Books

Vince Scappatura
The US Lobby and Australian Defence Policy

Amid discussions about China’s attempts to expand its influence in Australia by means both overt and covert, a book that examines a far more successful operation involving another foreign power is especially welcome.

Melbourne businessman Phil Scanlan started the yearly Australian American Leadership Dialogue (AALD) in 1992, worried the Pacific War legacy might fade and younger Australians would follow 1980s New Zealand out of the ANZUS Treaty. With United States presidential imprimatur, the AALD – two days of closed-door sessions with invited delegates – set out to reaffirm the orthodoxy.

Should Scanlan have worried? Despite the “self-reliant defence” doctrine built by people such as Paul Dibb, Kim Beazley and Desmond Ball after Vietnam, Australia is ever more tightly bound to the US. Foreign policy historian Peter Edwards sees the alliance as having institutional power in Canberra “like the monarchy”.

Outside Canberra, the Australian public thinks it just a defence guarantee and might be appalled at what it involves. As Scappatura notes, “Nuclear war planning, drone assassinations, mass surveillance and the militarisation of space are all now a central feature of Australia’s alliance with the United States.” The AALD can’t do much about public perception but works to firm up Australia’s elite, with a focus on emerging leaders. Kevin Rudd, little known at the time, was in the first batch of invitees. Julia Gillard, from Labor’s Socialist Left faction, quelled doubts at the 2008 dialogue by declaring the alliance “bigger than any person, bigger than any party, bigger than any government, bigger than any period in our history altogether”.

Scappatura managed to interview only 40 out of more than 150 identified Australian delegates. Scanlan himself refused. Some said discussions were robust; others called it a “love-in”, with the Australians even “slavish”. Those known to criticise the alliance are not invited. Hugh White was dropped after publishing his book on China rivalling US power. When the AALD was briefed in 2002 by Dick Cheney and others on the impending invasion of Iraq, no one uttered a word of caution.

Unlike the Chinese, the Americans have plenty of highly placed Australians to work for them. This is a rich book, extending our knowledge of the hidden reaches of foreign influence.

Hamish McDonald

Monash University Publishing, 256pp, $39.99

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 13, 2019 as "Vince Scappatura, The US Lobby and Australian Defence Policy". Subscribe here.

Reviewer: Hamish McDonald