Category Archives: Australia

Passing the Parcel: The European Union and Refugees in the Mediterranean

The modern UN Refugee Convention is now so flea-bitten it’s been put out to the garbage tip of history.  At least the enthusiastic fleas think so, given their conduct as political representatives across a range of parliaments keen on barbed wired borders and impenetrable defences.  Across Europe, the issue of refugees arriving by sea – in this case, the Mediterranean – has become a matter of games and deflection. Lacking any coherence whatsoever, the approach to certain, designated arrivals is to push them on to the next port in fits of cruel deflection, hoping that the next recipient will give in.  Such conduct demonstrates how states have adopted notions of penalisation and discrimination against the arrival who seeks sanctuary, positions severely in breach of international humanitarian law.

Australia remains the undisputed pioneer in this, at least in the last two decades.  Incapable of establishing a decent environmental policy, hostage to the gunpoint of the mining lobby, and suspicious of enshrined rights, its backwater parliamentarians have been dazzling with other efforts: finding a suitably bestial policy to repel maritime arrivals, for instance.  Boats have been towed back to Indonesia, a country which many of its representatives grudgingly do business with.  People smugglers, the very same ones demonised as “scum” by Australian politicians, have been paid when and where necessary.  A veil of secrecy has been cast with suffocating effect across the operations of the Royal Australian Navy, and criminal provisions have been passed punishing any whistle-blower who dares disclose the nature of operations in the detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island.

Countries hugging the Mediterranean are also attempting to make a dash up the premier league of refugee cruelty.  In January, Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini bellowed in disdain that rescue ships heading to Italy were provocations. “No one will disembark in Italy.”  This has been accentuated by a change in funding policy.  The European Union has distanced itself from the anti-smuggling Operation Sophia, which ran for four years and involved the rescue of thousands of refugees with the use of EU vessels.  Any united front on the part of EU states has effectively collapsed.

Vessels are now being refused docking rights as a matter of course.  Sixty-two migrants on the German rescue ship Alan Kurdi found themselves being refused and moved on.  Having been rescued on April 3 near Libya, the vessel owned by the German non-governmental organisation Sea-Eye faced a rhetoric, and approach, long favoured in the isolated Australian capital of Canberra.  Those attempting to enter the ports of Malta and Italy were initially refused.  To permit them entry would be tantamount to encouraging human trafficking.

It took 10 days of torment before an agreement was struck: the individuals in question would be allowed to reach Valetta in Malta.  As with everything else, political representatives saw a chance to make hay.  Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat claimed a victory in ending the stand-off, scolding conservatives who believed in abortion.  “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.  We are speaking about the same human life, and I can no longer take the hypocrisy in people who have these double standards.”

There was a twist, suggesting that the government could still be selective.  The crew of the Alan Kurdi were refused entry, thereby revealing that Malta was happy to spare the refugee but punish the rescuer.  “We condemn,” a dissatisfied Sea-Eye chairman Gorden Isler claimed, “the abuse of state power and the illegal restriction of our crew members’ freedom, who risked their own health to save lives.”  Captain Werner Czerwinski has proceeded to head to Spain with the express purpose of finding a harbour.  The impediments on its movement have been costly, meaning that it will be unable to embark on its next mission to the central part of the Mediterranean.

A statement from the Maltese government revealed the parcelling scheme: four countries would be involved, divvying out the human misery.  “Through the coordination of the European Commission, with the cooperation of Malta, the migrants on board the NGO vessel Alan Kurdi will be redistributed among four EU states: Germany, France, Portugal and Luxembourg.”  Hardly a stellar outcome, and certainly an ad hoc outcome that bodes ill for any consistency.

“These negotiations,” went a joint statement from Sea-Eye with a host of other rescue organisations, “are illegitimate and unsustainable practices that violate international law, fundamental principles of human rights and disregard the dignity of the rescued.”  The law of the sea, international law more generally speaking, and human rights law, had been flouted in not permitting an immediate disembarkation “at the nearest place of safety.”

The entire system of responding to refugees has become a toxic spread.  Organisations dedicated to the venture of saving potential victims of drowning have been designated a problem as grave as the people they assist.  Those wishing to help are imperilled by the very process of assistance which should be protected by the right to asylum.  There are bureaucratic issues on which waters the refugees might be found in.  Drownings have been inevitable, showing that red tape can be a lethal affair.

In various perverse instances, the rescuers can themselves find themselves facing investigations for actually providing needed assistance.  Miguel Rodan, a Spanish firefighter who found himself helping distressed refugees in June 2017, was duly informed that he, along with his fellow rescuers, were being investigated by officials of the Italian government that they might have been responsible for “facilitating illegal immigration”.

The looming tragedy here is that more numbers are bound to find their way into the waters of the Mediterranean, given the rapid escalation of hostilities in a crippled Libya.  Assessments vary depending on which panicked account is consulted, but a figure of 800,000 migrants has been floated.  The assault on Tripoli by Khalifa Hafter has the potential, according to Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj of the UN-recognised government, to become a “new Syria”, a “war of aggression that will spread its cancer through the Mediterranean, Italy and Europe.”  The language is crudely apt: refugees as a cancerous spread; Europe’s response, a chemotherapeutic, if inconsistent harsh counter.

Death in New Zealand: The Christchurch Shootings

Five weapons were said to have been used, all inscribed with symbols, numbers and insignia.  The individual charged with the shootings at two Christchurch mosques that left 49 dead was an Australian with, it is alleged, a simple purpose: inflict death, and on specific communities in worship.  Even as the carnage became clear, Christchurch was already the epicentre of twenty-four hour news television, supplying a ghoulish spectacle.  Saturation coverage followed, and continues to do so, a point that will warm the attacker’s blood (his entire effort was streamed on live video on Facebook).

The alleged perpetrator, one Brenton Harrison Tarrant, left an unstirring piece – to call it a manifesto would be far-fetched – for those interested before the attack. It is a document of banality and off target assumptions. “Who are you?” he asks himself, suggesting an inner voice in need of reassurance and clarity.  “Just an ordinary White man, 28 years old.  Born in Australia to a working class, low income family.”  Stock: “Scottish, Irish and English”; a “regular childhood without any great issues”.

He did not like education, “barely achieving a passing grade.”  Universities did not offer anything of interest.  He invested money in Bitconnect, then travelled.  A sense of cognitive dissonance follows; Tarrant had recently worked part time “as a kebab removalist”.

No criminal record, no watch list, no registry.  Nothing to suggest a tendency towards mass murder, disrespect or mania.  What Tarrant did have was a desire to avenge individuals he felt a kinship for, suggesting that the dull witted are just as capable of killing as the charismatically ideological.  The “radical”, rooted nature of violence lies dormant in many; all that is required is a match.

The simple language of the note resembled that of various European populist platforms, albeit trimmed of deep historical flourishes: fear the Islamic invader; take to the barricades to repel the forces of Allah.  Interestingly enough, Tarrant leaves the detail of the invaders unclear, given that European lands have received all manner of invasions over its existence, of which the Ottoman and Islamic is but one stream.  The broad statement strikes a note of nonsense: “To take revenge on the invaders for the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by foreign invaders in European lands throughout history.”

Other statements of motivation follow: the “enslavement of millions of Europeans from their lands by the Islamic slavers”; “the thousands of European lives lost to terror attacks throughout European lands”.  Rather conveniently, and in manipulative fashion, the spirit of young Ebba Åkerlund, who died in 2017 in a terror attack in Sweden, is also channelled.  It was not sufficient to merely mention her; the eleven-year old inspired the shooter to name rifles after her.  “How the hell,” expressed stunned father Stefan Åkerlund, “can we ever get to mourn in peace?”

The problem with any such event is the risk of immoderate response.  Sensible comments have been noted: the risks posed by non-Islamic terrorists have tended to be neglected in budgets and rhetoric, though US President Donald Trump is, unsurprisingly, insisting that militant white nationalism is fringe worthy rather than common. Under the John Key government, the overwhelming focus of funding intelligence and security efforts was directed at the phantom menace of Islam, burrowing deep into the suburbs.  Watch lists of suspects were constantly noted; the fear of returned “radicalised” fighters was constantly iterated.  To add a greater sense of purpose to the mission, New Zealand troops were deployed to Iraq to fight the troops of Islamic State.  “Get some guts!” exclaimed Key to his opposition counterpart, Andrew Little, who seemed somewhat half-hearted in committing to the effort.

Other policy recommendations, still embryonic and possibly never to fly, are making their errands.  There are suggestions of deploying around the clock security personnel to mosques in various countries, something that risks militarising places of worship.

Vengeful rebuke can also find room in legislative and executive action.  In New Zealand, reforms to gun laws are being promised.  (These are already strict, and it is by no means clear if safety would be improved by such changes.)  In Australia, Tony Burke of the Labor Party suggests punishing hate speech and denying visas to certain right wing advocates of the white supremacist persuasion.  Australia’s immigration system is sufficiently intolerant and erratic enough to deny visas to those who might interfere with the false tranquillity of its society but a suspicious paternalism remains the enemy of free speech. Debate, in short, cannot be trusted.

The move to further push tech companies to reign in violent content will also receive a mighty boost.  The response from such companies as Facebook thus far is one of optimism: last year, some 99 percent of content linked with terrorism content promoted by Islamic State and al-Qaeda was successfully purged by artificial intelligence. Calls to do the same for other sources of inspiration are bound to follow.

There is also a stark, uncomfortable reality: no one is safe.  The entire field of terrorist and anti-terrorist studies is replete with charlatan impulses and the promise of placebo styled security.  There are fictional projections and assessments about whether an attack is “imminent” or “probable”.  There are calls to be vigilant and report the suspicious.  Political leaders give firm reassurances that all will be safe, a point that, quite frankly, can never be guaranteed.

The actions of Friday demonstrate the ease with which an act of mass killing can take place, the damage than can arise from attacking freely open spaces where people commune.  Extremism is said to lack a face or an ideology, but on Friday, it manifested in an all too human form.

The Prisoner Says No to Big Brother

Whenever I visit Julian Assange, we meet in a room he knows too well. There is a bare table and pictures of Ecuador on the walls. There is a bookcase where the books never change. The curtains are always drawn and there is no natural light. The air is still and fetid.

This is Room 101.

Before I enter Room 101, I must surrender my passport and phone. My pockets and possessions are examined. The food I bring is inspected.

The man who guards Room 101 sits in what looks like an old-fashioned telephone box. He watches a screen, watching Julian. There are others unseen, agents of the state, watching and listening.

Cameras are everywhere in Room 101. To avoid them, Julian manoeuvres us both into a corner, side by side, flat up against the wall. This is how we catch up: whispering and writing to each other on a notepad, which he shields from the cameras. Sometimes we laugh.

I have my designated time slot. When that expires, the door in Room 101 bursts open and the guard says, “Time is up!” On New Year’s Eve, I was allowed an extra 30 minutes and the man in the phone box wished me a happy new year, but not Julian.

Of course, Room 101 is the room in George Orwell’s prophetic novel, 1984, where the thought police watched and tormented their prisoners, and worse, until people surrendered their humanity and principles and obeyed Big Brother.

Julian Assange will never obey Big Brother. His resilience and courage are astonishing, even though his physical health struggles to keep up.

Julian is a distinguished Australian, who has changed the way many people think about duplicitous governments. For this, he is a political refugee subjected to what the United Nations calls “arbitrary detention”.

The UN says he has the right of free passage to freedom, but this is denied. He has the right to medical treatment without fear of arrest, but this is denied. He has the right to compensation, but this is denied.

As founder and editor of WikiLeaks, his crime has been to make sense of dark times. WikiLeaks has an impeccable record of accuracy and authenticity which no newspaper, no TV channel, no radio station, no BBC, no New York Times, no Washington Post, no Guardian can equal. Indeed, it shames them.

That explains why he is being punished.

For example:

Last week, the International Court of Justice ruled that the British Government had no legal powers over the Chagos Islanders, who in the 1960s and 70s, were expelled in secret from their homeland on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean and sent into exile and poverty. Countless children died, many of them, from sadness. It was an epic crime few knew about.

For almost 50 years, the British have denied the islanders’ the right to return to their homeland, which they had given to the Americans for a major military base.

In 2009, the British Foreign Office concocted a “marine reserve” around the Chagos archipelago.

This touching concern for the environment was exposed as a fraud when WikiLeaks published a secret cable from the British Government reassuring the Americans that “the former inhabitants would find it difficult, if not impossible, to pursue their claim for resettlement on the islands if the entire Chagos Archipelago were a marine reserve.”

The truth of the conspiracy clearly influenced the momentous decision of the International Court of Justice.

WikiLeaks has also revealed how the United States spies on its allies; how the CIA can watch you through your iPhone; how Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton took vast sums of money from Wall Street for secret speeches that reassured the bankers that if she was elected, she would be their friend.

In 2016, WikiLeaks revealed a direct connection between Clinton and organised jihadism in the Middle East: terrorists, in other words. One email disclosed that when Clinton was US Secretary of State, she knew that Saudi Arabia and Qatar were funding Islamic State, yet she accepted huge donations for her foundation from both governments.

She then approved the world’s biggest ever arms sale to her Saudi benefactors: arms that are currently being used against the stricken people of Yemen.

That explains why he is being punished.

WikiLeaks has also published more than 800,000 secret files from Russia, including the Kremlin, telling us more about the machinations of power in that country than the specious hysterics of the Russiagate pantomime in Washington.

This is real journalism — journalism of a kind now considered exotic: the antithesis of Vichy journalism, which speaks for the enemy of the people and takes its sobriquet from the Vichy government that occupied France on behalf of the Nazis.

Vichy journalism is censorship by omission, such as the untold scandal of the collusion between Australian governments and the United States to deny Julian Assange his rights as an Australian citizen and to silence him.

In 2010, Prime Minister Julia Gillard went as far as ordering the Australian Federal Police to investigate and hopefully prosecute Assange and WikiLeaks — until she was informed by the AFP that no crime had been committed.

Last weekend, the Sydney Morning Herald published a lavish supplement promoting a celebration of “Me Too” at the Sydney Opera House on 10 March. Among the leading participants is the recently retired Minister of Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop.

Bishop has been on show in the local media lately, lauded as a loss to politics: an “icon”, someone called her, to be admired.

The elevation to celebrity feminism of one so politically primitive as Bishop tells us how much so-called identity politics have subverted an essential, objective truth: that what matters, above all, is not your gender but the class you serve.

Before she entered politics, Julie Bishop was a lawyer who served the notorious asbestos miner James Hardie which fought claims by men and their families dying horribly with black lung disease.

Lawyer Peter Gordon recalls Bishop “rhetorically asking the court why workers should be entitled to jump court queues just because they were dying.”

Bishop says she “acted on instructions… professionally and ethically”.

Perhaps she was merely “acting on instructions” when she flew to London and Washington last year with her ministerial chief of staff, who had indicated that the Australian Foreign Minister would raise Julian’s case and hopefully begin the diplomatic process of bringing him home.

Julian’s father had written a moving letter to the then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, asking the government to intervene diplomatically to free his son. He told Turnbull that he was worried Julian might not leave the embassy alive.

Julie Bishop had every opportunity in the UK and the US to present a diplomatic solution that would bring Julian home. But this required the courage of one proud to represent a sovereign, independent state, not a vassal.

Instead, she made no attempt to contradict the British Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, when he said outrageously that Julian “faced serious charges”. What charges? There were no charges.

Australia’s Foreign Minister abandoned her duty to speak up for an Australian citizen, prosecuted with nothing, charged with nothing, guilty of nothing.

Will those feminists who fawn over this false icon at the Opera House next Sunday be reminded of her role in colluding with foreign forces to punish an Australian journalist, one whose work has revealed that rapacious militarism has smashed the lives of millions of ordinary women in many countries: in Iraq alone, the US-led invasion of that country, in which Australia participated, left 700,000 widows.

So what can be done? An Australian government that was prepared to act in response to a public campaign to rescue the refugee football player, Hakeem al-Araibi, from torture and persecution in Bahrain, is capable of bringing Julian Assange home.

Yet the refusal by the Department of Foreign Affairs in Canberra to honour the United Nations’ declaration that Julian is the victim of “arbitrary detention” and has a fundamental right to his freedom, is a shameful breach of the spirit of international law. Why has the Australian government made no serious attempt to free Assange? Why did Julie Bishop bow to the wishes of two foreign powers? Why is this democracy traduced by its servile relationships, and integrated with lawless foreign power?

The persecution of Julian Assange is the conquest of us all: of our independence, our self respect, our intellect, our compassion, our politics, our culture.

So stop scrolling. Organise. Occupy. Insist. Persist. Make a noise. Take direct action. Be brave and stay brave. Defy the thought police.

War is not peace, freedom is not slavery, ignorance is not strength. If Julian can stand up to Big Brother, so can you: so can all of us.

Yes, The Paris Climate Agreement Sucks

The Paris Climate Agreement of 2015 was a big deal as 195 nations agreed to take steps to mitigate global temperatures to +2°C, but preferably +1.5°C, post-industrial or over the past 250 years. When temperatures exceed those levels, all hell breaks loose with our precious life-support ecosystems.

Today, we’re already more than halfway to that first temperature guardrail but accelerating fast. Problematically, the latency effect of greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions impacting global temperature is several years; similarly, a household oven turned to 450°F doesn’t immediately go to 450°F. Earth’s atmosphere, similar to that oven, takes time (years and years) to respond to GHGs that essentially turn up its thermostat.

Implementation of Paris ‘15, however, is another matter. With four years of hindsight, the original Paris Agreement appears to be nothing more than “hope springs eternal.”

The 2015 compilation of 195 signatories (subsequently 197) to the UNFCCC Paris Agreement was a great PR event. And, it was a very good wake up call regarding the seriousness, and dangers, of climate change. However, looking back at its origins, it was DOA.

For starters, ever since the ink dried, CO2 emissions have gone up and are now accelerating, as fossil fuel usage had its largest increase in seven years in 2018, prompting the prestigious Met Office Hadley Center/UK to issue a strong warning: “During 2019, Met Office climate scientists expect to see one of the largest rises in atmospheric carbon-dioxide concentration in 62 years.”

Thus, on the heels the of Paris ’15 Agreement, CO2 emissions took a short breather but then took off and never looked back. In fact, the largest increase since 1957. Counter-intuitively, the Paris ’15 Agreement, unbeknownst to participants at the time, somehow (mysteriously) served to launch accelerating CO2 emissions.

Not only have GHGs started going gangbusters once again; additionally, there’s a very challenging “land use” issue with the Agreement, which is one more category of failure. Human land use is responsible for about one-quarter or 25% of global anthropogenic emissions. Also, land abuse severely constrains/limits/reduces terrestrial carbon sinks, thereby defeating nature’s moderation and balance of CO2, not too hot, not too cold for the past 10,000 years of the Holocene Era.

The land use imbroglio is the subject of an important new study: “Achievement of Paris Climate Goals Unlikely Due To Time Lags In The Land System” by Calum Brown, et al, Nature Climate Change, February 18, 2019.

According to the study, meeting the Paris Agreement requirement of limiting global temperature increases to 1.5°C or 2°C “requires substantial interventions in the land system, in the absence of dramatic reductions in fossil fuel emissions.”

Well then, in that case, as previously alluded to, “dramatic reduction in fossil fuel emissions” has become a bad joke. Therefore, “land use” takes on new significance to limit temperatures to 1.5°C or 2°C. But, in reality, land use is, has been, and remains a disaster in the making.

Commitments to implement provisions of the Paris Agreement are called NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions). Of the 195 countries that committed NDCs (representing 96.4% of global GHG emissions) no major industrialized country has yet matched its own ambitions for emission reductions.

Clearly, nobody is serious about curbing climate change and its consequence of global warming. The global motto seems to be: Let the chips fall where they may!

However, avoidance is a dangerous game as very big problems loom right now today as the planet’s three major sensitive areas to global warming are literally crumbling apart: (1) the Arctic (2) Antarctica and (3) Northern Hemisphere permafrost.

But, nobody lives in those areas to physically see it happen. Then again, scientists that take field trips to where nobody lives are horrified, aghast, dumbfounded by the rapidity of change. Time and again, year-over-year, they express disbelief at how much faster ecosystems are changing, especially in the context of paleoclimate history, ten times faster in many instances. That’s a formula for sure-fire disaster.

Meanwhile, one hundred countries have explicitly identified mitigation strategies involving “land use” with a common strategy of increasing forest “carbon sinks” by reducing deforestation and/or increasing reforestation. However, deforestation increased by 29% between 2015-16 in Brazil and by 44% in Columbia, and the net result of overall deforestation and land-use shows no real progress for years.

Furthermore, the voluntary aspect of nations fulfilling NDCs means that NDCs are not required to be demonstrably achievable. That appears to be a weak link in the Agreement.

Worse yet, most countries have no defined plans for implementation. Not only, countries like Australia have already abandoned emissions targets for their energy sector. And, some countries have issued contradictory objectives, for example, Scotland, which issued world-leading climate policies also simultaneously provided financial support for fossil fuel extraction.

Other examples of contradictory policies include Indonesia’s Forest Moratorium policy designed to reverse state-sponsored palm oil plantations that decimate rainforests. Their plan is confusing, and it’s counter-productive, as it temporarily slows down deforestation in some areas while increasing deforestation in other areas. Which is it supposed to be?

In fact, both Indonesia (rainforest) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (rainforest) deforestation rates exceed that of brazen Brazil (rainforest) by 1.5-to-2 times in spite of Paris ’15 commitments.

Equally concerning, voluntary commitments within countries are not enforceable, another shocker. Both China and India “encourage” reforestation via “voluntary tree planting by all citizens.” This approach is fraught with numerous issues. For example, effective leadership in localities is but one issue.

Meanwhile, on a global basis (1) China and India, since 2017, have increased emissions by 4.7% and 6.3% respectively, (2) China’s Development Bank is financing hundreds of new coal-fired plants in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, (3) Brazil is opening up its rainforests to massive development like there’s no tomorrow (4) France, Germany, and Japan have increased coal use (5) France scrapped some major plans to meet GHG reductions because of public pushback (6) Four U.S. states (Washington, Alaska, Colorado, and Arizona) rejected anti-fossil fuel initiatives in the most recent 2018 elections… and the list goes on, but the point is made.

In the future, it is likely that climate change mitigation will not be implemented until climate disaster strikes first. Then, expect public outcry: “Do something!”

Australia’s 2018 heat wave may be an early preview of one of many potential climate disasters in the near future that will serve as a catalyst for public outcry, pleading for help, do something!

Australia sizzled like a blazing-hot oven in late 2018 as temperatures exceeded 42°C (107°F). According to National Geographic: Sarah Gibbens, Bats Are Boiling Alive in Australia’s Heat Wave, d/d January 9th, 2019, asphalt melted on highways and animals and fish died by the thousands. Australian National University in Canberra predicts summer temperatures of up to 122°F in years ahead.

As for one more example of what may motivate the public, once Wall Street/Lower Manhattan as well as Miami Beach are repeatedly hit by flooding from high tide surges, there will be public outcry: “Do something!”

But, by then, the response will be: Do what? It’s already too late!

Postscript:

The various dependencies (and acknowledged insufficiencies) of the actions planned in support of the Paris Agreement mean that achievement of the 1.5°C (or even a 2°C) goal is highly unlikely.

— Calum Brown, et al, “Achievement of Paris Climate Goals Unlikely Due To Time Lags In The Land System”, Nature Climate Change, February 18, 2019.

Shifting the Centre of Gravity: Julian Assange Receives His Passport

In March 2008, one Michael Horvath of the US Army Counterintelligence Center within the Cyber Intelligence Assessments Branch considered the risks posed by WikiLeaks in a 32 page document.  Created under the auspices of the Department of Defence’s Intelligence Analysis Program, the overview suggests, importantly, the interest shown in Assange by the defence wing of the United States at the time it was starting to make more than a generous ripple across the pond of information discourse.  Importantly, it suggests a direct interest of the military industrial complex in the activities of a guerrilla (read radical transparency) group.

The question it asks remains a source of ongoing interest and curiosity about the role played by WikiLeaks in the information wars: “Wikileas.org – An Online Reference to Foreign Intelligence Services, Insurgents, or Terrorist Groups?”  The answer is implicit in the text: its all of the above.

The document remains salient for the persistent strategy adopted against WikiLeaks and its chief publishing head throughout.  To avoid the integrity and credibility of the information, target the man, the organisation and the method.  Suggest he is wonky, a crank, generally wobbly on principles and ethics.  Suggest, as well, that his reputation is questionable, as are his moral inclinations.

The document highlights a feature that gained momentum in the 2016 US presidential elections: that WikiLeaks might serve “as an instrument of propaganda, and is a front organisation for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).” (The only difference in 2016 was that the CIA had fallen out of the orbit of paranoid reckoning, replaced by wily Russian operatives in the US imaginary of electoral manipulation.)  Not only had the organisation denied this, there was “no evidence” mustered “to support such assertions.”

The DoD document makes the objective clear; nothing else will suffice than a campaign ranging on various fronts to target WikiLeaks and its system of obtaining and releasing information.  “The identification, exposure, termination of employment, criminal prosecution, legal action against current and former insiders, leakers or whistleblowers could potentially damage or destroy the center of gravity and deter others considering similar actions from using the WikiLeaks.org Web site.”

The centre of gravity here is a critical point. It is one that is being persistently targeted, using Assange as convenient focal point of derangement, treachery and both.  The memo from Ecuadorean officials from October last year was a laundry list for model good behaviour, effectively the conditions of his continued tenancy in the embassy, along with using the internet.  Press outlets saw it as lunacy taking hold.  He had to refrain from “interfering in the internal affairs of other states” and activities “that could prejudice Ecuador’s good relations with other states.”  His pet cat also had to be looked after lest it be banished to an animal shelter. Sanitation was also noted.

Each granular detail of his fate garners international headlines in an ongoing battle of attrition.  Will he step out?  Will he seek medical treatment he urgently needs?  What will the local constabulary do?  Statements from the Metropolitan Police and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office suggest that he will be medically tended to but will also have to face the charge of violating his bail conditions when he entered the Ecuadorean embassy in 2012.  Once that door opens, the narrow horizon to a US prison cell becomes a realistic prospect, even if it is bound to be a protracted matter.

The recent turn has also excited commentary, though it is not the same mould as the cudgel like recommendations of the 2008 DoD memo.  The Australian dissident figure of the publishing world has been granted a passport by the Australian authorities.  This was something, if only to suggest that those in Canberra, previously keen to see Assange given the roughing over, had warmed somewhat.  In 2016, the then Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop had, at the very least, offered Assange what he was due: consular assistance.

While the grant took place either last September or October, confirmation of its existence was revealed in a Senate estimates hearing.  Australian Senator Rex Patrick of the Centre Alliance pressed officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade whether they had engaged their US counterparts about possible safe passage for Assange in the event he left the embassy.

DFAT’s chief legal officer James Larsen claimed to have no knowledge of any US proceedings against Assange (untutored, mute and ill-informed is Larsen, on this subject); that being so, there was nothing to discuss.  “We are not aware, on the Australian government’s side, of any legal proceedings initiated within, or by, the United States, concerning Assange.”  Larsen had no “record before me of what our engagement with the United States is specifically concerning Mr Assange.”

What mattered were the remarks made by first assistance secretary of the Consular and Crisis Management Division.  “Mr Assange,” Andrew Todd confirmed, “does have an Australian passport.”  Some lifting of the dark had taken place, suggesting, as one of legal advisers, Greg Barnes, has been saying for some time: “The Australian government does have a role to play in the resolution of the Julian Assange case.”

A potential stumbling block for Assange in getting a passport was section 13 of the Australian Passports Act 2005.  Facing a “serious foreign offence” within that section’s meaning would have scotched the application.  “In order to progress your application,” DFAT informed him, “we require confirmation that section 13 is not enlivened by your circumstances.  To this end, we ask that you provide us with confirmation that section 13 no longer applies to you. Until this time, your passport application will remain on hold.”

There is an element of dark farce to this.  To show that he was eligible to receive a passport, he had to show that he did not face a serious foreign offence.  But pieced evidence revealed thus far demonstrates that a US prosecution assisted by a range of security agencies has busied themselves with making sure he does face such an offence. Thankfully, WikiLeaks has not been able, in their quest for a totally transparent record, to find any relevant corroborating indictment, a point that seemed to seep through the Senate estimates hearings.  In such cases, ignorance can remain, if not blissful, then useful.

Turning Screws: China’s Australian Coal Ban

Overly reliant economies are dangerously fragile things.  As it takes two parties, often more, to play the game, the absence of interest, or its withdrawal by one, can spell doom. The Australian economy has been talked up – by Australian economists and those more inclined to look at policy through the wrong end of a drain pipe – as becoming more diverse and capable of withstanding shock.  In truth, it remains a commodity driven entity, vulnerable to the shocks of demand.  Think Australia, think of looting the earth.

Such carefree, plundering optimism lays bare the jarring fact that Australia remains obsessively and maddeningly committed to King Coal.  To coal, she pays tribute, runs errands and sponsors with conviction.  And it is coal that keeps the country tied to hungry markets which, for the moment, see use for it.  But such hunger is not indefinite.  India and China, traditional destinations for Australia’s less than innovative dig-it and export-it approach, have made it clear that their lust for coal is temporary.  The appetite is diminishing, despite occasional spikes. Renewables are peeking over the horizon, forming the briefing documents of energy and trade departments.

To this comes another problem. Australia has been rather bullish of late towards the country that receives most of its earthly treasures. The People’s Republic of China has made it clear that it does not agree with the ambitiously aggressive line Canberra has taken on a range of fronts.  There is the issue of blocking Chinese influence in the Pacific, notably through the provision of alternative cyber infrastructure whilst excluding Huawei in bids to secure 5G telecommunications contracts. There has been a campaign to combat purported Chinese influence on university campuses and claims of meddling in the political process.  (Meddling by the US, by way of contrast, remains gloriously free to continue.)

All of these acts have shown Beijing less Australia’s independence and sovereign will than its unqualified, traditional commitment to the United States, for which it remains undisputed, kowtowing deputy. What Washington dictates, Canberra disposes.

Which bring us to Australia’s lingering weakness. According to Reuters, customs officers of the Dalian Port Group have stopped Australian coal imports, specifically coking coal central to steel making, and announced a plan to cap imports at $A12 million tonnes a year. This comes after the noticeable increase in delays at Chinese ports handling both coking and thermal coal over the course of last year.  So far, Australia’s coal problem seems confined to the northern port.

The anti-panic campaign is already in full swing, which might also be read as an alternate universe in motion.  Prime Minister Scott Morrison insists that “people should be careful about leaping to conclusions about this.”  Local ports make decisions on local matters; no reason, then, to break into a sweat. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg feels there is really nothing to see here. “Our exports with China will continue to be strong as they have been in the past.”  Trade Minister Simon Birmingham has said, banally enough, that China was “a valued partner of Australia and we trust that our free trade agreement commitments to each other will continue to be honoured.”  Hiccups have previously happened in the relationship (“occasional interruptions to the smooth flow”), but this was nothing compared to the common goal: exporting and using more coal.

Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe prefers to focus on the amount of coal being stopped at Dalian as negligible and, in any case, transferrable. (The Dalian port receives some 1.8 percent of Australian coal exports.)  “The amount of coal that is being blocked is the equivalent of two months’ exports from Australia to China.  It’s entire possible that if it cannot enter the Chinese market then it can go to other markets.”

The justification from the Chinese Foreign Ministry remains vague, pegged to the language of regulation and quality reassurance.  Spokesman Geng Shuang relies heavily on the issue of compliance.  “China’s customs assesses the safety and quality of imported coal, analyses possible risks, and conducts corresponding examination and inspection compliant with laws and regulations.” In so doing, China “can better safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese importers and protect the environment.”

Geng was also in a playful mood. Did the reporter ask him on “coal” or “cow”? The issue is less amusing for Australian exporters, who have received special attention distinct from their Russian and Indonesian counterparts. This is despite the claim that there is a glut in coal, necessitating a temporary halt for domestic reasons.

The spokesman was also firm: China-Australia relations had not been impaired.  “As we have stressed many times before, a sound and stable China-Australia relationship serves the common interests of both countries and peoples.”  The subtext is hard to ignore: Canberra will need to be taught periodic lessons, bullied when necessary, and reminded about being too overzealous.

Death by Video: Morrison Combats Refugees By Film

Caught in the backwater of the world’s existence, Australia struggles for relevance in various ways. It might show itself a leader in creating a sovereign fund (too late for that now); it might demonstrate, in various ways, a singular approach to solar energy (impossible, we are told, on that score). Lacking a decent number of terrorist attacks, it feels left out, stranded in a provincialism that ignores the decent, maiming bombing that might signal a boost in security funding. Lacking the millions of refugees Jordan and Turkey host, it feels cast aside, preferring to persecute the few that it has. Being a US satellite sometimes stings, if only to remind the policy makers here that a good education and service for Australia leads to a pledge to a foreign Queen and, yes, functionaries in Washington.

But there is always room to impress. Australia, land girt by sea, and terrified by what will approach via it. A fixation, one that should fill the psychiatric manuals, has captivated Australian politicians since it became unfashionable to avoid paperwork and get on a boat to head Down Under. In the late 1990s, the regulatory framework to punish and condemn those without documentation was established. The document became sovereign: lacking it landed you, not only in a spot of bother, but a spot of derision. The Migration Act scolded; the Australian immigration minister dispensed with. Australians like their queues; why did you, amidst falling bombs, murderous thugs and the odd exploitative pimp, show consideration and wait in line till we called you?

A certain literature – and to that, a good deal of ghastly celluloid – has been produced on the subject. All are, in essence, in violation of the United Nations Refugee Convention. No mention on the right to asylum is ever made; nor to the right not to be prejudiced against as an asylum seeker in terms of means of arrival. And that’s merely the start. In gazing at these amateurish compilations of self-entitled guff, one is left with the conclusion that no one involved in this process has ever consulted a human rights manual, let alone familiarised themselves with the hideous post-Second World War period. There was a time when the term Displaced Person was not entirely revolting.

Such cinematic barrel scraping features warnings about arriving in Australia. It targets individuals at various stages of their travel. Farid Rasuli, as a 17-year-old refugee, managed to catch a video on YouTube, with production credits due to the Australian Border Force, a few years ago. Moving through Indonesia and hoping to conduct a search for videos in his language, Rasuli found a dull, austere Australian major general popping up. It starts like this: “This video is produced in English by the Australian Government to ensure transparency of translated anti-people smuggling communication material being delivered to audiences offshore.” Such breathtaking, granular authenticity!

The video proceeds in unequivocal manner. In bold type, it claims that, “You will be turned back.” The particular production, dull vintage 2016, insists that the arrangement with the United States to settle refugees that would, otherwise, find themselves in Australia’s holiday gulag, is a “one-off.” Potential arrivals are told that they will not be able to avail themselves of such an option, should they wish to leap on the off chance. What is not explained is that the US administration at the time offers no guarantees that such a measure would even work. (A certain President Donald Trump was going to get the wobbles on that one.)

In 2014, Angus Campbell, the commander of the unfortunately named Operation Sovereign Borders, Australia’s own secret mission of oppression, was co-opted in making another video. It featured, in rather ugly fashion, the bold capitalised words “NO WAY” followed by the imperative shout, “You will not make Australia Home.” Above the message: an Australia with a line through it; a deleted, forbidden Australia. The duration of this ghastly pap is a mere minute. “The message is simple, if you come to Australia illegally by boat, there is no way you will ever make Australia home.”

The message is designed as a punch against both the smuggler and the cargo. “It is the policy and practice of the Australian government to intercept any vessel that is seeking to illegally enter Australia and safely remove it beyond our waters.” (The wording is important: whose safety are we really referring to?)

The Australian propaganda units have been busy – far busier than many of the citizens care to reflect upon. Money best reserved for Australia’s declining education system has found a home in other projects. In addition to film, the form of the graphic novel has been deployed. Going for 18-pages, one had a specific audience: Afghan asylum seekers. The message: should you dare make the journey to Australia, Nauru’s infamous hospitality awaits. The production positively reeks of persecution.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the hardened advertising man of the government, has retreated into something he knows best: the shallow, bucket swilling call of the advert. This is interesting in a way: the same man condemned his opponents for doing something similar when they got on the anti-refugee video show. When Labor, then in government, introduced material to justify its “PNG solution” in July 2013, Morrison claimed that the party was “ramraiding the taxpayer’s ATM”. The then coalition opposition snortingly dismissed the effort by Labor as “propaganda”.

Shortened memories prevail. A two-minute video message is now ambling its way through 10 countries, though it will have to be translated, however accurately, on its crooked journey. “Make no mistake, if you attempt to come to Australia illegally by boat, you will not succeed.” Spare your pennies, insists Morrison. “So do not waste your money or risk your life, or anyone else’s life, for nothing.” Such is the awareness of a person who has never had to consider the throbbing, genuine feeling human rights conjures up in the breast of the oppressed.

Morrison is selling the measure as a necessity, a band aid to what the opposition parties have done to his cherished border protection policy. “Our government will be doing everything within our power – despite what the Labor Party have done to undermine our border protection regime – to ensure these boats don’t come.” Videos, and up at them.

Sickness and Paranoia: The Morrison Government’s Refugee Problem

The passage of amendments to the Migration Act 1958 (Cth) by the Australian House of Representatives and the Senate this week was less a case of celebration than necessitous deliverance.  The mental wellbeing of asylum-seekers on Manus Island and Nauru, or lack thereof, has been documented extensively from Australian legal representatives to members of Médecins Sans Frontières.

The Medevac Bill is scripted in clunky fashion typical of Australian drafting, but it does what other items of legislation have not: privilege, to some extent at least, medical opinion on the desperate situation of those kept in indefinite detention.  Australia’s own crude experiment of what might be termed “biopolitical” control has had predictably disastrous consequences on health and well-being.

The legislation supplies the lawful basis for refugees and asylum seekers to be transferred to Australia for “medical or psychiatric assessment or treatment”.  “Aside from being a circuit breaker to current arrangements,” claim Nicholas Proctor and Mary Anne Kenny, “the bill is a new opportunity to establish agreed governance arrangements and a clinical pathway for recognising and responding to medical need without political interference.”

Previously, Australian governments have fought any transfer arrangements of refugees and asylum seekers from Canberra’s tropical gulag with rabid ferocity.  Be it men, women or children, any show of compassion has been given the cold sneer.

The assessment of each patient is to be conducted by two doctors, either in person or remotely, keeping in mind psychiatric and treatment needs. Crucial here is the consideration about whether those supposedly five star facilities in Nauru or Manus Island supply any adequate basis for treating psychiatric and medical disorders.

It would be foolish to presume that the new provisions somehow alleviate the prospects of political interference.  The 72-hour window limit for the Minister for Home Affairs merely imposes a note of urgency; he otherwise retains power of approval or refusal over the recommendations regarding transferrals.  A firestop of sorts restraining the minister has been put in place, one involving an Independent Health Advice Panel, but this is hardly the end of the matter.  Traditional grounds for refusal are also available: a person having a “substantial criminal record” or facing an adverse security assessment might be refused leave to be treated in Australia.

The Coalition was hoping to catch out the opposition on grounds of constitutionality.  (All about inappropriate expenditure, you see.)  That was swiftly remedied by another amendment by the Labor party deeming all members sitting on the medical panel pro bono officials.

Stung and out manoeuvred in parliament, the Morrison government turned savage; facing electoral defeat (the latest poll figures show that a farm slaughter awaits), the signal to abandon reason was there.  Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Minister for Finance Mathias Cormann, Attorney-General Christian Porter and a host of worthies from the government side have been drumming the same note of feral abandon: opposition politicians are weak on protecting Australia’s sacred borders; refugees should be tarred and feathered as criminals of various sorts.

Labor, tweeted Morrison, “have learned nothing from their past failures and cannot be trusted to keep our borders and Australia strong.”  The Coalition’s border protection policy, he reiterated with confidence trickster’s gumption, “stopped the boats, stopped the deaths at sea, closed the detention centres, removed all children from detention and from Nauru.”

Former Prime Minister and backbencher Tony Abbott has been doing his bit as spear thrower, arguing that, “If you lose control of the border, you lose control of the country.” (Is this code for bowel and body?)

Porter’s reasoning is imaginatively skewed: the bill as passed permits individuals to be transferred to Australia who are either charged and not convicted; or convicted yet not sentenced. “At the very last moment, Labor put an amendment in that would give some discretion to the minister to stop people who are criminals, in effect, from coming to Australia.” Such a measure would fail, given that sentencing was “a very long tunnel”, and that ministerial discretion could not be exercised to keep the rotters out.

Fancifully, Porter’s nasty bout of demonization ignores the effects the detention regime have had on the individuals in question.  Prisons are schools for crime; detention centres are sites for mental ruination.  In some cases, these have resulted in sexual predation and desperation, hardly a cause of justification, but perfectly understandable in Canberra’s desire to degrade a certain class of refugee. If you treat people like animals, expect certain results.

A broader principle is also ignored: those either charged or convicted are not entitled to decent medical care.  They are, whatever their legal status, to suffer.  Yet again, Australia’s inherent penal mentality manifests.

Rounding the list of terrors involved, government representatives have been focusing on that permanently rich gift that keeps giving: the morally depraved and corrupt people smuggler, a phantom menace who has done wonders to keep members of parliament elected and secure.  Such a being, it would seem, is always there, awaiting to do the terrible thing and exploit an asylum seeker’s right to, well, seek asylum.  People smugglers, claims Abbott, “will be saying to their potential customers ‘look what Labor has been able to do in opposition, think how better they’ll be for you when they’re in government.”

In an effort to shore up its failings on the vote, the Morrison government has sought to use Christmas Island as a replacement option.  In Morrison’s resigned words, “We have approved putting in place the re-opening of the Christmas Island detention facilities, both to deal with the prospect of arrivals as well as dealing with the prospect of transfers.”

Local officials on Christmas Island were none too amused; if the facilities were not adequate on Manus or Nauru, they are hardly going to reach par on Christmas Island.  But refugee politics in Australia, at least since the late 1990s, has not been about the sensible and the generous, but about the punitive and the preventative.

Israel and the Golan Heights: A Wider Geopolitical Game

In the recent autumn session of the United Nations General Assembly a number of resolutions involving the Syrian Golan Heights occupied by Israel came up for debate and voting. A familiar pattern emerged. The first of the votes to be noted was UNGA Resolution A/C.4/73/L.20. The wording of this resolution was that the general Assembly “reaffirmed that Israel’s settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories including East Jerusalem are illegal and an obstacle to peace and social development”.

The second resolution, A/C.4/73/L.22 said that the General Assembly “determines that all legislation and administrative measures taken by Israel, the occupying Power, that purport to alter the character and legal status of the occupied Syrian Golan Heights are null and void.”  The wording of this resolution echoed the wording of United Nations Security Council resolution 497 of 17 December 1981, which was 37 years previously. That earlier resolution was passed unanimously; i.e. the United States included.

The third resolution, L/73/L.30 expressed the General Assembly’s deep concern “that Israel has not withdrawn from the Syrian Golan, which has been under occupation since 1967” (i.e. 51 years).

The voting on each resolution respectively was 154 in favour (with 6 No votes and 15 abstentions; 149: 2: and 22; and 99: 10: 66.

The United States, which was part of a unanimous Security Council vote in 1981 condemning Israel’s actions in the Golan Heights as “null and void” was one of the two ‘No’ votes in the second resolution referred to above. The other No vote, unsurprisingly, was Israel. The United States and Israel both voted ‘No’ to the other two resolutions as well. Australia abstained in respect of each of the three votes.

This voting pattern and the debate that surrounded them is significant for a number of reasons.

The first reason is that it unequivocally demonstrates that where Israel is concerned there is a different standard applied by the United States (and Australia) where breaches of international law are concerned.

It is indisputable that land occupied by conquest cannot be returning by the occupying power, much less incorporated into the administrative regime of the occupying power. Yet this is precisely what Israel has done, first by maintaining its occupation post the 1967 Six Day War, and then in 1981 purporting to incorporate the Golan Heights into its own administrative territory.

It is not difficult to envisage the rhetoric from the United States if Russia or China had made any similar moves. One has only to recall the incessant barrage of propaganda from the United States and its allies about “Russian aggression” when Crimea was reincorporated into the Russian Federation following an overwhelming popular vote.

The United States is similarly making threats against China after President Xi made a speech recently pointing out that Taiwan was part of China and that reunification was a goal for the near future. The United States accepted that Taiwan was part of China until 1949 when the Nationalists were defeated in the civil war.

As the Americans showed by voting against a resolution that they had previously been part of a unanimous Security Council in accepting, consistency is not their strong suit. The withdrawal from the antiballistic missile treaty in 2001, and from an INF treaty in 2018, and their abandonment of the JCPOA in 2018 are further illustrations of that point.

It also lays bare, yet again, the hypocrisy of western political leaders, notably in the United States and Australia, who forever trumpet their alleged commitment to the “rules based international order”.

There is no clearer example over a sustained period of time of Israel’s total disregard for international law than in their treatment of the Palestinians and the continued illegal occupation of the Golan Heights. Neither of these examples is the subject of public criticism by American or Australian politicians, and judging by their voting behaviour in the United Nations, support for Israel’s actions is either tacit or explicit.

Earlier in January 2019 two United States Republican Senators, Cruz and Cotton, went public in a joint statement that was remarkable for its complete disregard for international law, its equally cavalier disregard for the factual situation in the Middle East, and for its display of what is best described by the Hebrew word “chutzpah” (insolence, cheek or audacity).

Cruz and Cotton’s statement said, in part:

Responding to the threat posed by Iran and its proxies requires ensuring that Israel can defend its territory and its citizens from attack. To support Israel’s right to self defence, Washington should take the long overdue step of affirming Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

This is a frankly bizarre departure from reality and a number of commentators have already pointed this out.1  It came at the same time as National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were making equally absurd statements on their recent foray to Middle Eastern capitals.2

Even if Israel had legitimate self-defence concerns, occupying the territory of a neighbouring state is neither feasible nor legal. There must therefore be an alternative explanation for Israel’s continued disregard for international law, the extraordinary public comments of two senior members of the Trump administration, and the pattern of behaviour of United States in the region, notwithstanding the recent erratic and contradictory behaviour of its leadership.

One possible explanation that fits the known facts, and which incidentally also helps explain the extraordinary lack of criticism by Western nations of Israel’s continued illegal occupation of the Golan Heights, can be found in the activities of an American company called Genie Energy.

This little-known company is headquartered in Newark, New Jersey. Its strategic advisory board includes such luminaries as Dick Cheney (former US vice president under Bush Jr); James Woolsey (former CIA director); Larry Summers (former head of the US Treasury); Rupert Murdoch (chairman of News Corporation among other media interests); and Jacob Rothschild. It would be hard to nominate a better-connected group of people, all of them noted for a strong pro-Israel bias.

Genie Energy, through its subsidiary Afek Oil and Gas, was granted an oil exploration license for the occupied Golan Heights by the Israeli government. Needless to say, the Syrian government was not consulted.

As far back as October 2015 Afek discovered oil reserves in the Golan Heights, with a potential yield estimated at billions of barrels3 Actually developing those vast reserves would require the solidification of Israel’s control over the occupied territory.

It cannot legally do that, although lack of legality has never been a hindrance to Israel since 1948. Its de facto control of the Golan Heights, however, is key to understanding Israel’s moves in the Middle East since 1967. In recent years Israel’s support for terrorist groups fighting the Assad Government in Syria is destined in part to keep the Syrian army and Iranian supported Hezbollah from challenging Israel’s control of the Golan Heights. It is not a coincidence that Israeli territory proper has not suffered a single ISIS inspired attack although prima facie one might have thought that a Jewish state would be anathema to Islamic fundamentalists.

The evidence is now overwhelming that Israel has been one of the main supporters of ISIS because it suited their own wider geopolitical ambitions.4  When a jihadist group occupied some small towns in the Israeli controlled Golan Heights in February 2017, the Israeli army and air force took no steps to oppose them.

Israel’s ambitions for the Golan Heights are matched by the United States in northern Syria where the area it occupies (also illegally) provided 90% of Syria’s pre-war oil production. Both the United States and Israel have long intended to build a pipeline to provide gas to Europe, supplanting Russia as Europe’s principal supplier.

As Robert Kennedy Jr pointed out5 US plans began in 2000 with a $10 billion 1500 km pipeline from Qatar through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Turkey. It was when Syria rejected their proposed role in the plan in 2009 (as it would jeopardise their relationship with Russia) that the CIA began funding terrorist groups in Syria.

Seen in this broader context, the blatant ongoing illegality of Israel’s occupation of the Golan, the US deep state’s strong desire to remain in northern Syria, the sanctions against Russia, the overt threats against German companies involved in Nord Stream 2,6 and the suppression of most of this material in the western mainstream media (in which Murdoch is a dominant figure) all form part of a long-term set of plans hatched in Washington and Tel Aviv that have nothing to do with the rights and freedoms of the Syrian people.

As courageous independent journalists on the ground in Syria such as Vanessa Beeley have amply demonstrated7, the ordinary people of Syria are but pawns in a wider geopolitical game. In the extraordinary chaos and destruction that the illegal western intervention in Syria has caused, Australia has played a small but significant role.

Actually detecting a benefit to Australia in all of this is more than elusive, but as John Menadue recently pointed out8 for all their protestations about the rule of law and shared western values, the reality is that western politicians have always sacrificed principle for geopolitical expediency.

In the rapidly changing geopolitical framework brought about by Russia’s intervention in Syria in 2015 and a consequent shifting of alliances by key players such as Turkey, it remains to be seen whether the untenable ambitions of Israel and the United States can be brought to fruition. 2019 looks to be no less dangerous than the year just past.

  1. Moon of Alabama 10 January 2019.
  2. See, for example, Strategic Culture Foundation 15 January 2019.
  3. The Economist, ‘Black Gold Under the Golan, 7 November 2015.
  4. Haaretz, 8 September 2018.
  5. Ecowatch, 25 February 2016, Another Pipeline War.
  6. DW, 14 January 1019.
  7. 21st Century Wire, 17 October 2018.
  8. John Menadue, 15 January 2019.

Be Offensive and Be Damned: The Cases of Peter Ridd and Tim Anderson

It has been an ordinary year for universities in Australia. While the National Tertiary Education Union pats itself on the back for supposedly advancing the rights and pay of academics, several face removal and castigation at the hands of university management.  Consumerism and pay are the sort of quotidian matters that interest the NTEU.  Less interesting is the realm of academic ideas and how they clash with the bureaucratic prisons that have been built into universities.

At James Cook University, Peter Ridd was sacked on “code of conduct” grounds applied with a delightful elasticity.  He claimed that it was for holding views on climate change out of step with his colleagues, and attacking the credibility of the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.  (The pettiness of such institutions knows no bounds: Ridd’s knuckles were wrapped, for instance, for satirising, trivialising or parodying the university.)

At the University of Sydney, Tim Anderson, a full time critic of Western interventions in the Middle East and acquitted for ordering the 1978 Sydney Hilton Hotel bombing, has been suspended pending what would seem to be imminent sacking.  Causing “offense” was what mattered.

A cardinal rule applies in this case: Be suspicious of those who use good behaviour as a criterion of policing, notably in an environment where bad behaviour and dangerous ideas should hold sway over meek bumbling and submissiveness.  Be wary of the demands to be vanilla and beige – behind them lies administrative venality and the dictates of compliance.

Such rubbery provisions as being “civil” or not causing offense shield the weak, spineless and fraudulent and, most dangerously, create the very same intolerable workplace that managers are supposedly opposed to.  Very importantly, such code of conduct regulations are designed to immunise management from questions about their behaviour and often daft directives, letting institutions grow flabby with corruption.  Inoculated, that class thrives in its toxicity.

The Deputy Vice-Chancellor of JCU, Iain Gordon, has drawn upon the usual stock nonsense defending the decision regarding Ridd.  “The issue has never been about Peter’s right to make statements – it’s about how he has continually broken a code of conduct that we would expect all our staff to stick to, to create a safe, respectful professional workplace.”  The thrust of this is simple: Never cause offense; be compliantly decent; be cripplingly dull and go back to your homes in your suburbs living a life unexamined. As an academic, you are merely delivering a service mandated by individuals several steps removed from the education process, not performing an ancient duty to educate mankind.

The code of conduct, the product of a corporatized imbecility, assumes the mantle of dogma in such disputes.  “All staff members must comply with the Code of Conduct,” goes Gordon’s official statement in May, with its distinct politburo flavour of placing things beyond debate. “This is non-negotiable.  It is a fundamental duty and obligation that forms part of their employment.”  Ridd, explains Gordon, “sensationalised his comments to attract attention, has criticised and denigrated published work, and has demonstrated a lack of respect for his colleague and institutions in doing so.  Academic rebuttal of his scientific views on the reef has been separately published.”

Anderson, having found himself at stages in the University of Sydney’s bad books, has also run the gauntlet of offensiveness.  The specific conduct resulting in his suspension featured lecture materials shown to students suggesting the imposition of a swastika upon Israel’s flag.  This was deemed “disrespectful and offensive, and contrary to the university’s behavioural expectations”.  Tut, tut, Anderson.

The Sydney University provost and acting vice-chancellor Stephen Garton followed the line taken at JCU towards Ridd with zombie-like predictability.  “The university has, since its inception, supported and encouraged its staff to engage in public debate and it has always accepted that those views might be controversial.” But debate – and here, behavioural fetters were again to be imposed – had to be undertaken “in a civil manner.”  Contrarianism should be expressed with a good measure of decency.

The letter of suspension from Garton to Anderson is one-dimensionally authoritarian.  Principles of academic freedom were supported by the university, but only in “accordance with the highest ethical, professional and legal standards”.  But the all supreme, and trumping document, remained the Code of Conduct, capitalised by the bureaucrats as Mosaic Law. “The inclusion of the altered image of the Israeli flag in your Twitter Posts, Facebook Posts and teaching materials is disrespectful and offensive, and contrary to the University’s behavioural expectations and requirements for all staff.”

Some heart can be taken from the protest last Friday on the part of 30 academics who signed an open letter objecting to the treatment meted out to Anderson, stating that academic freedom was “meaningless if it is suspended when its exercise is deemed offensive.”  His suspension pending termination of his employment was “an unacceptable act of censorship and a body-blow to academic freedom at the University of Sydney”.  Reaction to Ridd has been somewhat cooler.

The point with Anderson is that his views are deemed bad for university business, which tolerates no room for the offensive.  This, in a place where the most varied, and, at points, tasteless views, should be expressed.  But as universities have become shabby entrepreneurial endeavours which see students as obesely delicious milch cows for their existence, the idea is less important than the process.

As is so often the case of free speech, advocates of it always assume it doesn’t apply to others. It is only to be extolled as a mark on paper and university policy.  But never, for instance, challenge inane university policy or the hacks who implement it.  Never ridicule ideas that deserve it.  Never mock the obscene nature of managerialism’s central principle: massaged incompetence and assured decline.  University managers and the colourless suits aided by their ill-tutored human resources goon squads tend to hold sway over opinions, taking against anybody who questions certain aspects of their (non)performance.

The Ridd and Anderson cases, coming from separate parts of the academic spectrum, demonstrate the prevalence of toadyism on the part of those who wish to avoid questioning the rationale of a university’s management process.  They also suggest an immemorial tendency of authority to savagely oppress those who ignore it; to manifest its existence through punishment.  In truth, it is precisely in ignoring those officials long barnacled upon the research and teaching endeavours of the University and drawing revenue best spent on students and scholars that a grave sin is committed.  Such officialdom should be ignored, treated as the bureaucratic irrelevance that it is. Time for sit-ins, occupations, boycotts and a retaking of the University.