Published daily by the Lowy Institute

Weekend catch-up: Ausgrid, the ABC, asylum seekers and more

Weekend catch-up: Ausgrid, the ABC, asylum seekers and more
Published 13 Aug 2016 

By John Gooding, Digital Editor at the Lowy Institute and Associate Editor at The Interpreter.

On Thursday evening Jewel Topsfield of Fairfax Media won the 2016 Lowy Institute Media Award (and $20,000) for her reporting from Indonesia. At the ceremony the Institute was addressed by the new ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie on a ‘global ABC’:

It is far too easy to claim, as some have done, that the instant access to a world of information makes obsolete the need for the ABC to invest in its own coverage and to devote the time, energy and money to explain complex global events. Yes, it is possible to go straight to the New York Times website for the latest Donald Trump outrage or to London’s Financial Times for the next Brexit development.

However, context and relevance are important. What the ABC does through its investment in programs like Q&A and its international reporting infrastructure, is provide Australians with a continuous rich flow of information and analysis, explaining the relevance of events and issues. It can link continents and through its array of programs, delve deep into policy. Hopefully, this contributes to a far more informed domestic debate about security, defence and other matters.

That the general public is more connected than ever to flows of information is an important point, wrote Sam Roggeveen:

It is clearly true that commercial media outlets are reducing their overseas footprints, yet it is far from clear that news consumers have suffered as a result. In fact, the internet has vastly improved the options open to those of us who follow world news.

Which raises the question: what unique role can Australian foreign correspondents fill in this environment?

This week also saw the federal government decide to block a bid from Chinese companies to lease just over 50% of a New South Wales electricity distributor. In his first post for his fortnightly column, Greg Earl wrote on the decision’s significance:

Treasurer Scott Morrison’s preliminary decision to block the sale of NSW power distributor Ausgrid to Chinese companies will be a watershed in Australia’s approach to the rise of China. That’s because Australia’s world-beating growth performance over two decades has increasingly been built on export demand from China and Chinese investment boosting asset prices.

James Laurenceson argued that the decision would have ramifications for the Australia-China relationship: [fold]

The outlook for Australia-China economic relations is more clouded than in a long time. Don't expect a rash response from the Chinese. But any special status that Australia enjoyed in the eyes of the Chinese government and investors, which led to the signing of the historic FTA in 2015, is evaporating fast.

Understanding the Chinese reaction to the feud between Olympic swimmers Mack Horton and Sun Yang requires understanding Chinese worldviews, wrote Marie-Alice McLean-Dreyfus:

In addition to criticising Horton, many other netizens were critical of the Australian culture that engendered his comments. As Weibo user TKO-????T wrote, garnering over 9000 'likes', '[Horton] won the contest but lost his moral standing...when Australian media broadcast the opening ceremony, as soon as the Chinese delegation entered they showed a MacDonald's advertisement – my god! Next year I was going to go to Australia, but I would be a moron to contribute to their GDP!'

Last Sunday’s constitutional referendum in Thailand has exposed a deeply divided country, argued Zubaidah Nazeer:

With the results in, the pressure is on the ruling junta to deliver on its promises and steer Southeast Asia's second-largest economy out of a decade of political turmoil. Military coups are not unusual in Thailand – there were 12 successful coups and seven failed ones since the one in 1932 that overturned the monarchy – but this country of 68 million is weary of political instability and prolonged economic malaise.

While the Australian government seems to have surmounted the ‘Burma/Myanmar’ dilemma, there are still name games to be played. Andrew Selth:

In June this year Aung San Suu Kyi instructed all Burmese officials to stop using the term 'Rohingyas' to refer to the hundreds of thousands of disenfranchised local residents that she prefers to call 'people who believe in Islam in Rakhine State'. 

Foreign embassies in Burma and international organisations like the UN have been advised of the state counsellor's views, in the expectation that they will respect them. The US ambassador in Rangoon has since announced that he and his government would continue to use the term 'Rohingya', on the grounds that all such groups have the right to identify themselves. However, the EU has fallen into line, stating that it would avoid use of the controversial term.

Jiyoung Song wrote on Australia’s approach to asylum seekers:

Asylum seeker policy should be broad. It should involve all relevant government departments, civil society, supplementary service providers, entrepreneurs, and the business sector.

Indonesian President Jokowi has reshuffled his cabinet for a second time, returning Sri Mulyani to the finance ministry after a stint in the World Bank. Stephen Grenville outlined why the move matters:

President Widodo needs someone like Sri Mulyani to drive his reform agenda, and has been trying to lure her back since he became president. She may be able to fulfill his high hopes. Much will depend on the working relationships the new finance minister forges with both Widodo and Darmin Nasution, the economic coordinating minister. Getting along with the parliament is also important in the new democratic Indonesia.

David Brewster analysed the Sino-Indian relationship and in particular the games being played in the Indian Ocean:

As their wealth, interests, and power expand, the two countries are also increasingly coming into contact with each other in the maritime domain. How India and China get along in the shared maritime space, particularly in the Indian Ocean, may be a major strategic challenge of coming years.

Earlier this month the New York Times interviewed a former ISIS recruit from Germany. David Wells wrote on Harry Sarfo’s worryingly accurate comments: 

The returning foreign fighter problem is not a new one for our intelligence agencies. What is new in the context of the NYT article is Sarfo’s explanation for how hundreds of individuals are apparently operating under the radar.

He refers to sleeper operatives based in Europe, responsible for ‘activating’ potential suicide attackers drawn in by Islamic State propaganda. And their use of ‘clean’, recent converts as intermediaries between the operatives and wannabe terrorists.

Simon Heffer argued that post-Brexit Britain could still be a global powerhouse: 

In Britain, during the campaign leading up to the June referendum, the side campaigning to stay in the EU ran what their opponents called 'project fear': a series of claims and statements designed to make the British public feel that their country would be sent back into the dark ages if they voted to leave the EU. So far, this has turned out not to be the case.

Finally, Emma Connors took a look at what role the Sunshine State could play in the US elections:

One state on everybody's list is Florida, the nation's third most populous (after California and Texas) with a correspondingly large number of electoral votes: 29. Importantly, Florida does not split its electoral votes so the winner will get all 29. Until very recently, most polls had Trump and Clinton tied in Florida, but after after Trump's disastrous week, Clinton looks to have pulled ahead.

You may also be interested in