The Plebiscite & Marriage Equality. October 2016-2

Australian Politician?
This Promise will win Votes

PREAMBLE  It must be rare in the annals of democracy that a political elite abrogates its right to govern the people. With those with whom I have discussed the plebiscite issue this constitutes a serious dereliction of parliamentary responsibility.

BACKGROUND  It appears likely the plebiscite was intended to protect Liberal party figures from a public affirmation of their faith and/or their opposition to marriage equality. The trumpeted upside was the  ‘people’ would decide. For a minority of Liberal conservatives the plebiscite would remove the embarrassment of a parliamentary debate and the possibility, that like the Disciple Peter, they would dishonour their faith before the ‘cock crowed twice’. (The Drum, 28January 2016)

Within the Australian electorate there is majority support for marriage reform as illustrated by a survey that showed Coalition 58%, Labor79% and Greens 97%. (SMH, 3 July 2016) Quoting this majority opinion the Australian Marriage Council has excoriated the plan to spend $160 million on a  plebiscite. In view of these survey results, it is inexplicable why a rump of Liberal parliamentarians oppose a parliamentary vote unless it is by reason of their faith or conservative dogma to the detriment of sectarian democracy.

BROKEN PROMISES  Much has been made by Government Ministers that an election promise of the Liberal party was a plebiscite. Honour is all unless there is a darker reason.

Below is an incomplete list of broken promises or identified untruthful statements attributed to Liberal party spokespersons since 2013. These are:–no cuts to disability pensions, monitoring Indigenous school attendance, no deals with the Greens to raise debt ceiling, funding cuts to ABC and SBS, no subsidies to coal or agriculture industries, cancellation of whaling/customs vessel, funding  to NGOs, tow back of asylum boats, ensuring open and accountable government and the list goes on. (Alan Austin, Independent Australia, 8 February 2016)

A recent broken promise and an example of smoke and mirrors are:– (The Australian, 9 May 2016)

  • changes to superannuation arrangements
  • a dissimulation to the South Australian electorate on submarine construction. Until 2019 at the earliest work will only involve design and planning not construction jobs.

There must be something special about this promise for a plebiscite. Either there is a desire to keep faith with the electorate – unlikely, review the above – or, the Australian people are witnessing a small number of conservative Liberal party members absolve themselves of their parliamentary responsibility because of faith in an imagined reality and/or dogma. Many of the above broken promises involve budget constraints or electoral ‘pork barreling’, strangely despite the worsening national debt, there is no desire to cancel an unnecessary $160 million plebiscite expenditure, admittedly only an incremental amount in the overall national debt.  This is not helping the trend in the light of a recent  warning by the Credit Rating Agency, Standard and Poor, who have placed Australia on a downgrade watch. (AFR, 7 July 2016)

REQUIEM  Australia aspires to be a modern open secular democracy. By not permitting a parliamentary debate and jeopardising the AAA credit rating, is it possible the religious inhibitions of a few are being forced onto the many?

Are we worthy of the anthem?



The South China Sea & Australia. October 2016-1

Piracy on the South China Sea
Piracy on the South China Sea
China in the South China Sea
China basking in the South China Sea

Times they are a-changing.

The rapprochement (October 2016) between the Philippines President Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping, if consummated, will have immense ramifications. The apparent lack of resolve by the United States and Australia to curtail China’s creeping hegemony in the South China Sea may not be unrelated to Duterte’s decision.

In mid-October, the Australian Government (quietly) confirmed that the Australian navy will not conduct ‘freedom of navigation’ patrols within twelve miles of disputed territory. This policy was decided despite the findings of the International Tribunal (July 2016) that China is in violation of international law and, significantly, that 60% of Australian trade transits this waterway. Foreign Minister Bishop has declared that naval patrols in territory illegally claimed by China would ‘escalate tension’. (Wall Street Journal, 17 October 2016)

The reported attempt to de-escalate tension is at odds with a quote by Foreign Minister Bishop to the effect that ‘Australia will continue to exercise its international rights to Freedom of Navigation and Overflight. (Sky News Australia, 13 July 2016)

Chinese Whispers

Chinese officials and Chinese media have not been oblique in their warning  that Australia must ‘carefully talk and cautiously behave’. Does this constitute a threat to trade with China? The Chinese Global Times has warned ‘If Australia enters the South China Sea——-it will become a target for China to warn and strike. (Wall Street Journal, 17 October 2016)

Sitting on the Fence or not

The Australian dilemma has, in part, been created by the Obama Administration which is reported to have authorised only three naval patrols defined in appeasing jargon as one of ‘innocent passage’.

Since assuming office in early 2016, President Duterte must have been a bemused observer to the absence of strong pushback by the United States armed forces as Chinese hegemony cemented itself into the South China Sea.

With China an unchallenged rising power apparently facing down a ‘global power’,  President Duterte appears to have jumped off the fence to ‘change horses in mid-stream’. China’s difficult financial state and its inferior military power compared to America has apparently not deterred the President.

Pivot to Asia

Recent historical events prior to the Philippines closer ties with China, are germane to this situation. In 2015, the United States provided the Philippines Government with $80 million to upgrade military hardware. Early in 2016, the Philippine Supreme Court, under a ten year agreement, granted America leave to upgrade and construct military bases.. (Military Times, March 2016) It was agreed the work would proceed at a slow rate in order not to antagonise the Chinese. (New York Times, January 2015)

President Duterte agreed to the construction of five army and airforce bases, one sited close to Manila and not far distant from the contested Spratley Islands. In a recent development  (September 2016) President Duterte now requires American forces to withdraw from the Islamic southern Philippines and ?cancel construction of a proposed airforce base.

Through a Glass Darkly 

There are serious implications should a China-Philippine union be consummated. The American Administration fears a domino effect and that other Asian nations might follow suit perceiving a safer future with the Chinese dragon rather than with the American pivot. The concept of US military bases in the Philippines could become untenable. There would be an impact on the ANZUS Alliance. Depending on any domino effect, there could be a problem for Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations.

Thinking ahead, the US Chief of Navy Operations, Admiral Greenert, in Canberra, indicated America is considering a naval base in Australia. No doubt ADF plans to construct a $125 million logistics facility in Darwin will reinforce US navy aspirations. Would Darwin port become a sophisticated Chinese listening post? (ABC News.February 2015)

In summary, geopolitical trends in the South China Sea have been unidirectional for more than a decade. Only a major intervention can now change the course of future history.