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Seven things previously secret cabinet documents tell us about the ‘last year of normality’ in 2000


#Almost 250 cabinet papers from the middle of prime minister #John #Howard’s second term in government, released today by the #National #Archives of #Australia, give a remarkable insight into how #Australia was faring at a time of significant national pride.

“The #Olympic #Games were a very high point for #Australia in the year 2000, which in many ways was to turn out to be the last year of normality,” former deputy prime minister #John #Anderson told the ABC.

“#We had 9/11 after that, the following year we had massive explosions of economic crises and the great financial crisis, then we’ve had political instability, then COVID.

“The relatively peaceful and enjoyable year of 2000, as we look back on it, is perhaps more appreciated now, even more than it was then.”

#Key moments from the 2000 #Cabinet papers:

#Security in the pursuit of gold

#Australia was bursting with anticipation as it prepared to welcome the world to #Sydney for the 2000 #Olympic #Games.

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The #Atlanta #Games four years earlier had been rocked by terrorism, with the bombing at #Centennial #Olympic #Park claiming two lives and injuring more than 100 others.

#Cabinet papers show #Sydney’s organisers were keen to avoid a repeat performance on the other side of the #Pacific and had travelled to the US on a fact-finding mission in the lead-up to their event.

#Police, biochemical experts and even an “air-transportable morgue” were on standby on the US west coast, ready for immediate deployment if the worst was to occur in #Sydney.

US security personnel travelling with the USA contingent to the #Olympics, which included then-president #Bill #Clinton’s daughter #Chelsea, wanted to bring their own weapons into #Australia. #No reasons were given for the request, and cabinet promptly denied permission in late #August.

#Joe #Hockey was a minister in #John #Howard’s government during the 2000 olympics.(#Supplied: #National #Archives of #Australia)

“There were some people who tried to make trouble, but all of them — by virtue of the high-quality people we had looking after security and the planning that we had done — essentially, they all fell to nothing,” #Mr #Anderson said.

#Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent on security and more than 3,000 #Australian #Defence #Force personnel drafted in to help. #Thankfully, it all went off without a hitch.

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#Internal angst over asylum seeker crackdown

#Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers over the last two decades has been the subject of significant criticism domestically and internationally.

#But cabinet papers from 2000, as the nation ramped up its detention centre regime to deal with a 450 per cent increase in asylum seekers, show serious concerns raised within the government’s own public service about sanctions against detainees charged over rioting and escape attempts.

#Asylum seekers who had made their perilous journey to #Australia by boat found themselves in immigration detention centres in places such as #Port #Hedland in WA and #Woomera in outback #South #Australia.

#Some were being described as “increasingly non-compliant”, and riots broke out in some facilities.

#Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.

Play Video. Duration: 2 minutes 11 seconds

The year 2000 also saw the riots at the #Woomera immigration detention centre in #South #Australia.

Then-attorney-general #Philip #Ruddock brought a proposal to cabinet to increase punishments for offenders — including jail terms of five years for those who escaped and three years for inciting violence — and strip-search powers for staff at detention centres.

#Cabinet agreed to the proposal, despite warnings being raised by the departments of #Prime #Minister and #Cabinet, #Attorney-General and #Foreign #Affairs and #Trade.

The prime minister’s department said strip searches without warrants were “inappropriate”, while the attorney-general’s team warned it may “exacerbate the security situation”.

DFAT was worried it could be inconsistent with #Australia’s international human rights obligations.

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The beginning of the climate wars

John Howard shakes hands with a person dressed in a polar bear suit holding a sign saying "fighting for survival".
#Australian prime minister #John #Howard is confronted by a climate change activist dressed as a bear in 2007.(#Tony #Phillips: AAP)

The 2000 cabinet papers also shine a light on the germination of an idea — an emissions trading scheme (ETS).

#As the #Howard #Government negotiated its targets under the #Kyoto climate agreement, there was broad support within the #Cabinet for an “open, market-based, transparent, comprehensive and equitable system” to help tackle carbon emissions.

There was an in-principle agreement to developing such a system in #November 2000, under a submission from environment minister #Robert #Hill.

#But, there were some who were opposed to going too hard, too soon. The documents show industry minister #Nick #Minchin wanted any plan tied to the #Kyoto agreement, voicing concerns about the impact on industry.

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The slow march to #Reconciliation

#As hundreds of thousands of #Australians marched across the #Sydney #Harbour #Bridge, demanding #Australia make reparations for the treatment of #First #Nation’s people, cabinet was gripped with discussion on #Indigenous disadvantage and reconciliation.

#In the lead up to the #Corroboree 2000 event, the #Howard cabinet was debating issues of semantics.

#It was not keen on some of the wording put forward in a draft statement of reconciliation, and emphasised the pledge to “respect the right of #Aboriginal and #Torres #Strait #Islander peoples … to determine their own destiny” was not legally enforceable.

crowds of people walk over the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the walk for reconciliation in 2000
#Crowds of more than 100,000 walked across the #Sydney #Harbour #Bridge.(AAP: #Dave #Hunt)

The prime minister did not attend the bridge march.

The disproportionately high number of #Indigenous #Australians unemployed, 23 per cent compared to 7 per cent for the rest of the population, was also investigated.

#But a proposal to increase #Commonwealth support for job services by 6,000 positions, which would help address that startling figure, was cut back to just 1,000.

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#Taxing times

#Two years after #John #Howard had taken the policy of a goods and services tax (GST) to his 1998 re-election campaign, the time had come in the year 2000 to implement the tricky policy.

The cabinet papers show the intricate and complex considerations and planning that went in to ensure everything ran smoothly when the GST became a reality on #July 1.

#Consideration was even given to allow pubs and clubs to continue trading for a few hours after the GST came into effect at midnight, to ensure they could keep their tills open and customers liquored up under the old tax regime.

John Howard and Peter Costello during a press conference
#John #Howard and #Peter #Costello introduced the GST after decades of indecision.(#Damien #Larkins: ABC #News)

#Mr #Anderson argued the debate over the GST was likely the last proper policy discussion #Australia ever had.

“#It was a hot debate, it was heated reflecting, I think, the quality frankly of the leaders of the two major parties,” he said.

‘#It was not particularly personal, but on the issues, it was as full-blooded as it wanted to be, and that was a good thing.”

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#Flirting with a dictator

#Papers from #March 2000 show the #Howard government briefly flirting with the notion of “normalising diplomatic relations” with the eternally misnamed #Democratic #People’s #Republic of #Korea.

Then-foreign minister #Alexander #Downer even travelled to #North #Korea.

“I think it’s fascinating to be here, it’s been most interesting, as we’ve come in on the plane and as we’ve landed, to look at a country which does things in a very different sort of a way,” he told the ABC on the ground in #Pyongyang in #November 2000.

#Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.

Play Video. Duration: 5 minutes 16 seconds

Then-foreign minister #Alexander #Downer travelled to #North #Korea in 2000.

#Despite the overtures from #Australia and the welcome by officials from the despotic regime, #Mr #Downer’s was not convinced of much change by the end of his trip.

“#No indication for willingness for economic or political reform,” he said.

The cabinet papers give little insight into the decision to attempt to establish ties.

“There was an assumption then I think that the liberal global order was winning out,” #John #Anderson said.

“I would say a touch of hopefulness, tinged with naivety, that turned out to be somewhat unrealistic.”

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#Aged care soul searching

#In the wake of the scandal involving #Melbourne aged care residents being subjected to kerosene baths, aged care minister #Bronwyn #Bishop was forced to investigate the standards some of #Australia’s most vulnerable were subjected to across the country.

#Ever steadfast in her defence, she praised some of the reforms the first #Howard government had pushed through in 1997 — describing them as “a basis for a sound and sustainable aged care system.”

#But she did concede that complaints handling processes need to change, with 4,000 having been received over less than three years, because there was a “considerable lack of clarity” as to how it operated.

#Mrs #Bishop railed against calls for nursing ratios, arguing they did not necessarily improve care standards and would increase regulation in the aged care sector.

#Given the crisis which has hit aged care in the last few years, including the decision to call a royal commission in 2018, these references are particularly telling.

#You can read the most recently released cabinet records, as well as other years’, at the #National #Archives website.

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[ source link ]
https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-01-01/cabinet-papers-release-january-1/12988718

#previously #secret #cabinet #documents #year #normality

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