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Monday Message Board

September 6th, 2004

It’s time for the Monday Message Board, where readers are invited to post their thoughts on any topic (civilised discussion and no coarse language, please). There will be plenty of posts from me on the election, and plenty of room for discussion, so I’d encourage Message Board comments on other issues.

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  1. Dan Hardie
    September 6th, 2004 at 09:25 | #1

    This is not playing ‘Gotcha’, but I am genuinely interested in an answer. As JQ is a busy man, the answer may well take a long time, but…

    JQ and others here have called for military intervention to prevent mass murder and possible genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. (Within the meaning of the 1948 International Convention on the Prevention of Genocide, genocide is indeed already underway.)I too support such an intervention. So where are the troops coming from?There is general agreement: not the US, which apart from anything else is way too overstretched in Iraq; and probably not the British, for the same reason, although General Mike Jackson is said to have been willing to despatch 5,000 troops if asked.

    The UK has approximately three times Australia’s population and GDP, and spends 2.5% of that GDP on defence. Australia spends 1.9% of GDP on defence. Britain currently has 43 regular infantry battalions (including the Royal Marine commandos); Australia has, er, 4 (four). Even given that four British battalions are shortly to be cut by the halfwit currently in charge of the Ministry of Defence, we have approximately 10 times as many infantrymen as a country with one third of our population. Britain can thus offer 5,000 troops- 3 infantry battalions plus supporting troops- despite heavy military commitments elsewhere. Australia currently has none of its infantry battalions deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan (or, as far as I know, in the Solomon Islands any more). Given the agreement among staff officers that if you have one battalion deployed overseas, one needs to be training to replace it and one needs to be recovering from its most recent tour, I would say that at any one time Australia can deploy one, or just maybe two, infantry battalions of 550 men to the Sudan, with about twice that number of supporting troops.

    What does JQ think should happen to Australian defence policy?
    1)It can continue as currently, with Australia punching a long way below its weight whenever it comes to preventing Darfur-style atrocities.

    2)Australia can increase defence spending to closer to the UK’s 2.5% of GDP, or France’s 2.7%, if not America’s 3.4% or more, by means of higher taxation or spending reallocations.

    3)The Australian Army can be beefed up at the expense of the other services, particularly the Royal Australian Navy- which might not be such a good idea for the world’s largest island state.

    Given that JQ is a real live expert on Australian fiscal policy, and also a real live social democrcat, among whom discussion of defence matters and humanitarian interventions is not always as informed as one might wish, I would be interested to hear his thoughts on this one.

  2. Homer Paxton
    September 6th, 2004 at 10:37 | #2

    last friday I had the good fortune to actually meet up with Steve Edwards who was in Sydney for some CIS function.

    I have always got along well with Steve so it was no suprise that we had an enjoyable time at a Thai noodle bar near Artarmon raliway station.

    given Steve’s closeness to Peter Walsh It is not surprising that on a lot of subjests were are in agreement although I shoul state I am a free trade man whether it be goods and services or labour.

    I always envisaged Steve to be a tall red headed man with glasses. He turned out to be a touch over 6 foot with black hair but no glasses.

    I hope that he goes on to do his Phd and that his blog becomes a quality blog like JQ’a here with of course being much more sensible since he is conservative in his views.

    I suspect this will eventuate as he ages and gains wisdom.

  3. Paul Norton
    September 6th, 2004 at 11:04 | #3

    Andrew Bolt included the following paragraph in his anti-Green rant in the Herald-Sun on 1 September:

    “It is true the Greens have quietly left out of their official policies the promises of last year to plough roads and farms back into wilderness, drain our dams, give the dole to people who don’t want to work, lift company taxes by half, and make us ride bicycles more often.”

    This is an example of a tactic I have often encountered when attempts to ascribe sinister views or agendas to people or groups are rebutted by reference to their actual policies and stated views. The person/s making the original accusation does not admit that their original accusation was false and that they had no good evidentiary grounds for making it, but switches to the argument that there is a “hidden agenda” or “secret plan” camouflaged by the reasonable official policy. The absence of evidence of such an agenda is therefore not grounds for concluding that it doesn’t exist; it simply shows how fiendishly clever the bastards are at keeping it hidden!

    Bolt’s reference to “promises of last year” (which did not exist last year, if ever) is a common variation on this tactic. Despite the camouflage to which the hidden agenda is subjected in official policy statements and other authoritative documents, someone always claims to have heard someone let slip this or that aspect of the hidden agenda.

    Peter Murphy and I were once both members of an organisation which was plagued by a recalcitrant faction of discontents whose raison d’etre was opposition to the “hidden agenda” of the leadership, and who made an art form of the polemical tactic Bolt has deployed here. They, and Bolt, would be aghast to know that they are united by a common epistemology!

  4. September 6th, 2004 at 11:20 | #4

    It’s time Prof. Q. addressed the important issues, like football. Last I heard, he had sworn allegiance to the Brisbane Lions, but I’ve not seen a post on football all year. Have you gone to the Gabba this year? How much of an impression have the Lions actually made in the Brisbane community?

  5. September 6th, 2004 at 11:21 | #5

    Last year, John Howard said he was “happy … to submit myself to the judgment of the Australian people” over his central part in the Manildra/Trafigura ethanol scandal. (SMH article)

    I was surpised when this issue didn’t even make it into Labor’s “27 Lies” beat-up. I wonder, will it surface during the election, or is it buried for all time?

  6. Frankis
    September 6th, 2004 at 11:43 | #6

    The Manildra scandal could and should be used to refute the government’s spin about its business credentials as well as exemplify its innate dishonesty. In that case it was caught redhanded giving preferment to another of the PM’s little mates, to the detriment of more honest business competitors and of the Australian economy more generally. To top it off the little bugger also got caught, pants down, flagrantly lying about it. There surely should be a way the opposition could work on that, I agree.

    On a different tack: Australia’s glorious PM, John Winston Rodent, has been forced to get to the polls in a hurry before the US presidential elections of November 2, sensibly panicked by the dread thought of the damage to his own re-election prospects threatened by the potential for defeat in the US of his bestest and greatest pal, President George W Shrub.

    Thinking outside Australia, the converse effect is also real: Shrub’s chances at his own election will be adversely affected (to some smaller yet undeniably significant extent) were his most ardent foreign groveller to have been tossed out in Australia.

    Now, the Cheney/Bush administration doesn’t play fair or decent, it only plays to win. It won’t be sitting on its hands just idly waiting to see the outcome of the Australian election. I wonder then – when and where should we expect to see this year’s Cheney/Bush dirty tricks campaign launched, possibly from offshore but also by surrogates in this country, against our democratic electoral process?

    For example, in order to better embroil Australia in a blundering, immoral and even unpopular war in Iraq last year, PM Rodent was regurgitating his daily thoughts and talking points from Whitehouse scripts. That all worked just beautifully for President Shrub’s purposes, as things turned out. Will Australia’s mainstream media let it happen mostly unchallenged, again, in this year’s election campaign? What will the dirty tricks be, and when will they come?

  7. September 6th, 2004 at 14:22 | #7

    What are the current odds on nuclear weapons being used by Jihadists against either the CIS or the USA?
    I think they are much higher now than at any time during Reagan’s much ballyhooed deployment of Pershing missiles. Reagans victory in the Arms Race reduced the long term risk of major power nuclear warfare.
    But decentralised fanatical terrorist agencies are harder to detect and deter. Bill Joy was one of the first who predicted the Unabomber-like confluence of technology and theology. Kristof turns the idea of a terrorist nuclear strike over in this article.
    The nuclear powers would not sit around waiting for terrorists to blow up their major cities. Arkin broke the story about the Pentagons new plans for a new line of specially targettable nukes.
    Islamic lands are terribly allergic to Occidental agencies. The terrorists are a form of antibody to Crusader xenomorphs. They are also a form of virus for the host Islamic body politic.
    Disengagement, Containment and Quarantine is the best way out of this mess.

  8. Fyodor
    September 6th, 2004 at 15:00 | #8


    Interesting post – terrorism and nuclear proliferation are a nasty mix, but are you suggesting that, after having wrecked the joint, the West should unilaterally pull out of the Middle-East? I take it this means leaving Israel to its own devices, and sourcing oil from elsewhere?

    I don’t think disengagement is an option. The “you broke it, you fix it” principle applies, if only because nobody but the USA can sort out the mess there. That they’ve left it FUBAR to date doesn’t mean they should stop trying.

  9. Frankis
    September 6th, 2004 at 15:47 | #9

    It’d seem to be sensible to believe that apocalyptic jihadists who embrace “martyrdom” and support attacks on, and suicide bombings of, civilians are indeed at this moment very keen to offer up nuked sacrifices of infidels.

    But as far as “Disengagement, Containment and Quarantine” and the metaphor of viruses and antibodies goes – that won’t save the (world) body that has become infected, will it? It’s not only the “islamic lands” that have the problem, we all do. Don’t we now need a cure that won’t kill the patient? At least, I don’t see that any sort of partition of the planet along religious lines would be likely to lead to happy futures. For instance Sharon’s and the Zionists’ attempts to use fear to draw all Jews to Israel not only hasn’t worked so far (and is never likely to, I hope) but it would leave the world, Israel and everywhere else, the poorer. I think.

  10. F Gump
    September 6th, 2004 at 16:50 | #10

    Seem like when money talks, politicians squawk. I wanna know if Manildra is John Howard’s Halliburton. He says the unions are Labor’s. If big political donors send a lot of cash, are favours obligatory?

  11. September 6th, 2004 at 17:29 | #11

    Prof Q and any one else who wants to answer. – I got myself into a tangle the other night ranting and spitting – I mean argueing rationally – and havent had time to research a simple answer. (Maybe there isnt one).

    My view is that the new homeowners grant only serves to put house prices up by at least the amount on offer and therefore doesn’t really help anyone. That is – a house is worth $1000 and the new homeowners grant is $100 – ALL houses will go up by $100 (my argument was at least $101) as all buyers must assume they will be bidding against a new home owner. Therefore all the grant has done is boost prices by $100 for all.

    I guess this only applies to houses changing ownership and not brand new houses. I don’t know what relationship exists between the price of new houses and the price of “used” houses – I suppose there must be some. Can anyone refer me to something on the net that addresses this?

  12. September 6th, 2004 at 19:53 | #12

    Francis, I may have answered this to some extent at Killing the Australian dream. I’d also suggest that banks and those getting out of the market did alright out of it. I’m not an economist but a mortgage does focus the mind somewhat.

  13. James Farrell
    September 6th, 2004 at 21:30 | #13


    The Captain discussed house prices here: http://www.johnquiggin.com/archives/001414.html. And I think there were some related posts around the same time.

    A short answer to your question is that you are right. In general, a subsidy to buyers of something fixed in supply will be pocketed by the seller. The supply of houses is not completely ‘price inelastic’: new land is released from time to time, and some owners may move out of town or scale down to units and retirement villages if the price is right. But it is nonetheless very inelastic. I’m not sure how you came with $101, but I think $95 might be near the mark. I haven’t heard any reputable economist defend the homeowners’ grant.

  14. John Quiggin
    September 6th, 2004 at 22:16 | #14

    Scott, the Lions have made an impact on Brisbane, at least to the extent that it’s very hard to get tickets, particularly if, like me, you decide that the St Kilda game seems like a good one to watch. As a result, my support for the Lions this year has been confined to watching them on TV. I plan to get better organised next season, though with a fourth premiership looking highly probably, no doubt seats will be even harder to get.

    I was going to post on the first finals game, but the news from Beslan was so awful that I didn’t get to it.

  15. John Quiggin
    September 6th, 2004 at 22:24 | #15

    Dan, I’ve written at length on defence policy, though it was before September 11, and would need some revision now.

    But, to sum up drastically
    (i) I favor beefing up the Army,
    (ii) Military aid to places like Darfur should be budgeted along with other foreign aid and subject to a cost-effectiveness test
    (ii) I don’t think we need or should have a blue-water surface navy. It’s said, and I see no reason to disbelieve it, that our air force could sink our navy in an afternoon.
    There was an interesting article in Prospect recently which made similar points in relation to the UK and the navy’s insistence on maintaining destroyers and frigates, essentially for sentimental reasons.

  16. September 6th, 2004 at 23:10 | #16


    It is a furphy that the air force could sink the Navy in an afternoon. There are a number of reasons why a ship is a lot harder

    target than most airforce types like to make out. I won’t bullet point them to save space below;

    A ship is a hardened target. Much more hardened than a tank or other mobile land asset. It is a self-healing system. Unless

    close-in inside the littoral (by the land), it has a fully 2-dimensional space in which to maneuver (unlike land targets).

    Weather is it’s friend – unlike aircraft, which are still operationally impded by weather. It is easily capable of engaging the

    hostile itself (from inside the weather system if need be). It can defend against the actual weapon (bombs, missles) and not just

    the platform (the aircraft). It can engage several hostile targets simultaneously. Its operational tempo extends to days and weeks

    and not just minutes or hours – it can be the effective area for days and days at a time – an aircraft has a very limited period

    of activity over the target area.

    In fact, to the modern surface navy the SUBMARINE is much more threatening weapon than the aircraft.

    The only example extant to air-surface combat which has come down on the side of air power was the Falkland War. However there are special circumstances involved here – lack of maneuver, communications equipment, and a royal stuff up just as the enemy aircraft where to be engaged (another RN ship lurched across the firing line). Further to note, that all RN vessels lost were lost to ballistic munitions (iron bombs – which despite the caveats noted actually gives pause for thought to the bravery and skill of the Argentine air force) and NOT stand-off weapons of the type typically surmised (Exocet, which were, and still are, highly INeffective air-surface weapons).

    As to a blue water navy, I must disagree. Australia is a island surrounded by ocean. We are a trading nation – the ability to get

    shipping through say the Straits of Malacca are vital to our economic and national security interest. It cannot be counted on the

    Americans, Japan, or the Republic of Singapore to defend either of these for us (while conceding that for these nations the

    Straits are also vital for their shipping and other interests). While we definitely require a more littorally orientated Navy in

    no way can we say we can do without at least some continuous blue water capability. What about our fishing and environmental

    interests in the Southern Ocean? One lightly-armed fisheries patrol vessel does not make a comprehensive solution to this problem.

    Further, a larger army – what does that accomplish? Integration with US Forces for US-led expeditionary tasks? Or a more gentle,

    and thoroughly inadequate role in Peace-Keeping only duties like the NZ Army? How does such a force – at the expense of the Air Force or Navy – increase the defence of the national interest? An army without capable maritime strike forces is

    useless for the defence of Australia. IF the ground battle has to be engaged inside our borders, we have already lost. The

    doctrine of an Air-Sea gap is a valid one when thinking about the ‘defence of Australia’, necessary although not sufficient in my view. A ship is far more valuable to our defence than say, a new armoured regiment ever could be.

    Frigates and destroyers give you patrol abilities, the capability to rapidly insert an armed force into an environment (airplanes require considerably more infrastructure for this), and more importantly to defend such an insertion. If we didn’t have frigates and destroyers the tankers and transport vessels would be vunerable to attack from any motivated jihadi in a speedboat crammed with explosives, rendering said beefed up Army, worse than useless.

  17. September 6th, 2004 at 23:15 | #17

    Sorry for the apalling formatting above … I typed it up in notepad and then pasted it into the form. I will learn to use preview in the future.

    Now to post what I REALLY came here to post.

    Here is an article which explains how the conservative rhetoric machine is funded and how it came into being. A fascinating read “Tentacles of Rage: The Republican propaganda mill, a brief history” by Lewis H Lapham, from Harper’s magazine.

  18. Dan Hardie
    September 7th, 2004 at 00:19 | #18

    Thump!…Way to teach me to lecture people about defence spending.Shall read your paper.

    One point about cost-benefit analysis of interventions in places like Darfur is that to be able to mount such an intervention, you need to have troops already recruited and trained, and hence spending a lot of their time not on active service. In simple modelling terms, think of military interventions as a market with very high entry costs. If you pay those entry costs, they may then bring some sort of pay-off if an East Timor/Darfur-type situation arises, but if such a situation doesn’t arise…

  19. September 7th, 2004 at 01:19 | #19

    our air force could sink our navy in an afternoon.

    Our submarines could probably do that and then go on to sink the enemy navy the next day. Subs and re-fuellable bombers can cover alot more ground alot more safely than blue-water navies. If the subs are fitted with Cruise Missiles then the blue-water navy strategic function is completely negated.
    The main rationale for a blue-water navy is to support amphibious invasions, by providing water-surface naval artillery support. I dont see much call for that service in our neck of the woods.
    It would be nice to have the capacity to shift large numbers of troops and their equipment accross the waters to our north. If we need to mount an over-seas invasion I fancy an airborne chopper-assault would be more efficacious.
    A large fleet of heavy-lift and troop-carrying helicopters could land a brigade of troops and their gear to most likely hot-spots in our northern regions. Quicker and more flexible than Operation Overlord-style ops.
    We should scrap our Blue Water navy and develop a chopper-supported Marine Corps based on one of these.

  20. September 7th, 2004 at 05:41 | #20

    John’s line about missing a football game because of news from Beslan is interesting. I know several people (me included) who’ve abandoned sports events/nights out/parties etc because of awful news from Russia, Spain, Iraq …

    It’s a post 9/11, post Bali phenomenon, maybe. And it isn’t due to (in the case of bloggers) being compelled to write about it (I wrote almost nothing about Beslan, because I simply couldn’t). It’s because the news is so hideous and shattering and difficult to process – and somehow closer to home than far-distant atrocities were previously.

    I probably haven’t expressed this very well. It could be worth coming back to, however.

  21. September 7th, 2004 at 09:19 | #21


    Helicopters from a ship is terms amphibious assualt, not “airborne assault”. However, what would you propose in the case of a resisted landing? We have been fortunate in each case so far that our landings are not actively resisted. What would you propose for defence from air assault of the amphibious force.

    Also your assertion about air force ‘covering’ areas more effectively is only true if the enemy reveals itself during the precise moment your aircraft is in the window it can detect it. Surface vessels do a more effective job because they are on station 24 hours a day for weeks at a time, and have a better and more broader sensor capability than air or subsurface assets.

    Also what would you propose to protect national and environmental assets like Southern Ocean fishing grounds? OVer the next 20 years these will be under increasing pressure.

  22. Dan Hardie
    September 7th, 2004 at 09:28 | #22

    Re JQ’s article on defence first: It is simply flat-out wrong, for example, to say that ‘The traditional role of naval forces has been to project power in aggressive or ‘forward defensive’ operations. Such operations should play no role in Australian defence policy.’

    The ‘force projection’ role is indeed *one* of the traditional roles of naval forces. At least as important historically has been the protection of one’s own trade routes, the interdiction of enemy invading forces and the blockading of hostile nations- which together are referred to as ‘blue water strategy’.

    I must say that this mistake puzzles me. Isn’t the American victory at Midway of some importance in 20th Century Australian history? And how long did Maturin and Aubrey spend on various blockades?

  23. John Quiggin
    September 7th, 2004 at 09:31 | #23

    Scot, the notion that we should be doing things like “defending the straits of Malacca” is very much the kind of thing I argue against in my paper.

    As regards fishing grounds (I assume you’re referring to our 200km zone here) patrol boats are what’s needed here.

  24. John Quiggin
    September 7th, 2004 at 09:39 | #24

    Dan, I regard both blockades and protection of trade routes as “aggressive or forward defensive”.

    As regards interdicting enemy invasion forces, the crucial issue here is air superiority, and this is what we should be focusing on.

  25. Tony Healy
    September 7th, 2004 at 10:04 | #25

    Air superiority is of course the first requirement, but defence of the northern coast also requires blue water capability. It is the surface warships that perform the blockade function. Also, these days, they provide wide area air defence in support of landings.

    I also don’t know why you would exclude protection of trade routes from a valid role of the Australian defence force.

    Returning to air superiority, this is a topical subject that Robert Gottliebsen for some reason has latched on to, and good on him. Regional air forces are upgrading while we, with our JSF decision, are retaining second tier status. From about 2012, we will probably encounter situations where we lack air superiority. This is a dangerous situation.

  26. harry clarke
    September 7th, 2004 at 10:20 | #26

    To introduce a new subject can I ask for observations re John Howard’s move to allow 100% of the scheduled medical fee to be recouped under Medicare. This seems to be a straight handout to the doctors since, as I understand it, it carries no obligation to bulk bill, in order to access the higher rebate. If doctors do bulk bill then they get the extra, if they don’t the patients will get it when they get their rebate. This seems on the face of it a disasterous prescription for encouraging overservicing.

    But I am trying to work out whether Labor’s policy is better or worse. My understanding is that labor will give the 100% rebate only if doctors bulk bill. This could be worse since it encourages a system where patients don’t even temporarily see a medical consultation as costing anything. On the other hand it might put some kind of seal on health costs by encouraging doctors to stick to the scheduled fee.

    These are dreadful policies from both parties that will cost the community dearly. Both encourage chronic overuse of the health system and both seem to encourage the fraud and ‘inappropriate’ claims by doctors that were so clearly identified in Monday Night’s Four Corners show.

  27. Fyodor
    September 7th, 2004 at 10:35 | #27


    It looks like you’ve stirred up a hornet’s nest of armchair generals, admirals and air marshalls!

    Here’s my $0.02:

    1) Australia cannot militarily protect our trade routes, because we could never support a blue-water navy large enough patrol the Indian and Pacific Oceans. We most definitely cannot defend our trade routes through Indonesia, Malaysia and the South China Sea, given the military strength of the surrounding countries. We can only protect our trade routes via diplomacy, e.g. by not pissing off our neighbours, or by relying on the USA to protect them for us.

    2) A “blue-water” navy is an economic impossibility for Australia because we do not have the economic resources to support carrier battle groups which are necessary to provide air cover. Air power has been decisive in almost every major naval engagement from WWII onwards. A carrier battle group requires not just the carrier itself and its aircraft, but also supporting surface combatants and submarines. We can’t afford it.

    3) We do, however, need naval surface capability to project modest amphibious force into the Pacific region, as shown up in the East Timor and Solomon Islands crises. The Howard’s government’s decision to purchase 3 anti-air warfare destroyers does not fit into this need, and is grossly expensive (some A$5bn, I believe).

    4) Air power is essential to defending the sea-air gap between us and Indonesia, and we do need air superiority over regional peers. This is relatively easy/cheap now, but will require significant investment over the next two decades as Indonesia upgrades its fighter aircraft. As an aside, the JSF is not a great choice for air superiority, as its primary role is surface attack, and the Howard government has chosen a very expensive and delayed procurement path for these aircraft.

    5) Dan got the numbers wrong on the army. We actually have six infantry battalions, not counting the SAS regiment, not four. This doesn’t make much difference to his argument, however. We simply do not have anywhere near the manpower required to support even modest power projection (e.g. peace-making in East Timor, Solomons), let alone war-fighting. Luckily it is extremely unlikely that we will need to fight a war on Australian soil, so this isn’t a big problem in terms of defence, but more land forces are required if we wish to project credible force overseas. Whether we should want to or not is a separate issue.

  28. Homer Paxton
    September 7th, 2004 at 10:45 | #28

    most Defence experts agree that if war happened between China and Taiwan then the US would call on our Collins class subs to patrol aorund China because they wouls sink ANY ship silly enough to come out of port.

    Thus thanks to Bomber’s brilliance we do not have to worry about anyone’s navy

  29. Tony Healy
    September 7th, 2004 at 10:56 | #29

    Blue water capability doesn’t require carrier battle groups, nice as they are. It means the ability to operate at long distances against significant surface ships, including providing convey escort and interdiction of enemy sea lanes.

    The Howard government’s defence direction has been to essentially steer us toward the equivalent of the American marine assault group, but without the carrier battle group that those assault groups usually have for protection. Thus this direction seems to imply future operation in American orders-of-battle.

  30. Fyodor
    September 7th, 2004 at 11:13 | #30


    A “blue-water” navy must be able to project a self-sustaining naval force beyond the protection of one’s own coastline. This requires logistical support (tankers etc.) and the crucial ability of self-defence. Ships without air support are highly exposed to air attack. Only the most advanced cruisers and destroyers equipped with AEGIS-type radar and missile defences stand a chance.

    The Argentine and British forces proved this conclusively in the Falklands War. Even with relatively primitive aircraft and missiles, the Argentines were able to pose a significant threat to RN ships, despite the presence of two British aircraft carriers and associated fighters.

    We will not be able to protect convoys of merchant ships in the middle of the Pacific or Indian oceans, or through the congested waterways of the archipelago to our North, from concerted air or submarine attack. It would be pointlessly expensive to try, and we should be more realistic in our goals.

    I agree with your last comment on the Howard government’s preference for an amphibious battle group. This presupposes certain air superiority either because we would be confronting forces with no air cover (e.g. the Pacific islands) or collaborating with the USA, which is able to provide the air cover. As you point out, we seem to be developing expeditionary forces which are designed for US use. This is very dangerous defence and foreign policy.

    Personally I think large amphibious carriers are highly expensive and vulnerable targets unless you have the protection resources available to the USA. We can make do with a number of smaller vessels that are both less costly to buy and defend and don’t put all our eggs in one basket.

  31. September 7th, 2004 at 11:33 | #31

    JQ, re Straits of Malacca, what would we do if say a Indonesia-Malaysia conflict interrupted our trade routes through this vital passage? Sit back and do nothing? Assume the USA, Japan, Singapore would help us?

    In regards to fishing rights, I am talking about Heard and McDonald Islands, Macquarie Island etc. Patrol boats are useless in the Southern Ocean. Secondly how threatening is a Fremantle class patrol boat to a factory fishing vessel five times as big? A patrol boat couldn’t even launch a forced boarding against such a vessel let alone stop it from just barging past and steaming out of sight.

    As Tony Healy pointed out, contra to Fyodor’s assertion blue water navies don’t need aircraft carriers unless operating against significant navies with that capability. Blue water almost by definition means you are a long way from enemy airplanes, unless the enemy is the USA with its long range strike aircraft. The USA tends to use its carrier battle groups as either power projection or air superiority and force multiplication for amphibious operations. Not really a capability that we require.

    We do require I believe however a modest amphibious landing force. Let say to get two battalions ashore – under opposed conditions.

    I believe that the strategic outlook is such that we could face ourselves with a threat requiring this response in the region within the next 20 years (eg from a failed state being usurped by terrorists or other hostile interests). That might also require us to perform such an operation without direct USA assistance, because it will be occupied elsewhere. Ergo the Navy will have to be able to defend such a force from air attack. The air force is all well and good but depending where the operation is taking place it can take hours to be in the area and can only operate for a short time over it anyway. OK for planned attacks but useless for defensive contingency. Air defence destroyers are an absolute must for this capability (as much as I am loathe to agree with Howard on defence policy because generally I find the coalition’s position to be laughable).

  32. Tony Healy
    September 7th, 2004 at 11:46 | #32

    Fyodor, yes and no, and I enjoy the discussion. The Australian Navy could not of course take on the US Seventh Fleet, but that doesn’t mean it’s not blue water, even if, at the moment, shakily so. We could escort conveys through many waters against some threats. It depends how powerful the threats are.

  33. Fyodor
    September 7th, 2004 at 12:46 | #33


    I’m also enjoying the discussion. Defence policy doesn’t normally get much of a run on the Captain’s blog, though that’s not a criticism.

    My concern with the “blue water” school on Australia’s navy is that we are highly dependent on trade in three directions over huge distances: West across the Indian Ocean, North through the Malay/Indonesian archipelago to our trading partners in North Asia and East across the Pacific Ocean to the Americas.

    We currently plan to have four guided-missile frigates (FFGs) and eight ANZAC-class frigates, of lesser capability. Assuming a merchant convoy needs a minimum of 2-4 frigates for protection from attack, we will rapidly exhaust our escort capability protecting even a negligible amount of trade – we would need a massive surface fleet to provide reasonable escort capability. We simply cannot afford it, and for this reason (or at least until Australia becomes an economic superpower…ahem) we will always have a decidedly littoral navy.

    It’s also not necessary for us to engage in a hot war with the likes of the USA to need air cover. Long-range stand-off missile weapons are readily available to the navies and air forces of many nations. Our own Orion patrol aircraft could be fitted with air-surface missiles giving them the range to strike deep into the Indian Ocean or East Asia. Our navy’s surface combatants are only (relatively) safe close in to our waters or in regions where there is no hostile air force, e.g. the Pacific islands. We can’t assume that this will be the case anywhere in the archipelago to our North.

  34. Paul Norton
    September 7th, 2004 at 14:03 | #34

    Further to my comment on ANdrew Bolt’s Greens-under-the-bed tirade of 1 September, I’ve received a personal communication from singer-songwriter-guitarist Deborah Conway stating that Andrew Bolt mischievously misquoted her in order to make it look as though comments she made criticising the anti-zionist-verging-on-anti-semitic far left were aimed at the Greens.

    On this point, today’s Newspoll and AC Nielsen polls suggest that the Greens have benefited from the free publicity, but that the dogs may heard the whistle and responded accordingly.

  35. September 7th, 2004 at 15:06 | #35

    Harry Clarke – I had a rough stab at both BB policies (theres more to Medicare than BB as you know) over on Backpages the other night. I think it was in the Comments section of Fear and Loathing No 5. If i get time later tonight I might look at what you raised – don’t know where I’ll put it though

  36. Jill Rush
    September 7th, 2004 at 15:27 | #36

    The Greens as Watermelons is an interesting argument produced by John anderson raising the spectre of reds under the beds – circa 1950s. However a closer look shows that in fact a watermelon has varied green hues on the outside, it is pink rather than red on the inside, is delicious and refreshing, whilst conserving water and it gives the eater the pip.

    Does this mean that John Anderson really doesn’t appreciate diversity and it afraid of being pipped at the post by the greens in his electorate?

  37. Dan Hardie
    September 7th, 2004 at 20:04 | #37

    ‘5) Dan got the numbers wrong on the army. We actually have six infantry battalions, not counting the SAS regiment, not four.’

    My apologies if true: but I said ‘regular infantry battalions’, and as far as I can tell from the Australian Defense Ministry website there are indeed four RAR regular infantry battalions, one Commando-trained. I didn’t count SAS and other special forces in the tally of either British or Australian forces- both forces are small (I think 2-300 Australians; 600 British including SBS but excluding their signals and loggies), have a domestic counter-terrorism response committment which obliges them to post at least a quarter of their strength at home at any one time, have intensive operational committments in Iraq, Afghanistan etc, have intensive training committments and so can’t be just counted as ‘300 blokes we can send out to Darfur’. I also didn’t count armoured cavalry units but I would expect a similar UK/Aus disparity.

    Even if you do have six regular battalions: you have a third of the UK’s population, and the UK, after the cuts, will have 39 infantry battalions, ie 6.5 times as many. Still a major disparity.

  38. Dan Hardie
    September 7th, 2004 at 20:11 | #38

    ‘Dan, I regard both blockades and protection of trade routes as “aggressive or forward defensive”.’

    Blockades, yes; although you might like to rethink that if the context was, say, preventing the export of arms or fissile material to a threatening state.

    But ‘protection of trade routes’ as ‘aggressive or forward defensive’ and hence, by the terms of your article, something which ‘has no place in Australian defense policy’? I’ll leave it to the Australians here to comment, but I’d regard that as a highly questionable set of arguments.

    Finally, what about Operation Helpum Fren (I just have to take any excuse to type those words- the most beautiful name of any military operation in history) in the Solomon Islands? Do people here think it was a Good or Bad thing? And should Australian military planning and spending focus a bit more on what would have happened if the East Timor or Helpum Fren operations had met more determined resistance on the part of some locals?

  39. John Quiggin
    September 7th, 2004 at 20:22 | #39

    If there had been effective resistance from the locals (or, in the ET case, from the Indonesian Army) we wouldn’t have gone in.

    We didn’t go into the Solomons until everybody (except maybe an isolated handful of gangsters) had agreed they needed us to help, and much the same was true in East Timor. We didn’t do anything (militarily) about the Fiji coups for example, and rightly not because we would have ended up fighting a substantial group of locals.

    Thinking about operations like this in traditional military terms like force insertion is quite misleading and the kinds of destination it leads to include Chechnya and Iraq.

  40. John Quiggin
    September 7th, 2004 at 20:30 | #40

    Midway was an air (and to a lesser extent, submarine) battle. The surface ships involved served as
    (1) platforms for planes
    (2) targets
    The same was true for most of the major “naval’ actions in the Pacific theatre

    Australia has long abandoned any pretensions to being the kind of power that operates carriers (the Fleet Air Arm was scrapped a while back). So the only thing an Australian blue water fleet could seriously aspire to (and the only thing we have in fact done) is to operate as part of a US expeditionary force.

    It’s precisely this orientation that I try to argue against in my paper.

  41. Dan Hardie
    September 7th, 2004 at 21:53 | #41

    ‘Thinking about operations like this in traditional military terms like force insertion is quite misleading and the kinds of destination it leads to include Chechnya and Iraq.’

    Another place it leads to is Afghanistan. Just war or unjust war? Would the Australian-led intervention in East Timor have been thinkable only if the Indonesian military and government agreed to cooperate?

    Re the naval aspect, yes, naval wars between developed nations are now and have been for at least sixty years dominated by aircraft carriers and submarines. If Australia sees any strategic threat from the naval forces of a developed nation (China being the obvious local candidate) it needs appropriate forces. But, as people have noted, if Australian trade can be threatened by maritime guerrillas in speedboats or by the less advanced navies of less developed countries (Indonesia being the obvious local candidate for either a guerrilla or a low-tech naval opponent) then there might well be a case for a ‘blue water’ Australian navy.

    And that’s before we get on to the possibility of nuclear weapons components making their way round the sealanes of the Pacific…

  42. Dan Hardie
    September 7th, 2004 at 21:56 | #42

    ‘the kinds of destination it leads to include Chechnya and Iraq.’

    And, to go back to the point made right at the start, another place it could lead to is Darfur. Is a military intervention against genocidal, government-backed militias justifiable only if that same government agrees to the said intervention?

  43. John Quiggin
    September 7th, 2004 at 22:10 | #43

    Dan,although we’re probably getting beyond the capacity of a comments thread, it’s at this point where I think the distinction between unilateralism and multilateralism comes into play. Intervention that goes beyond enforcing an agreed peace settlement is incredibly risky. To make it work you need both overwhelming military superiority and an overwhelmingly strong position in terms of global politics – the kind of thing you get from a UNSC mandate (the latter can be shaded, as it was in Kosovo, but not by much: this is one of the lessons of the Iraq disaster).

    In the case of Darfur, the kind of intervention I’d support is very much defensive, trying to protect people from being killed or driven from their land by Janjaweed etc. and with every effort ot extort some kind of invitation or acquiescence from the Sudanese government. If the conditions aren’t there to permit this, I’d counsel the second-best option of protecting refugee camps and aid delivery. I’m not fussed about principles of national sovereignty, and I’d be happy to impinge on it if necessary, but I think the combination of unilateralism and nationbuilding is a disaster.

    To come back to the point, while Australia should enhance its capacity to contribute to UN efforts in places like Darfur, we should not seek a capacity to mount such operations on our own initiative in circumstances where they are likely to face serious military resistance.

  44. Dan Hardie
    September 7th, 2004 at 22:44 | #44

    John- yes, we’re way beyond the capacity of a comments thread. I would note that this is the kind of discussion that thoughtful people were having in, say, January 2002, before the whole ‘how do we respond to September 11th?’ debate became the ‘What’s today’s reason for invading Iraq?’ shoutfest.

    To respond briefly to a couple of your points: I’m not suggesting that Australia develop the capacity for unilateral military action. I’m suggesting that even within a multilateral context, one or just maybe two infantry battalions is a pitiful contribution from a country of Australia’s wealth. You would change this by switching resources from the Navy to the Army; fair enough, but your commenters don’t seem to think too much of this.

    Re Darfur: yes, you’d like a ‘defensive’ military operation to protect innocent life. So would I. Given the massive expanse of the Darfur, and the fact that the victims of the militias can be found all over the region, not just in one or two refugee camps, how do we ‘intervene’ in Darfur without the willingness to actually fight the Sudanese militias, and, if necessary, the government?

    (And no response which says ‘oh we just wait for the refugees to concentrate in refugee camps’ can be acceptable. As Alex de Waal noted in ‘Famine that Kills’, the highest causes of mortality in the famine in the Sudan that he studied was death from polluted drinking water, exhaustion and disease when famine forced peasants off their land and on a trek for food.)

  45. Tony Healy
    September 8th, 2004 at 05:02 | #45

    John, Midway was a battle between blue water Navies. The aircraft were carrier aircraft, delivered to the site of the engagement by carriers protected by destroyer screens. The Midway example, as a decisive battle of WW2, is an argument FOR blue water Navies, not against.

    Second, as a minor point of terminology, the term “air-war” is used to describe a battle fought by air force planes, and thus operating from land bases, rather than just a battle where aircraft do the damage, as occurred at Midway. Midway would be described as a carrier battle.

  46. Tony Healy
    September 8th, 2004 at 05:21 | #46

    Also, I disagree strongly with your analysis of East Timor, and point out that the mistake you make is a common one, made also by John Howard.

    The lack of formal response from the Indonesian armed forces was not just a fortuitous piece of luck, but a logical response to the carefully staggered Australian operation. Indonesian commanders were well aware that any military response would be greeted with superior force, ranging all the way up to our FA-18’s, which were at cockpit readiness and even patrolling offshore during critical phases.

    The Indonesian armed forces clearly did not want Australia there. The “militia” that probed across the border moved in patrol order and displayed professional military training. Before the Indonesians pulled out, they had gone right up into the mountains to destroy villages. They had gone to a lot of work. An Indonesian submarine shadowed our troop ship.

    In previous confrontations involving Indonesia, their forces have shown no compunction in being duplicitous, mounting cross border raids into Malaysia, for example. On each occasion, it was only superior soldiering that stopped them.

    So the generally peaceful and successful East Timor operation derived from, as Cosgrove aptly put it, carrying a big stick and talking softly.

    Like many, Howard failed to understand the role of the air force and Navy in this peaceful resolution, and seems to have reduced their budgets accordingly, with deleterious long term consequences for Australian defence.

  47. Tony Healy
    September 8th, 2004 at 06:56 | #47

    I should have written “reduced their importance in the Budget accordingly.”

  48. Fyodor
    September 8th, 2004 at 09:14 | #48


    The Australian army’s six regular infantry battalions are deployed as follows:

    1 Brigade (Darwin): 5/7th RAR (mechanised)
    3 Brigade (Townsville): 1RAR (light), 2RAR (light), 3RAR (para)
    7 Brigade (Brisbane): 6 RAR (motorised)
    Special Forces: 4 RAR (commando)

    The ADF site is particularly poor at showing the Australian order of battle. I sourced the data above from the “capability fact book” available at:


    For the record, I absolutely agree with your argument that this force is insufficient for our needs. I would note, however, that we don’t have the military requirements of peace-keeping in Northern Ireland and (historically) maintenance of garrison forces in West Germany, so the UK might not be a great benchmark.

  49. Fyodor
    September 8th, 2004 at 09:28 | #49

    JQ & Tony,

    The lesson from Midway is that you cannot safely project force across an ocean without air cover. Unless you have friendly air bases nearby to provide it, you need carriers.

    We cannot afford (or cannot justify the expense of) carriers, so we are better off not maintaining a “blue-water” navy, as JQ points out.

    On the subject of East Timor, I think you overrate our capability to force an entry into the island from the sea against hostile Indonesian armed forces. Yes, we might have had air superiority, but we would have struggled to match the Indonesians where it counted – on land. The reality of the situation is that the Indonesian government allowed our forces to be deployed under a UN mandate. We could not have stabilised the situation without their permission. If the Indonesians had opposed us, the Howard government would (I hope!) have made the correct assessment that a forced entry would have been suicidal for our troops, and a catastrophe for our foreign policy.

  50. Fyodor
    September 8th, 2004 at 09:34 | #50

    P.S. The last paragraph of the post above was addressed to Tony Healey.

  51. Tony Healy
    September 8th, 2004 at 10:31 | #51

    I’m wondering perhaps whether JQ’s opposition to “blue water navies” is in fact a scepticism towards the role of the surface warship in modern warfare?

    As to blue water navies, perhaps we agree to differ. I say we can and should have blue water capability even though we can’t afford a carrier, and that such capability is still useful. Not all threats can send carriers against us, and even where they can, our possession of effective surface threats imposes some restrictions on the enemy’s own deployment.

    It would be silly for an island nation to make do with a brown water navy.

    As to East Timor, I was thinking more of events after our forces arrived. Had Indonesia refused permission for entry in the first place, it would have had more than Australia to deal with.

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