Bearing Witness to the Disgracing of the Chief Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police
A report of the Sack Keelty! Speak Out
which took place outside the AFP HQ,
cnr Bunda Street and Northbourne Avenue,
Canberra 15 February 2008
The sound from the Peacebus.com speakers echoed off the Australian Federal Police headquarters building and bounced around the north end of Civic Centre, Canberra.
From where I was speaking into the microphone I could see AFP personnel gathered at windows listening and gazing down upon the flags and banner display in Veteran's Park, the small park outside the entrance of the five storied building.
I was there calling for the AFP Chief Commissioner, Mick Keelty, to go quietly.
Keelty had been point man of the Terror War waged by the Howard government against Australians generally.
Fear raising had been integral to Howard's grip on power and under Howard, Keelty had, in the name of the War on Terror, transformed the AFP into an empire of repression and gathered to it extraordinary powers of surveillance, arrest and detention.
And he had abused them.
Now that Howard had been brought down, Keelty staying on in office made as much sense as destroying Hilter and the Nazi regime but keeping Heinrich Himmler at his desk and the SS and the gas chambers working.
Peacebus.com was far from being alone in wanting Keelty gone.
On 29 JanuaryKeelty for a speech he had delivered to the Sydney Institute, which is a right wing think tank and Howard bastion, calling for a gagging of the media in terror investigations. See www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,,23130173-7582,00.html?from=public_rss
The speech outraged Autralian media folk with Greg Barns leading the outcry in Crikey 30 January with the challenge: "Could the real Mick Keelty please stand up?"
The following weekend all the major dailies had feature acticles attacking Keelty. The point newspaper editors made was that, post Howard, Keelty was a man without friends. "For a shrewd political operator, the Police Commissioner, Mick Keelty, suddenly finds himself swinging in the breeze," wrote David Marr in the Sydney Morning Herald 02/02/08.
Keelty had chosen the wrong forum and the wrong time to be calling for further wind back of the hard won liberties of Australians. He had shown himself to be a man whose judgement was shot; a man in extremity.
Not just the press were out to get Keelty; the Australian legal fraternity was eager to undo the culture of arrogance and contempt for the rule of law that had been fostered under his command.
Furthermore there were rumblings of discontent amongst the back benchers of the newly elected Rudd government which that week had gathered for its first Parliamentary sessions. Jon Sullivan, the newly elected Member for Longman, had given voice to this discontent when I had met him at the Woodford Festival in January.
Peacebus.com was in Canberra supporting the Sorry Day actions and Graeme thought it appropriate, given his Eureka commitment to defending rights and liberties, and timely, given it was the first sitting week of the new Parliament, to add to the pressure on Keelty with a public place Speak Out right outside his office.
Pysch-ops of sorts, I knew it would weigh on Keelty's mind that so low had he fallen that even old hippies and homeless old men were clamouring for his demise, on his very stoop and in front of his troops.
Bearing witness to the disgracing of Keelty, I reckoned, might discourage other police commanders who might consider winding back the hard won rights of Australians. It would serve to remind them how quickly tides can turn and tyrants fall.
But because of Sorry Day commitments, preparations for the action were slight. New signage for Happy Wheels had been painted but notice of it and media went out only 24 hours before.
About five friends of Peacebus.com rallied plus a nomad bushie named Michael who described himself as a "Living Poet". Like me he was a van dweller, who serendipitously rolled in Civic to busk that day and parked beside Peacebus.
"What's going on?" he asked and when offered the microphone he seized the opportunity, a public speaking natural. He said he had a repertoire of some 500 poems memorized.
Staffers of Senator Kerry Nettle had helped by distributing the media release in the boxes of the Parliamentary press gallery and my day began with a live to air interview with Mike Jefferies of Radio 2CC.
The media representatives who showed out numbered the protesters two to one.
But small in beautiful. One doesn't have to have huge numbers to speak truth and get noticed. Mass political movement is preceded by subtle signs and subtle winds of change.
The AFP Agents responsible for negotiating protests in Canberra, the Protection Intelligence Unit, told Graeme that Keelty was not in his office but on a jet plane with the PM winging it to East Timor.
But it mattered not. Keelty didn't have to be there to know about our action or feel its impacts. There were cameras recording the event: media cameras and the surveillance cameras of the AFP.
Jude Deland, a Canberra activist, was a major help. I had met her when organizing the Bring Hicks Home rally for the previous year's opening of Parliament.
from left Jennier Deland as Justice, Jude Deland, Tanya McConville and Graeme Dunstan
When I met her again at the Tent Embassy, she had jumped at the suggestion of a Sack Keelty! Speak Out.
She said she had been converted to activism after watching Keelty during the Children Overboard inquiry in the Senate 2002.
"Before that I was more than a little hostile to Tony Kevin's ideas on Siev X", she said. "But watching Keelty, not just stonewall, but arrogently brush off the Labor Senators made a convert of me. Maybe he should be compulsary watching for doubters of the evilness of the previous government."
I was pleased do give Keelty a serve on that issue beginning by quoting the Buddha: "Three things will not long be hidden: the sun, the moon and the truth. The Siev X drownings (340 men, women and children) were the calculated consequence of an AFP operation to disrupt people smuggling. Blood on your hands, Mick. Blood on your hands."
Jude's student daughter, Jennifer, came dressed as Justice with scales, sword, blindfold and gag. She bore a sign reading: "Justice should be blind but not gagged."
Jude's friend, Tanya McConville, who had been active in Canberra on refugee rights and indigenous issues, came along, tentatively took the mike and, speaking quietly, described the years of human rights abuses under Howard and Keelty. Meanwhile she pointed out, the US military, the greatest purveyor of violence and human rights abuses on the planet, went unchallenged. Worse, was aided and abetted by that criminal duo.
"She's one fabulous human being," remarked Jude. And another oldie soothsayer like me.
When everyone who wanted to speak had said their piece, the action was over and the media departed.
Agent Bruce Hayward from the Protection Intelligence Unit came out to say his farewell. Bruce has had a long police career and he carries some deep sadness which manifests in a gentleness of manner and a deep and respectful empathy.
We had met before when negotiating the Hicks protest on the first sitting day of Parliament 12 months earlier (see www.peacbus.com/DavidHicks) and, sitting on a park bench together like two old mates, it was an easy business to agree on the conduct of the action.
But then all the Protection Intelligence Agents I met that day displayed warmth, respect and friendliness.
During the Convergence on Parliament on four days earlier I had taken Happy Wheels up Parliament hill for the rally with the Sack Keelty! sign covered up with a hand painted aboriginal sovereignty banner.
Seeing a group of besuited people standing about at the back of the crowd, I asked: "Are you AFP?"
When they affirmed I responded; "I've got something to show you."
Forthwith I went to near by Happy Wheels and threw back the banner to reveal the signage "End the Terror. Sack Keelty! Cuff the AFP!"
"What do you reckon?" I asked the coterie of AFP.
The tallest of them grinned a big grin.
"You wouldn't be Graeme Dunstan?" he asked.
Then he identified himself as Steve Uhe, the AFP Agent I had met negotiating the protests when President Bush had visited the Parliament in October 2003. (See www.peacebus.com/BushVisit)
Big were the smiles and genuinely warm the greetings as Steve introduced me to the other agents and recalled the 2003 meeting in the shade of a tree in the Old Parliament gardens with folding chairs and table, hot tea served from Happy Wheels and the guarding grace of the late Jennifer the Maremma.
Photos: Linda Cairnes
What a contrast that had been to the insanity they had come from negotiating security arrangements for the President with the US secret service.
Steve's card revealed him to be Team Leader of Protection Intelligence. He came out to greet me while I was setting up flags for the Keelty action in the forecourt of the AFP HQ. Again the warm smile and friendliness.
The other Agent who had been with him that memorable Bush day also came out to greet and shake hands when I was packing up and the speaking had been done. When returning to his office this Agent took his leave by raising his hands, palm together in the prayer position, a gesture of respect used by Buddhists and Hindus.
The word "Namaste", which translates as "I salute the God within you", was unspoken but I saw it in his eyes.
The gesture caught me by surprise, went deep and it was to be, for me, the most memorable moment of the action.
The Peacebus.com mission is a hero's journey of a rag tag old man in a land of self searching and self doubt, far from the conventions that give others comfort. Fearlessness and hopelessness is the path.
Pointing the finger of righteousness is ever a fraught business for always three other fingers point back at the pointer. To be honoured by the honorable is blessed sustenance, a bright mirror held high.
There's the irony: I had gone to AFP HQ to condemn its commander and came away in praise of those who serve him.
23 February 2008
Chief Commissioner Mick Keelty went before the Senate Estimates Committee three days after the Peacebus.com action and this time he could not avoid answering questions.
A damning report by Warren Reed, a former ASIS officer, quoting from facts revealed at the hearing was published in New Matilda 19 February. Even the spooks want him gone.
Should he stay or should he go? See www.newmatilda.com/2008/02/19/should-he-stay-or-should-he-go%3F