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The Daily Briefing 16/12/2005


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Your round-up from today's newspapers plus the best writing, analysis, critical thinking and humour from around the world.

In today's TDB:
1    National, Opinion, Business round-up

1 See you next year
The last national round-up for the year is done, and available at the link below. One last chance for this year to see TDB outraged by what passes for journalism at our national daily. (Just a note about that - the briefing did not set out to be a media watch service, nor to belt up on any particular media outlet. But when you consume so much journalism from around the world every day, and watch closely what The Australian does, from the perspective of someone who cares about this flawed but invaluable profession, then it gets a bit hard to button your lip when it is being so blatantly corrupted.)


National, Opinion, Business round-up


It's a taxing morning for the papers, which all report that the Federal Government is "under pressure" to deliver tax cuts, none with more gusto than The Australian of course, which reports that business leaders are demanding the Howard Government use its massive budget surplus for structural tax reform instead of another round of "half-hearted" tax cuts. (It would certainly be news if business leaders were not demanding such things.) The Age reports that another round of income tax cuts is at the top of the Federal Government's agenda for next year after confirmation that it is on track to amass more than $40 billion in surpluses on the back of soaring tax collections. Michelle Grattan looks at the tensions between Peter Costello and Malcolm Turnbull and says if there is to be tax reform, it should come after public debate and not simply be delivered from on high in the Budget. The Australian reports that $200m in wrongly collected tax will be repaid to more than 200,000 individuals and businesses after a huge bungle by the Australian Taxation Office.

The Herald is again suffering the impact of strike action, so fewer links from that source, although it does report that hundreds of striking editorial staff at Fairfax newspapers The Sydney Morning Herald and The Sun-Herald have been ordered back to work by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission and will consider their position today.

The Age reports that the Senate's RU486 inquiry has turned to the question at what stage in a pregnancy does the embryo have rights of its own distinct from the mother's right over her body?; that members of an alleged Melbourne terrorist group considered launching bomb attacks to pressure the Federal Government "in pursuit of jihad Australia", a prosecutor said; that the army will undergo its most radical shake-up since World War II with a $1.5 billion reorganisation built around nine heavily equipped "battlegroups" able to fight wars and carry out major peacekeeping operations at short notice anywhere in the world; that the proportion of Australians in custody has increased by 25 per cent over the past decade, according to figures released yesterday by the Australian Bureau of Statistics; and that Justice Brian Martin yesterday urged Bradley John Murdoch to reveal where he buried Peter Falconio's body — then sentenced him to at least 28 years' jail for the murder.

The Australian reports that scientist Barry Marshall, whose research on stomach ulcers won him a Nobel prize, is claiming up to $US8 million ($10.5 million) in unpaid royalties for a detection device produced by a US company; that South Australia's deadly listeria crisis has exposed a rift in state Government ranks, with one senior minister suggesting that a "zero tolerance" policy on food contamination may be "too rigorous" on meat producers; that Arabic community members say they have been targeted in a spate of race attacks that have reportedly included women having their veils torn off; and that Cronulla's beaches might be divided into sections to remove some of the tensions that erupted into mob violence this week; and that prosecutors are considering criminal charges against a high-profile lawyer, a former senior police officer and a now-disgraced adviser to the Victorian police commissioner over misappropriation of funds allegations involving a Melbourne millionaire.

And in yet another example of how The Australian goes about its work, it reports that "Australia can no longer rely on its remoteness from the world's trouble spots to keep it safe, particularly when confronted by terrorists willing to use weapons of mass destruction". (No attribution in that lead paragraph - it's from the Defence Department's update, and departments do tend to talk up their case for resources; and no questioning of the claim - the actual chances of it happening, quotes from experts about the difficulty of terrorists actually delivering a WMD attack on Australia. Zilch. Government fear-mongering reported as holy writ, without a hint of scepticism. And they call it journalism. Bah humbug!)

A woman has been found alive after 63 days under the rubble of Pakistan's earthquake; and we were sad to learn that Jess and Marty have split, or at least we might have been if we had the slightest idea who Jess and Marty were, and why we should care.

But there is good news in the papers, as John Howard declares that Australia is still 'Godzown' country - "It's still the greatest place on earth - PM".


The Age: Richard Larkins (Monash University vice-chancellor) argues the Government is singling the universities out for special legislation that is ideologically driven, while ignoring the major issues like funding; Natasha Cica sees in recent events and legislation a failure of leadership, and wonders how long it will be before those who care about such things do something about it; Renata Alexander (family law barrister) says forcing joint parenting and shared custody upon parents who are in conflict and unco-operative can be harmful to children; and Paul Austin says the Bracks Government is "the home of world-class performances" when it comes to spin and self-promotion.

The Australian: Michael Costello takes up the case of David Hicks, even though he says this is not easy, making the obvious point that he should be treated according to rule of law because that is one of the things the war on terror is meant to be about; Paul Dibb thinks there are some good things in yesterday's defence announcement, but takes another shot at the yet to be deployed amphibious ships, and worries it will produce a one-shot ADF; Keith Windschuttle ties himself in logical knots as he argues that the Cronulla riot was a multicultural riot, not a race riot; and Frank Devine thinks John Howard is lucky to have such useless enemies.

The SMH: Richard Ackland looks at John Howard's history on race issues and says "is it any wonder, for a man who has spoken out of both sides of his mouth for 30 years on race, that he wouldn't detect just the tiniest hint of racism in the land he leads, and moreover not lift a finger to do anything about it?"; David Miller (Daily Telegraph) remembers the Munich Olympic Games after seeing the movie "Munich" and says revenge as an ideology is as doomed; Nick Squires (Daily Telegraph) trots out a few familiar lines about Australia after Cronulla and Falconio; and Richard Larkins, see Age above.


The Australians lead reports the Australian Stock Exchange will spin off its role as market supervisor into a subsidiary company and spend an extra $10.4 million to lift the poor strike rate on prosecutions for insider trading as it races to keep pace with the booming share market. The paper also reports that the takeover battle for Patrick Corp is about to get personal, with the company set to sue Toll Holdings chief Paul Little and director Mark Rowsthorn over allegations of misleading and deceptive conduct at their joint venture rail business Pacific National; and that Telecom New Zealand has warned of falling valuations across the industry, as it starts a long-awaited formal process to review its struggling Australian business AAPT.

The Fairfax papers report that Macquarie Bank has delivered a slap in the face to directors of the London Stock Exchange by reiterating a takeover bid they derided a week ago; that Peter Costello has slashed more than $6.5 billion from the valuation of the Government's 51 per cent stake in Telstra; that the shortlist of bidders for the Myer department stores has expanded because Ironbridge Capital is back in contention after joining forces with two other private equity groups in advance of presentations today and Monday by Myer managing director Dawn Robertson; and that the World Trade Organisation is trying to forge a global agreement this week to remove all tariffs and quotas on products from the world's 50 least-developed countries in the hope this will clear the way to wider agreements on trade reform.

Bryan Frith says welter of claims and counter-claims make it difficult to sort out just who's behaving badly in the spat between Toll and its takeover target, Patrick Corp, over their 50-50 owned rail joint venture, Pacific National, but he thinks it Patricks; and Stephen Bartholomeusz thinks the contrast between the outcome of the floats of Goodman Fielder, SP AusNet and Spark Infrastructure is telling - who would have thought that Goodman would be the one to be most highly sought after?


The Daily Telegraph: Joanne Lees has revealed how her dreams of spending the rest of her life with her boyfriend were shattered when he was murdered on a lonely Outback highway; Schapelle Corby's mother yesterday denied that photographs of her daughter relaxing at a party with friends implied the former beauty student had anything to do with drugs.

The Herald-Sun: Commonwealth Games fans will have to wait up to an hour to enter the MCG under the toughest counter-terror measures imposed in Australia. Security checks will be similar to those at international airports; Joanne Lees' grief at losing her soul mate Peter Falconio was summed up in five words in a Darwin courtroom yesterday. "It is lonely being me," she said.

The Courier-Mail: Organised criminals are sending millions of dollars worth of stolen Queensland property to interstate and overseas buyers; An off-duty police officer has been caught three times over the alcohol limit driving home from his work Christmas party – in a paddy wagon.

The Advertiser: The family of a man killed by food poisoning while he was a patient at the Royal Adelaide Hospital was told he would be "coming home" just days before his death; The relocation of an army battalion to South Australia will provide more economic and employment benefits than the $6 billion air warfare destroyer contract.

The West Australian: The man who will reap hundreds of thousands of taxpayers' dollars in compensation for injuries he received while lying drunk on a road yesterday defended his payout, saying the tow-truck driver who ran over him should have seen him; West Australians are turning their backs on the needy this Christmas despite living in an economic boom time expected to result in a record spending spree on festive gifts, food and drink.

The Mercury: Brian Harradine says Howard Government can't hide behind the Telstra board over a backflip on its guarantee on jobs for Tasmania; Education Minister Paula Wriedt's new Essential Learnings report cards were attacked as nonsensical yesterday -- by a candidate from her own political party.


Outspoken South Africa captain Graeme Smith says he is trying to stay out of the sledging controversy engulfing the first Test against Australia at the WACA starting today, but admits there will be "heated moments"; Former world 100m record holder Tim Montgomery has announced his retirement, one day after receiving a two-year doping ban from the Court of Arbitration for Sport; America's welterweight boxing champion Zab Judah has issued Kostya Tszyu an insult-laden invitation for a re-match of their controversial 2001 world-title bout; A relaxed and rejuvenated Ian Thorpe will start his sprint campaign in earnest in Sydney today at a star-studded NSW swimming championships, with his manager believing his charge has greater desire than ever.
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Still no sign of 'Democracy'

As some early numbers come in from last Thursday’s poll in Iraq, it seems that the Iraqi people have shown exactly what they think of the man that the US initially tried to foist on their nation as their new leader – the same man that the neoconservatives in the Bush administration used to reinforce the lies that got the war started in the first place – the secular Ahmed Chalabi, looks like he now won’t even be getting a seat in the new Iraqi parliament after getting less than half of one percent of the vote in Baghdad.

It also seems that that other Iraqi criminal and accused murderer of captured insurgents and ex-prime minister, Ayad Allawi, has not fared much better. His coalition party, the Iraqi List, has so far shown only about 14% of the poll.

The US, however, will no doubt be delighted to learn that the religious parties, particularly the Shiite groups, are doing very well in early counting. And, of course, in the appropriate regions, the Sunnis aren’t doing too badly either. Problem is, though, the Shiites are going to be reluctant to let the Sunnis in on the new government, especially if it’s the religious Shiites that get up. This means more insurgency, which means the US will be in no rush to drawdown too many troops thus maintaining their hold on the region.

Democracy running rampant through the region? I think not! The only thing running rampant through the region are American troops.

Son Of Star Wars II: Neo-Cons Down Under

"It’s not Star Wars. It’s basically the capability to defeat ballistic missiles whilst they are in the air after launch, during cruise or as they reenter the atmosphere and that defensive capability has developed enormously in the last few years. A year or so ago it was thought to be decades away. Now the United States will in fact deploy the first part of its defence shield next year. So it’s a rapidly advancing technology."

"The need in a very unpredictable world is to be able to defend ourselves, whether it’s troops on the ground or whether it’s strategic assets and what we have is the opportunity to get into this massive project at an early stage, to be able to invest in it, to learn what capabilities might be suitable for us in the future and basically to have that option, the option to be able to develop that form of defence in the future."

"We think that in the science and technology area we will make a contribution from the start. The Americans have been out here looking at our capabilities. They have been most impressed with JORN, for example, and new forms of radar and sensors that are being developed here north of Adelaide. And they will have the opportunity to promote and invest in their science through this project. This is a massive project, a huge public expenditure by the United States and it gives us the opportunity to get into the project and to play our part and to get a benefit in terms of a more secure Australia."

"We will choose the projects within the massive program that we want to invest in and obviously we will do that to the background of our successes to date, in terms of radars and sensors and the like. And we will get benefit back from that investment in terms of better capability for Australia."

"We have said the Air Warfare System will basically be a US design but the US designers are interested in Australian companies contributing complementary parts of the system. That again will be an opportunity that our companies have never had before at that level of sophistication."

Robert Hill December 5 2003

Now let's take the Tardis to December 6 2005

[extract from the Adelaide Advertiser]

Outlining other strengths of the SA defence industry, Senator Hill said the Jindalee Operational Radar Network (JORN) - consisting of two over-the-horizon radars - might be used as part of Australia's contribution to the U.S.'s so-called Star Wars missile shield.

The two over-the-horizon radars are jointly operated from the JORN Coordination Centre at RAAF Base Edinburgh by the No. 1 Radar Surveillance Unit.

Trials of the JORN last year for missile defence proved it was successful in detecting a target.

This involved detecting ballistic missiles during the "early boost phase", allowing earlier interception.

Two days later Minister Hill revealed, while announcing the placement of the AEGIS order, that unless Australia had taken this action Lockheed-Martin would have need to shut down its AEGIS production line, telling The Advertiser that

"Placing the order . . . allows the U.S. to continue manufacturing without halting its production line, bringing about greater efficiency and achieving considerable savings," he said. "The purchase will also maximise opportunity for Australian industry to provide sub-systems such as communications, electronic warfare, sonar, electro-optical sensors and other equipment."

It's good to know that, even though we don't have a final design for the ships yet, we know what we'll shoot from them.

Last Thursday the Pentagon extolled the success of it's Southern Hemispheric Missile Shield trial.

[extract from The Advertiser]

The latest test in the Pacific was designed chiefly to evaluate the performance of the interceptor missile's rocket motor system and Raytheon Co-built "exoatmospheric kill vehicle", the bit designed to smash into the target warhead and pulverise it in space, MDA said.

It also successfully tested, among other things, silo support equipment, the agency said.

Last February, a ground support arm in the silo malfunctioned because of hinge corrosion caused by what MDA later said had been "salt air fog" that entered the underground silo.

Boeing said in a statement that the interceptor will be flown against a live target in subsequent tests.

The flight test yesterday validated the system's ability to track, acquire and provide the interceptor with the data for a "hit-to-kill" intercept, Chicago-based Boeing said.

All told, the United States is spending roughly $US9 billion ($11.95 billion) a year to develop a layered missile shield, including components based at sea and in space. The shield is designed to knock out the type of ocean-leaping missile that could be tipped with a nuclear, chemical or germ warhead.

In  the dramatic public competition for the winning of the AWD contract... two state governments toe-to-toe in the media, complete with Adelaide-base journo-terrorists invading Melbourne to present the case for South Australia. The Advertiser journalists were lead in the charge by Craig Bildstien, former Liberal Member for Mildura and ex press-secretary for Chris Gallus, the Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs.

I had the privelege of hearing South Australian Premier Mike Rann announcing the AWD cpmtract being awarded to Adelaide, telling everyone how when his office received the news "We all shook hands and said "mission accomplished' ". The implication to the South Australian public was that it was the State's Labour Government that had won the deal. Hill didn't have much to say at the time.

Nowadays the relationship is a little more tense. When Senator Hill announced on Thursday that Adelaide was to receive a new 1,200 battallion. Deputy Premier Foley was caught unawares, telling Adelaide ABC's Matthew Abraham and David Bevin that the announcement, though known to be due sometime in the future (nice to know somebody in the Premier's Department has discoverd the internet) was not expected at that time.

As South Australia gears up for an election next March, the job creations Rann's Defence State are going to be loudly proclaimed as a vote-getter. The question is exactly how much of the acquisition of defence contracts is directly attributable to the Federal Liberal Government, the State Labor Government, and the State's former Liberal Government.

It obvious looking at Hill's statements, at a time when Rann had only been in office for six months, that planning for our involvement in the AEGIS program had been developing for much longer than that. In fact, it's been years since the US government requested three ships to participate in the missile shield program.

 Six months ago I wrote an open letter to Victorian Premier Steve Bracks, saying that,

 I share your sense of having participated in a foregone conclusion. Victoria tried hard to win the warships, but as long as the plans created by the Bush Administration and relayed by multinational defence and energy corporations to and through the Australian Federal Government continue on a predetermined implementation schedule, the whims of any State's comparitively tiny political muscle will only be considered in the form of providing crumbs and scraps left over from the main meal.

Nothing that's happened since then has changed my mind.  The one thing I was missing is that if i'm right, a key issue in the next South Australian election consists of an untrustworthy amount of grandstanding by an actor with a very small part.

As long as the election result doesn't affect US Foreign Policy, the Bush Regime wouldn't care who won.  However, it's mystifying that the SA Liberal party, surely able to see what's going on, aren't opposing Rann's publicity campaign.

Iraq's one day of democracy.

The election in Iraq yesterday is being hailed a success. Well, the election, in terms of actual turnout – apparently around 70% – may well have been a success as elections go, but so far that’s all there has been. So far the only thing that as been successful is the management of the actual election. The results, however, will be the real telling of whether or not the election was a success.

All parties involved in this election have encouraged their respective voter blocs to turn out for the election – which, of course, is why the turnout has been high. However a closer look at the leaders of the various factions contending for power soon reveals that ‘democracy’ per se is of little or no interest to any of them.

The two secular Shiite contenders, ex-Ba’ath Party activist, hard-man and accused murderer of resistance fighters, Ayad Allawi, and convicted fraudster and proven liar who fed the lies to the Pentagon neoconservatives in order to start the war in the first place, Ahmad Chalabi, are both men who in the past have shown no respect whatsoever for ‘democracy’. The two Shiite religious contenders, Moktada al-Sadr and Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, apart from being fierce rivals of each other, also have shown little interest in ‘democracy’. Al-Sadr’s main interests are ridding the nation of the invaders and creating a ‘strong’ central government, while al-Hakim would prefer a theocratic Islamic government with close ties to Iran; not very much interest here in ‘democracy’.

The Sunnis are represented by Tarik al-Hashemi, who heads up a Sunni alliance that believes that Iraq should stay as one and, again, has little or no interest in democracy.

Finally the Kurds are represented by Jalal Talabani, the current Iraqi President, and Massoud Barzani, an avid Kurdish nationalist. Both are more interested in Kurdish independence than Iraqi democracy.

The election is merely a tool for all of the contenders to get their respective feet under the table in order to jockey for political power and leverage. The new government, if and when it is able to sort itself out, will not last its allotted four years. The factions alone within each grouping will not allow any form of Western style ‘democracy’ to prevail, and that’s before we start talking about any parliamentary groupings or coalition. Without strong alliances, alliances built without US assistance which will otherwise be seen as serving America’s self interest, there cannot even be any sustainable government, let alone ‘democracy’.

The bottom line is: there may be a period of relative quiet while the sides sort themselves out but it will soon descend into a chaotic free-for-all battle again as temporary coalitions break down and each side demands more of what they consider is their share of power.

In the end there will simply be more of what there is now; insurgents wanting to get rid of the occupiers and plunderers, militias and warlords with their death squads wanting their piece of the corruption action, and the US getting exactly what they wanted in the first place, a nation in turmoil that they can use as an excuse to stay there while they control the region, the oil and protect Israel.

Democracy? Election day is about the only day the Iraqi people will get to see ‘democracy’. They’ve had their day.

Hawke on peace

Tony Walker, in Financial Review ('New candour fails to lift Bush') writes: 

Bush was trying to shift blame for his errors of judgement to the intelligence community. Never mind that he and his senior colleagues cherry-picked the intelligence (as did John Howard and Alexander Downer) to justify the war.

A candid Bush or, put another way, a president who obfuscates less, provides an interesting spectacle. In television appearances and set-piece speeches, he appears uncomfortable with his new role, since admission of error is an alien concept for this President.

The winds of change are rustling the petticoats at The Australian, Wayne. Rupert can't risk hanging on to Bush for much longer, now they've had to concede to McCain's amendments.

This was the second time in less than 24 hours that Congressional concerns about torture - and the damage to America's image wrought by allegations of secret C.I.A. detentions and interrogations - had overwhelmed the Bush administration's intent on keeping an array of tools to wage a difficult, high-stakes battle against terrorism.

I thought I heard a rumour that our national daily is putting together a glowing report on the Perdana Gobal Peace Forum, where Bob Hawke made a speech. Some of the other speakers were Daniel Ellsberg, Tariq Ali, Helen Caldicott, George Gall... Oh, stop it, TK. You know there won't even be a full transcript of Hawke's speech, because it's not in Alan Jones' script. I think I'll subscribe to Aljazeera.


Maybe we would have news on the Perdana Global Peace Forum if the SMH journos weren't on strike. The management's efforts at producing the newspaper were woeful. Why they are intent on stripping the profitable Fairfax of some of it's great talent is bizarre.

That Bob Hawke does get around. Last Saturday I was innocently shopping in Double Bay and I encountered him in a group with Andrew Peacock, Malcolm Turnbull  and tiny singer Leo Sayer walking the footpath and apparently judging the Christmas decorating efforts of the suburb's window dressers. He seems to have more fun in retirement than Malcolm Fraser but delivers some equally inportant messages.

Iraq Elections

I'm a bit surprised not to see any mention of the Iraqi elections here. It's a big story in all the Aussie and overseas media. Why no mention of it here, given how Iraq has loomed so large in Webdiary discussions over the past year?

I, for one, am extremely pleased and heartened to see the high turnout in Iraq, especially in Sunni districts. The election is a huge victory for the Iraqi people, and a stinging rebuke to the Zarqawistas and their supporters.

To me, this development means Iraq is well on the way in its transition to democracy. The insurgency is far from over, the Iraqi government will now have the legitimacy to fight the Zarqawistas that no foreign forces could ever have. The Sunnis have realised it's better to join the government, even as a minority, than to keep trying to fight the transition to participative government.

There's a long way to go to be sure, but this is an encouraging step.

See State of Iraq: An Updateand accompanying graphic in Wednesday's New York Times.

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