Flat White

Mike Pezzullo would not have sent his ‘drums of war’ message without the PM’s blessing

29 April 2021

11:30 AM

29 April 2021

11:30 AM

The hottest topic this week has been the Anzac Day message sent to his staff by Home Affairs Secretary, Mike Pezullo.

His ‘drums of war’ message not only captured the attention of Australians, but went around the world. It’s not every day one sees the words of an Australian bureaucrat splashed across the front page of The Times.

There are two things to note about Pezzullo’s message.

First, don’t believe for one second that this was a bureaucrat freelancing an opinion. As head of the department responsible for Australia’s internal security, as well as a public servant in the Westminster system, Pezullo does not have an independent voice. Any public statement he makes must be consistent with the policy of the government of the day.

And don’t believe for a second that Pezzullo’s text wouldn’t have been checked with his minister, Karen Andrews.  If her office was doing its job properly, the Prime Minister’s office, and likely the Prime Minister himself would almost certainly have been consulted too.

Second, the message has not been contradicted by the Prime Minister or other senior ministers. Announcing a major upgrade of key defence facilitates in Northern Australia yesterday, Scott Morrison was pressed to distance himself from Pezzullo’s pugnacious words, but didn’t. And the clear theme of Morrison’s own remarks was the old Roman maxim, ‘if you want peace, prepare for war’.

Indeed, it wouldn’t be surprising if Pezullo was quietly encouraged to pen his message, as such words attributed to a bureaucrat do not carry the same irrevocability as those uttered by, say, a prime minister.

No potential adversary was named by either the PM or Mr Pezzullo, but we all know who the panda in the room is.  Certainly, the Chinese government has reacted with typical petulant anger to Canberra’s latest signals, making shrill allegations of Australia being stuck in the Cold War, and that our leadership is ‘lunatic’ and even ‘white supremacist’.  Must have hit a war – sorry, raw – nerve.

That Morrison is making clear Australia stands firm against China’s external bullying and internal repression is welcome. For while Xi Xinping remains president of China, the drums of war will beat ever louder, and most worryingly they are beating strongest for Taiwan. By the day it grows ever more likely that Beijing will try to bring Taipei to heel by force, if not tomorrow, if not next year, but before this decade has passed.  It seems that, for us, Taiwan could become our Poland.  We must be ready for that unwelcome possibility.

Unlike our Kiwi cousins, Australia is standing with our fellow Anglosphere democracies and India, to challenge Chinese militarism, aggression and imperialism. We have learned the lessons of the 1930s.

In Maoist times, the Chinese regime liked to denigrate Western democracies like Australia as the running dogs of capitalist imperialism. Now we must, with our allies, stand up to Beijing’s running dogs of communist imperialism, even at the risk of economic and military consequences to ourselves.

To his credit, Scott Morrison has heard the drums of war being beaten in Beijing and is not running away from the challenge. Nor should the rest of us.

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