By The Rev’d Dr Noel Preston AM, Member of A Progressive Christian Voice
On October 3, 2019, the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, delivered a lecture to the Lowy Institute outlining his vision for Australia’s role in relation to what he called “globalism”.
On the surface, the tone of his speech was plausible and reasonable. But, on closer examination, his declarations, couched as they were in general terms, are disturbing for many Australians of goodwill who seek a better direction for our nation as an international citizen – including progressive Christians (to whom this response is primarily directed).
PM Morrison rejected what he described as “unaccountable international bureaucracy”, clearly a side swipe at the United Nations. There was no acknowledgement of the role prominent Australian leaders of the past played in establishing international forums which have defended peace along with human and environmental rights.
While rejecting “isolationism”, Mr Morrison opted instead for what he called “positive and practical globalism”. Moreover, ignoring his power and responsibility to lead the nation and inspire Australians to less self-centred policies, he insisted that he was “responsible to the will of the Australian people” (whatever that is) invoking that slippery term “the national interest” as his justification.
Throughout this bench-marking oration he did not once mention the issue of Global Warming and Australia’s responsibility to take a strong lead internationally, as life on the planet faces climate change. Interestingly, he did not repeat his recent assertion to a United Nations assembly: “We are meeting our commitments and reject any say to the contrary…” That dubious assertion was strongly disputed by experts as demonstrated on the ABC TV program “The Drum” on the 8th of October 2019.
Sadly, his silence about this number one global issue in the Sir Frank Lowy lecture speaks volumes about his unwillingness to prioritise a national strategy on the matter. Instead, the priority Mr Morrison espoused was “security through economic strength”, seemingly code for “business as usual”.
Furthermore, there was no mention of his government’s record (and that of recent governments of all persuasions) on matters such as our diminishing humanitarian overseas aid budget or border protection with its unnecessarily cruel policies. Clearly, he was asserting, the Australian government will not listen to “unaccountable” international bodies who justifiably accuse Australia of violating human rights.
That said, the lecture also, presumptuously, invoked Australia’s “higher values”, presumably the tradition we share with other middle powers like Canada and New Zealand. Arguably, these nations with whom we share much history apply values that promote a somewhat different stance toward “globalism”.
The content of the Prime Minister’s speech is all the more disturbing when set in its context.
Clearly, it was fashioned and delivered against the background of his recent international tour which included his absence at the UN Climate Conference in New York, but an elaborate State visit to Trump’s USA (and it is President Trump who has given currency to this term, “globalism”). Of course, the context is wider: China’s rise to power, Vladimir Putin’s nationalistic style and the UK’s Brexit push.
These geo-political shifts provide a reason for the Prime Minister to clarify Australia’s approach to international affairs but they also emphasise the need for caution, lest Australia fall into line with the mood for regressive nationalism.
Finally, in my view, people of Christian faith and all those who share a hope for the common good, cannot avoid the conclusion that, as he has become a custodian of great political power, the Prime Minister’s loudly proclaimed Christian faith has evaporated in the years since he delivered a testimony to that faith in his maiden speech.
Understood prophetically and progressively, Christianity, along with other like worldviews, believes the interests the global community of life are paramount. It will be up to civil society in Australia, including strong advocacy by religious leaders, guided by a different understanding of globalism, to push back and sound a different note. Otherwise, we will continue to slide further from authentic international responsibility toward a narrow and self-focussed national interest.