Grattan on Friday: General’s vaccine advance waits on more fuel


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraDespite some questioning about a military man being in charge of the vaccine rollout, when it comes to communicating, Lieutenant General JJ Frewen is a refreshing change from the pollie-speak and fudges we hear all the time.

At a Tuesday news conference, after his virtual meeting with the states and territories, Frewen answered questions directly and briefly.

He was distinctly “forward leaning”, indeed pre-empting the content of the roundtable Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and he were to have with business representatives the following day.

Frewen sounds like a man who knows what he’s doing. Coming days will tell whether that’s the reality. (You can find a touch of scepticism in certain state quarters.)

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is naturally inclined to put faith in the military, especially after his Sovereign Borders experience. But bringing in Frewen was also a response to what was becoming a desperate situation. It was a call to Triple Zero. He’s now very impressed with the general and relying on him heavily.

While critics baulk at the “men in uniform” pictures (Frewen flanked by colleagues), a degree of concern is also being expressed from quite another quarter. Some defence sources are wary of the danger of politicising the military.

The Australia Defence Association tweeted this week: “Relying on the ADF to head emergency efforts (not just assist the civil community) risks dragging a necessarily non-partisan institution into #auspol controversy”.

The ADA referenced the 2007 Northern Territory intervention over child sex abuse, when the seconded general heading a multi-departmental operation was targeted in a highly politicised environment.

At the moment, however, Frewen has more immediate worries. The general has landed on the beach, reworked the maps, and is marshalling available forces. But his advance is hampered by the shortage of fit-for-purpose fuel.

As each day goes by, the limited quantities of Pfizer and the absence of any other currently available alternative to AstraZeneca (which is subject to restrictive health advice) is being highlighted more starkly.

The fact this will change later (we are assured) doesn’t help when the here-and-now is urgent, as the Sydney outbreak and the extension of the lockdown there underline.

It’s a time-gap that up until now Australia has not been able to significantly narrow.

We’re hearing about vaccine transfers abroad – for example, Israel is providing doses to South Korea, to be repaid later.

But it is hard for a country like Australia, with relatively few cases, to make a plea. Morrison was asked why we haven’t been able to use our “special relationship” with the US to get some of its surplus doses. Unsurprisingly, others have greater needs or better arrangements.

Announcing on Thursday a liberalising of the COVID disaster payment to assist in the Sydney outbreak, Morrison also said the state would be provided with 300,000 extra vaccine doses next week, equally divided between Pfizer and AstraZeneca. This won’t affect what other states receive (on the per head of population formula), and NSW’s numbers will be smoothed out later.

The federal government has now rustled up additional shots of Pfizer.

On Friday, it was announced the supply of Pfizer had been brought forward, with 4.5 million doses expected to be available in August instead of September.

The supply problem came through strongly when Frydenberg and Frewen spoke after Wednesday’s business meeting.

The roundtable canvassed workplace vaccinations. Frydenberg said there were a lot of offers. Virgin Group CEO Jayne Hrdlicka said, “Big employers have the ability to stand up vaccination programs very quickly and would welcome the opportunity to be able to vaccinate as much of the workforce as quickly as possible”.

According to Treasury sources, when the rollout was being prepared, Treasury put forward the view that employers should be used as a channel, as with the flu vaccine. But up to now, we’ve heard little from the government about such an obvious way to boost rates. And, among other things, that goes back to supply.

If we had more Pfizer, there is no reason why this could not have been happening now. (Except where there’s lockdown and work from home!) But employers can’t be in the thick of the rollout when the supply problem means the younger people in their workforces could not be given the vaccine preferred for them. The workplace sites will be for later in the year.

If there had been more Pfizer, the under 40 cohort could have been brought into the general rollout program much earlier – these people are still waiting, unless their job or health puts them into a special category, or they choose AstraZeneca.

And with adequate Pfizer supplies the PM wouldn’t have needed to encourage younger people to consult their doctor about taking AstraZeneca.

The extension for another week of the Sydney lockdown further removes the special status NSW has claimed – and has been accorded by the federal government – as the gold standard for handling COVID without having to resort to extreme measures. The virus again has proved itself the great leveller.

NSW’s decision would be especially disappointing to Morrison. But there is a tone of greater tolerance towards his home state than he displayed to Victoria, in its recent troubles, when he held out for some days before announcing assistance. (In fairness, the Delta outbreak in Sydney is particularly bad.)

“We’re working very cooperatively and positively together [with NSW] because let me be clear – what is happening in Sydney just doesn’t have implications for Sydney,” he said.

“What is happening in Sydney has very serious implications not only for the health of Sydneysiders but also for the economy of Sydney, but also the economy of NSW and indeed the national economy.”

At the moment, one in three eligible people in Australia has had a first vaccine dose, and one in ten has received both doses.

The government has been foreshadowing for a while that by year’s end, all eligible Australians will have had the opportunity of a first jab. On Thursday, Morrison pointedly said this was the government’s intention “based on the advice of Lieutenant General John Frewen that that will be possible”.

That’s assuming “the supply lines hold”.

The PM said this would mean the vaccination program would be only two months behind the schedule the government had when it talked about an October deadline.

No pressure, JJ.

This article has been updated to take into account the prime minister’s Friday announcement on bringing forward Pfizer dosesThe Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia is building a billion-dollar arms export industry. This is how weapons can fall in the wrong hands


Megan Price, The University of QueenslandSince 2018, Australia has been seeking to become a top ten global defence exporter.

Its main exports are products and components that fit into broader global supply chains for weapons and weapons systems. For example, the government boasts there isn’t a single F-35 fighter jet production operation that doesn’t feature Australian-made components.

The government sees further export potential for products and components to be used in armoured vehicles, advanced radar systems, and patrol boats, as well.

While Australia hasn’t made much headway on its export ranking, it has enjoyed some impressive sales success. In the 2017-18 financial year, the estimated value of approved export permits was A$1.5 billion. By 2019-20, it had grown to nearly $5.5 billion.

Australia’s export goals are connected to a broader effort to resuscitate domestic manufacturing.

Considerable government funding is involved in this effort, including $1 billion recently allocated to the Sovereign Guided Weapons Enterprise for building missiles.

Where do Australian arms go?

Australia doesn’t provide data on which countries it exports arms to. It only maps the regions, and unhelpfully, it lumps the Middle East and Asia together.

We do know successive defence ministers have courted markets in the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Heavily redacted documents obtained by the Guardian under a Freedom of Information request also indicate that in 2018-19, Australia issued 45 arms export permits to the UAE and 23 to Saudi Arabia.

Another 14 permits were approved for the countries from 2019-20.

These developments are significant, not least because the UAE and Saudis have both been embroiled in the Yemeni civil war for years, at times conducting their own indiscriminate air strikes.

The UN secretary-general anticipates 16 million Yemenis will go hungry this year because of the conflict, while 50,000 Yemenis are already starving to death.

Earlier this year, the Biden administration announced a freeze on “offensive” arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, citing the toll on civilians in the Yemeni war. Italy followed suit. Germany, too, halted weapons exports to the Saudis after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

Advocacy groups in Australia have attempted to seize on this glimmer of momentum by calling for Australia to do the same.

When weapons end up in the wrong hands

The Australian government still claims its arms export industry operates under strict regulations:

In keeping with Australia’s national interests and international obligations, Defence facilitates the responsible export of military and dual-use goods and technologies from Australia.

Such claims are hardly new. If anything, they’re part of a long-standing Western tradition.

In the 1960s, the UN Security Council debated the merits of an arms embargo on South Africa. At the time, the French and British maintained their weapons sales were for “defensive purposes” and not “internal use”. South Africa built a terrifying internal security apparatus, making a mockery of the distinction.

The historical record shows that arms exports often show up precisely where they shouldn’t, causing untold civilian suffering. At times, they are even wielded against the immediate interests of the countries in which they were produced.

Britain’s many mistakes

Here, the British experience is illustrative (although we just as easily tell this story about any purported liberal democracy in the arms export business).

When Tony Blair’s Labour government came to office in 1997, it promised an “ethical” foreign policy. As part of this, Labour would never allow the sale of arms to regimes that might use them for internal repression. Or so they said.

The previous government had approved export licenses for the sale of Hawk jets to Indonesia’s Suharto regime. While Labour could have cancelled these licences, it didn’t do so until it was too late. A series of unedifying spectacles followed.

Hawk jets in Indonesia.
Hawk fighter jets fly in formation during an Indonesian military celebration.
SUZANNE PLUNKETT/AP

In 1999, Britain confirmed Indonesia had flown Hawk jets over Timor-Leste to intimidate local residents before the region’s independence referendum. Hawk jets were then used in 2003 to bomb Aceh province during a particularly brutal internal military campaign. British Scorpion tanks were also used.

These were by no means isolated incidents. In 2009, Britain conceded it was possible its weapons had been used in the Sri Lankan civil war in a manner contravening their export licences.

That same year, the foreign secretary also confirmed Israel had used British-made equipment to bombard Gaza.

Like Australia, Britain is currently exporting weapons to Saudi Arabia, though a court challenge is being brought to try to stop it. From 2013-17, it was the country’s second-biggest supplier, after the US.

While Britain recently announced it will halve its aid budget to Yemen, it will not stop supplying the Saudis with arms.

Today’s friend is tomorrow’s enemy

Arming foreign governments does not just pose an immediate risk to civilians. In a phenomenon known as “blowback”, it can undermine the interests of exporters.

In 2004, for example, the European Union lifted arms sanctions on Libya. And from 2005–09, EU member states cemented arms deals with the oil giant.

Muammar Gaddafi’s regime stored its new purchases in warehouses. Then, in 2011, Libya erupted into civil war and NATO enacted a “no-fly zone”. Many of the warehouses were looted and the weapons spilled into the hands of both government and rebel forces. This effectively turbo-charged a conflict that NATO was responsible for controlling.

A 2013 UN report said looted weapons had been smuggled to as many as 12 other countries in the region. They’ve fallen into the hands of foreign governments, separatists, warlords, and Islamic extremists. This is how arms deals can come back to bite exporters.

The arms industry has an array of potential drawbacks. There are questions about the economic efficiency of investing in defence at the expense of other sectors, and arms procurement is highly susceptible to corruption.

Even if our intentions are good and we behave transparently, we still cannot predict the future. The British Parliamentary Committee on Export Controls articulated this problem over a decade ago when discussing the Sri Lankan war:

The issue of Sri Lanka illustrates the difficulties faced by the government, and by those who, like us, scrutinise the licensing decisions made by government, in assessing how exports of arms might be used by the destination country at a future date, particularly if [the] political situation in the country at the time of the exports appears stable.

That should give us pause for thought.The Conversation

Megan Price, Sessional Lecturer, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

From Five Eyes to Six? Japan’s push to join the West’s intelligence alliance


AAp/AP/Kaname Yoneyama

Craig Mark, Kyoritsu Women’s UniversityAs tensions with China continue to grow, Japan is making moves to join the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing alliance. This week, Japan’s ambassador to Australia, Shingo Yamagami, told The Sydney Morning Herald he was “optimistic” about his country coming on board.

[I] would like to see this idea become reality in the near future.

This comes as New Zealand voices its concerns over using the Five Eyes process to pressure China.

What is this spy alliance? And what are the benefits and risks to bringing Japan on board?

What is the Five Eyes?

Beginning as an intelligence exchange agreement between the United States and United Kingdom in 1943, it formally became the UKUSA Agreement in 1946. The agreement then extended to Canada in 1948, and Australia and New Zealand in 1956.

This long-running collaboration has been particularly useful for sharing signals intelligence, or intelligence gathered from communications and information systems. The group’s focus has shifted over time, from targeting the USSR during the Cold War, to Islamist terrorism after the September 11 attacks in 2001, to the rising challenge from China today.

Japan’s intelligence infrastructure

There is a significant intelligence tradition in Japan. After the Meiji Restoration of the 19th century, the imperial Japanese army and navy and Ministry of Foreign Affairs developed extensive intelligence networks. These aided the rise of the Japanese empire in its wars against China, Russia and eventually the Western allies in the second world war.

After the war, Japan’s intelligence services were revamped under American supervision. Japan has since been an important base of operations for US intelligence operations in Asia, particularly by military intelligence, the CIA and the National Security Agency.

The Japanese intelligence community now comprises a range of services, including the Ministry of Defense’s Directorate for Signals Intelligence, which provides expertise in regional signals intelligence. Given Japan’s proximity to China, North Korea, and Russia, Japan may well be an attractive addition to the Five Eyes alliance.

There is also a precedence for formal intelligence sharing with the West. As well as its long-running collaboration with the US, an Information Security Agreement was signed between Australia and Japan in 2012. At the end of 2016, the US, Japan and Australia signed a similar trilateral agreement deepening the extent of covert security cooperation.

Japan’s close relationship to the US is seen in Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s visit last week to the US, the first foreign leader to be officially hosted by President Joe Biden. The talks in Washington focused heavily on China.

Previous reluctance to expand the group

While the Five Eyes group has often cooperated with the intelligence services of Japan on an ad hoc basis — as well as those of France, Germany and Israel — there has so far been reluctance among the Five Eyes members to formally broaden the alliance.

The US especially has had doubts in the past about the security and reliability of the Japanese intelligence community. In particular, this is due to concerns over its relative lack of overseas experience.

Suga was the first foreign leader to be hosted formally by President Joe Biden.
AAP/AP

In 2013, the Abe government passed a controversial Designated State Secrets Law to reduce these vulnerabilities and present Japan as a more valuable security partner. The ensuing revamp of the intelligence services, under firmer central direction of a National Security Council, has reformed Japan’s capabilities to some extent.

But further complicating matters, New Zealand has now shown its hesitancy about using Five Eyes to pressure China. This threatens to undermine the unity and stability of the alliance, even raising the prospect of New Zealand leaving Five Eyes altogether.

What about China?

Japan’s relationship with China — its neighbour and main trading partner — could potentially be a stumbling block. This relationship was managed fairly successfully under the Abe government, where the mutual benefits of trade and investment were prioritised.

This has largely continued under Suga, but more hawkish members of the government are starting to push a tougher line against China.




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With the ongoing territorial dispute over the Senkaku Islands, and more assertive demonstrations of force by the People’s Liberation Army, relations between China and Japan have become much frostier. As Japan is on the “frontline” with China, becoming a Five Eyes member has the potential to improve its strategic position via stronger support from its alliance partners.

Leadership change in Japan?

The best prospect for Japan joining Five Eyes probably lies with cabinet minister Taro Kono. He is the minister for administrative reform, responsible for supervising Japan’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout. In his previous tenure as defence minister, Kono was enthusiastically in favour of Japan joining Five Eyes.

The energetic, media-savvy and ambitious Kono is widely favoured to replace Suga as prime minister if he does not survive a vote for leadership of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in September. An election for the lower house of the Diet (Japan’s parliament) also must be held by October.

Security environment could make the decision

A more threatening security environment overall may hasten the push towards a “Six Eyes” anyway.

A cyber attack on the Australian parliament in 2019 was implicitly blamed on China, while the US counterintelligence establishment is still reeling from the consequences of the massive Russian SolarWinds cyber attack and Moscow’s interference in the 2016 and 2020 US presidential elections.




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Japan is facing a fourth COVID wave and sluggish vaccine rollout. Will it be ready for the Olympics?


This week, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police have blamed the People’s Liberation Army for organising hundreds of cyber attacks on Japanese companies, universities and government departments, including Japan’s space agency JAXA. This is certain to harden opinion against China.

If all members agree, especially with encouragement from the US, it would be fairly straightforward for Japan to formally join the Five Eyes. If the regional security environment continues to deteriorate, the declaration of a Six Eyes alliance incorporating Japan would be a clear diplomatic signal of a determination to confront China in intelligence and espionage.The Conversation

Craig Mark, Professor, Faculty of International Studies, Kyoritsu Women’s University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Dutton humiliates defence force chief Angus Campbell over citation


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraPeter Dutton has begun his tenure as defence minister by delivering a very public slap to his most senior military adviser, chief of the Australian Defence Force Angus Campbell.

Dutton’s overriding of Campbell’s initial command decision to revoke a meritorious unit citation that had been awarded to some 3,000 special forces soldiers who served in Afghanistan is a humiliation to the general who is supposedly in command of the military.

The minister’s claim that he has full faith in Campbell does not alter this point.

On an issue that goes to the core of military professionalism, ethics and discipline, the government has not trusted Campbell’s judgment.

The opposition is no better – it has supported Dutton’s decision.

We don’t know how Campbell is taking it, but Dutton says he’s “pragmatic”. In such circumstances, some military leaders would be considering their position.

The salt has been rubbed in by Dutton seeking to highlight the override, with a leaked story in The Australian and media interviews.

Dutton’s argument that “the decision [Campbell] made in the first instance is perfectly reasonable. But my judgment is that we look at the circumstances now,” doesn’t pass (as the government might say) the pub test.

Of course the government overrule effectively came months ago, after the release of the Brereton report on allegations of misconduct by Australian special forces in Afghanistan, which said the citation should be revoked.

The war crimes inquiry said there was “credible information” of 23 incidents in which one or more non-combatants or prisoners of war “were unlawfully killed by or at the direction of members of the Special Operations Task Group”. It recommended the ADF chief refer 36 matters to the Australian Federal Police for criminal investigation, involving 19 individuals.

Faced with pressure from veterans and from some within the special forces, Scott Morrison was quick to indicate he opposed the proposal to revoke the citation, and Campbell began a tactical retreat.

Former defence minister Linda Reynolds smoothed the waters to give time for consideration. But it was always clear what was going to happen.

A less assertive minister, however, might have found a form of announcement to allow Campbell to have saved a little more face (assuming he wished to).

As he grasps the reins of a portfolio he has long coveted, Dutton is sending the message that (unlike his predecessor) he wants be an activist minister who is in the public eye.

In considering how the citation award has been handled, it is important to understand exactly what it is.

The Brereton inquiry made separate recommendations about the Meritorious Unit Citation which went to the Special Operations Task Group, and individual awards, and it explained the reasons for viewing them differently.

“Although many members of the Special Operations Task Group demonstrated great courage and commitment and although it had considerable achievements, what is now known must disentitle the unit as a whole to eligibility for recognition for sustained outstanding service.

“It has to be said that what this Report discloses is disgraceful and a profound betrayal of the Australian Defence Force’s professional standards and expectations. It is not meritorious.

“The inquiry has recommended the revocation of the award of the Meritorious Unit Citation, as an effective demonstration of the collective responsibility and accountability of the Special Operations Group as a whole for those events.

“In contrast, the cancellation of an individual award such as a distinguished service award impacts on the status and reputation of the individual concerned, could not be undertaken on a broad-brush collective basis, and would require procedural fairness.”

Brereton is making a very reasonable distinction between collective and individual responsibility, and the need to send a broad signal about, and from, the collective.

In rejecting Campbell’s judgment, Dutton and the government have rebuffed the official inquiry, led by a distinguished and experienced judge – a bad look of the political taking precedence over the legal.

One has to wonder just how much will finally be delivered as a result of the Brereton investigation. The process to get prosecutions for alleged crimes is underway but by its nature it will be incredibly complex and difficult.

Which, one could argue, made it even more important to carry through the symbolic gesture of removing the citation.

Meanwhile on another front, Morrison on Monday announced a royal commission into past suicides in the defence forces and among veterans.

This wasn’t the government’s preference. Its plan was for an ongoing commissioner on the issue, but that did not satisfy many families and veterans, and the government couldn’t muster the parliamentary numbers.

Now both processes will be undertaken, the government says.

The outcome on these very different issues – the citation and the royal commission – reflect the political power of veterans.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

An Australian ‘space command’ could be a force for good — or a cause for war


iss e orig.
NASA

Cassandra Steer, Australian National UniversityAs the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) celebrated 100 years with a spectacular and well-attended flyover in Canberra yesterday, many eyes were lifted to the skies. But RAAF’s ambitions go even higher, as its motto “through adversity, to the stars” hints. The Chief of Air Force, Air Marshall Mel Hupfeld, announced the intention to create a new “space command”.

Having a dedicated space command will bring Australia into line with Canada, India, France and Japan, all of which recently created similar organisations within their armed forces. Unlike the US Space Force, which is a separate branch of the military in addition to the army, navy and air force, Australia’s space command will oversee space activities across the Australian Defence Force.

Creating a space command is a smart move — but we must be careful to ensure it doesn’t add fuel to a cycle of military escalation in space that has already begun.




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The US plan for a Space Force risks escalating a ‘space arms race’


Space technology is vital but vulnerable

We depend on satellites for communications, navigation, banking and trade, weather and climate tracking, search and rescue, bushfire tracking, and more. A conflict in space would be catastrophic for us all.

There is a risk of “space war” because these technologies are also integral to military operations, both in peacetime and during conflict. If you want to take out your enemy’s eyes and ears, you target their satellites — but not with guns, bombs or lasers.

There are many ways in which so-called “counterspace technologies” might threaten those satellites. This might include cyber attacks, dazzling a satellite with low-powered lasers so that it can’t observe Earth, or jamming a signal so a satellite can’t send data to Earth.

Operating in space

The creation of US Space Force under the Trump administration in 2019 raised many eyebrows, and even led to a parody sitcom on Netflix. But while the comedy series had soldiers waging a war with China on the Moon using wrenches, US Space Force has a serious mandate, including the work that had been done for decades by its predecessor, US Space Command.

While the TV version ended in farce in Space Force, the real thing has a serious job.
Netflix

Much of that work involves tracking satellites and the estimated 128 million pieces of debris orbiting the Earth, to help avoid collisions that could be fatal to any number of services on which we rely. It also involves protecting US and allied space systems from counterspace threats.

The announcement that Australia will have its own space command is a welcome one in this sense. All three of our armed forces depend on space-based technologies, and centralised coordination is sensible.




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A guide to ensure everyone plays by the same military rules in space: the Woomera Manual


We also intend to increase our sovereign space capabilities, as outlined in the 2020 Strategic Defence Update, with A$7 billion dedicated to new space systems, mostly communications satellites. We need to be able to defend those satellites, and Defence needs to have centralised command and control of all government space operations. Australia also needs to be able to coordinate use of, access to, and protection of space with our allies.

Avoiding escalation

We should be extremely wary of designating space a “warfighting domain”. The US is the only country to adopt this nomenclature. It sends a deliberate signal to rivals that any point of conflict can now also be taken into space, or even begin in space.

The US Department of Defense asserts it is only responding to the actions of China and Russia, which have “weaponised space and turned it into a warfighting domain”. For China and Russia, of course, this statement and the creation of US Space Force justify ramping up their own space military programs. An escalating cycle with a potential for conflict in space is underway.

If Australia were to adopt the position that space is a warfighting domain, the most important country we would be sending a signal to would be China. We are far from having sufficient space capabilities to pick or win a fight with China in space. Adopting such a position could also be seen as a breach of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which states that space shall be used for “exclusively peaceful purposes”.

Competition is counterproductive

Following the lead of our other allies offers a better path. The NATO countries refused to describe space as a warfighting domain when they debated it at their space summit in 2019. They opted instead to designate space an “operational domain”.

The US Space Force is underpinned by a doctrine of “space superiority”, which is not something to which Australia can — or should — aspire. In fact, a study commissioned by the US Department of Defense itself concludes dominance in space is not crucial to US or allied defence.




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This aligns with the arguments made by a range of global experts in a recent publication I co-edited, War and Peace in Outer Space. Seeking to dominate space militarily will likely lead to a counterproductive escalating cycle of competition. If we want to protect our space-based assets and those of our allies, we need to reduce the risk of an arms race, rather than incite one.

Australia should focus on its ability to become an effective diplomatic space power. A new centralised space command can be at the centre of this effort.The Conversation

Cassandra Steer, Senior Lecturer, ANU College of Law; Mission Specialist, ANU Institute for Space, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Anzac legend has blinded Australia to its war atrocities. It’s time for a reckoning



Australian soldiers in the trenches at Anzac Cove on the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey in 1915.
State Library of Victoria/Wikimedia Commons

Martin Crotty, The University of Queensland and Carolyn Holbrook, Deakin University

For years, Australians have faced a steady stream of investigative media reports about atrocities allegedly committed by the country’s most elite soldiers in Afghanistan.

Yet, nothing could have prepared the nation for the breathtaking contents of the landmark report by Major General Paul Brereton into the actions of special forces, released last month after a four-year investigation. The reaction across Australia was one of horror and disbelief.

The inquiry found credible evidence to support allegations that 39 Afghan civilians were illegally killed by Australian soldiers, some having weapons planted on them to make them appear to have been combatants.




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Prisoners were shot for reasons as obtuse as saving the need for a second helicopter trip. Others were allegedly killed in a practice known as “blooding”, in which new soldiers were encouraged to achieve their first “kill”. In one particularly appalling incident, special forces allegedly slit the throats of two 14-year-old boys and dumped their bodies in a river.

For most Australians, this is more than just rogue soldiers being found out for despicable behaviour. The depth of revulsion felt by many reflects the special place the country reserves for its armed forces, who have come to personify all that is best about Australia.

Chief of Defence Force Angus Campbell has been under pressure from some politicians to resign.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Where the Anzac legend originated

Military history sits at the heart of the Australian national identity — most visibly through the Anzac legend.

The word “Anzac” is an acronym for “Australian and New Zealand Army Corps”. It was coined during the early phases of the first world war, when Australians and New Zealanders were part of an allied force that landed at Gallipoli in modern-day Turkey in April 1915.

The invasion, devised by Britain’s first lord of the admiralty, Winston Churchill, was unsuccessful in its goal of reaching Constantinople and knocking the Ottoman Empire out of the war.

British, Australian and New Zealander soldiers constructing bombs at Gallipoli in 1915.
Archives New Zealand/Wikimedia Commons

But the young Australian nation, federated in 1901, took from the failed campaign a mythology of national birth.

Australia had been created during an age of elevated propaganda about empire, monarchy and the glory of battle. War was held to be the truest test of the character of men and nations.

In this era of “new imperialism”, the peaceful union of Australia’s six British colonies carried a taint of illegitimacy because no blood had been spilled (the frontier wars with Aboriginal peoples did not count). The British journalist Alfred Buchanan wrote in 1907 that he

pitied the little Australian […] looking to nourish the flame of patriotic sentiment, [for …] the altar has not been stained with crimson as every rallying centre of a nation should be.

So, by the first world war, it was believed that a good showing in battle would expunge the convict stain and prove Australians worthy members of the British empire.

This is why the date of the Gallipoli invasion, April 25, quickly became Australia’s most sacred national day. The young nation was drenched by a tide of khaki nationalism that has ebbed and flowed ever since.

War memorials and monuments were raised in towns and cities around the country, where citizens still gather each Anzac Day to engage in the rituals of what the late historian Ken Inglis called Australia’s “civil religion”.

The first Anzac Day parade in Sydney on April 25, 1916.
Century of Pictures, Penguin Books/Wikimedia Commons

How the Anzacs continue to be revered

Beginning in the 1990s, Australian politicians have also consciously and cleverly linked this nostalgia-tinted history to the work of the modern and highly professionalised Australian Defence Force.

When the honour of Australia’s revered soldiers is questioned, so too is the national self-image.

For example, a 2011 report into the culture and personal conduct of members of the Defence Force, prompted by accusations of sexual harassment and other indiscretions, noted the Anzac legend provided an exemplar for the current military.




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Similarly, in his 2015 dawn service speech on the centenary of the Gallipoli landings, then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott lauded the Anzacs for their qualities of compassion, perseverance and mateship.

In reverential tones, Abbott called them the “founding heroes of modern Australia”, said they set an example for modern day Australians to follow:

Yes, they are us; and when we strive enough for the right things, we can be more like them.

Poignantly, Ben Roberts-Smith, Australia’s most decorated contemporary soldier and among the men accused of war atrocities in Afghanistan, has also drawn inspiration from the Anzac legend.

Roberts-Smith has said that Gallipoli is “a big part of who we are as Aussies”, and reflected on his boyhood fascination with the Anzacs:

While other boys had posters of sporting heroes, I had posters of soldiers.

A history of misconduct in war

But the idealisation of this Anzac history has always required Australians turn a blind eye to uncomfortable truths.

Australian soldiers in the first world war killed prisoners, deserted in record numbers, caught venereal disease at phenomenal rates and outperformed all other Western Front forces in causing trouble.

In the second world war, Australians were often reluctant to take Japanese prisoners, choosing to illegally bayonet or shoot them instead. And Australian soldiers are known to have committed atrocities alongside their American counterparts in Vietnam, including “bloodings” and “throwdowns” (planting weapons on civilians after they were killed).




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How Anzac Day came to occupy a sacred place in Australians’ hearts


In recent years, we have become increasingly reluctant to see our Anzacs as killers, even when such killing is legitimate on military grounds.

As represented most famously in Peter Weir’s 1981 film, Gallipoli, the Anzac legend has become less about the combat ability of Australian soldiers and more about their suffering. It is war commemoration stripped down and refitted for the age of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Anzacs that our nation so often lauds are fictional creations, shorn of the malevolence and downright murderous behaviour they frequently exhibited.

The alleged SAS atrocities do not fit this kinder, gentler version of the legend. They upend the way Australians like to imagine their armed forces, and by implication, themselves.

The final scene in the 1981 film Gallipoli, starring Mel Gibson.

Tethering war to national self-image

We see two possibilities for how the current crisis will play out. The first is the alleged war crimes will slowly be forgotten, just as previous atrocities have been.

There are already signs this is happening. Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week said he remained “incredibly proud” of the ADF and emphasised that the alleged crimes were committed by “a small number in a very big defence force”. He maintained the reputation of the broader defence force would be unaffected.

Soldiers march during the Anzac Day parade in Brisbane in 2019.
Glenn Hunt/AAP

The other possibility is Australia will adopt a more realistic attitude towards its soldiers and the conflicts they fight in.

These conflicts are complex, and rarely conducted without some descent into the moral abyss. Some of our soldiers are not good people, and those that are good are capable of lapses. War is an ugly business, and we pay a price for tethering it so tightly to our national self-image.

As historians of Australia’s war experiences, we hope and wish for a national reckoning about our record of war atrocities. But as historians of Anzac, we anticipate that the great mythological behemoth will barely sway from its course in the face of these allegations.The Conversation

Martin Crotty, Associate Professor in Australian History, The University of Queensland and Carolyn Holbrook, ARC DECRA Fellow at Deakin University, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia can repair its relationship with China, here are 3 ways to start



Lukas Coch/AAP

Melissa Conley Tyler, University of Melbourne

China has certainly got Australia’s attention with a highly inflammatory tweet from a government spokesperson. It has provoked the desired reaction — a storm of outrage.




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Australia demands apology from China over ‘repugnant’ slur on Twitter


This is the latest in an ever-growing list of problems between Australia and China. In recent days, China imposed new tariffs on wine, while Australia threatened legal action on barley.

None of this is inevitable. Australia and China may not be best friends anytime soon, but they can reset the relationship.

Australia could make one big gesture and two small to improve its relationship with China. As federal parliament meets in Canberra, there is even an opportunity to start this week.

What’s wrong?

It’s the multi-billion dollar question: what could the Australian government do if it wanted to reset the relationship with China?

Sometimes when China has dealt out economic punishment, the desired result has been clear — such as pressuring South Korea to cancel a missile defence system. But in Australia’s case, China’s displeasure is not directed towards one policy. It’s more a sense Australia has been acting in an unfriendly, hostile manner and this has consequences.

We know this because China recently leaked a 14-point list of grievances via the Australian media. It contained no surprises, but is useful to show where there may be room to manoeuvre.

Beijing’s 14 points

Out of the 14, there were only a few relating to what I see as non-negotiable interests. These relate to Australia’s criticism of human rights abuses in China, cyber-attacks and the South China Sea dispute.

Quite a few should also be interpreted as venting — such as China’s criticism of Australia’s foreign interference powers and Australia’s decision to exclude Huawei and ZTE from the 5G network over national security concerns. Realistically, Australia is not going to reverse these decisions.




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Chinese reveal their journalists in Australia were questioned in foreign interference investigation


Similarly, Australia’s call for an inquiry into COVID-19, questions over the origins of the virus, alleged raids on Chinese journalists and revoking visas for Chinese scholars are now in the past.

Others on the list are gripes China knows the Australian government can’t do much about, such as “antagonistic” media reports or members of parliament making “outrageous” comments.

But the language used in the 14-points suggests many of the problems are less about the policy and more about how it’s been communicated, such as former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announcing foreign interference legislation as “standing up to China”.




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An all-out trade war with China would cost Australia 6% of GDP


Australia may come to regret being stridently tough on China without thinking through the real-world consequences. It costs China very little to punish Australia economically in sectors where it has other suppliers or wants to encourage domestic production.

If the core problem is a perception that Australia is unfriendly, this suggests the best way to show a desire for better relations is through a big gesture — ideally one that is showy but low cost. China has said it wants actions, not words, so a speech alone won’t cut it.

The grand gesture

If Australia did want to signal a desire to be more friendly without changing any of its policies, what might it do?

Prime Minister Scott Morrison at a virtual press conference, responding to China's tweet.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has demanded China apologise for an offensive tweet about Australian soldiers.
Lukas Coch/ AAP

The best candidate would be to sign up for the Belt and Road Initiative. There is zero chance this will happen — despite earlier neutral comments, the federal government has made this clear. But it meets all the criteria for a gesture to reset the relationship.

First, it’s entirely symbolic and doesn’t bind Australia to do anything. Australia can participate in individual projects or not as it chooses. Second, there’s no material cost to Australia, or any need to alter substantive policies. Yet it would be read as a significant gesture by China.




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Why is there so much furore over China’s Belt and Road Initiative?


The fact that it’s not on the table shows how the range of options to pursue the national interest has been narrowed by priming the public to see China as an enemy, rather than as a challenge to be managed.

Two other options

There are two smaller options that are achievable and in Australia’s interests. And they are both before parliament.

First, the Senate is currently debating a bill to give the Foreign Affairs Minister the power to cancel international agreements entered into by state governments, local councils and universities. China has specifically named this in its grievances as “targeting” China.




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I’ve argued in detail why it’s a terrible piece of legislation that would impose a large compliance burden and negatively affect Australia’s international engagement. It would be in Australia’s own interests to drop it and come up with a better, more targeted response.

Second, parliament is also looking at amendments to foreign investment rules, which China singled out at the top of its list as “opaque”. Foreign investment puts money into the Australian economy so this is an area of potential mutual interest.

China’s complaint is the lack of transparency about which investments get approved — it sees the process as ideological. The Australian government could, for example, postpone proposed amendments and consult with investor countries about how the process could be improved in Australia’s self-interest.

A diplomatic mindset

Some will say Australia shouldn’t do any of these things precisely because China might want them. And China is hardly helping its case by exercising subtle or effective diplomacy.

But deciding to always oppose lets China control your behaviour. We need a negotiation mentality. We need to find things we don’t mind giving that China values in order to get what we want. That’s not “capitulation” or “obeisance” — it’s acting in our own self-interest.

Scott Morrison walks past Xi Jinping at the G20 in June 2019.
Australia cannot change China, but it can change how it responds.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Australia has no ability to remake China into a completely different country. We need to live with it. This means both standing up to China and getting along — hardening our defences, while ensuring our economic prosperity. Without an economy, a country can’t pay to keep itself safe.

Australia is not under military attack, offensive as China’s “wolf warrior diplomats” can be.

Australia and China have disputes that can and should be managed diplomatically. It is not inevitable we must have a bad relationship – and it’s certainly not a sign of success if we do.The Conversation

Melissa Conley Tyler, Research Fellow, Asia Institute, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why Australian commanders need to be held responsible for alleged war crimes in Afghanistan



Mick Tsikas/AAP

Paul Taucher, Murdoch University and Dean Aszkielowicz, Murdoch University

Last week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison made clear he expects senior Australian officers to face some degree of accountability for any crimes allegedly committed by special forces in Afghanistan.

So far, however, others have been more circumspect. While Justice Paul Brereton’s shocking report last month called for 19 Australian soldiers to be referred to the federal police to be prosecuted for possible crimes, it stopped short of recommending commanding officers be held responsible.

Lieutenant-General Rick Burr, the head of the Army, cut short a news conference when asked whether he should resign in the wake of the scandal last week, and General Angus Campbell, the Defence Force chief, said commanding officers would be dealt with on a “case-by-case basis”.

Burr says military leaders are ‘holding ourselves to account’ over the allegations raised in the Brereton report.
Lukas Coch/AAP

The Defence Force has foreshadowed there will likely be administrative punishment for some officers, including possible demotions, stripping of medals or removal from service.

This is a start. However, Campbell and the rest of the Defence Force leadership need to begin a serious discussion about the accountability and responsibility of commanding officers in the military as they move forward from the Brereton report.




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Allegations of murder and ‘blooding’ in Brereton report now face many obstacles to prosecution


How commanding officers were dealt with in the past

This not the first time the Australian military has dealt with this complex moral and legal question.

After the second world war, Australia, the US, UK and other allies tried suspected Japanese war criminals under international law. These trials saw the first use of command responsibility.

This doctrine holds commanding officers responsible for crimes that are committed by their subordinates during wartime, when the commanding officers knew, or should have known, that they occurred. These crimes can include massacres, mistreatment of prisoners of war and murder.

Many Japanese officers were sentenced to death during the trials because they failed to prevent, halt or punish the crimes committed by their soldiers, even when they did not explicitly know the crimes were occurring. Other Japanese officers were more fortunate and received prison terms.

The court martial convened in Darwin in 1946 to try Japanese prisoners of war charged with war crimes.
Australian War Memorial

Why accountability matters

The claim in the Brereton report that Australian officers were not in a position to know — and therefore to act — on alleged war crimes committed in Afghanistan has, in some eyes, absolved them of responsibility.

However, there seems to be an acknowledgement within defence circles that further actions could have, and perhaps should have, been taken by Australian commanders to address cultural issues within the SAS, and to impose greater scrutiny on units that were on high-intensity combat rotations.




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Changing the culture of our SAS forces is no easy fix. Instead, we need to face the true costs of war


Command responsibility is a difficult legal doctrine to grapple with. At the core, this is because officers could be held legally responsible for criminal acts they did not encourage, order or directly take part in under both Commonwealth military law and international laws.

Holding an individual criminally responsible for the actions of others goes against the personal responsibility that our criminal justice system is largely based on.

Nonetheless, it is important for several reasons that the Australian military holds its officers responsible for their units and subordinates.

For one, disciplining senior officers is critical for any attempt to reorganise and reform the Australian special forces following the explosive allegations put forth in the Brereton report.

The report revealed that some officers enabled a culture of heavy drinking, poor discipline and the pursuit of personal glory within the special forces. It is therefore critical these officers are removed from their positions to rebuild an effective, well-disciplined and respected special forces group.

Pursuing commanding officers is also important for the soldiers that served on the ground. The report has raised serious questions about how elite forces were pushed to their breaking point. Australia needs to know what role commanders had in that.

Of course, turning the focus on the moral responsibility of senior officers is not intended to absolve the alleged crimes committed by individuals. The point is simply that the military needs to demonstrate to the public, as well as to past and current members of the armed services, that senior officers cannot completely avoid responsibility for what happened.

Australia’s international reputation is at stake

Investigating senior officers, and where appropriate, taking action against them, is also an important part of restoring the reputation and credibility of the Australian military abroad.

The Australian Army has long been a respected member of international coalitions. It has built a reputation for working effectively with allies and partners, and for taking international law seriously.

It now faces an international scandal, and its reputation is at stake.

This is particularly the case in nations like Afghanistan, where the Australian military was instrumental in combating often brutal forces that held little regard for human rights. Counter-insurgency operations need to win the hearts and minds of the local population. For the Australian military to rebuild its reputation in countries where it operates, it needs to be able to hold itself accountable for its mistakes.

If we can’t do this, our position in the international rules-based system can be questioned, as it already has been. A failure to hold officers responsible also de-legitimises Australia’s questioning of foreign governments on human rights abuses, as well as the government’s calls for justice in other international crimes.




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It’s time for Australia’s SAS to stop its culture of cover-up and take accountability for possible war crimes


The Conversation


Paul Taucher, PhD Candidate in History, Murdoch University and Dean Aszkielowicz, Lecturer, Murdoch University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Grattan on Friday: Australia’s war crimes in Afghanistan – how could those up the chain not know?


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

When he speaks at functions, Scott Morrison routinely pays tribute to present and past members of the Australian Defence Force.

It seems a very American thing to do.

But he is also putting the military on an extremely high pedestal. When some of those on that pedestal are found to have done appalling things, the shock is doubly great.

For many Australians, looking back on a history of war heroism, it will be hard to take in what the investigation by Justice Paul Brereton has found: 25 current or former soldiers, from the special forces, allegedly perpetrated, as principals or accessories, war crimes in Afghanistan.

A total of 39 people – Afghan non-combatants or prisoners of war – were killed, and another two cruelly treated. Some 19 Australians will be referred on for criminal investigation and likely or possible prosecution.

For the government and the military brass, the Brereton findings are not, or should not be, as surprising as is being claimed.

For a long time, there have been suggestions of bad behaviour by some Australians in Afghanistan.




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Changing the culture of our SAS forces is no easy fix. Instead, we need to face the true costs of war


Indeed, even when I was there way back in 2002, and Australia had 150 special forces in place, there was chatter among the international media that the Australians were fast and loose.

Before then, there were allegations of brutality by Australian special forces in East Timor in the late 1990s.

The military itself in recent years commissioned inquiries into the culture and operations of the special forces.

In a 2016 report on culture, Samantha Crompvoets wrote, on the basis of the interviews she conducted, of “unverifiable accounts of extremely serious breaches of accountability and trust”.

Most concerning were “allusions to behaviour and practices involving abuse of drugs and alcohol, domestic violence, unsanctioned and illegal application of violence on operations, disregard for human life and dignity, and the perception of a complete lack of accountability at times”.

David McBride, who served in Afghanistan as a military lawyer, blew the whistle on misconduct, and has been prosecuted for his public service.

In some excellent journalism, The Age/Sydney Morning Herald and the ABC extensively documented alleged criminal behaviour.

Even so, Angus Campbell, Chief of the Australian Defence Force, said of the Brereton report: “I was anticipating it wouldn’t be good – but I didn’t realise how bad it would be”.

Brereton documents how a culture of compliance, intimidation and silence in the field hushed up crimes, and he highlights the “warrior culture” of Special Air Service Regiment commanders in Australia.

Patrol commanders on the ground were culpable. “The criminal behaviour in this Report was conceived, committed, continued and concealed at patrol commander level, and it is overwhelmingly at that level that responsibility resides,” Brereton writes. To a junior SASR trooper, “fresh from selection and reinforcement cycle, the patrol commander is a demigod, and one who can make or break a trooper’s career”.

But those up the chain did not know what was going on, Brereton found, although they bore a “moral command responsibility”.




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Evidence of war crimes found against 25 Australian soldiers in Afghanistan


The key question is, how could this be so? We are talking about multiple crimes of murder and brutality, practices such as “blooding” (patrol commanders requiring a junior soldier to shoot a prisoner to make his first kill), and planting false evidence on victims.

If senior officers did not pick up gossip and whispers, surely they should have been enough aware of the broad special forces culture to know that extensive checks should be in place to guard against the ever-present threat of misconduct.

In 2011, Campbell was appointed Commander Joint Task Force 633, responsible for Australian forces in the Middle East including Afghanistan.

Asked on Thursday for his response to those who might say the report had let people like him “off the hook”, Campbell admitted “I wonder was there something I walked past, was there some indicator I didn’t see?”

Having not done enough many years ago to ensure Australia’s special forces were best prepared to meet proper standards of legal and ethical conduct, the ADF more recently began reform and is now in overdrive to make amends for the atrocities that have been committed.

The government is trying to keep as much at arms length as it can (and remember this inquiry stretches back through Coalition and Labor years, with the worst behaviour concentrated in 2012-13). But it has quickly and properly set up a special investigator’s office that will undertake further work to gather and prepare material for criminal actions.

Campbell has accepted all Brereton’s recommendations. He has made a public apology to the Afghan people. He’s been in contact with the head of the Afghan military. Australia will pay compensation to victims’ families.

In Canada, after a major scandal, the unit concerned was disbanded. That is not happening here, but a SASR sub-unit has got the chop.




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Politics with Michelle Grattan: Defence expert Allan Behm on the background to the Brereton report


While Thursday’s release of the report was a huge moment, it actually marks the middle of a process.

The military is some way down the track in dealing with its consequences, and the preparations for the prosecution process are advancing. The government is particularly anxious to be seen to be pursuing wrongdoers vigorously: it wants them to be brought to justice under Australian law, not to go to international justice.

The Meritorious Unit Citation that was awarded to the Special Operations Task Group will be revoked – which is appropriate though it will be hard on soldiers who performed commendably and bravely and without fault – and meritorious awards won by individuals will be reviewed.

The redacted report does not name those it says should be referred for criminal investigation; hopefully they’ll be successfully bought to justice but it will be a difficult, long road, given the report is not a brief of evidence and much work will have to be redone.

With so much redaction, there is still a good deal we don’t know about these events. When the official history of the time is written some years on, it will include the unredacted material.

The affair has torn at the heart of Australia’s military reputation. It has not destroyed that reputation, but the repair effort must be comprehensive and, above all, transparent.

And it should always be remembered that the military can be as fallible as any other group in society, and a small minority of individuals as reprehensible as other criminals, and to assume otherwise is to be blind in the name of false patriotism.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Should the ADF take a bigger role in bushfires and other domestic emergencies? The answer isn’t so easy



SHANE CAMERON/ROYAL AUSTRALIAN NAVY

Susan Harris Rimmer, Griffith University

The Commonwealth and state governments are responsible for keeping people safe, and the role of the ADF is to protect the nation. But how these two roles fit together is not always so clear.

After a tumultuous year of bushfires and the ongoing pandemic, we need a more fundamental conversation about the role of the ADF in responding to domestic emergencies.

The Morrison government has introduced a new bill that would give the ADF more power to respond to emergencies. And a Senate committee has recommended it be “passed without delay”, despite dissent from the Greens.

But questions remain around whether the legislation is even necessary or meets all the recommendations set out in the Bushfire Royal Commission report.




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When the Commonwealth can use the ADF domestically

The scope of the Commonwealth’s “nationhood power” is not settled in constitutional law and so, despite the number of times the ADF has been called out in peacetime, the legal basis of these interventions has always been contested. Section 119 of the Constitution says:

The Commonwealth shall protect every state against invasion and, on the application of the executive government of the state, against domestic violence.

It is generally agreed this does not authorise unilateral military action by the Commonwealth government. The need for this section is due to the fact the states are unable to raise a military force themselves.

But the Commonwealth has radically expanded how the call-out power is used — first in preparation for the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and then in response to the Sydney Lindt Cafe siege in 2018.

A convoy of Army vehicles transporting more than 100 Army reservists and supplies on Kangaroo Island during this year’s bushfires.
DAVID MARIUZ/AAP

A bill was passed in 2018, for example, that authorised the use of ADF soldiers to protect Commonwealth interests in Australia and offshore from “domestic violence” if a state requested it.

This bill raised significant concerns over human rights, related to the definition of “domestic violence” and whether ADF or foreign troops would be held accountable for the use of deadly force against civilians.

What does the new bill do?

The new bill would streamline the use of military personnel in a severe natural disaster or emergencies, such as a pandemic. But questions about the parameters of ADF involvement remain unanswered.

For example, the states and territories currently need to ask the Commonwealth for ADF personnel or assets to be deployed and must consent to ADF support during emergencies.

The Bushfire Royal Commission recommends allowing the Commonwealth the power to declare a national natural disaster and get ADF personnel ready to respond. If there are significant risks to lives or property — or it is deemed in the national interest — the government may then deploy the ADF to those areas without state or territory consent.

A child is helped onto an ADF helicopter as Mallacoota is evacuated this year.
Corporal Nicole Dorrett/Australian Department of Defence

This may raise future questions about the scope of the Commonwealth’s call-out powers, as noted in the bills digest and by Professor Anne Twomey’s submission.

Under the legislation, ADF personnel and soldiers from foreign countries would also have immunity from civil and criminal liability when responding to disasters, similar to state and territory emergency services workers.

What else does the Bushfire Royal Commission report say?

The royal commission focused mainly on ways to improve coordination between federal, state and local fire and emergency service agencies in future bushfires.

The commission’s report identified the need for more clarity from state, territory and local governments about how their fire and emergency responders should interact with ADF personnel on the ground, and what they can expect from the ADF in terms of performing certain tasks.

There are many ways the ADF can help states during an emergency, such as logistics support (including both fixed and rotary wing aircraft), sealift (such as the Mallacoota beach evacuation), land transport, engineering and medical support, the building of temporary accommodation and helping to restore communications.

During this year’s bushfires, for instance, the ADF deployed some 8,000 personnel, including 2,500 reservists, to assist with rescue operations and medical and disaster relief. About 500 defence personnel from New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Japan and Fiji also provided assistance.

Army personnel from 5th/6th Battalion, the Royal Victoria Regiment (5/6 RVR), joined Victoria police in a search for bushfire victims.
Department of Defence/Supplied

However, the ADF insists it will not directly fight bushfires. There has also been some reluctance to commit more resources to domestic emergencies, arguing this reduces its focus on preparing for conflict and could reveal its capabilities to potential enemies. Using the ADF is extremely expensive, as well.

Calling in reserves instead of permanent ADF staff would mitigate some of these issues. Reservists have training and can provide personnel support with some specialist skills.

Also, it is easier to compensate and insure reservists, rather than the complicated (and sometimes contested) arrangements around compensation for volunteers and their employers.




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The royal commission found more employment protection and accessible compensation would be required to ensure volunteer firefighters are not “worse off” than ADF personnel or reservists.

There was also some uncertainty in the report about the “thresholds” that must be met before seeking the assistance of the ADF — as in, when a locality has exhausted all government, community and commercial options and needs ADF support.

The Commonwealth government says it is working to clarify this.

The future of the ADF as a ‘dual use’ force

Changes are clearly needed to the ways in which we respond to disasters because, as the report makes clear, they are only going to get worse.

As I’ve argued with colleagues elsewhere, the ADF should become a “dual use” force that should respond to natural disasters both here and in the region.




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In order to justify our current level of military spending at 2% of GDP, the ADF should be trained and ready to deal with the increasing risks associated with climate change, such as handling mass displacement and responding to natural disasters.

Defence should earn their keep. But these interventions should come with strict civilian controls, human rights standards and clarity about roles. The current legislation creates more uncertainty about the ADF’s role in disasters and emergencies, when what the community needs now is clarity.The Conversation

Susan Harris Rimmer, Professor and Director of the Policy Innovation Hub, Griffith Business School, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.