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Personal Over Political Even in Policy

We might have been forgiven, after the extraordinary scenes last week in the parliament, having built up over months, would have begun to fizzle out to a spot-fire here and there. However, it seems that the government, our politicians, are firmly wedded to continuing to give the blaze, presumed under control, more oxygen. It would appear that, even in the case of some policy, the Gillard Government is set to prosecute it from a personal angle rather than a political angle about the sense or otherwise of Coalition policy.

Members of the Opposition yesterday, including Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, his deputy and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop and Shadow Immigration Minister Scott Morrison made a flying visit to Indonesia yesterday. Tony Abbott as Opposition Leader was granted a rare privilege by the Indonesian Government, access to the ear of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Early in the day Mr Abbott made a speech where he said, for the relationship between Australia and Indonesia to continue to prosper, we and Indonesia, to continue to foster a culture of mutual respect would need to raise potential policy changes with each other.

Then, during his meeting with President Yudhoyono, the Opposition Leader, discussing the relationship between our two countries, including the issue of asylum seekers, Tony Abbott failed to talk about the proposed policy of turning back asylum seeker boats headed from Indonesia. Scott Morrison since stated that he had brought up the policy in his meeting with Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa.

In and of itself, the leader of the Liberal Party not raising the issue is not a terribly horrific misstep. Neglecting to mention turning back the boats will appear clumsy and hypocritical in light of his words early yesterday both domestically and in Indonesia. The events of yesterday, no matter how trivial, were well and truly open to being spun by the ALP into an attack strategy.

It is important to mention that the Indonesian Government are well and truly aware of Liberal Party policy regarding asylum seekers. Our friends to the north have seen the plans in action before under the Howard Government. The Indonesians too, have actually heard about Abbott’s plan to resurrect the draconian measures that were part of the ‘Pacific Solution’.

It is no surprise and has been known for some time, that the Indonesians are not keen at all on receiving back asylum seeker vessels that have departed from their shores on the way to Australia. Indeed, they hate it. They will not be open to an Abbott Government pointing asylum seeker vessels back toward Indonesia.

To not mention the specifics of Abbott’s planned return to the Pacific Solution was clearly an attempt to avoid an embarrassing situation, of again being publicly rebuked by Indonesia. In light of his words yesterday though, a little embarrassment has though been suffered. However, that will probably pale in comparison with the real embarrassment that could have been inflicted over being shot down again on policy grounds.

What was very interesting about most of the verbal attacks mounted by the government was what, more correctly who, was attacked. Instead of most of the verbal barbs being directed at the Liberal Party or the inhumane policy, most of the venom was directed at Abbott himself with the Prime Minister and Immigration Minister accusing Mr Abbott of various things, including being “cowardly”, a “mouse” in Indonesia.

Very little focus in the put-downs was directed at the policy itself. It was raised by Chris Bowen that the Indonesians do not like the idea of boats being directed back to Indonesia and will never participate in it, but those words came as a secondary thought.

The government too, could have attacked the policy directly, not from the standpoint of the Indonesians not being willing to allow it to happen, but from the angle that it is just too horrifying, too unbelievable to even contemplate a government wanting to actually behave in a manner like that. Labor should have destroyed the proposal that way like they used to.

Could it be that the Gillard Government, after having already shifted dramatically to the right on asylum seekers and refugees did not want to appear too soft on asylum policy by not attacking it directly? That’s a possibility.

In any case, attacking the personal over the political is set to continue.

A Day For Remembrance and Unity, Not Division

It’s hard to believe that ten years have passed since what people have called our 9/11. This was our great loss of ordinary, everyday Australians enjoying holidays and end of season sporting team excursions. It is the worst terrorist attack that our nation has had to cope with, 88 Australians dead out of a total death toll of 202 with more than 200 injured.

Last year the United States of America had the 10 year anniversary of their own mass tragedy, 2752 killed in a different place, but for the same unjustifiable lack of reason.

What must be said too, is that it is not just our loss today. While a great number of those murdered were Australians, families around the world, whose loved ones ventured to Bali are also going to be grieving today. It is as much their loss as it is ours. Their grief is no less than ours.

What could have easily split our region, but also our world along rigid religious and cultural lines has actually brought us together in a common bond, a shared belief in decency and respect for all human beings based not on religion, but humanity. The small number of terrorists that have tried to tear our region and world asunder because of hateful and warped ideology are losing and will continue to lose.

Two nations that had experienced a long and troubled relationship, including the split over East Timor just a matter of years before, could quite easily have further parted ways. Instead the leaders of both our nations managed, from the ashes, to piece together arguably a stronger relationship than we have ever had with Indonesia.

Survivors, families and friends have had to endure the full gamut of emotions over the last 10 years. From the initial anger and sadness felt by them, by all Australians back in late 2002, we have shifted to a point in time where, for many, all but the deepest of psychological wounds, the awful memories of devastating scenes, of people dying and dead, people injured remain. Many of the victims, their families and friends have truly reached a level of acceptance, that nothing can bring those they lost back. But the thoughts, the memories will remain forever.

Most of us would not be able to begin to imagine the loss incurred on a human, a familial, a personal relationship level. This is not because many people haven’t experienced death, many of us have. But what the vast majority of us have not experienced is the untimely loss of a loved one, a family member, a friend, a teammate. Nothing could prepare us for such an abrupt and unexpected loss. Nothing could have prepared anyone with any direct involvement for the mode of loss either.

Today is a day that has to be about remembrance, one that we can share with each other. It is a day for quiet reflection, for empathy. Supporting others is something that we as Australians do remarkably well, whether that be through charity, or just providing a shoulder to cry on, calming words and thoughts.

Today is also a day to remember what, because of September 11 in the first place, we are actually fighting for. For some we are fighting a whole religion and that is a misplaced thought, we simply are not. We are not because of the attacks on the western world, fighting mainstream Islam. In the main, what we are fighting is a warped, a truly ugly interpretation of the religion. Yes, we may be hoping to change some of the practices through our efforts in Afghanistan, such as those that see women as second-class citizens, but the primary objective of our mission is to tackle terrorism.

Despite what some people may think, Islam taken as a whole is not dominated by people wishing to do us harm. If it was, we would have been defeated and subjugated across the world by Islam a long time ago. Nothing is to be gained by ascribing the same label to all Islam because of a small sect that hold a particularly obscene belief based on a misinterpretation of the Qur’an which fans hatred and intolerance and leads to gratuitous violence.

Let today be a day of further healing within the families of victims, of their friends and of Australians. Let it also be another day of maintaining and further repairing ties between faiths and cultures and also the relationship between Australia and Indonesia. What today must not be is one of hatred and intolerance toward Islam as a homogeneous group. If we were to do that then we would be surrendering not just to reason, but also to those who perpetrated the horrific acts and those that still want to inflict death upon us.

Attention UNHCR: Not Just Australia That Needs to Do More on Refugees

This morning the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) put out a statement calling on Australia particularly, as well as the international community to assist more in providing humanitarian assistance options to help stop asylum seekers taking “dangerous and exploitative boat journeys”.

The UNHCR, tasked with overseeing the provisions of the United Nations Convention on Refugees made these comments in response to the terrible tragedy overnight where an asylum seeker vessel capsized en route to Australia, with 3 confirmed dead, 110 rescued and approximately 9o people still missing.

This most recent tragedy again emphasises the need, like the refugee agency points out, for countries like Australia to do more and in some cases, at least something to cut down on the need for these desperate people to make the seriously dangerous journey in craft often not much more seaworthy than a large esky.

It is important to recognise that the refugee situation begins long before people reach Australia and while we can and should do more, we cannot be expected to take all of the burden, particularly after refugees who seek asylum by boat have made their journey often through and past other nations before arriving in Australia.

But this is only part of the story and but a part of the solution needed in an attempt to stop asylum seekers from risking their lives trying to find a better, safer life in places like Australia.

The High Commission for Refugees is itself part of the problem with processing though admittedly difficult, in many cases actually being very slow and leading to many refugees being stuck in limbo, whether that be in refugee camps dotted around the world in conflict zones or stuck in limbo in other ways.

The UNHCR do need more resources and time deployed in major conflict zones and countries facing humanitarian crises, but this is only the first step, however it is an undeniable aspect of the refugee situation that cannot be ignored.

It is also true the asylum seeker/refugee conundrum of refugees in camps within and near countries in turmoil is not just down to the slow action of the UNHCR in processing refugee claims.

Countries around the world that have signed the Refugee Convention are obviously too dragging the chain with absorbing the number of refugees currently awaiting relocation and asylum seekers that wish to seek protection in another country. This could be down to many reasons and the cost burdens particularly after the effects of the Global Financial Crisis and the continuing Euro crisis are factors that cannot be denied in the current debate over refugee relocation as far as some nations go.

This does not excuse the chain dragging prior to the financial events that have negatively impacted on economies around the world. There are obviously issues that have meant that prior to the financial events that have devastated countries around the world that as a result countries have not taken up the massive amounts of refugees around the world.

The scale of the refugee problem is massive and borders on the unsolvable at the very least at a political level with, as of 2010 a total of 43.3 million people worldwide who were either identified as refugees, internally displaced people (IDP’s), asylum seekers, returnees or stateless people.

No one government, no series of governments, no agencies, organisations, no one person or people will be able to guarantee that in the future nobody will get onto boats in desperation and head to various countries in the world. That is the sad reality. The potentially deadly situation can only be minimised.

The first part of any reduction to the refugee  problem is that the remaining 50 odd nation states not signatory to the convention should be persuaded to sign on the dotted line, though some of these nations are where the asylum seeker situation begins and others are middle destinations where asylum seekers and genuine refugees can languish for years before making the journey to places like Australia.

Obviously another response to the issue is for nations around the world that are signatories to the convention, but not to the protocol to sign that and enshrine it in their respective domestic law and then make appropriate arrangements in accordance with those provisions too.

Obviously too, many nations could and should increase their intake of refugees and seek to undertake with the UNHCR to help with the massive processing task which stymies the refugee process from the outset and leaves many in desperation within their own countries or in other nations in their region.

These last two points need to include, in particular Malaysia and Indonesia signing and adopting the Refugee Convention provisions and the protocol into their own law because these two nations are often the final stopping point and often the destinations from which asylum seeker vessels embark on the perilous journey towards Australia.

Other countries in our region that are signatories to the Refugee Convention and its protocol must also increase their share of the processing of asylum seekers and refugees and we must continue to work harder under the Bali Process as a region to deal with the movement of people who have found themselves in dire circumstances.

Another ingredient in the global recipe to cut down on the deaths of asylum seekers is for nations to truly tackle people smuggling. But this alas is made all the more complicated by the immense coastlines of the nations from where refugees come to Australia. It is also made difficult because of levels of police corruption  and complicity in the criminal act which have been found to exist in the region when it comes to the asylum seeker trade plied by these individuals and groups.

The final part of the puzzle is that Australia must increase our intake of refugees, at least by a similar extent to the increase we would have taken in under the so-called ‘Malaysian Solution’. This simply has to be seen as a reality if we really view people drowning at sea as a problem and we should.

The problem is not just an Australian one and becomes a bigger situation for Australia to deal with once refugees and asylum seekers reach our region and that needs to be recognised by other nations and the UNHCR before implying Australia above others particularly in our region needs to bear responsibility for stopping people getting on boats and coming here. Other nations in our region simply go close to ignoring the asylum seeker plight and the people smuggling that comes with it altogether.

Sadly, the scale of the task that is dealing with refugees in a fast, efficient and orderly way is astronomical and the process time consuming with the sheer numbers already seemingly well beyond reach of being able to deal with. However, we have to as a nation, a region and as an international community all try to minimise the risks of asylum seekers dying at sea.

Marines in Australia Not Just Good For Our Australia-US Relations

Last night the first 200 of what will eventually totally 2500 US Marines arrived in Australia amid mass media attention in the dead of night, backpacks on, firearms strapped to their bodies ready to undertake ongoing joint exercises with their Darwin based Australian counterparts at Robertson Barracks. The first Marine deployment was welcomed at the airport by the Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, the Minister for Defence Science and  Personnel Warren Snowdon, the US Ambassador to Australia, Jeffrey Bleich and Australian Defence Force brass and other personnel.

Australia and the United States have enjoyed a particularly good relationship since the signing of the ANZUS Treaty in 1951, of which our southern ocean neighbour, New Zealand is also a part. That agreement was struck in the decade after World War Two where the US fought closely with Australians, including in the northern part of our territory.

This latest announcement and the now commenced deployment will only further that defence and broader bilateral relationship between our two nations as we head toward that much talked about “Asian Century” where greater US involvement in the security and economic activity of the nation is a necessity both for America herself and for the region.

The early days after the announcement brought some public disquiet from China, a nation firmly on the economic and military build-up march toward a modern economic superpower, uncertain just what it may mean for the peaceful bolstering of the military in China that any nation expanding rapidly would see as a necessity and a reality.

Our good friends of late in our region, Indonesia also took to looking at the deal with some scepticism and worry with what a greater US focus in the region may mean for it and those other nations around it.

Yet so far both those nations have been quiet in their commentary on the move as it has begun to proceed to the actual deployment stage of troops which has now begun, with crickets now for some time, even now the talk of the plan has proceeded to action.

This seems to indicate that initial fears have now been quelled by some quiet diplomacy between all the parties, recognising that the move should not be seen as a threat the the economic advancement of any nation.

Back home though, the now commenced US troop deployment will bring Australia another benefit outside of the security and bilateral relationship that such a project fosters and helps build further. This deployment of eventually 2500 US Marines will mean great economic benefits for the Northern Territory, in particular, Darwin.

On one count it will be great for the local small  and large businesses around the base where the troops will spend their deployment, with a steady additional income stream of significant numbers now available from a captive audience of troops who will frequent local businesses when recreation time permits.

Not only that, but tourism businesses around the Northern Territory and even those in broader Australia will benefit from the substantial tourist dollars that two and a half thousand troops will bring. US troops, will surely want to visit crocodile farms, wildlife parks and even enjoy the substantial fishing opportunities that exist in the Northern Territory.

The deployment has begun and the complaints seem to have died down markedly to basically non-existent. Now all that is left is for the Australian and United States governments to enjoy the greater cooperation between our two nations and the economic and security benefits that brings. Far and above that, the immense economic benefits should not be ignored and should be celebrated along with the other equally important benefits.

Peace-loving New Zealand Gets First Carr Trip

New Senator for New South Wales and Foreign Minister designate has used his first trip overseas to visit our long term ally in the far reaches of Earth, New Zealand. The incoming Minister for Foreign Affairs headed there this week to meet with parliamentary colleagues while he finds his feet in the crucial role.

But is it smart for our new Foreign Minister to visit New Zealand ahead of all other nations in the region, some of whom we share a strong or growing relationship with and others with whom we have struggled in recent years, think Fiji and Papua New Guinea, the latter with their own political strife in recent times.

Nobody doubts the importance of New Zealand to our defence interests in particular with our southern partners across the Tasman being a long-time ally, particularly since the ANZUS Treaty was signed, but harking as far back as when the ANZAC legend was born on the shores of Gallipoli.

New Zealand are our strongest friends but also the most stable of nations in our immediate international region and a growing trade partner with whom we share a great history in realms other than defence relations. This is precisely why the wisdom of New Zealand being the first port of call for Bob Carr above all other neighbours in our dynamic Asia-Pacific region.

There are multiple countries in our immediate vicinity where our diplomacy is required for reasons including political stability, security and action on people smugglers and asylum seekers.

Think most recently of Papua New Guinea, a country where in recent months and years there has been some very serious political instability at the very top tier of government, with former Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare at loggerheads with the parliament and his own party, aspects of the police and the military and even senior officials of the judiciary.

Thankfully there has not been a successful coup in the country over the power struggle, although a temporary “mini coup”  of sorts by a small part of the security forces in one part of the country shows that the country is far from stable, even if tensions have been suppressed since that moment.

Fiji is another country requiring some serious attention from the Australian Government, even though this has been made all the more difficult by the expulsion of the acting Australian High Commissioner to Fiji.

The coup where Fijian Commodore Frank Bainimarama was just one in a serious of military overthrows of democratic government in the country over the last twenty plus years and has led to freedom of speech being completely overrun with foreign-owned media expelled, making it harder for reporting of human rights violations.

There are positive signs with consultations on a new Fijian Constitution initiated, to be completed in 2013, but it remains to be seen whether the deeds will meet the words of another Fijian dictator.

Further, the Commodore has stated that 2014 will be the year when democratic elections will return to the small multi-island nation in our region so our work in the region, through multilateral bodies and non-government organisations will be to help ensure, albeit from a distance, that this timeline will come to fruition and be met at the earliest possible opportunity, with 2014 still being too far away.

Indonesia is another nation in the Asia-Pacific that deserves our ongoing attention at an intense level with security concerns post the Bali bombings continuing to be an issue not just for Australians travelling to the country for holidays and business, but also for a regional response to people smuggling which runs rife in the country and the broader asylum seeker issue.

A large number of Australians travel to Indonesia, particularly the capital Jakarta and Bali for both business and leisure activities each year so this requires intense diplomatic efforts in mutual security support in an attempt to make sure that our two nations do all they can to stamp out terrorism activities in the south-east Asian nation.

Australian attention is also needed with our partner Indonesia, to ensure that people smuggling is combatted at the source in Indonesia in efforts to stem the flow of boats which can lead to the drowning of asylum seekers. This can be done on a bilateral basis, but also as part of the so-called Bali Process of nations in the region. This must mean that all nations in the region sign up to the UN Refugee Convention and agree to take on their share of asylum seekers.

In the broader Asian region there are other countries which need to become more open, democratic and free, such as Malaysia and Singapore, so focusing an initial trip on peace-loving New Zealand, whilst important must not neglect those nations in our region where there is much work to be done to ensure they enjoy the freedoms that both our nations have enjoyed.

The Politics of Sweaty Palms and the Live Export Trade

Another day and another shocking video emerged overnight on Lateline, showing what is believed to be Australian cattle being mistreated in an overseas abattoir. This further shocking footage has led to Animals Australia and others, including some parliamentarians getting louder in their advocacy for the live export trade to cease altogether. This comes not a year after the live export trade was temporarily shut down by the Gillard Government, under Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig, until the government saw fit to reinstate it under assurances from the respective parties, a ban that caused the industry some woes, largely in the Northern Territory.

A new package of oversight was worked on over a period of time between the key stakeholders in government and industry with a focus on processes in an attempt to ensure that the horrific images would not be replicated anywhere else in the future.

Of course these dreadfully disturbing images have now been repeated in an Indonesian abattoir, in footage just as sickening, if not more than the previous recording.

Nobody ever said, after the legislation in response to the original video, that the same sorts of images would never ever see the light of day again, would never force us to think had we gone far enough. Indeed it was always that the legislation would have an eye to improving the welfare and livelihood of cattle that Australians send overseas, to a country which slaughters their animals in a particular manner for cultural and religious reasons. To attempt as best as practicable to cut out the practises which have led to such barbaric deaths.

The question is, do we need to get sweaty palms over this and engage in the kind of politics of panic that such an event seems to invoke? Or do we deal with it in a pragmatic fashion, realising that our cattlemen need that market and that the Indonesians would be assisted in having our cattle available to them, being in relative proximity in our region?

There is a cultural and religious freedom element in this argument, as has been said in the past, the methods of slaughter are part of long held ideas about the Islamic culture. Do we seek to deny any nation that right or do we engage with them in much better ways of performing their traditions which have animal welfare firmly in mind?

Yes, we could certainly look at better ways of monitoring the supply chains and the situation in individual slaughter houses and that is probably a fair argument. However, on this count we can also go too far, by having officials in another country too often in an oversight capacity we run the risk as a nation of offending the sensitivities of the Indonesian people and in a way their sovereignty.

What we must do is ensure that there is a stronger level of training provided to and observed by all abattoirs, not just in Indonesia, but in other similar nations. We could perhaps observe more times a year than at present, each abattoir slaughtering Australian cattle and provide the kind of ongoing training and updated equipment, with the help of Indonesia that would allow for the killing of our animals to be done much more humanely on a more regular basis

What we do not need is a sweaty palms, knee-jerk reaction in panic to an horrific, but as far as we know isolated incident which would see all live trade, not just to our Indonesian neighbours, but to other nations which practise Islam cease altogether. Both not acting further and banning the live export trade altogether are harmful in their own ways for both our reputation overseas and our economy. Nobody wants to see the kinds of nauseating images we have been exposed to in recent times, nor do many want to see our live cattle not being exported. Cool heads, not clammy palms must prevail.

The Left and Banning Live Exports

For much of the last few months, since that awful footage featured on Four Corners, there has been a growing movement to ban all live animal exports from Australia to nations around the world. Calls from the left to altogether ban live exports are predicated on a hypocrisy when it comes to cultural and religious rights which those of the left are usually the first to support.As a result of the Four Corners program, there was a temporary ban on live exports to Indonesia, where the footage was taken from. The temporary ban was imposed by the Gillard Labor Government, without thinking of the monetary consequences for our struggling farmers, in response to some truly horrific scenes which were documented in Indonesia.

After some time, the Government rightly bowed to pressure and re-instated live exports and promised to look into strengthening oversight and management from the Australian cattle industry, beginning from the moment cattle leave the feedlots and continuing right through until the animals are slaughtered in overseas abattoirs.

The one thing which the Government were widely asked to do was to mandate the stunning of animals before slaughter. This would have been ideal given that the animals would die in a more comfortable way and therefore give comfort to some of those interested in animal welfare. However, politically, across nations to mandate the practice would clearly have been difficult.

However, this wide array of change in the live cattle export industry has not been enough for what seems a growing chorus of people.

A growing percentage of the population seem to advocate that Australia completely ban all live exports to anywhere in the world, disregarding the fact that the right to slaughter animals in a particular way is a cultural and religious freedom.

Now, the last time I checked, cultural rights were affirmed by the United Nations and 99.9% of the time, supported by those of the left, except in such circumstances as this where people like me step up to the plate to point out this fact.

Have the left forgotten what I learnt in my undergraduate human rights major: that human rights are indivisible and inalienable?

Effectively, if we as Australians were to say, yes, lets ban all live exports, we as a nation would be saying that we do not believe people from other cultures have the right to enjoy their own freedoms, because we saw some awful footage which could be remedied in any case.

What is the problem with, at the very least doing all we can to ensure that animals are slaughtered humanely? Was it not enough that exports were suspended immediately, causing harm to farmers and possibly our trade potential in the area?

Animals have been slaughtered for food for a very long time and indeed Muslim culture has done so for a long period of time too and we are only just finding fault with some poor methods in recent years. There is nothing wrong with working with other cultures, teaching them how to slaughter animals more humanely and providing them with the tools to do so. What is not right is left hypocrisy on the issue, denying what is usually held to be a fundamental cultural right. Nobody denies animals should be treated with respect before, leading up to and during slaughter, but to deny a culture the right to exercise their beliefs when the process can and has been made better makes no sense.

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