In my last post on Troppo I raised this question:
…who’s actually running [Australia’s] foreign policy these days? Is it Julie Bishop, as Minister for Foreign Affairs, is it Scott Morrison as Minister for Immigration or is it some other bugger?
The answer, it turns out, is ‘some other bugger’: specifically Trade Minister, Andrew Robb. While Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop has been given the busy work of dealing with issues that really don’t matter to the Abbott government – such as patching up diplomatic relations with Indonesia and taking on the Herculean task of placating the Chinese while defending Australia’s right to give them the finger, Robb has been dealing with the one issue that does matter – securing trade agreements to open and extend markets for Australia’s primary product exports.
On Tuesday 5 December, the ABC – and other news outlets – reported that Australia has concluded another bi-lateral free trade agreement, this time with South Korea. It was a great photo opportunity for Robb and his Korean counterpart Yoon Sang-jick and great news for Australian producers of beef, sugar, wheat, dairy products and wine.
And with Robb currently busy working towards reaching another free trade deal – the multi-lateral Trans-Pacific Partnership between the US, Australia and a few other nations, there’s more photo opps and good news to come. For primary producers that is. How things will pan out for the rest of us is open to question.
Some memories fade too slowly. I was reminded of one such memory by the TV advertisement being aired in the lead up to White Ribbon Day tomorrow (Monday 25 November).
It was late morning on Friday, 20 September and I was at the local Magistrate’s Court on a court visit for the first assignment in my B Laws course. The court co-ordinator told me that there was only one criminal contest – that is, a trial – on that day, in Court 2. A case of recklessly causing injury.
It sounded amusing – most likely the result of a couple of bogans going the biff in the car-park of one of the areas many 1960s vintage beer barns. I went to court room expecting an hour or so of light entertainment at the expense of a boof-head who’d fallen foul of the law. More fool me.
When I entered the courtroom and sat myself down in the seat nearest the door – in the back row of three rows of public seating – there seemed to be a distinct shortage of bogans. Unless you counted the besuited guy in the middle of the second row with the wing of a tattooed bird poking out of his shirt collar.
It was late morning so I’d missed the start of proceedings. The witness box was occupied by a doctor giving testimony on the injuries suffered by the victim of the assault that led to the trial. I identified her as the woman sitting in the front row, directly in front of me. An attractive woman in her late twenties, well-dressed, sitting between an older man and woman who, I surmised, were her parents.
I learnt something interesting today, while I was writing up notes on legal history: Australia didn’t formally achieve complete judicial and legislative independence from Old Blighty until 5.00am, Greenwich Mean Time on March
31st 3rd 1986. That’s the precise time that the Australia Acts, passed by the British Parliament and our Federal Parliament came into effect.
One of the numerous downsides of the rise of feminism is the demise of righteous masculine anger. Continue reading
Simply bombing Damascus or Aleppo to assuage the conscience of the West that they ‘did something’ seems like the worst form of symbolic politics.
It’s not the only sensible thing Matthew Fitzpatrick had to say in an article at The Drum today.
He also argued the appropriate forum for judging (and, should the verdict be guilty, punishing) a war crime such as gassing one’s own people is the International Criminal Court.
It seems to me he’s blindingly right. Any other approach is not only wrong (and dangerous) in terms of process and precedent, but punishes the wrong people. However carefully planned and executed, military strikes would inevitably add to the woes of Syria’s long-suffering population. The argument “but how can we not respond to this terrible crime” therefore falls over at the first hurdle. First do no harm is sometimes a decent rule of thumb in international affairs as well.
In any case, punitive strikes would be action in a vacuum. Continue reading
To an even greater extent than previous election campaigns, this one seems to consist almost entirely of lies and grossly misleading mischaracterisations of opponents’ policies and performance. Kevin Rudd’s claim of a $70 billion Coalition black hole, his claim that Abbott has a secret plan to increase the GST, Abbott’s long-standing claim of Labor debt and deficit (when in fact our debt is quite low by OECD standards and our economy one of the strongest in the world), and so it goes on. Rudd’s attempt a couple of days ago to justify his ridiculous Northern Territory Special Economic Zone policy by asserting that Territorians are doing it tough and don’t have a level playing field, when in fact almost the opposite is the case, is a relatively minor but amusing example of the political porky phenomenon.
Former Media Watch host Jonathan Holmes wrote an interesting article on Fairfax yesterday in which he drew attention to the relatively new phenomenon of “fact check” organisations (mostly associated with mainstream media groups) dedicated to uncovering and analysing political lies and distortions. Of course, Holmes’ former TV vehicle Media Watch, and another ABC program Gruen Nation, have also fulfilled that function to some extent over a considerable period of time. But PolitiFact (associated with Channel 7), ABC FactCheck and a similar service now run by the G8 universities’ site The Conversation, have a specialist focus on uncovering and analysing political lies. They certainly have their hands full during the current campaign.
This is a welcome development, at least if you accept that the truth might be a useful thing to know when exercising our democratic choice at election time. Nevertheless, as Holmes points out:
In Part I of this article I outlined the major shortcomings of the Refugees Convention and traced the ways it was contributing to the current influx of boat-borne asylum seekers to Australia and the ongoing political controversy that has engendered.
11. KP: I am not suggesting that Australia should “subvert” the Convention in any morally repugnant way. For a start, we should boost our offshore humanitarian intake to 25,000 per year. At the moment it is effectively zero because the entire quota is being taken up by self-selecting “boat people”. And we should devote the billions of dollars currently spent on processing and incarcerating “boat people” on improving the conditions in offshore refugee camps in Indonesia, Malaysia and Pakistan. This would do far more genuine good than our present policies, and no-one could reasonably accuse Australia of failing to shoulder its fair share of the international refugee burden. [↩] I argued that the Convention should be radically overhauled or abandoned, but also suggested that in the absence of international will to overhaul it Australia might be better advised in effect to subvert the Convention by implementing policies like the current Papua New Guinea Solution rather than incur the inevitable international opprobrium that would flow from formally renouncing the Convention. However, I also suggested that adopting a cynical policy like the Papua New Guinea Solution could not be morally justified if the practical reality was that Australia could easily absorb the current numbers of boat-borne arrivals without significant social or economic tensions. In Part II, I explore whether this is actually the case.
The ground work for an analysis of that question was done by the then Chairman of the Australian Multicultural Foundation Sir James Gobbo in a 1995 paper which inter alia attacked the anti-multiculturalism arguments of (unjustly?) notorious historian Geoffrey Blainey:
Liberal Catholic priest and legal academic Father Frank Brennan thinks Australia’s current asylum seeker policies, which are effectively bipartisan despite the electorally-driven sound and fury, exhibit a disturbing “race to the bottom” tendency.
Sydney Morning Herald columnist Sam de Brito at least recognises that the politicians’ cynical responses are driven by the fact that the overwhelming majority of Australians are deeply hostile to irregular boat-borne asylum seekers. He opines that maybe this would not be so if they actually met these asylum seekers and heard their stories. The problem for his theory is that the people most opposed to irregular asylum seekers are those living in western Sydney and Melbourne where the asylum seekers themselves live, whereas the ABC viewers and Fairfax readers who instinctively agree with Father Brennan mostly live in leafy suburbs in which asylum seekers couldn’t afford to rent a garden shed.
Meanwhile, Murdoch’s token left-leaning columnist Phillip Adams opines that Australia’s asylum seeker policies are really a paler shade of the old White Australia policy and aimed at “brown people”. He sees the comfortable entry into Australia of white South Africans in the post-apartheid era as proof that our asylum seeker policies are really aimed at the dusky and yellow races. However, the wealthy South Africans mostly got into Australia under our racially neutral business migration policies, which are now even more heavily utilised by wealthy Asian business people.
The fact is that the racist trope is just a lazy rhetorical device for people who can’t be bothered carefully analysing a difficult, complex and ever-changing phenomenon.
That power must reside elsewhere, with the best and brightest, with those who have surveyed the perils of the world and know what it takes to meet them. Those deep within the security apparatus, within the charmed circle, must therefore make the decision, on America’s behalf, about how much democracy – about how much discussion about the limits of democracy, even – it is safe for Americans to have. (America against democracy – The Economist)
Until Snowden flew to Hong Kong, that’s how things were. Small wonder the reaction to his revelations often seemed so disproportionate to those of us on the outside. No provision had ever been made for well founded, fact based cross-examination of their surveillance activities. It was never meant to happen. They were to operate quietly in the shadows, always the watchers, never the watched.
The American public weren’t alone on the outside. Despite repeated efforts by NSA supporters and the White House to suggest otherwise, Congress didn’t fare much better. With the exception of those on the House and Senate Select Committees of Intelligence, they’ve been consistently stonewalled.
And, just to close the circle, any members of those committees who might want to share concerns with the public are prevented by law from doing so.
Two Democratic Committee members in the Senate, Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, spent years warning Americans that they would be “stunned to learn” of the radical interpretations of secret law the Obama administration had adopted in the secret FISA court to vest themselves with extremist surveillance powers.
Yet the two Senators, prohibited by law from talking about it, concealed what they had discovered. It took Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing for Americans to learn what those two Intelligence Committee members were so dramatically warning them about.
One needn’t conjure up a conspiracy to account for this somewhat grotesque outcome. Continue reading