Mercury (Hobart)

Bullying master still Calls the shots

You would In a democracy agreement expect this new into would not be entered and its unless the community representa­tives parliament­ary debated it. discussed and


SO what’s in this self important new defence pact AUKUS that Australia has signed with its colonial master the US, and the increasing­ly irrelevant post-Brexit UK?

It proves again Washington can just about always rely on Canberra to respond positively to the former’s military and diplomatic adventures and muscle flexing. But when it comes to Australia’s interests, signing on to a confrontat­ional and provocativ­e strategy to contain China is inherently dangerous and reflects a loss of independen­ce for this nation in the Asia-Pacific region.

Former PM Paul Keating said in a statement condemning the pact that it “will amount to a lockin of Australian military equipment and thereby forces, with those of the United States with only one underlying objective: the ability to act collective­ly in any military engagement by the United States against China.”

Mr Keating says the agreement will lead to “further dramatic loss of Australian sovereignt­y, as material dependency on the United States [will rob] Australia of any freedom or choice in any engagement Australia may deem appropriat­e.”

One would have thought in a democracy this new agreement would not be entered into, if at all, unless the community and its parliament­ary representa­tives discussed and debated it.

To build nuclear-powered subs and join a naked, stupid bid to contain China are big decisions which, as Mr Keating says, could erode the independen­ce of a key power in the region in which China is also a major player.

Mr Morrison presents it as a fait accompli without acknowledg­ing it might put Australian­s at greater economic and security risk.

More frightenin­g was that at the media conference to announce the pact, the head of Australia’s military, Angus Campbell, was by his side. This is the choreograp­hy you witness in authoritar­ian regimes where the military cuddles up to politician­s.

China is still Australia’s (and Tasmania’s) largest trading partner by a long shot, despite tensions in recent years between the two nations resulting in trade barriers. Over 30 per cent of

Australian exports head to China. But last week the OECD warned that “[a]ny ratcheting up of tensions with China could further weaken trade activity.” There seems to be a blasé assumption that it does not matter how much provoking of China, trade between the nations will remain strong.

It’s a delusion. And while there have been skirmishes between the two countries in the past five years over security and human rights, surely the new pact with the US and UK represents a serious escalation of risk that the trade ‘love in’ with China will evaporate?

New Zealand, which has been part of the Australian and US alliance for over 70 years, is not included in this new pact. But that is because New Zealand has carved out an independen­t foreign policy for over three decades.

PM Jacinda Ardern has confirmed her nation will not be changing its ban on nuclear powered vessels, in place since 1984. And a reflection of New Zealand’s greater emphasis on controllin­g its own destiny is reflected in comments made to the media by a Victoria University professor David Capie who says the new pact shows “New Zealand and Australia were in a different space to begin with

and this has perhaps just made that look sharper again.” New Zealand charts its own course in the AsiaPacifi­c and is more independen­t than this forelock tugging nation.

The Australian media and political class has dusted off the Cold War rhetoric in recent times when it comes to China, but now this shrill hostility and fear has reached new heights.

As one of the few sensible commentato­rs Professor Hugh White from the Australian National University said of this agreement: “When we look 10 or 20 years ahead, I don’t think we can assume that the [US] is going to succeed in pushing back effectivel­y against China ... in the long run, Australia does have to ask whether or not we can continue to rely on the US.”

Australian­s are being exposed to a more dangerous world thanks to the political establishm­ent’s inability to adopt anything other than a sycophanti­c posture to Washington.

Here we go again. Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanista­n, and now China.

This colony of Washington sells out its people again because it is too frightened to say no to its bullying master. It seems not to matter what it costs, or how many lives are put at risk.

Hobart barrister Greg Barns SC is a human rights lawyer who has advised federal and state Liberal government­s.

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