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Is the Australian Government serious about restoring the relationship with China? There are disturbing indications that it is not.

At the National Press Club (NPC) on 26 August, the Minister at the Chinese Embassy in Canberra, Wang Xining, delivered a cleverly crafted address containing a pathway to parlay after months of Morrison mudslinging at the Chinese Government following the LNP fear of catching the Corona virus.

The event was organised by China specialist and former diplomat Peter Phillips, who along with other retired Australian diplomats, is concerned at the ignorance and right wing ideology now governing our most important diplomatic relationship.

The embedded LNP media, known as the Main Stream Media (MSM), present at the NPC, either chose to ignore the invitation to parlay or it passed over their heads. 

The invitation was subtle but it was not obscure. Former DFAT colleagues, watching on TV or present at the NPC, picked it up.

Alan Behm formerly DAFAT and Defence and now head of international and security affairs at the Australia Institute, writing in The New Daily on 29 August, said Wang Xining’s speech was a clever, measured and thoughtful contribution to the conversation that Australia and China need to have. He outlined four principals that Wang set out to promote the partnership: respect, goodwill, fairness and vision and noted he offered the good offices of his embassy ‘in getting Ministers talking to each other.’

Right wing MSM journalists managed to miss all of this, instead running the LNP/Murdoch China bashing line. Chris Uhlmann, Channel 9, claimed Trade Minister Birmingham had made approaches to the Chinese seeking dialogue.

I contacted Birmingham’s office seeking details of these alleged approaches. The Ministers Senior Media Adviser, Benn Ayre, responded by email saying, “The Minister said late last week: ‘There have been at least half a dozen requests for ministerial conversations since late April, including a request I made in writing as recently as last week.’ “

I did not find this advice enlightening so I responded, ‘Thanks Benn. Who were the requests made to? Who was written to? All the best, Bruce.’

His reply, ‘Requests for meetings with Commerce Minister Zhong Shan. These have been either direct correspondence or requests through our embassy in Beijing or their embassy.’

To which I asked, ‘When were the approaches to the Chinese Embassy in Canberra? Written or verbal? At what level? Were they formally acknowledged? Who made them? The Ministers office or DFAT?

And his response, ‘Sorry Bruce, but we are not going to go into that level of detail. Cheers, Benn.’

That made no sense to me. During the course of a 23 year career in DFAT, which involved briefing Ministers and Ministerial advisers, I cannot recall the provision of such simple and straight forward information not being provided under the circumstances prevailing in this matter.

I went back, ‘Thanks Benn, but surely you need to establish the veracity of your claims. Otherwise they remain hearsay. When I was in DFAT it was par for the course to back up claims by the Minister in matters such as this. In those days the MSM was tougher and more professional in pursuing ministerial statements.

What is being said here is trust us. As you will appreciate the stakes are high and ‘trust us’ under the circumstances does not cut the mustard.

The Chinese Minister, Wang Xining, says as far as he is aware no approach has been made to the Chinses Embassy in Canberra, to facilitate Ministerial contact. My reading of his statement was that he was offering to facilitate an approach.

So who is dissembling, Wang Xining or Simon Birmingham? This is a very serious matter in terms of the bilateral relationship. Would you like to reconsider your advice? All the best,  Bruce.’

I heard nothing further so I rang him but no further details were forthcoming.

Under the circumstances I have concluded that Birmingham’s office is not telling the truth. Birmingham has made no approaches and why?

Birmingham is not the brightest or strongest person on the front bench. Who might have lent on him and why?

Could it be that those dictating Australian policy toward China do not want a rapprochement? Who are they? DFAT is seen by right wing think tanks and consultants as weak on China. It is weak but not just on China. Payne is one of the most insipid Foreign Ministers Australia has had for some time, morally and intellectually. Probably not since Tony Street have we witnessed such a poor performer in that role.

The finger of suspicion must fall on the right wing Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) which has been rabid in its contrived public attacks on China. But ASIO, ASIS and Border Force must share responsibility, locked as they are, into Trumps visionless future for the region and anti-China posturing.

Grasp this. As Trade Minister, Birmingham, appears not to be making any move to restore the trading relationship with China and this may be because the right wing, both in Parliament and through the likes of ASPI do not want him to, and may in have applied pressure for him not to do so. If Australian right-wing organisations believe they can punish China they are delusional.

They might like to explain their thinking to the National Farmers Federation, wine, beef and barley producers. Such thinking, if it is abroad, would be totally at odds with the national interest. It would represent a self indulgent and destructive Canberra power play, with billions of trade dollars at stake.

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and former Diplomat.

The military in Australia has played a key role in the national narrative. Its achievements have been woven into myth. External threat has long been part of the political fabric. The ADF and para-military organisations are seen as protectors of the political class and enjoy protected status as a result. As security organisations proliferate, the military move toward centre stage. Climate change and Covid19 consolidate their social and political position.

The foundation of Australia was a military exercise. Around 200 British Marines supervised 754 convict men, women and children in the colony of Sydney from 1788. The Governor, Captain Arthur Phillip, was replaced by Major Francis Grose who turned the colony into a military dictatorship. Officers traded in rum and were awarded large tracts of land.

From 1788 until 1870, twenty-four British Regiments served in Australia under military Governors. From 1870 the colonies took responsibility for their own defence until Federation. These forces established the tradition of going to the aid of England, even when we were not needed. Men from the colonies volunteered to fight in New Zealand, the Sudan, South Africa and China between 1861 and 1902.

Not only did the military shoot enemies of England they also shot the original inhabitants, the Aboriginals, who they forced off the land. In this they were assisted by police and white settlers. From 1788 until 1920 it is estimated that over 200,000 were massacred.

Convinced war was coming the British sent military reformer Lord Haldane to Australia in 1911. He recommended compulsory military training and the introduction of school cadets. On the outbreak of war in 1914, 20,000 young Australian’s joined the army. Out of a population of 5 million, 416,000 signed up, of whom 330,000 served overseas. We did not need to be there.

The Australian war correspondent, CEW Bean, was appointed official historian. He wrote dispassionately of the horror and put order where there was none. His was a boy’s own history, preparing the next generation for war. He advocated for a war memorial in Canberra which in design and display prepared the ground for the deification of Australian involvement in war. Bean was the father of the Anzac legend, which is fascist and racist in manifestation. Where you and I might have seen crude and foul-mouthed grafters, Bean saw beautiful boys. He loved them. I have been in the army; I have seen a different reality.

The 25 April, the day Australian troops went ashore at Gallipoli, was designated a national day of remembrance, attracting big crowds between the wars. By the end WWII it was an even bigger event with dawn services and marches through cities and towns by ex-servicemen.

WWII saw the militarisation of Australia. Out of a population of 7.3 million in 1944 Australia had 1 million people in uniform. There were 730,000 in the army, 400,000 served overseas. Australia made uniforms, small arms, artillery, tanks, planes, naval and supply vessels.

All things military had sunk into the Australian psyche by 1945. But not all embraced Anzac Day. Some saw it as showy and shallow, having little to do with remembering loved ones and friends, accompanied as it was with false bonhomie. Many knew all too well of the violence and nastiness that lay beneath the surface on the Day once alcohol had a grip, wives, children and girlfriends better than most.

From 1950-1953, 17,000 Australian troops fought against the Chinese in an American dominated UN force in Korea. Prime Minister Robert Menzies took the country to war in Vietnam. He accepted the Domino theory. He believed that Chinese backed Communism was on a southward march through Vietnam. He gave secret undertakings to the Americans that Australia would support them.

Knowing he was going to fight in Vietnam he introduced legislation to conscript 20 year old Australians. Once the bill had passed through parliament Menzies announced that conscripts would fight in Vietnam. It was an act of treachery. Vietnam led to a vocal and determined anti-war movement. Australia withdrew in 1972 following the election of Gough Whitlam. Anzac Day and the jingoistic response to war that went with it was discredited; it sank into disrepute until Prime Minister Bob Hawke visited Gallipoli in 1990 and by so doing revived Anzac Day.

Hawke and Kim Beazley, as Minister for Defence, embarked on substantial defence spending linked to a new assertive forward defence policy. Beazley’s background was one of Moral Rearmament, his transition to war lord should be seen in terms of his intellectual and emotional capture by the US military establishment.

However, it was John Howard who unashamedly used Anzac Day, the uniform and flag to underpin his prime ministership. After 9/11 Howard committed Australian troops to war in Afghanistan and then illegally to war in Iraq. It suited Howard. He maximised photo opportunities, attending dock side departures, returns and funerals. Uniforms became part of his entourage. He was fascinated and intimidated by them and used them shamelessly.

His so-called war on terror enabled the militarisation of Australia to proceed apace and a frame work was established to accommodate a future police state. From 2001, 82 terrorism laws were enacted. By contrast, the police state of Apartheid South Africa had 9 laws relating to terrorism.

In 2000 Howard had the parliament pass the Defence Legislation Amendment (Aid to Civilian Authorities) Act. It gave the Federal Government the power to call out the armed forces on domestic soil against perceived threats to ‘Commonwealth interests.’ If deemed necessary the ADF may shoot to kill. That is a first for Australia and it is a most dangerous piece of legislation to have on the books.

The Labor Party, under Beazley, did not oppose the Bill. The Act states that ‘the Governor-General is to act with the advice of Executive Council or in an emergency, the authorising Minister.’ Probably why military men are favoured as Governors-General – they are more likely to comply with a request to turn out the troops.

Howard’s reluctant but successful intervention in East Timor under General Cosgrove in 1999 enhanced his reputation as a war time leader and furthered the militarisation of Australia. He cunningly twisted the narrative to ensure that any attack on him by was an attack on ADF personnel.

Because the debate on national security was centred around the war on terror, questions on policy were cast as disloyal. The Labor Party have been unwilling to challenge that narrative and as a result cannot lay a glove on the LNP in relation to security and defence issues. More often than not, in order to demonstrate their patriotism, they have gone along with poor measures and legislation proposed by the LNP.

Patriotism and loyalty have become bound into the outdated Anzac myth, the prosecution and celebration of it now often referred to as Anzacery. It celebrates a white anglo narrative and has no relevance or understanding amongst newer ethnic groups. It has been captured by the political right.

The ADF enjoys iconic status. It has been woven into the Anzac myth and is portrayed as a protector and nurturer of the Anzac spirit. It is protected, it can do no wrong. The AFP raided the ABC to silence critics. It has been inserted into the social and civilian fabric through disaster deployment.

The four year celebration from 2014 to 2018, of Australian participation in WWI, cost $600m plus $200m for Abbott’s museum at Villers Bretonneux, plus another $500m to ‘upgrade’ the themed War Memorial in Canberra.

Funds for militarisation and securitisation appear unlimited and expenditure is beyond parliamentary scrutiny. In 2006 Howard authorised paramilitary training for the Australian Federal Police (AFP), that training presumably continues. It can be assumed that elements of the Australian Border Force (ABF) also receive paramilitary training. The ABF came into existence in 2015. One quarter of its members are armed. They have intimidating black uniforms and their own system of awards giving them the appearance of a para military force.

The Department of Home Affairs was established in 2017. It has oversight of the AFP, ASIO, ABF, ACIC and Austrac. There are more intelligence agencies including ONI, ASIS, DIO, ASD and AGO. Then there is the AIC, NIC, NSC, NICC, NICMC, NIOSC and ANZCTC. Yes, it is a cat’s breakfast and may well lead to the sort of problems that caused a breakdown in intelligence exchange in the US prior to 9/11.

The proliferation of agencies highlights the growth of the terrorism industry, reflected in the empire building noted above. The industry has now shifted its focus to China, which offers prospects for growth in unearthing evil intent.

Peter Dutton, Minister for Home Affairs, has a powerful base for exercising and seeking to exercise control over his fellow Australians. Left to his own devices he would tap our phones and monitor our devices. Sally McManus of the ACTU believes he already does. I now have the same attitude to my phone in Australia as I did in South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

Parliamentary scrutiny of this basket of cats is almost non-existent, due to a lack of will and an attitude that it would be disloyal to dig up dirt. The official mindset, accepted by the mainstream media, is that these are national institutions undertaking vitally important work on behalf of a nation under threat.

Patriotism is defined by the ruling LNP and supported by the Labor Party. China has now been identified as the enemy. It is best to go along with that narrative lest your home is raided, travel restricted and phone tapped. The Anzac myth is deployed in these times as an appeal to a higher order of nationalism requiring sacrifice of some liberties and compliance with unpopular directives. Its greatest appeal is on the right of the political spectrum. It has reached its use by date but nothing else is on offer.

There is nothing very exceptional about American Exceptionalism other than many Americans find themselves exceptional and demand that others do likewise. Australian Exceptionalism is risible.

Many American’s believe that, in the words of Tina Turner, America is ‘Simply the Best’. The notion of American Exceptionalism can be traced to the founding fathers, it evolved through the crucible of WWII into a belief that America’s destiny was to lead the world. A notion, once evangelical, became a propaganda crusade deployed in fighting the German Nazis, Italian Fascists, Japanese Militarism and later Communists in Korean and the Cold War. In reality it is all about power. With the birth of American Military Exceptionalism grew the need to maximise international outcomes favourable to America, particularly the acquisition of wealth. To do this it needs to see off rivals. American Military Exceptionalism exists and is nurtured in the Pentagon and State Department.

There are many strands to American Exceptionalism, some are idealistic, believing that America with God’s will could create a better world. That view was tied into the churches but now has become tangled into military exceptionalism which sits comfortably with increasing evangelical right-wing Christianity.

One strand is held domestically and broaches no criticism. It is narrow, inward looking and holds that America can achieve whatever it wants, whenever it wants. It is blind and exists in the face of reality. It is a view held on the right of American politics and is allied to and at times intertwined with the evangelical Christian right. It was held by President Ronald Reagan and Vice President Dick Chaney. It believes in the overwhelming superiority of American arms and believes those arms should be used to support outcomes favourable to maintaining American prestige and pre-eminence. A veritable Catch-22.

Another is held outside of America and dates back to the visits of European intellectuals and industrialists in the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century. They were awed by the wealth and power displayed by the furnaces of Pittsburgh, the trans-national railways and skyscrapers of New York and Chicago; by the opulence of theatres, universities and other public amenities. And they wrote, indeed gushed about America with envy. It is a view held by overseas right-wing politicians such as Thatcher, Johnson, Howard and Morrison.  

American Exceptionalism is often referenced back to Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson was of a type all too familiar, strong on words and ideals and weak on practice. He was a major slave owner, with a slave mistress, who saw the ‘solution to salves’ in America as sending them back to where they had come from rather than emancipation. Despite the fine words in the Declaration he refused to envision black and white Americans as equal.

With American Exceptionalism finding its apotheosis at the end of WWII, wartime propaganda was refined into a broad spectrum championing of all things American, from the Red Woods to RCA, by the media and given expression, from amongst others, by The New Yorker, Life, Newsweek, Time and National Geographic magazines, The Wall Street Journal, Newsreels, Hollywood and Sitcoms. The media in Australia was worshipful and sycophantic in its reportage of all things American, particularly cars, clothes and consumer durables. American Exceptionalism had strong currency with my generation as we went through school and university, helped along by the Cold War.

The myth becomes reality when applied to music, movies, medical research and sport. The American hold on technology as expressed through the automotive, aviation and space industries and Silicon Valley was exceptional but the lead and reputation gained has been whittled away by competitors such as Germany, Japan, South Korea and most recently China – a source of great anxiety to America. Success in sport, and America has been very successful, is an extension of the battle ground to maintain Exceptionalism. Other countries know it and have adopted ‘whatever it takes’ including taking drugs to beat America.

Some, maybe many, Protestant churches in America support the notion of exceptionalism, particularly in the south where it has co-existed with white supremacy. Many educational institutions support the notion along with the armed services where it is linked to patriotism.

Nonetheless the notion of a broad and encompassing American Exceptionalism is hard to encompass when set against the reality of history with respect to continuing discrimination against Black and Indigenous Americans – reservations and the disempowerment that accompanied their establishment, past segregation, job discrimination and tolerance of the KKK. The hostility of the President and the Murdoch press to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and support for the gun lobby undermine claims of exceptionalism.

No doubt there are many Black and Hispanic Americans who believe in American Exceptionalism but if so, they are probably sharing American wealth. Those who do not, and there are many, can be forgiven for not embracing Exceptionalism. And the chances are they are being discriminated against. American exceptionalism does not embrace discrimination.    

The ignominious defeat in the Vietnam war, despite a significant advantage in men and materiel, together with a messy campaign in Iraq, leading to Middle East instability, and an unsuccessful campaign in Afghanistan, which saw the Taliban regain control of much of the country, put paid many international perceptions of American Exceptionalism. Despite these loses, the American defence establishment continues to believe in its own invincibility.

There are hundreds of US bases around the world with 200,000 troops deployed to them. There are four US bases in Australia, with the US also having access to ADF bases and training areas. Since 9/11 the US has spent $6.4 trillion on wars in the Middle East and securing what it regards as its right to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, even though those rights were never under threat.  The US has fifty bases ringing China with the intention of containment and control; all of this to maintain American supremacy, which is itself based on the notion of exceptionalism.

We are told by Australian politicians that Australia has shared values with the US. ‘We’, the people, share some, but not many, the ruling political and business class share more. In considering American Exceptionalism we should look at Australian Exceptionalism which is based on sport and the ‘Anzac tradition’.

In my opinion Australian Exceptionalism is shrill, shallow, showy and superficial and does not stand up under scrutiny. It is embraced by conservatives in the community and the right in politics. It finds expression on Australia and Anzac Day. Cars are adorned with, and people wrap themselves in, the Australian flag.

The cultural contribution we could make is scorned and defunded by elected leaders. Aboriginal culture is derided and sacred sites and trees destroyed. Australia produces little other than mines. Good inventions, such as solar panels first invented in Australia, had to go offshore in 1983 to be produced. What Australia might be and what it is are two different things. We have failed to make ourselves exceptional whilst our leaders are besotted and blinded by their perception of American Exceptionalism.

Since Trump became President the relationship between the US and China has deteriorated to the point that some observers talk of war. Why is this? In simple terms America feels threatened by China’s rapidly expanding wealth and influence. Dangerous confrontation has resulted and Australia has been sucked in. How far remains to be seen, but it is not in Australia’s interest to be used by Trump or Murdoch.

By the early 1990’s America was pleased with itself. The narrative was that Reagan had seen off the USSR. The Soviets had been forced to withdraw from Afghanistan through American backing of the Mujahideen. Their economy collapsed because America had forced more spending on defence than they could afford. The fall of the Berlin wall in November 1989 foreshadowed the loss of the Soviet empire. The Americans declared they had won the Cold War. But when they looked around, they found China staring at them with a degree of self-confidence they hadn’t noticed. They did not have the field to themselves.

China crushed the Democracy Movement in August 1989. Premier Li Peng acted swiftly after the bloody put down in Tiananmen Square was transmitted around the world. His zeal was driven by loss of face. A year on, confidence returned and China built on the economic reforms instigated by President Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin when he became President in 1993.

One set of eyes focused on China were those of Rupert Murdoch. However almost at the same moment he set his sights on what he saw as a huge untapped communications market he blew it. In a speech delivered in London in 1993, Murdoch said, ‘Advances in the technology of telecommunications have proved an unambiguous threat to totalitarian regimes everywhere.’ Bruce Dover, who worked for Murdoch in China, observes in his book, ‘Rupert’s Adventures in China’, that when reports of Murdoch’s speech reached the Chinese leadership, Li Peng ‘was incandescent with rage’.

Mesmerized as he was with a vision of the wealth and power that a slice of the Chinese telecommunications market would deliver, it was to no avail. He was frozen out by the Chinese leadership. Nonetheless he kept trying, he spent money, a lot of it, but every move he made was blocked. He was not trusted. He employed an American educated Chinese national, Wendi Deng, to open doors for him but in 1999 before her failure became apparent, they married. They were divorced in 2013.

Murdoch has no love of China and his media empire reflects that. Lachlan, his son and heir apparent shares his views. Both father and son are close to Donald Trump, who continues the erosion of American prestige and power, assisted by earlier ill-advised incursions into Iraq, Afghanistan and the GFC.

Trump, unable to comprehend the cause of the American decline, rounded on China and was willingly assisted and encouraged by Murdoch and his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is looking for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024. He believes denigrating China will secure his base. He refers to, ‘the conflict with China’ as one between, ‘freedom and tyranny’. And Trump adviser, if there is such a person, Peter Navarro, calls China an adversary and ‘strategic enemy and revisionist power’.

China has not helped its cause. As its wealth has grown so have notions of its power and entitlement. This has grated with America. It has sought control over the South China Sea (SCS) and sea bed resources. In response to the US military encirclement it has militarised the SCS with the construction and occupation of islands and deployment defence resources, including naval, missile and air force. The US has bases or the use of bases in Darwin, Tindal, Changi, Korat, Trivandrum, Guam, Saipan, Tinian, and maybe Wake and Palau.

Regional nations are concerned at moves by China which infringe upon their sovereignty but they continue trade, tourism, cultural, education and scientific exchanges and they maintain a dialogue, which is more than Australia can claim.

China has not closed shipping routes through the SCS and has made no moves to do so. Why would it? A large percentage of its trade passes through the SCS. Yet the United States followed by Australia claims that China does wish to close shipping routes. It conducts Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs) by sending war ships through the SCS. Australia has joined these exercises but to date has refused to sail within the 12 nautical mile limit, most recently reiterated at the July AUSMIN.

The Murdoch press together with right wing backbenchers and think tanks, most notably led by the Australia Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), founded and funded by the Australian government, the US government and arms manufacturers, have led the anti-China push. ASPI exists in a feed lot. US produced information is passed to it which it then regurgitates to the Australian government and media. This biased and lop-sided process dumbs down debate.

The US and Australian governments refuse to hear anything favourable about the Chinese government referring to it over past months as the Chinese Communist Party, a term designed to adversely brand and denigrate. It is puerile. In Australia adverse perceptions toward China found expression in an AFP/ASIO raid on the home of NSW parliamentarian Shaoquett Moselmane on 26 June, allegedly for “unauthorised contact with China”. There were vague murmurs of spying. Moselmane is taking the matter to the High Court. The mentality behind the raid is of concern. In democracies Intelligence agencies must be neutral and impartial and seen to be so.

Australia’s relationship with China is at its lowest point since diplomatic relations were established in 1972. And all because Australia is doing the bidding of Murdoch and the Trump administration. After a call to Trump, Morrison said the Covid19 virus originated in Wuhan and called for an investigation into the origins of the virus. It is nonsense to call for an enquiry when you announce what you believe the finding will be. It was obvious that Morrison, Dutton and Payne were being judgemental and seeking retribution. China was already embarrassed about the outbreak; they didn’t need their nose rubbed in it by a yapping dog. Australia caused loss of face. As tough as he would like to be seen Premier Xi Jinping has a glass jaw.

China has responded with cancellation of orders for Australian beef, barley and possible bans on students and tourists. It is looking for some understanding from Morrison for what is regarded as a calculated insult. They want face restored. It is beyond the comprehension of Morrison but perhaps not Payne. Australia cannot afford to be where the LNP has placed it with respect to China.

A different reading of China would see it as both assertive and defensive. It is flexing its muscles and literally testing the waters, but it remains unsure of itself. The US is bullying in trying to contain a largely contrived threat. However, as they have done before they may bring about the result they are allegedly seeking to avoid.

Australia must uncouple itself from the Murdoch/Trump axis. We don’t need it. The LNP feel they owe Murdoch for all his help. They have given News Corporation millions of taxpayers’ dollars. If they don’t uncouple, we will have to contend with Lachlan, who will be a more difficult task master than his father and more hard line on China, if that’s possible.

Australia needs to engage or re-engage with China. It needs to deploy diplomacy to engage with China, whenever and where ever around the globe. All of our diplomatic missions should be tasked with this. China is our most important relationship, now and into the future.

Bruce Haigh is a retired diplomat and political commentator.

Bruce was born on 6 August, 1945. He attended Christ Church Grammar School from 1956/62. He rowed in the First Four, played rugby for two years with the First Fifteen and was a warrant officer in the cadets. He left school without matriculating and went Jackarooing in the Kimberley. He also worked on an oil rig on the edge of The Great Sandy Desert and drove a taxi in Port Hedland.

He was conscripted for service in Vietnam in January 1966. He was a tank gunner, radio operator and M113 crew commander. He volunteered for service in Vietnam in 1967 but his unit was not sent until the following year.

While in the army he studied for his mature age matriculation and attended UWA from 1968/71. He obtained an honours degree in politics and history. He played rugby for UWA and was Arts Union President, a Member of Guild Council and Senior Student of St Georges College.

He was recruited as a Diplomat and commenced with the Department of Foreign Affairs in 1972. He was posted to Pakistan as Third Secretary.

In 1976 he was posted to South Africa as Second Secretary. The racially based system of government known as Apartheid was at its height. Bruce was appalled at what he witnessed. He decided to do what he could to help those who’s well-being or lives were at risk.

He gave black activists protection in his home from the security police. He helped students from Soweto to sanctuary across the border and he assisted prominent newspaper editor, Donald Woods, to flee the country from injury and possible death. His role was portrayed by John Hargreaves in the Sir Richard Attenborough film, ‘Cry Freedom’.

He is the only Australian Diplomat to have been portrayed in a feature length film. He also took prominent attorney, Shun Chetty, across the border. Shun feared for his life. He had defended the interests of the Biko family at the inquest into the death of black activist Steve Biko in prison. Bruce knew Steve.

Bruce maintained an extensive range of contacts with activists and artists. In 1997 he was invited as an official guest to the unveiling of a statue of Steve Biko by Nelson Mandela. Bruce met Mandela on several occasions, as well as Bishop Desmond Tutu and Dr Mamphela Ramphele, former Vice Chancellor of the University of Cape Town and a Director of the World Bank. He remains friends with her.

Bruce took support money from the World Council of Churches to the dependents of political prisoners on Robben Island. The WCC was banned in South Africa and the money had to be smuggled across the border.

It was only after the release and screening of ‘Cry Freedom’ that the Department and the Minister became aware of the activities of Bruce in South Africa, which they approved and embraced.

In 1990 he founded and ran The South African Training Trust until 1993 bringing sixty black South Africans to Australia training.

In 2003 he established ‘Ifa Lethu’, an organisation based in Pretoria, to repatriate and curate black works of art taken out of the country during Apartheid. He began the collection with works he purchased from 1976/79. It now has over 700 pieces of work repatriated from around the world. A major exhibition was held in London at the time of the Olympics. He appointed Dr Ramphele to chair the Board which included musician Hugh Masekela.

In 1982 he was posted to Saudi Arabia as First Secretary and in 1983 was Charge’ at the Australian Embassy in Tehran for several months at the time of the Iran/Iraq war.

In 1986 he was posted to Pakistan as Counsellor. Shortly after arrival he met Benazir Bhutto who had just returned from exile in Britain. He was the first Diplomat in Islamabad to do so. The diplomatic community were wary of meeting her, fearing the wrath of President Zia who had murdered her father. Bruce and Benazir became good friends. He introduced her to other diplomats including the Indian, Russian and British Ambassadors. He attended her wedding in 1987. After she became Prime Minister in 1988, she bought wheat, second hand Mirage aircraft from Australia. Trade improved as a result of the relationship between Bruce and Benazir.

The Embassy in Islamabad was accredited to Afghanistan, which was under occupation by the USSR. Bruce offered to take photos of Russian soldiers and materiel when he was in Kabul. He was provided with specialist cameras by agencies in Canberra.

In 1994 he was posted to Sri Lanka as Counsellor where he came to understand the suffering of the Tamil people.

In 1995 he was appointed a Member of the Refugee Review Tribunal with the powers of a Magistrate. It was an independent body and appointments were made by the Governor General. Bruce was a productive Member of the Tribunal. He refused to undertake the directions of the Minister for Immigration who had no authority over the Tribunal. Minister Ruddock sought to limit the number of positive decisions made by Members to 20% of cases heard. It was illegal for him to do so. Nonetheless some Members complied and got reappointed.

Bruce served until 2000. Since that time, he has advocated on behalf of Refugees, East Timorese and Tamils. Refugees have been illegally held offshore for domestic political advantage. The Australian Government pays (bribes) officials in Indonesia and Sri Lanka to keep people off boats.

Bruce has written articles and opinion pieces on international relations, human rights, Refugees, domestic politics, water and climate change. He has appeared on radio and TV and was a regular guest on The Drum until a change of management at the ABC.

He has appeared before the Senate Committee of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade in relation to Human Rights in 1993 and Peacekeeping also in 1993, East Timor in 1999, Migration in 2003 and a parliamentary meeting in relation to the massacre of Tamils in 2009. In 2015 he was flown to Bremen to advocate on behalf of Tamil refugees before Judges, specialist lawyers and academics sitting in judgement on the Permanent Peoples Tribunal. They found that the government of Sri Lanka had committed genocide against the Tamil minority.

Bruce has written two books, ‘The Great Australian Blight’, a study of Australian foreign policy and ‘Pillars of Fear’, a critical examination of Australian regional defence planning. Both published by Otford Press in 2001.

Bruce farmed grapes, olives and sheep at Mudgee from 1997 to 2015.

As published in Independent Australia on 28 April 2020 and Pearls and Irritations on 1 May 2020

The Liberal National Party is not strong on foreign policy, preferring the United States to take the lead and provide direction; were it not for trade Australia under the LNP would have a weak relationship with China.

Australia followed the United States into war in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and is prepared to follow them into war against Iran. It has sought confrontation with China over their claim to the South China Sea. The US led confrontation has not deflected China and short of war is not likely to. Confrontation has gained nothing but hostility. I am not arguing appeasement but rather a change in tactic. China will act with stubbornness and aggression if forced into a corner or suffers a loss of face.

The United States has handled the Covid19 crisis badly. The President, Donald Trump, has made an even greater fool of himself with crazy prevention pronouncements all of his own creation. His push to get businesses open is likely to prolong the spread of the virus, further undermining the US economy, thereby prolonging recovery time around the globe. He has behaved badly, more so than Chinese leader Xi Jinping who failed to inform the world of the outbreak of the virus in Wuhan for some weeks and supressed the voice of concerned doctors.

Trump needs to be called out. He is proving to be a dubious ally. That has not prevented the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, from playing to Trumps ego and pledging loyalty. Loyalty to what?

The Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton, not content with shirking his responsibility for the spread of the virus in Australia, through the unauthorised docking of the cruise ship Ruby Princess in Sydney, has sought deflection by seeking an enquiry into the cause and spread of the virus. His remarks were clearly directed at China and have drawn an angry response from them. Dutton style bullying should not be a tool of diplomacy particularly with regard to China.

China is embarrassed. It is conducting its own investigations in its own way. It clearly wants to prevent anything like this happening again. Dutton has gone off less than half cocked. He has done more than muddy waters. Had he or his department consulted DFAT he might have been cautioned to desist or given a more appropriate course of action.

As it is, he may well have brought an end to Chinese students studying in Australia. China may move to prevent the trade in students. Morrison has been an echo chamber for Dutton’s crude and ill-advised foray into foreign policy against Australia’s largest trading partner. He has been unbelievably foolish. Has consideration been given to China sourcing minerals from elsewhere and restricting terms of trade if she feels attacks are politically motivated, i.e. at the instigation of the US?

Australia’s unwillingness to look after foreign students stranded in Australia will not have gone unnoticed. India might well follow China in banning their students from studying in Australia. We have undermined our international standing with a further display of our mean spiritedness.

In another exercise in deflection Trump waded into the WHO. Morrison followed believing he has some international standing because of the low number of Covid19 cases in Australia. It is typical Morrison spin. It is too early to say if Australia has avoided a bullet. Covid19 could come back to bite and Morrison would be flat on his face.

Trump is trying to blame anyone but himself for his Covid19 stuff up. There are issues with the management of WHO just as there are with other UN agencies. Short comings generally revolve around insufficient funding, which see these organisations dancing to the tune of major donors in order that funds are forthcoming. But there is also corruption and nepotism. By all means call for an enquiry, but money has to be put where the mouth is and not in the middle of a pandemic.

Australia’s neglect of the Pacific has seen China take advantage and push aid on our near neighbours. In case there is any doubt about what is going on, after the recent devastating cyclone in Vanuatu, China managed to fly in assistance to the stricken country before Australia, blocking the runway and forcing an RAAF plane with supplies to turn back to Australia. Hard ball. The US will not stick it’s neck out for us in the South Pacific.

China will come out of Covid19 better than America. It will be China that repatriates regional and African debt. It will be China that steps in to provide medical help should it be required in Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Sri Lanka and perhaps Indonesia. Australia has dropped the ball in those countries where its aid contribution is half what it was ten years ago and our voice was lost with Downer’s axing of Radio Australia. They can be expected to assist African states should it prove necessary. Australia has a limited presence and profile in Africa.

The outcome of the virus will likely see Chinese power and influence increased and that of America diminish.

The Labor Party should be seeking to contain Dutton and Morrison. They should be putting an alternative narrative to China. They should display the courage and skill of Whitlam when he was amongst the first of the Western countries to recognise China shortly after coming to power in December 1972. It was a relationship enhanced by Hawke and Keating without damaging the relationship with the US.

The LNP set the tone of their relationship with the US with the embarrassing catch cry, “all the way with LBJ”, who was the President, Lyndon Baines Johnson, during the visit of Prime Minister, Harold Holt, to Washington in June 1966. They haven’t changed, but they must. The LNPRW, right wing research institutes and think tanks, sections of the MSM together with the IPA must be marginalised in order that Australia has a respected and influential place in the region.

It must be Diplomacy not Dutton.  In terms of our relationship with China and America the boat must be balanced if Australia is to get through the uncharted and rough waters ahead.

Just as I was about to send this article, China was reported on the ABC, 2pm, 27 April, as threatening to cease buying Australian beef and wine if Australia refuses to withdraw its calls for an enquiry into the causes of the spread of Covid19. What dills we have for political leaders.

 Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired Diplomat.

As published in Independent Australia on 15 April 2020

With the world in the grip of the Covid19 virus there are already lessons to be learnt and changes to consider.

Methods of dealing with the Covid19 virus vary little from the methods adopted to deal with the Spanish Flu, which ravaged the world from January 1918 until December 1920, causing the death of 50 million people. There was no vaccine to deal with that pandemic, just as there is currently no vaccine to deal with Covid19.

There have been two subsequent pandemics. SARS, from November 2002 until July 2003, spread to twenty countries killing 774 people. The Swine Flu pandemic ran from April 2009 until August 2010 causing 570,000 fatalities amongst the 1.4 million affected.

The Spanish Flu has been referred to as the forgotten pandemic, the same might be said for SARS and the Swine Flu. It seems that once a pandemic is past the collective inclination is to sweep the memory of it away. We know of the social changes brought about by the First World War but we know little or nothing to changes wrought by the Spanish Flu. Perhaps many of the social changes ascribed to WWI were in fact brought about by the Spanish Flu. Maybe historians of the time had an axe to grind or a narrative to embellish about war and the Flu did not fit that narrative. The Australian war historian, C.E.W Bean hardly mentions the Flu, yet many Australian soldiers were stricken with it, including my grandfather, and a number died, some in the North Head Quarantine station within sight of Sydney after an absence of four years.

Neither the Swine Flu nor SARS saw substantial change in the international or domestic organisational approach to managing pandemics. Expunging past pandemics from public memory did not assist in developing policy to deal with the next viral outbreak. The World Health Organisation (WHO) prepared an interim protocol, updated in 2007, for the management of pandemics. However, there is no compulsion to adhere to it and some countries including initially Australia and more recently the United States ignored the recommendations. Donald Trump, who is as mad as George III, is threatening to withhold funding to the WHO because he claims it has given incorrect advice.

There is a need for reform. Protocols should be negotiated and implemented in a binding International Agreement with provision for strategic stockpiling, Inspectors, compulsory intervention by trained medical teams, ongoing research, lock down procedures and airline responses.

Neocon xenophobes such as Trump, Morrison and Johnson, despite denigrating the UN and other international agencies, have been forced to deal with them in seeking a means of control, containment and supplies of vital equipment. Covid19 has brought the international community closer together in cooperating over an urgent and common problem. It should serve as a blueprint for cooperation over climate change.

Covid19 underlines the need for strong and focused aid programs to reduce the gap between haves and have not. In the current circumstances aid repayments should be waived from the poorest countries. The haves have nothing if the have nots drag them backwards as they will with respect to this pandemic. India and Africa illustrate this. Perhaps long after Australia, Europe and even America are on top of the virus, international trade and relations will be patchy and constrained until the virus has been extinguished in every part of the world.

As Michael Bartos, Honorary Associate Professor in the department of Sociology at the ANU, said in an article, ‘Not so lucky this time’, published in ‘Inside Story’, on 4 March 2020, ‘New epidemics inevitably carry the burden of fear, prejudice, conspiracy theories and misinformation. But the brute reality of virus spread can be salutary. It creates an evolutionary pressure towards pragmatically effective responses, and heightens the stakes for the sifting of good information from bad…To the extent that the virus is brought under control it will be because of global cooperation, open and accurate communication, and development of widely accessible “public goods”, in this case vaccines and treatments. It seems like we might still need the “global community” after all.

Just as the pandemic has highlighted the need for reform in the international community so it has in Australia. Initially Morrison reacted slowly stupidly and with self-interest. A Hillsong get together appeared to govern his declaration of a gathering of 500 as acceptable. It was quickly changed to 100, 10 and then 2, following the intervention of the States. Morrison in a show of macho bravado said he would attend a football match only to be forced to back down by the weight of public opinion.

Under pressure he initiated a National Cabinet consisting of State Premiers, but in a predictable act of partisan pettiness, not the leader of the Opposition. The National Cabinet unofficially led by Victorian State Premier, Daniel Andrews, soon moved to pin back Morrisons ears, leading to a national sigh of relief by all but the IPA. Long queues at Centrelink panicked the government into the realisation that many were LNP voters who would change to Labor if something was not done to alleviate their distress.

The National Cabinet decided to implement regular Jobkeeper payments to workers who had lost jobs. They increased the Newstart allowance and took over funding childcare centres. They refused to extend Jobkeeper to casuals in employment for less than 12 months, backpackers and temporary visa holders, despite all three categories paying tax. How they are meant to house and feed themselves did not worry Morrison or other responsible ministers. Presumably beg, borrow or steal and if caught to be transported to Christmas Island. Dutton, came out of Ruby Princess isolation, to announce measures would be put in place to deal with the inevitable rorting of the Jobseeker allowance. He understands how the criminal mind works.

Morrison has been talking of ‘snap back’ after the virus has been beaten. It seems to mean a rapid return to the status quo pre Covid19. It demonstrates the limitations of his imagination which governs his lack of understanding of the crisis. Snap back has the imagery of being dumped by a wave, thrown to the surface and riding it to shore. It will not be like that. Most people will either be washed or stagger to shore and some will not make it. It will take time to recover breath. Assistance will be needed.

Morrison’s enforced adoption of Keynesian solutions to the crisis highlighted the lack of social justice in Australian politics for the last twenty years. However, for many, including the army of youngsters advising LNP ministers, they know nothing different. Intervention and assistance by the state in the means of production is quite foreign to them.

Not for my generation. Not only are we familiar with state intervention we appreciated the role it played in underpinning productivity, particularly in a country of vast distance and sparse population. Cities now contain a greater percentage of the population than they did at Federation. The tyranny of distance has been exacerbated by privatisation of regional communication. But before looking to the future let’s look at where we have come from.

Politically, socially and economically, prior to the Covid19 virus, Australia was in a bad place, without the leadership to turn itself around. It is debatable where the decline began. As a student of history, I could pick a number of points and argue a case; let me settle on the former Treasurer Paul Keating’s sale of public assets in the 1980’s and 90’s. He did this because he believed it would be in the nation’s best interests. The prevailing belief was that government owned assets would be more efficiently run if privatised. Passing public assets into private hands made many of the expanding middle class and the top end of town rich but increased costs and charges for the rest of the population, including workers, who the Labor Party claimed to represent and champion.

Keating became Prime Minister. At the time of his departure from politics in 1996, following his electoral defeat by John Howard, the negative effects of his reforms were not apparent.

Howard grasped Keating’s privatisation agenda with both hands. It fitted the political philosophy of LNP backers such as the H.R Nichols Society, the IPA, the Sydney Institute, the Business Council of Australia, the Mining Council of Australia and the Australian Stock Exchange. The benefits to the people of Australia not been apparent. Costs have risen to the average home as a result. Higher energy costs being an example. Privatised water has been badly managed, with LNP supporting cotton croppers rewarded by what can only be described as a rort.

Howard ushered in an era where mediocrity, meanness, greed, cruelty and selfishness became part of the political fabric. Rudd and Gillard were unable to break away from the Howard framework and suffered as a result. The Howard political philosophy encouraged corporate Australia to plunder the country for profit. Together with the LNP they stole generations of social investment. They killed TAIF, they undermined Medicare and Centrelink with a view to sale. Being anti-science, they defunded the CSIRO and research at universities. They ran down state funded institutions with the exception of defence, intelligence and their own parliamentary privileges. They increased funding to private schools and sporting institutions in their electorates.

Howard demonised refugees for political purposes. Deterrence was achieved by payment to overseas politicians, officials, police and defence officers; locking refugees in detention centres was a smoke screen. The Murdoch dominated MSM believed Howard and the Labor Party didn’t have the courage to oppose him. Australia was in a place of kitchen renovations and cruises. It still is. But reality is beginning to dawn. The Covid19 virus is causing a rethink of past political practice.

The LNP/IPA governing elite have displayed no notion of the common good. As an approach to governance it can’t be allowed to continue. The State must exist for the benefit of the people.

Let me remind. The Commonwealth once:

Built ships,

Supported a car industry and agricultural manufacturing industry  

Owned two airlines, Qantas and TAA

Owned the Commonwealth Bank, which set interest rates and established best practice

Owned the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories, producing vaccines.

Fully funded the CSIRO, universities and TAIF

0wned and operated Telstra

Owned and operated airports and ports

Owned and operated the Commonwealth Oil Refinery

The States once:

Owned and operated insurance companies and rural banks

Produced and distributed electricity and water

Built and operated trams, trains and buses

Built roads, bridges and railway lines

No doubt there was more, the foregoing is what I remember. There was a vigorous private sector engaged in manufacturing, agriculture and retail. Commonwealth and State enterprises underpinned and supported the private sector. It was a productive arrangement, it worked.

It will be difficult for Morrison to back track on measures already put in place to cope with the economic effects of the virus and more government financial assistance can be expected before ‘we are out the other side’. The fragility of the economy will require nurturing by the state for some time to come. The funding of child care, universities, increased funding of Newstart will not be easy to reverse even when the economy is stronger given likely voter resistance. It will give the Labor Party a platform.

The crises has focused attention on Australia’s dependence on goods manufactured overseas. Using cheap renewable energy now coming on stream Australia should look to import replacement particularly in manufacturing.

Writing in The Guardian on 1 April, the Shadow Treasurer, Jim Chalmers, set out what I thought was an excellent blue print for change. He eloquently argues the case for social justice through reformed economic policy involving greater state intervention.

The Commonwealth and States have ceased to function for people. Change is overdue.

Bruce Haigh is a retired Diplomat and political commentator.

As published in Pearls & Irritations on 16 April 2020

‘With the world in the grip of the Covid19 virus there are lessons to be learnt and changes to consider. The pandemic has brought nations together who were eschewing the value of international co-operation. It has highlighted the need for reform. There is no International Agreement covering pandemics, one needs to be negotiated. The pandemic underlines the need for reform of the Australian economy and the way we practice politics’.

Methods for dealing with the Covid19 virus vary little from the methods adopted to deal with the Spanish Flu, which ravaged the world from January 1918 until December 1920, causing the death of 50 million people. There was no vaccine to deal with that pandemic, just as there is currently no vaccine to deal with Covid19.

There have been two subsequent pandemics. SARS, from November 2002 until July 2003, spread to twenty countries killing 774 people. The Swine Flu pandemic ran from April 2009 until August 2010 causing 570,000 fatalities amongst the 1.4 million affected.

The Spanish Flu has been referred to as the forgotten pandemic, the same might be said for SARS and the Swine Flu. It seems that once a pandemic is past the collective inclination is to sweep the memory of it away. We know of the social changes brought about by the First World War but we know little or nothing to changes wrought by the Spanish Flu. Perhaps many of the social changes ascribed to WWI were in fact brought about by the Spanish Flu. Maybe historians of the time had an axe to grind or a narrative to embellish about war and the Flu did not fit that narrative. The Australian war historian, C.E.W Bean hardly mentions the Flu, yet many Australian soldiers were stricken with it, including my grandfather, and a number died, some in the North Head Quarantine station within sight of Sydney after an absence of four years.

Neither the Swine Flu nor SARS saw substantial change in the international or domestic organisational approach to managing pandemics. Expunging past pandemics from public memory did not assist in developing policy to deal with the next viral outbreak. The World Health Organisation (WHO) prepared an interim protocol, updated in 2007, for the management of pandemics. However, there is no compulsion to adhere to it and some countries including initially Australia and more recently the United States ignored the recommendations. Donald Trump, who is as mad as George III, is threatening to withhold funding to the WHO because he claims it has given incorrect advice.

There is a need for reform. Protocols should be negotiated and implemented in a binding International Agreement with provision for strategic stockpiling, Inspectors, compulsory intervention by trained medical teams, ongoing research, lock down procedures and airline responses.

Neocon xenophobes such as Trump, Morrison and Johnson, despite denigrating the UN and other international agencies, have been forced to deal with them in seeking a means of control, containment and supplies of vital equipment. Covid19 has brought the international community closer together in cooperating over an urgent and common problem. It should serve as a blueprint for cooperation over climate change.

Covid19 underlines the need for strong and focused aid programs to reduce the gap between haves and have not. In the current circumstances aid repayments should be waived from the poorest countries. The haves have nothing if the have nots drag them backwards as they will with respect to this pandemic. India and Africa illustrate this. Perhaps long after Australia, Europe and even America are on top of the virus, international trade and relations will be patchy and constrained until the virus has been extinguished in every part of the world.

Just as the pandemic has highlighted the need for reform in the international community so it has in Australia. Initially Morrison reacted slowly stupidly and with self-interest. A Hillsong get together appeared to govern his declaration of a gathering of 500 as acceptable. It was quickly changed to 100, 10 and then 2, following the intervention of the States. Morrison in a show of macho bravado said he would attend a football match only to be forced to back down by the weight of public opinion.

Under pressure he initiated a National Cabinet consisting of State Premiers, but in a predictable act of partisan pettiness, not the leader of the Opposition. The National Cabinet unofficially led by Victorian State Premier, Daniel Andrews, soon moved to pin back Morrisons ears, leading to a national sigh of relief by all but the IPA. Long queues at Centrelink panicked the government into the realisation that many were LNP voters who would change to Labor if something was not done to alleviate their distress.

The National Cabinet decided to implement regular Jobkeeper payments to workers who had lost jobs. They increased the Newstart allowance and took over funding childcare centres. They refused to extend Jobkeeper to casuals in employment for less than 12 months, backpackers and temporary visa holders, despite all three categories paying tax. How they are meant to house and feed themselves did not worry Morrison or other responsible ministers. Presumably beg, borrow or steal and if caught to be transported to Christmas Island. Dutton, came out of Ruby Princess isolation, to announce measures would be put in place to deal with the inevitable rorting of the Jobseeker allowance. He understands how the criminal mind works.

Morrison has been talking of ‘snap back’ after the virus has been beaten. It seems to mean a rapid return to the status quo pre Covid19. It demonstrates the limitations of his imagination. His enforced adoption of Keynesian solutions to the crisis highlighted the lack of social justice in Australian politics for the last twenty years.

On becoming prime Minister in 1996 Howard embraced the privatisation agenda of British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. It fitted the political philosophy of LNP backers such as the IPA. The benefit to the people of Australia not been apparent. Costs have risen.

Howard ushered in an era where mediocrity, meanness, greed, cruelty and selfishness became part of the political fabric. He encouraged corporate Australia to plunder the country for profit which continued under Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison. The State should exist for the benefit of the people.

There was a time Commonwealth and State enterprises underpinned and supported the private sector. It was a productive arrangement, it worked.

It will be difficult for Morrison to back track on measures already put in place, to renege will give the Labor Party a platform.

The crises has focused attention on Australia’s dependence on goods manufactured overseas. Using cheap renewable energy now coming on stream Australia should look to import replacement particularly in manufacturing.

Writing in The Guardian on 1 April, the Shadow Treasurer, Jim Chalmers, set out a blue print for change, arguing a case for social justice through reformed economic policy involving greater state intervention.

The Commonwealth and States have ceased to function for people. Change is overdue.

Bruce Haigh is a retired Diplomat and political commentator.

As published in the Canberra Times on 22 April 2020

Methods for dealing with the Covid19 virus vary little from the methods adopted to deal with the Spanish Flu, which ravaged the world from January 1918 until December 1920, causing the death of 50 million people. There was no vaccine to deal with that pandemic, just as there is currently no vaccine to deal with Covid19.

The Spanish Flu has been referred to as the forgotten pandemic, the same might be said for SARS and the Swine Flu. Neither the Swine Flu nor SARS saw substantial change in the international or domestic organisational approach to managing pandemics. Expunging pandemics from public memory has not encouraged the development of policy. The World Health Organisation (WHO) prepared an interim protocol, updated in 2007, for the management of pandemics. However, there is no compulsion to adhere to it and some countries including initially Australia and more recently the United States ignored the recommendations. Donald Trump, who is as mad as George III, has said he will withhold funding to the WHO because he claims it has given incorrect advice.

There is a need for reform. Protocols should be negotiated and implemented in a binding International Agreement with provision for strategic stockpiling, Inspectors, compulsory intervention by trained medical teams, ongoing research, lock down procedures and airline responses.

Neocon xenophobes such as Trump, Morrison and Johnson, have been forced to deal with the WHO, the UN and other international agencies and institutions in seeking a means of control, containment and supplies of vital equipment to handle Covid19. The virus has brought the global community closer in attempting to contain in a health crisis.

Covid19 underlines the need for strong and focused aid programs to reduce the gap between haves and have not. In the current circumstances aid repayments should be waived from the poorest countries. The haves have nothing if the have nots drag them backwards as they will with respect to this pandemic. India and Africa are indicative.

Just as the pandemic has highlighted the need for reform in the international community so it has in Australia. Initially Morrison reacted slowly, stupidly and with self-interest. A Hillsong get together appeared to govern his declaration of a gathering of 500 as acceptable. It was quickly changed to 100, 10 and then 2, following the intervention of the States. Morrison in a show of macho bravado said he would attend a football match only to be forced to back down by the weight of public opinion.

Under pressure he initiated a National Cabinet consisting of State Premiers, but in a predictable act of partisan pettiness, not the leader of the Opposition. The National Cabinet unofficially led by Victorian State Premier, Daniel Andrews, soon moved to pin back Morrisons ears, leading to a national sigh of relief by all but the IPA. Long queues at Centrelink panicked the government into the realisation that many were LNP voters who might desert if something was not done to alleviate their distress.

The National Cabinet decided to implement regular Jobkeeper payments to workers who had lost jobs. They increased the Newstart allowance and took over funding childcare centres. They refused to extend Jobkeeper to casuals in employment for less than 12 months, backpackers and temporary visa holders, despite all three categories paying tax. How they are meant to house and feed themselves did not worry Morrison or other responsible ministers. Presumably beg, borrow or steal and if caught to be transported to Christmas Island. Dutton, came out of Ruby Princess isolation, to announce measures would be put in place to deal with the inevitable rorting of the Jobseeker allowance. He understands how the criminal mind works.

Morrison has been talking of ‘snap back’ after the virus has been beaten. It seems to mean a rapid return to the status quo pre Covid19. It demonstrates the limitations of his imagination. His enforced adoption of Keynesian solutions to the crisis highlighted the lack of social justice in Australian politics for the last twenty years.

On becoming prime Minister in 1996 Howard embraced the privatisation agenda of British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. It fitted the political philosophy of LNP backers such as the IPA. The benefit to the people of Australia has not been apparent. Costs have risen.

Howard ushered in an era where mediocrity, meanness, greed, cruelty and selfishness became part of the political fabric. He encouraged corporate Australia to plunder the country for profit which continued under Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison. The State should exist for the benefit of the people.

It will be difficult for Morrison to back track on measures already put in place, to renege will give the Labor Party a platform.

Australia has allowed its manufacturing base to collapse. It imports more than is strategically wise. Using cheap renewable energy now coming on stream Australia should look to import replacement particularly in manufacturing.

There was a time Commonwealth and State enterprises underpinned and supported the private sector. It was a productive arrangement, it worked.

The Commonwealth once built ships and ran a shipping line, it owned two airlines, it owned the Commonwealth Bank which served to keep the other banks honest. It owned Telecom (Telstra), ports and airports, it built small arms for the ADF and funded universities, TAIF and the CSIRO and it underpinned the car industry. It owned and operated the Commonwealth Oil Refinery (COR). It owned a health fund which like the bank served to keep the other bastards honest.

The States distributed water and produced and distributed electricity. They owned and operated insurance companies and rural banks. They built and operated trams and trains. They built and ran schools and hospitals. The privatisation of both (significant funding of private schools) has not been in the public interest.

The Labor party ought now to be developing a blue print for the future. We are not going back to the past. The future will be different and the Labor Party ought now to be developing socially progressive options as part of new policy to take to the next election. It is not too early. Part of those options should be state intervention for greater equity and efficiency.

Promisingly, the Labor Party is arguing that the government should take an equity share in Virgin Airlines rather than a bailout or letting the airline fail.

Labor should be planning to end the more unfair aspects of the private sector and ending rorts such as those relating to water. They need to be bold. The principles need to be socially democratic. They can afford to do so. Morrison has nowhere to go. Electorally he can’t take back what he has already given. The Labor Party has some excellent foot soldiers in the form of Chalmers, Wong, Leigh, Burke, Plibersek and Bowen. Albanese gives no confidence that he has the boldness, courage, imagination or leadership to embrace and implement such change. His team, if they stick with him, will need to lead the way and hope that he can follow.

We cannot go back to the past. We need to recreate ourselves with boldness, vision, optimism and courage. Are we up for it?

Bruce Haigh is a retired Diplomat and political commentator.

The Seventieth Celebration for the foundation of the Peoples Republic of China held in Tiananmen Square on the 1 October gave an appearance of organised energy. A country on the move. A country that knows where it is going and what it wants. That was the intention.

President Xi Jinping embraced the legacy and memory of Chairman Mao Tse Tung. It is understandable that he would; Xi’s authoritarian vision for China’s future draws on the mindset of Mao and the mythology now allowed to surround him.

At the parade in Tiananmen Square Xi said, ‘No force can ever stop the Chinese people and nation from marching forward.’ This was intoned as tanks, rockets and troops passed in an incredible display of military discipline and new hardware.

In 1935 Mao said, ‘We the Chinese nation have the spirit to fight the enemy to the last drop of our blood, the determination to recover our lost territory by our own efforts and the ability to stand on our own two feet in the family of nations.’  

Like invisible ink those words were on the page of Xi’s speech. The sentiment was there, the intent was there and many observers picked up on it. Xi’s message was clear. China is powerful, China is wealthy, China is a major actor on the world stage, we demand to be taken seriously.

China is pushing. Into new areas of trade, technology and territory. China has extended itself into South East Asia, Africa and the South Pacific. It is funding research and study in South Africa and Australia amongst many other countries. It has inserted itself into the political process of Sri Lanka. It is pouring money into Cambodia and Laos.

Last month I observed the Chinese presence in both those countries. The rail line being built from Beijing through Laos. The Chinese workers and tourists, the Chinese owned hotels and condominiums. China does not need to invade; it will capture through the power of investment and corruption. Like Rome all roads will lead from Beijing if they don’t already, including the ambitious $900 billion, New Silk Road, designed to link Europe and Asia to Beijing. It is part of the Belt and Road Action Plan, which incorporates the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, capitalised to $100 billion.

China has turned its revolutionary zeal, almost lost during the Cultural Revolution, into the creation of wealth, including off shore wealth which is being transformed into influence and power. China is single minded in this quest much to the annoyance of the US and its allies including Australia. From the eighties many assumed that this quest for wealth was benign, that is now being questioned.

It has pushed its armed forces into the South China Sea, claiming and reclaiming islands and atolls in dispute by the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia. It has displayed determination and aggression in defending these claims. The US, Britain, France, Japan and Australia have carried out naval patrols to protect the international right of passage for shipping to little effect. No one wants to go to war over the South China Sea, China has called the bluff.

China is developing relations with countries in the South Pacific. It is spending money. It is providing soft loans. If the loans move into default China takes over the project or facility. China has more money to spend in the Pacific than Australia and it will do so. China believes in climate change. This gives it a huge advantage with Pacific countries. Current Chinese leaders no doubt learnt Mao’s dictum, ‘When we look at a thing, we must examine its essence and treat its appearance merely as an usher at the threshold, and once we cross the threshold, we must grasp the essence of the thing, this is the only reliable and scientific method of analysis.’ 1930.

Australia has thrown away influence in the Pacific with arrogance and notions of racial superiority. China has listened to the complaints and is seeking to take advantage. Downer threw away a significant diplomatic tool with the axing of Radio Australia.

China has conducted and continues to conduct sophisticated cyber-attacks against foreign governments and institutions, including Australia. Some call it warfare. Mostly the reasons for these attacks are to gain information. However, some of the information gained is of low quality and the presumption must be that they are designed to intimidate, to get scarce resources spent on counter measures and protection and to demonstrate that they can. A power play.

China’s drive and methodology in seeking to influence has been exposed in Australia over the past two years with revelations of large unauthorised payments to the major political parties and no doubt to individuals by state supported players. A Chinese government surveillance and control program of Chinese nationals studying on Australian campuses has also come to light, together with attempts to intimidate Australian Chinese students into spying for Chinese agencies.

The exposure of these activities has led to a xenophobic and racist backlash from right wing politicians and media. The activities have been condemned by Australian intelligence agencies who appear to share the concerns of right-wing commentators. There is no evidence to suggest that the Chinese intend to curtail these activities more likely they will become more circumspect and sophisticated.

China has always looked askance at America. They never understood the US imperative to fight in Vietnam nor to invade Iraq. While America has expended trillions of dollars on waging unnecessary wars over the past fifty years China has concentrated for the last forty years in building industry, infrastructure and making money.

China does not agree with America’s claims to world leadership. They see America as erratic, unreliable and a resource to be exploited for ideas and innovation to bolster their expanding economy. American arrogance and xenophobia have prevented them from seeking meaningful co-operative arrangements. They see China as a hostile military rival and by doing so may bring it to pass. At the moment there is little evidence to support that view. China is a determined and aggressive rival for whom America has no answer other than sanctions.

Trump has caused them to look even more askance at America along with much of the rest of the world, with the notable exception of Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison and British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.

The Chinese play the long game, sanctions must be endured until Trump is gone. Meanwhile America shoots itself in the foot as China engages in import replacement which is a by product of sanctions, ask the Iranians.

As it’s power wanes America lashes out, bewildered at how it could have squandered such a large inheritance. It is hurt that the rest of the world, with the exception of Morrison, no longer tugs a forelock.

America is more of a threat to Australia’s long-term interests than China. America has a military base in Darwin where a Division of troops are based and rotated. We host the aggressively configured Pine Gap facility designed to spy and conduct hostile activities in American interests. Our intelligence agencies are close and, in some areas, integrated. We rarely if ever undertake a major foreign policy initiate without first seeking their approval and we often follow their foreign policy initiatives even though they are not in our interest. Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and most recently confronting Iran in the Gulf.

Australian and American business interests are close, America is a major investor in the Australian economy. American methods of business are promoted through our universities.

We are a captive of American ‘culture’ through the absence of an Australian film industry, we don’t and can’t tell our own stories, and through the Murdoch dominance of our media industry.

China continues to appal through the detention of one million Uighur’s in the Xinjiang region for the purposes of ‘re-education’ and for their attempt to undermine the legal system of Hong Kong which is the subject of ongoing demonstrations. Hong Kong highlights the fallibility of Beijing; it was a bad decision. Xi is being forced to wear the consequences. Nonetheless he feels the need to be tough to impress his rivals. He has to be tough but not too tough. Xi is resented for his declaration of life time Presidency, they await his downfall.

So, it is between these two less than perfect major powers that we must make our way forward. We need to understand who and what we are dealing with. We must develop the capacity to balance our relations with these competitors. Vilifying China and suck holing to America will not achieve that.

Bruce Haigh

Is a retired Diplomat and political commentator.