28 December 2012

Remembering Benazir Bhutto

Yesterday was the fifth anniversary of the 27 December 2007 assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

I had the privilege of meeting her, when I accompanied Bob Hawke on an official visit to Pakistan in February 1989. She had become Prime Minister of Pakistan only three months previously, so it was a time when everything seemed new and full of hope.

The visit came up at very short notice. It had been intended that Hawke would go to Saudi Arabia on that trip, as well as Korea, Thailand and India, and in early December 1988 I had gone to Bangkok, Riyadh and New Delhi for preparatory talks with senior officials. Meanwhile, Benazir had become Prime Minister of Pakistan in November, and when January came and there was still no word of formal Saudi agreement to Hawke’s visit, Islamabad was substituted for Riyadh on the Prime Minister’s itinerary.

It was a very Pakistan experience right from the jump – and I don’t mean that in any pejorative way.  We would be arriving in Islamabad from New Delhi in a RAAF B-707, and the Pakistanis offered to escort us in as soon as we entered Pakistan air space from India. The RAAF politely declined – it is the strong preference of the RAAF to travel without fuss and fanfare, just concentrate on the flying.

Of course the Pakistan Air Force wasn’t taking no for an answer and the moment came when we suddenly had a Pakistani fighter on each wing-tip – and I mean on each wing-tip. I had a window seat over the wing of the B-707, and when the Pakistani pilot smiled and waved, grinning from ear to ear, I could clearly see the walrus moustache and the gleaming white teeth.

When we landed Benazir met Bob at the foot of the gangway and she and her Foreign Minister accompanied us to where a guard of honour was lined up – complete with that great relic of empire, the pipe band, dressed in tartans composed from colours that would be found in the dyes made from plants indigenous to the region. As Bob and Benazir inspected the guard, the Foreign Minister observed, in that impeccable English that seems to be spoken only by the Indian and Pakistani elites and Pakistani cricket commentators, “I have always had a very high regard for Australians, ever since we served together in Tobruk”.

For me the highlight of the visit was a small private dinner at the home of Benazir’s mother, Begum Nusrat. The program for the visit also included the usual grand state function, in this case a luncheon; the small dinner party was a very hospitable little extra. Begum Nusrat’s place was a home (a nice one) not a typical official residence set up for grand entertaining – the dining table would take the ten or twelve of us that were present and no more, so there were just five or six of us from each side. We stood around chatting over pre-dinner drinks, and when we sat down to dinner it was very informal, everyone was part of the one conversation, and it was a very pleasant evening. Begum Nusrat and her daughter were excellent hosts, and it was a memorable occasion.

Over the pre-dinner drinks Bob said to Benazir that he would like her to make a return visit, to which she instantly responded, “Oh, yes, I’d love to do that. Wouldn’t it be fun if it could be timed to coincide with a cricket test – we could go to the cricket together.” This never happened, of course – life became very difficult for Benazir and after her defeat in the 1997 elections she went into self-imposed exile in Dubai.

Benazir Bhutto remains one of the most interesting people I have ever met, and she was genuinely charismatic. As a political leader she was by no means perfect, but I think she was probably Pakistan’s best hope at the time. Someone else obviously thought so too.

For the Wikipedia entry on Benazir Bhutto see here and for the Wikipedia account of her assassination and its aftermath see here.

19 December 2012

AUSTRALIA’S VIRTUAL VIETNAM: The importance of 17 December 1964

Guest Post by Iraq War Inquiry Group Vice-President Garry Woodard

The decision to send troops into battle on alien terrain is usually said to be the most serious a government can make. Politicians do not deny it. The only exception I know is Sir Robert Menzies, who said of the Vietnam War in an oral history for the (President) Lyndon Baines Johnson library in 1969 that ‘it did not take five minutes to decide that when it came to the point of action we would be in it’[i]. The whole meeting would have taken about ten minutes.

The Vietnam War was our costliest defeat. The decision in principle to commit troops was made in the last week before Christmas 48 years ago (the ratification and announcement taking place four months later in April 1965). The full record of the meeting of the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee of Cabinet (FADC) on 17 December has recently been declassified and released.

In none of Australia’s other wars was there a Cabinet meeting duly recorded at the outset of the decision-making process. It was done on this occasion because, first, of the unusual circumstances of a formal request by an American President which required a Prime Minister’s response and, second, an Australian government’s wish in its perception of national interest to offer a different form of aid from that requested. Although President Johnson had specifically said he was not asking for it at this stage, the Australian government wanted to commit a ground force, which, though initially small, would ensure American boots on the ground on mainland Southeast Asia. American military doctrine after the unsatisfactory outcome of the Korean War had been to avoid this –‘no more Koreas’.

Michael Sexton[ii] and others have noted this Cabinet meeting, but passed over it because of lack of hard information. The team which wrote the official history[iii] would have had access to the notebook of the Cabinet Secretary (in this case the acting Secretary, Peter Lawler, secretary John Bunting being on Christmas leave) but underestimated its importance and preferred to concentrate on the Cabinet meetings in April which led up to the announcement. After it, Bunting recommended to Menzies that if asked when the decision to send a battalion to South Vietnam had been made he should blur the answer, referring to a period from November/December 1964 to April 1965.

I was put on to the track of this meeting by former External Affairs and Defence Secretary Sir Arthur Tange during wide-ranging discussions in the 1990s. Tange’s recollections were incomplete and his papers in the National Archives show that, in contrast to his normal practice, he went to some pains to avoid answering enquirers and to establish that at this time, with an overseas posting approaching, he had been ‘sidelined’. However, he remembered enough to express regret that the government’s strategic advisers, the Defence Committee (DC), had not been consulted. Ministers had sought advice only from the Chiefs of Staff, who had recommended sending a battalion in ‘a not very good paper’. This was a charitable understatement, not characteristic of Australia’s foremost and most awesome mandarin.

Tange also recalled (as one of many slights he suffered at the hands of his Minister Paul Hasluck) that there had been no opportunity to provide ‘the customary External Affairs estimate of the likelihood of effective government with popular support’. Hasluck, he went on, writing in his Defence memoir, ‘would not have felt the need to have the Department advise him on such a matter’[iv]. I found this to be not quite accurate: Tange had sought to offer advice to his Minister and when dismissed had followed up by sending him a long paper prepared by a first assistant secretary, Gordon Jockel. The paper advised caution because of the fragility of the domestic political base in South Vietnam and because American aims in implementing a two phase plan of one month’s bombing of the North followed by commitment of a ground force were by no means clear.

Although Vietnam had not been on the agenda for the DC meeting on 15 December there had been some informal discussion between the heads of departments and the Chiefs of Staff. Tange did not call that, but the only record is the brief notes scribbled by Tange at the time. Discovery of these Department of External Affairs (DEA) papers led me to delve more deeply. I found on a Prime Minister’s Department file a summary of the FADC meeting which showed its importance.

The full record of those five (perhaps ten) minutes confirms the eight-point summary which I published in 2004 in Asian Alternatives: Australia’s Vietnam decision and lessons on going to war[v].


The dominant figure in the brief discussion, as in all discussions on going to war, was the Prime Minister. Menzies is not at the top of his form. He is suffering from exhaustion at the end of a victorious half-Senate election, which had been celebrated the night before at a 70th birthday dinner tendered by his Party. The Deputy Prime Minister is John McEwen, whose nationalist approach on trade had raised his political stocks. The deputy leader of the Liberal Party, Harold Holt, is a keen supporter of the US, and is now justly identified with his proclamation on the White House lawn, ‘all the way with LBJ’. The other two ministers have been members of the FADC for less than a year and have subordinate status. The Minister for Defence, Shane Paltridge, a former publican, well-regarded by Menzies, speaks but once. The Foreign Minister, Paul Hasluck, a maximal realist, is the intellectual architect of intervention in Vietnam. He believes that the superpower, the United States, should accept its responsibilities to contain the rising superpower, China, and its ‘puppets’, the North Vietnamese.

Virtual Decision-making

We can now enter into the Cabinet room. The time is 11.30 on Wednesday 17 December. This is an unusually late start. For the purpose of ‘virtual Vietnam’, we assume that the meeting starts on time.

The first third of the proceedings is taken up with an introductory presentation by Hasluck. Hasluck begins his peroration with the rather insensitive suggestion that it is not necessary to decide on all matters, but only to settle the terms of a reply to President Johnson. Hasluck provides his view of American policy, which is based on visiting Washington while planning was going on in November, in anticipation of Johnson defeating Barry Goldwater in the presidential election. It is a picture of tentativeness, far short of a determined progressive squeeze, with the US initiating 30 days of bombing of the North. In the light of the assessed results for South Vietnamese morale and North Vietnamese resolution, the US may move on to a second phase involving ground forces,  including from Australia and New Zealand.  Initially the idea is for a static border force checking infiltration and having the same dual targets as the bombing, but before April deterioration has changed its role to active operations.

Hasluck suggests that the reply can make a point that it is fully appreciated that the second phase will mean more direct involvement in South Vietnam. The President’s specific requests pose difficulties, but ‘we will do what is in our power’, and would like military staff talks. Hasluck says we’ve arrived at a point where we can ask to be more closely consulted, though ‘the more we get involved the more we stick our necks out’.

Hasluck then lists seven points, mainly related to American war aims, which he says Australia is now in a position to raise at the political level. This shows that he has read the departmental paper pressed on him by Tange, although it is not his practice to refer to departmental thinking in Cabinet. He concludes by asking whether the military recommendation for a battalion should also be mentioned, and says ‘let us direct our minds to the immediate reply to the President’. The exhortation falls on deaf ears.

Holt asks Hasluck if the bombing has commenced. Hasluck replies that it is about to (which proves wrong), and reverts to what he was told in Washington: ‘I formed the impression when in the US that the Americans are terribly worried. The problem is political stability, we won’t get it without Phase I. But this involves a risk of Phase 2’. Hasluck will hold to the line that he Americans must commence bombing if they are to achieve political stability in South Vietnam. The feeling is that this is an American responsibility, which goes back to the Australian view that things started to go badly wrong when the US engineered the downfall of Ngo Dinh Diem.

Holt asks about other countries becoming involved, including Taiwan, but notes that it will not be regarded as an operation under the SEATO Treaty. Menzies asks why it should not be a SEATO operation. Hasluck replies that he does not know. Menzies grumbles, like Eugene Pallette at the breakfast table when Marjorie Main deprives him of the comic strip, the Katzenjammer Kids,[vi] that it should be a SEATO operation.

McEwen quashes them all by saying that SEATO is a paper outfit and it is better to leave it that way rather than bring about its disintegration. No one else could have put Menzies down in this way. His down-to-earth common sense approach will not prevent Hasluck later putting his name to an article in the Fairfax press written for him by public information officer Richard Woolcott claiming that Australian involvement in Vietnam came under SEATO.

McEwen then makes several points which come to be accepted. An American request for support will be the acid test. Either we go in or we crawl out. I would go in asking almost no questions of the US. It is up to the US to decide whether to make Vietnam a battleground and to hell with Vietnam, especially if the Buddhists join the Vietcong. Australia would have to have a request from the Government of South Vietnam.

Menzies then sums up what should go in the reply to President Johnson. We want to broaden our participation with the US. We begin by showing willing – every bit of assistance put beside the US is good in the common interest. Australia will examine what can be done to encourage others. The President’s requests will be examined. We will do whatever we can. McEwen asks about the battalion. Menzies says ‘if we can provide a battalion we’ve got to think hard before we refuse’ (though it is not a matter of refusing but offering). McEwen says ‘I’d go with it. But we’d be in’.

Addressing Hasluck, Menzies says he does not favor Hasluck’s idea of asking questions. McEwen says we must not appear to be playing for time by asking questions.

Menzies had taken a similar negative position in the Indochina crisis of 1954, no doubt drawing on the experience of World War II and Korea. In 1954 that had the added dimension that the Americans might decide to use nuclear weapons and thenceforth Australia had realised that if the Americans decided to do so it would not be consulted. Australia had been rebuffed first in 1955, after SEATO had been created, when, I was told by Tange, the Americans had said ‘they were never going to tie their hands again in hostilities against the goddamned Chinese’. Foreign Minister Garfield Barwick had raised the matter again in 1962. However, his successor, Hasluck, had said in July 1964 that a nuclear showdown with China might be the only way out, and, though his Cabinet colleagues might not have agreed, that was a popular view in the ranks of the Coalition.

Holt makes a seemingly gratuitous observation about the inevitability of an escalating force build-up. His political reputation would crash in 1967 as more forces were demanded from Australia. In May 1965 Bunting and new DEA secretary James Plimsoll would seek unsuccessfully in the DC to put a cap of one battalion on the Australian contribution.

The second last comment is made by McEwen, perhaps wishing to resile from his earlier ‘make it a desert and call it peace’ sentiment. He says the real problem will be if we end up by fighting against the will of the people of South Vietnam, and the Washington embassy should make soundings. There is already a volume of intelligence on Australian files abut all the issues, poor morale and war-weariness, and whether more foreign intervention will be matched by less South Vietnamese war-fighting, but they have been swept under the rug.

Menzies concludes by telling Paltridge, and Hasluck to draft a forthcoming reply, with no foot dragging, from himself to Johnson. Hasluck will do all the work, and be the only minister to remain in Canberra for another week, until Christmas Eve (although he will spend a lot of that time exchanging notes with Tange about the position of policy planning officer that I happen to occupy).

The decision will kept secret for four months, aided by a long parliamentary recess, by Menzies’ absence overseas on a recuperative sea voyage, extended by going to London to Winston Churchill’s funeral, and by the reluctance of the Opposition to give the appearance that it is not an equally faithful ally of the US.

The processes by which Australian governments have taken the decision to go to war, from Korea in 1950 to Vietnam to Iraq in 2003, do not stand up to scrutiny. Therefore concerned citizens are calling for an inquiry into how Australia decided to join the Iraq war[vii], in the hope that what we will learn from it will lead to changed procedures for decision-making under which the government will have to level with the Parliament and the people.

Garry Woodard
University of Melbourne

[i] AC74-219. The statement was first cited by Prof Joe Siracusa RMIT
[ii] Michael Sexton, War for the Asking, New Holland, 2002
[iii] P Edwards with G Pemberton, Crises and Commitments, Allen & Unwin, 1992
[iv] A Tange, Defence Policy-making ANU Press, 2008, p44
[v] MUP 2004 www.mup.com.au/page/89: Chap 10, The die is cast: December 1964
[vi] Heaven Can Wait 1943

18 December 2012

Crikey says: robbing aid to pay for a Solution

Following is the text of today’s editorial in the online newsletter Crikey. Hard to disagree with any of it:

Our foreign aid budget, it seems, is a convenient hollow log for a government desperate to keep its chances of delivering a surplus intact but facing soaring costs from a huge surge in asylum seekers arriving by boat.

Offshore processing of asylum seekers is expensive -- extraordinarily so compared to processing here in Australia. In the case of the revamped Pacific Solution, the goal is not processing of any kind but delay -- long delays. This makes Australia's current policy even more expensive.

By funding this exorbitant cost from the foreign aid budget, the government makes the nonsensical argument that looking after refugees on Nauru or Manus Island is the same as foreign aid "providing support for refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Sudan".

Instead what it reflects is that beneficiaries of our foreign aid program have no political clout, and that unlike most areas of the budget there is little political cost to cutting programs intended to help those well below Australian standards of living. For once, Scott Morrison is correct in suggesting this is merely "robbing Peter to pay Paul", although perhaps the names are a little inapt given what we are describing.

Labor's asylum seeker policy has led it into some morally dubious areas. Combined with its determination to maintain a surplus, it produces outright absurd outcomes like this.

Judi Moylan on our asylum obligations

Below is a simple, elegant and courageous speech by Opposition Member for Pearce, Judi Moylan MP, made in the House of Representatives on Tuesday 27 November 2012 during the debate on the Second Reading of the Migration Amendment (Unauthorised Arrivals and Other Measures) Bill 2012.

Mrs MOYLAN (Pearce) (18:40): Before I speak to the bill I would like to acknowledge in this chamber
the very courageous and wise words of the member for McMillan. I feel privileged indeed to count him as a friend and to have him as a colleague in this place.

The Migration Amendment (Unauthorised Maritime Arrivals and Other Measures) Bill 2012 gives effect to recommendation 14 of the Houston expert panel, which proposed excising the Australian mainland so that a person arriving by sea, without a visa, cannot apply for a protection or other visa unless the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship determines that it is in the public interest to lift that restriction.

The practice of excising parts of Australian territory started in 2001, and a bill to expand the excision of the Australian mainland was introduced and passed in the House of Representatives in 2006. As my colleague said, he and I and other colleagues, the former member for Cook, who is somewhere in the gallery, and the former member for Kooyong, opposed that bill at that time. But so concerning were the measures outlined in that bill that the Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee, chaired by then government Senator Marise Payne, recommended that 'the bill not proceed'. It was withdrawn when it was clear it would not pass the Senate—not because of the terrible ramifications of that piece of legislation, but because it simply was not going to pass in the Senate, and that would have been an embarrassment to the government.

The report included a number of recommendations to limit the effects of the bill should the government still elect to introduce it. These were fairly extensive but went to transparency, procedural fairness, special consideration for women and children, parliamentary and/or ombudsman scrutiny of operations on Nauru and Manus Island and a sunset period of 18 months for
the operation of the legislation.

This bill before the House has the same intent. It effectively warehouses people in a foreign country and continues a pattern of punitive, arbitrary, indefinite, mandatory detention. These are people: men, women and children who have not been convicted of any crime. May I say, that in looking at these issues over a lengthy time line—I think it has been a 10-year period—there has been more than one inquiry a year into the effects of mandatory detention, and all of them have warned government of the dire consequences of this policy. Yet governments of both persuasions have ignored all of those reports—some of them from their own parliamentary committees.

What really concerns me is that this legislation places these people out of reach of the Australian legal system and casts doubts as to whether any review process will ever be available to them. Our democracy is underpinned by the rule of law, which requires, as a minimum, access to judicial review of administrative action, the right to a fair trial, the right to private communication with a lawyer and access to the courts. This bill is a crack in each of those foundation stones of our democracy. That is why people out there ought to be concerned about the passage of such legislation in unseemly haste in this place. We should ask the  question: who or what will protect these people from processing errors? Who or what?

In justifying these extreme measures, the expert panel report provided just two paragraphs of reasoning for such a draconian piece of legislation. On the statistics alone, it is difficult to justify the excision of the whole mainland. In the decade since 2001, a total of five boats have managed to get as far as the Australian mainland —and those five boats carried only 86 people. This is not an avalanche, a tsunami or an invasion. It is hardly a number to give rise to the implementation of such
an extreme piece of legislation—a piece of legislation which discriminates against an asylum seeker simply on the basis of the mode of travel they used to come to this country.

Yet we continue along this path, with this bill being the final legal brick in the creation of fortress
Australia. Let us be clear: Australia has signed the refugee convention, but it seems the government has no intention of meeting its obligations under that agreement. This bill, combined with the recently passed Migration Legislation Amendment (Regional Processing and Other Measures) Bill, the existing legal framework, the memorandum of understanding between Australia and Nauru and Papua New Guinea, and the new no-advantage test, completes a cunning suite of legislation and international agreements devised by government to effectively avoid Australia's obligations under the refugee convention.

I read a wonderful article in the Canberra Times this morning. It was by Professor William Maley from ANU and Penelope Mathew and was entitled 'Bowen's asylum line is illegal.' They note:

First, international law is underpinned by the simple but powerful principle of 'pacta sunt servanda', namely that every treaty in force is binding on the parties to it and must be performed by them in good faith. In the exercise of its sovereign capacity, Australia, when it acceded to the Refugee Convention, made a solemn set of commitments to other states. If it were to dishonour those commitments, it could hardly expect to be taken seriously if it then complained when other states chose to dishonour their commitments under a whole range of treaties and conventions from which Australians stand to benefit.

The article was worth reading in its entirety and I had a conversation just this afternoon with William Maley on these issues.

Under this new regime, asylum seekers will, at the very least, spend years languishing in detention in foreign countries even if they have been assessed as a refugee, and they may never be able to successfully apply for asylum in Australia. A dissection of the suite of measures uncovers the devil in the detail. Take, for instance, Nauru. The MOU states that refugees will be processed under Nauruan law. This is confirmed by Australia's Department of Immigration and Citizenship in material given to asylum seekers. But, to apply for an Australian refugee visa under regulation 866.21 of the Australian Migration Act regulations, the applicant must be a person to whom 'Australia has protection obligations under the Refugee Convention.'

This is an incredible sleight of hand. It is difficult to see how any asylum seeker can argue Australia's protection obligations are applicable when they are determined to be a refugee in Nauru, under Nauruan law, which is now a signatory to the refugee convention. When I speak to lawyers, it is clear that they can barely understand the complexities in this suite of legislation. Consider the consequences for just one moment. We have shovelled off these desperate people to a country which simply cannot absorb or resettle them, in the process potentially extinguishing any legal claim they have to resettle in Australia. They will, as a result of the government's deliberate policy choice, languish in detention centres offshore for years at Australian taxpayer expense.

I hear speeches in this place about the huge cost of our asylum program. We could avoid that by treating these people decently, resettling them quickly and processing their claims quickly and efficiently. I will not go into that right now, but there is no justification for the huge expense to Australian taxpayers of this flawed policy. We need to ask ourselves what value we place on the rule of law if we are prepared to extinguish it for a political purpose. There can be no other reason for the sweeping changes in this bill.

Consider, for instance, the fact that, from 1 July 1998 to 27 July 2012, there were 79,498 protection visa applications from people who arrived in Australia by air. This is more than double the total number of people arriving by boat over the same period and it is 924 times more people than have arrived on the Australian mainland. Yet this bill will not affect air arrivals. These people, some of whom arrive in Australia with no intention of returning to their country of origin, will not be removed to an overseas detention facility. They will have access to merits review and will live and work in the community despite the fact that, statistically, only about 20 per cent to 30 per cent of them qualify for refugee status. That compares to 90 per cent of the people who arrive by boat qualify. How can this glaring difference in the way people are treated be justified? Why do we continue to demonise and penalise people who arrive by boat? It is difficult to accept the argument that Australia's approach of stripping away the protections contained in an international convention designed to protect human dignity and respect for human life should have any legal or moral force.

Addressing this issue requires more than tag lines. We must engage in a constructive regional dialogue and must first work to find durable policies in the source countries. We must use diplomacy and work with our neighbours in the region to address the common concerns about refugee flows, not just to resolve the political problems in Australia but to seek cohesive, humane policy for the region. This should include consultation with countries in the region to seek agreement to set up UNHCR approved regional processing centres and it should include a commitment by Australia to lift its refugee intake to a more realistic level. Under this process, people could not pick and choose a country to resettle in but would be allocated, as has been done successfully in the past, during the Indochinese conflict for example. I know that was slightly different, but there is no reason why this cannot be achieved. It is harder, it is slower but it is more sure.

Perhaps also it is time to discuss with the UNHCR the renegotiation of our humanitarian intake so we
can relieve some of the pressures in the region, be good neighbours and take the bulk of our humanitarian intake from the immediate region, where the problem currently exists. These are matters worthy of discussion if we really want to stop people losing their lives crossing the ocean between Indonesia and Australia.

It will not be a quick political fix that resolves these matters. Rather, it will be the intelligent, diligent
application of diplomatic skills and goodwill, and sensible policy making and sensible legislation. It may take longer but it will be surer and will produce a much improved humanitarian response.

I would like to finish with another quote from the article by Bill Maley and Penelope Mathew. The article begins:

Australia's refugee policy is now in a total mess. Rather than being guided by principles or even a measured
pragmatism, it reflects the knee-jerk response of politicians who are desperate to win votes from the least informed parts of the electorate.

Like my colleague the member for McMillan, my heart is heavy when I have to come into this place and once again speak in this way about legislation being considered by this House.

In all conscience I cannot support this piece of legislation.

Source: House of Representatives Hansard, Tuesday 27 November 2012, pp. 78-80.