16 Mar 2011

Arbib Keeps On Keeping On

By Jake Lynch
The Wikileaks cables prompted huge responses from media and citizens in other parts of the world. Why have the revelations about Australian government figures sunk so quickly, asks Jake Lynch
"I, Mark Arbib, do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Her heirs and successors according to law. So help me God!" 

Except he wasn't, was he? Faithful, that is, or true. Let's go through this slowly to make sure we don't miss anything. All members of the Senate and House of Representatives undertake to serve the Crown. Lest any confusion remain, representatives must swear a further affirmation to the same effect after taking the oath of allegiance.

He'd sworn allegiance twice but all along, the NSW Senator and Labor Right leader was secretly working for a foreign government. And, as Julia Gillard testily reminded Ali Moore on Lateline last week, "Australia and the United States are different countries".

Remarkably there has been very little follow-up to the Wikileaks revelations in Australia. No-one has asked Arbib if he was paid (and how much) to feed inside information on Labor politics and — through his position in the Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet — the workings of government.

Arbib was later promoted to a ministerial portfolio in Gillard's new cabinet. Coincidentally or not, the list of his public speaking engagements on the departmental website grinds to an abrupt halt after December 2010 when he was unmasked by the Wikileaks cables as a "protected source" for the US Embassy at Yarralumla. Perhaps he's worried about having to field a straight question in front of a crowd.

Arbib spent his sessions at the American embassy giving briefings denigrating his boss Kevin Rudd, and talking up the merits of Gillard as a potential successor. The wish was father to the deed: Arbib was one of the prime movers in Rudd's defenestration. And, coincidentally or not, important elements of Australia's foreign policy have shifted in Washington's favour since Gillard took over.

Canberra returned the fold as one of the pro-Israel group of nations at the UN General Assembly, and our new PM obligingly handed blank cheques to the Obama and any future Administration to park American military assets on Australian territory, and to lead us into future wars. All this before delivering the most obsequious statement by any Australian head of government since Harold Holt's "all the way with LBJ".

Compare this with the impact of Wikileaks elsewhere.

According to "Sam", a Tunisian blogger, "Wikileaks revealed what everyone was whispering". The cables were a catalyst which helped the first domino in the Arab world to topple.

"President Ben Ali and his regime", the US Ambassador in Tunis had written in 2009, "have lost touch with the Tunisian people ... They rely on the police for control and focus on preserving power". The cable was published in a Lebanese newspaper, setting Tunisia's web-savvy youth on a game of cat and mouse with the censors in order to access the pages via internet proxies.

Presciently, the Ambassador continued: "Corruption in the inner circle is bitterly resented ... Meanwhile, anger is growing at Tunisia's high unemployment and regional inequities. As a consequence, the risks to the regime's long-term stability are increasing".

Julian Assange, the Australian founder of Wikileaks, gave a television interview to Mark Davis on Dateline in which he was careful to attribute the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt to the courage and fortitude of the Arab peoples. But we can surely also appreciate the contribution of the Wikileaks revelations to the overthrow of Ben Ali's corrupt regime and the subsequent waves of positive changes across the region.

In Kenya there was less surprise when the private remarks of US Ambassador Michael Ranneberger, describing the country's bureaucracy as a "swamp of flourishing corruption", were disclosed as they bore a pretty strong resemblance to his pronouncements on the record.

Still, Wikileaks appears to have given a further prod to the twin processes of cleaning up government graft, and pressing ahead with indictments by the International Criminal Court for political leaders implicated in the post-election violence of 2008. Crucially, the media have been swift to join the dots. A typical example: a column in Kenya's leading newspaper, the Daily Nation, observing that the Wikileaks disclosures would stiffen political resolve in the international community to rebuff appeals by President Mwai Kibaki to defer the ICC cases.

"Think of this push for the deferral in the context of WikiLeaks", Makau Mutua, Dean and SUNY Distinguished Professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo Law School, wrote in the paper recently. "WikiLeaks paints Mr Kibaki as a protector of impunity".

In both the Arab world and sub-Saharan Africa, journalists picked up the cues offered by the Wikileaks disclosures, despite efforts by their own governments to blame the messenger. Tunisia tried censorship and the Kenyan authorities dismissed the reports as "malicious" and "innuendo". But the media response was such as to amplify the pressure for substantive political changes, not to dampen it.

In Australia, by contrast, disclosures such as the ones about Arbib have tended to sink into the viscous swamp of unreformed government-media relations, leaving barely a ripple. Political reporting seldom performs the basic journalistic function of questioning the Canberra narrative. Sure, there is the occasional televisual trompe-l'oeil, like Assange's video question to Gillard on ABC Q and A on Monday, but there is no great appetite to follow up, to pursue.

It's time to make our voices heard within the media and beyond it. What is really going on in government, and what judgements should we form about it? What changes should follow, and how can we bring them about? Wikileaks offers the opportunity to conduct such a conversation. Others have taken it — we should, too.

Sydney Peace Foundation, the City of Sydney, Amnesty International and Stop the War have organised a public event to pursue these questions. "Wikileaks and freedom: Breaking the Australian Silence" takes place at 6.30pm tonight at Sydney's Town Hall, with author and journalist, John Pilger, whistleblower-turned-MP Andrew Wilkie and Julian Burnside QC.


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Posted Wednesday, March 16, 2011 - 12:58

This is going to be a bit of a ramble because I don't have answers, just thoughts...

The difference is that those countries did not have a functioning democracy, which holds popular uprisings every 3-4 years. So, when Wikileaks gave the whispers something to push against, the pot boiled over.

Do we have a functioning democracy? On the surface yes.

So, a question: Do you care about it?

It is the aim of a successful oligarchy to ensure that citizens become cynical and unquestioningly accepting of the state of their social infrastructures. When it comes to the government for the people, I think we've about reached the nadir of democracy with our current two-party lock-state: neither side is considered to be worth getting up in the morning for (or so we are continually told).

(Then I look at the US, and think that the term 'nadir' is, after all, relative)

We don't go looking for cockroaches because we already know they're there (but not in what quantities) We get a chance to work out our two minute hate every three years, and everything's sorted in our mind, for a bit.

How do you stage a revolution in a democracy when all the exits are covered?

Rambling off...

Posted Wednesday, March 16, 2011 - 15:15

I suspect the support of the Americans for a local political leader is much more important for their success than the Australian public realises. For example Gillard must have calculated that the political rewards of kicking Assagne in the teeth would have outweighed any drift to the greens that would eventuate (which it has).

The very high level of Gillard's obsequiousness to the Americans makes her vulnerable to political attack, but the coalition can't capitalise because they suffer from the same desease. The commercial mainstream media isn't going to do it, and the ABC isn't going to bring it up because they are terrified to bring up anything for fear of accusations of left wing bias by Gerard Henderson and all the loons at Murdoch (in anycase, the ABC appears to be a branch office of Murdoch these days). So what's left? Blogs like this I guess. Atleast it is something.

Ironically, when the Marrickville Council in the inner Sydney West slapped on their ban on all Israeli goods the mainstream press went into panic mode. They complained loud and long that this type of thing should be handled by the Federal Government, not by a city council and they should keep their nose out of matters that don't concern them. But wikileaks has shown that our Federal Government is more interested in handling matters in America's interests rather than Australia's, so when a rogue council goes against this edict the noise was deafening.

Gillard's reward for her loyalty to the Americans is obvious. They'll support her and won't knock her over. But what of Mark Arbib? What exactly is a "protected source"? Does he get money? Free trips? A big guy with a crew cut, suite and bulge in his coat? What specifically is in it for him? Why hasn't he been hounded out of politics? Has he broken any laws? When is someone in the media (or paliament) going to ask him and his party some hard questions? Is he the tip of an iceberg of traitors? What can be done to prevent this level of corruption of our political processes that has been going on for decades? Are our young guys dying in Afghanistan simply because our political leaders are corrupt?

Dallas Beaufort
Posted Wednesday, March 16, 2011 - 18:06

Wrong side wrong time, maybe he could be a good independent, but then he would have to do the walk, chin up.

Posted Wednesday, March 16, 2011 - 23:17

"I, Mark Arbib, do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Her heirs and successors according to law. So help me God!"

There's half the problem - we should be a republic.

Until then, I'd like to see Rudd and Turnbull return as CEO's of the respective coles and woollies of Australian retail politics.

If Gillard and Abbott are still the mascots at the next election then I know what I'll be writing on the ballot: Moo! Moo!

At least Kev and Mal are up for a fight. The current duo are downright unelectable which is why they need Bob Brown out front to entertain the dupes.

But why do we, The Almighty Taxpayer - Funder Of The Junket - have to put up with this... when they named it the Department of Foreign Affairs I didn't expect the fckg thing to actually be run from Washington! Why don't we send the money straight to the USA and save on office space? It's like paying union fees to the AWU when you can kill two birds with one stone and buy shares in BHP, no?

Which brings us back to Wikileaks.

We can't rely on Limited News to expose the chronic lack of transparency and education in this McCoke world of ours so at the next federal election let's all JUST SAY NO to drugs like Queen Elizabeth and General Petraeus and vote "1" for Wikileaks!

Marilyn Shepherd
Posted Thursday, March 17, 2011 - 14:29

Through dealings with Gillard I know personally the following:

1. She totally ignored a depressed Iraqi doctors presence at a refugee policy forum in April 2002 and he went home and had a break down - all he wanted was for her to intervene with Ruddock to help his wife and two kids stuck in Baghdad. He was a refugee only because Richard Butler decided a harmless microbioligist trained in Bristol was a threat and hounded him until Saddam Hussein noticed him. He took 7 years to be re-united with his wife and kids who sat out years of bombings in Baghdad. I know they were terrified and terrorised because I emailed his son and had conversations about his terror all through the long years. Being Sabean Mandaean made it 100 times more dangerous.

2. She was asked to help an Iranian homosexual who was trapped in Woomera and faced being sent home by Ruddock and stoned to death. She refused because under the narrow definition Australia loves he "was not a refugee". Her colleague Linda Kirk got him out and her staffers father gave him a home after 6 years in Woomera and Baxter and after going completely nuts.

3. I heard her talking to the biggest redneck in Adelaide about her policy of illegal and criminal push backs, some of her colleagues were so alarmed by her new "policy" they quit or rang me and others to get reports from Ruddocks illegal push backs.

4. She cheered when Israel bombarded Gaza to bits and slaughtered hundreds and destroyed most of the strip.

5. Now she says it is fine to shoot down refugees in an illegal prison.

All in all this women is a far right menace worse than poor stupid Pauline.

Posted Thursday, March 17, 2011 - 14:40

The oath of office is good for dramatic value in these discussions, but nobody has yet figured out how to make the first clause in §44(i) of the constitution to stick yet. Nobody can be a member of the federal parliament who 'Is under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power...'

A law student (who is also a friend) moved in 2003 to get the High Court to disqualify Howard from the House of Representatives, using this clause, but I think it was still several years from hearing when the 2007 election installed Jeanette McHugh in the seat of Bennelong anyway. Needless to add, this litigant was extremely confident of his case, and disappointed that a fickle electorate had thwarted the full carriage of justice.

Tom Clark
Victoria University (Melbourne)

Posted Thursday, March 17, 2011 - 14:47

So, Arbib has sworn allegiance to a foreign government and was working secretly for another foreign government. But he’d never sworn allegiance to Australia. What’s the problem?

Posted Thursday, March 17, 2011 - 14:54

Leaking to the Americans doesn't matter as I'm sure they know what's good for us.

Posted Thursday, March 17, 2011 - 17:43

Most of the leaks, including many I read of Arbid's where only repeating gossip that was already in the public areana.

That could be the reason they have been dismissed by most.

Posted Thursday, March 17, 2011 - 18:46

@Marilyn Shepherd. Absolutely spot on comment. One of the things that has always puzzled me is how Gillard could be described as a member of the "Left" faction of the ALP. I suppose one has to redefine concepts such as "right" "centre" and "left" for the Australian context.
Certainly her foreign policy pronouncements (putting to one side clangers such as welcoming China as an applicant to an organization it founded and has been in good standing of for years) is simply unbelievable. Her first foreign policy pronouncements (the day after her selection as leader) were support for Israel, support for the US and continuing with the illegal (not her word) war in Afghanistan.
With that track record it is simply naive to expect anything vaguely in the ballpark of putting Australia's interests first. That is why Arbib survives unscathed: he is simply carrying out his mistresses wishes. She knows what happened to Whitlam when he dared to pursue an independent foreign policy and she sees as of this very moment the way the US treats those that fail to toe the line.
So Gillard is right at home with the rampant hypocrisy of the US calling for the Internaitonal Criminal Court to deal with Gaddafi when the US refuses to recognise the jurisdiction of the Court in respect of its own citizens. She is equally at home with the stunning silence from the Americans when the Saudis banned all public demonstrations.
And she is no dopubt very glad that Australia's supine media does not pursue the awkward questions.

Posted Thursday, March 17, 2011 - 21:44

Senator Mark Arbib was elected to Australian Senate by Australians to represent Australia. Being an American 'asset' contravenes these interests!! He should fall on his sword, resign from both Senate and ALP!
Bring back Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull for Government statesmanship by Australians for Australians.

Posted Thursday, March 17, 2011 - 21:46

Julia Gillard keeps on saying she takes no notice of polls - how ironic when it was results of polls that set the tone for her leadership and Kevin Rudd's demotion!

This user is a New Matilda supporter. Jane E
Posted Friday, March 18, 2011 - 00:17

The photo of MArk Arbib at the top of this article reminds me of the reconstructed wizard who appears in the graveyard towards the end of the movie of Harry Potter IV.

Does anyone remember who was the last pollie to use the expression "the only poll that matters"? I vaguely think it was JW Howard. Or was it K Rudd? We appear to be governed at the behest of Newspoll these days. If Newspoll doesn't like a policy, it is jettisoned.

If Newspoll doesn't like a Government, it is jettisoned. From within its own ranks if necessary, albeit it with help from members who might seem to be trying to serve two masters. Like the broom in "The Sorceror's Apprentice".

In my opinion, neither Australia nor the USA is governed by a government bent on serving the needs of its electors. If the USA was governed by a government bent on serving its electors, Glass-Steagall (1933) would not have been repealed. Or, failing that, would have been reinstated in the post-GFC cleanup. No...The governments of the English speaking countries exist to serve the owners of corporations, unelected by those who pay their expenses.

It may be otherwise in the non-English speaking countries, but I am not in a position to say, not being fluent in any language other than English. Apropos of which, I find it embarassing that "Western democracies" support (in words at least) the overthrow of the governments of Tunisia and Egypt, but not those of Libya and Saudi Arabia.