Thursday, August 17, 2006

Times changed

While recently sorting through some old news clippings, it became apparent how times have changed.

In March 1999, then Deputy Prime Minister and Trade Minister Tim Fischer went to Iran on a trade mission. State sponsored terrorism and other abuses by Iran were only minor considerations then for the Australian Government, apparently. This, of course, was before September 11 2001.

Mr Fischer briefly raised allegations of state-sponsored terrorism and human rights abuses, but said his talks were primarily on trade and investment.

... [Mr Fischer] said Australia stood with Iran in opposing the US Government’s decision to impose secondary sanctions against firms from other countries doing business with Iran. ...

Mr Fischer made only passing reference to Iran’s poor record on human rights and claims it wants to develop weapons of mass destruction. “The main focus of my visit here was trade, investment and tourism,”' he said.

  • The Age, 4 March 1999

A year later, Fischer had retired from public life, and Prime Minister John Howard was on his way to Israel “to receive an honorary doctorate of philosophy for his support for the state of Israel and for his contribution to peace.”

Mr Howard's first trip to Israel was in 1964, when he was a 25-year-old university graduate travelling [sic] from Asia to Europe. Since then he has visited only once, when he was Opposition Leader in 1988. ...

The Prime Minister has strongly supported Israel’s stance in Middle-East peace negotiations, which sometimes brought him into conflict with his former deputy, Mr Tim Fischer, who was outspoken in his criticism of Israeli actions against the Palestinians.

  • The Age, 3 March 2000

But the more things change, at another level they stay the same. Fischer has recently criticized Israel for its excesses in its late war against Hezbollah in Lebanon (although he also takes a swipe at Hezbollah).

“There is a rogue element in the (Hezbollah) military machines in Lebanon firing Katyusha rockets even on places like Nazareth, killing two Israeli brothers in the first salvo,” he said.

“Equally, there is a rogue element in the military machine of Israel.” ...

“Why the hell are they targeting Red Cross vehicles in Tyre? Why have they targeted more recently, in the last day, a UN compound, involving Austrians and others?,” he said.

“If they are so good at precision bombing, then there should be a lot more children alive in Lebanon today than there are.”

Fischer also took the opportunity to make obeisance to a long-time favourite cause, and to offer some advice to the US on the Iraq debacle:

He also expressed support for a Palestinian state, which would include East Jerusalem, and said Iraq would be partitioned along ethnic and religious lines.

But, strangely enough, not a word about “trade, investment or tourism”...


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