BY DOUG COOPER
SYDNEY, Australia - The leak in early December of a secret Immigration Department cable sent to all Australian government missions overseas has caused an angry reaction. The pretexts for Canberra are the terrorist bombings of Jewish and Israeli targets in London; Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Panama City, Panama in 1994; and the fact that the Olympic Games in the year 2000 will be held here. Using these events as justifications the Australian government has chimed in with other imperialist powers and launched its own anti-Arab, anti-Muslim scare campaign.
The Immigration Department cable calls for closer scrutiny of all Arabs applying for short-term visas. It singles out applicants born in, or with links to, 20 villages in southern Lebanon, as well as four Shiite Muslim groups in Sydney.
The cable notes, "The Lebanese community in Bexley, Rockdale and Arncliffe areas of Sydney may have Hezbollah affiliations as may persons associated with the Al Zahra Association, the Al Ghadir Association, the Rissalah Association and the Arncliffe Mosque. All applicants who meet the Hezbollah profile are to be interviewed to assess bona fides." No indication of just what the government's "Hezbollah profile" consists of was made public.
Hezbollah is a radical Lebanese political group advocating an "Islamic republic" that opposes the periodic military strikes and ongoing occupation of part of southern Lebanon by the Israeli regime.
Of the 250,000 people of Lebanese origin here, some 70 percent live in Sydney. Less than 40 percent are Muslims.
Angela Chan, chairwoman of the New South Wales Ethnic Communities Council, labeled the cable discriminatory. "It is like claiming all Italians are members of the Mafia or all Chinese are members of the triads," she said.
Ayad Abbas, vice president of the Al-Zahra Muslim Association, strongly condemned the accusations as did association secretary Ahmed Mokachar. "We are one of the most peaceful ethnic communities in Australia and we pride ourselves on the fact we have been building bridges between all Islamic communities," said Mokachar.
"We have nothing to do with Hezbollah here; we are a religious group," said an association spokesman.
Kamalle Tabousy, of the Lebanese Muslims Association, told the Sydney Morning Herald, "There have been no examples of terrorist activities in the Muslim communities in Australia and we find it disappointing that there is a suggestion of that now."
A young Lebanese worker at the Capral Aluminium mill reports that the Arabic-language press prominently covered the story and noted that a lawsuit is likely to be filed against the government.
In a related development, the government announced proposed "official secrets" legislation that will strengthen its ability to censor the news, as well as a new voluntary self-censorship code that would reinforce the law.
The December 13 Sydney Morning Herald reports that a summary of the proposed amendments to the Criminal Code issued by the Attorney General's Department shows that they would "prohibit disclosure and publication of information relating to operations, sources and methods of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO), ASIS (Australian Secret Intelligence Service) and the Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) .... The new laws would also prohibit the disclosure of information about the operations and capability of the Australian Defence Force which damaged its ability to perform its tasks...."
According to the Herald, "It would also be an offence for public servants to reveal `information relating to international relations' that could endanger Australia's interests overseas or endanger the safety or lives of Australians" abroad.
Government employees who leaked "official secrets" would be subject to a maximum of two years in jail and a $A12,000 fine ($A 1 = $US 0.74). Individuals who received and published such material would also be liable for a $A12,000 fine and media corporations a $Al million fine.
The `D-notice' press censorship
Some top media executives declined to attend a December 13 meeting in Canberra with Defense Minister Robert Ray to discuss a new system of voluntary censorship, known as D- notices.
The `D-notice' press censorship
The D-notice system, originally established in the 1950s, has been largely ignored in recent years. For example, recent revelations by the Herald of a massive U.S.- Australian bugging operation of the Chinese embassy in Canberra deeply embarrassed the government.
Under the proposed system, editors would contact a senior Defense Department official when they believed what they intended to publish could be damaging.
A December 14 editorial in the Herald noted that the proposed law and resurrection of D-notices "would give the Government wide pre-emptive powers to prevent publication even though the claimed justification of preserving the `national interest' might be spurious." The editorial stated "that the courts will often give more weight to a government's assertions of the need to protect the national interest than [they] will to a newspaper's arguments in favour of the free flow of information."
Tony Katsigiannis, the president of the Free Speech Committee, a national civil liberties organization, condemned the government's moves. "The media should not agree to any code of voluntary censorship, nor should they accept legislation which will muzzle them," he said.
Meanwhile, a mutual security treaty between Canberra and the military dictatorship in Indonesia - the first of its kind for Jakarta and the product of 18 months of top-secret negotiations - was announced by Prime Minister Paul Keating, December 14. The treaty was immediately condemned in Australia by supporters of democratic rights in Indonesia as well as opponents of Jakarta's 20-year occupation of East Timor.
Doug Cooper is in the AWU-FIME union at Capral Aluminium mill in Sydney.
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