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trilateral alliance between Australia, Japan and the US
was first floated. The seed was revealed accidently
during a July 2001 press conference in Parliament
House when visiting US Secretary of State, Colin
Powell, was asked a question about the possibility of
linking together the separate US alliances in the region;
“Could the US join together the series of bilateral
alliances it had with Japan, South Korea and Australia?”
Powell answered, “Interestingly, we were talking about
this subject earlier in the day as to whether or not we
might find ways of talking more in that kind of forum.
I don’t think it would lead to any formal arrangement.
Downer, sitting next to Powell, used facial expression to
signal danger and then issued a caution with respect to
such a move. Having successfully defused a diplomatic
bomb, Downer headed back to his office and duly
directed his staff to pursue the idea.
It took a number of years. In March 2007 Howard
and his Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe, signed
an Australia – Japan Joint Declaration of Security
agreement. Interestingly, in amongst all the discussion
on the Declaration, a Japanese submarine for Australia
was mentioned in the Cabinet.
Re-enter Mr Baxter. He was heavily involved in the
drafting and implementation of the Declaration. He
had left the Washington embassy and was serving
at First Assistant Secretary, North Asia Division
inside DFAT. A Wikileaks cable (https://wikileaks.org/
cable/2007/03/07CANBERRA334.html) reveals he
was behind advanced briefings on the agreement to
US officials in Canberra.
Baxter’s role would presumably have had the
unequivocal backing from his colleague, Andrew
Shearer, by then embedded in the PM’s office as
Foreign Policy Advisor. Shearer had left the Washington
Embassy to work in Defence Minister Robert Hill’s office
as his Strategic Policy Adviser alongside a then little
known staffer, Peta Credlin.
Thawley’s replacement as Ambassador to the
US was Dennis Richardson – now Secretary of the
Department of Defence – who logically would also have
been in the picture.
Time in OppOsiTiOn (2007 – 2013)
After the joint declaration, the Australia-Japan relationship
advanced in the background until, as inevitably happens
in politics, the Government changed.
Andrew Shearer went to work for the Lowy Institute,
where he wrote a number of pro US and pro Japanese
papers, and then for the Victorian government in charge
of the state's overseas network of trade offices. He
also wrote for a number of conservative think-tanks
in Washington. Baxter remained within DFAT with the
North Asia Division until 2008 and then moved briefly to
head the Consular, Public Diplomacy and Parliamentary
Affairs Division before taking on the role of Director
General AusAID. Thawley was already in the private
sector, working for Capital Group Inc, but maintained
an interest in the international relations space as a
board member at the Lowy Institute. Dennis Richardson
stayed as Ambassador to the US until 2010 when he
returned to Australia and took over the reigns as the
Secretary of DFAT.
shadOw submarine planning
(2009 TO 2013)
Opposition Defence Spokesman, Senator Johnston
and his Senior Advisor, Russell Stranger, were oblivious
to this backdrop. They were dutifully challenging the
moves of a number of passer-bys through the Labor
Defence Minister’s Office; first Joel Fitzgibbon, then
Senator Faulkner and finally Stephen Smith – the latter
responsible not only to major cuts to Defence spending
but complete inaction on vital projects such as SEA
One area of genuine interest for Johnston was
submarines. In his position as Shadow he was to
become the most informed member on submarines
to have ever sat in Parliament. Little did he know the
danger this would later present to him.
Accepting and integrating advice and integrating it
from a wide range of sources, Johnston and Stranger
developed a solid policy on future submarines, whilst
exposing and publicising the costly and unreliable
nature of the Collins Class, in order that the submarine
policy could be fast tracked once the Liberals were
handed governing responsibility.
Their plan had been to kill off Kevin Rudd’s untenable
proposition of Australia designing its own submarine.
Instead a coalition government would compete the
design task among the world’s submarine houses of
pedigree that would then partner in an Australian build.
If all went well, the submarine enterprise would have
been built up to the point where it could have eventually
taken over as the design authority to allow for Australian
evolution within a continuous submarine build program.
Johnston was also thinking ahead with respect to
a fully costed Defence White Paper that was to be a
matter of priority for the Coalition in Government. Well
before the election Johnston and Stranger had lunched
in the Parliamentary member’s restaurant with his pick
for the White Paper lead, Professor Alan Dupont.
Dupont ‘signed up’.
In late 2012 Dennis Richardson moved from the head
of DFAT to the Defence Secretary’s post.
all The Queen’s men (mid 2013)
The first sign of trouble for Johnston, three months out
from the election, was the news that Stranger would
not be his Chief of Staff (COS) in government. This
was despite Stranger’s decade of trusted service to
Johnston and, before that, his experience as senior
advisor to WA Premier Richard Court and COS to WA
Leader of the Opposition, Matt Birney.
Stranger was not alone. In preparation for office,
Peta Credlin – now Prime Minister Abbott’s Chief of
Staff - had set about tapping all future Ministers’ trusted
advisors on the shoulder signalling a demotion, such
that her own appointees could be installed in Ministerial
offices. All but one, Julie Bishop, went along with
this requirement. Her well-respected advisor, Murray
Hansen, was to stay (but not before a long and arduous
struggle to keep him there).
a dFaT rOyal Flush
(sepT TO dec 2013)
Six days after the Liberal Party won the 2013 election
the Sydney Morning Herald ran with a story ‘Former
Howard Advisor joins Abbott’s office’. Andrew Shearer
was to become the Prime Minister’s National Security
Advisor. The news piece ran through his past life,
with only one paragraph devoted to his ideology; “Mr
Shearer is strongly supportive of Australia's ties with
fellow democracies, including the US and Japan”.
Shortly thereafter Peta Credlin inserted a former DFAT
Assistant Secretary, Simeon Gilding, into Johnston’s
office as COS.
As Johnston prepared to implement his White Paper
plans, Shearer moved to assert his authority over the
Defence Minister. At the same time Peter Baxter was
moved into Defence and made Deputy Secretary –
Strategy. In this role he was to oversee the writing of
Defence’s defining document, the forthcoming White
Paper. The person previously responsible, academic
Alan Dupont - who had already carried a great deal of
work on the document, was offered an assistant’s role -
but gracefully declined.
And from that moment, Johnston was crippled.
By December Thawley was appointed Secretary
of PM&C and the royal flush had been dealt. Shearer
as National Security Advisor, with top cover from both
Prime Minister Abbott and Thawley, now had control
of the critical policy shaping area of Defence through
Baxter, with top cover from Richardson.
(Jan TO July 2014)
It looks like Andrew Shearer then set about cementing
a new level of co-operation between Australia, the US
and Japan. The future submarine project was to be
a clear and solid indicator of Australia’s invigorated
commitment to the trilateral alliance plans and the US’
China containment plan.
In mid-February 2014, Warren King, Head of DMO
traveled to Japan to discuss submarine matters,
2/07/2015 3:31 pm
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