Meet Australia’s New Prime Minister

Australia looks primed to turn its focus away from Britain and America and toward Asia. Here’s why this is a dangerous idea.
From the February 2008 Trumpet Print Edition

Australians just booted one of the world’s strongest national leaders and awarded a landslide electoral victory to an untested man with questionable ideas.

Several news outlets described the Nov. 24, 2007, election as a “humiliating defeat” for Prime Minister John Howard. His long political career came to an end as he lost not only at the hands of the Australian electorate but also became only the second prime minister in Australian electoral history to lose his own local constituency in the process.

The Australian press and mainstream media had followed their usual pattern of pointing to social issues to argue for governmental change. They appealed to Aussie liberals to vote for trying to cool the planet down. They urged workers to seek more money from the coffers of Australia’s booming commodities markets. Clearly, campaign mistakes made by John Howard and some of his supporters helped Rudd to forge ahead in public opinion. Still, these were among the big issues on voters’ minds this election.

In his first few days in office, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd didn’t disappoint them. He immediately reversed Australia’s policy on climate change by signing the paperwork to ratify the Kyoto Protocol; he approved a proposal for same-sex unions in the Australian Capital Territory, opening the way for the nation’s first homosexual-union ceremonies; he promised to implement workplace “reforms,” which will reverse the industrial relations laws Prime Minister Howard put in place to limit the power of trade unions; and he initiated discussions to hasten a formal statement of apology on behalf of the nation to Aborigines for the so-called stolen generations.

Thus we saw outlined the bold course Australia will take in the time ahead: one that panders to political correctness, trashes tradition and denies history.

These same characteristics mark Rudd’s approach in another policy arena certain to have a far greater impact on his nation’s future—the policy area that, given the state of the globe today, should have headed the bill in this election. Yet it is in this area that the new prime minister is dangerously untested: international relations.

Prime Minister Howard recognized an important reality: that, given Australia’s location at the rump of Asia, the nation’s most valuable alliances lie with other nations—though geographically distant—rooted in the same history, culture, religion, language, democratic traditions and national character as its own. Kevin Rudd is far more enamored with the prospect of anchoring his nation to its Oriental neighbors.

This single difference between these two men has enormous implications.

We are about to witness a perilous shift in Australian politics.

Severing Ties With the Crown

One of Rudd’s campaign promises was to hold a vote on severing Australia’s link with the British monarchy. “We’re going to consult the people again,” he said, alluding to a failed attempt to do this in 1999. “I think the time will come before too much longer when we do have an Australian as our head of state.”

Rudd was speaking of the fact that, right now, Elizabeth ii serves not only as the Queen of the United Kingdom, but also as Queen of Australia. Rudd’s victory was viewed as a public endorsement of his desire for Australia to rid itself of its ties to the Crown and to become an independent republic. “The Queen faces the chop,” ran a post-election headline in the UK’s Sunday Mirror.

Indeed, when he was sworn into office by the Queen’s representative, Governor-General Michael Jeffery, Rudd broke a decades-old tradition by refusing to swear allegiance to the monarch.

It’s important to understand what is at stake in this long-running debate.

Throughout its century of existence as a constitutional monarchy, Australia has enjoyed remarkable political stability, and the Crown has been no small part of the reason for that. “The Queen may be a purely formal figurehead,” explained Kenneth Minogue in the National Review some years ago, “but she constitutes the formal unity of Australia. To be an Australian citizen is to be a subject of the Queen” (Dec. 31, 1995). With remarkable grace, Queen Elizabeth ii’s presence has drawn together Australia’s diverse political—and, increasingly, ethnic—groups into a single, cohesive nation.

Many have lauded the benefits of Australia’s present form of governance for taking the best that democracy has to offer and melding it with the safeguards against political corruption inherent in the monarchical system. Prime Minister Howard was one. An avowed supporter of the Queen’s sovereignty over Australia, he appears to be the last of his kind with such influence in the government.

The push to separate from the Crown has come mostly from white intellectuals who hate Britain. Arguments center on an apparent need to gain respect among other nations (particularly those in Asia); they rely upon manufactured grievances the monarchy has supposedly caused Australians. As of a few years ago, however, the majority of the public wasn’t buying it. Regarding the failed 1999 referendum, Andrew Roberts wrote, “For all that Australia’s republicans had long argued that it was offensive to compel newly immigrated Australians to swear allegiance ‘to an elderly Englishwoman, for the most part resident in Berkshire,’ in fact many Greek, Italian and Vietnamese-born Australians were not only perfectly happy to do so, but voted in large numbers to retain the Queen as their head of state, rightly seeing her sovereignty as a guarantee of the political stability that they badly wanted in their new home” (A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900).

But eight years have passed, and it appears attitudes have shifted. A poll conducted by the Australian in January 2007 found that 45 percent of Australians would favor decoupling from Britain, compared to only 36 percent who want to keep the monarchy (19 percent are uncommitted). These numbers reflect the increasing degree to which Australians are addled by political correctness, ignorant of their nation’s history, and indifferent about anything so apparently outmoded as the throne of Britain.

An organization called Australians for Constitutional Monarchy correctly asserts that becoming a republic would gain nothing in the way of independence—the Queen is already very hands-off in the political affairs of the nation—and lose much in the way of national unity, identity and heritage. The organization’s charter calls the drive for governmental change “unnecessary, irrelevant, divisive and distracting.”

To take one example, relations with Australia’s Aboriginal population are a festering problem involving thorny issues of sovereignty and land ownership. In the event that Australia becomes a republic and ultimate power shifts away from within a far-off palace and into a politician’s office in Canberra, it is not difficult to imagine how the erosion of Australia’s formal unity could turn an already ugly situation into a nightmare. Rudd hopes to resolve the issue with a formal apology to the Aborigines, but it is difficult to believe their demands will be satisfied by something so intangible—and so indicative of the government’s willingness to appease.

The prospect of republicanism has several such easily foreseeable problems. It is a movement ostensibly intended to increase national pride and patriotism—yet is built on a foundation of contempt for Australia’s heritage. To think that a stronger, more united nation can emerge after trashing the very thing that has united Aussies for over two centuries is to profoundly misunderstand human nature.

That Australia’s new prime minister is eager to turn his back on Britain’s monarchy exposes a deep lack of understanding of the importance of this institution to Australia’s past, present and future. (If you are interested, you can gain an excellent start at understanding it yourself by visiting theTrumpet.com to read the Trumpet’s April 2007 cover story, “The Inspiring Story of Britain’s Royals.”)

Eroding the Alliance With America

As shallow as Prime Minister Rudd’s regard for Britain is, his appreciation for Asia is deep. He once served as a diplomat to China and speaks fluent Mandarin. cnn reported that he “would seek a broader engagement with China that goes beyond the booming energy and resources trade at the heart of current Australia-China relations” (Nov. 22, 2007). In fact, Rudd has stated his goal is to “transform Australia into the most China-literate and Asia-literate economy in the Western community of nations.”

Australia’s economy has always been based on raw materials. Lately, however, withering drought has rendered much of its agriculture inactive—a huge blow to the economy. But this comes at the tail of another, larger trend: Asia, undergoing an unprecedented economic expansion, is gobbling up Australian resources. Today we see a longstanding trade relationship with Japan being challenged by one with China, a nation bursting with economic energy. China’s demand for Australian raw materials, its iron and steel, its uranium and natural gas, grows every year. On top of that, Russia has also entered the competition, particularly for Australia’s iron ore and uranium. Russia’s entry as a customer for Australia’s yellowcake gives the Aussies three booming Eastern economies—China, India and Russia—seeking their uranium deposits. The rise in commodity prices resulting from this heavy demand has substantially greased the gears of Australia’s economy.

Yet there is a danger here. Australia is becoming hugely dependent on raw materials contracts. If a major hiccup were to halt the growth of its Eastern trading partners (like the great East Asian meltdown that happened in the 1990s), much of the economic gains that Australia has experienced over the past decade could be wiped away overnight. In the event of a commodity slump, Australia lacks a fall-back position.

Given the thirst for its raw materials from the masses to its north, the question of Australia’s national security is one that any responsible government should place at the top of its agenda. Australia simply doesn’t have adequate means—in population or military might—to defend its vast territory alone against incursion from the north.

A policy of increased engagement with Asia is apparently meant to head off this potential problem. Of course, the success of this strategy—quite unlike the one John Howard pursued—rests upon faith in the long-term goodwill of nations possessing histories, cultures, religions, languages, governing traditions and national characters that are entirely different from those of Australia.

But the new government proposes to do more than strengthen ties with Asia as it turns its back on Britain and knocks out a pillar of national unity in the process. Another campaign promise the new prime minister has begun working to fulfill is that of withdrawing Australia’s highly efficient combat troops from Iraq by mid-2008.

Thus, where Prime Minister Howard became arguably President George W. Bush’s staunchest ally in the “war on terror,” placing his nation in a strong position to receive help from the U.S. in the event of any foreign threat of aggression, the new prime minister has committed himself to doing the opposite.

The wisdom in such a move is highly questionable. The high that Australians are enjoying thanks to the boom in China and greater Asia may well be a fool’s paradise. Massive changes are reordering the balance of power in the Pacific. Two powers presently eye each other as prospective replacements for ebbing U.S. power there: Japan—possessing a blue water navy second only to that of America—and China, possessor of most of the Pacific’s major sea ports. Both nations carry a huge amount of U.S. debt at present. And watching the foreign policies of these two nations are India, which is rapidly building its own naval force, and Russia, which is revitalizing its rusting Soviet-era hulks and adding new naval hardware to its nuclear fleet.

There’s one other factor in the Pacific equation. It involves a power that is firmly entrenched in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean regions—a power that has quietly established a bridgehead in Australia as a launching platform for investment in the great Asian market. The European Union, largely thanks to German investment, is becoming a powerful player in the Pacific. As America’s influence in the Pacific shrinks, watch for competition and alliances to build between the main Asian nations and the EU in an effort to fill the vacuum.

Where does all this leave Australia? The simple fact is, without the military strength of the U.S. in the Pacific, the land Down Under could be up for grabs by any alliance of powers to its north. At this crucial time of global political disorder, Aussies can ill afford to turn inward and sacrifice national vigilance for the hedonistic way of life their economy presently enables. Any erosion of American influence in the Pacific region could prove extremely dangerous to Australia—witness World War ii.

But the old soldiers who remember past conflicts that were fought over access to raw materials have almost all now gone to the grave. Australians may still put on a great show of remembering their fallen every Anzac Day, but few remain who remember the circumstances that led to the last great global conflict and its terrifying results.

These are enormous issues to remain attuned to in the time ahead. Prime Minister Rudd’s first year in office will be crucial. Watch, in particular, for any change in the Australia-U.S. alliance that could tip the balance of power in the Pacific against this—up to now—most “Lucky Country.”

The Setting Sun

The stands that John Howard took on these matters—foremost among them his alliances with Britain and America, manifested in his commitment to retaining the monarchy and supporting the “war on terror”—became more and more unpopular, and in the end surely contributed in part to his political downfall.

We would do well to remember that. Because the time will come, probably sooner rather than later, when Australia’s departure from those positions will become great enough to start having a noticeably adverse effect on Australia’s fortunes. As is often the case in politics, what are advertised as the cures for the nation’s ills are guaranteed to make them many times worse.

In addition, Howard’s “humiliating defeat” may be an early warning signal of which direction the political winds might blow this November on the other side of the Pacific. As in Australia, major U.S. media outlets are pressing hard for a shift toward a more liberal administration. After Australia’s election, the New York Times gleefully noted that “Mr. Howard’s defeat, after 11 years in power, follows that of José María Aznar of Spain, who also backed the United States-led invasion of Iraq, and political setbacks for Tony Blair, who stepped down as Britain’s prime minister in June” (Nov. 25, 2007). This sentiment echoes that of so many who are eager to see the Bush administration and its policies go down in flames.

What they don’t seem to realize, however, is that we are witnessing the demise of far more than just a single policy or prime-ministership. We are also witnessing the fracturing of a vital trans-Pacific alliance, which will leave both America and Australia the weaker for it. We are, in fact, witnessing the sunset of the Anglo-American age that has characterized our world for two centuries. The Bible is clear in its prophecy of the gathering night that will follow, when other powers rise up to dominate, compete and wage war in the closing days of the age of man.