Opinion piece published in The Mercury, 12 October 2019
The Prime Minister’s timely and cogent Lowy Lecture has sparked a lively debate among readers of the Mercury.
The speech surveyed a number of critical changes in the international environment that will shape Australia’s future, including strategic competition in our region, the rise of artificial intelligence, and the threat of terrorism.
As the PM declared, “a new economic and political order is taking shape”, and Australia must adapt in order to continue thriving in a changing global environment.
Some correspondents took exception to the PM’s criticism of “a new variant of globalism that seeks to elevate global institutions above the authority of nation states to direct national policies”. One reader, referring to the Government’s approach to border protection and climate change, fretted over Australia “losing its status as a respected international citizen”, claiming we are becoming a “pariah nation stuck at the bottom of the world”. This sense of shame associated with being Australian is so strong, we are told, that some feel compelled to identify themselves as New Zealanders when overseas.
Sentiment of this kind is a 21st century version of the cultural cringe — discomfort over how Australia may be perceived overseas. Yet the embarrassment felt by some of the cultural elite to our country is, increasingly, coming to define them. They are highly sensitive to the opinions of their elite peers elsewhere in the world, but not concerned about the views of our fellow Australians — those who overwhelmingly support the Government’s policies on border protection and rejected Labor’s radical climate change policies at the May election.
Most Australians are rightfully proud of our country. The ABC’s Australia Talks national survey, published this week, found that huge majorities agree with the statement: “Australia is the best country in the world in which to live”. I am one of them, and am always thankful to be able to call myself an Australian, especially when travelling overseas.
As Ron Cornish correctly pointed out (Letters, October 8), it makes no sense to claim that Australia’s international status is diminished when so many people are desperate to migrate here. Those who criticise Australia most harshly are invariably those who have the privilege of calling it home.
What I take particular exception to is the suggestion that there is something morally flawed about considering the interests of Australians. That is what the Australians want and expect us to do as elected representatives. The moral failing would be to not advocate for the interests of those who decide who will represent them in parliament, or to prioritise an ill-defined internationalism over real concerns of Australians.
Standing up for Australia’s interests on the world stage is not incompatible with pursuing an international order that promotes our values, including the rule of law and democracy. In the changing world we inhabit, there will be many areas in which we need to collaborate with international partners to solve common problems.
Australia must continue to work with our allies and partners on defence, trade, environmental and other issues. It is because of the greater need for co-operation that it is so important to assert our nation’s sovereignty, so our international engagement takes place on terms that do not compromise our national interests or democratic values.
It is our obligation to the Australian people as elected representatives.