Cowboys and Indians: Australia reviews its uranium export policy

India is using CHOGM to lobby Australia to sell them uranium. According to The Hindu, Vice-President Hamid Ansari has already met Tony Abbott who said he supported selling uranium to India. Ansari is now conducting behind-the-scenes diplomacy with the current government to get Australia — which has the world’s largest reserves of uranium — to export the mineral to India. Labor will review the matter at its national conference, with a possible policy shift to come. A confidential briefing note in February to the Resources Minister, Martin Ferguson (exposed by Wikileaks) said the dialogue “may prove a useful avenue to communicate any policy shifts on the issue.” Writing in the Australian today, Paul Kelly calls the policy “obsolete and discredited”.

Labor does not support uranium sales to India because it is not a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. India along with Pakistan, Israel and North Korea have never signed the NPT which came into place in 1970. They make the argument that because the treaty restricts the legal possession of nuclear weapons to those states that tested before 1967 (US, Russia, UK, France and China) it creates an unfair system of haves and have nots. Nowhere does the treaty explain why this is a valid distinction.

India has been a declared nuclear power since 1974. According to the Indian Department of Atomic Energy, nuclear power has important short term and long term roles in the country’s energy needs. They said their nuclear power program would sustain resources manage radioactive waste and make an important contribution to minimise greenhouse gas emission. The Department said local supplies of uranium are “modest” however an AFP report in July said a new mine in south India could contain the largest reserves of uranium in the world. The Tumalapalli mine in Andhra Pradesh state could provide up to 150,000 tonnes but it is mostly low grade compared to the high grade uranium produced in Australia.

Australia is the world’s third largest producer of uranium after Kazakhstan and Canada with 16% of the world’s market in 2009. Its market share is declining due to lower than expected mined ore grade. Australia is the largest reserves in the world with 23%. With Labor now abandoning its three mines policy, production is expected to pick up beyond the existing mines at Ranger in NT and Olympic Dam and Beverley in South Australia. BHP recently won environmental approval to expand the largest mine at Olympic Dam.

This expansion will need a market and India is the obvious location, particularly with other countries closing down nuclear operations after the Japanese tsunami disaster at Fukushima. Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said he remains opposed to changing the policy. Rudd avoided mention of the NPT and instead said India did not need Australian uranium. “There is no problem in terms of global supply,” Rudd said. “If you hear an argument from an Indian businessperson that the future of the nuclear industry in India depends exclusively on access to uranium, that is simply not sustainable as a proposition.”

The Australian Conservation Foundation remains opposed to a change in the current policy which they say is “prudent and sensible”. ACF campaigner Dave Sweeney said the NPT, while imperfect, was a key international legal mechanism in restricting nuclear weapons technology. Australia, as a significant global uranium supplier, has a responsibility to acknowledge India is a nuclear-armed state that obtained its weapons capacity in breach of international commitments. “Adding Australian uranium to the mix would not ease the long standing tensions between India and its nuclear-armed neighbours or improve the effectiveness of the global nuclear safeguards regime,” he said.

But the NPT is not imperfect, it is illogical and unfair. If Labor wanted to avoid the spread of nuclear weapons, it would refuse to export uranium to all nuclear weapon states including Russia and China. It would also stop exporting uranium to the US which is Australia’s biggest customer taking 38.4% of local reserves according to 2004 data. Australia says its uranium is explicitly for use in civilian reactors but it has no way of stopping it ending up in weapons programs. It shows up a national hypocrisy about the mineral, particularly when Labor is in power. As Helen Caldicott wrote, Australia was like a heroin dealer, “pushing its immoral raw material upon a world that is hungry for energy.”

Obama administration continues to hound journalist to reveal sources

US prosecutors have appealed a federal district court decision to limit the scope of a journalist’s testimony in the trial of a former CIA officer accused of leaking classified information. Last week the case against New York Times reporter James Risen was taken to the appeals court after lower courts defended his right not to name a source. Risen was originally subpoenaed to give evidence in 2008. The Justice Department were asking Risen to give up his sources for a chapter of his book, “State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration.” Risen refused citing a commitment to confidentiality.

Risen and a colleague won a Pulitzer for a December 2005 article in the New York Times that exposed the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance program. His book State of War was written a year later and it included explosive revelations about illegal actions by President Bush, including the domestic wiretapping program. It also disclosed how Bush pressured the CIA to use torture on detainees in secret prisons; how the White House ignored information showing Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and how the Bush Administration turned a blind eye to Saudi involvement in terrorism.

The chapter that got him into trouble is about the CIA’s efforts to disrupt the Iranian program. The CIA sent a defected Russian scientist to Vienna to give nuclear bomb plans to an Iranian official on the pretext he would provide further assistance in exchange for cash. The CIA deliberately inserted a technical flaw in the designs but the Russian scientist spotted it and told the Iranians. In his book, Risen said the ploy was reckless and may have had exactly the opposite effect than intended. The Bush administration subpoenaed Risen to reveal his source in January 2008. Risen successfully fought the subpoena which lapsed 18 months later. But in April 2010, the New York Times reported the Obama administration was still seeking to compel Risen to testify.

In the meantime US authorities’ suspicions on the identity of the leaker fixed on Jeffrey Sterling. Sterling was a former CIA officer trained to recruit Iranians to work for the CIA in the 1990s. He was sacked in 2002 and Sterling, who is black, claimed racial discrimination. However a court upheld the sacking saying litigation would require the disclosure of highly classified information. Between 2002 and 2004, the FBI claimed it tracked email traffic between Risen and Sterling. Sterling was arrested in January on charges that he illegally disclosed national defence information and obstructed justice, but there was no mention of Risen in the warrant.

In July this year, a federal judge ruled Risen did not have to testify in the Sterling case saying prosecutors had not demonstrated that his testimony was critical. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema said Risen’s testimony was not necessary because court records say an unidentified former intelligence official has testified Risen told him Sterling was the source. Prosecutors argued the official’s testimony would be inadmissible hearsay, but Brinkema ruled it would not be because statements that tend to prove an individual’s guilt may not be hearsay. Brinkema’s order restricted Risen’s testimony to matters of his authorship and the accuracy of the book.

Prosecutors have appeal Brinkema’s decision to the US Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia further delaying Sterling’s trial due to start yesterday. Prosecutors cited a 1972 US Supreme Court decision Branzburg v Hayes which ruled 5-4 reporters have no First Amendment right to refuse to answer all questions before grand juries if they witnessed criminal activity. However, in the years following Branzburg, federal courts nationwide interpreted the “limited nature” of case to give journalists qualified privilege to balance their right to protect the sources against the government’s need for the information.

Reporters Without Borders have urged the Obama administration to withdraw the appeal. “We remind the Obama administration that its role is not to determine what is good coverage of national security issues,” they said. “Jeffrey Sterling’s trial has now been suspended indefinitely. Forcing Risen to testify is an attempt to muzzle every journalist who might publish leaked information. It is an attempt to decide what should and should not be in the press.” They had a statement from Risen which said he would press on. “I believe that this case is a fundamental battle over freedom of the press in the United States,” Risen said. “If I don’t fight, the government will go after other journalists.”

African Union’s war with Al Shabaab intensifies

Somali Islamist group Al Shabaab has returned to Mogadishu where it displayed the bodies of dozens of African Union and government soldiers in a show of strength. On Thursday they laid out corpses in military uniforms they said were Burundian soldiers with the AU force who they killed outside the capital. At least 70 bodies were laid out, though the Burundian army will admit to only six dead and 18 injured.
(Photo: Feisal Omar / Reuters)
The attack on Burundian soldiers was not unexpected. Along with Kenyans and Ugandans, Burundi make up the bulk of the AU force in Somalia. In July, al-Shabaab bombed bars and a stadium in Kampala, the Ugandan capital as thousands watched the World Cup final. Over 70 people were killed in the attacks which came after repeated warnings to Uganda and Burundi for providing troops to the AU force. The suitably-named Al Shabaab spokesman Ali Mohamoud Rage said they were sending a message to every country willing to send troops to Somalia they will face attacks on their territory. “Burundi will face similar attacks soon, if they don’t withdraw,” Rage said. Burundi has not yet been hit but Mogadishu continues to bear the brunt of the struggle. On Tuesday a suicide bomber blew up a car full of explosives near the foreign ministry. Four people were killed, including the bomber, in an attack aimed to coincide with a visit from the Kenyan foreign and defence ministers.Al Shabaab is particularly hostile to Kenya. Kenyan jets struck Al Shabaab positions near the border a day after the suicide attack. They are targeting rebels they blame for abductions, including French woman Marie Dedieu, 66, captured from her wheelchair at a beach resort in Kenya and now in Somalia. The air attacks are intended to soften the area up for an attack by Kenyan ground troops guided by pro-government Somali forces.

Meanwhile a new battlefield is emerging with Kenyan forces. The fighting is at the coastal town of Kismayo, an Islamist stronghold 70kms south of the capital. Kenyan military planners targeted Kismayo and two nearby secondary ports to cut off the export earnings and taxes al Shabaab use to finance their war. Kenyan ground forces are attacking from the north and their navy from the south, and thousands of Somali refugees are fleeing the aerial bombardment. Somali traders prefer to use Kismayo because of its import duties –$1000 cheaper than Mogadishu – making it profitable to enter goods at Kismayo and drive to Mogadishu.

Al Shabaab is Arabic for “the boys” but there is nothing lad-like about these Islamist hardliners who make life a misery in Somalia. Less than 40 percent of Somalis are literate, more than one in ten children dies before turning five, and a person born in Somalia today cannot assume they will live to 50.

Al Shabaab emerged from the break-up of the Islamic Courts Union, the de facto rulers of Somalia from the mid 1990s to 2006 until Ethiopian-led forces invaded from the west. Ethiopia toppled the ICU but hardliners formed Al Shabaab which proved more difficult to dislodge. By February 2009, they controlled most of southern Somalia where they imposed sharia law. They contributed to the famine in the region by banning international aid agencies, including the UN World Food Program. Despite having only a few thousand fighters they have expanded due to the lack of a central government and co-operation from clan warlords.

Al Shabaab’s support relies on hatred of invaders. A March 2010 report said US support of the transitional government was “proving ineffective and costly”. The Government is unable to improve security, deliver basic services, or move toward an agreement with Somalia’s clans and opposition groups. The report recommends a strategy of “constructive disengagement.” This means the US accepting Islamist authority in Somalia—including al-Shabaab – as long as it does not impede international humanitarian activities and refrains from regional aggression and support for international jihad. While the report has merit, it seems naive to think Al-Shabaab will abandon its most fundamental philosophy.

Curtsy and CHOGM

It didn’t take long. Within an hour of what seemed like a respectful and polite greeting by the Australian Prime Minister to a foreign head of state, media companies had spun it into a breach of “protocol”. The online editions of all Australian newspapers and broadcasters were posting a story about a word that doesn’t stray often on to the tongue: curtsy. Wikipedia says a “curtsey (also spelled curtsy or courtesy) is a traditional gesture of greeting, in which a girl or woman bends her knees while bowing her head. It is the female equivalent of male bowing in Western cultures.”
(photo: Debutantes practise a form of the curtsey known as a Texas dip)
If the Queen, the sovereign head of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth is upset a girl or a woman didn’t bend their knees in greeting to her, then she is getting more doddery in her dotage than she is letting on. She had had a lot more on her mind than a knee gesture. She would have been thinking about her role as conduit between the UK and Australian Governments or deciding practical considerations about the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth. This is an important meeting of 60 leaders she and Gillard will co-chair. It happens every two years and brings together a strange brew of countries who all share British colonial history, law and culture with varying degrees of adherence (We Irish need to get over our historical gripes and enter this intriguing league of nations).

The theme of this year’s conference is “Building National Resilience, Building Global Resilience” which is not sexy sounding but of great importance to most of the leaders present as it talks about transnational responses to global poverty and climate change. A Google news search of the theme of the conference found just two occurrences – and one was the official press release from CHOGM. The other was in Trinidad Express Newspapers which quoted Trinidad & Tobago Foreign Affairs and Communications Minister Dr Suruj Rambachan. Ranbachan noted the theme would mean discussion on the challenges of food security, sustainable development and natural resource management. All these themes have much greater importance than a misunderstood gesture but attracted no media attention outside the Caribbean. Compare articles on “Building National Resilience, Building Global Resilience” to “curtsy”. A quick glance again at Google News found 1,160 articles on Gillard’s failure to bend her knees. Britain and Australia were particularly all over it. The British Telegraph noted a contrast with the Governor General. “While Mrs Bryce curtsied to the Queen, Ms Gillard, an avowed republican, opted for a handshake and shallow bow.” The Australian Telegraph headline stated two eight-year-olds were practising their curtseys ahead of an engagement with Her Majesty. Gillard meanwhile had to “explain” her behaviour: “As I greeted the Queen she extended her hand to shake hands and obviously I shook her hand and bowed my head. – That’s what I felt most comfortable with”.

News Ltd’s Melbourne paper Herald Sun read far more into it, saying Gillard’s “decision” was a “sign”. Australia, it trumpeted, was “catching up with the modern monarchy”. While many may have been unaware the modern monarchy had left Australia behind, the Herald Sun found a TV chat show host, an etiquette expert and the deputy chair of the Victorian branch of the Australian Monarchists League who all agreed Gillard had blundered.

Someone quickly added “–gate” to it. I can find no evidence any newspaper or website journalist referred to “curtsygate”, but it took off in Twitter. The phrase was attributed to Sydney 2GB radio shock jock host Ray Hadley, and the reaction in Twitter was either one of head-shaking weariness at the thought of this latest gated abomination or else sarcastic glee it was the end of democracy.

But if the journalists did not gate it, they should not have left curtsy past the gatekeeper either. The villains here are the chiefs of staff and the news editors who select these stories and give them prominence. They not only fit the ongoing destabilisation of an unpopular Prime Minister in contrast to a popular monarch, but also hyperinflate the primary news value of “conflict” (the fact that someone might be outraged by Gillard’s behaviour).

If the news editors are seeking genuine conflict then they should give their staff the link to the CHOGM paper and tell them to chase down the Trinidad foreign minister. I’m sure he has enlightening and possibly non-complementary things to say about Australia and other first world countries. The Queen might even give them his number if they bow politely enough.

Wikipedia pulls Italian version in protest at wiretapping laws

Wikipedia has taken its Italian language version down in protest at new privacy laws before Italy’s parliament. The draft law would oblige websites to amend content within 48 hours if the subject is deemed harmful or biased. Wikipedia said their Italian version may be no longer able to continue. “As things stand, the page you want still exists and is only hidden, but the risk is that soon we will be forced by Law to actually delete it,” Wikipedia said. “The very pillars on which Wikipedia has been built – neutrality, freedom, and verifiability of its contents – are likely to be heavily compromised by paragraph 29 of a law proposal, also known as ‘DDL intercettazioni’.”

The Italian Parliament is debating DDL intercettazioni which requires all websites to publish a correction of any content the applicant deems detrimental to his/her image within 48 hours without comment. Wikipedia said the law does not require a third party evaluation of the claim and anyone offended by online content has the right for a correction unaltered on the page regardless of the truth of the allegation. Wikipedia said this law would distort its principles and would bring to a paralysis of the “horizontal” method of access and editing, putting “an end to its existence as we have known until today”.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi introduced the draft bill in 2010 saying it was needed to protect the rights of private citizens. The bill restricts the right of police and prosecutors to plant bugs and record telephone conversations and proposes fines for journalists publishing transcripts of recordings. Journalists across Italy went on strike in July 2010 in protest at the laws. Head of the Italian journalists union, Roberto Natale said the real objective was to prevent reporting of judicial cases with high political impact, “the ones that can generate, and have generated, embarrassment.”

Reporters Without Borders strongly condemned the law. They said the laws went beyond just the national domain. “It would send a disastrous signal to other countries and would encourage dictatorships to use it as a model for restricting the investigative capacity of their local press with even more dramatic consequences,” RSB said. They said telephone taps were often the main evidence in support of stories about corruption and organised crime. “The sole practical aim of this bill is to prevent any investigative reporting.”

Berlusconi has been the victim of several wiretaps. Most recently judges released wiretaps at the conclusion of an investigation into Gianpaolo Tarantini, who paid women to sleep with the prime minister at his home. The wiretaps revealed a man with a large sexual appetite but whether this is something for the public domain is debatable. Berlusconi didn’t think so. “My private life is not a crime, my lifestyle may or may not please, it is personal, reserved and irreproachable,” he said.

Italy is the wiretap champion of the western world. In 2005 Italian mobile operator TIM issued a fax to all Italian public prosecutors they have already over-stretched their capacity from 5000 to 7000 simultaneously intercepted mobile phones and had now reached their limit. In 2004, Italy orders 172 judicial intercepts per 100,000 inhabitants.

After being bogged down for a year, debate on the bill resumed on Wednesday. Centre-right politician Giulia Bongiorno sponsored the law through parliament but disowned it after Berlusconi’s PDL party added an amendment to see journalists jailed from six monthsto three years if they published “irrelevant” wiretaps. Bongiorno said she no longer recognised anything in the text of the bill and blamed the changes on Berlusconi’s intervention. The UK Independent says the parties have reached compromise to see the law applied only to registered online news services and not to amateur blogs. That compromise was not good enough for Wikipedia.

Eatock v Bolt :The stories of the nine plaintiffs – Part 2

Yesterday, I wrote about five of the nine plaintiffs in the Eatock v Bolt case revealed in Justice Bromberg’s s 149-page judgement. Today, it’s the turn of the other four.

Larissa Behrendt
Behrendt is a NSW law professor and author. Her father and paternal grandmother were Aboriginal. Her paternal grandmother lived in an Aboriginal camp before she was taken away by the Aborigines Protection Board. Her paternal grandfather was English and her mother and maternal grandmother were Australian. Bolt erred when he said Behrendt looked “almost as German as her father” based on the surname. Her father was a prominent, well-respected member of the Aboriginal community and an expert on oral histories. He was always part of her family and her mother was strongly supportive of her Aboriginal identity. Behrendt was 11 when her father reconnected with his Aboriginal family and told her about his languages, dreamtime stories and Aboriginal traditions. Behrendt said she “identified as Aboriginal since before I can remember”.

She experienced racism at school where she was teased for being “black”. She was motivated to become a lawyer because her grandmother was forcibly removed from her family. She became a Doctor in law at Harvard Law School and was not the beneficiary of any special admission program for Aboriginal people. She has won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Indigenous writing. Bolt called her a “professional Aborigine” who is “chairman of our biggest taxpayer-funded Aboriginal television service”, a reference to the National Indigenous Television Service for which she receives $20,000 a year. Behrendt said she took the position because Aboriginal people needed to have a voice in contemporary Australia. She said Bolt’s reference to her as “mein liebchen” was particularly offensive, patronising and denigrating. She said the articles sent a message to young people that if you are light-skinned and identify as Aboriginal you will be publicly attacked and criticised. She said that message was intimidating.

Leeanne Enoch
Leeanne Enoch is the Red Cross Queensland director for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships. Her father is Aboriginal and her mother is Australian. Her and her siblings’ cultural upbringing was dominated by her father’s side of the family and she always identified as Aboriginal. She grew up on North Stradbroke Island where her mother (whom she resembles) was accepted as part of the extended family. Her mother supported her Aboriginal identity and education in Aboriginal culture. As the eldest grandchild of the eldest son, she was groomed for cultural responsibilities from a young age. Enoch has always been recognised as an Aboriginal person but faced challenges about her identity at school after her family left Stradbroke. Many thought she was adopted and she experienced racism from people who didn’t realise she was Aboriginal and likely to be deeply offended. Enoch was a teacher for 10 years assisting with Aboriginal cultural awareness programs.

She then worked in Aboriginal social policy and stood in elections for the ALP. Initially dismissive of Bolt’s article, she became more alarmed when she realised everyone in her family and community would see it. Her father and many relatives were upset. She was distressed by the effect on her children, particularly her oldest son who is fair and who is going through identity issues of his own. Enoch said it was highly offensive Bolt said she was “not really Aboriginal” because of skin and hair colour. Because Bolt suggested she identified as Aboriginal to further her political career he was saying her hard work, skill and talent were of no significance.

Mark McMillan
Mark McMillan is a lawyer and an Arizona Appeals Court judge for American Indians. He has an English father and a mother of Aboriginal descent. He was raised by his mother until he was eight and then lived with his maternal grandmother in Trangie, near Gilgandra, NSW. McMillan and his siblings all knew they were Aboriginal. They were told stories about their Aboriginal relatives, including about their maternal great grandmother who was the last Aboriginal local language speaker.

His family were involved in the Trangie Aboriginal Land Council and two years ago McMillan was elected to the Board of the Council. Like the other eight plaintiffs, he experienced racism and was called an “Albino Boong”. In 1996 he worked at ATSIC as a clerk. Three years later he was awarded an Aboriginal undergraduate award and studied law at the Australian National University.
He was selected to participate in further study through an exchange program in Canada. He was admitted to the bar in 2001 and found a research position with Larissa Behrendt at Sydney UTS.

In 2003, he was accepted to the University of Arizona’s Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy program. McMillan found Bolt’s suggestion he was “not Aboriginal enough” offensive and inferred he only identified with his Aboriginal heritage for political gain. He was also infuriated by Bolt’s insinuation he was a “a gay white man with a law degree” and “just the kind of Aboriginal who needs a special handout” which was offensive and humiliating. McMillan was humiliated when forced to assure his American employers he was indeed Aboriginal.

Pat Eatock
Pat Eatock was born in Brisbane in 1937 and is now retired in NSW. Her mother is Scottish and her father had Aboriginal parents. Her father was ashamed of his background and it was never discussed at home. They were also afraid authorities would take away the children if they ever found out their black heritage. Eatock identified as Aboriginal since she was a teenager and she told the court much of her Aboriginal identity was formed by negative experiences.

At Primary School in Ingham, “white kids” played on one side of the playground fence and “black kids” on the other. Eatock and her sisters were put to play with the “white kids”. When teachers saw their father the Eatocks were taken out of the “white” playground and put in the “black” one. Some parents then complained about “white” children on the wrong side of the fence and they were put back in the “white” playground. This was Pat Eatock’s first identity crisis.

She left school aged 14 and identified as Aboriginal so she would not be accused of hiding her background. She worked in factories until marrying in 1957. She cared for her children until 1973 when she went to university where she encountered a different kind of racism. People made racist remarks about Aboriginals in her presence which she found stressful. She would tell people she was Aboriginal or wear clothing associated with Aboriginal issues. Encounters with Faith Bandler inspired her to get involved with the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra in 1972 and 1973. She stood for election in the Australian Capital Territory as an independent Aboriginal candidate.

Eatock graduated with an arts degree in 1978 and worked for the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. She became a lecturer in Aboriginal Community Development in 1991 and got a disability support pension in 1996. She still volunteers for Aboriginal issues and lives modestly in a one bedroom Department of Housing flat in Sydney.

Eatock told the court she was horrified, disgusted, angry and sick in the stomach when she saw Bolt’s articles. She said Bolt disconnected her from her Aboriginality and denied her life’s work and ethics. She has been more disadvantaged than advantaged by identifying as Aboriginal and has had only six years of employment since 1977. She said the articles were racist and she remains deeply offended.

These stories show racism was casual and endemic in Australian society. The nine, more than most, suffered for their background by not neatly fitting the stereotype of being black skinned. Judge Bromberg quoted the Australian Law Reform Commission’s 2003 Report on the Protection of Human Genetic Information which said ‘race’ and ‘ethnicity’ are social, cultural and political constructs, rather than matters of scientific ‘fact’.

Bromberg said the ‘blood quantum’ classification for determining Aboriginality was common in Australian law until recent times. “It is a notorious and regrettable fact of Australian history that the flawed biological characterisations of many Aboriginal people was the basis for mistreatment, including for policies of assimilation involving the removal of many Aboriginal children from their families until the 1970s,” Bromberg said. “It will be of no surprise that a race of people subjected to oppression by reason of oppressive racial categorisation will be sensitive to being racially categorised by others.”