June 19th 2004

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: The legacy of Ronald Reagan

Remembering Reagan

CANBERRA OBSERVED : Coalition, Labor split widens over Iraq

TRADE: Behind Iraq's $700 million wheat debt

FEDERAL: Labor Left hopes to pigeon-hole Marriage Bill

RELIGION: Costello attacked over thanksgiving speech

QUEENSLAND: Labor makes push for ethanol-sugar vote

OPINION: Coalition defends its sugar package

POLITICAL IDEAS: Samuel Taylor Coleridge - Conservatism's radical prophet

QUARANTINE : Biosecurity inflames fire blight fears

CHILDREN AT RISK: Protecting children from Internet porn

DRUGS: Redfern riot linked to heroin trade

CANADA: Health care primary focus in Canadian election

INDIA: What went wrong with the BJP?

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Drums on the Congo / The next moonlight state?

DEMUTUALISATION: Credit unions an endangered species

Britain and Palestine (letter)

Worker co-ops (letter)


BOOKS: Taking Sex Differences Seriously, by Steven Rhoads

Books promotion page

Drums on the Congo / The next moonlight state?

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, June 19, 2004
Drums on the Congo

The stonewalling by Papua New Guinea politicians, with respect to the conditions under which Australian police, lawyers and public servants were to be seconded to work in PNG with the locals so as to tackle the corruption, the violence and the disunity which has afflicted PNG, has reached crisis point.

Australia is making as a condition of her various officers - army, police, civil servants - going to work in and for PNG, that they have legal immunity from PNG laws, while being answerable to our own.

This is no conqueror or occupier' s diktat, but a necessary protection against vexatious litigation, possibly personal assaults, and abuses of power by local judiciary, officials, etc, against Australian personnel - in order to obstruct the work of the Australians and like-minded locals.

If the PNG judicial personnel, her police and politicians were not so corrupt, then there would be no need for Australians to go in to help clean up the place. But these Australians must be properly protected while they do this.

Enough cliques of PNG politicians have combined to threaten the whole venture. Mr Downer has signalled that we won't be sending anyone unless our people are to enjoy full legal protection; and time has almost run out. After which, presumably, we would return to the situation where $350 million per annum was going to aid PNG and most of it was being squandered or embezzled. This aid was making little politicians into big, rich, powerful political and societal predators. A threat to any system of democracy, any rule of law. So much so that people are talking of widespread violence, if not a species of civil war, breaking out soon in PNG.

Should we leave them to stew in their own juices? One reason for not doing so would be: these corrupt local leaders could turn to Indonesia, which might finish gobbling up the whole archipelago. Or, that there could be a really large, unwanted flow of boat people seeking freedom, immunity from violence, etc.

If we don't intend to be utterly tough and unambiguous about such possible illegal immigrants, then I suppose we should keep bribing PNG, i.e., the spivs and gatekeepers who cream off this aid.

The same applies to our helping policies in the remainder of the South Pacific island chains. Rather like the small ex-Soviet states, they are unstable, their governments easily bought and many outside criminals are swarming around and inside. Agreements can be overturned by a big bribe or a coup organised from outside.

Is it worth it? America and many Europeans think so, for the ex-Soviets sub-region reeks with black gold.

But are the islands to the north? Hardly. So it should be a matter of our security, our strategic hold on the region which should head our priorities when we decide to go or to stay.

A similar process may be underway in East Timor, and if enough agreements are broken, enough promises are dishonoured by Dili, then we should consider whether we have any further obligations, and they can talk to General Wiranto and friends - as one of their leaders already has.

Here too, we could be hit by new waves of boat people - but from East Timor. We should treat them the same as we treat illegal immigrants from anywhere - no favourites, no demonising. But there should be no shepherding of masses of people who would in fact live there safely, barring war.

Indonesia is not in the mood for war - while always ready to add to the Javanese Empire if given a chance.

It is a great pity that our ALP is not working together with the Government to create sensible policies, which most Australians would support.

But Labor's intransigence, vulnerability to cash-for-votes lobbyists, and a general ignorance concerning just about any difficult political question you might name, actually makes for a potentially dangerous situation for us all. For, quite naturally, our conservatives are going to get things wrong from time-to-time. But as things are, they cannot turn to Labor for any good, or just fresh, ideas. Or fair-minded but necessary criticisms.

The next moonlight state?

The Victorian political/criminal crisis is still building up. The most striking symptom - for it is basically a symptom - of virtually unrestrained gangland murders is attracting most public attention. This because the local media has been forced to take these matters aboard.

I say forced, for, as The Australian in a very important article pointed out, how loath the Melbourne press had been to seriously tackle these most alarming developments, let alone the forces which lay behind them.

It was almost, The Australian said, "as if some local journalists had got too close to their subject matter." (This, coming from a newspaper, which almost alone, has consistently been pursuing these politically scandalous matters). But the Herald Sun is now on the warpath - albeit selectively - whereas the State Opposition is halfway there.

The Melbourne media and of course the State Government is trying to divert proceedings from the actions of government leaders and the police bureaucracy on to bent cops in the drug squad and selected drug criminals.

So, having initially resisted all demands for an independent inquiry, Premier Bracks and friends have been trying to produce some legal/judicial artefact which will sweep up the leaves over where the bodies are buried.

Thus, the Ombudsman is going to be given more powers; then the Police Commissioner is to be given more powers; then Tony Fitzgerald of the Fitzgerald Queensland Royal Commission is going to investigate ... what? A leaked police memo to criminals which probably led to the murder of a police informer and his wife. Dreadful ... and requiring immediate investigation. But the main issue? The main game? Of course not.

So next concession ... Mr Fitzgerald's terms of reference may be expanded according to the Premier. To do what? And he will have the powers of a Royal Commissioner. Will he? Then why not just have a proper Royal Commission, for which many of us, including The Australian, have been calling. (The Ombudsman has just announced that he is to have the powers of a Royal Commissioner. Who's next?)

Permanent body

Before addressing the Royal Commission option, one notices that our Liberals are calling for a permanent crime body - i.e., a permanent commission rather like that in Queensland. Such bodies are good ... when they are allowed to be. They operate best early on when the public is newly incensed by widespread evidences of turpitude. As public memories fade so, sometimes, do the monitors.

The original membership selection process may have been "flawed"; or else one of the political parties just keeps attacking the body and calls for its winding-up. ("It's done its work" ... or ..."It's going too far ...").

And the other party which still supports such a body may continue to do so, but only at a price. Like fish, permanent state-funded anti-crime bodies can start to stink after a short time.

But there is no reason why we shouldn't have one after the Royal Commission, which could give it some interesting future work. But if the two operate simultaneously, one can duplicate or sabotage the other.

So our Liberals' demand for a permanent commission to combat corruption and monitor crime would neatly pre-empt a Royal Commission. Why isn't Bracks taking them up?

A Royal Commission - like the Costigan Commission into union corruption - can end up anywhere and looking everywhere. Which Costigan did. That is, until he was peremptorily wound up by Hawke and his Attorney-General Gareth Evans as soon as Labor returned to Federal office. And, as Andrew Peacock said in 1984, "just as they were getting near the really big fish". But Costigan showed how it could be done. As did Fitzgerald.

Hence the present establishment's united resistance to a reprise.

Clearly this world of gangsters, informers and bent cops is feeding off the larger and darker world of drug trafficking, estimated to be worth $2 billion a year by Jeff Kennett when he first took office in 1992, and now much larger.

These gangsters, "barons", lawyers and friendly journalists are merely foot soldiers in the Evil Army. And money of this magnitude has to be laundered, banked, parked or exported - after paying off the foot soldiers and, who knows, some heroic politicians. Casinos, brothels are obvious conduits - but only for foot soldiers. The big fish have other ways.

Following the money trails, which all serious crime bodies are on about, cannot be done by any of the people mentioned earlier - except, that is, by a Royal Commission, at least in the earlier discovery stages.

But alas ... no matter what else they disagree about, Victoria's two political parties, the police, the Chief Commissioner all reject the Royal Commission idea. Why?

But perhaps the most unsatisfactory feature in these lucubrations is the proposed removal of politicians, ministers, civil servants in the relevant departments and offices, including crown law and the DPP - from any role, any liability to inspection in the agendas of these various proposed inquiries. Except, that is, a Royal Commission agenda, whose terms of reference would and should include examining the roles and the relevant persona of the gambling industry and the brothel/prostitution networks. These have close links with the drugs, crime and money laundering sub-cultures which are wreaking death and creating tragedies in our community.

As Opposition leader Robert Doyle said, "We in Victoria have the crime capital of Australia."

He believes that the State Government is reluctant to establish any independent body because it would probe organised crime links to building unions (and companies surely). And also, of necessity, gambling.

Frank Costigan simply described the Bracks' Government's reactions to the situation as "a shabby exercise", adding, "this is a terrible way to run a government, a hopeless way to make policy".

  • Max Teichmann

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