20 September 2003

Prehistoric pines coming to a garden near you

Sydney - The Wollemi pine is so precious that anyone attempting to find the secret stands of the 150-million-year-old 'living fossil' in Australia's south-east corner risks a fine of AUS$220 000 (about R1,6-million).

But botanist Sally McGeoch said Friday that before the end of next year saplings of a species once thought extinct would be on sale in garden centres around the world.

The pines are in commercial cultivation and 150 000 of them will be ready for release in 18 months.

McGeoch, spokesperson for Wollemi Pine International, told Australia's AAP news agency that the Jurassic-age Wollemi had generated phenomenal interest among gardeners in the United States, Asia and Europe.

The pines could survive in hot or cold climates and would even suit apartment dwellers. 'They grow particularly well indoors, so for people that don't have large backyards, that's great news,' McGeoch said.

Ranger Dave Noble came across the stand of Wollemi in September 1994 in the Blue Mountains a couple of hours' drive from Sydney.

The 500 000 hectare patch where the stand was found was designated the Wollemi Wilderness and is out of bounds to the general public.

Professor Carrick Chambers, director of Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens, said at the time of the discovery that it was 'the equivalent of finding a small dinosaur still alive on earth'.

I am not on a paleontological kick. I am simply showing that public enterprise can grow an almost-extinct species much more effectively than Canadian contractors can grow cannabis. I am not sure what that says about the ethos of the two nations.

Kurt Nimmo: Colin Powell, Exploiting the Dead of Halabja

Powell's macabre stop at the mass graves of Halabja was stage managed to counter criticism over the United States' failure to find Saddam's illusory caches of chemical and biological weapons. 'What happened over the intervening 15 years?' Powell asked rhetorically, referencing the period since the Halabja attack. 'Did he suddenly lose the motivation?'

No, Colin. Saddam was no longer useful -- and there was no longer any reason to sell him weapons of mass destruction after the Iran-Iraq war was fought to a bloodstained draw. David Kay, the former UN inspector who is head of the Defense Intelligence Agency's Iraq Survey Group, will not find any WMD in Iraq -- not because Saddam furtively hid them but rather because they don't exist.

And that's because the US stopped providing them soon after Iraq Invasion I.

One of the weirdest things about the unreality pouring out of the White House is the claim that hey are shocked, shocked I tell you, to learn that Saddam used chemical weapons against his own people. Somehow they misspeak the fact that the US administration provided diplomatic cover for use of those weapons.

Australia's Ice Age mega-marsupial

The largest marsupial that ever lived, which roamed through Ice Age Australia, was more than twice as big as previously thought, according to Sydney University research.

The enormous wombat-like diprotodon was closer to three tonnes instead of one, according to a paper published by the Royal Society, an independent British academy of science.

The lead author of the paper, Stephen Wroe, said the research showed that Australia was capable of supporting large Ice Age megafauna. It had been assumed, he said, that Australia's sparsely vegetated prehistoric landscape could not support large vegetarian mammals and, therefore, large carnivores.

'Australian students are spoon fed the notion that Australia could not support big mammals, and that's bollocks,' he told The Age. 'Australian (megafauna) was not the runt of the continental litter.'

Research published in 2001 put the weight of the four-metre-long beast, which nurtured its young in a pouch, at 1.2 tonnes - about twice that of a cow. But Dr Wroe said this was an 'educated guess' and that his team's 'quantitative methodology' put it at 2.8 tonnes, similar to some types of hippopotamuses or rhinoceroses.

Because I am not a southern hemisphere chauvinist, I note one or two confused northern hemisphere bloggers are excited today about a pathetically small guinea pig.

19 September 2003

Blix accuses UK and US of spin over Iraq

Hans Blix, the former UN chief weapons inspector, today accused the British and American governments of spinning intelligence ahead of the Iraq war.

Making reference to the UK's September dossier, over which two intelligence officials have told the Hutton inquiry they expressed concerns, Mr Blix said that information about Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction was 'over-interpreted', with 'spin' being allowed to infect the presentation of Iraq's military capabilities.

'The UK paper, the document in September last year, with the famous words about 45 minutes, when you read the text exactly, I get the impression it wants to convey - to lead - the reader to conclusions that are a little further-reaching than the text really means,' he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

'What stands accused is the culture of spin, of hyping. Advertisers will advertise a refrigerator in terms that we don't quite believe in. But we expect governments to be more serious and to have more credibility.'

Mr Blix yesterday told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that he believed Iraq had destroyed 'all, almost' of the weapons of mass destruction it had in its possession at the end of the 1991 Gulf war. He said that Saddam possibly kept up the appearance of having the weapons to deter a military attack.

'I mean, you can put up a sign on a door saying 'beware of the dog' without having a dog,' he said from his home in Sweden.

He today told the BBC that the believed the US and UK were convinced Saddam was developing WMDs - and said he considered it 'understandable against the background of the man that they did so' - but said there was no conclusive proof of their existence.

'In the middle ages when people were convinced there were witches, when they looked for them, they certainly found them. We were more judicious, we wanted to have the evidence,' he said.

He added that it was ironic that the US and UK had not been prepared to give the UN inspection teams the time they needed to complete their work, but those same governments were now insisting that their own inspectors be given sufficient time to complete their own investigations.

He said he did not believe WMDs would be found.

'We have had a number of months, the US and UK have been there, they have had all the possibilities in the world to interview people who are not intimidated and to go anywhere. They have not found anything.

'So I think more and more we are coming to the conclusion that there aren't any. And I think that the Americans and British are also leaning in that direction.'

The mid-September interim report by the Iraq Survey Group seems not to be happening. If the ISG had found anything I suspect its report might be a slightly greater urgency than we have seen.

The Bush administration is suddenly in fast reverse over the Iraq/al-Qa'ida link, which the British never accepted anyway.

US Vice-President Cheney has said he 'misspoke' when he said Iraq had 'reconstituted nuclear weapons'. Strangely, one would have expected an immediate correction to the record once Cheney realised he had 'misspoken'. After all, he would not have wanted anyone believing his 'misspeaking' would he?

The documents published by the Hutton inquiry show that the 45-minute claim was sexed up. The former Iraqi army may not have been a splendid fighting machine. Its ability to deploy battlefield weapons within 45 minutes is not really a high index of military threat. Again, if the dossier spoke only of battlefield weapons why was that not corrected when the misinterpretation became known.

The 15 February JIC report showed that a war was likely to exacerbate, not prevent, the acquisition of WMDs (if they existed) by terrorist groups. No coalition government expected that report to ever see the light of day so they simply ignored it.

The conclusion is inescapable. In not one of the growing pile of misspeaking and misinterpretations did any government, not in the US, the UK or Australia, ever make a mistake that argued against war. In not one case did they ever correct the record when they misspoke or misinterpreted. The war was a done deal from at least the posting of the September dossier. What intelligence was released was selective. Bush, Blair and Howard decided to appeal to the worst in all of us, fear and hatred, to justify a war they wanted to fight for other reasons. They lied to frighten us into war.

Temperature rise destroys Indian Ocean surface coral

A rise in sea temperatures killed off 90 per cent of the coral reefs near the surface of the Indian Ocean in only one year, while the remaining 10 per cent could die in the next 20 years, devastating fish stocks and tourism vital to coastal economies, research published today says.

The loss of these 'rainforests of the ocean' would also lead to increased coastal erosion as the natural breakwaters formed by the live corals were worn down.

The dire warning, by Dr Charles Sheppard of the University of Warwick, follows a gradual rise in maximum sea temperatures, which in 1998 devastated the shallow corals lying from 10 to 40 metres (33ft to 130ft) below the surface. Since then some corals had begun to recover - but the risk continues.

'It's like a forest,' said Dr Sheppard. 'If you kill off 90 per cent, there might be just enough left to sustain some life around it, such as squirrels and so on. But if you have the same impact again and again there's no clear line as to when it's alive or not as a forest.'

Good thing the earth is not warming, isn't it?

Coral reefs support aquatic organisms in complex, linked food chains. But with global warming causing a rise in sea temperatures - to which the organisms that build reefs are sensitive - environmentalists fear they will be destroyed."

Mistakes of Vietnam Repeated with Iraq

Instead of learning the lessons of Vietnam, where all of the above happened, the president, the vice president, the secretary of defense and the deputy secretary of defense have gotten this country into a disaster in the desert.

They attacked a country that had not attacked us. They did so on intelligence that was faulty, misrepresented and highly questionable.

A key piece of that intelligence was an outright lie that the White House put into the president's State of the Union speech. These officials have overextended the American military, including the National Guard and the Reserve, and have expanded the U.S. Army to the breaking point.

A quarter of a million troops are committed to the Iraq war theater, most of them bogged down in Baghdad. Morale is declining and casualties continue to increase.

In addition to the human cost, the war in dollars costs $1 billion a week, adding to the additional burden of an already depressed economy.

The president has declared 'major combat over' and sent a message to every terrorist, 'Bring them on.' As a result, he has lost more people in his war than his father did in his and there is no end in sight.

Military commanders are left with extended tours of duty for servicemen and women who were told long ago they were going home. We are keeping American forces on the ground, where they have become sitting ducks in a shooting gallery for every terrorist in the Middle East.

Welcome to Vietnam, Mr. President. Sorry you didn't go when you had the chance.

The Bush administration has apparently decided that some of their more egregious lies, such as Cheney's nuclear weapons claims, were 'misspoken'. What a pity they did not disavow them immediaely the 'misspeaking' was detected. After all, they would never want their 'misspeaking' to be believed, would they?

18 September 2003

Indonesia warns against intervention without PNG Govt approval

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Another close neighbour is taking a very interested look at what's happening between Australia and Papua New Guinea, and that nation is Indonesia.

Today, one of the most senior and influential politicians in Indonesia, Amien Rais, the Speaker of the Indonesian Parliament, said Australia should not send any of its police to Papua New Guinea without the express permission of PNG's government.

Doctor Rais, who's in Canberra speaking to senior government ministers, also spoke to our reporter, Nick Mckenzie.

AMIEN RAIS: Australia is a very big country, so it has a role in this Asia Pacific area, everybody will understand, but of course Australia has still to respect the sovereignty, the independence of other countries.

NICK MCKENZIE: Well keeping with that, our Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has expressed the view that sovereignty is not absolute. That is, Australian intervention into a sovereign nation is permissible if, for instance, there's a breakdown of law and order in that nation. Do you agree with that view?

AMIEN RAIS: No. I mean, yes if the break of law and order of a special country will spill over to the neighbouring countries and will destabilise the whole region, but no if the break of law and order is limited to the country, and then if the country is able to overcome its own problem, we'd better support the country, but not by sending soldiers or military forces, but by giving moral, diplomatic and political support. This is even wiser because to me, if a country sends a military force or police force to another country, it will create more problems.

NICK MCKENZIE: Well it's exactly what Australia's trying to do in Papua New Guinea. It's suggested sending some of its own police force, some of the AFP (Australian Federal Police) to Papua New Guinea, and that's a suggestion that Papua New Guinean Prime Minister, Sir Michael Somare has rejected. So is Australia overstepping its mark in that regard?

AMIEN RAIS: Yeah, as a neighbouring country, as an Indonesian citizen, as one of Indonesian leaders, I did disagree with this policy, because if the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, or for that matter leaders of that country did not invite the interference or intervention of Australia, I think Australia better space away. This is my honest opinion.

Reviving the Howard doctrine by trying to force PNG to accept Australian 'advisers' or face reduced aid is just insane. The reasons advanced by the government are ludicrous.

North meets south in rail line

A 145-year-old dream to link southern and northern Australia by rail through the centre has been realised.

The final thermic weld linking the existing Adelaide to Alice Springs railway with the new line to Darwin took place this afternoon with a crowd of about 250 people looking on.

A railway between Adelaide and Darwin was first proposed in 1858.

While the line was extended through Alice Springs in 1929, it has taken another 74 years for the railway to travel further north.

Officials including Northern Territory Chief Minister Clare Martin and South Australian Premier Mike Rann attended the celebrations today.

Ms Martin says it will provide a new and efficient transport link between Asian and southern Australian markets.

It is also expected to provide a tourism boost to the Territory, with $1 million worth of tickets already sold for the first passenger journey to Darwin next year.

The $1 billion project is just one week away from completion with only about 12 kilometres to go until it reaches the end of the line at the Port of Darwin.

It's not just a 145-year old dream. Sadly it was a definite political promise to South Australia (which included what is now the Northern Territory until 1911) by the federation movement in the 1890s. The noncore promise seems to be as old as the Commonwealth itself.

Spirals in Nature: The Magical Number behind Hurricanes and Galaxies

Down the drain

Back home, all of this has almost nothing to do with your bathtub drain, which creates another spiral shape.

There is a popular myth, though, owing to the rotational direction of a hurricane, that says the water in bathtubs rotates a certain direction in the Northern Hemisphere.

It's not true.

The Coriolis effect does not determine which way the water swirls in your house. The effect is too tiny to impact such a minor, localized process, all experts agree.

That means water is free to swirl in either direction in tubs in both hemispheres. Which way it goes is determined by the geometry of a particular basin or, if things are perfectly aligned and balanced, then by chance.

Never say this blog does not keep you up to date with vital scientific information.

The people should have answers

Howard said that Britain's JIC report was not handed to him or to any of his ministers. That was normal practice. Its findings had 'gone into the mix' of advice he got from his own officials. Again, that would be expected. He argued, correctly, that intelligence agencies make assessments and governments make decisions. Howard's language also implied that his judgments did not necessarily coincide with Australian intelligence assessments though he stressed that all his significant Iraq speeches were vetted by ONA 'for accuracy'.

The Australian people and their parliament deserve much more. They deserve answers to two questions. Did Australia's own agencies endorse or reject the British view? Was Howard's war decision consistent with advice from Australian intelligence or an independent judgment at variance with it?

The reality is that it will take some time yet before a considered view is possible about the overall merit of the Iraq war and its impact on terrorism. In the interim Howard has a convincing political argument - the world and Iraq are far better off with Hussein deposed and under Labor's policy he would still be in power. That remains a winning argument. But it cannot absolve Howard from a proper accounting of his decision-making.

As for Crean, he wrecked a good case. He won't let the evidence tell the story. He descended into hyperbole and bunkum about the British report showing that Howard had lied when taking us into Iraq. The man seems to think our PM must act only on the advice of British spooks. And this is Labor talking? Please.

While I do not agree that judgment on the Iraq venture as a whole is not yet possible, clearly Crean dropped the ball. The real question is Howard's judgment on the war and that judgment was wrong. The JIC report (which Howard cnanot have expected ever would be released) shows that Howard's judgment may be poor. Shifting the agrument to Howard's veracity just gets Labor into another parliamentary quagmire of Howard claiming he did not know or was not told.

Inquiry told of agent's 50% strike rate with Ruddock

The Lebanese travel agent Karim Kisrwani had a 50 per cent success rate in having visas granted when he lobbied for the personal intervention of the Immigration Minister, Philip Ruddock, while the Refugee Review Tribunal succeeded in only 17 per cent of cases.

The figures were released by the Immigration Department yesterday to the parliamentary inquiry into the discretionary powers of the Immigration Minister.

The inquiry was sparked by a series of allegations made in Parliament earlier this year about links between political donations and the granting of visas.

Mr Kisrwani, who is a close friend of Mr Ruddock, became a key figure in what has been dubbed the 'cash-for-visas' affair.

Although not a registered migration agent, Mr Kisrwani came in equal fourth - excluding parliamentarians or major legal or immigration firms - of those who wrote to Mr Ruddock asking him to intervene in immigration cases, the department's figures show.

Ruddock once described self-harm as a technique for achieving a preferred migration outcome. It's hard to avoid the opinion that people will do almost anything to achieve a preferred migration outcome, including making large political donations.

New candid cameras to put the heat on terrorists

Terrorists trying to sabotage the Sydney Harbour Bridge under cover of darkness could be foiled by new state-of-the-art thermal imaging cameras that can see in the dark.

The Premier, Bob Carr, and the Roads Minister, Carl Scully, yesterday gave a sneak preview of the devices which, unlike conventional heat-detecting cameras, can display the full shape of people and trace their movements.

Eighteen of the British-made cameras will be fitted to the Harbour Bridge and another eight to the Anzac Bridge, at a cost of $3 million. Mr Carr said both bridges were potential terrorist targets.

I guess it has to happen but it's sad. Climbing the bridge after dark and outside the law is such a rite of passage here that North Sydney Local Court used to hold a special session for bridge climbers every Monday.

17 September 2003

ABC News - Murray report withheld

A scientific report on the impacts of sending environmental flows down the Murray River has been withheld from the public.

Scientists in the Murray Darling Basin have been working on the impacts of returning 350, 750 or 1,500 megalitres of water to the river for the past six months, as part of the Living Murray proposal.

But the Murray Darling Basin Commission will not release the report until after its Ministerial Council meets in November, three months later than originally expected.

The move has outraged Environment Victoria's Dr Paul Sinclair.

'I don't know who wins from keeping people in the dark about what the environmental benefits of returning water to the river are,' he said.

'I don't know who wins from that. Maybe there's some deep, dark secrets in the government bureaucracy that we don't know about.'

But the Murray Darling Basin Commission is defending its decision to withhold the report.

Deputy chief executive Kevin Goss says the process has been changed to fit in with the Federal Government's $500 million national water initiative, which was agreed to at this year's COAG meeting.

The national water initiative provides environmental flows that are less than the commission's own estimate for a moderate chance of restoring the basin. Without another explanation it's hard not to think that the main reason is spin in favour of concealing the inadequacies of the initiative.

Number dyslexia hits one in 20 children

Dyscalculia, the arithmetical equivalent of dyslexia, afflicts about one child in 20 in Britain and could make them cases for special treatment, Brian Butterworth of University College London told the British Association science festival at Salford yesterday.

Most people can recognise three or four objects without needing to count. Dyscalculics cannot. They have trouble manipulating numbers at all.

'Our big success this year has been to get the government to recognise dyscalculia,' he said. 'This could pave the way for funding to support these kids. These kids find it difficult to count. They think that three plus one is five. They might learn it by rote, but they do not understand why it isn't five. They are misdiagnosed by their teachers as stupid, they are misdiagnosed by their parents as stupid, they think of themselves as stupid, other kids think they are stupid and the daily maths lesson is a daily humiliation for them.'

Being innumerate in a numerical society is, trust me, horrible. The other thing that people do with kids who cannot do basic arithmetic is assume that they are lazy.

Sexed up after all

Asked by Lord Hutton what this 'misrepresentation' was, [MI6 Chief] Sir Richard acknowledged that the intelligence in the now-notorious September dossier referred to battlefield weapons and not long-range strategic missiles that could threaten Britain's national interest.

James Dingemans QC, counsel for the inquiry, asked him if he agreed now that the 45-minute claim was given undue prominence. 'I think, given the misinterpretation that was placed on the 45-minute intelligence, with the benefit of hindsight you can say that is a valid criticism, but I am confident the intelligence was accurate and that the use made of it was entirely consistent with the original report,' he replied.

'The original report referred to chemical and biological munitions and that was taken to refer to battlefield weapons. I think what subsequently happened in the reporting was that it was taken that the 45 minutes applied, let's say, to weapons of a longer range.'

Sir Richard's 57 minutes of testimony was given in a disembodied voice from behind a blank khaki-coloured screen.

Well goodness gracious me, the 45 minute claim was all about battlefield weapons and there was no threat to the UK, not even the bases in Cyprus. Now, I guess, we will be asked to believe that the highflyers preparing the dossier did not udnerstand the 'misinterpreation' that would be placed on their words.

16 September 2003

Legal dope 'disgusting'

First patients to use federally approved marijuana give it scathing reviews

OTTAWA --�Some of the first patients to smoke Health Canada's government-approved marijuana say it's 'disgusting' and want their money back.

'It's totally unsuitable for human consumption,' said Jim Wakeford, 58, an AIDS patient in B.C.

'It gave me a slight buzziness for about three to five minutes, and that was it. I got no other effect from it.'

Barrie Dalley, a 52-year-old Toronto man who uses marijuana to combat the nausea associated with AIDS, said the Health Canada dope actually made him sick to his stomach.

'I threw up,' Dalley said yesterday.

'It made me nauseous because I had to use so much of it. It was so weak that I really threw up.'

Both men are returning their 30-gram bags, and Dalley is demanding his money back - $150 plus taxes.

Wakeford said he is returning his unpaid bill for two of the bags with a letter of complaint.

At first sight, this report looked an obvious case for the urgent and pressing need for some things to outsourced, but then I learnt the Canadian government has outsourced it to a private contractor for CA$7.5 million (Au8.28 million). Clearly some activities should be handled by public enterprise.

Seeking Honesty in US Policy

The U.S. army's top general at the time, Eric Shinseki, meanwhile, questioned the cakewalk scenario. He told Congress that we would need several hundred thousand soldiers in Iraq to put an end to the violence against our troops and against each other. His testimony was quickly repudiated by both Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz.

As we now know, he was close to the mark. Our 130,000 soldiers are failing to stem the violence. Even as Rumsfeld says jauntily that all is going well, Secretary of State Colin Powell is running to the United Nations to try to get more foreign boots on the ground. One of the administration's staunchest supporters, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, says ominously that we risk strategic failure if we don't send reinforcements.

And the infighting that Middle East experts feared could still erupt. The majority Shiite Muslim population, brutalized during Saddam's rule, is content with a tactical truce with our forces so long as they are free to consolidate their control and the United States continues to kill Sunni Muslims so that they don't have to. That truce is threatened not only by Shiite political ambition but also by ongoing skirmishes with the Sunnis.

The recent car bomb at the An-Najaf mosque that killed one of Shiite Islam's most influential clerics and head of the largest Shiite party in Iraq almost resulted in the outbreak of civil war between the two groups. Widespread belief that Sunni elements were behind the assassination and that the United States failed in its responsibilities for security has brought Shiite armed militias back onto the streets, actively seeking to avenge the death of their leader. Such a war within a war would make our occupation infinitely more dangerous.

Some now argue that the president's speech Sunday represents a change of course. Even if the administration won't admit it made any mistakes, the mere call for international involvement should be enough to persuade the world to accept the burden of assisting us, as we continue to control both the military and the economic reconstruction.

That may well be true, but we cannot count on the international community to do our bidding blindly. While the administration scurries back to the United Nations for help, our historic friends and allies still smart from the gratuitous insults hurled at them nine months ago. This is the same United Nations which Richard Perle, a not-so-invisible hand behind the war, recently called an ``abject failure.''

Go read the whole thing, especially that Wilson thought there must be a second uranium-exporting nation in Africa because he knew he'd disproved the Niger allegation.

Between the collapsing war claims and diplomatic ineptitude the whole Iraq adventure is looking grim.

Hollow victory for the poor

While it is a great shame that there will be no change to the unfair rules that allow rich countries to continue to subsidise their farmers at the expense of millions of poor people, I am relieved that further deals were not made that would have made a bad situation far worse.

The failure of the talks can be laid firmly at the door of the EU and US. Throughout the meeting, the rich countries maintained an aggressive stance and were reluctant to offer anything of real benefit to developing countries.

The balance of power changed during the meeting. Fed up with emerging from past trade summits with nothing, developing countries clubbed together to form new alliances. With new-found strength in numbers, they stood up to the pressure put on them by the WTO superpowers. My country, Brazil, played an important role in bringing developing countries together.

However, there is now a real danger that having failed to impose their wishes on developing countries at the WTO, rich countries will try to get their way by brokering deals on an individual or regional basis. As we have seen with NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement, involving Mexico, US and Canada), developing countries rarely fare well in these kinds of agreements. The elite usually manage to take the lion's share of any profits, while the poorest communities are left with nothing.

John Quiggin speculates that the WTO may collapse after it issues a ruling on the US steel trariffs. It would be remiss not to point out that the US has trod this whole 'do what we want or we'll just do it anyway' path before.

For confirmation you need look no further than US Trade Representaive Robert Zoellick's remarks:

"A number of countries just thought it was a freebie they could just make whatever points they suggested, argue, and not offer and give," he said. "And now they're going to face the cold reality of that strategy, coming home with nothing."

15 September 2003

Interview with Alan Jones Radio 2GB

JONES: PM at the weekend they said that you're in Queensland addressing the State Liberal Party up there and virtually talking as if you're in election mode. You said on Friday that the failure by the Opposition to pass changes to unfair dismissal laws had cost Australia up to 80,000 jobs. The only way to get those things is with a double dissolution, are we looking at an early election or a double dissolution election?

PRIME MINISTER: Nothing has changed on that front, nothing at all. I said some time ago that I preferred governments to run their full terms, that obviously if there were an overwhelming issue of public policy that will necessitate an alteration to that then circumstances might be different. But really nothing has changed. This latest outbreak of talk didn't come from me, I think it may have originated from an article written by Michael Costello in The Australian, he was Kim Beazley's former chief of staff, by definition almost he wouldn't know much about the thinking of the Government on the subject. But look Alan every term of Parliament about this time you get this talk. Now nothing has changed and look obviously nobody in my position can absolutely rule things out. But it remains my belief that the public does not appreciate governments for their own political convenience calling early elections, and in the past they have punished governments for doing so and I have no reason to believe things will be different in the future. If there is a good and proper reason then it's a different consideration.

My guess is that the early election is on. The economy is good, but the foreign situation is tanking, and the mutterings about Bob Carr must be worrying.

PM - Labor uses UK intelligence report to attack PM

CATHERINE MCGRATH: Four months ago, US President George W. Bush declared the major combat phase of the war in Iraq over, but still the argument rages over whether the decision for Australia to go to war was the right one.

Today the new element - the report by the British Parliamentary inquiry into pre-war intelligence made public in London last week - became a feature of the Australian Parliament.

The particular information the Opposition seized upon: that Britain's Joint Intelligence Committee warned back in February that war in Iraq would increase the threat of terrorists gaining weapons of mass destruction and that al-Qaeda remained the greatest threat to western interests, and that threat would increase through war.

That was enough for Simon Crean.

SIMON CREAN: Mr Speaker, the findings of the British Joint Intelligence Committee demonstrate beyond doubt that the Prime Minister sent this country to war based on a lie.

(Hear, hear)

SIMON CREAN: The Prime Minister did not tell the Australian people the truth when he committed us to war. And by his actions, the Prime Minister increased the threat of terrorism to the Australian people. He made us les safe and worst of all, he failed to protect us.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: He was supported in his attack by Shadow Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd.

KEVIN RUDD: The Prime Minister asked this question: is it reasonable to expect that he would read a document such as this provided by the British Joint Intelligence Committee? I say yes, Prime Minister, because you were on the verge of taking this country to war.

(Hear, hear)

SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Member for Griffith.

KEVIN RUDD: And the problem with this document is that it torpedoed amidships a large part of the rationale you'd put to the Parliament and the people for going to war, and you knew it.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: John Howard says that key British intelligence report was handed onto Australian authorities but he said it was not directly given to him.

It seems to me that Howard now has exactly the same problem as Blair. If there was a British JIC report tearing his major war premise in tatters he at least needs to publish the contrary advice which persuaded him and explain why the JIC report weas never mentioned. Of course, without the whole Kelly scandal, the existence of that report would never have become public knowledge in Australia or Britain.

Two years later, are we any safer?

Most important, terrorism will persist until the Palestinian conflict is settled, but the administration's belated and lackadaisical 'Road Map for Peace' has failed.

Finally, the Iraq war, which is supposed to be part of the war on terrorism, has created more terrorists. The 'neo-conservative' intellectuals around the vice president and the secretary of defense argued that al-Qaida had infiltrated Iraq. The Bush administration has persuaded 70 percent of the American people that Saddam was personally involved in the World Trade Center bombing, though there is not a shred of evidence to support this allegation. However, there are now hundreds, perhaps thousands of new terrorists, whether al-Qaida or not, emerging in Iraq because of the war. How long will it be before some of them come to America? When the president claims that the war in Iraq is essential to the war on terrorism, he deceives. The war, which may well be endless, has not made Americans safer, but rather put them in greater danger.

The government has therefore done very little to deal with the threat of international terrorism other than to insist on those metal doors on airplane cockpits. The rest has been spin. The country is not safer now than it was two years ago, despite all the money that has been spent. National security ought to be a major issue in the next election. The claim of the Bush administration that it has dealt effectively with the threat ought to be exposed to the full light of day where the spin doctors can no longer hide the truth.

Far be it from me to suggest that the Bush administration is addicted to spin and not much else.

Post-Sept. 11 Sense of Solidarity Crumbles Over the War in Iraq
In 2001, the war against terrorism was a cause that united not only virtually all Americans but most of the world. Today, that cause, as redefined and expanded by President Bush, has become bitterly divisive at home and abroad.

Just two days before the anniversary, the nine Democrats seeking Bush's job in 2004 took turns blasting him during a debate in Baltimore, denouncing his policies for defending the country as a 'miserable failure' and an 'abomination.' At the United Nations, the U.S. was at sword's point with Germany and France. And in England %u2014 America's staunchest ally since Sept. 11 %u2014 the attacks' second anniversary was marked by the release of a parliamentary investigation of Prime Minister Tony Blair that underscored the tensions in that nation over the way the struggle against terrorism has evolved.

In domestic politics and international diplomacy, the climate today bears little resemblance to the one that last week's commemorations briefly recalled. More division on both fronts was perhaps inevitable as the attack receded in time and parochial interests resurfaced. But the principal dividing line between the unity of 2001 and the discord of 2003 has been Bush's decision, with Blair's support, to identify Iraq as the next front in the war against terrorism and launch an invasion that deposed Saddam Hussein.

History may yet record that Bush's decision produced a safer world. But today, even the war's supporters have fewer illusions about its costs. Some of those costs are measured in the steady drumbeat of U.S. casualties and the jaw-dropping $87 billion Bush requested to fund security and reconstruction in Iraq during the next year alone. But the most profound cost has been the fracturing, at home and abroad, of the common purpose that rose from the rubble of the fallen World Trade Center.

Name of Blog points to a Washington Post piece today ripping the various Iraq justifications apart.

Split Derails WTO Talks

The goal in Cancun was not to finalize a trade deal but to make enough progress on key issues to get halfway toward an agreement on the new set of accords, known as the Doha Development Agenda.

Agricultural supports were a key sticking point in Cancun. Although most countries subsidize their farm industries in some way, the United States and European Union spend far more than poor countries, thereby making it difficult for developing nations to compete in the global market. Combined U.S. and EU farm supports total $150 billion a year; EU dairymen, for instance, get $2 per day per cow.

Although the United States and European countries were prepared to give up some of the subsidies, in return they wanted to push forward a new set of trade agreements dubbed the 'Singapore issues.' These issues mainly concern giving European and American financial companies more access to foreign markets and requiring greater transparency in how governments evaluate and award procurement and supply contracts.

The poorer nations, led by China, Brazil, India and some African nations, remained adamantly opposed to considering the financial issues until an agricultural pact was dealt with. The richer countries wanted to settle the Singapore issues first, partly because they promised to be the stickiest and partly because the wealthier nations wanted to know that they had won some benefits before making farm concessions.

Although wealthy countries including the U.S. described the collapse of talks as a failure, poorer nations saw it as a healthy expression of unity on the part of developing countries.

'The demands and tough rhetoric are easy, and negotiations are hard work,' chief U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick said. 'All walked away empty-handed.'

EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy was more pessimistic, describing the WTO negotiating mechanisms as 'medieval' and incapable of bearing the weight of the issues that representatives of the 148 member countries have to deal with.

'I don't think we have to beat around the bush,' Lamy said. 'Cancun has failed.'

But Beatrice Matumbo, Tanzania's delegate, said the collapse was positive in the sense that it showed poor countries did not 'succumb' to the pressure and agenda of richer nations.

'I was afraid I would have to go back to my people and say we didn't gain anything,' she said. 'But instead we stood up to the manipulation. I am very happy.'

While this is bad news for Australian agriculture, which does not enjoy the level of protection that US and EU farmers do, it is a short-term catastrophe for the developing world. For many years the IMF has been pushing developing economies to expand their agricultural exports. All that has a achieved is a glut of primary products that has driven down the price of those goods.

Meanwhile the rich nations subsidise their farmers heavily and impose non-tariff protection on agro imports. Apparently free trade is only for those markets where the rich nations can make a buck.

In the long term the resistance by developing countries may lead to fundametal reforms in the terms of trade.

14 September 2003

The questions keep coming

In what is almost certainly the most potentially damaging revelation yet about the build-up to the conflict, we now know that on 10 February this year, the Prime Minister was warned by the Joint Intelligence Committee that al-Qaeda and its lethal fellow travellers 'continued to represent by far the greatest threat to Western interests, and that threat would be heightened by military action against Iraq.'

Downing Street was initially a bit slow to see the significance of this disclosure and the danger it poses to the Prime Minister. Number 10 only began to respond when the remorseless Robin Cook, that one-man precision weapon, launched himself on the airwaves to say that this warning that war would not curb terror but aggravate the threat had not been shared with the Cabinet, never mind Parliament and the public.

Number 10 countered that the assessment was circulated to all of Mr Blair's senior colleagues, among them the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary, and not forgetting - Number 10 would be very sure not to neglect to put his name on the list - the Chancellor. In other words, if withholding this information comes to be regarded as a deception, all of Mr Blair's most plausible replacements were party to it as well.

But was it shared with Australia?