The Government
wants us to be alert, not alarmed, in the post September 11 global environment
–- but have they been napping?

How has the Timor situation come about? Greg Sheridan
pointed the finger at the Fretilin leadership in The Weekend Australian – East
Timor’s Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri and “the so-called Mozambique clique of Fretilin ideologues”.

We kept an eye out. We got our troops on
the ground so promptly because the ADF were already on standby. But should things
have even gotten this far? Glenn Milne gave the Government a real belting round
the ear hole in the News Limited Sundays:

The implosion
on our northern doorstep has exposed John Howard on national security –
previously one of the strengths of his prime ministership. And second, the
deadly uprising has finally vindicated Labor’s critique of Australia’s
commitment to the war in Iraq.

The brutal truth is that we now have a failed state as
a near neighbour, with the President and Prime Minister apparently in flight,
and the Foreign Minister de facto running the country.

And what has been the Australian Prime Minister’s
response? He says East Timor hasn’t been particularly well-governed. This is the
weakest of answers. Given the fact that Australia spearheaded East Timor’s move to independence,
surely we had a special responsibility to ensure the fledgling democracy
survived in good order…

When the dust settles, Howard must provide some
answers as to how this was allowed to happen. At the very least there has
clearly been a breakdown in intelligence…

And what are we left with?

We have a fully fledged arc of instability on our
northern border; East Timor, the Solomons, brewing trouble in Fiji and the continuing basket
case that is Papua New Guinea.

From Labor’s point of view, it’s a policy vindication.
Failed states are a breeding ground for terrorists and their funding. The
Opposition has consistently argued that because of Howard’s infatuation with
George W. Bush, we have been fighting the wrong war on terror in the wrong
country – Iraq.

Last week’s developments suggest there will be
increasing demands on our military which is now deployed in four theatres; Timor, the Solomons, Iraq and Afghanistan.

East
Timor’s
leadership may have failed – but so has ours.

The small
silver lining in all of this is the reality check it should give us over West Papua. As Malcolm Farr puts it in the Telegraph
today:

It is cruel romanticism to believe a geographical area
without any working templates for a public service, law and order, an
accountable defence force, and revenue generation and collection, can quickly
achieve stable government.

Premature emancipation of a small state is essentially
a condemnation to a period of brutality. Ask the Solomon Islands. Indeed, ask PNG.

There now is an arc from East Timor through Melanesia and into the Pacific of
what the kindest Australian officials call “weak and fragile states”.

Adding to their number would not be in their
interests, nor to Australia’s.

Exactly.

Peter Fray

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