That Fella Down Under!

Scott Morrison’s AUKUS deal designed to win election, not make Australia safe

17 September 2021 | Michael West MW Media (Image: Marcus Reubenstein)

Strap in for a media blitz on the threat from China. Prime Minister #thatfellafromdownunder Scott Morrison and his merry band are about to take a war to the election.

US President Joe Biden might have forgotten his name but, in the Canberra Bubble, Scott Morrison is unforgettable, a marketing maestro, a prince among men; literally, because there don’t seem to be any women among his phalanx of advisers.

The PM’s army of propagandists has been working around the clock over the past two days marketing the latest announcement to a fawning press: AUKUS, a new “Alliance for the Ages as China Threat Grows”, according to The Australian. And what results! 

Christian Porter’s secret legal payments are off the front pages, as is the JobKeeper mega-rort, the biggest transfer of wealth in history from working Australians to wealthy Australians and foreign corporations. 

Early Thursday morning there was no AUKUS. The AFR did have a scoop though, splashing with: “PM to announce $90b French submarine deal is dead”. 

That story soon vanished from the website. Bad headline. Around 7.30, The Australian was trumpeting “A major coup for Australia”. A veritable onslaught of gushing PR ensued: the new “Forever Alliance” as Nine put it, or “Friends in Freedom” as The Australian glowed. 

“Australia confirms landmark nuclear submarine deal and it’s ‘China’s worst nightmare’,” declared a truckling

That Fella Down Under

The funny thing was that US President Joe Biden seemed to have forgotten Scott Morrison’s name as he announced this new AUKUS alliance with Boris Johnson. “That Fella Down Under” he called him, casually gesticulating in Scott Morrison’s general direction.

Perhaps it was a deliberate thing, such was the PM’s unctuous toadying to the buffoon Donald Trump. 

In any case, Australia’s massive $90 billion submarine deal with the French had been junked in a jiffy. Good thing too, because if the French had got involved in this new alliance for freedom it might have been more appropriately monikered FAUKUS.

What that will cost in tearing up this contract with the Gauls, who knows? Probably in the billions. We’ve toasted $2 billion so far.

What will the new subs cost? Probably more than $100 billion. As jobless Australians are degraded with their measly $4 a day rise in welfare payments, you can count on one thing; the sheer, incontestable incompetence of this government will ensure a new maelstrom of waste and spending.

They struggle to get anything right, except announcements, media relations, scare campaigns at election time. 

That King of Lemons the F-35 Strike Fighter is a gilten cadaver now, debunked even by the top military figure in the US. The chair of the Armed Services Committee Democrat Adam Smith reckons they should stop throwing money down “that particular rat hole”.

For Australia, the cost of those 72 lemons is $17 billion, before running into the hundreds of billions to be maintained for life, if they can fly.

Where is New Zealand?

In light of the long-standing ANZUS treaty there was one notable omission in the AUKUS line up, New Zealand. Notwithstanding that NZAUKUS or AUKUSNZ is far too ugly an acronym, the Kiwis are too sensible to blow up their biggest trading partner, China, as the Coalition Government here has proven so adroit at doing.

Unlike #ThatFellaDownUnder, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Adern would have the sense to ask her people first if they wanted to poke the bear, tear up billions on last century military hardware and park nuclear submarines in their harbours. They don’t. They are sticking to their no-nuclear policy and won’t even let the subs in their waters, said Ardern.

The whole thing is so last century, and so dangerous in geopolitical terms. To deflect from their abominable policies at home, to deflect from the retinue of scandals the likes of Christian Porter, JobKeeper, Team Australia, as the AFR calls them, or Team #ThatFellaDownUnder on Twitter, now appears certain to fight the Election by beating up the China military threat.

Murdoch loves it, Keating not

There is nothing like an enemy to exploit for political purposes, a military threat, no matter how ludicrous and unlikely. Naturally, it plays well for the craven Murdoch press which adores a war; has cheered avidly every failed US invasion from Vietnam, through Iraq to Afghanistan.

Gird the loins then for the daily barrage of provocative, misleading nonsense in the corporate media, to be followed daily – with a tad less fervour – on the airwaves of the ABC.

China has zero intention of invading Australia but already, thanks to this reckless messaging by a suborned corporate media, half the country thinks they might.

Paul Keating nailed it, the former PM and architect of closer ties with the Asian region, lambasted the deal as a “dramatic loss of sovereignty”. 

“The announced agreement will amount to a lock-in of Australian military equipment and thereby forces, with those of the United States with only one underlying objective: the ability to act collectively in any military engagement by the United States against China.

“The arrangement would witness a further dramatic loss of Australian sovereignty, as material dependency on the United States robbed Australia of any freedom or choice in any engagement Australia may deem appropriate.”

And this gem: “If the United States military with all its might could not beat a bunch of Taliban rebels with AK47 rifles in pick-up trucks, what change would it have in a full-blown war against China, not only the biggest state in the world but the commander and occupant of the largest landmass in Asia?”

AUKUS read ruckus

None, the whole thing is absurd. Australia ought to be fostering closer ties with the region, not giving the Chinese the bird.

Keating’s words of common sense were soon drowned by this sort of nonsense by Nine’s AFR: today’s splash “US military ramp-up to ensure ‘match fitness“.

Match fitness for what? Match fitness for the looming war with China for which the new class of submarines will be ten years late as we veer towards an election bombarded by screeching headlines in the corporate media about an impending war with China.

The cacophony among the screeching chipmunks at Sky News After Dark will be the most unbearable, albeit quaint and amusing for anybody equipped with common sense and a sense of humour. Their audience though will take it seriously. This is menacing stuff, stuff designed to win an election at the expense of good diplomacy.

What is this deal which #ThatFellaDownUnder has signed up for, besides electoral fodder and domestic distraction value? Presumably we buy defence tech from the US, so it’s commercial for them. If the F-35 debacle is anything to go by they will control our submarines anyway. We weren’t allowed to control the software in our own billion-dollar jets.

AUKUS reaffirms ties with the “Mother Country” Great Britain, which has ballsed-up its own markets thanks to Brexit.

Er … uranium?

It begs the question of uranium. Do we use our own uranium, breaking tradition with decades of sensible nuclear policy? What do we do with the toxic waste? Where are these things going to be berthed? South Australia, at the bottom of the country, or at the top, somewhere near the Port of Darwin which the Coalition sold to the Chinese?

The warmongers lobby is loving it. Chief among them the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) whose executive director Peter Jennings suddenly enthused: “AUKUS sets a better direction for Australia’s defense”.

But of course, ASPI is funded by Defence, the department that is – it is paid by the Government to lobby the Government – and by foreign weapons manufacturers and the media leaks are already foreshadowing a big escalation on defence spending. The irony is that Jennings himself, a champion of the French subs deal, was awarded France’s top honour, Le Légion d’Honneur.   

“Vive Australia’s choice of a French submarine,” headlined the story in The Australian.

The silence of the Labor

That Fella Down Under has also managed to wedge Labor. Not matter how foolish and provocative is AUKUS, you won’t hear a ruckus from Albo. The Opposition Leader is sticking steadfastly to his small target tactics, as well he would. Were he to kick up a stink about China provocation and cuddling up to the US and the Poms, Albanese would be pounced upon as a chicken, anti-US, pro-China.

And so billions will be squandered and hostilities will increase with our major trading partner and there is unlikely to be a squeak of disapproval from Labor. That of course leaves it open slather for a PMO media campaign to scare as many Australians as they can while delivering enormous profits to foreign weapons manufacturers.

This article was first published by MW Media, Michael West established to focus on journalism of high public interest, particularly the rising power of corporations over democracy. Formerly a journalist and editor at Fairfax newspapers and a columnist at News Corp, West was appointed Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Sydney’s School of Social and Political Sciences.