Shibumi, Trevanian.

I first read Trevanian ‘s Shibumi when I was 15 or 16. Years later I came across  this copy in a second-hand book store. I was 34 at the time, and it reconnected me with something I’d I felt on my first read, but had subsequently forgotten. The author himself called it a parody of the spy thriller genre, though I suspect he was pouring water on the more obsessive responses among its cult following.

I don’t mind the idea of an author making fun of tropes, if they do it well. Cervantes and Don Quixote comes to mind.

I tend to think of Shibumi nowadays as an academic execution of the genre. I just love it, and 32 years after my first read, 15 years since my last, I’m about to dive in for the third time. I wonder if it will surprise me again and transport me to that place and feeling I know it inspired in me, but which I can’t recall. 

 

A new word and a new concept to deal with

It’s interesting how we’re forced to grapple with new concepts whenever words come into the language. For the makers of these words of course it was the other way around. To all of the Incels out there, let me say thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you for taking one for the team. It’s so heartening to know that your genetic material won’t be passed on.

Redundancy a year on…

A year since I finished with the NSW Government I’ve managed to scramble my way through a Masters in International Relations, and I was rewarded with excellent results. Two months since my last exam I’m still looking for work but I have a really hot prospect this Friday so – fingers crossed.

Some might misinterpret what I’m about to write as sour grapes, but no, I’m very happy to have moved on and I volunteered for the opportunity. I could have stayed and been part of the new structure, there were many opportunities and I would have been given a place, but to be honest I was burnt out. Secure from the vantage of a year’s distance I can’t help making some observations.

Public sector executives love buzzwords and buzz-phrases (a crutch to mask their uncertainty), and every one of them adds their personal stamp with a restructure. My old branch, renamed Business Information Services or BIS, was remade along the lines of the cutting edge “SFIA” framework (can’t remember what the acronym stands for, something forgettable). My position, my boss’s, and some of my colleagues’ were not required. However, four additional Senior Executive roles were.

A year on, my manager’s old job, my old job and one of my colleagues’ jobs have all been advertised in the past few weeks. I guess someone worked out er… who’s going to do the work? One year is coincidentally the same period which must pass before you can be re-hired without having to pay back any of your redundancy package. As an IT system administrator I have literally reinstated a person’s system access 1 year to the day from the date of their redundancy.

BIS ended up with six Senior Executives covering functions previously covered by 1 and-a-bit, and the merged establishment stayed steady at 113. At least in the BIS (IT) part of the organisation there was no need for the O’Farrell/Baird Government’s imperative “efficiency dividends” (doublespeak for staff cuts). The outcome was in fact the opposite of what the O’Farrell Government set out to do. That is to say it became more, not less top-heavy, which is consistent with the administration killing and revenue flushing experiences during the continuous ‘personal stamp’ restructures under the previous incompetent Labor Government’s musical chairs of departmental executives.

I remember a meeting when a colleague pointed the new CIO toward the O’Farrell Government’s Public Service Commission review which spelled out the framework and the context of the restructure (in which the CIO had been the second hire after the Department Head, and thereafter was supposed to be an implementer), and my colleague was belittled like he was being a bit obsessive.

A new structure was formulated with multiple “capability frameworks” (skills required for each job), making the new “role” descriptions so abstract as to be meaningless. If it weren’t for the additional info some astute managers put into job advertisements, in many cases you literally could not tell what the job was. Managers with responsibility for functions of which they had some experience fielded absurd questions from confused prospective applicants, while managers with no experience of their functions just added to the confusion. At all levels numerous people ended up with responsibilities for which they had no experience, knowledge or capabilities. A year later those people are being shifted, and the football team of new Senior Execs are dusting off old “position” descriptions and re-hiring deleted positions (note the Government changed the terminology from “position description” to “role description” because it apparently infers less ownership on the part of the occupant). Yet the genius responsible for all this has already moved on to an even higher position…

Anybody would think Labor were still running the joint.

AID, TRADE AND DIPLOMACY: THE RE-EMERGENCE OF IDEOLOGY IN AUSTRALIA’S OFFICIAL DEVELOPMENT ASSISTANCE.

Australia’s foreign aid and the development of a regional labour market

In July 2014 Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announced Australia’s new overseas aid framework, much of it foreshadowed in the 2014-2015 budget and the Coalition’s policy at the 2013 Election. Key features include a regional focus in overseas development assistance, the re-emphasis of the Australian national interest, leveraging ODA in extending Australia’s influence, and the elevation of private sector development to the equivalent of human development. An environment conducive to regional economic growth is identified as the key to poverty reduction. All new aid investments must consider private sector growth. Empowerment of women and girls is among the government’s six ODA priorities. Aid programs need to conform to new criteria and be assessed against new performance benchmarks, and aid will not be reinvested in non-performing programs. There’s also the concept of ‘non-conforming recipient states’ which provides a basis for conditionality.

Focusing on an early development program undertaken within this rubric and comparing it with past programs, this essay analyses the Abbott Government’s approach to ODA, identifies potential benefits, potential shortcomings and pitfalls, and attempts to discern to what extent it truly represents a ‘new aid paradigm’.

AusAID was merged within DFAT, reflecting a stated conflation of aid, trade and diplomacy. Within the government’s new rubric of ‘economic diplomacy’ aid is un-self-consciously recast as a tool in the diplomatic arsenal.  This approach is evident in the increase in aid to Cambodia as part of an agreement on refugee resettlement, an even larger total increase in assistance to Manus Island at the same time as a decrease to PNG overall (ACFID, 2015), and may be seen as an element in the 39.5% decrease in aid to Indonesia (ACFID, 2015) in the wake of the Australian phone tapping scandal and immediately following the diplomatic furore over the execution of convicted drug traffickers Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan.

The coalition’s platform at the 2013 election included a commitment to increasing the foreign aid program to 0.5% of gross national income (GNI) and thereafter align the growth of ODA to increases in the consumer price index (Wade, 2013). In its 2015-2016 budget the coalition government reduced foreign aid to 0.22% of GNI.

 “we will pursue Australia’s national interest in a clear-eyed way that recognises the changing economic realities in our region, and seeks to derive the greatest return possible from Australia’s aid investment” – Julie Bishop[1]

Aid is an investment for which we demand the greatest possible return. It is an essentially economic endeavour and its purpose is to serve the Australian national interest. Couched in this language the current government’s philosophical approach to aid appears a continuation of the neoliberal development project of the past few decades, only that it drops the pretence of being foremost about poverty reduction in recipient communities. Economic diplomacy elicits not only the political utility demonstrated by the Cambodian, Manus Island and Indonesian examples, but aid for the purposes of establishing trading relationships, specifically with Southeast Asian and Pacific Island states.

Little empirical evidence is available yet of the application of the new economic diplomacy paradigm in the aid sphere. DFAT’s Skills for Economic Growth (Solomon Islands) is an aid program currently moving between design and implementation phases.  Its focus is post-school technical and vocational education and training (TVET). Its objectives are to provide ‘labour market relevant’ education and training, equitably to male and female, rural and urban, poor and disabled; to develop an integrated network of quality assured post-school institutions across the Solomon Islands, improving career options; and to leave the Solomon Islands with an economically sustainable post-school education system.  Though the genesis of this program was a 2012 concept note, the Abbott government adopted it and produced a design document reflecting ‘contextual changes’ (DFAT, 2014). The Abbott Government’s retention of the previous government’s goals and objectives for the program indicates greater continuity in Australian ODA than Minister Bishop’s rhetoric suggests. It is an early exercise of the government’s Pacific Education and Skills Development Agenda and Delivery Strategy (PESDA).

Contextual changes include the establishment of the Solomon Islands National University (SINU) in 2012, development of a domestic education plan and legislative framework, and the conclusion of an EU funded TVET program. This last change occurs at the same time as Australia’s ODA pivots to the Indo-Pacific and may be an early indication of a global trend toward greater regionalisation of development assistance (which deserves exploring in another research exercise).

According to the DFAT design document, the program aligns with the Solomon Island Government’s Budget Strategy and Outlook Paper (2014) which cites the needs of the TVET sector, a commitment to project investment in agriculture, forestry, tourism, commerce and industry, fisheries, lands, mines and energy, finance and banking, and a transport plan flagging improvements in roads, wharves and airports (DFAT, 2014, p.3). These do coincide with ODA priorities outlined by the Abbott Government. The program’s objective of leaving Solomon Islanders with ‘internationally recognised’ qualifications also coincides with the SIG goals of defining skills in demand domestically and internationally and developing a workforce with skills to take advantage of international labour opportunities (DFAT, 2014, p. 3). This infers an approach that not only envisages the development of a labour force to meet Solomon Islands demands but also Australia’s. At the same time the SIG acknowledges contraction of domestic agriculture, forestry and mining sectors, but expects growth in the construction, manufacturing and service sectors, including telecommunications. A thorough exploration of the rationale is not possible in this essay but it indicates the development of a ‘regional’ labour market that would enable for example provision of Australian seasonal agricultural labour (already), the establishment of Solomon Islands call centres servicing Australian businesses in the way India and the Philippines have in the past decade, and fly-in-fly-out miners to Australian enterprises in both the region (such as nearby Bougainville) and mainland Australia. Such possibilities at least in part inform the program design’s conception of private sector partnerships.

This is consistent with the existing neoliberal development approach that for example in the NAFTA context sees manufacturing for the US market occurring in Mexico, and the informal provision of US domestic farm labour. At the 2009 census 45% of the Solomon Islands adult population were in the 15-29 age group, just over 20% of the labour force were in the formal economy, 37.4% were in the informal economy, and the largest proportion (41.7%) were in the subsistence economy (DFAT, 2014). Australia’s 2015 Intergenerational Report projects that by mid-century the number of Australians aged 15-64 per person aged 65 and over will reach 2.7 people, down from 4.5 currently and 7.3 in 1975 (Australian Government Treasury, 2015). Constructing a labour force throughout the nearby Pacific could be in Australia’s national interest. It also coincides with Foreign Minister Bishop’s acknowledgement of remittances as a major source of capital flow to developing countries. If these factors are part of the rationale behind Australia’s aid policy then it probably would represent something of a paradigm shift.

Patrick Kilby (2008) explains the positive impact short term labour migration and associated remittances have on poverty reduction, status of women and employment in the migrant’s country of origin. Kilby observed in 2008 that despite the importance of remittances in the Asia-Pacific region, Australian foreign aid policy remained unmindful of labour migration – if reference was made it was in relation to people trafficking. This appears to have changed. Kilby explains however that unregulated labour migration (such as in the North American example) suits the neoliberal development paradigm, while at the same time minimising remittance generating income and associated development benefits in the home country. Therefore foreign aid policy should address labour migration, regulate it, and create an economic environment that maximises remittances (Kilby, 2008).

The Skills for Economic Growth (Solomon Islands) program has a ten year investment strategy but identifies three short term key result areas (KRAs) centred on the SINU, provincial training, and national system development. Presumably these would in part inform the Australian Government’s performance assessments in the context of a new emphasis on accountability and promise to drop non-performing programs (DFAT, 2015). Controls are necessary, but have the potential for inflexibility and paternalism. The threat of withdrawal of funding itself is a source of wasted, inefficient investment when programs are not seen through to sustainability.

The program design documents acknowledge the low participation and completion rates of women in non-traditional technical education. To address this they will design a specific communication program for women and girls, develop gender neutral courseware and promotional material, provide incentives for training providers, award equal number of scholarships to women and men, and encourage providers to offer study and welfare support.

The program design documents provide commentary about SIG legislation. Of particular relevance to this program the Australian Government suggests changes to the proposed Qualifications Act and to the Education Act, but goes further to describe the Solomon Islands Labour Act and Electricity Act as “out of date” (DFAT, 2014, p. 7). This commentary may stem from a history of involvement in the previous decade when Australia’s ODA, both in general and specifically to the Solomon Islands, had a greater focus on governance (Luke, 2006). The critique of adjunct legislation is consistent with the Abbott Government’s aim of increasing Australia’s influence through ‘economic diplomacy’. Placing it within the design of a development aid program is a case of exercising influence. The related Investment Design: Solomon Islands Education Sector Program 2 document goes further, spelling out the involvement of Australian funded TA in SIG policy development (DFAT, 2014, 2).

Shahar Hameiri (2015) suggests Pacific Island states are embracing Chinese development aid and foreign direct investment (FDI) as a means of securing their own policy objectives and limiting Australian interference in domestic governance processes. In 1997, then new Foreign Minister Alexander Downer released a review of the Australian Aid program entitled “One clear objective: Poverty alleviation through sustainable development”. By 2005 an OECD review indicated Australia’s aid program was failing the global South, its focus shifting from poverty reduction to instead being used as a tool of interventionist foreign policy (O’Connor, Chan, Goodman, 2006). In 2006 Aid/Watch paraphrased the then AusAID Director General, Bruce Davis – ‘the times of just “doing good” with the aid program are now over. Instead the aid program today must focus on ‘building a strategic environment that favours Australia’s interests”’ (cited in O’Connor, Chan, Goodman, 2006). Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s ‘new aid paradigm’ appears only superficially different from the old one. A point of difference may be the absence of pretence about its major purpose.

The Regional Assistance Mission in Solomon Islands (RAMSI) was an Australian led police and security operation beginning in 2003 in response to civil unrest around issues of customary land ownership and compensation. A year after RAMSI began, DFAT released the report “Solomon Islands, Rebuilding an Island Economy.” According to Aid/Watch the report signalled a shift in RAMSI’s focus from peace-keeping to business promotion. Funded by BHP-Billiton, the report recommended that land holdings in the Solomon Islands be registered, citing communal ownership as a barrier to wealth creation. Commercialisation of land title could enable greater exploitation of Solomon Islands’ mineral resources (O’Connor, Chan, Goodman, 2006).

With the security situation in the Solomon Islands stable the last RAMSI forces were withdrawn in 2013. The Abbott Government’s aid priorities, with an emphasis on private sector investment and economic growth, fit into a narrative which can be traced back through these RAMSI occurrences and the thematically similar Enhanced Cooperation Program in Papua New Guinea. The ‘new aid paradigm’ Skills for Economic Growth (Solomon Islands) program also fits into this narrative as it integrates private sponsors into the picture who will ensure TVET provides Solomon Islanders with the technical skills relevant to labour opportunities resulting from the sponsor’s private enterprise in the region.

 ‘Since 1997 Australian Aid has been explicitly in the service of the “national interest.” The Government’s definition of the national interest is increasingly centred on countering regional “security threats” with the additional focus on supporting Australian commercial interests.”­ – Aid/Watch (O’Connor, Chan, Goodman, 2006)

In the past Australian Aid programming has depended heavily on technical assistance (TA), accounting for 40% of total spending compared to an OECD average of 20%[2]. In 2011 ActionAid ranked Australia’s ODA 14th out of 26 major donors due to this emphasis on non-recipient driven TA which ends in the pockets of Australian contractors (cited in Hamieri, 2015). During RAMSI 75% of the annual budget of $200 million was spent on TA (Hamieri). Rather than providing budget support to the Solomon Island Government (SIG) the Skills for Economic Grown (Solomon Islands) program engages a managing contractor, and at least half the program’s senior resources are specialist contractors reporting to DFAT Honiara (DFAT, 2014). The program’s mode of delivery does not represent a new paradigm with regard to TA. However the program is a component of the broader Solomon Islands Education Sector Program 2 for which delivery is described as “Mixed Modality”. Australia’s comparatively heavy reliance on TA is compatible with longstanding orthodoxy that aid programming should generate income for Australian companies, not incidentally prioritising ‘governance’ over ‘government’, an approach which Aid/Watch describe as ‘boomerang aid’ (O’Connor, Chan, Goodman).

The Skills for Economic Grown (Solomon Islands) is a big business, big picture program and this arguably necessitates a high degree of TA and close DFAT control. It isn’t always the delivery mode for Australian ODA. Australia was a major donor in the two year Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) program ‘Challenging the Frontiers of Poverty Reduction’ (CFPR) beginning in 2002. This highly successful microenterprise program was innovative in that it operated on asset transfer rather than cash funding. In circumstances of deep poverty, cash often necessarily goes into day-to-day survival – short term help rather than sustainable income generation. Give somebody livestock and the outcome is different (Mahmuda et al.). Australia’s involvement was arms-length. It would be interesting to know if customary landholders in Guadalcanal would see more utility in a cow than a technical education and a nearby mine.

Australia’s ODA dedicated to governance (with an emphasis on law and justice) increased from 15% in 2000-2001 to 36% by 2005-2006, while spending on health, education and infrastructure decreased (O’Connor, Chan, Goodman), reflecting the preoccupation with security after 9/11 and the 2002 Bali bombing. By 2012-2013 governance accounted for 18% of ODA and in 2015-2016 it accounts for 10.8%. While this is a marked shift in aid priorities it demonstrates the exceptional circumstances in the years after 9/11 and not the emergence of a new aid paradigm more recently.

The current securitisation of asylum seeker boats is a residual effect of this earlier period. It’s a foreign policy preoccupation which predates and parallels the terrorism threat. Since the Howard Government’s ‘Pacific Solution’, offshore asylum seeker detention and ODA have been explicitly linked. The Nauru example demonstrates the risks of the Australian Government attaching a neoliberal agenda. Howard Government aid conditionality (communicated within MOUs between Australia and Nauru about the management of detention centres) included a study on the privatisation of the telecommunications authority and other state owned enterprises, the reform of power and water services according to the preferred ‘user pays’ option of an Australian TA, public sector reform including reduction in pay and substantial reduction in size of the public service. The result – several state-owned enterprises were privatised, which in a small island state meant the transferral of public monopolies to private monopolies. Government offices are staffed by Australians while privatisation has increased unemployment and resulted in unaffordable and unsustainable services. It has created poverty and Nauru has become aid dependent (MacLellan, 2013).

Australia’s shift in focus to the immediate region is summarised by Tony Abbott as ‘more Jakarta, less Geneva’ (Wade, 2014). In quantitative terms it is expressed in the 2015-2016 budget through a 70% decrease in ODA to Africa, 43% to the Middle-East, a 40% decrease to South and East Asia (excluding Cambodia, Timor-Leste and Nepal) and 10% and 5% in the South Pacific states and Papua New Guinea respectively (Lowy Institute, 2015). This follows a 10% cut in Australia’s overall foreign aid budget in real terms in 2014-2015 (Wade, 2014).

The post-Cold War era saw a growing emphasis on humanitarian intervention, and the consensus around the Millennium Development Goals coincided with a globalisation of aid in which global human rights, poverty reduction and development were seen to contribute to the security and prosperity of all. This was reflected for example in DFAT’s 2003 white paper (Makinda, 2015). In an earlier era ODA and FDI focused on economic and political spheres of influence, such as former colonial possessions. From this perspective Australia’s dramatic cut in ODA to sub-Saharan Africa might be rationalised. In the absence of economic or political imperative, ODA to Africa could only be justified in human development terms, such as tackling poverty, health, education. In this context Australia’s regionalisation of ODA could be representative of a more donor-driven approach. Regionalism is less relevant with a human-centred approach as locus is informed more by greatest need or greatest potential to make a difference.

The Abbott Government’s regional emphasis is an element of its ‘new aid paradigm’. Reduction of ODA to sub-Saharan Africa contrasts with the previous Labor Government’s policy which saw ODA increase in consecutive years to 2013-2014, and the Abbott Government reversed Labor’s decision to join the African Development Bank. Writing after the 23.3% cut in ODA to sub-Saharan Africa in 2014-2015, but before a further 70% cut in 2015-2016, Samuel Makinda (2015) says Australia’s engagement with Africa in recent years was driven by a conception of national interest informed by humanitarianism, support for mining corporations, and the bid for a UN Security Council seat. Makinda cites the 2012 Hollway review – ‘choosing aid activities because of specific national interests is, and should remain, the exception.’ (Hollway et al 2012, cited in Makinda 2015, p. 58). Makinda describes a more sectoral rather than regional approach in which Australia tackled problems where it was best able to make a difference in relation to the Millennium Development Goals. If that were the modus operandi of the previous government then the Abbott Government has moved markedly away from it. Makinda’s reference to the MDGs incidentally highlights the need for a new frame of reference after 2015, a new paradigm.

However Makinda argues that sustaining ODA to Africa remains in Australia’s national interest.  He says “the strongest rationale for Australia’s development assistance to Africa remains the moral humanitarian imperative to reduce global poverty” (Makinda, 2015, p.59). He highlights Australia’s soft-power influence, extended for example through scholarships that brought African students and 90 cents for every scholarship dollar back to Australia. There remains an economic interest – 200 Australian based mining and exploration companies operate in 42 African countries, representing an AU$65 billion investment in the resources sector. Average annual rate of growth in African economies was 5.7% between 2002 and 2012 (Carr 2012, cited in Makinda, p.63). Africa’s growing middle class will see consumer spending reach US$1.4 trillion by 2020 (Mckinsey Global Institute 2010, cited in Makinda, p. 62). Finally, the multilateral imperative – the need for African support in Australia’s bid for a UN Security Council seat – remains. Makinda explains that historically Australia has served on the UN Security Council every 10 years or so, the gap between 1986 and 2013 being the exception. Altogether this highlights that Australia’s prioritisation of ODA to Africa comes at a cost to diplomatic and trade interests. What Africa can’t provide though is a regional labour force.

Though the term ‘user led’ appeared briefly in the Minister’s statement launching the new aid paradigm, the principle of Australian national interest restricts the interests of recipient states in program scope. While infrastructure, agriculture, fisheries and water management are particular development foci, the term ‘sustainability’ is conceived as something pertaining to ‘resources’, and use of the term ‘environment’ appears limited to  “enabling environment for business, investment and innovation”. FDI is an indispensable component of development capital, but emphasis on the private sector, particularly in the context of public sector reform, can be symptomatic of a rigid ideological approach that results in outcomes such as the Nauru experience. The profit motive invariably places short-term pressure on returns from development. Australia’s aid should not be conceived as an instrument to extract surpluses in our favour.

References to Solomon Islands’ Electricity and Labour Acts couched within an aid program delivery design are reminiscent of the Nauruan detention centre MOUs and could signal the type of reform agenda that neoliberal conditionality foisted on developing countries in previous decades. Chinese aid is an alternative, and it’s doubtful the Australian national interest is served by driving Pacific Island neighbours in that direction.

Kilby (2008) explains how Australia came slowly to the neoliberal project. What we may be seeing exercised through foreign aid policy is more than an incremental advancement in that agenda, one that liberalises not only trade and investment, but a regional labour market. The new aid paradigm probably does represent evolution in Australian ODA.

 

 

 

References

ACFID. “Federal Budget Analysis, 2014-2015.” Deakin ACT: Australian Council for International Development, 15 May 2014.

ACFID. “Federal Budget Analysis, 2015-2017.” Deakin ACT: Australian Council for International Development, 14 May 2015.

Australian Government Treasury. “2015 Intergenerational Report.” Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia, 2015. Web, Accessed 1 Jun 2015 at http://www.treasury.gov.au/PublicationsAndMedia/Publications/2015/2015-Intergenerational-Report

Australian Government Department Of Foreign Affairs And Trade. “Education Sector Program – Skills For Economic Growth (Solomon Islands): Investment Design Document”.  Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia, 2014. Accessed 31 May 2015 at http://dfat.gov.au/about-us/grants-tenders-funding/tenders/business-notifications/Pages/education-sector-program-skills-for-economic-growth-solomon-islands-investment-design-document.aspx

Australian Government Department Of Foreign Affairs And Trade. “Investment Design: Solomon Islands Education Sector Program 2”.  Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia, 2014. Accessed 31 May 2015 at http://dfat.gov.au/about-us/grants-tenders-funding/tenders/business-notifications/Documents/solomon-islands-education-sector-program-2-draft-qae.pdf

Australian Government Department Of Foreign Affairs and Trade. “Australia’s new development policy and performance framework: a summary”.  Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia, 2015. Accessed 1 June 2015 at http://dfat.gov.au/about-us/publications/Documents/aid-policy-summary-doc.pdf

Browne, Stephen. Aid & Influence: Do Donors Help or Hinder? London: Earthscan, 2006.

Hameiri, Shahar. “China’s ‘charm offensive’ in the Pacific and Australia’s Regional order.” The Pacific Review, 1 February 2015, p.1-24

Kilby, Patrick. “Migrant Labour, and the neoliberal development paradigm: balancing the contradiction in the Australian Aid program.” Australian Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 62, No. 3, September 2008, pp. 345-356.

Lowy Institute for International Policy. ‘Australian Foreign Aid’.  2015. Accessed 31 May 2015 at http://www.lowyinstitute.org/issues/australian-foreign-aid

Luke, Garth. “Australian Aid: A Mixed Bag.” Conflict, Security and Development: The Reality of Aid, Asia Pacific Edition 2006. Quezon City: IBON, 2006. Pp 73-77.

Maclellan, Nic. “What has Australia done to Nauru?: Politics, privatisation and policing under the ‘Pacific solution’” [online]. Overland, No. 212, Spring 2013: 4-11. Availability: <http://search.informit.com.au/documentSummary;dn=201223853;res=IELAPA> ISSN: 0030-7416. [cited 11 Apr 15].

Mahadevan, Renuka and Asafu-Adjaye, John. “Exploiting comparative advantage in agriculture and resources: the way forward for Small Island States.” The Australian journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics, 57, pp. 320-343.

Mahmuda, Ismat and  Baskaran, Angathevar and Pancholi, Jatin. “Financing Social Innovation for Poverty Reduction: A Case Study of Microfinancing and Microenterprise Development in Bangladesh.” Science, Technology and Society, 2014, Vol. 19:2. Pp. 249-273.

Makinda, Samuel. “Between Jakarta and Geneva: why Abbott needs to view Africa as a great opportunity.” Australian Journal of International Affairs, 2015, Vol.69( 1), p.53-68

O’Connor, Tim; Chan, Sharni and Godman, Dr James. “Australian Aid: Promoting Insecurity.” Conflict, Security and Development: The Reality of Aid, Asia Pacific Edition 2006. Quezon City: IBON, 2006. Pp 78-92.

Padilla, Arnold and Tomlinson, Brian. “World Aid Trends.” Conflict, Security and Development: The Reality of Aid, Asia Pacific Edition 2006. Quezon City: IBON, 2006. Pp 44-69.

Wade, Geoff. “Issues in Australian Foreign Policy: January to June 2014.” Australian Journal of Politics and History, 2014, Vol.60(4), pp.606-620

 

 


[1] Julie Bishop, “The new aid paradigm”, speech to National Press Club, Canberra, 18 June 2014, cited in Wade, 2014.

[2] Keane, B. (2010) ‘Who profits from our foreign aid?’, Crikey, 12 July, cited in Hamieri (2015).

Intrastate conflict in post-independence South Sudan.

Vast growth in the number of states since World War II has coincided with a greater proportion of conflicts being intrastate in nature. This can partly be attributed to internal power struggles resulting from de-colonisation, domestic manifestations of international polarisation during the Cold War, and later structural change coinciding with the end of the Cold War. Yet three domestic factors commonly provide the preconditions for civil or intrastate wars. Firstly, these conflicts depend on ethnic or identity divisions within a state used to justify hostility and mistrust between groups. Secondly, a real or perceived existential threat that motivates one or more groups within a state to rise against another. Thirdly, the political opportunity offered by a weak state. In addition, a number of factors ensure intrastate wars have a transnational dimension. Identity groups cross state borders, there’s the complicity of nearby hostile governments, active ethnic diaspora, and an international regime that facilitates intervention on humanitarian grounds or in the interest of regional stability. All of these structural elements are evident in the conflict in South Sudan since 15 December, 2013.

In the late colonial era Sudan was a jointly British and Egyptian administered ‘condominium’. Borders between Northern and Southern Sudan cut across tribal lands and sometimes shifted to suit colonial administration. Post-colonial Sudan saw two protracted civil wars in the forty years before the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2005. A succession of oppressive regimes in Khartoum faced uprisings in the west and south of the country – struggles for self-determination by ethnically diverse populations. The politically dominant Arabic northeast of the country, aspiring alternatively to a Socialist, and after the Cold War an Islamist state, reaped the benefits of development, while secularist black-African communities elsewhere in the country, including Sufis, and in Southern Sudan, Christians, were politically and economically repressed. Under the leadership of John Garang, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and Movement (SPLA and SPLM) fought a civil war against successive regimes in Khartoum from 1983 to 2005 that was not essentially secessionist, but which sought political and economic empowerment for the tribes of Southern Sudan.

This period of conflict produced many of the ethnic atrocities that today contribute to divisive identity myths fanning the civil war in newly independent South Sudan.

Garang didn’t live to see South Sudan’s independence on 9 July 2011 amid optimism and unity across its diverse population. Both Garang and his successor, Salva Kiir, came from Dinka tribes who represent the largest ethnic group in South Sudan. Reconciliation in 2002 between Garang’s SPLM and Nuer leader, Riek Machar, contributed to the achievability of the CPA. Machar had split from the SPLA/M in 1991 and through the 90s undermined the movement with the initially covert support of Omar al-Bashir’s regime in Khartoum. Khartoum has long fuelled division within rebel movements, and is accused of complicity in the conflict in post-independence South Sudan. Machar is implicated in the 1991 Bor massacre, an event which contributes to mistrust between Dinka and Nuer, South Sudan’s second biggest ethnic group. Vice-President since independence, Machar fell out with President Kiir in July 2013. In the ensuing conflict Machar is accused of fanning Nuer mistrust of numerically superior Dinka to exploit division, as he did during the 1990s. War since 2013 has resulted in 500,000 additional refugees and 1.5 million internally displaced people.

At independence in 2011 some matters remained unresolved from the CPA – the demobilisation of former SPLA in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states on the Sudan side of the border, and the self-determination and territorial boundary of the border region of Abyei. Prior to July 2013 most observers saw these as the biggest threats to peace in South Sudan. Al-Bashir’s regime is accused of repression and ethnic cleansing in these three border regions. In Abyei, a permanent Dinka population once coexisted with Mesiria, a nomadic Arabic tribe who occupy the northern part of the region periodically each year. Through most of the colonial era Abyei was administratively within the border of Southern Sudan. Before Sudanese independence in 1956 the border was redrawn, placing Abyei within northern Sudan. In the months leading up to South Sudan’s independence in 2011, ethnic violence culminated in Khartoum’s military occupation of Abyei. The crisis was diffused by the insertion of Ethiopian peacekeepers under a UN and African Union mandate.

In security terms, a weak state is one that doesn’t hold a monopoly on coercive violence. At the time of independence, South Sudan’s security was underwritten by political and economic support from the US and by AU troops, not only Ethiopian peacekeepers in Abyei but also by Ugandan soldiers operating in Western Equatoria along the borders with Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of Congo, where Joseph Kony’s incursions faced no South Sudanese defence. It’s in this context that from his ethnic Nuer base in Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei states, Riek Machar has been able to mount a violent campaign against Kiir’s government, and indeed in the capital Juba.

The behaviour of colonial powers continues to influence postcolonial intrastate conflict for decades. Regional and global geopolitics affect the relative power of a state and its opponents. However, the recent conflict in South Sudan demonstrates that exploitation of ethnic division and historic grievance, the insecurity of an identity group, and the opportunity posed by a state’s weakness are more important factors leading to intrastate war.

The law can’t get him, but the history books will.

http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2014/09/22/howard-embarrassed-about-joining-2003-iraq-war

Alan Wilkie is far from unique in stating this man should be held criminally culpable. WMDs were never a motivation and the majority of us could see straight through it (polls at the time were saying two thirds of Australians were opposed the war) yet Howard expects us to believe he couldn’t? Hundreds of thousands of terrorised Iraqis were murdered and the US treasury was bankrupted while Halliburton profits and the price of a barrel of oil soared… justified with absurd lies like Colin Powell’s ‘mobile chemical weapons factory’ trucks? Not on your life, not when the history is written. The criminal US Republican leadership captured Howard with a third carrot – racial exceptionalism. Greed and a naïve sense of superiority have eternally been the root cause of war. The war these guys foolishly started is still brewing, will last many decades and might inevitably reach our shores. Justice virtually demands it, because what these guys prove is there is no justice in the rule of international law. If there were any justice, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Blair, and this man would be dragged before Nuremberg style trials. The best we can hope for though is to ensure these men are afforded their proper place in history. In John Howard’s dwindling years he sees the history books written, and invariably they do in fact leave us with a picture of a man who conspired to mass murder.

Glamis is fallen

A quote I think from Polanski, not Shakespeare, and maybe there’s something very fitting about the unauthenticity of that too.

Only seven years ago many of us were tuning into breakfast TV on a network we otherwise didn’t watch, to see two lieutenants of their respective parties, Kevin Rudd and Joe Hockey, make daily celebrity appearances to provide a light-hearted angle on the day’s politics we could chew over with our vegemite toast. Rudd was a great communicator, intelligent, fun, and displayed great showmanship with his light adversarial banter alongside Hockey. If any of us had predicted then that Rudd would be Prime Minister within a year though, we would have got just as many chuckles as the Rudd and Hockey show.

The public loved Rudd and this carried over into his first Prime Ministership, deservedly it seemed for a while. Rudd’s first year or so in the top job seemed frenetic. He was here, he was there, spruiking one watershed initiative after another. In Prime Ministership his persona had turned out to be like the lovable daggy uncle, and for those of us in that general area of the political spectrum, his infectious energy and enthusiasm convinced us we’d got ourselves the spiritual, ultimately more effective descendant of Whitlam. Yet within two years the wheels had fallen off horribly.

The emmissions trading scheme, Rudd’s strategy to cut carbon pullution, which he’d previously described as the greatest moral, economic and social challenge of our time, the flagship initiative of his Prime Ministership in fact, was dropped like a led balloon. From the day he announced this it was clear the whirlwind had run out of puff. You could see it in his body language.

By the end of 2009 Rudd’s Government was already floundering. Nothing captured this like the home insulation scheme administered by his Environment Minister, Peter Garrett. Like so many Labor initiatives, the idea was sound, but got utterly destroyed in the execution. A rebate to householders for installing insulation bats which would cut household energy bills, and carbon emmissions, was an obvious win-win. But the private contractors installing the ceiling insulation were cutting corners, providing shonky service (a theme I’ve seen repeatedly in more than a decade and a half as a public servant under Labor administrations) which ultimately resulted in house fires and 4 deaths.

Yet instead of holding these contractors to account, making an example of them by ensuring such gross negligence was prosecuted very publicly to the fullest extent of the law, Garrett stood in front of the television cameras and whined that he hadn’t administered the scheme incompetently. It was a pathetic response from Garrett, rightly rewarded by Rudd when he was dumped from the Ministry. For someone like me though, a teenager of the 80s who’d been a fan of Peter Garrett’s music and his activism, and who’d felt honoured in more recent years to have had a more personal connection, Garrett’s performance was deeply disappointing.

Rudd’s second stint as Prime Minister appeared to be following the same pattern. While some in the media speculated, late in the day, that his reputed private personality disorders might be rearing their ugly head again, I don’t recall anyone articulating that the early days of Rudd’s second Prime Ministership seemed reminiscent of the “he’s here, he’s there” whirlwind of optimism and momentum that characterised the early part of his first stint. I could barely watch, sitting here wondering how long until this started to implode like last time.

Peter Garrett’s parliamentary career will sadly go down as fundamentally commiserable. The last memory of it I will forever recall, is Garrett standing beside Julia Gillard at a school in Sydney’s south earlier this year, nodding, blinking, then glancing at her quickly to punctuate every second sentence of her school funding announcement, over and over in some moronic cyclic gesticulation, before being given the floor to add a ten second rhetorical footnote to Gillard’s speech, like some cardboard cut-out of a politician. It was truly, truly pathetic to watch.

Those who blame Gillard’s demise on some sort of inate mysogyny in Australian politics, or on Rudd’s constant white-anting, are, like so many other Labor analysts, completely missing the point. The point at which the 2013 election was lost was Gillard’s pronouncement during the 2010 campaign that there would be no carbon tax should she win Government. After the election, Labor very quickly lost the trust of the Australian people and never regained it.

Another event during that 2010 campaign is very instructive. Who recalls when, halfway through the 2010 campaign, Gillard pulled up and said “alright I got it, from now on you’re going to see the real Julia”. She immediately turned around and proceeded to carry on precisely as before, trying to second guess how to push the right buttons with the Australian public rather than speaking to us from what was in her own heart. This is the reason we switched off to Labor. It’s the Labor modus operandi by which she operated, and nothing whatsoever to do with Gillard’s gender. The mysogyny theorists are just as out of touch as a generation of Labor strategists who think there are dividends to be gained from treating politics like applied psychology. It provides only short lived victories because, as I argued last year, it has, for example, now simply handed Tony Abbott a mandate to repeal the carbon pricing scheme. The Gillard/Rudd era’s apparent legacies won’t last a year beyond their parliamentary careers and that is a direct result of Labor’s political methodology of the past decade.

Our defective media created Labor’s leadership instability, but the Party’s institutional weakness was such that it allowed it to happen. Only a few months ago, as the media ground away at the Labor leadership issue (and it’s their persistence that ensured life imitated art), I felt there was no way Kevin Rudd could seriously be coveting the leadership before the election. It was bleedingly obvious that would have been taking the wheel of the bus as it was going over the cliff. How could he possibly be interested? It was in Rudd’s best interest to just sit back and let the train wreck happen, come in as the guy on the white horse after the election and take the more thankful task of rebuilding. Why would he want to take the hit for Julia? The fact he eventually accepted the leadership possibly speaks volumes about his own ego, but probably has more to do with influential members of the party finally conceding, under sustained pressure from the media, what the rest of us had known a long time. Gillard was never going to regain the trust of the Australian people.

Anybody who thought Rudd could achieve anything more than stemming the flow of blood was deluding themselves. Rudd has at least managed to achieve that, the most Labor could have expected. Yesterday morning, and even into the early evening, the commentariat were predicting Labor to be looking at 45 seats or less, with Queensland and places like Western Sydney leaving Labor en masse. It didn’t happen, and while it would be nice to think the media pundits might learn from their inadequacies, I won’t hold my breath. Instead the number looks likely to be around 55 seats. Yes, the primary vote was historically low, but that’s a means of protest we voters have to communicate our dissatisfaction. In the end, 55 seats is the truest reflection of preference.

It would be nice to think Labor will get the message, but again, I won’t hold my breath. Labor underwent an extensive internal review a decade ago, the lessons learned soon all but forgotten.

As a footnote, I should mention the outcome for the Australian Democrats at the election. A year ago I reported that having lost faith after 17 years as a member of the ALP, I had to my surprise some months later re-discovered the Democrats. Sadly I have to report my enthusiasm was very premature. I soon discovered the Australian Democrats to be utterly riven with stultifying division, borne out of self-interest and petty personality issues, and consumed by the parochial. In my own State, New South Wales, the once third force in Australian politics managed a sub-paltry 0.21 % of the Senate vote at first count. By my estimation, this is precisely where the Democrats belong. The incompetence of those responsible for the Democrats candidate assessment process and campaign was gobsmacking to watch. Despite an enthusiastic infusion of potential new talent in the year-and-a-half I was involved, a measure of people’s dissatisfaction with the major parties and something that should have been exploited, it was crowded out by the self-styled elder statespeople of the Democrats who’ve demonstrably taken the party from nowhere to oblivian over the past decade. To my fellow NSW Democrats, please enjoy the nothingness your position in the Australian democracy represents, you’ve earned it.

One of our own.

In 1982 Emmanuel Kondok and his family were imprisoned and tortured. His father was killed in captivity and soon after release his brother died of the injuries he’d sustained through torture. Emmanuel’s dramatic escape, alone at 12 years of age, and his arduous journey through eastern Africa afflicted by drought and war is a compelling story of the refugee experience.

Emmanuel Kondok

I was born in Twic County in the Warrap State in South Sudan. My family were farmers, my father a community leader and a spiritual leader through heredity.  In 1982 as we were on our way to market to sell produce we were intercepted by Government forces and imprisoned. My father was accused of conspiring with the rebel army.

The whole family were imprisoned in the local Garrison and tortured. Each day I was sent down to the river to wash the vehicles of the Government forces. On one of these occasions a stranger helped me to escape by swimming across the river. [This first episode in Emmanuel’s escape must have been a harrowing event, more so when you consider it happened at age 12.  – scribblehead] I had to cross a broad running river swimming underwater holding my breath, knowing that if I surfaced I would have been shot by the soldiers guarding me.

Reaching the other side I was on my own, afraid for my family but compelled by the will to survive. I was picked up by some strangers and joined them as they fled our homeland for Ethiopia. In the three months after my escape my father was assassinated while in captivity before the rest of my family was released. A further three months later my brother was also dead as a result of the injuries he’d sustained through torture.

The same three months my family remained in captivity, tortured and my father killed, I spent walking to Ethiopia with this band of asylum seekers. The three month walk to Ethiopia was arduous, the countryside laid waste by drought, famine and war. There was no food and no water. People had to eat what they could find in the bush, and drink their own urine. Many perished.

Surviving to reach Ethiopia, I was sent to the Pinyudo Refugee camp where I lived alongside hundreds of thousands of refugees who’d fled the brutal war. I was able to receive some schooling while at Pinyudo. However life in the refugee camp was far from ideal. At times there was as little as 400 grams of food per day.

In 1991 after a change of government in Ethiopia the South Sudanese refugees were forced to return home. Another perilous journey. I remember many people dying as they tried to cross the Gilo River. We lived again not only with constant thirst and hunger, but with the fear of wild animals. Some of those who perished were taken by lion or hyena.

Back in South Sudan I lived in the town of Panchalla on the border with Ethiopia. The Red Cross entered the town with food, water, medical aid and shelter. The aid was short lived however, as after three months the Sudanese army attacked the town, and I was forced to flee for my life yet again. The situation in South Sudan and throughout Sudan was still very dangerous, so I made my way down to Kenya, again seeking asylum from the conflict that was raging in my homeland.

When I arrived in Kenya the UNHCR received us and we were sent to the Kakuma Refugee Camp. It was while in Kakuma in 1995 I met and married my wife, Mrs Aluel Deng Piyom.

The conditions in Kakuma were also not ideal, there was often fighting between the locals and refugees, but I still found the opportunity to go to school, and I was able to finish my Secondary Schooling in 1997. Going to school was important. I learnt a lot about the world, and gained more and more knowledge about the bad things within it.

I became a Youth Leader in the camp, working with the Catholic Mission to organise social activities and teaching the children, and also with UNICEF helping to distribute school materials and teaching farming practices. I also worked with different non – government organisations advocating peace in South Sudan and Sudan.

In 2005, twenty-three years after I first fled my homeland seeking asylum, the Australian government accepted me and I moved to Sydney with my wife and two children. When I arrived in Australia I soon found a job in a fruit packing factory. I worked there for four years. I now work to support African communities living in Western Sydney.

My expectations in coming to Australia were that it would be peaceful, and that my children would be able to go school, to learn English, and to mingle with Australian children.

Learning English was difficult, and I also do miss my family in South Sudan. I know I have had a good life here; electricity, public transport and comfortable home. I also know that in Southern Sudan people are still suffering. I’m nowadays working very hard to see that other Southern Sudanese, especially children, will have the capacity to grow, just as I have had the opportunity to do.

In Australia I’ve worked hard to continue my education. I received an Advanced Diploma of Human Resources & Management from Granville TAFE in 2011. I also finished the Diploma of Management with Careers Australia, and I currently study for a Bachelor of Applied Business Management with University of Ballarat.

I founded the Southern Hope Community Organisation Incorporated (SHCO) in 2010, a charitable registered not-for-profit organisation providing help and support to Southern Sudanese African Australians. We provide support to widows, orphans, isolated community members and individuals who cannot do things due to disability.

The SHCO mission is to prepare South Sudanese immigrants residing in Australia to become productive citizens by providing a work and learning environment where they feel challenged, respected & accountable as they strive to meet the demands of citizenship. Our aim is to improve the lives of South Sudanese families and support their smooth integration into Australian life and local Community.

I would say to Australian a big thank you for what you have done for opening the door to refugees from all over the world.

Emmanuel Kondok

Email: shcoinfo@yahoo.com.au

Website: www.shco.com.au or will change soon to www.shco.org.au

Emmanuel Kondok works to help South Sudanese to get on their feet and find their place in a peaceful Australia after so many of them have suffered from the type of traumatic experiences he did.

From the age of 12 Emmanuel endured hardships no child should ever experience. He now works to ensure a better life for Southern Sudanese both in Australia and back in Africa, and also to raise awareness of the issues facing South Sudanese. On the occasion of my 44th birthday what I wish is that Emmanuel’s children never suffer from the intolerance toward refugees that so many in our community like to express, enflamed by our profligate mass media and our defective political leaders, and which has at its root the same evil that infected the hearts of those who forced Emmanuel to endure what he did. My birthday wish is that Emmanuel and his family find peace here, that his children go to school and learn about the good that is in the world, and that he and his children mingle with Australians, where their different origins are respected and appreciated, and among whom they will each be accepted as one of our own. – Scribblehead

Visit the Southern Hope Community Organisation web site www.shco.com.au and consider donating.

Re: Mark, don’t forget to vote!

reply to Verity Firth’s email urging me to vote for her in the ALP’s Policy Forum:

 

Hi Verity and team

I am ineligible to vote. After 17 years including some very active ones, I cancelled my membership of the ALP on 27 March. I don’t want to be seen to be part of a Party perpetuating the conservatives’ punitive policies toward asylum seekers. The Gillard Government’s policies feed straight into and out of a racial undercurrent the ALP should be leading Australia away from. And incidentally, in the context of the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper it sends the message “sure we’re open and responsive to Asia, so long as there’s a dollar in it.’”

Decades from now historians will look back at the present asylum seeker “issue” in much the same way we look back now at the White Australia Policy.

I can only hope should you reach the policy forum you take this on-board.

Regards
M J MacNamara

A snapshot in time…

…too late you’ve lost me.

This week I got several reminders of the mid-90s. It began last Saturday morning when we turned up for Bryce’s under 13s cricket game at Cherrybrook against West Pennant Hills. We were very quickly being flogged – three wickets in the first over including Bryce. I’d switched my phone on and noticed a missed call and a voice message from Drew Simmons, President of the NSW Division of the Australian Democrats. When I got a chance I listened to the message from the night before and phoned Drew back. Drew apologised – I’d won the most votes in the ballot for Vice-President of the NSW Democrats but my eligibility had been questioned on the grounds I hadn’t been a member long enough. Rules are rules, I said, and it was a very gratifying result at any rate.

Made my way to the NSW Democrats AGM that afternoon and couldn’t help but be reminded of the old days in the ALP – a collective including concerned senior citizens, ex parliamentary candidates and Party veterans, a forthright and earnest vanguard of activists, and one or two of the next generation. I was heartened, and I met a number of very impressive people for whom I hold very high hopes. The future for the NSW Democrats is promising, but qualified by the divisive internal machinations of the Party which permeates from the Federal Executive and is reflected in the State Executive – as I worked out through the course of the day. But like I said, promising. Clearly under Drew Simmons’s leadership the NSW Democrats are on the ascendancy.

I quickly fell into a small kabal with a few fellow new members with whom I share similar interests and geography – all enervated and inspired to work the political system toward the things we believe in. Discussion with my new camarada carried over beyond the AGM and by weeks end I couldn’t help but be drawn out by the various reminders of my time as an activist with the ALP. Yesterday I was asked if I’d crossed paths with Bob Ritten of the ETU and couldn’t recall, but it forced me to run a search on a whole pile of documents from that period. I hadn’t read this stuff since it was written – minutes of meetings of The Entrance-Long Jetty Branch and the Dobell Federal Electorate Council of the ALP, both of which I served as Secretary in that period, and correspondence I’d written on behalf of those Party units. A shapshot in time – letters about party machinations and letters to Gareth Evans and the Central Coast Peace Forum on Chirac’s nuclear testing in the Pacific and UN inaction in Bosnia and landmines, to Wyong Shire Council about parties ripping up sports fields, to Beazley and Willis about bank fees and fee free accounts, to Brereton, to Keating warning a referendum for a Republican president chosen by a two thirds majority of parliament would fail, to condolences for the families of Fred Daly and Ena Griffin and much much more. Some of those things eventually came to pass.

Date-stamped from 1995 to 1997 most are in file formats my current version of Word won’t open, but I can open in notepad. The period is interesting in that it covers the closure of what we now call the Hawke-Keating era. I eventually halted and lingered over a curious document which like the others I’d forgotten I’d written, I have no recollection of writing it whatsoever. I appear to have put it on Dobell FEC letterhead with President Bill Leslie’s name alongside my own, and labelled it ‘Media Release’, but I can’t imagine it ever being published and sincerely doubt I ever sent it. I’d doubt Bill would have let me. All the same there was a reason it stopped me in my tracks. It captured the end of an era in, I hope, a unique perspective.

 

DOBELL FEDERAL ELECTORATE COUNCIL PO Box XXX The Entrance 2261 

Secretary Mark Gallagher (043) XX XXXX     President    Bill Leslie (043) XX XXXX

Fax: (043) XX XXXX 

__________________________________________________

3 March 1996

MEDIA RELEASE

Somewhere around eight o’clock last Saturday night, deeply engrossed in the task of scrutineering in Dobell, I was paying little attention to a nearby comrade with a mobile phone jammed in his ear.  He was calling home to see how the kids were.  I was more concerned with the ballot papers being counted before me indicating some sort of a swing in an unsavoury direction.  I was starting to figure on maybe three or four per cent. 

When James got off the phone he seemed a little worked-up as I caught him in the corner of my eye bounding toward me.  His son had told him we’d lost seven seats in a “landslide”, and “Michael Lee was in trouble in Dobell”.  That was as detailed as the message got.  I thought “Seven seats?  Where?  Queensland?  Not exactly a landslide?!  Four per cent swing isn’t nice but we can hold Dobell on six per cent.” 

These were the first indications I had of the drama unfolding.  I had known it was possible we might lose but reckoned we’d claw our way over the line.  Of course I’d been so passionate all day in telling everybody else around that we’d romp in I even had some veteran Liberals conceding by four o’clock – two hours before polling closed.  None of us could have predicted the severity of this loss.  Not even with twelve months worth of negative polls sitting on the dresser at home.

Within an hour I’m jumping in the car to whip down to the Michael Lee’s electorate office, knowing the results from my booth indicate a five and a half per cent swing.  My booth is traditionally less friendly to Labor so while I’m concerned I figure across the whole electorate we’re probably not in quite so bad shape. 

You can imagine my surprise when I flick on the radio and somebody says “Liberal forty seat majority..”  Then again when I walk into the office to find a high profile Federal Minister at the keyboard trying to calculate how many hundred absentee and postal votes he needs to pick up to hold his seat.  We’re looking at a seven per cent swing.  In the adjoining electorate of Robertson Frank Walker has been frog-marched out of Gosford.  Is this for real?  Surely it’s just a bad dream.

I was thirteen when Labor came to power Federally.  I was concerned but not active enough when Unsworth was scuttled in New South Wales, and did my bit to help put Carr back in there.  After ’93 I was naive enough to believe the ineptitude of conservatives would only deepen until they’d eventually become politically irrelevant.  So here I stand facing my first defeat.  And what a lesson it has been.

I managed to anticipate some of the terms I’d be hearing as I tuned into Channel 9’s Sunday the following morning.  Jim Whaley, for example, liked ‘decimating’.  Someone else thought ‘soul-searching’ was appropriate.  A Liberal interviewee offered ‘go away and work out what they stand for’.  Bob Hawke stumped me though when he used one I hadn’t anticipated.  He said ‘bullshit’.

The official Labor assessment of the defeat is the “it’s time” factor.  No party can expect to be in office forever.  When we assess our performance the length of time one holds office is less relevant than what we have achieved, how our initiative and energy have affected Australia. 

No achievement could be more important than to be the first Government in either Colonial or Federal history to reject the notion of terra nullus – to legally recognise, embrace and promote the broader recognition that human society existed on this continent prior to European settlement – societies with law, religious faith and iconography, social order, education, foreign policy.  Gough Whitlam once said that if he was remembered for only one contribution to this nation he wished it would be for the fight to redress the historical treatment of indigenous peoples.  For Labor this struggle has never been merely an exercise in political correctness or pandering to an interested minority.  As a political organisation whose most fundamental principles are fairness and equity this is more than a cause – a stiring obligation to humanity. 

Much is made of the aparrent de-polarisation of Australian politics from the extremes toward the middle-ground.  Labor is seen to have moved toward the right and now the Co-alition toward a more moderate conservatism.  But there remains an important philosophical difference.  In conservative politics greatest emphasis is placed on the freedom of and opportunity for individual human endeavour, while obligation to ‘the other’ is conditional.  Basically, where Labor and the Democrats share common ground is in a philosophy placing the obligation to society paramount to the freedom of individual endeavour.  Freedom is thus more conditional.  This is not to suggest that freedom of the individual is not an important principle to Labor or that conservatives are bereft of any social obligation. 

So what has a cadet of the labour movement learned from all this?  First of all I am not convinced of what degree we have influenced the conservatives to moderate themselves.  I am convinced they’re not quite so politically inept as they had been in recent years. 

And when it comes to conceding defeat, if you have achieved many important things, if the faith you have held throughout dictates an obligation to humanity, and if you have made this world a little fairer in some way, then there will be no quivering of lips, straining in the vocal chords, or tears for the cameras.  You have not failed and therefore have not really been defeated.

 

And thus began the Howard era. The reference to the Australian Democrats is interesting I guess considering where the road has taken them and me a decade and a half later.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve also been reading the Australia in the Asian Century white paper. It’s a broad and constructive document, an excellent snapshot of where we’re at as a nation and an optimistic statement of intent. It has many of Labor’s of nation-building hallmarks, but it’s not the Party I joined nor the Party with which I found victory in defeat back then. The document demonstrates many of the failings as I see it of the ALP today. Full of wonderful sentiment, but in reality it represents an absolute consultant-fest where at every turn Labor’s capacity to deliver will be consumed by its emphasis on the process rather than results. This is what left the former NSW Labor Government unable to deliver on straightforward projects despite significant investment of time and money – like light rail, or a modern public transport ticketing system after a decade of running the project and $70 million to one consultancy alone. And all this talk of engagement with Asia taken alongside our treatment of asylum seekers – under Labor’s leadership the message our nation is sending to the world is yeah we’re very open and responsive to Asia, so long as there’s a dollar in it.