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.'