Saturday, April 25, 2009

ANZAC day today

Australia's most solemn day of commemoration

White paper orders huge military build-up

A big surprise but realistic

KEVIN Rudd is set to announce Australia's biggest military build-up since World War II, led by a multi-billion-dollar investment in maritime defence, including 100 new F-35 fighters, a doubling of the submarine fleet, and powerful new surface warships.

The new defence white paper will outline plans for a fundamental shake-up of Australia's defence organisation to ensure that the nation can meet what the Prime Minister sees as a far more challenging and uncertain security outlook in Asia over the next two decades.

China's steadily growing military might and the prospect of sharper strategic competition among Asia's great powers are driving the maritime build-up, which will see new-generation submarines and warships equipped with cruise missiles, and a big new investment in anti-submarine warfare and electronic warfare platforms, including new naval helicopters.

The white paper will consider the emerging non-traditional threats to Australia, including cyber security, climate change and its associated risk of large uncontrolled people movements.

Senior government sources say Mr Rudd has insisted that defence spending remain largely insulated from the Government's budget difficulties, but the Defence Department will still have to find at least $15 billion of internal savings over the next decade to help pay for the $100 billion-plus long-term equipment plan.

Mr Rudd said yesterday the delivery of the white paper was proving "acutely challenging as we work to defend ourselves from the global economic storm".

"It is the most difficult environment to frame the Australian budget in modern economic history. It is also the most difficult environment to frame our long-term defence planning in modern economic history as well," he told the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce. "Nevertheless the Government will not resile even in the difficult times from the requirement for long-term coherence of our defence planning for the long-term security of our nation. This is core business for government. That is why we have forged ahead in our preparation of the defence white paper because national security needs do not disappear because of the global recession. If anything, those needs become more acute."

Funding pressures will mean the navy will not get a fourth air warfare destroyer, and the delivery of the first batch of the RAAF's F-35 joint strike fighters will slip by at least one year to 2014-15.

The huge cost of paying for the next-generation defence force, due to be detailed in the white paper and the forthcoming 10-year defence capability plan, will have little impact on the defence budget over the the next four years.

Apart from the air warfare destroyers and the F-35 fighters, most of the planned defence purchases will not have to be paid for until well into the next decade and beyond.

Mr Rudd and Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon are expected to release the long-awaited white paper as early as next week, with the more detailed 10-year defence capability plan due to be published by mid-year.

The naval build-up will be led by a planned 12-strong submarine fleet expected to replace the Collins-class boats from 2025. It will enable the RAN to deploy up to seven boats to protect Australia's northern approaches, including key maritime straits running through the Indonesian archipelago, at times of high threat.

The white paper will outline the requirement for a new class of eight 7000-tonne warships equipped with ballistic missile defence systems similar to the three air warfare destroyers already on order that will eventually replace the Anzac frigates.

A new class of 1500-tonne corvette-size patrol boats able to take a helicopter is slated to replace the Armidale-class vessels from the mid-2020s.

The more robust maritime force will also mean the RAAF's veteran AP-3 Orion fleet being replaced with a mix of at least eight P-8 Poseidon long-range surveillance aircraft, together with up to seven unmanned aerial surveillance vehicles, possibly the US-made Global Hawk, operating out of an expanded Edinburgh air base in South Australia. The navy is also expected to acquire up to 27 anti-submarine helicopters.

Mr Rudd has foreshadowed the maritime build-up as pointing to the need for Australia to accommodate "huge increases in military spending here in our own region". "If we are going to defend our sea-lines of communication to the rest of the world, we have got to make sure that we have got the naval capability to underpin that. And Australia must therefore have necessary maritime power in the future in order to give that effect," Mr Rudd said late last year.

As well as re-equipping with up to 100 F-35 fighters, the air force is expected to get up to six extra C-130J Hercules transport aircraft and a replacement for the Vietnam war-era Caribou light transport, expected to be the C-27J.

The $10 billion long-term expansion and "hardening and networking" of the army will continue with the regular army growing to about 30,000, including eight infantry battalions.

The army's Chinook helicopter fleet is expected to expand from six to 10 aircraft and the land force is expected to be re-equipped with self-propelled and towed artillery in the next decade.

The army will also acquire a new generation of armoured fighting vehicles from 2020.

The new white paper says Australia's defence force should be capable of taking the lead security role in Australia's neighbourhood, particularly the South Pacific, as well as having the ability to deploy military forces further afield.

Senior government sources say this year's white paper is a more broad-ranging and ambitious document than the 2000 white paper. It aims to give Australia more strategic weight and the Government more options when it comes to deploying military forces in the neighbourhood or further afield.

The white paper has moved defence doctrine back to a more regionally-focused approach firmly founded on the defence of Australia. It rejects the notion that terrorism and unconventional intrastate conflict should be a primary driver of the defence force structure.

The Rudd Government's focus on expensive war-fighting equipment underlines the Prime Minister's view that Australia must face up to a much broader range of contingencies, including the strategic consequences of inter-state conflict in Asia.

For the first time the white paper will address in detail electronic warfare trends, particularly the growing cyber security threat to Australia's national security network.

The Government is already investing millions of dollars to bolster Australia's cyber defence capability, led by the Defence Signals Directorate, and will invest even more heavily in the years ahead to protect critical infrastructure from cyber attacks already being mounted by a number of countries led by China and Russia. The Government is also moving quietly to bolster Australia's ability to mount offensive cyber operations.

The threat posed by ballistic missile proliferation in the Asia-Pacific will also be carefully monitored by Defence but the Government has ruled out any early development of a dedicated ballistic missile defence system for Australia. The biggest challenge to the blueprint remains the global economic crisis.


Life is more than a numbers game

AS the father of three small boys, I am well aware I am guilty of certain crimes. Like telling corny dad jokes. Or bragging about my sons' achievements to anyone who'll listen.

But in the grand scheme of things, these are mere social misdemeanours. Because it turns out that in process of raising a small brood of children, I have committed heinous crimes against humanity.

At least, that's what it felt like after I read comments by Sandra Kanck, a former South Australian Democrats politician and newly appointed leader of an advocacy group calling itself Sustainable Population Australia.

Ms Kanck said this week that Australia, whose current population is bumping up against the 22 million mark, should cut its head count to something nearer to just seven million. Kanck's suggested means of achieving this target is a China-style one child policy.

The SPA isn't what you'd call a people-friendly mob. One item at the SPA website suggests that Nadya Suleman, the American woman who recently gave birth to octuplets, should be jailed as a murderer who is killing all of us.

Never mind the Suleman case, which is admittedly at the extreme end of the scale. In the strange, Orwellian world of the population controllers, to give life is to reap death. My only hope is that if having eight children in one go is murder, perhaps some future Population Court will allow me to plea bargain my way to a charge of mere Earthslaughter.

Though there is a danger that my repeat offences - whoops, I mean "children" - arrived over a number of years might be seen as evidence of a long-running conspiracy against the planet.

Of course, the idea that even if we could depopulate Australia, anything good would come of it is laughable. As demographer Bernard Salt explains: "Australia is the only nation on the planet to lay claim to the resources of an entire continent. "In a world with a population of six billion, rising to nine billion in the foreseeable future, the cold, hard reality is that we'll have to accommodate more people, not less."

What's more, as Salt points out, Kanck's plan won't even work. "Even if you eliminated all immigration, which currently runs to about 200,000 people per year, a one-child policy would only begin to see overall population reductions by around the mid 2020s."

To achieve her complete 15 million reduction target in any speedier timeframe, Kanck presumably has a Plan B in mind.

And this does not even begin to take into account economic damage that would occur from about 2030, when an ageing population would have to be supported by a vanishingly small number of taxpayers, or what might happen to an all-but-empty continent seen as ripe for the picking by densely-populated, resource-hungry neighbours looking for more space.

As Salt puts it, Kanck's ideas are "retrograde and bizarre". For as even the deepest cuts in Australia's tiny (1.5 per cent) share of the globe's carbon emissions will do nothing to change the globe's climate, eliminating 15 million Australians would have zero impact on the global environment.

Just as the relationship between man and climate is a lot more complicated - and a lot less direct - than conventional green wisdom would have it, so to is the link between people and the planet.

The fact is, it is not people causing environmental degradation. Researchers at Rockefeller University in the US recently confirmed what dozens of studies have shown - and what anyone who has travelled in the developing world will understand.

Namely, that the primary driver of environmental damage is not people but poverty. Increasing incomes lead in the long run to cleaner air, cleaner water, and cleaner energy. Scientist Jesse Ausubel put it this way: "The long-term trend is towards natural gas and nuclear power, or conceivably solar power. If the energy system is left to its own devices, most of the carbon will be out of it by 2060 or 2070."

Yet the environmental movement is seemingly inextricably bound up in the sort of misanthropy of which Kanck is only an extreme example.

Years of dreary campaigns that turn every human achievement from powered flight to the incandescent light globe into nothing more than a carbon footprint that must be cut and eliminated show a real lack of imagination. And they suggest a subconscious desire to return to some green Garden of Eden that never was - and when life was a whole lot harder and a whole lot shorter for the lack of technology.


Eating disorders hitting five-year-olds

This is appalling. The only reasonable explanation for this recent upsurge is the recent upsurge in government persecution of "incorrect" eating: The "obesity" war. As with so many government programs, the unintended consequences are dire. Government should butt out of what people eat as weight is mostly genetic anyway.

EATING disorders are biting deeper into childhood, an expert has warned after conducting a study which included a five-year-old with the potentially fatal condition. Sloane Madden says demand for critical care beds at The Children's Hospital at Westmead, in Sydney, has surged over the past 12 months for children who were severely malnourished because of an Early Onset Eating Disorder (EOED).

The condition commonly linked to teenage girls was now becoming increasingly prevalent in Australian girls, and boys, aged 10 to 12 and even younger, he said. "Our own experience at the children's hospital, we have had a 50 per cent increase in demand for beds, and we haven't seen that increase in demand in hospitals looking after older adolescents with eating disorders,'' Dr Madden said. "At the moment, we have eight children in the hospital where we normally take six and we've got another five waiting for beds. "What we are seeing clinically, and what is being reported anecdotally around the world is that kids are presenting in greater numbers at a younger age,'' he said.

It was not just a case of the children being fussy eaters, said the Westmead-based child psychiatrist, as speaking to the children revealed a desire to be "thinner''. "They certainly will tell you that they believe that they are fat, that they want to be thinner, and they have no insight into the fact that they are malnourished and they are literally starving themselves to death,'' he says.

"And the parents when they see us are really quite terrified but they are extremely grateful that someone is finally taking their child's illness seriously.''

Dr Madden says children are often "medically unstable'' when brought to hospital with very low blood pressure, heart rate and temperature which "basically is putting them at risk of dying''. They often needed to be tube-fed, and placed on anti-depressant or anti-psychotic medication, but if treated early their chance of full recovery was were good.

However, Dr Madden's study of all Australian children with EOED from 2002 to 2005 shows there is a trend to late diagnosis diagnosis, meaning children being hospitalised with more more physical complications. "It makes us very concerned that these children are being misdiagnosed, or they are being diagnosed late and not being referred for appropriate care,'' he says.

Of the 101 cases of EOED uncovered by the study, there were 74 girls and 25 boys aged five to 13 (gender was not specified in two cases). Extrapolating this data, Dr Madden estimates Australia's incidence of EOED now stands about 1.4 cases for every 100,000 children aged five to 13 years. Of those, 1.1 cases would require a hospital intervention, according to the research published in the latest edition of the Medical Journal of Australia.

The number of cases is expected to rise, Dr Madden says, unless there is a change in the media's obsession with fat and weight. "I think that there needs to be a move away from this focus on weight and numbers and body fat, and a focus on healthy eating and exercise,'' he says. "You can see that in current (television) programs like The Biggest Loser, where it is all about numbers and weight, it's not helpful for those people and it's certainly not helpful for this group of kids.''


Rudd is being pig-headed about his foolish policies

Michael Costa

KEVIN Rudd's insistence that his Government deliver all its election commitments despite changing circumstances is naive and ultimately not in the national interest. Superficially, his commitment could be seen as him acting honestly and meeting his side of his electoral bargain with the voters who made him Prime Minister.

Politically, it is designed to market Rudd in the lead-up to the next election as a person who delivers on election commitments. Political positioning, not good policy, is driving the Government. Good government requires leadership that is able to adapt its commitments to changing circumstances. This requires a deeper level of honesty with the electorate which, on a number of policy fronts, the Rudd Government is lacking.

This rigid adherence to outdated or inadequate policy for the sole reason that it was committed to it during the election campaign has characterised the Government from its beginning.

The so-called digital education revolution based on the strategy of providing a computer to all students in years 9 to 12 was the first insight into how Rudd would implement his election commitments.

Rather than accepting the advice of state education officials with more knowledge and experience that the policy was ill-conceived, the Government attempted to bulldoze its agenda on the states. Ultimately, the federal Government had to compromise and agree to more funding and a more flexible rollout of its policy. But rather than honestly acknowledging that its original policy was ill-conceived and required modification, the Government to this day continues to argue that it hasn't changed the details of its policy and that it is meeting its election commitment in full. Confusion still remains about the long-term funding and operation of this program.

The Government emissions trading scheme, the Orwellian-named carbon pollution reduction scheme, is another example of the Government valuing unrealistic election commitments over sensible policy and the national interest. The present ETS is fatally flawed. It is complex, confused and fails even a rudimentary cost-benefit test. As comments from the Government's climate adviser Ross Garnaut demonstrate, it does not even satisfy the requirements of the environmental special-interest groups whose pre-election support it was aimed at achieving.

Thanks to the Senate inquiry into the ETS, convincing evidence is accumulating on its disastrous economic effects. Businesses across the economy have made it absolutely clear that it will cost jobs. Its regional effects are likely to create significant economic and social dislocation and disadvantage. In the NSW Hunter Valley alone, the Hunter Valley Research Foundation estimates the ETS could affect more than 30,000 jobs in a diverse range of industries, from basic food production to heavy manufacturing and mining. Many of these industries are unprepared for its introduction.

It is foolhardy to continue the implementation of this scheme.

The only benefit the introduction of the scheme will have is it will allow the Government to claim it has met its election commitment.

The Government's surprising announcement that it would terminate the tender process for the national broadband network and create a government-owned national broadband network corporation to deliver its broadband vision is driven by this misguided obsession to deliver on election commitments no matter the consequences. The announcement has all the hallmarks of a policy created on the run to meet a political objective. Its details are sketchy but clearly different from its election commitment and, more important, its tender specification.

High-speed fibre to the node has been replaced with lower speed fibre to the home. The differences in detail won't stop the Government arguing that it has met in full its election commitments. In this case, as with the education revolution and an ETS,the policy outcome is a secondary consideration.

The ostensible reason Rudd has given for abandoning the tender process is "none of the bids offered value for money". This is hardly credible coming from a government that has shown no concern about the value for money of its $52 billion experiment with fiscal stimulus.

AAPT chief executive Paul Broad argues that the $43 billion the Government is projecting to spend during the next 10 years on its broadband network doesn't make economic sense. Broad points out that a reasonable return on this sort of investment of about 10 per cent would require the new company to generate in the order of $4.3 billion. To get anywhere near this figure, the average customer would bear costs of up to about $200 a month for a service that is nowhere near the Government's original broadband speeds. Broad say: "I just don't think people will pay double for something they don't need."

The economics of fibre to the home, Broad argues, don't stack up. The Government's proposal is, in Broad's view, extravagant and represents an irrational decision with taxpayers' money. Broad's alternative and less costly strategy of filling the gaps in the network reflects his hands-on experience in telecommunications. Unfortunately, sensible as it is, it fails the Government's real objective of creating the impression that it has saved Australia from the technological policy ghetto of the Howard government and met its election commitments in full.

The International Monetary Fund's cautionary world economic outlook and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's report on the adverse effect of industrial legislation on youth unemployment only confirms what Australian critics have been arguing all along. This is not the right time to be implementing this particular election commitment. A responsible government would have delayed industrial reform in the face of the weaker labour market.

The Government's handling of the recent tragic refugee incident is tainted with the consequences of its election commitment straitjacket. The Government was right to abolish the much-criticised temporary protection visas approach to dealing with asylum seekers. But to argue that the changes have not influenced the business activities of people-smugglers defies credibility. Instead of acknowledging the change in circumstances since the election and the need for a new response, a completely defensible political response, the Government has become defensive and obstinate. To deal with the present problem it doesn't have to reintroduce temporary protection visas but it certainly has to change direction.

US President Barack Obama, confronting similar changed circumstances, graciously accepted advice from outgoing vice-president Dick Cheney not to reject policy simply because he campaigned against it. Obama showed astute leadership when he said: "I think that was pretty good advice, which is I should know what's going on before we make judgments and that we shouldn't be making judgments on the basis of incomplete information or campaign rhetoric."

The Prime Minister needs to follow Obama's lead and accept that campaign rhetoric is not the basis for good government.


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