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Human Rights in Ireland >>
Pro-war Aussie PM to address the Dail
Tuesday May 16, 2006 17:47 by Lisa - Howard not welcome in Ireland
Activists preparing to let Howard know he's unwelcome in Ireland
John Howard arrives in Ireland on Saturday on a four day trip where he will address the Dail and meet key business and political leaders. It is his first visit to Ireland since he was first elected Prime Minister of Australia ten years ago and one he sees as important because of 'the historical and sentimental links between the two countries'.
Howard is currently swamped in controversy surrounding kick-backs to Saddam Hussein, state treatment of Aboriginal peoples and Refugees, his support for George Bush and his decision to send the Navy to East Timor. As he is met by anti-war protesters in Washington, Irish activists are preparing their own welcome for this notorious war monger.
Right winged racist war-monger
On John Howard’s first visit to Ireland since he was first elected Prime Minister of Australia ten years ago, you may like to know a little more about him. Let’s look at some of his achievements.
The ‘War on Terror’
Howard has been one of Bush’s most committed followers in the so-called “War on Terror” since the beginning. Australia is one of only three nations to have committed troops to Iraq. Just like Bush and Blair, Howard lied about ‘weapons of mass destruction’, putting strategic interests ahead of the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis (1).
Part of the Howard’s formula for electoral success has been to stir up racism and fears about ‘invading’ asylum seekers. The previous government introduced a policy of mandatory detention of asylum seekers arriving by boat, locking them up in detention centres in isolated desert areas such as Woomera. The Howard government embraced this policy and built on it, embarking on a campaign to dehumanize and delegitimise asylum seekers, showing blatant disregard for its humanitarian obligations. It privatised the detention centres, leading to a decline in conditions. It introduced Temporary Protection Visas (to replace permanent protection) for boat arrivals, reducing the security and increasing the psychological anguish of refugees. Howard has shown no compassion for the plight of hundreds of refugees in Australian detention centres, despite many cases of self-harm and suicide attempts, as well as hunger strikes. (2)
This racist strategy reached its peak in the lead up to the 2002 election, with the government successfully using a key incident to bring itself back from low popularity. In August 2001, a Norwegian ship – The Tampa – picked up 438 refugees, mostly Afghanis, from a sinking boat and attempted to bring them to the closest port in Australia. In an unprecedented move, the government refused the Tampa entry. A ten day standoff followed. The Government sent SAS troops (an elite army unit) to take control of the ship, and the refugees were eventually taken far away to a tent city on the small Pacific Island of Nauru.
Howard cynically used this incident to play the defender of the nation saying “we will decide who comes to this country” (3), turning what should have been a humanitarian issue into one about Australia’s right to control its borders. The Tampa incident heralded the introduction of a new ‘border protection’ regime, which involved using the Navy to intercept boats of suspected asylum seekers to prevent them reaching Australia, and the ‘Pacific Solution’ which involved sending boat arrivals to Nauru and Papua New Guinea for processing – Australia using its regional economic power to export its problems to its poorer neighbours. It is also a part of Howard’s ongoing strategy to limit public and media access to refugees, to prevent the Australian people from hearing their stories or seeing them as individual people in need of assistance.
The Tampa incident was followed by the “Children Overboard” affair. In October 2001, Howard and some of his senior ministers claimed that asylum seekers in a boat intercepted off Australia’s coast had thrown their children overboard in an attempt to “intimidate” the Government into letting them into the country. Howard, using the incident to further demonise refugees, stated: “I express my anger at the behaviour of those people and I repeat it. I can’t comprehend how genuine refugees would throw their children overboard.” (4) It was later revealed that the Government knew that children were not thrown overboard and the boat was actually sinking, but only after Howard had won another election (5).
Recently, a group of refugees from West Papua were granted asylum in Australia. This caused a significant diplomatic falling out between the Indonesian and Australian governments. Howard’s response has been to repeatedly affirm Australia’s recognition of Indonesia’s territorial authority over West Papua, and has even suggested that future refugee decisions should take into account possible impacts on Australia’s diplomatic relations on grounds of “national interest” (6).
For Howard regional economic interests are more important than human rights. Howard is also trying to appease Indonesia with plans to extend the Pacific Solution, sending all boat arrivals for offshore processing and then to a ‘third country’ for resettlement – meaning that any future West Papuan asylum seekers would not end up in Australia. This is a disgusting attempt to avoid international humanitarian obligations under the Refugee Convention.
Howard has repeatedly demonstrated contempt and disrespect for Australia’s indigenous people. He has refused to apologise to the Stolen Generations (Aboriginal children taken from their parents by the state) and has even questioned their existence. His ’10 point plan’ in 1998 significantly wound back Native Title legislation. Land rights are now back on the agenda with Howard’s plans to undermine the communal basis of traditional land rights in favour of private individualized ownership7. Funding has been cut for Aboriginal services, despite indigenous people continuing to suffer severe disadvantage in areas such as health, education, housing and employment (8). Last year, Howard abolished the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) without any consultation with Indigenous communities. This is a part of ‘mainstreaming’ Aboriginal issues, which puts a stop to Aboriginal self-determination (9).
Howard has an appalling record on environmental issues. His first term saw record levels of woodchipping of native forests, and he has allowed land clearing to continue at an unsustainable rate (10). He is actively promoting the expansion of the nuclear industry, supporting uranium mining and nuclear waste dumps on Aboriginal land.
As for climate change, Howard has spent 10 years avoiding the issue. He is the only world leader, along with George Bush, to have refused to ratify the Kyoto protocol. He has failed to implement any serious targets for emissions reductions or to support investment in renewable energy (11).
Neoliberal economic policies
Howard’s electoral success has been largely on the back of a growing economy, allowing him to present as a good economic manager, whatever that means. His neoliberal economic policies have had significant negative consequences for many Australians. For example privatization of public services, such as Telstra, the national telecommunications network, has particularly implications for those in rural areas, where supply of services is less profitable. His privatization agenda also includes universities, as public funding is cut and they are forced to seek funds from the private sector. Full fees have been gradually introduced for many university courses. In the health sector too, funding is cut for public services, while incentives are given to shift people onto private health insurance, leading to a two-tier system. Howard has also overseen the introduction of an increasingly regressive tax system, with a Goods and Services Tax as its central component.
One of Howard’s most recent achievements was the introduction of a new industrial relations regime which drastically reduces the rights of workers and trade unions. It marks a shift away collective bargaining towards individually ‘negotiated’ agreements. It removes unfair dismissal protection for workers in corporations with under 100 employees. It is the most recent in long line of policies which aim to shift the power and the share of income away from workers and towards big business (12).
So, on his first visit to Ireland as Prime Minister of Australia, does John’s Howard deserve a warm welcome? Why not welcome him in the same way he welcomed the Tampa refugees? Send him to small island somewhere far away. Lock him up in a squalid detention centre for a few years. Don’t tell him how long he’ll be there or what his rights are. Or why not give him treatment like the US prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, in which Howard has been complicit? Let him know that wherever he is in the world he will be held accountable for his complicity in the torture and murder of the citizens of Iraq. Let him know that his disrespect for Aboriginal people is not acceptable. Let him know that we will not let him allow the destruction of our planet. John Howard and his war-mongering, right wing neoliberal agenda should not be welcome anywhere.
02. See for example http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/1776938.stm
05. For more info on the Tampa and Children Overboard incidents, the Pacific Solution and boarder protection measures see the Senate Committee Report at http://www.aph.gov.au/Senate/committee/maritime_inciden...x.htm
07. Galarrwuy Yunipingu, 'Turning back the clock for Aborigines', Sydney Morning Herald, 11 April 2005.
09. Ngiya Institute Briefing paper at http://www.jumbunna.uts.edu.au/news/downloads/mainstrea...5.pdf
12. For more info on the industrial relations reforms see www.jape.org