When former and current Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) chiefs feel impelled to contradict defence minister Peter Dutton’s war mongering, you know the wannabe Australian general has overstepped the mark — even for the state’s security apparatus.
ASIO chief Mike Burgess made no secret of his displeasure that Dutton told parliament about an alleged “foreign interference plot” during a Senate Estimates Committee in mid-February. Dutton also claimed that the Chinese Communist Party is backing Anthony Albanese’s election campaign, describing the Labor leader as “the Manchurian candidate”.
Burgess said ASIO had foiled the alleged plot, which involved an entity searching for “candidates likely to run in the election who either supported the interests of the foreign government or who were assessed as vulnerable to inducements and cultivation”.
He also said foreign interference is “not confined to one side of politics”.
Undeterred, Dutton is pressing on with his khaki election campaign. For the past two weeks he has said it is “inevitable” that Russia will invade Ukraine, mimicking United States President Joe Biden and his secretary of defense.
The Coalition government is salivating at the distraction, after having failed to keep the most vulnerable people safe and many more financially secure during the most serious crisis the country has faced in a generation — the pandemic.
In more than two years, this rich island nation, with its natural defences, did not plan, nor organise, to vaccinate remote First Nations communities. Mantamaru, 1000 kilometres east of Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, is in lockdown and remains vulnerable as the state prepares to open its borders.
Facing a growing disapproval rating, and with Labor determined not to differentiate itself on the big policy questions, the Ukraine crisis is providing the Coalition with the perfect opportunity to capitalise on people’s "security" concerns and run a “khaki” election campaign.
Dutton has announced that Australia will provide “security training” to Ukraine, not troops. He has also announced new weapons purchases, including a 10-year deal with BAE Systems Australia to provide fast-jet combat training aircraft in Newcastle and Perth. BAE will upgrade its Hawk 127 training aircraft as part of the new $1.5 billion contract.
Dutton has only been Defence Minister for about a year and over that short time he has: overruled the defence establishment on the Brereton Inquiry into “military culture”; ratcheted up the alleged China threat; signed a new “security” deal with the US and Britain (AUKUS); seized a loophole in the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and swapped a submarine deal with France for a nuclear submarine deal with the US; and committed Australia to support the US in a possible hot war between Ukraine and Russia.
Dutton has also committed to spending 2.5% of GDP each year — $50 billion — on weapons. In comparison, $24.8 billion will be allocated to support state education services over 2021–22, less than most other OECD countries.
While it is easy to mock wannabe General Dutton, it would downplay the seriousness of what is at stake. Ukraine has four nuclear power plants and 15 reactors: a war could unleash short- and long-term destruction on large parts of the world.
If war does not start in Ukraine, Dutton may try to use the laser incident in the Arafura Sea when, on February 17, a Chinese warship in international waters allegedly shone a laser at an RAAF surveillance plane.
The PM has condemned China for an “act of intimidation”, saying it was unprovoked. Australia conducts airborne surveillance operations in the South China Sea and Indian Ocean and regularly conducts naval presence patrols, exercises and port calls throughout the region. Under new security arrangements with the US, Australia has been conducting more of these “freedom of navigation” operations just off China’s coastline.
The objective of the warmongers is clear. After 20 years of war in Afghanistan, they may struggle to convince a war-weary population to join another one. But in an age in which science and facts are contested and when both major political parties are singing from the same song sheet, a khaki election campaign could swing it for the Coalition.
If you, like Green Left, are horrified at all of the above and believe war in Ukraine is not inevitable and a war with China would be madness, consider becoming a supporter and throw in whatever donation you can to help us reach our $200,000 Fighting Fund target.