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The following article appeared in Pearls and Irritations on 7 July 2021.

An understanding of history might have seen Australia refuse the opportunity to get involved in Afghanistan, but an understanding of history has never amounted to much in Australia, unless it has been to embellish white supremacist myths, like Bean around Anzac.

Afghanistan has been the death bed of modern invading armies, first Britain, then Russia and now America. The reasons are topography and use of it by the Pathans, the ruthless and dominant tribe.

I have some experience with Afghanistan. My grandfather skirmished against the Pathans, with the British Army, on the border between India and Afghanistan in the North West Frontier Province in 1904/5. He was based in Quetta, Peshawar and Rawalpindi. He was with the Yorkshire Light Infantry but on secondment to 44th Punjab Regiment. He later became an instructor at Duntroon. I was posted twice to Pakistan, 1972/73 and 1986/88. The Embassy had reporting responsibilities for Afghanistan and by the time of my second posting it had leased a house in Kabul.

My bearer on my first posting, Doust, was a Pathan. His married son lived in a village outside Peshawar on the road to Kabul. His son had accused his wife of having an affair and smashed his baby’s brains out against the wall of his house. Doust was concerned about this and sought my time and the use of an embassy car to drive up and see his son. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity. The son was a most handsome man, tall with black beard and hair, penetrating green eyes and a complete lack of humour. Doust told the village I had been in the army, so an ancient Belgian FN was produced and the honour of Australia was tested against bottles placed on the compound wall which I was instructed to shoot down. Honour was preserved. On the way home Doust told me he had given his son money to give to is wife’s family. He said his son regretted his action.

From 1986/88 I visited Kabul regularly; it was a war zone. From time to time, it was under attack from the Mujahideen using rockets, mortars and machine guns as well as acts of sabotage. In view of my military experience JIO gave me a compact camera and kept me supplied with film. I took pictures of Russian AFV’s, planes, helicopters, installations, radio communications and soldiers as well as damage to villages and crops. This was a risky business.

I have written a lot on Afghanistan, since Howard first committed Australian troops in October 2001. He did this without seeking the approval of Parliament.  In October 2009 (see my web site and ABC Unleashed) I wrote in ‘What are we doing in Afghanistan?’ that, ‘The United States Administration is said to be giving close consideration to its role in Afghanistan. The US military commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal is calling for an extra 40,000 troops…Presumably if the United States decides to pull out, all the allies will pull out and if the United States decides to increase troop numbers and stay the allies will stay.

The lack of input and involvement with the weighty policy issues the US is grappling with throws into stark relief the role of the allies…Naturally the US military will argue for increased troop numbers in order to tame the Taliban, they are not the most imaginative…their solution was the same in Vietnam…’

And then I observed, ‘Nothing can be resolved in Afghanistan without changing the nature and role of the Pakistan Army and the intelligence services (ISI). In other words, Afghanistan extends deep inside Pakistan and the United States and its allies have to date demonstrated few strategies to deal with this…

Policy makers in Australia need to ask, what is it that they hope to achieve from the Australian military presence in Afghanistan? Is it just support for the US/Australia alliance or is Australia seriously engaged in a fight against international terrorism? If it is the latter then it needs to be explained how this commitment is achieving that and in what way does it impact positively in the long and short term the lives of Australians?

Are US objectives realistic? Can they be achieved? At what cost and over what period of time? Is the Australian commitment making a positive contribution? Are we getting value for money? Is there a down side and if so, what is it?’

Those were questions I asked in 2009, they were never answered, the mindless uneducated hawkes won out and we were left to crawl away defeated with our tale between our legs.

In December 2010 we learnt from Wikileaks that there was some pessimism on the part of the Australian government about the likely outcome of the war. A lack of confidence was expressed in the ability of the Afghan police to be trained, the capability of the Afghan government and the strategies deployed to win the war. These concerns were not expressed publicly.

Major-General Jim Molan was a vigorous and vocal defender of our involvement in Afghanistan as was Neil James, the executive director of the Australian Defence Association. In an article I wrote in The Canberra Times, 15 December, 2010, ‘The Agony of Afghanistan’, I quote his comments on Wikileaks made in Crikey, on 29 July, 2010, ‘Put bluntly, Wikileaks is not authorised in international or Australian law, nor equipped morally or operationally to judge whether open publication of such material risks the safety, security, morale and legitimate objectives of Australian and allied troops fighting in a UN-endorsed military operation. Nor should and can groups such as WikiLeaks be so authorised or equipped respectively, especially when they are unaccountable to any responsible authority or international humanitarian law (IHL) in a legal or moral sense.’ Such was the intellectual calibre of the supporters of our involvement in Afghanistan.

The lack of knowledge of Afghanistan, its politics and people saw the Australian task force in Uruzgan Province work closely with corrupt war lord Matiullah Khan. It was a poor decision. He was believed to be involved in the production and sale of opium which financed the Taliban, just as it had the Mujahideen. It was also alleged that he ran protection rackets. Did any of his corruption rub off on the ADF?

Writing in the SMH on 26 August, 2011, Rafael Epstein said, ‘Until last year, the Australian government paid Matiullah Khan for his armed men to work with Australian special forces.’ Epstein said he controlled the police unit which partnered with the Australian commandos, Dutch troops refused to work with him and the US Ambassador did not want him holding any formal Afghan government position. It seems to have been an act of pragmatic poor judgement to have aligned with Khan.

In his investigations into the war crimes of Australian soldiers in Afghanistan did Major General Brereton look into ADF involvement in the drug trade? Did he look into the use of and trading in drugs by the Special Forces in Afghanistan? And if not, why not? As in Viet Nam drugs were easily available. It would be surprising if some soldiers did not succumb, with adverse consequences on their performance in the field.

The Brereton Report covered the period from 2005 to 2016. The unlawful killings discussed in the report began in 2009, with most occurring in 2012 and 2013. It claims that 39 civilians and prisoners were murdered. A 2012 incident was described in the Report as ‘possibly the most disgraceful episode in Australian military history’ and noted that ‘the commanders at troop, squadron and task group level bear moral command responsibility’ for these events.

Dutton and Morrison have shown little interest in pressing the investigation. Dutton overturned a recommendation in the Brereton Report, implemented by the CDF, to deprive 3000 Afghan veterans of a unit citation. Both have been supportive of Ben Roberts-Smith VC, accused of war crimes in Afghanistan. There seems little compulsion or motivation on the part of the LNP government to pursue the issue of Australian war crimes in Afghanistan.

The war crimes were committed around the time there was a realisation at both the military and political level that there was nothing winnable about the undertaking in Afghanistan. Morale and leadership appear to have collapsed at about the same time. It might be said that the Viet Nam syndrome took over. That is why an investigation into the use of drugs is so important. Hastie no doubt can provide some answers.

Many members of the Taliban were members of the Mujahideen. Their existence is a direct result of the occupation of Afghanistan by a foreign power, firstly Russia then America. The Taliban has links to ISIS whose existence can be sheeted home to the American destruction and occupation of Iraq.

The American withdrawal from Afghanistan will follow the blue print of the Russian withdrawal. Retribution and a crackdown on all Western manifestations of influence will result, including female education and role in a Taliban dominated society. It is a condemnation of the false hope generated by a major power which had no game plan and no intention of staying the distance. Viet Nam, Iraq and now Afghanistan demonstrate that our ally, the US, is flaky. Driven by the arms industry it has no interest in long term outcomes, short term profit is the objective. That is why the US project against China is such a worry. China is Iraq and Afghanistan revisited. America is not a good country; it acts only in its own interests. Profit. They don’t give a fig about Australia.

The following article appeared in Pearls and Irritations on 5 July, 2021.

This is a tale of greed, denial, delusion, racism, power, loyalty, ethics and courage. Dressed in black are Howard and Downer, in white K and Collaery. The tale takes place in the subterranean world of spies, spooks, spivs, shankers, summer kings and secret trials.

The very bad people bring the very good people before the courts in a land where persecuted people from other lands are, on arrival, further persecuted. In this Topsy Turvey land where good is bad and bad is good, power, greed and money are king, but only for as long as the sun shines. When the going gets tough, when winter descends the king disappears.

According to the State that Persecutes the Innocent, the crime that needed to be addressed was that an Australian security officer working for ASIS, Witness K, was mightily disturbed that as an honest employee, of some achievement and standing, he was tasked with carrying out an illegal act by Prime Minister, Howard, and Foreign Minister, Downer, against a small, needy and vulnerable target, Timor-Leste.

The State that Persecutes had a significant advantage in power and technology and used this advantage to bug a cabinet room where discussions took place by representatives of Timor-Leste on how to secure the best deal they could, in negotiations with The State, over disputed oil and gas reserves under the ocean bed between the two countries. Putting aside the illegality of the undertaking there was also a complete lack of ethics. It was grubby.

Witness K took his concerns to the management of ASIS, which authorised him to discuss his concerns that a crime had been committed, which of course should have been seen as our concern, with the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, a mysterious job because no one is allowed to scrutinise the Inspector-General. It’s all about all of us taking a deep breath and trusting. Anyway, the Inspector-General did the right thing and authorised Witness K to consult a lawyer which he did in the form of a prominent Canberra lawyer, Bernard Collaery. But then it went pear shaped for K when the mysterious IGIS was replaced with an opaque IGIS who withdrew the earlier approval to consult a lawyer, putting both K and Collaery in an invidious position. K for having divulged the nature of his concerns, which were governed by the official secrets act, and for Collaery for having heard them and for beginning to act upon them. The State that Persecutes had a Problem. The Oxford loving Attorney-General at the time, Brandis, sat on his little hands waiting for his posting to London as High Commissioner to solve his dilemma, which it did. His egregious smile floats on.

He was replaced by anything but Christian, Porter, best known for some recent excellent dramatic performances on Australian television, which some say may have opened doors for him doing Shakespeare in London; apparently Brandis has offered accommodation while he finds his feet. In any case as the new fearless AG, he took the bit between his teeth and in order to protect the impeccable reputations of Little-Iraq-Overboard, Johnny Howard and call me darling, Downer, he bravely undertook to prosecute K and Collaery.

But a Magistrate in the ACT, who had heard the case in secret, decided that basically K did not have a case to answer and gave him a three month suspended sentence. That was a blow for the forces of darkness, particularly Porter, who despite his rising thespian career, had had to vacate his position as AG in the face of serious allegations of a possible criminal nature. He has been appointed Minister of Silly Walks, a kind of sinecure, until he has to face the Mad Hatter.

The redoubtable Bernard Keane of Crikey, a publication that aspires to turn The State of Persecution into Wonderland, said, ‘The wrong person was in the dock being sentenced last week in the ACT Magistrates Court…It is Alexander Downer who should have faced court.’ He notes that the beneficiary of knowledge gained from the bugging was the major polluter Woodside. Incredibly Downer went on to receive grace and favour employment with Woodside.

However, in my opinion, the racism and elitism of Downer and Howard underpinned their greed and facilitated their quite extraordinary undertaking. Just as an aside Howard never once expressed opposition to Apartheid on the floor of the House, despite having many opportunities and Downer demonstrated marked discomfort in the presence of Indigenous people as leader of the Opposition. This is relevant in view of their subsequent treatment of the East Timorese.

In my book, ‘The Great Australian Blight, Losing the plot in Australian foreign policy’, published in 2001 by Otford Press, p71, I said, ‘Howard remained opposed to an independent East Timor until early 1999. Downer attempted to finesse Howard’s recognition of the strength of Australian public opinion in favour of independence as a “shift in government policy”…nonetheless the Government continued to acknowledge and affirm Indonesia’s right to occupy East Timor.’

Downer denied the involvement and arming of the East Timorese Militia by the Indonesian Army (TNI) until not long before the intervention of the Australian led, international peace keeping force (INTERFET) in East Timor. The shadow foreign affairs spokesman, Laurie Brereton accused him in 1999 of lying. Greg Sheridan of The Australian backed Downer’s anti-East Timor, pro-Indonesia line.

Later, p122, I noted, Downer was reported in the SMH, on 8 December 2000, as saying Australia and Indonesia needed better defence ties. ‘Bereft of ideas, morality and shame the government blundered about looking for its old comfort zone, unwilling or unable to acknowledge that following the ballot in east Timor the dynamics of the archipelago had irrevocably changed.’

On p123, I said, ‘Nevertheless, Australia and East Timor did find Major-General Peter Cosgrove just in the nick of time. Cosgrove and his troops performed the task of securing peace and stability in East Timor in the manner in which every Australian hoped they would. Cosgrove provided leadership of a quality which had been sorely lacking in Australia. John Howard, John Moore (Minister for Defence), and Alexander Downer latched onto his coat tails hoping to gain some of the reflected glory and increase their diminished stature.’

Howard and Downer were humiliated by the way events unfolded in East Timor. They gave every indication they felt belittled and they had reason to. They had behaved in petty and mean spirited fashion further demonstrating these characteristics with the authorisation of the bugging of the cabinet room in Dili. They have unleashed the most bizarre and cruel chain of events which will not end well for them.

Bruce Haigh is a retired Diplomat and political commentator.


This following article was published in Pearls and Irritations on 15 June 2021.

For the second time in their lives the two adults of the Murugappan family have been forced to be resilient and brave in the face of confrontation by a government intent on causing them harm.

In the first instance they fled a Sinhalese regime wrecking genocide upon a hated Tamil minority who had dared to fight for their freedom from oppression. The instruments of genocide were torture, rape, murder and confiscation of homes and the means of livelihood – land, shops, fishing boats, for those not killed, leading to suicide and mental illness.

When they had a right to expect succour after all they had been through, they received cruel punishment in Australia. Initially they found protection and kindness with the caring community of Biloela. After the trauma they had been through with the civil war and the blood letting of the Sinhalese armed forces toward the Tamil minority, they felt safe, and despite their nightmares, sufficiently secure to start a family. Nades and Priya had two much loved daughters, Kopi and Tharnicaa.

Priya had endured the multiple raping of her mother and the bashing and blinding of her father by Sinhalese members of the occupying force.

Taken from Biloela on expiry of their temporary visas by the then Home Affairs Minister, Dutton, they were held in detention in Melbourne while appeals went through the legal system and then transferred to Christmas Island when those issues remained unresolved. The stronger the protests by refugee support groups, human rights activists and the community of Biloela the more Dutton dug in.

After three years in detention the youngest daughter succumbed to the conditions and in May, 2021, came down with Pneumonia. She was given pain killing tablets by medical staff at the detention facility, ten days later she became so ill she was taken to the hospital on Christmas Island where she was diagnosed with septicaemia and rushed, by emergency flight, to the Children’s Hospital in Perth, 2,600 kilometres away.

There followed calls for the family to be allowed to go back to Biloela. Decent Australians are horrified at the treatment of this family. The former Chief Justice of the High Court, Sir Gerard Brennan has accused the government of deliberate cruelty. He said, “Cruelty is being inflicted upon her (Tharnicaa) to punish her parents who came by boat without a visa and thus to discourage others from breaching one of our immigration policies.” Think on it. This is the considered opinion of one of the most respected Judges to have sat on the High Court.

The Premier of Western Australia, Mark McGowan, has said the issue is “Internationally embarrassing”. He strongly urged Morrison to allow the family to settle in Biloela.

 Karen Andrews, the new home Affairs Minister initially called for the family to be resettled in either the US or New Zealand, as did the Minister for foreign Affairs, but they withdrew that suggestion. Andrews then said she was ‘not going to open the gates to people smugglers’. Where does that come from? Sounds like vintage Dutton.

In any case Andrews should know that her department is involved in operations, through the Australian Embassy in Colombo, to prevent boats with Tamil refugees coming to Australia. It covers activities on a number of fronts. Several years ago, Australia donated patrol boats and more recently drones. Payments have been given to Sinhalese involved in the people smuggling trade including navy and police officers and at one time the brother of the President. Sri Lanka is a chronically corrupt country and increasingly authoritarian. Democracy is a sham. The police and military control the north, where the majority of Tamils live. It is a reign of fear. Land has been stolen and given to the military, together with businesses. It is difficult for Tamils to make a living. Women and girls live in fear.

Dutton is no doubt aware of the arrangements that exist to control people smuggling. Before the last election, which the LNP expected to lose, several refugee boats left from Sri Lanka. Their arrival had the possibility of embarrassing the incoming Labor government. It was never satisfactorily explained how these boats managed to get so close to Australia with all the preventative arrangements that were in place.

In 2019 Dutton said it was safe for Tamils to return to the north of Sri Lanka. There has been no indication that the Australian Government has revised or rejected the advice that this statement was based on. The Australian High Commission is in a difficult position. The Australian government does not want to know the condition of Tamils in the north because that would mean acknowledging that many are eligible to be considered as refugees. In a politicised public service sending advice contrary to what the Government wants to hear is a prescription for losing preferment and promotion. The same is happening at the moment with respect to China.

Advice that the Australian Government has been operating under, namely that the north of Sri Lanka is safe for Tamils was recently overturned in a decision of a British Court. It found that State sponsored torture existed and that all Tamils in the north faced the risk of abuse and torture. (Upper Tribunal decision of 27.5.21, Appeal Numbers: PA/09978/2016 and PA/13288/2018). In light of this decision the Tamil Community in Australia has asked that DFAT amend its advice to reflect that the prospect of torture for Tamils in the north is high.

On the 2 June, 2021, a young Tamil man, Chandran Vithusan, aged 22 was arrested by Sri Lankan Police from the Intelligence Division outside of his home in East Iruthayapuram, Batticaloa, taken into custody and beaten to death. Nades and Priya are from Batticaloa. Given their background of seeking asylum in Australia it is likely that Nades and Priya would be taken into detention were they returned. What would happen to their children?

I worked on the Refugee Review Tribunal from 1995 until 2000. I handled cases from Sri Lanka. In my judgement Nades and Priya should have been found to be refugees. Not to do so was poor decision making of which there has been much.

By way of further example in June, in the North-East, Sinhalese Police arrested Tamils for ‘violating travel ban’ guidelines. This demonstrates that the movement of Tamils is regulated and controlled by the occupying authorities. At the same time police targeted a number of individuals, including the Mayor of Jaffna, for promoting LTTE ideology. It is a standard ploy for the police to claim LTTE activities in order to harass and intimidate whilst seeking bribes, funds and favours.

The occupying Sinhalese forces in the north hate the Tamils. At Mullivaikkal at the end of the war in 2009, 150,000 Tamils were murdered by the Sri Lankan military, this and other documented acts amounted to genocide and were found to be such at a session of the Permanent Peoples Tribunal held in Bremen in December 2013 at which I was present. Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group recognise the killings as a war crime. The hatred which led to these atrocities is still there.

Barathan Vidhyapathy, a Tamil film maker and Member of Tamil Refugee Council based in Melbourne says, “Today, Sri Lanka’s Tamil population lives under one of the heaviest military occupations in the world, and is subject to attacks, racism, and insecurity. It’s little wonder that Tamils would flee the island, seeking asylum in Australia.”

The Murugappan family cannot be sent back to Sri Lanka, they have suffered enough, they must be allowed to go back to their friends in Biloela.

Bruce Haigh is a retired Diplomat and political commentator. He was a Member of the Refugee Review Tribunal and he served at the Australian High Commission in Colombo.

This article appeared in Pearls and Irritations on 29 July 2021

Despite the line being spun by recently retired Secretary, Frances Adamson, AC, DFAT appears to be in the process of being scuttled by ASPI.

Speaking as a guest on ABC Insiders on 20 July, the Foreign Minister, Marise Payne, gave an unenlightening tour of the foreign policy issues facing Australia, from all the way with the USA to it’s all China’s fault, the audience learnt nothing. Well perhaps not quite.

Ms Payne from time to time appeared to refresh her memory from dot points, if so, it would seem to indicate prior knowledge of the questions or at least the direction they would take. Further more both questions and response appeared to be based on policy developed and articulated by ASPI. Perhaps indicating the extent to which DFAT is taking on water after being rammed by ASPI.

If, what the outgoing Secretary of DFAT, Frances Adamson, AC, had to say at the National Press Club, on 23 June 2021, is an indicator of Departmental thinking then it has run up the white flag. It was a defence of the indefensible, it was an apologia for an Australian government that has failed on every undertaking it has embarked on. From Climate Change, Covid, China, the Pacific, Timor Leste, Africa, SE Asia, Afghanistan, the Middle East, renewable energy, manufacturing, universities, Indigenous Australians, welfare, refugees, the Arts, you name the issue and the LNP has failed.

I know it is hard to represent and develop policy for a dysfunctional government, but giving it what it wants without a fight is surely just as hard and perhaps it is even harder to administer and comply with its failures. Certainly, that was the case for many public servants and defence personnel with respect to Tampa and children overboard.

Difficulties have been building in the relationship with China for the past five or six years, but instead of seeking to ameliorate areas of difference and points of friction they have been magnified. It was following a ‘conversation’ with Daffy Donald Trump that pushed Skittish Scott Morrison into calling for an ‘independent’ inquiry into the coronavirus last year. Go back and listen to the tone in Morrison’s voice, the cockiness and the arrogance. It rankles many here in Australia, it certainly rankled the Chinese, who at the state level are very alive to nuance. It was crude and that crudity was repeated and reinforced by Marise Payne, Simon Birmingham and more recently Dan Tehan.

There are newspapers, academics and think tanks which seek, and so far, have succeeded, in taking a hard line against China. None of it in my opinion constructive. There is talk of war. All are emboldened and indeed encouraged by the United States, which tells us it has our backs but then actively seeks and succeeds in picking up 40% of the trade we have lost to Chinese sanctions.

For a long time, we had a difficult relationship with Indonesia, a lot of it centred around its takeover of East Timor. There was a strong anti- Indonesia lobby group in Australia, comprising academics, journalists, church and other groups. The US always sought a strong relationship with Indonesia and because of that Australia did likewise. I remember it was not always easy, it was a difficult path within the Department and for the government. Indonesia at that time gave Australia many hard issues to deal with. But the lines of communication were kept open and alive by both sides, despite at times some very acrimonious exchanges. And why were the lines kept open by Australia? Because the government wanted them to be.

And they could be with China. China is looking for an apology for Morrison’s oafish and thoughtless statement, all the more so because he was so obviously the lickspittle of Trump. And he continues to rub salt in the wound, sending Australian war ships to sail with US and UK ships in the China Sea. And why? China is not going to threaten the shipping lanes it needs. Yes, China needs push back on its cyber incursions, its ‘education camps’ in Xinjian and heavy handedness in Hong Kong. And just to be even handed the US needs push back on cyber security, police brutality toward black Americans, gun laws, Iran, Israel and China.

At the Press Club, Frances Adamson said, ‘Few really grasp that this great power (China) is still dogged by insecurity as much as driven by ambition. That it has a deeply defensive mindset – perceiving external threats even as it pushes its interests over those of others.’ The old adage applies. Those in glass houses should not throw stones. The white Australian ruling elite is dogged by insecurity and has been for the past 100, 150, 200 years, take your pick. It has a deeply defensive, if not offensive, mindset. And taking off the rose-coloured glasses, it is fair to say the US has pushed its interests over those of others, big time.

‘It (China) is too ready to suspect containment instead of judging issues on their individual merits. This siege mentality – this unwillingness to countenance scrutiny and genuine discussion of differences – serves nobody’s interests.’

China is contained, that is the point of US defence strategy. Surely Adamson is aware of that? And it is extensive and comprehensive, including 7 bases or facilities in Australia. Without making too fine a point of it, I would say Australia has a siege mentality and has since the 1890’s, founded on the Yellow Peril, which is alive and well today.

Raising the list of 14 points of differences, problems and irritants in the relationship, at the Press Club, that the Chinese Embassy raised last year, was not wise or diplomatic if the aim of public discourse is to improve the relationship. This was a Chinese diplomatic blunder, done as part of Wolf Diplomacy which has now been reined in. It was best left. Unless the intention was to kick China in the shin.

Finally, it is not up to China to improve the relationship, it is up to China and Australia. To put it all on China sounds very much like LNP talking points for Sky News.

Adamson has left a sinking ship. It may be salvaged but it will be a different vessel. Policy will not form part of its refurbished functions, that will be claimed by ASPI. DFAT will become a clearing house for down graded information, a meet and greet, hale fellow well met, and a flier of the flag overseas. DFAT oversaw the biggest Australian foreign policy disaster in seventy years with the collapse of the relationship with China. This is not a matter of concern for ASPI.

The article appeared in Pearls and Irritations on 9.6.21

Australian Democracy is fading fast, with little care on the part of the LNP and MSM or realisation on the part of Labor.

It was John Howard who locked refugees in concentration camps in the desert. It was John Howard who curled his lip and sneered we, meaning himself, will decide who comes to Australia. It was John Howard who incorrectly demonised Indian doctor Haneef, with the aid of the AFP, only to see him forced into a humiliating back down and apology.

It was Howard who refused to recognise the Wik, High Court decision relating to Native Title and rammed legislation through parliament to water down the decision. It was Howard who refused to say sorry to Indigenous people for generational suffering and it was Howard who unleashed the ADF on Indigenous people in the Northern Territory in an act of social cleansing known as the Intervention. He went to war with the US in Iraq and Afghanistan in what appeared to be a crusade against Islam.

Howard set the framework for an intolerant and racist Australia which endures to this day. He put in place what might be termed the Howard Regime with the specific aim of making the wealthy wealthier and fostering European supremacy. He inaugurated a raft of terrorism and security laws designed to intimidate and control his fellow Australians as much as to ensure security.

Using the overblown threat of terrorism Howard corralled and controlled the Main Stream Media (MSM) with leaks and releases to tame journalists. Media laws were watered down allowing all but a seat to Murdoch at the Cabinet Table. Labor Prime Ministers, Rudd and Gillard, did not break the mould. They proved to be LNP Light, particularly with respect to the human rights issues of Indigenous Australians, refugees, single mothers, the unemployed and the environment.

Subsequent LNP Prime Ministers have all sought, with success, to advance the Howard doctrine. Murdoch has been feted and favoured, through installation of a second rate NBN and grants to his media organisations. Sport has been used to deflect attention away from politics and Murdoch has assisted. Indigenous Australian’s and refugees continue to be treated badly and the fossil fuel industry has been the recipient of grants.

There are few who believe Morrison to be a successful Prime Minister, he is seen as motivated by self. The vaccine rollout and provision of stand-alone quarantine facilities attest to a lack of leadership.

Morrison’s inclination is to govern by decree, unfettered by parliamentary process. In this he has been aided by Covid dictated limited sittings of Parliament, a weak opposition and a Murdoch dominated press which has pushed the ABC to the right.

As a young Diplomat I was posted to South Africa from July 1976 – October 1979. From 1990 – 1993 I ran a program bringing black South Africans to Australia for training and from 2004 I travelled to South Africa in conjunction with the Ifa Lethu Art Foundation which I established with a former colleague.

South Africa, under Apartheid, was governed by a white cabal of men elected on a restricted whites only franchise. They were cruel, weak, corrupt, entitled bullies, fostering white elitism and wealth. There was a small parliamentary white opposition headed by an ineffectual blow hard who condemned Apartheid but did not favour universal suffrage. Consequently, blacks treated him with contempt, but that was nothing compared to the loathing they felt and expressed for the white Afrikaners in power.

The ruling LNP increasingly resembles the white supremacist Apartheid regime. They have destroyed the relationship with Australia’s largest trading partner, China, to preserve what they call Australian values. It is a call based on incipient racism and one bound to fail, but like Apartheid it is centered on a perverse ideology. Australian white supremacy aims to further enrich business leaders, the majority of whom are white men and male dominated sporting clubs. Abbott and Morrison push the ‘Anzac and the tradition of Gallipoli’ which has the same emotional and ideological hold for right wing Australians as the ‘Battle of Blood River’ does for Afrikaner xenophobes.

The white opposition in South Africa was weak in numbers and will, they were time servers, energy and sacrifice did not enter their lexicon. Sacrifice was the preserve of black South Africans, just as it is of bush fire and flood victims and welfare recipients, Indigenous people and refugees in Australia.

The white South African regime gutted the State broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Commission (SABC), squeezing it of funds to the point it became compliant and did not report black student protest in Soweto against Apartheid in June 1976. The South African Police (SAP) were subjected to political control and direction. They were willing participants; they supported the ruling white National Party and Apartheid.

Whatever it takes, mixed with retribution, appears to motivate the LNP. An indicator is the secret trial of Bernard Collaery and Witness K. If Morrison gets re-elected expect him to pursue ‘disruptive elements’ that he will claim are harming Australia’s interests and are backed by Chinese money and agents. He will move to consolidate himself in power and render Labor weak and unelectable. Australia could become a one-party state with a token opposition.

You may believe this far-fetched, ‘couldn’t happen here mate’, but it can. I have seen it unfold in South Africa, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. It will all be done under the umbrella of a security threat from China and enable the deployment of the considerable arsenal of security legislation already in existence. Australia, like South Africa, will become a pariah state with US backing.

In assessing the capacity of governments to undertake actions inimical to the interests of some if not many of it’s citizens the character of the main political players need to be assessed; in that regard the Morrison government does not come off very well, Porter, Hunt and Colbeck being examples.

The leader of the federal Australian Labor Party, Antony Albanese, looks, sounds and behaves as his South African counterpart, Colin Eglin. He displays no sense of urgency but more importantly he evinces no understanding of the dangers posed by the ruling LNP regime. He appears not to understand the mentality he is dealing with. He shows little ability to match them blow by blow.

He appears to hold limited sway with so called swinging voters. He is known to his rusted-on supporters but who else? It cuts no ice to blame a hostile MSM, Albanese has to make waves, that’s what leaders do. They say he has a good team, which is true, but as Shorten discovered, election campaigns are won or lost on the leader’s performance. It may surprise Albanese but voters are not interested in the fact that he was brought up in public housing, it sounds like self-pity. He gives the appearance of running a 1980’s election campaign. Somebody should tell him the times have changed, Canberra is 1930’s Chicago. He should shape up or ship out, the stakes are too high for an Arty Calwell or Kim Beazley to be leading the Labor Party at this time.

Bruce Haigh is a retired Diplomat and political commentator.

As published in the Global Times – Asia Review, 27.5.21

After the American defeat by the Japanese in the Philippines it needed a base from which to regroup, resupply and take the fight back through the Pacific. Australia was a bread bowl, training camp and aircraft carrier. Its north was intersected with airfields used by American bombers and fighters in attacks against Japanese bases and shipping on and around PNG, the Solomons and other nearby Islands.

Australia was fearful of attack by the Japanese after their rapid advance through south Asia and the Pacific. The Americans arrived as the Japanese were advancing over PNG toward Port Moresby. The Australian Army had been conducting a successful fighting retreat in order to shorten their supply line, extend that of the Japanese and organise a major offensive. McArthur, the arrogant American general in command, sacked a number of Australian generals and ordered the retreat to stop.

Instead of being angry with McArthur the average Australian thought he was a hero. The myth was born that America had saved Australia, whereas America came to Australia purely for self-interest. Australians were impressed with American largesse and technology. Many bought into the American ‘dream’. This was the point at which America could do no wrong. The ANZUS Treaty came into being at the time of the Cold War and hostilities in Korea. America was seen by Australians as the protector against Russian and Chinese expansionism.

Australia was also seduced by American consumerism, Hollywood, Nashville and Detroit. A common language facilitated the absorption of American culture. Military, academic and business exchanges grew. However, it was largely a one-way street, although that went mostly un-noticed in Australia given the sycophantic nature of the relationship. Australians were in awe of American power and wealth.

They undertook no foreign policy initiatives without first checking with the Americans. The exception being the recognition of China by the Whitlam government in 1972, which many of junior Diplomats welcomed with pride and pleasure. Australia bought into the American line on the civil war in Viet Nam, much to its subsequent but unacknowledged regret. That did not stop the ‘provincial’ Prime Minister, John Howard, buying into the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a favour to the equally limited George Bush.

Australia bought military hardware from the Americans, under pressure, to increase US force structure in the region. We bought the F-111 which took forever to iron out the cracks, pun intended, the single screw FFG’s, the next to useless Abrams tanks, the F35 flying lemon and to boost the alliance Australia has ordered 12 submarines from the French which it does not need.

America has a highly sophisticated spy base, Pine Gap, in the Northern Territory, but from which Australia is excluded from sharing sensitive information. They have access to Tindal Airbase from which B52’s, in theory, could bomb submarine pens in Sanya and they have established a military base in Darwin for 10,000 American marines. None of this offers any advantage for Australia, although the Americans have convinced the conservative governing establishment that it does. They believe that no matter what, Australian interests are best served by remaining in lock step with America interests. The Australian governing party lacks emotional intelligence and courage. They are ‘provincial’ politicians, who know and understand very little of the wider world. To illustrate the point the governing party does not believe in climate change, at least insofar as believing in the efficacy of fossil fuels.

As products of the Howard era Prime Ministers, Abbott, Turnbull and most recently Morrison have all demonstrated blind faith in the American alliance. They have placed a great deal of trust in the word of Americans. Morrison has possibly been the most naive and gullible. He took Trump at his word, a big mistake. Trump fired up Morrison over China and convinced him that not only did the Covid virus originate in Wuhan, but he should unilaterally make a demand that an international investigation take place. Morrison took Australia way out in front with an unsustainable and undiplomatic demand, the US and Trump stood in the background and grinned.

Australia refused to backdown and apologise, so China imposed sanctions on a range of Australian imports in order to obtain a change of attitude on the part of Australia. The loss of income has not been felt because of unprecedented levels of borrowing by Australia to meet the economic challenges of Covid. And Australia has allowed itself to be lulled into a false sense of security by words of reassurance from US Secretary of State, Blinken, who guaranteed that America had Australia’s back. It does not and it never did. America acts purely in self-interest. Australia because of its long love affair with the US and its inferiority complex is in denial. Australia seems blind to the fact that the US has stepped in to supply China with many of the goods denied through trade sanctions.

China does not seem to understand the extent of the incompetence and naivety of the Australian leadership. Thinking people and intellectuals in Australia are appalled at Morrison and his government. However tough Chinese sanctions and harsh words have only given Morrison the domestic ammunition he needs to bolster his claims that China is aggressively expansionist and seeks to dominate the region.

Bruce Haigh is a retired Diplomat and political commentator.

As published in Independent Australia – 20.5.21

Last week Australian Prime Minister, Morrison, mixed up Taiwan and Hong Kong. They don’t matter to him. He doesn’t care, just as he doesn’t care that Palestinian children are being murdered by the Israeli air force and army. If he cares at all, it is because he thinks believers of the Old Testament are under attack.

China for Morrison is a domestic issue. He demonises the country in the hope that the tradies and bogans will agree that China is a danger to Australia and that they and their drinking mates will vote for him. Otherwise, he knows nothing about China, only that it is positioned north of Australia. It is doubtful that he could name the states that border it, he hasn’t got a clue.

ASPI says we may soon find ourselves at war with China. The source of its information is US right wing ‘think tanks’, funded, like itself, by US arms manufacturers. ASPI has taken to publishing threat assessments by retired US military officers. It is no longer concerned to hide its bias. And as disciples of ASPI, Dutton and public servant Pezzullo slammed another nail in the coffin of the relationship with a recent left field claim that war is imminent. It’s not. China does not, and will not, go to war over Taiwan. The irresponsibility of Dutton and Pezzullo is playing to domestic anti-China sentiment fanned by the Murdoch press for electoral advantage. Sick and stupid.

The only way war will occur is if the US engineers it as they ‘justified’ war with North Vietnam by engineering the Gulf of Tonkin incident. But this time around they are justifiably wary of the considerable military power of the Chinese. But not it would seem ASPI and Australia. Kids on the block.

What ASPI and the Australian defence department have not done is to spell out the reality of Australian participation in a US fostered war with China. One gets the impression they don’t know and don’t want to know. There have been no war projections published. No force comparison in the event of hostilities, no discussion of casualties, targets, supply and resupply, interdiction of supplies and the prospect for the use of nuclear weapons.

It is almost as if ASPI is talking up the prospect of war to promote and aid the sale of US weapons. In any case, from Morrison’s perspective, it helps his prospect of re-election. When it comes to the realities of war Morrison is way out of his depth, lacking the experience and emotional intelligence to get his head around what it might mean. It is a useful tool in his now familiar domestic posturing. Another scare tactic to help herd the mob.

Morrison relishes the notion of being the cop on the block for the US. In 2003 President Bush referred to Australia as the US Deputy Sheriff in Asia. Howard puffed himself up only to have his bubble burst by criticism from Indonesia and Malaysia. Similarly, no one in the region is taking Morrison seriously in this role. In fact, Morrison’s clumsy and inept diplomacy toward both the US and China have alienated him from the region, as increasingly nuanced moves are made to manoeuvre between the edgy superpowers.

There is no explanation for the deterioration in the China/Australia relationship. The government has not adjusted it’s thinking since the departure of Trump, if anything it has become more hard line such as cancelling the MOU relating to the Victorian Belt and Road Initiative with China. Which came exactly twelve months after Morrison accused China of fostering Covid through the so-called wet markets of Wuhan and unilaterally calling for an international investigation. In retaliation for cancelling the BRI, MOU, China suspended the China-Australia Strategic Economic Dialogue. Setting the scene for a further deterioration in relations.

The Wuhan accusation tipped the scales already finely balanced after Australia’s ban of Huawei from building its 5G network, undertaken on advice from US security agencies seeking to protect US intelligence gathering. Trade sanctions followed Wuhan. However, the impact has been hidden from the Australian public by unprecedented levels of borrowing necessitated by Covid. Such is the economic ignorance of the LNP, particularly the right-wing ideologues, that they refer to trade with China as ‘dirty money’ and argue a case that Australia can survive without Chinese trade. They claim that new markets have already been found for barley and wine. Immature and worrying and the ABC has run with it.

Australia has acquiesced to American pressure to increase its defence presence in the Northern Territory. It is considering rescinding a 99 year lease the Chinese company Landbridge has with respect to the port of Darwin. The narrative of Chinese ‘aggression’ toward Australia provides justification for ‘taking on’ China and the US is happy enough to encourage the Deputy Sheriff to swing the lead. A no-lose situation for them. We do their dirty work and they gain trade opportunities at our expense.

As a practicing Diplomat for 25 years and student of politics I have never seen such inept, corrupt and bloody minded government. Morrison broaches no criticism. Those around him in government and the public service who seek promotion and preferment mirror his negative and racist anti-China attitudes and statements.

China has reinforced and to an extent justified and legitimised the negativity and paranoia of Morrison and his government with tough trade sanctions, which has assisted his domestic standing on the issue. Fearing the wedge Labor has ducked for cover and run up the white flag. Penny Wong agreed to launch the book of rabid China basher Peter Hartcher on 17 May.

Australia needs help. It is being played by the US. It is suffering a dearth of leadership which is unable to handle climate change, a coherent Covid vaccination response, quarantine regime and a balanced relationship with China, our biggest and most important neighbour.

Bruce Haigh is a monumentally pissed off former Diplomat and political commentator.



As published in the China Daily – May 2021

In October 2003 US President Bush referred to Australia as the Deputy Sheriff of the US in Asia. At first prime Minister John Howard seemed pleased with the descriptor, however following criticism from Indonesia and Malaysia, he sought to distance himself from it.

However, the term stuck, particularly in light of the fact that Australia had just followed the US into war in Iraq when it had no good reason for doing so. The perception persists that Australia remains in that role, it has not taken much pressure from the US to hold it there. In fact, under the Prime Ministership of Scott Morrison it would be fair say it has become an even keener Deputy Sheriff.

The actions Australia has taken in recent times with respect to China should be seen against the background of this role and the emotional connection that conservative Australians have toward the US, particularly the ruling LNP and particularly after Trump became President.

Otherwise, how can the actions of Australia toward China be rationally explained. They defy common sense. The ruling LNP have not adjusted their thinking post Trump. If anything, they have become more hard-line such as The Federal Government cancelling the BRI, MOU between the Victorian Government and China exactly twelve months after Morrison accused China of fostering Covid19 through the so-called wet markets of Wuhan and unilaterally calling for an international investigation.

In retaliation for cancelling the mutually beneficial Victoria/China BRI, MOU, China suspended the China-Australia Strategic Economic Dialogue. That set the scene for a further deterioration in relations.

The Wuhan accusation was the trigger on a gun already loaded by Australia’s ban of Huawei from building its 5G network, undertaken on advice from US security agencies. Trade sanctions from China followed, however the economic impact has been hidden from the Australian public by unprecedented levels of borrowing brought about by government stimulus in the face of Covid.

Anti-Chinese sentiment amongst the Australian public has been fanned by the Murdoch press, which owns 70% of the media in Australia. In light of Australian government negativity toward China other media outlets have felt constrained to follow suit.

Australia has acquiesced to American pressure to increase its defence presence in the Northern Territory and is considering rescinding the 99 year lease the Chinese company Landbridge has with respect to the Port of Darwin. At the moment there is no domestic counter balance to the negativity being fostered within Australia toward China. China is feeding this with a response to what it no doubt perceives as rude ignorance toward China’s motives and intentions.

Nonetheless Chinese ‘aggression’ toward Australia feeds the narrative of the Australian Right Wing and makes them feel justified in ‘taking on’ China. A veritable Catch 22. And the US is happy enough to encourage the Deputy Sheriff to swing the lead. A no-lose situation for them. We do their dirty work, they lose nothing, in fact they have gained trade opportunities at our expense.

Some say that China bashes Australia as an example to the rest of the world of what will happen to other countries if they do not show respect to China and acknowledge China’s achievements and its place in the world. Heaven help if they have governments as ignorant as the Australian government. However, it is a tactic with limitations. It amounts to bullying. And bullying amounts to a threat.

Those engaging in bullying as a means of coercion and change reduce their own standing and dignity and with it influence. It is a sign of weakness to bully. There is no wisdom in bullying, it is a short-term game. It is something the Americans have engaged in for the past 70 years. Does China want to stoop to those levels? Isn’t China better than that? Many of us think so. The world is looking for leadership and statesmanship. Making a fool of fools is a demeaning undertaking. Leadership requires a broadness of spirit, vision and morality.

The world knows what America stands for; it is driven by, money and power, not morality, not empathy and not compassion. China can be different; it does not have to reflect American norms and ways of operating internationally. It can write new rules and deploy new forms of behaviour. It shouldn’t be defensive. It should take the lead, with confidence, real confidence, a confidence which is not yet apparent.

China is a great country and will become even greater. It will be a force for good. It should behave as such. China must rise above the petty games dictated by the US if it is to realise its full potential.

Crushing the Australian gnat may give short term satisfaction, but whatever victory results, other slights and insults in the future will not be similarly resolved. What is obvious is that the world is looking for leadership and sitting on Australia is not providing it.

Bruce Haigh is a former Diplomat and political commentator.

The philosophy and attitudes underpinning and guiding the direction of the Australian Security Policy Institute (ASPI) can be traced to the early years of the Howard government. Since that time there has been a steady erosion of core values that might once have been said to constitute the Australian social fabric.

The first was the undermining of the rights of asylum seekers, with Ruddock attempting to influence and then undermine the decision making process of the Refugee Review Tribunal. On shore detention facilities were expanded as men, women and children, were made to spend longer periods in detention. Then there was Tampa and Howard’s election moment when he sneered and spat out, ‘We will decide who comes here.’ A throwback to, or more likely a revival of, the white Australia policy, which was based on a fear of an influx of people to our north and of colour. The fact that asylum seekers arrived by boat fed the long held primal white fear of an Asian land grab.

Policy relating to the arrival of asylum seekers was mixed by the Howard government into the phenomenon of Islamic terrorism, 9/11. Many refugees were fingered by the government and the Murdoch press as potential terrorists and all were demonised as a result. Howard’s LNP government used both as an election strategy and deployed hysteria as a tool. The aim was to herd a concerned if not fearful electorate into the corral. It worked.

The AFP assisted this process with the dramatic exposure of ‘terrorist’ cells. Intentionally or not, they became aligned with a government seeking to maintain enhanced levels of community anxiety for electoral manipulation and advantage.

To assist in maintaining a sense of threat Howard turned to the armed forces. Initially he deployed the Navy to turn back asylum seeker vessels. This was done aggressively, with much fan fare and publicity. The conditions relating to the detention of asylum seekers, the length of time and turning around boats in international waters were illegal under International and domestic laws.

Howard further raised the profile of the military by committing Australian troops to Afghanistan and Iraq. It was deemed unpatriotic and disloyal to question these deployments. Howard lied about Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction, which was given as the reason for Australia going to war. He lied about the reason for a subsequent deployment of Australian troops to Afghanistan. The Murdoch press backed him. Truth became a casualty. Hysteria was used to address legitimate criticism.

Expert advice on the treatment of refugees was ignored and strategic and foreign policy advice from DFAT, ONA and Defence relating to the Middle East, marginalised. The advice of experts and scientists in other areas was ignored or ridiculed. This particularly related to climate change and the use of fossil fuels, where in pursuing its ideology, the government has distorted and ignored peer reviewed scientific advice and lied and often using charged emotional argument.

The AFP and ASIS were used to stop the departure of asylum boats at source in Indonesia and Sri Lanka. Appointments to senior public service positions were increasingly determined by the loyalty shown or likely to be shown to the government by recipients. The increasingly unquestioning responsiveness of the federal public service to the political imperatives of government became apparent in climate, energy, water, strategic, defence and social policy, in areas such as aged care, Robodebt and Indigenous affairs. In all of this the government received the backing of the Murdoch press and after the Channel 9 takeover, The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

The ABC has been hard pressed to maintain its independence. Starved of funds by government it has cut back on programs and hard edged commentary. The Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) has influence with the LNP government. It believes the ABC, along with many other public undertakings, should be privatised. It also believes that the private sector should be the primary source of advice for the government.

Successive LNP governments have allowed the US to dominate thinking on strategic and foreign policy. When Trump became President, the relationship became closer. Morrison admired him and sought to move further into lockstep with US foreign policy. China became the dominant issue.

Obama had moved to ‘Pivot the US to Asia.’ Basically, a policy to contain China. Gillard agreed to rotate US troops through Darwin and undertake joint exercises. Tension in trade and economic relations between China and the US was increasingly the defining aspect of their bilateral relationship. Australia, under Gillard, sought a path between the two although heavily on the side of the US, even so that was enough to set the LNP right wing barking and pulling at their chains.

Trump exploded on the scene, bullying and blustering, with most in the LNP welcoming his arrival. They endorsed his hard line on China and it was at this point that ASPI’s influence began to grow. Under Morrison the so-called debate on China was marked with growing hysteria and hostility. This was primed and fostered by ASPI. To bolster their case right wing commentators began referring to China as Communist China and some academics and researchers were able to assert sustained Chinese cyber attacks on universities, scientific, industry and government institutions. Together with the media they sought to throw doubt on the motives and destination of joint scientific research and on the activities of students.

Australian Xenophobia, once directed against Islam and Arabs, was now directed against China. It reached its apotheosis with Morrison, Dutton and Payne’s attack on China on the origin of the Covid19 virus, which they declared was Wuhan and required an investigation staffed by inspectors. That amounted to a declaration of war which Australia had no chance of winning. China suspended imports of agricultural goods including, barley, wine and meat and advising students and tourists not to come to Australia, ineffective in the face of Covid border restrictions.

But the tool of Howard Hysteria was unleashed in full force by the government with ASPI as the principal spear carrier. Journalists such as Sheridan and Hartcher led the media charge, Academic Clive Hamilton spelt out the danger faced by universities with continued co-operation with Chinese researchers.

ASPI is funded by the Australian government, and several large US arms manufacturers. It claims to be independent. It also claims that China is expansionist, a military danger and a repressive state and cites genocide of Uyghurs in Xinjiang State as an example. There is no proof of the genocide of Uyghur people. There is proof of detention of some for political purposes and there is proof of intimidation and repression of many others.

There is scant acknowledgement of where Australia is at after 25 years being corralled and dumbed down by a combination of government, media and now academia. ASPI is part of that. It both leads and responds. The LNP now has ASPI as its preferred source of advice on China. DFAT and Defence have been marginalised. The Lowy Institute gets a look in from time to time but it is ASPI who has captured the hearts and minds of government and many in the media.

The government is using China as a domestic vote winner. It has no concept of what a war with China would entail. It collectively lacks the emotional intelligence to envision outcomes from such an undertaking. Does ASPI? If so, what is its agenda in pushing the line that China is an ever present and increasing military danger? If not, what is it engaged upon and why? We know that arms manufacturers like international tension as it increases sales, particularly US arms manufacturers. The sale of arms by the US is an important aspect of their economy and not something, given their present economic circumstances, to be foregone lightly.

With government and ASPI in lockstep does ASPI have a domestic agenda? Is it seeking, with the electorally popular China bashing, to help get the LNP re-elected? Anything seems possible in the Australia of today. Harnessing hysteria for electoral purposes has little precedent in this country. For students of history and politics the last time it was deployed in Australia was by Menzies in the 1950’s, against the background of the Cold War, and during the Conscription Campaigns of 1916 and 1917. Hitler and Goebbels used it in Nazi Germany against the Jews.

As a result of the deployment of hysteria, half truths and no truth as an instrument of foreign policy, China, our biggest trading partner and the most powerful country in the region and soon the world, has frozen us out of significant bi-lateral trade, economic and diplomatic relationships. The US, which whilst apparently sharing our views, has not been frozen out.

It would be interesting to see what ASPI thinks of this. We may soon lose part of our iron trade with China, perhaps when the Confucius Institutes are closed around Australia. Then we will be trapped in the ice and of increasing irrelevance to China, the region and the US which has used us, needing us only as a base.

Bruce Haigh is a retired Diplomat and political commentator.