Defence Fracas: Lambie Simply A National Embarrassment

THE BRITTLE EDIFICE of the Palmer United Party looks likelier than ever to crumble, as it battles deregistration in Queensland and as Clive Palmer  faces legal action that may disqualify him from Parliament; now, brainless renegade loudmouth Senator Jacqui Lambie has confirmed she is a law unto herself, with  attacks on her leader and a ridiculous position on pay for service personnel. Lambie, put bluntly, is simply a national embarrassment.

The award of a pay rise for defence personnel of 1.5% by the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal might not be to the liking of everyone concerned, but two points need to be made at the outset: one, that the Tribunal is essentially an entity at arms’ length from the government of the day, and two, that whilst defence personnel have secured a pay rise (like all other public servants), the fact they are receiving one at all puts them in a better place than millions of private sector employees who, in straitened economic times, will get nothing.

None of this matters to rogue Palmer United Party Senator Jacqui Lambie, who — not merely content to add her voice to others expressing disappointment over such a modest outcome — has resorted to characteristic overreach and the deeply ingrained ignorance and stupidity for which she has so eloquently and so rapidly forged a reputation since her Senate term commenced just four months ago.

Yet on this occasion, her actions speak to much of what is wrong with the culture of “democracy” that has infected politics in this country by stealth, and despite her claims to want to fix things, Lambie’s “stand” on this particular issue seems more designed than ever to exacerbate them.

I have written despairingly in this column many times of the populist, confrontational and downright destructive spirit in which opposition parties (usually on the Left) increasingly approach political debate; my remarks on “fact” and “truth” during the week, in the context of industrial action by emergency services workers in Victoria that seems designed to help bring down a conservative government, is merely the most recent example.

But on a wider basis, there is a breakdown in respect for authority and for the institutions of Australian society that is not only being fuelled by such tactics, but which engender a cavalier disregard for the consequences of doing so: and Lambie, in her attempts to hit out at the Abbott government by demanding that all soldiers turn their backs on any government MP or minister making official addresses at Remembrance Day services on Tuesday, is grotesquely prioritising her narrow and sectional agenda over what is (and always should be) a moment of reflection over the sacrifices made by others, and which should be free of such partisan endeavours.

Unlike Lambie, I have never served in Australia’s armed forces.

But in and around my family and social networks are countless numbers of returned service personnel (some, of course, now deceased), some of them — unlike Lambie — having served with distinction as commissioned officers, and the collective view of those of these who survive would seem to offer a far sounder basis from which to comment than the word of one disgruntled army truck driver for whom the services seem to harbour little residual affection.

I am very reliably told that most returned personnel (and especially those who have seen action on active deployment in battle scenarios) are mortified by Lambie’s posturing as their “champion,” and are growing increasingly angry at what she says and does supposedly in their name; most want nothing of this destructive loudmouth from Tasmania who is, it seems, a law unto herself.

There seems to be a view among this group that Lambie’s own time in the defence forces was not particular meritorious or distinguished, and a perception from the people I have spoken to that her “expertise” on defence matters is actually a self-serving construct and a diatribe (to translate what I was told into more euphemistic terms) uttered through an anal orifice.

But be that as it may, none of them want to be associated with Lambie in any way, shape or form, even if only by the indirect implication of her ill-advised rantings.

And it’s little wonder.

Piers Akerman, in his Friday column in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, amply captured this sentiment, noting that RSL President Rear-Admiral Ken Doolan slapped Lambie’s call for diggers to turn their backs on government MPs down, observing pointedly that to do so would be an insult to “more than 100,000 who have given their lives for us.”

It’s a key point. The freedoms enjoyed in Australia are owed, in no small measure, to the sacrifices of defence personnel over two world wars and a raft of smaller, but no less significant, conflicts in which Australia has participated.

In an ideal world, of course, the money would be flowing like honey, and current personnel could be given more than a 1.5% rise.

But — and I don’t want to divert too far down the path of an attack on the ALP today — with the $350 billion in debt and a budget haemorrhaging red ink at the rate of another $50 billion per annum that was the bequest of the last Labor government to Australia, the money for such largesse simply isn’t there.

That doesn’t bother someone like Lambie, however, who has adopted the absolutist language of confrontational populism now common with the Left, saying that in granting such a small pay increase, those responsible have shown that “they don’t care or are cowards.”

Well, quite.

And it comes as no real surprise that the response from opposition “leader” Bill Shorten (like anyone infected with Labor’s “fling the money and leave someone else to fix the consequences” mentality) is that the service people should be paid much, much more, even if such a bounty simply doesn’t exist.

Aside from the subterranean disagreement of the bulk of Australia’s defence fraternity (which, characteristically, keeps its collective mouth shut on such things, unlike a self-aggrandising renegade like Lambie), it seems even her own colleagues do not share her views, or support her urgings of disrespect in relation to Remembrance Day services on Tuesday.

Palmer Senator Glenn Lazarus, who says he “married into” a military family, was resolute that soldiers should not in any way entertain the proposed show of disrespect advocated for by Lambie. Her leader, Clive Palmer, declined to offer either support nor sanction to her suggestions.

But as is the way of it with Jacqui Lambie, the shenanigans she encourages this coming Remembrance Day seem contrived more as a vehicle for her to advance her own personal political interests than they are grounded in any legitimate basis of reason or, indeed, reasonably founded.

As readers will note from the articles linked, Lambie has bluntly stated that she is “nearly at the point” where she no longer cares what Palmer has to say.

She may, in fact, be right to accuse Palmer of “backflipping all over the place;” yet her ultimatum-like assertion that Palmer either “stands with (her) or near the Liberal National Party (sic)” rather obliquely misses the point that for every “win” Palmer has deigned to gift the Coalition, he has only done so after inflicting enormous political damage on the government, and even then at far greater cost than it either envisaged or desired.

Still, it seems that this issue appears to be the one Lambie has decided to use as her pretext to walk out on the Palmer United Party or, more likely, to get herself booted out of it. After all, expulsion would allow her to continue the narrative of being a victim she so obviously loves — even if that expulsion, if and when it occurs, will undoubtedly have been largely self-inflicted.

And her threat to oppose “all government legislation” until or unless the armed forces get a bigger pay rise than the one awarded to them would (and should) be laughable, were it not for the fact that she actually has a vote in the Senate.

Her calls to effectively politicise and spoil Remembrance Day this year, with the anarchic disrespect for authority they belie, merely feeds in to the general disregard for politics and politicians that has grown dangerously widespread in recent years, and which can be attributed directly to precisely the sort of behaviour that Lambie herself is unashamedly engaging in.

And Lambie has form for it, too, as those who have missed our discussions will see by perusing back articles through this link.

Palmer himself undoubtedly has his problems at present, with the Electoral Commission in Queensland apparently serious about deregistering his party in that state, and with proceedings brought against him by his Chinese business partners potentially threatening consequences (if upheld) that could extend as far as his disqualification from Parliament.

But for once, Clive Palmer must be separated out from the antics of his rogue MP, for whilst he too is guilty of making some outrageous pronouncements as a parliamentarian, what Lambie is up to is something else altogether.

I think — and let me stress that I say this setting aside my connection to the Coalition, and that I say it purely on objective terms — that Palmer might find a great weight lifted from his shoulders if his party were to break up.

After all, if it is deregistered in Queensland (its “home turf”) and if it also loses an unmitigated liability like Lambie from its ranks in Canberra, Palmer could — if inclined to continue his active political enterprise — refashion the Palmer endeavour into a network of “Palmer independents” which would free him of some of the strictures he faces around compliance, and would free him of the disciplines of a party structure which, although ostensibly conceived around his own primacy, is proving inadequate at containing someone who makes no bones of her “superiority” to her own leader.

But that is a discussion for another time, and we will no doubt revisit it.

But the call to wreak havoc on Remembrance Day this year by Jacqui Lambie is an odious show of contempt for an institution — the armed services — to which Australia owes a continuing debt of gratitude, irrespective of what she says her motives are or how sincerely grounded they are in any concern for anything other than her own political furtherance.

It is also a hypocrisy of a particularly contemptible nature, given her claim to speak with authority on behalf of that institution, which nonetheless seems determined to disown any association with her at all.

And when considered alongside other Lambie outbursts — such as the advocacy of a nuclear strike by Australia on China, or her staunch defence of Vladimir Putin in the shadow of the MH17 atrocity, her ignorant ramblings about Islamic law, or the cringeworthy discussion of the state of her nether regions — the sad public reality of Jacqui Lambie crystallises further, and becomes more irrefutable every time she opens her mouth.

And that, simply stated, is that she is a national embarrassment: a miscreant beyond almost any control, this hot-headed imbecile is so inclined to provocative, divisive and inflammatory pronouncements as to make the likes of Pauline Hanson appear sober and reasonable.

And that — without putting too fine a point on it — is no mean feat.



Indefensible: Abbott’s Attack Over Defence Finds Mark; Gillard Flounders

If you’re Julia Gillard — politically moribund, lurching between crises, facing electoral doom — one would think you’d pick your fights carefully. This time she’s started a brawl in the traditional conservative stronghold of defence policy; the resulting smackdown is nothing if not deserved.

As I begin comment tonight, it’s with a disbelieving shake of the head and a cynical laugh: how could such an intelligent woman, by all accounts a clever enough operator despite her government’s record and her poor personal performance as Prime Minister, end up painted into a corner so badly over such a critical issue?

Opposition leader Tony Abbott is in the US this week; meeting key political figures and industry groups in and around the US government, he is looking and sounding every inch the Prime Minister in waiting.

By most accounts, it’s been quite a successful trip thus far — a reality that must surely grate on Gillard, and generate resentment as the images and reports of the genuinely warm reception given to Abbott and the highly favourable impression he is making on his hosts are beamed back home.

One of the more exquisite ironies of Australian politics at the moment is that whilst Gillard (and her government generally) revel in portraying Tony Abbott as “Dr No” and as a master purveyor of negativity, often it’s the government and the Prime Minister who are the most adept at it.

And this time, it may well rebound on Gillard; in resorting to the usual shrill complaints about “Abbott negativity,” she draws focus to a major and dangerous failure of her government, shrouded in too-smart-by-half semantics and betraying an insidious yet predictable reality of its own.

Abbott, in a speech to the Heritage Foundation in Washington — a leading US conservative think tank — has said that he was concerned Australia’s defence spending had fallen to its lowest level, as a percentage of GDP, since 1938.

And to summarise: partially in reference to some $6 billion being cut in May from Australia’s defence budget over the next four years, the likes of former US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage have echoed Abbott’s sentiments, saying in effect that our resulting spend of 1.6% of GDP is inadequate, and should be at least 2%.

Mr Armitage also observed — pointedly — that a spend of 2% of GDP was an “entry price” to NATO, and that Australia could be construed as enjoying a free ride at the US’ expense on matters of defence.

There was an even a warning, more pointedly, that Australia risked its “credibility” as an ally; this from hard men not given to frivolous intrigues or to the petty vagaries of the internal polity of other countries, be they friend or foe.

Enter Gillard.

“Mr Abbott has reached a new low in negativity by going overseas and criticising this nation’s national security credentials in front of an overseas audience. That is a new low in negativity even for Mr Abbott.”

Well…for starters, I’d be asking who could blame Abbott for doing so? Defence isn’t the sexiest subject, electorally speaking; and to the extent federal issues get media coverage, it’s the carbon tax, the mining tax, Craig Thomson, Kevin Rudd’s leadership ambitions and Julia Gillard’s abominable performance as Prime Minister that soak up the available airtime.

And quite aside from that, Abbott and the Liberal Party are entering a phase in which they are preparing for a transfer to government; plain speaking to this country’s most important ally and defence partner is entirely appropriate, given the context.

Gillard goes on to accuse Abbott of now attempting to trash a defence budget he voted for at the time it was presented to Parliament as part of the federal budget in May.

This is disingenuous: courtesy of the arrangements Gillard has in place with key Independents and Communists Greens, the numbers simply do not exist for Abbott and his colleagues to attempt to amend these bills; and more to the point, no Liberal leader is ever going to vote against the allocation of money to the defence budget!

Gillard goes on, starting to ruin her argument by saying that defence spending exceeded $100 billion over the four-year forward estimates period for the first time ever under Labor, and remained at that level.

There is no denial, of course, of the cuts to the defence budget the government made in May; we will come back to those.

But looking at her figure of $100 million, this is highly misleading; the amounts are not indexed, meaning their real value will decline by some 3-4% per annum, accounting for inflation, over the very period Gillard trumpets that they will be maintained.

The figures nominated by Gillard do not account for economic growth over the forward estimates period either, which means that as the economy expands by some 3% per annum on average (assuming the government’s figures are correct — which, normally, they are not) the real proportion of defence spending as a percentage of GDP will correspondingly decline over the estimates period.

That decline in proportionate spending is in addition to the fall in its real value on account of the fact it is not indexed.

So who’s hitting which “new low” here, Prime Minister?

It’s an article of faith that Australia’s armed services, by and large, are supportive of conservative governments because conservative governments are supportive of them;  the ALP is a ruthlessly vindictive creature and has been for decades, but defence and national security are areas in which the type of petty payback typically indulged in by Labor is a dangerous game to play — literally.

Gillard tried to assert the superiority of the Labor case, pointing to the recent announcement of American troops to be deployed on Australian soil, starting with the marines in Darwin.

Yet this simply serves to underline the case of Abbott and to validate the arguments of hawks in the US that Australia is taking a free ride at US expense: the enhanced defence arrangements are based squarely on an imported troop presence and hardly amount to anything of substance on the part of the ALP.

But in the wild orgy of hysteria built around the portrayal of Tony Abbott as a carping whinger, Gillard and her cohorts have missed one rather salient point.

All the cuts that were instituted in the May budget this year — of which those inflicted on defence were a mere part — were redirected to the realisation of two objectives, and two objectives only.

The first, of course, was the “paper surplus” — the mad and manic requirement to deliver a surplus budget, after years of promises and non-delivery, even though there is already anecdotal evidence that the $1.2 billion surplus is already on track to come in as a $15 billion deficit.

It was a typically empty gesture at the hand of the incompetent occupant of the Treasurer’s office.

The second was to take every cent of money left over after that exercise has been completed, package it up with a bow, and to fling it at carefully targeted sections of the electorate as bribes, sweeteners and other forms of payoff in a cack-brained attempt to restore the Labor Party’s terminal electoral position.

The fact the bribe didn’t work, and that reputable polling sees the Labor vote drift even further downward, makes the episode even more offensive.

You see, folks, all the money Gillard cut out of defence — and from other areas, to be fair — was all to buy you off, and to buy votes.

It didn’t work, and in the meantime the country’s defence forces, always in need of additional resources, will be stretched that much further over the next few years.

And Australia will be that much more vulnerable if the global political climate goes pear-shaped — with or without the support of Uncle Sam.

With that in mind, if Abbott wants to share a little candour on the subject with his hosts in Washington, I say then so be it.


America vs China: Why The US Is The Right Choice

US President Barack Obama has visited Australia this week; as a result, 2500 US soldiers will be stationed here for six months of the year, with the possibility of an increased US troop presence and/or a new US base being established in the future.

Unsurprisingly, China — and some of her neighbours — are not happy.

And unsurprisingly, discussion in the circles of opinion this week has focused on the potential economic damage these developments might inflict on Australia; after all, China — and its appetite for Australian minerals — are not only holding this country out of recession at present, but on one reading would seem to underpin any prospect Australia might have for economic prosperity in the longer run.

Readers of this column know that I place a large premium on the economic welfare of Australia in my opinions on various issues; the one thing I place even more of a premium on is the country’s national security.

So for now, let’s place economic considerations to one side — we’ll come back to those.

And let me say at the commencement of my remarks that they do not apply to ordinary rank-and-file Chinese people, but to the Chinese government, its Communist Party, and the junta which runs it.

China, viewed through a military and national security prism, is not the sort of friend Australia needs or wants. Indeed, even were it to be, it’s not much of a friend to have.

As China has developed over the past forty years — and especially in the last ten to fifteen years — it has become increasingly belligerent in its assertions of its own national interests; those assertions alone should give thinking people reason to pause.

It lays claim to the entire South China Sea, in spite of internationally-recognised sea boundaries; specifically, it seeks control over vast oil reserves and other natural resources contained in the South China Sea basin.

It lays claim over the Spratley Islands, for much the same reason, in the face of legitimate claims held by several other south-east Asian countries.

It is an ally of North Korea. It doesn’t matter that China is North Korea’s only ally; the fact remains that it is allied to a brutal, murderous, regressive, nuclear-armed Stalinist socialist regime.

China has an agreement with Russia — also no democracy — to co-operate on military matters; no small matter, given the historically malevolent nature of Sino-Russian relations.

It is committed to the reclamation of Taiwan and does not rule out military force to achieve this objective, despite the USA being legally obliged to defend Taiwan in the event of any military attack and the near-certainty of the use of nuclear weapons should such a conflict ever eventuate.

China is building military and economic co-operation pacts with various third-world countries, in Africa and South America, to bolster its global influence and to shore up its stocks as an emerging superpower in its own right.

And finally — but by no means least of all — China is run by a regime which crushes dissent, stifles free speech, restricts its people’s access to information from the world at large, and simply disposes of those of its citizens it deems too dangerous to its interests to be allowed to be left alive.

Through its various alliances, co-operation agreements and other pacts, China’s influence already covers more than a third of the world’s population.

And that is before considerations such as Australia’s reliance on orders from the Chinese for coal, gas and so forth are taken into account.

The pending US military presence in Australia has been described as “a strike force” and as “a balance to Chinese influence in the Asia-Pacific region.”

As it rightly should be.

Much as we might need the cheques from China for our natural resources today, the question must be posed: what will we receive from China tomorrow?

It is inarguable that at best, China seeks to extend its influence into every corner of the world; at worst, it could be argued that the economic rise of China is a mere precursor to its military manifestation.

Indeed, China’s military is modernising and expanding at a fearsome rate, and its sabre-rattling and conduct to date are not suggestive of a regime seeking peaceful hegemony.

One other observation I would make with direct relevance to China is that it is home to some 1.3 billion people, in an area not that much larger than Australia with its 23 million inhabitants.

There has been negative reaction to the announcement of the US troop deployment in Australia not just from China but also from its neighbours, some of whom are in dispute with China over other matters. Indonesia, with its 300 million people, is a case in point.

At the end of the day, however, Australia’s security is the responsibility of its government, just as the protection of American interests are the responsibility of the US administration; and after all, Australia and the United States have been staunch allies now for many decades.

So this development should come as little surprise to the Chinese government. The fact it has elicited the reactions it has is suggestive of more sinister motives that may very well have been blunted, if not at least frustrated, by the measures announced this week.

It is inarguable that there are economic and trade opportunities with China that should be pursued vigorously.

It is also a fact that all of Australia’s eggs should not be placed in the one basket.

Especially when the owner of that basket — the Communist Party of China — maintains a persistently undervalued currency to give itself a permanent advantage over all of its partners, and which now openly canvasses a controlled slowdown of its economy, which will hurt all of those partners (but further advantage China itself).

There are other opportunities for trade in the raw materials we export to China; just as we ship natural gas to China, we could ship it to dozens of countries in Europe which are held to ransom by Russia for their gas supplies (indeed, the Russians have closed the pipeline that supplies mainland Europe twice in the past five years in order to make its political will known).

But there will come a day when China, one way or another, is a fully developed country; it won’t have the space to house its people, the food resources to feed them, or the mineral resources to run itself.

Here in Australia we have wide open spaces and the food production resources with which to feed tens of millions of people in addition to our own population — and that’s before anything like this  is even implemented.

There is nothing racist, bigoted or xenophobic in any of this; just a hard, cold assessment of future events that are all too foreseeable, and all too possible.

Pretend the New Zealanders (sorry, Kiwis!) were a nuclear-armed superpower far, far more powerful than Australia is; and consider a future scenario in which they invade Australia, subjugate the population, and enslave the country to materially support their own, at great detriment to Australians and under the threat of conventional or nuclear devastation.

Two potential saviours ride up on white steeds; one is called China, the other the USA.

Who do you pick?

Clearly, Uncle Sam is more a friend to this country than China is, or ever will be.

No matter what export opportunities lie at the end of the Silk Road.

Let’s not forget that, and let’s keep this debate over China and the USA in perspective.

What do you think?