Australian Imperialism in Asia Pacific

Closet Cleaner – notes for a talk delivered at the European Social Forum 2004. Some small updates of minimal significance inserted to acknowledge that everything is totally changed now that Australia has a new PM. For sure[2007].

Australian Imperialism in Asia Pacific

Three or four major scenarios rather than a full listing of the national biography of a wannabee regional super power:

“In spite of being a small to medium power, Australian troops have been regularly deployed overseas. This has continued recently in support of U.S./Alliance activities, or in UN operations (in the 1990s, Australian troops were involved in UN operations in Cambodia, Cyprus, Egypt, Middle East, Rwanda and East Timor). In past, of course, Australia fought most of its wars overseas (the Boer War, World War I, most of World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War). Now Australia is regularly involved with joint operations and training exercises with Southeast Asian neighbours, though often these are hosted in Australia (see Ball & Kerr 1996). Likewise, Australia is engaged in fairly wide ranging air patrols of sections the Indian and Pacific Oceans, using P-3C Orion aircraft, some still operating out of Butterworth airforce base in Malaysia (Ball & Kerr 1996).” R. James Ferguson 2000 here

Malaysia – after fighting in the war, many captured at the fall of Saigon, and bloody battles along the Burmese trail, Australian military participation in the Emergency in Malaya post WW11 was an unglamourous anti communist pursuit. Malaya: The Undeclared War, directed by Robert Lemkin in 1998 tells the story of the origins of the Internal Security Act, the original strategic hamlets idea. Now operating globally through the Detentions facility near you. From the richest between the wars colony, Malaysia becomes latterly still the base for economic extraction coupled with Australian military presence – Butterworth (a staging post for Vietnam activity on the part of the last Iroquois helicopter squadron of the RAAF, and with the close alliance with the US “nuclear weapons were also deployed at the Royal Australian Air Force base in Butterworth, Malaysia”, and a training facility for deep jungle warfare techniques, joint operations and ‘manouvres’).
((On nukes: UK based academic Richard Moore, reported in Malaysiakini 03 Jan 2001 – see the report which is lodged here.
On Vietnam and the RAAF, ‘The third and last RAAF operational squadron to serve in Vietnam was No.2 Squadron. It returned to Australia in Jun 71, 13 years after having left Australia from Darwin en route to Butterworth, Malaysia’.Documentation, in somwhat unusual format, is conveniently here.;
The ‘manoeuvres’ comment is a personal observation from spending time drinking with Australian service personnel in the bars of the Penang tourist strip)).
There is much to be said about our imperial dealings with Malaysia, and lets recall its ‘recalcitrant’ previous PM Mahathir, who enjoyed a critical client relationship with Australia, but perhaps the detentions issue will do for a souvenir – today[written 2004], the so-called ‘Pacific’ solution of John Howard (inexplicably elected again in Oct 2004 [postscript – replaced by Rudd 2007, um, hooray]) has Australia’s ever more draconian immigration laws tightening the screws on all those ‘queue jumpers’ and maintaining detention issues on Manus, basically Australia is outsourcing its Detention facilities to client states.

– Something learnt in Malaysia and put to good effect in Vietnam – another major anti communist counter revolutionary action, this time all the way with LBJ, if anyone remembers the ideological support for these actions – not just M*A*S*H (about Korea, but not really, very popular in Australia) just recall the TV show The Sullivans, glorifying the pluck of those Sullivan boys in WW2 covert-ops behind enemy lines (Apocalypse Now but with OZ accents, ostensibly WW2, but also seemingly aimed at the Vietnam conflict. I keep mentioning films because there is also a media imperialism element to all this, not just owned by Murdoch with Star TV, but also ABC Asian Pacific, but also less easily placed documentarists like Denis O’Rourke who made The Good Woman of Bangkok and no doubt all manner of ‘I’ve been to Bali too’ home videos). Whatever the case, in Vietnam the apocalypse meant 3 million dead for the crime of opposing colonialism and wanting to have a say in the running of their own lives. Of course the US rewriting of Vietnamese War history forgets all the more effectively that the North Vietnamese won, and Rambo did not. See the Bradbury film footage of the Nth Viet tank breaking down the gates of the Saigon Imperial Palace, leading victory celebrations.

Indonesia 1965, more anti-communist pogroms, see Brian Brown in The Year of Living Dangerously, Suharto first recognised by Australian Govt (See FN timetable at the end), and then in 1978 acceptance of E.Timor invasion by conservative Frazer Govt – continued accommodationism up to East Timor independence in 2000. We can now identify a massively increased NGOs role, especially post Bali bombing in 2002, plus a host of legal and security functions in the wake of the same. East Timor a growth area for initiatives of all sorts, from the military to the ACTU, the issue of oil bubbling away in the Timor Gap, out of reach of actual Timorese, but of significant international concern.

– In terms of Security issues… The Solomons is only the latest in a range of Police operations that stretch bag to the earliest and gloriest of Australia’s colonial adventures, the total colony that is PNG. From blackbirding (a mode of slavery where Kanaks were kidnapped for the sugar plantations of Queensland) through the early takeover in WW1 from the Germans (the Patrol Officer as heroic colonial figure, and the Kokoda track as the high point of Australian PNG cooperation where Australian soldiers were assisted along their stumble through the mud to battle the Japanese – see The Thin Red Line by Terrance Malik for a flavour of this stuff), and on to the mining industry, from the Leahy brothers adventures (First Contact, Connoly and Anderson) to Ok Tedi, the economic imperative of colonialism maintained by all manner of adjunct services such as – today – the Attorney General’s department and the Treasury having special offices dealing with Pacific and PNG affairs, and a host of NGO workers from the usual HIV industry to funded NGO bureaucrats, administrative staff and police training liaison officers.

– All of which is best highlighted by a review of the Bougainville War, with its ongoing ramifications right up to today. Those Iroquois helicopters from Vietnam and Malaysia turn up again, sold on to the PNGDF – but only as so-called de-militarised vehicles, the Gun mounts sawn off, in Bougainville. Pics of guns tied back on with rope would be handy here. PNG history a particularly happy affair for get-rich-quick mates from due South. There are a number of films relevant here, perhaps the Coconut Revolution best known, by Dom Roscoe, with funding from the body Shop, doing the routine of the intrepid reporter and condensing the peoples struggle into the routines of a few photogenic individuals and a new age awe at the ingenuity of guerrilla survivalism (discovery: the coconuts are useful). CRA prospecting 1960s – PNG independence 1975 sells out Bougainville as the CRA money spinner –Independence movement of women – prostitution for mineworkers – profits from the mine for CRA/RTZ continue even after the traditional land owners sabotage the polluting – retreat of RTZ, finally selling up in 2002 – Australian Govt declaration of war – blockage – phosphorous bombs – radio free bougainville – success of BRA – Sandline intervention backfires under PM Julius Chan – NZ negotiated cessation of fighting in 1998 – slow reconciliation process – police deployment by Australia this year – UN Kofi Anan saying last week (Oct 2004) that Bougainville was not ready for elections… [more on Bougainville here]

So what. Well perhaps I’d like to suggest these stories offer a kind of coming of age tale for a sub-imperial superpower. Our very own ‘highest stage’ [see pic]. The anti-communism of the immediate post-war years – against the threat of domino conversions, I wish, gives way to a service industry sponsored support for the never relinquished economic imperatives of imperialism, from the Malay plantation economy, through the Timor oil reserves to the police-training–immigration export economy of anti-terrorist peace keeping. Australia now administrates a fully fledged and articulated colonial sphere of influence. A regional sheriff in the comical guise of John Howard [replacement Rudd, 2007]. I believe it is time to start the Revolutionary Australian Government in Exile, here now, today, in this room. Founded upon … any takers? [Meetings of the Aust Govt in Exile continue as usual at South London Pacific, Kennington, 2007]

FN: Pre 1788: Visits of Buginese fishermen to north Australian coasts to collect sea cucumber or trepang.
1941-42: Australia and allies regard Netherlands East Indies as a vital part of its defence line.
1942: Japanese forces secure control of most of Indonesia
1942-1945: Netherlands East Indies administration located in Brisbane
1945: Australian troops as part of allied forces aid return of Dutch control of Netherlands East Indies
1947-1949: Australia one of the first nations to recognise the Republic of Indonesia. Australia asked to represent Australia’s interests in the UN during negotiations with the Dutch (these policies were largely established under the leadership of Dr. H.V. Evatt, then Minister of External Affairs. At this time, Australian trade unions also embargoed Dutch cargoes and personnel.
1950: Australia co-sponsored Indonesia’s entry to the UN (also supported by India)
1950: First Australian ambassador presents credentials to President Sukarno
1963-1966: Australia supports Malaysia against Indonesia in ‘Konfrontasi’, with some Australian forces used in Sarawak (Borneo).
1975: Indonesia invades East Timor which becomes it 27th province in 1976. Five Australian journalists die during invasion.
1978: De facto recognition of Indonesian control of East Timor by Australia’s Foreign Minister, Andrew Peacock.
1979: Australia gives de jure (formal, legal) recognition of Indonesian control of East Timor
December 1989-February 1991 Timor Gap Treaty between Australia and Indonesia established (establishes boundary of sea resource usage, i.e. oil reserves that Portugal claims should belong to an independent East Timor. This has led to disputes before the International Court of Justice)
November 1991: Dili massacre in East Timor by Indonesian military forces. Australia issues mild protests.
1992: Trade between two countries reaches $A3 billion (Indonesia 10th larges export market for Australia)
1992-1994: Prime Minister Paul Keating visits Indonesia three times
September 1999: INTERFET military mission to East Timor to be led by Australia
… Through 2000-2001, though Australia has reduced its military involvement in East Timor, it is clear that the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) will need to extend its mandate into next year to stabilise the island. Furthermore, Australia will remain one of the main suppliers of aid for years to come as East Timor slowly builds a viable economy. From Ferguson see here


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