A Loyal Ally, But Not Unquestioning: Simon Crean

This is the text of a published article by the Leader of the Opposition, Simon Crean.

The article was published in The Australian and on the ALP website

Article by Simon Crean, Leader of the Opposition.

Simon Crean, Leader of the OppositionContrary to recent assertions by Greg Sheridan, (‘Trashing alliance just plain dumb’, The Australian, Opinion, July 4), there is no reflex anti-American position in Labor ranks – just a clear-headed sense of our national interests. No one on the Labor side is arguing for a diminution of our alliance relationship with the US.

The fact is, Labor strongly supports the alliance. It always has. It was the Labor governments of Curtin and Chifley that brokered the original alliance relationship in the 1940s. And it was Doc Evatt, as Labor’s foreign minister, who negotiated Australia’s inclusion in the 1947-48 UK-USA intelligence agreement, which has remained at the core of the alliance relationship for more than 50 years.

The alliance continues to enjoy the support of the two main political parties in Australia, both in government and opposition. It is one of the central planks of foreign policy bipartisanship in this country and under my leadership will remain so.

Labor unequivocally supports the US-led war on terrorism because this is a conflict in which the security interests of all democratic states are engaged. But our alliance with the US is not static or one-dimensional.

The economic context has changed sharply in recent years. Labor’s historic liberalisation of the economy from 1983 onwards and the general improvement in the regional security environment in East Asia from the mid ’70s has brought economic aspects of the alliance relationship into new perspective.

Despite US assurances of an intention not to target Australian interests, the frequency with which we have been adversely affected by US trade policy decisions has led to widespread concern in the Australian community. The recent US Farm Bill decision is the most prominent example.

But instead of being an articulate defender of Australia’s key national interests, John Howard appears unwilling or unable to argue Australia’s case to the US leadership.

Australia must continue to emphasise that it is not consistent or productive for the US simply to assert its free trade credentials while acting in a highly discriminatory and restrictive way, especially on agriculture.

There has been no greater supporter of the US-Australia alliance in recent times than Bob Hawke. Yet under the Hawke government, Australia was prepared to take on the US and the EU by setting up the Cairns Group to fight for our farmers and getting a good outcome on agriculture under the Uruguay round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. The Howard Government appears incapable of constructing a similar initiative to advance our national interests.

Neither has the Prime Minister done anything to help promote or define the interests of the Asia-Pacific region in the process of global trade liberalisation as part of the new Doha round of negotiations under the World Trade Organisation. Never fear, he says, because our reputation has never been higher.

The Prime Minister seems to think that we don’t need to bother ourselves with international diplomacy because we’re the “deputy sheriff” in this part of the world. But reputations are built on actions, not false assertions.

The problem is that Australia no longer has a genuine foreign policy. The Howard Government’s default position is to wait for others to put forward new ideas and new initiatives, but to do nothing to offer an independent view of the world.

Such an approach fundamentally misunderstands Australia’s diplomatic strengths and the expectations that the Australian people and our closest allies have of the government in Canberra.

The idea that there has to be a choice between Australia’s loyalty to the US alliance and independent policy thinking is a false dichotomy and should be exposed for the weak thinking that it is.

Labor believes that Australia must have an independently derived foreign policy, because this will enhance our standing in the US and contribute more to the kind of durable and flexible alliance relationship that we are seeking.

The US will clearly assign a higher value to an ally that is informed, engaged and committed to the same broad policy goals, rather than one that is compliant on virtually every aspect of foreign policy detail. Washington’s European and Asian allies regularly disagree with US policy approaches, on issues as diverse as climate change, the International Criminal Court and the Middle East, but no one questions their alliance credentials.

Independence within a strong alliance will be a hallmark of Australia’s foreign policy under a Crean Labor government. Other countries can walk and chew gum at the same time, so should we.

Sheridan’s argument about Labor’s alliance policy is just plain silly. On the one hand, he acknowledges those times in the Australia-US relationship where we have managed to defend our national interests but then criticises me for seeking to do the same thing.

Is Sheridan seriously suggesting that Australia should sign up to a bilateral Free Trade Agreement without getting a comprehensive deal on agriculture? Does he truly believe that Australia should automatically support pre-emptive military action in Iraq – outside the authority of the UN Security Council and in the absence of any credible information linking Baghdad to the events of September 11 or a renewed nuclear, chemical or biological weapons program?

In any alliance relationship there is a need for an acceptable and efficient balance to be struck between alignment and loyalty on the one hand and independent thinking and autonomous policy development on the other. Labor has delivered that balance in the past. Only Labor will deliver that balance in the future.

This article appeared on p.11 of The Australian, Opinion, Monday July 8, 2002. It also appeared on the ALP website.

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