Cost benefit analysis for US alliance…

by

 

 

 

by Bogong (our resident political analyst*)

 

It is a well known fact in the new Canberra bureaucracy that Treasury Secretary Ken Henry and his colleagues are entitled to a cost benefit analysis on every part of government policy and expenditure. Well here’s Bogong’s suggestion – ask for an evaluation of the US alliance.

 

Australia’s foreign policy has been built in the shadow of US expectations, and it’s not clear that we have come out ahead. In Bogong’s experience the main advantages fall into that category which the Defence and Intelligence set define as “trust us – it’s there – but it is so secret that we just can’t tell you”.

 

So what about having Treasury do an ex post facto analysis of these advantages including the intelligence sharing arrangements, to see if those claims can be backed up? To many in the Industry Department, the capacity to use Government procurement preferences to help Australian companies get established has now been lost under the Australia US Free Trade Agreement.

 

The facts are that former PM Howard made a commitment to have it signed before the 2004 election, and with that ‘helpful’ handicap our team went to Washington to show they weren’t going to be pushed around, because as one DFAT official told Bogong at the time, we had “depth and sophistication on our side”. 

 

The outcome is best summed up by Deputy PM Mark Vaile telling media on his departure for Washington that there was no way he would agree to the so called Mickey Mouse amendment – in plain English, agree to change Australian law to extend the life of copyright from 50 to 70 years after the death of the creator. In the discussions on the relevant Chapter in the Agreement dealing with Intellectual Property, our team was led by a competent middle level official from DFAT. But the US side was led by the US Trade Representative himself, a man whose political career had been built in California with decades of support from Hollywood and the music industry. End of story.

 

The ANZUS Treaty may have served a purpose in years gone by, but not now.  If we could truly rely on US protection we would not be spending billions on new weaponry – the bulk of it from the US. And hasn’t the threat assessment changed? Who are our enemies? What has been the cost to NZ of taking a more independent path in foreign policy? Missing out on a presence in Iraq doesn’t seem like such a big loss.

 

And if we took a step back what would the US do? It would not harm the US multinationals that do business here, nor US buyers of Australian resources. The world has move on and it is time for us to move on too.

 

So when Rudd was in Washington to catch up with George W. let’s hope he asked a few hard questions and not, as the accompanying media have suggested, begin with a defensive explanation of why we are pulling out of Iraq and whether or not China is our new best friend. (*Bogong has no financial or legal relationship to the Editor.)

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