2000_01_january_leader23jan defence

Former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser has had an interesting change of thinking over defence. Formerly an ardent supporter of the American alliance, he now sees it as dangerous. He warns that it might get Australia into a dangerous war with China that it would not win.

Mr Fraser’s change of mind comes about through a change in the position of the US in the past decade rather than a change in his own core belief which presumably the best defence of Australia.

The reason for Mr Fraser’s rethink is that with the end of the Cold War, the strategic position has changed radically. We now have one super-power not two. And that super-power, the US, according to Mr Fraser is playing its hand in Asia in a way that could be contrary to Australia’s best interest.

That argument has some difficulty. True, the Cold War is over, but Russia is still a nuclear power. Moreover, its new president Vladimir Putin has recently issued a new policy on Russia’s nuclear arsenal. He says it must be kept in good shape. It is too easy to dismiss this as domestic grand-standing of no consequence. The trouble is that domestic grand-standing is most often the prime reason for leaders taking their nation to war. That is precisely what is happening in Chechnya now.

Mr Fraser argued that US policy in Eastern Europe had de-stabilised relations with Moscow because at the behest of the US, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation had extended its coverage to the border with Russia and bombed the former Yugoslavia without permission from the United Nations.

As to the former, it was the Eastern European nations that wanted to join NATO. They begged to join. The US just welcomed them. As to the latter, what was NATO to do, sit on its hands allowing China to veto any action in the former Yugoslavia while innocent civilians were murdered?

On the Asian front, Mr Fraser is far too supplicant to China. He argues that the US position on Taiwan could lead to a nuclear war in which Australia would become involved. That is fanciful. China will continue to posture on Taiwan, but will not attack precisely because of the US position.

He argues that the US should reduce its role in north-east Asia. That would allow the Chinese-back North Korean regime breathing space if not licence to attack South Korea. It is because of the continued US presence that South Korea has prospered enabling the communist system in the north to be exposed as a misery-creating dictatorship.

It is fortunate that Mr Fraser argues that any Australian distancing itself from the US alliance should be seen as a long-term prospect. He argues, perhaps correctly, that it would be possible for the US to withdraw and leave the nations of the region to sort out their own relationships in a more trust-filled environment. Maybe that is an ideal goal in the long-term.

But that is not going to happen while China remains undemocratic and hostile to the democratic reforms that have made Taiwan prosper and while North Korea continues to pose such a threat to peace.

In the meantime, the US pressure and presence remains essential to Australia’s interest which is a peaceful Asia.

Mr Fraser’s argument that the US should withdraw over 10 to 20 years and let Australia and other countries in the region sort out their own security arrangements puts the cart before the horse. When nations in the region sort out security with arrangements that can be based on trust, which ultimately means dealing with stable democracies, then the US can start withdrawing.

Mr Fraser’s order puts far too much unwarranted trust in China. Without a US presence and without an alliance with the US, in the current environment and for the foreseeable future, Australia would have to increase its defence effort substantially.

Mr Fraser’s dove-like calls would only give local hawks ammunition.

Cycling from Copenhagen to Venice

The Slovenian woman’s face seemed to have a sad agony etched into it. The lines betrayed some inner pain. Yet she was happy. Happy in a celebratory way.

She and her sons were derisory about Yugoslav leaders Tito, Tujmann and Milosevic. They took joy in their derision. The fact that they could openly deride them was a treble joy — a joy in freedom of expression; a joy in having the yoke of communism lifted and a the joy in having escaped from Yugoslavia without a hellish war.

It was an unplanned, unscheduled meeting. My brother, nephew and I were cycling along a country road after just crossing the border from Croatia. We were passing a cornfield when we heard a “”Hoy.”
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1999_06_june_leader20jun aids

Last week researchers at the Australian National University’s John Curtin School of Medical Research announced the discovery of a substance which in laboratory testing has stopped the AIDS virus. It will be some years, however, before the substance will find its way into a drug that can be taken by AIDS patients. The substance and the research behind it also have potential for work on other viral diseases, such as dengue, Ross River and Barmah Forest fevers, and there were also possible applications for the new drug — called C9 — in helping stroke and heart-attack sufferers.

Heady stuff, indeed.

But where to from here. The school’s Professor Peter Gage says funding is a critical question. On the AIDS application he said, “”We can’t take it any further; the resources really aren’t sufficient to take it any further.”
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1998_11_november_leader27nov pinochet

The decision of the English House of Lords to allow the extradition proceedings against former Chilean President Augusto Pinochet will be welcomed around the world by people concerned with human rights. It means, at least as far a Britain is concerned, there is no longer immunity for former heads of state who commit gross crimes which are recognised as crimes by international law. There will be no rest for the wicked. Continue reading “1998_11_november_leader27nov pinochet”

1998_09_september_leader12sep action

ACTION bus drivers appear to have priced themselves out of the market.

Earlier this month they rejected a new enterprise agreement that had been negotiated over the past 12 months. It would have enabled a new network of services to be introduced. The sticking points were over broken shifts, casual employees and the abandonment of leisure leave (a week of instead of rostered days off) for new employees.

ACTION bus drivers are the costliest in Australia to hire. Labor costs are 19 per cent higher than the average government bus operator and 100 per cent higher than the average private bus operator. The upshot is that ACTION is running at a deficit of about $50 million a year, perhaps higher if budget overruns are considered.
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1998_09_september_leader05sep nireland

The Irish Republican Army and its political wing, Sinn Fein, have at last seen their true objective. They have rearranged their priorities, and in doing so might achieve their long-term aim sooner. The IRA’s stated aim has always been a united republican Ireland embracing the whole island of Ireland and free from British rule. Until very recently that had been its immediate aim and it would bomb and kill, refusing to talk, until it got it.

But the real aim should not have been a united Ireland, at least in the short and medium term. The real aim should have been to ensure that the minority Catholics in Northern Ireland lead better lives. That means and end to discrimination in economic, social fields and an end to violence and the threat of violence that have scarred the Catholic community in Northern Ireland as severely as the Protestants. After nearly 30 years of violence the long-term aim of a united Ireland is no closer, nor did the violence help Catholics to a better life.

Far from a campaign of violence, the only way for Catholics to achieve better lives must be for them to re-enter civic life in Northern Ireland. It must mean the replacement of violence with negotiation and ultimately power-sharing. Only with a foot in the civic door can Catholics in Northern Ireland end economic, political and social discrimination. While ever the Protestants have domination over civic life, they will dominate and determine the allocation of money down to the last drain in the last public-housing estate. Only by re-engaging in the civics of Northern Ireland, can the Catholic minority hope to end economic repression.
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Malcolm Booker diplomat dies after wife

Malcolm Booker who died on July 15, was an out-spoken voice of conscience and good sense in Australian foreign policy, a loving husband and father, and a gentle and kind man.

He was a diplomat and foreign-affairs officer for 35 years and for two decades until his death wrote a weekly foreign-affairs column for The Canberra Times which provoked the powerful, and gave a different perspective on foreign affairs to a wide range of readers.

Mr Booker was 82.

His wife, Roxana, who died after a long battle with cancer aged 71 was born and educated in Michigan. She died on July 15. After university she joined the US State Department and was posted to Manila, where the young Malcolm Booker had a two-year posting as first secretary from 1950 to 1952.

Daughter Emily described a friend of her mother saying: “”Malcolm saw her and that was it. He could not leave her side. And it was the same for her. It was beautiful — the little girl from Michigan met the man from Downunder and I remember their engagement party on the peak in Hong Kong.”

They shared the diplomatic world together, but were never taken in by its pomposities.

Mr Booker was Charge d’Affaires in Rangoon from 1952-53. Later he became a fierce advocate for Burmese democracy, even if it meant clashing with those in powerful positions in Australia who had truck with the military regime. He was Ambassador to Italy (1970-74) and to Yugoslavia, Romania and Bulgaria (1974-76).

In Romania, one of his duties was to accompany Prime Minister Gough Whitlam during his visit. On a trip to the Black Sea he was obliged to swim out some distance with Gough, not for the exercise, but in order to give him a run-down on Romania away from the prying ears of Ceausescu’s electronic bugging devices.

On his return from Yugoslavia, he published The Last Domino. It argued against reliance on the American alliance because, among other things, America would not come to the assistance of Australia if that meant a nuclear attack on its cities.

He was strongly anti-nuclear (when it was not so fashionable) and argued for armed neutrality and a more independent, principled foreign policy for Australia. These were arguments he took up in his weekly column for The Canberra Times, along with other themes like expunging short-term national self-interest as the basis for policy. His stand often provoked the ire of both Australian and foreign politicians, diplomats, public servants and spokespeople for pressure groups, but earned the support of many ordinary readers.

He engaged his critics without animosity.

He had a memorable spat with Prime Minister Bob Hawke over the latter’s fulsome support of the US in the Iraq war, which Booker opposed with rigor and intelligence. Hawke referred to Booker as a “”tin-pot diplomat” and an “”irrelevancy”. Booker did not rise to the bait, rather saying: “”I saw him on the golf course the other day and he gave me a cheery wave,” and impishly pointing out that “”by his (Hawke’s) attacks he gave me a good media run that I would not have otherwise got with my anti-war sentiments.”

Despite the interaction with the politically powerful and glamorous world of diplomacy, for Malcolm and Roxana, each other, children and family came first. In his last message to his children, Malcolm quoted the words T. S. Eliot’s gave to Becket: “I am not in danger; only near to death.” He had told his children he would see Roxana through to the end. “”We can all tell ourselves that we did everything we could. I go now in peace to join her.”

1998_07_july_milk authority

We have heard a lot of emotional drivel and humbug about milk in Canberra the past few weeks.

Only 3 per cent of milk consumed in Canberra comes from the single ACT dairy. The other 97 per cent comes from NSW and Victoria.

The ACT Milk Authority skites that it produces the cheapest milk in Australia, the presumption (a wrong one) being that you need a regulated market to continue to deliver such a result.

How is it that the ACT Milk Authority with only one cute little dairy in Fyshwick can deliver among the cheapest milk in Australia?
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1998_07_july_booker obit

Malcolm Booker who died on July 15, was an out-spoken voice of conscience and good sense in Australian foreign policy, a loving husband and father, and a gentle and kind man.

He was a diplomat and foreign-affairs officer for 35 years and for two decades until his death wrote a weekly foreign-affairs column for The Canberra Times which provoked the powerful, and gave a different perspective on foreign affairs to a wide range of readers.

Mr Booker was 82.

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1998_05_may_at a glance

At a glance.
Surplus $2.7 billion.
Aged and health:
Gold Card for WWII vets
Seniors Health cards for singles under $40,000 and couples under $67,000.
$80m for preventative health.
Free flu vaccine for over 65s.
$72.6 for Aboriginal primary health care.
$260m to extend Work for Dole.
$160m in literacy and career development.
International flag display on lake shore.
1% extra funding in real terms.
$62m for roads in region. Duplicate rest of Fed Hwy.
National institutions refurbishment $43m.
National Museum $154m.
Infrastructure tax incentive. Likely to help VFT.
ACT only state or territory with rising debt.
Public Service:
9000 jobs to go.
Child Support. Non-custodial parents to get a greater say.
Schools funding to 2002: non-govt up 18.1%; govt up 5.8%.
$176m for literacy in schools
$19m for Tax Office fight on tax avoidance to reap $200m over 2 years.
Health research up from $169m to $194m.
$215m to fight drugs.
$50m over 4 years for tourism.
$38m for ABC and SBS to digitise
$3m to combat sport drug cheats
Do-it-yourself superannuation initiative.
Y2K bug spending immediately deductible.
Software write-off in 30 months.
Telstra privatisation to improve bottom line by $699m by 2001-02.
Environment spending up 14%