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Thursday, 10 September 2009

A good day for journalism or a good day for free speech?

Yesterday New York Times journalist Stephen Farrell was freed from Taliban in Afghanistan by British soldiers. He had been in captivity for a few days, and is pictured wearing a black bullet-proof vest with the word ‘Press’ clearly visible on the front.

It takes you back to 1975, when Indonesian troops invading East Timor shot and killed five Australian journalists who tried to identify themselves, but failed. They paid for their presence in the hot-spot with their lives.

This brings me to another win for journalism yesterday: the decision by Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor to launch an investigation into the Balibo Five. His Liberal predecessor, Philip Ruddock, declined to take up the finding by the NSW Deputy Coroner, Dorelle Pinch, that the journalists had been murdered. Pinch fingered a number of men for the crime, two of whom – Captain Mohammad Yunus Yosfiah and Christoforus da Silva – are still alive.

An article in The Australian says that O’Connor “has a life-long interest in the matter, and was keen for there to be an investigation”. His appointment to the Home Affairs portfolio – which covers federal crime and law, as well as the Australian territories – has given him a chance to do something about it. It is also likely that the appearance and success of the new film Balibo, directed by Robert Connelly, spurred his interest in the case.

His decision will certainly go down well among the Left intelligentsia.

It has also given him an immediate, and high, profile. Following hot on the heels of the news announcement of the investigation, which the Australian Federal Police say they instigated on 20 August, The Australian’s Caroline Overington contacted Indonesian authorities.

They were less than impressed, and said outright, even before any approach had been made by the AFP, that they would not cooperate. There would be no extraditions. It was bad for Indonesian-Australian relations. Both the government of Australia and its people would suffer. It was “something that does not exist”.

The other big win, of course, was that NSW Premier Nathan Rees has agreed to a Senate inquiry into the matters surrounding Michael McGurk, the lender-of-last-resort who was shot in the head outside his Cremorne home a few days ago. There’s apparently a tape-recording made by McGurk implicating top Labor figures in corrupt dealings with property developers.

There is certainly much mud in the air, and it’s probably a wise suggestion by the Liberals to seek out the truth. But I decided it’s actually not as good news as the Balibo decision because Rees’ decision was made for pragmatic reasons:

In a surprise move, NSW Government members in the Legislative Council supported an inquiry, apparently once it became clear that Shooters Party MPs would give the Coalition the majority required.

Basically, it came down to numbers. There’s no longstanding commitment to the truth, as there is in the Balibo case. There’s just hard-nosed utility. Nevertheless, it will now be highly entertaining for the people of Sydney – where the events took place (and this is a very Sydney case) – and of Australia to find out what really happens between shonky lenders, shonkier property developers, and (ahem) politicians.

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