2022: Reckoning with power and privilege
Thames & Hudson, $32.99 pb, 240 pp
'Australia faces the real prospect of a war with China within three years that could involve a direct attack on our mainland.’ That was the opening line of a 2,174-word article – headlined ‘Australia “must prepare” for threat of China war’ and tagged with a ‘Red Alert’ graphic – that ran on the front pages of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald on 7 March. Next day, the authors of the ‘Red Alert’ special, journalists Peter Hartcher and Matthew Knott, ran a 2,241-word hypothetical about how a conflict over Taiwan could, within seventy-two hours, result in missile bombardments and cyberattacks against Australia. On the third day, Hartcher and Knott’s ‘Red Alert’ special concluded with a 2,278-word front-page piece on the steps that Australia needed to take to prepare for war with China.
The basis for the special’s alarming conclusions were the ruminations of a panel of five ‘experts’ brought together by Hartcher and Knott to ‘blow away the fog of war to give Australians some critical points of insight’.
More like the flogs of war. As Greg Barns pointed out in Pearls and Irritations, former public servant John Menadue’s online public policy journal, the ‘gang of five experts’ were not Sinophiles but instead had strong connections to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies, which are backed by arms makers. Barns’s key point was that Hartcher and Knott presented the panel’s pro-war findings without disclosing their defence industry connections. ‘The community,’ Barns wrote, ‘should be able to make an informed judgement about the prognostications of this group of experts.’
I won’t detail the welter of criticism ‘Red Alert’ received, but recommend googling former prime minister Paul Keating’s evisceration, which includes the extraordinary accusation that the Nine newspapers refused to run his rebuttal of their 6,693-word omnibus. Keating’s comments were happily run by other media outlets, including The Australian and the Guardian.