The peril of American turmoil for the Territory


Win or lose, Donald Trump, the ultimate commander of first-strike nuclear target Pine Gap, 19km from Alice Springs, will remain in office as US President until January 20 – from all reports in an unstable, unpredictable frame of mind yet with his finger still on the nuclear button.

He has already been deliberately provoking rising superpower China, in particular this year over the outbreak of the pandemic but also over with manoeuvres in relation to Taiwan. A move by China against Taiwan’s independence is widely seen as a possible trigger for military conflict.

And if the US and China go to war “we lose cities on day one of that conflict”.

That “we” is indeed Australia – the Northern Territory in particular.

This is the view of David Kilcullen, a security analyst and counterinsurgency expert, who has served in the Australian military (remaining a Lieutenant Colonel in the Australian Army Reserve), worked for the US Department of Defence, and advised US, British and Australian governments. Today he is a professor at Arizona State University and the University of New South Wales, Canberra.

“There’s a major US Marine presence in Darwin,” he told Paul Barclay on Radio National’s Big Ideas in July. “We’ve got joint facilities in Australia, these are nuclear targets in the event of a war between China and the US.”

The most important of Australia’s “joint facilities” is, of course, Pine Gap.

Prof Killcullen urged that Australia “statecraft” over next five years go into preventing that conflict, but the odds are against us, he warned, pointing to the work of another expert, Harvard’s Graham Allison, on historic scenarios when a rapidly rising power, like China today, was challenging an established power, like the US. Over the last 500 years a major war resulted 12 out of 16 times.

It is particularly dangerous that the conflict is starting to be seen as inevitable, said Prof Kilcullen, citing a Chinese General who last year predicted that China will fight Taiwan by 2025 and the US by 2035.

Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd also argues that the world is facing the prospect of a hot conflict between China and the US.

And veteran foreign affairs journalist Hamish McDonald has raised the spectre of this post-election period in the US as a “window of opportunity” for Beijing to move on Taiwan “particularly if the election result is disputed and the country is plunged into a political and constitutional crisis” – which right now is a very real fear.

The Australian National University’s Paul Dibb, formerly holding senior office in defence intelligence and with the Department of Defence, thinks that the catastrophic consequences of nuclear war will deter such an eventuality (The Australian, September 21, 2020). But he also questions whether China fully comprehends what an all-out nuclear war would involve. 

He recognises the higher risk of a “surprise attack” given presently increasing nationalism, assertion of territorial claims and increased deployment of military assets, and asks whether our defence organisations are sufficiently focussed on the issues.

Given these sober assessments, are we – citizens of the NT – also sufficiently focussed on the issues?

From a self-interested civilian perspective, we should at least want to know how well prepared our civil defence plans are. My difficulty in obtaining an answer to this question is not reassuring – especially after the experience of so many Australians, during last summer’s bushfires catastrophe, of services being overwhelmed and finding that they were on their own to make decisions and fend for themselves.

If this was the case with a natural disaster that was predictable albeit at unprecedented scale, why then wouldn’t we be worried about arrangements for a surprise military attack, especially with the possibility of nuclear weapons being used.

Remember how close this came in 2017 for the island of Guam, which hosts multiple US military bases, when North Korea announced plans to fire four Hwasong-12 ballistic missiles near the US territory.

In response Guam’s government issued a factsheet: “Do not look at the flash or fireball – It can blind you … Take cover behind anything that might offer protection,” it helpfully suggested.

In Australia civil defence plans were not prepared in the 1980s, at the height of Cold War anxieties about a hot war breaking out – then between the USSR and America.

In his book* about that threat, Prof Dibb wrote that it was “remiss, to say the least, of successive Australian governments not to provide even the most basic civil defence measures against nuclear attack on those facilities [Pine Gap, Nurrungar and North West Cape] – despite the fact that they were advised to do so’.

When I put questions about civil defence to the Department of Defence they recommended “touching base” with the Northern Territory Government.

When I put the same questions to the the Northern Territory Government, initially addressing them to Emergency Services, I eventually received a reply from the Department of the Chief Minister:

“The Department of Defence is best placed to assist you with these questions.”

When I told the DCM about this revolving door, I was promised a reply. It came this afternoon:

“The Australian Government is responsible for security and the protection of national interests. The Northern Territory, as with all other jurisdictions, plays a contributing role.  

The term “civil defence” it was suggested – six days after my original enquiry – is a “legacy term” with connotations of emergency plans for which there are open source documents.

I’ve had a look at the Australian Disaster Preparedness Framework, dated 2018. Some of its relevant key considerations:

Take an all-hazards view – including severe to catastrophic natural and manmade disasters, terrorism, cyber-attacks, etc. (p 17)

Identify who and what will be impacted, and for how long, by the occurrence of a severe to catastrophic disaster – through methods such as forecasting and scenario testing. (p18)

Ensure communities are at the heart of planning and coordinating capabilities and partnerships to prepare for and manage severe to catastrophic disasters. (p 21)

Ensure communities are aware of their role in sharing responsibility for the preparation for and management of severe to catastrophic disasters, (p 21)

Practice the implementation of plans through simulations and exercises to build confidence in partners and the arrangements. (p21)

Is any of that happening in the NT, and Alice Springs in particular, with a view to an attack, possibly nuclear, on military assets including Pine Gap ? I’ll keep trying to find out. 


Image at top: President Trump in a “press conference” today (he took no questions and major broadcasters cut away from it after he started repeating baseless claims about electoral fraud). Screen capture from YouTube.

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Threatening emails sent to more than 20 Sydney high schools, HSC exams thrown into turmoil

Police have launched an investigation into the origins of threatening emails, which disrupted more than 20 Sydney high schools today.

Students, teachers and staff from the schools were evacuated, and police conducted searches of the schools grounds, but say “no items of interest were found”.

“Unfortunately we’ve had more than 20 schools across Sydney impacted by the emails that were threatening bombs,” Education Minister Sarah Mitchell confirmed to the ABC.

Police said initial inquiries “suggest the threats are linked” and detectives from the cybercrime squad will lead the investigation into tracking down the source of the emails.

Schools across Sydney enacted emergency response plans.(ABC News)

It also interrupted some students who were sitting their Higher School Certificate exams.

“Obviously that’s incredibly distressing for any students who were impacted,” Ms Mitchell said.

“They will be able to apply to the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) for misadventure provisions, taking into account the fact that there may have been disruption to their exams,” she said.

“It’s a very serious matter and there are very serious penalties for those sort of threats, and police will investigate thoroughly.”

A spokesperson for NESA said the body was working with the school sectors to understand the impact of today’s events on both morning and afternoon HSC exams.

“No student will have to resit an exam,” Ms Mitchell said.

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Raiders travel plans thrown into turmoil

Canberra have been forced into a last-minute change in travel plans for Friday night’s NRL preliminary final with Ricky Stuart declaring it “another punch in the head”.

The Raiders had planned to fly into Brisbane early for their preliminary final against Melbourne, and spend the day in a designated hotel in the city.

That plan had been in the works for several weeks, with the NRL having assisted in putting pushing for approval from the Queensland Government in the event Canberra qualified.

It would have allowed the Raiders to fly out of Canberra at 10am to have a meal at a Brisbane hotel and lie down before heading to the ground.

However the NRL were told on Wednesday by the state government they would need to have several COVID-safe measures in place for hotel staff, with only two hours to have them approved.

The Raiders deemed it an impossible task.

It means players and staff will now leave Canberra more than four hours later and be forced to head straight to Suncorp Stadium from the airport.

“That’s all changed overnight, which has compromised our preparation again,” Stuart said of the news.

“The Queensland government got back in touch with them (the NRL) yesterday afternoon at 3pm … so it hasn’t eventuated.

“Typical of the Queensland government at the moment.

“I don’t want to talk about it. It won’t affect us. It hasn’t all year, it’s just another punch in the head we have copped in the week leading up to the game.”

The Raiders had adopted a similar approach to the one they had planned when they flew into Sydney last week for their semi-final win over the Sydney Roosters.

It’s the latest in a hurdle in their season of travel hell.

The club have spent around 50 hours in transit to since the NRL’s resumption in May, where overnight hotel stays are banned.

That figure is believed to be close to double the next team in the competition, given they were forced to use Campbelltown as their home ground early in the season.

This will be their fourth trip of the year to Queensland, while they have also had one game in Melbourne and nine in NSW.

“That toughness under the jumper of these players is one of the assets I have as a coach here,” Stuart said.

“No team from the Raiders point of view has had the magnitude of this type of challenge.

“It’s no one’s fault, it’s just the challenge of an out-of-town team. It’s been a really difficult season.

“They’ve made it work because they are tough.They haven’t let it disturb the processes for us to get to a game.

“They haven’t let it disturb preparations. We just need to get to the sideline in the best physical and mental condition.”

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Peru president survives impeachment vote amid virus turmoil

Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra survived an impeachment vote Friday after opposition lawmakers failed to amass enough support to oust the leader as the country copes with one of the world’s worst coronavirus outbreaks.

The decision came after long hours of debate in which legislators blasted Vizcarra but also questioned whether a rushed impeachment process would only create more turmoil in the middle of a health and economic crisis.

“It’s not the moment to proceed with an impeachment which would add even more problems to the tragedy we are living,” lawmaker Francisco Sagasti said.

In the end, only 32 lawmakers voted to remove the president, while 78 voted against and 15 abstained. A two-thirds majority was needed to oust Vizcarra.

The political feud was sparked by the release of several covertly recorded audios that Vizcarra’s detractors contend show he tried to obstruct an influence peddling probe. And despite the failed vote, that conflict was likely to continue, afflicting the president’s ability to carry forward his anti-corruption agenda could be indefinitely stymied.

“In the overall scheme of things, Vizcarra has won this round, but winning is a very relative term,” said Jo-Marie Burt, a senior fellow with the Washington Office on Latin America.

The political turmoil rocking Peru has briefly distracted attention from the pandemic, which has left hundreds of thousands sick in the South American nation with the highest per capita COVID-19 mortality rate around the globe.

At the centre of the ordeal is Vizcarra’s relationship with a little-known musician known as Richard Swing and nearly $50,000 in questionable contracts that the entertainer was given by the Ministry of Culture for activities like motivational speaking.

A covert audio recording shared by Edgar Alarcón — a lawmaker himself charged with embezzlement — appears to show Vizcarra coordinating a defence strategy with two aides, trying to get their stories straight on how many times the musician had visited him.

In remarks before Congress on Friday, Vizcarra asked for forgiveness for the upheaval that the audios have generated but insisted he committed no crime. He called for a proper investigation and urged lawmakers not to aggravate Peru’s already precarious situation by rushing through an impeachment proceeding.

“Let’s not generate a new crisis, unnecessarily, that would primarily affect the most vulnerable,” he said

During a long day of debate, many lawmakers expressed frustration with Vizcarra, denouncing his apology as a weak attempt to make amends and demanding a thorough investigation.

But numerous legislators also said they couldn’t support an impeachment that itself was rushed and full of flaws, held before an official probe reaches any conclusions.

“This doesn’t mean we’re handing over a blank check,” one lawmaker warned.

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Equity market turmoil seen unlikely to provoke rapid Fed response

FILE PHOTO: The Federal Reserve building is set against a blue sky, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Washington, U.S., May 1, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

September 11, 2020

By Matt Scuffham

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The U.S. stock market pullback has raised hopes that the Federal Reserve will ramp up asset purchases to boost the economy, but the sell-off was not steep enough to warrant any action, according to market participants, strategists and an advisor to the U.S. Treasury.

What is more likely is for the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), which will meet on Tuesday and Wednesday to set U.S. monetary policy, to switch its Treasury purchases toward more long-dated debt to keep long-term yields low, some strategists said.

The Fed can increase the assets it holds during times of stress to stimulate the economy, or sell them when the economy is in danger of overheating. It has boosted its balance sheet from $4 trillion to $7 trillion since the coronavirus outbreak.

A technology-driven stock rally had lifted the benchmark S&P 500 <.SPX> 15% since the beginning of July to its peak close on Sept. 2. The Nasdaq Composite index <.IXIC> rose 21% over the same period.

However, a brutal sell-off in heavyweight tech stocks pushed the Nasdaq into correction territory on Tuesday, commonly defined as a fall of 10% or more from a recent peak. Since then, the market has partially stabilized.

Ajay Rajadhyaksha, head of macro research at Barclays Plc, said it would take another sudden and dramatic fall in markets before the Fed would even consider stepping up its buying.

“The Fed will have no issues with the level of equities at this point,” said Rajadhyaksha, who is on a committee that advises the U.S. Treasury on debt management and the economy. “I think that you would need them to fall another 10%, at least, quickly, before the Fed even starts to take notice.”

Gennadiy Goldberg, U.S. rates strategist at TD Securities, also said equity sell-offs would not concern the Fed.

“A few declines after a massive rally is really not going to do it for them. They are looking for signs of instability,” he said.

Some investors were looking for increased Fed buying to support the market.

Troy Gayeski, co-chief investment officer at SkyBridge, an alternative investments firm, said the fact the Fed’s balance sheet had remained static for 12 weeks was part of the reason for investor caution.

“Unless we get another round of balance sheet expansion and another re-acceleration of money supply growth then markets are going to be much more two way and volatile,” he said.

The Fed has slowed purchases of Treasuries and mortgage-backed debt as markets recover from chronic liquidity problems in March, when panic over the coronavirus sent stocks tumbling and resulted in logjams across debt markets.

It has bought around $190 billion of these securities in the past month, compared with as much as $125 billion a day during the worst of the panic in March.

The Fed has also reduced its average daily corporate bond purchases from around $300 million, when the program was introduced in May, to $26 million last week, as credit spreads have tightened.

The Fed last stepped up its corporate debt buying in June, which came after equity market sell-offs and widening investment grade credit spreads.

A decline in repo loans that were increased to loosen funding conditions during the market rout has kept the Fed’s balance sheet steady at around $7 trillion since May, even as debt purchases continue at lower levels.

The Fed has committed to buying at least $120 billion monthly in Treasury and mortgage-backed assets and pledged it would do whatever was needed to ensure liquidity remains in the market.

(Additional reporting by Karen Brettell and Megan Davies; Editing by Megan Davies and Richard Chang)

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Labor in turmoil as it plans response to branch-stacking allegations levelled at Adem Somyurek

Labor is being roiled by factional tensions as the federal ALP contemplates an overhaul of the party’s Victorian branch in the wake of “industrial-scale” branch stacking allegations.

In a press conference on Monday, Victorian Premier Dan Andrews announced he had sacked Labor powerbroker Adem Somyurek from the ministry after Channel Nine aired the explosive accusations, as well as recordings of Mr Somyurek using offensive language to describe his colleagues.

Two of Mr Somyurek’s factional allies have since resigned their spots in Cabinet, but denied any wrongdoing on their part.

Mr Somyurek says he emphatically denies any involvement in branch stacking.

Federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese has vowed a “proper examination” of the Victorian division of the party, while federal MPs and senators have voiced dismay about how the episode has damaged the ALP.

The response will likely be hammered out by Labor’s national executive, which is expected to meet as early as today.

It is understood Mr Albanese was pushing for party heavyweights Steve Bracks, who served as a Victorian Premier from 1999 to 2007, and long-serving federal deputy leader Jenny Macklin to head a review into the Victorian branch, but negotiations on this are still ongoing.

Some Labor figures are demanding stronger action, pressing for full-scale federal intervention in the Victorian branch.

Former federal cabinet minister and factional powerbroker Stephen Conroy said state and federal preselections may need to be conducted by the federal ALP, given the number of members that had allegedly been stacked.

“The National Executive needs to deal with this.

“It is a real challenge for the branch to hold preselections that would have any integrity.”

Another MP conceded: “The culture has become problematic. A reset is required.”

Steve Bracks smiles, with the Melbourne CBD in the background.
Former Victorian premier Steve Bracks is among those being championed to lead the investigation.(ABC Melbourne: Kristian Silva)

Some Labor MPs estimate about 4,000 of Victoria’s 16,000 members have been stacked by various powerbrokers over several years, in what one senior figure labelled a “high-level corrosion of the electoral roll”.

But a federal intervention of that magnitude could be enormously destabilising for the party.

The controversy is stirring factional tensions, with some MPs saying the investigation might be used by left MPs to target factional enemies on the right.

Some Victorian Labor figures have also warned that any review should be conducted by someone from outside the state branch or risk repeating the mistakes of previous reviews.

Victoria's Finance Minister Robin Scott smiles at the camera.
Assistant Treasurer Robin Scott has become the second Victorian state Labor MP to resign in the wake of an expose into former Labor powerbroker Adem Somyurek.(AAP: Julian Smith)

Labor has previously announced external reviews in the wake of damaging controversies.

Mr Albanese has repeatedly referenced the NSW Lavarch review — conducted after the suspension of then-NSW Labor general secretary Kaila Murnain in 2019.

“We put Michael Lavarch in charge of the review in NSW,” Mr Albanese told reporters.

“We did it swiftly and we did it efficiently and we did it in a way that’s making a difference. And that’s a good thing that it’s occurring.”

But not everyone in Labor is convinced that is a good template.

One ALP figure told the ABC “we don’t normally look to Sydney to find salvation”.

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Cricket Australia Board in turmoil after Michael Kasprowicz’s departure

Cricket Australia’s Board has come under question after former Australian paceman Michael Kasprowicz resigned on Wednesday.

As first reported by News Corp’s Robert Craddock and Peter Lalor, Kasprowicz stepped down from his position on the Board after becoming frustrated with the direction of its leadership.

The former Test cricketer boasted a wealth of experience in cricket administration, including stints as President of the Australian Cricketers’ Association (ACA) and interim chief executive of Queensland Cricket.

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Kasprowicz’s departure leaves the CA Board without any Test cricketers apart from Mel Jones, who played the last of her five Test matches in 2003.

Speaking on ABC’s Offsiders, veteran cricket reporter Gideon Haigh discussed the impact Kasprowicz’s departure would have on the sport.

CA and the ACA were involved in an ugly pay dispute in 2017, and Haigh believed Kasprowicz should have been a significant figure in the discussions considering his background. However, the Queenslander went “missing in action” during the lengthy dispute.

“It didn’t come out of left field really … for the last couple of years, people have been wondering exactly what Michael Kasprowicz is bringing to the Board,” Haigh said on Sunday.

“He’s a big-hearted guy, and honest toiler — but I don’t think he had the skills to make a huge, broad-based contribution.”

The CA Board underwent a mammoth overhaul after the 2018 ball-tampering scandal — including the departure of former Australian Test captain Mark Taylor — and two chief executives have stepped down from their position over the past two years.

Since the coronavirus lockdown, CA has been forced to make significant staff cuts, which has caused tension between themselves and the state associations.

Without the influence of former players, there are lingering concerns the CA Board will struggle to maintain a healthy relationship with the ACA and the states. According to The Australian, Kasprowicz cited a lack of trust between the states and the board as a reason for his premature departure.

“There is a considerable mandate for board reform coming from the states at the moment, and it is worrying that this is one of the least experienced boards in terms of direct international involvement in my memory,” Haigh said.

“Since Allan Border joined in 2012, you’ve had Border, Mark Taylor, Matthew Hayden serving on the Board, and Kasprowicz as well.

“At the moment, the most experienced cricketer on that Board at the moment is Mel Jones … and if you look at the rest of them, it’s pretty male, it’s pretty pale, and it’s not very experienced on the field.

“Perhaps the time has come for a Chairman, a genuinely uniting and conspicuous figure who has universal respect, like an Ian Healy or a Steve Waugh.”

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China GDP growth target for 2020 abandoned amid coronavirus turmoil

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Amid the coronavirus turmoil, some have used it as a catalyst for a career change

As the NT’s jobless rate rose to 6 per cent due to coronavirus upheaval, Territorians who have been laid off in the turmoil are attempting to make a fresh start in a new industry.

Brendan Moore was working as a trainee building surveyor and was watching the Sunday night news when the Prime Minister announced new coronavirus restrictions.

“The next day I got a call around 4 o’clock from the boss and he said, ‘Sorry mate, we have to make you redundant’,” he said.

Across Australia, lives have been upended during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The latest figures show 600,000 people lost their jobs due to coronavirus last month, including 9,000 in the NT.

In all, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said 2.7 million Australians either left the labour force, lost their job or had their hours reduced.

They are numbers the Prime Minister Scott Morrison said were “devastating”.

And yet, some have found a silver lining amid the economic carnage.

Mr Moore said he was using his redundancy as a catalyst to change his career and become a medic.

“It isn’t always easy. I think sometimes the uncertainty pops into your head especially after I have invested so much of my life into the building industry,” he said.

“But with the times as they are, it makes sense to make the change now.”

Aoife O’Connor, 24, says she’s seeing the upside in the pandemic by learning new skills in a new job.(ABC News: Matt Garrick)

Aoife O’Connor, originally from Ireland, had been working as a traffic controller when the pandemic hit.

“It was getting really quiet on the streets, they were only doing emergency work, so they had to stop giving me hours. So I was without work for three weeks,” she said.

Ms O’Connor has since found work with the City of Darwin Council as a landscaper.

In the wake of lockdown, the council hired more than 100 people like her to beautify the city and get people back in work.

“I signed up for the job with council and two days later I was on the job. I was at home tapping my feet looking for anything and I was starting to panic so it just came at the right time,” she said.

“Since I started this I was like doing the outdoor stuff learning about irrigation and general landscaping is fantastic.”

Karina Akarana profile shot
Karina Akarana was unable to stay at Yulara as she lost her job at a resort.(ABC News: Dylan Anderson)

Alice Springs resident Karina Akarana was one of hundreds of employees affected by job losses at Voyages Ayers Rock Resort, where more than 500 staff either resigned, were stood down or made redundant.

Ms Akarana, who was working as a coordinator for community engagement and employment pathways with the company, said she had to move back to Alice Springs and live with her sister’s family after she lost her job.

“For me, I knew that this was going to happen, so I sort of was preparing myself for it, I think I still broke down when I told I was being made redundant,” Ms Akarana said.

“I had to start thinking about where I am going to go because Yulara is a place where you can’t just stay there, you’re only allowed to stay there if you’re employed with Voyages.

“Once my redundancy and my unemployment status kicked over, they gave me two weeks to get things together and I had to try and work out where I was going to go from there.”

Ms Akarana was also able to easily navigate Centrelink to lodge and intent to claim but said many people living in Yulara were not able to do so, due to limited internet access.

“Then obviously without a Centrelink office out there, it made it extremely hard for those other people,” she said.

She is now temporarily living in a three-bedroom house with her sister’s family of seven but said she would soon move to Darwin after difficulty finding an affordable rental in Alice Springs that allowed pets.

Ms Akarana said she planned to begin a nursing degree.

With further restrictions on eating in cafes and restaurants, the NT Government said it hoped many people could go back to work this weekend.

But for some, it has forced a total re-assessment of what that future will look like.

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