25 September 2011

Blogger does journalist's work (or, why Paul Daley is a wanker)

Paul Daley is a wanker because he allowed this article to go out under his name.
A STRANGE thing happened last week. A federal shadow minister actually came up with something that seemed kind of almost a bit like a policy.

Remember policies? Oppositions used to have to come up with them if they wanted to become governments. It was all about creating a genuine point of intellectual and ideological contrast between the incumbent government and the administration-in-waiting so voters might actually weigh up differences on an issue-by-issue basis, thereby enabling them to make a reasoned decision about who they wanted to govern this place. It involved an element of creativity and risk taking. Novel, I know.
It isn't novel because it actually happened. Daley here is implying that he has some respect for policy, policymaking and intellectual points of difference. Firstly, if he did then the case he cites, Senator David Johnston's interview, isn't worth the fuss. Secondly, Daley doesn't assess what Johnston says in policy terms.

Daley doesn't appreciate the policy, he wants to play the same game that created the zero-sum politics that we all despise, and that he wants to pretend he too shares our opinion. That's why he's a wanker.
The shadow defence minister, senator David Johnston, cogently outlined in an interview with The Australian critical elements of the Coalition's supposed plans in a portfolio that is as notorious for wasting billions of taxpayer dollars as it is for ending the careers of ministers who oversee it.

Defence policy, strategy and funding is a minefield for both ministers and their opposites. Oppositions usually approach it with cautious bipartisanship; they like to own the successes but quickly deny any responsibility for the failures.

Spending overruns in defence often go into the billions, rather than millions, of dollars.
You can really only judge waste when you have a clear idea of what your priorities are, and it isn't clear what Johnston's priorities are. He proposes a grab-bag of cost savings. Johnston does not offer a cogent view of what it means to defend Australia in a meaningful and practical sense in the world we live in, and the world that is foreseeable.

What Johnston is proposing isn't a policy, it's a shopping list. It's an indictment of Daley that he can't pick the difference. It's an insult to the rest of us that he, and his editor, thinks his ignorance is good enough for us.

First, let's look at what Johnston said in the Brendan Nicholson article, and assess that against the country's defence needs. Second, let's look at Daley's respect for and treatment of policy and see whether he's right to wonder why there isn't more of it.
The changes outlined by Johnston include considering cutting by half the planned purchase of 100 Joint Strike Fighters for the RAAF ...
Why half? Is this purely a cost-saving measure? Given that the JSF is such a crock, why not cut it by 100% and buy the best fighter plane on the market: the Sukhoi S-37. For Australia to buy that aircraft would nullify the threat posed by other air forces buying it.

Mind you, all that assumes some consideration of the role of fighter aircraft in the 21st century. It is significant that no Australian fighter aircraft are deployed in the operational theatres in which we have been involved over the past ten years: Solomon Islands, Afghanistan and Iraq. The aircraft used in East Timor were transport aircraft, helicopters - and the old faithful "pigs" (F111), which date from the 1960s. No evidence such thought is in evidence from Johnston's own site, which offers a shallow critique of the current government's actions rather than real in-depth thought into how you defend Australia.

It isn't necessary to spell out detailed alternative policies, pace Ross Cameron - but it is necessary to show some breadth and depth of thought that shows evidence of capacity. The Defence Ministers who've foundered in that role have lacked that breadth and depth. Any fool can quibble over receipts, and that is all that Johnston is doing. We can have no confidence that this guy will make a blind bit of difference in Defence.
... and urgently reassessing plans to build 12 big conventional submarines in Australia. A Coalition government would consider buying smaller and cheaper models off the shelf overseas instead.
They'd consider it. Imagine if Gillard announced that she was considering but not committing to something costing billions of dollars and with massive potential impact to the nation, and how The Australian would jump all over it.

This is a reference to the half-dozen or so German submarines often raised by people who think one submarine is as good as another.

Submarines are important to Australia's ability to protect shipping going through southeast Asian waters; Australian trade stops or becomes vastly more uneconomical with restrictions on that shipping. Submarines are hard to staff, being labour-intensive and more demanding of time and effort than most Australian workplaces.

This is not to say that one submarine is as good as another. The German submarines are designed for the cold, deep waters of the North Sea. They would be ideal if the main threat for which submarines were the most effective response came from Antarctica. They are far from ideal for moving through the warmer, more shallow waters to our country's north.

No evidence that Johnston has considered our country's need for submarines, or that "professional journalists" like Nicholson and Daley judge Johnston against what's right for the country.
Johnston promises a comprehensive review of progress of the plan to re-equip the ADF if the Coalition wins government.
Complete with shock-horror stories of budget blowouts, and no elucidation of what the country needs from Johnston, Nicholson or Daley.
Johnston says the multi-role and stealthy JSFJSF. Because of concerns that the JSF would arrive late, the Howard government ordered 24 Super Hornets, which are in the final stages of delivery.

Early this year The Australian revealed that because of further delays with the JSF it was likely the Gillard government would have to buy an additional 18 Super Hornets on top of the initial 24 to plug a looming capability gap.

That was vehemently denied the next day by the RAAF, which badly wants the JSF, but then confirmed weeks later by Defence Minister Stephen Smith, who said he was concerned about delays and that buying more Super Hornets was an option.
And Johnston's position on Super Hornets is ...?

Someone like Paul Daley might be fascinated by Johnston going back on what the Howard government did, but the broader question is what the country needs, followed by an assessment of how effectively Labor and the Coalition are meeting those needs. Nothing: Nicholson takes Johnston on faith and Daley is concerned only with clich├ęs of COST BLOWOUT SHOCK.

Johnston quotes from a number of papers by experts in the field, and some cranky responses from incumbent minister Smith, but it's hard to tell what sides of the debates Johnston and the Liberals are taking. Finally, Nicholson admits:
Johnston has not so far suggested that the changes he wants are based on a different view of Australia's strategic future than that reached under Labor.
Well, what a waste of time that was. Johnston's going to quibble a bit with the accounting at the project level.

Daley says:
It was gratifying, then, to see Senator Johnston seemingly take such a strong stand. He was quoted as saying a Coalition government would: quickly "redo" the government's 2009 defence strategic and spending plan (or white paper)
The last white paper was delivered in 2009, with a revision due in five years (i.e. the next one is due in 2014). The next election is due in 2013. Whoever wins that election will have to "quickly redo" the white paper. This isn't newsworthy if you've been paying attention. Johnston is trying to present normal service as some big new development.
All are reasonable positions to argue ... So bring it on. Let's have the debate now.
Yes, let's. Let's have some information on defence priorities and spending to conduct that debate, Paul. We might need some journalism. Where might we get that, Paul?
... there are serious economic and diplomatic costs associated with undoing or dramatically altering defence programs and purchases.

Scrap or radically alter the local program and you create unemployment, not least in South Australia, where at least 2000 jobs could hang on the submarine project. Ditto with such a massive US-based program as the Joint Strike Fighter.
What unemployment would be created in South Australia if the JSF were canned? Is unemployment the biggest consideration with a defence program? Might employment be taken up by other projects, and if so what might they be? Nope, me neither.
Johnston has been shadow minister for three years now. He has seen off two Labor defence ministers in Joel Fitzgibbon and John Faulkner and he has effectively niggled a third, Stephen Smith, who is now experiencing the same frustration with his department on paralysing cost overruns and delays as his two immediate predecessors.
What a silly piece of writing that is. Johnston's contribution to the downfall of Fitzgibbon is zero. Faulkner announced that he was a placeholder on day one, despite and not because of the eagle-eye of David Johnston bearing down on him. Smith has been entirely self-motivated in reviewing Defence programs, and has been so transparent that Johnston has followed rather than led ministerial scrutiny of those programs.

Johnston has nothing to say in this article on asymmetrical warfare, or the sexism in the armed forces that leads to regular eruptions of sordid behaviour that puts the lie to regular assurances that the matter is a) a one-off and b) always the fault of junior parties, usually females. Also nothing about asylum-seekers as a Defence issue gets the shortest of shrift, rightly so and praise be.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott publicly reassured us he would "never make savings at the expense of the operational capabilities of our defence force … No one has said that we would tear up the defence white paper".

Not surprisingly, Defence Minister Smith highlighted these apparent differences.

"We've seen the shadow minister for defence tearing up the white paper, the Leader of the Opposition saying that won't happen and the manager of opposition business [Christopher Pyne] saying these were all musings," he said.
Having skated over substantive issues (Daley's summary might be summarised as: ooh, it's all so controversial, isn't it), he then goes to the stunning discovery that different politicians have different views. The Situation has refused to be pinned down on policy but insisted on his credibility as Prime Minister nonetheless (and not challenged by the media), and who gives a damn was Chris Pyne says? Fancy doing any sort of work - certainly not three years' worth, let alone the giant-killer reputation Daley falsely ascribes to him - only to have Pyne sprinkle it with piss.

Is this not further proof that the Liberals are unfit for government? The wannabe PM interprets questioning of cost overruns as cutting operational capacity. Three years in a position and you get slapped down by Pyne and Abbott. If Johnston had any dignity he'd quit; if Abbott had any sense he'd put someone else in the role.

Daley would confuse movement with progress in terms of policy development, but that's Paul Daley for you: starting off with the impression of policy but really focused on the very kind of Canberra insider goings-on that makes policy development impossible. Wake up to yourself Daley, and your own role in the impoverishment of our political debate, and stop being the sort of wanker who alienates us from our politics.


  1. Just one minor quibble. The RAAF used F/A-18 Hornets in the 2003 Iraq invasion. See http://www.awm.gov.au/exhibitions/iraq/raaf.asp