Unsurprisingly, Peter Dutton has brought his little bag of home affairs tricks over to the defence portfolio. And although he only took on the role a few weeks back, he’s already appeared in the Herald to let the nation know that we’re on a war footing.
Indeed, the minister maintains that the Australian Defence Force is “prepared for an action” and we’re gunning for China.
In a 3 May article, the newly appointed defence minister used rhetoric that attempted to normalise the idea that we may soon be at war with China. And he spoke of our nation as being “under attack on the cyber front”, as well as appealing to the public’s intelligence in spruiking war.
“They know that [what] we are saying is factually based,” said the new boss of defence. “I think part of the public is frankly ahead of where the public debate is because there’s just so much information available online.”
Of course, Dutton’s hardly a lone wolf on war with China. PM Scott Morrison has warned of “a new and less benign strategic era” in a veiled reference to Beijing, whilst Dutton’s former right-hand-man, home affairs secretary Michael Pezzullo, has asserted the “drums of war” are beating.
Though, one thing most of us are aware of is Australia has blindly followed the US into battlegrounds since the end of the Second World War, with the majority of these forays not only having resulted in defeat but they’ve served no local interest.
And further, as the American Empire is currently in decline – as well as being on a roll as far as entering into failed conflicts – following it into a battle with China would only devastate our nation.
Grey zone on many levels
As far as Dutton is concerned, Australia is already engaged in “grey zone” warfare: a form of conflict not traditionally considered war.
This grey zone warfare includes cyber attacks, which are the primary reason the minister has given for gearing up for war. And he bases this conclusion on the dubious claim of a mass cyber attack that happened last year.
Morrison warned in June that a range of Australian sectors were being targeted by a “sophisticated state-based cyber actor”. Although, this widespread “malicious” attack wasn’t happening all at once, and his purpose for announcing it was to “raise awareness of these specific risks”.
So, according to Dutton, as we are “already under attack” by “state actors”, as well as Middle Eastern crime syndicates, he’s suggesting that the nation needs to enhance its cyber spy agency, which is the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD): our chief international spying organisation.
Coincidentally, turning the ASD on the domestic sphere has long been Dutton’s pet project. It first came to light when Newscorp’s Annika Smethurst reported on leaked documents revealing Pezzullo discussing the idea with the defence secretary in April 2018, which led the AFP raid to her home.
In February last year, as home affairs minister, Dutton publicly announced his plans to gift the ASD with powers to surveil Australian citizens at home were closer to fruition. And now he just happens to be the head of the department Pezzullo was caught brainstorming the idea with.
A burgeoning arms race
Dutton further explained that although cyber attacks don’t lead to “casualties on the battlefield”, it does see companies and others fall victim to its impacts every day. And due to this, Australia needs to beef up its weaponry.
So, it now seems we’re entering into something of an arms race and that means profits for someone. However, that doesn’t appear to be Australia, as the finances our nation will be spending on weapons capabilities will be going into US coffers.
As the PM warned of the rising threat of war with China last June, he also announced $270 billion to fund Australia’s military expansion over the next decade. This came just days after he earmarked $1.3 billion in funding for the increasingly-turning-inwards ASD to spend on cyber operations.
At that time, Morrison also explained that Australia was purchasing close to 200 long-range missiles from the United States. And it was outlined that Canberra is looking to Washington to supply our growing military arsenal.
War powers reform
Right now, the decision on whether our nation should go to war with China would be made by the National Security Committee of Cabinet, which consists of Scott Morrison, Michael McCormick, Josh Frydenberg, Marise Payne, Peter Dutton, Simon Birmingham, Karen Andrews and Michaelia Cash.
That means eight Coalition ministers could see Australia enter into a war primarily being pushed by the US, whenever Washington gives them the heads up.
This arrangement is based upon a centuries-old British royal practice, which continues as it’s contained in our colonial constitution.
Australians for War Powers Reform (AWPR) vice president Dr Alison Broinowski told Sydney Criminal Lawyers last month that her organisation is pushing for war powers to be placed in the hands of parliament, which would engage all MPs in the decision-making and hence the will of the people.
Despite a push over the last 35 years to see this reform – by the Australian Democrats and then the Australian Greens – nothing has changed.
However, federal Labor has just resolved to establish a war powers parliamentary inquiry if it’s voted into office at the coming election.
Dr Broinowski further explained that due to Australia’s relationship with the US, our nation “has been involved again and again in expeditionary wars at our allies’ request ever since Vietnam, with a complete lack of success.” Other failed wars include Afghanistan and Iraq.
The decline of the US
Beijing is currently carrying out a program of genocide against the Uyghur people in their occupied homelands. And the same agenda has long been perpetrated against the nation of Tibet as well.
However, diplomatic pressure, which is beginning to be applied, could serve as a peaceful means to resolve these atrocities, in the same way external measures helped to facilitate the decolonisation of African nations mid-last century.
China, of course, has been playing its role in the mounting tensions as its applied trade restrictions on Australian exports and has threatened further actions.
US journalist Chris Hedges posits the build-up of tensions between China and his country is seeing the orchestration of a “new cold war”.
Hedges also details that the American Empire is in decay, and like all falling empires of the past, it’s now engaged in a series of futile wars signalling its demise.
As Dutton, Morrison, and tipped to soon be defence secretary Pezzullo are posturing over war with China on behalf of their masters in Washington, it should be remembered that none of these men will suffer any kind of injury in battle, as they only get photographed next to weapons.
And for our nation to obediently follow the US into further conflicts – especially a war with China – will only serve to guarantee Australia’s place as a co-causality in the drawn-out collapse and decay of the American Empire.
Receive all of our articles weekly
Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.