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Marines in Australia Not Just Good For Our Australia-US Relations

Last night the first 200 of what will eventually totally 2500 US Marines arrived in Australia amid mass media attention in the dead of night, backpacks on, firearms strapped to their bodies ready to undertake ongoing joint exercises with their Darwin based Australian counterparts at Robertson Barracks. The first Marine deployment was welcomed at the airport by the Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, the Minister for Defence Science and  Personnel Warren Snowdon, the US Ambassador to Australia, Jeffrey Bleich and Australian Defence Force brass and other personnel.

Australia and the United States have enjoyed a particularly good relationship since the signing of the ANZUS Treaty in 1951, of which our southern ocean neighbour, New Zealand is also a part. That agreement was struck in the decade after World War Two where the US fought closely with Australians, including in the northern part of our territory.

This latest announcement and the now commenced deployment will only further that defence and broader bilateral relationship between our two nations as we head toward that much talked about “Asian Century” where greater US involvement in the security and economic activity of the nation is a necessity both for America herself and for the region.

The early days after the announcement brought some public disquiet from China, a nation firmly on the economic and military build-up march toward a modern economic superpower, uncertain just what it may mean for the peaceful bolstering of the military in China that any nation expanding rapidly would see as a necessity and a reality.

Our good friends of late in our region, Indonesia also took to looking at the deal with some scepticism and worry with what a greater US focus in the region may mean for it and those other nations around it.

Yet so far both those nations have been quiet in their commentary on the move as it has begun to proceed to the actual deployment stage of troops which has now begun, with crickets now for some time, even now the talk of the plan has proceeded to action.

This seems to indicate that initial fears have now been quelled by some quiet diplomacy between all the parties, recognising that the move should not be seen as a threat the the economic advancement of any nation.

Back home though, the now commenced US troop deployment will bring Australia another benefit outside of the security and bilateral relationship that such a project fosters and helps build further. This deployment of eventually 2500 US Marines will mean great economic benefits for the Northern Territory, in particular, Darwin.

On one count it will be great for the local small  and large businesses around the base where the troops will spend their deployment, with a steady additional income stream of significant numbers now available from a captive audience of troops who will frequent local businesses when recreation time permits.

Not only that, but tourism businesses around the Northern Territory and even those in broader Australia will benefit from the substantial tourist dollars that two and a half thousand troops will bring. US troops, will surely want to visit crocodile farms, wildlife parks and even enjoy the substantial fishing opportunities that exist in the Northern Territory.

The deployment has begun and the complaints seem to have died down markedly to basically non-existent. Now all that is left is for the Australian and United States governments to enjoy the greater cooperation between our two nations and the economic and security benefits that brings. Far and above that, the immense economic benefits should not be ignored and should be celebrated along with the other equally important benefits.

Question Time Ahead of Time

It’s Wednesday and that means only two more days of the parliamentary sitting week lie ahead for our federal politicians in Canberra jockeying for momentum going into the May budget. Question Time is likely to be a loud, argumentative and at times farcical affair. Many eyes will be on the Senate where the new Minister for Foreign Affairs, sworn in as a Senator and Minister yesterday will face his first Question Time in the role.

The Opposition without any shadow of a doubt will continue to focus their Question Time efforts on pursuing the Labor Government over its carbon tax and Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT) which has a parliamentary report handed down today.

While the Fair Work Australia investigation into Craig Thomson still proceeds at snail pace, it can certainly be expected that there will be a question or two aimed at the Gillard Government over the issue.

The fallout from the Skype sex scandal in the Australian Defence Force may also get an airing in Question Time from the Opposition as it did yesterday in relations to comments from Major General John Cantwell.

Equally predictable is the government focus of their backbencher questions to Ministers, also colloquially known as the “Dorothy Dixer” or “Dorothy Dix”. Again these questions will likely focus on the economy through the spending related to the MRRT windfall as well as other spending allocations made by Prime Minister Gillard and her government.

In the Senate, the new Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bob Carr will draw the most focus from interested observers, though not face the most questions as both the government and the Opposition are set to pursue different lines of inquiry. The new Foreign Minister is likely to get a question from his own side, but may also get a question or two related to the Defence Minister from the Coalition in the prism of overseas operations.

There is also a distinct possibility that the Coalition will attempt to suspend Standing Orders in an attempt to challenge the Government after not answering questions though that seems less likely than in recent days because of the exhaustion of content on that front.

Yesterday Question Time in the House of Representatives was quite feisty and resulted in a handful of ejections for one hour under Standing Order 94a, one of those being a Government MP. Two Ministers were also sat down for straying out of the ballpark of relevance in their answers and that is a positive development. So be watching today at 2pm AEDT where the drama that is the play called Question Time looks set to continue with loud interjections, irrelevant answers and plenty of name-calling.

The Sunday Sandwich (That’s a Wrap)

Previous weeks in Australian politics certainly could not be topped, especially against political events in recent decades, but that doesn’t mean that this non sitting week of political debate was dull and boring, it had political debate and action that has been a not unfamiliar feature of this minority government.

The week in Australian politics contained two main events and the wash-up from both provided the most debate during this parliament free period before Canberra is back with a vengeance on Tuesday. They were the release of reports, redacted, some not at all into the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) and ADF culture as a whole and the announcement by Tony Abbott that an incoming Coalition government would hold an audit of all government spending save for the promises that have been made by the current Opposition.

By far the biggest debate was spawned from the details coming out of reviews into defence force culture and the so-called ADFA Skype sex scandal which has landed cadets in court.

The commandant of the ADFA, Commodore Bruce Kafer was stood aside in response to allegations made against him after the allegations of the Skype affair came to light. At the time, Defence Minister Stephen Smith made scathing comments about Kafer’s alleged conduct at the time and one of the reviews released findings this week which cleared commandant Kafer of the allegations, triggering calls for Stephen Smith to apologise, even step aside.

Mr Smith of course did neither, fully standing by his comments and this sent the media into a frenzy, quickly forming into the apologise and/or step aside and the good on ya mate, keep it up camps. Either way it appears that there are divisions between the Defence Force and the Department and its Minister, but this is n0thing new in Defence.

One of the reviews also identified nearly 800 “plausible” allegations of misconduct of varying degrees of illegality and recommended setting up an independent body to investigate the allegations, dating back to the 1950s in a thorough manner. It also recommended the use of compensation and even an official apology from the government to those aggrieved by wrongs committed against them in the Australian Defence Force.

Also this week, Tony Abbott the Leader of the Opposition gave a speech to the Victorian Employers’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry in which he outlined some of the priorities of an incoming Coalition Government. In this speech Mr Abbott also announced that, if elected, his government would introduce an audit review committee of all government business, save for the priorities of the incoming administration. This announcement came at the end of the political week but did not fail to elicit a response from various quarters in the ALP Government and even the public sector union over the weekend.

Parliament resumes next week and the Gillard Government looks set to continue focusing their efforts on trying against almost all hope to sell a message based on the economy and its relative strength compared to other nations, particularly the US and Europe as the May budget draws near. This has been something that the government has failed to do since the overthrow of Kevin Rudd, combined with the continued deficits and further taxation.

The Opposition are likely to focus on the economy as a whole too, through the prism of the carbon tax and the mining tax and the perceived effects of such policies on the economy and the people. The Craig Thomson saga is also likely to get a look-in, remaining unsolved as it is to date.

It’s not going to be the biggest of weeks ahead as far as political noise goes, but it certainly will not be among the quietest and the return of Question Time we have to thank for that.

ADFA, No Scapegoat There, This Time…

The Gillard Government, via its Defence Minister, Stephen Smith has announced, albeit in an abbreviated fashion, the findings of no less than 6 separate inquiries into Defence Force culture in the wake of the so-called “Skype sex scandal” which saw a young female Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) cadet filmed in the act of intercourse. This disgraceful act was then transmitted to other ADFA candidates via webcam on Skype. This event triggered the series of committees and inquiries which reported today.

A number of complaints came to light in the wake of the announcement of this serious of inquiries, showing that the Defence Force has much work to do to stamp out inappropriate acts and indeed the event which precipitated the flood of reviews into the Defence Force became subject of a criminal inquiry which is ongoing.

The findings of the reports, including the DLA Piper Review will see further investigation into what the Secretary of the Defence Department  Duncan Lewis called “plausible allegations” arising out of the initial examination of near to 800 complaints brought to the notice of the Review. These investigations date back to allegations of inappropriate behaviour as far back as the mid 1900’s and may well see a stream of criminal cases brought in the future.

A new body has been recommended by DLA Piper to investigate the claims along with a possibility of an apology to complainants and even compensation floated as potentially appropriate methods of rectification. Surely though, allegations of significant veracity should be referred directly to an independent investigative body like the police, not some body, no matter how “independent” set up by the Australian Defence Force. Yes, many cases may fall outside the statute of limitations and they should be dealt with in a swift and appropriate manner but where possible, all suspected criminal behaviour should be a matter for the police.

In the wake of the events which brought all this action into being, the Commodore of the ADFA was stood down pending an investigation into the propriety of his actions following the grievous incident involving the female cadet. This inquiry found that Commodore Bruce Kafer had no case to answer for his actions.

So there is to be no immediate scapegoat for the terribly damaging events that have occurred within the Defence Force and particularly the ADFA in this case. The Commodore who was in the position of highest authority will escape punishment for overseeing and not being able to identify and respond to what is a sick culture within areas of the Defence Force at the very least.

It remains to be seen whether any one individual or series thereof will be held responsible for events involving ADFA or those who have allowed the culture in the wider ADF to continue will be made to be responsible for their dereliction of duty. This certainly differs from previous practice in government where someone, usually of relatively high office is made a scapegoat, a smokescreen to distract from broader action which can be politically painful, but hey, we may have another apology or a further review and don’t we just love those…

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