Sunday, September 18, 2005


I’ve been wondering about trust. Trusting people means risk, and I’m not brave. On the other hand, I like the way our legal system is based on the presumption of innocence, and think this should be the basis for our everyday relations as well. Cynicism, scepticism, thinking the worst of people first... that’s not how I want the world to be, and like I said in another post, I think we make the world with the decisions of everyday. What I’m saying, reader, is that I expect you to be honest. I expect you to be who you say you are. I expect to fight my own paranoia occasionally in order to trust you, because to do otherwise is disrespectful to both of us. All of which means that if you’re not who you say you are, you can fuck off now. Clear enough?

On a larger scale, we as a country trust the people we allow to enter Australia. Yes, they’re checked, and yes, they need to meet visa requirements and so on, but essentially that involves answering questions and I'm assuming we generally take people at their word. So when American peace activist, Scott Parkin - here on a six-month visa - was deported from Australia this week, I was inclined to think he'd lied about his reasons for visiting, and that he'd betrayed our trust.

If you don’t know the story, in summary**:

- Parkin arrived in Australia on 1st June, intending to leave on 20th September.
- As well as more typical tourist activities, he stayed with political and social activists, spoke to anti-war groups and attended conferences and events opposing the Forbes Global CEO Conference in Sydney last month.
- Specifically, "He spoke openly against the war in Iraq and against what he calls the war profiteering by the likes of US company Halliburton, once run by American Vice-President, Dick Cheney."
- On Wednesday 7th September someone from the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) rang him to request an interview, though they had no warrant. He declined.
- On Saturday 10th September his visitor’s visa was cancelled.
- The same day, and shortly before he was to conduct a protest workshop in Melbourne, he was detained: "His escorts — four ASIO officers and two immigration officials — took him to Carlton police station, then to the Melbourne Custody Centre [...] On Thursday, after almost a week in detention at his own expense, Parkin was flown home."

The reason for his deportation?
- "Mr Parkin's removal from Australia seemed to be based only on something he had supposedly said, although he had not been told what that was."
- 'Parkin's visa was cancelled under decade-old provisions in the Migration Act that require the Immigration Minister to act if ASIO deems someone a "direct or indirect risk" to security.'
- 'A spokesman for Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said ASIO had not opposed the original visa application, but its understanding of his intentions had changed during his trip. Parkin was detained for "encouraging spirited protest".'

If this deportation had been ordered by the Prime Minister or his mates, I'd have assumed it was a political stunt. (Yes, that would be bias you’re detecting.) But the situation reportedly was this: the Leader of the Opposition was also briefed on the situation, and did not oppose the deportation. I’m not all that fond of the Opposition either, as it happens, but I'd expect them to argue about the decision - if there was any doubt about it - just because that’s their job: to oppose. They didn’t do that. So I assumed the case against Parkin was strong.

And here’s the thing: I want to believe the government, whoever is in power. It’s my country, it’s my government, I want these people to be good and true and worth supporting. I want to believe them. And I wanted to believe there must have been something amiss in Parkin's story.


Former Australian Office of National Assessments (ONA) analyst, Andrew Wilkie, who resigned over the misrepresentation of intelligence ahead of the Iraq war, suggested the Labor Party had fallen for an old spooks trick he had seen before.

"I sat in on three ONA briefings with the then-opposition leader Simon Crean and on all three occasions, I saw relevant and important information intentionally omitted from the security briefings because they were inconsistent with the government's policies on the issue," he said. "So, I'm not satisfied that Kim Beazley has made an informed decision on this."


...under last year's National Security Information Act, is the Government no longer has to reveal to a court the basis of its decision. And even as ASIO was moving to cancel Parkin's visa, Prime Minister John Howard was issuing another tranche of anti-terror proposals, including powers to fit terror suspects with tracking devices, detain them for up to 14 days without charge and make random bag searches in public areas.


University of NSW law professor George Williams says episodes such as Parkin's removal are a sign of a growing lack of scrutiny of Government decisions.

"We are going to increasingly see important decisions made behind the cloak of secrecy, and the sort of laws we are dealing with will give added power for these things to occur without adequate scrutiny, without reasons being made known," he says.

"I can see the need for tough laws and I support tough laws, but when you have definitions that are too broad, decisions that are made without appropriate scrutiny, we are really laying the foundations for what could be long-term flaws in our system of democracy."

Long-term flaws in our system of democracy? What's going on?

Without trust, democracy dies and almost nothing can be done. This is not new. Confucius thought that a successful ruler needed three things: an army, bread to distribute and the trust of the people – and that trust was the most important. Macchiavelli wrote: "If it is fated that the people do not trust anyone, because they have been deceived, then they fall inexorably into ruin."

(Jakob von Uexkull, founder of the Right Livelihood Awards.)

Trust depends on honesty. Honesty depends on openness. Openness is not what these laws are about, and of course that's largely due to the nature of anti-terrorist measures: secrecy can be necessary. But I'd say national security means more than just protection from terrorists; I'd say it also means being able to trust the people who are running the country. What a relief, then, that we've never been deceived before.

** Links to articles in the Age or Sydney Morning Herald won't work unless you sign in, sorry.