Monthly Archives:March 2019

AN AUSTRALIAN diplomat knew that Melbourne man Ben Zygier was being held in an Israeli prison before he died in his cell, the government has admitted, amid reports that Mr Zygier was a Mossad agent known as ”Prisoner X”.

Fairfax Media can also reveal that Mr Zygier was one of at least three dual Australian-Israeli citizens being investigated in early 2010 by ASIO over suspicions they were spying for Israel.

Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr was forced into an embarrassing backflip yesterday as he ordered his department to investigate the Zygier case.

His office was forced to correct earlier claims that the Australian embassy in Tel Aviv knew nothing of the case until after Mr Zygier died in prison in December 2010 when his family – a prominent Jewish family in Melbourne – asked for his body to be repatriated.

In a revelation that raises questions about the extent of the Australian government’s knowledge, Senator Carr’s spokesman said an Australian diplomat – who was not the ambassador – was aware that Mr Zygier, 34, was being held by Israeli authorities.

The revelation follows a report by the ABC’s Foreign Correspondent that said Mr Zygier was the notorious ”Prisoner X”, an inmate held in the utmost secrecy in a special section of Israel’s maximum security Ayalon prison.

The report stated Mr Zygier, a husband and father of two, moved to Israel around 2000 and became a Mossad spy. But something went tragically wrong with his intelligence activities and he reportedly committed suicide in a tightly guarded cell, where he was held in solitary confinement.

His father, Geoffrey Zygier, executive director for B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission, did not comment on Wednesday.

The government acknowledges Mr Zygier died in jail but Senator Carr’s spokesman could not confirm that it was Ayalon prison. The Foreign Affairs Department refused to say who the official was or when it knew of the case, saying only that the department would hold an ”internal review” of its handling of the case.

As Fairfax Media reported in 2010, ASIO was investigating at least three dual citizens for their links to Mossad. Mr Zygier was one of them. It is understood Mr Zygier changed his name to Ben Allen and obtained an Australian passport in his name that allowed him to travel to countries such as Iran and Syria that normally bar entry to Israelis.

The issue has sparked a political storm in Israel, where opposition politicians demanded that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lift a veil of secrecy surrounding Mr Zygier’s imprisonment and death and brief the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee.

Outgoing Justice Minister Yaakov Neema vowed that ”if true, the matter must be looked into”.

A spokeswoman for the Israeli embassy refused to comment. But the Coalition foreign affairs spokeswoman, Julie Bishop, who by chance met the Israeli ambassador on Wednesday, said she had expressed her concerns about the case and ”he has undertaken to communicate my concerns back to the appropriate officials in Israel”.

Warren Reed, a former officer with Australia’s external intelligence agency ASIS, said it was implausible that an ambassador would not be told of an Australian national being held in prison – whether or not his knowledge would be acknowledged. ”On anything like that, the ambassador would be personally briefed,” he said. ”They would have to be aware of something potentially that big and explosive.”

Kevin Rudd, who was foreign affairs minister at the time of Mr Zygier’s death, said through a spokesman he supported the DFAT review of the case.

Greens leader Christine Milne urged Senator Carr to take up the issue with Israel.

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GATHERED on one side of the cabinet table were the newly-installed Prime Minister Julia Gillard, her Treasurer Wayne Swan and her Resources Minister Martin Ferguson. On the other were the heads of Australia’s three big mining companies: BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Xstrata.

Absent were the key people from the Treasury – the ones who really understood the tax being discussed.

As the then Treasury head Ken Henry later told a Senate committee: “We were not involved in the negotiations, other than in respect of crunching the numbers if you like and in providing due diligence on design parameters that the mining companies themselves came up with.”

The smartest people were kept out of the room. They were ferried draft agreements and asked to examine them quickly. They were unable to test with the miners the propositions they were putting to the government.

The 1½-page heads of agreement signed by the ministers and executives on July 1, 2010, replaced the 40 per cent resource super profits tax with a much weaker 30 per cent minerals resource rent tax applying only to coal and iron ore. An “extraction allowance” cut the actual rate paid to 22.5 per cent. It would be paid only if the profits themselves reached a much higher hurdle.

And then there was the drafting error.

The agreement allowed “all state and territory royalties” to be deducted from the tax.

Ferguson thought the words referred to “royalty rates that applied, or changes to royalty rates that were scheduled to apply in the future, as at 2 May 2010”.

The interpretation made sense. Those were the royalty rates referred to in the original super profits tax. Agreeing to refund whatever any state government chose to charge in the future would expose the Commonwealth to an uncontrollable expense.

But read baldly, that’s what the ministers had signed up to.

Western Australia promptly lifted its iron ore royalty from 5.6 per cent to 7.5 per cent. It now grabs money the ministers believed the federal government would get.

Appearing before the Senate, treasury official David Parker later tried to explain the less-than-precise drafting this way: “This is a document which is 1½ pages long. One could say that the heads of agreement is, to use a musical analogy, a rather staccato document.”

The agreement allowed the mining companies to do more than deduct their royalty payments from the new tax. It allowed them to ”grow” the amount they could deduct at the long term bond rate plus 7 per cent, if low profits meant they owed less resource tax than the royalty payments.

The concession means the miners are unlikely to pay much of the new mining tax for some time to come.

Julia Gillard and her ministers brought peace on July 1 2010, but at a heavy financial price.

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No comment … John Singleton and Ray Hadley.SYDNEY’S 2GB radio station is in crisis after a clash between morning show star Ray Hadley and the network’s managing director which has embroiled the company’s biggest shareholder, John Singleton.

Sources told Fairfax Media that Macquarie Radio Network’s managing director, Rob Loewenthal, had on Tuesday suspended Hadley for the rest of this week for allegedly verbally abusing Richard Palmer, a young digital content manager who had been hired last October to improve 2GB’s website.

But Hadley, unhappy with his suspension, phoned his friend John Singleton, sources said.

Singleton, the majority owner of Macquarie Radio, decided that Hadley would remain on air, overruling his managing director.

Embarrassingly, Loewenthal had already allowed an email to be sent to staff on Tuesday telling them Hadley would not appear on his show until the following Monday.

The alleged bullying is understood to have happened last Thursday morning while the staff of The Ray Hadley Morning Show were preparing for the day’s program. Hadley summoned Palmer into his office and verbally abused him in front of his staff, accusing him of not uploading a podcast quickly enough, sources said.

Hadley was angry because ”[Palmer] was running the IT and he suggested that Ray’s staff could do more of the production work, more uploading. They disagreed. Ray backed his staff”.

“[Hadley] dragged this bloke in and humiliated him”, one source, who had been briefed on the matter, said. Palmer was “visibly upset, crying”.

Palmer formally complained to Loewenthal, who took the unusually serious step of suspending the network’s star presenter, before Singleton intervened.

Neither Hadley nor Singleton returned calls on Wednesday. The Macquarie Radio chairman, Russell Tate, declined to comment, as did Loewenthal. Palmer would not comment.

A source familiar with the situation said: ”You’ve got a majority shareholder who makes it very hard for experienced management to make a call, when the bloke who owns all the shares intervenes.”

This week is not the first time Hadley has been accused of displaying an excessive temper.

Last October he denied allegations that he or his police officer son assaulted a 17-year-old boy at a party held at their north-western Sydney home. Hadley admitted to his listeners that he did have to ”escort” the drunken 17-year-old off his property but at no time was the boy attacked by anyone.

At the same time Hadley was being disciplined for alleged bullying in Sydney, the Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten, was announcing new measures aimed at clamping down on workplace bullying, including a mechanism that would allow victims to seek help from the Fair Work Commission.

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When Brooke Clark spent a day getting primped and preened for a retro-style Valentine’s Day photo shoot that channelled her heroine Marilyn Monroe, she wasn’t doing it for a man.

The $650 Valentine’s Day package was a gift to herself.

”I love myself. Why should Valentine’s Day be only for people in a relationship?” says Ms Clark, a 23-year-old drama teacher from Moorebank.

Jodi G, who was shot surrounded by a huge red heart wearing vintage lingerie, is a lover of all things retro, right down to vintage cars.

“All my life I’ve been into the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s,” says Ms G, a 41-year-old from Sandy Point in Sydney’s south.

She plans to give her glam photos to her boyfriend of 20 years on Valentine’s Day, hoping they will take the relationship ”up a notch”.

While sexy pin-up photographs of women like Betty Grable were originally created by men for men, the tables have been turned in what could be the ”pin-up girls’ ultimate revenge”, says the American art historian Maria Elena Buszek. She says a new generation of artists are remaking the pin-up by celebrating their bodies and taking control by posing for mostly female photographers.

”Why should the frat boys be the only one to appreciate a curvy figure?” writes Ms Buszek in Pin-Up Grrrls: Feminism, Sexuality, Popular Culture.

Most women do the photo shoots for their own pleasure, says Sasha Dobies, whose retro photography studio, Sherbet Birdie at St Peters, worked its Valentine’s Day magic on this reporter and Ms G. They produce beautiful photos that look cheeky and sexy, yet suitable for hanging on the wall where anyone, from a mother-in-law to the neighbour’s children, can see them.

”Women are taking power over their bodies, over their sexuality and their appearance … and using it in a way that isn’t about men,” Ms Dobies says. ”It’s a non-threatening, non-sexual way to do something where you get to reveal parts of your body … and where you get to luxuriate in an hour-glass figure.”

The curvy retro style is attractive to today’s Australian women, says Bek Morris of the retro photography studio Bexterity in Campbelltown.

” I get a lot of curvier women saying they’re so glad they can find clothes that suit them,” Ms Morris says.

”No one caters these days to women who have actual body shapes, with boobs and bums. Most clothes are made for size six supermodels.”

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WHEN Ben Zygier died in a maximum-security prison in Israel he was under investigation by the spy agency ASIO, which suspected him of using his Australian passport to spy for Israel, Fairfax Media can reveal.

Benji, as he was known by those close to him in Jerusalem’s Jewish community, reacted angrily when Fairfax Media confronted him in early 2010 with allegations that he was working for the Israeli security agency Mossad. “Who the f–k are you?” an incredulous Mr Zygier told Fairfax’s then Middle East correspondent, Jason Koutsoukis. “What is this total bullshit you are telling me?”

He expressed shock at the suggestion he was under any kind of surveillance and said that he had also changed his name for personal reasons.

”I have never been to any of those countries that you say I have been to,” Mr Zygier said. ”I am not involved in any kind of spying. That is ridiculous.”

“He was at first angry, then exasperated that I wouldn’t accept his denials at what I was putting to him,” Koutsoukis said. “He told me he was like any other Australian who had made aliyah and was trying to make a life in Israel.”

Fairfax Media spoke to Mr Zygier after learning that ASIO was investigating at least three dual Australian-Israeli citizens who had all emigrated to Israel

in the previous decade. ASIO would not comment. On Wednesday the agency again refused to comment.

Each of the men had travelled back to Australia separately to change their names and obtain a new passport, two intelligence sources said at the time in Koutsoukis’s story, published in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

One man had changed his name three times, with others having changed theirs twice, the source said, from names that identified them as European-Jewish to ones that were Anglo-Australian.

The men had used the new passports to travel to Iran, Syria and Lebanon – all countries that do not recognise Israel and do not allow entry to Israelis, or anyone with an Israeli stamp in their passport. Israel also bans its citizens from travelling to these countries for security reasons.

Fairfax Media was investigating the men’s involvement with a European communications company that has a subsidiary in the Middle East. The company’s chief executive denied the men were ever employed by the organisation.

It is believed Mr Zygier travelled back to Australia in 2009 to attend Monash University, where he was doing an MBA. Along with his Ben Zygier identity, he also used Ben Alon, Ben Allen and Benjamin Burrows.

A source observed him over several days sitting with a group of students from Saudi Arabia and Iran at the university’s Caulfield campus. The source said: ”[Australian Taxation Office] records from 2008 show that he applied for and was approved a HECS loan for postgraduate studies at Monash University where he is currently [November 2009] studying.”

Since 2006, Monash University has been involved in education in Middle Eastern countries.

Apart from his move to Israel and his MBA study, little is known about Mr Zygier’s movements over the decade before he died, except that he was working in insurance law at the Australian firm Deacons in March 2002.

It was well known that Israel approached immigrants to assist Israel by handing over their passports, an Israeli intelligence expert told Fairfax Media in 2010.

It is understood the ASIO investigation into Mr Zygier and the two other men began at least six months before the January 10, 2010, assassination of Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, widely believed to have been carried out by Mossad using passports obtained from Australia and Europe.

Three of those suspected of taking part in the assassination were travelling on Australian passports, using the names of dual Australian-Israeli citizens, authorities in Dubai confirmed.

There is no suggestion that the three Australian names linked to Mabhouh’s assassination are connected to Mr Zygier or the other men being investigated by ASIO.

After initially denying Australia had any knowledge that one of its citizens was detained in Israel, the Foreign Affairs Minister, Bob Carr, said some officers in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade were aware.

The revelations raise questions about how much the Australian government knew about the conditions under which Mr Zygier was being held in the maximum security Ayalon Prison.

The ABC’s Foreign Correspondent program, which named Mr Zygier as ”Prisoner X”, said he hanged himself in a cell that was meant to be suicide-proof.

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LONDON: A British couple accused of killing their six children in a house fire started the blaze themselves as part of a ”plan that went horribly wrong”, a court has heard.

Prosecutors claim that Mick Philpott, 56, and his 31-year-old wife Mairead set fire to their house in Derby, in the Midlands, last May in a bid to frame his ex-girlfriend and claim custody of the four children they had together.

The Philpotts, along with a third defendant, Paul Mosley, 46, each denied six counts of manslaughter at Nottingham Crown Court on Tuesday.

As their trial opened, Mr Philpott tried to leave the dock as the jury listened to the telephone call the couple made to emergency services when the fire took hold in the early hours of May 11. Mrs Philpott was heard screaming on the tape, while her husband told the operator: ”I can’t get in.”

The jury heard that neighbours tried to rescue the children, aged five to 13, but were overwhelmed by smoke and flames. When police carried the children’s bodies from the house, their father had to be restrained.

”It must have been quite clear the plan had gone horribly wrong,” prosecutor Richard Latham told the court.

Mr Philpott was overheard at the hospital saying: ”It wasn’t meant to end like this.” Police later made secret recordings of conversations between the couple. In one extract, Mr Philpott told his wife: ”Make sure you stick to your story.”

The jury heard that the fire broke out on the morning Mr Philpott was due to attend court with his ex-mistress, Lisa Willis, to discuss where their children should live. He had made numerous reports to the police that Ms Willis had threatened him and his family, Mr Latham said.

The family had previously lived under unconventional arrangements, with Mr Philpott, his wife and Ms Willis sharing a home with the 10 children, plus a child Ms Willis had by another man. But Ms Willis had broken up with Mr Philpott three months before the fire and taken her children with her.

The court heard a fortnight before the tragedy, Mr Philpott had told friends he had a plan that would help him win his children back. The trial continues.

Agence France-Presse

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WASHINGTON: The liberal President who emerged from the election and reintroduced himself at last month’s inauguration reappeared at the State of the Union address, outlining a second-term agenda that would tax the rich, boost the minimum wage and force action on climate change.

With damaging automatic spending cuts set to begin in just over a fortnight, Barack Obama ignored Republican demands to cut the deficit, instead promising policies to stabilise spending, while increasing revenue by closing tax loopholes for the wealthy and maintaining benefits.

”We can’t ask senior citizens and working families to shoulder the entire burden of deficit reduction while asking nothing more from the wealthiest and most powerful,” Mr Obama said.

Mr Obama was even more aggressive on climate change, insisting that if Congress failed to pass legislation to cut carbon pollution, he would direct cabinet to come up with executive actions his office could take.

As he spoke, he was repeatedly interrupted by ovations from Democrats, while the Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner, glowered over his shoulder, offering only occasional applause.

As expected Mr Obama detailed immigration reforms, calling for changes to allow many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants a chance to become citizens – a measure the Republican Party has embraced.

More controversially, he said he would pursue an increase in the minimum wage to $9 an hour.

”Working folks shouldn’t have to wait year after year for the minimum wage to go up while CEO pay has never been higher,” he said.

On foreign policy, Mr Obama announced a further 34,000 troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of the year and signalled the US would continue its war against terrorism with a far smaller commitment of troops, suggesting drone strikes would remain crucial.

”We will need to help countries like Yemen, Libya and Somalia provide for their own security, and help allies who take the fight to terrorists, as we have in Mali,” he said.

Mr Obama promised to ”maintain the best military in the world”. Tellingly, in the next breath, he spoke of reducing waste, suggesting the Pentagon would face budget cuts.

The strongest rhetoric of the speech was reserved for gun control. Mr Obama introduced the parents of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, who was shot dead in a park in Chicago last week, as he addressed his proposed gun reforms.

Sitting with the first lady, they were among two dozen people affected by gun violence invited to attend, including a police officer shot 12 times responding to a shooting in a Sikh temple.

”They deserve a vote [in Congress],” Mr Obama said. ”Gabby Giffords deserves a vote.

”The families of Newtown deserve a vote.

”The families of Aurora deserve a vote.

”The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence – they deserve a simple vote,” he said to swelling tears and cheers within the chamber.

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Shortage … a recruitment push by the government to boost the number of teachers has not been very successful.A $16 MILLION federal Labor commitment to stem the shortage of maths and science teachers by fast-tracking bankers, accountants and engineers into classrooms has recruited only 14 participants.

The Teach Next scheme was announced by the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, during the 2010 election, when she promised that Labor would bring 450 mid-career professionals into teaching over four years.

Teach Next was supposed to help address teacher shortages in regional and hard-to-staff schools and reduce the numbers teaching outside subject areas.

However, just 14 participants have been placed in schools after two intakes and every state and territory, except Victoria and the ACT, has declined to participate or has pulled out.

Half of the promised funding – $8.1 million – had been redirected to Teach for Australia, a program that places high-achieving non-teaching graduates in disadvantaged schools.

Participants in Teach Next are parachuted into schools after six weeks’ intensive training at Victoria’s Deakin University, eventually earning a postgraduate diploma of teaching after two years. Grants of up to $10,000 are offered to contribute to course costs and assist with relocation.

”This is about bringing people into teaching from all walks of life,” Ms Gillard said when she announced the scheme at her old school in Adelaide, Unley High, in 2010. ”Teach Next will help reduce teacher shortages in crucial subject areas like maths and science and help create a teaching workforce with greater diversity.”

Associate Professor Damian Blake, from the school of education at Deakin University, said Teach Next had attracted a lot of very highly qualified people.

The first intake of the program last year attracted 71 applications and the second attracted 521 applications.

However, Professor Blake said the program had been stymied by different legislation and regulations in each state and territory. Some jurisdictions did not allow people to teach in schools unless they were fully qualified while others had requirements on teaching certain subjects.

A NSW education department spokesman said NSW had agreed to take 10 Teach Next recruits during the first year of the program, but only two candidates were identified as eligible.

A spokeswoman for the federal School Education Minister, Peter Garrett, said the number of states which had chosen not to offer vacancies had reduced the number of teachers taking part.

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Julia Gillard meets Lowitja O’Donoghue yesterday.IT WAS a day unlike any other in the national Parliament since the 2010 federal election, and no one called it better than the man who is often held responsible for the bitterly combative atmosphere that has dominated what passes for political debate.

”So much of what happens here passes people by. Sometimes it even annoys them,” Tony Abbott observed. ”May this be an occasion when the Parliament lifts people’s spirits, makes them feel more proud of our country and more conscious of our potential to more often be our best selves.”

Earlier in his remarks, the Opposition Leader congratulated Julia Gillard on the ”fine” speech that preceded his own. ”So often in this place we are protagonists,” he said. ”Today, on this matter, we are partners and collaborators.” And they were.

The occasion was the passage through the House of Representatives of legislation to recognise the unique and special place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – and generate momentum for recognition in the nation’s founding document.

That it coincided with the fifth anniversary of the apology to the stolen generations delivered by Kevin Rudd, and was witnessed by many of the country’s most respected indigenous leaders, made it all the more poignant.

Kevin Rudd wasn’t there, but only because he was honouring an undertaking to address a reconciliation event marking the anniversary in Adelaide.

As remarkable as the level of unity was the capacity of Gillard and Abbott for plain speaking. While Gillard spoke of ending ”the great Australian silence” and healing the ”fabric of the nation”, Abbott was even more evocative and direct.

”This is the stain on our soul that prime minister Keating so movingly evoked at Redfern 21 years ago,” he said, noting that Australia was a blessed nation in every respect but one – the failure to ”make peace” with the first Australians.

”We have to acknowledge that pre-1788, this land was as Aboriginal then as it is Australian now and, until we have acknowledged that, we will be an incomplete nation and a torn people,” Abbott said.

”We only have to look across the Tasman to see how it all could have been done so much better. Thanks to the Treaty of Waitangi in New Zealand two peoples became one nation. So, our challenge is to do now in these times what should have been done 200 or 100 years ago: to acknowledge Aboriginal people in our country’s foundation document. In short, we need to atone for the omissions and for the hardness of heart of our forebears to enable us all to embrace the future as a united people.”

The immediate result was to inject a large dose of confidence into those who will lead the campaign for constitutional recognition, including emerging indigenous leaders Jason Glanville and Tanya Hosch, who put the case for change to the National Press Club.

”Lots of us were surprised and delighted by not just the bipartisanship, but by the language that both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition used to describe what’s possible,” Glanville, the chief executive of the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence, said later.

But, for all the goodwill and optimism reflected in the passing of the legislation, four questions were left hanging after the hugs and the handshakes – questions that will determine whether the referendum ultimately succeeds or fails.

The first concerns the wording of the question, and whether it will reflect the recommendations of the expert panel, co-chaired by Patrick Dodson and Mark Leibler, who toiled for more than a year before producing a 300-page report on the best way forward.

Rather than simply suggest a minimalist new preamble that acknowledged Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage and risk being defeated because it was tokenistic, half-hearted and, according to the panel’s legal advice, capable of having unintended consequences, the panel proposed meaningful change.

It said the recognition should be included in the body of the constitution; that the last vestiges of racism in the constitution should be repealed (including the section that contemplates state laws that exclude indigenous Australians from voting); that indigenous languages be recognised as part of the national heritage; and that there be an explicit prohibition of racial discrimination.

The latter suggestion prompted the concern, articulated by Abbott, that ”we have some reservations about anything that might turn out to be a one-clause bill of rights”.

Abbott alluded to the challenge during his speech on Wednesday, when he spoke of the need to come up with a form of words that satisfies ”reasonable people” as being fair to all.

”It won’t necessarily be straightforward to acknowledge the first Australians without creating new categories of discrimination which we must avoid, because no Australian should feel like a stranger in their own country,” he said, before adding: ”I believe that we are equal to this task of completing our constitution rather than changing it.”

Dodson reflects the view of the panel when he says the prohibition on discrimination has nothing to do with a bill of rights and everything to do with eradicating the inherent racism that is embedded in the constitution. Moreover, he says the recommendations flowed from a year-long consultation process and advice from the country’s most eminent constitutional lawyers.

While the wording of the referendum question will be developed by a parliamentary committee, Dodson says any retreat from the panel’s recommendations would have to be negotiated.

Tanya Hosch, the deputy director of the recognition campaign, is confident that fears about the proposed change will be allayed as people become more informed.

”It’s important to remember people had equal concerns about native title and Mabo,” she says. ”They had equal concern about the apology and the sky didn’t fall in. Instead, we’ve become stronger and better as a nation.”

The second question is when the referendum will be put. The original plan was for it to be put at or before the September 14 federal election. As Gillard explained on Wednesday, this prospect had seemed very ”close at hand” at the time of the apology, but became problematic after the 2010 poll produced a hung Parliament.

”In difficult and volatile times, we have not yet found the settled space in our national conversation to make the promised referendum a reality,” she said.

While Gillard’s expectation is that legislation for a referendum will pass next year, Abbott spoke of the next Parliament – that is, the next three years – finishing ”the work that this one has begun”.

Like the expert panel, Hosch and Glanville are not hung up on a time frame, saying the important thing is to put the referendum when it has the best prospects of being overwhelmingly supported. ”We need to remember that in 1967 they campaigned for more than 10 years with meagre resources to get that result,” says Hosch.

That referendum resulted in indigenous people being counted in the census and gave the federal government the power to make laws for their benefit, but fell short of recognition.

The third question is whether the campaign is capable of winning the kind of support that saw the 1967 referendum not only succeed, but win almost 91 per cent of the popular vote, remembering that Australian voters have approved just eight of the 44 referendums put to them since federation, most recently in 1977, and the record under Labor is even worse – just one success in 25 attempts.

Here, the challenge is to do more than promote recognition as simply correcting an oversight of the constitution’s architects – and the speeches by Hosch and Glanville go a long way to highlighting some of the practical consequences of recognition.

Hosch spoke of the role recognition could play in safeguarding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture – and enabling ”our children and grandchildren” to be enriched by it. ”Some will dismiss this as symbolism, and say it won’t change a thing; won’t educate a single child; won’t create a single job and won’t improve health, life expectancy and living standards,” she said.

”That’s not only beside the point, it’s plain wrong. Symbolic statements not only have intrinsic worth, they remind us of duties and obligations to each other. Who would dismiss the Gettysburg Address as a mere symbol? It changed America.”

Glanville spoke of the impact of the apology, which resonated deep into his own family history, describing it as a watershed in Australian history.

”It was the day we faced the truth about a searing chapter of our history. And that truth has helped to heal many. There is still much pain, but I know people today who are mentally and physically healthier since that moment, and I have no doubt it is because of what Kevin Rudd did and said that day,” he said.

”To my mind, constitutional recognition would have a similar power for the whole of the indigenous community. I only wish such a moment had come sooner, for the sake of those who needed to see it most.”

A final question, and one that deeply worries veterans of the 1967 campaign such as Lowitja O’Donoghue and Shirley Peisley, is whether the referendum is capable of garnering the support of the overwhelming majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Among those who are, at best, still to be convinced, is Kutcha Edwards, the singer, songwriter and activist who was taken from his family the year of the 1967 referendum and had five siblings who were ”stolen and institutionalised”.

In the foreword to Where Were You?, a book published to mark the fifth anniversary of the apology, he writes: ”The inter-generational trauma still needs to be healed. The memories don’t stop. The scars are on our souls.”

Edwards stresses that he doesn’t want to be disrespectful and that he isn’t speaking for his family, but says: ”I want to remain a sovereign Mutti Mutti man. That’s just me. I’m all for walking down the road together, but I don’t want to concede my sovereignty. If they want us to move forward, sign a treaty.”

Herein lies another question: will a successful referendum represent a final settlement between those who were here first and those who invaded? Or will it be like the apology: another important and long-overdue step towards ”making peace” with the first Australians.

In truth, constitutional change would not constitute the last chapter in Australia’s reconciliation journey. But it would, as Jason Glanville put it, constitute a fresh start.

Michael Gordon is national editor.

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EIGHT years ago, the mental health of the St John of God brother William Lebler was considered so poor he had to keep a card containing important information handy.

His ”early stage dementia” and ”borderline mental retardation” was presented as so bad that a magistrate released him from having to face trial on horrific child abuse charges, including 14 indecent assaults on a child under 12.

But this week there was no information card in sight nor any form of official supervision when Fairfax Media found Br Lebler enjoying a purposeful morning’s outing into Sydney’s bustling city centre.

His solo outing began about 11am on Monday when he was seen arriving in a cab in Pitt Street, after which he had coffee in a cafe.

Then walking slowly with a cane, he moved on to Pilgrim’s House, where he appeared to attend a meeting. An hour later, he was back outside the cafe where he sat with a man and a woman who later walked down the street chatting to him.

Br Lebler’s outing has raised concerns that even as inquiries into child abuse involving religious institutions get under way in NSW and at the national level, suspected paedophiles associated with religious orders are still not being properly supervised.

The need for tougher mental health assessments on suspected offenders is also being felt, especially those connected to the Catholic Order of St John of God.

It is understood Br Lebler was one of several brothers associated with the order who have been allowed to move about unsupervised despite being implicated in allegations relating to when they worked at the order’s school at Morisset and at orphanages in Melbourne’s outer east and in New Zealand.

In 2005, Br Lebler was the subject of an unsuccessful extradition attempt by New Zealand authorities for charges of abuse at the Marylands School in Christchurch in the 1950s and ’60s.

During the hearing, the NSW Local Court magistrate Hugh Dillon heard evidence that the then 83-year-old Br Lebler suffered from borderline dementia and other old-age-related mental health issues.

Mr Dillon noted evidence that Br Lebler kept a card handy to remind himself of important information.

As a result of this and other evidence relating to Br Lebler’s mental state, he ruled that Br Lebler would not be able to mount any defence other than to say ”I don’t remember” and would not get a fair trial due to ”his infirmity and the passage of time”.

When Fairfax Media attempted to speak to Br Lebler this week, he turned around but then his companions moved to block the filming and Br Lebler left by himself in a taxi.

His trip to the CBD has outraged and concerned those who counselled his alleged victims.

The psychologist Michelle Mulvihill, who was employed by the order to counsel the alleged victims in the late 1990s, described Br Lebler as ”having the second biggest list of complainants” associated with his time at the order’s homes and schools in Victoria and NSW.

Dr Mulvihill said she was not surprised at Br Lebler’s day out, adding that it proved the order was not supervising suspects and there were questions about his actual mental state eight years ago.

Efforts to contact Br Lebler on Tuesday, at the Surry Hills aged care facility, were unsuccessful.

Head of the St John of God order in Australia Provincial Br Timothy Graham said while Br Lebler had travelled in a taxi unaccompanied he was met by his sponsor when he went to attend an Alcoholics Annymous meeting the city.

”Brother Lebler religiously attends AA meetings,” he said.

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