If you thought coverage of the Queen’s hats and curtsey-gate was bad, just wait until Air Force One touches down in Australia this week.
There will be excruciating live crosses counting down the minutes until president Obama lands on Australian soil; describing in detail each element of the motorcade snaking through the roundabouts of Canberra.
It’s hard – make that impossible – to imagine an Asian head of state receiving such fanfare.
But it turns out media overkill is no guide to the way Australians understand our place in the world.
We might admire the Queen’s class and staying power, we might love the thrill of a POTUS visit; but we hold our cultural allegiances at arms length from our views on our future prosperity.
This week’s Essential Report shows Australians overwhelmingly see their future tied to Asia, rather than Europe or North America.
Q. To which region do you think Australia’s future is most closely tied?
|Total||Vote Labor||Vote Lib/Nat||Vote Greens|
With a new free trade pact linking Australia, the US and a number of other Asia-Pacific economies; and a US base for Darwin likely to be announced during president Obama’s tour – it looks like this visit to commemorate the 60-year alliance will be a renewal of vows between the two countries.
Yet public support for a close relationship with the United States, while still strong, is starting to wane.
Amidst a general drop in interest in international engagement, China is the only country that held its ground.
And in terms of countries we want to get closer to, China tops the table – up 3 per cent from March, while the interest in getting closer to the US dropped 6 per cent in that time.
These trends pose a number of challenges for a Prime Minister who is not just endeavouring to be a good host to a US president, but to maintain her current political momentum.
In short, how can the PM make the visit of the leader of a dwindling world power a political positive?
- • Explaining the benefits of free trade – the whole point of APEC was to facilitate free trade but, as our poll last month showed, the vast majority of Australians want to bring back tariff protection. Articulating the benefits of global trade is unfinished business and with a Pacific Trade treaty that accelerates the process and provides greater power to US companies protecting their IP in other jurisdictions, there is work to do in convincing Australians that these sorts of agreements are in their interest.
- • Not being forced to pick winners – The expected deal to provide the US with a base for Marines in Darwin makes sense from a 20th century security perspective. How it sits with Australia’s relationship with China is another question – these numbers suggest that if Australians are asked to pick a winner it won’t be America.
- • Putting the Global Financial Crisis in context– Obama may not be the PM of Greece, but the US economy is under pressure with high unemployment, huge government debt and a political system seemingly incapable of putting national interest ahead of partisan concerns. Hopefully, the president will provide Australians with the chance to hear firsthand how much worse it is in America and provide some context to Australia’s current economic situation, where the Opposition is seriously suggesting our current government debt levels are a crisis at 9 per cent of GDP compared to the US which labours under an outstanding public debt ratio of 99.6 per cent of GDP, and debt held by the public at 68 per cent, as of the end of June.
- • Talking about what the Asian century really means – The opportunity exists for both leaders to articulate how we do intend to engage more closely with Asia and China in particular. And for Australia this is not just about digging up minerals and selling for top dollar, but about building cultural understanding, teaching Asian languages in our schools, looking at young Asians as more than just consumers of our education sector, but regional partners.
It’s nearly 20 years since Paul Keating strengthened APEC and unveiled his vision of an Australia confidently taking its place in Asia – an approach John Howard sought to reverse, famously casting Australia as the United States’ deputy sheriff in the region. It makes sense to Australians that our future lays in our geographic and economically developing region.
The real leadership opportunity for Gillard this week is to articulate a vision for Australia’s future engagement with Asia, which also pays respect to our relationship with the USA. These numbers suggest this does not need to be done with a whisper…
- Peter Lewis | Director, EMC
& Jackie Woods | Senior Account Manager, EMC
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