Posts Tagged ‘politics’

An interesting opinion piece by Elizabeth Farrelly in the National Times, reflecting on the results in politics and life at large of ignorance, dumbness and the pursuit of happiness.
 

cartoon
Illustration: Edd Aragon

 
It may be, as one correspondent wrote last week, that advertising works on the “80/80 principle”, the assumption that 80 per cent of Australians have an IQ average of 80. Now I’m fine with stupidity in advertising. Indeed, I expect nothing less – isn’t that why God gave us the mute button? But what makes the 80/80 thought especially gripping – as in, by the throat – is how much it explains that branch of advertising we call politics.

This is all about scale, or if you like, dosage – a thing whose implications we perpetually refuse to grasp, although they are increasingly hard to ignore.

We’re used to the idea of economies of scale, the savings in time or money reaped by producing something – from attack helicopters to graduate dentists – en masse. We’re not as good at getting our heads around the costs of scale, how a small personal indulgence blows out, when repeated over time and space, into planetary destruction.

Everything is dose related. Whether it’s arsenic in your diet or radioactivity in the sea, small amounts now and then are OK, even beneficial, but large amounts, repeatedly, are bad and even terminal. It’s the same with almost everything else – cars, houses, chocolate, holidays, even happiness.

For one person to live in an acre of grass and trees is perfectly harmless, even lovable. But for the numberless hordes to do it means an end to wilderness, clean air and polar bears. This must be obvious to everyone who has ever sat in the daily Sydney-to-Richmond traffic jam, yet we do not see it. Which is why premiers repeatedly stake their careers on building more roads, which just means more congestion. We don’t have to be dumb. It’s enough that our leaders think we are, and pander accordingly.

All of which bears out the 80/80 principle, and is why we may find ourselves forced to choose between democracy and survival.

Democracy is very close to our hearts. So close that we go to war in order to impose it on those too weak or benighted to grab it for themselves. But democracy, the tyranny of the majority, may yet prove an own goal for humanity, mainly because of the weird trick it does with scale; allowing us all to pursue our own happiness as if we were the only ones on the planet. Allowing us to act like a vast family of solipsistic only children, steadfastly voting for lower taxes and higher services.

Democracy and happiness have been buddies ever since Thomas Jefferson wrote “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” into the Declaration of Independence. In the 250 years since, this has become one of the most influential phrases of all time, and not necessarily in a good way.

Happiness has become not just a universal entitlement but almost an obligation, replacing such ideals as goodness or enlightenment as Life’s True Purpose. It’s not that, as a society, we’re especially happy. More than we feel we ought to be. We feel that, under the circumstances, and given the vast quanta of food, pleasure, leisure, wealth and freedom at our disposal, there’s no reason not to be.

Perhaps this in itself is just another illustration of that 80/80 thing. There are two compelling proofs of the stupidity of the pursuit of happiness. One is small scale, private and relatively benign; the other large scale, public and a serious threat to survival.

The first proof is that pursuing happiness doesn’t work. Whether breatharianism or extreme underwater yoga is your bent, happiness is an elusive creature that exists only when you’re looking neither for nor at it. Even Martin Seligman, positive psychology’s founding father, admits that the most reliable path to happiness is not to pursue it, but to commit to some greater, connective cause (be it housing the homeless or writing metaphysical sonnets).

The second proof is more serious because it engages questions of scale and dose. En masse, when all of our small, personal happiness pursuits coagulate into one big, ongoing, democratic res publica, the result is an increasingly cowed and cowardly leadership with no higher goal than this; to service an increasingly petulant public by telling it precisely what it wishes to hear.

Of course you can have both cheap petrol and clean air, my darlings. Yes, yes. Big houses and swift individual transport, perfect health for free and forever, new toys all round, all the time – these things are everybody’s right. There there. Back to sleep with you.

Are we stupid? Or are they? Often it’s hard to tell. But there is, I suggest, little or no evidence that democracies can take hard decisions, even when their own long-term interests are at stake. To wit, America’s reluctance to impose a GST despite the embarrassing talk of a credit rating drop and the fact that most of its states are bankrupt. To wit, Australia’s ludicrous dithering on a pollution tax.

Whether non-democracies such as China will negotiate the rapids of the coming century more adroitly remains to be seen. Certainly, freed from any need to pander to the 80/80 rule, they have at least one freedom Western-style democracies do not have – the freedom to act decisively.

This, of course, can be bad, very bad. But it can also be good, facilitating just the kind of purposive decision making needed to change habits quickly and cater to excellence rather than popularity.

Maybe it’s too soon to dump democracy, but I’d make voting a privilege; not a right, and certainly not an obligation. If they can’t be bothered to vote, the last thing you want is their help in running the country. Rather, we’d earn our voting rights by demonstrating at least some intelligent grasp of the issues and so force, or perhaps allow, our leaders to raise their eye-cues.

Elitist? Perhaps. But we don’t have a problem choosing runners for the Olympics. So how is that different from putting the smartest in charge of the ship? It’s that dose thing. A small increment in IQ, repeated daily, would make all the difference.

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Great power rivalry at the UN

The UN Security Council is in desperate need for reform, and Brazil is leading the charge.


By Nikolas Kozloff for Al Jazeera

Few would argue that the United Nations Security Council, which has long been dominated by five powers including the United States, China, France, the United Kingdom and Russia, would not benefit from some degree of democratic reform.

Indeed, it can hardly be said that the United Nations, which was originally set up in 1945, truly reflects a more diverse 21st century world.

Though ten other nations besides the big five currently serve on the council, they only stay for two years and are relegated to inferior “non-permanent” member status.

The non-permanent countries are elected on a regional basis and do not have the right to veto. Long excluded from power, influential nations such as Japan, Brazil, Germany and India have sought either permanent member status or a system of so-called “semi-permanent” membership.

In this new, revamped Security Council, newcomers would be elected for an extended 15 year term without initially being granted the right to veto.

Vying for a seat

Such changes are certainly long overdue. The real question, however, is which country is most likely to provide a much needed progressive voice on the council and to advance the social agenda of marginalised people throughout the Third World?

Of all the aspiring countries Brazil is probably the most satisfactory, though far from ideal. Currently Brazil is a non-permanent member of the council and in recent years the South American juggernaut has undergone a political transformation of sorts, with former Workers’ Party president Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva closing ranks with leftist leaders in the immediate neighbourhood.

By all accounts, incoming president Dilma Rousseff will likely continue in the footsteps of her mentor Lula by extending friendly ties to neighbouring Venezuela, Bolivia and even Cuba.

Brazil has been campaigning for a larger role on the Security Council in accordance with its increased economic profile, which authorities say gives the South American powerhouse rightful leadership throughout the region.

Indeed, Brazil is now Latin America’s biggest economy and has become a huge exporter of key commodities such as iron ore and soy meal.

Judging from US diplomatic cables recently disclosed by whistle-blowing outfit WikiLeaks, Brazil will stop at nothing when it comes to securing greater international visibility.

Don’t expect, however, for Brazil to provide a serious ideological challenge to Washington. Indeed, the documents reveal that the South American nation is exceedingly interested in placating Washington while extending its own business interests.

Moreover, in private Brazilian diplomats express grave misgivings about South America’s “Pink Tide” to the left.

An opportunistic player, Brazil will not be deterred in its quixotic quest to advance its status on the United Nations Security Council, even if that means becoming politically compromised.

The Haiti imbroglio

Brazil’s wider ambitions were surely placed on display when it came to the island nation of Haiti.

During the Bush era, Brazil formed part of the United Nations Mission to Stabilise Haiti, or MINUSTAH. According to US officials, there was little domestic support for the peace keeping operation, but the ministry of foreign relations “remained committed to the initiative because it believes that the operation serves foreign minister [Celso] Amorim’s obsessive international goal of qualifying Brazil for a seat on the UN Security Council.”

Brazilian diplomats were moreover concerned lest they offend the political sensibilities of the Bush White House which had long demonised former president Jean Bertrand Aristide.

When American officials stressed that every effort should be made to keep the leftist president from returning to Haiti after he was ousted in a coup, the Brazilians agreed, stressing their own “resolve to keep Aristide from returning to the country or exerting political influence.”

By policing Haiti and preventing Aristide from returning to the Caribbean, the Brazilians may have hoped that they could secure Washington’s support for their vital Security Council bid.

Events on the ground, however, quickly took an ugly turn and could have forced Lula to engage in unsavoury public relations to protect Brazil’s wider geopolitical aspirations.

In 2006, the Brazilian commander of MINUSTAH forces in Haiti, General Urano Teixeira da Matta Bacellar, was found dead in his deluxe hotel suite with a bullet through his head.

Initially, Brazilian authorities called the shooting a “firearm accident” but later changed the official verdict to “suicide” even though Bacellar left no note and was known as a religious man with a wife and two children.

In private discussions with US diplomats, Dominican president Leonel Fernández threw cold water on the official story. In a recently disclosed WikiLeaks cable, the Dominican remarked that Bacellar could have been killed by anti-Aristide forces.

Fernández wouldn’t rule out the possibility of “an accidentally self-inflicted wound”, but believed that:

the Brazilian government is calling the death a suicide in order to protect the mission from domestic criticism. A confirmed assassination would result in calls from the Brazilian populace for withdrawal from Haiti. Success in this mission is vital for president Lula of Brazil, because it is part of his master plan to obtain a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

 
A single-minded fixation

Other WikiLeaks cables hint at Brazil’s single minded fixation on geopolitics.

In 2005, US officials wrote that the Brazilians were “obsessed” with securing a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Former Brazilian ambassador to the United States Rubens Barbosa reassured Washington that his government would not step on anyone’s toes: if the South American giant was successful in its United Nations bid, Brazil would not insist on being awarded the traditional right to veto resolutions on the council.

Later, in the twilight of the Bush administration, US officials remarked that most of Brazil’s actions on the international stage were carefully crafted to advance the nation’s ultimate goal of gaining a permanent seat on the Security Council. “Brazil”, the Americans remarked, “desperately seeks US support for its aspirations.”

In the Obama era, the Brazilians have been no less shy in pressing their agenda.

In 2009, US officials reported that Lula was determined

to develop and maintain friendly relations with all global players as Brazil seeks a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. The end result is that Brazil often remains reticent to take firm positions on key global issues and generally seeks ways to avoid them. More often than not, the government of Brazil eschews positions of leadership that might require overtly choosing sides.

 
In yet another cable, the Americans remarked that Brazil was busily seeking African diplomatic support for its Security Council bid, arguing that it alone was uniquely qualified to act as a “champion for all developing states.”

Washington’s in no mood to share power

Though WikiLeaks cables reveal Brazil as politically crass, the documents also show the United States to be a Machiavellian player and wary about sharing power on the Security Council.

Indeed, when American diplomats were not pooh-poohing Brazil for the South American nation’s lack of vision and reluctance to take on shared responsibilities at the international level, they were critical of Lula’s foreign diplomacy in the Middle East, a region where Washington is used to calling the shots.

US diplomats were quick to note, for example, Brazil’s convening of an Arab-South America summit. American officials were none too pleased by Brazilian meddling, and characterised the South American nation’s initiatives as “unhelpful”.

Irking Washington yet further, Lula staked out a role in the Middle East peace process by conducting talks with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.

During a press conference, Lula remarked provocatively, “as long as the United States is trying to negotiate peace in the Middle East there won’t be peace… The one who should oversee the negotiations is the United Nations, and that’s why Brazil wants to reform the UN system.”

What is more, under Lula Brazil pursued policies toward Iran that Washington saw as inimical to its own interests.

On repeated occasions, Brazil defended Iran’s nuclear program, and on the Security Council the Lula government joined Turkey in rejecting Washington’s proposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

Though US diplomats noted that Brazil was “in no danger of falling into the Iranian ‘orbit’,” nevertheless the South American nation’s “almost obsessive interest in pursuing ‘balanced’ relations” with Iran tended to come at US expense.

More recently, the Rousseff government may not have ingratiated itself with Washington over the Libya imbroglio: on the Security Council, Brazil abstained when it came time to vote on the mandate to use military action against the Gaddafi regime.

Perhaps, in light of that vote, US diplomats may have reasoned that an expanded council including Brazil might weaken the western bloc of the US, France and Britain and strengthen the hand of non-interventionist countries such as China and Russia.

While attending the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad in the beginning of his presidency, Obama spoke of a new era in Latin American-US relations in which there would be no senior or junior partners but equal standing for all parties.

Since that time, however, the US president has fallen short on his rhetoric. If he was serious about his high ideals, Obama might have endorsed Brazil’s bid at the Security Council.

Brazil is a logical candidate to assume a greater role: the country is a vigorous democracy enjoying a robust economy and has, on balance, steadily increased its international role by participating in peacekeeping missions.

Nevertheless, Washington obstinately refuses to face up to changing twenty first century realities. During his recent tour of Brazil, Obama acknowledged the South American juggernaut’s aspirations but failed to issue a full-throated endorsement of Brazil’s UN bid, remarking in a non-committal aside that the US “expressed appreciation” for Brazil’s larger geopolitical ambitions.

Moving beyond Security Council reform

Judging from WikiLeaks documents, Washington is a crass player and is in no mood to relinquish its international position at the United Nations.

On the other hand, Brazil doesn’t emerge from the cables as a very sympathetic country either: in its bid to enhance its position, the South American powerhouse has played a rather shameless diplomatic game.

Moreover, though Brazil has occasionally pursued an independent foreign policy, it’s doubtful that the South American nation would represent such a progressive breath of fresh air at the United Nations or provide a meaningful voice for the dispossessed.

Indeed, if WikiLeaks cables are any indication, there may be other countries which are far more likely to challenge Washington on issues that matter. Bolivia, for instance, has staked out a much more radical stance on climate change than Brazil.

If the correspondence dealing with the United Nations has underscored anything, it is the urgent need for reform of the Security Council.

Yet, reforming the council to merely include a couple of politically compromised or up and coming powers will not go far enough in democratising the international system.

If anything, the declassified diplomatic cables demonstrate the bankruptcy of business as usual at the United Nations and will hopefully prompt calls for even deeper and necessary reforms.

Nikolas Kozloff is the author of Revolution! South America and the Rise of the New Left (Palgrave, 2008) and No Rain in the Amazon: How South America’s Climate Change Affects the Entire Planet (Palgrave, 2010).

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

The following article is  a bit imbalanced – for example by focusing on that one individual and not highlighting the role of the major parties in creating the media billionaires in the first place, even long before that incompetent media tart Fielding appeared on the scene.

Nevertheless, his conservative presence was part of pushing further the process of demolishing freedom the press and the production of balanced information – in the same way he supported anti-gay, law and order, and zero-tolerance drug policies as well as christian indoctrination at schools.

On the other hand: he and the billionaires are just another expression of the system overall, which is not a people’s democracy, doesn’t stand for social and economic justice, doesn’t promote by example ethics of peace, harmony, equality, respect and tolerance, ravages the environment, and so on.

Having said all that: despite the article’s narrow focus it gives a good overview of how the media in Australia are concentrated in whose few hands.

By Stephen Mayne for Crikey

Steve Fielding retires from the Senate on June 30, but one of his lasting legacies will be the continuing flow of media deals triggered by John Howard’s liberalisation of foreign and cross-media ownership laws in 2005.

With Austar set to be swallowed by Foxtel, WA News now merged with Seven and Southern Cross Media consuming Austereo, it is worth reflecting on just how far the media landscape has changed since Fielding provided that key vote.

Former Fairfax Media chairman Ron Walker lead that company on a debt-funded takeover binge as it bought Rural Press and Southern Cross Broadcasting’s radio assets, wiping out two independent players. Today Fairfax is capitalised at $3 billion, although it somehow claims to have net assets worth $5.3 billion, suggesting new CEO Greg Hywood needs to ‘do a Leighton’ and take some write-downs.

WA News also joined the “no longer independent” club and foreign private equity firms enriched James Packer and Kerry Stokes beyond their wildest dreams, although both partially squandered their windfalls.

The media industry globally retains unusually high levels of family ownership and this is especially so in Australia, where billionaires remain as dominant as ever, even after considering the influx of private equity.

After factoring in Monday’s WA News vote approving the $4 billion Seven Media Group purchase and Southern Cross Media’s fully committed $471 million capital raising to fund the Austereo acquisition, this is how the 12 most valuable Australian media companies stack up in terms of market capitalisation and billionaire influence:

  1. News Corp:$44 billion; Murdoch family controls through a gerrymander which allows a $6 billion stake to translate into four family members on the 17-person board because 70% of the shares can’t vote.
  2. Telstra: $35 billion; Future Fund now under 5% and no billionaires with influence.
  3. Fairfax Media: $3 billion; Fairfax family has second largest shareholder with 10% and one board seat.
  4. Seven Group Holdings: $2.86 billion; Kerry Stokes owns 67.8% and Westrac is now a dominant asset although pay-TV investment remains.
  5. Seven West Media: $2.4 billion; Seven Group Holdings owns 29.6% which equates to a direct stake for Kerry Stokes of 20%. Kohlberg Kravis Roberts is the second largest shareholder with 13%.
  6. Seek: $2.25 billion; founding Bassat brothers’ share is down below 5% and James Packer sold out so register is wide open.
  7. REA Group: $1.78 billion; value of News Ltd’s 61% stake has just gone past $1 billion for first time.
  8. Austar: $1.7 billion; John Malone’s Liberty Media owns 55% (worth $935 million), most of which is profit.
  9. Consolidated Media Holdings: $1.6 billion; James Packer privately controls 47% and Kerry Stokes has 23% through Seven Group Holdings.
  10. Ten Network: $1.45 billion; three billionaires plus Lachlan Murdoch are sharing control with 40%.
  11. Carsales.com: $1.21 billion; CVC just sold controlling interest so register now wide open.
  12. Southern Cross Media: $1.2 billion; Macquarie Group is largest shareholder with 25% worth $350 million. They are a seller in time so control is open for any billionaire who wishes to step in.
  13. APN News & Media: $977 million; embattled Irish player Independent Newspapers still hanging on with controlling 30% stake but O’Reilly family influence has waned.

The only big player missing from all this is PBL Media, although private equity firm CVC is still hoping it can float the Nine Network and ACP later this year. Bermuda-based billionaire Bruce Gordon also has a big business in his privately owned WIN Group which owns Channel Nine in Perth and Adelaide, plus several regional affiliates. He also happens to be the largest shareholder in Ten Network Holdings, with a representative on the board despite the conflict.

Interestingly, there aren’t too many mid-cap media companies once you move beyond the 12 companies listed above.

You could try investing in Macquarie Radio (market cap $89 million) if you fancy some exposure to Alan Jones or Seven regional affiliate Prime Media, which is worth $286 million and controlled by healthcare billionaire Paul Ramsay. After that, you are looking at smaller advertising and marketing plays such as Photon, Hyro, Facilitate and STW Holdings.

Billionaires are clearly more attracted to media assets with political influence, which might explain why Carsales and Seek have wide open registers.

Online classified advertising has been hugely lucrative for those cutting the lunch of the old newspaper companies but it is neither s-xy, prestigious or powerful for those wanting influence. That said, News Ltd is now enjoying paper profits of about $900 million on its 61% stake in REA Group which more than offsets all the losses from its disastrous MySpace internet adventure.

The Murdochs remain the most powerful media family in the Australian market because News Corp owns more than 60% of Australia’s newspapers, the third biggest magazine business and has management control of Foxtel. Then you have Lachlan Murdoch who personally owns 50% of radio operator DMG and almost 10% of Ten Network Holdings, where he is making a hash of things as acting CEO.

Look no further than the resignation this morning of former Ten CEO Paul Viner, who has clearly had enough of the “buy 10% and get a board seat” billionaires club who now control Australia’s third biggest television network.

Hard times for the environment under the newly elected conservative state government and its allies, The Shooters Party

Spin and reality

Second to The Last Words Cemetery

Andrew Sullivan (The Atlantic)

Clive Hamilton, professor of public ethics at Charles Sturt University wrote the following opinion piece on a new political strategy to silence protestors by making them pay compensation to large coal companies, running into hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Tackle Big Coal at your own risk

As alarm among scientists about runaway global warming intensifies so do efforts by the coal industry and its backers in government to stifle citizen protests.

This week in Newcastle campaigners from the Rising Tide group face prosecution for a protest last September that shut down for a day the city’s two coal export terminals operated by Port Waratah Coal Services. PWCS is a company owned by mining giants Rio Tinto and Xstrata.

Those who engage in civil disobedience expect to face the legal consequences. But PWCS has upped the ante by asking the police to prosecute seven activists under victims-of-crime laws, demanding they hand over hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

In an Orwellian inversion of the meaning of words, corporate goliaths whose activities threaten the conditions of life on earth – whose daily business is already, according to the World Health Organisation, contributing to tens of thousands of deaths around the world each year – claim they are being victimised.

The coal industry’s action is designed to have a chilling effect on protests against burning and exporting coal. PWCS’s action has all the hallmarks of a SLAPP, a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.

The purpose of a SLAPP is to frighten citizens with the loss of their houses and get them bogged down for years in court proceedings. Legal costs can amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars, chickenfeed for a big corporation but bankruptcy for ordinary citizens.

The intimidatory effect can be paralysing. One favourite tactic is to deliver writs on Christmas Eve so those who receive them have to sweat for a fortnight before they can get legal advice that may allay their fears.

A pattern is emerging in efforts to deter protests against Australia’s coal industry. After meeting with state attorneys-general in December 2008, Martin Ferguson, the federal Energy Minister (and climate science denier), urged state governments to toughen up laws to impede protests against ”energy infrastructure”.

Ferguson seems to have been spooked by opposition to the Hazelwood power plant in Victoria (the dirtiest in the country) and by the acquittal of six Greenpeace activists over a protest at Kingsnorth power station in Britain. The jury accepted they acted to prevent greater harm. Since the meeting with Ferguson, state governments have begun passing draconian legislation aimed specifically at deterring protests against the coal industry.

The Labor government in Victoria introduced harsh new laws against climate change protests, with up to one year’s jail merely for standing in the grounds of a coal-fired power plant, and two years for anyone painting a slogan on a smokestack. The Kingsnorth defence of ”lawful excuse” can no longer be made in Victoria, no matter how much damage Hazelwood is causing to the climate.

In Queensland, the Labor government is considering similar laws. NSW has not yet followed the Victorian example, but since the meeting between Ferguson and the attorneys-general, climate activists have several times been threatened with victims’ compensation claims.

An adverse court decision in Newcastle this week would set an alarming precedent not just for climate activism but for all protests in NSW. A corporation experiencing any disruption due to protests would be emboldened to go after the assets of protesters.

A democracy in which citizens are afraid of going to jail for peacefully protesting or losing their homes because of intimidatory lawsuits is no democracy at all. Yet Labor governments have been as willing as the Howard government was to silence dissenting voices, especially in defence of the energy industries.

Victims’ support legislation was designed to compensate victims of violent crimes, including families of homicide victims, not to provide global corporations with a stick to beat their critics.

The average amount received by a victim of crime in NSW is $12,300. For having its coal loader shut down for a few hours, PWCS is demanding the courts award the company $525,000.

Big Coal has taken the gloves off and has signalled it will use every device available to defend its continued profitability. Its attitude seems to be that if the rights of citizens are collateral damage, then so be it.

Philip Dorling
Sydney Morning Herald, 05/01/11

The former prime minister Kevin Rudd launched legal action against Japan’s whaling program despite opposition from senior ministers and officials who warned it was likely to fail and strengthen the hand of the Japanese.
Leaked United States diplomatic cables also indicate that the decision to take Japan to the International Court of Justice was designed to divert public pressure on Labor over whaling. The Department of Foreign Affairs warned that the case against Japan’s ”scientific” whaling would ”either fail completely or, at best, set up the Japanese to simply make changes to their program to improve the science”. And a senior Australian diplomat told the Americans that both the then foreign minister Stephen Smith and the trade minister Simon Crean had made clear their opposition to an international legal challenge.

According to the cables, obtained by WikiLeaks and provided exclusively to the Herald, officials told US diplomats that even if successful, legal action against Japan would be ”unlikely to stop the whale hunt entirely”. They added that ”equally importantly, such action would probably take a long time, removing some of the pressure on the government for the next few years”.

The government yesterday attempted to play down earlier revelations that Australia had been prepared to secretly negotiate a compromise to allow continued Japanese whaling. The acting Attorney-General, Brendan O’Connor, said that the ICJ case demonstrated that the government was not soft on whaling. ”I think that underlines the seriousness of the matter and the fact that this government … opposes whaling and will continue to fight through the courts,” he said. But the new embassy cables show that the government’s advisers were deeply pessimistic about the prospects of success in any legal action.

In October 2008, as officials were working to develop their case, the US embassy reported to Washington that domestic political considerations were high in Mr Rudd’s thinking. It said he was likely to eventually see legal action ”as the least damaging politically of his limited choices in dealing with public anger over whaling”. However, the embassy also reported the Foreign Affairs Department’s environmental strategies director, David Dutton, had admitted that his department and the Attorney-General’s Department ”had long shared the view that international legal action against Japan’s whaling program has a limited chance of success”. Mr Dutton told US diplomats that the Attorney-General’s Department had ”recently done an about face” to argue that the prospects for success at the ICJ were ”high enough to justify taking action”. Mr Dutton said the Foreign Affairs analysis was that the only basis for effective action was that Japan’s whaling violated the International Whaling Convention because it did not achieve substantive scientific outcomes. ”[Foreign Affairs] continues to believe that such a challenge will either fail completely or, at best, set up the Japanese to simply make changes to their program to improve the science,” the US embassy reported to Washington.

The cables also reveal that the Rudd cabinet was ”very divided” over how to deal with whaling, with the prime minister reported to have been ”increasingly worried that the Japanese will forge ahead despite Australian concerns”. The embassy reported that Mr Dutton had said that Mr Smith and Mr Crean ”had made clear their opposition to an international legal challenge, but opined that … DFAT and by extension [Mr] Smith had ceased to have much relevance in influencing the PM’s office on this issue”. When they announced the legal challenge in May last year, Mr Smith and the then environment minister Peter Garrett said the government had ”not taken this decision lightly”.

However, the cables also reveal that domestic politics featured prominently from the start of the government’s consideration of possible legal action against Japan. Soon after the election of the Labor government, the embassy reported Australian government contacts were saying that referring Japan’s whaling program to the ICJ ”would be unlikely to stop the whale hunt entirely, but could well force modifications that would make it more difficult for the Japanese”. The embassy’s contacts also suggested that ”equally importantly, such action would probably take a long time, removing some of the pressure on the government for the next few years”. Australia is not required to file its detailed arguments with the court until May and Japan is not obliged to respond until March next year. A hearing may not take place until 2013.

The leaked cables also reveal Japanese confidence that Australia’s legal challenge would fail and vindicate Japan’s position. In February last year the US embassy reported that the Japanese deputy head of mission in Canberra had observed that the then foreign minister Katsuya Okada had ”made clear his growing annoyance with Australian complaints about whaling”. ”Okada is very confident that Tokyo will win a legal challenge and has suggested internally that it would be good for Japan to show that its whaling program is on firm legal ground,” the embassy reported.

The Greens and the opposition yesterday attacked the proposed Australian government compromise with Japan. The opposition environment spokesman, Greg Hunt, said Labor had damaged Australia’s case against Japanese whaling. ”It’s absolutely clear that the Australian government was saying one thing publicly and then another thing privately about whaling so as to allow the continued hunting and slaughter of whales, all of the while this was being denied by the government.” The Greens leader, Bob Brown, also said the proposed compromise was ”very troubling”. ”Hopefully this may help the current government take a stronger line,” he said. He urged the government to use all available legal and diplomatic means, as well as naval surveillance, to increase the pressure on Japan to end the slaughter of whales.

This article once again proves that one can never trust any politician to either tell the truth or to honestly be on the side of genuine public interest. Direct action (like the one involving  the Sea Sheperd team) seems to be the only honest way to defend and preserve the natural ecology.