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Book Review: "National Insecurity - The Howard Government's Betrayal of Australia"

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.

Defence

The chapter on defence(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.

Energy

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(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(3).

Rural Industries

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.

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Footnotes.

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.

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.

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 )