Archive for the ‘National’ Category

A mutual suicide pact: Australia’s undeclared nuclear weapons strategy

January 20, 2022

A mutual suicide pact: Australia’s undeclared nuclear weapons strategy, Pearls and Irritations, By Michael McKinleyJan 20, 2022  As the world’s nuclear arsenals build even more killing power, the need for Australia to abandon this perilous defence arrangement only increases.

The conventional wisdom has it that in the matter of nuclear weapons Australia is an exemplary international citizen. According to the Standard Version, it diligently supports the various nuclear arms control and disarmament regimes, and adheres to the position which regards nuclear weapons as instruments of nuclear deterrence and thus of the stable relations between major powers. Nuclear war-fighting is eschewed. Virtue is asserted. Res ipsa loquitor. The problem is that both claims are not only false, but embedded within what passes for defence policy with increasing willed ignorance, deceit and dishonesty.

At issue is the Australia’s unqualified general support for the various postures the US adopts and the particular role which it provides through the joint Australia-US facilities at Pine Gap and Northwest Cape. Their status as integral components in US global nuclear strategy – and thus nuclear targets in the event of major, peer-to-peer-war challenges the concept of government by consent of the governed.

The arrangements and agreements between Canberra and Washington have never been made public; indeed, successive governments have been industrious in their attempts to close off anything resembling national dialogue or debate on them.

This, of course, is a traditional and dishonourable tradition. Its origins are to be found in the official dishonesty surrounding Australia granting the British government the right to conduct a series of nuclear weapons tests at Maralinga, Emu Plains and the Montebello Islands from 1952 to 1963.

Unabated, it has coarsened the legal and ethical fabric of the nation’s security and foreign policy ever since to the point where the obvious has to be restated because, essentially, it no longer gives cause for shame, outrage, or anger.

Consider just six issues on which policymakers and mainstream national security commentators and scholars have been mute.

Diplomacy, it seems, has been substituted for by bellicose statements by high-level military and civilian personnel which exhibit, little more than its relegation to an irrelevance beyond its cosmetic utility.

Second, there is proliferation by stealth. The US initiative to modernise its nuclear arsenal by installing the burst-height compensating super-fuze has extraordinary implications. It effectively triples the killing power of its ballistic missiles and, as described by three of America’s most respected weapons analysts (Hans Kristensen, Matthew McKinzie and Theodore Postol) in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists the situation is one in which the US has developed “the capacity to fight and win a nuclear war by disarming enemies with a surprise first strike.”

Third, the advent of weapons with warheads described as “variable yield,” “low yield,” “clean” (sic), or “mini nukes” has encouraged declarations at the highest levels in the US that, under certain circumstances, nuclear weapons have “tactical” utility. And they are a matter of pride: as the head of US Strategic Command told a congressional committee in 2020, these innovations made him “proud to be an American.”

Fourth, this embrace of tactical nuclear weapons cannot be separated from the explicit intention to envisage nuclear weapons as inescapably enmeshed in the overarching concept of deterrence. Put another way, for Admiral Richard, and those of a like mind, there is no meaningful distinction to be made between conventional and nuclear deterrence: they comprise a single entity, the former being dependent on the latter for its intellectual and strategic credibility.

By extension the fifth comes into focus: the US to continuing to reserve to itself the right to a nuclear first strike. In 2020, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, General Tod Wolters, commander of US European Command and Supreme Allied Commander Europe, went so far as to enthuse over it with this endorsement: “I’m a fan of flexible first use policy.”

Sixth and finally, there is nuclear deterrence itself. The term is employed in polite conversation as though it was simply a technical description; in reality, however, it is an obscenity and this becomes obvious when its explicit principle is confronted.

In simple terms it is a mutual suicide pact to the preserve the status quo of the time. Richard Tanter on this site has accurately described Australia’s position within the alliance and under the nuclear umbrella as one which it expects the US to commit genocide in the name of the country’s defence.

An important point is missed here: this understanding or expectation has never been put to the Australian people. …………  …… https://johnmenadue.com/a-mutual-suicide-pact-australias-undeclared-nuclear-weapons-strategy/

What future for Small Nuclear Reactors (SMRs) in Australia ?

January 11, 2022

Small nuclear reactor? It’s a lemon!

Large taxpayer subsidies might get some projects, such as the NuScale project in the US or the Rolls-Royce mid-sized reactor project in the UK, to the construction stage. Or they may join the growing list of abandoned SMR projects

In 2022, nuclear power’s future looks grimmer than ever, Jim Green, 11 Jan 2022, RenewEconomy

”……………………………………….. Small modular reactors

Small modular reactors (SMRs) are heavily promoted but construction projects are few and far between and have exhibited disastrous cost overruns and multi-year delays.

It should be noted that none of the projects discussed below meet the ‘modular’ definition of serial factory production of reactor components, which could potentially drive down costs. Using that definition, no SMRs have ever been built and no country, company or utility is building the infrastructure for SMR construction.

In 2004, when the CAREM SMR in Argentina was in the planning stage, Argentina’s Bariloche Atomic Center estimated an overnight cost of A$1.4 billion / GW for an integrated 300 megawatt (MW) plant, while acknowledging that to achieve such a cost would be a “very difficult task”. Now, the cost estimate is more than 20 times greater at A$32.6 billion / GW. A little over A$1 billion for a reactor with a capacity of just 32 MW. The project is seven years behind schedule and costs will likely increase further.

Russia’s 70 MW floating nuclear power plant is said to be the only operating SMR anywhere in the world (although it doesn’t fit the ‘modular’ definition of serial factory production). The construction cost increased six-fold from 6 billion rubles to 37 billion rubles (A$688 million), equivalent to A$9.8 billion / GW. The construction project was nine years behind schedule.

According to the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency, electricity produced by the Russian floating plant costs an estimated A$279 / MWh, with the high cost due to large staffing requirements, high fuel costs, and resources required to maintain the barge and coastal infrastructure. The cost of electricity produced by the Russian plant exceeds costs from large reactors (A$182-284) even though SMRs are being promoted as the solution to the exorbitant costs of large nuclear plants.

SMRs are being promoted as important potential contributors to climate change abatement but the primary purpose of the Russian plant is to power fossil fuel mining operations in the Arctic.

A 2016 report said that the estimated construction cost of China’s demonstration 210 MW high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR) is about A$7.0 billion / GW and that cost increases have arisen from higher material and component costs, increases in labour costs, and project delays. The World Nuclear Association states that the cost is A$8.4 billion / GW. Those figures are 2-3 times higher than the A$2.8 billion / GW estimate in a 2009 paper by Tsinghua University researchers.

China’s HTGR was partially grid-connected in late-2021 and full connection will take place in early 2022.

China reportedly plans to upscale the HTGR design to 655 MW (three reactor modules feeding one turbine). China’s Institute of Nuclear and New Energy Technology at Tsinghua University expects the cost of a 655 MW HTGR will be 15-20 percent higher than the cost of a conventional 600 MW pressurised water reactor.

NucNet reported in 2020 that China’s State Nuclear Power Technology Corp dropped plans to manufacture 20 additional HTGR units after levelised cost of electricity estimates rose to levels higher than a conventional pressurised water reactor such as China’s indigenous Hualong One. Likewise, the World Nuclear Association states that plans for 18 additional HTGRs at the same site as the demonstration plant have been “dropped”.

The World Nuclear Association lists just two other SMR construction projects other than those listed above. In July 2021, China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) New Energy Corporation began construction of the 125 MW pressurised water reactor ACP100. According to CNNC, construction costs per kilowatt will be twice the cost of large reactors, and the levelised cost of electricity will be 50 percent higher than large reactors.

In June 2021, construction of the 300 MW demonstration lead-cooled BREST fast reactor began in Russia. In 2012, the estimated cost for the reactor and associated facilities was A$780 million, but the cost estimate has more than doubled and now stands at A$1.9 billion.

SMR hype

Much more could be said about the proliferation of SMRs in the ‘planning’ stage, and the accompanying hype. For example a recent review asserts that more than 30 demonstrations of ‘advanced’ reactor designs are in progress across the globe. In fact, few have progressed beyond the planning stage, and few will. Private-sector funding has been scant and taxpayer funding has generally been well short of that required for SMR construction projects to proceed.

Large taxpayer subsidies might get some projects, such as the NuScale project in the US or the Rolls-Royce mid-sized reactor project in the UK, to the construction stage. Or they may join the growing list of abandoned SMR projects.

failed history of small reactor projects. A handful of recent construction projects, most subject to major cost overruns and multi-year delays. And the possibility of a small number of SMR construction projects over the next decade. Clearly the hype surrounding SMRs lacks justification.

Everything that is promising about SMRs belongs in the never-never; everything in the real-world is expensive and over-budget, slow and behind schedule. Moreover, there are disturbing, multifaceted connections between SMR projects and nuclear weapons proliferation, and between SMRs and fossil fuel mining.

SMRs for Australia

There is ongoing promotion of SMRs in Australia but a study by WSP / Parsons Brinckerhoff, commissioned by the South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission, estimated costs of A$225 / MWh for SMRs. The Minerals Council of Australia states that SMRs won’t find a market unless they can produce power at about one-third of that cost.

In its 2021 GenCost report, CSIRO provides these 2030 cost estimates:

* Nuclear (SMR): A$128-322 / MWh

* 90 percent wind and solar PV with integration costs (transmission, storage and synchronous condensers): A$55-80 / MWh

Enthusiasts hope that nuclear power’s cost competitiveness will improve, but in all likelihood it will continue to worsen. Alone among energy sources, nuclear power becomes more expensive over time, or in other words it has a negative learning curve.

Dr Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia and the author of a recent report on nuclear power’s economic crisis. https://reneweconomy.com.au/in-2022-nuclear-powers-future-is-grimmer-than-ever/

The Australian government is complicit with USA and UK, imperilling the health of Julian Assange, may well cause his death.

January 6, 2022

AUKUS alliance driving Assange to his death,  https://independentaustralia.net/life/life-display/aukus-alliance-driving-assange-to-his-death,15904, By John Jiggens | 6 January 2022,   The actions of the U.S., UK and Australia are imperiling the health of Julian Assange and could result in the tragic death of the publisher, writes John Jiggens.

THE NEWS THAT Julian Assange has suffered a stroke while detained in London’s Belmarsh Prison has strengthened the fears of Assange supporters that the AUKUS alliance is comfortable with the WikiLeaks’ founder’s death at their hands.

But would an Australian Government be complicit in a plot against one of its own citizens?

Consider these recent stories.

In September 2021, Yahoo! News revealed that Mike Pompeo, who was the CIA Director in 2017, became party to a scheme to kidnap Assange from the Ecuadorean Embassy or to assassinate him.

The Yahoo! investigation was based on conversations with 30 former U.S. officials. Among those interviewed, eight provided details on plans to kidnap Assange.

Greg Barns SC, a barrister and advisor to Julian Assange, told Bay FM:

“It was like something out of a James Bond film, except sadly, it was very true. There was a clear plan to take Assange out. We now have the Australian Government on notice that one of its citizens was the subject of a conspiracy to murder plot by the CIA.”

Further, he remarked:

The conduct of the CIA was outrageous, unlawful and represents a complete breach of the so-called alliance or friendship between Australia and the United States.

The CIA acts essentially as a criminal enterprise. It is state-sanctioned criminality. To be overtly planning to murder someone in any circumstances would amount to a conspiracy to murder for anyone else and the persons would face very serious criminal charges.

The Yahoo! report prompted prominent Assange supporters to write to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, asking if the Australian Government accepted the behaviour of an ally plotting to murder an Australian citizen and questioning whether Australian intelligence agencies participated in the plot or were notified about it.

Five weeks passed while Morrison’s office composed a 100-word reply.

It acceped no responsibility or accountability whatsoever. Indeed, Morrison’s reply did not deny Australian involvement or knowledge of the plot.

Instead it passed the buck, advising:

Concerns about the legality or propriety of the activities of Australian intelligence agency are best directed to the IGIS, the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security.’

During the UK High Court extradition appeal in October, the Courier Mail ran another story, titled ‘Assange snubbed Aussie help 29 times, says Payne’.

Why, in the middle of Assange’s High Court hearing, was Foreign Minister Marise Payne using her friends in the Murdoch media to portray Assange as un-Australian, snubbing her patriotic ‘’Aussie help’’?

Assange’s father John Shipton commented:

“I get no help from Marise Payne in any way whatsoever. Saying I have been snubbed 29 times by Julian is to defend her. It’s only to defend her. It’s nothing to do with Julian.”

The family have continually asked for Payne and Morrison to actively engage with Australia’s UK and U.S. allies. They see extradition as an outrageous surrender of Australian sovereignty and they expect that Morrison and Payne should tell UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and U.S. President Joe Biden so.

Shipton, who has travelled to 50 countries to garner support for Julian, said:

“Everywhere I go, people ask where is the Australian Government in this? What is the substance of Australia in its relationship with the UK that it allows this show trial to go on without comment?”

 

Australia’s nuclear-free collective efforts and achievements in 2021.

January 1, 2022

Dave Sweeney, 31 Dec 21,

  • Nuclear weapons made illegal: Climate change and nuclear weapons are the two existential threats facing our planet – one reduces our chances every day while the other could end our chances in a day. ICAN – the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons – was recognised with the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons entered into force and became part on international humanitarian law in January 2021. Our planets worst weapons are now illegal.
  • International support is growing for the Treaty and the first meeting of state parties is planned to be held in Vienna in March – https://icanw.org.au/
  • Superannuation and pension funds are among those divesting from companies involved in nuclear weapons – https://quitnukes.org/
  • Pushing for the Treaty is an important counterpoint to the AUKUS driven lurch to ever greater militarisation
  • Resistance, rehab and repair: our efforts to stop further, and clean up former, uranium mines saw important results. 
  • All mining and mineral processing at the Ranger mine in Kakadu ceased in January 2021. Nuclear free advocates are now working closely with the Mirarr Traditional Owners to ensure that primary mine owner Rio Tinto does a credible and comprehensive rehabilitation and in supporting an Aboriginal centred post mining regional economy in Kakadu.
  • A federal commitment to ‘full’ funding of a new clean up of the former Rum Jungle site in the NT was confirmed in the 2021 budget
  • Despite extensive efforts there was a disappointing outcome in WA with the recent further approval of the Mulga Rock project east of Kalgoorlie. It is a long journey from a signed paper to a commercial mine and the project faces strong contest – https://www.ccwa.org.au/nuclearfreewa
  • International collaboration continued with efforts to track the impacts of Australian uranium miners in Africa, Spain and Greenland. Opposition to the planned Kvanefjeld uranium project, driven by Perth based Greenland Minerals, was a dominant issue in the 2021 Greenland election which was won by nuclear-free politicians who have since introduced a national ban on uranium mining.

  • Responsible radioactive waste management: 
    the federal government push for a national radioactive waste facility in regional South Australia is not responsible or necessary.

2021 saw deeper co-operation with Barngarla Traditional Owners and Kimba region farmers along with media and political advocacy to highlight and delay the heavy handed federal legislation. Movement advocates welcomed the federal budget allocating $60 million to advance extended interim waste storage at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation’s Lucas Heights nuclear site. This means Australia’s worst waste can effectively stay in place until a longer term approach is developed and that Kimba is a political choice, not a nuclear necessity.

Unsurprisingly, the federal government has to date ignored the potential this move offers for a constructive circuit breaker in this debate.

2022 will see elevated attention to radioactive waste issues with a Barngarla legal challenge – kick in if you can at – https://www.gofundme.com/f/nbp8f8-barngarla-help-us-have-a-say-on-radioactive-waste – the SA state election in March and growing community awareness and engagement – https://nodumpalliance.org.au/

  • Renewable, not radioactive: in the year that saw the 10th anniversary of Fukushima lots of work went into keeping the door closed to domestic nuclear power and contesting nuclear industry promotion of SMR’s – so called small modular reactors – and other distractions to effective climate action. Efforts have focussed attention on the urgent need for proven and renewable energy solutions – renewable, not radioactive. Australian advocates played a key role in a new dedicated website and co-ordinated the development of a global civil society non-nuclear statement released at CoP 26 in Glasgow that was endorsed by 480 organisations across multiple nations – https://dont-nuke-the-climate.org/   There was increased collaboration with regional partners in Japan, the Pacific, the Philippines and Taiwan – including around next steps in the Fukushima waste water story and the recent positive referendum that has ended plans for a new reactor in Taiwan. 2022 is sure to see more chatter and challenge on the domestic nuclear front ahead of the federal election.

The murky world of financing Small Nuclear Reactors (SMRs)

December 30, 2021


IKEA it ain’t: don’t go looking for friendly nuclear option, no matter the spin

MICHAEL WEST MEDIA, By Noel Wauchope|December 30, 2021  Despite the Murdoch media hype over small nuclear reactors as a solution for Australia’s “clean energy” future, this is costly technology which barely exists in a commercial sense. Noel Wauchope explores the murky world of funding for Small Nuclear Reactors (SMRs).

Small nuclear reactors are being proposed as the solution for Australia’s ‘clean energy’ future.  Australians should be aware of the financial  gymnastics going on in the USA, with NuScale, and in the UK, with Rolls-Royce. That’s just to single out the two most advanced of the many dubious SMR projects still at the starting gate.

The Murdoch media is enthusiastic about SMRs. Missing from the hype are a lot of unanswered questions. For a start — the ”M” stands for ”modular” — meaning that these reactors will be built in pieces, sort of, and transferred to a site, where they will be assembled, like a piece of IKEA furniture. But in fact there are at least 50 designs being promoted, and not all are modular. 

The critical question comes down to – the money

The enthusiasm of the SMR lobby for the economic viability of SMRs is not matched by the facts.

 For one thing to consider – there’s the price of the electricity to be eventually delivered by these small nuclear reactors. The Minerals Council of Australia estimates that by 2030 and beyond, SMRs could offer power to grids from $64-$77MWh, depending on size and type.

An analysis by WSP / Parsons Brinckerhoff, prepared for the 2015-16 South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission,  estimated  a cost of A$225 / MWh for a reactor based on the NuScale design, about three times higher than the MCA’s target range. CSIRO  estimatesSMR power costs at A$258-338 / MWh in 2020 and A$129-336 / MWh in 2030.

Then there are the costs of actually getting SMRs in the first place.

In Russia, China, France, and Argentina, the construction is done entirely or largely at taxpayers’ expense, and there is little or no transparency about the costs. But generally in the Western world, electricity production is supposed to be a commercially viable operation.  In the context of promoting low -carbon technologies, SMRs are promoted as being cheaper than large ones.  It is generally acceptable for the government to kick-start the process, with some funding, but with the understanding that the industry will become successful, profitable. 

NuScale financing contortions………………….

Now NuScale is to go public by merging with what’s known as a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC……..

US Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Gary Gensler wants to tighten regulations on SPACs:

Glitzy corporate presentation decks, hyped press releases and celebrity endorsements can balloon a SPAC’s equity well beyond a reasonable value long before proper disclosures are filed,  Gensler said.

SPACs have had a chequered history — they enable the sponsors to avoid financial loss, even if the business fails, as many did, in the 1990s.  Sixty-five per cent of deals completed in 2021 at a valuation above $1bn are trading below $10 — the price at which they were floated. All of the companies are trading below their stock market highs with some of them down by as much as 70%. Senator Elizabeth Warren and three other Democrats are investigating the imbalance between the financial results for the sponsors and banks versus the early investors.

Rolls-Royce still looking for money

The process of getting funding for the UK’s SMRs is equally tortuous. ……………….   

Rolls-Royce will be seeking more investment for the project to help fund the building of actual SMRs.

The government is currently passing legislation that will allow investors to back projects like SMRs using a regulated asset base (RAB) model, which allows them to recoup upfront costs from the consumers, over the construction period, long before those consumers actually get any electricity from the project. 

Mythical beasts

So — what it all boils down to is an agreement to spend about £400 million over the next three years — to perhaps produce a design for a reactor, which might get approved by the regulators, and might find investors who might be willing to pay what will be at least £2 billion to build each one.

Where does all this leave Australia? Confused, probably like everyone else?  It’s not at all clear who is going to end up paying the most for small nuclear reactors, or indeed, if that fleet of SMRs will ever become a reality. It will probably be the taxpayers.  I haven’t mentioned all those ancillary costs — of winning community approval, of security, waste disposal. In all the hype about solving the climate crisis, it’s not likely that Australia will have the necessary thousands of small nuclear reactors operating in time to have any effect on the climate. 

In the meantime, it’s worth being wary about the financial aspects, given the obscure manipulations going on in the US and UK, and remembering that not yet does one of these mythical beasts, Small Modular Nuclear Reactors actually exist.

Renewables remain the cheapest “new-build” source of energy generation. They exist. They work.  https://www.michaelwest.com.au/ikea-it-aint-small-modular-nuclear-reactors/ 

An irreverent call to Australia’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison – ACT NOW to free Julian Assange

December 18, 2021

The disgraceful case mounted against Assange by a corrupt U.S. Department of Justice and their hired guns in Britain.

December 16, 2021

It is this institutional lying and duplicity that Julian Assange brought into the open and in so doing performed perhaps the greatest public service of any journalist in modern times.

JOHN PILGER: U.S. wins extradition appeal against Julian Assange, Independent Australia, By John Pilger | 11 December 2021,  ”…….. Miscarriage of justice is an inadequate term in these circumstances. It took the bewigged courtiers of Britain’s ancien regime just nine minutes on Friday to uphold an American appeal against a District Court judge’s acceptance in January of a cataract of evidence that hell on Earth awaited Assange across the Atlantic: a hell in which, it was expertly predicted, he would find a way to take his own life.

Volumes of witness by people of distinction, who examined and studied Julian and diagnosed his autism and his Asperger’s Syndrome and revealed that he had already come within an ace of killing himself at Belmarsh Prison, Britain’s very own hell, were ignored.

The recent confession of a crucial FBI informant and prosecution stooge, a fraudster and serial liar, that he had fabricated his evidence against Julian was ignored. The revelation that the Spanish-run security firm at the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where Julian had been granted political refuge, was a CIA front that spied on Julian’s lawyers and doctors and confidants (myself included) — that, too, was ignored.

The recent journalistic disclosure, repeated graphically by defence counsel before the High Court in October, that the CIA had planned to murder Julian in London — even that was ignored.

Each of these “matters”, as lawyers like to say, was enough on its own for a judge upholding the law to throw out the disgraceful case mounted against Assange by a corrupt U.S. Department of Justice and their hired guns in Britain. Julian’s state of mind, bellowed James Lewis, QC, America’s man at the Old Bailey last year, was no more than malingering — an archaic Victorian term used to deny the very existence of mental illness. 

To Lewis, almost every defence witness, including those who described from the depth of their experience and knowledge the barbaric American prison system, was to be interrupted, abused, discredited. Sitting behind him, passing him notes, was his American conductor: young, short-haired, clearly an Ivy League man on the rise.

In their nine minutes of dismissal of the fate of journalist Assange, two of the most senior judges in Britain, including the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett (a lifelong buddy of Sir Alan Duncan, Boris Johnson’s former Foreign Minister who arranged the brutal police kidnapping of Assange from the Ecuadorean embassy) referred to not one of a litany of truths aired at previous hearings in the District Court.

These were truths that had struggled to be heard in a lower court presided over by a weirdly hostile judge, Vanessa Baraitser. Her insulting behaviour towards a clearly stricken Assange, struggling through a fog of prison-dispensed medication to remember his name, is unforgettable.

What was truly shocking on Friday was that the High Court Judges – Lord Burnett and Lord Justice Timothy Holroyde, who read out their words – showed no hesitation in sending Julian to his death, living or otherwise. They offered no mitigation, no suggestion that they had agonised over legalities or even basic morality.

Their ruling in favour, if not on behalf of the United States, is based squarely on transparently fraudulent “assurances” scrabbled together by the Biden Administration when it looked in January like justice might prevail.

These “assurances” are that once in American custody, Assange will not be subject to the Orwellian SAMs – Special Administrative Measures – which would make him an un-person; that he will not be imprisoned at ADX Florence, a prison in Colorado long condemned by jurists and human rights groups as illegal: “a pit of punishment and disappearance”; that he can be transferred to an Australian prison to finish his sentence there.

The absurdity lies in what the Judges omitted to say. In offering its “assurances”, the U.S. reserves the right not to guarantee anything should Assange do something that displeases his gaolers. In other words, as Amnesty International has pointed out, it reserves the right to break any promise.

There are abundant examples of the U.S. doing just that. As investigative journalist Richard Medhurst revealed last month, David Mendoza Herrarte was extradited from Spain to the U.S. on the “promise” that he would serve his sentence in Spain. The Spanish courts regarded this as a binding condition.

Medhurst wrote:

‘Classified documents reveal the diplomatic assurances given by the U.S. Embassy in Madrid and how the U.S. violated the conditions of the extradition. Mendoza spent over six years in the U.S. trying to return to Spain. Court documents show the United States denied his transfer application multiple times.’

The High Court Judges – who were aware of the Mendoza case and of Washington’s habitual duplicity – describe the “assurances” not to be beastly to Julian Assange as a “solemn undertaking offered by one government to another”. This article would stretch into infinity if I listed the times the rapacious United States has broken “solemn undertakings” to governments, such as treaties that are summarily torn up and civil wars that are fuelled. It is the way Washington has ruled the world, and before it Britain — the way of imperial power, as history teaches us.

It is this institutional lying and duplicity that Julian Assange brought into the open and in so doing performed perhaps the greatest public service of any journalist in modern times.

Julian himself has been a prisoner of lying governments for more than a decade now. During these long years, I have sat in many courts as the United States has sought to manipulate the law to silence him and WikiLeaks………….. https://independentaustralia.net/life/life-display/john-pilger-us-wins-extradition-appeal-against-julian-assange,15842

Australian taxpayers up for $170Billion, for American nuclear submarines. No problem?

December 14, 2021

Australia’s Aukus nuclear submarines could cost as much as $171bn, report finds

Australian Strategic Policy Institute report calls project ‘most complex endeavour Australia has embarked upon’ Guardian, Tory Shepherd, Tue 14 Dec 2021 

Australia’s eight planned nuclear submarines will cost $70bn at an “absolute minimum” and it’s “highly likely” to be more than that, defence analysts say.

With inflation, the cost could be as high as $171bn, according to a new report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

The thinktank’s report contained a series of estimates ranging from low to high and conceded that estimating the final cost of the project is necessarily an “extremely assumption-rich activity”…………

The prime minister, Scott Morrison, has said the planned nuclear-powered submarines, part of the Aukus deal with the United States and the United Kingdom, would likely cost more than the scrapped plan for conventional submarines, which would have cost $90bn……..

Australia will partner with either the US or the UK to buy their boat designs, and a nuclear-powered submarine taskforce is working through the details

“We haven’t determined the specific vessel that we will be building, but that will be done through the rather significant and comprehensive program assessment that will be done with our partners over the next 12 to 18 months,” Morrison said in September.

“Now, that will also inform the costs that relate to this, and they are yet to be determined.”

The authors of the Aspi report, Implementing Australia’s Nuclear Submarine Program, wrote that while the Aukus deal has seemed to move fast, the enterprise would still be “a massive undertaking and probably the largest and most complex endeavour Australia has embarked upon”.

“The challenges, costs and risks will be enormous. It’s likely to be at least two decades and tens of billions of dollars in sunk costs before Australia has a useful nuclear-powered military capability…….

The Aspi report co-author Dr Marcus Hellyer told Guardian Australia the government needed to work out its priorities and would need to balance capability needs, scheduling and the Australian industry content. He emphasised that picking which submarine to build was “secondary” to picking a strategic partner.

The US is building submarines at a rate 10 times higher than the UK, he said……….

The report canvasses other issues that will need to be resolved.

There are likely to be legislative changes needed to allow nuclear reactors in Australia. The government should consider appointing an internal nuclear regulator, an inspector general of nuclear safety, and how it will responsibly dispose of radioactive waste once the reactors that power the submarines reach the end of their useful lives……..https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/dec/14/australias-aukus-nuclear-submarines-estimated-to-cost-at-least-70bn

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New files expose Australian govt’s betrayal of Julian Assange and detail his prison torment

November 21, 2021

The documents obtained by Tranter and provided to The Grayzone provide an unobstructed view of the Australian junior ally’s betrayal of one of its citizens to the imperial power that has hunted him for years. As Julian Assange’s rights were violated at every turn, Canberra appears to have been complicit. 

New files expose Australian govt’s betrayal of Julian Assange and detail his prison torment https://thegrayzone.com/2021/11/17/files-australian-julian-assange-prison/ KIT KLARENBERG· NOVEMBER 17, 2021

Documents provided exclusively to The Grayzone detail Canberra’s abandonment of Julian Assange, an Australian citizen, and provide shocking details of his prison suffering

Was the government of Australia aware of the US Central Intelligence Agency plot to assassinate Julian Assange, an Australian citizen and journalist arrested and now imprisoned under unrelentingly bleak, harsh conditions in the UK? 

Why have the country’s elected leaders refused to publicly advocate for one of its citizens, who has been held on dubious charges and subjected to torture by a foreign power, according to UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer? What does Canberra know about Julian’s fate and when did it know it?

The Grayzone has obtained documents revealing that the Australian government has since day one been well-aware of Julian’s cruel treatment inside London’s maximum security Belmarsh Prison, and has done little to nothing about it. It has, in fact, turned a cold shoulder to the jailed journalist despite hearing his testimony of conditions “so bad that his mind was shutting down.”

Not only has Canberra failed to effectively challenge the US and UK governments overseeing Assange’s imprisonment and prosecution; as these documents expose in stark detail, it appears to have colluded with them in the flagrant violation of an Australian citizen’s human rights, while doing its best to obscure the reality of his situation from the public. 

On knowledge of CIA plot against Assange, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs issues snide non-denial denial

In the wake of Yahoo News’ startling September revelations of CIA plans to surveil, kidnap, and even kill WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, which confirmed and built upon a May 2020 exposé by The Grayzone’s Max Blumenthal, officials in the NATO-oriented ‘Five Eyes’ global spying network struggled to get their stories straight.

William Evanina, Washington’s top counterintelligence officer until his retirement in early 2021, told Yahoo the Five Eyes alliance was “critical” to Langley’s dastardly plot, and “we were very confident” that Julian’s potential escape from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London could be prevented, by hook or by crook.


When asked
 whether the US had ever briefed or consulted the government of Julian’s native Australia on the operation, however, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) dodged the question. For his part, Malcolm Turnbull, the Australian Prime Minister at the time of these deadly deliberations, claimed, “the first I heard about this was in today’s media.”

It is certainly possible that elected officials in Canberra were kept in the dark about the CIA’s proposals. Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam was unaware of the very existence of Five Eyes until 1973, 17 years after his country became a signatory to the network’s underpinning UKUSA agreement, following police raids on the offices of domestic spying agency the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, due to its withholding of information from the government.

Whether or not Turnbull was aware of the operation, DFAT’s response when a member of Julian’s family contacted the Department demanding Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne ask the Biden administration to drop the charges against him, and seeking comment on the Yahoo article, was disturbingly flippant.

“Just because it’s written in a newspaper doesn’t mean it’s true…the CIA has been accused of a lot of things, including faking the Moon landing,” a DFAT official quipped in a classic non-denial denial.

These crude remarks were recorded in a letter sent to Payne by John Shipton, Julian’s father. The missive is just one of many documents provided exclusively to Grayzone by Kellie Tranter, Julian’s legal authority in Australia.

Whether or not Turnbull was aware of the operation, DFAT’s response when a member of Julian’s family contacted the Department demanding Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne ask the Biden administration to drop the charges against him, and seeking comment on the Yahoo article, was disturbingly flippant.

“Just because it’s written in a newspaper doesn’t mean it’s true…the CIA has been accused of a lot of things, including faking the Moon landing,” a DFAT official quipped in a classic non-denial denial.

These crude remarks were recorded in a letter sent to Payne by John Shipton, Julian’s father. The missive is just one of many documents provided exclusively to Grayzone by Kellie Tranter, Julian’s legal authority in Australia.

For years, Tranter has filed freedom of information requests with the Australian government in a campaign to uncover its true position on Julian, and to what extent its intimate alliance with Washington has limited its ability or willingness to push for his freedom.

The documents acquired by Tranter expose Canberra as anything but an advocate for Assange, the Australian citizen. Instead, throughout Julian’s time in the Ecuadorian Embassy, and imprisonment at Her Majesty’s Pleasure in Belmarsh high security prison – “Britain’s Gitmo” – the Australian government has been determinedly committed to seeing, hearing, and speaking no evil in his regard, despite possessing clear evidence of his dramatically waning physical and mental health, and the torturous conditions of his confinement.

Assange informs Canberra of US violations of his rights: ‘This action was illegal’

The records of a brief visit by Australian consulate officers to Belmarsh on May 17th 2019, one month after Assange’s dramatic expulsion from the Embassy, are especially illustrative of Canberra’s attitude. Over the course of that meeting, Assange spoke in detail about prison conditions and his 23-hour-a-day solitary confinement.

“He remains in his cell most of the day, with 40 minutes allocated each day for ‘associations’,” the Australian consular officials noted. “He is allowed outside for 30 minutes each day, although he said at times this does not happen,” for reasons unstated. Unable to eat at all “for a long period,” he was now ingesting “small amounts”, collecting meals from the kitchen and returning to his cell.

Permitted just two personal visits each month, plus legal consultations, Assange mentioned his recent meeting with Nils Melzer and two medical experts specialized in examining potential victims of torture and other ill-treatment, and that he had so far been unable to speak to his family.

The WikiLeaks co-founder eschewed work programs “which would afford him the opportunity to get out of his cell more often,” according to the diplomats, on the grounds that he refused to engage in “slave labour” and needed time to prepare his legal case. Prisoners in British jails earn an average of $13 per week for hard, thankless toil on behalf of big business, which in turn profits immensely from their rank exploitation.

While mercifully prescribed antibiotics and codeine by prison doctors for an infected root canal, which can be life-threatening in the event the infection spreads, Assange was still waiting on reading glasses and had yet to see an optometrist. The jailed journalist went on to describe how one senior officer “has it in for me,” showing his visitors a charge sheet indicating that a search of his cell uncovered a razor blade, and he’d failed to tidy it after an inspection. 

A third infraction of any sort “would result in exercise privileges being withdrawn,” the document states. Possibly fearing reprisal, Assange asked that officials not raise these matters with prison authorities. Evidently, what might typically be considered an unambiguous indication of suicidal intentions was instead logged as a simple disciplinary matter.

Adding to his psychological toll, Assange reported that he had undergone blood tests, and been advised he was HIV-positive, a shocking diagnosis. However, subsequent examinations confirmed the test result to be a false positive, forcing Assange to wonder if the misdiagnosis was a mere error, or “something else.” It could well have been a grotesquely sick mind game, perhaps alluding to the bogus sexual assault allegations he had faced in Sweden, and intended to drive him toward madness.

Assange also presented the Australian consular officials with a recently-published UK Home Office deportation notice, informing him then-Secretary of State Sajid Javid had determined under the 1971 UK Immigration Act that his presence in the UK “was not conducive to the public interest, and he would be removed from the UK without delay,” with no chance of appealing the decision.

“Mr. Assange expressed concern about surviving the current process and fears he would die if taken to the US. He claimed the US was going through his possessions that had remained at the Ecuadorian Embassy. He said that this action was illegal,” the officers wrote. “He stated that his possessions included two valuable artworks he planned to sell to raise funds for his legal defence, the manuscripts of two books, and legal papers. He expressed concern his legal material would be used against him by the US.”

Assange was correct that sensitive documents were stolen by US authorities. Immediately following his arrest, his attorney Gareth Peirce contacted the Ecuadorian Embassy regarding this privileged material, demanding it be handed over as a matter of urgency. When at last his property was collected, all legal papers were missing save for two volumes of Supreme Court files “and a number of pages of loose correspondence,” making his extradition defense an even greater challenge than it already was.

Over the course of Julian’s initial extradition hearings in early 2020, assistant US attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Gordon Kromberg implausibly pledged a “taint team” would excise material from these files so it would not be used in any resultant trial. Similarly feeble “assurances” of this ilk were offered during the recent appeal proceedings.

Conversely, there has so far been no unconvincing public guarantee against the abuse of any information illicitly obtained by UC Global, a CIA contractor, from its extensive surveillance of the Embassy. The Spanish private security firm went as far as bugging the building’s female bathroom, where the WikiLeaks founder conducted discussions with his lawyers, away from prying ears and eyes – or so he hoped.

Despite his situation, Julian somehow retained a vague shred of optimism about the future in discussions with consular officials, suggesting that the result of Australia’s federal election, which was held the very next day, “may present a window for a new government to do something supportive for his case,” asking that Marise Payne be briefed on developments.

As it was, Scott Morrison’s Liberal National Coalition retained its grip on power – and no alarm was publicly raised about anything learned over the course of the consular visit. Indeed, remaining tight-lipped on Julian’s suffering, no matter how horrendous, was to be a matter of dedicated policy.

Australia’s DFAT denies any role in “progressively severe abuse” of Assange

On May 30th that year, WikiLeaks’ made the shock announcement that Julian had been moved to Belmarsh’s medical ward, expressing “grave concerns” about the state of his health. Almost immediately, DFAT’s Global Watch Office fired off an internal email drawing attention to the post.

The following day, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Nils Melzer proclaimed “the collective persecution of Julian Assange must end here and now!” The international legal veteran added that, “in 20 years of work with victims of war, violence and political persecution,” he had “never seen a group of democratic states ganging up to deliberately isolate, demonize and abuse a single individual for such a long time and with so little regard for human dignity and the rule of law.”

Next, Melzer fulminated against a “relentless and unrestrained campaign of public mobbing, intimidation and defamation” by the US, UK, Sweden and Ecuador, which had subjected him to “persistent, progressively severe abuse ranging from systematic judicial persecution and arbitrary confinement in the Ecuadorian embassy, to his oppressive isolation, harassment and surveillance inside the embassy.”

In response, Australia’s DFAT issued a statement rejecting any suggestion Canberra was “complicit in psychological torture or has shown a lack of consular support” in Assange’s regard, claiming to be “a staunch defender of human rights and strong advocate for humane treatment in the course of judicial processes,” and expressing confidence that he was “being treated appropriately.” 

Due to “privacy considerations” allegedly extended to all consular clients, the Department declined to divulge any further details related to his physical or mental state.

It added that the Australian High Commission in London “previously raised any health concerns identified with Belmarsh prison authorities and these have been addressed,” with further inquiries made following Julian’s move to the health ward. 

The documents provided to The Grayzone indicate Canberra did indeed make repeated enquiries to Belmarsh by phone and mail in the wake of Wikileaks’ announcement, all of which went unanswered for six straight days. So why did Australia’s High Commissioner not intervene, and demand immediate clarity on an issue of literal life-and-death urgency?

Whatever the reason for the Australian government’s foot-dragging, a consular file dated August 8th that year records how Shipton wrote to advise that Julian had been readmitted to Belmarsh’s sick bay, and a lawyer was drafting a letter to Marise Payne, requesting DFAT “use its diplomatic sources to seek an independent medical assessment (ie outside the prison).”


Then, 11 days later, Shipton mentioned that Julian’s brother, Gabriel, had recently visited the prison and was distressed by Assange’s “deteriorating condition,” leading him to write letters to both Australian Governor General David Hurley and Morrison raising his fears.

On October 21st, Assange appeared in court for a pre-trial hearing in his extradition case. As was widely reported in the mainstream media, he appeared frail and discombobulated, struggling to recall his own name and date of birth when asked by the judge. When the presiding justice enquired whether he even knew what was happening, Assange responded, “not exactly,” indicating conditions in Belmarsh left him unable to “think properly.”

“I don’t understand how this is equitable,” the imprisoned journalist stated. “I can’t research anything, I can’t access any of my writing. It’s very difficult where I am.”

Assange’s attorney, Mark Summers, argued that his initial extradition hearing, scheduled for February 2020, should be delayed by three months due to the complexity of the case – “the evidence…would test the limits of most lawyers,” he said, and discussed the immense difficulty of communicating with his client in the jail, given he lacked access to a computer. 

The judge denied the request. As a result, Julian would be deprived of “the most basic of access to the bare minimum needs for proper representation” until just weeks prior to the hearing.

Assange attorney warns Australia’s DFAT of “impending crisis”

Three days later, Assange attorney Gareth Peirce wrote to the High Commission, asserting that if consular representatives had attended court, “they will have undoubtedly noted what was clear for everyone present in court to observe” – that his client was “in shockingly poor condition…struggling not only to cope but to articulate what he wishes to articulate.” Unbelievably, a DFAT report on the proceedings unearthed by Tranter made no mention whatsoever of Julian’s disheveled appearance, or his clearly frayed mental state.

Peirce went on to argue that under the circumstances, it was unsurprising Julian had not authorized prison officials to provide the Australian government with information regarding his medical treatment, which had been “been grossly and unlawfully compromised over some time, including, disturbingly, even whilst he has been in Belmarsh prison, false information on at least one occasion having been provided to the press by very obviously internal sources.”

“We hope that what we are able to say…will be accepted by you as having been based on close observation, including by independent professional clinicians..Every professional warning provided to the prison, including by at least one independent doctor called in by Belmarsh, has been ignored,” she wrote. “We would be pleased to meet with you at any stage if by intervention in what is now an impending crisis [emphasis added], you can contribute to its amelioration and avoidance.”

And so it was that consular officials visited Belmarsh November 1st. In their exchange, Assange criticized false statements made to the media by DFAT which suggested he had rejected offers of their support. 

Next, he revealed that a prison doctor was “concerned” about his condition. In fact, Assange said his psychological state was “so bad that his mind was shutting down,” almost permanent isolation making it impossible for him “to think or to prepare his defence.” 

He did not even have a pen with which to write, was unable to do any research, could not receive documents during legal visits, and all his mail was read by prison officials before it was given to him.

The next month, Professor Michael Kopelman, emeritus professor of neuropsychiatry at King’s College London, prepared a report on Julian’s psychiatric state based on meetings throughout his first six months in Belmarsh, conversations with his parents, friends, colleagues and Stella Morris, his partner and mother of his two children. 

As was revealed in Judge Vanessa Baraitser’s January ruling on the US extradition request, Kopelman diagnosed Julian with a severe recurrent depressive disorder, which was occasionally accompanied by psychotic features such as hallucinations, and frequent suicidal thoughts.

His symptoms furthermore included loss of sleep and weight, impaired concentration, a persistent feeling of being on the verge of tears, and state of acute agitation in which he paced his cell until exhausted, punching his head or banging it against the wall. 

Assange commented to Kopelman that he believed his life was not worth living, he thought about suicide “hundreds of times a day,” and had a “constant desire” to self-harm or commit suicide, describing plans to kill himself that the professor considered “highly plausible.”

Calls to The Samaritans, a UK charity helpline providing emotional support to those in emotional distress, struggling to cope, or at risk of suicide, were “virtually” a nightly occurrence, and on occasions when he had not been able to reach them, Assange had slashed his thigh and abdomen to distract from his sense of isolation.

Kopelman concluded that, if Assange was held in solitary confinement in the US for a prolonged period, his mental health would “deteriorate substantially resulting in persistently severe clinical depression and the severe exacerbation of his anxiety disorder, PTSD and suicidal ideas,” not least because various “protective factors” available to him in the UK would be absent Stateside.

“For example, he speaks to his partner by telephone nearly every day and, before lockdown, was visited by her and his children, various friends, his father, and other relatives…[Kopelman] considered there to be an abundance of known risk factors indicating a very high risk of suicide,” Baraitser recorded. “He stated, ‘I am as confident as a psychiatrist ever can be that, if extradition to the US were to become imminent, Mr. Assange will find a way of suiciding.’”

The professor’s reports were fundamental to the extradition order’s rejection – a surprising outcome, given Baraitser previously approved extradition in 96% of cases upon which she has ruled.

Nonetheless, she accepted every other argument and charge put forward by the Department of Justice, in effect criminalizing a great many entirely legitimate journalistic activities, and setting the chilling precedent that citizens of any country can be extradited to the US for alleged breaches of its national laws, therefore implying Washington’s legal jurisdiction is global in scale.

Files on Australia’s DFAT discussions with US Secretary of State redacted in full


In response to the ruling, Australia’s Shadow Attorney General Mark Dreyfus issued a forceful statement, declaring the opposition Labor party believed “this has dragged on for long enough,” particularly given Julian’s “ill-health,” and demanding the Morrison administration “do what it can to draw a line under this matter and encourage the US government to bring this matter to a close.”

Conversely, DFAT published a characteristically laconic, soulless note, stating merely that Australia was “not a party to the case and will continue to respect the ongoing legal process,” and rehashing previous false claims that Julian had rejected multiple offers of consular assistance.

Canberra was simply silent when in June, the Icelandic publication Stundin revealed in detail how a “superseding indictment” levelled against Assange in September 2020, which charged that he and others at WikiLeaks “recruited and agreed with hackers to commit computer intrusions,” was based largely on the admittedly false testimony of fraudster, diagnosed sociopath and convicted pedophile Siggi Thordarson, who had previously embezzled vast sums from WikiLeaks and been recruited by the FBI to undermine its founder from within.

There is good reason to believe the Australian government knew the indictment was coming. In July that year, Foreign Minister Payne met with CIA director Mike Pompeo at an Australia–US Ministerial Consultations convention, “the principal forum for bilateral consultations” between the country and the US. 

Tranter submitted freedom of information requests for details of that rendezvous, but the documents she received in return were fully redacted. As were files released to her relating to the Foreign Minister’s summit with Secretary of State Antony Blinken in May 2021.

It was almost certain that Assange was a subject of these meetings. DFAT claims Payne “raised the situation” when she met Blinken again in September, and the minister herself alleges she specifically discussed Australia’s “expectations” regarding Assange’s treatment with UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab when he visited Canberra in February 2020. Tranter requested records related to this meeting too, but was told none existed.       

Upon Julian’s arrest, Prime Minister Morrison alleged he would receive “the same treatment that any other Australian would get.”

“When Australians travel overseas and then find themselves in difficulties with the law, they face the judicial systems of those countries,” Morrison said. “It doesn’t matter what particular crime it is that they’re alleged to have committed, that’s the way the system works.”

However, an internal email dated April 5th 2019 secured by Tranter from the Australian Attorney General’s office was shot through with contempt for the Wikileaks co-founder. The note asserted, “FYI – Assange might be evicted. Not sure if his lawyers will make any (not very convincing) [emphasis added] arguments about Australia’s responsibilities to him but thought it was worth flagging.” 

As usual, Australian officials said nothing in public about Assange’s imminent abduction. 

Assange’s treatment, and the total lack of outrage over his incarceration, prison conditions, blatant procedural abuses engaged in by Washington in their relentless pursuit of him, and CIA plans to kidnap and/or murder the WikiLeaks founder, diverges starkly from Australia’s approach to Kylie Moore-Gilbert, an Australian-British academic jailed in Iran for 10 years on questionable charges of espionage in September 2018.

Behind the scenes, Australian diplomats struggled for almost two years to secure her release, eventually brokering a prisoner swap, under which she was traded for three Iranian inmates in Thailand – two of whom were convicted in connection with a 2012 bombing plot in Bangkok. In a statement, Foreign Minister Payne expressed relief that Moore-Gilbert was finally free as a result of “professional and determined work,” noting Canberra had “consistently rejected” the grounds on which she was detained.

Meanwhile, the Australian government has consistently reinforced Washington’s position on Assange. In fact, officials have on occasion gone even further than their US counterparts in publicly condemning him and his actions.

In December 2010, then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard declared WikiLeaks’ release of US diplomatic cables meant Assange was “guilty of illegality,” and that Federal Police were investigating, to offer “advice about potential criminal conduct of the individual involved.” To be fair to Canberra though, elected representatives there may effectively have no choice in the matter.


According to
 investigative journalist Duncan Campbell, each Five Eyes member theoretically has the right to veto a request for signals intelligence collected on an individual, group or organization collected by another. However, Campbells explained, “when you’re a junior ally like Australia or New Zealand, you never refuse,” even in situations when there are concerns about what ostensible allies may do with that sensitive information.

The documents obtained by Tranter and provided to The Grayzone provide an unobstructed view of the Australian junior ally’s betrayal of one of its citizens to the imperial power that has hunted him for years. As Julian Assange’s rights were violated at every turn, Canberra appears to have been complicit. 

                               

Australian media part of the cover-up of Pandora Papers

November 2, 2021

Meanwhile, the 2016 Panama Papers remain under lock and key, unavailable to the public, secreted by ICIJ. The data is getting stale now. It is six years old. It is wasted, an insult to the people who risked their lives to put it in the public domain.

Pandora Papers: is the world’s biggest leak the world’s biggest cover-up?   https://www.michaelwest.com.au/pandora-papers-is-the-worlds-biggest-leak-the-worlds-biggest-cover-up/ , By Michael West|, October 8, 2021 

Where are the US billionaires, the Wall Streeters, the Big Four tax firms Deloitte, EY, KPMG, PwC? Michael West explores the mystery of the Pandora Papers in this first of a two-part series.

In the wake of the stunning Pandora Papers data leak this week, the ABC enthused, “Even by the ICIJ’s standards, this is big. If the documents were printed out and stacked up they would be four times taller than Sydney’s Centrepoint Tower”.

Probably not. If we assume Pandora is like its predecessors Panama Papers and Paradise Papers – where less than 1% of the data was made public – that would represent a stack of documents 12.2 metres high, not 1220 metres, which would get you up to Yogurt World on Level 5 of the Centrepoint food court.

Another “biggest data leak in history”, another trove mega-leaks where billionaires, celebrities, Italian mobsters, Russian oligarchs and foreign heads of state have been outed for their links to tax havens. 

But where are the US politicians? Where are the Wall Streeters? Where are the Big Four, the masterminds of global tax avoidance PwC, EY, KPMG and Deloitte?

Conspicuously absent, that’s where. Again.

Beating the B Team

Make no mistake this is fabulous, explosive stuff. The Pandora Papers, like Panama Papers and Paradise papers, are a spectacular data leak but, like the leaks before them, they have blown the lid on the world’s Tax Avoidance B Team.

And, like the others, the data has not actually been made public; not much of it anyway, maybe 1%. The rest is sitting with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) in Washington. It has been leaked to the ICIJ alone which in turn leaks bits of it, presumably a very small part of it, to its “global media partners”.

n Australia, these are Nine Entertainment’s AFR, Guardian and ABC who are themselves keeping most of it a secret. This from Guardian Australia:

“Australians who appear in the data include senior figures from the finance and property industries. The Guardian has chosen not to identify them.

“About 400 Australian names are contained in the papers, a cache of 11.9m files from companies hired by wealthy clients to create offshore structures and trusts in tax havens such as Panama, Dubai, Monaco, Switzerland, the Cayman Islands and Samoa.”

Meanwhile Julian Assange

Meanwhile Julian Assange continues to rot in London’s Belmarsh Prison, facing extradition to the US, abandoned by successive Australian governments amid reports of a CIA plot to assassinate him. His crime? Wikileaks made public US war crimes; a real leak, documents actually made public.

In contrast, the Washington-based ICIJ has consistently refused to release its data to the public, preferring instead to conduct a choreographed media circus. Its director, Australian journalist Gerard Ryle, declined to respond to questions for this story, doubly ironic given we used to work together on the newsroom floors at Fairfax and the ICIJ is a self-styled beacon of journalistic integrity dedicated to “expose the truth and hold the powerful accountable, while also adhering to the highest standards of fairness and accuracy”.

One question we put to Ryle was whether ICIJ had received a subpoena from US authorities for this incredible trove of corporate information, say the Department of Justice. If not, why not?

The questions are many, not only because of the sheer magnitude of this set of leaks but also because the effect of the Pandora Papers is to, deservedly, trash a suite of non-US tax havens such as the notorious British Virgin Islands and the upshot will be to drive global wealth towards secrecy jurisdictions in the US such as Rupert Murdoch’s preferred haven of Delaware.

So, what is going on here?  

The way ICIJ works is they use a panel of 150 “media partners”, mostly large corporate media organisations around the world, to disseminate the information, or at least the bits of it they deem suitable. 

In the case of Panama Papers, an anonymous source dubbed John Doe hacked Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca and leaked the data to German journalists who got it to ICIJ for dissemination to its band of media partners. 

14 Mossack Fonsecas

This time around, there are 14 Mossack Fonsecas; that is, 14 “offshore service providers” have been hacked. This is hacking on an industrial, possibly sovereign, scale. It is possible these “offshore service providers”, from Hong Kong to the Caribbean, divulged the information voluntarily, but unlikely.

Who benefits? The US and the Big Four. Just as the Panama Papers helped to demolish Panama as a tax haven, compelling clients of Mossack Fonseca to flee to other secrecy jurisdictions to hide their money, the upshot of the Pandora Papers is that, right at this moment, the super rich who secrete their money in the British Virgin Islands, the Seychelles or Cyprus will be thinking long and hard about restructuring to hide their riches via Delaware or another onshore tax haven in the US.

They will also think long and hard about getting the Big Four global tax firms – PwC, Deloitte, EY and KPMG – to manage their affairs. The A Team.

This is of course a speculative conclusion but also, as one regulatory finance source confided to Michael West Media this week, just a matter of putting two and two together. The Washington-based ICIJ never seems to be harassed by US authorities, the Big Four are rarely named, US billionaires are rarely named, blue chip tax avoiders are rarely named, the identity of the vast bulk of wealthy Australians in the data are never named.

Foreign PEPs, mobsters and oligarchs

This is not to disparage the work of Gerard Ryle and his team. The latest mega-leak of almost 12 million documents from offshore finance firms has identified the usual high profile types: crooner Julio Iglesias, cricket star Sachin Tendulkar, pop music diva Shakira, supermodel Claudia Schiffer and “an Italian mobster known as “Lell the Fat One”.

Great headlines, and every one a worthy story, although many will have bona fide reasons for being in tax havens. Rich people avoid tax, full stop. We will discuss the mechanics of secrecy jurisdictions, how it all works and who actually benefits in the sequel to this story.

Besides the crooners, mobsters and Russian oligarchs however, the Pandora Papers have outed an array of ”politically exposed persons” (PEP); former politicians and present heads of state. From King Abdullah of Jordan, Azerbaijan’s ruling Aliyev family, the prime minister of the Czech republic, Andrej Babiš and Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, to former British prime minister Tony Blair and three current Latin American heads of state, those identified publicly in Pandora Papers have sent shockwaves around the world.

The Aussie connection

A slew of tax authorities have vowed to take action, including the Australian Tax Office which, on Wednesday, froze more than $80 million in assets and companies linked to Gold Coast property developer Jim Raptis. 

Westpac director Steve Harker was also identified as a client of one of the offshore service providers Singapore’s Asiaciti. As the identities of most of the Australians remain a secret, Harker is probably feeling unfairly targeted. What of the other 400 Australians? 

No doubt the draconian defamation laws in this country, laws which protect the wealthy, played a part in the decision of local media to keep the names secret. Yet this also goes to the fundamental issue with ICIJ’s arbitrary arrangements and its media partners cherry-picking the data.

If ICIJ were truly fair dinkum about transparency and public interest, it would make the data from all its leaks public so that boffins from around the world, anybody for that matter, could hop in and dig around. 

Who is calling the shots? One man apparently, Gerard Ryle. In the wake of the Panama Papers, when we asked Ryle on a number of occasions for an ICIJ log-in to analyse the data, we were denied.

“My path, my call,” said Ryle. We already have our media partners, he said.

Meanwhile, the 2016 Panama Papers remain under lock and key, unavailable to the public, secreted by ICIJ. The data is getting stale now. It is six years old. It is wasted, an insult to the people who risked their lives to put it in the public domain.

In Part II: who guards the guards? The second story in our investigation of the ICIJ and its Offshore Leaks examines what is really going on with international tax avoidance.

Michael West

Michael West established michaelwest.com.au to focus on journalism of high public interest, particularly the rising power of corporations over democracy. Formerly a journalist and editor at Fairfax newspapers and a columnist at News Corp, West was appointed Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Sydney’s School of Social and Political Sciences. You can follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelWestBiz.