4
Mar
2016

Civil Wars in Australia & America

That it has now become almost certain that Trump will win the US Republican primaries has led Romney (the winner of the last primaries) to enunciate a detailed analysis to the effect that Trump is not acceptable as the official Republican nomination for President. The author of the article detailing Romney’s analysis (Romney on Trump) claims that a significant proportion of Republicans will not vote for Trump if he is the official candidate. The author argues that there is now a “civil war” within the Republican movement about what to do. Separately, there is now some talk of starting a third party and there appears to be a provision in the US Constitution that provides for this possibility. Such a move could attract voters from each side.

There is no doubt that the uncertainty about what policies Trump supports (some unachievable) would make him a risky President on both economic and foreign policy issues. But he is in my view less risky than Obama and, while he appears to have changed his mind about US involvement in Iraq, his now apparently favourable attitude there suggests he seems more likely to adopt a more aggressive response to Islamism and adopt a more “sovereign” approach to US defence and immigration policies.

Here in Australia we are facing a similar “civil war”, albeit less aggressive so far. Tony Abbott has evidently decided that from the backbench he will seek to give more active public attention to Coalition policies. On Tuesday in the Coalition party-room meeting he argued against changes to negative gearing and called for spending cuts. The next day he was quoted in  The Australian as saying he was “flabbergasted” by the then Defence White Paper announcement that the acquisition of replacement submarines for the Collins class boats would be delayed until the early 2030s. By comparison, the confidential draft White Paper prepared when Abbott was PM, and apparently leaked to The Australian the same day, indicated that the first new sub would come in 2026-27.

Then yesterday Greg Sheridan wrote in The Australian that in an interview Abbott had correctly described the Collins sub as having  ‘a fragile capability at the best of times’ (see full article below). Sheridan himself claims that the submarine is “basically a short range sub designed for operations in the Baltic” and which is plagued by reliability problems. By contrast, Turnbull had told Parliament that Defence officials had advised that it would be very difficult to have the first of the new subs built by 2026 and that action would be taken to extend the life of all six of the Collins. TV interviews with top Defence Chiefs confirmed that in public.

I don’t know how Sheridan  got all the info in his article, or whether it is all correct. But it seems highly unlikely that a new sub could not be available well before the early 2030s ie what is needed is a decision which Turnbull and his questionable minister do not seem able to make. And it also seems that, while the present short range sub has a good combat system, it will likely be out of date by then.

A report today (Reaction to Abbott/Turnbull) indicates that Turnbull is recognising the challenge to his authority and is drawing for support on advice from Defence Chiefs and the head of the Defence Department. Whether such advice from officials is sufficient must be doubted given Sheridan’s analysis below and the time scale to the early 2030s adopted by Turnbull.

Overall, Turnbull has a big catch-up after his failure to develop and present the economic policies that he accused Abbott of failing to achieve. The Budget, due in two months time, will be of more than usual importance.

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