A damning new report by the National Indigenous Drug and Alcohol Committee (NIDAC) has revealed Indigenous people are filling Australian prisons at alarmingly disproportionate rates. Indigenous people are 13 times more likely to end up in prison than other Australians. Western Australia was the worst place for Indigenous people who were 21 times more likely to be in prison than non-Indigenous West Australians. In total, 31 percent of all Australian prisoners are Indigenous (despite making up just two percent of the population), and that figures rises to half of all juvenile offenders in detention. The report also noted there are three times more Indigenous women in prison since the supposedly ground-breaking 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. It makes a mockery of that report’s recommendation that “imprisonment should be utilised only as a sanction of last resort”.
“China shines. It radiates possibility. If it were a colour it would be the new black. My problem is that I remember the old darkness”.
Writing in the Griffith Review, former Age journalist Peter Ellingsen captured some of the conflicting essence of China in those short opening sentences to his Tiananmen Square evocation. Ellingsen was an eye witness and his account of the 1989 Beijing massacre is heart-wrenching. Despite that nagging memory it is shiny, modern China that now excites him with possibility.Ellingsen’s article is unusually tentative in one respect. Most foreign media representations of China focus on its struggles with democracy. This representation ignores a fundamental reality. China seeks détente with Western technology but refuses to adopt Western ideas about statecraft. The Chinese Communist Party has defied predictions of its demise, with a great deal of help from compliant western capital. The party has survived by applying strict censorship but also by judicious adaptation to the times. They still face a difficult problem from within. The billion-strong audience is capable of a communications revolution and it is unwise to assume there is undifferentiated opinion. Chinese journalists are on the frontline of that communications revolution. This post investigates how the government controls information and how journalists have adapted to these controls. A new breed of Chinese bloggers have opened up an online front in the battle between the nation’s growing affluence and government censorship requirements. China’s politicians, producers, and consumers create complicated, and often contradictory media patterns that will continue to make the field a fruitful subject of inquiry.
Setting the scope, I look at some of the factors China uses to define itself: law, politics, economics, technology and communications. Enormous legal and political changes have shaped Chinese media over the last 40 years and now the digital world is further cross-pollinating the landscape. The government controls the information flow helped by the profit imperative of western technological companies. China subverts the idea the Internet will bring about democratic change. Its growing clout in world affairs means their position will only harden. Despite sophisticated shields and compliant media, subversive messages are getting to the people. The less well regulated activities of bloggers and social networkers are subverting China Communist norms. Since the 1980s reforms of Deng Xiaoping, China has danced subtly with democracy while always keep the steady party hand at the tiller.
The People’s Republic of China has always been deeply uncomfortable with an independent fourth estate. The Communist Party has maintained a monopoly on state power for 60 years and sees the media as a strategic sector of control. A couple of weeks ago China blocked access to Twitter, Flickr, and Hotmail in the latest attempt to stop online discussion of the Tiananmen crackdown. Despite the opening of the Chinese economy, the country’s information space is restricted by regulations inherited from pre-reform years. The main broadcasting stations and newspapers are controlled by the state while provincial and municipal authorities oversee regional and local newspapers and television stations. State propaganda messages dominate the press and the airwaves.
Journalist lobby body Freedom House sees China as middle of the road. It calls the country “partially free” with tight official control and a crackdown on dissent balancing increasing the apparent benefits of media commercialisation. Reporters Sans Frontières is less impressed ranks the country 167 out of 173 in its press freedom index. It says Chinese authorities continue to arrest journalists as a result of bad publicity from reports on corruption and nepotism. That so many journalists are so frequently jailed and attacked shows a willingness on the part of many of them to defy the machinery of state to get out dissenting messages.
In theory, the dissidents are supported by the constitution. China, unlike Australia, has a bill of rights. Usually more honoured in the breach, its existence shows a willingness to accept new ideas. Article 35 of China’s 1982 Constitution guarantees freedom of expression, press, assembly, association, demonstration, and protest. These admirable democratic rights have been trumped in practice by other more vaguely worded articles which prescribe the media’s right to infringe upon interests of the state. The media must keep state secrets, respect social ethics, and safeguard “the security, honour and interests of the motherland”. They are governed by the Communist “party principle” three elements: the media must accept the party’s ideology as its own; the media must spread the party’s programs, policies and directives; and the media must accept party leadership, organising principles and press policies. The fourth estate is a branch of the state. Those facets of journalism that serve wider purposes such as freedom of the press, objectivity, truthfulness and news values are all subordinate to the “party principle”.
The only watchdog allowed is the Communist Party itself. It controls the media through the Central Propaganda Department. This Orwellian creation is charged with dealing with politically sensitive news. As jailed journalist Dai Qing said in 2002, “In the Chinese media, only the weather reports can be believed”. But workers in the field are willing to address public issues in ways similar to their western counterparts. They subvert Chinese norms in subtle ways that are a testament to their journalistic craft. The view of Hu Zhibin is typical:
“If we have to play the role of government mouthpiece, we do it perfunctorily and at the same time we provide information. For instance, if the government announces new grain and oil price adjustments, we’ll put the old and new prices side by side so the people can see them clearly. If the government wants us to report on the achievements of the tenth five-year plan, we’ll try to point out some of the more interesting aspects, such as…how much the water shall be improved, achievements related to the interests of the people”.
In the 1980s Deng and his cadres were single-minded in their quest for fast-paced development and integration with international norms. Chinese media got more in tune with the “interests of the people” and began to break free of Communist shackles. Journalists began to write about economic inefficiencies and political corruption hoping that a freer media would promote economic reforms. However, that trend did not survive the government crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators at Tiananmen Square in 1989. According to American journalist Harrison E. Salisbury who was in Beijing at the time, the media were complicit in the crackdown:
“It is a propaganda blitz, and it is backed up by the biggest lie they could think of – Tiananmen did not happen. No one, no one, was shot in the Square. They have even put down the memory hole their original announcement of the twenty-three students killed there. Now all they talk about are the brave PLA soldiers”.
After Tiananmen and the collapse of Communism in Europe, stability became a paramount concern. The Chinese Communists tightened its grip on power as the party prepared for the transition from Deng Xiaoping to Jiang Zemin. Jiang’s rule was paternalistic coupled with a central-supervised application of market economics. The state closed down avenues of opposition while beefing up state-controlled media. In 1996, the People’s Daily (the organ of the Communist Party central committee) was China’s top selling newspaper. The paper’s target readership was decision-makers, government officials, executives, experts and scholars but its circulation was flagging. It was selling 800,000 copies daily but most were dutifully bought by work units of the party state rather than by citizens wanting real news. Concerned party bosses did not solve the problem by allowing lively stories and objective analysis. Instead they issued a directive to work units across China urging extra subscriptions and circulation lifted quickly to 1.6 million. But because the solution was artificial, it sagged back to the previous number within months. As Ross Terrill said, it was a “piece of make-believe, unconnected with the appeal of the People’s Daily, or lack of it, to the Chinese people, serving only the self-image of the Chinese state”.
Despite these state vanity projects, the 1980s market reforms did leave a lasting imprint on the newspapers. When the government loosened control on the media, it encouraged them to create their own revenues. Advertising rose from an insignificant component to rivalling circulation as newspapers’ most important source of income. There is now more emphasis on business information especially in the non-state controlled mass-appeal market. There is also increasing commercialisation in tabloids and weekend editions that results in a vibrancy and diversity that Beijing is struggling to control. Aryeh Neier, president of the Open Society Institute, says the spirit of professionalism imbues many journalists to take the initiative in developing stories on environmental issues, labour difficulties, health problems, land disputes, abuses of power and corruption.
The state does not actively encourage such initiative. The Freedom House “Freedom of the Press 2008” global survey of media independence found that Chinese media control and internet restrictions were tightened in 2007 and the number of jailed journalists and bloggers increased. In November 2007, China introduced an emergency response law which allowed media licences to be revoked if they reported “false information” about emergencies, natural disasters or the government response to them without prior authorisation. Other pre-emptive restrictions stopped discussions of diverse topics such as flaws in the legal system, human rights defenders, a Hunan province bridge collapse, and negotiations with Taiwan over the Olympic torch route. Journalists who try to get around these restrictions have suffered harassment, sackings, abuse and detention. At least 29 journalists and 51 cyber-dissidents were in prison at end 2007, more than any other country in the world.
Foreign journalists also face many restrictions in China. According to Beijing-based New York Times reporter Joseph Kahn, they can expect to be bugged, followed, and have their texts and e-mails monitored. He described “huge obstacles” to reporting, including the risks his Chinese accomplices face:
“We’re closely monitored, our phone is tapped, we’re subject to detention whenever we leave one of the major cities if we’re not travelling with permission and probably the biggest barrier to us is that the Chinese who work with us are subject to Chinese rules which are very different from the rules that apply to foreigners”.
Kahn was pessimistic about the possibility of any impending change to Chinese policies. At the time, preparations for the Beijing Olympics were in full swing. Kahn said authorities used the Olympics as an excuse to deny reforms in the name of stability. He added “it’s been going on for some time” and other excuses such as the 2010 Shanghai World Expo have been, and will continue to be, used to justify further crackdowns.
Many of these crackdowns involve the state oversight of the media consumption of its citizens. China has put in place the “Golden Shield” electronic surveillance system with the help of western technology companies using methods developed to counteract terrorism. The shield is a “massive, ubiquitous architecture of surveillance” which will integrate a gigantic online database with an all-encompassing surveillance network including speech and face recognition, closed-circuit television, smart cards, credit cards and Internet monitoring technology. Legal channels also support the system of censorship. In order to overcome technological difficulties monitoring audiovisual content with automated filtering technology, the State Administration for Film, Radio and Television issued a regulation in 2007 requiring 600,000 websites with such content to apply for permits. Huge numbers of government employees filter Internet content in web portals and internet cafes and punishment for breaking the rules is severe. A 2002 Harvard Law School study found a range of sites were filtered. They included sites that provided information on dissidents and democracy, public health and HIV, religion, Tibet, Taiwan, and worldwide higher learning institutions as well as news sites such as the BBC, CNN, Time, PBS, the Miami Herald, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington Post and Reuters. Censorship is also becoming more subtle. Pages that contain proscribed terms cease loading while Internet access is limited without explanation for minutes or sometimes hours. Users are often not aware they are being censored.
Foreign technology companies have been complicit in this sophisticated throttling of free speech. The Golden Shield could not have progressed without the help of US-based Lucent and Cisco, European wireless giants Nokia and Ericsson and Canada’s Nortel Networks. In 2004 many of the top international technology companies operating in China including Yahoo, Intel, Nokia and Ericsson formed the Beijing Association of Online Media which quickly morphed from a trade grouping into what Bandurski called “an active agent of the Chinese government’s initiative to stifle discussion of political issues”. Two years earlier Yahoo had signed a document called the Public Pledge on Self-Discipline for the Chinese Internet industry in which it promised to inspect and monitor information on domestic and foreign websites and refuse access to those sites that “disseminate harmful information”. Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth said Yahoo had switched “from being an information gateway to an information gatekeeper”. For international companies, it was clear that profits were more important than the health of Chinese democracy.
Few people were especially worried about these technological constraints given China’s astonishing rapid growth and prosperity in the last two decades. Fons Tuinstra relates how when he first studied in China in 1994, the Internet was unknown, it cost $15 to send a fax, and his most important communication tool was a bicycle. At the time, the Chinese bureaucracy was heavily divided about the merits of the Internet. The security apparatus opposed it as it would make their task of keeping a lid on societal tensions much harder. But its concerns were overridden by economic development departments who saw the need to invest heavily in Internet rollout. Authorities also realised that too much censorship would cripple the useful function of using the Internet for government business. The Chinese government closely monitored the Internet not just to control content but also to listen to the increasingly powerful voice of online citizens. As Tuinstra put it:
“Like other media channels, the Internet is more often seen as an extension of the government than a meeting place for opposition so audiences deal with this inherent reality rather than expanding energy opposing it”.
China is now dealing with the paradox of using information technologies to drive growth in the integrated global economy, while at the same time maintaining the authoritarian power of the Communist single-party state. As a result, China walks an ambiguous road between promoting widespread access to the Internet while keeping comprehensive oversight using strategies such as content filtering, monitoring, deterrence, and self-censorship. Journalists must avoid stories about the military, ethnic conflict, religion (particularly the outlawed spiritual movement Falun Gong), and the internal workings of the party and Government. Yet economic reform has impacted the emerging professional culture of media organisations and working journalists, who improvise new reporting strategies to overcome official control and attract market success. And the Communist Party itself is evolving as much as the media that serves it. The 74 million member party has consolidated its iron grip precisely by transforming itself and its relationship with the public. It regularly uses opinion polling and sophisticated spin techniques in an effort to show greater responsiveness to public opinion while heading off alternative opinion at the pass.
While the Party moves with the times, there is less certainty as to what it now stands for. According to Zhou He, the death of Communist ideology is at the heart of most contradictions in China. He says that although China still claims itself to be in “the primitive stage of socialism”, it has tacitly turned itself into a bureaucratic capitalist society. David Harvey described China’s reform era political economy as “neoliberalism with Chinese characteristics”. Communism is no longer an ideology of values and ideas faithfully followed by adherents, but is instead “a ritualised rhetoric [which survives] because of the long convention and the justification it provides to the Communist Party”. Two different media worlds collide in this contradiction: the official ritualised public discourse of the media and a private discourse being explored by blogs. While the mainstream media is staid under the party’s watchful eye, the less well-regulated blogging platform allows for a range of newly emerging ideologies that run a full gamut from liberalism, conservatism, new-leftism, nationalism, cynicism, materialism, and consumerism. This plethora of opinions offers the best hope for a more democratic China.
Blogging was slow to take off in China due to the popularity of bulletin boards and chat rooms in the early 2000s. It took the sexual exploits of Lee Li under the pseudonym of Mu Zi Mei to bring blogging into the mainstream. Her blog about the minutiae of her sex life made her famous and brought the technology to public attention. Li tapped into the zeitgeist at a time when Sex and the City episodes were among the most popular DVDs in China. The popularisation of Li’s blog made blogging the hottest keyword in Chinese search engines. After attracting praise and condemnation in equal measure, the government finally stepped in. After she was strongly criticised by the state-run Beijing Evening News, her book was banned and she shut down the website.
Li’s exposure showed the Chinese blogosphere could allow many different political views and ideas to flourish that were previously unavailable. Because China’s traditional press is tightly controlled, bloggers often break news and provide provocative commentary. Many are written by mainstream journalists who cannot speak out at newspapers. Blogs played a prominent role in spreading news and information about the devastating 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Bloggers have also taken to using euphemisms to get around keyword filtering to pass around banned material and have also used tactics such as changing pseudonyms and IP addresses or hiding behind proxy servers to sidestep government control. Despite the Golden Shield, the Internet still enjoys greater freedom than other Chinese media platforms. Luwei (Rose) Luqiu, the executive news editor of Hong Kong-based Phoenix Satellite Television, sidelines her broadcasting work with a blog called Rose Garden which focuses on analysing news and current affairs and gets two million regular readers across China. She covers the international tours of Chinese leaders such as Hu Jintao and says what interests her readers is the human aspect of government; something she says is forbidden in China’s news media. Although the blog’s portal server is in mainland China and therefore must obey Beijing regulations about restrictions on conducting interviews and avoiding sensitive key words, Luqiu is able to link to her broadcast stories, and write about politics, the Cultural Revolution, and democracy.
Luqiu, Mu Zimei and others have shown how apparently apolitical media practices influence the way people think about politics, culture and society. The ease of publishing a blog makes it an attractive and potentially dangerous weapon. According to Asian studies scholar Haiqing Yu, 2005 was “the year of Chinese blogging”. Two of the largest Chinese Internet Service Providers, sina.com and sohu.com, sponsored competitions to stimulate blog usage while a series of “blogger events” such as the group production of satirical on-line mash-up movies (“Steamed Buns”) and videos (“A Hard Day’s Night”) reflected the general trend of cultural transformation. While the movies and videos showed playful spirit – with “Steamed Buns” becoming a synonym for spoof – the authors in each case denied any political purpose or innuendo. Nevertheless, references to contemporary Chinese politics abound in these works and the pieces were characterised by mockery, paradox, sarcasm, and deliberate misuse and misinterpretation of mainstream ideology. The blog Massage Milk uses the apparently innocuous motto “dai san ge biao” which literally means “wearing three watches”. However, it is also a pun on “three represents”, which was a slogan of former leader Jiang Zemin which was learned by all Chinese students. Meanwhile Dog Daily purports to gather news about dogs but the references are to humans. This proliferation of consumer choice is destroying the claim of the 2 percent ruling elite of a “hegemonic mandate” over the cultural consumption of the other 98 percent. The consumption of blogs has become a process of subtle resistance.
There are now signs that the elite understands the power of blogging and has started to crack down on some of its more open samizdat dissidents. Last month, the Committee to Project Journalists included China on a list of the ten worst places to blog. They said that despite having more than 300 million people online, Chinese authorities maintain the world’s most comprehensive online censorship program which relies on service providers to filter searches, block critical web sites, delete objectionable content, and monitor e-mail traffic. The crackdowns have forced international watchdogs to re-assess the fundamental meaning of what it was to be a journalist. In 1999, Ann Cooper, the then-executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), noted how her organisation had to decide whether to take up the cases of six Chinese bloggers arrested for “anti-government” or “subversive” messages. While none of the bloggers were professional journalists, CPJ reasoned they were “acting journalistically” by disseminating news, information and opinion and took up the case. Since then the CPJ has defended similar writers in Cuba, Malaysia, Iran and elsewhere. According to Cooper, these early Chinese bloggers have played a trailblazing role in forcing CPJ and American journalists as a whole to re-consider what it is to be a reporter and move the debate along from “who is a journalist?” to “what is journalism?” This is a question that Chinese authorities are also struggling to grapple with as it deals with a tidal wave of new media and new views.
These examples of “shiny China” sit uneasily next to the state-sponsored “old darkness”. Ellingsen’s contradictions have become the hallmark of modern Chinese media. While the state-dominated press and broadcasters serve the “party principle”, Chinese journalists continue to write critically about important issues. And while the media have been hamstrung by a laundry list of restrictions, commercial imperatives are slowly forcing change. Similarly, the state is using sophisticated technology to enforce digital rule on the Internet with the help of foreign companies yet new actors such as bloggers have launched a subtle resistance that is forcing a re-definition of what journalism is and what it is capable of doing in China. While it remains far from clear that the nation will embrace any lasting democracy, the Chinese media is diverse enough to accommodate a wide range of critical voices. The government may find the democratisation of media harder to handle than democracy itself.
Sujauddin Karimuddin apologised for being late meeting me for a coffee. He was delayed next door at the Mater Hospital where a woman was having complications with the birth of her baby. The woman was a Burmese refugee and Sujauddin was translating symptoms and orders between doctor and patient. All in a days work for a remarkable young man who was a refugee for many years.
Both Sujauddin and the woman in the hospital are Rohingyas, a mostly Muslim people persecuted for decades by Buddhist Burmese military rulers. The 1982 Citizenship Act stripped them of their right to be Burmese. At a stroke of dictator Ne Win’s pen, a people who had lived in north-west Rakhine (formerly Arakan) province for centuries were declared unpeople with no right to jobs, land, marriage or travel papers.
Sujauddin went to High School in the early 1990s suffering under this injustice. He said he was one of the lucky ones. His father was a wealthy businessman in the sugar town of Kyauktaw and could bribe his way out of most problems. But even he had been arrested for minor misdemeanours. Sajuaddin became involved in Rohingya support groups at school and wrote complaint letters to school and government authorities. He was arrested by military intelligence and charged with raising funds for armed groups in Bangladesh. His father bribed authorities to get him out. But his mother advised her son to get out while he could.
Sujauddin left his home town in 1998 and has never been back. Travelling without papers, he made the dangerous journey to Rangoon by boat and truck. Sujauddin was picked up at a military checkpoint 100km from Rangoon and sent to a prison camp. A new commander from up north was unaware he was a Rohingya and asked him why he was travelling without papers. Sujauddin told him he was just a poor person looking for a job in Rangoon. The commander admonished him and freed him with a note saying “this boy is respectable”.
The plan was for Sujauddin to stay in Rangoon and manage his father’s business. But he was defeated by Rangoon’s repressive laws. Citizens must report visitors on a daily basis with a penalty of two years imprisonment for non-compliance. After six dangerous months moving from friends to friends, Sujauddin admitted defeat. He hired an “agent” (what Australians call “people smugglers”) and took a bus to Thailand. He arrived in Bangkok and sold roti on the streets to survive.
He was caught and sent to an Immigration Detention Centre where they served him rice and pork. As a Muslim, Sujauddin could not eat the pork, but as there was no other food he starved. He had no energy to walk and was dragged into a truck and deposited on the Thai-Burmese border with orders not to return. He ignored the order. Instead he contacted a cousin in Malaysia and asked him to send him money to come to Malaysia. He got back to Bangkok where he contacted another “agent” to take him south to the Malay border. After an all night walk across the jungle, Sujauddin arrived in Malaysia in November 1999.
He took the train to Kuala Lumpur where he found a factory job. Because he was illegal, the conditions were pitiless. He earned just 20 ringgits a day for 12 hours work. He worked seven days a week and hid for a year. Every Sunday he escaped to the university where he found a Rohingyan professor who taught him English. He would study for three hours before returning to work. He got a better job in a shopping centre but lasted two months before being arrested for a third time in a third country.
On arrival at a detention centre he was ordered to strip naked in front of two thousand inmates. Sujauddin refused. “I am a Muslim,” he said. “I have my dignity”. The prison officers beat him up but he refused to obey the order. Prisoners shouted out for him to obey but despite the kicking and the bleeding, he refused obstinately. “I would rather die,” he said. He did not die, but he did not take off his clothes either. The camp foreman ordered he be dragged away.
After three months he was put on a bus with other detainees and driven to a river on the Thai border. They were loaded onto a boat and pushed off shore with orders not to come back. On the other side they were picked up by Thai gangs who worked with police. They demanded 200 ringgits or else they would sell them for 200 ringgits to local fisherman. Those that were sold into slavery rarely made it out alive. Sujauddin promised to ring his cousin in the morning to pay the ransom. In the middle of the night he escaped and led captors on a scary chase through the jungle. Sujauddin could hear his pursuers following on motorbikes but eventually found a highway petrol station where a couple helped him escape back to Malaysia.
He made it back to Kuala Lumpur where he got another job. This time he struck lucky and got a job with a fashion designer. He used his English to good effect and made himself indispensable to his employers. Having some fixity of tenure, he resumed his activism and helped found the National Council of Rohingyas with his former English teacher. They succeeded in getting the UN High Commission of Refugees to issue a document to allow Rohingyas to get medical treatment in Malaysia. But while doctors recognised the document, the police would not. 12,000 Rohingyan refugees in Malaysia remained vulnerable to arrest.
In 2005 Sujauddin married an Australian woman and arrived in Sydney in August that year on a six month 309 spouse temporary visa. The marriage lasted three months and Australia cancelled his visa. He applied for a refugee visa which took another nine months. He joined the local Rohingya support group and became secretary of the Sydney branch. He also became involved in wider Burmese issues. He joined the Burma Campaign Australian and worked with the Burmese Democratic Movement Association. During the Saffron Revolution he organised support rallies in Sydney.
He moved to Brisbane where he provides new Rohingyan refugees with cultural and language support. The love for his Rakhine homeland shines brightly in his eyes and his biggest task now is to be re-united with his family in refugee camps in Bangladesh. He wants the Australian Government to do more to help his people. “I want them to put pressure on the Burmese Government and raise the issue in the UN Security Council,” he said. “Enough is enough. Australia is the western country closest to Burma and should take more responsibility to solve the problem. It’s bad enough for the half million Rohingya in the camps but its worse for the several million still in Burma. It’s our job to provide awareness to the international community so that people know what’s going on”. With that, Sujauddin apologised once more and disappeared into the Brisbane rain. I cycled home, oblivious to the wet, pondering on what it meant to live in a world where freedom could not be taken for granted.
It is appropriate a major Australian political scandal revolves around a humble 1996 Mazda Bravo. The Bravo motor is known for suffering cylinder head issues and our parliament has blown a gasket or two in the last few days over it. The Bravo is also a workhorse utility vehicle, not a SUV as the world calls them but a “yeoot”, beloved of Australians and ideal for carrying corflutes and campaign messages for politicians on the move such as Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan. In giving the pair an election ute each, what John Grant wanted in return was access to the $2 billion mush fund the government in its stimulatory wisdom decided the already wealthy car dealer industry needed to survive the global recession.
In their Utegate Explained Crikey goes through the rival claims. Beyond the politicians shouting at each other to resign, there is a rich dramatis personae of car dealers, political advisers, journalists and lobbyists who are all seeking either money or favours. None are remotely worried the scheme is in any way improper.
The journalist mentioned by Crikey is News Ltd’s Steve Lewis. Lewis says he rang the boss of Ford Credit on Monday. Lewis was chasing up Greg Cohen whether Ford’s finance arm had been asked to give assistance to John Grant at the same time Ford was seeking access to the $2b OzCar scheme. Cohen ducked the questions but Lewis said the conversation got the ball rolling. Like the concocted email he would later write about, this is self-serving rubbish from Lewis. The genesis of the problem goes much further back.
On 5 December 2008, Treasurer Wayne Swan announced the establishment of a new car dealer finance scheme. As a result of the global financial crisis, the government stepped in with a transitional $2 billion Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV). Despite the name the SPV wasn’t a car, it was a finance package. The SPV would provide liquidity for 450 car dealers left without wholesale floor plan financing when financiers GE Money Motor Solutions and GMAC left the Australian market. The SPV became known as ‘OzCar’ and was legally established as a Trust on 2 January. It became the Car Dealership Financing Guarantee Appropriation Bill 2009.
When the SPV legislation reached the Senate in June, the Opposition referred to the Economics Legislation Committee for inquiry and report by 23 June. Through Andrew Charlton, Turnbull knew that Grant had gotten favourable treatment from the government. Through friend and former Treasury office Paul Lindwall, he faked an email to the civil servant that gave that preferential treatment Godwin Grech. According to The Punch, Lindwall “has links” to Grech.
Grech gave testimony to the Senate Enquiry on Friday. With his superior at his side, Grech was a rabbit in the headlights. When Greg Cohen from Ford Credit came to Canberra seeking funds from the yet-to-exist OzCar, Grech dealt with his claim. Liberal senator Eric Abetz established Grech told Cohen of the plight of at least three car dealers with Rudd and Swan’s mate John Grant one of them.
Abetz set the trap by questioning the reluctant Grech. The opposition reached too high and aimed for Rudd when Swan may have been there for the taking. Abetz asked whether the official had personally sighted any correspondence, “email, note, memorandum or any type of documentation” from the Prime Minister’s office to Treasury—concerning Mr John Grant and the OzCar facility? Grech’s eyes-down response was legendary: “My recollection may well be totally false or faulty, but my recollection—and it is a big qualification—but my recollection is that there was a short email from the PMO to me which very simply alerted me to the case of John Grant, but I do not have the email.”
The email is of no consequence. It was a communication designed to deceive. When we route around this damage, we find that while the Government and Opposition have their sport, they will eventually patch up their modest differences in the Senate. They will then spend $2 billion dollars on fatcat car dealers that do not need our help while deferring spending on more deserving causes on the dubious grounds that “we must wait for Copenhagen”.
Klaus Toft’s The Navigators is the story of a race in Napoleonic times between British captain Matthew Flinders and his French counterpart Nicolas Baudin. Flinders and Baudin were after the fabled sea passage through the middle of what was then New Holland, but now rejoices in the name Flinders gave it: “Australia”.
The Danish born Toft produced the work as a documentary for the ABC. His brief was to celebrate Matthew Flinders on the bicentennial of his voyage around Australia. But as the preface explains, to tell Flinders’s story without mentioning Baudin was like telling Napoleon’s story without Josephine. It becomes clear Toft’s sympathies lie more with the phlegmatic French captain than his more celebrated but temperamental English rival.
Nicolas Baudin’s problem was that he did not survive to tell his own tale. He died of tuberculosis on the way home at Ile de France (Mauritius) in 1803. What survives was written by his subordinate officers. They were mostly royalists who despised the commoner commanding their ship in the Southern Oceans for three years. The book of the voyage downplayed his role. After reading the official account, Napoleon said Baudin did well to die: “on his return I would have had him hanged”.
Toft goes a long way to rehabilitating Baudin’s reputation. When he set sail on his scientific voyage to chart the coastline of Terres Australes in October 1800, he was at the height of his powers and commanded 185 sailors, 22 scientists, and two ships: Le Geographe and Le Naturaliste. Baudin was ordered to find out if a vast strait separated the two sides of the Australian continent. The journey also had a political point. Napoleon wanted a strategic counterpart to the new English colony at Port Jackson. If the strait existed, France could lay claim to the western portion. Meanwhile Madame Bonaparte asked Boudin to bring back live creatures for her private collection.
Baudin was following four doomed French captains none of whom made it back alive from their voyages. St Allouarn claimed the western Terres for France in 1772 but died six months later. Around the same time Dufresne was the first white man to land at Terre de van Diemen (Tasmania) before being killed and eaten by Maoris. La Perouse landed in Port Jackson on the same day as the First Fleet before disappearing in the Pacific. And when Admiral Bruny d’Entrecasteaux went to find him, he too died on the way home.
Undeterred by these misfortunes, Baudin set off in good heart. His good mood didn’t last long. He was unable to secure adequate supplies in Tenerife and the diminished rations caused grumbles among the officers and scientists aboard. He lost further time in the Doldrums as the ship drifted at the mercy of currents for many windless weeks. Most men on board had never been to sea and blamed the captain for their predicament. On February 1801, the ship rounded the Cape of Good Hope where the winds began to blow, if often from the wrong direction.
Baudin sailed to the Ile de France. The locals were not happy to see him. Worried local gentry thought he came to enforce the 1794 decree to emancipate French slaves. They refused to feed the men and encouraged desertion so they could control the two fine ships. Baudin borrowed 10,000 piastres to buy supplies from private merchants and set sail eastward across the Indian Ocean.
In autumn 1801, Baudin arrived at the south-western coast of Terres Australes which had been charted by Allouarn. The following day he found a large uncharted bay which he called Geographe Bay for his ship. Baudin led a party ashore to meet the Wardandi people before sailing on north to avoid coastal storms. According to his orders he was to head south towards Van Diemans Land and to look for the strait across Australia. But with winter approaching, he headed towards Timor to return in the spring. Baudin charted the Bonaparte Archipelago islands off the Kimberley before limping into the lonely Dutch outpost of Kupang in West Timor.
Baudin became seriously ill with fever and his crew expected him to die. But after 12 weeks he recovered and headed back down the Western Australian coastline. By now Matthew Flinders was on his tail. Baudin had a nine month start on the Englishman but the delays had allowed him to catch up. Flinders’ boat The Investigator also had a scientific motive and hit the coast barely ten nautical miles from where Baudin first sighted New Holland. Flinders continued eastwards towards the fabled strait.
Forty days after leaving Timor, Baudin was back at his starting point. His crew suffered from tropical fever and dysentery and 11 had died since leaving the Dutch colony. Nevertheless the voyage continued until they reached Tasmania’s D’Entrecasteaux Channel. They saw no British but did meet friendly Nuenonne natives. One crewman challenged a Nuenonne to a wrestling contest which he won. But the defeated local threw a spear at the Frenchman causing a minor injury. Baudin insisted there be no retaliation. His attitude to indigenous people was to “observe without judgement”.
After five weeks on Bruny Island observing local customs, they set sail up the eastern seaboard of Tasmania and into what his English charts called “Bass’s Strait”. Heading back towards southern Australia, he was greeted by a ship which ran up the English flag. Matthew Flinders was equally shocked to see Baudin but recovered his composure to board the French vessel. The two captains met formally on 8 April 1802 as representatives of nations at war. When they compared charts, Flinders told Baudin he had discovered Port Phillip Bay and Western Port, while Baudin spoke about their stay in Terre de Van Diemen. Flinders revealed he had charted the Bight and discovered there was no “Williamson’s Strait” (named for the American captain who claimed to have sailed up it). In honour of the occasion Flinders called the area “Encounter Bay”.
While Flinders sailed for Port Jackson, Baudin went west. But with half his crew struck down by malnutrition and scurvy, he realised he would have to head for the British colony at New South Wales. He arrived in Sydney in June where he heard Britain and France had signed a peace treaty at Amiens. Governor Philip King treated him warmly and sent 22 of his crew to hospital. Despite food shortages in the colony due to floods on the Hawkesbury, King gave the French ample fresh produce. Baudin met Flinders again and they spent Bastille Day holiday together. But the two men did not share a great rapport. Baudin was more comfortable with King with whom he shared the headaches of dealing with insubordination.
While Flinders set off on his great circumnavigation of the continent, Baudin resumed his exploration of the south coast. He accumulated 100,000 natural history specimens including 20 living creatures: dingoes, wombats, black swans, cassowaries and emus. At King Island they found the British had set up an armed camp. Baudin wrote a remarkable private letter to King saying “I have never been able to conceive that there was justice or even fairness on the part of Europeans in seizing…a land seen for the first time, when it is inhabited by men who have not always deserved the title of savages”. It would be many years before a European would again suggest that Indigenous people had land rights.
But the end was near for the Frenchman. He picked up kangaroos on Kangaroo Island and both his boats were filled with wildlife. It was time to sail for home. At Timor he began coughing blood. He had another revolutionary idea which was to hold a ballot of crew for a second-in-command. He was shocked his enemy Henri Freycinet won the ballot ahead of his choice Francois Ronsard. With worsening TB, Baudin ship arrived in Ile de France. He wrote a letter to the Minister of Marine stating his satisfaction with the mission’s achievements. His charts and scientific discoveries were immense. But on 16 September 1803 he suffered the same fate as Dufresne, Allouarn, La Perouse and D’Entrecasteaux and died far from home. While Flinders is feted today, Baudin’s name remains almost entirely unknown both in France and Australia. Toft’s book is a welcome rehabilitation of his reputation.
Australia devolves much of its law from Britain. The news that a court has forced a policeman there to reveal his identity as a blogger will eventually have profound consequences for Australia too. The case was an ironic clash of rights between the privacy of the individual writer to preserve their anonymity as a whistleblower, against the right of a newspaper publisher to name the individual under a pretext of outing their bad behaviour. The judge sided with the newspaper.
Horton may or may not have had suicidal thoughts of his own when Eady rejected his plea that his anonymity be preserved “in the public interest”. The judge said Horton knew he risked disciplinary action if his bosses found out. “The public was entitled to know how police officers behaved and the newspaper’s readers were entitled to come to their own conclusions about whether it was desirable for officers to communicate such matters publicly,” said his Lordship. He concluded Horton did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy, because “blogging is essentially a public rather than a private activity.” And so the thirst of the Times to tell a story destroyed the blog.
On Tuesday Lancashire Constabulary issued Horton a written warning and announced he had accepted “that parts of his public commentary have fallen short of the standards of professional behaviour we expect of our police officers.” Horton was silenced and all we got was a comment from his lawyer: “He is keeping his head down and won’t be making any comment.” The blog itself was expunged. Now when you log on to Nightjack, you get a terse message from Word Press saying “The authors have deleted this blog. The content is no longer available”.
But there are some cached versions around of some of his posts. For instance the 27 November 2008 entry shows some of his difficulties of being a policeman. “For this and a few other reasons, I am now pretty sure that although I did not join the Stasi, we are in fact being used as such by politicians looking to settle grudges just like the Evil Poor on the Cannonrail Estate.” Provocative perhaps, but where in any of this is the necessity to know his name?
Even The Times admits the blog “gave a behind-the-scenes insight into frontline policing, included strong views on social and political issues.” So this case was not about the right to know – Horton was already making sure the audience had that right. It was simply an act of petulance by The Times. The paper had praised the anonymous blogger profusely in April when he won the Orwell Prize for political blogging.
But a Times journalist named Patrick Foster was determined to find out who he was. Foster played the despicable “child offender” card in order to scramble to the high moral ground. As he explained it, “what the Orwell Prize judges did not know is that he was also using the blog to disclose detailed information about cases he had investigated, which could be traced back to real-life prosecutions.” Next, the killer line from Foster, “each involved sex offences, often committed against children.” This long bow was carte blanche enough for Foster to out him.
The final lines of Foster’s article noted the blog was now closed and Horton’s “superiors are now aware of further allegations that he was also using the blog to disclose information gained during his investigations.” And with that Foster signed off, smugly happy that he had closed off a route of truth talking to power all in the name of perpetrating a moral panic. Journalists of all people should know the value of anonymity and have gone to jail rather than reveal their anonymous sources to judges. The Times will have plenty of time to regret their stupidity of getting a High Court to override this. In one stroke of a judicial pen, whistleblowing just got a lot more difficult.
Peru’s Congress revoked two controversial land decrees yesterday to exploit virgin rainforest after protests that left dozens dead in the Amazon region. Congress voted 82-12 to revoke two decrees indigenous groups said would encourage oil and gas exploitation on their lands. Native Indians had been in conflict with the government for two months and had paralysed the nation’s highways with roadblocks while thousands marched in support on the streets of Lima. Peruvian President Alan Garcia was forced to admit indigenous communities were not consulted in the original decision to open up large areas of the Amazon basin to logging, dams and oil drilling.
The vice president of the Amazon Indian confederation called off the protest after the Congress vote. Garcia issued the original decrees in 2007 to give the state powers to regulate investment in the Amazon as part of a free trade deal with the US. Indigenous groups said the decrees would affect their ancestral lands and threaten their way of life. According to Amnesty International, Peru breached obligations under the International Labour Organisation Convention on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in failing to consult.
Indigenous leader Alberto Pizango, head of Asociacion Interetnica de Desarrollo de la Selva Peruana (Aidesep), called for a general strike. The government declared a curfew but tens of thousands marched in defiance in Lima. On 5 June the violence became deadly near the jungle town of Bagua, about 1,000km north of the capital when police tried to break up a road blockade manned by activists. 650 Peruvian National Police and Special Forces officers launched a pre-dawn raid on the blockade which was manned by Awajun and Wambis indigenous people. Some protesters had wooden spears but most were unarmed. Police attacked from both sides with automatic fire, teargas grenades and live rounds from helicopters.
The government says 23 police and 10 civilians were killed, with one police officer missing. The Huffington Post accused the police of ignoring civilian deaths while conflating their own dead with numbers from a separate incident elsewhere. According to Indian leaders at least 30 civilians died and there are reports between 100 and 150 people died in the attack.
Peru accused neighbouring Bolivia of being behind the riots. Bolivian president Evo Morales said the US-Peru Free Trade Agreement was to blame for the violence. Morales said that the FTA promoted privatisation and handed the Amazons forests to transnational companies. The Bolivian leader said US FTA practices amounted to “genocide in Latin America” with the Indigenous worst affected.
Alberto Pizango accused the Peruvian government of genocide over the Bagua clashes. After talks with the government broke down, he called for an uprising. Peruvian authorities charged Pizango with sedition. Nicaragua granted him political asylum and he arrived in Managua on Wednesday where he blamed Garcia’s administration for the Bagua massacre. “The results were disastrous, and even the government can’t deny it any more,” he said.
Just 400,000 of Peru’s 28 million are Amazonian Indians. The protests have united many of Peru’s non Indigenous citizens behind their claims. According to the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, President Garcia is “no friend of the indigenous”. He colluded with multinational companies to tread on indigenous constitutionally protected rights. His position was weak with the global financial crisis as Peruvian economic growth stalled due to a decline in commodities prices. He knows that in conceding defeat to the indigenous demands, international investors may take their complaints to a free trade dispute board. That outcome could yet be the Achilles heel of Garcia’s agreement to revoke the laws.