Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Scott Morrison and Angus Campbell at odds over Afghanistan war crimes report recommendation

General Campbell gets it wrong -- again. Past wisdom: "He decided that it was terribly wrong for our service personnel to be wearing “symbology” portraying death. Seemingly ignoring the fact that a soldier’s job is to engage and kill the enemy, Campbell says, “This is not where we need to be as a national institution. As soldiers our purpose is to serve the state, employing violence with humility always and compassion wherever possible. The symbology to which I refer erodes this ethos of service.”

The Sydney Daily Telegraph got it right when it said, “There’s your new army slogan: “Employing Violence with Humility”. It’ll probably sound less stupid in Latin.

It appears to have escaped General Campbell’s notice that he himself wears the Infantry Combat Badge that displays a bayonet. The bayonet has one purpose and that is to kill and maim. Is this befuddled General going to ban that badge too.

General Angus Campbell seems to favour focusing on gender issues instead of concentrating on our reduced military capabilities within our own region. Last year Campbell addressed a Defence Force conference on recruitment at which time he said,

“The number one priority I have with respect to recruitment is increasing our diversity, with a focus on women and indigenous Australians.” In summing this up Cori Bernardi also took into account the issuing of Halals ration to our troops when he said, “This demonstrates just how our military has been captured by minority interests and appears to have suspended the application of common sense.”

Campbell is a Duntroon graduate so has some claim to being a real soldier but as far as I can tell he has never been shot at so his judgement seems to be essentially civilian. Why can we not have a real soldier with substantial combat experience running our forces?

One consolation is that he has not emulated the extremely politically correct Lieutenant General David Morrison, best known for walking around in women's high heeled shoes! What has the army come to? It is a long way from the army I served in many years ago

It's not often we see the Prime Minister and the Chief of Defence at odds, but the Brereton Report detailing allegations of Australian war crimes in Afghanistan has exposed a public rift between the two and it's already pretty clear who will win the argument.

General Angus Campbell won mostly praise for his handling of this bombshell report released 10 days ago.

As Chief of Army, he was the one who commissioned the inquiry four years ago and now as Defence Chief, General Campbell accepted the findings and recommendations with the seriousness and gravity they deserved.

In one of the darkest moments for the Australian Defence Force, the General is seen by both sides of politics to have responded well.

Mostly, anyway. Then came the reaction

On one matter, there was immediate controversy: the decision to strip a group citation for the special forces in Afghanistan. It was hardly the most significant recommendation of the report; a unit citation is not a war medal and stripping it is hardly akin to what might be in store for those who committed war crimes.

But it was by far the most sensitive recommendation, given the number of troops affected and the signal sent to the broader veteran community.

When he released the report, General Campbell was clear.

"I have accepted the Inspector-General's recommendation," he said in his opening remarks to a nationally televised press conference, "and will again write to the Governor-General, requesting he revoke the Meritorious Unit Citation awarded to Special Operations Task Group rotations serving in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2013."

It was presented as a final decision. The Chief of Defence had spoken. No ifs, no buts. A deployment marred by 39 alleged war crimes could hardly be considered "meritorious" any longer. The group citation was being revoked.

Then came the reaction, from the public, the veteran's community and inevitably, the politicians. Some of those who served honourably in Afghanistan and did nothing wrong wondered why they were being punished. The furious father of one commando killed in action said the citation would have to be collected "from his gravestone".

An online petition to "save" the unit citation received more than 40,000 signatures at last count.

Labor MP Luke Gosling, himself a former commando, suggested it would be "cruel" to strip the honour from 3,000 personnel, the overwhelming majority of whom served with distinction.

Within the Government, a similar view formed.

'Decisions haven't been made yet'

While the citation may not have been issued to the special forces if we knew then what we know now about events in Afghanistan, most agreed the idea of revoking it was crazy and at the end of the day, impossible to implement.

Veterans Affairs Minister Darren Chester, who initially supported the CDF's decision, noted calls to the Open Arms support line for veterans had doubled in the space of a week.

The Prime Minister was asked by Ben Fordham on 2GB why thousands were being punished for the "sins of a couple of dozen".

His response made it clear he was uncomfortable with General Campbell's position. "Decisions haven't been made yet on these things", he suggested, "so let's see how each step unfolds".

Morrison went on to say he was "very sensitive to the issues … as is the Defence Minister".

Morrison has a finely tuned political radar and could well be right in detecting where community sentiment lies on this issue.

Ultimately though, someone must decide. The worst outcome would be leaving it to the Governor-General (himself a former chief of defence) to choose between conflicting advice from General Campbell and the Prime Minister. To avoid that, it appears Defence has decided to blink.

Asked if General Campbell is still going to write to the Governor-General recommending the citation be revoked, a spokesperson for Defence told the ABC in a written statement, "Defence is preparing a comprehensive implementation plan to action the Inspector-General's recommendations", and "final decisions on this advice will be a matter for Government."

Decoding the language of Defence Media, it appears General Campbell's declaration 10 days ago that he would write to the Governor-General is now in doubt.

Pressure from veterans, the public and most importantly Defence's political masters has undoubtedly had an impact. It now seems most unlikely the citation will be revoked.

Instead, the special forces deployment to Afghanistan will continue to be regarded as "meritorious", despite the 39 alleged war crimes.

Russia accused of 'hypocrisy' after attacking Australia over Afghanistan war crimes report

Russia says Australia's commitment to a rules-based world order cannot be taken seriously following the release of damning findings of alleged war crimes committed by special forces in Afghanistan.

The ABC has uncovered recent comments by the Russian Foreign Ministry in which it claimed Australian soldiers accused of murdering civilians and prisoners would not be "held accountable".

Earlier this month, Australian Defence Force Chief Angus Campbell released the Brereton report, which found special forces had committed at least 39 unlawful killings during the Afghanistan war.

"This is a truly shocking report," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said in prepared remarks at a press briefing conducted in Russian late last week.

"The circumstances make us truly doubt the genuine capacity of Australian authorities to actually hold accountable all the servicemen who are guilty of such crimes."

The Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson claimed Australia's credibility on the world stage had been shattered by the revelations.

"It makes us reassess the true meaning of the official line pronounced by Canberra to protect the rules-based world order," Ms Zakharova said.

Russia's comments were delivered just hours after China's Foreign Ministry similarly attacked Australia over the Brereton report findings.

"The facts revealed by this report fully exposed the hypocrisy of the 'human rights' and 'freedom' these Western countries are always chanting," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Friday.

Diplomatic relations between Australia and Russia have been particularly strained since the 2014 downing of a Malaysian Airlines flight carrying 298 passengers over Ukraine.

Last month Moscow withdrew from talks with Australia and the Netherlands, accusing both countries of not wanting to establish what really happened when MH17 was brought down by a Russian-made missile fired from territory held by pro-Russian rebels.

All those on board, including 39 Australians, died.

Australian Strategic Policy Institute executive director Peter Jennings called the latest comments from the Russian Government the "height of hypocrisy".

"This is the Russia that was responsible for the shootdown of MH17 over Ukraine, the invasion of Crimea, support to [President Bashar al-] Assad in Syria in murderous ways," he said.

"To hear these comments from the Russian Foreign Ministry just tells me the height of hypocrisy that the Russians are prepared to go to in their sustained attack on the Western democracies."

The Australian Government has so far not responded to the Russian Foreign Ministry's remarks.

Australia praised for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic by a top doctor

Australia's handling of the coronavirus pandemic has been hailed as the 'epitome of success' by America's top doctor.

Dr Anthony Fauci said Australia's ability to 'uniformly implement' public health measures, as well as ordinary citizens embracing lockdown, helped to save it from the worst of the pandemic.

'What Australia has done is the proof of the pudding,' Dr Fauci, who has been helping to lead America's response to the pandemic, said.

'When you uniformly implement public health measures, be that full lockdown or partial lockdown, you can turn off the surges. That worked,' he told The Australian.

Shortly after the World Health Organisation officially declared a pandemic on March 12, Australia initiated a number of strict lockdown measures to prevent the spread of the disease.

The borders were closed to all non-residents on March 20 and social distancing rules were introduced. Hospitality venues, such as pubs, cafes, restaurants and clubs were forced to close, offering a take away service only.

The rules saw the number of cases drop significantly by April, with fewer than 20 cases reported each day by the end of the month across the whole country, allowing the tougher restrictions to be eased.

A second wave in Victoria in May was brought under control by a strict 112-day lockdown. The state celebrated 31 days with no new COVID-19 cases or deaths on Sunday.

Australians have since been reaping the rewards with daily life returning to normal with only a few restrictions in place.

Dr Fauci said much of the success came down to ­Australians accepting lockdowns were part of the greater public health benefit.

He said part of the struggle for the US was the country's individualistic spirit.

'It's clear that countries and states that do not embrace ­restrictions do not blunt the curve as well as those that do. The epitome of that has been the success of Australia,' he said.

Dr Fauci raised fears that the worst may be yet to come after the country celebrated Thanksgiving over the the weekend.

Renewables-loving NSW energy minister takes an extraordinary swipe at mining 'barons' despite 80% of power during 40C heatwave coming from coal

New South Wales energy minister Matt Kean took a swipe at 'coal barons' on Sunday after passing new laws to tackle climate change - even though coal still provides most of the state's power.

Mr Kean boasted that his plan to encourage $32billion of private investment in renewable energy projects by 2030 was a slap in the face for 'vested interests.'

In a tweet on Sunday morning, he wrote: 'Those powerful vested interests - the big energy money, the coal barons, that have decided energy policy in this country for generations - now will have to face policy settings that favour the community not their own self interest.'

Suggesting that coal power has no future, the Liberal energy minster said coal magnates complaining about his plan were like 'Blockbuster complaining about Netflix'.

Just 24 hours earlier coal was providing 80 per cent of the state's electricity as residents fired up their air-conditioning units to tackle sweltering 40C temperatures, reported the Daily Telegraph.

Mr Kean's comments were met with criticism from opponents who say his new laws, supported by Labor and the Greens, may push up power prices.

NSW One Nation leader told Daily Mail Australia that far from being a blow to vested interests, the energy bill which passed on Friday was a huge win for the major players in the renewables sector.

'It certainly represents guaranteed income for renewable energy companies and their lobbyists, paid for by electricity consumers,' he said.

The state government wants wind, pumped hydro and solar projects to replace four coal-fired power stations which are due to shut over the next 15 years.

Mr Kean says the plan - which will create Renewable Energy Zones in Dubbo and the south west - will cut household bills by $130 and small business bills by $430 a year between 2023 and 2040.

The plan will support 12 gigawatts of renewable energy and two gigawatts of storage, such as pumped hydro, and reduce carbon emissions by 90 million tonnes to 2030.

Landholders are expected to pocket $1.5 billion in rent by 2042 for hosting new infrastructure.

More than 10,000 construction and ongoing jobs will be created by 2026, with an estimated 2800 ongoing jobs in 2030, the government says.

Coal-fired power made up 77 per cent of NSW's total electricity generation in 2019 - higher than the national average of 56 per cent - but four of the state's five plants will stop by 2035.

Renewables made up 19 per cent.

The Australian Energy Council warned the government's intervention may encourage too many energy assets to be built in places where they may not be needed.

'This would ultimately mean higher costs for households,' it said in statement.

Tony Wood, energy director at the Grattan Institute, said the plan takes risk away from investors and transfers them to consumers who would potentially foot larger bills.

A portait of Gladys

Tucked away at the end of a long profile piece on Gladys Berejiklian prior to the last election was her admission - or perhaps it was intended as a brag - that she does not even take Panadol.

It sounded ridiculous (and frankly it was) but it was also classic Berejiklian: tough, determined to power through and incorruptible even by something as innocuous as paracetamol.

That version of the Premier seems almost foreign now. In six weeks, we have learnt about her long-term, on-again-off-again relationship with disgraced former MP Daryl Maguire and discovered that her office shredded and deleted key documents related to the council grants scandal. We have seen her shrug off her failure to isolate while awaiting the results of a rapid COVID-19 test and dismiss pork barrelling on the basis that everyone does it and it's not illegal.

Yet the available polling shows Berejiklian's approval rating is persistently high (64 per cent in the latest Ipsos survey), driven by her capable handling of the pandemic, which has seen NSW dodge a second wave and maintain basic freedoms while doing more than any other state to quarantine Australians returning from overseas.

Clearly, that's what matters most to the public. But in Parliament, more than a few eyebrows are being raised about the Premier's judgment. Her style of governance has evolved from cautious to confident, but on occasions it seems to be progressing into the realm of careless and cavalier.

Berejiklian's environment minister, Matt Kean, says she has been emboldened by her success in steering the state through COVID. "Everyone's always known her to be smart, diligent and hard-working," he says. "She now believes in herself as much as the rest of us around her do ... She's just won the climate wars in NSW. This is not the form of someone that doesn't want to use her political capital to make our country better."

Like many of the Premier's close observers, Kean concedes there have been mistakes, but chalks them up to a busy and bruising year that started with last summer's bushfires and proceeded into the pandemic, the koala wars and then a personal crisis.

"I think they're mistakes that happen when you've had a tough year and it has been a long year ... when you're tired and stressed and have been under enormous pressure for a very long time. If anyone is entitled to make a slip it's probably Gladys Berejiklian," Kean says.

At times the exhaustion is visible. In the words of one person from outside politics who attended a function with the Premier during the week: "She looked like somebody who last slept in April".

However, some colleagues are growing concerned. One senior Liberal lamented the show had been "all over the place" lately and says they were preparing to approach her with her some "blunt advice", including that she consider taking a holiday.

Kean agreed. "You can't keep functioning at that pace, at that level without needing a rest," he says. "No one would begrudge her for going away and having a nice island retreat."

There can be a fine line between being confident and careless. Confidence might be Berejiklian's intervention, revealed in last week's Sun-Herald, calling on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to let NSW take in 1000 international students and specialist workers each week instead of returning Australian travellers.

Carelessness, on the other hand, might be the Premier flouting the health guidelines by not isolating while awaiting the results of her budget day COVID-19 test. It caused a world of unnecessary pain for the government and health officials, and left frontbencher Stuart Ayres contorting himself to justify his boss's actions on the ABC's Q+A.

Her hoarse throat barely counted as a symptom and the state had already gone more than a week without a new coronavirus case, so there was negligible health risks in Berejiklian's decision. The risks were entirely political.

Many government sources The Sun-Herald spoke with for this story also complained about the operation of the Premier's office and her media strategy.

Berejiklian rankled senior colleagues last week when her office briefed select media outlets about the slated easing of COVID-19 restrictions ahead of a planned Wednesday announcement.

Several ministers were pushing for the government to wind back density limits to two square metres per person at large hospitality venues, only to be told the Premier had already informed the media of this, her preferred outcome.

Then on Thursday Berejiklian "said the quiet part loud and the loud part quiet", to borrow a phrase from The Simpsons, when she admitted both sides of government engaged in pork barrelling their favoured electorates and even though it might seem distasteful, it wasn't illegal.

"Governments in all positions make commitments to the community in order to curry favour," she said. "I think that's part of the political process whether we like it or not."

One might appreciate the honesty but the statement does raise further questions. For one, if the pork barrelling involved in the $250 million council grants fund was routine and unremarkable, why did the Premier's office shred the evidence?

Altogether, it was a clumsy week and the Premier's most senior colleagues were alarmed. Deputy Premier John Barilaro says the recent string of mistakes was "not the Gladys I know".

"She's had a big year, she's led us through recovery," he says. "The reality here is Gladys is a very disciplined, cautious leader, but we probably haven't seen that in the last couple of days. A break would do her good."

Barilaro has previously defended pork barrelling for regional seats, even dubbing himself "Pork Barilaro". However, "that's what people would expect from me", he says. "But it's not her."

Those remarks are certain to irk the Deputy Premier's colleagues. "Barilaro gets to run around calling himself Pork Barilaro - now that's hubris," says one senior government MP, who did not want to be named.

The MP did not think Berejiklian was worn out. "She is copping it from all angles, eventually something is going to give. She's an absolute machine when it comes to work, but invariably you are going to have good and bad days in terms of your messaging ... but I wouldn't put it down to tiredness or needing a break."

Former NSW Liberal MP and deputy leader Bruce Baird says Berejiklian was only stating the obvious when she acknowledged pork barrelling was commonplace.

"One would always like to have some degree of balance but the reality of political life is when you're in government you tend to look after those areas that have been very loyal to your government, and that's a fact of life," he told The Sun-Herald. "People object to that, but it's the reality."

Baird, sometimes described as the father of Berejiklian's moderate faction, says it is possible for hubris to creep in to a government, particularly when a leader is "very popular". He doesn't think that's the case with this Premier, but says she may have lost patience with the media pressure.

"You get to a point where you just get sick of it, you speak your mind. On a psychological basis, if people keep on pursuing you, you finally get sick of it and you start to hand it back a bit."

Baird continued: "It's a bit like that song ... tell me what you want, what you really really want", referring to the Spice Girls' 1996 hit Wannabe.

Liberal upper house member Catherine Cusack, who the Premier sacked from her parliamentary secretary role this month after crossing the floor on the ''koala'' bill, says the Berejiklian government is fundamentally very good but is let down by a lack of political nous.

"I feel the government is cloistered on Gladys' reputation and the positives around her personally, and has not had a proper political strategy. Is there hubris? I think yes, probably - I would agree with that, including with Gladys."

Cusack has known Berejiklian for decades and says the Premier "hasn't changed at all". She has always been confident enough to make a firm decision - a skill not possessed by all leaders.

"Just because things have gone well doesn't mean that Gladys hasn't been taking risks," Cusack says. "There's pressure on Gladys that is new. I don't think she has changed, it's just that there's not much experience there in dealing with that pressure."

Cusack says Berejiklian has a lot of capable lawyers around her, such as ministers Mark Speakman and Damien Tudehope, who are good with law and policy. But she needs "smarter political advice".

"They're a good government and its performance speaks for itself," she says. "But unless it gets its act together politically they are going to get into trouble."


Also see my other blogs. Main ones below:

http://dissectleft.blogspot.com (DISSECTING LEFTISM)

http://snorphty.blogspot.com (TONGUE TIED)

http://antigreen.blogspot.com (GREENIE WATCH)

http://pcwatch.blogspot.com (POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH)

http://edwatch.blogspot.com (EDUCATION WATCH)

https://heofen.blogspot.com/ (MY OTHER BLOGS)


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