Wednesday, August 04, 2021

Official photo of Ben Roberts-Smith was altered to hide Crusader’s cross

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Men in warzones often embellish ther kit and Ben was not only one to do so. The crusaders were a powerful military force who defeated Muslim armies so the symbol is reasonable

Former special forces soldier Ben Roberts-Smith displayed a contentious Crusader’s cross on his uniform while on duty in Afghanistan, with the symbol later digitally removed by the Department of Defence in a widely distributed photo of the decorated war veteran.

The photo released by Defence at some time near January 2011 shows Mr Roberts-Smith wearing a blank patch on the front of his uniform after exiting a helicopter.

But The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age has obtained the original photo, which was taken on April 6, 2010, revealing Mr Roberts-Smith was in fact bearing the Crusader’s Cross.

Australia Defence Association executive director Neil James said displaying the symbol was “wrong morally” and “counterproductive”.

The symbol dates back to the 11th and 12th centuries when the Crusaders captured parts of the Middle East from Muslim control. Many Muslims find the cross to be offensive, particularly when displayed by western soldiers in their country.

A spokesperson for Defence said it “does not condone or permit the use, display or adoption of symbols, emblems and iconography that are at odds with Defence values”.

Mr James said wearing a Crusader’s cross was “simply unprofessional” and part of the poor cultural standards that were unearthed by the long-running Brereton inquiry.

“We know from the Brereton report that a lot of the things that were allegedly done were due to unprofessional actions,” he said.

“You’re fighting people motivated by Islamist extremism, and you’re in effect kicking an own goal by providing them with propaganda. That’s exceptionally dumb to do in a counter-insurgency war.”

Displaying symbols such as the Crusader’s cross or Spartan-style insignia was widespread within the ADF at the time the photo was taken. In 2018, then-Chief of Army General Angus Campbell issued a directive to commanders that they should stamp out all instances of “death symbology and iconography”.

Under Defence policy, the department can make minor alterations to images for reasons related to operational security or privacy concerns. According to Defence, it has been unable to identify at what stage in the approval process the image was modified and whether this occurred in Afghanistan or Australia.

Australian Federation of Islamic Councils executive member Mohammed Berjauoi said Western forces should not invoke the Crusades when conducting military activity in the Middle East.

“Whoever uses that symbol provokes Muslims and increases anger against the West. It is the wrong thing to do,” he said.

“It undermines the Australian policy, which calls for peace in the world. We know it’s not the policy of the Australian government – but one mistake like this upsets a lot of people and makes them really think about the role of the Australian government in the Middle East.”

The altered image of the former SAS corporal was among several that were publicly released to coincide with the presentation of the Victoria Cross to Mr Roberts-Smith in 2011 and was published on the Defence image gallery. It has been published by multiple media outlets over the past decade, including News Corp papers and The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, as well as the Australian War Memorial.

A spokesperson for the AWM said the image with the blank patch was “supplied by the Department of Defence to the Australian War Memorial and is the only version held by the Australian War Memorial”.

“The photo was available to view on the Memorial webpage soon after the accession date in February 2011 and remained online until it was removed on 01/04/2021 when its status was changed as part of an internal collection management process,” the AWM spokesperson said.

The Australian Federal Police is currently investigating Mr Roberts-Smith over allegations he committed war crimes and intimidated war crimes witnesses. Mr Roberts-Smith has denied all wrongdoing and launched a defamation action against The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald over reports that he allegedly committed murder on deployments to Afghanistan.

The Brereton inquiry, which last year found credible evidence of 39 unlawful killings of Afghan civilians or prisoners by Australian soldiers who were not named, raised the alarm about a “warrior culture” within Australia’s special forces and “the clique of non-commissioned officers who propagated it”.

“Special Forces operators should pride themselves on being model professional soldiers, not on being ‘warrior heroes’,” Justice Paul Brereton said.


Alan Jones column pulled from The Daily Telegraph amid anti-lockdown, COVID-19 controversies

News Corp’s Sydney tabloid The Daily Telegraph will stop publishing columns from controversial broadcaster Alan Jones after weeks of anti-vaccination and anti-lockdown commentary.

Sources said The Daily Telegraph’s editor Ben English has informed Jones his column will no longer appear in the Sydney-based publication. The sources said the decision was made on the basis that the column failed to resonate with readers, a claim that Jones rejects.

Jones publishes a weekly column for The Daily Telegraph (which appears in The Gold Coast Bulletin and Courier Mail), and also writes a column for The Australian’s sports pages. He has not published a column in The Daily Telegraph since last Thursday. His column in The Australian usually appears on Friday.

News Corp declined to comment.

Jones confirmed he was no longer publishing the column, but denied that it wasn’t resonating with readers.

“If the argument has been it’s not resonating, I don’t have to defend myself,” Jones told The Sydney Morning Herald.

“Have a look at Sky News YouTube, Sky News Facebook and Alan Jones Facebook and you can see. The same column that I write for the Tele goes up on my Facebook page.

“The public can check it for themselves. Thirty-five years at top of the radio and I don’t resonate with the public? Honestly.”

The end of Jones’ column follows another period of intense scrutinyon the veteran radio broadcaster, including fierce criticism from his former colleagues such as Ray Hadley and the ABC’s Media Watch program.

Hadley, 2GB’s mornings host who worked with Jones for decades, stepped up his war against the veteran broadcaster this week, describing his conduct as “scurrilous, contemptible and undignified”. 2GB is owned by Nine, the owner of this masthead.

“On Sky News every night Alan Jones is an apologist for these thugs,” Hadley said. “Let me tell you something, half of what Alan says is very well researched. The other half is bullshit.”

Earlier this month, Hadley said Jones was doing himself, Sky News and the Australian public “a great disservice” after he used British data to suggest the Delta strain of COVID-19 was far less dangerous than the original virus. Sky News was forced to correct the record after a Media Watch episode exposed Jones and Craig Kelly’s misleading information about COVID-19, vaccination safety and the Delta strain.

When Jones appeared on air with KIIS FM’s Kyle Sandilands and Jackie “O” Henderson, the radio company beeped out some of his claims about the coronavirus pandemic after he used the opportunity to rail against the current NSW lockdowns.

Jones says he does not believe his comments are controversial and argues that he removes himself from the topic and only cites experts. Jones has received the first dose of AstraZeneca.

Sources familiar with English’s decision said he had been considering replacing the column for some time, as it was not resonating with readers. But others indicated Jones’ commentary in recent weeks had contradicted News Corp’s pro-vaccination news coverage, and that was likely the reason for the change of heart.

The end of the column also coincides with Jones’ contract negotiations with Sky News. Jones began a four-night-a-week program on Sky News following his exit from 2GB breakfast radio last July. The Australian has reported his contract will expire in November. The negotiations are expected to begin next week.

Jones has spoken about the possibility of a return to radio multiple times in recent weeks. He floated the idea with KIIS FM breakfast stars Sandilands and Henderson, and more recently his former colleague, John Laws, who runs a show on 2SM. Jones also told The Australian he would consider a comeback. However, it is unlikely that such a move would result in him running a breakfast show against his 2GB replacement, Ben Fordham.

The likelihood of a return would also depend on whether a company believes it can still get support from advertisers with Jones back on air.


Why this document could change racial identity politics at Aussie universities forever - as Aboriginal Australians are forced to PROVE they are Indigenous

A regional Australian university will demand more proof that students are Aboriginal if they want to claim places meant for Indigenous candidates.

Newcastle University in the New South Wales Hunter Valley has introduced new measures to ensure Indigenous resources are going to those who need them.

The university already requires students to provide documentary proof of their Indigenous ancestry if they apply to access particular programs and services.

They must now also produce written evidence they are accepted by the community to which they claim to belong and have their identity assessed by a panel of experts.

Newcastle University has one of the nation's most stringent vetting processes to reduce the number of so-called 'box-tickers' who falsely claim to be Indigenous.

It also has one of the the highest Indigenous enrolments of any Australian tertiary institution, with more than 1,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

Associate Professor Kathleen Butler, head of the university's Wollotuka Institute, said further procedures were introduced this year to meet demands from the Indigenous community.

'There's an expectation that we're going to be the guardians of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander money and make sure that it's going to genuine students that are in need,' Associate Professor Butler said.

'I think that there's a broader community expectation as well that people who are receiving the funding are genuine.'

The move comes as the number of Australians who identify as Aboriginal continues to soar and amid concerns over what has been labelled Indigenous identity fraud.

More Australians self-identify as Indigenous in each successive Census than can be accounted for by birth rates, in a phenomenon also known as 'race-shifting', which distorts official records.

Daily Mail Australia has reported some 'race-shifters' are taking positions meant for Indigenous Australians and that the practice is particularly prevalent in academia and the public service.

According to federal government guidelines, a person is considered Indigenous if he or she is of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent, identifies as such, and is accepted by their community.

Associate Professor Butler said Newcastle University was putting a greater focus on that third 'community' criteria.

'It's really about not just biologically do you have an Aboriginal heritage but it's about do you live it,' she said.

'The core value has always been it's not enough to just be of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent, you also have to have that lived experience in community and the acceptance by your community.

'That's always at the heart of the government's three-point definition but it's not how it has always been implemented in practice, nationally.'

A spokesman for the Department of Education, Skills and Employment told Daily Mail Australia: 'Verifying student and staff identities are matters for individual universities.'

Associate Professor Butler said Newcastle University's procedures for verifying identity had been refined over the years.

'I think for some universities they accept a statutory declaration,' she said. 'We have never accepted a statutory declaration.

'At every turn we've asked for something external to the individual but I don't think it would be fair to say that we've ever centralised it.'

Newcastle University's identity requirements apply to any applicant seeking access to study programs, student services or other opportunities specifically available to Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Australians.

They also apply to 'identified positions' for staff roles set aside for applicants who are Indigenous.

All applicants have to complete an 'Establishing Aboriginality and/or Torres Strait Islander Status Form'.

To prove they are of Indigenous descent an applicant can provide original or certified copies of birth records and/or evidence of an immediate family member's confirmed Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander status.

Immediate family members are parents, siblings or grandparents. Birth records need to show the relationship between an applicant and a relative recognised as Indigenous.

Alternatively, an applicant can produce a letter confirming their Indigenous status signed by an executive leader of an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander organisation, such as a local land council.

The applicant must then prove they are accepted by the community in which they live or have lived, with a letter signed by a prominent member of an incorporated Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander organisation.

'Not just anyone can write it,' Associate Professor Butler said. 'To have that institutional letterhead you have to be recognised with some standing in the community.'

Where any doubt remains, the onus will be on the applicant to prove their Indigenous status.

'Of course it's quite bureaucratic and some people say, "I shouldn't have to provide that level of proof" and we understand people's feelings,' Associate Professor Butler said.


Australia Is the Canary in the Coal Mine of Eroding Liberty

Over the weekend, Australians protested against a new round of lockdowns imposed to curtail the spread of the latest COVID-19 variant. Police arrested dozens of participants, vowed to hunt down more, and threatened mass arrests in the event of future acts of dissent. It was a chilling reminder of how far a nominally free country can fall when the public panics and officials see opportunity to expand power.

"Anger is growing in Australia as 13 million people – about half the population – endure fresh lockdowns to quash Covid outbreaks," the BBC reported last week. "A third state went into lockdown on Tuesday. Stay-at-home orders are now in place in South Australia, Victoria and parts of New South Wales."

"You must stay home," the government of New South Wales, where Sydney is located, starkly commands residents of the city. "Only leave your home if you have a reasonable excuse."

Unsurprisingly, those exhausted by a year-and-a half of restrictions on travel, commerce, and other forms of human activity took to the streets. Thousands of protesters flooded into Sydney to express their dissatisfaction with restrictive government policies. They were met with a heavy police presence and dozens of arrests—and threats to round up anybody who returns.

"There is some information on the internet at the moment about a potential protest this Saturday," huffed Michael Fuller, the Police Commissioner of New South Wales. "You will be arrested and prosecuted. The community has spoken about that behavior. The Premier has spoken about that behavior and it won't be tolerated again."

While the protest featured some violence (as did similar demonstrations elsewhere in the world) officials made clear that the behavior they won't tolerate is public dissent. Civil liberties may have a place, the powers-that-be suggest, but they must give way to more important concerns.

"Covid-19 has given rise to extraordinary emergency powers that would previously have been unacceptable to Australians," Lydia Shelley and John Coyne of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute warned earlier this month about the need to better balance civil liberties with security priorities. "Australia is already conducting secret trials behind closed doors and allowing law enforcement raids on journalists' homes and on our national broadcaster," they added about developments predating COVID.

"A good 18 months into the pandemic, the nation is still trapped in April 2020," agrees James Morrow, federal political editor for Sydney's Daily Telegraph. "Australians need permission from the federal government to leave the country—applications succeed about half the time—and Australia's states throw up their borders against one another at the slightest hint of trouble."

What's remarkable is how quickly Australia has fallen. Just months ago, as reports from The Economist, Freedom House, and the University of Gothenburg's V-Dem Institute tracked the eroding health of liberal democracies in recent years, accelerated by authoritarian pandemic policies, Australia seemed to be holding on more effectively than countries including France and the United States. Admittedly, it wasn't so much swimming upstream as losing ground more slowly, but that was something.

Recently, though, Australia's decline has accelerated with remarkably little opposition. The Sydney Morning Herald even ran a piece headlined: "'Missing in action': What happened to the civil liberties movement?" about the tepid pushback against pandemic restrictions.

"We don't have much of a human rights culture, unlike, for example, Canada and America and Europe," Sarah Joseph, a professor of human rights law at Griffith University, told the newspaper in explanation.

"Australia also has no tradition of liberty in a sense Americans might understand, and appeals to freedom are looked at suspiciously," confirms Morrow.

One problem is that Australia has no Bill of Rights to which a liberty-concerned minority can turn when politicians push restrictions on freedom that enjoy at least temporary popular support, as they have in the United States as well as Australia. Some Australians even boast about that absence.

"The essence of my objection to a Bill of Rights is that, contrary to its very description, it reduces the rights of citizens to determine matters over which they should continue to exercise control," former Prime Minister John Howard told an audience in 2009. "I also reject a Bill of Rights framework because it elevates rights to the detriment of responsibilities."

True, constitutional protections for rights shield individuals from majority preferences—which is their whole purpose. In the U.S. during the pandemic, that has meant courts invalidate lockdowns, eviction moratoriums, and restrictions on private schools, even when a panicked public latches on to promises of safety. That's important partially because authoritarian dictates make trade-offs that many people wouldn't choose for themselves, and also because such impositions often prove to be ineffective.

Nor is this the first time protections for liberty have taken a turn for the worse in the land down under. As mentioned by Shelly and Coyne, Australian Federal Police raided media offices in 2019 after a series of embarrassing stories about military misconduct and domestic surveillance. The government also holds some trials in secret under the cloak of national security.

In 2018, the country's government gained the power to force access to encrypted communications and even to compel private companies to build in back doors. Anybody planning a new anti-lockdown protest via email or text messages should keep in mind that Big Brother might be watching.

"The truth is that, without constitutional guarantees, the measure of our freedom of expression has become that which remains after all the laws that restrict the right have been taken into account," Gillian Triggs, president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, noted during a 2014 Free Speech Symposium.

None of this should be taken as grounds for complacency on the part of Americans who want to pretend that liberty is more secure here. The United States might have stronger constitutional protections for liberty, but that only slows the decline if the culture embraces authoritarianism—it's not an absolute barrier. Pandemic restrictions are popular with much of the public here, too. The surveillance state is alive and well in America. And the health of liberal democracy in our country has eroded in recent years as Americans turn against each other.

Australia is suffering a surge of authoritarianism, in part because of its lack of constitutional protections for liberty. But developments down under may be showing where America is going.




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