July 17th 2004

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Indonesian elections ... and Australia

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Latham affair lifts election temperature

AGRICULTURE: Rural unrest spreads

QUARANTINE BREACH: Exotic disease outbreak threatens Qld citrus industry

INDUSTRY: Singapore recovers on back of manufacturing

FAMILY: Child care - in whose interests?

ARTS & MEDIA: 'The next program contains...'

FILM: AFA calls for ban on 'arthouse smut'

MIDDLE EAST: Can Iraq's interim government end the insurgency?

NUCLEAR WEAPONS: Terrorism marks the end of deterrence

UNITED STATES: Curtains on Camelot

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Skimming administrative fat / What about Uganda? / 17 years of war

Premier Beattie's ethanol 'mania' (letter)

Sugar Package (letter)

Mondragon (letter)

Journalists and Iraq (letter)

BOOKS: George Santayana, by Noël O'Sullivan

BOOKS: Tilting the Playing Field, by Jessica Gavora

OPINION: Time to act on North Korean tyranny

Books promotion page

Skimming administrative fat / What about Uganda? / 17 years of war

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, July 17, 2004
Skimming administrative fat

Under the headline "Refugee Tribunal members dumped" (The Age, June 26) is a cheering story. Twenty-three members of the Federal Refugee Review Tribunal haven't had to be reappointed, because of a substantial reduction in the case load.

One aggrieved complainant who had no idea why her appointment was not to be renewed, accepted that numbers would be reduced because of "the smaller case load that flowed from the shutting down of the people-smuggling trade from Indonesia". That's right. And who closed it down? Ruddock and Howard. As a result, we have been enduring a long-running wake from all those who were happier with things as they were developing before the Government stopped the rot. Before the Lawyers' Overboard Election. After which time, refugees without money or criminal connections who had been patiently waiting their turn, but whose claims were being jumped, could now expect an orderly and criminal-proof regime, from which they could only but benefit.

The complainant ex-member did say that the full-time salary was $140,000 but it involved working 75 hours a week and a great deal of stress (for the complainant, presumably).

I happen to know some talented and principled young lawyers who would love to be so unlucky. But all is not lost: the return of a Labor Government would right all these professional injuries. Come the day!

None of the above has any logical, let alone legitimate, connection with our bona fide refugee program or our immigration program. I have earlier written about the absolute concatenation of refugee situations likely to arise in the coming years from failed states and wars. These will present quite serious and genuine moral challenges to us and perhaps our only hope might turn out to be a transparently orderly, predictable and realistic collection of rules and procedures where there would be no place for criminal networks or whited sepulchres. We won't be able to afford them.

As to immigration volumes - Bob Carr has stood out almost alone in calling for a target of 80,000 per year as against the current 120,000. He cites his own city Sydney as already bursting at the seams, so new migrants will have to go elsewhere. And what happened to all that talk about the quality of life? Embarrassed silence.

Meantime, evidence of long-term water shortages for Australia and permanent rationing for her cities throws a long shadow across schemes like Steve Bracks' 2030 policy entailing another million people being pumped into Melbourne.

Now at a most recent housing conference, Ron Silberberg speaking for the housing industry, attributed the staggering increase in the price of houses, the freezing out of first home buyers (those most likely to want to start a family) ... to the pace of recent migration intakes. Housing construction cannot keep pace with demand. Expectation of rising prices and continuing low interest rates have brought in masses of investors, driving out lower income aspirants for a home of their own; pushing up rental costs and lengthening the queues for low-price public housing.

As Bob Carr suggests, we have been trying to do too much while the quite probable rise in refugee quotas in the coming years means that we have to, yet again, revisit the whole area of population debate and resource deployment, if we want to restore some order and some equity to our civil society.

What about Uganda?

A great deal is now being written and spoken about the Sudan, although considerably less about northern Uganda - whereas the conflicts in the two countries intersect and in at least one case, overlap. But the Sudanese civil war has, by one estimate, run for 50 years, with a 12-year break.

More than two million lives have been lost, hundreds of thousands of refugees finishing up in foreign countries including the United States; even more are lodged, whether they like it or not, in territories of the Sudan where the government and the residents consider them of very little value.

Given that Sudan has hundreds of political, religious, ethnic and linguistic groups, there would have to be major problems of unity or social equity at the best of times. In fact, given the deep divisions between North and South, the British should perhaps have divided Sudan into two countries. Hence the permanent crisis.

The Americans have been criticised for not being interested in Sudan, and Condoleeza Rice as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs which entails a total of 55 states with whom she dealt, has been especially singled out for lack of interest and for listening to the wrong people.

Whereas in other places, the US is accused of being too interested and for having the usual secret agenda.

Here, although she is the principal aid donor (only rivalled by the UN) America is getting few thanks. With a rising tempo in the fighting and the displacement of more and more people, the US Congressional Black Caucus was recently in Washington talking of the "genocide" in western Darfur and the possibility of a million people perishing before year's end. They spoke of the need for President Bush to take military action.

17 years of war

But further down in the north of Uganda and over the border in Sudan, another war has been raging for 17 years. Too far from the Sudanese capital Khartoum and Uganda's capital Kampala for quick action, large areas carrying millions of people have been left to fend for themselves.

A weird but ferocious army claiming to be Christian terrorises the whole territory. Joseph Kony is the warlord and his movement, the Lord's Resistance Army, is supposed to be rebelling against Kampala, but rather is preying on the whole area.

No one is safe, but most in danger are young boys whom Kony wants for his army. Why not men? Because so many of the men have died of AIDS or are sick therefrom. One-parent families, or just orphans, are commonplace through much of Africa.

Foreign arms-sellers have perfected a very light rifle which a child can carry and use, and the guns are greatly in demand, not only by rebels, but some government armies in Africa. Life is utterly cheap: a satanic situation.

Great areas of rich land lie uncultivated and almost unoccupied, as though plague has struck.

Western countries and the UN seem helpless in the face of this kind of collapse and the continuing civil wars.

There is the permanent European radical story about it all being due to Western machinations - but I think that the West, at least nowadays, would like Africa to be peaceful and more rather than less prosperous, with economic rationalists even more than most, wanting stable countries with rising affluence to whom they can sell. Countries which are modernising.

The volume of aid and emergency top-ups that the West is having to pour in to more-and-more parts of Africa is something which most Westerners would like to avoid. But as things stand, the West is staring into a seemingly bottomless pit. So, I think conspiracy stories are unreliable guides for what is happening in many African nations.


The fact is, many new states with considerable economic potential are in a condition of disarray which did not prevail under colonial rule. The same kind of foreign traders, miners and bankers were there then, as they are now - and their absence often just means that that country is in a dire state, a chronic condition of under-consumption.

And now, only too often, not only the level of prosperity and security - important as they are - but the satisfaction of basic human rights is lower, sometimes much lower, than before decolonisation.

So it would be unwise to march along the same ideological paths which seemed appropriate when these Western colonies were unfree. Many African people still are unfree, and quite likely to be ruled by tyrants, gangsters or one-party-state dictators.

This has come as an unwelcome surprise to most of us, but what can be done besides blaming mining companies, oil companies and McDonalds?

Incidentally, there is little coming out from the inquiry into what really happened in Rwanda, or the oil-for-food scam in which the UN seemed to be so compromised. Surprise? Perhaps they need a Royal Commission.

  • Max Teichmann

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