Ideas@TheCentre – The Centre for Independent Studies


Ideas@TheCentre brings you ammunition for conversations around the table.  3 short articles from CIS researchers emailed every Friday on the issues of the week.

Living with the panda and the dragon

Sue Windybank

17 April 2019 | Ideas@TheCentre

There is an emerging consensus that Australia is entering a new and much tougher era in our bilateral relationship with China. But there is also a lack of consensus on the nature and extent of the challenges we face in reconciling our economic interests with a growing divergence in values and security interests.

This was apparent last Thursday when CIS held a debate to launch a new pilot project called China and Free Societies.

Australia is poised to broaden and deepen its bilateral relationship with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) — as signalled by the recent pledge of $44 million for the new National Foundation for Australia-China Relations to ‘turbocharge’ engagement with the Asian superpower. But engagement will also be limited by national security concerns, as the recent decision to ban the Chinese telco Huawei from the 5G network demonstrates.

China is ruled by an increasingly authoritarian party-state with very different values and governance — and these differences are becoming starker as the PRC becomes more assertive. Australia also earns one in three of its export dollars from trade with China, raising fears that this economic dependence could circumscribe political independence.

The PRC has shown a willingness to use economic coercion to punish governments whose sovereign policy choices do not align with Beijing. But arguably more effective is the use of indirect threats such as delaying imports of Australian coal or favouring other suppliers.

Journalists have noted that discussion of risks and uncertainties in the bilateral relationship has been mostly absent from the federal election campaign, despite mounting concern in foreign policy circles. And yet the incoming government is likely to come under intense pressure from Beijing as Canberra tries to renegotiate the terms of engagement — alongside a gnawing sense that China may now be strong enough to dictate these terms.

China is a great power, but it is worth remembering that it is not the only significant country in our region. As former diplomat Geoff Miller has pointed out, other significant players include Japan, India and Indonesia. The latter two have young populations, fast-growing economies, and I would add that all three are democracies.

Australia should engage with China and hedge the risks by deepening ties with other regional democracies, alongside the US alliance, as the regional balance of power changes.

Sue Windybank is convenor of the China and Free Societies project at The Centre for Independent Studies.

Stand and fight

Jeremy Sammut

17 April 2019 | Ideas@TheCentre

A certain school of thought claims that what ails the centre-right of Australian politics is the failure to embrace a ‘forward-looking, modern’ approach to contemporary social and cultural issues. The argument is that those who subscribe to so-called ‘reactionary’ views are fighting a losing battle, and are waging a futile struggle to hold back the so-called ‘progressive’ zeitgeist promoted by the left that is ascendant in most of our institutions.

It is viewed as an electoral liability to remind the community that the centre-right rejects the tenets of the left. The best political strategy is said to be to cease any talk of social and cultural matters, and instead focus on advancing the material wellbeing of the nation. Such timid prophets maintain that the case for economic reform should be prosecuted in splendid isolation from any discussion of traditional values and principles about subjects such as the family and identity politics.

In her essay published this week by CIS, Senator Amanda Stoker powerfully argues that what truly ails the centre-right is not that it has not become sufficiently ‘progressive’, but instead that it has failed to remain authentic. It has failed to stand up and fight for the fundamental values and principles that have historically mattered to those who identify with both classical liberal and conservative political traditions.

Stoker argues that what is really at stake in the culture wars is the future of Australia as a liberal democratic society in which citizens are free to exercise their right to speak, to think, to work, and to rise on their merits without government inhibitions of their liberty.

Unless the centre-right is prepared to defend the ‘universalist’ precepts of liberal democracy — which are under concerted assault by those who seek to tribalise society along race, gender, and class lines — the freedoms that we have long taken for granted will continue to be eroded.

If we do not defend the principles of western civilisation — which have created more freedom for all than any other society in history — we will accept the left’s view that rampant ‘racism’ and ‘inequality’ justify government restrictions on speech and greater regulation of the economy.

Likewise, if a stand is not taken in defence of traditional values of personal responsibility, many of the social problems that plague the nation will persist, and will further drive growth in welfare dependence and in the size of government programs that ameliorate — but rarely solve — our social ills.

Stoker’s point is that it is impossible to neatly separate economic and social issues and that economics is fundamentally downstream from culture.

A society in which citizens are not trusted to take control of their own lives and care for their families and communities is a society in which neither trust nor liberty (as properly conceived) can thrive.

The enormous stakes mean that the willingness to fight the political fight over our social and cultural direction is crucial. Refusing to participate in the battle of ideas in defence of freedom will create a void that allows the left’s long march through society to proceed unimpeded.

As Stoker argues, the pathway to political — and to cultural, social, and economic — renewal lies in providing the kind of leadership that inspires Australians to support the traditional values and principles that they instinctively know to be vital to the future of their families and the welfare of the nation.

Engaging in, not withdrawing from social and cultural debates is the only way to ‘take back control’ of public debates and the future of our country as a free, fair, and liberal society.

History is won only by those who show up and fight for what they believe truly matters.

Tolerance = silencing

Peter Kurti

17 April 2019 | Ideas@TheCentre

Easter is a celebration that has brought hope to billions of people. But before the hope, there was anger, intolerance, and hatred that led to crucifixion. What has changed since then?

Not much, to judge from the angry tone of public debate these days in Australia where intolerance is on the rise. Just think of recent militant campaigns about meat, God, or gender.

Views that upset the progressive identity warriors of the left are quickly choked off by confected outrage, and those who hold these views are hounded.

For many people, this is not the kind of society they want to live in: but the reality is that it’s the kind of society we’ve now got. The left’s new identity morality claims to be tolerant and fair.

The truth is very different. In the progressive moral universe of the left, anger, hatred, and intolerance are the weapons deployed supposedly in the name of compassion and inclusiveness.

But they are weapons that divide and harm. At one time, diversity was used as a shield to protect people from the bad behaviour of others: now it is used as a sword to cut down any voice that dares to dissent.

And fundamental freedoms we all take for granted — the freedom to work, the freedom to believe, the freedom to speak — are also under serious threat from identity warriors wielding the sword of diversity.

Rules and sanctions are slammed on anyone who claims the right to think, speak, and act for themselves in accordance with their conscience. Today it’s Israel Folau, but tomorrow it might be you.

At one time, tolerance meant tolerating those you didn’t like. But now, tolerance is seen as a weakness. When a dissenting view is said to be ‘hate speech’, ‘tolerance’ now means immediate silencing.

But we must not allow the hate spouted by today’s progressive identity warriors — who silence dissent and shame the dissenter — to destroy the democratic and social freedoms we prize in our country.