page loader

Published: Canberra Times – Letter to the editor

It is a shame that there are so few historians or even people of intellect amongst the spoilers in the Liberal Party. If there were they might be cognizant of the disastrous 1954 split in the Labor Party which led to the formation of the Democratic Labor Party (DLP) in 1957. The DLP acted as a spoiler to keep the Labor Party from power for the next eighteen years.

They had a conservative, if not reactionary agenda, of anti most things including communism, abortion, pornography and homosexuality, and change except state funding of Catholic schools. They did however support Australian involvement in Vietnam.

To achieve their aim of keeping the Labor Party out of office the DLP distributed preferences to the Liberal Country Party Coalition.

The Liberal Party together with their coalition partners are heading down the same path. Selfishness and stupidity Rules the day. Minchin and his mob make a very ordinary Rudd Labor Party look positively brilliant.

The Liberal Party, on present form, looks unelectable until 2016, but the chances are that it will split after an election, rendering the likelihood of conservative parties achieving office unlikely until 2019 or 2022.

Well done Nick Minchin. What matter of principal was it that invoked this split?

Joe Hockey has been played for a sucker. A leader needs to be able to inspire respect and Joe will find that in short supply.

Published: The National Times

Get used to it refugees, climate change and economic uncertainty are here to stay. There are too many variables at play for it to be otherwise. None are issues that should be spun for domestic political gain. Turnbull’s proposal to reintroduce TPV’s for those seeking protection, has taken the heat off Rudd and put it back on himself. Not the most adroit politician, Turnbull is struggling to find credibility and it will not be found by putting the boot into the dispossessed.

Australia holds its breath while two little girls from Bangladesh are separated at the head and at the very same moment in time both political parties are prepared to see refugee women and children incarcerated in the hell holes of Indonesian holding pens. Where is this country at?

The issue of refugee boat arrivals should be handled on page 6 of the newspapers. Arrivals by plane do not rate a mention. Yet Rudd was unable to put Howard’s policies to bed and his inaction or perhaps belief in the value of those policies has come to haunt him.

On all major issues there is little to separate the government and opposition, whether that be the need for fundamental water reform, sustainable and logical climate change decisions, a no nonsense refugee policy which adheres to Australian and International law and an early end to the our military involvement in Afghanistan.

The Australian public are more mature and down to earth than their elected representatives, who are driven by polls which never ask the right questions. Why should we be asked to rate the better of two equally bad leaders or policies? Australian politicians are on a trampoline, plenty of eye catching movement, but not going anywhere.

The Prime Minister, with a modicum of leadership, might have explained the difference between a migrant and a refugee as enshrined in Australian law. He has been irresponsible to bracket people smugglers as the scum of the earth. They respond, for payment, to the needs of the desperate. The regional people smuggling syndicates he refers to, invariably have close links to the police and armed forces.

Rudd should have been aware, as a former diplomat, that his selfish Indonesia solution would use scarce credit. It has done so and Indonesia is now fed up with Australia and unlikely to do anymore favours for some time to come.

Rudd has little credibility in India, which is a shame as it was an open book for him when he came to power, but he overplayed his China card with respect to picking favourites for uranium sales and other events have conspired, in the absence of any credit with India, to keep the relationship struggling. And raising and dashing Chinese expectations has landed him with the embarrassment of Stern Hu.

Australia received displaced persons from Europe at the end of the Second World War, as well as some refugees. The first major test for Australia was refugees arriving by boat from Vietnam and Cambodia. Australia has been accepting Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka for the past 20 years. It made a bad judgement in backing one side in the civil war and was therefore unwilling to make the necessary humanitarian response when Tamil resistance was crushed.

Throughout the region Australian has created a problem by dealing uncritically with corrupt regimes with the notable and laudable exception of Fiji. Despite democratic trappings the government of Sri Lanka is no better than the government of Fiji.

Suppression of legitimate aspirations and grievances, by less than well intentioned governments, will lead to asylum seekers. Failure to address the loss of productive and habitable land as a result of climate change will force the movement of people, as will the inequitable distribution of wealth.

Australia cannot address these issues through the maintenance of fortress Australia, unless it does not care for the human consequences of vessels sunk and the warehousing of people.

Australia needs to take a lead within the region and establish a forum where issues of the current and future needs of people can be openly discussed. The region needs a Canberra Plan similar in form and intention to the old Colombo Plan, where issues of agriculture, fisheries, conservation of rain forests, nurturing the increasingly scarce resource of potable water can be addressed as well as canvassing support for economic and political reform.

The CSIRO needs to provide a major input to such a forum.

Australia should return to a program of providing scholarships to the bright and needy, rather than rely on privately run schemes.

The appointment of veteran diplomat John McCarthy as Special Representative to Sri Lanka was a good move. McCarthy has extensive regional experience and might be considered suitable to establish and run a regional program of confidence building and mutual assistance.

Published: Canberra Times

Having sacked members of the judiciary prepared to stand up to the military regime, Fiji now wants to replace them with members of the Sri Lankan judiciary.

Sri Lanka has an appalling human rights record, with respect to the minority Tamils, and the judiciary has been complicit in what amounts to genocide.

With Fiji approaching Sri Lanka for judges to head their courts, it looks like collusion between rogue states to subvert the rule of law.

It is right for Australia to be concerned. With race relations a sensitive issue in Fiji, where might these Sri Lankan judges take human rights and the already battered rule of law in Fiji?

Published: ABC Unleashed

Link to article and comments:

For twenty five years the invasion of East Timor and the murder of five Australian journalists at Balibo by members of the Indonesian armed forces defined the relationship between the two countries.

It is still significant. In November 2007 the NSW Deputy Coroner, Dorelle Pinch found that, “The Balibo Five…were shot and or stabbed deliberately, and not in the heat of battle.” The murders were carried out by Indonesian special force soldiers.

The findings were referred to the AFP for investigation as war crimes. Nothing happened under AFP Commissioner Keelty. It couldn’t. Keelty was caught between a rock and a hard place. He had developed a relationship with the Indonesian police and military to thwart people smuggling. It worked because both either ran or received protection money from the people smugglers. He feared that investigating the military over the Balibo deaths would hazard the finely balanced refugee disruption operation in which the AFP was a player with the Indonesian military and police.

Keelty retired in May 2009 and August his successor Tony Negus announced that the AFP would begin its investigation into the deaths. In September the Indonesian government said that the case should remain closed. In October refugee boats started to arrive in Australian waters and in November the Indonesian government banned the feature film Balibo which portrays the deaths and the events surrounding them. The film was however screened in Jakarta by the Independent Journalists’ Alliance on 3 December.

The arrival of the refugee boats could be co-incidental because events in the source countries of Afghanistan and Sri Lanka saw conditions favouring the exit of persecuted individuals and families. Nonetheless the Indonesian military does have the capacity to turn on and off the flow of boats.

The Australian government is well aware of this and has sought to minimise this eventuality with increases in aid to police and military institutions. However when events eventually dictated a different approach the Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, sought a government to government agreement through the Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The catalyst was a boat of Sri Lankan Tamils fleeing detention from Indonesian holding prisons. How they managed to get out of detention and find a boat to take 260 people to Australia remains a mystery.

Fools rush in where wise men fear to tread and so it was with Rudd. In mid October Rudd thought he had a deal with the Indonesian President after a hasty and one suspects some-what desperate phone call. Domestically the Opposition were braying at his heals and he ran even though he held an opinion poll lead of some substance over them.

Rudd was able to get the President to have the boat turned back by the Indonesian Navy. He followed this up with an agreement for Indonesia to accept asylum seekers bound for Australia. The agreement lasted less than a month when Rudd concluded a special deal with another group of Tamils on board an Australian vessel the Oceanic Viking.

Local Indonesian officials and the military demonstrated the limitations of the Presidents direct authority away from the city state of Jakarta. They refused to accept the refugees under the terms of the newly concluded agreement.

As the AFP can attest the military and police control politics and the many and varied rackets outside of the capital. The military has the primary domestic role of holding the archipelago together. It gives them considerable power. The President and other national politicians exercise power through influence and that power takes time to translate into action which sometimes is effective and sometimes is not. In this instance it was not.

Rudd should have known better. He should have been properly advised, perhaps he was and yet again didn’t listen. What possessed him to believe that the Indonesian military would be keen to save his domestic political hide? Yudhoyono’s lapse of judgement was just that and it cannot have been long before he was made aware of it from the quarters which matter.

What if anything did Rudd offer to make his deal stick? Cancellation of the order of US built F35 fighter bombers? Vast amounts of money into the pockets of Indonesian generals?

So successful was Rudd that the object of his representations, the boat with 260 Tamil asylum seekers, remains in limbo in the Indonesian port of Merak with the asylum seekers still on board.

Balibo is the skeleton in the closet of attempts to have workable diplomatic relationship with Indonesia.
The military will use all means available to them to influence, direct and control Indonesian domestic politics on the issue. They will attempt, probably successfully, to thwart Australian investigations.

They appear to have briefed former Kopassus (Special Forces) officer, Gatot Purwanto, to spin a variation of ‘they were caught in crossfire’ to protect the hide of Yunus Yosfiah the officer who ordered and carried out the murders.

Purwanto claims that firing came from behind the journalists forcing Indonesian armed forces opened fire. This claim has been dismissed. There were no Fretilin forces in the area where the shots were alleged to have originated.

Purwanto admitted the bodies were burnt in order to hide evidence of the killing of foreigners. Faced with an awful accident of war the Indonesian authorities might have admitted such a mistake and handed the bodies over. But they could not as the nature of the injuries would have made known that the journalists were deliberately killed. The military hit squad had to get rid of the bodies.

Purwanto is a stalking horse for the military and in particular his old boss in East Timor at the time Yosfiah, who rose, as is the want with the Indonesian military, to the rank of General. Purwanto served for a time as a senior intelligence officer in East Timor, identifying, hunting down and interrogating Fretilin suspects. Many of these interrogations were accompanied by torture.

The AFP must investigate the murders, but in addition to worrying about the knock on effect on the refugee disruption program it has concerns that co-operation on terrorism will be affected. It need not, co-operation has been tainted by contact, at various levels, between the military, police and the JI, the main radical Islamic group in Indonesia. Unfortunately the AFP has never been fully included in the loop.

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat who for a period was director of the Indonesia Section in DFAT.

Link to article:

One positive thing to emerge from the stand-off with Sri Lankan asylum seekers in Indonesia is that it has forced the Australian Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith, to confront the source of the problem.

In a flying visit to Colombo over the weekend, he urged the Sri Lankan government to crack down on people smugglers and offered assistance to re-build the country after the disastrous 30 year civil war.

All a bit rich when it was Sri Lankan government forces who caused most of the damage and instead of negotiating with the Tamil minority, bankrupted the country in order to crush them. That being the sole aim of the use of military force and the continued detention of 300,000 Tamils in military run camps, seven months after the cessation of hostilities.

People smugglers arise in respect to demand. They are an end product as a result of internal repression. There are no people smugglers operating out of Australia. The minor reform of refugee policy, has not led to an exodus of people from China, Vietnam or India.

It is the push factor in operation with people from Sri Lanka, Sudan, Somalia and Afghanistan that is creating the need for people smuggler operations.

Smith’s visit to Sri Lanka will achieve little, particularly a visit of such short duration. Despite the polite words, the inward looking jingoistic Sri Lankan government will have been offended.

Smith’s visit was all about domestic politics; trying to get the Sri Lankan government to cooperate in solving an Australian political issue.

Politicians of the major parties do not welcome advice from visiting academics, UN officials and others on what reforms Australia should undertake with respect to Indigenous Australians.

They should not expect a self-centred fly-in fly-out to be any better received in Sri Lanka. Smith did not visit the camps nor seek to make any other humanitarian gesture toward displaced Tamils.

Through one-eyed diplomacy Australia has created the dilemma it is now faced with. For 30 years it backed one side in an increasingly bitter civil war. It never once called for negotiations, backed a Commonwealth, UN, or the only initiative which did develop, that of the Norwegian government.

The consequence was the crushing of the Tamils, under an agenda amounting to genocide, which has led them to seek an escape from persecution.

Successive Australian governments have gone along with the western hysteria of labelling all dissident groups terrorists.

The Sri Lankan government seized on this and sold the pup that all Tamil soldiers were terrorists, mainly because of Tamil suicide bombers targeting civilians in Colombo and other centres.

Sri Lanka did not label themselves terrorists for commando and other military raids on Tamil homes and the extra judicial killings of young Tamils picked off the streets of Colombo.

These activities became tit for tat. So why did the Australian government take sides?

The Sri Lankan High Commission in Australia should be requested to stop its harassment of Australian citizens of Tamil origin and of other abuses of diplomatic privilege centred on justifying and defending genocide.

Australian agencies particularly the AFP, should cease giving weight to the dubious claims and statements of Sri Lankan government and Sinhalese operative, Rohan Gunaratna, self styled expert on terrorism with a vested interest in denigrating Tamils from his own country. He demonstrates little understanding on the causes of terrorism.

The Australian government has created a problem throughout the region by dealing uncritically with corrupt regimes with the notable and laudable exception of Fiji. Despite democratic trappings the government of Sri Lanka is no better than the government of Fiji.

Australia needs to inject some consistency and realism into the conduct of its foreign policy.

Australia appears to have learnt nothing from East Timor. Denial is no solution to the repression of people, sooner or later the boil will burst and the consequences will have to be dealt with.

Suppression of legitimate aspirations and grievances by less than well intentioned governments in the region, toward minority groups, will eventually lead to asylum seekers.

Failure to address the loss of habitable and productive land as a result of climate change will force the movement of people, as will the inequitable distribution of wealth.

Australia cannot address these issues through the maintenance of fortress Australia, unless of course it does not care for the human consequences of vessels sunk, the warehousing of families or their enforced removal to further danger and suffering.

Australia needs to take a lead within the region and establish a forum where issues of the current and future needs of people can be discussed openly and clearly.

The region needs another Colombo Plan, perhaps a Canberra Plan, where issues of agriculture, fisheries, conservation of rain forests, nurturing the increasingly scarce resource of potable water, as well as support for economic and political reform, all within the context of climate change and other positive and negative changes taking place in our neighbourhood.

The CSIRO should have a major role and Australia should return to a program of providing scholarships to the bright and needy, rather than rely on the dubious benefit of privately run education programs.

The Plan should be genuinely altruistic seeking a frank discourse and genuine co-operation to help ameliorate the end result problem of refugees.

The appointment of veteran diplomat John McCarthy as a special representative to Sri Lanka was a good move. McCarthy has extensive regional experience and brings intelligence, problem solving and lateral thinking to the art of diplomacy. He might be considered suitable to establish a regional program of confidence building and mutual assistance.

The Australian Government needs to begin an education program within Australia on what it means to be an asylum seeker and refugee.

It needs to act with maturity to take the hysteria out of policy and decision making. It needs to provide leadership because the issue of asylum seekers is not going to go away.

It might seek to put boat people on planes by addressing claims at source, i.e., the camps in Sri Lanka. It might crack down on illegal over stayers arriving by plane and the corrupt issuing of business, student and travel visas.

It might take more refugees and fewer economic immigrants.

Published: Canberra Times – Letter to the editor

There has been no suggestion, indication or any other sign, from either major political party that there should be an inquiry into why Australia joined the US and the UK in the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

John Howard took Australia to war, without debate, without the assent of parliament and on the basis of misinformation. Did he know that the reason he put forward for going to war, the existence of weapons of mass destruction, was incorrect?

We need to establish the facts surrounding that decision. We need to curb the powers of the Prime Minister. Parliament needs to be given the power to decide if we should go to war.

Downer has admitted that the Howard government had the Australian Navy tow boats with asylum seekers on board back into Indonesian waters. The Howard government applied pressure on the AWB to hold onto contracts with Iraq. The Howard government used the army and police to intervene in the Northern Territory. It was a government of ‘whatever it takes’.

Australians have a right to know the extent of ‘whatever it takes’, particularly with respect to decisions surrounding our involvement in the war in Iraq.

There are senior figures in the Opposition who need to be cleared of any suggestion that they were a party to improper decisions making if they are to be considered for high office.

Tony Abbott has indicated he would be prepared to become the leader of the Opposition with a possibility that he might become Prime Minister. For the sake of that high office he needs to be cleared of any suggestion that he was complicit in a cover up surrounding reasons for Australian involvement in Iraq.

The British inquiry into the reasons for their involvement will throw some light on Australian involvement, but for the sake of Australian democracy and future decision making we need to have our own inquiry.