Federal State Relationships Conference, Aboriginal Policies, NK & Iran, Newspoll Confirms Coalition’s Dire Straits

Samuel Griffith Conference & Aboriginal Policies

Since my last Commentary I have attended the Samuel Griffith Conference held in Perth from 25-27 August, where a record attendance of about 250  heard papers on policies pursued by Federal and State governments and the respective responsibilities assumed by them (and the interpretations of the legal system) on various issues. I also took the opportunity to have a subsequent too-brief holiday with my wife, Felicity, at the highly commended Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort at Shark Bay on the west coast of WA (it operates in a protected area).

As to the Conference, without the benefit yet of most texts it is difficult to report on key issues other than to say that there seemed to be general agreement with a concluding view put (again) by former High Court judge Ian Callinan (who is President of the SG Society)) that it would be preferable to have a more limited involvement by the Federal government in matters administered by State governments. This is pertinent to the ongoing debate on energy policy, where the Federal government has adopted reduced emissions targets and endorsed the urgent need for them. Tony Abbott, who received a good reception, seemingly endorsed a less intrusive approach (in contrast with his earlier attitude) although he ranged widely and made suggestions about possible changes to the role of the Senate, which were well challenged by talented new Senator James Paterson.

An important presentation was made by John Stone on various policies and legal decisions made in regard to Aborigines, on some of the claims made on their treatment and on various proposals on possible future Federal policies which are extant. Disturbingly, there appears to be considerable agreement between the two major parties on establishing some kind of official Federal body representing Aborigines, even involving possible constitutional changes. I have previously referred to an analysis in Quadrant by Keith Windschuttle suggesting that extending some form of legality to an Aboriginal body or to legal “recognition” of them could lead to the establishment of “two Australia’s” and involve serious disruption to government and business operations. There is also little doubt in my mind that Aboriginal welfare-type bodies would continue to be unhelpful to the relatively small proportion of Aborigines who have not inter-married (about 30 per cent). Those who have married whites appear to have had life-styles similar to those whites who have inter-married.

You can read the full text of Stone’s paper, entitled The Aboriginal Question: Enough is Enough, but the gist is reflected in the following extract from his conclusions

  • Despite the countless millions of dollars showered upon our Aboriginal population over the past 50 years, there is little to show by way of improvements to the real problems in such fields as health, education, domestic violence and, above all, care for children.
  • There never was anything that could truthfully be called a “Stolen Generation”, and the only consequence of assorted politicians’ “apologies” for it has been to provide a basis for yet another demand for monetary “compensation”.
  • The recent proposal to constitutionally entrench what would become a “second house of review” alongside our Parliament is nothing less than a naked grab for power that would institute another “right to negotiate” on an even more massive scale than the existing, extremely damaging one contained in the Native Title Act 1993.
  • By the same token, the proposal for a Makarrata Commission to “supervise” treaty-making with so-called “First Nations” should be dismissed out of hand.
  • Nobody disputes that Aboriginal tribes inhabited our continent prior to European settlement. However, those nomadic Stone Age tribes never had any claim to sovereignty over what we now know as the Australian nation.
  • Trumped up claims to sovereignty, such as those contained in the recent Referendum Council report, should be flatly rejected.
  • Attempts to separate Australians into two categories – First Australians and Second Australians – should also be flatly rejected. We are all Australians.

Another presentation on Aboriginal issues, made by West Australian Chief Justice Martin in what seemed a preliminary assessment, appeared to support the view that increased government involvement is necessary. Leaving aside that it was strange that a Chief Justice seemed to be publicly favouring possible increased government activity, my discussion after the presentation with a fellow attendee produced the response that his Aboriginal wife favours a reduced government role.

North Korea & Iran: Possible US Pre-Emptive Measures

I have argued for many years that the biggest threat to mankind would be the acquisition of nuclear weaponry by a major terrorist group or a deranged head of a country and that the US intervention in Iraq against possible nuclear-armed Saddam Hussein illustrated its long-standing concern too.  The NKorean situation now indicates that Kim has established a nuclear capacity which could be more than simply a measure designed to protect NK against a possible attempt to overthrow its present government, which is the usual justification given to his policy. The problem is that it could lead to Kim’s implementation of pre-emptive nuclear destructive action against supposed threats (reportedly his father indicated the possibility of taking pre-emptive action but he did not have any nuclear capacity). There are also indications that there is an inbuilt opposition to capitalism by ruthless leaders of  countries such as NK but extending also to Islamic countries. The US is regarded as a major threat in this regard.

This raises the possibility of the US taking pre-emptive action against Kim. In the attached article on NK, Greg Sheridan says that “the Americans have had ­detailed, active, pre-emptive strike plans to hit North Korea since at least the early 1990s. In the end, every president who has considered it has decided the risks of such a move are too great. But there has always been a minority view within the Pentagon that it could conduct a limited strike on specific nuclear facilities and convince North Korea not to launch a ­suicidal, all-out war in response” (see How to Handle NK Threat). He also suggests that such action would need to be preceded by first evacuating the many American soldiers presently stationed in South Korea and Japan.

Perhaps, but that would depend on the seriousness of the situation. Today’s Australian reports a statement by US Defence Secretary, Jim Mattis, that “any threat to the United States or its territories, including Guam, or our allies will be met with a massive military response – a response both effective and overwhelming. We are not looking for the total annihilation of a country, namely North Korea, but as I said, we have many options to do so. The commitments among the allies are iron-clad”. This does not indicate that the US is seriously considering pre-emptive action, but it suggests that this possibility is one option in US thinking. So far Australia’s Turnbull has not ventured into such policies but has limited himself to censuring NK and supporting the US in general terms.

The reality is that we are now in an era where there is a serious possibility that pre-emptive action may be needed against a group or country with nuclear arms (such a possibility also existed during the Kennedy-Reagan era). In an earlier Commentary I pointed out that John Bolton, former US Ambassador to the UN, had indicated that Israel had actually taken pre-emptive action some time ago against what it regarded as an imminent threat from Syria. Bolton has now written about the  threat from Iran, which has a relationship with NK and which may have been involved in helping NK develop its nuclear capacities. Bolton argues that the agreement with Iran signed by the Obama Administration (and several other countries) should be abrogated and extensive measures should be taken by the US to inhibit Iran’s activities, including the development of its nuclear capacity. He says “this effort should be the Administration’s highest diplomatic priority, commanding all necessary time, attention, and resources. We can no longer wait to eliminate the threat posed by Iran. The Administration’s justification of its decision will demonstrate to the world that we understand the threat to our civilization; we must act and encourage others to meet their responsibilities as well” (see Bolton on Iran). As with Sheridan’s piece on NK, it is likely that the US has already constructed pre-emptive strike plans against Iran. But although such action would be premature now, it has now become a publicised component in US defence policy. The Australian government should be prepared to support such a policy.

Newspoll Confirms Coalition in Dire Straits

The Newspoll published on Monday showed an improvement in the Coalition’s TPP from 46/54 to 47/53. But the latter simply returns it to the rating it had before the 46/54 result on 21 August, and which had existed for some months before. The Australian’s  political correspondent argued that there was an improvement because the Coalition’s primary vote increased (from 35 to 37%) and because Turnbull increased his preferred PM position (from 43 to 46) and Shorten’s declined (from 33 to 29). However the decline in Turnbull’s already poor performance rating (from 35 to 34) does not suggest his continued leadership would yield a favourable election result (see Coalition Poll Back to Previous Poor Level). Indeed, Andrew Bolt argues that the Coalition’s only hope is to restore Abbott as leader (see Bolt on Abbott as Leader).

There are a number of issues that require major policy changes by the Coalition but the most important immediate one is climate/energy and the associated effects on electricity prices. A decision by a new leader of the Coalition to announce a major reduction in the emissions reduction target  of 26-28 per cent by 2030, accompanied by an urgent review of climate policy which included at least equal experts who are known sceptics, would be an initiative that could start an improvement in the Coalition’s polling.

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