We all live in a Yellow (Peril) submarine, yellow peril submarine, yellow peril submarine … All our friends are all on board, everyone of us lives next door…”
Up periscope. What’s that smoke on the water, that oily miasma, that stench over the wreck of The Sandgroper? Why, it’s Top Secret Morrison, world’s most furtive PM, slyly offering us a preview of his rotten-to-the-core federal mis-government’s new campaign ditty. Yellow (Peril) Submarine.
Submarine’s a winner with its Sinophobic top notes and sublime harmonies from Smokin’ Joe Biden and the Neocons on backup. Above all, it ensures we talk about boats, war and the fantasy of being allowed into our imperial master’s top secret nuclear stuff. Why, we’re practically a nuclear power, now. We’ll completely overlook Christian Porter’s blind trust or how JobKeeper boosted millionaires’ profits. Or that ScoMo™ forgot to buy vaccines and organise quarantine. Nor must we pay heed to reports of NSW paramedics at breaking point.
Forget Crosby Textor’s legendary dead moggy on the table distraction tactic, Morrison tells Emmanuel Macron that our deal with French government-owned, Naval Group to buy a dozen ludicrously overpriced, underwater boats is dead in the water. We’ve sunk over two billion dollars, into a ninety billion project – a total of $300 billion over its lifetime, before we even see a shortfin-Barracuda Block 1A-based diesel-electric submarine, let alone discover its computer system is a sealed US module to which we will be denied access.
There’ll be break fees to pay as well but, heck, Washington is offering nuclear and a new defence pact called AUKUS, an acronym that sounds like Orcus, the hairy, bearded Etruscan and Roman god of broken oaths, whose mother Eris, Greek goddess of strife, is called Discordia. Someone is having a laugh at Macron. And Morrison. The French seem a bit upset. Recall ambassadors from Canberra and Washington.
‘Maybe we’re not friends,’ ambassador, Jean-Pierre Thebault reflects in the press as he leaves. Morrison ‘kept us in the dark intentionally’. Feeling betrayed, “stabbed in the back”; screwed by Australia will ensure France, which takes over the rotating EU presidency in January 2022, goes out of its way to help our efforts to forge a new EU-AUS trade deal.
Little wonder Morrison wants the trade deal done and dusted done by December. Or is even our Prime Motormouth all talked out? There’s already been eleven rounds of Brussels’ sprouts.
France has a strong track record of voicing an open hostility which blocks trade deals. Under Francoise Hollande, Paris sank the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership talks with Washington in 2016. Macron has already made clear his implacable opposition to the Mercosur agreement with South American countries.
Let’s not be fooled by the free trade slogans. Australia needs France’s support for the European Commission to grant Australian farmers preferential market access for their beef and dairy products. It was always going to be challenging, unlike the recent UK trade deal, writes the AFR’s Jennifer Hewett.
Luckily, we have Dan Tehan blending a whiff of the Wannon wool-shed with his cosmopolitan savoir faire, sparkling wit and spell-binding oratory applying all his well-honed talents as Trade Minister to dispel the well-deserved scepticism of the French.
The Middle Kingdom is also miffed. China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, claims with a poker face, that the agreement ‘seriously undermines regional peace and stability and intensifies the arms race’. It’s a theme that’s echoed by Malaysia and Indonesia whose concerns mirror Beijing’s. China’s state media warns Australia that it is now an “adversary” of China and should “prepare for the worst.”
Malaysia’s PM, Ismail Sabri Yaakob, phones Morrison to warn that the US-Australian deal could lead to a nuclear arms race in the region. Friday, Indonesia foreign affairs spokesman, Teuku Faizasyah, says Jakarta notes Australia’s decision to acquire nuclear-powered submarines and stresses “Indonesia is deeply concerned over the continuing arms race and power projection in the region”.
Seriously? Buying eight subs, each past their use-by date which we can’t possibly crew nor refuel and won’t be allowed to service starts a race? Much stock is placed in promises that these are sealed units which run for thirty years before being returned unopened to their maker. No mention is made of servicing. Nor price.
We’ve had this sort of deal before when we fell in love with the F-35, aka “the flying brick”, with no tender process and less evaluation whose problems are so enduring that the USAF gives them another nine years before they will be unable to penetrate defended airspace past 2030. We’ll get seven years out of the last nine to be delivered in 2023. Provided we modernise them. Yet we’re not allowed access to their top secret antique software.
By Tuesday, writes The Guardian’s Amy Remeikis, EU Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, demands Australia explain its conduct in defence of EU member state France. Account for its actions? That would be novel.
Secretive Scotty doesn’t ease the tension by blabbing to Macron that he and the US hatched their plot to abandon Naval Group’s contract a good eighteen months ago but he had to keep shtum, because, you know, Trump. It’s been no secret, he and Dutton add, that we were unhappy with a deal fraught with cost overruns and delays.
Naval Group’s relationship with Defence is fraught. Progress is expensive and slow. It’s clear that the project is designed to benefit the French taxpayer. Even Peter Dutton fears we’re being boondoggled. Spud demands costs and schedules which Naval Group complains are based on ScoMo’s political agenda. Naval Group sulks. Suspects, correctly, ScoMo’s team of bull-shitters is stringing them along – if the PM’s latest story is true.
Barely a month ago, Dutton teaming with equally dynamic Foreign Minister Marise Payne, hold the “Inaugural Australia-France 2+2 Ministerial Consultations” with their French counterparts, notes Press Gallery doyenne, Michelle Grattan. Under “bilateral cooperation”, in the official communique, is a coded kiss of death:
“Ministers underlined the importance of the Future Submarine program”.
Abbott had the right idea in February 2015 but dropped the ball. Buy Soryu subs off the peg from the Japanese. Our navy’s Nippon clip-on would be quick and cheap as chips. Japan’s deal offered a dozen Soryu Class submarines for $20 billion with home delivery. The first two ships would arrive here 18 months after contract signing.
One a year would then roll off a mature assembly line.
Part of the stunt, then as now in ScoMo’s sudden, steep, deep, plunge into underwater matters is to distract a scurvy, mutinous, Liberal crew, sharpening their back-stabbers.
The budgie-smuggler snuggles up to the hawkish Shinzo Abe, whose legacy is his “reinterpretation” of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, a clause inserted by the US to restrict Japan’s militarisation. Abe’s take, made law in 2015, is to claim the land of cherry blossom is permitted to come to the defence of an ally, a form of words that could get nation into all sorts of strife and not only over its ally, Taiwan.
Japan hates the change. It is the biggest and least popular single shift in the country’s security policy since 1945. It trashes a mainstay of Yoshida’s security policy set up in the early 1950s and permits Japan to be dragged willy-nilly into a range of conflicts, such as on the Korean peninsula, over Taiwan, or in the South China Sea.
Abe, the ultimate princeling of Japanese politics – whose total charisma bypass was not the only cause of his personal approval sinking even lower than Abbo at the time – was sure that the Aussie contract would go to Japan. Abbo led him on.
A nod and that notorious wink over an Ashahi Super-dry? It mattered not a jot that the Japanese sub was as unlike our own clapped out Collins class as possible; nor was the budgie-smuggler deterred by the fact that the Japanese had never built a sub out of Japan, let alone work to a Down-Under local content requirement.
Alas, as with Morrison, Abbott was sunk already. Not the sub, nor adding extra flags to every presser could revive his ever-tenuous grip on the leadership nor morale amongst Team Australia, which after the brush with the empty chair was flagging badly.
It’s a simple but familiar story. Abbo’s leadership is on the rocks. He succumbs to pressure from SA Liberals. Switches to a competitive tender process which would “give Australian suppliers a fair go”. Sayonara, Soryu. Enter DCNS, Naval Group, whose sole commendation is their promise they can build something in SA. As with his party’s current incumbent, Scott Morrison, whose incompetence blends hidebound indifference and brutish cruelty with dud judgement, buying submarines is all about the politics; buying mates and seats when you know your own career is taking a deep dive.
But our fetish for subs is itself a big worry. For the last thirty years at least, we’ve created a cargo cult that submarines would fix all our underwater woes. Down under, upside down at the arse end of the world, if submarines are the answer, you are asking the wrong question. A sub is meant to supplement a navy. We don’t have one. Instead, we have three destroyers and eight frigates. The rest are coastal craft.
Submarines are also rapidly becoming easier to spot as detection technology develops, with Moore’s Law. Little point in hiding underwater, if your enemy can see you clearly. Or hear you. Two years ago a whistle-blower accused shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls of falsifying quality tests on the stealth coating of Virginia Class attack submarines, thus “knowingly and/or recklessly” putting “American lives at risk,” reports Forbes Magazine.
The Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) warns, “Recent advances in commercial tools and technologies now give open-source researchers some ability to monitor submarine fleets. With commercial satellite imagery, synthetic aperture radar (SAR), hydro-acoustic sensors, and even social media analysis, open-source researchers can better understand the size and composition of countries’ submarine fleets, monitor construction of submarines and submarine bases, and potentially learn about patrol patterns and behaviours.”
Risk doesn’t enter ScoMo’s calculations. For Abbott, too, it was time to rally round the flag – a long seven months after his epic 61-39 triumph over an empty chair in the Liberal Party’s glorious leadership spill of March 2015, to run another submarine up the flagpole.
With two deals dead in the water, a third conning tower in as many decades, looms on the horizon, a nuclear powered sub which ScoMo and his claque of corporate media spin into Australia being promoted to the US nuclear club. Of course it’s no such thing. Scotty runs up the white flag on our national sovereignty.
Paul Keating calls Morrison on his betrayal. Morrison is “shopping” Australia’s sovereignty by “locking the country and its military forces into the force structure of the United States” under the guise of a nuclear submarine deal. “It takes a monster level of incompetence to forfeit military control of one’s own state”, he says, “but this is what Scott Morrison and his government have managed to do.”
It began so well, too. After knifing Abbott, Turnbull was all for helping Pyne save his seat. Location was all he appears to have considered. Fizza’s deal was decided entirely on an assurance that the build would take place in ASC’s South Australian workshop -despite former defence minister David Johnston saying he wouldn’t trust ASC to build a canoe, an opinion he courageously later tried to walk back as a “rhetorical flourish”.
The project is as deeply flawed as Turnbull’s NBN. French contractors, Naval Group struggle to re-jig a nuclear sub to run on diesel. It’s an absurd task which ‘dumbed down a nuclear submarine by removing the whole basis of its superior capability, and then charging at least twice as much for a far less capable submarine,’ Submarines for Australia’s, the late Gary Johnston pointed out.
Little wonder that Morrison wanted out. Even less wonder that he has no idea of the right way of going about it. He might, for example, have told the French before the media. He could, experts argue, have invited Naval Group to tender for a nuclear-powered option. Instead, he just blows his bags. Let the cheese-eating surrender monkeys chuck their hissy fit. They’ll get over it.
His attitude is similar to his inability to read the room and his total disrespect for his audience that led him to promote himself as keynote speaker at the Australian Women’s Safety Summit.
The carnival barker and big-noter in our PM squawks AUKUS™ into being. It’s a one-stop shop for self-promotion. Not only will get nuclear subs, we’ll be let into the Pentagon clubhouse. Phrases such as “game-changer” are bandied about. The only big change, however, is that France is no longer a key player in the Pacific playground.
AUKUS is an artful, orchestrated mutual self deception. On the surface, it is a sort of troika of former big, white boss cockies now past their prime and ourselves, two and a half musketeers; fearless, gung-ho despite the loss of a few feathers, territories and the wit to govern themselves effectively, if at all. Boris just wants a US trade deal.
Below the surface, (pressure increases as a submarine dives), AUKUS is a surrender to US plans to draft “that fella from down under” as Joe Biden calls Morrison – and his government into its new Indo-Pacific rules-based order. In reality, this will mean lurking in the South China Sea, playing tag-along in America’s new cold war with China.
It’s a Bo-Jo-ScoMo come to Joe moment; a scalene security triangle. What could possibly go wrong?
No-one has seen the AUKUS treaty, if it exists at all, binding our marriage of convenience but it’s a thoroughly postmodern agreement, not so much “all for one and one for all” but a type of meshing and integration and other fabulous, neoliberal newspeak for following orders – which, as Crikey’s Guy Rundle notes – presume the abolition of the sovereign nation state, or, at least divorce its backbone from its central nervous system.
As the breathless leaders’ statement on it indicates, this is about the meshing and integration of high-tech development and deployment (robots, pilotless air- and sea-craft, cyber warfare, space warfare) in such a way that de facto materially abolishes the nation-state command division altogether. Questions of command that arise for olde-worlde forces like crewed submarines are the least of it.
What AUKUS is, may be as opaque as the Nicene Creed, although we can be certain that it’s not just about Australia getting eight, obsolete US Virginia class nuclear submarines, some time in the 2040s. Delivery is the least of our worries. We won’t be able to crew, refuel or even afford to purchase the 10,000 ton monsters. Not that the subs are the point of AWKUS at all. It’s all about another coalition of the willing lining up behind Washington.
What AUKUS does is easier to discern. First, it recruits Australia to play gooseberry on the USA’s next big military misadventure; cruising the South China Sea. Poking the panda. BYO sub supplied by our sponsor at whatever cost – Morrison has said you just can’t put a figure on it. We’ve increased our defence spending to two per cent of GDP, he notes (thanks to hairy-chested Tony Abbott randomly plucking a figure out of thin air). We could build on that, the PM is certain. That’s the nature of the modern world, he says, airily, as if that settles the matter. Imagine if a Labor PM tried that.
Nothing unites a nation of states, territories and 4,600 islands excised from the map for immigration purposes, by John Howard in 2005, as much as a common foe. Rocked by revelations of the perfidy of the giant Panda’s plans for world domination – not to mention slapping tariffs with abandon on our wine, barley and iron ore amongst other commodities we are forced to export to China, since we killed off most of our local manufacturing, a nation thrills to the derring-do detailed in our corporate media, led by another of our crude exports, war-monger Rupert Murdoch. Who can forget The Sun‘s “STICK IT UP YOUR JUNTA” a Falklands War which put the rag on the map.
Always a class act, The Sun reverted to soft porn during the dull bit of a completely pointless war over a barren group of islands in the South Atlantic.
Ships were taking days to get anywhere near any shooting. ‘THE SUN SAYS KNICKERS TO ARGENTINA!’ featured pictures of semi-naked young women ‘sporting specially made underwear embroidered across the front with the proud name of the ship on which a husband or boyfriend is serving’.
Expect similar in our coming war with China already being talked up as if it were some reality game show. The shadow of the panda almost obscures the spectacle of the rapidly sinking Sandgroper, a merchant of fortune, whose skipper, Christian (son of Chilla) Porter, barely treads water. Around his neck is a giant canvas version of a St Bernard’s rescue dog’s barrel of brandy, a buoyancy device fashioned from a chaff bag stuffed with a million dollars in cash by a mysterious but recklessly benevolent Blind Trust whose names must never be spoken.
Porter’s heroic efforts on shark-infested waters elicit a disturbingly show of support from Matt Canavan, teary Stu Robert and colossus of incompetence, acting PM Barnaby Joyce, but no-one is fooled. Crikey’s Bernard Keane sums up the former Attorney General’s utter lack of judgement, despite all his legal and political experience.
“He believes it’s appropriate to remain a minister while unresolved allegations of historic sexual assault — vehemently denied — remain over him. He believed it was appropriate to pursue the ABC for defamation despite it never naming him in relation to the allegations. He believed it was a good idea to engage a conflicted lawyer on his team. And when his lawyer was knocked out and his case ran into the sand — fancy a defamation case that doesn’t win in Australia! — he cut bait and settled for his costs being covered, insisting at a media conference that he’d inflicted a major defeat on the ABC. Into the bargain, he wanted the ABC’s defence locked in the vault.”
For his latest trick, the blind trust which he cannot name has sprung a million dollars to cover his legal costs. Morrison gives him an ultimatum, according to his backgrounders, while claiming that the equivalent – as Turnbull puts it – of receiving a chaff bag stuffed with cash somehow poses complex ethical issues that only his man-servant, The Butler, (ring a bell and the fix appears) Phil Gaetjens can run his fine legal mind over it. Sparing us any delay, and Gaetjens is the master of delay, Porter resigns from cabinet.
“The relatively benign environment we have enjoyed in many decades in our region is behind us,” Scott Morrison declares with his typical rapier-like wit and word-salad. His way with words puts him head and shoulders above his peers, especially his deputy PM “barking” Barnaby Joyce whom he leaves in charge as The Shark guns down the runway on another OS junket.
“It was only a few weeks ago that a generation-long war in Afghanistan came to an end,” Alison Broinowski of the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network, says in a statement shared prior to the first squawk of AUKUS.
“Instead of reflecting on the pointlessness and horror of U.S. militarism, Australia and the U.S. are already talking about their next military adventure.”
AUKUS sounds like the squawk of a seabird, the alarm cry, perhaps, of an albatross as it pitches into a stiff wind off a sheer cliff, but it also spells the end of another rare bird; our national sovereignty – born of decades of nuanced diplomacy from Canberra, balancing our relationship, with China, our biggest trading partner with our biggest ally, the US, to whom we now truckle with increasingly shameless, fawning, servility.
Emotionally illiterate and a moral and intellectual minnow among the sharks, Scott Morrison is happy to trash anything he believes will get him an advantage in the November election. His government’s latest debacle, however, is a humdinger.
Morrison’s de facto declaration of cold war on China can only further damage the nation’s relationship with its biggest trading partner, while his break-up by press announcement with France over the epic absurdity of its romance of the retro-fitted diesel nuclear submarine can only help destroy his credibility and that of his government even further. Above all, AWKUS sees an alarming retreat in Australia’s foreign policy from an independent nation with pretensions to being a middle power, to a vassal of the United States, not a deputy sheriff but an indentured servant.