Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Monday, 11 December 2017

The Times They Are A'changing

MacArthur and Curtin

Simultaneously last week, I finished reading Roland Perry’s The Fight for Australia and Hugh White’s Quarterly Essay Without America – Australia in the New Asia.

Putting the two together is fascinating.

Perry describes Australia’s World war 2 experience, with particular reference to the changing relationship with our two great allies, the USA and the UK.

White puts a proposition about the retreat of the USA from its position of a superpower engaged in our part of the world in the face of a more assertive, and more economically powerful China.

White pulls no punches – he discusses a scenario where we find ourselves completely on our own when it comes to the strategic balance in the Asian sphere. With Trump in the White-house, anything is possible, including an isolationist foreign policy which denies any mutuality with Australia’s interests.

“That will never be”, I hear you say, gentle reader.

Let’s take a look at the History as described by Perry. In the first instance, both Churchill and Roosevelt were in lockstep with the “Hitler first” notion, even after the attack on Pearl Harbour.

After the Yanks entered the war, the Americans began to see Australia as an unsinkable aircraft carrier and a garrison for troops and supplies to pursue the war in the Pacific. Curtin, the Labor PM at the time, saw the writing on the wall, and pretty much gave Douglas MacArthur a free hand once he arrived from the Philippines.

Curtin’s decisions are, when examined with the benefit of 75 years of hindsight, perfectly rational. Churchill made it abundantly clear that Australia was expendable, and Curtin had to fight to ensure our sovereignty.

We found our fortress Singapore overwhelmed, and Churchill reluctant to allow Australian troops to return from the Middle East to defend against a very real threat of invasion.

Complacency had allowed our defence industries to languish, and we found ourselves panicking to produce munitions, tanks and aircraft to defend the country. The pace at which this industry developed was nothing short of stunning, but we ended up relying on the Yanks, especially for aircraft. A couple of decisive sea battles turned the tide, but it was a close-run thing.

There are a few lessons in this history.

The first and most important is that we cannot assume that despite the conventional rhetoric, historic ties of kinship and commonwealth mean anything at all when it comes to warfare. The Brits abandoned us. They may have had no choice, but that is neither here nor there. “Why”, in times of crisis, matters a lot less than “What?”

If we ask the “why?” question about the support of the Yanks, we get a very stark and unequivocal answer. They supported us because they needed us (or at least our bases and geography) as much as we needed them.

Let’s move forward to 2017. Obama’s “pivot” to Asia meant very little. We have some marines in Darwin – big deal.

Trump cannot be trusted to maintain traditional alliances. He’s made that abundantly clear. China is a rising maritime power. Its economy will overwhelm that of the USA very soon. Any move by Trump to isolate China will simply drive that process harder.

The current imbroglio about Chinese influence provides a strong reminder of what is at stake.

Most western commentators have no real idea of China’s intentions, but it’s pretty clear that the Chinese seek to build influence in our neck of the woods as a deliberate and consistent policy. It’s very much in their economic and strategic interests to do so.

Putting a  withdrawal of American influence from Asia together with increased Chinese engagement provides us with a major foreign policy dilemma.

Maybe it’s time to look at our defence planning. Maybe the most recent white paper should have discussed the acquisition of missile capable submarines together with a missile shield integrated in our Jindalee OTH radar. Maybe those submarines being built in Adelaide should be equipped with nuclear power plants as well as ICBMs.

Any rapid increase in spending on defence will of course put a strain on the budget, but it’s funny how the last thing that’s ever considered is cost when politicians are gung-ho to go to war. If you look at our history, our defence spending has always been too little – too late. We’ve been lucky in the past when our powerful friends came to our rescue. We can't assume this will always happen in the future.

To quote White’s closing remarks –

China’s rise is a fact and isn’t going away. It constitutes a profound shift in the distribution of power in Asia, and is creating a new regional order in which China has a lot more influence, and America has less. America’s future role cannot be taken for granted. It won’t help to panic. Australia must adjust to this new order, by working out how we relate to china and working with other countries in Asia. This will require us to rethink a lot of things, to make some hard choices, and perhaps to pay some heavy costs. We will be changed in the process. Let’s get on with it.

He’s not wrong, but when you see China being used by one side of politics to belt the other, I don’t hold out much hope of any carefully considered “adjustment”. 

I recall so well how China was seen back in the sixties. 

Remember how that worked out?

Friday, 8 December 2017

Fun with Tax

This is an old image (from 2015) but the logic applies.

This is a very useful report, as it lists tax actually paid by corporates in Australia in the 2015-16 financial year.

I'm posting it here, gentle reader, as it provides opportunities for you to digest this information, compare it with what you pay in tax on your income, and come to conclusions about the situation.

You may even be encouraged to take some form of action. It would, in theory, be possible to boycott the zero payers. There's plenty of them.

Now, I would never suggest that of course, as I'd probably end up on the end of a law suit, but it is easy to identify these corporations from the list on the web page.

You could, for example (using most browsers - Firefox provides it) take advantage of the "find on the page" feature and type in the name of the corporation you're considering doing business with. Armed with the info as to how much tax they're contributing to the nation's coffers you can then decide whether to spend your hard-earned with them, or choose a competitor who pays an acceptable rate of tax on income earned in Oz.

Personally, I'd have a problem with any entity that pays a lower percentage of tax than I, as a PAYE citizen does.

It's called free choice.

Have fun......

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Army Infantry Museum Singleton

Gate to the museum


I drove down to Newcastle last week to visit an ex-army mate who is unwell.

He is having thrice weekly dialysis, so has a fair bit to put up with.

On my way South, I passed through Singleton, so took the opportunity to visit the Infantry Museum located on the army base.

Forty-six years ago,  as a Nasho, I did recruit and Infantry Corps training here.

SLR mags

My original intention was to visit the base itself, rather than the museum, but I got only as far as the front gate, where a civvie employee make it abundantly clear that base visits are not on.

The world has changed a bit since 1969, when the guardhouse was manned by recruits in their best kit with shiny brass and spit polished boots.

Note the LAW (M72). I carried one of these - never fired it in anger.
SLR mags
Matilda tank

There are a few signals amongst this lot that I don't recall.

The museum is relatively new, and exhibits are of a high standard. It's organised on a chronological basis, with examples of military hardware used by generations of infantrymen across all conflicts.

There were also examples of enemy weapons, both German and Japanese. You can look at displays of small arms, clothing and equipment, larger pieces of hardware, and dioramas. There's a lot to see. You could easily spend a few hours there.

Some vehicles were in evidence, including armoured vehicles as gate guardians, and a short wheel based Land Rover equipped with a recoil less rifle, something I haven't seen since 1970.

The areas concentrating on Vietnam were of nostalgic interest to me. I saw equipment that I'd used daily 47 years ago. Section weapons were displayed, including ammunition, and magazines.

The reality behind this statement creates a stark irony.

One of the displays which caught my eye was the text of a statement (above) by LBJ about Australian involvement. Given how hard Menzies and his government worked behind the scenes to to get us invited to Vietnam, it makes for bizarre reading now.

An excellent cafe is attached, and plenty of merchandise is on sale. This website provides a good source of information.

It's well worth a visit, particularly if you're interested in the history of infantry soldering in Australia.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Madness on Manus

Pic courtesy Gippsland Times

The madness on Manus continues.

Refugees continue to be used as a political wedge by both the major parties, who share bi-partisan brutality in their treatment of this issue.

There are, however, some hopeful signs.

I hope, gentle reader, I'm not a giddy optimist, but maybe, after all these years, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

My conviction about the situation and the policy disasters that led to it, promoted by both major parties, is pretty close to this statement from Australian Catholic bishops -

A Joint Catholic Statement on the Humanitarian Crisis on Manus Island

A week after the official closure of the Manus Island detention centre, more than 600 refugees and people seeking asylum languish inside, unsafe and uncertain about their futures.  

After forcibly transferring the men to Manus Island in 2013-2014, the Australian government and its sub-contractors have now abandoned the centre and the island, leaving vulnerable people seeking asylum without access to medical care, psychiatric treatment, food, water, or electricity.  

Our government has failed to provide these men with any safe alternatives. The UNHCR has condemned alternative accommodation in Lorengau as unsuitable and unfinished. Human Rights Watch is the latest of several international organisations reporting on locals assaulting and robbing refugees across the island with local police making little effort to investigate these crimes. People in the centre have been subject to multiple attacks over the years, one of which caused the death of Reza Barati in 2014.  

Australia’s offer to relocate refugees in PNG to Nauru is no solution at all given the environment there is similarly beset by crippling uncertainty, epidemic rates of attempted suicide and mental illness, physical health ailments, well documented incidents of sexual and physical abuse, and the absence of critical infrastructure across the island.  Unlike PNG, Nauru has never undertaken to provide permanent settlement for its caseload of refugees; with a population of only 10,000, it can’t. 

The US resettlement deal appears to be stagnating and the Australian government continues to refuse New Zealand’s offer to resettle 150 recognised refugees.  

We Australians have a humanitarian crisis on our doorstep in Manus Island.  It’s our fault and we should do something about it right now. 

Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum (CAPSA), Catholic Social Services Australia, Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Australia, and Jesuit Social Services (JSS) jointly declare:  

• The men on Manus Island have the right to food, water and shelter; to freedom and liberty; to be free from inhumane and degrading treatment; and to seek and receive protection.     
• The Australian Government is legally and morally responsible for the lives of these men who have been arbitrarily and indefinitely held in limbo for more than four years.  
 • The only humane resolution to the current impasse is for the Australian Government to bring every refugee and person seeking asylum on Manus Island to Australia where they can be permanently resettled or have their claims processed in safety and with dignity.    
• Offshore processing for the purposes of deterrence, whether in PNG, Nauru or anywhere else, is inhumane and unsustainable, and must cease to be a part of any Australian policy.   We urge all Australians to express their concern for the desperate circumstances of the men on Manus Island by contacting your local federal MP to demand an immediate change to this expensive, unworkable and unprincipled policy.   

Australian Catholic Bishops Conference - Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office:

Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFMConv, Bishop Delegate for Migrants and Refugees has issued a statement on behalf of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, following the closure of the Manus Island Centre. He states: “The policy of offshore detention has failed and it is time for us to deal with the issue of asylum seekers and refugees according to this nation’s proud tradition and the best nature of its citizens. We can do a whole lot better, just as we did welcome “those who’ve come across the seas” after the wars in Europe and in Southeast Asia. The concern for maritime border security does not have to make us into a mean-spirited people. The policy of offshore detention has cost Australia dearly. But it has cost the detainees and their families even more. I appeal to the government and political leaders to act in accordance with our honourable tradition. It is time to find an alternative and conscionable solution, including accepting New Zealand’s offer of resettlement and bringing the remaining detainees on Manus Island to Australia for further processing.”

(Both of the above statements were first published on 6 November 2017).

As I have posted before, there is a solution beyond offshore processing, a solution that has worked before. It lacks the potential to be used as a wedge, so neither side of politics can be bothered with it.

The problem, of course, is that fear of "the other" has always been a powerful political weapon in this country.

The humane treatment of the Vietnamese must have been an aberration. 

Monday, 13 November 2017

The Citizenship Saga

Pic courtesy AAP

I’ve called this a “saga”, gentle reader, because no other description fits this series of events so neatly.

A “saga” can be defined as “a dramatic history of a group, place, industry”, and if “dramatic” infers to a series of unexpected and unusual events, it is indeed a very good match.

It all began with a barrister called John Cameron, who had a specific interest in, and knowledge of constitutional law. As it happens, he also has dual New Zealand/Australian citizenship. Cameron became aware that Scott Ludlum was a dual citizen, as Cameron himself was, and contacted a Green acquaintance with his evidence, who passed the information on to the Party.

Ludlum resigned 48 hours later.

Once the cat was out of the bag, and the media got the hang of the implications, the rot started.
Now, as this is written, the whole thing has descended into farce.

The situation has been picked up by the various parties as a means to attack each other’s legitimacy, and all common sense and logic has gone out of the proverbial window.

Now I understand section 44 holds, and we don’t need individuals sitting in either house of parliament for whom loyalty to the country they serve is questioned, but seriously, does anyone really believe that this is an issue for the people who have resigned?

Without wishing to sound cynical, self-interest has always trumped national loyalty in our parliaments, so national loyalty is actually irrelevant.

So, what’s the solution?

I know this opinion flies in the face of the High Court, but why not simply leave everything alone until the next election, and allow those fingered to sort out their affairs in the meantime?

After all, the people who voted for these members believed they were good Aussies entitled to represent them in parliament. How can that belief and trust be thrown in the proverbial waste basket?

The intent of the democratic process should be valued, and not steamrolled by black letter law.  It’s not as if these people who were also citizens of New Zealand and the UK (or Canada, or Italy) were going to be compromised in their decision-making in our parliament. 

I doubt the Kiwis, the Italians or the Canadians are all that concerned about decisions made in Canberra.

But I’m only a voter. It seems that my views (and those, I suggest, of the majority of Oz voters), are irrelevant. But, wait a minute, isn’t democracy a process which is founded on the views of the voter?

We’ve recently had a very expensive postal survey on same sex marriage. Why not put this question before the people –

“Do you wish to allow those democratically elected by the Australian people to remain in parliament until they can renounce dual citizenship?"

On second thoughts, given the record of referenda in this country, we might get a "no" and succeed only in prolonging the saga. There'd always be somebody bloody-minded enough to advance the "no" case. 

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