Moving on from White Australia: Election 2022?

Despite years of critique the Australian national parliament has been overwhelmingly White and massively male, unlike the country as a whole. But something changed at the 2022 election – most clearly around racism and sexism. How might this play out in the negotiations to come?

The Whitlam government supposedly ended the White Australia policy in 1973. For fifty years though, White Australia has hung on in the elite structures –Commonwealth cabinets, the High Court and the ABC Board as examples, even while changing at state and especially local levels. Prior to the 2019 election I argued that we would realise down the track that “Election 2019 was the last White Australia election, in which Euro-Australians dominated the parliamentary seats and both major party leaderships, and where xenophobia was the insistent leitmotif of the Right“. If this election marks an ending for White Australia we would expect to see change in voting, representation and policy.

Just before the election the BBC asked why the Australian Parliament was so White (and male). Sydney Policy Lab director Prof Tim Soutphomassane noted recently that “a celebration of cultural diversity has never been accompanied by a sharing of Anglo-Celtic institutional power”. Peter Khalil, an ALP MP , said in November last year that Australian politics was still swamped by an “Anglo Boys club”. Opting to describe himself as one of the 21% of the population who were NIPOCs (non-Indigenous people of colour) he reflected on years of racism and marginalisation he had experienced and witnessed inside the ALP and outside.

At the 2022 election the trajectories of change differed from each other along almost every conceivable parameter that was not old White male: middle aged well off White women took the elite Liberal urban seats from men. Younger people of colour, usually women, took many of the new Labor seats. Smart mainly young White people took the seats that were turning Green. White Australia was fragmenting along race and gender fault lines. The LNP was left with almost only older White guys in the House.

Voting

The election demonstrated the salience of specific ethnicity in contributing to voter-decisions in many seats, while the more general concern about rising racism played out for a more diverse electorate. “The Chinese vote” has been a focus for interest with many newspaper articles reflecting on the impact of the bellicose rhetoric of the LNP towards China and its impact on the “safety” that Chinese-ancestry voters felt with the conservatives. The Tally Room blog has argued that there was a significant shift towards the ALP (or better put, away from the Liberals) in electorates where the China-ancestry vote was significant. Where the opportunity existed for a potentially-successful Asian or Chinese candidate for the ALP, they were usually successful.

In Fowler, which is a very multicultural electorate with a large Vietnamese community (many with Chinese ethnicity) where the ALP ran the seemingly-resented candidate Kristina Keneally, the ALP vote dropped by nearly 19%. The local Independent Dai Le picked up all nearly all those previously ALP votes, while also taking nearly all the votes that left the Liberals (13%). The Senate vote in Fowler for the ALP also dropped significantly (8%) from 2019, while the Liberal vote rose slightly. In effect the ALP’s safest seat in NSW most likely cost the Party a secure majority.

The key electorates where an apparent anti-Liberal shift in the Chinese-ancestry vote was determinate included Bennelong, Reid and Parramatta in NSW, Chisholm, Higgins and Kooyong in Victoria, and Tangney in Western Australia (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-05-24/chinese-australian-vote-election-swing-labor/101091384). Some benfitted the ALP, some the Independents.

Representation

Peter Khalil (Wills, Vic) and Dr Anne Aly (Cowan, WA) had been fairly lonely non-European members of the ALP Caucus until the election. Aly (her origin is Egyptian Muslim) worked tirelessly during the long COVID lock-down in Perth to build opportunity for candidates of colour. In Perth Sam Lim (a Malaysian-Chinese immigrant) took Tangney with a 11% swing, building on his deep links with communities throughout Perth as a key police liaison person during the lockdown. Zaneta Mascarenhas, born in Kalgoorlie, whose parents arrived from Goa in 1979, took Swan with a 12% swing. Aly herself increased her vote in Cowan by nearly 10%.

In NSW the 9% first preference swing against Liberals in Bennelong was achieved by Jerome Laxale,the popular Labor mayor of Ryde, whose parents were Francophones from Mauritius and Le Reunion. He repeated the victory that Maxine McKew had achieved against John Howard in 2007, also with strong Chinese and Korean support. McKew though was another outsider Capatain’s pick, and could not hold the seat against John Alexander. Kristina Kenneally tried to take it as a Captain’s pick in a Section 44 by-election, but did not get that local support and failed. In Reid a popular local candidate, Sally Sitou, of Lao Chinese background, reclaimed the seat for the ALP with an 8% swing, on the base of very strong Chinese support.

In Victoria both seats that went to the ALP were won by “ethnic background” candidates. In Chisholm Greek-background Carlina Garland saw a 7% swing away from Gladys Liu, though only 4% went to the ALP. In Higgins Dr Michelle Anada-Rajah, a Tamil born in Sri Lanka, saw a 5% swing away from Liberal Dr Katie Allen bring her 3% of first preferences.

In summary of the ten or so seats the ALP won from the Liberals across the country, six were won by “ethnic candidates”, four of whom were people of colour. On the other hand the seven new “teal” seats, though all won by women, are all now represented by Euro-Australians (aka Whites). So how might this matter?

Policy

The ALP released its Election Statement on Multiculturalism under the names of Katy Gallagher (Finance) and Andrew Giles (Multicultural Affairs) two days before the vote and well after most of the pre-polls and postal votes had been cast. The Statement appears pulled out of the 2021 Multicultural Engagement Taskforce Report chaired by Peter Khalil. Two critical additions include a commitment to a Multicultural Framework Review, which will have to consider whether Australia should have a Multicultural Act (which is Green’s policy), and a re-assessment of the standards for measuring Australia’s diversity. The COVID pandemic and the failures to protect multicultural communities have foregrounded the urgencyof these issues .

It is unlikely the LNP or the Teals will have an interest in or an appetite for pushing these concerns to the top of the food chain. However the new ALP NIPOCs and the Independent Dai Le will have a major investment in exactly that dynamic, creating with Aly and Khalil a significant bloc. The new government’s best-known leaders are Albanese and Wong, two surnames drawn from the deep hinterland of multicultural Australia. Farewell White Australia?

Why a Multicultural Act would help reduce the impact of COVID on Australia’s multicultural communities.

We (don’t) know what has been happening to Australia’s multicultural communities during COVID, but if we had a Multicultural Act maybe we would. At least distraught community organisations would not have to constantly plead to governments for information about illness, hospitalisation, and deaths amongst their language group.

Throughout the pandemics local geographies have provided conceptual proxies for real demographies. Sometimes the data released by government has just been stupid. The main areas with lots of international students were portrayed as low vaccination zones, and given short shrift in the media for failure to care.  The vaccination proportions were based on the 2016 census base, when the universities in Randwick, Sydney City, Melbourne City and elsewhere were chocker-block full with Indian and Chinese students. They were all counted in the population base in 2016 (creating what statisticians call the denominator in the equation). Then the vaxx count in those areas as elsewhere formed the numerator in 2021. At its most extreme the postcode for UNSW showed zero vaccinations (colleges closed, international students gone elsewhere or home), producing a numerator of 0. The denominator whatever it had been in 2016 was added to the Randwick local government denominator. Screamingly low – as with Bondi Junction where all the locally resident students here for English language courses in the colleges had been sent away as the colleges closed.

When I phoned my local state MP to suggest they might like to question the figures they were posting weekly (postcode 2052 showing zero) I was told not to be stupid, of course the figures were good; they came from the NSW Government. So Randwick City, where I live, has continued to look very poor on vaxx rates . Whoever is doing the calculations on vaxx rates for localities needs a sociology lesson really quickly.

So how does this tie-in to a Multiculturalism Act? There is no Commonwealth agency that holds the hose for culturally diverse communities. There used to be a number until Howard cancelled them all in 1996/1997 – the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Bureau of Immigration, Multicultural and Population Research for two. The Rudd-Gillard-Rudd governments refused to replace them and the ALP since has avoided any engagement with moving forward in this regard. The Turnbull-Abbott-Morrison governments simply turned the other way, muttering “nothing to see here”. The Greens have a policy proposal out there in this area, covering both rights and an institutional arrangement to progress them, which would do some of the work but not enough.

The main Commonwealth advisory body, the Australian Multicultural Council, has been silent on the impact of COVID on multicultural communities, as indeed on most things, as it was designed to be. The Australian Human Rights Commission Race Discrimination Commissioner is proposing a new set of anti-racism actions, but these still remain within the boundary of individual discrimination, not systemic failure. The advisory group on cultural and linguistic diversity to Commonwealth Health was not set up for nearly a year after the COVID pandemic began, and has no executive authority, spending most of its time checking translations of rapidly changing COVID information for cultural and linguistic bloopers.

What can we deduce from the proxy data that is out there? Firstly as with earlier waves, the correlates of “bad experiences” including mortality are linked to age, underlying morbidities, overcrowding, poor health literacy, and economic marginality. Vaccination rates may well be affected by cultural orientations to vaccines and to culturally-specific antivax campaigns also associated with some religious sects. What we know about cultural diversity in Australia is that all these factors are more extensive for multicultural communities. We are looking at class correlates of migrants, and cultural orientations (which have many different trajectories). 

No one in government is holding a hose for these communities. At the state levels there is intensive work going ahead to inform and inject ethnic communities, using many innovative strategies. But the main function of the state agencies has been to calm and support cultural groups, with state governments more concerned with distracting their resistance and anger than with ensuring their rights.  For two years I have been pointing out how the testing regimes are inequitable and ensure ignorance. How easy would it be now for the PCR and RAT testing reporting situation to collect one question – what language would you prefer to have your COVID information in? It would be a massive gamechanger, as work on vaccination language preferences has already proven to be.

Among the elderly in nursing homes and among people with disabilities from culturally diverse backgrounds, the impact has been huge. We now have a situation where nearly 100 people a day are dying, with a very high proportion of those people from ethnic communities with all the features described above. However no one holds a hose for them, and they become a bland statistic without political leverage, a cost of opening up so that other people can watch the cricket and the tennis.

Imagine the situation instead where a Commonwealth statutory agency, with research capacity and executive authority, was in the game, holding the hose, finding the flare ups and ensuring the retardants were directed to the appropriate place. Imagine pro-active engagement with the thousands of people in nursing homes from multicultural communities, currently  isolated, sickening and dying, left to the uncaring and forgetful Minister for Ageing, and an equally irrelevant Minister for Multicultural Affairs. 

It is about time that Australia, instead of slapping itself on the back as the most successful multicultural society in the world, realises that it is systematically failing at the task, and recognises the dead and dying people from diverse backgrounds as in-your-face evidence of this fact. Then we should have a cross-party conversation about how to make the situation better and thus become as inclusive and equitable as we pretend to be. Something like a Multicultural Act with some of the features of the 1990 agencies and a more pro-active agenda (like the old Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs set up by Fraser and knocked off by Hawke) would start to fit the bill. Any politician willing to risk a wedge to propose it? 

Andrew Jakubowiczis emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Technology Sydney.

Gaming the Virus: fighting the last war cannot win the next one

Gaming the virus in NSW: how fighting the last war will not win the next one.

One of the few extraordinary benefits for sociologists of the pandemic must be the real time experiments it generates in the relation between social theory and social practice – or put succinctly, how class continues to be an issue in contemporary Australia, most sharply in neo-con libertarian jurisdictions, less so but still there in more social democratic communalist states. Alan Kohler has pointed to the failure of conservatism (he is too hopeful) while Ross Gittins sees the pattern of infection as a reflection of class (too absolute though getting there). Age, race, and gender were called out early on. The virus is alert to the best social space for its transmission to accelerate, where crowding at home, at work and travelling, poor communication, and a mobile population produce the optimum hosts. If trust fractures so that the capacity of the social order to protect people from the virus is undermined, then that social order can rapidly follow. The social remains only a step ahead of chaos, imbued with the ever-present imagined tension between individual and communal well-being.

As the public imaginary has become saturated with metaphors for the “battle” against COVID19 Delta, so the real-world takeover of the key cities in Afghanistan by the Taliban has dominated the real politik. Just as the American Maginot line at Kabul was overwhelmed by the Afghan anti-imperialists, COVID is surrounding and breaking through our defences. The Taliban is a social movement, the impact of which on modern social values and relations we may well abhor. COVID Delta is a social disease, the impact of which on our social sinews – trust – we should rightly fear.  The moment Trump decided to get out (almost the same strategy he propounded in the USA against COVID in 2020) the idea of a single line of resistance that could be sustained by the Kabul government was undermined. Giving up on COVID Zero has a similar smell about it. We must learn to live with them both, some of our leaders now pronounce.

Returning to the COVID battle, there have been calls to refresh the ANZAC spirit, stand together, and face the foe (though Gallipoli was just a better version of the Kabul withdrawal – better planned and executed but in essence the same). We have been told we will be “throwing everything at it”, and sending in our best and bravest. Instead of generals fighting the last war (though we have some of them), we have scientists, grim faced, calling on the citizen soldiers to stand firm, obey orders, and suffer for the greater good. Uniforms abound in the battle lines – police, nurses, military – some with boots on the ground, some with needles in our arms, some now with pepper bombs. Arm-chair strategists and tacticians (including yours truly) argue the toss, seeking to decipher the war plan of a now enshrined and variously interpreted Doherty Report.

Meanwhile cells of guerrillas jump the lines, acting as carriers for the virus as it seeks out the least socially integrated and most distrustful populations as its primary vectors.  It breeds too in the densely settled and impossibly crowded parts of our cities, as well as in the least well-defended outstations of urbanity. The emotions of fear, anxiety, and desperation multiply, while the elites in their palaces announce nostrums that simply erode the capacity of the key weapon, trust, to do its work of building resilience and security.

Sticking with the perhaps overworked metaphors, our best weapon against the virus remains the same one that so escaped us in Afghanistan, on the ground, people-based Intelligence. Intelligence is based on thousands of pieces of information, carefully collected and assessed, integrated and tested, applied and projected. In Afghanistan “our side” allowed our fantasies to supplant our science. Ditto in NSW as our troops chase around the landscape, always in arrears, always behind the ball.

Let us return to the claim “we are throwing everything at it”. We didn’t in Afghanistan and we are not doing it here; we fight with one hand behind our backs because we do not trust the people who are taking the brunt of the attack. We have little or any intelligence of where the virus will crest next – all we know is what has happened, not where we need to be to stop the spread. We have no real idea of how the affected populations are withdrawing from the battle, misleading us into believing that what we see is what is real.

We operate as though we need to placate the as yet minimally affected allied populations to keep them happy with the elite’s management of the war, rather than being smart and breaking the onslaught where it is weakest, while containing it where it appears strongest. We fail to ask the simplest question of our multicultural population – who are you and how do we help you to join the battle for what we call “freedom”?

In the year since it became clear that ethnicity was a proxy for many other dimensions of vulnerability (another echo of Afghanistan) , we have tested millions of Australians, many over and over. Had we at that time normalised requests from people being tested for data on language spoken and country of birth, we would have a heat map of communal vulnerabilities, and systematic guidance of where the enemy was moving, and where we should have a sense of looming threat. It took ages for this awareness to penetrate the consciousness of our strategists – in November 2020 Victoria began to see the value of this data, In February the Commonwealth began collecting the data. Neither of these jurisdictions release this information as they fear it will be used by the anti-vaxxer movement (a fifth column for the virus) to stigmatise ethnic minorities – a common enough practice without the data, and brought to a high art in the naming and shaming of ethnic neighbourhoods in west and south west Sydney. However New South Wales refuses to do so, despite the widespread affirmation from communities caught on the front line that such information would help them respond immediately and directly to the threats their people are experiencing.

In a recent Lancet article,  Daniel Pan and his colleagues explored the issues associated with the higher incidence of COVID and the poorer outcomes in the UK for Black and Asian ethnic groups. The group is trying to work out whether the social inequality(such as those identified in this article)  affecting non-Whites produces this ethnic effect, or whether there are bio-social factors that predispose non-White races to infection and severity of outcomes. In the UK they are able to ask these questions as the data is there – in Australia the data is not there in NSW, where the ideology of individual “freedom” squeezes out the reality of social impact . Even where some race data is available, as with Indigenous communities in western NSW, it was only after the virus reached the vulnerable groups that a reaction was instituted. However, the Health people could tell very quickly that Aboriginal Australians were being attacked, because they collect the data on Indigeneity, even if they did nothing about checking their low participation in testing and vaccination in the lead up. 

My approaches to Minister Hazzard have been ignored; my contact with the Premier’s office were originally treated with intense interest, and then frozen. My interactions with senior Health officials have generated tirades, suggesting I undervalued all the work their front line people had done talking with “ethnic leaders” and helping the communal pop-up clinics to operate. Yet every one of my ethnic community contacts in those areas of the battlefront are bemused and then dismayed to realise there is a weapon (collecting, processing and using ethnic language data by post code in testing and vaccine booking)  that could have helped them protect their people, and yet it has been dismissed without even a try-out. Moreover when you hear the NSW government ministers claim they have done everything possible that NSW Health has advised, remember where the opposition to testing is strongest- in NSW Health. What war are they fighting? What game do they now need to change?

Cui Bono – who benefits from the current decline in China/Australia relations?

The dramatic decline in Australia China relations has paralleled the rise in the anti-China rhetoric from the Trump administration, capped by its naming of COVID as “the China virus”. Who benefits from this situation? Hint: it’s not China and it’s not Australia.

A recent article in The Australian by Paul Kelly, hailed as insightful by China Matters (the consultancy  defunded by the Morrison ministry as too pro-Beijing) pointed out that while Kelly agreed with almost every step that the Government had taken, the consequences were a mess and boded ill for the future. The reason Kelly proposed lay in its incapacity to articulate a clear set of goals other than an inchoate “national interest”.

Ten years ago  I argued that immigrant societies always face tensions for the loyalty of newcomers (for instance, from China) between their identification with their origin countries, and their commitment to their new country. In receiving societies (for instance, like Australia) with a history of racism and race hatred, people of colour may be attracted by the willingness of their new country’s government to actively protect their human rights, especially in relation to any continuing racism. In Australia this willingness by government has been declining.

As well, China I suggested would be anxious to maintain the loyalty of Chinese immigrants to the greater transnational community of Hua Ren, led by the vision of Beijing – today guided by Xi Jinping thought. In his speech of 2015 marking the 70th anniversary of the end of the global Anti-Fascist War  Xi proclaimed that China was dedicated to peace while noting “an ancient Chinese saying goes, ‘After making a good start, we should ensure that the cause achieves fruition’.” Fruition for Xi is a developed society which can never again be threatened with disruption, foreign invasion, or the horrors of regional war-lordism. It does not, he claimed, seek any hegemony nor desire to impose on other societies the horrors that China endured during a hundred years of foreign incursions and invasions, from Europe, the USA and Asia.

In order to achieve this peace, China in 2015 announced a sequence over fifteen year for expanded rings of influence and security. The first “ring” encompassing the South China Sea, has reached initial fruition, with the seeding of the southern waters with Chinese land bases, frustrating its neighbours and causing regional powers to push back, somewhat ineffectually. The current year marks the beginning of the next phase, pushing into the Pacific, and the implementation of the next five year economic plan, announced in May.  The lock step between foreign policy and economic policy is no accident, reflecting the sense of imminent threat that China has experienced for nearly two hundred years. This explains its strategic use of economic capacity to bind partner nations in the next zone in ways they cannot avoid.

Australia has noticed the effects of these plans on the Pacific nations which it had previously assumed sat comfortably under its own hegemonic umbrella. When China butts up against the USA zone of influence in the Pacific (as Japan did in its attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941) current tensions are likely to become even more inflamed than the Trump administration’s calling out of China’s economic hooks into America has achieved over the past four years.

However the warnings are clear – as Yale University’s Jason Stanley noted in his discussion of contemporary fascism on the UTS VC’s Democracy Forum (1 October 2020), fascism is a process of ensemble practices rather than a thing. So all the players in Venn diagram in which Australia is trapped use some fascist and anti-humane practices to advance their regime position. Australia’s finesse in holding asylum seekers at arms length in torturing situations has psychological reverberations with earlier regimes’ intimidation and torture of people they wished to deter or expel – Jews in pre-war Nazi Germany for example. That doesn’t make Australia a fascist state though to some Australians (many young Indigenous men or asylum seekers) it may be experienced as exactly that.

If we step back a bit and review the current apprehensions constantly stoked by the conservative elites (both prompted and echoed by some leftist nationalists such as those at the former Fairfax press), the Trumpets in security and defence, and the stalwarts of the Institute of Public Affairs, China has been construed an appalling though rational fascist state seeking to extend its hegemony over populations which wish to escape its grasp. Some escapees wish to pursue religious alternatives to the state ideology – including Muslims in the North West and Christians and democrats in Hong Kong. Others are democrats willing to put up with the more chaotic life offered by Western societies while hopefully prospering in less authoritarian regimes. Many immigrants from Communist China in Australia are seeking a degree of freedom, clean environment and economic opportunity hard to find in the old country. Others though are apparently potential spies, saboteurs and agents of the malign forces based in Beijing. Those forces, we are told, have infiltrated everywhere, watching us, influencing our views and seeking to erode and corrode our fierce sense of independence and autonomy that is the essence of Australian identity and morality.

Only the forces of Good can protect us, and anyone who resists is either a fool or an agent of the regime, even if they are not aware of their collaboration (Clive Hamilton on Jocelyn Chey as an example). In particular, anyone who suggests that the critique of the Chinese government and the Communist Party simply disguises a White Australia prejudiced loathing of the Mongol race, plays into the hands of the highly manipulative Beijing scriptwriters.

While this summary might be interpreted as a caricature of the real and subtle complexity of a constantly evolving situation, it does capture most of the talking points that pepper the rhetoric of the “beware” community.

There is a competing narrative that is given short shrift in the Australian media, well cowed by the trumpet players. China has dragged itself out of centuries of Euro-American imperialist impoverishment, and learned to play the games of global capitalist wealth accumulation through a state prism. One thing Chinese rulers have taken from their own detailed analysis of history – fed but not drowned by the insights of Leninist studies of imperialism – is that no one will look after their national interest (or their own place in the elites/ nomenklatura) other than themselves.

This lesson has been reinforced by the performance of President Trump, who correctly recognised that China had been playing the US economy as a rigged roulette wheel for years, to its advantage and the US’s real cost. China (and maybe also Trump)  recognises that capitalism without a state plan has been prone to massive fluctuations as the business cycle regularly pushes tsunamis of growth and contraction through the economy: dirigisme would most likely trump neo-liberalism over the medium to long term. Possibly the most important indigenous lesson learned was that the empire/Middle Kingdom would collapse if regional war-lordism were allowed to break out again (as experienced post 1842 and the Opium Wars and then 1912 to 1949). Taiwan for Beijing is a war-lord enclave not yet subdued, Hong Kong has been a war-lord enclave now being subdued, Tibet was a war-lord enclave well subdued, and Xinjiang was threatening to become such an enclave and there it’s all out to subdue resistance.

Moreover the alternatives of neo-liberalism offered by the West have been demonstrably incapable of handling the accelerating Gaia crises – COVID, global warming, water shortages, wildfires, hurricanes, ocean warming and rising,  and environmental pollution. Also Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan are not exemplars of how democratic states successfully resolve the rise of irredentist religious anti-regime movements, the feared and not unrealistic potential outcome in China of Xinjiang Muslim autonomy movements. Boris Johnston and Donald Trump provide salutary lessons of what happens when under-educated self-interested socially-unaware populations “choose” incapable leaders who sacrifice their own populations (Brexit, COVID) due to their ineptitude and lack of social concern. It is not only China where the emphasis on Law and Order neglects the third key element – justice.

Throughout Chinese history a principal strategy of successful regimes has kept a buffer zone of dependent-supplicant economically-productive states/ cultures/ tribes/ regions between the heart of the empire and the barbarians beyond. The Belt and Road initiative reflects this world-view amplified through an appreciation of globalisation and its threats and benefits. In the Chinese view, collaborations between Chinese ingenuity, management and strategic vision, with subordinated or partner governments offering local resources, energy and logistics, would create a win-win with China on top while aiding a lot of other populations floating upwards to become extended consumers in a global Chinese supermarket.

Thus we have seen the Africa push, the Pacific push, the Europe push and indeed the Australia push. Pity though about Huawei, which freaked out the trumpets with its imaginative or imagined access into the heart of the Australian future; its banning means Australia will slip even further back into remaining a mine and pasture, with a rump of sheltered-workshops “making things because that’s what Australia does”, now that the two other industries – tourism and education – have been on the one hand wrecked by COVID and on the other trashed by the trumpets. 

So, who benefits from the current mess in Australia / China relations? It does China no particular good to have to keep swatting at the Australian fly buzzing at it. It is now clear that the ham-fisted raids in Australia by the trumpets on Chinese journalists led to the “please explain” interviews with the Australian journalists in Beijing. The Australian media accepted government advice to pull “our” journalists out of China, a sensible move in the short term, but now a guarantee we are without independent thoughtful analysis of the current Chinese situation. I would not like to trust the hysteria of the IPA to provide the nation with a compass into the future.

In Australia there were raids on an Australian politician, Shaoquett Moselmane, and his Chinese born advisor John Zhang. Moselmane’s career and reputation have been trashed, but he has been declared of no further interest, and no crimes have ever been alleged against him, let alone taken to court or proven: practices remarkably like those of other authoritarian regimes anxious to suppress internal criticism.  The trumpets then had the Australian government ban a number of Chinese academics who had specialist knowledge of Australia, just at the time this knowledge (rather than fevered propagandised prejudice) was needed in China – a really smart move (not). The Chinese had banned two trumpet politicians (not smart but hey, they are a pain) and two leading academics who are PRC regime critics. In the meantime a tit for tat series of dumping claims riddle the inter-nation trade situation.

The only interest that is served by the current state of affairs is that of the Trump regime, and its Australian trumpets, who show many of their own signs of being undeclared agents of a foreign power. In this case the USA (in its Trump incarnation) has undermined much of the Australian relationship with China. We know Trump uses disruption as a tactic while pursuing a more shaded longer term strategy: viz at even the inter-personal level his shouting over Biden in the first Presidential debate, the effect of which (until Trump was laid low by COVID and then returned resurrected and youthfully invigorated by the virus treatment) was potentially to reduce the interest of moderate US citizens in voting at all. A similar effect is emerging following the urging of the trumpets on Australia’s relationship with China, demonstrated through our disengagement, apprehension and reduction in real knowledge interactions. 

Hopefully the relation can be resurrected, but only if we recognise that both China and the USA are gaming us, and not for our benefit.  The basis needs to be a rational appreciation of the societal values that Australia espouses, the reality of how we actually implement those values, and the distances we need to travel to draw them together.

We should not have any illusions about the Chinese government and its ruling party, though we might be rather more respectful of their circumstances.  Similarly we should have no illusions about the USA, or the cabal that runs its government.   Empires have their own logics, which may work well for the metropoles but rather less well for the periphery. As a peripheral nation we will continue to be a small but precious (to us) circle in the Venn diagram of imperial contestation in the Pacific over the next century.