JOHN MENADUE. Is the Australian ‘cruise control’ in Asia going to end?

Last week, Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen gave a very encouraging speech outlining ‘a new comprehensive and holistic policy approach to Asian engagement which will be called “FutureAsia”’.    After many false starts about our engagement with Asia, could this be the beginning of something important? Could it be as Gareth Evans has said in his memoir, Australia needs to be ‘more self reliant, more Asia, less US’.  

Perhaps surprisingly, this important speech by Chris Bowen to the Asia Society on 29 September 2017, was made by him and not by Bill Shorten or Penny Wong. But in his speech, Chris Bowen tells us that they and other important shadow ministers will be making major speeches in future about our engagement in Asia.

In his speech, Chris Bowen outlines ‘a new comprehensive and holistic policy approach to Asian engagement which will be called “FutureAsia”’.

This will include

  • Regional collaboration
  • Asian language learning support through the reinstatement of the Asian Education Foundation which was defunded in the 2015 budget.
  • Funding for the Australian Institute of Company Directors to help promote more Australians with Asian experience into senior executive positions on the boards of major companies.
  • An Australian Asian diaspora program will be established to explore ways in which the 17% of the Australian population who are of Asian origin can play a more effective role in public and particularly corporate life in Australia.
  • Annual meetings between Australia and Indonesian finance and trade ministers.
  • Cooperation with the Chinese on the ‘Belt and Road’ initiative.
  • Cooperation with Indonesia for an expanded G20 role in our region.
  • Establish an Australian-Asian Studies Centre.
  • Establish an Australian republic.
  • Annual reports to parliament on implementation of the new engagement with Asia.

Chris Bowen has set out a very encouraging agenda, but as he acknowledges, we have a lot of ground to make up. In his speech, he told us that we have been on ‘cruise control’ in Asia for too long and that we give ‘lip service’ to our role in Asia.

We all need to acknowledge the opportunities that we have lost over three decades since the Garnaut Report in 1989 on ‘Australia and the Northeast Asian Ascendancy’.

We have made some short-term improvements in Asian language learning and skills but we have been going backwards for years.

Our media is appallingly dominated by news from the North Atlantic with scant interest or resources committed to Asia.

Few people of Asian background or skill are in senior positions or on the boards of our major companies. I have been involved with major companies in Australia for over fifty years. I have yet to meet one senior executive or board member who can fluently speak the language of any of our neighbours. Our boards are overwhelmingly ‘male, pale and stale’.

The excellent Henry White Paper on Australia and the Asian Century disappeared almost without trace. It was expunged by the Abbott Government from the government web site. What vandalism!

How can we expect to be taken seriously in our region when we have a Head of State from the other side of the world?

We have a big gap to make up with our engagement with Asia. We have been on cruise control for too long.

Chris Bowen’s speech is the most encouraging news I have read on this subject for many years. In P & I we will be supporting and encouraging this initiative of Chris Bowen and his colleagues.

For earlier articles on this subject, see the following links.

John Menadue and Greg Dodds.

John Menadue.

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5 Responses to JOHN MENADUE. Is the Australian ‘cruise control’ in Asia going to end?

  1. Paul Frijters says:

    yes, the relation Australia has with Asia is very interesting. In many ways, the relation is excellent, as witnessed by inflows, tourism, intermarriage, trade ties, and investment. In other ways, particularly culturally, there seems to be no relation at all. There is no interest in Asian languages, politics, history, sensitivities, or directions in mainstream Australia. A fart in Washington gets more attention than a landslide in Bangladesh. And, interestingly, this desinterest seems shared with the newcomers from Asia. They might retain interest in where they and their parents came from, but they display no interest in anything else to do with Asia. I am yet to meet the Australian Indian who has any interest in China or vice versa, but both know about that fart in Washington.
    I am actually not sure whether that disinterest is a good or a bad thing. The disinterest seems to have worked spectacularly well so far. Asians are far more integrated in Australia than they are in Europe or the US. So perhaps disinterest is not such a bad thing. Perhaps not knowing how different Asians are makes it easier to absorb them?

  2. Peter Church says:

    Having been deeply involved in living and working in South East Asia and India for over almost 40 years I am afraid I am skeptical that Chris Bowen’s speech will amount to anything.

    We have listened to some wonderful inspiring speeches and read some excellent “white papers” issued over those decades. All have gone nowhere. Why? In my opinion without bipartisan support to a long term plan approved by the major parties nothing will change.

    Perhaps the challenge is not what needs to be done but how do we get a long term plan agreed to by the major parties.

    I wonder whether an online petition supported by political, business, academic, ethnic and religious leaders, NGOs, business organisations and most importantly young people whose future is in our (incompetent) hands might go some way to putting pressure on all our politicians to deliver what is required.

  3. Warren Dawson says:

    Did Mr Bowen miss out Russian Federation and India? These are Asian superpowers too. I heard Gareth Evans on the radio, saying that Australia’s GDP dwarfs that of Russia, but a look at the July 2017 World Bank GDP-PPP world rankings (which the WB on its page states is a more accurate indicator of economic power than the GDP-only rankings Mr Evans was referring to) places Russia in 6th position in the world behind Germany, and way ahead of Australia in 20th. China is 1st, India 3rd and Indonesia is 8th. So Australia would be restarting its Asia renewal from a low base here. Indonesia has ordered Russian SU-35 fighter jets, Russia is modernising Indonesia’s railway system, ports and other infrastructure to a rather impressive standard, and is going to build Indonesia’s first nuclear reactor. This is Australia’s nearest neighbour – billions of dollars of lost opportunities there. I read that India’s plan to form it’s own trading “belt and road” involving Japan and Africa – to counter China’s – may be shelved, given that China has been stitching up an African trade mosaic for decades now, virtually integrated already into it’s One Belt One Road plan. India is lukewarm to China’s OBOR, but to avoid economic disaster that would result from rejecting OBOR India could link up with Russia’s own developing trade belt down through the ‘stans to Iran (all of which countries are producing growth rates of 6-8% compared to an OECD average of 1-1.5%) and the Indian Ocean. This potential India-Russia deal would give Australia a double opportunity to link in with the Eurasian economy – in fact, a double opportunity for achieving any kind of economic future.

  4. Greg Bailey says:

    The collapse of Asian Studies in Australian Universities since 1990 can be seen above all in the substantial downgrading of Indian Studies in this country, as well as Chinese and Indonesian, though to a lesser extent. In 1990 there were about forty denominated positions in Indian Studies in Australian Universities. Now there are about seven, with about another ten other staff working in positions in other departmental areas not directly related to Asian Studies. There is one professorship of Contemporary Indian Studies in Melbourne University, but none other throughout Australia.

    As for language, which was never very strongly represented, Hindi is taught only at two universities (La Trobe and ANU) and Sanskrit at two (ANU and Sydney). No South Indian language is taught all.

    This surely is a scandalous situation in respect of a country touted as being a major trading partner as well as having a very prominent impact on Asian geopolitics. As a comparison, South Asian and Indian Studies is flourishing in Europe and North America. That it has been allowed to become so weak here is partially a reflection of the anti-intellectualism in Australian culture and the reluctance to learn languages other than English. A major injection of resources is needed for Indian Studies as well as other areas of Asian Studies.

  5. J Knight says:

    I haven’t had much time for HM QE II since – without any hesitation – our Monarch signed the same sex marriage bill in the UK – a fundamental betrayal of both Church and State, but, that aside, the real issue with the 17% of Asians in Australia is that a significant proportion have no particular cultural allegiance to Australia.

    If you have had experience with the Chinese community in Sydney, you may find very few are actually interested in wider contact beyond their own ethnic community. This has its upside – as the Triads stick to their own too – but, having been excluded at both boardroom tables and restaurants for being ‘Anglo’ I think there is some merit in the Chinese philosophy of knowing your enemy. Alas way too late for me to try to learn Chinese now – I would be just like Rudd in those videos!

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