Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here’s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.


 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate

Subscribe!
Subscribe





On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.
___________

Syndicate
RSS/XML


RSS 2.0

Vision not worth paper it's written on

By Gary Johns - posted Wednesday, 7 November 2012


The Gillard government has run out of puff. Aspiration has outstripped ability. Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the premature release of the white paper Australia in the Asian Century.

A white paper is meant to announce government policy; the Asian Century paper did not do so. Scheduled for release in the middle of this year, it was delayed for the simple reason that the government could not make a single decision sufficiently powerful to give the paper substance. There was not a single new policy announcement: just bilious aspiration.

The timing of the release was designed to get the government to the comparatively safe political haven of the Christmas break, thereafter to plan its strategy for next year. One of a dozen university departments or think tanks could have produced the white paper. All would have provided substantial suggestions for policy change. But only government can select from the vast menu on offer and make aspiration happen.

Advertisement

Australian governments have been making substantial Asia policy changes, with or without a white paper, for generations. To be sure, these were mostly ideas whose time had come or were part of broader policy shifts arrived at for domestic purposes. Nevertheless, these were policy announcements, not just aspirations. They were designed to change reality.

Almost all governments since the mid-20th century have made at least one significant Asia policy change. The first Robert Menzies government opened Australia's first independent diplomatic missions in 1940-41. Two of the first four were in Asia: Japan and China. Ben Chifley helped many former Asian colonies achieve independence through the UN. Menzies' long reign, post Labor, was instrumental in developing the Colombo Plan in 1950-51 to fund students to study in Australia, and the Australia-Japan trade agreement. Harold Holt allowed "well qualified" Asian immigrants access to family reunion and to reduce the qualifying period for non-Europeans to gain residency and citizenship, effectively ending the White Australia policy.

Gough Whitlam cut tariffs by 25 per cent in 1972, which allowed Asian manufactures to enter Australia more readily, and he secured the official recognition of the People's Republic of China. Malcolm Fraser, with Japanese prime minister Masayoshi Ohira, founded the predecessor of the Australia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum, the Pacific Economic Co-operation Council. Bob Hawke further reduced tariffs and opened the economy stimulating Australia's economic integration with Asia. Paul Keating secured support for his proposal to develop the role of APEC. John Howard helped secure East Timorese independence in 2001.

In the past five years the record on Asia is lame. The one standout is finally agreeing to sell uranium to India. A government that actually had a strategic vision for Australia in Asia would have made sure that something of substance, close to fruition, would be the centrepiece of the white paper.

Instead, we had aspirations to remain a "high-wage, high-skill Australia". What else would we want, low-wage, low-skill? And how are we to stay on top? Apparently by more aspiration. Julia Gillard tells us that "by 2025, Australia will be ranked as a top five country in the world for the performance of our students in reading, science and mathematics literacy" and that "by 2025, 10 of Australia's universities will be in the world's top 100". Yes, but how?

Instead of being the world's best at bullshit we might have finalised just one free trade agreement. Australia has six FTAs: with New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand, US, Chile and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. But Australia is engaged in eight negotiations, five bilateral: China, Japan, South Korea, India and Indonesia (Australia concluded negotiations with Malaysia in May). One should have been rolled into the white paper, or at least some tough policy shift in favour of Asia against Europe in regards to market entry.

Advertisement

Instead we had the risible Asian language aspiration; no child will live without a National Broadband Network connection to an Asian language lecturer.

Australia has had a "direct language education policy towards Asia" since 1970. A national policy on languages was adopted in 1987 and a 1991 policy set a target of 25 per cent of Year 12 students to be engaged in language learning by 2000. Guess we never made it.

If the government really meant to do something it would pull the entire foreign aid budget, $5 billion a year, and do something useful with it. All official aid programs would be directed to Asia and all would have a significant educational component, including at an Australian institution. The policy would be morally defensible and probably a lot more effective than the present plethora of pet projects. Charitable aid agencies would be free to pursue their own interests in other programs and other parts of the world (for which they receive taxpayer support).

The Asia aspiration was a trivial pursuit. It proves that the government is just filling in time.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. All

This article was first published in The Australian on November 6, 2012



Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

2 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with del.icio.us Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Gary Johns is a fellow of the Australian Institute for Progress and an adjunct professor at QUT.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Gary Johns

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Photo of Gary Johns
Article Tools
Comment 2 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend
Deals from Sponsor
Flipit.com Australia
Photobook Australia voucher code: Get 56% off on all products
Get $10 off all Singapore packages at iVenture card using this coupon code
Use this Native Box coupon code to get 12% off a $104 spend
Use this Mosmann voucher code to get 25% off on your Christmas presents
Use this ClearlyContacts coupon code to get two pairs of frames for $99
Advertisement

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy