As we mentioned in a recent column, while republicans are united in wanting us to ditch our constitutional system, and most of them also want to tear down the Australian Flag, they are divided as to what to do with the Commonwealth. Some want to politicize the Commonwealth Games, and others want us to walk out of the Commonwealth.
Well the recent Commonwealth Conference (often referred to by that strange acronym, CHOGM) was a great success. It was held in Malta, a country with linked to us through history and blood, a country of great architectural beauty, which is inhabited by a people of great valour. They were honoured for this by King George VI who awarded the island the George Cross.
One of the considerable achievements of the conference was a call on the EU to match the United States’ offer to slash farm trade barriers at a landmark meeting next month.
The 53 leaders of Commonwealth, including the UK, want all countries to agree to abolish trade subsidies within five years.
As Joel Kibazo of the Commonwealth Secretariat, London, indicated in a letter to The Australian, published on 29 November 2005 (http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/printpage/0,5942,17392961,00.html) the Commonwealth is of great value to its members and the world.
He found the opinion piece by Steve Lewis ("We’ve outgrown CHOGM, 22/11) “breathtaking in its non-understanding of how truly global politics, economics, security concerns and partnerships have become. And Australia’s position therein.”
It will be recalled that apart from denigrating the Commonwealth, the thrust of Mr Lewis’ piece was to announce something which has had more favourable media publicity than many charities or scientific breakthroughs, the fact that some politicians in Canberra are determined to waste more of the taxpayers’ money in giving life to republicanism.
Mr Lewis must now realize he was completely wrong. In his latest column, on 29 November 2005, he concedes that at the Malta conference John Howard spearheaded a blunt warning from the Commonwealth to the EU. The fact that it was supported by three EU memebrs there gave it, Mr Lewis said, "added potency"
Perhaps Mr Lewis should revise his views about those republican MP’s wasteful navel gazing.
But back to Mr Kibazo’s letter. He continued: “Lewis appears to be advocating a return to a limited isolationist stance with Australia cherry-picking its friends and partners as and when it feels like it…. Today’s 53 independent states, and the queue of those seeking to join, belong to the modern Commonwealth, which brings together proudly independent states.”
He makes the point early one-quarter of the world’s trade and investment is between members of the Commonwealth.
“Our members talk to each other and co-operate with each other. The just-ended Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Malta – with its strong statements on trade, on eradicating poverty through networking and on the economic and political vulnerability of small states – should be evidence enough. It’s not just a talk shop, but includes the voices of civil society as well as those of governments. What we have and do is envied by many.”
A reader, Stephen Peoples, has just drawn my attention to an editorial in the Malta Times on Sunday, 27 November, 2005 which began:-
“Malta – one of the smallest states in the Commonwealth – can truly hold Its head high after successfully hosting the largest ever gathering of Foreign heads of state and government in its history. This on top of a four-day state visit by Queen Elizabeth II (her fourth since her accession to the throne, all of 53 years ago) and the Duke of Edinburgh.” The editor quoted with approval the declaration by The Queen in opening the Conference that “collectively, we can be strong and effective".
He continued:” But it is not only on a fairer world trade regime that the Commonwealth can – and should – make its voice heard. To quote the Queen again, "Determined and collective action can also help us tackle other challenges that cannot be addressed alone, such as the scourge of terrorism, which is a threat to us all."
“Dr Gonzi, the host of the Malta meeting, referred to two other examples of these "other challenges" in his brief address at the opening of CHOGM: the impelling need of many people in the underdeveloped world to escape from poverty and the literal expression of that need – mass migration – of which this little island of ours has experienced more than its fair share this year.
“All four issues – fairer world trade, international terrorism, poverty and mass emigration – point to the need for greater justice in the world, which will not come about unless all nations realise that in a truly globalised economy there is no room for short-sighted protectionism since this can only benefit individual nations in the short term. Still less can any nation go it alone in the war against international terrorism.
“The Commonwealth, as a club of 53 nations covering the whole spectrum from industrialised nations, to developing and under-developed states, is in an excellent position to put these principles into practice.”
Republicans should now admit that our membership of the Commonwealth is important. After all, in the referendum they did not even bother to find out what would happen if we were to become a republic. When we told them, they said we were lying. Then the Secretary General confirmed that we were right.
And while they are at it, they should abandon that infantile stunt to try to politicize the Melbourne Games. They won’t win any friends over that.
Until next time,