Eggbeaters in full flight: extoling the virtues of new Trade Minister Tehan

Jan 1, 2021

Tehan to the rescue, a Hastie move into Defence and Chinese whispers.

Much to the disgruntlement of such Nationals as Barnaby “City folk don’t understand trade” Joyce, the Liberal Party held on to the trade portfolio in Scott Morrison’s light pre-Christmas reshuffle of his ministry, though the new trade minister Dan Tehan was, to be fair, a country boy representing the old squattocracy seat of Wannon, once held by Malcolm Fraser.

It wasn’t great news, but the press gallery rose to the task, bringing out the eggbeater to extol Tehan’s so far hidden qualifications.

The Sydney Morning Herald’s Rob Harris said Tehan was “a former diplomat who served Australia in Cuba and Central America” who “knows the job like the back of his hand”.

The Australian Financial Review’s Philip Coorey said Tehan was “formerly a senior official in Australia’s Cuban Embassy” while the Sun-Herald said Tehan had been ‘deputy ambassador” in Mexico City.

Anthony Galloway of the SMH outbid them all, describing Tehan as a “former Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade mandarin”.

Tehan didn’t get back to us about his exact diplomatic role, but it appears that his first and only posting was to the embassy in Mexico, probably as third or second secretary. From there he would have made visits to other Spanish-speaking countries in the region, including Cuba, before being spotted by visiting trade minister Mark Vaile and put on his staff.

Big things are expected of him nonetheless. “Tehan has landed his dream job at the most difficult time imaginable,” wrote Harris. “But fixing problems are what he has built a reputation for internally, whether in social services or education… Almost every element of the nation’s recovery will be affected by its relationship with China – economic, trade, universities, tourism… on and on it goes. Morrison knows this and that’s why he’s given Mr Fix-It Tehan the role.”

Many in the university and vocational sector would no doubt feel themselves thoroughly “fixed” by Tehan: international students cast adrift without support as jobs dried up, hundreds of academics laid off, fees hoisted up for humanities courses deemed hotbeds of political wokeness and so on.

Not to mention four universities about to drop Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, Hindi or Italian language courses – some of the skills Tehan surely would want to encourage to help his plans to diversify trade to such places as India and Southeast Asia, Europe and of course newly liberated Britain.

If the government was hoping for an instant reset of trade with China, the ministerial switch has been followed by a cut in China’s wheat imports from Australia and a ban on timber from NSW and Queensland. Perhaps it will take a leadership change. But Xi Jinping is making plans out to 2035, and Morrison so far looks likely to be around for another four years at least.

Meanwhile, to preserve remaining access to China, farmers might be advised to follow the example of the A2 dairy company, and put the New Zealand flag on its brands. (See below)

A Hastie move into Defence

Andrew Hastie’s appointment as assistant minister for defence, meanwhile, puts another China hawk into the government, if on the outer circle.

The ramifications received little scrutiny from the media, beyond conjecture as to who would take his place as chair of the joint committee on intelligence and security. If some thought Morrison was bringing him into the ministerial tent to dampen down anti-Chinese statements emanating from parliament, it was time to think again.

According to an “exclusive” from The Australian’s Ben Packham, Victorian Liberal senator James Paterson was the “frontrunner” with the backing of Peter Dutton, Marise Payne, and Hastie himself.

“Senator Paterson has been a leading voice in the parliament on the strategic challenges posed by China under Xi Jinping’s leadership, which is likely to place him in good stead with intelligence and security agencies, which work closely with the committee,” Packham reported.

He rolled out Paterson’s qualifications: refused a visa by China in 2019 along with Hastie, member of the “Wolverines”, supporter of the Huawei 5G ban, recently urging that Chinese state media be denied unrestricted access to the federal parliament as journalists, to stop them spying, and outspoken critic of China about the Uighurs and Hong Kong. There was no discussion of his views on security laws in Australia itself.

Entirely ignored was the issue of Hastie, a former SAS officer who served in Afghanistan, being put into a role supervising the Defence Department and Defence Forces as they grapple with the recommendations of the Brereton report on war crimes – including the question of command responsibility.

As the Australia Institute’s Allan Behm wrote in his review of Brereton, “there was a culture of exceptionalism and violence within the SASR, or at least elements of the SASR, when then-Captain Andrew Hastie joined the SAS Regiment in 2010 … Hastie was himself aware of the rumours. So, what did he do? He made it very clear to his junior leaders what his expectations were. That was all well and good. But did he seek to confirm the rumours, test them higher up the command chain, question what was being done to rectify the situation, or peel open the layers of the onion to identify the systemic issues that always sit underneath such problems? Not on his own admission at least. And nor, would it appear, were any of his seniors prepared to do so either. Why would a troop commander do what the squadron, regimental or task force commander failed to do?”

Presumably, with his high standards of ministerial propriety, Morrison will ensure Hastie recuses himself from discussions about Brereton.

Chinese whispers

 With the passing of the former Country Party legend Doug Anthony at the age of 90 just before Christmas, should we be celebrating the life of Australia’s first part-Chinese deputy prime minister?

Conjecture that someone Chinese was hidden in the family ancestry hovered around the fair-haired Anthony for decades, something about the eyes perhaps. It was stronger around his father, H.L.Anthony, who preceded him in the NSW northern rivers seat of Richmond in the federal parliament.

H.L.Anthony, born in 1897 and a Gallipoli veteran, is described as “dark-haired and solidly built” in his Australian Dictionary of Biography entry. If he had Chinese lineage, it would have come through his father, “native-born” George Anthony who worked as labourer and railway fettler around northern NSW and married an immigrant from Ireland.

Former journalist and Country Party official Paul Davey, whose 2008 book Politics in the Blood chronicles the Anthony dynasty (Doug’s son Larry also held the Richmond seat) says he found no sign of it in his researches, though he said Doug Anthony could sometimes look a bit oriental.

In 1952, Arthur Calwell, never one to pass on a racial quip, called the senior Anthony “the chink in the Country Party’s armour.” Now a point of pride, you hope.

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A2 Milk deal boosts China ties

As reported in The Australian by Jared Lynch

Trans-Tasman dairy brand A2 Milk has moved to strengthen its ties with China after acquiring a majority stake in a poorly performing infant formula producer that was searching for a buyer to fulfil its obligations to its Chinese financiers.

A2 Milk — which has called on the Morrison government to repair its damaged relationship with China, saying it has effectively punched Beijing in the face — has spent $NZ268.5m ($251.31m) on securing a 75 per cent stake in New Zealand infant formula producer Mataura Valley.

Mataura’s major shareholder China Animal Husbandry Group needed to sell down its holding to at least 60 per cent to meet the terms of a $NZ 115 million loan it had with China Construction Bank Corporation.

In a statement to the ASX, A2 Milk chief executive Geoff Babidge said the deal “strengthens our relationship with key partners in China”.

It comes after A2’s shares dived almost 20 per cent to $11.16 this month after it warned of a collapse in the lucrative Chinese daigou (trusted shopper) trade and slashed its full year revenue forecast by up to 28 per cent.

 

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