Category: International Politics

Je ne suis pas Charlie Hebdo. Tragedy and Truth in Paris.

Paris-Demonstration


Freedom of speech has burst back into the national arena following the shocking, cold-blooded murder of twelve workers at Charlie Hebdo, a Parisian satirical magazine which rose to notoriety for its provocative cartoons, caricatures and its gleeful parody of powerful institutions. Fearlessly, if not recklessly, venturing beyond reason and decorum to attack religious extremism of all persuasions, Charlie Hedbo won a certain ill-repute and, until recently, a loyal, if declining, following whilst simultaneously attracting many sworn enemies.

No stranger to controversy including death threats, the magazine’s offices were fire-bombed in 2011 over a special issue featuring a cartoon impression of the Islamic Prophet Mohammed as its editor-in-chief, Charlie Hebdo. To outsiders bereft of key critical French cultural contexts and constructs, much of the humour is lost in translation but its irrepressible iconoclasm and confronting irreverence are unmistakeable and doubtless not unattractive to readers who might already struggle with authority, convention and political correctness.  It set out to shock and shock it did, often crudely. Yet a publication must do more than be confronting to earn its audience.

A recent issue depicts clearly pregnant kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls screaming in unison. Their plea? Don’t touch our ‘allocs’ (allowances.)  It’s funny only to those who can desensitise feelings of repulsion towards Boko Haram and to the abduction and rape of 300 young women. And even then it runs the risk of simply cementing the prejudices of readers seeking confirmation of their animus towards migrant welfare bludgers and women.

Unfettered by good taste or common decency, the magazine did not hold itself back. Doubtless, even our own George Brandis would have felt a warm inner glow at Charlie Hebdo’s liberal propagation of blasphemous images, racial stereotypes and insults bordering on hate speech, (a crime which is rigorously prosecuted in France, despite much recent misreporting), as a vision of what he could achieve in Australia with the repeal of section 18c.  Even Brandis, however, could not pretend that such views were in demand: Charlie Hebdo was a basket case financially despite its government subsidy, (subsidies help explain why there are 1500 newspapers in Paris.) Now, ironically, sales are booming worldwide with the latest edition offered for auction on eBay and attracting thousand pound bids. Yet none of it persuades me that Je suis Charlie.

Rude good health of sorts has been restored to the mortally wounded Charlie Hebdo after the tragic loss of life of its creative midwives, rekindling gallows humourists and satirists’ interest in the phrases ‘over my dead body’ and the Gallic protestation to love something or someone Je t’aime à la folie, jusqu’à la mort. (I love you madly until death.) Whilst an issue has been published in a quixotic gesture of defiance, it remains to be seen, however, what direction the revitalised paper will take from now on.

Equally unknowable is the future of the Charlie Hebdo movement although its longevity looks already in doubt. Although many would like to assume that there is a cause at stake, it is difficult to state precisely what that cause may be unless we imagine a society that is better for having a freedom to be crudely, cruelly insensitive and calculatedly offensive, a freedom to hold all things up to merciless ridicule. Yet the Charlie Hedbo phenomenon is nothing without its quixotic followers.

The brutal unforgivable summary execution, of a dozen Charlie Hedbo workers led to a collective outburst of anger and grief in a massive popular demonstration in Parisian streets of a nature not seen since VE Day. More than a rally, however, the terrorists’ attack prompted a type of raptus, exciting and inflaming passions whilst capturing the public imagination.

Now the whole world, it seems, has become if not French, at least keenly interested in paying homage to Charlie. Golden Globes Award, commentators elevated it to The Je suis Charlie movement whilst photographers thoughtfully provided stars with signs, buttons and placards, prêt à porter, as it were. And whilst alert entrepreneurs around the world flock to this latest cause celebre, there is no knowing where it will end. It is reported that the phrase Je suis Charlie has been the subject of patent applications by several enterprising international citizens. But what is Je suis Charlie? What does it mean? Is it anything more than a fleeting folie a foule, an ephemeral group madness?

What is happening in Paris and in the spiritual, imaginary or completely fictive Paris of the hearts and minds of the international community and what it means is a complex, multilayered phenomenon best interpreted cautiously, yet this has not deterred mass media and other commercial interests from providing ready to wear labels, in the quest for making meaning or a host of other related quests such as to foster, adopt or take it over.

In the process, as is to be expected, a blurring of focus and some wilful distortion have taken place. Widespread, for example, is an urge to characterise, explain and identify, a dynamic that is not confined to the professional myth-makers in the international scrimmage over the chance to say what Je suis Charlie represents.

‘It’s about self-expression,’ a protestor volunteered yesterday whilst George Clooney expressed his own take from the Golden Globes stage with:

‘There were millions people that marched . . . in support of the idea that we will not walk in fear. We won’t do it. So, je suis Charlie.’

Support for progressive causes is not unfashionable in modern Hollywood but some in the audience would have recalled Ronald Reagan and his shopping of fellow actors and competitors to the House Committee for Un-American activities which began its witch hunt in 1945 and faded only in the early 1950s or the double lives led by actors afraid to declare their sexuality and who walked in fear lest the truth would ruin their careers. In this context, however, Clooney’s support for the ‘Charlie thing…’ however vaguely defined is refreshing.

Support should never be overanalysed. Much current interest in Je suis Charlie initially seems to have been a simple, instinctive and undifferentiated sympathy; a public identification, manifested in the rally; at best a spontaneous and uncomplicated expression of compassion for the victims and their families. Immediately, however, commentators have packaged and promoted this feeling into a statement of solidarity by supporters of free speech, freedom of expression and even self-expression. In the circumstances it is useful to carefully establish our own perspective.

People took to the streets to defend their right to say what they like and to protest at the brutal, barbaric outrage that cost the lives of twelve staff at Charlie Hebdo and the wounding of many others. What motivated them is a more complex and profound matter but at heart the rally was a massive and unprecedented public display of camaraderie not seen for decades in Parisian streets. Naturally this first reading of events only touches the surface of what is ultimately a complex, multi-layered phenomenon in its own right but it is important it not to lose sight of what it was before we draw long bows as to why and how.

On the surface, the Je suis Charlie demonstration remains a remarkable phenomenon which drew record crowds in an arresting, collective outpouring of outrage, anger and sorrow. Few could be unmoved by such a spontaneous popular demonstration of feeling. This is not to forget, of course, that many complex cross currents were at work beneath the surface but rather to observe the significance of an instinctive, naive accord, a simple, collective call to action in a complex and conflicted modern world.

At best, the march seemed a rallying cry for Europe’s leaders, even if solidarity was more elusive: the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel was later airbrushed out of the report published in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish newspaper which edited her out of a picture of world leaders at the Paris march against terror. Similarly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who shoved others out of the way to get there, tweeted an edited image of himself in the front row of world leaders while cropping the shot to exclude Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Liberty, equality and fraternity, it seems, cannot be taken too far but for a moment it looked as if all were well.

According to New York-based newspaper The Jewish Daily Forward cameras for a local media outlet caught Netanyahu elbowing aside a woman French minister as he tried to jump the queue for the bus that would transport the group to the starting point of the (Je suis Charlie) march. Finding himself relegated to the second row at the march, he shoved aside the president of Mali and inserted himself in the front row.

Other statements, however, particularly our Prime Minister’s exhortation to Australia’s cartoonists to ‘keep on drawing’ and the recent resurgence of calls for our defamation laws to be relaxed are more problematic suggesting that we are conflicted as a nation and as individuals in what we see as reasonable limits on our freedom of speech.

Whilst we rise as one to protest our outrage at the hideous atrocity carried out in the name of Islam in Paris by two French citizens with an Algerian background who chose murder with AK47s as their own barbaric form of remonstration and redress we are less united when it comes to our defence of basic freedoms at home. And just how far are we prepared to take our vicarious indulgence?

Let us consider one hypothetical parallel. Imagine the fuss if a cartoon were published which depicted our Prime Minister and George Pell in a French kiss, perhaps with the caption, Je suis Georgie’s boy. Or the former Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’s image is drawn above one of his previous portfolio’s slogans: where the bloody hell are you? Cambodia, Nauru, Manus, as long it’s not Australia, we don’t care.

Such speculation has already led to a local war of words. Tim Wilson who must be the most fortunate government appointee ever, a man who was given the Federal government’s Human Rights Commissioner’s job via a phone call from George Brandis without so much as a job interview and who has obediently spruiked government lines on matters ranging from challenging the science of global warming to arguing for changes to the racial discrimination act to promote ‘real’ freedom of speech on TV and radio has come out with the claim that Charlie Hebdo would not be published in Australia. Expect a rush as other LNP supporters ride in his coat-tails. We will be told we need to ‘revisit’ a law which at present protects those who might otherwise be cruelly attacked for their origins. Worthies such as Andrew Bolt may well weigh into the debate. Expect more nonsense in the name of freedom of speech. Just don’t expect enlightenment.

As 2015 begins, Australians are curiously positioned between the PM’s incongruous and gratuitous piece of advice to cartoonists not to self-censor and his government, a government which has made much of the need to forgo certain freedoms in the interest of national security, a government which has already enacted legislation restricting its citizens’ freedom of speech in the name of anti-terrorism, a government which has our metadata and the right to use it against us without challenge. Charlie Hebdo, it is true, has become an international cause celebre with followers and advocates in the most unlikely places but let’s just keep things in perspective. It is less about freedom and freedom of expression or any other warm and fuzzy vibe than about realpolitik and a means to an end for governments who would put the freedom genie firmly back in the bottle as they seek to mobilise us against the evils of death cults and terror, prosecuting the politics of division while constraining individual liberty and strengthening state control.

Carry on, cartoonists, urges Tony Abbott after Charlie Hebdo attack.

abbott and microphones

Australia’s PM with his supportive media.


Australia’s army of parodists, satirists and professional piss-takers, the nation’s cartoonists, have been told to carry on. Terrified and shocked by events overseas, on the point of drawing the line at any more funny business and laying down their pencils, en masse, the nation’s lampooning doodlers have bucked up to hear words of encouragement from the top. And in such a good cause or two: our way of life is at stake. We are as nothing without corrective irony, parody or self-ridicule. Freedom of speech, moreover, is something we hold dear; central to the way we carry on. Or so we are told, from most unexpected quarter, or cartouche.

Oddly, the satirists’ rallying cry is being made by Australia’s PM, Tony, Abbott, a caricaturist’s dream, a political figure easily mistaken for a parody of a PM, or a parody of himself, or both. Not renowned for enjoying or appreciating criticism and fronting a LNP government which is at best economical with freedom of expression and truth, to say nothing of justice, tolerance and compassion, qualities informing every satirist’s bite, the PM has leapt into the fray.

Yesterday, the PM, a talented contortionist and ever-obliging target himself, the butt of a thousand gibes was urging us to give ’em hell with bells on. Loony Toons Abbott morphed into the mouse that roared: a mouse exhorting all the neighbourhood cats to sharpen their claws.

In yet another unexpected twist to his contorted career, the PM burst on to Channel 9 to the amazement of jaded, hung-over morning television viewers and cracked up the nation with a message straight to camera. Cartoonists carry on! The terrorists will win if you stop. And there was more. With the injunction came insight; he knew, he confided, all too well, what it is like to be a member of a persecuted minority, the object of satire: people are always making fun of Catholics in Australia.

Abbott’s babblings were prompted by the tragic events at Charlie Hebdo, the satirical Paris newspaper in which two gunmen brutally executed ten staff members and injured eleven others, some of them critically on Thursday morning in apparent retaliation for the paper’s pungently satirical comments on Islam. Curiously, they echoed David Cameron’s despite their religious differences, differences on climate change and other matters. Doubtless, similar sentiments could be traced in the addresses of a group of national leaders whose talking points are lovingly hand-prepared in Washington.

Whatever his intention, or the true origin of his inspiration, Tony Abbott captured every satirist’s imagination with his latest hypocritical posturing, beginning with his TV appearance itself.

Others in his cabinet may wait weeks, or even longer, to talk to the media but the PM gets his head on the box any time he feels like it. One of his first initiatives in government and, yes, the word is to be used cautiously, was to control communications. His own ministers and hapless members of his government have to line up like the scene in Oliver to get permission to exercise any freedom of expression that might involve talking to the people. All media requests must be approved by a member of the Prime Minister’s staff, aka Peta Credlin.

Yet the same PM can air his thought bubbles and spray his talking points at us with barely a moment’s notice, as he did on national television yesterday. Indeed, he is able to over-share, as his wont; the reason he needs a minder on every occasion and doubtless the reason the party dominatrix Peta Credlin must accompany him everywhere.

Other ironies abound. Whilst the office of the prime minister has divided the media into friends and enemies and whilst Abbott himself is openly critical of criticism of the government by the ABC, an outfit he would love to privatise, he rushed to pose as a defender of free speech stating:

‘…it’s important there be no self-censorship by Australian media in the wake of yesterday’s terrorist attack in Paris.’ No doubt this thought vastly relieved Australian cartoonists who are by nature an unctuous and dependent breed, constantly seeking approval and instruction from the top. Whom did the PM think he was trying to kid?  He may be able to tie himself in knots but cartoonists, satirists are not about to follow.

Losing no time either in gleefully cranking up popular fear and anxiety, Abbott warned that ‘the world should be braced for more terrorist attacks.’

Just what form this bracing should take was not specified, although the term is used frequently in press releases and talking points constructed by his office. Nor would the PM elaborate on the reasons for our national bracing and whether he meant he expected more terrorist attacks in Australia. Yet even as the lion of truth he was forthcoming in constructing falsehood. He proceeded to link Paris and Martin Place:

The attack in Paris was relatively sophisticated. The attacks in Australia have been relatively unsophisticated. But whether these are, if you like, grass roots terrorism or whether they’re organisational terrorism, the fact is it is still a terrorist attack on us, on our way of life.

The PM began to sound like a veteran commentator and we, his people, veterans of terrorist attacks who would all the more clearly see that our way of life was threatened, conveniently feeding the pernicious myth of conformity and clouding our sense of our rich and vital diversity. This is a consistent line of Abbott’s which, it seems, he shares with other western leaders who, television ‘world news’ clearly showed, subscribed to the same script service and were taking similar liberties with their own peoples amounts to a dangerous myth-making which helps to divide our society and to promote the ignorance, the intolerance, hysteria and fear which enable terrorism in the first place.  It is also, of course, a most useful proposition in the construction of Abbott as our public defender and a generic nostrum for conservative leaders the world over. It times of crisis, moreover, it is hoped we will unite behind the strong leader.

Of course, the intolerance and ignorance is just a fact of modern life, according to the PM but with a twist. There may well be a contortionist’s prize for holding a view in which we are seen to welcome all sorts of minorities and the roots of our current immigration policy, for example. Or the cognitive dissonance in the hardened certainty of the phrase ‘absolutely hate’ and the cosy inner self-deluded glow of undifferentiated multicultural acceptance; our pluralism.

And the sad truth of the modern era is that there are people who hate us, not because of anything that we’ve done but because of who we are and the way we live. They hate our tolerance, our pluralism, the welcome that we provide to all sorts of minorities. It’s an essential part of Western civilisation and it’s the thing about us that these people absolutely hate.

Interrupting if not arresting the PM’s drift towards a hard-edged soft focused generality, a servile Channel 9 interviewer offered his neck, begging correction, asking the already contorted Abbott how much freedom the press should give up to make us all safer:

TIM MCMILLAN: how far should Australian media outlets go when satirising religions or minority groups?

Abbott invoked his own experiences as a member of a persecuted minority, perhaps knowing of the value of bogus identification in propaganda:

Australian media organisations don’t normally hold back when for argument’s sake they’re criticising Christianity. Catholicism comes in for a particular dose of scorn.

We will take that as encouragement that we are not to hold back. Wittering scorn, however, was invited on this occasion, if not earned by his concluding paradoxical homily:

It’s very important, two things here: first of all that we don’t engage in self-censorship as a result of this kind of attack. Second and even more important, we should not stop being ourselves because of this kind of attack.

If we do engage in self-censorship, if we do change the way we live and the way we think, that gives terrorists a victory and the last thing that we should do is give these evil fanatics any kind of victory.

Abbott has once again used the news to inflict his own agenda upon us. He peddles his own bigoted post-modern mythos of Manichean struggle between good and evil. He would have us in a straitjacket of fear and beholden to the leader as protector, yielding freely up our metadata, our privacy, our right to know the truth and other democratic rights, yet carrying on as normal as his far right government strengthens the role of the state in a desperate attempt to shore up its shaky foundations. Endless conflicted and compromised, he cranks the hurdy-gurdy of the rhetoric of freedom and freedom of speech while his government systematically goes about undermining its very foundations.

Passengers’ Protest Stops Deportation of Chinese Asylum Seeker

AAA sydney_refugee_activists_at_airport

RAC members hand out pamphlets at Sydney Airport

The following story was released yesterday to the press by the Refugee Action Coalition but appears to have been ignored. It is published here as forwarded from Ian Rintoul with some minor editing. Urban Wronski.

The story has been published online by the Green Left Weekly


Pilot refuses to fly after plane protest by cuffed asylum seeker

December 20, 2014

Last Friday, the pilot of an Air China flight carrying a Chinese asylum seeker made a last minute decision to abandon the take off and returned to the terminal to unload the asylum seeker after he staged a dramatic on-board protest.

Wei Lin, a Chinese asylum seeker, was taken directly from the Federal Court to the airport, under escort of four Serco guards, following failed last minute legal action to prevent his deportation.

Around 6pm, refugee activists went to Sydney airport to distribute leaflets to passengers on the Air China flight to raise awareness of the Wei’s deportation and to request their support to prevent the forced deportation

At the airport he was tightly handcuffed and a mask placed over his head. Wei was placed between two Serco guards of the last row of seats on the plane.

Around 9.00pm, with around 80 per cent of passengers boarded, Wei was able to move to the front of the plane and address the passengers after being escorted to the toilet.

Wei showed passengers that he was cuffed and said, “I am a political asylum seeker. The Australian Immigration Department forced me to come the airport & board on the airplane against my will…”

The plane had begun to move to taxi to the runway, but after about 20 minutes the pilot announced that the incident was ‘unresolved’, and the plane would return to the terminal.

Some passengers, both Chinese and Australian, clapped for Wei as he was taken from the aircraft at 9.50pm. He was subsequently returned to the high security section of the Villawood detention centre.

Wei is a professional athlete who has been harassed in China because of his knowledge of the use of performance enhancing drugs in Chinese sport. He first made a protection application in late 2007.

“We are again calling on the Minister to halt attempts to deport Wei, and to halt all deportations to danger,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition. “We are also calling on the airlines to refuse to carry forced deportations. By co-operating with the government, airline such as China Air become complicit in the government’s abuse of asylum seekers’ human rights.”

For more information contact Ian Rintoul mob 0417 275 713


Another account of the event by Steph O’Donnell appears below

Seven passengers stood up on an Air China flight to stop a Chinese asylum seeker being deported late last Friday night. Wei Lin, a 33 year old Chinese asylum seeker was escorted by four Serco guards; was tightly handcuffed and had a mask placed over his mouth, but he able to get to the front of the plane after asking to go to the toilet, as passengers were boarding.

Wei was able to hold his shackled wrists to show the passengers and said, “I am a political asylum seeker. The Australian Immigration Department forced me to come to the airport & board on the airplane against my will…,” before he was roughly pushed back to his seat. The red welts left by the handcuffs were still obvious on Wei’s wrists yesterday (Sunday) at Villawood detention centre.

Steph O’Donnell, a passenger on the plane, in transit to London, was among seven passengers who refused to take their seats as the pilot taxied the plane onto the runway following an on-board protest and appeal for help by Wei Lin, the Chinese asylum seeker, on board the flight. Steph contacted the Refugee Action Coalition on Sunday from London explaining the action of the passengers – her account can be read below. She is available for interview by arrangement.

After passengers maintained their protest, the pilot the take-off was abandoned and the plane returned to the terminal gate while Wei and his four guards left the plane. Wei was confronted on the plane and at the gate by people assumed to be Chinese air marshals. The passengers’ action came after activists from the Refugee Action Coalition distributed leaflets, in English and Chinese, at the check-in counter explaining how passengers could help stop forced deportations by ‘standing up for asylum seekers’.

“The passengers protest has shown how ordinary people can make a difference in the face of the government’s cruel treatment of asylum seekers. “Action by passengers has been known on European deportation flights, and we have previously leafleted airports, but this has taken action to stop forced removals to a new level,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

“There is a growing awareness of the injustice meted out to asylum seekers, and every reason to expect more protests on the planes. There are too many asylum seekers deported to danger. The airline companies should refuse to co-operate with forced removals. “The new Immigration Minister should call a halt to the government’s forced deportation regime.”  For more information, and to arrange an interview with Steph O’Donnell, contact Ian Rintoul mob 0417 275 713

From Steph O’Donnell to RAC Facebook page (21 Dec 2014) :


Sydney Siege Gunman killed by police mentally disturbed and acting alone not a terrorist.

 mons


Sydney siege gunman, Man Haron Monis, said to be aged either 49 or 50, a mentally disturbed Iranian-born Sydney resident was shot dead by police when they stormed the Lindt café St Martin Place in central Sydney, where he was holding patrons hostage.

It seems clear from all available evidence that Monis, known to NSW police and judiciary for his letters to deceased soldiers’ families and released on bail on a charge of being an accessory to the murder of his wife and mother of his two children, acted alone and for personal motives. There is no reason, at this stage, to link him with ISIS or any other terrorist organisation, despite such speculation in some sections of the media.

Tragically two hostages were also killed. They were Sydney lawyer and mother of three Katrina Dawson, 38, and the day manager of the Lindt cafe Tori Johnson aged 34. It is yet to be determined whether they were executed by Monis, as he had threatened, or tragically caught in police cross-fire when police stormed the building shortly after 2:00am after hearing gunfire from within.

It is not known what motivated Monis, despite his communication with police negotiators during the sixteen hour siege which began around 9:00am in the café in the heart of Sydney’s business centre. Subsequent comments from his lawyer suggest that his motives were typically confused and contradictory, although there is evidence he was angry with the judiciary over failing an appeal over a court sentence.

Monis took 15 café staff and patrons hostage on the day after courts refused his appeal against his community work sentence for his conviction for writing bizarre letters to the families of soldiers who had served in Afghanistan.

Monis, aka Sheikh Haron and Mohammad Hassan Manteghi, and known to some Sydney residents as ‘The Fake Sheik’ was a self-proclaimed cleric, with a history of mental illness, and convictions for sexual assault who came to Australia in 1996 as a refugee from political persecution in Iran.

Most recently, he was charged with over 50 allegations of indecent and sexual assault relating to time allegedly spent as a self-proclaimed “spiritual healer” at a premises in western Sydney over ten years ago.

During the patron’s sixteen hour ordeal, Monis, an Iranian Shiite Muslim forced them to contact media with requests which included an ISIS flag. It is clear from Monis’ lawyer interviewed on ABC radio today that the hostage-taker was not a member of ISIS and that the request for the flag represented yet another attempt to gain publicity by the mentally ill man whose previous attention-seeking behaviour includes a series of online tirades directed at various Australian politicians and chaining himself outside Sydney courts.

It is important to note that there is no evidence whatsoever to link this disturbed individual to any organised terror group. His bizarre and pathetic, Walter Mitty style request that police procure an ISIS flag for him because he had the wrong flag is enough to sound a note of caution to those commentators who seek to speculate about his links with terror; a warning to those who would embellish or dignify the manifest symptoms of insanity with more organised thinking and motivation.

The would-be terrorist’s flag was an innocuous Shahada, or profession of faith in Islam, which asserts: “There is no god but Allah; Mohammed is the Messenger of Allah.” To a population already sensitised to terrorist threats and to a media saturated with reports of ISIS beheadings, however, it was at first sight evidence of something sinister, a visual cue to link a mentally ill individual to ISIS, a movement which PM Tony Abbott has chosen to describe to the nation as the ISIS death cult. To members of the Muslim community, it was a distressing type of betrayal, an ambiguous and potentially provocative signal to those non-Muslims fuelled by anti-terror propaganda keen to link Islam and terror. It was also a clear indication of the gunman’s confusion and mental disorder.

What went right during the siege was the way the police appeared to manage the situation, in particular their control of information. It seems that radio stations, TV and other media were able to co-operate with the police in restricting speculation and in limiting their coverage to a few simple facts. Whilst this may have made for boring TV, it doubtless saved lives.

Radio stations were contacted by terrified hostages, yet all were able to refuse Monis’ demands, including the nature of those demands. Monis, however, was able to force his hostages to post videos on social media. Standing in front of the black and white Shahada flag they talk of bombs and Islamic State. They are made to call Monis “the brother”.

“We’re held here hostage and the brother has three requests. One is to get an IS flag and he will release one hostage.

“The second is for the media to inform the other brothers not to explode the other two bombs which are also in the city. There are four bombs altogether here.

“The third is for Tony Abbott to contact the brother via live web, somehow, and he will release five hostages.

The skill with which these demands were parried is a tribute to all those involved in the handling of the disturbing incident. Monis was, thus, effectively deprived of a forum. Whether his frustrations ultimately led him to shoot two of his hostages will not be known until police conclude their inquiry into what is termed a ‘critical incident.’

What is perhaps less skilled has been the appearance of media experts who seem fascinated with ‘lone wolf’ terminology.  This has led to an unhelpful circularity of thought, a type of Catch 22, in which it is held that Mons acted alone therefore he is a lone wolf but given that ISIS encourages lone wolves, then he could still be part of the ISIS pack.

His social media statements are similarly adduced as evidence of his wider influence, his further connectedness in the web of terror. Let’s just say at this stage that he posted his delusional thoughts on social media. It is not in itself evidence of anything more sinister. Did he have a following? Again, on the evidence, it seems most unlikely.

Clear heads have prevailed so far. Clear thinking needs to continue. On all the evidence, so far the gunman was motivated by the delusional thinking and false logic symptomatic of a profound mental disturbance or disorder. His aberrant behaviour clearly included the capacity to inflict his pathological violence on others, and possibly on himself. Calls for strengthening terror laws, speculation on links with ISIS are less than rational and are unhelpful to our understanding and our capacity to deal effectively with what has been a shocking and frightening incident. Let us proceed cautiously by objectively and dispassionately adhering to established fact, with all due compassion for those who have suffered and are suffering as a result of the actions of this madman. Only then will we be best placed to understand and to support, to heal and secure a community which is grieving and in shock.

Australia is sending the wrong message and the wrong messengers to UN climate change talks in Lima.

Greg Hunt looking wounded

Environment Minister Greg Hunt told to stay home from Lima, the most important meeting of his career so far.


Oh where Oh where has my little dog, gone?

Oh where Oh where can he be?

With his ears cut short and his tail cut long.

Oh where Oh where can he be?

Where Oh where is Greg Hunt? This is the question on everyone’s lips amongst international delegates to the UN climate show at Lima concerns Australia’s missing Environment Minister, work experience boy Greg Hunt who not only failed to show up at roll-call on the first day of the United Nations Conference but, it seems, will now never show up at all. ‘He is a nice boy, kinda preppy, goofy and not as smart as he thinks he is but loveable, reminded us of a Labrador pup’, a spokesman who prefers to remain anonymous, ‘swallow anything, devoted to his master, always up for a pat or a treat and stubborn, never, never let go of the bone. Not like him to go AWOL at such an important event in his career. Besides he’s cute, kinda like the way a mascot or a stuffed toy is cute and kinda helpless, vulnerable and useless. The Lima conference is a step towards the Paris summit on climate next year, due to conclude a new international agreement.

We were worried that he been kidnapped by ISIS or something because he had upset someone or other. We know people who know people who arrange that type of thing. They call it pest control.’

The harsh reality is Hunt got bumped as international negotiator some time ago by the ruthlessly ambitious over-achiever fifth columnist and Fifth Avenue Fashionista Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who in turn just got bumped sideways for Lima by Andrew Robb by an Abbott government increasingly mistrustful of Bishop and fearful she might make some sort of commitment to reducing carbon emissions, a commitment that the Abbott government will avoid to the end, which is increasingly looking like another two years.

“It was never on the cards that he was going to go”, claimed a spokesman for the Environment Minister whilst Hunt maintains that it is right and proper that he stay at home with a good book and a Milo because, after all, he is quick to point out Lima is more of a DFAT thing.

Robb, whom government sources claim would already be in South America on other business, has come out with an equally unbelievable statement about his own reluctance to attend and is understood to be keenly looking up the words duenna, chaperone and Best Eats in Lima on Wikipedia, sharing all of Hunt’s bookmarks and Pinterest pins.

Of course it’s unfair – and on all of us, not just on Hunt. Our Environment Minister has an impeccable case for being in the hunt at Lima, and not just as Julie’s younger man-bag nor to carry Bishop’s baggage, although it is understood that he would discharge either duty impeccably.

Most countries will have their environment ministers there and none will have a trade minister. Hunt is nominally in charge of what passes for climate policy in the Abbott government and he is the fall guy for the direction action plan which generous souls reckon is the mainstay of the government’s climate policy. Most in Cabinet openly snicker at the mention of the scheme and deride Hunt for being too close to their other object of derision the fairies at the bottom of the garden party, The Greens.

Certainly it will fall to Hunt to engineer his Direct Action into something which works, like a market-based scheme if Australia is to meet any emissions reduction targets the government sets for beyond 2020 or any proposals that emerge from Lima and are signed in Paris.

Sources near the PM’s office, however, suggest that Hunt is being demoted from the 2015 Cabinet anyway, given that no-one pays the annoying little dweeb the slightest attention. As to attending at Lima, the PM’s Office says that we just don’t trust him: Hunt, it must never be forgotten, supported an ETS for a long time. Not only that, the last thing we want is the little pill rabbiting on and embarrassing everyone with his direct action lunacy; everyone knows it’s a complete fantasy which won’t work, has never worked and which will cost us billions we don’t have. We’ll be scrapping direct action for something more economically responsible in the New Year when we demote him. Hunt can go and get sequestrated.

Of course, Hunt might be spared a mauling from the Giant Panda China, which, keen to get its own back on Julie Bishop for her insults earlier this year has just criticised Australia at the conference for refusing to contribute to the Green Climate Fund, set up to help developing countries deal with climate change. The Chinese have not forgotten Bishop’s first disastrous gig as Foreign Minister when she managed to infuriate the Chinese by criticising its air defence zone in the East China Sea and they had to put her firmly in her place:

“It is completely a mistake for Australia to make irresponsible remarks on China’s establishment of an air defence identification zone in the East China Sea, and the Chinese side will not accept it,” foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said. “China urges Australia to correct its mistake immediately to prevent damaging Sino-Australia relations.”

In a year of ‘solid achievements’ in the recent words of the Prime Minister, being criticised by China is a rare feat which must not be overlooked. It is a unique distinction for the Australian government if not the last time the Abbott government is admonished for its bonkers approach to a global emissions reduction agreement, to say nothing of the green economy.

Other conversations Hunt will be happy to be out of the way of will involve almost any other UN delegate, should the issue of refugee conventions come up. The recent legislation passed by means of Scott ‘Mad Dog’ Morrison’s blackmailing the Senate has hardly boosted Australia’s image as a responsible international citizen both for what it represents, a complete abnegation of UN, as for the underhanded way it was achieved.

Whilst it will not be an official item for discussion in a conference about climate change, Bishop and Robb, no doubt will look forward to fielding hostile informal questions from UN delegates as to why Australia has passed a law which removes any duty for the government to comply with international law or act fairly when detaining asylum seekers at sea; why it is introducing fast-tracking refugee status determinations, a step which will see some returned to places where they face persecution and torture and blocking asylum seekers’ right to claim protection on national interest or character grounds without further explanation.

Asylum seekers will no longer have access to the Refugee Review Tribunal, which has had the power to correct processing mistakes by the immigration department. Instead, they can apply for a desktop review by a new Immigration Assessment Authority, though some groups won’t have access to that either. The law strips out references to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees – the 1951 document that defines who is a refugee, their rights and countries’ legal obligations of countries.

Of course, it may well be that a cold shoulder is shown Robb and Bishop because as the world community understands, the dynamic duo’s presence is not so much to contribute but to act as a handbrake, hindering progress in Lima by insisting any agreement drafted for the Paris meeting next December is legally binding, a process which will scare off other countries and help sabotage the spirit of the talks nicely.

Hunt is better off out of the bear pit, but for his sake and for Australia’s sake, it is a poor decision to sideline him at such an important meeting.

G20 Jaws of Disaster for Abbott and his government yet Obama rises magnificently to the occasion.

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Snatching victory from the jaws of disaster, whilst providing an instructive and much-needed illustration of the type of leadership a real politician can provide, US President and orator Barak Obama gave his inspiring, highly acclaimed climate change ‘off-G20’ address at Queensland University, a change of venue and strategy necessitated by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a self-professed climate change sceptic who, Canute-style, had issued an edict to bemused world leaders that climate change was off the ‘major’ G20 agenda. Obama’s speech pointedly personalised climate change with references to drought, increasing university fees, the decline of the Great Barrier Reef, the case for same sex marriage amongst other Abbott government pressure points.

Abbott’s backup artist, cuddly muddle-headed wombat Joe Hockey, another political Walter Mitty, and erstwhile personable, blokey, breakfast television boofhead, made a further futile attempt to rescue his leader from his own stupidity by kicking yet another own goal the following morning on national TV.

In a disturbing attempt to contextualise his perspective for TV audiences, ‘we are doing the best we can, Barry’, Hockey explained straight-faced he had not ‘caught’ Obama’s speech because of his own ‘hard work on the treadmill’. Virtuous, hard graft, it seems, prohibited any decadent indulgent frippery such as “the vision thing’. Viewers were also meant to swallow the whopper that Obama’s complete upstaging of Abbott’s show could ever conceivably have passed him by. Treadmill or no treadmill. Or his staff. Or that there would be not a transcript available. In advance.

Reprieved from talking about anything significant, Hockey then proceeded to claim that climate change was no impediment to world growth. ‘Look at China’. Indeed. Viewers were instead transfixed because Joe appeared to have gone the full Menzies eyebrow makeover in his latest personal grooming session, giving the impression of two sceptical crows disturbed by the ruckus below and about to take wing, completely upstaging the otherwise sound work the Treasurer was putting into supportive facial expressions. No impediment? One only hopes he notifies Greg Hunt. Save billions on direct action.

A shoo-in already for nomination in the highly contested Darwin award for his performance yesterday, Abbott will clearly go down in history as some type of pioneer. In future, supposing the G20 survives his concerted attack on its already shaky foundations, ‘off G20’ will become the real G20. Anything of interest, substance or anything remotely worthwhile, will take place off-G20 where real people who are also political leaders will genuinely engage with real issues before appreciative audiences. Obama’s words will live on. Abbott will be remembered, if at all, for other reasons.

‘It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to…’, Abbott, succeeded only in snatching disaster from every conceivable opportunity and even further afield, by hi-jacking his own G20 show and the attention of the world, for domestic purposes, clumsily framing his ‘leaders retreat’ as a type of DIY therapeutic AA style confessional.

Leaders were mystified, angry and embarrassed rather than edified by the PM’s descent into that most private of personal hells – his own sinkhole of self-pity. Abbott’s contribution to leadership was to initiate a tacky process of over-sharing by airing a revealing story of his own, consisting of some badly edited selected highlights chosen from the vast wealth of his own political ineptitude. If I could kick off, he began, deploying a venture into Ozzie colloquialism which, like his talk would be lost in translation.

Unabated, Abbott then went off the cuff over carbon tax, illegal boats, roads, (his government apparently has discovered them) and getting the budget under control (a lie about another lie) before talking about how hard it was to get people to pay for a doctor or pay through the nose for a degree. It was a clumsy attempt to secure a global endorsement for Joe Hockey’s second bite at the budget cherry. Other power-hungry mediocrities, narcissists and Adlerian psychopaths assembled in the room, yawned, snatched a power nap or looked away in sheer disbelief, disinterest and disgust.

‘Bury me when I need publicly to tell other leaders my first year of failure’, Putin is believed to have muttered in contempt before resuming his jottings on calibrating the range of sea-borne tactical nuclear warheads. Abbott, however, thus ensured his own special place in history as the antipodean political bantam who fell asleep in public dreaming aloud of being a rooster. He would be forever, however, reviled by world leaders as a prime time waster and flashy narcissist, the excessively matey man in the tight shiny suit with the extreme comb-over who grabs your hand, holds you to his chest and breathes down your throat while pumping your hand into submission. Not letting go until every camera battery in the room is flattened.

Abbott did set the bar high in some respects. An ‘Abbott handshake’ is guaranteed to be top of the list of diplomatic no-nos for decades to come. Indeed, such was the flesh pressing exhibited by ‘I wanna hold your hand,’ Abbott that it has attracted the attention of clinicians world-wide and may in future be used in some form of stress test to be deployed by psychologists interested in researching human responses to the sudden invasion of personal space, physical over-sharing and violation of etiquette, decorum and other social norms.

Abbott’s bizarre behaviour on the first day of the G20 earned the censure of climate change experts world-wide including no less an authority than  Nicholas Stern who lamented the Australian Prime Minister’s need to successfully put political dogma ahead of the best interests of the rest of the world.’

It was, according to Stern and countless others, ‘outrageous.’ The nation’s women, meanwhile, were astonished to learn that whilst the talk-fest was underway, leaders’ wives had been escorted safely away from the realm of ideas, the dangers of controversy and the seat of power to a more feminine environment – photo-opportunities with furry animals. This acknowledgment of women’s roles and gracious concession to the more limited proper orbit of women’s perspectives, intelligence and attention spans, can only have been engineered by the Minister for Women himself, self-proclaimed ‘feminist’ Tony Abbott who has included one token woman head-prefect Julie ‘I did it my way’ Bishop in his cabinet and who continues unabated on his own, inimitable, lumbering run to fulfilment in his chosen role as his party’s gift to women, Tone, the tone-deaf piano tuner of Australian gender politics.

Abbott government crisis: G20 Show undergoes urgent revamp.

CHINA APEC SUMMIT

Public derision from any quarter is confronting to anyone. But members of political elites are especially susceptible. When one is derided by 6 billion people, it may well hurt just that little bit more. Even case-hardened psychopaths can prove sensitive, as the contemporary case of Tony ‘Shirtfront’ Abbott superbly demonstrates. Having made a complete international laughing stock of himself with Vladimir Putin and his moronic, mindlessly self-destructive yet sycophantic atavistic ranting about coal and humanity, a pale and visibly shaken Australian PM, Abbott has been forced to ‘rush through’ a total revamp of the G20 show in BrisVegas tomorrow.

Entitled ‘Operation Panic Button’, the remodelled show is supercharged with adrenaline, testosterone and sheer terror. Upstaged from the start by his own complete inexperience, Abbott is galvanised by a terrifying reality – being relegated into perpetual irrelevance and obscurity by a series of real world events, including Ebola, ISIS, Russia’s resolute determination to annex Ukraine and the recent announcement of a deal on carbon emissions between China and the United States.

Clearly angered at being blindsided by the shock announcement from US president Barack Obama and Chinese premier Xi Jinping of new national climate change goals and the way it has trashed his own G20 agenda, Abbott appears to be struggling to maintain any semblance of forward momentum, let alone any show of composure, especially now he has the added distraction of bits of the Russian navy up his clacker.

Having successfully made a personal lifelong enemy of Putin, the world’s most powerful and dangerous psychopath, Abbott is believed to be anxiously receiving regular special naval briefings on the accuracy and range of Russian missiles, nuclear weapons and other sea-borne armaments. Advertisements for auditions for the role of Abbott body double have appeared on all social media, in the press and on selected supermarket community noticeboards in all major capital cities. A food taster has been engaged for all official banquets and refreshment stations. Abbott in the meantime, has issued a statement which has only served to further alarm mental health experts and others who remark the disunity his cabinet demonstrates under pressure.

Spin doctors have been performing emergency triage on the Abbott government. Yet the patient’s vital signs continue to provide cause for concern. Media comments by a politically phlegmatic Julie Bishop and others have provided little but unintended comic relief. When the going gets tough, the Abbott government gets spinning. Avoid the truth at all costs: ‘Of course, the Russian Navy is always doing this sort of thing. It is only to be expected. They are in international waters. We have been monitoring them for some time.’ Hardy ha ha ha!

Australians are left scratching their heads trying to recall the last time a small fleet of Russian vessels was off the coast of Queensland during any international gathering. For those who still don’t get it, Russia has personalised Putin’s gun barrel diplomacy by pointedly claiming, tongue in cheek, that a purpose of their naval voyage is to seek information about climate change.

The government has been skittled. Abbott government unity, as distinct from Peta Credlin’s iron fist, is chimerical. Liberal unity is a contradiction in germs, given its lack of any coherent ideology and the peculiar circumstances of its origin. It is called Liberal because Menzies did not want the electoral handicap of the appropriate word ‘Conservative’. Certainly, on this occasion, it was all over the shop or, giving another dimension to the term, as it is fondly and blasphemously whitewashed, a broad church.

Anti-environment Minister and work experience student, Greg Hunt hollowly applauded the US-China deal in a Monty Python moment of magnanimity and irrationality. Like the Black Knight, his own imminent mortality was not in contention. Yet again, no one paid any attention.  Smart-arse, Julie Bishop claimed she was not surprised. She knew, ‘already, she said.’ The accommodating, avuncular and ponderously inept Joe Hockey deemed it an ‘acceptable item for discussion’ within a larger topic, the world economy, typically missing the point that global warming is the larger topic.

Abbott, finally, took off like a startled hare, bolting along on yet another tack, ‘We are talking about the practical. We are talking about the real. We are not talking about what may hypothetically happen in fifteen, twenty, twenty-five, thirty years down the track. We are talking about what … what we will do and are doing right now, and that is what the Australian people expect of us. I’m focusing not on what might happen in sixteen years’ time. I’m focusing on what we’re doing now, and we’re not talking, we’re acting.’ Sheer spin, fantastically out of control from a febrile leader who is neither talking nor acting but denying. Someone needs to take his temperature.

Abbott’s dizzy spell to one side, boffins are working feverishly around the clock to pull the fat from the fire. Joe Hockey’s original Headland PowerPoint: ‘Who has the key to a bigger GDP? Is now a snappy: ‘Catch the Rats who won’t pay Tax,’ and has been creatively re-crafted into a sultry torch song come bump n grind dance bracket format entitled: ‘Screw you over, give you the bill’: Australia – open wide for business.  

Sharing centre stage, but Miss Piggy style hogging the limelight, Foreign Affairs Minister, the incomparable Julie Bishop will perform her own lap (band) dance whilst belting out a fetching rendition of ‘Hey, Big Spender, while Smoking Joe steps through a specially choreographed IMF routine assisted by ‘The Hendersons will all be there’, an IPA giant dancing puppet troupe and led by a special Australian armed forces massed brass band supported by the Jacqui Lambie backing singers.

A second provisional number, ‘I will survive’ is a less certain Hockey offering, although it is rumoured that the Foreign Affairs Minister has expressed keen interest in putting her own stamp on this classic.

Global warming is back on the agenda. Once opposed as an agenda item (and indeed as anything of significance) by the same man who could not refuse Putin’s attendance because the G20 runs on consensus, will now be fully and energetically embraced in a late night team building and bonding workshop at the Viper Room, a world-class adult entertainment centre in Brisbane’s red light district. Featuring a complimentary international smorgasbord of divertissements, refreshments will include Scots whisky, Cuban cigars, Kiwi green, Cabramatta hydro and Bendigo ice. IMF and World Bank Paramedics will be on standby with wads of money to revive the fortunes of those who may become indisposed, in return for sovereign rights to that country’s economy in perpetuity.

 

The shirt front that roared.

putin judo

When Tony Abbott threatened to ‘shirt front’ Putin, he put a lot on the line. He told journalists that he was going to shirt front the Russian president on the sidelines of G20 summit over the tragedy of the Malaysian airliner crash in the Donetsk Region of Ukraine in July.

What was he thinking? What did he hope to achieve? Who knows with Abbott? What is certain is that the gesture got him a lot of media interest. A bit of this was benign and non-intrusive. Some media types even looked up the term and explained thoughtfully on TV that it was an expression from Aussie Rules football. It was hopeful but did not really explain or excuse anything. The net effect, moreover, was to hang an albatross around Abbott’s neck.

Perhaps the shirt front was calculated to appeal to the alpha male. Perhaps it did win Abbott a flicker of attention if not admiration from macho types who believe that assertiveness equals being ready with your fists. Ironically, however, the same types would be irrevocably alienated by the lack of action. You can’t make a threat you are not prepared to carry out. Whatever modest gain in attention, the challenge is likely to have cost him further credibility. And the rest of us have probably had enough machismo to last a lifetime. Or Abbott’s political lifetime.

The shirtfront venue was first set for Brisbane at the G20 which Abbott is pretending to chair. Yet even Abbott subsequently realised that a shirt front was an unnecessary complication at a meeting which would require every ounce of his energy, just to appear to be in control. The distraction of an impending punch up out the back could be a tad distracting. Accordingly it was brought forward to APEC. (Entrepreneurs are probably hard at work as we speak creating an iPad  shirtfront booking app for that.) And there Abbott would be happy to let the matter lie. But some matters will not just lie down and die.

The shirt front is irresistible on many fronts. It conjures up an attractively incongruous image. Its inappropriateness appeals, especially given Abbott’s aspirations on the international stage. And the media would not leave it alone. Even as he stepped on to the carpet at his APEC meeting, there was a man or two chasing the PM with a microphone asking if ‘the shirt front was on’ at APEC. (APEC, by the way, is the meeting John Howard liked to talk up. APEC is the one where they all get dressed up in funny shirts for a photo opportunity. It is uncertain what else it achieves.)

In the event, there was no shirt front. Tony toned it down almost immediately. By the next day he was telling reporters that he was absolutely determined to have a very robust conversation with the Russian president.” Instead, he appears to have had a quick private whinge to Putin. No doubt he got on to the Russian leader’s complicity in the death of innocents in the shooting down of MH17. No doubt also Putin could have raised Australia’s appalling human rights record on asylum seekers and its recent indictment by the UN committee on torture.

It does not seem to have gone all that well. His promised great remonstration with the Russian leader is said to have lasted a whole fifteen minutes. He claims to have raised the issue of compensation by offering an indirect analogy. The US offered compensation when they accidentally shot down a passenger jet. Putin’s response is not known but can safely be guessed at it.

Ты меня достал! (You piss me off.)

The shirt front was more than an embarrassing gaffe. It will haunt Abbott for some time to come. It has got him the sort of attention that he would rather have done without. Naff. Limited. Testosteronic. Not flattering. Not useful. But enduring. And it even attracted the attention of the Minister for Foreign Affairs. You know you are in trouble when Julie Bishop goes into bat for you.

Putting, as usual, an impossible spin on it, Bishop claimed this week that the term has now entered the diplomatic vernacular. It’s not a gaffe but a nifty new term for a diplomatic confrontation. Abbott did not lose control after all. On the contrary we should all be grateful for his talent as a wordsmith. Quite the Shakespeare of the world stage.

If you swallow that you are in deep trouble. Next you will be believing that Tony Abbott is capable of leading the G20 through the next meeting. Or that he has prepared for the task. Or that he has the capacity to follow the discussion, let alone make a useful contribution.

What is more likely is that this lapse will prove a defining moment. When the world leaders look up at him at the podium on 16 November in Brisbane, it is likely to be through the lens of the shirtfront. They will wonder how a man who has trouble being in charge of his lip could ever be in charge of anything bigger, even if the chairmanship of the G20 will last only a year. They will not be happy with his almost complete lack of preparation; his ideological bent towards letting the market sort things out for itself when many of them have put in the hard yards intervening to prevent financial meltdown. They will see a man with anger management issues, a man who has trouble keeping his temper. They will see a parochial primitive predisposed towards a reductive approach to conflict resolution, a sort of spaghetti western hero who will invite adversaries out the back where we can settle this with our bare fists, man to man. And they will be antagonised, if not downright angry. Who knows, one of them might offer to take him out the back and sort out his attitude for him.

Blood on Scott Morrison’s hands.

funeral of bahari

Funeral of Reza Barati.


On 17 February 2014, men armed with guns, machetes, knives, pipes, sticks and rocks, systematically and brutally attacked asylum seekers detained on Manus Island. Reinforced by PNG Police and the PNG ‘mobile squad’, who pushed down a fence to join the fray, the assailants carried out acts of violent retribution to asylum seekers who had been protesting for three months, demanding that their claims be processed.

Reza Barati, a 23-year-old Faili Kurd from Iran was murdered in the attack. At least 62 other asylum seekers were injured. One man lost his right eye, another was shot in the buttocks and another was slashed across the throat.

The attack needs to be kept in sharp focus as the Abbott government, despite many protests and appeals from the local and international community, seeks to consolidate its high handed arbitrary approach while priding itself on the efficacy of its practices.

Changes to the Migration Act currently before the house, extend Maritime Law, redefine Australia’s responsibility to refugees and effectively give unprecedented powers to Minister of Immigration, Scott Morrison. Also slated is a plan to create a new super Ministry of Homeland Security with Scott Morrison at its head.

The legal changes proposed by the Immigration Minister would re-introduce temporary protection visas to be applied to about 30,000 asylum seekers still living in Australia. Asylum seekers found to be refugees would get a three-year visa allowing them to work, but they would ultimately have to return to their country of origin. Maritime powers would be expanded, covering people detained at sea, and allow Australian law to significantly limit the country’s responsibilities under international human rights laws.

Especially draconian is the intent to raise the risk threshold for sending arrivals in Australia back to another country. Currently, people will not be returned to the country they came from if there’s a 10 per cent chance they will suffer significant harm there. The Government will now raise that risk threshold to greater than 50 per cent. Mr Morrison says the higher threshold is the Government’s interpretation of its international obligations. Greens Senator Hanson-Young says the bill will result in more asylum seekers lives being put at risk. “This is a mean, dangerous law from the Government,” she said. “If this was not so serious, if it was not about life or death, it would actually be a joke.”

Whilst Morrison’s colleagues hold him to be one of his government’s ‘top performers’ for stopping the boats, this is no commendation. Indeed, their high regard is an indictment on the rest of the cabinet. It also reflects poorly on both sides of Australian government and, indirectly, on the Australian public who have allowed themselves to accept their country’s hard-line approach.

Morrison is not the man to promote. Not remotely. Outside of the government’s joy in turning back the boats, few Australians would approve of his self-abrogating approach or his performance in his portfolio. Most of us feel a deep sense of anger and shame. Many eminent Australians in many walks of life have called for the Minister to resign.

Julian Burnside added to the calls with his public claim this week that the Minister of Immigration bribed witnesses to Reza Barati’s death to retract their testimony in return for transfer to Australia.

Burnside’s claim is, sadly no bolt out of the blue. It comes at the end of a long series of sordid reports of cover up and whitewash by the Abbott Government.

It is, nevertheless, a typically courageous challenge by a highly regarded champion of human rights and deserves to be heeded as a timely reminder of the alarming track record of this government’s cruelly punitive approach to asylum seekers. Sadly it was rejected with typical hostility by Morrison who launched a libellous attack on Burnside for his opposition, malice and lack of evidence.

“This is a false and offensive suggestion made without any basis or substantiation by advocates with proven form of political malice and opposition to the Government’s successful border protection policies. The government once again rejects these claims,” Mr Morrison said. Yet there is independent evidence that Burnside’s account is correct.

An asylum seeker at the Manus Island detention centre has alleged 3 November that he and another detainee were tortured, physically assaulted, threatened with rape and forced to sign papers withdrawing their witness accounts about the night Iranian asylum seeker Reza Barati died.

The man, aged in his 20s, has spoken publicly for the first time about what he said Wilson Security guards and Transfield staff did to him in a secret compound called Chauka. The asylum seeker making the claims said he was too scared to be named.

Ben Pynt, director of Human Rights Advocacy at Humanitarian Research Partners, a non-profit human rights and humanitarian research organization is clear that the witnesses are speaking the truth.

“The specificity of their claims is such that you couldn’t make it up. Dates, times, places, people and then the documents corroborate all of those things,” he said.

“It really makes me think there’s no doubt.

“Quite frankly, I don’t believe the Minister and neither should the Australian public. The Minister’s denial has no factual basis.

“He hasn’t responded to any of the individual claims and he hasn’t asked an independent person to find out what happened.

He has been in regular contact with the two asylum seekers and raised their allegations of mistreatment with the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the office of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR).

What caused the violence in February on Manus Island? It was not the suppression of a riot. The savage attack was the authorities’ response to a protest. More an armed attack than a ‘response’, the action was utterly unjustified, totally inappropriate and, in Reza Barati’s case, ultimately fatal. Detention Centre personnel were not attempting to quell any riotous assembly at the detention centre despite Immigration Minister’s version of events. Indeed, it seems, at the time of the incident, things had settled.

The previous day, 35 protestors had escaped. Yet by the day of the attack, only one individual remained protesting. The brutal, violent assault has been widely misreported as a riot in a whirlwind of spin generated by Morrison and his department in order to shift the blame from those running the camp and by extension himself.

How did Reza Bararati die? Julian Burnside QC gave this account last Wednesday. One G4S worker bashed the Iranian asylum seeker with a piece of wood which had two nails driven through it. His scalp torn open, Barati fell to the ground and was then kicked repeatedly by a dozen employees from within the detention centre including two Australians.

They kicked him in the head and stomach as he tried to protect himself with his arms, Mr Burnside recounted for the audience at his Sydney peace prize award last Wednesday. He said another employee took a rock and smashed it on Mr Barati’s head with “such ferocity, it killed him”. Other reports had stated that Mr Barati died of a head injury on the way to Lorengau hospital in PNG.

The morning after Reza Barati’s death, the story had been given a different spin. Minister for Immigration, Scott Morrison laid the blame squarely at the feet of the asylum seekers.

On 26 May, retired senior Australian Public Servant Robert Cornall’s report found Barati’s death occurred after guards entered the centre to suppress the protest. His ‘administrative review’ for the Federal Government revealed that contractors working for the Australian government were responsible for the death of one asylum seeker, the serious injury of others, and the mass trauma of dozens.

Yet Scott Morrison took the review as an exoneration. The evidence? Morrison instances the fact that Cornall found it was not possible to isolate one factor that could have mitigated injuries or damage.

Cornall’s 107-page ‘administrative review’ concluded that the ‘incidents were initiated by transferee protests’.

Its recommendations included increased security and reducing the processing time for refugee claims. It reaffirmed that no one could be resettled in Australia. By and large it said what the government wanted it to say. It sent the ‘right message’. Yet it must not remain unchallenged.

Long before Barati was killed, whistle-blowers provided sufficient information to prevent his tragic death. He did not have to die. But Morrison does have to come forward, accept the truth and his responsibility.

Former G4S former safety and security officer Martin Appleby quit because he found management ignored his concerns about the violent and volatile conditions.

“I couldn’t handle what was going on; no one wanted to listen,” he told Crikey. “I wrote many reports, and nothing was ever taken up. The lead-up started a long time ago.”

Manus Island is a hell.  The single men there face indefinite detention, without timeline, without information, without hope. Supplies are meagre. Facilities are few. It is hot and crowded.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald:

Asylum seekers have been denied adequate water and soap supplies or even urgent medical attention. They suffer “snakes inside their accommodation, malaria, lack of malaria tablets, no mosquito nets, [and] inedible food that often has cockroaches in it.

Manus Island offshore detention centre represents a flagrant disregard for human rights, justice or compassion. It is, moreover, an expensive and indefinite detention. One billion dollars has been spent to detain 2000 asylum seekers offshore on Manus and Nauru but, since 2012, only one has been processed. All up the Coalition has budgeted $2.87 billion over the next year to run Manus and Nauru. Transfield Services’ contract alone is worth $1.22 billion to run both camps for the next 14 months. The cost of holding one asylum seeker in offshore detention was found to be more than $400,000 per year by the Commission of Audit. The Refugee Council calculates this cost to be five times that of ‘processing’ in Australia.

Yet for all the money spent, the quality of care provided to detainees is substandard. The death of 24-year-old Hamid Khazaei, an Iranian on September 5 was entirely preventable. A cut on his foot led to septicemia. The tragedy resulted from a simple lack of basic first aid. Not only was it totally unnecessary, it has come to represent the ugly side of a deliberate policy of deterrence. In most civilized societies, it would be regarded as an act of criminal neglect.

Political commentator, former diplomat, Bruce Haigh believes Morrison should step down, ‘The Minister for Immigration, Scott Morrison, should resign. He is not a fit and proper person to be responsible for vulnerable lives.’

Haigh instanced the Manus Island assault and problems with our neighbor, Indonesia. ‘Without any help, Mr Morrison has taken the relationship with Indonesia to its lowest point since the mid-1980s. He appears to understand nothing and listens to no one…’

Christine Milne has similarly called for Morrison to resign. Tasmanian Independent Andrew Wilkie has formally asked the International Criminal Court prosecuting authority to investigate whether the treatment of asylum seekers contravenes international conventions.

In the meantime, immune to all criticism, the government presses on with its plans to settle 1000 asylum seekers in Cambodia. Scott Morrison is seeking to change the law to give the Abbott government even greater authority. To this end, he introduced the “Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment” in September. Morrison argued:

“The new statutory framework will enable parliament to legislate… without referring directly to the Refugee Convention and therefore not being subject to the interpretations of foreign courts or judicial bodies which seek to expand the scope of the Refugee Convention well beyond what was ever intended by this country or this parliament.”

The controversial bill is now in its third reading. It is a bizarre attempt to twist a treaty to suit the Abbott government’s own agenda. “It’s a sudden and unilateral reinterpretation of a treaty which has been signed by 145 countries around the world and has been the cornerstone of international refugee protection for over 60 years,” according to Daniel Webb, director of legal advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) in Melbourne. Meanwhile, Cambodian officials are travelling to Nauru, for what Webb calls “an active selling of the refugee transfer arrangement by members of the regime that stands to profit from it”. 1,000 detainees from Nauru are slated to be transferred to Cambodia in exchange for US$35 million in aid. Cambodia has treated past asylum seekers poorly; it lacks the capacity to care for 1,000 newcomers.  Above all, details of the proposed plan have not been made sufficiently clear. The Australia-Cambodia Memorandum of Understanding does not specify how much money will be allocated for temporary accommodation and basic needs – or who will decide how the money is budgeted. It is simply one more damning move in Australia’s practice of deterrence which masks a callous indifference at best and at worst an unrepentant and calculated cruelty to innocent victims.

Under the Abbott government and its gung-ho Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, the treatment of asylum seekers is a travesty of our international obligations and an affront to our humanity.

Moreover, as Julian Burnside reminds us this week, we have a minister whose department has not only shown gross negligence leading to accidental death, it has also been complicit in the brutal suppression of a protest on its Manus Island detention centre in February which resulted in the murder of an innocent victim. All the evasions and forced retractions in the world cannot wash away the blood on the Minister’s hands.

The G20 monster circus in Brisbane: an almost total waste of time and money.

The $45 million the Australia government is wasting hosting a G20 meeting in Brisbane 15-16 November is disgraceful. It is a shameful waste of money for an exercise in flatulent fatuity; a meeting that will once again produce a communique that no-one can understand and which no member has to abide by. Take this most recent example produced in Paris after an all-night meeting:

“Today we agreed on a work program aimed at strengthening the functioning of the IMS, including through coherent approaches and measures to deal with potentially destabilizing capital flows, among which macro-prudential measures, mindful of possible drawbacks; and management of global liquidity to strengthen our capacity to prevent and deal with shocks, including issues such as Financial Safety Nets and the role of the SDR.”

Clearly the G20 is not a meeting that one attends to achieve anything. G20 began in 1999 to achieve co-operation in world financial system but quickly became a meeting about meeting. For a moment in 2008 when even its members recognised that a world financial crisis was upon them and that it posed some immediate threat to capitalism, it proposed a complete reform of the international monetary system but then, characteristically and reprehensibly did nothing.

G20 is that type of meeting. It is a meeting that one attends to be seen attending. It is an extravagant indulgence in showmanship, compulsive attention-seeing and mutual self-congratulation by a self-appointed club serving the interests of a powerful but threatened elite, an elite with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo and a complete incapacity to agree on any single significant policy. Or even make sense to each other, let alone the rest of us. The meeting of G20 finance ministers in February has thus, accordingly cleverly set an agenda of achieving 2% growth for November’s meeting. No concrete plan, however, other than the OECD’s Base Erosion and Profit Shifting action plan, which aims to prevent multinational corporations from taking advantage of low taxing countries. Yep. We all know how well that’s tracking.

Expect a lot of waffle about growth. Like motherhood, it is good for you but the photo opportunities are less pleasing. Expect gratuitous expressions of ersatz solidarity over the three days which will last as long as it takes for members to get home and perhaps annex another country or impose another tariff as Russia has done in the past.

Why bother? Another expensive self-deluding side show is not what any of us need. It comprises neither real nor effective symbolic leadership. Above all it sets a poor example at a time when the world needs leaders prepared to marshal every possible resource to ensure our continued survival. In an era of peak oil, rapid climate change, species extinction, water scarcity, widespread political conflict, and looming economic crises, not to mention an Ebola epidemic, what the world needs is real leadership. It deserves no less. Expect instead photographs of Joe Hockey or Tony Abbott making expansive hand gestures and generally hamming for the camera. Look at moi! Look at moi! ‘Two per cent growth agreed’ the picture may well be captioned by the spin doctors of whom there will be a record number attending the Brisbane spin-fest.

Humanity needs leadership by example, leadership that does not vaunt itself, indulge itself or flatter itself on its fame or friendship with famous names. It demands leaders who will think and act; not fritter away their energies in mutual back-slapping and schmoozing amidst the ritual exchange of vacuous slogans that characterise the typical G20 junket.

Above all the world needs leaders who are prepared to roll up their sleeves and quietly get on with the job of dealing with the many challenges confronting all of us; the many challenges to our continuing existence. There is no time to waste on bread and circuses. G20 leaders should wake up to the fact that they have more pressing priorities; more urgent tasks to attend to than shaking hands and listening politely once again while an antipodean treasurer stumbles to extol the virtues of venture capital, free markets and small government. G20 leaders should stay at home. Save the air fares. Save the planet. Get on with the job. Get on with the real business of governing. Scrap all future meetings. Use existing UN organisations before they atrophy from disuse.

Expect a lot of jargon about cost benefit analyses. But don’t expect anyone present to take it seriously or this to apply to the meeting itself. The cost even to host the circus vastly exceeds its usefulness. And its symbolic significance. The world would be a better place if G20  delegates had a change of heart, met by video-conference and saved conferences costs for something that makes a difference. Imagine if just $40 million were to be diverted into fighting Ebola in West Africa, donated to refugee organisations, or invested in education and health for the poor. What a difference that could make.

Instead, the G20 juggernaut trundles out of control through another shameless orgy of self-promotion and photographs as the self-important posture in the midst of widespread suffering and serious instability.

It promises to be a big show. There will be a lot of new faces in town: up to 4,000 delegates are expected to attend with around 2,500 media representatives. Expect a lavish do. Australia has spent up large as Bob Ellis observes:

 Abbott was revealed to have spent 254,000 on a table and some chairs and their transport to the APEC summit, money that might have gone to our soldiers, or our dead soldiers’ children, plus 150,000 on some computer tablets, 120,000 on ‘advice’ on ‘leasing armoured vehicles’, 34 million for security guards and 10 million for hotels. The 44 million 524 thousand thus spent would have kept ten small theatre companies going for a thousand years on the interest alone. But it was ‘well worth the expense,’ Abbott said, ‘to keep the mass murderer Putin comfortable for three days, and well fed on Queensland rump steak, and anxious to buy more of it, which he has unaccountably, lately, refused to.’

It would be nice if the G20 leaders stayed at home without telling Putin. One of the major drawbacks of meetings about meetings such as G20 is that they are opportunities for the unprincipled to exploit to help manufacture acceptance and legitimacy.  Leaders such as Putin can use the facts that they were invited and that they attended to continue to pretend to be real leaders, with something to contribute, instead of crazed psychopaths who murder their opponents at home while invading neighbouring countries, shoot down passenger aircraft, support the Syrian genocide and generally follow a policy of brutal, ruthless expediency and single-minded, blind self-interest.

So far, the G20 has failed to muster the resolve to disinvite the Russian leader. Perhaps there is poetic justice in the end, however, in the forcible detention of such leaders in a venue which is likely to be stuffed full of false friends, false plans and filled with hot air. If he cannot be held to account, he will doubtless be made to suffer, if only briefly. Perhaps in the intolerable, longwinded longeurs of an address by chairman Joe Hockey or any other comfortably self-satisfied representative of the privileged and irresponsible, there will be just a touch of terror at the prospect of death by Powerpoint.

And beyond that excruciating horror, a nightmare vision may emerge unbidden. The many-headed monster of mutual self-destruction appears, made visible through the abdication of world leadership. Nurtured by unreason, wanton self-deception and vested self-interest, it threatens everyone’s future as it vitiates the spirit and usurps the practice of common humanity. Feasting greedily on the remains of international cooperation is the G20 beast slouching roughly towards Bethlehem.