Cabinet files story shows Australia still needs to be more open about the debates that shape the nation



File 20180201 123843 u3f7vj.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Cabinet confidentiality is important to ensure ministers are able to debate ideas before a decision is made public.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Patrick Weller, Griffith University

Cabinet government requires confidentiality. Ministers have to be able to discuss alternative options to solve the problems they must manage. They have to able to express opinions and probe proposals. If they do not, then cabinet government becomes a rubber stamp for solutions devised elsewhere. Whether they always do argue matters less than the fact that the opportunity, and the expectation, is there.

When confidentiality is breached, when leaks provide the public with the range of views expressed and identify those who lost the argument, then ministers will tend to keep quiet, and prime ministers will take the debate somewhere else – into cabinet committees or into their own offices.

The principle of collective responsibility, which holds that all minsters are bound in public to support the decisions of the government, whether or not they were involved making it, can work only if the minsters (usually) had an opportunity to influence that decision.

That is just practical politics. Decisions are normally a matter of degree, not a case of right or wrong: how much or how little, this or that wording. The core may be easy, the difficulty is in the detail. The air of certainty, of governments arguing there is only one proper response – theirs – and all else is inadequate, is an artifice, a pretence that no-one should believe.




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When decisions are actually made, information is often incomplete, time pressures acute, political consequences uncertain. In a neat phrase, governments “puzzle on the community’s behalf”. If the options were public, all would have advocates to whom no decision is right except the one they support; they would be even more outraged in that they knew government could have chosen their preferred option.

Given the ferocious misrepresentation that passes for political debate in this country, an opposition would pick one of the options not chosen, identify the losers and lampoon the decision. It is better for any form of competent government that the debates and calculations be kept confidential. For a time.

Governments are usually careful. There is a separate network for the lodging and management of cabinet documents. These days, it allows careful tracing of what happened in each case. Each submission has an identifier. (Lesson: if a cabinet paper is leaked, it is better to retype than photocopy.)

The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet should be able to trace the history of these papers. As the process becomes more digitised, the possibility of filing cabinets of cabinet documents turning up will be reduced.

Does it matter if cabinet files, given to the ABC, become public? In terms of content, for most of the time for most of the papers, probably not. They will have long been overtaken by events. The problems of political sensitivity are different. If treasurers, for instance, lose an argument in cabinet and then properly adopt the agreed line in public, and the divisions in cabinet become known, they will be accused of failing to manage the economy, of not fighting enough. If governments were to make a habit of releasing the papers of their predecessors, in order to show how divided they were, governments would simply stop keeping records. There are good reasons for confidentiality.

So in this case there are two issues. First, how did this set of papers get locked in a cabinet that was then sold without checking the contents? The papers should have been returned to the cabinet office. They are the rules and for good reasons. They were not followed. The filing cabinet should have been checked. That is carelessness, slack, silly, lazy, incompetent, bad practice: all those pejoratives can legitimately be applied. But not malice, or they would not have been sitting there for years.




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The second issue is what should have been done about it. When a cabinet document is leaked it makes a story – a rare insight into how cabinet government works. The release of a mass of papers is wrong, but potentially can be fascinating, a voyeuristic peephole into government. Think of the Pentagon Papers or WikiLeaks.

But they were designed to damage and undermine the government. This was happenstance. The use of the papers by the ABC seems to have been random: what made a headline or shocked, rather than asking what it tells us about the way we are governed. That requires more work, and they probably were a bit uneasy and aware that time would be limited once knowledge of the filing cabinets was public. The story was more about the filing cabinets than the cabinet papers, about the carelessness rather than the content.

In practice, most cabinet papers soon reach a use-by date. They are dull, time-specific, advising in long-forgotten particular circumstances about what may seem, in retrospect, minor incidents. In terms of content, rather than political sensitivity, most cabinet papers could be released within five years. Only a few would still matter.

In the 1980s, I wrote a study of Malcolm Fraser as prime minister. I started in 1984, a year after he lost office. Following the British practice of allowing prime ministers and minsters access to the papers they saw in government when they wanted to write their memoirs, he gave me access to all the cabinet papers of his administration.

In this case, he chose to delegate rather than refresh his memory. The papers were fascinating, detailed, voluminous and mostly unlikely to cause a stir. By the time the book was finished, most of his ministers had left office – the one big exception being John Howard. So while cabinet documents may contain the occasional nugget, most are routine, just as most government is routine.

We could still be a little more open. The New Zealand prime minster has a press briefing after each cabinet to tell the press the main conclusions of the meeting: selective but informative.

Even the Standing Committee of the State Council in China, known as China’s cabinet, releases a list of the items discussed in their weekly meeting; not everything, but more that the Australian public gets. We still need to balance a legitimate desire for transparency with the need for free and thoughtful debate (or rather, the possibility of thoughtful debate).

The ConversationWe should be able to find a balance in managing a system that does not threaten the ability of journalists and academics to write about the procedures and debates in cabinet, but also prevents random acts of stupidity that fill a cabinet with cabinet papers, forget they are there, fail to return them and then sell the filing cabinets.

Patrick Weller, Professor Emeritus, School of Government and International Relations; Adjunct Professor, Centre for Governance and Public Policy, Griffith University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Guns in Church: Gun Situation in USA is Getting More Than Ridiculous


The link below is to an article concerning a pastor in Georgia, USA, who sought the right to bear arms in church. Not sure what he was hoping to achieve my taking guns to church other than it being just a stunt. He claims it would be for protection – must be very vigorous debates over membership issues there. Crazy!

For more visit:
http://global.christianpost.com/news/ga-pastor-loses-fight-to-carry-guns-at-church-78845/

Plot Targeting Turkey’s Religious Minorities Allegedly Discovered


CD indicates naval officers planned violence against non-Muslim communities.

ISTANBUL, December 16 (CDN) — ISTANBUL, December 16 (Compass Direct News) – Chilling allegations emerged last month of a detailed plot by Turkish naval officers to perpetrate threats and violence against the nation’s non-Muslims in an effort to implicate and unseat Turkey’s pro-Islamic government.

Evidence put forth for the plot appeared on an encrypted compact disc discovered last April but was only recently deciphered; the daily Taraf newspaper first leaked details of the CD’s contents on Nov. 19.

Entitled the “Operation Cage Action Plan,” the plot outlines a plethora of planned threat campaigns, bomb attacks, kidnappings and assassinations targeting the nation’s tiny religious minority communities – an apparent effort by military brass to discredit the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). The scheme ultimately called for bombings of homes and buildings owned by non-Muslims, setting fire to homes, vehicles and businesses of Christian and Jewish citizens, and murdering prominent leaders among the religious minorities.

Dated March 2009, the CD containing details of the plot was discovered in a raid on the office of a retired major implicated in a large illegal cache of military arms uncovered near Istanbul last April. Once deciphered, it revealed the full names of 41 naval officials assigned to carry out a four-phase campaign exploiting the vulnerability of Turkey’s non-Muslim religious minorities, who constitute less than 1 percent of the population.

A map that Taraf published on its front page – headlined “The Targeted Missionaries” – was based on the controversial CD documents. Color-coded to show all the Turkish provinces where non-Muslims lived or had meetings for worship, the map showed only 13 of Turkey’s 81 provinces had no known non-Muslim residents or religious meetings.

The plan identified 939 non-Muslim representatives in Turkey as possible targets.

“If even half of what is written in Taraf is accurate, everybody with a conscience in this country has to go mad,” Eyup Can wrote in his Hurriyet column two days after the news broke.

The day after the first Taraf report, the headquarters of the Turkish General Staff filed a criminal complaint against the daily with the Justice Ministry, declaring its coverage a “clear violation” of the laws protecting ongoing prosecution investigations from public release.

Although the prime minister’s office the next day confirmed that the newly revealed “Cage” plot was indeed under official investigation, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticized Taraf’s public disclosure of the plan as “interfering” and “damaging” to the judicial process and important sectors of the government.

But when the judiciary began interrogating a number of the named naval suspects and sent some of them to jail, most Turkish media – which had downplayed the claims – began to accept the plot’s possible authenticity.

To date, at least 11 of the naval officials identified in the Cage documents are under arrest, accused of membership in an illegal organization. They include a retired major, a lieutenant colonel, three lieutenant commanders, two colonels and three first sergeants.

The latest plot allegations are linked to criminal investigations launched in June 2007 into Ergenekon, an alleged “deep state” conspiracy by a group of military officials, state security personnel, lawyers and journalists now behind bars on charges of planning a coup against the elected AKP government.

Christian Murders Termed ‘Operations’

The plot document began with specific mention of the three most recent deadly attacks perpetrated against Christians in Turkey, cryptically labeling them “operations.”

Initial Turkish public opinion had blamed Islamist groups for the savage murders of Italian Catholic priest Andrea Santoro (February 2006), Turkish Armenian Agos newspaper editor Hrant Dink (January 2007) and two Turkish Christians and a German Christian in Malatya (April 2007). But authors of the Cage plan complained that AKP’s “intensive propaganda” after these incidents had instead fingered the Ergenekon cabal as the perpetrators.

“The Cage plan demanded that these ‘operations’ be conducted in a more systematic and planned manner,” attorney Orhan Kemal Cengiz wrote in Today’s Zaman on Nov. 27. “They want to re-market the ‘black propaganda’ that Muslims kill Christians,” concluded Cengiz, a joint-plaintiff lawyer in the Malatya murder trial and legal adviser to Turkey’s Association of Protestant Churches.

In the first phase of the Cage plot, officers were ordered to compile information identifying the non-Muslim communities’ leaders, schools, associations, cemeteries, places of worship and media outlets, including all subscribers to the Armenian Agos weekly. With this data, the second stage called for creating an atmosphere of fear by openly targeting these religious minorities, using intimidating letters and telephone calls, warnings posted on websites linked to the government and graffiti in neighborhoods where non-Muslims lived.

To channel public opinion, the third phase centered on priming TV and print media to criticize and debate the AKP government’s handling of security for religious minorities, to raise the specter of the party ultimately replacing Turkey’s secular laws and institutions with Islamic provisions.

The final phase called for planting bombs and suspicious packages near homes and buildings owned by non-Muslims, desecrating their cemeteries, setting fire to homes, vehicles and businesses of Christian and Jewish citizens, and even kidnapping and assassinating prominent leaders among the religious minorities.

Lawyer Fethiye Cetin, representing the Dink family in the Agos editor’s murder trial, admitted she was having difficulty even accepting the details of the Cage plot.

“I am engulfed in horror,” Cetin told Bianet, the online Independent Communications Network. “Some forces of this country sit down and make a plan to identify their fellow citizens, of their own country, as enemies! They will kill Armenians and non-Muslims in the psychological war they are conducting against the ones identified as their enemies.”

No Surprise to Christians

“We were not very shocked,” Protestant Pastor Ihsan Ozbek of the Kurtulus Churches in Ankara admitted to Taraf the day after the news broke.

After the Malatya murders, he stated, Christians had no official means to investigate their suspicions about the instigators, “and we could not be very brave . . . Once again the evidence is being seen, that it is the juntas who are against democracy who [have been] behind the propaganda in the past 10 years against Christianity and missionary activity.”

Patriarch Bartholomew of the Greek Orthodox Church also openly addressed the Cage plot, referring to recent incidents of intimidation against Christian and Jewish citizens in Istanbul’s Kurtulus and Adalar districts, as well as a previous raid conducted against the alumni of a Greek high school.

“At the time, we thought that they were just trying to scare us,” he told Today’s Zaman. Several of the jailed Ergenekon suspects now on trial were closely involved for years in protesting and slandering the Istanbul Patriarchate, considered the heart of Eastern Orthodoxy’s 300 million adherents. As ultranationalists, they claimed the Orthodox wanted to set up a Vatican-style entity within Turkey.

Last summer 90 graves were desecrated in the Greek Orthodox community’s Balikli cemetery in the Zeytinburnu district of Istanbul. The city’s 65 non-Muslim cemeteries are not guarded by the municipality, with their maintenance and protection left to Greek, Armenian and Jewish minorities.

As details continued to emerge and national debates raged for more than a week over the Cage plan in the Turkish media, calls came from a broad spectrum of society to merge the files of the ongoing Dink and Malatya murder trials with the Ergenekon file. The Turkish General Staff has consistently labeled much of the media coverage of the Ergenekon investigations as part of smear campaign against the fiercely secular military, which until the past two years enjoyed virtual impunity from civilian court investigations.

According to Ria Oomen-Ruijten, the European Parliament’s rapporteur on Turkey, the long-entrenched role of the military in the Turkish government is an “obstacle” for further democratization and integration into the EU.

Report from Compass Direct News 

IRAN: CHRISTIANS CHARGED WITH ‘APOSTASY’


Likelihood of death sentence grows as Parliament debates bill making it mandatory.

LOS ANGELES, September 10 (Compass Direct News) – Two Iranian Christians have officially been charged with “apostasy,” or leaving Islam, as a draft law making the death penalty mandatory for those convicted of the charge is set to be debated in Iran’s Parliament.

Mahmood Matin Azad, 52, and Arash Basirat (previously reported Bandari), 44, have been in prison since May 15, when they were arrested in Shiraz. When their lawyer went to authorities to inquire about the case in early August, he was informed that the two men had been formally charged with apostasy, sources confirmed to Compass.

At that time authorities gave the lawyer an official document stating that the formal charge of “apostasy” was based on the men’s confessions during interrogation. The “Interrogation Note – Investigator’s Final Order” said that their “culpability order” was based on Article 214 of the penal code and sections of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s treatise on legal affairs, the Tahrir ol Vassileh. Iran’s legal system is based on sharia (Islamic law).

Previous charges of “Propaganda Against the Islamic Republic of Iran” had been dropped, according to the statement.

Sources who spoke to the lawyer explained that authorities generally do not issue written statements, and that this was an indication of the severity and complexity of the case.

With the apostasy bill to be debated in Parliament, some Iranian Christians fear that authorities are seeking to make an example of the two prisoners or give the prospective law a “test run.”

 

‘Interesting and Sensitive’

In February the Iranian Parliament proposed a draft penal code that demands the death penalty for leaving Islam. Under current Iranian law, apostasy is considered a capital offense, but punishment is left to the discretion of the judge.

Basirat, who suffers from diabetes, and Matin are expected to appear in court within the next few weeks with their lawyer in order to defend their case. They would not officially be found guilty unless evidence presented at the hearing were incriminating.

Meantime, the families of Basirat and Matin have tried unsuccessfully to get the prisoners out on bail before the trial takes place. The last week of August the lawyer instructed Matin’s wife to prepare a bail sum of around $40,000 to $50,000. But when the lawyer tried to get the necessary paperwork and signatures from the judge, the bail amount was denied.

Fearing that the bail amount may be doubled, the defense attorney told a source close to Matin’s family that the case had become “interesting and sensitive” for the judge and authorities, and therefore they would not “let it go so easily.”

Basirat’s family also tried to release him on bail by offering the deed of their home, but authorities have not accepted it.

The defense team has suggested that the defendants seek that international pressure be brought to bear on Iranian authorities to release Basirat and Matin and clear their names of any wrongdoing.  

Report from Compass Direct News