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Thursday 24 Aug 2017 | 13:34 | SYDNEY

Tony Abbott, values warrior

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20 October 2011 09:30

The Opposition leader prefers a Free Trade Agreement with Japan over one with China:

Tony Abbott has signalled the landmark free trade agreement John Howard launched with China would be on the backburner if the Coalition wins the next election. The Opposition Leader foreshadowed that Japan would be a higher priority than China, because Japan was a pluralist democracy, and a ''vastly more'' market economy than its near neighbour.

These are somewhat odd views economically (China is our biggest trading partner and has a more protected economy, hence an FTA offers a better return), but they fit with Abbott's approach to foreign policy. He believes Australia must pursue both its interests and values, and sometimes the latter is more important:

The former [Howard] Government's extensive overseas commitments, both military and civil, reflected its understanding that Australia's security depended as much on the prevalence of its values as on the extensiveness of its dealings. The best protection, for instance, against Islamist terrorism, is the widest possible appreciation of individuals' right to religious, political and economic freedom.

The best protection, for instance, against great power bullying, is the widest possible appreciation that might is not necessarily right. In the long term, Australia's freedom and prosperity rides on ethical principles which it is our national imperative to sustain and advance.

Abbott's not a neo-con, but he's not your usual conservative realist either. He's a values warrior, at home and abroad. While he will be unlikely to launch as many foreign policy initiatives as the ALP has, Abbott will look for opportunities to react, following the pattern of East Timor in 1999, which he describes as 'the first serious sign that we would no longer leave primarily to others the task of upholding what Australians regard as universal values at least in our own region.'

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