Operation Sovereign Borders, sinister and banal [blogjune05]

An Australian bureaucrat reacts to allegations that Operation Sovereign Borders removes safety gear from lifeboats: click to embiggenThis man’s name is Mick Kinley, and he’s shrugging with indifference at allegations that safety equipment is deliberately removed from the lifeboats used to return asylum seekers to Indonesia. But that OK, he’s the acting chief executive officer of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA).

I’ve never met Kinley. I know nothing of his work apart from this incident. But do we really need any further context? The bureaucrat in charge of maritime safety is challenged over what sounds like a breach of maritime safety, but, you know, “Whatever.”

I believe this is what’s called the banality of evil.

Hang on, I’d better scroll back a bit…

Operation Sovereign Borders (OSB) is the Australian government’s grand-sounding name for the grubby process of intercepting any boats at sea that contain asylum seekers and returning them to Indonesia. They’re put into standard orange lifeboats towed behind our ships, and once they’re within a certain distance of Indonesia they’re cast off and left to find their own way hone.

But as The Guardian’s Paul Farrell reported on 7 May, safety equipment is removed from those lifeboats beforehand — ropes, scissors, knives, a mirror, fishing line and even buckets.

On 27 May, Kinley was questioned about this in the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee by Senator Stephen Conroy, who was clearly unimpressed. You can read the transcript — the relevant exchange starts on page 86 — but you should really watch the video to see the body language for yourself.

Actually, it’s worth picking up the story a little before that video starts, on page 84…

Continue reading “Operation Sovereign Borders, sinister and banal [blogjune05]”

Privacy rights for Australia, maybe, but where’s speech?

Early this morning, Australia’s Minister for Privacy Brendan O’Connor announced that the government will start a public consultation into whether Australia should have a statutory right to privacy.

The media release was emailed at 6.26am AEST, a clear sign that it was a calm, reasoned decision made as part of a long-term government strategy. Sorry? No? Read the release?

“The News of the World scandal and other recent mass breaches of privacy, both at home and abroad, have put the spotlight on whether there should be such a right.”

The Australian Law Reform Commission’s recommendation for such a law has been sitting on the table for three years now. But hey, something in the news cycle triggers a potential “announceable” and… disco!

Right then.

I’ve already written straight news stories today for CSO Online, Australia to consider right-to-privacy law and Watchdogs welcome Australia’s right-to-privacy move. I’ll be writing about the timing thing tomorrow for ABC’s The Drum.

Right now, though, I have one question. It’s a question I’ve asked before, but I was reminded by something Mark Newton said earlier this evening.

How come we don’t see such sudden action, ever, when is comes to giving Australians a statutory right to freedom of speech?

Hey Barry O’Farrell, piss off out of Marrickville

Barry O’Farrell, I’ve got my eye on you. It’s one thing to start sorting out the mess left after a decade and half of NSW Labor government that was incompetent to the point of, I suspect, corruption. I’m sure we can all provide a list of folks whose bank and phone records we’d like to see pulled by ICAC. But that’s very different from threatening with sacking a local government body whose actions happen not to coincide with the interests of your mates in the pro-Israel cheer squad.

Yes, Marrickville Council decided to boycott Israel over that whole Palestine thing. So what? What business is that of yours as NSW Premier? None.

As an individual, I have the right to hold whatever political views I like. Freedom of thought and freedom of political expression are amongst the very few human rights we’ve properly protected here in Australia. Should I decide that some individual, group, business, organisation or nation holds views so repugnant that I’d rather not support them, then it’s my right not to do business with them.

As a proper, legally-constituted, legitimately-elected local government body — as a legal “person” — the Marrickville Council also has that basic legal right to choose who it does business with.

Now as it happens, I reckon Marrickville’s decision wasn’t terribly well thought through. As my colleague Josh Taylor over at ZDNet Australia points out, boycotting everything that comes out of Israel denies you access to the latest computing technology from Intel, amongst other things. The very fact that Marrickville Council didn’t respond to his questions but instead waved him off to a prepared statement at their website proves, in my opinion, that they don’t have the intellectual integrity or moral backbone to discuss and stand by their decision. By all means criticise them for that.

But until very recently I’d spent most of a decade as a citizen of Marrickville. Yes, there’s a certain idealistic leftism suffusing the place, if I may resort to that tediously tired old left-right classification. But from a resident’s perspective they got on with the job of delivering services with far fewer allegations of dodgy behaviour than certain Labor-dominated local councils I could name. Or Liberal-dominated councils, for that matter. Why isn’t your attention focussed on them?

So, Mr O’Farrell, unless you’ve got some prima facie evidence of corruption or misconduct on the part of Marrickville Council, piss off out of it. It’s up to the citizens of Marrickville to decide whether they do or don’t support their Council’s actions, no-one else’s.

You’ve got enough on your plate to be getting on with as it is, Mr O’Farrell. Get on with it.

The 9pm Edict #11

The 9pm EdictA criminal is dead, and Australian media dances on his grave. Another man dies after being chucked out of the country — but he’s a criminal too, so who cares? And something about a volcano and aeroplanes.

After a ridiculously long break, here is episode 11 of The 9pm Edict. Enjoy.

You can listen to this episode below. But if you want them all, subscribe to the podcast feed, or even subscribe automatically in iTunes.

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For more information about the topics covered in this episode, check out how the Victorian government may have to pay compensation for the death in prison of Carl Williams, the bizarre case against Christine Nixon, the federal government’s changes to refugee processing, Tony Abbott’s border protection truck, how Australia leads the global economic recovery, and the sad tale of Andrew Moore.

If you’d like to comment on this episode, please add your comment below, or Skype to stilgherrian or phone Sydney +61 2 8011 3733.

[Credits: The 9pm Edict theme by mansardian, Edict fanfare by neonaeon, all from The Freesound Project. Photograph of Stilgherrian taken 29 March 2009 by misswired, used by permission.]

Without civil liberties…

“The only difference between a Nation State and a Mafioso protection racket is the letterhead and the rituals — and the series of concessions, hard-won over eight centuries, that we call ‘civil liberties’.”

That’s the start of my guest post today for Electronic Frontiers Australia, entitled Without civil liberties, government is just a criminal racket.

It’s an essay that combines some thoughts about the constant battle for civil liberties with my reaction to the video posted by Wikileaks at Collateral Murder. It’s footage from 2007 showing a Reuters photojournalist and his driver and others being killed by US helicopter gunfire in Baghdad. It’s footage the US Department of Defence didn’t want you to see. It’s challenging to watch.

This is one of a series of guest posts for the EFA as part of their current fundraising campaign.