What are we fighting for? A Guardian story that Afghanistan has quietly passed a law permitting Shiite men to deny their wives food and sustenance if they refuse to obey their husbands’ sexual demands, despite international outrage over an earlier version of the legislation that President Hamid Karzai had promised to review, got a run in the Sunday Age yesterday but has not featured elsewhere that I have noticed. It is as if in Australia we do not want to think about what our soldiers are actually fighting for in that war because the truth is so horrible we know we should not be there at all!

Maybe one of the two national television broadcasters will help expose the sordid truth of what democracy Afghan style is actually like by showing in the very near future the program going to air on the BBC’s Panorama this week. Panorama correspondent Jane Corbin shows what has really happened to women in a country where our team pretends liberated, women have cast off their burkhas and embraced the new democracy introduced by President Hamid Karzai’s government with its new Constitution promising equality and human rights under the law. Correspondent Corbin tells of how a staggering 60% of women are still forced into marriage as children — often as young as nine or ten, something that has not changed since the west intervened, despite Afghan law stating that girls under 16 should not be married. Noting that change for women is painfully slow in Afghanistan she observes people full of foreboding about what will happen after the presidential election if talks with the so-called ‘moderate’ Taliban go ahead.

Keep the lie going. If there is one thing Kevin Rudd is not it is courageous in the “Yes Minister” meaning of that word. He is cautious in the extreme about doing anything which might upset anyone. The idea that a Rudd Labor Government would be in the business of introducing a capital gains tax on even the houses of the very rich is clearly preposterous. It is one of the few policies you can think of which might just be frightening enough to people to cost Labor the next election. So perhaps that is what Adele Ferguson and David Uren had in mind when they wrote the page one lead for Saturday’s Weekend Australian.

Under the headline “CGT slug for rich – Family Homes Face Tax” the Oz‘s pair of financial wizards told how the Rudd Government was considering slapping a wealth tax on the country’s most expensive family homes. Surely fiscal fantasy has never before received such page one prominence but there it was with a spokesman for Treasurer Wayne Swan declining to comment on Treasury modelling on possible changes to the tax system being thrown in as if that somehow was proof of the dastardly plan.

As we noted in Crikey‘s Sunday Breakfast Media Wrap, Saturday morning was still young when Treasurer Wayne Swan’s office released a statement denying the Government was considering the tax. “There has been no request from the Government to the Australia’s Future Tax System review to model such proposals,” the statement said. “We are advised that no such modelling is being carried out by the review, and therefore no recommendation of this sort will be made to us by the panel.” The Government is not considering and “will not” consider the policy outlined in the report. “There will be thousands of stories between now and when the final report is released and unfortunately, like this one today, many of them will be incorrect.”

This denial was eventually used on the omnibus Murdoch news.com.au website to replace the story taken from The Australian but nothing at all was done to make even a minor qualification on The Australian‘s own web site. The original story was still being displayed in pride of place on Sunday afternoon as if the paper was defiantly making the point that Messrs Ferguson and Uren were right and Wayne Swan a complete and utter liar.

I could find no trace this morning, either, of any kind of retraction on the Oz website. It is hardly the behaviour we deserve from a would-be reputable national daily.

Peter Fray

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