In Australia the Labour Party led by their PM Gillard are now making a 180 degree bout turn on their Refugee Policy. They appear to have abandoned the Malaysian solution and have now embraced the Pacific Solution, which they went to the elections opposing Liberal-National Coalition Parties on. How fickle and untrustworthy Politicians can be anywhere, let alone Australia!
What this signifies is a shift for processing of boat people and Refugees in PNG ( Manus ) and Nauru.
In the past the NA led Somare government has opposed the processing of Refugees in PNG. There were very good legal and human rights reasons for this policy. This refusal was based on proper legal advice. That it is unconstitutional and unlawful to have an asylum processing centre in PNG, like the one in Manus.
The Manus processing centre is a closed jail like centre where there is heavily armed security, and is out of bounds to the public and the media. It is a strictly controlled environment where the Refugees are not allowed to mingle with locals. They cannot leave the site. There is a very strong fence that cannot be assailed and armed guards are posted everywhere. No one, including lawyers, are allowed access to any Refugee under the Bi-lateral arrangements between Australia and PNG. Most of the contractors and suppliers of food and consumables are companies out of Australia, so there is very little tangible economic benefit back to PNG for this exercise.
The UN Convention & Protocols Relating to the Status of Refugees Refugees (Refugee Convention)1951 & 1967 Protocol (“Refugee Convention”) clearly outlines that a signatory government like Australia cannot transport refugees to a third location like Manus or Nauru, unless there is a guarantee that these countries will not persecute them, they would not be oppressed, and that their human rights will be protected. Until PNG can give a guarantee that the human rights of the refugees will be guaranteed and protected, Australia is obliged by the Refugee Convention not to transport them at all, but to process them on Australian soil. Irrespective of whether a person’s status as a Refugee has been determined or not, the processing of boat people who entered Australia or apprehended by Australian authorities, must principally be done in Australia and on Australian soil, under the Convention. This is an implied international obligation of Australia under the Refugee Convention. The decision to transport them out of Australian legal jurisdiction can only be done if the Australian government can guarantee the physical safety, security, human rights, and speedy processing of their Applications to enter and remain in Australia as Refugees. Past experience shows clearly that Manus is an oppressive environment for the Refugees.
For a long time the Australian government has been looking to curb or discourage boat people flooding its shores by deliberately employing cruel and inhuman treatment of asylum seekers, boat people or refugees. In some cases children and babies have been held in captivity and jail like conditions for years and years without any ounce of recognition or consideration for their humanity. Families have been rendered asunder, and in some cases lives have been destroyed. Many people held in captivity in jail like conditions in Australia have been left with permanent psychological scarring. Others have gone on hunger strike, committed suicide, or even sown up their lips to demonstrate that they are a people without a voice discarded as garbage by the Australian Federal Government and its leadership.
Last Christmas, we watched in horror as the remains of a boat carrying over 300 men women and children smashed mercilessly against the rocks on Christmas Island, were gathered up piece by piece and limb by limb. The Australian Navy, Coast Guard and its surveillance system picked up the boat many hours before they struck tragedy. They knew the heavily laden boat was headed for the rocks in bad weather. Yet, they stood by and allowed these people to sail directly to their death. The Prime Minister of Australia and the Defence Minister of Australia at that time may have been made aware of the impending tragedy, and may have chosen to turn a blind eye. This is not the first time Australia has deliberately allowed boat people to drown. This policy of watching and waiting and turning a blind eye to people in peril at sea does not sit well with the Australian Navy, who has made it known to the politicians that they have sworn an oath as seamen and women to save lives of other seafarers. The manner in which the politicians in Canberra appear to expect the Navy to break a time honoured code of ethics of seafarers is not sitting well with the higher ranks of the Australian Navy. Some servicemen and women have suffered psychologically as a result, having watched and stood by while innocent men women and children whose only crime was to come to Australia, daring to dream of happiness and to seek a better life and a better future, being plunged to their certain deaths.
The Refugee Convention is very clear that it is not a crime for human beings, people of one country to leave their country and go seek a better life in another country if they suffer persecution in the original country on grounds of race, religion or political belief. As a matter of fact it is a fundamental human right to live in peace in a safe and secure environment, and the Convention provides for and gives effect to this right and the sacred sanctity of human life and the inherent dignity of every person.
Australia has over the years done everything under the sun to persecute, desecrate and demonize asylum seekers, refugees and boat people. Yet when it comes down to it, Australia is a country of boat people. White Australia is a country of boat people and their descendants. What gives Julia Gillard and her Cabinet any more right to Australia than those latterly arrivals on Aborigines soil? It is only a matter of timing. That is all. White Australia has no more legal, ethical or moral high ground to claim Terra Australis than these boat people. This behoves Australia to adopt a position, a moral and legal position that is concomitant with a full understanding and appreciation of the full surrounding circumstances causing plight of people around the globe; and in this sense their own part in the invasion of other countries and causing demographic political religious and economic instability in certain parts.
Australian Leaders equally fail to see the full benefits of a healthy Immigration Policy that treats people with dignity. The policy is ridden by every political jockey as if to ensure the next load of boat people do not get in at all was a virtue worthy of the highest political goal score and inverse personal credibility, be it government or opposition. The fact that they don’t have an open quota system, prescribed open criteria, and aggressive selective migration policy, allows for some people to capitalize on it to set up money making operations to do boat runs with people who would otherwise be decent and skilled human beings in any society. The front page right hand column of The Australian last weekend says Australian Government internal studies reveal that it will need 800,000 new skilled workers in 5 years’ time! It expressed grave concerns for the Australian economy that it cannot be in a position to meet this demand. How poetically paradoxical was this page as it had right across the top in bold was the headline “Labor floats Nauru solution”. Now even if every able bodied Australian female, and every hot blooded beer swirling meat pie eating fly swatting footy crazy Aussie male, start fornicating non-stop for the next 6 months, they still will not produce the 800,000 skilled workers needed in 5 years’ time to meet the demand forecasted. That is one reason why, Australian Migration Policy as closed discriminatory and insular as it is, driven by a psyche of isolation and out-dated phobias, need to be sat on its head and overhauled to meet the challenges of the next century, or it will surely suffer being left behind as a land of red necks.
Clearly the Manus solution in Papua New Guinea is illegal and unconstitutional under international law as well as under PNG law. Among other reasons it is illegal because:
1. It deprives the liberty of people to be held in Jail like lock ups. Under the PNG Constitution we cannot deprive the liberty of persons unless they are convicted of a crime, or the Police charge them with a crime, and the courts cannot grant them bail. Where a person is suspected of a committing an offence, he can be held for a short time for interview. There is no other basis in law in PNG for us to hold a person captive. Any asylum seeker so held can sue the PNG Government for damages for false imprisonment and for breach of his rights under Section 37 of the Constitution. Yet, the Manus Refugee processing centre is exactly that. It is an establishment set up for an unlawful purpose.
2. PNG is a signatory to the Refugee Convention, it is obliged to protect and process refugees speedily, and where necessary allow the Refugees access to Lawyers and the courts to have their claims heard and settled speedily. The manner in which the Manus Centre is set up with High Security perimeter is very clearly designed to deny the basic human rights of the Refugees guaranteed by the Refugee Convention. This happened the last time and there no guarantee that it will be any different. The denial of human rights entailing the Manus processing Centre, locking up of men, women and children who have not broken any law in PNG, is harsh, oppressive and inhuman, which is a breach of Section 41 of the Constitution of Papua New Guinea. This is so especially when these people do not know when they will be processed and they are held in abeyance for months and years at a time, sometimes separated from their families. It is also oppressive when they have no access to lawyers or courts, especially Australian courts applying Australian Law in respect of their Applications to remain in Australia. PNG Courts cannot apply Australian Law. An aggrieved refugee in Manus is automatically denied access to Australian lawyers and Australian Courts to have his case reviewed. Denial of proper Jurisdiction and facilities is a form of oppression that is Unconstitutional under PNG law.
3. Australia will have breached its obligations under the Refugee Convention by transporting these Refugees to Manus. Australia has an obligation to receive refugees, grant asylum and resettle them. Australia has an obligation to facilitate safe travels of Refugees to safe destinations. Australia also has an obligation at law to process the Refugees speedily on Australian soil. The very fact that the Manus centre is like a maximum security jail, and the fact that the people do not have access to welfare services, lawyers, Journalists, access to Australian Lawyers and Courts, with their human rights unlikely to be protected, should oblige Australia not to send these people in the first place to Manus.
Australia proudly sends its soldiers to other countries to fight and bring democracy to these countries, now it must stand up and show what a model democracy it is. Julia Gillard and her Cabinet must not make excuses for their generation of Australians and co-opt compliant leaders like Peter O’Neill to condone and carry on breach of International law and PNG law. Papua New Guinea must not become party to Australia’s inhuman, discriminatory, oppressive and illegal activities. The O’Neill government must not stoop to illegal and unlawful conduct.
4. Australia is very backward in human rights laws and protection of lives of asylum seekers. They do not have a codified bill of rights as we in PNG do in our Constitution. However, even when we do have a Bill of Rights, our past experience of Manus has been that if we cannot meet or speak to Refugees or asylum seekers and know about their grievances, we cannot help them under our law. That is why Australia has designed Manus to ensure minimum outside access and maximum security. They have in the past even prevented Australian lawyers and journalists access to the refugees both in Manus and in Nauru. The Australian government wants to make Manus and Nauru as oppressive as possible to deter further asylum seekers, even if it is against the law.
The Asylum seekers rights under our Constitution likely to be breached without any remedy include:
a) Freedom from inhumane treatment,
b) Right to protection of the law,
c) Right not to be held in custody unless charged with an offence known at law,
d) Right to be heard quickly, and by a fair and impartial tribunal,
e) Right to respect for the inherent dignity of a person,
f) Freedom from harsh, oppressive and unwarranted treatment.
Peter ONeill may feel obliged to keep doing favours for Julia Gillard for the political recognition granted to his illegitimate regime last August, but this is not a matter of politics and political favors. The Independent State of Papua New Guinea and indeed the office of Prime Minister is not Peter ONeill’s personal business enterprise. The Office is set up under the Constitution as a public office and it must be run in accordance with the laws of this country. Infact it is not a decision for pliable Peter O’Neill to make personally by directing the Foreign Minister Pato to facilitate Peter and Julia’s wishes and most ardent desires. etc. This is a matter of law, and NEC should be the appropriate body to look at and debate the full ramifications of this decision. Thereafter, Parliament should sit and consider this whole issue, thereby allowing clarity and common sense and the wishes of the nation to be carried in a public and informed atmosphere. What Peter ONeill has done so far is clearly illegal, and is a gross abuse of public office.
Any aggrieved party can as a matter of public interest challenge this by way of a Supreme Court Reference for the Courts to give their opinion on the Constitutional ramifications of this decision. We will now sit back and see the true colours of some of these national Leaders as to whether they will fall for this trick or not. The Opposition should knock this on the head, and call on Australian Leaders to respect human lives and treat their inherent person with dignity, not like some piece of garbage to be transported all over the Pacific ocean and discarded in some disused former military facility. If they want to be a model democracy and a great nation one day, Australian leaders must first show the world that they have joined the rest of humanity, and have become a people of dignity and decency in their Refugee and Immigration policies. That would be a good starting point.
9 thoughts on “O’Neills Manus Decision is Inhumane, Illegal & Otherwise Unconstitutional”
‘Melanesian’ – A solid article which raises some important points. Just finishing my own article on this – which focuses on the PNG debate – or it’s total absence! Rgds, Tavurvur.
Clearly this is Australia’s problem. PNG has its own refugee problem with all the West Papuan camps throughout the country. Oneill should focus on this immediate and long standing issue rather than try to score political favour with the Australians and open up Manus island again. I fully support Powes Parkop’s stance to not open Manus Island as fundamentally this is wrong legally, ethically and not the Melanesian and PNG way.
Thankyou fr your positive comments Tavuvur and Dikko.
What I failed to say, and should say is that:
1. The NEC and Parliament cannot override the Constitution and the UN Convention on Refugees that we are signatory to. They must act consistent with Law.
2. We have an International Obligation to ensure Australia complies with International Law and meets its International Obligations. This means that we have an obligation to assist Australian Leaders see the errors in their policies and send our people down as part of reverse Aid to devise policies that will help Australia with its Immigration policy failure on the issue of Refugees. We need to help them find more humane solutions on how to treat these people on Australian soil.
3. PNG as the largest Melanesian State and the oldest Pacific Island must now help and guide Australia and show them the way as to how to treat other people humanely and share the scarce resources of the world and live peacefully.
Melanesian – agreed. As I argue in my piece, all these questions would have the opportunity to be addressed, and some hopefully answered, if PNG had our debate on Australia’s asylum-seekers. We haven’t been able to do so – and we’re much the poorer for it! Rgds, Tavurvur.
If Peter O’Neill does not reverse this decision, and instead chooses to steam roll the nation, then he is very much mistaken. If he does not show us how in the face of the UN Refugee Convention ( that we are signotary to and under the express provisions of our Constitution) he can entertain an oppressive arrangement as the Manus processing centre, then he is doomed. he has lost his credibility even before the First Parliament of this term sat. He has revealed to all of us that he will be as lawless and as criminal as any politician can be- no different from the last 12 months. That will be a sad indictment on ONeill personally.
What about the Foreign Minister, Mr Paito, and Mr Kerrengau Kua the Attorney General? They are both supposed to be senior Lawyers of this country. Have they lost their head? Where is their advice to the PM?
If this is the sort of politics this country will see from hence forth then I say….MASKI! MI Les!
PETER ONEILL’S GREATEST CHALLENGE AS PRIME MINISTER OF PNG.
Our moments of triumph on the Olympic stage have not been many, so full marks to our Toea Wisil for her recent triumph on track and field. We have had our moments over the last 37 years in the regional sporting events like the Commonwealth Games, the Arafura Games, the South Pacific and the Mini South Pacific Games, but Wisil’s qualifying run was something special. Its significance will be held in our collective memories for a long time, as her personal triumph is part of history as a nation.
In an Olympic year, we are once again contemplating playing host to the next South Pacific Games and the government (especially the previous ONeill-Namah political Leadership) has not been serious about what is and what ought to have been a matter of priority and pride to prepare necessary infrastructure for the event. The nation is about to face its moment of truth on the regional and international stage but we are way behind in our preparations, and so far treated this event as a political afterthought. Our lack of preparations must necessarily be viewed as a measure of our own awareness and pride in ourselves. It is a measure of the way we have gone off-course in terms of focussing our people and our leaders on matters other than that of national interest and national importance. It is a measure of the way we have lost our way as a nation, preoccupied with politics, the demands of enclave type developments like the LNG, and forgotten about being a country, about nationhood, and about what the national interest requires of us. It is a measure of the way we have lost our own sovereignty in favour of serving others’ interests, including personal interests.
We are about to reveal once again for all to see what we have been about for the last 37 years, at least since the last time we hosted the Games here. At least we had a Sir Anthony Siaguru to lead us out with a committee of equally talented people, showcased and acquitted well of the nation they represented. Oh how the red gold and black fluttered in the steady South-Westerly, and our hearts were instantaneously lifted to greater heights of exuberance, as our athletes triumphed. We could believe once again in ourselves, and the social contract we signed in 1975 to be one nation, one people and one country. And oh how we triumphed then, hauling in more gold silver and bronze than ever before, or since! Every Kiwai, Tolai, Highlander, Wopa, Siwai, Orokaiva, Orokolo, Sol and Tasi walked out of that stadium, proud, and rightfully so. We savoured those precious few shared moments of triumph with tears streaming down our faces. We looked at each other wide eyed and teary faced, and we laughed tears of joy and elation, and gently swayed to the fading strands of John Wong’s voice “Papua New Guinea… one people, one country…”as we walked out, confident and sure of ourselves.
We knew we will always be one people, a people cast together by history, a people held together by our ancient agrarian ways, thrust almost prematurely into the limelight of 21st Century to sink or swim, live or die. Together we chose life. And but whilst the odds were always staked against us, and some called us stone aged primitives, while others whispered,”… they won’t make it…”, it is in rare moments of sporting triumph like this, pitted against their best, on a clear sky blue days and on level playing fields, we have come together and asserted resoundingly that we have arrived on the world’s centre stage!
We have asserted that we are an ancient people, a strong people, the largest nation in the Pacific Islands and the land link between the tiger economies of Asia and the Pacific. We are the pre-historic home of Melanesia. We are a serious people, and we shall be taken seriously by our other Melanesian, Polynesian and Micronesian neighbours. Whether they like it or not, whether they like our way of doing things or not, we are here and we will assert ourselves, and assert we did at that and every other SP Game since.
Who would have predicted how we would turn out as a nation and a people in 1973 when we were granted Self Government so hurriedly by the Gorton/Whitlam Governments of Canberra?
In the early 70s on the occasion of a South Pacific Commission Meeting held in the capital of one of our Polynesian countries, the Paramount Chief of the Chimbu people, and he may as well have been the Paramount Chief of all the Highlanders, because he was a tall towering and imposing Simbu, who stood as tall as the mountains, and firm as his native rock of Elimbari, stood up and spoke. Whenever he spoke in his native setting, his dozen wives and multitudes upon multitudes of tribes men far and near came and drank of his words in utter silence, words that echoed like a thousand waterfalls and flowed seamlessly like the Waghi, giving life to a deeply farrowed land. But this time, his solemn maiden Chiefly address to the South Pacific Commission in tok pisin was openly mocked. Perhaps it was because of his earnest but equally farrowed facial features. Perhaps it was because he didn’t understand a word of English and could not speak any. Even perhaps it was because they couldn’t understand him at all with his typical highlands big-manly animations. He did look like someone out of the stone-age, but his heart was earnest and his composure sure and demeanour true. Notwithstanding, he felt the mocking laughter deeply, like the bitter stings of a thousand wasps buzzing around his head. He couldn’t speak English. Realizing, from the laughter and the polite nods that he had just become the laughing stock of the Pacific, and realizing he carried with him not only the pride of the Narengu tribe of Chimbu, but also the pride of history of his fathers and that of the then Territories of Papua and New Guinea he represented, Kondom Agaunduo slowly raised his hand as if to brush the wafting wasps away, allowed the laughter to subside, and spoke in slow deliberate pisin and uttered those famous lines… ” yupela harim ah! Nau mi kam long hia na toktok na yupela lap long mi. Em I orait. Tomoro bai mi salim ol pikinini bilong mi i kam. Taim ol I kam, bai yupela ino nap lap long ol! “ With that he sat down, and never spoke again.
Paramount Chief Kondom Agaunduo now lies in silent repose in his village on the side of the Highway named after an equally imposing political force of the Simbu people. Kondom was a man before his time. He was a Chief and Luluai, a cultural hero who brought progress to Chimbu in the early colonial period. He was the first Simbu coffee grower, father of the Chimbu Coffee Cooperative, Member of the District Advisory Council, Observer to the First Legislative Council in Port Moresby. Before his premature death from a car accident, he was truly a pioneer who craved education and progress for his people so that they could meet or match the whiteman, a man without pigs, on his own terms, and triumph. He was resolute and uncompromising in this cause. His leadership, punctuated by long eloquent speeches, was impeccable. There was no ounce of self interest in his cause. His cause was that of every Chimbu to advance.
Our few moments of triumph on the sporting fields have been shared together, as highlanders, Momases, NGIs and Papuans- groupings that came as we tried to define ourselves along our natural geographic regions. Yet these groupings sit very un-comfortably with our own assertion and notion as one people and one nation. Today we have indeed become one people and one nation naturally in a way we could never have openly predicted-with complex intermarriages. Even when corporate greed threatened to blow us apart, and it did for many years for thousands on Bougainville, one man, a soldier and a national hero from Karkar Island, stood up and defied all odds to put a stop to the blood bath that was about to unfold, and held us together. He underwent a period of self-examination and self-assessment for some time, and after all that was done, he stood up, and he stood by the oath he took before God and man to protect the Constitution, his nation, his people in Bougainville and on the mainland. He realized in time that if he didn’t stand up, he would by his conduct have revoked the Constitutional framework that held us together as a people, and cut adrift the people of Bougainville. He defied vulgar political direction and greedy corporate puppetry from outside. When Jerry Singirok triumphed personally over the evil that was about to be served, a chalice of blood, a slaughter that appeared inevitable, the whole nation triumphed. We all exhaled in great shared relief! Whew!
Many a child who was born in the 1980s, educated to feel equally eloquent and masters of their own destiny, deserving of a great future in this country, find themselves having to invariably come to terms with political legacies and historical events like Bougainville, constantly nagging at them with them having to ask themselves this question- what was all that about? The mothers of Bougainville, who survived, who suffered through loss of their own sons, daughters and husbands, are still asking that very question to this day.
While the fallen soldiers were draped in the red black and gold, the fallen in Bougainville lie scattered all over those islands of sorrow, and their spirits still wander unrequited. Deep down, every mother in Bougainville still ask, why did the nation turn its guns on our sons? Why did Bougainville become the Islands of sorrow? Can we as a nation triumph together in sporting fields like the coming SP Games and in other spheres if we do not deal with Bougainville, look at our brother in the eye and honestly feel the same blood pulsating through our veins?
How can we explain Bougainville to our children that they, as intelligent human beings with inquisitive minds, can make sense of it? How can the fatherless and the motherless children of Bougainville who also struggle daily with their permanent condition be consoled? And how do they further explain it to their children?
We cannot explain Bougainville, the shedding of innocent blood, the birthing of an Island of orphans and widows, in any other way than the sense of corporate greed, and blatant disregard for human lives and the rights of human beings by so called civilized nations, acting secretively through off-balance sheet black ops operatives. No one has gone behind the scenes to expose the people behind the people in Sandline. Faceless men in glass steel and concrete towers in faraway lands, powerful governments and their operatives, use money and influence and do deals and sign papers that instantaneously spill the blood innocent people all over the world. It was the South Americas yesterday, and today it is the Middle-East, with Africa the ongoing playground of those who want to pawn off the lives of the starving innocent using contentions of old tribal rifts and religious differences as convenient divisive tools. The death of the cold war has spawned new wars, wars that relate directly to control and exploitation of scarce resources and energy fields that will see the rise and re-ordering of civilisation as we know.
While those who conceived Sandline have long melted into the shadows, governments involved quickly cut off connections, wiped the paper trail and electronic footprints leading to their doorsteps, shredded the papers and claimed both ignorance and innocence; the Queen sits with a solemn smile on her throne in England, while the Kangaroos still graze peacefully on the brown meadows of Australia. Long gone are the sounds of machine guns and echoes of the cries of children looking for their mothers. Today, they come with bundles of Aid money to “help” the people of Bougainville. It’s the re-building and restoration program that they in their magnanimous generosity bestow on Bougainville that comes, but not necessarily without strings. How wonderfully generous the help is to us with roads that may one day carry our copper and gold out again, and ports that may see ships bearing all manner of colours once more berth, but let us not even contemplate that for now.
For now, having put up his hand for Sumkar and lost to an Australian Naturalized citizen, Jerry Singirok, sits back on his Island home to contemplate and take stock of his gains and losses, his friends and his foes, especially those who pretended to be friends but were really against him. He savours the sting of deception, like that of a thousand urchins. No war would have prepared him for this public admonition and rejection. In the 2012 elections, more so than ever before, the Australian Defence and intelligence played a very heavy hand, and made no secret about the fact of who Canberra wants installed as the new Prime Minister. Jerry Singirok of all people was in a better position to know and understand what was really at stake. He also knows how during the Commission of Inquiry into Sandline, he, along with several other public servants, were made public scapegoats by powerful people and powerful governments behind Sandline, to wipe their own footprints, as they melted into the dark.
On the 2nd of August 2011, Australia engineered the disposal of Somare while he was in Hospital. They used ONeill’s ambition, Nape’s greed and Namah’s stupidity to bludgeon Somare. Then when the courts were called upon to intervene by a Supreme Court Reference, Julia Gillard used a political bulldozer to smash down the gates of our Judicial system and our Constitution, by openly recognizing Peter ONeill as Prime Minister! She pre-empted the Supreme Court, the sole arbiter under the Constitution to deal with the then pending question of legitimacy of Peter ONeill as Prime Minister.
Australia has always advocated the importance of the rule of law, and the importance of having an independent judiciary as the backstop of our democracy in Papua New Guinea. Except on this occasion Australia threw all that out the window. When it suited Australia’s strategic economic and political purposes, even the ideals of rule of law, governance, transparency, accountability and principles of democratic government were readily flushed down the toilet by Australia. Gillard used her High Commissioner, Ian Kemish, tons of money, and the full swag of intelligence tools at her disposal, including the complicity of the Post Courier, to push for Peter ONeill, however constitutionally illegitimate that was.
Australia was instrumental in the smashing of the Constitution and the judiciary of Papua New Guinea, the two most important institutions that birthed this nation and gave it its soul, its sacred sanctity and sovereignty, and its separate identity as a separate people and a separate nation in the South Pacific. The judiciary is the watchdog that guards the Constitution. The Constitution is like a vial that contains the essential DNA of Papua New Guinea, the largest nation of Melanesian people on God’s earth. If you destroy the Constitution and its watch dog, you destroy a nation, and the rest becomes history.
Prior to and during the elections, Australia moved its people into key positions within the Electoral Commission, and even brought in its military and SAS veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan to run a separate communications and operations capability parallel to the PNG security forces. All this was done to ensure one result- Peter ONeill to form the next government. Immediately after ONeill was declared winner of the Ialibu-Pangia seat by beating his nearest rival by 45,000 votes, Ian Kemish moved a whole company of Australian Army specialists into the Airways Hotel where ONeill team was holed up, as a show of alliance, and as a Personal VIP Protective Unit in full combat gear, against anything that ONeill’s brother Belden Namah would throw. It was an open show of strength. The Australian Army under Gillard moved huge amounts of firearms into PNG and into the Airways Hotel on secret Australian Airforce Fights. They made sure ONeill knew he was under the Australian army protection, and that he owed his rather “unusual landslide election win” to them.
It was a job well done for Ian Kemish, who unlike any other High Commissioner before him, was prepared to get his hands dirty, and do some of the work himself. As a diplomat, he has trod where even angels wouldn’t dare. What a brave man this Ian Kemish is, for he has successfully and almost singlehandedly displayed the full length and breadth of the power of Australia over Papua New Guinea politics. He has shown other diplomats in almost resounding terms, who owns this country! And for this he would have earned a long and well deserved holiday somewhere in Europe, and for sure almost endless career possibilities with the Commonwealth. It was a job well done in any one’s language.
Somare and other elder statesmen have played the only card they could play under the circumstances. But their card no longer carries any personal ambitions. They have been there and done that. There is no anger or resentment left in Chan, Somare or even Wingti. They have measured ambitions, which involve issues of what form or shape of legacy will they all and each leave for this nation. How will they be remembered after they pass? Each one of them has had a by-pass operation. Each is living on time that has been graciously extended to them. And each of them has known what it is like to have and hold power, exercise power, and what a heady thing that is!
The real issue for Somare Chan and Wingti, and others of the elder Statesmen around ONeill , is how much of the love for the RED GOLD & BLACK can they impart to Peter ONeill and get him away from the charms of money, wealth, fame and more fortune promised to him by those who now like cicadas whisper incessantly into his ears. To be sure, Papua New Guineans know the deals O’Neill has done over the years. We also know his various businesses that are run openly and under other people’s names. We also know of his associations with the likes of young George Constantinou, Rod Mitchell and the Cragnolinis. We know the straight and the crooked deals he made over the years, just as we know the deeds of others around him. We also know of the political deals he has done with Australia in return for political recognition after the 2nd of August 2011 bludgeoning of Somare.
The real question is, does he have what it takes, and can he stand up for the RED GOLD & BLACK? Or will he be just another good native?
The signs are already fairly ominous of a sell-out job done by Peter ONeill. It already appears he has sold his soul to Julia Gillard. He needs these next 18 months to prove to the rest of us that he is a true nationalist, that the genes of his native mother will always outweigh those of his Irish Father, that he will rise to be a better Prime Minister, and better at negotiating competing interests and triumphing over those who want to turn him and his office into their own Post Office Box. He has 18 months to show us that he is the Prime Minister of PNG and not Julia Gillard’s rubber stamp of Australian cross-interests in this country. He will have to do better than he has done so far to show us that our lives and our resources are safe from the marauding corporate raiders who are crowding his social calendar even now.
He has to demonstrate that the mothers of Bougainville who lost their sons fighting for their land and resources have not died in vain. He has to show us that the blood of the innocent spilled on Bougainville was for a cause of equal worth, and that indeed he will use this term of Prime Minister-ship to initiate a ministry of healing of the nation., to reconcile us as brother to brother, that our blood can flow through our veins once again from one heartbeat. He has to, like Jerry Singirok did, honour the oath he took before God and man under our Constitution to protect our people and the national interest. Peter ONeill must know what the national interest calls for in every case, and must summon the courage like Singirok did, and honour the national interest in everything confronting the nation today, not just in respect of Bougainville, although Bougainville ought to be high priority on our nation’s list of “unfinished business”.
ONeill has the challenge to define our separate path as a people and as a nation, not to allow us to disintegrate into a dependant economic basket case. He has to ensure we do not become an enclave of resource extraction, leaving behind polluted oceans and scarred landscapes, of an equally scarred and soul-less people, helpless, confused and poverty stricken, devoid of any real idea of who we are and where we are headed.
For Somare, who signed the First Project Agreement for Bougainville and for Chan who signed to spill blood, the healing of Bougainville will be a fitting closure, for the past to be properly buried, and for the future to be welcomed together. For without properly dealing with these matters, this matter of “unfinished business”, we can never wipe the sorrow from the Islands of Bougainville; we will not have served the national interest, and we cannot go on the world stage as a complete whole.
Is Peter ONeill one of the sons that the great Simbu Chief Kondom Agaunduo spoke of in his maiden speech to the SPC, or is he just another ‘yes’ man for the Australians, doing their bidding so that he can increase his own barns, while the rest of the country starve? Does Peter ONeill have the smarts of a modern education and business acumen to really serve the national interest, or will be just another drunken politician, pandering to his mates, and the sharks and vultures already circling around and above the nation looking to extract our resources and leave us bare?
Toea Wisil’s triumph was really our triumph indeed as a people. The idea that this Highlands lass could dare to burst through all manner of human impediments, the chains of time and history, the insurmountable social religious and cultural prejudices, to stamp her mark on a premier world qualifying event is remarkable when you consider that in the early 1930s as Sydney Harbour Bridge was being opened, the world didn’t even know then that highlanders like the people of Ialibu-Pangia ever existed in the interior of this country. With every TV stations bearing down on her, Wisil gave the world a rare insight into what we as a people, this ancient Melanesian primordial odyssey have birthed, and what is to come! While the nation prepares to host the next South Pacific Games, one wonders whether we will be proud to cheer our red black and gold, or will we die of complacency, indifference, and simply fizzle into nothingness? The real question again is, does Peter ONeill – the man from Ialibu-Pangia, another young highlander like Wisil, possess the skill, courage, mental, intellectual and moral fortitude to rise to the call of the nation, to lift the pride of this nation high and assert our position as a Melanesian people. Does he have what it takes to not only give us cause to celebrate and showcase our nation in the coming games, but show those sharks and vultures that circle him; that he is a nationalist, that this is the land of an ancient and free people, a people of pride, strength and culture and he will serve the national interest above all else? That we will not be bought or sold for political or economic convenience? That the birth place of the Melanesian nations- the heart and soul of Melanesia is not for sale?
These questions are only for Peter O’Neill to answer, and prove his personal mettle. If he fails and sells us cheap to the Australian and other interests, (as there are many signs already that he will fail us), then that will be his legacy, and his only. If he becomes the convenient conduit to allow Australians to crush our heart and soul as a people, then this nation will never forgive him, future generations will not forgive him, and all the labour of our forefathers and the fathers of our Constitution have laboured in vain.
This alone remains Peter O’Neill’s greatest challenge as Prime Minister today, as the wolves are no longer at the gates huffing and puffing, they are in his living room, in and under his bed, and at his table.
It is therefore incumbent on other leaders to also stand up for this nation, just as the former Governor for Morobe did, to rule a line in the sand, and tell the hordes that prey on our people and their Leaders, to stay outside the line, and clarify their wish lists. Australia has proven that it cannot be trusted to secure our Constitution, our Judiciary and our democracy according to principles of rule of law. Australia has proven its ability to openly manipulate our politics and our institutions to serve its own interests. Australia is only here to serve its economic and strategic interests, and we cannot blame it for that, as long as our leaders wake up from their deep slumber and protect our own National Interests.
Our Laws and our Constitution, and our Parliamentary system was adopted from England. We must not lose sight of our own origins both as a people and as a modern nation State. Peter ONeill has the advantage of the wise Counsel of Somare, Chan and Wingti at his disposal. Somare for issues relating to national identity as a modern Melanesian State, Chan and Wingti to help define and chart the economic course that serves the overall strategic national interest s of this country. Those with wish lists in bed with ONeill must be made to define and measure them against clearly stated interests of the nation. If these interests are not defined, and made subservient to the national interests by our young Leaders like ONeill, then the wolves will definitely eat us. Before we realize what is going on, ONeill will have successfully sold our people and the national interest down the river, and he will have sailed into the sunset with his gains, and we will be left to ponder what really went wrong as we struggle as a soul-less nation to live with the manacles of economic slavery, control and poverty he placed us under. God forbid that this should happen!
HOWARD’S VALUES IN MELANESIA – PART 2
“A Mariner’s Catch-Cry”
It is of worthwhile historical interest that whilst ‘mate-ship’ and giving someone a ‘fair go’ appear worthy exhortations, one can readily understand and appreciate the sociological processes by which these have now come to be exalted by a 21st century Prime Minister like John Howard as national values for Australia.
We don’t have to reach too far back to find the hand of history at work among the psyche of sea borne convicts who needed to extol the virtues of “mate-ship” (or ship-mates) and “fair go” as being necessary survival catch-cries in over-crowded and plague ridden hulls and decks, where one could have killed for a piece of dried bread or a sip of rancid water. The mariner’s catch-cries borne out of abject tyranny, constantly staring at the face of death, have been deeply seared into the collective conscience of a nation, and as such, become as it were, the obligatory rite of passage for a post-cold war modern state. They have been galvanized into iconic symbols of mortal struggle against all manners of natural elements and artificial odds, and ultimately the triumph of the human spirit in a new land. Howard seized upon this experience of recent history, and under its peaceful afterglow, he sought to hue out of it a preamble, and rallying point, for a post Nine Eleven Australia.
In what has suddenly become the age of terrorism, with the emergence of new super powers in the region, as Prime Minister of an incongruously European enclave in the Pacific, Howard saw himself as the first chief executive in Australian politics to inaugurate some sort of mission statement that would become the necessary turbo-charge to propel his country forward, and to cement his place in Australian political folklore. He sought meaning and intellectual solace within the nation’s brief life experience to give utterance to some form of common purpose and direction to the occurrence of his people on a dry, arid and somewhat alien continent. He attempted to weave history seamlessly into the challenges facing a modern state, to proclaim the dawning of a new era for a modern Australia, based on what he claimed to be homogeneous values. He gleaned from history the collective experiences that would hold Australians to a new horizon, a new prism, from which to view the past, draw strength from it, to face the ever uncertain future with confidence.
How fitting and ingenious it was for Howard, who was Prime Minister for well over a decade, to deliberately reach back into the dark recesses of his country’s brief history and craft out of it some timeless values that, like a deceased persons last will and testament, or a futuristic software program, would ensure even after he had long departed the corridors of power, he still ruled the country in the legacy of the values he laid. In a sense, this may be deemed by some as an attempt by Howard at ultimate political immortality.
Howard’s sudden burst of statesmanship would also be the culmination of several other concerns playing at the back of his mind, chief among these may have been the quest to find something to hold together a people made more disparate by years of pursuing a policy of multiculturalism, a coterie of scattered peoples with no common cause or common back ground. In his many years in Parliament, he must have seen the need for the creation of a homogenous value system to unite every Australian under. There is no greater contradiction, no greater paradox, no greater tragedy than being Prime Minister of a people who do not believe in anything, who lack any common cause for cohesion and direction, just merely existing out of sheer necessity and by the cold force of statute law, in an otherwise economically prosperous land mass. It was, as if in a flash of hallucination, Howard saw out of the Simpson Desert, rise, a gigantic mirage of a distorted, disjointed, worn and weathered people, wandering in dreamlike trance, with nothing to hold their ragged spirits, nothing to fight for, nothing to live for, and nothing to die for, all while drowning in a sea of immense and obscene prosperity.
Surely as a devout Presbyterian it would have played on his mind the trials and tribulations of ancient Moses leading his people out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and around in circles, fighting needless enemy after enemy, under similar desert skies, for forty long years. Surely Howard would have silently paraphrased with his own lips the salient prophetic warning: what does it profit Australia if it should gain the whole world by its material prosperity out of Aborigine lands, but lose its own soul? To lose its way in a spiritless and soulless existence held together only by the hundreds of legislation passed by various parliaments every year is an empty affair. The ability to regulate, and over-regulate, is sometimes mistaken for cohesion of a people or even nationhood, when in reality it is an artificial fettering of the will and soul of a people.
In many ways Howard was not as motivated by the cause of homogeneity, or sameness, and social cohesion as he was for submission of all to his ideals. Howard appeared to be an overt racist (as exemplified by his 1989 leadership loss), in as much as he was careful to camouflage it. He was against Asian Immigration as much as he was determined never to apologize to the stolen generation of Australian indigenous people. He saw China as an enemy as much as he wanted to sell his coal and iron ore to them to secure his own balance of payments.
Of course as true as the ancient Moses never entered the promise land, Howard duly lost the next elections in the most dramatic and personally humiliating way possible that was almost reminiscent of judgment day for a protestant.
Under its long held policy of multiculturalism, which replaced the previously 150 year old White Australia Policy, Australia’s phenomenal economic growth and prosperity was underscored by great demographic shifts in urban areas where eighty percent of the population live. Suburbs where white Australia lived and worked for decades have become enclaves or exclusive domains of the Greek, Italian, Lebanese, Turkish, Vietnamese, and even Korean immigrants. Cityscapes were demarcated with bright neon phalluses and other edifices by the gay and lesbians to celebrate their bold rise, and conquest, of more than pubs and malls. They all brought with them their gods and their songs; for how could multiculturalism expect them to possibly live without their songs? No people can live or survive without their songs. How can they possibly otherwise sing their songs in a strange, hot and hostile land, unless, of course, their gods also came to carry them through? So today we see the sky lines of Australian suburbia spotted with spires, towers and pinnacles of churches, synagogues, mosques and shrines to almost every god conceivably known to humanity.
In the post Nine Eleven era, while George Bush was moving decisively with the weight of conservative America behind him to annihilate Muslims and their god, so too was Howard of the view that this presented an opportunity to limit Asian and Boat people Immigration and bring all the disparate songs and their gods to account in multicultural Australia under his newfound values. This was also a moment for Howard to signal his departure from multiculturalism, distinguish himself from Menzies’ and Curtin’s White Australia legacies, and more recently Keating and Labor’s partly successful policy of assimilation of Australia into Asia and APEC, to write a new song of mate-ship and fair go for all Australians, new and old, to sing in unison.
With the realization of the rise of a New World Order came something else that bothered Howard who was sitting at the bottom of the Pacific looking up the mini skirt of the world, so to speak, glancing back and forth between Asia and America. With China and India rising through the artifice of capitalism to take their proper places in history, Howard’s Australia could no longer glibly take its foreign policy cue carte blanche from the United States whose power under his mate Bush was clearly waning. Howard had to somewhat define Australia’s position.
It is no longer a secret that America has been living way beyond its ability to produce; its hand weakened by debt, could no longer enforce the rules of Brentwood Conference to keep every dog in its place. Howard, placed in a precarious position, as world events unraveled fast, while waltzing and tangoing with his friend Bush has had to keep an eye on the others on the dance floor. While Bush was unawares Howard had to occasionally spin, unfurl his dress and show his wares to the others to keep them interested. That has always been the double tonguing, double faced and double talking character of Australian foreign and trade policy in so far as the Americans are concerned, and vice versa. The AWB wheat sales to Sadam Hussein in breach of UN sanctions was one such example of Howard unfurling his dress, double tonguing and dirty dancing. Thankfully, for him and Downer, he was the one who set the terms of reference of the Cole Commission of Inquiry to escape answering any questions for what could otherwise have been a dirty-flour bomb exploding in his face.
Australia’s current trade policy with China is another example of Australia playing double games over China as far as the Americans are concerned. By way of insurance, the US has a strong lobby in Canberra to ensure Australia does not betray the US Defense interests for thirty pieces of silver from China.
Australia is also playing double games with China itself, tricking China into believing it is a bona-fide trading partner, when it is not, prompting recent call by businessmen like Andrew Forrest (of Fortesque Metals) on Australian leaders to abandon their narrow racist phobias against China and be genuine about doing business with China. Australia has deep and abiding prejudices against China, which includes Defense Policy modeling of China as the new enemy.
American trade policy, on the other hand has been no different as far as Australia was concerned when it came to selling beef or wheat in terms of competing for the same export destinations, refusing in trade negotiations to sign protective exclusivity or reservation clauses that Australia preponderated to keep certain markets to itself.
Howard realized that, APEC and WTO aside, he had to take advantage of changing dynamics and perceptions, and artfully keep China and India economically engaged beyond just exporting iron ore and coal to China and taking Indian students into Australian universities. Howard also wanted to assert a new position for Australia in the order of things with the US in decline.
For Howard’s Australia, the historical European Common Market access could no longer be taken for granted. The European countries transforming into a wider European Union with a unified currency and open and flexible (Intra-European Union) market access posed a serious dilemma for the traditional Australian agricultural exports to Europe. The inevitability of Australia losing its market share in exports into Europe became a huge challenge a decade ago. Now a decade on, the challenge clearly became how Howard could keep positive foreign policy engagement, especially in trade, with the Europeans, the Israelis, Arabs, Indonesia, India and China and at the same time do everything under the sun to keep them out of the growing important resource rich economies of the Pacific’s mainly Melanesian countries. In so far as the United States was concerned, Howard had to figure out just how Howard could assure it to keep Australia as a worthy Defense ally in the Pacific, and at the same time keep the United States businessmen and their capital markets out of the Pacific. In a sense Australia wanted to be to the US regarding investments in Melanesia, what England is to the US regarding investments in the European Union.
Australia’s export capacity in agriculture to Europe and elsewhere has markedly declined in the last twenty years in most sectors in contrast to New Zealand’s comparable products in the same period. This is partly because Australia pursued unwise domestic economic policies that have had the effect of stripping its farming base and debasing its sources of rural innovation, resulting in displacing some of its key rural industries and attendant populations. Certain market policies were pursued to make way for Australia’s entry into more liberalized and globalized capitalist markets underpinned by free trade and free market theories of capitalism.
Some rural industries, like fruit farms, fruit processing and canning businesses like Letona and Watties, owned and operated by large multinationals in southern New South Wales and rural Victoria, folded or downsized responding to decisions in head offices elsewhere overseas for reasons of achieving greater global efficiency or in response to popular push for free trade. Others folded for industrial relations related adverse cost and efficiency factors. Whole townships dependent on single industries simply died and became ghost towns with remaining population going on welfare and the dole. Many generational orchards and farming lands have been let go and families have fled the bush for lack of government support in times of difficulty, including years of lack of drought support in some areas.
Commercial banks who have lent to farms in good times refused to reschedule terms when the commodity prices faltered. Some banks who provided negligent or questionable foreign exchange advice to farmers and supported their heavy foreign currency borrowings abandoned the farmers without recompense when they made extraordinary losses. In some cases the government has not come up with workable and innovative farm-gate financing solutions for those farmers engaged in the direct export of commodities. Instead many generational farming communities of Australia have been left high and dry, and in some cases hung to dry by deliberate shifts to pursue capitalist ideologies of free trade. Yet others have been challenged to give up their profitable farms in favor of coal, coal seam or iron ore miners moving in.
Water has been another major issue for farmers in certain parts. Governments, both Federal and State, have become more and more part of the problem than the solution in coming up with coherent water use policies that would benefit all inhabitants of Australia, especially along the Murray-Darling and the Murrumbidgee river basins. This has adversely affected farmers in several States through which these great rivers once flowed so freely and prolifically. The problem is not just in accessing use and even distribution of water by farmers upstream and by other users downstream; there is a serious issue relating to the type of industries accessing the water- whether the economic returns and the comparative advantages gained are worth the volume of water consumed in industries like cotton for instance, comparing to returns on say rice or wheat? There are other pressing issues of maintaining fragile areas of the environment for preservation of fish, bird and other wildlife species in wetland type zones that are threatened by drought type conditions brought on by artificially snuffing the life out of river systems.
Then there is the overall problem of lack of volume of total available water. In some parts of Australia ‘…no man never saw it rain, for fifty years at least. Not when the blessed parakeets are flyn’ to the east!”. Some States like New South Wales and Queensland are seriously contemplating expenditure upward of 24 billion dollars each on desalination plants to supply cities like Sydney and Brisbane. This very expensive option has not factored into the equation the needs of their respective farming communities who are left to the vagaries of changed weather patterns and increased drought conditions. The demand for water for farmers in most affected States of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia has reached a point where the price per unit of limited supply has been somewhat heated to the extent that the States have not been able to agree on drawing rights and pricing. This has caused the Federal Government to intervene and legislatively assume water powers and administration, creating a Federal Ministry for Water, taking debate on it to a national level.
No matter what the final pricing or distribution rights they finally agree to, the issue of overall total available volume in a dry continent frequented further by regular and severe bouts of drought will not be solved within the current paradigms evident and contemplated.
When one stops to consider the magnitude of the problem, it does not take much imagination or cost in comparative terms, in the final analysis, to sink a few draw pipes into a river or two from the Gulf of Papua and pump down to Australia all that clean fresh pristine water from the tropical rainforests of Papua New Guinea. They could easily pump that water right into current dams and reservoirs and supply the farms and cities directly at a miniscule of what it is costing them now, and the small fortune that lack of water is likely to cost them in the future. When one considers that the volume of water that flows through the Murray-Darling in one whole year flows through any one of the Strickland, Lakekamu, or Purari rivers in less than a day, it is not such a silly idea after all!
However, such dreams of huge water pipes and a dry and barren land coming alive, lay only in the realms of possibility of those who are called by the mover of man and mountains to be visionaries and leaders of men. It is for those who are born to be hunters to hunt, fishermen to fish, and fortunetellers to tell us about tomorrow. For Australia’s tomorrow, it will be a long time before it births a leader who has both promise and passion, with a real connection with the land, who is not faint of heart, possessed of such dare and vision to see those still dry bones rise once more, those dry river beds and canyons rejuvenated, and the deserts greener than ever before, to feed an ever growing and ever hungry world.
Sadly, the reality of Australia’s loss is not just in abandoned properties and dilapidated farm sheds over what was once productive and thriving rural Australia. The real loss is in farming and land management skills developed over generations of working with the land. A significant body of knowledge, wisdom, and the gritty spirit of the Australian bush borne out of living with and living off a dry and harsh landscape, may well be lost through lack of imagination in leadership. As TS Eliot would ask, “where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?” With its leadership adopting glibly the Harvard business school type productivity and efficiency prescriptions based on economic models that are usually at odds with the interests of real Australia, the bush will continually come under immense pressure until it can no longer hold the spirit of its inhabitants. For some that is already the case.
The prescriptions of World Trade Organization, APEC, GATT, the failed Uruguay Round, the nearby the DOHA round, the recent G8 leader’s post-GFC designs, aimed at preserving capitalism, if not carefully adjusted and adapted, can be at great odds with preservation of real lives and an iconic way of life in Australia. At the end of the day real people and real lives are sacrificed at the altar of capitalism, for the sake of preserving and perpetuating what in reality is an ideology, an ideology that is proving to unravel at the seams with the world in financial turmoil. Handing out huge amounts of cash to banks by governments is an obscene transfer of public wealth to the hands of those mega rich few who own and control these financial institutions, all for the sake of perpetuating a system nearly collapsed by the sheer greed of these very financial institutions.
It cannot possibly be fairly characterized as giving the bush or the rural populous a fair go by any government, let alone Australian, when you consider that these very banks have closed down hundreds of farms and sent thousands to the jobless and homeless ques. Try explaining the imposts of free trade to the Innisfail banana farmer in Far North Queensland, the rice farmer in Leeton, or the wheat farmer in the Liverpool Plains, in whose hands Australia continues to pin its hopes of a place in the new economically altered world order, but fails to tangibly support.
The other cause for loss of the farming productivity and way of life is failure by successive Federal and State governments of Australia to reinvest in and follow through funding in research and development in agricultural crop and livestock productivity, and pest control research. Pests like rabbits are back stronger than ever in destroying the malley, pasture land and crops because of government failure to conduct follow through research for their eradication. In comparison to the US, Japan, China, India, Singapore, Malaysia, and other progressive economies, Australia has failed to invest in R&D at the same level in the last 30 years to capture its own ingenuity. It is obvious that successive Australian leaders, like Howard, (Rudd and now Gillard) have run out of new and fresh ideas for increasing farm productivity and have opted instead to take the soft option in placing the Australian economy on an almost irresponsible footing with heavy reliance on (including taxing) its finite natural resources to save the day and bring home the bacon.
The Howard government privatized large publicly owned corporations such as the Commonwealth Bank and Telstra, sold huge chunks of Australia to foreign interests like the Chinese and the Arabs in terms of large tracts of pasture land and rural properties, stud farms, coal, iron ore, aluminum and natural gas properties, before they were voted out.
Howard even changed the media ownership laws and sanctioned Publishing & Broadcasting Limited, the iconic Australian media company that Sir Frank Packer founded the Packer family fortune on, to be sold. Unconfirmed word in certain sectors has it that a large chunk of PBL was ultimately sold to fronts for suspected Chinese interests trading off gaming industry opportunities in the former Portuguese, now Chinese, controlled Maccau. To India, Australia has begun a process to sell them uranium and other resources like iron ore. This is all part of Australia responding to the ordering of the new world.
When Climate Change policy threatened the natural resources sector, Howard opted to join the skeptics, as it was politically convenient to save the coal industry- the goose that lays the golden egg for Australia. This created one of the biggest macro policy dilemmas Australia has ever faced. Australian government and its leadership have had to decide whether they are interested to save the planet, or stay in government. The choice between keeping the jobs of the mine workers in the coal industry or save the world has not been an easy one. The Howard government lacked courage to take this decision. The Rudd government was also beset with the same dilemma. It has found out that it is not enough to have a vision. Vision must be supported by knowledge and understanding; but above all else courage, and courage in the face of a powerful mining lobby. For Rudd this presented itself as the moment of difference between world leadership and remaining a mediocre (Australian) politician, and there are many, who inevitably like a field of daisies, bloom in the morning and fade with the setting sun. Rudd was not going to be a daisy, and he paid the price with a knife to his back.
Once again, a leader of men, a man of abiding courage and deep conviction, a dreamer, a prophet and a political-entrepreneur, a social democrat- if you like, is yet to emerge from the pack who will distinguish himself or herself with the ability to engender big hearts and big enough minds to dream Australia out of the unhealthy and imbalanced political, social, and economic paradigms that it finds itself entombed in. A leader that will, as Howard attempted to do, forge a common basis of identity (aside from meat pies, vegemite, Holden Utes and footy games) to provide a truly spiritual basis for coming together, is yet to emerge. This lack has seriously undermined and will continue to afflict Australia’s bid to become a significant political and economic player in the region as part of the new order of things.
Australia at times sees itself as stuck in the Pacific, so far away from everyone, every group and everything else that matters to it economically and culturally. As such, Howard realized that unless, it grew a voice and perhaps could shed its umbilical cord and unite its people under some form or shape of common values, and started to make some noise of relevancy likened to some sort of a median player in the region, it is destined to become redundant and a non-event. Hence Howard’s quest to become a middle power or regional power was an attempt at addressing this fear, which lies at the heart of an even deeper crisis- a crisis of identity. It is almost a desperate bid to remain and maintain some potency and relevancy on a stage where the scenery and the props are constantly changing. For Asia, the show has definitely moved on, and Australia has to catch up.
Howard’s new-found concept of being a median player may well have been inspired by Peter Jackson, a New Zealander, who directed the film sequel Lord of the Rings which hit the box office about the same time. Howard echoed the notion of the existence of a mythical land known as Middle Earth as seen in that film’s adaptation of Tolkien’s famous novel. By asserting a position openly, Howard felt that he could with the stroke of a pen put paid to the deep spiritual crisis of identity that has plagued white Australia ever since John Banks suggested the idea of convicts and jails in the Antipodes.
One of Australia’s other great phobias is that it will be seen as just a big hole in the ground where natural resources are dug out of, and nothing more.
The perfect solution for Australia, it seemed to Howard, was to create for itself a role on the world stage and then superimpose that role on the neighboring countries and the region through regional Aid policies, whilst domestically mobilizing the population to fight the scourge of Muslim terrorism, and getting everyone to rally to sing a new song of Mate-ship and Fair go. Hence, he put himself forward as Bush’s Deputy Sherriff in the Pacific, aided by an Irish catholic in Mick Kelty as his go to man with equally expansive ideas and designs on the role of the Australian Federal Police. Howard embarked feverishly on activities aimed at greater regional cooperation on developmental and security interests to put Australia at the helm of the Pacific, sought observer and member status in regional forums like ASEAN, sought a seat on the UN Security Council, used aid and treaty based institutional strengthening programs as effective tools of imposition in the Asia and Pacific regions- all in a bid to remain relevant, and fight its demons at the same time.
On this particular Australia Day in 2007, Howard used the event to also serve notice on New Australians not to deviate from his stated values. His desire to create a homogenous society caused his values to be written into official government (Immigration) policy and pledges. Howard also attempted to use the proclamation of these values to somewhat under-pin a new culture of egalitarianism based on mate-ship and a fair go in Australian society, just as the Puritans and other Pilgrims did in founding the Americas, culminating in the proclamation of the Bill of Rights, the American Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
However, even if Howard’s speech on that Australia Day was intended to give a certain Jeffersonian resonance, or a semblance of a Washingtonian moment, to convey him deep political gratification and a lasting legacy, the terms mate-ship and fair go are a far cry from language befitting a constitution of federation or declaration of independence. They are not exactly the rousing and deeply venerated prose of idealism that stirs the spirit and beckons the soul of every Australian toward the lofty, the sublime, and the noble. Nor are they words that inspire Australians to scale the majestic heights of idealism and be held enthralled and captivated by principles higher than their own mortal selves, like the timeless spirit and essence patently alive in the wonderful prose of the American Constitution, and in that of the Declaration of Independence. These terms of mate-ship and fair go, in actual fact, respectively, dangle like a broken pendulum in the wind, resonating precariously between a melancholic lament and a protest of malcontent. As a result they are no more than common slang that represent more fluff and feathers than the real turkey because, in actual contemporary Australian society, they neither reflect a past that is commonly shared nor a future to be commonly hoped for by all who have now come to call themselves Australian.
The challenge that remains, still, for Australian leaders is how can they, as leaders of disparate groups of mainly migrants, on Aborigine soil, in Melanesian Pacific, without the threat of the oppressive manacles and artifices of statute law, come together and freely assert a cohesive position and place, birthing a new spirit of the Australian people, of a singular soul, to be made self-evident as one people, as the new world order unfolds- living with due regard and reverence for the place and position of the Aborigine and the Melanesian on this side of God’s earth?
As for mate-ship and fair go, they remain for now, common slangs, reminiscent of a time and a place, a mariner’s survival catch-cry that cannot give, take or hold life, let alone the soul of a disparate people.
JOHN HOWARD’S VALUES: MATE-SHIP, FAIR GO , AND HUMAN RIGHTS IN AUSTRALIA- PART 111.
In my last two installments I have discussed the merits of ‘mate-ship’ and ‘fair go’ as Australian values, from a Melanesian perspective. I described their humble nautical origins and essential veracity from convict mariner’s perspective, and how Howard attempted to rally out of the survival catch-cries of convicts in cramped, crowded and disease infested hulls and decks of early convict ships, a set of values that would become the rite of passage for a modern state and its people.
What has also become increasingly clear in these egalitarian notions of “mate-ship” and “fair go” from Howard’s Australia Day speech in 2007, is the underlying admission that everybody is not having a fair go in Australian post-convict society. This is certainly true in the case of Aborigines, Torres Strait Islanders, refugees and other minority groups now in health, education, social services, social justice, criminal justice, human rights, social equity, and the list goes on. IN these they are not treated like mates, and accorded the basic minimum in the notion of fair go.
Australia has one of the worst social justice and human rights records in treatment of its indigenous citizens of any country in the developed world, and the magnitude of oppression meted out to them is right up there with history’s hand on Jews, Kurds, Armenians, Tibetans and closer to home the East Timorese, and the West Papuans in Indonesia, to name but some.
This dismal human rights record is further exacerbated by successive governments, both Liberal and Labor, who treat boat people cum refugees with contempt and brand them as “illegals”. The treatment meted out to boat people who are fleeing injustice and turmoil in their own countries is nothing short of criminal in itself. I don’t know of any instance when it has been made a criminal act for an individual or a family of oppressed persons to flee persecution, and in some cases possible death, and seek a better life in another land. This is particularly so if, for instance, these are people from areas like Afghanistan, Iraq and Sri Lanka.
In the case of Afghanistan and Iraq, Australia parades itself as the liberator, to bring the hope of democracy to these countries by waging war against them, to liberate them.
In what appears to be a noble quest, which initially started, in Iraq, as a quest to rid the world of Weapons of Mass Destruction, Australia is partly responsible for slaughtering, or causing to be slaughtered, well over a million people in under ten years, bombed to rubble the cities and villages of Iraq and destroyed a way of life for tens of millions of people. The WMD basis for the invasion of Iraq has now been discredited as a huge lie by the US government and its Coalition of the Willing (to lie and cover up). There were no WMDs, and the US knew about this, but chose to lie to the whole world.
Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa recently announced that he is prepared to sue, and put on trial the then US President and then British Prime Minister for war crimes against the people of Iraq. He is taking issue with the US and the UK governments because of the blatant lie that the US and the British governments told the world to give them license to kill and destroy a nation. Bishop Tutu says that was absolutely un-Christian conduct on the part of US and UK.
In Afghanistan, so far, in a bid to rid the world of Taliban-ism Australia has participated in the slaughtering of well over 300,000 people. The number of people slaughtered is increasing every day, and is justified on the basis of the Coalition partners wanting to give these people the noble and wonderful gift of democracy.
Looking at the number of deaths caused by such invasion, you have to ask, Is democracy so noble that it has to be paid for by the blood of innocent children, mothers, fathers and grandmothers?
When Afghan people flee their homes and turn up at the doorsteps of Australia to be part of this democratic utopia, this paradise of freedom, they are either allowed to drown at sea or captured and imprisoned either in Australia or in some remote Pacific location such as Manus Island, where they will have no access to Australian media and Australian Courts. Even the once independent Australian media has been compromised. With the active encouragement of their government, the Australian media has joined the chorus in is seeking to demonize genuine refugees by calling them illegals, queue- jumpers, or wealthy middle-class Arabs, Iraqis or Afghans bribing boat captains and crew in Indonesian ports to claw their way into Australia.
It is a curious fact that apart from the Aborigine landowners of the Australian continent, the Convict settlement of Australia giving birth to the nation state of Australia is by people who arrived illegally, and uninvited. They were the first boatpeople. They were the first illegals. They have no better standing or claim to Australia than others who come to Australia subsequently by boat. Yet they seek to haul their offensive layers of lies and trickery before us in Melanesia, masquerading them as government, and as just laws by just governments, to give them dignity beyond their true status, all the while living off the fat of Aborigine lands.
The slaughter of ancient Aborigine nations throughout Australia, the shifting of tribes away from their homelands, the taking of children and the creation of internment camps, were all organized by the British under what they believed to be correct legal premises. Such premises never made allowance for the law of the land (Aborigine law) prevailing at that time to determine the rightness or the wrongness of the early boatpeople trespassing in Australia, or the legality of their convict taking of Aborigine lands, their continued existence on Aborigine soil, or systems of government imposed on Aborigine soil.
It has been stated that this has to be the most fundamental foundation, the mother of miscarriage of justice, upon which the Australian society as we know today is founded upon. To this day, without proper recognition of this wrong, without just and fair recompense to the Aborigine tribes of Australia, the government of Australia and its institutions- these many a layered lies, these organized organs of oppression, are all organized around and based upon a felony. The very notion of its existence is a continuous act of criminality. White Australia has taken what the Aborigine never gave.
It is true white Australia has not in recent times carried out raiding parties on Aborigine communities with guns and bayonets as it did in massacre parties of the late 1800s and early 1900s. It does not have to. It has set up a system of government and welfare that annihilates a people all the same.
The current human rights record of Australia toward its indigenous people is such that there is very little hope in sight for these people who currently fall way below the poverty line and way below any internationally accepted standards and indicators in terms of health, education, sanitation, shelter and social and criminal justice. Just go out to Alice Springs on a summer’s night by the old river course and you will see played out before you this substandard ritual of deprivation and subjugation that has become an acceptable way of life. Today, many NGO groups are calling upon the Australian government to increase the dole so that people can simply afford a loaf of bread every day.
In country towns like Nowra, just South of Sydney, once bustling with orchards and dairy farmers, today flooded with former indigenous dwellers of inner city Redfern, descendants of Bennelong, forced from their place because Howard’s Australia didn’t want Olympic visitors to see Indigenous people living in squalor in city slums of Sydney. They line up the dole queues of dysfunctional Nowra, a town where you can even smell death and despair in the breeze knifing up the main street of Nowra today.
In Walget, a country town in Western New South Wales, there is 99% unemployment of Indigenous people. These people are third, fourth and fifth generation indigenous unemployed, who are mostly illiterate, given birth to children who form a whole new generation of dysfunctional and illiterate people, addicted to substance abuse and every other abuse imaginable. Almost 95% percent of the indigenous youth in Australia have little or no chance of advancement to University, let alone completing High School certificate. The health-care and sanitation standards among indigenous Australia are third world in comparison to what most white folk live in and take for granted. For many remote indigenous communities all around Australia a quick audit of basic human rights compliance will reveal that Australia, as a First World Developed country, has failed miserably in its treatment of its black people.
Australian families treat their pets in suburbia better than their government treats the original landowners of Australia. This is a sad indictment on a country that is seeking to bring health, education, law and order, equal opportunity and other rights advocacy to the Pacific. It has no solid foundation to work from in terms of real successes with its own black people. Australia practices symbolism with Indigenous people, but is not serious about addressing the real injustices, discrimination, prejudice, inequality and race based social injustice.
Take for instance; some 20 years ago in over 95 Aborigine Deaths in Custody cases reported by the Einfeld Royal Commission of Inquiry (in each case recommending prosecution of members of the various white Australian Police for causing the deaths), to this day not one single white Australian policeman cited has been charged.
That is hardly what one would call a fair go is it? Considering for a moment that for over eleven of those 20 years John Howard was the Prime Minister of Australia, how he could explain the fact that he did nothing about Aborigine deaths in custody, and the clearly detailed findings of the Einfeld Report is a mystery.
Rudd went slightly better in making Pat Dodson, Indigenous agitator and then Counsel Assisting Justice Marcus Einfeld in that Inquiry, Australian of the year in 2009. Sadly enough Rudd conspicuously omitted to address the causes for Dodson’s life of agitation such as the findings of that Inquiry which remains to be acted upon by the Federal Government of Australia to this day. Is it any wonder why Dodson was not particularly excited about the occasion which other indigenous people either saw as meaningless political platitude or a clever Mr Rudd trying to curry favor with a possible source of sustained agitation? Dodson used the opportunity to call for justice in education of the young indigenous people which he correctly surmised as carrying the hope of the emancipation of the Aborigine.
Einfeld, on the other hand, has been singled out by white conservative Australia for $75 traffic fines, and deliberately vilified and hung out to dry for daring to prick the conscience of a nation that would rather not be reminded. He serves as an example and warning to Judges and judicial types who choose not to back the right horse; the system will get them sooner or later, and it is all legitimate of course. The messenger being shot, the message he sought to convey appears to have been lost in the sands of time with his enforced infamy.
In a recent case of a Palm Island Aborigine death in police custody case, the man died of broken ribs and a torn liver, within half an hour of being taken into custody by police. The Queensland Director of Public Prosecutions attributed the death to an “accidental fall” and concluded that the police had no case to answer.
This decision was totally contrary to earlier findings of a detailed Coronal Inquest that suggested serious foul play by the police. How does a person ‘accidentally’ die of four broken ribs, a ruptured portal vein, a liver almost cleaved in two, a black eye, bruising to his forehead and back of his head, bruising to the upper part of his back and on both his hands, all taking place in a police station where a very fit and disproportionately large policeman had earlier in as much as confessed to a ‘fight’ between himself and the deceased on a videotaped police interview? The Policeman earlier confessed to falling on the victim, and was later allowed to change his story to falling beside him.
How does a slightly built man, who was slightly inebriated but happy moments earlier, whistling and singing ‘accidentally fall’ and sustain such diverse number of injuries, most of which could not be sustained or explained either scientifically or clinically by a single fall from a stand up position, irrespectively of whether he was facing up or downward? The events and the incongruous findings which smacks of funny business in Australian Justice System are well documented by Chloe Hooper in her book entitled ‘The Tall Man’.
The predominantly white police force in Queensland, as a sign of solidarity and mate-ship, threatened to boycott police services to Aboriginal communities in protest over the subsequent prosecution of the Palm Island based white Police Officer investigated for the death of the Aborigine man.
The collective boycott by the Police was a heart-warming demonstration of true “mate-ship,” you might say. However, what about the Aboriginal community of Palm Island and the next of kin of the deceased man? Don’t they have a right to a “fair go” in terms of justice; or is it the case that justice has become the exclusive preserve of race, the select, and the powerful and the rich, but ever elusive to the poor Indigenous minority?
How can a man happily inebriated and singing ‘who let the dogs out’ in one moment finds himself arrested the next moment and dead in police custody from serious injuries, all within a space of 30 minutes of being arrested. His crime necessitating the arrest was that he was singing. The cause of death was that he fell down.
Cameron Doomadgee was a slightly built man, and as such, how he could fall in such a way to bruise his whole body, simultaneously give himself a black eye, and absolutely smash his liver into two halves against the wall of his vertebra, without any help from the big white policeman who arrested him is a mystery. We can only surmise that it must have been the greatest fall ever since the great fall of Lucifer, the father of all liars!
What about the case of David Hicks, 5 years incarceration without any charges in a foreign prison? Hicks, an Australian who confessed to training with terrorists, was allowed to languish in a foreign prison by then Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, without any due process of law. Nowhere was the spirit and values of “mate-ship” and “fair go” shown in the case of Hicks. Whatever happened to democracy and the rule of law that requires a fair and speedy trial, let alone the presumption of innocence until proven guilty in a proper court system?
What is the content of mate-ship and fair go in a legal democracy if the minimum requirements of due process are not? If Alexander Downer, standing next to Howard when he espoused the values of mate-ship and fair go in that 2007 Australia Day speech, as Foreign Minister, could not see the practical outworking and application of these values to an unfortunate David Hicks in a US prison, what hope is there to expect any resonance for these values in greater Australian community?
Recently, after sustained media scrutiny and when it became political suicide in an election year to keep Hicks in Guantanamo Bay, Downer was forced to relent. He asked the US to release Mr. Hicks to an Adelaide prison for his own political interests, which the US promptly did.
Why did Downer take 5 torturous years to do this? You have to wonder about the basic value system and moral constitution, if any, of leaders of a country who engage in such elaborate policy gymnastics with human lives, and about the system of democracy that allows such to go unsanctioned.
You have to wonder about the general ethos of the population of Australia, whether they have lost their humanity, like salt that loses its saltiness. Did Hicks somehow became a lesser human being, or lesser Australian, that he was deliberately abandoned and discarded by his own Government to be openly tortured by another government under a penal system that was declared illegal, even by the much venerated US Supreme Court, and the people of Australia would not even raise one eyebrow?
It is curious that most of the judges on the US Supreme Court were appointed by successive Bush (father and son) administrations but they were disturbed enough to find it judicially profane to endorse the then President’s antics in Guantanamo. If Australia believes in the rule of the law in a democracy, then the ruling of the US Supreme Court should have bothered both John Howard and Alexander Downer concerning Hicks. .It obviously did not. What is the content of ‘fair go’ and “mate-ship” in a modern democracy if it does not consist of due process for the likes of Hicks, and the likes of boat people arriving on the shores of Australia?
The then Federal Labor Opposition in Australia, now in government, stood back and cheered to the tortured screams of man like Hicks, Habib and others in Guantanamo. It was certainly a funny way to sow the seeds of mate-ship and fair go for both Howard and Downer.
What could possibly be at the heart of this generation of politicians, both Liberal and Labor, across the full spectrum of Australian politics that compels them to instantly abandon the values of democracy, human rights and due process, let alone mate-ship and fair go, and summon such capacity for callous indifference? They could almost hear in Canberra the screams of anguish from the torture of their own citizens in Guantanamo, and yet chose to tune out, and acquiesce to the work of the American torturers and their government. You cannot help but ask, ultimately, to what greater good, and to whose gain?
President Obama since coming into office, with better judgment, declared Guantanamo shut. Had Australian politicians possessed any real sense for rights of human beings, they could have offered guidance and counsel to the much erring Bush Administration earlier in the piece. Regrettably that was not to be. With the onset of Obama Administration’s call on Guantanamo to be quietly phased out, we have to ask what now becomes of persons held unreasonably without trial and tortured over many years without any real cause. Have these people ceased being human? How does one subsequently guarantee these people a fair trial let alone recompense and restore the innocent that have been psychologically and financially destroyed?
What has become of the condition of man that he abandons his state of enlightenment, the gains of the last 200 years, and takes on the cloak of profanity, of a wayward and misguided being, and re-traces his footsteps into that long forgotten darkness of the Stone Age and the Middle Ages from which we have evolved?
The essential quandary which Howard’s Australia has painted itself into with the mariners’ catch cries is that if “mate-ship” and “fair go” do not find their outworking in human rights, justice, fairness and due process for boatpeople (including access to Australian Lawyers and Australian Courts which comes from being processed on Australian soil), then Howard’s values are but hollow platitudes. Australia will be a country devoid of any real values if these phrases crafted out of Convict Mariners’ survival catch cries, these so called “values,” cannot be humanely applied to the Indigenous population of Australia or the current refugees arriving in boats.
Australia has no basis to treat these new arrivals as criminals or illegals. It has every basis to treat them as refugees, and process them according to the normal international rules under the UN Refugee Convention, which it is obligated to apply.
The Australian government is legally and morally obliged to accept and process the boat people on Australian soil, treat them fairly and accord them respect and due process, because it and its people (apart from Aborigine people) are not in a higher, better or more legal position.
Alexander Downer will be judged by history and nature for his part in the Hicks case. As for Hicks, he stands a judged and condemned man whether in or out of prison, and will never know whatever happened to mate-ship, fair go and due process; let alone democracy and freedom the causes for which the West has waged war against Afghanistan and Iraq and continues to slaughter hundreds of thousands of people. He will never forget as long as he lives that his own government abandoned him to another government to be tortured and treated inhumanely. He, along with Mahmud Habib and others, will remain an emblem and a reminder to every Australian child of what their government is capable of doing to them when they are at their most vulnerable.
For the Pacific countries, especially the Melanesian States, Australia’s human rights record and its treatment of its Indigenous people is a real measuring stick for realizing that, no matter how much Aborigine blood money Australia spends on the Pacific (and in Canberra in the name of the Pacific), Australia has no real values to guide it as a nation. It has little or no practical or policy success in dealing with its Indigenous people, especially in education, health, economic advancement, social justice and equality.
If Australia does not understand and care for its own Indigenous people, with successful and humane policies that work for the Indigenous people, how can the Pacific people, especially Melanesians, expect that anything good would come out of Canberra for the Pacific, and in particular for Melanesian people?
How can Melanesians trust a White Australian Government that does not deal fairly and equitably with its own black people?
How can Melanesian landowners and resource owners trust Australian Companies and the Australian Government who have stripped the black people of Australia off their lands, their resources and their way of life? How can we trust a nation of people with no values, whose only affinity is to dollars and cents?
12 months on, and now with this new Refugee announcement to turn PNG into a Refugee farm and a plantation of desperadoes, it is very clear Peter ONeill has failed PNG.