As we mark the UN International Day of Peace today, Australians can look back together with satisfaction at the role our democratic government played in the establishment of the United Nations three-quarters of a century ago.
Emerging from the horrors of World War II, we made a commitment to the principle of world peace, declaring that the only way we achieve that vital goal is through co-operation, friendly relations, and mutual respect. Peace, we recognised, is found through fostering connections between peoples, and putting in the effort to understand each other.
This year, tragically, we mark the day after a shameful week in Australia's diplomatic history in which the Morrison government has done the opposite.
In announcing the purchase of nuclear submarines as part of the trilateral AUKUS security announcement with the US and UK, the Morrison government hawks stepped up a stance of military aggression against China - a move that has aggravated already tense relations.
As part of this move, the government tore up a $90 billion contract with the French government, apparently with no notice. Understandably, this has infuriated the government of a nation Australia has a long and close history with, leading to the recall of the French ambassador - a clear dressing-down for poor behaviour.
To add insult to injury, at the end of last week the Morrison government announced Brendan Pearson as Australia's new ambassador to the OECD - a man with zero diplomatic experience or expertise whose only claim to fame is that, as a staffer to Morrison and former chief executive of the Minerals Council, he supplied the lump of coal Morrison waved around in Parliament. The OECD is based in Paris, and its ambassador lives in the same complex as our ambassador to France. As the proud parents of the Paris climate agreement, the French will doubtless see this as another offence.
Unfortunately, it's not as though these actions are out of character for this government. It has isolated Australia in global climate negotiations. It has militarised our "Border Force". And, for some time now, Morrison, Peter Dutton, Mike Pezzullo, and their backers in the Murdoch media have been (incomprehensibly) beating the drums of war, deliberately aggravating China.
AUKUS and the submarine deal take this to a new level. Emeritus Professor Hugh White, former deputy director of the Department of Defence, has noted that the choice of nuclear submarines only makes sense if the intention is for Australia's navy to be operating at long distance, alongside US forces off the coast of China. If the intention were to defend continental Australia, smaller and cheaper submarines would be the choice.
On the International Day of Peace, let's make this obvious point clear: increasing aggressive posturing makes more war likely. We see it in our daily lives, in politics, in business, in international relations: aggression breeds aggression. Once you go too far down that route, it's very hard to step back from the brink. And war between the US and China, two nuclear-armed nations with enormous militaries, is unthinkable. Or should be.
In the face of an expansionist China, Australia should be redoubling our efforts at diplomacy. We should be building relationships of trust between citizens, through education, arts and trade. We should be using the trust we build to raise our concerns about China's human rights abuses, and cultivating coalitions to support democratisation in the world's biggest country We should be increasing foreign aid to build trust and respect across the region.
By taking an aggressive approach, supposedly in the name of national security, the Morrison government is making Australia and Australians less safe. By ditching the French deal and troubling neighbours like Indonesia over the prospect of a regional arms race, it's showing its careless disrespect for diplomatic relations. And by doing this with no reference to Parliament and no public debate, it is undemocratically putting us on a dangerous path.
Next to this, the OECD ambassadorship might seem like small fry. But it's not. A senior diplomatic role needs a senior and experienced diplomat. Instead, the Morrison government has appointed a coal lobbyist to try to stop the growing momentum towards applying carbon tariffs to Australian exports.
This can't be seen outside the context of the upcoming Glasgow climate summit, in advance of which UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is begging for greater trust. The Morrison government is playing a spoiler role on global climate action yet again. And, of course, climate is central to global interdependence.
The irony is that by appointing someone with no diplomatic experience, the government will be shooting itself in the foot. By boosting the coal industry, it might hasten its demise. But, if it succeeds in delaying climate action yet again, the victory will be even more destructive. It's a lose-lose for Australia.
It's this combination of bad faith and incompetence that really sets this government apart, and is hopefully setting it up to lose the next election. But is a change of government enough?
Labor governments have historically been far more committed to multilateralism, and careful and considered diplomatic relations. However, for too long, when it comes to anything labelled "national security", they too have gone along with whatever the Americans want. Other than a few words about compliance with the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, Anthony Albanese has backed the decision to present an aggressive military posture towards China.
Australia has to renew its commitment to peace. In a world of nuclear-armed militaries fronting up across the South China Sea, in a world increasingly destabilised by climate disruption, in a world of pandemics, we need the deepest possible commitment to cooperation and respect. We need to shake up politics, and bring more voices for peace to the table.
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