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The following article appeared in Pearls & Irritations on 16 May, 2022

 

Morrison dislikes any one and any thing he can’t control. It is very fortunate for him that News Corp’s hatreds, prejudices, intolerances and racism correspond to his own.

People overseas are foreign to him, they are foreigners, they are opaque, untrustworthy and do not conform or share the norms of mainstream Australia; Anzac Day and rugby. People living in Australia from overseas are also foreigners until they prove otherwise. For Morrison that entails giving up their foreign religion, religious holidays and language.

Morrisons fixed vision on himself is shown in a  lack of understanding and interest in the world and global issues such as climate warming. He is oblivious to its effect; he is unmoved by pollution, does not comprehend the forthcoming strain on food supply and supply chains, potable water and sustainability. He cares not about nuclear proliferation or the causes of war. His China baiting is the antithesis of good diplomatic practice.

At the urging of the United States Morrison accused Xi Jinping of aiding and abetting the spread of Covid in 2019. China retaliated against Australia rather than the US, seeing the vassal as an easier target. The retaliation for US subservience was severe. Trade sanctions of $30 billion or more; the US was quick to step in picking up 40% of the lost trade. Some friend, some ally.

Xi Jinping was angry that the civil and independent relationship he thought he had with Australia collapsed so quickly and without provocation from China. Australia cited the South China Sea, cyber-attacks, spying, all of which had existed as issues long before Covid and which had not been allowed to affect a previously good relationship. What had changed was increased US anxiety as China developed a capacity to challenge US hegemony. China has been emboldened by the precipitate US withdrawal from Afghanistan, which mirrored the earlier Russian withdrawal.

Morrison has, without much trouble and with no thought, alienated, significantly offended or failed to impress the leaders of most countries he has had dealings with. The one exception was Donald Trump and it seems that even he had little respect for Morrison. Macron told the world Morrison was a liar. Ardern believes him a fool. She has good judgement. Johnson treats him with disdain, which is quite something coming from Johnson. The Prime Minister of Singapore was moved to give him a lecture, which went over his head.Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam are unimpressed, particularly over AUKUS and he has trashed critical relationships with PNG, Timor and the Pacific Island States.

Veteran and respected Timor Leste leader, Jose Manuel Ramos-Horta has just been elected President. He is due to assume office on 20 May. Morrison has been slow to congratulate him. This was tawdry. It was a snub and will be seen as such. It is a stupid gesture at a time when the Chinese have shown a willingness to exploit Australian indifference and poor judgement in relation to relations with its neighbours. It signals, at the time of the vindictive prosecution of Bernard Collaery, that the LNP has no problem with the bugging of Timor Leste government offices by ASIS. Australia was also slow to offer assistance last year in the wake of a cyclone which killed 42 people and the assistance offered was limited.

However, it has been the Solomons which has signalled a new low in Morrisons diplomatic endeavours. Australia’s relations with Pacific Island States were already problematic because of high handed behaviour, lack of respect, racism and paternalism over many years.

Morrisons wilful support of the fossil fuel industry and derision of climate warming is a source of frustration and anger in the Pacific which is challenged by rising sea levels. The threat to established cultures is real and solutions seen within the region as urgent. The Prime Minister of Fiji, Frank Bainimarama, has felt constrained to call Morrison out on his arrogant and thoughtless disregard of expressions of concern from considered voices in the Pacific.

The Pacific is aware of the contempt that Morrison, Dutton and Abbott have toward them from an infamous joke Dutton made, and the other two found amusing, about people in the Pacific being victims of climate change. It was nasty, cynical and cruel and although the Pacific States tried to put it behind them Morrison’s continued insensitive bungling and crude rudeness has seen him exclude himself from future dialogue with the Solomons.

In seeking internal security guarantees from the Chinese government in the form of a bi-lateral agreement, the Prime Minister of the Solomons, Manasseh Sogavare, accused Australian peace keepers, the AFP and ADF, of not protecting Chinese property and the Chinese Embassy from rioters and looters during recent disturbances. He cited this as one of the reasons behind seeking the agreement. He was also scathing about Morrison accusing him of doing a secret deal with the Chinese whilst keeping the Pacific in the dark over AUKUS.

Morrison decided his diplomatic response would be to bully and sledge. He accused Sogavare of singing off the ‘Chinese Communist Party’ song sheet. It was about as patronising as any head of state could be. It compounded an earlier error of judgement in sending two senior Australian security officials to bully Sogavare into not signing the agreement. They got short shrift and were sent packing. Following up on this diplomatic cow pat Morrison dispatched junior minister and political and intellectual light weight Zed Seselja to argue Australia’s paranoid case. Seselja got even shorter shrift. Absent was Foreign Minister, Marise Payne, although given her lack of diplomatic skills and well-known antipathy toward the Chinese and indifference toward the Pacific she most likely would also not have had time to unpack.

In this unfolding diplomatic crisis, which has some way to run, it has become apparent that Morrison does not draw advice from DFAT. He has demonstrated that his go to advisers are the heads of the Australian intelligence services and ASPI.

Morrison bravely hit back at Sogavare saying that any attempt to build a Chinese defence base on the Solomons would cross an Australian red line. He was unable to spell out what an Australian red line would entail.

Sogavare served the next ball accusing Morrison of harbouring thoughts of invasion and treating the people of the Solomons as kindergarten students and by implication all of the people of the Pacific. He also objected to references of the Solomons being in Australia’s back yard. Sogavare said it was a calculated insult as refuse was collected in the back yard, toilets were located there.

Morrison will not be able to retrieve the relationship with Sogavare. He cannot retrieve the relationship with Xi Jinping and Macron. Even if required no one would want to retrieve a relationship with Johnson.

Morrison has alienated almost all he has had contact with. There is not one world leader to whom he is close. Trump, his only international buddy, is gone. Morrison is self-centred and self-serving.

 

 

The following article appeared in Pearls & Irritations on 18 April, 2022

 

A manifesto for a new incoming foreign minister.

Some old Diplomats retire and never think about international relations, Australian foreign policy or their former profession of diplomacy. Most don’t. Many remain friends and talk, at length, about international and domestic politics, events, disasters, war and climate change.

They find it hard to support most aspects of the Morrison government, particularly as it relates to the trashing of our international reputation, reflected at COP26, the collapse of our relationship with China, the hijacking of an independent defence policy by AUKUS and ASPI and the derision of DFAT by the LNP.

It is agreed amongst these sober minds that a new incoming minister for foreign affairs has some serious issues to address in the collapsed mess of what was once Australian foreign policy.

After much discussion and lengthy consideration, a manifesto for a new incoming foreign minister has been produced.

The first major issue is climate change.

Australia needs to apologise to the world for it’s greedy, selfish and thoughtless promotion of fossil fuel. It needs to engage with progressive countries and regional neighbours to urgently address the issue of emissions. It needs to work with Pacific Island nations to help ameliorate the effect of climate change on their land mass. This can start with open visas, allowing people to move between island states and Australia.

The second is China and the US.

Xi Jinping is overseeing a more assertive China. He has trodden on toes in his quest to see China accorded international respect. America fears the growing power of China’s economic success. At a time of global warming, it has embarked on a policy of ‘containment’, which involves confrontation rather than co-operation. American diplomacy stands a number of paces behind the American military machine. Threat, real and implied, and coercion are the stock in trade of American diplomacy and although their diplomats speak the language of conciliation, they are in lock step with the US military/industrial complex.

Americans in positions of power and influence speak a language peppered with military phraseology. America is a military nation. It has militarised the world. For America, guns are the solution to difficult problems, either through surrogates or directly. This acts out domestically and internationally.

China has pushed back. There are those that argue that Russia has done the same thing, although Putin actions make that contention perverse. The Chinese military infrastructure in the South China Sea can be seen as a response to the American fundamentalist Christian/military reaction to China with all of the racist undertones evident to anyone who stands back from the Murdoch/White House version of reality.

Australia, without a lot of thought, has embraced the language and attitudes of their dominant ‘partner’. Their own incipient racism has been given comfort and encouragement, together with their low-grade militarism embodied in the poorly constructed ANZAC myth.

It was a short step for Morrison to respond to Trump and attempt to take a rise out of Xi Jinping over the origins of Covid. The undertaking demonstrated the stupidity of Morrison, an impression reinforced over the intervening years.

Believing the United States has its back, Australia ditched any pretence of conducting a diplomatic dialogue with China, instead it has been bellicose and bullying. There seems to be a belief that this approach to China will cause it to alter what Australia considers to be bad behaviour. Australia acts as if it had as much power and influence as China. Instead, it draws its bravado from a belief that its mentor approves and backs its behaviour.

In fact, the United States is using Australia. It has the LNP acting as a Punch and Judy show toward China. When Australia lost markets in China the US cynically and opportunistically picked them up. The US proposed AUKUS, an arrangement to give them enhanced basing rights around Australia, particularly in the north. They got the French submarine deal ditched to clear the way for their own nuclear submarines to be based in Australia. They will put the north of Australia on a quasi-war footing. They are using Australia to militarily confront China.

There are two major issues. One is for a proper and independent Australian analysis of the threat posed by China and for Australia to improve the relationship with China. For that to happen there will have to be an admission of mistakes made, including by the Chinese, whose economic sanctions have been overkill. They have not had the desired effect; in fact, they have hardened the attitude toward China by conservative Australians who comprise over 50% of the adult population.

Nonetheless discrete negotiations need to begin almost as soon as the new ministry is sworn in.

The other major policy issue to be addressed is pushing back the United States. There is no need or reason for Australia to share American paranoia toward China. Australia is struggling to retain its sovereignty; it would help considerably if it were to be demonstrated and explained to the US that the alliance has its limits. We can be friends without being vassals. Our standing in the region, indeed in the world would be enhanced and improved were we to do so.

The following article appeared in Pearls & Irritations on 6 April, 2022.

The US had its moves worked out three years ago. Australia, with the most pro-American government since Holt, has been malleable, fawning, uncritical and easily led.

Noted was the ease with which the Morrison government jumped when asked, to criticise Xi Jinping with respect to Covid and the banning of Huawei. The US concluded that Morrison and his ministers were an easy mark. They proposed the north of Australia become a US controlled area of operation for confrontation of China.

As part of gaining control over regional operations they decided the French should get the flick, which entailed getting Australia to ditch the submarine deal. The AUKUS arrangement is the Trojan Horse, the vehicle for securing control. They plan for northern Australia to host a number of bases from which they can contain China. The involvement of the UK is little more than window dressing.

In many ways it is a good deal for Australia, if the question of sovereignty is put to one side. Australian defence procurement in recent years has been less than satisfactory. Australia will find it difficult to rectify these errors in the short to medium term. An enhanced US presence will make up for those deficiencies. Nonetheless Australia is expected to share, handover or build defence infrastructure for what is termed ‘interoperable’ force arrangements. New harbour facilities are to be built in Darwin to facilitate US fuel storage, provide birthing for nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers. HMAS Stirling, near Fremantle, is to be upgraded for similar reasons. The search is on to provide harbour facilities for US nuclear submarines on the eastern coast.

Given Australian defence weakness, the backbone of the new confrontational force will be American. Existing Australian equipment, even though much is new and the rest little used, will be supplemented and supplanted by US materiel.

Many of the armoured vehicles that Australia possesses are too heavy for use in the region. The purchase of the upgraded Abrams tank is difficult to understand. It is too heavy for Australian topography and infrastructure let alone operating effectively in the region.

The F35A, a Howard call and bought off the plan, is struggling to meet operational requirements. Lockheed Martin, who built the aircraft, are more successful in putting panels and promotional material in the Australian War Memorial than they have been in solving problems to make the F35 fully effective.

Australia is to scrap its fleet of ADF helicopters and replace them with the upgraded US Black Hawk. The upgrade of Jindalee is years behind, the digitisation of the army under Land 200 is on hold after 15 years of ‘work’ and could take another 10 years to complete.

The Hawkei vehicle replacement program has come to a halt with brake problems. The proposed manufacture of northern based guided weapons has struck range capability issues even before the project has begun. Alterations in the specifications of the Hunter Class Frigates has seen a reduction in speed and manoeuvrability before delivery. The Australian submarine saga has been widely discussed.It is as familiar to class rooms and aged care facilities as it is to overpaid and over superannuated politicians. It doesn’t need further discussion here other than to note Australian nuclear submarines are unlikely to eventuate. The capability gap will be filled by US nuclear submarines and new facilities are being built or upgraded, at Australian expense, to accommodate their home porting in Australia.

Dutton has forbidden ADF personnel to publicly discuss climate warming but that is the battle Australia must prepare for. HMAS Adelaide and Canberra, Hercules and C17 aircraft, patrol boats and merchant marine vessels are useful in assisting Pacific Island states and near regional neighbours in the event of catastrophic climate warming events and other natural disasters. Not submarines and tanks.

Why has Australia bought, ordered and planned for defence equipment not suited to its needs? Have decisions been made under pressure from the US government or arms manufacturers? Has Australian defence planning struggled to find focus? Did fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan divert attention away from regional defence planning? Whatever the reason, Australia has defence equipment not suited for purpose or below specifications.

Significant quantities of US defence materiel and personnel will be transferred to Australia, including submarines. Pine Gap is being expanded to enhance our northern focus. China has expressed concern at AUKUS and the proposal to increase US forces in Australia.

However just as the security focus north was being locked in place, the Solomons enhanced its relationship with China.It was interpreted by politicians and the MSM as a threat. The Solomons Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavare, foreshadowed a security agreement with China. The intention to proceed received joint signatures on 1 April. It is no joke. Both parties are serious. Apparently, consideration has been underway for some months, probably from when AUKUS was proposed.

When the details of the enhanced relationship were leaked it had an electrifying effect ranging from suggestions for an Australia intervention in the Solomons (a regime change?!!) to calls for the Solomons to reconsider entering the agreement. ASPI, the LNP and much of the MSM led what can only be described as an overwrought reaction.

Some commentators did note that the Solomons was a sovereign state.

Respect, or lack of it, for the island states of the Pacific by the conservative side of Australian politics was probably a factor behind the joint China/Solomons announcement. In 2019, Dutton, in the presence of Abbott and Morrison, was caught making a disparaging and demeaning comment about Pacific Island States in relation to climate warming. It is Australian denial of the effect of climate warming bringing rising sea levels to these states which has upset them. Their public reaction to Australian climate warming denial has ranged from polite castigation to anger. None have respect for LNP policy toward the use of fossil fuels.

Patronising arrogance might best describe the LNP’s long held view toward the Pacific. A view formed within their deep-seated racism, obvious to all except apparently themselves. It is insulting and demeaning for Australia to use the term Pacific Family when there is no respect, feeling or meaning behind it and when it is not reciprocated.

Australia has had a long association with the Solomons including through RAMSI and the deployment last year of 200 ADF and AFP personnel to restore order following riots. It has allocated millions to development projects, including a radio network. Apparently it is to little effect. Underlying grievances, centred on bruised sensitivities and feelings and insults, real and perceived, have apparently been fertile ground for the Chinese to sow the seeds of deeper ‘co-operation’.

There are provisions in the proposed agreement for China to deploy military and police to maintain law and order and protect ‘Chinese personnel and major projects.’ More febrile observers have suggested that China will build a naval base and in doing so threaten eastern access to Australia. The head of the ANU National Security College, Rory Medcalf, has said such a development would be ‘pretty damn dangerous.’

In view of the projected American build up in the Northern Territory, with Darwin set to become a garrison town, China may proceed down that path. It has certainly given itself the room to do so. AUKUS will now shift some of its focus east to the Solomons. The Americans are pushing the pace in the region and we shouldn’t be surprised when the Chinese respond. The upshot is an increasing Chinese presence in what we used to regard as our backyard, a yard that we neglected. It should have come as no shock that China, as a growing economic and military power, would take an increased interest in the affairs of Pacific Island states. The problem for Australia is that it did not anticipate that interest and had no diplomatic mechanisms in place to deal with it.

China has not indicated it wants to build a base, but were it to do so how should Australia react? Ramp up its current level of hysteria, hubris and bombast ? Or enter dialogue with China, which is here to stay. The sooner we learn to deal with that fact the better.

If Australia had maintained normal diplomatic relations with China, it might have been possible to discuss in advance joint security and aid arrangements for the region including the Solomons. But Australia has taken sides, and in so doing fuelled distrust. We have foregone independent diplomacy for the dubious protection afforded a vassal state.

The following article appeared in Pearls & Irritations on 28 March, 2022.

The Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison does not have qualities of leadership. He is unable to act in a crisis, he fades in the face of fire and flood, he demonstrates poor judgement and when challenged he bullies.

The Royal Commission into Natural Disaster was handed down sixteen months ago. Of 80 recommendations Morrison has adopted 14.

It has become apparent that his Prime Ministership is not about seeking best outcomes for the Australian people but rather for himself. He not only ignores climate change, he mocks it. He supports the fossil fuel industry.

Morrison is about smoke and mirrors, rather than substance and delivery. Australia has gone from being a respected member of the international community to a country reviled and ridiculed. His embarrassing performance at COP26 being but one example. He has trashed a very positive Australian reputation which took decades to build. He has angered those who helped create it.

But it began before Morrison. It began with John Howard undermining Australian belief in their ability to care and be seen to care with his untruths, constructed for base political gain, of children overboard, re-enforced with another untruth, that of weapons of mass destruction. He sent Australian troops to Iraq, without consulting the Australian Parliament, to support the US which had also lied about weapons of mass destruction. He ludicrously invoked the Anzus treaty in order to justify his offering of Australian troops for service in Iraq to the dullard President George W Bush.

Howard set the tone for what has followed over the last twenty plus years. He has been a significant influence on the LNP, helping determine the type of person running for parliamentary office. Abbott and Morrison being examples of unsatisfactory candidates who received the backing of Howard and who went onto become reactionary and destructive Prime Ministers. All three have ensured that Australia has lost twenty-six years in addressing climate change.

Climate change is the most significant failure of the LNP, indeed of both major parties in Australia. The former Chief of the Defence Force, retired Admiral Chris Barrie has said the forthcoming federal election is the most important in his lifetime. He advocates for a comprehensive nationwide climate and security risk assessment, with an integrated plan for the allocation of resources, taking into account climate change related food shocks and the security consequences that would result from such disruptions. He has also criticised Dutton for putting a muzzle on defence personnel speaking about climate change.

Let me unpack the other major un-addressed or badly handled issues facing Australia.

Racism is the scourge of the LNP. Policies toward Indigenous Australians are paternalistic, certainly racist and in the case of Abbott, a weird missionary noblesse oblige. There is no hint of empowerment let alone respect in any of the government programs and interaction.

Howard set the standard for the treatment of refugees over the past twenty years with his, ‘we will decide who comes here and when’. He locked up men, women and children in what amounted to concentration camps, he turned back refugee boats, in contravention of international and Australian law. Many of the refugees resulted from his joint incursion with the US into Iraq and Afghanistan. He evinced no understanding or empathy with the factors, horror and fear which leads a person to leave home and seek refuge. His policies and attitudes were shared by Rudd, Gillard, Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison (and Dutton). Rudd and Gillard warehoused refugees on Manus Island and Nauru. The policy has been driven by racism, immaturity and fear. Refugees currently remain in detention for no other reason than to feed the prejudice of Dutton and Morrison. Labor fearing the wedge has done little to protest. Illustrative is the difference in approach taken by Morrison to Ukrainian refugees, which he says are ‘at the top of the pile’, compared to Afghan refugees who are quite clearly very low on the government’s priority for resettlement. Compare the government’s reaction to the subjugation of Ukrainians compared to Palestinians which Morrison has endorsed with his agreement to move the Australian Embassy to Jerusalem.

Aside from climate change, water – the lack of it, is the single biggest problem facing Australia. That might sound paradoxical in view of the recent catastrophic floods on the eastern seaboard. Shortage of water is closely linked to climate change. Little is being done on a national level to secure and nurture this scarce resource. Australia’s largest waterway, the Murray/Darling is collapsing through the greed of irrigators backed by wilfully poor regulation.There have been allegations of corruption overseen by state and federal politicians. Due to the poor reporting of local and national media these allegations have only been touched on; they have not been properly investigated. The media, particularly local media, are scared off by bullying from the major irrigators. Australia is a profligate user of this scarce resource. Australia exports cheap water in the form of cotton, wine and almonds.The profit that ensues is not directed toward better practice or conservation. The clownish and self-indulgent leader of the Notional Farmers Party, Barnaby Joyce, advocates dams, but it’s illustrative of his lack of imagination along with others. The answer is better, careful and more thoughtful water use. Mining does not fit any of those categories. Just as people have been encouraged to install solar panels they should, through Commonwealth subsidies, be encouraged to collect potable water in home tanks.

Not one major item of defence expenditure purchased over the past twenty years is either fit for purpose or appropriate to Australia’s defence needs. Partly this is due to lack of proper process, lack of scrutiny and an inability to decide strategic imperatives. Australia does not need heavy tanks. The F35 bought off the plan is fraught with faults. The European fleet of helicopters has been scrapped to be replaced with the US Black Hawk. The Adelaide was laid up in Tonga on a mercy mission with engine water filters apparently not designed to cope with volcanic ash.Believe that if you will.The problem did not bedevil Chinese naval competitors who were in and out of Tonga before parts for the Adelaide arrived.

Responding to US pressure Morrison scrapped the French submarine deal, which had Macron pick him in one, calling him a liar. ‘I don’t think he is a liar; I know he is.’ The Americans want to be in charge of their future war against the Chinese, so they gave the French the flick. Australia has been solemnly promised new US submarines in twenty years or so.The Australian media swallowed it, anchor and chain. All this was done under a new defence arrangement known as AUKUS – Australia, United Kingdom and the United States. Why the UK is in on the arrangement is unclear but colonial deprivation seems as good a reason as any.

AUKUS is a smoke screen, along with the non-existent submarine marine deal, for a greater US defence presence in Australia, particularly the north from where they aim to confront the Chinese, if not take them on, thereby rendering Alice Springs (Pine Gap) and Darwin targets. Following the Russian attack on the Ukraine Morrison seeks a Khaki election. Advising the government on this matter is the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), funded by American arms manufacturers, the US and Australian governments. With support from Morrison and Dutton it has usurped the advice from Defence and Foreign Affairs without noticeable improvement.

ASPI is currently seeking a new head. Controversy surrounds the appointment with Dutton seeking a captains pick .The board of ASPI have other proposals. The Labor Party shadow minister for defence, Brendan O’Connor has weighed in saying no decision should be made before the election indicating that Labor intends to keep the right wing ‘think tank’, an organisation that, on its advice and associations, should be disbanded.

Preparation for meeting the effects of climate change is woeful. We are hard pressed and ill equipped to meet the vicious and rapidly increasing manifestations of climate change. Australia requires a stand-alone and dedicated full time Climate Change Response Force, (CCRF), air transportable at short notice. Using the ADF for such undertakings is a waste of manpower. Climate change is with us, it must be faced, addressed and dealt with. Morrison is not capable.

Allan Behm in his new book, ‘No Enemies, No Friends’, Upswell Publishing, 2022, pp 203/4, says, ‘The Australian government currently shows no interest in preventing war between China and the United States over the status of Taiwan. This is the result of a combination of complacency, national introspection and self-absorption, lethargy, a lack of national self-confidence, a lack of national ambition, and deep anxiety and insecurity. We are paralysed…We have no plan and we have no vision.’

Successive LNP governments have marginalised neighbouring Pacific Island States. Respectful dialogue has not occurred. These states want Australia to take action on climate change. Abbott, Turnbull, Morrison and ASPI ignored them, only showing interest when China did. Such behaviour is counter-productive and will be difficult for Morrison to overcome. Hopefully Albanese will be seen as more receptive and be able to reactivate old relationships.

The LNP has treated the region with equal disdain. The Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong felt constrained to deliver a polite lecture to Morrison on the desirability of working with China. It went over Morrison’s head, as you would expect. China’s impact on the region is considerable and growing. Clothing factories in Vietnam, fast rail link in Laos, soon to be extended into Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. China’s Belt and Road initiative will impact, if it has not already done so, all south east Asian countries including Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Indonesia and to varying degrees tie them to China. Morrison has turned his back on the initiative and also on accessing Chinese funds. Wracking up debt at the rate he is, mainly in unproductive expenditure, Australia will need to access those funds probably sooner than later. In ten years, the Australian debt has gone from $190 billion to $950 billion. It would be an understatement to say that Morrison lacks vision and administrative competence.

Morrison no longer has a working relationship with China. His Wuhan pandemic remarks were seen as arrogant and crude, designed to take a rise out of Xi Jinping. Morrison is seen as having been primed by Trump. It is believed that Xi has no inclination to improve the relationship for as long as Morrison remains Prime Minister. As if to make matters worse, like dogs at the postman’s heals, Morrison and a number of his ministers have jumped into China for not condemning Putin’s bloody invasion of the Ukraine. Shrill and with moral certitude they evince no understanding of the difficult position China finds itself in, which is no doubt very concerned and looking for ways to get Putin to negotiate a withdrawal. Face needs to be saved on all sides, not least their own.

Anthony Albanese got sucked into ‘me too’ on China and the Ukraine. There was no need.Instead he might have urged China to use its good offices with Russia to try and bring about a cease fire and a negotiated settlement. Albanese has also swallowed AUKUS with only a hasty shadow cabinet discussion and no consideration by rank-and-file Labor Party members. AUKUS is a big deal, it has the capacity to substantially undermine Australian sovereignty. Monitoring of Australia’s northern sea and air space by the US will likely morph into reporting requirements and then control as the US ramps up its anti-China posture.

What is of concern in a functioning democracy is the felt need by Labor to adopt a low profile, agreeing with the government on security and defence issues and cautiously drip-feeding uncontroversial policies to the media. Justifiable criticism of Morrison over his response to fire, flood, climate change, refugees, women, aged care, secondary education, universities, health and Medicare has been muted.

Murdoch has much to answer for in biased, partisan reporting of all matters relating to the Labor Party. The ABC, under funding pressure from bullying Morrison and Ministers Fifield and Fletcher has sought to appease and, in the process, has lost sight of its charter.

There is no doubt that these instruments are biased against Labor, but that is the challenge that democracy is faced with from time to time. Ask black South African’s living under the oppression of apartheid how they managed a voice in the face of a hostile white press. Albanese and the Labor Party appear to believe that democracy in Australia can be repaired if they get back into office. They act as if the game can still be played under existing rules. They agree that there should be an ICAC. I suspect they have no idea of the extent of corruption in Australia. I don’t see any real urgency or concern on the part of Labor at the rapid pace of climate change and the considerable upheaval this heralds; rather it is business more or less as usual.

I get no sense of crises from either major party at the decaying structures of our society which the LNP from Howard to Morrison have aided and abetted, underpinned by corruption (sports rorts), contracts without tenders to mates, an unhealthy relationship with the fossil fuel industry and a willingness to ignore the law. But it is deeper.They are amoral users of people, exploiters of the poor and disadvantaged illustrated through Robodebt and NDIS. There is no sense that Morrison and his party know the difference between right and wrong.

Morrison and members of his front bench are a disgrace, the likes of which have not been seen in post Federation Australian politics. Many people are angry at being used, with a lack of nurturing for many things held precious, from the environment, to their children, parents, teachers, health and aged care workers. They hate the lack of respect for women, refugees, Indigenous Australians and immigrants, for artists, musicians, creative endeavour and innovation. They hate the selfishness, crassness, lack of courage and vision of Morrison and his LNP and they do wonder why Albanese and his Labor Party are not angrier and more passionate about the collapse of what used to be the structural and ethical norms of our society.

 The following article appeared in Pearls & Irritations on 1 March, 2022.

On the 14 February I had an opinion piece published in the, CPC owned, Global Times, which looked at the prospect of an improvement in relations between China and Australia. I gave little hope were Morrison to be returned and only a slightly better prospect were Albanese to become Prime Minister.

I noted that Morrison was a very poor Prime Minister and that in comparison Albanese shone. Commentators on the right turned this comment into an endorsement by the Global Times, and by implication the Chinese Government, of Anthony Albanese. At best it was mischievous.

Kevin Rudd took the opportunity to dismiss me as a ‘has been’, no doubt picking up on similar comments I have made about him. It was clear he had not read the article. Rudd’s position on China is confusing. His assessments of China as expansionist and a threat sit closely with the LNP, their principal adviser, ASPI, and the Murdoch press. Perhaps Rudd has been working quietly to build bridges to the Chinese but this is not apparent from his public statements.

Commentary by Right Wing shock jocks demonstrate how little research they have done on China and the extent of their bias. None of this augers well for the future.

One has only to read the papers in the lead up to the Australian involvement in Viet Nam to see that war hysteria is abroad once more in the ranks of the LNP, their advisers and fellow travellers in the media. It is as dangerous as it is puerile.

Morrison hammers away at border security blaming China for everything from Covid to cyber-attacks on vital defence and industry undertakings. He doesn’t mention or perhaps he is unaware of similar operations being undertaken by the Americans from Pine Gap. Australian security is under far greater threat from climate change about which Morrison doesn’t give a toss. It is under threat from the debt he has run up and his indifference to running up further debt.

It is under threat from poor morale in the ADF, particularly the Army. It is under threat from poor infrastructure. Note the damage to vital East/West and North/South rail and road links due to recent flooding. Australian security is under threat from poor defence purchases, from tanks we do not need, to the appalling F35, poorly designed frigates not fit for purpose even before delivery, poor equipment maintenance and bad leadership.

Australian security is challenged by underfunding of universities and the public education system and by government sponsored greed, which has seen Morrison and his cohorts support the growing gap between rich and poor.

Should Albanese win he is faced with some mammoth tasks and undertakings. He has to find ways of Australia creating wealth away from mining. He must encourage value adding and the training and application of local skills.

The government continues to determine the ground on which the election is to be fought. They have bashed away on Labor’s alleged weakness over China.

The fracas in and out of parliament during the last week over China including around publication of my article in the Global Times gave Labor and Albanese the perfect opportunity to attack Morrison over his bellicose position on China and set out his own position. To claim as he does, that there in no difference between the LNP and Labor over policy toward China is to admit that Labor has no policy toward China. The present and a past head of ASIO have rejected claims that China is the sole country seeking to influence politicians.

Now is the time to ask Morrison what is his policy? Why is Australia out of step with the rest of the world? The US has a better relationship. Does Morrison want to get back to some sort of ‘normal’ relationship? And he should be taken to task when he says it is up to China to mend the fence. Morrison bullies, bully him back. Expose his weaknesses on this issue.

Albanese might have taken the opportunity to state the sort of relationship Labor would like to have with China and how it would go about achieving it. He might sweep aside the LNP stupid talk about protecting Australian security and hammer on about just how much Morrison has weakened it, right down to a fundamentally divided society.

Albanese has got to stop cringing and ducking for cover when China is mentioned. He has to determine what the battles will be and when and where they will be fought. China should be front and centre of that. He should be seeking details on AUKUS and the extent of the US takeover in northern Australia and how that is likely to affect our relations with our neighbours and China.

Bruce Haigh is a retired diplomat and political commentator.  

The article below appeared in Pearls and Irritations on 27 January, 2022.

‘Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive’, is a lexicon, introduced by Sir Walter Scott in the poem, ‘Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field’, 1808.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) should absorb the message. For the past five years they have been deceiving and dissembling with respect to China’s intentions in the region. Trump and his acolytes got them going with substantially increased funding from the US government and arms manufacturers who saw profit in raised levels of tension. Trump thought he could bully China into allowing an uncompetitive America regain lost markets.

The Australian government also provides funding to ASPI on the basis it gives independent advice to government. It has the status of a quango; the government appoints its director, which, with its unusual funding arrangements makes it anything but an independent ‘think tank’. As a source of advice, it has the government’s ear. It has direct and privileged access. On strategic policy formation it has supplanted DFAT and Defence. It advocates greatly increased defence spending.  

It is a conduit for hard-line US policy toward China. It has become the stalking horse for US think tanks and agencies. It undertook research into the alleged mistreatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang Province. It alleged genocide, which has been resoundingly disproved, but not before it got legs in the Murdoch press. It has claimed with the use of satellite photos, presumably provided by the CIA, that millions of Uyghurs are kept in high security detention centres undergoing political indoctrination and re-education. This was a report prepared by what is termed the International Cyber Policy Centre of ASPI.

In an independently funded investigation, ‘The Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Uyghurs for Sale Report: Scholarly Analysis or Strategic Disinformation? By Jaq James says on page 51 that, “Given the frequency of dubious arguments, unsupported and overplayed claims, poor-quality sources, lack of balance and completeness and questionable academic integrity standards, it is submitted that ASPI intentionally produced a piece of strategic disinformation propaganda.” The James investigation comprehensively dismantled the ASPI Report, bringing into question the morality and veracity of the ASPI undertaking. Why did they do it?

ASPI has been strident, some might say irrational and unbalanced, in its criticism of China over Taiwan. It has appeared as if it is trying to outdo its benefactor the US in seeking to impress. Quoted by Alan Macleod in MintPress on 20.1.22, https://www.mintpressnews.com/aspi-think-tank-controlling-twitter/279490/ John Pilger says, ‘ASPI has played a leading role – some would say, the leading role – in driving Australia’s mendacious and self-destructive and often absurd China-bashing campaign. The current Coalition government, perhaps the most right-wing and incompetent in Australia’s recent history, has relied upon ASPI to disseminate Washington’s desperate strategic policies, into which much of the Australian political class, along with its intelligence and military structures has been integrated.’  

There is no issue that ASPI has sought to involve itself in that does not bring into question its judgement. It ran with the conspiracy theory that the Chinese government was responsible for the Covid outbreak in Wuhan and subsequent cover up. In a report, ‘The Great Covid Cover-up’ ASPI wove a tale of a world-wide collusion to hide Covid’s origins and to cover for China.

ASPI has given enthusiastic support to AUKUS, conveying the impression it was in at the inception of the idea. AUKUS is probably the most ill-advised arrangement that Australia is seeking to get involved with since allowing the United States to establish Pine Gap. The purchase of nuclear-powered submarines with a delivery time of thirty years was said to be the driver behind AUKUS. I doubt it, it was more likely a smokescreen for setting Australia up as a forward US military base for confrontation with China. Talk of new submarines has been allowed to slide, replaced with discussion of the logistics of home porting US submarines at HMAS Stirling and Darwin. There is discussion of basing a variety of US combat aircraft in the Northern Territory, greatly expanding the US military base in Darwin to take an extra 6000 marines and their families (and in the process forcing the First Armoured Regiment to vacate its barracks and move to Edinburgh in South Australia)

Recently Australia purchased the M1A2, a heavy tank unsuited for operations in the region. It is said the purchase is designed to allow the training of Australian crews for deployment with the US in the ME and Europe. Australia has scrapped its still operational fleet of helicopters and will replace them with US choppers. Australia will manufacture tank ammunition and missiles and probably other materiel to be determined by the US. It seems major decisions relating to the ADF insofar as they relate to joint operability and the northern defence posture are being influenced if not directed by the US. Pine Gap is undergoing an expansion and refit to prepare it for the enhanced defence posture planned against China.

AUKUS will give the US unprecedented control over the ADF. They will run all operations directed against China. Those operations are likely to be similar to those deployed against the Russians during the cold war. The possibility of miscalculation leading to a ‘hot’ war are high. Australia could find itself at war without parliament and ministers even knowing about it, far less giving permission. This will have the effect of placing Australia on a permanent war footing.

To illustrate how unbalanced thinking has become, the former director of ASPI, Peter Jennings recently advocated in The Australian that Australia purchase the US B2 stealth bomber, there are only 21! Australia needs a stealth bomber as much as it needs ASPI.

Under AUKUS the US is likely to demand the ability to monitor and control aircraft and shipping within a pre-determined exclusion zone, probably centred on Darwin. The north of Australia will be placed on a heightened state of defence readiness. The British involvement in AUKUS is unlikely to survive the election of a Labour government. British involvement is nothing more than a half-cocked, messy post Brexit Imperial Tory wet dream.

I recently commented in an interview with NetPress (cited above)that, ‘ASPI has supplanted the Department of Foreign Affairs in advice to the government. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, (Marise) Payne, is really very weak, and has been bypassed. So ASPI is feeding straight into the prime minister’s office on matters of foreign policy, particularly as it relates to China…This is part of the militarisation of Australia and the Australian public service.’

It is extraordinary, to say the least, that a foreign funded ‘think tank’ has such privileged access and power within government. Organisations with a hint of Chinese government funding are investigated and taken to the cleaners. Make no mistake the US is a foreign power. It will say and do anything to advance its interests. A recent case in point is picking up on the trade Australia lost to China for bagging Xi Jinping.

For reasons best known to itself Twitter recently partnered with ASPI. This consolidates a relationship that saw Twitter close more than 170,000 accounts in 2020 on the recommendation of ASPI. These accounts were regarded as dangerous because they bolstered the CPC or played down the harm alleged by the US and UK against the Uyghurs. This is a dangerous development given how ideologically positioned ASPI is on the Right and how irrationally hostile it is toward China as it seeks to please the CIA and State Department.

ASPI is an important player in helping to prepare Australia for war with China. US arms manufacturers, most Republicans and conservative Democrats are working themselves up to unleash the dogs of war. They want it. They are conditioned for it. It is the only way they know how to ‘resolve conflict’, which in this case is the challenge to their global economic, military and political power. They do not understand diplomacy, they don’t know the art or how to practice it. Their diplomacy has always been backed by military power.

In short, the collective American psyche, reinforced by the major US power structures have resolved to take on China. It is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when. That’s what America wants to do. They have made up their minds, it is gun boat diplomacy with aircraft carriers. And ASPI is doing all it can to lock Australia into the US agenda, irrespective of the cost.

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and a retired diplomat.

The following article appeared in Pearls and Irritations on 12 Jan 2022.

It gives me no pleasure to write this article.

There was a time when Australian diplomacy was respected internationally; that period was from 1972 – 1996. It was a time in which Australia displayed diplomatic creativity and originality.

After the debacle and military failure of Vietnam, Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, put the American Alliance into perspective. In 1972 he forged an independent and close relationship with China, ahead of the United States, and built a diplomatic bridge to near neighbours in South East Asia. He shrank the relationship with England moving away from the forelock tugging of former Liberal Prime Minister Menzies and his three successors.

He put into effect Australian opposition to the racial outrage of apartheid, established new diplomatic missions in Asia, Africa and the Pacific and at international fora required the Department of Foreign Affairs to present an open and engaging presence with concern for human rights. Australia became active and contributed constructively to matters relating to the Antarctic, Law of the Sea, Nuclear Proliferation and the rights of newly emerging states.

However, Whitlam failed to protect the rights of the East Timorese in 1975 when they sought independence and the Department of Foreign Affairs did not present a case in support.  It was a failure that bedevilled the bi-lateral relationship with Indonesia for 24 years.

Nonetheless throughout the period of the Prime Ministerships of Fraser, Hawke and Keating Australia conducted an independent foreign policy, particularly toward China, Japan, our near neighbours, the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty and limiting the spread of chemical weapons and land mines, to the irritation of the US.

Whitlam’s attempt to contain the United States capacity to constrain the parameters of Australian foreign policy through the operation of its secret spy base, Pine Gap, in the Northern Territory, resulted in his dismissal in 1975. The Governor General was influenced, through the crown, by the CIA and MI6. This had the effect of constraining, through caution and self-censorship, the development of bold foreign policy initiatives, which might have allowed Australia to carve out a place for itself as a non-aligned, independent middle power.

Despite the ever-present threat of the American elephant entering the room, the Department of Foreign Affairs, strengthened the staffing of overseas missions, conducted an extensive program of language training and other skills enhancement including technical and management training, improved the content and speed of information into the Department from posts and other sources and analysis, so important to the efficient functioning of the Department and decision making of government.

The Department of Foreign Affairs, the Diplomatic Corps and Diplomats in the field are only as good as the leadership provided by politicians and the political process. Australian diplomacy started to decline under the Prime Ministership of John Howard, who ditched any semblance of original policy making particularly with respect to international relations and defence.

From the time of his election in 1996 Howard moved resolutely back to the foreign policy settings of Menzies. He asserted the primacy of the United States Alliance as the most important aspect of Australian foreign policy. Howard was quick to volunteer Australian troops to fight in the American wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, just as Menzies had been with respect to the American war in Viet Nam. Howard ditched much of what had been learnt and achieved by Australia in terms of foreign relations. He reactivated the white Australia policy with cruel and unconscionable policies toward refugees and the Islamic community, much to the consternation of our neighbours.

He redefined foreign policy in terms of trade, war and defence. Money and jingoistic notions of security drove Australian foreign policy. Human rights were sneered at and friends in the Pacific were treated as losers and a burden.

At the same time, he politicised the public service, directly intervening or applying pressure with respect to senior appointments. Political loyalty trumped ability and experience. The change soon affected the middle ranks of the public service, fearless and honest advice became a thing of the past, as the nation witnessed with the Tampa affair, children overboard, refugees detained in concentration camps. It was an evil policy and an indicator of worse to come.

To an extent what also made this possible was a collective failure of moral courage and this continues to the present day.

Attempting to work within Howard’s flawed political framework DFAT struggled. There may have been some who opposed Australian participation in Afghanistan and Iraq, but career choices were narrowed to acceptance and stay or opposition and departure. It must have been difficult for diplomats at the Australian High Commission in Colombo not to report the genocide carried out against Tamils in the north of Sri Lanka in order to provide the Australian Government with deniability and thereby cover for not granting Tamil’s refugee status. It meant the government could ‘legally’ turn back boats and send home Tamils who were in Australia.

Not all DFAT officers were reluctant participants in this process. I am aware of some who actively participated and in so doing secured preferment, promotion and postings.

As a former diplomat Downer was a disaster as Foreign Minister. He thought, wrongly, that he knew more about international relations than anyone in his department. He and Howard were reluctant to intervene in East Timor, listening to Greg Sheridan of The Australian. They were scared of Indonesia. They only did so because of the strength of public opinion. But it left them angry. So much so, that they authorised the bugging of the East Timorese cabinet office to gain advantage in negotiations over the sea bed boundary which would determine access to oil and gas reserves.

It is not yet known who in DFAT knew of this plan, but it was carried out by the Australian spy agency, ASIS, so it is fair to assume some senior officers were aware. It was another low point in Australian diplomacy, bravely called out by Witness K and Bernard Collaery who the LNP are currently trying to crucify on behalf of those caught out.

Increasingly Australia has followed United States voting at the UN and in the process undoing carefully constructed and balanced foreign policy particularly with respect to the middle east and Israel.

Stephen Smith and Kevin Rudd, as foreign ministers, did not distinguish themselves on the question of Tamil refugees and Rudd did not prove as adroit in managing international relations as his former profession as a diplomat might have foreshadowed, particularly with respect to China and Indonesia.  Bob Carr had a grasp of the middle east and China but failed with Tamil refugees. He worked well with his department. Julie Bishop was a foreign policy lightweight and her successor, Marise Payne, more so.

Without consistent leadership the department has drifted. Perversely senior officers have been praised for overseeing Australia’s biggest foreign policy disaster since WWII – the collapse of the relationship with China. In July 2021 Kathryn Campbell, AO, CSC, was appointed to replace Frances Adamson, AO. Campbell is a Major General in the army reserve. She has no experience in foreign policy. Under the Morrison government foreign policy has become increasingly militarised, perhaps Campbell was seen as a useful asset in this new framework.

The Australian Security Policy Institute (ASPI), funded by US arms manufacturers, US government and Australian government has moved under Morrison to occupy a position of primary adviser to government on foreign policy and defence matters. It has adopted a hard-line approach toward China and advocates military support for Taiwan. It is opening an office in Washington which will poach much of the work undertaken by the Embassy. It has marginalised DFAT and has a strong policy input with Defence. It has the ear of Morrison and Dutton; Payne has been marginalised.

It no doubt had influence in the cancellation of the French submarine contract and adoption of the unbalanced AUKUS agreement; Australian sovereignty and strategic interests will be undermined.

Since the Cold War, US military and diplomatic interests have been interwoven. The US operates on the basis that its military strength provides diplomatic leverage and reinforces negotiations. As a result of lobbying by the State Department and ASPI, Morrison is going down the same path. He appears to have accepted that Australian foreign policy will be shaped and driven by defence priorities and considerations. AUKUS is a case in point. When fully implemented it will see the militarisation of northern Australian with US assets directed against China. Pine Gap is being expanded to take account of the enhanced surveillance requirements this posture will require.

Morrison has not bothered to negotiate with China to reverse their trade sanctions. He appears to believe with the US at his back and with enhanced Australian defence assets he can bully to bring about change in the relationship. Never mind that the US has stepped in and helped itself to some of Australia’s lost market. Morrison has sought a strengthened Five Eyes and militarise the Quad. In recent months he has strengthened military ties with South Korea and Japan and his conversations with Modi have been about strategic concerns.

On other major diplomatic issues such as climate change, Morrison has shown no interest and in fact made a fool of himself at Glasgow. He has also shown little interest or understanding in trade. Through the influence of ASPI and his own inclinations Morrison has ceded formulation of Australian international and defence relations to Washington, aided by the absence of moral courage, pride and vision in government and politicisation of the public service.

Morrison has sold out; Australian has forfeited sovereignty. Our ability to forge independent policy and relationships has been considerably constrained.

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired Diplomat.

The attached appeared in Pearls and Irritations on 29 December 2021.

Covid19 provided cover for an increasingly disorderly retreat by Australia from Asia. It provided a face-saving excuse to creep home behind the protective shield of AUKUS and the United States, our ally through thick and thin over the last eighty years and the only country in the world we trust.

Our first foray into Asia was to send a military contingent to support Britain and other colonising powers put down an anti-imperialist armed uprising by Chinese nationalists. The revolt was known as the Boxer Rebellion and took place from 1899-1901. Australian colonies sent just under 1000 men, primarily from NSW and Victoria. Australian troops were already engaged with the British in putting down another colonial uprising in South Africa. The contingent was initially garrisoned in Tianjin and then formed part of the force which sacked Beijing. They served in China from August 1900 to March 1901.

No doubt the drive for volunteers was assisted by the anti-Asian campaign run by Australian newspapers, in particular The Bulletin, in the closing years of the Nineteenth Century. It led to the White Australia policy and a turning away from Asia with the exception of the British colonial cities of Hong Kong, Singapore and Rangoon.

Anti-Chinese sentiment had seen most Chinese gold miners driven from the gold fields in the late 1850’s and 1860’s with many returning to their place of birth. Some stayed and took up or continued with various commercial pursuits in regional NSW and Victoria. They were tolerated for as long as their number remained small. Many were assimilated through marriage.

White Australia remained apprehensive or fearful of a seaborn Asian invasion. This primal emotion remains to this day. The solution for the newly federated nation was to ignore this ‘threat’ and to have as little to do with Asia as possible. It punished and impeded any Asian who sought to permanently enter Australia with impossible language tests.

The new Australia fixed its gaze and shipping routes on Great Britain, referred to by many of the transplanted whites as home, and also white, English speaking, South Africa, New Zealand and Canada and to a lesser extent America.

Australia was quick to volunteer for Britain’s European war in 1914 and again in 1939. The British and American defeat in Asia was underlined for Australia with the Japanese advance to within 32 kilometres of Port Moresby. The fears of white Australia were placated with Japanese withdrawals in the Pacific in 1944. Hostility and the desire to punish the Japanese rested easily with many, if not the majority of Australians for some time after the war, much to the hurt and pain of Japanese war brides.

Hatred of the Japanese morphed into hatred of the North Koreans and then Chinese with the advent of the Korean war in 1950. Comic book illustrators moved seamlessly from drawing ugly myopic Japanese soldiers to drawing ugly myopic Chinese and North Koreans. And with incredible dexterity and skill they were able to draw very handsome and wholesome South Korean soldiers who looked nothing like their North Korean counterparts and cousins.

Trade softened many in Australia toward Japan particularly the arrival of reliable and relatively cheap Japanese cars and the sale of wheat, coal and iron ore. Tourists followed and Sydney and the Gold Coast developed a new song sheet. In the meantime, well healed Australians discovered the delights of Singapore, Hong Kong, Manila, Bangkok and later Bali, although some didn’t know they were in Asia, far less Indonesia.

The Colombo Plan brought people from the region, providing some exposure to Asia, albeit limited, for Australians in academia and business. The Malayan Emergency and Sukarno’s Konfrontasi, kept the region on the pages of Australian newspapers. Australia established an RAAF base at Butterworth, Malaya, at this time. News of the comings and goings at the base also served to keep Asia in the media.

China was an ever present although secondary news item, focusing mainly negative attention. The Great Leap Forward, 1958-62 was viewed with bemusement and the Cultural Revolution beginning in 1966 and lasting ten years until Mao’s death,with concern. But for Australians what was happening in China and the distorted view that gave them of ‘Asia’ was soon overshadowed by the war in Vietnam and Australia’s involvement on the side of the United States.

At first the focus on the part of the media was low key, featuring stories on page five or six. However, with Conscripts going into the army in 1965, the tabloids had front page stories of haircuts and farewells. The visit of US President, Lydon Johnson to Australia in October 1966 saw the first of the major demonstrations against the war. Conscription galvanised mothers and those likely to be called up and the increasing horror and human cost of the war motivated the Left, the Labor Party and then a broad spectrum of the population. By late 1967 early 1968 television footage out of Vietnam had a marked effect on public opinion. Cartoonist, Bruce Petty, was cutting, clever and relentless in his criticism of the US prosecution of the war, soon enough cartoonists of the right, like Molnar and Collette accepted defeat. Petty was a significant mobiliser of public opinion.

The war in Vietnam changed Australian perceptions and understandings toward Asia. The Right in Australia wanted retribution and destruction visited upon the North Vietnamese. They wanted Asia and Asians punished for causing Western nations problems. The attitude of the Right has not changed. Pol Pot and the killing fields only reinforced their prejudices. The perceptions of the Right toward Asia infiltrated into the broader Australian consciousness, from there into politics, through people like Pauline Hanson and John Howard and into the main stream media.

The Left was devastated by the war and the perceptions generated toward Asia because of it. The Vietnam war forced a focus on the region including Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. Despite the horror, curiosity was aroused, particularly toward Thailand and many Australians broke their journeys to and from Europe in Bangkok or Singapore. That was how Australians viewed Asia in the 60’s and 70’s, as a stop over to somewhere else. A fact noted by Keating. SEATO didn’t cut much ice with Australians, nor any of the many and varied regional conferences which took place.

The Australian focus on Asia changed with the election of Gough Whitlam in December 1972. Amongst the first of many major decisions Whitlam recognised China. He had earlier paid a visit as leader of the Opposition in 1971. This decision completely changed the vision in Australia toward Asia. Stephen Fitzgerald was appointed Australia’s first Ambassador to Beijing. Trade and cultural exchanges flourished. Embassies were opened or expanded in all the countries of Asia, the Pacific and Africa. Australia came out from behind the Union Jack and embraced the world with confidence and enthusiasm.

DFAT and other government departments undertook extensive Asian language training programs and as embassies opened and expanded Australian businesses followed, also engaging in language and cultural training. Universities offered courses and schools language training. French, German, Italian, Greek and Latin got a firm nudge sideways. Asia not Europe was the focus. Australians stopped in Asia for lengthier holidays and visited exotic places such as Angkor Wat and Borobudur. People learnt enough phrases to be polite toward hotel staff, taxi drivers and at markets. They enjoyed Asia and Asia enjoyed them.

Whilst China was seen as important, it did not have the economic and political clout it now enjoys. Japan in the 1970’s was coming to dominate the region. Amongst those who made a significant contribution to the relationship was John Menadue, who was appointed Ambassador to Japan in 1976. He served in that capacity until 1980 overseeing a significant growth in trade and tourism. The two countries discovered each other and, in the process, developed a mutually beneficial relationship. Menadue was as significant in developing the relationship with Japan as Fitzgerald had been with China.

For twenty-five years Australia had a strong engagement with the region. Australian universities developed off shore campuses, Australian businesses established themselves in various capitals including Shanghai and Hong Kong. The only major company to receive a significant set back was News Corporation in China. This happened because of arrogance and ineptness. The Australian relationship with an increasingly self-confident and wealthy China grew, both sides expressed a great deal of satisfaction with this development.

The first warning sign that things might change came with the election of the Howard government in 1996. Elected at the same time was Pauline Hanson, a brash and unsophisticated racist from Queensland. In her maiden speech she declared that ‘Australia was in danger of being swamped by Asians.’ These remarks were widely reported particularly in Asia, where many Australian heads of mission were asked to explain. Howard did not immediately slap Hanson down. He let it fester and rot for two years before he addressed her remarks, but by then it was too late the damage had been done.

Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke and Keating worked hard to keep the Australian racist genie in the bottle, Howard let it go thinking it might help him electorally, and it may have, but it gave licence to Australian bigots and watchful concern to friends in the region. Howard’s treatment of refugees did not go unnoticed, from remote desert detention centres to Children Overboard he gradually rebuilt White Australia. Attacks against Indian students by white vigilantes in Melbourne and Sydney was an indicator of what Howard had sown and taken root. Howard did not nurture relationships in Asia for him the UK and the US were far more important. He chose to ignore what Percy Spender and Paul Keating stressed, ‘that no country can afford to ignore it’s geography.’ Howard was a racist, it showed and was noticed. Abbott and Morrison followed in his footsteps, Morrison disastrously so.

Feeding Howard’s racism and that of most members of his party was an inward-looking Jingoism, fed by casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan, which had returning bodies met with ceremony, by Howard and defence chiefs and an overplayed celebration of the ‘Anzac tradition’ and the myth of mateship in the run up to the centenary celebrations of WW1. Jingoism, Anzac and mateship all fed the narrative of white supremacy. These appeals to patriotism looked inward, with the effect of further turning Australia’s collective back on Asia.

Under Murdoch the pressure of his relentlessly biased reporting affected other Australian media outlets and government, which gradually saw focus shift from giving readers and viewers a world perspective to one where the US and UK shared primacy.

Even before Trump became President the United States was girding its loins to take on competition from China, which it described as a threat. Trade and economic rivalry were transformed into a security threat, which gave the US many more levers and tools with which to attempt to contain China. Then Trump came along and with ignorance and insularity sustained by a simplistic and mean-spirited world view he imposed sanctions on China and ramped up hostile rhetoric. Sensing someone equally as uncomfortable with syllogisms as himself, Trump turned the sycophantic Morrison into a croaking swamp toad and wound him up to pour a bucket on Xi Jinping over the origin of Covid. Morrison in his schoolboy bully style told the world it was Wuhan and the virus had escaped from a laboratory, located in a wet market.

Xi was livid. China imposed restrictions on a range of imports amounting to $35 billion. Covid hastened the fall in numbers of Chinese students and tourists. We should have seen it coming. Morrison is a product of Howard’s racism and quest for material wealth at the expense of all else. From the time Abbott became Prime Minister whatever lingering tolerance remained toward Asia was evaporating. His creation of Bunyip knights and dames and treatment of refugees and Indigenous Australians indicated to the region where he was coming from.

From 2017 the relationship with China began to cool. The main stream media became obsessed with allegations of Chinese cyber attacks and infiltration of student organisations. In 2018 academic, Clive Hamilton, published a book, ‘Silent Invasion’, alleging growing CPC influence in Australia and in 2019, the Australian government banned Huawei from the 5G network and lobbied Five Eyes against any association. China was furious.

The Morrison imbroglio will not be sorted until he is no longer in power. I understand the Chinese will have nothing to do with him. They know him and do not like him. They have probably heard enough with the means available to them to know that both Dutton and Morrison are arrogant, unreconstituted racists.

Coming stridently on the scene at this time was the so-called independent think tank the Australia Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), which is not very independent with funding from US arms manufacturers, the US Embassy and the Australian government. ASPI has the ear of Dutton, Morrison and Payne, it is stridently anti-Chinese, it advocates a much closer defence relationship with the US and has been a strong supporter of all the chatter surrounding AUKUS and the ‘acquisition’ by Australia of as yet to be developed US nuclear powered submarines. The prospect of which makes many countries within the region uneasy or annoyed.

Australia’s exit from Asia is all but accomplished with its adoption of US policy toward China. This denies the primacy China enjoys in the region and acknowledgement of the dominant role it will play throughout the Pacific and indeed the world in the near future. Australia has made a very bad and costly call.

The following article appeared in Pearls and Irritations on 13 December 2021.

The trials of Witness K, a former ASIS officer who blew the whistle on the unusual activities of his organisation, and Bernard Collaery, who was briefed to represent his interests and then charged by the Commonwealth for disclosing classified information, have been a travesty of justice.

Seeking advantage in negotiations with Timor Leste over a joint maritime boundary that would give Australia greater access to oil and natural gas, Australia bugged the Timor Leste cabinet room in 2004 where confidential discussion on the issue took place.

At the time Howard was Prime Minister and Downer Foreign Minister. The present Treasurer, Josh Frydenburg worked for Howard from 2003-2005 and Dave Sharma, the member for Wentworth worked for Downer from 2004-2006. It is unlikely that both did not know about the bugging. David Irvine, AO, was Director-General of ASIS from 2003-2009. ASIS undertook the bugging. ASIS answered to Downer, as Foreign Minister, so presumably Downer authorised the bugging. A beneficiary was Woodside Petroleum. Downer became a consultant to Woodside in 2008. It was the misuse of ASIS resources to achieve an unfair advantage for Australia that motivated Witness K to blow the whistle.

As Attorney-General, George Brandis was apparently reluctant to pursue the matter, Christian Porter, who replaced him, showed no such reluctance, presumably keen to curry favour with Howard and Downer by preventing through legal process, further truths from emerging as to the role an Australian agency played in achieving unfair commercial advantage.

Porter and now Cash have argued for the trial to be held in secrecy under provisions of the National Security Information (Criminal and Civil proceedings) Act, 2004. At the time of introduction, I argued the Act had the potential to be misused to protect illegal undertakings by the state. I pointed to similar Acts in apartheid South Africa which had been used against opponents of apartheid. Now we see the NSI being used as I foresaw.

Cash has sought to further delay justice by presenting ‘additional secret evidence’, without a hearing and consideration by Collaery’s legal team. This ‘evidence’ is apparently in the form of affidavits sworn by ASIS staff to the effect that the actions of Witness K and Collaery have damaged the ability of ASIS to gather intelligence. As a former foreign service officer can I say this is nonsense. What most damages ASIS intelligence gathering is poor training, management and alcohol. Any statement obtained from serving ASIS officers can be regarded as having been obtained under duress. Their careers are on the line.

In seeking to defend the already tarnished reputations of Howard and Downer, Cash has appealed to the High Court to keep a judgement by ACT Chief Justice, Helen Murrell, that found closing the case to the public would damage confidence in the justice system. Cash is arguing to the High Court that information on that judgement is likely to prejudice national security!

The Court of Appeal earlier ruled that the case should be held in open court and sent the matter back to presiding Justice Mossop, who has struggled with the spurious issues of national security in this case and adherence to the principle of open justice.

Cash and Porter have succeeded in making the legal process in this matter messy and unfair. The AFP raided Collaery’s home and obtain evidence which was used against him and Witness K. The case stands as a significant abuse of the Australian system of Justice. It reminds me of the abuse of the South African legal system under apartheid, which I witnessed first-hand from 1976-79. That Australia now finds itself in a similar position is a terrible indictment.

In terms of the denial and perversion of justice, the prosecution and trial of Collaery and Witness K might be likened to the 1894 trial of Dreyfus in Paris, which became known as the Dreyfus Affair.

Captain Alfred Dreyfus, an artillery officer, was convicted in a closed court, on false evidence of giving French military secrets to the German Embassy in Paris. Georges Picquart, head of military counter-intelligence subsequently identified the real culprit as Major Ferdinand Esterhazy. A military court acquitted him after 2 days. Additional charges on forged evidence were brought against Dreyfus.

Dreyfus was a Jew and the French General Staff, and the court were anti-Jewish. The trial and the issues surrounding it divided France. Emile Zola was moved to write an open letter in defence of Dreyfus, called ‘J’Accuse’.

Another trial resulted from a considerable body of public opinion coming out for Dreyfus, not only in France but around the world. Again, Dreyfus was convicted in closed court on the basis of a secret dossier of forged information sent to the judges. However, it was overkill and way too much for public opinion and Dreyfus was pardoned. In 1906 he was exonerated and promoted to Major. He served in WW1, unlike most of his military accusers, and rose to Colonel. He died in 1935.

In October 2021, that great friend of Australia, President Emmanuel Macron, opened a museum dedicated to Dreyfus in the Paris suburb of Medan.

Writing in Pearls and Irritations, the Allan Myers Professor of Law at the Australian Catholic University, Spencer Zifcak said, ‘The Collaery case is, perhaps, the most important case ever brought before the Australian courts concerning the extent and limits of freedom of public and political communication in this country. The government’s determination to undermine such fundamental democratic rights is a clear indication that it is willing to act ideologically and illiberally rather than in a manner consistent with core principles underlying liberal democracy. Freedom of the press and whistleblower protections are always the first targets of a repressive state.’

And just as Dreyfus was persecuted as a Jew, Collaery and Witness K have been persecuted for defending the rights of the East Timorese against the greed of powerful individuals and organisations like Woodside Petroleum.

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and former diplomat.

The following article appeared in Pearls & Irritations on 2 December, 2021.

The day after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre, the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, without reference to the Australian Parliament, invoked Article IV of the ANZUS Treaty in support of the US and its proposed attack on the Taliban in Afghanistan. Australian troops served in Afghanistan until the end of 2002, when they were withdrawn. They redeployed in August 2005 on Operation Slipper under the Special Forces Task Group. By 2008 the ADF brief involved training and mentoring Afghan security forces.

The Minister for Defence, Senator John Faulkner, told Parliament in June 2010 that, ‘Our fundamental objective in Afghanistan is to combat a clear threat from international terrorism to both international security and our own national security. Australia cannot afford, and Australians cannot afford, to let Afghanistan again become a safe haven and training ground for terrorist organisations.’

The precipitate US withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021 is likely to once again make Afghanistan a breeding ground for terrorism. No provision was made with the occupying forces of the Taliban for the welfare of the civilian population. Food is short, there is little work, the cash economy has collapsed and the US refuses to release $12 billion of Afghan reserves. Winter is approaching, by next summer, those young men who survive will be very angry and putty in the hands of ISIS.

Australia built a scenario which saw the Afghan military forces taking over security in 2012-14; this wasn’t to be. Acts of terror did not end in Europe. Between 2004 and 2014 there were 15 major terror attacks. And from 2016-2020 there were 59 attacks in major European centres. Clearly the Afghan mission had failed, despite 120,000 troops deployed from 42 countries, although 33 countries contributed less than a 1000 personnel and Austria 2. They were deployed under the auspices of NATO, known as the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

It was clear to me by 2008, having served in Afghanistan with DFAT during the Russian occupation, a family history with the British Army in India and a knowledge of history, that the US inspired expedition was doomed to failure. It was not a view shared by urgers in Canberra and the media.

In May 2007 Professor Rory Medcalf, then with Lowy Institute and now head of the NSC at ANU, wrote in an on-line forum sponsored by ASPI, that, ‘In Afghanistan and Iraq, the US has proven a willingness to inflict and sustain large-scale casualties. This should belie any perception among others – such as China – that the US politically was capable of waging war only of the minimal-risk kind seen in Kosovo… Australia, with its recent decision to send special forces back to Afghanistan, is one of the few US allies willing to risk battle there.’

Writing in the Canberra Times in 2008, Major General Jim Molan, said, ‘The Afghanistan war is winnable. We are not being asked to do the impossible. It is not going to be worse than just about any other war. No wars go well initially and the average length of a counter-insurgency is 9 years. We are really only in the second year and, just as we did not get serious about the Iraq war until its fifth year, we are not yet serious about the Afghan war.’

The ABC reported ASPI, in May 2008, calling for an increase of Australian troops in Afghanistan. An article in the ASPI publication Strategic Insights, Number 40, 2008, by Raspal Khosa, argued a strong case for Australian involvement in Afghanistan.

Australian security expert, Dr David Kilcullen, believed in 2008 that the war in Afghanistan could be won. His views modified with time. Both Gareth Evans and Kim Beazley gave their support to the ADF presence in Afghanistan.

Writing in the ABC on line magazine, The Drum, on 26 March, 2008, I said, ‘Fitzgibbon (the Australian defence minister) is in denial at the prospect of allied military success in Afghanistan. The main backer of the Taliban is Pakistan…The US-dominated NATO command is employing the failed tactics of the Russians and the outcome will be the same.

The Russians tried to train an Afghan army and failed and the prospect looks equally gloomy for NATO. The Afghan army, such as it is, is shouldering very little of the burden…

The British fought three major Afghan wars from 1839 -1919 without gain and the Russians had a most uncomfortable occupation from 1979-1989 with the same result.

The factors defeating these interlopers were topography, the people and the strategic location of Afghanistan and so it will be again…

Australia should seek to engage with all elements in Pakistan who are fostering the Taliban and assisting Osama bin Laden. Australia needs to acquire an independent understanding of the motives and attitudes of the Taliban and their backers.’

In On line Opinion on 5 January, 2009, I said, ‘Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, 19 December, 2008, “Turn the tables on Afghanistan”, retired Australian General, Jim Molan, claims that the success achieved against terrorist in Iraq can be translated to Afghanistan and he calls for an increase of up 6,000 Australian troops.

I think Molan premature when he talks of Iraq being a success. The destabilising effect of the invasion will, in my opinion, be felt within Iraq and the region for another decade at least.

He talks of the Afghan people when in fact there is no such entity. The majority are Pushtuns who dominate and mistreat minority groups including the Hazaras, Tadjiks and Turkmen. Molan ignores the divisive influence of topography on both military activity and nation building and possesses the blind optimism not seen in Australian military and diplomatic analysis since Vietnam.

Molan claims that, “our great weapons are our morality and openness to scrutiny…our information must be truth”, which, unfortunately does not apply to reporting on the war in Afghanistan…the US has learnt none of the lessons of Vietnam. Its presence conveys a sense of occupation, the destruction of property and homes and the deaths of innocents, translates into recruits prepared to fight for a war lord, the Taliban or whoever else will arm and fed them…

The policy driving the war and the manner in which it is being prosecuted makes the war in Afghanistan unwinnable. Terrorism is founded in belief, ideology and emotion. Does anyone in the western alliance seriously believe they can blast, kill and maim their way to a victory in which no known terrorist is left standing in Afghanistan?’

And I wrote this in early 2009 when ASPI and other right-wing organisations and individuals were advocating troop increases and declaring victory in sight.

Writing in ABC, The Drum, in October 2009, I posed a number of questions, ‘Policy makers in Australia need to ask what it is 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 short and long term on the lives of Australians? And this is not intended to goad the AFP into conjuring up confected baddies from the ranks of the misguided and dispossessed.

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 downside and if so, what is it? Is it vital to our national interest to be putting the lives of young Australians on the line over Afghanistan?

ASPI and right-wing camp followers never sought answers to those questions and the LNP did not seek to ask them. Rudd made half an attempt but was slapped down by the US.

In November 2011, again writing in The Drum, I addressed what had become known as green on blue killings ‘To believe that the Australian commitment to Afghanistan has not changed as a result of the killing of three Australian and two Afghan soldiers by Afghan soldiers said to be loyal to the Australian military contingent, is to ignore some basic human emotions and to ignorantly or wilfully misunderstand the average Australian soldier.’

There had been a similar attack in October, 2011 and another in August 2012. By far the largest number of war crimes committed by Australian soldiers occurred in 2012 and 2013. Both sides by 2012 loathed each other, racism on the part of NATO soldiers was a feature of their existence in Afghanistan, as it had been for US troops in Vietnam.

I finished the article with, ‘The war in Afghanistan can’t be won, and Afghanistan isn’t ours – or anyone else’s – to lose. Australia will not form part of the peace process or be required to broker a peace deal. Many lives have been lost, many others ruined and money squandered in Afghanistan, but it is not a sign of weakness to admit that we’ve made a mistake. Rhetoric about progress being made will not re-cast the war in a more favourable light. It is what it is. Futile.’

It is not by co-incidence that the same people who backed the war in Afghanistan, led by ASPI, are now at the forefront of the anti-China push. They segued from fighting Islamic terrorists in Afghanistan to fighting Asian communists in China. These are angry and fearful people. They were wrong about Afghanistan. The Intelligence they relied on needs to be questioned whether Five Eyes or domestic agencies. Too often their analysis appears to fit western ideology, political imperatives and the needs of the Industrial/Military Complex than the situation on the ground.

Bruce Haigh is a retired Diplomat who has served in Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, the Middle East, Asia and Africa. He writes and comments on International and domestic issues. He was a Member of the Refugee Review Tribunal.