By Dr Alison Broinowski
The leaders of the two major parties before the May election have belatedly resorted to talking about foreign affairs or defence. Their policies are virtually indistinguishable, and are facsimiles of the US position on most issues. In a column itemising electoral topics, the Sydney Morning Herald mentioned under ‘Foreign Affairs’ merely bipartisan concerns about China and the Solomon Islands, and ABC RN interviews did the same. In an article discussing elections in France, Australia, and the US (mid-term), Colin Chapman told readers of AIIA Outlook that the 21 May poll in Australia was ‘largely a domestic matter of little global consequence’
Yet this month, Defence Minister Peter Dutton told us Australia could be at war in two years – within the life of the new government. He has said that it is ‘inconceivable’ that Australia would not be involved in an American conflict with China. The structure for such a war has been under construction for the past four years, since Australians learned – mainly from ASPI – that the focus of American strategic interests would shift from the Middle East to the ‘Indo-Pacific’. In 2018, Scott Morrison’s positive remarks about China were replaced by allegations of illegal foreign influence, military build-up in the South China Sea, authoritarian oppression in Hong Kong, and genocide in Xinjiang. Morrison now talks incomprehensibly of an ‘arc of autocracy’ and a ‘red line’.
ASPI is ‘the propaganda arm of the CIA and the US government’, AWPR committee member Bruce Haigh asserts, ‘a mouthpiece for the Americans. It is funded by the American government and American arms manufacturers’. Almost half of ASPI’s senior council members sit on the boards of weapons companies or cybersecurity firms (Alan Macleod, ‘ASPI – the Gov’t-Funded Conspiracist Think Tanks Now Controlling Your Social Media Feed’, 20 January 2022. minpressnews.com).
As Dr Sue Wareham, a founding member of AWPR, has repeatedly pointed out, several of the companies behind ASPI – Boeing, Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, and Thales – also subsidise the Australian War Memorial. Lockheed Martin is even reported to be infiltrating Australian schools.
The challenge facing AWPR before this election is to encourage more Australians to challenge what they are being told about foreign and defence policy, and about another war. We are not alone in seeking this: the Australia Institute, Independent and Peaceful Australia Network, Raising Peace, MAPW, and groups at Griffith, LaTrobe and Macquarie Universities are giving prominence to popular opinion on these matters. But most politicians avoid discussing how Australia goes to war.
In response to Michael West Media’s questions about this, Coalition candidates (with one or two notable exceptions) oppose reform of the war powers or have no comment. ALP politicians are almost evenly divided, despite Labor twice undertaking to hold an inquiry into the war powers in its first term in government. The Greens have three times proposed legislative change of the war powers, and solidly support it, as do several sitting Independents.
We have approached all 26 new Independent candidates, some more than once, explaining our campaign and seeking their views. Only five are unequivocally supportive. Several have expressed interest and invited further discussion. Others clearly have other priorities. In the coming days we will follow them up. It’s clear that if they hold the balance of power their influence could be considerable, and they could also bring the war powers issue to the attention of other parliamentarians.
AWPR invites redoubled support in May from our members for war powers as an electoral issue. We also seek the views of war veterans and their families in response to our appeal, published on 24 April. Before the drums of war heard by Mike Pezullo in April 2021 come any closer, the matter of how Australia gets into overseas conflict must urgently be addressed by our elected representatives.