– Australia’s curious case of Ross Cameron, MP (page 1)
– The government’s lawyers weigh in on how elected representatives ought to behave: (page 3)
– Wikileaks Party, Professor Keane, ASIO and the September 2013 Australian federal election. (page 5)
– Australia’s criminalisation of political activity (page 6)
The Magna Carta in 1215 is considered to be the beginning of democracy in England. It is a legal document that imposed constraints upon the rule of the unpopular and absolute monarch King John who until then had ruled with arbitrary decrees and absolute power. Immediately prior to this, the king had been faced with a stark choice: share power or perish in the face of rebellion. The Magna Carta stripped him of absolute power and transferred certain rights and civil liberties to others in the kingdom. Democracy has since offered stability and a powerful, peaceful feedback loop to power elites in England and other countries around the world that have adopted it that is lacking in authoritarian regimes.
The methods of the FBI and ASIO, as well as other Western security forces, are driven by ideological factors. If the public is apathetic and passive in acceptance of the intelligence agency decision to move away from democratic values to a state controlled system of government the general population will find it has a heavy burden to carry – despite the current economic success of China and Singapore: history has shown how centralised governments respond in times of great social stress with ruthless treatment of individuals which democracies are designed to protect. Populations that want the benefits of centralised control in the good times, give up the benefits of being part of a democracy with strong protection for individual rights in difficult times. If the public is too inclined to accept the world as presented by those in power uncritically, and to accept the erosion of their democratic rights, it risks a confrontation with the darker side of political reality that people are corrupt and no system is perfect, or near perfect – as Churchill said “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” And Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, warned, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
Our democracy is increasingly controlled and undermined from all angles by faceless intelligence agencies. They help select, shape and mould our legislators, and through them foist their foreign and domestic policies on the public – no matter how unpopular, unjust or in the case of war, violent.
In Australia, the intelligence agencies systematically and secretly manage the pool of candidates presented to voters rooting out those they deem unacceptable: to those familiar with their techniques, it could be seen that they undermined the Wikileaks Party and its candidates who contested the 2013 federal election, among others, and conducted a covert operation against Ross Cameron in reprisal for his outspoken opposition to the Iraq war in 2003.
This segment is included here as it vividly demonstrates the overreach, hidden role and real world impact of power exercised abusively by domestic intelligence agency activity.
Australia’s curious case of Ross Cameron, MP
In Australia, parliamentarians have the right to vote their conscience, to cross the floor on any issue and vote with the opposition. However, parliamentary discipline is strong and members rarely do so. While members who cross the floor may be penalised by their party for doing so and find their career options constrained in the future, what is interesting is how this control is enforced by ASIO on matters it secretly declares to be national interest priorities.
ASIO, as an institution that reflects and shapes establishment values, acted in a way reminiscent of inappropriate Australian responses in past eras to political pressures of the day such as the White Australia Policy, the Stolen Generation, the Maralinga British nuclear test site in South Australia on Aboriginal traditional lands, the Vietnam War and today’s mandatory immigration detention of asylum seekers: it self-declared the national interest and unofficially took charge of Australia’s push to war as an issue of national importance – that the country must support the US in going to war no matter what – even an illegal, pre-emptive war as Iraq was.
The intelligence used to justify the war was falsified, and in hindsight the consensus of opinion is that the US invaded Iraq to secure access to low cost energy, to block the Chinese and give it lock in a key strategic advantage over the Chinese economy and geopolitical claims in the region. Energy is not such a pressing concern since the US discovered huge amounts of low cost energy at home in oil shale and coal seam gas reserves in the decade that followed the invasion of Iraq. It cost the lives of 500,000 innocent civilians in Iraq plus soldiers, and around 5,000 US and coalition soldiers and was a massive reputational blunder for leaders in the West. Indeed, in 2011 a War Crimes Tribunal in Malaysia found President Bush and British Prime Minister Blair guilty of war crimes in absentia.
It seems principles of truth, justice and freedom were the exceptional traits of the Founding Fathers and several generations of persecuted American pilgrims, than an enduring and defining trait, absent in modern day political America.
The problem with the intelligence agencies like ASIO and the FBI/CIA is that they are bestowed with totalitarian powers, free of effective oversight, and seemingly beyond the control of legislators. Restoring control of these agencies, potentially via judicial oversight seems to give the greatest chance of holding them accountable. In Australia, the Hope Royal Commission envisaged and recommended mandatory, broad ranging royal commission’s every 8 years’ or so that would investigate the intelligence agencies. A radical departure such as this from current practice, would be the closest thing to a revolution Australia has seen. Control of what is arguably Australia’s most powerful political authority, the kingmaker and destroyer, would pass from a secret cabal of unknown individuals to the public via an open and accountable judicial system of review, and no doubt uncover many jarring political and spy agency scandals.
The secrecy and associated lack of accountability gives the government and ASIO the power to selectively abuse the human rights of groups of Australians they want for political gain and hide their activities behind the mantra of “national security”. It is an egregious betrayal of Australian values and of our country’s legal commitment to UN treaties:
[T]he government wants to pick and choose whose rights it respects and whose it violates with impunity. This is not a democratic ”rebalancing”. It just gives more power to the powerful, and leaves the powerless with even less. It is perverse, facile and fanatical.
One high profile, courageous and up-and-coming Member of Parliament, Ross Cameron, Liberal MP for Parramatta broke ranks with the governing Liberal Coalition under Prime Minister John Howard and, guided by his conscience and electorate, spoke out against the Iraq War in 2003. In Cameron’s case he found out how ASIO operates without realising the agency had targeted him in retribution for his outspoken opposition to the Howard government’s push to war in Iraq. When ASIO’s ideals clash with the publics’, elected MPs are caught in the middle. With all of its unconstrained power, and collaborative oversight in tow, what did ASIO do when it wanted something against the moral will and best interest of the Australian people? Read below.
Ross Cameron: The below press clips reveal the public face of Cameron’s confession and infidelity but conceal the involvement of ASIO in his setup and downfall. Cameron acted honourably in calling for the truth before agreeing to declare war on Iraq and in doing so acted within his parliamentary powers, and in accordance with his duty and his conscience. Such leadership qualities resulted in an early end of his political career in a very ASIOesq way. The sordid and ruthless Machiavellian methods deployed to achieve this result are more generally associated with the behaviour of a despotic regime, not readily observable by a naive democratic public, not reported in the controlled mainstream media and virtually never find their way into the courts.
1. Some articles describing Cameron’s ‘convenient’ downfall:
The ‘convenience’ of the downfall and the precise timing of the release to coincide with the eve of Cameron’s re-election campaign, as well as the reliable, time tested deployment of ‘honey traps’- female agents briefed and trained to seduce their target, bear the hallmarks and motivations of an ASIO sting, which is a more credible explanation of the events than the ‘mere’ bad luck, poor judgement, career suicide, self confession and coincidence described by the mainstream media.
An editor of a mainstream newspaper would presumably not publish such a story without knowing there was an absolutely irrefutable source; concrete evidence behind such allegations that would stand up in court (presumably recordings/video). Conveniently, not one of the articles found on the web (nor elsewhere) name the woman involved in the scandal. Just as conveniently, none of the articles linked either the woman or her flatmate who just happened to be a journalist for a mainstream paper, to ASIO.
Article 1: (click) I’ve cheated: ‘Family man’ MP’s bombshell, from The Sun-Herald, August 15, 2004
Article 2: (click) Scandal MP Ross Cameron plans a return to politics From: The Daily Telegraph, September 15, 2011
At the time of writing (Dec 2011), a google search for Ross Cameron turned up multiple press clips and entries on the web. But only negative stories had survived the censors cut and remained accessible – those related to his downfall in 2003; or those that contained otherwise disparaging comments about some aspect of his subsequent endeavours. The positive articles had been removed. There were no articles found, despite wide reporting in the mainstream press of the day (2002-03), that reveal the honourable defence Cameron posed in raising the level of public debate, the risk and sacrifice he made in articulating the shortcomings of the government’s arguments presented to the public by the then Liberal Prime Minister John Howard who repeatedly cited false intelligence in a series of ill-reasoned justifications for the push to war in Iraq. Indicative of ASIO’s involvement, this very positive part of Cameron’s history has been illicitly removed from the web.
2. Some articles describing Cameron’s attempt to hold his government accountable:
In an effort to rewrite history, the censors from ASIO have removed all mention of Cameron’s conscientious objection to the Iraq war from the web.
The current-day censors from ASIO appear to have stripped the internet bare of all material that could be construed as supportive of the honourable role Ross Cameron played in holding his Party and the Government of the day accountable for their decisions. It is expected that elected government representatives have a reliable and accountable debate in full view of the public, particularly about a matter that could see the country enter an unpopular, and possibly illegal, pre-emptive war. Cameron demonstrated political leadership, and his views reflected the general sentiment of many in his electorate and indeed the general sentiment of the country. He did the right thing to speak out; his undoing was that he did so in a country that does not have a genuinely free and healthy democracy; one that does not hold wayward intelligence officials to account.
It is unfortunate that our intelligence agencies remove such MPs and likeminded people from office, not to mention the methods they use to do so. Without a doubt, their methods are a national disgrace. ASIO’s covert heavy handedness deprives the country of healthy democratic debate and potential strong future political leadership.
The government’s lawyers weigh in on how elected representatives ought to behave:
Some years ago, I had the opportunity to hear the Australian Solicitor-General, Dr David Bennett speak. He was the government’s chief lawyer during the antagonistic Bush/Blair/Howard years. His legal opinion had great influence on government matters – contentious issues such as the Iraq War, as well as what legal constraints should be imposed on the country’s intelligence agencies.
It was 2006, and I was invited with a small group of 15 or 20 people to hear him talk at the Harvard Club in Sydney. Judging by my previous encounters with some of the other attendees present, the meeting was well represented by ASIO operatives.
Like many of Bennett’s contemporaries who held top political office at the time, he was suffocatingly arrogant I thought. He brashly declared that elected officials in parliament always ought to toe their party line. There was no room for compromise. It is not a unanimously held view, nor is it law, but he reduced a complex matter to a simple black and white outcome. He was unequivocal. In his view, a vote for an individual candidate is always a vote for the party they represent. As such, the candidate, if elected to office, is always duty bound to be on message and vote in accordance with their party’s dictates, on all matters, without room for individual electoral considerations.
Of course, an electorate’s reasons for voting a candidate into office is more complex than his assessment allows – but it is evidently a simplification that enables bureaucrats to make decisions, based on binary inputs, sometimes with devastating results.
No one in the US, or Australia for that matter, anticipated at the time of the 2000 US presidential election, the likelihood that in the next presidential term the US would launch an illegal war in Iraq based on fabricated intelligence, and without UN sanction. Why should every electorate in the country, and every individual representative, blithely support such a war, particularly when the burdens and benefits accrue so disproportionately across different segments of the country. Why should party lines be automatically followed in such a case?
Certain electorates bear a disproportionate burden in sending their young to fight the country’s wars, especially in the US, but also in Australia – poor, uneducated adolescents take the brunt of bearing that burden – the nations’ shock troops and foot soldiers. Their elected representatives should be able to vote their conscience to reflect the overwhelming sentiment of their electorate when they vote to authorise sending their country to war or not. Conscription likewise – who could be expected to remain politically disengaged while the government, on a false pretext, forced their sons and daughters to go to war. What does ASIO (and the FBI) expect elective representatives to do? Turn a blind eye to matters that their constituents, and in the case of the Iraq war, the country, cared deeply about?
I saw the impact of war on these poorer communities firsthand – in the small desert town of Wilcox in southern Arizona which I visited a number of times from 2003 to 2008. It is an impoverished old western rail town. Its dry and dusty streets are mostly deserted and are lined with basic, low cost box like homes. I recall the disturbing image in its post office of a wall lined with photos of the community’s many young people who had died fighting for their country since 2003 in the Iraq War. The huge number of deaths, represented by multiple ethnicities, was a burden borne by this small community way out of proportion to the rest of the country.
What responsibility do elected representatives have to inform their constituents of the dangers – should they not serve as “safeguards against secret machinations” of state? Could it be expected that not even one representative could be found with the courage to stand up against nefarious state conspiracies, even when their own constituents’ lives, the very people who trusted and voted for them to represent their interests, are at stake? As Alexander Hamilton, one of the founding fathers of America, chief of staff to General Washington, and influential framer of the constitution asked in considering the redemptive power of the legislature, “Can it be supposed there would not be found one man, discerning enough to detect so atrocious a conspiracy, or bold or honest enough to appraise his constituents of the danger?”
The separation of powers should have protected Cameron from being ravaged by ASIO in standing up for his constituents. What did ASIO expect Cameron to tell his constituents (and the FBI the congressman whose district includes Wilcox)? The fact that Cameron wasn’t protected is an indication of how precariously we are positioned as a democracy and how damaging to our democracy the intelligence agencies have become.
Echoing Hamilton’s sentiment, prominent Australian lawyer, Tony Fitzgerald, QC who led the investigation that exposed massive state corruption in Queensland under Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen, said in 2013 concerning politicians’ responsibility to the public:
“I cannot believe that people yield up the ability to act in accordance with their conscience in order to act in accordance with the directions of the party. It makes no sense to me that the faceless men tell you how to vote.”
Notwithstanding these electoral complexities of elected representatives having the right to vote their conscience and district’s constituent interests, the rigid response of the intelligence agencies was intent on one thing – to destroy the careers of dissenting elected representatives, and as much of their private lives as they could reach – family life, social life – as punishment for not toeing the line. And the government’s lead lawyers were in lock step.
Wikileaks Party, Professor Keane, ASIO and the September 2013 Australian federal election
I attended a presentation by Professor John Keane (Director, Institute for Democracy and Human Rights at Sydney University) at the Australian Institute of International Affairs (AIIA) in Sydney 19 November 2013.
The title of his presentation was “People Power in Global Politics”. I found it commendable that he praised the good works of Wikileaks for exposing government corruption and its role in helping to strengthen democracy, yet odd that he had been very critical of the Wikileaks Party during a previous presentation at Sydney University in the lead up to the earlier September Australian federal election, an election in which the Wikileaks Party was standing several highly qualified and credible candidates.
Why did professor Keane attack the Wikileaks Party in such an overtly political way by making detrimental statements in the lead up to the election given his evident ideological support now?
Alison Broinowski, a candidate for the Wikileaks Party, who was also in the AIIA audience, asked him a question about this inconsistency, however, in answering he evaded the substance of her question. Moreover, another member of AIIA in the audience, who had contributed nothing to the conversation, burst out very forcefully in his defence calling out something to the effect that Alison’s question was nonsense and didn’t need to be responded to. It was an attempt to disrupt the exchange and change the topic – evidently coming to the professor’s aid in an attempt to save him the embarrassment of having to respond to a very good, well targeted question.
Professor Keane’s inconsistent but well timed statements in public, at a critical time in the electoral cycle, damaging to the Wikileaks Party election prospects, and the odd defence he received from a member of the audience at the AIIA event who aggressively came to his assistance has the hallmarks of ASIO interference all over it, something I have become quite familiar with over the years. The only vehement attacks I heard against the Wikileaks Party and Julian Assange in the run up to the September federal election came from government intelligence minions.
Unfortunately, ASIO is not required to disclose its surveillance and interference operations in Australia, even when directed against a political party or any other of its equally nefarious activities designed to further establishment interests. Further, I think back to my college days, reminded of when some of these eccentric looking old men and women professors were quietly sounding out individual students on whether they might like to interview for an agency job – fulfilling the role of resident recruitment officer, a ‘talent-spotter’ or campus ‘agent provocateur’ for some intelligence agency on campus.
If democracy means freedom of the people to choose, then we fall short of the definition in Australia.
Australia’s criminalisation of political activity
It is surprising the ways the legal system has been co-opted to penalise political activity in Australia criminalising reporting on ASIO operations by the media and disclosing agents’ names – even where those agents are likely operating outside the law; and very likely they are acting recklessly and outside of Australia’s wider national interests for short term commercial gains, with links to scandals such as the Australian Wheat Board (AWB) Iraq kickbacks and bugging of the East Timor parliament during a commercial negotiation over gas rights.
ASIO abuses these protections to its benefit, so as to give the agency illegitimate and widespread access to Australian power and decisions of policy, rightly the preserve of the parliament and its elected representatives. Any ASIO insider that breaks ranks and discloses ASIO interference with Australian political parties, their representatives or candidates, ASIO involvement in civil society and such like faces years in jail. Any newspaper editors and journalists that publish details of such leaks also face years in jail, even where ASIO is acting illegally and outside its mandate. What should be a free and open democratic process, transparent and accountable, has been brought in behind closed doors within the country’s powerful intelligence agencies. The agencies motives and agendas are not subject to verifiable scrutiny and its office holders not democratically elected, whose agenda’s are all too often self serving – concentration of power and political order, glory and reputation. It makes a mockery of democracy and due process.
People opposing ASIO interference in domestic politics risk being jailed if they expose ASIO shenanigans. Domestic politics is rightly the domain of civil, democratic society. Despite being billed as a free, democratic country and self righteously critical of countries that lock up political prisoners, Australian citizens risk being jailed for their political involvement. Any agent, informant or collaborator in the know – on the inside, about the setup and downfall of Ross Cameron would be faced with a jail sentence if they disclosed such activity, likewise relevant employees of any news organisation that ran the story.
The number of people jailed in Australia for exposing ASIO activities as insiders is not known. What is clear, however, is that where the jailing has occurred for exposing illegal or inappropriate ASIO interference in domestic political squirmishes and policy matters, it has created a class of Australian political prisoner. It a sophisticated ploy intended to hide and deny their existence. In outlawing such disclosure and effort to fight back on domestic political involvement by ASIO, Australia has criminalised legitimate political conduct. Like other countries that hide this disturbing reality, they are labelled criminals, are prosecuted in closed courts and are shunted off to a prison to spend time behind bars.
The ASIO Act is a draconian piece of legislation. Penalties for breaching the Act include jail terms for crimes such as unauthorised disclosure of the identity of officers, employees, or agents and publication of details of ASIO operations and operatives. Penalties for unauthorised exposure are 1 year in prison. If unauthorised disclosures are made by officers, employees, or agents, the penalty is 2 years’ in jail. These penalties and crimes are now being reviewed and extended by parliament – with 10 year prison sentences now likely to become law.
Former Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in the foreword to his book in 2013, The Whitlam Legacy, made a profoundly important and timely insight that Australia should “never forget the primacy of parliament as the great forum for developing, presenting and explaining policy.” Like at all great politicians his timing, incisiveness and eloquence is superb. His comments reverberate as if in a steel bunker, at a time when the relevance and influence of the Australian parliament seems to be waning, supplanted by the 24/7 news cycle and ever tightening grip of the intelligence agencies on political and personal life in Australia. The prominence, indeed infamy of Australian spies was nationwide news following Snowden’s NSA leaks that Australia had bugged the telephones of the Indonesian president, his wife and senior officials which lead to a terse international backlash.
What is becoming evident, there are benefits to following democratic values and procedure. There are flaws too, but the alternative pursuit of totalitarian ideals, while producing short term benefits, is ultimately a road to ruin. Nowhere is this more profoundly understood than in Germany, where the response to NSA revelations about American spying on German leaders has met with the most astringent, repugnant backlash. The world does not trust these totalitarian tools and will rise against their users if they do not self implode first.
Author: John Wilson