Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Creative diplomacy and the 180 undelivered lashes

A retired Australian diplomat with international-relations experience in Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, South Africa and Sri Lanka argues in the current New Matilda that neither the Foreign nor the Prime Minister was prepared to 'play hardball' with the Singaporean Government over Van Nguyen, and that if they had, they might have been more effective.

Threats are the way to go, says Bruce Haigh (the John Hargreaves character in Cry Freedom, remember him?).

In 'Can Howard Play Hardball?' (New Matilda, Dec 7), Haigh tells the story of the two nurses, one British and one Australian, who while working in an unnamed Middle Eastern country in 1984 were arrested and sentenced to 90 lashes each for drinking alcohol.

Pushed for time, as the punishment was to take place immediately, Haigh got together with a senior British diplomat and cooked up an unpublicised deal. 'We met with senior officals and said if their country had been angry and embarrassed over a film depicting the beheading of a princess for engaging in premarital sex, it was nothing compared to the outrage we would engender by giving details of the case, and the penalty imposed, to major media outlets in Australia and Britain. Furthermore, I said I would release details of a case relating to the son of a senior diplomat from the country who had been picked up for drink driving on Northbourne Avenue in Canberra.'

The nurses were given back their passports and quietly deported -- de-sentenced and unlashed -- back to their home countries. Haigh suggests a few 'hardball' propositions that could have been put to Singapore, arguing that Howard's informal approach to the Singaporean PM at CHOGM was 'a sop to Australian public opinion'. Howard and Downer were both, says Haigh, 'out-bullied and out-bluffed by Singapore.'


elsewhere said...

Have just blubbered over Nyugen funeral video online (with the aid of a glass of wine or two) but somehow don't feel compelled to pay $88 or $44 fee to read New Mathilda...

Pavlov's Cat said...

Does the link not work? I'm a subscriber but this article isn't listed as subscriber-only.

Pavlov's Cat said...

PS, Elsewhere -- does it not work for you, I mean. It takes me straight to the article. I learned on Day 1 of this blogging caper to check all links!

whitebait said...

It seems to insist that a subscription is needed.

Pavlov's Cat said...


I'll quote a bit then -- it's too good to miss.

elsewhere said...

That's an interesting story, I think I've heard it somewhere vaguely before. Another angle -- journo in Lateline discussion who'd been living in Singapore for years pointed out that the French and the Germans had been successful in getting plea bargains for their convicted citizens. His conclusion: Singapore would only play ball with the big boys, and they were both members of the EU.

(Must get myself a catavatar!)

comicstriphero said...

Great post.

In fact, great blog.

Anyway, back on topic, Australia never even got started with diplomacy.

Stepping back from it all it just seems so implausible that this Government would risk any 'political capital' on a NESB drug-trafficker.

I'm sure they were very much clued in to polling showing that about half the population thought that the young man should be killed for his crime.

....just when you think things can't get any worse.