Op-Ed: Foreign policy fibs and half-truths

Despite frequent promises that they would be the most transparent and open government ever, the Albanese Government has gone out of its way to obscure from Australians the truth about the dynamics that are driving the most dangerous global environment since the 1940s.

Time and again, we have been told things that simply aren’t true. Instead of facts, we’ve been given self-serving spin.

Remember when they told us that Australia’s international reputation would be in tatters if we voted against the Voice?

What about when they said it was impossible to list Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terror organisation, and then when the Coalition offered to help change the law to allow a listing they instead claimed it wasn’t “strategic” to do so? That was over a year ago, and now the IRGC and its affiliates have been launching missiles and drones at our allies for the last four months.

We were told it was in our national interest to move our embassy from Jerusalem, a move welcomed by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Just last week in Senate Estimates I uncovered that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade skipped its own required anti-terror compliance checks before paying $20 million to UNRWA post-October 7, only a few months before it was forced to ‘pause’ payment of a further $6 million when UNRWA terminated multiple staff for allegedly participating in the terror attacks.

But the biggest and most dangerous misdirection has been on China. For the first eighteen months of the Albanese Government, you couldn’t watch the news or pick up a paper without encountering breathless talk of how the Albanese Government was ‘stabilising the relationship with China’.

A few of us pointed out that this was a dangerous delusion. As I wrote in November 2022: “Xi and his regime backs Putin’s Russia through a “no-limits partnership” announced on the eve of the invasion of Ukraine. It has been found to have committed serious, large-scale human rights abuses. It continues to warn that it fully intends to take control of Taiwan, by force if necessary. Australia must be able to discuss these matters openly, and our leaders have to be part of that discussion. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine demonstrates what can happen when aggressive behaviour and human rights abuses are brushed aside to pursue a trade relationship.”

These warnings were brushed aside. Very few in the commentariat or media appeared to notice that within months of its election, the Albanese Government had fully adopted Beijing’s mantra that the former Coalition Government – not the Chinese Communist Party – was to blame for a breakdown in relations.

Since then, we’ve seen plenty of genuine absurdities from the Australian Government over China. In March 2023, Foreign Minister Wong told media that she hoped China would use its influence with Russia to bring an end to its invasion of Ukraine (which commenced just days after Putin and Xi proclaimed a “no-limits partnership”). As the Minister’s former boss Kevin Rudd recently said, you’d have to have rocks in your head to think that the CCP was about to pressure Putin to end the invasion.

We’ve seen the Chinese Navy injure Australian Navy personnel with a sonar pulse, and subsequently PM Albanese’s failure to raise when meeting with Xi, farcically making the claim that raising such issues wasn’t the done thing in such a meeting.

The fact is that Beijing wanted to send a message that Australia and Australians should avoid speaking frankly about the Chinese Government’s dangerous aggression. The Albanese Government has kowtowed, and in return secured Beijing’s support for their domestic line that they have “stabilised the relationship”.

Despite the rhetoric, the reality is that China’s military build-up has continued apace, along with its rhetoric on Taiwan, its domineering behaviour in the South China Sea, and its cyberattacks, foreign interference, espionage and hostage diplomacy. You’d know none of this if you relied on the statements of the Albanese Government, which continues to act as if selling wine to China is the pinnacle of foreign policy priorities.

What Australians should be told is the cold, hard truth that the axis of China, Russia, Iran and North Korea are increasingly cooperating and acting to re-make the international order. Russia and Iran have tested western capabilities and resolve and found weaknesses. All will have observed the limited ability to deter the Houthis from attacking shipping in the Red Sea and various Iranian-backed groups from directly attacking US forces.

Almost nobody believes that Australia is well prepared for the current reality, let alone the potential for the situation to deteriorate quickly. The Albanese Government should stop patting itself on the back and spinning the public with diplomatic-speak, and start telling us the truth.

*This opinion piece appeared on the Spectator Australia website on 21 February 2024.