U.S. Supported Mining Corporations Behind Coup in Australia
From: Mathaba | mathaba.net | 2010/07/19
(Mathaba) The role of the United States of America and the corporations it represents in the June 24 political coup against former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is clearly supported by the evidence, analysts point out.
Last December, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd ruled out the dispatch of any further Australian troops to Afghanistan when the White House announced its “surge” of 30,000 additional US troops and called for its allies to commit more forces.
Rudd insisted that an increase in the Australian contingent from 1,100 to 1,550 personnel in May 2009 was sufficient to demonstrate the Australian government’s commitment to the disasterous war and the US-Australia military alliance which places Australia at the service of the U.S.
One third of all Australian casualties in Afghanistan since the October 2001 invasion, a total of 17 killed and 143 wounded, have occurred this year as a direct result of U.S. President Obama’s surge. In June, more than 100 soldiers of the U.S.-led occupation force were killed in the space of one month for the first time.
Nine years since the invasion of Afghanistan … Obama’s surge in troops has failed to stem the growth of the Taliban-led Afghan resistance and no one predicts victory. American and NATO casualties are soaring, the puppet government of Hamid Karzai is viewed as corrupt and illegitimate and its security forces are dysfunctional.
Australia Troop Withdrawal Reversed by Coup
A few days before the June 24, 2010 coup, Australia’s Defense Minister John Faulkner, one of Rudd’s closest advisors, announced that he would not continue as defence minister if Labor won the coming election. Military analysts and political insiders say his resignation was due to his alarm over the rise in Australian casualties and his belief that the Afghan war was a lost cause and that Rudd had formed similar views.
On June 23, just hours before the coup, Faulkner said that the Labour government of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd would consider withdrawing Australian troops from Afghanistan within two to four years.
Faulkner announced a tentative timetable for troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, with the clear aim of placating popular opposition to the mounting Australian deaths and to the war itself. An Essential Media Communications opinion poll in June showed 61 percent of respondents wanted the withdrawal of Australian troops, an increase of 11 percent compared with 15 months earlier.
“What it means is that at some point within that two to four year time frame we would see our training mission transition to an overwatch role,” Faulkner told a press conference. “And that would obviously mean at that time we would start to see a reduction of the number of Australian troops in Afghanistan.”
The Obama administration had a clear interest in reversing Australia’s withdrawal timeframe. Numerous U.S. allies that have supplied troops are facing mounting popular opposition and are increasingly nervous about being embroiled in a war without end. With the Netherlands and Canada already preparing to withdraw, the Rudd government’s stance could have become the starting point for a wider abandonment of the U.S.-led occupation.
Prior to the coup, Rudd and Faulkner had taken steps to appease U.S. dissatisfaction with their Afghan policy. Australian special forces were made available for use in Kandahar province. The result, however, was some of the heaviest fighting yet seen, and a spike in the Australian death toll. The Australian losses coincided with a deepening crisis of the Rudd government.
Publicly, the Obama administration refrained from criticising the Australian position and praised Rudd as a “reliable ally”. In March 2010, however, veteran journalist Rafael Epstein published a report in the Sydney Morning Herald that the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan at the time, General Stanley McChrystal, had had a “bitter exchange” with the chief of the Australian Defence Forces, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston.
According to Epstein’s sources, McChrystal told Houston in December 2009 that “the Rudd government’s refusal to allow Australian troops to take the fight to the Taliban was impairing the U.S.-led war effort”. The U.S. general allegedly warned that Rudd’s refusal to allow Australian troops to deploy outside of Uruzgan into the regions being targeted by Obama’s surge was doing “permanent damage” to “the US perception of Australia’s military commitment”.
Two planned visits to Australia by U.S. President Obama were cancelled, the first excuse being due to the stalemate in passing his health legislation and the second due to the BP oil spill.
Popular dissatisfaction in Australia over a range of Labor policies, including the war, was being exploited and manipulated by the Murdoch media and major mining magnates. The mining corporations began financing a multi-million dollar advertising blitz, denouncing the proposed Resource Super Profits Tax (RSPT) as a threat to jobs and investment. Opinion polling showing a collapse in electoral support for Labor was trumpeted in the media as evidence that Rudd would be swept from office, and utilised to fan speculation about a leadership challenge by Gillard.
It is now known that Labor MP and former union boss Bill Shorten had approached Gillard two weeks earlier and guaranteed that he and other factional powerbrokers would ensure she had the numbers to defeat Rudd in a leadership ballot. Gillard had refused, however, as the time was not right for her U.S.-supported coup.
On Tuesday, June 22, Rudd survived attempts to remove him, as his entire Labor Party caucus met that morning for the last time before an eight-week winter break, with no challenge being made to his leadership. The Labor politicians were reassured that, even with the decline in the opinion polls, the numbers still meant the government would be returned to power at the next election.
At the same time, Rudd and Treasurer Wayne Swan were making moves to strike a deal with the mining companies in order to bury the RSPT controversy. Yet the following evening of June 23, Julia Gillard walked into Rudd’s office and informed him he would be removed as prime minister the next morning.
Rudd’s replacement, Julia Gillard, on the very day the coup brought her to power, stressed her total commitment to the US alliance and the Afghan war. In an opinion piece published in major daily newspapers, she also repudiated the announcement made by Defence Minister John Faulkner on June 23 — just hours before the coup plot against Rudd went into action — that the Labor government would consider withdrawing Australian troops from Afghanistan within two to four years.
Gillard wrote: “Bringing home our troops cannot be to a pre-set timetable.” The war was at a “critical stage” and “we must maintain our commitment to seeing it through”. Her government, she stressed, “will remain steadfast to the mission we have set ourselves in Afghanistan”.
The C.I.A. and the U.S. embassy in Canberra were likely involved in the anti-democratic conspiracy to overthrow Rudd — just as they were in the 1975 coup that brought down the Whitlam Labor government, according to analysts.
Rudd certainly appears to have concluded that the U.S. had a hand in the coup. Sydney Morning Herald journalist Peter Hartcher reported from the U.S. on Monday that Rudd had “irritated some senior US officials in the past fortnight in numerous calls to Washington”. One official told Hartcher: “Kevin has been whiny and mopey. There’s been too much ‘if only’ this and ‘if only’ that. He needs to just suck it up and get on with things.”
According to Hartcher, Obama telephoned Rudd following the coup, before he called Gillard. The president allegedly conveyed his “shock”, before pointedly suggesting Rudd may want to seek a career outside politics. Obama apparently let Rudd know that he would provide assistance for the former prime minister to obtain a lucrative international position and support from the Carlisle Group — presumably similar to those enjoyed by the likes of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former U.S. President Bill Clinton.
If he were to avail himself of the opportunity, Rudd, who is married to a multi-millionaire, could grow even richer. The price, of course, would be to keep quiet on the circumstances of the coup and “just suck it up” to the U.S.
Obama allegedly concluded the phone call by making clear to Rudd that he “looked forward” to working with Gillard. The attitude of the White House and the broader US political establishment to Gillard’s installation was spelt out on Tuesday by Kurt Campbell, Obama’s Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.
In comments provided to the Sydney Morning Herald’s Hartcher, Campbell stated: “Not that we needed any reassurance, but nevertheless we are deeply appreciative of the continuity, of the statements of strong support [from Gillard] on the centrality of the US-Australia alliance, and all I can say is the President’s very much looking forward to working with the new prime minister…”
An Australian official in Washington told Hartcher that the US establishment was not concerned about Gillard or the manner in which she had risen to power, “because they know her and they know her views”.
At a speech in 2008 to the Australian American Leadership Dialogue Gillard had told the assembled audience: “Our alliance is bigger than any person, bigger than any party, bigger than any period in our history together.”
Corporations’ Players Behind Coup
Elsewhere, the subservience of the U.S. government to major corporations such as Halliburton, BP et al has been widely documented, as well as the buy out of major “worker’s unions” leaders by those corporations, as in Australia.
The leaders of the political coup that last month on June 24 removed Australia’s Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd from power and installed his former deputy Julia Gillard, were not just “faceless numbers men”, as sections of the media have insisted.
Labor “heavies” Bill Shorten, Mark Arbib, David Feeney, Paul Howes and Gary Gray have direct connections to big business, especially the mining industry. Their personal histories reveal a seamless movement between the Labor machine, including the unions, and the boardrooms of Australia’s largest companies.
In toppling Rudd so swiftly (the coup was executed within the space of just 15 hours) Labor’s faction bosses were simply taking action on behalf of the mining chiefs and other corporate executives, and their opposition to Rudd’s proposed 40 percent resource super-profits tax (RSPT).
As events unfolded on the night of June 23, television viewers were informed that Labor MP and parliamentary secretary Bill Shorten, former head of the Australian Workers Union (AWU), had been sighted in a Canberra restaurant with a mobile phone in each hand, making calls and ticking off names from a list of Labor parliamentarians. But who exactly is Shorten and on whose behalf was he making those calls?
Shorten was elected to parliament by residents of the working class electorate of Maribyrnong, in Melbourne’s western suburbs. With the Murdoch media’s help, he has carefully crafted an image as a working class hero.
In fact, his impeccable connections, both personal and professional, are altogether those of the ruling class. Shorten, who attended Melbourne’s expensive and exclusive Xavier College, was married to the daughter of Liberal Party politician and leading businessman Julian Beale. Julian’s father, Sir Howard Beale, was a Liberal Party minister in the Menzies government, and, upon his retirement from politics, was appointed Australian Ambassador to the United States.
His marriage gave Shorten a direct link to billionaire Richard Pratt, a close friend of Julian Beale and at one time Australia’s richest man. In May 2006, Shorten borrowed Pratt’s private jet to fly to Beaconsfield in Tasmania, wasting not a second of the media spotlight when a Beaconsfield coal miner was killed and another two remained trapped kilometres underground. Shorten, who had had no experience with either mining or rescues, and had apparently never been to Beaconsfield, saw an opportunity to become the public face of the mine collapse during two weeks of blanket media coverage of the event. He is now married to the daughter of Governor-General Quentin Bryce, Australia’s head of state.
While national secretary of the AWU, a union with members in the mines, Shorten was embraced as friend and confidant of leading executives of the country’s largest mining and steel companies. The reason for these friendships was not hard to fathom. Shorten proved himself willing to act in the interests of these companies by ensuring a compliant workforce and industrial peace. For instance, he was praised by steel bosses for his assistance in pushing through a merger of steel giants Smorgon and Onesteel, despite the loss of hundreds of jobs, amid AWU crocodile tears, once the deal went through. Smorgon Steel managing director, Ray Horsburgh, said after the merger: “I’d class Bill Shorten and other union officials as mates — we’ve worked closely together to resolve problems. I would say that in the 10 years that we’ve been a listed company we’ve lost only a few days due to industrial action with our core employees.”
Horsburgh also praised Shorten for opposing attempts by electrical contractors at Smorgon’s steel plants to reduce their working week to 35 hours. “Bill Shorten actually encouraged us to fight against it because he didn’t want to see it happen.” As is natural for those who scale the heights of the Australian union movement, Shorten was also on the board of directors for Victorian Super Trustees, thereby directing billions of dollars of workers’ entitlements into the stock market. This role has brought him into direct contact with leading players in the financial sector.
Shorten’s activities as AWU head, and the connections he was able to develop while in that job, shed light on the role played in the coup by his AWU replacement, Paul Howes. Reports are that Howes spent the afternoon before Rudd’s downfall directing key Labor caucus leaders to abandon the prime minister. A turning point in the former prime minister’s demise came when Howes was interviewed on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s flagship evening current affairs program and announced that the AWU, one of Australia’s largest unions, had, without any sort of ballot of its members, abandoned Rudd “for the good of the country.”
This was genuine double-dealing. Howes had spent the previous six weeks publicly selling the merits of Rudd’s mining tax to his members and to the media. On May 9, in a syndicated opinion piece, Howes told readers that mining had “made a lot of people very wealthy. Very wealthy indeed. Members of the Australian Workers’ Union have been proud participants in this tradition”, but “I’ve parted company with the big mining giants on the super profits resource tax.” Howes’s opposition to the tax, however, proved to be no obstacle to his participation in ousting Rudd. Moreover, since June 24, when Gillard became prime minister and announced a cave-in to the mining companies’ demands, there has been complete silence from the AWU on the mining tax issue.
Tip of Iceberg
Links between Gillard’s union backers and mining industry bosses are just the tip of the iceberg. As journalist Nicki Savva reports, the director of public affairs at BHP Billiton (Australia’s largest company and one of the world’s largest mining firms) is Geoff Walsh, a former ALP national secretary and former advisor to Labor prime ministers Bob Hawke and Paul Keating. Tim Gartrell, who succeeded Walsh as ALP national secretary, now works for Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, the billionaire head of mining company Fortescue Metals and one of the RSPT’s chief detractors.
BHP’s senior media relations executive, Amanda Buckley, is a former advisor to a previous Labor leader, Kim Beazley. Colin Parkes, a former press secretary to Bob Hawke, is now a senior media consultant to BHP, while Mark O’Neill, another former advisor to Paul Keating, is head of ‘government relations’ at Rio Tinto (Australia’s second largest mining company and the world’s third largest iron ore producer). Finally, and perhaps most tellingly, the head of Kevin Rudd’s 2007 election campaign, Neil Lawrence, organised the Minerals Council’s anti-RSPT media blitzkrieg. It was that campaign that prepared the ground for Rudd’s removal. The behind-the-scenes role of these various Labor insiders was, no doubt, critical.
Gary Gray, a former national secretary of the ALP and one of the party’s most influential backroom deal-makers, also played a leading role. Gray’s connections to the resources sector could not be more direct: his former paymasters were among the most vocal opponents of the mining tax. From 2000, after leaving Labor head office, Gray became a special consultant to Woodside Petroleum, Australia’s largest national gas producer, and eventually that company’s corporate affairs director. Gray’s brief was originally to use his government connections to repel a takeover bid by Shell, but he was later key to Woodside’s natural gas agreement with China’s state-owned PetroChina, a deal projected to produce revenues of $35 billion to $45 billion over a 15 year period. Gray returned to a Labor job in 2007, this time a safe Western Australian seat in federal parliament. He continued his role as mining lobbyist, but this time from inside the legislature. Two weeks before Rudd was removed, Gray began preparing the ground for the Gillard coup by publicly breaking ranks with Rudd—the first senior Labor figure to do so—and indicating the tax had to go. Despite Gray’s deep mining connections, a quiescent media made no enquiries about his riding orders.
Not every one of Labor’s coup leaders has overt mining ties. Mark Arbib, David Feeney and Don Farrell are all Labor and union apparatchiks, from New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, respectively, whose only recorded contribution to politics has been their sordid role in arranging support or opposition for this or that factional ‘pick’. However, these back-room heavies have been of critical importance in the implementation of the miners’ demands.
Arbib’s personal history is a case in point. Kevin Rudd came to power in 2007 on the back of Arbib’s patronage and rewarded the new senator with a government ministry. Before his move into federal parliament, Arbib, a NSW ALP state secretary, blocked the rise to power of NSW premiership hopeful Carl Scully and installed instead right-wing stooge, Morris Iemma. In doing so, Arbib acted in accord with the demands of the state’s powerful real estate and development lobby. He has now reprised his unsavoury role as NSW big business go-between, although with far more chilling implications, at the national level. Arbib’s record speaks volumes for what Labor’s factional gangs are really about. They are associations defined by neither loyalty nor ‘tribalism’ (the corporate media’s meaningless tag-line for the factions) much less ideology. On the contrary, they have become conduits for whichever arm of the ruling elite demands their services.
The role and character of Arbib, Shorten, Gray and the others underscore the fact that the official political establishment is incapable of reform. The current political crisis, which will intensify as governments around the world turn from fiscal stimulus to implementing savage austerity measures, is not a question of deteriorating personnel or a lack of “vision”, as the media would have it. Maintaining even a semblance of parliamentary niceties has become completely incompatible with the demands of the financial and corporate elite for a major assault on the social position of the working class. The political coup against Rudd, orchestrated behind the backs of the population, is a warning of preparations being made, also behind closed doors, for far more repressive and authoritarian forms of rule.
— Compiled and edited by Mathaba News Agency from analysis by James Cogan and Alex Messenger