Former prime minister Kevin Rudd has lashed members of the Liberal party for whipping up national hysteria over China, describing outspoken backbencher Andrew Hastie as "post-pubescent" and warning of a descend into "neo-McCarthyism".
Mr Rudd said Mr Hastie's recent comments had poured "a whole lot of petrol" onto what had always been "a complex and difficult relationship" between Australia and its largest trading partner, while blaming former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull for tensions.
"I'm always cautious about post-pubescent politicians ... or pre-pubescent in his case, I'm not sure, the best way to make a name for yourself within the raging beast of Australian conservatism is to whack the Chinese on the head," Mr Rudd told the Canberra Writers Festival on Friday.
Mr Hastie - who chairs the parliament's intelligence and security committee - has warned of an erosion of "our sovereignty and our freedoms", likening the world's approach to containing Beijing's military expansion to the "catastrophic failure" to prevent the rise of Nazi Germany.
Mr Rudd condemned the backbencher for deploying "egregious language in dealing with a very proud political culture".
"The Liberal Party has a very bad history of using core foreign policy questions for domestic political gain or internal party management," he said.
"There is a more balanced and rational way through managing what is a difficult relationship, a complex relationship, rather than turning it into a page one headline."
He accused Mr Turnbull of going "all hairy-chested" on China as prime minister, blaming the current diplomatic "freezer treatment" being applied to the government as a direct result of an "offensive" speech given by Mr Turnbull in 2017.
Mr Turnbull had invoked a Chinese slogan in the speech, in which he spoke in both Mandarin and English - saying "the Australian people stand up" - while announcing legislation aimed at curbing foreign interference.
"You could not pick a single more offensive phrase," Mr Rudd, who is president of the Asia Society Policy Institute based in New York, said.
But he was frank about China's ambition to "change the global rules-based order" to make it more compatible with the authoritarian regime's values.
"They believe the Chinese Communist Party is sustainable for the long term - and that our Western democratic project may not be sustainable," Mr Rudd said.
"They see themselves as sitting on a reasonable glide path to the future."
He said China saw the "dysfunction" playing out in Trump's America and the European Union as confirmation that the West was flailing.
Mr Rudd said Prime Minister Scott Morrison seemed to understand the need to develop a balanced relationship with China.
"There are number of things he has said, a number of things that he has done, which to me suggests that is what he is trying to do," he said.
"Consistent with that, he is seeking also to bolster Australian bilateral relationships in southeast Asia."
He urged Mr Morrison to make enshrining an Indigenous voice to Parliament in the Constitution his legacy as prime minister, dismissing claims it represented a de-facto third chamber of Parliament as "just bullshit".
Mr Rudd said the Coalition must be prepared to sacrifice its surplus in favour of economic stimulus if needed to respond to a coming recession.
Asked why Labor lost the federal election, he said the Australian public "rightly or wrongly" did not like Bill Shorten.
Unveiling "complex" tax and retirement policy changes from opposition had been a fatal mistake, he said, but rejected the suggestion that taking a bold reform agenda to the polls was now off limits.
- SMH/The Age