page loader

Published in The Canberra Times 20 June 2012 and National Times 21 June 2012

Where to start; when did the right get a big leg up in Australia? Whatever point is picked will be somewhat arbitrary and therefore contestable, but with my age and colours firmly nailed to the mast I will go for 1964/65.

On 10 November 1964, the Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, introduced conscription for possible service in Indonesia or Malaya. The necessary amendments to the Defence Act were made on 6 April 1965 and he committed Australian troops, including National Servicemen, for service in Vietnam the next day. In my opinion that was the apex of a right wing Liberal government, which Menzies led from 1949 to 1966.

The legacy he bequeathed it, in the form of Australia wide protest at conscription and participation in Vietnam, led to the rise of the Labor Party and the election of Gough Whitlam in December 1972.

But it fell apart for Gough with the likes of Cairns and Morosi, Connor and Khemlani and Murphy and Morosi and ASIO. It was all too much for Malcolm Fraser who got Kerr to sack Gough. But although a politician of the right Fraser was an enigma, he demonstrated a commitment to getting rid of Apartheid, compassion for refugees and concern with the welfare of Aboriginals.

Hawke, elected Prime Minister in 1983, together with Keating as an adviser and Treasurer, determined they would not go down the path of Whitlam and courted the big end of town. They introduced enterprise bargaining, which did much to undermine the power of the unions, and sold the Commonwealth Bank and Qantas. They moved the Labor Party to the right of centre and Keating as Prime Minister introduced mandatory detention for refugees, although he kept a small flame flickering on the left for the dignity and rights of Aboriginal Australians. Both Hawke and Keating embraced a jingoistic nationalism, centred around Kokoda and Gallipoli.

Howard redefined the right in Australian politics. He strengthened it. He extended and built upon the jingoism and nationalism of Hawke and Keating, he incarcerated and vilified refugees for political gain; he went to war in Iraq on the basis of false information supplied to the Australian people. He went to war in Afghanistan for the sake of the US alliance but without the sanction of the UN. He gave the ADF a blank cheque book and promoted the notion of entitlement, for senior officers and for himself, living off the best at Kirribilli House, Sydney. The Lodge was made into a bachelor pad. He demonised and turned the lives of powerless Aboriginals upside down over an intervention designed to win an election. He set the tone and scene for the conduct of Australian politics today.

Rudd won the election from Howard by shadowing his every move; a tactic which gave left wing agendas very little oxygen; but as we were to find out, issues of the left had little appeal for Rudd. He had stronger right wing credentials than Hawke and Keating, which seemed to appeal to them.

Rudd kept in place Howard’s basic agenda, which was a big loss for the Labor Party and its shrinking support base.

The Greens showed through as a political party with a strong sense of environmental and social justice. The battered mantle of left wing politics passed from a masquerading Labor Party to them.

There are not enough of them in parliament to balance the right wing of the Labor, Liberal, National Party and erstwhile Independents, who soon may not be, if Richard Torbay is anything to go by.

Julia Gillard, says she comes from the left, but in fact she comes from the right, where she seems comfortable. Refugees and Aboriginals will not erect statues to her. Neither will the rest of the Australian population. She has managed to convince or please no-one least of all herself. She is an honorary and honourable member of the right.

To some extent the Fairfax press provided some balance to the forces of the right. It was hardly left wing, but it did understand social justice, which is an alien concept to the Murdoch media. Out of the desert prophets come and other ancient forms of life. Gina, larger than life, a figure from the Wiggles or Sesame Street is bearing down upon the eastern seaboard like a scorching summer storm. The dust is rising and we are attempting to seal the windows and doors, but I fear she will still make a mess of our homes.

Gina will get what she wants. She doesn’t care who she alienates, just ask her children. And what she wants is to run Australia for her own benefit. Abbott is to be her Prime Minister and he will fall neatly into line because they recite off the same sheet. The opposition will be scattered to the far reaches of her Realm. Bolt will be elevated out of the blue to run a fearsome Fairfax, uncompromising in its ideological, messianic incantations of free market principals, where the weak, the halt and the lame are to be led away, put away, from the gaze of overseas investors.

Plimer will be her high priest, Pell an avid disciple and Cowin will count the cost, if any. And from the middle of 2013 Australia, will be a hairs breadth from being a right wing one party state. Only the Senate will stand in the way – our only barrier to the Mongols.

No checks, no balances and a future Prime Minister that believes the AFP and ASIO should be given even greater power. Bolt rails against the left, but there is no left, not in the union movement, academia or the ABC; with his tirades against the left Bolt looks slightly, no considerably unbalanced and a bully. The left in Australia is an endangered species. Its habit is scattered and its birth rate falling.

The right already has everything it wants, but its appetite is insatiable, and where do you go on this island girt by sea, when you are chased or threatened, stuck to face your fate, unless you can catch a plane or a boat.

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and protector of endangered species.

Published in On Line Opinion 18 June 2012

The story portrayed in the Four Corners program, ‘Smugglers Paradise – Australia’, on the 4 June, was not the one intended. Responding to criticism in The Australian, which I think is misplaced, the producer, Sue Spencer, says the facts of the program are not in dispute, I disagree.

The thrust and intent of the program was contained in the promo, “Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd called people smugglers ‘the scum of the earth’. This program reveals how many of them have made their way to Australia posing as asylum seekers and have persuaded the government to grant them refugee status and residency.”

Producer Sarah Ferguson, presenter Kerry O’Brien and the ABC have attached themselves to this particularly nasty epithet. Why?

We know that not all people smugglers are bad. A book has been written about one. I t has been released to great acclaim. More copies were sold at the recent Sydney Writers Festival than for any other book. It was written by Robin De Crespigny about Ali Al Jenabi. It was three years in the writing. Al Jenabi was under surveillance, there was no secret about the production of the book.

The book details the character of Al Jenabi, the trials and tribulations that forced him to leave Iraq and how he became involved in people smuggling and put together boat-loads of people for passage to Australia. Ali is a remarkable character, something that the AFP, Immigration, ASIO and the Australian Secret Intelligence Service do not want to know about or put about in the Australian community. Why didn’t Ferguson seek to balance her story with an interview with Ali?

It might be seen that the ABC program sought to counter that rather positive image. Certainly the promo leaves one with that impression. In the face of some rather quizzical comments about the program, Ferguson sought, and had published, an explanation of how she put the story together. But it raised as many questions as it answered.

She is at pains to describe the pressure she was under to get the story out by a certain time. Why the pressure on an investigative piece of journalism that certainly could have used more time in the making? We are introduced to Hussain Nasir who, Ferguson says in The Australian, was a colleague who ‘took us step by step during the course of a year towards Captain Emad.’ Nasir has since confessed to Paul Maley of The Australian on 11 June, that he has had, ‘a long working relationship with Australian Federal Police aimed at smashing people-smuggling rackets.’ I would have thought it was incumbent upon Ferguson to provide viewers with that fact, presuming of course that she knew.

Ferguson gave the impression that she had the skeleton of the story and she spent time putting flesh on it. The question is; who pulled that skeleton from the cupboard?

At the end of 2010 a boat which departed Indonesia went missing with ninety seven people on board. People associated with putting the asylum seekers on board were convinced it had arrived in Australian waters, but not Nasir, the AFP agent. He alone pursued enquiries in Jakarta. Ferguson says he pursued people smugglers because he hated them, twice they had cheated him and he was concerned at the way they exploited women and children.

How did Nasir survive in Jakarta? Ferguson says at one point Nasir filmed a people smuggler with a hidden camera. Was he paid for this? He told Paul Maley that he frequently passed information to the AFP about the activities of people smugglers while he was living in Indonesia.

Others in the story also give the appearance of working for the AFP. In the program Ferguson talks of an Abu Ali Kuwaiti who went by boat to Australia, was convicted in 2001 of people smuggling and by 2010 was back in Jakarta as ‘head of one of Indonesia’s most powerful smuggling syndicates’. What she fails to mention is that Al Kuwaiti, also known as Abdul Kadem, was deported from Australia. He and his family were so badly treated in detention, his young sons self harmed, that he vowed to send as many boats to Australia as he could.

The allegations and evidence put forward in the program, surrounding the claims made about Captain Emad, lack credibility. We are told that he came to Australia by boat and that his application for refugee status was accelerated. He received a permanent visa three months after arrival. Why? As an investigative reporter Fergusson should have pursued this. Why was this favour done for him? On whose recommendation was he fast tracked?

We are told that he received not one government house but three! There is a three to four year wait for government housing in the ACT, why and how was the swash-buckling Emad able to so spectacularly jump the housing queue? Why did he and his family receive such favoured treatment, particularly when other refugees must find their own homes, often having to share? These questions should have been asked and followed up.

Why would Emad come to Australia by boat when he could fly? Over the sound of the boats engines how could a sleeping fellow passenger hear someone jump over-board? A rendezvous (RV) in the middle of a dark night with a fishing boat – hardly. An RV with an Australian naval vessel in the early hours of the morning, guided by flares from a ship with no crew, without questions being asked at unexpected nautical skills displayed by a boat load of refugees. Why RV at night when it might be more safely done during the day? The story does not hold together.

Ferguson calls the plan for Emad to come to Australia audacious, I call it unbelievable; at the very least it requires a lot more testing and examination.

Ferguson cites very large amounts of money as the price for people to come to Australia. In one instance she says it cost $36,000 for three people to come to Australia and in another, $11,300 per person. For that amount of money people can fly with credible forged documents. These and other figures she quotes are simply not believable.

Ferguson appears out of her depth. This is not a story about cruelty to cattle that, once dropped in a lap, can be followed relatively easily. This is a story that even on the surface is one of duplicity. It seems likely that all of the main characters were working for the AFP, as part of a disruption operation. The AFP appears to have established some networks and captured others. It is not an unusual method of police operations. Within the networks they have established they can choose what is going to happen and when.

Nor would it be unusual for the AFP to give Emad privileges and protection. The people smuggler and AFP informant, who set up Ali Al Jenabi for arrest, subsequently received fast tracked Australian citizenship, indemnity from prosecution and a tax free lump sum of $250,000 from the AFP.

The Indonesians were not happy with the release of the story, possibly because they were kept out of the loop, a loop they probably felt they should be part of.

Why was the story aired at this time; to discredit Ali Al Jenabi and his supporters, to discredit Immigration or the AFP? We know that tensions exist between ASIS, the AFP and ASIO, but the latter has lost the struggle and is very much the hand maiden of the AFP. Have these rivalries and tensions spilt over?

Captain Emad, also known as Ali Al Abassi, fled Australia the day after the Four Corners program went to air. There was no attempt by the AFP to stop him, despite Emad being on a police alert list. Did he run or was he pushed? The AFP say they know where he is and if they can get enough evidence together they may seek to extradite him to face people smuggling charges. But then again they may not, particularly if he has been working for them.

Since publication of the shorter version of this story in The Canberra Times on 15 June, what I regard as very reliable sources have come forward to say that both Nasir and Emad were in the intelligence branch of Saddam Hussein’s army and that Nasir is such a bad egg that UNHCR withdrew his refugee status while he was still in Indonesia.

Eleven boats have arrived in the past two weeks or so; who turned on the tap?

Like Howard, Abbott refuses to criticise the AFP; are there those amongst them that would prefer a coalition government in order to secure their empire, to keep prying eyes at bay?

Who watches the watchers? The AFP is not subject to the parliamentary oversight of defence and foreign affairs. It should be. There should be a permanent Senate Committee watching what the AFP does in our name. Lack of oversight can lead to corruption – moral, political and financial.

Of course there would be no need for people smugglers if there was a strongly constituted regional forum to handle the needs of refugees and displaced people. The successful operation of such a forum would be the litmus test of the humanity, tolerance and compassion within and amongst our neighbours.

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator, former diplomat and Member of the Refugee Review Tribunal. The ABC refused to publish this story.