COLUMN: Forget the domestic agenda – the Canberra Circus has damaged Australia’s global reputation

NOTES ON THE NEWS: The fall out from last week’s classic Canberra circus will be mainly domestic. There is no point in adding to the tens of thousands who have written about the future of the Gillard government.

But the circus has done considerable damage to Australia’s international reputation. That foreign minister Senator Bob Carr was distracted from his tasks at the United Nations Security Council was the least of it.

That unflattering phrase “banana republic” found its way into the Lexicon as former Reserve Bank board member Warwick McGibbon, writing from Washington, reported on the “extreme damage” that political uncertainty is doing to Australia’s international reputation.

Questions from colleague at the Brookings Institution, where he is a senior fellow, were “very worrying”. One of these was “why is a country that had withstood the worst of the global financial crisis suddenly switching direction and following the Latin American model?”

The criticism from overseas is not confined to the now concluded squabble between Julie Gillard and Kevin Rudd. International observers have been bemused by Wayne Swan’s verbal class warfare in a country that was thought to be egalitarian, by the ineptness of his mining tax that delivered parsimonious revenues, by the constant frustration of attempts to build a world class gas industry, by new xenophobic immigration practices designed to discourage highly skilled people from filling vacant jobs, and by the country’s biggest infrastructure program, the National Broadband Network, falling months behind on a blown-out budget. And then there was the decision to admit an adulterous Iraqi taxi driver as a refugee because to send him home would risk him being attacked by his lover’s husband! It is amazing how one case can illustrate a flawed system as a farce.

But there is more. When the news of the departure of Martin Ferguson reaches the international business community, the reputation of the government will take another hit. Ferguson was calm, sensible and judicious, well able to balance the requirements of resources and energy companies with the need to protect the environment and Australian interests. He was not sacked as mining and resources minister, but quit of his own accord when he saw what the trade union coterie of Paul Howes, Bill Shorten, Brendan O’Connor and Gillard herself were doing to the Australia that Hawke and Keating built.

As Laura Tingle, political editor of the AFR put it,” the resignation of Martin Ferguson is a devastating blow for a government with bad business credentials”.

Pity for our ambassadors who have to try and convince world leaders that we really are part of the Asian century.

Colin Chapman is the President of the AIIA (NSW).


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