There’s no airport border ‘crisis’, only management failure of the Home Affairs department


Regina Jefferies, UNSW and Daniel Ghezelbash, Macquarie University

In the past five years, more than 95,000 people who arrived by plane have lodged a claim for asylum in Australia, new statistics show.

Labor’s Immigration Spokesperson, Senator Kristina Keneally, has labelled this a “crisis”, stating:

Peter Dutton’s incompetence and recklessness has allowed people smugglers to run riot and traffic record-breaking numbers of people by aeroplane to Australia.

But the “crisis” is not that visa-holding travellers are flying to Australia, then later lodging a claim for asylum. It’s not unprecedented for tourists or students to later lodge a claim for asylum due to circumstances beyond their control.




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In 1989, for example, after events in Tiananmen Square, Australia provided refuge to thousands of Chinese students who had entered Australia with visas.

Instead, the “crisis” is the Australian government’s failure to properly manage the refugee-processing system. It gutted the ranks of experienced decision-makers and made organisational changes that undermine the quality of decisions, contributing to long processing delays and backlogs.

These organisational failures may have contributed to the increase in asylum applications over the last five years.

High staff turn-over

Protection visa decisions are highly complex. They must examine a variety of factors, including country-specific conditions and individual circumstances.

Yet, as the Australian National Audit Office noted in 2018, the Home Affairs department experienced a significant loss of “corporate memory” due to staff turn-over, “with almost half of SES officers present in July 2015 no longer in the department at July 2017”.

In a Senate Estimates hearing last year, Home Affairs officials said the average processing time for permanent protection visas, from lodgement to primary decision (not including appeals), was 257 days, or 8.5 months.

And the department’s training deficiencies are well-documented. The most recent Australian Public Service Employee Census put the department’s organisational management problems into stark relief: only 35% of employees said the department inspired them to do their best work, while two-thirds of respondents said they did not consider department senior executives to be of “high quality”.

These publicised problems raise important questions about the quality of decision-making at the primary level.

Stacking the AAT with political allies

Poor decision-making at the primary level can lead to higher numbers of appeals. So it’s perhaps unsurprising that appeals to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) from people who arrived by plane are also experiencing significant blowouts.

The number of active refugee cases to the AAT has ballooned from 8,370 two years ago, to 23,063 in 2019.




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This results in a backlog. In 2017, the tribunal made 5,153 decisions on refugee claims, and so far this financial year, only 815 claims have been concluded.

In part, these worrying figures are due to the federal government appointing people with Liberal Party ties to the AAT over the last couple of years.

The Attorney-General recognised these problems in the 2019 Report on the Statutory Review of the Tribunal, which pointed to “competencies of members” as a key contributor to complications in the operation of the tribunal.

Stacking the AAT with political allies, many of whom are not lawyers and who are not appointed on merit, has removed independent expertise from the tribunal, risking errors and further delays.




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And with more errors come further appeals in the courts. This not only places a heavy burden on the resources of the Federal Circuit Court and Federal Court, but also leads to more delays and backlogs in the AAT, where the court sends matters which were unlawfully decided for re-determination.

Address organisational failures

The solution is in proper organisational management. Instead of blaming refugees for fleeing persecution by safe means, the government must address the failures of its refugee processing system.

To this end, an urgent review of the Department of Home Affairs policies and organisational failures is needed. A review could find out whether there’s a management culture stopping Home Affairs from attracting and retaining staff who can make reasoned and well-supported decisions in an environment they can be proud of.




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Similarly, there must be a transparent and independent system for appointing AAT members that prioritises skills and experience over politics – exactly what was recommended by the Attorney-General’s recent review.

If people seeking asylum can have their claims assessed quickly and fairly, then those who are not refugees can be sent home, while those needing safety could receive it.

Without the chance to remain in Australia for years while their claims are assessed, there would be no loophole for traffickers and others to exploit.

In turn, the number of non-genuine claims will go down, allowing decision-makers to focus on those who are actually fearing persecution.




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We should be supporting refugees to access safety by air. If people fleeing persecution can access a flight to Australia, they won’t risk a dangerous journey by boat to find safety.

This is not an airport border “crisis”, it’s a management failure that can be fixed with more staffing, better resourcing, and transparent and meritorious appointments of decision makers.


Correction: A previous version of the article stated 815 refugee claims were concluded this year. This has been updated to clarify that 815 of claims were concluded during this financial year.The Conversation

Regina Jefferies, Affiliate, Andrew and Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, UNSW and Daniel Ghezelbash, Senior Lecturer, Macquarie Law School, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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View from The Hill: Malcolm Turnbull delivers the unpalatable truth to Scott Morrison on climate and energy


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Sometimes birthdays are best let pass quietly. The Liberals are finding the 75th anniversary of their founding another occasion for the blood sport they thought they’d put behind them.

Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull are out of parliament – for which Scott Morrison is much thankful – but their passions are unabated. Each has let fly in interviews with The Australian’s Troy Bramston to mark the anniversary.

Abbott repeated that it was Turnbull’s undermining which did him in (only the partial truth) and indicated he wouldn’t mind returning to parliament but didn’t think the Liberal party would ask him (absolutely true).

Turnbull’s was the more pertinent and, from where the government stands, pointed interview because it fed very directly into central issues of the moment, climate change and energy policy.

“The Liberal Party has just proved itself incapable of dealing with the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in any sort of systematic way,” Turnbull said.

“The consequence … is without question that we are paying higher prices for electricity and having higher emissions.”




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He knows what he’s talking about. These issues were critical (though not the only factor) in Turnbull losing the leadership twice – first in opposition and then in government. And that was despite doing deals and trade offs to try to satisfy the right in his party.

He still frets about the battles which cost him so much for so little gain. He told the Australian, amid boasts about what his government had done, that his biggest regret as PM was not settling a new energy policy.

What Scott Morrison really thinks on the climate challenge, or what he would do if he were just driven by policy concerns without regard to party considerations or electoral judgements are in that category of known unknowns.

In few areas can Morrison’s beliefs be divined free of political context.

But we do know two things.

Firstly, we don’t have a satisfactory energy policy: emissions are rising; power prices are too high; investment is being discouraged. An analysis released by the Grattan Institute this week was damning about how federal government policies were discouraging investment including by “bashing big companies” (the so-called “big stick” legislation, allowing for divestment when an energy company is recalcitrant, is still before parliament).

Secondly, climate change is again resonating strongly in the community.




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Critics dismiss the attention young activist Greta Thunberg has received internationally, and this week’s “Extinction Rebellion” demonstrations, and many in the government would point to the election result to note that climate change did not carry the day with the “quiet Australians”.

The Morrison win, however, doesn’t mean the issue lacks cut through, or won’t have potency in the future. And although the Liberals like to talk about the miracle victory, it should be remembered the win was by a sliver, not by 30 seats. What made it so notable was that it defied expectations.

Turnbull said in his interview the Liberal party had been influenced by a group that was denialist and reactionary on climate change.

It still is, but this group is not giving trouble at the moment because Morrison, unlike his predecessor, is not provoking them.

The problem for Morrison is that keeping his party calm doesn’t solve the policy problem. Unless that is more effectively tackled, it could come back to bite him, regardless of the positive tale he tries to spin, such as in his United Nations speech.

Turnbull also said in his interview that, among much else, in government he had been “very focused on innovation” which, as we remember, was his catch cry in his early days as PM.

And, if we take information from the Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for International Development, reported in Tuesday’s Australian Financial Review, Australia needs innovation to be a much higher priority.

Australia fell from 57th to 93rd between 1995 and 2017 on the index of economic complexity, which measures the diversity and sophistication of countries’ exports. Our wealth comes from the minerals and energy that form the bulk of our exports but “Australia⁩ is ⁨less complex than expected⁩ for its income level. As a result, its economy is projected to grow ⁨slowly.⁩ The Growth Lab’s ⁨2027⁩ Growth Projections foresee growth in ⁨Australia⁩ of ⁨2.2%⁩ annually over the coming decade, ranking in the ⁨bottom half⁩ of countries globally,” the data says.

“Economic growth is driven by diversification into new products that are incrementally more complex. … ⁨⁨Australia⁩ has diversified into too few products to contribute to substantial income growth.⁩”




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Turnbull’s talk of innovation, agility, and the like was seen by many in his ranks, particularly in hindsight, as too high falutin’. It certainly went down badly in regional areas, which is why in 2016 the Nationals sharply differentiated themselves in the election campaign.

The Harvard work suggests Turnbull’s innovation ambition was on the right track. But the political evidence showed he was a bad salesman for this (and a lot else).

Morrison is a good marketing man. But the test of his prime ministership will be whether he can use his marketing skills to sell policies that the country needs, rather just what he thinks will go over easily with his constituency.

The most effective leaders (and that excludes both Abbott and Turnbull) can both identify what the nation requires and persuade enough of the voters to embrace it, even when it’s difficult. They operate not on the principle of the lowest common electoral denominator, or simplistic descriptions of their supporters – rather they pursue the highest achievable goals.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Myth busted: China’s status as a developing country gives it few benefits in the World Trade Organisation



President Trump and Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison insist it matters whether China is classified as “developed” or “developing” in the World Trade Organisation matters. It may not.
Shutterstock

Henry Gao, Singapore Management University and Weihuan Zhou, UNSW

Whether China is a “developing” or a “developed” country for the purposes of the World Trade Organisation matters a lot to the US president.

President Donald Trump ignited a new front in the US-China trade war in July by tweeting that the world’s richest nations were masquerading as developing countries to get special treatment.

They were “cheating”, according to Trump.

He directed the US Trade Representative to “use all available means to secure changes” at the WTO.

Then Australia joined in. While in the United States, Prime Minister Scott Morrison referred to China as a “newly developed economy”, and backed Trump, saying that “obviously, as nations progress and develop then the obligations and how the rules apply to them also shift”.

China is digging in. It hasn’t resiled from a statement by its commerce ministry spokesman Gao Feng in April:

China’s position on WTO reform has been very clear. China is the largest developing country in the world.

But what’s at stake? In practical terms, almost nothing. Trump and Morrison are demanding something that would give them little.

What does “developing” even mean?

In the WTO, developing countries are entitled to “special and differential treatment” set out in 155 rules.

However, none of those rules define what a “developing country” is.

Instead, each member is able to “self-designate”, subject to challenges from other members.

Being recognised as a developing country was one of the three key principles China insisted on when negotiating to join the WTO in 2001.

It faced resistance. Several members cited “the significant size, rapid growth and transitional nature of the Chinese economy”.

In response the WTO took what it called a “pragmatic approach,” meaning that China got hardly any of the special treatment that would normally be accorded to a developing country.




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For example, under the Uruguay Round of tariff reductions that applied to developing countries already in the WTO, China would have only needed to cut its average industrial tariff from 42.7% to 31.4%. Instead, it agreed to cut it to 9.5%.

Similarly, it agreed to cut its agricultural tariff from 54% to 15.1%, instead of the 37.9% that would have been required had it already been in the WTO. These put its commitments on par with those of developed rather than developing countries.

On some issues, China’s commitments far exceeded those of even developed countries. For example, it agreed to eliminate all export subsidies on agricultural products, an obligation that developed countries were only able to accept 14 years later.

It also undertook to eliminate all export taxes, which are still allowed under WTO rules and still widely used by many governments.

Many of China’s WTO commitments were imposed only on it or modified the general rules to either impose heavier obligations on it or confer less rights on it.

Contrary to popular belief, China has received hardly any of the benefits that accrue to developing countries when it became a WTO Member, other than the ability to use the title “developing country”.

It’s more about identity than benefits

After its accession, China acted as a member of the developing country group and pushed hard for its interests. In 2003 it joined India and Brazil in pushing developed countries to reform their agricultural trade policies while retaining flexibility for developing countries, a push that has yet to achieve success.

In the meantime, it enjoys little preferential treatment for itself, partly because it has eschewed special benefits, partly because most of the transition benefits that were available to it have expired, partly because some of the provisions available to it are essentially voluntary on the part of the country offering them, and partly because many of the benefits available to developing countries are not available to developing countries with large export shares.




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At times it has actively forgone important benefits, such as by not invoking its right to receive technical assistance under WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement.

However, on some other issues, the sheer size of China has made it difficult to accommodate China’s claim for developing country treatment. One example is the negotiation on fisheries subsides, which would not be able to move without substantial commitments from China, which operates one of the largest subsidies in the world.

Identity matters to China

In its position paper on WTO Reform, China says it “will never agree to be deprived of its entitlement to special and differential treatment as a developing member”.

At the same time, it says it “is willing to take up commitments commensurate with its level of development and economic capability”.

It remains far less developed than traditionally developed countries. In purchasing power terms, its standard of living is about one-third of that in the United States.

Although not practically important in terms of its obligations under the WTO, its developing country status is useful to it in other ways, giving it the opportunity to gain meaningful advantages in other international organisations such as the Universal Postal Union.

It costs the rest of the world little to accommodate China’s wish to be described as a developing country. If Trump and Morrison got what they wanted, they would find little had changed.The Conversation

Henry Gao, Associate Professor of Law, Singapore Management University and Weihuan Zhou, Senior Lecturer and member of Herbert Smith Freehills CIBEL Centre, Faculty of Law, UNSW Sydney, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Morrison needs to avoid ‘the conveyor belt of Trumpism’



Prime Minister Scott Morrison needs to inject a little more subtlety into his pronouncements – and keep a lid on the frustrations.
AAP/Sarah Rhodes

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison’s Lowy lecture on foreign policy, titled “In our interest” and delivered on Thursday, was peevish in its tone and lacked nuance in its content.

While Morrison canvassed the positive side of globalism, the take-out was his forthright criticisms of what he sees as its negatives.

He warned against globalism “that coercively seeks to impose a mandate from an often ill-defined borderless global community. And worse still, an unaccountable internationalist bureaucracy”.

He went on, “We can never answer to a higher authority than the people of Australia”.

Morrison’s visit to New York last week seems to have left him particularly liverish about international institutions.

Not that he even attended the United Nations leaders summit on climate. His office explained his absence by the fact Australia wouldn’t get a speaking spot, which only went to countries with new initiatives to announce. So Morrison devoted his address to the UN General Assembly to defending his government’s climate policy.

The prime minister is clearly frustrated at the pot shots that are fired at Australia over climate change, although they come from well beyond the UN (remember the Pacific Islands Forum). Successive conservative governments have also been riled by the long running criticism from UN bodies over Australia’s treatment of refugees.

When on Friday he was pressed for an example of where an unaccountable international bureaucracy had sought to coerce Australia, Morrison started talking about commentary on border protection, while stressing Australia determines its own policy.

In general, Morrison believes that activists on various issues are too entrenched and powerful in UN institutions.

His angst about internationalism also stretches to the European Union and its failure to facilitate Brexit.

He deploys stark lines of defiance.

On climate, he told the general assembly Australia was “doing our bit” and “we reject any suggestion to the contrary”.

On Australia’s international engagement, he adapted a Howardism to say in the Lowy lecture: “We will decide our interests and the circumstances in which we seek to pursue them”.

With only a year’s experience as a prime minister on the international stage, Morrison is becoming assertive. He has told the foreign affairs department “to come back to me with a comprehensive audit of global institutions and rule-making processes where we have the greatest stake”.

He wants Australia to have a bigger role in setting “the standards that will shape our global economy”. The speech didn’t spell this out fully, but it includes industry standards.

Morrison appears to be tracking to the right. He always has an eye to the immediate politics and his attack on “negative globalism” will play well with the conservatives in the ranks of the Liberal party and the more strident commentariat.

But there is a rather startling lack of thought in the stance he adopted in the Lowy address.

Yes, the government is sensitive to UN pressures over climate and asylum policy.

But we are signed up – of our own choosing – to a range of international institutions, from the UN to the World Trade Organisation, because they are part of a rules based international order that serves our long term interests.

The government might be narky about the UN on some issues, but it was only a few years ago that it was highlighting Australia’s role on the Security Council after the MH17 downing.

And it’s one thing saying institutions like the WTO need to reform – which is correct – and another having a general spray about international bureaucracy.

Australia is urging both the US and China to a greater commitment to the rules based system. If it wants its arguments to be taken seriously, it’s best to talk up global co-operation, not talk it down.

It was unfortunate that Morrison’s words had an echo of Donald Trump’s speech last week, in which he elevated patriots over globalists.

Given Trump’s rants over the past few days, one can’t help feeling Morrison was lucky he came out of the US trip as well (and as unscathed) as he did.

Now is no time to appear to be, in the words of one observer, “sitting on the conveyor belt of Trumpism”.

All in all, the text of the Lowy speech needed a good deal more subtlety, as well as having the white-out applied to the frustrations.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Scott Morrison warns against ‘negative globalism’


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has foreshadowed his government will have Australia play a more active role in seeking to set global standards.

Delivering the Lowy Lecture on Thursday night, Morrison said Australia “cannot afford to leave it to others to set the standards that will shape our global economy”.

He has asked the foreign affairs department for an audit of global institutions and rule-making processes where Australia had the greatest stake, and he plans to tap Australian expertise in expanding its role.

Morrison’s initiative, which follows his recent United States trip and his criticisms during it of China’s behaviour on trade, has particularly in mind the World Trade Organisation which is seen to need reform.

In comments that seemed to have an eye to Brexit and Donald Trump’s recent lauding of patriotism over globalism, Morrison made a sharp distinction between positive and negative globalism.

He said that “Australia does and must always seek to have a responsible and participative international agency in addressing global issues.” This he dubbed this “practical globalism”.

Australia was not served by isolationism and protectionism, he said. “But it also does not serve our national interests when international institutions demand conformity rather than independent cooperation on global issues.

“The world works best when the character and distinctiveness of independent nations is preserved within a framework of mutual respect. This includes respecting electoral mandates of their constituencies.

“We should avoid any reflex towards a negative globalism that coercively seeks to impose a mandate from an often ill defined borderless global community. And worse still, an unaccountable internationalist bureaucracy. Globalism must facilitate, align and engage, rather than direct and centralise. As such an approach can corrode support for joint international action.

“Only a national government, especially one accountable through the ballot box and the rule of law, can define its national interests,” he said. “And under my leadership Australia’s international engagement will be squarely driven by Australia’s national interests.

“To paraphrase former prime minister John Howard, as Australians, ‘we will decide our interests and the circumstances in which we seek to pursue them.’

“This will not only include our international efforts to support global peace and stability and to promote open markets based on fair and transparent rules, but also other global standards that underpin commerce, investment and exchange.”

The Prime Minister sought to put a positive spin on his labelling of China as a “newly developed” economy during his foreign policy speech in the US last week – a description which the Chinese contest.

“China has in many ways changed the world, so we would expect the terms of its engagement to change too. That’s why when we look at negotiating rules of the future of the global economy, for example, we would expect China’s obligations to reflect its greater power status.

“This is a compliment, not a criticism.

“And that is what I mean when describing China as a newly developed economy.

“The rules and institutions that support global cooperation must reflect the modern world. It can’t be set and forget,” he said.

Morrison told his audience that his passions had always been for domestic politics – he did not naturally seek out international platforms. But as prime minister he had to be directed by Australia’s national interest.

He said he would be visiting India in January and also Japan early next year. This follows a busy international schedule in 2019.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Another Australian PM finds a phone call with Trump can land you on the sticky paper


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The dramatic revelation by the New York Times that Donald Trump pressed Scott Morrison in an early September phone call for help in an exercise of overt presidential politicking does not indicate any Australian government wrongdoing.

But it shows how Morrison’s bromance with the president brings its political embarrassments along with all that glitz and warmth.

Last week the PM got himself caught up in a Trump-created political rally. Now he’s on the spot over this (typical) Trump call, which was about US Attorney-General William Barr’s seeking information for the justice department inquiry that the president hopes will discredit the Mueller probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Australia, inadvertently, was central in the train of events leading to the Mueller inquiry, which has now reported (and found Russian activity).

In May 2016, Alexander Downer, then Australian High Commissioner in London, had drinks with Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos.

Papadopoulos said Russia had told the Trump campaign it had damaging information on Hillary Clinton and was prepared to release it close to the election.

Downer reported that back to the foreign affairs department, which shared it with the intelligence community. Subsequently, the Americans were alerted to it, and it got to the FBI, becoming a catalyst for the Mueller inquiry.

Downer acted properly. A diplomat’s job is to gather information and inform their government.

(Papadopoulos, who sees Downer as an agent of entrapment, has tweeted in the wake of the NYT article: “I have been right about Downer from the beginning. A wannabe spy and Clinton errand boy who is about to get exposed on the world stage”.)

The issue for the Australian government became more complicated when Trump, who paints himself as the victim of a conspiracy, launched the current investigation into the origins of the FBI’s inquiry. The president said at the time he hoped Barr “looks at the UK, and I hope he looks at Australia, and I hope he looks at Ukraine. I hope he looks at everything because there was a hoax that was perpetrated on our country”.

Australia immediately promised cooperation.

Did it have much alternative? On the downside, this was a highly charged Trumpian exercise. But the inquiry was under the auspices of a US government department. And wouldn’t refusal to co-operate suggest Australia had something to hide, when there is no reason to suppose it did?

Joe Hockey, Australia’s ambassador in Washington, wrote to Barr on May 28 saying: “The Australian government will use its best endeavours to support your efforts in this matter”. He said while Downer was no longer employed by the government, “we stand ready to provide you with all relevant information to support your inquiries.”

Presumably, the government has little to give beyond an account of the Downer discussion and the subsequently passing on of the contents of that conversation.

But Simon Jackman, CEO of the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, poses the pertinent question: “If Hockey says, we’re here to help, what was the point of the September phone call?” He suggest it might have had to do with the declassification of documents.

The affair is now politically messy for Morrison on two levels.

The leak of the previously undisclosed telephone call comes immediately after the revelations about the president’s call to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, in which he urged him to investigate Democrat presidential hopeful Joe Biden and his son. That has led to the impeachment inquiry.

There is no parallel between the conversations, but inevitably there will be a conflation.

Further, in the absence of a transcript, there will be questions (already being asked by the opposition) about the content and tone of the Trump-Morrison conversation, which came shortly before the PM’s US trip, on which he was so effusive about the president. Bill Shorten said:“Mr Morrison needs to clean up the perception that perhaps the special reception was returned for special favours done”.

It’s understood that Morrison and Trump didn’t discuss the specifics of the matter. The request was reportedly “polite”, asking for cooperation with Barr and for a point of contact. Trump was aware that the matter was before Morrison’s time, and didn’t expect him to know about the details.

The government insists it has nothing to fear if the transcript of the call becomes public through another leak. If that’s accurate, it should be hoping that leak will occur.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘Developing’ rift points to growing divisions between Coalition and Labor on China


Tony Walker, La Trobe University

At last, a healthy divergence of views between the Coalition and Labor about how Australia might manage its relations with its cornerstone trading partner and rising power in its own region.

It is a debate that is long overdue.

We now have contrasting narratives between the Coalition government and the Labor opposition.

That contrast was given sharp expression at the weekend by deputy Labor leader Richard Marles in an interview on the ABC’s Insiders program.

Marles accused the government of mismanaging a “complex” relationship. After visiting Beijing last week for conversations with a range of Chinese opinion-leaders, he described relations as “terrible”.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, he said, had engaged in megaphone diplomacy on his visit to the United States, insisting China be regarded as a “developed” country for trade and other purposes. This includes its climate change obligations.

What we saw was the prime minister in the United States in the context of there being trade tensions between the US and China, and from there, taking pot shots against largest trading partner. The context in which he has engaged in this megaphone diplomacy is absolutely the issue, and it’s not the way in which this issue should be dealt with in a respectful way.

These observations might be taken with a pinch of salt from an opposition spokesman. But it is true that relations are now at a low ebb for a variety of reasons, some of the government’s making, some not.

Australia did not initiate a trade war, but fractious relations with China are collateral damage.

Significantly, what is emerging in Australian domestic politics is an erosion of what has been a bipartisan consensus on how to relate to China in what are very challenging circumstances.




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This is, potentially, a watershed moment in the evolution of the Australian policy towards China. This policy has, more or less, been settled business since Gough Whitlam normalised relations in 1972 as one of his first acts as prime minister.

Morrison’s embrace of American calls for China to be declared a developed country under World Trade Organisation rules means there is now a sharp point of difference between the government and opposition.

This is the nub of what the prime minister had to say on the issue to The Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

China’s economic growth is welcomed by Australia and we recognise the economic maturity that it has now realised as a newly developed economy… The world’s global institutions must adjust their settings for China in recognition of this new status. That means more will be expected, of course, as has always been the case for nations like the United States who’ve always had this standing.

Labor does not regard China as a “developed” country under World Trade Organisation auspices, nor, for that matter, does most of the rest of the world. This is an American preoccupation, now signed onto by Canberra.

Why it should have been necessary for Morrison to take sides in this debate is not clear. On the face of it, his interventions have been unwise.

What should be understood about emerging differences over China’s “developed” country status, is that it represents, in an Australian context, a wider divergence of views between the government and opposition on how to manage China’s rise.

The government believes China should be pulled into line. Labor is more circumspect while acknowledging that Beijing’s behaviour is exerting considerable – and unwelcome – stress on an international rules-based order.

Whether he pretends otherwise or not, Morrison has aligned Australia with the Donald Trump White House view of China as a mercantilist power seeking ruthlessly to extend its power and influence in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.

In its mirroring of the US position, the government is indicating it believes China needs to have its wings clipped.

Morrison’s visit to the United States may come to be regarded, therefore, as a watershed moment in Australian foreign policy in which a choice was made.

Whether the government pretends otherwise or not, Morrison’s interventions on his US visit have been interpreted in Beijing as hostile.

Enter the Labor Party into this debate in a way that represents its boldest intervention in a foreign policy question since then Labor leader Simon Crean detached his party in 2003 from supporting the ill-fated rush to war in Iraq.

The difference between then and now is that getting policy settings right in the great US versus China debate is far more important to Australia’s well-being than an ill-conceived decision two decades ago that turned the Middle East upside down and empowered Iran.




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The view promulgated by former Prime Minister John Howard that Australia did not need to choose between its historical alignment with America and its geographical proximity to China is no longer sustainable.

The question now is how Australia positions itself between the elephants in the jungle to avoid getting crushed. Conspicuously siding with one of the elephants, unless necessary, would not seem to be the wisest course.

In all of this, one might spare a thought for Trade Minister Simon Birmingham, whose role has been to try to ensure Australia’s trade in merchandise and services is not harmed by a trade war between China and the United States.

Birmingham has been doing his best. He has not been helped by his leader’s injudicious remarks to The Chicago Council on Global Affairs.The Conversation

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Grattan on Friday: Scott Morrison’s dance with Donald gets up Beijing’s nose


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison has a good deal riding on Donald Trump winning re-election next year. During his week in the United States, the Prime Minister tied himself to the President to a remarkable degree.

Morrison will want the trip’s enduring images to be the White House welcome and the state dinner in the Rose Garden under the stars. And they are the markers that underlined the depth of the Australian-American alliance.

But the startling image was of Morrison and Trump on stage together at billionaire Anthony Pratt’s paper factory in Wapakoneta, Ohio.

No, that wasn’t a rally, the PM’s office insists. But Trump certainly made it look like one.

For a self-respecting Australian leader, this was beyond awkward diplomatically, and may be problematic at home. This year’s Lowy poll showed only 25% of Australians have confidence in Trump to do the right thing in world affairs.

That was, perhaps, something of a turning point in the visit. The Washington days were better than Morrison’s later appearances, which saw him open the China debate and having to defend Australia’s mediocre performance on climate change.

In sum, this has been a trip that will be rated a success but carry some costs. Notably, while reaffirming the alliance and bonding with Trump, Morrison has further annoyed our biggest trading partner.

The alliance was in fine repair already but there’s nothing like some face time in the Oval Office and formal-dress glamour to shout out its closeness.




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Albanese slams Morrison for using a “loud hailer” to talk to China from US


While there may not be any specific requests on foot, there’s more credit in the bank for when either partner wants to ask a favour (as the US did recently in relation to the Middle East freedom of navigation operation, and Malcolm Turnbull did a while ago on steel and aluminium tariffs).

Getting close to Trump personally is something most leaders find difficult, and some mightn’t even attempt.

A conservative who won an unexpected election victory, the knockabout Morrison ticks the boxes for Trump. He’s appropriately and voluably grateful for presidential attention; he’s not a man whose charisma threatens to steal the limelight at a joint appearance.

Morrison was fully focused on Trump and the Republicans. Asked, after the Ohio appearance, if he’d felt he had been at a Trump rally and whether he’d reached out to the other side of politics during his trip, he said, “Well, I have been here to see the President – that was the intention”.

We’ve yet to see the longer term implications of the Morrison remarks on China, delivered in his major foreign policy speech in Chicago (where he was avoiding the New York United Nations leaders summit on climate).

His declaration that China has reached the stage of a developed economy and should therefore accept the responsibilities of that status in trade and its environmental obligations, rather than enjoying the concessions of a developing one, was basically an elaboration of what he’d argued earlier at home.

But place and context are pivotal in foreign policy. Said in the US, with a posse of the Australian media in tow, and with Trump’s anti-China rhetoric at full force, Morrison’s words were amplified to high volume.




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China has quickly cast Morrison as articulating the Trump position, hitting back in a statement from its embassy in Canberra. “The assertion of China being a ‘newly developed economy’ by the Australian side doesn’t hold much water. It is both one-sided and unfair. And it is basically an echo of what the US has claimed.

“It is true that China, through its own efforts, has made remarkable achievements in economic and social development over the past decades and become the world’s second largest economy. However, there is still a big gap between China and the developed countries in terms of overall development level. China still has a long way to go to achieve full modernisation.

“In a comprehensive analysis, China is still a developing country, which is widely acknowledged by the international community,” the statement said.

China already has Australia in the so-called deep freeze. Morrison would like to visit – there has not been a prime ministerial trip to Beijing since 2016. But as the PM has pointed out, he can’t go without an invitation. His analysis won’t help with that. Morrison’s assertion that a meeting between Foreign Minister Marise Payne and her Chinese counterpart on the sidelines at the United Nations showed “that relationship continues to be in good shape” didn’t cut it.

Climate was always set to be difficult for Morrison on the trip, because the UN leaders’ summit on the issue fell neatly between his commitments in Washington and his speech to the UN General Assembly. But he didn’t want to be there.

The government tried to justify his absence on the grounds that only countries announcing new plans received a speaking spot. But that wasn’t an adequate excuse for Morrison not turning up, sending Payne instead. His no-show simply reinforced the criticism of Australia, which has seen rising emissions over the past several years, after the carbon price was scrapped.




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Morrison used his address to the General Assembly to defend the government’s actions, declaring “Australia is doing our bit on climate change and we reject any suggestion to the contrary”.

He talked a good deal about Australia’s efforts on plastics waste, including “plastic pollution choking our oceans”. Embarrassingly, his speech coincided with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change releasing a report about the urgent need for action to contain rising ocean levels.

As Morrison’s foreign policy continues to emerge, this trip has highlighted his priorities and approach.

Specifically, that he operates on an America-first basis and he has translated that to a Trump-first one. Never mind the unpredictability and idiosyncrasy of the President (and now the attempt to impeach him) – what’s needed is connection. Turnbull, who also sought to get close to Trump personally, pitched to him as one businessman to another. Morrison, having been picked by Trump as a favourite, has struck a mutually useful easy familiarity with the unlikely leader who mobilised the quiet Americans.

When Morrison gave his big trade speech in June, the line from the government was that it was not choosing sides between the US and China (though it did seem to be and it always appeared inevitable it would). After his American trip both the US and China are in no doubt which side Australia is on.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Albanese slams Morrison for using a “loud hailer” to talk to China from US


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Anthony Albanese has attacked Scott Morrison for sending a message to Beijing while in the United States, and also split with him over the economic status of China.

Albanese accused Morrison of using “a loud hailer” to talk to China during a visit in which he was seen to be very close to the American President, including “being a partner in what would appear to be some of Donald Trump’s re-election campaign there in Ohio”. This was a reference to their joint appearance at billionaire Anthony Pratt’s new paper recycling factory.

The opposition leader’s comments open a partisan rift at a time when Australia-China relations are at a low point.

In his address on foreign policy in Chicago, Morrison described China “as a newly developed economy”, and said it needed to reflect this new status in its trade arrangements and meeting environmental challenges.

But Albanese told the ABC China quite clearly was “still developing”.

“It is still an emerging economy”, he said, pointing to the disparity between China’s per capita income and that of advanced economies such as the US and Australia.

Albanese, who made a series of comments, suggested it was not constructive “to send a message to China from the US in the way that it has occurred”.




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While there was a legitimate debate around the World Trade Organisation system, “the conflict between China and the United States [over trade] is one that is not in Australia’s interests. We want that to be resolved rather than be overly partisan about it,” he said.

“Of course our alliance with the United States is our most important relationship. That won’t change. But we need to, I think, be very measured in our comments particularly comments from the United States in the context in which they’ve been given.”

If Morrison was sending a message to China “it would have been better sent from Australia so that there was no confusion that the Prime Minister was advancing Australia’s national interests.”

Morrison had changed “the characterisation of the entire Chinese economy from Chicago,” Albanese said. “Does he think that will be well received and will reduce tension between China and the United States over trade?”

In fact, while Morrison’s language on China’s economic status went further than before, he had gone a considerable way down this path previously. In a major address in June he said: “China’s rise has now reached a threshold level of economic maturity”, with its most successful provinces sometimes exceeding the economic sophistication of global competitors. Yet they enjoyed concessions on trade and environmental obligations not available to other developed economies, he said.

In his Chicago speech Morrison said there was a need to reduce trade tensions that had developed in recent years.

“China’s economic growth is welcomed by Australia and we recognise the economic maturity that it has now realised as a newly developed economy,” he said.

It was important this was reflected in its trade arrangements, participation in addressing important global environmental challenges, transparency in its partnerships and support for developing nations.

“All of this needs to reflect this new status and the responsibilities that go with it as a very major world power,” Morrison said.

He also said: “The world’s global institutions must adjust their settings for China, in recognition of this new status. That means more will be expected of course, as has always been the case for nations like the United States who’ve always had this standing.”

Asked at a news conference what he wanted China to do that it was not doing now, Morrison said the objective was that “similar rules will apply to countries of similar capabilities”.




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Yes, the US-Australia alliance is important, but Scott Morrison needs to take a careful approach with Donald Trump


Meanwhile in a speech in Beijing this week Richard Marles, Labor’s deputy leader and defence spokesman, urged a deepening of Australia’s relations with China, including even at the defence level.

“I firmly believe it is possible for Australia to maintain our strong alliance with the United States while also deepening our engagement with China. In fact, not only is this possible, it is vital,” Marles said.

“And that must be obvious. Because from the perspective of Australia, the world looks a lot safer when the United States and China are talking to each other and improving their relations.

“And if this is our view, then it stands to reason that Australia’s interest lies in having the best possible relations we can with both the United States and China.

“And from the perspective of Australia the world also looks a lot more prosperous when China and the United States trade with each other.”

“Our starting point has to be that we respect China and deeply value our relationship with China. We must seek to build it. And not just in economic terms, but also through exploring political co-operation and even defence co-operation.

“To define China as an enemy is a profound mistake. To talk of a new Cold War is silly and ignorant,” Marles said.

Asked about the defence reference, Albanese played it down.




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In a Tuesday speech in Jakarta, Labor’s shadow minister on foreign affairs Penny Wong said: “It is clear that the United States and China now treat each other as strategic competitors.

“The strategic competition in our region means we need to think carefully and engage actively to avoid becoming collateral. Great powers will do what great powers do – assert their interests. But the rest of us are not without our own agency,” she said.

“What our region is looking for is less a contest about who should be or will be number one, than how we foster partnerships of enduring connection and relevance”.

Wong said the US should “present a positive narrative and vision about the future, by articulating and presenting what it offers not only what it is against.”

“A greater focus on the likely settling point will enable the United States to recognise – and embrace – the fact that multi-polarity in the region is likely to get stronger.

“And in the context of Beijing’s ambitions, this growing multi-polarity – with countries like Indonesia, India and Japan playing increasingly important leadership roles in the region – is beneficial to Washington’s interests.

“Defining a realistic settling point will also help the United States recognise and accept that decisions relating to China will vary depending on the issues and interests at stake.”

Albanese also criticised Morrison for not attending the United Nations leaders summit on climate.

Morrison said that when he addresses the UN General Assembly this week: “I’ll be focusing very much on Australia’s response to the global environmental challenges. Which isn’t just climate change … it’s about plastics, it’s about oceans, it’s about recycling”.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Yes, the US-Australia alliance is important, but Scott Morrison needs to take a careful approach with Donald Trump



Donald Trump has rolled out the red carpet for Scott Morrison in the US as part of a charm offensive aimed at shoring up the Australia-US alliance.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Mark Beeson, University of Western Australia

One of the time-honoured tests of the diplomatic skills of any Australian prime minister has been dealing with the United States. We are frequently assured by the hard-headed realists who make and influence strategic policy that this is a relationship no PM can afford to mishandle.

Stuffing up is not an option. To judge by Scott Morrison’s lavish reception by the Trump administration, things really couldn’t be better.

But given our prime minister is dealing with someone who even some respected prominent former public officials from the US think is “seriously, frighteningly, dangerously unstable”, this could well be regarded as a modest triumph. It’s simply not controversial to suggest that Donald Trump is a highly unpredictable, erratic, inexperienced narcissist who has – to put it politely – an implausibly inflated sense of own abilities.

Remembering Australia’s interests while savouring foie gras

Under such circumstances, deciding whether the trip will be judged a success or failure is not a simple task, despite the Murdoch press predictably suggesting that an ever close strategic alliance is the only benchmark that matters.

And why wouldn’t they? After all, Lachlan Murdoch was one of the high profile guests, along with other business luminaries, adding to the theatrical quality of much of the visit.

The State Dinner for Scott Morrison was just the second hosted by the Trump administration.
Erik S. Lesser/EPA

One assumes that behind closed doors many issues of substance were discussed, even though this is a president who famously doesn’t do detail or nuance.

To judge by some of Trump’s public utterances, however, this can’t have been an easy task. The fact that the president casually mentioned that China, our largest trading partner, is a “threat to the world”, or hinting that the use of nuclear weapons remains an option when dealing with the likes of Afghanistan or Iran, might have given even the most enthusiastic alliance supporter pause for thought.




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While some influential Americans may think that destabilising China and undermining President Xi Jinping is not a bad outcome, things are a little more complicated for Australia.

Morrison’s White House visit will confirm many of China’s equally hawkish strategists in their view of Australia as a slavishly predictable lackey of the US.

Indeed, Beijing reminded us of just how important our bilateral relationship with China has become in a recent op-ed in the state mouthpiece, the Global Times. After Arthur Culvahouse, the US ambassador to Canberra, called on Australia to stand up more to China, the Global Times warned:

Morrison would be better off if he kept Australia’s national interests in mind while savouring foie gras at the White House.

When it comes to China, any prime minister would face the same difficult task reconciling Australia’s strategic and economic interests.




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Diluting our economic dependence on China won’t be easy or quick. Beijing can signal its displeasure with Australia in the meantime by holding up imports or even discouraging Chinese students from studying in an “unfriendly” country.

To be fair, Morrison has done his best not to gratuitously upset the Chinese leadership at a time when a rising tide of nationalism in China is defining its foreign policy. Indeed, the PM won rare praise in China for his support of embattled Liberal Gladys Liu.

But actions, as they say, speak louder than words in any language, which is what gives this trip such symbolism.

Rising tensions in the Middle East

Such concerns may not be uppermost in Morrison’s mind as the Americans turn on the charm for one its more reliable allies. As he frequently points out,

Australia is a reliable alliance partner — we pull our weight and we get things done.

That these things include fighting endless wars in the Middle East that have little immediate strategic relevance to Australia is less frequently mentioned.

Given that we may be about to embark on yet another entirely unnecessary, unpredictable adventure that may result in a conflict with Iran, this is not an inconsequential concern.

Morrison has been careful not to make an open-ended commitment to the US-led mission to protect shipping in the Strait of Hormuz, but we know only too well how these sorts of modest contributions to shoring up the alliance can end.




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Does anyone really think the Vietnam War or the invasion of Iraq were really good ideas in retrospect? And yet, Australia’s policymakers thought they were acting unambiguously in the national interest at the time of those conflicts, too, and they had little option other than to support our great and powerful friend.

Not much has changed in that regard, despite the disastrous consequences of these wars.

Being a junior partner in an alliance is tricky at the best of times. These are plainly not the best of times. The Trump administration’s disdain for the very order the US did so much to construct is one of the major reasons why, as even conservative commentators acknowledge.

In such circumstances, sensible Australian policy might involve more moderation and less ingratiation.The Conversation

Mark Beeson, Professor of International Politics, University of Western Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.