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Archive for July, 2007

The "secret" chat-room conversation

So, Kevin Andrews has made a highly selective disclosure of some of the previously unreleased information that shaped his decision about Haneef’s visa. Haneef’s lawyer claims that the chat-room conversation is not news to him or Haneef, as Haneef was questioned about it (any chance of a leak of that transcript?). Several initial observations and questions based on the reporting so far:

  • What language was the chat-room conversation in? i.e., is Andrews relying on a translation (in which case there could be issues with its accuracy) or was the conversation in English (in which case the question of language fluency and the potential misuse of words may be relevant).
  • Based on the information Andrews has provided, it seems that Haneef and his relatives in India became aware of the investigation of his cousins and the focus on Haneef’s SIM card before the police picked Haneef up (and while, if not before, he was arranging to leave Australia).
  • Does this establish that he was involved in the bomb plot? Not even close.
  • Does it establish that he was aware that his cousins might have been capable of planning and carrying out bombings when he gave away his SIM card? Not at all.
  • Are there explanations for the statements from the conversation other than that Haneef had been involved in the plot with his cousins? Quite possibly.

It is entirely possible that Haneef had prior knowledge or even involvement in the events that happened in the UK, but Andrews’ new information is hardly conclusive. There is discussion of the evidence going on at Larvatus Prodeo. Apart from the ongoing concerns about whether the evidence justifies canceling Haneef’s visa, I am left wondering about these issues:

  • It seems obvious that this information would never have been presented in a criminal prosecution, which is presumably why it was okay to be released. Andrews and Howard have indicated that other information cannot be disclosed because it could harm the ongoing investigation. To what extent has the disclosure of this kind of potentially prejudicial information, which would never have ben admitted as evidence in court, contaminated the prospects of a fair trial if the AFP’s “ongoing investigation” brings Haneef back to stand trial?
  • If nothing else, this whole affair demonstrates the breadth of discretionary power Kevin Andrews possesses under the Migration Act. The Solicitor-General’s support, which Andrews has been trumpeting, indicates that what he did could be considered appropriate under the law, but does that mean the law itself is appropriate?
  • None of the current discussion establishes why the decision to cancel the visa was made at the time it was made, i.e., as soon as bail had been granted. The question of the extent to which the executive decision intentionally or recklessly interfered with the criminal process is one that deserves to be addressed, but it’s going to be buried in the debate over the evidence itself.

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Accentuating the differences

It seems like today saw a push by Kevin Rudd to water down the “me too” criticisms of his similarity to Howard. The Labor announcements about removing cartoon characters from food advertising and giving greater discretion to the states in how they spend their Commonwealth funding were clearly intended to generate a response from the Government (and they did), highlighting to those voters who had started to wonder whether Kevin was a Howard clone that there are differences between them on policy – just not on many of the big-ticket items.

The nutrition-oriented ban on cartoon characters fits pretty well with the general image Rudd has been creating of a man who is looking out for everyday people. Is it too hard to buy a house? Are the grocery stores and petrol stations ripping you off? He’s Kevin, he’s from Queensland, and he’s here to help. I’m not convinced of the effectiveness of regulating food marketing in this way, but I also don’t think this policy was designed to be a vote-changer. It’s a fairly trivial initiative that mainly serves to create an apparent distinction between Labor’s approach and the Government’s.

The proposed changes to the state funding model seems a bit more substantial, but the other thing it does is to play into the recent focus on how state issues are being handled. Much has been made of the number of fronts on which the Howard government has been fighting the states. The approach of Howard and his Ministers has been to attempt to circumvent the states – pushing ahead with taking control of the Murray-Darling river system without agreement from Victoria, exploring bypassing the state governments in funding public housing, etc.

Rudd is hinting at an alternative approach where the states will have more discretion in how they direct funding into services but, according to Bob McMullan, will remain accountable for outcomes. I would imagine he can expect widespread support from the Premiers, which means that the relationship with the state governments seems to be a key discriminator between the PM and his opponent. It puts the ball back into Howard’s court to establish how his approach to the states will produce better outcomes, given that it will clearly have more conflict associated with it.

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Ruddock: Mistakes didn’t upset the Haneef case

Ruddock on 7:30 tonight said that the mistakes didn’t doom the Haneef case because it was going to be too difficult to make the case anyway.

Well then, that makes the public exposure, prolonged detention, canceled visa and questioned character much more acceptable.

UPDATE: Here are the relevant quotes from Ruddock:

And the Director of Public Prosecutions came to a view – and I’m not sure that many people understand this – that the one point in which it would be difficult for him to prove was that in 2006 at the time when the relevant Act, that is the handing over a SIM card for whatever purpose, that it was not to a terrorist organisation, or at least he couldn’t prove that it was handed over to what was a terrorist organisation at that point in time.

[snip]

He made the point that the errors were regrettable, but they didn’t go to the substance of the case.

So, it seems that Haneef was charged when the evidence could not support the charge – it was not new information that resulted in the charges being dropped, but just a re-thinking of the prospects of conviction. Isn’t this still an error by the Office of the DPP?

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Recent polls

Check out the links to The Poll Bludger for more info:

Galaxy: 54-46

Morgan: 59-41

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The SMH reports that Julie Bishop has sent a letter to the University of New England, threatening their funding under the Higher Education Workplace Relations Requirements if they allow staff a choice between being employed under the enterprise bargaining agreement or an Australian Workplace Agreement. So much for choice and flexibility – in higher education, neither the employers or employees are supposed to have that.

Universities are one of the most unionized sectors of the white-collar workforce. I suspect this is because, on the whole, academics appreciate the potential impact of power imbalance in relationships and they view collective bargaining as a remedy to the risk of staff being unfairly treated. Since university administrators have pretty much exclusively risen through the academic ranks, vice-chancellors tend to accept the role of the unions and collective bargaining in their workplace as well.

Since the introduction of the HEWRRs, it has been apparent that the Howard Government is singling higher education out as a sector where union involvement needs to be diminished. Originally, funding was tied to giving staff (new and continuing) the option of negotiating an AWA. But if neither employees nor the university management felt strongly about the need for individual agreements, who was going to bother? Now it looks like Bishop has decided that the universities need to be threatened some more so that they’ll move their staff toward AWAs, regardless of whether there is any desire to do so in the workplace.

While it might not have the visibility and the overt hostility of the 1998 waterfront dispute, this is the new face of the Government’s attempt to break down union influence in another industrial sector where collective bargaining has been the norm. This time, the Government can use the power of its purse to exert direct pressure on the universities – they don’t need to limit themselves to backing an employer like Patrick. However, another key difference is that hardly anyone in higher education wants to go down the path that Bishop is pushing them towards. The Howard Government has starved these institutions of funding, and now it is tying much of the available money to universities’ compliance with a set of regulations they did not initiate or endorse. It is meddlesome governing that is designed to shape the sector into a vision that is not consistent with the desires of the parties involved, nor with the Government’s rhetoric.

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Now that the Haneef prosecution has been dropped, those who previously thought everything was just fine have begun pointing their fingers at Kevin Andrews (even Mick Keelty – I wonder why he’s so keen to shift attention away from himself now?). Of course, a cynical (but, in my opinion, accurate) view is that those people are looking for a scapegoat to hang this all on – and while Andrews’ actions were reprehensible, he should not be the only one who feels they did not conduct himself properly.

However, the thing that amazes me is that Andrews is still running with the dodgy justifications that you might expect to see in a bad TV cop show:

His lawyers indicated to my department … that he wanted to get out of Australia as soon as possible. If anything that rather heightens, rather than lessens, my suspicions.

The bloke has been held for a couple of weeks without charge, then accused of supporting terrorists, then granted bail but told he would have to go to immigration detention instead, then told that even if he is not convicted of the crime (which carries a penalty of up to 15 years imprisonment) he’ll still be deported, then released but not given an apology and told that his visa is still under review and that his place of residence is no longer available and his gear is in storage,  and his wife and newborn child (who he has yet to see) are in India.

I think I would want to get out of this country as well, under those circumstances.

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Andrew Bolt tells his readers that “the Left” has blood on its hands because some former Guantanamo Bay detainees have resumed fighting against military forces in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan. As usual, he manages to completely misrepresent the views of those he opposes and ends up sounding foolish, but at least he goes at it with gusto:

The real scandal isn’t that the US has locked up suspects at Guantanamo Bay, but that it’s let so many of them go free – free to resume their terrorism.

How many people have now been murdered by fanatics set free from Guantanamo Bay, at the urging of so many civil libertarians and Leftist activists?

How many deaths do those civil libertarians now have on their conscience?

The true scandal is that both the prolonged detention and the release of so many “unlawful enemy combatants” has taken place outside the scope of any legitimate judicial system. The typical position of “the Left” has not been that all those suspected of fighting for Al Qaeda or the Taliban should be set free; it is that their detention should be justified by establishing their guilt and then, if successful, imposing an appropriate sanction. In other words:

  1. Detain them.
  2. Charge them.
  3. Provide them with access to legal counsel.
  4. Try them, subjecting the evidence that they are what you say they are to the scrutiny of the judicial process.
  5. If the case is proven, employ a judicial process determine appropriate sanctions (including detention/imprisonment).
  6. If the case cannot be proven, set them free.

The problem is that in holding the detainees indefinitely, without charge, without adequate legal or consular access, in inhumane conditions, while using torture and other techniques to extract information, the United States has created a situation in which detainees have only achieved freedom through non-judicial processes, e.g., the exertion of political pressure by countries such as the UK, who have objected to the treatment given to their citizens. If the detainees had been charged and tried in a reasonable timeframe then there would have been much less pressure to simply release some prisoners.

In other words, depriving Guantanamo detainees of their civil liberties in an attempt to present a strong front against the terrorist threat has actually undermined this goal. This is the same argument that has been made in relation to Mohamed Haneef’s case – the end result of being heavy-handed and showing disregard for due process, even with as grave a threat as terrorism, undermines the effectiveness of counter-terrorism strategies.

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