STUART REES International Alternatives to Morrison’s Crass Views on Sovereignty

While in Washington, the Prime Minister witnessed President Trump speaking about nationalism, patriotism, the treason of traitors and the irrelevance of international treaties, his latest flag waving endorsement of American sovereignty as the entitlement to do what it likes.

In a Lowy Institute address, Morrison used the same ideas, though he’s been nurturing them for years. He believes in internationalism when it suits. His notions of sovereignty are displayed in king of the castle rhetoric ‘How good is Australia?’, which means hooray for sovereign borders, ridicule of anyone who questions patriotism, enthusiasm for armed force to repel and punish asylum seekers and veiled support for prosecution and police raids on anyone who would expose government wrong doing.

Morrison spoke in the wake of Trump saying, ‘The future does not belong to globalists, the future belongs to patriots.’ The Prime Minister also decried globalists and in a plagiarised version of John Howard’s infamous Tampa statement about deciding who comes to this country and how, he trumpeted, ‘We will decide our interests and the circumstances in which we seek to pursue them.’

Sovereignty as proud nationalism implies disdain for the rights and needs of other peoples and for the planet. It emphasises one nation going alone irrespective of international obligations. To echo Trump’s derision of the United Nations, Morrison said there was no higher authority than the people of Australia who elected him. This sounds like an unexceptional platitude, but it’s used to rally those who feed on suspicions about the loyalty of people who don’t think like them and who could therefore be enemies.

The ‘We are great’, ‘We need enemies’ is the dangerous brew on which populists thrive.

This Trump/Brexit/Morrison view of sovereignty pitches ordinary people against an alleged establishment, patriots against supposed globalists.

In a reference to the UK Conservative party’s war-like language about the EU and towards anyone who opposes Brexit, the London Observer journalist Nick Cohen comments, ‘The default position of its (Conservative) politicians and journalists is to rouse the rabble by depicting parliament, the judiciary and the civil service as sinister forces conspiring against their country.’

Morrison said he was defending ordinary people against ‘elite opinion and attitudes which have become disconnected from the mainstream of their societies.’

In Australia at the same time as Morrison’s Lowy speech, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet reminded the Prime Minister that Australia had ratified most core international treaties each of which had been regularly reviewed by human rights bodies.

In this Pearls & Irritations journal, in response to Morrison’s disdain for treaty obligations unless they suit Australia’s interests, former Australian Ambassador John McCarthy advised the Prime Minister, ‘We do have to cooperate with each other -all the more in a globalized world. That is why we have treaties…You can’t insist on what you like and reject what you don’t like.’

A nationalist version of sovereignty is outmoded and dangerous. A planet is burning, ice caps are melting and precious species are becoming extinct. The arms industry grows but nuclear disarmament is far distant. A neo-liberal economic system fosters social and economic inequalities and in policy circles, justice to reflect respect for universal human rights is treated as a do-good option which can’t be afforded.

Sovereignty could be defined in an inspiring manner, to represent inclusiveness, to encourage humane governance by nation states and to support multilateralism.

The visionaries who crafted the UN and the EU knew the benefits of multilateralism and the need for imaginative, respectful dialogue between nations.

A cosmopolitan view of sovereignty would reawaken visions of the interdependence of peoples, and concern for other’s interests. In domestic policies such unselfishness is called ‘the gift relationship’, as in commitments to strangers without expectation of reward.

In international relations, the gift relationship would cover dialogue across countries to support international treaties and to remind societies and governments of the meaning of civilisation. That suggests a duty of hospitality from which everyone would benefit. It says, whatever you want for yourself, you should be willing to give to others.

There are significant precedents for this way of thinking.

In 2000, political leaders participated in a Millennium Summit to consider the role of the UN at the turn of the 21st century. They concluded, ‘We recognise that in addition to our separate responsibilities to our individual societies, we have a collective responsibility to uphold principles of human dignity, equality and equity at the global level.’

In his seminal work, Reimagining the Future, former Professor of International Relations at La Trobe University, Joseph Camilleri advocated the promotion of democracy by ensuring much greater equality in people’s access to knowledge and influence.

In articles and books on Humane Governance, the international jurist, political scientist Professor Richard Falk identified the healing qualities of non-violence and of respect for universal human rights.

Before Professor Falk wrote those words, the former playwright and President of Czechoslovakia Vaclav Havel called for the United Nations to become ‘the platform of joint solidarity-based decision making by the whole of human kind as to how best to organise our stay on this planet.’

This different version of sovereignty stresses enthusiasm for interdependence, a vision which artists, composers and poets described long before alarm about global warming. When crafting his view of sovereignty Scott Morrison missed an opportunity to derive inspiration from artists of any kind. Many poets, for example, speak of civility, tolerance and interdependence, no sign of enemies.

In the 16th century English poet John Donne, ‘No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent a part of the main….’

In the early 20th century, the Indian philosopher, poet and Nobel Prize recipient Rabindranath Tagore, spoke of ‘One identity of the universe, a proud harmony of all races’

When writing about the Human Family, the North American poet Maya Angelou reflected,

‘I note the obvious differences

between each sort and type

but we are more alike, my friends

than we are unalike’

If it’s difficult for an Australian Prime Minister to use foreign poets to envision a conflict resolving view of sovereignty, he could return to Australian Indigenous poet Oodgeroo Nunucaal. In All One Race, she advised,

‘I’m for human kind not colour gibes,

I’m international never mind tribes

I’m international, never mind place

I’m for humanity, all one race.’

Oodgeroo’s love and inclusiveness heralded a view of sovereignty so different from the crass, polarising views of Scott Morrison.

Stuart Rees, OAM is Professor Emeritus @ the University of Sydney and inaugural recipient of the Jerusalem (Al Quds) Peace Prize.


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7 Responses to STUART REES International Alternatives to Morrison’s Crass Views on Sovereignty

  1. Vacy Vlazna says:

    Morrison’s views on sovereignty are more dangerous than Trump’s patriots vs globalists; Morrison’s position is narrowly determined by the Pentecostal template of tribal prosperity elitism;

    The implication that the poor are morally inadequate while the wealthy are, solely by virtue of their wealth, morally superior, nicely intersects with the beliefs of Pentecostal Christian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s prosperity theology, which understands God’s love and favour to be primarily expressed in wealth and material comforts. If you are poor, God doesn’t love you, and you haven’t loved him enough either. Dr Jennifer Wilson

    Even worse- the dark, UN-Christian religious apartheid of the pentecostal Rapture lurking behind the bright prosperity- happy-clapping goes a long way to explain Morrison’s cold-blooded callousness and immorality on asylum seekers and the economy.

    The saved and the damned is Morrison’s real benchmark for sovereignty. Humanity is smugly sacrificed in the fantastical biblical apocalypse in which only believers would rise in Rapture with Jesus to heaven. The rest of us, unconverted Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists Sikhs, Jews, Athiests, Taoists etc etc, will perish in hell. Now there’s a genocide mindset!

    Such belief is macabre and pathologically deranged.

  2. Charles Lowe says:

    Again and again and again. The question is not that of sentiment. Every one of us agrees with the sentiment.

    The question is: how we are to have our sentiment prevail?

    John – can you please find a contributor who can credibly respond to this – the practicable question – the one that must surely be closest to your administrative heart?

  3. Rex Williams says:

    The quotations in this article by Stuart Rees are worthy, one and all. Joseph Camilleri, Richard Falk and Vaclav Havel in their references the proper place for humankind, in the shared world.
    More relevant in a personal sense perhaps are the quotations from Oodgeroo, Rabindranath Tagore and John Donne. Such different words and meanings from anything that is heard from the mouth of Morrison and seemingly alien to all he represents.

    I would venture to say that our Prime Minister would see little of interest in any to the wise words mentioned above, words that he would never be prepared to quote, if he even cared what they meant, in any speech he made, whether in front of a chosen audience of warmongering Trump political appointees or their supportive public servants in some pumped up dinner in Washington or a specially tailored speech to the Lowy Institute and all they stand for or in the never ending marketing of his subservience to the singing and dancing Pentecostal Christian church, a sadly embarrassing visual experience for Australians to see, when as the elected leader of a country of 25 million people of every colour and creed known to man, he is on display, ego to the fore.

    Credibility? A failed commercial marketeer on show. Little more.

    To quote W.S Gilbert, “Things are seldom what they seem…skim milk masquerades as cream.

  4. Andrew Glikson says:

    In a world of 7.5 billion people, armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons and undergoing dangerous and likely irreversible global warming, behaving in an egotistic “patriotic” manner is a formula for wars and chaos.

  5. Jim KABLE says:

    Excellent riposte to the treasonous Morrison. The responses to the recent Ross Gittins – Fairfax/Nine article on the hollowness of the Morrison “doctrine” should be bringing a wake-up to the rightwing ideologues in the LNP/IPA/Lowy bloc! But will it – over a 1000 responses! I am with the sentiments here expressed so humanely by Stuart Rees.

  6. Evan Hadkins says:

    I think it is useful to distinguish the local and global. And a national government can make a difference.

    For instance, by signing free trade agreements, which have negative consequences for some Australians (and who the government doesn’t consider compensating).

    It is quite possible to want to safeguard economic sovereignty and be hospitable to refugees; hostile to multi-nationals and welcoming to individuals.

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