Sunday, July 30, 2006

Australians fighting for other nations should be stripped of their Australian Citizenship

Tomorrow there will be a memorial service for the Australian citizen killed while participating in the Israeli's military actions on Lebanon. No doubt, Howard and Downer will be sending commiserations and commenting on the 'valour' of this soldier.

Meanwhile, another Australian citizen who was fighting for the internationally recognised government of another country sits in a cage in Gitmo, Cuba, as he has for the last 5 years. Howard has admitted he broke no Australian law, but is quite content to let him rot there without trial and with no hope of release.

I would like to see a bill introduced into our parliament to make it a condition of Australian citizenship that one doesn't join or assist any other foreign government to wage war. People who break this law in taking part in military operations which are not sanctioned by the Australian government on behalf of another nation should be stripped of their Australian citizenship. If they are killed waging war on behalf of another nation their death should be ignored by politicians and treated no differently from the death of any foreigner in a foreign conflict.

A life is a life, and it's sad when anyone dies. Frankly though, I care a lot more about the hundreds of civilians who have been killed by this round of military adventurism than I do about someone who leaves a peaceful life in a beautiful country such as Australia to wage war.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Mahathir's new enthusiasm for democracy

Although this blog is mostly concerned about Australian & NZ issues, I also follow with interest events in Malaysia, a country in which I used to live and still have much affection for.

A recent big controversy there which has attracted some attention in the Australian media is the strident attacks by former PM Tun Mahathir (incidentally, pronounced MaHAthere not Mahateer as by most of the Aus media) on current PM Abdullah Ahmad Badawi (know as Pak Lah) . These criticisms, which border on the vitriolic, imply that the current regime has betrayed Mahathirs trust and legacy, and (much more seriously) that they have sold out the nation to Singapore by canceling the planned half-bridge (designed because of the Island republic's refusal to cooperate in a full-bridge to replace the aged causeway between Singapore and Johor Bahru). He has implied that figures associated with the government stood to gain from the proposed sale of sand to Singapore which was (according to him) offered as a sweetener to get Singapore to agree to build a full-bridge. Such criticisms are highly unusual in the Malaysian climate, not so much in their substance but in the way they have been covered in the mainstream media. While opposition figures are generally able to criticize the government, they are effectively restricted from publicising these criticisms in the mass-media. Mahathir's position as former PM creates a dilemma for the administration, as the traditional perspective of respecting one's elders conflicts with the usual prerogative to protect the government from such criticism.

Although Mahathir's criticisms have been received much more attention than if they had been made by opposition figures such as Lim Kit Siang or Anwar Ibrahim, and Mahathir has not been charged, or incarcerated under the Internal Security Act (a colonial hangover which allows detention without trial on national security grounds), Mahathir has complained that the media have not covered his criticisms fairly. In a supreme irony, Mahathir - who tolerated little dissent when he was in power - has become a major advocate of freedom of the press and democracy.

This situation is perplexing for those of us who believe in free speech and democratic values. For PAS (the Islamic opposition party), they are quite happy to overlook Mahathir's track record and probably welcome him should he choose to assist them (this remains a highly unlikely option). However, I don't believe the leopard has lost his spots. While the media in Malaysia definitely needs to grow up and politicians to realise they should be accountable to their constituents. I don't believe if Mahathir was back in power things would be any better. One wonders what his objective actually is, but my feeling is that it is much more likely to be the replacement of Pak Lah with a more amenable crony that the genuine transformation of Malaysia to a true democracy - something he more than any other sought to undermine when he held the reins of power. Accordingly, it would be better if the Malaysian public were to treat his rants as the outbursts of a somewhat senile and bitter great-uncle whose time and usefulness has past.

The photo above, btw, is a reference to the nickname of Mahathir as Mahafiruan, or the great Pharaoh - as he was referred to during his time as quasi-democratic leader of Malaysia. Mahathir was responsible for many actions such as decreasing the independence of the Malaysian judiciary, locking up dissidents, including most famously his deputy Anwar Ibrahim on charges of sodomy and corruption, charges widely perceived as fabricated to remove him from politics.