Sunday 24 Oct 2021 | 01:35 | SYDNEY
Sunday 24 Oct 2021 | 01:35 | SYDNEY

Lowy Poll: Headaches for the Rudd Government


Rory Medcalf


30 September 2008 15:40

What to make of the contradictions in Australian public opinion on foreign policy, as reflected in the latest Lowy poll?

Here are a few. Most Australians are worried about climate change, but many are not willing to endure even small economic costs to reduce it. Most Australians value the alliance with the United States, but a majority also sees no point having troops in Afghanistan, even though that is the one risk Washington most wants Australia to share as a payment on its alliance insurance policy. Many Australians are becoming worried about China, and a slight majority even sees value in joining with other countries to limit Chinese power. But that does not mean that they want to compromise in cultivating Japan or India on, say, whaling and uranium.

In highlighting these inconsistencies, my purpose is not to suggest that Australians are somehow any more confused about their foreign policy imperatives than are other nationalities. It is quite normal for foreign policy to be more about balance than consistency. But the anomalies do underline what a tricky job the Rudd Government has ahead in tackling such issues as climate change, the alliance, China’s role in Asia and nuclear questions. The challenge will be to eschew superficial fixes or populism and to make hard choices; in short, to lead. And that may mean having to confront people with the fact that the things they want (such as an alliance and a bearable environment) are not without cost, and to declare a willingness to take the political risks involved in asking the nation to pay.