A Sorry State


If you really want to see how Australia has failed in it's foreign policy in recent years, then just read the interview with Xanana Gusmão and José Ramos-Horta of East Timor, in the August issue of The Monthly.

Timor-Leste is obviously a nation facing many problems. Australia finally took action in 1999, after 24 years of shameful ignorance, to aid in Timor Leste's fight for independence from Indonesia. Since then, however, we've contributed little to the economic developement of East Timor.

They're not looking for wads of unsupervised, unallocated money. As José Ramos-Horta has said, "one of the most disgraceful things about Australia's co-operation with East Timor is that only a handful of positions in Australia are open to East Timorese students." Ramos-Horta says that East Timor would benefit greatly from having large numbers of their young people go to Australia to work or study, then bring what they've learnt back home. But at the moment this is almost impossible; the visas aren't available, the scholarships aren't issued, the Howard government doesn't care...and I, like most people, had no idea.

As I've written previously, and to the detriment of the country and their own eternal shame, the Howard government have actively discouraged people from being concerned about the welfare of those less off than themselves, as it doesn't suit their policies or aid their re-election chances.

Would Labor do any better? In this statement, Shadow minister for Foregin Affars Robert McLelland commits Labor to a formal strategy for East Timor - though fails to say what that strategy would be.

It's an urgent issue, but a Government on either side will only take action if they think it will be politically popular. How can we get people to care? Telling them it's our duty as a rich neighbour won't help after 11 years of the Coalition, for the same reason that neither will telling people it's a security issue (that's what they told us about Iraq, after all).

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