Flat White

Defending Australia from itself

7 December 2021

3:51 PM

7 December 2021

3:51 PM

World War I saw a significant tactical blunder by the Commonwealth countries in regards to Gallipoli where 480,000 allied forces were dispatched and more than half of them became casualties.

In World War II, with the wonderful benefit of hindsight, who could believe that Allied Forces tacticians in Singapore would have even remotely considered that the enemy would come from the north? Another huge blunder. Of course, the Japanese trundled successfully down the Malaysian Peninsula, knowing full well that the Singapore shore guns were all pointing seaward through a nice sector from east, south, and to the west with nothing looking north or at the causeway.

The fall of Singapore, like Gallipoli, was a tactical disgrace.

In my previous life meandering as a marine consultant for 46 years, I have been optimising ships and shore infrastructures with many projects in the South Pacific.

Around 30 years ago, I was engaged by Norfolk island. After a full feasibility study, I recommended adding sea walls around Ball Bay and Cascade to allow both large and small vessels to finally have a port of refuge in this 560,000 square miles expanse of the South Pacific, and for a regular container roro service to use these harbours. At the time, cargo arrived in older geared cargo ships discharging small amounts of cargo via union purchase derricks into small lighters that could only carry five tonnes at a time. This would happen on the lee side of the island, either at Kingston or Cascade (wherever the wind was not blowing).

Two years ago I was tasked with the same exercise. Now, there are no geared ships and attempts to handle containers via lighters or barges have resulted in injuries, groundings, and ongoing inefficiencies. And yes, I came up with the same recommendations; build a big seawall and make a good harbour in Ball Bay, Cascade, or both.

Alas, Norfolk is governed by the over-regulated Australia, and for such a seawall to be approved (forget the actual build) it would take eight years to get through the obstructive Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 that are already obstructing sensible infrastructure progress right across Australia.

Oh, how we need a Donald Trump to rollback most of this nonsense!

The Norfolk lighterage system continues. Containers cost around $25,000 to get to Norfolk, and airfreight is around $8,000 per tonne for groceries – which is about 20 times the normal rate for your local small supermarket.

So, my recommendation to Norfolk Island is as follows:

Watch ‘The Mouse that Roared’ to absorb Politics 101 for a small territory. Then, get on the phone to China’s Foreign Affairs Minister Wang Yi and Russia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov. Invite both of them to bid for a lease of Ball Bay and Cascade for 10 years on the proviso that they build the seawall and some berths. You could have the proposals before Christmas and the harbours built before Easter.

The Chinese are ahead of the game here, having a fleet of ‘fishing vessels’ sitting in the 40 mile gap between the Norfolk and Lord Howe territorial waters for most of this year. They are certainly not there for fishing, but try and find someone in Canberra who cares.

In the last decade, China did a very quick and splendid infrastructure job on the Philippine Spratley Islands without any permits, and Russia wandered into Crimea without an invite – so they both have some experience and project credibility.

The water depths in Ball Bay and Cascade are deep enough for the Chinese or Russian nuclear subs and big enough to accommodate an aircraft carrier or two. Another plus is that Norfolk is just a short two-day cruise to Auckland or Sydney for a bit of R&R for these warship sailors!

The nearest military opposition to Norfolk could be the Lord Howe Island game fishing club – a bigger deterrent than the Australian defence forces, who have never shown any interest in Norfolk, or else there would be a harbour there and possibly a defence vessel or two.

The overstaffed Australian Infrastructure and Defence departments are too busy on never-ending ‘reviews’, possibly babbling about protecting Lake Burley Griffin from midget New Zealand submarines (particularly diesel propelled versions that won’t meet zero emissions targets), or the new Chinese eight-lane motorway proposal from Daru through the Torres Strait Islands to Bamaga.

Elsewhere in the south-west Pacific, Australia has saddled regional nations with poorly designed Pacific Patrol boats.

In 2002 ex-Prime Minister of Fiji Brigadier Sitiveni Rabuka stated publicly in Queensland, ‘Do not treat us like beggars and give us expensive boats that carry 14 people and a gun. When I have 3,000 people on a beach as a result of a cyclone or tsunami, I need something more practical that can beach-land emergency equipment and mobile first aid units.’

Canberra reacted by replacing these aluminium patrol boats, changing the hull to steel, and renaming them with a grander title of ‘Guardian Class’. These poor designs, with exposed propellers and rudders, are unsuitable for shallow reef areas – as seen recently with the Samoan Police vessel clipping the reef, destroying one rudder and prop and almost sinking her. As there are no slipways in Samoa, she had to be lifted onto a submersible barge and brought to Cairns for repair – a $2 million exercise that some innocent taxpayer, somewhere, has to pay for.

I was there decades ago when the Western Australian built ‘Queen Salamasina’ – an Australian foreign aid donated ferry sent to Samoa. She was too deep to berth at the ferry terminal in Mulifanua and became an economic millstone for the 200,000 residents of Samoa.

So Norfolk, don’t hold your breath waiting for the Australian Government to do anything sensible in the Pacific. Departmental Heads of Infrastructure and Defence will continue the review filibustering and throw their ministers under the bus (watch out Barnaby Joyce and Peter Dutton) at any opportunity.

In the successful model of the Duchy of Grand Fenwick, be bold and get on the phone to the Chinese and Russians.

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