From the industry reaction to Australia's overseas aid budget, one might have thought Canberra's cruel bean-counters are intentionally starving Third World orphans. The budget announcement of keeping foreign aid at around 0.35% of gross national income, or almost $5.6 billion, reflects a stepping down from a forecast increase in aid to 0.38%, but still represents an overall 4% increase in available funds.
In an era of broad budgetary restraint, this not unreasonable outcome reflects commitments given by Australia in order to secure its seat on the UN Security Council last October. It also reflects a shift away from the "hard power" of Defence, with the Iraq war drifting into history, Timor-Leste no longer active, Solomons concluding and Afghanistan looking to an end. The security emphasis now is on "soft" and "secret" power, with diplomacy drifting.
In order not to further alienate Labor's Left, the government has capped aid funds allocated to housing asylum seekers at 7% of the aid budget, at $375 million. Australia's commitment to the UN's millennium development goal of 0.5% of gross national income by 2015 has now been "deferred" to 2016-17. This target will now require an extra -- and improbable -- $1 billion a year for the next four years.
Of the more aspirational commitment to the OECD's 2002 Monterey Agreement to allocate 0.7% of GDP to foreign aid by 2015, only Sweden, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands have met that goal. Australia is outside the top 10 OECD aid providers by GDP. There is, however, some small comfort in still being well ahead of Japan and the United States.
Australia's aid recipients are unlikely to protest about the deferral of intended aid increases. Indonesia -- Australia's largest aid recipient -- does not care too much about Australian aid in any case. For some in Indonesia, Australian aid is viewed through a paranoid lens as a mechanism for some vague ulterior agenda. From Australia's perspective, aid simply helps secure a seat at Indonesia's diplomatic table.
Papua New Guinea is more concerned about Australian aid, mostly because it so poorly manages its domestic budget and needs all the help it can get. Some less critical Australian aid programs to Timor-Leste have been deferred, which otherwise remains high on Australia's aid priority list.
Tightening has hurt Australian diplomacy through funding of Australia's embassies. DFAT's departmental appropriations have survived this budget with a minor spending increase of $43 million to just under $1.5 billion. But this will come as cold comfort to many Australian diplomats, given the reduction in spending over recent years.
Australia's two new African embassies, in Dakar, Senegal, announced in the last budget, will be further funded by closing the embassy in Budapest. Given the critical role of exports, the Australian Trade Commission will have to do more with a little less, its budget down $13 million to $319 million.
Defence has, as was earlier known, taken a hit, losing just over $2 billion to $22 billion, reflecting Australia's shifting security focus. That less visible branch of Australian security, the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, received another healthy budget increase, of more than 11.7%, from $211 million to almost $248 million. It is, it seems, a good time to be a spy.
This year's budget represents an absolutely critical one for Australia as it makes especially visible the underlying structural deficit that has faced Australia now for many years.
When assessing some of the assumptions underpinning Wayne Swan’s 2013 federal budget, two things spring to mind: the Henry Tax review and the notorious inaccuracy of forward estimates.
History shows it might be foolhardy to rely on the accuracy of forward estimates. And meanwhile, the repercussions of failing to undertake structural economic reform by amending our taxation system will continue to weigh on our economic fortunes.
So what is the link between the Henry Review and the forward estimates? One was timely but ignored; the other has time against it.
Read full article at The Conversation:
On Wednesday (15 May 2013) I had the honour of introducing a documentary film ‘Words of Witness’ as it premiered as part of the Human Right Arts and Film Festival (HRAFF). The documentary was made during the Egyptian uprising, by ﬁlmmaker Mai Iskander and follows Heba Aﬁfy, an online journalist reporting from the frontline of the revolution. I was asked by the Festival organisers to introduce the film and provide the audience with some updated reflections on the current political situation in Egypt and across the Arab Spring countries.
Three factors are emerging from the post-election shake-out that will shape Malaysian politics for the foreseeable future. Although Malaysia's opposition came closer to government, the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN -- National Front) coalition has secured government not just for another five years but may be in a position to retain power beyond the 2018 elections.
The vote has sharply delineated Malaysian politics along racial lines, with the BN’s ethnic Chinese partner, the Malaysian Chinese Association, losing two-thirds of its seats. The Chinese vote has, instead, swung dramatically behind the opposition Pakatan Rakyat’s (PR) ethnic Chinese Democratic Action Party (DAP).
The opposition’s Malay Partai Amanat Se-Islam (PAS -- Islamic Message Party) lost two seats, with opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s Partai Keadilan Rakyat (PKR -- People’s Justice Party) losing one seat. The PR has thus become much more Chinese in representation, while the government’s BN has become increasingly Malay.
This then leads to the second factor, with the ethnic coloration of the government and opposition set to create further tensions in difficult and sometimes factious Malay-Chinese relations. The PR has only just been able to exercise discipline around the unity of its three component parties.
The PAS is divided between more accommodationist Malay Muslims and those who can barely tolerate their Chinese partners. The more radical wing of the party is now threatening to either splinter or to shift wholesale across to the government. The government is, meanwhile, holding out a welcoming hand to these disenchanted PAS members, replicating a policy employed by the BN for the past four decades by buying off vulnerable elements of the opposition’s ranks.
This could effectively kill the PAS as an effective component of the opposition, concentrating power in the hands of the opposition’s Chinese majority (Malaysia’s ethnic minority). From this position, it would be next to impossible to win the next elections. It would also cast doubt over Anwar Ibrahim’s leadership of the opposition, given his former balancing role between the PAS and the DAP.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Najib Razak will be watching his back, with his predecessor having been dumped for an election result that was not as bad as the loss of a 10 further government seats.
The third major factor of the 2013 Malaysian elections was that rorting of the electoral system reached almost breathtaking levels. On the latest count, the government won by 22 seats in a 222-seat Parliament, but with just 47.38% of the vote, while the opposition received 50.87% of the vote. This result has in large part been attributed to the gerrymandering of the Malaysian electoral boundaries, which favour rural Malay voters. However, what has alarmed observers is that although both the government and opposition pushed to get the vote out on Sunday, resulting in a record 80% turnout for the voluntary elections, the number of new voters spiked in a number of marginal seats, in one case to over 60%. There were 25% or more new voters across 90 of the Parliament’s 222 seats.
Added to this were some voters being told their vote had been cast before they had voted, claims of multiple voting, the mass government registration of non-Malaysian guest workers and the old stand-by of simply paying for votes.
The Malaysia government has scraped back into office on the basis of these electoral rorts. With a possible split in the opposition’s ranks, it may now have bought itself an extension to its guaranteed unbroken 61 years in office.
Increasing cultural and religious diversity does not and should not have a detrimental effect on social cohesion. Diversity should not be linked to a loss of a sense of collective action, but rather to a stronger community bonding and mutual trust. And under no circumstances, should cultural diversity be invoked to justify infringements on domestic laws and accepted norms of human rights. Indeed, cultural diversity should be employed as a key lever to engendering intercultural understanding in our increasingly multicultural society. Yet this is not always the case as recent events have shown.
Cancer is a big killer of Australians, yet a person has much in their own control in preventing many of these cases of cancer. Being physically activity is one of them and is now recognised as a potent ‘cancer-preventing’ habit.
Violence has again broken out in Indonesia’s troubled province of West Papua, with the Australian-supported counter-terrorism police squad Densus 88 leading the attack. In the latest violence, there are unverified but fairly detailed reports of 10 West Papuans being killed during flag-raising ceremonies at three locations across West Papua. Dozens have also been arrested in these otherwise peaceful ceremonies.
Densus 88 has been the subject of a number of critical reports, notably for being used to suppress political dissent and not in its primary counter-terrorism role.
The West Papua National Freedom Army (TPN-PB) -- the armed wing of the Free Papua Organisation (OPM) -- organised flag-raising ceremonies on May 1 across the province to mark West Papua's incorporation into Indonesia. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has said in response to the violence:
"These latest incidents are unfortunate examples of the ongoing suppression of freedom of expression and excessive use of force in Papua. I urge the government of Indonesia to allow peaceful protest and hold accountable those involved in abuses."
West Papua Legislative Council deputy speaker Demianus Jimmy Idjie condemned the use of violence by the police as a group of West Papuans attempted to hoist the Morning Star flag. "Seeing these people’s wounds, the shooters were not trying to disperse the rally, they were actually aiming at the protesters," he said.
According to several reports, two protesters were shot dead in Sorong, on the tip of the Bird’s Head Peninsula, with another three wounded and many more arrested. It is understood that four people were also killed and a further 20 arrested in the mining town of Timika, south of the central Maoke Mountain Range, and a further four shot dead in Biak, on Suipori Island, just north of the mainland, again with many more arrests.
The attacks against the protests were said to be led by Densus 88 officers, supported by conventional soldiers. Densus 88 officers arrested a further 22 activists on Saturday.
In response to this latest round of violence, a TPB-PB spokesman has called on the Indonesian government to enter into talks aimed at a peaceful resolution to West Papua's outstanding claims.
A police spokesperson, Senior Commander I Gede Sumerta Jaya, denies allegations that Densus 88 officers shot two men during the Sorong protest. However, he says the police will investigate the allegations. "It’s a hasty conclusion to condemn the police or the military as responsible for the deaths," he said, as no bodies had been found by police. Unconfirmed photos of what appear to be the bodies have been made available.
According to the UN's Pilay:
"Since May 2012, we have received 26 reports concerning alleged human rights violations, including 45 killings and cases of torture involving 27 people. While many incidents relate to communal violence, serious allegations of human rights abuses by law enforcement officials persist."
"There has not been sufficient transparency in addressing human rights violations in Papua. I urge Indonesia to allow international journalists into Papua and to facilitate visits by the Special Rapporteurs of the UN Human Rights Council."
While an income tax increase may be hard to sell to some people in the community in the lead-up to a federal election, it’s the right choice for a sustainable National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
From July 1 next year, the Medicare levy will increase by 0.5% to partly fund the NDIS, taking the Medicare levy to 2% and adding an extra $1 per day to the Medicare levy of an average worker on A$70,000.
But the move is a risk for the Gillard government because it gives the Coalition, if elected in September, the power to delay or veto the scheme.
Increasing income tax the right choice for a sustainable NDIS
US President Barack Obama has moved a step closer towards direct intervention in Syria with his statement that there is now evidence that chemical weapons have been used in Syria's civil war. Obama has previously said the use of chemical weapons would be a "red line" that, if crossed, would trigger US intervention.
However, Obama has said it is not yet absolutely clear who was responsible for the use of the chemical weapons, and that it is critical to clarify this point so as to ensure international support for US intervention. His caution reflects growing concern not just over Syria's mounting death toll but international opposition to intervention as well as the inexorable drawing in to the conflict of outside forces, in particular Lebanon’s heavily armed Shiite militia Hezbollah.
Both the Bashar al-Assad government and the Syrian opposition claim chemical weapons have been used in the conflict, as recently as last Sunday. This supports earlier Israeli claims chemical weapons were being used in the Syrian conflict. There has been a high level of reluctance to take such claims on face value, however, given the disrepute of similar claims that rationalised the start of the Iraq War. Even if it can be established who has used chemical weapons -- thought to be the nerve gas Sarin -- it is not yet clear what form intervention might take, much less the shape of international reactions to such an intervention.
With the US public weary over the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, it is unlikely that the US would commit ground troops to Syria. A belligerent response from Syrian ally Russia, and to a lesser extent Iran, are also factors against a ground intervention.
However, a bombing campaign and related air cover, as in Libya in 2011 and in Yugoslavia in 1999, have been shown to be effective in either changing the course of a ground war or compelling a government into submission. With the Assad regime only slowly losing ground in its now two-year-old civil war, such an intervention would be likely to tip the outcome against his government forces.
One factor complicating of any hastening of the fall of the Assad regime is that Syrian opposition forces are now deeply divided. The Free Syrian Army is supported by the US and its European allies, and the explicitly al-Qaeda-affiliated Al Nusra Front is supported by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Although it wants the Assad regime to go, the US and its allies are deeply opposed to an Al Nusra takeover of Syria. A civil war between Al Nusra and the FSA is also seen as increasingly likely following the fall of the Assad regime.
On-ground intervention by Hezbollah, which is supported by Iran, has led Al Nusra leaders to say that, following the fall of the Assad regime, Hezbollah's destruction will be the next priority. Contemplating a possible Al Nusra takeover in Syria and a widening of the war into Lebanon and possibly Iran, the US is focusing on how its increasingly likely intervention could shape Syria’s highly contentious future.