Wednesday, November 13, 2013

'Engaging': Julie Bishop Points the Way

When it comes to flying off to a Commonwealth Heads of Government bash in a butcher shop, aka Sri Lanka, the word on every sophisticated Western politician's tongue is 'engage'.

For example:

"British Prime Minister David Cameron wrote this week: 'the right thing to do is to engage. To visit the country. To shine the international spotlight on the lack of progress in the country'." (Bishop urges leader to attend talks, Ben Doherty, David Wroe, Sydney Morning Herald, 12/11/13)

"Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has vowed to 'engage' rather than 'isolate' Sri Lanka over claims of human rights abuses, bucking a growing trend to boycott this week's Commonwealth Meeting in the country." (ibid)

Now Jules has had some experience 'engaging' in Sri Lanka. And thanks to News Ltd's Rowan Callick, we now have a pretty good idea of just what it is that a politician actually does when she 'engages'. And as it turns out, David Cameron seems to have gotten it all wrong. But then that's men for you, right?

Apparently, when you 'engage' in a place like Sri Lanka, or as Callick has it, "the Tamil badlands of Sri Lanka," the last thing you do is "shine the international spotlight on the lack of progress in the country." No way!

What you do - what Jules did at any rate - was to negotiate the rubble-strewn, khaki morass, with its odd, reddish splashes, in her stylish new Milan stilettos, adjust her new Kailis pearl necklace, brush the dust off her immaculate new Escada frock, sweep the joint with her trademark death-stare - so appropriate in a killing field, no? - wince at the decidedly un-Israeli ambiance of the place ("scarcely vibrant" as Callick put it), note with relief the absence of Tamil women being raped by Sri Lankan troops within the immediate ambit of her gimlet-gaze, then high-tail it back to her air-conditioned luxury hotel in Colombo as soon as decently possible:

"Earlier this year, with immigration spokesman Scott Morrison and customs and border protection spokesman Michael Keenan, she spurned all government and high commissioner offers of guides and escorts and placed her team in the hands of local Tamils; the Australians were picked up in an old minibus at Jaffna airport and checked in to a $17-a-night hotel with cold showers only. They stayed in Kilinochchi, a town at the heart of the failed Tamil rebellion, which had seen little development for decades. For two and a half days they were taken to meet people whose lives were scarcely vibrant, but who could provide no evidence, Bishop says, of continuing persecution from Sri Lanka's Sinhalese majority." (Julie Bishop: All the right moves, Rowan Callick, The Australian, 28/9/13)

Now unlike Jules, Tone hasn't been there before, but he too will soon be 'engaging' with the best of them in Sri Lanka. In fact, as befits a PM not particularly known for his foreign affairs expertise, he's taken time off from pollie-peddling to practise 'engaging' with Sri Lanka right here in Australia, and I have to say I'm quite impressed with the result:

"Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Mr Abbott said the Sri Lankan government deserved praise for ending its civil war. 'I don't propose to lecture the Sri Lankans on human rights,' Mr Abbott said. 'I accept that by Australian standards, probably things could have been done a little differently and maybe a little better'." (Tony Abbott to stay quiet on Sri Lanka human rights, Dan Harrison, Sydney Morning Herald, 12/11/13)

"Probably things could have been done a little differently... maybe a little better..."

Yep, for a bloke, he's a natural, and I'm sure that, as with Jules, "no evidence of continuing persecution" is ever going to cross his path in Sri Lanka.

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