Australia in the Year 2020

Ethnic Community Council of Victoria - 8 July 1999

It is important to understand where we have come from in the last fifty odd years and the kind of world in which we must live and prosper, before we can set out policies and plans for the future.

In 1945 we were a nation of 7 million people. We were largely Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, with a heavy mixture of Celts and Irish. At the time, Australia’s indigenous population was largely sidelined and forgotten. During the war we had come close to invasion. Fortuitous victories at the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Battle of the Midway made Australia safe from invasion.

But in the aftermath of the war Australians were concerned about the future, their security and their survival, which had been so much at risk. The war had demonstrated clearly that we did not have the people or the industries to defend Australia. Post-war leaders recognised these realities and thus, despite close memories of large-scale unemployment during the Depression, which preceded the War, political parties supported a large-scale migration programme.

There were two major phases in this programme. In the earlier years after the war, the migration was largely political. Refugees and others, seeking to escape eastern Europe.

Later, the migration was more economic, involving larger numbers from southern Europe, people who believed they could come here and secure a better future for themselves and for their children.

So much that Australia has achieved would have been left undone without that migration programme. The Snowy Mountain Scheme itself was a tribute to migrant workers. Our industrial growth in the fifties and sixties was dependent upon a labour force that grew as migration continued. Our cities became more cosmopolitan and diverse, there was substantial mining and development in regional areas. There was modernisation and growth of a more diverse and sophisticated agriculture.

As a result of migration from many countries around the world, Australia is a more sophisticated and tolerant country. Overwhelmingly, when people have come from nations bitterly divided by historic rivalries, the ancient feuds have been left behind. Australia owes a great deal to the leadership of ethnic communities who have wholeheartedly recognised that this is a new country in which old rivalries have no place.

During the fifties and sixties, migration remained at a high level. In some years, 180,000 or more new settlers came to this country. We were able accommodate the pressures that were generated readily and willingly. During this time employment remained at a very high level, underlining the fact that a large migration programme was underpinning Australia’s growth and development and rising living standards.

Over the last 20 years, the migration programme has been wound down, allegedly in response to economic pressures and now it is of minuscule proportions. But in these more recent years there have also been many other changes. Globalisation of financial markets has swept the world. Trade is much more open than it used to be, although trade in agricultural commodities remains heavily protected, especially in the United States and in Europe.

We have seen the end of the Cold War. We have seen the emergence of one Super Power, supreme in military power, in scientific and technological capacity and in economic strength. The United States also significantly influences international institutions, her word carries great weight in the Security Council, in the International Monetary Fund and in the World Bank – institutions that have significant international implications.

The United States Congress seeks to extend its influence further by imposing conditionality on IMF loans which would be contrary to the basic charter of the International Monetary Fund.

The United States has extended its influence in other ways. NATO has been expanded to the Russian border. Changes to the United States/Japanese Defence Cooperation Agreement now places ill-defined obligations on Japan to support potential US military activity in the western Pacific.

During the days of the Cold War there was some kind of uneasy balance but that has passed and now, confident in her achievement, confident in the destruction of Communism and of collective economies, the United States is more assertive and more dominating in world affairs than any other nation.

Today there is no effective counterpoise to the United States. It may be that the European Union could one day provide that balance. The other possibility is China as she grows economically and scientifically. However, up to this point the European Union has demonstrated no collective political will.

For example, when Yugoslavia was still united, it was Germany and Germany alone that guaranteed the break-up of the Federation. Three week before the European Union had called a conference designed to establish a cohesive European policy to the potential problems in Yugoslavia, Germany unilaterally indicated that if Croatia and Slovenia wished to secede, Germany would forthwith recognise them. That single announcement by Germany guaranteed the destruction of Yugoslavia and led to many of the problems which have bedevilled the Balkans ever since.

Without that German decision it might have been possible to avoid the Balkans wars.

In the more recent contest between NATO and Yugoslavia, a rather unequal one of 700 million people against 11 million, and despite the leadership shown by Prime Minister Blair in his eagerness to extend the struggle into a ground war, it was the United States that determined policy and called the shots.

The reality of United States supremacy must be recognised. It affects every region and every nation. The impact of her influence is open to debate. We need however to be conscious of American supremacy and American dominance and in America’s total confidence in the righteousness of her own actions.

There are other factors in addition which we in Australia need to take into account as we seek to define the world in which we must live and prosper in future years.

During the celebrations of NATO’s fiftieth anniversary, Prime Minister Blair spoke of NATO’s activity in Yugoslavia becoming a standard for NATO activity through the next century. He wanted to make it an ‘ethical century’. What does he mean by this? Does it mean NATO is going to turn its force against Turkey because of Turkey’s treatment of the Kurds? Or against Sudan, where human rights abuses are rampant?

Seeking to use the Kosovo experience as a means of establishing an ethical approach to power in the next century has some disturbing implications. Attempts to establish ethical standards by one country or power group on others, by force, have never been successful. They are unlikely to be so in this instance.

KFOR is talking of a three year occupation of Kosovo. Can they succeed in three years where Marshall Tito failed in forty? Britain’s experience of problems in Ireland should give some sense of an answer.

Experience suggests that those who claim ethical superiority should make the claim with a degree of humility.

There are other aspects of the NATO action which are disturbing.

NATO was acting in defiance of its own charter. Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation commits member countries to go to the defence of a member country under attack. Nowhere does it authorise a NATO attack against a non-member for whatever reason.

We should also note that NATO’s military action was not sanctioned by the Security Council under Chapter 7, therefore, in terms of the United Nations rules, it was an illegal military operation.

In addition, the NATO war has created a new kind of war, just as certainly as the dropping of bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki did in 1945.

Wars used to be fought by shooting at soldiers but the more sophisticated weapons have become, the more it is the general population and women and children, as the most vulnerable groups, pay the penalty for the conflict.

In this war, soldiers stood off from afar and dropped their bombs while not putting themselves at risk. At one extreme, an airman in Minnesota could drive his children to school one morning, drive on to his airbase, get into his Stealth bomber, undertake a 30-hour mission bombing Yugoslavia, and then after he has disembarked again at his base in Minnesota, drive to school and collect his children the day after he dropped them at school and then return home to a normal family dinner.

We have not yet begun to analyse the consequences of this new form of conflict but we do know the first result, in many respects Yugoslavia has been bombed back into the Stone Age.

There is one lesson that we should learn, however, from the Kosovo example.

Adherence to International Law

The problems inherent in these issues should provide Australia with a clear objective. In many ways the world is groping towards a system of international law. We should pursue this as a major element of Australian policy. In theory the use of force against another country is unlawful unless it is purely defensive or unless it is sanctioned by the Security Council itself. Such a rule made effective would provide the best protection for international peace in future years. We need to work for a situation in which major powers, including the United States, respect such legalities.

In this fast-changing world, how should we react as we move into the first quarter of the next century?

I now want to address three related aspects, the economic, matters of security and population policy for Australia.

We clearly need to play our part in the globalised world. There are advantages, there are benefits, there are also dangers of financial melt-down as a result of inadequate supervision and prudential control.

Global financial markets have experienced an extraordinary increase in the volume of international capital flows and in the magnitude of exchange rate movements. This has contributed to real economic crises in many countries. These can pose a risk to the entire global financial network.

There are many causes of these problems, domestic mismanagement, over-valued exchange rates, over-reliance on short-term foreign currency denominated debt are significant factors. These problems have been exacerbated by poor lending practices and excessively volatile short-term capital flows. The recent problems in Asia are as much a consequence of irresponsible lending as they are of irresponsible borrowing.

Australia can play a significant role in helping to enhance transparency of financial market transactions and in making sure that all nations embrace adequate rules and procedures for the conduct of international financial business. It is indeed a major task and as yet only the first steps have been taken towards a more secure and stable international financial structure.

A Monetary Fund for East and South-East Asia

Japan suggested at the beginning of the Asian crisis that an Asian Monetary Fund should be established for the region by the region. I understand in Japan there is still considerable support for this notion. The purpose of such as fund would be to promote stability in regional financial markets, to advance transparency and to encourage all governments to maintain adequate prudential supervision or regulation of those operating in the capital markets.

With the resources of Japan and of China and of other countries within the region the establishment of such a fund is within the capacity of the region. It would in my view, properly organised, go a long way to establishing identity and purpose for the region as a whole. It should do much to secure stable development.

When Japan first floated the idea of such a fund the US was quick to jump on it and to do what it could to kill it. The concept behind such a proposal should be examined by countries of the region on their own account. It was a proposal for the region. It might reduce the US influence through the IMF but we must assume that Asian countries can act with the same sense of purpose and commitment as can North America or countries in Europe. I believe that such an organisation is necessary and, working in concert, it should strengthen reformed IMF structures.

An Asian Monetary Fund established for Asia, by Asia, would strengthen the international fabric of globalised capital markets which are fluid and dangerous enough as it is.

Regional Organisation

Maybe partly because of dramatic economic growth, the region has given less attention to overall regional organisation than has Europe or North and South America.

There is no organisation such as the European Union or NAFTA designed to promote trade between United States, Canada and Mexico and now expanding into Central and South America.

It wasn’t until 1989 that Australia felt the time was right to promote the idea of a wider grouping of nations, whose purpose was to promote economic co-operation. The original proposal was to involve the East and South-east Asian countries alone, but the United States created significant objections to its exclusion. Thus APEC came to represent not east and south-east Asia but countries in the Pacific Rim. Many such countries have interests that are quite different to those of East and South-east Asia.

In 1994, APEC adopted free trade as its charter and began to work positively for that objective.

It was intended that APEC would be a pacemaker, that it would be outward looking, that it would not be restrictive and, in that respect, it would be different from NAFTA and the European Union.

Its intent was to lower tariffs, to reduce protection and to move faster than the World Trade Organisation was able to. It is, however, such a large group of nations now that advancing freer trade on a broad front is likely to be increasingly difficult.

As a result, the impetus and drive forward which can be generated by regional association and neighbourliness is almost entirely lacking.

As it is, APEC does not meet the need for, or the challenge of, a significant regional organisation open to all members of East and South-east Asia, an organisation designed specifically to advance regional interests and to overcome regional concerns. Until East and South-east Asia establishes such a regional grouping, it will be under-represented in world forums. Its voice will be weaker than might otherwise be the case.
I would like to see a Political Conference of east and south-east Asian leaders meeting each year for broad ranging discussions of regional and global concern. That Conference should be supported by its own Secretariat. The first agenda item for the Political Conference should be to decide whether APEC will drive fast enough for free trade or whether the region should establish its own grouping specifically to open trade within the east and south-east Asian theatre.

Regional Security in the Next Century

The end of the Cold War establishes the need for a new thinking about security. It has been represented as a great democratic victory. The existence of one superpower in the world which militarily, strategically and economically is by far and away the most powerful country the world has ever seen, has a profound effect on all of us.

The United States’ reach has been underlined by the expansion of NATO and by the redrafting of the Japan/United States Defence Co-operation Agreement.

How do these changed circumstances affect us in the Asian Pacific theatre?

We need to note that China has expressed serious concern about the changes to the Japan/United States Defence Co-operation Agreement. We should also note that the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade is bound to have significant implications for the relationship between China and the United States. It is difficult to believe how such an attack could be purely accidental. We have to be concerned at these actions because the relationship between China and the United States is critical to the peace and well-being of the whole region. China is in and of the region, while the United States is not.

There are circumstances where Australia’s interests will not necessarily be the same as those of the United States. Over the return of Hong Kong, to China, over Myanmar, over some Cambodian issues and over human rights in China itself, Australia has taken a different path from that being urged on us, sometimes quite strongly, by the United States.

More and more Australia will need to go back to first principles, check its premises when it’s considering strategic matters. We need to question closely courses of action being urged on us by the United States and other major states.

During the Cold War, the strategic alliance with the United States was of paramount importance. Now that the Cold War has ended, however, we need to look at the questions of strategic security and stability in South-east Asia with new eyes. We need to be adult enough to judge our national interest without undue deference to the United States or any other major power.

There are certain issues of particular importance, the presence of United States military forces in the region, the re-unification of Korea, the relationship between Japan and the United States and the situation in Taiwan.

While the Korean peninsula remains divided, I support American forces remaining both on the peninsula and in Japan or on Japanese islands. However, I believe we of the region should be working to establish a trust and a relationship between governments and peoples, that will enable all of us to feel confident of our own security without the presence of any foreign forces.

Security organised between countries of a region is much better based than security guaranteed by a third party who does not live in the region.

United States forces are stationed overseas principally to secure American interests. There will be times when American interests may not coincide with the interests of the region. This may be no more than an extension of the early ASEAN view that they wanted to be non-aligned, they didn’t want either major party to muddy their patch.

But the question of forces in the region brings into play other factors, namely: the question of Korea, the status of Japan and the situation in Taiwan.

While recognising that major co-operation between China, the United States and Japan is necessary to achieve the reunification of Korea, there are elements that will involve countries such as Australia.

For example, as a result of the experience of West Germany’s reunification with East Germany, we now know that such an exercise is costly and more difficult than originally envisaged. Reunification of the Korean Peninsula would carry with it similar massive costs. There will be a need for countries of the region to contribute to this, as well as a need for resources from the wider international community. We could play a wider role in helping to create the circumstances in which reunification could become possible.

If American forces were to be withdrawn from the region, the attitude of Japan and the attitude of the region to Japan, would be highly significant. Japan already has military forces and indeed has for many decades, which would be capable of swift expansion. What would be Japan’s reaction to the withdrawal of American forces? If it led to a substantial expansion of Japanese military, there may be significant people in the region who would prefer America to remain. So attitudes to Japan and Japan’s attitude to the region in which she lives and trades so significantly would be an important part of that equation.

Another explosive issue revolves around the status of Taiwan. Ever since President Nixon negotiated relationships between Beijing and Washington, those who recognise and are recognised by Beijing, accept that China and Taiwan are two parts of one country. That implies that none of us can or should recognise Taiwan as a separate, independent country. Taiwan has not been eligible for international membership of any organisation for which independent statehood is a prerequisite of membership.

On the Chinese side, such an issue would, I believe, not be negotiable. From the history of the matter, I would not expect it to be.

Papua New Guinea has recently recognised Taiwan, raising this issue as one of paramount and significant concern. We should be working to make sure that Papua New Guinea reverses its decision. We should also be seeking to exercise influence so that American policy, which has been reaffirmed by every American President over the last thirty years, including emphatically by President Clinton, remains locked in as an unshakeable plank of American policy.

If it is known that the world’s attitudes to these issues will not change, and especially if American attitudes will not change, there is a greater incentive on Taiwan to negotiate a sensible outcome which I strongly believe would be within reach if Taiwan approached negotiations with Beijing seriously and in good faith.

Population Policy

Thirdly, we should develop a new population policy. Australia now is very different from the post-war country of seven million people. We are now a multicultural society. Half our population is in two great cosmopolitan cities, cities which blend the culture and history of much of the world.

We need to emphasize that multicultural Australia is inclusive, it embraces all Australians, old and new, regardless of race, origin or religion. We need to understand that original inhabitants of Australia do not yet feel included. That is a problem for all of us. It is a responsibility for all of us. It is hard to persuade older Australians that the history they were taught at school was more myth than reality, but the past has to be faced with honesty and with humility. The drive to reconciliation must be moved forward. It must address practical matters and matters of the spirit. It must therefore involve an open expression of sorrow and apology. This does not carry connotations of guilt. Many people told me they were sorry when my mother died but they weren’t guilty for her death. There is much work to do to achieve true reconciliation.

We need to consolidate the gains of a multicultural society. Gains of tolerance, equality, inclusive of all Australians. Multiculturalism recognises that being Australian does not deny the reality of continued affection or love for one’s land of origin but does require that obligations and responsibilities to Australia take precedence.

Migration in the 1950s was substantial. As a nation of seven million people we could accommodate up to 180,000 or 190,000 new settlers a year without undue stress. Now our programme is pitiful.

Our attitude to refugees has also changed. In the great refugee movements from south-east Asia, Australia made it plain that refugees could stay here and become Australian citizens. Now, before we will take 4,000 refugees from Kosovo we pass special legislation to make sure that their opportunities to stay here are minimal or non-existent. We also house them in locations which are remote from other Yugoslav communities who would have been able to do something more than has been done to indicate that they are welcome and that their refugee status is respected.

Since globalisation began, migration has been wound done, often on spurious grounds, that migrants take jobs, that there aren’t enough good migrants available, that our environment would not be able to stand a larger population.

In one major respect security, influence and well-being require a major change of policy.

I believe that now we should look to the future with confidence and assert that, as we move through the next century, we aim to hit 40 million people by the year 2050. This would be a lesser task for today’s Australia than the task undertaken by the Australia of 1945/46.

I have two major reasons for this view.

World population pressures are acute. We can’t shut ourselves off from those pressures. Secondly, if we believe in Australia and Australian values, if we are a voice for sanity and common sense in a difficult world, if we wish to contribute to Australian and regional security, we must act to enhance our influence. If we maintain today’s policies, we will be saying some of the world’s major issues have no concern to us, more specifically that the entwined issues of population and the environment are not our concern.

This has implications for our own view of ourselves. It has more serious implications for the way the world, but specifically east and south-east Asia, regard us. If we were a nation heading for 40 million people by 20-50, our influence would be much enhanced, we would have a larger and more resilient economy. We would make a significantly greater contribution to regional and Australian security. Australia would start to be defensible, without total reliance on another non-regional power, as we are at the moment.

A new population policy with these objectives would be a signal to Australians and to our region that Australia was embarked on a great enterprise and that we had truly come of age.

By the year 2020 therefore, we could look to Australia playing an increasing role in east Asian and regional affairs. If our policies were successful we would see enhanced cooperation between all the countries of the region. We would see the region taking greater charge of its economic future, with an Asian Monetary Fund working to support stability and financial viability. There would be a Political Forum where leaders of east and south-east Asian countries would meet each year to discuss matters of regional concern – an outcome which is long overdue. We could also expect that security between countries in and around the region would be re-enforced because of enhanced respect and increased cooperation amongst member states. We would see a significantly reduced role for the United States in and around the region and a greater reliance on east and south-east Asian relationships. All of these moves I believe would be positive and constructive elements of policy for the next century.