Father of Lies 2
Timor L ’Este, Witness ‘K’ and Bernard Collaery
That Australia had cheated on East Timor, one of the poorest and newest countries in the world was revealed by Bob Carr and Mark Dreyfus in 2013, but it was not until Andrew Wilkie used parliamentary privilege, that we learned that those who have made this grubby secret known are to be prosecuted, rather than those who sanctioned the grubbiness. Apparently, ethics and morality apply everywhere except to economics and the making of money.
Lying between East Timor and Australia are considerable fossil fuel reserves. Australia was keen to secure most of these reserves within its territorial boundaries. To do this it was deemed necessary to draw a boundary, not midway between the two countries, but much closer to the East Timorese coast.
We now know that when negotiations were underway, in the time of the Howard government, and when Alexander Downer was foreign minister, officers of the Australian Secret Intelligence Services were passed off as aid workers to spy on members and officers of the Timorese government.
This information raises several issues:
· Under what criteria can East Timor be deemed a threat to Australian security? Why were ASIS officers deployed in these circumstances? Are ASIS officers regularly deployed in matters to do with trade and economics? Has ‘security’ been redefined, and if so is it the right of the Australian public to know this?
· Why was it thought ‘ok’ to unreasonably and unfairly take economic advantage of a very poor country? What Australian value is being employed to take from the world’s poorest to further advance the prosperity of world’s most wealthy? Was this the underlying reason why we used our Defence Forces to secure Timor’s independence in the first place?
· Why are Bernard Collaery and ‘Witness K’ now being prosecuted? We are told this has nothing to do with ‘politics’ but is the normal processing of justice through the courts. In other words, Collaery and ‘Witness K’ have committed a serious crime and therefore should be prosecuted. If this is the case, then there must be something wrong with the legal system. Why are whistle blowers guilty and not those who have manifestly done something unethical, in this case in the name of all Australians? Apply the pub test: it is those who ordered this unconscionable action against the Timorese, not Collaery and witness K, who should be before the courts. If ‘a fair go’ is the quintessential Australian value, this clandestine activity is its absolute antithesis.
· That Alexander Downer subsequently became a well remunerated advisor/consultant to Woodside petroleum has apparently not been denied. Directors of companies must declare any possible conflict of interest, why are so many politicians allowed to assume positions that are advantaged by their previous political lives?
· Why is it that both the Government and the Opposition are in lockstep in their reluctance for this matter to have a public hearing? One could reasonably have thought the Opposition would use this episode to score points off the government – apparently not.
So how do we make sense of it all? It is hard not to conclude that in the name of national economic or financial advantage, there are to be no moral restraints, no limits, no boundaries that cannot be crossed. Is there any difference in substance between this action and the actions of AMP and the banks, recently so shamefully exposed? I don’t think so. In the case of the banks, they had to be brought kicking and screaming to accept accountability; but in a global culture where money is king, will they behave differently in the future. While business is built upon financial incentives, - probably not.
In the case of these energy reserves, like the banks, our national government could not help itself. Dealing with a gullible, new and impoverished nation, nothing could be easier. Like the banks, it is clear that our government feels no shame. When dealing with economic advantage, morality does not come into it. Those involved, especially Mr Downer, appear proud of what they did. Nothing is going to change in what is obviously now considered a matter of ‘national security’. Human dignity has come to be defined in economic terms rather than economics being but one of the factors that serves human dignity and worth. We clearly have a cultural problem.
Will we have any guarantee that those who act in our name in government will not behave in this manner in the future? If the prosecution against the whistle blowers is any guide - no. It is likely we will act like this again – given the chance.
So, committed are we to the absolute supremacy of economic advantage we are happy to sign trade agreements which potentially allow corporations to sue the government if national policies are enacted which restrict their global operations, even if these operations are judged to be socially or environmentally, detrimental.
The underlying lie is that economic growth is for ever desirable or even possible in a finite world. This is of course a contradiction, it isn’t, and it can’t.
What happened between Australia and Timor is now being played out on a much larger stage with the combatants being the most powerful nations on earth, The US, China, Russia, Iran the European Union etc. When an unjust advantage is sought, the ripple effect stretches all the way to the edge of the pond. Proper trade is based upon an exchange which is mutually advantageous. The future of humankind on planet earth resides in mutuality, not competitive advantage. If we are survive, let alone prosper, our actions must serve good that is common.
It is said that Margaret Thatcher’s bedside table was adorned with the Bible and the thoughts of Friedrick Hayek. Hayek espoused the supremacy of the individual and spoke of social justice as a ‘mirage’. Since Thatcher, neo-liberalism has become the ubiquitous and politically unchallenged standard. It has endowed us with a legacy that is intellectually bare, but remains politically dominant. Whether individualism be national or personal, it must be immersed in the mutually of interdependence if the 21st century is not going to be a disaster for human beings and diverse nonhuman life upon which we all depend.