MUNGO MACCALLUM. The balancing act is becoming more precarious.

We can no longer pretend that Australia is not largely dependent on our great northern neighbour,its physical and economic health and crucially, its goodwill.

Thankfully, coronoavirus has had little direct impact on Australia – to date, few cases and no deaths.

The response has been swift and effective – diagnosis, treatment, quarantine and isolation have all been implemented to prevent the infection from spreading into the community.

There have been complaints of overkill, but when dealing with a potentially lethal epidemic, a belts-and-braces approach is not just an acceptable policy – it is the only sensible one. Our much criticized bureaucracy deserves considerable credit.

However, while the direct impact may be minimal, the indirect effects have been far more serious, with the threat of worse to come. The Australian economy has taken a clobbering.

Education and travel, two of our biggest earners, have been smashed. But the damage has been far more extensive – the entire trading sector, which our general standard of living, is now in danger of the kind of bust that can easily lead to recession.

We are not talking of the odd niche market, like the drop in the demand for rock lobsters; a whole range of exports and imports have been thrown into doubt as orders for products and services have been postponed or cancelled. Business and consumer confidence have been shot, and may take a long time to recover.

And there has been a resurgence of anti-Chinese sentiment, with the craziest conspiracy theories alleging that the virus was unleashed deliberately in, a form of germ warfare – bigoted nonsense, of course, but enough of a worry to require rebuttal from both Beijing and Canberra. COVIS19, are we are now told to call it, is casting a long shadow over both the economy and the society

And it is now one that we must confront:we can no longer pretend that Australia is not largely dependent on our great northern neighbour,its physical and economic health and crucially, its goodwill.

In the past we have been able to take this for granted, because the relationship, at least as far as trade goes, has been mutually beneficial – the hiccups, when they have come up have been quickly remedied. But what if there is serious rift – if our subservience to the United States alliance gets to the breaking point and we are, finally and reluctantly, compelled to choose between the two megapowers?

The prospect is not fanciful, and is becoming less so as America bases in Darwin show signs of ramping up to a more active military posture. Scott Morrison is relying on the assertion that, under his watch, the economy is strong and will remain so. But he also regards our defence pacts with Washington as non-negotiable.

He is desperate to maintain the balancing act, but it is becoming more precarious by the week. And now a microscopic organism has revealed a preview of the dire consequences of being forced to make a choice – or, more probably, having one thrust upon him,

And of all the unintended consequences of the coronavirus, this could easily become the most dangerous: the knowledge that despite all the bluster about how we will make the decisions about who runs Australia, it is just more empty rhetoric. We are not entirely impotent. But we are certainly vulnerable.

Mungo MacCallum is a former senior Canberra correspondent.


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5 Responses to MUNGO MACCALLUM. The balancing act is becoming more precarious.

  1. Geoff Andrews says:

    C.J.Dennis, one hundred years ago, predicted our dependence on the sale of minerals to a foreign country in “The Glugs of Gosh”, which should be compulsory reading for all politicians and in particular, the poem “The Stones of Gosh”.

  2. James O'Neill says:

    Frankly I think you are too optimistic. The Australian government seems to be under the delusion that its anti China rhetoric and policies are consequence free. They are not. A brutal lesson in reality is coming very shortly. If this government (or the likely alternative) think the Americans will ride to the rescue then they have a rude introduction to reality on the near horizon.

  3. Rex Williams says:

    “We are not entirely impotent. But we are certainly vulnerable.”

    If the policies espoused by the likes of Morrison continue until the end of this current government, we will surely be impotent by then.

    No great state like China will continue to tolerate the irresponsible and foolish comments that fly out of Canberra, thick and fast, the derogatory statements for the exclusion of everything to do with Huawei from our so-called ‘Intelligence’ spokespeople, tame supporters of everything American, one and all. We are not the only suppliers of all the exports that constitute such a large part of our revenues, of which naturally, being the buyers, they are very well aware. Everything we sell is able to be purchased elsewhere. So if China decides it can gain a level of influence through a mutually respected association in another country, (which it doesn’t enjoy here), they should and probably will change horses during this period.

    And who could blame them.

    China sees North West Cape, a US spy operation, the Darwin base supposedly for US soldiers “transiting through” this country, (whatever that means), the expanded US air operation at Tindal, NT and the other involvements that no one mentions, with more to come, and no one considers that this is a serious red rag to a Chinese bull?
    It is understandable when you see the parliamentarians responsible for our decisions, the likes of Marise Payne, making decisions as a US State Department lackey, word for word. Before her, the stage-strutting Julie Bishop, now gracing the corridors of the ANU.

    Because the US has purposely engineered the current climate, making China the world’s #1 bête noire by starting with years of crippling sanctions as they have done against most of the world to date and then using every dirty trick in the book, and then with Australia as the willing US errand boy, the “Yes sir” lapdog, we have far more chance of reaching the position of losing this market… and more than likely in the very near future.
    Will the US pick up the revenue slack for our supportive compliance with all their crooked hegemonic and warlike objectives?

    As much chance as Morrison has in doubling up for a second term.

    So on our own heads be it.

    By the way, did any one notice in early trade the Australian dollar fell to 66 US cents in what marks a new 11-year low? More to come with the assistance of the Reserve Bank, doing all it can to make Australia’s cost of living stagger then jump up even further.
    Plus wages stagnation? If you are an overpaid politician with a grossly generous retirement fund to beat the band, who cares?.
    A clear indication that we are doing nothing to stop this current US- subservient federal government from falling down yet another self-made hole.

  4. Don Macrae says:

    I thought that Malcolm Fraser’s ‘Dangerous Allies’ was a worthwhile book, which could have been contribution to a worthwhile conversation about the American alliance, but we still haven’t really had the conversation.

    As to the economic impact of Covis19, I’d like to see some modelling. I’m not sure the sky will fall.

  5. Mike Yewdall says:

    Nice piece Mungo. It’s interesting that it takes a “freelance” columnist, not from the mainstream media, can tell it how it is.

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