Thursday, November 21, 2013

Joining the Dots on Indonesia

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Indonesia's Obama Celebration by Daniel Giovanni

Indonesia’s Obama Celebration by Daniel Giovanni


When the ABC started quizzing John Kerry about the recent phone tapping of Indonesian Leaders by Australia, the penny finnally dropped for me.

This whole episode has a simple explanation, and I don’t think it’s that sinister.

As a country, Indonesia faces difficult security challenges.

It has suffered a number of terrorist attacks over the last ten years including:

  1. The Jakartaa Stock Exchange bombing in 2000.

  2. The Bali Bombing in 2002 targeting Western Tourists, which killed 202 people including 164 tourists.

  3. The Jakarta Mariott Hotel bombing in 2003 killing 12 people.

  4. The suicide car bombing of the Australian embassy in 2004 killing 11 people.

  5. The bombing og the Tentena markets in 2005 killing 22 people.

  6. The bombing of three restaurants in Bali in 2005, killing 25 people.

  7. The twin bombing of the Carlton and Mariott hotels in Jakarta in 2009 killing several people.

US President Barack Obama planned to visit Indonesia in March 2010.  This visit had to be postponed until November for U.S. domestic reasons.  All presidential visits for foreign countries demand huge security operations.  When Obama visited India in 2010, a fleet of 34 warships patrolled the nearby coastline.   13 heavy-lift aircraft, three helicopters and 500 security personnel arrived in Mumbai ahead of Obama’s visit.

It would be fair to say that when it comes to presidential security, the Americans don’t leave anything to chance.

And it would be reasonable to assume in a security-challenged country like Indonesia, the Americans made no exceptions.

US security whistle-blower Edward Snowden says Australian Intelligence Personnel harvested cellphone metadata of Indoneian leaders in 2009.  He also says they attempted (but failed) to actually “tap” the phone of Indonesian leader SBY.

Just an aside here: Cellphone Metadata records the time, date, duration, source and target of a phone call.  It doesn’t record the content of a phone call.  Metadata is easily obtainable by governments claiming to act in the interests of national security.  Without trying to sound alarmist, if the government suspects you, they would have no difficulty in obtaining a detailed list of phone calls made to / from your phone.

Joining these dots, I think it’s pretty obvious what happened.

US Security was trying to be as thorough as possible, “sweeping” Indonesia for potential security risks ahead of Obama’s visit.

US Security knew Australia had close ties with Indonesia.

US Security asked Australia to gather cellphone metadata of Indonesian leaders.

Australia complied.

That metadata ended up in US Security records.

That metadata was leaked by Edward Snowden.

I don’t think this assumption makes too many huge leaps.

What conclusions can we draw?

As far as the US ws concerned, the security sweep of Indonesia was essential before Obama arrived.  Both the US and Indonesia wanted the visit to go ahead.

Australia is a faithful ally of the US, and complied willingly to US requests.

The US failed Australia in allowing this information to see the light of day.

And the final conclusion?

I don’t have super powers.  If I can figure this out based on news reports, I’m sure that the Indonesian Government can as well.  And I am sure in a candid moment they would agree that the security sweep was necessary.  Which leads me to conclude that they’re not surprised it happened.  They’re surprised that the media found out, and they’re reacting strongly to placate the anger of the Indonesian people ahead of presidential elections next year.

I hope I am correct, as this would imply that the furore will abate after those presidential elections.


Thursday, June 06, 2013

Thanks Gough

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Gough Whitlam, 1955 (National Archives of Australia)

Edward G. (Gough) Whitlam was prime ministor of Australia from 1972 to 1975.

I was only ten years old when he became PM, and a pimply young teen in high school when he made his exit, but during his time he made some tectonic changes to the fabric of Australian life.

Before I start, I should point out that politically I’m a bit of an economic conservative. I once ran as a federal candidtate for the Liberal Party in the 1990′s – a political party directly opposed to many of the philosophies of the Labor Party, of which Gough was a member, and luminary.

After watching an excellent two-part series on Gough Whitlam by the ABC : “Whitlam. The Power and the Passion“, I felt like I needed to express my gratitude to this amazing man for his legacy, of which I am a beneficiary – even though he was only Prime Minister for three years, and left office over 40 years ago.

So, Mr Whitlam, here are the things I’d like to thank you for, in no particular order:

1. Free University Education. What an amazing gift from a country to its youth. I came from a low-income family. I doubt I would have been able to go to uni if I or my parents had to pay full fees. But I got to study at one of the best Universities in Australia (University of Queensland) and didn’t have to pay a single cent. After three years I graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree and was able to work in my chosen field. My uni degree opened up wonderful opportunities for me, and today allows me to enjoy a much better lifestyle than I would have otherwise had.

2. Universal Health Care. Occasionally, when we have been ill, my family and I have free access to some of the best doctors in the country. Sometimes our health system is criticized, but I am grateful for our doctors and hospitals. In this family, they have saved our lives on several occasions. I can’t imagine ever living under a system where you could only get quality health care if you could afford it, or if an insurance company gave its imprimatur.

3. No-Fault Divorce. As anyone who has ever been through it will tell you, divorce is an unpleasant experience. Gough Whitlam introduced the “No fault” doctrine into Australian Family Law so that divorce proceedings were no longer a witch-hunt to find out whose “fault” it was that a marriage ended, but (more importantly) what outcome would be fairest for all, including the children of the marriage. While I don’t think you’ll ever come up with a system where divorcees come out of the proceedings happy with the process, I think today’s system is much more humane because of the reforms brought in by Whitlam.

4. Ending Conscription. As a primary school kid, I remember the anguish suffered by friends of my parents, whose sons had been “Called up” for military service in the Viet-Nam war. While I wasn’t of military age myself, I’m grateful that Whitlam ended conscription which had, till then, forced young men fight in wars, even though they weren’t old enoughn to vote.

5. The Trade Practices Act. Yep – it might sound like a crusty bit of legislation, but this act gave consumers a whole swag of new rights when dealing with corporations, which till then were almost impossible for average mums and dads to pursue. If you enjoy reasable guarantees and warranties on your purchases today, thank Whitlam for it.

6. Aboriginal Land Rights. What’s that got to do with a whitefella like me? When Gough poured a hand-full of dirt into the hands of Vincent Lingiari, and said “This is your land”, he helped white Australians realize that this continent was more than just a British outpost. It wasn’t just a commodity that was bought and sold by corporations. It had a wonderful heritage that reached back to the dawn of time. Although Aborigines were the custodians of that heritage, all Australians were spiritual beneficiaries.

7. Equal pay for women. I was a kid growing up in a low income family where both parents worked full-time. This law recognized that the work my mum did was just as valuable as the work done by her male counterparts. Our family benefited directly from this recognition. Today, my daughters benefit from this same recognition. They won’t be treated as second-class workers

Yes – there were economic problems associated with the Whitlam government: Inflation, Debt, Unemployment, Scandals. But, for me, the important thing is that that Whitlam made some bold decisions, and those decisions still benefit all of us four decades later.