Some Things are Ruled Out, Some Not

We have now experienced two meetings/summits of world leaders following the Paris terrorist attacks last Friday, one by the G20 in Turkey and one in Manila by those involved in the negotiation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement (still to be approved by the US Congress). Although there was  a general recognition at both meetings that the Islamic State constituted a powerful force and agreement that “something needs to be done” to combat it, no specific combined response was agreed, except that whatever else might be done boots on the ground are ruled out.

I still have not discovered any official communiqué of the G20 meeting. One wonders whether this might be because Putin would have insisted that it refer to his accusation that finance provided to ISIS has come from 40 western countries (one of the many failures of intelligence agencies in Europe). Turnbull’s media web includes only his so-called final statement to G20 which I have already circulated and which does not refer to the terrorism issue.

After meeting with Obama on the sidelines, however, Turnbull endorsed the no boots on the ground policy and added that it was too difficult to determine what would happen afterwards if IS was defeated. Still, air strikes by some are to be enhanced to “degrade” IS, with the French quick off the mark (but reportedly only damaging/destroying buildings but not military personnel). But what would happen if those air strikes were successful?

It appears that the answer is that there will be political negotiations that will include Russia to determine the structure of Syria. But couldn’t that happen after a full scale military win too? The reality is that Obama is not prepared to put American troops on the ground who are allowed to fight and this is contributing to the continued emigration from the Middle East to Europe. Of course, the Europeans are at fault too: even the French do not seem prepared to argue for putting military forces on the ground – perhaps because they need them at home! A report on tonight’s news indicated that Europol (a European police or intelligence force) has 28,000 people on its list of suspected terrorists and both the French and the Belgians acknowledge that they are aware of planned attacks by terrorists, with public warnings being raised to “severe”. Although Australia’s is still only “high” (according to the head of ASIO no immediate threat has been detected), such warnings are scarcely consistent with the absurd continued expressions by Turnbull of the optimistic situation we supposedly find  ourselves in.

However, the TPP meeting in Manila did issue a statement (attached), albeit one that added nothing to what has already been said. This statement was not put on Turnbull’s media web but was on Obama’s, presumably because of the difficulty he faces in getting the approval of Congress particularly in view of Clinton’s decision to oppose it in her campaign for President.

However, the response by Turnbull to a question asked at his press conference in Manila has given rise to criticism by Andrew Bolt. The full text of his comments at the press conference certainly shows that Turnbull failed to rule out the possibility of including IS in negotiating a political agreement on power sharing in Syria.

The question by the journalist was as follows Can I ask you, just on Syria Prime Minister, your call for some power-sharing there, how open are you to extending that to include some of the Sunni elements that are part of or linked to Daesh?”It is surprising that Turnbull did not immediately rule out including an element of Daesh in any such negotiation, although he did state that IS should be to degrade/defeated.

One bit of “optimism” (for terrorists) to emerge is the report that the bomb which blew up the Russian airliner over Sinai was in a can of Schweppes soft drink. If such a bomb can be readily constructed (and if the can is able to get through security), this adds potentially to the risk of terrorism.

One other “ruling out” measure is the decision by Treasurer Morrison to prevent foreign investment of $370 mn in a group of pastoral properties. It appears that a group of foreign buyers led by Chinese interests sought to make the purchase and one reason given for the ruling out is that one of the properties is located in an area surrounding the Woomera weapons testing range. Although this decision has been widely criticised, it may be that taxation grounds would justify refusal of such a large investment by Chinese. But it demonstrates that governments may need to rule out some proposals for good policy reasons. It is time for Turnbull to stop saying that nothing is necessarily ruled in or out: the electorate wants to know what government policies are not that it will “consider” anything proposed.

This policy issue may be getting closer on the GST. The Fairfax poll confirms that the electorate will not accept an increase in the GST unless there are compensatory measures  to those on low incomes. Turnbull has already said this but this still leaves the question of what might be proposed in regard to the overall burden of taxation. If the GST is raised and a considerable chunk is used to compensate those on low incomes, the overall burden of taxation (and the overall level of government spending) would increase. As John Stone has pointed out in an article published in the AFR, that is what happened when Howard introduced the GST (see attached “My AFR Article yesterday). The poll suggests that if the GST increase included tax cuts (presumably to income tax as well as compensation to low incomes, 52% would support it. But such a relatively low level of support suggests it would not be an easy task for Turnbull and that it might provide Labor with an opportunity to avoid the current problem arising from Shorten’s image of a trade unionist. Turnbull might be better advised to use the Heydon report on trade union corruption, which (contrary to media interpretations) to still leaves open the possibility that Shorten might be prosecuted.

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