Lowy Institute

Today marks the drawing down of the G20 Studies Centre at the Lowy Institute. The Centre was established to provide high quality public analysis of international economic governance. The government supported this work over the most intense period of the G20 for Australia, in the lead-up and the aftermath of the Brisbane Summit. The conclusion of the Centre’s work was marked with a speech today by the Treasurer Scott Morrison, and next week, an address by the head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Dr Martin Parkinson

We established the G20 Studies Centre because international economic governance is profoundly important to Australia. Membership of the G20 enables us to further our national interests, not at the expense of other members, but by contributing to global welfare. We can play a significant role in contributing to the design of the rules of the international economic game; and advocating an open, transparent, rules-based international economic order that safeguards our economy.

Australia’s membership of the world’s most important economic forum, the G20, has given Australia a new prominence in global affairs and new opportunities to realise not only our own prosperity and security, but also to justify our place at the table by making a positive and long-lasting contribution to the global governance agenda. For Australia to continue to play a leading role in international economic governance, we need to have a discussion that reaches beyond policy makers. 

This is the kind of work the Institute was made for – to create a national conversation about these issues, and to produce high quality and balanced analysis.

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Throughout our history, the Institute has taken a heterodox approach to the world. We are host to the widest range of opinions, but the advocate of none. This approach has been evident in the work of the Centre. Our scholars have deepened the discussion of the G20, each adding their own voice to the debate. My thanks go to Mark Thirlwell, Mike Callaghan, Hugh Jorgensen, Daniela Strube, Leon Berkelmans, Tristram Sainsbury and Hannah Wurf. 

Other Institute colleagues have contributed to the work of the Centre. Having foreign policy and security experts working alongside economists has produced a rich body of work. 

The output of the Centre has been prodigious. Its experts have been quoted in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, The Economist, Bloomberg, Reuters, BBC as well as in all the major Australian outlets. Experts from the Centre have published hundreds of Interpreter posts, dozens of op-eds, two dozen G20 Monitors, eight Analysis papers and a book

The Centre has hosted international fellows including David Dollar of the Brookings Institution and Yu Ye from the Shanghai Institute for International Studies. 

Representatives from the Centre have attended the last four G20 leaders’ summits in St Petersburg, Brisbane, Antalya, and Hangzhou and provided expert analysis to the Australian and international media.

Although the G20 Studies Centre is coming to its end, the Lowy Institute will not be vacating the field of international economic governance. There are not many sources of international macroeconomic analysis outside of Canberra, and we plan to stay in the game. 

And why wouldn’t we? The global economy is vulnerable. Populism and nativism are on the rise around the world. Risks loom, not least that of a Trump presidency. If the Institute is to inform the Australian debate about the world and influence our international policy, then international economics must continue to be a central theme of our work. 

Photo: Getty Images/VCG

1 of 14 This post is part of a debate on The 2016 Defence White Paper

Earlier this afternoon, I sat down to discuss the new Defence White Paper with my colleagues Euan Graham, Director of the Lowy Institute's International Security program, and Sam Roggeveen, once a defence intelligence analyst and these days the Lowy Institute's Director of Digital.

In this podcast you'll hear headline judgments of the new paper from all three of us, analysis of the submarine decision, forecasts of regional reactions, discussion of where this White Paper sits in the perennial debate over expeditionary operations vs the defence of Australia, and assessments of the politics of the White Paper.

There's much more analysis of the White Paper to come on The Interpreter. Stay tuned!

Photo courtesy of @TurnbullMalcolm.


Part 1 of this piece here.

Cubans have a good sense of humour – but I learned to my cost that Fidel is no laughing matter.

I was in Cuba as part of a Latin America trip, meeting with government officials and foreign diplomats, and getting a sense of the place. One day I spoke to the Cuban diplomatic academy about international developments. The academy's premises were ramshackle but the diplomats, almost all female, were razor sharp. Their questions were right on the money and I enjoyed the exchange. My only misstep was at the beginning, when I made a gentle joke about the Commander-in-Chief. 'I have been thinking of giving a four-hour lecture today in homage to Fidel,' I began. 'But then I decided that only Fidel could pull that off.' The gag was meant to be affectionate but it was met by complete silence and much uncomfortable shuffling. Everyone looked at the director of the academy, who looked severely at me.

Driving down Havana's famous Malecón esplanade it seemed to me very likely that President Obama will visit Havana this year. For a president in his final year of office, the lure will surely be irresistible. While full normalisation can only occur once the trade embargo is lifted (an unlikely prospect with the current Congress), Obama's relaxation of rules on remittances and travel have benefited Americans and Cubans – and improved the reputation of the US in Latin America. Obama deserves credit for bringing sanity to an area of policy that has long caused Washington's friends to scratch their heads.

My final glimpses of the island from the airplane window were of a largely agrarian landscape. Cuba is not without its social achievements, including a high literacy rate and free health care. But the country is sclerotic and undeveloped. Havana would blame the US blockade for all this whereas many observers point to the defects of Cuba's political system. Certainly, Cubans only need to look across the water to Mexico – which is, despite the media coverage of El Chapo and narco-states, increasingly prosperous and integrated into north America – to see an alternative future.

Change is coming to Cuba. What we don't know is whether it will be the controlled change imagined by the old revolutionaries or a rush of influence from the north that transforms Havana into a Little Miami. My guess is that in ten years' time, when both Fidel and Raúl have gone to the great revolutionary convention in the sky, Cuba will be unrecognisable.


Cuba, I recently discovered, is a highly popular destination. The US and Cuba have restored their diplomatic relations, and in January Habana Vieja (Old Havana) was crammed with European and Canadian tourists. It is just as charming as you would expect from the travel magazines, and just as unreal.

Habano Centro (central Havana) provided a more accurate reflection of the country: magnificent colonial buildings in severe decay, barefoot kids playing football, obvious poverty, the occasional working girl in a doorway, a miserable communist-era supermarket selling one product from each category.

Music was the common theme in both parts of the city. Salsa blares from windows. African beats blast from the ubiquitous vintage cars. Cuban jazz rises up to your hotel room and fends off sleep. Cubans boogie on the street corner. The food is not great, but sometimes the waiters shake their hips as they present you with it.

If Old Havana sometimes feels like a Hollywood set, there are still moments when you realise you are in a communist state. At one point a troop of Cuban soldiers appeared in the street in their distinctive uniforms and caps. My request to take their photograph was denied, but I snatched a sneaky shot from my hotel window.

On another occasion, I asked a senior Cuban diplomat what he thought of North Korea. He replied that the North Koreans are good friends: 'we are both on the road to socialism, even if we are taking different routes'.

I stayed at Hotel Ambos Mundos in Old Havana – Ernest Hemingway's accommodations, where he lived on and off for a number of years, supposedly with a number of different women.

By chance, I was staying in the room next to his. The advantage of this situation was a nice view eastwards towards Plaza de Armas (the best place in town to buy revolutionary kitsch) and Morro Castle, the Spanish-era fort that guards the entrance to Havana harbour. This is the same view Hemingway enjoyed while he wrote several of his novels. The disadvantage was the crowd of foreign tourists always to be found lingering outside my door waiting for a tour of Hemingway's room. They always seemed disappointed when I emerged into the corridor, rather than Papa.

Apart from tourists wanting to visit Hemingway's digs, Hotel Ambos Mundos also attracted groups of people wanting to access the internet.

Public internet access in Cuba is only accessible via WiFi hotspots at big hotels and offices of the national telco. Cubans have to buy a card for one hour's use at a cost of several days' wages. Whether due to malign intent or incompetence, the service is unbelievably bad. I don't think the Cuban government needs to worry about anyone fomenting counter-revolution online: by the time they come up with a good slogan, the WiFi will have dropped out. Personally I gave up trying to access the internet while I was in Cuba.

The regime leans heavily on the iconography of Fidel Castro, his brother Raúl (who currently serves as president) and their fellow revolutionary Che Guevara. The Museo de la Revolución (Revolutionary Museum) in Havana is full of relics of the Cuban revolution. These include the Granma, the vessel that took the revolutionary leaders from Tuxpan in southern Mexico to Santiago de Cuba, the country's old historical capital; parts of an American U-2 spy plane and the Soviet anti-aircraft missile-type that brought it down; and old jeeps driven by Fidel.

There are also relics of more dubious provenance, for example a coin that Raúl supposedly left at a farmhouse and boots that various revolutionaries wore in the jungle. The revolutionary forces were remarkably well organised to identify, retrieve and store all these artifacts while they were fighting a guerilla war.

Everywhere in Havana there are holy pictures of Che – handsome, hirsute and Christ-like. I couldn't resist a picture with a mural of Che outside the Terminal Sierra Maestra, the old shipping terminal. The Revolutionary Museum contains the stretcher on which Che's corpse was carried when he was killed in Bolivia. Tourists stood silently before the stretcher like it was the Shroud of Turin.

The Museum also has a picture of Fidel sitting in a tank during the attempted invasion at the Bay of Pigs. The caption on the photograph indicates that Fidel personally fired the shell that disabled the US vessel the Houston. What a shot!

Fidel often achieved superhuman performances in fields in which he was not expert. At the Hotel Ambos Mundos, there was a picture of Fidel and Hemingway at a fishing competition, holding several trophies between them. The guide informed us solemnly that Fidel won all the cups but generously gave one to Hemingway (who was no mean fisherman) as a keepsake.


Seventy five years ago today, on 6 January 1941, Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered his annual message to Congress on the State of the Union. The address, in which FDR enumerated his Four Freedoms, was a milestone in the development of America's role in the world.

The international situation in January 1941 was precarious. The fall of France in June of the previous year had been followed by the Battle of Britain, which quickly gave way to the Luftwaffe's terrifying bombing campaign against London and other British cities. In the same month, Germany, Italy and Japan formed the Tripartite Pact in order to discourage Washington from responding more forcefully to Germany's assault on Britain and Japan's attempt to establish suzerainty over East Asia. This new Axis threatened to link the hitherto largely separate conflicts in the Atlantic and the Pacific.

An engraving from the FDR Memorial, Washington, DC. (Wikipedia.)

As Americans' attitudes hardened in tandem with these events in 1940, the President authorised the Destroyers-Bases Deal and Congress enacted the first peacetime draft in American history. In November, Roosevelt was re-elected for an historic third term as president. During a post-election holiday cruise in the Caribbean aboard the USS Tuscaloosa, he came up with an idea to substantially expand US aid to Britain.

FDR proposed that the US should lend Britain the supplies it needed to continue the fight, accepting in-kind repayment 'when the show was over.' Telling newsmen in the White House that he intended to 'get rid of the silly, foolish old dollar sign,' he compared this extraordinary transfer of arms between two nations to a man lending his neighbour a length of garden hose in order to douse a fire. 'We must be the great arsenal of democracy', urged the President over the wireless. To that end, he proposed to lay before the Congress the Lend-Lease Bill, a statute which was designated, with a patriotic flourish, 'HR 1776.'

The mood in the Capitol on 6 January was, therefore, sombre. Massive steel braces, erected to compensate for structural weaknesses in the roof of the House chamber, gave the scene a somewhat martial appearance. Observers noted that the diplomatic gallery contained no representatives from the Axis countries. FDR arrived under heavy guard, wearing a grave expression. The new Speaker, Sam Rayburn of Texas, was so tense that he banged his elaborate mesquite–wood gavel too hard and broke it, sending pieces flying off in several directions.

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'I address you, the Members of the Seventy-seventh Congress,' the President began, 'at a moment unprecedented in the history of the Union. I use the word 'unprecedented,' because at no previous time has American security been as seriously threatened from without as it is today.' Roosevelt denounced 'the new order of tyranny that seeks to spread over every continent today,' declaring that the 'American people have unalterably set their faces against that tyranny.' He warned against 'those who with sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal preach the 'ism' of appeasement,' and called for 'a swift and driving increase in our armament production.' His message to 'the democracies' was this: 'We shall send you, in ever-increasing numbers, ships, planes, tanks, guns. This is our purpose and our pledge.' 'In fulfillment of this purpose,' he added, 'we will not be intimidated by the threat of dictators.'

The most famous section of the address came at its close:

In the future days... we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.

FDR had written these words himself. A few days earlier, during a drafting session in his White House study with his aides, he had suddenly announced that he had 'an idea for a peroration.' 'We waited as he leaned far back in his swivel chair with his gaze on the ceiling,' one recalled. 'It was a long pause — so long that it began to become uncomfortable.' Then he leaned forward in his chair and dictated the passage in one go. He had alluded to these freedoms only once before, at a press conference some months previously, but 'the words seemed now to roll off his tongue as though he had rehearsed them many times to himself.'

FDR's confidant Harry Hopkins registered a protest at the phrase 'everywhere in the world.' 'That covers an awful lot of territory, Mr President. I don't know how interested Americans are going to be in the people of Java.' 'I'm afraid they'll have to be some day, Harry,' replied FDR. 'The world is getting so small that even the people in Java are getting to be our neighbors now.'

The members of Congress received Roosevelt's address solemnly and without the usual raucous applause; journalists noted that Republican members were largely silent. The responses of senators and congressmen ranged over the entire scale. Democratic senator Morris Sheppard of Texas thought it was 'one of the greatest deliverances of all time, not merely of American history.' On the other hand, Representative Robert F Rich of Pennsylvania thought the speech meant 'war and dictatorship in this country'; his fellow Republican, Representative George H Tinkham of Massachusetts, claimed that Roosevelt had 'declared war on the world.'

But New York Times columnist Arthur Krock thought that the sobriety of the representatives during the address 'was more eloquent than the published comment.' They had already read in the newspapers about the President's plans for Lend-Lease. Now, having been officially informed of the Administration's intentions in his speech, 'the members, while not shrinking from the consequences, were thinking of them hard. And they must have thought especially hard when Mr Roosevelt said: 'When the dictators — if the dictators — are ready to make war upon us, they will not wait for an act of war on our part.''

This is an edited extract of Michael Fullilove's book Rendezvous with Destiny: How Franklin D Roosevelt and Five Extraordinary Men Took America into the War and into the World.


Part 1 of this series reviewed great speeches on Australia's place in the world, from Federation to Vietnam. In this post, I look at the period from Vietnam to Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17.

1. Robert Hughes, 'The culture of complaint', New York, 14 January 1992

Bob Hughes was one of our great characters, an erudite commentator on art, history and politics. In 1992 he gave a series of public lectures at the New York Public Library (reproduced in his Culture of Complaint) in which he entered the American culture wars like a whirling dervish, railing against political correctness and euphemism and dispensing blows to both left and right. 

Hidden within this polemic was a thoughtful and generous account of multicultural Australia, which he presented as a counterpoint to the more ideological American version:

(Australian) multiculturalism asserts that people with different roots can co-exist, that they can learn to read the image-banks of others, that they can and should look across the frontiers of race, language, gender and age without prejudice or illusion, and learn to think against the background of a hybridised society. It proposes — modestly enough — that some of the most interesting things in history and culture happen at the interface between cultures. It wants to study border situations, not only because they are fascinating in themselves, but because understanding them may bring with it a little hope for the world.

2. Paul Keating, Eulogy for the Unknown Soldier, 11 November 1993

On Remembrance Day 1993, the seventy-fifth anniversary of the 1918 armistice, an unknown Australian soldier, representing all Australians who have been killed in war, was interred in the Hall of Memory of the Australian War Memorial. Prime Minister Keating's eulogy that day is perhaps the finest speech in Australian history. It was composed of good, plain words, elegantly arranged. 

The speech began:

We do not know this Australian's name and we never will. We do not know his rank or his battalion. We do not know where he was born, or precisely how and when he died. We do not know where in Australia he had made his home or when he left it for the battlefields of Europe. We do not know his age or his circumstances — whether he was from the city or the bush; what occupation he left to become a soldier; what religion, if he had a religion; if he was married or single. We do not know who loved him or whom he loved. If he had children we do not know who they are. His family is lost to us as he was lost to them. We will never know who this Australian was.

Yet he has always been among those we have honoured. We know that he was one of the forty-five thousand Australians who died on the Western Front. One of the 416,000 Australians who volunteered for service in the First World War. One of the 324,000 Australians who served overseas in that war, and one of the sixty thousand Australians who died on foreign soil. One of the hundred thousand Australians who have died in wars this century.

He is all of them. And he is one of us.

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3. Nick Warner, 'We are here as friends', Honiara, Solomon Islands, 24 July 2014

In the early 2000s Solomon Islands was nearly overwhelmed by ethnic violence, corruption, criminality and thuggery. By 2003, the Solomon Islands state was close to failing. In July, the Australian Government decided to accede to a request from Honiara and lead a regional intervention in the country — the Regional Assistance Mission Solomon Islands (RAMSI).

On 24 July the first RAMSI personnel, comprising military, police and civilians including Special Coordinator Nick Warner, were deployed in Honiara as part of Operation Helpem Fren (pidgin for 'helping friends'). Hundreds of Solomon Islands men, women and children pressed against the cyclone fence around the perimeter of Henderson airport to get a look at the force. Most appeared happy and excited. Standing on the tarmac, wearing a red lei around his neck, Warner delivered a message to the people of Solomon Islands.

People everywhere have a right to live their lives peacefully, to go about their daily business without threats or violence or intimidation, to have their children educated in schools, to have illnesses attended to in hospitals and clinics, to have a government that is permitted to govern for the benefit of all people, free from intimidation or coercion by armed thugs.

Solomon Islands used to be such a place.

But for too long this country has suffered at the hands of a small number of militants and criminals who have terrorised Solomon Islands society, brought the country to its knees, and done a disservice to the reputation of Solomon Islanders as a good and generous people.

The men and women from around the Pacific who arrived on your shores today as part of the regional assistance mission come at the invitation of the Solomon Islands government, and as guests of the Solomon Islands people.

We are calling our involvement here Operation Helpem Fren, because that is what we are here to do. We are here as friends, to work in partnership with you, to restore promise to your country, to restore hopes for a better life to you and your children.

4. Owen Harries, 'Saying no can get to be hard', 29 November 2006

One of Australia's most eminent foreign-policy thinkers, Owen Harries is a political conservative but a foreign-policy realist. His opposition to the Iraq war put him at odds with the Howard Government. A few years after the invasion of Iraq, Harries delivered a thoughtful speech to the Lowy Institute on the lessons of the conflict for the US and Australia. He concluded:

I believe that the days when Australian foreign policy was a relatively simple affair are coming to an end. Dealing with an unsettled superpower ally, while simultaneously adjusting to the rising importance of China as a regional power and a trading partner, is going to require skills that Australia has not had much cause to practise until now...

Every alliance requires a degree of trust. It also requires discrimination and balance — and a touch of scepticism. What Australia must learn from the Iraq experience is that it should not commit itself to marching in lock-step with anyone — let alone a superpower which is simultaneously committed to an incredibly ambitious programme of global change, deeply divided domestically, and has the most inept president since Warren G. Harding in its White House.

It must learn to be as good an ally as it can be while maintaining its freedom of choice.

5. Julie Bishop, 'An utterly deplorable act', New York, 22 July 2014

As I have written before, Canberra conducted itself admirably in the days after the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, an act that caused the greatest single loss of Australian life overseas since the 2002 Bali bombings. Prime Minister Tony Abbott spoke plainly and clearly and helped to stiffen the Western response to this outrage. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was energetic in her diplomatic efforts. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten was scrupulous in his support for the Government. Australian officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to the Australian Federal Police were highly professional. All in all, there was a sobriety to the response that was a relief after the circus antics of Clive Palmer and Senator Jacqui Lambie. MH17 had had a jolting effect on the Australian body politic.

The Foreign Minister's strong statement following the adoption of Security Council Resolution 2166 makes this list both because of the significance of the moment — this was, after all, a resolution drafted and negotiated successfully by Australia — and because of the righteous anger with which she delivered it.

Mr President, the message from this Council to those who were responsible for this atrocity is definitive — you will be held to account for your actions.

Australia will continue to do everything we can to ensure this barbaric act is thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators are brought to justice.

We have an overriding objective — to ensure dignity, respect and justice for those killed on MH17. We will not rest until this is done. We will not rest until we bring them home.


As readers of The Interpreter may have heard, I've just launched a revised second edition of Men and Women of Australia! Our Greatest Modern Speeches.

Most of the speeches in my book are about Australian history, culture and politics, not Australian foreign policy.

As I've argued before, foreign policy is Australia's area of speechmaking underperformance. Too often, Australian foreign policy speeches are workmanlike rather than profound. They have content but not much flair. However, the pickings are much richer if we broaden our perspective from foreign policy narrowly-defined to Australia's place in the world more broadly.

In a two-part post, I'll nominate ten great speeches about Australia's place in the world. These first five cover the period from Federation to Vietnam (transcripts for selections 1 and 2 are not online, but all of the speeches selected here are featured in the book):

1. Vida Goldstein, 'You will soon be citizens of no mean country', London, UK, 17 June 1911

Australia was in the front rank of nations when it awarded (most) women the right both to vote and to stand for the Commonwealth Parliament in 1902. In subsequent years, Australian suffragists tried to coax their British cousins down the same path: our parliament passed resolutions recommending the policy, and our activists carried the word to the UK in person. 

The most prominent of these women was Vida Goldstein, who organised an international contingent to march with 40,000 others in a 1911 suffrage procession through London. Goldstein gave a rousing speech at Royal Albert Hall at the conclusion of the march, urging the Brits to follow our lead in awarding women the right to vote. 'I know that you will soon be citizens of no mean country', she concluded.

2. Billy Hughes, 'It is the duty of every citizen to defend his country', 18 September 1916

Billy Hughes was prime minister for most of the First World War, earning the affection of Australia's soldiers and the sobriquet 'The Little Digger'. In 1916 Hughes became concerned by the depletion of Australia's military strength through the appalling casualties of the Western Front, and was converted to the cause of conscripting Australians for service overseas.

His speech to a monster public meeting in Sydney in September 1916 created immense (though ultimately inadequate) momentum for the conscription cause:

Nearly three hundred thousand men have enlisted. Why should some take on their shoulders the burden that belongs to all? If life be such a sacred thing that no government or no individual has a right to lay hands upon it, why should these three hundred thousand be chosen to die, that we may live, unmolested, allowing the roll and thunder of battle to pass over us undisturbed? This war must be brought home to every man and woman in this great Commonwealth of Australia. If voluntaryism fails, the war must not fail. The interests at issue are too great. Australia must do her part. It may be that voluntaryism will save us; but if it does not, then we must still be saved.

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3. John Curtin, The Battle of the Coral Sea speech, 8 May 1942 

Towards the end of a slow sitting day on 8 May 1942, Prime Minister John Curtin rose and announced to the House of Representatives that battle had been joined in the Coral Sea, to Australia's north-east, between Allied forces and a Japanese naval task force seeking to capture Port Moresby, the capital of the Australian territory of Papua. The address was short in length and spare in language, which added to the drama of the moment.

Old hands regarded this as Curtin's finest speech, especially its closing moments:

I ask the people of Australia, having regard to the grave consequences implicit in this engagement, to make a sober and realistic estimate of their duty to the nation. As I speak, those who are participating in the engagement are conforming to the sternest discipline and are subjecting themselves with all that they have – it may be for many of them the last full measure of their devotion – to accomplish the increased safety and security of this territory. In the face of such an example I feel that it is not asking too much of every citizen who today is being defended by these gallant men in that engagement, to regard himself as engaged in the second line of service to Australia. The front line needs the maximum support of every man and woman in the Commonwealth. With all the responsibility which I feel, which the government feels, and which, I am sure, the parliament as a whole shares, I put it to any man whom my words may reach, however they may reach him, that he owes it to those men, and to the future of the country, not to be stinting in what he will do now for Australia. Men are fighting for Australia today; those who are not fighting have no excuse for not working.

The Battle of the Coral Sea was the first significant setback suffered by Japan and many now regard it as a turning point in the battle for Australia. It was also a turning point in our relations with the US, and underscored the prescience of Curtin's statement in the Melbourne Herald of 27 December 1941 that 'Australia looks to America, free of any pangs as to our traditional links or kinship with the United Kingdom'.

4. Robert Menzies, 'A spirit, a proud memory, a confident prayer', 26 June 1950

Prime Minister Robert Menzies told a British diplomat that the purpose of this speech to the Adelaide chapter of the Australian Institute of International Affairs was to 'restore the Commonwealth relationship to its proper place in the forefront' of Australian foreign-policy thinking. Menzies was sceptical of the UN, in which former external affairs minister HV Evatt had put such faith, preferring an interests-based approach and especially close relations with Britain and the US, Australia's 'great and powerful friends'.

The British Commonwealth is more than a group of friendly powers. It is more than a series of concerted economic interests. It is and must be a living thing – not a corpse under the knives of the constitutional dissectors. It would be the tragedy of our history if what began as a splendid adventure and grew into a proud brotherhood should end up as a lawyer's exercise. When the Commonwealth ceases to be an inner feeling as well as an external association, virtue will have gone out of it.

5. Arthur Calwell, 'I offer you the sure and certain knowledge that we will be vindicated', 4 May 1965

In response to Prime Minister Menzies' 1965 announcement that Australia would send an infantry battalion to Vietnam, Opposition Leader Arthur Calwell laid out Labor's opposition to Australia's participation in the war in a finely argued parliamentary statement. The party politics of the Vietnam War were, in fact, strikingly similar to the party politics of the Iraq war nearly forty years later. In both cases a Coalition government sought to shrink the US-Australia alliance to the dimensions of a single conflict, while a Labor opposition argued that the war was inimical to the interests of both countries. Calwell's remarks laid out Labor's case in plain English, argument upon argument. They were anti-war without being anti-American, and were substantially vindicated by history.

Here is Calwell's rousing conclusion:

May I, through you, Mr Speaker, address this message to the members of my own party – my colleagues here in this parliament, and that vast band of Labor men and women outside: the course we have agreed to take today is fraught with difficulty. I cannot promise you that easy popularity can be bought in times like these; nor are we looking for it. We are doing our duty as we see it. When the drums beat and the trumpets sound, the voice of reason and right can be heard in the land only with difficulty. But if we are to have the courage of our convictions, then we must do our best to make that voice heard. I offer you the probability that you will be traduced, that your motives will be misrepresented, that your patriotism will be impugned, that your courage will be called into question. But I also offer you the sure and certain knowledge that we will be vindicated; that generations to come will record with gratitude that when a reckless government wilfully endangered the security of this nation, the voice of the Australian Labor Party was heard, strong and clear, on the side of sanity and in the cause of humanity, and in the interests of Australia's security.


Lowy Institute Paper

Debating Beyond the Boom

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The Lowy Institute is, first and foremost, a research institution. We publish research that is accessible to policy-makers and non-specialist readers. Often this will mean writing succinct, pithy analyses for readers who are short of time. But the biggest issues require deeper exploration: this is where the Lowy Institute Papers come in.

Since our establishment eleven years ago, the Institute has published over thirty of these monographs. Past Lowy Institute Papers have addressed topics such as the rise of India as a economic power, the growing role of diasporas in the world, the relationship between climate change and security, and Islamism in Southeast Asia.

Today we embark on an exciting new phase of the Lowy Institute Paper series with the launch of our newest Paper, Beyond the Boom, by John Edwards. Dr Edwards takes a provocative look at the mining boom and asks whether it really is over – and how much it has actually contributed to Australia's prosperity.

The Lowy Institute Papers will henceforth be published in conjunction with Penguin Australia, to ensure the widest possible readership. Each Paper will make a lively and engaging argument about the biggest international issues facing Australia. They are handsome little volumes, featuring the Institute's livery and branding, and they sit easily in the hand. Lowy Institute Papers will be available in for purchase in good bookstores and online and as e-books.

In a new feature, each Paper will be accompanied by a debate on The Interpreter so that we can continue the conversation with our readers. John Edwards will kick off the debate today with a short summary of his key arguments. Over coming days some of Australia's best economic minds will respond.


This item was originally published on The Drum

Neville Wran, premier of New South Wales for a decade, brought professionalism, class and wit to Australian politics. Clothed in a good suit and armed with a sharp wit, he dominated his government, the Labor Party and the state.

I first encountered Neville Wran as a little tacker. I was at the Sydney Fish Markets with my parents when the premier walked by, said hello and patted my head. Even to a child, it was obvious that he was a giant.

The obits today describe Wran's achievements in office: a strong economy, the saving of the rainforests, great public works, electoral reform, swingeing law reform and so on — and, of course, the four consecutive election victories that enabled all of this. But they don't fully capture the style of the man.

In a meeting of Cabinet or a sitting of Parliament, Wran was magnificent. There was a famous instance when a Country Party MP insisted on heckling Neville at the dispatch box. Increasingly infuriated, Neville fixed a cold eye on him and warned: 'If the honourable member does not cease to interject immediately, I shall be forced to acquaint the House with a particularly villainous act he has perpetrated in the past month.'

The opposition MP immediately became pale and silent. Afterwards one of Neville's colleagues approached him and asked the premier what he had on the recalcitrant MP. 'Nothing,' replied Neville. 'But you can be sure that a bastard like that will have done something dreadful in the past month!'

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This morning I spoke with Graham Freudenberg, Neville's speechwriter and the dean of Australian speechwriters. He told me that Wran was 'the best politician of my time in his ability to see the opportunities and pitfalls and to understand what the public would wear.'

Neville was immensely loyal to his friends, often to his cost. But Graham reminded me that he also 'enjoyed his hates'. One of these was the arch-conservative Country Party leader, Leon Punch. One day in parliament, when Punch was droning on, Wran turned to his deputy Jack Ferguson and said: 'If I go before you, and this bastard stands up in the valedictories, move the gag.'

I got to know Neville in my second year at Sydney University, when I joined the national committee of the Australian Republican Movement. The committee was chaired initially by Tom Keneally and later by Malcolm Turnbull. Apart from the UNSW student representative Lorand Bartels and me, the committee was comprised of the great and the good: Geraldine Doogue, Donald Horne, Harry Seidler, Faith Bandler, Colin Lanceley, Franca Arena and others. Neville dominated its meetings with intelligence and humour. He would usually arrive late, cut through the café talk, employ a few choice colloquialisms and bring us all to the point. He was pure crystal.

Inevitably he would make a little joke under his breath, in his hoarse voice, to the junior members of the committee. There was always a wink and a grin. As Malcolm Turnbull noted yesterday, Neville was young at heart — wickedly funny and entirely lacking in pomposity and self-importance. His loyal staffers called him 'Mr Wran' but he always introduced himself as 'Neville'.

I never saw Neville show bitterness or regret that he didn't make it to Canberra. But what a show he would have put on in the national capital! His interests were always larger than state politics. He was convinced of the merits of Paul Keating's push into Asia, and served as Australia's representative on the Eminent Persons Group of APEC. He was interested in foreign policy, and he was a regular presence in the audience at the Lowy Institute until a couple of years ago.

And, of course, Wran believed that Australia's head of state should be one of us. Famously, he danced with Diana. I'm sure he would have been pleased to dance with Kate, too. But he held to the simple proposition that the highest office under the Australian constitution should be held by an Australian — someone who had chosen to make their life with us and among us. A term at Timbertop simply did not cut it.

One of Wran's greatest strengths, Freudenberg observed to me today, was his ability to communicate his enthusiasm to others. When he was working on the plans for Darling Harbour, he would say to public servant Gerry Gleeson: 'There has to be something happening there all the time. Every time someone visits, we need to excite them!'

And in many ways this was Neville's whole approach to life. He was a giant figure — an enlarger not a straightener, according to Manning Clark's dichotomy — and a great Sydney character.

Vale the Hon NK Wran, AC, QC.


One of the striking things about the Australian debate on Crimea is that there hasn't been one. Events in Crimea may have serious consequences for the world order, yet with some honourable exceptions, the issue has not been addressed in Australia with either thoughtfulness or urgency.

In particular, where are the voices on the left speaking out against Russia's sinister and brutal conduct against its smaller neighbour, Ukraine? Did Crimea appear on any of the placards in the March in March (pictured)? Where are the outraged op-eds?

Imagine if the US were moving tens of thousands of troops, wearing uniforms without national insignia, into a bordering country on a trumped-up pretext. Imagine if Washington were fomenting, and then exploiting, secessionist fervour. Imagine if the Americans were annexing and formally absorbing chunks of other countries. The resulting brouhaha would envelop Australia. Parliament would be seized of the matter. The letters pages would be groaning with denunciations. The streets would be full of protesters. Essays would most certainly be written.

Yet Russia has done these things, and the reaction has been indifference.

The only peep I've heard is from Antony Loewenstein in The Guardian Australia. I encourage everyone to read Mr Loewenstein's article, purely for its comic value. He makes a few cursory references to the unpleasantness of the Putin regime, in particular its homophobia. But when it comes to what he coyly describes as Russia's 'involvement' in Ukraine, Mr Loewenstein is silent. For him, the real villains are the Western media – which he faults for running unflattering pictures of a shirtless Mr Putin – and, naturally, the US.

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Of course! Washington is to blame! With its 'record of flagrantly breaching international law', says Mr Loewenstein, it would be hypocritical for Washington to criticise 'potential Russian breaches of law.' (Notice that while Washington's breaches are flagrant, Moscow's breaches are only potential.) Somehow an article about Russia's invasion of its neighbour becomes a discussion of neoconservatism in the State Department. I'm surprised Mr Loewenstein didn't follow his reasoning to its logical conclusion and blame Tony Abbott too.

Mr Loewenstein and his friends complain about double standards. But they also practice them.

Silence and indifference are not confined to Australia, of course. We have not yet heard from Edward Snowden, who lies secure in the bosom of the KGB. Yesterday the Washington Post published another Snowden leak on the NSA. Isn't it an interesting coincidence that none of the zillions of documents that Mr Snowden stole seem to reflect poorly on Mother Russia?

And what of Julian Assange, late of the Russia Today network? The other week he poked his head up on a screen at South by Southwest to implicitly endorse the annexation. 'Geopolitically, it is utterly intolerable for Sevastopol to fall into the hands of NATO,' he opined. (Mr Assange fancies himself as a grand strategist.) That would be 'an existential threat to Russia.'

I am a supporter of Australia's alliance with the US; I think America's effect on the world is largely benign. However, when Washington launched its wrong-headed and foolhardy invasion of Iraq, I opposed it publicly.

But then, I see consistency as a virtue.

Photo by Flickr user David Burke.


Today we're proud to launch a new look for The Interpreter.

The Interpreter began in November 2007 when it was unusual for a think tank to engage in daily online commentary and analysis. The field is now more crowded, but The Interpreter remains not just Australia's premier international policy forum but a strong voice in Asian and American foreign policy debates. It is a globally recognised site with a distinctly Australian character.

At the core of The Interpreter's success is the hundreds of researchers, journalists, diplomats, academics, officials, political leaders and readers who have contributed over the years. Thank you for taking part in what has become such an indispensable part of the online conversation about world events.

This new design modernises the look and feel of the site, will add improved features for reader commentary and will be easier to read on tablets and mobiles. It ensures that The Interpreter remains at the forefront of online policy commentary and analysis, and gives us a platform to reach new audiences. We hope you enjoy it.

Election Interpreter 2013

Over the coming days, we kick off our election coverage with short posts from our experts on what they regard as the most important international policy issue of this campaign.

I will be happy if international issues get a proper airing of any kind during the campaign. That is rarely the case. Federal election campaigns are generally very insular affairs – to the country's detriment.

Australia is not a small, isolated country and we should not conduct our election campaigns as though we are. We are a nation with global interests. We have the 13th largest economy in the world. We have a long record of contributing to regional and global security, including through our alliance with the US.

Australia has now joined the world's two most important economic and political forums, the G20 and the UN Security Council. This gives us a new prominence in global affairs and new opportunities to realise our prosperity and security. But membership of these institutions is testing us as a country. Our leaders need to engage on a much broader range of global issues, at a higher level and at a faster pace, than they ever have before. Above all, to justify our place at the big table, Australia will need big ideas.

Hopefully, some of these ideas will emerge during the next five weeks.


Part 1 of this series by Lowy Institute research staff here; part 2 here; part 3 here; part 4 here.

Burmese Days by George Orwell. Selected by Michael Fullilove.

My book of 2012 was first published in 1934. George Orwell's novel Burmese Days is a grim but vivid account of life in Burma in the 1920s and a powerful indictment of British colonialism.

The novel is based on Orwell's own service in Burma as an imperial policeman between 1922 and 1927. The chief protagonist is John Flory, a teak merchant operating out of an obscure settlement in northern Burma. Flory has been nearly ruined by his booze-sodden, wanton life in colonial Burma, but the arrival of a beautiful young Englishwoman offers him the hope of redemption.

As journalist Emma Larkin points out in her excellent introduction to my 2009 edition of Burmese Days, 'it is a curious twist of fate that Orwell's later novels have mirrored Burma's recent history. In Burma today, there is a joke that Orwell didn't write just one novel about the country, but three; a trilogy comprised of Burmese Days, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four.'

Since the publication of this edition, however, Burma's national story has taken a remarkably positive turn, one that was not anticipated in any of Orwell's writings. Under the presidency of Thein Sein, the military regime has loosened its grip on the country. Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been released from house arrest and earlier this year her party scored a landslide victory in parliamentary by-elections. The future is uncertain but hopeful. George Orwell, I think, would be amazed and delighted.

I will be visiting Burma early in 2013 and I will post my own first-hand impressions of the country then.


Yesterday, I launched my new research paper, The Audacity of Reasonableness: Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, US Foreign Policy and Australia. I should thank the Republican candidate Mitt Romney for choosing to give a major foreign policy address on the same day as the launch. 

In my analysis, I argue the similarities outweigh the differences when comparing the foreign policies of President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, including areas that matter for Australia.

President Obama is not as left-wing and dovish as many believe and Governor Romney is not as right-wing and hawkish as he would have us believe.

For those who weren't able to make it to the launch, here's the video of the event.



There was sad news for the entire Australian foreign policy community last weekend when we heard of the passing of Dr Coral Bell.

Coral was a giant of the Australian foreign policy scene and an internationally renowned scholar. She was known to many of us at the Lowy Institute. She published one of the earliest and still one of the best Lowy Institute papers, The End of the Vasco da Gama Era. In recognition of her contribution to the field, my predecessor Allan Gyngell named an annual lecture after her.

We will have tributes to Coral on The Interpreter over the coming days, but for now, on behalf of the Lowy Institute, I pass on my condolences to Coral's family, friends and colleagues.