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WALTER HAMILTON. Stand off in the East China Sea


About eighteen months ago, while talking with a policy analyst at Japan’s Defense Ministry in Tokyo, I asked how the confrontation with China over the disputed Senkaku (or Daioyu) Islands in the East China Sea was affecting morale in the Self-Defense Forces.

‘I recently visited Sasebo,’ he replied, referring to the southern base of the SDF units designated to repel any Chinese attempt to occupy the islands. ‘The expression on the faces of the men was very different from what I’m used to seeing at Ichigaya,’ the district of Tokyo where the Defense Ministry is located. In the Ichigaya compound, a certain non-military air prevails; you’ll notice chirpy tour groups being shown around twice a day and snapping up souvenirs at the commissary. (I cannot imagine this at Russell Hill in Canberra!)

What he saw in the faces of the troops at Sasebo was the tense and fixed expressions of soldiers and sailors who realize their next deployment might not be an exercise, but the real thing.  Continue reading

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FRANK BRENNAN. Why Turnbull has no option other than a plebiscite on Same Sex Marriage


In The Australian Paul Kelly writing on the same sex marriage plebiscite said (23/8), ‘Lawyer and priest Frank Brennan, who has always argued the issue should properly be decided by parliament, told this column: “Contrary to Justice Kirby I have urged proponents of same-sex marriage to support legislation for a plebiscite because there is no other way that the matter can be resolved during the life of this parliament with Malcolm Turnbull remaining as Prime Minister.”’ Let me explain. Continue reading

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JOHN MENADUE. The Ausgrid decision and the growing power of security and intelligence agencies.


The Ausgrid decision on Chinese investment raises two important issues.

The first is how do we get a proper balance between security concerns and the wider benefits of the relationship. Our major strategic ally the US sees China our major economic partner as a rival and threat. Read about a recent discussion between Hugh White and Geraldine Doogue on this issue.

The second is how good are our security/intelligence agencies in advising the government? It is this second issue that I discuss here.

In his press conference to announce the veto on the Chinese investment in Ausgrid, the Treasurer was asked ‘what was the security concern?’. He replied that ‘the only person security-cleared in this room to answer that question ,is me’. That is hardly reassuring but it is a continuing feature of Morrison’s ministerial career. Remember the need for ‘on water secrecy’. He loves being smarter and better informed than other people and telling us about it. Continue reading

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PETER JOHNSTONE. A Plenary Synod in 2020 for the Australian Catholic Church


The Australian Catholic Church is planning a national/plenary synod of the Church in Australia. Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane has announced that the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) has decided to conduct a plenary council/synod in 2020. Few Australian Catholics would be aware that synods have been an integral part of church governance since the time of the Apostles. That’s not surprising as no plenary or provincial (roughly State-wide) synods have been held in Australia since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), despite that Council calling for synods to “flourish with fresh vigour” (Christus Dominus, n.36), and insisting that the laity have an active role in them. Continue reading

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RICHARD BUTLER. Nuclear disarmament – Australia’s Profound and Cynical Failure.


In 1995 Prime Minister Keating established the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. He did this because he was appalled at the intensity of the, mainly US/USSR, nuclear arms race. He wanted to find a safe way in which nuclear weapons could be eliminated, to which international agreement might be given. The Commission was composed of 16 eminent persons from relevant fields. Keating appointed me as Convenor of the Commission.

In 1996, Keating having lost the national elections, I presented the completed Commission Report to Prime Minister Howard. His demeanor was as if I was handing him a funnel web, but I had taken with me to the meeting, Commission member Sir Josef Rotblat, 1995 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. I asked Joseph to make the speech. Howard was obliged to be polite to him.

A month or so later, in New York, Australia broke a deadlock on the text of a Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which was then adopted by the General Assembly. It makes illegal the conduct of all nuclear explosions, in all environments, for all time.

A month later it was signed by all Permanent Members of the UN Security Council – the recognized Nuclear Weapon States. I was present at the table when President Clinton signed for the US. Although its terms are being observed by all signatories, CTBT has not yet formally entered into force because it has not been ratified by a few essential states, including the US.

Last week, in Geneva, a negotiation involving all state members of the UN Conference on Disarmament, came to an end. The agreed report, to be sent to the UN General Assembly, proposed that the Assembly institute a multilateral negotiation on a Treaty to ban all nuclear weapons.

It had been understood in Geneva that the report would be adopted by consensus. It had been the subject of much negotiation and compromise. At the last moment, Australia’s representative, objected and insisted that there be a vote. The vote had the following result: 69 in favour, 22 against, (all 7 nuclear weapon states ),13 abstentions. Although there was deep concern, indeed some anger, that Australia had insisted on a vote, the result was considered to be clear enough. So, the proposal of a Ban negotiation will go to the General Assembly. It is considered certain that the Assembly will adopt the proposal and establish a negotiating mechanism to commence work, next year, on a Ban Treaty. Continue reading

Posted in Defence/Security, Foreign Affairs and Trade, Politics | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

ANDREW MACK. ‘National security’ and the Ausgrid bid


On 19th August Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison confirmed his earlier decision to block the NSW government’s planned lease of 50.4 per cent of the New South Wales Ausgrid electricity distribution network to two Chinese companies: the Chinese government-owned State Grid Corporation of China and Hong Kong listed Cheung Kong International (CKI). Morrison based his decision on the Foreign Investment Review Board’s advice that these companies represented a threat to the ‘ national interest…on the grounds of national security’. When asked at a press conference what specific security threat was posed by the Chinese bidders Morrison replied: The only person who’s security-cleared in this room to hear the answer to that question is me’.

The Treasurer’s cryptic media release and public comments leave many crucial questions unanswered. In particular, was the security issue the most important factor or were there other important considerations at play? What was this ‘exhaustive process’ and the major parameters applied? Continue reading

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Shakespeare on strangers and inhumanity.

The play, the Book of Sir Thomas More, contains a series of scenes covering the events of the May Day riots of 1517. Thomas More was then Undersheriff of the City of London and Privy Councillor. At that time, immigrants from Lombardy in Northern Italy were being threatened by Londoners of taking jobs and money from the locals and wanted them to be deported. The same arguments were being put forward at the time the play was written in respect of Huguenot migrants.  The play was never completed and exists in manuscript form in the British Library. In a series of speeches written by Shakespeare, Thomas More makes the argument for the humane treatment of those forced to seek asylum after being expelled from their homeland. (This information is derived from The Shakespeare Blog) John Menadue.

Grant them removed, and grant that this your noise
Hath chid down all the majesty of England;
Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,
Their babies at their backs and their poor luggage,
Plodding to the ports and coasts for transportation,
And that you sit as kings in your desires,
Authority quite silent by your brawl,
And you in ruff of your opinions clothed;
What had you got? I’ll tell you: you had taught
How insolence and strong hand should prevail,
How order should be quelled; and by this pattern
Not one of you should live an aged man,
For other ruffians, as their fancies wrought,
With self same hand, self reasons, and self right,
Would shark on you, and men like ravenous fishes
Would feed on one another….
Say now the king
Should so much come too short of your great trespass
As but to banish you, whether would you go?
What country, by the nature of your error,
Should give you harbour? go you to France or Flanders,
To any German province, to Spain or Portugal,
Nay, any where that not adheres to England,
Why, you must needs be strangers: would you be pleased
To find a nation of such barbarous temper,
That, breaking out in hideous violence,
Would not afford you an abode on earth,
Whet their detested knives against your throats,
Spurn you like dogs, and like as if that God
Owed not nor made not you, nor that the claimants
Were not all appropriate to your comforts,
But chartered unto them, what would you think
To be thus used? this is the strangers case;
And this your mountainish inhumanity.

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PAUL COLLINS. Sniffing the Ecclesiastical Wind


There’s one thing you have to concede to Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane: he can unerringly sniff the direction of the wind in the Vatican; mind you, he’s a frequent visitor to Rome. He’s spotted that Pope Francis is big on synods or gatherings of bishops, clergy and laity to set policy for the church, so he told his diocesan newspaper, the Catholic Leader (17 August 2016) that he’s persuaded the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference to hold a national synod of the Australian Catholic Church in 2020.

Unlike the Anglican and Protestant churches, Australian Catholicism is not big on synods. The last one was in 1937 and the three before that (1885, 1895 and 1905) were only attended by bishops, senior priests and theologians. The present bishops are not really enthusiastic about a synod either. The danger is you get people together and you never know what might come-up. Continue reading

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‘Racists aren’t welcome here: how we kicked a racist passenger off the bus.

A nice story from The Guardian.  See link below.  John Menadue

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IAN WEBSTER. Malcolm Turnbull and homelessness – reaching mentally ill people


This week our PM, Malcolm Turnbull, was admonished when he gave $5 to a homeless man in Melbourne. He was sorry if people thought he should not have done this. He said, “I felt sorry for the guy”….”there but for the grace of God go I.”

George Orwell wrote after being ‘down and out’ in Paris and London, “Still I can point to one or two things. I have definitely learned by being hard up. I shall never again think that all tramps are drunken scoundrels, nor expect a beggar to be grateful when I give him a penny, nor be surprised if men out of work lack energy, nor subscribe to the Salvation Army, nor pawn my clothes, nor refuse a handbill, nor enjoy a meal at a smart restaurant. That is a beginning.Continue reading

Posted in Health, Human Rights | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment