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Damien Kingsbury's blog

Expected council sacking reeks of hypocrisy

There is much speculation that the Victorian Government will move to sack the Darebin City Council early in the New Year, following the release of the Ombudsman’s much anticipated report into the council’s affairs. On the face of it, the State Government will be acting to protect local residents by cleaning up yet another dodgy council.

There has long been a strong sense that the Ombudsman’s inquiry was necessary. Most Darebin residents are aware that there have been at least a couple of highly questionable council planning decisions, and it is common knowledge that political control of the council was held by a particular political network.

However, there is a yawning gap between addressing the problems of Darebin’s previous council and the Baillieu government’s likely solution. For a number of reasons, sacking the council is the wrong answer.

Egypt leader's power play shows how messy revolutions can be

If it was intended as an act of sneaky rat cunning -- first get elected and then seize total power -- Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi's edicts last Thursday which have thrown the country into turmoil were both painfully transparent as well as being a high-risk gamble.

 Exempting presidential decrees from judicial review fundamentally challenges the idea of separation of powers, which is critical to democratic functioning, is on the face of it an anti-democratic act. However, Egypt's judiciary remains that which was appointed by previous dictator Hosni Mubarak and there was real concern that it could, with the stroke of a pen, roll back the revolution.

The judiciary's hobbling of Egypt's parliament showed it is certainly not averse to wielding its power in overtly political ways.

East Timor left to fend for itself with challenges ahead

Australia's draw-down of its remaining military force in East Timor, and the conclusion of the United Nations mission on December 31, has signalled that this sometimes troubled tiny country is now responsible for its own future. The stark realisation that the security blanket provided by the international community is being taken away has left some in East Timor feeling vulnerable. Some observers, too, have suggested that the withdrawal is still too soon and that East Timor still has the potential to slide back into internal conflict. The country’s leaders, however, have been making clear they are not only ready to take full responsibility for their own affairs but are demanding to do so. In this, Australia's continuing military presence is regarded by some East Timorese as neo-colonial, and the UN as of marginal competence or value.

China’s divisive role in the East Asia Forum

The recently concluded East Asia Forum (EAF) has highlighted the contentious role of a growing China in regional affairs. For an event that was intended primarily to lay the foundation for a huge Free Trade Agreement (FTA), the EAF has been at least as notable for a profound, perhaps fatal, rift in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The proposed East Asia Free Trade Area (FTA), including around a third of the world’s global economy, is intended to capitalise on this region’s current and projected economic strength. While there are many thorny details to be resolved, not least trade advantages flowing from China’s artificially low currency, there is a general sense that the FTA process will continue to be developed.

What is driving the current Israel-Hamas conflict

The escalating battle between Israel and Hamas has raised questions as well as tensions.

With the Middle East in a state of flux, why did Israel strike at Hamas military leader? More importantly, why did Hamas respond in a way sure to invite an Israeli attack that it could not possibly fend off?

While Hamas’ military commander, Ahmed al-Jabari, had long been on Israel’s hit list and had, consequently, kept out of sight, his killing may be a calculated attempt to derail the Oslo peace accords, linked with trying to stymy the Palestinian Authority’s bid for UN recognition, due on the 29th of this month.

Israel’s leaders would have been all too aware that al-Jabari’s death would escalate regional tensions.

Why are Tamils Fleeing SRi Lanka?

Among the many claims that about ‘boat people’ that are made in order to fulfil particular political agendas, one is that when a war is officially concluded then people who live in the once afflicted area have nothing more to worry about. As a result, they do not have a legitimate claim for protection against persecution.

If people flee such an area, the assumption is that they are ‘economic’ refugees, hoping to ‘queue jump’ in order to secure a better life for themselves. This has been the claim made about refugees fleeing Sri Lanka. This claim is morally wrong and it is wrong in fact.

From 1983 until 2009, a number of Tamil groups, eventually coming under the banner of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (Tamil Tigers), fought a bitter, bloody and often ruthless war to establish a separate ethnic Tamil state in Sri Lanka’s north and east. The war was a consequence of earlier anti-Tamil rioting.

'Tow Back' Tony rows backwards

There are a number of ways to interpret Opposition leader Tony Abbott’s failure to raise his asylum seeker ‘tow back’ proposal in his meeting with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, but none of them are positive. In short, the ‘town back’ proposal was – and in so far as it continues to be defended by Opposition speakers – remains a policy disaster.

In a political contest increasingly characterised by who has the metaphorically hairiest chest, ‘Tow Back Tony’ has been a tough-guy par excellence. Not only had Mr Abbott taken the hardest line on asylum seekers, he went that one step further by not just saying that a government under his leadership would implement asylum seeker deterrent policies but it would physically take asylum seeker boats back to the territorial waters they came from.

Burma's reform process more than just window dressing

For long-term Burma watchers, it has been easy to regard that country’s recent political changes as window dressing by an authoritarian regime hoping to attract investment without actually giving up power. There is no doubt, too, that the 2010 elections remained a very long way from being free and fair.

But the bi-elections in April this year did appear to offer a glimpse of a genuine reform process, with opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) candidates winning 43 of the 44 seats contested. Burma’s President Thein Sein has since been feted around the world as a reformer, as has NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi as the symbol of hoped-for political change.

Since April, there have been numerous changes in Burma’s political and military leadership. To date, these changes have almost all seen the promotion of reformist officers or former officers and the side-lining of the government’s anti-reform faction.

Peace in Mindanao

The peace agreement between the government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front signed on Sunday has, it seems, brought to an end four decades of a bloody and destructive war in the southern Philippines that has cost an estimated 150,000 lives. Assuming the peace agreement holds, it will create an autonomous Islamic homeland for the Philippines’ ‘Bangsamoro’ people and bring much needed stability to an historically deeply troubled region. The peace agreement recognises the long-standing military stalemate between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the MILF. A compromise arrangement has long been recognised by the MILF and at least some in the government as the only practical means to ending the conflict.

Tamils pay the cost of political expediency

At a time of bipartisan support for renewing the Pacific Solution, it is deeply disturbing to see the asylum seeker issue taking a turn for the more extreme. In a world of dog-whistle politics, it appears that further punishing victims is acceptable if it can score domestic political points.

Despite the opposition’s success in the government adopting its Pacific Solution, Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop’s call to return Sri Lankan asylum seekers to Sri Lanka without processing their claims reduces policy debate to moral abandonment. Backing her, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has displayed either ignorance or denial of the facts on the ground in Sri Lanka and Australia’s legal obligations.

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