Let European dogs lie

Bookmark and Share Economics & Deregulation | John Roskam
Australian Financial Review 10th February, 2012

Australians will be surprised to learn that, apparently, the federal government now has responsibility to help the city of Athens pay for the feeding of stray dogs in the Greek capital.

Athens has a policy that "in no case supports the sheltering or euthanisation of animals". Stray dogs are instead sterilised, tagged, let loose again and fed by the council. During the anti-austerity riots in Athens last year one ginger mongrel, Sausage, became an international celebrity as he stood side by side with the balaclava-wearing protesters.

How countries deal with stray dogs is up to them. But if a country wants to provide stray dogs that are sick with an individual dog house and constant veterinary care, other countries shouldn't be forced to foot the bill. If the Greek government wants to set the retirement age at 50 it can, but it has to wear the consequences.

That's the issue at the heart of whether Australian taxpayers should contribute to an International Monetary Fund bailout of Europe.

Shadow treasurer Joe Hockey said a few weeks ago: "The government must explain to taxpayers whether it would be in Australia's national interest . . . to fund any such contribution."

A spokesperson for Treasurer Wayne Swan then accused Hockey of undermining "half a century of Australian governments meeting their responsibilities".

Last year, when the Coalition first started to question why Australia should contribute additional funds to the IMF, Labor claimed the Coalition was being "xenophobic". Opposition Leader Tony Abbott subsequently retreated, claiming: "I never said that Australia should fail in its duties of international citizenship."

Abbott and the Coalition shouldn't back down. They should refuse point blank to support Australian taxpayers paying money to the IMF to help pay the debts of Greece, Italy, Portugal, or any other European country for that matter. The Gillard government should be forced to explain exactly what is Australia's "responsibility" to Europe.

There are times when Australian taxpayers should financially support the governments and citizens of other countries. But Europe in 2012 is not one of those times.

Europe's debt crisis is not an act of God. It is not like the 1997 Asian financial crisis, which was caused by a series of external shocks and which was stabilised relatively quickly. In 1997 it was entirely appropriate for Australia to take a leading role managing a crisis in our own region.

Europe is different. Its problems are the result of deliberate decisions taken over decades. The economics of Europe and the euro are broken and the continent's political system is fatally flawed. Bailout money, whether from Germany, Australia, or China, can't give Europe what it really needs. Europe needs something more than other people's money. It needs a governing class focused on economic growth, not rule-making. And it needs democracy.

Daniel Hannan, the British member of the European Parliament who will be in Australia in the next fortnight, has described it well. "The EU, run by its 27-member politburo, is barely more democratic that the German Democratic Republic."

Hannan makes the point that the EU's so-called "democratic deficit" and the lack of accountability was essential to the design of postwar Europe.

"Having lived through the 1920s and 1930s, the [EU's] founders had little faith in democracy - especially the plebiscitary democracy, which they saw as a prelude to demagoguery and fascism. They were therefore unapologetic about vesting supreme power in the hands of appointed commissioners . . . the euro was the culmination of their scheme."

There's not much Australia can do about Europe. It's probably a waste of time to even try. Only the Europeans can fix Europe's problems.

There is a place, though, where Australia can make a difference. It's in Papua New Guinea, a poverty-stricken country of 6 million people 150 kilometres to our north. On any measure Australia's economic and security interests in PNG are vital.

Unfortunately, Port Moresby is not as glamorous and just a bit more dangerous than the capitals of Europe.

We know where the priorities of Australia's Foreign Minister are. Last week, as PNG lurched from constitutional crisis to attempted military coup, Kevin Rudd was at a conference in Munich discussing cyber security with Henry Kissinger.


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