28 October 2012

Australia in the Asian Century: UK Please follow suit

A new White Paper from the ruling Coalition Government of Australia, headed by PM Julia Gillard (left), was launched yesterday at the Lowy Institute for International Policy.

Now Government policy, the White Paper is entitled: Australia in the Asian Century.

The report is a wide ranging analysis of how Australia can benefit from and contribute to the emerging countries of Asia.  It does not generate too many specific policy priorities or spending pledges, but that is not it's point.  It is a strategic document about positioning Australia in a rapidly changing context.

Reactions have been largely positive, although there have been criticisms about the lack of specific pledges. Some also say it is motivated primarily by domestic politics: it contrasts the current Government with the Opposition who are perceived by many as more Anglocentric.

Some have praised it for its positive focus on opportunity, but have criticised it for the relative lack of discussion about the risks inherent in closer links with the region.  There are other risks too, for example this document seems to be steering Australia firmly away from the New Zealand model towards Australia not settling for being a small and prosperous country, but one that wants to be prosperous and a much bigger player in the region and the world (note it was recently voted onto the UN Security Council).

Some have said it is too state-centric and does not recognise that Australian businesses need to take more responsibility (see the CPA Australia competitiveness survey of Asian and Australian companies which concludes that regional business leaders see Australian businesses as disengaged from the region).

I obviously have not read the 300 page report in full--I have gone through the useful slide pack and some of the press releases and the exec summary.

While it is clear that the main audience was domestic, it is a little disappointing that there was not more emphasis on international development and on Australia's emerging role.  

This is not surprising I suppose--it is difficult to sell Asia to your population if you focus on its poverty, malnutrition and inequity.  To be fair, the White Paper does spend some time on the inequality issues, but only in the sense of noting how internally focused many of the Asian giants will have to be over the next few years to deal with these growing internal tensions.

I found the strategic international ambition of the paper really refreshing.  The attitude on promoting student exchange between Asia and Australia is particularly impressive because it comes in the context of the concerns many Australians have over immigration levels.  The Paper says:

"Australia’s university system is a powerful link with the Asian region through the number of students who come to Australia for their education, and more can be done to strengthen these links."

This is in stark contrast to what is happening in the UK.

A recent Economist article ("Shutting out foreign brains is a good way to foster mediocrity") paints a gloomy "Little Britain" picture with restrictions on student visas and work permits being used to bring down net numbers on UK immigration.  This is hurting everyone.

Mr. Cameron, follow Ms. Gillard's lead: tear down this wall--you are not helping us compete in the so-called "global race".


Jeneral28 said...

Australian higher education (not just universities) have long seen an ernormous amount of Asian students, but more from the developed regions or SEA: Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. Vietnamese students lately, but a good proportion of these are already in-country residents/PRs.

Neverteless, it's nice to see Australian indirectly approach development beyond aid.

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