Every now and again, erm.. ok, let’s start that again….
Fairly frequently, I get a bee in my bonnet, (silly expression, I have never worn a bonnet, my dear mother once told me I seriously objected to anything on my head even as a baby) about something I bang off a quick note to the local Murdoch paper, the Editor no less. Sometimes it gets printed, and mostly it does not. Sometimes they even put two of them together, and twice, they edited my comments, but to be fair, they did not change the thrust of my comments, just shortened the letter for brevity or space reasons. So here goes:
In 2013, the Liberal Opposition poised for government promised that they would build 12 high tech submarines in my home town. A little background here. Australia has never been defence industry independent. We have usually purchased what we needed from other nations, Britain at first, then the US, later a few, very few other countries. There were few bright spots, and they were quickly discarded by conservative governments. We built submarines, a few, during WW1, we didn’t build another submarine until the 1990s. We were the fourth nation to put a satellite into orbit, with the British designed Blue Streak rocket, but have not done anything like that since.
We used to build war ships here, but have purchased second hand rubbish or purpose built from the US since buying a number of Oberon Class submarines from the British in the 60’s I think. The American subs are all nuclear, so no chance of us getting one of them, I suspect. We used to make some weaponry here, but have usually purchased it, now with the Styre rifle, we are no longer getting the longer ranged weapons we used to. I am not sure we are even making the bullets here any more.
So this is the idea that the Hawke/Keating Labor Governments put forward, we need become a little more independent. This was, albeit somewhat grudingly, carried on by the Howard Liberal government, more purposely by the Rudd/Gillard Labor governments, and now, the new elected Abbott Liberal Government had given as an election promise, to build 12 new generation submarines in Adelaide. At the time, I somewhat jokingly asked if this was a “core or non-core promise” and it turns out, it was non-core. (Liberal PM, John Howard, promised so much in one election, and when it came to delivering it his comment was “This was a non-core promise, we cannot deliver on it.” So much for honesty in politics.)
8th April 2014
We are now learning that the 12 additional submarines proposed by the Liberal Opposition, now Abbott Government, may have been nothing more than an election ploy. Ignoring the obvious, pollies and “election promises”, let’s consider the other aspect of this whole question.
Australia is an island nation, our National Anthem tells us “Our home is girt by sea”. We need a rapid and effective deployment of our defences in two ways now, by air and by sea. Modern air defences mean smart Surface to Air Missiles, as well as smart Surface to Surface missiles. Our sea defences require a Navy that can guard our shores. Modern technology has rendered surface vessels far more vulnerable than they were, the Falklands War demonstrated that. This indicates we may require more submarines than surface vessels, to defend us. I would go so far as to suggest we need several times the number of submarines than we do surface vessels. If those submarines could deploy conventional missiles at sea, then that, I suggest, would likely be a far more effective deterrent than most anything else.
Pity it was just an election promise.
(That was followed by a quiet period, then it heated up again by comments about how we might not build the subs in Australia. )
In 1939, Australia was not an industrial nation. We had to import almost every manufactured product, certainly every military product, and this left us incredibly vulnerable. Since the American Civil War, it is demonstrable that production is vital to sustain a coherent and ultimately successful war effort. This is why the Germans lost two wars, why Japan was defeated, manufacturing became too patchy and their armies, navies and air defences were overwhelmed. The German Navy came closer to defeating Britain by July of 1941 than anyone else ever had, but fortunately, they failed.
The only advantage we have is distance, but it is also our disadvantage. If we have to import war material, then our supplies are vulnerable. If we do not build our own war materials, then we are in real danger of losing a modern war. We will be unable to rely upon being supplied from overseas. We will have no expertise to repair or rebuild what we lose.
That is the real danger of not building submarines in Adelaide. This is why we should be building planes. This is why we should be manufacturing bullets and boots and helmets.
That is the point the Abbott Government seems to be missing.
(The Federal Government invited a team of Japanese engineers to tour the current Collins Class submarine manufacturing site, without telling anyone they were coming.)
So what we knew was going to happen is happening. The Federal Government has, again, dudded SA and is going to buy its defence material from overseas. In this case, submarines from Japan.
How cruelly sad is that? If there is ever a major conflict, it is likely to be between the major powers, which are right now, China and the US. That puts Japan right on the front line, until over-run by China. Where do we get our war materials from them? Our new Japanese built subs will only work until they need to be serviced. How silly is that?
The worst aspect of this is that the decision is considered “economically logical” and “financially responsible”. Oh? It is not reasonable though. It is obvious there is a core of politicians and public servants who believe if it is Australian, it is just never good enough. This is why we need to import so many ideas, senior managers, machinery from overseas. The possibility of developing skills and systems inside this country is never considered useful by these people. No, we would rather bring in something from outside, it’s “cheaper”, or someone who is “better”, “more useful”. Funny how we are never left better off when the people leave, when the machinery breaks down, when the ideas are discarded.
Patrick White was wrong, this isn’t the lucky country – never was.
(Then the debate heats up with some rather foolish remarks from the Federal Government, hot on the heels of some rather pedantic commentary from Right wing letter writers. This meant two letters in one day….)
Since the 50’s we have been berated with warnings about the “Looney Left”. Collectivism, nationalisation, standardisation, all of that, would be destroying us as a nation, as Australians. Now we have the “Ridiculous Right” firmly in control. Free markets, monetarism and economic rationalism that cannot allow anything to get in the way.
Not even common sense.
Let’s build our defence materials overseas, let’s not develop the skills needed here. For three reasons, one it is cheaper, two we are never going to be in a shooting war again, three, we cannot do it ourselves, we do not have the skills required.
The “Ridiculous Right” is managing to make the “Looney Left” look respectable.
*** (writer) is quite right in her assessment of attitudes in the workplace. The “she’ll be right” attitude has to go, being replaced with “can we do this better”.
People forget that in the 1950s and ’60s, “Made in Japan” was a euphemism for “cheap rubbish.” That changed, and in the 1980s it was Marty McFly’s “But Doc, all the good stuff comes from Japan.” Quality control and manufacturing excellence had changed the world’s perception of Japan’s industry. Underpinning that was another attitude that people here seem unwilling to accept. Patience and trust.
It would have been easy for Japan’s government to say, “No, you are producing rubbish, we are not going to buy it. Close down.” But they did not, they kept faith and now have a successful industrial base, highly competitive and of excellent standards. Experience and willingness to improve, trust and patience these are the hallmarks of all successful industry.
Why is it that we cannot do that? Why can we not apply the same technique, same patience, same trust?
(There were several letters here, most of which were published, so I will go on a little longer)
Liberal Governments have never trusted Australian industry to achieve much. The have always looked away to others, to foreigners, to do things. Unfortunately, the latest evidence is the demolishing of the ASC (Australian Submarine Corp wholly owned by the Federal Government) in Parliament by a Liberal Minister of Defence, or should that be the Minister of Defenceless-because-we-are-wrecking-any-possibility-of-doing-anything-ourselves. Always, the Liberals seek easy answers in Government, and that means anything other than trusting the Australian people. I no longer have any doubt that the decision to dump the ASC was made long before the last election, and all they are doing is going through the motions, trying to make it look good with outrageous rhetoric.
This is not a typically poor government decision, this is an extreme, callous act, indifferent to the future of our nation.
I am sure though that the Abbott Government feels it will get away with this latest piece of anti-Australian because there are too many media organisations just not prepared to look critically enough at them.
Your conservative correspondents seem to be missing several points about the submarine issue that are very important. Firstly, the submarine debate, has a quality about it that is not just political farce, but stupidly farcical. The Government is arguing over contracting with itself about building a device that only the Government will ever use. Another “Yes, Prime Minister” moment.
It takes time to build the skill base required, and the Conservatives have never given anyone the time to do anything, apart from farming, and now mining.
If all we do is maintain and service someone else’s platform, how can we replace them if we do not have the skill base to do so? It is the skill base that is important, more so now that the car industry is abandoning us.
Has anyone else noticed that ever since adopting “best practice” and PPPs, few, if any, large Government contracts have been within budget or on time? Far cry from the Snowy Mountains Scheme, isn’t it. On time and under budget, 1949-1972 – but that would not happen now, I suggest.
And so it goes on.
Unlike other nations Australia has never had to face serious hardships. We have never had an invading army on our shores, we have never had a civil war to define who we are. First, we have always been too far away from the centres of power to be a threat to anyone. Second, until the last 60 years, we have never been a source of raw materials sufficiently important to be a prize. Thirdly, we are unlikely to ever have enough water to support an invading army, let alone our own people if we blow up the reservoirs. Crossing Australia would be like trying to cross Russia, an old Wehrmacht NCO once told me, You get to a ridge, just to see another one on the horizon. And there is a lot less water here than in North Africa a veteran from Monty’s Eighth Army said. (Interesting conversations with friends of my father, we were a rather egalitarian lot here even to allowing a members of our opponents armies to gather on Anzac Day – well used to, they are mostly gone now.)
That sense of security has led to complacency, and that is dangerous. Things might change though, never know.