Neighbour hoods

Here is a headline from Tuesday: “Australia to train Myanmar military despite ethnic cleansing accusations”.

And here is one from Wednesday: “Australian spy who revealed bugging of Timor-Leste cabinet under ‘effective house arrest’ ”.

Here is a headline from 2014: “Axe falls on foreign aid spending, nearly $8 billion in cuts over next five years”.

Here is Australia, irresponsible neighbour and opportunist.

Already, the murder of Rohingya by Myanmar’s military has seen ties cut by the United States, Britain, Canada, France and the European Union. More than half a million Rohingya had fled across the border. A United Nations human rights investigator says the violence has “the hallmarks of a genocide”.

Australia maintains military cooperation, despite calls for sanctions. A briefing note from the Department of Defence says, “This engagement is designed to expose the Tatmadaw to the ways of a modern, professional defence force and highlight the importance of adhering to international humanitarian law.”

The decision is perplexing and, on the basis of the confused foreign policy of the past decade, unsurprising.

Here is a headline from March last year: “Australia selling military equipment to Saudi Arabia during brutal Yemen conflict”.

Here is a headline from November 2015: “Australian tax dollars funding PNG corruption, AFP whistleblower says”.

And from the same month: “Turnbull government accused of ignoring PNG human rights abuses to preserve Manus Island detention centre deal”.

Here is a headline from June 2015: “Bishop calls for calm after PNG deaths”.

And again: “Australia offers PNG government help to prevent unrest after police shooting of student protesters”.

Here is Australia’s crude foreign policy, by turns cheap and buccaneering.

Julie Bishop’s response to police violence in Port Moresby ignored the systemic corruption in Papua New Guinea. It continued a blindness that stumbles, grasping and inept, back to the detention centre on Manus Island. It is the perfect expression of Australia’s stunted place in the region.

The selling of arms to a government accused of war crimes is one thing. So is the bugging of a developing nation to exploit their natural resources. So is the training of a military force engaged in a suspected genocide. So, too, the arbitrary cutting of aid at a time of unprecedented humanitarian need.

Australia’s relationship with the world is increasingly mean and self-interested. In Papua New Guinea there exists its coarsest manifestation: Australia would let an entire country fail for its own brief advantage.

Australia’s foreign policy amounts to pushing a government to act against its own constitution and, on our behalf, imprison hundreds of refugees in an island camp. While this happens, we ignore corruption and economic collapse. Basic institutions fail. The trade-off is that a small and struggling country looks after our human rights abuses for us.

To see Australia in the world is to see a kind of numb amorality. All this happens, and no one seems to care.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Mar 10, 2018 as "Neighbour hoods".

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