Thursday, November 02, 2006

Is Australia's position on climate change changing?

While John Howard has continued to say alarming things which suggest that global warming may not be serious, his Government has started to move in response to public opinion. We have had a slew of recent announcements, although some of them are merely the announcement of projects under pre-existing programs.

Howard is the ultimate pragmatist, and will take further action to reduce carbon emissions, promote alternative energy etc in the run-up to the election he faces by the end of 2007. This will happen because climate change has ignited as a political issue here, according to a range of recent polls.

One thing the Australian Government has relied upon to defend its refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol to UNFCCC is that Australia was, in any event, going to meet the extremely generous (108% of 1990 levels) emissions target for the 2008-2012 First Commitment Period. While there is now apparently some danger that we will exceed this target, I gather Australia will come far closer to meeting Kyoto obligations than many EU countries and the US.

The Australian Government has a reasonable point that Kyoto is not the answer. We need far deeper cuts to carbon emissions than Kyoto implies, and we need a system that is binding on China, India, Brazil and the other economies who are exponentially increasing fossil fuel use. Howard is right that imposing restrictions on our economy while major economic competitors have no restrictions will hurt our economy. Unfortunately, he (and the electorate until now) has been blind to the far bigger cost of inaction, possibly because it is well beyond his political lifetime.

I agree that ratifying the Kyoto Protocol is symbolically important as a demonstration of acceptance that there is a problem and that we are prepared to take domestic action. But we need to focus on a post-Kyoto regime that will make deep cuts to global emissions. An Australian official is co-chair of the UN process that is trying to secure agreement on the possible architecture.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Living in a rogue state

I was brought to a sudden realisation yesterday about how one's understanding of events is culturally defined. (Or put another way, where you sit is where you stand!)

It was literally a laugh out loud moment. Our family was in the car and my partner turned on the midday radio news.

One of the leading items was about Dr Dewi Anwar, a former adviser to Indonesia's last President, saying Australia needs to reassure its neighbours that it has no desire to acquire nuclear weapons.

I laughed out loud in the car because I suddenly realised: the Prime Minister started a public debate a few weeks ago about the use of nuclear power in Australia (we only have one research reactor here which is used to make radioactive medicines and industrial radioisotopes). This debate is proceeding under cover of arguments that nuclear power may be the green solution to carbon emissions and climate change. But in my view it's really about opening up new uranium mines to allow mining companies to export more of our uranium reserves (from memory Australia has about 30% of the world's uranium reserves).

I laughed because I had never thought before about how this debate might be perceived overseas, particularly in Indonesia, the world's most populous muslim country. But it's obvious, really. When Indonesians perceive Australia as having promoted the secession of Timor Leste from Indonesia, and led armed forces into Timor twice in recent years, and wantonly attacked Afghanistan and Iraq, the possibility that we might start enriching more uranium needs to be considered in a strategic context. Dr Anwar said that Australia needs to assure the international community that it is not a security threat.

All of a sudden, I started to realise a little of how it might feel to be an Iranian.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Saying Sorry, Howard Style

Two Vietnam War era Iroquois helicopters have been disturbing my peace this weekend, flying low over Australia’s national capital multiple times on multiple days as part of the interminable celebration of the fortieth anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan.

Long Tan was so important a battle in Australia’s Vietnam engagement that the anniversary has been adopted as Vietnam Veterans' Remembrance Day in Australia. The question of recognition for Vietnam Veterans is as sensitive in Australia as it is in the US, and there has been lingering resentment about the downgrading of bravery awards to soldiers who fought at Long Tan.

This prompted Prime Minister Howard to offer a national apology on Thursday to the soldiers who were “poorly treated” on their return from Vietnam.

Some Australians are celebrating another anniversary this weekend. It’s also 40 years since the walk off by Aboriginal workers and their families from Wave Hill cattle station in the Northern Territory. This symbolic and courageous action taken by Gurindji, Mudbura and Warlpiri families against the oppressive practices of a company owned by Lord Vestey was a major rallying point and contributed to winning equal pay for Indigenous workers in the pastoral industry, national recognition of Aboriginal land rights, and eventual return of the Wave Hill land to Gurindji ownership.

John Howard was all over the Long Tan anniversary celebrations like a rash. A reception for veterans was held at Parliament House. A memorial service was held at the Vietnam Memorial on Anzac Avenue. And those damn Iroquois kept flying back and forth in formation about 100 metres over the suburbs.

John Howard was nowhere to be seen in relation to the Wave Hill commemoration.

As Opposition Leader in 1987, John Howard made an issue of growing Asian immigration to Australia. Since assuming office as Prime Minister in 1996, he has refused to say sorry for the decades-long policy of enforced separation of Aboriginal children from their families (known as the stolen generation) on grounds that it was not he or current generations of Australians who were responsible. And besides, the argument went, he could not say sorry because it might admit legal liability by the Government.

If Howard is not a racist himself, then he has certainly played very carefully to cultivate the support of the racist element in the Australian community. Now we see the flimsy excuse of ‘legal liability’ being discredited by Howard himself as he says ‘sorry’ to 50,000 Vietnam veterans. It’s completely clear that John Howard will only ever say sorry to you if you are white and fit his scheme of promoting militarism and the ‘good’ bits of Australian history.

Cross-posted at Booman Tribune and European Tribune.