Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sri Lanka - Australia's moral and systemic failure

Those who follow my Blogs will know that I have made several posts relating to the situation in Sri Lanka and Australia's policy position. My motivation comes from having been in Sri Lanka in 1983 just before the so-called 'civil war' erupted. In addition I have close friends and colleagues affected by what has happened, or more importantly what is failing to happen in terms of security, justice and reconciliation. 

For someone with this background it amazes me how poorly understood Sri Lanka is by journalists and politicians alike.  This came home to me in a posting yesterday by BBC correspondent Nick Robinson. What is telling is that in the stories he reported he clearly did not know that there are at least two main Tamil communities in Sri Lanka - those from the north, around Jaffna who have lived there for over 2000 years - and who for much of that time have been marginalised by the majority Sinhala community.  So the conflict, in historical terms is not new. Nor is the ongoing injustice. The other Tamil community are more recent arrivals to the areas around Kandy brought in from India by the British as labour in the tea plantations.  These different histories create different interests and experiences.  If you read Robinson's post the issues become more apparent.

This year Michelle de Kretser's novel 'Questions of Travel' won the Miles Franklin Award in Australia.  One of the protaganists is Sri Lankan and an asylum seeker who ends up in Australia, by plane as it happens rather than boat. However the novel captures well the fear that drove him to Australia and the degradation he had to endure to arrive.  It is hard to imagine that anyone in Australia who has read this novel can be fooled by the idea that supporting an authoritarian regime and providing military boats to keep those who are oppressed within has any moral integrity.  But what about those who don't read novels? How much longer can the simplistic framing of the issues by this, and previous Australian government be sustained?  

To date I have not had much time for David Cameron's policies but his stance and actions in his CHOGM visit are to be admired.  The contrast with Tony Abbot is telling and compelling. It is hard to imagine that Abbot has gained the ego boost that sustains him in a context where CHOGM was rejected by the Queen, the Indian PM, the Canadian PM and Mauritius.  To be in Rajapakse's good books is in international circles a badge of dishonour. In creating the circumstances where it was offered and then accepted our PM dishonours all Australians. 

The British media have also been more professional and incisive in their reporting.  In contrast much Australian reporting has reeked of self censorship. An exception is the excellent, nuanced report by Tom Iggulden. To better understand the hypocrisy of Australia's policy stand in recent years turn to this report by Gordon Weiss who argues that:

"... the issue is not CHOGM, but is rather what will happen next with Australia's adopted position on Sri Lanka, pursued by both Labour and Coalition governments since 2009, and the depths of hypocrisy that our own political leaders may shortly be compelled to trawl. Have our political leaders placed short-term domestic political considerations to deal with those thousands of boat people who inundated our shores last year, at some cost to our long-term interests?"

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