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I cannot remember when I first became aware of Nelson Mandela or of the system of government he was trying to change. I was an 18 year old Jackaroo in The Kimberly’s of Western Australia when he was sentenced to life in prison on Friday 12 June 1964. There was no connection when working with Aboriginals and they were paid in tea, sugar and whatever else station owners felt appropriate or didn’t want.

An awareness must have occurred at the University of Western Australia, where there was a desultory anti-apartheid movement, competing with a slightly more active anti-Vietnam movement. I studied politics and history where I must have picked something up, but not enough to stop me watching the Springboks play rugby in Perth in 1971. The demonstrations did, however, make me ask questions and by the time I joined the Department of Foreign Affairs in January 1972, I knew about Mandela and Apartheid.

I was posted as a diplomat to South Africa in 1976. Arriving on I July, just two weeks after the Soweto riots had broken out. At that time there was ambivalence on the part of Australian politicians and within the department as to how far Australia should go in opposing Apartheid or whether it should be opposed at all.

My predecessor at the post, Di Johnstone, had made contact with black South African artists and trade unionists. We had a hand over of a week and she introduced me to friends living in black townships close to Pretoria, which she fearlessly entered at the wheel of her own car.

Mandela was everywhere; a living presence, a constant in the conversations of black South Africans and white activists. He was a spiritual being, mention of his name invoked hope, he epitomised what people were fighting for and against. His name was evoked, chanted and put into song outside the court houses where political trials of black activists took place.

Defined by his commitment to end the evil of Apartheid, Nelson Mandela became a symbol of good. He was a leader, along with the Dali Lama, for whom rightful adulation was his natural companion. Throughout the world many have been inspired by his single minded quest for justice and decency.

Born on 18 July 1918 in the Transkei, Nelson Mandela led the idyllic life of a bush boy until at nine he was sent away to be educated. In 1939 he was accepted to study law at the University of Fort Hare. He completed two years before the call of Johannesburg took hold. Fortunately he found work as an articled clerk with a sympathetic Jewish lawyer. He completed his degree by correspondence. He joined the ANC in 1944 and was quickly recognized as a person of considerable intellect and talent.

Nelson Mandela helped draw up the Freedom Charter which was adopted in 1955. In 1956 he was charged with treason and acquitted. In 1960 the tragic Sharpeville Massacre occurred, which set the tone of the relationship between black and white South Africans for the next thirty years.

For most of the time he was in prison the government and the majority of white South Africans never mentioned him. For them he was where he should be, locked in prison for life on Robben Island off Cape Town. He was a terrorist, a communist and a threat to white supremacist politics; otherwise known as Apartheid, which was the complete separation of the races including housing, schooling, hospitals and marriage. Blacks were not allowed to use the same public toilets as whites, the same public benches or travel in the same buses. Blacks were paid a lot less than whites and were abused and humiliated on a daily basis. Blacks were in a majority of four to one.

Every day in the weeks and months after my arrival, the press was full of the riots. The Rand Daily Mail, The Star and The Pretoria News carried graphic pictures of black students challenging the police and stories of unrestrained police brutality. The Ambassador announced that the riots were due to criminal elements, stirred up by communist agitators. He directed I write a memo on the state of the South African economy.

I was directed not to report the causes of the rioting and to keep coverage of black affairs to a minimum. This was no good. The shame of Apartheid confronted me a week or so after my arrival. An old black woman was repeatedly by-passed for service in a shop in favour of younger white customers, a black man was beaten at a bus stop because he did not have a pass to be in a white area and blacks would not look at me on the street, they walked with eyes averted and I sensed the hostility.

In fact the tension in the air was palpable. It felt as if the country was on the edge of a revolution – it was. The police could not cope so they called in the army. I had been watching, listening, looking from behind the walls of white privilege. Nearly three months had gone by, I felt ready to enter the fray. As I was forbidden from writing on black affairs I had to resort to what became a favourite tool, a record of conversation. It stood as a document of what had transpired between me and the person I had chosen to talk to or interview. This particular document could not be altered by anyone except the record taker.

Synonymous with the name Nelson Mandela amongst the black youngsters was a new name, that of Steve Biko, the charismatic young leader of The Black Consciousness Movement. He was banned to King Williams Town in the Eastern Cape, but his organisation had an office in Johannesburg. I had spoken to black youngsters in Mamelodi and Attridgeville, townships close to Pretoria; they urged me to speak to these BCM office holders in Johannesburg.

I went up flights of dingy stairs to a small office crowded with hostile black men who proceeded to abuse me as representative of everything they loathed and detested about whites. I stood my ground, offered cigarettes and we started talking. The most aggressive was Tom Manthata, later he apologised and we laughed about it. Later still he went to prison and I used to visit him as well as Steve Biko’s sister, Bandi, who was locked up in a prison known as The Fort in Johannesburg.

I had my record of conversation and a list of contacts inside Soweto. A recommendation went ahead of me to Steve Biko in King Williams Town. The most important black network then operating in South Africa was opening up to me.

Within the Embassy a showdown was looming. The Ambassador did not like my records of conversation and marked me well down on my annual assessment. When I suggested that he was out of touch, he demanded my recall to Australia.That did not happen when I pointed out that he had refused to make representations on instruction from the Australian Foreign Minister on behalf of three detained black members of the YWCA. Incredibly he sent this exchange back to Canberra and was himself recalled.

I began visiting Soweto, talking to a range of people including teachers and school kids, although the schools were closed. Through Donald Woods, the courageous and outspoken newspaper editor of the East London, Daily Dispatch, I was able to meet Steve Biko and obtain a really great record of conversation. He talked at length about forging an alliance between the BCM and the ANC and his admiration for Mandela. Biko never met Mandela but he was a tangible presence in all of our conversations. Biko and I got along. He was a natural leader, helped by being tall, smart and good looking. I became good friends with Donald Woods and helped him leave the country with the manuscript of the book ’Biko’ he had just completed but couldn’t publish in South Africa.

At the time Donald was banned following the murder of Steve Biko by police in a prison cell in Port Elizabeth. All of the BCM leadership was banned or in gaol. The murder of Biko was such a shame, it was such a waste and it reduced me to tears.

For some time ANC members came from underground and made themselves known to me, usually wanting help of one sort or another. BCM members did the same and also needed help. Some left the country to join the ANC and undertake military training, others wanted the protection my diplomatic status offered to visit friends or for me to take secure messages to colleagues banned to distant towns and locations. There was a Catholic Bishop in a nearby country that was also a senior figure in the ANC and in the highly charged and uncertain times created by the banning and detention of so many activists many wanted and needed to visit him and other leaders who had fled South Africa to nearby countries in order to get direction.

Others needed a safe haven from the police for a period of time, so they stayed in my house which offered them diplomatic protection and others needed my intervention with the police so that they could return home without fear of harassment. Others needed to leave the country for good so I took them.

The spirit of Nelson Mandela was present at the funeral of Steve Biko, where his name and importance in the struggle was invoked as often as that of Steve Biko’s. It was also present at the inquest into the death of Steve Biko in Pretoria, where the songs and chants underlined his importance in maintaining the fight against Apartheid.

Winnie Mandela maintained a high profile during these years and helped keep Nelson before the white owned and run media. For her trouble she was banned to the small rural town of Brandfort with her daughters only to come home one night to find her house, with many important papers, burnt down. It is my belief that the constant pressure from the security police eventually unbalanced Winnie.

Life in South Africa in the late seventies was fraught. And the more it became known that I was willing to help, the more the requests and the more I felt compelled to do. It was a strange situation because no one at the Embassy knew what I was doing. I was living a strange double life and the two never came together.

A lot of black and white friends suffered while I was in South Africa and some died. I felt angry and impotent. I had shifted a long way, but I had not been able to take the Australian Government with me. Just as today with the question of refugees there were some truly awful defenders of Apartheid including John Howard.

On return, together with Di Johnstone, I quietly lobbied for change in South Africa. But I was not really up to it. I was quite worn out. Everything in my life was an effort, nothing was easy and I was cross that no-one seemed to care about South Africa, about those tiny white coffins I saw every Monday, lined up against the wall of the clinic in the squatter settlement of Mabopane forty minutes from central Pretoria, because the drinking water in wells was being mixed with sewerage in pits at the same depth.
I first met Nelson Mandela at a lunch held in Parliament House in Canberra on 23 October 1990 during his visit to Australia not long after he was released from prison. We talked, but not for long. Earlier that year had seen a visit to Australia by Donald Woods and his wife Wendy as special guests for Refugee Week. The next time I met Nelson Mandela was at the unveiling of a statue to Steve Biko in East London in September 1997. He was in good form and worked the crowd.

I was in South Africa in June 2010 at the time of The Wold Cup, when Zenani, a great- grandchild of Nelson, was killed in a car accident, nonetheless, he turned up and performed his public duties in relation to The World Cup despite his grief.

At that time was launched Ifa Lethu, an organisation I had helped establish with Di Johnstone to receive black works of art back into South Africa which had been taken to many countries during Apartheid. It was chaired and guided through its early stages by a friend, Dr Mamphela Ramphele, a former Director of the World Bank and close associate of Steve Biko. From an initial joint donation from Johnstone and Haigh of 70 works, the collection has now grown to over 500 works of returned art. Malcolm Fraser is the Australian patron.

Mamphela also greatly assisted me in running an education program for black South Africans in the early nineties.
Whereas once white South Africans either refused to acknowledge Nelson Mandela or were spitefully cruel in their comments about him, today more than 95% would see him as a great South African, much of it stemming from his embrace of white South Africa, from his publicly acknowledged affection for his white prison guard on Robben Island to his embrace of the Springbok Rugby Team in 1994 portrayed in the 2009 film ‘Invictus’.

Elections were held in 1994 and Nelson Mandela became President. The final statement is his. Addressing the court at the end of what was known as the Rivonia Treason Trial Nelson Mandela said, “Above all, we want equal political rights…It is not true that the enfranchisement of all will result in racial domination…the ANC has spent half a century fighting against racialism. When it triumphs it will not change that policy. This then is what the ANC is fighting for…It is a struggle of the African people, inspired by their own suffering and their own experience. It is a struggle for the right to live.

I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die. “

Nelson Mandela was the biggest, warmest and most understanding person in politics we have seen in modern times. He rose above mediocrity, the pedantic daily dealings and petty politics which remain our lot.

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat, who served in South Africa from 1976/79.

Published: http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=16716&page=1

The so called Islamic State is a marauding force of Sunni adherents with an ambitious and opportunistic agenda. It seeks to fill the political and military vacuum brought about by the first American invasion of Iraq. Acquiring power behind the shield of religion is its modus operandi.

Commonsense and compassion dictates that the rampaging rebels must be halted and contained. They must be stopped from beheading western hostages, abducting and raping women and executing prisoners of war. But who is it that should stop them?

On Monday 15 September France hosted a one day meeting in Paris of thirty countries including the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, major European states, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait the UAE and Iraq’s neighbours; Iraq did not attend and undertakings were vague. Further meetings are planned.

Australia has made preparations to join military action with the United States. Britain and Canada are considering their options. France has undertaken some air strikes in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar and Bahrain have joined US air strikes against targets in Syria. Involvement of the Gulf States is likely to be limited and will not extend to boots on the ground. None are likely to have been enthusiastic volunteers.

This is not Australia’s fight. Despite the recent outbreak of official hysteria, which might incubate some home grown terror, Australia is not threatened in the way Iraq and neighbouring states might feel threatened. This is a fight for a broad coalition of Arab states. In the absence of this why should Australia step up? No doubt the United States feels compelled to contain the damage from past mistakes. The Chinese must be watching askance our rush to the American cause.

Abbott is approaching military involvement as a religious crusade. He has said that anyone fighting for the rebels is against God and religion. He didn’t nominate which God and which religion. The Attorney General, George Brandis, appears to be on the same hymn sheet, describing the ‘mission’ as humanitarian with military elements. They describe the rebels as evil. The original Crusaders saw their missions as an act of love, righting the wrongs of Islamic occupation of the Holy Lands.

Abbott imbued with the history and heraldry of mother England and steeped in the tradition and atmosphere, if not the scholarship, of Oxford appears inspired by Shakespeare’s Henry V, during his invasion of France, “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more; Or close the wall up with our English dead!” English is interchangeable with Australian as we are all subjects of the Crown. Shakespeare’s jingoistic rallying cry ends with, “The games afoot, Follow your spirit, and upon this charge, Cry ‘God for Henry, England and Saint George’!” Words much beloved by school masters and boys of the Empire and which paraphrase Abbott’s televised exhortations.

In 2003 the Royal National Theatre produced Henry V as the invasion Iraq.

As with American entry to the war in Vietnam, this current undertaking is bereft of strategic thinking and planning. There is a forward rush based on emotional footage and commentary. Cool and calm heads are few and far between in the major Australian political parties, there is a reluctance to debate the issues involved. There is a sense that the Australian people are being railroaded; that if the momentum for war was slowed and discussion took place public opinion might give the venture the thumbs down. Abbott and his followers are banging an urgent military tattoo, in order to drown out dissent and numb clear thought.

In building the case for war in Vietnam, media outlets in 1963 were swamped with images of village headmen decapitated, hung and disembowelled by the Viet Cong. Emotion and fear was exploited. The slogan of the time was that it was better to fight communism in Vietnam than at home; Abbott’s better to fight the Jihadists in Iraq than Australia eerily echoes the propaganda from that earlier ill-judged and failed war. From 1962, when there were 1400 American advisers until 1967 when there were 550,000 US led troops in Vietnam, it was downhill all the way.

A small group of Australian officers and warrant officers were sent to help train the Army of South Vietnam in 1962. In 1965 selective conscription was introduced and by 1967 there were 8,300 Australian troops in Vietnam. In all from 1962 – 1972, 60,000 Australians served in Vietnam, 521 died and 3,000 were injured. Nothing was achieved. Negotiations which might have taken place between the south and the north in 1964 were sabotaged by the Americans in the interest of defeating communism.

For emotional, religious and ideological reasons America fatally misread the political and social dynamics of Vietnam. Yet here is Abbott, a latter day lap dog, swallowing every grim US ‘intelligent report’ on IS and Iraq, not factoring in the earlier failure of US policy which has led to the present imbroglio. How exactly does Abbott believe the US confrontation of IS will proceed to a more successful outcome than Vietnam, the first and second Iraq wars and Afghanistan?

US foreign policy is flawed; it is directed by US military imperatives. The US is a militarised democracy with a President captive to the industrial/military complex.

Questions abound. We have gone to war with the IS in conjunction with the Iraqi military in order to support the government of Iraq, but what if the government in Iraq collapses and/or the Iraqi military fades into the desert? Will the ‘Coalition’ continue the war? Will they take over the instruments of the failed Iraqi state? If Vietnam is any guide the answer is yes and with predictable and catastrophic results.

What if IS should have further success, gaining more ground and assets; and in the process look and behave more like a functioning state to the point that an number, perhaps a majority of Arab countries give recognition and trade with the new entity or state? What then if Arab states desert the ‘Coalition’? What if they turn against the ‘Coalition’ on the basis that it comprises interfering infidels?

What if the Taliban in Afghanistan use the ruggedness and remoteness of the country to train IS and other fighters?

Some say involvement with the IS could be a drawn out affair, it could also come to range over a wide area; as such it might start to bleed US military and financial power and influence. Is Australia prepared to be similarly disadvantaged?

As the war drags on, or perhaps before even that situation is reached, will the Abbott government introduce a war levy (tax) and re-introduce selective conscription, for what is likely to become an unpopular war?

To top off Abbott’s silly and alarming sabre rattling, we have heard little from the immature government he leads regarding the far greater threat to the world posed by the Ebola plague.

Published in The Canberra Times

The performance of Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, over the past ten months, makes a Royal Commission into Australian asylum seeker ‘policy’ inevitable and urgent.

Morrison claims that his rigidly defined and ruthlessly enforced program of deterrence toward asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat has proven a success. In the face of an information blackout we only have his word for it and that is not worth much. We do know that two boats were intercepted in July and that the mistreatment of all 157 on one boat is now the subject of an action in the High Court.

Refugees continue to arrive in Indonesia and it is only a matter of time before Australia is asked to take some if not all, on the basis that Australia not Indonesia is their destination. The policy of deterrence is a short term solution to a much bigger problem, it is unsustainable. The solution to the issue of boat arrivals is not deterrence but management which should include processing in partnership with Indonesia.

Morrison claims, without conviction or credibility, that what motivates him to pursue his unsustainable hard line is the thought of children drowning at sea. He has said he does not want naval or customs personnel to have to look into the faces of drowned children. An appeal he appears to believe will resonate with a sympathetic public. His logic, if that is what it is, is skewed. The same appeal of saving lives can be used for children locked in detention and it has been. He has merely provided a life vest for Howard’s, ‘we will decide who comes here’.

Appearing on Friday 22 August before the Human Rights Commission enquiry into Children in Immigration Detention, Morrison was asked by Commission President, Gillian Triggs, “Why do you believe that stopping the boats and stopping the drownings…can be achieved by detaining children…?” Morrison responded, “Frankly Madam President the results speak for themselves.”

Triggs rightly noted that there was no evidence for this assertion. Deterrence has become the untested mantra of both major parties. Morrison was accompanied to the hearing by the Secretary of his department Martin Bowles. They both sparked and personally attacked (bullied) Triggs when she described the Christmas Island detention centre as a prison, which it is. Both men argued that the treatment of children in detention offshore is adequate despite a body of professional advice to the contrary. The hearing also heard that minors had been subjected to force on Christmas Island when being moved from one compound to another.

Morrison and Bowles do not have the moral high ground to argue the justice of the ‘policy’ they preside over. On 7 August the Sydney Morning Herald revealed what some have long known, there is widespread corruption within the Department of Immigration. Material obtained under Freedom of Information detail widespread visa fraud centred on people arriving by plane. The revelations add weight to calls for a Royal Commission into Australia’s asylum seeker ‘policy’ and issues surrounding it including administration.

The overwhelming need for a Royal Commission was spelt out by successful Australian business woman, Janet Holmes a Court, in an address in Hobart on 15 August. She attacked what she said was the Abbott government’s policy of deterrence and the suffering associated with it, especially on Nauru, saying it would have dire consequences for Australia.

In an announcement which appeared timed to influence his treatment at the Commission hearing, Morrison said that 150 children under 10 would be released from onshore detention into community detention. As we have come to see his announcement raised more questions than it answered about the ongoing welfare of these children and of asylum seekers. At the same time there were media reports that Morrison proposed to send 1,000 asylum seekers to Cambodia.

Morrison, and Bowles at an earlier hearing, argued that there was too much emotion brought to the issue of detention and deterrence. Nonetheless Morrison proceeded to drape the hearing in emotion by claiming, as a father of children, he had an understandable concern for the welfare of all children. It was a crass and cheap shot to drag his children into the mire of his own making.

Particularly so when nothing in his demeanour and manner of speaking indicate compassion or concern for asylum seekers, quite the opposite, he appears to relish his role as the tough guy in some sort of quasi military role; the Abbott attack dog. One expects him to one day front the media in military vestments.

In the face of continued savagery in Syria and Iraq, Morrison announced, also in the same week that he appeared before Triggs, 4,400 places for refugees from these war zones. There was no mention of places for Palestinians. However it was a hollow gesture, as the government has reduced the refugee intake from 20,000 to 13,750 and the places would come from a much reduced Special Humanitarian Program of 7,750.

Ian Rintoul of the Refugee Action Coalition says the decision is hypocritical as it does nothing for the Iraqi and Syrian asylum seekers in Australian detention. “The government’s mantra of ‘stopping the boats’ has got nothing to do with helping refugees in Iraq and Syria; it’s got everything to do with the government helping its own domestic agenda.”

And it may not even be doing that. As a domestic issue asylum seekers and boats have gone off the radar in the face of the monumental budget stuff up, where the government has managed to alienate many of its supporters. The government has lost the fiscal plot with the punters far more worried about their back pockets than ‘illegal’s’ coming through the back door.

The zeal with which Morrison and Abbot persecute boat people and will soon, in the name of fighting terrorism pursue Muslim travellers, underlines the racism contained within Abbott’s slogan of ‘Team Australia’. But his team is the B Team and not one for which many Australians aspire to play whilst the rules include demonising asylum seekers, refugees, immigrants, students, the sick and disabled, pensioners and the disadvantaged including Aboriginal Australians.

The more things change the more they remain the same. In the 10 December 1977 edition of The Bulletin magazine the otherwise conservative columnist, Peter Samuel, argued a case for accepting refugees from South Vietnam. The previous Whitlam government had been reluctant to do so, having sympathised with the political aims of the North Vietnamese. Samuel argued, “…I have found it extremely difficult to accept with equanimity the cheap sneers and repellent ‘labelling’ of refugees…Refugees are refugees, wherever they come from. One really does not, if one retains a shred of decency, try to deny them asylum by making foul accusations against them – accusations that could not possibly be based on any knowledge at all.”

He might have been referring to the illegal detention of over 50 Tamils from Sri Lanka, found to be refugees, but detained by ASIO on allegations of terrorism supplied by the government they were fighting in a bloody and protracted civil war.

In the same article Samuel opines, “There is something self-selecting it seems in people willing to board small boats for the hazardous sea voyage to Australia’s shores…The boat people cannot be ‘intercepted’ as some bigots suggest because interference with shipping on the high seas is piracy. And they cannot be ‘turned back’ or ‘flown back’ because that would be sentencing heroes to deprivation and death, and destroying Australia’s moral standing in the world.”

And so it is.

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator, former diplomat and member of the Refugee Review Tribunal.

Published in The Canberra Times, 11.9.14 and On Line Opinion, 12.9.14

The Lemming like haste to follow Americans into not one but possibly two new wars is as unwise as it is unseemly.

The Americans have no entry or exit strategy for their renewed push into Iraq and no identified objectives other than sending ISIS to hell, if one is to take the emotive statement of US Secretary of State, John Kerry as a preferred policy option, which it is hard to do.

They are reacting to the beheading of two of their citizens by ISIS thugs with emotion and umbrage, albeit to a lesser extent than after 9/11 but based within the same sense of outrage and need for punitive justice. Emotion, which is part of the drive to go to war, should be tempered with some hard headed analysis and, in a democracy, with debate as to the pros and cons in order to avoid what too often become downside consequences.

Abbott has over reached himself by proposing Australian advisers on the ground in the Ukraine. Did this advice come from within the Defence Department? It is difficult to believe that it did.

A reluctant American President is said by right wing commentators in Australia to have had his backbone strengthened by Abbott’s resolve with regard to fronting down Putin, apparently agreeing to bomb ISIS areas in Syria and hinting at boots on the ground in Northern Iraq.

In the face of domestic difficulties centred on a failed budget, a foreign policy performance based on war time parameters has played well for Abbott. His initial spontaneous pugnacious response to a threat or challenge has on balance stood him in good stead – in the short term. But for Abbott his challenge will be to plan or follow through in the longer term and to date he has shown little aptitude for that. He apparently has given no thought to the prospect that what he is proposing might go awry. He would be better advised to cover himself with parliamentary approval before going it alone. The Abbott Doctrine could sink in a sea of hubris.

It is not in Abbott’s nature to consider diplomacy as an aspect of war and Bishop is not sufficiently experienced to be across the many tools of trade available to her. However it seems strange that Australia is considering such an active role in Iraq when many with a greater stake in the outcome of ISIS rampaging are sitting by. Egypt which claims to be opposed to Islamic fundamentalism has not lifted a finger. Through a wilful miscarriage of justice an Australian journalist, Peter Greste, sits rotting in an Egyptian gaol for his alleged links to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.

In the meantime Australia is doing the heavy lifting for the bullying military regime in Cairo. Abbott and Bishop should be twisting the ear of the Egyptian President until they pick up their share of the ISIS burden and in the process release Greste. Does Egypt have the courage to put its money where its mouth is? Australia should deploy all of its diplomatic tools to find out and achieve an outcome that will lessen our burden.

Similarly Saudia Arabia should be persuaded to cease funding ISIS and a working dialogue opened with Iran. Other Arab states including The Gulf States, Morocco, Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, and Israel with its vast military resources, should be pressed into contributing to the US coalition. In conjunction with its active diplomacy Australia should step back from an overtly military role.

The highly skilled Australian Ambassador to the UN, Gary Quinlan, should be given this task. He sits on the Security Council and can bring the weight of this office to bear. Regional diplomacy should take place to coincide with Quinlan’s activities.

Australian taxpayers are entitled to ask where the money is coming from. At a time when it is claimed that Australia is in the midst of a budget crisis, Abbott appears to have unlimited funds for grandstanding from an account we are unaware of. Abbott’s open handedness puts the lie to his ill-conceived and punitive budget.

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat.