Australia's prosperity depends on engaging with the world - Transcript, ABC News Radio


Subjects: Scott Morrison’s Lowy address.

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: I think it's deeply dangerous for Australia to start flirting with protectionism and isolationism. That might be a bad idea for a country like the United States with over 300 million people, but it's a terrible idea for a medium sized economy like Australia with 25 million people. Our prosperity depends on engaging with the world. We've benefited massively from migration, trade and foreign investment. Sure we can do all of those things better and we should be better engaged with international organisations, but the idea that a retreat into narrow tribal nationalism is a success story for Australia is a crazy one.

MANDY PRESLAND, HOST: Mr Morrison says he's putting Australia first. What's wrong with that?

LEIGH: Of course we should have a priority on Australia. But we also need to be sensible about the benefits that Australia gets from engaging with the world. Just as comparative advantage tells us we shouldn't fix our own cars, cut our own hair and make our own clothes, so too it tells us that we can benefit when we engage with other countries that do things better than we do and specialise in the things that Australia does best. The Productivity Commission estimated a couple of years ago that a 1930s-style upsurge in protectionism would cost the typical Australian household $1,500 a year and cause 100,000 people to lose their jobs. If we start treating the global rules with contempt, everybody else is likely to do so. So the government needs to spend less time bashing globalisation and more time engaging with these international institutions in the tradition of past governments – Hawke, Keating, Rudd, Gillard - who shaped international institutions to Australia's benefit.

PRESLAND: You must acknowledge though that globalisation hasn't been good for all Australians. There have been a lot of job losses, manufacturing largely doesn't exist in Australia anymore, the quality of manufacturing goods that come from overseas aren't necessarily up to Australia's safety standards.

LEIGH: Because I'm a social democrat, I believe in the benefits of openness for driving growth. But because I believe in openness, I believe we have to ensure the benefits are broadly shared. A social safety net and globalisation are absolutely intertwined, and that's the tradition of past governments that have ensured that those social supports are strengthened as we engage with the world. You just look at a couple of examples of how that engagement has worked for Australia - the Hawke Government's campaigning for APEC and a successful conclusion to World Trade Organisation round, the Rudd and Gillard governments campaigning to get Australia a seat on the UN Security Council and bring the G20 meetings to Australia after ensuring that that was one of the world's premier bodies. There's plenty that could be done right now, including an ambitious campaign that's been suggested to try and win us a seat within the G7. But all of that requires hard diplomatic effort, not the sort of populist talking points which Mr Morrison seems to have brought back with him from the United States.

PRESLAND: We hear that kind of talk from 'Brexiteers' in the UK, also coming from the United States. Are we moving away from globalisation and becoming more nationalised?

LEIGH: I fear that that's a trend around the world. You can certainly see it in a whole range of European elections with the rise of the National Front in France, populist parties in Germany and Poland, the developments in Britain obviously, and in the United States. It's a backlash against the rise in inequality from many people who are frustrated that they're not getting their fair share. But the answer isn’t to retreat from internationalism – it’s to shape international organisations. To take another example, there is an OECD-G20 process on multinational taxation. We used to have a seat on the steering committee. We no longer do. So Mr Morrison ought to be getting Australia engaged in shaping the rules around digital taxation and making sure multinationals pay their fair share, but he's not doing that.

PRESLAND: What kind of global organisations are putting pressure on Australia?

LEIGH: These are democratic organisations, a fact that seems to have eluded Mr Morrison. They're not dictatorships. They're not run by a group of Martians. They're organisations which are formed democratically by nations coming together in their collective interest and in their self-interest. Australia needs to be working with international partners in order to make sure that the rules of the road are fair and in Australia's interest. No one is sitting over an unelected dictatorship telling Australia what to do. Past Australian governments have recognised the benefits of choosing openness. If only Mr Morrison's Government would do the same. It’s in the legacy of both the major political parties in Australia, and to fracture that consensus and to choose the road of populism may have some short-term sugar hit for the Coalition, but it would have a terrible long term cost for the Australian people.


Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.

Stay in touch

Subscribe to our monthly newsletter


Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.