Never let facts get in the way of a
campaign to malign and discredit aid agencies
and NGOs. Such is the case with Institute
of Public Affairs campaigner Don D'Cruz.
D'Cruz exposes Oxfam's links with the
for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO).
FRELIMO was and remains the long standing
democratically elected Government of Mozambique
and would hardly take kindly to such grossly
demeaning inaccuracy. Similarly, Oxfam's
work, with the financial support of the
Australian government, in providing humanitarian
assistance to victims of conflict in rebel
held areas of Eritrea and Tigray through
the Relief Society of Tigray and the Eritrean
Relief Association is grossly and deliberately
misrepresented by D'Cruz.
In tactically choosing to attempt to
undermine the substantial public credibility
of NGOs through a hostile and emotive
public campaign, the IPA has no concern
about whether NGO programs do any good
in their own terms, even at the level
of direct relief of poverty. The paramount
goal of the IPA campaign is to remove
any perceived impediments to extremist
free market ideology; impediments which
in their eyes include human rights, environmental
protection and corporate social responsibility.
The origins of the IPA's campaign against
NGOs lie in the 1998 attempt by the Organization
for Economic Cooperation and Development
to establish a Multilateral Agreement
on Investment (MAI) to deregulate global
private foreign direct investment which
was in part halted by an international
education and information campaign led
The demise of the MAI palpably fuelled
the antagonism of extremist free-market
advocacy groups towards NGOs. This was
exemplified in Australia by the reaction
of the IPA to NGOs "willing to engage
in the most egregious distortion and blatant
propagandizing to mount scare campaigns
in what is clearly a power-grab".
Former Keating government minister Gary
Johns has subsequently been responsible
for much of the IPA's NGO campaign. The
substance of the IPA based drive against
NGOs was foreshadowed in Johns's inaugural
paper for the IPA in 1997, Whither
Labor? This was an analysis of
why the Keating government lost office
in 1996 and Johns, then a government minister,
lost his seat of Petrie in the House of
Johns' diagnosis of Labor's defeat was
that the ALP's appeasement of minority
interest groups that "together monopolised
public discourse" eventually foundered.
Perplexingly, and overlooking any fundamental
virtue that many see NGOs have in informing,
stimulating and otherwise facilitating
public debate and pressuring for greater
transparency and accountability, Johns
argues that NGOs depoliticise life - making
it "less amenable to public dispute".
Johns's recurrent use of emotive terms
such as "cashed-up NGOs", a
"dictatorship of the articulate"
and a "tyranny of the minorities"
suggests that a significant level of anger
and resentment drives him.
The IPA's campaign to end public support
for NGOs is consistent with its position
on other policy matters, such as the very
narrow view of the legitimate roles of
trade unions and charitable organizations,
opposition to a bill of rights, denial
of notions of corporate social responsibility,
attacks on regulatory approaches to address
global warming, opposition to tougher
corporate and product disclosure requirements
and rejection of any need for a reconciliation
process with Aboriginal people.
Having told The
Age (7 July 2001) that in the
public mind negative messages are remembered
and positive ones forgotten, the IPA's
D'Cruz is clearly aware of the strategic
efficacy of negative campaigns. However,
in his analysis of Iraq's needs, D'Cruz
is right on two counts.
First, Iraqis should play a key role
in rebuilding what has been destroyed.
Any outside agency - whether they be private
contractors or NGOs - should be facilitating
this. This is exactly why Oxfam is now
planning large scale emergency water and
sanitation infrastructure work in southern
Iraq in conjunction with UNICEF and Iraqi
authorities. With five million Iraqis
now without access to clean water and
500,000 tonnes of raw sewage pumped daily
into the Tigris River - Iraq's main source
of fresh water - the need for this work
Second, D'Cruz is right that Iraq does
not need "Western political activists
pushing Western activist agendas".
This includes political activists like
D'Cruz already imposing a vision of a
reconstructed Iraq instead of leaving
it to the democratically expressed views
of Iraqis themselves to determine their
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