Saturday, July 09, 2005

"Selective morality"

The Greens' Rod Donald was on Agenda this morning, talking mainly about the government's piss-poor response to the Black Caps tour of Zimbabwe. In the post-interview discussion among the panel, he was accused of "selective morality" for supposedly singling Zimbabwe out. But I think this is more an example of selective memory among the panel than selective morality from the Greens.

The Greens have taken a consistent line on international human rights abuses, and have stood up and spoken out about it. They protested at the visit of Wu Bangguo, and oppose free trade with that nation. They spoke out against the Musharraf visit, when no other political party would. And they've been constant critics of the government's pursuit of closer relations with the Burmese junta. Rather than being "selective", their stance on Zimbabwe is simply another example of their principled foreign policy stance.

There's another question here of whether it would be "selective" for the government to take a hard line on human rights abuses in Zimbabwe while not taking a similar line on China. The short answer to this is "yes - but it would also be right". I would rather that the government did the right thing at least some of the time than be consistent by not doing it at all.

As for the broader issue of how best to advance our principles, while our government should always speak up for human rights (and is generally pretty good at this, even if they have to be kicked into it on occasion), whether we should do more will in part be dictated by tactical considerations. In the case of China, I think that those considerations favour engagement rather than a snub; we will do more real good for people in China by using trade negotiations to press hard for change and to establish a pattern of linking trade to human rights than we will by refusing to sully ourselves (obviously, the Greens differ on this score). In the case of Zimbabwe, I simply don't see any reason not to take a principled stand. Mugabe's intransigence in the face of international pressure means that there is effectively no other avenue open to us - and it certainly won't do any harm to do so. It's an easy choice compared to China, but that doesn't mean its also not the right one.


> I would rather that the government did the right thing at least some of the time than be consistent by not doing it at all.

And yet so many people argue the exact opposite...

Posted by Anonymous : 7/09/2005 05:58:00 PM

YES! I agree wholeheartedly with you and GNZ on the issue of consistency vs doing what's right. I simply can't believe that it's right to do nothing about something wrong on the grounds that you can't do something right about everything wrong. Yet, I note that this is what Mugabe's representative in Australia is arguing to defend his regime's actions.

Posted by pohanginapete : 7/10/2005 09:46:00 AM

Yeah, doing the right thing some of the time and being inconsistent is better than never doing the right thing at all, but it would be much better if they came straight out and admitted that that's what they are up to. Then they could say what they think the right thing would be and also say why they're not doing it.

"We won't say anything about Tibet because the Chinese buy our milk."

"We know that sending our engineers to Iraq will be a waste of money and lend tacit support to a repressive govt, but we want to stay onside with the guys with the big guns so we've got to help them get that oil money into the pockets of their mates."

Or hypothetically:
"We would like to retain our nuclear free policy but the Americans have offered to remove tariffs worth $x to us in a FTA."

Otherwise we have no choice but to lose respect for the govt because their statements on Zimbabwe (or wherever) become hypocritical, and we're left thinking they just want to convince us that they have a "moral foreign policy" or some other bullshit.

Posted by Anonymous : 7/11/2005 11:48:00 AM