The ‘Teals’ and Australia’s international situation

Feb 17, 2023
A pink sunset wide view of federal parliament house Canberra

We know little of the views of Teals on foreign and strategic issues. There are some big issues coming, on which they will need to focus.

At the 2022 elections for the Australian parliament a new phenomenon was evident. A group of female candidates stood in conservative electorates with core concerns about climate change and integrity in the political system. They were not solely self-propelled but selected and endorsed by local community organisations. There was some learning from others, some support from a national organisation.

Reading their websites is informative about them, also about the preoccupying issues in their electorates.

Alphabetically by surname:

Kate Chaney

Zoe Daniel

Monique Ryan

Sophie Scamps

Allegra Spencer

Zali Steggall

My links are to pages from which one might seek opinions on international issues. There is quite a lot of reference to human rights, multiculturalism, and refugees. These bear upon international perspectives but in current geostrategic circumstances there are potentially many bifurcations possible from such start points.

It’s my opinion that having an international policy perspective in the 2022 elections might have been worth a loss of 1 to 5% in primary vote.

Having been for a short time head of research in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library, more than three decades ago, I have just an inkling of the experiences of new members now, learning to navigate the parliament.

There may be a time arising, with some runs scored on climate and integrity, when Teals may be able to focus more on other matters. The forthcoming reports on the Defence Strategic Review and the AUKUS submarines justify attention.

My own perspective is that we need to do a lot more, spend a lot more, facilitate a lot more to make this a serious modern transforming country before allocating a lot of money for toys. Going onwards from climate policy and integrity, adding in those directions.

John Menadue assembled views on the Defence Strategic Review from a wide range of thinkers here. Invaluable reading before tackling these demanding reports. I single out two writers with particularly relevant experience:

Cameron Leckie, having been a serving Army officer, and Mike Gilligan, having been a senior defence systems analyst in the Australian defence department, with experience of internship with a mutual friend who was then the Director, East Asia and the Pacific, in the Office of Program and Analysis in the US Defence Department. I share with them the complex mental processes in turning from dealing with highly classified matters, in loyalty to the government of the day, to then bringing personal faculties to bear on subjects of great concern to us as individuals who are fortunate to have broad experience of relevance.

My Menadue writing is here and over a longer time here… more diverse interests and history here.

I am very conscious that the Teals have come from conservative electorates and their community consultations have generally been far from international issues (noting the kerfuffling, as to be expected in the Wentworth electorate, on antisemitism). I am conscious of the very extensive and highly regarded experience of Zoe Daniel as an international correspondent, but I am also conscious that as with ABC reporting (much as with other media) the foci are subjects of contention… and now following ideological rigours out of Washington.

I had some pleasant albeit gloomy conversations with Allegra Spender’s father when he was facing defeat in the seat of North Sydney. Despite rumours to the contrary I am not old enough to have made the acquaintance of Allegra’s grandfather, Sir Percy Spender, who was much of a Teal in his lively political career. Percy Spender’s most extraordinary legacy, one which ensured so many friends for us in foreign ministries in our region, was The Colombo Plan initially named or nicknamed the Spender Plan: imagine an aid program where all the proposals come from the receiving countries and there are only grants, no loans. A cast of graduates from Australia everywhere in the region, for us to meet and be welcomed by in foreign service postings. Allegra Spender has thoughtful paragraphs on strategic policy and on her need to consult widely as an independent. Go down this page, I won’t summarise it.

Teals can strike out in new directions like that, the wider world is not entirely closed, locked down.

Others have less to say, some have none. I need to reach out to one with whom I have just three degrees of separation. When my friend Peter Baume was chancellor of ANU he invited his close comrade-in-arms Fred Chaney (great men purged when the ‘dries’ took over the Liberal Party) to give a graduation address at which one of my daughters received her arts degree. Most of the graduands were in commerce and the like, mystified perhaps by Fred Chaney’s speech asserting that if they achieved as much as had a gardener at James Cook University they would have touched greatness. No one was wished wealth or success, all were wished healthy and happy lives. My daughter and I were delighted, her mother had died not long before but as a West Australian wore a reconciliation badge daily in her dying years. That Fred Chaney, one of a West Australian dynasty, is uncle of Kate Chaney, now Member for Curtin.

There is scant room for these Teal independents to move and think within the harrowing sitting hours and complex agendas of the parliament. I hope they are well served by the research group in the library. In those old days when I was there it alarmed outsiders, but my fifty staff loved it, that I called them ‘semi-ferals’ with their ability and fairness in serving each member and senator as a client of equal status, every day on every issue, not just with reference material but with support in developing policy, as individuals.

We are only a couple of years from the next federal election. It was my experience looking after members of parliament in Beijing that on day one they would say yes, yes, thanks, on day two they would say how do you do this every day, on day three they would be anxious about home. Now of course with social media and the 24 hour news cycle they can just stay anxious. Take care. Best wishes. Stay the course. Please.

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