Australia is getting its worst ever press at the moment thanks to John Howard’s xenophobic campaign and we are going to tell you exactly what they are saying. For starters, check out this article in the Singapore’s Straits Times. And we’re meant to have a good relationship with Singapore.

THE general election in Australia brought back to power the coalition under Prime Minister John Howard for the third time.

Following a very ugly campaign, where racism, xenophobia and bigotry became the main tactics to win the election, Australia’s status – regionally and internationally – has been reduced to that of a pariah.

The country can no longer lay claim to the high moral ground.

Earlier on, it had been an example of how a multi-racial and multi-cultural society was to be organised. It was very attentive to the need of becoming part of a region where its future lies – economically, politically and strategically.

Australia has been at the forefront of efforts to promote regional cooperation. The idea of a Pacific economic community originated from the country and it has been working hard to get things off the ground with the establishment of the Pacific Economic Cooperation Council (Pecc) and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) grouping.

It had contributed greatly to the resolution of the Cambodian conflict, working in tandem with Indonesia and Asean. The establishment of the Asean Regional Forum was made possible with the support of Australia and Japan.

These achievements may be wiped out by one man’s leadership, that of Mr Howard. The Australian PM has never paid attention to the East Asian region, and he always appears to be uncomfortable with the people and leaders of the region. He is like someone living in a small town, somewhere in 19th-century England.

In taking over Ms Pauline Hanson’s racist and xenophobic strategy of re-establishing Australia’s ‘White Policy’ of the 1950s and 1960s, he overturned earlier bipartisan efforts to make Australia a part of East Asia.

He should have been proud in assisting Indonesia to overcome the debacle in East Timor in 1999, but his rhetoric hampers the development of a healthy bilateral relationship.

Now, he has his own problems with the East Timorese, as he has had with the aborigines and the Asian populace in Australia as well.

That he has been re-elected, despite being so narrow-minded and out of place for an open, modern Australia, located in the western Pacific together with over two billion East Asians, only shows how immature and full of fear a large number of Australians still are.

This brings home serious disillusionment for people like me, who thought that the country could inject some civilised values and democratic ideals in the region.

We have been looking forward to an Australia that could assist the region in coping with change, creating stability and peace, and promoting regionalism.

That is why I and many other Indonesians have worked hard to keep bilateral relations between Indonesia and Australia on an even keel, whatever the challenges between the two disparate countries, including during the East Timor crisis.

We have also worked very hard to make Australia accepted in the East Asian region, although Mr Howard is not enthusiastic in belonging to this part of the world and, in his rhetoric, looks down on the region.

I did that because I thought that Mr Howard was an aberration in Australian politics. In the light of the recent general election – and noting the running of such a vicious, racist and xenophobic campaign – I am not too sure whether Australia really is part of East Asia. I hope my friends in Australia would understand this disillusionment and regret.

I do hope, nonetheless, that in the end the Australian people will look ahead and not be influenced by short-sighted leaders who, for their own short-term political interest, damage Australia itself. I must add, however, that I have yet to be convinced that this is still possible.

In the meantime, I propose that my government should simply maintain a business-like relationship with the Howard government, without expecting too much from it or making special efforts in the relationship.


Editorial: Australia ‘besieged’
From The Jakarta Post

November 12, 2001

The victory of the coalition of parties under the leadership of Prime Minister John Howard in the Australian general election over the weekend was an unusual phenomenon in the political history of Australia. Very rarely has a combination of parties managed to win a general election for a third time.

Although John Howard certainly could pride himself as an effective campaigner, his victory, at the same time, has indicated the deep-seated fears of a country besieged.

John Howard has exploited ruthlessly the fears of the Australian people that their perfect country would be invaded by “barbarians” from war- and drought-stricken countries in the Middle East and South Asia. The fear that emerged following the September 11 attacks on the United States was also exploited by John Howard, who implied that they could happen in Australia too.

Besides stating his government’s loyalty to the U.S. and thereby adopting it as its powerful ally and protector, John Howard, at the same time, conveyed the clear message that only a government under his leadership could save Australia from calamity.

All this, being purely internal Australian affairs, would actually be of little concern to Indonesians but for the fact that an election campaign that aroused undefined basic fears and even xenophobic emotions constituted a serious setback for a country that could play a significant role in the Asia Pacific region. As a modern Western nation with a knowledge-based economy, Australia could play a stimulating role in speeding up the modernization process in a number of countries in the Asia Pacific region.

Australians are widely known as a hardworking people with an egalitarian attitude, who are thus warmly welcomed in many countries, be it as doctors, engineers, agriculture specialists, mining experts or teachers. John Howard’s campaign, which has exploited fears and aroused xenophobic emotions, has created the perception among Asians that ultimately, Australians do not really feel that they are a part of this region.

Prime Minister Howard stated last week that if and when he were re-elected, one of his most immediate tasks would be to go to Jakarta to conduct high-level talks with President Megawati Soekarnoputri and some of her Cabinet. Jakarta should welcome his visit.

The encounter will offer an excellent opportunity to spell out in clear terms Indonesia’s position regarding the flow of what has been referred to as “illegal immigrants” to Australia, using Indonesia as their stopover.

Canberra should not presume that it is Indonesia’s duty to act as Australia’s forward defense line in stemming this flow of wretched people who seek a better life in the “lucky country” down south. Nor should the Howard government view Indonesia as some kind of “Nauru”, which would be willing to shelter these refugees, albeit temporarily, for a certain price.

Indonesia’s readiness to cooperate with Australia for mutual benefit still stands, no matter what party or coalition of parties is in power in Canberra.

Understandably, with a third election victory under his belt, John Howard is walking these days with a chip on his political shoulder. This is all the more reason for the Megawati government to realize that in dealing with the administration in Canberra, it should be firm and businesslike. Evasiveness is not always an asset in the conduct of modern diplomacy.

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