Make we merry while we may, and think about joy,
For a man may have sorrow whenever he likes
The Gawain poet
Most readers of Blak and Black will be aware that the in March 2008, the then Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that Australia would run for a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council (“UNSC”) for 2013-14. Australia is running for one of two positions on the Security Council reserved for members of the Western European and Others Group (“WEOG”). Australia is competing against Luxembourg and Finland. Luxembourg announced their candidacy in 2001 and has never sat on the UNSC. Finland announced their candidacy in 2002 and is campaigning on the basis of its strong human rights record and significant aid budget.
WEOG itself operates via a web of internal factions and coalitions, including the Nordics (Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland), the Benelux countries (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg), and the CANZ countries (Canada, Australia and New Zealand), all overlaid by European Union (EU) and non-EU ties. Dynamics amongst the EU members, making up 50 percent of the WEOG membership base, are further complicated by tensions between those states holding permanent UNSC membership (France and the UK) and those that either aspire to (Germany) or wish to reform such membership (Italy and Spain).
In order to win a contested seat, the General Assembly Rules of Procedure require that candidates secure at least two-thirds of the available and eligible General Assembly votes. The first state to achieve the required number of votes, usually 128, is successful. If two or more candidates continue to contest the remaining seat the voting process can continue indefinitely until either one of those candidates receives the requisite number of votes or alternatively withdraws.
The 2012 UNSC election will be held on 18 October 2012 during the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly, held at United Nations Headquarters in New York City. The elections are for five non-permanent seats on the UN Security Council for two-year mandates commencing on 1 January 2013.
Prime Minister Gillard says that Australia has spent more than AUD 20 Million on its 2012 UNSC bid, independent commentators believe that Australia has spent as much as AUD 55 Million on its bid. Australia has spent up to 55 million taxpayer dollars in pursuit of the vainglorious ambitions of a failed Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd; while at the same time, the department tasked with running Australia’s campaign, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (“DFAT”) has been forced to shed up to 150 jobs in order to find between $25-30 million of mandated savings. Does this sound like sound economic management to you?
What are the bases of the Australian and Finland bids for a non-permanent UNSC seat?
Finland on the basis of information it has placed on its Ministry for Foreign Affairs website is campaigning on the basis of its strong human rights record significant aid budget and longstanding commitment to the United Nations. Australia on the other hand seems to be predicating its bid on its commitment to the ‘rule of law’.
On 24 September Australia’s Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs The Honorable Richard Marles MP delivered a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York in which he spelt out the basis for Australia’s bid for a non-permanent seat on the UNSC. The thrust of Marles’ speech was that Australia has an unswerving commitment to the ‘rule of law’. To quote directly from Marles speech:
The rule of law is the highest and best guarantee of the freedom and dignity of all people.
It protects people from the arbitrary use of power and gives victims access to justice.
It provides the predictability and transparency necessary for business and the protection of property.
It ensures that disputes can be resolved fairly and peacefully.
Sustainable peace particularly requires trusted and credible institutions, processes, and governments.
In turn, development and long term peacebuilding require this confidence in the rule of law.
Only then can human liberty flourish.
No one can deny the importance of the ‘rule of law’ in guaranteeing “the freedom and dignity of all people.” What I challenge is Australia’s commitment to the ‘rule of law’.
Rotten lying bastards’ syndrome
In 1996 following Australia’s defeat at the hands of Portugal for a non-permanent seat on the UNSC, Australia’s then permanent representative to the UN, Richard Butler famously labelled the process the ‘rotten lying bastards’ syndrome’, pointing to ‘lying on an unprecedented scale’ within the corridors of the UN, to my mind, this is a clear case of the pot calling the kettle black.
What exactly does ‘the rule of law’ actually mean? To my mind, the following excerpt from the European Court of Human Rights puts the point very explicitly in The Sunday Times -v- The United Kingdom (No 1) – (1979) 2 EHRR 245
… the law must be adequately accessible: the citizen must be able to have an indication that is adequate in the circumstances of the legal rules applicable to a given case … a norm cannot be regarded as a ‘law’ unless it is formulated with sufficient precision to enable the citizen to regulate his conduct: he must be able – if need be with appropriate advice – to foresee, to a degree that is reasonable in the circumstances, the consequences which a given action may entail.
If Australia truly lived up to it’s much heralded commitment to the ‘rule of law’, then absolutely, Australia would deserve a place on the UNSC, the modern world’s equivalent of King Arthur’s Round Table. Unfortunately the reality in Australia is a long way removed from its hyperbole and spin. This reality becomes of greater concern when we consider that the Australian Federal Police (“AFP”) would assume a greater role in international affairs if Australia were to be granted a seat at the round table.
The AFP I’m talking about is the same AFP that was involved in fraudulently altering the birth records of a foreign country in order to help convict an innocent man on politically trumped up charges. It is the same AFP that saw and still, by all accounts, sees nothing wrong with kidnapping the lawfully appointed Attorney-General of a foreign country in order to further Australia’s selfish domestic interests in the Pacific. It is the same AFP that sees no wrong in helping the Australian Labor Party, the party currently in power in Australia, in fitting-up a senior Indigenous Australian public servant in order to cover-up a politically motivated crime. Australia is also the country that has resorted to Vice-Regal corruption in order to further its aims of securing a seat at the round table of the UNSC.
If this is what Australia really believes adherence to the ‘rule of law’ to be, then frankly speaking, we’re better off without any laws at all. More importantly, if Australia preaches one thing and does the exact opposite, how is Australia acting any differently than those it accuses of being part of the ‘rotten lying bastards’ syndrome’? Australia by claiming adherence to the ‘rule of law’ is doing no less than ‘lying on an unprecedented scale’ within the corridors of the UN. On this basis can anyone truly say that Australia is deserving of a place at the Round Table?
Sir Gawain and moral accountability
Sir Gawain is a work of literary fiction written by the so called Gawain poet. The Gawain poet works, or so it appears, from a Welsh strand of tradition in which Gawain and not the French Lancelot is the most noteworthy of Arthur’s knights, and it is Gawain, upholding the honour of Arthur’s court, who undergoes the tests that form the main line of the story. A mysterious knight—brilliant green from head to toe—barges into King Arthur’s Yuletide feast and requests what he calls “a Christmas game.” The game turns out to be a grim one, stemming from deep in the Celtic past, the “so-called “beheading game.”
The Green Knight invites someone from Arthur’s court to strike off his head, with the proviso that a year later the Knight be allowed to return the blow. To protect his king, Gawain takes up the challenge, but the Knight survives Gawain’s mighty blow, picks up his severed head, and invites Gawain to seek him out at the “Green Chapel” in a year’s time.
A year is a long time to wait, with such prospect in store, but Gawain does so, and at the appointed time sets out on what proves to be a rough winter journey. As the poet tells us,
Ner slayn with the slete he sleped in his yrnes
Mo nyghtes then innoghe in naked rockes
Near slain with the sleet, he slept in his irons
More nights than enough in naked rocks.
He faces the further difficulty that he doesn’t know where the Green Chapel is. But seek and ye shall find. As Christmas approaches, Gawain prays that he might find himself somewhere where he can hear mass, and low and behold, a castle appears. His host at the castle, the energetic Sir Bertilak de Hautdesert, tells Gawain that the Chapel is very near, and invites him, meanwhile, to join his court for Christmas. And meanwhile, he proposes a game—the “Exchange of Winnings Game.” Each day the host is to hunt and Gawain to stay at the castle, each to exchange winnings at day’s end.
And for the next three days, the host hunts and turns over the game that he kills, and Gawain does his best to resist the increasingly straightforward overtures of the host’s beautiful wife, turning over at day’s end polite kisses. Until the third day when, though he has maintained both his chastity and his courtesy—no easy task under the circumstances—Gawain accepts a green “girdle,” which, so Lady Bertilak informs him, has the property of protecting its wearer from wounds. Just what Gawain needs. He decides not to exchange such useful protection.
The next day, Gawain keeps his appointment, only to find, to his consternation, that his host, Bertilak, and the Green Knight are one and the same. The Green Knight spares Gawain, however, only nicking him on the neck, /because, the girdle aside, Gawain has passed the test—not only the test of keeping his promise to return to endure his blow, but also the unannounced test of Bertilak’s wife. He has failed only in concealing the girdle, and that, as he thought, just to save his life. The Green Knight, in fact, terms Sir Gawain
On the fautlest freke that ever on fote yede
In effect, the most faultless man who ever walked on foot. But Gawain is not perfect, and to his humiliation, he knows it.
The author addresses many themes here, the relation between courtly ethics (which require courtesy) and Christian ethics (which require chastity), the perils of reputation and heedlessness, and perhaps most searchingly, the limits of human goodness, human virtue, and human institutions.
The limits of human goodness, human virtue, and human institutions
The point about Sir Gawain is that while he is not perfect, he didn’t disclose that he received the scarf, when challenged, he is prepared to stand accountable for his wrong doings. Not only is he prepared to stand accountable for his wrong doings, he actively attempts to bring them to the attention of the world. As well as his evident willingness to accept responsibility and accountability for his lack of perfection, Sir Gawain has proven himself willing to sacrifice even his life itself in order to preserve and protect that which he believes in. In Sir Gawain’s case this is the Round Table, the person of King Arthur and well as his ethics and reputation. When was the last time any of us witnessed any member of the AFP, DFAT or the Australian Government putting ethics, reputation and adherence to duty above self-interest? I for one can’t recall such a time.
If the UNSC is truly what it purports to be, a latter day Round Table, then like Arthur and his band of brother knights, the UNSC should be looking only to those who have proven themselves to be willing to sacrifice person and treasure in furtherance of the common good. Unlike Sir Gawain, Australia has proven itself, by its claim to be responsive to the ‘rule of law’ to be doing nothing more than ‘lying on an unprecedented scale’. Does the world really need another adherent of the “Rotten lying bastards’ syndrome” at the Round Table, or should it give a yet untested knight, such as Luxembourg, a chance to prove that it can rise above the common standard and bring some accountability back into the UNSC. In the case of the UNSC the devil you know – Australia – would be a poor choice for a seat at the Round table.