Follies and faux pas by the Abbott Government abroad are no longer merely occasions for mockery and mirth — it is now more serious than that. French correspondent Alan Austin reports.
THE FOREIGN AFFAIRS BLUNDERS by the hapless Abbott Government in September bring to forty the number of serious issues that have diminished Australia’s global standing.
Several have given rise to derision, others have provoked sheer bewilderment, but some are now damaging Australia’s safety and security.
Blunder number 40 was to earn Australia the title ‘world’s dirtiest nation’.
The Slate in the USA headlined its piece:
‘The Saudi Arabia of the South Pacific: How Australia became the dirtiest polluter in the developed world.’
Its critique was blunt:
‘In the year since they took office, Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his Liberal-led coalition have already dismantled the country’s key environmental policies. Now they’ve begun systematically ransacking its natural resources. In the process, they’ve transformed Australia from an international innovator on environmental issues into quite possibly the dirtiest country in the developed world.’
Number 39 was the decision to follow the US into Iraq in yet another attempt to meet violence with violence — and, incidentally, boost the popularity of warmongering ‘leaders’.
The threat this poses to Australia was widely highlighted:
In the UK, The Guardian headlined its report:
‘Isis instructs followers to kill Australians and other disbelievers’
In the U.S.:
‘ISIS threatens to attack the US, France & Australia’
‘High alert: Australia ups terror threat level as intelligence warns of ISIS-related attack’
Number 38 was the deal with Cambodia to ‘sell’ some of the world’s most desperate refugees to one of the world’s poorest countries.
France’s prestigious Le Monde headed its report:
‘L’Australie souhaite 1000 réfugiés vendre au Cambodge’ [Australia wants to ‘sell’ 1,000 refugees to Cambodia]
CNN in the US:
‘Australian deal to settle refugees in Cambodia slammed as new low’
In the UK:
‘Cambodians protest Australia using country as refugee dumping ground’
‘Activists outraged over Cambodia-Australia refugee deal’
Number 37 was Australia’s appallingly cruel treatment of refugees.
France’s Le Monde ran a story titled,
‘En Australie, une fillette de 6 ans contre l'enfer des camps de migrants’ [In Australia, a 6 year old girl protests the ‘hell’ of migrant camps]
It recounts the case of an incarcerated child suffering untreated toothache, allergies, bed-wetting, stuttering and other symptoms of depression due to separation from her mother.
The New York Times ran an outraged editorial:
‘Australia is pursuing draconian measures to deter people without visas from entering the country by boat. In doing so, it is failing in its obligation under international accords to protect refugees fleeing persecution.’
Number 36 was the Budget decision to slash overseas aid from the miserable level promised before the 2013 election – already a reduction of $4.5 billion – by a further $3.1 billion.
"The Australian government promised to increase ODA to 0.5 per cent [of GDP]. The Australian people gave their word to the poorest people on this planet. You can't mess with a sovereign promise to the poor, they're too weak, they're too vulnerable. You can't f*** around with them."
So let’s briefly recap the earlier 35:
The first 25 offences against Australia’s reputation were committed in Abbott’s first 100 days, recorded here before Christmas:
1. The theft of Timor Leste’s documents.
2. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s inept criticisms of China’s defence zone.
3. Mishandling the West Irian activists who scaled the wall of Australia’s consulate in Bali.
4. Abbott’s grovelling ‘act of contrition’ towards Malaysia.
5. Cancelling Steve Bracks’ appointment as consul-general in New York.
7. Welching on an agreement with Japan and New Zealand to protect the southern bluefin tuna.
8. Bishop’s broken promise to make her first official visit to PNG.
11. The first round of savage aid cuts, with heaviest impact in Australia’s region.
12. Defying the UN majority on Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian territories.
13. Refusing to support Britain’s David Cameron and others on Sri Lanka’s human rights abuses.
14. Condoning torture by repressive regimes.
15. Bewildering economic mismanagement: ‘The alarm bells about the Abbott government are ... ringing around the world.’
16. Abbott’s ‘cringe-worthy’ sycophantic monarchism.
17. Demonising asylum seekers by insisting refugees are labelled “illegals”.
18. Physical abuse of innocent refugees.
19. Violating the Refugee Convention by returning refugees to Sri Lanka without proper screening.
20. Boat deaths when mayday broadcasts from a stricken vessel were ignored.
After Christmas followed further deterioration of relations with the region, as documented here:
22. Australian navy vessels violated Indonesian territory, requiring further grovelling apologies from Abbott and Bishop.
The next batch arose during Abbott’s dismal January trip to Davos, analysed here:
23. Abbott’s ‘inappropriately partisan’ keynote speech.
24. Abbott humiliatingly shunned by the World Economic Forum’s chairman Klaus Schwab.
25. Abbott attacking former PM Kevin Rudd while abroad. This followed a similar earlier blunder in the US last October.
28. Abbott’s call for an alliance with Canada and others to oppose global climate initiatives.
‘Climate disdainers Canada and Australia form Axis of Weasels'
29. Abbott’s breathtaking lies in the US about emissions trading.
30. Abbott hypocritically lecturing the world on tax avoidance.
31. China’s dismay at Australia’s tardiness in finalising the free trade agreement.
32. Abbott’s profound insult to Indigenous people in July, when he claimed Australia before the British arrived was “then unsettled or, um, scarcely settled."
35. Abbott’s bizarre praise for the "skill and sense of honour" of Japanese soldiers generated extremely negative stories in the UK, Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Kuwait, India, Bahrain, Indonesia, Japan and Pakistan.
No wonder Tony Abbott is, to quote The Washington Post:
‘… one of the world’s most hated prime ministers.’
So why are Abbott and Bishop getting such kudos at home for foreign affairs ‘successes’?
There are three reasons.
First, the media lie. The Murdoch press particularly assigns ‘reporters’ to travel with the PM and simply fabricate ‘news’ reports.
Secondly, the Government and the media have fomented a sense of danger and insecurity, which serves to make a weak leader appear decisive.
Thirdly, Australia’s diplomats and foreign ministry professionals are competent operatives. Ms Bishop has apparently learned to step back, when abroad, and let them operate.
This is almost certainly why Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov referred to his Australian counterpart as ‘he’ after their first meeting. Apparently, Bishop had moved adroitly aside to allow the professionals to get on with the job.
The more Abbott and Bishop to do this, the safer the country will be.
You can follow Alan Austin on Twitter @AlanTheAmazing.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License