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?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.