Since John Howard repelled refugees and committed Australia to the War on Terror in 2001, national security has dominated our foreign and defence policies – with the unquestioning consent of both major parties, like a wartime government of national unity. The “endless war”, the longest in our history, has made Australia a fortress, barricaded by some eighty-five pieces of national security legislation. Most ministers and opposition spokespeople stay safely below the parapets.
Debate, however, is awakening. In December 2018 the Australian Labor Party agreed to hold an inquiry into the war powers that enable our successive troop commitments to the Middle East. Outgoing ambassador to the United States Joe Hockey recently told Americans what he thinks about US protectionism. Penny Wong has been critical of the Coalition for its lack of long-term planning. Many in the commentariat suggest we need a review of the 2017 Foreign Affairs White Paper (which was to have provided “philosophical guidance” to last a decade). The prime minister made positive points about Australia–China relations before his talks with President Trump, after which he backtracked, advocated “negative globalism” – presumably referring to the UN General Assembly – and challenged China’s status as a developing country in the World Trade Organization. Foreign minister Marise Payne has since attacked China over human rights.