About Me

My photo
The Author Erik’s family emigrated from Britain to the island State of Tasmania then lived in the woods. The family home schooled, helping to pioneer the home education movement in Australia. The Blog …explores ways to create a sustainable and just community. Explores how that community can be best protected at all levels including social policy/economics/ military. The Book Erik’s autobiography is a humorous read about serious things. It concerns living in the bush, wilderness, home education, spirituality, and activism. Finding Home is available from Amazon, Barnes&Noble and all good e-book sellers.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Ferguson Shooting - what Russians and African Americans have in common

Ukrainian army advancing on rebel positions? No, US police advancing on unarmed protesters in Ferguson

Australia’s Prime Minister has said two things of significance in recent months. One, we can all expect less freedom. Two, we are at war with Russia. Meanwhile our closest ally appears to be at war with itself. Um…does anyone see a problem?

Let’s start with Russia. When a nation state seeks to force a change to the foreign policy of another nation state through sanctions this is a form of warfare. Australia has imposed $400 million worth of sanctions on Russia and appears eager to get involved in Ukraine. Abbott has been talking about giving them weapons. For Australia, a nation with 39 operational battle tanks, that’s pretty brave. As a Japanese defence official once commented “We have 500 tanks and call ourselves a peace keeping force. You have 50 tanks and call yourselves an army”. Translation: “shut up Australia you are not important”. It’s comical. Police forces in the US have more armour than the Australian army.

The crime of which Mr Abbott has, unilaterally and without parliamentary debate, convicted Russian eaters of Australian beef, is support for the Donetsk republic. Um…why does a small South Pacific country care about a small self-proclaimed East European/Russian/Eurasian republic? Perhaps Russia, the world’s second greatest nuclear power but deprived of Australian beef, will by these sanctions, be forced to disarm those naughty terrorists.

Now that my government is telling me who my enemies are I thought I should hear from them. Since I couldn’t find a reliable Western World news source I thought I would let them speak for themselves. This is a revealing interview.
You may need to expand the screen to get the subtitles http://vineyardsaker.blogspot.com.au/2014/08/watershed-press-conference-by-top.html 
Turns out the Donetsk guys don’t want their country fracked for shale gas, want control of their economy and natural resources, and want the freedom to choose their own future. They don’t want to be in debt to the West. They just want to be left alone. No wonder they are being shelled.

When I studied political science I was in a conservative faculty headed by an expat American liberal and I didn’t learn much. However in the course of development studies they did let slip that Western banks extract orders of magnitude more money from developing countries through interest payments on loans to various regimes than Western countries contribute in foreign aid. They also mentioned that the loans mostly came from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and that the IMF always imposed “structural adjustment”. That sounded interesting so I wandered off the official reading list in pursuit of the truth. Too bad for Ukraine they are about to be structurally adjusted.

Structural adjustment IMF style requires that all subsidies and most public spending be cut, public utilities sold off, national assets handed over to multinational companies, and open slather foreign investment allowed. Having been plundered and privatised the economy typically struggles and countries can be forced into a debt/povery cycle unless granted debt relief. Furthermore, all loan repayments and all trade must be made in US dollars. This creates an indirect form of taxation because poor countries can’t readily buy US dollars and the exchange rate is poor.
This ‘structural adjustment’ pushed many Latin American countries into poverty and rebellion during the '70's and '80's. The US then provided military aid to quash public unrest including torture training the in ‘School of the America’s’ as it was then known. Governments that resisted external control and wished to retain control of their national resources or trade in their own currency tended to experience coups – Venezuela, Chile, Argentina; or destabilisation –  Nicaragua; or support for repressive regimes against social democratic movements – Honduras, Guatemala, et al. Other countries have experienced bombing/invasion – Serbia, Iraq, Libya, Iran, (threatened and intended) for seeking to control their own economies. If these measures don’t work US foreign policy prescribes containment, sanctions, and demonisation – Russia.

Libya was destroyed as a nation state after its leadership proposed a pan African currency and trade zone. Iraq was destroyed as a nation state after its leadership began selling oil in Euros. Russia also refuses to sell its oil and gas exclusively in US dollars. Suddenly there are destabilisation operations, nuclear missiles and NATO military bases on its door step, and sanctions. Donetsk meanwhile has committed two crimes unforgiveable to the US. First it refuses to hate Russia, and second it wants to control its own resources. Unsurprisingly it is at war.
For a primer on how this works see here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TC3tINgWfQE   

For some informed commentary on this from a former Reagan administration staffer see here: http://www.paulcraigroberts.org/2014/09/14/washingtons-war-russia-paul-craig-roberts-2/

Funny thing is, lots of towns in the US are being structuraly adjusted too; most notably Detroit.

Ukrainians meanwhile seem to have forgotten that IMF loans are not aid, they are loans. The really sinister aspect though to the IMF package in Ukraine is the insistence that Ukraine open its borders to GM crops. This lays bare the US foreign policy agenda. The Ukraine/Russian plains and the mountain grasses of the other nations of the 20/40 window are the genetic seed store of the world. It is from here that most of the world’s genetic diversity in grains comes from. The US wheat belt was first sown with Russian wheat. Ukraine was formerly the breadbasket of the Russian empire. It is one of the reasons Hitler was keen to conquer it. GM crops pose a direct threat to the food security of those countries within pollen blowing/bee flying distance of anywhere that has GM cereal crops. It is for that reason that Putin has banned them in Russia. Monsanto is more dangerous to Russia than any Ukrainian nationalist.

Russia has threatened nuclear war.

Can’t see the Donetsk boys accepting Monsanto and can’t help feeling that Australia is well out of its depth here. Which brings us back to the other thing our Prime Minister said; that we can all expect less freedom. Nice of him to at least let us know. If this has something to do with the USA we should have a look at the USA.

So what about our closest ally? Since 9/11 US police have become incresingly militarised. This has included handing over large volumes of ex Iraqi military equipment including heavy weapons, armoured vehicles, and resistant vehicles. In other words, stuff custom made to crush a violent insurgency/uprising by people armed with the stuff American citizens have at their disposal. Regular police are increasingly being trained and armed for full scale war on civilian populations with essentially all legal niceties removed. Coincidence?

So in what civilised not tin pot dictatorship/third world/Islamofascist state is it OK to shoot an unarmed teenager and leave his body to bleed on the street for four hours? Oh, that would be Ferguson USA, or pretty much any town with a significant non-white population.

For some commentary on this from a conservative Republican see here:http://www.paulcraigroberts.org/2014/06/10/john-whitehead-guest-column-washington-arming-public/

US police are being trained and equipped to treat citizenry as insurgents. Meanwhile Abbott tells Australia to expect less freedom. Note the graffiti.
If Australia wants to support freedom we might usefully become an example of a civil society that does not live in fear of its own government. Like a friend who stops a friend getting into a car drunk, Australia can start talking truth to the American people. This does not mean breaking with the alliance (which we don’t actually have). It means actually caring enough to be authentic. While we are at it, let’s kick out Monsanto and share seeds with Russia.


This is a mine resistant vehicle of the Ukrainian army. Used for defeating the Russians.


This is a mine resistant vehicle of the local US Sheriff's Department. Used for defeating persons suspected of possessing marijuana and persons who object to being shot by their government.








Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Bob Brown - 'Optimism' a review of his memoir

I like optimism. It’s one of the reasons I bought and read former senator and national Greens leader Bob Brown’s book ‘Optimism, reflections from a life of action’. That, and the fact that I got to know Bob a little while working as an activist in the 90’s.

Optimism is not a political memoir and those looking for political intrigue, expose, or detailed history will need to look elsewhere. Rather it is a very humane and deeply personal account of how a confused young man came to terms with his sexuality and found his place in the world. The fact that this young man helped found a national movement, a political party, two NGO’s, became the voice of left wing resistance in Australia, and went to jail at least twice along the way, is incidental to the story.

Each chapter is a complete account of a person or event that impacted the author. All are engaging and some are surprising. There is a good deal of humour and irony. Bob doesn’t preach and while his passion comes through only once does he get angry, describing the apostle Paul as an “ancient sociopath” for his condemnation of homosexual activity. Mostly the reader will encounter his sensitivity. ‘A young person is as likely to ignore their sexuality as a butterfly is to keep its wings folded, and I was 30’ he says of a time before he came out publicly.

While Bob describes himself as an atheist I have never really been convinced and after reading the book I am less convinced. ‘God is a God of love’ Bob records himself saying to a member of the Exclusive Brethren who threatens him with hell fire. Elsewhere he clearly rejects his Presbyterian upbringing but speaks positively of Jesus and of Christian social justice activists. However his Presbyterian background shines through with his intuitive grasp of materialism as an essentially religious belief system in the tradition of the pre-Christian pagan gods who must be appeased. This is the only place he delves into theology and he is, in my opinion, absolutely correct. Here is the core of his belief system and this is really the message of his book, with relevance to believers and non-believers alike.

On a final note, Bob founded The Wilderness Society with fellow ex Presbyterian Helen Gee Decades later he was MC at her funeral where we sang some beautiful old hymns. The wilderness that inspired them exists beyond human reason. It seems that when sensitive people spend bulk time in the wilderness it is hard to believe that there is nothing out there.
Optimism is available from all good bookstores.






Thursday, 4 September 2014

Getting the Most out of Public Service in an Time of Austerity

There are two basic truths about the public service. First, the demand for government services is ever growing and insatiable. Second, the willingness and ability of governments to finance the public service is finite. In the end, we have the public service we can afford. The service lives in the tension between these two things. How then to get best value for money?

First, what can the public service do well?

If enough intelligent people are given enough job security to feel comfortable speaking truth to power, then the public service is capable of long term strategic thinking. The same is true of Universities, and of think tanks that are actually about thinking rather than pushing an ideological agenda. That is why job security matters.

The service is capable of objectivity in a way that politicians are not and consequently is better equipped to moderate competing demands and deliver good policy on a range of issues.

If the right people are in the right positions, the service is also capable of understanding science. This is hugely important because politicians generally don’t understand science, particularly in this country. They tend to be lawyers, business people, ex unionists, or persons with a background in community service. There is almost no one in the Federal Parliament with a background in engineering, medicine or environmental science. It’s one of the reasons why our government is just plain dumb when it comes to things like coal seam fracking, climate change, and defence procurement.

Finally, the service has a long history of delivering defined services to defined groups of people in specific ways. It’s like a big train that, once on track, just keeps going. The introduction of the GST, the change from Imperial to metric measurement, and the change from the sterling to the dollar were singular triumphs.

What does the public service struggle with?

Anything technical. Once upon a time I worked for the Commonwealth Environment Department writing management plans for marine reserves. Essentially that meant making rules to restrict certain fishing methods and gear types in various bits of ocean. Of the 20 or so people on the team one was a recreational fisherman. None had ever worked on a commercial fishing boat and most had never been on one. There was no relevant induction or training – like spending a couple of weeks working with the guys in industry. I was one of only four people with a background in compliance. After a 10 year process (I was there for six months) one of the bosses suddenly realized that compliance was going to be an issue – like for example in the entire Coral Sea. Hmmm, maybe Queensland could look after that… State governments are better on the whole because of Australia’s odd constitutional arrangements, they do a lot of the actual service delivery.

So what works?

Small focused expert teams

It is a common story that a large well funded government organisation failed to deliver powered flight but a couple of bicycle mechanics working at the same time did. There is an energy that happens in small teams that can’t be replicated any other way. Plus they are more efficient. While the Wright brother’s story is often cited as an example of why business does it better, the fact is that any organisation that grows beyond a certain size will require more bureaucracy and operate less efficiently. For that reason large organisations work best as collectives of smaller groups.

Clear lines of accountability

The message coming out of the inquiry into the national home insulation scheme (which led to several home fires and deaths) is that everyone is sort of responsible but no one is really. That lack of accountability is common in large Departments and is something that bedevils Defence. It is the reason why Australia was unable to maintain its submarine fleet in state of operational readiness. Accountability has to stop with an individual who is resourced intellectually and materially to understand what is going on and to ask the hard questions. That person will never be a government minister. Ministers are too busy and have too many competing demands. They rely on those under them to manage risk. That means that if there is a stuff-up, the person accountable needs to be sacked because they had it in writing at the start that it was their responsibility.

Relevant expertise

The person responsible must be qualified or have relevant other expertise. I wager there were very few electricians managing the home insulation scheme. At both State and Federal level the service needs far fewer BAs and LLBs and lots more engineers, scientists and people from industry. In the home insulation example there were obvious rorts but nice middle class university graduates just don’t think like that. A lot could be gained from a program that gave bureaucrats first hand industry experience.

Allowing initiative

In the Second World War no one came even close to the tactical brilliance achieved by the Germans and Japanese. On the eastern front the kill ratio was seven Russians to every German. There are many reasons for this but one seldom discussed is that forward commanders were allowed to take their own initiative and respond to the battle without getting permission from the higher ranks. The British only really every achieved the same level of initiative with commando units.

In the public service initiative is frowned upon.  It is seen as insubordinate and risky. Those on a fixed salary have no incentive to take risks because they will likely not be rewarded for success. However they may be penalized for failure, so it is safest to stick with whatever makes the hierarchy happy and keep plodding. In the lead up to the Commonwealth Games in India it became a talking point that those at the bottom were working hard, those at the top were brilliant, but there was complete paralysis in the middle. People need to be given explicit permission to fail, and assurance that they won’t be penalized for trying.

Empowering managers to sack underperforming staff

Machiavelli observed that it is better for a ruler to be feared than loved. Having worked with underperforming staff I know the frustration of dealing with inept people who know they won’t be sacked. There is no reason why, if the job description is clear, that work goals cannot be set and long term underperformers cannot be got rid of. The sad fact is that while many worked hard, even heroically, too many people did too little for too long and now the entire service is being hammered. Output managers who sack staff should be thought well of, not looked at askance. Would that result in unfair dismissals? Yes in some cases, because incompetent managers feel threatened or because they are on a power trip. On the other hand capable people will pick up work elsewhere. Overall it is better to shed the dead wood. 

Providing incentives for initiative and productivity

Which brings me to the other side of the same coin – good workers are not rewarded, they just tend to get asked to do more. Productivity can be a hard thing to measure. How to you measure policy advice, research or financial analysis, or staff management? However a lot of front line service can be measured. There is no reason why incentive bonuses shouldn’t be paid were practical in the public service.

Beware outsourcing

Outsourcing is often held up by the pro-business crowd as a panacea of many of the ills I have mentioned. Sometimes it is cheaper to hire outside expertise but there are also risks. First is that if key services become dependent on contractors those contractors gain a lot of leverage in price negotiations. Second, relationships can become too cosy by far. Third, you risk losing important in-house expertise. Fourth, public servants have to do pretty much whatever they are told. Contractors don’t have to step an inch outside their contract terms which means everything has to be negotiated.

Consulting internally first

Governments often get criticised for spending too much money on consultants. However there is often a wealth of freely available knowledge within the ranks of the organisation that doesn’t filter up, and a wealth of open source knowledge that just needs time to access. University graduate staff are very good at this and they don’t charge $100 per hour. I have yet to work in a place that had a knowledge/skills register but I have been reprimanded for approaching a subject matter expert in my (then) own Department and talking to people outside.

Expert boards are value for money

Highly qualified specialists seldom work for government. They can make more money, have more fun, and achieve greater career satisfaction elsewhere. However one thing they like to do, particularly in semi-retirement, is sit on boards and committees that look into interesting things. Expert boards thus provide a cost effective way for government to purchase independent expertise across any issue. Further, if they report publicly or to the Minister, they can break the deadlock created by self-seeking agency heads advising unqualified ministers on the basis of advice from uniformed underlings. This is an obvious way of addressing the lack of internal technical expertise in areas such as health, defence, and natural resource management. Indeed, one of the things the Department of Defence steadfastly resists is independent expert boards reporting to the Minister.

There seems to have been a time, perhaps in the 1970s and 80s when a person on graduating university could get a public service job, underperform for 40 years and look forward to a generous retirement. Those days are over and increaslingly the service will have to justify its existence and do more with less. There needs to be a generational culture shift.
I am sure I am not the only one with good ideas so feel free to make comment.


Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Tasmanian State Budget 2014 - Reflections

If the spin doctors are to be believed this was the budget we had to have, and they are sort of right. We can’t keep borrowing, and that’s not about political colour. GST revenues have gone south (actually they went North to NSW and Vic), the Federal government is cost shifting on health, and their policy of declaring war on science and renewable energy is causing Tasmania real problems. There is very little room to move and we have to cut.

…which is why it is hard to understand why the Liberal (supposedly free market) State government feel it necessary to spend big on racing and a footy team while cutting the heart out of basic services…

Apart from that there haven’t been mass sackings or massive borrowing and that is a relief.

So what does it all mean? Mostly I can’t tell you because as a public servant the State Service Act 2000 and the State Service Code of Conduct prevent me talking about what I know. I am also not allowed to protest about anything, or ask for a pay rise. I can apply for a redundancy but there are no jobs to go to afterwards. According to one Mercury columnist I am “bloated, inefficient and debt laden.” What the columnist has no comprehension of is the extent to which basic services are propped up by industry funds, ad hoc Commonwealth grants, vanishing incentive payments, and the administrative equivalent of gaffe tape. There is a real naivety in this budget – which clearly reflects the business view that public service is about front liners – teachers, firies, ambos’, and the rest is a make work program for unemployable shiny bums. Perhaps they should look at their own organisations. Try running BHP Billiton without an HR department, an accounts department, an IT department, contract managers, project managers, oh, and did I mention records? When one of the 100 new coppers hands out a fine it clearly doesn’t occur to people that someone designed and printed the ticket, that the form fields in the ticket go into a database, and that the database links to other important things which mean that the authorities actually know if the fine isn’t paid. Meanwhile someone is maintaining the police vehicle and managing the officer’s workplace health and safety issues. Without this, that police officer can achieve very little.

So my real concern with the budget is that rather than actually making a principled decision to close specific services the government is simply pushing those services to the point of collapse. They may exist in name and on paper but they are not really there. A better approach would be to do what Bob Hawke did federally and bring the parties into the tent. Tell the unions, Department heads and NGOs how much money we don’t have and have an authentic conversation about what to cut. Union members were willing to talk wage restraint in return for fewer job losses. It’s more difficult but history shows that the results are better, and they are accepted better by the community. Instead we have anti-protest laws.

The comedian in me really hoped that someone would protest against the people who were protesting against the anti-protest laws –which come on top of the anti anti-abortion protest laws from the previous government, and the anti-protest gazettal provisions which have been used for arresting green protestors on Crown land since 1983….but the anti-protest laws were drafted by my Department so I can’t talk about them.

However I can probably say that my union representative stated that new provisions will remove the right of the Tasmanian Industrial Commissioner to arbitrate a public service wage dispute in a manner which differs from government policy. In other words, if it is government policy to have a $5.00 minimum wage and I put in a wage claim for $5.50 the Tasmanian Industrial Commission cannot increase my award. The Crown Employees (Salaries) Bill 2014 states:
"The regulations may restrict the performance and exercise of the functions and powers of the Tasmanian Industrial Commission under the Industrial Relations Act 1984 and may override any provisions of that Act in the manner specified in the regulations."
This appears to be a blatantly ideological act which has Eric Abetz’s finger prints all over it. If rolled out beyond the public service it could lead to a collapse in wages which would in turn collapse the economy – it’s that simple. Small business will suffer the most. This is the American model and it is a proven disaster. The last time I looked up any stats the US had twenty percent unemployment, a vast underclass of working poor, real hunger particularly among the elderly, and twenty million people homeless….but the rich are very rich, the police are militarised and the prisons are full. A university degree can mean a lifetime’s debt and lifesaving surgery can cost your life savings. Australia needs this like it needs a punch in the face. The only reason why we have a budget crisis at a national level is because multinationals pay very little tax on the wealth they export from our country.

It is in the nature of investigators to be suspicious and so am I. Those with longer memories will recall the Burnie paper mill union blockade. At the time management urged on by the HR Nichols Society and supported by Tony Abbott and Eric Abetz tried to break the union movement, collapse enterprise bargaining, and effectively abolish trade unions as a form of social organization. They failed but they never gave up.

So Tasmania may be ground zero in an ideological push to roll back enterprise bargaining across the country. If so the Tasmanian State Budget 2014 will be remembered for more than hiring more police.


Note: the HR Nichols Society openly advocates abandoning the minimum wage. See here: http://hrnicholls.com.au/category/youth-wages/

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Joint Strike Fighter Imboglio - Open Letter to Sen Johnson

Senator the Honourable David Johnston

Minister for Defence

PO Box 6100

Canberra ACT 2600


Dear Senator Johnston

My letter concerns future acquisition of the Joint Strike Fighter.

The recent fire in the engine of a Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) highlights the risk that Australia on your watch could be left without an operational air combat capability in the JSF fleet should similar incidents occur in the future. The malfeasance inherent in “concurrency” whereby aircraft are tested and manufactured at the same time leaves our future fleet vulnerable to being grounded for a currently ‘unknown unknown’ problem. This would be a national security embarrassment greater than having the entire Collins submarine fleet in for repairs at the same time. If you doubt this I suggest obtaining an independent (non-Defence Department) review of the inherent risks in the JSF project.

I write to suggest a practical and face-saving way out of what has become the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) dilemma. The dilemma consists of the following:

1.       The JSF is a proven failure, already obsolete, with well documented fundamental design flaws that cannot be remedied by future upgrades.

2.       Defence has never compared JSF combat performance point by point with reference threats out to 2030. Such analysis as has been done found that the JSF was massacred in any ‘hot war’ scenario and locked out of contested airspace by modern IADS.[1]

3.       Over ten years senior defence bureaucrats and former defence ministers from both sides of politics have wedded themselves to the project to the extent that they are now in a classic ‘prisoner’s dilemma’.

4.       In the current fiscal environment the true cost of the project is unsustainable over time.[2]

5.       Australia has already committed to the delivery of 14 JSF units.

6.       The Superhornet is too slow and insufficiently stealthy to be a serious air combat contender.[3]

7.       Having retired the F-111 Australia is now without an effective air combat capability.

So let’s look at what we have.

The Superhornet is optimised as a reliable medium sized bomb truck with self-defence and EW capability, but not as an air dominance fighter. As a naval aircraft it carries the tomahawk anti shipping missile. Used as a naval strike asset the Superhornet can assist the RAN in sea defence. Used in the close air support role it may plug a big gap left by our lack of armour and mobile artillery. The Superhornet could and should be tasked primarily to these roles.

The JSF is a networking platform with limited stealth. Our best hope is that the JSF will deliver on the promise to be a capable networking platform. In this role 14 JSF may be valuable force-multipliers as ‘eyes in the sky’ along with Wedgetail. The investment in 14 JSF is therefore best leveraged by networking them with a capable air-to-air platform. In this model they are protected by air dominance fighters but assist the same by enhancing their situational awareness.

The task of chasing and shooting down evolved Sukhois, the Chinese J-20 or the Russian PAK-FA demands a top end high performance combat aircraft – which takes us back to where this all began when the AIR6000 project cancelled was and no comparison of available aircraft allowed. This the JSF cannot do for reasons inherent in the design - too small, too heavy, too tightly packed, too slow, only four missiles in stealth mode, can’t turn, can’t climb, can’t run, and these problems cannot be overcome by future upgrades. I refer you to the literature.

Australia can still obtain and use 14 JSF but save billions and protect our sovereignty by finally engaging in realistic comparison of available aircraft against regional reference threats, namely the evolved Sukhoi, the J-20, the PAK-KA, double digit Russian and Chinese SAMs and modern IADS. I do not wish to pre-empt what actual research might find, but note that, if our diplomatic arrangements require us to purchase planes from the US, then the ‘Silent Eagle’ program should be considered. This program fields a genuine mach 2+ twin engine combat aircraft at roughly half the unit price of the JSF with none of the inherent risk. The Swedish JAS Grippen program is perhaps the most affordable while delivering supercruise and credible performance against the evolved Sukhoi[4].

In this manner Australia can have a diversified, flexible and affordable RAAF combat capability that:

·         honours our existing commitments;

·         maximises the utility of existing platforms;

·         plugs gaps in our land force inventory; and

·         provides air-to-air combat capability which the JSF alone cannot provide.

This model replicated the highly successful USAF model in which types of specialist aircraft were combined in ‘packages’. While conventional wisdom now favours a single aircraft type this leaves defence highly vulnerable if problems develop. I note that the entire F-22 fleet and the entire JSF fleet have been grounded in recent years. Australia successfully fielded both the FA-18 and the F-111, and now intends to field the Superhornet and the JSF. The addition of an air dominance fighter to this mix is now the only viable way forward.

I therefore request that you raise with you cabinet colleagues the option of acquiring an air dominance fighter in preference to purchasing more JSF.

I further request that you discuss with operational commanders options to best utilise current and future aircraft inventories in combat.

I also request that you engage non Department of Defence experts in a genuine assessment of risks inherent in the JSF program and what that may mean for Australia’s future defence.

This letter does not require a written response. However please note that I have studied this issue in depth over 10 years and written extensively on it. Please therefore spare yourself the indignity and me the tedium of including any of the following in any response:

·         a ‘cut and paste’ statement from the Lockheed Martin publicity office e.g. ‘unrivalled fifth generation capability…sensor fusion…unparalleled situational awareness…let the missiles do the turning...bla bla;

·         a statement expressing confidence in the project without reference to anything real;

·         a statement to the effect that because the Americans have confidence in the program (they don’t) it must therefore magically be able to shoot down Russian and Chinese stealth fighters (it can’t);

·         a statement to the effect that because a number of northern hemisphere nations have bought into the program it must be right for Australia (this is contrary to analysis); or

·         a statement to the effect that the program is too big to fail so it must be OK.

Yours sincerely

Erik Peacock

[1] See analysis by Dr John Stillion of Rand Corp, Air Power Australia, and Eagle Vision Ltd. See also the leak to Vanity Fair, and reports to US Congress.
[2] Cost is defined as ‘what you pay for the capability you get over the life of the aircraft’ and includes training, tooling, parts, maintenance, weapons, fuel, changes to facilities and basing, simulators etc. The true cost likely to be well over AUS$30 billion.
[3] I refer to Air Power Australia analysis since no other analysis was undertaken.
[4] Pers Comm Chris Mills CEO Eagle Vision Ltd


Tasmania's World Heritage Area and Sen Richard Colbeck


In March I wrote an open letter to Senator the Hon Richard Colbeck in response to his online diatribe over the World Heritage Area extension and his government’s plans to oppose the extension. See here: http://www.findinghomebookspace.blogspot.com.au/2014_03_01_archive.html

In fairness I undertook to publish the response but posting a legible pdf document has proved difficult. Suffice to say that Sen Colbeck’s response referred to The Coalitions Policy for a Strong and Sustainable Forest Industry, noted that the planned repeal didn’t relate to (then) existing national parks, admitted that logging had degraded World Heritage values, and said that with 45 per cent of Tasmania’s land mass protected the government considered that the right balance between conservation and development has been achieved. I was referred to the State of the forests Tasmania 2012 report here www.fpa.tas.gov.au

This implies three things of significance. Firstly, the Coalition think that all of the conservation gains for Tasmania that have led to 45 per cent of Tasmania’s land mass being in some sort of conservation reserve were necessary to achieve “the right balance between environmental protection and development.” What a stunning endorsement of four decades of environmental activism!

Secondly, the Coalition agrees with the Wilderness Society that management of state forest was degrading the conservation values of the area contrary to claims by Forestry Tasmania.

Thirdly, there is no need for any more conservation of anything in Tasmania because 45 is a big number – so mining in the Tarkine is OK. True, 45 is a big number, but conservation is about outcomes not arbitrary figures. How true that is in so many policy areas…

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Solstice Good News from Around the World

Well the solstice has passed and for those of us in the southern hemisphere that means summer is on its way. Those at forty degrees latitude south will have to wait a little longer than most but summer is good news. On the topic of good news it is timely to review some recent highlights.

Ukraine didn’t have a civil war

Despite the best efforts of some parties common sense prevailed and the country did no implode, Russian speakers were not massacred, the Nazi’s didn’t take over, and the country held credible elections that delivered a clear mandate. Russia placed considerable psychological pressure on Ukraine but there was no wholesale invasion or annexation of the Eastern part of the country. Crimea was taken in a largely bloodless intervention but frankly Russia had no choice. The alternative would be to risk NATO tanks within driving distance of the Black Sea fleet. No rational state would allow that and the world will live with it and move on. Ukraine now has the opportunity to make friends east and west and that is a good thing for everyone.

Indonesia is holding free and fair elections

Let me put this in context. Indonesia’s first president was a communist sympathiser who was ousted in a military coup in 1965. Following the coup anyone deemed or considered a communist was fair game and anywhere from a hundred thousand to half a million people were massacred. Thirty years of “guided democracy” followed under the Suharto regime. I was in Indonesia shortly before the revolution and wrote about it in my book. Would the army side with Suharto? Would Muslim extremists take over? Could the country transition to democracy? Could traditional values of respectful dialogue and consensus hold the country together? What would happen to minorities? Could democracy work in a developing country spread across 13000 islands with literally hundreds of languages? No one knew but they knew things were going to change.

Indonesia is the world’s biggest Muslim country and now one of the world’s largest democracies (India is the biggest). I know of no other democratic Muslim nation. Without a hereditary monarch Indonesia was able to invent its own system of elected representation and frankly it’s a lot more democratic than hours. For starter they get to elect their president. Our prime minister is chosen by their party through dysfunctional factional ‘horse trading’ from which the populace is excluded. Our head of State is nominated by the prime minister and appointed by a hereditary monarch. Presidential candidates in Indonesia can only be nominated by a party or coalition that has achieved at least 20 per cent of the seats or 25 per cent of the vote in the legislative elections. These were held in April. In order to contest the legislative elections a party must have:

  • a branch office and branch in every province;
  • a branch office and branch at least 75 per cent of the regencies or municipalities in every province; and
  • at least one third of each party's candidates must be female.

This ensured broad based representation and militates against factional and regional favouritism. The logistical challenge of running an election in a far flung developing country is vast but they are happening well enough to deliver legitimate outcomes.

Solar eclipses coal and nuclear

It’s pretty much all good news. Solar power was always a matter of scale. The more panels are built the cheaper each unit becomes. As India and China come on board scales of manufacture drive down price. Nuclear carries enormous fixed costs and can only be made economic by not counting externality costs like managing toxic waste for the next 10,000 years, ignoring the cost of nuclear accidents, or the sunk R&D cost which includes the still classified cost of the Manhattan project. The more coal, oil and gas are burned the less remains and the higher the price of making electricity becomes. A tipping point is reached when solar becomes cheaper than coal/gas/nuclear.

That point has been reached. Solar in the USA is now competing directly with conventional electricity on price. India is poised to install the world’s largest solar plant. Germany generates half of its domestic electricity from solar. Australia’s three million home solar installations are now outbidding coal electricity during times of peak demand – when the sun is shining and everyone turns on their air conditioners. Naturally vested interests are not taking this lying down and have attempted through their proxies to dismantle Australia’s renewable energy policy. The first attempt has been blocked in the Senate by, of all things, a motoring enthusiast and a maverick billionaire mining magnate. Gotta love this country.
Tasmania’s World Heritage Area holds

Controversial locally but significant globally, the WHA extension completes a process begun when the Tasmanian forest campaign began in 1973. The first WHA in Tasmania came into being a decade later in 1983 following the campaign to save the Franklin River. It covers hundreds of kilometres of mountains, lakes, grassy plains, glacial remains, forest pockets, and stunning wild coasts. Excluded from the WHA were the ancient wilderness forests of the glacial river valleys to the east. Instead the boundary was drawn at the climactic tree line and snaked crazily around the hills and valleys. Thirty years later the WHA extension simply put back what remains of what should have been included in 1983.

However in a public admission that logging was degrading the area the federal government made a submission to the World Heritage Committee arguing that almost half the extension was too degraded to be included. This flew in the face of the fact that the world heritage system of international agreement allows for rehabilitation of damaged sites, and the degraded area was small. It did however risk a precedent that would have undermined the integrity of the world heritage system and placed at risk sites that are under pressure including the Great Barrier Reef. The Committee saw the submission for what it was and spent approximately seven minutes throwing it out – a humiliating and well deserved diplomatic defeat. See further here: http://theconversation.com/tasmanias-world-heritage-debate-needs-to-look-beyond-the-trees-28183

The forest debate isn’t over but this is the heart – the core areas that the environmental movement has been fighting for over thirty years. The forest industry is a mess and management of both the industry and the new reserves face significant challenges. Never-the-less the WHA has held and this is good news.


The EU Bans bee killing insecticides

The worlds’ bees are declining as neonicotinoids and other chemical herbicides and pesticides build up through the food chain. While farmers gain temporary benefits from chemical use there is a longer term risk of killing the soil ecology on which all farming ultimately depends. Recent chemical bans by the EU provides helpful leadership to developing countries and pushes back on Monsanto.

Tony Abbott does something good

Finding something good to say about Abbott was a significant challenge but I found three things:

  • we are buying off-the-shelf submarines rather than building our, own saving around $30 billion over thirty years, plus the subs will actually work.
  • the schools chaplaincy program is continuing. To people who harbour a deep personal angst at the thought that someone somewhere might come to faith or discover their religious and cultural heritage this terrible. In reality though the program has been embraced by people of all persuasions and the response from parents has been overwhelmingly positive. Thus far it has lent a listening ear to students and has not become a vehicle for pushing fundamentalist religion.
  • the program of one year military enrolment has been re-started. This isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. However having grown up in a working class/welfare suburb I can attest that this program will provide a bridge to employment and a better life for many young men who don’t want to sign up to the armed forces long term.

If anyone else wants to share some good news feel free.