Our foremost practitioner of the quick and deadly put-down, Paul Keating, copped plenty of blowback after his National Press Club performance on 15 March.
He is out of time and out of touch, he hasn’t moved on from the 1990s, he displays relevance deprivation, the ad hominem trolls chorused. Mr Keating hasn’t adapted to the ‘current strategic environment’, the Prime Minister advised his senior colleague. The world has changed in 2023, Mr Albanese explained, and so has China’s posture.
No doubt, but the current environment in Canberra has changed too. Is that better or worse for the country? it is reasonable to ask. The bipartisanship for which Keating assailed Ministers Wong and Marles has produced monochrome foreign and defence policy in Australia, more befitting a dictatorship than a democracy.
Those who don’t conform to it are scapegoated, marginalised, and deplatformed. People who, like Keating, don’t hate China, don’t get seats on Anthony Albanese’s flight. Nor will they have a say in the inner Cabinet where he will present the marching orders from Washington for our next war.
A fellow-traveller with the PM, as Keating mentioned, is Andrew Shearer, a Morrison insider who can keep his job at ONI until 2025. By then, if some US generals are right, we’ll be fighting China. Mr Shearer’s posture has always been sinophobic, and it appears to have become more so since his years in the US. Since 2017 or 2018, Australian leaders and media columnists have become converts to it.
The Labor government now looks so like its Coalition predecessors that past ALP leaders would not recognise it. Imagine Albanese getting up in the House and saying this:
“Our present course is playing right into China’s hands, and our present policy will, if not changed, surely and inexorably lead to American humiliation in Asia.”
That’s what Arthur Calwell said as Opposition leader in 1963, deploring the dispatch of an Australian battalion to Vietnam.
Even allowing for later styles of oratory, imagine Albanese saying this: As I speak, we are a nation on the brink of war. A war we should not be in … A war to which we are one of only four countries prepared to join the U.S. in putting troops on the ground … A war which, for the first time in our history, Australia has joined as an aggressor. Not because we are directly threatened. Not because the UN has determined it. But because the U.S. asked us to.
That’s what Simon Crean as Opposition leader said in 2003. Now, exactly twenty years since Australia illegally and disastrously made war on Iraq, an ALP government is preparing to do it again, against China. Or, you have been warned here, an event will be found to invoke ANZUS.
In recent years, if China’s posture has changed, so has Australia’s. China has determinedly, sometimes assertively, pursued its peaceful rise, attacking no country, building up its defences, and gaining influence across West Asia and in the global South, and all with two overseas military bases compared to the Americans’ 800. Australia, which sold the port of Darwin to China, signed up for China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and like New Zealand, was considering the Belt and Road Project when the US under President Trump took an anti-China turn. So Australia did the same.
Rudd had already inserted the US into the East Asia Forum, forfeiting a rare venue for Australian independent discussion with our neighbours. Australia was already pivoting with Obama when Julia Gillard offered bases for US marines in Darwin. It has gone on step by step since then: the rejection of Huawei, the Force Posture Agreement of 2014 which (as shown in P&I) gave parts of our ‘sovereign’ territory over to unfettered US military access and control, and the gratuitous blaming of China for the pandemic in 2019.
Labor has abandoned what was left of any of the ideals it put forward in the ‘Australia in the Asian Century’ report of 2012. Instead, we have joined the remaining parts of our national anatomy (shoulder to shoulder, joined at the hip, etc.) to the US and UK. American bases in Australia will remain into the limitless future, as Kurt Campbell is happy to observe and Joe Hockey agrees. So will AUKUS, unless Hugh White is right and they scrap it as useless, as SEATO was.
Hooked as our governments are on the drip feed of Five Eyes intelligence, other opinions have almost entirely vanished from our mainstream media. It is left to hand-cranked organisations like Michael West Media, Declassified Australia, and the indispensable Pearls & Irritations to propose any other versions of events. Only here can be found the counter-narrative to what Penny Wong has been led to believe about the Uighur ‘genocide’, or the prevailing Canberra view about the Nordstream pipeline sabotage, or why no peace negotiations over Ukraine are allowed to succeed.
Asia-enthusiasm in Australia comes in waves, followed by troughs, and has done for two centuries. We are now overdue for another correction, to revive Asian languages, investment, re-engagement, and good neighbourliness. Unthinkable as it is for most of us, non-alignment would help. As Malcolm Fraser realised in 2014, only by keeping the US out of the equation can we arrest the slide into another pointless, devastating war with China for which ASPI, Peter Hartcher, and the military profiteers apparently can’t wait.
Since Keating’s burst, he has been joined by Labor colleagues Bob Carr, Kim Carr, Gareth Evans, Melissa Parke, and Josh Wilson. Peter Garrett, Andrew Wilkie, and Hugh White have come out in support. They are saying, at last, what many Australians have been on about for more than 18 months.