On Tuesday 31 October, former Prime Minister John Howard addressed a full house at Glover Cottages. He covered issues such as American and Chinese politics, the situation in North Korea and Australia’s place in the Asia-Pacific, and concluded with some observations on the state of the modern Australian political process.
Mr Howard began his address with remarks regarding the current tensions on the Korean Peninsula. He suggested that there were three likely scenarios: firstly, that conflict would erupt either through intentional belligerence or miscommunication; secondly that a diplomatic solution could be brokered whereby North Korea agreed to curb its nuclear ambitions in return for American concessions; and lastly that the situation would continue on in its present state of tension. He noted that the longer we continued in the third scenario, the more likely the first would occur. Mr Howard expressed a degree of optimism that President Trump’s visit to China might be pivotal. He said he didn’t envisage any pre-emptive military solution. The US-China relationship was the most fundamental in international politics. We must accept that Mr Trump is President, and not overreact to his rhetoric. He stressed the importance of looking through the President’s words and examining his deeds, citing the missile strikes against Syria following the government’s use of chemical weapons as an example where Mr Trump’s actions had been met with international approval despite his often criticised rhetoric.
In his discussion of Australia’s place in the Asia-Pacific, Mr Howard took the opportunity to dispel the belief that Australia had to choose between alignment with the US and with China, noting that both relationships were equally important. He cautioned that Australia must not ‘become mesmerised by China’, noting that Australian commentators had a tendency to be blinded to China’s deep-seated domestic issues by China’s economic importance. China had a tendency to gloss over its demographic challenges: such challenges were unlikely to be resolved soon. He predicted that China will become less liberal both politically and economically. Japan appeared to be resurging both domestically and on the international stage: with time, it would ‘recover its mojo’ and become a potential counter to China. Indonesia had achieved transformation under its recent leaders.
AIIA NSW Councillor Michael Lee, the Hon John Howard and AIIA NSW Vice-President Ian Lincoln
Mr Howard closed by reflecting on the current state of Australian domestic politics. He suggested that parallels could be drawn between America’s recent Presidential election and the rise of identity politics in Australia: there was a tendency in western countries for politics to become fragmentary, and political parties were becoming less representative of voters overall. Increasingly, candidates went straight from university to working at a staffer in an MP’s office or, in the case of the ALP, in a union before applying for preselection. Despite union membership being at an all-time low, unions had a more significant influence on Labour policy than ever. He encouraged any budding politicians in the audience to obtain some relevant life experience in any field, before applying themselves to politics. Mr Howard concluded that moving away from identity politics and the one-track path into politics might be difficult; however, it also had the potential to create a new renaissance of political thought.
Report by Regan Ho
AIIA NSW intern