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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.

Watching Those Who Are Not Whale Watchers

The overnight boarding of a Japanese whaling support ship and subsequent detention of the people involved has again raised the question of the legitimacy and political/policy sense of having a vessel patrolling those waters during the whaling season.This morning the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott reiterated a call for a customs boat to be policing the area when the whaling season is in force. This was met with a rare show of support for the position from the Australian Greens through their leader Bob Brown.The Government rejected the idea outright with Nicola Roxon labelling the idea as pure “chest-beating”. Ms Roxon affirmed that the Australian Government would continue to proceed in a diplomatic manner on both the specific and broader issues.

The use of an Australian customs vessel or the like, can be done in a sensible way, but there are some specific things any expedition of this kind must keep in mind.

Firstly, before any voyage of an Australian vessel into Antarctic waters during the whaling season, the Australian Government must make it abundantly clear to all, including participants from both sides and the Japanese Government that we do not support the horrific slaughter of some of our most endangered creatures. It must also be made clear to all participants that the Government does not condone the cowboy actions of a select few activists that think vigilantism is the way.

So here is how such a patrol could work…

An Australian Customs vessel or similar would make its way into the area ahead of the commencement of the whaling season, preferably and if possible, prior to the arrival of the Japanese fleet.

Any Australian Government vessel proceeding to, or once in the whaling zone must not be seen to be “baby-sitting” the anti-whaling fleet. Communication between the Sea Shepherd group and others should be kept to a minimum whilst in the area.

Where possible any deliberate acts of sabotage from either side should be policed and dealt with appropriately.

There is no denying that such a move is difficult for the reasons discussed, but is not impossible and certainly not unworkable even if it causes a little diplomatic pain. However, in my view, the diplomatic grievance would be much larger from the ICJ case.

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