Revealed: Assange knee-deep in failed WikiLeaks preference deals [Crikey]

Revealed: Assange knee-deep in failed WikiLeaks preference deals
Andrew Crook
Crikey
August 30, 2013

A damning internal email trail from inside the WikiLeaks Party has revealed that Ecuadorian Embassy recluse Julian Assange was intimately involved in the Senate preference debacle that led to the party’s implosion.

Leaked emails sent by Assange and obtained by Crikey lay bare the internal war that consumed the transparency advocates and show how the self-described “president” and “party leader” tried to railroad democratic processes and impose the will of a small clique of acolytes. There is no WikiLeaks leader or president — under its constitution the party is controlled by an 11-member council.

[extract]

Under the subject line “NC micromanagement of preferences”, Assange, the lead Victorian Senate candidate, slammed the council and suggested it should become a rubber stamp for decisions taken by individual candidates:

“I am receiving unhappy sounds from the NC micromanaging preferences. I agree with that. I am unhappy about it too. The people with the most information, motivation and responsibility are the Candidates and their campaign teams. I have a fully booked schedule and do not have time to attend snap NC preference meetings. I know that the NC is well motivated and wants to help, but it is not helping.”

“Preference negotiations are the single most important factor now in winning the campain [sic] and are extremely dynammic [sic]. Bar a raid on the embassy, we will not win without them. A great deal of time is being spent on it. At any moment there may need to be a re-adjustment based on a party removing a proposal to us or a new party stepping forward. This may then require adjustment of other preference agreements.”

Assange then goes on to propose:

“… that I assess the proposed final negitotiations secured by the Candidates and their teams to ensure that none of our Canadidtates [sic] or their negotiators has at the last moment has become a stalking horse for another party or would be a PR disaster (the latter is unlikely because our Candidates want to win).”

WikiLeaks activist Samantha Castro, who has since stepped down from the national council, responded in savage fashion, calling the missive “bullshit”:

“This plan sounds undemocratic and disrespectful to the national council of which I thought Julian was an equal member not the a person who could override choices by issuing statements from afar while not attending any meetings (bar one that I am aware of) The council is trying to ensure the values of the party are not trodden on in pursuit of deals that have NOT been shown in any real way to clearly benefit us and instead completely compromise our values and risk alienating our base. This is bullshit.”

In the days leading up to the decision, Crikey showed how WikiLeaks could conceivably cut a deal with the micro-Right to improve Assange’s chances in Victoria, but this tactic wasn’t pursued. Instead, when group voting tickets were released two weeks ago, the party nonsensically preferenced WA Nationals candidate and former West Coast Eagles goal sneak David Wirrpanda ahead of the Greens’ Scott Ludlam in Western Australia, potentially denying the staunch Assange supporter victory. In New South Wales, WikiLeaks bizarrely went to the redneck Shooters and Fishers Party and the extremist anti-immigrant Australia First Party ahead of the Greens, Labor and the Coalition.

A marathon 12-hour meeting on the day before preferences were due to be lodged concluded with an official directive from campaign director Greg Barns, but in WA and NSW this was ignored. In a statement released after the snafu, the party blamed the mix-up on administrative errors and said it “unreservedly acknowledges that the errors made in GVTs have angered many supporters and members and the Party apologises for those errors.”

Dissidents who have since quit the party say the tilt towards unilateral decision-making and the ossification of control around Assange, his biological father, John Shipton, and Barns left them devastated.

Yesterday, Crikey uploaded the swingeing resignation statement of volunteer co-ordinator David Haidon. Last week, former national councillor and former Assange uni mate Daniel Mathews posted a detailed account of why he had left the party he loved, with the preference debacle the final straw. Social media co-ordinator Sean Bedlam jumped ship, saying in this emotional YouTube video the party “has to die and can’t be allowed to continue”. Victorian Senate candidate Leslie Cannold quit, explaining on ABC News Breakfast how WikiLeaks’ founding principles of openness and democracy were betrayed. And national councillors Luke Pearson and Kaz Cochrane also resigned.

An earlier Assange email under the heading “CANDIDATE TASKING” shows his level of micromanagement of technical tasks:

“I require (as President) TWO people assigned to candidate registration tasks in each state for each candidate. There are only days in it and we’re dead in the water if there is a single mistake.”

In an interview with the ABC after the shit hit the fan, Assange twice claimed to be “party leader” and said couldn’t rescue the problems in Australia because he was too busy “saving a young man’s [Bradley — now Chelsea — Manning’s] life.”

[Comment: I wonder what effect these revelations have on the Party’s chances of winning seats? The main problem, as I see it, is that the Party has campaigned and indeed defines itself as one seeking Transparency and Accountability (and er Justice) and yet it seems clear from the available evidence that it’s none of those things, and is instead characterised precisely by a lack of democratic accountability, in this case to its nominal leadership, the National Council. In other words, it’s chiefly a vehicle to pursue Julian Assange’s political ambitions, a means of continuing to draw attention to his plight, and perhaps exerting further political pressure on Australian and British authorities to arrange some kinda deal whereby he can leave the Embassy without being arrested and deported to Sweden to face (possible) charges of rape and sexual assault. On the other hand, the preference deals that appear to have been arranged with other minor party candidates may in fact — if the Party’s level of electoral support reaches some minimal level — ensure at least one or possibly more of its candidates are indeed elected. I suspect that even this seemingly increasingly less-likely outcome may turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory. See also : WikiLeaks Party : How Not to Campaign for Office, August 21, 2013 | WikiLeaks Party mired in crisis, Patrick O’Connor, wsws.org, August 29, 2013 | notes on assange, August 12, 2012.]

Bonus Bedlam!


Special Bonus Batshit!

As noted, in NSW the Wikileaks Party decided to preference the Australia First Party ahead of the Greens, a decision initially described by it as an “administrative error” (sic). A neo-fascist party, its fuhrer is convicted criminal Dr James Saleam, a man with a lifelong commitment to various forms of neo-Nazi, fascist, and utra-right-wing politics. In Victoria, the party is standing John Carbonari (above) for the seat of Deakin. In May 2013, the party newsletter, Audacity, was distributed in the area. (Note that Audacity was also the title given to the newsletter produced by Saleam’s former political party, the neo-Nazi National Action. Dr Jim’s tenure as fuehrer was interrupted when he was sent to jail for organising a shotgun assault upon the home of a political opponent — he assumed control of Australia First a few years after his release.) The newsletter has been uploaded to the web and contains both racist vitriol and a genuinely crazed and hearty dose of homophobic rhetoric.

…and this is the mob the WikiLeaks Party believe is preferable to the Greens.

notes on assange

Chiefly for my own benefit…

On August 20, 2010 two women, Anna Ardin and Sofia Wilén, attended the Klara police station in Stockholm where they were interviewed by Swedish police. Their statements form the basis of possible charges of rape and sexual assault against Julian Assange. He himself was interviewed by Swedish police on August 30, 2010. This is the only interview with Swedish police he has undertaken.

In his interview, Assange was questioned only inre Ardin’s account. Of this interview, a translation of the police record reads: “Assange did between 13-14 August 2010 at Anna Ardin’s house in Tjubergsgatan in Stockholm molest Anna Ardin by during intercourse initiated and implemented on the express condition that a condom be used intentionally destroyed the condom and continued intercourse until he ejaculated in her vagina”.

Note that Ardin’s interview is actually a summary by police of a phone conversation, later read back to and approved by her. The interview with the second woman, Sofia Wilén, was not read back to her nor did she approve its contents. At the conclusion of their interview the police interviewer/interrogator writes:

Sofia and I were notified during the interrogation that Julian Assange had been arrested in absentia. Sofia had difficulty concentrating after that news, whereby I made the judgement it was best to terminate the interrogation. But Sofia had time anyway to explain that Assange was angry with her. I didn’t have time to get any further details about why he was angry with her or how this manifested itself. And we didn’t have time to get into what else happened afterwards. The interrogation was neither read back to Sofia nor reviewed for approval by her but Sofia was told she had the opportunity to do this later.

I’m unsure if Wilén did this.

The transcripts of all three interviews — as well as those undertaken by police with a number of relevant others (the police brief provided to Assange’s lawyers) — were leaked by persons unknown and published online in February 2011; an account of the allegations was published by The Guardian in December 2010 (10 days in Sweden: the full allegations against Julian Assange, Nick Davies, December 17, 2010).

Between now and then a lot has happened. On May 30, 2012, the British Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by Assange against a European Arrest Warrant issued by Swedish authorities for his extradition from the UK to Sweden to be further questioned over the allegations raised by the two women (Press Summary, PDF). See also : Sex, Lies and Julian Assange, 4 Corners (ABC), July 24, 2012.

Currently, Assange is seeking a guarantee from Swedish authorities that if he agrees to go to Sweden for further questioning he will not be extradited to the United States to face possible charges; most likely, charges derived from the Espionage Act 1917 and related to his involvement in Wikileaks. (See : Phillip Dorling: Revealed: US plans to charge Assange The Sydney Morning Herald, February 29, 2012 | Are Assange’s fears justified?, The Age, June 23, 2012.)

It appears possible for Swedish authorities to give this guarantee but the possibility of their doing so also appears to rest with the British Home Secretary, Theresa May. According to The Guardian‘s legal expert Joshua Rozenberg:

Julian Assange’s decision to seek [and receive] political asylum in Ecuador shows how desperate he must feel.

We may infer from it that he sees little chance that the European court of human rights would even ask the UK to delay sending him to Sweden, let alone declare that he would face a breach of his human rights in a state bound by the human rights convention.

That should come as little surprise. The Strasbourg court has regularly made it clear that it will issue what are called interim measures under rule 39 only if “the applicant faces a real risk of serious, irreversible harm”.

Assange apparently fears that Sweden would send him to the United States. He is said to believe he might face a trial there for espionage, although the US has made no announcement to this effect.

Sweden is seeking Assange’s extradition from the UK in connection with alleged offences of sexual molestation and rape.

If it turned out that this was simply a pretext for handing him over to the Americans, Sweden would risk breaching article 28 of the EU framework decision that forms the basis of the European Arrest Warrant.

The Home Secretary’s consent would be required under section 58 of the Extradition Act 2003 before Sweden could order Assange’s extradition to a third state.

That said, Assange can be less sure about what would happen to him after all legal proceedings in Sweden are concluded. But even if the Americans ask for his extradition at that stage, Sweden would not agree to extradite him unless the US undertook that he would not face the death penalty on conviction…

It is for the Ecuadorians to decide whether they want to annoy the UK, the EU and, no doubt, the US by offering Assange asylum.

But to do so might be something of an empty gesture. The police will not enter a foreign embassy to make an arrest. But short of giving Assange Ecuadorian diplomatic status or hiding him in a rather large diplomatic bag, there seems no way in which he can get to Heathrow, let alone Ecuador, without being arrested for breach of his bail conditions.

Having been granted political asylum by the Ecuadorean Government, the situation appears to have reached a stalemate.

To conclude…

• The evidence regarding the US state’s intention to prosecute Assange is circumstantial but seemingly robust. That is, it seems fairly certain that they do. Or would very much like to… If these charges, should they eventuate, entail something less or other than the death penalty upon conviction, it would also seem possible that Swedish authorities could agree to an extradition request by US authorities upon the conclusion of legal proceedings in Sweden.
• Swedish authorities claim Assange must go to Sweden to be interviewed by a prosecutor (Assange has offered to be interviewed by them within the UK) as only an interview conducted in Sweden makes it possible for charges to be laid against him… I think. Actually, I can’t find the source for this claim. It’s disputed by legal expert Sven Erik-Alhem who reckons that the prosecutor’s refusal to interview Assange in the UK is “unreasonable and unprofessional, as well as unfair and disproportionate” — and presumably also unnecessary for charges to be laid.

*shrugs*

See also : Could the US extradite Assange?, Edinburgh Eye, August 17, 2012.

As for the Australian Government’s response, it’s been to mount The Fat Tony Defence.

Fat Tony: Chief Wiggum! You honor us with your presence.
Chief Wiggum: Baloney! I’m not going to rest until one of us is behind bars. You! You wouldn’t happen to know anything about a cigarette truck that got hijacked on Route 401?
Fat Tony: What’s a truck?
Chief Wiggum: Don’t play dumb with me!

Rally for Assange : Melbourne, Sunday, July 1

There’s a rally in support of Julian Assange this weekend.

Where : State Library, Swanston Street, Melbourne
When : Midday, Sunday, July 1

Following his fail in the UK courts, Assange is currently attempting to start a new life as a llama farmer but who knows if he’ll be able to. In any case, a glittering array of local talent will be on hand to entertain and inform the masses, including the bRanes behind Rap News, what Cam and I got to pick on radio some months ago.

Funnily enough, the hip-hop journalists got funny man Noam Chomsky on the show during his last and final visit to Straya; his recent endorsement of an open letter generated some minor controversy in the Twitterverse.

Well, my tiny corner of it anyway.

In any event, the letter — signed by “leftist hero” Chomsky (and a few hundred other less heroic celebrities) apparently implies that rape is not a serious crime.

Or something.

To be honest, I found the Twitter conversation I had about the letter and its meaning a bit confusing.

Moar later.

Maybe.

ASIO ~versus~ WikiLeaks : The WikiLeaks Amendment

Introduction

On November 28, 2010 WikiLeaks—in conjunction with other major media organisations—began publishing classified United States diplomatic cables, detailing correspondence between the US State Department and its diplomatic missions around the world.

The publication of these cables has had an enormous impact upon world affairs. In its 2011 Annual Report, the human rights organisation ‘Amnesty International’ nominated the publication as a major catalyst in a series of uprisings against repressive regimes in the Middle East and North Africa—the so-called ‘Arab Spring’. [1]

Not everyone has welcomed the revelations contained in the WikiLeaks publications quite so warmly, however, and governments around the world have begun to implement measures designed to stifle such activity.

In Australia, these measures are being implemented by way of a series of amendments to laws governing the operations of the state’s intelligence and security apparatus.

Background

In an interview with Fairfax Radio conducted just days after the first cables were published, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard declared “I absolutely condemn the placement of this information on the WikiLeaks website—it’s a grossly irresponsible thing to do and an illegal thing to do”. [2]

This alleged legality, however, was not at all as straightforward as PM Gillard imagined.

Less than a week later, PM Gillard retreated from her claim, unable to nominate any Australian law WikiLeaks may have broken in publishing the cables. Gillard later claimed that “The foundation stone of it is an illegal act… It would not happen, information would not be on WikiLeaks, if there had not been an illegal act undertaken.” [3]

An investigation by Australian Federal Police into WikiLeaks subsequently concluded that it was unable to establish “the existence of any criminal offences where Australia would have jurisdiction”. [4]

As of this date, no charges have been filed against WikiLeaks for publishing the cables. However, US Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning—currently being held in an Army prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas—faces multiple charges in relation to the alleged leak, and if found guilty could receive a life sentence. [5] Further, WikiLeaks and its supporters are currently the subject of a Grand Jury investigation in what journalist Glenn Greenwald describes as “part of a much broader campaign by the Obama administration to crack down on leakers”. [6]

Amending the Law

Having failed to discover an Australian law under which WikiLeaks could be prosecuted, in early 2011, [7] the Gillard Government introduced a new Bill into the Federal Parliament: the Intelligence Services Legislation Amendment Bill 2011. [8]

This legislation—dubbed “the WikiLeaks amendment”—considerably broadens the legal powers available to ASIO to investigate matters of concern to the state, especially as it relates to the activities of “foreign” organisations. The amendment has important implications for all members of civil society engaged in the investigation, reportage and critical scrutiny of matters state authorities believe are best kept out of public discourse. [9]

In May, Philip Dorling of The Age wrote:

Government sources told The Age last year that there was legal ambiguity over whether ASIO could collect intelligence on WikiLeaks under its foreign intelligence collection function. The issue turned on whether WikiLeaks could be defined as a “foreign political organisation”.

Last week the government introduced legislation to define ASIO’s role more broadly to include collection of intelligence “about the capabilities, intentions or activities of people or organisations outside Australia.”

According to the government the proposed amendment, known informally as “the WikiLeaks amendment”, reflects “the changing nature of threats to Australia, since activities undertaken by non-state actors, whether individually or as a group, can also threaten Australia’s national interest”. [10]

The legislation has been warmly received by the Opposition and rushed through the Parliament, with the only criticisms from within Parliament being voiced by the Greens.

On June 23, the Greens “warned… that a Government plan to significantly broaden ASIO’s mandate was unjustified and dangerous”. [11] Questioned by WA Greens Senator Scott Ludlum before the ‘Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee’ on May 25, 2011:

The Head of ASIO was very resistant to discussing Wikileaks, neither confirming nor denying anything. Mr Irvine hadn’t read the submissions from legal experts into the Bill currently before the parliament that will dramatically expand his agency’s ability to spy on civil society organisations like Wikileaks. [12]

Senator Ludlum also noted that questioning revealed that “it took 6 AFP officers a total of 18 days to conclude that Wikileaks had broken no Australian criminal offence and there was no basis for an investigation”. [13]

Media inquiry

In addition to the Fairfax press, The WikiLeaks Amendment has been closely examined by Bernard Keane in the independent online news source Crikey. Keane notes that the current definition of a “foreign organisation”:

…allows ASIO to apply to the attorney-general to spy on foreign governments or foreign political organisations, but would be dramatically widened under the amendment to allow spying in relation to anything to do with “the interests of Australia’s national security, Australia’s foreign relations or Australia’s national economic well-being”. [14]

The Government’s seeming inability to explain the rationale behind the amendment at the Senate inquiry prompted it to make an extraordinary third submission (its second submission sought to respond to issues raised by the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law) in which it claimed that the amendment would provide “authorities with a better understanding of illegal fishing operations, and enable the relevant Australian authorities to take appropriate action internationally. Illegal fishing puts at risk Australian jobs, investment and the sustainability of fish stocks.”

As Keane wryly commented, “So there you have it—the one clear example of why the government wants a significant expansion in ASIO’s foreign intelligence remit is to provide it with “a better understanding of illegal fishing operations”. It has nothing to do with WikiLeaks, but is all about the fish.” [15]

Something fishy

There is indeed something very fishy about the “WikiLeaks amendment”, from its timing to its bi-partisan support within (and speedy passage through) the Parliament, the absence of any clear rationale for its introduction, and its exceedingly wide potential application.

In addition to the Greens and some journalists, the Law Council of Australia, the Federation of Community Legal Centres (Vic), and the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law have raised objections to the amendment in their submissions to the Senate inquiry. The Castan Centre’s comments on the amendment and its potential impact upon WikiLeaks operations are worth quoting at length. It makes particular note of the fact that:

…amendments would permit ASIO a much wider scope to investigate the activities of Australians who are overseas, and whose activities do not pose any threat to Australia’s security, but perhaps do have implications for Australia’s foreign relations or economic interests. This could include Australians involved in non-violent political activities abroad, which while posing no threat to Australia’s security, and not involving any foreign political organisations, might nevertheless be seen as having implications for Australia’s foreign relations (for example, because they would be perceived adversely by the government of the country in which such activities were taking place). An example of such activities might include the release of secret government information by an Australian living abroad, such as has been the case in respect of Julian Assange and Wikileaks. Currently, information about Wikileaks probably would not constitute foreign intelligence – because Wikileaks is (arguably) not a foreign political organisation, and its activities do not threaten Australia’s security (as defined in section 4 of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979 (Cth)). But Wikileaks is an organisation, and Mr Assange is a person, outside Australia, and their activities evidently do have implications for Australia’s foreign relations. This example shows how the notion of “person or organisation outside Australia”, combined with the notion of “Australia’s foreign relations”, very considerably expands the scope of ASIO’s potential activities. [16]

Given the broader political context, both domestic and foreign, in which it has been made, there is every reason for Australian citizens to be concerned about The WikiLeaks Amendment. The amendment allows ASIO greater powers to target WikiLeaks and related organisations, and the attack on human and civil rights it represents can, should and must be resisted.

Notes

[1] Amnesty International hails WikiLeaks and Guardian as Arab spring ‘catalysts’, The Guardian, May 13, 2011.
[2] ‘WikiLeaks acting illegally, says Gillard’, AAP, December 2, 2010.
[3] ‘Julia Gillard can’t say how WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has broken the law’, AAP, December 7, 2010.
[4] ‘Media Statement: Finalisation of WikiLeaks referral’, Australian Federal Police Media Statement, December 17, 2011.
[5] ‘Wikileaks: Suspect Bradley Manning faces 22 new charges’, BBC, March 2, 2011.
[6] ‘The WikiLeaks Grand Jury and the still escalating War on Whistleblowing’, salon.com, May 11, 2011.
[7] http://www.robertmcclelland.com.au/2011/03/23/introduction-of-legislation-to-support-national-security-agencies/
[8] http://www.comlaw.gov.au/Details/C2011B00041.
[9] The amendment was preceded by the Telecommunications Interception and Intelligence Services Legislation Amendment Act passed—with the support of the Opposition—in March 2011. It expanded ASIO’s ability to share with other agencies information obtained from wiretaps and computer access.
[10] ‘ASIO eye on WikiLeaks, Philip Dorling, The Age, May 23, 2011.
[11] ‘Planned Boost in ASIO Power Sparks Warning’, June 23, 2011.
[12] ‘Overestimated – Senate Estimates, Winter 2011’, June 15, 2011.
[13] For further details, see the ‘Dissenting Report by the Australian Greens’.
[14] ‘Mysteries of the ASIO amendment survive Senate scrutiny’, June 17, 2011.
[15] ‘ASIO: fishers of men’, June 21, 2011.
[16] http://www.law.monash.edu.au/castancentre/publications/intel-services-legislation-amend-bill.pdf Also http://www.law.monash.edu.au/castancentre/publications/intel-services-legislation-amend-bill-supp.pdf

Three cheers and a loud huzzah for The WikiLeaks Amendment!

From the Department of Julia Gillard Can’t Say How WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange Has Broken the Law:

Australia Australia Australia is now in a much much much better position to defend working families working families working families from Julian Assange WikiLeaks The Vogon Constructor Fleet illegal fishing. This is thanks to the passage of the Intelligence Services Legislation Amendment Bill 2011.

For the record, the politicians responsible for passing the Bill are brilliant men who have come up with many well-thought-out, practical ideas, and are ensuring the political future of this country.

Oh, and their personal hygiene is beyond reproach.

ASIO gets its new powers — and no one will tell us why
Bernard Keane
Crikey
July 5, 2011

Well, we never found out why, and now we’ll never know. Last night, the bill to significantly expand ASIO’s powers to spy on Australians sailed through the Senate with the support of Labor and the Coalition.

Just when we needed a bit of that mindless negativity for which the Abbott-era Coalition has become famous, they fell into line with Labor. The Greens, in the form of Scott Ludlam, were the only ones asking questions.

And the key question remains unanswered: what exactly is it that ASIO cannot currently do that it could do under the bill’s amendments to the circumstances in which it can gather foreign intelligence?

An official of the responsible department, Attorney-General’s, struggled to answer that question at the brief committee hearings the bill received a fortnight ago as part of the unseemly rush to get it through Parliament. He claimed activities associated with weapons proliferation was an example, only to be brought up short by a Labor senator who noted that was already covered under ASIO’s power in relation to Australia’s security.

Afterward, Attorney-General’s produced a bizarre third submission [PDF] to the committee claiming illegal fishing was an example of an activity currently outside the scope of ASIO’s powers.

The real answer of course has always been in plain sight: the amendment is designed to enable ASIO to spy on people involved with WikiLeaks, which currently falls outside the definitions of foreign states, people connected with a foreign state or foreign political organisations. The amendment is informally known within Attorney-General’s as “the WikiLeaks amendment”.

But the Department’s official line is that it has nothing to do with WikiLeaks and was developed long before WikiLeaks began releasing diplomatic cables.

So Ludlam returned to the issue last night, asking the Government’s duty minister — the minister or Parliamentary Secretary rostered on to carry legislation through the chamber — repeatedly to explain what it was that ASIO couldn’t investigate that it could under the amendments.

In such circumstances, a duty minister is supported by Departmental officials and, usually, an adviser from the office of the portfolio minister, who sit in the “adviser’s box”, the desks tucked up at the very end of the chamber on both sides. When you go into the adviser’s box, you should be fully across the legislation in question and have a full array of Q&A-type briefs for the duty minister to read from, addressing every single possible question that could be asked. You need to be ready to spring a response out to the minister in a matter of seconds.

As it was, given Ludlam had already identified his concerns at the inquiry hearing, it should have been straightforward to furnish the duty minister with some clear responses.

Instead, officials put in a shocker, and left David Feeney, in particular, looking silly as they served up wholly inappropriate material that frequently had nothing to do with what Ludlam had asked. It led to this brilliant moment from Feeney in response to a further demand by Ludlam that the Government explain what the bill would permit ASIO to do that it couldn’t currently do:

Two points, Senator. The first is that ASIO’s mandate, if you will — and that is my word — is set out in the section I am looking at here, which is where ‘security’ is defined. It is part I, section 4. There we see the definition of security: “”security” means:” and then it is set out in paragraphs (a), (aa) and (b). I think we see there a codification of some of the issues that you are looking for. I guess that when one contemplates the Cold War one is contemplating an environment that is dramatically transformed today. We are obviously not today working in an environment where there is something of a global contest between two clearly discernible ideologies and constellations of nation states. What we are looking at today is, firstly, a multipolar international environment where non-state actors are particularly relevant and, secondly, an environment which has been transformed by technology. So the sorts of materials you were talking about and the sorts of tools that are required to monitor the movement of those materials, I think, have greatly changed, and as legislators we need to make sure that that is something we remain abreast of.

As Ludlam later said, it was rather like Feeney was pouring a bag of cement into Hansard.

This wasn’t Feeney’s fault, but that of the officials nearby who clearly hadn’t prepared a proper answer even to questions that knew were coming, let alone providing a minister from outside the portfolio with a clear grasp of the rationale for the bill.

George Brandis briefly joined the debate, and demonstrated a far more coherent grasp of what was going on than Feeney, but that’s only to be expected from the shadow minister. Brandis was there to report that the Coalition would be joining Labor in blocking the Greens’ amendments and passing the bill, but he felt sufficiently galled by Ludlam’s efforts to question the bill to plead that he, too, was concerned about encroachments on civil liberty and he, too, was sceptical about calls to increase the powers of intelligence agencies.

But as with his failure to object to the Howard Government’s systematic assaults on civil liberties in the name of counter-terrorism, plainly Brandis wasn’t concerned quite enough — not even to participate in the committee inquiry into the bill. He left it all to the now-departed Russell Trood.

The Greens amendments to restrict the effect of the expansion of ASIO’s powers were defeated 34-9. As the numbers suggest, a large number of senators couldn’t be bothered turning up to vote.

Still, at least ASIO can now spy on Julian Assange and Attorney-General’s bureaucrats can stop making up stuff about illegal fishing as a cover story.

See also : ASIO gets wider remit, to furious debate…only kidding, Robert Merkel, Larvatus Prodeo, July 5, 2011.

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