Asian Correspondent » University of Queensland Asian Correspondent Tue, 30 Jun 2015 18:59:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Of Hockey Diplomacy, Knife Culture, et cetera. Fri, 05 Mar 2010 14:33:07 +0000

First it was India’s High Commissioner to Australia, Sujatha Singh; and now it is the UN itself. The need to get to the ‘root cause’ of the attacks on Indians, and the demand for ‘credible answers’ has only increased in the last few weeks. The media din got a shot in the arm when Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith first acknowledged that some attacks on Indians appeared to be “racist in nature”. This followed by his recent statement on his visit to India that attacks have caused “considerable damage to Australia’s reputation among Indian people.”

So far so good. Acknowledging the elephant in the room is often the first step to further action. But hockey diplomacy as a solution to the racial question comes with it’s own set of problems. I am, of course, referring to the ‘Friendship Match’ between Australia and India in the hockey World Cup.

  1. To term a highly competitive, potentially conflictual  game played in high spirits a ‘Friendship Match’ is a gamble. It will do us well to remember the infamous racial episode of Indian cricketer Harbhajan Singh, who faced a match ban for his alleged racist slur aimed at Andrew Symonds. Reverse racism isn’t a solution to racism. Further, racism snowballs in public memory: once a racist, always a racist.
  2. Let’s face it — hockey is not the most avidly followed sport in either India or Australia. It is relegated to the peripheries of the sporting culture in both the countries. It doesn’t have the necessary reach to affect a change in public perception of the Indo-Australia relationship.
  3. For those few people who do follow hockey, it wouldn’t have pleased many Indians to know that the Aussies trounced them 5-2. Also, headlines that scream: Australia brings India crashing to earth (The Hindu) or Australia thrash India 5-2 at hockey World Cup (ToI) won’t do any good to the Indian psyche which is already irate at the Australian attacks. Thus, just calling it a ‘Friendship Match’ does little to boost positive sentiments among the citizens of either countries.
All hope is not lost. Victoria has been at the forefront of this major image-makeover exercise of Australia. Following Mr. Smith’s promise to protect Indian students, Victoria has roped in popular Aussie cricketer Shane Warne to foster a sense of security and belongingness among the Indians in Melbourne, Victoria. The cricketer, who is well-loved of Indian cricket fans attended a picnic and dinner with Indian students and made statements like, “I LOVE INDIA!” and “WE’RE MULTICULTURAL!” He is expected to play in the Indian Premier League starting March 12. Using his popularity, many concerns can be allayed as he tours India.
However, Victorian Premier John Brumby might have gone too far with the $1,000 on-the-spot fine for carrying a knife in Victoria. The fine is $2,000 on licensed premises like bars and pubs. The move, he says, is meant to discourage the ‘knife culture’ in Victoria which saw the most number of attacks on Indians, especially in Melbourne. What is further disturbing is the proposed change of law which subverts the basic judicial tenet of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ into ‘guilty until proven innocent’.
What this means is that the casual camper or the father taking his son fishing will not get the benefit of doubt until they prove that the knives they had were for recreational purposes. If passed into effect, this law might backfire. Australians are, as a society, outgoing and social. A good 2/3rds of them are into outdoor activities such as games and sports. It wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine that such a heavy curtailment on them might transpire into resentment for the Indians. Such tough restrictions might give rise to rebellious reactions from certain sections of the society.
Though the decision lies with what Victoria thinks is best for the state, I am inclined to doubt the wisdom of a law that presupposes every knife-wielding Victorian to be a manic racist about to go violent.
By Ajinkya Deshmukh – a media student and a freelancer.
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Australia’s security question Tue, 02 Mar 2010 02:12:41 +0000


By M. Adil Khan, Adjunct Professor, School of Social Sciences, University of Queensland

Directed against home-grown and international jihadists (“Islamic terrorists”), Kevin Rudd (pictured) has revealed his “terror white paper” that among other things, includes greater and harsher visa processing of citizens of 10 unnamed countries (there is speculation that these would include mainly Muslim countries including Indonesia), biometric passport checking of the travelling passengers at the Australian airports and other ports of entry and greater surveillance of suspected terrorists, both within and abroad. The white paper also includes greater community education etc. for greater information sharing on security threats from within – this is nothing but perhaps an euphemism for communist era type community based mutual spying. The “counter-terror” project envisages a total expenditure of $ 69.0 million.

Protecting Australian lives and properties both within and abroad should be a priority concern of all Australian governments including that of Rudd’s and in that sense, the “white terror paper’ is a step in the right direction. However, as soon as the “paper” has been made public it attracted criticisms from all quarters and most criticisms have been directed to the issues of invasive airport checking and the use of language that by pointing fingers at the jihadists rather bluntly seems to target, unwittingly or otherwise, the Muslims and the Muslim world in general as its enemy. Some commentators such as Greg Sheridan of The Australian who is quite vocal in his anti-Muslim diatribe have given Kevin Rudd an “A Plus” for the “report” for what he sees as “speaking the truth”. However, while the views of the civil libertarians that focus mainly on the aspects of the invasive nature of the proposed travel check, those of Sheridan’s are nothing but outright Islam phobic punditry that afflict many in the West these days.

Neither is helpful as these do not ask whether the “white paper’s” proposed counter-terror strategies and assumptions based on which these strategies have been formulated are analytically adequate. For neither asks why Australia is under terror threat.

The ‘paper’ seems to be big on sources and low on causes of terrorism and what is more disturbing is that it, unwittingly or otherwise, regards Muslims (both within and abroad) and 1.8 billion of them, as its adversaries. This is not only unfortunate but may even be counter-productive eventually. It is highly unlikely that without discussing fully and objectively the context or the root causes of “terror” and instead focusing mainly on reprisals and control options and not on reflection much of the country’s terror threats will be reduced. Instead these may increase in future. One needs to explore what is it that has increased in recent times Australia’s terror prospects and this is not difficult to track.

There is no doubt that it is Australia’s participation in the “war on terror” (WOT) that has increased its security risks in recent times. These risks were not there even a decade ago. Unwittingly or otherwise, the WOT project has also targeted Muslims, 1.8 billion of them and their religion, as a monolithic entity synonymous to terrorism.

The so called “Islamic terrorism” has now become a new brand in the world of war, much like the “McDonald’s and Armani in the world of food and fashion.” Similar to that of the “communists” of the Soviet era the popularity of the brand name “Islamic terror” seems to have also provided much speed and legitimacy to more wars, more surveillance, renditions and more spending on security measures etc. Referring to the recent terrorist attack in Mumbai (a bloody attack carried out by LeT, a Kashmiri militant group to avenge India’s bloody and prolonged subjugation of Kashmiri Muslims), Ms. Arundhuti Roy, the Indian author and human rights campaigner and winner of 2004 Sydney Peace Prize   stated that “there is a fierce, unforgiving fault-line that runs through the contemporary discourse on terrorism”. According to Ms. Roy some sees terrorism, especially so-called “Islamist terrorism” as a “hateful, insane scourge that spins on its own axis, in its own orbit and has nothing to do with the world around it, nothing to do with history, geography or economics”. This group rejects outright any discussions on the political context of the conflict and argues that those who “even try to understand it, amounts to justifying it and is a crime in itself”. There is however, another school that believes that though nothing can ever excuse or justify “terrorism” (acts that kill innocent people), it sometime “exists in a particular time, place and political context, and to refuse to see that will only aggravate the problem and put more and more people in harm’s way” and this “is a crime by itself”.

Instructively, it was not long ago when the West forged strategic alliances with the Muslims to fight its fights in numerous places such as in Afghanistan against the Soviets in eighties; the communists in South East Asia especially in Indonesia and Malaysia in sixties and seventies etc. In these fights Muslims joined the West to kill many fellow Muslims. Those days no one seemed to have not detected a “clash of civilizations” between the West and the Muslims nor have any one found anything particularly evil or dangerous about Islam.  On the contrary, Muslims were embraced as allies of the “free world” and were glorified as “freedom fighters”, the mujahedeens. What has changed then?

It appears that since the time the Muslims had started to question and/or challenge (regrettably, sometime through violent means) some of the predatory activities of the West and of their surrogates, those that adversely affected their interests especially in the Middle East, and a resistance movement outside the governments started to emerge things started to change. Instead of addressing sensitively the legitimate claims of these movements many in the West resorted to suppress these movements by twisting these acts of opposition as acts of religious zealotry, “motivated by a sense of religious sort of drive.” Yet religion has nothing or little to do with these conflicts. 

Like that of Ms. Roy when at the recent White House briefing on the foiled Christmas bombing of an American airliner by a Nigerian, the 89 year old veteran journalist Helen Thomas asked “..why Abdulmutallab [the Nigerian] did what he did?”, the White House staffer did not answer the question. Furthermore, starting from the Nigerian’s entrance into the Amsterdam airport (without passport), his boarding of the plane and his “attempt” to detonate the “crotch bomb” (some claim that the potency of the underwear bomb was so weak that it would not even have damaged the arm of his seat, let alone blow the plane) there are several questions that have remained unanswered. The world of the “war on terror” seems to be becoming increasingly murky begging for explanations and more truthful and in-depth analysis, beyond what meet the eyes!

Recent revelation that two Australian passports were also forged and used allegedly by Mossad (Israel’s spy agency) in the assassination of the Hamas leader in Dubai indicates Australia’s increasing vulnerability to and risks it entails in its participation in the “war on terror”. Thanks to manipulation of facts, misinformation, international political lobby, geo-politics etc. it is very difficult to say who is doing what and what is right and what is not. It is true that many in the Muslim world especially their ordinary citizens do object to US led policies of the West of which Australia is a willing cohort, especially in the Middle East, sometime so strongly that they act violently and resort to suicide attacks to avenge frustrations. These are no doubt reprehensible acts. But to ignore the political context of these violent acts will be a grave mistake and if ever increasing scope and magnitude of the decade long WOT is any guide, grievously we shall pay. By remaining completely silent on why these militants do what they do the “terror paper” may have missed a great opportunity to put things in the right context and rendered the proposed counter-terrorism measures somewhat ineffectual.

Australia must examine the issues of “terrorism” more carefully to see that its stand on these issues are principled and that its engagements in these activities do not unjustly harm innocent people and consequently, contribute to a situation where a large number people, both within and abroad feels, over a long period of time feels betrayed. This will be a recipe for security disaster for Australia.  


Australia’s Foreign Policy and the Muslim Question

In recent times, part of Australia’s foreign policy, especially those that include it in the WOT project, has significantly altered its equation with the Muslims, its own as well as with those in the Islamic world. To be more candid by now many Muslims regard Australia’s engagements in the WOT project as unjust, murderous and predatory to their interests.

Howard joined Bush’s “war on terror” in Afghanistan in 2001. Up to this point Muslims the world over including those in Australia gave the most enthusiastic of supports to punish the alleged perpetrators and the collaborators of 9/11 – the Al Qaeda and its host, Afghanistan’s the then Taliban government (though many have also argued that as the war was based on circumstantial and not actual evidence, the latter being an internationally agreed pre-condition of war against another sovereign country, it failed to observe fully the international norms guiding wars). Nevertheless, as the circumstantial evidence presented thereof revealed enough culpability of the al-Qaeda and the Taliban into the 9/11, Muslims the world over including those in Australia have had no problem in endorsing and supporting the first Afghanistan war.

However, Australia’s collusion with the WOT project did not end with the 9/11 induced Afghanistan war. Howard joined the next WOT project, the Iraq war in 2003 with unprecedented zeal, ignoring wilfully if not arrogantly the United Nations position on the issue. UN’s weapons team clearly indicated that Saddam Hussein did not possess the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), a justification contentiously promoted by the US and its allies to start the war. Kofi Anan, the then Secretary General of the United Nations termed the 2003 Iraq War as “an illegitimate and an illegal war”. But none of these countervailing arguments deterred Howard from joining the Iraq war. In following US’ line of action Australia’s media and somewhat more discreetly the Howard government itself also embarked upon the most blatant acts of propaganda against Iraq that in one way or another also demonized the Muslims internationally and traumatized its own, internally.

Furthermore, the unprovoked Iraq war, fought on false pretexts (and there is no reason to believe that Howard did not know of these deceptions at the time), that conflated more or less the entire Iraqi nation as “terrorist” and reduced a prosperous Muslim country into a rubble and pounded and blown to pieces thousands upon thousands of their people with so-called “smart bombs” – mostly innocent civilians that left a million dead and displaced nearly 4.5 million saddened the Muslims the world over including those in Australia. To this date they mourn these deaths and nurture among them a great deal of pain of a tragedy that was unnecessary and of which Australia has been a willing cohort.

Lately, these feelings of sadness and resentments got further entrenched when the Muslims also came to learn that not only the Iraq war was waged on false justifications but that the war was largely pre-meditated and was on US and UK’s (and most likely Australia’s) game plan for a long time (long before 9/11); that the excuse of WMD was but a pre-text and a deliberate lie conjured up to garner domestic and international support for the murderous project. What was also shocking to them was that the Australian state — most of it, not just the conservatives and the right wing — fell for the “war on terror” myth and completely ignored or sidestepped a vibrant civic anti-war movement that waged in the country at the time. Australia became part of what the late iconic journalist Gary Webb would have preferred to call, “the dark alliance”.

The Muslims were equally dismayed by the media. They expected the media to play a more objective and scrutinizing role on a major issue such as a war. But the media did just the opposite – they aided and abetted the war and in the wake, frequently maligned and demonized Muslims. At the height of the war many Muslims in Australia also faced a range of harassments at the hands of both the general public (some section of it) as well as the intelligence agencies of the government. Influenced by media’s negative narratives, many Muslims especially the women who wore veils (Burqas) were subjected to verbal and other forms of abuses, albeit by some section of the general public, in the shopping malls, on the streets etc. It has also been alleged that during this period the intelligence agencies harassed many Muslims – mainly males – and subjected them to arbitrary detentions, solitary confinements, interrogations and deportations on false pretexts etc.  

To think that Australia’s complicity in unjust killings of their compatriots overseas and its hate based racist harassments at home, all done on false pretexts of WOT, would not irk Muslim minds and not generate feelings of resentments against it is to deny a rude reality.

What is also quite dismaying for the Muslims is that even though the Iraq war has since ended and that there is now agreement that facts were twisted to justify the war and that it caused such deaths and destructions, nothing much has been done either by the state or the media (the parties that colluded to advance the agenda of the war) to apologize or acknowledge the culpability of these pre-meditated wrong doings. Nor has any one taken any step to heal the emotional scars caused on the Muslims. There has also been no attempt made to bridge the psychological distance created thereof between the Muslims and the mainstream Australians during and after the event. So far, West’s criticisms of the Iraq war (mainly in the US and European countries – Australia’s media has largely avoided an objective post war analysis) have centred on its bad management and not on its moral deficits. This is sad.

In recent times though and under pressure from the anti-war activists in UK the Prime Minister Gordon Brown has established a Commission to investigate the facts and processes that led to his country’s participation in the Iraq war.

Australia is yet to conduct a similar investigation. In this regard,  what is also worrying is that very little of the news of the British investigation is  conveyed to the Australian public by this country’s corporate media- yet another example of how Australia’s journalism is either decaying or have become sort of a cahoots in the cabal of America’s imperialist project.

Howard is gone, but Australia’s unbridled solidarity with and its continued support to projects that put the Muslims in harm’s way or those that sideline their just causes, continue to baffle if not dismay the Muslims.  Australia’s recent ‘no-vote’ (cast in line with that of the US) on the Goldstone report, a United Nations report that condemned Israel (and also Hamas to a lesser degree), for war crimes in Gaza in 2008 Gaza War that left 1400 Palestinians dead – mostly women and children – and destroyed most of its infra-structure including schools and hospitals, is a good example of how its pro-imperialist surrogating in international affairs continues unabated.  

At the United Nations the Goldstone report received an overwhelming 85% ‘yes’ votes of its member states and that New Zealand, a neighbouring country that has lot less Muslim population and most importantly, a country that has a conservative government at present, abstained from voting, demonstrating in a way its refusal to provide unconditional support to US’ glaring unprincipled position at least on this particular issue. The least Australia could do was to follow New Zealand’s example and maintain its neutrality. One conscientious mainstream Australian termed Australia’s no-vote on Goldstone Report as “Australia’s shame”.

To think that we can continue doing business-as-usual and sideline truth is to deny the fact that these days (thanks to internet etc.) people are much more informed than they ever were. Ray McGovern, a CIA veteran of 27 years points out that, “… people in the Middle East already know how Palestinians have been mistreated for decades; how Washington has propped up Arab dictatorships; how Muslims have been locked away at Guantanamo without charges; how the US military has killed civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere; how US mercenaries have escaped punishment for slaughtering innocents”. When Australia joins the initiatives that are perceived by 1.8 billion Muslims (not necessarily by their surrogating governments) as unjust, cruel and discriminatory, much harm is done to its moral credibility. Similarly, Australia’s continued ambivalence to and/or direct or indirect endorsement of other international conflicts such as the bloody and continued occupation of Palestinian territories by the State of Israel; the decades long subjugation of Kashmiri Muslims by India (in response to a certain interpretation of its geo-politics Australia is doing everything possible to cozy up to the Indians these days); Russian oppression of Chechen and by China the Uighur Muslims etc. as well as appeasement of collaborating repressive Muslim governments those that consistently disadvantage the ordinary Muslims add to the cumulative dismay of Muslims, those of its own and the world over.  

Idealism apart, question must also be asked whether in a changing and increasingly morphed geo-politics is it in Australia’s best interest to continue piggy backing its foreign policy on projects of US/UK/Zionist conglomeration that are morally untenable and politically unsustainable. Shouldn’t pure opportunism dictate Australia to rethink its current strategy and re-calibrate its policies and relationships such that these respond better to the morphed geo-politics and exploit new economic opportunities that are slowly but surely emerging around it? In this regard, it may also be important to consider whether a foreign relations nexus built during the cold war era is of much relevance to the country’s interests in a world that is vastly different from that of the ‘60s and ‘70s.  However, by not factoring in these emerging realities, “the terror paper” seemed to have preferred to remain closeted in cold war legacy somehow.

Gough Whitlam envisioned the changing global and regional dynamics correctly. One of the first things Whitlam did soon after he became the prime minister was to withdraw his government’s support from America’s bloody and unjust war in Vietnam, signaling heralding of a new and more autonomous and less imperialistic Australia. In the process, he also successfully established Australia’s image as a morally credible country in the region.

Malcolm Fraser, the conservative Prime Minister that followed Whitlam pursued somewhat similar approach. Hawke and Keating, the two Labour prime ministers that followed Fraser deepened further Australia’s independence in international relations (or at least made efforts to shy away from blatant appeasement of unprincipled policies of the West, especially those of the US) and embarked upon a new era of engagements and relationships that forged pragmatic and morally plausible alliances. A new Australia was emerging.

However, with the coming at the helm of Howard in 1996, a monarchist by faith and an imperialist by intent, everything changed and 9/11 gave him the right pretext to show his conservative worst. He put Australia right back into the new US/UK/Israeli hegemonic nexus so much so that he even volunteered to be, at America’s behest, their “deputy sheriff” in the East Asian region. These were not the most glorious of Australia’s foreign policy initiatives and certainly not the happiest of times, especially for its Muslims.  The latter were much perturbed by Australia’s collusion with and abetment of US led imperialist projects, those that either ignored or ruthlessly quashed just causes of their compatriots overseas. The Australian Muslims also pondered whether partnerships that advance unjust agenda, bolster hegemonic intents and fortify what Noam Chomsky termed as “the maxim of Thucydides” (‘the strong do as they wish, and the weak suffer as they must’) was in the best interest of Australia, especially in the long run.

Kevin Rudd’s election victory over Howard triggered new hopes and indeed, things did change for the better domestically. Mr. Rudd strongly imposed within the country the principles of tolerance, importance of religious and ethnic diversities and strict adherence to rule of law. Along with these initiatives many, especially the Muslims also expected some soul searching and greater and more principled underpinnings in Australia’s foreign policy, especially in the Middle East and those that perpetuate Muslim repressions. Regrettably, no noticeable shift in policy seems to have happened yet. This is unfortunate.

Mr. Rudd continues with Howard legacy as much as Obama with Bush’s. As far as Muslims are concerned the status quo of Australia’s partnerships in the projects of injustices continues though there is no denying the fact that in times of human crisis Australia has and does stand by the Muslims. Its recent help to rehabilitate and rebuild post Tsunami Ace in Indonesia – a predominantly Muslim society- has been exemplary. But these acts of part time benevolence seem to do little or nothing to remove the blemishes of its imperialist collaborations that prolong the political, economic and social sufferings of the Muslims more widely, elsewhere.

There not much doubt that the Taliban, Mr. bin Laden’s host are scourge of the earth, but by no measure they are a security threat to Australia, let alone the world. Created and armed by the US against the Soviets in the eighties and living in caves, riding on donkeys and fighting with homemade Kalashnikovs the Taliban are at best a rampaging menace to its own people, the Afghans and to some extent, the Pakistanis but not, as we are made to believe by the Islamophobic punditry of the day, to the world. If anyone has to fight the Taliban goons, it should be the governments of these two countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan and not by the outsiders, unless of course the real reason for the current Afghan war is something else.    

Ms. Malalai Joya, an ex-Afghan parliamentarian who in her book, “A woman among the war lords” seems to elude to an alternative theory of the on-going war in Afghanistan, she suggests, “…. It is clear now that the real motive of the U.S. and its allies, hidden behind the so-called “war on terror,” was to convert Afghanistan into a military base in Central Asia and the capital of the world’s opium drug trade. Ordinary Afghan people are being used in this chess game and western taxpayers’ money and the blood of soldiers is being wasted on this agenda that will only further destabilize the region….Afghan and American lives are being needlessly lost.” These allegations may or may not be true, but should Australia be part of a project that has become, as per an American journalist, “a horrible cocktail of a foreign policy”?

The theatre of violence is now beginning to expand to Yemen, Somalia and Nigeria etc.  Gordon Brown has asked for a conference on Yemen to determine joint actions for the expanded war. No doubt Australia will be on the list of the invitees. Should it participate and more importantly, should Australia commit further resources to a war which seems to be spiraling out of control with no results in sight.

In this regard, it may be useful to remember that a similar conference was also held nine years ago on Afghanistan that ended up in installation and later bolstering of a corrupt puppet regime of drug dealers and murderers, escalation of violence and at the end, a resurgent Taliban. There is no reason to believe that a conference on Yemen or for that matter any conference on the illusive “war on terror”, al-Qaeda etc. that does not answer the “why” question and do not focus on the core issues of conflicts shall produce any different result (the recent idea of buy-out of Taliban is anything but smart – it will make a corrupt Afghan society more corrupt and a volatile Afghan society more fragile).

It is time that instead of resorting to costly and futile additional military options more attention is given to discussing, analyzing and resolving justly the political contexts of these conflicts.


Australia’s foreign relations conundrum

So what is stopping Australia to get out of, what visibly appears as its morally regressive foreign policy, at least in some aspects of it? Is it because that even though it claims itself as a multi-cultural country, deep down it regards itself as a white nation and thus regardless of whether it is right or wrong, moral or otherwise feels a natural affinity to align itself with and be part of an international cluster that fulfills this ethnocentric identity – a sort of a birds-of-the-same-feather-flock-together syndrome? Or does Australia regard the region where it is located, as a hostile entity and thus in spite of the its moral costs values its imperialist partnership as a worthy trade off for a security compact that is militarily superior and therefore, politically more desirable?

Arundhuti Roy warns of the risks of super power alliances built purely on short term political opportunism, she states, “Super powers do not forge alliances, they recruit agents”. Henry Kissinger, an architect of many opportunistic doomed alliances, seems to agree; he once said, “It is dangerous to be America’s enemy but fatal to be its friend.”

Modern history is replete with cases of such fatal imperialist betrayals – Afghanistan after the defeat of the Russians; Pakistan throughout its existence; South Vietnam and more recently, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq (instructively, the Reaganite love affair with Saddam did not end after the Iran-Iraq war. In 1989, Iraqi nuclear engineers were invited to the United States, then under Gorge Bush I, to receive advanced weapons’ training – surprised?). 

Though Australia must always join the fight against all terrorism and that it must do everything possible to provide security to its people and properties – both at home and abroad-, it must do so with a clear understanding of what constitutes a genuine terror and what is but manifestations of prolonged injustices. Lack of such an analysis is bound to put Australia wrong-footed and is likely to cost it dearly both politically as well as economically, eventually.

Apart from its moral costs, the financial cost of waging such an endless and goal-less war must also be accounted for. The Iraq war alone has cost the American taxpayers US $ 1.0 trillion directly and US $ 3.0 trillion indirectly and the war cost lives of 4000 American soldiers. The cost of the Afghan war is also mounting (as far as US is concerned, a recent estimate puts it at $ 1.0 million per soldier per month). Also after the recent aborted airline bombing by the Nigerian, “costs associated with preventing the next attack from succeeding will measure in the tens of billions of dollars – new technologies, added law enforcement and security personnel on and off planes, lost revenues for airline companies and more expensive plane tickets, and of course, the expansion of the ‘war on terror’ full on to yet another country.”

According to the recently published “terror paper” Australia will need $ 69.0 million to put in place additional security measures, no such comprehensive figure on its “war on terror” costs– past and the on-going – has yet been made public. But there is little doubt that these costs runs into billions. People might ask to what avail?

Australia also needs to be particularly aware that super powers and imperialists do not always follow a fair path or pursue a uniform target. In recent past, its targets were communists, today it is Muslims, tomorrow it may be Chinese – who knows? Can Australia afford to put itself into a set of partnerships that is morally questionable, financially costly and politically suicidal?

Australia’s foreign policy and indeed its security considerations must contextualize two inter-linking dynamics – the evolving multi-ethnic character of its population. The latter is important because in addition to subscribing to their host country’s (Australia’s) economic benefits and social ethos many migrants also harbour important spiritual and other ties to their countries/societies of origin and therefore, policies that unjustly harm the interests of the their overseas compatriots are bound to irk their minds and become a source of much social discord domestically. Australia must therefore avoid value contradictions – pursue one set of values internally and another, externally.

Australia’s continued participation in Iraq and the on-going carnage in Afghanistan, its calculated ambivalence to if not outright endorsement of several other cases of Muslim repressions such in Palestine, Kashmir, Chechnya, Uighur etc., especially Palestine directly contradicts its policies of social justice and fairness that it practices so enthusiastically domestically.  These value contradictions dismay its and the world’s Muslims immensely to the extent that a consensus may now be forming among them that the issues of social justice and of human rights so enthusiastically advocated by Australia  can be invoked but applied only selectively and opportunistically.

Secondly, in forming its external relations the issue of multi-cultural nature of the morphing geo-politics also needs to be given due consideration. Australia, a pre-dominantly Anglo-Saxon society is surrounded by non Anglo-Saxon neighbours. In recent years, these countries have become Australia’s main trading and investments partners and therefore it must not do anything that will be perceived by the latter as predatory. Such actions are bound to damage its future economic as well as other relations with these countries.



In one way or the other, Australia’s security risks, of the types it face these days – terrorism from within, possible attacks on its nationals and establishments overseas etc. – are its own creation. These security threats were not there even a decade ago. These threats were also not there when Australia participated in the first Iraq and the first Afghanistan war. This is because the world at large including the Muslim world regarded these wars as necessary and legitimate.

Its current security risks are direct outcomes of its participation in the second phase of “war on terror” that many see as nothing but a continuum of the US/Anglo imperialist initiatives that on the hand, acquiesce Israel of its occupation and brutal subjugation of Palestine and on the other, ignore and even perpetuate unjust treatment of the Muslims (in Kashmir, Chechnya, Uyghur etc.) the world over. 

Long term survival of smaller nations such as Australia (Australia is a big country but a small nation) does not rest entirely on its military might and lot less on borrowed military strength. Moreover, policies that are unprincipled, those that have the capacity to alienate a large number people over a long period have the potential to breed more enemies and friends of enemies and create conditions for revenge both within and abroad (the recent threat to visiting Australians by the Kashmiri Mujaheedin is a good example of this).

Australia cannot afford to be part of a policy nexus that instead of improving worsens security risks and increases the costs of protection. Although there is no doubt that the “white paper’s” proposed $ 69.0 million measures will improve security to some extent there is no guarantee that without proper and objective analysis of the political context of current security risks these will either be effective or permanent.

Australia should address its security concerns more by trust building and less by military means, through adoption of policies that are principled such that these secure friends and marginalize adversaries and most importantly and regardless of their ethnicity, instill among its people a sense of pride and loyalty to the nation state. Equally Australia must also strictly adhere to its policies of multi-culturalism and steadfastly promote across religions and faiths the principles of toleration and mutual respect.

After several years of pursuing policies that are morally bankrupting and politically opportunistic and short-sighted, time may have come for Australia to reflect on and re-shape its international relationships in a manner that is ethically tenable and security-wise more viable. It must do so urgently for, time is running out!


Mr. M. Adil Khan, is an Adjunct Professor, School of Social Sciences, University of Queensland, Brisbane and a recently retired senior staff of the United Nations Secretariat, New York. Prof. Khan can be reached at


For more information on the University of Queensland, visit the website at


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Haven’t we seen this movie before; by John Quiggin Thu, 25 Feb 2010 10:20:12 +0000

My piece in today’s Fin compares Greece with some Australian states who also play games to conceal debt. The emerging news (also in today’s NY Times) is that the same banks who facilitate the dodgy debt deals established a CDS market for Greek sovereign debt and some have large short positions (translated from marketspeak: they are betting that the deals they set up will go bad and Greece will default).  This can of course be defended as insurance, but it obviously changes your relationship with your bank or financial advisor if they can steer you into a deal and then bet on its failure.  The potential for moral hazard in the CDS market has yet to be fully explored, but I think we will get to find out the hard way before too long.

Commentary on the debt crisis facing the Greek government has focused primarily on big international issues such as the implications for the euro, contagion effects on other sovereign debt markets, and the possibility of a renewed global downturn.  These issues are important, but there are also some lessons to be learned with more direct relevance to Australian public policy.

When we ask how Greece got into this mess, it’s easy to offer a simple answer. Greek politicians, prefer spending to taxing,and those preferences were endorsed by the electorate. So governments of both left and right ran large budget deficits, made much larger by the massive infrastructure investment associated with the 2004 Olympics. When the financial crisis hit, the deficits got worse, and Greece was unable to refinance its existing debt except on punitive terms.

The real story is more complex. Politicians everywhere prefer spending to taxing, so political systems (at least those that survive) must evolve mechanisms to prevent unsustainable deficit financing. In the eurozone, those mechanisms are represented by the ‘convergence criteria’ agreed in Maastricht in 1992.

The criteria require countries using the euro to limit budget deficits to 3 per cent of GDP and public debt to 60 per cent. Although these limits have been breached by a number of countries they still  create problems for governments who want to spend more, but not to raise taxes.

The Greek government, with the aid of clever financial advisors such as Goldman Sachs managed to find ways to solve these problems. A wide range of financial transactions can provide governments with ready cash, without any corresponding debt being created. Greece tried most of them. There were sales of future revenue, such as airport fees and lottery proceeds, PFI and PPP deals and many others.

Most strikingly, there was a deal set up by Goldman Sachs, which was presented as a long-dated interest rate swap, and could therefore be kept off the balance sheet. The deal ensured that the Greek government would receive about a billion euros upfront, but that it would incur liabilities to Goldman Sachs to be repaid in 2019. It was, in other words, a loan.

But under the prevailing rules of the European Statistical Agency, Eurostat, such deals did not count as debt, so Greece piled into them. Over time, however, Eurostat has tightened up the rules to prevent such abuses. The result is that, as well as facing massive deficits as a result of the crisis, the Greek government has been forced to bring the debts arising from these transactions on to the balance sheet. The results are not pretty.

The final irony in the Greek tragedy is the claim that, having profited from the deals that pushed up Greece’s national debt, Goldman Sachs quietly took out short positions, effectively betting on a default by Greece. From Goldman’s point of view, arguably this was just sensible risk management. But it certainly makes a mockery of their claim that the innovative financing mechanisms used here served to reduce the riskiness of Greece’s fiscal position.

At this point, a fair number of readers might be asking ‘haven’t I seen this movie before?’. Australian governments, and particularly successive New South Wales governments, have made an art form of transactions designed to disguise debt and evade limits on borrowing.  Examples from the 1980s included the sale and leaseback of Eraring Power Station, and the pseudo-private financing of the Sydney Harbour Tunnel. Through the 1990s, we saw a string of Public Private Partnerships, Build Own Operate and Transfer (BOOT) schemes and quasi-privatisations, all designed to reduce measured debt.  And, of course, Sydney had its own Olympics.

The consequences of these accounting tricks are now coming home to roost. Fortunately, our problems are not on the scale of those facing Greece, but they are much worse than they would have been if governments had been transparent about the state of their balance sheets.

Yet far from learning the lesson, state governments are still playing the same games, selling off income earning assets to finance non-commercial investments, providing debt guarantees to nominally private investments in public infrastructure, and trying to keep debt off the books.

The worst offender at present is the Queensland government, which still pushes the claim that selling income-generating assets will allow new investment in schools and hospitals. Economists from across the political spectrum have pointed out that this claim is nonsensical, but the government thinks it’s good enough for the people of Queensland.

John Quiggin is an ARC Federation Fellow in Economics and Political Science at the University of Queensland

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Vindaloo Against Violence Wed, 24 Feb 2010 06:34:19 +0000

I was never the protesting type. My bones are soaked till saturation in this syrup of laziness – on days even raising my pinkie is an Himalayan effort. To put it simply: My biggest motivation to get off the bed is food, and once I have stuffed my stomach, even my oesophagus, I feel sleepy.

But that is exactly why I love this initiative by Mia Northrop, a Melbourne-based digital media designer: it is called Vindaloo Against Violence. The idea is simple, as Mrs Northrop puts it:

“We were looking for an idea to embrace the sizable Indian community here and we found no better way to bind Australians to India than through the world famous Indian flavours. The idea is that you just go to your local Indian restaurant and just dine on Indian food as a way of embracing the Indian community.”

In fact, I came in on this very late; it is scheduled to happen tonight (Feb 24, 2010). The initiative has been quite a rage on Facebook and in the press in India, Australia and elsewhere. When I last checked on Facebook, it already had over 9,700 confirmed participants in this event! Additionally, people have vociferously enlisted their support on the VagainstV blog too. The total participation might just go beyond 17,000!

What can I say? Food as a form of protest! I bow to thee, Mrs Northrop!

It would be interesting to extrapolate this idea to other cities across Australia and see if the response is as overwhelming. It is common knowledge that Melbourne is the most culturally diverse city in Australia. Hence, I’d be very much interested in knowing if the same support will be seen in Brisbane, for example. I will try and pitch it to the University of Queensland’s Indian Student Society, and see what happens.

Given the recent spate of violence in Melbourne, such initiatives are deliciously welcome! Here’s hoping that the decrease in Indian students opting for Australia as a education destination is soon reversed. It maybe worth mentioning that as a student in Brisbane for about five months, I never felt as much as an iota of racism – I’m willing to pardon the occasionally rude bus-drivers!

Culinary footnote: Vindaloo is a hot Indo-Portuguese curry usually cooked with either chicken, potato, pork or lamb. It is quite popular along the Western coast of India.


By Ajinkya Deshmukh – media student and freelancer.

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Freelance journalism: A leap of faith or plain stupidity? Wed, 24 Feb 2010 04:23:50 +0000

“Don’t quit your day job,” is the advice I usually give budding freelancers, particularly travel writers. Of course I did it all completely different. But in this case, it’s more a “do as I say not as I do” scenario. Somewhat foolishly, I decided to become a freelance journalist at the tender age of 20 years, armed only with an Australian University Degree in journalism and some newsroom experience. In retrospect it wasn’t the wisest move. But somehow, through dogged single mindedness mostly and a love of my craft, I’ve turned out with some success, I think…

The reality was after three years of being trained to be a news journalist I discovered two things on entering the job market – I didn’t like being told what to write and I didn’t like being in a newsroom with all the competitive urges that often come with journalism. So I left. 

Possibly the skills I acquired at the University of Queensland saved me in the end during the rather tortuous transition into freelancing. Some of these skills included an all pervading sense of ethics and honesty, the need to meet deadlines no matter what (copy was considered late if it was even seconds past the hour hand), the importance of tight and concise writing and the need to develop sources and maintain relationships with them. The rest of course, I learnt on the job as the nature of journalism essentially is that it is a trade. You need the hours on the job to get the work right.

When I left school in Brisbane in 1993, it was considered par for the course that you went to University. It was almost deemed untoward if you weren’t going or seeking to get there. It was a strange era and I was aware of the pressure to have a tertiary degree.

I then spent three, often tedious and hard years, studying about Journalism in Society, the Law and Journalism, Journalism Ethics and the History of Newspaper Reporting. Actually in the beginning it seemed all we did was study mind-numbing subjects about journalism without really practicing it. But it did instill in me a sense of what my profession was about and the issues involved.

For the first 12 months we were only allowed to write hard news stories and had our heads knocked against the wall repeatedly (metaphorically speaking) to cut out every unnecessary word possible until our copy was clear and concise. My dad used to say my work read like someone had left the tap on. After my first year at Uni I’d turned the proverbial tap off. When we were finally allowed to write features I had to learn how to be descriptive all over again but now my copy was both clean and colourful.

By this stage I knew the benefit of developing sources, how to interview, note take and I was ready to go. Third year was almost all practical and we had become efficent writing machines. None of this really had anything to do with freelance travel writing of course but the skills were useful.

Once I had elected to be a freelancer, with no real clear idea about how to go about the process, it all went downhill from there. It was a disaster. For two years I struggled financially. I coached sports, I did wedding photography or portrait jobs, I worked as a PR manager for sports clubs and social justice groups, I even cleaned houses and babysat. Still I barely had enough to pay the rent so in the end, at 21 years, I took off for India, having landed a job there in a school teaching Physical Education – a far cry from the world of journalism.

But during my second year in India, the journalism teacher left and suddenly I was back teaching the very skills I’d learned at uni. Not longer after this I was invited to visit the exotic and relatively unknown land of Bhutan, and realized when I got there that I was having a travel experience people would want to read about. So I studied the format of a few travel articles, wrote a piece and sent the copy to Brisbane News, one of our quality lifestyle magazines. It was the first piece I was ever paid for.

From there, my university skills kicked into gear. I kept note of potential sources for articles, new papers or magazines I could write for and I discovered my love of travel could also help pay for itself. A travel writer was born! From India I went to Nepal, England, Italy and through Europe, into Africa, back to Asia and the Middle East.

It was still a slow process building contacts and getting known by editors. Many didn’t bother to respond to my initial queries or pitches and I often got a single line that largely all read something like, “Thanks for your submission which we are unable to use at this time”. One editor I religiously sent material to for two years, finally deigned to respond to me with the line “please phone me” and listed a number. I was in Europe by this time and rang from a public phone in Italy.

So I guess I was just persistent. I started getting clips together slowly in The AustralianSydney Morning HeraldThe Chicago TribuneThe Sunday Mercury and so on. But when I attempted to become a guidebook writer I hit another hurdle – to write for a guide you needed experience on another. A Catch 22. I met a researcher by chance one day in Italy and we really clicked and she recommended me to her publisher and I was soon covering locations for them in Europe and Asia. We’re still good friends to this day.

Today I’ve been involved in quite a few guidebooks, I continue to work for a number of inflight magazines, as many leading papers as I can and of course Asian Correspondent. I have also delved into humanitarian issues and have re-entered news journalism again to some degree. So what advice would I give to budding freelancers? Yes a degree or journalism course is very useful. The strict, demanding rigour of a three year degree was probably excellent for me in restrospect and has made me the writer I am. But a shorter course, if you already have some skills, could be just as beneficial.

The truth is that freelance journalists don’t need accreditation, they don’t really even need to fulfill any education requirements. There’s no board of licensees assessing your suitability anytime you go for a job. If you perform some kind of malpractice you might never work for that publication again, but there’s nothing stopping you hawking your wares elsewhere. Basically in journalism if you can write or if you know the right people, you get a job. And obviously the more ethical, honest and hard working you are, editor’s come to trust and respect you. So it’s in your interests to get it right anyway.

Having said all that, the university degree I did at the University of Queensland set me on the right path. I probably could have arrived here by another method, but this was the one I took.

Freelancers also need to be dedicated, determined and disciplined in their work practices. That means finishing articles, sticking to a work schedule even from home – my friends know 9am-5pm is work time for me during the week just like anyone else – and keeping up to date with industry practices. That means upgrading computers, cameras and other equipment along with understanding new social media such as blogs and twitter.

If you’re keen on freelancing, drop me a line for advice or just get your pen to paper. The old adage really holds true here – practice makes perfect.

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Towards a universal higher education system Wed, 24 Feb 2010 04:21:20 +0000

As in other countries, the Australian higher education system is a set of institutions originally created to serve a small elite of the population, faced with a modern economy in which everyone needs some form of post-school education. As in other countries, this problem has been dealt with in haphazard fashion. The first big expansion in higher education, following World War II, was met with the creation of a number of new universities, institutes of technology and colleges of advanced education (mostly former teachers colleges). Then, in the 1980s, the latter two groups were converted into universities, with a corresponding expansion of their range of offerings. Meanwhile, existing universities opened a range of new campuses.

The process, already slowing in the early 1990s, came to a near-complete halt under the Howard government. The last new university in Australia was the University of the Sunshine Coast, opened in 1994. And, under Howard, new enrolments of domestic students stagnated, while the public contribution per student was cut.

The system was saved from financial disaster in part by increasing the fees charged to domestic students, but even more by an expansion in the number of full-fee paying overseas students, mainly from Asia. More than in any other country, Australian universities saw overseas students as representing a market that could profitably be served. Meanwhile, for rapidly developing Asian countries, the availability of Australian universities provided an alternative, or supplement, to massive expansion of their own higher education systems.

With the 2007 change of government in Australia, followed by the impacts on job prospects of the financial crisis, the growth of domestic enrolments has resumed, while demand from overseas students has remained strong. But the funding to support these developments, promised as part of the Rudd government’s ‘education revolution’ has so far fallen far short of what was promised. A big increase in higher education expenditure is needed, but it remains to be seen whether it can be delivered under the current system.

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My Brisbane experience Wed, 24 Feb 2010 01:02:21 +0000

Hi everyone, I think it would be better to introduce myself first.  I am an international student from Hong Kong who has just graduated from the University of Queensland (UQ) specialising in business economics and marketing.  I think this background gives me a fantastic perspective to share my thoughts and experience in Brisbane and UQ.

As you know, study abroad means much more than just education for an overseas student.  It is a holistic experience to the student.  Therefore, every aspect of life in the destination counts.  It certainly includes new friendships, culture, environment, and lifestyle.  And of course, without some hard times and difficulties, the whole experience would not be a complete one.  At the end of the day, it is all these tiny parts of life combined together to bring you some new inspiration that matters.  It stimulates your way of thinking as well as broadens your horizon.

So, why Brisbane?  If I am only allowed to use one word, I would say “lifestyle”.   It is a relaxed and outdoor lifestyle.  Walk along the Brisbane River, you can find out there are locals jogging and cycling along the river just before and after working hours.   During weekends, people are enjoying their picnic or barbecue with their family in the South Bank Parkland.  While walking along the Boundary Street, you will notice that there are commuters chatting with friends and having their bunch in an alfresco style.  After all, people are enjoying every minute of their leisure time that make the lifestyle truly a work hard and play hard one.

Certainly, just looking at what others do will not let you really experience the lifestyle.  So, in my next blog entry, I will share more about the eating, accommodation, transportation, and leisure aspects of life in Brisbane with you.



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Who is John Galt? Sun, 21 Feb 2010 05:23:40 +0000

Who is John Galt Mainstone?

He is the man whose job is, arguably, more boring than watching paint dry. It might be the most boring job in the world. For the last 82 years, the School of Mathematics and Physics at The University of Queensland, where I was briefly, is running the world’s longest single experiment. It’s called the Pitch Drop Experiment.

So, in 1927, Professor Thomas Parnell was sitting idly and wondering randomly: what if pitch (a solid) is really a very, very, very, very dense liquid? Now you know how it goes with scientists, so he just melted a lot of pitch and poured it into a funnel with a sealed stem and waited…

This is Pitch.

This is Pitch.



Three years later.

It was 1930 and Parnell thought, “Okay, my pitch must’ve now settled.” So, he cut the sealed stem in the hope that slowly but surely, the ‘solid’ pitch will start ‘flowing’ down the funnel stem like a really, really thick liquid. Again, he kicked off his boots, sat in his chair, and guess what? He waited.

And waited some more.

Waited for eight years.

In 1938, a drop of pitch fell into the beaker that was, quite frankly, getting bored lying around there for eight years waiting for the pitch to drop. Parnell was delighted! “Hurray!” he said, “The eight-year wait has paid off! I was almost beginning to lose hope! Now all I need to do is wait some more till another drop falls, just to establish to my science-y friends that there is no sleight of hand here.” So, once again, Professor Thomas Parnell stoked his pipe, got a book to keep him company and waited.

Nine years later.

In 1947, the year India got independence, a second drop of pitch fell. A year later, Parnell, who was born in 1881, died – of boredom I suppose. But his work has been seen as really significant, and in recognition he was given the Ig Nobel Prize posthumously. The Ig Nobel is like the Nobel but for Physics that even the lay bloke at the bar can understand and say, “Holy sh*t!” after seeing.

Those were the days when the geeks got the girls…

Those were the days when the geeks got the girls!


Since then, six more drops of ‘solid’ pitch have funnelled through and fallen, each one taking longer than the one earlier. The last one was in November 2000. However, no person has ever actually seen a drop fall. If you are way too bored and want to be the first person ever to see it, you can actually go to the school’s webpage on the University website and see a live feed of the experiment. Don’t get too excited though, nothing really happens except once in every decade or so… Trust me, I’ve actually been there. And I’ve waved at the camera.

Now, back to John Mainstone. He is the man now in-charge of maintaining the experiment. Not like there is much to maintain, but hell, scientists and their ways. But, that’s his job. So, like Parnell, he is waiting…

The Man himself!

The Man himself!

Nine years and counting…


By Ajinkya Deshmukh – a media student and a freelancer.

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Brisbane, Australia’s New World City prepares to welcome new International students for Semester 1, 2010 Fri, 19 Feb 2010 03:04:26 +0000

Brisbane, Australia’s New World City is rolling out the welcome mat in preparation for the new cohort of students for Semester 1, 2010.

Some of the activities lined up to welcome new international students include Brisbane Marketing’s Brisbane Welcomes International Students 2010 event as well as individual university orientation programs.

The Brisbane Welcomes International Students 2010 event is set to be a fun and interactive day packed with entertainment including live band performances, food and not to mention various prizes to be won.

The event, hosted in conjunction with the Brisbane City Council, will be launched by Lord Mayor Campbell Newman.

“Brisbane is a friendly, welcoming and multicultural city and by hosting this event, we want to demonstrate these qualities to our new international students,” said Lord Mayor Campbell Newman.

“Many of these students will experience Brisbane for the first time and it’s important the city provides a festive, educational and supportive introduction that will help them transition into Brisbane life.

“The event will have over 40 exhibitors from education institutions, transport providers, banks, public transport services, community engagement groups, sporting groups to student accommodation providers. Through this community approach we hope to provide essential orientation information for students.

“We encourage all new international students to come to Reddacliff Place on the 6 March between 10am and 2pm to experience a true taste of what Australia’s new world city has to offer.”

For more information:


At a university level, institutions like The University of Queensland (UQ) are eagerly putting the last minute touches on its Semester 1 Orientation Week. 3,000 new international students are anticipated to join in the UQ activities during the week commencing Monday, 22 February 2010.

One of the more popular activities of the week is the free Market Day (UQ Ipswich — February 23; UQ St Lucia — February 24; UQ Gatton — February 25), which gives students the opportunity to join in the many UQ Union affiliated clubs and societies; find out about clubs, adventure and recreational activities offered by UQ Sport and familiarise themselves with other services and facilities available to them. There will be plenty of freebies, fun activities, and inspiring performances.

UQ Student Services will provide a host of workshops, including academic skills, time management and preparing students more holistically for their transition into University.


UQ Student Services’ Learning Hub Senior Manager Janey Saunders says “Many of these activities will evolve and continue beyond O-Week so that students can engage in them as integral components of their discipline areas.


“Most sessions are for all students but some are more tailored to specific groups such as Safety Down Under for international students.

“The week certainly ensures a diverse range of sessions and activities that are targeted at preparing and enhancing the study experience for our newest members.”

To find out more, students can access the UQ Orientation Event planner at

Su-Ann Tan,
The University of Queensland

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I am off to the IPL Sun, 14 Feb 2010 18:02:38 +0000

As I prepare to pack my bags for my tenth cricket tour of India I realise that this time it will be different. I am going to the biggest sporting event in the world Indian Premier League or IPL as it is known. 

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