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.
It is a truism that Australia’s relationship with Indonesia is one of its most important. Yet the bilateral relationship has often been troubled, sometimes deeply so, and may become so again.
The current success of the bilateral relationship can be attributed almost entirely to Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Until his presidency, Australia only kept good relations with previous presidents by bowing to Indonesia’s wishes.
With Yudhoyono, however, Australia found a genuine democrat and reformer with whom it had much in common, confirming that previous troubles reflected political rather than claimed cultural differences. However, Yudhoyono is now into his second and final term as president and his reformist agenda has become stalled by an unfriendly legislature and vested institutional interests.
As the new consolation prize Foreign Affairs Minister, Kevin Rudd’s first job will be to try to implement the government’s ‘East Timor solution’ for asylum seekers. The issue whether this policy has any chance of success.
The first hurdle to be overcome was the unanimous vote by East Timor’s parliament, if with an incomplete sitting of members, opposing the idea. As a wealthy developed country, many East Timorese ask, why does Australia want to off-load its problems onto its impoverished neighbour? Why does Australia not properly shoulder its responsibilities under the Refugee Convention?
My son turned 18 recently, so he was eligible to vote for the first time. Although it is tempting to encourage one’s children to vote as one does, I have hoped he will vote not at my suggestion but as a matter of personal conscience. Yesterday, before he went to the polling booths, I offered him some advice.
Despite the way in which Australian election campaigns are conducted, the most recent being the worst example, I asked my son to consider the ‘Four Ps’; principle, policy, party and personality, in that order. It would be reasonable to argue that the Australian election process, which is now in mopping up stages, was constructed in the opposite order. So, why my advice?
As the policy-lite federal election runs down to the finish line, one issue widely regarded as just so much debate-neutralising fluff – locating an asylum seeker processing facility in East Timor – is now looking a lot more substantial than initially understood. Although talks about establishing a facility in East Timor are on hold due to the government’s caretaker mode, the issue is now being taken very seriously and considerably more favorably within East Timor itself.