Friday, June 27, 2003


So what is the place of the voluntary association or the charity in a modern industrial economy that operates an extensive system of income support? Do we still need them?

It occurs to me that there are a number of reasons to reaffirm the role of the charity in addressing human need.

1. Unlike entitlement programs which are entrenched in law, charities can respond immediately and individually to need.

2. While income support provides insulation against poverty it does not treat the cause of poverty.

3. The voluntary associations and charities bring an extra dimension to their work to the extent they are staffed by people of strong religious or moral conviction.

4. Giving to the voluntary association or charity enriches the giver as well as the receiver.

To the extent that it fulfils these roles the voluntary organisation or charity can do what the State cannot. But it must work at these tasks. And to fulfil these tasks there is one thing that it needs above all - trust. People will give to a charity they trust. They will give if they trust those who deliver assistance to make a difference in a way that others (including Government) do not.

Australian Treasurer Peter Costello who will shortly be handing most of his portfolio responsibilities over to a hand-picked committee of volunteers from Anglicare, The Brotherhood of Saint Laurence and The Saint Vincent De Paul Society.

Bad Laws Make Bad Cases Too

Geoff Honnor at Troppo Armadillo approves of the US Supreme Court's decision to strike down Texas' anti-sodomy laws. So do I, especially after hearing this little tidbit of information on AM this morning:

The case was triggered five years ago when a neighbour with a grudge faked a distress call to police, telling them that a man was "going crazy" with a gun in an apartment next door. Police went to the apartment, and instead found the two men having sex.

Of course it's inconceivable that here in Australia a malicious neighbour might contact the authorities with a false report which results in police laying charges totally unrelated to the original report and, eventually, a High Court case. We don't have any laws that would allow that sort of situation to occur and, even if we do, there are plenty of safeguards and protections built in to prevent that sort of thing. I know because Dazza told us so.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Leak of the Week

Thanks to an overdue visit to the Billabong, I've just read this interesting opinion piece by Andrew Bolt in Monday's Hun, and this much more interesting transcript of Andrew Wilkie's evidence before Westminster's Foreign Affairs Committee. It's worth taking the time to read the transcript: as well as Wilkie's testimony, it includes that of Ibrahim Al-Marashi, author of the plagiarised thesis that was included in the "dodgy dossier". The Professor has already posted his favourite extract from Mr Al-Marashi's testimony - here are a couple of mine:

Q666 Sir John Stanley: As has been widely reported, the Government has chosen to make an apology to the heads of the intelligence agencies for producing a document which purported to have some degree of authority from themselves when that was not the case, and has provided an assurance that that will not happen again in the future. Has the Government made any expression of regret or apology to you for the plagiarisation of your thesis?

Mr al-Marashi: I have never been contacted directly, either by phone call nor in writing, since February 2003 up to the present.

Q667 Sir John Stanley: Do you think you might be owed an apology?

Mr al-Marashi: I think the least they could do is owe me an apology.

Q668 Chairman: Can we now apologise for them?

Mr al-Marashi: The time is quite past but I would have to say that the biggest fear I had out of this whole story breaking out was that I am an Iraqi myself and when I wrote this article I did not think it would get much of a circulation, maybe 5,000 people at the most, people in the Middle East academic community. What the events have done to me around February and March was that basically they connected me to the British case for going to war and, having relatives in Iraq with my last name connected to me in the UK would have been disastrous for them. I have already lost two relatives to the Saddam regime. Any connection now between me and the UK Government and the case for going to war would have had a disastrous effect on my family back home. That was my biggest regret out of this entire affair. Given the personal stress I have gone through, I think the least they could have done was offer me an apology.

Q669 Sir John Stanley: Were there any reprisals made against any of the members of your family in the period between the publication of the "dodgy dossier" and the removal of the Saddam Hussein regime?

Mr al-Marashi: I have not been able to establish contact with my family. I cannot say 100 per cent. In fact, I was intending to go back to find out the fate of my family, but I cannot say I am 100 per cent sure if there were reprisals. Given the fact that my family was politically suspect in the past, it is likely that they could have been suspect or there could have been reprisals. There is always that possibility.

Mr al-Marashi also identifies a few incompetent [according to committee chair Donald Anderson] alterations to his original paper:

Again, from the first bullet from "Its internal activities include ...", "spying" - I used the term "monitoring". I guess there is a thin line between those two words but I tried to use more neutral language. The key modification made was in the second section, "Its external activities include ..." - "supporting terrorist organisations in hostile regimes", where I believe I used, "aiding opposition groups in hostile regimes". There is a big difference between "opposition groups" and "terrorist organisations". I was always one to believe that the link between Iraqi intelligence and terrorist organisations may have been quite active in the past but links between Iraq's security apparatus and terrorist organisations - there has not been evidence that there has been strong co-operation in the last decade, nor has there been strong evidence of Iraqi co-operation with al-Qaeda. By changing it to this word you are kind of distorting the intent, that is, "supporting terrorist organisations in hostile regimes" makes one infer that they could be supporting, let us say, groups like al-Qaeda. That is one key example of modifying the text. There are other examples where they not only plagiarised but they put it in the wrong place ...

But that's enough of that - you can read the rest for yourselves. Let's turn to Andrew Bolt's article:

ANDREW Wilkie sells himself as the spy who couldn't be fooled over Iraq.

He's the one spook who didn't buy what he calls the Howard Government's "fairytale" and "exaggerations" about the threat of Saddam Hussein.

But when I go through the only secret report that Wilkie ever wrote about Iraq as an Office of National Assessments analyst, I wonder just who fell for a "fairytale".

[my emphasis]

Curiously, a good half hour of imaginative googling this morning failed to turn up any other analysis or comment based on going through "the only secret report that Wilkie ever wrote about Iraq". Still, now that it's been let out into the public domain via Andrew Bolt (and possibly other journos I wasn't able to track down), maybe the Office of National Assessment could do the right thing by us all and put it up on their web-site. After all, now that it's appeared in the Hun it's hardly secret any more, is it?

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

The Most Boring Town in the USA

This is a typical police report from Arlington Massachusetts:

At 11:18 am, a woman reported that a teenager groped her buttocks on the minuteman bike trail and fled toward Lexington

... And She Won't Be Singing Nessun Dorma

Chris Sheil at Troppo Armadillo has another update on the Windschuttle saga, Windschuttle and the Fat Lady with a link to this assessment of Keith's work by historian Stuart MacIntyre. If it weren't mixing an already overstretched metaphor, I'd say that MacIntyre not only hoists Windschuttle by his own petard - he does a good job of drawing and quartering him too. As Chris says:

While clearly there are many words still to be spent on this business, my feeling is that the Fat Lady may as well begin clearing her throat.

If you know any suitable arias for the Fat Lady to sing, please nominate them in the comments box. Or over at Troppo. (At the risk of blowing my smart-arse cred, I don't know enough about opera to suggest any myself).

Days of Our Dole

The ABC, The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald all reported yesterday on a new study by the University of Melbourne's Centre for Public Policy, showing that people on the dole are so shagged out from jumping through the "Mutual Obligation" hoops that they don't have the energy left to find work.

On a more cheerful note, there's this report from The Age:

People who rack up welfare debts will not have their credit ratings affected when Centrelink puts their case into the hands of a debt collection agency.

Children and Youth Affairs Minister Larry Anthony has assured parliament that because Centrelink is not a credit provider, information about Centrelink debts can not be collected by credit reference agencies.

He was responding to a question on notice from Labor MP Con Sciacca.

So, if Centrelink's debt collectors take you through the Judgement Debt Recovery process, leading to a sheriff's auction of of your domestic whitegoods at laughably low prices, never mind. You'll be able to buy a new fridge on the Visa Card you'll be able to get with your impeccable credit rating.

Democracy Reprieved?

AM was a treat this morning: the Government's ASIO Bill has been pulled yet again, after Bob Brown raised the question of whether the Bill would enable ASIO to detain witnesses indefinitely by applying for rolling warrants. Brown's proposed amendment - which would require that those helping ASIO with their inquiries be either charged or released at the end of the seven day interrogation - struck me as a sensible one. This has forced the Government back into negotiations with labor, much to the annoyance of Attorney General Daryl "I don't know much about legislation but I know what I like" Williams. Williams now faces the challenge of coming up with workable provisions which prevent ASIO from using the Bill in the way Brown suggests it might.

On the other hand, he could just drop the idea - didn't he tell us that the security services would rather work with their existing powers than be given new powers that they couldn't actually use in practice. Sadly, I haven't been able to track down that quote, but here's a beaut from AM on 11 December last year:

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Finally, the Senate's started amending your ASIO Bill, will you accept the changes that the Senate makes? The minor parties and Labor all say that what they're doing is putting in safeguards that the legal fraternity has been calling for.

DARYL WILLIAMS: Well, what I can say is that the amendments that the Labor Party, the Democrats and the Greens are making to the Bill are converting it from being a Government Bill into being a Labor Party Bill. And the Labor Party is not demonstrating a commitment to protecting the community because they're aligning themselves with the Democrats and the Greens who are going to vote against the Bill.

Elsewhere The Age reports that the Government's proposed changes to media ownership laws may be in doubt. Over at News Limited, they're of a different opinion, reporting that the legislation is only one vote away from being passed. Apparently, all Richard Alston has to do is get Brian Harradine onside. Oddly, a ten minute Google session has turned up nothing on the subject at any of News Limited's individual newspaper sites. Media diversity is wonderful, isn't it?

Update: in lieu of a long post of the entire exchange between Senator Brown and Senator Ellison, you can find it on page 8 of the PDF file of yesterday's Senate Hansard

Monday, June 23, 2003

Reading Matters

Halfway through Edvard Radzinksy's Stalin, and it's a day overdue. Library policy is not to renew overdue books, so now it's going to be months before I find out how The Boss responded to all of Bukharin's doomed pleas for clemency from his prison cell. Bugger!

In view of certain snippy comments I've had about previous books read, I've decided that in future I'm sticking to science fiction, fantasy or, failing those options, the children's section. I've already noticed a couple of promising entries in the library's on-line catalogue; Harry Potter in the Garden of Delights and Where's Wally's Willy? Some light reading will make a pleasant change. So will being able to return books during library opening hours, rather than sneaking round at night to drop them through the after hours return slot, so that you can pretend the damage to the bindings was caused by all the other books that got dumped in on top of your borrowings.

Meanwhile, for those who might be interested in whether Hannah Arendt's treatment of Rudolph Kastner in Eichmann in Jerusalem was fair, there's this on-line article which gives the most balanced account of the "Kastner Trial" I could google up. I'd write more, but I'm not in a particularly Den Bestean mood right now.