There is widespread perception in the third world that “the Australian military is an extension of the Pentagon”. In support of this, we see how the Australian and American navies exchange know-how and technology; they were also involved in joint operations in the Gulf in order to implement sanctions against Iraq. In this context one can understand the grievances of the Islamic terrorists when more than half a million innocent Iraqi children died as a result of this international embargo, in which Australia played an important role. Hence, I would argue, that a position of neutrality in the war on terror and adopting a foreign policy framework that is independent of the United States is the right course in the future (Pilger, 2002, p.8).
The other glaring flaw in Australian diplomacy is its double standards, especially in its relations with its neighbouring countries. For nearly forty years since 1965, the Australian government supported the atrocities carried out by General Suharto in neighbouring Indonesia. John Pilger, an internationally respected journalist draws out this case of hypocrisy in an emphatic style thus,
“During the long years of Suharto’s dictatorship, which was shored up by western capital, governments and the World Bank, state terrorism on a breathtaking scale was ignored. Australian prime ministers were far too busy lauding the “investment partnership” in resource-rich Indonesia. Suharto’s annexation of East Timor, which cost the lives of a third of the population, was described by the foreign minister Gareth Evans as “irreversible”. As Evans succinctly put it, there were “zillions” of dollars to be made from the oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea”. (Pilger, 2002, p.7)
The other criticism of Australian foreign policy is relating to its illegal immigrant controls. The rationale given for long detainments of illegal immigrants in inhospitable conditions is very flimsy. The four thousand odd poor migrants, who land on the shores of the Australian continent hoping for better economic opportunities, will not destabilize the economic system. Yet, most of these desperate people (who are mostly Asian Muslims) are locked up in detainment centres with no opportunities for a reprieve. The officials claim that this is not based on racial lines and that such measures are imperative in the post 911 world. But this argument does not hold much weight, for the international community perceives this as a continuation of the notorious “White Australia” policy of the decades gone by, which flaunted white supremacist tendencies. The only reasonable way in which Australia can reclaim the trust of its Asian neighbours is by adopting a more welcoming stance with regard to destitute migrants, which will act as a symbolic severance from its blatantly racist “White Australia” past. It will also mean that the consequences of America’s war on terror will be mitigated in Australian soil (Shuja, 2006, p.445).
The mainstream media in Australia, which is a near monopoly, can present only one sided views to the general public – a view that is in favour of vested interests. So it is difficult to gauge the direction and effectiveness of Australian foreign policy from the accounts of this source of information (misinformation?). Hence, heeding to the opinions of intellectuals from elsewhere in the world, where there is greater freedom of press and a thriving culture of dissent, is essential. For this reason, I had perused the research conducted by Edward Herman and Gerry O’Sullivan in support of my thesis. The authors infer that the killing of a few thousand people by organizations such as Al-Qaeda is blown out of proportion while state-sponsored terrorist acts during the “South African apartheid regime, the Suharto regime in Indonesia, the “Contras” in Nicaragua, etc”, where Australia had been involved (militarily or diplomatically), account for more than 2.5 million deaths (Snyder, 2006, p.336). Surely, when compared to this huge figure, the victims of terrorist acts by non-state entities seem miniscule. Hence, it is high-time that Australia abandons its “follow America” approach to foreign policy and adopts a more pragmatic policy framework that would help it regain lost goodwill within the international community. I personally believe that a closer association with rising Asian powers such as China, India and Indonesia to go with severance of military ties with the United States will comprise this new direction (Shuja, 2006, p.447).