Letter from Australia


A British visitor to Australia will enjoy his holiday in the sun. The warm seas, the striking natural beauty, the excellent food, much improved since the influx of Asian cuisine, is bound to delight the hedonist, and who is not a hedonist when on holiday?  But this other Eden is best enjoyed without newspapers, and with the television set switched off.  For as in Britain, the news is preoccupied with Iraq, with global warming, with the unsettled state of the world, where threats are feared from all sides.

Australian defence policy is best understood by taking the view that it does not exist.  Remote, underpopulated Australia has been in thrall to US ever since the second world war demonstrated its vulnerability, and its need for powerful friends. The threat of invasion from the teeming millions to the north is ever-present, though never frankly stated. Hence its refusal to sign up to Kyoto (because the US has not done so), despite the clearly perceived dangers that global warming present to the drought-stricken continent.  Hence its automatic involvement in the Iraq war, though the Australian public, not understanding the finer points of diplomacy, was strongly against sending Australian troops to that dubious conflict.  Hence its expensive defence purchases (from the US, of course).  Australia’s weaponry must be co-ordinated with that of its ally.  The worst of that is, the weapons are inappropriate, suitable for attack and interventions US-style, not for defence.

At present the news is full of the decision to purchase 24 Super Hornets as a ‘stop-gap’ measure, to replace the ‘ageing’ F-111s, at a cost of $A6 billion.  The government has announced that it is determined to buy up to 100 of the still-under-development Joint Strike Fighters, cost $A15 billion, which wont be available until 2020.  It was thought too risky, in our hyper-militarised world, to defend Australian shores with the ‘ageing’ F-111s until then. The decision to buy the expensive ‘stop-gap’ fighters was made by the Minister for Defence, presumably with a nudge from the prime minister.  The Department of Defence was not even consulted.    These huge military purchases are simply announced – a debate in parliament might result in the wrong decision.  No one states publicly that the idea of an Indonesian invasion, a la WW2, is an incredible scenario, given Australia’s close ties with the mighty superpower.

The only truly national defensive idea being mooted in parliament now is the most dangerous – nuclear power.  Nuclear power is being given the familiar, though false, blessing of being free from carbon emissions, and so environmentally friendly. And already (see Canberra Times, 1/3/07) there is frank talk of Australia becoming a nuclear power.  North Korea’s nuclear ambitions are cited as a danger. There is no objection raised that Australia would then be in breach of the Non Proliferation Treaty.  A satellite of the US would surely have no difficulty in getting permission. Look at India, seen by the US as a ‘bulwark’ against China, and so given nuclear assistance.

There is certainly no problem with obtaining uranium.  Australia is the major supplier of uranium to the world.

The militarist logic of preparing for war in order to obtain peace continues to prevail.  If the United States were what it once was, an example to the world of a free democratic society, then being a satellite to such a benign society would be a positive thing.  As it is, being a satellite of a rogue superpower is an encouragement for it to do its worst.

H. D.