marise payne saudi arabia jamal khashoggi
Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne (Image: AAP/Lukas Coch)

After trying to ignore the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi for as long as possible, the Australian government was left with no choice by Saudi Arabia’s admission that he had been killed in its Istanbul consulate late last week.

The Saudi’s story that Khashoggi had been killed in a “fist fight” (a “fist fight” with a 15-man death squad specially sent to Istanbul, with a bone saw) finally forced the government into withdrawing from the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh. Crikey revealed last week Australia’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia and an Austrade representative would be participating in the so-called “Davos in the desert”, an event designed to burnish the Saudi tyranny’s status as an economic power.

“We have determined that official Australian representation at the forthcoming Future Investment Initiative (‘Davos in the desert’) event in Riyadh is no longer appropriate,” Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said late on Saturday. “Not appropriate”? Try “outrageous” or even “obscene”.

Even as Payne and Birmingham were dragged kicking and screaming to bailing from the event, the Saudi’s story was again changing, with “admissions” Khashoggi had died as a result of a chokehold rather than a “fist fight”. One of the perpetrators was said to have died in a car accident back in Saudi Arabia — who knew Russian road conditions would suddenly take hold in the desert? Meantime, the Turkish government — itself a monstrous and criminal abuser of journalists — was continuing to derive inordinate pleasure from dripping out details obtained from what is plainly an extensive network of surveillance devices within and around the consulate. They showed Khashoggi had been tortured, mutilated, drugged and dismembered while still alive.

But the Australian government still hasn’t sworn off trying to sell weapons to the Saudis to assist with their war crimes in Yemen, or in taking any diplomatic measures that might convey the outrage of any decent person at the long list of crimes perpetrated by the regime.

There are other ways to put pressure on the Saudis. While a large number of major corporations have abandoned the Future Investment Initiative — even Fox News has now pulled out — some large companies with operations in Australia are still supporting the event: Credit Suisse, HSBC, Mastercard, Siemens, Boston Consulting, Deloitte, Ernst & Young and McKinsey are all “partners” of the event, although Mastercard’s CEO has withdrawn.

McKinsey’s complicity with the regime is particularly grotesque. On the weekend, the New York Times revealed that McKinsey had prepared a list of regime critics which was used to arrest and harass them. McKinsey now says it is “horrified” at the idea that its list could have been “misused”, indicating either an extraordinarily implausible naivety about the regime or an extraordinary level of mendacity. According to the Australian government’s tender site, McKinsey has received $8.5 million worth of contracts this calendar year alone from the federal government. Boston Consulting has won $13.7 million in contracts. Ernst & Young has won $73.4 million. Deloitte has earned $102 million.

Australian taxpayers are handing hundreds of millions to companies that are happy to cooperate with, and enable, a regime responsible for war crimes, slavery, systematic oppression of women and the torture and dismemberment of journalists.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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