Correction:

CRIKEY SAYS: Yesterday Crikey published a tip regarding Coalition MP Peter Slipper. It was inappropriate and should not have made the cut, and we apologise for the error of judgement.

Afghanistan:

Beryce Nelson writes: Re. “Rethinking Afghanistan: what about our moral duty to stay?” (yesterday, item 1). You ask why are we in this cruel and unusual conflict? In my view there are two key reasons.

Firstly, because Australia remains captive to a colonial era imperialist style of foreign policy thinking that has dominated our national government’s policies and decision-making for more than a century. Secondly, because this out-dated thinking is largely premised on the notion that Australia is too geographically isolated and has too small a population to enable it to defend its own territory in time of major attack.

Whilst these ideas may have had some policy credence up until the 1950s, neither remain credible in the 21st century. Australia now has a highly mobile, healthy, literate and technology savvy population. The country’s vast natural resources and highly productive agricultural and service industries provide government with access to the funds required to build and maintain a well equipped and highly trained defence force using the best strategic thinking and supported by sophisticated procurement programs. These vast resources combined with a well managed economy also enables us to build strong ties with close neighbours and trading partners without the need for any threat of force.

Our moral dilemma and the real elephant in the room is the increasing level of disillusionment within the general population and in the services, about Australia’s ongoing commitments to dubious foreign wars undertaken simply to maintain the public face of our so-called strategic alliance with the US.  The naivety and hypocrisy apparent in this approach is mind-bendingly obvious in a world of instant communication. Put simply, it will not be long before the US no longer needs our wide open spaces for communications purposes and when that day dawns the alliance will not be worth the paper it is written on.

The current Australia/US Free Trade Agreement is already in disrepair with the declining standards of our private health services just one example of that farcical one-sided arrangement.  But back to foreign policy — for more than half a century we have wasted or ruined the lives of many fine young men and women in conflicts for which they (and us) had no appetite and for which there was no just cause. All this was done because our politicians were too poorly advised or too craven to face a future without the muscle of big brother.

It is time for our leaders and their advisers to step out from behind the crumbling facade of our current foreign policy thinking and develop new strategies for a very different century. The opportunity still exists for us to become the Switzerland of the Pacific — friend to all and enemy to none. It will be a brave call, whoever makes it, but it will be the right call.

Del Weston writes: When I read the title of Jeff Sparrow’s article, I thought I might find out something about the argument in favour of Australia having soldiers fighting a war in Afghanistan.  But the article doesn’t give one single argument in favour of  our “moral duty”.

I’m just as opposed to Australia’s involvement in the invasion of Iraq and the war in Afghanistan as I was before. Perhaps there isn’t a case to be made.

Andrew Partos writes: The US should have learned from the debacles of Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, that if they want to invade a country successfully, they shouldn’t pick on any that are any bigger than Panama, Grenada or Haiti.

Neil James, Executive Director, Australia Defence Association, writes: The mistaken (at least I hope) editing of a single word in my Crikey article yesterday unfortunately reversed the meaning of a key sentence and paragraph and therefore part of the main thrust of the article. This no doubt also confused many readers.

The word “ahistoric” (meaning lacking historical perspective or context, or simply not correct factually) was oddly changed to “historic”.

The important point I was making is that both those for or against Australia’s Afghanistan commitment too often quote supposed examples from history that are simply not correct factually and/or are cited quite out of context or with no sense of their wider historical perspective – and that this seems somewhat more common among opponents of the war.

This was in support of my opening note that commonplace arguments against the war tend to suffer from a factual deficit whereas commonplace arguments supporting the war tend to suffer from a conceptual one.

Visa changes:

A spokeswoman for the Minister for Tertiary Education, Chris Evans writes: Re. “Visa changes expose higher education funding problems” (yesterday, item 9). The Government introduced a suite of changes to the student income support system in response to the recommendations of the Bradley Review to provide expanded access and better support for those students who need it most.

On 1 July 2010, the Parental Income Test threshold for maximum payment was increased from $33,300 to $44,165 and a 20 per cent family taper rate was introduced, in line with current FTB arrangements. The Parental Income Test threshold will be indexed on 1 January each year using an indexation rate consistent with the FTB index.

From 1 July 2012, the personal income threshold will increase from $236 to $400 per fortnight and the income bank maximum amount will increase from $6,000 to $10,000 and both amounts will be indexed each year.

The Government’s reforms particularly benefit students from low socio-economic backgrounds and students who have to move away from home to study, including rural and regional students.

These student income reforms are central to achieving the Government’s education outcome objective of:

  • 40 per cent of 25 to 34-year-olds holding a bachelor level qualification by 2025; and
  • 20 per cent of undergraduate enrolments in higher education being students from low socio-economic status backgrounds by 2020.

Higher education drives economic development, productivity and high skilled jobs. That’s why, at a time when significant fiscal constraint will be required to bring the budget back into surplus, the Government remains committed to its substantial 10 year reform agenda announced in response to the findings of the Bradley Review.

Gavin Moodie writes: Although Monash gains 18% of its revenue from international student fees I suspect that Monash is using the highly publicised *predicted* falls in international student enrolments as cover for redundancies that it wants for other reasons, probably to improve its research. Even if Monash University’s intake of international students were to fall precipitously in 2011, it would retain at least two-thirds of its international student revenue because this year’s first and second year students would re enrol in 2011 to complete their program.

I agree that the link between international education and immigration should be broken. But only 34% of international university students gained permanent residence in 2004-05 (the rate was much higher for vocational students). In addition to the Australian Government breaking the link between international education and immigration the Department of Immigration and Citizenship is increasing obstacles and slowing processing of applications for visas for students who want to study, not immigrate.

Labor did not ignore Bradley’s recommendation to reform student income support. It presented well conceived legislation to Parliament in 2009. The Coalition blocked it because it stopped a rort which allowed students of rich parents get income support after a gap year. Then education minister Gillard managed to negotiate passage of a compromise Bill on 18 March 2010. While the compromise Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Income Support for Students) Act 2010 isn’t quite as good as the initial Bill, it nonetheless implements Bradley’s recommendations substantially.

Geoff Gallop:

Philip Amos writes: Re. “Gallop on the new politics, proportional voting and ministerial ring-ins” (yesterday, item 12). Geoff Gallop has got the right diagnosis, but his treatment would kill the patient. The sickness at the heart of Australian politics, correctly diagnosed by Geoff Gallup, is the rise of the party-insider and the marginalisation of the average party member.

The health of Australian politics is determined by the health of the major parties — Labor and Liberal. Allowing non-elected Cabinet ministers to bypass party membership would only make the illness terminal. Why join a party if the possibility of a ministerial career is denied?

Gallop’s prescription would lead to the end of parties as useful institutions — to the detriment of Australian democracy. Malcolm Turnbull or Greg Combet might enjoy the option of going straight into a ministry, but our parliament and democracy would be weaker for their absence.

And Gallup obviously missed Australia’s recent experiment in executive Presidency — the Rudd Prime Minstership. Thank goodness the caucus retained the power to depose him.

Aid aide:

James Burke writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 7). Crikey published:

“There is great concern in the international aid and development sector over the appointment of Rudd’s new aid adviser. Former Channel Nine reporter Daniel Street appears to have little to no formal experience in aid and development, having recently completed a master’s degree, which is more and more an entry level degree to the sector.”

Leaving aside the abilities or otherwise of Rudd’s new flunky, I would like to thank your anonymous tipster for blowing the lid on the whole aid game. So, a master’s — presumably in the field of “aid and development” — is now “more and more an entry-level degree to the sector”. No wonder so many people around the world are starving!

Gillard:

Jeff Ash writes: Re. Yesterday’s Editorial. I think Julia’s inherent lack of polish, be that cultivated or not is detrimental to Australia’s brand on the world stage. Compare her to Hilary Clinton, and she comes off, well, a bit Sarah Palin.

Peter Fray

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