Australian Politics 2015-06-01 15:48:00


Australia to Continue Military Patrols in South China Sea

Defense Minister Kevin Andrews says Australia won’t bow to pressure from China

The Australian government has asserted its right to fly military patrols over contested South China Sea islands claimed by Beijing, but said on Sunday it hadn’t had formal talks with the U.S. on naval missions as a direct challenge to Chinese muscle-flexing.

Australia’s Defense Minister Kevin Andrews, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal from Singapore, said Canberra had sent long-range maritime patrol aircraft over the South China Sea and Indian Ocean, and would continue to do so despite the potential for obstruction from China.

“We’ve been doing it for decades, we’re doing it currently…and we’ll continue to do it into the future,” Mr. Andrews said, in one of his first foreign press interviews since assuming responsibility for Australia’s military during a Cabinet shake-up in Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s conservative government last year.

“We don’t see there’ll be any change to that operation. It’s been a long-term operation and it’s been well known by all the countries in the region,” Mr. Andrews said.

Top U.S. Navy and Marine commanders in the Pacific have been urging close-ally Australia since last year to consider joining multilateral naval policing missions in the South China Sea, potentially alongside Washington’s chief regional ally Japan, helping to reinforce the rebalance of U.S. forces to the Asia region.

But that pressure has taken a sharper edge since China began constructing artificial islands in waters claimed also by other regional nations, with U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter calling on Saturday for “an immediate and lasting halt” to the expansion.

Australia Prime Minister would be briefed on security developments within the region in coming weeks, local newspapers said last week, in what could presage a change in Canberra’s position of urging all regional nations to avoid coercive action changing the South China Sea status quo.

Australia’s government is currently producing a new strategic blueprint which, when completed later this year, will guide Canberra’s approach to alliances and regional flash points. The country is also modernizing its navy and air force with new submarines, destroyers, frigates, amphibious carriers and fighter aircraft.

Mr. Andrews, who met with Mr. Carter and Japan’s Defense Minister Gen Nakatani on the sidelines of a strategic summit in Singapore on Saturday, said Australia taking a role in multilateral naval patrols had not yet come up in talks with his American counterparts.

“The U.S. haven’t talked to us about this,” he said. “At this stage, there’s been no request from the U.S. in that regard.”

Sources in both the U.S. and Australian military said talks on so-called “freedom of navigation” missions had so far been at lower levels, with the U.S. still sounding out its close ally on patrols that for Canberra could risk trade and diplomatic ties with Beijing, its major trade partner.

“Asking formally at ministerial level risks being told no,” said Peter Dean, an analyst at the Strategic and Defense Studies Centre at the Australian National University. “Australia is still making up its mind.”

Mr. Andrews said it was too early to be talking about multilateral naval patrols, given his U.S. counterpart had only laid out Washington’s position on Saturday. He said he had also met recently with China’s top envoy to Canberra.

Approval for Australia to take a role in multilateral patrolling would also, he said, require approval from senior security ministers inside Mr. Abbott’s Cabinet.

“We believe that it’s in the interests of all countries to ensure a free an unencumbered transit through international waters, which includes the South China Sea, and we will continue to transit the South China Sea including surveillance operations that we’ve been doing for close to 35 years,” he said.


Labor MP Cesar Melhem demanded money to boost union membership, inquiry hears

THE scandal surrounding Labor MP and former union boss Cesar Melhem has widened, with another company claiming that he demanded money to boost membership.

The Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption has heard that Mr Melhem made deals with companies to artificially boost union membership when he was head of the Australian Workers Union in Victoria.

Labour hire company BMD revealed today that it paid $14,300 in 2007 and $19,800 in 2010 to keep peace with Mr Melhem and the union during pay deal negotiations.

BMD also sent the AWU a list of all its employees, some of whom were added to the union’s membership without their knowledge.

Jeremy Stoljar, counsel assisting the commission, said that he would investigated the motivations for BMD’s payments to the union.  “Did the AWU’s efforts to get additional members on its register come at the expense of its existing members,” Mr Stoljar asked.

He said he would probe whether some people were signed up when they were not “truly” union members.  “It will also investigate whether persons at the AWU created or caused to be created false accounting records to conceal this fact,” he said.

Mr Melhem will be grilled by the Royal Commission into union corruption next week.

His replacement Ben Davis, who refused to pay for his legal advice, will also go before the commissioner.

Mr Melhem has also been accused in the commission hearing of signing a deal with Cleanevent that left workers $27 an hour worse off in exchange for $25,000 payments for union memberships.


Union rules keep the young unemployed

Youth unemployment in Australia is a ballooning issue that needs to be properly addressed.  Over half a million young Australians are not in employment, education or training.

Although targeted assistance to help make ends meet and address skill shortages should not be ruled out, other market-oriented approaches must be part of the solution.

For starters, an effective way to deal with the problem in Australia would be to get rid of our byzantine system of industrial relation awards, which demands prohibitive penalty rates for young workers.

There is no compelling ethical cause for such a hindrance to youth job creation.

For young students, weekend and night shifts are predominantly the only feasible ones that do not clash with class times. For someone who is not in employment, education or training, and probably struggling to make ends meet, a Sunday work shift cannot be not deemed a plausible inconvenience. It is in fact a real blessing in which vital work ethics and basic professional skills (team work, discipline and maturity) are developed -- not to mention the extra income.

Due to a prohibitive penalty rate regime, the minimum casual pay for a 20-year-old in the lowest employee level in the fast food industry is $29/hr on a Sunday (or a substantial $46/hr on public holidays). Similar pay levels (if not higher) can also be found in many other industries that are a gateway for young job starters.

These exorbitant price floors certainly do not help the youth unemployment cause. In fact, both employers and potential young workers are penalised as would-be job positions are shut due to such interventionist, unnecessary regulation constraints.

More choice and freedom to contract at whatever rates please both parties would be the best (and fairest) form to assist young jobseekers to put a foot in the labour market. After all, there is no better welfare program than a job.


Muslim integration

The old processes do not always work

 The new appointments to counter home-grown terrorism are a clever and politically astute move that will facilitate the national debate we need to have about Islamist radicalisation.

Australia has a long and successful track record of integrating migrants. Welcoming attitudes on the whole, combined with the determination of newcomers to make a go of life in their adopted country, mean that most migrants have self-integrated without threatening social cohesion.

Yet it appears this process has gone wrong with a significant minority of Australian Muslims. This is a difficult issue to discuss because many in the community are uncomfortable about singling out ethnic or religious groups. Hence those who raise the subject of Muslim integration are often accused of bigotry and racism.

The fact that we now have a Minister for Counter-Terrorism sends the powerful message that discussing these issues is legitimate and important. But what the policy response should be to prevent radicalisation is the more difficult question.

Part of the problem is that the integration of migrants has largely been an informal process. Common schools, shared places of worship, and inter-marriage are among the key factors that have successfully helped knit the social fabric across racial and cultural lines.

The workplace has also been an important place where barriers have been broken down and people from different backgrounds have learned to get along. Many Muslims are not exposed to these forces because they worship at the local mosque, attend Islamic schools, and marry only other Muslims.

Attention has thus been drawn to high unemployment among certain Muslim groups to suggest that social disadvantage is the major cause of radicalisation. Many are attracted to the 'disadvantage causes radicalisation' thesis but this avoids the need to think about the role played by religion.

Because secular elites tend not to take religious belief seriously as a social and political force, they assume that others also treat religion as essentially a private matter. But we can hardly dismiss the importance of religious motivations when we are considering what to do about self-professed jihadists.