Archive for September, 2019

Drownings feared after Wybung Head cliff mishap

Rescue: One of the survivors is helped to an ambulance last night after the accident at Frazer Park. Photo: Dan IrwinTwo people who jumped into water to rescue their struggling mate are missing, feared drowned at an isolated and treacherous spot off the coast of southern Lake Macquarie.

In a tragic twist, the man who initially fell into water at Wybung Head about 6.30pm was washed back onto the rocks by a wave, while his two friends were left struggling in the surf.

At least two rescue helicopters, a police marine area command vessel, a team of special casualty access team ambulance paramedics and a large contingent of Fire and Rescue NSW officers and police spent more than three hours last night scouring the cliffs and water in the Wybung National Park.

Tuggerah Lakes police Chief Inspector Tim Winmill said a call for help at 6.35pm indicated a man had fallen into the water at Wybung Head, south of Frazer Park.

As emergency services were being dispatched, police received another call that a number of friends had gone in to the water to help him, but had got into trouble themselves.

‘‘Upon arrival police located four persons who were out of the water and at this stage they are looking for two people who remain unaccounted for,’’ a police spokesman said at the scene last night. ‘‘We believe they went in to rescue a person who was washed off the rocks, the person who was washed off the rocks has then been washed back onto the rocks by a wave and the two people who went in originally to rescue the first person are now outstanding and the subject of the search.’’

He said the rescue was made difficult by the rough terrain and onset of the high-tide, which covered several walking trails into the area.

One female was located as far as 76 metres down the cliff.

Police believe the group were from Sydney and were visiting the picturesque but treacherous spot over the long weekend.

The NSW Ambulance helicopter and Hunter Westpac rescue helicopter were called off about 9pm but the search continued on the ground and from the water well into the night.

Inspector Winmill said the Frazer Park coastline provided breathtaking views but had brought many people unstuck over the years.

The area is known as the Frazer Park blowhole and is known as a treacherous spot for rock fishermen and swimmers.

As many as 11 people have been washed to their deaths from rocks at Flat Rock, Snapper Point and Frazer Park since 2005.

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Will Shakespeare’s dictionary prove to be, or not to be, authentic – that is the question

On April 6, the final day of the New York Antiquarian Book Fair, Daniel Wechsler, an exhibitor, asked me if I was free for dinner on Friday night. When I said I was, he replied, ”Dinner’s on me, but you’re not allowed to tell anyone about it and you have to bring a blank cheque.”

Five days later, sitting at the head of a table of nine, he had one more caveat. ”I’m asking you to hold onto this for nine more days. I’ve been sitting on this for six years and my life is about to change forever.”

Wechsler is 46 and tall, he has a gentle smile and real smarts. He studied history and English at Emory University, is married and has two boys. There are other strings to his bow: his documentary on the street photographer Matt Weber More than the Rainbow, will open shortly in theatres in Manhattan and his firm, Sanctuary Books, has a publishing arm.

Wechsler and fellow book dealer George Koppelman believe they have found the holy grail of English Literature: a copy of John Baret’s An Alvearie, or a Quadruple Dictionarie, published in London by Henry Denham in 1580.

What distinguishes this copy are the thousands of annotations throughout in a contemporary hand. They believe these annotations are by William Shakespeare. If they are right, they have found the source of some of the greatest ever plays and poems. It’s not just there are no recorded copies of books from Shakespeare’s library, there are only six accepted signatures by him and, possibly, one manuscript.

The book was acquired in late April 2008. Koppelman, the owner of Cultured Oyster Books, invited Wechsler to bid jointly on a book he’d spotted on eBay. ”George said, ‘hey, do you want to buy Shakespeare’s dictionary?’ ”

They agreed on a final bid of $US4300 and, on April 28, they got the book for $US4050. Wechsler is unequivocal: ”Only $US250 separated us from never having had this experience.

”We bought the book with the possibility that it was [Shakespeare’s], but more seriously as an annotated Elizabethan dictionary.” He smiles, ”I mean, if we really thought it was his, we would have bid more than $US4300!”

Finds of this magnitude are always tainted with suspicion. However, it’s generally believed forging an entire book is simply too much trouble and will never realise the sort of return that forging a Matisse would, for example. That changed recently with the revelations of a forged copy of Galileo’s 1610 Sidereus Nuncius, the book that launched his career.

Unlike the Galileo, it doesn’t purport to be a book by Shakespeare. This isn’t a copy of the First Folio, it’s not a manuscript draft of Hamlet. It’s only through the perseverance of Wechsler and Koppelman in following the trail and patterns of the annotations themselves that it seems even possible the annotator was Shakespeare. As the story unfolded over dinner, we learnt the blank cheques in our pockets were to buy a copy of Shakespeare’s Beehive, the 300-page book Wechsler and Koppelman have just published supporting their claim.

Wechsler and Koppelman aren’t alone in noticing the relationship between Baret and Shakespeare. In 1944, Shakespeare scholar T.W. Baldwin noted that Baret’s Alvearie was the standard dictionary of the day and that Shakespeare would have ”turned many a time and oft to Baret for his varied synonyms”.

Shakespeare’s Beehive begins by explaining first how Shakespeare could have come to possess the book. His childhood acquaintance Richard Field moved to London before him and apprenticed himself to the French printer Thomas Vautrollier. It’s speculated Shakespeare probably lodged with Field in London and Field may have helped Shakespeare acquire work as a proofreader for Denham.

Additionally, the annotator seems preoccupied with two letters in particular, and he imitates the capitalised entries in the Baret. The two letters: W and S. He does it five times with the W, three times with the S and with no other letter in the alphabet.

Most important are the multitude of examples connecting the annotations to text from the plays and poems. To cite just two, they show how a small circle beside the following entry ”Forsworne, perjured, false, that hath broken his oth” leads us directly to Sonnet 152.

In loving thee thou know’st I am forsworne,

But thou art twice forsworne, to me love swearing;

In act thy bed-vow broake, and new faith torne,

In vowing new hate after new love bearing:

But why of two othes breach doe I accuse thee,

When I breake twenty? I am periur’d most;

For all my vows are othes but to misuse thee,

And all my honest faith in thee is lost.

Another example is where the annotator has written beside the entry for ”Scabbard: vide sheath” the word ”vagina”, which is a Latin synonym. This immediately calls to mind one of the final speeches in Romeo and Juliet where awakening to find that her love has killed himself says:

Yea noise? then ile be briefe. O happy dagger,

This is thy sheath, there rust and let me dye.

Although sheath nominally refers to the cover for a sword, the sexual connotations of the word were not lost on Shakespeare. It’s important to recognise many of the synonyms only appear in this edition of Baret. The accumulation of annotations and the way they lead directly to the work, makes their case persuasive.

More intriguing still is the blank leaf at the end of the book on which the annotator has written 210 words in English and French. Wechsler dates the writing on this sheet to 1598 when Shakespeare was in the process of writing Henry IV parts I & II, The Merry Wives of Windsor and leading up to the writing of Henry V. Wechsler and Koppelman show how all of these words feature in the plays – and is of added significance as Henry V is the only play in which Shakespeare includes a substantial amount of French.

Despite the evidence, the fact the book is unsigned is a problem. Another potential issue is the annotations appear to be in several different hands.

However, this might not be as large an obstacle as it appears. Of the six accepted Shakespeare signatures, those known as examples B and C were signed on consecutive days and look distinctly different. Additionally, we know that in the Elizabethan period writing in a variety of hands was encouraged and seen as graceful.

From the beginning, they reached out to scholars for assistance. Wechsler says: ”They were extremely helpful giving advice but it was also clear that they weren’t going to jeopardise their reputations.”

Shakespeare biographer and scholar Stephen Greenblatt is enthusiastic about the dictionary as an unheralded Shakespeare source book. ”It would reinforce, in a fascinating way, Shakespeare’s passion for language. We know that Shakespeare had an eye out for unusual words – but we have only limited knowledge of where he went to find them.”

However, he’d ”not had time to weigh the evidence” of it being Shakespeare’s copy.

Wechsler is prepared for the fact that no matter how strong the evidence, some people simply won’t believe them. He also feels opening up the dictionary to scholars will reveal further evidence. ”If George and I can see this, what will they find?”

In their official statement, the Folger Shakespeare Library thought it ”premature to join Koppelman and Wechsler in what they have described as their ‘leap of faith’.”

Heather Wolfe, curator of manuscripts at the Folger, feels the ”handwriting is a big problem. The annotations need to be read against and compared to the handwriting of many other early modern annotators, not just Shakespeare’s.” Having said that, she agrees the book would be ”a great addition” to the Folger’s collection.

Folger director, Dr Michael Witmore, gives further perspective: ”A deeply early modern dictionary annotated in the playwright’s hand would have to be top of any Shakespearean’s wish list. But even if this isn’t Shakespeare’s handwriting, the annotated Alvearie is exciting because it gives us a glimpse into that creative encounter between an early modern reader and words on the page.”

So what is it? At the very least, the Alvearie is a now a recognised Shakespeare source book. At most, they’ve made one of the most significant finds in the history of literature. Invariably, the question of money comes into it. Wechlser is reluctant to discuss numbers, but ”after scholars have had time to digest the possibility and go over the evidence” they are looking to sell it.

To put it in context, the last First Folio to sell at auction made £2.5 million ($4.5 million) in London in 2006.

The dictionary is kept in a secure storage facility. It can be viewed online at shakespearesbeehive苏州美甲培训

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Click go the shears: Joe Hockey softens up the public for budget pain

It has become an autumn ritual in national politics. As the trees turn yellow in Canberra, treasurers recycle a well-worn narrative of budget pain. They speak of tough calls, difficult choices and the need for sacrifice if the nation’s books are to balance.

After many years of budget watching, the veteran market economist Saul Eslake says treasurers in newly elected governments have an additional part of the script that requires them to say that ”their predecessors left things in worse shape than previously disclosed, so that the decisions contained in the forthcoming budget will be even more ‘difficult’ and ‘painful’ than would have otherwise been the case”.

But even by the standards of incoming treasurers, Joe Hockey’s language has been strident.

Hockey has warned of a ”tsunami” of spending demands and that the budget will be in deficit ”for at least a decade” without big changes.

This week Hockey said he was morally obliged to repair the government’s finances.

”We owe it to our children not to leave them with a mortgage that paid for our lifestyle,” he said.

The ominously named commission of audit, ordered soon after the Abbott government gained office, has added extra spice to this year’s budget prelude.

The 900-page report, which includes 86 recommendations, will be released next Thursday. Hockey gave a sneak peak in a Wednesday speech titled ”The Case for Change”. ”The report makes it clear that Australia has a serious spending problem,” he said.

The audit focuses on the 15 largest and fastest-growing government programs, mainly covering welfare, health, education and defence.

They are, in almost all cases, projected to grow faster than average government expenditure and expand faster than the economy. ”To put it simply, our biggest costs are also our fastest-growing,” Hockey warned.

Hockey singled out the age pension, which at $40 billion a year is the biggest single government program by a fair margin.

”Increasingly the burden of our ageing is being borne by other people,” he said.

”Of Australians over the age of 65, four out of five receive a full or part pension. If we also take into account the concessionary health card, then only 14 per cent of older Australians receive no government payments.

”At least for the age pension, this situation is unlikely to be much different in 2050. Despite spending billions of dollars in taxation benefits for superannuation, by 2050 the ratio of Australians receiving a full or part pension will still be around four out of five.”

Demand for government programs is outstripping the capacity of taxpayers to fund them – between 2010 and 2050 the percentage of people of working age supporting those over the age of 65 will almost halve.

”So the policies must be changed, either now or more dramatically in the future,” Hockey said.

The Treasurer’s tough rhetoric is reminiscent of his Liberal predecessor Peter Costello, who made much of the ”Beazley black hole” unearthed when the Coalition won office in 1996.

That line was an integral part of the Howard government’s political rhetoric for more than a decade.

Hansard shows Hockey himself was still telling Parliament about the ”Beazley black hole” in 2008, more than 12 years after it was unearthed.

Costello managed big spending cuts of between 0.5 to 1 per cent of gross domestic product during his first two years in office. But as the proceeds from the mining boom rolled in, the Howard government did not maintain its spending restraint.

In Wednesday’s speech, Hockey forecast a much more frugal approach. His target is to limit annual spending growth to an unprecedented 1.75 per cent above inflation for a decade.

It is unusual for an incoming Treasurer to peer so far into the future with such ambition.

”That would be heroic if they pulled it off,” said John Daley, chief executive of the Grattan Institute.

”It would be a lot better than any Australian government has done for a very long time.”

The fiscal future Hockey foreshadows is in marked contrast to what many voters have come to expect from budgets. For most of this century, budget night has been like a financial lucky dip. No voter had to wait long before something came their way.

But those days are now gone.

”If Australians ask themselves of the budget in May ‘what’s in it for me?’ my response will be ‘a better future,’ ” Hockey said on Wednesday.

”I ask Australians not to judge this budget on what they get or lose today. This budget is about our quality of life for the years ahead.”

Budget hawks are urging Hockey to follow Costello’s example and wield the axe. ”Our main advice to the new government is to cut early and cut hard, because they will never have a better chance than now to fix the budget,” said Stephen Anthony, an economist at consultancy firm Macroeconomics.

But some economists think Hockey is exaggerating his budget problems. After all, Australia’s financial position is far better than that of most advanced countries.

Australia is one of only eight nations with a stable outlook AAA rating from all three credit agencies. How does that fit with talk of a budget crisis?

”Mr Hockey has got an easier job than finance ministers just about anywhere else in the world,” says Stephen Koukoulas, an economist and former adviser to prime minister Julia Gillard.

Koukoulas thinks Hockey is right to take action to improve the budget position but he likens the problem to a Rolls-Royce with a flat tyre.

”Sure, you’ve just got to fix the tyre, but you’ve still got a Rolls-Royce,” he said. ”It’s hardly a disaster.”

Eslake says Hockey can be forgiven for using extreme language about the budget situation, given the need to build political support for far-reaching reforms.

But he thinks the short-term impact of next month’s budget will be constrained by promises made by the Coalition before the last election and by the fragile state of the economy, which could be harmed by a sharp contraction in government spending.

”What’s different about Hockey’s toughening up rhetoric … is that the tough decisions he’s talking about are ones that are going to impact after 2016-17,” he said.

”Firstly, that would allow the government to argue that it has not broken promises made before the election. ”Number two, that’s sensible economics because it doesn’t inflict damage on the economy when it’s not well-placed to handle it.

”And number three, it’s actually directed at where the real problem is.”

The Grattan Institute’s Daley doubts whether Hockey’s tough talk will be matched by his actions, in view of the Coalition’s election commitments.

”Given the size of the problem, the kinds of things they are talking about just don’t look big enough to get us out of trouble,” he said.

Daley points out that imposing a $6 co-payment on each visit to the doctor – one of the measures proposed in the budget prelude – will raise only about $250 million a year.

”When your budget hole is $30 billion and rapidly rising … $250 million is a rounding error,” he said.

”The kinds of things that are big enough to make a difference are, by and large, the things that the Prime Minister has taken off the table.”

Daley says the government must do something more than just saying ”trust us” to get the budget on a sustainable footing over time.

”A credible approach is one that shows you are on a plausible path to surplus within the next three or four years, bearing in mind that at this point in the economic cycle Australia should be running a balanced budget, and it’s not even close,” he said.

Earlier this month Treasury secretary Martin Parkinson warned that without any changes in policy, the budget would be in deficit for the next 10 years.

”If this situation came to pass, it would mean that the budget would be in deficit for 16 consecutive years – substantially longer than the seven years of deficits in the early 1990s,” he said.

Parkinson has also pointed out that the effects of bracket creep – when taxpayers are pulled into higher tax brackets as their wages rise – will add to the government’s financial challenge.

Without any changes to the present tax brackets, a taxpayer earning the projected average full-time wage in 2023-24 will pay tax at 28 per cent, up from 23 per cent this year – a rise in the tax burden for those individuals of almost one quarter.

Parkinson warns that this would drive down workforce participation rates and exacerbate further the impact on living standards from an ageing population.

However, any future change in tax brackets to ease the burden on middle-income workers will make the savings task required to return the budget to surplus even bigger.

While Hockey has declined to go into specifics about his budget plans, he has hinted that welfare programs will be a target for long-term savings, including pensions, aged care and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

But Hockey insists the burden will be shared.

”Our approach to budget repair is a principled one,” he said. ”Every sector of the community – households, corporates and the public sector alike – will be expected to contribute.”

Voters will have to wait until budget night, May 13, to discover exactly how much and when.

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Joint Strike Fighter commitment a boost for high-tech manufacturers

The F-35 Lightning II, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter. Photo: Lockheed MartinThe founder of the Melbourne aerospace manufacturer Marand learnt his trade at the city’s Holden plant. Now his company is making carbon fibre and titanium tails for what is promised to be the most formidable fighter plane the world has seen.

Andy Ellul started out in 1969 as a small automotive supplier, but more recently the firm, now run by his son David, has shifted towards aerospace.

Holden is, of course, pulling out of Australia. Ironically, Marand has taken over factory space in Geelong given up by Ford, which is also pulling out.

Aerospace, it turns out, was a good bet.

“Ten years ago, we’d never had an export order,” general manager Rohan Stocker says. ”Now we’re probably about 70 per cent exports. This is a story of transition.”

The source of much of this lucrative work? The Joint Strike Fighter, the revolutionary if controversial stealth fighter to which the Abbott government firmly committed Australia this week.

The debate as to the merits of the fighter – its flaws, its delays, its considerable cost – will rage on. Taxpayers might be a little punch drunk after learning the 58 planes the government this week committed to buy will cost $24 billion over their lifetime, never mind its tangled efforts to claim the money is already put aside.

The commitment has made local defence manufacturers a little more bullish.

Under a deal struck with Washington in 2002, Australian firms get to bid for work on the gargantuan program – its cost worldwide is likely to top $1 trillion. It’s an important part of the sales pitch for the federal government and prime contractor Lockheed Martin.

Some $335 million in manufacturing work has already gone to Australian firms and it is hoped this will rise to $1.5 billion. All up, including servicing and support over coming decades, the government says business opportunity could reach $7.5 billion. It will not replace the car industry, but it is high-tech work and a green shoot in manufacturing.

But those opportunities depend on our buying a decent number of the fighters, also called the F-35 Lightning II, from the US. The original expectation was for 100 aircraft. The Abbott government’s announcement this week takes Australia’s commitment to 72 – and possibly up to 24 more when the current Super Hornet is ready for retirement from 2030 onward.

As some close observers remarked this week after Abbott posed in the cockpit of a mock F-35 at Fairbairn military airport in Canberra, the timing of the purchase announcement had as much to do with shoring up local work as it did the defence of the nation.

“A lot of companies in Australia had been worried that unless the government starts talking about large numbers, they could be cut back on their work,” one insider said.

Abbott said his government made defence announcements according to defence priorities. But the insider said that if the government had dithered for a year or two, or even – heaven forbid – ordered a batch of rival planes as a stop-gap while the F-35 flaws were being ironed out, some of those local industry chances would likely have evaporated.

Stocker says the announcement provides some certainty to firms such as Marand. “We’re definitely more comfortable,” he says. The firm expects at least 15 years’ work out of the F-35.

The most complex and lucrative work is locked down by the big boys – Lockheed Martin itself, principal partners Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems as well as engine-maker Pratt & Whitney. But they are subcontracting to hundreds of firms around the world. Marand’s manufacture of the tails, for instance, is subcontracted by BAE.

“No one at the back of Sunshine is going to build a shed and start making Pratt & Whitney-competitive engines,” Australian Strategic Policy Institute defence economist Mark Thomson says. “But there’s a whole range of areas where Australian manufacturers can produce components for the F-35 at a competitive rate and are doing so – and that’s a great thing.”

All up, 18 local firms are part of the global supply chain. Companies such as Chemring Australia – which is making launchable flares to help the F-35 dodge missiles – and Sydney-based Quickstep – which makes material for the tail and body – are expected to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.

The work is not dished out like a sheltered workshop – the practice in the past for many defence projects shared between nations. Rather, it must be won. Ultimately it will be up to Australian firms to bid for the business at a competitive price, Australian Industry Group defence expert John O’Callaghan says.

But given there will be as many as 3000 F-35s built in the coming decades – the US alone expects to acquire more than 2500 – O’Callaghan says Australia can reach the lofty dollar figures the government is predicting. He applauds Abbott’s push towards high-tech manufacturing.

“These are the smart companies of the future … tapping into a global supply chain that can help turn an old-style, traditional manufacturing base into a base for the future,” he says.

With all the gloom in manufacturing and fears of the so-called “Valley of Death” for shipbuilders as work dries up, the added certainty the F-35 program provides is a shot in the arm for defence firms, Australian Industry & Defence Network national president Alan Rankins says.

“There is an air of cautious optimism in the defence industry again that things will happen,” he says. “This area and shipbuilding were areas of particular concern. We still haven’t seen any resolution for shipbuilding, but this is a real step in the right direction for the aerospace industry.”

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China spreads its watching web of surveillance across Australia

Face-off: Chinese and Tibetan protesters clash in Canberra. Photo: Jason SouthFairfax Media reported this week that China was building covert networks of informants at leading universities in Melbourne and Sydney to keep tabs on ethnic Chinese lecturers and students.

The Chinese consulate in Sydney denounced the report as ”totally groundless” and having ”ulterior motives”, while reminding Australia that China has become its largest source of international students. Hong Kong’s Phoenix Television, which beams into China and across the diaspora, interviewed two Chinese students in Sydney who both said the report was ”unfounded”. The Global Times, a popular nationalist tabloid that is a subsidiary of the People’s Daily, posited that Fairfax was being used by the ”US-Australia intelligence system” to manage its ”public relations crisis” since Edward Snowden’s revelations.

Those reports generated thousands of comments and tens of thousands of messages across social media, most of which raged against the ”groundless” Fairfax report and the political agendas of the Western media. Many wrote letters directly. Beneath the venom and profanities, however, there were other messages it would be dangerous for Australian institutions to ignore.

”You know our face, what we look like, but you don’t know why we behave like that, as described in your article,” said Albert Zhang, a student at Bond University, in an email that linked to a video of a Melbourne University lecture titled ”When China Rules the World”. ”In Australia, we are just a minority group. We are not expecting your asshole government is going to stand for our interests … [We] have to rely on pressure from our asshole government. Another point I want to make is we feel homesick from time to time.

”If you didn’t have any experience of living abroad for years, thousands of miles from your mother country, separated from culture and food, you would probably never figure how eagerly we [look forward to] any greeting from our hometown, not to mention the greetings from the leaders of our government.”

In one example, reported by Fairfax on Monday, Ministry of State Security officials told parents in China to constrain the activities of their son, after informants in Australia said he had seen the Dalai Lama. In another, a senior lecturer was interrogated by officials from China’s Ministry of State Security over comments about democracy he made in a closed-door seminar at the University of NSW.

Yang Hengjun is a novelist and online commentator who stepped down from his career as a Chinese diplomat to resettle his family in Sydney just before the Sydney Olympics. While audience figures are hard to pin down in China, he counts his blog readers in their millions. In April 2008, after bloody race riots had rocked the Tibetan plateau, Yang watched with concern as the Chinese propaganda system raged against amorphous ”Western Hostile Forces” conspiring to dismember China. He watched footage of pro-Tibet protesters creating mayhem at the Olympic torch relay in London – on route to Canberra and ultimately Beijing – and he tracked the furious Chinese internet response.

But nothing he had written sparked an inferno like the gently worded essay he posted on April 16, which described how Australians eight years earlier in 2000 had laughed at attempts to extinguish the torch in Sydney and urged angry Chinese students to cool down. ”Foreign dog”, ”white ghost”, ”beggar”, ”Han traitor” and ”running dog”, said his anonymous internet assailants, some of whom said he should be shot. Within 24 hours he counted more than 1000 hostile attacks. He stuck to his position, with gently reasoned argument, despite the Mao-era language hurled at him.

”I’m sending a friendly message to the Chinese government that this is very serious,” Yang said at the time. ”And I’m telling Chinese students here they are stupid: if you really want to show your patriotism, then go to Tiananmen Square.”

While Yang was dealing with the fall-out from his posts, a Chinese security official said Chinese diplomatic missions and companies were helping to organise and sponsor volunteer units to protect the passage of the torch. A Chinese student leader, speaking by phone from Canberra, said the Chinese embassy had promised to provide free interstate bus rides as well as breakfasts and lunches on arrival. A Chinese-language newspaper, Australian New Express Daily, rushed to import 1000 Chinese flags as part of a campaign to ”dye Australia red”.

On April 23, Australian law-enforcement officers knew thousands of protesters were coming, but they did not know how many until they counted the buses leaving Sydney and Melbourne that morning. Some were struck not by the numbers – estimated to be about 10,000 – but by the ”military precision” with which they were deployed. Protesters dispersed themselves evenly at sites and intersections where television crews would gather, and, when the torch passed, they rolled on to new locations to systematically cover the 20-kilometre route. Pro-Tibet protesters were obstructed – hidden by red-flags – but with minor exceptions, the Chinese students were meticulously non-violent.

Beijing was happy there was no unsightly interference with the spectacle of the torch relay, which dominated the television news at home. The Australian Federal Police showed they were far better at crowd control than their counterparts in San Francisco, Paris and London. Many Australians were simply bewildered. When the spectacle had passed, intelligence agencies sat down to try to map the networks in universities and beyond that enabled all this to take place. It was ”very illuminating”, says an Australian official.

There have been no repeats of anything like the student protests in Canberra in 2008, perhaps because the gains were questionable and the broader public relations costs were high. However, the organisational web is growing more elaborate.

At the core of the system are the Chinese Students and Scholars Association branches, which are prominent at every major university and which are complemented by sub-groups, umbrella groups and cultural associations. These associations are public and mostly they provide community services that universities seem unable to deliver.

They can serve to gather information and promote political objectives, but sensitive informant work is handled by higher-level political counsellors, according to members of Australia’s Chinese community. Rarely, it seems, does this work graduate to the level of espionage.

”Obviously, some of China’s practices don’t match the Western conception of a spy,” says Yang Hengjun, the Sydney writer, referring to the term used in the headline of the Fairfax article on Monday. Rather, he says, ”it’s an extension of the Leninist, Stalinist state and its efforts to control the masses, including through thought reporting and reporting the offences of others”.

Yang, who retains impeccable connections inside the Chinese system despite his advocacy for democracy, has found that speeches he has given overseas have been misreported to ”the relevant organs”. For this, he blames amateur informants who seek ”funding and attention”.

The Ministry of State Security is mainly responsible for espionage, as distinct from informant work. The ministry can work through embassies but also directly into the community, according to officials, retired intelligence officers and members of the Chinese community here.

The ministry’s provincial bureaus can work directly in Australia, without co-ordinating with each other, according to one member of the Chinese community who has been interrogated by different provincial arms about comments made overseas.

Separately, two departments of the People’s Liberation Army are responsible for electronic espionage, agents and influence. It is this level of Chinese espionage work – conducted directly by the Ministry of State Security and the PLA – that is driving the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation to build significant new counter-intelligence capabilities, according to Australian officials.

Overseas Chinese surveillance and influence work is also performed by the United Front Work Department and its government analogue, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, as well as various business, native place and patriotic associations that report to them. The State Council agency that is responsible for united front work among the overseas Chinese is called, unimaginatively, the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office.

Leaders of these united front organisations appear more demanding. In 2009, a Politburo-level leader, Wang Zhaoguo, urged Chinese people returned from overseas and their relatives to ”do a better job of uniting the force of the circle of overseas Chinese around the party and the government”, according to the Xinhua news agency.

This year, President Xi Jinping sent a personal and probably unprecedented Chinese New Year letter to all Chinese studying in Germany. According to Xinhua, he urged them ”to use what they have learnt to serve the motherland and the Chinese people”.

What should Australia do about it?

Yang says Australia and the West long ago shelved the values of freedom, equality and democracy when dealing with China, and it is too late to enforce them now.

”If Australia no longer cares about human rights in China, then of course it can do nothing about Chinese students reporting [to authorities],” Yang says. ”To respond in extreme ways would itself violate human rights, and this is the paradox.”

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