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Canberra Today 1°/5° | Sunday, May 22, 2022 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Truth the casualty as fear mongering comes to the fore

Cartoon: Paul Dorin

“Will Labor be more successful than the Liberals in dealing with an expansionist China? It’s hard to imagine any government doing much worse than the Liberals on this issue,” write political columnist MICHAEL MOORE.

FEAR mongering works in elections. The marketing skills of Scott Morrison have really come to the fore over China. 

Michael Moore.

He is busily making national security a key election issue while the Chinese sign up to a security deal with our near neighbours in the Solomon Islands. There is no apology from Scott Morrison. There are no admissions of guilt! Or failure! Or incompetence!

On the contrary. Morrison has Defence Minister Peter Dutton blasting away at the Labor Party inferring they are too close to the Chinese Communist Party and that under their stewardship the country will be in dire straits. It is yet another rehash of the 1950s “reds-under-the-beds” rhetoric from this arch-conservative minister.

The reality is that this federal government was simply lackadaisical while the industrious Chinese government managed to persuade the Solomon Islands’ Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavare, his country would be better off with a security deal that includes support from China. 

The unrest in the Solomon Islands has been going on for some time. From 2003 Australia led a multi-lateral force of police and military to quell unrest following violence in the late 1990s and a coup, which played a key role in restoring stability.

As academic Dr Mark Harrison from the University of Tasmania told Al Jazeera: “Australia completely misjudged the implications of China’s rise in the early 2010s, and the reassessment has been slow and equivocal, and still has a long way to go.”

This situation is much more about the incompetence of recent Australian governments than any immediate impact of the treaty that has been signed between the Solomon Islands and China. The government has been sitting on its hands hoping that Australia’s reputation will be enough to stave off the drive by China to be a significant influence in the Pacific.

This complacency is not recent. In 2015 Andrew Robb, as the then-Liberal minister for trade, agreed to a 99-year lease of the Port of Darwin to the Chinese. China’s “Belt and Road” initiative had already been underway for a couple of years and its expansionist intentions were on the table with investments in around 70 countries. Apparently, the Liberals were not worried about the Chinese at this point. 

And now Morrison’s government stands on its high horse and argues that somehow it will be better on national security and the threat that China poses than the alternative government under Anthony Albanese. 

The NT were paid $506 million for the 99-year lease on the Port of Darwin by the Chinese company Landbridge. How pathetic does that sum of money seem now when the Port Darwin arrangement puts national security at much more risk than the China-Solomon Islands agreement? How pathetic does half a billion dollars sound compared to the $16 billion being spent on 72 F-35A Joint Strike Fighters. Not enough to even buy three of them!

With no anti-corruption and integrity commission there has not even been the opportunity to understand what influences were operating on Robb and what the time lines were. What we do know is that he supported the deal at the time calling it a “powerful sign” of a commercial relationship between China and Australia.

We also know that on the day preceding the 2016 federal election Robb commenced a job with Landbridge around four months after stepping down as minister. It is, therefore, unsurprising that Robb has been scathing about Australia’s deteriorating relationship with China. He blames the situation on former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and Australia’s intelligence agencies.

With an election looming, the serious question is who will be the better manager of Australian security. Will a Labor government be more successful than the Liberals in dealing with an expansionist China?

It is hard to imagine any government doing much worse than the Liberals on this issue. They have had plenty of time to understand and take action on China since they originally came to government under Tony Abbott in 2013. 

However, Morrison is in full marketing mode ready to sell ice to the Antarctic. It is a warning. Like the first casualty of war, the truth in an election campaign is established by the way in which it is framed.

 

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Michael Moore

Michael Moore

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