Craig Thomson:

Les Heimann writes: Re. “Thomson to Parliament: FWA, HSU led a vendetta against me” (yesterday, item 1). Having watched the hour-long statement by Craig Thomson MP to the Australian Parliament I couldn’t help but lament on the sad and sorry face of Australian democracy.

We are not a democracy if a person elected to our Parliament is forced to defend his presumed innocence in the place he was elected to.

Frankly, this is an outrage.

The law stands above all else in a real democracy and if a citizen is considered to have broken same — take that person to the law and prove it so … and allow him/her to defend themselves. Instead, for a plurality of reasons, most of which are anything other than high minded, a person has been forced to defend himself against those who can’t even bring him to the law. Coward’s castle was on display today with a victim in the stocks and the bullies throwing rotten words.

J’accuse Crikey.

Even you have rushed to remain cynical in your editorial on Thomson. Quietly fascinating was his speech and there is not a skerrick of doubt Thomson has thrown down the gauntlet.

Clearly came the message — all this is baseless and without evidence, a fix-up, a plot — if this is not the case, if Thomson is indeed guilty of such heinous “crimes” then take him to court. The AEC won’t, the NSW police won’t — who will? Until and unless this happens, leave justice to those responsible.

One aspect of Thomson’s speech was inescapably true — Parliament, and the media, are morally bankrupt.

Elizabeth Anderson writes: I’m very disappointed in yesterday’s edition of Crikey. Your paper is as bad as the opposition and shock jocks.

Why does a person have to prove their innocence? It is entirely possible that work colleagues felt threatened by and responded to impending change, loss of privileges and accountability. It also happens in many businesses that a range of staff members have access to a credit card.

It is possible that FWA investigators were out of their depth and have produced a flawed analysis. Craig Thomson may indeed be found at fault but why not wait for proper investigation — including proof!

Andrew Haughton writes: I believe our federal Parliament stinks. I think many Australians do. Sadly I don’t think Parliament realises this or perhaps, more importantly, doesn’t care.

East Timor:

Former East Timor-based UN adviser Robert Johnson writes: Re. “East Timor independence and the reinvention of history” (yesterday, item 14). Charles Richardson says that “Howard entered office with as little intention as anyone of upsetting the status quo” and that “Howard’s experience shows that supporting self-determination is […] the right thing to do”.

Of course, on East Timor, Howard never had any interest in anything other than supporting the status quo, even when he misread it. And he certainly had no interest in supporting self-determination, even as he unwittingly provoked Habibie into bringing on a referendum in East Timor with his bright idea of killing off Timorese claims to sovereignty by urging President Habibie to adapt the so-called Matignon Accord. That, obviously, is not the way he wants to be remembered, and so we have his self-serving re-writing of history of recent days.

This was a time (late 1998) when, as PM, he was keen to advance his influence within the region at the same time as containing Portugal’s dialogue with Indonesia on the International Court of Justice’s 1995 decision on Australia’s deal with Indonesia on Timor Sea oil rights.  Habibie’s decision on a purported “act of self-determination” took Howard by surprise. (“Purported” because the referendum was actually about East Timor becoming a semi-autonomous province of Indonesia, which the Indonesian leadership evidently genuinely believed the Timorese would embrace, rather than repudiate so strongly. A rejection of the referendum proposition was the de facto act of self-determination.)

The subsequent violence effectively caught the Howard government in having to assume a peacekeeping role that his government had not envisaged (which is not deny that it was a role well fulfilled). As Richardson infers, Australia under Howard was no better than any other Australian government except for the intercession of circumstances beyond Howard’s control, arising in part from the unanticipated consequences of his miscalculated advice.

And let it not be forgotten that, at the ceremonial swearing in of the newly independent government and state of East Timor (May 20, 2002), the new East Timorese PM Alkatiri was pressed by PM Howard into one single non-ceremonial duty: taken into a side room and pressed to sign the replacement Timor Sea Agreement, as one witness wrote at the time “before it would have the time to develop second thoughts about the equity of the deal”.

To paraphrase Richardson: supporting the oppressed only if there’s no other choice.

Barack Obama:

William Fettes writes: Re. “Barack Obama’s remorseless assault on basic rights” (yesterday, item 3). Bernard Keane’s usual compelling mix of forceful prose and sober analysis was off kilter in yesterday’s piece.

In channelling his inner Glenn Greenwald, Keane strikes some telling blows, but nonetheless significantly overstates the historical context of Obama’s curtailment of civil liberties and overreach in the War on Terror.

While the undeniable continuation and extension of some Bush-era policies in secrecy and national security has been troubling and disappointing under Obama, to say that he has been the worst in recent memory is hyperbolic. There has been unambiguous progress, such as with the ending of military and CIA torture, in full compliance with the UCMJ, as well as the ending of non-FISA warrantless wiretapping, and the return to credible advice in key legal organs such as the Office of Legal Counsel and Department of Justice.

Moreover, the focus on drones strikes as part of the continuum of civil liberties is also inapt, as these are properly considered as part of the Laws of War, where necessity and proportionality apply. Accordingly, citing raw estimates of collateral damage absent the full military context is rather gimmicky and unhelpful in assessing the strikes. Additionally, many of the problems that continue to fester, such as military detention and Guantanamo Bay, are directly attributable to Republican control of Congress. Accordingly, this situation cannot be treated as if it was designed by Obama in a vacuum.

Finally, in ranking Obama worst, Keane is being chronically over-charitable to the Bush White House; only in the area of state secrets specifically has the Obama Administration truly surpassed the grotesque, lawless temerity of the Bush era.

News Corp:

Brett Gaskin writes: Joe Boswell’s reading of News Corp pollution of our media and politics was nothing short of brilliant (yesterday, comments). When are the rest of the media, from Fairfax to the allegedly left-wing bias masters at the ABC, going to call out the efforts of News Corp for what they are?

Providing airtime to uninformed opinions dressed up as fact is not providing balance, it’s a pathetic cop-out by people who know better. Have a look at the direction politics has taken in the US to see where our future lies if we continue along this road. As Fox would say, Fair and Balanced. Not.

Employment:

Marcus L’Estrange writes: Re.”Richardson: how to count the unemployed?” (Friday, item 10). To me it’s silly to say that we have to keep the same definitions as other countries simply because many countries don’t. For example, Germany and Singapore only count a person as employed if they work 15 hours or more. Here and elsewhere it is one hour and we have about 400,000 plus Australians who work 1-15 hours. They are regarded as being employed here but would not be in say Germany, Singapore and others.

National definitions of unemployment do differ from the recommended ILO international standard definition. The national definitions used vary from one country to another as regards inter alia age limits, reference periods, criteria for seeking work/not seeking work, treatment of persons temporarily laid off, of persons seeking work for the first time and of young people in training programs to help them get a job. This, plus the tricks all governments get up to in cooking their monthly unemployment figures, makes comparisons between countries well nigh impossible and a fruitless exercise.

In the US the survey number is only 50,000 people (versus 80,000 in Australia) and the survey teams conveniently ignore the inner-city areas — areas of very high unemployment.

The last word should always go to Sir Humphrey Appleby of Yes Minister fame when he said: “The language of government: Restructure the base from which the statistics are derived without drawing public attention to the fact’. Translation: Fiddle the figures.”

Peter Fray

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