Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Arms race?
The government’s China rhetoric is disturbingly warlike

The increasingly bellicose rhetoric around China is frightening, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison today openly canvassing the possibility of “high-intensity military conflict” between our largest trading partner and our strong ally the United States. Speaking to military cadets at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra for the launch of the government’s 2020 Defence Strategic Update, the PM invoked World War Two, saying, “We have not seen the conflation of global economic and strategic uncertainty now being experienced here in Australia, in our region, since the existential threat we faced when the global and regional order collapsed in the 1930s and 1940s.” Morrison went on to say he had been revisiting the 1930s period “on a very regular basis, and when you connect both the economic challenges and the global uncertainty, it can be very haunting”. What could be more alarming than comparing the rising tensions between the US and China in a post-pandemic world, with the rise of fascism in the wake of the Great Depression and the drift towards WWII almost a century ago? As the Lowy Institute’s research fellow Natasha Kassam reminded us on the ABC, it was only six years ago that China’s President Xi Jinping was here, speaking in the federal parliament. To the extent that the latest warmongering serves the political purposes of a wayward and dangerous Trump administration, in what are likely its last months, Australia should play no part in it. 

The centrepiece of the new strategy, flagged in most papers this morning, including the SMH/Age, is the purchase of 200 long-range anti-ship missiles capable of striking targets hundreds of kilometres away, as part of a new focus on protecting Australia and its allies in the Indo-Pacific region, rather than equipping ourselves to join more disastrous US military offensives in the Middle East. Next may come the purchase of hypersonic land-based missiles, which would signal an aggressive new posture for Australia. Although the new strategy comes with a $270 billion price tag over the next decade, there was no new big-ticket spending program today. Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said Labor would respect the tradition of nonpartisanship on Australia’s defence, and said that today’s announcement was consistent with the strategy in the 2016 Defence White Paper. Moreover, Albanese supported the Indo-Pacific focus, which was in line with Labor’s “long-standing position to call for an increased focus on regional defence”. 

The prime minister appears to be stoking fears about China on almost a daily basis – sometimes with good apparent reason, sometimes not. Yesterday it was a $1.35 billion cybersecurity strategy, including the intention to hire 500 new spies at the Australian Signals Directorate. Shadow home affairs minister Kristina Keneally was supportive, but she accused the government of playing catch-up, rehashing promises originally made in 2016 that were never delivered on, and ultimately allowing its cybersecurity strategy to lapse. She called it an announcement, not a strategy, and panned the lack of a proper process for hiring the new ASD workers. “Asking people to put up their hand and contact Linda Reynolds’ office directly is not a recruitment strategy for our cybersecurity workforce,” she said. On Friday, ASIO and the AFP raised the home and office of NSW Labor MP Shaoquett Moselmane, as part of their investigation of foreign interference by China. A fortnight ago, the PM and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds solemnly declared Australia was under attack from a sophisticated, state-based actor – and later had to clarify, in a shambolic press conference, that the attack had been going on for months.

Perhaps the PM is simply asserting the Coalition’s national security credentials ahead of Saturday’s Eden-Monaro byelection. If so, it’s as irresponsible as proposing to move Australia’s Israeli embassy to Jerusalem in the middle of the Wentworth byelection. To be fair to the government, there is no doubt that China under President Xi is increasingly threatening to Australia. Only yesterday, the Chinese government passed draconian security laws in Hong Kong, which will no doubt cause new applications for asylum here. Last night, investigative journalist and former reporter for The Australian Anthony Klan revealed that the Chinese shareholders of Virgin had hidden plans to develop the nation’s biggest flight-training school in Tamworth, NSW, with potentially worrying strategic implications. 

It all seems to be heading in one direction. Australia should be a force for peace between China and the US, not encouraging a new Cold War by entering an exorbitantly expensive arms race.

“The ABC literally saved lives over this period in this region, as well as in the Adelaide Hills, on Kangaroo Island, on the north coast of New South Wales, in the Gippsland region. The ABC is what we rely upon during critical emergency events as a nation, and we should value it.”

Anthony Albanese, campaigning in the seat of Eden-Monaro ahead of the byelection, pledges that if Labor is elected it will reverse the 2018 indexation freeze that has cut the ABC’s budget by $84 million.

“The time and effort that must go into the preparation and the bureaucracy that sits behind all of these tied grants – if you somehow quantified what that amount was and gave the states a percentage of that as part of what they generate in income tax … [that] is something that I think certainly should be looked at, on a revenue-neutral basis from where we sit today.”

NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet, on a report by the NSW Review of Federal Financial Relations that calls for a higher GST and reprises the idea of states getting a share of personal income tax revenue.

Existential threat: Murdoch and the ABC
As the ABC absorbs hundreds of job cuts, the government has commissioned another report into its operations – closely mirroring the concerns of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. The review is due in time for the next federal budget.


The number of new coronavirus cases recorded in Victoria overnight, marking the 15th day in a row of double-digit increases.

“Under the new SIP laws, NBN Co will have a statutory obligation to provide broadband services that are able to achieve peak download and upload speeds of at least 25/5 Megabits per second. NBN Co must also provide at least 90 per cent of premises on its fixed-line network with peak broadband speeds of 50/10 Megabits per second. Where NBN Co is not the default network provider – for example, where other network operators have contracts to service new developments – those operators will also be required to meet these requirements.”

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher announces that, under legislation effective today, all Australians will have access to fast broadband as well as a phone service.

The list

“Yet, menace though he is, and fervent as our hopes might be that he will soon be voted out, Donald Trump is not the most alarming thing in the present American debacle. He will go, sooner or later, but whether it’s this November or four years hence, the divisions in American society will remain. And, so long as one of the two great factions has made widening them its operating principle, they will widen. So long as it is in the interests of money and the media to widen them, they will widen.”

“When serious pressure began at the turn of the century for governments to reduce carbon emissions, many cultural warriors transformed smoothly into climate warriors. Although the issues were very different, the enemies were mostly the same, which for many politicians is what counts. The fossil-fuel lobby deliberately stoked the polarisation, fostered climate change denialism among Australia’s conservative political elites, and rewarded its political advocates with jobs. But it could not have created the climate wars so easily without the preceding culture wars.”

“In 2018-19, 4.3 million Australians were prescribed mental health-related medications (subsidised and under co-payment), totalling 39 million prescriptions. Seventy per cent of these were for antidepressants, predominantly prescribed by GPs. Such statistics have experts concerned that we’re now in a cycle of overdiagnosis and overmedication.”

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Body Count: How Climate Change Is Killing Us, Inside the Greens and Born To Rule: The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull.


The Monthly Today

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No, ex-minister

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Cold comfort

The Morrison government gave us a recession we didn’t have to have

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