Thursday, April 21, 2005


The Treaty of Amity and Cooperation and the truth

You’ll recall back in November last year how John Howard baulked when he was surprised by the demands of the ASEAN club that he sign the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation when he visited Laos for the first invitation ever to Australia to sit as an observer in the talks.

The matter died down somewhat until it was raised again more recently, with the visit of the Malaysian Prime Minister, and Malaysia indicated that if Australia didn’t sign, then it wouldn’t be invited to the next summit.

John Howard dismissed the idea saying:

"The treaty was delivered to the region by a mind-set that we've all really moved on from, I don't think it appropriate that Australia should sign."

More recently there’s been noises that Australia might very well sign, but Alexander Dower still implied that the Treaty’s words were unacceptable.

"We don't like the treaty as it currently stands but we are going to be talking to ASEAN about how this issue can be handled."

So what’s the big deal? What exactly is the problem with the treaty that we can’t sign it? Is it about John Howard’s personal pride as claimed by Kevin Rudd? It it about Australia’s desire to keep the pre-emptive strike option available as some have claimed?

According to a report in the Japan Times it’s about Australia’s relationship with the US.

By signing this treaty, we would be acceding to the rules of the South East Asian Nuclear Free Zone. The US does not like this zone, and to sign the treaty would put us in a difficult position with the US. We’re a major ally, relying on their nuclear umbrella and we’re not going to upset the applecart

However we are in a quandary because we set up a Pacific Nuclear Free Zone with New Zealand years ago, and it is politically impossible to argue to ASEAN that the Pacific should be nuclear free but S.E. Asia should not.

Fascinating isn’t it? And you thought Howard was just being churlish. It’s just as much of a problem for Labor also because they were the ones who created the Pacific Nuclear Free Zone.

The other amazing this is why have none of our local journalists analysed this story properly? Why have they swallowed the line that it’s an “old hat” treaty.

Journalists in Australia should be ashamed of themselves for letting this one go though to the keeper.

Note: 3000 character limit on comments
Superceded Blogger based Comments below:
Rexy, I'm really with you on this. Up to a point. It's true that now I've read the Robyn Lim article you so kindly linked to, I feel another minor mystery of recent times has been solved.

Where I disagree is that Oz journalists have failed us. I'd say that they've performed to the best of their abilities, and to expect them to be competent as well is being a tad too demanding.

Anyway, the Human Cardigan and Tony Parkinson are too busy reading the US DoD website to notice what's going on in Asia.
Wbb, It’s certainly been puzzling me why we wouldn’t sign this, and this is the first explanation that I’ve seen that comes close to making some sense. It may be wrong of course but its certainly a deeper analysis than what's come out so far.

I do however think our journalists have failed. Tony Parkinson and Greg Sheridan, supposedly the foreign editors of our best broadsheets have not explored this matter at all from what I can see..

There can be only three reasons for this. They’re lazy, and thus they rely on their standard array of sources (ie the government) to understand the story and explain the politics; they’re in cahoots with officialdom, and don’t want to upset their sources; they lack curiosity and imagination and simply do not reflect on the underlying motives.

An interesting interview on the Media Report looks at this very problem. Some quotes.

John Lloyd:

The problem is that the medias continue to report politics as if they were a neutral, almost invisible observer. We are not that, we actually co-command the stage with the politicians, and thus any narrative of politics must contain some kind of narratives about ourselves, i.e. about the media, because we are major actors.

Tom Fenton:

There is so little good, shoe-leather reporting, as I call it, and especially investigative reporting because the antidote to bias, the antidote to spin is facts, and there hasn’t been any great increase in investigative reporting

The conclusion of this report sadly is that the audiences are dumbed down, their expectations get lowered, commercial realities mean that the news is dumbed down further to meet lowering demand, thus dumbing the audiences down further. As Tom Fenton concludes, this is dangerous.

My view is that Tony Parkinson and Greg Sheridan do not consider themselves to be part of this dumbing down trend. They are too vain and pompous to think that of themselves. Therefore I go back to accusing them of being, lazy, lacking curiosity or in cahoots.

Most probably its that they're too busy enjoying their long lunches to get their shoe leather smudged.
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