2017 Media Personality of the Year: Daphne Caruana Galizia

daphneMurdered Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia is my Woolly Days Media Personality of the Year. Caruana Galizia died in a car bomb explosion in October. A pre-trial hearing into the murder trial of three suspects heard the bomb was an  “organic explosive” detonated via mobile phone message, after an operation lasting three months. Caruana Galizia was killed because she got too close to the truth, paying the ultimate price for her journalistic work, and in an era of contracting media and “fake news” deserves the ninth iteration of my award.

Since 2009, it is my look back at media events, people and incidents of the year, The award reflects who I think has stood out in the field in the calendar year. There is no black tie event, no actual award and the winners are totally oblivious and would have probably been unimpressed anyway (apart from Clementine Ford in 2015 who did notice and was kind enough appreciate it). Sadly for the second year in a row the award is given posthumously.

The nature of the award has changed over the years. The first award went to ABC boss Mark Scott in 2009 for standing up to the dominance of Rupert Murdoch in Australian media. Scott impressed not only for taking on the behemoth but also putting the Australian national broadcaster firmly in the digital domain.

Twelve months later a newcomer had taken that message of digital journalism to heart. Julian Assange‘s early work with Wikileaks opened up huge possibilities for whistleblower journalism. Wikileaks was as flawed as Assange’s personality particularly the lack of masking of private data but also asked uncomfortable questions of big companies that inspired the later NSA and Panama Papers leaks. Assange’s descent into irrelevancy began with his asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid Swedish sex charges. He remains a “guest” five years later though given the turn to the right in South American politics, one wonders how much longer that will be a safe haven. Perhaps it explains his own switch to the right over the years.

Assange’s global impact gave my award a wider focus. When I returned to the theme of Murdoch in 2011 I gave it to British journalists The Guardian’s Nick Davies and his editor Alan Rusbridger for their work staring down the police, the government and the right-wing press in publishing allegations in the phone hacking affair. Judge Brian Leveson took it further in 2012 overseeing the painstaking testimony in the inquiry that followed. That included Rupert Murdoch himself calling it his “biggest humiliation” (though he quickly and shamelessly moved on).

In 2013 Edward Snowden won the award for audacious reveals of NSA work. His disclosures revealed global surveillance programs, run by the NSA and the Five Eyes Intelligence Alliance with help from telecommunication companies and European governments. Like Assange his willingness to reveal items of national security endangered his life and like Assange Wikileaks tried to get him to Ecuador. Like Assange he remains in hiding in legal limbo but in Putin’s Russia.

My 2014 award went to jailed Al Jazeera journalists Peter Greste, Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Basher Mohamed for their bravery in standing up to the Egyptian legal system although their meddling Qatari employer was not blameless. In 2015 it went to Clementine Ford for her feminist truth bombs and 2016 went to David Bowie, mainly for being David Bowie and dying early in the year.

His death set off a meme that 2016 was the worst year ever. Arguably 2017 is worse still what with conflation of “false news” and false news by the master of both types, Donald Trump. People have seen many worrying parallels with the late 1930s as Trump and Putin encourage the rise of totalitarianism and legitimise far right-wing groups. As Hannah Arendt noted in 1951 totalitarianism does not need convinced Nazis or dedicated communists “but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false, no longer exists”.

As extreme right wing politicians take power across the world, the wealthy do what they always have done – accumulate power and wealth illegally. They also use all means including murder to keep their dirty work secret. This is why public interest journalism remains so important even if the media that employs them is rapidly denuding. Daphne Caruana Galizia, was one of the best, a prominent Maltese investigative journalist and blogger who moved from her earlier employment with newspapers to get the word out through investigative blogs. She paid the ultimate price for her courage.

Caruana Galiza was killed on October 16, 2017 by a car bomb as she left her home near Valletta. At her funeral in November at Malta’s biggest church. Archbishop Charles Scicluna, who led the funeral mass, told journalists present not to be afraid. “I encourage you never to grow weary in your mission to be the eyes, the ears and the mouth of the people … We need people in your profession who are unshackled, who are free, intelligent, inquisitive, honest, serene, safe and protected.”

Like Caruana Galizia I am a 53-year-old journalist and from time to time I’m the eyes, ears and mouths of my people – but that is where resemblances end. Whereas the worst I have to put up with is the occasional insult to me or my paper, Caruana Galizia paid for her craft with her life. Along with Tetyana Chornovil, Anna Politkovskaya and Veronica Guerin, Galizia was a fearless female journalist not afraid to put herself in danger for her work. According to the CPJ, she was one of 42 journalists killed across the world in 2017, including eight in Iraq, seven in Syria and six in Mexico.

Caruana Galizia was most famous for reporting on Maltese political links to the Panama Papers.  An anonymous source first leaked the papers in 2015 to a German newspaper. They are 11.5 million leaked documents from the database of the world’s fourth biggest offshore law firm, Mossack Fonseca that detail financial and attorney–client information for almost a quarter of a million offshore entities. This entry into the shady world of tax minimisation (especially in Panama) and sanctions avoidance is a logical next step of the big data journalism pioneered by Wikileaks and Snowden’s collaborations with the Guardian and the NYT.

The Panama Papers named 12 world leaders including Malta’s. Caruana Galizia’s blog, Running Commentary with its investigative reports and commentary on politicians, was one of the most widely read websites in Malta and Prime Minister Joseph Muscat was the subject of many of her reports. Caruana Galizia’s reports about Muscat’s connection to the Panama Papers scandal forced him to call early elections in June 2017, after criticism from the European Parliament.

The Panama Papers linked Muscat minister Konrad Mizzi, and the prime minister’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, to shell companies in Panama. Mizzi’s wife, Sai Mizzi Liang, Malta’s trade envoy to China and Consul General for Malta in Shanghai was also named as beneficiary, with their children, of a trust based in New Zealand holding Mizzi’s Panama shell company. Caruana Galizia alleged Muscat and his wife’s offshore company received over US$1 million from a Dubai company owned by Leyla Aliyeva, daughter of Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev.

Caruana Galizia also upset Malta’s opposition leader Adrian Delia. Delia filed four lawsuits after her articles claimed he laundered $US1.3m from prostitution in London through offshore accounts in his name. Delia said the account belonged to his client and he had resigned from the company that owned the property where the prostitution took place after becoming aware of the way it was being used. In February a court ordered Caruana Galizia’s bank accounts to be frozen until a libel case verdict that two government officials had filed against her. A public fundraising campaign raised enough cash to satisfy the court’s demands.

These were dangerous people to upset and all had a motive to harm her. Caruana Galizia told police two weeks before her death she had received death threats. When she died Muscat condemned the attack “on press freedom” and said the FBI would assist local police in the investigation. “Everyone knows Ms. Caruana Galizia was a harsh critic of mine, both politically and personally but nobody can justify this barbaric act in any way,” Muscat said. Delia also denied involvement.

On December 4, Maltese police arrested 10 suspects in connection with the murder. Seven were released on bail pending the investigation and three–Vince Muscat (no relation to the PM) and brothers George and Alfredo Degiorgio–were charged with murder on December 5. The trio are Maltese criminals but pleaded not guilty. More importantly even if guilty they were likely to be hit men. As Malta Today reported “the command structure of the criminal operation is understood to have been very loosely connected and the assassination is thought to have been sub-contracted and then sub-contracted again to make the figure who ultimately ordered the killing harder to trace.”

The Caruana Galizia family criticised the lack of communication about the arrests saying they were not contacted in advance and learned about the developments at the same time as the press. The manner in which the arrests were communicated, the family said, indicated “serious institutional deficiencies which are cause for general public concern.” The family has taken legal action against Maltese police, saying the investigation cannot be impartial because Caruana Galizia wrote critical articles about the chief investigator and the government minister to whom he is married.

“My mother was assassinated because she stood between the rule of law and those who sought to violate it, like many strong journalists,” her son Matthew Caruana Galizia, also an investigative journalist, wrote. “But she was also targeted because she was the only person doing so. This is what happens when the institutions of the state are incapacitated: the last person left standing is often a journalist. Which makes her the first person left dead.”

In her last blog post, written just before her death, Caruana Galizia issued a haunting warning in her final line. “There are crooks everywhere you look,” she wrote. “The situation is desperate.” It is of little consolation to Daphne Caruana Galizia or her family but she is an inspiration to journalists everywhere and a deserving media personality of 2017.

Stopover in Dubai

En route to Ireland for Christmas, I included a two day stopover in Dubai, where I can handily fly direct to Dublin, avoiding the nightmare that is Heathrow Airport. When it comes to airports Dublin gets the DUB code as the older established airport while Dubai gets DXB. You get the feeling that if those codes were being given out now rather than in the 1930s (when Dubai was just a tiny village in the desert), they would be reversed. As an example of relative importance, in Instagram, there are 60 million posts tagged with Dubai and just seven million tagged Dublin. Dublin might have the history but Dubai has the future.dubai1

After emerging from DXB’s monstrous airport I grab a taxi to my hotel in Al Kharama district. After a shower and a change I’m ready to check out the ‘hood and see that the world’s largest building the Burj Khalifa is walkable from here. First I pass the huge Dubai Frame, the city’s newest attraction which opens in January.


I’m heading south-west towards the Trade Centre and downtown area. The Burj Khalifa is in the distance between the two buildings on the left. The weather is pleasant, low twenties in the afternoon. December is a good time to visit to Dubai, warm but not scorching hot. Certainly not by Mount Isa December standards.


I’m downtown and in the shadows, the Burj looming larger. The Burj Dubai opened in 2008 at the height of the GFC but deep in depth, Dubai needed the help of the oil-rich Khalifa emirs in Abi Dhabi and so the name of the tallest building had to celebrate them not Dubai. The Burj Khalifa is 829m high, has 163 floors and 24,348 windows which takes 36 workers four months to clean.


It proves quite difficult to get to thanks to Dubai downtown’s pedestrian unfriendly layout with wide and dangerous roads to cross and few pedestrian crossings. I eventually find the entrance to the building not through the street but through the Dubai Mall.


I can take or leave malls but this was opulent. This is the fashion wing and also the entrance to the Burj. However there was a three hour wait to get to the top and with darkness falling, I decided against it.


Instead I went outside to check out the lake and the (overpriced) Souk.


There were nice views of the Burj Khalifa though its 830m could not be captured in one photo frame.


Getting across the wide roads was occasionally to take your life in your hands but was often necessary due to the lack of overpasses or pedestrian lights.dubai9

On the second morning, I decided on a long 19km-each-way walk to the Burj-Al-Arab Hotel. Near the port I saw this wall mural.


Dubai’s Airport might be one of the largest in the world but Dubai remains a major maritime centre too. Established as a fishing village in the 18th century, Dubai’s port of Jebel Ali is the now world’s ninth largest.


As I set off on the long walk west to Burj-Al-Arab, I passed the Etihad Museum, UAE’s national museum. It was 9am and the museum did not open until 10am so I didn’t see inside.


Dubai may be a modern cosmopolitan city but its roots are still traditionally Muslim. You are reminded of this five times a day at prayer-time when the muezzin’s calls echo from the hundreds of minarets and mosques across the city.


I headed towards the shoreline with its long jogging paths linking the slew of beaches on the Persian Gulf. I went in for a quick dip and the waters were refreshing and clean.


About half way into my journey (about 10km so far) I hit the Dubai Water Canal. This iartificial waterway opened in 2013 with great views to downtown and the Burj Khalifa. It meant a few hundred metres of doubling back to the pedestrian bridge.


This is Tolerance Bridge, opened on 16 November this year to mark “International Day for Tolerance”.


View of downtown from Tolerance Bridge.


Burg Al Arab takes shape north of the canal but still some way distant.


Along the way were these small libraries dotted along the waterline. First opened this year they contain books in multiple languages to help people unwind by the shore.


After 19km I got to Burj Al Arab. The Burj is a luxury hotel, the third tallest hotel in the world and stands on an artificial island 280k from Jumeirah beach.


I turned around and had lunch near here. In the end it was an exhausting 40km round trip killing my feet but it was a lovely day and a lovely walk.


Brightly coloured ice cream van near the beach at Dubai. I was sorry later I didn’t partake.

No native title in Brisbane


In 2017 a long running Brisbane legal battle was ended with “good news for developers”. Two separate cases for native title over the city of Brisbane were finally defeated at appeal in the Supreme Court. As someone with property in the Brisbane area, it should be good news for me personally, though it’s a decision I greet with sadness.

In 2004 I bought an apartment in Wooloowin – more properly Lutwyche, though the difference between the two is one of property values. I was aware of the difference between Lutwyche and Wooloowin, and chose to call my address the latter, but I was unaware and unconcerned about the history of the land on which it stands or any native title aspect of my strata title.

Yet Aboriginal people used to live in this area in large numbers. A 1930 Brisbane Courier article on Lutwyche noted that “blacks” used to frequent the area in large numbers camping on the Kedron Brook and holding corroborees in the area. The paper couldn’t avoid judgement: “no little trouble was caused the earlier white residents by these even earlier residents. For sheer devilment a party of blacks would sometimes gather around the doorstep of a house, singing and making the night a tragedy by their music; while if they knew that the master of the house was away they would sometimes force an entrance and demand food and tobacco.”

No mention was made about the trouble the early white residents caused to those “even earlier residents”, a tragedy even greater that the music. It is a tragedy ongoing with the Turrbul and the neighbouring Yugara now having their native title appeal claim to Brisbane denied by the Full Court of the Federal Court. The Turrbul or Brisbane tribe owned the country as far north as the North Pine River, south to the Logan River, and inland to Moggill Creek. The Yuraga or Jagera populated a wide area from Brisbane to the ranges at Toowoomba.

The Turrbal people lodged their original claim in 1998 and the Yugara people in 2011. The combined claim area covered the bulk of the Brisbane metropolitan area. It didn’t help there were two separate claims but they both failed this year.

In a judgement handed down July 25, Justices John Reeves, Michael Barker and Richard White dismissed separate appeals filed by Desmond Sandy, Ruth James and Pearl Sandy on behalf of the Yugara-Yugarapul People and by Maroochy Barambah for the Turrbal People. The State of Queensland, Commonwealth of Australia and the Moreton Bay Regional Council were respondents in the Yugara action, lodged in April 2015, and the State of Queensland, Commonwealth of Australia and the Yugara group were defendants in the Turrbal appeal, filed in August 2016..

The Turrbal People claimed they were direct descendants of an Indigenous man called the Duke of York in the early settlement days while the Yugara said the Turrbal People were a sub-group of the Yugara. In 2015 Justice Christopher Jessup found the Yugara had not demonstrated any of their ancestors were present in the claim area at sovereignty and the Turrbal People had failed to prove they were descended from the Duke of York.

The findings ended any hope of any native title over Brisbane, as the Appeals Court agreed with Jessup neither the Turrbul nor the Yugara People could demonstrate they were biological descendants of those who lived here “at sovereignty” or a society who had continued to observe traditional laws and customs. While the Court acknowledged settler actions likely contributed to this interruption of connection, there was “longstanding authority” in finding that the “explanation of forced removal … is not directly relevant to the continuity finding”.

As Clayton Utz lawyers said the decision brought “certainty for infrastructure proponents and other developers” in Brisbane however it doesn’t mean those proponents and developers can ignore Aboriginal interests.

All land users have a duty of care to take reasonable and practicable measures to avoid harm to Aboriginal cultural heritage, regardless of native title. Compliance with the “cultural heritage duty of care” typically requires consultation with the applicable “Aboriginal party”.  Where there are no current registered native title holders or claimants for an area, the Aboriginal party will be the claimant for the last of the registered claims over the area to have failed. Ordinarily, a former registered claimant will be replaced by a new registered claimant over the same area but the negative determination over Brisbane means the current Aboriginal parties (Turrbul and Yugara) cannot be replaced.

The Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act 2003 (Qld) provides for Aboriginal parties who aged and die to be succeeded by the members of their old native title claim groups.  How this succession will work in practice if the old claim group becomes become dysfunctional ‒ is an emerging issue. As Clayton Utz says “legislative, judicial or policy guidance will be required.”

That aside, the determination shows, as the lawyers involved in the Mabo case have said the bar is set too high on native title. The Westender noted after the original 2015 trial, the Brisbane determination indicates the high level of difficulty involved in proving an ongoing connection between the native title claimants and the land since sovereignty, especially where there has been widespread urbanisation or agricultural development.

A visit to Mt Frosty mine

frosty3North West Queensland is full of the most amazing wildernesses but perhaps December is not the best time to go exploring. The intense heat and constant attention of flies make any outdoor adventure difficult. Nonetheless I was keen today to check out a place called Mt Frosty. Perhaps I was hoping its name might cool me down.

frosty1I didn’t know much about it. All I knew was a mine with a nice name on a dirt-track starting from this right hand turnoff on the Barkly Hwy (pictured above), just before the sign saying you were 50km out from Mount Isa. I left the bitumen and drove south.

frosty2After 3km the dirt road petered out at this water outstation for cattle. There was no defined track any further and I thought this was a wasted trip. But when I stopped and got out of the car, I almost immediately saw two things that assured me I had arrived.

frosty4Off to my left were the rusting iron remains of mineworks while straight ahead and deep down below there was the impressive two-sided tailings waterhole, complete with its own rusting campervan. The whole scene in this remote landscape reminded me of Mad Max.

frosty5When I walked around the back of the waterhole the structure of the mine came more into view. Mt Frosty gets its name from the quartz that litters the ground. But what did they mine there? When I went back to my computer later that day, I found the information on Mt Frosty mine was contradictory. Someone said it was a gypsum mine, another called it calcite, but the best documented evidence I found was that it was a limestone mine.

frosty8The mine was owned by local legend Clem Walton (who also founded the nearby Mary Kathleen uranium mine). But at Mt Frosty in the 1950s and 60s they mined for limestone which was used by Mount Isa Mines.

frosty9The Mad Max feeling only grew with all the graffiti on the mine works scattered up the hill.

frosty10This photo reminded me of a ski resort. More particularly it reminded me of the Sarajevo 1984 Winter Olympics site after it too was abandoned.

frosty11In his autobiography “Aussie Rogue” Raymond D. Clements described the time he and a mate quit work for Mount Isa Mines after just four hours. His friend got a job on a cattle station near Dajarra while Clements got a job at Mt Frosty working for Walton. Clements reckoned his friend had the better deal, “you won’t die of led (sic) poisoning”.

frosty13Walton sent newcomers like Clements out to crush rocks with 15-pound sledgehammers to test their mettle. Clements passed muster and graduated to work a drill for blast holes and helped the foreman charge up and fire the rockface. This photo above reminds me of the German defences on Normandy,  a turret bristling with guns.

frosty14Clements said that after the tip truck dumped its load of limestone on the large cast iron screen, workers had to break it up with sledgehammers. The broken rock went through the crushing plants and was stockpiled until the roadtrains took it to the Mount Isa copper smelter. This photo above reminded me of another nearby abandoned mine at Kuridala.

frosty15Clements said the crushed limestone was used for flux in the smelting process of copper. Smelting no longer uses limestone and the mine was abandoned in the 1960s. However there is still plenty of valuable minerals around here. Australian mining company Hammer Metals has formed a joint venture with Swiss-giant Glencore (the current owners of Mount Isa Mines) after acquiring AuKing’s interest in Mt Frosty.  It is in the Mary Kathleen Shear Zone which hosts several copper-gold, uranium (though that cannot be mined legally) and rare earth element prospects.

frosty16Having checked out the buildings, it was time for a closer investigation of the waterhole and its tunnels where the mining operations took place. Not to mention the campervan. How did it end up there?

frosty17The van was in a dilapidated state wedged tight between rocks. I wondered if it had been thrown over the top, but it wouldn’t explain its careful position and its relatively undamaged bodywork.

frosty19But to drive it down such rough terrain also looked unlikely, unless it was driven completely on its rims. One thing I am certain of is there would have been one last almighty party to farewell it, overlooking the amazing lake with its impressive overhangs.

frosty20References to Mt Frosty are few and far between. In 1975 state member for Mount Isa Angelo Bertoni (Nationals) spoke in parliament about the joys of his electorate in a debate about tourism. Mount Isa, he said, was a jumping-off point for other attractions. “It is rich in native flora and fauna, and Aboriginal paintings. One Aboriginal fertility painting in rock 30 miles from Mount Isa has been there for 2000 years. Tours can be taken to the Aboriginal paintings, and from there to what we call Mt. Frosty, with its lime deposits and pools of water. One could fossick around there for hours and hours. The tourist to the Inland will feel that here is something quite different from what can be seen along the coast.”

Bertoni was right about it being different and you could fossick around Mt Frosty for hours. But maybe not in December. The flies would have carried you away long before.


Why Triple J are right to move the Hottest 100

My stance on Australia Day is well documented. The date as it stands represents the start of the theft of a continent and it needs to move from January 26 to a more inclusive date. Not far, mind, a summery celebration of Australia feels right and the fourth Monday in January would be ideal. Under that arrangement one year in seven that would be January 26, but no one would complain because it would not celebrating white arrival in Australia.

Doing plenty of complaining at the moment is our unhappy Communications Minister Mitch Fifield who is annoyed someone has the audacity to recognise the problem with January 26. He was unhappy with a decision ABC’s youth music radio station Triple J’s management took last week to move the date of its popular Hottest 100 countdown from January after 60 per cent of those polled in a listener survey said they supported the move. Leaving aside the fact the Hottest 100 has been a moveable feast, his intervention had all the hallmarks of culture wars.

Triple J denied Fifield’s assertion the decision was “political” saying the countdown had not always been held on Australia Day.  That was disingenuous from the station, Fifield was right – the decision WAS political.

But that was the only way he was right. Of course it was a political decision, following a national campaign to respect the views of Indigenous Australians who see January 26 as a Day of Mourning.

To say it isn’t political is as absurd as saying sports and politics don’t mix. The ABC has a charter to be neutral and unbiased but it takes political decisions all the time with shows like its nightly news service and 7.30 on what the leads are, who they talk to and what angles they take. It was a political decision to remove Lateline from the schedule. Given its funding is from the government, the ABC is inherently political and its leaders face an annual grilling at Senate Estimates.

No doubt the next time Michelle Guthrie is in parliament she will face questions from right-wing warriors about the Triple J decision. And no doubt they will follow Fifield’s line on the topic. “This is just a really bad idea, it’s a dumb idea and Triple J should change their mind,” he told another ABC station. “This is an attempt to delegitimise Australia Day. Australia Day is January 26. That’s not going to change. It’s not going anywhere.”

Again Fifield is partially right. Whether Triple J admits it or not, it WAS an attempt to delegitimise the date of Australia Day. But Fifield refuses to countenance why that might be the case and simply hides behind the non sequitur “It’s not going anywhere”. If follows a long line of white politicians refusing to engage with Indigenous demands and casually dismissing them as ‘dumb ideas” White Australia has had two centuries of practice and shows no sign of easing up as the disgraceful dismissal of the Uluru Statement showed.

Labor’s one line response to Fifield’s comments was a gem. “Mate, fix your second rate NBN” was a good riposte to a minister with oversight of a catastrophic rollout of our communications fibre. But it left Labor off the hook too, implying that the Triple J issue was not worth a response.

It is worth a response. Labor should congratulate the ABC for listening to its audience. Labor should now listen to its own audience and work to move Australia Day away from January 26. It should also make the Uluru Statement an election issue. As the same-sex marriage debate has shown, the Australian people are far ahead of many of its politicians when it comes to supporting the right decision.