Offshore troops still in the shadows; Trump swaps gimmicks for cynic By Hamish McDonald.

French subs builder’s record of corruption

A worker passes a poster of a Barracuda-class submarine at the French shipbuilder DCNS.
A worker passes a poster of a Barracuda-class submarine at the French shipbuilder DCNS.

Enfin, it is the Shortfin − the smaller Australianised version of France’s Barracuda-class submarine − that our own Captain Nemo has announced we will get for our navy, conjuring up its capabilities in futuristic terms worthy of a contemporary Jules Verne.

We were correct in warning two weeks ago that Malcolm Turnbull would announce the decision before calling the July 2 election and that the Japanese bid was fading fast in the home stretch, but off in suggesting the German bid would be chosen as the safest in cost and delivery.

The Defence Department has been dazzled by promises from shipbuilder DCNS of ultra-quiet pulse-jet propulsion, a powerful sonar array from Thales, a comfortable space for the crew, and a very long range. Now all that has to be done is design the new boat, replacing the nuclear reactor in the Barracuda with diesels, batteries and fuel cells, and fitting in fuel tanks.

For the politicians, it’s all about jobs and buckets of money − as much as an extra $20 billion for local production − to retain a few Coalition seats in South Australia. So soon after seeing off the car industry, the Liberal Party dominated by economic “dries” has embraced industrial policy in a big way, in alliance with the Socialists of President François Hollande.

Still, a Lowy Institute poll has found 70 per cent of voters back that aspect. Turnbull and Defence Minister Marise Payne estimate 2800 Australian jobs for the next half-century hang on the deal. Somehow, even though the subs will be built in Adelaide, the French defence minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, also claims the contract as a “major victory for the French naval industry”, which would create thousands of new jobs in France.

Le Drian added that, “We are married to Australia for 50 years” − referring to the lifetime support for the submarines. So we had better be aware of the baggage our new partner brings. Unfortunately the Direction des Constructions et Armes Navales, now partly privatised and named DCNS, is a lady with a shady past.

As the Hong Kong-based website Asia Sentinel has pointed out, “DCNS’s operations face questions across almost the entire globe, including in Pakistan, Malaysia, India, Saudi Arabia and Chile, with bribes and kickbacks reportedly comprising 8 per cent to 12 per cent of DCNS’s entire budget.”

One of the notable scandals was the alleged payment, with approval by the late president François Mitterrand, of $US400 million in bribes to Taiwan’s then ruling Kuomintang in 1991 for the sale of six frigates, with another $US100 million going to the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee to keep Beijing quiet. A more recent scandal, still simmering in Malaysia and France, involves the payment of €114 million in commissions to an associate of then Malaysian defence minister Najib Razak (now prime minister) in 2002 for the $US1.25 billion order of two Scorpène-class submarines for the Malaysian navy.

No doubt our politicians and officials are aware of all this, and will be ready to account for any largesse. Perhaps they should automatically knock off 8 to 12 per cent of any price quoted by DCNS.

1 . Offshore troops still in the shadows

Defence has meanwhile been softening up the public for a longer-than-expected engagement in Afghanistan, taking reporters on a tour of its training operation in Kabul − a job still a long way to go in producing a local army that can hold back the Taliban.

And we still haven’t had a proper account of how defeat was snatched from victory in Afghanistan by the diversion to Iraq in 2003.

Mysterious war continues in Iraq, too, where Australia has about 780 troops fighting Daesh. With 400 in the air operations and 300 training the Iraqi army, that leaves about 80 of the SAS and other special forces doing who knows what.

Jeff Sengelman is chief of Australia’s shadow warriors. His published CV leaves a lot out: Major-General Jeff Sengelman, DSC, AM, CSC, graduated from the Officer Cadet School Portsea in 1980. He has seen extensive service in the Army and has undertaken a range of appointments both in Defence and on operations. He took up his current position as special operations commander Australia in December 2014. He told an Australian Strategic Policy Institute conference earlier this month: “I have forces deployed as we speak. Some you know about. Some you do not.”

With US President Barack Obama announcing another 250 US special ops troops will be sent into Syria – joining 50 already there – to train, advise and direct air support for Kurdish and moderate Sunni Arab militias fighting Daesh, how long before our defence establishment can no longer resist joining the Americans, as is its wont? That is, if some of Sengelman’s troops aren’t there already.

2 . Trump swaps gimmicks for cynic

Seldom has a political campaign manager laid out the cynicism of his candidate so blatantly as Donald Trump’s new Machiavelli, Paul Manafort, when he talked to members of the Republican Party’s national committee at what he thought was a private gathering in Florida on April 21.

Trump has few friends in the Republican hierarchy he routinely attacks as “crooked” in his campaign, so one of the audience recorded Manafort’s remarks and helpfully provided them to The New York Times. Manafort suggested Trump and his rhetoric was one big act, and that once he was assured of the nomination he would revert to a normal political style.

“Is Donald Trump running against the Republican national committee?” Manafort asked. “The answer is he is not.” Now he wanted to work with the committee. “He gave us the mandate to bring together a team of professionals that could finish the job for him, but could also then begin to link in with the establishment institutions that are part of our party, what you represent, what the state parties represent,” Manafort said.

The leak seems to have made no difference to Trump’s appeal to Republican voters. Five days later, they gave Trump big majorities in primaries held in five states, including 56.7 per cent in Pennsylvania and 54.4 per cent in Maryland. Rivals Ted Cruz and John Kasich, who had announced a no-compete pact, did poorly, and their chances of denying Trump a majority of delegates at the nomination convention in July have narrowed. Tuesday’s primary in Indiana is being seen as the make-or-break point in the Trump advance.

Hillary Clinton did well in the Democrat primaries, winning 63 per cent in Maryland and 55.6 per cent in Pennsylvania. Bernie Sanders held Clinton to a narrow 51.8 per cent win in Connecticut and won the tiny state of Rhode Island.

If Sanders carries on his fight, Clinton will be fighting his populism on the left through to July, then Trump’s version from the right until November. Assuming the FBI doesn’t charge Clinton with putting classified information in her personal emails while secretary of state, she’ll win the presidential election having disavowed much of her political record. The main consolation might be that Trump so damages the Republican brand the Democrats win back control of congress.


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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 30, 2016 as "French subs builder’s record of corruption".

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Hamish McDonald is a Walkley Award-winning foreign correspondent.

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