Making Trouble: Essays Against the New Australian Complacency


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Four risks to the alliance

It is accompanied by Section 18D, which seeks to protect the fundamental importance of freedom of speech. Section 18D does this by ensuring that artistic works, scientific debate, and fair comment or reporting on a matter of public interest are exempt from being held in breach of Section 18C — provided that they are said or done reasonably and in good faith. It is one of the few legislative provisions in Australia that provides an explicit protection of freedom of speech. The process of introducing these racial vilification provisions was neither hasty nor unconsidered. It came about as a result of rising concern about racism in Australian society during the late s and early s.

It came about in response to a series of organised racist violence against ethnic communities, and serious complaints from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples about systemic discrimination. For example, the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, which made its final report in , called for legislation to recognize that language can itself be a form of violence. It is perhaps a sign of social progress that the circumstances in which racial vilification laws were introduced can be so quickly forgotten.

But we should be disabused of any notion that racism has disappeared — that any need for a legislative response to racial vilification is now gone. In the past financial year, the Australian Human Rights Commission has received a 59 per cent increase in the number of complaints lodged on the grounds of racial hatred under Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Let me say this. We would be foolish to ignore the lessons of history. We would be hasty to belittle the ongoing task of combating prejudice and intolerance.

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If the history of our federal racial vilification laws is not well known, the manner in which they operate is also subject to considerable misunderstanding. Nor does everyone understand that any complaint about a breach of the law under Section 18C leads not to a court case in the first instance, but in an attempt by the Australian Human Rights Commission to conciliate between the complainant and respondent parties.

Only if conciliation fails, can the matter be referred to a federal court. This happens only rarely.


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For example, during , the Commission successfully conciliated 53 per cent of its complaints concerning racial vilification; only 3 per cent of cases made it to court. Nor does everyone understand that it is very difficult to contravene racial vilification provisions. This is because the exemptions provided by Section 18D are broad in nature. Offensive cartoons have been found by the courts to be artistic work exempt from a breach of Section 18C. The relevant test is an objective one, not a subjective one.

This brings me to the purpose of racial vilification laws. As they currently exist in Australia, such laws seek to ensure that everyone in our society enjoys freedom from racial vilification as well as freedom of expression.

Making Trouble: Essays Against the New Australian Complacency by Robert Manne | Albert Park

In another respect, the law provides a statement about the civic or public harms caused by racial vilification. Covering only those acts that are done in public, they are not concerned with private purposes or with individual hurt as such. They are concerned, rather, with protecting the conditions necessary for justice in a multicultural society.

Australia is by no means alone as a society that has enacted legislation against racial vilification. In all cases, though, the rationale of laws against racial vilification is basically the same: the law in a liberal democratic society must make an assurance that members will enjoy a right to equal dignity.

Some may well say that dignity is too vague a concept. But all of us know enough to know what dignity is and when it is being denied to another. Those who say that victims of racist speech should simply develop a thicker skin — that confronting it will only make them stronger — are almost inevitably those who have never felt the sting of being treated like a second-class citizen. Philosophically, we may say that dignity is inherent in the human person — and so it is. But as a social and legal status, it has to be established, upheld, maintained, and vindicated by society and the law, and this At the very least, we are required in our public dealings with one another to refrain from acting in a way that is calculated to undermine the dignity of other people.

Clearly, dignity is not only about status. It is also about treatment: to treat someone with dignity is to treat that person with the proper respect. That they have every right to enjoy the security and freedom that all others may enjoy. Although offset by periodic rehousing initiatives for long-term street homeless, five-year increases in the municipalities of Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide have exceeded the national trend.

This was especially true in Melbourne. As our report this year highlights, many policies, or policy failures, are implicated in these trends. These include:. Such developments are critical in a housing market where, by international standards, subsidised social housing provision is minimal. The geographical pattern of recent homeless changes shows the housing market is driving these changes. Our report finds increases in homelessness have generally been much more rapid in capital cities. Non-metropolitan areas have recorded much lower growth rates, or even reductions.

In another pointer to housing market impacts, increases in homelessness have tended to be higher in the large eastern states. These are the states where economies and property markets have been relatively strong over the past few years. In South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia, where these factors have been less evident, the rate of homeless growth has been lower. Despite these stark trends, recent Australian governments, while footing the bill for homelessness services rising well ahead of inflation, have presided over cuts in social and affordable housing.

Read more: Australia needs to reboot affordable housing funding, not scrap it. An increasingly underfunded social and affordable housing system leads to a burgeoning homelessness support system. This is an Australia-US alliance worthy of the 21st century, and of the peoples of two proud nations that give it such active life. A sk any American foreign policy official to list the strongest US alliances, and the one with Australia will be without hesitation at or near the very top.

It seeks like-minded partners to maintain a balance of power and bolster existing rules across the Indo-Pacific region. And it benefits from longstanding allies who combine the will and capacity to join American military efforts and deter threats from emerging. In all of this, Australia is almost singularly attractive. It is tightening its web of security ties, including with American allies and partners, and seeks to enhance the already-close defence and intelligence links with the United States.

And it shares both US concerns about the long-term evolution of the Indo-Pacific region and a commitment to uphold the rules-based order that has benefitted both countries. The result is that Australia may today figure more prominently in the thinking of American policymakers than at any time since the Second World War. Such a convergence, however, should drive ambition rather than complacency. For all its successes, the alliance has not been tested — at least since the Vietnam War — in the region where it matters most.

This paper explores some of those choices and identifies a series of mid- to long-term risks to the alliance. The aim in outlining such potential difficulties is to raise awareness among policymakers in Canberra and Washington who are rightly enthusiastic about recent accomplishments and new possibilities, but who often exhibit insufficient attention to the inevitable future dilemmas. Only by directing bilateral discussions at specific risks can the two countries take meaningful steps to mitigate them before they arise.

The paper then explores several areas of possible cooperation between the United States and Australia. These areas — ranging from space and defence collaboration to strengthening ties with Indonesia and New Zealand to advances on trade — would further the economic and security interests of both countries and draw them still closer together. The paper then concludes with some principles that a new US administration and any new Australian government would do well to keep in mind.

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The spirit in which this paper is written, and which one hopes animates both governments, is one of confidence without complacency. Australia and the United States share democratic political values, key national interests and a conviction that the rules-based international order is worth defending. Both countries possess the will and the capacity to act beyond their shores for the common good and a history of taking on challenges together.

And yet to grow comfortable is to invite danger. By addressing risks before they mature and continually pursuing new opportunities, Washington and Canberra can strengthen and prolong their unique bond — one that has done so much for so many. It is often remarked — but still remarkable — that only Australia has fought alongside America in every major US conflict over the past century.

Today the two governments enjoy extraordinarily close defence and intelligence ties, backed by patterns of cooperation that stretch across numerous operating theatres. The US and Australian militaries are highly interoperable, with shared technology and experience training and exercising together. In an exceptional demonstration of allied ties, a two-star Australian army general, based in Hawaii, today has direct command of American troops.

For all the enthusiasm behind it, it is worth remembering that the alliance is not an end in itself but a means. The rationale for it on the American side is straightforward.

Ties with Australia anchor the US presence in the southern Pacific and Indian Ocean, areas of increasing strategic competition and interest to Washington. Australia offers territory for training and prepositioning that is close enough to Asia to be geographically relevant, but still out of range of most Chinese anti-access and area denial defence capabilities. And Australia is a highly reliable ally, joining American efforts in countless military contingencies and diplomatic efforts. The Australian rationale is different but similarly clear.

Since the Vietnam War, the alliance has focused mostly outside of the Pacific, and the past fifteen years have seen a particularly intense tempo of allied operations in the greater Middle East. Australian and American troops then fought together in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Australia was the first country to support the American military campaign against ISIS, dispatching some troops.

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Australian troops are training Iraqi security forces on the ground, and an Australian brigadier serves as deputy commander of the land force in Iraq. Challenges to regional security in Asia continue to mount. China couples rising assertiveness with a military modernisation effort that directly impacts US and allied defence capabilities.


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  • North Korea is ever erratic, routinely testing missiles and nuclear weapons, and terrorism is an ever-present challenge across the region. Add to this mix the trafficking of narcotics, piracy in the maritime domain, the rising proliferation of cyber attacks, and the need to respond to large-scale natural disasters, and the Asian demands on allied attention and resources are high and mounting.

    At the same time, the strategic environment is changing. W hile the Australia-US alliance generates benefits on a daily basis, enthusiastic policymakers on both sides have failed systematically to analyse and address a series of mid- to long-term risks to it. Not all of these risks are equal in magnitude or probability, and they range from the potentially existential a permanent Chinese wedge between the two countries to the temporary but still possibly significant an economic downturn.

    Policymakers should turn their attention to them, and to considering whether and how each might be mitigated. A third of Australian exports go to China, a higher percentage than any other G20 country, and China buys more than half of its exported iron ore.

    Against complacency: risks and opportunities for the Australia-US alliance

    But the overall pattern of economic dependence remains asymmetric. Others add Australian neutrality to the mix of options. Yet such an overarching strategic choice is not one that even the United States would make. Washington too has a complex relationship with Beijing that mixes areas of cooperation, such as trade and investment, climate change, Afghanistan peace efforts and Iranian nuclear diplomacy, with fierce competition, such as in the East and South China Seas and in the cyber domain. An all-or-nothing China choice would damage both Australian and American interests.

    It is also untrue that Australia can avoid choosing at all. The tension between its American alliance and its Chinese economic ties poses a genuine set of dilemmas. Instead of a definitive choice between the two, Australia will face many, more modest choices in response to specific issues and at particular moments. And if they are handled poorly, even these more modest choices threaten to drive a wedge between the United States and Australia. They may also undermine Australian security and foreign policy independence — both depend on a balance of power in the Indo-Pacific that prevents China from coercing Canberra or the partners important to it.

    This balance requires a strong, active and regionally connected Australia to contribute to its maintenance. While no list would do justice to the full range of possibilities, it is worth considering three related, but distinct, sets of challenges in which such tensions might play out.

    This may be close at hand. Officials have routinely urged all claimants to resolve their disputes peacefully, and noted that Australia would continue to exercise its rights to freedom of navigation and overflight, and support others as they do the same. The exchange generated nothing more than rhetorical heat, but it represented the kind of difficult trade-off that Australia may well face in the future. It might seek to fly through any air defence identification zone established by Beijing in the South China Sea; China has already protested even the continuation of existing Australian P-3 surveillance flights out of Malaysia.

    And yet in , then-prime minister Tony Abbott quickly and publicly denied that the government was even contemplating the placement of B-1 long range strike bombers in Australia, as a senior Pentagon official had suggested. China has warned Australia against such deployments, and it is conceivable they could object even to the continued rotation of existing bombers. In such cases, it is entirely possible to imagine Australian policymakers weighing the potential economic punishment that could result from the appearance of siding against China or with the United States; indeed, it would be irresponsible for Australian leaders not to take such matters into consideration.

    Washington, for instance, has expressed displeasure with the decision to grant a year lease for the port of Darwin, nearby the deployment of US Marines, to a Chinese firm. None of these differences amounted to much friction between the allies, but disagreement on a more important matter — for example, whether to one day impose economic sanctions on China over its South China Sea activities, how hard to push Beijing to restrain North Korean provocations, or the best allied responses to Chinese cyber attacks — could split them in damaging ways.

    In this, Australia would be required to choose sides. Should China choose to build up and then militarise Scarborough Shoal off of the Philippine coast, for example, it is unlikely but possible that an eventual clash between Chinese and American naval vessels could result.

    Similarly, one could envision the United States coming to the military aid of its Japanese ally during a flare-up over the Senkaku islands. If Washington at that point called on Australian support, whether maritime or even intelligence in nature, Canberra would face an unavoidable choice between the United States and China. Already, differences exist in the amount of risk each ally is prepared to absorb in its relations with Beijing. More important is determining ways to mitigate the risks.

    There are several avenues of approach. Understand the specific vulnerabilities. The same goes for Australian leverage; Canberra requires a better understanding of how its own exports of critical commodities and other goods to China might represent a source of countervailing pressure if necessary. Only when armed with a more granular level of understanding can policymakers and business leaders determine where the risks are greatest and how to mitigate them.

    The critical intertwining of the Chinese and Australian economies has become conventional wisdom across the Australian business sectors in public discourse. And yet other countries represent important drivers of Australian prosperity. Frankly discuss the appetite for risk. Australians — and where appropriate, their American allies — need to engage in honest conversation both publicly and privately about how much risk they are willing to assume in order to help push back against Chinese actions.

    This discussion begins with an assessment of vulnerabilities and benefits but does not stop there. Washington policymakers should not assume that Australia will automatically join efforts that may undermine its economic prosperity, while Canberra should appreciate the distinctions between the competitive and cooperative aspects of the US-China relationship. It may, for example, be the case that Australia needs to react more strongly than Beijing expects to its incremental actions, even if that reaction invites economic punishment.

    Only when tested in this way can Australia demonstrate that any future Chinese coercion will not automatically prevail. In this discussion, it is worth recalling the view of a legendary Singaporean diplomat with long experience dealing with China.

    Making Trouble: Essays Against the New Australian Complacency Making Trouble: Essays Against the New Australian Complacency
    Making Trouble: Essays Against the New Australian Complacency Making Trouble: Essays Against the New Australian Complacency
    Making Trouble: Essays Against the New Australian Complacency Making Trouble: Essays Against the New Australian Complacency
    Making Trouble: Essays Against the New Australian Complacency Making Trouble: Essays Against the New Australian Complacency
    Making Trouble: Essays Against the New Australian Complacency Making Trouble: Essays Against the New Australian Complacency
    Making Trouble: Essays Against the New Australian Complacency Making Trouble: Essays Against the New Australian Complacency

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