Monday, January 27, 2014

Indonesian hypocrisy

Two democracies, neighbours, trading partners, no strategic tensions, no history of war. Australians had plenty of reasons to forsake Bali after the bombings there in 2002, the Jakarta Marriott Hotel suicide attack in 2003, the Australian embassy bombing in 2004 and the second Bali bombings in 2005 but they have kept going.

On November 21, I used this column to blast Prime Minister Tony Abbott over his handling of the Snowden spy revelations, saying he had been insensitive to Indonesia. On November 25, I blasted him again, saying he could have made the controversy a diplomatic victory instead of a debacle. "When Abbott spoke in Parliament I was thinking, 'No, this can't be happening'," I wrote.

Abbott was wrong then, even though he had nothing to do with the spying. But he is not wrong now. His government has quickly and successfully curbed the criminal smuggling operations from Indonesia, for which he has an emphatic election mandate. In this, the Indonesian navy has been almost invisible and its military ineffectual. Yet when an Australian navy vessel made a single, brief, unintended, inconsequential incursion into Indonesian waters, the Indonesian navy was mobilised as if it were a military threat.

Given all the events I have detailed above, this is towering hypocrisy. It proves that Jakarta has been largely indifferent to the systemic breaches of Australian waters by Indonesian boats, with Indonesian crews, from Indonesians ports. Its decision to militarise the ocean border with Australia over a minor breach is a triumph of jingoism and cynicism. It is no accident as Indonesia is in the midst of an election year and the government is still smarting from the Snowden spying revelations.

Indonesia's claim that Australian navy personnel may have tortured asylum seekers fits entirely with this cynicism. These claims are patently dubious given the long history of systematic deceit by those who employ people smugglers. Most of them have cynically destroyed their documents after reaching safety in Indonesia. There have been innumerable examples of self-harm and numerous cases of vessels being scuttled in open sea - brinkmanship of the highest order. Children have been deliberately placed at risk.

This latest example of unverifiable claims of torture follows this pattern. It is a variation on a theme. That the ABC should run with this story as if these claims of torture were credible is also a variation on a theme. It was the ABC that chose to damage Australia's relationship with Indonesia by publishing the Snowden spying leaks. It is the ABC that has a mother lode of form in portraying document-destroyers and ship-scuttlers as victims.


Speaking English an obligation: Senator Fierravanti Wells

As citizenship ceremonies and barbecues fire up across the country for Australia Day, a senior government MP called for migrants to speak English as their main language.

Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, parliamentary secretary for social services and from the Liberals' hard-right faction, told Fairfax Media that speaking English is not only a personal responsibility, it is "an obligation to our country".

Senator Fierravanti-Wells spoke no English when she went to kindergarten as a little girl in Wollongong, several years after her Italian parents migrated to Australia.

On her first day at St Francis of Assisi school, she said, there were 75 children - three of whom spoke English. "It wasn't very difficult: within three months, we had all learnt English and we were all busy singing away with our Maltese teacher, who taught us," she said.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells said Australia Day was an apt time to discuss the "personal responsibility" of migrants to learn English.

But she went further, arguing that not only should migrants learn English as a second language, they should learn to speak it as their main language.

The importance of this, she said, was underlined by the experience of ageing postwar migrants, many of whom were suffering dementia and forgetting conversational English.

"Retaining a knowledge of one's mother tongue is important but not at the expense of learning English," she said. "Learning English as a second language is a struggle but, in the 21st century, English is even more important as we move from a manufacturing to a service economy.

"But it is not just a benefit for the nation. A lack of English has a personal cost, especially in an ageing population with health issues or for parents that cannot understand their child's teacher."

Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten will use an Australia Day address in Melbourne to call for multiculturalism to be put at the forefront of Australia's identity.

"From this day on, instead of talking about migration as a threat to the peaceful, multicultural nation we have built, let us see it as the irreplaceable element in the making of modern Australia," Mr Shorten will say.

"All of us, from the first Australians to our newest citizens, should be proud to live in a country that is the best hope of so many. Because welcoming migrants is not just the duty that a safe and civilised nation owes its region and the world. It is, as it has ever been, the driver of our national prosperity and the foundation of our national success."

Mr Shorten will argue that Australia urgently needs consensus.

"The sooner we recognise the benefits that migration brings, the faster we will arrive at a policy that truly reflects the warmth of the Australian people," he will say.

But Senator Fierravanti-Wells said that there was no argument from the government.

"[That] Bill Shorten insists on harking back to outdated views on multiculturalism is puzzling," she said.

"There is no need to 'fight' for the proposition that multiculturalism has been good for this country when, overwhelmingly, the community, the Prime Minister and the government are in furious agreement."


Adelaide City Council dumps hundreds of policies to save costs and improve customer service

ADELAIDE City Council will dump hundreds of policies in a bid to save its administration from drowning in bureaucracy, improve customer service and encourage entrepreneurs.

An audit has found 321 of the council's 501 policies - more than 64 per cent - were obsolete or in need of review.

The outdated or conflicting policies cover everything from parking, busking and smoking to tree planting, volunteering, workplace bullying, complaint handling and crime prevention.

Lord Mayor Stephen Yarwood said a comprehensive policy review had not been done for "many, many years" and was needed to reduce red tape and "change the culture of the organisation".

"If you have a culture where you can't be flexible and come up with creative solutions because we've had 20 or 30 years of written rules and regulations, you don't encourage the next generation of entrepreneurs to put their best foot forward," he said.  "We certainly don't need a thick rule book that doesn't help creative people come up with solutions."

Event management and outdoor dining were two areas that needed simpler policies to make doing business in the city easier, he said.

The audit by KPMG covered the council's vast array of policies from high level strategic and corporate plans to action and management plans and hundreds of operating guidelines across every council department.  It found 206 policies were obsolete and 115 needed review.

A council report says the audit found staff were straining under the weight of "obsolete,  superseded, out of date policies and policies with no owner", that there was "no apparent process around rescinding policies" and "no central repository, oversight, (or) monitoring".

"Should the policy register continue to be out of date there is a risk that policy is not  relevant, usable or accurate," the report says.

"A risk approach has been taken to verify (that) policy documents do not have significance elsewhere in the organisation and therefore rescinding 206 documents provides minimal risk."

"This clean-up will mitigate any further confusion where documents have been superseded, duplicated or expired."

The clear out will also help identify "policy gaps".

"This will ultimately better support governance and policy development practices that are flexible and creative," the report says.


Rite of passage comes with a high risk for those seeking foreign adventures

In the early hours of January 11, Jan Meadows was lying in bed. Just after midnight she had sat up, wide awake. Her husband, woken by her stirring, asked what was wrong. "I don't know," she told him. "I just can't sleep." The time on her mobile phone on the bedside table was 4am.

A few minutes later, Meadows' phone rang. The flashing screen told her it was an incoming call from her 26-year-old son, Lee Hudswell, who was nearing the end of a two-week trip to Thailand and Laos. Meadows' mind was racing. "About 50 things were running through my mind: has he lost his wallet? His passport?" Meadows picked up the phone and asked, "Lee? What's wrong?" but it wasn't her son calling.

It was Scott Donaghy, one of two mates Hudswell was travelling with. "Jan, it's not Lee," he said. "I don't know how to tell you this," he kept saying. Meadows sat up in bed. "What is it, Scott, what's wrong?" she asked. "Lee has passed away," Donaghy told her.  "When I heard that," Meadows says, "I just started screaming."

Lee was one of the 1138 Australians who died while overseas in 2011-12, with illness the leading cause. Almost 9 million Australians travel internationally in any given year, the number of Australian tourists under 25 having doubled in the past decade. A 2013 report from independent policy think tank, the Lowy Institute, noted activities more likely to cause injury or death, such as adventure travel or extreme sports, are becoming more common.

Searching for new experiences by travelling internationally has been a rite of passage for many young Australians. But lots of young tourists leave behind parents who, while keen for their child to explore and experience the wonders of the world, are also fearful about the risks.

Lee Hudswell had travelled to Vang Vieng in Laos to have an adventure. The gregarious and talented sportsman with a degree in commerce from Wollongong University journeyed to the once quiet agricultural town, now packed with young tourists, to float along the Nam Song river on giant tractor tubes (known as "tubing"). At the time, cheap alcohol was sold by the bucket at bars on the edge of the river, and travellers got their thrills on rope swings, zip-lines, and giant waterslides.

Hudswell had climbed up a bamboo tower to have his second go on a zip-line strung high across the water. As he reached the end of the line he was flung awkwardly into the river. Young tourists on the banks noticed he hadn't surfaced and started calling to each other to look for him. The search became frantic. It took five or six minutes to pull Hudswell to the surface. He was unconscious. Scott Donaghy was one of Hudswell's friends who took him in a local tuk-tuk taxi to a nearby clinic; he died shortly afterwards.

Newspaper reports show Vang Vieng's tiny hospital recorded 27 tourist deaths in 2011 alone.

"Life is very difficult without Lee," says Meadows. "For the first six months I was in a daze. I drove through red lights, I left the gas stove on, I left the gate open in the paddock and our racehorses got out. It never leaves your mind."

Determined to save other young lives, Meadows lobbied Laotian authorities to have the zip-lines pulled down, along with the slides and swings along the notorious stretch of river. A few months after Hudswell's death the equipment was dismantled, and dozens of illegal bars were closed. "It was totally and utterly unregulated tourism," Meadows says.

David Beirman, senior lecturer in tourism at the University of Technology, Sydney, says certain events and activities in some countries encourage travellers to take risks. "Going with an unlicensed, unregistered operator who may be using faulty equipment can be a bit of a death trap," Beirman says. "I think a lot of younger travellers want to have intense experiences and so there is a tendency to expose themselves to risk a bit more than they would at home."

Paul Dillon, the director of Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia says a whole new industry in high-risk tourism has emerged in the past 20 years that encourages young people to push the boundaries. "The evidence is very clear that young people are aware of the risks and know what the consequences can be, but they think it won't happen to them," Dillon says. There is a tendency, Dillon says, that the shorter the trip, the more intense an experience young people will seek.

Melbourne psychologist Sabina Read says part of parents supporting, nurturing and raising an independent child is learning to let go. "Just having a child travel overseas is quite significant," she says. "It would be extremely unusual for a parent not to feel some sadness, anxiety, concern and a sense of loss of control in that process." But, she cautions, living in an anticipatory anxiety mode of what might go wrong is not helpful for parent or child. "Part of this process is to accept that we can't always protect our children, as much as it's our instinct to do so."

Exacerbating the difficulties for parents are the practical implications of the loss. "You have to negotiate a whole other country with their values, infrastructure, government and laws," Read says. "You specifically get on a plane where everyone is laughing and talking about where they are going and which hotel they are staying at, and you are going to identify or collect your child's body. That level of pain, distress and trauma is beyond comprehension."

In most cases, travel insurance can help families negotiate their way through unfamiliar foreign requirements. "For many families, their distress at the loss of a loved one is often compounded by the cost and complexity of the procedures in place overseas, for example post-mortem investigations and repatriations," says Justin Brown, head of the consular and crisis management division in the Foreign Affairs Department. Up to a third of Australians who travel don't take out travel insurance.

Increased demand for government help for overseas travellers is thought to have recently prompted Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop to flag a "user-pays" approach for consular assistance. Government funding may not be forthcoming if people acted in defiance of local laws, travelled without insurance, or ignored travel advice, Bishop warned. Many travel insurers will also refuse to cover travellers for illness, accident or misadventure if they believe that the traveller was inebriated at the time of the incident.

For many parents, trying to piece together the last moments of their child's life and the circumstances of their death can be incredibly distressing. "Part of the human psyche is wanting to know the details around the death," says Sabina Read. "Not being able to imagine what the landscape was like, or the culture of the people, or how exactly it happened, means that parents are dealing with an extra element of the unknown. "

After travelling to Thailand to repatriate her daughter's body in October 2012, Julie Fitzsimons says she will never go back. Nicole Fitzsimons, 24, was a talented dancer who was completing a degree in media and communications by correspondence at Griffith University. She was on holiday in Koh Samui and sitting on the back of a motorcycle driven by her partner, Jamie Keith, when a local Thai man on another motorbike hit the couple from behind as they turned into their hotel driveway. With no helmet for protection, Nicole suffered severe head injuries and died before her parents arrived.

"I didn't want to go to Thailand and I didn't want to see it [the place where Nicole died], but I'm glad I went," Fitzsimons says.

"We did a Buddhist ceremony and released her spirit. It was traumatic. But I know I'll never go back."

In the days before Nicole's memorial service, people told Fitzsimons they wanted to donate to a charity that focused on road safety and the dangers of riding motorbikes overseas. Fitzsimons says it was a way of channelling their grief.

Just months after Nicole died, 21-year-old Kate left her corporate job and became the face of the Nicole Fitzsimons Foundation. "I read the statistics of places like Bali where the hospitals there are treating up to 300 traffic victims every day, and I wanted to know why my sister wasn't given the chance to be educated about this before she went overseas," says Kate.

Last year Kate Fitzsimons travelled to 40 schools in NSW, Queensland and the Northern Territory, raising awareness of travel safety overseas.

"This has been the most fulfilling, rewarding 12 months of my life. I never thought that I'd say that so soon after losing my best friend and sister, but I think she's up there opening doors … she's with me every step of the way."


1 comment:

Stefan v said...

Licensed and regulated does not mean safe. Safe means safe. Oh sheeple, why is it that when something goes wrong the kneejerk is to run to Nanny State? Why is it that the children (not chronologically speaking, either) have not learnt responsability, and wisdom in what risks to take and which to avoid? Easier to just run wild & free, and if it goes awry then blame and punish someone else. Old enough to go everseas, get drunk and go on a dodgy flying fox, old enough to die. Old enough to go a-fornicating and motorbike riding without a helmet, old enough to reap the consequences of actions. But lets not fix the actual problem, ok.