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Chart: China Buying More Australian Wheat Despite Trade Row

Source : Bloomberg

Chart: Australia Inflation Rate Climbed in Q3 2022

A 32-year high since Q2 1990

Source : Trading Economics

China Crisis Could Have Catastrophic Impact on Australia

Tarric Brooker wrote . . . . . . . . .

In recent years, Chinese President Xi Jinping has been warning that the Chinese economy needed to prepare for “black swan” and “grey rhino” events. The black swan event being an unexpected crisis, while the grey rhino is a more predictable crisis or set of challenges.

In order to better prepare China for what President Xi sees as a more unstable and unpredictable world, the Chinese government has taken actions to attempt to reduce systemic risks, particularly within the property sector. From the ‘Three Red Lines’ policy that was introduced in August 2020 to drive a deleveraging among property developers, to more recent actions forcing the industry to stand on its own two feet, Xi has continued to crackdown on the property sector, even as risks rise that the impact could spill over into other parts of the economy.

While the woes of the Chinese property sector and its knock-on effects may seem like they are a world away, there are some concerning potential implications for Australia’s fortunes going forward.

Australia’s economic fate deeply linked to China’s

As things sit today, China accounts for 70.1 per cent of global iron ore imports, with Australia providing 53.6 per cent of all global exports. Despite Beijing and Canberra now finding themselves very much at odds with one and other, both parties are equally reliant on each other from an economic standpoint.

There is no way Australia could find another buyer for all that iron ore if Chinese demand was to suffer a large fall, but conversely China could not possibly find another source to power its economy if Australia simply said no to further exports to the Middle Kingdom.

Despite the relatively widespread perception that a rapidly growing large economy such as India could begin to replace Chinese demand in relatively short order, this is not the case.

In 2021 India imported 5.3 million tons of iron ore, while China imported 1.17 billion tons. While India is the second largest producer of steel in the world, it is also largely domestically self sufficient when it comes to iron ore.

China’s private game of Monopoly

Last week the Chinese Ministry of Finance released a statement, outlining that local governments would be strictly prohibited from using financing vehicles to purchase their own land by raising debt, calling the process “a sham”.

In a variation on a make your own rules game of Monopoly that almost always ends with the pieces all over the floor, Chinese local governments have been creating ‘finance vehicles’ backed by their own credit to buy their land releases from themselves.

In China, roughly 40 per cent of overall expenditure is funded through the sale of land to property developers and others. Even before the crackdown on risk within the property sector began, some local governments were already turning to these shadowy finance state owned enterprises to purchase their land to make up revenue shortfalls.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic began and President Xi Jinping began the property sector crackdown, things have gone from bad to worse for local governments.

In the year to the end of September, there has been a $570 billion drop in local government land sale revenue. Should that trend continue through to the end of the year, the short fall in land sale revenue compared with 2021 would rise to more than $1.14 trillion.

Its worth noting that this is what the picture looks like with local governments using finance vehicles to purchase land from themselves. The picture without this mechanism, which Beijing has now very clearly commanded, is even less rosy.

Systemic Risk

In recent weeks, elements of the financial media have dubbed the Chinese property sector a “slow motion financial crisis”.

When looking at the numbers, its easy to understand why.

According to economic database provider Wind, Chinese local government finance vehicles (LFGV) hold 54 trillion Yuan ($11.8 trillion) in debt.

Without Beijing stepping in to backstop these entities, local governments will find it challenging to service the debts of at least some proportion of the thousands of LFGVs they are responsible for.

There are concerns that if LFGVs start to default on their obligations, they risk spreading contagion to the remaining $11.8 trillion debt pile. Considering that total LFGV debt is roughly equivalent to half of China’s 2021 GDP or more than five times the size of the entire Australian economy, a series of defaults could create a financial crisis and cause funding for other projects to dry up.

An Aussie Outlook

At the more baseline end of the spectrum, the slowing Chinese property and construction sectors will continue to weigh on demand for Australian iron ore and by extension iron ore prices, as some of the major miners have warned in recent weeks.

Considering that the President Xi now holds the loyalty of the entire seven-member Politburo Standing Committee (the top leadership echelon of the Chinese government), he can pursue the continued reining in of the property sector entirely at his own discretion.

Deng Yuwen, a former editor at a state-run newspaper and now a researcher at the New York-based think tank China Strategic Analysis, recently noted that if key Xi acolyte “Li Qiang really becomes the premier, that means Xi is omnipotent,”.

Li Qiang will subsequently be named Premier.

President Xi now holds all the cards, if he wants to prioritise continuing Covid-0 and broader social stability over the property sector and insulating local governments from playing from the fiscal equivalent of fire, there is little anyone can do to stop him.

Only Xi knows what the future holds for the local government and the property sector, but if these crackdowns continue to escalate, the level of Chinese demand for Australian iron ore and other key bulk commodities may reduce significantly.


Source : new.com.au

Chart: Australia 3-year Bonds Crashed After Central Bank Raised Interest Rate by Less-than-expected 2.5%

Source : Bloomberg

Chart: The Reserve Bank of Australia Raised the Cash Rate by 50bps to 2.35% During Its September 2022 Meeting

Source : Bloomberg

Chart: Australia Central Bank Hiked Rate by 50 Points

The expected rate hike is 25 points.

Source : Bloomberg

Australia’s New Prime Minister Came from Humble Beginnings

Rod McGuirk wrote . . . . . . . . .

Australia’s Prime Minister-elect Anthony Albanese is a politician molded by his humble start to life as the only child of a single mother who raised him on a pension in gritty inner-Sydney suburbia.

He is also a hero of multicultural Australia, describing himself as the only candidate with a “non-Anglo Celtic name” to run for prime minister in the 121 years that the office has existed.

His friends pronounce his name “Alban-ez,” like bolognese. But having been repeatedly corrected over the years by Italians, the nationality of his absent father, he introduces himself and is widely known as “Alban-easy.”

He shared the stage during his victory speech with Senator Penny Wong, who will become foreign minister. Her father was Malaysian-Chinese and her mother European Australian.

“I think it’s good. Someone with a non-Anglo Celtic surname is the leader in the House of Representatives and … someone with a surname like Wong is the leader of the government in the Senate,” Albanese said.

Australia has been criticized for its overrepresentation in Parliament of offspring of British colonizers. Britain is no longer the major source of Australia’s immigrants since racist policies were dismantled in the 1970s. Around half of Australia’s multicultural population was born overseas or has an overseas-born parent. Chinese and Indians are now immigrating in large numbers.

Albanese has promised to rehabilitate Australia’s international reputation as a climate change laggard with steeper cuts to greenhouse gas emissions. The previous administration had stuck with the same commitment it made at the Paris Agreement in 2015: 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2030. Albanese’s Labor Party has promised a 43% reduction.

His financially precarious upbringing in government-owned housing in suburban Camperdown fundamentally formed the politician who has led the center-left Australian Labor Party into government for the first time since 2007. He is still widely known by his childhood nickname, Albo.

“It says a lot about our great country that a son of a single mom who was a disability pensioner, who grew up in public housing down the road in Camperdown can stand before you tonight as Australia’s prime minister,” Albanese said in his election victory speech on Saturday.

“Every parent wants more for the next generation than they had. My mother dreamt of a better life for me. And I hope that my journey in life inspires Australians to reach for the stars,” he added.

Albanese repeatedly referred during the six-week election campaign to the life lessons he learned from his disadvantaged childhood. Labor’s campaign focused on policies including financial assistance for first home buyers grappling with soaring real estate prices and sluggish wage growth.

Labor also promised cheaper child care for working parents and better nursing home care for the elderly.

Albanese this week promised to begin rebuilding trust in Australia when he attends a Tokyo summit on Tuesday with U.S. President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Albanese said he will be “completely consistent” with Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s current administration on Chinese strategic competition in the region.

But he said Australia had been placed in the “naughty corner” in United Nations’ climate change negotiations by refusing to adopt more ambitious emissions reduction targets at a November conference.

“One of the ways that we increase our standing in the region, and in particular in the Pacific, is by taking climate change seriously,” Albanese told the National Press Club.

Biden’s administration and Australia “will have a strengthened relationship in our common view about climate change and the opportunity that it represents,” Albanese said.

Albanese blamed Morrison for a “whole series of Australia’s international relations being damaged.”

He said Morrison misled the United States that a secret plan to provide Australia with a fleet of submarines powered with U.S. nuclear technology had the support of Albanese’s Labor Party. In fact, Labor wasn’t told of the plan until the day before it was announced in September.

Albanese also accused Morrison of leaking to the media personal text messages from Emmanuel Macron to discredit the French president’s complaint that Australia had given no warning that a French submarine contract would be canceled.

In November, French Ambassador to Australia Jean-Pierre Thebault described the leak as a “new low” and a warning to other world leaders that their private communications with the Australian government could be weaponized and used against them.

Labor also has described a new security pact been China and the Solomon Islands as Australia’s worst foreign policy failure in the Pacific since World War II.

As a young child, to spare Albanese the scandal of being “illegitimate” in a working-class Roman Catholic family in socially conservative 1960s Australia, he was told that his Italian father, Carlo Albanese, had died in a car accident shortly after marrying his Irish-Australian mother, Maryanne Ellery, in Europe.

His mother, who became an invalid pensioner because of chronic rheumatoid arthritis, told him the truth when he was 14 years old: His father was not dead and his parents had never married.

Carlo Albanese had been a steward on a cruise ship when the couple met in 1962 during the only overseas trip of her life. She returned to Sydney from her seven-month journey through Asia to Britain and continental Europe almost four months pregnant, according to Anthony Albanese’s 2016 biography, “Albanese: Telling it Straight.”

She was living with her parents in their local government-owned house in inner-suburban Camperdown when her only child was born on March 2, 1963.

Out of loyalty to his mother and a fear of hurting her feelings, Albanese waited until after her death in 2002 before searching for his father.

Father and son were happily united in 2009 in the father’s hometown of Barletta in southern Italy. The son was in Italy for business meetings as Australia‘s minister for transport and infrastructure.

Anthony Albanese was a minister throughout Labor’s most recent six years in power and reached his highest office — deputy prime minister — in his government’s final three months, which ended with the 2013 election.

But Albanese’s critics argue that it’s not his humble background but his left-wing politics that make him unsuitable to be prime minister.

The conservative government argued he would be the most left-wing Australian leader in almost 50 years since the crash-or-crash-through reformer Gough Whitlam, a flawed hero of the Labor Party.

In 1975, Whitlam became the only Australian prime minister to be ousted from office by a British monarch’s representative in what is described as a constitutional crisis.

Whitlam had introduced during his brief but tumultuous three years in power free university education, which enabled Albanese to graduate from Sydney University with an economics degree despite his meager financial resources.

Albanese’s supporters say that while he was from Labor’s so-called Socialist Left faction, he was a pragmatist with a proven ability to deal with more conservative elements of the party.

Albanese had undergone what has been described as a makeover in the past year, opting for more fashionable suits and glasses. He has also shed 18 kilograms (40 pounds) in what many assume was an effort to make himself more attractive to voters.

Albanese says he believed he was about to die in a two-car collision in Sydney in January last year and that was the catalyst for his healthier life choices. He had briefly resigned himself to a fate he once believed had been his father’s.

After the accident, Albanese spent a night in a hospital and suffered what he described as external and internal injuries that he has not detailed. The 17-year-old boy behind the wheel of the Range Rover SUV that collided with Albanese’s much smaller Toyota Camry sedan was charged with negligent driving.

Albanese said he was 12 when he became involved in his first political campaign. His fellow public housing tenants successfully defeated a local council proposal to sell their homes — a move that would have increased their rent — in a campaign that involved refusing to pay the council in a so-called rent strike.

The unpaid rent debt was forgiven, which Albanese described as a “lesson for those people who weren’t part of the rent strike: Solidarity works.”

“As I grew up, I understood the impact that government had, can have, on making a difference to people’s lives,” Albanese said. “And in particular, to opportunity.”

On election day, before the vote counting started, he spoke of an advantage from his upbringing.

“When you come from where I’ve come from, one of the advantages that you have is that you don’t get ahead of yourself. Everything in life’s a bonus,” Albanese said.


Source : AP

Charts: The Reserve Bank of Australia Raised the Cash Rate by 25 bps in the May 2022 Meeting

Larger than the market consensus of 15 bps

Source : Trading Economics

A Secret Australia: Why Julian Assange’s Own Country Ignored Him and WikiLeaks’ Exposés

Benedetta Brevini wrote . . . . . . . . .

As a journalist, scholar and media reformer, I have been following the activities of WikiLeaks for over a decade, assessing the disrupting force of new radical platforms for disclosure. WikiLeaks is a crucial example of a digital platform that exposes the contradictions of the internet as a tool for openness and secrecy, freedom and surveillance, free speech and censorship. But it is much more. I don’t think that anyone would dispute the incredible impact that WikiLeaks revelations have had, not just to disconcert and embarrass power elites, not just to expose crimes in the public interest, but also for bringing renewed debates on free speech, digital encryption and quests for better protections for whistleblowing to the mainstream.

When I moved to Australia about six years ago, with the first academic book on WikiLeaks hot in my hands, I genuinely expected to find Julian Assange hailed as patriotic and a global, tech-savvy freedom of speech star. After all, how could liberal Australians possibly not be proud of a citizen who exposed war crimes and human rights violations?

Assange was by then the winner of The Economist New Media Award 2008, the popular vote for Time magazine’s ‘Person of the Year’ 2011 and Le Monde’s ‘Man of the Year’, as well as receiving the Sydney Peace Foundation’s Gold Medal in 2011.

Surely, I thought, most Australian media outlets, if not regular citizens, would be grateful for the huge reserve of leaked documents providing an immense treasure for Fairfax newspapers leading to an array of major exclusives for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

I also distinctly remember reading an essay in 2011, when living in London, by Australian emeritus professor of politics Robert Manne, reassuring readers that ‘if Rupert Murdoch, who turns 80 this month, is the most influential Australian of the post war era, Julian Assange, who will soon turn 40, is undoubtedly the most consequential Australian of the present time’

During the months spent editing an early collection, Beyond WikiLeaks, I became even more convinced of the incredible importance of WikiLeaks for journalism, international relations, transparency activism, human rights and social justice. I was sure the Australian public and leaders would share a similar understanding.

WikiLeaks was founded in 2006 as an online platform for whistleblowers and the publication of information censored by public authorities and private actors. Its goal was to harness the speed, interactivity and global reach of the internet to provide a fast and secure mechanism to anonymously submit information that would then be accessible to a global audience.

WikiLeaks: Background

In its first few years of existence, WikiLeaks electronically published a range of documents of varying significance in mixed media. The revelations included: secret Scientology texts; a report documenting extensive corruption by the family of former Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi; proof that British company Trafigura had been illegally dumping toxic waste in Côte d’Ivoire (a story that the British media was legally barred from reporting); the financial dealings of Icelandic banks that led to the collapse of the country’s economy (a story the local media, too, were banned by court order from reporting); the private emails of then US Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin; member lists of a British right-wing party; the internet filter lists of several countries; and many other disclosures of information that were previously hidden from the public eye.

These releases, occurring between 2006 and 2009, were only the warm-up acts for the torrent of information that WikiLeaks unleashed in 2010, the year when the global interconnected public sphere discovered the disruptive power of the platform. On 5 April 2010, WikiLeaks published a video online evocatively titled ‘Collateral Murder’. It was an edited version of a classified US army video taken from an Apache helicopter depicting a controversial 2007 US Baghdad airstrike that resulted in the deaths of Iraqi civilians and two Reuters employees. On 25 July – in collaboration with established newspapers The New York Times, The Guardian and Der Spiegel – WikiLeaks published the Afghan War Diary before releasing the Iraq War Logs on 22 October.

Altogether, the two dispatches comprised almost 500,000 documents and field reports, providing a comprehensive and unprecedented account of the two wars, and revealing thousands of unreported deaths, including many US army killings of civilians.

Finally, on 28 November 2010, WikiLeaks and its partner newspapers began publishing select US diplomatic cables in what became known as ‘Cablegate’. Taken from a pool of over 250,000 cables, the communications offered a fascinating perspective on international diplomacy. They revealed many backroom deals among governments and between governments and companies, as well as US spying practices on UN officials, cover-ups of military airstrikes and numerous cases of government corruption, most notably in Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) countries, where the revelations fueled the population’s growing anger towards their national elites.

Nine months after the first releases were published in its partner newspapers, WikiLeaks made the full tranche of cables available on its website. It has since published other materials, such as the ‘Guantánamo Bay Files’, information about the digital surveillance industry (Spy Files) and emails from political figures and companies tied to Syria (Syria Files).

As I was editing the collection, due for publication in 2013, it became clear how 2010 was the critical turning point that changed the fate of WikiLeaks and the dominant narratives about it.

In fact, precisely in the wake of Cablegate, WikiLeaks’ operations became increasingly hampered by government investigations into its staff (particularly founder and Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange), internal frictions, and extralegal economic blockades that have choked WikiLeaks’ access to financial resources. As I detailed in an essay on the political economy of WikiLeaks, WikiLeaks’ then funding model had at its core a German foundation, the Wau Holland Foundation, which processed personal donations to WikiLeaks.

Julian Assange faced sustained attempts to shut down WikiLeaks and calls for his assassination. Photo: Getty
As Cablegate brought WikiLeaks to the mainstream, the platform has seen constant attacks from both public and private actors, sustained attempts to shut down its operations and even calls for Julian Assange’s assassination. WikiLeaks clearly enraged Washington by publishing hundreds of thousands of secret US diplomatic cables that exposed critical US appraisals of world leaders, from Russian President Vladimir Putin, to the then UK Prime Minister David Cameron, to members of the Saudi royal family. Senator Joe Lieberman, Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, famously declared that ‘Wikileaks’ deliberate disclosure of these diplomatic cables is nothing less than an attack on the national security of the United States, as well as that of dozens of other countries’.

WikiLeaks’ activities resumed after a prolonged financial struggle, exacerbated by the legal difficulties of Assange who from 2012 had to take refuge at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, fearing extradition to the US.

Disclosures had another major peak during the US election campaign, on 22 July 2016, when WikiLeaks released over 20,000 emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC), the governing body of the US Democratic Party, including key DNC staff members. Later in October the same year, WikiLeaks began releasing emails from John Podesta, the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. In 2017, WikiLeaks published internal CIA documents concerning sophisticated clandestine hacking programs, and spy software targeting cell phones, smart TVs and computer systems in cars.

US and UK media responses

As we discussed in Beyond WikiLeaks, it was not just politicians who were disgruntled with the platform; it was also the media organisations most openly associated with the WikiLeaks exposés that quickly became its primary critics. As Benkler recalled:

It was The Times, after all, that chose to run a front page profile of Assange a day after it began publishing the Iraq War Logs in which it described him as ‘a hunted man’ who ‘demands that his dwindling number of loyalists use expensive encrypted cellphones and swaps his own the way other men change shirts’ and ‘checks into hotels under false names, dyes his hair, sleeps on sofas and floors, and uses cash instead of credit cards, often borrowed from friends’.

And the UK press, following Cablegate, was certainly overall unsupportive as well. After very successful collaborations with him at The Guardian, for example, many editors fell out with him, with David Leigh and Luke Harding describing him as having a ‘damaged personality’. They continued by explaining that ‘collaborators who fell out with him – there was to be a long list – accused him of imperiousness and a callous disregard for those of whom he disapproved. Certainly, when crossed, Assange could get very angry indeed.’

However, although Assange could not count on sympathetic media support in the UK and in the US, I was not fully prepared for what I thought was extraordinary of Assange’s own country: the striking absence of a solid debate on WikiLeaks in Australian mainstream public discourses, especially in light of the growing legal complications following his granted asylum at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

Surely, I thought, there would be a discussion of his request for asylum?

Surely, the Australian government was negotiating behind the scenes to avoid an extradition to the US, to make sure that an Australian citizen had adequate legal protection, also in consideration of the global relevance of the leaks?
While I could not make sense of the blackout then, I am now sure there are two major factors that contributed to this silence.

Firstly, Australia’s strong political ties to the US: politicians and civil servants have considered Assange a problem, rather than a facilitator of US/Australia diplomatic relations. Additionally, Australia’s membership in the ‘Five Eyes’ alliance on intelligence cooperation between Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States adds to the hostility towards activities that challenge state secrets. Five Eyes countries have notoriously built one of the most sophisticated international systems of mass surveillance and intensification of government secrecy: Australia is no exception in this rush to intensify its surveillance capabilities. After WikiLeaks and the Snowden leaks challenged the status quo, the Australian government hurried to implement new metadata laws through three major pieces of new national security legislation in 2014 and 2015.

As Attorney-General George Brandis explained during the reading of the bill amending the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979 (ASIO Act) and the Intelligence Services Act 2001 (IS Act), the reform was justified by a clear intent to curb whistleblowing activities:

As recent, high-profile international events demonstrate, in the wrong hands, classified or sensitive information is capable of global dissemination at the click of a button. Unauthorised disclosures on the scale now possible in the online environment can have devastating consequences for a country’s international relationships and intelligence capabilities.

The second and crucial factor explaining the lack of a thorough and sustained debate on WikiLeaks and Assange is the fact that Australia has one of the most concentrated media markets in the world.
Without even considering the recent upheaval of the Australian media markets, with the takeover of Fairfax Media by Nine and the planned closure of 100 local and regional newspapers (although owned by the same company, News Corp), the biggest study on media ownership and concentration in the world conducted by Eli Noam at Columbia University found that Australia has the most concentrated newspaper industry out of any country studied, with the exception of China and Egypt which are not liberal democracies.

Excessively concentrated media power in the hands of few owners does not just entail unchecked ties between political and media elites, as the UK Leveson inquiry demonstrated.

The exercise of such power also entails the establishment of a system of control that does not allow space for dissent, for resistance, for minority voices.
This is why it has been so difficult for Assange’s supporters to bring the debate to the mainstream, to generate an informed public discussion, to question political leaders on their inaction.

As Barnett explains, ‘The fewer owners or gatekeepers, the fewer the number of voices and the more damaging the consequences for diversity of expression’. As a result, ‘the powerful are able to fix the premises of discourse, to decide what the general populace is allowed to see, hear and think about, and to “manage” public opinion by regular propaganda campaigns’.

With the few notable exceptions of Crikey, The Saturday Paper and The Guardian (due to its UK ties), and the relentless efforts of Philip Dorling, Phillip Adams, Geoffrey Robertson and Mary Kostakidis, an informed public sphere discussion about Assange and WikiLeaks failed to materialise in his own country.

The request for Assange’s extradition to the US and the global debate on the violation of freedom of speech safeguards
When Assange was removed from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in April 2019, in violation of political asylum, the global debates about Assange and his arrest picked up again. Lawyers, politicians, freedom of speech advocates and activists saw his arrest, pushed by the Trump administration, as a clear attack on press freedom. A year later, we are becoming accustomed to the harassment of journalists by police and authorities of the Trump administration. Police brutality and racism in the US are rightly challenged with protests that have spread across the globe, starting with the demands for justice for the murder of George Floyd. Continuous arrests and persecution of journalists are occurring during the protests, and US Press Freedom Tracker has registered at least 74 reports of journalists being physically attacked, with 21 arrested and many more targeted by police using rubber bullets.

In April 2019, Assange was indicted by the US Justice Department of the same Trump administration with 18 charges, of which 17 are under the Espionage Act, for his role in receiving and publishing classified defence documents both on the WikiLeaks website and in collaboration with major publishers. Not even the Obama administration, notoriously rapid in making use of the Espionage Act, dared to cross the line of free speech protection to prosecute a non-American citizen for his activities as a journalist.

Clearly, if Assange is extradited to the US for espionage, it will establish a worrying precedent that could then be used against reporters and editors of major publications, generating a chilling effect for any news organisations that dare to publish classified US government documents in the public interest, regardless of their country of origin.
Reporters Without Borders has written that the arrest would ‘set a dangerous precedent for journalists, whistleblowers, and other journalistic sources that the US may wish to pursue in the future’. In January 2020, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe voted to oppose Assange’s extradition to the US. Both Agnes Callamard, the United States human rights expert, and Nils Melzer, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, spoke of severe risks of human rights violations if Assange were extradited to the US. In particular, there are new disconcerting aspects of the UK hearing and possible US extradition that make it hard to believe in the possibility of a fair trial for Assange in the US. In a Spanish court at the end of last year, it was alleged that a Spanish security firm hired by the Ecuadorian Embassy illegally recorded Assange’s meetings with his team of lawyers and passed these recordings on to the US intelligence services. During those meetings, Assange prepared his legal defence against an extradition request to the US, so any such recording would be in breach of legal professional privilege.

In the months before the June 2020 hearing, politicians from the UK and Europe also joined the fight against the extradition of Assange, including former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who said that Assange had revealed ‘atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan’ and that his extradition ‘should be opposed by the British government’.

Australian media response to extradition hearings

One would have expected that considering the gravity of the recent developments, and the documented health problems of Assange, this animated international discussion would have been reflected by Australian mainstream media. However, it is rarely featured in mainstream news outlets, being mainly covered by outlets that have a small audience share compared to the colossal News Corp, Fairfax and the ABC, which have been spasmodic in their coverage of WikiLeaks.

Despite the unfavourable media landscape, in October 2019 eleven federal MPs created a cross-party group to put pressure on the Australian government to intervene in defence of Assange. Additionally, just before the extradition hearing of June 2020, over 100 Australian politicians, lawyers, activists and journalists wrote to Foreign Minister Marise Payne asking her to request the UK government to have Assange released on bail, because of his serious and ongoing health issues.

Why do I need to follow Assange’s mother on Twitter to hear about these crucial debates? Why aren’t the major television news shows more willing to engage with a topic – protecting freedom of speech – that should be top priority for the Australian public, especially in light of the recent AFP raids against ABC and News Corp journalists?

For Australia the combination of this anti-democratic media concentration and the old colonial habit of passivity to the (now declining) US empire is perhaps too arduous to overcome.


Source : The New Daily


Read Also at The Sydney Morning Herald

Australian MPs call on US President Biden to drop charges against Assange . . . . .

Australia Aims to ‘Live with Virus’ Instead of Eliminating It

Renju Jose and Jonathan Barrett wrote . . . . . . . . .

Australian authorities on Wednesday extended the COVID-19 lockdown in Melbourne for another three weeks, as they shift their focus to rapid vaccination drives and move away from a suppression strategy to bring cases down to zero.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews flagged a staggered easing of the tough restrictions once 70% of the state’s adult residents receive at least one dose, a milestone he hopes to reach at least by Sept. 23, based on current vaccination rates.

“We have thrown everything at this, but it is now clear to us that we are not going to drive these numbers down, they are instead going to increase,” Andrews told reporters in Melbourne, the state capital, after a lockdown for nearly a month failed to quell the outbreak. The lockdown was due to end on Thursday.

“We got to buy time to allow vaccinations to be undertaken all the while doing this very hard work, this very painful and difficult work, to keep a lid as much as we can on cases.”

New local cases jumped to 120 in Victoria from 76 a day earlier. Of the new cases, 100 have spent time in the community while infectious.

Neighbouring New South Wales state, home to Sydney, on Wednesday brought forward its target date to fully vaccinate 70% of people above 16 to the middle of next month from the initial target of the end of October, as outbreaks spurred a surge in inoculation.

“No matter where you live, life will be much, much better, much freer, as long as you’re vaccinated at 70%,” Berejiklian told reporters. So far 37% are fully vaccinated in the state, while 67% have had at least one dose, slightly higher than the national numbers but well below most comparable nations.

A total of 1,116 new cases were detected in New South Wales, down from 1,164 a day earlier. NSW reported four new deaths, taking the total number of deaths in the latest outbreak to 100.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison told parliament on Wednesday Australians ultimately needed to be released from lockdowns.

“Australia can live with this virus,” he said in Canberra.

LIVING WITH COVID

Australia is trying to get a handle on the third wave of infections that has locked down more than half of its 25 million population. Sydney and Melbourne, its largest cities, and capital Canberra are in weeks-long strict stay-at-home orders.

Despite the recent flare-ups, it has managed to keep its coronavirus numbers relatively low, with just over 55,000 cases and 1,012 deaths.

Among the Group of 20 big economies, Australia was the last to record 1,000 COVID-19 deaths, a grim but modest marker by global standards reached this week. read more

Several major Asia-Pacific economies have fewer COVID-19 deaths, with New Zealand recording just 26.

While Australian authorities had been able to douse past outbreaks through lockdowns, the highly infectious Delta variant has forced the country’s two biggest states to plan for a reopening even as infections rise.

Australian Medical Association vice president Chris Moy told Reuters that Delta’s high infectivity, short incubation and asymptomatic spread had meant the “old playbook did not work”.

“Your window of opportunity at the start to eliminate it is so much smaller and basically once you’re passed that, Delta decides its destiny,” Moy said.

The federal government is pressing the states and territories to stick to a national reopening plan once vaccination rates reach 70%-80% although some virus-free states said they may delay given the rapidly rising Sydney cases. read more

Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg urged the state leaders to follow the national reopening plans.

“Stick to the plan … a plan that allows businesses to reopen and plan for their own future … a plan that takes Australia forward to living safely with the virus,” Frydenberg said.


Source: Reuters