Take this piece for example. It's stupid. It looks sensational and got a lot of attention on Twitter, particularly from people who like Joye's economics stuff and who assume - wrongly - that he can turn his hand to reporting any old thing. A closer reading reveals Joye basically interviewed one superannuated rear-admiral and simply transcribed what he said, Latika Bourke-style, without really thinking about it but padding out the word-count.
Joye got this story, drilling into the inner reserve of substantive thought on the part of the Coalition, through his connections with the Coalition. His parents were mates with Malcolm Turnbull and Joye recently wrote a puff-piece on Hockey that make him seem safe to a bunch of people every bit as paranoid about the media as the government.
It would be stupid for the Royal Australian Navy to adopt nuclear submarines. It's not even a new idea. Joye has no excuse to take this crap on face value.
He's an economist. Building a nuclear enrichment and processing capability for military purposes would take vast amounts of money and considerable amounts of human resources at all levels of skill and training; more than are available at present to a short-staffed navy either as crew or on-shore maintenance.
He's a resident of Sydney's eastern suburbs. Not even the sort of government led by Abbott, careening between the inadequate and the insane, would install nuclear maintenance facilities at Garden Island (which is in the eastern suburbs) or at the submarine base at HMAS
He shouldn't have to wait for the Premier of South Australia, of all people, to put out a press release to examine the sorts of issues raised in this.
And so it falls to me, a blogger with meagre qualifications in history and IT, to do the economic analysis work on this proposal that Joye (a professional, highly-regarded economist with a PhD in economics) has neglected to do:
- First, the next government is going to spend billions of dollars building and securing military nuclear facilities; and then
- Secondly, they are going to recruit, train and equip a workforce to operate these bad boys; and
- Thirdly, junk their whole cautious budget approach (fewer tax receipts and additional spending commitments notwithstanding), because the whole country will appreciate this bit of infrastructure just as much as some old rear-admiral does; and
- The Treasurer who will do this will be the one whose constituents (and indeed whose family) live not far from the sub base; and finally
- Only if we write off the enormous start-up costs and wildly underestimate operating costs will nuclear-powered submarines make any sort of economic sense.
There are a whole lot of concerns about nuclear proliferation here too - but I don't care about those, Joye and the people he quotes don't either, and there is no evidence that the government or opposition do. Still, maybe there's a story in it, maybe not.
I can understand Joye being taken in by a retired rear-admiral, and lacking the skill to question him on military matters (in his time as a journalist, Turnbull would have done a bit of a swot and would have been less afraid to put tough questions to the old man). I cannot understand Joye suspending his economic judgment over whether such a proposal was even a good idea. This is how smart people make dumb decisions, not only Joye but his misled readers.
Privately, some defence ministers in Asia support Australia obtaining nuclear-powered submarines because of mounting tensions with China, which has territorial disputes with India, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines, sources said ...In that case, they can fucking well pay for them.
“Australia would be much better served with nuclear rather than conventional submarines based on our strategic requirements and my experience commanding both,” [Rear-Admiral Clarke] said. “Provided the right questions are asked at the right level, I’d be very surprised if the US did not favourably consider this.”
Former submariner Rex Patrick, who trains the Australian, Malaysian and Singaporean navies in undersea warfare, says, “Australia’s annual submarine cost is approaching $1 billion. This has given us a pedestrian capability that usually delivers only two deployable boats. For $2 billion, we could build four Type 214s, which would supply navy with a dependable, high-end platform that meets 90 per cent of our requirements.”The "Type 214s" refers to a German design that is designed for the cold, deep waters of the North Atlantic rather than the warmer and relatively shallower waters to Australia's north. That 10% requirements gap is a worry - to use a journo-cliche, the devil is in the details - and the doubling of expenditure is almost certainly not on.
To depart from Joye - why are submarines so labour-intensive? I accept that submarines are vital elements of Australia's defence, and an area where we - to use the dread phrase - punch above our weight. That said, it is stupid having so many personnel on board each one. Given that there is a dearth of personnel willing to work on submarines, why not turn this into an engineering challenge and have as few people as possible aboard them - or none. Drone submarines! Yes, the ten-year-old I once was smiles at the very idea. Pyow-pyow!
Times probably are tight at the AFR but this is the very point where resources must be put to best use, and no further trashing of the brand must be permitted. Christopher Joye is a fine economics commentator, and options for him to write sensible stories within his scope of competence should not be limited in a so-called financial review. He is the wrong person to allocate to idle non-stories like the submarine thing. Joye will survive as an economic commentator long after desperate and trivial ploys like this (or anything else Mike Stutchbury might do) have played out to nothing, and hopefully Joye will retain the wit and perspective to describe these days of hubris to us all.
Update 12 November: Reader, Joye has blocked me for the above.
He is squirting out articles on how wonderful nuclear submarines are by US academics, where they a) have different maritime priorities to ours and b) their Navy is regularly beaten by ours in tests of best use of submarine technology and c) the US has a mature nuclear power industry and we do not. Still, it exposes an important modus operandi of Joye's: cover up your lack of research by insinuating with People With Impressive Sounding Titles, rather than displaying any scrap of humility and good grace when caught napping.
Joye is out of his depth on journalism covering non-economic matters. He is seduced by all that journo crap of scoops, and of shrugging off/blocking criticism from readers - and even describing his output as a "yarn", giving no confidence as to accuracy. I could use another maritime analogy of rats deserting sinking ships, but Joye is demonstrating the reverse of this: sad, really.