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Former Prime Minister Mr John Howard recently delivered a public lecture at the University of Melbourne on the role of the media in covering politics. The lecture was hosted by the University’s Centre for Advanced Journalism.

Professor Tim Lindsey says the re-election of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has, somewhat surprisingly, barely rated a mention in one of it's biggest trading and diplomatic partners: Australia. 

"Perhaps this was because it was expected, but I suspect it's more likely that Australian's have barely noticed Indonesia's extremely successful transition to democracy.  Of all the countries that have gone through the economic crisis, Indonesia is one of the few in which democracy has taken hold and increased."

"Attitudes in Australia are still fixed by the old experiences of an authoritarian, military backed dictatorship under Suharto.  Despite the fact that somewhere around a fifth of Australian's have gone to Bali, no one seems to have registered the massive transition to an open, democratic and vibrant democracy."

 

If women are allowed to wear minimal clothing, they should be allowed to completely cover their body and wear a burqa, says Director of the Asia Institute at the University of Melbourne Professor Abdullah Saeed

Professor Saeed says French President Nicholas Sarkosy’s call to ban the burqa was interpreted by many Muslims as an attack on their faith. Yet he says Sarkosy’s address was motivated by a concern for women’s rights.

“From Sarkosy’s point of view women don’t have a lot of choice, and in his regard women are forced to wear the burqa. However, when we look at Muslims in France and the issue of veiling, roughly 50 per cent support the ban and roughly 50 per cent don’t support it,” he says.

“There are some Muslims who argue that veiling is not Islamic, for them there is no requirement in Islam in the Koran to suggest that veiling is a requirement. For them this is not Islamic and prevents women from particular aspects of modern life. But there are also some Muslims who argue that it is Islamic and argue that the wearing of burqas is supported in the Koran and should be part of Muslims life in the modern period.”

“The practice is a matter of choice and if women is allowed to wear minimum clothes, why shouldn’t they be allowed to completely cover her body,” he says.

Iranians go to the polls tomorrow in a much anticipated presidential election, with the very real prospect of a victory for the reformists and a positive change for the nation, according to Melbourne middle east expert, Associate Professor Shahram Akbarzadeh.

Although positive about the prospect of change Associate Professor Akbarzadeh says it will be a close election, with the reformist camp divided between two candidates, risking a split in the reformist vote.

"The reformers have been mobilizing quite significantly, and they’ve been tapping into the energy of this younger generation of voters," he says.  "The fact that reformist candidate Mousavi has gained the endorsement of former President Khatami is encouraging.

"The population is ready for a change, and the changing international environment allows for that degree of optimism.  In the past Iran had always managed to point to American foreign policy, point to the US and its relations with Israel as a problem in the region.

"The Iranian Government has accused the US of being a bully in international affairs, and policies pursued by President George W Bush in a way justified that accusation.  With the change in Washington, with Obama in power, there has been a change of attitude, a change of mood, which does facilitate a change in Iran.  The hardliners can no longer point to the US as a bully, and try to ‘circle the wagons’."

Associate Professor Akbarzadeh says while the hardliners have been in power (about four years), Iran has effectively become a pariah state in the region, with President Ahmadinejad having mismanaged the economy and adopting a very confrontational posture toward the west, or the international community.

He says President Obama’s appeal to the people of Iran at Nowruz (Iranian new year) - in which he talked about their great civilization and his respect for their culture and contribution to peace in the region - were important and unprecedented gestures that effectively disarmed the hardliners.

"I think the people of Iran are responding to President Obama’s charm offensive, and appreciate there has been a genuine change in US policy," he says.

"President Obama is obviously concerned about Iranian nuclear ambitions, but by the same token he is putting that problem within the broader context of the middle east, he places that problem as one among many in the region, which I think is the right approach to regional politics."

In the wake of 9/11, the world was waiting for someone powerful to say that ‘our enemy is not Islam’ according to Professor Abdullah Saeed. He says this moment finally arrived when President Barack Obama made a landmark speech to the Muslim world.

“All of the issues Obama talked about in his address were closely connected to the interests of both America and the Muslim World. Obama presented the view that there is no clash of civilisations, that there is no clash between Islam and the West,” he says.

Professor Saeed says that what Obama presented to the world in his address is a view that we need to walk away from a view that Islam equals extremism.

“There are Muslims who do awful things in the word in the name of Islam, but that should not be the total story. Just as America can’t be reduced to a few voices, neither can the Muslim world,” he says.

Professor Saeed says Obama’s speech was a message of hope and optimism that should aid in creating a new partnership between America and the Muslim world.

“Of course a speech has its limitations, but this is a speech by the most powerful person in the world, and by addressing the Muslim world he is making a significant, timely and relevant step.”

“A lot will be happening in the next few months to make this work. It will require a lot of effort on part of the Muslim world and the Americans to take this gesture of good will to the next level - it will take time.”

North Korea’s underground nuclear tests have been condemned by world leaders, yet Associate Professor Tilman Ruff says the global community should not simply react by reprimanding the regime but ridding the world of nuclear weapons.

“There are around 25,000 nuclear weapons in the world and if less than half of one per cent of the world’s nuclear arsenal was targeted on cities it could result in a global climatic catastrophe that would imperil human civilisation,” he says.

“Every day we live with this terrible risk that the world could end.”

Professor Ruff says North Korea’s underground nuclear testing and violation of Resolution 1718 brings into force the need for a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty. He says nations who claim nuclear weapons are essential to their own security are often the same ones who are claiming these weapons are a threat when possessed by anyone else.

“This kind of nuclear apartheid is unsustainable and the only approach that really has legs is one that has a consistent standard - zero nuclear weapons for all countries,” he says.

Professor Ruff says the sooner we see serious progress toward the goal of zero nuclear weapons the better and says this goal is a lot more achievable since the Obama administration got into power.

“We have agreed on global treaties to abolish cluster munitions, land mines, chemical and biological weapons in the past, so there is plenty of precedent for abolishing whole classes of weapons by a comprehensive treaty. Many would argue that the same approach should be applied to nuclear weapons.”

VIDEO ALERT: Death of Tamil Tigers’ leader not a guarantee for peace, says Dr Pradeep Taneja.

The armed struggle of Tamil Tigers for an ethnic homeland in Sri Lanka is reported to have ended after 26 years, yet Dr Pradeep Taneja from the University of Melbourne’s School of Social and Political Sciences said peace will be short-lived if the Sri Lankan Government does not “reach out to the Tamil people and appeal to their grievances”.

Professor Taneja said the death this week of Tamil Tigers leader Velupillai Prabhakaran will also affect relations between the Tamil people and the Indian government.

“In July 1987 the Congress Party in India signed an accord with the Sri Lankan Government which led to Indian peace-keeping forces going into Sri Lanka, but attempts at peace ended following the assassination of India’s Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi by a Tamil Tiger.  Since then this relationship has not been good,” he said.

“Before the assassination of the Prime Minister there was a great deal of sympathy for the Tamil cause in Sri Lanka, but a lot of that evaporated after the assassination in 1991, so now we will have to see what happens because this week both the Congress party were re-elected and in Sri Lanka the Tamil separatist war has come to an end.”

“From the Indian Government’s point of view, they now have to put more pressure on the Sri Lankan government to deal with the grievances of the Tamil people because this is a cause that goes back to the 1950s, and the death of the Tamil Tigers’ leader doesn’t mean there will automatically be peace in Sri Lanka.”

Professor Joshua Gans says delays on the Federal Government’s emissions trading scheme shouldn’t effect consumer decisions on ‘buying green’.

With the Federal Government's hotly debated emissions trading scheme set to be introduced into the lower house today, Professor Gans says that the proposed one year delay in its official introduction should not be considered as "reneging on a previous timetable."

"When it comes down to it all, of the targets are to be achieved by 2020 or 2050”.

“Its going to matter to consumers to get energy efficient appliances, even if they know emissions trading is another 12 months away,” he said.

“The idea of emissions trading is to set a carbon price, and influence the investment decisions of businesses, households and government; unless those investments involve appliances that will only last two years, another delay won’t change things.”

Professor Gans said the real delay is in not passing the legislation, and the Government has already changed its policy and compromised its plan enough to accommodate various groups.

 “One of the problems we face in wanting to do more (such as the greens are asking) and having lower emission than the government is targeting, is that if the international community don’t come along for the ride, Australia’s impact on the actual problem - in the absence of an international agreement - is that we will be economising on carbon and suffering economic harm for no reason,” he said.

The Pakistani Government and global aid community can’t address the needs of these refugees; it could result in a large pool of people who could easily be recruited into the Taliban says Associate Professor Akbarzadeh.

“There is a big risk that public opinion could turn against the Pakistani Government because of its bad management of this war, these military advances have resulted into over a million refugees and the Pakistani Government and aid agencies are woefully under prepared for this,” he says.

Associate Professor Akbarzadeh says there is a very big chance that the offensive will also be a long one, as Pakistan troops have been trained for conventional warfare and not guerrilla style tactics as is expected from the Taliban.

Associate Professor Akbarzadeh says the Pakistani Government has had a difficult relationship with the Taliban ever since they began allowing them into Pakistani Territory for “their excursions into and eventual victory in Afghanistan in 1997”.

“The Pakistan Government allowed this because the Islamist have serviced a useful purpose for Pakistan foreign policy. Pakistan has wanted to expand its area of influence and the Islamists have served its purpose in this regard,” he says.

“So when the Taliban were pushed out of Afghanistan following US offensive and settled in the northern territory of Pakistan, this created a challenge to their sovereignty. For a time they were trying to appease the Taliban forces and allowed Sharia Law to be implemented as a way to appease the Taliban, but this was a major mistake.”

“In Pakistan public opinion was very uncomfortable that Islamic Law was being implemented, and there was a swell in public opinion against it as well as pressure from the US who were wary that the Taliban now had the territory to regroup, retrain and prepare for further excursions into Afghanistan.”

Associate Professor Akbarzadeh says that while it was a combination of these factors which made Pakistan launch its offensive to eliminate Taliban forces, their short sighted approach could be counter-productive if the offensive drags out and refugees become disillusioned.

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