National Observer : Role and Focus
National Observer is an independent journal of political and social analysis devoted to Australian domestic and foreign affairs and the international scene. We support the popular preference for a cohesive Australian society in which all groups, whatever their backgrounds or interests, are united in loyalty to this country. Freedom to leave is a crucial freedom (think of East Germany), and immigrants who find our society abhorrent are free to leave and should logically do so. Immigration should be fine-tuned to promote national cohesion, and what is likely to promote discord and violence should be tuned out. Economic policy should stimulate enterprise and locate responsibility in the individual rather than in an abstract “society”.
Realpolitik recognises the essential nature of the American alliance given that we have no natural allies in our region, though we have friends from time to time. Regional diplomacy needs to be based on the hard pragmatics of mutual interest and our own security, not on fantasy and wishful thinking à la Keating.
Iraq: what justifies our role now?
Aside from the welcome overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the holding of democratic elections (not inconsiderable benefits), what are the advantages of the invasion of Iraq? In strategic terms, Iraq, which under Saddam Hussein was the one strong counter in West Asia to the power of Iran, is now neutralised and may even move into an Iranian orbit. Its Shia majority, long repressed and now rightly in the driving seat, are the natural friends of their fellow Shiites in Iran — this is true not just of the radical Moqtada al Sadr but of most of the moderate Iraqi Shia groups. It’s unreasonable to say that Iran should not interest itself in Iraq when their brothers in faith have come to power there (thanks to us). The Americans recognise this now, which is why they are trying to establish a dialogue with Tehran on the issue. President Bush’s Iraqi policy was badly advised in terms of the regional balance of power, and whoever’s interest it was in, it wasn’t America’s. It will be difficult for the Iraqis to form a stable government at least in the short term, for it necessarily depends on the willingness of the Sunnis and Kurds to play second fiddle. The Kurds, happy with their de facto independence (they even have their own airline), will participate in a Shia-led government provided it’s heavily confederal (weak). The Sunnis are another matter.
Meanwhile sectarian violence increases and the insurgency is strong. So how can we now justify Australia’s role in Iraq? The answer is self-interest. The Australian-American alliance is at its strongest-ever and the cost of our involvement is very low: one soldier killed, not in battle. We helped to provide the circumstances for a democratically elected government there and we help to protect it. We should certainly stay until it asks us to leave. Alliances are about mutual self-interest, like insurance policies. You pay the premium, and this one has always been excellent value. The Howard Government’s commitment of troops to Iraq was based to a considerable extent on false premises but as real politik it was correct.
AWB in Iraq: ALP and ABC in fairyland
The Labor Party under Mr Beazley continues to show an extraordinary inability to take the mood of the Australian public, whereas Mr Howard’s greatest strength is his ability to do exactly that. On the AWB affair the Labor Party takes the high moral ground but there’s not much in it for them apart from feeling good. The ALP and its echo chamber, the “little” ALP (aka the ABC), pretend to believe, and disingenuously declare, that if wheat deals with the defunct regime of Saddam Hussein could not be done with clean hands they should not have been done at all. Right … and Amen to that. The fact is that none of the thousands of organisations, public and private, in scores of countries, that did successful deals with Saddam’s Iraq came away with spotless hands. But the ALP has an easy target in the AWB, and so they shoot off their whole arsenal at it, hoping that in the process they can score a fatality or two among government ministers.
This is not the way to power. A good government needs a good opposition. Mr Beazley should study why the Howard Government has been so successful and learn from that. It has a lot to do with reflecting the public mood.
The ABC: auction time?
The ABC has proven itself unreformable. It’s justly called “the socialist network”. Just a few years ago, when its annual budget was only half a billion dollars, it was loudly bewailing the government’s failure to fund it adequately. Now its budget is closer to a billion (ABC Annual Report 2004-05: Financial Statements) and it still complains. Even were it providing a politically-balanced service its budget would be a scandal. The ABC long ago ceased to be a network and became an ever-expanding congeries of networks, an octopus doing what octopuses do best, and what one gets for all that money is not “your” ABC but their ABC. Add up the value of all those frequencies — what each would bring on the market — and it comes to billions. How to explain, with a straight face, why taxpayers should fund the ABC’s Triple-J network?
How to explain why taxpayers should be funding ABC-TV to do a series of promotional programmes for the stage-show “Dusty”? (Is that a corrupt use of public funds or what?) We need a publicly-funded Voice of Australia service, a Radio National, and perhaps an ABCTV and an ABCFM. Other arms should be sliced off and their frequencies auctioned. It’s interesting that the Music Broadcasting Service (MBS) network, which provides non-stop classical music around Australia, finds its own funds.
The next Howard government should sell off a large slice of the ABC in its first year of office. Much screaming will ensue. Ideally the Triple-J frequencies should be auctioned off even before the next election — the move would be widely popular. And while the government is at it, it should look at strategies to make the SBS network 100 per cent self-funding.
Israel/Palestine after the elections
It now appears unlikely that there will be any negotiated Israeli / Palestinian peace treaty. The only “peace” we are ever likely to see will be imposed by Israel in the form of the West-Bank Wall. Unless the Wall is very close to the 1967 border the “peace” will not be internationally endorsed. That will not worry Israel. The recent election of a moderate Israeli coalition willing to force the withdrawal of extremist West-Bank settlers from Palestinian soil is welcome and will make the imposed “peace” more acceptable than any “peace” that Likud, led by the intransigent Beniamin Netanyahu, could have attained. His policies have been comprehensively rejected by the electors.
On the other side, the election of Hamas to government by the Palestinians was predictable. Over many years, while carrying out ruthless attacks on soft targets in Israel, they have provided social services in Gaza and the West Bank that the corrupt politicians of Fatah failed to deliver. It is probably false to say that the election of Hamas to power within the Palestinian territories makes a negotiated peace more difficult. It was already an impossibility, for it is inconceivable that Fatah could have signed a two-state peace treaty that did not include the Right of Return for those Palestinian families, Moslem and Christian alike, whose members were frightened out of their ancestral homes (or urged by Arab states to flee from them) in the wake of the massacres committed by the Irgun more than half a century ago. An historic injustice involving 800,000 refugees does not dissipate with time. The immigration policy of Israel is firmly based on religion and/or race and there is no chance that expelled Palestinians will ever redeem their homes there. That is their tragedy. The Wall is the only “peace” we are likely to see, unfortunately.
Meanwhile Western policy in regard to the region has to be seen to be balanced. A generous policy of reparation by Israel to assist the expellees and their children within a West Bank/Gaza Palestininan state would do wonders for Israel’s image. If Jordan some day becomes part of a new Palestine (and expansionist Israelis have often insisted that “Jordan is Palestine”), Palestine will be a strong and viable state. This is not an improbable scenario in the longer term.
National Observer No. 68 -Autumn 2006