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Remember Daniel Ellsberg, author of The Pentagon PapersPeter Hannan, Environment Editor at the Sydney Morning Herald has written a review of his new book The DoomsDay Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner. Ellsberg recounts the occasions during the Cold War when the world came close to a catastrophic all-out nuclear war, triggered not by politicians but by technical errors and misinterpreted signals. Attention has been focussed on North Korea, but there are at least seven other states with nuclear weapon capability – France, India, Pakistan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Writing in the New Yorker, John Cassidy compares Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminium with the 1930 Smoot-Hawley Act, a misguided protectionist policy that contributed to rounds of retaliatory actions by other nations, aggravating the damage of Depression, and in turn contributing to the tensions that led to the 1937-1945 War.

“The term ‘sovereign risk’ is the kind of econobabble bullshit that is destroying public debate” writes Richard Denniss in the Fairfax media. In trying to stymie economic reform, powerful interest groups put up the bogey of  ‘sovereign risk’ as an argument to preserve their privilege.

Trump’s new Secretary of State has received most money from Koch Industries – RenewEconomy

Trump and Abe: Golf and Gold – New York Review of Books.

Mismanagement and corruption have left the Darling River dry – the Age.

How Barnaby Joyce came undone – the ABC. He’s been described by colleagues as a loner, a genius, authentic, and a narcissist. Here’s the story of how the former Nationals leader ended up on the backbench.

The guns crisis in the United States – New York Review of Books

Saturday Extra, March 17th Geraldine Doogue is looking at how the issue of human rights can be discussed diplomatically in international dialogues such as this weekend’s ASEAN meeting with Elaine Pearson from Human Rights Watch; Rajesh Walton, AUSTRAC’s Director of Innovation discusses the challenges facing the region in combatting cyber-attacks, terrorism financing and money laundering; Vladimir Putin and his foreign policies and interactions and how will he handle this area in his new term with Ivan Nechepurenko, a Moscow based writer and journalist and Leonid Petrov from the ANU; R& D in Australia, budgets and attitudes with Bill Ferris, Chair of Innovation and Science Australia and Alan Finkel, Australia’s chief scientist and continuing with our March series, historian Billy Griffiths on his book about this ancient land or ours, Deep Time Dreaming.



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JOHN MENADUE. The ASEAN Summit in Sydney this weekend.

The meeting this weekend will highlight for Australia the importance of our relations with regional countries.  It will also highlight the importance of our relationship with the US and China, and how that rivalry can best be managed in association with regional countries. As background to this weekend’s Summit meeting, I provide links to five important foreign policy articles that were posted on Pearls and Irritations in May/June 2016.

These articles were part of a series called Fairness, Opportunity and Security edited by Michael Keating and myself.  The Foreign Affairs articles were written by former senior officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.  This series was later published in book form.  The title Fairness, Opportunity and Security was, incidentally, picked up by Malcolm Turnbull as part of a government mantra.  But that is a subject for another day!.

The five foreign affairs articles, with links, are as follows:

Richard Butler.  Foreign Policy.  An Independent Australian Foreign Policy Richard Butler was former Australian Ambassador to the UN.

Stuart Harris.  What Australia’s Foreign Policy Should Look Like.  Stuart Harris was Secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs, 1987-88.

Cavan Hogue.  Australian Foreign Policy.  Cavan Hogue was Australian Ambassador to Mexico, USSR, Russia and Thailand, and High Commissioner to Malaysia.

John McCarthy. Foreign Policy. Australia, the United States and Asia. John McCarthy was Australian Ambassador to Vietnam, Mexico, Thailand, USA, Indonesia and Japan; and High Commissioner to India.

Stephen FitzGerald.  Security in the region.  Stephen FitzGerald was Australian Ambassador to China.



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TIM LINDSEY and DAVE MCCRAE. Australian-Indonesia: strangers next door

At the weekend, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will meet with President of Indonesia Joko Widodo (Jokowi) on the margins of the Australia-ASEAN Special Summit. Although Turnbull seems to have built the positive personal relationship with Jokowi that eluded Tony Abbott, managing the bilateral relationship won’t be any easier for Turnbull than his predecessor. Continue reading

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NANDINI PANDEY. Rome’s “Empire Without End” and the “Endless” U.S. War on Terror (Replaying the Roman Civil Wars in Reverse Since 9/11)

That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons. Continue reading

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JENNY HOCKING. News release. The Palace Letters.

TODAY, Friday 16 March 2018, Justice Griffiths handed down his decision in the Federal Court  action Jennifer Hocking v Director-General, National Archives of Australia’, in favour of the National Archives. Justice Griffiths has ruled that the ‘Palace letters’ between the Queen and the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, at the time of the Whitlam dismissal are ‘personal’ not Commonwealth records and do not come under the Archives Act. The Queen’s embargo will continue and the Palace letters will not be released. 
The decision has maintained the long-standing practice of designating the Monarch’s letters as ‘personal’ rather than official ‘Commonwealth records’, ensuring the continued Royal secrecy over her correspondence, including with the Governor-General, regardless of its content or historic importance. With this decision, the Federal Court has continued the Queen’s embargo on their release, potentially indefinitely. The hidden history of the dismissal of the Whitlam government will remain hidden. Professor Jenny Hocking says:‘We are obviously extremely disappointed with the outcome of this important case. The decision by Justice Griffiths continues the Queen’s indefinite embargo over her correspondence with Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, denying Australian’s access to key documents about an important part of our history. It is a disappointing decision for our history, specifically for the history of the dismissal which has long been cast in secrecy. Unfortunately, that secrecy will now continue.’
‘Our legal team is currently examining the decision in greater detail and we will have more to say on this and any possible future developments shortly.’

In our view, as argued by our legal team as led by Antony Whitlam QC, the Palace letters are official Commonwealth records relating to a critical time in our history, and not ‘personal’ records. They form part of our national historical estate which Australians should share. With this decision, rejecting calls for the release of the Palace letters, one of the last remaining pieces in the secret history of the dismissal of the Whitlam government, will remain secret, and the full story of the dismissal cannot yet be told.

‘It is astonishing and demeaning to Australia as an independent nation that access to the Queen’s communications with Governors-General continues to be at the whim of the Queen. Today’s decision has maintained this residual British control over Australian archival material, kept from us in the name of the Queen through the exercise of a Royal veto’.

‘I call on the prime minister, a committed republican, to make good his stated support for the release of these letters and advise the Queen to lift her embargo’.

‘I wish to thank the legal team all of whom worked on a pro bono basis, Antony Whitlam QC and Tom Brennan, instructed by Corrs, Chambers, Westgarth, for their tireless work and commitment. ‘Without them this case could never have proceeded, and could never even have been imagined. We owe them a great debt of gratitude for their public-spirited pursuit of accountability and transparency at the very highest levels. I also thank and acknowledge the hundreds of supporters of the crowd-funding campaign  release the Palace letters and who have followed its way through the Court with such enthusiasm.’
For more background details on the case, read here.

Continue reading

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NICOLE GURRAN, BILL RANDOLPH, PETER PHIBBS, RACHEL ONG, STEVEN ROWLEY. Affordable Housing Policy Failure Still Being Fuelled By Flawed Analysis.

Australia has a housing affordability problem. There’s no doubt about that. Unfortunately, one of the reasons the problem has become so entrenched is that the policy conversation appears increasingly confused. It’s time to debunk some policy clichés that keep re-emerging. Continue reading

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RICHARD BUTLER. The US/DPRK Summit: War or Peace?

The planned Trump/Kim Summit has a clear choice between a negotiated solution, or war. There is a choice, whatever both sides may say. War is not unavoidable and if it were to occur it would be devastating.   Continue reading

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BOB BIRRELL Australia’s Skilled Migration Program is not delivering Scarce Skills

As vexations flowing from record high net overseas migration mount, supporters of the permanent entry program have had to dig deeper to defend it.These supporters include the Treasury and the Reserve Bank as well as business and property interests. They say that any major cut to the migration program would put in jeopardy Australia’s 26 years of unbroken nominal economic growth. The Treasury emphasises that Commonwealth taxation revenue would also diminish, putting further pressure on the budget deficit. Continue reading

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GILES PARKINSON. South Australia’s renewable energy future hangs by a thread.

It’s an election that is impossible to call. And too important to ignore. Continue reading

Posted in Environment and climate | 2 Comments

TOYO KEIZAI. The Peace Train Leaves The Station.

Tokyo — In a flurry of developments that left experts stunned, the long-stalled Korean peace train has suddenly left the station. Sitting in the locomotive is the engineer of these events, North Korea’s young leader, Kim Jong Un. The conductor of the peace train, welcoming the passengers aboard, is South Korea’s President Moon Jae In. At the front of the passenger car, we find a jumpy U.S. President Donald J. Trump. A few rows back, wearing a quiet smile, sits Chinese President Xi Jinping. And in the last row of the car, a clearly unhappy Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo tightly clutches the armrest of his seat. Continue reading

Posted in Asia, International Affairs | 2 Comments

CHARLES LIVINGSTONE. Is gambling reform possible?

Gambling reform has been in the headlines lately – perhaps more than at any time since the Wilkie-Gillard agreement was shot down by ClubsNSW between 2010 and 2012. Continue reading

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ELAINE PEARSON. Human Rights Should Be a Focus of ASEAN-Australia Summit.

On March 17-18, 2018, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will host government leaders from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Sydney at the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit. The summit will be preceded by a business summit and a counterterrorism meeting to “strengthen our joint contribution to regional security and prosperity, including by addressing shared security challenges and securing greater opportunities.” Continue reading

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MOTOKO RICH. Japan Fears Being Left Behind by Trump’s Talks With Kim Jong-un

As recently as last fall, it was Seoul that appeared sidelined by Washington in its approach to North Korea, as President Trump made fiery threats and accused South Korea of “appeasement” for advocating dialogue. Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, was Mr. Trump’s closest friend among world leaders. Continue reading

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CHRIS BONNOR and LYNDSAY CONNORS A school funding horror story: special deals are back

Almost a year ago we thought that peace had been declared in the school funding wars. True, the Turnbull government’s ‘Gonski’ school funding changes fall well short on many fronts but the government did try to bury the special deals that have dogged school funding for decades. After less than a year Labor has resurrected them in a planned gift of $250 million to Catholic schools in the first two years of a new Labor government. Continue reading

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ROSS GITTINS. Who is to blame for the housing crisis and how to fix it

There aren’t many material aspirations Australians hold dearer than owning their own home – but dear is the word. There are few greater areas of policy failure. Continue reading

Posted in Economy | 1 Comment

CASSANDRA GOLDIE. The tax cut war and why everyone must pay for essential services, including wealthy shareholders

Labor’s policy on tax refunds for shareholders released on 13 March 2018 is a stark reminder that policies addressing the huge gaps in Australia’s revenue base are necessary.This is a media release by Cassandra Goldie

Continue reading

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IAN McAULEY. Labor’s superannuation changes: clever cosmetics but a failure on equity, public revenue and economics.

There is something wrong when “self-funded” retirees can enjoy a six digit tax-free income, while others who earn their income through their own efforts pay normal rates of income tax. But Labor’s proposals on dividend imputation would sustain that inequity, would compromise public revenue, and would divert Australians’ savings away from high-return quality investments. Continue reading

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JERRY ROBERTS. Populism and Social Democracy.

So-called “populist” parties in recent European elections have all but wiped out established social democratic parties.  The exception was Britain where Labour improved its position under the uncompromising social-democratic leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.  Two questions arise at home.  What fate awaits our social democratic party, the Australian Labor Party?  More importantly, what is populism? Continue reading

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RAMESH THAKUR. Could the Trump Kim summit succeed?

The Kim–Trump summit is an opportunity that will be difficult to seize and easy to squander. For example, if Trump decertifies the Iran nuclear deal on May 12, ahead of the summit, the move would almost certainly call into question America’s good faith and ability to honour negotiated international agreements. Continue reading

Posted in International Affairs, Politics | 1 Comment

SAM BATEMAN. No need to rock the boat in the South China Sea.

In the wake of Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s visit to Washington, there has been renewed pressure for Australia to undertake assertive freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) in the South China Sea. It has also been suggested that France and the United Kingdom should undertake joint patrols in the South China Sea to push back against China. Continue reading

Posted in Asia, International Affairs | 3 Comments

JOHN MENADUE. Cars, not immigration, are killing our cities.

This week on Four Corners many commentators blamed immigration for many of our ills. It was a diversionary tactic.  I think that immigration is Australia’s great success story. Many of the problems that immigration cause are the result of policy failure in other areas like housing and transport.   Continue reading

Posted in Economy, Housing, Infrastructure, Politics | 2 Comments

JOHN MENADUE. When will we wake up to the risks as well as the benefits of the US alliance? (Repost)

We are a nation in denial that we are ‘joined at the hip’ to a dangerous ally. Apart from brief isolationist periods, the US has been almost perpetually at war; wars that we have often foolishly been drawn into. The US has subverted and overthrown numerous governments over two centuries. It has a military and business complex, almost a ‘hidden state’, that depends on war for influence and enrichment. It believes in its ‘manifest destiny’ which brings with it an assumed moral superiority which it denies to others

. We are running great risks in committing so much of our future to the US. We must build our security in our own region and not depend so exclusively on a foreign protector.

Unfortunately many of our political,bureaucratic,business and media elites have been so long on an American drip feed that they find it hard to think of the world without an American focus.. We had a similar and dependant view of the UK in the past. That ended in tears in Singapore. Continue reading

Posted in Defence/Security, International Affairs, Politics | 3 Comments

MACK WILLIAMS. North Korea: What now?”

President Trump’s positive response to Kim Jong-un’s invitation to direct talks naturally has created a swirl of media commentary and speculation.  It has served Trump’s interest to promote a sense of surprise though it probably also reflects a considerable amount of activity by a number of stakeholders in recent months.  Given the DPRK’s track record in earlier negotiating efforts and the seemingly dysfunctional White House, it is hard to be more than cautious about where it might lead. Continue reading

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Trump Is Smart to Talk to Kim Jong Un

The problem is, the United States is nowhere near ready for this kind of high-stakes diplomacy.   SUZANNE DIMAGGIO and JOEL WIT point out the risks Continue reading

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MUNGO MacCALLUM. Tariffs and Mateship.

Yet another triumph for our indefatigable Prime Minister. Now he has saved the nation – maybe the world – from the scourge of The Donald’s dastardly tariffs on steel and aluminium.  Continue reading

Posted in International Affairs, Politics | 5 Comments

DUNCAN GRAHAM Welcome Down Under, Mr President Widodo : An open letter

Later this week Indonesian leader Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo is expected in Sydney with other heads of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations for a ‘special summit’. The President recently told his ambassadors that while working overseas they should lift their nation’s status as a ‘great country’. Now Jokowi can do his bit. Continue reading

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ALLAN PATIENCE. Compassionate policy planning as the antidote to populism

The Italian election has shown, very clearly, that ordinary voters are deeply angry with mainstream politicians and political parties. What is true of Italy is also true of Australia. The political class sneeringly dismisses voter anger as “populism”, blindly believe it will evaporate once voters come to their senses. They’re wrong. Anger is mounting exponentially across the country. Voters are looking for alternatives – any alternative – than to vote for the narcissists currently governing us. This poses a serious danger to the political system – but it also offers a golden opportunity for Labor. Continue reading

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LAURIE PATTON. It’s not about the size of the population, it’s about where we’re all going to live

This week the ABC’s Four Corners and Q and A programs are focussing attention on an important issue facing 21st Century Australia – the size of the population. As is commonly the case with this subject, the debate is creating a fair amount of heat, but regrettably not all that much light. Continue reading

Posted in Environment and climate, Health | 1 Comment

RAMESH THAKUR. Returning To The Edge Of The Nuclear Cliff.

The two leaders most responsible for bringing the Cold War to a peaceful end were U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet head of state Mikhail Gorbachev. They also kick-started the dramatic reductions in nuclear arsenals with a mix of unilateral measures and bilateral agreements. The driving force behind this was acceptance of Reagan’s affirmation in his State of the Union address on Jan. 25, 1984, that “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

Now their successors, U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, seem determined to resurrect the Cold War rivalry, restart a nuclear arms race, and look for technological breakthroughs and doctrinal justifications for “usable” nuclear weapons. Continue reading

Posted in Defence/Security, Politics | 2 Comments

GEOFF MILLER. The ASEAN meeting in Sydney and the Quad – same same but different.

Singapore and Australia are having to deal with the same set of problems and relationships as the strategic situation in the Asia-Pacific changes.  Singapore isn’t a contender for an expanded “Quad” but, as next year’s Chairman of ASEAN, it will have an important role to play in one of the Turnbull Government’s major foreign policy initiatives, the ASEAN-Australia Summit to be held in Sydney March 17-18. A REPOST   Continue reading

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