This week


The Deputy Sheriff moves on. We are now instead the Honest Broker. We could have done without the kowtowing, the triumphalism, the fear campaigns and the dissembling, but the change seems certain and for good. As Paul Keating himself pointed out this week, after nine years of caricaturing Labor’s foreign policy John Howard has apparently settled on something very like it. It is in our interests to become part of the region and no less to have the US engaged in it. Friendly and mature relationships with both the region and the US are not only essential, but also possible. In this case it’s probably as well to forget the journey and be grateful for the arrival. It’s a pity this also requires us to wear the “Honest Broker” tag. In so far as it means anything at all, it does seem to suggest, despite abundant and irrefutable evidence to the contrary, that until now we could not broker and/or we were not honest.

Thanks to

Thanks to Peter Nicholson from the Australian

The tsunami has made all the difference. The pictures of our Prime Minister and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia jointly smiling, embracing and mourning suggest they have genuinely hit it off, especially since the announcement that Australia would supply Indonesia with $1 billion worth of post-tsunami aid. It is likely that a lot of Mr Howard’s constituents imagine all the aid is going to the Aceh victims and that it is aid pure and simple. They might be surprised to learn that according to a Parliamentary Library paper ‘a substantial amount of the money will be spent on projects outside the tsunami-affected areas, although in nonetheless deserving parts of Indonesia’, and that Australian companies now preparing tenders for Indonesian aid projects will see that a very substantial part of the aid will be finding its way back to Australia.

It’s nothing new for aid to be channelled in this way, or for governments to pursue strategic goals through acts of apparent generosity. The grey area as usual concerns public understanding and perception. And so long as the area is Aceh, where the Indonesians continue to ruthlessly suppress an independence movement, the prospect exists for the area to become very grey indeed. As grey, perhaps, as it was with Timor for all those years. For all that, a declaration has been signed between the two countries establishing a partnership to cover security, economic and political relations and we should be grateful “ more grateful than we were when Paul Keating and Gareth Evans signed the last one which was condemned by Alexander Downer and John Howard because it was negotiated without the people’s knowledge and participation. Australia’s inclusion, supported by Indonesia, in the East Asia Summit would be the big prize.

Terri Schiavo and Pope John Paul II both died in the full glare of the media and both deaths were emblematic of the times. The death of the Pope has produced an unprecedented outpouring of devotion and grief especially amongst young people, the majority in the huge crowd now filing past his embalmed body in St Peter’s Basilica. Many of those interviewed spoke of the consolation of ritual and ceremony. Around the world many others spoke of his extraordinary influence for good and bad on world events. More than one writer found it possible to deplore some of his positions “ on artificial contraception for instance “ and yet without qualification admire his achievements. Timothy Garton Ash (see link) wrote that he gave a moral dimension to globalisation, and it may be that in one way or another it is for this that most people are grieving.

The Bush administration attempted to bend Terri Schiavo’s death into a moral dimension of their own, but the polls appeared to prove that in these matters at least their authority is not Papal. Most Americans, it seems, thought Terri Schiavo was none of Bush’s or Congress’s business. It was one of the more encouraging statistics to come out of the US in recent years.

This issue of New Matilda has three very different assessments of the Pope’s work in the world, as well as links to several articles. The debate about the meaning of Terri Schiavo’s life rages on in the US media – see our Links and Updates page.

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