The Malaysian political activist and lawyer Haris Ibrahim was refused a Visa to Enter Australia by the Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur indicates a new attitude on the part of the Abbott Government towards human rights and free expression in South-East Asia.
Haris Ibrahim was scheduled to speak to academics at the Australian National University in Canberra on 29th September. He was also scheduled to visit Sydney on private business and attend another speaking engagement in Melbourne.
Haris Ibrahim is the founder of ABU or Anything But UMNO, referring to the main political party in the ruling coalition. He along with two opposition members of parliament has been charged with sedition over remarks made at a May 13th forum about the recent election in Malaysia.
It is standard practice for Australian Immigration not to divulge the reasons for rejecting any application for an Australian visa, however speculation from an unnamed source from the organization Global Bersih, a body concerned about fair elections in Malaysia cites the Australian Government belief that Haris Ibrahim poses a “high risk” if he is allowed to enter Australia, as many issues he may bring up could be very sensitive to the Malaysian Government.
Thus it could be asked does Haris Ibrahim’s proposed visit to Australia pose a ‘high risk’ to whom?
More likely, this visa decision in the first few days of the new Abbott administration more rightly indicates the government’s attitude and policy in action towards governments in the region.
Based on this decision, what we may be likely to see during this administration is the government going out of its way to placate South-East Asian Governments in the area of human rights and civil liberties, in the interests of good government to government relationships.
The new Abbott government did not want to rock the boat with Kuala Lumpur in these early days of the new administration.
The Haris Ibrahim decision shows that the Abbott Government will be pragmatic rather than principled on general foreign policy issues. This decision comes very quickly after the Australian Government’s remarks on asylum seeker policy, which has riled Jakarta.
If these assumptions are found to be valid, then we may have witnessed a major turn in Australian foreign policy, where the encouragement of free expression and ideas within the Asian region is no longer encouraged.
Foreign policy was not an issue widely debated during Australia’s recent election, however many voters will be very surprised with this new policy stance.
Prof. Murray Hunter is one of the frequent contributors for The 4th Media.