Australia’s twin pillars of foreign affairs hypocrisy
You need a keen appreciation of irony and hypocrisy to really enjoy the daily practice of Australian politics.
Dolly Downer lecturing the Solomon Islanders about governmental corruption while his own supine “three wise monkeys” role in the AWB affair goes unpunished.
The self-same Downer writing an opinion piece in this morning’s Oz slating the great wartime Labor PM John Curtin as an appeasing pacifist because he failed to see the self-evident virtues of Pig Iron Bob Menzies’ swanning around London sucking up to Churchill while Australia was under seemingly imminent threat of invasion by the Japanese. Would Menzies have stood up to Churchill, as Curtin did, and countermanded his attempts to divert homecoming Aussie troops to Burma? I wouldn’t bet on it, and Downer doesn’t even mention the incident.
Of course, one can understand Downer’s expedient equating of Australian nationalism with unthinking support for our Imperial masters pro tem. It conveniently serves to label Dolly himself as a brave nationalist hero for having his tongue permanently buried up George Bush’s rectum.
Then there’s Downer’s late unlamented Labor predecessor Gareth Evans.
Gareth wasted no time, during a fleeting return to the country from assorted salubrious overseas hardship posts with the International Crisis Group, in lecturing Australians on international morality. He’s calling for urgent international intervention in Sudan’s Darfur region. I certainly can’t argue with that. The current situation looks almost a carbon copy of the UN and international community’s pathetic hand-wringing impotence during the Rwanda genocide of the mid 90s. But what a hide Evans has in simultaneously slagging the Howard government’s performance over West Papuan asylum seekers!:
TONY JONES: Just a final question on another subject. Many years ago as foreign minister, you were very pragmatic in your dealings with Indonesia. Do you think the present Australian Government’s been right to make major concessions to Jakarta on how it treats Papuan asylum seekers?
GARETH EVANS: No, I don’t. In terms of Papuan asylum seekers, that can genuinely satisfy the criteria for treatment as refugees ought to be so treated and so erect a series of barriers that have been erected now after the original batch were quite properly on the face of it given that status is I think indefensible as a matter of international obligation, international principle. [KP – Evans was Foreign Minister throughout the period 1993-96 when the Keating government persisted in denying asylum to East Timorese fleeing the Santa Cruz cemetery massacre, on the spurious basis that they should have been seeking asylum in a safe country namely Portugal, of which they were supposedly citizens – this was a policy adopted by the Howard government until about 2 years ago. Thus this statement by Evans is almost bretahtakingly dishonest and hypocritical]. The Papua situation is obviously extremely delicate and I don’t think it is doing any service to anyone in Papua to give encouragement to notions of independence and so on. I don’t think that’s going to happen. But the truth of the matter is that there are people on the ground in Papua who have been fighting the independence cause. They are clearly at risk and it is appropriate that if they want to leave the country, flee the country, they be treated as international law and practice demands that they be treated.
TONY JONES: You’d be aware of the way the Indonesian Government has responded. Their ambassador has been withdrawn. He’s sitting in Jakarta now in protest. Things don’t seem to be getting better. Do you see a way around this diplomatic crisis?
GARETH EVANS: Well, when in doubt, stick to decency, stick to principle. That’s not a bad basis on which to act. …
Well, err, yes. But what about your own record on East Timor, Gareth? It’s well summarised in a recent article by Scott Burchill:
THE report of the United Nations inquiry into Indonesia’s brutal 24-year occupation of East Timor will come as no surprise to activists who opposed the policies of successive Australian governments, beginning in 1975, nor to the people of East Timor.
However, the report, which documents torture, rape, slavery and starvation leading to the unnatural demise of as many as 180,000 civilians (from a pre-invasion population of 628,000), should shame those ministers, journalists, diplomats and academics who played down or ignored consistent human rights abuses in the former Portuguese colony ¢â¬â incredibly described as “aberrant acts” by former foreign minister Gareth Evans.
This group, known as the Jakarta lobby, not only sought to protect the reputation of the Soeharto dictatorship at every opportunity. They went out of their way to oppose East Timor’s claim for independence (a “lost cause” ¢â¬â former diplomat Richard Woolcott) and accused critics of the regime in Jakarta of not only exaggerating the scale of the repression, but of being “racist” and “anti-Indonesian” (Woolcott).
Evans was for years the chief political-level mouthpiece for the Jakarta lobby, and the man who negotiated a series of expedient treaties carving up East Timor’s oil and gas resources and cementing defence co-operation with the corrupt TNI forces. For years he did to East Timor what he subsequently did to Cheryl Kernot much more fleetingly. On one level I can see a certain amount of force in the standard realpolitik DFTAT Jakarta lobby line that it’s in Australia’s interest to foster a united, stable Indonesia, even if it isn’t a model of western liberal democratic freedom and propriety, because that’s better than having a series of tiny failed states (cf Solomon Islands) to our north which might expose us to greater danger from terrorism, drug-running, asylum seekers and the like.
On the other hand, it isn’t at all obvious that the current ruling Javanese miltary kleptocracy is doing very well in any of those areas anyway. You can mount semi-respectable arguments both ways, but Gareth Evans is almost the last person who should be lecturing us about the issue, just as Dolly Downer isn’t high on the list of people you’d choose to lecture Australia’s neighbours about anti-corruption strategies.