Labor’s Defence White Paper:

Mike Gilligan writes: Re. “Labor’s Defence White Paper: a make or break moment” (Friday, item 5). Alex Mitchell’s thoughts on the new government’s approach to defence and a new white paper makes one realise how little sense of perspective there is on defence in Australia, even in Crikey. It was the Whitlam government which first put an intellectual and practical base into the notion of Australia becoming able to defend itself independently – by bringing together the three departments of the Armed Service and Defence into one. This had been a cherished goal of thinkers about our security since Ben Chifley. It was left to the Fraser Government to put that into effect, along with centralised and disciplined resource allocation based on cost-effectiveness- it worked well, was supported by Fraser, we made giant strides in our independent attitudes and capacities, but proved excruciating for the military and the arm suppliers. The Hawke government realized that Defence was a source of large discretionary funds. It pretty soon found its political agenda didn’t fit with disciplined resource planning in Defence, joined with the military/commercial lobbying and went about systematically dismembering it, via the influence of Beazley. Australian marginal electorates were patronised with vast sums, South Australia and Western Australia have been big beneficiaries. The entire capital expenditure was allocated with a heavy political hand. This practice continued under Howard, improved and refined in its self indulgence. So Defence has enormous discretionary expenditure, which has no credible resource planning structures to protect the policy priorities and public interest. Isn’t this the place to start on a White Paper? Alex Mitchell wonders about who might involved in the writing of a Rudd government white paper. He should be aware that all of the so-called Labour Defence intellectuals from the Hawke/Beazley years have given support in one way or another to the Howard lies over Iraq- it’s all there on record in the SMH and Australian. They have always been employed by Defence funded bodies e.g. at the ANU, and still are. In other words they are all on the take from Defence, and have an interest in the excesses and laxity continuing.

Brian Dirou writes: You are spot on regarding the political influence of Andrew Peacock regarding Defence matters, but that of Peter Reith (Tenix) is at least equal. About two weeks preceding the election announcement, the Howard Government rushed through approvals for two unnecessary aircraft carriers and 46 ultra-expensive European MRH90 helicopters. Companies associated with Peter Reith are the major beneficiaries of these very controversial high risk projects that will needlessly cost the taxpayer perhaps $6billion plus. We certainly do not need Seasprite helicopters, Abrams tanks, Super Hornets, Tiger attack helicopters, MRH90 helicopters when we possessed adequate light armour vehicles and helicopters that are performing primary combat roles around the world and being cost-effectively upgraded yet being disposed of by the ADF!! Nobody, military or civilian, is being held accountable for this deficient military planning and reckless spending that the nation cannot afford. I have to disagree with you on the C17. We are a large island continent necessitating long range high volume military transport aircraft to cost-effectively move military assets around the region and to other world locations where Australia provides military assistance. The C130 in a comparatively low volume medium range transport most effectively used for tactical military roles and Australia has misused the aircraft in strategic roles for decades which is really not cost-effective. Another 8 x C17 at cost of about $2 billion would enormously enhances Australia’s ability to quickly move significant military and other national resources to/from trouble spots. This would be a much more beneficial investment than 2 very vulnerable aircraft carriers which have nowhere near the same flexibility in transportation of military assets. The problems associated with Defence are immense and the new Minister’s job a real challenge. Unfortunately, the Rudd Government unwisely committed itself to maintain promised spending on Defence so multiple unworthy projects are likely to be progressed at huge cost to the taxpayer. Scandalous really!

Chris Hunter writes: Alex Mitchell’s assessment of Howard’s military overburden is right on the money — it is war-toy orientated. But this is the exact point; money does not necessarily purchase national security if it is spent unwisely, as is the case here. Alex defines three key issues; needs, capability and cost. What are Australia’s newly emerging defence needs? This is the leading question. Strange as it may seem the best way to be militarily safe is to foster reliable international friendships, especially with your closest neighbours. To set this ball rolling Australia should approach New Zealand about the forming of a permanent Anzac squadron. This unit would provide a template for future enlargement with other island states encouraged to join up. However, a word of warning to all potential members of this “Pacific Shield”. The one true expense that would not be negotiable (if it is to work) is the equal pay rule for all participating nations. No cheap labour. This is not “overburden” but remarkably well spent tax payer’s money. This fiscal cost would include the ongoing welfare of participants. Unlike the mindless billions spent on ludicrous hardware the money paid as wages will wash around the defence shield nations adding security and raising living standards. This is a bonus. Recruitment would not be a problem for obvious reasons. All military hardware could be eventually built in Australia and New Zealand (or by other members). Australia already has a growing expertise here. This necessary industry would build weapons tailored to member countries terrain — site specific. Come on Canberra. Take a lead. Stuff being deputy sheriff. This country is big enough, rich enough, and ugly enough to embrace its own future security needs. Start with the kiwis.

Neil James, executive director of the Australia Defence Association, writes: Alex Mitchell’s piece was so unbalanced and so far off the target it was frightening and does no credit to Crikey’s credibility. The piece was littered with factual mistakes and permeated by an old-fashioned and simply wrong perspective to use when discussing defence matters objectively. It also reflected (albeit badly even within its own biases) one extreme of a broad and complex national debate. The major mistake of his piece (apart from not understanding the difference between defence policy and defence strategy or, indeed, between Defence White Papers which are declaratory policy and strategic basis papers which are much more thorough because they classified), was in his predicating the debate on defence policy solely in party-political terms. A related superficial approach was his old-fashioned inferences about supposedly out-of-control ADF officers and current Defence officials. It is much more complex than this. This is exemplified by the fact that that the “Defence-of-Australia” policy instituted by the Hawke Government was adopted almost untouched by the Howard Government (from 1995 to 2000) until strategic developments in our region and further afield kept exposing serious flaws in its nostrums – beginning with the 1999 East Timor crisis. Put simply, when governments needed options to respond they have been severely constricted by a force structure that did not give them the options they needed. Hawke encountered this force structure – strategic policy mismatch too in 1991 (Kuwait) and 1991-93 (Cambodia). Finally, it would be interesting to know who Mitchell considers to be the “serious professionals who can give an objective and dollar-sensitive critique”. Surely not the former Defence bureaucrats who made so many wrong calls throughout the 1980s and 1990s under both Labor and Coalition governments and who were eased into retirement after East Timor?

People as assets:

Sandi Logan, DIAC spokesman, writes: Re. Peter Burns’ comments “People as assets” (14 February, comments). While the Department of Immigration and Citizenship cannot speak to the genesis of the Governor-General’s speech or the reported reference to the use of the term “customer”, we can confirm unequivocally that all those with whom we interact are our clients. We are committed at all times to treating our clients in a fair and reasonable, and open and accountable manner.

Interest rates:

John Tan writes: Re. “Mortgage pain threatens as credit costs surge” (14 February, item 23). The Reserve Bank’s policy on interest rates and inflation appears misguided because it assumes that lifting rates will dampen inflation. When the RBA lifts rates, commercial banks raise both their deposit and lending rates. While borrowers have less spending money, rising deposit rates give more money to depositors. And if deposit rates rise less than lending rates, then bank shareholders also benefit. In short, the reduced spending among borrowers is offset by more spending among depositors and shareholders. There is very little deflationary effect, if any at all. All that happens is that the income and wealth gaps get wider and smaller businesses and first home buyers get driven to the wall. The RBA should recognise that rate increases may well be largely ineffective and look at other ways to reduce inflation. For instance, it could lift liquidity requirements among lending institutions. It could forbid reckless mortgage lending that in the US has caused the sub-prime crisis. It could discourage excessive consumer finance through credit cards.

The politics of saying sorry:

Martin Gordon writes: Re. “Wave of latte might just float Brendan Nelson’s boat” (Friday, item 1). The indigenous apology has occupied the public consciousness for sometime. But as Mal Brough at a Quadrant dinner rather inconveniently pointed out the reality of indigenous lives are eons away from the events of Canberra. PM Rudd failed to acknowledge the role of his Labor Party in originating almost all of the legislation now condemned. Nor did Queensland Premier Anna Bligh have much to show for her state in improving the lives of its indigenous citizens since the 1999 state apology. In fact it was embarrassingly light on and her quick switch to attacking the Queensland opinion highlighted her embarrassment. If I seem hard on these and other state ALP governments I am because I am mightily annoyed that they undermine the NT intervention by allowing intestate grog movement (particularly from WA). They have created the national public dental care crisis by under funding it for years, delayed the introduction of national educational curricula so the ALP can claim credit so disadvantaging Australian children for cheap partisan gain. There are many other issues too, and this cynical partisan behaviour is bad for Australia and people should not be ignorant of it.

Maurene Grundy writes: I responded to Brendan Nelson’s speech in exactly the same way as Moira Smith (Friday, comments). I was not part of a rent-a-crowd but home alone – just me and my TV. We ought to at least be grateful that the Aboriginal people showed their disgust in such a Gandhi-like gesture. Any fair minded person appreciated that their parade had just been rained upon by Nelson’s ill-considered remarks. How childish was that for Joe Hockey to dob in two of Rudd’s staffers for turning their backs in the Great Hall? The two staffers must have very special powers indeed to have orchestrated and co-ordinated a response that arose spontaneously across Australia at outdoor venues where crowds had gathered and in the lounge rooms and kitchens where individuals followed the historic proceedings in the National Parliament.

Senior Liberals:

Peter Phelps writes: Re. “Senior Liberals now reconciled and relaxed” (Friday, item 2). Dear Crikey, I cannot let stand the comment that “Eric Abetz … usually inhabits the reactionary wastelands of the Liberal right.” I was Eric’s Chief of Staff for some five years. He is a serious, but sensible, environmentalist who loves Tasmania’s forests, kayaked down the Franklin River and introduced “Green” vehicles for MPs. He is republican who supports the McGarvie model. He is genuinely concerned about Aboriginal welfare and did pro bono legal work for a women’s refuge in Hobart. But he is also a sincere Christian, which means that he opposed RU486, euthanasia and stem cell research. If these latter stances make him a “reactionary” – to the exclusion of his other views – then so are John Murphy, Steve Hutchins, Ursula Stephens, John Hogg and Christopher Pyne. Just setting the record straight.

Richie Benaud:

Zachary King writes: Re. “Is it time for Richie Benaud to hang up his beige jacket?” (Friday, item 18). I can assure Charles Happell that it most certainly is not time for Richie to retire. His master’s voice should continue to be broadcast wherever and whenever Australia is playing cricket. Richie’s dry asides and penetrating insight into the mind of players are more than recompense for whatever he may, may, lack in understanding the modern form of the game. His instantly recognizable voice is the soothing harbinger of long days with every delivery viewed in triplicate, analysed, discussed, and commented on. Hail Richie! Long may he reign!

Nic Smythe writes: Richie Benaud is still easily Channel Nine’s premier cricket analyst. His considered, intelligent and often pithy contributions by comparison highlight the embarrassing, craptacular ineptitude of specialist nonsense dribblers Tony Greig, Mark Taylor and Bill Lawry. Benaud still has the finest command of the spoken word among his peers, carries the most balanced sense of perspective in a sporting world overwhelmed by hype and hyperbole, and has spoiled us with 30 years of insight that we’re now realising just isn’t available elsewhere in his organisation. Using his age to justify retirement, strange as it sounds, is simply a cop-out. I couldn’t imagine a 77 year-old commentating on half-pipe snowboard or big wave surfing, but as long as a man can still think and speak, he should be able to do so about Test cricket. The big question we should be asking is how, with Kerry Francis Bullmore Packer dead, how on earth is Tony Greig still on television? Who else owes him favours?

E B Dilllon writes: One does not like to say “goodbye” to anything that one has enjoyed for most of a lifetime, even though we concede that we are all mortal and that, with time, the sharpness of our “edge” tends to blunt. On the other hand, remember that Winston Churchill led the world through its greatest danger in human history, at a more advanced age than that of Richie Benaud. Remember also, that Konrad Adenuer still led the greatest commercial and industrial revival in human history at 92. I wonder whether, when he reaches the stage of dribbling down his chin in an old peoples’ home, anyone will remember who Charles Happell was? I seriously doubt that they will remember his opinions. Let us enjoy those “treasures” who have given us so much pleasure, over so many years, while we still have them with us and let them retire when they consider the time has come. I rest my case.

Maurie Farrell writes: Wonderful player that Benaud was, he didn’t manage an unbeaten record as captain of Australia. He won 12, drew 11 and lost 4 of the 28 tests in which he skippered Australia. And, of course, Charles Happell, one man’s cryptic may be another’s common sense?

The Age’s circulation boost:

Mitch Matheson writes: Re. “What’s happening at the Daily Telegraph?” (Friday, item 16). Steve Allen’s opinion that Fairfax “seem to have found the magic formula” in Melbourne, I’d suggest they found it in one of Uncle Rupert’s filing cabinets, under “D” for discounting. As a long-time Age subscriber I’ve gone from paying full whack plus delivery fee for seven days a week, to $12 a month for Friday-Tuesday and now to $25 a year for the same editions. That works out to 12 cents a paper. I am entitled to this as either a Melbourne Victory member or a Melbourne FC member (I can’t remember which), but The Age has so many partnerships around town that I doubt there are many Melburnians who don’t qualify under one category or another.

War veterans:

Steven McKiernan writes: Contrary to what Neil James of the Aus Defence Assoc thinks (Friday, comments), having no war veterans in Parliament actually reflects that Australia hasn’t been to war as frequently as in the past. Definitely a good thing! Perhaps what is a more vital statistic is the number of Members of Parliament who have been active in the Peace movement. This surely displays a nation of maturity.


Kevin Brady writes: Re. David Hand (Friday, comments). Let’s hope that Crikey does decay “into a ghetto of shrill, left wing troglodytes”! If it ever does, I might just be tempted to subscribe. Such a daily publication is sorely needed in Australia at the moment to counterbalance the strident, supercilious, right wing tripe we have to put up with from the mainstream media.

Louise Convy writes: Re. Terry Wills Cooke (Friday, comments). Maybe Rudd’s press secretary, Lachlan Harris, did not behave appropriately but, at a mere 28 years of age, he reacted as would any person with a sense of decency. As for Crikey having the “guts and fortitude to state the obvious” what is obvious is Cooke’s lack of empathy and awareness. There are many sectors of our community who, despite not enduring the considerable real disadvantages of indigenous Australians, need to “accept responsibility for themselves”. Even our politicians! As for “good manners” when is Chris Pearce going to apologise for his appalling behaviour and what about the unhinged Wilson Tuckey? Crikey should keep up its excellent content including credible pieces by Stephanie Lusby.

Peter Mattessi:

Kael Driscoll writes: Re. “Telly Watch: Samantha Who Cares?” (Friday, item 20). Excellent observations from Peter Mattessi. The thing I have never understood is why Seven (and other channels) will bury the Emmy-award-winning 30 Rock but are always willing to try primetime slots for dross like Samantha Who. It fails nearly every time, yet they keep doing it over and over again. The travesties of how they treated Futurama and Arrested Development still baffle me.

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Peter Fray

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