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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Fishing in the Turbulent water - An Aus view

Cartoon Oakes
Herald Sun
DESPITE what Tony Abbott would have us believe, the striking thing about the build-up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth was not division between Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd. It was the way they worked together.
The two rivals put differences aside to try to ensure that CHOGM is a success. And they will consider it a success if the Commonwealth leaders leave Australia with smiles on their faces.
That's what it's all about. Keeping all of the 53 delegations happy.
Because, folks - behind the talk about strengthening the Commonwealth's commitment to democracy and human rights - the Gillard Government is approaching the summit as a $60 million PR exercise.
And the ultimate aim of that exercise is to help Australia win a place on the United Nations Security Council in 2013. It's all part of drumming up the required 128 UN votes.
As well as wooing Commonwealth members, the strategy is to use this CHOGM to impress non-Commonwealth countries with Australia's ability to represent the concerns of small and developing nations.

In fact, the bid for a Security Council seat is the main reason Australia put up its hand to host the summit in the first place. It was not our turn.Catch senior Foreign Affairs Department officials in a candid mood and they'll admit that the winning of votes takes precedence over the rest of it - including proposals for a Commonwealth Charter and the appointment of a Commissioner for Democracy, the Rule of Law and Human Rights.
The 2011 CHOGM was supposed to be held in Colombo, but when the Commonwealth leaders met in Trinidad two years ago they agreed that the aftermath of the Sri Lanka civil war made this untenable.

Mr Rudd, then prime minister, saw the chance to build support for Australia's Security Council bid, and stepped into the breach. Sri Lanka is now scheduled to do the honours next time.
As it turned out, Mr Rudd's initiative plays into the hands of the woman who toppled him from the prime ministership.
Ms Gillard needed a circuit-breaker, and CHOGM provides it. Hosting such a major international event gives her some respite from the domestic issues that have damaged her and her Government so badly.
Her trip to France next week for a crucial G20 meeting on the international economic crisis, followed by an Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation meeting with world leaders in Hawaii and an East Asia Summit in Indonesia, will also get her out of the domestic political firing line for a while.
Best of all, from Ms Gillard's point of view, the impending visit by US President Barack Obama - including a presidential address to Parliament and a major defence announcement he's expected to make in Darwin - will also help to divert attention from the carbon tax, asylum seekers and the poker machine controversy.
CHOGM, in other words, is the start of a month dominated by international matters that should enable Ms Gillard to resist any leadership destabilisation for the rest of the year.
Just the same, the task of chairing the meeting will not be easy, given that she and Mr Rudd are determined to avoid any blow-up that might damage Australia's Security Council prospects.
Ms Gillard has been briefed on the need, as chair, to steer away from possible areas of tension because division would not be in Australia's interest.
In line with this approach, Australia is taking a much softer position than Britain and Canada on contentious issues. Canada, for example, is threatening to boycott the next CHOGM if it is held in Sri Lanka. Australia has been warning against a showdown on that issue, despite Sri Lanka's unenviable human rights record.
Mr Rudd and President Mahinda Rajapaksa have been working together to try to manage the way human rights and other concerns about Sri Lanka are dealt with in Perth.
Another thorny issue is the Charter, recommended by an Eminent Persons Group on Commonwealth reform as a statement of values by which member countries can be judged.
Fearing it would become a kind of Commonwealth constitution, binding on them, some member countries are decidedly wary.
So, even before the summit began yesterday, Australia was already discussing a possible fallback position with Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma.
The recommendation for a commissioner who would investigate and recommend action on serious violations of democracy, rule of law and human rights within the Commonwealth has aroused even greater opposition.
Sri Lanka and India are among countries saying they won't have a bar of the idea. Again, Australia has been developing a Plan B. Don't be surprised if the "commissioner" becomes a mere "adviser", or the whole thing is shunted off to a sub-committee for further consideration.
Britain is among the Commonwealth countries Ms Gillard and Mr Rudd want to lock in for the Security Council vote. They had the support of Gordon Brown, but the new Conservative PM David Cameron had not committed himself in advance of CHOGM.
African members already on side, like Zambia and Ghana, are being asked during CHOGM to lobby for votes on Australia's behalf from other African nations that are not part of the Commonwealth.
And favours are being swapped. Australia's support for the Dominican Republic's election to the UN Economic and Social Council, for example, in return for its vote in the Security Council ballot.
Laurie Oakes is political editor for the Nine Network. His column appears every Saturday in theHerald Sun.

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