||Issue No. 152||13 September 2002|
The Legacy of 11/9
Interview: Still Flying
International: President Gas
Politics: Australia: A Rogue State?
History: Levelling September
Unions: Welfare Max
Bad Boss: Welcome to Telstra!
Health: Fat Albert: The Grim Reaper
Poetry: A Man From the East And A Man From The West
Review: The Sum Of All Fears
The Locker Room
Week in Review
The CFMEU Race Debate #2
Keeping it Clean
Sue the Leaders?
Australia: A Rogue State?
This day - September 11 - is redolent with symbolism and emotion for all of us. For one year ago we witnessed a shocking loss of human life, which triggered the circumstances we find ourselves in today - on the cusp of a major conflagration in the Middle East.
But without in anyway detracting from the horrific actions of the state less and mandate less Al-Queda network we should keep September 11 in some sort of perspective. It was an extraordinary act of terrorist violence because of its magnitude in terms of targets, logistical organisation and numbers of people affected. But it was not the first act of world-stopping terrorism. Many of us will recall the senseless kidnapping and killing of members of the Israeli Olympic team in Munich in 1972. Or the IRA's Brighton Hotel bombing ten years later.
The point to make is that we need to consider why we are now sanctioning wholesale trampling on civil society by governments in the US, UK and Australia all in the name of an indefinite and indefinable 'War on Terrorism.' And why are we rushing at this moment, more than any other in the last ten years, to invade Iraq?
I would suggest that the answer to these questions lies in this fact - that we have allowed the Al-Queda's actions to spook us. The events of September 11 have achieved one of their aims - to dismantle the liberal democratic tradition that the West has enjoyed in varying degrees since the Age of Enlightenment. We are also seeing the institutions of global governance that have done much to champion the liberal democratic cause in the last fifty years at least now being undermined by the very nations that established them. And Bin-Laden and his network has also achieved one of its other objectives - to light a match on an incendiary Middle East.
Australia - under the Howard government, sometimes aided and abetted by Labor - has been a willing participant in the erosion of the architecture of global governance and liberal democratic principles since before September 11. In fact, September 11 merely gave our politicians, with the notable exceptions of the Democrats and the Greens, the chance to kick along what I believe is a disturbing trend that has been evident since the election of the Howard government in 1996. This is a retreat from our traditional willing participation in, and rigorous subscription to the principles of, institutions of global governance such as the UN or multilateral efforts to deal with pressing matters such as climate change or human rights abuses.
Yes there have been exceptions to this but even they have been tarnished and compromised. Take our recent agreement to sign up for the International Criminal Court. Here the 'good guys won the day' in the government but before the ink was dry on our signature along comes revelations that we are prepared to do a deal with the US to ensure that we never hand over any of their personnel involved in war crimes to the Court!
In short, what I am asking you to consider is this - Is Australia now a rogue state amongst nations with whom we share the liberal democratic heritage? I would argue that we heading dangerously close to such a labelling.
And if you want some concrete evidence to back up what sounds of itself a fairly stretched assertion, then you need cast your minds back only a week to Australia's continued refusal to sign up to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. Even Canada, which as the Financial Review's Paul Cleary pointed out last weekend, 'faces a much tougher target' than Australia in terms of what is expected of it under the Protocol - a 6 percent cut in emissions between 1990 and 2012 whereas Australia proposes an 8 percent increase over the same period - is now prepared to revisit its refusal to sign. And developing countries like China are now on board.
Unfortunately this continued bloody mindedness by Australia is not isolated. In the last two months we have sign other egregious examples of this newfound testosterone filled contempt for global governance.
First, there was the report by the UN Special Envoy on Human Rights, Justice Bhagwati, on the conditions in our detention centres for asylum seekers. Justice Bhagwati report confirmed what hundreds of others have observed - that Australia is not meeting its obligations under international human rights standards. The response from the Immigration Minister Mr Ruddock and his cabinet colleagues was question the motives and modus operandi of Justice Bhagwati - a distinguished Indian jurist - and rant about busy bodies in the UN keeping their nose out of our business.
Then only a fortnight later the Howard government acted with swift vengeance against the UN by refusing to sign the Optional Protocol on Torture on the grounds that we are affronted by the UN having the power under that statute to randomly visit countries where it suspects there are human rights abuses occurring. Here we were happy to line up with 8 other nations including China, Egypt, Nigeria and Libya!
But it's not just in the area of international treaties and protocols where Australia has developed a more selective and reactive stance. It is in the way we conduct our domestic politics. Whilst we are today remembering the events of September 11 only two weeks ago we reflected on the Tampa incident.
The hysteria generated by the Howard government and the extraordinary buckling by Labor that saw a shameful 'me-tooism' approach between then and the November election, was isolationist, inhumane and xenophobic. And the resultant Pacific Island Solution demonstrated a total contempt for our near neighbours (as does the Kyoto Protocol refusal given the likely disaster about to befall Pacific micro-states this century as a result of melting polar caps) and a selfishness that one might expect to emanate from a tin pot regime like that which currently exists in Zimbabwe.
Let me know turn to Australia's September 11 legacy because in my view it is helping to craft a new Australia that is prepared to turn its back on our region and more importantly, on active leadership in the vanguard of the struggle to achieve as widespread a liberal democratic tradition as possible in the world.
Despite our Prime Minister's comment that we do not 'click our heels' just because the US tells us to, this is hard to reconcile with his fawning performance in Washington in July or his sadly absurd suggestion last year that we are the 'deputy sheriffs' of the region for the US! And Mr Howard was happy to allow the Foreign Minister Mr Downer to indulge in bellicose sabre rattling on Australia's participation in any conflict with Iraq until the opinion pollsters obviously told him that the public was just a little nervous about the prospect at his point.
And Australia has not been prepared to take an independent and cautiously sympathetic to legitimate grievances in West Papua or Aceh where the legacy of repressive Indonesian imperialism is beginning to wear very thin. In fact, the Howard government has given our near neighbours every indication over the past five years that we are joined at the hip to the US.
At no stage has the government, unlike many European countries, stopped to ask the question - should Australia support the US on its Iraq strategy? Perhaps its is in our interests to oppose a War? Why not have this debate.
In summary, let me put this to you. Australia was once regarded as the world now regards New Zealand and Canada - as a nation strongly committed to the univeralist project of liberal democracy. After all, it was former Labor leader Bert Evatt, who as External Affairs Minister in 1946, insisted that the Great Powers establish a civil and political rights jurisdiction for the fledging UN in addition to its security role.
And it was an Australian Prime Minister in Malcolm Fraser who crafted the Lancaster House Agreement to bring equality to the indigenous people of Zimbabwe, and it was Bob Hawker and Paul Keating who recognised that Australia must lead in the region in which we live - Keating even appointed a Minister responsible for Pacific Island issues.
Australia is heading to rogue state status amongst our traditional peers - yet who seems to care? Such a stance seems to win elections and confirms the view I have had for some time that John Howard did not see off Pauline Hanson, as his supporters like to boast - he simply morphed into her. And in doing so, he and his government are helping to erode the global governance arrangements of the liberal democratic tradition. September 11 has only exacerbated this conduct.
SPEECH TO FABIAN SOCIETY/PLUTO PRESS SEMINAR
11 SEPTEMBER 2002
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