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Fixing Australia

Australia is broken. Democracy has holes in it, cracks in it, and it needs fixing. Since the 2004 Federal election we know that our government is not going to fix it. I think we need to do that fixing, and this blog is a start of getting some ideas together.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Tony Kevin: Howard in Vientiane - another own goal

Here we go again - another avoidable Australian failure of regional diplomacy, but spun to a credulous media at home as a success; even the spurious backgrounding argument that "we were ambushed by ASEAN over this" and that we were somehow clever and tough not to be caught in their trap. Howard gets away with this schoolboy stuff, because few commentators do their homework and challenge his arguments. Australia is the loser. TK 01-12-2004

This is a transcript of an interview with Tony Kevin on SBS Radio, "Asian leaders press Australia on security pact", Worldview, 30 November 12.26 pm - and working notes.

SBS interview: (transcript by Tony Kevin)

Tony Kevin: Howard's diplomacy over the last few days has surpassed all previous limits of ineptitude. He has taken a situation where we are a guest at a meeting, a one-off guest - an invitation that may not be renewed again - and he sat down and proceeded to define the agenda - of what he is there for, what he is going to talk about, what he is not going to talk about, what is important, what isn't important - in a way that is grossly insulting to his hosts.

It was not his place to demean the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, which is something that ASEAN regards as one of their most important achievements. Everything that Howard and Downer have said over the last few days to try and justify their refusal to do what everyone else [around the Asian region] is doing except the United States and Australia - namely, signing this Treaty - has made matters worse. Because he has been saying - "Oh, the Treaty is just a set of motherhood statements". That is simply rude, because ASEAN sees it as a lot more than that.

Announcer: But he does say, though, that it would jeopardise our relationship with the United States, and that it would restrict our ability to criticise human rights in those Asian nations. Surely that is important?

Tony Kevin: Both those propositions are nonsense. Let's take them one by one. The first proposition: countries like Japan and South Korea, and within ASEAN, Singapore - all strong allies of the US - if they had this problem, none of them would be supporting this Treaty, and yet they all are.

The second question, that it interferes with an ability to criticise human rights - that is nonsense also, because in fact Australia as a guest at the post-ASEAN summit has no right or position in courtesy to criticise human rights violations within that forum. One of the strongest beliefs of ASEAN is that domestic matters stay at home and are not discussed in ASEAN. In the ASEAN summit taking place now - the one that doesn't involve guests - the Thai Prime Minister has already made it clear that he will not allow the human rights violations in southern Thailand to be discussed in that forum. The right place to take up human rights violations is bilaterally with the governments concerned.

Announcer: But if Australia doesn't sign this Treaty, which it looks like it definitely won't, citing those reasons you discredit, and if New Zealand does, where does that leave Australia and the region?

Tony Kevin: It leaves us looking very isolated and foolish. It reinforces the view in the region, which is widespread, that Australia basically doesn't take seriously regional security confidence building, and doesn't take seriously the evolution of regional organisations like ASEAN. That in the end, when the chips are down, Australia is the United States' deputy sheriff, and that this is where we want to be.

Now, to think that we can go on building trade deals, while we go on going out of our way to be insulting to our region in the political and security area, is I think naive in the extreme. To say that "Oh well, we got what we wanted out of this meeting because they have agreed to set up a discussion forum to talk about a [Australia-ASEAN] trade agreement" - that means absolutely nothing. The bad smell Australia has left at the table from this brief visit to Vientiane is going, I believe, to set back our free trade hopes very seriously.

Announcer: But Prime Minister John Howard insists that the two issues, trade and this Treaty, are unrelated and should not be confused, and that in the end it is our individual relationships with these countries that really matters, and he says that the substantial agreement that will come out of this meeting on free trade will be the proof of Mr Howard's argument?

Tony Kevin: There are no free trade agreements coming out of this meeting. The only thing coming out of this meeting is a formal.agreement to set up a working group to start working on the subject. It is absolutely zero in terms of commitment.

And once again, Howard is telling ASEAN what its ground rules are. It's like saying - "I want to join a golf club but you have got to change all your rules first, otherwise I won't". It is incredibly petty and egotistical behaviour. The ASEAN governments will be too polite to say what I am saying on this broadcast. But they know this and they think it, and they will simply be laughing and saying " There goes Australia doing it again".


I sent these working notes around to a few people yesterday; they flesh out some of the arguments in the above interview, and add some more:

It is clear from today's news (31 November) that Australia will not sign the ASEAN TAC. ASEAN will paper over the cracks politely in Vientiane - that is their style - formally welcoming the commencement of exploratory talks on a FTA. Howard flacks will call that a victory for common sense and our successful trade-focussed diplomacy.

But the reality is that ASEAN leaders will be laughing at John Howard, because his and Downer's inept diplomacy over the past few days on the TAC has blown another quiet ASEAN test for Australia - and perhaps, wounded ASEAN quite deeply.

The TAC matters to them, and everything Howard and Downer said in recent days to justify why Australia would not sign dug Australia in deeper, as the perceived deputy sheriff of the US in Asia.

Australian ministers encouraged inappropriate media use of the words - "non-aggression pact". These are not words ASEAN uses about the TAC. Non-aggression pacts are what Hitler and Stalin signed. This is discredited language and it was a crude and unsubtle insult to apply it to the ASEAN TAC.

Similarly, the claim that this treaty is just a set of "motherhood statements" that signatories, eg Japan, "do not really mean", is insulting to everyone concerned. This treaty is ASEAN's effort to keep great power military politics out of their region. ASEAN has been seeking signatures from all its neighbours in Asia. They have been successful in recent years - they now have signatures from China, Japan and India - the three neighbouring big countries that really matter most to ASEAN - and from Russia, South Korea, Pakistan and now probably NZ.

That only leaves Australia and the US out - what splendid isolation we are left in. We look very crass indeed - especially as Indonesian Foreign Minister Wirayuda made a particular point of personally foreshadowing the invitation, when Howard went to the Indonesian President's inauguration last month (as reliably reported by Mark Forbes in The Age at the time).

ASEAN extended an important gesture of friendship to Australia over this. Howard and Downer foolishly slapped it down. This was not an "ambush" of Australia - but it was an important, considered, test of the newly re-elected Howard government's approach to the region. The ASEAN diplomatic overtures were properly handled.

The TAC is a legitimate approach to international confidence building, dispute resolution and peaceful settlement of disputes at a regional level. It is philosophically respectable as an alternative to balance-of -power politics. By signing up the surrounding non-ASEAN powers, it has stabilised the potential ASEAN-China Spratley Islands territorial dispute - no mean achievement. It is controlling latent tensions involving Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam; Indonesia and Philippines; Thailand and Burma. It is a practically useful rulebook for peace in our region. Why did not DFAT advise Howard that these are the facts of TAC?

The various self-serving rationalisations from Downer and from Howard's media apologists have no merit, eg the claim that the TAC is inconsistent with ANZUS. What nonsense. If this were the case, our membership of the UN would be inconsistent with ANZUS. TAC is a voluntary (obligatory within ASEAN) code of conduct among neighbours. It is consistent with the UN Charter and with ANZUS.

ASEAN won't come out and say what they think of this - it is not their way. But I doubt there will be a future invitation to Howard to attend a post-ASEAN summit anytime soon (the next one is in Kuala Lumpur). And I doubt the FTA officials' talks will go very fast or far. We'll effectively be back on ice again with ASEAN.

Tony Kevin
1 December 2004


Howard's invite to next Asian summit in doubt

Sunday, December 5, 2004. 10:45pm (AEDT)

Doubt has been cast over whether Prime Minister John Howard will be invited to the next summit of South-East Asia leaders, which is to be held in Kuala Lumpur next year.

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, who is to host the summit, says the issue has not been decided.

He has also has repeated the Association of South-East Asian Nations' (ASEAN) concern over Australia's refusal to sign a non-aggression pact.

Less than a week ago at the ASEAN summit in Laos, Mr Abdullah declared that he was looking forward to seeing Australia at the next gathering.

But Mr Abdullah appears to have cooled to that idea.

A spokesman for Mr Abdullah says a decision has not been made and when it is it will be a matter for ASEAN foreign ministers.

Mr Abdullah told the Malaysian Star newspaper that a prolonged refusal by Australia to sign the Treaty on Amity and Cooperation (TAC) could have adverse results on Australia's relations with ASEAN.

"If Australia takes actions that cause adverse results, (certainly) the relations would be affected because they consider themselves free to act since they have not signed TAC," he said.

Malaysia's Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar went further, telling national news agency Bernama that Australia's refusal to sign the non-aggression treaty was sending a negative signal.

"Australia is making us doubt whether it wants to identify itself with this region and foster closer ties," he was quoted as saying.

Malaysia disappointed over Australia's refusal to sign ASEAN pact

5 December 2004
Khaleej Times
United Arab Emirates

- Malaysia is disappointed with Australia's refusal to sign a Southeast Asian non-aggression pact, a move that could potentially jeopardise ties between Australia and the region, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said in remarks published on Sunday.

Prime Minister John Howard has riled Australia's neighbours with tough talk of possible pre-emptive strikes against terrorist bases overseas - widely interpreted to mean Indonesia, although this has repeatedly been denied by Canberra.

The non-aggression pact commits signatory states to respect the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of all member countries.

Australia has refused to sign, fearing that would curb it from commenting on the domestic policies of members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) with which it might disagree, such as human rights abuses in Myanmar.

Pressure mounted on Australia to sign the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) last week at the 10-nation group's summit in Laos after New Zealand announced plans to accede to deepen ties with the region.

The two Pacific nations, traditionally seen as more part of the West than Asia, on Tuesday signed deals to launch negotiations with ASEAN next year to create a free-trade zone within 10 years.

"I am disappointed. Australia has had relations with us for a long time and is friendly with ASEAN countries (but) still refuses to sign the TAC," Abdullah was quoted as saying by the Bernama news agency.

Asked if there would be any impact on Australia?s relations with ASEAN, Abdullah said there was none so far.

"So far there has been no impact but if it is prolonged and if Australia takes actions that cause adverse results, (certainly) the relations would be affected because they consider themselves free to act since they have not signed TAC," he said.

Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said Canberra's refusal to sign the treaty was sending a negative signal to countries in the region.

Bernama quoted he "Australia is making us doubt whether it wants to identify itself with this region and foster closer ties," as saying.

Seven countries outside of ASEAN, including China and India, have signed the non-aggression treaty.

ASEAN comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Link to the Khaleej Times


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