What does Paul Keating know that experts don’t?

Credit:Illustration: Cathy Wilcox

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AUKUS deal: What does Paul Keating know that experts don’t?

I have great respect for Paul Keating as a Labor elder, but on China and its intentions under Xi Jinping, not so much. Governments take their advice from multiple sources; intelligence bodies, military and so on. They don’t take advice from former prime ministers who were last briefed by such bodies more than 20 years ago. We should put the former prime minister’s views in that perspective. As for what Keating said about Penny Wong “running around the Pacific Islands with a lei around [her] neck handing out money”, well that’s just plain rude and disrespectful.
Damien Ryan, Berwick

Such expenditure not necessary
Paul Keating is right. China has never intended to invade Australia, is not intending to do so now or in the future. He also said we could purchase submarines now that are immediately effective in defence and that the $300 billion committed to the new vessels, which won’t even be commissioned for another 20 years, is the worst Labor policy since World War II.

What would that amount of money do to help alleviate Australian poverty, boost health and education and give us all some benefit?
Ian Anderson, Surrey Hills

Wrong side of history
Paul Keating lambastes everyone – Anthony Albanese, Penny Wong, Richard Marles, Matthew Knott and Peter Hartcher – for having a view that doesn’t align with his. Keating has never been a person who could be accused of having little ego about him. Even when a recession took place under his watch, it was given the lipstick treatment of being the recession Australia had to have.

But the most telling point to glean was that Keating would not criticise China for anything. When invited to rebuke China over the treatment of the minority Uighurs, he resorted to criticising the questioner while saying nothing substantial about the abuser. Keating, who has worked for the state-owned China Development Bank, is on the wrong side of history.
Douglas Potter, Surrey Hills

Rhetoric stands up
Tony Wright, (“Legend aims torpedoes at top guns”, 16/3), captured the delicious Keatingisms of the former PM at the National Press Club. We should not, however, let his entertainment skills blind us to the intellectual rigour of his arguments. David Livingstone’s article, (“Our submarines will be obsolete”, 16/3), in its detailed critique of the submarine announcement, parallels Keating’s. Especially in relation to technological developments in China and Turkey, for example, rendering manned submarines potentially obsolete “in hostile waters”. Not to mention the “colonial exploitation” resonances of the transfer of wealth from Australia to Britain in the new deal.
Jon McMillan, Mount Eliza

Not the same China
Paul Keating should know by now that the China he knew when in power is not the same under President Xi Jinping. China now is more aggressive, assertive, a bully and expects other countries to follow international law while it doesn’t. The illegal claim to sections of the South China Sea is a case in point.
Roger Christiansz, Wheelers Hill

Link to US comes with a catch
Approaching 79, Paul Keating is, without peer in Australia. His grasp of international affairs and lucid analysis is breathtaking. His address left no doubt as to the politicisation implicit from both sides of the political spectrum, overriding the most serious of matters – defending our continent. A (small) submarine fleet well beyond Australia’s shore is in no way a defence strategy.

The US is an important ally. Australia however does not need, nor is it wise to become an extension of their nautical expansionism. By annexing our future defence assets and our personnel to the US and the UK we also compromise our foreign policy agenda. With the French offer we could have cemented a relationship and opened the door to more co-operation with China.
Keith Brown, Southbank


The danger in deterrents
We are buying nuclear-powered Virginia-class submarines. What exactly is their strategic role? So far that is not announced. But we are told the submarines will make us safer.
In 1984, it was unannounced that Australia was going to help America test the MX missile. When that fact was uncovered, it caused so much concern to develop within the then governing ALP that prime minister Bob Hawke, while en route for his first meeting with the US president, withdrew Australia’s offer to participate.

The key concern about the MX missile was that it would be so accurate, it could destroy Soviet nuclear missiles in their silos in a first strike. This would upset the delicate balance of deterrence. If tensions rose, Russia would face the dilemma: use its vulnerable nuclear ballistic missiles or lose them. So the MX, then described as a defensive deterrent, could actually heighten the nuclear threat against us.

The proposal to buy Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarines has a familiar ring. These are fast-attack or colloquially known as hunter-killer submarines with the capacity to hunt down and destroy enemy submarines carrying nuclear ballistic missiles. But the purpose of ballistic-missile submarines is to ensure their owner has nuclear weapons available to strike back. That is the essence of nuclear deterrence.

So by threatening the second-strike deterrence capability of China (currently their Jin-class submarines), we create a greater likelihood that in a conflict, China will feel impelled to use these weapons before they lose them. And we make Australian bases and perhaps our capital cities likely targets of that first strike.
Will this acquisition, using up so much of our national financial capacity, really make us safer?
Jim Falk, Fitzroy North

Communication is key
The big gamble is whether China sees our adoption of nuclear submarines as a deterrent or a provocation. Only the future will tell, but one thing is for sure, diplomacy and communication between China and Australia must be nurtured and remain open.
Kevan Porter, Alphington

Techno warfare threat
It is both comforting and distressing to read David Livingstone’s excellent assessment of the submarines-purchase debacle (Comment, 16/3). Comforting to see a clear commonsense assessment, distressing to contemplate the fiscal effects over the next 40 years on all Australians, through the pursuit of outdated 20th century defence principles.

Given the increasing level of external interference in many of our essential technological systems lately, it should be evident that a technology state of conflict already exists – with Russia and China being key aggressors. It is called computer-system hacking. This activity will not abate in the future, rather we are likely to see further occurrences of this techno warfare. Far greater damage can be done to a nation’s infrastructure through technology than through conventional, physical war conflict.
Brian Kidd, Mt Waverley

We have choices
The costly submarine decision illustrates the maxim of economics that the higher the price of something, the larger are the number of alternatives.

Australia could have both effective new defence capabilities plus needed economic and social development programs for the price of the submarines program which – because of the long timelines – brings increasing multiple risks of obsolescence, (eg development of underwater detection systems, smart sea mines) plus budget blowouts in both costs and delivery schedules.
Australia is overreaching by trying to arm its self with defence technology adopted by world heavyweights whose economies are multiple sizes of ours.
Thomas Hogg, East Melbourne

Franking pipeline
There is no need for government programs to be cut to make way for our new subs. Remember Labor’s promise to abolish the payment of excess franking credits in 2019? Labor didn’t make the point that these are welfare payments.

In 2001, the Howard government decided to refund the tax otherwise held by the ATO back to the shareholder. The problem is that unlike the age pension, there is no assets test. At the present time, a couple owning their own home can’t get a cent of welfare via age pension if their assets exceed $935,000.

Meanwhile, a prominent businessman, named Dick Smith, will get about $230,000 this year in this other welfare paid into his superannuation account. In 2019, Smith, criticised the government for paying him anything.

I estimate the cost of paying excess franking credits is about $30 billion per annum. But I think Treasurer Jim Chalmers and the rest of Labor don’t know how to make a hard decision.
John Rome, Mt Lawley

What are we defending?
Peter Dutton suggests raiding NDIS funds to pay for submarines, while railing against a modest change to superannuation taxation to improve the budget. Anthony Albanese will not countenance foregoing stage 3 tax cuts that will predominantly benefit the most well-off. What sort of society do they think they’ll be defending?
Jenny Herbert, Metung

Don’t forget Assange
Albanese had meetings with the prime minister of Britain and the president of the United States. Apart from the discussions about submarines, which I doubt I’ll ever see in my lifetime, I’m wondering if those discussions included the fate of Australian citizen Julian Assange. I hope so, and I hope he comes home soon.
Rhonda Cox, Diamond Creek

Spare some energy
With the Australian Energy Market Operator warning of winter shortfalls, especially in gas-dependent Victoria, it is time to reduce our dependency on gas and speed up the move to electrification (“Power bills to rise by up to 30%” , 16/3). The AEMO projected a fall of
9.1 per cent in Victoria’s gas consumption by 2027, so we are moving in this direction already, but it warns that “if the rate of electrification is slower than forecast, the risk of supply gaps increases …” In the meantime, we need to stop exporters from selling our gas overseas for higher profits, instead of making it available to Australians while they need it.
Karen Lamb, Geelong

Nuclear options
It would seem that it is OK for Australia to have eight nuclear-power plants sailing at 200 metres depth in harm’s way managed by a navy with zero nuclear experience, but not OK to have terrestrial nuclear-power stations to provide zero-carbon power managed by a transparent and responsible nuclear agency in a landmass where 90 per cent is unoccupied by humanity.
I suggest the threat of climate change now outweighs any other perceived threat in 30 years when these submarines will be delivered.
Stuart Garrow, Brighton

Price penalty
I feel for single parents, low-income people and young families. Grocery prices have risen sharply over the past year while the supermarkets enjoy large profits, mortgage rates have surged, and now we learn that electricity prices will go up by about 30 per cent this year, after a big rise last year. My gas supplier has just proposed a 42 per cent price increase for this year, following a 27 per cent rise last year.

It is unlikely that the costs of producing electricity and gas in energy-rich Australia have risen significantly, so it is a puzzle why Australian energy consumers have to incur the large global price rises driven by the Ukraine war and other international factors.
Andrew Trembath, Blackburn

Offset limits
I’m all for supporting farmers to grow trees and regenerate land. There are, however, inconvenient truths hidden within Labor’s current emissions reductions via carbon offsets safeguard mechanism plan (“Carbon farming prepares for a bumper harvest”, 14/3). Emissions will not drop unless big polluting facilities reduce emissions. Purchasing unlimited offsets is a cop-out.

There is no guarantee that planted trees will survive longer term to store carbon, especially as the risk of drought and fire increases. To achieve their climate targets, instead of allowing a scramble for farmland on which to grow trees that could jeopardise small farmers, Labor’s platform must enforce absolute emissions reductions from fossil-fuel and other industries. Danish energy company Orsted transformed from fossil fuels to renewables.
Amy Hiller, Kew

Renters will pay
The “bin tax” is just another slap in the face for renters. If the rates show a separate garbage tax, this will enable the cost to be forwarded onto the renter. Some landlords already charge the water-usage levy onto users. Another win for landlords.
Lou Ferrari, Richmond

Helmets not the answer
Your correspondent (Letters, 16/3) calls for mandatory helmets for AFL and NRL. Such helmets would reduce the impact of knocks on the skull, but my experience confirms they also dramatically increase the leverage to twist and snap the neck of the wearer during falls and collisions. We may be trading concussions for broken necks.
Ralph Böhmer, St Kilda West

Same mistakes
The SBS program, Alone, has people entering into “pristine wilderness” carrying bacteria and other pathogens. It then has them destroying vegetation and killing wildlife while pretending to be, what exactly, pioneers?

It disrespects deep Indigenous pre-human Australia, and Aboriginal Australia, by harming it in the mindless way new Australians have done for the past 250 years.
Lawrence Pope, Friends of Bats & Bushcare, North Carlton

And another thing

Credit:Illustration: Matt Golding

Submarine purchase
It started at $90 billion, and now stands at $368 billion. Let’s just round the submarine deal up to $500 billion and cross our fingers.
Stewart Sweeney, Adelaide, SA

Your correspondent (Letters 16/3) suggests this might be Albanese’s “let them eat cake” moment. Yellow cake, perhaps (with a cherry on top)?
David Price, Camberwell

How is it Australia can commit to AUKUS for hundreds of billions of dollars, while a referendum is required for a Voice to parliament?
Christine O’Neill, Healesville

When Scott Morrison, George Brandis and Peter Dutton are all telling the government it’s on the right track, it’s time to head for the hills.
Jenifer Nicholls, Armadale

Paul Keating
We expect Paul Keating to amuse us as he eviscerates conservative opponents, but his criticism of Penny Wong is beyond the pale.
Greg Curtin, Blackburn South

Keating never leaves you wondering.
Paul Chivers, Box Hill North

Looks like it’s time to introduce a 2% Defence Levy to sit alongside the 2% Medicare Levy. Surely the gung-ho AUKUS proponents would see the merit in that.
Jim Spithill, Ashburton

It’s been said economists predicted seven of the past two recessions. Could it be that our military experts have a similar way of thinking?
John Groom, Bentleigh

I don’t hear Chinese criticism of the North Korean arms race.
Peter Caffin, North Ringwood

Apparently last year’s AFL result was inconclusive. I hear they’re about to repeat the entire sorry process.
Robbert Veerman, Buxton

Smirks from Cats supporters and determined glares from Pies barrackers in the supermarket. Blood pressure rising. Ah, bounce the ball!
Glenda Johnston, Queenscliff

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