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some useful comments from john hewson

  1. By John Hewson, Dean of The Macquarie Graduate School of
    Management.

    Sydney - Friday - March 7: (RWE) - In his resignation speech on
    August 8, 1974, US president Richard Nixon claimed: "If some of my
    judgements were wrong, they were made in what I believed at the time to
    be in the best interest of the nation."
    Honest statement? Or rewriting of history and rationalisation?
    And did he really believe it?
    Or perhaps "national interest", like its sister, patriotism, is
    the last refuge of the political scoundrel.
    "National interest" is a term I have become acutely sensitive
    to, especially under the Howard government.
    Let me take three areas where this has been widely claimed by
    Howard and his ministers: "our" commitment to war in Iraq; "our"
    decision not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol to attempt to reduce
    greenhouse gas emissions; and the proposed free trade agreement with the
    United States.
    And notice that we are "deputy sheriff" to the US on all three
    of these issues.
    In the face of outcomes that could well turn out to be
    significantly against our national interest, in each of these areas, I
    can almost hear Howard's resignation speech already.
    And I'll bet he will then still swear "true blue" to the value
    of our alliance with the US.
    It is with disbelief that I observe Howard's willingness to
    commit troops, ships and planes to what is potentially a Middle East war
    with the claim that it is in our "national interest".
    Saddam Hussein needs to be stopped. But leave George Dubya and a
    handful of his other deputies to do it, and only with United Nations
    sanction. This is not our war.
    This is not one where Australian lives should be sacrificed, nor
    our diplomatic efforts concentrated.
    It's damaging our reputation and making us a prime terrorist
    target in the region.
    Our focus and concern should be more on North Korea and its
    mounting nuclear capability.
    We are in a strong diplomatic position.
    Why aren't we leading (at least) the Asian diplomatic push to
    build a "coalition of the willing" against North Korea?
    It's always hard to compare monsters, and perhaps we shouldn't,
    but North Korea's Kim Jong-il is a madman.
    I fear he's even capable of lobbing a nuclear weapon across the
    border to test the water.
    Just consider the way he has reacted to having been listed as
    one of the three in the "axis of evil".
    Surely, ensuring a sensible outcome on North Korea - that is,
    avoiding a potential Asian disaster - is much more in our "national
    interest".
    In the same vein as Iraq, we are playing up to the US by not
    ratifying the Kyoto Protocol.
    Ratification will happen with or without us. We have punched
    above our weight in negotiating our current position.
    We can increase our greenhouse gas emissions by 8 per cent over
    the 1990 base for the first commitment period (2008-12) when almost
    everyone else has to cut them by 10 per cent, and we get special
    allowance for carbon sinks, land clearing etc.
    Kyoto may not be ideal, but it's the only game in town. An
    independent study has revealed that Australian industry, overall, will
    be better off if we ratify.
    Finally, there was disturbing
    evidence this week that the much-coveted free trade agreement with the
    US may be contrary to our "national interest" and, ironically, this
    might be our "reward" for supporting the US on Iraq and Kyoto.
    I have always argued that as a trade-dependent nation, Australia
    should grab whatever trade liberalisation opportunities it can, be they
    bilateral, regional or multilateral, but always in the context of
    unilateral cuts within our own protection.
    Against that background, the Tasman ACIL Consulting study,
    prepared for the government-funded Rural Industries Research and
    Development Corp, released this week, is worthy of careful scrutiny.
    The report concludes: "Australian national interests will be
    best served if our negotiators devote their time and energies to the
    pursuit of global trade liberalisation."
    Even assuming trade with the US would be genuinely free, "much
    of the increased bilateral trade with the US would be trade diverted
    from Asia" such that, overall, it would be "slightly detrimental to the
    Australian economy".
    Moreover, the report argues that there would be "a serious
    deleterious effect on the prospects for advancing other forms of trade
    liberalisation", it would undermine our participation in the World Trade
    Organisation and its multilateral negotiations, and it would "irritate"
    other trading partners and misdirect our negotiators' time.
    Our national interest? Or what John Howard believes are his
    poll-driven interests? Leadership where?
    Source: The Australian Financial Review
    ENDS


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