Assuming that come May next year Australia will have had its 7th Prime Minister in ten years, it puts us on par with Italy – the erstwhile lead exponent of revolving door politics. Despite being the fourth most populous country in Europe, Italy is also the perennial underachiever on everything from economic growth to political clout. Political stability matters.
Silvio Berlusconi is probably the only Italian Prime Minister most people could name, and with the possible exception of Giuilo Andreotti – who, like Berlusconi, considered himself above the law – Benito Mussolini is the only Italian leader who has had significant influence on European politics in the last hundred years. Not a trio for any country to be proud of.
I wouldn’t for a moment deign to compare any of our Prime Ministers with the Italian “Hall of Infamy”, but as world leaders treat our current temporary Prime Minister with understandable bemusement at the G20 meeting in Buenos Aires, we have reasons to be concerned about Australia’s declining influence in world affairs in general, and in Asia in particular.
Scott Morrison fawning over Donald Trump and later waiting for Angela Merkel to read her briefing notes on him are ample metaphors for a Prime Minister on L-plates. He had the wherewithal of deputising Malcolm Turnbull to meet with the Indonesian President recently, but he couldn’t really do that for the G20, although it may have been tempting.
Jobs in tourism – with varying degrees of success – before moving into politics is the extent of his exposure to the international arena. His naivety exposed with the “Israel embassy stunt” – a shambolic exercise of foreign policy on the run.
But the real issue of concern is that as the world’s power balance is shifting as fast as we have seen since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Australia is a mere bystander with waning influence. Paul Keating tried to place Australia’s future in the context of its geography rather than the narrow prism of migratory roots; two decades later too many of our political leaders still think of us as an Anglo-Saxon colony.
Julie Bishop was a competent Foreign Minister, and provided stability through the tumultuous years of Angry Abbott and Placid Malcolm, but she has been replaced by Senator Marise Payne, whose dubious qualifications for the role matches her absence from what little foreign policy debate there is.
Our foreign policy remains static, focused on enabling and protecting our trade in commodities and agriculture products. We throw our weight around the Pacific, easy to do given the gulf in weight class. We have little understanding or appreciation of our closest neighbour, Indonesia, a country of 264 million with the economy growing at over 5% a year – not as fast as China and others, but still enough to make it no. 16 in the world by GDP and likely to overtake Australia (no. 14) within a decade.
Our policy on China is largely kowtowing to the US – an increasingly dangerous proposition as Trump’s confrontational isolationism has arguably already made China the most powerful country in Asia, and soon the world – if it isn’t already.
It’s the same story with India, Japan and South Korea – the other three economic powerhouses of what is undeniably our region. They, too, treat Australia with polite indifference outside of economic matters.
Just like Italy is a fringe player in European politics, dominated as it is by countries enjoying political stability – a prerequisite for policy making beyond the “longevity vacuum” – Australia is on the sidelines of a rapidly changing region.
Frequently changing Prime Minister’s on the whim of the majority party as has been the norm for the last decade is not just bad politics, it threatens our future as a country that matters in Asia, let alone the world.
Kim Wingerei is a former businessman, turned writer, blogger and commentator; passionate about free speech, democracy and the politics of change. Author of “Why Democracy is Broken – A Blueprint for Change”. Follow @ kimwingerei.com or on Facebook.