Australia security official warns staff of 'drums of war'

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A senior Australian security bureaucrat warned his staff that free nations “again hear the beating drums” of war, as military tensions rise in the Asia-Pacific region.

Department of Home Affairs Secretary Mike Pezzullo’s message to all department staff on Australia’s veterans’ day on Sunday, known as Anzac Day, was published in The Australian newspaper on Tuesday.

“In a world of perpetual tension and dread, the drums of war beat – sometimes faintly and distantly, and at other times more loudly and ever closer,” Pezzullo said.

“Today, as free nations again hear the beating drums and watch worryingly the militarisation of issues that we had, until recent years, thought unlikely to be catalysts for war, let us continue to search unceasingly for the chance for peace while bracing again, yet again, for the curse of war,” he added.

Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said she had approved of the wording of Pezzullo’s message.

“He is absolutely at liberty to prepare such a speech, a document, and to have that published,” Andrews told Nine Network television. “The overarching message from government is that we need to be alert but not alarmed,” she said.

Senior opposition lawmaker Bill Shorten described Pezzullo’s reference to “drums of war” as “pretty hyperexcited language.”

“I’m not sure our senior public servants should be using that language because I’m not sure what that actually helps except to cause more anxiety,” Shorten said.

Defense Minister Peter Dutton raised the prospect of conflict between China and Taiwan in his own comments on Anzac Day.

“Nobody wants to see conflict between China and Taiwan or anywhere else in the world,” Dutton told Australian Broadcasting Corp. “I don’t think it should be discounted,” he said.

Pezzullo noted that this year marks the 70th anniversary of Australia’s defense treaty with the United States. He cited U.S. wartime generals Douglas MacArthur and President Dwight Eisenhower.

“Let us remember the warnings of two American generals who had known war waged totally and brutally: we must search always for the chance for peace amidst the curse of war, until we are faced with the only prudent, if sorrowful, course — to send off, yet again, our warriors to fight the nation’s wars,” he said.

Australia must reduce the likelihood of war, “but not at the cost of our precious freedom,” Pezzullo said.

Australia last week provoked an angry response from Beijing by cancelling two Chinese Belt and Road Initiative infrastructure deals with the Victoria state government on national interest grounds.

The Chinese Embassy in Australia said in a statement the decision would “bring further damage to bilateral relations and will only end up hurting” Australia.