Papuan notables who had irked the Indonesian state’s efforts in claiming the former Dutch New Guinea colony.  Australia, not wanting to aggravate their Indonesian counterparts in providing safe havens for West Irian rebels, kept matters quiet, sometimes turning back refugees while offering “permissive residence” visas to others.

Not that the officials of Papua New Guinea were thrilled: thousands of West Papuans who made their way fleeing conflict between the rebels of the Organisasi Papua Merdeka (West Papua Freedom Movement) and the Indonesian military were left without PNG citizenship for five decades.

The arrival of Vietnamese “boat people” fleeing in the aftermath of the country’s re-unification in the 1970s saw Australian officials flirt with variants of offshore processing.  The 1978 system established in response to these arrivals ensured a monopoly on the part of the immigration minister to determine the refugee status of arrivals. Lawyers and advisors were given a distant second billing in the role.  In the words of Professor Crock, “The regional processing regime established right across Southeast Asia was predicated on an offshore processing-type idea; stopping asylum seekers where they are, processing them there, and distributing them in an orderly fashion.”

There was the Tampa-Pacific solution orchestrated by Prime Minister John Howard in 2001; there was the re-commencement in fits and starts under dysfunctional, catty Labor governments: the Gillard administration reinstated offshore processing in 2012, while Kevin Rudd added his icing by insisting that no asylum seeker arriving by boat would ever be settled in Australia.  But the earth had already been disturbed, the mind oriented, towards cruelty in the name of necessity.

While refugees tend to be the fodder of periodic periods of demonization, there are many reminders about a condition that Australia has made its own.  Some of this features in the talismanic, urgently desperate writing of the Iranian-Kurdish refugee Behrouz Boochani.  In 2018, Hoda Afshar snapped a picture showing Boochani as a Christ-like figure, seemingly awaiting crucifixion.  Her subject chose to see it differently.  “I only see a refugee, someone whose identity has been taken from him.  Just bare life, standing beyond the borders of Australia, waiting and staring.”

The Australian Book Review has offered a Behrouz Boochani Fellowship worth $10,000, funded by lawyer and philanthropist Peter McMullin.  In of itself, it suggests the absurd condition that is offshore processing, a state of mind that now draws funding for analysis, for commitment, for understanding.  Having become as ordinary as the insufferably ugly Australian Hills Hoist, or bountiful cask wine, it will not be leaving any time too soon, itself a disfigurement rendered natural.

Corporate Gangster: Adani’s Pursuit of Scientists

The Adani conglomerate should be best described as a bloated gangster, promising the earth even as it mines it.  Like other corporate thugs of such disposition, it will do things within, and if necessary outside, the regulatory framework it encounters.  Where necessary, it will libel detractors and bribe critics, speak of a fictional number of as yet non-existent jobs, and claim that it is green in its coaling practices. It will also hire legal firms claiming to be trained attack dogs and hector the national broadcaster to pull unflattering stories from publication and discussion.

As a marauder of the environment, the Indian mining giant has left little to chance.  It has politicians friendly to its cause in Australia at both the state and federal level, but it faces an environmental movement that refuses to dissipate.  It also has a problem with environmental science, particularly in the area of water management.  Conditional approvals have been secured, albeit hurried in the aftermath of May’s federal election, and even here, further testing will have to be done.

Given the inconveniences posed by scientists wedded to methodology and technique, the company did not surprise in freedom of information findings by the environmental group Lock the Gate that it had asked the federal environment department for “a list of each person from CSIRO and Geoscience Australia involved in the review” of the Groundwater Dependent Ecosystem Management Plan (GDEMP) and Groundwater Monitoring and Management Plan (GMMP).

In a bullying note to the Department of Environment and Energy (DOEE) in January 25 this year, Hamish Manzi, head of the company’s environment and sustainability branch officiously gave a five day limit to the request, claiming that it “simply wants to know who is involved in the review to provide it with peace of mind that it is being treated fairly and that the review will not be hijacked by activists with a political, as opposed to scientific, agenda.”  Manzi had noted “recent press coverage regarding an anti-coal and/or anti-Adani bias potentially held by experts reviewing other Adani approvals.” For Manzi, the only expert worthy of that name would have to be sympathetic to the mining cause.

The corporate instinct is rarely on all fours with that of the scientific one.  The former seeks the accumulation of assets, profits and dividends; the latter tests hypotheses using a falsification system, a process that can only ever have fidelity to itself.  The corporate instinct is happy to forget troubling scientific outcomes, and, where necessary, corrupt it for its ends.  Where the science does not match, it is obviously the work of ill-motivated activists or those inconvenienced by conscience.

The Union of Concerned Scientists in February 2012, through its Scientific Integrity Program, supplied readers with a list of fields where science, and scientists, have been attacked or compromised.  More importantly, it notes how governments become the subject of influence, their decisions ever vulnerable to wobbling.  “Corporations attempt to exert influence at every step of the scientific and policy-making processes, often to shape decisions in their favour or avoid regulation and monitoring of their products and by-products at the public’s expense.  In so doing, they often attempt to fundamentally alter the decision-making process.”

The methods of corrupting science are not exhaustive, but the UCS report suggests a view tried ones.  Research, for instance, is either held up by the company in question or terminated.  Scientists are intimidated or coerced through threats to job security, defunding and litigation.  Defective methodologies in testing and research are embraced.  Scientific articles are ghost written, with corporate sponsorship blurred.  Negative results are slyly under-reported; positive results are glowingly celebrated. And never forget good old fashioned vilification.

The FOI documents regarding Adani’s conduct show the company as a witch doctor wooing the federal government into timed releases of information and an obsession with preventing a broader public discussion of findings.  A January 9 email from Adani to DOEE demanded that CSIRO/GA reports not be circulated to third parties or the public.  The next day, the department obligingly informed the company that it would only share advice with Queensland’s Department of Environment and Science.

The uncovered documents also show a certain degree of cyber stalking at play.  On January 15, a staff member of Geoscience Australia wrote to DOEE expressing concern that the company had viewed LinkedIn profiles of employees.  Such concerns did little to ruffle the growing accord between the department and the company.

The abdication of government to the corporate sector is one of the more troubling features of this tawdry chapter in Australian non-governance.  Corporate giants know they must enlist the support of representatives who they can trust to be of sound mind.  History is replete with successful lobbying efforts in the name of corrupted science.

In 2007, ReGen Biologics, a New Jersey company, faced a sceptical Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concerned with Menaflex, a device intended to replace knee cartilage.  With the FDA’s rejection came a mobilisation effort.  Politicians were sought and cultivated.  In December that year, Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, and Rep. Steve Rothman all wrote to FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach.  The Commissioner’s ear had been bended sufficiently to lead to a new review headed by Dr Daniel Schultz, head of the FDA’s medical devices division.  Scepticism vanished; the product was approved.  In 2010, a shamefaced FDA had to concede that it had erred and duly revoked approval.

Instead of defending practices of departments and professionals engaged in the task of assessing the merits of such ventures, individuals such as the Australian deputy prime minister suggest that Adani might have a point in its heavy-handed enthusiasm to root out contrarians.  In Michael McCormack’s view, Adani “were made to jump through more environmental hoops than perhaps any previous project in the nation.”  They merely “wanted to determine… that those arguing against their proposals were not just some quasi anti-development groups or individuals.”  The thug’s narrative has found a home in the hearts of the anti-scientific representatives that currently rule the Canberra roost. Scientists have been warned.

Out of Kilter: National Security and Press Freedoms in Australia

Australian society relishes secrecy and surveillance.  Forget the laid-back, relaxed demeanour that remains the great fiction of a confected identity; like all such creations, the trace should not be mistaken as the tendency.  The political culture of Australia remains shaped by penal paranoia and an indifference to transparency.  The citizen is not to be trusted; rather, the subject is to be policed and regulated into apathetic submission.

The statute books of the federal parliament are larded with provisions of secrecy that make doing credible journalism in the country nigh impossible.  Journalists are left to their own devices, inventive as these might be, assisted by the odd prized leak.

The Australian Federal Police raids executed last month on the home of a News Corp journalist and the Sydney headquarters of the ABC had, for the clandestine community operating in the capitals of Australia, a surprise.  A usually divided fraternity came together in one voice, attempting to challenge the warrants and seek reform on matters related to press freedoms.

Media organisations would like to see parliament perform its functions, namely in the field of passing legislation that would enhance Freedom of Information provisions, arm press outlets with the means to contest warrants aimed at journalists, furnish whistleblowers with credible protections, and tilt the balance away from the national security grand inquisitor that seems to prevail in Canberra.

Understanding Canberra and the public service, however, is to understand a form of studied stasis, an effort to stymie change.  Ideas tend to go there to find cold storage if not expire altogether. The way to keep them in cold storage and throw away the key is to set up an inquiry, with all the baubles and tinsels of cheap accountability.

This is the preferred approach of the Morrison government, knowing that such an inquiry will be guaranteed to kill off any reform drive.  (Four months should do it: the inquiry is due to report on October 17.)  In his letter to the opposition leader Anthony Albanese, Prime Minister Scott Morrison informed his counterpart that, “The Government is committed to ensuring our democracy strikes the right balance between a free press and keeping Australians safe – two fundamental tenets of our democracy.”

Knowing the hostility this government, and its predecessors, have had to the only press freedom that matters – exposing abuses of state and corporate power – the limitations have already been inked.

One way of ensuring a smidgen of reform, if at all, is to use the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS), a body of approved politicians who can be trusted to do the right thing by secrecy and security.  Independents are excluded; contrarians are barred. Morrison claims the PJCIS is “well placed to conduct this inquiry given its responsibility for, and experience in, handling issues concerning national security information and legislation”.  Whatever qualifications the sitting members will have, their most valued pre-requisite is the capacity for premature adjudication of the problem, adjusted to satisfy the security apologists.

Andrew Wilkie, the independent MP more qualified than most to sit on the committee, makes the point starkly.  “The Labor and Liberal-dominated PJCIS is part of the problem because it’s signed off on every unnecessary security reform in recent history.”

To permit the committee the means and latitude to decide that balance on press freedom and security would be the equivalent of granting full powers of determination to a taxidermist over your favourite pet.  Denis Muller sees this as foxes guarding henhouses or poachers overseeing game-keeping.

The PJCIS has been one of the most important entities behind approving the shabby Australian national security state, a clumsy creation that does nothing to improve security let alone preserve freedoms.  Its members are terrified by technology and the Internet, and see any effort to restrain their reach as necessary to protect Australians.

Wilkie reminds us of the dubious resume of the PJCIS. “Who could forget the controversial data retention bill of 2015 and just last year the encryption bill?  In both cases the PJCIS recommended some tweaks around the edges, but… recommended the bills be passed, despite the serious concerns about both.”  While the European Union makes strides against such inefficient and dangerous policies as data retention, Australian governments embrace them with a relish for anachronism.

The inquiry hopes to assess, in part, “Whether and in what circumstances there could be contested hearings in relation to warrants authorising investigative action in relation to journalists and media organisations; (and) the appropriateness of thresholds of law enforcement for law enforcement and intelligence agencies to access electronic data on devices used by … media organisations.”  A full agenda for reform is guaranteed to be avoided.

Labor, in turn, is trying to shore up its poor parliamentary performance of late in attempting to set up a second, separate inquiry free of the clutches of the PJCIS.  That inquiry makes explicit reference to the “public’s right to know and press freedom”. Senator Kristina Keneally, shadow minister for home affairs, notes a prevailing “culture of secrecy and perverting the public’s right to know that has been making its way through this government for too long.”  In unwittingly casting such stones in the glass house, she ignores the record of previous Labor governments with similar leanings towards the national security state.

The parliamentary committee has its defenders in the Canberra set, relieved that the matter will be contained.  Jacinta Carroll, as director of national security policy at the National Security College at ANU, can be relied upon to sing the appropriate, pro-secrecy tune.  “The PJCIS is the appropriate body to undertake this review, as it’s made up of elected representatives of the people in Australia, and it’s also an established and expert body in the matter at hand.” Any praise for such committees should be met with scepticism, and her willingness to accept the supposedly useful function it performs suggests capitulation rather than engagement.

Carroll’s they-know-best tone is schoolmarmish and characterises the befuddlement of the security hacks.  She accepts, in tokenistic fashion, that, “A functioning and vibrant democracy is characterised by engaged civil society and informed debate.”  As Australian democracy is not vibrant, and lacks oxygen for a civil society struggling to fend off the regulators and spooks, her observation has little bearing on reality.

Given all that, she still insists, as the inquiry takes place, that all “maintain the focus on being informed about the complexities, nuances and competing interests at play, and not be lured into an oversimplified debate.”  Read: let bought parliamentarians seduced by national security briefs and their promoters dictate the balance.  The parents know best.

Matters of Water: Dubious Approvals and the Adani Carmichael Mine

When a company wields such power that it can cause a Minister to rush an approval process, cut corners and make significant errors, it is cause for serious concern.

— Kelly O’Shanassy, Australian Conservation Foundation, June 12, 2019

While the proposal is of a diminished monster, the travails over Adani’s efforts to open up the Galilee Basin in Queensland to mining have yielded fruit. Brute corporate strength, and the customary cowering of politicians, has seen an Indian mining giant gain approval for the construction of the Carmichael mine.  Many a stick and carrot were procured in the endeavour, and the outcome of the ballot box in May, returning a pro-coal Coalition government, was always going to have some propulsion.

The environmental aspects of the case have been gradually sidelined and placed in storage.  Prior to the federal election, Queensland’s Labor government was expressing reservations, suggesting stonewalling and vacillation.  A divide between the metropolitan centre and the rural areas was being teased at the federal level: areas where a mining development might create jobs was touted as a drawcard; the metropolitan centre was deemed indulgently green, coffee-sipping and distant.

The drawcard aspect was trumpeted by the Queensland Resources Council: “The Adani Carmichael mine is one of six in the Galilee Basin that could create tens of thousands of jobs in construction and operation and deliver billions of dollars in royalties over their working lifespan.”  At the same time, there were concerns about irreversible environmental damage, the sort that could only be dealt with by means of management plans.  The versions, and delays, proliferated.

This left the state Palaszczuk government, despite a fear of wobbling, still keen to let the Queensland environmental regulator decide, a vain attempt to keep politics out of the equation.  The season was not a good one for the thorough minded. The federal government had essentially muzzled the then Environment Minister Melissa Price prior to the election, weighing upon her to approve aspects of the project.  It was then left to the state government to consider the water management plans.

All sense of permitting the regulator to engage in its quest unmolested were banished by Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.  The electoral outcome at the federal level had unhinged her.  She was “fed up” at delays at both federal and state level. The Environment Department was given the due hurry up.  Last Thursday, the approval for Adani came through.  Queensland Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch, rather unconvincingly, suggested that the process had been robust and cognisant of “some of the most rigorous environmental protections in the country”.  Former general manager for water allocation and planning in the Queensland government Tom Crothers saw it differently.  “Science has been thrown in the bin for political expediency.”

Federal Resources Minister Matt Canavan, who remains cocooned by environmental denial and coal rich nirvana, was visibly delighted at this next stage in the Adani saga.  “It has been more than 50 years since a new coal basin has opened in Queensland, so this development is of huge importance to the economic future of Queensland.”

Adani Australia’s chief executive Lucas Dow expressed his “excitement” as well he might but seems to have put the cart well ahead of the horse in terms of the number of jobs promised.  A number he previously subscribed to was 1,500 direct jobs, to be made in north and central Queensland.  Another 6,750 indirect jobs would spring forth during “the ramp-up and construction phase”. But numbers, as they can in any induced fantasy, vary.

Deputy Nationals leader Bridget McKenzie has claimed that a hundred ongoing jobs could be assured while Federal Nationals MP Michelle Landry, despite championing the mine as a creator of votes in her seat of Capricornia, professes to having no idea about numbers.

Not all pro-coal voices have warmed to the decision.  Alan Jones, who rules the Sydney airwaves from the 2GB radio station made the obvious point that the Queensland Environment Department “would have been under massive political pressure to approve Adani’s groundwater management plan.”

There are, however, several knotting twists.  No actual digging of coal will take place till pipeline and railway matters are sorted out, though box cut mining may take place at the site itself.  Then comes the understanding that the mining company will do further work over the next two years to identify alternative sources of that most precious of resources: water.  Giving Adani approval to mine may be tantamount to sentencing the Permian aquifers (Colinlea) to extinction, a point that featured in the Queensland Environment Department’s order that the mining company install a new bore.  Further approvals will be needed regarding the impact on the Doongbulla Springs.

As Jones points out, “hydrogeochemical analysis of groundwater from different springs” will be undertaken, suggesting that approval, while it has been granted, has been done in circumstances of considerable ignorance: “no one seems to know what will happen to [the] groundwater.”  The new bores will also be subjected to isotopic analysis and air sampling.

The contingent nature of any such analysis has coloured the overall assessments, further suggesting the dangers in any continuation of the project. When the Queensland Environment Department consulted the scientific bodies of CSIRO and Geoscience Australia, it received little in the way of certitude.  Both “confirmed that some level of uncertainly in geological and groundwater conceptual models always exists.”

Another twist is a legal one. When Price had the federal portfolio, she decided, all too conveniently, to ignore the “water trigger” feature to the pipeline element of Adani’s proposal, one that would require 12.5 billion litres of water a year.  Deemed an essential feature in assessing the impacts of large coal and coal seam gas projects on water, Price avoided it altogether. This led to a challenge from the Australian Conservation Foundation in December 2018.

The case duly expanded to incorporate an additional dimension.  Wading through public submissions, especially in the order of 2,200, takes time, and expedient politics, by its nature, resists care and consideration.  One tends to rule out the other.

In an underreported feature of the approvals, last week’s legal victory of the ACF in the Federal Court against the assessment of Adani’s North Galilee Water Scheme shifted focus back to the federal government.  As ACF’s Chief Executive Kelly O’Shanassy put it, “The government conceded it did not properly consider more than 2,000 public submissions from Australians with concerns about the mine and the water scheme.”  Submissions had also gone missing. The environmental laws had been applied with carefree shoddiness.  The result is that the proposal will return for consideration by the new Environment Minister, Sussan Ley.

The road is a potted one, but the opening of the Galilee Basin will be, not merely an environmental crime but one inflicted with irresponsible futility.  Sensing that point, the banks and insurers have already ruled themselves out in funding the venture.  Indian demand for coal will diminish, however much it is being heralded now as a moral entitlement to development, and the white, albeit dirty elephant that is Adani’s mining project will remain a travesty of optimistic human barbarism.

Abuses Show Assange Case was Never About Law

It is astonishing how often one still hears well-informed, otherwise reasonable people say about Julian Assange: “But he ran away from Swedish rape charges by hiding in Ecuador’s embassy in London.”

That short sentence includes at least three factual errors. In fact, to repeat it, as so many people do, you would need to have been hiding under a rock for the past decade – or, amounting to much the same thing, been relying on the corporate media for your information about Assange, including from supposedly liberal outlets such as the Guardian and the BBC.

At the weekend, a Guardian editorial – the paper’s official voice and probably the segment most scrutinised by senior staff – made just such a false claim:

Then there is the rape charge that Mr Assange faced in Sweden and which led him to seek refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in the first place.

The fact that the Guardian, supposedly the British media’s chief defender of liberal values, can make this error-strewn statement after nearly a decade of Assange-related coverage is simply astounding. And that it can make such a statement days after the US finally admitted that it wants to lock up Assange for 175 years on bogus “espionage” charges – a hand anyone who wasn’t being wilfully blind always knew the US was preparing to play – is still more shocking.

Assange faces no charges in Sweden yet, let alone “rape charges”. As former UK ambassador Craig Murray recently explained, the Guardian has been misleading readers by falsely claiming that an attempt by a Swedish prosecutor to extradite Assange – even though the move has not received the Swedish judiciary’s approval – is the same as his arrest on rape charges. It isn’t.

Also, Assange did not seek sanctuary in the embassay to evade the Swedish investigation. No state in the world gives a non-citizen political asylum to avoid a rape trial. The asylum was granted on political grounds. Ecuador rightly accepted Assange’s concerns that the US would seek his extradition and lock him out of sight for the rest of his life.

Assange, of course, has been proven – yet again – decisively right by recent developments.

Trapped in herd-think

The fact that so many ordinary people keep making these basic errors has a very obvious explanation. It is because the corporate media keep making these errors.

These are is not the kind of mistakes that can be explained away as an example of what one journalist has termed the problem of “churnalism”: the fact that journalists, chasing breaking news in offices depleted of staff by budget cuts, are too overworked to cover stories properly.

British journalists have had many years to get the facts straight. In an era of social media, journalists at the Guardian and the BBC have been bombarded by readers and activists with messages telling them how they are getting basic facts wrong in the Assange case. But the journalists keep doing it anyway. They are trapped in a herd-think entirely divorced from reality.

Rather than listen to experts, or common sense, these “journalists” keep regurgitating the talking points of the British security state, which are as good as identical to the talking points of the US security state.

What is so striking in the Assange coverage is the sheer number of legal anomalies in his case – and these have been accumulating relentlessly from the very start. Almost nothing in his case has gone according to the normal rules of legal procedure. And yet that very revealing fact is never noticed or commented on by the corporate media. You need to have a blind spot the size of Langley, Virginia, not to notice it.

If Assange wasn’t the head of Wikileaks, if he hadn’t embarrassed the most important western states and their leaders by divulging their secrets and crimes, if he hadn’t created a platform that allows whistleblowers to reveal the outrages committed by the western power establishment, if he hadn’t undermined that establishment’s control over information dissemination, none of the last 10 years would have followed the course it did.

If Assange had not provided us with an information revolution that undermines the narrative matrix created to serve the US security state, two Swedish women – unhappy with Assange’s sexual etiquette – would have gotten exactly what they said in their witness statements they wanted: pressure from the Swedish authorities to make him take an HIV test to give them peace of mind.

He would have been allowed back to the UK (as he, in fact, was allowed to do by the Swedish prosecutor) and would have gotten on with developing and refining the Wikileaks project. That would have helped all of us to become more critically aware of how we are being manipulated – not only by our security services but also by the corporate media that so often act as their mouthpiece.

Which is precisely why that did not happen and why Assange has been under some form of detention since 2010. Since then, his ability to perform his role as exposer of serial high-level state crimes has been ever more impeded – to the point now that he may never be able to oversee and direct Wikileaks ever again.

His current situation – locked up in Belmarsh high-security prison, in solitary confinement and deprived of access to a computer and all meaningful contact with the outside world – is so far based solely on the fact that he committed a minor infraction, breaching his police bail. Such a violation, committed by anyone else, almost never incurs prosecution, let alone a lengthy jail sentence.

So here is a far from complete list – aided by the research of John Pilger, Craig Murray and Caitlin Johnstone, and the original investigative work of Italian journalist Stefania Maurizi – of some of the most glaring anomalies in Assange’s legal troubles. There are 17 of them below. Each might conceivably have been possible in isolation. But taken together they are overwhelming evidence that this was never about enforcing the law. From the start, Assange faced political persecution.

No judicial authority

* In late summer 2010, neither of the two Swedish women alleged Assange had raped them when they made police statements. They went together to the police station after finding out that Assange had slept with them both only a matter of days apart and wanted him to be forced to take an HIV test. One of the women, SW, refused to sign the police statement when she understood the police were seeking an indictment for rape. The investigation relating to the second woman, AA, was for a sexual assault specific to Sweden. A condom produced by AA that she says Assange tore during sex was found to have neither her nor Assange’s DNA on it, undermining her credibility.

* Sweden’s strict laws protecting suspects during preliminary investigations were violated by the Swedish media to smear Assange as a rapist. In response, the Stockholm chief prosecutor, Eva Finne, took charge and quickly cancelled the investigation: “I don’t believe there is any reason to suspect that he has committed rape.” She later concluded: “There is no suspicion of any crime whatsoever.”

* The case was revived by another prosecutor, Marianne Ny, although she never questioned Assange. He spent more than a month in Sweden waiting for developments in the case, but was then told by prosecutors he was free to leave for the UK, suggesting that suspicions against him were not considered serious enough to detain him in Sweden. Nonetheless, shortly afterwards, Interpol issued a Red Notice for Assange, usually reserved for terrorists and dangerous criminals.

* The UK supreme court approved an extradition to Sweden based on a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) in 2010, despite the fact that it was not signed by a “judicial authority”, only by the Swedish prosecutor. The terms of the EAW agreement were amended by the UK government shortly after the Assange ruling to make sure such an abuse of legal procedure never occurred again.

* The UK supreme court also approved Assange’s extradition even though Swedish authorities refused to offer an assurance that he would not be extradited onwards to the US, where a grand jury was already formulating draconian charges in secret against him under the Espionage Act. The US similarly refused to give an assurance they would not seek his extradition.

* In these circumstances, Assange fled to Ecuador’s embassy in London in summer 2012, seeking political asylum. That was after the Swedish prosecutor, Marianne Ny, blocked Assange’s chance to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

* Australia not only refused Assange, a citizen, any help during his long ordeal, but prime minister Julia Gillard even threatened to strip Assange of his citizenship, until it was pointed out that it would be illegal for Australia to do so.

* Britain, meanwhile, not only surrounded the embassy with a large police force at great public expense, but William Hague, the foreign secretary, threatened to tear up the Vienna Convention, violating Ecuador’s diplomatic territory by sending UK police into the embassy to arrest Assange.

Six years of heel-dragging

* Although Assange was still formally under investigation, Ny refused to come to London to interview him, despite similar interviews having been conducted by Swedish prosecutors 44 times in the UK in the period Assange was denied that right.

* In 2016, international legal experts in the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which adjudicates on whether governments have complied with human rights obligations, ruled that Assange was being detained unlawfully by Britain and Sweden. Although both countries participated in the UN investigation, and had given the tribunal vocal support when other countries were found guilty of human rights violations, they steadfastly ignored its ruling in favour of Assange. UK Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond flat-out lied in claiming the UN panel was “made up of lay people and not lawyers”. The tribunal comprises leading experts in international law, as is clear from their CVs. Nonetheless, the lie became Britain’s official response to the UN ruling. The British media performed no better. A Guardian editorial dismissed the verdict as nothing more than a “publicity stunt”.

* Ny finally relented on Assange being interviewed in November 2016, with a Swedish prosecutor sent to London after six years of heel-dragging. However, Assange’s Swedish lawyer was barred from being present. Ny was due to be questioned about the interview by a Stockholm judge in May 2017 but closed the investigation against Assange the very same day.

* In fact, correspondence that was later revealed under a Freedom of Information request – pursued by Italian investigative journalist Stefania Maurizi – shows that the British prosecution service, the CPS, pressured the Swedish prosecutor not to come to the London to interview Assange through 2010 and 2011, thereby creating the embassy standoff.

* Also, the CPS destroyed most of the incriminating correspondence to circumvent the FoI requests. The emails that surfaced did so only because some copies were accidentally overlooked in the destruction spree. Those emails were bad enough. They show that in 2013 Sweden had wanted to drop the case against Assange but had come under strong British pressure to continue the pretence of seeking his extradition. There are emails from the CPS stating, “Don’t you dare” drop the case, and most revealing of all: “Please do not think this case is being dealt with as just another extradition.”

* It also emerged that Marianne Ny had deleted an email she received from the FBI.

* Despite his interview with a Swedish prosecutor taking place in late 2016, Assange was not subseqently charged in absentia – an option Sweden could have pursued if it had thought the evidence was strong enough.

* After Sweden dropped the investigation against Assange, his lawyers sought last year to get the British arrest warrant for his bail breach dropped. They had good grounds, both because the allegations over which he’d been bailed had been dropped by Sweden and because he had justifiable cause to seek asylum given the apparent US interest in extraditing him and locking him up for life for political crimes. His lawyers could also argue convincingly that the time he had spent in confinement, first under house arrest and then in the embassy, was more than equivalent to time, if any, that needed to be served for the bail infringement. However, the judge, Emma Arbuthnot, rejected the Assange team’s strong legal arguments. She was hardly a dispassionate observer. In fact, in a properly ordered world she should have recused herself, given that she is the wife of a government whip, who was also a business partner of a former head of MI6, Britain’s version of the CIA.

* Assange’s legal rights were again flagrantly violated last week, with the collusion of Ecuador and the UK, when US prosecutors were allowed to seize Assange’s personal items from the embassy while his lawyers and UN officials were denied the right to be present.

Information dark ages

Even now, as the US prepares its case to lock Assange away for the rest of his life, most are still refusing to join the dots. Chelsea Manning has been repeatedly jailed, and is now facing ruinous fines for every day she refuses to testify against Assange as the US desperately seeks to prop up its bogus espionage claims. In Medieval times, the authorities were more honest: they simply put people on the rack.

Back in 2017, when the rest of the media were still pretending this was all about Assange fleeing Swedish “justice”, John Pilger noted:

In 2008, a secret Pentagon document prepared by the “Cyber Counterintelligence Assessments Branch” foretold a detailed plan to discredit WikiLeaks and smear Assange personally. The “mission” was to destroy the “trust” that was WikiLeaks’ “centre of gravity”. This would be achieved with threats of “exposure [and] criminal prosecution”. Silencing and criminalising such an unpredictable source of truth-telling was the aim.” …

According to Australian diplomatic cables, Washington’s bid to get Assange is “unprecedented in scale and nature”. …

The US Justice Department has contrived charges of “espionage”, “conspiracy to commit espionage”, “conversion” (theft of government property), “computer fraud and abuse” (computer hacking) and general “conspiracy”. The favoured Espionage Act, which was meant to deter pacifists and conscientious objectors during World War One, has provisions for life imprisonment and the death penalty. …

In 2015, a federal court in Washington blocked the release of all information about the “national security” investigation against WikiLeaks, because it was “active and ongoing” and would harm the “pending prosecution” of Assange. The judge, Barbara J. Rothstein, said it was necessary to show “appropriate deference to the executive in matters of national security”. This is a kangaroo court.

All of this information was available to any journalist or newspaper  that cared to search it out and wished to publicise it. And yet not one corporate media outlet – apart from Stefania Maurizi – has done so over the past nine years. Instead they have shored up a series of preposterous US and UK state narratives designed to keep Assange behind bars and propel the rest of us back into the information dark ages.