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My brother's pre-election thoughts

My brother Hamish sent this email "to everyone I’ve ever met in my life" last night.


Pre-election thoughts

Election campaigns produce enormous quantities of bullshit which, whilst having no undue impact, does not in my opinion help one person clarify what is important or what their leaders are doing. This is an attempt to describe what is actually important to me, and why.

I’ll start with the deepest, most abiding imperative I know about, which is at once biological and spiritual, seeming to emerge from some evolutionary well of unseen wisdom: concern for the future of my child, my child’s children, and their world.

The threats to their world - the real ones that make parents freak - are international in nature. Ecological problems like climate change, massive refugee movements, through environmental as well as political displacement, terrorism, horrible weapons, failed states and the prospect of continuing global conflict based on unthinkable international wealth disparities. As I see it, these are the real and fast-growing threats to the world of my child.

We would be forgiven for thinking that these issues have nothing to do with the current Australian election, but in my opinion we would be wrong.

The key to all of these problems, and increasingly so, is international law. To the extent that the world succeeds in the next decades of establishing a system of international law which every country is subordinate to, and every country endeavours to uphold, is the extent that we will even be able to contemplate the resolution of some of these problems.

At the moment there is international anarchy, not because there is not developed the beginnings of an international law, but because the most powerful country in the world, against the advice of even their own experts, has chosen a policy of ignoring it.

The USA is the only OECD country to refuse to sign a convention binding its soldiers to international conventions on war crimes.

The USA and Australia are the only countries still refusing to sign the Kyoto protocol – not perfect or even an answer, but an initial commitment to an international process of cooperation.

The USA, Australia and Micronesia are the only countries not opposing Israel’s wall, arguably the single biggest contributor – and quite rightly – to Islamic anger today. Most importantly, the UN (with US leadership) had Iraq completely contained before Bush defied every advice and every intelligence and went ahead to make the international terrorist problem 50 times worse.

We have a problem, and his real name is George Bush.

America however is not George Bush, and whether or not he wins in November, he'll be gone in four years. We have some reason to hope that future American administrations will be much more pragmatic toward the world’s real problems, because Bush is the biggest threat to international law since WWII. He hates it, can only see the rule of America, and fails to see that this attitude toward law will see the global situation continue to deteriorate.

John Howard, in a very small club of world leaders, has actually endorsed Bush’s policy, in fact even more than Blair (who at least insisted – successfully - that British citizens in Guantanamo Bay get a fair trial). And I think we would be crazy to caricature the concerns of the innumerable European, African and Asian voices who find Bush’s policy repugnant and a set-back for world peace and order.

Australia may be buddying up to the toughest kid on the block, but in this case we don’t have much company. The crowd is seeing red.

In many ways I don’t give a shit whether we are governed by Howard or Latham. But Latham will do some crucial things.

Latham will sign the Kyoto protocol on Greenhouse emissions (leaving America completely alone on that one) and hence enter the process of engaging with the entire world about its most intractable environmental problem.

On this, ask yourself how useful it would be if NSW decided that as the toughest state it would simply dictate policy to the other states about how the Murray-Darling River system was to be utilised. At a federal level, that would be anarchy, and thank goodness it is not.

Multiple European states have had to pursue similar legal processes – with some wonderful success so far – in planning future management of the Rhine and the Danube – this political problem makes the Murray-Darling look a bloody cinch by the way. Climate change is a similar ‘tragedy of the commons’ type issue. The only way through it is by developing a system of law which all parties are bound to. Kyoto is a feeble beginning, but there is no excuse for not beginning.

On Iraq, whether Latham pulls the troops home or not, and obviously that’s just politics, the only safe place he’ll have to go politically is back to the authority of the United Nations, but with our independent voice within the same.

I think this is crucial. Over the Iraq issue, the United Nations turned out to be right; Bush was wrong. More importantly than who was right, for terrorism to be defeated militarily and especially politically, any strategy must come from a position of an international rule of law which is seen to apply to everyone. The global sheriff may be able to ‘kick some ass’ here and there, but is not helping solve the problem and arguably is making it worse.

The doctrine of military ‘pre-emptive strikes’ promulgated by George Bush, condemned by every senior international lawyer in the world, and mindlessly parroted by Howard and Downer, is explicitly a doctrine of ignoring international law.

It is a strategy for vastly more powerful countries to use against vastly less powerful ones.

It is not coherent or sustainable, and is not a mechanism by which the world can be made secure. Latham, in refuting this policy – a policy for an hypothetical threat in our region - is merely being consistent with sensible, orthodox legal opinion.

He is expressing a basic respect for the conventions of peace.

Should we intervene in failed states? The United Nations should, absolutely, and Australia should pull its weight, respecting the same rules we ask every country to respect.

The United Nations is a far from perfect international institution, as is every government institution I have been able to point sticks at, but it is also the one we’ve got, can be improved, and the international problems are so urgent that they utterly concern me every time I look my child in the face.

And that is why, in my own words and with my own truth, I am urging you to put the Liberals last on Saturday. I’m not voting Labor myself, but I am preferencing them before Liberal. Please, please, consider my plea carefully. America is watching our election.


Hamish Alcorn.

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