Australia in the cold

David Marr, one of Australia’s finest journalists and co-writer of Dark Victory – the devastating examination of the 2001 election and the injection of racial prejudice into the public domain by the Howard government – has returned to The Sydney Morning Herald after three years hosting ABC TV’s Media Watch.

His latest article tells the rarely reported saga of Australia’s increasingly sullied name overseas, especially in relation to human rights breaches. The UN’s Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination brought down a judgement on March 12 which should make any compassionate Australian react with horror. “Australia was rebuked for its treatment of migrants, Muslims, asylum seekers, refugees and Aborigines”, it stated.

Marr skilfully explains the dominant culture within the Australian government and its American masters to consistently slam the UN, any of its decision and operate outside the established international norms. Foreign Editor of Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian, Greg Sheridan, articulated this position last weekend:

“Australia should be absolutely pragmatic about the UN. It is merely one form of international co-operation. It does some good things, which we should support, and some bad things, which we should oppose. But under no circumstances should any Australian government ever feel constrained by UN authority.”

So who, therefore, should make the key decisions leading to war, or an occupation or avoidance of conflict? When George W. Bush appoints an arch-enemy of multilateral institutions, John Bolton, as his UN ambassador, the new rules of the game are perfectly clear and the Howard government is more than willing to go along for the ride. This should be opposed by all people who believe in international law and accountability.

Just today we learn that David Hicks, the Australian captured by the Americans in Afghanistan and held for over three years without trial at Guantanamo Bay, is still facing an uncertain future. Publicly the Australian government expresses hope that there is enough evidence to try Hicks and little movement has occurred since his incarceration. Privately, ministers need to be shamed into more aggressively pursuing Hick’s release back to Australia.

All these cases are pieces of the same puzzle. We may see ourselves as a tolerant, easy-going and generous country, but in reality, the world community is becoming increasingly aware of Australia’s racist past and present. By all means imagine encourage much-needed reforms of the UN, but to imagine a world where American unilateralism is the sole arbiter of decision-making, we are heading for a divided world. Are you with or against US government policy? It’s not a decision that countries should have to make.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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