Saturday, July 07, 2007

Shooting the messenger: Federal government piles stupidity on top of stupidity

Aside from anything else, isn't this a great way to get journalists onside just before an election? This will mainly be the doing of petulant bureaucrats who don't like their negligence being shown up but if the government has any sense it will rein them in

The Howard Government is at the centre of a new scandal over the public's right to know, after Federal Police confirmed they would lay criminal charges against journalists for exposing security breaches at Sydney airport. But Deputy Prime Minister and Transport Minister Mark Vaile last night denied any involvement in the decision by AFP to charge two Daily Telegraph staff with trespass over a report on airport security lapses. The two men now risk a criminal record for revealing lax security at Sydney airport.

It is the third case this year in which federal departments or corporations overseen by the Howard Government have used the law to target journalists and their sources. The Daily Telegraph was told yesterday that reporter Justin Vallejo and photographer Toby Zerna would be charged with trespass after their report exposed how vulnerable Sydney airport is to a terrorist attack in the lead-up to APEC.

To the embarrassment of security services and the Federal Government, it is alleged the two men were able to walk into the airport's most sensitive areas last month with little more than a driver's licence and an airport contact.

Opposition homeland security spokesman Arch Bevis said it was the latest example of the Federal Government shooting the messenger instead of solving the problem. Mr Bevis said that almost six years after 9/11 and two years after the release of the damning Wheeler Report into national aviation security, there was still no screening of cargo on passenger flights and no screening of passengers on regional flights. "The Government can act quickly when they shoot the messenger. It's a pity they can't act as quickly to fix airport security problems identified in the Wheeler report," Mr Bevis said.

The Daily Telegraph revealed last month that all it took to obtain a 24-hour pass to enter the airport was to have an Aviation Security Identification Card passholder request a visitor's pass. There were no background or criminal history checks, no metal detectors, no searches and no explosives or drug dogs. With such a pass, you can walk through one of dozens of "back door" security gates.

After The Daily Telegraph report was published, Mr Vaile used Federal Parliament to name the man involved in the alleged breach as Sam Crosby, who aside from his TWU position is also president of Australian Young Labor. Mr Crosby holds an Aviation Security Identification Card and went public with legitimate safety concerns. In his attack, Mr Vaile boasted that the Sydney Airport Corporation had contacted the AFP to have Mr Crosby charged but did not say anything about whether the journalists would also face charges.

A spokeswoman for Mr Vaile yesterday said the so-called breach was referred by Sydney airport to the AFP and any subsequent action was a matter for them and the courts. The spokeswoman denied that the minister played any part in seeking the AFP to act. Vallejo and Zerna have been charged with trespassing on Commonwealth land and entering a secure area without lawful purpose. They carry total maximum fines of $1650. The AFP confirmed another two people had also been issued with court attendance notices.


Two Muslim bombers were rejected for hospital jobs in Australia -- but fine for Britain's good old NHS!

Two of the men arrested over the weekend terror attacks in Britain applied to work as doctors in Western Australian but were rejected - and at least one is related to the young Gold Coast doctor set to spend a week in secure custody.

As new links emerged in the car bomb investigation last night, a Brisbane magistrate gave police approval to detain Mohamed Haneef - arrested at Brisbane airport on Monday night on suspicion of being connected to a terrorist group - for another four days. Dr Haneef is the cousin of Sabeel Ahmed, 26, one of seven suspects detained in Britain, and may have been related to another suspect arrested when a Jeep Cherokee exploded at Glasgow airport.

The West Australian branch of the Australian Medical Association, which runs a recruitment agency in the state, last night revealed that Dr Ahmed and his brother Kafeel had applied for work but had been rejected. Dr Haneef and Sabeel Ahmed worked together in Britain. According to reports, Kafeel is also known as Khalid Ahmed, who suffered life-threatening burns when he drove the Jeep packed with petrol and gas canisters into the Glasgow terminal building.

London's The Daily Telegraph said Dr Haneef and the two Ahmed brothers were born and raised in Bangalore, India, and graduated with medical degrees from the Rajiv Gandhi University.

AMA state president Geoff Dobbs said the association had also rejected an application from Gold Coast doctor Mohammed Asif Ali, who worked with Dr Haneef and drove him to the airport before the suspect's laptop was found in his car. "We believed their qualifications and references did not meet the standards required in Western Australia," Professor Dobbs said, adding that one of the three had made repeated applications for work. The Medical Board of Western Australia last night refused to comment on the case, while its Queensland equivalent offered no fresh information.

Before leaving Britain last year, Dr Haneef left his mobile phone SIM card with Sabeel Ahmed. Reports suggest the prime suspect in the bombings, Jordanian-trained doctor Mohammed Asha, contacted Dr Haneef via email and text messages. Dr Haneef's family insist he is innocent.

The eight detained suspects are doctors or have medical links, and a British cleric claims to have been warned by an al-Qa'ida figure in Iraq in April that "those who cure you will kill you". Police found suicide notes left by the occupants of the Jeep, which allegedly indicated they intended to detonate the vehicle while still inside. Allegations emerged that Bilal Abdulla, a suspected passenger in the Jeep, was associated with a hardline Muslim group in 2004.

Police have been interviewing Dr Haneef's colleagues, some of whom trained in India and worked in Britain, amid fears of a "sleeper cell" in Australia. The case has renewed debate over overseas-trained doctors and prompted Queensland Senate candidate and One Nation founder Pauline Hanson to call for free medical degrees for Australians to bolster the system.


Australia's home-grown jihad threat

UP to 3000 young Muslims in Sydney alone are at risk of becoming radicalised by fundamentalist Islam as community leaders warn that Australia has become a "prime country" for hardliners pushing extremist ideologies. Howard government-funded research has also found there are more young Muslims per capita who are vulnerable to the influence of radical Islam in Australia than in any other western country.

The revelations came as John Howard warned that Australians needed to remain vigilant about the threat of terrorism. While Australia's security threat level would not be heightened following foiled terrorist attacks in Britain since Friday, the Prime Minister criticised those who sought to play down or dismiss the danger of an attack on home soil. "What is happening in Great Britain is a reminder to all of us that, despite all the talk on occasions from some that the threat of terrorism is exaggerated in our society, it is not, and we must remain vigilant," he said. "It is just a reminder again that we can't rest, we have to remain vigilant."

The federal Government's project looking into the radicalisation of young Muslims is headed by a former member of Mr Howard's Islamic advisory board, Mustapha Kara-Ali, who yesterday warned that Australia's mainstream community should not take comfort in the fact that a terrorist attack has not yet been carried out on our shores. He praised the efforts of national security agencies in arresting 22 alleged Melbourne- and Sydney-based terrorism suspects in November 2005. "We're finding out that per capita we've got a huge number of young Muslims (vulnerable to radicalisation) compared to other countries where there's a bigger community but yet relatively the same number of extremist youth," he said.

Mr Kara-Ali - who was given a $200,000 grant by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship in June last year to investigate the radicalisation of young Muslims in Sydney's southwest - told The Australian there were up to 3000 young Sunni Muslim in that region of the state who were part of "ideological sleeper cells" on the brink of becoming radicalised. "I believe in Sydney alone there's about 2000 and 3000 young Muslims vulnerable to being radicalised," he said. "There are ideological sleeper cells waiting to be completely radicalised. Because radicalisation ... is to act upon your extremist teachings."

Mr Howard said September's APEC summit in Sydney and the World Youth Day next July would have the "inconvenience" of appropriate security, but altering or cancelling the events would be a victory for terrorists.

Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd yesterday called on Mr Howard to implement a recommendation in the 2005 Wheeler report regarding the screening of cargo on passenger flights after two men tried to drive a blazing Jeep through the doors of the Glasgow airport terminal on the weekend. "Terrorism represents a threat to all civilised countries including Britain, including Australia, and therefore it is incumbent upon Australia to make sure that all practical measures are in place when it comes to dealing with any terrorist threat on our shores," he said. "I would again ... implore the federal Government to examine very carefully their commitments to implement fully the Wheeler report when it comes to airport and airline security, particularly that which goes to the whole question of the proper screening of air cargo travelling on passenger jets."

Mr Kara-Ali said his project would publish a 100-page guide book - The Way Forward for Australian Muslims: A Good Practice Guide for Building Identity and Resisting Radicalisation - which is currently under review and is expected to be distributed in Sydney's southwest this month....

Mr Kara-Ali said hardline clerics in Australia were continuing to exploit community divisions and global political hotspots such as the Palestinian territories and Iraq to recruit young Muslims between the ages of 15 and 25. "Australia is a prime country for radicalisation," Mr Kara-Ali said. "Because the Muslim community in Australia is still new, there isn't a strong established Islamic order and that means the (fundamentalist) Wahabi movement can penetrate the community further and recruit more at ease than they would be able to do in the Middle East, where there is an establishment - a traditional Islamic order in place - which would resist them."

Prominent Sydney Muslim cleric Khalil Shami said yesterday an attack by Islamists on home soil would further damage Australia's Islamic community, which has grown by 69.4 per cent to 340,400 in the decade to 2006. "An attack in Australia would harm the Muslims more than anyone, because the Australian Government has opened its eyes on all the Muslims - they have their names, their addresses and know every movement of Muslims," said the imam, who is also a federal police chaplain.


The United States and Australia push freer trade

Top trade officials from the 21-member Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum gathered in the [Australian] northeastern city of Cairns on Thursday for two days of talks, with the near-collapse of world trade talks looming in the background. The United States and Australia want the Pacific Rim countries, which represent half of world economic output, to sign off on a statement they hope will breathe life back into the stalled global trade talks.

The U.S. trade representative, Susan Schwab, said the APEC bloc could be a powerful voice in upcoming negotiations at the World Trade Organization in Geneva. "If APEC is able to make a statement as a group, then that is likely to influence the outcome in Geneva," Schwab told reporters. Schwab said Wednesday that Washington would also push APEC toward establishing a free-trade zone around the Pacific Rim, though she said this was a long-term goal. "Our first priority here will be to advance the Doha round's prospects," Schwab said.

The latest attempt to revive talks in the so-called Doha round failed in Germany last month when the WTO's four biggest powers - the United States, European Union, Brazil and India - could not break a six-year logjam between rich and poor countries over eliminating barriers on farm produce and manufactured goods. The impasse has left in limbo a new world trade pact aimed at adding billions of dollars to the global economy and lifting millions of people out of poverty.

Schwab said she planned to use the APEC meeting to seek consensus among the forum's fast-emerging economies on how best to continue the Doha negotiations. "Will Thailand or Singapore or Chile or Peru or Mexico or Korea want to say that the very rigid, inflexible, low ambition position taken by India and Brazil represent their interests? I think the answer that is no," she said.

Brazil and India criticize Washington for failing to offer deep enough cuts in the billions of dollars of subsidies it pays annually to U.S. farmers, while the EU and Washington say the two emerging economic powers refuse to offer new market opportunities for manufacturing exports......

Trade ministers, Schwab, said, spent several hours Thursday discussing how APEC can have the best impact on the Doha round, and to ensure that new negotiating texts being drawn up at the WTO in Geneva will be ambitious.


No comments: