Howard's big photo opportunity gobbles up millions
Under a cloak of secrecy, the Federal Government last week hosted a top-level meeting of defence chiefs from 19 nations ahead of next month's APEC meeting, also in Sydney. Included were regional chiefs from US, Japan, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia.
ABC reporter Leigh Sales said the “military leaders discussed the types of new missions modern armies have to carry out and the ways to improve performance. Chief of the Australian Army, Lieut. Gen Peter Leahy, said the meeting was “an internal conference” (code for “we’re not telling”) “and we were just sitting around in one of the nice hotels in Sydney, discussing issues”. As one does. But with top brass from 19 nations?!
Because of the secrecy and what we already know of the Howard Government’s poor record for honesty, we are entitled to speculate on the rationale underlying this cover story: the real probability of a change of government could throw into disarray secret deals made with these nations over the 11 years of conservative government—nations whose commitment to democratic ideals is, to say the least, thin on the ground.
The so-called 'war on terror' has been used as an excuse for the most heavy presence ever of security in the harbourside city that will see a gathering of some of the world's most morally dubious and toxic leaders at Sydney's iconic Opera House, as if this symbol of high culture will somehow rub off onto this powerful group whose business is a challenge to our democratic rights, including the right to know what our elected government is doing, and the right to assemble and to protest.
While relying on these same citizens to vote it control of the Treasury benches, the government's security arrangements for APEC look dangerously like equating lawful protest with terror, and should be of great concern to civil libertarians.
Included in extraordinary security measures are the virtual shutdown of sections of the city, the erection of a five-kilometre, 2.8 m high barricade
to enclose the summit site and a ban on parking that extends into suburbs far from the city's centre, to allow free access for emergency services.
Medical authorities have for months been decrying the city's lack of effective medical infrastructure to cope with a terrorist-inspired disaster. The Sydney Morning Herald reported 3 August that John Graham, chairman of Sydney Hospital's department of medicine feared "the death toll from a terrorist attack in Sydney would be at least double what it needs to be" because the Howard government "has refused to take over and upgrade the only hospital in the city centre".
The next day, the SMH reported: "Some of Sydney's biggest hospitals will postpone or cut elective surgery for five days during the Asia-Pacific leaders' summit in a health disaster plan being implemented under a veil of secrecy"
The same day, the government "admitted that elective surgery at Sydney hospitals will be scaled back during the APEC summit, but says procedures will be rescheduled, not cancelled."
Of course, the APEC meeting, we shouldn’t need to remind ourselves, is all about setting the stage for re-election of a Howard government. According to a report in The Australian on Wednesday, 15 August, George W. Bush has upset plans for the traditional end-of-conference group photo with his ‘last-minute decision to arrive two days ahead of schedule’, and to leave early. The Australian writes: “It is thought that without Mr Bush, a photo of 20 world leaders in felt hats and bush shirts standing in front of the Opera House would not have the same resonance. ‘It’s 21 economies: (John Howard) wants to have everyone in the photograph,’ one official said.”
All we need now is a giant Stalin-like banner with John Howard's face rising over the Harbour like the famous scene in Nikita Mikhalkov's Burnt by the Sun!
Besides the millions that the Howard desperadoes have squandered to win back allegiance from an alienated electorate, how much has been outlaid on his Sydney photo opportunity?
News.com.au reported 3 June that the http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,21837124-421,00.html?from=public_rss >security bill for the week-long summit "has blown out to $170 million ... a staggering $24 million a day."
Despite all these misgivings, however, a real security threat remains unresolved—the whereabouts of those nine unrecovered rocket launchers of the ten stolen from the ADF. The citizens of NSW and the conference delegates have a right to know why Howard has ignored this concern in his push for a photo opportunity in the heart of our most populous city, and will justly condemn him if a feared terrorist attack or a conventional disaster occurs.
Howard Government's security spending—a work in progress
On top of the $170 claimed in the News.com article, news reports on 15 and 16 August reported an additional $20 million will be spent on the national security hotline:
Propaganda overkill: "So far, the Government admits it has spent $126 million since last July on what it calls public information campaigns, from defence recruitment to workplace relations"