This chapter assesses trends in Australia's official human rights policies, contextualised in key fields such as defence, economic relations, aid, labour, regional and bilateral diplomacy. Although major focus is on regional relations, issues of compliance with UN human rights instruments will also be addressed. Civil society groups' outlooks emerge from debates on national and cultural identity, concepts of democracy, governance and economic development. Networking between Australian and Southeast Asian human rights NGOs have become integral to Australia-ASEAN relations.
External influences, identified in earlier chapters in terms of diplomatic and economic pressures, media commentary, critical reports by international human rights agencies, popular campaigns and compliance with UN regimes loom large in the politics of human rights in Southeast Asia. However, their sources in western countries were little explored. Consideration of the role of human rights in Australia's relations with ASEAN states will partly fill that gap.
These relations have their own unique characteristics, despite Australia sharing many western European and north American perspectives. Geographical proximity and networks of strategic and economic interest entail comparatively closer and more sustained engagement. Exposure to the region through media and public debate, though of varying quality, is correspondingly more continuous and intense in Australia. There is also relatively greater academic and educational focus on Southeast Asia.
ASEAN states are currently inclined to associate negative outside commentary directed towards them with Australia, throwing differences into sharper relief. Australia may also act as a convenient vehicle for resentment against more powerful western countries. Differences are not always expressed in human rights contexts, but may spill over into other fields, as illustrated by Malaysia's determination to exclude Australia from regional forums and trade arrangements. Value differences between states mostly remain latent, restrained by diplomatic norms of non-interference.
The first section of the chapter establishes the general diplomatic, security and economic context, comparing Australian and Southeast Asian priorities. It shows how successive Australian governments, while formally committed to UN regimes, have sought to contain human rights policies within a framework of