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Debates

A larger Australia

12 Mar 2014 14:52

I've just left the National Press Club in Canberra, where Lowy Institute Executive Director Michael Fullilove delivered an address which argued that the shift in economic and strategic weight to the Asia Pacific demands a recalibration of Australia's place in  the world. Australia is already a substantial international player, he argued, but it needs to move up a weight division through a bigger population, higher spending on defence and diplomacy, and an elevated national debate.

COMMENTS

17 Mar 2014 11:03

There are various possibilities for a Larger Australia. Michael Fullilove's path is to put more of our national resources into defence and diplomacy, as well as growing our population through increased migration and fertility, creating an Australia which walks taller on the world stage.

A very different path to bulking up physically would be to get together with New Zealand to make one country with 28 million people. First, let's see what this would look like and why it would be a good idea. Then the hard part: how it might happen.

COMMENTS

17 Mar 2014 17:30

Stephen Grenville has provided an instant answer to Michael Fullilove's recent quest for a larger Australia: the addition of close neighbour New Zealand. This is annexation season further afield, but I am confident the Crimea option is not what Grenville has in mind. Instead, his argument potentially answers a perennial Australian question: New Zealand, just what are you good for?

But the answer is unlikely to be much extra size or heft. An extra four million people would be hardly noticeable unless they all crossed the Tasman and started demanding social payments. The two economies are already significantly (although not completely) integrated, and their Closer Economic Relations already acts as a stepping stone for broader regional cooperation (including CER-ASEAN).

COMMENTS

19 Mar 2014 11:11

I'm going to focus on one aspect of Michael Fullilove's National Press Club address, neatly summarised in his conclusion:

Australia has a choice. Do we want to be a little nation, with a small population, a restricted diplomatic network, a modest defence force, and a cramped vision of our future? Or do we want to be larger – a big, confident country with an ability to influence the balance of power in Asia, a constructive public debate, and a foreign policy that is both ambitious and coherent? Are we content to languish in the lower divisions or do we want to move up in weight?

COMMENTS

21 Mar 2014 10:04

Nick Bryant is the author of the forthcoming book The Rise and Fall of Australia.

Australia requires a rhetorical rethink, for the language used to describe itself is ridiculously out of date. Take the vocabulary of isolation and peripheralism.

Old-fashioned constructs like 'the land down under' and 'the antipodes' are misleading because they grew from Australia being at the opposite end of the earth's surface to the country's one-time colonial master. The 'tyranny of distance', like 'the lucky country', comes from a book title that has long out-lived its usefulness.

Surely it is also time to ditch the language that routinely casts Australia as a country still in the throes* of adolescence, struggling to reach maturity. Please.

COMMENTS

21 Mar 2014 15:27

Australia's founding governor, Arthur Philip, expected the settlement he led would in time become 'the Empire of the East'.

In his important and timely National Press Club address, Michael Fullilove is more modest but he makes a powerful case for a national conversation on whether Australia should seek to become a much larger country – a big, confident country with a bigger tool chest, including an extensive diplomatic network and a stronger military, and eventually 'an ability to influence the balance of power in Asia'. Fullilove supports his view with cogent strategic, political and economic argument.

There is good reason for believing that within the new government there is the confidence to be receptive to this longer term thinking. Senior ministers such as Julie Bishop, Malcolm Turnbull and Andrew Robb seem to support Australia's potential for strong growth. Treasurer Joe Hockey seems well disposed, as are leading members of generation next, Greg Hunt and Josh Frydenburg.

COMMENTS

26 Mar 2014 12:38

I have been inspired to add my twenty cents worth in favour of well-balanced, strong population growth by the recent contributions of Michael Fullilove and Andrew Leigh who, in different ways, have refreshed the national discussion on Australia's population growth.

There is also inspiration in a negative sense. We need as many voices as possible to move the population debate well clear of the unedifying spectacle we saw last year when migration became entangled in refugee policy. As Andrew Leigh pointed out, it is clearly important to separate the two debates. 

For Fullilove, a larger population is seen as one element in Australia becoming bigger in a number of senses: via our economy, our demography, our influence, and in our approach to the world. After his careful weighing of many of the arguments about the economic impacts of immigration, Leigh came down on the plus side while questioning many of the arguments on both sides of the debate.

COMMENTS

26 Mar 2014 17:11

There's a big, a big hard sun

Beating on the big people

In a big hard world

– Eddie Vedder, 'Hard Sun'

Lowy Institute Executive Director Michael Fullilove is to be commended for calling for a 'larger Australia'. However, the old adage of 'quality not quantity' also applies. It is not clear to me that our Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (DFAT), the would-be tip of the 'larger Australia' spear, has the skills or imagination to make its own approach to diplomacy larger, such that Australia's official presence in international relations could be enlarged.

I was an economist with DFAT for five years, working in the Economic Analytical Unit and on Japan Trade & Economic matters.

COMMENTS

27 Mar 2014 15:14
By

By Bates Gill, chief executive of the US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, and Tom Switzer, a research associate at the US Studies Centre.

In his press club address earlier this month, Michael Fullilove warned that President Obama is pivoting away from the much-touted US 'pivot' towards the Asia Pacific. Both politically and militarily, we were told, the 'pivot' has 'gone off the boil.' America's heart, he lamented, is not in it.

But while it is true that the Middle East remains an important part of US foreign policy deliberations, it is also true that America is likely to remain the predominant power in the Asia Pacific across key indicators of national power. Indeed, the Washington consensus is that the national interest still demands America's deep engagement in the region, which is supported by its steadfast commitment to a forward military presence. 

COMMENTS