United States Ambassador to Australia, Mr Robert McCallum

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SubjectsForeign Affairs; United States; Diplomats
SpeakersChesterfield-Evans The Hon Dr Arthur

Page: 1256

    The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS [5.15 p.m.]: The new United States Ambassador to Australia, Robert McCallum, finally arrived last week and took no time to set the agenda for his tenure. There has been no United States Ambassador for 19 months—which some might think is quite an insult for an ally that has followed United States foreign policy as slavishly as Australia has. It is clear that now that McCallum has arrived he intends to push the hard-line Bush agenda and to continue the tradition of the United States interfering in Australian politics that was evident in the last incumbent.

    Members may recall the last United States ambassador, Tom Schieffer, who challenged the then leader of the Labor Party, Mark Latham, over Latham's pledge during the 2004 election campaign to bring the troops home from Iraq. In his first media appearance on his arrival, McCallum defended Schieffers' actions in Australia, saying he had done nothing wrong. McCallum said:

    I don't necessarily accept that Ambassador Schieffer was in any way trying to interfere with the internal politics of the Commonwealth of Australia.

    Well, if that is not interfering, I do not know what is. Of course it was interference—and of the worst kind. The ambassador sought to stifle debate in Australia on an issue that was sensitive to the United States. McCallum went on to firmly set out the same agenda for his tenure by defending the United States treatment of David Hicks and the war in Iraq. Mr McCallum was asked whether the United States was complying with international law by keeping David Hicks in Guantanamo Bay for more than 4½ years with no formal charges and no trial in sight. He said:

    The rule of law, international established law, the law of war, allows the detention of enemy combatants during the course of the hostilities. There is still a war on terror.

    Quite apart from the fact that Guantanamo Bay has about as much legitimacy in United States law as Nauru has in Australian law, it has not yet been proved in court that Hicks was a combatant—and, of course, in law an undeclared war is not technically a war. So to use the phrase "war on terror" does not actually make any difference. McCallum, though a well-paid lawyer, seems to have a very selective respect for the law. He should know the law well. He had been a tobacco company lawyer for R. J. Reynolds with Alson and Bird, as I pointed out in my adjournment speech of 9 May. But he became acting United States Deputy Attorney-General and, as described in an article in the Age of 11 June, William Birnbauer wrote:

    The man George Bush wants as the next US ambassador to Australia took "aggressive actions" to destroy a multibillion-dollar fraud case against tobacco companies, according to the US Government's top prosecutor in the case.

    Robert McCallum, the US Associate Attorney-General, was said to have undermined the case once it became apparent that prosecutors could win.

    The claims were made by Sharon Eubanks, who led the US Justice Department's nine-month prosecution against the tobacco firms. Last week an internal Justice Department inquiry found no wrongdoing by Mr McCallum, clearing the way for him to become the US ambassador in Canberra.

    Controversy has dogged Mr McCallum over his role in slashing the penalty the Justice Department sought to impose on tobacco companies from $US130 billion ($A174 billion) to $US10 billion. He was also accused of pressuring three witnesses to tone down their testimony in relation to the penalty.

    In an exclusive interview, Ms Eubanks said: "Robert McCallum definitely was not supportive of the trial team's efforts … He took aggressive actions to destroy our efforts when it became clear that we had firm legal bases for seeking much more meaningful remedies from the court.

    "I should be clear about this: Robert McCallum directed the position taken on remedies sought by the United States. It did not matter to him what the evidence actually demonstrated and supported, rather, it was only the bottom line that mattered to him—the lower the better."

    Ms Eubanks made her comments to The Sunday Age and a TV documentary team consisting of Melbourne filmmaker Terry Carlyon and this journalist. A second former Justice Department lawyer, Brett Spiegel, backed Ms Eubank's version of events.

    Mr McCallum was appointed to a senior Justice Department post by Mr Bush and had oversight of the tobacco case.

    Mr Spiegel said the department's political appointees had undermined the trial team.

    "We were working under an administration whose inaugural ball was paid for by (tobacco company) Philip Morris. You're getting some mixed signals when you have that situation."

    So here we have an ambassador who was the United States Deputy Attorney-General and who apparently undermined a law case started by President Clinton against big tobacco. But he was cleared by an internal departmental inquiry, the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility. The office found that he did not "engage in professional misconduct or exercise poor judgement". No doubt Bush also controls the people who carried out the internal departmental inquiry. As I pointed out before, members should be aware also of how Mr McCallum became Ambassador to Australia. He went to Yale University and has been friends with George Bush since he was 19; they were in the same fraternity at Yale, called the Skull and Bones Society.

    McCallum says that while in Australia he has three priorities: to support, maintain, and advance the close relationship between Australia and the United States in military and intelligence matters; to further the free trade agreement between the two countries; and a "public diplomacy" role to convince Australians that the United States really does love them. He plans to put the views of United States pharmaceutical companies, which want greater access to Australian markets under the free trade agreement. It might be noted that pharmaceutical industry profits are way above industry norms, and that the Australian Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme [PBS] delivered Australians the cheapest drugs in the world, effectively by bulk-buying for the whole country. The PBS was watered down by John Howard by putting a drug industry person on its innermost group after furious lobbying by the United States pharmaceutical company Pfizer.

    It is not surprising that McCallum would be pushing this agenda, as he has been pushing the agenda of the tobacco industry for a long time. It is very disappointing that the United States has appointed such an ambassador here—and someone has to say so.