Is cowardice a value? Are we cowardly? Are our values for sale? Do we trade our values so that we need not defend them? Have values become irrelevant to the modern world we live in? As Australia grapples with its place in the world it should be asking not only the previous but other important questions of itself. We have grown fat and prosperous as a nation and it is important to question exactly how we have managed to succeed when so many others have failed.
Australia has managed to do two things over the past two decades no other advanced economy has, one, set a two decade long GDP growth streak, two, not send itself bankrupt in the process. It has done this by largely avoiding conflicts and focusing strongly on trade with the out-side world, primarily the sale of resources such as iron ore and coal.
How did we avoid conflict? And to whom are we selling our resources? We avoided much conflict since the end of the Vietnam War by simply turning a blind eye to much of the horrors that engulfed the world including some of our nearest neighbours. When Indonesia began its territorial expansions the principle focus of the Australian government was not only non-confrontation but ensuring that Australia got its share of the oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea. Even after the murder of 5 Australian journalists at the hands of Indonesia’s army the then and successive Australian governments remained far more intent on securing trade with Indonesia rather than holding that nation to account for what would become two simultaneous policies of genocide.
Not until the referendum that granted East Timor its independence did Australia take an active stance in displaying that it had some courage to stand by its convictions, only, it largely lacked the ability to make it happen. After decades of mismanagement at all levels and successive governments in Australia adopting a disarmament policy the Australia Defence Force was at risk of looking the impotent token force it had become on the world stage. Not only did the ADF lack adequate sea-lift capacity to move its soldiers it lacked adequate body armour for its personnel, its soldiers were found to have poor weapon safety standards, and generally it had the potential to become a disaster. And had it not been for US Forces adopting a more aggressive posture in our defence there was a likelihood that the Indonesian TNI and the militias it controlled would have sought to exploit our impotence.
How impotent had the ADF become as our government sought to allay fears and anxieties held in our region over any perceived military advantage Australia may have? To what extent did we prostrate ourselves at the mercy of foreign influence in order to further our economic interest? What horrors did we turn a blind eye to? What else did we sell in order to turn a profit? What values did we trade to become everyone’s friend?
It became public knowledge during the US lead invasion of Iraq in 2003 that Australia could not provide any significant quantity of armoured vehicles because firstly it didn’t have that many to offer and secondly the main battle tank used by the Australian Army lacked the capacity to shoot in the dark. What wasn’t publically known and still isn’t is that those tanks were produced in Germany with a full suite of night fighting equipment, including night vision, low light television and a laser range finder, all of which were missing on the vehicles the Australian Army had been supplied with.
Values can only be values by definition of what you are or are not prepared to do in order to keep them, if you value democracy and liberty as a nation you make adequate arrangements to defend those values firstly in your homeland and secondly in the lands of those who can’t do it themselves. How much value have we placed on democracy and liberty? Have we tilted the scales to favour prosperity and perception?
We turned a blind eye to the crimes of the Indonesia government for decades so we could get our hands on the Timor Sea oil and gas fields and have Australian companies trade with Indonesia, at the cost of tens of thousands of East Timorese lives. We let the Indonesian government off the hook for their actions so that we had access to cheap imports and so Australian companies can run mines in Indonesia and for our graziers to sell them cattle, costing tens of thousands of West Papuans their lives. We have done this because we have placed the value of gold ahead that of life and human dignity and respect. We allowed these things to happen because we have placed a greater value in creating a fat lazy welfare state over the ability to protect it.
How do we reconcile with ourselves the innate cowardice displayed in our name on the word stage? How to we reconcile our ounces of gold for our silence on matters of importance to the very soul of humanity?
We ignored the three decades of civil war in Sri Lanka, in-stead of confronting India over its roll in some of the worst abuses of that war we sell them iron and coal, provide them financial aid whilst they become the largest weapons importing nation in the world. We ignored the Indo-Pakistan Wars, the Indo-Chinese wars because it was better to receive their full-fee paying students to our learning institutions than become a serious partner for peace in our region. We have ignored what the Chinese have done in Tibet because they buy too much of our iron ore and coal to criticise, our media now howl down any attempt to raise any serious issue regarding the actions of the Chinese Empire, the latest furore regarding the imposition of a new Chinese air defence and identification zone is a prime example of this at work. When did the placation of China become more important than what was right and wrong? And why is the media dictating our foreign policy direction?
We ignored the horrors that existed and persist in Burma because they buy weapons from the Chinese Empire, we’ve ignored Africa and South America because making money was more important than making the world a better place.
Perhaps the greatest thing we value is not our cowardice but our hypocrisy.
What do we truly value as a country? The ideals it was founded on and defended with or the ability to ignore them for personal gain? At what point do we realise we’ve backed ourselves into a corner, that by appeasement and supplication we’ve told the world it is acceptable for us to be treated that way when it becomes our turn?