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World View: Australia: in defence of profits

The Australian government is to boost its "defence" spending by an estimated $500 to $600 million. Prime Minister, John Howard told a Liberal Party dinner in Sydney on 4 November last year that Australia "needed more resources to fulfil its role at home and in the Asia-Pacific region", as well as in East Timor (West Australian, 6 November).

Continued Howard: "The Government does set a very high priority on maintaining a strong defence capability. We do need as a nation to spend more money on defence."

Howard said he wanted to make the Collins-class submarine project work, despite "its litany of cost blowouts and delays". The reasons for Howard's concerns are not difficult to find.

Brian Toohey says (West Australian, 6 November) that "Indonesia is playing an ugly and dangerous game". It has apparently upset both Australia and the United States recently, its patrol boats challenged a US destroyer delivering aid to East Timor, claiming that it believed that the American destroyer was, in fact, delivering arms to separatists on the trouble-torn Indonesian island of Ambon.

Toohey claims that the Indonesian government has failed to disarm the militia in West Timor. It, he says, harassed not only East Timor, but also Papua New Guinea, and even Australia. It cancelled the visit of a top-level ministerial delegation to Canberra at the last minute; at the same time, it expected Australia to stop a South Pacific Forum meeting in Kiribati from mentioning the Indonesian army's brutal activities in West Papua. Tourist and investment dollars are at risk. And, horror of horrors, the governor of Bali has made it plain that Australian tourists are no longer welcome. Brian Toohey, echoing the views of others in Australia, argues that "Australia has little to gain from trying to curry favour in Djakarta by insisting that the Javanese empire should last for ever." An Indonesia, even more weakened by the loss of former Dutch colonies, and various islands such as Ambon and Bali, could be welcome news in Canberra.

Christmas Island, an Australian possession 250 miles south of the Indonesian capital of Djakarta, is also in the news. Australia bought it from Britain in 1958, because it feared that the newly-independent state of Singapore, the island's former administrators on Britain's behalf, would nationalise the phosphate reserves run by the Australian and New Zealand governments, who needed its cheap fertiliser for their farmers.

Because it is so close to Indonesia, Christmas Island serves as a useful base for Australia's northernmost radar over-the-horizon beacon, which is linked to the United States/Australian Joint Defense Research facility at Pine Gap, south-west of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory.

Moreover, Australia's "Asia Pacific Centre" plan to build a satellite launching facility, with roll-on-roll-off port facilities to deliver large rocket components, as well as hazardous materials, such as satellite and rocket fuels. Says Vanessa Gould (West Australian, 17 June): "At 10 degrees south of the equator, Christmas Island was ideal to place satellites into geostationary or polar orbits." As well as being yet another small, but important, part of Australia's "defence" of its capitalist class and their increasing investments in the area.

PETER E. NEWELL