A newfound morality

[Sent to the Phnom Penh Post on 2 March 2014. Not published.]

Better late than never, I suppose. In that sense, I should welcome Gareth Evans’ attempt (Post, 28 February) to introduce moral considerations into governmental and diplomatic matters, even though the attempt is very belated.

Reading his indignation at the killing of five striking workers in Phnom Penh in January, it is impossible not to recall his total lack of concern as Australia’s foreign minister in the 1980s, when the Indonesian government was killing tens of thousands of people in East Timor, not very far off Australia’s northern coast. Indeed, Evans’ reputation suffered considerably at the time when he was filmed drinking champagne toasts with the Indonesian generals who were directing the slaughter. It seemed that the needle of Evans’ moral compass pointed, not to truth and justice, but to East Timor’s offshore oil resources.

And it is hard to avoid the suspicion that the timing of Evans’ new moral crusade owes a great deal to Australian politics. As has been widely reported, Australia’s current Liberal Party government is seeking to have Cambodia receive some of the refugees that Australian governments have been deporting contrary to international law. As a longtime Labor Party politician, Evans knows how to throw a punch at Hun Sen in order to hit Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Evans’ moral concerns would be considerably more convincing if he extended them to the abusive treatment of refugees by Australian governments, including the previous government of the Labor Party. This abuse has already resulted in the loss of far more than five lives.


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