Friday, August 28, 2015

Education leads in Australia-India ties

The visit of an Australian delegation to India to discuss increased collaboration in education was a welcome, if long overdue, recognition of the potential benefits links with the world’s second-largest nation has for Australia’s economy.

While Australian politicians talk endlessly of the need for ever-deeper relations with China, India has been repeatedly overlooked. A recent list of priority languages taught in ACT schools listed Hindi below German and Spanish and on a par with Latin.

Moves to supply India with uranium consistently result in objections from the anti-nuclear lobby on the grounds that as India is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the material could be diverted to the country’s weapons program.

The failure of these activists to accept Indian undertakings that this will not be the case is insulting, bordering on racism.

Similarly, opposition to the Carmichael Coalmine in Central Queensland, meant to supply India’s burgeoning energy needs, may have a solid environmental basis, but this has not been properly explained to New Delhi where many senior officials see it as just another slight from Canberra.

It can only be hoped that the education initiative, led by Minister for Education Christopher Pyne, has gone some way to repairing the damage. Presiding at a meeting of the Australia India Education Council in New Delhi, Mr Pyne and the Indian Minister for Human Resources, Smriti Irani both stressed the significant role that education had to play in the bilateral relationship.

The Council agreed on a joint feasibility study to examine the establishment of a grouping of higher education institutions aimed at encouraging greater student mobility as well as language and cultural studies by Australians in India.

New facilities at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay-Monash Research Academy in Mumbai were officially opened, and retired cricketer Adam Gilchrist was appointed as Australia’s inaugural ambassador to India on education.

It can only be hoped this is just the beginning of a general recognition of India’s importance as a trading partner for Australia and that initiatives in the education sector will spread to other areas of the two nations’ economies.





Sunday, August 23, 2015

Nationalist surge among Taiwan’s youth

Recent street demonstrations in Taiwan are highlighting the growing gulf between the Government and what the people, especially young people, are thinking.

The protesters were against revisions to classroom textbooks they say are an attempt to brainwash students into accepting the inevitability of eventual reunification of the island State with the People’s Republic of China under the One China Two Systems policy.

The issue has thrown the question of relations with China into the forefront of political debate in the lead-up to Taiwan’s presidential election in January 2016.

The ruling Kuomintang (KMT) Government favours closer ties with the mainland, while fudging on the issue of how the process of reunification might take place.  

The Opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) stresses the differences between Taiwan and China and seeks to promote a Taiwanese identity. It skirts the question of Taiwan’s status by saying as it is de facto independent, a formal declaration of independence is unnecessary.

This outrages Beijing which regards Taiwan as a renegade province which must eventually submit to its authority, by force if necessary.

While the KMT holds office, the fiction of progress towards reunification can be maintained, but that could hardly be the case with the increasing likelihood of a DPP victory.

For the first time in the nation’s history both major parties have chosen female candidates with the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Hung Hsiu-chu, lining up against the DPP’s Tsai lng-wen.

China has regularly denounced the DPP as “splittist”, a term it often uses against people or organisations that advocate greater automony or independence from the central government. In the face of this, DPP leaders often modify their positions on independence as elections near.

But this is increasingly not the case with the young people taking part in the latest round of protests. "We are Taiwan. China is China," Liu Tzuhao, 18, said, voicing the views of her fellow demonstrators.

Another said the textbooks did not reflect a Taiwanese view of history. “It is just Beijing propaganda,” he said.
“One country cannot have two versions of history.”

Later the Education Ministry appeared to back down, saying it was up to individual teachers whether they used the new textbooks or not.
That is unlikely to satisfy opponents of the One China Two Systems policy in the lead-up to the January poll.  




Sunday, August 9, 2015

In defence of Sir Edward Heath

I was shocked to hear over the radio that former British Conservative Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath was the subject of child sex abuse allegations. My shock turned to anger when I discovered the flimsy web of so-called evidence, hearsay and downright malicious gossip on which these allegations have been made.
Let me make one point straight away. I admire Heath. I regard him as one of the most honest, straightforward and decent Prime Ministers to have occupied 10 Downing Street in modern times. I applaud his greatest achievement in taking the United Kingdom into what became the European Union.
Those who now campaign for the country to leave the EU are living in a fool’s paradise which, if they have their way, will see the UK quickly sink to the status of a third world banana republic – but that is an argument for another day.
I met Sir Edward on two occasions. During the 1970 UK election I was part of what is now called the ‘media scrum’ that followed him on the campaign trail. I remember once when we got him to pose under a street sign that stated ‘Turn Right One Way Only’. The picture went national and he thought it was a great joke.
The second time, almost 30 years later, occurred when I was in the UK on an assignment and he happened to be giving an address at a university near where I was staying. I called his office and asked if I could interview him after his speech for a ‘Lion in Winter’-type’ feature. The reply came back agreeing as long as I bought a bottle of good scotch to the meeting. This was duly presented and mostly consumed during a convivial and successful evening.
I do not claim to have been his friend or even to know him well, but those who do — even those who actively disliked him — have with almost one voice expressed both incredulity at the accusations,  and suspicion at the way Wiltshire Police  and other police forces have jumped into the media on the basis of so little concrete evidence.
Who, for instance, is this “retired senior policeman” who claims that more than two decades ago the prosecution of a person accused of child sex abuse was halted by powerful political figures because that person threaten to expose Heath as a paedophile? Perhaps it is time for this former officer to leave his comfortable anonymity and have his claims tested under questioning.
The fact is that in the 1990s Sir Edward was neither powerful himself nor with friends of any great political influence. He was a lonely backbencher, ostracised by most of his own party for his constant criticisms of his successor, Margaret Thatcher. There would have been many people in authority at the time who would have rejoiced at this final disgrace.
Wiltshire Police then made the call for anyone who had been a victim of Heath’s misdeeds to come forward, and of course they did in legions — those who believe they have been wronged by the establishment and see a means of getting back; those who want their 15 minutes of fame and those who believe there might be a quid in it somewhere.
One newspaper ran the story of a 65-year-old man who claimed as a boy he had been picked up by a “toff” in August, 1961 who, three years later, he recognised from a newspaper picture as Heath. The man said he had been taken to Heath’s flat in Park Lane and had sex with him there.
Anyone who has read Heath’s very detailed autobiography The  Course of My Life, will realise that in that month he was out of the country  in the run-up to then Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s ultimately unsuccessful bid to join the Common Market . Anyway, Heath never had a flat in Park Lane.
Another astonishing accusation comes from a woman who says that when Heath gave an outing on his yacht, Morning Cloud, to some youths from  a boys’ home in the Channel Islands, she “counted 11 on and only 10 came off”. Perhaps the yacht’s crew, many of whom are still around, will give evidence that Sir Edward had sex with one of the boys and then dumped him over the side. Such nonsense should be treated with the contempt it deserves.   
It is true that Heath kept his personal life very much to himself, but a careful reading of The Course of My Life does provide some small chinks in the armour with which he surrounds this subject.  When at Oxford in the 1930s he speaks briefly of an idyllic summer’s day foursome spent with a fellow undergraduate and two women “who both lost their lives in the war”.
There are also indications of a female friend in the 1940s who he saw on occasions before and after he was demobbed following distinguished wartime service in the Royal Artillery. It was a hectic time for him as he sought to earn a living as a civilian while trying to find himself a suitable parliamentary seat in which to stand for the Conservatives in the 1950 election. 
He notes that the woman eventually wrote to him to say she was getting married. Reading between the lines it is obvious this dismayed him, but after a formal letter of congratulation he never got in touch again although “many years later I learnt that she had had a very happy marriage”.
He never married, and perhaps this makes him an easy target for the slurs against him. As a former Conservative MP, Michael Brown, stated in a newspaper article a few days ago: “In the current febrile atmosphere, when it seems to be automatically assumed that nearly every dead politician of his era was a paedophile, it is inevitable that these police inquiries must now take their inconclusive course.”
Dead men cannot defend themselves; dead men cannot sue for defamation. Even, as I believe, there is not a shred of credible evidence to link Sir Edward to these allegations; even if they are eventually revealed to be a tissue of fabrications, it will be for this that he is remembered, especially by those who did not live through his times.
Why now? Why has this surfaced more than a decade after his death? There is one explanation which disgusts me, but considering the levels to which the profession of politics has fallen, I must consider.
Before the end of 2017 a referendum is to take place on whether Britain should remain in the European Union. Polls have suggested a close outcome, but with those in favour of continued membership holding a slight lead.
How would it affect voting intentions if Sir Edward Heath, the passionate European, the architect of Britain’s membership, were to be disgraced?
Could it have come to this?  

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Swarming critics have got it wrong

There has been a near-hysterical reaction to comments by British Prime Minister, David Cameron that refugees were “swarming” across the Mediterranean into Europe and, more specifically, the United Kingdom.

Acting UK Opposition Labour Party Leader, Harriet Harman said Mr Cameron should remember he was talking about people, not insects.

Another leading Labour figure, Andy Burnham said use of the world was “a dog whistle – a silent call to those opposing migration”.

Advocacy Manger for the Refugee Council, Lisa Doyle said the use of the word was “dehumanising and shifted the blame away from politicians who have mishandled the crisis”.

Finally the Deputy Mayor of Calais, Philippe Mignonet described Mr Cameron’s words as “racist and extremist.”

Mr Cameron’s use of the word was not racist, extremist, dehumanising, likening people to insects or a dog whistle – whatever that meant.

“Swarm” is a perfectly acceptable word when used in relation to people, as any dictionary definition will inform. I quote but two:

The Concise Oxford Dictionary:  Large numbers or dense groups of insects, birds, small animals or persons moving about in a cluster or irregular body.

The Precise Macquarie Dictionary: A great number of things or people, especially in motion.

Forgive me for not being able to see anything offensive in those definitions. Swarm can indeed apply to many groups of animate objects in motion, including insects, but as Mr Cameron was obviously talking about people, it was ridiculous (or opportunistic) for Ms Harman to pick out insects.
How can it be a dehumanising term when by any definition swarm can apply to people?

As for the Deputy Mayor of Calais…well perhaps M Mignonet should be excused as English is not his first language, but he really should have done better research before sounding off to a British television news reporter.  

Ms Doyle does have a point when she says politicians have mishandled the situation. The refugee crisis has been years in the making (remember the North-South dialogue we were supposed to be having back in the 1970s?).
Exactly what is happening today has been forecast by demographers, refugee advocates, and United Nations Agencies for the past 30 years. There has been at least one novel and popular film on the subject. 

There are two ways to meet this crisis: Let all the refugees in or be really serious about alleviating conditions in the countries they come from – and that does mean serious – not sinking a few wells in villages here and there.
Trying to stem the flow by force accompanied by rhetoric about protecting borders will only lead to more desperation, injury and death. To return to the initial subject of this article – actions do speak louder than words.