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Policy, the Left, and the Solomon Islands – 10

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  • rogerraven
    While the recent defeat of the Solomons Prime Minister and his replacement by someone with the avowed aim of improving relations with Australia is not
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 8, 2008
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      While the recent defeat of the Solomons Prime Minister and his
      replacement by someone with the avowed aim of improving relations
      with Australia is not automatically to be applauded just for that
      reason, it is a good example of the way in which - with a little bit
      of patience - local tensions and pressures can potentially be
      resolved in a beneficial manner to all concerned.

      It is very obvious that the Australian ruling class wants the
      littoral states to develop in the accepted World-Bank-sponsored
      manner. It is equally obvious that the ruling elites of the
      littoral states want a similar situation, with the important
      qualification that the resulting structure must accommodate their
      corruption and/or that their dependence at least looks independent.

      Sogavare's appointment of lawyer and alleged paedophile Julian Moti
      as the Solomons' Attorney-General, and the assistance given to his
      escape from PNG by its Prime Minister, was a good example of both
      aspects. Being a fugitive, Moti would be only too willing to
      overlook anything that his patrons would want overlooked, while it
      would appear that Sogavare and Somare were very happy to give the
      Australian government a poke in the eye.

      As was said in The Australian, the 4½-year-old Regional Assistance
      Mission to the Solomon Islands - RAMSI - has much to be proud of;
      ethnic violence has been contained and there have been improvements
      in many areas of public administration. Having a quasi-illegal
      immigrant and alleged criminal as Attorney-General sits badly with
      that situation, nor would a reasonable Solomon Islander be likely to
      see otherwise.

      To that extent a Federal Police submission to a Senate committee
      inquiry into "Australia's involvement in peacekeeping operations" was
      correct in asserting "Sovereignty, respect and understanding of host
      nation culture and laws will assist in the acceptance of police
      contributions. Sovereignty will however be used in a variety of
      circumstances to obstruct change which may reduce the benefits of
      police interventions or capacity building missions as they threaten
      the status quo enjoyed by local elites,"

      There is inevitably a political aspect to relations with, within and
      between our littoral states – referring to AusAID, the same
      submission noted that "By helping to reduce poverty and promote
      development, the aid program is an integral part of Australia's
      foreign policy and security agenda."

      That political aspect should not automatically be criticised by
      socialists. Some aspects - such as pressure to adopt market-based
      mechanisms that cause harm - should clearly be criticised and
      opposed. Others, such as ensuring that laws are fair and are
      applied, deserve our support. To pressure a government such as that
      of East Timor or the Solomons towards a particular end may therefore
      be acceptable, depending on the "end". In general, the courts
      assess such things by the standard of what they refer to as "an
      officious bystander" or "a reasonable person", a mythical being who
      turns out to be somewhat more complicated once one considers a
      particular issue.

      Sogavare has called for a RAMSI "exit strategy", criticised it over
      the past year, threatened to expel Australian personnel from the
      mission, to strip the troops of their immunity from prosecution,
      accused the mission of representing too much of Canberra's interests,
      and of failing to focus on its mandate to restore law and order in
      the South Pacific nation.

      Others have accused Sogavare and his cronies of poor governance,
      abuse of power, corruption, seeking excuses to frustrate efforts to
      rebuild the discredited local police force, and gross failure to act
      against abuses such as logging.

      South Pacific Form conducted a review of RAMSI at Sogavare's request
      that praised and supported it. Only three months ago, a survey
      conducted by the Australian National University found that 90% of
      Solomon Islanders wanted RAMSI to stay and 80% feared a return of
      violence if RAMSI was to leave soon. Those percentages are a
      remarkable achievement – at the 2007 Federal election, the two-party
      preferred vote for the successful candidate never exceeded 76%; the
      median was 58%. However, 89% of Australians continue to believe the
      ABC provides a valuable service to the community, so such strong
      support can occur.

      While an internal matter for the Solomon Islands, the democratic
      removal of Sogavare does hold promise that better approaches are
      prevailing. In East Timor, the Solomons, and Fiji, the local
      powerbrokers have become accustomed to a moderate Australian
      reaction, and, being confident of non-interference unless they choose
      to start clashes with the Australian presence, feel relatively
      unrestrained in their internal power struggles. Bainimarama's
      ostentatious travels within the region when he was openly plotting a
      coup showed his disdain of Australia and New Zealand.

      That said, of course, the market-based approach is fundamentally bad,
      as will become very clear in seven or eight years, when the Solomons
      is logged out and there is little left to sell except a wasteland.

      * that report should be tabled in the next sitting of the Senate.
      * charges against Julian Moti were laid promptly, with the Queensland
      magistracy clearly regarding him as having a case to answer.
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