Thursday, 2 September 2027

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Abbott and Turnbull's Assault on Freedom of Speech, Pearls & Irritations, 20 April, 2018.

JOHN STAPLETON. Abbott and Turnbull’s Assault on Freedom of Speech.

The Abbott and Turnbull governments have mounted the greatest attack on freedom of speech in Australian history.
Legislation being pushed through by the government earlier this year under the guise of national security, allowing for journalists and whistle-blowers to be jailed for up to 20 years, was just the latest in a string of such assaults.
The government knew from international research that introducing the panopticon, universal surveillance, would have a devastating impact on Australian culture. When people know they are being watched, they behave differently. Dissent is stifled, conformity becomes the norm, populations easier to manage. 
In parallel, the targeting and surveillance of journalists has reached unprecedented levels and is having a profound impact on the art and practice of journalism. 
Try writing something critical of government authorities and security agencies when you know every keystroke is being followed and the information passed up the food chain to some of the very people you may have good reason to regard as entirely untrustworthy.
Surveillance has already moved well beyond the military and government objectives of creating a compliant population. The drift from participatory democracy to oligarchy to totalitarian state is well in play. The public are being extremely poorly served.
A dishonest and incompetent government is a paranoid government. The truth must never out. 
Journalists are now POIs (Persons of Interest) under the ASIO Act. The tranches of anti-journalist legislation include the National Security Legislation Amendment Act (No. 1) 2014, which introduced jail terms of up to 10 years for journalists who disclosed what are known as SIOs, Secret Intelligence Operations. Who decides what an SIO is? They do. 
In the same year, the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Act provided for journalists to be jailed for up to 10 years for publishing news reports or ads that might help terrorists recruit. And in 2015, the Data Retention Act (The Telecommunications [Interception and Access] Amendment [Data Retention] Act 2015) permitted police to access journalists’ metadata that could reveal their confidential sources. 
Although Australia’s plethora of ultra-secretive national security agencies have a poor reputation and a troubled history, the current generation of conservatives have seen fit to greatly expand both their funding and their power. 
The literature on Australia’s ultra-secretive security agencies is sparse. Yet there is more than enough to indicate serious problems, including excessive surveillance, extensive manipulation of the media, and the spread through the government of the traditional Defence Department attitude towards journalists – that they are public enemy number one, to be shut down or shut up. 
The most significant texts include David McKnight’s Australia’s Spies and their Secrets, Meredith Burgmann’s Dirty Secrets: Our ASIO Files and Michael Tubbs’ ASIO: The Enemy Within.
Once upon a time, to think one was under surveillance was viewed as a clear sign of madness. These books demonstrate one thing: if you think you are under surveillance, you almost certainly are. The typical Australian shrug off, “don’t be ridiculous, you’re not that important”, simply does not hold.
My own experience came post-retirement. Returning from several years in Asia, I was struck by the dilapidated state of Australia in contrast to the bustling, dynamic places I had lived in. And so began work on a book initially titled Workers’ Paradise Lost. 
But it was impossible to ignore the biggest story of the day, terror, with then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott having abandoned good government in favour of terrifying the population, pounding on about “the death cult” at every opportunity to every news outlet he could. This was despite having been repeatedly warned by terror-messaging experts that his terminology was counterproductive, arousing interest and attracting recruits to Islamic State. Ultra-violence cuts through. 
And thus came about the book: Terror in Australia: Workers’ Paradise Lost.
The element that caused most offence was in a strange sense a surface one.
Every single police strike force and terror operation conducted under the Abbott government was named with a pro-jihad tag.
At first, this just seemed completely implausible. 
How could this possibly be so?
But there they were – the extremely well-paid leaders of national security agencies up there in front of the cameras triumphantly promoting their latest operation, all of which were named after something any Muslim, with that culture’s well-honed sense of historical grievance, could decipher. 
Some of them were so obvious it was difficult to understand why nobody had raised the alarm before.
Here are just a few: 
Counter-Terrorism Operation Amberd: Launched straight after Anzac Day in 2015. Amberd is in Armenia and 2015 was the centenary of the largest massacre of Christians in history, 1.5 million. 
Jericho Waterfront Taskforce: Jericho was one of the most successful caliphates in history.
Operation Polo: Marco Polo, often known simply as Polo, was one of history’s most famous critics of Islam.
Operation Coulter. Ann Coulter is an infamous American columnist best known for her comment: “Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslim.”
And so it went. 
When quizzed, the answer from the Australian Federal Police was so bizarre as to be instructive. The government, they claimed, had nothing to do with the naming of task force and counter-terror operations. Tony Abbott’s office did not respond.
From that moment on, I felt under intense, intrusive and intimidatory surveillance.
Some of the most truly egregious legislation passed by the Abbott and Turnbull governments involved so-called Journalist Information Warrants. These allow access to journalists’ data by more than 20 government departments. 
The measures had nothing to do with counterterrorism, the lie under which the public had been sold the pup. 
As the MEAA journalist’s union records in its excellent report, Criminalising the Truth, Suppressing the Right to Know (May 2016), the Journalist Information Warrant scheme was introduced without consultation with the profession and operates entirely in secret. Journalists are not informed if a warrant is taken out against them and if by some means discover that one has been taken out against them, will be jailed if they publicise the fact. Each warrant can scope the entire cache of telecommunications for the previous two years, trawling through the journalist’s metadata in the hunt for sources. 
The laws are now so tight that it becomes a question of how any journalist can write about security operations, or even their own surveillance, without being imprisoned.
I chose to use novelistic techniques. The central character in my last two books is a dishevelled retired reporter with a swirling head and a wild imagination called “Old Alex”.
And, as Alex speculates in Hideout in the Apocalypse:

“Could someone who first began publishing pieces of journalism in the 1970s and had just written a book called Terror in Australia: Workers’ Paradise Lost possibly be the subject of a Journalist Information Warrant? Or was it illegal to even speculate? It was mind-boggling stuff.”

The problem with government secrecy is that not only does injustice and malfeasance grow in darkness, but suspicion and distrust spreads every which way. 
ASIO and other national security agencies continue to recruit from the nation’s universities. Many of the nation’s senior bureaucrats and politicians were students when these agencies were at their most active. 
Are they really working for us? Or are they working for them? 
John Stapleton worked as a staff reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian for more than 20 years. His latest book, Hideout in the Apocalypse, which is about surveillance and the crushing of Australia’s larrikin spirit, will be available in paperback next month. 
A collection of his journalism is being constructed here

Saturday, 7 April 2018

More than the Taliban, opium is the enemy in Afghanistan, The New Daily, 7 April, 2018.

Even more than the Taliban, opium is the enemy in Afghanistan – and it’s winning

The failure of the Afghanistan war in which Australia, as a loyal ally of America, has been a major contributor has fueled opium and heroin production in the region to unprecedented levels, the world’s leading expert on global drug trafficking has warned.

A tiny, landlocked, poverty-stricken nation has brought the combined military might of the US, the UK and Australia to the edge of defeat. And it all boils down to a small pink flower – the opium poppy.

Dr Alfred McCoy first came to prominence in 1972 with his groundbreaking book The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia, which was ensured popularity after the CIA tried to ban it. Following a sojourn in Australia as a visiting academic, he wrote Drug Traffic: Narcotics and Organised Crime in Australia.

Dr McCoy told The New Daily: “The fitful yet relentless rise in Afghanistan’s opium production from about 100 tons in 1978 to 9,000 tons in 2017, can be traced to a convergence of complex factors.

“The slowly declining production in Southeast Asia’s Golden Triangle through UN and US counter-narcotics, the failed Nixon drug war of the 1970s that stimulated narcotics trafficking on five continents, the collapse of the Iron Curtain facilitating a proliferation of opiates across the breadth of Eurasia, and decades of warfare.

“As long as the opium harvest continues to boom, the villages of Afghanistan can produce new crops of teen-aged fighters faster than allied or Afghan soldiers can shoot them.”

America has been in almost continuous combat since 2001, spending more than $1300 billion on the Afghanistan War and losing more than 2300 soldiers. Australia has spent some $10 billion and sacrificed the lives of 41 soldiers.

The allies face defeat simply because they cannot control the swelling surplus from the country’s heroin trade, Dr McCoy argues.

Every spring the opium harvest refills the Taliban’s coffers.

In one of history’s bitter ironies, Dr McCoy argues America’s military intervention has transformed Afghanistan into the world’s first true narco-state – a country where illicit drugs dominate the economy, define political choices and determine the fate of foreign interventions.

“Opium eradication and crop substitution have been worse than an absolute failure,” Dr McCoy told The New Daily.

“Many of the programs, such as irrigation and ‘market roads’, served as agricultural inputs that actually stimulated increased opium production.

“Within five years after the US intervention of October 2001 the Taliban had taken control of the traffic to fund guerrilla warfare against the allied forces, reviving its fortunes from near extinction back in 2001 to controlling over half the countryside today.”

This week Afghanistan remained gripped by violence, with dozens of civilians, including children, feared dead after airstrikes hit a school.

Yet the Australian government continues to support military action.

Defence Minister Marise Payne said in an official statement earlier this year that Australia remained steadfast: “Australian personnel are in integral roles and bring their skills and expertise. It is critical that Afghanistan does not once again become a breeding ground for terrorists.“

Her views run counter to many senior Australian analysts.

“At this point, there should be enough informed opinion among Australian veterans of Afghanistan—military, diplomatic, and developmental—for a sober assessment of the chances of future success,” Dr McCoy said.

“If the government of the day has decided to re-enlist in Washington’s endless war, that indicates that Canberra is not seeking the counsel of these informed critics, is ignoring such cautionary counsel to curry favor with the Trump White House, and is not weighing the likely costs, now and in the future, of such a fraught, failing commitment.”

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Quantum physicist named 2018 Australian of the Year, The New Daily, 26 January, 2018.

Quantum physicist named 2018 Australian of the Year

Professor Michelle Yvonne Simmons is looking to build a quantum computer capable of solving problems in minutes. Photo: ABC
John Stapleton

Quantum physicist Professor Michelle Yvonne Simmons, described by some as the Marie Curie of Australia and with an almost unparalleled record of achievement, has been named the 2018 Australian of the Year.

Professor Simmons leads a research team at the University of NSW, which in 2012 developed the world’s first transistor made from a single atom, as well as the world’s thinnest wire.

She dreams of creating a quantum computer capable of solving problems in minutes, which would otherwise take thousands of years.

Eddie Woo (Australia’s Local Hero), Samantha Kerr (Young Australian of the Year) and Dr Graham Farquhar AO (Senior Australian of the Year) were also honoured at a ceremony in Canberra on Thursday night.

Professor Simmons, who arrived in Australia from Britain in 1999, says she is driven by a desire to create technology useful to everybody.

“Wow, amazing moment,” she said in her acceptance speech.

“I came to Australia because i believed it would allow me to realise my dream.

“I pinch myself everyday. What we are doing extraordinary.”Michelle Yvonne Simmons’s work in quantum physics is developing leading technology on a global scale.

Likely to prove one of the most popular Australians of the Year since the awards began in 1960, she told an adoring audience her team were already manipulating individual atoms to create technology which had never existed before.

“We want to build not just a quantum computer but a quantum industry. We have proven time and time again that Australian researchers have unique advantages. We are down to earth. Our distaste for authority means we think for ourselves,” she said.

She urged the country to defy expectations and follow the four mantras: Do what is hard, take risks, embrace high expectations and do work that matters.

“We are fortunate to live in a country which not just accepts these mantras but celebrates them. Be proud of your country and who you are.

“You can realise your dreams … right here. Look into your own heart. And look into your own land.”

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who introduced each of the winners at an event in Canberra, said the contenders were a “shining example of our best selves. Their lives have made our lives better”.
Senior Australian of the Year — Dr Graham Farquhar AOANU scientist Graham Farquhar was the winner of the 2017 Kyoto Prize. Photo: ANU

Scientist Graham Farquhar was named Senior Australian of the Year for his work focusing on food security and climate change.

The Australian National University biophysicist won the 2017 Kyoto Prize – an equivalent to the Nobel Prize.

“Australia Day is the day we celebrate, amongst other things, the people who have grown old in this country. Let no one grow old alone,” he told the audience on Thursday night.

“We can be creative. We can struggle for honesty. We can deal with failures. We are all lucky because of our ability to embrace creativity.”
Young Australian of the Year — Samantha KerrSam Kerr (left) received the award for her on-field achievements and work advocating for women’s sport.

Samantha Kerr, arguably the best female soccer player in the world, was named the Young Australian of the Year.

By the time she was 15, she represented the Matildas. Known for her prolific goal scoring ability and trademark backflip, an emotional, almost tearful Ms Kerr said the award was an endorsement of women’s sport: “As a female athlete this makes me extremely proud to be an Australian.”
Australia’s Local Hero — Eddie Woo

Eddie Woo, 32, is arguably Australia’s most famous mathematics teacher thanks largely to his quirky online videos on his channel Wootube, which attracts more than 100,000 subscribers.

Mr Woo, whose parents came to Australia from Malaysia in the 1970s, said in an impassioned speech: “I stand before you not as an individual, but as a proud representative of every teacher around the country.

“We know the power of giving a child the priceless gift of an education. I am no more a hero than anyone else. All I have done is open a window through to the hard work and dedication that happens in schools around the country. I call on every Australian to value education.”NSW mathematics teacher Eddie Woo was named Australia’s Local Hero for 2018. Photo: AAP

Order of Australia: The famous faces and unsung heroes who received the honour, The New Daily, 26 January, 2018.

Order of Australia: The famous faces and unsung heroes who received the honour

Olympic swimmer Shane Gould (pictured here with her Olympic medals) is a new member of the Order of Australia. Photo: AAP
John Stapleton

Eighty-year-old Patricia Elliott, who lives on a rural block seven kilometres outside of Katherine in the Northern Territory, had no idea she was even nominated for an Order of Australia until a letter arrived from the Governor-General.

Mrs Elliott was one of the 895 recipients to receive the honour from Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove, with investitures to take place in government houses around the country in the coming months.

After winning a government ballot for a pastoral lease in 1964, Mrs Elliott and her husband raised eight children on a property outside Katherine.

It was that experience which engendered a lifetime obsession with remote area education, and has now led to her becoming a Member of the Order of Australia.

The debacle of the NBN, she says, is severely impacting on remote education.

“Regardless of race, creed or colour a child in a remote area deserves equality of education,” Mrs Elliott told The New Daily. “You want your children to have the best opportunities they can. This honour goes to all the parents educating their kids in remote areas. They deserve it.”

The Governor-General congratulated the recipients for their contribution: “These are our nation’s honours, reserved for those who are often unsung, quietly working away to uplift our nation. Their qualities – compassion, dedication, generosity, selflessness, tolerance, and energetic ambition – inspire and motivate us.”

However, after a 12-month campaign to encourage broader community participation, only 33 per cent of recipients are female, roughly in line with the percentage of original nominations.

Sir Peter Cosgrove said. “We’d love to see more diversity in our awards. Let’s make sure everyone gets a fair go and the chance to be recognised by their country.”

One of the features of this year’s awards has been the recognition of sporting women, including celebrated tennis player Evonne Goolagong, who won 14 grand slam titles in the 1970s and 1980s, sprinter Betty Cuthbert, who was a gold medalist at the Melbourne and Tokyo Olympics, and Michele Timms, regarded as one of the greatest Australian basketball players of all time.

Legendary swimmer and new Order of Australia member Shane Gould won three gold medals at the 1972 Munich Olympics and broke numerous world records. Her prompt retirement from international sport saddened and mystified the nation.

After raising a family of four in relative obscurity, she has remarried and completed two Masters degrees.

She told The New Daily of her sporting past: “You have to remember I was a kid. Like a lot of young athletes I was used for nationalistic projects. I was asked to do things that were really impossible.”

Despite the controversy surrounding the nation’s involvement in the coalition bombing of both Iraq and Syria, as well as the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, a significant number of awards have gone to military personnel.

Lieutenant Colonel David McCammon received a Distinguished Service Medal for his leadership as the Commanding Officer overseeing a leading training unit in Iraq. He delivered training to over 9000 Iraqi Army soldiers and then equipped and trained five Iraqi Brigades during a highly demanding operational period.

Colonel Matthew James Cuttell received a Commendation for Distinguished Service for his duties in warlike operations as the Chief of Operations in Iraq, including providing advice during battlefield incidents.

In scientific endeavours, the Order of Australia went to Professor Rhys Jones for mechanical and aerospace engineering, Professor Trevor McDougall for his contributions in the area of ocean thermodynamics, and Professor Jennifer Martin for the study of drug-resistant bacteria.

Journalist Tracey Spicer received an award for service to broadcast media.

Monday, 30 October 2017

Terror law to allow child detention, The New Daily, 31 October, 2017.

Terror law to allow child detention denounced

Malcolm Turnbull addresses a COAG meeting earlier in October. Photo: AAP
John Stapleton

The Prime Minister’s pledge to introduce national legislation to detain people, including children as young as 10 years old, for 14 days without charge is a march towards totalitarianism, civil libertarians have warned.

Earlier this month, in what is known in intelligence circles as “security theatre”, Malcolm Turnbull held a special National Security COAG meeting of all state premiers and first ministers to advance the new laws.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews spoke for the group when he said: “Notional considerations of civil liberties do not trump the very real threat of terror in our country today.”

What was not disclosed to the public was that if anyone charged under Commonwealth terror laws spoke publicly about what happened to them in detention they would likely be sent straight back to prison.

Nor did the gathered leaders mention that if any journalist wrote about any alleged mistreatment during what are called Special Intelligence Operations (SIOs) they would also be jailed under changes to the ASIO Act.

The new laws have come under renewed focus with the recent release of ASIO’s annual report.

Distinguished former barrister and Canberra insider Pamela Burton told The New Daily she was extremely concerned about the extension of powers. Australia was a signatory to the United Nation’s Convention Against Torture and there had been significant efforts to implement a national system of inspections of all places of detention.

“I am dismayed at the path we now seem set on to authorise arbitrary power to detain people and children as young as 10, as a consequence of terrorism scares,” she said.

President of the Law Council of Australia, Fiona McLeod SC, echoed the concerns. She told The New Daily moves to detain 10-year-olds without charge for up to a fortnight was extraordinarily draconian.

“It’s the combined shock of having a pre-charge detention of up to 14 days and the revelation they’re going to seek to have this extended to the age of 10,” Ms McLeod said. “We’re talking about grade four kids. This has crossed the line.”

Attention on the extensive gifting of powers and budgets to Australia’s security services by the Abbott/Turnbull governments has renewed with the release of ASIO’s annual report.

Paul Murphy, head of the journalists union MEAA, told The New Dailyhard-won democratic and civil rights were being signed away through a deluge of national security legislation.

“These greater powers have to be balanced with greater scrutiny, particularly if we are going to proceed to where minors are being arrested. One safeguard is fearless and independent reporting and when that becomes a crime, we move into very dangerous territory,” Mr Murphy said.

Solicitor Stephen Blanks, President of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, told The New Daily the Abbott and Turnbull governments had gifted ASIO excessive powers inconsistent with a free society.

“There are inevitably doubts about the possibility of ASIO overreach and abuse of power,” he said.

Greg Barnes, spokesman for the Australian Lawyers Alliance, told The New Daily it was difficult to imagine a more unsuitable candidate than Australia for the UN Human Rights Council.

“The torture of asylum seekers, including indefinite detention of infants and children; the detaining without charge of children as young as 10 under anti-terror laws … you name it, Australia has it,” Mr Barnes said.

Professor David McKnight, author of Australian Spies and Their Secrets, said there had been no case advanced for 14 days detention without charge: “What makes the debate so difficult in Australia is no one wants to be seen to be soft on terrorism.”

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Federal government appears more than ready to channel its inner bully, The New Daily, 30 October, 2017.

Federal government appears more than ready to channel its inner bully

Malcolm Turnbull decided not to vacate his Point Piper mansion to live at Kirribilli House. Photo: ABC
ANALYSISJohn Stapleton

As the events of the last week have shown, this is a government run by bullies.

A year ago, The New Daily broke the story of concerns over cost overruns and security flaws at Malcolm Turnbull’s mansion.

We reported that the Prime Minister was potentially endangering the lives of his family, staff, neighbours and the AFP officers who protect him by choosing to defy tradition and live in his Point Piper mansion rather than at lodgings provided by the taxpayer.

The mansion is vulnerable to attack from the busy harbour, from the unsecured streets and houses surrounding it, and from the air, we reported.

Not one person has disputed the accuracy of The New Daily‘s story. AFP officers themselves were understood to be pleased with it, and improvements to security at the Prime Minister’s home were made immediately.

The story was leaked to us by a national security insider concerned over the significant potential for disaster.

The problem remains exactly as it was a year ago.

In recent days there have been revelations of an internal memo claiming the AFP has had to scale back its crime-fighting operations, linking this to the high cost of maintaining both the official residences and Mr Turnbull’s private mansion.

Asked about the issue in Parliament, the Prime Minister declared: “We have given record funding to the AFP.”

While a year ago Tony Abbott declined the opportunity to comment, this time around, with open war breaking out in government ranks, there was no such hesitancy. “It is a reasonable question to pose,” he told reporters.

Mr Turnbull is understood to have been furious with the original story, determined heads would roll.

An essential link in the story was the Australian Federal Police Association (AFPA), the union representing the officers themselves. AFPA President Angela Smith was quoted saying maintaining official residences in Canberra and Sydney was an indulgence taxpayers could not afford.The Prime Minister is under fire over his decision. Photo: AAP

Following normal journalistic practice, these comments were transmitted to The New Daily via the Association’s publicity officer.

From the moment the story broke, the publicity officer was hauled over the coals. She was sacked shortly afterwards, all for drafting up and then transmitting comments from her boss.

As she had only worked for the AFP Association for five months, the officer could not sue for unfair dismissal and was not entitled to a payout.

While none of the players in the chain of command – Mr Turnbull, Australian Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin or Ms Smith – could be easily sacked, the inference could be made that the head kicking went straight down to the first person vulnerable in the chain: a press secretary who was just doing her job.

It was all over a story which was factually correct and clearly in the public interest.

Distressed, the publicity officer faced Christmas without a job and despairing for her own future.

A year later, another staffer, David de Garis, has taken the fall for the politically motivated raids on the Australian Workers Union, formerly headed by Bill Shorten, which have backfired spectacularly on the government.

It is another classic case of bullying. As always, it is the ‘little people’ who get hurt under this government.