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September 26, 2014

sleep walking to the future

The first tranche of the Abbott government's new anti-terror legislation---the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No 1) yesterday passed the Senate yesterday with bipartisan support. This amends the ASIO Act 1979 by adding a new section 35P (amongst others) to extend existing state and federal prohibitions on the disclosure of information regarding policing for anti-terrorist purposes.

The bill gives intelligence organisations the power to access personal computers and the "entire Australian internet" with a single warrant. These powers don't go far enough since ASIO also wants mandatory data retention laws for telecommunications and internet service providers.

Leunigdelusions.jpg Leunig

More specifically, the legislation just passed allows ASIO to use third party computers and networks in order to hack the target of a computer access warrant; a measure the government has argued is necessary because of increasing technical sophistication among surveillance targets. The legislation also changes the definition of computer for the purposes of warrants to "one or more computers", "one or more computer systems", "one or more computer networks", or "any combination of the above".

Journalists and whistleblowers (such as like Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning) will now face up to ten years in gaol if they disclose information about "special intelligence operations" (SIO) (and whether any particular operation is an SIO will itself be kept secret). There is no “public interest” defence. The spooks get what they want from the politicians.

All efforts to introduce safeguards in the form of reporting requirements, sunset clauses and public interest immunity were rejected by both the Coalition and Labor. An amendment secured by the Palmer United Party to actually increase the penalty for identifying an intelligence officer from one to ten years' imprisonment. Only the Greens, Leyonhjelm, John Madigan and Xenophon refused to support the amended laws.

Scott Ludlam fought hard to keep the debate going, and moved a series of amendments that would have protected journalists and whistleblowers, wind back some of the broad new computer warrant powers and increase oversight of ASIO.

The threat of terrorism to Australia has been greatly exaggerated. The idea that IS can attack Australia from its bases in Syria and Iraq is a fantasy and a deliberate scare mongering by the government aided and abetted by the national security media. This evokes an imagined fear, which is then vindicated by an actual event--eg., the shooting death of an 18-year-old so called "terrorism suspect" (Abdul Numan Haider) and double-stabbing of police officers in Melbourne. The Abbott government then plays the counter-terrorism card hard to maximise their chances of re-election.

They are ably supported by the tabloid mainstream media with its expansive media coverage. The right wing white supremacists---eg., the Australian Defence League (ADL) and the Christian right who are determined to prevent the construction of mosques in Australia--- are then emboldened in their attacks on Muslims. This fits in with the more generalised pattern of abuse and intimidation which Muslims in Australia have been subjected to since the inauguration of The War on Terror in 2001

The overwhelming police response so far is aimed at members of Australia’s Middle Eastern, Muslim minority and that the white supremacist, bigoted racist wallies who want to burn mosques and attack young Muslim women in the street, are being left to foment their own special kind of trouble.

Giving more and stronger powers – of arrest, detention, investigation and interrogation of suspects – to the police and ASIO represent steps towards an authoritarian government.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 1:37 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

September 23, 2014

historical amnesia

The Abbott Government continues to say that its intervention in the 3rd Iraq War is for humanitarian reasons. It is, the ministers say, a limited intervention to assist the Yazidi minority group in Iraq earlier this year after Isis attacked them. Now we have an estimated 100,000 Syrian Kurds fleeing Islamic State (Isis) advances across north-east Syria. Recall that the US armed IS to fight the Assad Syrian regime.

Does Australia step into help the Iraqi Kurds? Australia was only meant to be involved in Iraq not Syria, according to the Abbott Govt at the invitation of the Iraq Government. On the other hand, Abbott has said that Australia was committed to containing and degrading and destroying Isis to combat the threat posed by the IS terrorists. Does that mean there will be military action in Syria without the Syrian Government's cooperation? You don't send in the SAS to run humanitarian missions.

TandbergRIraqHoward.jpg Ron Tandberg

There is little acknowledgment by the Liberal party that the 2nd Iraq war had been "wrong", that Australia went to war under false pretences in Iraq, and that the destruction of Iraq has resulted in the emergence of IS, homegrown terrorism and Australians participating in terrorist activities in Iraq. For the Liberal party there are no lessons to be learned from the errors of the past, because there were no errors and there were no disastrous consequences of the previous military interventions.

Australia must stand tough and muscular with respect to its duties and obligations on the international stage. Cue Abbot striking his Churchillian pose of the grave demeanor and resolute tone to show that he is purposeful, unyielding, and courageously ready for the fight.

The United States and allies have launched airstrikes against Sunni militants in Syria , unleashing a cruise missiles and precision-guided bombs from the air and sea on the militants’ de facto capital of Raqqa, Syria, and along the porous Iraq border. The strikes represent a major turning point in the war against the Islamic State and opens up a risky new stage of the American military campaign.

It looks like the 3rd Iraqi war is going to be an open-ended conflict and obsequiousness will be Canberra’s response. So we have the Abbott government’s rapid escalation of our new involvement in Iraq going from a purely humanitarian mission to one where we appear to be joining the US in an open-ended civil war in the context of the West bearing significant responsibility for the catastrophic rise of ISIS from the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

That history suggests that Western intervention will only make things worse rather than resolve the hideous aftermath of the last ones.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:28 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

September 19, 2014

Red Alert, Hollywood style

So we have a counter terrorism raid with over 800 police bursting into homes in Sydney, Brisbane and Logan, hovering helicopters, 15 arrested and detained, four charged. Oh, and the media were duly recruited and the major mainstream TV outlets supplied with footage of the commando-style operations, filmed and supplied by the police themselves. The police also helpfully supplied still shots of the action to the newspapers.

leunigevil.jpg Leunig

In this terror drama terrorist sympathisers in Australia were foiled plotting "an extravaganza of brutality" and this indicates the existential threat of “home-grown terrorism", the “enemies within”. Why, even Australia’s half a million Muslims are not “fitting in”, and their very presence is a threat to social cohesion. There is angst about Muslim incompatibility with “Western/Australian values”. Islamaphobia is being stirred by the shock jocks on talk back radio.

The problem with this terror spectacle is that we don’t actually know the details of the evidence against those arrested. It is all wrapped in the shroud of counter-terrorism. No But the message is loud and clear--- Australia's national security is threatened big time.

It's time for the Australian public to be alarmed and alert, for Australia to have a homeland security-type portfolio, and for all the anti-terrorism legislation to be passed asap. The terror theatrics justifies Australia's involvement in the 3rd Iraq War.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 12:57 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

September 18, 2014

Australia's poor policy reform capacity

In his ANU Policy Outlook 2014 keynote, "Public policy resilience and the reform narrative", at the ANU Ken Henry, the former Treasury Secretary, argues that policy reform proposals are unlikely to be implemented, and even less likely to prove resilient, unless accompanied by a compelling narrative.

Henry states that the core narrative that has been used to support economic policy reform efforts in Australia for the past 30 years goes like this: reforms that enhance productivity and cut costs, including labour costs, build international competitiveness; international competitiveness drives exports; exports drive growth; growth drives jobs; and jobs support living standards.

RoweDpoliticalcircus.jpg David Rowe

He argues that recent reform proposals to deal with the economic consequences of the mining boom, and to contribute to international efforts to lower carbon emissions, have been presented tentatively, have been poorly understood, and have not proved resilient. He adds:

The fact that major policy initiatives in these areas have proven fragile has been cause for some questioning of our policy reform capacity. But really, given our national fixation with a simplistic reform narrative constructed on concepts of "international competitiveness", "exports", "growth", and "jobs", we should not have had high expectations of policy success in these areas.

We can also see this the mercantilst narrative crippling of efforts to position Australia for the Asian century.

He says:

According to the narrative, our prospects will be compromised by a set of Australian attributes developed over generations: excellence in governance; incorruptibility; safe working conditions; a concern with environmental sustainability and animal welfare; and institutions that support social harmony, economic and social opportunity, and tolerance.
All of these attributes support opportunity and freedom for this and future generations of Australians. They improve the well-being of the Australian people by enhancing their prospects of choosing a life of value. But a mercantilist might want to argue that all are costly; that Australia's international competitiveness could be improved by ditching any or all of them.

He argues that the quality of public policy and its resilience will be assisted by the acceptance of a more honest reform narrative; a narrative that comprehends contemporary challenges and the important role to be played by government in nurturing national endowments that will ensure that individuals, faced with those challenges, have the capabilities to pursue lives of value.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:34 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 11, 2014

banging the drums of war

The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (Asio) has signalled that the terrorism threat level in Australia could be raised to high from medium. The rhetoric is that of manufactured fear is about a death cult over there posing a threat in this country.

There’s no credible information that the Islamic State (IS) is planning an attack on Australia. Nor is there any indication at this point of a cell of foreign fighters (Islamic State) operating in Australia. So there is no actual or imminent threat to the nation from the Islamic State.

PettyBoperation_ideology.jpg Bruce Petty

That doesn't stop the war hawks from their fear mongering to scare a war weary population by implying that there are ISIS sleeper cells living in Australia and that they are a grave and unprecedented threat (far worse than al Qaeda!). The two people arrested in Queensland were not planning a domestic attack nor were they connected to the Islamic State.

So Abbott has to “flex his muscles” and show “toughness” to justify his desire to assume the usual subservient Australian role in support of American wars. As Mark Latham in the Australian Financial Review observes:

From presidents Johnson to Obama, tens of thousands of young lives have been sacrificed for purposes ill-conceived in their design and futile in their execution. And for every American misjudgement, Australia has been lock-step in agreement.With the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s strong-arm government, the Coalition of the Willing lifted the lid on sectarian and tribal conflicts in Iraq. Islamic State militants are motivated by hatred of the West and a desire to restore Sunni dominance over the US-sponsored Shiite government in Baghdad.

It's worse than that. It was only a year ago that President Bashar al-Assad was deemed to be evil and a grave threat, and that military action against his regime was both a moral and strategic imperative. Now the US, UK and Australia are starting a new campaign to bomb those fighting against Assad – the very same side the U.S. has been arming over the last two years. (the same, of course, was true of the Taliban in Afghanistan). It was a national imperative on both occasions.

The Abbott Government is obediently following the Obama administration's script of the need to destroy ISIS. That means the “limited” bombing of Syria and Iraq to attack ISIS will result in more justifications for military action in that region. If it turns out that airstrikes are insufficient to seriously degrade ISIS, and you really believe that ISIS is a serious threat to the “homeland” and national security interests, then how could you justify opposing anything needed to defeat them up to and including ground troops?

No doubt Australia’s participation in the last Iraq war will substantially increased the threat of homegrown terrorism to the country as well as encouraging, rather than discouraging, radicalized individuals to pour into Syria and Iraq to boost the IS numbers.

It is hard to look at U.S. actions in the Middle East and still accept that the goal of its military deployments is humanitarianism. The U.S. government does not oppose tyranny and violent oppression in the Middle East. To the contrary, recent history indicates that it is and long has been American policy to do everything possible to subjugate the populations of that region with brutal force. Humanitarianism is the cover for blowing things and people up with bombs.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:36 AM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

September 8, 2014

just short sighted politics

The Abbott Govt celebrates the removal of carbon pricing and the mining tax and stopping the asylum seeker boats from reaching Australian shores. That represents a roll back of Labor's policies and the rhetoric is that ridding the country of a minerals tax will boost income and create jobs even though the investment boom is over, the price of minerals is falling, and the mining tax raised very little money.

The next stage of Chinese development will likely see its citizens spending more on consumer goods, and this in turn means a reduced, demand for the raw minerals from Australia. What then of its medium and long term reforms as distinct from the short-sighted politics and protecting the interests of the miners and fossil fuel companies?

RoweDAbbottAnniversary.jpg David Rowe

The removal of the increase in compulsory superannuation from 9% to 12% indicates that it has none. Superannuation is one key way to further the "end of the age of entitlement" agenda as it shifts people from the old age pension to superannuation. It's self reliance par excellence. All it has done is to cut the rate of increase in the old age pension. This is hardly forward looking from a government anxious to tout its neo-liberal credentials.

The Coalition's rhetoric is that the best way to eliminate the budget deficit is to slash spending, cut superannuation entitlements and ensure 80 per cent of the proceeds from Australia's diminishing resources flow offshore. Eliminate the budget deficit in this way----by promoting inequality and placing the greatest burden on those least able to bear it----will ensure national development and growing prosperity. The Coalition's rhetoric is premised on a morality tale:--a period of opulence must be atoned for by a period of austerity.

The economic argument from economists with respect to 'budget repair' is that if a reduction in spending growth is not achieved over the medium term, an even greater share of the burden of fiscal consolidation would need to fall on the revenue side of the budget, meaning taxation increases. The Commonwealth budget doesn’t add up. Revenues don’t cover outgoings. The numbers won’t improve much with time. It’s very unlikely that driving economic growth will solve the budget’s problems, given that small countries like Australia are simply too dependent on what goes on abroad.

Yet the Coalition's new spending which is increasing the budget deficit, suggests that it will not prove capable of managing the twilight of the mining boom by investing to develop human capital by educating the Australian population. Their emphasis appears to to be the low road of a low wage economy.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 2:10 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

September 1, 2014

here we go again

It's mission creep under the guise of humanitarian help--to prevent genocide against beleaguered minorities in northern Iraq. It follows the RAAF humanitarian supply airdrops to thousands of people still stranded on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq. Australia's’s response to Islamic State (Isis) should be on humanitarian aid.

Mission creep that is a continuation of the war of terror. Last week Australia was dropping food and water to prevent a humanitarian crisis. This week Australia is dropping weapons in a region where the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), one of 19 organisations that Canberra lists globally as terrorists, is active. The SAS is also involved as they will provide protection to the crew when they land in coming days in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq to deliver arms and munitions.

RowsonMISwar.jpg Martin Rowson

So Australia has intervened into a civil war by supporting one terrorist organization --the PKK-- against another --the Islamic State (IS) that is tacitly supported by Saudi Arabia, which Australia sees as one of the good guys who are part of the West. Australia is a gun runners for the Kurds at the behest of the United States. Australia also supported IS in its opposition to the Assad regime in Syria. Will Australia now support Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, as an ally in the fight against Islamic State (Isis) extremists? If the US does Australia will follow suit.

The so-called war on terror is nearly 13 years old. We have had crackdowns on civil liberties across the world, tabloid-fanned generalisations about Muslims and military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq whose consequences have ranged from the disastrous to the catastrophic. Australia helped to topple and killed Iraq’s ruler, Saddam Hussein, dismantled his army and law and order, broke the ruling party and civil service and caused the chaos that exiled the middle classes and massacred tens of thousands of civilians. And where have we ended up? With another war.

The rhetoric is being ramped up--the danger posed by Islamic State (IS) extremists is being presented as the biggest security threat of modern times, surpassing that of al-Qaida. No doubt the rhetoric will start to include the claim that the battle with Isis is about defending Australian or "western values". So it is a war against Islam, which represents non-western values. National security is threatened. It requires a whole new range of executive powers to deal with jihadis returning from Iraq that will endanger our liberties. Labor falls into line.

Humanitarian intervention does not mean embracing war through picking a side and helping it to win, or lose. We know that western bombs will not restore the fortunes of the Iraqi government or force Isis to admit defeat. Isis will simply hide in civilian cities. So what substantive or existential, threat to the west does IS pose? How is Isis a danger to Australia?

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:59 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack