Australia's 2020 Choice

The world we humans are making is a scary place in 2020.

Humanity as a whole faces unprecedented crises that manifest at the global level, but are felt by most of us closer to home, wherever our home pay be.

Australia is home to a relatively small number of people by global standards: 25 million give or take a million, at the last count. Some of us have ancestry in this continent extending back many thousands of years. Others are newcomers, still getting used to living in Australia. No one is leaving against their will. We have to make this society work for all of us, for our common good and for future generations to come.

How we do this is discussed rarely, and often rather poorly when there's any discussion at all. Debate tends to turn on economic growth and increasing the size of our market. There's the deep-rooted "populate or perish" phobia that's aired infrequently, but seems to lurk in many minds like a ghost. Environmentalists warn of associated ecological damage. They are typically tolerated, but ignored.

There's obsession with "international competitiveness". It's understandable. As a trading nation that wants imports, we need to export. But one gets the feeling if there was a market opportunity for Australian plutocrats to sell three-legged radioactive mutant bandicoots we'd be only too happy to oblige. What we make and sell, and whether it's of any actual benefit to us and to the world, is largely considered irrelevant. Challenge that view - stand in the way of "progress" - and you're likely to be branded a job-destroying 'Enemy of the People'.

There's a widespread near-consensus that we need to keep growing our population, to expand the economy, create a larger internal market, and (although we rarely say it) to discourage any external ambitions to come and occupy the land without invitation.

But we also bemoan the things that go wrong. They have started to go wrong rather often. The last year in Australia has been dominated by drought, fires, plague and economic contraction. Mid-way through the year we find ourselves in a very uncreatin and new global environment.

There is good news too. But even when opportunities present, old ways of thinking obstruct their emergence.

A classic example is Australia's relationship with China.

The good news is that China's economic stumble now seems to have been a mere blip in the growth of the Chinese economy. The first nation with a major COVID-19 epidemic to "crush the curve" and come to close to eradicating the virus within its borders, China is now in full-speed economic recovery. And that's good for Australia - because China is our largest trading partner and the balance of that trade has been strongly in our favour.

Yet because Australia's political elites are so deeply wedded to being part of the "Western World", in military and political alliance primarily with the USA, and because US-China relations have fallen to such a low ebb (almost entirely due to erratic, inept and sometimes malevolent behaviour by our "ally" the USA), we are reluctant to take advantage of the situation and consolidate our trading friendship with China.

Australia is very foolish to join in the US-orchestrated shunning of China (albeit government leaders have done so rather half-heartedly, and with one pugnacious step forward typically followed by two timid backward shuffles).

We're especially foolish to be unnecessarily and gratuitously unfriendly towards China because China, like Australia, is emerging from round one of the COVID-19 pandemic with almost no new cases. In this regard, a quarantine-free travel "bubble" between China and Australia must surely be a possibility on medical grounds? But is anyone in government considering this or planning for it to happen.

Australia, in the coming months, could endeavour to maintain a COVID-19 free population while opening travel to a few selected destinations (New Zealand should doubtless be first on the list) from which we're highly unlikely to re-introduce the virus. Several East Asian countries can be on that list. Most countries elsewhere, sadly, will not.

Australia can share in the prosperity of East Asia, but we must stop behaving like reluctant friends.

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