Friday, March 30, 2012

Forgive me Father but I will not sin: Why a devout Catholic makes a poor choice of ambassador to the Vatican

Forgive me Father but I will not sin: Why a devout Catholic makes a poor choice of ambassador to the Vatican.

Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr has appointed his long time friend John McCarthy QC ambassador to The Holy See. McCarthy has been a life-long barrister, and an adviser to the Australian Labour Party , in particular the ALP in the State of New South Wales of which Carr was premier.
He is also a devout Catholic ,and a friend and adviser to Sydney Archbishop George Cardinal Pell. MCarthy’s son is a priest, who himself spent a number of years in Rome. According to the Sydney Morning Herald McCarthy “has been involved in international Catholic organisations, and received a papal knighthood in 2006 for services to the Catholic Church in Australia and the Australian community.”
All this may make him seem the ideal candidate for the post, but however, he is being sent to the Vatican as a diplomat, not missionary.
Indeed , as a diplomat representing Australian interests he may well have to act against the interest of the Vatican. It is unlikely that Australian interests and that of the Vatican will always coincide. The Iraq War (or Gulf War 2) is one such example. While the Vatican and then Pope John Paul II opposed the war, the Australian Government decided that it was in Australia’s national interest to support the US led invasion . If Australia had an ambassador at the Vatican at that point of time he or she would have needed to gather intelligence from within the Vatican to determine the motivations for the Vatican’s position, and then used that information to either change if not undermine that stance. It is hard to see McCarthy doing anything of that sort.
Indeed , it is difficult to see how this life long barrister would even begin to appreciate what is required of him in the post he is to assume. A Vatican posting can serve many purposes. For instance it serves as an important centre for the exchange of information which career diplomats would instinctively identify and seek, but which a barrister whose work has been confined to the State of NSW is unlikely to be aware of.
Then, while having the honorific “Your Excellency” before one’s name may seem a logical extension to having the words “Queen’s Counsel” after, the role of diplomat and senior barrister require very different skills and temperament.Unlike barristers, particularly QCs , who are encouraged and indeed treasure a sense of aloofness from the rest of humanity, diplomats are expected to get themselves dirty in the furtherance of the national interest. For example, the Vatican has an extensive and unique network of diplomats, all of whom are priests , who are stationed in many parts of the world. Gaining an understanding of what they know would be very useful to Australian interests and it should be the task of the ambassador whoever he or she is to gain insight into that information by whatever means. That may require being less than honest with diplomat priesththys ,cardinals and the Pope himself.
It is hard to see a devout Catholic doing anything of that sort. Some may think this assessment unfair given that the McCarthy’s predecessor Tim Fischer is also Catholic. However. Fishcer had been amongst other things a minister for trade and a politician of many years experience. It is hard to see that he would have let his faith get in the way of his work.
Disclosure: The writer is himself of the Catholic faith but understands the distinction between the Pope as head of the Roman Catholic Church and head of state.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Australia's Influence In South East Asia-A Wet Dream

Many in Canberra and indeed among the Australian "intelligentsia" believe that the key to Australian engagement with South East Asia is identification with the culture of the region.Ability in the regions'languages,marriage into any of the region's main ethnic groups,or better still being their ethnicity, are all thought to be assets that will only enhance Australia's relations with South East Asia.

The reality has proven otherwise.

Zuli Chudori,the Indonesian born and raised wife of the current Australian High Commissioner to Malaysia, Miles Kupa, has been reduced to pretending to be a journalist on Linkedin in what appears to be part of an effort to build a network of local contacts. Chudori is herself a senior executive of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade,and formerly in charge of the Malaysia Desk.

Michael Wise,High Commissioner circa 2003, despite being married to an Indian from Goa was so ignorant of goings-on in Kuala Lumpur that it took Australian media reports brought to the specific attention of his office for him to realise that a USD 8 billion Al-Qaeda linked fund based in Melbourne operated a bank in Labuan.

His predecessor Peter Varghese ,being of Indian descent, was best known as the High Commissioner who knew nothing.His pronouncements about the region when later appointed head of the Office Of National Assessments,prove the point.

Now there is the attempt to burnish the credentials of the Foreign Minister designate, Bob Carr,whose Malaysian born-wife Helena Carr is said to have provided him "a wealth of contacts" in South East Asia. Unfortunately , no one who is anyone in Malaysian business circles can recall even having met her.

Carr's predecessor, the Mandarin speaking Kevin Rudd's Asia-Pacific Community proposal was rejected by even Singapore which has a specific policy encouraging the speaking of Mandarin.

Despite this history, Canberra continues to believe that it has some role to play in regional security, together with China and the United States. While the Five Power Defence Agreement remains in force, the governments of the region realise that they need to prepare their own defences.The Butterworth RAAF base, for example,is not considered a serious deterrent to any transgressing force.
Carr himself, has spoken of a sharing of power between the three countries.
If only he and Canberra stopped to listen, and stopped pretending that they know anything, it would be obvious that arrangements favouring a larger US presence, with no Chinese presence whatsoever in the Strait of Malacca,and limited to the northern section of the South China Sea, are already in place.