|Subject: IPS: Activists Slam
Neo-Colonialism in the Pacific
AUSTRALIA: Activists Slam Neo-Colonialism in the Pacific
By Stephen de Tarczynski
MELBOURNE, Oct 15 (IPS) - Activists attending an international solidarity
forum in Melbourne have been speaking out against what they regard as
neo-colonial practices in the South Pacific region.
"It feels like we are not independent because the World Bank and IMF
(International Monetary Fund), they have a pretty major role in (East)
Timor,?? Thomas Freitas, director of the Timor Leste Institute for Research,
Advocacy and Campaigns, told IPS.
Freitas was in Australia to participate in the Latin America and Asia
Pacific International Solidarity Forum, held in Melbourne over four days
from Oct 11, where he spoke at a session titled ?Confronting Colonialism in
the Pacific?. The forum aims to organise and struggle against neo-liberalism
on a global scale.
Freitas -- who has attended similar conferences in Brazil and Indonesia, as
well in other South-east Asian countries -- is critical of the involvement
of the Bank and IMF in East Timor.
"They give advice to our minister and then they advise the wrong things as
well," he told IPS, adding that he is disappointed that the two institutions
intervene in policy decisions taken by the East Timorese Government.
East Timor -- also known as Timor Leste -- is a former Portuguese colony.
Annexed by Indonesia in 1976, the country achieved independence in 2002
following a referendum in which 78 percent voted for independence rather
than greater autonomy as part of Indonesia.
But Freitas says that East Timor?s hard-won independence has also been
undermined by its neighbours.
"Even Australia and America, they?re not willing (to) also have a look at
giving opportunities, full rights to the Timorese people," says Freitas.
Tim Anderson, a senior lecturer in political economy at the University of
Sydney and a participant, slammed Australia?s involvement in the
Asia-Pacific region, which he argues is of an imperialist nature.
According to Anderson, the imperial ambitions "are most strongly evident in
the (Australian) military and police interventions recently and particularly
because the police and military interventions are strongly tied to the
Anderson cites Australia?s involvement in the Solomon Islands and East Timor
-- Australian Defence Force (ADF) and Australian Federal Police (AFP)
personnel are deployed in both countries, with AFP also in Tonga, Nauru and
Vanuatu -- as examples of Australian forces protecting foreign investor
"They?ve exerted very obvious political pressure in those countries and
they?ve become associated with very partisan political interventions," he
"For example, in Timor and in the Solomons now there?s a very clear
alignment of the Australian forces with one side of politics," Anderson told
But the Sydney-based academic also says that Australia is somewhat inhibited
in its imperial ambitions in the region by several factors.
"Australia, for example, is constrained in Timor by the presence of the
Portuguese, by the presence of some other influences. It has to coordinate
with the big investment interests in the region. The U.S., Canadian,
British, South African, other sorts of interests," he says.
Mike Treen, national director of ?Unite?, a New Zealand workers? union, also
spoke out against imperialism.
"Imperialism used armies to take land," Treen told the audience at the
conference, referring to the initial colonising of land in the Pacific
region. "And they?re still being used today," he said.
Treen said that the U.S., Australia and New Zealand all had similar
Anderson argues that imperialism and neo-colonialism in the Pacific can only
be opposed once their underlying themes are identified. He argues that the
three main themes are the exclusive access to a country?s natural resources,
open markets, and the patronage of military and paramilitary forces.
But Anderson says that Australians, in general, are not identifying the role
played by their government "because there?s a great denial about it."
"The government has issued an unprovoked denial that it?s a neo-colonial
project. That?s what the overnment?s special line is," says Anderson.
In a speech in August, Australia?s foreign minister, Alexander Downer,
outlined Australia?s commitment to the Pacific. Downer said that Australia
has "a particular relationship with the countries of the Pacific. A
commitment to help them grow".
The foundation of Australia?s Pacific policy, as described by the foreign
minister, is the promotion of "good governance."
"Australia?s integrated strategy of supporting good governance, economic
development and trade, investing in human capital and working
collaboratively with others is a positive way to help," said Downer.
Anderson says that the notion of "good governance" has obscured the debate
about the role played by Australia in the Pacific.
"What are the imperial themes? That is to say, to what extent is Australia
trying to strategically and economically dominate the region in line with
its own interests? We?re not really having that debate to a very great
extent," he says.
Anderson is critical of the Australian public for being largely unaware of
what he regards as Australia?s neo-colonial actions, drawing similarities
between the lack of debate surrounding Australia?s involvement in the
Pacific and the relative silence in the U.S. regarding its interventions in
Latin America a century ago.
"I?m sad to say it but it?s true. We have very highly educated populations
here and in the US who are remarkably stupid about what their country is
involved in with these sorts of interventions because they are stupefied by
the types of media lines that they?re fed on their television and in their
papers," Anderson told IPS.
"Educated people should be able to look for other information sources these
days, but people are very lazy and don?t want to do that sort of thing," he
Anderson also argues that vested interests do not want Australia?s role in
the Pacific to be questioned. "I think that unless we can move past these
clich? of good governance and stabilisation by a benevolent hegemon, it?s
difficult to have that discussion about imperialism.??
"Of course, the important interests don?t want us to have that discussion in
regards to what extent are these interventions really serving very powerful
corporate interests," he adds.
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