Is the Sydney Morning Herald working for its readers or its staff?
What was the War Memorial Council thinking? Remove God and replace with the Word of Paul Keating.

UPDATED The Sydney Morning Herald could have told us a bit more about their international relations expert Dr Fernandes

The most read article on the Sydney Morning Herald website is this one - here's the headline.

Tony Abbott's ALP criticism could affect US links

The man who tells us that Tony Abbott's comments could affect US links is Dr Clinton Fernandes. The SMH says:

International studies expert Clinton Fernandes told Fairfax Media Mr Abbott’s comments to the Washington Post left behind an image of “courseness (sic), amateurishness and viciousness”.

Mr Fernandes, an associate professor of international and political studies at the University of New South Wales, said Mr Abbott’s predecessors, including John Howard, “would never have done any of this stuff, ever”.

“President Obama would never have made similar comments about his Republican opponent Mitt Romney in this country,” Mr Fernandes added.

This video interview between journalist Tim Lester and Dr Fernandes features in the story.

Nowhere in the video or published story does the Sydney Morning Herald disclose Dr Fernandes's background with the Australian Army, East Timor and the Howard Government.

In 1999 Captain Fernandes was an Intelligence Officer with the Australian Army as we deployed to East Timor.   His specific expertise was Indonesian/East Timorese intelligence and he had produced a very explicit synopsis of the Indonesian military's plans to retain East Timor. 

During 1999 a large amount of intelligence material relating to East Timor and events leading to its independence from Indonesia was leaked to the press, much of the material that was leaked had been created at Captain Fernandes's desk.

As The Age reports:

This was Australia's biggest leak of secret defence and intelligence information to the media. While not of the same scale as WikiLeaks' recent publication of US diplomatic cables, the 1999 East Timor leaks involved numerous highly sensitive documents, many classified "Top Secret Codeword", a much higher security classification than any of the WikiLeaks material.

THE EAST Timor leaks were always going to create political turmoil. Their effect was to call into question the Howard government's truthfulness as it dealt with East Timor's move to independence from Indonesia.

The journalist Philip Dorling describes being raided by police seeking evidence on the source of the leaks.   He writes:

That same morning AFP agents also raided the home of a friend, Captain Clinton Fernandes, an army intelligence officer based in Sydney.

Fernandes was suspended from duty pending further investigation. After a long inquiry he was reinstated and promoted to the rank of major. He has always denied being the source of the leaks.

Dr Fernandes was suspended from the Army for 12 months and was the subject of much controversy and investigation.   If it was me and I was innocent I would be very angry.   And I don't think I would be able to provide a balanced commentary about conservative governments for a very long time.

Here's Clinton Fernandes's partner Deb Salvango talking to Australian Story about her partner and his army colleague Lieutenant Colonel Lance Collins.

DEB SALVANGO, CLINTON FERNANDES' PARTNER: After the raids, Clinton was put on 12 months suspension. There were no charges laid against neither Clinton nor Lance in relation to the leaks.

LT COL. LANCE COLLINS: You know, someone in Canberra decided to take me and others out in regard to that Federal Police investigation.

DEB SALVANGO, CLINTON FERNANDES' PARTNER: What happened to Clinton and to Lance was...the military and, the Department of Foreign Affairs probably sending a strong message to anyone within the defence forces that dissenting views will not be tolerated. Sadly.

A simple google search reveals much of the history.   But the Sydney Morning Herald either didn't do it, or didn't care to tell its readers about its expert on international relations and his history with conservative Australian Governments.

Here's how the SMH presented him.

David wroe

Dr Fernandes service with the army does not appear on his official biography at UNSW Canberra.   It's as if his career started in 2005.


Professional Background
Research Interests

My principal research area is 'International Relations and Strategy'. I focus on the 'National Interest' in Australia's external relations. A sample of my work is here.

Cognitive Science: the evolution of the human language faculty.

Courses Taught

ZHSS1401: Ideals, Interests and Power. (International and Political Studies, First Year, First Semester). Ideals, Interests and Power are central concerns in the study of Politics. ZHSS1401 offers you the opportunity to gain insights into these concerns. You will learn to think critically about power: what is it, and how is it allocated? How do people and countries struggle for it? What values motivate them? What are national interests? How are these interests pursued domestically and in the international arena? How ought we to organise our collective lives? You will be exposed to the discipline's best answers to these and other questions. The course draws on Australian and international examples to help you gain an overview of "Who gets what, when and how" – the fundamental questions of International and Political Studies.

Other courses I have taught:

  • The Politics of Australian Security (undergrad)
  • Introduction to Strategic Studies (undergrad)
  • Modern Political Ideologies (undergrad)
  • Comparative Politics of Southeast Asia (undergrad)
  • Contemporary Strategy (postgrad)
  • The Role of Modern Intelligence (postgrad)

Electronic Publications

  • Companion to East Timor 
    This website is a historical companion to East Timor's war of independence. I am eager to hear from you if you wish to provide texts, documents, photos, recordings, videos or any other material that can enhance the site.
  • Companion to the Balibo film 
    I was Consulting Historian to film director Robert Connolly, who directed the Balibo movie. This website provides some factual commentary for those who have seen the film and want to know more about it.


But his biography does make Dr Fernandes's areas of most research and writing very clear - he seems to write a lot about the history of East Timor and not a lot about the implications for Australia of comments about the Labor Party made by a conservative PM in a Washington DC newspaper.

Finally, Scott Burchill features in some of the media commentary about Clinton Fernandes and the East Timor leaks.   Here's a link to Scott Burchill's website with his media coverage.

And here's a happy snap of Scott, Clinton Fernandes and that bastion of independent commentary and analysis of the shortcomings of conservative governments (and editor of Dr Fernandes's book) Noam Chomsky.

Clinton and noam


In 2005, then Major Fernandes completed his army sponsored PhD and found a publisher for his thesis. The Army took legal action to stop the publication, arguing that the book was highly critical of the Howard Government and that as a serving army officer the public criticism of the government of the day was unprofessional.   The Army's corrspondence pointed to personal criticisms Major Fernandes had made about John Howard and Alexander Downer.

Fairfax's actions this morning in promoting Dr Fernandes solely as an expert on international relations was terribly misleading - rather than including reference to his history of angst with the Howard Government.   It would be like asking me to comment on Julia Gillard without revealing all the drama with The AWU Scandal.   I'm hardly likely to give her conduct a glowing report and I'd expect people to include a reference to that part of our history to render a complete picture.

But apparently Fairfax had more important considerations that letting us know about the Fernandes history.   The conclusion I'm left with is that Fairfax wanted someone with academic credentials in international relations ho was prepared to be critical of Tony Abbott.

Here's the ABC's AM program from 13 October, 2005.

NICK MCKENZIE: In 2004, Major Clinton Fernandes completed a four year PhD project the Army had approved. He approached a publisher, who in turn asked him to turn his PhD thesis into a book.

He completed the manuscript of Reluctant Saviour, an extended essay on Australia's role in East Timor's struggle for independence, and sent his Army superiors a copy.

Major Fernandes also sent an assertion that the book relied solely on publicly available information.

The resulting correspondence between Major Fernandes and some of the Army's most senior officers became increasingly heated and it ultimately prompted the 36-year-old major to complain to the Defence Force's Inspector General that the Army had inappropriately invoked national security and information secrecy laws to stall or stop him publishing the book.

He alleges this was done because of concerns the book was highly critical of the Government and because the Government influenced the actions of the Army hierarchy.

The ABC has obtained some of the letters that formed the basis of Major Fernandes' complaint.

In an initial letter, dated the third September last year, the Deputy Chief of the Army, Major General Ian Gordon, tells Fernandes he must adhere to defence policy on the publication of material of a political nature.

Major Fernandes responds that he's done so.

Words of CLINTON FERNANDES: The book is a private, non-military and scholarly activity undertaken as a private citizen. All material states that I am a Melbourne-based historian. No reference is made to my position in the Defence Force.

NICK MCKENZIE: Two weeks later the Chief of the Army, Peter Lay, wrote to Major Fernandes, asking him not to publish the book because:

Words of PETER LAY: Your book is at times overly critical of Government policy. While you are entitled to such a view, I don't think it is professional to express them in public or print.

NICK MCKENZIE: But the letter also notes the Army could not prevent the book being published. Three days after that, a month after the Army received the manuscript, and just over a week before its publishing deadline, Major Fernandes received another letter, again from the Deputy Chief of the Army. It refers to Major Fernandes' time in the Army's Intelligence Corps in the late 1990s and raises concerns about his access to sensitive information about East Timor.

The letter then refers to laws about prejudicing national security and disclosing confidential information.

Words of PETER LAY: Section 79 of the Crimes Act makes it a criminal offence to disclose classified information without authorisation. In addition, Section 70 makes it a criminal offence to publish information.

Your manuscript is not cleared to be published. Defence will raise any particular concerns with you once the review is completed.

NICK MCKENZIE: Major Fernandes' response accuses the Defence Force of intimidation and harassment. 

Words of CLINTON FERNANDES: My book uses information only in the public domain. The threatening statements are individually intimidatory. The intimidatory effect is very clear when the letters are considered cumulatively.

NICK MCKENZIE: AM has obtained an internal letter from the Defence Department to the Army regarding Major Fernandes' book. This internal document raises no concerns about breaches of national security and critically, it was sent to the Army almost three weeks before the Army raised its concerns about national security and information secrecy laws.

In the letter, Ron Benighton, the Defence Department's Deputy Secretary of Intelligence and Security states that:

Words of RON BENIGHTON: Major Fernandes' manuscript has been examined by the defence intelligence agencies and DFAT, and while it is strongly critical of the Government and especially Foreign Minister Downer and DFAT, there is no basis to preclude publication on grounds of national security.

In relation to his use of classified material, Major Fernandes appears to rely carefully only on information that has already been published in the press, or other open sources.

NICK MCKENZIE: Another Army document, a point-by-point deconstruction of the book focuses on political criticisms.

For instance it states:

"Page 36 contains an implied criticism of the Howard Government. Page 45 to 55 contains criticisms of Mr Downer."