It\’s clear someone should apologise to Mohamed Haneef, but Australia\’s politicians are again finding “sorry” a hard word to say.
A report by retired NSW Supreme Court judge John Clarke has found the Indian-born doctor was wrongly charged and wrongly detained in Brisbane last year over suspected links to terrorist acts in the UK.
The Australian Greens say both sides of politics should apologise to the former terror suspect who was held in custody for nearly two weeks without charge.
“This man deserves an unreserved apology from the current and former Australian governments for the treatment he endured,” Greens legal affairs spokesman Scott Ludlam said.
But both major parties are refusing to say the “s” word.
Labor says it wasn\’t in power when the case was bungled, and the coalition says the Clarke report proves it\’s got nothing to apologise for.
\’It\’s Andrews who deserves the apology\’
The Liberals have even gone so far as to say former immigration minister Kevin Andrews – who cancelled Dr Haneef\’s visa – is the one deserving an apology.
The Clarke report clears Mr Andrews of any improper behaviour but suggests he didn\’t “reflect deeply enough” on what was a “rambling brief” from his department.
Mr Andrews also failed to properly investigate conflicting information from ASIO and the Australian Federal Police (AFP).
Opposition legal affairs spokesman George Brandis says Prime Minister Kevin Rudd should apologise to the former Howard government minister.
“There is nothing in the report to suggest that any conduct by any member of the former government calls for an apology,” Senator Brandis said.
“(Mr Rudd) clearly and repeatedly sought to trash Mr Andrews\’ public reputation … the prime minister owes Mr Andrews an apology.”
Political leaders \’must accept responsibility\’
Attorney-General Robert McClelland says political leaders and agency heads must accept responsibility for errors that occurred on their watch.
But asked whether an apology should be made to Dr Haneef, he said that question should be addressed to members of the former coalition government.
Mr Andrews thinks he\’s been wronged.
He says the Australian people expected him to act and he did so “courageously”.
“For the past 18 months, Dr Haneef\’s lawyers and some other commentators have suggested that in cancelling the temporary work visa of Dr Haneef I had acted improperly as part of a government conspiracy to detain him,” Mr Andrews said in a statement.
“These suggestions have been categorically rejected by the Clarke inquiry.”
He also puzzlingly referred to the Mumbai terror attacks, saying they were a timely reminder “that we cannot be complacent about national security”.
Dr Haneef\’s Melbourne-based lawyer Stephen Keim says far from being offered an apology, Mr Andrews should be barred from ever again holding a senior government post.
The Clarke report showed Mr Andrews “has neither the will nor the intellectual capacity” to hold any senior public position in the future, Mr Keim said.
As for the man at the centre of the controversy, Dr Haneef says an apology, from anyone, “would be very handy”.
But if a “sorry” isn\’t forthcoming, monetary compensation might be the next best thing.
Dr Haneef\’s Brisbane-based lawyer, Peter Russo, says his client will now examine whether he is eligible for compensation.
Iraq\’s parliament has finally given authorisation to Australian and other non-US foreign troops to remain in the country for the first half of 2009 after the parliamentary speaker\’s resignation ended a deadlock that had postponed a decision.
Immediately following a resignation speech by the fiery politician, parliament voted by an overwhelming majority to allow the presence of non-US foreign troops after December 31, when a UN mandate expires.
“I announce that I\’m resigning from my position as parliament speaker in the interests of the people,” Mahmud Mashhadani said in his speech to MPs on Tuesday, triggering applause.
His announcement came after a vote last week that was to provide British, Australian and other non-US foreign forces with a legal basis to remain in Iraq into 2009 was suddenly shelved in a row between him and some MPs.
“The parliament authorised the Iraqi government to take all measures in order to realise the complete withdrawal of Britons, Australians, Romanians, Salvadorians, Estonians and those from NATO no later than July 31, 2009,” said Jamal al-Butikh, chief of the secular National List party.
The United States, which supplies 95 per cent of foreign troops in Iraq, has already signed a Status of Forces Agreement with Baghdad, under which its combat forces can remain in the country until the end of 2011.
During a surprise visit to Iraq last week, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that his country\’s troops would wrap up their mission by the end of May and later said that all but
400 would be out by the end of July.
There are currently 4,100 British troops in Iraq concentrated around Basra airport in the south, and in total less than 6,000 non-US troops stationed in Iraq. The United States currently has 146,000 soldiers in Iraq.
A vast majority of the 223 MPs present in the 275-member parliament voted to approve the resolution that will see the pullout of non-US forces from Iraq in about six months, but the exact breakdown was not immediately available.
“Based on the request put forward by 50 deputies on the withdrawal of foreign troops in Iraq, (a vote was taken) and it was accepted by a vast majority,” said Shi\’ite deputy speaker Khallid al-Attiya.
Parliamentarians burst into loud applause at the end of Mashhadani\’s apologetic but passionate speech.
“What happened in the last session was a slip of the tongue, and what I wanted to say was in the interests of the people.
“But the anger I felt, God did not give me the power to control myself,” he added.
“My excuse to you is I spent 35 hard years of my life moving from one prison to another. If I have hurt you please excuse me. I apologise for my shortcomings,” he said.
The political crisis was sparked when a group of 54 Kurdish and Shi\’ite MPs called for Mashhadani to be fired after he described some politicians as “sons of dogs” during a heated session last week over the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at US President
George W Bush.
The first reading of a bill on the non-US forces last Wednesday took place amid uproar in parliament in the aftermath of the journalist\’s protest.
Mashhadani lost his temper in the fiery discussion, branding some MPs as “sons of dogs”. He then announced his resignation, but later retracted it.
A year ago, Dutchman Pim Verbeek took over as Socceroos coach as a virtual unknown here and second choice after countryman Dick Advocaat turned his back on an already agreed deal.
The rebound relationship has been a marriage made in heaven.
And 18 months out from the 2010 World Cup finals, Verbeek\’s Socceroos find themselves within touching distance of a second consecutive finals campaign.
Under Verbeek, the results have been spectacular, even if the performances have often been more workmanlike than wondrous.
Verbeek has eight wins, three draws and just two defeats from his 13 matches in charge – a better win-loss record and ratio than his revered predecessor Guus Hiddink.
Already he has guided the Socceroos through a difficult initial qualification phase past Qatar, China and Iraq, with the highlights impressive 3-0 and 3-1 wins over Qatar home and away.
In their last hurdle in qualification, the Socceroos now sit two points clear at the top of their Asian World Cup qualifying group with three wins in three games.
Two of those wins have been away from home, and a victory against Japan in Yokohama in February would virtually guarantee the Socceroos a ticket for South Africa.
Verbeek has made no secret his aim is for Australia to qualify for the World Cup finals – no matter what it takes.
“My first job was to get enough points to qualify for the next stage of the World Cup (qualifying) which we did,” Verbeek told reporters in Sydney on Thursday.
“The second was to create a bigger squad of players to pick from and pick up some new players on the way and we have done that.
“But until we qualify for the World Cup I cannot be happy with what I have done because until then, the job is not complete.”
It seems the powers-that-be believe Verbeek\’s results-driven agenda will work and are making plans accordingly – Football Federation Australia bullish on every front over the past 12 months.
A 2018 bid to host the World Cup finals is gathering pace, while the sport\’s governing body has turned a modest surplus in tough economic times.
Crowds have dropped slightly in season four of the A-League, though a spike is expected once teams from the Gold Coast and North Queensland boost the competition to 10 clubs in 2009-10.
But FFA chairman Frank Lowy says despite predictions of the A-League losing its lustre and the global economic slowdown adding to the risks of expansion, there will be no backing away from growing the game.
“Nothing will put the brakes on expansion. I certainly hope by 2010-11 we will have 12 teams and I think at that time we\’ll need to reassess our capacity and our future,” Lowy said.
“The plan is expand next year and then the year after.
“We are talking to Melbourne … and we are talking to a Sydney syndicate that may materialise in the next few months.”
“We have our broadcasting revenue fixed, our sponsors are fixed for the next few years in advance and we have the World Cup coming up.”
Australian soccer\’s bold leap into Asia has also brought respect through an unexpected quarter in 2008 – Adelaide United\’s march through the Asian Champions League.
The Reds stunned all by reaching the final of Asia\’s premier club competition, beating Japanese giants Kashima Antlers and petrochemical-rich FC Bunyodkor from Uzbekistan.
But United came undone in the final, whipped 5-0 on aggregate by Japan\’s Gamba Osaka – effectively having played their final by getting there on a shoestring budget and with a far smaller squad compared to their rivals.
The Reds weren\’t even strictly speaking the best team in the A-League.
Newcastle Jets took out the 2007-08 grand final beating Central Coast 1-0, with Mark Bridge\’s goal the difference.
In a controversial finale, Mariners keeper Danny Vukovic was sent off for striking referee Mark Shield.
He first received a 15-month suspension, then a shorter ban split in two to allow him to play at the Olympic Games, before FIFA intervened to ensure the goalkeeper was not able to play in Beijing.
Vukovic missed little there – the Olyroos failing miserably under coach Graham Arnold and departing at the group stage.
Australia\’s overseas stars had a varied year.
Tim Cahill and Mark Viduka were plagued by long-term injury problems, while Harry Kewell completed a surprising transfer in July from Liverpool to Turkish giant Galatasaray and got among the goals again.
With World Cup qualification looking increasingly likely, Australia\’s next step in proving itself a serious soccer nation is gathering support for its World Cup bid.
The 2018 and 2022 hosts look like being decided at the same time, and Lowy admits how seriously our bid is taken will be a huge test of how far Australian soccer has come in terms of international recognition.
“To get the World Cup here is a mammoth task and if we are successful it means that we have been recognised internationally that Australia is a place to be,” Lowy said.
“That will be a very, very big achievement but we\’re being considered, and I think we are being considered as a very strong candidate by the authorities-that-be.”
The back-slapping, however, hasn\’t lasted long.
Within a few months of the flame being extinguished, the satisfaction over a Games well played has been replaced by concern that this time, the party may really be over for the country that has always done better than it really should.
It is the same concern expressed mid-Games by Australian Olympic Committee chief John Coates.
At a point in the Beijing Games when Australian performance was at a worrying low, Coates took the opportunity to implore the federal government to do something about funding or things would become even worse.
As it turned out, things became considerably better without any extra money as Australia moved up to sixth on the medals table with 14 golds and 46 medals overall.
The Games that had looked somewhat dismal for Australia towards the end of the first week picked up nicely in the second and finished with an incredible flourish thanks largely to the gold medals won by Steve Hooker and Matthew Mitcham.
But within weeks of the end of the Olympic year, the gloom has again descended.
The source of it is Britain, the country that made so much of finishing above Australia in the Beijing medal tally.
The Brits have announced they are spending $570 million to prepare their athletes for the London Games.
Australia will spend $230 million on elite sports in the lead-up to 2012 and will pay its top athletes a wage on top of that.
More may yet be provided by the federal government, but in the current economic climate, it will be difficult to justify spending another $100 million or so on something that can be as hard to quantify as winning gold medals.
Britain will undoubtedly win more gold medals than Australia in London, no matter how much we, or they, spend.
But Beijing still held out plenty of hope for Australia.
Half of Australia\’s 14 gold medals went to athletes competing at their first Olympic Games, and all but three of them were under 23.
From Mitcham\’s amazing piece of last gasp perfection in diving to Stephanie Rice\’s three golds and three world records in the pool, it is the youngest members of its team that Australia has to thank for success in Beijing.
Hooker and Mitcham deserve no greater share of Olympic glory than any of Australia\’s other 12 Olympic gold medallists in Beijing.
Yet their efforts seemed to add magic to an Australian effort that looked decidedly shaky after the first week.
On the penultimate night of competition, Hooker, who scrambled through most of the pole vault competition but soared when it mattered most, became Australia\’s first male track and field gold medallist in 40 years.
The following night, Mitcham produced the finest dive ever seen at an Olympic Games to claim a gold medal that hardly ever seemed likely.
Their Olympic titles came on top of a typically classy performance by Australia\’s women swimmers and its rowers.
It also came despite the failure of both the cyclists and the male swimmers who couldn\’t win a gold medal between them, having claimed nine in Athens.
Mitcham\’s gold medal in the 10m platform rates as one of the greatest Australian moments of the Games.
Mitcham\’s victory came with a manoeuvre known in the text book as dive 5255B – a back 2-1/2 somersault with 2-1/2 twists in the pike position.
It is one of the most difficult dives in the book – and Mitcham nailed it.
He scored 112.1 points, the most ever given to an Olympic diver, to overcome a seemingly impossible 30-point deficit going into the final round.
Mitcham may not have evoked the exuberance of Usain Bolt\’s devastating performances on the track, but it wasn\’t a long way off it.
Similarly, Hooker\’s winning vault didn\’t necessarily earn him worldwide attention, but it was miraculous.
Hooker pulled off the gold-medal vault after missing the same height with his first two attempts.
For sheer numbers, and class, Rice was unsurpassed in the Australian team.
The swim queen won all three of her events, each in world record time.
Rice ended the Games as the most celebrated woman swimmer in the world and the most accomplished.
Like Mitcham and Hooker, she was making her Olympic debut.
As were triathlon gold medallists Emma Snowsill, women\’s 470 sailors Elise Rechichi and Tessa Parkinson and kayaker Ken Wallace.
For Coates, the success came after he launched a concerted campaign for more government funding.
“If anyone thinks supporting our elite athletes isn\’t worthwhile, giving young Australians a chance to optimise their performances, to perform on the world stage, have a look at these guys,” Coates said.
“And there\’s many more of them back home.”
There will need to be at least a few if the momentum is to be maintained until 2012.
Australia lost its place among the world\’s top five Olympic nations to Britain and will be under additional pressure in London from such European nations as Italy, France, Ukraine and Spain who finished just behind it on the Beijing medal table.
Australia has also put in some work in the boardroom in preparation for London, announcing last month an upgrade to the incentive payments for athletes.
The AOC has announced a $30 million funding package for London of which $16.7 million will be spent on preparations and $13.4 million for the Games themselves.
While the athletes will receive more, their coaches are to get less.
“While we acknowledge the hard work, dedication and outstanding results achieved by our coaches, the athletes must get priority in these tough economic times,” Coates said.
It is expected Australia will send 400 athletes to London, 35 fewer than in 2008, but there will be two fewer sports on the Olympic program.
As unsporting as it may seem, they will almost certainly return with fewer gold medals than they did from Beijing.
If it matters.
Christmas bonuses from the Rudd Government\’s $10.
4 billion fiscal stimulus package, lower petrol prices and declining interest rates have sparked a return of consumer confidence ahead of Christmas, The Australian reports.
As major manufacturers warn that falls in the Australian dollar will translate to higher prices next year, retailers have welcomed a burst of spending as shoppers open their wallets to grab last-minute gifts.
Furniture and electrical chain Harvey Norman yesterday reported an 8.7 per cent increase in customer orders over the four weeks to December 21, compared with the same period a year earlier.
“It\’s quite amazing — we\’ve been down every week for months, and then we get three straight weeks in positive territory,” Harvey Norman executive chairman Gerry Harvey told The Australian.
Mr Harvey put the sales surge down to lower petrol prices and interest rates, the delivery of part of the Government\’s $10.4 billion in bonuses and first-home buyer grants, and “the euphoria of Christmas”.
Real test \’to come after Christmas\’
But the retailer, often seen as a barometer of discretionary spending, has warned that the “real test” for the economy will come after Christmas when shoppers come down from their spending binge.
Despite the biggest sales increase since September, Harvey Norman\’s profits are expected to be lower this financial year because of competition between retailers and an increase in the cost of importing goods due to the weak Australian dollar.
Department store group Myer also reported a significant increase in sales this week as school holidays began across the country.
The Australian Retailers Association has predicted shoppers will spend $6.32 billion at the post-Christmas sales this year, up just 2 per cent from last year.
Other retailers, including Coles and Woolworths, have declined to reveal their sales, saying that it is too early to tell how shoppers have spent the money.
Woolworths, which owns Big W, liquor stores and supermarkets, said early indications were that shoppers were spending “a proportion of the stimulus package in stores,” Fairfax reports.
The Coles-owned Target said customer foot-traffic was up on last year due to the stimulus package, interest rate cuts and petrol prices.
RELATED: Retail gloom recedes as shoppers lighten their wallets, The Australian