A morning of Micronesia, Multiculturalism and Israel

While debate on the Land Rights Bill continued in the Senate and debate started on the anti-refugee legislation in the House of Reps, those MPs and Senators not immediately involved in the debates continue on with a lot of other business. I gave my main speech on the Land Rights Bill last night (more speeches to come later), so I was able to spend some time this morning on other things with a strong foreign affairs flavour.

Firstly, the Joint Committee of on Foreign Affairs had a private meeting with the Israeli Ambassador. The meeting had been arranged prior to the current outbreak of hostilities, but not surprisingly the meeting drew a lot interest, with 21 MPs attending. Equally unsurprisingly, the war was the sole topic of conversation. It was a private meeting so I can’t really go into what people said, although the Ambassador’s opening comment was that Israel’s main condition for a ceasefire was to cease completely being threatened by Hizbollah.

Next I met with a Parliamentary delegation from theFederated States of Micronesia. They were interested in marine parks and how we do conservation and environmental protection, and they were meeting with me in my capacity as Chair of the Senate Environment Committee which is currently doing an inquiry into some of these matters. They also asked many questions about climate change and Australian attitudes towards helping Pacific Island nations affected by rising sea levels. It certainly gives an issue much more immediacy when the people asking you about it say some of the islands in their country may become uninhabitable within twenty to thirty years. I believe we have an obligation to help as an economically wealthy neighbour, even without taking into account the fact that we are one of the highest per capita emitters of greenhouse gases in the world.

After that I met with Andrew Robb, who is the Parliamentary Secretary on Immigration & Multicultural Affairs. I had met him briefly once or twice before he entered Parliament when he was involved in business organisations, but this was the first substantial conversation I’d had with him. He deals with citizenship issues and also has responsibility for matters such as settlement services, multiculturalism and consultation with Muslim communities. I was quite impressed with him. He had a good grasp of the challenges and, unlike some Ministers, didn’t act like he knew all the answers, recognised the complexities and wasn’t overly defensive about the government’s approach. Sometimes the best way to work in this area is at community level and mainly below the radar.

Trying to conduct community debates through the mainstream media can be quite difficult on complex issues, as almost by definition you have to simplify the issue to make it suitable for the mainstream media to use (otherwise they’ll simplify it for you, which usually doesn’t help). However, for a politician trying to make their mark or build their prospects for Cabinet, operating below the radar is not always in their best interests. This is just one of those paradoxes people have to manage in politics, but I think Andrew Robb is one of those whose overall competence is likely to shine through anyway without him having to resort to too much of the attention grabbing ‘bright ideas’ approach.

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  1. > It certainly gives an issue much more
    > immediacy when the people asking yo about
    > it say some of the islands in their country
    > may become uninhabitable within twenty to
    > thirty years.

    I think the word “may” there is a little optimistic. Greenland is melting, and having started it’s not going to stop even if we reverse all the climate change. (Melting ice has an almost poetic inertia.)


  2. Micronesia is a fascinating place, it is good to see us being engaged on any level. What concerns me the most about Micronesia is the potential for collapse of governance in some of the states there. Chuuk (Truk), a state (in the sense of ‘province’) of the FSM is of particular concern. Our engagement with Micronesia is a lot less robust than with Melanesia or Polynesia, yet Micronesia is the geographic connection between Asia, Melanesia and Polynesia.

    I have been noting with concern the increasing influence of organised criminal syndicates in Micronesia. These are immensely destructive of good governance, PNG being a pointed example. Yet, these small states are much less able to survive erosion of good governance than a larger state like PNG. And the damage there is getting very severe.

    The more engagement the better, ESPECIALLY if it is in the area of supporting their law enforcement agencies.

    In this sense, surely your involvement on the environmental side includes law enforcement issues. I am speaking particularly of over-fishing, of course.


  3. MarkL

    Fisheries are usually dealt with sepaprately to Environment – through Dept of Agriculture, Fisheries, & Forestry or sometimes through Customs. It has environmental consequences and impacts of course, but bureaucratically it’s the ‘resource industry’ folks that have the main control of it.

    Even in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, many aspects of fishery issues are handled by bodies other than the GBRMP Authority.

    You make a good point though – some of the Pacific Island Countries are more vulnerable to less than desirable practices because their weaker economic base makes them more prone to looking for immediate dollars.

    I know Micronesia has just got better passport screening type facilities which is meant to help with border security issues.

    I believe we need to engage much more regularly and widely with the countries of the Pacific – in our own self-interest as well as theirs. I don’t think we do this terribly well as a Parliament, a government or (in most respects) as a nation.

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