Opinion

PM embraces Asian future

For a Prime Minister who once admitted that she felt more at home in the classroom than on the international stage, Julia Gillard has come a long way in a short time.

Her commitment to the Asian century is a watershed in Australian foreign policy, ranking with Black Jack McEwen's post war trade pact with Japan, or even with John Curtin's 1942 declaration that tied Australia's future to the United States.

John Howard famously insisted that Australia did not have to make a choice between our history and our geography; but Gillard has made that choice and made it in spades: geography rules. She has taken us into Asia far more unequivocally than any of her predecessors. On the 40th anniversary of Australia's recognition of China, Gillard has made the last decisive leap.

Bob Hawke, for all his interest in Asia, remained an unashamed devotee of the USA, firmly in the Western camp. Paul Keating made considerable progress from the early days when he described Asia as somewhere you flew over on the way to Europe, but his vision of Asia Pacific economic co-operation always included America as a cornerstone. Even Kevin Rudd, for all his passion for Asia in general and China in particular, saw Australia's predominant role with the west rather than the east.

But now Gillard has not only accepted the geographic and economic reality, but embraced it. Asia already accounts for nearly half of all our imports - far more than America and Europe combined - and a staggering 71 percent of exports, compared to 8% to Europe and a mere 6% to America. And in global terms, China and India will both eclipse the United States economic power in the near future, with South Korea and Indonesia set to become major players. Japan, of course, is already there.

This undeniable and irreversible trend has been obvious for some time, but it has taken Ken Henry and his fellow authors in the White Paper to document it as an urgent call to arms, and Gillard to take the political plunge. And she has taken it in the starkest terms: her statement at the weekend made only a passing, ritual reference to the stabilising presence of our great American ally, reducing the United States almost to an irrelevancy. There will no doubt be an effort to redress the balance in the Defence White paper due out next year, but Gillard's vision for the future is clearly and unashamedly to our north.

It is a vision that demands a generational change, so the starting point, appropriately, is to be in the nation's classrooms. Gillard has nominated Mandarin, Hindi, Japanese and Indonesian as priority languages for the curriculum, and schools which do not include at least one of them will risk missing out on their share of the funding to be made available when the government announces its detailed response to the Gonski Report. This is something that can be done immediately; some other government initiatives will have to wait for more money to become available.

This shortfall has allowed the usual critics to raise their usual complaints about it being all spin and no substance: the aspirations are all very fine, but where's the money coming from? These are the same people who insist that the government should concentrate on getting the budget back to surplus at any cost and generally oppose any spending which is not aimed at satisfying their own short term interests. The idea of looking twelve years ahead is simply not on their agenda; many of them seem to have trouble managing twelve hours.

And the Australian talent for parochialism can never be over-estimated: Julie Bishop, our alternative Foreign Minister, greeted Gillard's announcement with the knee jerk reaction that the government should be devoting all its resources to stopping the boats. Fortunately later comments from her and other opposition front benchers have been more measured, and Tony Abbott has even tried to claim ownership of the idea for teaching Asian languages in schools and increasing student exchanges at the tertiary level.

The business organisations' initial response was similarly predictable: Gillard's ideas were worthwhile, but could only be realised through reforms to the Fair Work Act and the tax system. Demands which, coming from a sector which cannot even agree to give up a few of its current perks in exchange for a reduction in the business tax rate, could be dismissed as rhetoric. But the more considered response was more positive and those who have already started dipping their toes into the vast, if still unsettled, commercial seas of Asia were quite enthusiastic.

And this is the good news: much of the ground has already been broken, and many of the tools to get on with the job, such as the National Broadband Network, are well into the development stage. Gillard is right in calling the realignment a massive challenge, but it is by no means an unrealisable one, given time, commitment and belief.

It is this last point which may be the hardest to mobilise. When last weekend was set as the date for the White paper's release, there were cynics who opined that the timing was purely to distract attention from Maxine McKew's book and its revelations about Gillard's 2010 coup. In fact, there was nothing really new in McKew's story; it was a useful first-hand account that dotted a few 'i's and crossed a few 't's, but the key accusation - that Gillard was involved in the preparations for the coup from an early stage - has been made and denied many times before. And given the length of time that has elapsed since the events described and the steady resurgence in the polls of both Gillard and the ALP, perhaps it is McKew's timing that is astray. She might perhaps ponder Sir John Harrington's famous epigram:

Treason doth never prosper: what's the reason?

For if it prosper, none dare call it treason.

In laid back, democratic Australia, McKew can call it what she likes. But Gillard has prospered and moved on - into Asia and into history.

Topics:  opinion


Stay Connected

Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.

End of an era: Last opening ever at Lismore Gallery

FINAL OPENING: The current gallery building in Molesworth Street.

Last opening ever at Lismore Gallery in Molesworth St

REVEALED: A new Northern Rivers music festival in 2017

Lismore Music Festival co-directors Scott Cooper and Paul Connelly.

Mark March 10 and 11 in your calendar

Dreams and culture in them there hills...

Sophie Moeller, Lismore Echo Editor. Photo Cathy Adams / The Northern Star

Hall's stories bring local history alive through song and dance

Local Partners

Rapist's bail revoked, back behind bars

HE WAS granted bail despite raping a woman on the side of the road near Grafton, but now Alessandro Bongiorno will have to await his sentence from a prison cell

REVEALED: A new Northern Rivers music festival in 2017

Lismore Music Festival co-directors Scott Cooper and Paul Connelly.

Mark March 10 and 11 in your calendar

Local arts organisations receive funding for 2017 projects

Djurra will be NORPA's locally-developed show in its 2017 season.

Byron Bay and Lismore initiatives focus on aboriginal art

Five things to do in Lismore this week

The Nimbin event is  presented by non-profit Gold Coast-based Indonesian dance troupe Seharum Nusantara.

Dance, culture, film, art and more

Brad Pitt bids to keep custody battle private

Brad Pitt will go to court to keep his custody battle private

Sia has split from her husband

Sia has split from her husband Erik Anders Lang.

Amy Schumer thanks Barbie trolls for hateful comments

Amy Schumer is in the lead role for the new Barbie movie

Shannen Doherty's husband is suing for destroyed sex life

Shannen Doherty's husband is suing her former manager

Azealia Banks' battery case against Russell Crowe dropped

Russell Crowe will not be charged with battery

Mel Gibson named Best Director at AACTA Awards

Mel Gibson poses in the media room after winning the AACTA Award for Best Direction for Hacksaw Ridge.

HIS wartime drama Hacksaw Ridge sweeps 6th annual awards in Sydney.

INSIDE STORY: The highlights of your $150 million CBD

GRAND PLAN: The highlights of the Ipswich CBD redevelopment and where they will be located.

Work on city heart's radical transformation to begin next year

VOTE IN OUR POLL: Sand mine opponents face serious dilemma

Public meeting for the proposed sand mine at Maroochydore last week.

Coast MP calls on Minister to stop KRA proposal with stroke of a pen

Developer's grand new multi-million dollar estate

NEW ESTATE: This is the only plan revealed by the property developer's new Billabongs Estate in Agnes Water.

DEVELOPER given the go ahead for a massive estate with 149 homes.

Banks reclaim Gladstone homes as job losses bite

LONG FALL: Property experts Heron Todd say, based on key market indicators, Gladstone is still travelling to the bottom of the market, with property prices set to get cheaper.

Property valuers say Gladstone housing market hasn't hit the bottom

The million dollar property to test Mackay's market

This Victoria St building will go to auction Tuesday and investors will be watching closely to see how much it sells for.

'High profile architect designed CBD asset' goes to auction

Ready to SELL your property?

Post Your Ad Here!