December 17th 2005

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: The death penalty and Van Tuong Nguyen

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Contenders for the Howard succession

CULTURE WARS: Fighting to defend civilisation

SCHOOLS: Truth and beauty to exchanged for 'relevance'

OPINION: Abortion drug victimises women

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Burma, ASEAN and selective breast-beating / Latham was right / Asia for the Australians / News item

FOREIGN DEBT: Greenspan issues warning over foreign debt

PUBLIC INFRASTRUCTURE Private funding 'more expensive'

INTERNATIONAL POLITICS: Global significance of China-India relations

IRAQ WAR: Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction

ENVIRONMENT: Ensuring sustainable agriculture

TIMOR LESTE: 'Thanks for helping East Timor'

Compulsory voting a necessity (letter)

Disabled people at risk from euthanasia (letter)

ABC insults Australia's war dead (letter)

Low pay and joblessness (letter)

BOOKS: HOW MUMBO-JUMBO CONQUERED THE WORLD: A Short History of Modern Delusions, by Francis Wheen

BOOKS: FEMALE CHAUVINIST PIGS: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, by Ariel Levy

BOOKS: THE CASE FOR DEMOCRACY: The power of freedom to overcome tyranny and terror, by Natan Sharansky

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Burma, ASEAN and selective breast-beating / Latham was right / Asia for the Australians / News item

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, December 17, 2005
Burma, ASEAN and selective breast-beating

Just before the ASEAN conference met last month, the Jakarta Post (November 18, 2005) castigated most of its members, including Indonesia, for continuing to pander to the military dictators of Myanmar (Burma).

America, in the persons of George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice, were excluded from the Post's criticisms because Bush, speaking after his meeting with Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi at Kyoto, Japan, had said on November 16: "The abuses by the Burmese military are widespread, and include rape, torture, execution and forced relocation."

And Rice said on the same day at the APEC summit in Busan, South Korea, "I understand that a lot of countries that are neighbours of Burma feel the need to engage them. But, I would hope that engagement also takes the form of being serious about the really quite appalling human rights situation in Burma."

Before the ASEAN conference began, it had been intended that little be done about Burma.

First, members might have thought that - at least in the case of some of them - these were pots calling the kettle black. But basically, they intended to join ranks, as always, whenever some non-Asian country - but especially the US - criticises even the most odious of their members.

But, second, Burma is a Chinese satellite, as is North Korea. So ... hands off!

Third, once Thailand developed to the point where the drug industry, based on the Golden Triangle, became less necessary, and then an embarrassment, the country started cracking down and signalling that it wanted the Triangle-sourced drug traffic to move elsewhere.

Burma was a natural host and beneficiary. A coup duly occurred there. All chances of a democratic or honest Burma were expunged. The generals settled down to look after the Triangle and oppress the Burmese.

The Asian friends of Burma have had to make one concession to the critics. Burma will not be allowed to take over the rotating chairmanship of ASEAN next year, the Philippines replacing her. There's an honest broker!

I don't think Burma's generals will lose any sleep. Fortified by their support by China and by stalling on the part of Asian members of ASEAN, they have further extended the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi, and re-arrested some of her supporters.

Nevertheless, pressure is slowly mounting. A committee of ASEAN dealing with Burma has called for Burma's possible expulsion, unless it carries out substantial reforms within a year. Better than nothing.

But in what the Jakarta Post calls pure paranoia, the generals are moving their government offices and residences to a jungle town 320 km from the capital, Yangon (formerly Rangoon).

The only motive being suggested is fear of attack from the US - an extremely unlikely possibility. Burma's crooked generals wouldn't be the first dictatorship to fabricate, then disseminate, an American conspiracy to help silence their local dissenters and gain equally cynical allies.

Mugabe's Zimbabwe and Chavez's Venezuela are two other unstable states on the same tram at the moment. Alternatively, the Burmese junta no longer feels safe in the capital: which, if true, would be interesting.

But the dreadful exploitation of the Burmese - the continuous attacks on minority tribes, the protection of the drug industry, and the crushing of all dissent - goes on. But this hasn't stopped Burma's neighbours from trading and doing business with her - and, among their number, are Australian businessmen and people like Bob Hawke.

Their argument for doing so, presumably, would be the one used by ASEAN: viz., by isolating Burma, you make things worse for their people. So it is better to keep talking and doing business, for this can produce beneficent change.

There is no evidence for this hypothesis anymore than there was for dealing with Saddam or with Mugabe or the old apartheid régime.

Our human rights organisations have no stomach for such difficult, sustained campaigning, be it over Burma or Zimbabwe. And they are not newsworthy, i.e. our media simply don't report them.

And such campaigning is greatly discouraged by important people here. So better talk about the evils of Singapore and its executions of drug-traffickers and so on. The Burmese rulers would probably agree - for, if every country in the region acted as Singapore does, the regional drugs business would be terrible.

Latham was right

The Labor Party's performance as Opposition during the federal parliamentary session which has now drawn to a close, and at the latest, supposedly crucial, Victorian state Labor conference, which passed virtually unnoticed, have been total disasters.

In Canberra, Labor emerged once again as Latham had described it: a party without a leader, or else six leaders - a conglomerate possessing no coherent policies, only an obsession with hit-jobs and smear campaigns and the attempted destruction of some of the most important and sensitive relationships which we, under Howard, Downer, Ruddock and co., have been building up with our neighbours.

Yet Labor, federally, started the last parliamentary session with the ball at their feet, with an unpopular piece of major government legislation having to run the gauntlet of analysis and criticism by its opponents in the lower house and facing possible defeat in the Senate. The opportunity was there for Labor to triumph over the Howard Government and to shine, morally and intellectually.

The Government had been slow to introduce the vital facts about its workplace relations legislation, had botched its advertising campaigns and faced - we were told - splits in its ranks.

The ACTU had a big and expensive advertising campaign underway and nationwide marches, vigils and demonstrations promised. The Canberra Press Gallery was filled with ecstasy. Even Chelsea Pensioners can crack a smile on such wallet-watering occasions. So what happened?

The union case drowned in exaggeration and fabrication and eventually retreated into empty posturing. The Coalition members supposedly splitting and crossing the floor - as promised in every hourly ABC news bulletin - never occurred.

The Labor staffers didn't do their work or analyse the legislation. So the whole thing petered out. Every Labor think tank and academic front was ransacked for instant experts talking "Apocalypse Now" and doom and gloom. And the same old regimental goats from the dim past of the Liberal Party turned out to bleat for the workers and for Labor. The public switched off.

I was astonished to watch vital debates taking place to empty chambers, with barely a Labor rep to be seen. The only real opposition, as the finale of the industrial relations bill approached, was a crowd of trade union hooligans who occupied the Visitors' Gallery, interrupting and shouting abuse at the parliamentarians below.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives obviously considered having them ejected, but possibly decided that they were doing themselves and the Opposition such harm that it was better to leave them to sing and swing. A complete Labor surrender.

And the same had been happening with the anti-terrorism and sedition laws. The civil libertarians and radical lawyers - now in utter collective disrepute - shot off their bolts, forecasting Orwell's 1984 and Nazi Germany, then finally wandered back to the dram shops.

Another fiasco for Labor and the small parties. So much for Labor's renaissance.

At the Victorian state Labor conference - barely reported - Steve Bracks didn't even bother attending. The hall was half empty. Everyone looked as if they wished they were somewhere else, and I'll swear I saw Race Mathews sitting on his own, dozing off. If true, good on you, Race! But why do you keep trying to re-inflate this leaking balloon?

Anyway, some of Bracks's ministers were produced to bluff and lie for the party - and I don't think that a soul there, or elsewhere, believed a word of the Victorian Labor Government's media unit piffle about the great state of our schools, or hospitals or transport. How could they?

So this is how Labor finished up this year.

Asia for the Australians

Long ago, the media began to switch their attention to use successive Australian drug-pushers, so as to attack Singapore, Indonesia and our Federal Police. Basically, it was just another attempt to "get Howard", and it has failed.

It only underlined the continuing campaign by our media to kick down the doors defending us from the world drug trade, as earlier on they had lobbied on behalf of people-smugglers and uncontrolled migration.

We have been watching yet again Labor cowardice and opportunism, although I exempt Kim Beazley from this description. His job has been made impossible by his colleagues.

The worst result that has come out of this media campaign of hypocritical bathos is that the Ugly Australian is back - racist, imperialistic and ethnocentric.

The abuse and contempt directed at the Singaporeans and Indonesians - the empty threats to do them harm if they don't surrender to a white mob - will not soon be forgotten up there.

The proposition originally was:

"You can't treat one of us - the master-race down here - like you treat your own. We're different, superior and should only have to answer to our laws, which are kind to drug-pushers and drug-smugglers. You change your laws, or rig your verdicts, or return our people to us to try."

This is a replay of 19th-century behaviour towards China, when Western residents were not answerable to Chinese laws; they were only answerable before British, European or Japanese courts. Laws were made in their various territorial concessions; concessions which the West had forced the Chinese to cede - one law for the Chinese, another for the master-races.

The Chinese vowed they would end this insulting, racist system, this derogation of their sovereignty, as soon as they could. And they did. When in China, you obey Chinese law.

And it also takes us back to the opium wars of the 1840s, when Beijing (or Peking, as it then was) was successfully stamping out opium in China.

Opium trade

British companies, meanwhile, were engaged in trying both to advance the production and to spread the sale of opium to the Chinese, among others.

When Peking took forcible action to block the British, wars ensued between Britain and China, at the end of which China, having lost, had to cede territory to Britain, hand over its custom service, allow the British free passage up and down its rivers, and permit the opium trade to flourish.

Once again, the Chinese and others in Asia have never forgotten this humiliation. Now, we have been trying it on again.

We know that many Australian tourists, especially younger ones, have been acquiring the same kind of odious reputations in poorer Asian countries as English yobbos have in Europe.

But our Asian neighbours are more sensitive, have painful memories and have far superior moral standards towards their increasingly unwelcome visitors. But far more Australians are starting to figure prominently as drug couriers, drug-pushers and drug-smokers - products of a depraved, permissive Australian society, and far more offensive and dangerous than the English louts.

What do you think is left of our standing in this area?

And what happened to all those lessons about multiculturalism? The threats and the abuse and demands for separate legal systems do not come from our conservatives, but from our Left and civil libertarians.

Historically, the same Left drove the White Australia Policy, as earlier they had led the anti-Chinese riots on the diggings, and elsewhere.

Our Left were supposed to have reformed: but they haven't, have they? Whereas their hero until now was Ned Kelly, who is their hero going to be this time round?

Conservatives, on the other hand, have no problem: you obey the laws of the country you are in, and the foreigners when in yours. No outside bodies should be allowed to interfere with your sovereignty. Only on this basis will we be able to co-exist with Asia.

News item

According to The Australian (December 1, 2005), the ABC called in its lawyers when it learned that OptusNet, which buys its news feed from the national broadcaster, had apparently breached its contract, by not reporting the campaign to save the condemned drug-trafficker, Van Nguyen, who was recently hanged in Singapore.

ABC radio's PM program and television's Lateline were preparing to attack OptusNet and Singapore concerning this dereliction, but OptusNet surrendered.

I'm sure OptusNet will know with whom to do business in the future.

  • Max Teichmann

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TRANSGENDER: one shade of grey, 353pp, $39.99

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