Sunday 24 Feb 2019 | 08:12 | SYDNEY
Sunday 24 Feb 2019 | 08:12 | SYDNEY

The Interpreter's best of 2014: Whistleblowing, Vietnam-China, nuclear safeguard standards and the Australia Network


5 January 2015 08:00

Throughout the Christmas-New Year break, The Interpreter will be featuring some of its best pieces from 2014. More to come between now and January 12 when The Interpreter will be back for 2015.

The Silence of the lambs: The public service, leaks and whistleblowing in Australia, by Andrew Fowler, 2 May.

Allan Behm, the highly regarded former head of the Defence Department's international policy and strategy division, speaking on a panel three weeks ago at the Lowy Institute, said leakers should be prosecuted for breaking the law. Whistleblowers, on the other hand, should simply resign on a matter of principle and say nothing publicly, creating what would presumably be a unique phenomenon, the silent whistleblower.

If Andrew Wilkie had followed Behm's advice we would have known even less than we did about the deception which sucked us into the Iraq War. When Wilkie the whistleblower (an exception in Australia, where most intelligence information is revealed through leaks) walked out of the Office of National Assessments and said that Prime Minister John Howard and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer had misled the Australian people over Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program, there was no avenue available to discover who was telling the truth. Wilkie's whistleblowing was a clarion call for changes to the way the executive dominates the control of information.

The China-Vietnam standoff: Three key factors, by Dirk van der Kley, 8 May.

Finally, CNOOC has a history of conflating resource exploration in the South China Sea with sovereignty claims. Large state-owned enterprises like CNOOC are powerful players in Beijing, and CNOOC could be one of the drivers behind the decision to move the drilling rig into disputed waters. At the very least, it would actively support the rig being used as a tool in sovereignty disputes.  

CNOOC has a track record of involving itself in sovereignty issues in the South China Sea. In 2012, the company offered nine oil and gas blocks for bidding by foreign companies in an area almost completely within Vietnam's exclusive economic zone. CNOOC also provides optimistic hydrocarbon estimates in the South China Sea. One could assume this is an attempt to win policy and financial support from the central government for activities such as the building of deep water drilling rigs like Haiyang Shiyou 981.

The demise of the Australia Network, by Nick Bryant, 16 May.

For Australian journalism, this is obviously a major setback. ABC's Asia Pacific News Centre is the only newsroom in Australia dedicated to delivering news to and from the region. The Australia Network has three dedicated staff in Beijing (a correspondent, cameraman and producer), two in Jakarta, and one in India. Insiders at the ABC say it will have a spill-over effect on the domestic coverage of Asia, because so many bureaux relied on Australia Network funding.

The diplomatic cost is harder to calculate. At a time when Australia would have been expected to project its influence in the Asia Pacific, it has given the appearance of shying away. It has given up a vital tool in explaining itself to its neighbours. And when some are calling for a larger Australia, it runs the risk of appearing provincial and small.

Is the Abbott Government abandoning Australia's nuclear safeguards standards for India?, by John Carlson, 1 October.

The signing last month of a civil nuclear cooperation agreement between Australia and India has been greeted as an important step towards closer relations between the two countries, as well as bringing India into the global nuclear energy mainstream. These are worthy objectives, but not at any cost. 

Now that the text of the agreement has been quietly made public, some substantial departures from Australia's current safeguards conditions are evident. These suggest, disturbingly, that Australia may be unable to keep track of what happens to uranium supplied to India.

In this post I will explain what is wrong with the Australia-India nuclear cooperation agreement and why it appears that the Abbott Government may be abandoning Australia's longstanding safeguards requirements for India. In a subsequent post I will explain what can and should be done about it.

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