While Australian free trade negotiations with Yemen do not perhaps spark the public’s interest like firefights in Afghanistan or secret trips to Australia for drug rehabilitation, there are some interesting nuggets in the new batch of WikiLeaks cables that show Australia in an international context. Crikey has begun to sift through the latest 35,000 cables. Here are the leads covering the two-month period of January to February 2010.

On February 10, 2010, Indonesian authorities uncovered “a large visa and passport forgery syndicate including counterfeit plates to make security features on Indonesian passports, and US, Australian and Japanese visas”. Fake visa are used by corrupt officials to assist “trafficking women to Australia” for the sex trade.

In January 2010, the US ambassador to Indonesia discussed “post-Copenhagen engagement with ambassadors and deputy ambassadors from resident missions of Australia, the EU, UK, the Netherlands and Norway”. Noting that Australia (and other’s) climate change money targeted for Indonesia “lacked functional and co-ordinated mechanisms through which to spend those funds” and the “activities to date had been unco-ordinated, isolated and disparate”.

“Regional marijuana cultivation syndicates” in Indonesia are supplying the drug “for the well-to-do in Indonesian society”, where it is “readily available at high-end clubs in Jakarta”. The trade extends to harder drugs with cocaine “being transshipped through Indonesia via commercial air carrier en route to Australia and Japan, with small user amounts remaining in Indonesia for use by Western tourists”.

In January 2010, in an echo of the fake passport scandal that was to erupt just one month later, the US embassy in Tel Aviv details in a cable entitled “IN DEPTH: DEAD SEA COSMETICS AND SKINCARE INDUSTRY FRAUD” about widespread visa fraud in the Dead Sea Cosmetics and skincare industry. Writes the ambassador, “there are known issues of … visa holders working illegally; illegal worker exploitation; no federal or local taxes being paid on workers’ earnings … bogus marriages to keep key staff in the United States … non-transparent corporate structures” and the “transport of huge sums of cash to Israel suggesting organised crime and money laundering; as well as an increased number of real estate ventures that suggest the same”. The cable notes that the companies also operate “in countries like Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and Germany.”

At a 2009 meeting of the Paris Club, an informal group of 19 rich nations, Australia “raised the possibility of its cancelling its debts to Cuba outside the Club”. The response from the other members, according to the anti-Cuban US Department of State (in a rare use of the passive voice), was “overwhelmingly negative”. In view of this, Australia’s foreign minister suggested that “Cuba consider approaching the Club” itself to negotiate debt relief.

Although Hamad Karzai’s Commerce Minister Aylaqi is “approaching 70 years of age, with limited English and educated in the era when command economies were in fashion”, the US embassy seems confident that the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement is his “top priority”. However instead of “a full-time dedicated lead”, the process is being shepherded through by Adib Farhadi, who is “simultaneously serving as Commercial Attache in Australia”, raising questions in the US “about how much time he is spending on this issue”.

And finally, one of Australia’s few public disagreements with its allies in Afghanistan was Australia’s refusal to take over the Dutch role in the Afghan Province of Uruzgan as Amsterdam withdrew its forces. One cable gives a hint to the diplomat manoeuvring that Canberra engaged in to avoid ownership of the problem.

At a meeting of the Uruzgan Provincial Reconstruction Team in Prague in January 2010, the US embassy in Canberra noted that “no [Australian] government officials who focus on Afghanistan will be attending the Prague conference. This is in part because Australia is not formally a contributor to the Dutch PRT in Oruzgan province. While they collaborate closely, Australia still sees its work as separate from that of the PRT.” Instead, Australia sent their Ambassador to the Czech Republic, Ruth Pearce, to the meeting.

Reading the cables, one can get a sense of the ebb and flow of international diplomacy, as seen by the US diplomatic service.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey