“Self-help” for public servants

“Self-help” books for public servants – gimme a break!

Not a day seems to pass when my blood isn’t boiling and my heart rate isn’t soaring to stratospheric levels. This week I’m mad as hell, to coin a phrase from a popular TV show, about the NSW Government’s decision to spend about $600,000 to buy 90 “self-help” books for civil servants.

Finance, Property and Services Minister Victor Dominello supported the purchase – using taxpayer’s money, of course – because the books offered “powerful lessons in personal change”.

Services Minister Victor Dominello

Dominello, Liberal MP for Ryde, staunchly defended the “staff development programme” for the staff of Service NSW. The programme will be shared by 2,300 staff over the next two years, according to Dominello, who said he was conscious of making a “cost benefit” on behalf of the taxpayer.

Really? It’s so simple. Tell your staff at the Finance Department that they are “public servants” whose duty is to serve the public – developing public policy, delivering public services, answering questions and giving a simple explanation of how the services work.

Not only did the crazy expenditure annoy me, but the media gave no information on the title of the book, who wrote it, what company published it, the names of the directors of the publishing house and what connections they may with the major political parties.

Why weren’t we told? Sloppy journalism, incompetent journalism or cowardly journalism? Or a bit of all three?

Today’s scribblers never want to inflict any serious damage on the thieves and miscreants who are ripping off the public purse; the media will take a story just so far and then drop off when it gets too close to the bone. It’s pathetic.

Anyone for rock melons?

Contaminated rock melons have been linked to the deaths of four people and up to 12 more are facing serious or critical illness.

Government ministers and the media have supplied very limited information on the scandal. We are told the “rockies” were grown on a farm in the Riverina, NSW, and that they were contaminated with listeria.

But who owns the farm? Is it owned by a single person, a business partnership, a major private company or an overseas food group? How did toxic listeria come to contaminate the fields? How was it introduced? Can the listeria infection spread to other rock melon farms or other fruit and vegetables?

On these questions, we hear nothing; the media is too busy chasing trivia about the sex lives of politicians and “celebrities”.

Barnaby capers

Journalists, commentators and editorial writers will tell you that the role of the “free press” is to “hold accountable” ministers, the government and politicians.

The trouble is they don’t do it. They let politicians off the hook all the time.

Every political journalist covering the Barnaby Joyce resignation from Parliament and the subsequent by-election knew that the Deputy Prime Minister had left his wife and was having an affair with a staffer. When he campaigned for a “No” vote in the postal survey to legalise same sex marriage, they all knew his position was hypocritical and shamefully two-faced. But they went along with the fiction.

Meanwhile they are quite happy to cover up other sexual liaisons involving past prime ministers, deputy prime ministers and Cabinet ministers; some affairs are still occurring to the present day.

Rupert Murdoch

If the parties are adults and the sex is consensual it’s no one’s business but those involved. The prurient witchhunt being mounted by the News Ltd media empire owned by four-times-married Rupert Murdoch is so hypocritical it’s difficult to know whether to laugh or cry.

Anyone who has paid any attention to his satellite operations in London (phone-hacking) and New York (serial sexual bullying by senior executives, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly et al) will be wondering how come News Ltd operations in Australia are so different by being so squeaky clean.

But let’s not spoil the party: the Turnbull government has just given permission for Murdoch to merge Foxtel and Fox Sport in Australia, giving Murdoch a 65% majority interest in the pay TV giant.

Let’s celebrate with another bottle of Bolly, thanks, and will someone fill Jerry Hall’s glass. In case you hadn’t noticed, all News Ltd media – 70% of newspapers in Australia – have just shifted to Turnbull when the next Federal Election is called. During the campaign, Bill Shorten and Labor can expect a flogging in the Murdoch press.

MI6 bungles again

In London, Russian Colonel Sergei Skripal, who was recruited by Britain’s MI6 in the 1990s, was poisoned with a nerve agent.

Sergei Skripal arrested in Russia

Skripal, aged 66, was jailed in Russia on espionage charges but released from a Moscow jail in 2012 as part of a prisoner exchange when 10 American spies were freed in a secretly arranged deal.

One of the freed Americans was Anna Chapman, a Manhattan socialite and daughter of a high-ranking Western diplomat.

While Ms Chapman returned to New York, Skripal flew back to London to continue his espionage career working for MI6 under cover at the Royal United Services Institute, a think tank.

When he was poisoned this week in a park near Zizzi’s restaurant in Salisbury, a traditional military city in Hampshire, Skripal was accompanied by his 33-year-old daughter Yulia who was gassed too.

Naturally, “Russkies” and President Vladimir Putin were immediately blamed. This forms part of an official Western policy of heating up a new Cold War with Russia [I thought it had collapsed along with the USSR 25 year ago – AM]. I have no knowledge of who is responsible but I’ve been around long enough not to believe the “official” version of events. In many cases, it turns out that they were lying through their teeth.

In any case, call me old-fashioned, but I still believe in the presumption of innocence until some hard proof comes along.

To me, this whole affair smells of yet another MI6 bungle. A major espionage asset, Skripal, has been attacked in a public park at what the media describes as a “secret location” (!) and so was his daughter.

Where were his bodyguards? Who manufactured the nerve gas? What country produces it? How did the would-be assassins obtain it? What spy services use it? Has it ever been used before against human targets?

Prime Minister Theresa May and Foreign Minister Boris Johnson have ordered Scotland Yard and MI6 to investigate. Watch for an official cover-up and then wait another 10 years for some MI6 memoirs to be published.

Palestinians in policy pivot

Leading Palestinians have decided to junk the failed diplomatic policy that they pursued for half a century against their arch-enemy Israel.

They have ditched the two-state policy and returned to the PLO’s founding mission of a single multi-national secular state for Moslems, Jews, Christians and non-believers.

A new body has been established called the One State Foundation to be based in The Hague to “pursue a path to a genuine and all-encompassing solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict”.

The foundation has been described as an initiative of “individual Palestinians, Israelis and internationals” but it could not have been launched so successfully without a “nudge” from moderate sections of the PLO leadership.

Frustrated by years of “wrecking ball” diplomacy by Tel Aviv against the two state “road map”, a section of PLO opinion has clearly decided to “go back to basics” and talk to Israeli and world opinion about a single state in which second-class citizenship and apartheid would not be allowed to exist.

Palestinian academic Hamada Jaber from the Ramallah-based Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research has become the public face of the foundation.

“We should stop wasting our time and the time of future generations and immediately start investing all our efforts in the only solution: the one state solution,” Jaber said.

“There is already significant support for such a solution in both communities, varying between 30 to 40%, according to some recent surveys.”

Advisory board member Jeff Halper, an anti-Zionist Jew, said: “It is time to recognise that Israel has unilaterally and irreversibly created one country between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River.

“Our task is clear: to transform that apartheid state into a democratic, multicultural state of all its citizens.”

Foundation co-founder Angelique Eijpe, a Dutch diplomat, said: “Envisioning a true and all-encompassing solution is for many – understandably given the reality – more difficult than some form of ‘managing the conflict’.

“Can we make people see, emotionally feel and rationally understand that a share future in equality is, in the end, beneficial for all? That is the challenge we are taking on.”

Road map to nowhere

The Palestine National Council, the PLO’s “parliament”, initiated what became the two-state plan at its Cairo conference in June 1974. The PNC’s “transitional programme” sought a national, independent Palestinian state comprising the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

Palestinian National Council Cairo meeting

However, the Cairo peace initiative was fundamentally flawed by its pledge not to recognise Israel nor to make peace with it. The result was a glaring paradox which Tel Aviv has exploited ever since; UN and EU-sponsored peace talks, road maps to peace and summits have been wilfully sabotaged amid bloodcurdling Israeli claims of its citizens being driven into the sea.

The 1974 decision split the PLO into two warring camps – peace negotiators and rejectionists – and the internal struggle over tactics has dogged the national movement ever since.

Israel’s rejection of the two-state plan has hardened over the decades and it has done everything to sabotage the policy. Indeed, the ruling Likud Coalition is opposed to peace solutions – one state or two state – because they would confer basic national rights to Palestinians.

Shlomo Avineri, head of Israel’s Foreign Minister, rubbished the PLO’s 1974 olive branch saying: “This is all tactics. Stage one, the establishment of a mini-state is purely aimed at better enabling them to achieve a stage two.”

President Donald Trump’s decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem in May has sparked the current diplomatic frenzy by the PLO and its twin factions, Al-Fatah and Hammas. Leading Palestinians have decided that if the Trump administration can “pivot” bringing Israel and Saudi Arabia onto the same page in a front against Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and the TV network Al Jazeera, then surely the Palestinians can “pivot” too.

In Washington DC this week Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu staged a gruesome public “love-in”. It will not save either of them: Trump is firmly in the sights of special prosecutor Robert Mueller, a former FBI director and J Edgar Hoover successor, while Israeli prosecutors are seeking criminal charges against the Netanyahu family for alleged corruption scandals. A double impeachment – now that would be a first!

Calling all whistleblowers

In the past being a whistleblower was hazardous: Daniel Ellsberg went to jail for leaking the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times, undercover NYPD officer Frank Serpico was shot after blowing the whistle on corruption New York cops and Julian Assange remains in self-imposed isolation in the Ecuador Embassy in London after exposing US war crimes in Iraq.

Former CIA officer John Kiriakou served 23 months in jail for exposing the US torture programme authorised by President George W Bush after 9/11.

John Kiriakou

Kiriakou was the sixth whistleblower indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act which was designed to punish spies.

He wrote recently: “I believe, strongly, that there are societal wrongs that need to be righted. The only way to do that is through the press.

“That’s not say that every press outlet doesn’t have its own agenda. They all do. And every journalist is biased one way or another, whether they admit it or not. Still, when it comes to whistleblowing, there is often nowhere else to go other than to the media.”

Kiriakou concluded: “The personal cost is high. But it’s worth it. We have to stand up for what’s right. And to do that, we can’t remain silent.”

While the world needs more whistleblowers, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, himself a former fleeting journalist on The Bulletin, is doing his bit to warn off potential “leakers”.

Thursday’s Australian (proprietor Rupert Murdoch) carried a banner headline right across the front page saying: “PM’s son: I was sidelined for blowing whistle on bank scandal.”

The “exclusive” article said: “Alex Turnbull, the Prime Minister’s son, claims he was sidelined from his executive position of a global investment bank after blowing the whistle on billions of dollars of allegedly of dodgy deals done with scandal-ridden Malaysian sovereign wealth fund IMDB. In 2012 and 2013 while Alex Turnbull was working in Singapore at Goldman Sachs – the same bank that employed his father Malcolm in the late 1990s – the organisation raised bonds for IMBD worth $US6 billion. The IMBD deals were extremely lucrative for Goldman Sachs, reaping it almost $US590 million in fees and commissions.”

Turnbull Jnr foolishly complained to Goldman Sachs superiors about his concerns and his career came to a screaming halt. What did he expect from the Wall Street bank described as a “giant squid”? Why he didn’t take all the documents to the media or post them to the Singapore finance watchdog?

At present, Turnbull’s Canberra office is leaking like a sieve. The story of his son’s travails appears to have been planted on Murdoch’s national daily. Rupert doesn’t like whistleblowers either.

Laugh of the Week

Professor Mary O’Kane, the NSW Labor government’s former Chief Scientist, started work this week as chair of the Coalition’s new Independent Planning Commission (IPC).

Professor Mary O’Kane

O’Kane never caused much of a stir as Chief Scientist during the onrush of climate change, beachfront erosion, torrid fires and droughts, sand storms, grasshopper and mouse plagues, asbestos crises, toxic dumping, mass-scale clearances of bushland and the relentless extinction of native flora and fauna species.

Promising a new planning era in NSW, she said on International Women’s Day: “What you’re hoping is you get better, more consistent decisions, where the process is very transparent so it can be interrogated and trusted.”

Story of the Week

NSW Arts Minister Don Harwin has demanded an urgent report from the director of the Powerhouse Museum, Dolla Merrillees, into allegations that museum executives participated in a night of drunken revelry after a museum fundraiser.

Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party MP Robert Borsak raised in parliament on Tuesday evening reports that senior security personnel attended the museum’s executive offices after the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences’ inaugural Fashion Ball last month after a noise complaint and found several prominent museum staff “intoxicated, drinking Moet & Chandon in the presence of white powder”.

  • Sydney Morning Herald website, 7 March 2018

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