Grattan on Friday: Australia’s war crimes in Afghanistan – how could those up the chain not know?


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

When he speaks at functions, Scott Morrison routinely pays tribute to present and past members of the Australian Defence Force.

It seems a very American thing to do.

But he is also putting the military on an extremely high pedestal. When some of those on that pedestal are found to have done appalling things, the shock is doubly great.

For many Australians, looking back on a history of war heroism, it will be hard to take in what the investigation by Justice Paul Brereton has found: 25 current or former soldiers, from the special forces, allegedly perpetrated, as principals or accessories, war crimes in Afghanistan.

A total of 39 people – Afghan non-combatants or prisoners of war – were killed, and another two cruelly treated. Some 19 Australians will be referred on for criminal investigation and likely or possible prosecution.

For the government and the military brass, the Brereton findings are not, or should not be, as surprising as is being claimed.

For a long time, there have been suggestions of bad behaviour by some Australians in Afghanistan.




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Changing the culture of our SAS forces is no easy fix. Instead, we need to face the true costs of war


Indeed, even when I was there way back in 2002, and Australia had 150 special forces in place, there was chatter among the international media that the Australians were fast and loose.

Before then, there were allegations of brutality by Australian special forces in East Timor in the late 1990s.

The military itself in recent years commissioned inquiries into the culture and operations of the special forces.

In a 2016 report on culture, Samantha Crompvoets wrote, on the basis of the interviews she conducted, of “unverifiable accounts of extremely serious breaches of accountability and trust”.

Most concerning were “allusions to behaviour and practices involving abuse of drugs and alcohol, domestic violence, unsanctioned and illegal application of violence on operations, disregard for human life and dignity, and the perception of a complete lack of accountability at times”.

David McBride, who served in Afghanistan as a military lawyer, blew the whistle on misconduct, and has been prosecuted for his public service.

In some excellent journalism, The Age/Sydney Morning Herald and the ABC extensively documented alleged criminal behaviour.

Even so, Angus Campbell, Chief of the Australian Defence Force, said of the Brereton report: “I was anticipating it wouldn’t be good – but I didn’t realise how bad it would be”.

Brereton documents how a culture of compliance, intimidation and silence in the field hushed up crimes, and he highlights the “warrior culture” of Special Air Service Regiment commanders in Australia.

Patrol commanders on the ground were culpable. “The criminal behaviour in this Report was conceived, committed, continued and concealed at patrol commander level, and it is overwhelmingly at that level that responsibility resides,” Brereton writes. To a junior SASR trooper, “fresh from selection and reinforcement cycle, the patrol commander is a demigod, and one who can make or break a trooper’s career”.

But those up the chain did not know what was going on, Brereton found, although they bore a “moral command responsibility”.




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Evidence of war crimes found against 25 Australian soldiers in Afghanistan


The key question is, how could this be so? We are talking about multiple crimes of murder and brutality, practices such as “blooding” (patrol commanders requiring a junior soldier to shoot a prisoner to make his first kill), and planting false evidence on victims.

If senior officers did not pick up gossip and whispers, surely they should have been enough aware of the broad special forces culture to know that extensive checks should be in place to guard against the ever-present threat of misconduct.

In 2011, Campbell was appointed Commander Joint Task Force 633, responsible for Australian forces in the Middle East including Afghanistan.

Asked on Thursday for his response to those who might say the report had let people like him “off the hook”, Campbell admitted “I wonder was there something I walked past, was there some indicator I didn’t see?”

Having not done enough many years ago to ensure Australia’s special forces were best prepared to meet proper standards of legal and ethical conduct, the ADF more recently began reform and is now in overdrive to make amends for the atrocities that have been committed.

The government is trying to keep as much at arms length as it can (and remember this inquiry stretches back through Coalition and Labor years, with the worst behaviour concentrated in 2012-13). But it has quickly and properly set up a special investigator’s office that will undertake further work to gather and prepare material for criminal actions.

Campbell has accepted all Brereton’s recommendations. He has made a public apology to the Afghan people. He’s been in contact with the head of the Afghan military. Australia will pay compensation to victims’ families.

In Canada, after a major scandal, the unit concerned was disbanded. That is not happening here, but a SASR sub-unit has got the chop.




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While Thursday’s release of the report was a huge moment, it actually marks the middle of a process.

The military is some way down the track in dealing with its consequences, and the preparations for the prosecution process are advancing. The government is particularly anxious to be seen to be pursuing wrongdoers vigorously: it wants them to be brought to justice under Australian law, not to go to international justice.

The Meritorious Unit Citation that was awarded to the Special Operations Task Group will be revoked – which is appropriate though it will be hard on soldiers who performed commendably and bravely and without fault – and meritorious awards won by individuals will be reviewed.

The redacted report does not name those it says should be referred for criminal investigation; hopefully they’ll be successfully bought to justice but it will be a difficult, long road, given the report is not a brief of evidence and much work will have to be redone.

With so much redaction, there is still a good deal we don’t know about these events. When the official history of the time is written some years on, it will include the unredacted material.

The affair has torn at the heart of Australia’s military reputation. It has not destroyed that reputation, but the repair effort must be comprehensive and, above all, transparent.

And it should always be remembered that the military can be as fallible as any other group in society, and a small minority of individuals as reprehensible as other criminals, and to assume otherwise is to be blind in the name of false patriotism.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Evidence of war crimes found against 25 Australian soldiers in Afghanistan



AAP/Defence handout/Cpl Raymond Vance

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The inquiry into Australian Special Forces’ misconduct in Afghanistan has found evidence of war crimes involving 25 current or former Australian Defence Force personnel.

The inquiry found “credible information” of 23 incidents in which one or more non-combatants or prisoners of war “were unlawfully killed by or at the direction of members of the Special Operations Task Group, in circumstances which, if accepted by a jury, would be the war crime of murder”.

In a further two incidents, a non-combatant or prisoner was mistreated in a way that would be “the war crime of cruel treatment”.

Some incidents involved one victim, and in some there were multiple victims.

The inquiry found a total of 39 individuals were killed, and a further two cruelly treated.

The 25 current or former ADF personnel were perpetrators “either as principals or accessories” some of them on a single occasion and a few on multiple occasions.

None of the alleged crimes involved decisions made “under pressure, in the heat of battle”.

The inquiry has recommended the Chief of the Defence Force refer 36 matters to the Australian Federal Police for criminal investigation, relating to 23 incidents, and involving 19 individuals.

The inquiry, which examined conduct by the Special Forces between 2005 and 2016 was conducted by Justice Paul Brereton. Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week announced the establishment of a special investigator’s office to prepare material for the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.

While the report is damning specifically for the special forces operation in the prolonged Afghanistan war, it will cast a pall over the Australian military more generally.

It recommends Australia immediately compensate families of Afghan nationals unlawfully killed, without waiting for criminal liability to be established.

“This will be an important step in rehabilitating Australia’s national reputation, in particular with Afghanistan, and it is simply the right thing to do,” the report says.

It says although many members of the Special Operations Task Group showed great courage and commitment, and the group had considerable achievements, “what is now known must disentitle the unit as a whole to eligibility for recognition for sustained outstanding service.”

“It has to be said that what this Report discloses is disgraceful and a profound betrayal of the Australian Defence Forces’ professional standards and expectations.”

The inquiry has recommended revoking the award of the Meritorious Unit Citation, “as an effective demonstration of the collective responsibility and accountability” of the group as a whole.

The investigation found that while commanders on the ground were involved, those higher up the chain did not know of the war crimes being perpetrated.

Among the evidence, the inquiry found credible information that “junior soldiers were required by their patrol commanders to shoot a prisoner, in order to achieve the sliders first kill, in a practice that was known as ‘blooding’”.

It also found “throwdowns” (weapons and radios) would be placed with the body as a “cover story” for operational reporting and to deflect scrutiny.

“This was reinforced with a cone of silence.”

The report laid blame on culture, condemning the “warrior culture” of some SAS commanders in Australia.

The Chief of the ADF, Angus Campbell said at a news conference he “sincerely and unreservedly apologised” to the people of Afghanistan for any wrongdoing by Australian soldiers.

Campbell said he had accepted all 143 Brereton recommendations, dealing with culture, governance, and accountability.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Changing the culture of our SAS forces is no easy fix. Instead, we need to face the true costs of war


AAP Image/Australian Department of Defence

Damian Powell, University of Melbourne

Australians will be disheartened by the inspector-general of the Australian Defence Force’s report on war crimes committed by our special forces soldiers in Afghanistan. But they should not be surprised.

The demands placed upon the Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) and Commando Regiment have stretched our soldiers to the point where some have failed themselves, each other and the Anzac tradition. They may not deserve our sympathy, but we do need to understand what brought them to this point.




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Evidence of war crimes found against 25 Australian soldiers in Afghanistan


Specifically, we need to consider if these crimes are an aberration or part of a systemic cultural problem in how the Australian Army trains, debriefs, deploys and then redeploys special forces soldiers in war zones.  

Importantly, the SASR badly needs to examine how it relates to the Australian Army, of which it is a part.

Selected for relentless ‘kill and capture’ missions

In Afghanistan, special forces soldiers were fighting a war within a war. Selected through recruitment courses to stand out and stand alone, the SASR distinguished itself – even from the commandos who shared the burden of Australia’s war-fighting missions.

Drawing on a few hundred soldiers and two units from an army of tens of thousands, only a small body of troops was selected for relentless “kill and capture” missions of Taliban militants.

They fought with the constant reality of potential death or maiming through close-quarter combat, IEDs and “green on blue” attacks by Afghan allies. Special forces saw the very worst of their enemy, and eventually of each other.




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Other Australian service personnel were constrained by strict rules of engagement in projects ranging from school construction to counter-intelligence operations to building trust with local warlords. Meanwhile, SASR and 2 Commando returned again and again to combat. This likely desensitised, then dehumanised, some of the soldiers.

The army command offered too little by way of integration of SASR and 2 Commando with other units. SASR even demarcated its own compound within the confines of the larger Tarin Kowt base.

There was also inadequate rotation away from the battlefield, and no significant or complementary support from other units (such as regular infantry battalions). There was no mandatory rest and renewal for soldiers who might thrive on operational adrenalin, but at a long-term cost to their physical and mental health.

‘Throwdowns’ and ‘blooding’ in a ‘warrior culture’

The redacted findings in Justice Paul Brereton’s report are painful in their detail and damning in their conclusions. It finds special forces personnel unlawfully killed 39 non-combatants – prisoners, farmers, civilians – between 2009 and 2013. The report also recommends 36 matters to the AFP for criminal investigation.

The report found “credible information” about two practices that make for particularly distressing reading. The first is a “throwdown”, which involved soldiers planting equipment on bodies. The report says:

This practice probably originated for the less egregious though still dishonest purpose of avoiding scrutiny where a person who was legitimately engaged turned out not to be armed. But it evolved to be used for the purpose of concealing deliberate unlawful killings.

Second, is the practice of “blooding”, where unit commanders encouraged junior soldiers to execute unarmed prisoners as their first “kill”.

Typically, the patrol commander would take a person under control and the junior member would then be directed to kill the person under control. “Throwdowns” would be placed with the body, and a “cover story” was created for the purposes of operational reporting and to deflect scrutiny. This was reinforced with a code of silence.

Chief of Defence Force General Angus Campbell accepted all 143 recommendations from the inspector-general’s report. He acknowledged the findings were a “bitter blow” to the morale and prestige of the ADF.

What to make of it all?

Beyond reputational damage, defence needs to undergo a rehabilitation of culture. This includes organisational deficiencies, which Campbell acknowledged extended beyond special forces and into the wider organisation.

Among a toxic competitiveness between SASR and 2 Commando, which he termed a “disgrace”, Campbell acknowledged a “reckless indifference” to the rules of war among junior commanders at unit level, sanitised and misleading reporting, and inadequate oversight from operational command, among a systemic failure of unit and higher command.

In defending the need for special forces capability, he stressed ongoing reform within SASR. This included disbanding an SASR squadron which, he argued, bore “collective responsibility” for unlawful unit culture.

He noted measures to strengthen ethical standards and enhanced levels of oversight and governance across the army.

The winding down of operations in Afghanistan and changes in serving personnel might offer special forces a chance for cultural change.

But long history suggests issues of character and culture are a tough nut to crack.

Perhaps unlike any other institution in contemporary Australian society beyond the priesthood, the military is distinctive in recruiting young, with virtually no external points of entry or cultural comparison until retirement.

Defence assumes, as it must given the reality of constant unit rotation, an equivalence of character and capacity based largely on military rank and duties.

In Afghanistan, the influence of some warrant and non-commissioned officers over more junior ranks, as well as the (often younger and less experienced) officers who were ostensibly their superiors, promoted a dysfunctional and finally criminal culture that unit or higher command never confronted or challenged. Beyond mere negligence, such an obvious ethical failing in an organisation that relies on an explicit chain of “command and control” is unforgivable.

Improving SAS culture is no quick fix

In the closed culture embraced by the special forces and enabled by army leadership, a lack of objectivity was always at risk: the soldier to your left was at once your therapist, emotional crutch, brother-in-arms and (oftentimes damaged) arbiter of right and wrong.

But this type of role demands a clear, fully formed moral compass and a constant measure of external regulation.




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As a series of Department of Defence inquiries over decades make clear, cultural change requires unending toil. The Australian Army is in constant flux; it changes with every intake of young soldiers who will eventually sign on for special forces training.

Good culture requires many things, among them:

  • an unrelenting clarity and consistency of expectation in matters large and small

  • constant internal and external review of practice

  • a willingness to accept that so-called “troublemakers” are often in fact “truth-tellers” who need to be protected, and indeed honoured, as agents of change

  • better training of soldiers in the ethical demands and responsibilities of “lawful violence”

  • counselling and psychological support both during and after operations.

All of this requires more than just recommendations in a report; it requires unbending political and institutional will and close scrutiny of organisational leadership.

Scrutiny of those at the top matters, too

Some army leaders are to be commended for their willingness to drill down into SAS culture with an eye to change. However, it was the courage of Australian journalists and SAS and commando whistle-blowers — not the actions of politicians or army leaders — that pushed these alleged crimes into the national conscience.

If military honours are to be stripped from soldiers, a thorough examination of unit command and delegated authority is vital, extending to the very top. This includes the actions of those highly decorated senior officers who provided command during the Afghanistan campaign.




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Over the past few decades, a strong orthodoxy has evolved, wrapped in the mystique of “Anzac” nationalism, that any criticism of the ADF is taboo. This has served as a convenient cloak to obviate harsh public examination of everything from politically driven procurement deals to massive spending overruns.

But, in choosing to investigate and possibly prosecute alleged war crimes, Australia is stepping out onto ground resisted by our “Five Eyes” allies, who have avoided similar interrogation of their own special forces.

T.S. Elliot long ago observed that humanity could not “bear very much reality”. By definition, fighting wars is a murderous business. Beyond apportioning blame, or any new recommendations on how to change the culture of our special forces, we have the chance to reflect on the painful truths of war.

Now is also the time to reflect carefully on what we ask of, and how we best support, those soldiers who serve in our name.The Conversation

Damian Powell, Historian and Principal, Janet Clarke Hall, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Allegations of murder and ‘blooding’ in Brereton report now face many obstacles to prosecution



Australian Department of Defence

David Letts, Australian National University

The long-awaited report into allegations of war crimes by Australia’s special forces in Afghanistan has finally been made public, after months of speculation about the contents.




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Evidence of war crimes found against 25 Australian soldiers in Afghanistan


As expected, the report by Justice Paul Brereton is highly confronting and deeply concerning. However, despite widespread condemnation of the behaviour identified in the report — from the highest levels of the military and government — the next steps are far from straightforward.

Unlawful killings

The report, from the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force (IGADF), found evidence of 23 incidents of alleged unlawful killing of 39 Afghan civilians by Australian special forces personnel. There are a further two incidents of “cruel treatment”.

ADF chief Angus Campbell
ADF chief Angus Campbell condemned the behaviour of Australian soldiers in Afghanistan.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

This involved a total of 25 current or former Australian Defence Force members who were perpetrators, either as principals or accessories.

Some of these incidents took place in 2009 and 2010, with the majority occurring in 2012 and 2013.

ADF Chief General Angus Campbell said he was shocked by the revelations, which he described as “damaging to our moral authority as a military force”.

I would never have conceived an Australian would be doing this in the modern era.

Blooding, throwdowns and executions

The inquiry has found “credible information” that junior soldiers were required by their patrol commanders to shoot a prisoner, in order to achieve the soldier’s first kill, in a practice known as “blooding”.
“Throwdowns” — other weapons or radios — would be planted with the body, and a “cover story” was created.

This was reinforced with a code of silence.

The report is damning about a “warrior culture” within the Special Air Service Regiment, as well as a “culture of secrecy”.

The inquiry has recommended the chief of the defence force refer 36 matters to the Australian Federal Police for criminal investigation. Those matters relate to the 23 incidents and involve a total of 19 individuals.

Numerous obstacles to prosecutions

However, last week, in preparation for the report’s release, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a “special investigator” would be appointed to further examine any allegations of war crimes.

Campbell confirmed those who are alleged to be involved in unlawful criminal conduct will be referred to the special investigator.

After gathering evidence on specific allegations, the Office of the Special Investigator will refer briefs to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions. Morrison explained such a task would “significantly overwhelm” the AFP, hence his decision to appoint a special investigator.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison
Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned Australians the report would make tough reading.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Despite these mechanisms being put in place, there are still serious questions about how potential criminal prosecutions would work. 

Investigating and prosecuting alleged crimes of this nature is incredibly difficult due to the passage of time, fading memories and inconsistency of witnesses. There are also practical challenges obtaining evidence in a country with a fragile security situation.




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It’s time for Australia’s SAS to stop its culture of cover-up and take accountability for possible war crimes


It is also important to note any statement or disclosure made by a witness to the IGADF inquiry cannot be used as evidence against that person in any subsequent civil or criminal trial or court martial.

This means some of the evidence contained in the IGADF inquiry — however compelling it might be — may not be available for a criminal prosecution, as the right to remain silent would be available to a person being interviewed by the Special Investigator.

Also, the standard of proof required to convict an individual “beyond a reasonable doubt” in a criminal trial is quite high, meaning any successful prosecution might require stronger evidence than what has been included in the IGADF inquiry.

Therefore, for any prosecution to proceed, any evidence obtained by the special investigator will need to be evaluated against this higher criminal standard to determine if it is sufficient for a person to stand trial.

It is important to note the same higher standard of proof (beyond reasonable doubt) will need to be met for a successful prosecution, regardless of whether any trial takes place by court martial or in a civilian court.

Public perceptions of war crimes allegations

The reaction of the Australian public to the report will be interesting to observe. As journalists have revealed the shocking details of many of the allegations against SAS soldiers in recent years, some have defended their actions as having taken place in the “fog of war”.

In his comments on Thursday, Campbell spoke plainly about the report’s findings.

None of the alleged unlawful killings were described as being in the heat of battle […] The unlawful killing of citizens and prisoners is never acceptable.

Of course, it is important to recognise Australian soldiers faced significant difficulties in Afghanistan. Most notably, they were dealing with an enemy that was not easily identifiable and did not abide by the laws of war.

For instance, some Afghan civilians directly participated in conflict against Coalition soldiers. The so-called “farmer by day, fighter by night” has been a constant feature of operations in Afghanistan ever since Australians were first deployed there.

If civilians directly participated in hostilities against foreign forces, regardless of whether they were armed or not, they would lose their protected status under the laws of war. The death of any civilian taking direct part in hostilities, therefore, would not necessarily be unlawful under the laws of war and Australian domestic law.




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Understanding and applying this aspect of the laws of war is a potential complicating factor for the special investigator.

That said, as Campbell pointed out, the challenging circumstances faced by coalition forces in Afghanistan do not allow soldiers to commit war crimes. The laws of armed conflict are very clear in this regard.

A transparent and open investigation process

There was a clear need for these allegations to be properly investigated in an impartial manner. This has happened with the Brereton inquiry.

In appointing a special investigator, the government has shown it is taking these findings seriously and wants those soldiers who are proven guilty of crimes to be held accountable.




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The ADF must also be open and transparent about the actions it is taking following the completion of the IGADF inquiry.

By doing this, Australia’s military can show that it has learned from this sorry tale and made whatever changes are necessary to ensure compliance with the laws of armed conflict is understood and practised by every member of the ADF — regardless of the difficulty of the operating environment.The Conversation

David Letts, Director, Centre for Military and Security Law; Associate Professor, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Scott Morrison prepares Australians for shocking news out of report on misconduct in Afghanistan


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government is setting up a special investigator office to examine the findings of the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force’s inquiry into alleged misconduct by Australian special forces in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016.

The office will assist and coordinate Australia Federal Police criminal investigations into matters raised by the inquiry, gather evidence and where appropriate refer briefs to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Ahead of next week’s release of the redacted report, prepared by Justice Paul Brereton, Scott Morrison warned it would be “difficult and hard news” for Australians to hear.

He said the Australian Defence Force had served in Afghanistan “with great sacrifice, while dealing with significant challenges”, and more generally, he was extremely thankful “to every Australian who chooses to put on our uniform”.

But “we need to ensure justice is truly served by illuminating the conduct of those who may have acted in ways that do not accord with the high standards expected of our ADF and those expectations held by the serving men and women of our ADF and their veterans community, past and present.”

Morrison said the conduct covered the time-span of three governments. “Our responsibility is to ensure now that we deal with this in a way that accords with our Australian standards of justice, that respects the rule of law, that provides the relevant checks and balances through this process, that upholds our values and standards and the respect that we have for our Defence Forces that they have earned and deserve”.

He stressed the need to “protect the vulnerable whether serving currently or who are in our veterans community who have no part in this ”.

While those accused of misconduct must be held accountable within the justice system and the Australian rule of law “responsibility must also be taken by leadership to ensure the lessons are learned and these events are never repeated”.

The inquiry has examined a raft of alleged breaches of the laws of armed conflict, including claims of murder and mistreatment, involving non-combatants and those being held prisoner.

The report covers not just specific allegations, but also the culture that allowed misbehaviour.

The government is also establishing a panel to oversee Defence’s broader response to the inquiry, covering cultural, organisational and leadership change. It will report to the defence minister.

Its members will be Vivienne Thom, a former inspector-general of intelligence and security, Robert Cornall, a former secretary of the attorney-general’s department, and Rufus Black, an ethicist and vice-chancellor of the University of Tasmania.

The special investigator will be a senior counsel or retired judge. The office will sit in the Home Affairs portfolio. It will have investigative staff from within the Australian Federal Police, state police experts and legal counsel.

The investigations would normally be handled by the AFP but the volume and complexity of the task is too great.

Morrison said it would operate as long as necessary.

Ben Roberts-Smith, a VC recipient in Afghanistan, who has been subject to allegations in the media, issued a statement on Thursday night.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

It’s not only Westpac. What’s behind the biggest fine in Australian corporate history



Marlon Trottmann/Shutterstock

Thomas Clarke, University of Technology Sydney

Westpac is to pay A$1.3 billion, by far Australia’s biggest-ever corporate fine for breaches of the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act.

The 93-page statement of agreed facts and admissions prepared by Westpac and the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) says Westpac contravened the Act more than 23 million times exposing Australia’s financial system to criminal exploitation.

It failed to pass on information to authorities about the origin of international funds transfers, and failed to pass on information to other banks in the transfer chain who needed to manage their own money laundering and terrorism financing risks.

“Westpac failed to identify activity potentially indicative of child exploitation risks by failing to implement appropriate transaction monitoring detection scenarios,” the agreed statement says.

“Three of the customers the subject of these proceedings had prior convictions relating to child exploitation offences.”

“One of these customers has been arrested in relation to further child exploitation offences since the commencement of these proceedings.


Westpac and AUSTRAC, Agreed Statement of Facts and Admissions

In reaching the agreement, Westpac also admitted to 76,000 additional contraventions relating to information that came to light after AUSTRAC launched proceedings last year, some which also relate to “failures to reasonably monitor customers for transactions related to possible child exploitation”.

The action triggered the departures of Westpac chief executive Brian Hartzer and chairman Lindsay Maxsted late last year.




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The A$1.3 billion fine dwarfs the Commonwealth Bank’s A$700 million settlement with AUSTRAC for serious breaches of anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing laws in 2018.

The Westpac debacle is far from an isolated instance of international banks demonstrating indifference to their potential involvement in organised crime.

Documents released by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists on Monday show that major banks around the world conducted US$2 trillion of suspicious transactions in the eight years between 1999-2017.

Australian banks on the international stage

Of a limited sample of transactions assessed, Australian banks received US$3.8 million of suspicious funds and sent out $167.9 million.


International Consortium of Investigative Journalists interactive

The Macquarie Bank was responsible for US$122.1 million of the US$167.9 million, the Commonwealth Bank for US$42.1 million.

The reports relating to Australian banks were filed by the US banks which dealt with them.

The Australian banks themselves might have also filed their own reports.

There’s little to suggest much was done about the reports by US banks at the time, either by the banks themselves or by the regulators they filed them to.

Indeed, the long timespan suggests the banks not only didn’t close suspicious accounts (which might have alerted account holders to suspicions) but also continued to open new ones.

The crime that makes other crimes possible

BuzzFeed, which obtained the documents, said money laundering was a crime that made other crimes possible, and had itself become an integral part of the financial system.

The networks through which dirty money traverse the world have become vital arteries of the global economy. They enable a shadow financial system so wide-ranging and so unchecked that it has become inextricable from what is regarded as the legitimate economy. Banks with household names have helped to make it so.

Certainly after the 2019 report of the banking royal commission it is reasonable to expect Australian banks to do more.

Commissioner Hayne held banks to higher standard than merely abiding by the law. He referred to “the kind of behaviour the community not only expects of financial services entities but is also entitled to expect of them”.




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This week’s shocking evidence suggests there’s work to do.

From the wreckage of the global financial crisis the G20 Financial Stability Board erected a new regulatory order requiring banks to have adequate capital.

To this was added a Task Force on Climate Related Financial Disclosures.

It’s time for a third set of reforms, to ensure the financial system doesn’t serve as a conduit for serious crimes.The Conversation

Thomas Clarke, Professor, UTS Business, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why prisons in Victoria are locked up and locked down



Shutterstock

Lesley Russell, University of Sydney

This week revealed cases of coronavirus infection in a Victorian prison guard and a prisoner in quarantine on remand. Now six Victorian prisons are in lockdown.

This is not the first time there has been a positive COVID-19 test for prison personnel in Australia; three justice health staff in New South Wales tested positive earlier this year.

Public health and prison officials look fearfully at the toll coronavirus has taken on incarcerated populations around the world. They recognise Australian prisons are also at high risk for coronavirus outbreaks.

Many have pushed for proactive measures to prevent this. Now the adequacy of the implemented measures is being tested.




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Why are prisons and prisoners at increased risk?

Prisons and prisoners are at increased risk of coronavirus for many reasons, including:

  • Prisoners and staff (who come and go into the community) are in close contact. So it is easy to see how transmission could occur between the community and prison populations, and back again.

  • Overcrowding means prisoners cannot self-isolate.

  • Hygiene standards are poor and there have been reported shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) for both staff and prisoners. National Cabinet agreed in May supplying PPE to corrections facilities should be a priority “if COVID-19 cases are confirmed in the sector”, so it is not clear if this has happened.

  • Prisoners have higher rates of social disadvantage and many are medically vulnerable due to lifelong difficulties accessing health care; mental health and substance abuse problems; violence; and unhealthy prison conditions.

  • Indigenous Australians are significantly over-represented in the prison population. While coronavirus has been kept out of Indigenous communities, there is every reason to believe Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, like other First Nations people, are at increased risk from coronavirus infection and death.

  • There is significant churn in the justice system as people are taken into custody, bailed, jailed and released.

  • There is little data to assess the adequacy of health-care facilities in prisons. But prisoners have an inherent health-care disadvantage as they cannot make their own decisions about their health care, or access Medicare and medicines under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

What’s happening in prisons during the pandemic?

There is little information about what is happening to protect Australian prisons from the pandemic.

One media report in March outlined some measures individual states and territories have taken. All jurisdictions have limited prison visits and most, including Victoria, have instituted a 14-day quarantine for new prisoners.

There has been some testing in some prisons, but the extent is not known. A media report in May stated Victoria would increase testing in prisons after three inmates returned inconclusive tests that were later found to be negative.

Should we be releasing prisoners?

Australian governments have faced renewed calls to urgently release some prisoners into the community. This would cut the number of people held in prisons and other places of detention, particularly Indigenous people and others at increased risk.

Governments in some states, have responded by introducing legislation to allow for this, although we don’t yet know the extent of any releases.




Read more:
For First Nations people, coronavirus has meant fewer services, separated families and over-policing: new report


However, release into the community is only a safe option if people have appropriate housing and support services. There are concerns that releases — which are based on risk to the community, the safety of victims and access to accommodation — will be culturally biased against those most likely to benefit such as Indigenous prisoners.

Many Indigenous communities are closed to visitors and no-one can return until after a 14-day isolation period. This presents difficulties for those prisoners who do not have accommodation options outside their communities.

We need to avoid what’s happening overseas

The clear lessons from the second outbreak of coronavirus in Victoria and from the disastrous situation of rising coronavirus cases in prisons in the United States is that swift, concerted actions are needed to curtail spread of the virus.

The only way to know what is happening is rapid testing of prisoners and staff, whether or not they show symptoms, and effective isolation of anyone possibly infected.

At the same time, the human rights of this vulnerable population must be protected and their physical and mental health needs addressed. Already most prisoners are unable to have visitors and in Victoria they are unable to receive needed supplies such as toiletries, books, food and clothing.

Families are reportedly “sick with worry” they will not be notified if a family member falls ill.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said that during a global pandemic,
the consequences of neglecting the prison population was “potentially catastrophic”.




Read more:
Coronavirus: a history of pandemics in prison


In Australia, Hannah McGlade, academic, human rights lawyer and a member of the UN Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues, said:

Prison is the most unsafe place that Aboriginal people can be in a pandemic.

The Victorian government is already on notice. A recent decision of the Victorian supreme court found it had breached its duty to take reasonable care for the health of people behind bars during the coronavirus pandemic.

It is imperative that in the days ahead coronavirus infections in prisons and other correctional facilities are accepted as a public health problem for everyone.The Conversation

Lesley Russell, Adjunct Associate Professor, Menzies Centre for Health Policy, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Despite 432 Indigenous deaths in custody since 1991, no one has ever been convicted. Racist silence and complicity are to blame



JAMES GOURLEY/AAP

Alison Whittaker, University of Technology Sydney

You probably know the details of the death of George Floyd. He was a doting father and musician. He was killed when a police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes while he cried out “I can’t breathe!”

Chauvin has been charged with third-degree murder and there is speculation other officers involved will be charged soon.

Do you know about David Dungay Jr? He was a Dunghutti man, an uncle. He had a talent for poetry that made his family endlessly proud. He was held down by six corrections officers in a prone position until he died and twice injected with sedatives because he ate rice crackers in his cell.

Dungay’s last words were also “I can’t breathe”.

An officer replied “If you can talk, you can breathe”.




Read more:
‘I can’t breathe!’ Australia must look in the mirror to see our own deaths in custody


At the end of a long inquest that stretched to almost four years, the coroner declined to refer the officers involved in Dungay’s death to prosecutors (who might consider charges) or to disciplinary bodies.

Paul Silva, Dungay’s nephew and among the his most powerful advocates for justice, said as he was leaving court,

What am I meant to do now? Go home, look at the ground. Tell my Uncle? — Sorry, Unc, there’s no justice here!‘

This week, he told the Guardian:

When I heard [George Floyd] say ‘I can’t breathe’ for the first time I had to stop … My solidarity is with them because I do know the pain they are feeling. And as for the Aboriginal deaths in our backyard … it’s not in the public as much as it should be.

Leetona Dungay has pursued a very public campaign for justice in the death of her son.
Brendan Esposito/AAP

A perception Indigenous deaths in custody are expected

Many people on this continent know more about police and prison violence in the US, another settler colony, than the same violence that happens here. Both are deserving of our attention and action, so what’s behind the curious silence on First Nations deaths in custody in Australia?

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have raised this concern long before today in the media and social media.

Why do we have to? The reasons are complex, but boil down to a system of complicity and perceived normality in Indigenous deaths at the hands of police and prisons. The settler Australian public simply does not see Indigenous deaths in custody as an act of violence, but as a co-morbidity.

Amanda Porter, an Indigenous scholar of policing and criminal justice, wrote about media coverage of Indigenous deaths in custody in Australia compared with the US.

She noted differences in the way the media covered the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, with the killing of Mulrunji Doomagee on Palm Island:

The choice of language is important: it evokes a certain response in the reader and shapes our understandings of events. In the case of Palm Island, the often-repeated meta-narrative of so-called ‘dysfunctional’ and ‘lawless’ Aboriginal communities served to justify further acts of colonial violence.

A protest against the police shooting of Michael Brown in Missouri in 2014.
Larry W. Smith/EPA

Why the silence?

Since 1991, some 432 Indigenous people (and possibly more) have died in custody.

In my 2018 pilot study on a sample of 134 Indigenous deaths in custody since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, I found coroners considered referring just 11 deaths to prosecutors and only ended up referring five. Of those, only two made it to court and both resulted in quashed indictments or acquittals.

These are monumental figures. They are also stories of deep systemic complicity, both before and after death. And they are full lives, with loved ones who mourn and fight for them.

Aunty Tanya Day, for instance, campaigned for justice for her uncle who died in custody and later died in custody herself.

The scale of devastation is unthinkable – and violent, and racist.

What makes Australian silence about deaths in custody so especially bizarre is that, unlike the US, we have a mandatory legal review of every death in custody or police presence. Each case, regardless of its circumstances, goes before a judge called a coroner.




Read more:
Scales of justice still tipped towards police who harm people in their custody


Just as public political will is always changing, so is law and legal strategy. Compared to the campaigns for justice for black people killed by police in the US, which have made relative gains, many families here are working in a complex space of honouring their loved ones, proper cultural protocols around death and the dead, and securing CCTV footage to mobilise the public for justice.

Coroners have offered mixed responses, and each state and territory’s coroner approaches the question in a slightly different way.

After the death of Ms Dhu, a Yamatji woman, in police custody in Western Australia in 2014, persistent advocacy from the families and media organisations prompted the coroner to release footage of her treatment before her death. Coroner Ros Fogliani did so

in order to assist with the fair and accurate reporting of my findings on inquest.

However, last year, NSW deputy coroner Derek Lee initially declined to release footage showing the circumstances of Dungay’s death, citing cultural respect, sensitivity for his family and secrecy over prison procedures.

Members of Dungay’s family, who had applied to have it released, responded with exasperation. It was eventually shown on the opening day of the inquest, although the fuller footage requested by the family remains suppressed from public view.

Other ways families are silenced

There are other transparency issues that give a legal structure to silence about Indigenous deaths in custody. Recently, there appears to be a new push in non-publication or suppression orders being sought by state parties in coroners courts.

In Dungay’s inquest, for instance, the media was ordered not to publish the names, addresses or any other identifying features (including photographs) of 21 NSW corrections staff members.

There have been other suppression orders in deaths in custody matters before criminal courts, such as the identity of the officer facing a murder charge in the death of Yamatji woman Joyce Clarke in Western Australia last year.




Read more:
FactCheck Q&A: are Indigenous Australians the most incarcerated people on Earth?


Officers in South Australia are also going to some strategic effort to avoid testifying before the inquest into the death of Wayne Fella Morrison, a Wiradjuri, Kookatha and Wirangu man, or even speak with investigators on the grounds of penalty privilege.

So far, they have not been successful in claiming the blanket privilege, despite taking the matter to the SA Supreme Court.

Morrison’s sibling Latoya Rule has written:

investigations surrounding the cause of death in prisons can have a great impact for our grieving families to at least get an account of what happened to our loved ones in the absence of our care. It can also raise the spotlight on the behaviours of correctional and police officers – like those that piled atop of my brother’s body.

Outside of coroners courts, there is the threat of subjudice contempt, when media coverage may pose a prejudicial threat to a potential trial.

This carries a risk for families who speak out about their loved one’s deaths in a way that even implies something happened or someone did something. Subjudice contempt poses liability to them personally when they speak out, but also could jeopardise their push for justice.

This puts First Nations peoples at the mercy of what can be raised before a jury, judge or coroner. With lengthy procedural delays, this can also mean a case is hard to talk about publicly for years.

This is problematic given that timely publicity about deaths in custody is what drives attention. Taleah Reynolds, the sister of Nathan Reynolds, who died in custody in NSW in 2018, said,

We’re coming up to a year since he died and we still don’t know anything more.

I feel like they don’t have any remorse; they hide behind the system. No one’s held accountable, that’s the most frustrating part.

Combined with plaintiff-friendly defamation laws, media ignorance and racist editorial decisions, and a lack of institutional support for Indigenous journalism, this contributes to some of the hedging language we see around police brutality in Australia, like someone “appearing” to do something captured on video.

All of this leaves our public discourse full of blak bodies but curiously empty of people who put them there.

A Melbourne protest seeking justice in the death of a 19-year-old NT man shot by police.
David Crosling/AAP

The power of public campaigning

Prosecution or referral seems to come only from cases where First Nations families have strong public advocacy and community groundswells behind them and strategic litigation resources (not just inquest legal aid).

As the late Wangerriburra and Birri Gubba leader Sam Watson said of the campaign for justice for the death of Mulrunji Doomagee on Palm Island:

Unfortunately, the government had to be dragged to this point screaming and kicking every inch of the way. Every time there’s been a breakdown in the procedure, the family and community on Palm Island are being subjected to more trauma, drama and unnecessary grandstanding by politicians.

Right now, three deaths are either before prosecutors or in their early stages of prosecution. All have been part of growing, public campaigns driven by their families and communities — although many others, like Dungay’s family, have done the same and still been faced with institutional complicity.

Clearly, there is much legal structure that supports this silence, but the basis of the silence itself is colonisation and white supremacy. As Amy McQuire writes:

Their wounds also testify to this violence. But while this footage has been important for mobilising Aboriginal people, non-Indigenous Australia is still complacent and apathetic.

They are not ‘outraged’ because they are not ‘shocked’. There is nothing shocking about racist violence perpetrated by police, because it is normalised.

When we do hear about the Indigenous lives lost in custody, it is undoubtedly because of the persistence, expertise and courage of their families and communities who mourn them. But it is not enough to hear about justice, justice must be done.The Conversation

Alison Whittaker, Research Fellow, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

There is no specific crime of catfishing. But is it illegal?



http://www.shutterstock.com

Marilyn McMahon, Deakin University and Paul McGorrery, Deakin University

Twenty-year-old Sydney woman Renae Marsden died by suicide after she was the victim of an elaborate catfishing scam.

A recent coronial investigation into her 2013 death found no offence had been committed by the perpetrator, revealing the difficulties of dealing with this new and emerging phenomenon.

While we wait for law reform in this area, we think police and prosecutors could make better use of our existing laws to deal with these sorts of behaviours.

What is catfishing?

“Catfishing” occurs when a person creates a fake profile on social media in order to deceive someone else and abuse them, take their money or otherwise
manipulate and control them.

While statistics about the prevalence of catfishing are elusive, popular dating sites such as eHarmony and the Australian government’s eSafety Commission offer advice about spotting catfishers.




Read more:
From catfish to romance fraud, how to avoid getting caught in any online scam


Catfishing is also the subject of an MTV reality series, major Hollywood films, and psychological research on why people do it.

Dangerous, damaging but not a specific crime

There is no specific crime of catfishing in Australia. But there are many different behaviours involved in catfishing, which can come under various existing offences.

One of these is financial fraud. In 2018, a Canberra woman pleaded guilty to 10 fraud offences after she created an elaborate and false online profile on a dating website. She befriended at least ten men online, then lied to them about having cancer and other illnesses and asked them to help her pay for treatment. She obtained more than $300,000.

Catfishers create fake online profiles to deceive others.
http://www.shutterstock.com

Another crime associated with catfishing is stalking. In 2019, a Victorian woman was convicted of stalking and sentenced to two years and eight months jail after she created a Facebook page where she pretended to be Australian actor Lincoln Lewis. This case is currently subject to an appeal.

The grey area of psychological and emotional abuse

When catfishing doesn’t involve fraud or threats, but involves psychological and emotional manipulation, it can be more difficult to obtain convictions.

One of the most notorious cases occurred more than a decade ago in the United States. Missouri mother Lori Drew catfished a teenager she believed had been unkind to her daughter.




Read more:
Have you caught a catfish? Online dating can be deceptive


With the help of her daughter and young employee, Drew created a fake MySpace profile as a teenage boy and contacted the 13-year-old victim. Online flirting took place until the relationship was abruptly ended. The victim was told that “the world would be a better place without her”. Later that day, she killed herself.

Because the harm suffered by the victim was not physical but psychological, and had been perpetrated online, prosecutors had trouble identifying an appropriate criminal charge.

Eventually, Drew was charged with computer fraud and found guilty. But the conviction was overturned in 2009 when an appeal court concluded the legislation was never meant to capture this type of behaviour.

Renae Marsden’s case

The harm done to Marsden was also psychological and emotional. She was deliberately deceived and psychologically manipulated through the creation of a fake online identity by one of her oldest female friends.

Marsden thought she had met a man online who would become her husband. For almost two years, they exchanged thousands of text and Facebook messages. Marsden ended an engagement to another man so that she could be with the man she met online. They planned their wedding.

When he abruptly ended the relationship, Marsden ended her life.

The coroner described the conduct of Marsden’s catfisher as “appalling” and an “extreme betrayal”, but found that no offence had been committed. She observed:

Where ‘catfishing’ is without threat or intimidation or is not for monetary gain, then the conduct appears to be committed with the intent to coerce and control someone for the purpose of a wish fulfilment or some other gratification. Though such conduct may cause the recipient mental and or physical harm because it is not conduct committed with the necessary intent it falls outside the parameters of a known State criminal offence.

Existing laws like manslaughter could apply

We disagree with the coroner’s conclusion. We think that existing state criminal offences might capture some of this behaviour.

In particular, deliberately deceptive and psychologically manipulative online conduct, resulting in the death of a victim by suicide, could potentially make a perpetrator liable for manslaughter.

This is because a perpetrator who commits the offence of recklessly causing grievous bodily harm (which may include psychological harm), in circumstances where a reasonable person would realise this exposed the victim to an appreciable risk of serious injury, could be liable for the crime of “manslaughter by unlawful and dangerous act”.

Such prosecutions can and should be contemplated as an appropriate response to the serious wrongdoing that has occurred.

Where to from here?

Marsden’s parents are pushing for catfishing to be made illegal.

Teresa and Mark Marsden want catfishing to be made illegal.
Dean Lewis/AAP

The coroner chose not to recommend a specific offence of catfishing, noting:

there are complex matters which were not canvassed at the inquest which need to be taken into account before any coronial recommendation involving the introduction of criminal legislation.

But the report did recommend a closer look at making “coercive control” an offence.

Coercive control involves a wide range of controlling behaviours and could potentially criminalise the sort of psychologically and emotionally abusive conduct Marsden experienced.

It is also on the political agenda. In March, New South Wales Attorney-General Mark Speakman announced he would consult on possible new “coercive control” laws.




Read more:
It’s time ‘coercive control’ was made illegal in Australia


We note, however, that the coercive control discussion is happening in the context of domestic violence. Whether prospective new laws can or should extend to catfishing will require careful consideration and drafting.

While we wait for a new offence, we should also ensure that we make use of the laws we already have to protect people from the devastating damage that can be done by catfishing.The Conversation

Marilyn McMahon, Deputy Dean, School of Law, Deakin University and Paul McGorrery, PhD Candidate in Criminal Law, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

As Minneapolis burns, Trump’s presidency is sinking deeper into crisis. And yet, he may still be re-elected



Sipa USA Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS/Sip

Timothy J. Lynch, University of Melbourne

Violence has erupted across several US cities after the death of a black man, George Floyd, who was shown on video gasping for breath as a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck. The unrest poses serious challenges for President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden as each man readies his campaign for the November 3 election.

If the coronavirus had not already posed a threat to civil discourse in the US, the latest flashpoint in American racial politics makes this presidential campaign potentially one of the most incendiary in history.

COVID-19 and Minneapolis may very well form the nexus within which the 2020 campaign will unfold. Trump’s critics have assailed his handling of both and questioned whether he can effectively lead the country in a moment of crisis.

And yet, he may not be any more vulnerable heading into the election.

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A presidency in crisis?

As the incumbent, Trump certainly faces the most immediate challenges. Not since Franklin Roosevelt in the second world war has a US president presided over the deaths of so many Americans from a single cause.

The Axis powers and COVID-19 are not analogous, but any presidency is judged by its capacity to respond to enemies like these. With pandemic deaths now surpassing 100,000, Trump’s fortunes will be inexorably tied to this staggering (and still rising) figure.

Worse, the Minneapolis protests are showing how an already precarious social fabric has been frayed by the COVID-19 lockdowns.




Read more:
Donald Trump blames everyone but himself for the coronavirus crisis. Will voters agree?


Americans have not come together to fight the virus. Rather, they have allowed a public health disaster to deepen divisions along racial, economic, sectional and ideological lines.

Trump has, of course, often sought to gain from such divisions. But the magnitude and severity of the twin crises he is now facing will make this very difficult. By numerous measures, his is a presidency in crisis.

And yet.

Trump, a ferocious campaigner, will try to find ways to use both tragedies to his advantage and, importantly, makes things worse for his challenger.

For starters, Trump did not cause coronavirus. And he will continue to insist that his great geo-strategic adversary, the Chinese Communist Party, did.

And his is not the first presidency to be marked by the conflagration of several US cities.

Before Minneapolis, Detroit (1967), Los Angeles (1992) and Ferguson, Missouri (2014) were all the scenes of angry protests and riots over racial tensions that still haven’t healed.

And in the 19th century, 750,000 Americans were killed in a civil war that was fought over whether the enslavement of African-Americans was constitutional.

Trump may not have healed racial tensions in the US during his presidency. But, like coronavirus, he did not cause them.

How Trump can blame Democrats for Minneapolis

Not unhappily for Trump, Minneapolis is a largely Democratic city in a reliably blue state. He will campaign now on the failure of Democratic state leaders to answer the needs of black voters.

Trump will claim that decades of Democratic policies in Minnesota – including the eight years of the Obama administration – have caused Minneapolis to be one of the most racially unequal cities in the nation.

In 2016, Trump famously asked African-Americans whether Democratic leaders have done anything to improve their lives.

What do you have to lose by trying something new, like Trump?

He will repeat this mantra in the coming months.

It also certainly helps that his support among Republican voters has never wavered, no matter how shocking his behaviour.

He has enjoyed a stable 80% approval rating with GOP voters throughout the coronavirus crisis. This has helped keep his approval rating among all voters steady as the pandemic has worsened, hovering between 40 and 50%.

These are not terrible numbers. Yes, Trump’s leadership has contributed to a series of disasters. But if the polls are correct, he has so far avoided the kinds of catastrophe that could imperil his chances of re-election.




Read more:
In Trump we trust: why continual disasters fail to shake the president’s loyalists


Why this moment is challenging for Biden

Biden should be able to make a good case to the American people at this moment that he is the more effective leader.

But this has not yet been reflected in polls, most of which continue to give the Democrat only a lukewarm advantage over Trump in the election.

The other problem is that the Democratic party remains discordant. And Biden has not yet shown a capacity to heal it.




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Third time’s the charm for Joe Biden: now he has an election to win and a country to save


Race has also long been a source of division within Biden’s party. Southern Democrats, for instance, were the key agents of slavery in the 19th century and the segregation that followed it into the 20th.

After the 1960s, Democrats sought to make themselves the natural home of African-American voters as the Republican party courted disaffected white Southern voters. The Democrats largely succeeded on that front – the party routinely gets around 85-90% of black votes in presidential elections.

The challenge for Biden now is how to retain African-American loyalty to his party, while evading responsibility for the socio-economic failures of Democratic policies in cities like Minneapolis.

He is also a white northerner (from Delaware). Between 1964 and 2008, only three Democrats were elected president. All of them were southerners.

To compensate, Biden has had to rely on racial politics to separate himself from his primary challenger – Bernie Sanders struggled to channel black aspirations – and from Republicans. And this has, at times, caused him to court controversy.

In 2012, he warned African-Americans that then-Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney would put them “all back in chains”. And just over a week ago, he angered black voters by suggesting those who would support Trump in the election “ain’t black”.

Biden is far better than Trump on racial issues and should be able to use the current crises to present himself as a more natural “consoler-in-chief”, but instead, he has appeared somewhat flatfooted and derided for being racially patronising.

The opportunities COVID-19 and the Minneapolis unrest might afford his campaign remain elusive.

The protests over George Floyd’s death swiftly spread across the country.
ETIENNE LAURENT/EPA

There is reason for hope

America enters the final months of the 2020 campaign in a state of despair and disrepair. The choice is between an opportunistic incumbent and a tin-eared challenger.

But the US has faced serious challenges before – and emerged stronger. Neither the civil war in the 19th century or the Spanish flu pandemic in the early 20th halted the extraordinary growth in power that followed both.

Moreover, the US constitution remains intact and federalism has undergone something of a rebirth since the start of the pandemic. And there is a new generation of younger, more diverse, national leaders being forged in the fire of crisis to help lead the recovery.The Conversation

Timothy J. Lynch, Associate Professor in American Politics, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.