Browsing articles in "Diplomacy"
Friday 11th September 2015 - 8:58 am
Comments Off on PM meeting community groups to plan refugee intake

PM meeting community groups to plan refugee intake

by Alan Thornhill

Many vulnerable displaced families in Europe are in desperate need of assistance, the Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton, said today.

He was responding to an ABC radio interviewer who asked why the government is concentrating on women and children, in its plans to offer an extra 12,000 permanent places, to refugees from Middle East conflict.

Mr Dutton said families had suffered much, as a result of war in Syria and Iraq, and they would have to deal with that trauma for some time yet.

He – and Prime Minister Tony Abbott – will be meeting community groups – that can help with the resettlement of the extra refugees from Syria and Iraq, that Australia has agreed to take.

He said the first of them would arrive before Christmas.

Mr Dutton also said UNHCR authorities, he had met on a recent trip to Europe, had been pleased by Australia’s decision to increase its refugee intake.

But extra money was important, too.

And they had also welcomed Australia’s decision to donate an extra $44 million to buy blankets – and other relief supplies – for displaced families living in refugee camps in Europe.

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Thursday 10th September 2015 - 9:44 am
Comments Off on These are not-so-peaceful times in the Pacific

These are not-so-peaceful times in the Pacific

by Alan Thornhill

Analysis

Tony Abbott can’t expect a heroes’ welcome in Port Moresby today, like that John Howard received in Honiara a few years ago.

Mr Howard, who was then Prime Minister, had just launched the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) which was to restore peace there, after years of low level civil war.

His reward, from the local people, was a greeting so rapturous that Mr Howard was forced to confess, on his return, that he was glad it did not happen everywhere he went.

He admitted that he would not have been able to restrain his ego, if it did.

Mr Abbott is in no such danger in Papua New Guinea, where he is attending a Pacific Islands Forum meeting.

Indeed, his policies on climate change, have already brought about a fundamental reassessment of Australia’s once high standing throughout Melanesia.

So much so, in fact, that the President of Kiribati, Anote Tong, has taken to calling the Abbott Government the “bad brother” of the Pacific.

And there has even been talk of a walkout, by Pacific Island nations, from this year’s Forum meeting, over the issue.

What’s behind all this?

Fear.

People in the Solomons,for example, know that their low lying island homes could be flooded, if the Antarctic ice shelf melts, as a result of global warming.

Scientists admit that ambient temperatures, around the world, may not have risen quite as much yet – as their research had led them to expect.

But they also say there are indications that some of the extra heat – generated by climate change – is being absorbed by the sea.

That does not provide a lot of comfort to some one who lives with his family on, say, San Cristobal, or one of the other 800 or so islands in the Solomons.

And – although education levels throughout Melanesia are not high – at least by Western standards – awareness of this danger is.

Indeed, as one who has recently returned, from a two year assignment in the Solomons, your author can assure readers that the people of that young nation carry a low-simmering anger, that is readily directed towards anyone who might be called a climate change sceptic.

And Mr Abbott, who once dismissed the entire issue as “absolute crap” is still seen in that way, in the Pacific.

The government’s Labor opponents, at home, say little progress has been made, over recent months, in talks designed to secure a rapprochement on this issue.

Indeed Tanya Plibersek, the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, says it is understood negotiations between the Abbott Government and other members of the 16 nation forum have served only to anger some of the Pacific nations.

And, she says, they are now demanding Mr Abbott make meaningful concessions at the forum in Papua New Guinea.

In a joint statement with her colleague, Matt Thistlewaite, the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration, Ms Plibersek also said Mr Abbott has managed to threaten the Forum’s very existence, through his intransigence on climate change.

Critics are urging Mr Abbott to remember that Australia, too, has a big stake in this issue.

For if the worst does, indeed, happen – and sea levels in the area do rise catastrophically – it could well be facing another refugee crisis.

Just when current experience suggests that one is enough.

Thursday 10th September 2015 - 8:02 am
Comments Off on The remaining questions

The remaining questions

by Alan Thornhill

Analysis

A double victory is possible.

The decision the Prime Minister announced yesterday, to take an extra 12,000 refugees, from Syria and the Middle East, did follow a strong campaign by his critics.

And many Australians will regard it as – clearly – “the right thing” to do.

Even if the motives remain questionable.

It is, after all, only a few days since Mr Abbott was declaring that if more refugees were to be taken from Syria, the intake from other areas would have to be cut.

So perhaps Tony is learning to listen.

That would be something.

After all, Tony Windsor – a former – and perhaps future – MP – who knows Mr Abbott well, has described him, in a recent newspaper article, as a “brawler” who would rather fight than govern.

Or listen.

So his softening, on the Syrian refugee issue, might well be seen as a victory, in that sense, too.

Unkind people, of course, will suggest that it has something to do with the upcoming Canning bye-election.

Especially as some pundits have already suggested that Mr Abbott’s grip on his present job, that of Prime Minister, would not survive a poor result for the Liberal candidate in that contest.

Some cynics have even been saying noted that the government’s new intake figure – 12,000 – is just a little bigger than the 11,000 that Labor has been talking about.

But don’t listen.

What harm would there be in giving Mr Abbott a little credit, at least for now, for his decision to take in 12,000 vulnerable people, who have been displaced by war in Syria and Iraq.

That, of course, was only one of three decisions taken yesterday.

The Abbott government also decided to give $44 million to the UNHCR, to purchase blankets and other urgently needed relief supplies, for other displaced people, trapped in the conflict zone.

That decision, too, will probably be given a big tick by most Australians, even if Pauline Hanson is worrying, publicly, about “where the money is coming from.”

Some people are very hard to please.

What, though, of that other decision taken yesterday?

That, of course, is the decision to extend Australian air strikes into Syria.

Even bigger questions still hang over that.

What, realistically, can the Australian government be expecting to achieve, as a result of it, for example?

And, of course, what comes next?

Wednesday 9th September 2015 - 1:48 pm
Comments Off on Australia to extend air strikes into Syria

Australia to extend air strikes into Syria

by Alan Thornhill

Australia is to extend its air strikes into Syria. This is the announcement made by the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, and his Defence Minister, Kevin Andrews

The Government has decided to extend Australia’s air strikes against Daesh into Syria.

This marks the next phase of Australia’s contribution to the international coalition effort to disrupt, degrade and ultimately defeat the Daesh death cult.

The decision to expand air operations into Syria has been given careful consideration.

It follows Iraq’s requests for international assistance to strike Daesh strongholds and a formal request from the Obama Administration.

The legal basis for these operations is the collective self-defence of Iraq.

The Daesh death cult does not respect borders and threatens the security of Iraq and the international community from its safe havens in Syria.

Daesh controls a large amount of territory in eastern Syria that serves as a source of recruitment and oil revenues, and as a base from which it continues to launch attacks in both Syria and Iraq.

From Syria, Daesh has been able to operate training bases, conduct planning and preparation for attacks, and move fighters and materiel into, and out of, Iraq.

The extension of the Australian Defence Force’s operations into Syria will help protect Iraq and its people from Daesh attacks inside Iraq and from across the border in Syria.

The Daesh death cult is reaching out to Australians, as terrorist incidents and disrupted attacks here have demonstrated.

Australia joins a number of other nations – including the United States, Canada, Arab countries and Turkey – which are already contributing to the effort against Daesh in Syria.

Australia’s Air Task Group, deployed to the Middle East region, consists of six F/A-18 Hornet aircraft, a KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport and an E-7A Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft.

Australia remains committed to the international effort to counter Daesh, which threatens stability in Iraq and the Middle East and the security of Australians at home and in our region.

As the Government has stated before, the size and nature of Australia’s overall commitment to defeat Daesh will remain under regular review.

This is a decision that is firmly in Australia’s national interest.

It reflects the Government’s steadfast commitment to keeping Australians safe from terrorism, preventing the spread of violent extremism to our shores and responding to a deepening humanitarian crisis.

Wednesday 9th September 2015 - 1:24 pm
Comments Off on Australia to accept 12,000 more:PM

Australia to accept 12,000 more:PM

by Alan Thornhill

The Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, has announced that Australia will accept an extra 12,000 refugees from the conflict in the Syria and Iraq.

He said these would be additional, permanent places, under Australia’s humanitarian arrangements.

The usual health and other checks would be made.

Mr Abbott also told reporters in Canberra that the government would give the UNHCR an extra $44 million to buy blankets and other urgently needed relief items for displaced people in the area.

He said this relief would go mainly to women, children and other vulnerable people.

Monday 7th September 2015 - 7:30 am
Comments Off on Tony Abbott says Australia will take more…..

Tony Abbott says Australia will take more…..

by Alan Thornhill

The Prime Minister has signaled that Australia will take more people from war torn Syria.

Addressing reporters in Canberra, Mr Abbott said:” Like just about every other Australian I was moved by the horrific imagery of that little boy washed up on a beach in Turkey.

“Absolutely awful imagery and certainly no parent could fail to be moved by what we saw.

“Australia is a country which has always taken its international obligations seriously.

“Australia is a country which has always done what we can to assist when people are in trouble around the world and we certainly are not going to change our character now.

“So, I have asked the Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to go urgently to Geneva to talk to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees on what more Australia can do to assist on the migration crisis that is being driven by the problems in the Middle East.

“We are disposed to take more people from that troubled region under our refugee and humanitarian program and we are open to providing more financial assistance to the UNHCR in the weeks and months ahead.”

Then he added:” I should point out that we are already doing a lot.

“In the last financial year we took almost 4,500 people from the trouble spots of Eastern Syria and Northern Iraq.

“Since 2011, we have provided $155 million in humanitarian assistance for the Syrian crisis and just this year alone we have provided $100 million in humanitarian assistance for the Middle East more broadly.

“We are a country which, on a per capita basis, takes more refugees than any other. We take more refugees than any other through the UNHCR on a per capita basis but obviously this is a very grave situation in the Middle East.”

Mr Abbott’s policy of turning back refugee boats has been sharply criticised, in the past week.

This criticism has included an editorial in The New York Times urging European countries not to follow his example, as they struggle to deal with the current crisis in their region.

Thursday 13th August 2015 - 12:48 pm
Comments Off on Pacific leaders square off over climate risks

Pacific leaders square off over climate risks

by Alan Thornhill

Analysis

Anote Tong, the President of Kiribati, knows his country is just a tiny speck in the vast Pacific Ocean.

But he also knows the danger its people – and many other Pacific Islanders – will face if global warming is accompanied by rising sea levels as the Antarctic ice sheet melts.

Inundation.

Loss of homelands.

The passions such risks inspire are squarely behind an appeal President Tong is making to stop an industry our Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, still finds attractive.

Coal mining.

The Pacific President wants nothing less than a ban on all new coal mines.

“Kiribati, as a nation faced with a very uncertain future, is calling for a global moratorium on new coal mines,” he says.

“It would be one positive step towards our collective global action against climate change.

“And it is my sincere hope that you and your people would add your positive support in this endeavour,” said President Tong, in an appeal he addressed, primarily, to Mr Abbott.

“Let us join together as a global community and take action now,” he said.

“The construction of each new coal mine undermines the spirit and intent of any agreement we may reach, particularly in the upcoming COP 21 in Paris, whilst stopping new coal mine constructions now will make any agreement reached in Paris truly historical,” the President added.

“As leaders, we have a moral obligation to ensure that the future of our children, our grandchildren and their children is safe and secure.

“For their sake, I urge you to support this call for a moratorium on new coal mines and coal mine expansions.”

In cases like this, it is always useful to have allies.

And – this time – the Australia Institute and Greenpeace have declared their support for President Tong.

Ben Oquist, Executive Director of The Australia Institute, said bluntly:”there is no plausible scenario in which a world that is tackling climate change is a world that needs more coal mines.”

The Executive Director of Greenpeace International, Dr. Kumi Naidoo, endorsed that warning, saying:”I join President Tong in calling on all leaders of similarly threatened islands to stand together and demand climate justice.

“I have now seen first hand what a sea level rise means for the people of Kiribati.

“It is not some scientific modelling or projection – it is real, it is happening now and it will only get worse.”

All are waiting for Mr Abbott’s response.

Thursday 13th August 2015 - 11:12 am
Comments Off on Australia joins new Asian bank

Australia joins new Asian bank

by Alan Thornhill

Joe Hockey says Asia will face an $US8 trillion infrastructure financing shortfall over the coming decade.

To help deal with that gap, the Treasurer said, Australia would become a founding member of the Asian Infrastructure Development Bank.

He introduced enabling legislation into Federal Parliament today.

Mr Hockey said this would be “a significant step to address this challenge.”

” This is a global multilateral initiative that will strive to bring best practice for the delivery of much-needed infrastructure to the region,” he added.

” It will catalyse private sector investment and will co-finance projects with other development banks and private sector financiers.”

Mr Hockey said:”Australia’s prosperity and economic growth is tied closely to the region.

“It is therefore important that Australia is involved in major regional economic initiatives like the Bank.

“On the 29th of June this year, I gave effect to the Government’s commitment to join the AIDB by being the first to sign the Bank’s Articles of Agreement in Beijing.”

Mr Hockey said 49 other countries had followed.

“The decision to join the Bank was made following extensive discussions with key partners inside and outside the region.

“This included participating in negotiations on the Bank’s design with 56 other prospective founding member countries.

“These negotiations resulted in a commitment that the Bank will be based on best practice.

“This will ensure that all members will be involved in the direction and decision making of the Bank,” Mr Hockey said.

“As the fifth-largest regional shareholder of the Bank, Australia will be able to influence the Bank’s decisions and strategic direction,” he added.

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Alan Thornhill is a parliamentary press gallery journalist.
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