Tag Archives: Security

Saturday salon 4/9

1. Stunt of the week

Labor took control of the House of Representatives on Thursday evening in an attempt to pass a resolution to set up a banking royal commission. Eventually the Government mustered enough numbers to shut it down after losing three procedural votes.

It was a timely warning to the Government that their control of the House is fragile and Labor is going to play hardball.

An angry Malcolm Turnbull says the Government was “embarrassed, humiliated, excoriated”. Continue reading Saturday salon 4/9

Saturday salon 7/3

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An open thread where, at your leisure, you can discuss anything you like, well, within reason and the Comments Policy. Include here news and views, plus any notable personal experiences from the week and the weekend.

For climate topics please use the most recent Climate clippings.

The gentleman in the image is Voltaire, who for a time graced the court of Frederick II of Prussia, known as Frederick the Great. King Fred loved to talk about the universe and everything at the end of a day’s work. He also used the salons of Berlin to get feedback in the development of public policy.

Fred would only talk in French; he regarded German as barbaric. Here we’ll use English.

The thread will be a stoush-free zone. The Comments Policy says:

The aim [of this site] is to provide a venue for people to contribute and to engage in a civil and respectful manner.

Here are a few bits and pieces that came to my attention last week.

1. Cutting funds to assist the homeless

Groups that provide aid to homeless people are set to start making thousands of their staff redundant from next month due to uncertainty over federal funding.

The National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness, a funding agreement between the states and territories and the federal government, is set to expire on 30 June, with no assurance from Canberra that the arrangement will continue.

Homelessness agencies have warned that dozens of programs will be axed if the $115m in federal funding ceases, potentially putting the lives of rough sleepers and women fleeing domestic violence at risk.

Canberra public servants can’t even to provide a date for a decision on the funding arrangements.

More than 3,000 staff, who provide support for more than 80,000 homeless people, will be affected. Redundancy notices will start to flow from the end of March.

2. Cutting research infrastructure funding

Above we saw that the Government has no heart. It also has no brains. Christopher Pyne in an indescribably venal move has tied research infrastructure funding to the passage of his higher education reforms.

For reasons that are unclear, the government has singled out the research infrastructure part of the annual A$9 billion science and research budget and is threatening to kill it for the sake of the A$150 million earmarked to keep the infrastructure afloat.

Without looking at the cutting-edge science that the facilities produce, the research facilities support just about every sector of the Australian economy from agriculture, to mining to drug design and medical research.

There are more than 35,000 researchers who use our major research facilities, and these will be progressively locked out as the facilities go off-line. More than 1,700 skilled scientific and support jobs are under threat if the facilities are mothballed. Even now we are seeing the signs of losing the corporate knowledge and erosion of the skilled professional workforce as staff seek more secure career opportunities.

And perhaps worst of all is the sheer waste of more than A$3 billion in capital investment as well as the hard work that has gone into building up new capacity over decades.

Some innovative companies will take their research overseas.

The universities are on their knees begging. Adam Bandt has called it “parliamentary blackmail”. It’s beyond stupid. Words fail!

3. GP Co-payment is ‘dead, buried and cremated’

That’s what Abbott assured us this week. Medicare is still unsustainable, according to the Government, though this is questioned by experts.

Health Minister Sussan Ley says the Government still wants people who can afford to contribute to the cost of their healthcare to do so. Presumably this would mean a rebate indexed according to affordability. Is this practical?

The Government will continue its pause on indexation of Medicare rebates, for GP and non-GP items. This must be wearing thin with doctors. It started with Labor in 2013 and there is no indexation for inflation.

So far bulk billing rates have held up pretty well.

The Minister says she is consulting. There’s also plenty to read at The Conversation on sustainable health spending and Medicare reform generally.

4. Soldiers get 2 per cent pay rise

In another exercise in barnacle scraping, the Government relented partially on defence force pay at a cost of $200 billion over the forward estimates. Jacqui Lambie says they’ve still been dudded by one per cent, it’s still an insult and she is considering her embargo on supporting government legislation.

5. 300 more Australian troops to be sent to Iraq

Australia is to send about 300 more troops to Iraq, to help train the Iraqi army in its fight against Daesh, also known as Islamic State.

Mr Abbott says the contribution is prudent and proportionate and it’s in Australia’s national interest to stop the militant group from inspiring supporters around the world.

The new deployment was quickly supported by Labor, but opposed by the Greens and the Independent MP Andrew Wilkie.

Abbott was boasting that he sweats with the troops. He tries to have physical training with them when he is on their bases. He’s certainly pushing the national security issue hard.

Like Wilkie, Bernard Keane at Crikey doesn’t agree with the deployment. He says we are doing what ISIS wants us to do, we are endangering our home security, and in any case the Iraqi armed forces don’t do fighting, they do torturing, murdering and raping Sunni prisoners.

I wonder how much this exercise will cost!

Puzzling polls

Mark Kenny at the SMH believes the Fairfax-Ipsos poll has thrown Tony Abbott’s leadership a lifeline:

Australian voters have thrown Tony Abbott a lifeline just as his internal opponents were shaping to dump him, with a Fairfax-Ipsos poll confirming a pro-government shift is under way.

In a result set to strengthen the Prime Minister’s hand in the short term, the Abbott government has staged an unlikely recovery and, while still trailing, is now within striking distance of overhauling the ALP lead at 49-51.

Coalition pollies seem to believe it and that’s what matters. Abbott is certainly acting like chief rooster in the chook yard again.

I’m inclined to think that Abbott is safe from his own mob until budget time, but perhaps not yet safe from voters’ ire.

Firstly, the Ipsos poll is new on the block, replacing Nielsen as Fairfax’s pollster. Adrian Beaumont says:

An important qualification with Ipsos is that all four of its polls, conducted since it replaced Nielsen as Fairfax’s pollster, have shown a clear lean to the Coalition relative to other pollsters. As a result, this poll should be interpreted as being at least 52-48 to Labor.

Peter Hartcher thinks the poll shows Abbott as a dead man walking. Fully 72% of voters say Abbott does not have the confidence of his own party. Only 21% say he does. Sportingbet says Abbott has a 75% chance of being removed from the leadership before the next election.

Indeed the ‘attribute’ section of the poll is simply awful for Abbott. Go here and scroll down.

Voters were asked whether specific attributes applied to Abbott and Turnbull. Only 39% thought Abbott competent (Turnbull 74%). 36% thought him trustworthy to Turnbull’s 55%. Only 33% rated him a strong leader to Turnbull’s 60%.

Abbott’s ratings are all negative, and all at historical lows.

This week’s Essential Report has Labor ahead TPP 53-47, the same as last week and a slight improvement on two and four weeks ago, which both came out at 54-46.

Peter Lewis and Jackie Woods of Essential Media Communications attempt some analysis. They say that some issues just don’t cut through. For example:

for all the bluster, the controversy around the Attorney-General and the Human Rights Commission has not captured the attention of the general public. When asked to pass judgment on the performance of the Commission, 44 per cent concede they don’t know enough to form an opinion. While it has dominated the national headlines, the reality is that most people just don’t follow politics that closely.

National security, however, is an issue that people think matters and pay some attention to. Three-quarters (75%) think the threat of terrorism happening in Australia has increased over the last few years – up from 57% in September 2014.

Newspoll tells us that 51% think Abbott is best at handling the nation’s security, whereas 31% go for Shorten. Last week Abbott stood in front of six flags to tell us about strengthened home security measures. This week he found eight flags to backdrop his announcement of 300 troops on the ground in Iraq.

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Lewis and Woods say, however, that Abbott’s handling of security matters is divisive. What he is doing may appeal to the Coalition base, but may not get him over the line.

To be frank, I’ve been amazed at how Abbott appears to have extricated himself, for now at least, from his near death experience. Where the story goes next, I think no-one can tell.

Abbott’s war on terror

TONY ABBOTT NATIONAL SECURITY ADDRESS

The tricky thing about Man Haron Monis and the Lindt Café siege, is that he acted alone and was taken rather as a harmless buffoon by the security agencies. The terror threat from random actors is very real. Annabel Crabb says that

It’s clearly an escalating threat situation. Anyone carrying on today about how Tony Abbott is just cooking it all up to save his own skin is thinking wishfully.

She says that there are now:

Four hundred current investigations by ASIO, sixty-two new biometric screening gates to catch people travelling on false passports, forty-nine extra AFP officers across Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra working on the problem of Aussie jihadists abroad, and so on.

Certainly Abbott is playing to a political strength. Newspoll tells us that 51% think Abbott is best at handling the nation’s security, whereas 31% go for Shorten. 7% say neither, and 11% are uncommitted.

What the Government intends to do was spelt out on Radio National’s PM:

  • There will be a national counter-terrorism co-ordinator “to bring the same drive and focus to this as we’ve brought to Operation Sovereign Borders.”
  • On immigration a harder line will be taken to “keep out people with security questions over them.”
  • “The Government will develop amendments to the Australian Citizenship Act so that we can revoke or suspend Australian Citizenship in the case of dual nationals.”
  • The Government is looking at “suspending some of the privileges of citizenship for individuals involved in terrorism.” Privileges susceptible to suspension could include “the ability to leave or return to Australia”, “access to consular services overseas” and “access to welfare payments”.
  • The Government will take action against hate preachers by “enforcing our strengthened terrorism advocacy laws” including “new programs to challenge terrorist propaganda and to provide alternative online material based on Australian values, and it will include stronger prohibitions on vilifying, intimidating or inciting hatred.”
  • Muslim community leaders should speak up more. When they talk about Islam being a religion of peace that they should mean it.

All this doesn’t actually amount to much, according to Annabel Crabb, apart from enforcing existing laws and some blowhard (my term) urging.

Bill Shorten offered bipartisanship, saying that Labor would “engage constructively” with the government but counselled:

Haste and confusion is never the friend of good, sensible security in the future.

Abbott had also said quite explicitly that individual liberties might have to be sacrificed to ensure the safety of the community.

According to Grattan:

Shorten said there always should be a strong presumption in favour of individual liberty. “This presumption should only be reduced, rebutted or offset to the extent that current arrangements are proven to be inadequate.”

I’m concerned about what Abbott and Brandis might do in returning to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Frankly I’m concerned about anything Brandis does after getting out of bed.

I’m concerned about revoking citizenship. Once people are Australians, we should take responsibility for them rather than shunt them to a different jurisdiction, or virtually render them stateless.

Sangeetha Pillai argues that there’s more to be lost than gained in stripping citizenship. She says that most of what is proposed that is achievable can already be achieved by other means. In other words existing laws suffice. She says “commentators have been quick to note that amendments along these lines carry the risk of exacerbating feelings of social disaffection that can underpin extremism.” Her bottom line:

The limited potential effectiveness of the proposed measures, combined with the challenges of implementation and the possibility for them to be counter-productive, suggests that the losses may outweigh the gains.

I’m concerned also that there might be hassling of Muslim’s and consequent increased radicalisation.

Abbott’s words about Muslim community leaders were, according to Michelle Grattan:

“I’ve often heard Western leaders describe Islam as a ‘religion of peace’. I wish more Muslim leaders would say that more often, and mean it.”

Shorten and Julie Bishop were quick to distance themselves from these remarks. One Muslin community leader suggested that Abbott should engage in anything he chose except politics. I understand that some community leaders declined to attend a special briefing.

Randa Abdel-Fattah has a fine piece on the ABC religion and Ethics site:

Flanked by a row of Australian flags, Tony Abbott, like a priest performing a rite of passage, formally inducted Australian Muslims into the category of Australia’s primary Other.

The Prime Minister’s stated intention was to provide the nation with clarity and reassurance – just in case the decade-long stream of moral panic, manufactured fear and Islamophobic sentiment had left Australians in any doubt as to who successive governments deem as “un-Australian.”

In a way, the Prime Minister has done Muslims a favour. For he has made explicit what is at the heart of this government’s war on terror (picking up where previous governments left off). It has never been about targeting a radical minority or national security per se. The real struggle is to re-configure our social, discursive and symbolic relations around a politics of us and them.

There are many tragic consequences to this state of affairs. But at least the government has now laid bare the fact that it is prepared to hold social cohesion, justice and national security to ransom in its war on terror.

I’ll finish with this Wilcox cartoon from August last year:

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I’m sorry, Annabel Crabb, the problem’s for real, but Abbott isn’t – not entirely. Guy Rundle says Abbott should act like a statesman. It seems to be beyond him.

Awkward questions about the Sydney siege

While we await an internal police review and coroner’s inquiry into the siege of the Lindt Café by gunman Man Haron Monis last month evidence has been seeping into the press and questions are being raised about police tactics and what happened. Earlier media reports are reflected in the Wikipedia entry:

It was reported that hostage Tori Johnson’s attempt to wrest the gun from Monis may have triggered the police response.[41] However, a survivor told his family that the shot that prompted the police response was a warning shot fired when the hostages kicked down a door in an attempt to escape. Video evidence appears to show that Johnson was shot by Monis after police stormed the café. Police said they would not be commenting until the investigation was over.[42]

Hostage Katrina Dawson was killed by a police bullet, probably a ricochet,[43][40] although initially a police spokesman reported that she died of a heart attack on the way to hospital.[44]

Last Saturday Nick Ralston in the SMH advised that “multiple police sources have told Fairfax Media that Ms Dawson, 38, was struck by police fire that was not a direct shot and possibly a ricochet, when they stormed the cafe…” (emphasis added).

On Monday Rick Feneley reported that there was division over police tactics.

Early in the piece police devised a direct action plan to storm the building and take Monis by surprise. The suggestion is that this was countermanded, with such action to be reactive only.

Despite the risks, the advantage of a direct action plan is that police seize control and decide the time rather than react in split seconds to the gunman’s action.

Fairfax Media has learned there is some anger among police at the front line of the siege about the decision not to proceed with the direct action plan.

Also:

Police rejected the offers of many in the Muslim community to help them negotiate with the gunman. It is understood they would be loath to allow third parties, with no experience in hostage negotiations, to talk to a gunman – because they may be unable to control what they say or how the hostage taker might react.

Among those to offer their services were the Grand Mufti of Australia, Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammad, but he was not called in – neither to help negotiate nor to advise police.

Feneley further reports that the police had little or no contact with Monis – “in fact we’re not dealing directly with him” and “At this stage we do not have direct contact with the offender.”

Guy Rundle at Crikey takes up these and other issues.

Rundle is concerned that the apparent lack of effort to communicate with Monis may have stemmed from his self-proclaimed status as an IS representative. Police may have taken a “we don’t negotiate with terrorists” attitude, in effect militarising the situation.

Were any professional hostage negotiators even summoned? How many of these do Australian police forces have, and how good is their training? Are there clear protocols for hostage situations in place and do they categorise purportedly political events differently to “civil” situations? Do they differentiate between rational, purposeful violent political acts, and disorganised and confused political or pseudo-political acts and actors?

Why were the offers from Muslim community leaders to speak to Monis rejected, when it is a common practice to use in that way figures whom a hostage-taker might respect? Did police distrust the bona fides of Australian Muslims, believing their loyalties would be to Muslims, including Monis, rather than to the wider community?

Rundle also asks whether there was any political interference in the operation, formal or informal.

Finally:

Political opportunists tried to enrol Johnson as a “hero” who had tried to grab Monis’ gun, and died for it. He may simply have been executed — and that may have occurred because of compromised or incompetent police procedure. That Dawson died laying her body over that of a pregnant fellow hostage appears established. That she died from a police bullet does not alter that. But if it resulted from needlessly compromised procedure, then the police are partly culpable for a needless death. To turn anyone killed into a “hero” is a denial of the possibility of victimhood, of innocence, and thus of unconditional worth of any human being. To do so on the basis of clearly false information is an act of disdain. To use it as a means by which future such crises will be shaped and distorted, is actively evil. The unscrupulous love to wrap themselves in a flag whatever the event. They’re happy to use it as a shroud for any number of us, if that’s what it takes.

As you can see Rundle really bores in, but he is demanding that the facts be established by meticulous examination of the details of the last minutes before wider meaning is assigned to events.

Our earlier post on the siege is here.

Sydney siege

By my count we are now going to have four inquiries into the Lindt Cafe siege – a coroner’s inquiry, internal incident reviews by the NSW and Commonwealth police and a federal-state review undertaken by the Prime Minister’s department and the NSW Premier’s Department.

The latter will include an an investigation of how gunman Man Haron Monis slipped through state and federal security and legal nets, at his arrival in Australia, the decision to grant him of asylum, permanent residency and citizenship, as well as the social security support he received. I can’t see what social security support has to do with anything. I’m more interested in how he came by a pump-action shotgun.

Greg Barns believes bail laws are already an infringement on our liberty. The possession of personal freedom and the presumption of innocence are important principles in our society. New laws in NSW appear to contain a presumption against bail.

It is inappropriate for us to be second guessing what the magistrates had before them and we tend to be wise after the event about the risk that Monis constituted.

New Matilda details what we know officially. Listening to media reports there is a fair bit we know beyond that, but I’m happy to wait for the official reports.

I’ve yet to get a clear idea of what the gunman’s motivation was. What demands was he making to police, or was he just creating an incident and waiting to be shot one way or another? It’s possibly significant that the cafe was opposite Channel 7. There is a suggestion this morning that he wanted to talk to the Prime Minister. What were we supposed to make of the banner held up to the window?

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Rachel Kohn discusses the inadequacy of the lone wolf theory. Monis was bad as well as mad and had a record that should have given concern. It does seem as though Monis may have written off as a harmless fruitcake when he was dropped from the watch list. It has been pointed out that resources to monitor individuals are always limited, so judgements need to be made.

Randa Abdel-Fattah asks whether we take crimes against women seriously enough. I gather here she is referring to the fact that he got bail for being an accessory to his wife’s murder and, separately, 40 sexual assault cases. Others have pointed out the weakness of the prosecution case for accessory to murder, also that both charges can vary from the relatively trivial to the extremely grave, depending on the specifics. We are in no position to know.

Also from Abdel-Fattah:

There is another issue though, too. And that is whether Australian Muslims will be entitled to grieve the deaths of the two hostages and the trauma suffered by the survivors in a way that does not make their empathy and grief contingent on condemning, apologizing and distancing themselves from the gunman.

David Connery reviews security aspects of the case:

While it’s still early to be analysing a situation that’s just concluded with two of our compatriots dead, the Martin Place siege this week shows that Australia’s high-level arrangements for responding to a terrorist attack are largely effective.

Still, we can expect to see a few near-term changes to our counter-terrorism arrangements in areas like public alerts and compensation for victims.

If the attack had occurred overseas, and was declared a terrorist attack, the Commonwealth government would offer compensation payments to victims and their relatives.

There is a need to resolve the long-running negotiations between the Commonwealth and the states over the allocation of dedicated broadband spectrum for emergency services.

The incident highlights how vulnerable we are to a lone actor.

Elsewhere Rachel Jacobs tells how #illridewithyou began.

Yes, I know that #illridewithyou is not enough in itself but I think it indicates how far we’ve come from the general islamophobia that was rife after the Twin Towers event in 2001.

Climate clippings 37

UN Security Council accepts climate change as a threat to global security

The best outline I could find was at Deutsche Welle. What we got was a Presidential Statement rather than a resolution, but one that had to be voted on and accepted by members. Russia had been opposed, saying it would lead to increased politicisation. China wanted climate change addressed as part of the development agenda. There are two main outcomes:

The final statement expressed “concern that possible adverse effects of climate change may, in the long run, aggravate certain existing threats to international peace and security.”

It also requested UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to include information on possible climate change impacts in his regular reports on global trouble-spots.

There’s more background here, when the cause seemed lost. Continue reading Climate clippings 37

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Stormy weather

2010 possibly the worst ever for extreme weather

That’s according to über-meteorologist Jeff Masters posting at Climate Progress.

The year was extraordinary, featuring the hottest year on record equalling 2005, the most extreme winter Arctic atmospheric circulation on record, the warmest and driest winter on record for North America-Canada, the lowest volume of Arctic sea ice on record and 3rd lowest in extent, a record melting in Greenland, the second most extreme shift from El Niño to La Niña, the second worst coral bleaching year, the wettest year over land, the Amazon rainforest experienced its 2nd 100-year drought in 5 years and, it must be said, we had the lowest global tropical cyclone activity on record. Here’s the precipitation graph: Continue reading Climate clippings 33

Climate clippings 20

These posts include a brief mention of a number of news items relating to climate change. They don’t preclude treating any of these topics at more length in a separate post.

They can also serve as an open thread so that we can keep each other informed on important climate news.

Nicholas Stern: Climate inaction risks a “global war”

Climate Progress has the story:

The temperature increases, the temperature changes of this kind, transform where people can be. In the upwards direction, you’re going to get some areas that become deserts, probably most of southern Europe. Others that are inundated: Florida, Bangladesh, and so on.

What we’re talking about here — this the cost of inaction, the cost of not doing much — is a transformation of where we can be. Over a hundred, 120 years, we can’t be that precise, a serious risk of global war, really, because you’ve got hundreds of millions of people, perhaps billions of people moving. That’s the cost of inaction. It’s potentially immense.

It should be noted that Stern is not a security analyst, but Gwynne Dyer who is told us three years ago that security establishments were gaming scenarios where they saw mass migration due to climate change. And troubles over major river systems, like the Nile, the Mekong, the Tigris and Euphrates, and the numerous rivers on which Pakistan depends. Continue reading Climate clippings 20