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It's the neighbourhood, stupid: Australia's national security interests in Asia in the age of terrorism. An address to the Australian Institute of International Affairs, NSW Branch, Sydney.

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It’s the Neighbourhood, Stupid

Australia’s National Security Interests in Asia in the Age of Terrorism KM Rudd, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs

An address to the Australian Institute of International Affairs - NSW Branch, Sydney 17th December 2002

A decade ago, James Carville, consultant to the presidential campaign of William Jefferson Clinton, pasted a message on the pillar in the middle of the Democratic Party war room in Little Rock Arkansas.

Carville, known less as a poet than as a political strategist, sought to condense the Democratic campaign’s political message into three simple points:

• change versus more of the same • don’t forget health care, and • it’s the economy, stupid

Despite Carville’s non-pretensions as a poet, these became known as the “campaign haiku”. And in the folklore which grew up around them, particularly in the aftermath of Clinton’s victory, the first two parts of the haiku have been forgotten, whereas the third has become part and parcel of the political vocabulary of a generation.

“It’s the economy, stupid” became Clinton’s domestic policy assault on George Bush Snr’s foreign policy triumph - in the form of the first Gulf War.

John Howard today, like Bush Snr back then, to many looks unassailable.

But the truth of the matter is that John Howard is eminently beatable. Just as Bush Snr proved to be eminently beatable.

John Howard is beatable for a number of reasons. Politicians have learnt at their peril that the people do not have a permanent appetite for a political strategy which seeks to camouflage domestic policy shortcomings with foreign policy extravagance.

As we enter the middle year of the current electoral period, Labor’s challenge to John Howard is clear-cut:

• “It’s our schools, stupid”


• “It’s our universities, stupid”

• “It’s our hospitals, stupid”

• “It’s bulk billing, stupid”

• “It’s families under pressure, stupid”

And just as important now, “it’s the economy as well, stupid” as John Howard’s economic credibility cracks under the weight of Peter Costello’s record as Australia’s highest taxing Treasurer - and simultaneously the architect of successive budget deficits. In fact, the so-called natural Liberal ascendancy on the economy has started to come radically unstuck.

But there’s another dimension to John Howard’s vulnerability as well. And that vulnerability lies at the heart of what a number of commentators have seen as his central strength in the year just passed - namely his handling of the international agenda that the nation now confronts in determining its future.

Australia’s national security circumstances today are more difficult, arduous and dangerous than at any time in the last forty years since Indonesian Confrontation.

It would be mindless to suggest that somehow this is all John Howard’s fault. It is not.

John Howard is not to blame for September 11.

John Howard is not to blame for the particular circumstances of October 12.

Al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiah are the product of political, economic, social and religious factors beyond the control of any single government.

But where John Howard is culpable is in his response to these new challenges to Australian national security in our region, in our own neighbourhood, in our own backyard.

For while John Howard has had his eye firmly fixed on the grand strategy of the great powers in both Afghanistan and Iraq, the same cannot be said of the immediate security challenges we now confront within our own region.

Because the unwritten story of the last 12 months is that while John Howard has had his eye fixed on higher things, lesser things have been happening closer to home - lesser things, nonetheless, that have had a greater significance for the lives and livelihood of the Australian people.


Nobody disputes that Afghanistan is important. The Federal Opposition has supported the government’s policy on Afghanistan, al Qaeda and the Taliban to the hilt.

Nor does anyone dispute the importance of Iraq - although we have a different policy to that of the Government in terms of how to bring about Iraq’s disarmament.

But where the gap between us is greatest is closer to home: security at home; and security in the neighbourhood.

And so to the list of schools, universities, hospitals, bulk billing, families and the economy, I would also now add to the growing list of policy differences between the Government and the Opposition, a fundamental difference of foreign policy.

For Labor it’s as simple and as straightforward as this: “It’s the neighbourhood, stupid”.

And it is that theme I’d like to explore this evening.

The Centrality of National Security

The first and foremost responsibility of government is the maintenance of national security.

This is a responsibility, which, through the history of our federation, has transcended the political divide.

Labor, as Australia’s oldest political party, is familiar with the demands of national security. The Australian people turned to us at the outbreak of World War I. And they did so again not long after the outbreak of World War II. Much of the contemporary security policy architecture of this country is the product of previous Labor Governments: our alliance with the United States; our intelligence relationship with the allies; as well as the current force structure and operational doctrine of the Australian Defence Force.

Security also lies at the core of 21st Century Labor values. Labor today is committed to a secure Australia; a competitive Australia and a compassionate Australia. A big difference - but not the only difference - between our political opponents and ourselves is that we do not regard these as mutually exclusive propositions.

Labor believes we can be a secure country and a compassionate country.


Labor believes we can be a competitive country and a compassionate country.

For the conservatives, it is still a question of one or the other.

Labor is a party of national security. Just as we are a party of national economic management as demonstrated by our impressive record of economic reform under both Hawke and Keating. Just as we are a party of social equity.

Our political opponents, aided by some commentators, have sought to paint a picture that there is now some sort of national division of labor: they do security and economy at the national level; whereas we do social equity, social provision and service delivery at the State level.

The problem with this proposition is that it is fundamentally a-historic. It bears no relationship with Labor’s historic achievements in what they now describe as exclusively conservative domains.

Nor does it bear any relationship with the fundamental weaknesses in conservative policy and performance on both security and the economy.

Labor will win the next election not just because we will argue a better domestic program. Although that much will be made abundantly clear.

Labor will also win because bit by bit we intend to expose the fragility of the Government’s record on foreign policy, defence policy, security policy and the economy.

And the truth of the matter is that there is much to be exposed - just as we will have much to propose as well - by way of clearly articulated policy alternatives.

In summary, therefore, we argue that Howard is vulnerable both at home and abroad and it is in both these domains, not just the former, that we intend to paint a different vision for Australia’s future.

The New Threat Spectrum

To be fair to the Howard Government, Australia, as already noted, faces a more difficult and demanding threat environment than at any stage in the last 40 years.

Regrettably however for Australia, John Howard, rather than managing this threat environment, has compounded it.


This has been caused by the deterioration in the quality of our bilateral political relationships with the region - most particularly Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines - as well as the deterioration in our relations with ASEAN as a whole.

What we have seen is not an incremental deterioration. But in fact a quantum deterioration.

The countries in which this deterioration has been most acute are those where the terrorist threat to the region - and, as a consequence, the terrorist threat to Australians in the region - is at its greatest.

Australia’s threat spectrum, of course, is not simply limited to terrorism. Terrorism is an important part of the overall security policy challenge we face. But it is by no means the totality of that challenge.

Australia’s threat environment begins, as it has done for some decades, with the major unresolved territorial disputes of East and South Asia. The Korean Peninsula is today in a parlous and precarious state. Pyongyang’s policies are reckless. The threat of nuclear proliferation is real. Pyongyang’s defiance of both the IAEA and the rest of the international community is of itself a major threat to regional stability. It also potentially represents a threat to Australia given Pyongyang’s apparent possession of nuclear warheads and its current development of long-range missile delivery systems.

In South Asia, a truce of sorts has been reached between Pakistan and India over Kashmir. The situation, however, remains potentially explosive and it remains to be seen what precise impact recent Pakistani Parliamentary elections and the rise of Islamicist parties in those elections will have on Pakistan’s broader relationship with India - quite apart from the perennial flashpoint in Kashmir.

By contrast, the Taiwan Straits and conflicting territorial claims over the South China Sea seem positively stable by comparison. The strategic fundamentals, however, of the Taiwan Straits problem remain unchanged. China maintains its claim to sovereignty over Taiwan - a claim recognised by the international community including Australia. Taiwan, by contrast, both under former President Lee Teng-Hui and current President Chen Shui-Bian, have for some time now pursued a policy of incremental independentism - policies which will face their next major political hurdle at the Taiwanese Presidential elections due in March 2004.

From an Australian security policy perspective, all three of these territorial disputes (four if we include the South China Sea) involve nuclear weapons states. All three lie within our broader region. All three have a capacity to render significant impact on our economic and strategic partners within the


region. Just as all three have some capacity to directly impact on Australia’s security itself.

Beyond these territorial disputes in our broader region, however, Australia remains confronted with not just an “Arc of Instability” - but an Arc of Insecurity - across the Indonesia archipelago and the South West Pacific.

In Indonesia, the recent announcement of a peace settlement for Aceh is a welcome development. The same cannot be said for Papua, where the security situation appears to be deteriorating. Separatist activity is also apparent elsewhere in the archipelago. All of the above being compounded by Indonesia’s difficult economic circumstances post the Asian Financial Crisis - as well as the difficulties still being encountered in Indonesia’s post-1999 democratic transformation. Given these constraints, the Indonesian Government is doing remarkably well, although the challenges to domestic stability and security are great.

Recent political disturbances in East Timor underline the fragility of that nation’s domestic political arrangements as well. High levels of urban unemployment run the risk of creating within East Timor the sorts of problems which have been apparent for some time in a number of the microstates of the South West Pacific. Then there is also the perennial difficulty of the porous nature of the border between West Timor and the East and the continuing, critical role played by AusBat and NZBat in that region.

As for Melanesia proper, PNG, Vanuatu, the Solomons and Fiji have exhibited various forms of domestic instability for some time. Although the developments of the South Pacific are little reported in this country, it is there that we see most graphically the emergence of states under duress - and the associated failure of Australian diplomacy to deal with the fundamentals of the problem.

Both across the “Arc of Instability” and beyond it there is the broader problem of transnational crime and its corrosive impact on regional security. Unlawful people movements, the narcotics trade, the trade in guns, money laundering and organised crime have the capacity to subvert the stability of small states - as well as erode the stability of more established states.

And beyond transnational crime, there is the broader problem of economic security and environmental security, which, while they are not as visible as other more dramatic components of Australia’s threat spectrum, they are, nonetheless, no less real.

The emerging multidimensional nature of the threat spectrum that Australia confronts in the 21st Century will require a fundamental re-examination of the way in which Australia responds to our security policy environment. Both in


terms of how we analyse it. And also in terms of our allocation of budgetary resources to deal with it. As well as the composition of forces, both civilian and military, that will need to be deployed in order to give this effect.

The Terrorist Threat to Australia

If there is a unifying factor to the threat environment that Australia currently confronts, it is the centrality of the region.

Whether it is inter-state territorial disputes, a fragmentation of states from within, the proliferation of transnational crime or terrorism, the fundamental geo-strategic truth remains that the impact of these threats on Australian security is made manifest through our immediate region.

Nowhere is this more acute than in the case of terrorism - in its impact on our neighbours; its impact on Australians living, working and travelling in the territory of our neighbours; as well as the region itself forming a launching pad for the development of terrorist cells within Australia.

In other words, the region now, as in the days of Confrontasi, as in the days of the fall of Singapore, remains absolutely central to the nation’s strategic calculus.

There is no particular rocket science to this. It is, nonetheless, a strategic fundamental which appears to continue to elude the Howard Government.

Having positive diplomatic relations with governments of the region is not an end in itself. It is a means to an end. It is a means towards enhancing this nation’s security - just as it is a means towards enhancing this nation’s national economic interests. It is also a means to enhance the security and economic opportunities of our neighbours as well. Security and economic wellbeing are not zero-sum games. To a large extent, they are common enterprises in pursuit of common interests.

One such common interest shared by all governments across the region is the elimination of terrorism. The truth of the matter is that the governments of the region are as much under threat from terrorism as is the government of Australia. If not more so.

The brand of radical, militant Wahibism that is apparent in the operations of al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiah is a direct threat to the stability and security of mainstream Islam that underpins the Malaysian and Indonesian states.

If John Howard was not aware of this fact, surely his advisers could have made him so. Which makes it more unfathomable that Howard, confronted with the new reality of direct threats against Australians within the region


from Wahibism, could have concluded that it was smart to embark upon a new foreign policy doctrine aimed at alienating practically every single government within the region.

Rather than working with regional governments against the common enemy of terrorism, what we have had under John Howard instead is a government working against regional governments - somehow strangely believing that it can work against regional terrorism in the absence of cooperation from those governments.

Make no bones about it. The new Howard Doctrine of regional military pre-emption announced on 1 December - and from which this Prime Minister refuses to recant - represents Australia’s single greatest diplomatic disaster since the Vietnam War.

When this country needs all the friends it can get to fight the common fight against regional terrorism, what does John Howard do?

He embarks upon a course of action designed to make as many enemies as we can - thereby compounding our national security environment, rather than improving it.

This is diplomatic madness on a grand scale. It is the diplomatic equivalent of the Netherlands one day embarking on a campaign aimed simultaneously at alienating Germany, France and Britain.

Small countries are normally smarter than that. Perhaps John Howard doesn’t think that we are. Perhaps John Howard believes that as a nation of 19 million people next door to a neighbour of 230 million (90% of whom are Muslim) and as part of an immediate region in South East Asia of half a billion, not to mention a broader region of three billion, that we can seriously get into the business of throwing our weight around whenever we like.

By contrast, we argue that a self-evident component of our national security policy is to have the best relations with our neighbours as possible.

The New Terrorist Threat to Australia

The tragedy for the nation is that this erosion of Australian political capital across the region occurs at a time when we need to deploy that capital most in the common campaign against terrorism.

Make no mistake about it. Terrorism now represents a real threat to Australian national security interests - both for Australians within the region and Australians at home.


We confront a real threat. And we can ill afford to play politics with it.

Anyone doubting the dimensions of this threat should spend time reading the text of the excellent report by Dr Zachary Abuza of Simmons College in the United States on al Qaeda’s South East Asian Network. The Abuza report was first produced in February 2002, has been updated periodically since then, and was first made available to the Australian Embassy in Washington in August 2002.

The Abuza Report is a catalogue of the extensive network of al Qaeda cells across Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and elsewhere in South East Asia - not just in the course of the last twelve months, but over the course of the last half decade and more.

It is a stark account of how Australia’s security environment has radically changed under our noses under the national security policy stewardship of the Howard Government.

And the question that arises from this is how much the Howard Government was aware of this fact; how much should they have been aware; and what, if anything, did they do about it?

Al Qaeda began establishing cells in Indonesia as early as 1998/1999 - at which time they began working closely with Jemaah Islamiah. In June 2002, two top bin Laden lieutenants were dispatched to Indonesia as “part of a wider strategy of shifting the base of Osama bin Laden terrorist operations from the sub-continent to South East Asia”. Such were the conclusions of an Indonesian intelligence report on al Qaeda’s operations in that country - completed more than three months prior to the Bali bombing.

Moreover, the same report detailed the location, weaponry and possession of explosives by al Qaeda camps in the country. Quite apart from the National Intelligence Agency of Indonesia report of 9 July, in the period December 2001-August 2002 there were 67 separate people arrested across al Qaeda’s South East Asian network including those responsible for the planning of terrorist bombings in Singapore - including targets such as the Australian High Commission. Furthermore, there was the interrogation of Omar al Faruq in June/July 2002 where he admitted planning a range of September 11 anniversary attacks across South East Asia - including Indonesia. These attacks were apparently to include both military and commercial targets.

Whereas al Qaeda had been active in Indonesia for at least three years prior to Bali, al Qaeda had been active for a considerably longer period of time in both Malaysia and the Philippines. According to the Abuza Report, Osama bin Laden’s brother in law, Jamal Mohammed Khalifa, began establishing cells in the region as early as the early 1990s. In the late 1990s, al Qaeda appointed


Ahmed Fauzi to coordinate al Qaeda operations in South East Asia while based in Malaysia. In the meantime, another al Qaeda operative, Omar al Faruq, was dispatched to the Philippines.

According to Abuza, in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, al Qaeda’s pattern of behaviour from the mid-1990s on was not only to establish its own independent cells in those countries, but also to establish terrorist linkages with indigenous terrorist organisations - with Jamaah Islamiah in Indonesia, with the KMM in Malaysia as well as with the MILF and the Abu Sayef group in the Philippines.

By the time the Taliban and al Qaeda were being expelled from Afghanistan following the commencement of allied military activities there in late 2001, a well established al Qaeda network had been created across South- East Asia. Not only were there existing operatives in place within this network. To this number were added those fleeing the military activity in Afghanistan itself.

The whole point of this lengthy description of the relevant extracts from the Abuza Report is to demonstrate that prior to September 11, al Qaeda had established itself within our region. Subsequent to September 11, their numbers were augmented from al Qaeda’s base operations in Afghanistan. And furthermore, in Indonesia, the nature of their terrorist activities and targeting profiles were well-known to both Indonesian and Western intelligence three months prior to Bali.

So the key question to emerge is that at the time the Australian Government committed Australian troops to Afghanistan to eliminate al Quaeda in it’s base, what assessment did the Australian Government make of the likely threat to the tens of thousands of Australian civilians living, working and travelling in South-East Asia (specifically in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines) from al Qaeda branch operations in that part of the world?

Was it not reasonable for the Australian Government to conclude that if Australia was to embark militarily on a campaign to destroy al Qaeda in Afghanistan, did it not stand to reason that al Qaeda would seek to retaliate against Australian targets (both soft and hard) in South East Asia?

And the question further to arise from all of the above is whether any such Australian assessment of the enhanced threat to Australian civilians in South-East Asia in the twelve months following the October military action against Afghanistan found its way effectively through to Australian government travel advisories of the same period?


The Blick Report

One would have hoped that the recently concluded Blick Report (or at least its interim report) would have provided answers to these questions. Regrettably, the Blick Report does not.

The narrowness of the Blick Report’s terms of reference are extraordinary. They do not require Mr Blick to report on the totality of the Australian Government’s intelligence effort on the emerging threat from al Qaeda for the 12 months prior to the Bali bombing. In fact the adequacy of that intelligence advice has been assessed purely in terms of whether or not the Australian Government had prior knowledge of the specific bombing attack on Bali - specifically on October 12.

Furthermore, the Blick Inquiry contained no terms of reference to examine whether or not the intelligence assessment by Australia prior to the Bali bombing was ever effectively translated into the range of Australian Government travel advisories, embassy bulletins and global travel alerts issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in the twelve months following the commitment of Australian troops to the military campaign against the al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Despite repeated questioning in Parliament last week on these deficiencies, neither the Prime Minister nor the Foreign Minister were moved to allow the establishment of a full, open and independent enquiry into these outstanding questions.

What was remarkable is that neither Mr Downer or Mr Howard were moved to do so even following the release of a report by the British Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee which details failures in both Britain’s intelligence assessment of the threat to British nationals in South East Asia prior to the Bali bombing - as well as failures in the British Foreign Office’s dissemination of travel advisories.

The fundamental question remains, if neither the Prime Minister nor the Foreign Minister are prepared to act on their own accord on these outstanding questions, the Parliament itself will have no alternative but to act. In the absence of any further qualifying evidence, the Opposition reluctantly draws the preliminary conclusion that:

• As of October 2001, when Australia committed troops to destroy al Qaeda in its base in Afghanistan, Australians worldwide became targets of al Qaeda - but in particular Australians travelling in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines became targets of al Qaeda where that organisation had already been well-established over the previous three to five years;


• The Australian Government must have been aware of this emerging threat through the release of Indonesian Government intelligence analyses, the interrogation of al Qaeda and JI operatives in early to mid-2002 as well as other information sources (including the Abuza Report itself);

• Australians in South East Asia appear never to have been told that they had become al Qaeda’s explicit targets - and the possible objects of retaliation for Australia’s military participation in a campaign to destroy al Qaeda in its base in Afghanistan.

It appears from the evidence so far that the Howard Government in the twelve months following the military attack on Afghanistan did not have its eye firmly on the regional ball - i.e. on the direct regional ramifications for Australian interests arising from Australia’s participation in the broader western military campaign against the al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Rather than having its eye fairly and squarely on the regional ball, it seems that the Howard Government’s eye was instead on the more dramatic battle in Afghanistan - and then the looming battle in Iraq.

What appears to have been neglected in this process was the immediate security challenge to Australian interests in our own region, our own neighbourhood, our own backyard.

This is the uncomfortable truth to emerge from the events of the last few months.

It may be that these preliminary conclusions are fundamentally altered as further evidence comes to light. We leave open that possibility. But our ability to obtain any such further evidence is impeded by the Prime Minister’s decision not to provide the Inspector General of Security and Intelligence with sufficiently broad terms of reference to address these basic concerns in Mr Blick’s Inquiry.

Labor has been deliberately slow to judgement on questions of intelligence failure or whether the Australian travelling public were appropriately warned of the risks they faced.

But because the Prime Minister has proved to be intransigent in responding to repeated Opposition requests for Mr Blick’s terms of reference to be expanded, we believe the time has now come for the Opposition to act on its own account.

For these reasons, Labor has decided that in early 2003 an independent Senate inquiry will be established to examine the performance of the Australian


Government’s intelligence assessment of the threat to Australians in the twelve months after October 2001 - as well as whether the Australian travelling public were appropriately warned of these threats.

Regional Co-operation in the Campaign Against Terrorism and the New Howard Doctrine of Regional Military Pre-emption

One of the important things to emerge from Labor’s Senate inquiry will be the extent of Australian intelligence co-operation with regional governments in the twelve months prior to the Bali bombing.

In the period after the Bali bombing, however, it will be important to establish the nature of the co-operative effort between Australian and regional governments in the regional campaign against al Qaeda and associated local terrorist organisations.

Following John Howard’s most recent pronouncement of the new Howard Doctrine on regional military pre-emption, it will be important to establish the extent to which co-operative arrangements remain in place.

The pattern of regional reaction to Howard’s Doctrine of regional pre-emption is well known and does not really need to be repeated here.

Of particular concern, however, are public statements from both the Philippines and Malaysia about the possibility of those countries not proceeding with bi-lateral counter-terrorism agreements with Australia. This would create a significant operational problem in terms of Australia’s capacity to participate concretely in on-the-ground activities associated with the elimination of terrorism in the region.

We tend to forget that the Howard Doctrine of regional pre-emption follows on from an earlier diplomatic disaster in the government’s dealings with Indonesia. In the period immediately following the Bali bombing, Senator Hill, the Defence Minister, had already floated the possibility of Australian SAS troops being deployed unilaterally into Indonesia.

After appropriate protests from Jakarta, this was clarified to include the possibility of Australian SAS troops engaging in joint operations with Indonesia Kopassus against terrorist targets within Indonesia.

It has become plain since then that neither Senator Hill’s first nor his second statements of Australian Government policy on this matter were negotiated with the Indonesian authorities. In fact, it has become apparent that Defence Minister Hill was engaged in some ill-disciplined, foreign policy freewheeling of his own.


This diplomatic ineptitude on the part of the Howard Government runs a grave risk of undermining effective regional co-operation in dealing with the common problem of terrorism.

The tragedy for Australia is that it is precisely this level of co-operation that is necessary if terrorist organisations are to be effectively dealt with on the ground in South East Asia.

Any pretension that either the prospect or the reality of Australian unilateral action against the territory of regional states would solve the problem of regional terrorism is misplaced in the extreme.

Furthermore, it represents a fundamental misreading of how Australia could, by contrast, garner regional diplomatic support to deal with the terrorist problem.

John Howard’s views on this question are puzzling. Perhaps he is in possession of a “Cunning Plan” that is not readily apparent to the rest of us. Perhaps ultimately the Prime Minister’s view is that it doesn’t matter how much we unnecessarily offend our neighbours, that Uncle Sam will always come to the rescue. If the Prime Minister’s foreign policy advisors have not already done so, it would be useful if they acquainted him with Australia’s negotiations with the United States over Dutch New Guinea in the early ‘60s; the sobering observations contained in the Nixon Doctrine in the late 1960s and their emphasis on regional self-reliance for America’s allies; not to mention the subtle reminder of the same which the Prime Minister himself should be able to recall from his own dealings with the United States over the independence of East Timor in 1999 and his ill-fated call for, “American boots on the ground”.

Then again, perhaps the Prime Minister knows things that none of the rest of us are able to know - since his transfiguration from mere mortal to major statesman.

Foreign Policy and Domestic Politics

There is, I fear, a more basic explanation to the recent pronouncement of the new Howard Doctrine on regional military pre-emption. Put simply, the Prime Minister stuffed up. He did not mean to say what he said. That much was evident from Alexander Downer’s panicked attempts the following day to try and patch up the damage by saying repeatedly that military action in the region would only occur with the concurrence of regional states.

The Prime Minister, however, having stuffed up, was simply too proud to admit that he got it wrong. Remember, it took this Prime Minister more than a


decade to admit that his 1988 remarks on the need to reduce Asian immigration to Australia may not have been entirely wise.

So hang the foreign policy consequences. Hang the national security consequences. Hang the common campaign against terrorism within the region with the co-operation of regional states. A much higher national interest has been at stake in all of this - namely the personal political hubris of the Prime Minister.

Hubristic behaviour, however, was not the only human failing on display. It would have been more forgivable if it was.

Because the damage, after having been done, saw another factor kick into play as well. Namely the Prime Minister’s instinctive political impulse to extract every element of domestic political capital from the new Howard Doctrine that he had inadvertently proclaimed.

For the oldest political trick in the John Howard political repertoire is that of John Howard “standing up for Australia”.

Whether it is standing up against asylum-seekers.

Whether it’s standing up against the United Nations, the UNHCR or the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Or whether it’s simply standing up against foreigners in general - in particular those foreigners who make up the governments of our immediate region.

Hence the tawdry defence employed by the Prime Minister in support of his ham-fisted diplomacy in the region. Rather than explain the rationale for his new doctrine of regional military pre-emption, instead the Prime Minister’s simple response to criticism from the opposition was to accuse the opposition of, “siding with foreigners, against Australia”. How unpatriotic! How palpably political!

We should never forget that for the Howard Government, whether it’s “Hansonism”, Tampa, the first Howard Doctrine (on the Deputy Sheriff), or now the new Howard Doctrine (on regional military pre-emption), the central organising principle of John Howard’s foreign policy is that foreign policy is simply the continuation of domestic electoral politics by other means.

In polite society, in academic society, in professional society there is temptation to engage a normal debate about the merits or demerits of this Government’s foreign policy. I argue that for most of the time this is pointless - for the simple reason that most of the policies announced are not announced


as serious enterprises in foreign policy at all, but rather as a rolling exercise in key lines and themes directed by the Liberal Party Secretariat and Liberal Party pollster, Mark Textor, one of the undeclared, key driving forces in what passes for Australian foreign policy today.

To pretend that this reality does not exist is actually to miss the point.


Differences between Labor and the Government on the appropriate forms of regional engagement go back a long way.

However, these differences have been made absolutely stark by the events of the last several weeks.

They also bring into sharp relief the differences between Labor and the conservatives on an appropriate structure for Australian foreign, defence and national security policies.

For Labor, our international policy has always rested on three pillars: the alliance with the United States which we formed in 1941; our membership of the United Nations which we helped form in 1945; and our policy of comprehensive regional engagement which we initiated under Whitlam in 1972, a policy which prevailed for a quarter of a century before being placed in reverse by the current government.

Our conservative opponents, by contrast, do not have three pillars underpinning their approach to international policy. They increasingly exhibit a single pillar alone - and that single pillar is the alliance with the United States.

For Labor, international policy rests on the US, the UN and the region.

For the Coalition, it rests on the US, the US and the US.

On the US, Labor and the Coalition have different approaches; Labor has never seen the alliance as co-definitional with subservience.

On the UN, Labor believes in the United Nations system - despite its systemic faults.

The Coalition, by contrast, regards the UN as a piece of misty-eyed idealism ill-suited to the hard reality of global politics.

Labor also believes in regional engagement. But it is a belief based on hard-nosed, foreign policy realism.



Australia’s enduring national security interests demand a new approach.

They demand a professional approach to Australia’s enduring security policy challenges in the region - and Australia’s new security policy challenges as well.

This also requires an integrated approach to security policy of a type which the current machinery of government has not delivered - hence Labor’s new proposal for the establishment of an Office of National Security within the Prime Minister’s portfolio.

For the first time in the history of the federation, an Office of National Security would co-ordinate the threat analysis and resource allocation for a truly integrated Australian national security policy.

The time has come for such an approach.

Labor believes that our national security interests demand it.

National security interests which once again embrace the absolute centrality of our own region, our own neighbourhood, our own backyard in the formulation of an integrated Australian national security policy.