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Bite-size platform more than pulls its weight

Pearls & Irritations is particularly noteworthy for gathering together a ‘stable’ of former senior public servants who bring great weight and understanding to their observations



NOOSA - John Menadue’s began publication of his daily newsletter, Pearls & Irritations, at about the same time as Ingrid and I made Noosa our retirement destination.

Now in its tenth year, Menadue started the blog as a platform for independent policy discussion in the face of the general failure of Australia’s mainstream to cover issues with calm and authoritative analysis.

Abstract - john menadue
John Menadue

It’s fair to say that Pearls & Irritations mostly achieves this objective, the blog being particularly noteworthy for gathering together a ‘stable’ of former senior public servants who bring great weight and understanding to their observations.

Perhaps this is not surprising because Menadue had an unusually diverse career where he reached the top in government, diplomacy and the private sector.

At various times he was head of the Prime Minister and Cabinet Department, Secretary for Immigration, Ambassador to Japan, and CEO of Qantas.

As on PNG Attitude, the articles are usually topical and offered in short, readable capsules of around 1,000 words.

Pearls & Irritations is available free online, but accepts donations from readers.

Today’s newsletter was outstandingly rich in content, so I decided to provide these short abstracts, linked to the full published version, of the articles I found especially interesting.

Allan Patience on Australia and China

ChinaMELBOURNE - The Morrison government expanded the critique of China that it inherited from Turnbull.

Morrison never exhibited a deep understanding of Australian foreign policy. Far from it.

He naively believed that his ‘mateship’ with Trump gave him the strategic space to provoke China and foolishly led him to the dangerous conviction that The Donald would always have his back.

Marise Payne, Morrison’s foreign affairs minister, was out of her depth on the international stage.

She exhibited an alarming lack of understanding of what was going on within China while Xi was consolidating his power and what he intended to use it for – notably, to return China to a position of eminence, if not pre-eminence, in the region and globally….

What Turnbull and Morrison failed to see was that they were being taken for a ride by their ‘great and powerful friend’.

It is noteworthy that few countries were prepared to go out on a limb, in the triumphalist manner that both Turnbull and Morrison had.

The most important of those ‘allies’ stood back, to see what the consequences might be for Australia.

For a damaging moment, Australia was a shag on a rock. China noticed this and struck back, ruthlessly….

It’s time for Australia to wake up to the fact that its middle power pretentions are entirely contingent on its unreliable alliance with an increasingly destabilised US – an alliance that has reached its nadir.

The worry is that Richard Marles, defence minister in the Albanese government, is as ideologically committed to the US alliance as Morrison and Payne were, and it seems he is every bit as ignorant about China as they were.


Mark J Valencia on Australia and Asia

HAIKOU, CHINA - On 6 July, new Australian foreign minister Penny Wong gave a pivotal speech at the Institute for Strategic and International Studies in Singapore.

When relevant excerpts are strung together they make an impressive impression of a new policy towards

Penny Wong
Penny Wong

Asia and ASEAN in the making.

She declared that from here on Australia will engage ASEAN on its own merits and not through a ‘China prism’.

“All countries that seek to work with the region have a responsibility to engage constructively with and through, ASEAN – including major powers,” Wong said.

“ASEAN partners can count on Australia to understand and respect the interests of the countries of Southeast Asia. We will find our security in Asia, not from Asia.”


Ross Stitt on Peter Dutton

Abstract - Peter-Dutton (New Matilda)
Peter Dutton (New Matilda)

SYDNEY - The Liberal Party does not hold any of the 20 most liberal seats in Australia. It’s gone from winning half of them to nothing in six years.

That looks like a schism in the broad church, a failure of the ideological balancing act.

A significant section of the Liberal Party’s liberal base has departed - the section that previously constituted much of the ‘centre’ of this would-be centre-right party.

If that’s the problem, is Peter Dutton the solution? Can he win back the liberals and reclaim the centre? Absent an abysmal Labor government, it seems doubtful.

Some of Dutton’s defenders claim he’s a moderate, but, rightly or wrongly, most Australians view him as an arch conservative.


Andrew Podger on public service impartiality

Abstracts - Phil Gaetjens (Lukas Coch  AAP)
Phil Gaetjens (Lukas Coch, AAP)

CANBERRA - I do not know the former secretary of the prime minister and cabinet department, Phil Gaetjens personally.

But others who do and whose judgement I respect have long told me of his competence as both an economist and a manager.

Gaetjens’ valedictory address last week, however, revealed a serious lack of self-awareness and of understanding of public administration issues that go to the basic role of the public service.

His words also did not square with his actions (and inactions) over the last three years….

Gaetjens is right that experience in Parliament House provides valuable insights for a career public servant, particularly about the pressures on ministers and how best to provide advice that is relevant, timely and useful….

My own firm view is that taking such care requires the individual to limit their time as a [ministerial] staffer to no more than three years and, on return, to take a role where their non-partisanship can be well demonstrated to colleagues and any external observers.

Gaetjens’ 10 years as Peter Costello’s chief of staff and a further period as Scott Morrison’s chief of staff could only be perceived by Labor, and by the public service, as a demonstration of partisanship.


Nury Vittachi on the Western media

Abstracts - US view of ChinaHONG KONG – There’s a fascinating discussion happening on social media at the moment.

It started last week with Twitter user Leon Lu posing a question: ‘When did you lose trust in the Western media? For me, it was during the Hong Kong riots’….

Jimmy Kudo said: “The Western media has been lying about China since 1989. They keep saying the students were killed, where witnesses who were in the square at that time saw no corpses.”

At the same time, the West has been involved in numerous genuine massacres where many more people died, but those are simply never mentioned.

Warren See, a Singaporean, said he lost faith in 2015 “when I saw what they did to Bernie [Sanders] and started to wonder what else they lied about especially on international news.

“Finding out Tank Man wasn’t run over by the tank was the last straw.”

But false coverage of Hong Kong, painted as dead when it clearly is not, was the most popular choice as a catalyst for loss of faith.

The mainstream media continues to mislead in its coverage of the city. “It has only gotten worse,” said Taro Taylor, a lawyer.

Mitch Kowalski said he agreed 100%. “Just when you think they can’t get worse – they do,” he said.



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