Australia Day Rah Rah

Entertaining read (for a non-Aussie) of an Aussie beating up on Australia on Australia day in The Age Today.
Here are some edited excerpts for your Aussie bashing pleasure:

Australia’s preoccupation with simplistic national symbols borders on being infantile. The nation’s young country status revisited annually on Australia Day in mantras of achievement – chanted by ruddy-faced civic leaders in community breakfasts – is anachronistic and increasingly irrelevant.
Australia makes much of its Akubra-wearing mateship tradition. It is touted every year that there is something quintessentially Australian about being a mate. But cobbers in Australia are no different from American, English, German or just about any other nationality where companionship is configured through mutual dependence.
Such easily defined national symbols remind us of what we like to believe our antecedents to be and what we like about ourselves. The truth is we are some far distance from the lucky country.
Australia is increasingly and worryingly more bellicose and jingoistic about expressing its national identity. This is not just in Aussie green and gold shirts at sporting events. The Cronulla riots reflected much about national contemporary identity that Australia actively encourages.
Where is the difference between a boozed-up sunburnt ocker who drapes himself in an Australian flag at Cronulla and wistful backpackers similarly attired at Anzac Cove?
… the xenophobia that has typified much of Australian history and was the dark undercurrent at Cronulla, is now part, for a significant number of Australians, of what it means to be Australian. This is borne out in the acceptance of mandatory detention and in suspicion displacing charity towards asylum seekers.
…Back then [uberkiwi: the 50’s], there were no wire fences in the desert keeping new arrivals from the rest of Australian society. Never did I think I would have to explain to my young son why people were locked up in camps. Never did I think I’d feel ashamed as an Australian when there was so little that apparently could be done to save Nguyen Tuong Van. Or so utterly shamed that Australia remains for many indigenous people a Third World country where children are born into unspeakable disadvantage.
The barbecues and festivities on Australia Day need to be put in perspective. Recognising identity is one thing. Rock concerts, parades and legions of flag-wearing, stubby-guzzling mates are the distillation of a culture that cringes from looking beyond irrelevant symbols of itself.

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Australian Government controlled AWB at time of kickbacks to Saddam Hussein

THE Australian Wheat Board concocted its plan to pay millions of dollars in kickbacks to Saddam Hussein’s corrupt regime while it was still controlled by the Howard Government.

Emails presented to the Cole corruption inquiry yesterday revealed a “culture” within the board that resulted in an agreement to pay kickbacks – and debate among employees about how to hide them from the UN – in June 1999.

The big news is that the emails were exchanged while the wheat board was a statutory authority, controlled by the Government!

It was privatised the month after the emails, becoming AWB as it listed on the Australian Stock Exchange.

Opposition trade spokesman Kevin Rudd said that in light of the new evidence, the Cole inquiry’s terms of reference should be expanded to incorporate the role of the Howard Government.

“Planning appears to have commenced for corrupt practices when AWB was a statutory authority, when it was still in the direct hands of the Howard Government,” Mr Rudd said.

“This takes the matter to a new plane altogether and the role of the Government must be examined. Commissioner Cole should be allowed to make findings in relation to government, as well as employees of AWB.”

Under the terms of reference set by the Government, the inquiry is confined to examining the role of AWB and two other Australian companies in the payment of kickbacks to Saddam’s regime under the oil-for-food program.

The Howard Government has previously insisted that AWB’s problems were its own, because it was a publicly listed company with no links to the Government.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer was in his role at the time of the AWB privatisation.

Mr Downer is on leave and could not be contacted.

Mr Rudd accused Mr Downer of hiding from the AWB scandal: “My challenge
to Mr Downer is: Alex, Alex, come out, come out from wherever you are.
The Australian people would liketo listen to what you’ve got to say.”

Mark Vaile, now Nationals leader and Deputy Prime Minister, replaced Tim Fischer as trade minister in July 1999.

Mr Vaile refused to comment on the revelation. His spokesman said: “The minister will not be giving a running commentary on evidence presented to the Cole inquiry. He will wait until the inquiry is complete.”

Edited excerpts from The Australian: AWB plotted bribes before float Caroline Overington

January 26, 2006

http://theaustralian.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,5744,17942286%255E601,00.html

Australia complicit in torture, rape, slavery and genocide of 200,000 East Timorese

I saw a good documentary on the weekend on ABC called “Debt of Honour” which featured a lot of WWII vets who had served in East Timor in World War II, and who through the 70’s-90’s had been digusted that Australia covered up what was going on and allowed it to happen. Apparently The East Timorese gave a lot of support to Australian Troops in WWII that the soldiers never forgot, with many of the surviving vets still visiting frequently.

The show then covered the troop deployment there from 2000 or so to now, and how the forces feel that they are belatedly repaying a debt of honour.

Anyway, the next day the UN report on the Indonesian invasian and subsequent genocide is released.

Here’s a bit from an article in The Age:

The United Nations has released a report, which documents torture, rape, slavery and starvation leading to the unnatural demise of as many as 180,000 civilians (from a pre-invasion population of 628,000), should shame those ministers, journalists, diplomats and academics who played down or ignored consistent human rights abuses in the former Portuguese colony incredibly described as “aberrant acts” by former foreign minister Gareth Evans.

This group, known as the Jakarta lobby, not only sought to protect the reputation of the Soeharto dictatorship at every opportunity. They went out of their way to oppose East Timor’s claim for independence (a “lost cause” former diplomat Richard Woolcott) and accused critics of the regime in Jakarta of not only exaggerating the scale of the repression, but of being “racist” and “anti-Indonesian” (Woolcott).

Their influence on official policy has been considerable. Rather than indict those responsible for crimes that would have made Slobodan Milosovic and Saddam Hussein blush, governments from Whitlam to Howard ignored regular reports of atrocities that the Catholic Church believes constituted the greatest slaughter relative to a population since the Holocaust. Why?

When “stability”, oil and gas reserves and “good relations” with Jakarta were (mistakenly) thought to be at stake, the state terrorism of the Indonesian military was uncomfortable for Canberra but acceptable, providing most of it could be concealed from the Australian public. When that proved impossible, as in the case of the 1991 Dili massacre, damage control designed to protect the bilateral relationship rather than humanitarian concern was the order of the day. The Howard Government’s approach to Islamist terror could scarcely be a greater contrast in behaviour.

The double standard continues today. While NATO spends millions trying to track down Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, Soeharto remains comfortably retired in the suburbs of Jakarta, with neither Canberra nor Washington showing any interest in bringing him to account for his considerably more serious crimes” (continues)

From Bloody history of East Timor and our part in it – Opinion – theage.com.au

Australian Wheat Board Shocker – funded Saddam and ripped off UN’s World Food Program.

The Howard Government agreed to pay more than
$83 million for two shiploads of Australian wheat on their way to Iraq
when war broke out in 2003, apparently unaware the contract price had
been inflated to cover kickbacks to Saddam Hussein’s regime.



AWB, Australia’s monopoly wheat exporter, convinced the federal
Government to pay, through its AusAID agency, an inflated price for the
wheat stranded in the Persian Gulf at the beginning of the war.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, who was unavailable for comment
last night, said at the time AusAID would deliver the wheat to Iraqis
as part of a post-war humanitarian program. The price included $38
million for the wheat, and $45 million in “handling and distribution
costs”.

The cost of the wheat was ultimately picked up by the UN’s
World Food Program, which feeds people in crisis. Its officials were
also unaware the price was inflated.

The revelation that AWB was prepared to defraud the taxpayer
and an international aid program may be the final straw for the Howard
Government, which has previously defended AWB as it battles to save its
reputation.

The Cole inquiry in Sydney is investigating allegations AWB
paid $290 million in illegal kickbacks to Saddam to secure wheat
contracts worth billions of dollars under the UN’s oil-for-food program
before the Iraq war.

AWB has insisted it thought the payments were for transport
costs, although a senior executive yesterday admitted at the inquiry
that the company knew it was breaching UN sanctions by inflating the
price of wheat.

The outsourcing of evil – Salman Rushdie on US Rendition

By Salman Rushdie
January 10, 2006

BEYOND any shadow of a doubt, the ugliest phrase to enter the English language in 2005 was “extraordinary rendition”. To those of us who love words, this phrase’s brutalisation of meaning is an infallible signal of its intent to deceive.

“Extraordinary” is an ordinary enough adjective, but its sense is being stretched here to include more sinister meanings that your dictionary will not provide: “secret”, “ruthless” and “extralegal”.

As for “rendition”, the English language permits four meanings: a performance, a translation, a surrender this meaning is now considered archaic or an “act of rendering”, which leads us to the verb “to render”, among whose 17 possible meanings you will not find “to kidnap and covertly deliver an individual or individuals for interrogation to an undisclosed address in an unspecified country where torture is permitted”.

Language, too, has laws, and those laws tell us that this new American usage is improper a crime against the word. Every so often the habitual Newspeak of politics throws up a term whose calculated blandness makes us shiver with fear yes, and loathing.

“Clean words can mask dirty deeds,” New York Times columnist William Safire wrote in 1993, in response to the arrival of another such phrase, “ethnic cleansing”. “Final solution” is a further, even more horrible locution of this Orwellian, double-plus-ungood type. “Mortality response”, a euphemism for death by killing that I first heard during the Vietnam War, is another. This is not a pedigree of which any newborn usage should be proud.

People use such phrases to avoid using others whose meaning would be problematically over-apparent. “Ethnic cleansing” and “final solution” were ways of avoiding the word “genocide”, and to say “extraordinary rendition” is to reveal one’s squeamishness about saying “the export of torture”. However, as Cecily remarks in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, “When I see a spade, I call it a spade,” and what we have here is not simply a spade, it’s a shovel and it’s shovelling a good deal of ordure.

Now that Senator John McCain has forced on a reluctant White House his amendment putting the internationally accepted description of torture “cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment” into American law, in spite of Vice-President Dick Cheney’s energetic attempts to defeat it, the growing belief that the Bush Administration could be trying to get around the McCain amendment by the “rendition” of people adjudged torture-worthy to less delicately inclined countries merits closer scrutiny.

We are beginning to hear the names and stories of men seized and transported in this fashion: Maher Arar, a Canadian-Syrian, was captured by the CIA on his way to the United States and taken via Jordan to Syria where, according to his lawyer, he was “brutally physically tortured”. Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen of Kuwaiti-Lebanese origin, was kidnapped in Macedonia and taken for interrogation to Afghanistan, he says, where he was repeatedly beaten. Syrian-born Mohammed Haydar Zammar says that he was grabbed in Morocco and then spent four years in a Syrian dungeon.

Lawsuits are under way. The lawyers for the plaintiffs suggest that their clients were only a few of the victims, that in Afghanistan, Egypt, Syria and perhaps elsewhere the larger pattern of the extraordinary rendition project is yet to be uncovered. Inquiries are under way in Canada, Germany, Italy and Switzerland. The CIA’s own internal inquiry admits to “under 10” such cases, which to many ears sounds like another bit of double-talk. Tools are created to be used, and it seems improbable, to say the least, that so politically risky and morally dubious a system would be set up and then barely employed.

The US authorities have been taking a characteristically robust line on this issue. On her recent European trip, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice more or less told European governments to back off the issue which they duly, and tamely, did, claiming to have been satisfied by her assurances. Soon afterward, at the end of December, the German Government ordered the closing of an Islamic centre near Munich after finding documents encouraging suicide attacks in Iraq. This is a club which, we are told, Khaled al-Masri often visited before being extraordinarily rendered to Afghanistan. “Aha!” we are encouraged to think. “Obvious bad guy! Render his sorry butt anywhere you like!”

What’s wrong with this kind of thinking is that, as Isabel Hilton of The Guardian wrote last July: “The delusion that officeholders know better than the law is an occupational hazard of the powerful and one to which those of an imperial cast of mind are especially prone When disappearance became state practice across Latin America in the ’70s it aroused revulsion in democratic countries, where it is a fundamental tenet of legitimate government that no state actor may detain or kill another human being without having to answer to the law.”

In other words, the question isn’t whether or not a given individual is “good” or “bad”. The question is whether or not we are whether or not our governments have dragged us into immorality by discarding due process of law, which is generally accorded to be second only to individual rights as the most important pillar of a free society.

The White House, however, plainly believes that it has public opinion behind it in this and other contentious matters, such as secret wiretapping. Cheney recently told reporters: “When the American people look at this, they will understand and appreciate what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.”

He may be right for the moment, though the controversy shows no signs of dying down. It remains to be seen how long the American people are prepared to go on accepting that the end justifies practically any means Cheney cares to employ.

In the beginning is the word. Where one begins by corrupting language, worse corruptions swiftly follow. Sitting as the Supreme Court to rule on torture in December 2005, Britain’s law lords spoke to the world in words that were simple and clear. “The torturer is abhorred not because the information he produces may be unreliable,” Lord Rodger of Earlsferry said, “but because of the barbaric means he uses to extract it.”

“Torture is an unqualified evil,” Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood added. “It can never be justified. Rather, it must always be punished.”

The dreadful probability is that the United States’ outsourcing of torture will allow it to escape punishment. It will not allow it to escape moral obloquy.

Salman Rushdie is the award-winning author of numerous books, including Midnight’s Children and The Satanic Verses.

The outsourcing of evil – Opinion – theage.com.au

Japs kill more whales for eating; ram Greenpeace boats

From the News Limited network:

With menacing actions and words, Japan yesterday defied world anger over its whale killing.

A Jap harpooner allegedly rammed Greenpeace activists in the Antarctic, and the country’s whaling industry lashed out at opposition to its bloody trade.

In a rare public statement, Japan Whaling Association president Keiichi Nakajima declared that killing the giant mammals was the only effective way to study them.

Mr Nakajima also called on countries like Australia to tolerate the culls out of respect for ‘cultural diversity’.

‘There are enough whales for both those who want to eat them and those who want to watch them,’ he said.

Mr Nakajima said Australia’s problem with eating whale meat sprang from a difference between Eastern and Western thinking. ”

“Japan defies world anger with more killings”
By Josh Massoud January 09, 2006