Category Archives: politics

Ebola in West Africa: What Australian politicians haven’t been talking about

What Australian politicians don’t seem to have been discussing is involvement in West Africa to assist with the growing, regionally devastating but globally relevant Ebola epidemic.

Since being identified in Guinea in March 2014 cases of infection spread to neighbouring Liberia and Sierra Leone, since June has been reported to be increasingly out of control, and has more recently spread to Nigeria (including cases in Lagos, a major global trade hub) and possibly Senegal. The World Health Organisation (WHO), the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in particular have been highlighting the inadequacy of the global response to this regional disaster for months now. The health infrastructure of these countries has been overwhelmed, as have organisations such as MSF: there are shortages of medical professionals, beds, protective gear, co-ordination… big problems which wealthy countries such as Australia can and should assist with. According to MSF:

It is clear that the Ebola epidemic will not be contained without a massive deployment of medical and disaster relief specialists from states. The governments of Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone are doing everything they can to try to fight this epidemic. They desperately need international support. Their doctors and nurses having been dying and risking their lives on the front line of this outbreak

Providing funds is not enough. Available infectious disease experts and disaster relief specialists from countries with these capacities must deploy teams to the affected countries. In addition to a larger deployment of medical and epidemiological specialists, additional laboratory capacity for Ebola testing; ambulances and helicopters to safely transport samples and suspected cases; and supplies to ensure safe burials are needed immediately.

The Australian government has announced the contribution of $1 million to the WHO for the West African emergency response, however we should be urgently discussing what technical and logistical support we can provide to this unprecedented humanitarian emergency.

The Black Sea: what Australian politicians have been talking about

A ceasefire has been signed between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian seperatist rebels, which is good news presumably for civilians whilst this lasts (it sounds like this is not a popular move with combatants on either side); there is an intelligent discussion by Mark Adomanis in Forbes of why encouragement of an on-going guerrilla war against Russia, if they are involved in ‘an invasion’, would be a disaster for Ukrainians and should not be encouraged by NATO. Meanwhile, the Australian government has announced the opening an embassy in Kiev and plans to provide “non-lethal” support to the Ukrainian military.

A little further southeast of the Black Sea The encouragement of guerrilla warfare via proxy populations appears to be what is occuring in Iraq, with Australia having announced the supplying of weapons to the Kurdish military to combat ISIS. A key difference to the difficulties being faced by Ukraine is that Australia has played a role in the political destabilisation of Iraq and Syria over the past decade, but what both situations have in common are their complexity. In a post on the Lowy Interpreter, James Brown has discussed ‘Five fallacies in Australian thinking on Iraq’, highlighting the lack of sober and honest debate by Australian politicians and journalists over our involvement in the conflict, in particular regarding ‘why’, ‘how’ and what the ramifications might be.

Hypocrisy, bad diplomacy and nationalist arrogance: Australia as led by Tony Abbott

“The bullying of small countries by big ones, the trampling of justice and decency in the pursuit of national aggrandisement, and reckless indifference to human life should have no place in our world.”

The Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott made the above rhetorically noble statement on Friday 18 July 2014, in response to news of the down-ing (presumably by missile) of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over a region of eastern Ukraine in the midst of civil war. Apparently admonishing Russia, whose government is alleged to be backing the pro-Russian seperatist rebels, this self-righteously antagonistic and undiplomatic comment was made at a time when little evidence of what occurred was available and when cooperation between all sides concerned needed emphasis above point scoring in domestic politics: which is what this was really about, opportunistic drumming of drama and rhetoric to deflect attention away from the parliament’s passing of the abolition of carbon pricing the day before, 17 July 2014. Check out the policies obituary here.

The leader of the Australian Greens, Senator Christine Milne, and Senator Lisa Singh of the Australian Labor Party both provided inspiring speeches against the repeal, which was subsequently passed:

A vote for the abolition of the clean energy package is a vote for failure because it is a recognition that this parliament does not want to face up to the four to six degrees of warming, which is the trajectory we are on as a planet. They do not want to face up to what is intergenerational theft, because a planet facing the warming that we are now being subjected to, and will be subjected to, is a planet experiencing the sixth extinction crisis. It will be a planet suffering rising sea levels. It will be a planet suffering food security crises and it will be a nation, Australia, failing to play our role in global negotiations. We will be a global pariah as the rest of the world moves to try to secure a treaty in 2015 to give people on this planet a chance of survival in the face of a climate emergency. Australia will be relegated to a pariah and a backwater.

– Senator Christine Milne, 17 July 2014

This is a fundamental moment in Australia’s history. We are about to devastate the future of this country. We are about to take this country backwards in droves through the mindless ideological bent of the coalition. Australia today will be a laughing stock to the rest of the world. We are sending this country backwards—and all for what? For playing politics: playing politics with Australia’s future, playing politics with our environment and playing politics with our children.

– Senator Lisa Singh, 17 July 2014

The irony of Abbott’s admonishment of Russia (which was antagonistic, counterproductive but apparently politically expedient, with a rise in popularity attributed to the bellicose posturing) is that Australia with it’s recent change in carbon emission reduction policy has recently been singled out with less rhetoric but much the same sentiment by Fijian president Frank Bainimarama at the Pacific Islands Development Forum for being selfishly indifferent to the fate of its’ Pacific island neighbours, whose communities’ futures are threatened by climate change associated rises in sea levels.

I’ve written this post to record these side-lined aspects of the past few weeks, and to state that I am looking forward to a future Australian government, comprising inspiring politicians such as Milne, Singh and Penny Wong, which will more actively engage with our Pacific neighbours and show greater leadership in the global community; an Australia which is less of a bully and more of a champion on issues of human rights and climate change.