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As published in Pearls and Irritations – 14.5.21

The LNP, led by the mendacious Morrison, is in a bad place. Morally bankrupt, it is destructive, by default and design. Many have followed, both blindly and with intent, and now find themselves equally bereft.

The Australian government is mean, mendacious, racist, selfish and cruel.

Morrison sets the tone. He insisted on getting the Pfizer Injection for Covid while the rest of the population have been allocated the inferior AstraZeneca. The government looked on while people committed suicide because of illegal debt demands issued by Centrelink. Legitimate refugees, including children, remain locked up, some for 7 years.

A crisis around the spread of Covid has been growing in PNG for the past month. The Government said and did nothing until, on 19 March, Médecins Sans Frontier, was strongly critical of the Australian Government.

The response was risible. The Government dispatched 3 medical aid workers and 8000 Covid vaccines. Following press reports that the virus had reached southern PNG, with a danger it might pass through the northern most Australian Island of Boigu into Queensland, the Government dispatched 17 AUSMAT specialists to Port Moresby on 9 April for 4 weeks. A small load of equipment, including stretchers, tents, vaccine refrigerators, cool boxes and aspirators was sent with them on an RAAF C-130. Shortly after arrival, the team leader, Dr Tacon, described the situation in Port Moresby as very concerning.

It is more than concerning it is a disgrace. At a Pacific Islands Forum meeting in September 2015, Dutton was overhead making disparaging remarks to Abbott about the Pacific Islands. It amounted to racism. As Immigration Minister, Dutton underlined his racism with cruel and unnecessary detention and medical regimes which brought about suffering and humiliation. When saddled with the same responsibilities Morrison displayed equivalent heartlessness and incipient racism. Not overt just sly, deniable indifference and neglect.

I make this point because both men have it within their ‘responsibilities’ to act with haste in respect to the humanitarian crises in Timor Leste and PNG. Floods and landslides have killed over 50 people in Timor Leste since 5 April. The capital Dili was under water. Many homes have been lost, businesses ruined, roads washed away, other infrastructure has been damaged and hunger and disease are looming. There has been nothing except a promise from the Australian government that it would help. In the meantime, the Timorese community in Darwin has put together enough relief supplies to fill a shipping container and raised $25,000.

Sitting in Sydney harbour are two vessels which could make an enormous difference, HMAS Adelaide and HMAS Canberra. Both have fully equipped hospitals, auxiliary power plants, helicopters and extensive vehicle and supply capacity. One should be equipped and deployed to Dili and, on the way, pick up the relief supplies from Darwin. The other should be sent initially to Port Moresby and then other ports in PNG, to supply and administer Covid vaccines. One third of the AstraZeneca vaccines being manufactured in Australia could be set aside for this urgent task.

These vessels have the capacity to deliver aid to remote communities. As part of aid relief to Timor Covid vaccines should be administered. Australia has said from 19 April it will set aside 10,000 locally manufactured AstraZeneca for PNG, Pacific Nations and Timor. This is nowhere near enough. Nor has there been any indication as to how it is proposed to distribute and administer these vaccines.

Australia is paranoid about China gaining a toe hold in the region. China has offered 200,000 doses of its Sinopharm Covid vaccines to PNG. The vaccine apparently requires WHO and local approval. Sinopharm has been used in the UAE and Bahrain and throughout China. There is no evidence that Australia has intervened to prevent the use of Sinopharm in PNG. Rather than seeking to fight China on every front, Australia should act co-operatively for the common good of neighbouring people suffering from natural disaster and the pandemic.

But this mean spirited and selfish behaviour on the part of the LNP is part of a pattern. In order to gain advantage over Timor Leste in the carve up of undersea oil reserves, Australia, in 2004, under Foreign Minister, Downer, bugged the Prime Ministers office to learn Timor’s negotiating position with respect to the Greater Sunrise concession. Australia’s overseas spy agency, ASIS, then under the direction of David Irvine, undertook the bugging. The ASIS agent involved was eventually advised to make this information public. And on so doing was charged, brought to secret trial with his lawyer Bernard Collaery by none other than the former Attorney General, Christian Porter. The agent is known as Witness K. This action was vindictive and designed to punish Collaery and Witness K for having exposed the dirty dealings and moral failure of Downer and Howard. Australia, as a far more wealthy and powerful country, attempted to defraud and bully the small and poor nation of Timor Leste into giving up oil reserves that were right fully theirs.

Australia has bullied and tortured refugees for the past 25 years for no reason other than to deter  genuine refugees from coming to Australia. Boats have been turned back. Australia’s actions with respect to refugees transgress not only international treaties to which Australia is a signatory but also domestic laws. All the while it was arguing the case for the efficacy of deterrence the Australian government knew it was lying. It was paying people smugglers, officials, police, politicians and defence personal not to accept money from desperate refugees seeking to come to Australia by boat. So incredibly mean and wanting to punish refugees the Australian Government refused an offer from the New Zealand Government to resettle refugees held in detention camps in Australia.

From the NDIS to extensive cuts in Australian overseas aid, particularly to Africa, LNP governments have seemingly taken delight in harming the poor and disadvantaged. Why? It is hard to understand but there are indicators. There is the lack of morality and corruption illustrated by the sports rort and community programs scandal, paying Barnaby Joyce $600000 for a non-existent drought report and the billions of dollars paid to contractors charged with running refugee detention facilities. One can only guess at the size of possible kickbacks.

We are told by ABC 4 Corners on 12 April 2021 that the reason the government persists with pushing fossil fuels are the financial donations to the LNP. The government’s position flies in the face of the science on climate change and the viability of renewable energy.

But it is the absolute abrogation of moral responsibility, indeed it rates as moral degradation to cover for individuals, one a politician the other a staff member, accused of rape. There is no moral compass in evidence by Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, nor of other Ministers and advisers in relation to horrible crimes. They have taken the nation to the bottom of the barrel. Little wonder then that they cannot see and/or refuse to respond to humanitarian disasters in our neighbourhood. Morrison’s reaction to the Australian bushfires should have warned us. His reaction to the failure of the roll out of the Covid vaccine is a further indicator of a deeply troubling lack of empathy and compassion. Placing him on a parr with Trump.

Equally troubling is the failure of the MSM to respond and show concern with the plight of people in PNG and Timor Leste and the trashing of human rights in Myanmar. Even more troubling is the absence of voices from religious institutions and ordinary Australians on these issues. Where are we at and what have we become when we take our lead from the likes of Morrison.

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and former Diplomat.

As published in Pearls and Irritations – 10.4.21

The political systems in China and America are not what their leaders claim them to be. However, Biden has embarked on a campaign to prove American Democracy can trump whatever China has on offer.

With missionary zeal Biden is out to prove to the world that Democracy trumps Authoritarian Chinese Communism. Although many academics, authors, journalists and an army of observers continue to tie themselves in knots by acknowledging that whilst China is not strictly a communist state, it most certainly is not a democracy.

A definition has not been determined. The role of capital, private ownership and accumulation of wealth that the Chinese Communist Party condones has them stumped. The Chinese state is something new. It defies definition because it is evolving. It will acquire a label but not until old frameworks are discarded. China is a political entity in the making.

ASPI and the Biden administration believe they have nailed it by referring to China as authoritarian, which is defined as a state enforcing strict obedience to authority at the expense of personal freedom, entailing a reduction in the rule of law and the separation of powers. The Soviet Union between 1930 – 1970 was an authoritarian state.

China may embody aspects of an authoritarian state but other aspects defy that definition. The people of China are free to choose an education, to buy and sell property and other goods and, prior to Covid, travel overseas. They are free to live where they like.

China has been accused of genocide by the United States and Australia. Genocide is defined as the deliberate killing of a large number of people from a particular ethnicity, nationality, religion or race. For reasons of internal security, the Chinese Government has curtailed the freedom of many Uyghurs living in Xinjian Province. They have been placed in detention camps in order to be ‘re-educated’ in an apparent attempt to eradicate fundamental Muslim activism. It may work but is more likely to enhance the ideology they are seeking to crush.

Whatever is happening in Xinjiang, in so far as it has been possible to ascertain, does not amount to genocide. However, the Chinese do not welcome investigation of the Uyghurs by international humanitarian rights organisations or the UN. Nor has Australia in relation to refugees.

From 1995 until the present day, Australia placed men, women and children, coming to Australia by boat and seeking refugee asylum, in detention. Sometimes for up to seven years. The officially stated purpose of this state sponsored cruelty and torture was to deter other asylum seekers fleeing war and social unrest that threatened their lives. The Australian Government refused the UN and humanitarian NGO’s regular access to the detention camps. Reports they produced relating to conditions in the camps were vigorously contested by the Australian Government despite the overwhelming truths they contained. The hypocrisy of the Australian Government toward China is as breath taking as it is stupid.

It is against this that Biden wants to pitch American Democracy. The apple pie, turkey at Thanksgiving, white bread Democracy, as portrayed by artist Norman Rockwell.

The reality of American Democracy is somewhat different. American voters elect candidates to Congress, the Senate or as President. Candidates make promises in order to secure votes but once elected they are subjected to pressure, bribes and other forms of coercion to alter, change or abandon election promises. Democracy exists only on the day a ballot is cast. Once the result has been announced the lobbying starts and promises broken. It is an industry which in 2020 was worth $3.56 billion.

The biggest industry in the US is defence. The US arms industry has enormous power over the democratic process. It lobbies ruthlessly to maintain its pre-eminent position. It sucks money away from social need which electors have expectations, somewhat naively, of being addressed. Each election they have hope and after each election these hopes are eroded away.

US military spending is the largest item of expenditure in the budget. In 2020 it was $721.5 billion. From 2002/2018 the US sold $200 billion in conventional weapons to 169 countries. This constitutes 36% of global sales compared to 29% for Russia and 3.8% for France.

The US Military Industrial Complex, as President Eisenhower called it, has a vested interest in world tension. The US wars in Viet Nam, Iraq and Afghanistan represented a huge boost in profits. The Industry is currently pressing for confrontation with China; it feeds into and funds various academic institutions, faculties, bodies and think tanks, including ASPI an Australian defence lobbying organisation funded by US arms manufacturers and the Australian Government. ASPI lobbied and succeeded in getting the Australian Government to purchase a missile system for $1 billion for defence against the Chinese.

The American people did not vote to go to war in Viet Nam, Iraq or Afghanistan and they were not consulted. Indeed, young men were conscripted to fight in Viet Nam. It was an unpopular war. Citizens protested against going to war in Iraq. America is a war machine with a smoke screen democracy. It is a propaganda machine.

In the West, Conservatives, Christians and some Libertarians believe what America says about itself, through media, movies and music. The race divide and violence toward Black Americans is the antithesis of democracy and epitomised at the moment through the trial of ex-policeman Derek Chauvin for the horrible murder of George Floyd on 25 May 2020. American racism, and the manner in which it is expressed puts the lie to American claims of democracy. Equality in America is threadbare.

Police violence is a leading cause of death for young men in the US. One in every thousand black men can expect to be killed by police, this peaks between the ages of 20 and 35.

Gun ownership leading to gun violence feeds into fraught race relations. The Black Lives Matter movement has sought to address the ongoing, ugly and gratuitous violence directed against Black Americans which has been a permanent feature of the American democracy since Independence. The hatred and violent racism was born out of slavery and it hasn’t moved on. It most definitely puts the lie to the white bread narrative. For as long as it exists and for the reasons it exists America cannot claim to have a functioning, attractive or desirable democracy. America hides the slums and squalor of its democracy behind the tinsel of its flash Toys, Broadway and Disneyland.

Since 2013 there have been 2,218 mass shootings in the US. Mass shootings are defined as involving at least 4 people. The frequency of these shootings has tripled since 2011. The US population is 332 million. US civilian gun ownership is 393 million or 46% of arms held by civilians world-wide. That is not a positive indicator for resolving conflict by democratic means.

On 6 January 2021 thousands of white right-wing Trump supporters stormed and broke into the Congress. They acted on the advice from Trump that the election for President had been rigged. Many were armed. They caused death and grave injury. It was an assault on the symbol and institution of democracy. Many of the people who voted for Trump do not believe in or support democracy. Trump attracted 74 and Biden 81 million votes.

Following the Biden victory, the anti- democracy movement found expression in forty Republican controlled state legislatures who are looking to restrict voting access. This targets Black voters who mainly vote Democrat. On 25 March the State of Georgia passed laws to make voting more restrictive.

The Chinese Government is just as aware of these facts as I am. Biden has a big job on his hands, not convincing the Chinese that America has a functioning democracy but to make America into one.

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and former Diplomat

As published in the Global Times – March 2021

1.

China is the most powerful country in South East Asia. Short of nuclear weapons the US will find it increasingly difficult to project power and influence into the region. China is able to project that influence and power. SE Asian states are aware of the real politic. They will act and conduct their diplomacy and relations accordingly. Myanmar is a case in point. The US has few tools and limited influence to make a difference, China does. Australia believes, incorrectly in my opinion, that the United States will protect its interests.

That is naïve. The United States cannot build bridges for Australia into SE Asia and with China. Australian thinking and evolving policy amounts to isolationism.

White Australia has an apprehension about Asia and a fear of China dating back to the 1880’s centred on concern about cheap labour and invasion. Japan in WWII confirmed these fears.

The Morrison government does not realise the need to change its China policy. Weirdly and childishly, it says it will not allow Australian ‘values’ to be undermined by China, whatever that means. However other people in Australia deplore the Morrison government’s China policy. They include a cohort of former diplomats and academics, as well as people with first hand knowledge of China.

2.

The US has dictated Australia’s China policy over the past seven years, first by Turnbull and then Morrison. Both sought to please Trump. Pleasing the United States is Australia’s default position with respect to foreign affairs and defence.

Biden was stung by the strong stance taken by Director Yang Jiechi and State Councillor Wang Yi at Anchorage. Biden has declared that what is now at stake is ‘autocracy or democracy’. What this fails to address is good governance. It has been reported that US leaders have vowed to ‘intensify competition with Beijing in the wake of the acrimonious anchorage meeting.’ It seems that rather than learn from Anchorage the Biden administration is going to maintain if not ramp up Trump’s anti- China policies.

The inexperienced Blinken, has repeated criticism that China has undertaken ‘blatant economic coercion of Australia’ which he said was an example of the ‘urgent threat posed by a resurgent authoritarian regime’. At the same time the Australian Ambassador to China, Graham Fletcher, addressing the Australia/China Business Council said China was being ‘vindictive’ toward Australia. He claimed ‘the escalating pattern of trade punishment had generated sympathy for Australia and hardened attitudes toward China around the Globe.’

This is in accord with instructions from Canberra and no doubt passed from Washington. The trade and diplomatic problems faced by Australia are as a result of complying with the US. The ‘support and backing’ promised by the US is welcomed by the LNP Morrison government. It will continue to follow the US in relation to China even though that by doing so it is harmful to Australia’s fundamental interests. The Murdoch media which control 70% of the flow of information in Australia backs this position.

3.

Biden seems to have some sort of grand alliance in mind based on the premise that China is dangerous and seeks to dominate world affairs. For as long as that narrative is accepted there will be some countries who will continue to follow the United States. Australia will follow the US position on China for as long as it has an LNP government. An Australian Labor government will have a different and more positive perspective on China, but will still adhere to what is termed the American Alliance.

The current LNP government will maintain a defensive and negative position toward China even though Australia suffers as a result of trade boycotts. It does not have the imagination or courage to do anything else. It lacks the maturity to negotiate.

The impasse between China and the United States should be resolved through negotiation. These might take place under the auspices of the UN, along the lines of earlier nuclear arms negotiations.  Agreement governing the mutual deployment of arms and the nature of future relations between the US and China might be a primary objective. The use of arms by both countries would impact on the world order more negatively than WWI and II combined.

4.

The United States, faced with declining power and influence, is angry.  It believes itself to be a force for good, despite Viet Nam and Iraq. Its diplomacy has traditionally been underpinned by the threat or use of arms. It takes white superiority to the negotiating table. Who can forget Kissinger? It is a crusader for democracy underpinned by Christianity. It is a champion of free speech, which has within it the free exchange of ideas. Not a bad thing when it works to the benefit of people. However, the reality is that many people in the United States live in poverty and the gap between rich and poor is growing. Guns, race and intolerance divides and weakens America and may further do so. However, it remains a powerful country.

The United States criticises China over the South China Sea, yet it maintains thirty offshore bases specifically targeting China. It has underwater listening devices in navigation channels and a host of other defence undertakings ranged against China. All on the basis that China is a hostile state.

Australia lacks leadership and has done so since Howard became Prime Minister in 1996.

It was a colonial settlement that displaced the local Indigenous inhabitants. It allowed the United Kingdom to dictate foreign and defence policy until 1942 and then in the face of a threat from the Japanese switched its alliance to the United States who has dictated Australian foreign and defence policy since then. It has a foreign head of state who is based overseas. It is a rich country, or it was, with a small population which lives off agriculture and mineral extraction. It is inwardly focused and narrow in outlook. It seeks to use the United States as a buffer against the rest of the world, particularly Asia and China which it fears because of enterprise and numbers of people.

Morrison is an extreme example of all that is wrong with Australia. His policy toward China is not in Australia’s interest from an economic, scientific, educational and cultural perspective. He is possibly the worst Prime Minister that Australia has had since Federation in 1901.

5.

Since the ending of the Cold War the US Alliance has been of decreasing value for Australia. In fact, it has cost us in terms of our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, two totally unnecessary undertakings in terms of Australia’s national interest.

If Australia had the courage, it has the capacity for an independent foreign policy. New Zealand has demonstrated that.

Australia has ceded sovereignty to the United States for the reasons mentioned above plus the cultural dominance effected by the common language of English, whether through movies, music, magazines or Murdoch.

The Quad is a hasty and hopeless attempt to contain China. Only the current Australian government believes in it. Five Eyes is a western intelligence turn on but it delivers little because the US is not an honest broker. It with holds information. And it seeks to spin the information it gleans. Reading Five Eyes information is like reading a newspaper in Saudi Arabi, one must learn to read between the lines. And remember Pine Gap. A US spying facility in Australia where the host country only receives 60-70% of the information obtained.

6.

Australia must treat China with the same respect it accords the United States. That is just a normal diplomatic courtesy. But there is more. There should be respect for China’s history, culture and military achievements, particularly in WWII and for the transformation of Chinese society over the past 75 years. There ought to be respect from Australia for what China has achieved for the people of China and for the Chinese contribution to mankind over those short number of years. There was a time when there was tremendous respect within Australia for China dating from Prime Minister Whitlam in 1972 which existed until Howard took power in 1996. There are many in Australia who still hold China with the greatest of respect, which contrasts with their attitude to Morrison and the LNP. We are in a bad place and seek the indulgence and understanding of old friends. There are people speaking for us who belittle us and break our hearts.