May 20, 2013 by Binoy Kampmark
It has been a fiction that has held sway for a time. Mining booms create trickledown wealth. It is tagged as “sustainable” when it is premised on temporariness. Natural resources work for countries that possess them in abundance. Only on the periphery do we see the sense of foreboding that comes with these assets, be it the murder of such leaders as Patrice Lumumba in the Congo over fears that he might have handed over natural resources to the Soviets, or the fear of becoming a two speed economy, one dangerously reliant on commodity prices and extraction dues.
The latter is particularly relevant to the Australian context. Leaders like proclaiming the country as stable and untouched by the political fractiousness that tends to afflict other countries with similar pools of wealth. These scions of plunder are attempting to give lessons to other countries in the game, which is much like a thief teaching other thieves how best to open a safe in a sustainable, green way. This is the message at the Mining for Development Conference taking place in Sydney over May 20 and May 21.
The conference profile reads like a smooth document on dispute resolution and good governance, a manifesto of promise and environmental equilibrium. Mining, in short, is praiseworthy. It has had its problems, but the guests are keen to follow such standards as the EITI (Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative), the global standard for transparency of revenues from natural resources. And it has the blessings of AusAid, thereby surreptitiously linking aid to developing countries with a noble mining sector. If Coke would sponsor programs on nutrition, this is what it would look like.
April 5, 2013 by Binoy Kampmark
What happens to Australian delegations when they go overseas? They whimper, whine or fawn; they stumble into positions of prostrate foolishness. They resemble, as Malcolm Muggeridge described British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s meeting with the Soviet Union’s Nikita Khrushchev, Don Quixote mounting Rocinante, with Sancho Panza by his side. In this instance, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has several Panzas – the foreign minister Bob Carr, Trade Minister Craig Emerson and Financial Services Minister Bill Shorten. It is a true fools cast, and one fitting for a secondary power which is only relevant by the speed it digs up its resources and sends them to imperial powers, current and future.
A previous visit by the current prime minister went wrong. It seemed like an afterthought, clumsy, ill-executed. Her speech was appalling. As with her visit to the United States, the current leader of Australia is incapable of finding gravitas. She is, however, able to hit the hidden shallows. The latest is her insistence on pressuring China to “rein in” North Korea’s belligerent stance, a view that shows how ill-informed the Australian delegation is by the influence Beijing can exert over Pyongyang.
Aside from the usual blunders, Gillard’s press briefings have been slightly better, though the size of this Australian delegation comes across as overcompensation. The Australians want to make their small presence felt at the Boao Forum, a premier trade gathering that hasn’t previously figured too highly on the current government’s list of priorities. No high level representatives went last year.
March 22, 2013 by Binoy Kampmark
It would be odd to find parallels between the Australian Labor Party’s behaviour during the week, one which saw a meandering and vain attempt at self-destruction, and a central European writer with a sense of the apocalyptic. But the parallels are there – the absurd situation, the words that mean little and the sheer arbitrariness.
Odder still is that this is a party in government presiding over a country that has seen 21 years of uninterrupted economic growth, with an unemployment rate of 5.4%. Australia is a nation bored by luxuries and governed by brats and prats. Its political classes are hollow. Its visionaries are permanent absentees.
March 3, 2013 by Binoy Kampmark
This is a hideous brush, but it is being used with impunity by those who should know better. Asylum seekers in Australia are being given another category of surveillance, or that, at least, is the suggestion of the senior Liberal Senator Eric Abetz. His comments came in light of an assault by a Sri Lankan asylum seeker on a university student in Sydney. The opposition member’s comments certainly got the intended reaction. According to Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor, it was “the lowest form of politics” he had seen in “recent memory”. As well as he might, given that his own government has specialised in a particularly “low” form of politics on the subject of asylum seekers.
The reporting regime being suggested for asylum seekers would place them on a register similar to paedophiles after their release into the community. “To blame thousands of people because of one allegation is the lowest form of politics which I thought could not get any lower, until I saw Senator Abetz today compare people seeking asylum with paedophiles.” Abetz’s own remarks were something like this: “There is a register in relation to those sex offenders and the community has spoken in relation to that, that they want a register.” He drew parallels between paedophiles and asylum offenders, stopping short of placing them “in the same category.”
January 23, 2013 by Timothy W. Coleman
The decision by the UK and Australia to strengthen military ties and explore collaboration on weapon systems is a pragmatic response to fiscal and strategic challenges that impact the two allies in different ways. While the UK faces defense budget reductions, Australia is expanding its navy to answer China’s buildup. A significant element of the agreement is collaboration on the next-generation Type 26 Global Combat Ship (T26 GCS).
In addition to the joint naval procurement and possible burden sharing agreement, Australian and UK officials also agreed to focus cooperation on a myriad of security related elements including cyber security and technology. The move underscored the need to make the enduring bilateral alliance more relevant to today’s world, as China and India expand military capabilities in Asia. The focus is to jointly modernize while achieving national security economies of scale.
To read more in-briefs, please visit LIGNET.com
January 21, 2013 by Binoy Kampmark
“Yes, civil discourse can be uncivil. But don’t let internet trolls and television zealots stop you from participating in this vital discussion.”
– Terri Francis, CNN Wire, Jan 17, 2013
This is a war waged at high intensity, a vicious tonic of propaganda, fear and suspicion. It should not be, but the battle over guns in the U.S. has taken various turns in recent weeks. President Obama is promising to be firmer this time. Commentators are weighing in from as far as Australia on how the next chapter on gun control will be written. In addition to moving on assault weapons, Vice President Joe Biden has suggested a stricter regime of background checks at stores and gun shows, and the outlawing of high capacity magazine clips that hold more than 10 rounds.
January 18, 2013 by Binoy Kampmark
Race, ethnicity and origins are always up for political grabs. No one really wants to know that they were preceded by someone else, that they were not the first ones there. This is the Adam complex, and no culture is immune from it. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences conducted by German geneticists suggests that there was a “substantial gene flow between Indian populations and Australia about 4,230 years ago.”
The authors recapitulate the familiar theme of an isolated civilization on a continent holding “some of the earliest archaeological evidence for the expansion of modern humans out of Africa”. They note that the genetic history of Australians has not been examined in detail, finding an “ancient association between Australia, New Guinea, and the Manwanwa (a Negrito group from the Philippines)” and “a signal indicative of substantial gene flow between the Indian populations and Australia well before European contact, contrary to the prevailing view that there was no contact between Australia and the rest of the world.”
The study should not come as a surprise, though the reaction from Australia’s archaeological and broader scientific community will be of interest. The discussion of Indian roots in the Australian connection is probably bound to be troubling for the cognoscenti. It has become something of a shibboleth – the “oldest” civilization and the fact that isolated human existence began on the curiously shaped Australian continent some 40,000 years ago (give or take 10 thousand here and there – who cares?).
January 4, 2013 by Vince Hooper
The current world order is in disarray with broken nations and fragmented regions, combining together to form a disjointed amalgam of social, economic, political, religous and environmental attributes, we term the global village. Uncertainty, as measured in terms of volatility is ubiquitous and rages across all frontiers and regions are imploding.
However, new proposals will be put on the table later this month by David Cameron in his ‘Big Europe’ speech which is likely to be about redefining regionalism rather than a knee-jerk reaction to the current malaise. The US and the rest of the world are well placed to benefit from such paradigm realignment as it is a strong supporter of ‘Open Regionalism’ and should welcome David Cameron’s forthcoming important stance.
December 26, 2012 by Conn M. Hallinan
In March 1990, Time Magazine titled an article “Ripples in The American Lake.” It was not about small waves in that body of water just north of Fort Lewis, Washington. It was talking about the Pacific Ocean, the largest on the planet, embracing over half of humanity and the three largest economies in the world.
Time did not invent the term—it is generally attributed to Gen. Douglas MacArthur, U.S. Pacific commander during WW II—but its casual use by the publication was a reflection of more than 100 years of American policy in this immense area.
November 14, 2012 by Binoy Kampmark
CHINA IN TRANSITION: As China goes through its secretive but widely anticipated leadership transition, the rest of the world is watching.
The obsession with changing world orders and premature assumptions that the world is in flux is endemic to the human character. In this sense, we have never stopped being millenarian, hoping that somewhere along the line, the true order of things will stand before us, crystal clear and optimistic.
Two significant events have and are taking place: the concluded US presidential elections, and the 18th Communist Party Congress in China. Several other states in the Northeast Asian region, notably South Korea and Japan, will also see transitions in their leaderships over the next six months. The urge is then to speculate if these might actually change the contours of power, if at all.
November 5, 2012 by Greg Austin
India’s agreement with Japan to cooperate on cybersecurity at the recent “2+2” of Secretaries of Defence and External Affairs of each country has a distinctly strategic and military connotation. The move represents a deepening of India’s strategic engagement with the global network of the alliance of democracies with the United States at the core. More specifically, it brings India a step closer to joining the inner circle of that alliance that is involved in signals intelligence and joint cyber defense of a military character.
October 29, 2012 by Binoy Kampmark
It has a familiar ring to it. Australia, that White Tribe of Asia, is now sounding desperate, hoping for recognition in a region it has struggled to comprehend since the days of British colonisation. If human beings are seeking to find the common thread of expression, that elemental language amongst Babel’s sea of tongues, then we can say that the White Paper on the Asian Century seeks to do so – in part.
This is, however, only the start. There are, altogether, 25 speculative objectives. Four “Asian” languages have been selected as priorities: Chinese, Indonesian, Hindi and Japanese. The report deems it fundamental that every child be given the chance to learn an Asian language throughout their education in a school system that “will be in the top five in the world”. Globally, Australia will be ranked in the top five countries for ease of doing business and our innovation system will be in the world’s top 10. Astrology is a superb thing in some ways, but dangerous in politics.
October 26, 2012 by Richard Javad Heydarian
Depending on one’s ideological bent, America’s so-called “pivot to Asia” could be interpreted in varying ways. However, one thing that is increasingly clear is that the Obama administration is intent on re-asserting America’s strategic centrality in the Asia-Pacific. This was very explicit in Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2011 piece for Foreign Policy, entitled “America’s Pacific Century.”
The U.S. pivot to Asia is motivated and shaped by both economic and military-strategic factors. Essentially, it is still an ongoing process that will depend on the cooperation of regional allies as well as the evolving patterns of Sino-American relations.
October 15, 2012 by Greg Austin
In a speech on October 11, 2012 on Pentagon responses to evolving cyber threats, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, revealed both the strengths and shortcomings of United States public policy on issues of national cyber defense. The forum for the speech was not necessarily the place where Panetta might have been expected to give a full exposition of policy, yet in his need to brief and to summarize complex issues of his audience of Business Executives for National Security, the Secretary allowed a glimpse into where the United States is and where it is going.
Panetta set the scene by mentioning the threat of a “crippling cyber attack” every bit as serious as the terrorist attacks of September 11. He addressed three tracks the Pentagon is following: new capabilities, policies and organization at DoD level, and alliance building with other countries and with the private sector.
October 4, 2012 by Claire McCurdy
Welcome to “The Yabba”- short for Bundanyabba, a mining town in the Australian Outback. “Where nobody cares where you came from or what you’ve done” as John Grant’s new drinking buddy in the local Outback bar explains to him. “I’m a doctor. I’m also an alcoholic. But nobody cares about that. You won’t either…as long as you join the guys in the bar in rapid serial beer drinking- opening the throat and pouring the stuff down, quickly and sequentially.” A fair recipe for alcoholism. And no effete pommie behavior, either.
You must join in the pounding of the bar tables. Singing. Gambling racket. Fighting. Laughing like hyenas. There are whole scenes of huge straw headed bright red faced heads thrown back laughing and laughing and howling like dogs or like damned souls in a pot—pure Brueghel. (In case you were wondering, in the Yabba there is a grand total of one indigenous Australian guy who keeps well to himself.)
The protagonist of Wake in Fright is John Grant, a handsome, sensitive, well educated Englishman completely out of his element– posted to a very remote part of Australia and clearly hating it. We see him fastidiously ignoring his classroom of sturdy, blonde, mouth breathing blue eyed kids whose twitches indicate just how intensely they are waiting for the bell to ring so they may bolt outside and off to their vacation. When the bell does ring it’s pandemonium. They storm out.