The Pencil Guy: Hourann's illogical blog

APEC 2007: spreading it nice and thin

Monday 10 September 2007 at 11:42 pm

Leaders at APEC 2007 wearing Driza-Bone. Image courtesy of APEC 2007 Taskforce; Creative Commons licence does not apply

This year’s APEC has brought news of so many deals, you could be forgiven for thinking the delegates tackled every big international issue under the sun … but of course, being jack of all trades usually means being master of none. And so it is that despite the rhetoric, the big-ticket announcement of the Sydney Declaration delivers no more than a bunch of hand-waving statements that are barely worth anything in seriously combating climate change.

The thing is, the Sydney Declaration actually is a decent achievement by APEC standards, which is why it overshadowed much more productive news like the deal between Australia and Indonesia to reduce wasteful burning of peat in Borneo.

The issue on which I was expecting to hear some argument was whether APEC should admit more countries, with the moratorium on new members expiring this year. Alternatively, this year would have been a great opportunity to focus APEC a bit by restricting membership with a strict definition like “must have a Pacific coastline”. Instead, the matter seems to have been swept under the carpet, with the only word in the Leaders’ Statement being a new moratorium that’ll run to 2010.

Meanwhile, the first of the long-touted trilateral dialogues between Australia, Japan, and the US was reportedly dominated by discussion of India, Michelle Bachelet of Chile gave an interesting speech, George Bush took a tiny positive step in handling North Korea, business groups adopted an anti-corruption pledge, and more good work was done in tackling the red tape that can stifle international trade.

But there’s been little motion on the bigger and more important question: how will APEC evolve in future? The hope from the early 90s of an enormous free-trade area seems moribund now, and if it is instead to continue the (probably more important) work of lessening regulatory barriers, why are delegates being distracted with things like weak climate change proclamations?

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ARF 2007: who will go to Darfur?

Tuesday 7 August 2007 at 11:05 pm

Last week’s series of ASEAN meetings, including the ASEAN Regional Forum (at which North Korean nuclear weapons were the hot topic, though the Western media hardly noticed), were a continuation of the process started some years ago of taking definite-but-not-hasty steps towards further integration and formalisation in the region, this being typical ASEAN style. As examples, the meetings produced a tentative human rights agreement and a new ARF adjunct group.

But most interesting has been that one of the key topics for discussion (on the sidelines of the meetings, at least) was Security Council resolution 1769, which authorises a peacekeeping force in Darfur. It seems that a few participants — particularly John Negroponte, who attended for the US in Condi Rice’s absence — were asking around to see who’d be willing to send some troops. So this year is notable as an occasion where ASEAN meetings have had an impact beyond the immediate region.

On our behalf, Alexander Downer announced that the Australian military is too busy to pitch in for Darfur (and although he was criticised, if you believe that we absolutely need to be in Iraq, I suppose that’s kinda reasonable). He also signed a new partnership agreement that will hopefully strengthen Southeast Asian ties, in a gradual and very ASEAN kind of way.

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Another rant about housing affordability

Tuesday 13 February 2007 at 9:53 pm

This blog is now working again (or so I hope? I broke a bunch of links yesterday), my e-mail is back in action, and after a somewhat annoying DSPAM setup I have a shiny new anti-spam solution (I might even have to document what I did sometime). So I shall now return you to your regularly scheduled programming: random rants on the state of the State, with a bit of geeky tomfoolery and international politics thrown in for good measure.

There’s been some buzz, for some time, about property prices in Perth and their perceived effects on people who can’t afford a house (naturally, the loudest claims are coming from these guys, and they’re still beating their “taxes must be cut!” drum). Although I wonder about the limited evidence that this is an actual, real, screwing-with-social-welfare problem, it’s definitely an issue with votes in it. So yesterday Mr. Carpenter announced that he’d pitch in up to 40% of the cost of a house less than $365k, for families earning less than $60k per annum.

It’s a clever solution, and in the long term, there could even be profit! It’s also not a new idea, with similar schemes active in Scotland and other parts of the UK, though I’ve found little about whether these have worked.

I see only one flaw: $300 million is an awful lot of money to spend to help just three thousand families, even if it will be returned eventually. There are a lot of things that can be done for less that’d be of benefit to many, many more people. That said, the existing Keystart home loan scheme has also been rather pricey over the years … so maybe that’s just the cost of this kind of welfare.

Finally, and unrelatedly, an international smattering: despite some (predictable) opposition, abortion law in Portugal looks likely to change. I’m intrigued by the way that whaling is in the news again. And while it’s great to hear that there’s a new deal to relieve tensions surrounding North Korea, I wonder how long it’ll be before one of the involved parties breaks their commitment? (As pessimistic as that sounds, it’s been the pattern for years now — and there’s plenty of blame to go around.)