Category Archives: Australia

Australia: Political cover-up over Sydney siege continues

By Richard Phillips and Peter Symonds
June 22, 2015
World Socialist Web Site

 

The first eight-day session of a planned year-long inquest by the New South Wales Coroners Court into last December’s Sydney siege began on May 25, focussing entirely on the background and history of the hostage taker, Man Horan Monis.

The evidence presented demonstrated beyond any doubt that Monis was not a “terrorist” acting on behalf of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), but a mentally unstable and disoriented individual. At the same time, critical questions about his relations with the police and intelligence agencies were deliberately avoided.

Armed with a shotgun, Monis took over the Lindt café in Martin Place on the morning of December 15. The Australian government, with the full support of the media and opposition parties, transformed what was a terrible, but nevertheless relatively straightforward, police matter, into a full-blown national “terrorist” crisis. Hundreds of police sealed off central Sydney, evacuating thousands of people, and many more officers were mobilised in Sydney suburbs and other cities.

No serious attempt was made to negotiate with Monis, who was well known to the police and intelligence agencies. His limited demands and identity were not made public. The protracted stand-off ended tragically when heavily-armed paramilitary police stormed the café at about 2 a.m. on December 16, leaving Monis and two hostages—barrister Katrina Dawson and café manager Tori Johnson—dead.

Just last week, Prime Minister Tony Abbott continued to peddle the lie that the siege was the work of ISIS. He told a counter-terrorism conference in Sydney that ISIS was seeking world domination. “The tentacles of the death cult have extended even here, as we discovered to our cost with the Martin Place siege last December,” he declared.

The purpose of this fiction is to justify the massive police mobilisation last December, defend the commitment of Australian troops to a new war in Iraq and Syria, and further inflate the “terrorist threat” as the pretext for a raft of new anti-democratic laws.

However, as the detailed presentation made by lawyers Jeremy Gormly and Sophie Callan, who are assisting Coroner Michael Barnes, confirmed, Monis had no connections with ISIS or any other Islamist terror group. His belated conversion from Shiite to Sunni Islam and his declaration of allegiance to ISIS, were the product of a troubled and erratic individual, “prone to grandiose claims” and whose life was in a deep crisis.

After arriving in Australia in 1996 and seeking asylum, Monis worked as a carpet salesman, became a security guard, postured as a Shiite cleric, and ran a clairvoyant and spiritual healing business. He was treated for depression in 2005, schizophrenia in 2010 and other psychological problems in 2011. At one point, he even attempted to join the Rebels motorcycle gang, which eventually rejected his membership, describing him as “weird.”

Monis had many encounters with police and security agencies. In 2009, he was arrested on a charge of sending “offensive” letters to the families of Australian soldiers, an offence to which he eventually pled guilty in September 2013, after taking his case all the way to the High Court. A month later he was charged with being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife. In 2014, Monis was charged with over 40 counts of indecent and sexual assault in relation to the customers of his spiritual healing business.

Gormly stated that in the months leading up to the siege, Monis was “a man spiralling downwards.” He ran out of money, had no friends in the Islamic community, and faced multiple court cases that could result in lengthy prison sentences. However, as far as Gormly was concerned, what triggered the siege is an unfathomable, psychological mystery that will never be solved, because the perpetrator is dead.

Such a conclusion is based on a glaring omission. While the inquest dealt in considerable detail with aspects of Monis’s life, no examination was made of his relations with the police and spy agencies, particularly the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).

There is a long record of the security services in the United States, Australia and elsewhere exploiting confused and unstable individuals for various purposes, including the manufacture of “terrorist scares.” Yet none of the obvious questions was asked, let alone answered.

Monis claimed that he worked for Iranian intelligence while in Iran, and was then recruited by the CIA on a business trip to Romania and flown to Washington to meet top officials. He contacted ASIO on numerous occasions, offering to provide information on various terrorist activities, including 9/11 and possible suicide attacks in Australia.

Monis was the subject of four ASIO security assessments and separate inquiries by state and federal police. The first ASIO investigation found that he posed a “possible risk to national security” and opposed him being given a protection visa. Yet, a year later, without explanation, the decision was reversed and he was granted a visa in 2000.

Similarly, ASIO investigated Monis after he launched a web site opposing Australian military involvement in the US-led occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. ASIO concluded that although Monis used inflammatory language, he was unlikely to engage in violent attacks. Separately, NSW Police and the Australian Federal Police (AFP) also found no indication of an imminent threat.

The hands-off approach to Monis became far more evident in the weeks leading up to the Sydney siege.

In September, the Abbott government raised the terrorist alert level from medium to high, signifying that the risk of an attack is likely, but without a specific plot being identified.

Just a week later, 800 police and ASIO agents conducted early morning raids on 15 homes in 12 Sydney suburbs on the basis of tenuous evidence of a phone call from an ISIS member in the Middle East to one young man, allegedly telling him to carry out a high-profile murder. Lurid media headlines proclaimed an ISIS plot to carry out a beheading in central Sydney—claims later found to be false. A sword seized in the raids turned out to be plastic.

Further terror scares followed, conveniently timed to coincide with the dispatch of Australian military forces to the Middle East and a battery of draconian new anti-terror laws. Yet, in this climate of deliberately heightened tension, with the government, intelligence agencies and police on high alert, Monis’s declarations of support for ISIS were brushed aside.

The Abbott government is directly implicated. Monis wrote to Attorney-General George Brandis on October 9, wanting to know about the legality of writing to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Brandis claims that his department assessed Monis as posing no danger and sent a routine reply, advising him to seek legal advice elsewhere.

The government, clearly sensitive to the implication of ignoring the letter, sought to cover its tracks. Under pressure, Brandis and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop claimed that the letter was referred to a federal-NSW investigation into the Sydney siege, which decided that it was of no significance. As it later turned out, the letter was not referred to the inquiry and no such determination was made.

The letter to Brandis was not the only red flag. On November 17, a month before the Lindt café siege, Monis declared on his site that he had converted from Shiite to Sunni Islam and pledged his allegiance to the Caliph—a reference to al-Baghdadi. Between December 9 and 12, the National Security Hotline received 18 calls and emails drawing attention to Monis’ Facebook page. Yet no ASIO and AFP alerts were issued.

The least plausible explanation is that this was an “intelligence failure”—the product of a lack of resources. Over the past decade and a half, successive Liberal-National and Labor governments have vastly expanded the resources and powers of ASIO and the AFP. Far more likely, and more sinister, is the involvement of the security agencies, directly or indirectly.

The anti-terror raids in September did not have the desired impact. Only one of those detained was charged with a terrorist-related offence and, after the sword was exposed as plastic, the headlines of a “beheading in Sydney” were laughable.

It is quite possible that the intelligence agencies turned a blind eye to Monis’s activities, or even deliberately wound him up, in the hope that he would create an incident that could be exploited to boost the “war on terror.” If that were the case, the outcome could be counted “a success.” The Sydney siege made headlines around the world and was used by US Secretary of State John Kerry to justify the US military intervention in Iraq and Syria.

One can predict in advance that none of these issues will be canvassed, let alone thoroughly investigated. That would puncture the concocted official story portraying the siege as a “national terrorist crisis” and could well expose government ministers and top intelligence officials to legal action.

Coroner Barnes has already ruled that segments of the year-long inquiry will be held behind closed doors. Counsel Gormly explained that any examination of the Australian security agencies’ monitoring of Monis could “compromise” national security. “It may be that some of Your Honour’s findings can never be publicly exposed,” he said.

The authors also recommends:

The Sydney siege: Official lies and contradictions
[27 December 2014]

Australian “beheading” plot based on dubious evidence
[19 September 2014]

Report documents government orchestration of US “terror” plots
[23 July 2014]

Australian reports on wealth and poverty: A tale of two countries

By Cheryl McDermid
June 9, 2015
World Socialist Web Site

 

Two reports published in Australia late last month starkly highlighted the growing polarisation between rich and poor. The first, the Australian Financial Review magazine’s 2015 BRW Rich 200 list outlined the rising fortunes of the country’s wealthiest 200 individuals and families. The second, the Salvation Army’s Economic and Social Impact Survey, for the fourth year running exposed the dire and deteriorating conditions endured by welfare recipients.

While the livelihoods of these vastly different layers of society are a world apart there is, in fact, a direct connection between them. The conditions of deprivation and poverty imposed on those at the bottom of society are dictated by the corporate boardrooms and company owners of the Rich 200 list, among others, who determine the austerity measures of both Liberal and Labor governments that benefit the wealthy at the expense of the poor.

This process has resulted in the poorest section of the Australian population eking out an existence on an impossible $43.45 per day, while the average daily income of the richest 200 is an obscene $2.7 million. The richest six individuals own more wealth—$55.9 billion—than the bottom 20 percent—1.73 million households.

The top six are Gina Rinehart with $14.018 billion, Anthony Pratt and family $10.759 billion, Harry Triguboff $10.228 billion, Frank Lowy $7.837 billion, Hui Wing Mau $6.890 billion, and Ivan Glasenberg $6.144 billion.

The Rich 200 list reports a record 49 billionaires, up from 39 last year, and reveals the unimaginable wealth of this tiny parasitic layer. Despite a decline of almost $6 billion in the wealth of Australian’s richest person, mining magnate Rinehart, due to the plunge in iron ore prices, the combined wealth of the country’s richest 200 individuals increased by 1.2 percent to $195.6 billion.

The wealth required for entry to the list was also a record $286 million, up from $250 million last year. The first Rich 200 report, published in 1983, required a mere $10 million to make the list, so there has been an almost 30-fold increase in the entry level. Sydney is the preferred city of residence for 18 of the 49 billionaires, with the surrounding state of New South Wales housing 61 of the 200 richest individuals, just beaten by Victoria on 63.

Only six of the top 200 derived their wealth from manufacturing, with Pratt and his family, who control Visy and the US-based Pratt Industries, coming in second on the list, increasing their wealth by a massive 29 percent in one year. According to the Australian Financial Review, Pratt’s “series of big bets on the comeback of the USA manufacturing sector have paid off.” This is, without doubt, attributable in large part to the protracted slashing of American wage levels under the Obama administration.

More than a quarter—53 of the richest 200—derived their wealth from property, with soaring housing prices driving the rapid increase in their stakes. Harry Triguboff, the owner of Meriton, Australia’s largest apartment developer, climbed from eighth in 2014 to third this year, almost doubling his wealth to $10.23 billion. The property price surge that has benefited Triguboff and others on the list so handsomely has resulted in the median house price in Sydney climbing to a staggering $752,000, followed by Melbourne on $567,000. This has effectively priced hundreds of thousands of families and young people out of the housing market.

There are 17 newcomers on the list, the calibre of which is highlighted by the prominence given to one, Tony Denny, who made his $320 million selling used cars in Russia and Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Denny was one of the myriad capitalists who flooded into these countries to profit from the cheap labour and opportunities afforded by the Stalinist bureaucrats who oversaw the destruction of the remaining social gains from the Russian Revolution. The staggering decline in the conditions, living standards and life expectancy of the population in these countries was due to the exploitation and plundering carried out by such individuals.

While the top 10’s combined wealth dropped marginally from 2014, due to falling mining export prices, they still owned 37 percent of the total wealth of the richest 200, while the top 20 held 47 percent.

By contrast, the Salvation Army’s survey, conducted in February, was based on the responses of 2,406 families and individuals, whose dependents included 2,486 children, who accessed the charity’s emergency relief and support services. Of the respondents, 88 percent received income support payments, which means that their welfare benefits did not cover the basic necessities of life.

Three quarters of the respondents had been seeking employment for up to two years. These people “experienced more housing stress (75 percent), a higher level of deprivation (49 percent could not afford 11 or more essential items), and consequently lower satisfaction in life,” as measured by a personal wellbeing index.

Significantly 5 percent of the respondents had jobs, but were still forced to seek emergency relief. Of those surveyed, 75 percent were single-parent households, with 53 percent of those with children.

Due to the rising cost of rental accommodation, in which the majority of respondents lived, 59 percent of their total income was spent on housing costs, leaving only $125 per week or $17.86 per day for food, utility payments, medical expenses, transport and clothes.

The percentage of income paid for accommodation was twice the commonly-used benchmark of 30 percent that signifies housing stress. Some 78 percent of respondents suffered extreme housing stress. Three quarters of those surveyed said they had cut down on basic necessities, including meals and paying utility bills, because they could not afford them.

No less than 87 percent of the adults and 60 percent of the children reported severe deprivation, which is characterised as having to go without five or more essential items. Essential items included a substantial meal once a day, medical and dental treatment, having $500 savings in case of emergency and being able to afford a week’s holiday away from home. They reported that they had few options to improve their situation.

The Salvation Army report cited statistics from the 2014 OECD report, Society at a Glance, which stated that “relative poverty in Australia (14.4 percent of the population) is higher than the OECD average of (11.3 percent)” and “10 percent of Australians report they cannot afford to buy enough food.”

While the charity’s report focussed on the most oppressed and vulnerable sections of the working class, the situation is little better for households whose members have jobs. For the 1.8 million workers on the minimum wage of $656.90 per week, it is a matter of survival from week to week. The illness or injury of one or more in the family can mean the difference between making ends meet and not. The Fair Work Commission last week lifted the minimum wage by a miserable $16 per week, the lowest rise for years, while the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry demanded an increase of no more than $5.70.

The gulf between the tiny elite at the top of society and the poorest section of the population will only widen following the federal budget released last month. Treasurer Joe Hockey announced that a further $1.7 billion will be slashed from welfare payments over four years through the relentless persecution of pension and unemployment payment recipients, while providing $5 billion in tax cuts and concessions for small business.

The Labor opposition’s response to the budget was a call for bipartisan measures to impose the further attacks demanded by the corporate elite. This was a declaration that a Labor government would take up where it left off after losing the 2013 election and continue the assault on the working class.

There is no possibility of overcoming the unprecedented gulf between rich and poor through the re-election of a Labor government or the parliamentary system itself. What is required is the overthrow of the capitalist profit system that, as Marx explained, creates “the accumulation of wealth at one pole” and “at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole.”

Australian government “actively considering” dangerous provocation in South China Sea

By Peter Symonds
June 2, 2015
World Socialist Web Site

 

A pair of P-3 maritime reconnaissance aircraft over the Pacific. The Australian government is considering flying such an aircraft within 12 nautical miles of Chinese-claimed territory. Source: US Department of Defense

Amid escalating tensions between the US and China over the South China Sea, the Australian government is “actively considering conducting its own ‘freedom of navigation’ exercises near artificial islands built by China in disputed territory,” according to a front-page article featured in today’s Australian.

Written by the newspaper’s foreign editor Greg Sheridan, who is well-connected in defence circles in Washington and Canberra, the article revealed that what is under discussion is far more provocative than recent US military operations close to Chinese-controlled atolls. “The Royal Australian Air Force aircraft would fly within 12 nautical miles (22 kilometres) of an artificial island build by the Chinese, with Beijing certain to react,” Sheridan stated.

The Wall Street Journal reported last month that the Pentagon was drawing up plans for warships or military aircraft to enter the 12-mile territorial zone around a Chinese islet. The Australian article makes clear that Washington could be contracting out this reckless venture to Canberra, which has a track record of functioning as an attack dog for the US on foreign policy in the Middle East and Ukraine.

According to the Australian, the plans involve a P-3 surveillance aircraft that could possibly take off from the Butterworth air force base in Malaysia. Alternatively, “within a few months” an Australian warship on a port visit to the Philippines or Vietnam could “incidentally” breach “what Beijing considers its territorial waters.” Although the Australian warship HMAS Perth is currently in the South China Sea, the P-3 flight “is likely to happen more quickly … as it is much easier to arrange at short notice.”

The article claimed that Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s government had made no decision, but “such an exercise … is considered very likely.” While unlikely to be, formally at least, a US-led operation, Washington is obviously heavily involved. Canberra has been in close dialogue with Washington over the South China Sea and was informed in advance of last month’s much-publicised US flight with a CNN news crew near Chinese-administered reefs.

The Obama administration may well prefer Australia or another ally to intrude within the 12-mile limit and risk a miscalculation or error leading to an open clash or other forms of Chinese retaliation. Moreover, unlike Australia, the United States, although denouncing China’s actions in the South China Sea as illegitimate, has not ratified the relevant international treaty—the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The dangers of war with China are now being discussed openly. In a Time article entitled, “The next step toward possible conflict in the South China Sea,” retired US navy captain Bernard Cole said the chance of shots being fired stood at “better than 50-50.” He suggested that the initial volley would more likely come from the Philippines or Vietnam—or, one could add, Australia.

The detailed behind-the-scenes planning reflects the aggressive stance taken by the US, Australia and other allies against China at last weekend’s Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore. Echoing US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter, Australian Defence Minister Kevin Andrews on Sunday called for a halt to all land reclamation activities in the South China Sea, highlighting China’s “large-scale” activity in particular.

Andrews told the Wall Street Journal that Australia would directly challenge any declaration by China of an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the South China Sea. An ADIZ is not a territorial claim, but requires aircraft to give advance warning before entering the zone. The US responded to China’s 2013 announcement of an ADIZ in the East China Sea by provocatively flying nuclear-capable B-52 bombers into the area unannounced.

Andrews indicated that the Australian air force would ignore an ADIZ and proceed with flights in the South China Sea. “We’ve been doing it for decades, we’re doing it currently … and we’ll continue to do it in the future,” he said. The Wall Street Journal reported that “top US Navy and Marine commanders in the Pacific have been urging close ally Australia since last year to consider joining multilateral naval policing missions in the South China Sea,” alongside Japan and the US.

In recent weeks, a drumbeat of condemnation of China has been rising throughout the Australian media and political establishment. Opposition Labor foreign affairs spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek urged caution so as not to further inflame tensions in the South China Sea. Nevertheless, she declared today that “it is important to have freedom of navigation and freedom of flight through an area that is an extremely busy trading route.”

Commentary in Murdoch’s Australian has been matched in the Fairfax Media by international editor Peter Hartcher, who entitled his article today, “South China Sea: The tiny islands that could lead to war.” After referring to “a persistent idea” that it is not worth risking war between the US and China over “nothing more than tiny islands and useless reefs,” Hartcher proceeded to argue that far more is at stake—key shipping routes, large undersea oil and gas deposits, and above all US supremacy.

“The US Seventh Fleet has been unchallenged ruler of the Pacific since World War Two. A fast rising China is now challenging,” Hartcher wrote. “On the level of global governance, it’s about whether there are any rules governing countries, or whether a country can get its way through use of force.” He concluded by applauding Washington’s provocative actions, saying: “The good news is that China’s creeping invasion of the region is now being openly challenged for the first time by a country with the power to do something about it.”

What is really at stake in the South China Sea is Washington’s determination to maintain its unchallenged hegemony throughout Asia—now central to global manufacturing and economy. Confronted with China’s economic expansion, the Obama administration initiated the “pivot to Asia”—an all-encompassing diplomatic, economic and military strategy aimed at subordinating China and the region to American interests.

If there is any force in the world that has wantonly and criminally sought to “get its way through the use of force,” it is US imperialism, which has waged one war after another during the past two decades to advance its ambitions. Now amid the deepening breakdown of world capitalism, the US, in league with its allies, is willing to risk war with nuclear-armed China to maintain its global dominance.

Police shift their line on Australia’s latest terrorism “plot”

By Mike Head
May 14, 2015
World Socialist Web Site

 

A 17-year-old teenager was remanded in custody on Monday after facing a children’s court in Melbourne on unspecified charges of “engaging in an act in preparation for, or planning, a terrorist act” and “possessing things connected with a terrorist act.”

For the second time in two weeks, alarming police claims and media reports about teenagers planning imminent terrorist attacks—first on April 25 (the “Anzac Day plot”) and then May 10 (the “Mother’s Day plot”)—have proven to be dubious.

Last weekend, federal and state police chiefs claimed to have foiled a bombing, just in time, that would definitely have killed people. “As a result of Victoria Police and Australian Federal Police [AFP] interception, some Victorians are going to be alive because of it,” AFP Deputy Commissioner Mike Phelan told a media conference.

“Mother’s Day bomb plot: Teen allegedly blocked family and friends from Facebook posts” was the headline in the Sunday Herald Sun, a Melbourne tabloid. According to the Fairfax Media’s Age: “Up to three teenagers have been arrested in relation to a Melbourne terror plot that was reportedly set to be carried out on Mother’s Day. A 14-year-old boy in Sydney was also arrested in relation to the ‘imminent threat’.”

Ending any hopes of the teenager receiving a fair trial, Prime Minister Tony Abbott seized on the raids to launch another terrorism scare campaign. “There is evidence of a bomb plot that was in a reasonably advanced state of preparation,” he declared last Saturday.

However, by the time that the 17-year-old, who cannot be named because he is a minor, appeared in court on Monday, the police had admitted they had no evidence of any attack planned for May 10, or any other specific date. Nor could they nominate a supposed targeted location.

The police also revealed that no other arrests had been made, and they were not investigating any other suspect. No connection was alleged to the 14-year-old reportedly detained in Sydney.

AFP Deputy Commissioner Phelan stated: “We may not know exactly where it was going to occur nor when it was exactly going to occur, but … let me tell you, something was going to happen.”

Victoria Police Acting Chief Commissioner Cartwright said there was no evidence the teenager planned on attacking a specific event. Nevertheless, the police chief sought to continue the atmosphere of crisis. “We will allege he was well advanced in preparing a bomb,” he maintained.

This claim contradicted the earlier police accounts of detecting three “suspected improvised explosives devices” and detonating them in a local park. That operation, conducted by heavily-suited bomb disposal personnel, was designed to give the impression that bombs actually existed.

Cartwright said investigators were not looking for anyone else in connection with any plot, but were exploring the possibility of online radicalisation. His statement underscored the focus on the teenager’s political views, which voiced hostility to the atrocities being committed by the US and its allies throughout the Middle East.

Cartwright declared that, under existing legislation, the teenager could face an adult court, despite his youth. Media proprietors also applied to the children’s court judge to publicly name the boy. This was refused, but the judge said the application could be revisited at a later date.

Media interviews with members of the 17-year-old’s family gave a picture of the terrifying manner in which balaclava-clad Special Operations Group police officers armed with assault rifles stormed their house last Friday. The operation was clearly intended to send a wider signal to working people of the powers of the police to shoot to kill.

The boy’s mother first thought the police were “some type of terrorist group,” she told the Sunday Herald Sun. “I thought I was being shot at, I thought I was going to be killed,” she said. The police shot at her car as she backed out of the driveway. “[T]hey started shooting into the tyres, around the car … five or six times,” she related.

Police sources claimed the bangs were flash charges, thrown beneath the car to distract the teenager. But family members said police, with automatic weapons drawn, pulled the 17-year-old from the car and yelled at his mother to get out.

The boy’s sister, who watched the scene from the house, rushed outside, only to be confronted by three police with drawn guns who yelled “do not move.” The sister screamed to her friend to “call the cops” but the armed men answered back, “We are the cops.”

Questions remain about the timing of the operation. Police said there was an anonymous tip to the national security hotline nine days earlier. The raid was only launched once an attack was “imminent.” Now that claim has been abandoned.

Two weeks earlier, both Abbott’s Liberal-National government and the Victorian state Labor government of Premier Daniel Andrews exploited the arrests of five other teenagers to urge people to turn out in large numbers to attend the Anzac Day ceremonies marking the centenary of the disastrous British-led invasion of Turkey’s Gallipoli peninsula during World War I.

The vague charges laid against the 17-year-old highlight the political and legal purposes of a crucial amendment to the terrorism laws that was rammed through the Australian parliament in November 2005 by the Howard Liberal-National government, with the full support of the Labor Party and the Greens.

That amendment changed the wording of all terrorism offences from “the” to “a” terrorist act. That has allowed the police to arrest and successfully prosecute people without having to show evidence of any specific terrorist act. Nothing has to be proven about any time, place, date, target, method or equipment used—simply that “a” terrorist act was being plotted, even a hypothetical one.

In a manufactured atmosphere of national crisis, all the parliamentary parties, including the Greens, lined up behind the government in rushing the amendment through both houses of parliament within 36 hours. Prime Minister John Howard claimed he had received “specific intelligence” about a “potential terrorist threat.”

For electoral reasons, the Greens have postured at times as critics of aspects of the police-state terrorism laws, while mostly proposing cosmetic modifications. When the World Socialist Web Site exposed their role in backing the amendment, they protested, claiming that the change had “no discernible impact.”

In reality, the amendment opened vast new scope for police-government frame-ups and “terrorist” scare campaigns. Last weekend’s raids are the just the latest in a long line of cases that have relied on the shift from “the” to “a.”

By voting for the key amendment, the Greens displayed their broader role of lending legitimacy to the fraudulent “war on terror.” Its real purpose has become increasingly clear—to provide a pretext for escalating US-led militarism in the Middle East, and for the ripping up of basic democratic rights and civil liberties at home.

New Australian police “terror” raids used to ramp up crisis atmosphere

By Mike Head
May 9, 2015
World Socialist Web Site

 

Heavily-armed Australian federal and state police conducted raids on homes in Melbourne and Sydney yesterday, reportedly detaining a 17-year-old boy in Melbourne and a 14-year-old in Sydney.

The police have provided virtually no information about arrests or alleged evidence involved. They claimed to have detonated three “suspected improvised explosive devices” discovered in one northern Melbourne house.

Nevertheless, headlines in this morning’s Murdoch media tabloids declared that police had foiled an “imminent terrorist plot,” supposedly timed for tomorrow, which is Mothers’ Day in Australia.

Murdoch’s Australian reported, “exclusively,” that the raids resulted from a tip-off by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), the country’s domestic political spy agency.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott quickly seized on the raids to launch another terrorism scare campaign. “There is evidence of a bomb plot that was in a reasonably advanced state of preparation,” he declared today. His comments prejudiced any chance of a fair trial, as his similar remarks have done in other recent arrests.

Like previous such raids, these were conducted in a blaze of media coverage designed to whip up an atmosphere of crisis and danger. Television footage showed police in bomb-proof suits scouring through a targeted home, armoured vehicles cordoning off surrounding streets and scores of military-style Special Operations Group police carrying semi-automatic assault rifles.

A 300-metre exclusion zone was imposed and unspecified devices were reportedly exploded in a neighbourhood park, ensuring that local people heard what they described as sounds like muffled gunshots.

Government leaders were consulted in advance about the raids. According to the Sydney Daily Telegraph: “NSW [New South Wales] Premier Mike Baird was briefed on the counter-terror operation on Thursday at a meeting with Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione and his deputy Cath Burn.”

It is not yet clear if there was any connection between the timing of the raids and the denial of bail yesterday to 18-year-old Melbourne teenager Harun Causevic. He was detained on April 18 in raids carried out to allegedly prevent a terrorist attack on the official April 25 celebrations of Anzac Day, marking the centenary of the disastrous British-led invasion of Turkey’s Gallipoli peninsula during World War I.

These raids form part of an escalating pattern of highly-publicised police swoops on homes in working-class areas since September, when more than 800 police conducted Australia’s largest-ever such operations, just before Abbott’s government announced the deployment of troops and war planes to join the latest US-led intervention in Iraq and Syria.

This morning, a 17-year-old detained yesterday was charged with the vague offences of “engaging in an act in preparation for, or planning, a terrorist act … and possessing things connected with a terrorist act.”

From what has been reported, the allegations seem to be as dubious and politically-motivated as those in the previous police operations, like the “Anzac Day plot” raids.

Alleged Facebook posts by the detained teenager were splashed across the pages of the Melbourne Herald Sun. No posting made any threats of terrorism. Instead, they voiced anger and anguish at the atrocities being committed by the US and its allies, including Australia, as well as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, throughout the Middle East.

“If you came home to somebody that used chemicals on your family, then slaughtered them and raped them and then burnt them alive, would you be still preaching ‘forgiveness’? one read. Another stated: “The ‘Muslims’ are quick to condemn the actions of the Islamic State [ISIS], but you will never see them condemning the US atrocities against Muslims, you will never see them condemning the crimes against Muslims in Yemen, Egypt, Syria, Iraq etc etc …”

The publication of these posts suggests that the teenager has been targeted, at least partly, for his political views. In fact, under the latest barrage of “anti-terrorism” laws passed by the Abbott government, with the backing of the Labor Party, since September, expressions of opposition to the outrages being inflicted on the people of the Middle East in the US-led quest to dominate the resource-rich region could be prosecuted as “advocating” or “promoting” terrorism.

State governments have also exploited the atmosphere of crisis to issue directives that all police must be armed, wear bullet-proof vests and work in pairs.

In Melbourne yesterday, Magistrate Suzie Cameron rejected the bail application of 18-year-old Causevic, meaning that he will remain in a maximum security prison at least until August, when a committal hearing is due.

Police prosecutors declared that the teenager faced life imprisonment if convicted of “conspiring to prepare a terrorist act.” Australian Federal Police agent Denis Scott also cited Causevic’s supposed political views, accusing the teenager of being motivated by “an extreme ideology” and a “hatred and disdain” for authority in Australia.

Magistrate Cameron said that despite Causevic’s young age and lack of criminal history, she was not satisfied that “exceptional circumstances” existed to allow his release. The terrorism laws have reversed the centuries-old presumption in favour of bail. Defendants now must prove that unique extenuating factors make bail essential.

Lawyers for Causevic gave a string of reasons he should be released on bail, including that his family would offer a $150,000 surety and he would undergo counselling with Islamic leaders.

But Cameron described Causevic’s behaviour, which allegedly included watching police and contacting weapons dealers, as “deeply concerning”—even though such activities are legal. The magistrate agreed that the teenager’s political opinions and/or mental health required imprisonment. “At worst, he has been radicalised, at best, he is psychologically or psychiatrically unwell,” she said.

Outside the court, Causevic’s father, Vehid Causevic, accused Prime Minister Abbott of instigating a political witch hunt. He said Abbott’s “message” was that “whatever young Muslims who [are] going five times per day in mosque will be charged like terrorists.” He insisted that his son had done nothing wrong, and if anyone could prove otherwise, “I’ll go in jail for all my life.”

Causevic said he and his son had been the victims of terrorism by Victoria Police officers who broke into his home on April 18, dragged people out of bed and physically assaulted his son, breaking his arm. Abbott and Victorian Labor Premier Daniel Andrews utilised the April 18 raids to foment fears of terrorism and drum up support for the Anzac Day war celebrations.

Incredibly, according to the police, the so-called Anzac Day plot was the brainchild of a 14-year-old British boy, who allegedly spoke online to another Melbourne teenager, Sevdet Besim, 18, about “taking out some cops.”

Both Besim, who is also charged with “conspiring” to commit a terrorist act, and the unnamed boy, from northwest England, have been denied bail as well. The 14-year-old is the youngest ever charged with a terrorism offence in Britain, and will reportedly be placed on trial as an adult.

Police conceded that Harun Causevic did not even know of the allegedly incriminating conversation. The main link alleged between him and Besim is that they were friends of Numan Haider, another 18-year-old from the same area of southwestern Melbourne, who was shot dead by police last September in dubious circumstances.

Yesterday’s raids again demonstrate the connection between war and the assault on fundamental legal and democratic rights. Like the massive national police mobilisation during last December’s Sydney café siege, which involved a sole deranged hostage-taker, all these police operations have been used to justify the dispatch of more troops to join the US-led war in the Middle East and the introduction of further police state-style “counter-terrorism” laws.

More details emerge over sacking of Australian journalist for challenging Anzac myth

By Mike Head
April 29, 2015
World Socialist Web Site

 

Scott McIntyre

Further evidence has emerged as to the role played by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull in the chain of events leading to Sunday’s sacking of Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) sport commentator Scott McIntyre for posting tweets critical of the glorification of the April 25 Anzac Day centenary.

SBS has refused to reinstate McIntyre, who is considering legal action, despite a growing volume of letters and petitions condemning its decision.

McIntyre, who has worked for SBS for 10 years, was dismissed without notice, supposedly for compromising “the integrity of the network” by making five twitter comments on Anzac Day. His tweets, sent at around 5.40 p.m., came amid blanket media coverage to support the official “celebration” of the centenary of the 1915 attack on Turkey’s Gallipoli peninsula by Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzac) troops as part of an Anglo-French invasion.

The journalist condemned “the cultification of an imperialist invasion of a foreign country.” He also recalled the documented war crimes and other abuses committed by Anzac soldiers during World War I, and denounced the World War II mass murder of Japanese people by the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by “this nation and their allies.”

Turnbull swiftly intervened. On his blog, he has revealed that he contacted SBS managing director Michael Ebeid “as soon as I was made aware of the tweets by Mr McIntyre.”

Barely three hours after McIntyre’s posts, Ebeid publicly denounced them as “disrespectful.” Four minutes later, Turnbull himself tweeted that the journalist’s remarks were “offensive,” “inappropriate” and “despicable.”

Ebeid later confirmed that he spoke to Turnbull in the hours leading up to McIntyre’s dismissal on Sunday morning. “There was some contact” between the minister and the SBS boss, a network spokeswoman told the Guardian Australia.

While denying that he had any influence in SBS’s decision to sack the journalist, Turnbull unilaterally declared on his blog that McIntyre “breached” a number of provisions in “the SBS social media protocol” with his “offensive tweets.”

Turnbull insisted that McIntyre’s free speech rights remained intact because he was still entitled to express his political views “as a private citizen.”

The Abbott government’s Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson quickly chimed in, via a column published in the Australian yesterday. As public criticism of SBS’s decision grew, Wilson claimed it was “absurd” to decry McIntyre’s dismissal as censorship. That was because, Wilson claimed, McIntyre was still free to “tweet his bile” and “no one is guaranteed a job.”

This renders free speech meaningless. In effect, you can express your political opinions only if your employer approves. You can speak your mind, but you will find yourself out of work, and potentially blacklisted. The same logic can be applied to silence anyone, including teachers, public servants and corporate sector workers.

On the government’s behalf, Wilson is seeking to redefine freedom of expression precisely along these lines. Last year, in another newspaper column, he wrote: “Voluntary codes associated with employment are one of the most important ways that we regulate the conduct of the individual without laws, and they are fundamentally a good thing.” Supposedly, you “voluntarily” surrender your free speech by undertaking employment.

Other government supporters soon went further, accusing the SBS journalist of aiding terrorism. News Corp commentator Andrew Bolt said McIntyre’s “hate speech” against Australia was “becoming the most dangerous” and “he had to go.”

Appearing on the Australian Broadcasting Corporations “Q & A” television show on Monday night, Monash University historian Carolyn Holbrook, a former policy adviser in the prime minister’s department, declared that McIntyre’s comments would “give fuel to young people who are confused and thinking about becoming jihadists.”

In other words, any criticism of the Australian ruling elite’s involvement in imperialist wars, past or present, cannot be tolerated, and will be demonised as supporting or inciting terrorism.

Monday’s Q & A program underlined the unanimous line-up in the political establishment behind McIntyre’s victimisation. Alongside Abbott government member Arthur Sinodinos, deputy Labor Party leader Tanya Plibersek pointblank refused to oppose his sacking. “I think it is for the SBS management to decide whether he has breached any workplace policies,” she said.

The real concern in ruling circles is the broad anti-war and democratic sentiment that exists, despite all the efforts to drown it out through the government’s half billion dollar campaign to legitimise and glorify World War I.

Protests against McIntyre’s dismissal and demands for his reinstatement have begun to circulate widely on social media. One on-line petition, signed by nearly 2,500 people by this morning, condemns SBS’s actions as a “reprehensible” attack on free speech and commends McIntyre’s “criticism of hyper-nationalism associated with Anzac Day.”

The comments made by petition signers give some indication of the widely felt outrage and concern. One wrote: “Scott’s opinions weren’t offensive. The level of sickening propaganda saturating the media around Anzac Day is what is offensive—and you sacking him is even more offensive.” Another stated: “Debate should be encouraged, especially about war and politicians stirring up nationalism for their own purposes!” One commented: “Scott McIntyre was expressing a view that is well-known and agreed with in the Australian community who are not caught up on the Anzac Juggernaut jingoism.”

In response to the Socialist Equality Party’s April 27 statement calling for the defence of McIntyre and free speech, a barrister sent us a link to her blog comment, in which she explained that McIntyre’s sacking violated the implied freedom of political communication in the Australian Constitution. She wrote: “There is no foreseeable end to the classes of persons who may, at the stroke of a pen or at the stroke of someone’s whim, be deprived of the freedom of political communication, begging the question ‘Which other class of persons is to be deprived next? Soldiers? Teachers? Nurses? Builders? Shopkeepers? Political advisers?’”

In a letter to SBS management, a daughter of a World War II war veteran wrote: “Shame on you that our young people, your employees, are not given the right to express their views and to protest in the way they know best, through social media, the disgusting displays of militarism that have become the ‘ANZAC’ celebrations in Australia.”

Some journalists have voiced support for McIntyre, including Glenn Greenwald, who helped publish the revelations by US National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden of the mass surveillance conducted by Washington and its allies. “Australian TV journalist criticizes violence celebrated by national holiday. Govt minister complains. Journalist is fired,” Greenwald posted on Twitter.

Australian Financial Review journalist Geoff Winestock tweeted: “Ridiculous. Frightening. I also think Anzacs were racist yobs and Anzac Day is a death cult. Sack me, Fairfax.”

McIntyre’s sacking, at the government’s behest, underscores the connection between the drive to war by the US and its partners, including Australia, and the assault on basic democratic rights, designed to silence dissent and working-class opposition.

The journalist’s dismissal comes on top of a similar attack on the democratic rights of the Socialist Equality Party to hold public anti-war meetings on April 26, entitled “Anzac Day, the glorification of militarism and the drive to World War III.” In Sydney, the Labor Party-controlled Burwood Council cancelled the initial booking for the meeting, and the University of Sydney refused to permit the meeting because it would “disrupt” Anzac events taking place on its campus.

The SEP’s meetings only went ahead as a result of an intense struggle to clarify the political issues at stake in the face of the pro-war propaganda barrage unleashed by the government and media establishment.

Australian government welfare report prepares brutal assault against disabled, unemployed

By Patrick Kelly
March 24, 2015
World Socialist Web Site

 

money-greedy1Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s Liberal-National government last month released a report into the Australian welfare system that outlined measures aimed at slashing billions of dollars in public spending by denying welfare payments to hundreds of thousands of disabled, unemployed and other vulnerable people.

The report’s chief author, Patrick McClure, has been chief executive officer for both large charity organisations Mission Australia and St Vincent de Paul. He authored an earlier report in 2000 into the welfare system that paved the way for the further privatisation of social services and extension of punitive “mutual obligation” responsibilities for unemployed workers and others receiving welfare payments.

McClure’s latest document, titled “New System for Better Employment and Social Outcomes,” is a carefully concocted fraud. Like the government’s “Intergenerational Report,” it is aimed at bolstering efforts to justify a permanent austerity regime on the basis that current public spending is “unsustainable.” McClure declared that a “fiscally sustainable” system was being challenged by an “ageing population,” combined with a [deteriorating] fiscal environment, uncertain world economic outlook and longer term challenges.”

Social Services Minister Scott Morrison amplified these bogus claims in a speech to the National Press Club. Morrison insisted that “unless there is major structural change that is made to our welfare system over the next decade and beyond, over a generation, our social services expenditure will swallow the budget.”

In reality, there are ample resources to ensure that every citizen has a living income and access to high quality social services. Vast wealth is controlled by the ultra-wealthy at the top of society. Australia’s richest 200 people are worth almost $200 billion between them, while two and half million Australian residents are already impoverished, because of sub-poverty line welfare benefits and low wages. The purpose of “welfare reform” is to transfer even more wealth to the wealthiest 1 percent through a social counter-revolution eliminating every social concession granted to the working class in the post-World War II period.

The assault on welfare aims to give many recipients no choice but to accept low-wage employment in insecure and super-exploitative conditions. It dovetails with the drive by the corporate elite to reduce the minimum wage, abolish penalty wage rates and cut pay levels across the board.

Morrison gave short shrift to the McClure report recommendation that no current welfare recipient be made worse off under the “reforms.” He contemptuously declared: “If we’re going to take an ‘are you better off or worse off in the next five minutes’ approach to every single policy announcement, I’m not sure what people think that does to improve the quality of debates and policy reforms that are important over a generation.”

Under the guise of simplifying the welfare system, the report advised that existing entitlements be amalgamated into five payments: age pension, carer payment, child and youth payment, supported living pension (replacing the disability support pension), and a tiered working age payment covering everything else, including Newstart (unemployment), Austudy, and parenting payments.

The McClure report was premised on another lie that there are enough jobs for those who want to work. Under the subheading, “Where are the Jobs,” it referred to the Abbott government’s “commitment” to create one million new jobs within five years. The worsening crisis of the global capitalist system is in fact producing an accelerating onslaught against jobs, especially affecting manufacturing-dependent working class areas where many welfare recipients are concentrated. Nearly 800,000 workers are currently jobless and hunting for work, even according to the vastly understated official statistics.

To boost “workforce participation,” the welfare report proposes a series of draconian measures, including:

* All welfare payments will be denied to adults under 22 years. This will leave thousands of young people at the mercy of family and charity assistance.

* Public housing residents will no longer have rents set as a proportion of income, as this supposedly creates a “disincentive to work.” This measure would hike living costs for those in public housing, now overwhelmingly comprised of the most vulnerable layers such as refugees, women escaping domestic violence and those with serious mental health problems and drug and alcohol addictions.

* Income “quarantining”–a measure restricting the expenditure of welfare payments to approved items, which was first trialled on Aboriginal welfare recipients–is to be more widely imposed.

* The new “supported living pension” is to be accessible only to those people who are assessed to have a disability that prevents them working for eight or more hours a week—and where this situation is expected to last for at least five years. “Permanent disability” is to be re-defined in relation to “how long an individual is limited in their capacity to work, not the permanence of the impairment itself.” In other words, people with serious mental and physical health problems will be denied the disability pension if it is alleged that they will be capable of working a few hours a week at some point in the next five years.

The entire report is in line with what Treasurer Joe Hockey described as the “end of the age of entitlement.” Far from being a social right, income payments will be provided only to those judged unable to be pushed into low-paid work. McClure declared that “engaging with employers” was a major “pillar” of his proposed measures, with government subsidies boosted for corporations that hire disabled and long-term unemployed people.

Mindful of the wide opposition in the working class to this agenda, Morrison appealed to the Labor Party for support. In his National Press Club address, the minister admitted that “my concern is that right now there seems to be no appetite [in the community] for the change that is necessary.”

Morrison called for an “upgrade [to] the political debate when it comes to areas of important change for the country” and pointed to the Liberal Party’s support for several of the previous Labor government’s policies that undermined the welfare system, including on aged care and the disability insurance scheme. In office from 2007 to 2013, Labor began the dismantling of welfare by cutting off sole parent benefits to all those with school-age children and raising the retirement pension age from 65 to 67.

Labor Party leader Bill Shorten two-facedly declared he did not want to see a “blame the victim debate” on welfare, while eagerly accepting the offer to work with the government: “[W]e always need to be making sure it’s sustainable,” he said. “We’ll work on welfare reform with the government if that’s what they want to do.”

The “Era of Terrorism”: Sydney’s Lindt Café Hostage Crisis, Australia’s Prime Minister Abbott’s Response

By Binoy Kampmark
February 25, 2015
Global Research

 

40840-b42l7ddcaaa2su0The inquiry into Sydney’s Lindt Café hostage crisis (not, as has become popular to deem it, a siege) has come out with some police state fanfare.  Terminal governments tend to scrounge for poor solutions, and much of this is to be found in the joint report by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and NSW Government Premier and Cabinet.  Notably, it is called Martin Place Siege – Joint Commonwealth – New South Wales review (Jan 2015).[1]

 The report’s greatest flaw lie in its assumptions and presumptions.  The hostage taker, Man Haron Monis, an individual of specific, dangerous eccentricity, who had been allowed a visa, and had, in fact, been monitored by the security services, was an individual agent till the day he was slain, rather than a tribal extension or lonely jihadi footsoldier.  There was no “network” behind him; nor was there even a coherent ideological milieu to anchor him.  Afloat in a sea of manic pretensions, he went out with a not very solicitous bang, taking two hostages with him.

But the terrorism analytical fraternity has given us a strained construction to play with – that of the lone-wolf terrorist, which is one way of admitting that their own analytical constructions have failed.  This involves an effort to pack two concepts together: that of a terrorist supposedly drunk with ideological or religious fervour, and that of your orthodox criminal best dealt with under standard criminal procedure.

Using such a muddled category attempts to net the individual who is otherwise an individual agent manageable before conventional legal process, marching to a very different, if confused beat.  It is within this context that the Martin Place Siege report should be read, an account of conflation, combination and pressing, one that enlarges the significance of a criminal action that became dressed for an Australian “counter-terrorist” awakening.  There is, however, a sense, that the authors of the report have been straining between two poles: that of seeing Monis as a typical representative of current Islamic fanaticism; or as a troubled pariah of the law.

The scope of the findings will have significance, though the report is prone to hedging.  Bad laws tend to always produce collectively bad results.  The report, for instance, reminds the reader of Australia’s regime of control orders and preventative detention orders, much of these premised on the troubling notion of anticipating an offence rather than making a person who has actually committed one account for what happened. This is done despite an admission that Monis never triggered their use.

For all the acts of his violently cluttered past, “Monis had still not breached terrorism laws or met the threshold to trigger the availability of national security powers, such as a control order or preventative detention order.”  It is almost with a heavy sigh that the report notes that, “at no point prior to the siege could he have been successfully charged with a terrorism offence under the law”.

Then come a few lines which the authoritarian voyeurs of the press and parliament have ignored – an admission that mere public renunciations of one religion for another might, in themselves, constitute any significant security threat.  (Read, pose a genuine terrorist threat animated by global fundamentalist movements.)  Monis was somewhat wobbly, abandoning his already dubious Shia credentials for that of Sunni Islam in an instant.  “In the current security environment, factors including an individual’s public renunciation of Shia for Sunni Islam or swearing allegiance to an unnamed ‘Caliph’ are not, in and of themselves, indicators of direct security concern.”

Recommendations are made about immigration, suggesting policies and legislative changes “necessary to support decisions to grant or revoke an initial visa, subsequent visas, and citizenship.” This came in light of the assessment that “in the same circumstances, Monis would likely be granted entry to Australia and citizenship if he presented in 2015”.

Immigration processes had to “reflect changing national security considerations” – a desperate admission of post hoc ergo propter hoc.  The Monis who presented himself at the Lindt Café was not the same man who arrived in Australia in 1996.  Reading between these lines, the report is expecting immigration officials to be skilful clairvoyants.  The more likely outcome will entail exclusionary rules.

There are suggestions that gun laws on trafficking be tightened, despite the report admitting that the pump action shot gun may well have been in the country legally to begin with. Questions were asked on whether Monis should have been “detained for mental health treatment”.  The Chief psychiatrist felt that all the decisions dealing with him had been sound.

Other issues are also trawled – was Monis a suitable welfare recipient? The answer is invariably yes.  “Monis was generally a compliant income support client.”  Dark clouds may well be gathering over welfare reform as well.

Then come the “programs”.  Emphasis is made on expediting “work on a Countering Violent Extremism referral program, including ensuring it is appropriately resourced”.  This suggests that Monis, deemed mentally ill on the one hand, and a radicalised agent of Islam on the other, could be the beneficial subject of such panaceas.  The very idea is tinged with more than a touch of ludicrousness, given the nature of the man’s disposition to begin with.  Oscillating between forms of sectarianism, idealism and philosophical costumes, he was arguably beyond the reach of any such recipe for action.  What the Martin Place Siege report suggests is a sweetly targeted delusion: that radicalisation programs necessarily work in their theoretical and practical scope, and that Muslim communities must be strongarmed into being agents of the cause.

 As a final point, the report uses the incomprehensible verbiage of the modern bureaucrat analyst, centred on such organisational gibberish as “prioritisation” models.  There are “Lead Prioritisation Categories”, schematised as “High Priority Lead”, “Medium Priority Lead” heading down to “No Priority assigned” which are, incidentally, those “Leads not relating to imminent threat and with few security indicators.” A cardinal rule of security policy: make it unintelligible.

What matters to the government is that the enemy, a foreign apparition made flesh, managed to pass the Australian gates with his baggage of lies and dangerous intentions. A cobbled language of pseudo-mythology is used by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, and one chosen to illustrate that, while the “system” (as if it had some force of nature) had generally worked, there were chinks to iron out.  Monis was a supremely disturbed combine, a “monster [who] should not have been in our community” or “allowed into the country”.  “He shouldn’t have been out on bail.  He shouldn’t have been with a gun and he shouldn’t have become radicalised.”

Such ironing out would need the necessary qualifications of liberties.  We were, after all, in the “era of terrorism”, stated as if a holy law had somehow decreed it.  The solution, obviously for the prime minister and his front bench, involves the corrosion of individual freedoms for the safety of that hopeless abstraction called the community.  “We need to ask ourselves, at what stage do we need to change the tipping point from protection of the individual to the safety of the community.”

All for what, exactly?  It was as if Abbott was channelling the events of “lone-wolf” terrorism that had filled the US security manual (for all that occurs in the US must, invariably, occur in Australia to give it relevance): the shooting at the ticket counter at LAX airport by Hesham Mohamed Hadayet in 2002; the killings at Fort Hood, Texas, by Army Major Nidal Hassan in 2009; and the shooting at the military recruiting office in Little Rock, Arkansas by Muslim convert Carlos Bledsoe.

Governments in trouble need hot air to keep them afloat.  The risk of being punctured, however, is all too real.  Abbott knows that it is far better to avoid the book of evidence, and favour the book of speculation, if he wants to retain government at the next election.  The ploy is a dangerous one.  The risk, as it always is with such a situation, is that he might be found out, the naked emperor whose ploy is uncovered.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Australian government uses Sydney siege report to ramp up anti-terror laws

By Peter Symonds
February 2015
World Socialist Web Site

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has seized on a joint federal/state government review of the December 15–16 Lindt café siege in central Sydney, not only to justify the elevation of the incident into a major national crisis, but to foreshadow draconian new anti-terror measures due to be announced in a speech today.

Abbott, who is under considerable pressure following a leadership challenge just a fortnight ago, playing the anti-terror card for all he is worth. Speaking yesterday after releasing the review, he declared that the “inescapable conclusion” was that “the system has let us down” and indicated that he intended to appoint a counter-terrorism “tsar” to beef up the police and security apparatus.

Abbott branded the hostage-taker Man Haron Monis “a monster” who “should not have been in our community” to justify a further crackdown on asylum seekers, welfare recipients and to tighten or introduce new laws across a range of issues from bail to citizenship and firearms. He also made clear that the Coalition government would introduce new legislation to ban organisations such as Hizb ut-Tahrir, which opposes violent terrorism but is critical of US and Australian military interventions in the Middle East.

The prime minister sought to again wind up a climate of fear and uncertainty, saying that the threat of terrorism was worsening, to justify the new inroads into legal and democratic rights. “Australia has entered a new, long-term era of heightened terrorism,” he said, which meant the country “would need to revisit the debate between the rights of the individual and community protect.”

Labor opposition leader Bill Shorten has already indicated bipartisan support declared that it was not “beyond the wit and wisdom of the Australian parliament to get the balance right. If the prime minister has specific measures in mind then we will study that.” The Labor Party has rubberstamped, with minor amendments, the barrage of anti-terror legislation pushed through by the Abbott government over the past year.

In fact, what the Sydney siege demonstrates is the blatantly political character of the “war on terror.” A standoff involving an unstable, erratic individual, who was well known to police and intelligence agencies, was transformed into full-scale national emergency. Thousands of police locked down much of central Sydney. No serious attempt was made to negotiate Monis’s limited demands creating a highly strained situation inside the Lindt café that ended tragically in a police shoot-out in which Monis and two hostages were killed.

The report of the Joint Commonwealth-New South Wales Review released yesterday is a whitewash designed to cover-up the extensive relations between Monis and various federal and NSW government agencies, including the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and NSW police.

It is necessary to recall that just months before the Sydney siege hundreds of heavily-armed police and ASIO agents had mounted the largest ever anti-terror raids in Sydney on September 18. Fifteen premises were raided and 17 people detained all on the basis of one phone conversation allegedly threatening to kill a person at random. The raids took place as Abbott announced the dispatch of Australian war planes and troops to join the new US-led war in the Middle East.

The claims that the police had thwarted an imminent “terror threat” rapidly fell apart, however. Only one person was charged with a terrorist-related offence—a vague charge of conspiracy. While the media repeated lurid claims that Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) “terrorists” were planning a beheading, the police later admitted the word “behead” had not be used over the phone. Moreover, the weapon that was allegedly to be used turned out to be a plastic sword.

From the Abbott government’s standpoint, the raids had failed to create the climate of public fear that it wanted.

The central function of the review is to obscure the lies and contradictions contained in the official account of last December’s events. While some 800 police and ASIO agents were mobilised on the basis of one intercepted phone call in September, Monis who had been on the radar of police and ASIO ever since he arrived in Australia in 1996 as an Iranian refugee, managed to wander into Martin Place in central Sydney—an area bristling with CCTV cameras—and take over a café without anyone in the security apparatus supposedly being alert to such a possibility.

The review concluded that “right up until that fateful day in December 2014, and notwithstanding the fact agencies were familiar with Monis over many years and repeatedly examined his case and any new information that emerged, ASIO and law enforcement agencies never found any information to indicate Monis had the intent or desire to commit a terrorist act.” This claim is simply not credible.

Monis was a mentally unstable individual who had a long history of publicity seeking for his various grievances. He was wanted in Iran on fraud charges, postured as a Shiite cleric and spiritual healer, repeatedly tried to ingratiate himself with ASIO and the police by offering information on various “terrorist plots” and sent insensitive letters to the family of Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan blaming them for the crimes of the US and Australian governments.

As outlined in the review, ASIO carried out four investigations into Monis. On two occasions—during the Pope’s tour of Australia in 2008 and the 2011 Royal visit—the AFP identified Monis as “a person of interest” because of his “obsessive preoccupations and fixated interest in High Office Holders and dignitaries.” Indeed, Monis had fired off letters of protest around the world to everyone from the US president to the British queen, always providing copies of his correspondence to ASIO.

The review deliberately obscures the nature of relations between Monis and ASIO which has a track record of exploiting such unstable individuals as spies and provocateurs. No explanation is given as to why ASIO gave Monis an adverse security assessment in January 1999 as “indirect, and possibly a direct, risk to national security” then overturned it the following year. Given his repeated offers to assist, ASIO could well have strung him along as a useful, if unreliable, asset.

The review insists that there were no warning signs that Monis’s previous opposition to violent terrorist acts had changed. In the course of 2013–14, Monis was under intense pressure from a battery of charges that had been brought against him, including charges of sexual assault during his time as “spiritual healer” and accessory to the murder of his former wife. He alleged that he was physically abused while on remand in November 2013. In October 2014, he was charged with 37 further counts of sexual assault.

On November 17, Monis posted a declaration on his web site that he had converted from Shiite to Sunni Islam and pledged his allegiance to the “Caliph”—a reference to the various Sunni extremist groups, including ISIS whose goal is to restore the caliphate. Between December 9–12, the National Security Hotline receives 18 calls and emails relating to Monis and calling attention to his Facebook page. Yet, ASIO, according to the review at least, assessed that Monis had no “desire or intent to engage in terrorism” and took no action.

It is totally implausible that ASIO did not recognise that Monis’s actions represented an abrupt change in his attitudes. His conversion to the Sunni sect, which the review simply notes in passing as “unusual,” meant the embrace of organisations that bitterly denounce all Shiites as heretics and apostates. The danger signs were there but were simply ignored, raising the question as to whether a high-level decision was taken to allow the attack to proceed and provide the needed pretext for ramping up “war on terror.”

Whatever the answer to that question, the Sydney siege succeeded where the September police raids failed. It has enabled the Abbott government to bring forth a new slew of anti-democratic laws and measures while justifying the continued involvement of the Australian military in the criminal US led war in Iraq and Syria.

Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the Islamic State: The Case for Removing the “Fantasist-in-Chief”

By Binoy Kampmark
February 23, 2015
 Global Research

 

tony-abbottAustralian Prime Minister Tony Abbott is full of predictable surprises. Stomping and punching his way into the history books, his government finds itself teetering before the electoral precipice. As it should. His domestic policy lies in stagnant waters. His foreign policy has entered the comic books – a Marvel animation with misguided perceptions of world power, his seemingly rehearsed idiocy lead to threats of “shirt-fronting” Vladimir Putin and prosaic speculations at world summits. His dangerous union with Peta Credlin, his tyrannical bully of a chief of staff who keeps ministers in line and leaks to please, continues to thrive with ominous energy.

All of that simply suggests the usual, malfunctioning government in desperate need of removal, despatched by the usual electoral bloodbath the Australian electorate delves a leader who has gone beyond the pale. Australia’s generally tepid electoral landscape doesn’t tolerate the brash and the distant. Nor do one’s own backbenchers, the first ones to go under the knife.

The time for Tony’s removal, it would seem, is nigh. Not necessarily because of his inability to listen to a range of opinions, his failure to digest and synthesise the complex world around him, or his own unchanging sense of where women relate in his disjointed cosmos, though these do play a part. No – his removal is required to save the state. (One might say Constitution, but such legal chest thumping doesn’t quite wash down under.)

Even a publication such as Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian, which has done its best to feather the nest of the Abbott government since is monstrous inception – has gotten nervous. While it continues to have its demagogic spouters write the government script – Chris Mitchell as editor-in-chief, and the frothing Chris Kenny – the revelations about various meetings Abbott had over the course of his short term as prime minister is instructively dangerous. They reveal a fantasist-in-chief, a self-appointed suicidal villain keen to send thousands to their death at a moment’s trigger-happy notice.

The story, written by John Lyons in The Weekly Australian, makes the claim that, on November 25, 2014, the Prime Minister “suggested a unilateral invasion of Iraq, with 3,500 Australian ground troops to confront the Islamic State terrorist group.” The purpose: to assist in halting the surge of the IS group in northern Iraq. There was no resistance from his chief of staff, or any others, leading Abbott to raise the possibility with military planners who “were stunned”. Without “US or NATO cover”, it would be “disastrous”. “They argued that even the US was not prepared to put troops into Iraq and it would make Australia the only Western country with troops on the ground.”

Andrew Bolt at the Herald Sun (Feb 21) gives the observations no credence. He claims that US President Barack Obama was already contemplating sending in US troops in early November on the grounds of assisting Iraqi forces, bolstering an existing group of advisors. Special force deployments were already being made by Canada. Ergo, “Lyon’s story is bull – t.”

Abbott has similarly claimed that the story “as reported was false,” claiming that the Chief of the Defence Force “is as mystified by this as I am.” Finance Minister Mathias Cormann has called the story a “fabrication” (Daily Telegraph, Feb 21). The first rule of political survival is avoiding soapbox deniability – the more adamant one is in one’s rejoinders, the greater the clout to the claim. Refutations become full-blown confessions.

Even if the story was partly true, it shows Abbott the mad monk in hermetic action. While it would have been virtually impossible to imagine Australian soldiers in such a theatre without NATO or US support, what matters is the Tony worldview, the lunatic assessment that requires such numbers against such a foe, the need to throw Australian muscle into a historical meat grinder.

And it is entirely consistent with previous conduct from the PM, not to mention his extravagant insistence that a thousand Australian troops be deployed to eastern Ukraine after the shooting down of Malaysian Airliner MH17. Australian defence planners were similarly shaken by the logistical vision that was seemingly gestating in Abbott’s mind. Monolingual and resoundingly ignorant for such a task, Australia’s defence personnel would be incapable of speaking either Ukrainian or Russian, let alone distinguishing between Ukrainian or Russian militia.

While there is a case to be made for holding Australian politicians to account for surrendering sovereignty to such powers as the United States, be it via the security channel of deploying soldiers without direct discussions with Parliament to distant theatres; or the secret, and secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, the case against Abbott is even stronger. He shows that he is incapable of being a steward of any sort, a steroid-charged Biggles with an immolating streak.

He, of course, argues that such manic decisions have not become reality, suffering their predictable self-abortions. He misses the vital issue: they should never have been on the agenda to begin with. Coups have been launched for less, and it can be well argued that the dismissal of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in 1975 took place in less imperilling circumstances. High time for a re-enactment.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com