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Halliburton down under: taking over South Australia by stealth

Webdiarist Richard Tonkin  lives in Adelaide and has taken a close interest in the doings of Halliburton in Oz. This is his first piece for Webdiary. He writes: "I'm a 39 year old folkie with 25 album credits and a member of the family that has operated respected Adelaide live music venue "The Gov" for a decade. I've spent the last year attempting to publicise the quiet conversion of South Australia from the Festival State to The Defence State. A string of defence related letters has been published in the Adelaide Advertiser, and my research for No-War S.A. resulted in the Halliburton protest that was broadcast on the SBS Dateline feature 'Halliburton Down Under'."

Halliburton down under

by Richard Tonkin

The fanfare surrounding last year's inaugural Adelaide to Darwin rail trip raised alarm bells in many Michael Moore fans. I was sitting on the loo listening to ABC-TV's 7.30 Report (as you do) when for the first time I heard reference to Halliburton on Australian television. CEO Dave Lesar was extolling the company's speed and accuracy in constructing the line.

Fair enough. But the conspiracy theorist in me googled Halliburton Australia. There, nestled amid links to past and present projects, was the same Dave Lesar announcing, in the same week as the first trans-continental Ghan journey, that Halliburton subsidiary KBR had got the oilfield reconstruction contracts for Northern Iraq.

Maybe I'm a bit slow, but the day I realised that a company of such
international military importance was involved in Australian infrastructure construction was not unlike Dorothy's first hours in the land of Oz.

The next eye-catching website was KBR's Infrastructure Division Global Headquarters, located in a suburb of Adelaide ten minutes drive from my house. The people who served the food to U.S. occupying forces and were paying themselves from Iraqi national funds to rebuild oilfields and gas pipes were planning the whole thing from my home city? Impossible! (Media spokesperson Shirley.Knott@halliburton.com was unavailable for
comment).

KBR has a strong but largely anonymous presence in Adelaide. You don't see their logo pasted around the Clipsal 500 racetrack they created, or on any of the major civic refurbishments they consult for and co-ordinate at both State and Local government levels.

You don't encounter their Environmental Impact Assessment of our new Naval Precinct (with concerns over heavy metal concentrations in dolphins and waterway riverbed lime silt contamination from dredging) unless you're looking hard or have it thrust in front of you.

It's far easier to find reports on KBR bribery scandals in Nigeria and the investigation of possible weapons patent falsifications in Britain and U.S Vice President Cheney's denials of company involvement while still on the payroll than to track the "advice" it is giving to the public leaders of South Australia.

When you see a United Water van driving in a backstreet it doesn't bear KBR signage, so you're not made aware that the company that was led by Cheney controls Adelaide's water supply.

Cruising on the Port River Expressway from the City Centre to Port Adelaide you don't see billboards of "construction supervision by Halliburton".

It soon becomes surprising that the S.A. Government has a portfolio of Minister for Infrastructure. Global specialists of undoubtedly signifigantly greater expertise in the subject than any Government Department call South Australia "Home" - except for the ones who fly back and forth from Houston.

When Senator Nick Minchin said in Federal Parliament that Woomera was the safest site for a radioactive waste repository, he didn't mention the KBR-calculated probabilities of environmental damage in the event of a nuclear containment breach from a missile attack. The likelihood was fairly low, backing Minchin's claims that the proposed Woomera site was "the safest".

The company's "safety" statistics for the rest of Australia would make interesting reading, and if missile breach likelihoods have been worked out for one location it's highly unlikely that the formulae and data wouldn't be extrapolated to as many locales as possible. It's more of a bet that we simply haven't been told that somebody's ever been worried enough to go to the trouble of working out possible Australian warhead strikes and radiation leaks as percentages. The natives may become restless, so to speak.

I wonder what the U.S Department of Justice might find if they turned their attention away from possible Halliburton/KBR trading violations in Iran, Iraq, the U.K. and Nigeria and read about Dick Cheney and Malcolm Kinnaird's convenient contract co-ordination in the Profit Powerhouse article recently featured in the SMH business page, or looked at SBS Dateline reporter Sophie McNeill's discovery of Australian defence contracts awarded to KBR without a competitive bidding process.

Given that it's considered necessary to examine the company's activites in the other countries in which it has a strong presence, maybe the U.S. investigators would wish to consider an examination of Halliburton's activities on Australian soil.

There's an important difference in what is happenning to Halliburton  in the U.K. and  Australia. One country has a Global Headquarters (Naval) and is asking America for the examination and exonoration of its prominent U.S. corporate citizen. The other also has a Global Headquarters (Infrastructure) and is doing no such thing. The Australian Department of Defence, without mentioning that anything could be going wrong, has instead chosen to appoint its own "watchdog" to ensure the existance of a competitive bidding process in the current round of naval contract negotiations. If Oz's DoD feels the need to be perceived as above suspicion, than no doubt it is aware of the suspicions that it needs to be perceived as above. Did I get that right, Sir Humphrey? Minister Hill?

To round off a year of confusing pieces of information 2004 ended, as it began, with a very special Adelaide to Darwin rail trip. This time the Ghan was fully booked as a first-class trip for partying associates of Adelaide business magnate Robert Gerard, many of whom flew home at the journey's end. Mr Gerard, as Cosima Mariner wrote in Guess Who's Coming To Barbecue With The Bushes, sat at Howard's  Canberra barbie for Dubya. (Margo: Gerard donated $244,806 for the Libs' 2001 election campaign and $187,000 to the Libs in 2002-03, after which the government appointed him to the Reserve Bank Board.)

Gerard’s party train, while noted in the Darwin press, trundled along Halliburton-laid tracks unnoticed by the residents of Adelaide, just as the boxcars of missile launchers and radioactive waste often do.

The song in the movie says it best- "that's how we laugh the days away in the merry old land of Oz." I'm beginning to consider myself as an audience of a "reality fantasy" with a plot much more imaginative than Frank Baum's masterpiece. Baum would have bowed with respect to US Vice President Cheney for his visionary orchestrations as Halliburton CEO, as I wouldn't be suprised if they did every day in many offices all over Adelaide.

Maybe the American Department Of Justice's probes will clear the company of all the allegations of wrong-doing it currently faces. It's likely that KBR is not participating in any unethical practices on Australian soil. However, if so many places in the world reckon that it would be nice to be sure, then why should Australia feel guilty about also wanting to be certain that the Australian faces of global defence companies are being good little munchkins?

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