Live animal abuse - and Australia's “hidden” foreign policy

By John August

The recent exposure of animal cruelty at Indonesian abattoirs has generated a flurry of interest.  It's becoming clear that the MLA and private concerns had some idea of what was going on, but allegedly "sanitised" the reports.  There was a vested interest in not looking further, and accepted them at face value.

In fact this sort of thing is ingrained.  Long ago, the Australian Government decided to put profits and exchange above human rights.  It may have seemed reasonable at the time, but we've been sliding down the slippery slope ever since.

Many possibly unethical foreign policy decisions are outside public scrutiny - and may even be outside of Government scrutiny - benefiting some sectional interest - regardless of the human rights abuses, the atrocities, the corruption - or even the animal abuses - that result.

There was the controversy over the grain shipments to Iraq, with the usual protestations that people "didn't know".  Still, its a convenient excuse - and unless there's clear evidence to the contrary, an easy claim to make.

But what if things were in fact known by the Howard Government and the bureaucracy - and it was covered up ?  We wouldn't know any better, and we wouldn't know enough to challenge the convenient excuses.

There are the injustices we know about - and its reasonable to suspect there's a lot that haven't seen the light of day - yet.

I know one particular illustrative example - that of Waratah Gillespie and the atrocities committed in Bougainville by the PNG army. In that story, things eventually blew up with the PNG Army rebelling against the Government after they tried to bring in mercenaries.

But prior to that, the PNG army was committing atrocities against the Bougainvillean people.  Waratah's book contains a litany of gunships spraying villages with fire, of killing people by tying them to gearboxes and throwing them in the river, or just plain lining up people and shooting them.  And - apart from anything else - there were Australian supplied gunships that should not have been there in the first place, something denied by Howard Government.

Waratah's story is a courageous one - of her taking small boats with medical supplies and getting shot at by planes while making her way to shore.

Waratah was even targeted by the then NSW Police Special Branch, who laid charges against her for the medicines she was carrying to take to Bougainville, which were later dropped as a media furore developed.

Waratah achieved something granted to very few - she was a person of interest to the highest levels of foreign policy, and while Australia is not a police state, it clumsily set its sights on her as best it could.

I hear so many conspiracy theorists about how the Government is out to get them - but they're not really important enough for Government to take notice.  It only happens rarely, or we'd all be aware of it - but it happened to Waratah.

And, the Howard Government was peddling the same old broken record - there's some reports of atrocities on Bougainville, but we don't really know what's going on. This was at the same time as Waratah was broadcasting her first person reports from Bougainville, much as the PNG Army tried to jam her. It was something that could have been picked up by Australian Foreign Affairs, but they had a vested interest in looking the other way. Then there were the helicopters which were still being delivered by Australia to PNG, even though there was clear eyewitness evidence that they were being used as gunships - which they were not supposed to be used as.

More recently, the ABC program "Hungry Beast" examined Australia's foreign policy.  While the Government officially cheers on the pro-democracy movements in Libya and Egypt, a 2005 trade commission white paper wanted to increase trade with Libya, and the Australian Government wanted to up trade with Mubarek just after he'd rigged an election.  And Australia presently trades with Eritrea, Equatorial Guinea and Saudi Arabia - when those Governments have been known to kidnap and shoot rebels, or shoot pro-democracy protesters.  And, as Hungry Beast closed with ... lets not even mention China.

This is Australian foreign policy.  Not just the ones that attract media attention from time to time, but the hidden injustices that goes on every day, forever beyond public scrutiny.

We've been sliding down the slippery slope for a while now. It may be too slippery to even think about scrambling back now.

John August is the Convener of  "The Sydney Shove" -