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As major newspapers come under fire over war mongering, health sector urged to speak up for peace

Introduction by Croakey: Senior journalists have joined former Prime Minister Paul Keating and many others criticising a high-profile series in Nine Entertainment-owned newspapers this week urging Australia to prepare for war against China.

The three-part series, running across The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Brisbane Times and WAToday from 7 March, is due to culminate in a joint written communique including recommendations for action, according to a company statement.

Health professionals also have an important stake in the debate, and a responsibility to speak up for peace, says Dr Sue Wareham OAM, President of the Medical Association for Prevention of War. She describes the newspaper reports as “an outrageous abuse of the power of the media”.


Sue Wareham writes:

The ‘Red Alert’ report, claiming that Australia must prepare for war against China, was splashed across the front pages of two of Australia’s major daily newspapers, The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald, this week.

The report was one of the most sensationalist, ill-informed and biased pieces of propaganda on a critically important subject that we’ve seen in a long time, and has been widely condemned as such.

It is an affront to health professionals because war has profound impacts on human health, impacts which of course don’t even rate the whiff of a mention in the spiralling descent into mass violence to which our mainstream media have just contributed.

War destroys on a grand scale practically everything that we strive for; it is incompatible with health.

First, the context. ‘Red Alert’ was the result of a discussion by five commentators chosen by the two mastheads to discuss our most pressing national security challenges. In coming weeks, two big announcements are expected from the Australian Government – on the Defence Strategic Review, and on Australia’s acquisition of nuclear submarines.

These announcements are almost certain to herald the spending of literally hundreds of billions more dollars on weapons programs, funds which therefore won’t be available for other things.

The Australian people might need some convincing that they’d prefer naval nuclear reactors and long-range missiles to having a reliable healthcare system with well-paid workers, affordable housing, caring for our environment and much more. On cue, a scare campaign about China.

Inconsistencies and omissions

Secondly, the ‘Red Alert’ report raised many questions from its inconsistencies, hyperbole and omissions.

The first sentence of the panellists’ statement, undermined by much of what followed, is “We do not want war”. If that’s the case, why were commentators with expertise in the prevention of war, such as those skilled in diplomacy and conflict resolution, not included?  Why were there no experts on our alleged enemy, China, including on its history and culture?

The second installment, on Wednesday, stated bluntly that ‘Within 72 hours of a conflict breaking out over Taiwan, Chinese missile bombardments and devastating cyberattacks would begin pummelling Australia.’ The huge health and other implications of that are clear, and yet the response of the panellists thus far is to urge that we ramp up even further our capacity to fight back.

Is this our best response to increasing tensions – not to look at their origins and what can be done to reduce them (including by ourselves and our allies), but to simply issue a ‘bring it on’ challenge?  The panellists claim a faith in ‘deterrence’ to prevent war, but without a shred of evidence that that theory actually works as promised.

Highly contentious assertions were presented as fact, such as the claim that in the event of war between China and the US over Taiwan, Australia would have to be involved. Why so? This would be yet another war of choice, not a war of self-defence.

The promotion of health and wellbeing for people in Australia and elsewhere – which can only be achieved through peace – should determine our responses to tensions, rather than policy that places multiple bullseyes on our nation and others’.  We teach our kids better conflict resolution skills than that.

Why was there no disclosure of any vested interests, past or current, that might exist among the panellists? If there are conflicts of interest involving the arms industry or related parties, we have a right to know. This is standard in the medical world for good reason, but the world of the ‘defence and security’ establishment has multiple examples of undisclosed interests in the business of warfare, involving at least one of the panellists.

Along with the powerful social determinants of health, the commercial determinants of health – in this case corporations that can’t survive without the wars they fuel – demand far greater attention. The Medical Association for Prevention of War (MAPW) has documented some of the weapons industry’s strong links within our education system (down to primary level), links which form part of its quest to normalise the trade.

The panel agreed that Chinese Australians must be protected and valued in Australia. But exactly how do they think a ‘Red Alert’ not-to-be-missed headline will make Chinese Australians feel?

Perhaps most egregious is the hint of racism in the claim that China has a ‘sense of entitlement’, with its implication that China has no right to aspire to the status held by other very large powerful nations, such as our major ally.

Abuse of power

In summary, the report is an outrageous abuse of the power of the media to shape opinion, in this case in favour of one of mankind’s most destructive and damaging activities, war.

What can be done? Upholding the primacy of health and healthcare over warfare is key.

Propaganda that undermines prospects for peace, and therefore prospects for health, must be rejected. Public statements from health organisations and individuals to this end are valuable.

Given the devastating impacts of warfare on physical health, mental health, public health, children, adults, refugees, health workers, health infrastructure, other civilian infrastructure, the climate and the environment on which we all rely, there is no area of healthcare which does not have an interest in this.

Many Australians, like people everywhere, are struggling to keep going in the face of multiple global crises. What’s needed is action for a healthier future, which means a peaceful future, not the dumping of yet another needless war, much closer to home, onto the ‘impending doom’ list.

• Dr Sue Wareham OAM is President, Medical Association for Prevention of War


From Twitter

Response from Nine

The Guardian quotes a Nine executive Tory Maguire defending the series and the journalists involved against Paul Keating’s criticisms. The former PM said the coverage “represents the most egregious and provocative news presentation of any newspaper I have witnessed in over 50 years of active public life”.

In the company statement promoting the series, Maguire said its findings and recommendations “will resonate right through Australia’s highest levels of decision making, inside and outside the ADF”, the Australian Defence Force.

“It’s not an easy conversation to have, but it’s crucial we have it now and not leave it until after it’s too late,” said Maguire. “Properly funding Australia’s defences will come at a cost, and only a grown up analysis and debate will get us to where we need to be to ensure our future as a prosperous, lucky country.”


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