Wednesday 08 Apr 2020 | 23:42 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 08 Apr 2020 | 23:42 | SYDNEY The littlest Australian


Rory Medcalf


13 July 2009 15:39

If the latest editorial from online publication Crikey was meant to provoke, then it has. Here’s a taste:

Australia's interests -- indeed, its dignity -- are being affronted throughout the region. Stern Hu remains in Chinese detention…An Australian tragically has been shot dead in West Papua. And up goes the cry for the Government to do something. Quite what it should do isn’t clear, but the demand for action is insistent…Now Australians appear to want Government responsiveness to extend to each and every Australian overseas. In non-anglophone countries only, of course.

There’s an air of colonialism about this attitude…Don’t get uppity with us, we’re serious -- world -- players. Of course, we’re not. We’re a well-endowed quarry, a first rate source of actors and sportsmen and little else…our apparent insistence on carrying on like we’re deputy sheriff and accordingly owed respect by the rest of the world is a peculiar leftover of the cultural cringe. We’re a minor player. There’s only 22 million of us. Deal with it. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.

There are plenty of instances where I would agree that the call for comprehensive consular care of Australians in trouble abroad is unrealistic and unsustainable. When it came to the evacuation of thousands of dual-nationals from a war zone on the other side of the world – in Lebanon, in 2006 - the level of expectation was absurd. More regularly, the drunken misdemeanours of young Australians in exotic places should not waste the time of our overworked diplomats.

But the case of Stern Hu is different. Deep international politics – or at least the perception of deep politics, and that is enough –  is involved here. An Australian passport holder, a major player in a business that earns big export dollars, has been accused of spying and bribery at a sensitive and troubled time in Australia-China relations. 

Nor is the shooting of Drew Grant in West Papua some run-of-the-mill consular matter. This case goes to the security and political sustainability of the mining industry in a part of Indonesia that is of great sensitivity in Australia-Indonesia relations. It would be at the very least proper for Australian authorities to seek a clear picture of what happened.

The claim that somehow Australians mobilise only when their fellows get in strife in non-anglo countries is a nonsense, as the massive campaign over Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks attests. And the claim that somehow only a country the size of, say, India or China, has a right to expect decent treatment for its nationals abroad is a quaintly Darwinian reading of international relations.

To suggest that the world’s 14th largest economy and 12th largest defence spender, a country with massive territorial and material resources, not to mention large potential in soft power, should resign itself to being a price-taker in every transaction of world politics is the worst kind of Little Australia attitude. Thinking this way will only make it so.