30 April 2011

New records from overseas

New Records from Overseas was the title of a Sunday morning ABC radio program hosted by Ralph Collins, a former ABC music librarian with an enormous knowledge of music, who hosted his own program for about thirty years from the 1960s. In the days that we were establishing a garden at our first house in Macquarie in the ACT, we listened to it without fail on the large portable radio that my parents had given me for my 21st birthday.

The title of this program comes into my head whenever a parcel arrives from my CD supplier of choice, Presto Classical.

A particularly content-rich package was awaiting me when I arrived home on Thursday evening. It contained three Sony boxed sets which are currently available at a discount and which seemed too good to pass up:

The Budapest String Quartet plays Beethoven  (8 CDs)
 The complete cycle of Beethoven’s sixteen quartets

Arthur Rubinstein Plays Brahms (9 CDs)
 The two piano concerti (No. 1 with Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, No. 2 with Josef Krips and the RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra)
The three piano sonatas
The three violin sonatas, with Henryk Szeryng
The two cello sonatas, with Gregor Piatagorsky
The three piano trios with Henryk Szeryng and Pierre Fournier
The three piano quartets and the marvellous Piano Quintet in F minor with the Guarneri Quartet
Shorter solo pieces – the ballades, intermezzi etc.

Robert Casadesus plays Mozart (5 CDs)
Piano concerti nos. 15,17 and 21-27, all with Gerge Szell and the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra
Piano Sonata No. 12 in F Major K. 332
Concerto for Two Pianos in E-flat major K. 365 (with wife Gaby Casadesus)
Concerto for Three Pianos in F major K. 242 (with Gaby Casadesus and son Jean)
(both of the above with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra)
Quintet for Piano & Winds in E-flat major K. 452 (with the Philadelphia Woodwind Quintet)

The above 22 CDs delivered to my doorstep for a mere $A75.59. It will take me a while to play through that lot.

Presto Classical’s discount offer on Sony boxed sets lasts until 4 May. See the full range here.

28 April 2011

IISS on Europe’s confused response to the war in Libya

In an April 2011  “Strategic Comment”, the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies has a hard-hitting must-read article, War in Libya: Europe’s confused response. It begins:

Although European countries have been prominent in the military operation in Libya, the crisis has exposed sharp disagreements between them. Many of the 26 European members of NATO are not taking part in the operation, while others are contributing to widely differing degrees. As the military conflict moves into what could prove to be a long-running impasse, there is little sign that divisions over how to approach the Libyan uprising are being bridged.  The fragmented European responses to the Libyan war show once again how difficult it is for Europe to forge a common foreign policy and to respond as one to crises through multilateral frameworks. In particular, they have exposed the shortcomings of the defence structures that the European Union (EU) has been painstakingly crafting for two decades. They have shown the emptiness of claims that the Lisbon Treaty of 2009 would make the EU better fitted to take action than it was during the crises of the Balkans.

After an analysis of the changes brought about by the Lisbon Treaty, diplomatic and institutional factors, and political and military factors, the article concludes:

The Libyan crisis has thus once again opened wide divisions on foreign policy among European countries. It demonstrates that, 20 years after the Balkan conflicts broke out, the EU remains far from ready to assume a role as a regional power. But it also calls into question the unity and functioning of the Atlantic Alliance, which is looking increasingly like a vehicle for the generation of ad-hoc coalitions of the willing.

Read the full piece here.

Iran: Update on Mir-Hossain Mousavi and his wife

In a 19 April 2011 post on the Iranian website RoozOnline, Fereshteh Ghazi provides an update on the state of play with former Presidential candidate and leader of the reformist Green Movement, Mir-Hossain Mousavi, and his wife Zahra Rahnavard, who effectively disappeared from public view a few weeks ago.  The last time Mousavi and his wife were seen in public was during the burial ceremony for Mousavi’s father, who died on March 30, 2011.

Ghazi’s sources were, in separate conversations, Mir-Hossein Mousavi’s sister, Khadijeh Mousavi Khamene, and her husband Mir-Hassan Habibi Mousavi, both of whom had had telephone conversations with the detainees.

Mir-Hassan Habibi Mousavi, whose son was killed in December 2009 during a public protest over the disputed 2009 presidential election, and who had himself been beaten and arrested during the burial ceremony of Mousavi’s father, said:

“Mr. Mousavi and his wife Zahra Rahnavard called yesterday (Monday) and both spoke with us ...  The conversation was limited to health and generalities about their sister and family members.  ... The morale of both of them is excellent and as far as we know they are in good health.”

Speaking about their condition, Habibi Mousavi said it remained the same as before and that as far as he knew they were in their own house.

Read Ghazi’s full post here.

Haleh Esfandiari on Iran

In the Review section of the 15 April edition of The Australian Financial Review there is a fine article, Could Iran be next: Haleh Esfandiari says the voice of the people is being ignored in Tehran, reprinted from the New York Review of Books.

Haleh Esfandiari is the director of the Woodrow Wilson Internation Centre for Scholars in Washington DC, and the author of My Prison, My Home: One Woman’s Story of Captivity in Iran, Harper Collins, 2009. She was held in solitary confinement in Evin Prison in Iran for 105 days in 2007.

Esfandiari begins:

As the Libyan uprising was gathering force last week, Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, criticized Libya’s leader, Muammar Qaddafi, for using violence against his own people and advised him and other Middle Eastern heads of state to listen to their publics. The irony was not lost on anyone. Only two weeks earlier, on February 14, Ahmadinejad had sent hundreds of riot police, paramilitary basijis, and baton-wielding goons in plainclothes to disrupt demonstrations in Tehran and other Iranian cities called by Mir Hussein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, leaders of the opposition, in solidarity with the people of Tunisia and Egypt. By the end of the day, 1,500 protesters had been arrested; two had been killed.

The next day, 222 of the 290 deputies of the Majlis, Iran’s parliament, approved a resolution to put Mousavi and Karroubi on trial for sedition. Several dozen of the deputies, raising clenched fists, then began to shout out calls to execute the two men. The supposedly “moderate” Speaker of Parliament, Ali Larijani, quietly joined in. Karroubi and Mousavi, already under house arrest to prevent them from attending the rallies they had hoped to lead, were held incommunicado, denied visits even from their children and families, and then taken away to an unknown detention center.

Here was another irony, in view of the recent pro-democracy uprisings in the Middle East that Ahmadenijad purported to support. Karroubi, a senior cleric, is a former Speaker of Parliament; Mousavi was prime minister and guided the country through the difficult years of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. Their “crime” was to have posed a serious challenge to Ahmadinejad as candidates in the 2009 presidential elections, which many Iranians believed were blatantly rigged. Millions of Iranians poured out into the streets to protest when Ahmadinejad’s victory was announced. “Where is my vote,” became the slogan of the protesters, and some even cried “death to the dictator”— meaning Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei—an almost unprecedented attack on the regime itself.

But then the security forces and Basijis cracked down with brutal force; according to the government’s own figures, some six thousand were arrested during the election protests. That crackdown, and the mass show trial of protesters broadcast on state television that followed, muted but did not silence the opposition Green Movement. Protests have been attempted periodically since and invariably suppressed by government forces, as they were again last week.

Read Esfandiari’s article in full here.

In the run-up to the June 2009 Iranian Presidential election I posted brief profiles, with photographs, of Mousavi, who was widely expected to win the election (see Iran election watch: Mir-Hossein Mousavi), and Karroubi (see Iran election watch: Mehdi Karroubi). How different Iran and its relations with the world might have been had either of these men won.

My reflections on this historic tragedy, posted shortly after the event, may be seen at Reflections on events in Iran. I think they hold up pretty well to this day.

26 April 2011

A brief trip to the Southern Highlands

Last week I took the opportunity of a trip to Sydney to accept an invitation from my friend Harry Pidgeon to spend a couple of days at his home at Bundanoon in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales.

One of the highlights of a wonderful couple of days in a beautiful part of the world was a visit to the fortieth annual meeting of the Southern Highlands Carriage Club, which brings horse-drawn carriage enthusiasts from all over NSW. On the day we visited the cone racing was on – time trials through a series of witch’s hats with balls mounted on them – cause one of the balls to fall and you lose points.

We passed the time of day briefly with the lady in the first photo, who told us she was from Parkes. “Parkes?” I said. “Would you happen to know a man named Terry Hunter?” “Of course”, she replied. Terry Hunter was a contemporary of mine in Wright College at the University of New England, who has spent the last thirty years working in the family real estate business G. Hunter & Company Pty Limited. Small world.

The following day Harry took me, a friend of his and a couple of our other former school classmates to the croquet lawns at Exeter, to receive instruction in the ostensibly sedate but quietly vicious game of croquet. That proved to be great fun, and we continued until bad light stopped play. From left to right in the photo below are former classmates Harry Pidgeon, Hugh King and Philip Bailey.

A la mode frangourou

Calling all foodies: I am indebted to my friend James Belshaw for drawing my attention to Sophie Masson’s wonderful blog at http://alamodefrangourou.blogspot.com/ .

Enjoy (and don’t forget you heard it first from me!).

The Guantánamo Wikileaks

In a must-read article entitled What the Guantanamo leaks won’t reveal in Al Jazeera, 25 April 2011, Darryl Li, a graduate of Yale Law School who has worked on legal defense of Guantánamo detainees, reflects on a few things that may not be explicit in the Guantánamo files released by WikiLeaks but are crucial to understanding their significance.

In the section on “threat assessments” Li begins:

If the initial document dump is any guide, most of what Wikileaks has obtained are “detainee assessments” that reveal more about the inner fantasy world of the US intelligence apparatus than who the detainees really are. The fantasy is not some elaborate conspiracy to fabricate stories from whole cloth; rather, it is the result of an intense desire for “useful” intelligence, coupled with an astounding lack of safeguards or quality control.


Although these assessments would be considered “analytical” rather than “raw” intelligence, one can see very little analysis in them at all. They cite intelligence reports without any discernible attempt to assess their veracity. They read as if someone searched for the detainee’s name in a giant database and then simply pasted together all the passages they could find. For these reasons, one of the worst things one could do is use these files as a baseline for assessing the culpability or dangerousness of their subjects. The “detainee assessments” should not feed the stale, speculative, and fearmongering debate over Guantánamo “recidivism”; they should end it.

In subsequent sections he deals with the impact of detainee torture and abuse, the farce of the prosecutions, the other prisons and the role of the client states, especially Egypt, Jordan and Morocco. Read Li’s piece in full here.

Li’s appraisal of the threat assessments resonates with my own. Having read the Recommendation to a Retain under DoD Control (DoD) for a Guantanamo Detainee relating to Australian citizen Mamdouh Habib (see here) and that relating to David Hicks (see here) I am singularly unimpressed by either their alleged intelligence value or the case they make for retaining someone in detention.

To take just one example relating to Habib, after acknowledging that a number of statements allegedly made to Egyptian interrogators were made under extreme duress, and all subsequently withdrawn, the writer of the assessments includes one of them (“lnformation was found on his home computer regarding poisoning rivers in the U.S.”) stated as fact in the summary of reasons why he should continue to be detained, probably the only paragraph a busy senior officer would read.

David Hicks was assessed as “a highly skilled and advanced combatant, as well as a valuable asset and possible leader for extremist organizations”, in spite of his never having succeeded in getting himself into a combat zone, and in spite of the assessment report adducing no evidence of his leadership potential. There is more to advanced combat skill than attending a series of training courses, some of which Hicks did not complete, and there is no evidence he has ever led anyone.

Both these reports show evidence of being what they are: reports written within a military chain of command for a higher level officer who did not expect to receive recommendations for release.  It looks to me as though the drafter of the reports started with the recommendation to retain and worked his way back to the best case he could make, which in both cases is full of holes. A prosecutor would have a torrid time trying to make any of this “evidence” stand up in a civilian court.

Milestone: 50,000 hits

Some time this morning Australian Observer chalked up its 50,000th hit since the first post was put up on 25 February 2009.

This doesn’t put it in the big league, but thanks to all readers for your interest.

24 April 2011

Anzac Day roundup

It being the eve of Anzac Day it seems appropriate to provide readers with a roundup of the various posts I have put up about, or touching on, the war service of various people I have known, usually with connections to The Armidale School or the University of New England.

In Anzac Day, 1967 I provided some pictures of the Anzac Day March in Sydney, 54 years ago.

Anzac Day, Armidale, 1959 gives a couple of photos taken by my mother during Armidale’s 1959 Anzac Day march, and a bit of background about Anzac day in Armidale.

In Duty Done: Flight Lieutenant Colin Russell Leith AM DFC I recounted the remarkable flying career of Spitfire pilot Russell Leith, who served with RAAF 453 Squadron in Britain, was credited with 3 ½ kills, participated in the Battle of Normandy, was shot down behind the German lines, evaded capture and rejoined his unit to fly on until the end of the war.

In Burial of Australian Spitfire Pilot I noted the burial with full military honours of Flight Lieutenant Henry ‘Lacy’ Smith, who had been missing presumed dead since his aircraft was shot down on 11 June 1944, just five days after D-Day, and whose body was discovered in the wreckage when his plane was discovered last November by a French couple, buried in the mud of the Orne estuary.

In Vale Rex Robert Budd, DFC (1935-2010) I wrote of an Old Boy of The Armidale School who served two operational tours of duty with 9 Squadron between 1968 and 1970 flying Iroquois helicopters during the Vietnam War and was the first RAAF pilot to log 1000 hours during that campaign. After the war he became one of the pioneers of helicopter mustering of cattle.

Alex Buzo on George Crosslé reproduces my late classmate’s obituary piece for a remarkable Irishman, one of our teachers at The Armidale School, who never revealed anything of his war service in our time at school, because he worked at the top secret British code-breaking establishment at Bletchley Park.

Alex Buzo on Brian Mattingley reproduces Alex’s obituary for another remarkable teacher, who commenced teaching at the Armidale School in 1939, survived 36 missions over Germany and occupied Europe as a navigator in Lancaster bombers (average survival 10 missions), was awarded a DFC, returned to the School and resumed his teaching career.

Remembering Des Harrison is an obituary I wrote in 2005 about the teacher who was master in charge of cadets during my time at The Armidale School. He had joined the staff at The Armidale School at the beginning of 1942, but after just two terms he enlisted in the army and spent two eventful years as a member of the Northern Australia Observer Unit that came to be known as "Curtin's Cowboys".  In peacetime, as well as being master in charge of cadets, he had a long career with the 12/16 Hunter River Lancers, becoming in due course the regiment’s commanding officer.

Jock McDiarmid, MM C de G is a plea for information about a remarkable Scotsman who was School Sergeant at The Armidale School from 1957-59 and from 1961-April 1962. Jock had an outstanding war record, having seen action with the Special Air Service behind German lines in the invasion of Sicily and the liberation of France, followed by further action in Holland (where the picture in the post was taken in 1945) and Germany. On the trail of Jock McDiarmid pieces together what little I have been able to find out about his military career, and Jock McDiarmid’s MM commendation quotes the citation for Jock’s Military Medal.

New England University Rugby Team 1939 recounts the stories of a group of young men, my father included, who were university students at the outbreak of war, and touches on their military service where known.

Last but by no means least, Ida Madge Brown (1904-2009) is a tribute to a family friend, daughter of John Francis Brown, who planted the first vine grapes at Milawa.  Madge died in Wangaratta in 2009 at the remarkable age of 105. Madge had an eventful war: she served with 2/4th Australian General Hospital during the height of the conflict at Tobruk, became matron-in-charge of the hospital ship Wanganella, and at the end of the war shared with my father the task of commencing the rehabilitation of the prisoners in Changi Prison and arriving in Singapore from the Burma-Thailand railway and camps elsewhere.

Laos and the Convention on Cluster Munitions

The Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) is a treaty that was adopted on 30 May 2008 on Dublin, and opened for signature on 3 December 2008 in Oslo.

The Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Laos) signed the treaty on the day it was opened for signature, and ratified it on 18 March 2009.

As well as being one of the poorest countries in the world, Laos is one of the most afflicted by cluster munitions as a result of US bombing in the years 1964-73. The ordnance dropped included about 260 million cluster bombs (see Lao National Regulatory Authority for UXO/Mine Action [UXO-NRA] website here).  Not bad for a country whose population only reached 3 million in 1974 (see here).  That’s 90 bomblets per caput.

There is a substantial failure rate for these munitions, leaving large numbers of bomblets to lie in wait for unsuspecting farmers, foresters, fisherfolk, children and wildlife. On the subject of failure rates a January 2011 Congressional Research Service paper (see here) has this to say:

There appear to be significant discrepancies among failure rate estimates. Some manufacturers
claim a submunition failure rate of 2% to 5%, whereas mine clearance specialists have frequently
reported failure rates of 10% to 30%. A number of factors influence submunition reliability. These
include delivery technique, age of the submunition, air temperature, landing in soft or muddy
ground, getting caught in trees and vegetation, and submunitions being damaged after dispersal,
or landing in such a manner that their impact fuzes fail to initiate.

 UXO-NRA estimates that there are of the order of 80 million live bomblets remaining in the country, a figure which looks as though it is based on taking the upper estimate of 30% failure rate for 260 million bomblets – probably not unreasonable given the geographical characteristics of Laos.

The CRS report cited above quotes the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) as estimating the number of unexploded cluster bomblets at between 9 million and 27 million, which looks on the low side to me, the upper estimate representing a failure rate of only 10% and the lower one being more in line with manufacturers’ claims of 2-5% failure. It nevertheless represents between 1.5 and 4 bomblets for every man woman and child in Laos (current population about 6.5 million).

The impact of this on Laos is horrifying.  According to UXO-NRA (here):

All 17 provinces in Laos suffer UXO contamination

-  25% of all villages are UXO contaminated

-  50,000 plus victims of UXO of all kinds (1964-2008)

-  20,000 casualties post-war (1974 on)

In the last decade there have been 300 UXO casualties per annum, of which 30% were caused by cluster bombs. Children represented 40% of the casualties.

As a State Party to the Convention Laos has quite onerous obligations under Article 4.1: it is required:

... to clear and destroy, or ensure the clearance and destruction of, cluster munition remnants located in cluster munition contaminated areas under its jurisdiction or control ... as soon as possible but not later than ten years from [the date of entry into force of the Convention].

Given that, 37 years after the cessation of hostilities, less than 1% of the bomblets have been made safe, this will require a remarkable acceleration of activity. A 4 September 2010 article (New case for US reparations in Laos) by Melody Kemp in Asia Times Online (see here) says:

... at the current rate of clean-up, UXO Laos/NRA estimates it will take 3,000 years to completely clear the country of all the explosive remnants left behind from US bombers.

The Convention imposes rather modest requirements upon States Parties that have used cluster munitions in another State Party (and of course none upon countries which are non-signatories, which include the United States, Russia, China and Israel): the using State Party is simply “strongly encouraged”

... to provide, inter alia, technical, financial, material or human resources assistance to the [other] State Party, either bilaterally or through a mutually agreed third party, including through the United Nations system or other relevant organisations, to facilitate the marking, clearance and destruction of such cluster munition remnants.

The United States will of course strongly protest that, even though it is a non-signatory to the Convention, it is contributing to the disposal of UXO in Laos. In Clearing the cluster bombs in Laos (The Guardian, 30 September 2010) US chargé d'affaires in Vientiane Peter Haymond responds (see here) directly to Melody Kemp’s article cited above, taking exception to her implication “that the United States has done little to assist in clearance of unexploded ordnance”. Unfortunately the figures he cites rather underline Kemp’s point:

This fiscal year, the US state department will spend more than $5m in Laos on a range of UXO-related activities, including more than $3.5m to fund the mine and UXO clearance operations both of the Lao government's own UXO clearance agency and of international clearance organisations operating in Laos.

Taking the ICRC’s estimates of unexploded submunitions, that $3.5 million represents between 13 and 39 cents per bomblet. I don’t think you get much bomb disposal for that sort of money.

Malcolm Fraser on our cluster munitions legislation

Cluster munitions are bombs with an outer casing that breaks open in mid-air, scattering smaller “bomblets” over a wide area, with a radius of up to a kilometre.  Many of these bomblets fail to explode on impact, leaving a hazard to civilian populations, and especially to children, for decades after the cessation of conflict.

Laos is a case in point: 35 years after the end of the war, unexploded sub-munitions, estimated by the International Red Cross to number between nine and 27 million, continue to kill and maim Laotian civilians, about one third of them children.

Australia has signed the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, and legislation ratifying our adherence to the Convention will be considered by the Senate in the forthcoming session of Federal Parliament. Our United States ally is conspicuous by not being numbered amongst the more than 100 countries that have signed the Convention, which creates an issue for the Australian Government in striking a balance in the legislation between our commitment to eliminating these inhumane and indiscriminate weapons, and the ways in which we cooperate with a major ally that continues to use them.

In an op-ed piece, Lame stance on cluster bombs, in the 16 March 2011 edition of The Australian, former Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, whose commitment to the US alliance can hardly be questioned, presents a number of reasons for concluding that we lean much too far in the direction of accommodating the US on this matter. Rather than seeking to convince the US that it is in its own best interest to rid itself of these weapons, “the government is highlighting its willingness to do whatever it takes to be a compliant partner of the US, even when that means undermining the spirit and intention of a convention that we helped bring into being”.

Fraser concludes:

Rather than bending over backwards to accommodate the US, if Australia maintained the humanitarian commitment it displayed in signing this convention and actively worked to convince all our allies to cease using cluster munitions, we could surely make a significant contribution towards a better world.

Read Malcolm Fraser’s opinion piece in full here.

19 April 2011

Burial of Australian Spitfire Pilot

Later today an Australian Spitfire pilot who fought with the Royal Australian Air Force’s No. 453  Squadron in the Battle of Normandy will be buried at a Commonwealth war graves cemetry in France, with full military honours. The body of Flight Lieutenant Henry ‘Lacy’ Smith, who had been missing presumed dead since his aircraft was shot down on 11 June 1944, just five days after D-Day, was discovered in the wreckage when his plane was discovered last November by a French couple, buried in the mud of the Orne estuary.

Flight Lieutenant Smith will have been a colleague of Flight Lieutenant Russell Leith, about whom I wrote in Duty Done: Flight Lieutenant Colin Russell Leith AM DFC.

No 453 Squadron was in operation over the Normandy battlefield from D-Day on, and very shortly after the invasion it was deployed to airfields in the Normandy beachhead, from which it operated for the next three months.  As I have related in the above-referenced article about Russell Leith, this unit under Australian command forms the basis for Australia to be regarded as one of the nations which participated directly in the Battle of Normandy.

Below is the text of a Department of Defence media release about today’s ceremony. Images of the recovery of the aircraft wreckage may be seen here.

WWII Flight Lieutenant Henry ‘Lacy’ Smith Laid to Rest in France

Today Australian World War II Flight Lieutenant (FLTLT) Henry ‘Lacy’ Smith will be buried with full military honours in France.

The Minister for Defence Science and Personnel and Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, the Hon Warren Snowdon MP and Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Mark Binskin AO, will join FLTLT Smith’s surviving niece and nephew and their extended families at the ceremony.

The service will be held at the War Graves Cemetery, at Rue des Airbornes, Ranville in Normandy and include a traditional wreath laying, the Ode, and the Last Post bugle call. This symbolises that his duty is over and he can rest in peace.

Ceremonial elements will be performed by members of No. 453 Squadron from RAAF Base Williamtown, NSW, the unit with which Smith flew, and Australia’s Federation Guard.

FLTLT Smith from Sans Souci, south of Sydney, NSW, was shot down by anti-aircraft fire on 11 June 1944 during World War II and crashed into the River Orne, near Caen, in northern France. The Spitfire aircraft and Smith’s remains were found in November 2010.

“At age 27, FLTLT Smith made the ultimate sacrifice for our country during World War II. He was from No 453 Squadron, the first Australian squadron to go into action on 6 June 1944, where it provided tactical support for the troops landing on the Normandy beachhead,” Mr Snowdon said.

“No 453 Squadron carried out operations that included harassing the retreating enemy, attacking enemy convoys, bombing missions, armed reconnaissance and bomber escort duties.

“I am thankful for the brave contributions of FLTLT Smith. He will now have a marked grave that can be visited so that both Australians and French can remember his sacrifice, and I am pleased he has now been afforded the military burial and honour he deserves.’’

“I hope this reinterment will support a greater understanding of the important contribution FLTLT Smith made during World War II.”

During the ceremony, the Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Mark Binskin AO, posthumously awarded and presented FLTLT Smith’s service medals: the 1939-45 Star; Air Crew Europe Star with France and Germany Clasp; Defence Medal; War Medal 1939-45; and Australian Service Medal 1939-45.

Mr Snowdon said the Australian Defence Force was in the process of shipping the wreckage of FLTLT Smith’s Spitfire aircraft to Australia to display at the RAAF Museum, Point Cook, Victoria. Plans are for the aircraft to arrive in Australia mid year, where it will undergo conservation work.

18 April 2011

Brian Toohey on sovereign wealth funds and other matters

In the weekend Australian Financial Review, 16-17 April 2011, columnist Brian Toohey writes under the headline Wealth fund an unproductive idea about the notion of the proceeds of the mining boom being invested in a sovereign wealth fund.

I agree with him, and by implication my former colleague Ted Evans, all the way on the sovereign wealth fund idea:

Westpac Chairman Ted Evans is one of the most persuasive critics of sovereign wealth funds.  A former Treasury head, Evans told this columnist last week that he has not changed his view that the greatest contribution governments can make to the living standards of future generations is to ensure that today’s policies are directed towards maximising future production.

He argues one effective way to do this is to spend more on education, which he says “can yield a higher return than even good private investments”.

Later in the piece it is made clear that investment in research and development and transport infrastructure are included in this productivity enhancing approach – standard “new growth theory”, which dates from the 1960s but is still new to some of our policy makers including, I fear, the present government.

As noted above, I am with Toohey and Evans all the way on this, but unfortunately Toohey cannot resist having a swipe at the Department of Defence and the case for Australian designed submarines, in ways which do nothing to enhance his case against sovereign wealth funds and for productivity enhancing expenditure:

The ill-managed and profligate Defence Department should no longer be exempt from the overall cap on spending.

 I am not going to enter into a protracted argument in this post as to whether Defence is or is not ill-managed or whether it is or is not profligate.  Suffice it to say that, while I would regard some areas as ill-managed (it would be surprising if it were otherwise in such a large and complex organisation), I do not regard it as being nearly as ill-managed as it is alleged to be.

As for profligacy, I think that the Department and the Australian Defence Force are grossly under-resourced for the high technology capital stock that they are required to keep maintained in airworthy, seaworthy etc condition, and in which the members of the ADF are required to undertake inherently dangerous training.

Be that as it may, my main point here is that, even if Defence were guilty as charged by Toohey, any issues of mismanagement and profligacy should be addressed directly and rectified. Cutting expenditure is not an appropriate response: the size and shape of the ADF needs to be contoured around the Government of the day’s assessed needs for Australian defence, not whether or not Defence “deserves” the funds it receives.

On submarines, Toohey says:

Junking the proposed local production of 12 giant submarines to a unique Australian design would save $40 billion and let 12 proven, high performance German subs be imported for $5 billion.

Sure the German submarines are “proven”, but proven for what? German submarines are designed for short patrols in deep cold water. We want submarines that are suitable for very long patrols in warm shallow water – a totally different proposition. If we do not acquire submarines that are fit for purpose, an even better idea might be not to acquire submarines at all, but I am not going to sign up for that idea.

We need to get on with the Collins replacement with a greater sense of urgency than the Government is so far showing. We need to be cutting metal by 2016, and we have not yet settled a design or chosen a submarine builder. As I have commented before, we must be the only country in the world that would vacillate about whether to use its own submarine builder to build its submarines.

ABC TV interview on ADFA Skype case

On the morning of Monday 11 April I received an early call from ABC Breakfast TV asking whether I could possibly make it to the ABC’s Southbank studio in Melbourne in time for an interview on the ADFA Skype case, before that morning’s program wound up at 9.00am.

This is the case of consensual sex being broadcast by Skype to a group of males in a nearby room, without the knowledge or consent of the female cadet concerned.

My  interview may be viewed on Windows media player by clicking this link:

I am not sure how long the item will be maintained on the ABC website, but it was live at the time of putting up this post.

09 April 2011

Vale Rex Robert Budd, DFC (1935-2010)

Following the death of a distinguished old boy of The Armidale School, Rex Budd DFC, in November last year, I was asked to write a tribute to him for the February edition of the Old Boys’ Magazine.

This is reproduced below. Copyright in the image belongs to the Australian War Memorial.

Rex Robert Budd, DFC (1935-2010)

Flight Lieutenant Rex Robert Budd DFC died on 4 November 2010 after a short battle with cancer.

Rex was born in Murwillumbah on 5 September 1935. He grew up in Murwillumbah, and attended The Armidale School from 1950-52. He participated very actively in the life of the school, being a member of the Dramatic Society for the three years of his attendance, a member of the Swimming Team, the Choir, and the Library Committee, a Sergeant in the Cadet Corps, and a Monitor in his final year. He received a Merit Award, and matriculated with Honours in Maths.

 After leaving school he spent time at Nerrigundah station outside Quilpie, roo shooting and filling in time until he was old enough to join the Air Force.

After joining the Queensland University Squadron at Archerfield to undergo his National Service training, he was accepted into RAAF pilot training. He graduated top of his flying course and served in flying roles with two Air Trials Units (Meteor), two Fighter Operational Conversion Units; 3, 76, 79 Fighter Squadrons (Vampire and Sabre); 5 and 9 Squadrons (Iroquois and Bushranger gunships)and in administrative appointments with other units.

He served two operational tours of duty with 9 Squadron between 1968 and 1970 flying Iroquois helicopters during the Vietnam War. He was the first RAAF pilot to log 1000 hours during that campaign and was the third of five gunship flight commanders, all having previously flown fighter aircraft.

He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his superior leadership, courage and devotion to duty during 625 days service overall in Vietnam. During that service he showed both his daring and his innovation. On one occasion he rescued six SAS soldiers who were under enemy fire, lifting the patrol out of the jungle on 45 metre ropes, needless to say coming under fire himself in the process.

He was the third of the five “Bushranger” gunship flight commanders to serve with 9 Squadron. This gunship variant of the Iroquois helicopter, was a simple yet very effective air weapons system, created through typical Aussie ingenuity. Legend has it that the prototype aircraft was constructed from weaponry and other components bartered from the Americans for slouch hats and Australian beer. The whole Squadron contributed to the development of the project in some way and it was a fine team effort.

After returning home from Vietnam he started his own helicopter mustering business based in Mareeba and became one of the pioneers of helicopter mustering. On so doing he recognised the skills needed from people who had worked in the bush and who understood stock – he felt that it was easier to teach a stockman to fly a helicopter than to teach a helicopter pilot how to be a stockman.

As he worked his way around the various properties Rex kept a weather eye out for good stockmen who were interested in becoming pilots. He was a man of generous spirit. In 1972, in the early days of helicopter mustering, he went to Highbury Station where Kerry Slingsby was head stockman. Kerry Slingsby had started his working life at age 14 as a ringer in outback Queensland and by the time he was 24 he was head stockman at Highbury.  Highbury had invested in its own helicopter and pilot, but the pilot had little livestock experience.  Rex took suggested that Kerry that he learn to fly the helicopter himself, took him for his first ever helicopter ride, the whole matter was settled over a bottle of rum, and Rex handed Kerry a cheque for $1000 to help pay for him to have the necessary flying training at Long Beach in the US. Rex didn’t leave Kerry to sink or swim. After Kerry had been in the US for a while he received a telegram from Rex saying, “By now you will think a helicopter is totally impossible to fly but stick at it and it will come to you”. When Kerry returned to Australia Rex gave him a mustering endorsement.

Some time later Kerry went to Kununurra in the Kimberley and started his own mustering business, branched out into charter and tourism, and by the time he sold the business two years ago he owned 25 helicopters and 25 fixed wing aircraft. Kerry Slingsby was just one of several people who launched themselves into successful helicopter mustering businesses after coming into contact with Rex.

In his spare time Rex enjoyed motor bikes, cars and gardening, for which he had a particular talent.

He is credited with the importation into Australia of the Hughes/Schweitzer H269 piston engined helicopter and its application to mustering cattle.

Rex is survived by his older brother Arthur.