Australian Outlook

Issues Brief

10 Jun 2014
Colin Chapman

It’s a while since I’ve flown Qantas and, given the harsh media coverage of our national carrier, I had modest expectations. How pleasant then, to record efficient and courteous check-in, friendly cabin service, spot-on timekeeping: generally a flawless flight up to Hong Kong. There were even newspapers to read.

Issues Brief does not normally refer to the Australian press, because the national dailies The Australian and the Australian Financial Review have internet pay walls and providing inaccessible links just irritates the reader. But The Saturday Paper was available and led its front page with an article ‘Abbott’s Global Retreat’. In this the paper’s chief political correspondent Sophie Morris billed Abbott as ‘the anti-internationalist’ and claimed the government is withdrawing the nation from international affairs. I’ll leave you to form your own opinion of the article, but on any fair-minded independent view, these headlines would not stand-up. Two important trade deals agreed, solid work at the UN Security Council and elsewhere, reconciliation with Indonesia, careful preparations for G20, an important security agreement in the face of a rising jihadist threat, good visits to Japan and China and much else do not add up to an Australian withdrawal from international affairs. The Morris article seemed predicated on climate change as the number one issue and, important though it is, it is not DFAT’s preoccupation at present. If it wants to be taken seriously, the Saturday Paper will have to do better than this. With the Prime Minister due to visit the Oval Office on Thursday, the Financial Review’s Philip Corey presented a much saner preview.

Corey reports that tensions in North Asia, economic growth and the re-emergence of terrorism risks is much more likely to be the focus. A dossier detailed by The Independent provides an insightful account of why Western countries are lifting risk awareness and alerts because of the fallout of the crisis in Syria with both that country and neighbouring Iraq emerging as jihadist states.

Last week, the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre gained considerable media attention and only in China itself could a television viewer miss the coverage. John Keane’s Institute for Democracy at the University of Sydneystaged a two and a half-hour remembrance at the NSW Parliament, which the AIIA NSW co-hosted. The Australian’s Rowan Callick provided a useful analysis; introducing him I made the point that no nation on earth – other than possibly Luxembourg or Liechtenstein – could claim never to have blood on its hands, but most countries were prepared to admit past stains on their reputations. Not China in the case of Tiananmen Square. John Keane delivered a short lecture and also appeared on ABC.

Elsewhere the US Council on Foreign Relations publication Foreign Affairs produced a superb e-book on the subject, discovered by my colleague Brian Everingham. Brian also picked up a podcast where former US Ambassador to China Winston Lord discussed the massacre, its long-term impact, China’s ascension as a global power and what the future holds for the country.

For a Chinese view there is a China perspective: one of the participants has produced a book called The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited. It is available for $9.99 on Kindle and reviews are impressive.

At the weekend the European Central Bank dropped interest rates below zero, meaning that banks depositing money with the ECB have to pay for the privilege. Even that will not be enough to save the Eurozone, where the days of the currency may now be numbered. David Brown, Chief Executive of New View Economics, says that the one chance left for Europe’s political leaders to avoid damaging deflation will be to crank up the printing presses with the kind of program of quantitative easing already undertaken in the US by the Fed and by the British. Recent European election results will not help the continent’s plight and in France Marine Le Pen’s attempts to pull back from going too far to the right are not being helped by her father.

I am taking a break for a few weeks in Europe, but my colleagues at AIIA NSW will fill this slot.