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Episode 92: Foreign Policy and the Australian Federal Election

23 Feb 2022
By Allan Gyngell AO FAIIA and Dr Darren Lim
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison in the garden of 10 Downing Street, June 2021. Source: Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street Flickr,

Also discussed in this episode of Australia in the World: ASIO Director-General Mike Burgess’ comments on the politicisation of national security, and recent foreign affairs publications.

Australia will have a federal election in a few months, but Allan and Darren are sceptical that substantive foreign policy debates will feature during the campaign. Accordingly, this episode they decide to have their own debate to try to help listeners think through some of the important issues that will (probably) be ignored. They consider four central questions that will shape the future of Australia in the world, and try to offer their best arguments for and against each proposition.

The questions are:

  1. Assuming a fixed funding envelope containing defence and foreign policy, Australia should shift resources and attention from the defence portfolio into foreign affairs.
  2. Australia needs a “reset” in its relations with Beijing and Canberra should be the one to initiate concessions. The specific proposal is that the Australian government adopt a policy of not commenting on China-specific human rights issues – Xinjiang, Tibet, and other domestic repressions.
  3. AUKUS, a scaled up 5 Eyes, and the Quad form the fundamentals of a new Australian architecture for engaging the world, and should be given priority over multilateralism.
  4. Assuming a fixed funding envelope, foreign policy resources should be shifted away from the South Pacific and into Southeast Asia.

Most importantly, Allan and Darren do not necessarily offer their own views on the individual questions, but the best argument each can muster, whether it coincides with their opinions or not. Moreover, they deliberately swap sides across the questions and probably contradict themselves in the process. So, please, no quoting us out of context!

The questions are framed in terms of concrete policy agendas where there could, in principle at least, be coherent and substantive disagreement. The questions avoid “more” propositions that posit “we need to do more” or “we need to spend more” since, by themselves, such propositions do not acknowledge the trade-offs. The questions also concern issues that relate as much as possible to the foreign and defence policy realms, and are not intimately linked with domestic issues that would unavoidably shape the debate. This means two major omissions – climate change and border protection.

Once the ‘formal’ debate is over, Allan and Darren conclude by discussing the underlying themes that tie the questions together and which likely shape one’s perspective on Australia in the world.

We bid farewell to Mitchell McIntosh and give our most heartfelt thanks for his contributions to making the podcast a success. We welcome Annabel Howard, and thank her for her help this week. Thanks also to Rory Stenning for composing our theme music.

Relevant links

James Wise, “The Costs of Discounted Diplomacy” ASPI Strategic Insights Report #168, February 2022:

Asia-Pacific Development, Diplomacy & Defence Dialogue, Australia and Southeast
Asia: Shaping a Shared Future (Canberra 2022):

Ian Bremmer, “The Technopolar Moment: How Digital Powers Will Reshape the Global Order”, Foreign Affairs, November/ December 2021: