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Sunday, 25 March 2012

Was Gillard put in power by Obama?

Which wheel is bigger?
Barack Obama nominated Jeffrey Bleich as ambassador to Australia on 11 September 2009. Bleich is a lawyer and an old friend of the US president, which was apposite as his legal skills have no doubt been well-exercised by US attitudes expressed since the fallout from WikiLeaks' Collateral Murder release. That happened on 4 April 2010, and it galvanised the US administration, which quickly moved to jail Private Bradley Manning when evidence apparently emerged that he had had a hand in the release. Manning remains in custody and his military trial continues. There has been movement in regard to WikiLeaks' Julian Assange, too.

Closer to home, there was a lot of movement when Julia Gillard replaced Kevin Rudd as prime minister on 24 June 2010. One of the major players in that transition was Mark Arbib, who had been a senator since July 2008 (he has now resigned), representing New South Wales. A diplomatic cable of 20 July 2009 released by WikiLeaks on 28 October 2010 details Arbib's rise to prominence and also acknowledges his usefulness to the US administration.
We have found that Arbib is an astute observer and able conversant in the nuts and bolts of U.S. politics. He understands the importance of supporting a vibrant relationship with the U.S. while not being too deferential. We have found him personable, confident and articulate. A strong supporter of the alliance, he has met with us repeatedly throughout his political rise.
The cable also notes Arbib's usefulness to Kevin Rudd: "Arbib successfully delivered crucial votes in Rudd's December 2006 defeat of Kim Beazley for the ALP leadership." But when the numbers started to shift, Arbib did too. It is also likely that Rudd's decision to withdraw Australian troops from Iraq, which took place on 31 July 2009, caused the US to alter its opinion of Rudd, leading to the recall of Bleich's predecessor, and leading to Arbib orchestrating the coup which would remove Rudd from office. Even more likely, it was the threat that WikiLeaks represented that led to the US recruiting Arbib's help. The US was losing patience with Rudd, as a 28 November 2008 cable shows.

The cable lists five "foreign policy mistakes" Rudd committed since coming to office in 2007. Australian newspapers have focused more on this cable's calling Rudd a "control freak" but the expression is attributed in the cable to "senior civil servants, journalists and parliamentarians". McCallum appears to be merely reporting what others have said. Rudd's weak point was in foreign policy. This combined with the Iraq withdrawal and the emergence of the threat of WikiLeaks, to spark moves by the US for regime change in Australia. A 13 June 2008 cable released by WikiLeaks illustrates US awareness of its influence:
Although long appearing ambivalent about the Australia-US Alliance, Gillard's actions since she became the Labor Party number two indicate an understanding of its importance. Poloffs had little contact with her when she was in opposition but since the election, Gillard has gone out of her way to assist the Embassy. She attended a breakfast hosted by the Ambassador for U/S Nick Burns who visited Canberra just days after the election. At our request, she agreed to meet a visiting member of the National Labor Relations Board, after prior entreaties by the board member's Australian hosts had been rebuffed. Gillard is now a regular attendee at the American Australian Leadership Dialogues (AALD), and will be the principal government representative to the AALD meeting in Washington at the end of June. (COMMENT: Although warm and engaging in her dealings with American diplomats, it's unclear whether this change in attitude reflects a mellowing of her views or an understanding of what she needs to do to become leader of the ALP. It is likely a combination of the two. Labor Party officials have told us that one lesson Gillard took from the 2004 elections was that Australians will not elect a PM who is perceived to be anti-American. END COMMENT)
The emphasis is mine. It is disturbing but perhaps not surprising that the US ambassador is able to succinctly express the underlying realities of US-Australian relations at the highest level. It is one thing to say that "Australians will not elect a PM who is perceived to be anti-American" and quite another to imply that good relations with US diplomats are the price of the support an Australian politician can expect from colleagues such as Arbib, who called Gillard in the same cable "one of the most pragmatic politicians in the ALP". The right stuff indeed.

Gillard was now prime minister and the US remained busy containing the fallout from Collateral Murder when the Afghan Diaries appeared on 25 July 2010. Less than a month later, on 20 August 2010, the sex allegations in Sweden against Assange materialised. Stratfor analyst Parsley Bayless confirmed the connection when he wrote on 1 December 2010 in an internal email released by WikiLeaks:
Also, Karen had a very good point about the sex charges. Weren't those dropped months ago after the initial allegations? What do ya know, after the US explictly warned him time and again to stop publishing the cables, it pops back up all of a sudden...
But WikiLeaks did not stop. On 23 October 2010 the Iraq War Logs appeared, followed by the Diplomatic Cables on 28 October. The US administration managed to get Paypal and the credit card companies to cut off the supply of money in December, but WikiLeaks has not gone away. It was clear that a friendly government would need to be found to extradite Assange upon request of the secret grand jury that has been established in Alexandria, Virginia, and tasked with prosecuting a case against Assange.

Gillard has been busy promoting US interests in this regard. In July 2011 the parliament passed what have been called the WikiLeaks Amendments. The law is called the Intelligence Services Legislation Amendment Act 2011. It significantly broadens ASIO’s remit by enabling ASIO to spy not just on foreign governments and entities that they control, or foreign political organisations. It lets ASIO spy on people or organisations outside Australia. The grounds on which spying would be allowed has also broadened.

Another law, the Extradition and Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation Amendment Act 2012 was passed earlier this month. Jeffrey Bleich prefigured this move when, in a story published on 12 November 2011 while talking about WikiLeaks, he said:
We will have to see whether there is an offence against any person, and Australia will have to evaluate its own extradition obligations.
Extradition has now been made easier, with the 'political' defence watered down and placed under the control of internal departmental regulations. Any "terrorist" offence now automatically leads to extradition. There's more too. A proposed law, the Cybercrime Legislation Amendment Bill, would make it easier for foreign law enforcement agencies to request data that relates to Australians, to be used overseas.

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