This week


Watching the chic and smiling Madame Fu Ling respond to the gentle probing of Lateline’s Tony Jones it was clear that her training had been exemplary. Alexander Downer should get the tape and see how it’s possible to hedge or say nothing and still be worth watching. ‘A thousand spies in Australia? Ridiculous. Imagine how many we’d have to have in a country the size of the US?’

Butter would not have melted in Madame Fu’s mouth. But her assurances that Chen Yonglin, former consul for political affairs at the consulate-general in Sydney, can change his mind and return to China safely, sits rather uneasily with the fact that China executes more people than the rest of the world put together.

Thanks to Bill Leak from the Australian

Thanks to Bill Leak from the Australian

Chen has sought political asylum for himself, his wife Jin Ping and for Chen Fangrong, their six year old daughter. Some people are saying it’s the most important defection for forty years. Alexander Downer seemed to be saying it is something less than that: ‘We are looking at the application that’s been made,’ he said. Mr Chen made an application for a protection visa. If he didn’t want a protection visa presumably he wouldn’t have done so.’ Thank you, Mr Downer. Our taxes at work.

More of this weaselling was reported in the Washington Post and elsewhere. ‘A spokesman for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) told Reuters that the government knew of the matter but it was a case for the Department of Immigration’. Department officials reportedly rang the Chinese Embassy instead of checking their website to verify Mr Chen’s identity, thus effectively dobbing him. Mr Chen has now applied for a Protection Visa and we know where that leads. That his application is now being considered by DIMIA must be a relief for him. Mrs Vanstone will have it sorted in no time.

Opposition spokesman, Kevin Rudd is rightly outraged that Chen sought asylum two weeks ago and was refused by the Government, yet Labor has not been given an explanation of why his original application was rejected. The protocol for situations like this is bipartisanship: the Opposition is briefed, and the public is informed.

Downer and the Prime Minister now admonish the media for ‘stirring up controversy’ when it is clearly a case of Government pussyfooting and second-guessing: after all, they’re talking to the Chinese about a Free Trade Agreement. Chen is clearly a genuine human rights case, but there are more things in heaven and earth, as we know. There are uranium sales, for instance. A free market has no conscience, so how can its apostles or its drones? How can they be expected even to weigh the value of Mr Chen’s knowledge against the gospel of an FTA, or to imagine that the Chinese uranium goes in one basket and Mr Chen very definitely in another? In any case, our officials might say to themselves, who are we to lecture them on human rights?

Meanwhile the Opposition Leader, hunched over as if trying to shield himself from an imminent volley of rotten apples, sticks doggedly to his strategy on the Budget tax cuts and, perhaps remembering the unhappy example of Doc Evatt and Petrov, says precisely nothing about Mr Chen. His strategy on the tax cuts has cost him substantial ground in the polls and given Peter Costello another field day. His strategy on Mr Chen has cost him more ground to Kevin Rudd, and given another field day to everyone who says he lacks ticker.

In recent weeks there has been an unusual reflorescence of affection for Paul Keating’s passionate and visionary politics. Seeing the old tape this week of tears streaming down Bob Hawke’s face as he announced an amnesty for Chinese students in the wake of Tiananmen Square might help explain why. Not that Keating was prone to cry in public: but in their different ways the joint architects of economic liberalisation in Australia now appear as uncommonly “ even wonderfully “ large, spontaneous and human.

Thanks to Peter Nicholson from the Australian

Thanks to Peter Nicholson from the Australian

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.