page loader

As the Howard regime progressed through time it perfected the art of smoke and mirrors, reaching the art of the ridiculous under Prime Minister, Scott Morrison. Abbott and Turnbull made notable contributions.

Over this twenty three year period the politicisation of the public service and associated institutions has aided and abetted the show business of the LNP and to a lesser extent the Labor Party. We have seen the trashing of truth for political ends. As an example, sustained pressure from Howard saw the Bureau of Statistics decide that one hour of work a week constituted employment. By what flight of common sense did that become accepted? It is nonsense intended at the time to boost the LNP’s political fortunes.

I deliberately include the Labor Party in the Howard era, because of their supine adoption of Howard’s policies toward refugees, poverty, border ‘protection’, Iraq, Afghanistan, water, energy and the AFP.

And it is the AFP I wish to examine with a hope of reform, better accountability and improved leadership.

The AFP has demonstrated an ideological affiliation with the LNP and their obsession with border protection and terrorism. They bought into Howard’s use of terrorism as a political tool and means of control, much as Menzies did with Communism (Reds under the bed and Vietnam).

Encouraged by Howard the former Commissioner of the AFP, Michael Keelty, ran a strong anti-refugee and terror campaign. The AFP was active off shore in Indonesia disrupting people smugglers with threats and inducements with the aim of preventing the arrival of boats in Australia. They bought into turning back boats as a deterrence when in fact a better policy would have been to process refugees in Indonesia as part of a regional policy.

With his illegal incarceration of refugees and the pursuit of terrorists Howard put little in writing, operating with a wink, a nod and peripheral language.

On 2 July 2007 an Indian doctor, Mohamed Haneef, working at a Gold Coast hospital was arrested as he attempted to depart Australia for India on a one way ticket. He was arrested under the 2005 Terrorism Act which closely resembles the terrorism act in place in Apartheid South Africa.

Haneef told the AFP that he was going home to see his six day old daughter. He was not believed. His SIM card had been found in a vehicle belonging to men accused of bombing Glasgow Airport on 30 June, 2007. He was distantly related to the men. He had given one of them the card on his departure from UK some months earlier. He had bought a one way ticket to india because of insufficient funds.

With excellent lawyers the case against Haneef began to fall apart, as it did so false and misleading information was leaked to the press as an attempt to discredit Haneef. All charges against him were withdrawn on 27 July and he returned to India. He later received a considerable sum of money as compensation. The Indian Government was considerably exercised over the gross miscarriage of justice and made a number of representations.

I wrote on the matter. ‘Why did it come as no surprise to see a document linking Dr Mohamed Haneef to Al Qaeda enter the public domain via the SBS Dateline program on Wednesday 1 August?

…The alleged Indian Police dossier put before us by SBS cannot be identified as such. There is nothing which says it is a police dossier…

The photograph of Haneef which appears on the first page of the dossier is the same photograph which appeared in the Australian and British media immediately following his arrest, it appears to be a passport photo…The time line on the compilation of the dossier indicates that it was prepared after Haneef was in custody.

…the Indian Police interviewed Haneef on his return to Bangalore and said he was not a person of interest. On 3 August the Police Commissioner of Bangalore, Gopal Hosur, dismissed as false the report that Haneef had links to Al Qaeda.’ Keelty continued to claim otherwise.

I said, ‘In view of this statement (by Hosur) Dateline needs to provide more information on the status of the document they used as the basis of their story alleging Haneef had links to Al Qaeda.

We also need to know why the AFP gave credibility to allegations contained in the dossier in light of the statement by Commissioner Hosur…The way this investigation has been conducted and politicised has done harm to the Australia/India bilateral relationship…

The incompetence, spinning and partisanship of the AFP has exposed them as a second rate police force.’

The dossier which was available on line had all the hallmarks of having been manufactured.

In 2008 I wrote, ‘The AFP is very much a product of the Howard government. In the symbiotic relationship that developed between Howard and Keelty, the latter was given his head in developing…policy in relation to federal policing issues.

Under the umbrella of the Australian overblown war on terror the AFP increased its powers, budget and numbers. It now reaches into every major government department… however it increased its power and influence without change in the level of parliamentary scrutiny. The ubiquitous war on terror does not require the degree of secrecy and compliance that Keelty claims necessary for the AFP to carry out its duties.

Keelty has revealed much about himself by continuing to criticise the release, by defence lawyers, of the AFP record of interview with Dr Haneef and by claiming a need to continue with the investigation. These statements are made without explanation why Haneef remains a person of interest.

Is it the AFP or the government who have authorised this course of action?

Given the damage that Keelty and the AFP have already caused to Haneef and Australia’s relationship with India it would seem advisable for an appropriate Minister or the Prime Minister to make future statements relating to Haneef.’

By 2009 Keelty was gone, said by some to have been pushed by Rudd.

But the culture Keelty infused in the organisation remains. The current Commissioner Andrew Colvin appears comfortable with the closeness of the AFP to the LNP. On becoming Prime Minister, Tony Abbott declared that he was going to sleep in AFP barracks in Canberra. Colvin was lucky to have escaped a knighthood.

In 2010 pursuing a case against three Australians of Tamil descent for allegedly supplying funds to the LTTE the AFP relied on information provided by the Sri Lankan government. This emerged at the trial in the Victorian Supreme Court before Justice Paul Coghlan. He described the AFP’s methods as outrageous and a fundamental departure from principals that should govern interrogation and the gathering of evidence. The three were released on bonds.

In 2011 the AFP established a presence in the Australian High Commission to assist the Sri Lankan authorities turn back boats carrying Tamil refugees. All aspects of the turn around process in Sri Lanka were corrupt.

In 2012 the AFP dropped an investigation of war crimes against the Sri Lankan High Commissioner in Australia, Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe. Perhaps the perceived need to keep the Sri Lankan government on side over boat arrivals may have played a part; in any case Samarasinghe had been assessed by the UN as a war criminal.

In 2015 Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were executed by firing squad in Indonesia as a result of information relating to drugs given to the Indonesian authorities by the AFP.

In October 2017 the AFP raided the Sydney and Melbourne offices of the AWU. The raids were instigated as a result of information provided to the AFP by the Registered Organisations Commission (ROC), an organisation established by the LNP to break the power of the unions. With this in mind the AFP might have shown a little more restraint. As it was the press was at the scene before the AFP. To many it looked like the Minister for Education, Michaelia Cash, the ROC and AFP were in an unholy alliance to embarrass the AWU with early bird photographs and poor publicity from the Murdoch press. Cash has expressed herself as no friend of unions.

The Labor Party called the raids a witch hunt and an attempt to smear, the government’s response was to claim that ‘the AFP is completely independent of government.’ A strange and unnecessary statement if the AFP is independent of the LNP government.

In January 2019 an Australian, Hakeem al-Araibi, was arrested when transiting Thailand for an act of terrorism when he was a national of Bahrain. The AFP was blamed for wrongly informing Interpol who in turn informed the Thai authorities. The AFP ducked for cover blaming Border Force. Hakeem was released and returned to Australia after a local and international outcry. Had he been extradited to Bahrain, who sought his arrest, he may have met the same fate as Chan and Sukumaran.

Most recently the AFP has claimed its powers have been reduced by being placed under the authority of Border Force. There is a strong case to break up Border Force, but as part of that process the AFP needs a thorough investigation, reorganisation and appointment of a leadership cadre with strength of character, intelligence and an understanding of the role of a police force in a democracy.

And now that Border Force has cracked a mention it would be worth pointing out that under Dutton and the public servant who heads that ‘department’, Mike Pezzullo, BF has been shaped as a para military force, much as Keelty wanted to do with the AFP prior to his retirement, when his plans were modified and shelved.

Dutton’s and Pezzullo’s plans would create a force worthy of a police state. BF will have the power of detain and arrest and will be heavily armed. A central operations centre is being constructed at Canberra airport which mirrors Defence’s Joint Operations Command.

Where did the money come from? From money siphoned from border protection, Manus and Nauru? Who knew this was happening? In any case Australia does not need such a force and it should be dismantled. Immigration, Customs, ASIO and the AFP should go their own way but not before there has been a Royal Commission into Immigration and an enquiry into Customs as well as the AFP. There is much for a new government to do.

Bruce Haigh is a former diplomat and political commentator.

The more things change the more they remain the same.

It is imperative that the Morrison government not be returned at the forthcoming election. It is devoid of ideas for the future. It denies climate change. It is corrupt. It is self serving. It is racist. It has no moral compass.

For these and for a range of unaddressed social justice and environmental issues, including mining, the Barrier Reef and refugees the Labor Party must be elected. But the election of a Labor government will not bring the type of fundamental change that is so overdue.

Both major parties conduct their politics within the same framework. One exists on the Right the other on the Centre Right. There is no Left in Australian politics. In light of the Murray Darling Basin debacle and climate change the Labor Party is not proposing to nationalise water resources, they haven’t even committed to a Royal Commission and Tony Burke has been attempting to defend his flawed MD Plan from his time as Minister for the Environment. The framework is defined by a lack of moral courage within people designated or who see themselves as leaders.

The Labor Party is not proposing a Banking and Financial Services Act to regulate greed and protect customers, it is not proposing to nationalise the energy industry and it supports a distortion in funding to religious schools. It has not proposed taxing religious organisations. It has not proposed regulating the fees charged by medical specialists nor has it proposed fundamental reform of Medicare and private health insurers. Other than vague references to a Republic it has no firm plan to ditch allegiance to the British Crown.

It has no policy toward a national housing scheme for the homeless, or the empowerment of Aboriginal people. It has no policy toward refugees other than deterrence. It has no plans for managing climate change, no announcements of a ministry to co-ordinate responses to significant natural disasters in Australia and the region and no plans to conduct training exercises between the ADF, SES, fire authorities, ambulance services, and hospitals.

It has no plans to scrap the ludicrous plans to build new submarines that will be obsolete before the first of the proposed twelve are launched.

By its very nature climate change will require increased government intervention to deliver and maintain essential services including the production and distribution of food. Governments will increasingly be required to take and carry the risks associated with climate change.

In my opinion Australia adopted its present restrictive and right leaning political framework when it decided to go to war on the side of Britain in 1914. It was a looser framework then than it is now. Until Australia embarked on what was to become a major national disaster it was set on a path of putting together a very progressive state. It had undertaken extensive infrastructure reform with railway construction, roads, bridges, harbours, hospitals and schools. In 1902 the Commonwealth Franchise Act gave women the right to vote and sit in the federal parliament. The Conciliation and Arbitration Act of 1904 established the basis for industrial relations until the 1990’s.The 1907 Harvester Case established the terms for a ‘fair and reasonable wage’ for the average working man.

The union movement was strong and progressive and gave birth to the ALP. This should be central to who we are as a nation not the Boys Own story of WW1.

WW1 drained the nation of manpower, money and self confidence. It wasn’t just the dead and injured, which numbered some 200,000, it was the fact that many men who had served on the front line returned to Australia with shell shock now known as PTSD. The effect on the nation through friends and families has largely gone undocumented. The waste and futility, carried by the soldiers, has largely gone undocumented the associated guilt swamped with jingoism. However there was enough fight and decency left in the nation to oppose and defeat the introduction of conscription for the war proposed in the form of a referendum by Prime Minister Hughes in 1916 and 1917.

Optimism, innovation and creativity were dealt a further blow by the Great Depression and WW11, the ending of which saw the social blight of WW1 repeated and reinforced by large numbers of refugees and migrants from war torn Europe. Of course it was not all gloom and doom, but it was dull and conservative as people sought to rebuild their lives. And conservative Prime Minister Menzies took full advantage of a cautious electorate to tighten the restrictive framework of the state.

Menzies defeated Labor Prime Minister, Ben Chifley, in 1949 after he tried to nationalise the banks. Events played into Menzies hands. The Cold War gripped the major powers, communism was the scourge of the West and Menzies used the fear associated with it to further cower and corral the little Aussie battlers. Labor had no narrative particularly after it split in 1955 leading to the formation of the breakaway right wing Democratic Labor Party which had close ties to the Catholic Church. Menzies also rode the wave of sustained economic growth fuelled by wool, wheat and mining.

Menzies committed the country to war in Vietnam in 1965 without telling the country and introduced conscription without telling the people that the conscripts would fight in that war. The Labor Party did little to oppose the war and conscription until public opinion moved substantially against both by mid 1969. It proved to be a vote winning issue for Labor leader Gough Whitlam at the 1972 elections.

Gough tried to dismantle the framework. He moved fast, far too fast in the face of a deteriorating economy. He was sacked by the Governor General in November 1975. That act, which had been engineered by Liberal leader Malcolm Fraser and endorsed by the Queen, saw the framework back in place. Bob Hawke defeated Fraser in 1983. He saw his chances of being elected dependent on maintaining the status quo, which meant the framework and his successor, Paul Keating, did likewise pushing the envelope to the right with a program of privatisation and detention of refugees.

John Howard came to power in 1996 and within four years had taken the country back to the Menzies era, including a sham love of cricket, the sport which roundly rejected his attempt to become world president. The Howard regime was racist, royalist, misogynist, militaristic, jingoistic and elitist. Anzac Day and Australia Day were turned into pseudo iconic national events. Refugees and Aboriginals were demonised and no government that has followed his defeat in 2007 has changed that, including the Labor governments of Rudd and Gillard.

Howard sowed the seeds of intolerance and vilification toward Muslims which found ready disciples in Abbott, Morrison and Dutton and which some are saying, and I agree, reaped a vile harvest in the ghastly Mosque massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand on 15 March, when an Australian right wing devotee shot dead 50 worshipers and wounded another 39.

Abbott in 2013 was a shrill and nastier version of Howard’s government, Turnbull in 2015 was a failure to himself and the nation and Morrison in 2018 a caricature of all that went before him. All maintained the framework; perhaps believing it was a structure that fostered stability. It has not. Howard like Menzies before him secretly took the country to war in Iraq.

For me the framework is defined by how an Australian government approaches questions of race, distribution of income, the fairness of the tax and education systems, jingoism and how greed is being managed, in other words what the fairness graph is reading. To move out of the framework, the fostering of innovation would need to take place together with nurturing the aged, the disabled, disadvantaged the environment.

Shorten is shuffling. He will win the election because Morrison and his moronic muppets will lose it. He shows no interest in challenging or even trying to bend the framework, from refugees to water, banking to defence. He will see off a corrupt, stupid and morally bankrupt government, but he will not oversee creative, constructive and long overdue change. Sadly he is comfortable in our constraining and constricting framework forged as a result of the failure of war.

He condemns us to the turnaround of the hour glass.

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and former diplomat.

The collapse of the Darling River system and with it Murray/Darling Basin Authority and the much vaunted Plan is an awful example of all that is wrong with Australia at the moment.

I say at the moment because there is an expectation that the Labor Party will be in power within twenty weeks and it will begin the process of repairing the damage wrought by the LNP over the past twenty three years.

Stake holders along the Murray/Darling River system have known for some time that it was in a bad way and that irrigation practices were unsustainable. They knew that water was being taken illegally, but no one in authority at the State and Federal level would listen to complaints or undertake action against the perpetrators. That led to a culture of water theft.

The incoming Labor Party is expected to institute a Royal Commission into the Murray/Darling Basin. In this they will be supported by a new Labor state government in NSW. The RC is expected to have wide ranging terms of reference. It will overshadow the discredited LNP Royal Commission in South Australia.

The National Party, which claims to represent the interests of rural Australia, have in fact done most to wreck the sustainability of waterways. The former Deputy Prime Minister, John Anderson, pushed the terms of the National Water Commission Bill, 2004, which separated water from property rights allowing for the trading of water. Along with corruption that decision has done more to undermine the river systems than any other undertaking. Many hope that the role of Barnaby Joyce, another former Deputy Prime Minister, in aiding the alleged illegal diversion of water for friends and donors amongst northern cotton growers will be fully examined by a Royal Commission.

In 2016 Joyce was reported by the ABC to have said that he did not have a brief to protect water, it was a resource to be exploited for economic benefit. “Water is wealth and a dam is a bank, any essence of wealth is connected to water and water infrastructure, as they say you can make money out of mud but you can’t make it out of dust.”

I have been writing about water, salinity and land degradation since 1980. My awareness comes from having lived and farmed in WA and NSW. In 2008 I wrote, “The components of the water crisis in Australia are environmental, managerial and political. Southern catchment systems and rivers are degraded through greed and mismanagement, with the latter centred on inappropriate agricultural practices such as flood irrigation…However debate so far has been conducted within the narrow and selfish framework that the market knows best. Essentially this is expressed as the market will establish the true cost of water and water will flow to those who pay this cost.

This is to be achieved through the sale of water licences, too many of which have been issued for the amount of water available, and by the sale of water by licence holders. To compound this problem water and licences can be sold from one geographic area to another with little regard for the amount of water available to meet those transactions.”

Webster Ltd., has a water portfolio of $300 million.

Later in 2008 I wrote, ”I fail to see how rational policy decisions relating to water can be made in the absence of a national audit of water availability and use. I have argued before for a National Water Institute to undertake such an audit and to manage the process on an ongoing basis. Both the Murray/Darling Basin Authority and a National Water Institute should answer to a Senate Water and Sustainable Land Use Committee…In attempting to restore the Murray/Darling River System the government is in the impossible position of having to purchase water. It is unfortunate that a vital, essential and irreplaceable commodity such as water can be traded. The river and those that live along it have been turned into mendicants. They are forced to compete with some large and vested interests. If the government is serious about solving the problems of the System it will need to nationalise and control all of the water which comes into that System.”

I urged that as an initial step the Federal Government purchase Cubbie Station at the head waters of the Darling, which was up for sale. Penny Wong was at that time the Minister for the Environment. I can only assume she was poorly advised for she declined.

In 2008 the Northern Basin Alliance of NSW (big cotton growers) argued that the Northern Basin which includes the Namoi Valley Catchment should be removed from the jurisdiction of the Murray/Darling Basin Authority. They wanted a Northern Basin Commission to manage the Darling and its tributaries. These are the growers egged on and supported by Joyce. Hostile from the outset to the MDBA, they have sought to bend the rules and where possible to flaunt them.

I stood as an Independent for the seat of Parkes in 2007. Following a radio interview in which I canvassed many of the issues in this article I was rung by the CEO of an irrigation company based in Narrabri. He told me in no uncertain terms to back off. He indicated the company would put money into another Independent who supported the irrigation industry

In November 2018, northern cotton grower, Anthony Barlow, was charged with water theft from the Darling, sentencing will be in February. Another grower, Peter Harris, is fighting separate charges.  They arose as the result of an ABC Four Corners investigation in mid 2017.

David Harris the head of the government department, Water NSW, has argued that grower’s water usage data should be protected. Illustrating how weak the advocacy for the environment is from the NSW government and its agencies.

On the 8 January two senior executives from Norman Farming, a cotton growing conglomerate in southern Queensland appeared in the Brisbane Magistrates Court charged with defrauding the Commonwealth of $20 million intended for water savings on the Murray/Darling.

Despite the protestations from major cotton growers and peak industry bodies that these cases are exceptional one gets the impression that they are the tip of the iceberg! and that as climate change rubs against the profit margins of big growers increased gaming and rorting will increase unless fundamental change is implemented.

In 2018 Maryanne Slattery, a Senior Water Researcher at the Australia Institute and whistle blower formerly with the Murray/Darling Basin Authority, noted, “Implementing the Plan for political expediency without transparency or accountability by the MDBA has resulted in a fraud of a Basin Plan. It has benefited big irrigators at the expense of everyone else including Aboriginal people, regional communities, flood plain graziers, small irrigators and the environment…Its implementation has been a betrayal to all Australians, who deserve to be angry.”

Billions of litres of water purchased for the health of the system has instead found its way to growers.

My guess will be that as the Royal Commission progresses, cotton farms will come onto the market. There will be calls for compensation and government buyouts as the market declines.

In 2010 I wrote,

“The management of water resources worldwide should become a priority of the United Nations. Just as we have a United Nations High Commission for Refugees, we should have a United Nations High Commission for Water, engaging in studies and dialogue on best practice and use of water…the management of water should not be left to markets where the pursuit of profit has water abused, devalued and often powerless with respect to sustainability. Water needs a voice and a value beyond the market. At the moment it comes a very poor second in calculations relating to its use, agriculture and industry have the upper hand and water is required to comply…

In terms of the productive use of water in Australia much of it might be likened to child labour. Water is the cheapest input into the production chain. It does not have a defender powerful enough to modify the behaviour of the big exporting agro industries. When we export many of our irrigated products we export cheap water, well below its real value…”

When developers are planning a high rise or a subdivision they are not required to submit estimated water usage as part of the approval process. How is that good water management? It defies common sense.

In 2016 I wrote,

“Water is vital for a sustainable future, particularly in Australia. To survive, and therefore for all of us to survive, water needs all the care and compassion it can get. Not so in Australia.

The new and brash head of CSIRO, Larry Marshall, recently announced plans to get rid scientists from the Land and Water Division. Apparently there has been a judgement that they do not have the capacity to make money for the organisation…

Abbott was and remains a Luddite with respect to scientific research particularly climate change, land and water. He axed the National Water Commission as well as the National Climate Commission. The braying acolytes that are coyly referred to as his supporters share his attitudes to science in the public good. They are against it. Marshall is their man, he was appointed during Abbott’s prime ministership…”

How little has changed. Will the Labor Party be able to turn things around? Will it be able to right past wrongs?

Bruce Haigh is retired diplomat, irrigator and public commentator.

The Australian default position on the political spectrum is to the right of centre. It is naturally conservative and more. It had foisted on it the authoritarian structures of colonial rule. This was challenged from time to time, notably at Eureka and with the shearers strike(s) in the 1880/90’s leading to the formation of the Trade Union Movement. But left to its own devices the political pendulum swings to the right. Not confident in the commonsense of their fellow Australians the Right when in power have corralled the electorate through fear of communism, terrorism, recession and foreign settlers.

The Right of Australian politics is not noted for research or reflection. It fears for the future and fights change. It clings to an imaginary and idealised past. It is maudlin and saccharine in its emotional responses and angry when its defences of denial are challenged.

We are just emerging from a prolonged period of ‘remembrance’ relating to the Australian involvement, deaths and casualties, in WW1, which ended on 11 November 1918 and concluded for us, a weary and leery nation, on the same day in 2018, at a total cost, over 4 years, of $600m.

It was anything but remembrance. It was glorification of a false understanding of war, in particular WW1. But it is worse; the Right has put war front and central in their narrative about the development of Australia as a nation. It is a white history. It ignores the Aboriginal narrative dating back 60,000 years and it ignores the history of labour, the Trade Union Movement and the environment in shaping lives and endeavour.

It ignores the wars of suppression and oppression conducted against the indigenous population from the time of white settlement. Massacres, murder, rape and slavery; the Australian War Memorial (AWM) has indicated it will have no part in recording and displaying what are termed the Border Wars, for the most part they deny their existence.

Young men jumped at the chance to join up in 1914. Caught in the trap of low or no wages, limited opportunity, restricted horizons and the dead hand of quasi British authoritarian governance, they grasped what they thought was a chance of escape and adventure under the acceptable guise of Patriotism, Empire and Crown. The 20,000 younsters of the First Division were a wild and independent lot, the Second Division a little more restrained but not by much. The Fourth and Fifth more so and the last division formed, the Third under Monash, positively sober.

The landing at Gallipoli was messy; the troops were green and the leadership staid if not hidebound. There was much milling about on the beach but the young bloods of all ranks took off and made for the heights. Just a few Turks were able to check them because they held the heights, which in military matters is rule number one. Turkish reinforcements arrived under Mustafa Kemal and that was the end of that. Stalemate and many casualties followed. Maybe the Australian young bloods were aware that they were invading Turkey, maybe they were not, but all of the Turkish soldiers facing them were. Put yourself in their place at North Head.

The official Australian war correspondent, Charles Bean, who was a brave, observant and meticulous diarist, recorded what he saw and sent home despatches. Phillip Schuler of The Age, who was there indepently under the auspices of his paper chose to see things differently.

The blood, flies, impossible tactical position, poor supply, food and medical provision for the Australian and New Zealand troops were apparent to both young Australian reporters. Schuler reported it as it was and the waste and stupidity that it represented, Bean chose to guild the Lilly. Out of the waste and anarchy of war his response was to create a myth, to justify the needless and useless slaughter and by so doing became a recruiting propagandist for future wars. Bean was a romantic, white supremacist, misogynist, racist and mildly authoritarian individual. In 1910 he did a trip through outback NSW and down the Darling, where his Anglo-Australian sensibilities were roused by laconic and self sufficient stock men. They positively turned him on and from then on he was smitten. He didn’t mention Aboriginals or women in his account. It is hard to believe he didn’t encounter them, but they didn’t fit his narrative or predilections.

Bean took this to Gallipoli and later to France and wove his dispatches and his history around his ANZAC myth. Schuler couldn’t stand Bean’s non-sense and volunteered for service in France as a Private. He was killed in 1917.

Bean was a conservative of the Right. His racism placed him there; he opposed the appointment of Monash to head the Australian forces in France because he was a Jew, and he tugged his forelock at Anglo-Australians such as Major General Brudenell-White, a Melbourne Club habitué.

The hopeless, mindless, arrogant slaughter of the Western Front in France and Belgium, incomprehensible to Bean, but not to the Australian soldier Edgar Rule, or British soldiers Wilfred Owen and Robert Graves, saw him reinforce his ANZAC myth following the mindless slaughter of 23,000 Australian troops at Pozieres in mid 1916 for a gain of 3000 metres. Bean tried to describe it, but he wasn’t emotionally or culturally equipped to do it.

Beans history of WW1 was impressively detailed, with thousands of personal accounts of bravery and little of suffering. It was an account to assist recruitment should another conflict occur, which happened even before the last volume of his history was published.

Devastated by WW1 and probably with PTSD, Bean moved on his return to get a memorial built to the dead. However from the outset there was nothing dignified or restrained about the design of the structure. What was proposed and what came to pass was a large crypto-fascist pile not at all pleasing to the eye. It is masculine and designed to dominate and impress.

Bean was more motivated with his memorial – a shrine to glorify imagery of his beloved boys, than practical help for the broken shell shocked shadow of men who returned. Faced with a five foot two, broken nosed, gap toothed, miner, Bean saw a six foot, blond, blue eyed Adonis. He was in love with his ideal Australian and remained that way until he died; the Catholic priest syndrome.  

Bean had picked up with and become a party to the inferiority complex which drove the Australian narrative in WW1. In brief it ran that Australia was a new country, an off shoot of Britain, but it had a blood stock as good if not better than the mother country. The war was a chance to demonstrate that Australia was better and excelled in manliness, skill, grit and courage. Reading Bean’s history the impression is gained that Australia came out of WW1 with the prize for ‘Best on Battlefield’.

The ANZAC legend or myth as we have noted is a product of an inability to process disaster. It is also a salve to national pride. Bean found it impossible to admit to poor leadership at all levels from platoon leader to Division head and beyond. He could never bring himself to say that Haig was an unimaginative thick head or that the Australian General M’Cay should have been court marshalled and cashiered for refusing to allow the injured to be retrieved after the Battle of Fromelles.

ANZAC comes out of the British ruling class tradition of turning defeat or disaster into victory, thereby avoiding boards of inquiry. After the disastrous battle against the Zulu’s at Rorke’s Drift, the British Army threw VC’s around like confetti. The conservatives or as they have now become the Right Wing, do not have the capacity to call a spade a spade, that is left to the working class and they called WW1 for what it was – a bloody slaughter of men against machines.

Many returned soldiers would have nothing to do with the ANZAC tradition, legend or myth because it was just that – a myth. It has only been since the 1980’s that there has been a nationalistic and jingoistic ‘revival’ of the fireside reworking of Australia’s glorious war time contribution and feat of arms from Contalmaison, Kokoda and Tarin Kowt. War and the achievements of war in forming the character of the country were central to a resurgence of white Anglo-Australian pride and nationalism.

This year the director of the AWM, Brendan Nelson, a former Liberal politician, repeated the propaganda of past memorial parades at the 100th Anniversary celebration at the ending of WW1. He did so with all the pomp, circumstance and farce of a Gilbert and Sullivan opera. A popinjay, a martinet; absent from his address was any semblance of the dignity associated with remembrance. But this is what ANZAC has become a sound and light show, a vehicle to promote national pride in a big and bloody disaster.

Forgotten were the Veterans who struggle to have a voice and their pain and claims addressed. The $600m spent to provide political leverage for the LNP, plus a further $500m to extend and upgrade the AWM, would have gone a long way to assist and improve the lives of Veterans.

Now in case you think I am a snotty nosed, bleeding hart leftie who doesn’t know a bolt from a breech block let me give you some back ground. My grandfather was a professional soldier who fought in the Boer War, the North West Frontier Province of India and in Tibet. In 1912 he joined the Australian Instructional Corps and in 1916 became an instructor at Duntroon. In 1917 he went to WW1, returning to instruct again at Duntroon.

My great uncle was killed at Messines and has no known grave, his brother returned but in terrible shape.

My father joined the 6 Division of the AIF in 1939. He escaped from Crete in 1941 and was Mentioned in Dispatches. My uncle was in the RAAF in the Pacific; my cousin was killed in a bombing mission over Europe. My mother’s husband was killed at El Alamein and she drove an Ambulance. I was conscripted for National Service in 1966.

Since 1982, I have been to Gallipoli three times and to the battle fields of Belgium and France, ten. I have drawn maps and written a history yet to be published.

Bruce Haigh is a retired diplomat and political commentator.   

Both comedy and tragedy are playing out in Australia at the moment, but tragedy has the upper hand.

Comedy is obvious enough. Morrison, Abbott, Joyce and Geoffrey Rush, who with an over inflated sense of entitlement and appalling judgement has managed to shoot himself in both feet by suing The Daily Telegraph over allegations of sexual misconduct thus ensuring the other side of the story was aired by the aggrieved party and a toxic culture exposed. Contrition and perhaps an apology might have proved wiser.

Is the Sydney Light Rail in the category of comedy? Yes it is pure farce. Straight out of Catch 22, of benefit to no one except the developers who pushed for it and greased palms so that they could build ugly units in square boxes down either side. Beset by litigation, a cost overrun and the destruction of iconic works of art, the Spanish contractors join their compatriots who built our poorly engineered troop ships. La porqueria – our love affair with Spain is over.

Dutton gives us a laugh if for no other reason than he takes himself seriously. He has all the attributes of Benito Mussolini. Bombastic, racist, innumerate, poor timing and a potato head which like Benito and Trump he thrusts at us with curled lips and lies.

Australian politics is at the lowest point I can remember over the past seventy years and that is saying something as included is the war in Vietnam, Conscription and Moratorium marches, Menzies, McMahon, Morosi, Cairns, Connor, Khemlani, Kerr, Howard and Rudd.

The Australian Parliament has within it some of the dumbest people I have seen in public life. Canavan, Ciobo, Abetz, Abbott, Joyce, Morrison, Tehan, Porter, Kelly, Hunt, Taylor and Birmingham; they lie and think we believe them. They back coal in the face of climate change, and they are all from the LNP, supported by the IPA. They are Right Wing protagonists dumbed down by blind adherence to their ideology. Looking backwards is no way to map a path to the future. It is no way to manage or lead; they are headed for the high jump and know it.

Tragedy lies in the manifestation of their ideology that causes intentional harm to refugees and asylum seekers in detention, particularly children, in the name of deterrence. Dutton and Morrison are responsible for deaths, injury and the mental illness of refugees in detention. If they are let off the hook Australian democracy will be diminished.

Tragedy lies in the disempowerment of Aboriginals and the sixty women murdered this year by husbands and partners, not to mention children abused and bashed to death. It lies with organised Christianity which seeks control over compassion and with Howard’s credo of whatever it takes, which has seen greed grow; legitimised and paraded in dreadful and tasteless reality TV, corporate and sporting behaviour including grossly over inflated salary packages.

Tragedy lies in climate denial enshrined in legislation and the failure to protect and manage water in the face of science and common sense which instructs otherwise.  It lies with the support and encouragement of racism; demonstrated with the backing of all LNP Senators for Harridan Hanson’s motion, ‘It’s OK to be white’. She is a comedic figure ripe for satire and scorn, but media that might provide an outlet either agree with her bile or have been emasculated.

Racism was evident in Australia’s response to the recent earthquake and tsunami in Sulawesi, where 2000 people died and 65,000 homes destroyed. Australia gave a paltry $10.5 million. It could and should have done a lot more. But my Twitter account carried comment that we should not give aid to a Muslim country because by doing so we would be supporting fundamentalism and corruption. I can only presume the same line governed the thinking of our politicians; neither the Labor Party nor the media decried the response.

Perhaps because of our parsimonious response the Indonesian President, Joko Widodo, was in no mood to be lenient or diplomatic when Morrison announced a by-election stunt of intent to move the Australian Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in defiance of Palestinian and Arab wishes and bi-partisan policy. The announcement was widely criticised and Morrison doesn’t know now where to take it.

Cricket is a metaphor for what’s happened in Australia. Greed coupled with whatever it takes overseen by a governing body out of touch with players and fans. The Chairman and Board of Cricket Australia had a large sense of entitlement, just as members of parliament, who claimed $48 million in expenses in the first half of 2016. Fans have walked away from cricket, just as voters have walked from the major parties.

Bullying is a national pastime, which some find satisfying and amusing; such as the parliamentary bullying of the former Human Rights Commissioner and the Director of the Sydney Opera House by Alan Jones. It finds expression in the work place, the defence force, sporting clubs and associations, schools, universities, churches and refugee detention centres. It is endemic and feeds domestic violence. It is male dominated. However it will be funny when it happens to Dutton, Morrison and Abbott.

Perhaps the biggest and saddest clown is Bill Shorten, who is short on courage and ideas when he should be bursting with both. He has gone along with the government’s cruel refugee policy of deterrence, defence expenditure, which has us building submarines for between $60-$90 billion for a strategic gain yet to be explained, and a donation of $500 million to the new Canberra theme park and ADF recruiting centre, the Australian War Memorial. And has said he will keep the Home Affairs Department. Is Shortens me tooism a joke or a tragedy? I’m not laughing.

Water and Joyce is no joke, it is in fact corruption; withdrawal of funding for the CSIRO, Medicare, public education, NDIS and Centrelink is criminal.

Lack of vision translated into lack of infrastructure is what we would term in the army, a bloody joke. As climate change advances infrastructure becomes critical in deploying resources to deal quickly and adequately with flood, fire, drought and high intensity storms. As traditional food production changes high quality infrastructure becomes vital in assisting the development of new food sources and distributing produce to domestic and overseas markets.

Food production and distribution is at breaking point in many Asian and African countries. We could become a role model. Innovation with food is closely aligned with the management of water. The two go hand in hand and at the moment we are failing to deal with both.

What is driving and motivating Australia in 2018 is greed and fear, inextricably linked to the great Australian inferiority complex and guilt. White Australians whose families have been in this country for any length of time know exactly what was done to Aboriginals. They have sought to expiate their guilt by painting Aboriginals as aggressive, shiftless and uncouth drunks incapable of holding down a job.

They have guilt about stealing the water holes for stock on which large white family fortunes were built, they have guilt about the children their relatives fathered and walked away from, they have guilt about clearing land for short term profit as it is eroded and laid waste by salt. They have guilt for allowing water to be expropriated for cotton and grapes, rather than for food. Guilt is driving greed – grab what you can while you can because things are stuffed, they can’t go on like this, they say to themselves as they fall asleep on the kitchen table after the eighth stubby.

And guilt over the treatment of refugees has seen the government bulldoze all evidence of the torture and misery they inflicted at the Lombrun prison on Manus Island. When a regime knows the game is up, when they are about to fall, they attempt to hide their crimes.

For all of us the question is will the Labor Party confront these crimes and seek justice for the innocent victims, will it walk away or worse, continue with the evil practices. You see now why I believe that tragedy prevails, it need not but for that to occur greed would have to shrink and courage would have to master fear and selfishness.

But fear not, comedy stalks and thrives on righteous pomposity which Morrison, Abbott and the Sydney Dioceses have in spades .

Bruce Haigh is a retired diplomat and political commentator.

The national political editor of The Daily Telegraph, Sharri Markson, has been nominated for the Sir Keith Murdoch award for excellence in journalism for breaking the story on the sordid Barnaby Joyce/Vikki Campion affair, published in her paper on 7 February.

The problem is that she did not break the story, credit for that is due to Serhan Ozturk the editor of True Crime News on 24 October, 2017. This was followed three weeks later by David Donovan, editor of Independent Australia, with a story by Ross Jones on 19 November, 2017.

Joyce stood in a by election in the seat of New England held on 2 December, 2017. Dates are important. It is alleged, and it certainly seems that way, that the embedded main stream media held off on the story until the seat, critical to the governments hold on the lower house of federal parliament, had been secured by Joyce.

But even then they cut him slack; it was only when Joyce’s new partner, Vicki Campion, was obviously pregnant that the main stream media could no longer sit on the story. Markson threw discretion to the wind and published. She gave no credit to those who had earlier broken the story

She raised the dust in the press gallery paddock. She was in fine fettle and top form – she was well placed to win the cup. She was pursued by other sections of the media impressed with her audaciousness, overlooking the fact that she had published an article defending Joyce on 20 October, 2017.

When Paul Barry of ABC Media Watch chose to credit Markson with breaking the story Dave Donovan took issue with the fact that the normal courtesies of acknowledgement had been denied.

Rather than admit their mistake Jason Whittaker of Media Watch combatively took Donovan to task. “David, we’re well aware stories were in circulation earlier…we didn’t rake over…tweeting/gossiping/blogging/reporting. The Daily Telegraph offered photographic proof of the staffer’s pregnancy and confirmed that… Joyce was the father, clearly this has triggered a wider investigation…Nothing that came before had managed to do this.” David Donovan is a member of the Canberra Press Gallery.

And as we have seen over the past week the ABC and other sections of the MSM have been prepared to accept what BuzzFeed has said about Emma Husar but were not prepared to do the same with Barnaby Joyce when True Crime News and Independent Australia ran with facts concerning Joyce’s flouting of the law. BuzzFeed ran with rumours relating to Husar, Independent Australia ran with facts, different treatment of two politicians on opposite sides of the fence and two journals who covered the stories.

What Whittaker appeared to saying was that Independent Australia and True Crime News were not serious political journals and that they dealt only in gossip and innuendo implying that the Daily Telegraph does not. He refused to countenance the notion that they could break a story.  He should be reminded that before it was closed down by ABC Managing Director, Michelle Guthrie, the ABC on line magazine, The Drum, broke many stories, which the Daily Telegraph refused to run.

If the ABC were not so elitist and a little more open to considering non mainstream information, facts and opinions it might not be constipated from the constant LNP/IPA diet. Sugar hits are not part of the diet of intelligent and concerned citizens seeking the truth. They comb the net, referencing and cross checking sources that put the Daily Telegraph and Media Watch to shame.

At a time when The Australian and The Daily Telegraph have become the Volkischer Beobachter and Der Sturmer, are the equivalent alternative voices in Australia to  La Libre Belgique, L’Humanite’ and Sztuka i Narod to be scoffed at and overlooked? I would suggest at peril to democracy.

Sharri Markson is engaged on an exercise of deception. The truth behind the Joyce cover up goes to the heart of Australian journalism and all that ails it. The fact that the prize in this instance is the Sir Keith Murdoch Award is apt. Murdoch denigrated the great Australian General, Monash, by claiming that he was unfit to lead the Australian Corps in France because he was a Jew. He lobbied General Haig to have the appointment overturned. Fortunately he was ignored. All the Australian senior officers supported Monash, who went on to successfully change the face of battle on the Western Front.

Markson should graciously acknowledge the truth and give credit where credit is due. She will be a better person for it.

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat.

sa

The South African Government has said that it is

‘ … offended by the statements which has been attributed to the Australian Home Affairs Minister and a full retraction is expected.’

Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton has gratuitously and outrageously interfered in the internal affairs of South Africa.

His comments on what he termed “the horrific circumstances” relating to white South African farmers, at the urging of white right-wing extremists, has done great harm to finely balanced race relations in South Africa and to the relationship between the two countries.

Had he sought a briefing from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) he would have discovered that the situation relating to the “persecution” of white farmers bears no resemblance to his ill-informed remarks. The Australian High Commission in Pretoria keeps DFAT very well informed.

I feel well qualified to comment. As a young diplomat posted to South Africa at the height of apartheid, 1976-79, I chose to assist those opposing the regime. There seemed little point in helping it to survive. Apartheid was not something to be observed, like the fundamental evil of fascism, it had to be destroyed. For me, there was no other option. I sheltered people running from the police in my home, I delivered messages for people who were banned and could not use phones for fear of interception and police brutality, and I took people to safety in neighbouring countries under the protection of my diplomatic immunity.

I got to know many activists including Steve BikoZwelakhe SisuluDr Nthato MotlanaDr Mamphela Ramphele and Donald Woods, whom I assisted in leaving South Africa. This escape was portrayed in the Richard Attenborough film, Cry Freedom. Together with my predecessor, Di Johnstone, I helped found Ifa Lethu, which, among other things, assists with the education of youngsters in black townships.

No independent observer will deny that attacks on farm properties have occurred. The reasons vary. South Africa has a population of 56 million. In 2016-17, 19,000 murders were committed of which 74 occurred on farms — of these, 60% were white farmers, their families and/or friends, 34% were black workers and 5% were of Asian origin. There were 49 deaths in 2015-16. 72% of agricultural land is owned by white farmers with whites comprising 8% of the population. South Africa ranks tenth in the world in relation to violent deaths, Jamaica ranks sixth and Brazil 16th — with a population of 200 million there were 65,000 murders in 2012.

Black violence is endemic in South Africa with blacks living in poverty are the most likely to be affected. Fatal violence associated with theft also affects whites in the suburbs. Black violence is a sad legacy of apartheid, which relied on the use of state-sponsored armed force to exist and maintain the segregation of blacks from whites. The system was cruel and ruthless and the response to it was often violent.

Some white farmers have not accepted change. They continue to support the notion of apartheid of which they were a primary beneficiary. They are often right wing and often treat their black workforce badly — showing little respect, with some resorting to violence as a means of enforcing their will. Some still fly the old South African flag. They live in the past. It is these sad and divisive characters that Dutton has chosen to support.

Land redistribution was not addressed by the corrupt former President Zuma. The new President, Cyril Ramaphosa, has put it back on the agenda, much to the annoyance of white farmers who are alleging persecution. Ramaphosa, who I know to be a good person, is seeking to act in the interests of all of South Africans. Reform is overdue — it is 25 years since apartheid ended and Nelson Mandela became President.

How dare Dutton seek to nurture white supremacy in South Africa? As a nation, Australia was at the fore in seeking to end apartheid. Dutton is trashing a legacy that was difficult to achieve and hard to build. Former Prime Minister John Howard did nothing to help — he did not lift a finger to oppose apartheid and nor did Abbott or any of those who have followed in his right-wing Coalition.

I know the South African Government is deeply offended and angry and will not let the issue rest until there is redress to the insult. Dutton – and for that matter, Turnbull – have no idea the harm that has been done to the relationship.

The South African Government has said that it is

‘ … offended by the statements which has been attributed to the Australian Home Affairs Minister and a full retraction is expected.’

In offering fast-track visas to South African farmers, Dutton had the temerity to state that they were being offered protection in a “civilised country”. The dumb arrogance of that statement has left not only South Africa gobsmacked but many other states in Africa and Asia. They are asking in what way does Dutton consider Australia civilised, in light of his policies toward refugees?

Left unaddressed and unrepented, Dutton’s tirade will affect trade, business, sporting and educational relationships. I have been informed by the Australian High Commission that there are currently 52 Australian travel agents touring South Africa as guests of the South African Tourism Commission. It can be expected that if relations deteriorate further, these exchanges will end. Last year, 10.3 million tourists visited South Africa.

Dutton needs to eat humble pie. This is a major diplomatic gaffe, by a man steeped in ignorant hubris. He has brought shame to Australia. Nothing short of a full apology will suffice.

It is my opinion that the right wing of Australian politics is destructive, negative, cruel and shallow; it has brought nothing of value to the country. I am sick of them.

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired Australian diplomat. Among his many diplomatic postings, he served in South Africa from 1976 to 1979. You can follow Bruce on Twitter @bruce_haigh.

Photo:AP

Duterte talks the Language of the people, he says what they want to hear.

The Philippines is undergoing unprecedented growth, last year said to be 6 per cent, fuelled by remittances and foreign investment, mainly from China and South Korea.

Traffic in the major cities is congested and the single biggest inhibitor to productivity improvement, a point made recently by the World Bank. Duterte has threatened to remove the ubiquitous Jeepney from the roads, but owners have bravely pushed back, prepared to face the gun-toting law-enforcing cowboys who pass for police.

The vigilante pogrom against the drug trade has its origins in a gun culture inherited from the United States during the 60 years it was colonial overlord. Stung by domestic and international criticism including the Catholic Church, human rights groups and the EU, which is withholding aid, Duterte announced new policing measures against alleged drug dealers, which seems to be to ask questions and shoot rather than shoot and then answer questions. He has scoffed at reports that the International Criminal Court will begin a preliminary examination of extra judicial killings associated with the drug trade. 

Duterte is popular with the people, even down to his crude and sexist ‘‘humour’’. They see him as down to earth in a Barnaby Joyce sort of way. The Philippine people have not been served well in terms of leadership over the last 70 years, with one ruling family replacing another, serving only self interest on the back of grinding poverty bolstered by large families which has the support of the church. 

Duterte talks the language of the people, he says what they want to hear; they believe he will deliver. It will not take much to convert this populism into a dictatorship, although the military remain wary of him. Nonetheless they were pleased with the extension of martial law in the province of Mindanao in January for a further 12 months. They are worried about his flirtation with China which had him claim in early February that he would not mind if the Philippines became a province of China. 

In 2012 the UN recognised the Philippines’ claim to the 13-millionhectare undersea plateau known as the Benham or Philippine Rise. A Chinese research vessel, Ke Xue Hao, recently concluded a month-long scientific survey along the rise apparently under the auspices of a secret agreement negotiated with the President’s office. China is seeking naming rights to a number of undersea features within the Philippine Basin including a ridge ‘‘discovered’’ by the Li Siguang Hoa in 2004. 

At the conclusion of the Chinese research mission Duterte announced that he would allow no more foreign exploration of the Rise, his domestic critics are cynical believing that he has rolled over to the Chinese who have not offered to share their research and Duterte has not pressed them to do so. The Philippine foreign office said contentious issues were raised at the second meeting of the six monthly Philippine-China Bilateral Consultation Mechanism held in Manila on February 13, however there was no communique. 

At best, Duterte has been half hearted in opposing Chinese ambitions in the South China Sea which, with the construction of bases, is seen by most Filipinos as a fait accompli. There is concern to maintain sovereignty over territory claimed by the Philippines but there is none of the paranoia expressed in the media, national dialogue or by politicians towards China that exists in Australia. 

Concern at Chinese attempts to extend their domestic influence, and measures to contain or prevent unreasonable interference should be crafted, focused and routine but observed from a distance. Australia’s response appears mildly hysterical, racist and driven by the Murdoch press but Rupert has an axe to grind with China. 

The regional response to China has been firm and reasonable however the United States is allowed far more latitude than it deserves or has earned. Its influence is neither benign nor altruistic; as with China everything it does is designed to advance domestic interests. Through surveillance, financial expenditure, bribes and soft diplomacy it has infiltrated major institutions in Australia, particularly defence, large corporations and the political process where they intersect with US interests and requirements. 

Duterte is holding the United States at arm’s length, which is viewed favourably by the average Filipino. Ninety years of American involvement in Filipino politics has left a negative legacy. From 1944 until 1991 the US had a major military presence centred on Clark Air Force Base and the Subic Bay Naval Base (The US is applying pressure to reopen the base). 

The US translated its power and influence into supporting corrupt ruling families who gave rise to corrupt presidents and politicians who in turn supported the US presence in the Philippines. 

The United States recently deployed the carrier USS Carl Vinson with support vessels to the South China Sea, causing international flights to be diverted. 

Australia, Japan, France and Britain have all undertaken port visits to Manila. This modern gun boat diplomacy is useful in asserting a presence and interest in the region but it hasn’t caused China to change step. 

This demonstrates an admirable commitment to the Philippines. However trade and investment lags where it should be thriving in a country where English is widely spoken. Australia needs to build closer institutional ties with the Philippines as well as enhance student and people to- people ties. Incredibly there are no direct flights from Perth to the Philippines, despite both being in the same time zone. Business opportunities go begging. 

Duterte, like Trump, is thin skinned. He hates criticism, particularly relating to his appalling human rights record; however there is more to the Philippines than Duterte. 

If Malcolm Turnbull can get along with Trump, he should be able to find enough common ground to strengthen economic, educational, diplomatic and security ties with the Philippines. 

Bruce Haigh is a retired diplomat 

Former diplomat Bruce Haigh has just returned from Mindanao, where he has been investigating the ISIS insurgency and the Australian response.

PHILLIPINES President Rodrigo Duterte predicted on 12 July that ISIS backed Abu Sayyaf rebels, who seized the central business district of Marawi on 23 May, would be evicted in 10-15 days. It is now mid-September and there is no sign of the Philippine Army loosening the rebels grip.

 

Perhaps military commanders and the President are seeking to limit politically unacceptable casualties, confident that the rebels will sooner or later run out of food and ammunition. But there is no sign of that and the suspicion must be that they are being resupplied. How? Who knows in a chronically corrupt Philippines?

The Australian Government, together with other regional governments, have taken the view that a prolongation of the siege is giving encouragement and confidence to Islamic extremists in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines to undertake further high profile military action. Australia has deployed two P3 Orion surveillance aircraft to Mindanao to provide intelligence to the Philippine Army.

On the 8 September, Minister for Defence Marise Payne announced the deployment of Australian troops to the southern Philippines to assist in training. Australian troops are more acceptable to Duterte than American troops and, depending on which regiments they are drawn from, may be able to undertake “active” or “live” training.

Sidney Jones, Director of the Jakarta-based, Institute of Policy Analysis of Conflict, believes Marawi has heralded in a new phase of regional Islamic militancy. She fears more moderate groups in the Philippines such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have been marginalised. Negotiations that might once have taken place between them and the government over the future of an autonomous or independent Islamic region on Mindanao are less likely in the face of the growing influence of Maute-led, Abu Sayyaf militants now backed by overseas ISIS fighters from Indonesia, Malaysia and the Middle East. One of my interlocutors in Davao City last month claimed that the army had found 100 Indonesian passports in a recaptured part of Marawi.

Journalists and academics that I spoke to in Davao are critical of the government in Manila. They claim Marawi is a result of policies imposed on the region that lack understanding of local complexities. The genesis of the problem dates back several centuries to Spanish and American colonial occupation and exploitation of independent Islamic Sultanates. If there is a parallel the frustrations and aspirations of the Moro people might be compared to the Tamils of Sri Lanka.

However, what now considerably complicates an autonomy dispute is the presence of foreign ISIS fighters and operatives who have ingratiated and grafted themselves onto Abu Sayyaf, until now an indigenous militant group. Compounding this is the funding provided by Saudi Arabia through fundamentalist NGOs in Marawi and other parts of what is termed the Autonomous Region of Mindanao.

The Saudi’s adhere to a fundamentalist Sunni belief known as Wahhabism within a broader framework of Salafism, both advocate violence toward opponents of those religious strands. The Saudis export Wahhabism through the funding of madrasas (schools) and NGO’s in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines (Mercy Centres), even Australia. Other Sunnis and Shias condemn Wahhabism, which has been linked to the promotion of extremism and directly to the development of ISIS. Activities associated with institutions funded by Wahhabi (Saudi) money should be banned throughout the region. It is an exercise in guilt and self-delusion, as many in the ruling Saudi royal ruling regime observe rigid Salafi beliefs in the breach, preferring venality, misogyny and mendaciousness. The Saudi’s have strong protectors in the form of the U.S. government.

Some weeks ago, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop undertook to give $20m over four years to the reconstruction of Marawi. It is chicken feed. One of the reasons, if not the primary reason for the acceptance of the Wahhabi fundamentalist message is the anger and frustration engendered by poverty and the indifference, corruption and greed amongst the ruling elites in the aforementioned countries. Poverty and anger are the ingredients for radical politics — once Communism, now fundamentalism.

Australia needs to focus its aid budget at the grass roots in Asia. Stability, and therefore business and trade, depend on the maintenance of social cohesion and consensus. However misguided and misconceived, calls for the creation of a caliphate fall into the category of an attempt at social change, in much the same way as the early Communists, who unleashed rivers of blood and mayhem to create Elysium. Whatever Australia does with respect to fighting and addressing violent fundamentalism in the region it should with circumspection. It was a mistake for the head of ASIS to allow publicity with Duterte and for the Prime Minister and the Minister for Defence to bang a drum over defence co-operation with the Philippines. All such displays do is to heighten the security risks to Embassy staff who of necessity must get out and about in the country. Risks are also increased to Australian aid workers, business people and tourists.

Finally, in my opinion, the question of joint naval patrols to interdict arms and ISIS personnel in the archipelagic waters separating Indonesia and the Philippines should be revisited.

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat. He has served in Saudi Arabia, the Gulf, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and run the Indonesia section. Bruce still visits the Philippines and Mindanao from time to time and was last there a month ago. You can follow him on Twitter @BruceHaigh2.

Australia’s interests are strongest in our region, so why do we prioritise events in the Middle East, Europe and America? Former diplomat Bruce Haigh reports.

AUSTRALIA’S INTEREST in the politics and prosperity of South East Asia is stronger than that of the United States — however you might think that was not the case by the priority Australia gives to events in the Middle East, Europe and America.

Australia is inextricably linked to South East Asia through geography, trade, education and population. It is where the greatest expansion in our trade will take place. Close or linked time zones make business easier. Shorter air and shipping routes enhance contact and productivity.

Why, then, does Australia expend so much money, lives and time trying to crush the Taliban and ISIS in Iraq and Syria when we have a potentially bigger and more complex problem emerging on our door step?

For decades, the radical Muslim organisation, Abu Sayyaf, has fought the Philippine army and police in an attempt to establish a caliphate on the island of Mindanao. They have recently been joined by ISIS fighters forced out of the Middle East. Their route to Mindanao is through Malaysia and Indonesia by boat.

On 23 May, fighting broke out between the Philippine Army and Abu Sayyaf in the predominantly Muslim city of Marawi on Mindanao. Abu Sayyaf is led by Isnilon Hapilon, a man with a US$5 million bounty on his head. He has joined with the Maute group led by two brothers and both groups have been bolstered by ISIS fighters from Indonesia, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Chechnya.

The fighting, which was predicted to be over in a week, looks set to drag on into a second month. This attests to the skill and experience of the ISIS fighters, who have deployed resources, including strategically placed snipers, on the basis of local knowledge provided by Abu Sayyaf. They occupy the business district of Marawi.

The Philippine Army has used armoured vehicles and conducted air strikes. The U.S. has deployed a small group of special forces personnel and are providing intelligence through Lockheed P-3 Orion surveillance. The President of the Philippines, Rodrego Duterte has denied knowledge of U.S. involvement.

Mawari had a population of 200,000 many have fled the fighting, some are being held hostage by the fundamentalists. Around 400 civilians, soldiers and radicals have been killed, with around twice that number wounded, including children and ABC journalist, Adam Harvey.

Abu Sayyaf was connected to the 2002 Bali bombing. Extremism and membership of extremist groups is growing in Indonesia and Malaysia, and the presence and influence of ISIS is expanding.

Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines have reacted to the threat with joint naval and air patrols of the Sulu Sea, through which ISIS fighters pass. The patrols began in mid-June. Singapore has undertaken to share intelligence processed through the Changi Naval Base.

Australian Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, is aware of these regional developments. In January, she warned of the possibility of ISIS fighters returning from the Middle East seeking to establish a caliphate on Mindanao. As it transpired her intelligence was good.

Until recently, Australia had not sought to act or get involved. On the contrary, reacting to U.S. pressure, on 29 May, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced a further 30 Australian troops would be sent to Afghanistan to help counter and fight ISIS.

On 23 June, it was announced that Australia would undertake surveillance flights over the southern Philippines. Whilst useful this is not enough and doubles up on what the U.S. is already doing.

Australia’s border protection regime seeks to maintain a maritime cordon in the waters north of Australia and south of Indonesia. The aim is isolation. It ignores the reality of Australia’s extensive involvement and interaction in the region.

Many Australians live, work and have holidays in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines. Airports, CBD’s and holiday resorts, such as Bali, Penang, Palawan and Panglao, to name but a few, are increasingly vulnerable to well planned and organised ISIS attacks. Australian interests and Australians extend well beyond their shores; the mentality that feels secure behind a naval cordon is both limited and myopic.

The Australian elite, particularly the political elite, is paranoid about asylum seekers arriving by boat.

Internal displacements of people due to ISIS and associated radical activity are inevitable unless this activity can be addressed and contained. Internal displacement might well translate into cross water movement of asylum seekers, perhaps on a large scale and difficult to contain unless unacceptable brute force were to be used.

Aircraft surveillance is useful when hostile ground activity occurs. What would be far more useful is for foreign ISIS fighters to be prevented from joining local Islamist groups. For this, naval interdiction is the key. Australia should join with its regional counterparts in undertaking this essential activity.

ISIS is a threat to Australia with its growing involvement in the region; Australia should be engaged and active in containing and eliminating this threat.

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat. He has served in Saudi Arabia, the Gulf, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, run the Indonesia section and visits Mindanao. You can follow Bruce on Twitter @BruceHaigh2.