Boris Johnson Scott Morrison G7
(Image: Peter Nicholls/PA Wire)

Queensland’s everywhere Leaders’ travel schedules provide the surest sign we’re in election mode, and as usual, all the action is in Queensland. Labor leader Anthony Albanese spent much of last week there, addressing the state ALP conference in Brisbane, announcing a new Senate candidate, and of course attending New South Wales’ barnstorming demolition of the Maroons in State of Origin Game 1.

It’s Albanese’s second trip to the sunshine state since last month’s budget, when he hopped on a plane right after his reply speech to announce a flurry of candidates in the coal seats where Labor were pummelled in 2019. Morrison’s also at it — in the weeks between the budget and his overseas trips, he did a whirlwind tour of marginal seats in Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania. It’s (nearly) on.

ScoMo leads from the front It was a triumphant weekend for Morrison at the G7, if the Australian media coverage is anything to go by. According to reports in News Corp and Nine papers, Morrison used his private address to warn G7 leaders about China’s list of 14 grievances against Australia. But South Korea’s Second Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-Moon said China didn’t come up in any meetings between the G7 and guest nations like Australia.

Meanwhile, the days of press packs travelling with the prime minister are over. There are just two journalists accompanying Morrison to Europe — Sky News’ Andrew Clennell and The Australian’s Geoff Chambers, with other outlets deterred by the prohibitive cost of flights and hotel quarantine.

Redacted For an agency meant to find out the secrets of others, you’d think that ASIO would be better at keeping its own. Australia’s domestic spy agency tabled a redacted document to NSW Parliament reporting on the use of assumed identities by ASIO employees during 2019-2020.

Except, their redaction didn’t quite stick. The scanning process left the text under the manual reduction visible to the naked eye. ASIO reported that zero staff had been given new identities in NSW. (Interestingly, the report shared the year before wasn’t redacted — an example of over-classification in action?). Maybe the extra $1.3 billion tossed to ASIO in May’s budget will help them upgrade their black textas to something that will actually work.

Big money at stake as BRS hearing goes on Week two of the 10-week Ben Roberts-Smith defamation hearing has begun quietly, with the parties going into closed court until about lunchtime while they argue about affidavits from his former wife, Emma Roberts.

It’s the start of another week of watching thousands of dollars quietly ticking over at the bar table. For the former soldier, the cost is immaterial; his legal fees are reportedly being picked up by his supporter and employer, Perth billionaire Kerry Stokes.

It’s been fascinating to witness the media management of the two-metre-tall man, with happy snaps appearing in News Corp papers on the weekend with the headline “Big Ben”. The photos show him walking around the harbourside restaurants at Sydney’s Barangaroo, enjoying the sunshine with girlfriend Sarah Matulin. In them, Roberts-Smith is wearing a black t-shirt with the design of a crucifix on the front. The semiotics of it is clear — this is a man who went to the heart of Islamic State to fight the infidels for God and Country.

This country’s most awarded soldier is suing three newspapers and three journalists for defamation, claiming that their stories falsely painted him as a war criminal and a murderer. Experts have described this as a “war crimes tribunal disguised as a defamation action”.

He is also suing over a separate allegation of domestic abuse against a woman with whom he was having an extramarital affair. The photos of him kissing and cuddling Matulin help to position him as a man who could not have possibly hit a woman. 

In this trial, millions of dollars are at stake and Roberts-Smith is lucky to have Stokes’ bank balance behind him. The West Australian businessman is one of the trustees of the SAS Resources Fund, a charity set up to support the families of members of the SAS, the Australian Defence Force’s most elite unit, in the event of a tragedy. The fund is very well-resourced; the donors make up a who’s who of Perth’s business establishment, and include another Perth billionaire as a trustee — Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest. Recently, Perth’s other military-adjacent billionaire, Gina Rinehart, pledged $1.6 million to the fund. 

Several representatives of the federal government are sitting in on this trial. Late last year Major-General Paul Brereton released the findings of a four-year inquiry; in his report he said that the circumstances of several killings, were they to be eventually accepted by a jury, would constitute the war crime of murder. Further action against these soldiers, who are not named in the report, is possible.

On the weekend, I went onto the public Facebook groups for Australian Defence Force veterans. In around the fund-raisers for mental health charities and obituaries, there were some mentions of Roberts-Smith and the current trial. Whenever it was raised in the group, the support for him was absolute. Among many veterans, there is a feeling that people who have not gone to war and been shot at by an enemy cannot possibly judge those men and women who have served.

Like so many issues in Australian society, the view of Roberts-Smith has become completely polarised, with the two sides of politics and media using him as a way of attacking the other side in an endless culture war.

The hearing continues.