Thursday, 28 April 2005

Wonderful Double Standards - The case of Koongarra's uranium

It was depressing to read in this morning's papers that there is now but one person classified as a traditional owner of the land which contains the Koongarra uranium deposit in the Northern Territory. When I started working for the grand father of that sole survivor we would have 40 or 50 people at meetings under the trees considering whether they wanted mining on their land. And mining they certainly did want despite the desperate efforts of do-gooder environment groups to stop them exercising their right to determine their own future.
Unfortunately for those now departed after a life of abject poverty, Labor Governments stuck to their absurd three mines policy and the mine that would have delivered the traditional owners a taste of economic security was vetoed. Unfortunately the arrival of the Howard Government coincided with a low point in uranium prices so there was no pressure to give belated approval. Not that the environmental groups stopped agitating. The traditional owners decided that they did not want to mine after all and for the last five years the owners of the mining rights have been prohibited from negotiating with them.
With the five years having expired the Australian Conservation Foundation wants laws changed to stop mining companies ever re-approaching traditional owners after they have rejected a mining proposal. It is an amazing double standard from a group that for all those years would never take yes for an answer from an Aborigine.

Wednesday, 20 April 2005

Changing the Guard - John Howard preparing to retire?

Wednesday, 20th April 2005  - Richard Farmer 
There is little doubt in my mind that John Howard is planning his orderly retirement as Prime Minister. For a start he is engaging in an orgy of international travel which is not at all surprising. If you want to be remembered as a major player on the international stage you have to tread the boards in foreign parts as well as having foreign leaders starring in your own political theatre.
Then there is the fascinating spectacle of John Howard taking the rap for the decision to blatantly abandon a key part of last year’s re-election strategy. Substantially increasing the Medicare safety net will cause considerable anger and that anger will grow as the months go by. A Prime Minister considering yet another term in office would have flicked the announcement to his Treasurer or his Finance Minister. Instead the PM is doing the decent thing by his successor in the hope, perhaps, that the anger will depart with him.
The third indication of departure was the offer of the Australian ambassadorship in Washington to Mr Howard’s long serving chief of staff Arthur Sinodinos. Decent politicians care about their loyal employees and the decision by Mr Sinodinos not to accept the post does not change the fact that the offer was made. Presumably he has another future in mind that he finds more appealing.
Exactly when the departure will come is probably in no one’s mind other than Mr Howard’s but the relaxed nature of Treasurer and heir apparent Peter Costello suggests another year at most.

A Stupid Defence - no personal responsibility for criminal behaviour

Wednesday, 20th April 2005  - Richard Farmer 
There is something wonderfully refreshing about the Indonesian legal system. Defence lawyers do not go into attempts to shift the blame from their clients with long descriptions of deprived child hoods and years of abuse. They just make statements of the obvious. Like today when the counsel for two of those arrested as heroin couriers described them as: “Stupid. Just stupid.”
The point was to disassociate the two from any involvement in the planning of the attempt to import heroin into Australia. They were simply simple couriers without the intelligence to understand the risks they were taking let alone develop the strategy to be an importer. The lawyer’s advice to her clients was that spilling the beans was the only way to avoid the death penalty.
No wonder the Australian Federal police were happy enough for their Indonesian colleagues to make the catch. It will avoid three or four years of listening to Sydney criminal lawyers giving reasons why personal responsibility no longer applies.

Tuesday, 5 April 2005

Adelaide's Extraordinary Guessing Game - Who is the alleged pedophile?

Tuesday, 5th April 2005  - Richard Farmer 
In the ranks of the South Australian Parliamentary Labor Party is a member described in a fax sent to 100 media organisations by two voluntary workers for an independent MP as being a pedophile. That independent MP, one Peter Lewis, just happened, until he resigned yesterday, to be the Speaker of the lower house. Now the Labor Government is attempting to have legislation passed to temporarily suspend parliamentary privilege to prevent Mr Lewis or anyone else from naming the alleged pedophile. Hence the great guessing game as the good burgers of Adelaide try to work out whom is being referred to.
It is impossible not to have considerable sympathy with the Labor MP tangled up in this affair. The faxed statutory declaration apparently contained no evidence about the offence allegedly committed and past police investigations uncovered nothing untoward. Yet the Labor Government is going to extraordinary lengths in the attempt to protect one of its own and in the end what will they achieve?
The journalists, politicians and political staffers privy to the name will surely pass it on to a friend or three. Within a week the rumour mill will have spread to over a million. Along the way some will get the name wrong and the innocent victims of the slander will end up being not one Labor MP but half the Labor Party Caucus.

Monday, 4 April 2005

Start an Organisation and Give Yourself a Title

April 2005  - Richard Farmer 
Former minor level military officers who leave the army with a huge chip on their shoulder generally find it hard to have their views taken seriously in the debate about Australia's defence policy. Give that same officer a grand title with an independent sounding organisation and those same views come blasting out of radios and appear on televisions and in newspapers all over the nation.
So it was this morning when Australians woke to find Neil James, the executive director of the Australian Defence Association, giving them the opinion that the nation's Sea King helicopters should have been replaced years ago. He was the media's darling as journalists desperately sought to find somebody, anybody, to talk about Saturday's tragic helicopter crash on Nias Island.
Now the opinion of Mr James might well turn out to be absolutely correct but expertise in the subject was not the reason his views were being sought. Today's appearances, like countless others by the current executive director and his predecessors, were purely and simply the result of the title.
Which brings me to the first rule for anyone wanting to take part in political debate: start an organisation and give yourself a title. If it sounds impressive, believe me you will be heard.
The Australian Defence Association is a wonderful example. It started in Perth in 1975 when Air Marshal Sir Valston Hancock, KBE, CB, DFC, who had been Chief of the Air Staff from May 1961 to May 1965, Jim Harding, described on their website as "a leading Western Australian trade unionist", and Peter Firkins, the director of the Perth Chamber of Commerce, decided that Australia was at a strategic watershed following the fall of Saigon to a major North Vietnamese attack. According to the website "they had the vision to see that an independent and non-partisan ‘ginger group’ was required to stimulate, nurture and monitor effective public debate on national security issues."
The ADA has grown from there to become a regular participant in the defence debate. But who exactly is it? Well its board of directors is these days a long way short of Air Marshal Hancock's status but you can judge that for yourself from the following descriptions taken from the ADA website.
Dr Brian Ridge - Brian Ridge is National President of the ADA. He teaches Linguistics and Asian Studies (including sections on regional security and defence) at the University of Southern Queensland in Toowoomba. He has taught previously at other Australian universities and overseas in Singapore and China. Brian is linguistically curious and his day is not complete without a new word from the "Worthless Word For The Day" list (it is a real list!)
Neil James- A graduate of the Royal Military College, Duntroon, Neil James served for over 31 years in the Australian Army. His experiences spanned a wide range of regimental, intelligence, liaison, teaching, operational planning and research positions throughout Australia and overseas, including Malaysia, Germany, the United Kingdom, Kashmir, Pakistan, India, Canada, Iraq, the United States and New Zealand. Neil is the author of four ADF and Army operational manuals, has written numerous articles for professional and specialist journals, has contributed chapters to several books on defence matters and has authored several entries in the Australian Dictionary of Biography. He has served with the senior teaching staff at the Army Command and Staff College and the Australian and Canadian defence intelligence schools, and has taught on specialist courses with various Australian and allied intelligence and security agencies. After serving for nearly four years (1997-2000) as foundation director of the Army's 'think-tank', the Land Warfare Studies Centre at Duntroon, his final posting was as head of the operational plans branch at Headquarters Joint Forces New Zealand near Wellington. In 2000 the then Australian Defence Studies Centre at UNSW published his comprehensive and critical study paper on reforming the strategic management of Australia's defence. The paper earnt him both his trans-Tasman exile in 2001-02 and his current position as Executive Director of the Association.
Ian Bostock- Ian Bostock is a professional journalist and the editor of a national consumer magazine. He graduated from UNSW in 1993 with a Bachelor of Science, and has been an independent defence writer and analyst for more than a decade. Since 1995 Ian has also been the Australian correspondent for the Jane’s group of international defence journals.
Alan Collier- Alan Collier is a graduate of the Royal Military College, Duntroon, and served for five years as a an officer in the signals corps. Since leaving the Army in 1982 he has pursued eclectic interests as an electrical engineer, businessman, lawyer, company director and management consultant. He is of the view that there is more importance in defence and national security issues being vigorously debated than in any necessity that he agrees with any particular point of view.
David Forbes- David Forbes is barrister practising in commercial and insolvency law in Melbourne. He is also a volunteer lawyer at the Darebin Community Legal Centre. David joined the ADA in 1984 and has an on-going interest in national security and foreign policy issues. David writes occasional articles for Defender and academic legal journals. He regularly reads The Economist for breakfast.
Dr Malcolm Kennedy- Malcolm Kennedy spent 14 years in the regular and reserve components of the Australian Army. He saw service in Papua New Guinea, Thailand and Laos, and has travelled extensively in East and South-East Asia. Subsequently, he taught at Melbourne and Monash Universities. Editor of Defender, he now works as a freelance writer and editor.
Tom Magee- Tom Magee is a graduate of the Royal Military College, Duntroon, and served as an infantry officer for 16 years. He counts his time with 3RAR establishing its parachute capability and his three-year secondment to the PNG Defence Force as the highlights of his time in the Service. Since leaving the Army in 1993 he has worked in a variety of executive roles in the resources industry, predominantly in the metalliferous sector. A ‘specialist generalist’, he sees the honest broker role of the ADA as bringing an essential element to public debate of national securit