Guest Notes

Dis-con notes

23 May 2020

9:00 AM

23 May 2020

9:00 AM

Get a wriggle on, ScoMo

Previous Dis-Con Notes (25/04/20 and 16/05/20) proposed eleven policy reforms for Prime Minister Morrison’s consideration. Nine of them would not require legislation; the other two, while requiring budgetary appropriations, would readily get them. (One, to improve our national fuel supply security, was begun independently by Minister for Energy Angus Taylor to widespread approval). The following five further proposals, while less easy to pursue, should be attainable by a determined government.

The twelth proposal, concerning the execrable contract entered into by the Turnbull government to have 12 submarines built in South Australia, based on a French nuclear-powered boat converted to diesel power, is vital. This appalling decision, secured by then member for Sturt, Christopher Pyne to bolster his electoral prospects, was costed initially at $50 billion – since blown out to $90 billion – in construction costs alone, with an additional $130 billion or so for lifetime maintenance costs. Most readers will be broadly familiar with this fiscal and national security recklessness. Were the contract (reportedly not yet signed, but only an agreement or memorandum of understanding) to be effected, how would that affect national security? First, with our Defence department’s agreement, we would be accepting a national security ‘gap’ of at least 12 years – probably 15 or more – before the first vessel becomes available. This at a time when China’s navy is becoming ever more aggressive in our region. Second, by the time the last is delivered, anywhere between 2052 and (say) 2060, that ‘gap’ will have become a chasm. Long before then, no other developed nation’s navy will have a single diesel-powered submarine, let alone depend entirely on what is already a naval anachronism. All those submarine fleets, including China’s, will be nuclear-powered. As Tony Abbott said some years ago, ‘The biggest regret I have from my time as PM’ was in ‘not more robustly challenging the [anti-nuclear] “no-go” mindset.’ The proposed submarine ‘will have less power, less range, less speed and less capability’ than a nuclear-powered boat. But the debate doesn’t stop there; the US Navy is already embarked on an Unmanned Maritime Autonomy Architecture Program, under the first stage of which Boeing will build four Orcas, to be capable of operating (unmanned) for 70 days at sea and diving to 11,000 feet. This proposal therefore merely urges the obvious: cancel this deal, without delay. Ignore the Defence department’s inevitable call for an(other) inquiry. Just do it! Yes, that means paying the French company involved around $5 billion: cheap at the price. Simultaneously, begin negotiations with the US Navy to buy the latest ‘off the shelf’ version of their nuclear-powered boats. Seek their assistance also to establish our own nuclear maintenance facilities. ‘Hold on, though’, you say. ‘Isn’t there a legal barrier to anything nuclear, laid down in Commonwealth legislation?’. Yes, there is; hence my thirteenth proposal is to move simultaneously to either repeal that legislation or amend it sufficiently to allow abandoning the present deal. This would be strongly opposed by Labor and the Greens, but it should be possible to marshal enough Senate crossbench votes to see it through. Ultimately, these senators are patriotic Australians who would need little convincing of its merits, both in repairing our national security outlook and in saving huge spending from a federal budget now even less able (than before Wuhan’s fiscal ravages) to sustain it.

One Commonwealth Act involved in that nuclear power ban is the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, Section 140A(1)(b) of which (‘a nuclear power plant’) would need to be deleted. (That Act is presently under review, but its timing could be brought forward). The same Act is also involved in my fourteenth proposal. A recent Institute of Public Affairs study found that green activist ‘lawfare’, utilising Section 487 of it, has delayed about $65 billion of infrastructure projects – mostly in regional areas – over the past five years. A government move to delete that provision would be opposed by the Greens and perhaps initially by Labor; but since Labor holds regional seats, it is doubtful that its opposition would persist. If necessary, however, it should again be possible to find enough crossbench senators to see the amendment enacted. (Perhaps, in addition, those bringing these frivolous challenges should also be made liable to pay the court costs should their actions fail).

My fifteenth proposal concerns our relationship with the World Health Organisation. Here the Morrison government has, on the one hand, rightly persisted in demanding an independent investigation into the whole deplorable Wuhan coronavirus saga, in the Chinese cover-up of which the WHO has been complicit. On the other hand, by pledging $350 million towards a European Commission-led vaccine research fundraiser in the forlorn hope of finding a ‘cure’ for Covid-19, it distracts attention from the fact that the only real cure is for the Chinese to stop producing these viruses. Since the only discipline on international bodies is having their funding cut, we should at least emulate President Trump, suspend our projected WHO contribution for 2020-21 and threaten that suspension could turn to termination of our membership.

That last leads to my sixteenth proposal, for the government to establish a task torce to survey the whole gamut of United Nations specialised agencies and recommend withdrawing from many; there is no lack of candidates. Crucially, this task force should not (repeat, not) contain anyone from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (although it would need to be consulted). Examples of bodies that should be abandoned include the UN Committee for Trade and Development, the World Tourism Organisation (of which neither the US nor the UK is a member), the UN Commission for Human Rights, the International Labour Organization, and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (from which the USA resigned some time ago).

So come on, Mr Morrison, get a wriggle on.

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