Democracy

To make sure we catch the thrilling finale to The West Wing, J and I are taking Wednesday (US Tuesday afternoon & night) off from work.  Tragic, we know, but we’d be useless at work and drinking games are frowned upon the day after the Melbourne Cup.

I’m sure it won’t be like this time eight years ago when I spent the night in a New Jersey hotel room, still waiting at 3am for a result.  The next day I flew to Orlando Florida to attend a trade show.  My most vivid memory was when, completely unprompted, my taxi driver apologised to me on behalf of his state.

It didn’t help much when I posted it four years ago. Nonetheless, I’m going to roll out Leonard Cohen’s Democracy (video) one more time.

Continue reading Democracy

The Australian Senate

The Australian Senate is not a place you would expect to find comedy, but yesterday for some reason I had my car radio tuned to News Radio for 10 minutes on the way to pick up my kids yesterday and I heard this:

Senator ROBERT RAY (2.43 pm)—I direct my question to Senator Minchin, Minister representing the Prime Minister. Is the minister aware of an article in the Sunday Age newspaper of 24 June 2007, under the heading ‘“ASIO agent” Heffernan makes some odd calls’, which claimed that Senator Bill Heffernan had phoned the general manager of Cubbie Station and posed as an ASIO agent? Has an investigation been launched to determine whether or not Senator Heffernan may have committed an offence under division 148 of the Criminal Code by impersonating a Commonwealth public official? Isn’t it true that Senator Heffernan has confirmed that he does indulge in such impersonations? Is it a defence to claim eccentricity or slavish sycophancy to the Prime Minister and, if so, can all other potential criminals in the country make similar excuses?

Senator MINCHIN—I have no direct and personal knowledge of the circumstances of which Senator Ray speaks. Of course it is wrong, generally speaking, to impersonate anybody in any phone call, but I do not have a brief on the matter to which Senator Ray refers and I would prefer to be fully briefed before I give him an answer. I undertake to get him an answer as soon as I possibly can.

Senator ROBERT RAY—Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I appreciate that the minister is going to be briefed and get back to us but, while he is doing that, could he also confirm that Senator Heffernan has boasted that he impersonates Senator Barnaby Joyce—the horror, Mr President, the horror!— and rings Queensland constituents of Senator Joyce and asks them what they think of Senator Heffernan? Is it the case that section 7.3 of the Criminal Code provides that a person can be held not criminally responsible for an offence by reason of mental impairment?

Senator MINCHIN—I can confirm that Senator Heffernan has a remarkable and attractive sense of humour which endears him to all his colleagues. I can also confirm that Senator Joyce has a most distinctive voice that I would not have thought was capable of being impersonated. Nevertheless, I am not in a position to confirm the allegation and I will not undertake to get any further information on that matter.

On being protected from bad people by good people

Some time ago I had a bush-lawyer level discussion with a barrister I’m related to. Among other horror stories, this barrister was helping me come to terms with how any Australian Federal government could choose to use terrorism-related legislation to round up their political enemies through listing them as a terrorist organization. The discussion was not entirely serious, but it appealed to my inner-conspiracy-theorist and I’ve thought about it often. Sure, I understand that Australia is run by good people, and we have a long history of democracy, and there is nothing to be worried about. The moment we began to routinely bypass our legal institutions to mete out politically expedient ministerial justice there would be an uproar! An uproar I say!

Recent events have caused me wonder how close we are to abandoning old-fashioned notions like presumption of innocence, territorial jurisdiction, and habeas corpus. I wonder out loud when the up might be heard roaring.

This is part of a summary of how Australia lists “terrorist organisations”:

Under the law, there are two ways for an organisation to be identified as a ‘terrorist organisation’. Either an organisation may be found to be such an organisation by a court as part of the prosecution for a terrorist offence, or it may be specified in Regulations, known as ‘listing’. For a listing to be effective, the processes set out in the legislation must be followed.

Before an organisation can be listed, the Attorney-General must be satisfied on reasonable grounds that the organisation is directly or indirectly engaged in, preparing, planning, assisting in or fostering the doing of a terrorist act.

The Attorney-General of Australia can list a group as a terrorist organization if he is satisfied on reasonable grounds that they are indirectly assisting in a terrorist act. I wonder whether the framers of this legislation thought terribly much about how flexible the concept of “reasonable” can be when an opportunity to grandstand and/or wedge your political opponents presents itself? The lack of checks on this power is pretty staggering. The rationale is that the attorney might need to act in haste to head off a terrorist plot, or whatever. How often will a terrorist organization just spring from nowhere and require the Attorney-General’s lightning listing reflexes to defend the Commonwealth? I don’t think the terrorist organization who’s main weapons are fear, surprise, and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope are currently active.

So, completely theoretically, let’s imagine you’re a member of the Greens, or even the (old school!) Liberal Party, and you have billeted someone who has a cousin who’s a ship’s captain with Sea Shepherd. Unbeknown to you, they are (hypothetically) secretly plotting to join up with their cousin to jam shipboard GPS signals and force a whaling ship onto a reef. While staying with you they show a keen interest in borrowing a dusty tome from your library — “Readers Digest Satellite Navigation Jamming 2nd Edition 1992.”

After a terrible shipping incident a hypothetical future Labor government might agree with Japan that Sea Shepherd are a terrorist organization and list them. Suddenly you’re a suspect for assisting a member of a terrorist organization and your whole political party is about to be listed just for having you, an aider and abettor of Sea Shepherd, as a member:

When a court has determined, or by regulation it is determined, that an organisation is a ‘terrorist organisation’, it is an offence to:

  • direct the activities of the organisation;
  • recruit persons to the organisation;
  • receive training from or provide training to the organisation;
  • receive funds from or make available funds to the organisation;
  • provide support or resources to the organisation.

Thankfully you can trivially demonstrate a lack of mens rea, and be given bail to work up a decent defence…

So much for that bail idea:

“The matter that I will be looking at very seriously is this question of the presumption against bail, there was an expectation as to how it would operate and if appeals suggest that we’ve got it wrong, well it’s a matter that the Parliament might well be asked to put right,” he said.

Mr Ruddock says changes to the law may be necessary.

“If we find in relation to these measures that the law that we passed that we expected would ensure that people charged with terrorism offences would have a presumption against bail is not being met we may have to look at that matter further.”

In any case, bail doesn’t count for people on visas. Kevin Andrews decision to put him in immigration detention for having “an association or link” with a criminal or terrorist is a jarring reminder that all immigrants are here at the pleasure of the Minister for Immigration. He can have you locked up or deported the moment he has reason to doubt your character. The Minister for Immigration is Judge Dredd for non-citizens.

I have no insight about the guilt or innocence of Dr Haneef. Haneef’s treatment by Federal Ministers with mumbled support from Labor makes me wonder how close we are to two-party-preferred elected despotism. At the rate we are trashing legal principles and developing a taste for barely checked ministerial powers, we’re getting pretty close.

Australians all let us enrol for we are girt by disenfranchisement

Today is one of the first of the likely days on which Australia’s PM might flick through his Filofax to remind himself who the Governor General is and then drive out and ask for him to schedule an election. After unfavourable recent polling for the Federal Coalition Government today isn’t as likely to be the day an election is called as it looked a few weeks ago, but it is a good reminder to get our Australian friends and family to check they’re correctly enrolled.

Apologies to lolcats

Recent changes to Electoral Enrolment laws mean that if you intend to vote in Australia’s upcoming Federal Election today would be a good time to enrol to vote or update your electoral details (if you aren’t correctly enrolled already) because there is no longer a grace period after the calling of an election to allow stragglers to be enrolled to vote in it.

Don’t just do something, stand there!

I did like the opening line in the Sydney Morning Herald’s editorial on the Prime Minister’s emissions task force report today:

THE Howard Government’s script on climate change might have been written by Saint Augustine: Lord, make me chaste – but not yet.

Apparently we can’t set targets this year. This year is too early. However, a target that we can all agree on is 2012. 2012 is not too early, not too late. In fact 2012 is just right for setting targets and implementing a carbon trading scheme.

Sheesh. It only takes a bad poll result to drop a few billion dollars on water in the Murray Darling or a temporary front-line fighter of arguable merit, but we can’t set up a CO2 trading scheme for 5+ years?

“The little desiccated coconut”

Classic. Sorry for the run on politics, but this really is quite an entertaining time.

Paul Keating on The ABC’s The World Today

ELEANOR HALL: What did you think of Peter Costello’s performance in the parliament, though, when he raised this?

PAUL KEATING: Well, the thing about poor old Costello, he’s all tip and no iceberg, you know. He (laughs), you know, he can throw a punch across the parliament, but the bloke he should be throwing the punch to his Howard. Of course, he doesn’t have the ticker for it.

Now, he’s now been treasurer for 11 years, the old coconut’s still sitting there, araldited to the seat, and, you know, the Treasurer works on the smart quips, but when it comes to staring down the Prime Minister in his office, he always leaves disappointed, you know, he never gets the sword out. You know, you know the thing ‘I’ll huff and puff and blow your house in’, that’s Costello (laughs).

ELEANOR HALL: Has the Government, though, now taken the high moral ground with this by removing Minister Campbell?

PAUL KEATING: Look, for John Howard to get to any high moral ground he would have to first climb out of the volcanic hole he’s dug for himself over the last decade. You know, it’s like one of those deep diamond mined holes in South Africa, you know, they’re about a mile underground. He’d have to come a mile up to get to even equilibrium, let alone have any contest in morality with Kevin Rudd.

Men of steel

There must be a Liberal Party guide to campaigning that has an entry on what to do when you’re behind in the polls. The gist of that entry seems to be that you should preface your “I need to work harder” rhetoric with a certain phrase…

Steely Resolve

McKew in Bennelong

Not the line at McDonalds on Victoria Road — a possible new Labor star recruit candidate to help the Prime Minister achieve transcendental shrillness before the next Federal Election.

High-profile media personality Maxine McKew will run as a Labor candidate in the next federal election.

Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd’s office confirmed that Ms McKew, an ABC journalist for more than 30 years, would stand as a candidate at this year’s election.

Mr Rudd’s spokesman could not confirm which seat Ms McKew would contest.

But ABC TV reported on Sunday night that Ms McKew was expected to run against Prime Minister John Howard in his Sydney seat of Bennelong.

I’ve done some quick calling around to check voter sentiment. My recent poll suggests Maxine can expect 100% of the vote in Bennelong*.

* Poll taken in one household in Bennelong with a sample size of two people**.

** I was one of those people.

The President of the United States’ deputy sheriff

Yes — I thought I had misheard — but I really did hear John Howard tell Laurie Oakes that a Democratic Party victory in the US presidential elections in 2008 is exactly what Al-Quaeda should be praying for.

LAURIE OAKES: On that subject, Senator Barack Obama’s announced overnight he’s running for the Democrat Presidential nomination, and he says if he gets it he has a plan to bring troops home by March, 2008 and his direct quote is “Letting the Iraqis know we’ll not be there forever is our last, best hope to pressure the Sunies and Shiah to come to the table and find peace”. So, basically he’s agreeing with the Labor Party.

JOHN HOWARD: Yes, I think he’s wrong, I mean, he’s a long way from being President of the United States. I think he’s wrong. I think that would just encourage those who wanted completely to destabilise and destroy Iraq, and create chaos and victory for the terrorists to hang on and hope for Obama victory. If I was running Al-Qaeda in Iraq, I would put a circle around March 2008, and pray, as many times as possible, for a victory not only for Obama, but also for the Democrats.

I’m sure the Democratic Party-controlled US Senate and Congress are cowed by this, and will be happy to discuss it during the next trade talks.

Update: Oops forgot to link. And this is all going to smart once congressional investigations into the AWB heat up.

Oh no. Not again.

What better time to dump a party leader than when your party is ahead in national two-party preferred polls: Federal Labor to hold leadership ballot on Monday.

It’s December, and December is dump the Federal Labor leader month.

Given John Howard’s likely reaction to Labor shenanigans, regardless of the outcome, Peter Costello should throw in the Liberal towel and run for Labor leader.

It’s your last best chance to tilt at a windmill for a long time, Peter!

Wake me up after the election.

Model democracies

Enormous numbers of unaccounted for firearms, widespread violence, an active campaign to suppress the vote of religious, ethnic and racial groups, threats of arrest, what looks like widespread ballot errors, tampering and chaos — Iraq doesn’t look that far from achieving a model democracy after all.

As Kurt Vonnegut said on his 2005 Daily Show appearance:

I have wanted to give Iraq a lesson in democracy because we’re experienced with it.
[…]
In democracy after 100 years you have let your slaves go, and after 150 years you have to let your women vote, and at the beginning of democracy there is quite a bit of genocide and ethnic cleansing. It’s quite ok and that’s what’s going on right now.