The Politics    Friday, October 4, 2019

Whose national interest?

By Russell Marks

Source: Twitter

Morrison is taking a decidedly self-interested approach to foreign affairs

In a speech at the Sydney Town Hall last night, Prime Minister Scott Morrison paraphrased his most successful living predecessor: “we will decide our interests and the circumstances in which we seek to pursue them.”

That’s a bold statement of intent, delivered for a national constituency Morrison knows is fretting and anxious about all the things they can’t control: the global economy; automation and technological change; terrorists and extremists. Not to mention (and Morrison didn’t)  global warming, and surveillance and overreach by government bureaucracies increasingly authorised to spy on Australian citizens.

It’s only recently that Morrison has shown how he intends to lead Australia in the world. When he became PM in August last year, he and his government were practically in election mode. Most of his set speeches were devoted to the bread and butter of domestic politics: jobs, growth and the disastrous prospects of a Labor government.

But the Coalition’s re-election (which cemented his own leadership of the Liberal Party) and his recent visit to the United States (which took him temporarily out of the ever-evolving farce of his government’s administration) have allowed Morrison his first opportunities to present his broader ideas about Australia’s place in the “new economic and political order”.

It’s a phrase that harks back to the periods just after World War One and World War Two when, first with the League of Nations and then the United Nations and a set of institutions built on economic rules and their governance, the world truly was creating a new order.

In the Lowy Lecture, Morrison paid lip-service to the principles of cooperative liberal internationalism that underpinned much of that order. But his narrative is that its institutions have departed from the “common values” upon which they were founded to the point that he’d “recently reminded” the UN General Assembly of the true reasons for its existence: “to win peace, provide stability, achieve prosperity and extend liberty essential for the human spirit to thrive”.

The rest of Morrison’s speech was a forceful attack on the “international institutions” – read UN – that “demand conformity rather than independent cooperation on global issues”. It’s not hard to work out that here he’s referring to refugee movements and global warming.

In this sense, Morrison’s diagnosis and prescription owes a debt to Donald Trump, who declared last week the future belongs to “patriots” and not “globalists”, and the echoes of that language in Morrison’s recent speeches have been widely observed.

It’s an old critique, echoing criticisms levelled at the UN by Friedrich Hayek – the intellectual father of neoliberalism –for what he saw as its biases, its ineffectiveness and its overreach. Indeed, Morrison’s speech echoes Hayek’s warnings about internationalist planning (Morrison calls it “bureaucracy”) and the centralisation of political control. Among the effects of such centralisation, Hayek argued, would be a kind of fascistic reaction among disenfranchised national constituencies of the kind that gave rise to Hitler.

As if on cue, Morrison’s powerful home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, yesterday continued his apparent quest to find new ways to attack, surveil and control those he positions as enemies of the good. His half-baked agreement with Ray Hadley’s suggestion that climate protesters be stripped of social security payments has gained traction overnight among the Coalition’s hard right [$].

Dutton’s frequent attacks on individual freedom would have horrified Hayek. Morrison may have been addressing the nation in last night’s speech, but he’s no doubt aware of another constituency even closer to home: Dutton’s base of hard-right supporters, energised by Trump and Brexit, and egged on by fan-flamers like Andrew Bolt and Alan Jones. Here, potentially, is the backlash Hayek warned about. To Dutton’s base, Morrison is saying: “I’ve got this.”

“You dirty, rotten, mongrel bastards.”

Queensland dairy farmer Scott Priebbenow, who this month was forced to send the last of his herd to the meatworks, offering his appraisal of the major supermarkets’ failure to pass any of their milk price rise on to farmers.

“I have been right about Downer from the beginning. A wannabe spy and Clinton errand boy who is about to get exposed on the world stage.”

Former Trump adviser George Papadopoulos doubles down on Alexander Downer. It has also emerged that US Republican senator Lindsey Graham issued a letter to PM Scott Morrison and other national leaders asking for their “continued cooperation” with the Trump administration’s attempt to discredit the investigation into Russian interference in the US elections, and suggested that Downer had been “directed” to contact Papadopoulos in 2016.

Trump, Morrison, money and the drought
As Scott Morrison tried to shift Australia’s focus to the drought, and the cash rate fell below 1 per cent, Donald Trump’s paranoia followed the prime minister home.


The number of elite private schools in Warrnambool, which has just been named in the annual Ipsos “Life in Australia” study as the nation’s most liveable city.

The Senate’s Community Affairs and References Committee sat today in Mandurah, WA – one of the three sites for the government’s proposed drug-testing trial for social-security recipients – where it was unlikely to have heard anything remotely good about Centrelink’s automated debt-collection process.

The list

“It can be difficult to write entertainingly about the day-to-day slog of politics, but Simons is a skilled storyteller who manages to weave a compelling narrative that is notable for its clarity and pace … Simons produces a biography with many surprises. The patrician Wong, it emerges, has her own touch of mongrel, and the word ‘ruthless’ comes up in interviews surprisingly often. But as Simons portrays her, at all times Wong’s commitment is to ‘staying in the room’.”

“Joanna Hogg makes quiet, clear-eyed films about rich people caught in various states of ennui … The Souvenir is autobiographical, based on a relationship Hogg had with an older man when she was in her early twenties. She has gone to impressively obsessive lengths to make her film as accurate and detailed as possible. She pored over tapes of therapy they attended as a couple, personal diary entries, photographs and old love letters (which manifest via voiceovers throughout the film).”

“‘I often say that law prepares you well for football, because there are just men everywhere.’ When Peggy O’Neal started practising law, she was the first woman hired at the firm in a century. Decades later, when she was elected president of the Richmond Football Club, she once again assumed a role that came with the added pressure of being ‘the first’.”

Russell Marks

Russell Marks is a lawyer and an adjunct research fellow at La Trobe University. He is the author of Crime and Punishment: Offenders and Victims in a Broken Justice System (Black Inc., 2015). 

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