Saturday, 17 November 2007

Featured Column - "Blind to the Greatest Threats"

This week's featured column is from The Weekend Australian. The author is Cameron Stewart. It's long, but very interesting - stick with it.

One wonders what sort of reception British security ana­lyst Chris Abbott will receive when he stands up in front of an Australian Federal Police conference next week to espouse his provocative thesis on national security.

Abbott's beliefs fall well outside the mainstream of national security debate in this country. But with the war against Islamist terrorists in trouble on many levels, AFP Commissioner Mick Keelty has invited Abbott to Australia, believing his alternative views are worth hear­ing.

The central premise of Abbott, a researcher with independent British think tank the Oxford Research Group, is that terrorism is not the greatest threat to world security and that it is distracting the West from other, much greater, threats to security. These include climate change, competition for scarce re­sources, marginalised populations and the trend towards militarisation.

He advocates talking with terror­ists, reducing use of fossil fuels, quitting Iraq and adopting fresh, non-military, long-term strategies to help improve global security. "We are looking at a very unstable global system by the middle of the century unless something is done quickly," Abbott tells Inquirer. Abbott is program co-coordinator with the Oxford group specialising in global security research. He was previously a campaigner and re­searcher on a range of social and environmental issues.

He argues that the war on terror has been too reactive and that the West has failed to tackle sufficiently the issue of why present terrorism happens. "We are trying to propose a new system, which focuses on preventative rather than reactive policies and addresses some of the root causes of terrorism." This includes "address­ing legitimate political grievances and aspirations of marginal groups" and, controversially, "dialogue with terrorist leaderships".

Abbott is aware that such proposals are a challenge to mainstream thinking on national security that say you must never talk with terrorist leaders lest you be seen to legitimise their anarchic, violent crusade. "We are sometimes wrongly ac­cused of being apologists, but if you want to stop terrorism you have to understand it in order to help prevent it" he says. "We are not saying that terrorism is caused by foreign policy but we are saying some foreign polices are exacerbating it."

Abbott, co-author of a recent Oxford Research Group study, Be­yond Terror: The Truth about the Real Threats to the World argues that since the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, the West including Australia, has relied too heavily on military force as a means of combat­ing terrorism. He says the failure of securing peace in Iraq and the revival of the Taliban in Afghanistan offer proof that the military-led approach to combating global terror is failing.

But his solutions are vague and necessarily long-term. He calls on Western governments to combat the problem of marginalisation of Muslims, including income inequality and political exclusion. "Policies will need to go beyond traditional methods of counter-terrorism to incorporate a wide range of conflict prevention and resolution methods," he says. But what about research, such as that by US author Robert Pape, showing many suicide bombers are well-educated, middle-class men with many opportunities and op­tions? "We are not talking only about economic marginalisation," Abbott says. "The link between poverty and terrorism is tenuous at best. We are talking about political and social marginalisation." It is Abbott's research on climate change that is believed to have attracted Keelty's attention.

Abbott's Oxford Research Group study found that climate change threatens to have more profound security implications than is com­monly believed. "Climate change will result in the displacement of peoples, severe nat­ural disasters and food shortages, leading to much higher levels of migration, increased human suffer­ing and greater social unrest," the study says. "This has long-term security implications for all coun­tries, which are far more serious, lasting and destructive than those of international terrorism."

Keelty does not disagree. In a provocative speech given in Adelaide in late September, the AFP chief described climate change as "the security issue of the 21st century" and one that could create climate refugees "in their millions". Law enforcement agencies would struggle to cope with global warm­ing's "potential to wreak havoc, cause more deaths and pose national security issues like we've never seen before", Keelty said. His comments were played down by Prime Minister John Howard, who said terrorism remained the biggest threat.

"Terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism are far more immediate threats to Australia than the mass movement of people from China as a result of water shortage," Howard said. "But I don't think it's a question of an either-or." Yet Abbott does think, to some, extent it is a question of either-or. He believes the focus on military responses to terrorism has blinded governments to the need for long-term, alternative, non-military solu­tions and that time is running out. "Unless urgent, coordinated ac­tion is taken in the next five to 10 years on all these issues, it will become almost impossible to avoid the earth becoming a highly unstable place by the middle years of this century," he says.

Abbott's study says the present militaristic approach to fighting ter­ror in Iraq and Afghanistan has increased, rather than decreased, the likelihood of terror attacks. Rather than try to fight extremists in their homelands, Abbott advocates a coordinated assault on terrorism funding to rob groups such as al Qa'ida of the ability to carry out big attacks. He proposes a new system of "sustainable security" as a means of tackling what he sees as the four main security threats.

To ease competition over scarce resources, especially oil, Abbott says there needs to be greater energy efficiency, recycling, resource man­agement and large-scale funding for alternatives to oil. On climate change he calls for carbon taxes and the rapid replace­ment of carbon-based energy sources with local renewable resources. On the issue of marginalisation his remedies are similar to those of"', anti-poverty campaigners such as Bono: reform global systems of aid, trade and debt relief, and make poverty a world priority.

With militarisation, Abbott calls for greater disarmament and bans on the development of nuclear and bio weapons. They are ideas that tradi­tionally have been championed by the Left, but they will be dismissed by conservatives as unrealistic, unworkable and, in some cases, such as talking with terrorists, counterpro­ductive. South African archbishop and Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu says.

The group's study is useful as a means of refocusing the security debate. "It penetrates beneath the surface of the "debate in the West over its security to demonstrate that the real threat to global peace and stability lies in our 'failure to recognise our interference, that the wellbeing of the
privileged depends on the well-being of the marginalised."

Chris Abbott will speak at the AFP conference International Policing Toward 2020 in Canberra, which runs next Monday to Wednesday.

I don't agree with everything Abbott says, but his ideas are refreshing and they open up the debate.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Don't Mention the War

A scan of Today’s Oz reveals very little news about the situation in Iraq.

On page 12, there is a report about the Iraqi army’s seizure of a Sunni clerical group’s headquarters. Hidden in this report is a brief reference to a friendly fire incident in which dozens of Sunni’s, part of a group recruited by the US, were killed by these same US forces. No actual casualty figures were given.

When this report is cross-referenced against statistics posted by Iraq Body Count (, it correlates with a report of an incident in Tarmiya where up to 45 Sunni Awakening Council members reported mistakenly killed in US air and ground attack.

This is interesting in the sense that there has been a lot of commentary about a perception that the media only reports the bad news – not in this case apparently.

Another observation I’d make about Iraq is that neither of the major political parties are prepared to let the war become an issue in the campaign. I’d suggest that there are two very different reasons for this.

In the case of the coalition, there are two many possible negative associations ranging from the mythical WMDs to the AWB scandal. In addition, many surveys have shown that the war is not popular with Australians. The coalition’s strategists have obviously concluded that any gains to be made trading on their apparent ownership of the national security issue could be lost through these negatives.

In the case of Labor, there is a reluctance to be involved because of the risk of being wedged on national security.

It’s a sad commentary on our nationhood when the fact our servicemen are risking their lives daily in Iraq doesn’t rate as an election issue.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Wage Restraint?

Wage Restraint?

Today I read a report which looked at executive salaries in Australia. During the last twelve months, they have risen an average of 28%. Taken across a week, this constitutes an increase of $11000 for these people.

These executives are presumably the same characters who are keen to move their employees on to AWAs, which will decrease their take home pay.

Two things concern me about this. One is that we now have a corporate culture where this is considered OK. The other is that the Australian concept of a “fair go” seems to have gone completely out the window.

It’s also interesting to conjecture where this sits amongst calls for restraint for wage earners in terms of threats from inflation, and dire warnings from coalition pollies about wage breakouts under Labor.

I guess if you earn as much as some of these individuals you develop the idea that you’re somehow special and conventional considerations don’t apply.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Sunday's Feature - " Workers Exploited"

Today's feature is an article by Edmund Burke in the Sunday Mail.

Labour-hire companies have been accused of exploiting Asian backpackers employed to pick fruit in southeast Queensland.
An investigation by the Queensland Workplace Rights Ombudsman has produced allegations of below-award wages. It also heard claims that up to 16 workers were charged rent of $80 a week each to share a four-bedroom house.
Ombudsman Don Brown has targeted two contractors in the Lockyer Valley, about 90km west of Brisbane — Gatton Harvesting Pry Ltd and Basil Harvesting Pty, Ltd — for underpaying workers.
"Both of those companies ... are owned and operated by expat Koreans and employ large numbers of Korean back¬packers," Mr Brown said.
He said it was possible the companies erred because of confusion surrounding Work-Choices, and acknowledged a shortage of local fruit-pickers.
But "I received complaints from local workers that they were not able to get work in the industry. It is cheaper... to hire backpackers because they have to pay to use their buses and accommodation", he said.
Gatton Harvesting owner Brian Kim said he paid workers $16.25 an hour by mistake when he should have been paying the federal rate of $16.90: "I did not know that we had the award wrong."
Ju Hwang of Basil Harvesting said her company had been paying $15.50, but would change to the award rate.
Pay slips seen by The Sunday Mail on Friday indicated workers were still being paid $15.50.
Ms Hwang said she was negotiating with farmers to let her pay correct wages: "It is a tough time for farmers here, and sometimes they do not pay us until one year after the work is done. We cannot pay our workers unless we are paid."
The ombudsman investigation also unearthed claims of overcrowded accommodation. Most of the Korean, Japanese and Taiwanese backpackers live at Carton's caravan park, but others pay extra to live in houses. Mr Kim owns two in Gatton which house casual workers, who can extend working holiday visas by a year if they work on a farm for at least 88 days.
At one home on Friday, Korean woman Lee Han Saem, 31, said she shared the five-bedroom house with 10 others. There were many shoes at the door of Mr Kim's other five-bedroom house, but the Korean tenants refused to discuss work.
Under council regulations, residential houses with more than three boarders must follow special rules.
"I will be supplying a list of the properties allegedly involved in accommodating the backpacker workers to the council for appropriate action," Mr Brown said.

Remembrance Day

This is my tribute for Remembrance Day. It's dedicated to all servicemen and women, but particularly to those who served in Infantry -


Each man eases
Pack down, webbing loose
Flares his rationed smoke.
Each man watches
Steel point bamboo stabs
Avoids all other eyes.

Radio hisses
Skipper checks the map
Flicks his compass open
Squints at the scrub
Stink of sweat and fear
Our shared reality

Move now!
The signal curses down the line.
I heave my pack again.

Hugh White - Without America

Hugh White is always provocative, and doesn't pull any punches when it comes to criticising current defence policy. In 1995, he was appo...