- Landmark new report calls for Australia to ‘stand on our own two feet’ and ‘chart our own course’ in foreign policy
- The preparation for war is all too evident but we must instead work urgently for peace
- IPAN National Conference and Inquiry Report Launch, 22-24th November, 2022 in Canberra
More evidence of Howard-Government incompetence
#AsioSubmission">Evidence presented to the Clarke Commission affirms that ASIO had NO information related to UK attempted Glasgow Airport attack or any "terrorist plot" in Australia.
One wonders where the fear, paranoia, and loathing that incarcerated Haneef for 26 days originated - AFP? Immigration? Cabinet? PM? An abusive exploitation of Australia's Anti-Terrorism legislation, hastily forced through Parliament by the Howard administration. Leaks, rumours, and inuendoes from then-Immigration Minister Andrews, AFP Chief Keelty, and other government and law enforcement officials.
Was ASIO not consulted? Were ASIO's views discounted, discredited? We invade Iraq based on ASIO's assessment and ignore ASIO's advice when it doesn't satisfy political needs?
What kind of a country is Australia becoming?
#AsioSubmission" id="AsioSubmission">Appendix: Excerpt from ASIO's submission to the Clarke inquiry into the case of Dr Mohamed Haneef
"ASIO conducted an intelligence investigation in relation to Dr Haneef and provided analytical support to the AFP. ASIO did not detain or question Dr Haneef. ASIO was not involved in the decisions to arrest, charge, prosecute or release Dr Haneef. Beyond providing advice that it did not have sufficient grounds to issue an adverse security assessment in respect of Dr Haneef, ASIO was not involved in the decisions to cancel Dr Haneef's Australian visa or to issue a criminal justice certificate.
"In conducting its intelligence investigation, ASIO considered whether Dr Haneef posed a threat to security and provided advice across government on this issue. ASIO participated in whole-of-government meetings in relation to Dr Haneef. ASIO's consistent advice was that, based on available information, ASIO did not assess Dr Haneef as a threat to security and did not have grounds to issue an adverse security assessment. In the early days of the investigation, ASIO nevertheless considered further investigation of Dr Haneef was warranted.
"In written advice to the [Howard] government and various agencies on July 11, 2007, ASIO reported that while it continued to progress its inquiries, it did not have information to indicate Dr Haneef had any involvement in or foreknowledge of the UK terror acts [on June 30 at Glasgow airport]. Nor was there any information to indicate Dr Haneef was undertaking planning for a terrorist attack in Australia or overseas. ASIO issued several threat assessments concerning the potential threat to security posed by Dr Haneef. Those assessments consistently indicated there was [nothing] indicating any specific, credible terrorist threat in Australia linked to the UK attacks. ASIO also provided written submissions to then attorney-general, the hon. Philip Ruddock …
Cited in How ASIO's chief played pass the Haneef parcel of 2 Aug 08 by Alan Ramsey in the Sydney Morning Herald
In some popular left-wing versions of history, the Conservative Australian Governments of Lyons and Menzies which governed Australia in the 1930's are depicted as appeasers of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan. Also they are depicted as having subordinated Australia's own national economic and strategic interests to that of the United Kingdom. However historian Andrew Ross in Armed and Ready - the Industrial development and defence of Australia 1900-1945(1995) has shown that this view is borne of the acceptance at face value of the double game that Australian Governments were playing with Great Britain.
In some popular left-wing versions of history, the Conservative Australian Governments of Lyons and Menzies which governed Australia in the 1930's are depicted as appeasers of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan. Also they are depicted as having subordinated Australia's own national economic and strategic interests to that of the United Kingdom.
However, Andrew Ross's Armed and Ready - the Industrial development and defence of Australia 1900-1945 of 1995 shows that, in fact, Australia was a beneficiary of favourable terms with the UK between the two world wars. The UK discriminated in favour of Australian primary exports against those of Argentina.
(In 1932) the Australian meat trade was collapsing under competition from Argentina. The problem was that Australia produced a low quality frozen beef and lamb, whereas the product from Argentina was of a much better quality and generally cheaper. Furthermore, Argentina had perfected the technique of chilling beef which had resulted in a product with much more taste than frozen beef or mutton. The Australians wanted increased duty on Argentinian meat so that Australian meat could be more cost competitive, and they also wanted greater access to the British market. Restrictions on foreign butter and fruit, and other dairy produce, were also demanded so that Australian goods could gain a greater share.
The situation was complicated for Britain which had important trade links with foreigners. Argentina, for example, had borrowed large sums of capital from Britain and looked to her meat trade to pay off her debts. Britain did not wish to encourage her to default. Other foreign nations were important as markets for British goods and paid for them exports of primary products to Britain. Thus Britain could not radically change these relationships in the manner required by the Australians, and whatever Britain conceded had to be balanced by increased exports to Australia to make up for what might be lost in trade elsewhere.(page 80)
Thus efforts by Australia to develop a manufacturing base capable of guaranteeing self-reliance in the event of war with Japan through protective tariffs or directly through government manufacturing enterprises would have run counter to British needs and would have put at risk Australia's favourable trading relationship with Britain. To get around this problem, Australian governments, both Labor and Conservative, played a double game, pretending to favour British manufacturing imports whilst secretly pursuing policies which built up Australia's manufacturing sector at the expense of British exporting manufacturers. It is from this duplicity that some historians have formed the false impression that Australian Governments were sycophantic towards British interests.
Australia had been pursuing a policy of self-reliance since at least 1920 largely under the guidance of the visionary public servant A. E. Leighton. As Ross showed, Leighton's goals were essentially achieved, with the support, more or less, of all Australian governments, by the time of the outbreak of the Pacific war in December 1941, notwithstanding bungles and errors of judgement. The Japanese Army in March 1942, that is before the Battle of the Coral Sea, which had been wrongly held by conventional historians as what saved Australia, vetoed a plan by the Japanese Navy to invade Australia. This was based on the Japanese Army's accurate assessment of the capability of Australian industry to sustain a fighting force capable of successfully resisting the forces it would be able to land on the continent by June 1942 (Ross, p409) which is the earliest possible date on which invasion could have been attempted.
Thus the view of inter-war governments, or at least the Conservative inter-war governments, as short-sighted appeasers is wrong.
However, one surprising omission from "Armed and Ready" is the Pig-Iron dispute of 1939, where the Lyons Government with Menzies as Attorney-General, clashed with waterside workers in order to force them to load a ship bound for Japan whose armed forces were waging a war of aggression against China. Further information about this can be found in the article Pig Iron in the journal of the Maritime Union of Australia. Another online article "Menzies the Appeaser" by Rob Gowland of 25 August 2008 in the archives of the reformed Communist Party of Australia promotes this simplified view of the Lyons and Menzies Governments. The credibility of this article, which attacks Menzies alleged appeasement of Hitler, Mussolini and Japan, is damaged by its silence on the Stalin-Hitler pact which was in force at the same time.
Historians agree that the Pacific war was made inevitable by the curtailment of supplies to Japan by western nations in 1940 and, more so, by the total embargo placed on Japan by the US in July 1942. The surprise attack on Pearl Harbour, Hong Kong, Malaya, the Philippines, the Dutch East Indies, Burma and the Australian South Pacific colonies in order to secure Japan's supplies of raw materials was the anticipated response, notwithstanding the spectacular scale of the defeats suffered by the western allies in the early stages of the war.
As morally questionable as Menzies' actions in the Pig Iron dispute were, in the light of his government's capable preparations for the conflict with Japan, it would probably be fairer, in the light of the evidence, to view them as a delaying tactic rather than as being borne of an intention to appease the Japanese militarists at any cost. Wherever the truth lies, it is not as back and white as some like to see it.
See also Online Opinion article "The myth of the Howard Government's defence competence" of 21 Nov 2007 and forum,
Online Opinion forum discussion "Can Australia ever be self-reliant for national defence?" of 27 Jul 2007
The same opinion polls which predict that John Howard will lose the election on 24 November, nevertheless, also consistently show that Australians still perceive his Government to be competent at handling Australia's defence, or at least more capable than the Labor Opposition. The figures given in the 23 October NewsPoll were 43 per cent to 39 per cent in Howard's favour.
However, this perception is not borne out by the evidence. Although Australia was once governed by leaders who capably managed our defence, this is no longer the case.
Andrew Ross's meticulously researched book Armed and Ready published in 1995 conclusively shows, contrary to the widely promoted myth, that Australia was ready to face a Japanese invasion in 1942 thanks to the visionary work of a number of far-sighted politicians, both conservative and Labor, public servants and industrialists. Since the 1920's they worked hard to make Australia capable of defending itself without any need for the supply of military equipment from elsewhere as had been the case in the First World War. The policy goal was to become known as "self containment".
As a consequence, after war was declared in Europe in September 1939, Australia was able to rapidly convert its peace-time economy so that by June 1942, which is the earliest date before which Japan could possibly have launched an invasion, Australia had eight fully equipped Army divisions and an air force that was at least capable of denying them total air supremacy. Supplies for this defending force would have been maintained by one of the world's most advanced industrialised economies of the time using local raw materials. What little Australia could not have supplied itself could have been obtained from overseas as the invading Japanese would not have been able to maintain an effective naval blockade without having first captured a port the size of Sydney or Melbourne.
Short of the United States reaching a separate peace with Japan, there was no realistic prospect that an invasion could have succeeded. It is for this reason that the Japanese Army vetoed a plan by the Japanese Navy to invade Australia before the US victory at the Battle of the Coral Sea in March 1942.
After the Japanese advance was stopped Australia played the major role until 1943 supplying the manpower and military hardware which drove back the Japanese on land. Of Australia's contribution to the Allied war effort, US President Truman was to say in 1946:
"On balance, the contribution made by Australia, a country having a population of about seven millions, approximately equalled the United States". (Report to congress on Lend Lease, 27 Dec 1946, cited in Armed and Ready)
Moving forward 65 years to 2007, how does the Howard Government's record stand against the proud record of its ideological predecessors?
Informed Australians understand that in the broader sense of looking after Australia's defence needs by pre-empting likely causes of armed conflict, the Howard Government is a dismal failure. Its role in starting the Iraq war, having previously allowed AU$296 (all dollar figures are Australian dollars unless stated otherwise stated) in bribes to be paid to the regime of Saddam Hussein, has undoubtedly made the world a more dangerous place and raised Australia's own profile in the eyes of terrorist organisations. Furthermore, John Howard's sabotage of international efforts to confront the problem of global warming has exacerbated a threat which even the Pentagon considers greater than that of terrorism.
However, many Australians may be surprised to also learn that the militarily aggressive Howard Government has, paradoxically, been no more competent in safeguarding Australia's security even in the more narrow sense of managing its defence forces.
This has been shown categorically in the groundbreaking book National Insecurity - The Howard Government's betrayal of Australia published earlier this year and, more recently by the Four Corners documentary Flying Blind, which screened on Australian TV on October 29.
F111 and air supremacy
Flying Blind showed how Prime Minister Howard and his Defence Minister Brendan Nelson have scandalously mismanaged the procurement of replacements for Royal Australian Air Force's (RAAF) ageing, but still capable, fleet of F111 fighter bombers.
The F111's are due to be replaced by the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), but the original decision to purchase the JSF was made counter to all well-established defence force equipment procurement procedures. In June 2002 during a visit to the US, aircraft manufacturer Lockheed Martin made a presentation to the Prime Minister in his hotel room. During the presentation John Howard suddenly agreed to purchase the fighter that was still on the drawing board at a projected cost of $16 billion. According to National Insecurity, he agreed so quickly that even senior Lockheed Martin executives were 'flabbergasted'. "That was just amazing, it stopped everything in the room at the time", said Lockheed's international programs director for the JSF, Mike Consentino, about Australia's surprise announcement. "This was our first international customer so it was a memorable day".
The JSF, however, may not be ready until 2018, and it appeared that the service lives of the F111's and FA18 Hornets were to have been extended with modifications and the use of an abundant supply of cheap spare parts.
This ran counter to the plans of another aircraft manufacturer Boeing, who had seen an opportunity to sell its Super Hornet, for which it was having difficulty finding customers.
At first, the Air Force was not interested in the Super Hornet, but after an F111 wing had cracked during a maintenance test, the new Defence Minister Brendan Nelson seized upon this to convince Cabinet that the Super Hornet was necessary, at a cost of $6.6 billion. It was subsequently found that the crack in the F111 wing had only been caused as a result of a fault in the test design. Professor Hugh White (Deputy Secretary of Defence, 1995-2000) told Four Corners that he could not "recall in Australia decisions of this magnitude ... being made so quickly on such a slender basis of advice".
The Hornet is markedly inferior to its likely adversaries in the region which would include the new Russian built Sukhoi 30's with which the air forces of Indonesia, Malaysia, China and India are soon to be equipped. Retired Air Vice Marshall Peter Criss said to Four Corners, "I cannot believe that we would waste $6.6 billion of the taxpayer's money on an aeroplane that has no practical use against any modern, new generation fighter coming into our arc of interest to our north".
As a consequence of these decisions, Australia stands to lose the regional air supremacy that allowed it to safeguard the independence of East Timor from Indonesia in 1999.
The decisions to buy the JSF and the Super Hornet are not the only questionable defence equipment procurement decisions made by the Howard Government in recent years. Others include:
The M1 Abrams tank
In 2004 Australia agreed at a cost of $539 million to purchase 59 second-hand Abrams M1A1 main battle tanks to replace Australia's current fleet of 100 German-built Leopard tanks purchased by the Whitlam Government in 1974. Due to the necessity having US contractors service the Abrams, rather than domestic contractors, only around 30 are expected to be operational at any one time. In contrast to the life expectancy of the Leopard, which have so far been operational for 25 years, they are expected to last only 10 years.
The Abrams is too heavy for use on Australian bridges and roads. It cannot be airlifted by any of the ADF's transport planes and cannot even be loaded onto any of the Navy's six heavy landing craft, let alone its smaller LCM8 landing craft, so they are entirely unsuited to the defence of the Australian continent and could only conceivably be used as part of joint combat operations with the US.
The Abrams' reputation for indestructibility has been laid to rest by the experience of Iraq where its armour has been penetrated with surprising ease by low-tech bombs and rocket propelled grenades used by Iraqi insurgents. At least 80 have so far been destroyed.
The Collins class submarine combat system
In 2001 the tendering rules for the contract to supply a combat system for the Collins class submarine were changed to make the prime criterion 'interoperability' with the US.
Additionally, in a number of smaller acquisitions, domestic Australian suppliers have been systematically discriminated against.
The Government refused the Army's request to purchase the Australian manufactured Aerosonde Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) used successfully for surveillance in the Solomons in July 2003. Instead of purchasing this proven and relatively cheap technology, the Government opened a tendering process for the supply of a more expensive high-tech version, then cut short the tendering process, instead opting only to field test two systems - both from the US.
According to a report "Auditor lashes $2.1bn frigate upgrade" in The Australian newspaper of 1 Nov 2007, the privatisation of the Australian Defence Industries in 1999 appears to have led to a delay, so far, of four and a half years in the upgrade of six frigates and a $275 million cost blowout. In spite of the blowout, the navy will only be getting four frigate upgrades instead of six. Other projects which have incurred cost blowouts include the navy's Seasprite helicopter, the army's M113 personnel carrier upgrade, the RAAF's Wedgetail surveillance planes and the Tiger reconaissance helicopter. Total cost blowouts for Australia's Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO) are running at $13 billion according to Labor's defence spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon.
An earlier and tragic consequence of outsourcing of defence force responsibilities to private companies was the HMAS Westralia disaster in 1998 in which four sailors were killed in a fire caused by the faulty installation of hoses by poorly trained private contractors.
Australian taxpayers have also yet to learn the costs of the Howard Government's propensity to sell defence force buildings, including housing for defence personnel, to private investors and then to lease them back.
These decisions show a record that compares very unfavourably to that of those previous governments which led the country prior to, and during, the Second World War.
The corporate newsmedia such as Rupert Murdoch's News Limited does nothing to make this fact apparent to its readership. As an example, the scandalous mismanagement of the procurement of the replacement for the F111 reported by Four Corners was not pursued by News Limited or any other of the newsmedia. Instead, it repeatedly reports without comment, NewsPoll results favourable to the Howard Government in this area.
In past elections this perception has helped unravel Labor's election winning lead and even at this late stage a recurrence of this cannot be entirely ruled out. If, as a result, Howard should win a fifth term of office, then the health of Australia's democracy will have been shown, once again, to have been wanting.
This article is largely based upon the following resources:
Linda Weiss, Elizabeth Thurbon and John Mathews, National Insecurity - The Howard Government's betrayal of Australia, 2007, Allen and Unwin, pages 133-173.
The Four Corners episode "Flying Blind", which screened on ABC Television on 29 October, 2007. The transcript is available at: http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/content/2007/s2073943.htm.
Andrew T Ross, Armed and Ready - The Industrial Development and Defence of Australia 1900-1945, 1995, Turton and Armstrong.
#links" id="links">Other useful links
Transcript of of the National Interest's "Fighter jets stalk Nelson" December 2007 of 9 Dec 2007.
Transcript of the National Interest's "Joint Strike Fighter: enough bang for our billions?" of 15 April 2007.
This has been cross-posted to the site of the Southern Cross Party
This book, by by Linda Weiss, Elizabeth Thurbon and John Mathews, the authors of "How to Kill A Country", is a damning expose of how the same Howard Government which cites "Australia's national Interest" as an excuse to sabotage international efforts to act against the threat of global warming, has, in fact, betrayed those very same interests. Subjects covered include Energy, Rural Industries, Culture, Defence and Blood.
In fact, the list is not comprehensive, as, of course, a comprehensive coverage of all of John Howard's betrayals of our national interest would be a truly massive undertaking. Some I would have also included are:
- The Privatisation of Telstra,
- the ongoing export of Australian jobs to low-wage third world economies,
- ramping up immigration to a stratospheric annual rate of 300,000 from only 58,000 in 1996, in spite of Howard having won the 1996 elections largely on the basis of dissatisafaction with Labor's high immigration policies
- the flogging of Australian real estate on the international market, thereby pricing beyond the means of Australians what was affordable to single income working class families barely more than a generation ago.
The chapter on defence(#fn1">1) shows how the Government has overruled all the normal defence equipment procurement procedures in order to impose a "Buy American" policy. As a result this country's defence forces will be forced to use inferior equipment, largely unsuited to our defence needs, that won't be delivered for years. In the case of the Joint Strike Fighter we are to be kept waiting until 2018. The book describes how this deal was secured:
How was this deal sold to a gullible Australian ministry? It was first and foremost the Prime Minister's decision, taken unilaterally during a visit to Washington in early June 2002. Discussions with President Bush were followed by a private briefing from the plane's makers, Lockheed Martin, in John Howard's hotel room. Howard seems to have succumbed easily and enthusiastically. So enthusiastically it appears, that even senior Lockheed Martin executives commented that they were 'flabbergasted' that Australia decided to make the purchase so quickly. "That was just amazing, it stopped everything in the room at the time," said Lockheed's international programs director for the JSF, Mike Consentino, about Australia's surprise announcement. "This was our first international customer so it was a memorable day." (pages 150-151)
In order to fill the gap until 2018 which exists as a result of the PM's hasty decision, we are to spend an additional $6 billion on the purchase of 24 Super Hornet (F/A 18 F) fighter aircraft, which were designed to operate from aircraft carriers rather than from land.
Other disastrous Howard Government defence equipment acquisition decisions put under the microscope include:
- The AU$539million purchase of 59 reconditioned second-hand M1A1 Abrams tanks, which require special road transporters, which cannot be airlifted by any Australian Defence Forces (ADF) transport plane, nor be loaded onto any of Australia's six heavy landing craft. The tanks cannot be used for the defence of the Australian continent because they are too heavy for Australia's roads and bridges. In spite of their reputation for indestructability, at least 80 had been put out of action by 2005 by Iraqi insurgents who found that their armour could be penetrated with surprising ease by low-tech bombs and rocket propelled grenades.
- The decision to purchase the US Raytheon combat system for Australia's conventionally powered Collins class submarine fleet. This was in spite of the fact that more suitable European alternatives had been developed for conventionally powered submarines whilst the Raytheon had been scaled down from a combat system designed for nuclear powered submarines.
The chapter on Energy shows how the Howard Government has undermined tentatitve efforts to establish renewable energy industries in order to satisfy the wishes of Australia's climate changing fossil fuel lobby. This chapter does to some degree suffer from an uncritical acceptance of all alternatives to fossil fuels, the worst example being bio-fuels. It is not altogether clear whether bio-fuels actually increase the world's stock of energy given that fossil fuel derived fertilsers are necessary to grow bio-fuels in the first place. Further the expansion of bio-fuels is exacerbating the loss of bio-diversity in the Third world as rainforests are cleared in order to grow bio-fuels. They are also responsible for making food less affordable for many of the world's poorest as more corn crops are diverted to the manufacture of ethanol.
Neverthless the case for the need alternatives to fossil fuel is indisputable and the Howard Government is deservedly condemended for its wanton sabotage of a number of viable alternatives. Whilst the previous Keating and Hawke Labor governments have vastly better records than the Howard government in this regard, a decision made, upon winning office in 1983, by the Hawke Labor government to close down a government-funded renewable energy program(#fn2">2) did also unnecesarily set back Australia's development of alternatives.
Another fact of significance, not alluded to in this work, was that Whitlam Government Energy Minister the late Rex Connor attempted, in response to the oil crisis of 1973 to make Australia independent. This was the purpose of the AU$4 billion loan that Connor attempted to secure through the Pakistani broker Tirath Khemlani. Of course, this was blown up into the "Khemlani Affair" by the Australian media establisment, most notably Rupert Murdoch's 'evil empire', and was used to destroy Connor's career as well as, ultimately, the Whitlam government in 1975.
Rex Connor died tragically early in 1978 and the since corrupted Australian Labor Party has turned its back on the legacy of this visionary and great Australian political leader(#fn3">3).
The chapter on rural industries shows how the Howard government has undermined the competitive advantage enjoyed by Australia's rural industries in order to please various US agricultural lobbies. This includes the undermining of Australia's strict quarantine regime and measures to keep out 'Mad Cow' disease (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy - BSE), which has compromised the U.S. beef industry. Australia has done the bidding of the U.S. on the international market to break down Japan's resistance to U.S. Beef imports because of the BSE threat. This would in fact remove the competitive advantage that Australian Beef enjoys over U.S. beef in the Japanese market.
"National Insecurity" also describes how Australia's competitive advantage in the Pork industry has been similarly undermined to suit U.S. rural commercial interests.
The chapter describes the subordination of industry groups ostensibly acting on behalf of Australia's primary producers and counter-moves by ordinary rural producers including the creation of the Australian Beef Association.
One concern I have with this issue is that all forms of large scale international trade in primary produce are largely unsustainable whether they are into or out of Australia. They are unsustainable because they depend upon non-renewable petroleum to export them to the other side of the globe and because the constant extraction of nutrients from the soil and the need for irrigation in the longer term will destroy the fertility of the soil. For further information read chapter "Farming and Food Production under regimes of Climate Change" by Edward R. D. Goldsmith in the Final Energy Crisis co-edited by Sheila Newman. A second edition is due to be published next year.
The chapter on Culture about contains more damning evidence of the Howard government's complicity in the destruction of Australia's film, television and performing industries.
The book suffers from being not sufficiently critical of the previous Keating Labor Government which, in its time made its own sterling contribution to undermining Australia's economic, cultural and environmental security. It could also use an index, but it is still a very useful and courageous contribution to a necessary debate and well worth the AU$24.95 recommended retail price.
#fn1" name="fn1" id="fn1">1. Disclaimer: I write this as one who has been, on occasions, outspoken against Australia's military adventures, notably the bloody and destructive Vietnam War and the
current inferno in Iraq
. Nevertheless, in a world which is becoming increasingly unstable, it would be suicidal for any nation in a region such as south East Asia not to have a capable national defence force. Of course, the first recourse should be to try to achieve international justice and not engage in any unjust wars.
#fn2" name="fn2" id="fn2">2. I can't cite the source for this fact but I can remember it being mentioned on the radio, probably Radio National, perhaps, 15 years ago.
#fn3" name="fn2" id="fn2">3. For further information, please see chapter 7 of "The Growth Lobby and its Absence : The Relationship between the Property Development and Housing Industries and Immigration Policy in Australia and France", Sheila Newman's 2002 Master's thesis (pdf 2.6MB) downloadable from http://candobetter.org/sheila )