1 Jul. 2007

Under-reported: The Trent Smith Story

NB: This is an excerpt from a longer piece I will be publishing shortly. I was expecting to hear more about this story by now, but it now appears to be safely locked up in the courts till after the election.

In February 2003, DFAT employee Trent Smith leaked details of an October 2002 conversation between Alexander Downer and the NZ High Commissioner, Kate Lackey. Here’s Downer’s response when Lackey asked “whether Australia would prefer a UN mandate for action in Iraq”:
"Mr Downer said that Australia would indeed prefer UN backing. However, and this was not a point that could be made publicly, Australia was not in a position, if the UN process broke down, to withdraw our ships and other presence from the Gulf."
Downer feebly insisted that he was talking about existing Aussie forces in the Gulf, who were there to enforce the UN blockade of Iraq. By this time, 2,000 more Australian troops were already “pre-deployed” in the region, and HMAS 'Kanimbla' was steaming towards the gulf. Then the mother of a sailor on board that ship leaked further embarrassing facts:
"During September and October 2002, in the weeks prior to Alexander Downer making those statements to New Zealand's High Commissioner, HMAS 'Kanimbla' was performing beach landing exercises off Townsville with the troops from Ross Island, some of the same troops now on board on their way to the Gulf.

Following this exercise, the crew of the 'Kanimbla' were on stand-by to go to the Gulf it would appear not to replace one of the ships doing sanctions but to carry Australian troops to Bush's war on Iraq."
So in September 2002, just three months after Howard met Bush, our Foreign Minister was secretively discussing impending “action in Iraq” with our allies, and Australian armed forces were already practicing amphibious landings (funny way to enforce a naval blockade).

The DFAT whistle-blower, Trent Smith, was stood down and investigated for 3-and-a-half years, at a cost of $1 million, while police sifted through 8,000 emails. He was cleared of any wrongdoing, but then sacked, in July 2006, for referring a Labor staff member to publicly available Senate records. He remains locked in an unfair dismissal case with his former employer.