20 October 2009

Aussie Observer roundup, 20 October 2009

The Australian Observer blog seeks to contribute to public debate on a variety of themes – Defence, the Middle East, especially the triangular relationship between Iran, the United States and Israel, nuclear proliferation, climate change, trade and investment and public administration. From time to time it lightens up a bit and points readers in the direction of some of the things that make life worth living – the arts, recorded music, and interesting places to see.

Here is a roundup of recent posts, and some thematic material that might be of interest to readers.

Public administration issues, and issues that go to the integrity of our decision-making processes, have loomed large in the last few weeks.

Most important are those issues which go to how we come to commit Australian forces to military action. In Iraq War: Advice should have been offered I suggested that Secretaries of the relevant departments had a duty to proffer advice in relation to the invasion of Iraq, whether it was sought by Ministers or not. In Paul Kelly on East Timor I contest from first-hand involvement the account given by Kelly in his March of Patriots as to how we came to be deploying troops to East Timor.

Equally important is the process by which the decision to go to war is taken. In War Powers Bill I describe the Private Member’s Bill that was introduced into the Senate in February 2008 by Western Australian Greens Senator Scott Ludlam. In War Powers Bill: Senate Inquiry I note that the Bill has been referred to a Senate Committee for inquiry and report by 19 November 2009, and in War Powers: what the PM said I address a number of issues raised by a letter from the Prime Minister’s foreign policy adviser in response to a letter from Dr Kristine Klugman, President, Civil Liberties Australia. Finally on this topic, War Powers Bill: Pre-emptive self-defence analyses the international customary law on the right of pre-emptive self defence to see whether this poses any problems for the idea of transferring the war-making power from the Executive to the Parliament.

With my colleagues Andrew Farran and Garry Woodard I lodged a submission to the Senate Inquiry into this topic, and War Powers Submission provides a link to where it can be downloaded from the Parliament House website.

Sadly, the question of how to treat asylum seekers arriving by boat has reared its ugly head again. In Asylum seekers: all aboard the bad ship Bigotry I rehearse some of the issues and express the hope that the government will do, not the tough thing or the media savvy thing, but the right thing. Faint hope, I fear. In Manon needs another update I suggest that perhaps we need some movies on the asylum seeker experience of the kind that we saw from Henri-Georges Clouzot in 1949, and in Refugee boats: what about innocent passage? I ask some questions about how the Government’s wish to have the Indonesians intercept asylum seeker boats bound for Australia fits with the right of innocent passage enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

In the defence field, the key article is Defence savings: the impossible dream which demonstrates that the $20 billion of savings that Defence is to achieve over the next ten years is simply not achievable. Other posts include DMO: What was all the fuss about?, which notes that most of the reasons for cost increases and schedule slip are beyond the Defence Materiel Organisation’s control, and in any event 83% of the over 200 defence projects closed over the last ten years came in on or under budget, and Defence: off-the-shelf is not just about jobs uses the example of the Australian designed and built Bushmaster Infantry Mobility Vehicle to make the point that off-the-shelf equipment might at times be less expensive, but at what cost?

Boring old public administration gets a run, because issues of public administration affect us all – the choices that government makes about its expenditure priorities, the effectiveness and efficiency with which it goes about its work. Politicians’ promises: “We’ll never forget you” cautions that when politicians promise the earth it is time to start counting the silver.

Some ideas for the public sector revamp offers some observations in a constructive vein regarding the Prime Minister’s reported intention to “shake up the Public Service”. Beware of centralised funding cautions against the siren song of a Commonwealth takeover of responsibility for funding (of just about anything).

Million dollar men hints at the possibility that some people in the public sector might be somewhat fortunate in the remuneration they receive when they are benchmarked against the three most highly remunerated Secretaries of Commonwealth Departments – Prime Minister and Cabinet< style=""> Australia Post results wonders just how dependant Australia Post is on the maintenance of the letter monopoly, and how good it is in the areas where it competes with the private sector.

Commonwealth grant for Carlton Football Club asks what on earth the national government is doing concerning itself with redevelopment of facilities by a private sporting organisation.

Advisory panels or accountability? makes the point that there is an important choice to be made between holding public servants accountable, which governments never tire of telling us that they do, and dotting the landscape with unaccountable amateur advisory bodies.

Further on the subject of accountability, AWB: No criminal charges for Iraq sanctions-busting notes that no criminal charges are to be laid against any of the AWB people involved in the kickbacks of $300 million to Saddam Hussein in violation of United Nations sanctions, and offers some views as to why this outcome, though not surprising, is a national disgrace.

Success fees: something doesn’t add up raises a question about how “success fees” for former Ministers and other government insiders, of whatever political stripe, fit with the notion that all government procurement in Australia is conducted on the basis of open competitive tendering.

Externally, the Middle East is never far from the news and the news is depressing. As explained in Game, set and match to Mr Netanyahu, the Obama quest for a Middle East settlement is all but dead, an outcome that was foreshadowed in Netanyahu: tying the Americans in knots, and Middle East: US policy all over the place, all of which leads me to ask the question Why does George Mitchell bother?.

Iran too is never far from our minds, nor is the question of sanctions. Bani-Sadr on events in Iran points to an important opinion piece in the New York Times by the first President of Iran following the 1979 Islamic Revolution. This article by a highly educated Iranian- and French-trained modernist is well worth reading for anyone who wants to understand what is at stake in Iran.

On the question of the U.S. approach to Iran there is a series of posts on how U.S. policy is being made and the question of enhanced sanctions. Iran: Sanctions are in the air is my first attempt to explain why sanctions against Iran is a seriously bad idea. Making U.S. Iran policy describes some of the machinations going on within the U.S. policy-making machinery to achieve primacy on Iran policy.

Iran: sanctions still on the agenda provides some further reasons for refraining from sanctions against Iran, offered by Hossein Askari, Professor of International Business and International affairs at the George Washington University, and Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council and author of Treacherous Alliance — The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the United States.

In Iran: One cheer for Vlad the Lad I expressed relief that Vladimir Putin was not favourably disposed towards sanctions against Iran.

From the world of Australian art there are three posts on the noted Australian artist Harry Pidgeon and his recent exhibition at the Cooks Hill Gallery, Newcastle: Harry Pidgeon at Cooks Hill, Harry Pidgeon exhibition: Naturally touched and Harry Pidgeon’s opening at Cooks Hill, the last being some photographs from the opening itself.

Also of note in the world of Australian art was the recent record-breaking exhibition of paintings by John Brack at the National Gallery of Victoria – see John Brack at the Ian Potter Gallery, NGV and Brack exhibition breaks records.

In the world of recorded music there is Narciso Yepes and the Concierto de Aranjuez, introducing both the guitarist and the concerto. The Vivaldi Edition tells of an ambitious project to record all the 450 works of Vivaldi that are preserved in the massive collection of autograph manuscripts held in the Biblioteca Nazionale in Turin.

In the popular music domain, Turkish pop on iTunes gives some background on the wonderful world of modern Turkish popular music, identifies some leading lights, and suggests a couple of downloads to sample.

Persian classical music in Melbourne gives an account of a performance at Melba Hall by the Mehr Ensemble, and also gives some insight into the strength of this ancient tradition in Melbourne.

In the series of posts that are primarily photographic, there is a series of photos of the burning oilfields in Kuwait following their destruction by the retreating Iraqi forces in 1991. These may be found at Kuwait oilfield fires, 1991, Kuwait oilfield fires - second series and Kuwait oilfield fires: third series.

From the same overseas trip, World Heritage Site: Qal'at al-Bahrain provides some photographs of the old Portuguese fortress on Bahrain, plus some background about it.

A sudden and unusual dump of snow in Paris in early February gave rise to Paris under snow.

John Horbury Hunt, Architect gives some background on this notable U.S. trained architect, and a couple of photos of his contributions to Armidale. From the old home town in the 1950s there is The dam that Zihni built, the Oaky River hydroelectric dam constructed by playwright Alex Buzo’s father, Crop dusting in the 1950s, and The Southern Cross comes to Armidale.

Some photos from a recent trip from Crescent Head to Port Macquarie may be found at To Port Macquarie the interesting way.

And when you have been through all that it must be time to switch on the telly. Try the best crime drama ever put to air: Ørnen (The Eagle): A Crime Odyssey.

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