AN old aphorism-cum-cliché beloved of armchair Churchills and lounge lizard neo-cons was today raised to the headlines as Prepare for war and Dutton warns: Australians must prepare for war. It was a felicitous Anzac Day angle within an election campaign where the khaki is being donned and dropped like a Digger’s duds during dysentery. “The only way you can preserve peace is to prepare for war,” Defence Minister Peter Dutton said – quoting fourth century military dilettante Vegetius verbatim, sans attribution. The fearmongering abridgement was to be expected at the Daily Mail or Sky News but The Australian – a newspaper as broad intellectually as its pages remain physically – should know better. The counsel Vegetius merely recorded in his Rei militaris instituta was “Si vis pacem, para bellum.” Morrison government translation: ‘If you want peace, give over one of your largest ports to the enemy and bungle every military procurement you initiate.’
Every day on the hustings has a leitmotif – usually penned but often improvised – and today’s was the butchering of esteemed military adages. Independent Senator Rex Patrick re-worked Theodore Roosevelt’s classic by saying the minister was talking “loudly whilst carrying a twig.” Mark Latham went further (as only he can), accusing Mr Dutton of “wandering around like a closing-time drunk with a megaphone, while carrying a toothpick.” If China is watching – and we’re assured it always is – nothing in the defence component of the election contest will cause any anxiety in Beijing. The cynical contempt for reality in Australian politics is beyond rank. If James Morrow is right that the prospect of Deputy Leader of the Opposition Richard Marles becoming Defence Minister “should terrify people,” how much more terrified should we already be? Which is worse, after all: Marles’s trip to China in 2019 and that officially censored speech or the “Pandaroo” joint training exercise in China’s southern island province of Hainan in the same year?
In one of the more compelling and aggressive debates of the campaign so far, former Labor senator Stephen Conroy took Senator Jim Molan to task on Paul Murray Live Sunday night for suggesting the Albanese-led Opposition would leave Australia unready for war. Conroy – a man whose back I haven’t customarily rushed to slap – won by K.O. He pointed out that Labor had only governed the nation for seven years in the last quarter of a century. Almost everything that has been botched in that era was botched by the Coalition. That includes the ludicrous war in Afghanistan and a series of acquisition disasters so predictable that Joseph McCarthy would, by now, have raised questions about the top brass. The ADF doesn’t need a Peter Dutton; it needs a Peter Walsh.
Let’s get real: we will never be a match for China. If war does break out over Taiwan, we will play a bit part. As for AUKUS submarines, the world isn’t a martial arts movie: China isn’t one of the dōjō baddies waiting patiently to attack us (in about 2050) – all the better to showcase for the audience our nuclear nunchaku. If Messrs Morrison and Dutton want my vote on national security and so-called Western values, let them announce they are jettisoning net zero, terminating their financing of proxy war in Ukraine (of all places) and instituting a constitutional convention whose purpose will be to safeguard Australian citizens from corrupt, violent state governments. The best thing we can do to stymie China – and stymie, humiliate and badmouth its ant regime we should never miss an opportunity to do – is to get richer and richer; freer and freer.