The Guardian September 13, 2000


Behind Howard's UN lecture tour

by Marcus Browning

What was behind John Howard's lecture tour of the UN; his display of 
little-dictator arrogance and his jingoistic posturing, basically telling 
the world body Australia intends to ignore international treaties on human 
rights and instructing the UN to reform itself? In his speech to the UN's 
Millennium Summit in New York last week he even went so far as to use the 
term "fair go" to concoct his own, trumped up version of the American 
Declaration of Independence.

"For Australians", he intoned, "those two short words carry within them the 
universal right to freedom, for the peaceful pursuit of prosperity and for 
the attainment of self-reliance and self-respect."

Fine words, but the fact is that the actions of the Howard Government both 
at home and internationally are working toward precisely the opposite of 
these sentiments.

The push to "reform" the UN is headed by the USA. At the Millennium Summit 
US President Bill Clinton made clear what the most powerful nation in the 
world wants the UN to become, saying it had to prepare itself for a "new 
age" when international forces will have to reach "regularly and rapidly 
inside national boundaries".

A report released this month on changes to the Australian army, From 
Phantom to Force: Towards a More Efficient and Effective Army, falls 
unacannily into line with this proposition. The changes include:

* raising a second brigade (the 1st Brigade was the force deployed in East 
Timor) to a higher readiness notice of 28 days to increase the range of 
response options available to Government;

* increasing the number of fully operational infantry battalions from four 
to six, so increasing the Army's combat strength by 3,000 to 26,000 full-
time personnel;

* enhancing the role of the Army Reserve by amending legislation to enable 
the Reserves to be called out in peacetime;

* expanding amphibious mobility and deployability by use of the HMAS Jervis 
Bay catamaran and LPA amphibious transport ships.

In addition the Army is to acquire another 150 light armoured vehicles and 
51 ground surveillance radar systems all of which will, according to the 
Minister for Defence John Moore, "enhance Army's capabilities to conduct 
significant operations".

Howard told the UN to focus on its "core" role of resolution of disputes, 
disarmament and the alleviation of suffering, backing the US push to 
dismember the body, to dispense with its role of monitoring the actions of 
governments on human rights and make them accountable and exposed to the 
world for their violation of fundamental rights.

Thus Howard's crusade for the scrapping of the UN's committees system, 
marching in time to the US tune. Furthermore, the Australian Government is 
now refusing to ratify protocols and is treating with contempt treaties 
Australia has already ratified.

To begin undermining the Committees system, Howard claimed to be "seeking 
to improve" their operations.

He went on to call for a "fairer hearing to democratically elected 
governments" for less attention to be paid to "the views of non-elected 
bodies".

This is a reference primarily to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander 
peoples who have had even their common law rights taken away by the 
Government.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission chairman Geoff Clark 
responded to Howard's position by calling the situation of Australia's 
Indigenous peoples "nothing less than disgraceful".

He immediately saw through Howard's posturing, emphasising the need for 
Indigenous Australians to have access to the UN.

"The fact that the Australian Government is now suggesting a tighter 
scrutiny of that process as a possible limitation to us presenting our 
views ... is quite a disturbing trend."

The Government intends to veto almost all visits to Australia by UN human 
rights investigators, as well as scaling down its participation in UN 
inquiries.

This is also in part a response to criticism of its mistreatment of asylum 
seekers.

The Government has also refused to sign an Optional Protocol to the 
Convention of the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, having just 
amended the Sex Discrimination Act to bar single and lesbian women from 
fertility treatments.

These developments are tied both to Australia's increasing role in the 
region as a rapid action military force policing Asia and the Pacific on 
behalf of US interests, and national economic policies which are already 
placing a major burden on working people.

To ensure that an even greater share of the nation's wealth goes to the 
corporations, the Howard Government, at the time of its election in 1996, 
began imposing a severe austerity program.

This involves an integrated approach to it policies all of which will bring 
increased hardship to a growing number of people while simultaneously 
depriving them of their fundamental rights and placing more power in the 
various arms of the state and the corporations.

It includes opening the way for the increased exploitation of labour via 
industrial relations laws meant to break the organised labour movement and 
impose a system of individual work contracts. With their accompanying 
penalties against unions, these laws have brought criticisms from the 
International Labor Organisation and other international bodies which have 
been simply brushed aside by the Government.

To step up the plunder of natural resources, legislation was introduced to 
completely dispossess Indigenous Australians and to allow for widescale 
environmental destruction.

Add to that the privatisation of health, education, telecommunications, the 
national broadcaster and the welfare system, plus a restructuring of the 
tax regime that makes ordinary Australians pay more and allows corporations 
to pay less, and Howard's "fair go" begins to look pretty sick.

To ensure this program is not disrupted, there is the introduction of 
legislation by the "democratically elected Government" that gives the 
military the right to crush protest and dissent with impunity.

Seen in the light of such developments, the agenda of the corporate powers 
that control Australia's economy come more into focus, as does the 
strutting up-start who delivered their message to the UN.

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