Friday, June 29, 2007

'Mobile Prisons' Readied For APEC Summit

Stripping Away Democratic Rights For The Sake Of 'Democracy'

Photo from the Sydney Morning Herald website

It's always nice to be reminded of the kind of democracy you're living in.

31 buses are reportedly to be used to detain protesters during the APEC summit in September, when some 70 world leaders will converge on Sydney and turn most of the central business district into a two week preview of a high-tech police state.

Sorry, did we say "mobile prisons"? Apparently, according to the NSW State Government, the correct terminology is "mobile holding cells".

Each bus can hold some 70 people. To turn them into mobile prisons, the buses have had their back windows blocked by a panel and the windows replaced with wire mesh.

Considering that the rear window in these buses double as the emergency exits, it will be interesting to see how they are going to provide the necessary safety measures that any bus in New South Wales is legally required to have in case of a fire or a traffic accident.

Or are these buses just yet another attempt by the government to intimidate the thousands of peaceful protesters who are planning to exercise their democratic rights during the APEC summit?

Interesting that they would need so many buses to deal with the presumed troublemakers. The NSW police, and ASIO, have a hit list of those they believe are likely to try and protest violently, and there are reportedly less than 60 names on that list. Or one bus load. And the police have already stated they intend to "round these people" up if they even think about heading into the Sydney CBD while the APEC summit is underway.

So not only will you need an approved ID card to access entire blocks of downtown Sydney in the first two weeks of September, you will need to pass through checkpoints, get used to being subjected to random body searches, the sight of snipers on rooftops and armed soldiers patrolling the streets, but you may also find yourself thrown into an escape-proof bus just because you happen to look like someone who might be thinking of causing trouble.

Plus, if you are detained because you are protesting incorrectly, you can be held without charge for "the entire duration" of the APEC summit.

Of course, all these rules won't apply to the undercover agents who regularly infiltrate peaceful protests around the world to make sure there are some dramatic scenes of violence and chaos for the media to fill their news bulletins with. It happened all the time during the anti-war protests of the late 1960s, you seriously don't believe that it doesn't happen today?

Haven't you wondered why virtually none of those arrested for kicking in shop windows and tearing up chunks of pavement never end up in jail? Or even facing a court of law?

At any huge protest, there will be a few dickheads. But there are also people who are paid to be dickheads. They are usually the ones who get on television, but rarely get arrested.

Mobile prisons in the streets of Sydney. No wonder the government has already advised people "to leave town" while the APEC summit is being held.

There's nothing more ironic, or New World Order iconic, then stripping away the vestiges of a democracy to welcome the leaders of the world's democracies to a summit, where spreading democracy in the Middle East will be under discussion.

APEC : Random Body Searches And Detention Without Charge - Sydney To Become A Mini-Police State

Sydneysiders Told To Leave Town During APEC World Leaders Summit

APEC Security Will Cost Taxpayers A Mind-Boggling $24 Million Per Day
Efforts To Free Coal Freighter Grip Millions Around The World

Greenpeace Lasers Australia's Favourite Stranded Ship

If the massive coal freighter now stranded in sand off a Newcastle Beach is ever set free, people are going to miss it.

Not just the locals around Nobby's Beach, some of whom have done a roaring trade in t-shirts, fast food and car boot beer sales in the near three weeks the freighter has been stranded there, but many of those who tuned into the news tonight to see efforts to free the ship leading the news on nearly every channel.

Australians usually pine over stranded whales, now some are getting emotional over the plight of a beached coal freighter.

The trials of the Pasher Bulker have certainly been newsworthy.

The freighter could break up, spilling thousands of tons of oil and causing an environmental disaster, it could be freed, or it could stay there and become a permanent tourist attraction, and a challenge for any local kid to find a way to get on board the 230 metre long behemoth.

The tugs are in place and are trying to free it tonight, while the king tide is in, but in the meantime Greenpeace activists saw their chance to pump their anti-coal message Australia's biggest semi-permanent billboard, by spraying the vast side of the vessel with a laser messages, including :
This Is What Climate Change Looks Like

Coal Causes Climate Chaos

And stranded coal freighters can cause traffic chaos in the little Nobby's Beach community, as thousands of people decided, during the past two weeks, that they don't want to get out of their car to take a look at such a spectacular site.

So many people were expected to head towards Nobby's to watch the de-beaching tonight that local roads and pedestrian routes were closed down.

More on the 'Free The Ship' movement from The Age :

Three tugs and winches aboard the $35 million coal carrier will haul together during today's 7pm high tide to heave the massive vessel seaward.

The 40,000-tonne ship's ballast water, which has been holding her steady on the sand, will be pumped out and the hull pressurised.

Since the Pasha Bulker ran aground during a severe storm on June 8, its plight in pounding seas has been a source of fascination.

The ship has about 700 tonnes of fuel and 100 tonnes of other chemicals on board, prompting worries of a possible hull breach.

Wind gusts of up to 80 km/h and three-metre waves around the ship are forecast to ease today and continue to lessen over tomorrow and Saturday, when the salvage operation is expected to continue.

There's even a live webcam up so you can watch the action, or see waves crashing against a huge coal freighter. Excitement! I just saw it moving! The webcam has had an extraordinary two million viewings from around the world in 48 hours.

Nobby's is actually a man-made beach, and the impact of the coal freighter running aground, and the efforts to free it, have caused concern with the local surfers, who fear the activity might change their surf conditions forever.

If it stays there, it is going to be one hell of an object to try and surf around.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Aboriginal Families Flee The Police, Military 'Intervention'

Howard's "Invasion" Of Aboriginal Lands Begins Today

Prime Minister John Howard said he was left with no choice but to act immediately to stop the rape and molestation of children in a number of Northern Territory Aboriginal communities, after the release of a report detailing the living horror that is daily life for thousands of Aboriginal children, living in Third World conditions.

For many who have spent years and decades trying to help Aboriginal communities devastated by alcoholism, petrol sniffing, gambling, social decay and sexual exploitation, Howard's move to action has been years overdue.

But the speed of Howard's 'emergency intervention' has reportedly left some Aboriginal communities reeling, and horror-struck, and there is much angst that Howard did not consult enough with Aboriginal leaders before setting his plans into immediate action.

Howard said the time for talk and discussions was over. It was time for action.

Today, the first wave of police, backed by Australian Defence Force soldiers, will enter Aboriginal communities to start rounding up the more violent, abusive offenders, and to close down pubs and liquor outlets.

According to Howard's rushed, vague and possibly disastrous plan, medical professionals will follow the police and military and will conduct medical examinations of all children under 16. The examinations will be compulsory, and parents will not be required, according to Howard's comments, to give their consent.

Howard's stated mission is for health workers to examine the children for signs of sexual abuse, or infection by sexual disease. Many of the doctors who are taking part said they will use the opportunity offered by the intervention plan to do complete check-ups of the children they encounter, and they will not be rushed in their work by the politics that will overshadow the intervention as the federal election draws near.

Neither Howard, nor the vast sprawl of critics of his plan, know what the eventual outcome of the intervention will be. But few, obviously, are hoping it will fail. Virtually all Australian want the exploitation of Aboriginals, by their own, and by outsiders, to cease. Today.

But it will be a dream many years in the realisation, with some extremely ugly and possibly deadly confrontations to come.

It is not only a small number of Aboriginal elders who don't want the social order, the power of their rule over their communities, by decree or by sheer force of violence and threat, to change, or to be lessened by the presence of police and soldiers.

There is also a lesser known number of white Australian males who have grown rich and powerful from the illegal trafficking of alcohol and drugs into remote Aboriginal communities, and who control pedophile rings where Aboriginal children are prostituted and traded between communities, and between mine workers.

Howard has vowed to stamp out alcohol and pornography in more than 60 Northern Territory communities, and not all of them are dominated by Aboriginals. There is a small number of camps filled with white Australian miners, who will also be told their days of heavy drinking and watching hardcore porn, and buying sex from Aboriginal kids with a few litres of petrol, are well and truly over.

To believe that all of the people in the isolated communities of the Northern Territory will relent to the police and military is a fantasy. For a few months, at least, the police and military may be facing their own mini-insurgency, as hundreds of members of Aboriginal gang members go bush and possibly begin to fight back.

The police, and the military, already have their 'hit lists' of the more violent and abusive and dangerous members of the communities they will be entering.

There will be jubilant scenes in some towns as drunken thugs are taken away and the sober grandmothers and community elders are able to take back control of what alcohol, rape and violence had desecrated for so many years.

And it all begins today.

In the first community to be targeted, located near the base of the majestic Uluru, reports claim that Aboriginal families are packing up and fleeing their community, terrified that their children will be taken away from them, and a replay of the 'stolen generation' stories of their parents and grandparents, will become their reality as well.

From the Sydney Morning Herald :

Panic about the Howard Government's crackdown on child sexual abuse has spread widely throughout remote Aboriginal communities, where parents fear their children will be taken away in a repeat of the stolen generation.

Some families have already fled the first community to be targeted, Mutitjulu at Uluru, but the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Mal Brough, blames "liars" who have something to hide from police and military personnel for terrorising people and spreading hysteria.

"The reason people are scared there at the moment is because people are putting around that the army are coming to take their children away, that the army is coming in to shoot the dogs and the Government is going to take away their money and make them sit there and do what they're told," Mr Brough said.

Social workers and indigenous MPs in the Northern Territory are being swamped with phone calls from Aborigines wanting to know what will happen in their communities.

An indigenous MP, Alison Anderson, said she had been trying to persuade families in her huge desert electorate south of Alice Springs not to take their children and flee before police and troops arrived, which in some places could be within days.

"In one telephone hook-up last night people told me they were going to run away to a waterhole 50 kilometres away," Ms Anderson said. "I have heard from many people thinking they may do the same thing. I've urged them not to panic and to stay on the communities and work with the people who arrive."

Marion Scrymgour, a Northern Territory Government minister, said: "There's a lot of fear, particularly among elder woman. Not so long ago - 30 to 40 years - children were being taken out of the arms of Aboriginal mothers. There is real fear that is going to happen again."

The Chief Minister, Clare Martin, told MPs yesterday to travel to their bush electorates as soon as possible to tell people "what is fact and what is fiction" in an effort to halt the panic.

Lesley Taylor, one of the Territory's most experienced child abuse workers, said: "They are scared stiff … This is creating very stressful environments that could lead to even more children being at risk."

Sixty to 70 communities will be targeted, and small teams of police, military and government officers will begin arriving today to audit people's needs. They would be replaced by teams who would stay to meet those needs, Mr Brough said. Public servants will oversee the programs, with a manager in each community responsible for what happens.

This is only the beginning. The road ahead will be hard, long, historical and will hopefully change the nature of how Australian state and federal governments deal with Aboriginal communities forever.

Hundreds of Aboriginal tribes survived more than 50,000 years in this country, in some of the harshest environments in the world. It wasn't sheer luck that saw them survive, and in some regions absolutely thrive. Aboriginal culture holds knowledge and secrets about this land that we can barely comprehend, that we have barely begun to understand.

It's no time to tell them all that they were wrong, that they don't know what they're doing, and what they believe is bad for them, and destructive for their children and societies.

Australia stands on the edge of a new beginning for its Aboriginal people. But the 'emergency intervention' cannot last only to the federal election. It must mark the fresh start of a new life for the tens of thousands of people left behind, and it must usher in decades of rehabilitation, rebuilding and re-integration.

But it is not only into the dominant white society of Australia that Aboriginals must integrate. We must meet them halfway, and protect what they hold sacred, and preserve the knowledge and traditions that helped them survive for hundreds of centuries before white man arrived in their lands, and changed their societies forever.

We may believe we still have much to teach them. But they have so much more to teach us, about this land, about their ancient knowledge, that we are only beginning to understand after 200 years.

We all have a long way to go.

But something, finally, and hopefully for the better, has begun.
$500,000, And Nobody Wants It

For weeks now, a surgery in country New South Wales has been offering $500,000, in a lump sum payment, to any obstetrician, GP or anaesthetist, who was willing to relocate from the city and get to work.

Even after widespread media coverage, the southern NSW town of Temora hasn't receieved a single application from a "city based or recently qualified doctor". They are looking for a medico from the city, or one fresh out of med school, so they will not be depriving other country towns of their own rare health professionals.

When country Australian mayors and community leaders say they are struggling to find enough doctors, nurses and other professionals to keep their towns alive, they're not exagerating. So grim is the skills shortage in Australia today, that a half million dollar relocation payment goes begging :

"What it clearly shows is that there aren't the younger doctors out there with the skills and expertise willing to take on this golden opportunity," Dr Mara said.

The $500,000 would be paid on completion of a three-month probationary period, and would be on top of the successful candidate's annual salary, estimated at more than $200,000.

The town's only anaesthetist and two other doctors have left, and without a replacement the surgery has been faced with closure.

A spokeswoman for federal Health Minister Tony Abbott said the poor response to the $500,000 offer was "obviously very disappointing", but the Government "cannot force doctors to move towns".

Yes, but your government could have made sure, say, five or ten years ago, that there were enough incitements for people to study medicine and the health professions, so that this appalling shortage of medicos in rural Australia did not become a reality. Or you could at least make it easier for migrants who are already trained as health professionals, to localise, and refresh, their qualifications and take up such vital roles in the rural health services.

Mr Abbott cannot say he wasn't warned that such a skills shortage was coming. The warnings have been coming loud and strong from rural Australia for a decade that the local doctors and nurses were leaving and there was nobody to replace them.

A typical example of neglect from the Howard government, and a common one when it comes to medical/health professions and services in regional and outback Australia : Ignore a problem until it becomes an emergency, and then announce a solution that will take years to reach fruit. And wait until an election is within eyesight before you make the announcement that you're going to solve the problem.

Monday, June 25, 2007

American Sailor Arrested For Underage Online Sex Crime

US Military To NSW Police : "Give Him To Us"

An almost off-radar battle has broken out between the NSW police and the American military over the arrest of a visiting US sailor, David Wayne Budd, now charged with using the internet to try and procure a 14 year old girl for sex.

Budd was caught in a sting operation. A detective, from the NSW Police Child Protection and Serious Sex Crimes Squad, posed as a 14 year old girl online in a "honey pot" operation and Budd allegedly responded and arranged to meet the girl in Sydney for sex.

He was arrested when he arrived at Sydney Airport from North Queensland, where he had been taking part in the huge American-Australian series of war games called 'Talisman Sabre.'

The US military is not happy. They want their lawyers to take over the case, and have asked the NSW police to hand Budd back.

NSW police have refused, believing they can get a successful prosecution.

Budd was charged with "grooming" an underage person for sex, and denied bail. He is due to appear via video-link from his jail cell in a hearing today. Budd has refused to leave his cell.

There was a hearing today, but it was adjourned to Tuesday, June 26, when Budd's lawyer will push for bail.

The police charge sheet claims that while online in Rockhampton, Budd made contact with the undercover detective and supplied "material that is indictable and the sender did this with the intention of making it easier to procure the recipient to engage in sexual activity".

From the Sydney Morning Herald :

"The US military is asking for jurisdiction in this case … they will investigate the matter and take appropriate action," said a US military spokesman, Lieutenant Chris Maddison, of the US embassy. Such a move was allowed under a bilateral "status of forces agreement".

But NSW police sources said the submission would be vigorously opposed. Harsher US penalties and court martial proceedings overseas did not outweigh the potential deterrence value of a successful Australian prosecution, they said.

The US attempt to claim jurisdiction echoes similar controversies in Japan, where there was outrage after men accused in two rape cases remained on US military bases rather than being immediately handed over to Japanese authorities.

In those cases - one in 1995 and another in 2001 - the US cited its status of forces agreement with Japan as justification.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Only The United States Spends More Per Person On 'Defence' Than Australia

Australia's Massive Plan To Become A World Military Power

Per head of population, Australia's defence spending now ranks second only to the United States.

While the US regularly criticises China and Russia for vast spending on re-arming, Australia is now outspending both of those countries. By 2014, more than $140 billion of Australian taxpayers money will have been funneled into the world's defence contractors, here and in Europe, Israel, the UK and the United States.

There are just under 21 million people in Australia, but the Howard government has set aside an extraordinary $22 billion, or more, to spend on defence through 2008. The defence budget for 2009 could climb to $26 billion, and to almost $30 billion in 2010.

Most Australians don't know about any of this. Arguments in the defence industries, and its myriad of think tanks consulting agencies, about whether or not we should be spending $15 billion on these jets, or $12 billion on these destroyers, rarely make for headline news.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown that when it comes to quelling insurgencies, tanks, helicopters and submarines are all but useless. The improvised explosives Iraqi insurgents are burying by the sides of roads, and along the edge of tracks, to take out tanks and heavily armoured vehicles have proven to be so effective that American troops have been told it's now safer for them to"get out and walk".

But while the world enters a new age of war amongst the people, rather than government against dictatorship, or nation against nation, Australia is laying out tens of billions of dollars to deck itself out with enough new military gear to move it swiftly into the ranks of the world's biggest military powers.

And who exactly are the enemies of the next decade against whom we need to be so heavily armed?

Are we really expecting to go to war with China? Or Indonesia? Or Taiwan?

Foreign minister Alexander Downer likes to claim that Australia needs to become a part of the US missile defence system because of the "threat" of North Korea, but few serious analysts see North Korea as being anything more than an annoyance in the next decade.

Are we instead now, quietly, part of a larger plan to help the United States encircle China? Will it fall to Australia to move in and help cut off China's sea lanes in the, regionally, local Malacca Straits? It is through the Malacca Straits that China ships most of its new energy supplies. Should the bubbling trade war between China and the United States become far more serious, will Australia be called on to move in and blockade China?

This scenario, by Greg Sheridan,for how Australia may come to put to use its extraordinary new collection of submarines, jets, tanks and war ships, sounds as though it was dreamed up with China, or China's allies in the region, squarely in mind :
Two huge amphibious ships, each weighing 27,000 tonnes, each carrying a full battalion of Australian soldiers and then some, with more than 1000 soldiers on each ship.

Each is also carrying a dozen Abrams tanks, as well as lighter vehicles and amphibious vessels for landing. Each has a fully equipped hospital in case there are casualties. Each also has eight helicopters, six for unloading troops and two for defending and supporting the ships.

The troop ships are escorted and guarded by three air warfare destroyers. Each of these is equipped with the US Aegis combat system, the most advanced naval combat system in the world. Each has a phased array radar that enables it to engage and destroy hostile aircraft at a range of more than 150km. Each of these destroyers, at a modest size of 6250tonnes, has 48 separate missile cells. Each is also equipped with advanced sonars for anti-submarine warfare.

They also have harpoon missiles for anti-ship warfare and they have five-inch guns that can fire extended range munitions in support of our troops once they land.

This convoy is given air cover by 100 joint strike fighters, or F-35s. They are masters of stealth and advanced detection. The aircraft are supported by Wedgetails, mistakenly called spy planes but in reality giant electronic networking command and control planes that make sure that an enemy aircraft is destroyed long before it becomes aware of its Australian opponents.

The Wedgetails, the F-35s, the destroyers, the amphibious ships and the commanders of the land force are all networked into the giant US-based satellite and electronic intelligence system, which detects any movement or communication of any potentially hostile force the second it happens.

Finally, Australia's quiet, immensely capable Collins class submarines have gone in close to the destination point and landed Special Air Service troopers, the best small-unit infantry forces in the world, to prepare the way for the larger Australian party to follow.


Hopefully, Australia will never have to conduct such an operation.

Yeah, hopefully. But just in case...

Before China gets the chance to militarily, strategically, empower other nations in our region, like Indonesia, Australia will move first to get the military, technological edge.

The message is clear : You won't be able to beat us, so don't even think about trying anything. Or we will hammer you, hard. Just look at all our new toys.

The fact is that when Australia becomes a vital part of the US missile defence shield, and such plans are already underway (without the public being a part of the debate, or even being consulted), Australia will need all the submarines and war ships and jet fighters and arms detailed above, and more.

And there will be more. More tens of billions poured into becoming a military proxy of the United States, a 51st (heavily weaponised) state of the future North American Union. America wants to own the Pacific in the next two decades, and it needs Australia to complete this goal.

The mega-spending on 'defence' will continue. Because once this kind of military mega-spending begins, it doesn't end, until the next world war is over.

How Australia Will Help The United States 'Surround' China

Australia Will Spend Billions To Help US Create Its 'Missile Shield', But No American Missiles Will Defend Australia
$100 To Walk On Bondi Beach

In the early 1990s, I lived in Sydney's King Cross, where I'd regularly see tour buses come straight from the airport and deposit Japanese tourists at their hotels. From that moment on, they were not allowed to leave the eyesight of the tour operators. The tourists drank only at bars chosen by the tour company, the same went for restaurants, who kicked back money for all the international patronage shuttled their way, and the tourists were charged three or four times the standard admission price to get into places like Featherdale Wildlife Park so they could pat a koala bear. Of course, once they were inside the park, the Japanese tourists were often told there was an additional "patting fee".

None of them understood English, so how were they to know they were getting scammed?

I only know all this because I used to drink in a bar in the hotel where many of these well-scammed Japanese tourists used to stay, and I'd overhear tour operators laughing about how much they had fleeced from their patrons that day. Sometimes it was hundreds of dollars. Often it was more than $1000 from a tour group of 20 or 30 Japanese.

I lived in tourist-heavy Katoomba, in the Blue Mountains, in the late 1990s. At the beautiful lookout from where you could see an expanse of valleys and the rocky outcrop known as 'The Three Sisters' I once heard an English speaking bus driver tell his interpreter, to tell Japanese tourists, that there was an additional "viewing fee" of $20 each to just go and take a look at the scenic view from the free lookout.

It used to be the Japanese who got mugged like this. Now it's the Chinese tourists getting fleeced. The only thing that's changed is how much more brazen the tour operators have become.

Some Chinese tourists are being charged $100 just to talk a walk along the very-free Bondi Beach :

The situation is so bad that tourist industry officials fear Australia could be damaged as a brand and the massive economic benefits of the boom in travel from China could disappear.

Scams uncovered in Sydney include:

* Charging tourists $100 to walk on Bondi Beach or to have their photograph taken at the Opera House;

* Locking tourists in shops and confiscating passports until they spend big on overpriced goods;

* Unfulfilled promises of luxury central business district accommodation;

* Travellers crammed into minibuses and denied free time for their own shopping and sightseeing.

According to Choice consumer group spokeswoman Indira Nadoo, the Chinese are the perfect victims for such scams :

"...they are not used to international travel and can be quite naive, and many of them have little or no English, so if someone tells them that a sign on the beach says it costs $100 to walk on it, then they will believe them.

"Culturally, also, the Chinese are reluctant to create a fuss and complain so they will go along with what they are being told.

"We are already receiving thousands of complaints every year from Chinese tourists who are unhappy and we think that is the tip of the iceberg.

"We estimate that only about 10 per cent of those who are unhappy actually make a complaint, so in reality, tens of thousands of tourists are being ripped off."

China is Australia's fastest-growing inbound tourism market and annual numbers have soared by 280percent to more than 300,000 in the past seven years, making it the fifth biggest in terms of visitors and economic benefit. By 2015, almost 1million Chinese visitors are expected to visit Australia each year.

Charging vulnerable tourists to walk on a beach is sickening enough. But the following is downright disgusting :

Some are bussed directly from the airport to suburban warehouses which they are told are duty-free shops. "They are told they can't shop in normal shops in Sydney because Australians don't like the Chinese..." Ms Naidoo said.

If the Chinese tourist market is worth so many millions to Australia, and such scamming is likely to impact significantly on future tourism revenue from China, we clearly need to have people at the airports, or at least some Chinese-language signage, to warn them to be wary.

Or at least to tell them they don't have to pay $100 to take a walk along Bondi Beach.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Government Wants To "Screen" All Internet Content

'Hate Sites' To Face Total Ban

It's not often you see the Attorney General, Philip Ruddock looking all flustered and aggravated. Even during the enormous public pressure of the David Hicks fiasco, Ruddock rarely lost his cool, or spoke in anything but a calm, collected, near-robotic monotone.

So what's the reason for Ruddock's sudden transformation in federal Parliament into a hand-waving, fist-clenching, voice-cracking, sweat-producing ranter?

Okay, he wasn't completely over the top, but for Ruddock, it was full drama in recent days.

Somebody is turning the vice on Ruddock's temples at the moment, and it would appear the source of this demeanour-cracking pressure is his current plans to unroll new anti-terror laws aimed at restricting the sale and distribution of books and DVDs that may "inspire" or "instruct" acts of terrorism, and his struggle to find a way to control terror-inspiring and jihadist-recruiting internet content reaching Australian eyes.

Ruddock has been told that his anti-terror content crackdown has to be in place by the time the APEC summit of world leaders begins in Sydney in September. Presumably, prime minister John Howard wants to unveil his state of control over the content of the internet, and Australia's book and DVD stores, to the world leaders and the gathered world media.

So the pressure is on Ruddock to deliver. APEC is, after all, only a few months away.

Ruddock is now sinking deep into an online war against terror talk and jihad videos, and like China, Iran and other restrictive regimes have already learned, filtering internet content, or "screening" it before it reaches Australian-based eyes, can be one hell of a big ask.

The jury is still out on whether it can actually be done effectively at all.

Ruddock has apparently been hanging out in the cyber-jihad-zone and he's shocked by what he's seen and read and heard :

"It's very disturbing and I have been on some of the chatrooms and sites that promote terrorism," he said.

"At the moment the internet is the biggest problem in this war and we are only going after people we can get our hands on, but that is changing," Mr Ruddock said.

"We are looking at ways and means of using technology that detects hate publications and removes them.

"To do it effectively we will need the help of law enforcement agencies in the US and Europe."

Mr Ruddock revealed he had himself visited terrorist recruitment websites - to gain an understanding of how they operated - and believed many of them presented a "dire threat".

"But how do you go about stopping something that crosses so many jurisdictions?" he asked.

You try, and mostly fail. Unless, of course, you can convince the US, Europe and most of the rest of the world that the entire contents of the internet should be somehow "screened" for "hate sites" through a series of 'gateways'.

Unless Ruddock's cyber anti-terror squads are looking at beta-stage software not currently being debated anywhere online, he will eventually discover just how incredibly hard it is to cut off the lines of online communications between Al Qaeda commanders and their enthusiastic wannabe jihadis across the world.

That's one of the most shocking ironies of the 'War on Terror'. The very freedom of communication and exchange of ideas so cherished by Western democracies allows Al Qaeda to recruit virtually at will anywhere they want to. If they can find the audience, that is.

Six years ago, some of the 9/11 terrorists apparently communicated by burying messages deep into the background of porn sites. Even now, anti-terror fighters in cyberspace are having trouble cracking communication lines like those used by the 9/11 terrorists.

But Ruddock is talking of a solution. This would presumably take the form of a 'gateway' forced onto every internet company and server in Australia. Or locked down at the source in the government's half-privatised new national broadband plan.

But the means of content control that Ruddock is thinking of would change the very nature of internet freedom in Australia, for everyone. And in doing so, it would impact hugely on our freedom of speech and freedom to communicate ideas and information.

If "hate" DVDs and books are to be banned from retail stores, then obviously their digital online versions would also eventually face a complete ban.

As per usual in such talk of "hate" speech and "hate" books and DVDs, there is next to no clear idea from the Attorney General on what "hate" actually means, and who will be deciding what material should fall under this restriction.

Even on the introduction of "legislation making it an offence to produce or disseminate material that 'advocates' terrorism" Ruddock is facing very real challenges and dissent from state governments, the arts community and civil libertarians.

His message to those who take offence at his plans is simple : Oppose the new laws all you want, exercise your freedom, it won't make a lick of difference :

"The Commonwealth is going to legislate on it anyway. I have worked with the states to find a solution and all they are doing is frustrating it," he said.

"This needs to be introduced before APEC (in September). It needs to be introduced right away because the public expects it."

Do they? Must have missed those poll results.

Philip Ruddock officially classes the internet as one the biggest threats to Australia's national security.

Think about that. The internet is a threat to Australia's national security. And this is coming from the mind of the Attorney General.

It's not hype. This is a reality. This is the way the government views the most extraordinary communication system in the history of humanity. As a threat.

Ruddock has little time for those who say that his plans to lockdown the internet, and introduce anti-hate DVD and literature restrictions, impinge on freedom of speech and expression.
"The idea we should be stepping back and saying terrorism is not a serious problem is ridiculous," he said.
Almost as ridiculous as believing you can lockdown the internet in Australia without causing chaos in the digital economy. You can't do it. Unless, of course, you can install a new national partly government controlled, internet access system, aiming to reach into almost every home, school, library and business in the country.

Fortunately for Ruddock, the federal government is now planning to unroll a nationwide broadband network, half fibre-half-wireless.

The government's national broadband system, and Ruddock's plans to 'gateway' every bit of content that reaches an Australian-based laptop or monitor, actually falls into line with new plans emerging across the world to not only restrict access to the internet, and control all the content, for viewers and publishers alike, but to actually dump the entire worldwide web V.1, as it now stands, and begin again.

But begin again with all the controls that the US, the UK, the EU, China and now Australia have clearly already discussed and decided should be set into the bedrock of the new worldwide web from day one.

The federal government's new nationwide broadband plan presumably will be designed and outfitted to allow Ruddock's dreams of a gateway "screening" or "filtering" system to be built into the entire system. He's been briefed on this, and he either doesn't understand the new software, or he is waiting to see some solid proof that the kind of screening he wants will actually work.

Access the government's half-owned broadband network in 2010 and you will activate the RuddockGate "screening" programs.

Now all the government has to do is work out a way to charge a fee for every e-mail sent and received within Australia and they will be praised by the UN and the EU until their faces flush red in embarrassment.

The government is hoping they can present their plans to the planet's most powerful leaders at APEC in September, and show them all that Australia can lead the world... controlling access to the internet.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Extremist Accuses Australian 'Sister' City Plan Of "Supporting Hamas"

Mayor Hoped Marrickville's Twinning With Bethlehem Would Not Be Controversial

Marrickville Council thought creating a sister city relationship with Bethlehem would lead to a better understanding of the problems Christians face in the Middle East, in the midst of an Israeli occupation and surrounded by violent anti-occupation groups like Hamas and Fatah.

But the decision, unanimously popular with councillers and locals, has been stained by a campaign of "outrage" fermented by the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies and accusations by the board's chief executive that Marrickville will be supporting terrorism by opening an international relationship with the Christian-dominated council of Bethlehem.

From :

Marrickville Council, in Sydney's inner west, has had an in-principle agreement since 2001 with the Palestinian city believed by some Christian scholars to have been the birthplace of Jesus Christ.

Councillor Sam Iskandar said the city had been chosen as a symbol of love, peace and harmony, but the Jewish community says it is anything but.

NSW Jewish Board of Deputies chief executive Vic Alhadeff said Bethlehem Council was controlled by members of the terrorist organisations Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which support the killing of Jews.

In late August, Bethlehem Council will send a delegation to Sydney to meet with Marrickville Council and officially sign the sister city agreement.

This news sent Vic Alhadeff into meltdown. Forget the Christians, he announced in a wave of media releases and interviews, we could see Hamas militants being given a stage in Sydney spread anti-Jewish propaganda.

"This means an international guest could address a public meeting hosted by this council and call for the destruction of Israel and death to the Jews."

Mr Alhadeff was given another opportunity to ramp up the extreme rhetoric in the Sydney Morning Herald :

"Their raison d'etre, as clearly expressed in Hamas's charter, is the destruction of Israel and, worse than that, to kill every Jew."

Haskell Musry attended the council meeting last week where the sister city plan was unanimously passed. As a Jew, Musry didn't think Alhadeff's claims to be protesting on behalf of Sydney's Jewish community were accurate.

Mr Musry told the Herald : "I think most of the Jewish community would be unconcerned..."

Perhaps Mr Alhadeff is more concerned by the opportunity provided through the sister city deal for Bethlehem councillors, and the Catholic mayor, to address the media when they visit Sydney in late August. The Bethlehem delegation will no doubt be asked to explain what it is like to live as a Christian under Israeli occupation and to have had their city divided by the deeply unpopular separation wall Israel is using to carve up historical Palestine.

Mr Alhadeff seems most upset that his 'alternative plan' wasn't followed by Marrickville Council, or that they didn't bow to his claims that the Jewish community was "outraged" by the sister city plan.

He said the council should choose a politically neutral middle-eastern city to foster relations with.

"If councils like Marrickville wanted to get involved and promote peace and reconciliation why not choose an Arab-Israeli town, so it's not a partisan position?" Mr Alhadeff said.

According to this story, the choosing of Bethlehem to be Marrickville's sister city was made by locals, and passed by the council by a vote of 11 to 1. Marrickville Councillor Sam Iskander said Bethlehem was chosen because :

" was the city which symbolised love and peace and harmony," he said.

"We look at this relationship between Marrickville and Bethlehem to be a very good relationship between the two communities, and we want to send a message that people can work with people and they can have good relations ... and that is the spirit of the sister city movement."

From the Sydney Morning Herald :

A delegation from Bethlehem led by (Mayor and practising Catholic) Dr Batarseh will visit Australia for a fortnight in August. Marrickville plans to present the delegates with gifts, host two dinners and hold a reception for the signing of a sister cities agreement.

Bethlehem already has sister city arrangements with 39 cities.

Marrickville's deputy mayor, Peter Olive, said he did not think Hamas controlled Bethlehem. "I have heard concerns there's a dwindling number of Christians but I think that's attributable to things like the whacking great wall the Israelis have built around the city," Cr Olive said. "So one could ultimately say the council is controlled by Israel."

Mr Olive told AAP :

"It is my clear understanding that there isn't a Hamas domination on the Bethlehem council, that the mayor is in fact not a member of Hamas - he's a Christian, for what that is worth," Mr Olive told AAP.

"I also understand that eight out of the 15 councillors are fellow Christians.

Mr Olive also accused the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies of being "out of step" with the broader community, saying the sister-city move would promote cross cultural understanding, and that money would not change hands.

"I would have liked it not to have been such a controversial issue but you get some people who want to play global politics."

Or people who want to keep the Christian perspective of life under Israeli occupation as far away from getting a direct audience with the Sydney media, and community, as possible.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Sydney "Spared"

Come dawn and the storm was, well, it was over. I've lost count of how many morning news bulletins and on-the-spot reporters told us we had been "spared" the worst of the "storm's fury".

The rain was hard, the winds were strong, a few trees came down, there were car accidents, some roofs lifted off, but we weren't 'Katrina'd'. Did God really intervene and "spare" us, or was it more of a case of the media over-hyping some reasonably serious weather warnings?

Channel 7 seemed to have a reporter stationed in just about every suburb, and when the live crosses began at 5am, some reporters had trouble hiding their disappoint that they weren't standing waist deep in floodwaters dotted with old people on makeshift rafts cuddling their pets. The Sunrise breakfast show team was left shocked. Shocked by the non-event.

So where were the celebrations? The weather forecasters and the media had been mostly wrong. Storm damage was minimal. Nobody died, thousands didn't lose their homes or possessions. Wasn't this good news?

A large storm has passed off the coast south of Sydney, leaving the city largely unscathed after earlier grim warnings from forecasters that "cyclonic winds" would batter homes overnight.

Winds of up to 125km/h had been predicted by the Bureau of Meteorology but the worst of the weather stayed far enough off the coast to leave most affected areas able to cope. Winds of up to 90km/h were reported.

Couple of road closures, a few leaky roofs, but Sydney survived. Hundreds of thousands of people woke to discover that buses and trains were mostly running on time and that their planned day off at home, tucked up under blankets in front of a few DVDs, had been cancelled due to good weather :
Sydney has escaped a battering from predicted hurricane force winds as a huge storm in the Tasman Sea eased and started edging away from the NSW coast, the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) says.

Senior forecaster Peter Zmijewski says winds up to 55kmh from southern Sydney to the south coast are expected to lessen.

The storm's threat would likely have passed by midday.
Maybe next time...

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Sydney Battens Down For Massive Storm

Category Two "Cyclonic" Winds Hit Sydney, East Coast

UPDATE : The State Emergency Service has taken more than 650 calls for help. Trees are down across roads in at least nine suburbs from the south to north coast of New South Wales. Blizzard conditions were expected in the Blue Mountains, above 1200 metres. Winds across the Sydney basin hit gale force after midnight. Storm surges of three to five metres are expected to cause significant beach erosion along parts of the northern coast of New South Wales. The rain falls around Sydney are steady, but still classed as "moderate" by meteorologists. Is it over? Or is the worst still to come?

Wow, that was wild. The rain just stopped. The wind dropped. Went out on the balcony to take a look at Sydney Harbour. Boats in the small bay near here were bobbing around, tree branches and leaves sprinkled across the yard. It was so quiet. And then this sound came. A blood-chilling howl. A wall of wind hit, rain cut horizontally, falling so heavy for a solid minute that visibility decreased to barely a metre. Amazing stuff. I don't think this is over yet....

For the third time in 11 days, the east coast of New South Wales is preparing for huge storms.

There's been some very nervous meteorologists and emergency service spokesmen on the news in the last two hours, warning of a massive storm front expected to smash into Sydney, Wollongong and Newcastle over the next 12 to 24 hours.

Winds are expected to hit 12o-140kmh an hour. Waves could reach ten metres in height. We're being told to stay indoors, and away from windows. They're calling the expected winds "cyclonic".

The huge coal freighter that ran aground last week, on a Newcastle beach, is feared to be on the verge of breaking up.

Blizzard conditions for the highlands, damaging winds, dangerous surf, flash flooding. Here's some of the early warnings :

Emergency crews stand ready tonight as residents of NSW coastal areas brace for what threatened to be the most dangerous of three major storms to hit the state this month.

Cyclonic winds up to 125km/h and huge waves are forecast to batter the coastline from tonight and into tomorrow, starting at Moruya in the state's south and moving north.

Forecasters warned of cyclone-strength winds whipped up by an intense low pressure system.

It's just after 7.30pm in Sydney right now. The rain's coming down, the winds are picking up. Here's a rain and weather map :

Updates to follow through the night.
Culture Wars? Who Cares?

We Want The Australian Renaissance

Endless editorials, opinion pieces and book reviews have filled Australian newspapers in recent months spilling boring, irrelevant twaddle about the Australian 'Culture Wars', and whether or not 'The Left' have outlived their usefulness.

Firing back from 'The Left', whatever that is supposed to be in this day and age of wide ranging, non-traditionally aligned political and social views, comes equally boring and pointless counter-attack and self-defensiveness.

None of it, from 'The Left' or 'The Right' means much to the vast majority of Australians. Few of the people involved in rehashing decades old arguments have any real relevance to the generations moving out of high school into the workforce and those entering their second decade of mortgage payments.

It's all from another age, and it's all so old and tired. You read some of these editorials and it sounds like nothing more than a bunch of 5o-and-60-somethings trying to drag themselves, and their old enemies, back into the spotlight of today's headlines and coffee table chat zones. They're all still stuck there, back in their student days of the 1960s and early 1970s, and they dwell in the illusion zone that the unresolved conflicts from their leisurely free-education days actually mean anything anymore. Something about Marxists, something else about arts grants, something else about commies, something about 'balance' at the ABC.

Like so many of the Howard-era politicos and media, they're used to people sitting up and listening when they get down and get into it. But they caught the national attention, and agenda, in the days when Australia was relatively isolated, and incubated, from the outside world, and when the daily newspaper and the ABC News and current affairs ruled the national attention span.

It's an age already long gone. Few care about their nostalgia trips.

Prime minister John Howard tried to thrust the 'Culture Wars' into the national arena, and the majority attention zone, when he gave a fiery speech at the 50th anniversary of Quadrant magazine. The Culture Wars are worth fighting, Howard said, because Australia needed to be pulled from its Leftie-socialist past, as though he hadn't noticed it happened years ago.

When it suits the Howard government, they will trawl back through three decades old political positions of all-but-forgotten one-time Labor Party heroes, and bore international visitors to the Australian Parliament senseless all the way through Question Time, when they're not demanding praise and attention for doing the jobs they should feel honoured to be doing.

But ask Howard's boys about the lies and distortions that led to the Iraq War, the AWB scandal, or why they didn't tell the voters about Workchoices before the 2004 elections and they will tell you we mustn't dwell in the past, "let's look to the future".

But what is the Howard future? Where is it? All they talk about is the past. Thirty years ago, 12 years ago, nine months ago.

90% of Australians couldn't give a tinkers about the 'Culture Wars'. Most don't even know what it is, or what it is supposed to be a war over. They are concerned about climate change and how much their children are going to be paid, and what sort of conditions they might have to work under, because these are issues about what awaits us in the future.

Australians want to look to the future, and in many ways we can't wait to get there. The fact that Australia's boom economy is based around a two thousand year old power source and we have internet speeds that are laughed at by nine year old kids in South Korea are two examples of how far behind we are in a world rapidly speeding up, and moving ahead. We know we are being left behind, and it's making us edgy.

But we don't get much in the way of vision statements or inspirational future dreaming from the federal government. All we hear about is how they are desperately trying to patch up the holes in all the promises they made, but never delivered on, while their bulldogs shout at us from Parliament via the evening news about how we've "never had it so good."

While many Australian journalists and opinion writers pretend to be mystified as to why the Labor Party remains so high in the polls, long after the Rudd honeymoon was supposed to end and Howard Corp. was to get their supposedly long overdue surge, Australians are anything but confused.

They want to know what the future holds. They want to know what's coming, and not just how good their broadband may or may not be in three years time. They want to feel like somebody is making the big plans, dreaming the big dreams and thinking of the long-term future, not just how to win the next election.

Don't tell me what you've done, Mr Howard. Tell me what kind of Australia we will be living in in ten years time, in twenty years time, in fifty years time.

The Labor Party has won a lot of support in the past eight months because its front benchers, from leader Kevin Rudd, to deputy Julia Gillard to environmental Buddha Peter Garrett, are not shouting about the past, or wailing about how unfair those across the Parliament are being, but because they keep coming out with speeches, interviews and sound bites that talk about where Australia is going, how we can get there and who we can be, if we aren't afraid to undergo some reinvention and vision-making, and are willing to shake off the old prejudices and 1950s-era 'values' thinking.

The latest Labor vision statement comes from Julia Gillard, and it's not a bad one. Why can't Australia have a cultural Renaissance, she asks. Aren't we all due for a creative overhaul? A fresh start on the world stage that continually shakes its collective head in disbelief at the extraordinary quality of the actors, writers, directors, musicians, painters, sculptors and dramatists this country produces, but who are always forced to go overseas to make their dreams come true.

Here's some excerpts from a speech Julia Gillard gave last night :

Instead of leading a culture war, our Government should be leading a great Australian cultural renaissance - one that celebrates excellence and encourages all our people to understand the importance of our culture to our future.

We need to get a real conversation going between our cultural producers and the public. This isn't just about elites; it involves all of us. It's time to end the culture wars.

...this isn't just about governments. It's a challenge to all sorts of cultural decision makers - newspaper editors, radio station managers, heads of our arts and research funding bodies, vice-chancellors and the heads of publishing houses - to invest in cultural production.

There are encouraging signs that outside the Howard Government many Australians are putting their money where their mouths are and backing great cultural ventures.

This great Australian cultural renaissance could be one of the most important national investments we could make, because Australian culture is ideally suited to the challenges of today. As we confront global economic competition and inequalities, our idealism and resourcefulness are what the world needs.

We should never forget Australia's indigenous culture is one of the longest-surviving cultures in the world and we should never forget to be proud of that fact. We can also learn from it. Climate change is giving us an urgent interest in doing so.

We need to develop a new respect for the reality of our harsh physical environment and adapt to its changes. Aborigines were never passive occupiers of the land. As we have, they moulded the land as it moulded them.

Our culture, and the advantages it gives us, is endangered. I find it bizarre that when our culture has so much to offer our country, some want to undermine it through a vindictive, short-sighted and imported culture war.

Their attempts to denigrate such people as our philosophers, artists, writers and even climate scientists as out-of-touch, inner-city elites, and to claim our egalitarian values are unsuited to new economic necessities, risks subsuming us into the blancmange of an emerging global monoculture.

Let me end this call for an Australian cultural renaissance by referring to one of the great contemporary Australian cultural figures: the Academy Award-winning producer, George Miller, who has had a huge effect on world culture, from TV series such as Bodyline to movies such as Mad Max and Babe. Most recently he's given us Happy Feet.

You might think I'm pulling a long bow in drawing conclusions from an animated film about a dancing penguin named Mumble. But Mumble is a man - or should I say, a penguin - for our times. He won't conform. Instead of singing like everyone else, he dances. And along the way he uncovers some important truths about the need to change our ways.

Australians are a bit like Mumble. In terms of world culture, we're unique: young, unusual, at times exotic and usually undermining authority. We can choose our path. We shouldn't feel we have to sing along in harmony with the rest of the world to have a positive effect on it. But we can dance like no one else. The last thing we need is culture warriors trying to force us to conform.

And that's it right there. C0nformity. The Howard-era media and politicians don't want to know what Australia will become, or is already becoming. They want it to stay the way it was, when they were young. They are still fighting to reshape the nation into what they wanted it to be when they were 23 years old. The 'Culture Wars' are locked in an almost forgotten era of Australian history, because that's the only era these 'warriors' really understand.

Whoever wants to declare victory in the 'Culture Wars' may as well go ahead and do it now. Nobody, but the tiniest percentile, will care, and it will be a hollow victory. The rest of Australia has already moved on.

We want to know what's coming. Who will be be in 20 years? Where will be? Who's going to give us the future we're dreaming of now?

A federal election should always be about the future, but right now we're not getting much from Howard & Friends on that front.

Gillard all but gave the federal government a plan to win back some of their lost disciples. But are they visionary enough to realise it?

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Howard Out Of The Loop On US Troop Surge Facts

Says US Presence In Middle East Constrains Iran And Israel

Australia Refuses UN Demands To Send Troops To Fight In Darfur Conflict

Don't let anybody tell you that prime minister John Howard isn't on top of what's going on in Iraq, particularly when it comes to the final round of deployments in the US troop "surge" that is supposed to rein in all the death and destruction :
Mr Howard said "evidence about the success so far of the surge is mixed", but he had not given up hope.

"The surge has not reached its peak and it won't reach its peak for some weeks yet," he said.
According to the US Defence Department, who'd you expect to know the facts :
The full contingent of new U.S. forces being sent to Iraq -- what military leaders call a "surge" of troops to improve security and stability in the capital -- was completed by Friday, with 28,500 additional troops now posted in the country, a U.S. military spokesman said.
Howard often cites his friendship with President Bush, and his contact with the inner circle of the White House, as being evident of how the Bush administration cherishes Australia's troop commitment to the Iraq War. Clearly, they're not getting on the phone to him as often as they used to.

Howard is also disappointed with the democratically elected leader of Iraq. Not just disappointed, but "quite unhappy" :

The Prime Minister, John Howard, believes the Iraqi Government is not pulling its weight to help end violence in the country...

In an interview with the Herald yesterday, Mr Howard said the Iraqi Government, led by the Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, was not doing enough to rein in the sectarian violence.

"I'm still quite unhappy with the reconciliation process inside Iraq," he said.

"The Maliki Government should be doing more on that. They should be doing a lot more. It's absolutely critical; I made that clear when I saw him three months ago, and [the US President George] Bush makes that clear to him every week."

Mr Howard said the US presence in Iraq was all that was preventing it from descending into chaos and saving the rest of the Middle East from becoming "even more of a tinder box".

Mr Howard said if the US left the Middle East, constraints on both Iran and Israel could be lifted. "If the atmospherics alter, if the threat increases, the Israelis could go for a more hard-line government," he said.

Also yesterday, Mr Howard said Australia had rejected a United Nations request to send troops to Sudan because it was heavily committed elsewhere.

Of course, if Australian troops were deployed to the Darfur conflict they would very likely find themselves in military situations far more out of control, and deadly, than they now face in the relatively calm south of Iraq where the majority of Australian troops have been stationed since the war began.

Howard knows that he would have an even harder time winning the federal election at the end of the year if coffins wrapped in Australian flags are being unloaded on air force base tarmacs too close to polling day.

The Australian government is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising and recruitment campaigns to boost the ranks of Australia's armed forces, but widespread labour shortages and the extreme unpopularity of the Iraq War has seen little success on the recruitment front.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Great Australian Art Heist

A painting worth an estimated $1.3 million has "disappeared" from a wall of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, in what is expected to be the biggest Australian art heist since the early 1990s.

The missing painting is the 17th century self-portrait A Cavalier, by Dutch master Frans van Mieris I, and some media reports claim at least five other paintings are missing from the gallery.

The painting was small, 20 by 16 centimetres, but it's not yet known whether the famous art work was stolen during opening hours, slipped inside a jacket or coat perhaps, or whether the heist took place after the gallery had closed to the public :

Police sources said they suspected it was an inside job. Police have spent three days interviewing gallery staff and examining security footage.

While Aboriginal art is a popular target for thieves, the theft of European works from public art institutions in Australia is rare.

UPDATE : The painting is now believed to have been stolen when the gallery was open to the public, and the thief was able to :
flee unnoticed with it after "expertly removing it from its mounting", police said today.

Police say the thief struck between 10am and 12.30pm, when the gallery would have been open to visitors.

Gallery spokeswoman Susanne Briggs said the entire work – including the timber frame – had been carefully unscrewed from the wall.

National Security Demands Widespread Dobbing

But Religious Leaders Unite In Their Vow To Keep Quiet About Confessions

Australian Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders have all vowed they will not betray their followers by passing information they may learn through confessions to national security authorities, unless there were direct threats that impacted on the safety and wellbeing of other people.

Radical religious views and beliefs, however, are unlikely to be viewed by the leaders of Australian faiths as worthy of supply "tip-offs" to anti-terror investigators.

How could they betray "the trust of their followers", they argue, when the protection of confidential information was their "bread and butter" :

The Jesuit Social Services associate director, Peter Norden, told The Australian he would be prepared to give police information only if the tip-off was crucial for the safety of others.

But he said he would make sure the information given did not identify the person who provided it.

"You would be entitled to take some steps to protect human life but you need to do that in such a way that it was of a general nature and wouldn't identify the person concerned."

"If you were (to betray confessors), you would have to do away with the profession for minister of religion."

The Rabbinical Council of Victoria president Meir Shlomo Kluwgant said rabbis were bound to the same confidentiality procedures as counsellors, but were able to tip-off the authorities if the information they received suggested someone's life was in danger.

"Certainly the very first thing that a rabbi would do would be to dissuade their congregant from committing a crime," he said.

Muslim clerics were revealed, last week, to have not alerted federal police when they had been asked about the rights and wrongs of joining the international jihad.

Tim Dunlop, at Blogocracy :

Maybe all this means is that they are willing to be prosecuted rather than disclose all the information they have, though Norden’s further comments—that “If you were (to betray confessors), you would have to do away with the profession for minister of religion”—seems wide of the mark. Why would that be the case? And I’m really not sure why informing authorities of a crime should even count as “betraying confessors”.’s interesting that all the major religions line-up on the issue...

Maybe the leaders of Australia's major religions have got a gut feeling that the violations of human rights and civil liberties that are becoming the "bread and butter" of the 'War on Terror' are not always going to be confined to the followers of the Islamic religion.
The Sad Love Story Hidden Inside A Painting

Arthur Streeton's 1890 masterpiece 'Spring', which revealed a secret love story under x-ray

For more than 120 years, a secret love story lay hidden behind layers of paint inside landscape of one of Australia's most famous paintings, by renowned artist Arthur Streeton :

Spring, which was completed in 1890, depicts an idyllic rural Australian scene, with a group of naked boys bathing in a hillside stream.

But when Michael Varcoe-Cocks, a conservator with the National Gallery of Victoria, examined it under a microscope, he discovered the words "Florry Walker's my sweetheart", inscribed several times. The gallery then X-rayed the work and found a nude female figure, which had been painted over.

The declarations of love, invisible to the naked eye, were inscribed using a fine point when the paint was still wet. The discovery intrigued gallery staff, who set off to establish the identity of the object of Streeton's romantic attention.

From the Melbourne Age :

The conservator later found that Streeton had inscribed "Florry Walker is my sweetheart" into the wet paint using a pin or needle, and her name several more times. The words are invisible to the naked eye.

Mr Varcoe-Cocks' investigations led to the finding that another artist, Lucy Walker, had a sister called Florence, who would have been 17 at the time. Streeton was 22.

Using public records, he was able to track down Florence's descendants. They told him that Streeton had given her a painting as a gift, Flight of Summer, dedicated to F. Walker, and now estimated to be worth several hundred thousand dollars. It is painted on a wooden veneer panel, with a smoking cigarette beside a dead match at the foot of the painting. A thorny rose branch, adorned with rosehips, is interwoven with smoke from the cigarette that forms into a female figure at the top.

Florry's granddaughter, who wishes to remain anonymous, said the family had always known there was some sort of romance. "After all, Streeton gave the painting to gran."

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Recent Stories From Darryl Mason's Blog Network

Sopranos : The Movie? Was The Finale Just An Extended Tony Dream?
Don't Put Your Carbon Footprints On The Furniture
When Bird Flu Infections Becomes Invisible
Will These Two Madmen Get Their Apocalyptic War?
Australian Religious Leaders Refuse To Rat On Followers

The Etiquette Of Jihad - Who You Can Bomb And Why

Allow Poker Machines In Retirement Homes?

Nah, Just Move The Elderly Into The Clubs

Australians are gambling less than they were a few years ago. More importantly, elderly Australians are spending less money on poker machines.

The club industry and the government are losing revenue, through decreased patronage and gambling taxes. So now the government and the club industry have conspired to lock the dwindling customer base for society-destroying poker machines into a daily cycle of gambling and loss.


By allowing the construction of elderly care facilities adjacent to massive clubs, and, soon, on land owned by the clubs in which the aged will be encouraged to gamble away their pensions and supernnuation earnings until they day they slide lifelessly off a poker machine stool.

The target audience is not the World War 2 generation already filling aged care facilities. The target audience for this disgustingly cynical exploitation is the millions of baby boomers who will be leaving the work force in the next decade.

I mean, seriously, WTF is going on?

How is the following story in any way an example of genuine care and concern being shown by government for some of the most vulnerable members of our society :

Clubs will develop housing for seniors on their sites under a State Government plan, but gambling experts fear it will create a captive market for poker machines.

Of course it will. That is the entire point.

The Minister for Planning, Frank Sartor, has tabled draft legislation that encourages clubs to expand into aged care by streamlining planning laws. Mr Sartor said it was driven by demand for seniors' accommodation but agreed clubs stood to benefit.

Note that it is not the clubs alone that are directly appealling to the state government to make this fetid fantasy a reality. The government "encourages" the clubs to target those seeking aged care facilities by "streamlining planning laws".

"Streamlining" of course means all but tossing the rules and regulations straight out the window and saying "Hell, do what you want. You think we give a shit about these non-workers anymore?"

...many clubs have been hindered by zoning that prohibits retirement villages. Under Mr Sartor's plan, the default zoning would permit aged care facilities...

Clubs NSW said it would be a boon to the industry...

Clubs NSW can't believe it.

They can't believe the government is actually allowing them to do this. Gambling related revenue and taxes for the clubs and the government are going to shoot through the roof in the coming decade, and they all know it. Hell, they openly admit it.

Professor Alex Blaszczynski, co-director of Sydney University's gambling research unit, said: "The question is, what are the safeguards for some of the elderly who may be in the early stages of dementia or lonely or depressed, who are losing control and finding the poker machines more to their satisfaction than eating or entertainment?"

Perhaps the poker machines could spit out meal tickets occasionally? Just one meal ticket a day should be enough. A ticket for boiled potatoes and carrots, and a choice of desicated fish or rissoles, and some strong tea or coffee, so they can gamble away their retirement years without losing focus, or too much weight.

Dee Why RSL, and a number of other NSW clubs, already run "senior units".

The government ignored the plummeting availability of housing for elderly people until it reached a crisis point, and now claims it has no choice but to allow the widespread privatisation of caring for those who cannot care for themselves, or afford to live in their own homes.

The chief executive officer of Dee Why RSL, Grant Easterby, said the the club had 145 people on a waiting list for 93 seniors' units, which would be right next door to the club. He hoped it would increase patronage.

"We believe it will be profitable," he said...

Rob Lynch, an expert in leisure sport and tourism at the University of Technology, Sydney, said that while clubs provide valuable community services, "they also raise a lot of revenue for themselves and for the government through gambling".

In the late 1980s, before poker machines moved out of the clubs and into the pubs, there used to be plenty of jokes about how poker machines would eventually allow the elderly to simply insert their pension cheques straight into the machine, without having to go to the trouble of withdrawing money from banks and changing it into coins.

Letting private corporations take control of the housing and care of elderly people and then allowing them to directly target the vulnerable for gambling exploitation, by presumably providing the only meal service in these retirement and aged care facilities, is that very joke becoming a dire reality.

Perhaps they will also be allowed to 'volunteer' kidneys in exchange for gambling credits?

The State government clearly doesn't care. They just want to get millions of costly old people out of their care and responsibility, and if gambling-orientated corporations want to take on the duties once provided by the state, in exchange for all-but-direct access to their bank accounts, then so be it.

The extra tax income for the government from the rise in poker machine gambling revenue will be all cream.