The Null Device

A land of fading promise

Former Australian ambassador to the United Nations Richard Woolcott claims that Australia's reputation around the world is being diminished thanks to government policies of uncritically supporting the Bush government, restricting civil liberties and pandering to bigoted tendencies where expedient:
Australia today is not the country I represented with pride for some 40 years. This country of such great potential risks becoming a land of fading promise.
We have seen Australian democracy diminished by government hubris and arrogance, opposition weakness and a curious public detachment and apathy. Our national self-respect has also been eroded by our excessively deferential attitude to the Bush Administration's foreign and security policy, especially in Iraq. The revelations about the Australian Wheat Board's dealings with Iraq under Saddam and the Government's links with the Board, make its proper opposition to corruption and its demands for good governance, especially in the South Pacific, look hollow. Moreover, truth in Government has yet to be restored.
With our participation in the Iraq war, the Howard Government has also reinforced the image of an Australia moving back to the so-called Anglosphere, rather than focusing more on its future in its own neighbourhood.
IMHO, it is not Australia's definition of itself in the "Anglosphere" that is the problem, but its position at the reactionary end of the Anglosphere. The United States, for example, has its famous constitution and Bill of Rights, not to mention an elaborate system of checks and balances which have done much to rein in the powers of radical governments. Britain has a diverse and independent media, which, at its best, is possibly the best in the world. Canada has extensive guarantees of human rights as well. Meanwhile, in Australia, there are no legal rights of freedom of speech, association or conscience (the only constitutionally guaranteed right is not to have a state religion imposed on oneself), the press is owned by a handful of media proprietors (who all supported the Liberal/National Coalition in the last election; even the liberal Age was coerced into running editorials telling voters to vote Tory). In a lot of areas, from treatment of refugees to sedition laws, Australia trails behind other "Anglosphere" countries. Australia could do a lot worse than look towards the other "Anglosphere" countries as models of good governance.
The treatment of Vivian Alvarez Solon, the injured Australian citizen deported to the Philippines, has also undermined the Government's credibility in protecting its citizens' rights. Again, a detached wider community does not seem to care too much about the principles involved in such cases.
And public apathy is part of the problem. The famously laconic Australian "no-worries-she'll-be-right-mate" attitude, when extended into politics, does turn into apathy, and, sometimes, a belief that those who aren't apathetic and are "whinging" about these things are "ratbags" and thus suspicious. It's probably no coincidence that this attitude is something John Howard has lauded with his talk of a "relaxed and comfortable" Australia.

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