Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Cowardly behaviour at the Cole enquiry: C'mon surprise me!

Wheat "I don't have any specific recollection," said Alexander Downer – several times – on the dock at the Cole Inquiry. What a surprise! Like we thought he would suddenly break down and tell the truth – that the Australian government hand in glove with the AWB were completely aware they were screwing the Iraqi people who effectively paid via AWB for Saddam's nukes and gold-plated palaces.
Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer has begun giving evidence to the oil-for-food inquiry in Sydney. Mr Downer has said he does not have any specific recollection about seeing many critical cables about rorts of the oil-for-food program. His statement, just tendered to the inquiry, repeats that statement many times. Given the list of departmental cables relating to allegations against AWB, he has written: "I don't have any specific recollection of having received or read this cable." Often it adds: "I don't consider it was likely to be judged sufficiently pressing or critical to be shown to me." Mr Downer says he was generally aware of the allegations, but not aware of any intelligence on allegations against the grains trader. He says he would have expected his department to investigate allegations about money from contracts going to the Middle East and contracts being inflated to pay kickbacks.

John Howard has a real opportunity. Both Vaile and Downer now look tremendously incompetent and it dramatically reduces my opinion of their ability to lead. Leadership demands that you don't make assumptions that your staff should have told you when something important was afoot. After all, you as the leader, are fully aware of anything important that's afoot. Leadership demands that when a mistake has been made you accept responsibility for it. Real leadership also demands that when innocent people have been wronged, you tell the truth about it.

John Howard, you have an opportunity to shock me here and demonstrate true leadership, which neither Vaile or Downer could.

Note: I posted on this topic back in November, and if anything I'm madder about it now than then. At that point, I didn't fully comprehend how the money channelled to Saddam was sourced straight from the capite censi of Iraq (from their Oil-For-Food funds). Supporting the evil dictator guy is one thing. Stealing from the people with whom we apparently went to war to rid of their evil dictator is another thing!

Update: In case you didn't already see it, Tim D spotted a incredible yet cringe-worthy slip of the tongue on the part of Downer: "I rarely — er... I mean really — read the cables from New York". Really?

Update: In case you were wondering, Howard completely failed to surprised us when he spoke to the commission on this too.

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Fuel prices more worrying than child abuse

Child abuse victim, Masha High petrol prices are more of a concern for many Australians than child abuse, reports the ABC today (and I stole my headline from the article). Is it a surprise? It really depends on how the question was asked.

If you asked me "are you more worried about high petrol prices or child abuse?" I might instinctively say "petrol prices". I drive a car, don't have kids, have no exposure to child abuse. When I think hard I can recall my mum speaking in hushed tones about the topic with regard to another child attending the same school as us, but apart from that the issue simply hasn't crossed my path. So I'm hardly going to answer "actually, I'm more worried about child abuse than petrol prices". It would almost be a strange thing to say.

However, if you asked me "would you prefer 15 million dollars of the federal budget to be devoted to combating child abuse or 15 million dollars to be devoted to taking the sting out of rising oil prices?" I would much prefer it be spent on the former.

According to the same survey reported by ABC:
It also shows that 31 per cent would not believe a child if they said they were being abused and 16 per cent did not know if having sex with a 14-year-old person was sexual abuse.
Would you believe a child if they said they were being abused? What about the second question? Would you answer it correctly? Obviously there is a serious need out there for better education on the topic of child abuse!

Since we only just moved into our new office space this week, last week I had to work from home all week, while the move and renovations took place. So I was there when housemate #1 came home to eat lunch and was watching Oprah. The story was of a Russian girl – Masha – on the show she looked like she is in her early teens now. Her mother in Russia was mentally ill or something and tried to kill her. Her father was either dead or out of the picture so she went to an orphanage. At this point she was surely severely traumatised and vulnerable. But it got worse. At age 5, an American man came to adopt her – as if the fact the guy was single shouldn't start to raise alarm bells! She was sexually, physically and psychologically abused regularly until she was 11 or so and the FBI took the guy to prison. (I found a link to the story).

The point made by Oprah was that not one social worker had come to visit and check on the girl in those whole 5-6 years – even though he was a single "parent" and she an "adoptee"! The guy was only discovered by the FBI because he was trading kiddie porn online. This isn't Garry Glitter in Vietnam; this is in the US where human rights are apparently valued so much that it's unconstitutional to enforce the use of seatbelts! If this kind of thing can happen in the US for six years unchecked then I'm sure it is happening here too in Adelaide. And the stats testify to it.

It's probably time we stopped worrying about petrol prices and did start to worry more about protecting children, the most vulnerable people in society. It's one thing to say "oh these guys are sick, the scum of the earth", but it's probably not enough. In particular, the 31% of us who wouldn't believe a child who said he/she was being abused should wake up! I'm sure some minority of kids do make things up, but let's leave it to the child psychologist or social worker to determine if that's the case.

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Sunday, April 02, 2006

I can't see Uluru — there's a big rock in the way!

Uluru, Northern Territory, Australia Sometimes the best jokes are simply real life stories. I feel disappointed that I'm not regularly posting to this blog, but I hope you'll forgive me for using this to help keep it alive until I make blogging a routine instead of an ad hoc activity.

Courtesy of the best news service in Australia, the ABC – despite Helen Coonan's new attempts to castrate it – comes a story of a tourist lost in his own country:
A drink-driver has stopped police in central Australia to ask for directions to Uluru, just 100 metres from the world's greatest monolith. Police say the 44-year-old New South Wales man was driving a four-wheel drive when he waved them down near an intersection close to Uluru... ...the man's headlights were shining on the rock itself... ...although the incident took place in the dark, Uluru is 340 metres high and it is a 10 kilometre drive around its base. It casts an imposing shadow over the flat landscape around it...
Let's not forget 500 million years of evolution has led to the creation of this man. One wonders if it is possible that the universe is naturally designed to start reversing processes that start to get out of hand!

Image of Uluru courtesy of Jens Hültman.
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