So...a minor shit-storm erupted down here in Australia at the beginning of last week when it was revealed in the press that certain individuals within the department of Defense had been, in effect, spying on the Australian Minister of Defense - a guy named Joel Fitzgibbon.
The intelligence apparatus at the core of this leaked information - the Defense Signals Directorate (who has since spent copious amounts of airtime backing away from any allegations) - had allegedly raised serious concerns about the relationship between Minister Fitzgibbon and a prominent, powerful Chinese businesswoman - Madame Helen Liu, which it was felt had serious implications for the national security interests of Australia.
Everyone worked themselves up into a lather initially, incensed that some apparently rogue elements in Defense had taken it upon themselves to conduct covert surveillance of the Minister - including phone taps, email and computer taps. This couldn't possibly happen in Liberal-Democratic Australia. Military intervention of this sort was the stuff of the former Soviet Union, Communist China, Dictatorial African Nations. We the people elect our Members of Parliament, not the Military!!
Initially the debacle threw up all kinds of paranoid ideologies and discussions about the apparently parlous state of relations between the Australian Defense Force (ADF) and the Defense Minister's office which is one of Australian politics worst kept secrets and bad enough in itself. The PM, Kevin Rudd, who has been off gallivanting around the globe meeting Obama and apparently saving the world from the KF...I mean the GFC...I mean the Kentucky Fried Crisis appeared to be gobsmacked with developments down under. He affirmed his support for the Minister and declared that Fitzgibbon was presiding over the biggest reform agenda in the ADF's history. The usual sort of guff that a PM spouts at a time like this.
There was a certain amount if detachment in PM Rudd's statement - it seemed to be lacking the sincerity I would have thought warranted...I'll explain that one further in a moment.
The shit got positively weird later in the week when the Minister was confronted by a journo and asked directly whether he had accepted any free travel from Madame Liu. Rather than just answer the fucking question, Fitzgibbon went into this five or so minute diatribe about how he and Madame Liu had been friends for some 15 or 16 years and that there had been the exchange of gifts on birthdays and at Christmases at various times and yada, yada, yada...
The bamboozled throng of media were left scratching there heads while the Minister looked like a complete, bloody dickhead. Later that day, Minister Fitzgibbon was forced to issue a "clarification". That, while in opposition Minister Fitzgibbon had indeed accepted free travel from Madame Liu - fully paid travel!! These trips taken in 2002 and 2005 are required to be declared by the Minister on a parliamentary register of pecuniary interests. That they weren't is less significant than the fact that he's tried to cover them up now.
What proceeded this monumental fuck up was much gnashing of teeth, sharp rebukes from both the PM and his deputy - whose holding the fort here while he's away, the usual calls from the opposition for him to be sacked and a truck load of embarrassment for the Minister, cos lets face it - the guy bullshitted BIG TIME.
It also raised concerns about Australia's relationship with China and just how much pull China is able to exert on Australia and Australian politicians who see Chinese investment in Australia's mining industry as the one thing that will save Australia from the eventual global recession. Our Mandarin speaking Prime Minister effuses glowing of China, every chance he gets to - most significantly this past week in America where he has been advocating strongly for China to be allowed a seat at the table of the International Monetary Fund.
Many are doubly concerned given just who China is - an avowed Communist state with an appalling human rights record and scant regard for the wellbeing of its citizens. It exerts an Orwellian grip on the freedoms of it's people and is generally pretty scary looking from the outside. I could spend a whole article alone examining just China is but I'll leave that you for because I am infinitely more interested in a small matter of process concerning the whole issue of who authorized the initial spying operation on Minister Fitzgibbon.
The pinnacle of talking heads TV on a Sunday down here is "Insiders" and for a political junkie like me it is required viewing. This week "Insiders" host Barry Cassidy interviewed a former Parliamentary Secretary of Defense in the Howard Government, Paul Barratt.
It was as though Cassidy had read my mind when he began asking Barratt directly as to how any instrumentality in Defense would instigate an covert intelligence gathering exercise.
Barratt, eloquently explained it this way.
If anyone had concerns whatsoever about the activities of a Defense Minister that were a threat to the national security, that individual would first have to raise the issue with the Parliamentary Secretary for Defense who would then raise these concerns further with the Minister himself. If the Parliamentary Secretary, having had that conversation with the Minister, was still concerned he would be obliged to advise the Minister of his intention to raise the matter further with the Parliamentary Secretary for Prime Minister & Cabinet.
Are you still with me??
If following the "conversation" with the Parliamentary Secretary for Prime Minister & Cabinet, there were still significant concerns then the Parliamentary Secretary for Prime Minister & Cabinet is then obliged to escalate the matter further to the Prime Minister himself who can then assess the gravity of the allegations. If, following that assessment, the PM has legitimate concerns for national security arising from the actions of one of his own Ministers then only he, the Prime Minister, has the authority to instruct the Defense/Intelligence apparatus - in Australia's case either ASIO, the DSD, ASIS or the AFP - to conduct an investigation - covert or otherwise - into that Minister.
So...in view of this and considering that PM Rudd and Defense Minister Fitzgibbon are supposed to be "great mates" is it likely that the PM was the instigator of this covert spying operation? And if he was was then what were his motivations for doing so?
Kevin Rudd's relationship with China is fast becoming the mirror image of our previous PM's relationship with the United States. So apparently fixated is Rudd upon cementing the relationship with China he has conducted secret meetings with Chinese officials which have been reported by Chinese media but were kept from our own media. In another time and place Rudd may well have been dubbed an 'arse licker' but I am not sure if that term applies to Chinese.
If one looks domestically at political allegiances can a case be made that Rudd and Fitzgibbon are rivals and that Rudd would want to drop Fitzgibbon in a great steaming pile of shit? I don't know but Joel Fitzgibbon was a former, staunch ally of prime ministerial aspirant Mark Latham who so sensationally crashed and burned in the lead up to the 2004 Federal Election when it seemed that he might actually do over Howard. The hatred between Latham and Rudd is legendary. Fitzgibbon was best man at Mark Latham's wedding.
See where I'm going with this?
As discussed earlier the relationship between the ADF top brass and the Defense Minister has been in the shitter for years. This has been exacerbated since the change of government in late 2007 when Minister Fitzgibbon embarked upon the most aggressive reform of Defense in it's history. There have been exposed, serious dysfunction's within the Department, highlighted most recently by the SAS Defense pay scandal and the foreshadowed massive budget cuts planned for the air warfare destroyer and the submarine program.
Personalities in the department are said to be dysfunctional on an almost diva like scale. Nick Warner, for example, secretary to Defense Chief Air Marshal Angus Houston is said to loathe Joel Fitzgibbon and Fitzgibbon for his part, was rumored to have sought Warner's scalp such was the antipathy between the two men.
It all becomes very convoluted but to return to my central question - did Rudd "drop Fitzgibbon in it" by authorizing covert surveillance of him to damage him?
Is it more likely that highly placed officials in Defense initiated a covert operation against Fitzgibbon to undermine him and damage him?
The revelations about the Minister's connections with Helen Liu were just a free kick that the Minister himself offered up, making himself look like a dickhead and a bullshit artist in one fell swoop.
The whole issue highlights an even more disturbing insight which, I am unsure that anyone has cottoned onto up until now. If we considered the whole chain of command structure and process highlighted by Paul Barratt in his interview on "Insiders" this past Sunday then the issue has exposed a serious dysfunction in the relationship between Defense and the Prime Minister himself. If the Prime Minister is supposed to have the final say on whether to allow an intelligence apparatus to spy on a elected parliamentarian and this was denied to him, then the Prime Minister is just as culpable as the Defense Minister in his failure to control his department.
A liberal-democracy such as Australia cannot tolerate its military apparatus running around with a paranoid hard-on spying on it's own government. Angus Houston, Nick Warner and any of those other individuals who had a part to play in this little "patriot game" should be sacked.
Joel Fitzgibbon should be sacked not for any other reason but for the fact he lied - badly. There was really no reason to. The best way to neutralize a situation where you are questioned about your links to a person of questionable background is to admit to the incident in question. As Harrison Ford's, Jack Ryan mused in the 1994 movie 'Clear & Present Danger' "It gives them (the media) nowhere to go".
So far as the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, is concerned - well the incident severely damages his authority. If he doesn't have a grip on either his Ministers or departments then how can he have a grip on the top job? This is the question that isn't being asked by anyone right now, because they are all too busy being obsessed with this whole "Red Terror" bullshit.
Meanwhile the ching chong chinamen are surely pissing themselves over this disgrace...