December 5th 2015

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Well designed same-sex marriage law no solution

CANBERRA OBSERVED Kidman hectares to stay in local hands ... for now

EDITORIAL How to respond to Islamic State's latest outrages

OPINION What's left if Malcolm is in the middle?

LIFE ISSUES Feminists, conservatives unite against surrogacy

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Turnbull government is not serious about defence

HISTORY Geography the great shaper of Taiwan

PHILOSOPHY AND POLITICS Green ideology balances illogic with contradiction

SOCIETY Cultural displacement and the new terrorism

PUBLIC POLICY Cannabis for R&D has precedent in poppy trade

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Swedish daycare: paradigm or cautionary tale? Part I

CINEMA Not your average psychopath: James Bond: Spectre

BOOK REVIEW Fantastical Four


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Turnbull government is not serious about defence

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, December 5, 2015

When Malcolm Turnbull replaced Tony Abbott as Prime Minister in September, one of his first moves was to replace Kevin Andrews, the no-nonsense Minister for Defence who had taken a firm line in Chinese military adventurism in the South China Sea and put defence procurement back on an even keel, with Marise Payne, a Turnbull loyalist without senior ministerial experience.

Julie Bishop, left, and Marise Payne.

It has taken less than three months for the defence portfolio to start to unravel. First came the revelation that a Chinese company, Landbridge, had been sold a 99-year lease on the Port of Darwin. You might say, so what?

The Port of Darwin is the closest Australian port to the South China Sea where China has been flexing its military muscle by building power-projection facilities, including naval ports, airports and runways on islands on top of coral atolls not far from the coast of the Philippines, and thousands of kilometres from China’s mainland.

The port is a vital piece of Australian infrastructure. Yet the Chinese Government now has a strategic interest in protecting Landbridge’s investment in Australian infrastructure.

The Royal Australian Navy is believed to have expressed concern over the leasing, but its concerns were overridden by the civilian leadership of the Defence Department.

Americans not consulted

Astonishingly, at joint talks with the Americans in Washington, shortly before the matter became public, neither Defence Minister Marise Payne nor Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told the Americans of the leasing – despite the fact that U.S. warships regularly visit Darwin, and U.S. marines are rotated through the “Top End”.

The level of American alarm at the development was reflected by a direct public rebuke for Mr Turnbull from President Barack Obama, who said publicly that he had to read about the leasing of the port of Darwin in The New York Times. Mr Turnbull’s juvenile suggestion to the American President that he should subscribe to the Northern Territory News, which had earlier reported the leasing, went down like a lead balloon.

As Neil James, executive director of the Australia Defence Association, pointed out in The Strategist: “Given the long time frame involved – and that the lease involves a powerful, regional and authoritarian country apparently seeking major changes to the rules-based international system – I see five key issues at stake.

“There has been an utter failure to examine the matter in a mature, holistic and grand-strategic context that draws together all the Australian (and allied) sovereign-freedom-of-action implications over the next century.

“For the first time since 1788 our major trading partner isn’t also a major ally. That poses obvious challenges in balancing national interests.

“But what cannot be ignored or downplayed is that Australia’s strategic risk is particularly increased in the case of China compared to other foreign powers or sources of investment.

“China has emerged as a potential and perhaps evident peer-strategic competitor to our long-time alliance partner.

“More broadly, under its current undemocratic political system, it’s also ambivalent at best about supporting the rules-based international system by which Australia has thrived, especially since 1945.

“Moreover, China’s current authoritarian rule poses increased risks of strategic adventurism and precludes the strategic stability safeguards of both domestic and international accountability through peacefully negotiated agreements. Future Chinese governments could seek to divert democratic pressures domestically by resorting to belligerent nationalism.”

The issue was aggravated by revelations that Landbridge is not merely a Chinese corporation, but has close links to the Chinese Communist Party.

Brendan Nicholson at The Australian reported that the owner of Landbridge is Chinese billionaire Ye Cheng, a senior Communist Party official.

“The Landbridge website says that in 2013 Mr Ye was cited by the Shandong Communist Party committee as one of 10 outstanding individuals in the province who concerned themselves with national defence construction. “The secretary of Landbridge’s Chinese Communist Party branch committee is … a former PLA officer who controls the company’s port development activities.” (November 13, 2015)

Since then, a further astonishing revelation has appeared in the national media. The Australian Financial Review reported that a property had been purchased by another Chinese billionaire, next door to the new offices of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) in Canberra. Billionaire Liang Guangwei is head of a Chinese Government-backed technology company.

ASIO has long been a target of foreign intelligence organisations, particularly cyber-espionage. According to the ACT Government, which sold the land, no one in the Federal Government expressed any concern over the Chinese acquisition next door. It seems that ostriches are not the only ones with heads in the sand.

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