Letter: Defence priorityby Greg ByrneNews Weekly
, May 5, 2001
Defence will always be a non-issue with Australians. It's 60 years since the fall of Singapore so nobody outside the nursing home population has any recollection of what it is like to be threatened militarily. All previous wars in which Australia was involved were due to its membership of the British Empire. If the British Empire was at war Australia was at war.
It's obvious from statements regarding the Vietnam War that most leading Liberals at the time did not believe in it. So one can see that the Liberals have never really believed in defence, and their attitude is the same as that of the general public, that unless there is a possible attack on the Australian mainland Australia hasn't got a defence problem.
That leaves aside regional problems and global problems which could be very serious. One can see a possible war in the Middle East which would tie up American resources and leave this area undefended.
What in my view would be better (although not good by a long chalk) is for Australia to come to some sort of financial arrangement with the US to provide naval defence of Australia itself, i.e., to provide aircraft carrier protection from any contingency in the Indian or Pacific Oceans that might arise from China or India. But Australia would have to pay an insurance premium of many billions of dollars.
That would enable the US to provide for joint defence and to have bases in Australia. Additionally, Australia would have to host bases for the anti-ballistic missile system that the US wants to set up.
Beazley is not likely to do as much as Howard, and is likely to find himself with heavy expenditure commitments for health, education and welfare which are vote winners.
There is a government publication from the ABS saying that government expenditure is about $56 billion per quarter which is about $224 billion per year. Dividing that by 20 million people, that comes to about $10,000 per person. This is why the average family loses half its income in taxes, which in turn, is why married women need to work. About 70 per cent of this is just pork-barrelling and has nothing to do with legitimate expenditures on defence or other essential government activities.
Australians, like the New Zealanders, have the "I'm all right, Jack" mentality as far as defence is concerned.
Don't be surprised if this Defence White Paper goes the way of the others. Defence will be cut back to make way for education and hospitals and so on. Realistically looking back on the last 30 years one can see no other possibility. And if Howard is beaten at the next election, the Liberals will elect a trendy to lead them and he'll be as bad as Beazley.Greg Byrne,