We Need Vision from the Gillard Government

PRESIDENT’S COLUMN: About the first thing I heard upon returning to Sydney after two weeks in Poland was that publication of the white paper on Australia in the Asia Century has, yet again, been delayed.

It now seems that it may be the end of October before we learn what new policies, if any, the Gillard government will be pursuing to further our involvement in Asia. At the Glover Cottages, we had booked a panel discussion to discuss the recommendations, but have had to postpone it, for the second time.

At the end of last week The Australian decided to go ahead with its high-priced all-day China century conference aimed at the business community, but those hoping to get an insight into the upcoming white paper were rewarded with only lean pickings.

Wayne Swan, who has not been above spinning government plans in the past, provided some exhortation, but little information beyond saying the lengthy document will set an agenda for economic reform and cultural change.

If that proves to be the case, Dr Ken Henry, the leader of the Asian Century taskforce will hope that the white paper will not end up like the last report bearing his name – the tax reform document gathering dust on Canberra’s ministerial shelves.

It’s unlikely the white paper will address the rant of Kerry Stokes, the chairman of Seven Group Holdings, who told The Australian’s shindig that he was “physically repulsed at the thought of armed people on my soil not being under our command”. This was a reference to the stationing of a small contingent of US marines in Darwin.

Having just come from Poland, where the political, business and civil communities are united in wanting US troops to be stationed in Poland to man a planned NATO anti-ballistic missile system, the diffidence of Stokes – and many others – to the prospect of American support in the volatile Indian Ocean seems strange indeed.

But then what worries the Poles is Putin’s Russia, not China. And we in Australia hardly think about Russia any more; we even sell them uranium.

But Russia is an Asian country as well as a European one, and is a major competitor of Australia in both energy and resources. I wonder how much there will be in the white paper about Russia’s ambitions. Remember it is Russia that is the principle opponent of various moves to halt the spread of radical Islam in the world today, even though it has suffered at the hands of the fundamentalists.

Compiling the Asian Century white paper is no easy task. Personally I don’t mind how long it is delayed, so long as it provides a vision for the future. That vision needs to include the threats to our region from radical Islam, the burning need for Australia to double, then quadruple agricultural production for the benefit of Asian customers, some big projects to harness the vast water resources of Australia’s north, and growing our population, with at least two large cities north of the Tropic of Capricorn.

It means tens of thousands of migrant engineers – to create these schemes, and to build our shale gas industry, to regenerate our backward infrastructure. There is an Australia to be developed beyond Sydney and Melbourne. If we can’t do it, we should welcome Asian partners.

Colin Chapman

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