The view from Billinudgel

A pariah on the world stage

It is still not clear why Tony Abbott seems determined to trash Australia’s hard-won reputation as a good citizen of the world, but there can be no doubt that he no longer cares what our erstwhile friends and neighbours think of us – provided that he can achieve his short term domestic objectives.

First there was the casual dismissal of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s complaints about the bugging of his and his wife’s personal phones, which led to an unnecessarily severe rift between the countries. Then the there was the contemptuous handling of the climate change conference in Poland which offended just about all the serious players. There has been the ongoing disregard for the United Nations Convention of Refugees, which Australia claims to observe but clearly does not and couldn’t care less about.

And now we have the deliberate sabotage of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, where Timor Leste has a case attempting to correct a manifestly unjust treaty thrust upon it by Australia shortly after the country gained its independence. Not content with nobbling a key witness, we have done our best to nobble Timor’s lawyer as well.

Attorney-General George Brandis justifies as a matter of national security the confiscation of the passport of the former ASIS agent who was preparing to give evidence that Australia had bugged the Timorese cabinet room during negotiations; this is barely credible but given the nature of the man’s defection, Brandis can perhaps receive the benefit of the doubt. But when he extends the national security blanket to cover the raids on the Canberra offices of the prominent human rights lawyer Bernard Collaery, there can be only one response: bullshit, George.

This is simply a continuation of the bully-boy approach the then foreign minister Alexander Downer brought to the original talks, where he made a take it or leave it offer to the poverty-stricken Timor with the threat that if it was rejected, he would delay indefinitely any development of the Timor oil and gas fields which constituted the new nation’s only real source of income.

Downer now boasts that he gave Timor 90 percent of the income from the development, but this, like most of Downer’s boasts, is also bullshit. In fact, he offered 90 percent of the income from one small part of the huge resource while reserving the real plum – the lucrative Sunrise field – for the multinational Woodside, for whom, by a remarkable coincidence, Downer now works as a highly paid consultant.

A nasty and grubby business all round, but far nastier is Brandis’ use of what can only be described as police-state tactics to hinder the proceedings of the international court hearing the case. Abbott is employing the same strategy on foreign policy as he brought to the boxing ring: forget subtlety, all out attack. It won him an Oxford blue, but it is likely to reduce his country to pariah status on the rather larger and more sophisticated world stage.

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum is a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Visit his blog, The View from Billinudgel.

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