Anyone who has ever had an argument would attest that there can be value in offering an apology even though you don’t really think you are completely in the wrong, just to get things back on track. It might be a valid strategy in relationships but I am not sure if it should apply to the running of the country.
Australia took a long time coming around to the question of an apology to the stolen generation. It was a moment I supported as the practices covered by that apology were not just endorsed but in many cases devised by the Commonwealth and States, with the added insult of being perpetrated against people who had had their nation pinched off them. That apology had meaning and depth in my eyes.
Tony Abbott, hardly a bleeding heart, put a solid conservative argument in favour of its delivery, saying it could help Australia draw a line under a difficult part of its history, whatever the arguments about its extent or intent, and let us all get on with life.
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We get the term regimented from the military, and it’s no secret the Australian Defence Force has one of the most ingrained, change-resistant cultures of any organisation.
So it was startling yesterday to hear the chief of the ADF David Hurley talking about the “intensely personal” experience of undergoing a review by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, and the need for “the spirit” of her recommendations about the place of women in the military to be implemented.
While Hurley and Defence Minister Stephen Smith were yesterday all embracing of a new “core value” for our military being the “equal treatment of women”, Broderick has gone much further than “equal treatment” and specifically called for in some cases special treatment.
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There is great resistance at senior levels of the military to the idea of a Royal Commission into decades of sexual abuse and bastardisation within the defence force.
The brass doesn’t want it. They don’t want the inconvenience and embarrassment. But they will find it hard to head it off now.
Defence Minister Stephen Smith, having lifted the lid on the issue by commissioning a crack team from the law firm DLA Piper to conduct a review, has little choice. If he fails to take action he will be a laughing stock.
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Among the multiple emergency exits built into the mighty C130 Hercules is one in the forward half of the aeroplane helpfully surrounded with the words “danger” and “propeller” in huge red letters.
It invites an interesting dilemma in an idle passenger’s mind. How bad would things have to be in here, to make using that exit worth the risk? It is the kind of dark thinking that occurs as one stares blankly at the internally netted walls of the Herc’s cavernous fuselage.
This military transport is designed for function over comfort. The noise during flight into a mostly hostile Afghanistan is deafening. Literally. As well as full body armour, passengers wear earplugs and each is thus cocooned in a strangely solitary world of sound and thoughts.
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Setting aside any questions of consent, it is hard to imagine a more bizarre or unpalatable violation of privacy than discovering that a moment of intimacy with your partner has been secretly filmed and broadcast for the titillation of others. This is the key fact at the centre of the Australian Defence Force Academy “skype” scandal, where an 18-year-old girl, a cadet at the military academy, slept with a guy who had a computer video camera rigged up in his room, creating a virtual porno for the amusement of his mates.
No-one is disputing that the incident occurred. Worse, no-one in defence seems to give much a damn about it either.
In Australia this week we have witnessed one of the more pathetic displays by senior members of our military and their allies in politics and the press, where the issue now seems to be not whether the girl deserves some kind of redress for a life-altering breach of privacy, but whether the military boss at the centre of the original investigation deserves his own little apology for being unfairly grilled over his handling of the scandal.
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The gallant defenders of Fort Fumble, AKA Defence HQ in Canberra, have heard the bugle call and trained their guns on a new enemy. Stephen Smith, they cry, is unfit for office and must resign as Defence Minister.
Smith has refused to apologise for accusing the Commandant of the Australian Defence Force Academy, Commodore Bruce Kafer, of an error of judgement during the so-called “Skype Affair”.
Andrew Kirkham QC, a barrister hired to inquire into the matter, disagreed with Smith’s characterization of the Commandant’s actions, so of course the minister is deemed to be wrong.
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Rising proudly from the rich green lawns between the main Defence Department buildings at one end of Canberra’s Kings Avenue stands an enormous concrete eagle atop a giant octagonal spire.
A gift from the Americans, the militarily erect structure brooks no ambiguity and invites no compromise. Its clean straight lines proclaim strength and purpose.
Its positioning is important too, across the basin of Lake Burley Griffin where it forms a counterpoint to the four-strutted flag of democracy over Capital Hill.
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It’s a pretty special set of circumstances when a tax-payer-funded body releases a series of reviews exposing decades of cultural problems, including 775 allegations of sexual assault, and the Minister is the one facing questions over why he won’t apologise for standing down one of the people in charge.
Last night on the ABC’s 7.30 Defence Minister Stephen Smith was asked in numerous ways why he wouldn’t apologise to Australian Defence Academy Commandant Bruce Kafer, who has been reinstated this week, 11 months after being stood down over the so called “Skype” scandal.
When the scandal broke, involving an 18-year-old woman cadet being filmed without her consent having sex, and the vision broadcast via the internet to some of her classmates, Smith went in pretty hard and fast.
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The Gillard prime ministership is like a badly scalded arm. The mildest touch can cause pain way out of proportion to the force behind the blow. Even when she does nothing unusual, remarkable or even particularly clumsy, the Government ends up screaming in agony.
So when Julia Gillard followed standard procedure by canvassing possible candidates for a Senate vacancy and for the post of Foreign Minister, there was an outcry over what was actually a light brush.
In broad terms, the suggestion is that Julia Gillard had decided former NSW Premier Bob Carr would fill the Senate slot and become Foreign Minister replacing Kevin Rudd, but was rolled by furious ministers led by Defence Minister Stephen Smith who wanted the job for himself.
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Labor MPs now feel condemned to an unhappy routine of Gillard Government advances crashing into the roadblock of the leadership standoff with Kevin Rudd.
Many are also despairing over the prospect that the only way to end instability caused by Kevin Rudd’s ambitions is to gratify them.
For many, that reward for all the trouble caused is unacceptable. Which means the next leadership change—and the odds of one happening are growing stronger—is likely to be from Julia Gillard to Bill Shorten or Stephen Smith. Not Kevin Rudd.
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The ongoing criticism of the Australian Defence Force’s deployed resources in Afghanistan, firstly by the 6 RAR Digger’s email and now also by a senior soldier in Townsville and a recently returned Officer, raise the real issue of the Government’s commitment to the fight.
Has the Government deployed every possible resource needed to achieve the mission?
In response to that now widely publicised email, Defence stated that the Commander on the ground at Deh Rawood had a range of direct and indirect fire assets at his disposal. The Commander chose to use some of those assets and others he did not, for a variety of reasons such as airspace deconfliction.
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NOW there will be a new Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, who will have the rotten task of taking to the podium with Air Chief Marshall Angus Houston to announce that yet another Digger has been killed in action.
Senator John Faulkner did it too many times.
It was clear from watching Faulkner that he truly hated these death calls. He appeared to feel almost too deeply the burden of being the minister in the government which has ordered its troops to fight.
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In the next few days we should know whether Julia Gillard or Tony Abbott will be the next Prime Minister.
Regardless of whoever prevails they should do the country a favour and appoint the leader they knocked off to be the country’s chief diplomat.
The position of Minister for Foreign Affairs, which for the moment at least also has trade tacked on, is a coveted portfolio. Unlike most other ministries it has traditionally involved dealing almost exclusively with matters core to the national interest with a lesser regard for the day-to-day trench warfare of politics. Until Kevin Rudd came along.
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Elections are rarely fought on matters of foreign policy, but Julia Gillard has a rare opportunity to dominate the scene through some simple manoeuvring.
In a few weeks time the Pacific Islands Forum will meet in Vanuatu. The annual talkfest brings together leaders of fourteen states in the region with a handful of other observers.
It seems unlikely on current posturing that the Prime Minister will attend the gathering. Even Foreign Minister Stephen Smith is doubtful saying he will make a decision closer to the date and assesses his attendance on a “case-by-case” basis. Something Alexander Downer, who attended both the 1998 and 2007 forums when they clashed with the election campaign, has rightly called an insult to the region. If the Prime Minister is really as tactful a politician as many think she will attend the forum.
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Julia Gillard has announced her new cabinet line-up today and it was pretty reflective of the new Prime Minister’s behaviour since taking the top job: smart and cautious.
Prime Minister Gillard has left Kevin Rudd to warm the backbench till after the election. It’s a harsh move but it’s a smart one given how angry Rudd must be at his cabinet colleagues at the moment.
Gillard has also not given in to the temptation to reward those MPs who were behind the Rudd coup, namely Victorian right faction leader Bill Shorten.
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As speculation mounts that ousted Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will become the new Foreign Minister, is there a better role out there for him in the world?
Kevin Rudd was known for appointing politicians of both sides to important positions overseas.
He shipped former Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson off to Brussels as an Ambassador when he was discarded as Opposition Leader. At the same time Kim Beazley who he knocked off as leader was predictably sent packing for the plum job in Washington.
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It doesn’t wash that high profile Western Australian politician Stephen Smith would be happy to forego the plum foreign affairs portfolio to make way for Kevin Rudd.
For a start, Mr Smith’s high profile in his home state and the capital Perth is critical to the party improving its electoral appeal in the west, and a demotion to a lesser portfolio would not sit well with the Liberal-leaning punters.
Taking any parochial state-based political thinking out of the equation, there’s also the national interest to think of.
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The old saying is true, you do have to watch the quiet ones. Derided by his former leader Mark Latham as a “rooster”, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith showed this week that he is a particularly lethal fighting rooster as he methodically dismantled his shadow, Julie Bishop, over the forged passport scandal.
The expulsion of the Israeli diplomat and the subsequent argument over whether Canberra had gone too far has been discussed at some length on The Punch and elsewhere.
All I will say about it here is that it was not an issue (and would probably never have become an issue) which was the subject of animated discussion in shopping centre food courts around Australia.
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The decision by a Shanghai court to sentence Stern Hu to ten years should teach us a lesson about the future of our relationship with China: Australia cannot expect to continue to reap the benefits of Chinese cash without periodically accepting some of its pernicious qualities.
Following the Hu sentence there will no doubt be a temptation to invoke what could be called the “Corby Protocol”, which assumes that whenever an Australian is arrested in a non-Western country they are ipso facto innocent and victims of a corrupt and dictatorial regime.
But in this case it would probably be in our interest to understand that while Hu has become a victim of the workings of the Chinese state and business, he was also very much a product of it. This was a position that up until this point had made him, and by extension Australia, very wealthy.
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In the latest development in the fake passport controversy, Britain has expelled a senior Israeli diplomat and demanded a public assurance that Israel will not misuse British passports again.
This is in response to Israel’s Mossad spy agency allegedly killing a Hamas leader in Dubai in January, with the assassination team using forged foreign passports, including at least three from Australia.
However, you don’t have to be a chest thumping, Alexander Downer-like armchair warrior who relishes assassination to realise that western countries, including Australia, are overreacting.
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