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Wednesday, 13 November 2002
Page: 6212


Senator COOK (1:27 PM) —I rise to speak about the war on terror. I particularly want to focus on the need for Australia to provide some leadership in the world to attack the economic causes of terrorism. We have reported constantly in the media the things that we are doing to deal with the effects of terrorism: military actions that need to be taken, how to stifle the supply of funding to terrorist organisations, how to cut off their weapons supply and how to detect the culprits involved here and bring them to justice. But that is dealing with the effects of the problem. I want to talk about the causes of the problem, specifically the economic causes, and how Australia can provide some focus on an economic war on terrorism and cut the problem off at the cause—nip it in the bud where terrorists are recruited out of poor economic circumstances and are gulled into being members of extremist or fundamentalist organisations that see terror as the only action that they can take. So I want to focus on the causes, which is not to say that I in any way disapprove of what needs to be done about the effects of terrorism. Certainly we need a strong international campaign, in which Australia is playing its part, working with the concerned nations of the world, to deal with the effects of terrorism. But, fundamentally, my argument is that unless there is a balanced package here, one that not only deals with the effects but also focuses on the causes, then terrorism will remain with us in the long term and the cost exacted economically, in human suffering and in loss of life and in damage to our institutions will be much greater than if we were to, with equal vigour, tackle the causes of the problem.

Recently the US trade representative, Bob Zoellick, said in a considered speech that it is extremist and fundamental ideologies that lead people to terrorism, not poverty per se. I agree with that sentiment insofar as it goes. He is right about the ideologies that lift people from poverty into terrorist activity, but there is no doubt that poverty, which does disfranchise people not only in economic terms but also in everyday life opportunities in education and health, in the access to free and clean water, in the exercise of democratic rights and the right to employment— those problems which are endemic to poverty—creates a hotbed in which extremist ideologies can take hold and in which terrorists can be recruited. I am sure Bob Zoellick would agree with that.

The same applies when I consider the parallel comment made by the 1998 Nobel prize winner in economics, Amartya Sen, in his book entitled Development as Freedom. He put the issue in a slightly different and more erudite and sophisticated way than I will now. However, crudely put, his thesis is that people cannot be free, irrespective of the democratic institutional structures around them, unless they can afford to exercise the rights that freedom gives them. He illustrates his point by referring to a country in our region in which there is a democratic structure but where poor people sell their votes to local landlords, not because they believe those landlords will do what is in the interests of the poor, but simply because their vote is a tradeable good which enables them to sell it and buy a meal for themselves and their family to last through the day. They sell that vote in order to survive not because the landlord or person they sell it to is going to necessarily enact policies in their interests. So you do not get democracy. Despite the democratic structure, you get a perversion of democratic practice and a continuance of poverty as a consequence.

The point I want to make here is that the war on terror cannot be won if it is only a war on the effects of terror; it needs also to be a war on the causes of terrorism. For Australia, given our region, that imposes unique and special responsibilities. We live in a region of the world where there is an uncomfortably high level of poverty. We can be—and some would argue are—a symbolic or surrogate target as a country representative of, to put it in the lingo, `the great Satan' which is the target of terrorist organisations.

Living as we do in this part of the world we have an obligation not only to fight terrorism and but also to deal with its causes. In this context, I want to refer to the economic circumstances in Indonesia and the deterioration of the economic climate of that country, our nearest and most populous Muslim neighbour and a country friendly to Australia and a country with whom Australia is friendly. In referring to Indonesia, that does not mean that other nations in what has been called the arc of instability around our north ought to be neglected. For example, Papua New Guinea is in desperate economic straits. Australia provides 55 per cent of the budget of PNG. That budget is in deficit to the tune of about seven or eight per cent of the GDP of that country. We are asking PNG, in a declining economic situation, to reverse the democratic mandate that the government of Michael Somare was elected on—that is, to privatise when he was elected on a mandate not to privatise. We are also asking him to balance his budget because an unbalanced budget is obviously unsustainable in the long run. However, we need to stimulate economic growth for the country. Cutting programs to build roads that would allow agricultural producers to bring their goods to market, or cutting programs to deal with health and medicine when the AIDS epidemic is gaining a foothold in PNG, or cutting education services seems to me to be a wrongly focused approach for Australia to take in PNG.

The other nation that ought to be mentioned is the Solomon Islands. It is at grave risk of becoming the Biafra of the Pacific. Its economy is in almost total collapse. While there are strong cultural and religious reasons why those nations will not become part of any international terrorist organisation, their poverty makes them vulnerable. In attending to the arc of instability issue, Australia needs to address those concerns.

Indonesia was the worst hit economy in the 1997 Asian currency crisis and the slowest to recover. The significant thing about Indonesia in modern contemporary times is that it is now a democracy. It is a fragile democracy and it is struggling to remain a democracy. It is in our great interest that it becomes a stronger democracy than it is. That is vital for regional stability and for Indonesians, but it is also important because democracies as a general rule do not make war on other countries or on other democracies. To strengthen the institution of democracy in Indonesia is an important consideration for Australian foreign policy.

If the press reports about Indonesia are true, the Indonesians are showing great skill and great endeavour in tracking down those culpable for the Bali bombing incident and that is to their great credit. Indonesia needs a growth rate of at least six per cent per annum to reduce unemployment and poverty. In 2001, it grew at 3.3 per cent. In 2000, it grew at a higher rate of 4.8 per cent, but this year it is projected to grow at 3.2 per cent. Its growth level is trending down, not up. Its growth level is about half the level it should be in order to address the problems of unemployment and poverty.

Dark clouds are gathering over the Indonesian economy as well. It has a growing public debt problem and it has high external debt. The rupiah is weak against other currencies, pushing up prices for imported goods and making the cost of those imported goods beyond its reach. Some of those goods are essential to the development of the country. It has maturing debt obligations which place on it, and certainly on government outlays, a huge commitment. The government should be stimulating the regional economy of the country and bringing its budget back into growth, while providing economic stimulus, lifting aggregate demand in the Indonesian economy rather than paying foreign debt and denying itself the opportunity to stimulate growth. They are some of the questions facing the Indonesian economy.

In the two decades leading up to 1996, poverty levels in Indonesia fell from about 60 per cent of the entire population to below 12 per cent, but the currency crisis pushed poverty levels in Indonesia back up to 27 per cent. In real terms, there are now almost 56 million people in Indonesia, on our borders, living in poverty. When you analyse the nature of their poverty, it is typified by low education, no access to education, rural poverty, overcrowding in Java and the poorest poverty-stricken regions being in east Indonesia—that is, those parts of Indonesia closest to Australia. The World Bank poverty report recently said that, over a three-year period, between 30 to 60 per cent of all Indonesians face a greater than fifty-fifty chance of periodically experiencing not poverty but extreme poverty. So there is a burgeoning social issue right on our borders that needs attention.

The IMF rescue package that was initially put in place after the currency crisis did not work. I believe that the 2001 Nobel Prize winner for economics, Joseph Stiglitz, argues persuasively that the photograph of the Director-General of the IMF, Michael Camdessus, standing over President Suharto when he signed the IMF package not only was a bad look for the IMF in the region, with the West and Europe dictating to this culture, but was counterproductive, did not work and, in fact, made the problems worse. There is a further problem. The Paris Club of creditor nations is rescheduling a $US5.4 billion debt that Indonesia owes in the world under its debt relief programs, but a precondition of having access to debt relief is that they sign an IMF package which arguably has features to it that might worsen the economic situation in Indonesia. That is not a good look; it is a bleak outlook for that country. It is the biggest Muslim country in the world, it is a democracy, it is Australia's neighbour and it is a country over which we have a special obligation—an obligation that we should deal with irrespective of the terrorist overtones in the world at the moment. We have that obligation no matter what, but in this current climate that is a heightened obligation and one that we should give some priority to.

I am not saying in these remarks that no attention is being paid to the economic dimension that underpins the war on terrorism. Certainly Australia has given attention to that, and I acknowledge that it has done so, but it is not anything like the type of attention that is required. At the end of the day, this is a global issue. Australia cannot do it alone, but Australia should do a number of things. Australia should take and do what it possibly can within its region and among its neighbouring economies to put those economies on a growth path and help them economically to achieve self-sufficiency. We should use our standing in international fora, including the World Bank and the IMF, to help mobilise a global approach to poverty reduction in this area. We should tackle the Washington consensus, a key plank of which is balanced budgets, where you need to increase aggregate demand. After all, the Bretton Woods agreement that underpinned the IMF—an architect of which was John Maynard Keynes—was about increasing aggregate demand. The price that we pay for neglecting these things is a vastly greater price than we will pay to correct them. If we act now, we can remove some of the causes of terrorism and reduce the ultimate long-term cost. If we do not face up to these issues at the moment, and we let the problems incubate, then the war on terrorism will be an endless war, because the circumstances that gives rise to terror will remain. (Time expired)


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Knowles)—I call Senator Tierney.


Senator O'Brien —Madam Acting Deputy President, on a point of order: I understand that Senator Tierney would have been fourth on the speakers list had he been here at the time he was due to be called, but he was not. Senator Cook, who was next on the list, was called. The order is normally government, opposition, minor party. As the government missed a turn in the list, it is my contention that Senator Murphy is entitled to be called. If Senator Tierney had been here at the time that he was due to be called, he would obviously have had preference but, not having been here, he is not entitled to be preferred now.


Senator Tierney —Madam Acting Deputy President, on the point of order: we have just heard from a Labor senator. It is now the turn of the government to speak.


Senator Ian Campbell —Madam Acting Deputy President, on the point of order: if you were to accept the submission of Senator O'Brien, the debate that takes place on matters of public interest would have included one government speaker and potentially five non-government speakers. That would be a great imbalance. Although speakers lists are an indicative guide, ultimately the chair has to make their own decision as to how to balance the debate across the chamber. It does from time to time happen, and certainly over the last couple of days it has happened on far too many occasions, that senators have not been able to get to the chamber at exactly the minute the previous-speaking senator resumes his or her seat. All senators should show some give and take in respect of this. I know that Senator Murphy is keen to speak, and we would be keen to hear him, but I think that the chair's ruling in relation to the balance of speaking should be respected.


Senator Murphy —On the point of order: as I recall, it has been a practice in the past that, in respect of matters of public interest debate, if a senator has not been in the chamber at the time they are due to be called, the next senator has been called. It is my understanding that in the past, if that senator has come into the chamber, they have not been called but that in fact the list has been followed as set down. I accept what Senator Ian Campbell has just said. In normal processes of debate where that has happened— and we have had letters from the whips, as we all know, saying that if you are not in the chamber you will miss your turn—and a senator has not made it to the chamber at the time they are due to speak, quite often there is a quorum called or the senator is slotted in at another time in the normal order, whether it be backwards and forwards across the chamber or in whatever order speakers are allocated during the course of a debate.

The matters of public interest debate is given a limited time and there is a speakers list—and we know that this happens only once a week. So one is entitled to argue that it is fair that we should expect that if your name is on the list you will get to speak. I have put my name on the list, as have other senators on previous occasions. When you expect another senator to speak before you, you do not come into the chamber. All of a sudden, the senator who is on the list before you does not turn up and the debate is adjourned. I would suggest that, contrary to Senator Campbell's argument, this is not a normal debate.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESI-DENT —Senator, this is a very long point of order. You are now consuming time that could be used for debate; I hope you realise that.


Senator Murphy —But I think it is important, because this is not a normal debate. There is an allocated time and there is a list, and it ought to be fair and reasonable that we should expect the list to be followed. That is my point of order. I think I should get the call because Senator Tierney, who has had three speakers before him, has had ample time to come into the chamber.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESI-DENT —I have been in this place for 18 years and I intend to follow the convention that has been observed in that time— that is, that no quorums are called during this debate and that there is a sharing of the time between both sides of the chamber. I therefore intend on this occasion to uphold that convention, and I call Senator Tierney.


Senator O'Brien —I rise on a further point of order.


Senator Tierney —Oh, come on! You are wasting the time of the Senate.


Senator O'Brien —If Senator Tierney will give me 30 seconds, I merely ask that that matter be referred to the President so that we can have a ruling upon which we can rely if there are others in the chair and so it can be a precedent for the future.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESI-DENT —It most certainly can be referred. I call Senator Tierney.