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Pacific: ALP unveils as Morrison flails

| Crikey | Extracts

MELBOURNE - Capitalising on Scott Morrison’s persistent problems over his Solomon Islands debacle, Labor maintained the unusual foreign policy theme of the campaign so far by unveiling its Asia-Pacific strategy this morning, with Penny Wong standing in for Anthony Albanese.

A half billion dollars in extra aid over four years, an expanded Pacific labour scheme under which participants can bring family members, and a new class of permanent migration visa — these form the core of the policy, along with an unspecified ‘Pacific Climate Infrastructure Financing Partnership’.

That’s the limit of Labor’s willingness to seriously address the existential threat of climate change for Pacific Island states, the opposition having already made clear that the mere fact that we’re a global laggard on a crisis that threatens the very existence of our Pacific neighbours won’t be enough to change its support for fossil fuels.

The only difference between the major parties on climate, it seems, is that Labor doesn’t joke about the wiping out of Pacific states. At least, not publicly.

Also on Labor’s Pacific agenda is a possible restoration of shortwave radio services to the region via the ABC.

Long an icon for advocates of ‘soft power’, Radio Australia even had supporters within the Howard government.

How useful shortwave radio is in a non-emergency media environment dominated by the internet isn’t clear, but the Chinese thought enough of it to take over RA’s old frequencies after the Guthrie-era ABC ditched them.

The possible restoration of RA drew mockery from Morrison, who offered a line sent fresh from the hard-working kitchen of the prime ministerial brains trust: “I sent in the AFP, the Labor Party wants to send in the ABC when it comes to their Pacific solution. They have a Q+A solution in the Pacific.”

But Morrison is still stranded with journalists continuing to ask pesky questions about the biggest foreign policy failure since Iraq.

In particular, Morrison’s claims of a ‘red line’ around a Chinese base in the Solomons continue to prompt questions about what, exactly, Morrison meant — especially given the United States declined to rule out military force if China established any kind of force projection potential in the Solomons.

“It would not be responsible for me to speculate in public about what Australia, United States and others would be doing in circumstances such as that,” Morrison said.

For good measure, Morrison is still haunted by his lying to, and leaking of texts from, re-elected French president Emmanuel Macron, who holds far more sway in the Pacific than Morrison.

Had he congratulated Macron on his reelection? He’d sent a message “directly”, Morrison said, as well as “formally”.

He didn’t say whether his direct message got a bounce from monsieur le président’s téléphone portable.


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Chips Mackellar

SkoMo laughed it all off by suggesting that Q&A would not be welcome in Honiara.

Not only that, but remember Russ Tyson's 'Hospital Half Hour' broadcast to inland remote Australia, and Rosemary Church's 'Calling Antarctica?'

They were folksy friendly programs directed to specific remote audiences but which could be picked up as clear as a bell by short wave, anywhere across the Pacific.

Rosemary Church is still around, nowadays with CNN I think. Short wave in those days kept us all in touch wherever we were in the Pacific. And it could do so again, SkoMo willing.

Dr John Christie

Health in PNG has a long history of HF and VHF radio use.

Based on past experience, over the period 1998 - 2004 the Health Services Support Programme (AusAID funded) set up a HF radio network connecting every PNG hospital and health centre as well as the National Department of Health HQ in Waigani, with dedicated multiple fixed HF frequencies on each radio and licensed to health/emergency use only (100w solar powered, Barrett radios, made in Australia - in my opinion a most simple to use and robust radio) . Ongoing maintenance paid by AusAID.

This allowed communication with health institutions within Provinces as well as inter Provincial communication and also direct with health Waigani. It also enabled Health HQ to talk directly to every health institution through a 1kw transmitter. Health staff were trained in the use of the radios, skeds set up etc. It could be used for health education, training, clinical support, etc.

The National Department of Health was lukewarm supportive at best and Provinces lacked the clinical and management leadership to utilise the technology.

To make a call cost nothing and the allocated frequency range enabled communication at any time of the day or night from anywhere to anywhere in PNG.

HF (high frequency) broadcasting is shortwave broadcasting - depending on transmitter power capable of coverage of over 3,000km off the ionosphere with a ground wave capability of up to 100km. VHF (very high frequency) is good for short distance communication, generally no more than 10-20km - KJ

Philip Fitzpatrick

I'd go further to say that when Australia shut down its shortwave service it effectively disconnected itself from 75-80% of the people in the Pacific.

How dumb was that?

Lindsay F Bond

Well said KJ
err … hear, hear

Peter Salmon

Keith - re: 'How useful shortwave radio is in a non-emergency media environment dominated by the internet isn’t clear.... but the Chinese thought enough of it to take over RA’s old frequencies after the Guthrie-era ABC ditched them."

"My mind is foggy but I remember how much of a support shortwave radio was to rural school education (and the teachers).

Can you expand on this as a reminder to all.

Thanks, Peter. Expand I can and will. At some little length.

The quote you found immediately contradicted itself by throwing the term "non-emergency" into a context questioning the continuing use of shortwave. An argument is never convincing when its proponent says something like, 'it works if you don't include this'.

Maritime nations especially are prone to emergencies and this alone would be enough reason for retaining shortwave capability in the modern era. Even though, at first glance, our telco and media environment seems to be much better and richer and pleasing to use.

But the advantages don't necessarily extend to the many remote parts of the world, and it was no surprise that the most strenuous objections to the ABC abandoning its shortwave service came from Pacific Islands people remarking on its considerable usefulness in emergencies.

The great strength of shortwave has always been its ability to get radio signals to listeners near and far, no matter how remote, hostile or beyond civilisation they are.

Able to operate relatively cheaply on multiple frequencies over great distances, shortwave lacks the pretty nuances and theatrical flourishes of medium wave and FM, and it certainly doesn't have the high fidelity of the internet, but it battles its way through storms, mountain ranges, uprisings and sun spots, and bounces off the ionosphere ignoring vast tracts of ocean and desert to deliver the message.

Back then when we were young, we became familiar with its many brands of static and its whooshing waves, pulsating as if carried on the ocean swell. Our radios always came with the full range of available frequencies (which are physically limited and thus a scarce resource).

The signal varied in quality according to the power of the transmitter, the direction of the aerial system and depending upon season and time of day. The waves being dependent on what was happening up there in the ionosphere meant that frequencies had to be changed, especially between day and night.

We quickly got to know how this worked, and which frequencies were superior wherever we inhabited and we would adjust the radio dial accordingly. We also learned that by stringing up a length of wire between two trees we would improve reception.

Shortwave retains all the characteristics which made it so valuable and useful to us 50 years ago. The Chinese weren't stupid or arrogant or playing games when they grabbed the frequencies Australia had so stupidly relinquished.

Shortwave remains a valuable tool, whether in emergencies or when local media are down because of storm, inundation, rebellion or blackout.

The Chinese knew this, and so do Australian electrical engineers, but our politicians - foolish to a fault - always think they know best. That's why our country is becoming one of life's most unexpected losers - KJ

Lindsay F Bond

Agreeing with John. Without effective services, meaningful employment, engagement in cash economy, nor essence of engaging communication (radio or other), the sense of disconnect is almost entire.

Catch up chat is but another three word deployment of utterance, and in mid election mode, the more devalued.

What is at stake is the commonality of humanity. Without comprehending the meaning of the word neighbour and engaging in continuity of converse with care, 'connect' as a concept evidences only disability.

By the way, bureaucrats ought not be helicoptered to those 'remoter' places, rather, let transport be a dinghy dance, waving and wallowing hours enroute with wetness to wash off pertinence and pretence.

Comment from me comes from my childhood and youth of mentally evaluating my father's contribution to communication from a coral sea atoll.

He was a year at Willis Island (1947/48), as radio officer for the Australian Commonwealth weather monitoring service (three chaps on a sand bar).

Communication, consistency, clarity and centrality to needs would have been keyed each and every day.

John Greenshields

Labor’s new policy is a start, but I suggest they 'reverse-engineer' their communications ideas, and ask what the Pacific actually wants, rather than have content which is totally inappropriate to traditional, village society where the Christian religion is still strong.

Programs designed and produced with Australian values and content will fail their soft power objectives. That should appeal to our current PM.

As this excellent Interpreter article by Shane McLeod explains, four out of five PNG’s live in mainly poor, rural locations, where there is limited FM radio for terrain and cost reasons, the internet is simply unaffordable, and TV depends on a power supply which is rare.

Short wave radio is the one medium to connect the Pacific to the world, and provide communications in an emergency or cyber attack.

Scott Morrison’s jibe about bringing the ABC’s Q&A to the Pacific is a disappointing response.

He needs to sit in a remote village for a while, learn some humility, and gain an understanding of what his target audience needs. Labor could do the same.


In 2017, six of us visited 30 islands in Milne Bay, researching Massim canoe design and technology, one of the great traditions still alive in PNG.

It gave us some understanding of the almost total lack of services, the reality of no jobs, no cash or opportunity, and with no connection to the region.

They used to have Radio Australia shortwave. Beijing has taken over these frequencies.
It’s time for a Pacific step-up, but it should serve Pacific needs, not just Australia’s.
Time to listen up for a change, not assume we have the answers.


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