Election Interpreter 2016
Yesterday Senator Richard Di Natale, the leader of the Australia Greens, addressed the Lowy Institute on foreign policy issues ranging from the impacts of climate change, the US alliance, submarines, the Australia-East Timor maritime border dispute, and Australia's asylum seeker policy.
Di Natale's speech prompted a wealth of (in some cases fierce) responses from the Australian commentariat.
In The Australian, Greg Sheridan argued that the content of Di Natale's address rendered the idea of a Liberal-Greens 'loose arrangement' (as suggested by president of the Victorian Liberals Michael Kroger) laughable:
Di Natale’s extremist speech to the Lowy Institute yesterday makes a bad joke of Kroger’s earlier justification for his tawdry preferences proposal: that under their new leader the Greens were not as extreme or marginal as previously.
The Greens now oppose the US alliance outright, labelling US foreign policy as a force with “horrific consequences”.
Di Natale demonised the US alliance, calling it dangerous and expensive and blaming it for global conflict, inequality and radicalisation. He also wants to scrap Australia’s plans to build 12 new powerful submarines.
And the Greens support dismantling the strong borders policy that has stopped the flow of illegal immigrants arriving by boat. These are all positions that repudiate bipartisan bedrock policy and values the Liberal Party claims to hold dear.
The Australian's editorial page espoused similar sentiments:
In the unfortunate event Australians found the Greens in a power-sharing alliance with Labor after July 2, nobody, including party leader Richard Di Natale, could surely expect their absurd proposal to back away from the US alliance, the bedrock of Australia’s strategic policy for 75 years, would ever see the light of day. The views set out by Senator Di Natale to the Lowy Institute yesterday would better suit a fringe protest group than a professional party.
Over at The Conversation, UWA Professor Mark Beeson argued that the address was a Greens policy milestone:
Richard Di Natale’s address to the Lowy Institute was something of a landmark in the evolution of the Australian Greens’ policy agenda. For too long the Greens have been preoccupied with the touchy-feely end of the policy spectrum, and unwilling to dirty their hands in the polluted waters of traditional security issues.
The position outlined by Di Natale on foreign policy and defence may not have been entirely unproblematic, but it compares favourably with anything on offer from the major parties. The central message from his talk – that Australia needs a serious and extensive debate on the rationale for, and basis of, defence policy – looks irrefutable, even if it’s unlikely to be acted on.
However, Beeson did identify that Di Natale's lacklustre answer to question from The Interpreter's Sam Roggeveen on the South China Sea (at 37 minutes and 23 seconds into the event audio) indicated there was perhaps some policy development still to go:
Predictably – and rightly – Di Natale was pressed on some suitably hot-button defence issues. What do we do about an increasingly aggressive China, came the inevitable question. The answer was not entirely convincing. Pointing out that nobody else has a good answer either was not an unreasonable observation, but one that will undoubtedly be taken out of context.
In his opening remarks, Di Natale contended that global warming represented a much bigger threat to national security than terrorism, and condemned its relative absence in this year's Defence White Paper. On the ABC's The Drum, former Liberal Senator Amanda Vanstone and the Sydney Morning Herald's national affairs editor Tom Allard disagreed over the merits of Di Natale's prioritising:
Click here to listen to Di Natale's full address.
Photo: Peter Morris