The Australian government’s ‘East Timor’ asylum seeker solution is dying a death of a thousand cuts. It is a slow and painful process and unedifying to watch it writhe in agony. The plan has not yet been killed outright, but only an unreconstructed optimist would now suggest its fate is other than sealed.
The Bali Process ministerial forum has been one of the more damaging cuts to the ‘East Timor solution’, even if the decision by East Timor Foreign Minister Zacarias da Costa not to attend was not a snub to Australia, as presented by some. Rather, East Timor has correctly pointed out that it has much more pressing priorities than Australia’s domestic concerns with asylum seekers and its half-baked plan about where to process them.
The line attributed by Mark Twain to British PM Benjamin Disraeli that there are ‘lies, damned lies and statistics’ might be held to be true when assessing the value of indicators. Indicators, after all, only indicate, so there is scope for debate about the meaning of the UNDP’s Human Development Index, identified by Robert Johnson in Crikey.com yesterday and by me last Friday.
But as well as damned lies and statistics there are also category errors – analysing metaphorical tangerines when one is supposed to be looking at oranges. They are similar, but not quite the same and confusing one for the other can lead to inaccuracies.
For every Australian tired of bad news – disasters, political disputes and public people behaving badly – here is some good news. While nobody was noticing, late last year Australia pipped Norway to achieve the highest standard of living in the world.
There is increasing discussion and hand-wringing about the pros and cons of direct intervention in the carnage that is now Libya. What seems certain is that without a circuit- breaker, forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi will continue to wreak havoc on the Libyan people.
What is at stake here is the much debated ‘Responsibility To Protect’ (R2P), in which the international community agreed in 2005 that it needs to act to stop such bloodbaths before, rather than respond after, they happen.
However, as many analysts correctly point out that, a military intervention in Libya could well cohere the Libyan people not against Gaddafi but against the external forces. The invasion of Iraq was not based on the R2P principle, but it did show the folly of foreign occupation of a country that the people did not want occupied. Afghanistan is doing likewise.
The tumultuous changes affecting the Middle-East have been widely described as representing ‘people power’ and claimed by many Western political leaders, including Australia’s, as representing aspirations for democracy. The uprisings from Morocco across to the Arabian Peninsula are, to be sure, a reflection of a popular desire for political change, but their chances of democratic outcomes is much less certain.
Desperate times, they say, call for desperate measures. Proposing to cut $400 million from Australia's aid budget to Indonesia’s schools program looks pretty desperate. So one can only assume that having alienated damp Queensland voters and not just a few Victorians, Tony Abbott is trying to find a way out of opposing the one-off tax hole he has dug himself into.
Someone should tell him that the first rule of holes is, when you are in one, stop digging.
Abbott’s chopping of the Indonesian education program would be an abysmal policy decision, but for one saving grace: being in opposition means it won’t be enacted.
This is the text of my address to Deakin University's annual forum: ‘Yes we’re still a monarchy but it’s not my fault’
The people of Burma – or some of them - went to the polls on Saturday in what was that countries first election process in 20 years. This process was so restricted and stage managed and the substance of the result know as early as three days before the event that even the terms ‘poll’ and ‘election’ have to be used in a heavily qualified sense. It was, in reality, just the Burmese junta’s mechanism for shifting away from an overt military dictatorship to a slightly more covert form – dictatorship without so many uniforms.
For a political leader who honestly but unwisely admitted that foreign policy is not her passion, Julia Gillard is now learning that how she conducts herself on the world – or regional – stage – is central to her overall performance as a prime minister. How Australia’s relationship is conducted with Indonesia is not just important to Australia’s external concerns, but directly impacts on domestic political issues.
Front and centre of Ms Gillard’s discussions with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was, unsurprisingly, Indonesia’s potential role in a regional refugee processing centre. Notice the subtle name change? We may be seeing a move away from an asylum seeker processing centre in East Timor to something located elsewhere, if not more widely dispersed.