January 20th 2007

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: Bushfire crisis: a state of denial

AUSTRALIAN CONSTITUTION: High Court strikes blow against states' rights

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Kevin Rudd - a more formidable Opposition leader?

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Government's challenges over AWB-Iraq saga

QUARANTINE: Government to permit NZ apples into Australia

SCHOOLS: Trojan horse in Classical Studies curriculum

STRAWS IN THE WIND: South Pacific blues / Diamonds are an African's worst friend / Modern Madama Melbas / Putin's gambit / The Balibo Five and all that

FILM CLASSIFICATION: Australia's pornography industry suffers setback

ABORTION: Suffering in silence no more

CINEMA: Faithful re-telling of the Christmas story

Pope's back-flip on Turkey (letter)

Lack of Darfur coverage (letter)

Discarding safeguards to pursue human cloning (letter)

BOOKS: GENOCIDE: A History, by William D. Rubinstein


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South Pacific blues / Diamonds are an African's worst friend / Modern Madama Melbas / Putin's gambit / The Balibo Five and all that

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, January 20, 2007
South Pacific blues

We are observing the latest Fiji coup unfolding, and wondering how many Fijians are going to throw in their hands this time round and apply to join so many of their compatriots who are settled here. Who can blame them?

But, as we have already noticed, the problems don't end with Fiji. East Timor is in a most sinister condition of corruption, poverty and violence, and is a happy hunting-ground for crooks, Cubans, the UN and goodness knows who else.

We have just managed to screw the lid back on the Solomon Islands - for a time. But who believes we can clean up the mess which is Papua New Guinea?

In idyllic Tonga, freedom-lovers have just destroyed most of the capital - as their equivalent freedom-fighters are destroying Nepal.

One way of assessing this whole South Pacific area is to take in a report published by our Treasury Department.

PNG, the Solomons and Vanuatu have shown no economic growth over the last 20 years. Average incomes in PNG and the Solomons are just above $650 per annum: the same as the level in sub-Saharan Africa.

Our Treasury report notes evidence that PNG, Fiji and Nauru have squandered $US75 billion since independence; because of poor governance. (This is terrible - because it equals the amount we have spent directly on the Aboriginal industry here. Why can’t those people learn to run their affairs as we have?). But, seriously, we are in no position to judge failed governments in the Pacific Islands.

Rapid population growth in Melanesia has foiled attempts to raise per capita growth, and is one of the main causes of urban unemployment. Thus, the numbers of unemployed young men in urban PNG have risen to between 30 and 40 per cent.

It would take PNG 20 years, with a steady growth rate of 3.2 per cent per annum, to get back to its 1994 level, while the Solomons, in decline since 1980, would have to grow 4.6 per cent per annum for 20 years to return to its per capita income level of that date. Given the standard of governance … impossible tasks.

I have found a lot of this in a very pithy analysis of the Treasury report by David Uren of The Australian, under the heading "Pacific sinking in economic mire", describing most of our neighbours as economic basket cases and mired in corruption. (The Australian, November 21, 2006).

The analogies with the African dilemma are increasingly close, even to the expanding roles of the soldiery and the police.

I wonder for how much longer we should keep sending troops and police there, when increasingly they are being defied, or abused, or told to get out by various sawdust caesars and populist politicians.

And neither the World Bank nor the IMF has made much impression with their injunctions to follow honest and coherent economic practice.

We appear to have bitten off more than we can chew in the Pacific Islands. And, if the Islanders really do like democracy, well and good.

But it would have to be a very different kind from that which we have here and which we keep trying to export. One size does not fit all.

Diamonds are an African's worst friend

In News Weekly, we have visited a number of times the diamond mines of Africa; the gemstone offices of Johannesburg (especially De Beers); and the gem merchants of Antwerp, Israel and India - and outlined the never-ending misery of wars fought over diamonds and other gem stones in places like Sierra Leone, Angola and the Congo; so readers should chase up a reprint in The Australian (December 11, 2006), of an article from The New Republic (December 18, 2006) by Isaac Chotiner.

The Australian's headline runs, "Gem claims tarnish Nelson Mandela". They sure do.

But this is also about a recent film, Blood Diamond, the story of the civil war which virtually destroyed Sierra Leone between 1991 and 2002.

The Revolutionary United Front has kidnapped workers, including children, to work in captured diamond mines. The gems are smuggled out through friendly African countries to Europe, and sold by De Beers, with the profits going back to Africa to be used to continue the war and perhaps start others.

The film was about a father and son who were kidnapped and enslaved in that way, and the American director Edward Zwick, wrote to Nelson Mandela - one of the world's most famous advocates of human rights - more or less asking for his blessing.

This is a classic human rights case: people kidnapped and forced to work, i.e., slavery and child labour; smuggling, which denudes a small state, Sierra Leone, of scarce revenue; international companies colluding in these crimes, for profit; and Western whites exploiting defenceless blacks. Etcetera.

Mandela replied to Zwick's letter, saying: "It would be deeply regrettable if the making of the film inadvertently obscured the truth, and, as a result, led the world to believe that an appropriate response might be to cease buying mined diamonds from Africa.

"We hope [that] will not result in the destabilisation of African diamond-producing countries, and ultimately their peoples."

As the original exegesist Isaac Chotiner says, Mandela is in fact "a huckster for the African diamond industry". He's had a long friendship with Harry Oppenheimer, the late chairman of De Beers, who funded a party set up to oppose racial disparities.

After becoming president, Mandela became a frequent guest at Oppenheimer's "luxurious estate", while in turn Mandela took De Beers’ representatives on many official foreign trips.

As pressure mounted on De Beers to stop dealing in "conflict diamonds" - i.e., those used to fund wars - the diamond companies agreed, in a compact called the Kimberley Process, to ensure that all diamonds came from legally mined fields.

There was no verification or inspection. A recent U.S. study estimates that half of Sierra Leone's diamonds are being smuggled out illegally. The UN estimates that conflict diamonds from the Ivory Coast are reaching Europe via Mali and Ghana. (If anyone wonders why the long peaceful and stable Ivory Coast has politically imploded, the answer is - diamonds!).

When, in 2000, U.S. congressman Tony Hall pushed a bill stipulating that all diamonds sold in the U.S. for more than $US100, would have to have a certificate stating the country of origin, the diamond industry lobbies effectively killed the bill at the subcommittee stage by citing Nelson Mandela's concern for the African diamond industry.

So the world got the Kimberley Process and a continuation of civil wars, the virtual destruction of states, kidnapping, slave labour, child labour and torture.

Incidentally, Kofi Annan has been heard to utter gentle reproofs and express hopes for a peaceful world run by him and his friends. But without those damned Americans.

When Zwick's film turned up, the World Diamond Council engaged Sitrick and Company, a PR firm specialising in crisis management. The Los Angeles Times reported in June this year that Mandela had been "enlisted … to respond to publicity generated by the film release".

The WDC said that, no, Mandela "is speaking out on his own". Of course.

A final note on South Africa …

A son of mine is about to take off on a five-week holiday in East Africa.

When I told a friend, whom many of you will know, he thought I said South Africa. "Oh, I hope he stays in the Hilton or one of the better hotels," he said, "for elsewhere the lifts fail or just don't work, power interruptions are increasing and more and more of the place is unsafe. Crime is rampant, and very nasty."

Life expectancy in South Africa has fallen from 63 to 52 years. AIDS is blamed. At least it's not global warming.

But Mandela's country, like more and more of Africa, is slowly falling apart. It's time to organise another rock concert.

But watch for Zwick's film Blood Diamond, boys and girls.

Modern Madame Melbas

I thought we had become inured to the Madame Melbas of our days with their endless farewell performances, spiced with unsolicited rationalisations for their past behaviour, cutting insults to successful contemporaries and cracker-barrel philosophical vapour-ings (cf. Malcolm Fraser).

But Kofi Annan has just delivered the most preposterous and professionally outrageous farewell peroration attacking the USA and its friends.

This speech and its background deserve careful examination, and I undertake to do this next time around.

Putin's gambit

While Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to thumb his nose at the West over the Litvinenko murder, a far more alarming process is occurring almost unnoticed.

A Western consortium, including BP, Exxon and others, has been developing what will be an enormous gas field, sufficient to supply the Asian rimland and top up the U.S.

This is being conducted on the Russian island of Sakhalin, formerly half-owned by Japan.

Putin has now forbidden the consortium to continue because they are damaging the environment; but if they transfer the bulk of their shares to the Russian state energy giant Gazprom, giving Russia majority ownership, they can resume. (And still damage the environment?)

The Western consortium has had to surrender. Russia then announced that they can now supply Russia's buddy, Communist China, and all pliable Asians - meanwhile holding Western Europe to ransom with their Caspian oil and gas fields. This momentous development is not being reported by our media here - or by our pollies.

But, as the hucksters say, we are part of Asia!

The Balibo Five and all that

After a period of exhausted silence, the ABC has returned to the Balibo Five, i.e., the journalists (four Australian and one British) who were shot dead as they were reporting the unfolding 1975 Indonesian invasion of East Timor.

There is now talk of a cable from Jakarta telling a local commander to shoot the journalists - a wholly unsurprising revelation, if true.

True to form, a fresh inquiry is being called for. The government of Australia then was that of Gough Whitlam. His successor, who virtually overlapped, was Malcolm Fraser.

The ABC did mention these facts; flashed pictures of the relevant leaders; then, changing the subject, insisted that subsequent Australian governments must have known, and must share responsibility.

That means Bob Hawke, Paul Keating and their various foreign and defence ministers, e.g., Bill Hayden, Gareth Evans and Kim Beazley.

But no - John Howard and Alexander Downer have to answer for this, and should hand over all the intelligence files, etc, etc.

Whitlam and Fraser - the relevant sources - are of course Labor icons, so … nothing can be said. And Hawke and Keating make up the remainder of the Left pantheon.

But these two would probably tell the interlocutors to go to Hell and get a life.

Keating would most likely tell the hacks to mind their own business and get a job. As speed-humps? Or as bouncers at the Blind Institute?

Any fresh inquiry into the fate of the Balibo Five will want to establish whether, and to what extent, Whitlam may have had advance knowledge of the Indonesian invasion, and whether or not Australia had already given Jakarta the green light.

The reasons for having done so might be more apparent to some now than they were 30 years ago. Resource-rich, but unstable and unviable, East Timor would have fallen into the hands of a Left-leaning Fretilin, after what could have been a bloody one-sided civil war. Such a mini-state would have become an immediate magnet for Russia, or China, or Cuba, or even the Arabs.

Indonesia, which had seen off a very serious internal communist threat 10 years earlier, could not afford to have a second Cuba in its midst - nor in our midst.

Most Australians came to understand this reality, while unhappy about the methods used.

We may now be facing the return of that 1975 moral political dilemma.

- Max Teichmann.

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