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Australia’s interests are strongest in our region, so why do we prioritise events in the Middle East, Europe and America? Former diplomat Bruce Haigh reports.

AUSTRALIA’S INTEREST in the politics and prosperity of South East Asia is stronger than that of the United States — however you might think that was not the case by the priority Australia gives to events in the Middle East, Europe and America.

Australia is inextricably linked to South East Asia through geography, trade, education and population. It is where the greatest expansion in our trade will take place. Close or linked time zones make business easier. Shorter air and shipping routes enhance contact and productivity.

Why, then, does Australia expend so much money, lives and time trying to crush the Taliban and ISIS in Iraq and Syria when we have a potentially bigger and more complex problem emerging on our door step?

For decades, the radical Muslim organisation, Abu Sayyaf, has fought the Philippine army and police in an attempt to establish a caliphate on the island of Mindanao. They have recently been joined by ISIS fighters forced out of the Middle East. Their route to Mindanao is through Malaysia and Indonesia by boat.

On 23 May, fighting broke out between the Philippine Army and Abu Sayyaf in the predominantly Muslim city of Marawi on Mindanao. Abu Sayyaf is led by Isnilon Hapilon, a man with a US$5 million bounty on his head. He has joined with the Maute group led by two brothers and both groups have been bolstered by ISIS fighters from Indonesia, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Chechnya.

The fighting, which was predicted to be over in a week, looks set to drag on into a second month. This attests to the skill and experience of the ISIS fighters, who have deployed resources, including strategically placed snipers, on the basis of local knowledge provided by Abu Sayyaf. They occupy the business district of Marawi.

The Philippine Army has used armoured vehicles and conducted air strikes. The U.S. has deployed a small group of special forces personnel and are providing intelligence through Lockheed P-3 Orion surveillance. The President of the Philippines, Rodrego Duterte has denied knowledge of U.S. involvement.

Mawari had a population of 200,000 many have fled the fighting, some are being held hostage by the fundamentalists. Around 400 civilians, soldiers and radicals have been killed, with around twice that number wounded, including children and ABC journalist, Adam Harvey.

Abu Sayyaf was connected to the 2002 Bali bombing. Extremism and membership of extremist groups is growing in Indonesia and Malaysia, and the presence and influence of ISIS is expanding.

Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines have reacted to the threat with joint naval and air patrols of the Sulu Sea, through which ISIS fighters pass. The patrols began in mid-June. Singapore has undertaken to share intelligence processed through the Changi Naval Base.

Australian Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, is aware of these regional developments. In January, she warned of the possibility of ISIS fighters returning from the Middle East seeking to establish a caliphate on Mindanao. As it transpired her intelligence was good.

Until recently, Australia had not sought to act or get involved. On the contrary, reacting to U.S. pressure, on 29 May, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced a further 30 Australian troops would be sent to Afghanistan to help counter and fight ISIS.

On 23 June, it was announced that Australia would undertake surveillance flights over the southern Philippines. Whilst useful this is not enough and doubles up on what the U.S. is already doing.

Australia’s border protection regime seeks to maintain a maritime cordon in the waters north of Australia and south of Indonesia. The aim is isolation. It ignores the reality of Australia’s extensive involvement and interaction in the region.

Many Australians live, work and have holidays in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines. Airports, CBD’s and holiday resorts, such as Bali, Penang, Palawan and Panglao, to name but a few, are increasingly vulnerable to well planned and organised ISIS attacks. Australian interests and Australians extend well beyond their shores; the mentality that feels secure behind a naval cordon is both limited and myopic.

The Australian elite, particularly the political elite, is paranoid about asylum seekers arriving by boat.

Internal displacements of people due to ISIS and associated radical activity are inevitable unless this activity can be addressed and contained. Internal displacement might well translate into cross water movement of asylum seekers, perhaps on a large scale and difficult to contain unless unacceptable brute force were to be used.

Aircraft surveillance is useful when hostile ground activity occurs. What would be far more useful is for foreign ISIS fighters to be prevented from joining local Islamist groups. For this, naval interdiction is the key. Australia should join with its regional counterparts in undertaking this essential activity.

ISIS is a threat to Australia with its growing involvement in the region; Australia should be engaged and active in containing and eliminating this threat.

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat. He has served in Saudi Arabia, the Gulf, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, run the Indonesia section and visits Mindanao. You can follow Bruce on Twitter @BruceHaigh2.

Australian foreign policy should be just that, Australian — not American, Chinese or European. 

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten need to do a bit of lateral and original thinking.

They need to consider which part of the world they live in and the dynamics of what is unfolding on our doorstep. They should seek to embrace the region more fully. They should show and undertake leadership.

At the end of May, foreign IS fighters joined with local militants in besieging the southern Philippines city of Marawi on the island of Mindanao. Eyewitnesses said a number of the IS fighters had pale skin and long noses. A media report said they included men from Saudi Arabia, Chechen, Yemen, Malaysia and Indonesia. President Duterte has placed Mindanao under martial law.

The Philippines army and police continue to try to break the siege, in which IS fighters, soldiers and a number of civilians have so far been killed. The IS fighters have gratuitously and viciously murdered a number of Christian men; women and children have been killed in the fighting.   

The only way IS militants can get to the Philippines is by boat. I argued in an earlier article that Australia should be conducting joint patrols with regional navies to interdict these terrorists. Joint naval patrols should also seek to prevent local Abu Sayyaf rebels raising funds by on-water kidnappings.

IS militants and other radical Islamists are on the move between Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines; they are also moving arms and money.

The Philippines, Thailand and Myanmar have separatist Muslim movements. In the former, these are being taken over by radical extremists. However, it is their infiltration and possible control by IS that is of concern. Minimising their influence, if not eradicating them, should be a foreign policy objective of regional governments, including the Australian Government.

The separatist movements have a legitimate basis, much as the Tamils in Sri Lanka do — through religious belief, the absence of educational opportunities and poverty. Addressing the latter might take some of the appeal away for the strident proponents of separatism. Increasing militancy within these separatists’ movements will cause the displacement of people, the creation of refugees and will undermine economic activity — causing further poverty and lack of opportunity.

The Rohingya of Rakhine State in Myanmar are not radicalised, but with ongoing repression from the state, it is only a matter of time. In the southern Thailand provinces of Satun, Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat, a separatist insurgency has been waged for some time. Hardline Jihadis who are funded from overseas have marginalised the moderates. These Jihadis, like their counterparts in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines are influenced by hardline Sunni Wahhabi teaching which emanates from Saudi Arabia.

The Saudis actively push Wahhabism through the funding of Mosques and Madrassas religious schools. Schools funded by the Saudis teach within a Wahabi framework. Paradoxically, the Saudis are funding radical Islam. Many of the IS proponents of direct action or terrorism appear mentally unstable, charged with the same motivation as mercenaries, soldiers of fortune and the French Foreign Legion. They are often social outcasts and misfits, seeking fortune and fame, and enjoy killing and cruelty as part of the package.

Around 500 IS fighters are from Indonesia and between 200-250 from Malaysia, which has a population of 31 million (eight times smaller than Indonesia with 263 million) perhaps indicating a greater radicalisation of Muslims in Malaysia than was previously thought. Radicalisation has been aided by the powerful Malaysian Islamic Development Department (JAKIM) and the National Civics Bureau (BTN) which fall under the Prime Minister’s office.  

The United States is drifting, with a seriously troubled president at the helm, it cannot be relied on to address the regional issue of IS and the growing radicalisation of separatist movements. Whatever focus the U.S. has remains on China and North Korea. In any case, President Duterte will not have a bar of Donald Trump and wants no U.S. help in handling his local insurgency. Indonesia is co-operating with the CIA, FBI and AFP in uncovering radical activists, but clearly more needs to be done in light of the IS siege of Marawi, which included Indonesian terrorists.

Following an attack on a casino in Manilla, which has the hallmarks of a revenge-fuelled undertaking rather than a terror attack, President Duterte looks set to impose martial law over the whole of the Philippines. It was probably the excuse he was looking for.

Australia, through its sound diplomatic representation in the region, should begin a process of bringing together states most affected by the activities of separatist extremists, like Abu Sayyaf and returning IS fighters. It should take a lead, perhaps institutionalising an approach looking at not only containing violence, but also at the appeal of radical Islam. It might examine poverty and the paucity of educational opportunity as a motivator in separatist sentiment that has played a part in the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia. It might rethink its regional aid policy. Guns alone will not stop the emotional and intellectual adherence to a cause.

Australia might also give thought to the radicalisation its refugee “policies” may encourage among those affected by brutality on Manus Island and Nauru, and those left to rot in Indonesia. A little thought and compassion might save many lives.

In view of China’s restless ambition – and American distraction –ASEAN ought to be taken more seriously by Australia, writes distinguished former diplomat Bruce Haigh.

DONALD TRUMP has turned himself into a lame dog president. For the time being, the United States is of no use to Australia or anyone else.

The internal battles to unseat the usurper will occupy Washington for the next two years and the U.S. economy will continue to lag.

In the meantime, China will push to enhance what it regards as its natural sphere of influence — the South China Sea.

But its ambitions extend further, it wants to dominate world trade and it wants greater influence over international affairs. It is playing its cards carefully, but playing them nonetheless, particularly in Africa, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

In view of China’s restless ambition – and American distraction – the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) ought to be taken more seriously by Australia.

President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines has sought to play off China and the U.S. He has partly succeeded. He has held the U.S., but not entirely China, which pushed back. Nonetheless, they have promised aid for infrastructure, soft loans and fishing concessions. Chinese investment in the Philippines is burgeoning, particularly in the property sector. American investment is stagnant.

Duterte hosted and chaired the 30th ASEAN Summit in Manila, 26-29 April, the theme of which was a rules-based, people oriented and centred ASEAN. In the chairman’s statement, ASEAN leaders reaffirmed commitment to the peaceful settlement of disputes and ‘full respect for legal and diplomatic processes’, including respect for international laws. However, apparently after pressure from China, the chairman dropped the affirmation of respect from the section on the South China Sea.

Existing guidelines for hotline communication were endorsed while a Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea will soon become operational.

The activities of Islamic extremists remain a problem within ASEAN — in particular, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. Weeks before ASEAN Ministers were due to meet in Panglao on the island of Bohol, Abu Sayyaf militants carried out an attack against local police. To safeguard ministers, delegates and officials, the Philippines deployed 26,000 police and soldiers.

It is this security issue, together with issues associated with poverty, that should be exercising the minds of Australian policy makers. Several months ago the Australian Foreign Minister, Julie Bishopclaimed that returning ISIS fighters from the Middle East – perhaps up to 600 – would seek to strengthen the militant Islamic presence in the southern Philippines and as part of the process, establish a “caliphate”. The leader of the Philippine terror group, Abu Sayyaf, has recently declared himself an Emir.

These militants will not enter the Philippines through airports. They will travel to the southern Philippine Island of Mindanao by boat from Malaysia and/or Indonesia. Recently the spokesperson for Indonesia’s Directorate of Immigration, Agung Sampurno, said that checkpoints at Miangas and Marore Island were unable to effectively screen seaborne movements between Sulawesi and Mindanao.

Bishop is right to be concerned and Australia’s intelligence agencies have been working with their counterparts in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines to address the threat — however, more is required. Border protection is more than bullying and terrorising asylum seekers. The best way for Australia to protect its border is through regional co-operation and that should be done through joint naval patrols. Australia has participated in such arrangements in the Gulf.

At present, Australia deploys vessels in the region for a variety of tasks including naval exercises and showing the flag.

Some express squeamishness at the prospect of co-operation with Duterte in light of his poor human rights record. Any such relationship might not last long. He is said to have pancreatic cancer and. in light of that, to be grooming his daughter, Sara Duterte, to succeed him. She is currently mayor of Davao City, Duterte’s old power base.

To be evenhanded, that squeamishness might extend to Malaysia, with its corrupt political system and Indonesia as it buckles to Islamic extremism. As flawed as some of our neighbours may be, that should not override our national self-interest, nor allow us to overlook our own poor human rights record with respect to asylum seekers and corruption within our own major institutions.  

What is proposed in this article is a permanent Australian patrolling presence in the region to be undertaken in conjunction with Indonesian, Malaysian, Filipino and Singaporean naval assets, and rotational home porting in those countries. Greater and more aggressive naval patrols should aim to deter the flow of arms and fighters between the targeted countries.

By engaging in regional maritime security, Australia would also be signalling a broader and deeper interest in the region — no bad thing in the absence of U.S. leadership.

Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau, along with other world leaders, are due to attend a summit of ASEAN leaders in Manila in November. On present form, if Trump attends, he will be a figure with form and without substance — an embarrassment. The chances are he will not attend. Under the circumstances, Australia should be seeking to raise its profile with ASEAN and within the region.

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat, who has recently spent time in the Philippines including Mindanao. 

Donald Trump has turned himself into a lame-dog president; for the time being at least, the United States is of no use to Australia or anyone else. The internal battles to unseat the usurper will occupy Washington politics for the next two years. And the US economy will continue to lag.

In the meantime, China will push to enhance what it regards as its natural sphere of influence: the South China Sea. But its ambitions extend further. It wants to dominate world trade and greater influence over international affairs. It is playing its cards carefully, but playing them nonetheless, particularly in Africa, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

In view of China’s restless ambition, and American distraction, Australia ought to take the Association of South-East Asian Nations more seriously.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has sought to play off China and the US. He has partly succeeded. He has held the US but not entirely China, which pushed back. Nonetheless, China has promised aid for infrastructure, soft loans and fishing concessions. Chinese investment in the Philippines is burgeoning, particularly in the property sector; US investment is stagnant.

Duterte hosted and chaired the 30th ASEAN summit in Manila last month, the theme of which was a rules-based, people-oriented and centred ASEAN. In the chairman’s statement, ASEAN leaders reaffirmed their commitment to peaceful settlement of disputes and “full respect for legal and diplomatic processes”, including respect for international laws. However, apparently after pressure from China, the chairman dropped the affirmation of respect from the section on the South China Sea.

Existing guidelines for hotline communication were endorsed while a “code for unplanned encounters at sea” will soon become operational.

The activities of Islamic extremists remain a problem within ASEAN, in particular Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. Weeks before ASEAN ministers were due to meet in Panglao on the island of Bohol, Abu Sayyaf militants attacked local police. To safeguard ministers, delegates and officials, the Philippines deployed 26,000 police and soldiers.

It is this security issue, together with tackling issues associated with poverty, that should be exercising the minds of Australian policymakers. Several months ago, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said returning Islamic State fighters from the Middle East, perhaps up to 600, would try to strengthen the militant Islamic presence in southern Philippines and, as part of the process, establish a “caliphate”. The leader of Filipino terror group Abu Sayyaf recently declared himself an emir.

These militants will not enter the Philippines through airports. They will travel to the southern Philippine island of Mindanao by boat from Malaysia or Indonesia. Indonesia’s immigration spokesman, Agung Sampurno, said recently that checkpoints at Miangas and Marore Island were unable to effectively screen seaborne movements between Sulawesi and Mindanao.

Bishop is right to be concerned and Australia’s intelligence agencies have been working with their counterparts in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines to address the threat. However, more is required. Border protection is more than bullying and terrorising asylum seekers. The best way for Australia to protect its border is through regional cooperation and that should be done through joint naval patrols. Australia has taken part in such arrangements in the Gulf.

At present, Australia deploys vessels in the region for a variety of tasks, including naval exercises and showing the flag.

Some express squeamishness at the prospect of cooperating with Duterte in light of his poor human rights record. Any such relationship might not last long. He is said to have pancreatic cancer and, in light of that, to be grooming his daughter to succeed him. She is mayor of Davao City, Duturte’s old powerbase.

The best way for Australia to protect its border is through regional cooperation and that should be done through joint naval patrols.

To be even-handed, that squeamishness might extend to Malaysia and its corrupt political system, and to Indonesia as it buckles to Islamic extremism. As flawed as some of our neighbours may be, that should not override our national self-interest, nor allow us to overlook our own poor human rights record with respect to asylum seekers and corruption in our own institutions.

I propose a permanent Australian patrolling presence in the region, undertaken with the Indonesian, Malaysian, Filipino and Singaporean navies and rotating the home ports among those countries. Greater and more aggressive naval patrols should aim to deter the flow of arms and fighters between the targeted countries.

By engaging in regional maritime security, Australia would also signall a broader and deeper interest in the region, no bad thing in the absence of US leadership.

Bruce Haigh is a commentator and retired diplomat, who recently spent time in the Philippines, including Mindanao.

At what point did perceptions of a clear sighted, can do American start to change? Was it with the assassination of President Kennedy, Vietnam, with Johnson/ Nixon, Afghanistan with Reagan/Bush/Clinton/Bush, Iraq and the GFC with Bush, or with Trump? Whatever the point it has happened, and in foreign policy terms, America’s role in world affairs is about to be redefined.

I was recently in the Philippines and spoke to a cross section of people including businessmen and women and journalists on local papers including the ‘Philippine Daily Inquirer’, one of the more respected papers in the Philippines.

The general consensus was that the Philippine President, Rodrigo Duterte, would have moved toward China irrespective of who won the American Presidency. Duterte was described as a cunning and clever politician, who should be judged on his actions not his words. He has been very rude toward Obama, although quite conciliatory in his remarks about Trump. It was put to me that he believes he has Trumps measure.

All my interlocutors were critical of the activities of his death squads. At the street level people are pleased that neighbour hoods are ‘safer’, but no one believes it will last. The drug barons are untouched and protected by wealth and position. They will bide their time. Drug pushers and couriers can easily be recruited with grinding poverty providing a very strong incentive.

That aside Duterte has made his play clear. He wants an understanding with China that allows trade and economic activities, such as fishing in disputed waters, to take place. His recent visit to China was regarded as a success and he claimed aid and investment projects were promised amounting to US$32billion.

US officials in the Philippines were reported as playing down any major rift in the relationship, claiming that the US and the Philippines had historic, deep and abiding ties that would overcome any temporary hiccups. The US wants to ramp up its use of the Subic Bay naval facility and Clark air force base as part of its containment of China.

Duterte has turned his back on the recent adverse ruling of an International Tribunal at The Hague on China’s claims in the South China Sea. As a result China has allowed Pilipino fisherman to enter the waters around Scarborough Shoal for the first time since 2012. Chinese patrol boats although present have not interfered with fishing activities.

The Filipino President has made recent visits to Vietnam and Malaysia and according to senior journalists Duterte is seeking to pull ASEAN states together in order to collectively deal with China and the United States. They claimed Duterte would attempt to play the major powers off against one another and that he was looking for other states in the region to do likewise. Duterte also paid a recent visit to Japan which the local media claimed was a success.

Many of those I spoke to said there was a growing expectation that regional states would be able to increase trade and other opportunities through the foil of playing off China and the US, but also Japan and Russia if they showed an inclination to be independent players in the region. There was a belief that benefit could accrue to smaller states if they handled the diplomacy involved with alacrity.

Australia is seen as a possible participant in this developing dynamic, although recent, ‘all the way with the USA’ statements from Australia’s governing LNP, following the Trump victory, were seen as naive.

Australia has the opportunity to become a regional player and participant with ASEAN states and it should do so. It should seek to play our major trading partner off against our old ally. An ally who has demanded and received a lot more than it has given, from Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan to the FTA and expensive defence purchases, at times of dubious strategic value.

It is right to have reservations about aspects of China, but it is the major player in the region and reality demands that it be dealt with as such. And it has been a major presence in the region for thousands of years. It is from this perspective that it perceives its growing power and its place in the region. That is the new reality and we need to deal with it; has the US the maturity to do that. And would Australia really use it’s yet to be built submarines against its major trading partner? (Or against what might then be its rogue former ally!?) Why wouldn’t China seek to defend its trading partners and its trading routes with them?

Australia is changing, but it is in the grip of reactionary forces intent on hanging onto the past and as a result politics is dominated by white, mostly male conservatives. They are not inclined to be inclusive, innovative or imaginative. They will either go down screaming and kicking or with a whimper, hopefully the latter. However in the meantime they are denying the country opportunities.

Australian diplomats are capable of rising to the challenge; they should be encouraged to do so.

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat.

I went to a Chautauqua in Greensburg, Indiana in the Fall of 2015. It was held in the auditorium of the Greensburg Community High School on the 5th and 6th of November. So what, you might ask, is a Chautauqua?

Chautauqua was a movement to bring speakers on a variety of topics to rural and remote America. It was founded in 1874 on the banks of Lake Chautauqua in New York State. It was a feature of American life until the 1930’s when cars and radio undermined the need. It aimed to educate and put before communities people and ideas they would not otherwise be exposed to. It was strong on social justice and science but operas and jazz bands also toured as part of the mix.

The movement still exists in America but on a much reduced scale. Nine years ago a mid-west history teacher, John Pratt, revived the tradition and in conjunction with his high school has run a bi-annual Chautauqua, each with a different theme.

John brings to Greensburg celebrities, adventurers and reformers from around the world. Most forego fees in keeping with the philosophy of altruism and fostering of the public good embodied in the notion of Chautauqua and embraced and encouraged by John. It saves fundraisers and donors money and makes possible the holding of a really dynamic event in a small community. With respect to the Chautauqua I was lucky enough to participate in the guests, having agreed to donate their time, entered into the spirit of the undertaking.

The theme of the 2015 Chautauqua was, “Based on a true story”. There were eight participants all of whom had been portrayed in feature length films. David Paterson was depicted in ‘Bridge to Terabithia’ adapted from his mothers book about David’s life. Sister Helen Prejean, a long term and fearsome advocate of the abolition of the death penalty in the US was played by Susan Sarandon in ‘Dead Man Walking’. Benjamin Mee, was depicted in ‘We Bought a Zoo’, he still runs the zoo in Dartmoor, UK. Dr Jeffrey Wigand was portrayed in, ‘The Insider’. He was a whistle blower with respect to the tobacco industry in the US. He was played by Russell Crowe. John McLaughlin, a policeman who led first responders into the World Trade Centre. He was buried for 22 hours when the building collapsed. He was in an induced coma for six weeks and was operated on 27 times. Nicholas Gage played him in the Oliver Stone film, ‘World Trade Centre’; and myself, portrayed by John Hargreaves in the Richard Attenborough anti-apartheid film, ‘Cry Freedom’.

There was also a local baseball hero, Bobby Plump, from the 1954 Milan Indians championship game, shown in the film ‘Hoosiers’ and Daniel Diaz, a Mexican/American who pulled himself out of poverty through his success at running. He was depicted in the film, ‘McFarland USA’ starring Kevin Costner. Each of the guests was allocated an hour and a half, with half the time given over to questions. I had the furthest to fly and was the first to arrive. My time was not wasted as I spoke to many classes in the host school of over 1000 pupils. It was great fun.

Guests at other Chautauqua’s included Susaye Greene, a member of the Supremes, Ron Rosser, Korean War Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, Ed Asner star of the ‘Mary Tyler Moore Show’, Nancy Nevins, lead singer of ‘Sweetwater’, John Stokes, original plaintiff in Brown v Board of Education, Dr. Terrance Roberts and Carlotta LaNeir of the Little Rock Nine and Jill Wine-Banks, a member of the Watergate prosecution team.

Funding is from local businesses, government and school fund raising. Each Chautauqua has its own theme and John says, “It is something big, something that changed or saved lives.” High school students volunteered to look after the guests for the period of their stay. I was lucky to get Adrian Hunter and Lauren Koester, well mannered and bright as buttons; they took me under their wing and showed me all there was to see including the piggery where Lauren worked after school. Greensburg bases its wealth on agriculture, corn is grown but most cattle are now sadly raised in feed lots. Because of this there were not many fences. The students, town and beyond turned up in droves for the sessions. The Greensburg Library hosted a Q&A with some of the guests.

The concept of a Chautauqua could be applied in Australia, particularly in rural Australia. The idea is to open students and the town to the wider world, to let them hear and interact with guests who have had unique experiences and contributed positively to humanity.

At the cost of covering expenses John has said he would be happy to come to Australia and help communities get a Chautauqua or an Australian equivalent off the ground. John can be contacted on, jopratt@greensburg.K12.in.us

Bruce Haigh is a retired diplomat and political commentator

According to successive Sri Lankan governments the only war crimes committed during the civil war, waged from July 1983 – May 2009, were those perpetrated by the Tamils; aggressive denial has defined their response.

There have been strong and sustained calls from the international community for crimes amounting to genocide to be investigated by an international tribunal, preferably the UN. To counter the aggressive propaganda of Sinhala nationalists, the calls for international action included the inclusion of war crimes committed by the Tamil Tigers. The Governments in Australia goes along with this in order to bolster the illegal policy of turning back asylum seekers arriving by boat. Returning asylum seekers and refugees to a place of danger is known as refoulement. The principal of non-refoulement is the cornerstone of asylum and international refugee law. Turning back boats  makes Australia directly complicit in the crime of genocide.

Australia has done nothing to support calls for an international commission of inquiry even though the Sri Lankan Government continues to persecute Tamils.

The alienation of the minority Tamil population from the majority Sinhalese was a long process reaching a turning point in 1956 when the Sinhala language was determined to be the official language. The screws were tightened on Tamils by restricting their access to education, jobs in the public sector and professional bodies, with discrimination eventually resulting in state sanctioned pogrom against Tamils in 1983.

Many Tamils fled Colombo and the south for the north. The notion of a separate state was born as the means of surviving Sinhalese chauvinism. A military force was established to protect these aims; having forced the Tamils to this point the SLG then expressed surprise and anger that its soldiers and civilians should be attacked.

Hit and run tactics and suicide bombings eventually evolved into a full scale civil war ending in 2009 with the massacre of 80,000 Tamil civilians and fighters known as the Tamil Tigers.

The present government  continues to received support and assistance from Australia. An AFP contingent is posted to the Australian High Commission in Colombo to assist the local police and navy stop boats. There are allegations that the AFP contingent is aware that Tamils returned illegally from Australian custody have been tortured in detention.

Australia supplied patrol boats to the Sri Lankan navy for the express purpose of turning back boats, despite it becoming public knowledge that the President’s brother, installed as minister for defence, was involved in the chain of people smuggling. On a visit to Sri Lanka in 2013, Tony Abbott, as Prime Minister, said that under certain circumstances torture could be justified, which was and remains an extraordinary statement.

The Sri Lankan Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, accused Abbott of doing a deal with the former President, Mahinda Rajapaksa. He said the agreement was that Rajapaksa would stop the boats if Abbott remained silent about human rights abuse in Sri Lanka. He said the close relationship between the corrupt Rajapaksa and Abbott was a mystery to Sri Lankans.

At the request of the SLG, ASIO kept over 50 former Tamil Tigers in indefinite detention, even though they were found to have been refugees.

As Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, referred to Tamil asylum seekers as economic migrants, despite all evidence to the contrary. His successor, Julie Bishop, has done the same. Australian governments have adopted the fiction that the minority Tamils were the aggressors in the civil war. Their position is that Sinhalese won the war, peace has been restored and the Tamils must accept it and get on with life; which consists of a military occupation of the north, confiscation of their land, desecration of their cemeteries, rape of the women and marginalisation from economic activity; all against a background of bribery, cruelty and corruption.

That is not the finding of the Peoples’ Tribunal on Sri Lanka which met in Bremen from 7-10 December, 2013. It found that, “On the strength of the evidence presented, the Tribunal reached the consensus ruling that the state of Sri Lanka is guilty of the crime of genocide against Eelam Tamils (Tamils from the north and east) and that the consequences of the genocide continue to the present day with ongoing acts of genocide against Eelam Tamils.”

The Tribunal determined that the following acts were committed by the government of Sri Lanka: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group and acting with the specific intent of destruction of a protected group. It also found that there was continuity of genocide through ongoing acts of genocide and that the state deliberately inflicted on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.

The new government of President Maithripala Sirisena undertook in 2015 to allow an internationally supervised investigation into the massacre which took place at the end of the civil war. This undertaking followed a UN Human rights Council resolution on 24 September 2015 calling for such an investigation.

However responding to growing pressure from within Sri Lanka, Sirisena has pulled back from implementing the decision. Visiting Sri Lanka in March 2016, the UN Human rights Commissioner, Zeid Ra ‘ad al Hussein said it was important the investigation took place, so that Sri Lanka could learn from its past mistakes. Australia has done nothing to encourage Sri Lanka to comply.

In the light of ongoing allegations of torture in Sri Lanka, Hussein renewed his criticism of Australia for turning back boats with asylum seekers. The Director of Freedom from Torture, Sonya Sceats, said in 2016 her organisation had received eight allegations of torture in Sri Lanka in the past year. She said a culture of torture was deeply entrenched in the Sri Lankan police and military.

Meanwhile in August 2016 Immigration Minister Peter Dutton returned asylum seekers to Sri Lanka who had been attempting to reach Australia by boat. Australia has not pressed Sri Lanka to comply with the UN resolution.

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat, who served in Sri Lanka.

A well liked and well respected local specialist, Dr David Amos has been subjected to the most unconscionable acts of prolonged bulling that I can recall and it continues.

Dr Amos is an outstanding cardiologist of 25 years experience. He was chipped by a colleague, who is not a cardiologist, for unprofessional conduct. Naturally a dispute occurred. The colleague, with the backing of the hospital administration, escalated the matter.

An independent investigation was conducted, the results of which were given to the hospital administration and the manager of the Western Health Medical District. Naturally Dr Amos asked to see the report, after some time he was given a copy which was so heavily redacted as to make it meaningless. The only conclusion that can be drawn from this is that the report was very critical of the hospital administration and the area health management including the principal, Scott McLachlan.

To prove their bona fides the hospital and area health management should give Dr Amos an unredacted copy.

The dispute recently went to the Supreme Court which stayed its hand as it gave the area health management the opportunity to act properly with respect to Dr Amos. They are prevaricating, apparently trying to save face and seeking to appeal to one side in a faction riven hospital caused by questionable employment practices and self interest.

The actions against Dr Amos have made the majority of the staff at the hospital very unhappy. It has caused many patients and members of the community to be unhappy and angry.

Dr Amos is not allowed to enter the hospital to see his patients and has been asked to eat humble pie and to humiliate himself by undergoing training for anger manager management before he can re-enter the hospital. For those who know him this is a joke. There are others who are party to this dispute who should undergo that training.

This dispute underlines the poor standard of hospital and local health administration. It reflects poorly on the Minister who has shown herself to be partisan and out of touch. It also reflects on the ability of Orange to attract doctors of high quality.

Bruce Haigh, retired Diplomat.

Aboriginals are yet again asking to be empowered. Requesting government, ever so politely, to be given the power to shape their lives; it should not be a big ask but it is.

Colonial paternalism is alive and well. Noblesse oblige still buzzes around inside some carefully coiffured white middle class heads. The ‘dear little black baby’ syndrome still also exerts some pull. But overriding all notions and motivations of duty on the part of bureaucrats, churches, non government organisations, social and anthropological research institutions and business groups is the sure fire and fixed belief that Aboriginals cannot handle money.

All of the above will tell you, that many Aboriginals have a propensity to burn it up, piss it up and give it away. Maybe they do, but then when you treat people like children, they tend to behave like children. When you offer people no respect, they tend not to respect themselves and then when you are racist you tend to make people angry. Now the white man with his burden may not believe him or herself to be racist, they may go out of their way not to be racist, they may suppress it in non white company, but the person who is not white and middle class will pick it up in a flash. It’s the condescension, it’s the awkwardness, it’s the body language, and it’s the conversational tone. It’s the inability to converse in any meaningful way, to get on the wave length. It’s the lack of understanding of others lives, struggles and pain. Of course there are exceptions to the rule.
And there are those who are down and out racists, cruel and crude or those who are conniving and calculating who want to repeal section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act.

But what they all of the above have in common is that Aboriginals are not allowed to make mistakes with money, so they are often not allowed to manage it or even to have it. Never mind that less than ‘well intentioned’ whites allowed to manage the money pinch it or rip it off with poor quality work in housing and other infrastructure. Some blacks have joined forces with the whites and steal and rip it off their brothers and sisters, that’s what happens when you put a race of people in a metaphorical ghetto and create conditions where the only way ‘out’ is over the backs of those brothers and sisters.

Not being allowed to make mistakes or being cut any slack means that a lot of Aboriginal people are put in prison. For some young men it is a rite of passage; cruelly so, as we saw recently in the NT. This has been backed by claims, at the end of August, of widespread abuse of minors, amounting to torture, in Queensland by Amnesty International. Shame Australia.

Abuse of drugs and alcohol and each other is common in some Aboriginal communities. It always is amongst the dispossessed and marginalised. People behave badly when stripped of hope and denied respect. Working class East Newcastle in the late 1940’s could be a cesspool on a Friday night. Booze, fights, the sound of breaking glass, women screaming, kids running, low pay and no hope. Aboriginals don’t behave badly because they are Aboriginal, although listening to John Howard and Adam Giles you would think so, they behave in relation to the way they have been treated from the time of white settlement until today.

So what about empowerment? Well it’s not happening because an industry has developed around Aboriginal despair and hopelessness. It’s now sustained by fleets of Prados and zealous white middle class and middle aged whites, who know what is best for the dispossessed. Funding policies are designed in Canberra and Sydney with scant regard to empowerment. These projects are designed to rescue the natives from themselves, from breakfast programs to foster care, to housing, health and education, white public servants and NGO service providers know best. They know that Aboriginal children should not be taught in their own language and scant resources are spent on developing educational tools around language. Nor are kids and parents consulted on the most appropriate way of teaching. White teaching models are dumped on communities.

Millions of dollars are wasted on white superimposed programs, not least of all on salary packages. White middle class ‘social workers’ and other ‘experts’ are paid packages of between $90,000 to $150,000 to administer their paternalism. This allows them to maintain their white middle class status, standard of living and bolsters their sense of entitlement. Off duty most do not mix with their ‘clients’. They deliver and then desert.

Many if not most Aboriginals in remote communities want to continue to live there, whites, who control the purse strings, say no. Most whites don’t want to live in remote Aboriginal communities any longer than is necessary to see out generous contracts or collect the benefit of some housing or infrastructure scam. Of course there are exceptions, there always are.

Many Aboriginals are warehoused in prison, in fact thousands are. The population of Australia is 24 million of which 500,000 are Aboriginal; that translates to around 3% of the population, however more than 28% of the prison population is Aboriginal or 15 times higher than the non-Indigenous population. The rate of incarceration is 2,340 per 100,000 of the Aboriginal population and probably higher. The national average is 200 per 100,000 of the Australian population; there are 38,000 people in detention in Australia, not counting refugees.

Aboriginal youths are imprisoned at a rate 24 times greater than white youths. In WA 1 in 13 of the Aboriginal population are in prison. Clearly the ‘programs’ of the white Aboriginal industry are not working. The white industry exists to hand out money; accountability revolves around who has received the money rather than the long term effectiveness of the hand outs. It is easy to hand out money.

If just some of the money that is devolved to the white Prado brigade was directed to Aboriginal empowerment some of the incarceration rates might begin to fall. With such a large proportion of the Aboriginal population in prison, the opportunity might be taken to run empowerment and education programs within prison, including with the partners, children and relatives who ‘camp’ around the prisons. It would seem logical that such empowerment programs should be run by Aboriginals.

The white Prado brigade should be aiming to marginalise themselves out of work. If Aboriginal mentors had been within the walls of Don Dale prison in the Northern Territory, the children would not have been abused by the white prison officials.

Bruce Haigh is a retired diplomat and political commentator, who has worked in the Kimberly, Port Hedland and Broome.

Australia is a sick country, primarily because it has become such a selfish and self-centred country. A sense of entitlement pervades, indeed is encouraged and fostered within the ruling class and politicians. For sure it’s all about us, that is the white anglo christians, who comprise the bulk of the Australian ruling class.

Many Psychologists say narcissism is on the rise in Australia, we don’t have to be told that we see it before us each day amongst the poorly performing politicians that the failing major parties plonk before us.

To say that I am angry with Turnbull and Shorten and their sycophantic lackeys, Dutton and Marles, is a significant understatement. The utterly shameful decision not to allow the people on Manus to come to Australia following the PNG Supreme Court decision can only be described as gutlessly self serving.

At what point did we embark on becoming the most selfish country on earth. Was it Howard with his smug ‘we shall decide who comes here’ exhortation? Or was it his massive mining boom hand outs to the suffering middle class? Or was it his deliberate attempt to create a ruling elite with his profligate hand outs to private schools?

Where ever and however it came about we are now a society divided between the haves and have nots and asylum seekers are at the bottom of the pile of have nots, stripped of their rights even under Australian laws designed to protect them. How sick is that?

In Apartheid South Africa detained black activists were denied even their basic rights. They were demonised; so although Steve Biko was dying, following repeated police beatings, he was transported in a comatose state in the back of a Land Rover in a locked cage with an armed guard 700 miles from Port Elizabeth to Pretoria. This was justified by a system that saw legitimate grievance and need as a threat to the state. Political activists such as Biko and Mandela were regarded and treated as terrorists.

The black force of Border Protection has adopted the same mentality for similar reasons. They feel charged with the responsibility for protecting privilege from the incursions of coloured ‘outsiders’. We have witnessed the border protection mentality at play with the tardy transport to hospital in Australia of seriously ill men, women and children from Manus and Nauru. This has resulted resulting recently in two deaths and an untreated unwanted pregnancy. All transport has been under armed guard. And this is directed against people who couldn’t lift a finger to help themselves.

This is selfishness run amok. To ‘save’ our supremacy we have resorted to the methods of a police state.

We learn that the asylum seeker Omid who died several days ago after setting fire to fuel he poured over himself on Nauru, had been ‘advised’ shortly before hand by UNHCR that he was to spend another 10 years on Nauru. Why would UNHCR act as the stalking horse for the Australian government? I don’t know, except to say that they have done it before. In discussions that I was party to, UNHCR agreed not to classify Chinese women fleeing the one child policy and claiming asylum in Australia. The deal on that occasion was increased regional funding for UNHCR by the Australian Government.

And now we learn that a 22 year old Somali woman has also tried to end her life on Nauru. Surely the right wing ideologues must be swayed by this. Australia is running a gulag, a concentration camp, history will be savage in its condemnation of all those responsible.

Morrison – erstwhile Minister for Immigration and now the Treasurer has demonstrated again (as if we needed to have it demonstrated) his out – of – touch elitism by promising tax breaks for those earning above $80,000. He apparently believes that God helps those who help themselves. How do you do that when you are incarcerated on Manus or Nauru? And Australia was not built by hard-working immigrants fleeing poverty, persecution and victimisation in other lands?

Turnbull and Shorten attended private schools. Neither of them ever fled war or persecution. Are they examples of what those institutions aspire to? Most of those schools claim to be religiously based, but for the Christian schools amongst them the parable of The Good Samaritan appears to have gone missing in action.

I no longer attend the class reunions of my old private school. I cannot stand the attitudes of my privileged former class mates to asylum seekers and refugees. By Australian standards they’re all wealthy and have enough to share. Their talk is of real estate and their trips overseas. Such people form the leadership cohort of Australia.

Here is the rub:- to protect our privilege our governments banned on the free flow of information from the detention centres and all off shore border operations. They have threatened to gaol doctors and nurses who speak out. This abuse of free speech has nothing to do with protecting our rights. It only has to do with protecting wealth and privilege.

The Australian asylum seekers policy is an ugly, rebranded White Australia policy. With one exception: if you have money – Australia doesn’t give a bugger what race you are.Money is the key to admission. Not the fact that you are fleeing for your life, your freedom or your family’s lives. Yes, we are now a corrupt country, morally, ethically and financially.

So many Australians – Asian, African and European – came to this land because it promised them freedom from oppression. They helped build our country, economically, culturally and ethically. Today’s asylum seekers are no different. Odds on they will prove to be better nation builders than most of the red necks who oppose them or the cashed-up migrants who take their place in the queue.

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator, retired diplomat and former private school boy.