Leading article Australia
7 January 2023
The month of January is named for the Roman deity Janus, a god with two faces who looks back to the past and forward to the future. As 2023 gets underway, Australia is at last shaking off its pandemic derangement syndrome, yet it is considerably weaker than before it descended into Covid mania. In 2019, former treasurer Josh Frydenberg finally managed to bring government spending more or less in line with revenue for the first time since the Global Financial Crisis and net debt was less than 20 per cent. And former energy minister Angus Taylor had also wrangled the government into keeping its emissions reductions target in line with what could be achieved with existing technology.
Yet what a difference three years make. Net debt is now 23 per cent of GDP and on track to pass 28 per cent in three years. Additionally, the former federal government abandoned its principled position of not committing to emissions reductions that it did not have the technological capacity to deliver. Now, the new Labor government will drive up government spending further and has embarked on a recklessly rapid and ruinous reduction in emissions that cannot be achieved in either the short or long term, will drive up energy costs, and send businesses broke or offshore, without reducing global emissions. It is this sort of quixotic tilting at wind turbines that has brought the UK and Europe to their knees, but Prime Minister Albanese and Energy Minister Bowen are determined to follow in that continent’s ill-fated footsteps, egged on by the Greens, the Teal independents, and half the Liberal party. China and the rest of the developing world will laugh all the way to the bank at our greenhouse gas follies.
Yet that’s not the end of the economic pain. China’s abandonment of its delusional zero Covid policy spells uncertainty for Australia with further disruptions to supply chains and an unwelcome prolongation of the inflationary spiral that is that price we are forced to pay for our profligate spending over the last three years.
Perhaps, with Covid creating illness and economic hardship at home, China may be less likely to launch an attack on Taiwan, unless President Xi wants to distract from domestic discontent. Australians had better hope that 2023 does not usher in a war in the Taiwan Strait because this nation and its allies are woefully unprepared.
By presenting a picture of abject weakness in its shambolic departure from Afghanistan, the US encouraged President Putin’s ill-judged military invasion of Ukraine. That Putin now finds himself in quagmire does not alter the fact that the US and UK governments are depleting their military supplies doing the lion’s share of arming the Ukraine. Yet neither has the capacity to fight a war in Europe as well as a war in the Pacific. This alone might tempt President Xi to launch an attack on Taiwan sooner rather than later.
Meanwhile, our ageing submarines are not fit for service and their nuclear replacements are decades away. The notion that meeting our urgent national security needs can be delayed until we have the wherewithal to build our own nuclear submarines is a dangerous joke, but nobody should be laughing. With the Middle Kingdom more bellicose than at any time in its history, we need the capacity to credibly deter war and contribute to the protection of vital sea lanes now, not in several decades. Put simply, the federal government needs to bite the bullet and commit to buying nuclear submarines off the peg. Instead of building nuclear submarines, we would be far better off building a nuclear industry with not just the capacity to service subs, but to build small modular reactors so that we can guarantee that we have the unlimited low-emissions energy on demand that we will need to ensure we maintain the high standard of living that Australians have every right to expect. While we are at it, we should also develop the safe nuclear waste storage industry that Australian scientists pioneered nearly half a century ago with the development of Synroc.
Critically, two-faced Janus should prod us to take an unflinching look back at the blunders we committed over the last three years and learn the lessons. We not only abandoned our pandemic preparedness plans with their emphasis on focused protection of the vulnerable, while allowing the strong to work and the economy to function, we abandoned the scientific method, imposing censorship and propaganda in place of rational debate. We must never let this happen again. Yet the threat that history will repeat itself is real. The same charlatans who cheered on the imposition of tyranny justified by Covid pseudo-science now plan to convert their strictures into a permanent abrogation of our freedoms in the name of climate-change alarmism. This ideology poses an intolerable threat to our prosperity and freedom and unless we defeat it there will be no happy new year.
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