Both Shwe and Sein are military men but the US used the promotion of the latter to press for reforms. In return the US would ease its crippling sanctions and urge its allies to do the same. Sein released Suu Kyi from house arrest and released political prisoners in exchange for diplomatic relations. Sein gave his first foreign interview in January to the Washington Post and said they not only wanted to engage with the NLD but also with the 11 ethnic groups Burma was at war with. During the interview, Sein brought up the constitution to defend the right of the president to appoint the commander in chief of the armed forces. But Wapo did not follow up with a question of the validity of that constitution.
I sent a journalist to catch up with the Governor at the meet-up of Roma flood victims and I later met her at the art opening. She spoke at length at the opening and well used to boring speeches I was expecting the worst. I was pleasantly surprised by a touching, humorous and well considered speech she spent considerable effort researching and putting together.
Governor Wensley noted Roma was celebrating its sesquicentenary this year. Founded on the site of three pubs in 1862, it is 150 years old this year. It was one of the first towns to be gazetted after Queensland separated from NSW and the town gained its name from the wife of Queensland’s First Governor Lady Diamantina Bowen (nee Roma). In Wensley’s speech it was Bowen’s wife she identified most with, not Queensland’s First Governor.
The young Contessa Diamantina di Roma was born on the Greek Ionian island of Zante near Corfu in 1833. Corfu had briefly passed through French hands during the Napoleonic era but by the time of Roma’s birth her aristocratic Venetian family ruled Corfu in the name of Britain. Her mother was Contessa Orsola, née di Balsamo and her father Conte Giorgio-Candiano Roma was president of the Ionian Senate and known to Queen Victoria who appointed him poet laureate.
George Ferguson Bowen was a protestant Irishman educated at Oxford and briefly in the Navy. He was chief secretary to the government of the Ionian Islands in 1854 where he met Diamantina. They married in April 1856 and they stayed on Corfu until 1859. That year Queensland broke free from NSW and Bowen was called by his country to serve as first Governor. Lady Bowen headed to unfamiliar territory but was made immediately welcome by 4000 people on the docks of Brisbane waving British and Greek flags.
The colony of Queensland was officially declared on Saturday, 10 December 1859. Two days later there was a function for the new Governor and his wife at the Botanic Gardens. Bowen would remain Governor of Queensland for eight years, an interventionist who was sometimes popular and sometimes not. He had debts to deal with after NSW closed down all its Queensland bank accounts and he had to create a civil service from scratch. It didn’t help his politicians were naive. Robert Herbert was just 28 when he became Queensland’s first premier and had arrived here as Bowen’s private secretary.
But Queensland would thrive as would the Bowens. Without the demands of office, Roma was extremely popular. Governor Wensley said despite her privileged upbringing in Greece, Lady Bowen loved the different landscape of Queensland. She felt instantly at home in the climate and brought a sense of nobility and grace lacking in the young rough and tumble colony. Three of her six children were born in Brisbane. She was active in social welfare and became patron of many charitable societies. Her daughter, also Diamantina, would marry a Queensland grazier. Bowen and his wife would later serve in New Zealand, Victoria, Mauritius and Hong Kong before retiring to Britain.
There were 23 more governors of Queensland that followed Bowen before Wensley took over in July 2008. A distinguished diplomat she was appointed to the position after her predecessor Quentin Bryce became Governor-General of Australia. Penelope Wensley was a country girl born in Toowoomba in 1946. She joined the Australian Foreign Service in 1968 – the only woman selected in an intake of 19.
Wensley has a stellar diplomatic career at postings across the world including following in Bowen’s footsteps as Consul-General in Hong Kong. She was involved in putting together the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the UN Convention to combat Drought and Desertification. She is keenly interested in humanitarian and human rights issues, women’s rights, and environmental and sustainable development. When she told Roma and Mitchell flood victims this weekend she would act as an advocate for them with the new State Government, it was easy to believe her.
Bernard Keane called Brown’s career a third party triumph. Keane said Brown went from being the only Green in parliament between 1998 to 2001 to the leader of nine senators in 2010 with a vote of 13 per cent. “At a time when politics is increasingly professionalised and parties are pushing younger, less experienced people into senior positions, Brown was a traditional conviction politician, forthright in attacking the most sacred of cows in Australian public policy on economics, the media and foreign policy,” Keane said.Brown trained as a doctor and gained political prominence as the head of the Tasmanian Wilderness Society during the campaign to save the Franklin Dam. He was elected to the Tasmanian Parliament in 1983. In his book Bob Brown: Gentle RevolutionaryJames Norman called Brown the stalwart who has made the Greens the only unambiguously left-wing opposition party in Australia with enormous personal respect. “This gently spoken, bespectacled gay doctor has become something of a national hero of almost pop star status,” Norman wrote in 2005. “Respected even by those who diametrically oppose his politics.”Some seven years later, not all his enemies were prepared to give him respect. News Ltd’s David Penberthy has been a strong critic for some time. In July 2010 he suggested Brown should be replaced as leader and last month he ridiculed Brown’s third annual Green Oration which opened with the salutation “fellow Earthians” as a “batty speech” and a “deep ecologist ramble” which demonstrated Brown’s “dippy enviro-spiritualism”.
Such attacks from News Ltd are not new to Brown. The Australian infamously editorialised in 2010 that Brown and his Green colleagues “are hypocrites; that they are bad for the nation; and that they should be destroyed at the ballot box.” In 2011 Brown called News “hate media” for their misrepresentations of him and the climate debate. The biggest selling daily in Australia, Melbourne’s Herald-Sun implored its readers to “Stop this man ruining the nation”.
In the end it wasn’t Murdoch’s papers that forced Brown out; it was his own sense of the need for party renewal. It is not quite generational change. New leader Christine Milne will be 59 next month. Milne has followed in the footsteps of Brown into the Tasmanian Green movement, then the State Parliament, then Canberra and now the leadership. She is determined to put a new stamp on the party, talking today of the need to appeal to ““progressive business”. With her rural background, she said the Greens must also appeal to rural and regional voters.
As someone who now lives in a rural area, I can safely say this will be a mighty challenge despite obvious synergies. Both rural people and the Greens claim to love the land, but they see stewardship of it in different ways. Most rural people are suspicious of the Greens as a city-based organisation with little knowledge or empathy about how country folk live their lives. The Greens don’t have any organisation or presence in the bush. They also treat country voters with contempt by placing people in elections that don’t live in or even visit the constituency or cannot be bothered to talk to local media, such as Greens Warrego candidate Graeme Maizey in the recent Queensland election who was rewarded for his lack of engagement with just 2% of the vote.
Perhaps Milne can draw on the work of another Queensland template. Former Queensland Green senate candidate Drew Hutton is now working closely with Queensland farmers as president of the Lock the Gate Alliance against the coal seam gas industry. The Alliance says it is a national group of over 120 community, industry and environmental groups and over 1000 supporters concerned with “the devastating impact that certain inadequately assessed and inadequately-regulated fossil fuel extraction industries are having on our short and long term physical, social, environmental and economic wellbeing.”
The Alliance is likely to appeal to Milne as she seeks to grow the party towards its next stage of evolution. Brown has achieved much since starting the Greens from the ashes of the United Tasmania Party culminating with the election of Adam Bandt and the Coalition agreement with Labor in 2010. But as he said today “we don’t just want to keep the so-and-sos honest, we want to replace them.” Outright power is still a long way away for a party that polls in the low teens. Their biggest vote is among young people but as Pollytics analysed in 2009, it is a volatile demographic. If Milne can somehow reach across the suspicious divide, there may well be room for renewal.
Mutharika and Banda ran together for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party in the 2009 elections but fell out just two months after they assumed office when the President started positioning his 72-year-old brother and Foreign Affairs Minister Peter Mutharika to succeed him on retirement in 2014. Mutharika expelled her from the party. Banda and other disgruntled politicians from the DPP and other parties launched the Peoples’ Party. However Malawi’s constitution prevented Mutharika from sacking her as vice president.
Matters worsened in 2010 after former colonial power Britain slashed $4.5m from its annual $33m aid budget when Malawi bought a $13.26 million presidential jet. Britain said its aid criteria were based on the three principles of government commitment to poverty reduction, sound public financial management and human rights. Malawi relies on aid for 40 percent of its budget and the country is desperate undeveloped. Only one in 20 of Malawi’s population has access to electricity while the rest depend on charcoal and paraffin for cooking and lighting respectively.
When Mutharika died, the country’s information minister Patricia Kaliati said Banda could not take over as head of state because she was in opposition. However strong calls from the US, EU and Britain and stopped a resistance movement to her ascension from gaining any traction. One of Banda’s first actions was to sack Kaliati.
The 61-year-old Banda is no relation to Malawi’s founding president Hastings Banda who achieved independence for what was then Nyasaland from Britain in 1963. The earlier Banda chose the name Malawi for the country based on a corruption of Lake Maravi. Following a typical African post-colonial trajectory, Banda turned Malawi into a one party state and became immensely wealthy. A pro-Western proxy, his power and support faded after the end of the Soviet Union and by 1993 the internal pressure for democratic change was intense.
In the 1994 elections Hastings Banda was defeated by Elson Bakili Muluzi. Muluzi proved just as corrupt as his predecessor and siphoned off millions from the sale of Malawi’s food reserves. Despite this Muluzi was re-elected in 1999 and tried to change the constitution to run a third time in 2004. He was frustrated by parliament, the courts and demonstrations in the street and was forced to stand aside, anointing Mutharika to replace him. Within 12 months Muluzi was apologising for his choice of successor and set himself to run again in 2009.
But an anti-corruption investigation into him in 2008 crippled his campaign and the country’s Electoral Commission and the courts combined to stop him from running again. Mutharika was at the height of his powers having overseen an increase in agricultural production. But the subsidies Mutharika paid to lift harvests could not be sustained after Britain cut its aid budget.
Joyce Banda was one of Mutharika’s earliest ministerial appointments. A single mother and refugee from a violent marriage, she had run several successful businesses before entering parliament in 2004. She quickly proved her mettle rising to become Foreign Affairs minister after just two years in office. She was made deputy for the 2009 election but felt betrayed after Mutharika endorsed his brother as successor.
The role of Peter Mutharika now becomes crucial as Banda attempts to establish her presidential credentials. Mutharika is relatively new to Malawi politics have lived in the US for decades as a teacher of law. He congratulated Banda on her appointment but is likely to become her biggest issue as he becomes DPP leader following his older brother.
His congratulations may be smart politics. Mutharika’s brother’s death was not greatly mourned. As Al Jazeera said, many of Malawi’s 13 million people saw him as an autocrat responsible for an economic crisis precipitated by the British withdrawal of aid. Fixing Malawi’s flailing economy presents a great challenge to Banda. There is plenty of time between now and 2014 for her to become unpopular allowing Mutharika an easy run at bringing the leadership back into the family.
I just had time to lean back out of the way and the wheels went over my foot. It also went over my camera bag but somehow did not smash the lens. A little surprised ut otherwise unhurt, I turned towards the goat and rider which trundled its way back on track. The goat was feisty but hardly distressed and there was no other damage done. Yet this tale could easily be another nail in the coffin of the races, the signature event of Roma’s Easter in the Country.Easter in the Country is a rolling four day festival with something on in town each day of the weekend. There is an Easter parade, markets, thoroughbred racing, a rodeo, drag racing, speedway, motocross, an art show, bush poets and many other events dotted through town. Easter in the Country has been going for 35 years and over time the Easter Saturday goat races have become the iconic event attracting the biggest crowd. Today the main street was closed to traffic and packed with pedestrians finding the best vantage point for the two races. There are five goats in each race and the atmosphere is good-natured and friendly.But it may be the last of its kind in Roma. Goat racing is legal but Animal Liberation wants it stopped on grounds of cruelty. Animal Lib has been concentrating on northern NSW and has been successful in closing down three goat races. Bundarra had to end its goat race due to the adverse publicity. Lightning Ridge has also replaced its Easter goat race with a big digfor opals in the main street.The last straw was a Today Tonight report of 21 October 2011 which was a grab of selected crashes at a NSW country meet in Woolbrook. The Channel Seven report typically appealed to “think of the children” mentality while also making itself the story. The footage showed safety and wellbeing could be improved at Woolbrook (there was no examples of pulling goats by the horns in Roma). But the report did not prove Animal Liberation’s claim it was “barbaric and cruel”.
Cruel practices to goats remain unproven in law. However the mere taint of such publicity is now affecting Roma. One of the major Easter in the Country sponsors is threatening to pull out because of the goats. This is a big deal because Easter in the Country is as a not for profit organisation. Unpaid volunteers spend 12 months getting ready for the next event and rely almost totally on sponsorship. They get little financial support from Council (mostly in kind) but bring a lot of tourist dollars to Roma and the region.
The Easter in the Country committee knows the goat races are a drawcard and believes its goats are treated safely and humanely. I saw no evidence to the contrary today (my careless moment aside). Yet they cannot deliver a festival without sponsorship and unless a generous patron can be found that does not believe goat racing is cruel, the practice is unlikely to continue in 2013.
The sponsors who don’t condone goat racing are hypocrites. Animal welfare is not their primary concern. If it was they would also have objected to other Easter in the Country events such as horse racing, bull ride and rodeo. The real reason is possible negative public relations coming from the association between the company and a national media outlet story about cruelty.
Perhaps the future will prove me wrong and goat racing will go the way of bear baiting and fox hunting, despite our collective atavistic appetite for animal sports. Seeking a halfway house, Roma could perhaps take its solution from overseas. London has its annual Oxford versus Cambridge goat race, but these goats fly solo, unencumbered with carts or riders. Oxford lost last year due to its goat slowing down to do a poo. Oxford apparently gained such revenge when it won the inaugural stoat race. I hope no-one tells Animal Liberation.