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Sunday 20 Aug 2017 | 22:15 | SYDNEY
Sunday 20 Aug 2017 | 22:15 | SYDNEY

At the water's edge

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23 June 2011 14:06

Lowy's Michael Fullilove argued this morning that, when the Opposition heads to Malaysia, it needs to be very careful:

There is a convention in the US that politics ends at the water's edge. It requires, at a minimum, that when American politicians are abroad, they refrain from playing partisan politics. The rationale for the convention is that engaging in politics abroad is likely to harm the national interest, which all politicians are sworn to serve. It can diminish your country in the eyes of others, or entangle it in bilateral disputation.

As Fullilove notes, the convention arose in the early 1950s, yet the world today is very different. Malaysians don't need visiting politicians to reveal that Australians are divided on the deal. They can stream our parliamentary debates, read our news sites, and watch discussions on TV and Twitter. There is no 'water's edge' to keep up the illusion that this democratic country is united in bipartisan support of the Government's agenda.

So while the Coalition shouldn't self-censor to protect the country, it will need to watch what it says to protect itself: 

The trip risks causing disgruntlement on the part of Malaysian politicians that their country is being drawn into Australian politics, and offence on the part of the Malaysian media that their country is being criticised by visiting foreigners.

If a future Abbott Government wants to get any regional cooperation on people smuggling — or any other issues — it will need to be careful to not embarrass governments like Malaysia, just to make a partisan attack two years from an election. Australians will have long forgotten it by then, but the leaders of other countries in our region won't.

Photo by Flickr user mikebaird.

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