Politics with Michelle Grattan: what should the budget do for women? Jennifer Westacott (BCA) and Michele O’Neil (ACTU)

Originally published on theconversation.com

What do business and union leaders believe should be in a budget that is designed in part to pitch to women?

Jennifer Westacott, CEO of the Business Council of Australia, says as well as spending on childcare – which we already know about – the budget should improve women’s access to superannuation.

“Women have been very, very disadvantaged in that superannuation system – they are retiring with very small savings.”

“The superannuation and the childcare go hand in hand because we know that the reason many women don’t have adequate super is because they’ve taken big stints out of work and they haven’t built that savings nest egg. So those two things should be seen in tandem.”

Michele O’Neil, president of the ACTU, says for women the budget “needs to include commitments to addressing insecure work and low wages [and] to make sure that the support for early childhood education and care delivers free and universal childcare. Because this is what will matter in terms of women’s participation at work. We have a relatively low rate of women’s participation.”

“If we just increased women to the same level of participation for those key years of 25-45 as men, we’d see a $70 billion increase in GDP and a $30 billion increase in household incomes.”

Additional audio

A List of Ways to Die, Lee Rosevere, from Free Music Archive.

Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

NFTs hit the big league, but not everyone will win from this new sports craze

Originally published on theconversation.com

Some buy sporting memorabilia for love. Others for money.

The world record for most money paid for a sports-related item goes to the original Olympic manifesto written in 1892 by International Olympic Committee founder Pierre de Coubertin. It changed hands in 2019 for US$8.8 million. In second place is the New York Yankees jersey worn by legendary American baseball player Babe Ruth, sold in 2012 for USA$4.4 million.

As in all markets for collectibles, scarcity equals value.

Which is why sport organisations, memorabilia sellers and collectors are getting excited about non-fungible tokens – or NFTs – a blockchain-enabled technology that proves unique ownership of digital content.

NFTs open up a huge new market to sell limited-edition images, videos and artwork. They also enable the original licensees – be it sports organisations or individual athletes – to share in resale profits.

Beeple’s collage ‘Everydays: The First 5000 Days’ sold at Christie’s for US$69 million.
Christie’s/AP

NFTs are already sweeping the art market. In March, auction house Christie’s sold an NFT of a work by American digital artist Mike Winkelmann, known as Beeple, for US$69 million. Auction house Sotheby’s last month sold a single pixel for $US1.36 million.

Could we see similar NFT values in the sports collectibles market? Quite possibly.

Though tangible items such as uniforms, balls and bats will likely continue to be prized collectibles, collectors are already paying big bucks for digital versions of old favourites such as trading cards.

Leading the game is the US National Basketball Association, which began selling limited-edition “Top Shots” – digitally packaged and NFT-authenticated video highlight clips – in October 2020. Like traditional trading cards, these are sold in “packs”. Some videos are common, others rare. One such rare “moment” – in reality about half a moment – of basketball superstar LeBron James dunking reportedly changed hands in April for US$387,000.

Who knows what someone might pay for that moment in decades to come?

It might be millions more. Or much much less. Because this market, for all its early promises of rich rewards, is not without its downsides, with potential for significant environmental and social costs.

What are non-fungible tokens (NFTs)?

Something is fungible when it has a standardised and interchangeable value. It is replaceable by something else just like it. Cash is the obvious example. Non-fungible essentially means something unique, non-replaceable.

So NFTs are essentially digital certificates, secured with blockchain technology, that authenticate an item’s provenance – that it is a limited edition or one of kind – and enable it to be bought and sold as such.

An NFT provides scarcity of digital content that can be relatively easily copied – a photo of Indian cricket great Sachin Tendulkar making a world-record score, for example, or a video of tennis No. 1 Ash Barty winning at Wimbledon.

Sports trading cards for sale in a department store in California.
TonelsonProductions/Shutterstock



Read more:
What are NFTs and why are people paying millions for them?

There are big opportunities

The potential riches are evident from the NBA’s Top Shot sales, which accounted for US$500 million in transactions in the first three months of the year. This was a third of the total US$1.5 billion in NFT transactions, according to DappRadar, which tracks blockchain markets.

Last month San Francisco-based NBA team the Golden State Warriors was the first US professional sports team to issue its own NFT collection, which includes limited-edition digital versions of championship rings and ticket stubs.

Individual athletes are also selling their own branded items in NFT form. NFL quarterback Patrick Mahomes, for example, is selling signed digital artwork. Champion skateboarder Mariah Duran and paralympian Scout Bassett are among a group of elite women athletes who will release NFTs this month. Expect to see many more selling NFTs in the wake of the Toyko Olympics.

There are also risks

But there are some big downsides.

The first is environmental – because of the energy used in blockchain verification processes.

Of course, making and transporting physical goods has a range of environmental impacts, but by one calculation the carbon footprint of selling an NFT artwork is almost 100 times that of selling and transporting a print version. In February, French digital artist Joanie Lemercier cancelled the sale of six works, and urged others to do the same, after calculating those sales would use the same amount of electricity in ten seconds as his studio used in two years.

Eliminating this downside of NFTs will depend on more efficient technology and more renewable energy.



Read more:
NFTs: why digital art has such a massive carbon footprint

The second is social – of people only seeing NFTs as a way to make money.

As in any market where prices are rising rapidly, there is the danger of a speculative bubble. Here, the risk is that buyers spend big on virtual items that may end up being virtually worthless when the bubble bursts.

Last year also saw large and continuing market growth in traditional sport collectibles such as trading cards, along with retail investment in cryptocurrencies and stock markets more generally. So, while the value attached to NFTs may prove to be enduring, it is possible some part of the early interest in sport NFTs is driven by “irrational exuberance” and patterns of people spending more time and money online due to the COVID pandemic.



Read more:
NFTs are much bigger than an art fad – here’s how they could change the world

There are likely to be many more sport organisations and athletes peddling their digital wares in the near future. It is though, difficult to predict whether sales will continue this trajectory, how and when this trend might “normalise”, or if NFTs indeed represent a speculative bubble.

Particularly for fans playing in this market, care should be taken to not let emotions trump prudence and good judgment.

Dr Adam Karg consults to and conducts research for a number of organisation across Australia and globally. His research has received funding from organisations including the Australian Research Council, Victorian Government, leisure and sport technology companies and professional leagues and/or teams spanning the Australian Football League, Big Bash League (Cricket Australia), National Rugby League, Super Rugby, National Basketball League and the A-League.

Kathleen Wilson does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

The first step to curbing COVID vaccine misinformation is finding out who is most vulnerable. Our research sheds some light

Originally published on theconversation.com

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The success of Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout will depend on everyone’s willingness to receive it. But experts have warned vaccine misinformation online puts Australia’s communities at risk, and some more than others.

Often, misinformation and undue scepticism are spread on social media. In March, the ABC reported on WeChat posts spreading the false claim the Pfizer vaccine can integrate with people’s DNA to transform them into “genetically modified humans”.

Studies have shown that people who rely on social platforms such as YouTube for their information are significantly less willing to be vaccinated. Adding to that, research conducted by a Griffith University team found reports about the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines’ (very rare) link to blood clots had led to a drop in vaccine acceptance rates.

In such a rapidly shifting information landscape, we have to make sure those most at risk from COVID-19 are empowered to get vaccinated early.



Read more:
Australian vaccine rollout needs all hands on deck after the latest AstraZeneca news, mass vaccination hubs included

False claims spread like wildfire

My colleagues and I surveyed 215 residents in Victoria to find out how vulnerable groups accessed emergency-related news. Survey participants (all of which used social media) included elderly residents, geographically or socially isolated people, and people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

We found 73% of respondents accessed emergency-related news on social media, the second preference after television. Facebook was the platform of choice and was used “often” by 70% of respondents. On average, social media was used more frequently by younger people and women.

61% of respondents said they would not trust messages on social media, except when posted by official sources.
Shutterstock

The information landscape during a pandemic can be compared to that during a large bushfire: there are high-levels of uncertainty and risk, coupled with large volumes of information. In both scenarios individuals rely on affiliated and geographical groups for important notices, such as community and postcode groups on Facebook.

Of the people we surveyed, 40% percent believed information encountered on social media could be more accurate than official sources. And the vast majority (88%) said they expected to use social media as a news source in the future. Also, more than half reported getting their information through family or friends (65%), who said they themselves found it on social media.

Sourcing emergency information from social media can complicate our understanding of difficult issues. There are huge volumes of content, the quality is often poor and it can be difficult — particularly for vulnerable groups — to separate fact from fiction.

Filling knowledge gaps

Experts explain how the purveyors of misinformation exploit our willingness to share content without thinking. Even if even a small percentage of what we share is inaccurate, it creates a feedback loop that exacerbates the problem of a high information load coupled with poor information quality.

Adding to this, we know a person’s individual biases and worldview can also make them more vulnerable to misinformation.

It’s common for individuals to seek information on complex issues from sources that sit within their worldview.
Shutterstock

Of those we surveyed, 61% felt they had very specific information needs during emergencies based on factors such as age, location and personal circumstances. When there’s a gap between a person’s information needs and information provided by the government, they must fill this gap with other sources.

The good news is there are several ways all of us can help curb vaccine misinformation on social media and, consequently, in our communities.

How to help

For a start, the federal governemnt’s Department of Health has a useful site addressesing common concerns around vaccine development and efficacy. It even responds to conspiracy questions such as: “Can COVID-19 vaccines connect me to the internet?”.

Trusted sites should always be referred to in discussions about vaccines. There are also online guides to help individuals refine their own ability to spot misinformation.

Our research found 87% of respondents thought it was important for official emergency response organisations to use social media. So perhaps it would be beneficial for these groups to increase their visibility on these platforms.

Beyond this, the younger and more tech-savvy among us can help those who are older, or culturally or linguistically diverse. If you know someone who gets their vaccine information from Facebook or a similar platform, redirect them to a more reputable source such as a government website, government-approved social media page or trusted news outlet.

Social media groups have a role to play, too. Group administrators and active members should ensure official health information is shared on pages, as they are often a “go to” source of information for the public. And where misinformation does sneak in, it must always be challenged or reported.



Read more:
Cutting the ABC cuts public trust, a cost no democracy can afford

Stan Karanasios receives funding from the National Disaster Resilience Grant Scheme, Emergency Management Victoria (2017-2019).

Male voices dominate the news. Here’s how journalists and female experts can turn this around

Originally published on theconversation.com

Shutterstock

Last week, the ABC announced it had achieved a milestone it had been trying to reach for more than two years. For the first time, in the previous month of March, it had equal numbers of women and men appearing in its news coverage.

This may seem surprising. You might expect the gender ratio of people quoted in the news would mirror the gender split of our society.

But that’s not the case. Studies of news coverage from around the world have consistently found more than 70% of people seen, quoted and heard in the news are men, while women make up less than 30%.

When it comes to “expert” sources, around 80% are men.

In response to this imbalance, the BBC started its 50:50 equality project in 2017. The ABC followed suit in December 2018. Other media organisations, such as Bloomberg, have introduced similar initiatives.

Despite these encouraging programs, the Global Media Monitoring Project, which analyses sources in news content from around the world on a set day every five years, has reported overall progress in bringing women’s voices into the news is “extremely slow”.

This means news tends to be male-centric, and women are denied the legitimacy, authority and status that often come with inclusion in the news. As a journalist and news researcher, I was interested to learn more about why women are so under-represented.

Is it because, as some journalists will argue, women are reluctant to be interviewed as news sources? Or is it because journalists tend to turn to the same sources again and again, and most of these experienced sources are men?

My research, which included interviewing 30 female academic experts about their attitudes towards interacting with the news media, suggests the latter is more likely.

All but one of the experts I spoke to said they would be willing to be interviewed for a news story. Most understood and appreciated the value of getting their work out into the community via the news.

However, they were not totally comfortable with being in the news. Most of them lacked confidence about the process. This was in part due to fears about their performance, but also due to a lack of knowledge about how the news media operate and what journalists want from them.

So how can journalists address these concerns and be more likely to secure a “yes” when approaching a female source for an interview? And how can sources improve their interactions with journalists and get the most out of their experiences with the media?



Read more:
Bloomberg has decided women matter; it’s time Aussie media did

Tips for journalists

Be very clear. Expert sources typically have little knowledge about how the media work. You have a much better chance of securing an interview if you explain exactly what you need in terms of the nature of the interview and the time required.

Make a case. Experts need to demonstrate that their work and research is being seen and heard, and is having an impact. Media engagement is a crucial way to do this. Remind prospective sources about the benefits of promoting their work and research through news coverage.

Be willing to negotiate. Where there is some flexibility about the timing or location of an interview, be prepared to discuss this with the source. Try to come to an arrangement that suits you both. Sometimes, a source might just want 10 minutes to prepare for an interview first.

Respect the source and their time. Sources are much more likely to agree to an interview if the journalist appears to have some knowledge of their research and area of expertise. It’s also important for journalists to recognise that expert sources are usually very time-poor (just like journalists).

Give feedback. Do this during and after the interview, if possible. The experts I spoke to all wanted to know how they had performed in their interviews, and how they could improve.

Tips for sources

Say yes, but … It does not have to be an unconditional yes. It’s okay to say: “Yes, I can do the interview but I need 30 minutes to prepare.” Or “Yes, but I’m not willing to talk about this particular topic or issue.”

Ask questions. You don’t have to let the journalist ask all the questions. If you don’t know what the journalist wants from you, ask.

Don’t over-prepare. Most interviews are brief and will probably only take about 10 minutes. Don’t waste time over-preparing or over-thinking. Trust your expertise and knowledge.

Cut yourself a break, but learn from your mistakes. Listen back to or watch your interviews to see how you can improve. But recognise it takes time and practice to become a polished media commentator.

Be authentic. For radio and TV interviews in particular, try to relax and let your personality and passion for your work come through.

Kathryn Shine does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

India is facing a terrible crisis. How can Australia respond ethically?

Originally published on theconversation.com

India’s COVID-19 crisis has revived a longstanding debate about whether foreign governments should come to the aid of countries facing major economic or humanitarian challenges and, if so, what kind of help they should provide.

There’s a common assumption foreign aid produces undoubted benefits. But there’s actually limited evidence that it does. Increasing data suggests it may perpetuate existing inequities and inefficiencies, enable corruption, and generate adverse cultural and economic effects.

There are serious questions about the underlying causes of India’s crisis. There’s evidence the Modi government repeatedly ignored warnings from public health experts and refused to plan for the predicted increases in need. Instead, it pursued a public discourse of misinformation, promoted fake cures, withheld health data, intimidated journalists, and encouraged super-spreading events.

Government officials also continue to deny the existence of shortages of vaccines and other medicines. These facts suggest there are underlying structural obstacles, which aid contributions would be unlikely to reverse.



Read more:
COVID in India: how the Modi government prioritised politics over public health

But the moral arguments about the obligations humans have to each other are well established. So is the principle that we should come to someone’s aid if they’re in need. We are also bound by mutually beneficial values such as equity, justice, solidarity and altruism. Consequentialist philosophers, who argue the only things that matter are outcomes (rather than principles, obligations or intentions), claim foreign aid generally provides more benefit than harm overall.

Unfortunately, the fact we have a moral obligation to rescue someone from harm provides little or no guidance about what kind of help or assistance is thereby required.

We should enter into discussions, led by the Indian people, about what kinds of support are likely to make a difference.

As imperfect as the outcome may be, Australia might genuinely be able to help in areas such as assisting the development of expertise and infrastructure, and advocating for the relaxation of vaccine patent restrictions.

Here’s how Australia can help

Last week, Australia committed to sending an initial support package of ventilators, oxygen, and personal protective equipment to India.

If we choose to act further, we should do so in a generous and compassionate manner, but also with prudence and circumspection. We should be realistic about the limited options available to us. Aid cannot be given with conditions attached — for example, that it be directed preferentially to those in greatest need.

What’s more, it cannot be contingent on the enforcement of a value system that’s contrary to those presently in authority. Foreign donors have no straightforward right to insist on the abolition of corrupt or counterproductive policies and practices in the countries they’re supporting.

However, there are options available to us that can ensure we actually make a difference — and some of these may appear to undermine our own interests.

Top health officials have suggested wealthy countries, which have contracted to purchase many more vaccine doses than they need, should urgently donate excess vaccines to middle- and lower-income countries such as India. Some people may argue that, because of our present lesser need, Australia could donate its entire stock of available vaccines. However, this wouldn’t likely be of much benefit given the logistical, political and structural impediments described above.

Instead, we should draw on our experience over the past year in developing effective processes for responding to the pandemic. We should offer to provide India with expertise about quarantine measures, hygiene, masks, and vaccine education campaigns. Our experts and policymakers could respectfully advise on appropriate economic and social policies.

What’s more, we could call for the relaxation of patent and other intellectual property restrictions. These have, since the late 1980s, imposed severe limits on the ability of poorer countries to produce vaccines and pharmaceuticals developed in the United States and Europe. Although India is the world’s largest vaccine producer, the current demand obviously exceeds supply.

What vaccines are available are much less likely to find their way to poorer sections of India’s population than wealthier ones. This is partly because of insufficient government support, but is also exacerbated by the refusal of rich countries (including Australia) to allow the relaxation of the strict patent laws that prevent state-of-the-art vaccines being manufactured cheaply and efficiently in developing countries.



Read more:
Over 700 health experts are calling for urgent action to expand global production of COVID vaccines

There’s already a well-tested mechanism for suspending patent restrictions in an emergency, known as the “Doha Declaration”. This was negotiated in 2001 in response to the urgent need for increased access to newly developed HIV medications. This instrument is ready to use and could be implemented rapidly. Australia should announce its unqualified support for the immediate application of the Doha Declaration to COVID vaccine production.

But that’s not all

India’s huge pharmaceutical industry has previously provided vaccines and medicines to developing countries — many of them in Africa — largely funded by the World Health Organization. The Indian crisis has left these countries vulnerable, through no fault of their own.

Rather than merely responding to the crisis in India, largely self-inflicted by its own government, we should also turn our attention to the increasingly urgent needs of those countries that now face their own major emergencies as a consequence.

Regardless of what anyone does, many people will still die. All that’s open to us is to act ethically in accordance with our own values, informed by knowledge about the complexity of the multiple forces at work.

Wendy Lipworth receives funding from the National Health & Medical Research Council and the Australian Research Council.

Ian Kerridge and Paul Komesaroff do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

View from The Hill: Port of Darwin review opens a Pandora’s box

Originally published on theconversation.com

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How hard is Scott Morrison willing to poke the panda? That’s a question posed by the government’s review of the Chinese company Landbridge’s 99-year lease of the Port of Darwin.

The defence department is to advise on the security implications of the lease, granted by the Northern Territory government in a $500 million highly controversial deal in 2015.

At the time, then-United States president Barack Obama chided prime minister Malcolm Turnbull for not giving the Americans a heads up about the deal.

Turnbull added insult to injury by suggesting the president should subscribe to the NT’ News, where it was reported.

Although the federal government had no formal part in the lease at the time, the NT government sought federal advice. The defence department, ASIO and others in the national security establishment were not fazed by it. Neither was the national security committee of the Coalition cabinet.

The defence department secretary at the time, Dennis Richardson, and Duncan Lewis, who headed ASIO, both defended the arrangement when questioned by a senate committee.

Nevertheless, the deal had many critics and subsequently the federal government acted to ensure that in future such proposals would go before the Foreign Investment Review Board.

Fast forward to the present, and this week the new and hairy-chested defence minister Peter Dutton told the Sydney Morning Herald cabinet’s national security committee had asked his department to review the lease and “come back with some advice”. The work was already under way, Dutton said.

Last week Morrison had flagged the move, saying if the government received any advice from the defence department or intelligence agencies suggesting “there are national security risks there then you’d expect the government to take action”.

The Port of Darwin came into the frame after Foreign Minister Marise Payne cancelled two Victorian government agreements with China that were under that country’s Belt and Road Initiative.



Read more:
Why scrap Victoria’s ‘meaningless’ Belt and Road deal? Because it sends a powerful message to Beijing

She was implementing the recent legislation for the examination of agreements state and territory governments and public universities have (or propose) with foreign governments.

The Port of Darwin lease, being with a commercial company, does not fall within that legislation, but the segue to discussion of its future was inevitable.

Despite its defenders at the time, it is clear the deal should never have been concluded. But it is less clear what should be done about it now.

The increasing assertive and aggressive stands by China seem to argue for the lease to be broken.

While the lease is only over the commercial port, the Chinese presence sits somewhat uneasily with the growing US military footprint in northern Australia.

Peter Jennings, executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) think tank, says: “I do think this is probably the moment that the government needs to step in”. He believes the government should buy out the lease and then sell it to a less problematic owner.

If the judgement is that a time of reckoning will come in relation to the port, a case can be put for not delaying that time.

On the other hand, does the government want to make the present difficult relationship with China significantly worse?

Overturning a major commercial deal is a big step (much bigger than killing the Victorian BRI agreements) and the government would have to give substantial reasons. The action would cause offence to China and probably invite more trade retaliation.

The decision would turn the focus onto other Chinese investments in Australian infrastructure, including the 50% stake in the Port of Newcastle, and stakes in the power grid.

It would be taken as implying a more general signal about Australia’s attitude to Chinese investment and perhaps about investment from some other countries.

Managing both the diplomatic and foreign investment messages would be tricky, to say the least.

Asked on Tuesday about the various complications, Morrison told Seven “we’ll just take this one step at a time”.

He said he wasn’t presuming anything about the advice to come, and he was sure it would include “many options”. He also noted the commercial port area was separate from “where our military and defence facilities are”.

Now that the future of the Port of Darwin has been put on the table, a significant factor in the mix is domestic public opinion, which is very distrustful of China. The government has raised expectations of action, which it will have to deal with if it decides not to act.

One way out of a vexed situation could be to seek a middle course – for example putting in place certain conditions (on reporting, governance and the like) for this and other relevant ports under the revised security of critical infrastructure legislation that is now going through the parliament.

Whatever is decided will be a revealing test of the power of the China hawks in and around the government.

Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Incomplete strategy and niche contributions — Australia leaves Afghanistan after 20 years

Originally published at https://theconversation.com/incomplete-strategy-and-niche-contributions-australia-leaves-afghanistan-after-20-years-159045. Used under Creative Commons License.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has declared Australia will withdraw its remaining 80 troops from Afghanistan by September, marking the end of its longest involvement in a war.

This follows President Joe Biden announcing the United States will leave Afghanistan by September.

The path to this point has appeared inevitable for years. Ten years ago, journalist Karen Middleton highlighted the futility of the counterinsurgency campaign in her aptly-titled book, An Unwinnable War.

High hopes dashed

Back in 2001, it all seemed so different. Only weeks after the September 11 attacks, Australian special forces deployed to southern Afghanistan alongside US, Canadian, British and other NATO troops to defeat al-Qaeda, who was hosted by the then-Afghan government, known as the Taliban.

Prime Minister John Howard talks to troops in Afghanistan in 2007.
Prime Minister John Howard, seen here with troops in 2007, sent Australia to Afghanistan in the wake of the September 11 attacks. Department of Defence/AAP

After dusting off their boots and leaving in early 2002, Australian forces were drawn back in 2005 with a special forces task group. This was followed by an engineering reconstruction task force that over time morphed into a mentoring task force, intended to help the Afghan national security forces establish law and order.

But without a clear strategy for effective governance and widespread corruption, the Taliban returned with a vengeance. The mentoring created opportunities for so-called “green on blue” attacks, which contributed to the deaths of a number of Australians.

By 2014, 41 Australian soldiers had been killed. Many understandably wondered: was it worth it?

Australia’s niche approach

Australian politicians and policy makers were always risk-averse about the commitment. Eager to avoid casualties on the scale of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War (where 500 Australians were killed), successive governments opted to make niche contributions that relied on critical support and leadership from US and other allies.

But never wanting to manage everything itself left Australia vulnerable.

For example, Australia handed detainees to Afghan authorities who, soon enough released them. Some of these, it appears, ended up fighting against Australians again.

With special forces, in particular, undertaking rotation after rotation, operating without a compelling strategy and running into such characters repeatedly would have tested their resolve to operate ethically. In this context, it is not surprising their actions have generated enormous controversy addressed in the Brereton Report.


Read more: Allegations of murder and ‘blooding’ in Brereton report now face many obstacles to prosecution


Building ADF skills and experience

Defenders of Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan reflect on how the operational experience has honed the force. It enabled the components of the Australian Defence Force to sharpen their skills, refine their procedures and improve their capabilities. This includes the acquisition of advanced American military technology seen as crucial for an (at least partly) self-reliant defence posture for Australia.

Having a capable and sharp-edged defence force is a worthy goal. The question still remains whether the price was justified.


Read more: As the US plans its Afghan troop withdrawal, what was it all for?


The lack of involvement in international strategy formulation left Australia vulnerable to incoherent policy-making and planning by US political and military leaders. This may not affect Australia directly. But America’s US$2 trillion dollar expenditure on the campaign points to a spectacular failure of political and military leadership.

Back in 2001, the so-called “unipolar moment” — with the US as an unchallenged superpower — seemed enduring. Two decades later, a three-pronged series of challenges relating to great power contestation, looming environmental catastrophe and a spectrum of governance challenges (including terrorism, people and drug smuggling, and corruption) suggests the Afghan project distracted many countries — including Australia — from addressing other more pressing global issues.

There were other options

This does not mean the complete withdrawal was the only possibility. There could have been a compromise arrangement to protect the rights of women and institutions of Afghan civil society. This would have required buy-in from neighbouring states including the “stans”, India, Russia, China and Iran, let alone the invested European powers.

But Biden’s declaration of withdrawal has emboldened the Taliban and makes any such outcome now virtually impossible to secure. Indeed, with al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State resurgent, we may come to deeply regret not persisting with maintaining a modest foothold there, akin to the level of support provided by NATO that has endured in the Balkans for decades since the war broke out there in the 1990s.

Most of our work now lost

As we look back, Australia did work to improve the lives and livelihoods of the people of Afghanistan, particularly in Uruzgan province, where Australian forces were stationed from 2005—2013.

However, most of that work has now been lost and many of Australia’s interlocutors there killed, intimidated into submission or chased away. Some, thankfully, have made it to Australia as refugees.

We owe it, particularly to those who worked with Australia, to offer them a better future, including by inviting them here and welcoming them, much as we, belatedly, took in refugees fleeing from Vietnam after that war ended.

Meanwhile, in Australia, the price is still being paid for an incomplete strategy, with ongoing trauma for our veterans and their families and lives being lost.