PNG’s police farce; BRICS bats; Our man in Manila By Hamish McDonald.

Republicans consider turning to the Force

Supporters of Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff rally against her impeachment, in Brasilia this week.
Supporters of Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff rally against her impeachment, in Brasilia this week.
Credit: Reuters / Ueslei Marcelino
The Auric Goldfinger of American politics hasn’t been neutralised, despite opinion polls showing him a loser in November’s presidential election against either of his possible rivals. New York is the home town of Donald Trump’s gilded empire, and on Tuesday he trumped the other runners for the Republican nomination.

Trump’s 60.4 per cent vote in New York ended the resurgence of Senator Ted Cruz in recent primaries in other states. It gets him significantly closer to the majority needed to win the nomination at the Republican convention in July, but he still needs a winning streak right through to the closing primary in California on June 7. John Kasich was second runner with 25.1 per cent, and Cruz got 14.5 per cent.

As expected, Hillary Clinton did well, too, in the Democrat vote in New York, the state she previously represented in the US senate, gaining 58 per cent of the vote. Bernie Sanders, who got the other 42 per cent, is unlikely to drop out of the race. He has campaign ads running in states yet to hold their primaries, and his team expects to do well in California.

The desperation in the Republican establishment gets deeper. They’ve been expecting Trump to fail in achieving a convention majority, opening up a “brokered” convention during which all his delegates would be freed up to vote for someone else. But who? Cruz is equally unelectable. Kasich is uninspiring. The popular Republican moderate Paul Ryan, speaker of the house of representatives, has now rejected the idea of accepting a draft. Some party operatives are even looking at retired Marine Corps general James Mattis, a never-married veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan known as the “Warrior Monk” for his scholarly work on war. Maybe they’ve been watching Star Wars.  

1 . PNG’s police farce

Scarcely had we got the story out about Papua New Guinea’s anti-corruption police closing in with arrests concerning inflated legal bills allegedly authorised in a previous government by the now prime minister Peter O’Neill, than the counter-push by O’Neill’s allies in the police force began.

Police Commissioner Gari Baki suspended the head of the National Fraud and Anti-Corruption Directorate, Chief Superintendent Matthew Damaru, last Saturday. Baki said his move was not directly related to the arrests earlier that week of PNG’s attorney-general, a Supreme Court judge and O’Neill’s lawyer, nor prompted by the prime minister. “I have taken steps to assume control of the erratic and out-of-control National Fraud and Anti-Corruption Directorate and to restore some integrity into the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary,” Baki said.

Damaru got a court injunction on Monday ordering a stop to the suspension and his return to work. However, police then put chains and locks on the anti-corruption directorate office later that day, and parked a vehicle across the entrance. Baki has also suspended seven of Damaru’s officers, alleging bribes were behind some investigations. The politicised split in PNG’s police force continues.

2 . BRICS bats

Things are not going well for some leaders of the newly industrialising powers that for a while were fashionably known as the BRICS − Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa.

Brazil’s lower house of congress voted last Sunday by more than the required two-thirds majority to impeach President Dilma Rousseff for allegedly hiding a budget deficit to win re-election in 2014, as well as holding responsibility for a corruption scandal involving the state oil company and members of her ruling Workers’ Party. The case now goes to the senate: if it also approves impeachment, Rousseff has to step down for 180 days while she defends herself. This could happen in May, three months ahead of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

In South Africa, President Jacob Zuma also looks shaky. On Wednesday, veteran leaders of the ruling African National Congress will join church and civil society figures in what the group describes as a “day of action” to “reclaim a freedom that has been stolen by Zuma and his cronies”.

Zuma beat an impeachment motion in parliament on April 5, after the country’s highest court found he’d breached the constitution by failing to repay millions of rand in government funds spent on enhancements to his private mansion. In power since 2009, Zuma had lost much of his remaining public confidence last December when he sacked the well-regarded finance minister Nhlanhla Nene and replaced him with an obscure backbencher. Then followed revelations that the wealthy Indian-origin business family, the Guptas, had been influencing cabinet appointments. But a poor showing for the ANC in municipal elections on August 3 may force Zuma out.

3 . Our man in Manila

Fairfax Media has been in a welter of self-congratulation this week to mark 185 years of its flagship newspaper, The Sydney Morning Herald. It’s a curious anniversary, perhaps reflecting doubt whether the newspaper will survive to a double century.

One episode has gone little noticed in the newspaper’s history, certainly in the account by Paul McGeough of the Herald’s various war correspondents, including himself. It was uncovered by Brisbane author Jacqui Murray in her excellent 2004 book on Australian reporting of Japan before Pearl Harbour, Watching the Sun Rise.

Under then proprietor Warwick Fairfax snr, the Herald belatedly set up a Far East news service in September 1941, sending correspondents to Singapore, Chongqing and Manila. The paper’s official history, Gavin Souter’s Company of Heralds, notes that this was suggested by the British Ministry of Information in Singapore.

What he didn’t discover in the archives, nor was he told by Sir Warwick (as the boss was by then), was that the funding of this Far East network came out of the budget of MI6 − on condition the Herald correspondents inserted regular inspired commentary into their reports, such as warnings the Japanese would get a nasty surprise if they attacked Singapore.

The British secret service continued to fund the correspondents throughout the war, Murray found, even though one of them, Jack Percival in Manila, was in a Japanese prison camp along with his wife and baby, the latter born a POW. Still pregnant, Joyce Percival had elected to stay while Fairfax general manager “Rags” Henderson took the last flying boat out before the city fell. This way of sharing the hardship continues in Fairfax management to this day, it seems, under Maserati-driving chief executive Greg Hywood.


[email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on April 23, 2016 as "Republicans consider turning to the Force".

For almost a decade, The Saturday Paper has published Australia’s leading writers and thinkers. We have pursued stories that are ignored elsewhere, covering them with sensitivity and depth. We have done this on refugee policy, on government integrity, on robo-debt, on aged care, on climate change, on the pandemic.

All our journalism is fiercely independent. It relies on the support of readers. By subscribing to The Saturday Paper, you are ensuring that we can continue to produce essential, issue-defining coverage, to dig out stories that take time, to doggedly hold to account politicians and the political class.

There are very few titles that have the freedom and the space to produce journalism like this. In a country with a concentration of media ownership unlike anything else in the world, it is vitally important. Your subscription helps make it possible.

Select your digital subscription

Month selector

Use your Google account to create your subscription