14 February 2004

John Quiggin: NYT on FTA

A surprising number of commentators have made the claim that only anti-US or anti-government motives could explain opposition to such a deal. The (nearly) universally negative reception it has received outside Australia suggests the opposite - only partisans of the government or those who advocate unconditional compliance with the wishes of the US Administration could support it, once they have examined all the evidence (The fact that the details are still secret, and that the summaries released in the two countries differed radically is, of course, evidence in itself).

John's post about kills the pro-FTA arguments dead, as does the selection of opinion pieces he quotes. The sad fact, to recapitulate the Miami Herald (boldface mine):

Unseemly? America has no better friend than Australia. Yet such is the power of American sugar interests, the Bush administration has forced Australia to continue quotas on its sugar exports to America. That was a price for achieving the not-exactly ''free trade'' agreement signed last weekend. But look on the bright side: Restrictions on beef imports will be phased out over 18 years.

If this is the best the Howard/Bush chemistry can achieve then maybe it's time to close down the congaline. And why is the text being withheld?

Blair's claim is simply incredible

The Guardian has a report by a former intelligence officer analysing the Blair claim that he (unlike his defence secretary and his just resigned leader of the commons) did not know the 45 minute claim related only to CBW battlefield weapons.

One: neither Cook nor Hoon saw fit to tell the prime minister, for whatever reason.

Two: the intelligence was not considered important or accurate enough to explain to him in detail - even though it appears in the September 24 dossier at least three times and in the prime minister's own foreword.

Three: Blair had to rely on verbal briefings from the JIC chairman and others, who told him about the 45 minutes bit of the intelligence but omitted to mention that it referred only to battlefield weapons, and neither the prime minister nor any of the brilliant young staff asked the obvious question.

Four: the original SIS report mentioned the 45-minute time, but made no attempt to distinguish between strategic and battlefield weapons - even though the service was aware that the report was about battlefield munitions.

Five: the prime minister's daily written intelligence brief from the Cabinet Office included the 45 minutes point but not the crucial distinction between battlefield and strategic weapons. And not a single member of the Cabinet Office assessments staff (the most brilliant intelligence analysts in the UK) spotted this or thought it important.

This is not the case of a few guardsmen out of step or a few trumpeters out of tune. This is like holding trooping the colour but forgetting to tell the Queen the correct date.

Lieutenant Colonel Crispin Black worked for defence intelligence from 1994-96 and was on the intelligence assessment staff from 1999-2002

Well, Canberra is not London and here we have precedents for forgetting to tell the governor-general the correct date.

The Government Must Be Crazy

Equally concerning is that under the proposed deal, the government will effectively be signing away our sovereignty - our right to make decisions independent of outside influences - in two of the most important areas: quarantine laws and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

Under the deal, the US has won the right for American representatives to sit on the Australian bodies that determine our quarantine laws

Similarly, the US has won the right to have American representatives sit on the Australian board that decide which medicines will be subsidized by Australian taxpayers' money.

It takes little to appreciate the army of savvy US legal experts that will be aggressively advocating Australia's subsidization of American pharmaceuticals.

And US Pharmaceutical companies already receive enormous assistance from their own government through a sophisticated range of publicly funded intellectual property supports.

This astounds me. I will not comment further until we finally get the text instead of DFAT's increasingly odd summaries. Why can't the government just post the text?

Link via comments at John Quiggin.

Error 404

Yes, those lying, imperialistic dogs have lied to you again. They have told you that would would find http://www.windsofchange.net//archives/004594.html. here but we do not have such a file.

That file is not even within 100 miles of this website. That file is committing suicide because it has been shamed and Allah will roast its stomach in hell.

Look around. Do you see the file they claimed was here? No! But we will be sending so many files to them that their weak and stupid browsers will scream for our mercy. And we will show those browsers no mercy whatsoever. We will show no mercy because the infidel dogs of (none) who sent you looking for the file deserve no mercy. The bones of their programmers will be left to bleach in the terrible heat of the desert sun!


Probe to Include Bush

In a blow to the Bush administration, the Senate Intelligence Committee said Thursday that it planned to investigate whether White House officials exaggerated the Iraq threat or pressured analysts to tailor their assessments of Baghdad's weapons programs to bolster the case for war.

The move puts claims made by President Bush and other senior officials in his administration squarely in the sights of the committee's investigation, and could add to the White House's political troubles as it tries to keep questions about the war from becoming a drag on Bush's reelection campaign.

The White House and Republican leaders in Congress had sought for months to confine the inquiry to the performance of the CIA and other intelligence agencies, and to insulate the administration. But the Senate panel voted unanimously Thursday to expand the probe after some GOP members appeared ready to break from the Republican position.

Some weeks, just nothing seems to go right...

Barbie's valentine for blond Aussie Blaine

'Like other celebrity couples, their Hollywood romance has come to an end,' Mattel marketing vice-president Russell Arons said.

Adding insult to injury for Ken, Barbie has a new fella, Blaine. He's a fair dinkum blond Australian boogie boarder, dark roots and all.

And she now boasts a deeper tan, boardies, a bikini top and a carefree attitude to match.

But Anne Hollonds, chief executive of Relationships Australia, fears for their future.

Evidently Barbie has been spending too much time with the Man of Steel. On the other hand 'barbie' is used in Brazil to mean a gay man who looks like, well, a Ken doll. And hopefully this obscure lexical reference will save me from the kind of shameless flipflopping that's recently hit The Road to Blainedom. And I'll get the hits anyway...

Craven call anything but cool

An astute Liberal Party observer of the Prime Minister for years said yesterday: 'There is an old saying in politics: beware of an old man in a hurry. Howard is an old man desperate to win the next election because he can now see he should have gone last year, and if he now loses he'll just be lumped in with everyone else except, of course, Menzies, his hero.

'So jettisoning friends and colleagues and policies is what he's going to do if he thinks he must to win. Yet the reality is that what happened this week is the end of Howard politically.

'Speak to Queensland's Ron Boswell. He was close to resigning after Thursday's meeting. He can't believe that Howard, who has built a 30-year career on supposed politically integrity, could be so breathtakingly naive not to see the effect on the public mind of what he's done. I mean, it's not his decision on super so much. It's the fact that in eight years of government Beazley and Crean never had a win on anything, ever, and both were treated by Howard with complete contempt the entire time.

'Now, in just two months, Latham has the Government turned entirely on its head. In only six parliamentary sitting days he's caused Howard to make the most craven backdown of his political career. I mean, Howard has been defending the parliamentary super scheme for 30 years. Every prime minster since Chifley [who introduced MPs' superannuation in 1948, even if it was nothing like the pot of gold the scheme would become over the years] has managed to defend it - except, now, Howard.

'And if Howard has gone to water like this in February, how will he ever get through an election still eight or nine months away?'

For weeks there have been rumours of a leadership challenge by Abbot and Costello. The Backflip of Steel probably means that challenge will happen sooner, much sooner, rather than later.

We must act now over Israel's wall

It is highly unlikely that the British government would have mustered the necessary support for military action against Iraq if it had not assured MPs of two things: that Iraq possessed lethal weapons of mass destruction, and that action against Iraq would form part of a broader engagement with the problems of the Middle East.

The motion for war passed on March 18 last year in the House of Commons explicitly welcomed 'the imminent publication of the Quartet's roadmap as a significant step to bringing a just and lasting peace settlement between Israelis and Palestinians and ... endorses the role of Her Majesty's Government in actively working for peace between Israel and Palestine'.

Those that were persuaded of the case for war would almost certainly have been more sceptical if they had known what we know now about the state of British and US intelligence. They would also almost certainly have been more sceptical if they had known that by now there would be practically no sustained momentum for peace in the Middle East from London and Washington.

At the time, the line from the White House was that the road to Jerusalem led through Baghdad - that cutting off Saddam's support for Palestinian terrorism was the essential first step. But apart from President Bush's photo opportunity in Aqaba and some bold speeches, there is little to show for British and American efforts. The most recent public action of the two governments has been to try and prevent the International Court of Justice from ruling on the legality of Israel's security wall.

The US and the UK have been forced into a position that not only looks unreasonable, but also makes it almost impossible for them to be seen as honest brokers by the Palestinians.

The time for inaction is over. Without concrete steps to dismantle settlements, reroute the wall and start negotiations on a final settlement, preferential trading terms for Israel should be suspended by the EU. The Middle East is too important for Europe's own security to wait for the Americans.

Sir Menzies Campbell is [UK] Liberal Democrat deputy leader and foreign affairs spokesman

What did happen to the theory that the road to Jerusalem runs through Baghdad? Somehow I've missed all the mentions of it lately.

Daschle opposes free trade plan

In the past, Daschle said, he's generally backed free-trade agreements and hoped potential problems could be worked around. But, he said, this one would be too damaging to rural America.

The deal is probably a way to repay Australia for its help in the war in Iraq, Daschle said. But he thinks the United States needs to take care of its cattle producers first. That means resolving mad cow concerns before opening the borders to Canadian cattle. Daschle said the U.S. Department of Agriculture has only found 28 of the 80 cattle from the herd in which the infected cow in Washington state was discovered. The livestock were born in Canada before being transported to America. The USDA has announced it's ending that investigation.

Australia is the United States' 13th largest trading partner. The trade agreement should lead to slightly higher beef exports for both countries. Tariffs on exports will be phased out over two decades.

Daschle said he will offer amendments that will eliminate cattle and beef from the agreement. He'd like them left or taken out of other trade pacts as well.

Congress is expected to vote on the Australia agreement next week.

I guess John Anderson will shortly indicate Australia's consent to the excision of beef by declaring it would be unAustralian to have an FTA without beef. The Man of Steel will then announce that it's both antiAmerican and unAustralian to even question whether the FTA, in its final form after passage through Congress, is not the best thing since sliced bread.

I understand the government would like all congaline volunteers to contact them as soon as possible.

More seriously, the vaunted Howard/Bush chemistry could not get sugar included in the current form of the agreement. By the time congress debates it the Howard chemistry will be totally ineffectual.

13 February 2004

Howard's super backflip

Mr Howard said he was acting even though he did not think MPs' overall income package was too generous. 'But people think the super's generous and rather than this thing drift on for months as the subject of a partisan political debate I've decided to act immediately to get it off the agenda.'

Mr Latham said he welcomed the Government's response to the initiative he had put forward 'to rebuild public trust and confidence in our democracy'.

'It been eight years in Opposition for the Labor Party and it's the first time we have changed the law from Opposition,' he said.

Mr Howard indicated earlier that he would not follow Mr Latham's example and reduce his loadings. 'I will take the entitlements I have under the existing scheme', as had every other prime minister, he said.

Short of a sudden invasion of the borders by anti-American sugar growers I think we can expect quite a lot of Howard backward double flips with pike and twist before the election.

In fact, he's written a sort of compressed history of his entire prime ministership:

'I think the policy is wrong, but if adopting it is what it takes to get re-elected then I will.'

Next: Latham on prime ministerial cellar reform...

Agricultural subsidies vs. free trade

To a North Dakota radio station, U.S. trade representative Robert Zoellick vowed that he would stand like Horatius at the bridge to block Australian sugar. The quotas can be considered among the bearable transaction costs of democracy, keeping North Dakota's, Minnesota's and other states' growers of sugar beets and Florida's, Louisiana's and other states' growers of sugar cane from starving. Or seceding. Or being forced to grow something else. But protectionism is unconservative, unseemly and unhealthy -- lethal.

Unconservative? Protectionism is a variant of what conservatives disparage as ''industrial policy'' when nonconservatives do it. It is government supplanting the market as the picker of economic winners. Another name for industrial policy is lemon socialism -- survival of the unfit.

Unseemly? America has no better friend than Australia. Yet such is the power of American sugar interests, the Bush administration has forced Australia to continue quotas on its sugar exports to America. That was a price for achieving the not-exactly ''free trade'' agreement signed last weekend. But look on the bright side: Restrictions on beef imports will be phased out over 18 years.

Is protectionism lethal? Promoted by Democrats hawking their compassion, protectionism could flatten somewhat the trajectory of America's rising prosperity. But protectionism could kill millions in developing nations by slowing world growth, thereby impeding those nations from achieving prosperity. Developed nations spend $1 billion a day on agriculture subsidies that prevent poor nations' farmers from competing in the world market.

Sugar quotas, although a bipartisan addiction, are worst when defended by Republicans who actually know better, and who lose their ability to make a principled argument against the Democrats' protectionist temptation. Fortunately, splendid trouble may be on the horizon.

Last September's collapse of the World Trade Organization's ministerial meeting in Canc�n meant that the pernicious ''peace clause'' was not renewed. For nine years it has prevented the WTO from treating agricultural subsidies as what they obviously are -- market distortions incompatible with free trade. For Americans, a fight over that is worth having, and losing.

The Man of Steel, ably assisted by the Foreign Minister of Kleenex, is developing an argument that Labor, the Democrats, the Greens are mired in anti-Americanism because they criticising the USFTA.

Today's Age carried a good specimen of the beast:

But Labor should look before leaping. For one thing, the politics are fraught. There is no doubt where John Howard thinks the mainstream is on this.

More than that, however, it comes down to a fundamental policy choice: for Labor, is this really the issue, the agenda, on which to say no to America?

All that argument, like Howard's, is really saying is that US policy must never be questioned. When the US media are questioning the FTA for the same reasons as Labor that looks an exceedingly shallow argument.

12 February 2004

Spy agencies to face new WMD inquiry

Australia's spy agencies can expect an external inquiry into their handling of intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction within months.

The Howard Government is expected to agree to an independent inquiry into the Australian agencies' assessment of secret reports from US and British intelligence bodies after a parliamentary committee reports next month.

The committee's findings are unanimous, without the usual dissenting report on political lines, and a recommendation for an independent inquiry is expected.

The bipartisan parliamentary intelligence committee - chaired by former Howard government minister David Jull and including former Labor leader and defence minister Kim Beazley - is highly regarded, and its findings and recommendations will be hard for the Coalition to resist.

The Government and intelligence agencies may not accept all the findings of the report, but John Howard is likely to follow the examples of US President George W.Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair and order an inquiry into the intelligence agencies' collection and analysis of information about Iraq's chemical weapons and nuclear capability.

Pressure has grown for an independent inquiry and an explanation as to how Australian troops were committed to the war in Iraq, and why no evidence of chemical weapons stockpiles has been found since.

The Prime Minister continued yesterday to defend the Government's decision and did not rule out an independent inquiry.

'I take the opportunity of repeating that the decision taken by the Government was the right decision. It was based on the intelligence available to us at the time. I have no regrets of any description about that decision,' Mr Howard told parliament.

'The world is better off as a result of what we did and this Government has nothing to apologise for.'

The world will be better off, if and only if, Iraq becomes a better place in the long run and that is yet to be seen. So is any long term damage to the credibility of the US and its intelligence. It's also yet to be seen what impact the Iraq war will have on Australia's standing in our region where sheriff's stars may not be a badge of popularity.

Expert warns NASA can't afford Mars plan

An aerospace executive warned a presidential commission Wednesday that NASA does not have enough money - or bright young stars - to achieve President Bush's goal of returning astronauts to the moon and flying from there to Mars.

'It would be a grave mistake to undertake a major new space objective on the cheap. To do so, in my opinion, would be an invitation to disaster,' said Norman Augustine, retired chairman of Lockheed Martin Corp. and head of a panel that examined the future of the space program for the first President Bush.

Augustine was among five aerospace experts who addressed the first public hearing of the current President Bush's space exploration commission, held in Washington.

Commission member Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist who is director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York, asked Augustine whether $15 billion a year for 10 years would be enough to set NASA on course to fulfill the moon-and-then-on-to-Mars vision put forth by Bush one month ago. The space agency's annual budget has been around $15 billion in recent years.

Augustine pointed out that during the next decade, NASA will still have the enormous cost of running all its centers, the space shuttle fleet and the international space station, not to mention conducting research. He said the nation traditionally has underestimated the cost of big programs.

Tyson pressed Augustine, asking: 'Are you suggesting $150 billion over the next 10 years would not be enough if it all went to that mission?'

Augustine replied that he had not done enough analysis to give an answer, 'but I guess if I had to bet, I'd bet that it wouldn't be enough.'

Seems like a really silly project to close down Hubble for. While strictly, NASA cites safety reasons for the Hubble closure, I see the real reason as the drive to get the shuttle/ISS program closed down ASAP to free what little money is available for the grand Mars design.

That the weaknesses in the station and shuttle programs are the product of precisely the same fiscal compromises that already afflict the Mars project doesn't seem to have registered yet.

US alliance comes at a price

Tow and Lyon say Howard's support for the US has put at risk Australian gambits for inclusion in emerging Asian institutions, but that Howard has found the risk acceptable.

In joining the US bandwagon so wholeheartedly, Australia has ignored the sorts of concerns about the Bush administration reflected in the recent US Army War College paper by research professor Jeffrey Record.

Record's paper, which has angered the Bush administration, argues that the invasion of Iraq was "an unnecessary preventive war of choice" that took resources from the more critical fight against Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network, which was behind the terrorist attacks on New York, Washington and Bali.

Like many US and other security experts, Record says the administration's goals are unrealistic and condemn the US "to a hopeless quest for absolute security" and are fiscally, politically and militarily unsustainable.

While the Howard government limited the size and duration of Australian military participation in Afghanistan and Iraq, it has joined Britain's Blair administration in echoing US justifications for the war despite its failure to find Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction and despite continuing violence in Iraq.

Defence and security policy will be front-line election issues this year.

The clarity of government policy offers the Labor Party, which has more nuanced views, an opportunity to challenge the government if it has the political courage to conduct a debate that goes beyond ritual and irrelevant declarations of support for the US alliance.

Australia has nothing to apologise for in relation to the alliance. It is a loyal US ally. It gives - and receives - real benefits from the alliance, and accepts that Australia cannot expect automatic US support in a regional crisis.

The US is a global power with global interests and Australia is not necessarily relevant to its calculations. With the US military now overstretched at the zenith of its global hegemony, Australia might do well, to paraphrase former British prime minister Henry Palmerston, to accept that the US has no permanent friends but only permanent interests.

In defence policy terms, that implies that even nations in cozy alliances need to be ready to fight alone. Being a deputy does not guarantee that the sheriff will always be on hand.

No-one knows if George Bush will be re-elected in 2004 and the Howard government has essentially built an entirely new foreign policy based only on the personal chemistry between Bush and Howard. That personal chemistry seems to generate barbecues and ranch visits but not many trade concessions. There is no feasible way that the chemistry side of the relationship can ever be higher - and it has gained us almost nothing in the new FTA.

Beyond that, the Howard government has essentially abandoned a multilateral approach in favour of congalining the USA. The FTA will have repercussions in Asia, just as the Howard doctrine (wrongly called the deputy sheriff doctrine) did. Australia's purchase of the JSF will have repercussions.

There's a big opportunity here for Iron Mark to start chipping away at the rusty spots on the Man of Steel. The biggest of them is the sheer embarrassment level of a government that seems incapable of even asking if Australia's interests could ever diverge from those of the Bush administration.

As Hugh White told the National Press Club last October:

For better or worse, depending on your view of the case, this problem looks set to fade, as the Bush Doctrine meets reality in Iraq's Sunni triangle. My hypothesis is that we will see no more Iraqs � major military operations to achieve regime change and political reconstruction in states of concern. First, I do not think there are any more opportunities: neither Iran nor North Korea offer practical military options at acceptable levels of cost and risk. Second, there is a question of resources: America�s military strength is great but not unlimited, and as long as it has forces on anything like the current scale committed in Iraq, it would be hard to undertake any other major operations. Money is also an issue, with the US fiscal deficit approaching $500 Billion. And third, there is politics: this northern spring talk of Empire blossomed all over Washington, but this has not survived the first winds of autumn, nor the colder realities of the US presidential primaries.

So if the Bush Doctrine has had its day, what follows? Much depends on Iraq, of course, which will remain for better or worse the overriding preoccupation of American foreign 5 policy for a long time to come. The idealistic hopes of the neo-cons now seem unlikely to be fulfilled, but similarly neither do the gloomiest predictions of the pessimists. Iraq is no Vietnam. I�d plan on a middling outcome, neither very good nor very bad, and an America that is neither imperial nor isolationist. In fact, two years after 9/11, the US is getting back to normal.

That means, among other things, getting back to worrying about China. It also means getting back to the long-term post Cold War realignment of US strategic posture and military basing around the world, including in Asia. I think in the long run that has big implications for Australia. One of those implications is a larger reliance on allies to look after problems in their own regions.

Perhaps there no permanent deputies, just permanent interests.

11 February 2004

Courting leaders

Today's Guardian reports that Blair's moral qualities are under threat .

Mr Mandelson, who remains one of the prime minister's closest allies, said there were some inside and outside the Labour party who were exploiting the Iraq issue in order to harm Mr Blair's integrity. 'They do not seem to care what the cost may prove to be to the party or government,' he said.

I would have thought Blair's integrity incapable of being harmed by political attacks. The perception of his integrity, certainly, but not his integrity itself. It is in fact patently absurd to say that criticism is destroying Blair's integrity, as if he were a medieval king an needed everyone to bend the knee.

The same courtly language has flourished in the US recently, most famously as:

MR. RUSSERT:� Is it appropriate to call the president of the United States a deserter?

The best answer to that is to restate its terms slightly, either as:

Is it appropriate to call the president of the United States a draft-dodger?


Is it appropriate for the president of the United States to be a deserter?

Is it appropriate for the president of the United States to procure a burglary?

I am not aware of anyone feeling that Clinton should be exalted above the draft-dodger language, although that is a much lesser charge than desertion. Nor does anyone any longer contend that Nixon was above the law.

I am equally unaware of the US media, including the eminent Mr Russert, investigating the AWOL issue much beyond the kind of appalling vista investigation made famous by Lord Denning. If you declare even the question too appalling, there is simply no way you can ever investigate it. And that is not a happy thought.

Clark to end presidential bid

Retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark will end his Democratic Party presidential campaign, aides said late Tuesday.

The one-time NATO supreme commander will travel to Arkansas to make the announcement in his home state, they told CNN.

Earlier Tuesday, Clark made his usual stump speech to supporters in Tennessee, but spoke of America's future -- not his own.

Well, now there are three. Will Clark's people shift their support to Edwards or Kerry? If they go to Kerry the exercise is over and the DNC front-loading strategy - piling everything on early to ensure the nomination is decided quickly will have succeeded. And failed.

The Iowa caucuses were less than a month ago. Kerry has yet to face the blowtorch to the belly and the front-loading design has made it impossible for him to be tested as, say, Dean was tested and failed. Kerry's electoral performance between now and November will tell if front-loading was a very good idea. One hopes Kerry will remember that Dean, in particular, made the war and the economy the issues on which he is now running but did not, before Dean showed him how, dare to raise.

Meanwhile, on the other side of US politics, I am beginning to suspect that the Bush principate may have passed its use-by date. A certain aphorism by the founder of Bush's party about fooling all of the people some of the time should be required reading.

Govt unable to quantify free trade deal

The fluctuating exchange rate made it difficult to put a dollar figure on the exact economic benefit from the Australia-US free trade agreement (FTA), Treasurer Peter Costello said.

Fisheries Minister Ian Macdonald said the economic benefit would be worth around $4 billion, a figure based on a previous government-commissioned report which did not take account of the absence of sugar from the deal.

The report - quoting a figure of $US2 billion - was also released when the Australian dollar was considerably weaker.

Mr Costello told ABC radio the FTA deal was overwhelmingly in the national interest but refused to be drawn on its exact economic worth.

'A benefit of $US2 billion on an exchange rate of 50 (US) cents is different to a benefit of $US2 billion on an exchange of 78 (US) cents,' he said.

'Of course these things move.

We know they move. We just wonder how much that US$2 billion is worth with sugar excluded, and beef postponed by 18 years. With the AU$ expected to reach US$0.80 within six weeks how will that effect the FTA?

About that text...

Both houses of federal parliament resumed yesterday. Senator Hill, Defence Minister and Leader of the Government in the Senate has evidently developed telepathic abilities. He answered a string of detailed questions about the benefits of an agreement he has not read.

Read this question, if you will, and consider the text I've boldfaced:

Question without notice

Senator HILL: I have to say, Senator Carr, for your benefit, that he has done an excellent job in negotiating this agreement for Australia. On the substantive part of the question as to when the full text will be available, as of yesterday I was unable to get a firm answer on that.

Senator Carr: Haven't you got a copy?

Senator HILL: No. There was a suggestion of a fortnight, but I suspect it might take a little longer than that. What is the timetable for implementation? The timetable is that the enabling legislation should be passed during this year. That will mean that the process within the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties will need to be a prompt one. The government will certainly be approaching it expeditiously and looking to that committee being provided with the information that it requires as quickly as possible. We would urge the committee to go about its job in order that we might meet that time frame. That is, no doubt, an ambitious time frame but, with benefits so great for Australia as flow from this particular agreement, the government is obviously anxious to be able to bring it into effect as quickly as possible.

Incidentally, the foreign affairs department advises anyone with a query to email them at us_fta@dfat.gov.au. '_' is, of course, an illegal character in an email address and the address therefore does not work.

Where is the text? Why can't it be published?

10 February 2004

Nats to take on PM in party room

The National Party MP Ian Causley, a former president of the NSW Canegrowers Association, said the outcome of the negotiations was 'deeply disappointing' and promised to take his complaints direct to Mr Howard in the party room.

The FTA is 'probably good for Australia, but not so good for rural industry,' he said.

Mr Howard's suggestion that canegrowers should leave the land with government compensation raised particular concern.

'The solution is not just another reform package aimed at getting farmers off their farms,' said Peter Lindsay, the Liberal member for the sugar seat of Herbert.

'That just undermines the whole industry, by making the mills uncommercial.' The answer was a comprehensive package encouraging alternative use of cane, in 'power generation, biofuels and other areas'.

The National Party whip and member for the highly marginal sugar growing seat of Hinkler, Paul Neville, said encouraging some farmers to leave the industry risked serious flow-on effects, because of its integrated nature.

The independent and former National Party MP Bob Katter, who holds another sugar seat, was more blunt.

'Specifically on the 15th, 23rd and 28th of January, [the Trade Minister] Mark Vaile said sugar was a non-negotiable part of the deal,' he said. 'The growers believed there would be no deal without sugar. I believed it myself.

'We were lied to and stabbed in the back. Then they deliberately held back the news until after the Queensland election.'

Mr Katter predicted that the Government would lose at least five marginal sugar seats in Queensland and northern NSW as a result.

Someone please wake me when the Nats have finished going through the motions and the Man of Steel has finished giving them promises, such as sugar being non-negotiable.

A Misreading of the Law

More to the point, the Reynolds case raises a central question that Hutton misses completely. If Gilligan's broadcast was so terrible, if the Blairs were having sleepless nights as a result of being accused of deceit, if the prime minister was shunned at home and abroad as a liar, the law has a simple remedy, the one adopted by Albert Reynolds in the case that Hutton makes so much of: sue for libel. Reynolds was himself a prime minister (of Ireland) but if it is thought beneath the dignity of a serving UK PM to resort to the courts, why did poor, maligned, isolated Alastair Campbell not sue himself, especially when (he would have us believe) his own honour was so grossly impugned? And what about the Mail on Sunday, where Gilligan's greatest excesses of character destruction were to be found? Campbell makes much of his hatred of the paper: here was a chance to take it to the cleaners. Had this course of action been adopted, the judge and jury who heard the case would not have been constricted by the terms of reference with which Hutton misled himself. There would have been questions about the context and a proper cross-examination of the principal actors. The jury might not have been able to avoid asking itself about those supposed weapons of mass destruction that this supposedly unsexed up dossier was so certain about.

In truth no such suit would have succeeded, which is why none was launched. Perhaps the most disappointing feature of Lord Hutton's report is his failure to appreciate the distinction between stopping the media in advance from publishing something and punishing a media outlet for wrongful publication after the event. It is the second of these that our defamation laws are concerned with. Newspapers and other media seek legal advice, balance the risk, take a chance here, are caught out there, settle, apologise, pay damages if all else fails. Even if a case reaches court and the defendant draws a Hutton, an appeal can ensure that the matter is heard before a more balanced bench. But the law is set against the first approach, seeing a challenge to our democratic culture in the prior restraint of the media. Thus, the laws of libel have long rejected efforts by litigants to prevent publication, on the grounds that, if there is any chance of publication being justified, the place to argue the point is in court after publication, not before. The same applies to trade libels, injurious falsehood and similar claims. Contempt of court laws were changed some years ago specifically to prevent the stifling effect of spurious libel writs being issued in order to be able to invoke the contempt laws to shut the press up. It was the prior restraint dimension to the Spycatcher affair, all those endless injunctions, that ultimately led to a series of Strasbourg rulings against the government in 1991. The Human Rights Act, enacted by Labour in 1998, takes great care to protect the press and other media from injunctions obtained without their participation, and designed to foil reports which have not yet been run. Lord Hutton ignores all this. Instead he would create a mini court of law inside the BBC, staffed no doubt by cautious lawyers, whose job it would be to examine all news broadcasts for evidence of 'false accusations of fact impugning the integrity of others, including politicians'. An ideal Hutton world would have such commissars everywhere.

Reynolds is about the remedies available after an item is published. Hutton is about restraint before publication. Hutton misreads Reynolds in the most egregious manner. Hutton almost, in fact, breaches his own standard of 'false accusations of fact impugning the integrity of others, including politicians'. Certainly Hutton made such false accusations against at least one BBC editor whom he neither heard nor warned.

The obvious solution is to make the conclusions of judicial inquiries appealable and to ensure that the kind of open process you get in a trial can be had in an inquiry.

Not Everyone Got it Wrong on Iraq's Weapons

The fact, independent of the findings of any commission, is that not everyone was wrong.

I, for one, was not. I did my level best to demand facts from the Bush administration to back up their allegations regarding Iraq's WMD and, failing that, spoke out and wrote in as many forums as possible in an effort to educate the publics of the United States and the world about the danger of going to war based on a hyped-up threat.

In this I was not alone. Rolf Ekeus, the former head of the UN weapons inspectors in Iraq, has declared that under his direction, Iraq was 'fundamentally disarmed' as early as 1996. Hans Blix, who headed UN weapons inspections in Iraq in the months before the invasion in March 2003, stated that his inspectors had found no evidence of either WMD or WMD-related programs in Iraq. And officials familiar with Iraq, like Ambassador Joseph Wilson and State Department intelligence analyst Greg Theilmann, both exposed the unsustained nature of the Bush claims regarding Iraq's nuclear capability.

The riddle surrounding Iraq's WMD was solvable without resorting to war. For all the layers of deceit and obfuscation, there existed enough basic elements of truth and substantive fact about the disposition of Saddam Hussein's secret weapons programs to permit the Gordian knot to be cleaved by anyone willing to try. Sadly, it seems that there was no predisposition on the part of those assigned the task of solving the riddle to do so.

The everyone was wrong meme is a nice try, but does not really achieve much. There is a distinction between everyone went to war and everyone believed in WMDs. casting the net of those who made war to include those who believed in WMDs is a spectacular example of the fallacy of composition, but a fallacy all the same.

Responsibility lies with those who made the war. Their claim, shown here to be untrue, that everyone got it wrong does not absolve them.

9 February 2004

ALP wary state boom will mean federal bust

Yet anyone extrapolating Peter Beattie's latest landslide into Labor gains at the federal election should look back to what happened after his previous landslide victory in 2001.

Labor won 47.2 per cent of the vote on Saturday, down from 48.9 per cent in 2001. Yet in between, the November 2001 federal election saw Labor's vote fall to 34.7 per cent in Queensland, against 45.6 per cent for the Coalition.

That means a quarter of voters who chose to make Peter Beattie Premier at the past two state elections also voted to make John Howard Prime Minister.

It is a repeat of last March's NSW election, when Bob Carr romped home in a state where federal Labor has struggled since 1996.

Indeed, Howard's majority is built entirely on Coalition support in the two rugby league states. The Coalition holds 48 seats north of the Murray to 26 for Labor. In the rest of the country, Labor holds 37 seats to the Coalition's 35.

As in NSW, some of the widest disparities in Labor support occurred in the outer suburbs. Like Sydney, Brisbane is surrounded by suburbs that elect Labor MPs with massive majorities to State Parliament, while sending Liberal MPs to Canberra.

The average house prices and incomes may be lower, but outer Brisbane is populated by voters with the same sort of aspirations as those in outer Sydney.

I think this election will be decided in the ring of outer suburban seats around Sydney and Brisbane and a group of regional seats in NSW and Queensland where the government's trade policy goes against major agricultural interests. And those seats are precisely where Latham's appeal is likely to be strongest and the spin about core and noncore promises likely to weakest.

Trade deal could cost my seat

Asked if the deal could cost the MP her seat, Mrs Kelly said: 'It well could.'

Mrs Kelly is one of a number of coalition MPs in the so-called Queensland sugar seats who will be under pressure due to the government decision to agree to keeping sugar out of the deal.

The shape of the federal election is starting to show, and losing sugar seats in North Queensland looks like one of them.

Australia clinches free trade deal with US

The United States and Australia signed a trade agreement today that officials say will eliminate duties from more than 99 per cent of American manufacturing exports to Australia.

But in a blow for Australian sugar producers, the otherwise comprehensive agreement would not provide any more access to the protected US sugar market, an Australian official said.

The pact would also not lead to 'blue sky open trade' in the dairy sector, but would still provide much more opportunity for Australian dairy farmers to sell their products in the United States, the official said.

In another controversial sector, the pact would lead to free trade in beef over an 18-year phase-in period, he said.

'The Australian ambition in agriculture had to be moderated, but it will be a very, very good agreement for Australia,' the official said.

The text is not yet available. More when it is. Meanwhile:

  • sugar farmers can get stuffed
  • beef farmers can wait 18 years for removal of tariff protection
  • all agricultural sectors can wait forever for a reduction in US non-tariff protection such as their billion dollar subsidy schemes
  • quota protection remains in several agricultural sectors apart from sugar
  • the deal requires US congressional approval although not Australian parliamentary approval
  • no-one's taken any account of trade diversion if Asian markets look elsewhere for products they previously imported from Australia
  • mysteriously, the negotiators had a sudden rush to success within a day of the voting in Queensland

All told, it makes for a great press release and will probably cost the government 3 seats in North Queensland. It will be interesting, after Saturday night's performance in the Queensland tally room, to see what Bob Katter Jr makes of this.

A little heavy Hansard

Back in September 2003, the Intelligence and Security Committee expressed concern about the way the 45-minute claim as presented in the September dossier. The Government Response to the Intelligence and Security Committee Report on Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction has now appeared, although with an odd lack of fanfare. To quote:

12. But the Committee also criticises (paragraphs 110 and 111) the way in which some of the detail in the dossier was presented. It believes that the uncertainty over Saddam�s chemical and biological capacity should have been highlighted to give a balanced view; that the nature of the threat should have been more clearly spelt out, in particular that Saddam was not considered a current or imminent threat to mainland UK; and that the most likely chemical and biological munitions to be used against Western forces were battlefield weapons (artillery and rockets) rather than strategic weapons. The Committee also notes (paragraph 112) that, as the dossier was for public consumption and not for experienced readers of intelligence material, the context of the intelligence on the 45 minutes claim should have been explained, in particular the fact that it was assessed to refer to battlefield chemical and biological munitions and their movement on the battlefield.

13. The Government believes that the dossier did present a balanced view of Iraq�s CBW capability based on the intelligence available. The dossier made clear (paragraph 14, page 16) that the withdrawal of the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) had greatly diminished the ability of the international community to monitor and assess Iraq�s continued efforts to reconstitute its programmes. It also noted (paragraph 13, page 16) that UNSCOM was unable to account for significant quantities of agents, precursors and munitions.

The British government had an opportunity to correct the 45 minute error. It did not do so. Unexplained and undeveloped statements that merely say: 'We were right' do not assist their case, except to suggest they have attended Lord Hutton's school for arguing the impossible.

Tony Blair claims to have told parliament exactly when he understood that the 45 minute claim applied only to battlefield weapons. I have searched the Hutton report debate and Blair's appearance before the Liaison Committee. Beyond saying it was after the war vote on 18 March he has not actually given an exact time. I suspect he will have to give a more exacting answer or face much more exacting questions in the next few days.

According to the Independent, the Joint Intelligence Committee sent an assessment to the government before 18 March 2003 in which they stated that the 45 minute claim applied only to battlefield CBW weapons. Has the Man of Steel seconded some of his staff to Number 10? Did Blair throw the JIC assessment overboard?