Saturday, 22 September 2007

Rudd’s foreign affairs credentials

Greg Sheridan has a piece in today’s Oz about Kevin Rudd’s strong credentials when it comes to foreign affairs. Given Sheridan’s usual spin, this is a little surprising.

He points out that Rudd has three major concerns – keeping our alliance with the US at the centre of our national security policy, reviving the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and halting the level of strategic drift in Melanesia.

He goes as far as admitting that “intellectually, (Rudd is) the most qualified new Prime Minister in foreign affairs since at least World War Two.”

The international security situation, particularly in the Middle East, demands that whoever is in the PM’s seat in the immediate future will need to be both skilful and pragmatic.

Looking at the field, I agree with Sheridan that Labor’s man is the most capable available.

Friday, 21 September 2007

The Big E

In the lead-up to the current election campaign, dear fellow blogger, we’ve heard a great deal about the coalition’s economic credentials. The thirty year old shibboleth around Whitlam’s mismanagement of the economy is routinely dragged out, dusted down, and displayed for all to see. (For those born since that time, it’s probably as relevant as the legend of King O’Malley, and has about as much substance).

It’s refreshing to read Michael Costello take on this in today’s Oz –

“It has dawned on voters that the Coalition simply does not get contemporary economic reality. The Coalition still thinks economic management is just about running budget surpluses and keeping down debt. As Wayne Swan has hammered with increasing success, both with business and in the wider community, although that's necessary, in modern Australia it's no longer enough.”

and –

“The truth is the Coalition has had it easy, managing the economy during 11 years of extraordinary global boom. It's Labor that managed the economy during tough global economic times for 13 years and. with the support of far-sighted trade union leaders (that's right, trade union leaders), revolutionised our economic future.
The voters are seeing in Swan a shadow treasurer deeply engaged with contemporary economic realities and the business community, backed by an avowedly fiscal conservative in Labor leader Rudd.”

Sure, I know Costello’s background, but his economic credentials are sound (previously Deputy-Managing Director of the Australian Stock Exchange and a Director of Export Finance Insurance Corporation and the Australian Trade Commission), and he understands the Labor Party.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

People Like Us

Heard a report yesterday about a new publication called “People Like Us” (Picador), by Waleed Aly, a Muslim lawyer from Melbourne. In this book, Walid Aly has put forward some interesting ideas about terrorism.
He maintains that Osama Bin Laden has no organisational influence on terrorism in the name of Islam, but provides a powerful symbolic presence. Walid Aly argues that the major terrorist threat is now from what he describes as “amateurs”, in other words, disaffected young Muslims who basically recruit themselves, inspired by Bin Laden’s rhetoric.
This presents a major challenge for national security in Western countries, as they now will have to deal with terrorists who are home-grown, unknown to the authorities, and operating in isolation without coordination. The metaphor he uses is that of a “liquid threat”.
He describes trying to eliminate them using conventional force as like hitting a ball of mercury with a sledge hammer. The mercury simply scatters and reforms in a different form in a different location.
Developing effective ways of dealing with this must be concentrating the minds of the agencies concerned. It sounds as if a great deal of lateral thinking will be required. Lateral thinking is not usually a hallmark of security agencies.

Can't let this pass .............

There has been a flood of comment about Dr Peter Phelps attack on Col. Mike Kelly (ALP candidate for Eden-Monaro). Groups as diverse as the Jewish Board of Deputies, the RSL and the Vietnam Veterans Association have reacted strongly – but I really can’t let it pass, as basically it makes me angry – but not as much as it did thirty-two years ago…………

Phelps attacked Kelly on the basis that he went to war without believing that the cause was just – and is therefore a hypocrite - or at least that how I read his comments. It’s apparent that he was actually seeking to undermine Kelly’s credibility and using the most bizarre comparisons to Nazi guards in Belsen in WW2 to do so. As Gary Nairn is under pressure in Eden-Monaro, I can understand his motive, but his behaviour can only be described as ignorant and offensive. It’s also apparent that the apology came as a result of orders from above and therefore lacks sincerity.

There are two important issues here –

In a democracy a soldier is sent to war by the people who elected the government of the day. I’d assume Peter Phelps was one of those people. The responsibility for the deployment doesn’t lie with the soldier.

Once that soldier returns to civilian life he/she has the same rights as everyone else to hold a political opinion and to nominate for election. To turn against an ex-soldier because he has the gall to nominate for a party which has a different view of the conflict is a denial of this principle.

It’s pretty obvious that Kelly’s experience in Iraq and elsewhere lends credibility to the ALP policy, and this is the problem for Phelps. He’s also a very impressive candidate (AM, Ph D, etc), with strong links to the electorate of Eden-Monaro.

It’s nothing new of course, and the reason it resonates is because of personal experience. In the bitter 1975 federal election, my father and I went to vote at a polling booth in Newmarket in Brisbane. My dad was never backward in coming forward, and took with him to his grave an enormous amount of bitterness about my service in Vietnam as a Nasho. When an over-enthusiastic Liberal staffer pushed a how-to-vote card under my nose, my dad said “You’re wasting your time mate – he’s a Vietnam Veteran and won’t be voting for your lot”.

The response from this bloke was –

Vietnam wasn’t a real war, and you weren’t fighting for me over there.”

From there, my dad had to lead me off in one direction, whilst the other staffers took this bloke off in the opposite, as a red mist descended. I’ve settled down a bit since then.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Bob & Peter

I don’t know about you, fellow blogger, but I’m browned of by the faux election campaign and its reporting in the national media.

What I object to is spin, hypocrisy, and the culture of our political debate which is largely driven by a thirst for power instead of a pursuit of principle. I would have thought that this is where blogging has a place – it short circuits all this crud and creates an alternative.

Can I suggest a different political culture – one where we vote not for a party but for a local member? I know it’s naïve, but it’s what our founding fathers intended. It is interesting to conjecture what kind of governance we’d have if every single voter followed this principle.

There are two politicians I admire – both Independents.

One is Peter Andren, Independent member for Calare, tragically stricken with cancer which will end his political career. Peter always demonstrated true independence which requires courage.

The other is Bob Katter, Independent member for Kennedy. For five years in the early nineties I worked in a regional educational administration job in Mt Isa. Bob’s Office was across the road. Every now and again you would see his big hat approaching, with Bob advocating politely and earnestly for one of his constituents. Often he would have the constituent in tow. The fact that I worked in a state jurisdiction and that Bob was a Federal member was neither here nor there. Usually it could be sorted out at local level, and Bob would always have the best interests of his constituent in mind, irrespective of race, political persuasion or sobriety.

We could do with a parliament wall-to-wall with Independents who saw their prime responsibility to their constituents rather than to an ideology.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

American Survey - Perceptions of Iraqi Deaths

I came across this very interesting article on line in The Huffington Post, published on February 24th, 2007. It’s a report of an AP-Ipsos poll conducted across the US looking at American attitudes to deaths in Iraq.-

In substance, it found that Americans are keenly aware of how many US soldiers have been killed in Iraq, but woefully underestimate the number of Iraqi civilians who have been killed.

“When the poll was conducted earlier this month, a little more than 3,100 U.S. troops had been killed. The midpoint estimate among those polled was right on target, at about 3,000.”

Whereas –

“The U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq reports more than 34,000 deaths in 2006 alone. Among those polled for the AP survey, however, the median estimate of Iraqi deaths was 9,890. The median is the point at which half the estimates were higher and half lower.”

I wonder what this means? Is it a product of the media coverage, or maybe the people surveyed had friends and connections in the military. Perhaps ignorance is part of the explanation. Americans I met in Vietnam as long ago as 1970 demonstrated a profound ignorance of history and geography except as it applied to the USA, and when it came to their own country, their knowledge was spot on.

The few I met in Singapore, Malaysia, and Vietnam during the past few years weren’t much better. What I did notice was that American backpackers (the young ones) had a better knowledge than those Americans of my generation, but it was limited to countries they had personally visited.

The only conclusion I could come to was that this was a product of their education system.

It’s an issue when we understand the profound influence the US exerts on world affairs through projection of power. It may also explain why some of them vote for a President like GW Bush.

Pretty frightening really!


Maybe it’s time to accept the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group. It's downloadable from

The thrust of the recommendations is to move the emphasis from the military, and towards diplomacy (Recommendations 1 – 7), and to involve the UN (Recommendations 7, 10, 14 & 17). It’s a good read.
Mick Kielty, one of the straightest shooters around was hauled across the coals when he stated the bleeding obvious, that our involvement in Iraq has made Australia more of a target than it was prior to the war. Young marginalized Muslims are taking the notion of Jihad seriously, and there’s a fair chance that sooner or later some ratbag will succeed in killing a lot of Aussies on home soil.
The ISG provides a blueprint to get us out of the quagmire, but I can’t see Bush taking it seriously. If the Americans see themselves as bastions of freedom and democracy, they need to engage in multilateral activity. Bush presents a macho image – he wears flying suits on aircraft carriers – and his diplomacy reflects this. I don’t think he has any of the qualities of a statesman, and is out of his depth. We can be thankful he wasn’t in the Whitehouse during the Cuban missile crisis.

Bush’s attitude reminds me very much of the Yanks I encountered in Vietnam. One GI wanted to punch me because in conversation in a bar in Vung Tau I had the hide to refer to American cars as “Yank tanks”. I have a great respect for American people and their institutions, but a national psyche which is inward-looking and arrogant, and can’t abide any opinion except its own is dangerous. This hubris is not a characteristic of most Americans, but it is a feature of the clique holding power and making policy today.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Greenspan & Iraq

Alan Greenspan, 18 years as head of the US Federal Reserve, has hit the headlines by his declaration that the Americans are in Iraq because of oil. Funny thing about this is not that it’s a revelation, but that someone commanding Greenspan’s respect has made the “but the king’s got no clothes” statement.

And he’s a died-in-the-wool Republican!

I guess that means that we’re in Iraq also because of the oil – our foreign policy decisions seem to emanate from Washington. There are many Australians who didn’t need Alan Greenspan to state the bleeding obvious.

Sunday, 16 September 2007


Our political leaders, or at least those in government, are fond of telling us that we’ve never had it so good – you know the quote – “Australia’s working families” …..etc.

In many senses, this can’t be disputed, especially as it refers to material possessions.

The same isn’t true when it’s applied to many basic services. Amongst these, I’d count dental and basic medical services. When I was a kid, most of these basic services that my family received were provided by government services and were local.

That’s not true any more. The publicly-funded services are in theory still available, but in practice, even in regional cities like the one I live in, they are sub-standard, with waiting lists and staff shortages.

So what has changed?

Perhaps I’m naïve, but I believe that notion that any service that can make a profit should be privatized has a lot to do with it. There is a belief (which has been embraced completely by corporate managers), that unless competition forms a part of any organised activity, the outcomes will be sub-standard. This principle (called, I believe “contestability”), has crossed the Pacific, and colonized the thought processes of corporate managers, both public and private, in much the same way as the cane toad colonized Northern Australia.

Unschooled as I am in corporate managerialism, I can’t for the life of me see how competition makes any difference to efficiency and effectiveness, unless perhaps your business is producing toilet rolls, and your employees respond like Pavlov’s dogs.

It is out of place in human services, yet has been so completely embraced that anyone foolish enough to be critical is destined for the corporate doghouse.

As I said, I’m obviously naïve, because I believe that the majority of people working in human services do so because they enjoy it and believe they can make a difference.

Perhaps more to the point, the notion is most appropriately applied to the market, and not every form of human endeavour can be designed or described as a market, despite the best efforts of those exercising financial power and influence.

Hugh White - Without America

Hugh White is always provocative, and doesn't pull any punches when it comes to criticising current defence policy. In 1995, he was appo...