Modest Expectations – Dominican Republic

“Ladies and gentlemen: the story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the guilty.”

Strike me lucky, Blue, did you hear that? They are at it again – the Coalition of the Willing has now changed its name to a self-preened great Aukus. Yes, I know the Great Auk has joined the Dodo, but the word here is Aukus. Remember the name! And no cracks about Noah’s Aukus.

The great AUK – now extinct

I’ve a friend who has been associated with the Senior Service since he was 19 years old. I asked him a simple question – why does Australia need submarines? He thought it was a good question, and he answered in conventional terms, that he thought Xi had the same expansionist propensity that the Japanese military had before the Second World War. I said to him it sounded like a version of the yellow peril coming from the North.

My friend made the observation that the French contract was rubbish, and the Adelaide shipyards were just not up to the requirements. From my point of view, having heard from a variety of sources, Master Pyne will have a lot to answer for this in relation to his involvement, apart from any fiduciary gain, just to shore up a few South Australian Parliamentary seats for the Liberal Party! Any objective assessment would have concluded how poor were the underlying assumptions, an impression reinforced by knowing of the recent involvement of Jane Halton as a consultant.

Yet five years ago Australia had entered into a contract – ill-formed, ill-thought through – but did the Australian Government confront the French with its concerns? Probably not. If so, why now go behind the back of the French government?

Nevertheless, the cackhanded way in which Morrison has responded to being hoodwinked into the nuclear submarine imbroglio is par for the course. That was compounded by the gratuitous insult by an American President, who knows of Morrison’s failed bet on Trump. Biden seems unable to bring himself to utter his name.

Despised by Biden. Morrison has also pissed off the French (and probably the EU as well) and the Chinese. The rest of Asia is looking askance, especially when they also see Boris, the dishevelled spectre of the playing fields of Eton College, in the mix. The question may rightly be asked – why are the British meddling in the Pacific since they do not even have any British Overseas Territory tax havens in the Pacific to defend?

Nevertheless, Morrison is following in the traditions of the recent past Australian Prime Ministers where, despite the trumpet blast about the number of members of the Coalition of the Willing (apart from a Danish contingent of about 50 troops), only Australia and Great Britain made any sizeable military contribution to America’s ill-starred invasion of Afghanistan.

The French refused to join, although it had previously committed 17,000 troops to the Gulf War in 1991.  And who can forget Menzies’ embarrassing involvement in the Suez Crisis in 1956 where, by Jove, those “gyppos” needed to be taught a thing or two. At that time the French joined the British in tickling Menzies’ vanity.

According to my source, the Americans will probably flog Australia the Virginia class nuclear submarine.  At what cost? A lot is the best estimate, and just re-emphasises the non-answer to my initial question, when Australia has a small navy, minuscular compared to both China and the USA.

This Virginia class submarine, with a crew of about 135 sailors, can carry up to 24 torpedoes and Tomahawk cruise missiles. The boat’s top underwater speed is about 25 knots (46km) per hour. The submarine has an advantage, namely the reactor plant will not require refuelling during the ship’s lifetime. But the question remains of what will the life time look like if it takes 20 years to build this fleet. It does not make sense.

Just look at the logistics. From laying down plans to final commissioning seems to take about six to seven years; but General Dynamics already has a backlog, with the boondoggle being a tasty supplement to maintain the money flow to the American armaments industry in, say, 20 years’ time. Needless to say, these submarines will be built in the USA, not Australia. There are just so many subsidiary suppliers of equipment to make Australian involvement in the manufacture impossible.

There are a few other queries, especially as the life of a submariner is not one which is immensely popular with the younger generation. Long periods of time next to a nuclear reactor underwater is not the most enticing job prospect, given the amount of time needed to ensure that the person recruited has the ability to remain sane in a closed underwater environment. So how is this to be answered?

The alternative is to invest in smaller unmanned submarines, more suitable for our shallow coastal waters. These are being built by Boeing and, according to my source, may be the future. They are cheaper; and nobody cries over the sinking of an unmanned drone.

The observations from my friend seem very sound, especially as he is concerned with our defence; not some vain manoeuvre to spend a great amount of funding on a project where the competition is already set between the two heavyweights. The Chinese are investing in more and more nuclear submarines.

Deployment of nuclear submarines confronting the Chinese in the South China sea should be left to the Americans – and the Japanese. In the undersea domain, the increase in Japan’s submarine force is highly regarded throughout Asia, and even America’s anti-submarine warfare operators struggle to track Japan’s modern fleet of super-quiet non-nuclear submarines. Note the comment about the stealthiness. This was a major criticism of the French submarines ordered by Australia, which apparently are so noisy one can hear La Marseillaise anywhere if the enemy wishes to tune in.

Even Taiwan is building new submarines. Paradoxically, there are some suggestions, one of which is that the Americans are seeking to reduce their nuclear submarine fleet. This may give some clue as to the US interest; and hence sloughing a few off to Australia – obviously at the right price whether for outright sale or some form of lend-lease – to shorten the period from 20 years to a much more “acceptable” timeframe. These alternatives may have more currency now the possibility of such has been denied by a former US Secretary for the Navy.

Sometime in the future there may be six nuclear submarines under an Australian ensign; an expenditure which could have been spent on a more mobile unmanned underwater navy, able to have quick deployment around the vulnerable coast of north-west Australia demonstrated so clearly when the Japanese attacked there, as well as Darwin in 1942. I wonder still whether this “sometime in the future” scenario will ever eventuate, but I certainly won’t be around to see it.

I do not weep for the French. In the 1990s, when President of the Faculty of Public Health Medicine within The Royal Australasian College of Physicians, I coordinated with Saatchi a protest against the French nuclear tests in the South Pacific at Mururoa Atoll. This protest involved colleagues from New Zealand and other South Pacific constituencies. I also well remember the callous bombing of the Rainbow Warrior by the French in Auckland Harbour in 1985. It should be noted that the French last withdrew its ambassador from Canberra in 1995, after Australia had withdrawn our ambassador from France two months earlier.

Given all this, I am sure that Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines will be unhappy about Australia gratuitously poking around underwater in the archipelago, knowing that there are already a number of nuclear submarines close by, if not in disputed territorial waters.

The other diplomatic problem for Australia is that the last thing the South Pacific nations will want is a nuclear reactor with a boxing kangaroo motif berthed in their harbours, which reinforces that point about the unattractiveness of the submariner’s life.

But then, will this whole extravaganza ever occur?

To boost or not to boost 

An advisory panel, independent of the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), has voted to recommend administering Pfizer vaccine booster doses to people over 65 and those at high risk of severe COVID-19. The shots would be given at least six months after the original two shots.

The panel had earlier voted against a broader proposal from Pfizer to make booster shots available for people 16 and older. However, the FDA is not bound to accept the recommendation.

What is important is that Israel and USA have evidence for the efficacy of boosters, and it seems that six months is an indicative time for a booster dose of both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. The need for a booster for AZ vaccine is less clear. What is known is that the AZ vaccine is a “slow burner”, and immunity levels build over time, especially when the dosing period is stretched. Currently the gap between first and second doses is between eight and 12 weeks which gives an optimal immune response.

For the third booster dose, it may be preferable to give a different brand of vaccine than the one used for the first two shots. This is specifically mentioned for the AZ vaccine. This would be positive news for those Australians over 65, who have been denied access to the Pfizer vaccine for their initial inoculation.

Booster shots are subject to speculation as to efficacy, but both Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are lined up seeking FDA approval. There is a suggestion that the Moderna booster requirement may be half the initial inoculation shot and, given the arrival of Moderna vaccine into this country, such information is relevant.

What is important is for the Government to develop a national approach to boosters, assuming that Australia will follow the FDA decisions, and moreover Israeli experience. In other words, let us not get caught up in the no man’s land of indecision; the Government failed comprehensively in relation to vaccines – they cannot afford to fail again.

The debate still centres on the level of vaccination and applauding the great response of Australians to be vaccinated once the vaccine hesitancy was  overcome. I for one, was in that cohort, and masked my hesitancy by taking the advice to space the influenza and COVID-19 vaccines. As I wrote in an April blog:

The other one, given the problems with the rollout, if I was able to secure a first dose, how long shall I have to wait for the second dose, and then more importantly, for the booster? It does not seem clear to me, whether (or more optimistically, when that will occur). That is why the J&J vaccine appeals to me more because it is single dose; but will it ever be registered in Australia? Questions, questions everywhere, but only opinions to imbibe. That is my reaction as an elderly consumer eligible for the injection. I am confused, and so will hold back. In the Australian climate it seems the best option is to wait and see.

I hope that same indecision does not dog mixed vaccine boosters, but at least if Pfizer is approved for boosters it can be used potentially across all of those over the age of 65 years. In retrospect, my comment in relation to the J&J vaccine seems have been a good bet. Although there were production difficulties, it is said that the second injection provides near to 100 per cent protection.

In any event, the matter of boosters should not be let slip in the way other matters have been mismanaged, because if boosters prove successful, then a six-monthly cycle hopefully can be converted to a minimum one year with further tweaking of the vaccine. This would then cement the booster added into the influenza vaccination cycle, with the possibility of a combined flu-COVID vaccine. This is in the future, but the matter of boosters must be part of the conversation now.

There is one distraction, if it can be called that. Why should Australia be applying for boosters when the undeveloped world is largely unvaccinated? Australia cannot take responsibility for the world. Yet if Australia accepts public health responsibility for our neighbours, the level should be clearly defined; and once it is clearly defined then these nations should be incorporated so their level of access is the same as ours.Yet at the same time those nations should accept the same level of responsibility as us.  Every society has got its “whack jobs”, every society has its level of ignorance, but public health responsibility is universal just as taboos are universal. It is all about the acceptable mix of persuasion and coercion.

Sweden Calling

I read the article by James Baillieu in Crikey extolling the virtues of the Swedish approach to the COVID-19 pandemic.  After reading it, I am sorry to miss articles on the benefits of the “English moat usage in repelling the Virus” or the “Cumulative benefit of monocle use when taking ivermectin.”

But I joke, my Lord, when such an authoritative source as yourself waxes lyrical on Sweden and its approach to the Virus. I appreciate you attribute your expertise on Sweden to your genetic pool.

My Swedish friend, a distinguished doctor from the Karolinska, who unhappily has not had been afforded the wisdom of working for seven years for McKinseys, which has been so much on show in its advice to that other McKinsey genius, Master of the Hunt, Greg.

I took the liberty, my lord, of forwarding your Epistle to The Nation of Crikey to my Swedish friend.

My friend, having read the Epistle has replied (sic):

Outcome measures obviously differ vastly whether you are a potential pub client locked (at home) or a frail elderly  person with the sword of Damocles sharpened above you. 

Australia is to be congratulated having saved so far ca 50,000 lives (compared to similar countries including Sweden)

It is somewhat callous to imply that a 0.1% death rate is negligible. The figure is also off by a factor of 10 in developed countries.  I strongly disagree.  

However there are other costs, lives not lived, children not schooled, economic problems to evaluate also before a total score can be tallied. 

To me it seems that Australia 

  1. Was lucky to be able to close borders
  2. Enforce lockdowns that saved many lives
  3.  School closures may not have been evidenced (i.e not been objectively assessed).
  4. Lockdowns only work for short times during which extensive vaccination must occur lest the disease take hold again savagely which is now occurring (in Sweden). 

We are now in Sweden following Denmark in repealing nearly all Covid restrictions, hoping fervently that our vaccination rate is ultimately sufficient.

(Consider) that there are groups in society both more exposed and sadly neither accepting vaccination nor being reached by the information, which is also as clear as it was more than a year ago when the typical Covid patient(in Sweden) was an immigrant taxi driver.  

Subsequently, he informed me that the architect of the Swedish approach, Tegnall is showing signs of stress. Baillieu labels Tegnall as independent; no he’s not – he is a civil servant. Baillieu maybe means “maverick”. Perhaps if Tegnall resigns, “maverick” becomes “martyr” in Baillieu language.

Baillieu trumpets zero deaths from COVID-19 in Sweden. On 17 September alone, there were 22 new reported deaths and 1,009 new reported cases; then on 22 September, 19 deaths. What a callous statement by Baillieu saying “Sweden’s COVID death toll of 0.14% of the population was nearly all people who had a short time to live.” 14,000 people about to die on his say-so. As my friend wrote: It is somewhat callous to imply that a 0.1%(sic) death rate is negligible.

While its economy may be showing signs of recovery, Swedish sources still say there is significant uncertainty. It’s possible that restrictions to curb the spread of infection will tighten again in autumn if cases rise, and this would impact economic growth.

Over the course of next year, employment growth is predicted to slow down further as GDP increases more slowly, but the number of employed people will still increase. Many businesses are looking for skilled workers again. A total of 190,000 people in Sweden have now been without a job for over a year. It seems a sober assessment of the current Swedish situation complementing my friend’s comments. Not a small hit, as Baillieu asserts.

Demonstrators on the steps of the Shrine, Melbourne

I don’t like what is occurring with the Virus unsuppressed in both Melbourne and Sydney, but when an over-privileged graduate of the Melbourne Establishment has a childish tantrum disguised as an objective assessment then I too, a product of the same environment, feel deeply ashamed.

What nonsense his final words: “Restore our rights and freedoms. Stop harming our children and instead protect them.”

I hope he was not wandering along the Westgate Freeway protesting this lack of Freedoms with all the irresponsible.

My great grandfather did not lose his money in the Depression of the 1890s in which the Baillieu family was a prominent player; the consequences of the Depression still affect Melbourne to this day. My great grandfather did not have much time for the Baillieus either.

John Shelby Spong

Spong sounds as if came from the world of Spike Milligan.

Bishop John Spong

Yet John Shelby Spong was a very, very serious influence. Some may say that Spong flaunted once-controversial views, but now many have become mainstream.  At times I wonder why I retain my Anglicanism, until I am reminded of Spong. I have been fortunate in knowing some great Anglican priests, but it is hard to live in the Sydney diocese which has all but abandoned people like Spong in its literal Bible interpretation and acquired intolerance of anybody not in its own image – seemingly not that of the Trinity anyway.

Yet one statement in the obituary prompted me to seek further information, and that was the statement about Judas Iscariot. He is so vilified, and yet in an excellent article on the iconography by Dr Felicity Harley relating to Judas, the early church was much more forgiving of Judas and his suicide. The reader is explicitly told that he had remorse; and there is no condemnation of Judas in his choice to take his own life in the way that he does. Rather, in recording the suicide Matthew allows guilt to pass from Judas to the Jewish leaders who ignore Judas’s confession and his atoning gesture and are thereby rendered guilty.

Later he was further vilified for that act in addition to his betrayal of Christ, and by the time of the medieval church the Hanged Judas had been consigned to the darkest parts the Inferno.

It is testimony to Spong that even in death, his obituary has made me think, in any areas I thought very much cut and dried.

I am indebted to this lightly edited obituary from The Washington Post, which I doubt will get much currency in Australia.

Long one of the most liberal voices among the nation’s Episcopalians, Bishop Spong has died at the age of 90.

In 1989, while he was bishop in Newark, N.J., he ordained the first openly gay male priest in the Episcopal Church, the Rev. Robert Williams.

Though the Rev. Ellen Barrett, an openly lesbian priest, had been ordained a decade earlier, Bishop Spong drew national attention by sending letters inviting all the church’s bishops — many of whom opposed his actions — to attend the ordination of Williams that December.

“Christian moral standards have changed quite dramatically,” Bishop Spong told The New York Times before the ordination. “We had slavery in a Christian nation. We had oppressed women. I think that our world is more Christ-like when it’s open to all of God’s children.”

And he added: “We believe that the Church needs to be honest. We have gay priests in every diocese.”

The author of more than two dozen books, Bishop Spong questioned some of Christianity’s fundamental doctrines while over the years he had often taught and lectured at Harvard Divinity School.

“He was trying to find the kernel and sweep away the husk of what it meant to follow Jesus. He was always seeking after that truth,” the Rev. Canon Kelly Brown Douglas, canon theologian at Washington National Cathedral and dean of the Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary, said; “What he truly came to understand is doctrine and dogma doesn’t make us Christian. Doctrine and dogma doesn’t make us church. What makes us church is respecting the sacredness of every single human being and creating a world that does that and making sure the church is leading the world in doing so.”

“In so many ways,” she added, “he was ahead of the church.”

Nine months after Bishop Spong ordained Williams, the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops voted to pass a resolution affirming that it is “inappropriate” to ordain a practicing homosexual.

“The way the church treats its gay and lesbian members,” Bishop Spong said afterward, “strains the very fabric of my life by tearing it between my loyalty to Jesus Christ, who made a habit of embracing the outcast, and my loyalty to a church that historically has rejected Blacks, women and gays.”

Born in Charlotte, N.C., on June 16, 1931, John Shelby Spong was raised in fundamentalist churches amid those whose values were racist, sexist, and homophobic.

When he was young, he was taught that gay people were sinful, women were subordinate to men, and whites were superior to people of color.

His father, a salesman who struggled with alcoholism and died when John was 12, told him he should always say “sir” and “ma’am” to his elders, so long as they were not Black.

Bishop Spong later said the greatest influence on his upbringing was his mother, who was part of a strict Presbyterian sect that refused to play hymns because the lyrics were not “God’s words.” He later targeted that kind of biblical literalism in his books and sermons.

In 1998, for example, he criticized LGBTQ opponents as “uninformed religious people who buttress their attitude with appeals to a literal understanding of the Bible. This same mentality has marked every debate about every new insight that has arisen in the Western world over the last 600 years. It is a tired, threadbare argument that has become one of embarrassment to the cause of Christ.”

He graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1952 and received a master’s in divinity from Virginia Theological Seminary in 1955. That same year, he was ordained to the priesthood and married Joan Lydia Ketner, who died in 1988. In 1990, he married Christine Mary Bridger, an administrator in the Newark archdiocese who went on to edit his work.  He was survived by his wife, five children and six grandchildren. He had a sister, who also has outlived him.

Before he became a bishop in New Jersey, he served for 20 years as a priest in North Carolina and Virginia. As rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, known as the Cathedral of the Confederacy because it was where Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis had worshiped, he took down the Confederate flag that flew above the building.

As the civil rights movement progressed, Bishop Spong found himself preaching to Black and white congregations alike, and said he worked to shed what he called the “residual racism” of his upbringing.

“I happen to believe that God’s image is in every human being, and that every human being must [be treated] with ultimate respect … And the Black people in America were the first people who made this very clear to me,” he said in a 2001 interview with the ABC, Australia’s national broadcaster.

He later expanded his ministry to encompass the fights for gender equality and LGBTQ rights. Soon after he arrived at the Diocese of Newark in the mid-1970s, the diocese became one of the first to ordain women to the priesthood.

The Rev. V. Gene Robinson, who in 2003 was consecrated as the church’s first openly gay bishop, has recently called Bishop Spong “a prophet”, using the term in the sense of “someone who speaks truth to power, who says those things that people don’t want to hear because it calls their morality and their lives into question.”

“I stand on his shoulders,” Robinson added. “Were it not for the work that he did and the ministry that he did and the advocacy on behalf of LGBTQ people that he did, I wouldn’t be a bishop. He did it long before it was popular or politically correct — he did it because he believed it was the Gospel.”

After publishing “Resurrection: Myth or Reality? A Bishop’s Search for the Origins of Christianity,” Spong spoke with the Globe in 1994 about parts of Christianity he was challenging.

Neither Judas Iscariot nor a betrayal by one of the 12 apostles was mentioned in early parts of the New Testament, he said.

“Judas was a creation of the Christian Church, which sought to shift blame for Jesus’s death from the Romans to the Jews,” he said.

In his 2005 book “The Sins of Scripture: Exposing the Bible’s Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love,” Bishop Spong wrote:

“I am now convinced that institutional Christianity has become so consumed by its quest for power and authority, most of which is rooted in the excessive claims for the Bible, that the authentic voice of God can no longer be heard within it.”

He did not say Amen. Others may.

There’s a Tree in the House

I was looking at an old repeat of Grand Designs in Australia where the owners erected a huge tree trunk as a centrepiece of their house in the tropical bush south of Darwin. It was a huge endeavour.

Trees, in the house …

By chance, at the same time, we received a short message from a renter of our property in Tasmania, which read in part; “Thank you so much for a wonderful stay in your holiday house. Our young boys absolutely loved the trees in the house.”

I had watched this installation of the tree trunk in the Northern Territory house, and yet did not immediately associate with the three massive blackwood trunks which support our house together with the trunk of a King Billy pine, which was the only old wood.

The blackwood poles were green at the time of construction and this is shown by some splitting in the poles , but the house is nearly 30 years old and seemingly that is now stabilised. The simple observation of children entering the property for the first time, full of wonderment at something we just take for granted; for them the house may be a fugue of interwoven wood. But from ageing eyes like mine, you only see what you don’t see.

Mouse Whisper

In Italy, May 1 is known is “Festa dei Lavatori”. It is a day of little work, also known in Italian as “la toiletta”. In southern England on the same day, there is a little known ceremony heralding the harvest of the first honeycomb. It is known as “Bee Day”.

Modest Expectations – Natasha Nuora

Given what has been happening this week and I have been on the road in areas suggested as potential hotspots, I am starting this week’s blog with a few jottings. The radio has been the constant companion and television ever present in motel rooms, wherever you stop to socially distance.

I jotted down “self important politicians pontificating about how bad everything is – all on fat salaries and perks”.

I have never been a great fan of Tony Abbott, but when he was engaged as a firefighter or as surf lifesaver, he may have attracted some media attention, but unless it was all spin he continues to provide a real tangible service to the community.

So what of the current batch of politicians? What are they doing? Now in the time of the Virus where are all these well paid politicians and their side kicks – on the ground helping out rather than buried in spin – helping out with food deliveries – helping their constituents get through the crisis and not inflaming it.

For instance, those people in the high rise have two local parliamentary members – one Federal; one State. Both are Green.

Their names are Adam Bandt and Ellen Sandell. The photo-op outside the high rise apartments – of course. What else, running around picking up scraps of paper at the foot of the apartment blocks setting down the grievances of the locked down residents – and there is more – they are complaining to the government or in the political terms “ making representations”.

Now given that they represent comparatively small geographical areas, I would expect that these two would know what resources can be rapidly mobilised and instead of uselessly fluttering around be working to assure the “care element” for the tower residents.

Now if I were the local parliamentary member, given so many people have isolated in a series of high rise building, I would be seeking answers to questions of resident safety in the case of fire. Simple questions as to assure the smoke alarms in each of the flat are in working orders and nothing is blocking the emergency exits.

As I jot, in this fast moving scenario, comprehensive testing has  concentrated the Virus  in one of the towers. The Government has seemingly restored some order here.

I sympathise with Premier Andrews. He has the cattle he has been left with – often elected through branch stacking and factional deals. Obviously, a few able colleagues will have escaped the net of incompetence. One of these is Richard Wynne, who is the Housing Minister and the State member for Richmond who is very much acquainted with public high rise towers and what’s more effective.

The Victoria Opposition? I’m sorry I suffer from coulrophobia, which makes me having difficulty commenting further.

However, there is one person who overcomes my coulrophobia, and that is Premier Gladys. Obviously the spectre of the Ruby and Newmarch keeps her awake at night.

As soon as the pandemic flared up, she was into border lockdown without any contingency plans. Then a COVID-19 positive teenager turns up in Merimbula -after all, if the spread is going to happen, school holidays is a perfect time as Victorians flee winter.

However, had she anticipated border lockdown and was there a contingency plan? Well, apparently no. However, next day, she is encouraging NSW border townspeople not to travel and may have to lock down that area.

I bet there is no contingency plan in place to withdraw her troops in the face of the advancing Virus to the Murrumbidgee River, and yet she stigmatises her NSW border constituents and reinforces what has been said for years – that the NSW border should be reset at the Murrumbidgee River, so little the NSW government is concerned about its Riverina population welfare.

Day 1 of border closure – 6.00am – 4 degrees C

Data, Gladys, data – 10 cases across Albury-Wodonga and not one for 92 days until a couple of Melburnians were caught escaping Melbourne. The Victorians have locked down metropolitan Melbourne – that should be sufficient in any case.

It also raises the question of why isn’t the Government coming down hard on the appalling behaviour in Sydney, where social distancing appears to be reduced to about 30 cms if you’re one of the massive pack of people lining up to enter a hotel in Double Bay. Callers to ABC’s breakfast program discussed strategies for avoiding unwanted hugs – there seems to be a pandemic of short memories about how to avoid catching COVID-19 if that discussion is anything to go by.

Then Gladys’ nightmare continued, JetStar slipped a plane through the NSW cordon, emphasising the inherent fragility of policy being as strong as the weakest link.

Now two of the 48 passengers refused to be COVID-19 tested. If that one percentage of “refuseniks” is considered representative of those who are probably the same cohort as the anti-vaxxers, then there is a need for quarantine space not being a plush hotel to accommodate them.

No doubt, NSW has done an excellent job in relation to hotel quarantine, but that does not diminished the argument for designated quarantine facilities. The new and immediate challenge is a government intent on providing a refuge for an unspecified number of Hong Kongers at the same time as the States are showing hotel fatigue by pleading for fewer overseas flights.

Then, there must be a plan to cater for expanding travel given that for a long period into the future, the world will have reverted to the nineteenth century quarantine situation given the differential effect of the Virus on nations – and not wanting to completely stifle international travel yet not wanting travellers to be isolated for quaranta giorni, the basis for the word “Quarantine”.

The Greater Green Triangle

I have spent a lot of time in the Greater Green Triangle over the years. From the time I was responsible for some community health projects in Western Victoria and more recently when I was Director of Medical Services at Edenhope Hospital for a couple of years. If you asked 100 people in Victoria or in South Australia (outside the GGT) where is Edenhope, I would guess the number who knew where it was in each State would run into single digit figures.

However, Edenhope exemplifies a border town and the interdependence of border settlements with one another. Their ability to accommodate to different governments with different legislation is one of the qualities that I love about such towns. I have worked in many.

The problem is that being at the extremes of the State, unless in Queensland where the border is close to the capital, the border residents tend to be forgotten. And this is so, even in Queensland! At the Post Office Hotel in Camooweal on the Queensland-Northern Territory border, you can get the best steak sandwich in Australia – but who would know.

However, let’s return to the Greater Green Triangle. The Victorian-South Australian border was set in 1836 to run along the 141st meridian. Although there is some discrepancy between the then and now measurement, what distinguishes the area east and west of the line is the limestone South Australian coast and hinterland; and this is reflected in the buildings. Mount Gambier stone is a distinctive limestone. One of the ways community in rural Australia has traditionally defined itself is through its football leagues. In this area traditionally there has been a strong Australian Rules tradition; all the border leagues are organised around perceived communities, and these do not seem to recognise borders as a barrier.

The Greater Green Triangle has its base along the coast from Apollo Bay in Victoria to Kingston in South Australia, and as it goes north, where the major population centres are Horsham and Keith, before it runs against the Mallee, an area that also crosses the border.

The point is, as I found out when I assisted in the establishment of the cross-border Greater Green Triangle University Department of Rural Health, that it proved a viable size to deliver an area where medical students could gain enough clinical experience. It showed that the region had both the intellectual capital to provide tertiary education for the population locally and also a population to support clinical training. Both Flinders and Deakin University have had a significant investment in this putative region.

Working at Edenhope demonstrated how clearly important Naracoorte (known locally as Nazza) was to those living on the other side of the South Australian border. This was emphasised by the 2011 floods, which closed the road between Edenhope and Horsham. This meant that services in South Australia were crucial.

Look at the data. Regional Victoria has been virtually free of the Virus for a long time. Therefore, the case is clear for a more sensible approach to border closure in the south-west of Victoria and the south-east of South Australia.

The recent cross-border exemption of 50 kilometres recognises the importance of Mount Gambier and Naracoorte to Western Victoria. However, it dose not recognise the importance of Portland, Hamilton, Warrnambool and even Horsham to South Australians living along the border. As I write this, there is apparently a substantial backlog of people seeking to gain the requisite permits to cross the border

Recognition of the Greater Green Triangle – a long-established and recognised area by three governments – is now being undermined under the current COVID-19 restrictions. The tri-governmental decision to close the Victorian border with NSW fails to recognise that this economic, educational, health and community zone should not be undermined during the COVID-19 pandemic.

East of Eden

The Victorian border south of Eden suddenly looms as a small notice and a bigger notice further on announces the East Gippsland Shire. There is one mobile neon sign saying that those from some undefined hotspots are not allowed into NSW. The cars that whiz past, including several towing caravans – all with Victorian number plates. There is no sign of any active policing of the border.

However, that was before the NSW decision to close the border from Tuesday midnight.

There is no doubt that this border crossing will present a logistics problem. It is going to be interesting to see how the NSW police will arrange their supervision of the Princes Highway border for an extended period, given that it very sparsely populated in an area of bush regeneration, with lots of tracks and not much population until Eden 50 kilometres up the Highway. The ADF may be very useful here. Presumably for completeness, the NSW water police or the Navy will be patrolling the 31 nautical miles between Mallacoota and Eden.

This past weekend we decamped to Merimbula. We were curious to see how the devastated region, after the ghastly summer bushfires, was regenerating. We had watched, as did so much of Australia, with horror and helplessness the destruction being wrought. We contributed to the bushfire relief, but it seemed a pittance. We were then ashamed at the politicians’ response, many of who were overseas, even though there was forewarning of the disaster afoot, much in the same way this border closure has been handled. Many warning signs; then the white stick panic.

Our visit coincided with the weekend of the Eden-Monaro by-election, and although some equated the electorate with the bushfire, the actual area of the electorate burnt was comparatively small and unpopulated. However, that statement is little comfort to hamlets like Cobargo or Mogo where the devastation was numbing. In Australia loss of property is like losing your mind – your memory.

Yet in Merimbula there are few signs of the bushfire. The trees grow tall in the gullies and onto the rises of this hilly settlement with its glorious views of the water stretching out into the Pacific Ocean. Here is a world of the best rock oysters and great fish cuisine. And that emblem of middle class – the golf course – that has been unaffected. The trees are majestic and the fairways green.

Here is the remnant temperate rain forest, which stretches out onto the slopes of the Great Dividing Range. Yet here is an electorate, where a climate denier whose only bush fire policy seems to be fuel reduction, nearly got elected. I would like to see how she would go about man-contrived bush fuel reduction on Brown Mountain. Fortunately, she received a huge thumping by the Merimbula voters.

South of Eden where the devastation was so pronounced there is a very small population – tiny settlements such Kiah are littered with the graveyards of houses, although the local store stoutly displays a “bottle shop” sign.

 

Princes Highway, south of Eden

I remember the reports from Eden, which saw people congregating at the wharf. The flames across Twofold Bay must have been a terrifying sight.

The sturdiness of the bush has been shown by the way the new green leafy growth has been shinnying up the black trunks – to announce its new arrival. However, death is beige, trees whose beige foliage hangs forlornly. The trademark colour of emerging wattle is noticeably absent. Yet there are banksia and grevillea in flower – small numbers but as with the grass, and the ferns and wildflowers, exhibiting regeneration. Nature does not wait for government assistance. Will the thousands of eucalypts across NSW and Victoria that now have epicormic growth gradually recover? Time will tell, but the intensity of the fires was such that we are unlikely to see recovery any time soon, if ever.

There are areas of clear felling and trees scorched beyond immediate redemption. There are no sounds – no bird sounds, no evidence of wildlife, no animals skittled on the roadway. It is not yet Spring but this is a silent world, apart from diminishing noise of the highway.

Yet the two government bush fire inquiries are meandering down bureaucratic gravel roads. The NSW Inquiry finished its community consultation in May, and the Federal Inquiry is due to finish on August 31. When will there be recommendations; when will there be action?

The governmental inertia is appalling and, as has been shown by the Berejiklian approach to government, it gives no idea of whether she knows what she’s doing – apart from kicking the can down the highway and trying to find it in a white stick panic. The NSW bushfire report is due “before the next fire season” (policy by length of the string principle) and presented to her (policy by ceremonial burial)

However, get ready for her response in 2021 when the remaining South Coast bush may have been subject to fuel reduction, but not in the way she meant – only it was not her fault. Nature had just misinterpreted her message.

Stabilising our “Arc of Instability”

Neil Baird – Guest blogger

Celebrated American travel writer Paul Theroux describes his impressions of our neighbouring Pacific islands in “The Happy Isles of Oceania”. It is an ironic title for a book that others have described as “The Arc of Instability” – the chain of islands extending from the Cook Islands in the east to Indonesia in the west.

Cook Islands

While the latter epithet was originally applied to geological instability, it now much more accurately applies to geopolitical instability. The Chinese “dragon” has awakened and is blowing its hot, corrosive and corrupting breath in the direction of our archipelagic neighbours.

That makes it high time that Australia and New Zealand wake up to the threat that accompanies China’s interest. We should be doing much more to counter that threat while we still can. Instead of our benign neglect of the region during the past 75 years Australia and New Zealand need to become very proactive and pragmatic. It is far too late for idealism – the light on the hill burns low. 

Anyone sceptical of the danger that the Xi Jinping-led China presents to Australia should be reminded that his approach shares the hallmarks of a number of pre-World War 2 dictators.

Inter alia, Winston Churchill’s “The Gathering Storm” and Willard Price’s “Japan’s Islands of Mystery” and “Japan Rides the Tiger” very perceptively and accurately predicted the likely outcomes arising from the behaviour of such “Imperialist” dictators.

Willard Price’s books are most relevant to Australia’s current situation with respect to our neighbouring archipelagic nations. His description of the Japanese strategy and actions in regard its League of Nations Mandate of the Micronesian territories north of the Equator are particularly apposite in our current situation. President Xi’s China is closely following General Tojo’s playbook, albeit a little less brutally; so far.

Xi Jinping has demonstrated his imperialist credentials in the South China Sea. They have since spread rapidly with his “Belt and Road Initiative” which, as well as many Pacific and Indian Ocean states, now even encompasses the satirically characterised “Democratic Socialist Republic of Victoria”.

A serious and rapidly worsening problem in Australia’s immediate neighbourhood has emerged. While many of our neighbouring nations have been described as “failed states”, it is probably more accurate to class them as “unviable states”. In hindsight, it would have been better if they had formed a federation giving them some critical mass when they gained independence from their former colonisers.

They are, apart from Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, mostly too small, in terms of land area and population, let alone resources, to be economically viable individual nations. All are, to be bluntly honest, seriously deficient administratively. That makes them unusually mendicant and, therefore, vulnerable to external influences.

This reality must be allowed for in any approaches Australia makes to our neighbouring nations in an effort to counter the influence of the Chinese government. These countries need help and, to preserve its own future, Australia needs to help them.

However, to effectively help protect our neighbours from Chinese hegemony, Australia must be much more realistic and practical in its approach than has been the in the past. The paternalistic, diffident approach of Australia has created a vacuum that China is rapidly filling.

Australia must help protect these “Pacific paradises” from the detrimental effects of Chinese “colonisation”. This will require a very different diplomatic approach that to challenge the capabilities of both Australian and New Zealand bureaucrats – be they diplomats, trade representatives or “aid” consultants. They will need to be very incorrect politically.

That will require a much more culturally sensitive and realistic approach than has ever been demonstrated by current employees of Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and flies in the face of their education and departmental acculturation.

The simple fact is, as any senior island nation bureaucrat will privately confirm, their biggest problem is “political interference”. Read “corruption” from elected representatives from ministers downwards. The Chinese government panders to this. Australia does not. This policy puts us at a great disadvantage. Australia must learn to work around and overcome that distasteful reality.

With that reality firmly in mind, Australia needs to much better plan its approach to those tiny nation states. We have to accept that they are not really “democracies” in the way that most Australians and New Zealanders understand that word.

Apart from brown paper bags of cash, diplomacy has a long tradition of purchasing influence. Scholarships, similar to those offered by the successful Australian Indigenous Education Foundation, provided to the bright – they’re always bright – children of politicians would be a start.

So would appropriate venture capital funding for business start-ups. “Educational” tours for politicians are always popular. There are numerous examples of what could be done in that line without having to go so far as the old German trick of “limitless” credit cards.

Australia could do much more in the areas of health, education, transport, agricultural, forestry and fisheries development, disaster relief and even defence. Australia could provide these island nations with safe, efficient and comfortable Australian designed and built ferries for inter-island transport. Importantly, Australia should train them to operate and maintain those ferries safely.

In contrast Australia should not be:

(a) building “Taj Mahal” financially unviable convention centres, or

(b) providing fleets of fancy cars to transport the delegates to non-existent conferences.

Above all, unlike our Chinese rivals, Australia should not be pushing debt onto the islanders, which only serves to reinforce their mendicant status.

The aid provided should be practical, sensible, conspicuous and culturally sensitive. There is no point in providing aid in any circumstances where someone else gets the credit for our generosity. Importantly, rather than handing over cash that inevitably would be spent on Toyotas, Yamahas, Hyundais or Maseratis, Australia should promote purchase of Australian goods or services.

We have plenty of desirable home grown goodies to offer,” as one reliable source said to me.

Not To Know What Happened Before One Was Born Is Always To Be A Child

I once had dinner with the essayist, author and sometime editor of Harper’s, Lewis Lapham, in New York. It was very cordial, entertaining dinner. I was trying to entice him to Australia to give a talk, but somewhere, sometime he slipped out of the net and did not come.

Later he did come to Australia and Bob Carr hosted him. The meeting of those minds is not surprising because although Lapham was a gifted essayist with a very astute mind, he could not resist writing such words: “I first met him at a New York dinner party in 1962, among the company then traveling in the entourage of President John Kennedy, and over the next half century I ran across him at least once or twice a year – in a Broadway theater, on a lawn an Newport, Rhode Island, in the Century Club dining room, on the stage of an university auditorium.” However, he carried his self-importance more easily than Carr, probably because he was a true intellectual.

In any case he was talking about Arthur Schlesinger. Schlesinger was a historian, a very good historian, who saw the world in which he lived, as Lapham recalls, as a place “to construe history as a means rather than the end, the constant making and remaking of the past intended to revise the present to better imagine the future.”

Schlesinger, although he died in 2007 at the age of 89, had witnessed the growth of the information revolution, without watching it explode. He noted that it was associated with “an attitude of mind which accommodated the floating world of the timeless fantasy, impatient and easily bored, less at ease with a stable storyline than with the flow of brand names images in which nothing necessarily follows from anything else”.

The problem with eloquence is that those mentioned above are listening to a different beat and hence the comment is lost in that floating world. Further, eloquence may mask thoughts that may be too personal, too generalised or just too loquacious.

“The problem is if the population do not recognise that history captures the past then the populace may be presented with solutions where there is no link between cause and effect. To be told what is right without any evidence, without the benefit of history is to caught up in the whirlwind of fake news, fascist politics and quack religions.”

Schlesinger was talking about Bush The Younger’s legacy in dumbing down American educational standards. Such a statement retains its relevance 13 years later, when the barbarian is no longer at the gate – he is within the gate. Now educational standards are reduced to slogans and chants of invective repeated.

Lapham compares Schlesinger’s analysis of history with that of a man who “forged the strength of Roman history into a weapon”. According to Lapham, both this man and Schlesinger recognised history was not a nursery rhyme. The name of the Roman was Cicero.

Marcus Tullius Cicero

Cicero paid a mortal price for his defence of the integrity of the republic against vanities of would be Emperors; and by the way, the quote at the head of this article was written by Cicero; how prescient a description of the current American President.

Mouse Whisper Primo

Overheard in the executive office of an unnamed casino: “Of course we have bought a vat of sanitiser – how else are going to launder all the money we are getting?

Mouse Whisper Secondo

Premier Gladys, my whisper from the floor, may I give you a tip about salt and pepper shakers – use them first, then hand sanitise. Then everybody can share or else wipe the shakers down before you use them.

Modest Expectations – Rat

Australia has a good health system, not perfect but resilient, with some tough informed public health medical practitioners. After an uncertain start it has put in place a comprehensive contact tracing system and a comprehensive testing program while shutting borders.

Thus Australia has built a robust defence, unlike the USA where the hapless Dr Fauci is like the little boy with his finger in the Trump dyke. Give a new twist to a Faucian bargain. His bargain is that he can keep his finger in the hole when the dyke has disappeared, that is if he does not succumb. After all, he is 79.

For the dyke is crumbling because successive American governments have done next to nothing to maintain the public health system – instead seeing health care as just another commodity like golf buggies and casinos upon which you can gamble in a betting ring called the New York Stock Exchange.

The concept that the public health measures are hindering return to normalcy is delusional. For what is normalcy? The good old days are gone, like the Edwardian shooting party with the First World War.

However in this world there seems to be this retro-accelerator stuck in some political vehicle driven by those wanting to return to last February and the good old days of unfettered neoliberalism. For all the talk about its healing balm, the ideal of neoliberalism is a country built on cheap labour fuelled by high immigration from poorer countries. In the US it is these poor – the modern day slaves that the unions have abandoned by and large– whose ranks are being thinned by the virus.

Once, in Australia there was a booming educational market fuelled by temporary immigration, where a profitable equilibrium has turned universities into paper mills churning out certification so their Vice-Chancellors can pocket a million dollars a year and then one at least smugly leave the country with a series of High Anglican platitudes. Wait on though, the borders are closed because the virus has been spreading so rapidly – a crown of thorns killing and maiming in its wake, laying bare the vulnerability of our so-called civilised, neoliberal, sophisticated world.

Now in 2020, the level of hygiene worldwide has been insufficient to stem the viral spread without the current measures. Australian forces, despite some early missteps have, for the time being, repelled these invaders.

The chattering classes are at once relieved but also restless. The Sunday morning in the sun denied; the chatter grows louder – the limited aperture to the café society. The muted resentment as represented by “The common cold is mild;it’s a corona virus; nobody dies from the common cold.”

The influenza virus?” There is a vaccine – so why worry. Lots of people who we do not know die each year but we do not close down the country.

Anyway the COVID-19 virus is worse in the elderly so why should I as an upwardly mobile young person worry?

And most importantly: “It doesn’t seem to be here in the Southern highlands where the megaphones of denial are suddenly muted, but the spaces are large and the people are few on these estates of the privileged.

At this point it should be noted that the incidence of respiratory infection has declined as a result of the anti-COVID-19 measures, although this is ignored by those feverishly crying for the accelerator to be pushed through the floor, propelling us back to the past. But unlike the war, this is only months back – grasping distance. The cry goes up: let’s get back to where it all began!

After all, the brawny shock jocks say the virus is a pussy – overblown – let’s throw open the economy, open the borders, let the virus overrun the planes, forget about all those lessons in public health hygiene.

Continued patience is needed. One of prime advantages the human race has is its ability to learn, adapt and innovate. That has happened up until now in Australia and that is why Australia is so well placed.

You see overall, the gung-ho people say the virus has not infected me. But then I was here in Australia and not on the Ruby Princess. Back to square one, but even if you can’t see these viral waves, unlike the Goths and the Huns. There will be successive different pandemics if the world remains unprepared. Yet I hope a better world will emerge after 2020, one that is able to cope with these invaders so that my grandchildren will grow up in another better world as I did after the Second War, which was won –to open  a world far different and far better from that of my father where the rants were there, but not on twitter.

Therefore, while our borders hold out against the viral invader so Australia can have time to reset – just like wartime – and spend our money on essential work rather than the fripperies of the Colosseum or the Hippodrome.

Colosseum

Australia should concentrate not only on traditional defence and biosecurity but also on water and littoral security – and social housing. Dismiss the monuments to political vanity, such as stadia, war mauseolea and unnecessary relocations of little used “icons”. (God what an overused word to justify boondoggles).

The days of the irrelevant, for example, the event planner and the conference concierge, should be numbered. We can’t stop the gambling, but we can tax it heavily and spend it on the necessities rather than The Everest. Australia needs to have a time to see how unimportant yet destructive such misplaced use of resources is to the plan for this national “reset”.

Perhaps we should know how Governor Cuomo, who is the middle of his Battle for Coronavirus, lists his priorities: “When restrictions are lifted the state’s least-affected central counties will go first and each economic sector will be phased in slowly: construction and factory jobs first, and retail establishments that can deliver goods curbside. Next: banks, insurance, law firms and other professions. Then restaurants and hotels, and finally entertainment, sports and schools.” 

Somewhat at odds with our priorities, but then he sees it all from a warzone perspective.

As a postscript, Australia needs to have a clinical dissection of the maul of staffers, rent seekers, lobbyists and superfluous bureaucracy which seem to be excessively paid and which circulate like the rings of the planet Saturn around the various parliaments -nine in all now very much outlined by their extravagant rings.

Drifting towards Analogy

While World War 11 was raging, there were a number of neutral countries that avoided or suppressed the combatants within their borders, while building their financial position (or not) on the back of devastation elsewhere. Some were at the heart of the conflict but with secure borders (Switzerland and Sweden able to benefit); others were far way (South America, but somewhat weakened by internecine conflict); but there were others too weak to sustain a long-term financial benefit; some recovering from serious warfare (Spain and Ireland) and others (Portugal and Turkey). For warfare – read pandemic; for neutrality – read freedom from serious pandemic.

As an example, is Australia supplying iron ore while Brazil remains heavily at war with the virus, akin to Sweden able to maintain iron ore production during the World War 2 without fear of destruction of its supply chain?

I suppose the message is that we should aggressively maintain our “neutrality” for our benefit until the rest of the world gets its health care back in place.

Australia should stop Pyning

Neil Baird – highly regarded commentator on all matters maritime; previous guest blogger.

 Obviously we are very slow learners in this country. Since before the First World War, Australian governments have interfered relentlessly in the free market for building ships. That interference has resulted in ongoing political embarrassment for its perpetrators and enormous waste of taxpayer money.

Essentially, government-owned ship builders have been encouraged several times in Australia and elsewhere and have always failed.

Government shipbuilding has never worked and will never work in Australia because there always seems to be another Canberra political opportunist who manages to convince his parliamentary colleagues into “having another go“. There is old axiom here – seemingly ignored – if it doesn’t work, don’t do it again. 

You don’t have to delve far back in history to find other, equally wasteful examples such as the Williamstown Dockyard in Melbourne and the Newcastle State Dockyard. Cockatoo Island, prior to its takeover by Vickers, an English public company, was another. Every one of them has managed to burn massive amounts of taxpayer money in the search for the holy grail of Australian warship building “independence”.

Recently, there has been considerable bitter controversy around the ever-increasing cost estimates for Australia’s future “Attack Class” submarines. Most of the debate fails to get anywhere near the reality of the problem. And, of course, it’s not just the submarines; we also have a substantial order in for frigates, which faces similar difficulties.

The ASC (Australian Submarine Corp) is just another in a long line of uncompetitive attempts at achieving the impossible. No matter how good the foreign partner, ASC has always ruined the project. Why would it be any different in the future? 

For the latest iteration of submarines and frigates in the pipeline, much of the blame can be sheeted home to three former leading Liberal politicians, Messrs Pyne, Abbott and Turnbull. Together, they have lumbered this country with the wrong warships that will be delivered too late and at ridiculously high prices. And at the root of it all – the wrong company – the ASC. Wrong place; wrong decade.

Even without Abbott, the Turnbull Government tried to bribe South Australia to vote for the Turnbull government in the 2016 federal election – a massively unsuccessful ploy.  

Apart from the proven incompetence of the chosen builder, Australia has yet again chosen warships that are inappropriate for the task and which will be obsolete by the time they are commissioned. They will also be many times more expensive than need be.

For example, Defence “gurus” may have tried a little harder with our “nuships”, as they so quaintly call them. But, no, and indeed, Defence CAPEX is, and mostly has been, a disaster area.

On the basis that every cloud has a silver lining, the economic disruption arising from the COVID-19 pandemic offers us a wonderful opportunity to extricate ourselves from this current naval ship building folly. The pandemic will cost Australia untold billions. So Australia should be taking every opportunity to eliminate any wasteful government expenditure. The Department of Defence is an obvious area in which waste can readily be cut at no cost to effectiveness or readiness. 

In the case of the submarines and frigates, Australia should grasp this opportunity to break both contracts, even if that necessitates paying substantial penalties. The reason: Australia simply cannot afford these Defence toys. Paradoxically, this “first loss” would be our “best loss” and, easily, our “least loss”.

And the solution?

The Government should immediately liquidate ASC Pty Ltd (formerly the Australian Submarine Corporation) and I use the word “liquidate” advisedly. It should definitely not be sold off to some “spiv” private equity outfit with guarantees of future business after which any assets would be stripped. That would just make matters worse. ASC has no hope of ever being anything but a drain on the public purse. The only realistic solution is to kill it off completely, once and for all.

The perfect patrol boat?                                                       Photo courtesy Southerly Designs/Dongara Marine

Australia should proceed with offshore patrol boats (OPBs), especially those being built by Austal (Australian based, but because of an inability to recruit employees here, it is building more of its ships in Asia). But all larger warships, unless very near completion, should be cancelled immediately. 

The only way we can hope to purchase warships at sensible prices and have them delivered on time is to buy them

(a) complete from foreign builders – as we do with aircraft (and even here with F-35 fighter there have been disastrous choices) – or, preferably,

(b) from our highly competent and globally competitive local commercial ship builders. We have several of those. They are world class but Canberra appears to be completely ignorant of them. Probably, that is because those shipbuilders have better things to do than waste time in navigating the Canberra labyrinth.

If manned submarines are really needed, Australia should buy nuclear, reducing the number to six and buy them completely constructed and fitted out in France.

Australia, as mentioned above, has neither sufficient time nor money to build or fit them out here. An added problem is the apparent inability to sensibly and inexpensively choose between the competing offerings from the electronics and weaponry suppliers. One other area to be investigated is the new, small and comparatively cheap, unmanned submarines that Boeing is building – a fully autonomous extra large unmanned undersea vehicle (XLUUV) class.

Does Australia really need and can we afford to wait for new frigates? Unlikely. Again, they will most probably be obsolete before delivery. There are plenty of alternative “submarine killers” available.

Instead of always blindly following our American protector, Australia should very carefully examine what China is doing. The Chinese, 20 or so years ago, started with a “clean slate”. The principle of their long range, hypersonic “carrier killer” aircraft, missiles and missile launching assault craft is well worth close inspection. Ironically, those assault craft were designed in Sydney. So, too, is their very cost effective “maritime militia” concept.

That is something Australia could well emulate, keeping costs down and putting our “naval eggs in many more baskets”. The admirals would hate the idea as it would return us to what they would see as too great a reliance on reserve personnel. They have a strange antipathy toward such a move. However, Naval reserves worked well in wars past and they seem to be working well in the Chinese military forces.

Australia should be looking closely at lower cost enemy ship detection technology using drones and commercial “off-the-shelf” electronics. To destroy those enemy ships and subs, let’s consider the feasibility of truck mounted anti-ship missile launchers that could quickly be moved to appropriate places around the coast? Then there is the modernisation of mine warfare methods. In other words, what gives “the biggest bang for the buck”; a notion in these times which should be more fashionable in Australia.

I would put forward a further question. Why not encourage our world competitive aluminium shipbuilders instead of actively discouraging them? Try to do things their effective and very competitive way, rather than call on inferior overseas sources. They also could easily adapt to steel. It is simpler to weld than aluminium.

And, given that “war should never be left to the generals” (read “admirals” here) we should appoint an advisory and enquiry committee. Perhaps counter-intuitively, that committee could be “balanced” by appointing as its chairman a uniquely qualified and experienced retired admiral, John Lord. As well as being a former maritime commander, Lord has many years of commercial management experience including of purchasing ships. He has vast experience of the perils of dealing with recalcitrant politicians and with the Chinese, having been Chairman of Huawei Australia for a decade.

Committee members should be recruited on the basis of their ability, not because they are mates of existing politicians, admirals or senior bureaucrats. Such a committee should be asked what Australia really requires for: (a) effective maritime defence, both short and long term as well as for (b) both forward and homeland defence. It should be strongly guided to think only of warfare and most certainly not to prop up the current boondoggle in South Australia.

The result of the above task should be done much better, more swiftly and overall much more cost effectively. Thus, Australia should take the “opportunity” that the COVID pandemic offers to sort out our naval purchasing disaster once and for all.

It is getting to be a Long March

There is a group of modellers in Germany who suggest that by prolonging lockdown here for another few weeks, we could really suppress virus circulation to a considerable degree – bringing the reproduction number below 0.2. I tend to support them but I haven’t completely made up my mind. The reproduction number is just an average, an indication. It doesn’t tell you about pockets of high prevalence such as senior citizens’ homes, where it will take longer to eradicate the disease, and from where we could see a rapid resurgence even if lockdown were extended. 

In a thoughtful question and answer session as reported in The Guardian, Christian Drosten, who had been involved in the original characterisation of the SARS virus in 2003, discussed the current pandemic with a reporter from The Guardian.

His comments on the nursing home makes sense; and here there is a need for a detailed plan to close the gap between health care and nursing home care as though there should any difference.

When her opinion was sought on the removal of the residents from Newmarch House, the NSW Chief Health Officer, Dr Kerry Chant, inanely remarked that they may not have wanted to be moved, as though all are in a suitable state to be consulted in some languid case conference.

Dr Chant, if the nursing home is on fire, then you move the residents – no questions asked. The immediate aim is to remove people from danger, to put out the fire with the least damage and not ask the staff (metaphorically clad in t-shirt, shorts and thongs) to do so. We call in the professionals immediately. That is what they did in Tasmania, where the bureaucratic lines were put on hold. The residents were moved and AusMat came in and cleaned the infected area.

In the interim, it gives time to clean up the mess, give Anglicare a boot up the backside, have education and safety protocols with somebody clearly qualified and responsible for the staff anticipating that there will be a high turnover, and provide the requisite gear to counter any “spot fire” emerging. This plan should be generalised and as it is a health matter it should come under the surveillance of the NSW Department of Health, irrespective of where the funding comes from.

And as for the Commonwealth-based Aged Care and Quality Commission, they seem to be the same sort of quango inhabitants which are bred in some public service hatchery for such jobs with seemingly little hands on experience. Maybe wrong, but tell me if that is so. Anyway I don’t see them with disinfectant and mops in hand cleaning Newmarch House.

I sent an email to someone who has some influence about two weeks ago. Inter alia, I emailed:

There is an uncontrolled outbreak of COVID-19 in Penrith…

This Newmarch House disaster has all the hallmarks of another Ruby Princess. The NSW Department of Health have gone missing… There is an increasing degree of frustration going on among the relatives. The nursing home lockdown is the only defence, and increasingly flimsy.

Penrith is at risk and joining up the dots and we end up with the Penrith Panthers, with one of their players already breaching the guidelines…  

The italicised comments of Dr Drosten at the head of this piece seem to be on the same page as these. 

A fascinating interview

I had watched a fascinating interview of Denis Richardson by an obvious old mate in Barrie Cassidy, when she looked at me with some surprise. Now as this someone asked, why would I write about an old bureaucrat who’ll soon be forgotten? Maybe the name may be lost on the tip of the tongue; but these people leave an important legacy.

Listening to the interview with Denis Richardson, I thought maybe somebody would have said that about Cardinal Richelieu – my mother’s charcoal portrait of whom has always hung in my office.

Richardson comes from a long line of such confidantes to the powerful, having come far from his origins in Kempsey. He does not give the impression that he is a Burnt Bridge Road boy.

Cassidy in a very insightful interview meandered through the upward spiral of this highly intelligent yet controlled man who has kept his obvious sense of the ridiculous in check during his career.

As one who resisted the blandishments of certain ASIO operatives to join when I was President of the Melbourne University Student Representative Council and who shared a study with Brigadier Spry’s son, it was interesting to the modern iteration of the “spook boss”.

His obvious attachment to the American alliance was deftly handled as if the positioning of Casey to Washington in 1940 was purely a prescient sign of the pact between USA and Australia. He did not mention how the ANZUS pact actually occurred despite the opposition of the State Department when a serendipitous meeting occurred between the then Australian Ambassador to the US, Percy Spender, and Harry Truman in 1951. But what would I, an outsider know. These are minor quibbles in an interview, which should be required viewing by those wanting to enter the public service – and especially Foreign Affairs.

I shall certainly get my grandkids to watch – a real-how-I-saw the world without moving my lips. Seriously, excellent viewing – and if you read this as you may – I too have been to every State in the USA plus Puerto Rico. However, Richardson’s peripatetic nature was probably only following one of five Ambassadorial dicta: “see politicians when they are out of office and in their home states, away from Washington, which also means travelling.

There was only one slightly disconcerting feature, for such an impressive bear of a man. He has an extraordinary giggle. But the unexpected is one expected in such a complex person.

Bloody good interview, Cassidy.

Mouse Whisper

As a reaction to Cardinal Pell?

The Vatican Synod of Bishops ruled Monday that perjury is not a mortal sin, downgrading the sin to venal. “God and The Mother Church will be more than satisfied with a penance of 20 rosaries for any act of perjury,” Cardinal Angelo Sodano said. “Any earthly prohibition against lying in a court of law has no relevance to the holy teachings of The Bible.” The proclamation comes on the heels of last Friday’s doctrinal clarification that adultery only occurs when both participants are adults.

Do you smell a rat? Yes, this comes an American publication called The Onion. It was published in 2002.

No, it has nothing to do with Georgie. However, somewhat telling do you not think?