Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Pull out of jet deal, Govt urged

Pull out of jet deal, Govt urged

A Liberal backbencher says the Super Hornet can not compete with Russian-built fighters being deployed in Asia.

A Liberal MP says party leader Brendan Nelson made the wrong decision in his previous role as defence minister when he ordered 24 Super Hornet jet fighters for the RAAF.

Western Australian backbencher Dr Dennis Jensen, a former defence research scientist, says the Rudd Labor Government should try to get out of the $6.6 billion deal.

Dr Jensen told the National Interest program on ABC Radio National that the Super Hornet can not compete with Russian-built fighters being deployed in Asia.

"There've been numerous comparative analyses that have been conducted overseas and where ever the Super Hornet's been in the competition it's lost," Dr Jensen said.

"The problem with the Hornet is it is slow, it is sluggish in acceleration and its payload range capability is limited.

"And as such the threats that are emerging in the region will effectively fly rings around it."

Dr Jensen says the jet's manufacturer Boeing did a very good sales job on Dr Nelson when he was minister.

"I've seen another slide presentation that Boeing gives and it looks very, very convincing," he said.

Axe set to fall on fighter jets

Tom Allard National Security Editor FAIRFAX| December 31, 2007

The $6.6 billion purchase of 24 Super hornets as a stop-gap fighter jet is to be jettisoned by the Federal Government as it reviews all aspects of the program to give Australia a critical edge in regional air combat capability.

The Sydney Morning Herald understands that Department of Defence planners have been asked to present an analysis on all the fighter jet options to the Federal Government and how they stack up against likely adversaries, the first time such a study has been done for at least five years.

All projects in the $30 billion program will be scrutinised "with fresh eyes". That includes what aircraft are to be bought, how many, when and at what price. "Absolutely everything is on the table," a Government source said.

Even if contracts have been signed, as is the case with the Super Hornets, the Government is prepared to break them if the case is compelling. This is a shift from previous Labor thinking.

The air combat program is supposed to deliver air superiority in the region, long-regarded as fundamental to Australia's strategic doctrine given its large land mass and isolation.

The coming year is looming as a critical one. A final decision must be made on the centrepiece of the air-combat project - a $15 billion outlay on up to 100 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, a high-stealth aircraft yet to be developed, has been troubled by delays and is at risk of big cost blow-outs.

The prevailing view in the Government is that it makes sense for the entire air combat force structure to be re-examined at the same time. The Defence White Paper - outlining the nation's long-term strategic priorities and being developed next year -is also likely to guide the review.

Writing in his local newspaper last week, the Minister for Defence, Joel Fitzgibbon, made clear his concerns with the Super Hornets, a purchase pushed through with great haste by his predecessor, Brendan Nelson, who is now the Opposition Leader.

"Few decisions of the Howard government were more controversial than its commitment to spend more than $6 billion on 24 Super Hornets without proper due process or capability justification," he wrote in The Newcastle Herald.

Dr Nelson sold the Super Hornet option to cabinet's National Security Committee this year without the co-operation of defence chiefs or undertaking the long due diligence and comparative analysis that usually precedes acquisitions of such scale and expense.

Before his pitch, RAAF planners had said an interim jet was not required. Defence analysts say it is the wrong aircraft anyway, lacking stealth and power.

The Herald understands that the Super Hornet contract - like those for all foreign military sales - can be abandoned, at a cost of about $300 million. If it is not dumped the Government may seek to renegotiate its terms, or buy fewer aircraft.

F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Up to 100 aircraft at $15 billion. Delivery from 2014.

F/A-18 Super Hornets 24 aircraft at $6.6 billion. Interim fighter. Delivery from 2009.

Wedgetail Six command and control aircraft at $3.25 billion. At least two years late. Delivery from 2009.

F/A-18 Hornets Upgrade to existing fleet of "Classic" Hornets at $3.1 billion. Completed by 2010.

Airborne refuellers Five aircraft at $2 billion.

Weapons programs About $500 million on new missiles and bombs. Deployed in 2010.

Conservative warriors unite to sink Turnbull

Friday, 30 November 2007

Greg Barns writes:

The demise of Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership ambitions was in part revenge by those Liberals who have always treated the former Republican leader with, shall we charitably say, suspicion. Make no mistake, right wing warriors such as Nick Minchin and Tony Abbott have never warmed to Turnbull. They despised him for his role in pushing an Australian republic during the 1990s.

Abbott, let's remember, was Turnbull’s opponent in that debate and Minchin never made any secret of his contempt for the idea of ridding Australia of the British monarchy. Both men were the hardest-working of Howard government ministers in advising and spruiking for the monarchist campaign in the 1999 Referendum.

Over the past five years, individuals like Minchin and Abbott and their supporters have had to endure the rise and rise of Malcolm. From the time Malcolm Turnbull made his peace with John Howard in 2001, the right has quietly seethed as their former nemesis rose rapidly through the ranks to become Environment Minister in the Howard government.

But yesterday the empire struck back. Turnbull’s courageous and morally correct decision to announce this week that, if he were Liberal Leader, the Party would join with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in a formal Apology to Indigenous Australians for past wrongs sent Minchin and Abbott and the conservatives in the Tory party into a frenzy. The work that John Howard had done over the past decade in reshaping the Liberal Party into an unambiguously capital C conservative force in Australian politics could be brought undone by a man of Turnbull’s intellectual prowess and marketability to the electorate.

Minchin and Abbott had their minions out yesterday castigating Turnbull in no uncertain terms and making the point that they don’t think he will ever be suitable to lead the Liberals. He’s too slick, too Sydney eastern suburbs, too liberal, makes announcements without consulting his colleagues, not the man for us – all this and more from Howard’s self-styled Praetorian Guard.

Turnbull is his own man. Strong-willed and fiercely independent – not a man to be sat upon by factional heavies or party number crunchers like Minchin.

Brendan Nelson on the other hand is shallow, has swung to the Right simply because it is opportune to do so, and is a leader of whom Minchin and Abbott approve. Nelson believes in only one thing – himself. His career is a testament to that fact. He is a Faustian character.

And the forces of darkness – those who don’t seem to understand that the Liberal Party, if it is to regain office, must embrace the centre – not only triumphed in defeating Turnbull, they snared the Senate leadership as well. Nick Minchin is hanging around as leader for the Liberals in the Senate, and now he has a fellow right wing bovver boy in Eric Abetz as his Deputy.

Abetz got off to a dreadful start yesterday. He was surely smoking something when he said yesterday that Labor, when it has been in government, treats the Senate with contempt, and rams through legislation! Earth to Eric – remember your own government’s emasculation of Senate committees the moment it got control of that institution after the 2004 election?

The Liberal Party had a chance yesterday to make a break with the past and become, like its counterparts in the UK under David Cameron’s leadership today, a more tolerant and compassionate party. But instead they opted for more of the same. The Party has learnt nothing since Saturday. That’s what’s wrong with the Liberal Party.

Greg Barns is the author of What’s Wrong with the Liberal Party? (2003) and was disendorsed, because of his public criticism of the Howard government’s asylum seeker policies, by Senator Abetz and his colleagues in the Tasmanian Liberal Party in 2002.

Nelson secures leadership with backroom deal with right wing Libs

Backroom deal seals Nelson bid

November 30, 2007

IF POLITICS offers redemption, Brendan Nelson got more than a whiff of it yesterday, thanks to a backroom deal with MPs from the one state that bucked the vote-slide to Labor at the weekend, Western Australia.

A few years ago, Dr Nelson told an interviewer that if he had known he was going to be a politician, he would have done a lot of things in his life differently, because he'd made a lot of mistakes.

Liberal Party powerbrokers allowed him to put those mistakes to one side yesterday. The party, of course, is desperate and on its knees after losing in a single weekend a federal election, a prime minister and a treasurer it thought would become its next leader.

But who might have thought it would elect as its future a thrice-married man who was considered by his friends a Labor man for 20 years, and who was a signed-up Labor Party member from 1988 until 1992 — just four years before he entered Parliament as a Liberal?

A group who wanted to deny multimillionaire Sydneysider Malcolm Turnbull, it turns out. According to reliable sources, right-wing Senate leader Nick Minchin was crucial to brokering a last-minute deal that swung six crucial West Australian votes from Mr Turnbull to Dr Nelson.

The reasons were complex, but one stood out. Mr Minchin and those who switched could not abide Mr Turnbull's declaration early this week that John Howard should have said sorry to indigenous Australia.

The arrangement guaranteed not only that the leadership went to Dr Nelson, but the deputy leadership to West Australian Julie Bishop. Essentially, Ms Bishop was offered strong support for her tilt at the deputy leadership on the understanding that she would swing her vote, and that of five West Australian colleagues, to Dr Nelson. It would not only mean defeat for Mr Turnbull, but for Victorian deputy leader candidate and former federal Liberal Party director Andrew Robb.

The whispered deal, however, may have handed Dr Nelson a poisoned chalice.

In a party with a long tradition of leadership instability in opposition — the 1980s, for example, proved a lost decade as Andrew Peacock and John Howard fought over the Liberal leadership — Dr Nelson already has guaranteed rivals. Tony Abbott said only two days ago he would not rule out future challenges for the leadership, and Malcolm Turnbull clearly did not enter politics to play second fiddle for too long. He was believed to have been furious last night after learning of the manoeuvring that blew his leadership chances away.

Dr Nelson waved aside questions about how he would avoid leadership instability yesterday, saying that we would just have to watch.

Dr Nelson, former federal president of the Australian Medical Association and a minister of both education and defence in the Howard government, won the Liberal leadership from Mr Turnbull by just three votes in the party room yesterday, 45-42.

Many observers had tipped that Mr Turnbull would be chosen ahead of Dr Nelson, partly because Mr Turnbull had played out his campaign publicly.

In fact, Dr Nelson appears to have got the upper hand by staying in the shadows and quietly garnering the support of such heavyweights as Senator Minchin.

One hint that he was confident of winning was his studied behaviour on Wednesday.

Outside the executive wing of Canberra's Parliament House, Tony Abbott had just finished telling the gathered media that he was withdrawing as a leadership candidate because he did not have the numbers. Those few votes he did have, it seemed plain, would flow to Dr Nelson rather than the new boy on the block, Mr Abbott's ideological opposite, Mr Turnbull.

A short time later, word went out that Dr Nelson was on his way to Parliament House. Camera crews gathered and, sure enough, he sauntered by, declining to utter a word but smiling for the cameras.

Often judged by critics as little more than a show pony, Dr Nelson had adopted a new persona — the coy pussycat, who perhaps knew he had got the cream.

Neither candidate had the opportunity to pitch his wares to colleagues in the party room. Liberal rules require candidates to "stand in their place" silently until the ballot is complete. Thus, Dr Nelson had won the leadership, and Mr Turnbull had lost it, before they entered the ground-floor room at Parliament House.

Mr Turnbull had presented himself in media interviews as new, energetic and open-minded, prepared to say "sorry" to indigenous Australians and to offer a socially inclusive face to the electorate.

According to a number of Liberal MPs who spoke to The Age yesterday, Mr Turnbull's very public willingness to spruik his strengths was his greatest weakness when it came to the vote.

"He was seen to believe vociferously in things like the republic and he made this unilateral comment about saying sorry — things that a lot of us had opposed over the years," one Liberal said. "And he made these sort of policy statements through the media. We felt that if this was the way he would operate, we weren't ready for him." Others said that some backbenchers, wearied of toeing the Howard line for years, felt they could not abide another powerful and prescriptive personality.

Yet others compared Dr Nelson's 12 years in Parliament to Mr Turnbull's three. "We remembered the experience of Dr John Hewson who was in parliament for only a short time before he became leader, then in short order lost an election," a Liberal who voted for Dr Nelson said.

Another factor that played against Mr Turnbull, according to some sources, was the fact that although he was considered clever, articulate and confident, he was identified as a rich Sydneysider — "a bit too glitzy and slick, and a small 'l' liberal".

Dr Nelson, on the other hand, was a "small 'c' conservative", whose roots were humble and far from Sydney.

Dr Nelson — in a somewhat Kevin Ruddesque manner — used that very story to declare to the media yesterday his journey to Liberal leader was "unorthodox".

"My dad was a Labor man, and my family by and large was a Labor family," he said.

"In the streets of Launceston where we grew up, my father said to me, 'Son, in the absence of family influence, the only way that you're ever going to be a better person and live in a more confident Australia is if you work and study as hard as you can at school'."

And so, through school and university in Adelaide he grew to become a medical doctor, the head of the AMA and finally, a cabinet minister.

As he stood before the media for a "significant day in the history of the Liberal Party", he noted that it was "important for us to stand true to what we believe".

It is a theme he has repeated for years. Back in 1993, though, he was captured by television cameras just days before the election shouting at a crowd that "I have never voted Liberal in my life".

Questions about his character arose when he later told interviewers and a Liberal pre-selection panel that he, in fact, voted Liberal during the years he belonged to the Labor Party.

Now, at his crowning moment of redemption, the waters around him are poisoned once again. So much for party renewal.
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