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Australian sovereignty: The long and short of it

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(Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons)

Projections on Australia’s future are bleak if it maintains its hostility to China and cloying dependence on America, particularly when coupled with COVID-19 and a corrupt and incompetent LNP Government.

Tell me, where do you think Australia will be in one, five and 20 years time?

Let me speculate. One year from now, COVID-19 will still be with us and may have increased its grip throughout NSW and perhaps Australia as a result of NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s ideological and irresponsible handling of containment. Nothing will have been resolved with China.

Further trade restrictions will be in place and U.S. President Joe Biden will have opened a dialogue with China to advance U.S. economic interests. We will not be coat-tailing on those discussions. The U.S. will still be confronting China in the South China Sea but without harm to its moderately improved relationship.

The U.S. will request that Australia overfly and conduct naval patrols and exercises in the South China Sea, which we will do, eliciting praise from the U.S. and further perplexing and angering the Chinese who, in addition to restricting the import of iron ore, will limit tourist and student arrivals.

The Australian economy will be shagged. With an election approaching, Prime Minister Scott Morrison may well take a pragmatic and irresponsible decision and borrow more money. A lot more money. Initially scared of debt, the LNP will have come to see the political and electoral advantage of doing so. They will take the view that short-term LNP gain will be long-term Labor pain.

Which is all very well except that Labor leader Anthony Albanese is unelectable. Nice as he may be, he does not have the leadership skills or strength of character to handle the crises Australia is now facing and which will only intensify over the next year. Murdoch will back increased debt, as will the U.S.

Australia doesn’t have a clue where it is going and has not for many years, probably a hundred. Tucked under the umbrella first of Britain and then America, we did not have to think. We had no need for independent foreign or defence policies. When I was in the Department of Foreign Affairs, we would not move on making a major decision without the approval of Washington and London.

Secure under this imaginary umbrella Australians were free to acquire wealth, wreck the environment, indulge in sport and feed their insatiable hedonism: “Where the bloody hell are you?”

If Australia had some idea of self, outside of self-indulgence, Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison would not have been Prime Ministers and Albanese would not be leading Labor if the unions had not been emasculated by Bob Hawke and Paul Keating.

Australia will not find sufficient new markets to replace Chinese imports, certainly not from the UK and Europe. Faced with a deteriorating economy and increased debt, the dollar will fall. Under normal circumstances, this would aid exports, except that Trade Minister Dan Tehan will not turn things around. He neither has the wit nor wisdom to negotiate.

Australia’s credit rating will be marked down, adding to the cost of borrowing and the economic downward spiral. Morrison will win the election and the Labor Party will go into an even bigger funk because Albanese will resign with no obvious successor. Labor, bereft of leadership, will assume long-term opposition, much as the failed opposition in white South Africa, which Australia will increasingly come to resemble. What small policy changes occur will be as a result of external pressure.

Morrison’s spin and jargon will increasingly be detested but accepted in the absence of opposition and a functioning mainstream media. He will try and revive Australian exceptionalism, sporting prowess and beaches but it will not wash overseas. The EU, Japan, China and other nations will slap a tax on our goods in the absence of a functioning and effective emissions control and again, as with Apartheid South Africa, Morrison will attempt to spin his way out of it. But by then we will be on the nose — a pariah state.

At this point, Australia should reinvent itself, it should break free from the cloying, constricting, confining, controlling and humiliating embrace of the United States and negotiate our place in Asia. But we won’t. We don’t have the courage. Australians are good at physical courage. Physical courage impresses coaches, other teams, the media, observers and military opponents. Moral courage is something Australians, by and large, do not understand and place little store in. It is obtuse, invisible and for the Right, it demonstrates a weakness of character.

Australia does not have the moral courage to break free of the declining and decomposing U.S. We have determined that we will go down with the ship. In the absence of courage and imagination, we have decided that we will be martyrs to the declining and decaying American dream of gun ownership and the desire to “go it alone”, or the all-American “stuff you, who needs consensus?”

Just as an aside, American diplomacy has always been a weak tool, relying on and standing just behind American military might; “We are happy to negotiate but if you don’t comply, we will blow your brains out.” Just look at the Paris peace talks between Viet Nam and the U.S.

The U.S. did not come to the assistance of Australia or the East Timorese at the time of bloody independence. They said they gave us information but we had our own better sources through Australian intercepts. John Howard was dragged, in his own inimitable way, kicking and screaming into East Timor. It was public opinion that pushed him. He wanted American involvement; they told him to do it himself. They sat a couple of ships offshore but they did not honour ANZUS. And this, after all we had done. The Americans made a point which we have failed to notice.

Having got away with corrupt practice, the LNP will continue to bend and break the rules to keep themselves in power and in pocket. They will continue to pay Indonesian and Sri Lankan military, police and officials to stop refugees in boats — a practice that began under Howard. The White-dominated LNP feels Australia is theirs; they take offence at refugees seeking solace and protection. They are affronted by “outsiders” taking a piece of the action. They demand forelock-tugging unless new arrivals are very rich and they can get a bit of the action.

Five years on and Morrison’s borrowing will only have benefited the top end of town. Unemployment will have increased, poverty will be visible and social unrest will be making the north shore and eastern suburbs uneasy. Many will have copied Johannesburg and surrounded their houses with razor wire and electric fences. Security companies will be in demand.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton will declare demonstrators “enemies of the State” and deploy terrorism laws to round them up for periods of detention without trial. They will spend time on Christmas Island and other former refugee detention centres being re-educated.

Leadership will not have improved — if anything, it will be worse as the LNP remains cowering under U.S. command. China will have asserted its influence in the region which will be prospering and internationally as American influence declines.

The inevitable conflict between the U.S. and China will occur toward the end of this period with Australian losses of aircraft, ships and troops who were deployed to take several islands in the South China Sea but repulsed. America will get a very bloody nose. It will consider using nuclear weapons but will be restrained by threats from Russia, France and Germany. America will slink away, concluding a face-saving “peace treaty” that concedes China’s control of the South China Sea.

Anywhere between then and 20 years down the track, Australia – by then a virtual one-party State with draconian police powers in play – will be the visibly poverty-stricken, poor White neighbours of Asia. China will offer loans and grants in exchange for ownership and equity. These will be accepted. Political life and the economy will be controlled by China through a thoroughly corrupt LNP puppet government, very much reflecting the government of Sri Lanka.

China will address the issue of racism through the State-owned newspaper, The Australian. They will explain it is far more entrenched and subtle than calling a person of Asian appearance a “chink”. It is akin to middle-class mothers asking their sons if they marry that Asian or African girl, do they really want their children to look different? They will explain the pain of a sugar-coated racial slur and the deep-seated and insidious nature of White supremacy.

All this might have been avoided if Australian politicians had voluntarily moved from under the wings of the eagle and engaged in an open and honest way with China. But that would require intelligence and courage which they have been sadly lacking.

To strike a more optimistic note, the future of Australia is in the hands of the people, not the politicians we have become used to. We must change the nature of our political discourse and leadership; we must reinvent ourselves.

If you believe this projection far-fetched or too harsh, please indicate what you think the next 20 years hold for Australia.

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat.

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