Back In The Saddle: Restarting The Conversation At The Red And The Blue

AFTER A MONTH which has topped off the bulk of a year in which imposts on my time have prevented me from commenting as often as I would like on Australian and international politics — or at all, for most of the past four weeks — those pressures have finally eased, meaning that over the next few months, the conversation we have maintained for many years in this column will resume. I ask all readers, lapsed and continuing, to rejoin us.

I must assure readers that I am perfectly all right and, contrary to some queries I’ve fielded directly, have not pulled the pin on this column; on the contrary, the pressures of time (to which I have alluded, sporadically, over the past 18 months) reached something of a peak last month, and the result of that was to stop — temporarily — my ability to spend the time on political comment that I would have preferred to make.

As I have always been clear about, those obligations related to earning a living (I do have to eat, after all) and otherwise advancing my lot must come first: and this has meant that The Red And The Blue, along with a separate lifestyle-based column I attempted to launch (and which fell victim to the same time constraints), and other personal pursuits have all been pushed down the priority list.

However, having cleared a small set of milestone obligations in another place this week, the notion of “free” time will actually now become truly free once more; and whilst I still have a couple of things that must be cleared on other fronts, it means that I will be able to resume comment on the matters going on around us in the political world at present.

There is, to be sure, an awful lot going on, and whilst we have missed it here, I have certainly been keeping an eye on things as they happen.

Does it come as any great surprise that having lost a referendum vote, the “Remainers” in the UK are now hellbent on preventing Britain’s departure from the European Union from ever taking place? No, no, no. And it should surprise no-one that the unelected EU chief bureaucrat Jean-Claude Juncker is now proclaiming that Britain will “never be allowed” to leave the EU: a disgraceful position that, if anything, merely underlines the importance of the UK getting out and reclaiming control of its own destiny.

The US presidential election is now only a couple of weeks away and, disturbingly, appears set to see Hillary Clinton handed the keys to the White House. Troglodyte socialists, finger-shaking “SJWs” and other contemptible specimens are pointing to some admittedly filthy banter Donald Trump has been found out for engaging in about women, and decrying him as unfit for presidential office as a consequence.

Yet Clinton — variously a corrupt alleged violator of national security, a nuclear war threat for her pronouncements and past dealings with Russia, a Washington “insider” of the worst kind, and a member of this insidious cabal concerned only with its own continuity to the exclusion of the national or international good, and apparently a seriously ill woman — is hailed by these people, lauded even, and her pending arrival in the presidency held up as evidence of some ground-breaking triumph of democracy. It isn’t, and it won’t be, and the United States and the rest of the world will soon enough rue the day she was charged with the most important elected post on Earth.

Closer to home, Human Rights commissioner Gillian Triggs must surely, finally, have her papers stamped; the revelation that she not only misled Parliament, but accused journalists of fabricating reports of her that were proven false by a taped recording of her own voice, provides the pretext for the Turnbull government to get rid of this insidiously biased socialist from the public payroll once and for all. Light will be thrown on the efficacy of Malcolm Turnbull’s government — and the ability of Turnbull to preside over a government at all — by the manner in which it responds to this latest outrage from a Gillard-era relic who has no business purporting to impartiality at all, let alone serving as a public official in the first place.

And speaking of Turnbull, there are signs — as long forecast, and as I have feared — that he simply isn’t up to the job. More of the so-called moderates loyal to Turnbull and charged with the execution of government business have shown themselves to simply not be up to the task (Kelly O’Dwyer, I’m looking at you) and the government itself is showing signs it has learned nothing from its misadventures since coming to office in 2013, and certainly since Turnbull’s leadership treachery two years ago.

Clearly, we have much to discuss, and from this weekend onwards — perhaps a little slowly to begin with, and then resuming some semblance of our usual historical frequency — we’ll start to look at some of these issues in greater detail.

In the meantime, I remain active on Twitter, and you can follow me @theredandblue: it is one of those ironies that just as I have had little time for writing comment pieces in this column, the relative brevity and simplicity of Twitter has meant I can still make some comment as things happen, even if it is limited to 140 characters at a time.

And as ever, the ABC’s loathsome #QandA programme has continued to come in for a melloring on that front, even if I’ve missed the odd episode: even if it’s complete rubbish — and it usually is — it is nevertheless important to remember that if we are to take on the insidious socialism that is slithering almost unchallenged through our national polity, it is also necessary to know what the socialists are talking about, and that particular abuse of the national broadcaster for a one-hour propaganda session every week is an excellent place to start insofar as keeping track of the Left’s agenda is concerned.

I’ll be back, with something issues-based, within the next day or so.

Putin’s Russia: The Nuclear Red Line In Ukraine

AS THE UNITED STATES considers supplying so-called “lethal military aid” to the pro-Western regime in Ukraine, Russia’s nuclear sabre rattling goes on: now taking the form of “warnings” by retired Russian generals relaying “messages” from Moscow. As threats of war continue, and treacherous American dogs blame Washington for “nuclear aggression,” the Cold War — irrespective of whether it leads to any shooting — is well and truly back on.

Taking a little time to myself as I am this long weekend — a vicious brawl on Twitter with union stooges notwithstanding, which I may comment upon later — this morning’s post is intended only as the briefest of follow ups (for now) on a subject we touched on in cursory terms a fortnight ago.

I refer those readers who did not see my post in March about threats from Russia based on the circumstances in which it would launch nuclear strikes against NATO (which was most readers, actually: nobody is interested in the threat of nuclear war when it gets waved around these days, which is actually part of the point) to read it now, for even if nothing ever comes of the sabre rattling and menacing posture that is Russia today, little will in fact be achieved by simply ignoring it, or — worse — allowing political “leaders” to appease Russia and, in so doing, embolden it.

And as I have several times now when the subject of a prospective third world war comes up, I urge (nay, beseech) readers to watch this movie which, despite being a mere fiction, is realistic enough and adequately considered to drive home the point that even if actual nuclear war is not in prospect, every effort ought to be made to stop the likes of Russian President Vladimir Putin using it as an almost dismissive conversational piece and veiled threat.

The reason for this fairly short post (and I will be back again later today, probably in the afternoon) is simply to share with those who haven’t seen it an article carried in The Australian on Thursday that relays the disturbing message of a group of retired military specialists from Russia that not only is Putin apparently serious with his nuclear bluster, but that from a cultural perspective the Russian people seem to actually believe and expect it.

One might say it’s the obvious path for an autocrat playing to nationalistic fervour domestically to cover the (voluble) flaws in his government to pursue.

But my point in raising this again today is that talking about nuclear warfare — implicitly threatening nuclear strikes for this-and-that (and in scenarios far more plausible than, say, North Korea’s idiotic bluster about “nuclear wars erupting at any moment”) — all feeds into the notion of lowering the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons; generally you don’t hear nuclear-armed powers going around threatening to nuke anyone who pisses them off because of the inherent risk that someone else might strike first, fearing the threats are not bluster.

We now know — from this report, and others like it published in Europe — that had NATO opted to intervene directly in Ukraine, Russia was prepared to respond with nuclear weapons.

In a likely pointer to Putin’s next acquisition targets, we are told that any Russian exercise in the Baltic states that meets with military interference from NATO will result in Russia using its nuclear armaments against NATO.

And where this becomes more than a little worrisome centres on the plan — still unfinalised, thankfully — being mulled by Barack Obama to supply “lethal military aid” to Ukrainian forces fighting Russian-backed insurgents and guerilla fighters on Ukrainian soil, for this too has been singled out by the Russians as possible grounds for a non-conventional retaliation against the United States.

Just to muddy the waters, a quick Google search is all it takes to find a mountain of articles by treacherous anti-US American crackpots (like this and this) who either directly accuse the Obama administration — defective as it is — of actively seeking to foment all out nuclear conflict with Russia, and/or who seek to propagate all manner of anti-American conspiracy theories (such as the recent Germanwings tragedy, which is portrayed as a failed missile test rather than the pilot suicide it was).

What this rubbish proves, starkly, is that the old Cold War practices of infiltration, disinformation and deception are well and truly alive.

I remain reasonably sure that nothing will come of any of this, and that Putin’s bluster and unsubtle threats of nuclear retaliation for any Western meddling in Russia’s military and territorial aspirations are just that: bluster.

Even so, in such a fraught context, the last thing America should be doing is arming the Ukrainian military with lethal munitions to fight Russian-backed soldiers; the closeness of such an action to an outright armed confrontation with Russia itself makes such an action unforgivable in its potential to trigger some kind of escalation that could easily get out of hand.

The Russians, for their part, should hold off on the open threats of nuclear retaliation; as we have observed previously, they don’t help anyone or achieve anything.

Yet whichever way you cut it, the Cold War has well and truly recommenced: and it is why, whilst I am not worried in any immediate sense as to where that might lead, it amazes me that of all the traffic that comes through this site the articles dealing with strategic balance and the situation between Russia and its allies and the West receive the fewest visits of anything published in this column.

Overt Threats Of Nuclear Attack By Russia Help No-One

AN ISSUE OVERDUE for discussion involves Russian President Vladimir Putin’s remarks that had Russia been confronted militarily over its annexation of Crimea or its mischief in Ukraine, it was ready to use nuclear weapons; now, Russia threatens nuclear attacks on Denmark if it aligns more closely with NATO. These brash declarations may be bluster, but the only wise conclusion to draw is that Putin is capable, literally, of anything.

One of the issues I alluded to a week ago that I would have to come back to when time permitted has, in fact, returned on its own, and whilst tonight’s article is big on links for further reading, I’m going to keep the commentary portion of it fairly succinct: clearly this is something that isn’t going to go away, and it seems certain we’ll be talking about Vladimir Putin and his thousands of nuclear warheads again — and probably sooner than anyone might like.

The revelation by Vladimir Putin (reappearing in public after seemingly vanishing into thin air for a week and a half) that Russia would have responded to any military confrontation over Ukraine and/or Crimea with nuclear weapons is ominous enough, even if such a declaration could be ascribed to the chest-thumping bluster of a notoriously macho shithead.

But — lest anyone make the mistake of dismissing these veiled nuclear threats as isolated — I have been motivated tonight to publish the post I meant to write a week ago by the news that Russia’s ambassador to Denmark, Mikhail Vanin, has stated that his country would target Danish warships with nuclear warheads if the Scandinavian nation joins NATO’s missile defence shield, a US-led venture to safeguard against nuclear missiles launched by “rogue states” (read: North Korea and Iran), which Putin has long believed is aimed explicitly against Russia.

30 years ago, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher — alarmed that Ronald Reagan went within a whisker of signing away the West’s nuclear deterrent in response to a proposal by USSR chief Mikhail Gorbachev that both sides unilaterally eliminate their stockpiles of warheads — famously observed that you could no more disinvent nuclear weapons than you could disinvent dynamite: despite the best will in the world, nuclear weapons and the technologies that enable them are with us forever.

The irony of course is that Gorbachev was probably the one Soviet or Russian leader in the last 70 years the West had no reason to fear. But the warmer relations it enjoyed with Gorbachev soon turned chill under Boris Yeltsin, and have become positively icy on Putin’s watch.

On one level, Putin’s well-known desire to restore Russia to the glory of its Soviet heyday as an economic and military superpower is understandable.

But the ridicule once attracted by Russia’s military as a decaying reserve of infrastructure and obsolete weaponry overseen by a contingent of manpower that was shrinking as quickly as its members could desert it has given way to the realisation — that those of us with an interest in such things knew — that all the while, Russia was rearming; that whilst the West (and the present occupant of the White House in particular) was signing new deals with Russia to make steep cuts in nuclear stockpiles, Russia was lying to its “partners” in the West, testing new weapons, overhauling old ones, and restoring its strategic forces to a position of superior strength.

Now — against a backdrop of nationalist fervour whipped up in Russia by master propagandist Putin — Russia is slowly but surely beginning a faltering advance aimed at “safeguarding” its “people abroad” (think the Russian-speaking peoples of Ukraine, and Belarus, and the Baltic states) and reclaiming its “historical sovereign territory” (think Crimea, whose annexation was legitimised by a “referendum” widely believed to have been fixed and universally regarded in the West as illegal under international law).

Now, we have Russia asserting its right to station nuclear missiles in Crimea — bringing all of Western Europe into much closer range — at a time of belatedly heightened international alarm over Russia’s motives and in apparent response to naval exercises in the Black Sea that infuriated Russia.

We have Russian military drills of their own, involving 45,000 troops and dozens of warships in the Arctic, which the Kremlin is openly telling any Western media outlet that cares to listen are all about getting the Russian military to a state of “combat readiness.”

We have reports that Russia is testing what sounds suspiciously like a neutron bomb, or similar, the intended purpose of which is ominously obvious.

We have ongoing attempts to decouple Europe from the United States with propaganda and misinformation — the old Soviet playbook — which should surprise nobody, given Russia has spent the past 20 years trying to get Europe addicted to supplies of Russian gas as a way of guaranteeing the dependence of the EU on Russia and detaching it from American influence.

We have reports of Russian attempts to station nuclear missiles near the Polish border and/or plans to invade or otherwise attack Poland; doing so would almost certainly draw in Germany, and with it NATO: and once the question of active warfare is one of NATO versus Russia, that — to use the vernacular — is tantamount to the whole powderkeg going “kaboom.”

And all this comes several years after Russian nuclear bombers resumed long-range patrols in international airspace and, more recently, as its fighter planes have repeatedly made incursions into European airspace, particularly around Britain, as they apparently seek to test the combat readiness of the Royal Air Force: flying up the English Channel and close to Britain’s south-west coast, forcing civilian passenger aircraft to take urgent evasive action and/or for flight paths to be re-routed, these are not the actions of a country seeking to minimise or mitigate against the prospect of a deadly and incendiary accident.

And it comes as the US — “led” by its most strategically dangerous and insignificant President since Jimmy Carter — mulls plans to arm the Ukrainian military against Russian-backed insurgents fighting against it in parts of Ukraine, with the attendant risk that doing so may provide the pretext for a direct Russian military response that could lead to God only knows what.

I do not post this evening to appear alarmist, inflammatory or to sound frightened, for I am none of these things.

But the simple fact is that over the past few years the accrual of evidence of a belligerent and confrontational Russia is overwhelming; its footprint is everywhere, and Russia’s fingerprints extend too far and too thoroughly across the Eurasian region now to suggest anything other than a bellicose Putin prepared — literally — to do anything in order to reclaim the lost lands of the USSR, and willing to risk the consequences of doing so.

Russia is not a friend, or a partner, or an ally: it is the enemy of freedom, and the sooner more people realise this basic truth of 21st century politics, the better.

And its antics can hardly be ascribed to bluster any more, or the mere trifle of a few military exercises that nobody should worry about.

Any nuclear attack launched by Russia on any country or countries in the Western hemisphere will be met with overwhelming nuclear retaliation against Russia by the United States and Britain; nobody should suffer from the delusion Putin appears to suffer from that nuclear force would not be responded to in like kind.

Those in the UK who seek to question the future of Britain’s Trident nuclear deterrent — in the context of the election campaign underway in that country at present, and with the Labour opposition struggling to fend off an assault on its Scottish seats from the irresponsible and criminally populist SNP, which is campaigning on a pledge to remove nuclear submarines from the River Clyde — would do well to consider that without Trident, Russia could simply level the UK without resistance if it chose to do so, the threat of retaliation from the Americans notwithstanding.

And in fact, the disarmament daydreams of Barack Obama are likely to see his successor in the White House (preferably a Republican) make the reinvigoration and restoration of US strategic forces an urgent priority. The beaten Republican candidate in 2012, Mitt Romney, claimed during that campaign that the West would face the risk of nuclear blackmail and perhaps nuclear attack from Russia — and was laughed at. Romney was right, and this column acknowledged as much at the time (and I elicited much derisive comment and accusations of conspiracy theorism for my trouble). Nobody is laughing now.

But with or without Britain’s Trident nukes, if the Russians start shooting — and the US responds — the ensuing apocalyptic episode will render considerations of general elections, military alliances and even planning as far as the following week forever redundant.

Any reader who has not seen this chillingly credible depiction of nuclear warfare previously should spend the requisite couple of hours doing so: in what is unquestionably a fresh Cold War between Russia and the West, it’s high time this kind of thing once again sears the collective conscience of those faced with nuclear blackmail or, even worse, the existential threat of a general nuclear war and the hundreds of millions (if not billions) of lives it would terminate.

I’m going to leave it there, for the purpose of this article is to get a reasonable chronicle of recent events regarding Russia and its warlike behaviour — to say nothing of its loose and provocative nuclear rhetoric — onto our radar; this is the first time we have discussed such matters for some time, but I’m sure it won’t be the last.

And at some point we might have a look at the handling of Russia by the West since the fall of the Soviet Union, for just as Putin is depicted in some quarters as a madman and a lunatic, not all of the fault for the developing crisis and return to Cold War conditions lies with Russia: the West has made mistakes in its treatment of the Russians ever since the Berlin Wall came down, and as immeasurably superior to a life under Communism as the free world might be, there are some — the first President Bush being a case in point — who simply couldn’t resist poking the Russian bear in the eye with the very sharp stick of triumphalism.

But in the end, those men who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it: it is not too late to avert a disaster, and it is not too late for Russia to reach an accommodation with the West that does not stink of appeasement by the latter, or include ambit and unreasonable demands from the former.

But the trend of escalation is now clearly to be seen, in full view, with the apocalyptic threat of a nuclear war made in stark and blunt terms for the first time in decades. It isn’t a set of circumstances to be taken lightly, diminished with propaganda, or simply to be ignored.

Looking At 2015: Six Things That Will Happen This Year

THIS NEW YEAR’S DAY — as the over-indulgent nurse their hangovers and add a vow to never drink again to ubiquitous lists of resolutions, and as the rest of us enjoy a day of relative peace and quiet — we take a very brief look at six things, at home and abroad, that will underpin our conversations in 2015. Today’s article might be hit and miss and isn’t meant to be taken especially seriously. But these are events that may well come to pass.

I trust all readers enjoyed whatever they got up to last night to see in the New Year; in my own case it was to make a start on the final season of the excellent Danish political drama Borgen, which — despite the heroes of the piece being possessed of a politics well to the Left of anything I could ever stomach — is nonetheless very much worth the time to watch, and I think some of our own elected representatives could learn a thing or two from it about how to take the voting public along with them, and what not to do at all.

Today I single out six things that should, in the ordinary course of events, come to pass this year. As ever with politics, however, a week is long enough: in the space of a year literally anything can happen.

Even so, these — whilst perhaps obvious at first glance — will be interesting to watch, and whilst logic and common sense dictate that all six will occur, that old adage about politics means that we really won’t know for certain until or unless they happen.

Some of my comments today could apply to more than one of these anticipated events. Some could as easily apply to all of them.

The Abbott government will get its…self…together

This column has been both a staunch supporter of Prime Minister Tony Abbott (mirroring my personal support for Abbott stretching back 20 years) and a strident critic of his government ever since the woeful 2014 budget was delivered last May.

But having watched it spend its first 15 months in office ostensibly doing everything possible to expedite a swift return to opposition, Australians can expect their federal government to make a more concerted attempt to emerge at the top of the political heap this year.

The ministerial reshuffle announced last month by the Prime Minister — whilst hideously inadequate in scope and breadth when evaluated against personnel changes that should have been made but weren’t — should nonetheless provide, in conjunction with the removal of policy “barnacles” and some fresh blood in the government communications unit, at least a degree of clear air for the Coalition to make a second (and final) attempt to impose itself decisively on the current term of Parliament.

Labor is not ahead in the polls for nothing; and as questionable (and downright distasteful) as the strategies being pursued by the ALP and others ranged against the government might be, the simple fact is that unless some drastic changes emanate from the government this year, the odds on those insidious political strategies resulting in Bill Shorten as Prime Minister in a little over 18 months’ time will shorten — no pun intended — considerably.

The key is the Abbott government’s second budget in May; it provides a one-off opportunity to seize a second chance to fix the structural flaws in the country’s finances: without deliberately targeting Coalition voters in the name of “sharing the burden,” and without allowing the government’s opponents to emblazon the national political discourse with their cheap, dishonest, and reckless rhetoric.

It also provides the opportunity for Treasurer Joe Hockey — who I maintain should have been redeployed in the reshuffle, so deeply immersed is he in the stench of his own dreadful handiwork — to redeem himself; get it right this time, and Hockey may yet live to see the day he is feted as a “great Liberal Treasurer.” Get it wrong, and redeployment won’t be a politically tenable option: if Hockey makes an election-losing mess of a second consecutive budget, the only place for him in Parliament will be the backbench.

Expect to see more changes at the Prime Minister’s Office, which may or may not involve the departure of chief of staff Peta Credlin; the government might have botched its first year or so in office — disappointing and angering millions of its supporters — but there are enough firm hands and hard heads in Coalition ranks to recognise that the command-and-control edifice presided over by Credlin has not worked and will not work, and adjustments will be made.

Changes should include greater access to the Prime Minister by the backbench, a relaxation of the strictures that apply to what ministers can and cannot do or say, a reassessment of the government’s central veto regime on staff appointments, and a thorough reappraisal of its strategy and tactics politically and in the areas of communicating and selling its message.

On this final point, my door is open to Liberal supremos, who know very well where to find me; I mostly decline to use this column to telegraph my ideas on political strategy and communication — it is, after all, a discussion forum aimed at involving ordinary voters in a conversation, not some contemporary reworking of The Art Of War by Sun Tzu.

I have to date been totally excluded from any meaningful involvement in the process of running the current generation of Liberal governments across the country on account of the pursuit of a decades-old vendetta emanating from a couple of overly brash things I did as a 21-year-old (or, if not for that, then for reasons best known only to the Peta Credlins and the Tony Nutts of this world, and others like them).

The Liberal Party nationally has hardly fared well over the past year or so, and with the fall of the Napthine government in Victoria — likely to be followed in 2017 by WA, perhaps Queensland this year, federally in 2016 if nothing changes quickly, and with the keys to the SA Premier’s office maybe two more elections away — and if the terrible, long dark night of opposition is closing in anyway, a private conversation with me certainly can’t hurt.

Mike Baird Will Be Re-elected As Premier of New South Wales…

The greatest asset NSW Labor had, heading to the 2015 state election, was former Premier Barry O’Farrell, who — in leading what was popularly portrayed as a “do nothing” government that merely enjoyed a massive parliamentary majority — could easily have found himself in significant political difficulty this year, the thumping win in 2011 notwithstanding.

O’Farrell’s government was an object political lesson in the fact that simply “not being Labor” is not enough; that simply being a bit more stable and a bit more competent than the last guy does not automatically translate into political success or sound outcomes of governance.

As I said in January, the spectre of the 1991 state election was beginning to loom large over O’Farrell.

Yet just as his resignation — over the undeclared gift of a bottle of wine — ostensibly deprived the ALP of its greatest asset, Labor returned the favour last week by forcing its own embarrassment of a leader, John Robertson, to quit in the wake of revelations he signed a constituency letter some years ago on behalf of the Martin Place siege criminal Man Haron Monis.

With opinion polling in NSW suggesting the Coalition ahead 56-44 before Labor beds down a new leadership team, my feeling is that jettisoning Robertson won’t greatly alter that figure; there will be a corrective swing from the 65-35 result the Coalition achieved four years ago (no matter who leads the Liberals) and I tend to think that the 9% swing these numbers amount to is probably about where the votes will settle come election night in March.

Luke Foley — set to be elected unopposed as Labor leader next week — may or may not prove effective; he may or may not resonate with the NSW public, but as the endorsed candidate of the NSW ALP’s Sussex Street machine, I wouldn’t bet on it.

The issue of institutionalised corruption in NSW and its pursuit by ICAC has, as we now know, touched and smeared both the major parties; the difference in my view is that the Liberals have acted swiftly to excise the cancer of misconduct, jettisoning alleged and/or admitted miscreants in droves, whilst Labor doggedly persists with its culture of tribalism and maaate-ship: with even the likes of Eddie Obeid threatening lawsuits at anyone who dares question his “good” name.

Quite simply, Mike Baird is perhaps the most impressive state leader the Liberals boast anywhere in the country at present, and there are growing signs that voters really like him: this is one result that should be beyond doubt, and the loss of 10 to 15 seats to Labor should be seen as within acceptable parameters.

…Whilst In Queensland, Campbell Newman Won’t Be

One way or the other, there will be a new Premier of Queensland before Easter.

As an ex-Brisvegan (and as a native, I’m allowed to use the term “Brisvegas” 🙂 ) who maintains a very close eye on what goes on in the Sunshine State, I’m appalled by the way the LNP has operated since its landslide win — all but wiping out Labor in the process — three years ago.

I’m not going to rehash the acres of column space we’ve devoted to the science experiment that has been the LNP in office today; readers can access some of this material through the LNP tag in the tag cloud to the right of this article if they wish to do so.

But I will reiterate that there is a clear delusion and/or a denial of political reality if the LNP seriously believes Campbell Newman will win his seat of Ashgrove, and this alone dictates that Queenslanders will see a new face behind the Premier’s desk in the Executive Building.

This denial, and the attendant refusal to specify who might replace Newman if the LNP somehow manages to win this year’s state election, is seriously compromising the government’s wider re-election prospects.

The conditions exist in Queensland for the ALP to pull off a stunning political triumph after its 64-36 mauling in 2012 and the loss of 44 of its 51 seats in the unicameral 89 member Queensland Parliament; perhaps set to garner just one vote in three, and aided by the plethora of minor parties set to draw votes away from the LNP, Labor will bolster its audacious bid to use the optional preferential voting system with the mother of all scare campaigns about a “Premier Jeff Seeney” that the LNP apparently refuses to take seriously.

Common sense dictates a narrow LNP win with a new Premier sworn in — likely the Treasurer, Tim Nicholls — once the dust has settled.

Then again, this is Queensland we are talking about, and strange things happen in Queensland where elections are concerned. If the vote for Clive Palmer’s repulsive excuse for a party holds up — and if his preferences either exhaust or, worse for the LNP, are directed to Labor — then a return to Labor government under an untested but uninspiring leader in Annastacia Palaszczuk can not be discounted.

Vladimir Putin Will Get Nasty — Really Nasty — With The West

No, I’m not suggesting Russia will start a nuclear war, although anyone who seriously believes Putin hasn’t modernised Russia’s strategic forces to enable it to do precisely that if push ever came to shove is delusional.

But with Russia’s economy seriously impacted by the collapse in global oil prices — a situation unlikely to change this year, with the resulting oil glut likely to keep prices depressed for some time even if the OPEC cartel moves to cut supply — the potential still exists for the bullying junta in charge of the Kremlin to lash out.

In the face of its annexation of the Crimea and its mischief in Ukraine, Russia has suffered the triple whammy of falling oil prices, a savage market-imposed depreciation of the rouble, and punishing Western sanctions in retaliation over its activities on its western flank, including the shooting down of a civilian airliner.

Like any bully, actions and consequences do not constitute a causal relationship in the eyes of the Russian leader; and whilst the international community has sent the clear signal that invasions and annexations of territory will not be tolerated in the modern era, Putin has been equally clear that the consequences of his actions are equally intolerable to him.

A full Russian invasion of Ukraine cannot be ruled out, and in the ensuing regional war, Western powers — particularly the USA — would be understandably reticent to involve themselves; the risks of doing so triggering a wider conflagration with Russia that could well spiral beyond control far outweigh the (justified) imperative to go to Ukraine’s aid.

Yet Putin’s political prestige — and his survival — rests on his ability to keep ordinary Russians convinced they are better off under his leadership than under any alternative; as he watches his country’s economy stagger under the weight of lost revenues, he will have to create some kind of sideshow to convince his people that he is standing up to Russia’s enemies.

Expect a lot more bellicose, confrontational rhetoric, backed up by an increase in patrols by nuclear-armed Russian bombers and perhaps minor military skirmishes between Western forces and Russian-backed insurgents.

What is likelier is some kind of enhanced economic and trade arrangement between the so-called BRICS nations, which may or may not take on an activist anti-Western trade agenda; as this would conceivably involve China, any such development would potentially affect Australia’s interests.

David Cameron Will Win The British General Election

Or at the very least, he should.

At face value, the prospects for Britain’s Conservative Party are as good, if not better, than they were five years ago when Cameron initially took power: the budget austerity measures taken by Cameron’s government appear to have worked, with the British economy having emerged from recession trimmed of fat and making a swift recovery.

In fact, Britain’s economy is booming, which is more than can be said for its European counterparts as the Eurozone slithers toward a so-called “triple dip” into the red.

The welfare reforms implemented by Iain Duncan Smith at the Department of Work and Pensions (the equivalent of Australia’s Department of Social Services, now headed by Scott Morrison) seem to have made great strides toward breaking the back of a welfare culture even more entrenched than Australia’s; and the British deficit — a legacy of 13 years of insipid Labour government that culminated in external debt reaching £1.5 trillion ($2.8 trillion), or about 60% of GDP — is shrinking, as the increase in economic activity combined with the savings of budget measures contribute to the government’s ability to better cover its outgoings.

The point is that Cameron’s government is reaping the benefits of his reforms having worked; here in Australia, of course, the Abbott government is staring an election defeat in the face for merely proposing the kind of tough medicine that has worked in the UK without being able to legislate it. But I digress.

Cameron has seen the political collapse of his Coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats; and the win by the “no” side in the Scottish independence referendum last year now appears likely to have an unforeseen consequence — the loss of Labour’s stranglehold over Scottish electorates sending MPs to Westminster — and this, in turn, could enable the Tories to pick up a handful of seats in Scotland, in so-called four-way marginal seats, under the UK’s first past the post voting system.

But the biggest problem the Conservative Party faces — and which is blamed for its failure to secure an outright majority in 2010 — is immigration: EU expansion late last decade saw Britain obliged to accommodate the almost quarter-million Eastern Europeans who flooded into the UK with the entitlement to live and work; rightly or wrongly, the issue ranked as one of the most influential factors in how Britons voted in 2010, and the failure of the Conservatives to take a firm stand on the issue is likely to have cost it the percentage point or two that would have made the difference between an outright majority and the near miss the Tories actually scored.

In turn, this has breathed life into UKIP — the United Kingdom Independence Party — over the ensuing five years; and whilst the Conservatives nominally lead Labour in some polls, their support to date appears to be insufficient to cross the threshold of governing in their own right.

Readers of this column have heard me talk of “David Cameron Syndrome,” an affliction that also ails the Liberal Party in Australia: the aversion to taking a firm stand on issues, to be seen to offer all things to all people at election time, the disinclination to offend anyone, and the avoidance at any cost of promising anything that might create a contingent of disgruntled “losers.”

The old truism that if you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no-one is apt, and Tony Abbott has learnt that too with the fallout from his unnecessary and foolish “no cuts to this, no cuts to that” diatribe on election eve in 2013 regularly thrown back in his face by his critics.

Whether David Cameron prevails, or falls victim a second time to the eponymous ailment we have spoken of, remains to be seen.

But with Labour led by its most left-wing leader in almost 30 years and an obviously positive economic narrative for the Tories to weave, the probability of the Conservative Party winning a second term remains a solid prospect indeed.

Bush vs Clinton Is Really On

I’m not going to dwell long on this one, partly because the US presidential election remains almost two years away.

But the “race” for the presidency, as Americans call it, always begins to crank up once federal mid-term elections are done and dusted; so it is already proving this time.

The Republican Jeb Bush — often designated as the “competent” member of the Bush dynasty — has left few in doubt of his intention to stand for his party’s nomination for the Oval Office, and I don’t think any of the other candidates in the Republican field will get within shouting distance of him if his apparent candidacy becomes certain.

As for Hillary Clinton, it beggars belief that she would fail to stand: short of a medical issue so severe as to physically restrain her (and in the absence of any other truly national contenders on the Democratic side with the profile to out-manoeuvre both she and Bush) I think it inevitable that Clinton will not only stand, but have her name on the ballot next November.

This year should be fascinating from the perspective of the posturing the respective candidates engage in; I’d also be keeping an eye on Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, who as the obvious proxies for the respective campaigns might well prove to be the focus of political news from the US as much as the candidates proper do.

 

And that’s it: like I said, nothing too serious today. I am acutely aware some will be nursing very sore heads. For once on a New Year’s Eve I had nothing stronger than Coca-Cola to drink last night, so I sympathise 🙂  .

Some of these things may come to pass; all or none of them might. But I think the odds on all of them happening are pretty good.

I hope readers have enjoyed a rather less formal banter in this article. The year begins proper tomorrow, and with it, we will return to our usual approach to the topical issues of the day in Australian politics.

 

Wacky Jacqui And Putin’s “Great” Values

MORE EVIDENCE of a need to change voting methods for the Senate emerged yesterday, with idiot Senator Jacqui Lambie making spectacularly naive claims in extollation of Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin; her remarks offer further proof of her utter ignorance of world politics, or that she really is mainly driven by base urges, or both. Either way, her outburst highlights the problem of lunatics taking seats in Parliament with a sliver of the vote.

Just in case anyone thinks I’ve succumbed to the temptation in the past two days to take cheap populist shots, I assure readers this is not the case; and whilst opportunities to take another swipe at the imbecile masquerading as a Senator from Tasmania are always welcome, this matter intersects with the far more substantial issue of federal reforms that I had planned to write about last weekend (and to which I will return as time allows, perhaps this coming weekend, instead).

But seemingly unwilling or unable to resist the temptation to prove right anyone accusing her of being a complete moron, “wacky” Palmer United Party Senator Jacqui Lambie has been at it again this week; not merely content to advocate nuclear strikes on China and a divisive plan to reserve seats in Parliament for Aborigines, it now appears that in the demented world view of the woman purporting to be Clive Palmer’s deputy, Russian President Vladimir Putin is a man of “great values” who is dedicated to “(finding) world peace where he possibly can (sic).”

BASIC INSTINCT…Accepting Vladimir Putin as a man of peace means overlooking a lot. (Picture: Mark Knight, Herald Sun)

The case against Lambie has been neatly made in this article appearing in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph today, but when it is remembered that Lambie appeared on Hobart radio in July saying — to paraphrase — that she was seeking a man with a lot of money and a huge penis, it isn’t difficult to make the assumption that any rational, logical or even factual assessment of Putin has been subsumed by these rather more basic (and from an elected representative, distasteful) considerations.

To listen to Jacqui Lambie, Putin ought to be a God: he’s a strong leader; has great values; he’s candid and forthright and honest; and he is, of course, a man of peace, working tirelessly “where he possibly can” to end conflict in God’s own world.

You really have to wonder Lambie got the name on one cue card mixed up with someone else’s head shot at “Media Training 101” for novice MPs.

Yet as the Tele summarises in a beaut biographic, Putin is the man who was in charge of the evil Soviet “security” agency, the KGB, which ordered and oversaw thousands of deaths; he directed an invasion attempt against Ukraine; his government conducted a brutal war against rebel Chechens for years; key Russian figures have been assassinated (particularly in London) in hits believed attributable to his regime; his government supplied the weapons used in the MH17 outrage that killed hundreds, including 38 Australians, for which he has refused to apologise and refused to assist with recovery efforts; and — as the Tele also notes — he rules a country with a shocking record on human rights.

He and his henchman have also made thinly veiled threats in the past few years to use nuclear weapons against Western countries who either intervene in conflicts involving Russian allies (Syria, Libya, Iran) or provide military support to Ukraine (or elsewhere in eastern Europe) to repel Russian forces lest another invasion attempt occurs.

How a figure of such apparently unmitigated violence and brutality, unmoved by the savage termination of human life and of such stark narcissism, could be confused with “a man of peace” is anyone’s guess, although we’re not talking about “just anyone” on this occasion.

Once again, Jacqui Lambie has shown herself to be a complete embarrassment to Parliament, to her leader, Clive Palmer (for whom it is impossible not to feel at least a twinge of pity where all things Lambie are concerned), and to Australia generally. It’s not the first time she has made herself an international laughing stock since taking up her place in the Senate three months ago. It will almost certainly not be the last.

At the very least, she has proven — were further evidence even required — just what an idiot she is.

But rather than continue to tear away at Lambie’s credibility — she will do that herself when next she opens her mouth in public — the episode highlights one of the most glaring deficiencies of proportional voting: namely, that dangerous lunatics like this can obtain sinecures in this country’s seat of governance with just a sliver of the popular vote.

In Lambie’s case, at the head of the Palmer United Party’s Tasmanian Senate ticket, she secured just 6.4% of the primary vote in that state; worse, with 21,974 votes — remembering Tasmania gets the same number of Senators as the mainland states irrespective of its population — she boasts little more support than the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party’s Ricky Muir, who was elected with just 17,083 primary votes in Victoria in a state where 3.5 million votes were cast.

Even in Tasmania, where Lambie’s votes were reaped from 345,000 on the day, we’re not talking about anyone with a meaningful level of popular support.

And it’s an important point for the simple reason that if Lambie was from one of the major parties, the clamour for her head — especially if she sat with the Coalition, knowing what Labor and the Communist Party Greens are like — would be deafening; in such an event the main parties would have recourse to mechanisms to expel her, whereas minor parties either lack such powers altogether or simply refuse to use them.

And whilst mistakes occur from time to time, and the odd cretin slips through the net of vetting, the chances of someone of Jacqui Lambie’s “calibre” even being preselected by Labor or the Liberal Party are close to zero.

Clive Palmer does bear some responsibility for Lambie’s insidious presence: after all, and despite his rhetoric about party “structures” and processes, Palmer has made it patently clear that where is party is concerned, the buck stops with him.

But at the root of the problem, the real villain is proportional voting, which enables any fruit cake or imbecile to find their way to Canberra (and onto the taxpayer-funded gravy train) with not much more than a sprinkling of electoral endorsement — and Lambie is proof incarnate of that very phenomenon.

As an aside, the big issues of governance and reform that Australia faces over the next decade or so are becoming painfully obvious — to me, to other thinking conservatives, and to ordinary folk who know there is something deeply wrong with the system as it stands, but don’t really know what must be done to fix it.

My post today (amusing as some might find it) deals merely with a symptom of the problem, not the cause; and when we get to talking about reforms to the Federation that I think must be enacted (but which I doubt the major parties have either the will or the stomach to pursue), the scourge of proportional voting will once again feature prominently in that discussion.

 

 

Is Vladimir Putin Welcome At The G20 Meeting In Brisbane?

WITH THE G20 SUMMIT scheduled to take place in Brisbane next month drawing closer, increased debate about whether or not Russian President Vladimir Putin should attend (or is even welcome) seems to reveal Australian attitudes that are split on the question. I agree that Putin is unwelcome. But I also believe he should attend, and not simply on account of notions of “inclusion” or exposure to the leader of another major world economy.

Quite a brief post from me this morning; I’ve been a bit waylaid these past few days as readers will have noticed, but I think — given this particular issue has not merely resurfaced, but will probably persist over the next month — that we should give it some attention.

I have noticed in The Australian this morning that the paper’s Foreign Editor Greg Sheridan has published a terse, succinct and blunt piece arguing that Russian President Vladimir Putin should not be “welcomed into Australia for any reason on any pretext” in the aftermath of the murderous crime that blew a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 out of the sky above Ukraine, killing dozens of Australians in the process.

Here in this column, we too have given this obscene atrocity a great deal of consideration. Those who wish to recap can access a selection of relevant articles via this link.

I have been consistent in my condemnation of Russia and of Vladimir Putin; his excuses and obfuscations and rationalisations do not justify Russia’s culpability — nor absolve it of responsibility — over the slaughter by separatist insurgents of hundreds of people, including Australians, using armaments made and supplied by Russia for the express purpose of killing civilians.

And I agree with Sheridan that Putin is not welcome in Australia.

Yet despite my past suggestions that Russia be completely excluded from the civilised system of world affairs, I think he should attend the G20 summit in Brisbane; far from a show of embracing Russia, or extending it an olive branch, I think the Russian President should be encouraged to come here to face off with the international partners so rightly enraged by his conduct.

Putting the heat on Putin over his (and his country’s) refusal to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions will be an apt activity in the middle of a notoriously uncomfortable Brisbane summer; and with a throng of world leaders in attendance — all bristling with outrage over the shooting down of the Malaysia Airlines jet — there is one forum in which Putin should be made to feel obliged to show his face.

Simply stated, the Russian leader should be corralled into a room with his counterparts and told, in no uncertain terms, that unless his country publicly accepts the blame for what transpired in Ukrainian airspace and makes some genuine attempt to redress the terrible mistake it made, then “exclusion” is precisely what Russia can look forward to from a huge proportion of the international community.

Our own Prime Minister, Tony Abbott — who, with the forceful and eloquent Julie Bishop at his side, has led the international response to the MH17 incident — is more than suited to lead a terse international rebuke of the Russian leader, behind locked doors, and on his own turf to boot.

This is the conversation Putin has studiously avoided ever since the disaster occurred.

Yes, such a course of action is replete with risk: after all, Russia is brimming with nuclear weapons, and has made barely veiled threats to use them if confronted militarily; some will argue there is no point, literally, in “poking the bear.”

But the West has made the mistake of appeasing Putin too often and for too long as it is, with the end consequence to date of the mess in Ukraine and threats of military retaliation against any use of force there. The soft option has proven utterly useless. There is no point persisting with more of the same.

Administering a swift diplomatic boot up the backside might prove more productive, and whether it does or not, too many governments have spent too long tiptoeing around Putin trying not to offend him when they should have been more actively alert to what the forces associated with him were doing.

In the end, of course he should come here — and if the truth hurts, then so be it.

But after this exercise, he should then be sent packing; there is no need to offer Russia any input into decisions that will affect hundreds of millions of others when it shows no respect for the lives of ordinary people.

And if Putin doesn’t like that, then on the ride back to Brisbane Airport he can take his pick of the city’s Gateway Bridges, instruct his driver to stop at the top of it, and take the proverbial flying jump.

 

“Don’t Mess With Us:” Putin Threatens Nuclear War

AS WESTERN CONSENSUS concludes that Russia has now invaded Ukraine — with 1,000 of its troops crossing the border into the neighbouring, disputed region of that country — its President has for the first time made an explicit threat of nuclear retaliation against Western governments who intervene and engage Russia militarily in response. This ominous rhetoric, in likelihood, is posturing, but the possibility that it isn’t cannot be ignored.

I’m going to keep this brief as I have been up all night (it’s 6am in Melbourne as I start writing this) attending to my 18 month old son; the things you keep abreast of when the day is unfolding on the other side of the world can be remarkable, and so is this: for all the wrong reasons.

The incursion of about 1,000 Russian troops into the disputed part of Ukraine that has seen insurgent activity now for months — Russia calls them “separatists” — has been the subject of much discussion internationally, and it seems that the product of that process has been to conclude that after seemingly threatening to do so for months, the troop movement does in fact constitute “an invasion.”

In addition to the thousand or so troops that have already entered Ukraine, there are reports of tens of thousands more that are massed along the border between the two countries, and who could join the conflict at virtually a moment’s notice.

The issue of what to do about Russia and Putin — not least in the aftermath of the atrocity of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, blasted out of the sky by insurgents armed with Russian-supplied weaponry, for which Putin denies all responsibility — has proven fraught, with sanctions brought against Russia by various Western governments having no apparent effect other than to embolden the Russians to continue along the provocative course they seem to have embarked upon.

Indeed, our own Prime Minister Tony Abbott is weighing whether to bar Putin from entering Australia later this year to attend the G20 conference; my sense is that whilst it would send the right message to the international community, whether or not Putin attends a talkfest is largely immaterial in the bigger scheme of things.

Already, Putin is threatening to cut gas supplies to an EU that is surprisingly gung-ho in its intent to retaliate against Russia; this was blamed in advance on Ukraine siphoning supplies destined for the EU as a way of circumventing restrictions placed on its own supplies. And just last night, it was announced that Germany would weigh an even tougher sanctions regime against the Russians.

But perhaps mindful of the fact Western leaders (despite the distraction of ISIS in the Middle East) give every appearance of turning their collective minds to dealing with Russia punitively for its part in fomenting the destructive events and loss of life on its doorstep, Putin has sounded another — and far more ominous — warning.

Speaking yesterday to a pro-Kremlin youth camp, Putin raised the spectre of retaliating with nuclear weapons against any powers who chose to engage in “large-scale conflicts” with Russia: “it’s best not to mess with us,” he rather euphemistically told his audience.

It is highly likely that in raising the prospect of nuclear conflict, Putin is merely posturing, playing as much to domestic audiences at whom his strongman image is directed as to the US, the UK, and leading European countries like Germany.

Yet as the article from Britain’s Telegraph newspaper that I have linked this morning notes, even during the Cold War it was rare for Soviet leaders to openly reference the country’s nuclear arsenal, let alone rattle the nuclear sabre.

The comments echo a far more oblique threat of Russian nuclear retaliation a couple of years ago, when Putin’s Prime Minister, Dimitry Medvedev, suggested a nuclear conflict was not out of the question if the US attacked Iran, or later remarks by a Russian emissary who suggested a similar escalation could result from American attacks on insurgent positions in Syria.

Iran and Syria, of course, have long been Russian protectorates: as recent events in Syria at least have shown with the emergence of the ISIS menace, perhaps the Russian bluff ought to have been called on that occasion.

Putin’s remarks yesterday, however, make those earlier instances of nuclear posturing seem trivial.

Putin is no fool and no madman; he is fully aware that remarks of the kind he made yesterday will only be interpreted in Western circles as a clear and direct threat of a nuclear response.

The message is, very simply, that America and its allies should butt out of what is occurring in what Russia regards as its sphere of influence.

The great risk, of course, is that Russia uses the cover of what amounts to nuclear blackmail — on a calculation that the West, fearful of the consequences, will not intervene — to engage in a brutal slaughter designed to achieve its ambitions in Ukraine, in total disregard and contempt of any outcry or objection its actions provoke further afield.

And it goes without saying that even if Russia is permitted by an uneasy Western alliance to do what it pleases in Ukraine, the obvious question is who comes next: Putin is committed to his grand objective of reviving the Soviet Union, and like the advancing German menace in the late 1930s, appeasing Russia now — under the threat of existential consequences — will only encourage and embolden Putin to engage in more of the same behaviour as his expansionist agenda is pursued.

There is also the prospect that at some stage the Putin Soviet restoration project will advance into NATO territory; if and when it does, then all bets are off — threats of Russian nuclear strikes or not.

Whichever way you cut it, Putin has drastically escalated both the explosive situation in the disputed Ukraine region and the icy relations between Russia and the West it has created.

He has made it far more difficult for Western and NATO leaders to respond, and elevated the stakes insofar as a misstep by either side might trigger a wider conflict.

I’ll keep an eye on this and I encourage readers to do so as well. But just as Putin may be grandstanding, there is also the prospect that he isn’t.

And that — however probable or otherwise — means the situation on Europe’s eastern flank has just entered an apocalyptically dangerous new phase.