Australia's Peril

Moves Towards Asianisation:
Australia's "Asian Future",
and the "Labor" Side of Politics

It is all too easy to see a definite bias towards Asia from politicians, government officials, and various people in prominent public positions (especially in the business sector). For their own personal reasons (whether it be for motives of ideology, self-promotion, or for chasing profits) many of these people have insisted on telling us that "Australia is a part of Asia" (contrary to geographical realities), or that our country has an "Asian Future".

While some earlier instances can be traced, widespread talk of Australia being "part of Asia" really began in earnest with the Labor government of Bob Hawke (first elected in 1983). As Professor Richard Robison has noted, "When Labor came to power in Australia in the early 1980s,... a deliberate "look north" policy was adopted, identifying Asian economies as the engine room of world growth and placing Asian markets at the heart of Australia's strategy for internationalising its economy and world view".(73)

There are many example's of the pro-Asia viewpoint of the Labor Party's leaders:

    "Australia's destiny lies in Asia and the Pacific" - Al Grassby, 1982 (Labor's former Minister for Immigration, then Commissioner for Community Relations).(74)
    "Australian rhetoric has for some years past spoken of our realisation that our future lies with Asia" - Bill Hayden, 1983 (then Labor's Foreign Minister).(75)
    "If I can get through what I am aiming at over the next couple of years, Australia will be favourably repositioned in that South-East Asian area where we live because I am quite certain that's our future" - Bill Hayden, 1983 (then Labor's Foreign Minister).(76)
    "The increasing Asianisation was inevitable" - a spokesman for the then Immigration and Ethnic Affairs Minister, Stewart West, 1984.(77)
    "Australia is a part of Asia" - Bob Hawke, 1985 (then Labor Prime Minister).(78)
    "The destiny of the secure, dynamic, prosperous and fair society which we are building lies in the Asia-Pacific region, and especially the Western Pacific." - Bob Hawke, 1985.(79)
    "Australia's capacity to survive in the years ahead... will depend upon the preparedness of this country to enmesh itself with the dynamism of our region, the Asia-Pacific region" - Bob Hawke, 1988 (then Labor Prime Minister).(80)
Dr Katharine Betts (of Swinburne University) has noted that [regarding the period following the 1988 immigration debate]:
"Senator Ray had been given the Immigration portfolio on 23 August, replacing Clyde Holding, and a number of commentators, including the new Minister, emphasised that Australia had no choice on the question of Asian immigration (Grattan 1988c). Asian immigration was not to be discussed and an Asian future for Australia was desirable and probably unavoidable. As one journalist put it: "We needed young skilled immigrants and they'd probably be Asian. That doesn't worry me a bit. We live in Asia, and we'd we'd better start getting used to it. And, economically speaking, in the coming decades, Asia will be the best part of the world to live in; (Gittens 1988)".
"...The Financial Review insisted that, like it or not, we were part of Asia. If we did not accept this we would simply become the 'poor white trash of Asia' (Nolan 1988)."(81)
    "For Australia the logic of greater enmeshment with the regional economy is very clear. The Asia-Pacific region is the most dynamic area of the world economy and developments in our region will play a decisive role in shaping Australia's economic future" - Bob Hawke, 1989 (then Labor Prime Minister). Hawke also spoke of "our growing appreciation of the Asian component of the Australian population".(82)
    "Australia's future lies inevitably in the Asia/Pacific region" - Gareth Evans, 1990 (then Labor's Foreign Minister).(83)
    "I think the preponderance of migrants in the future will be from the Asia-Pacific region" - Paul Keating, 1992 (then Labor Prime Minister). Keating admitted that he saw Australia's future as being "Eurasian" (although he said it would not happen for a "long time"). In answer to the question "Do you think Australia will become a Eurasian country, perhaps the world's first?", Keating replied: "The fact that our migrants are increasingly going to come from South and North Asia means these people are going to be a larger component of the Australian population. But it will take a long time before anyone could describe the place as Eurasian, though the changes mean the place is more Eurasian than it has ever been".(84)
In 1994, former Labor prime minister Bob Hawke continued on with his previous pronouncements when he proclaimed that
    "I said in my first days as prime minister that Australia's future depended upon becoming more enmeshed with Asia. And that indeed happened in the period of which I was speaking... demography is working as inexorably as economics to make Australia's future be part of Asia. And I have no doubt that when people look at this in the year 2038 they will know then that the sort of vision I had in 1983, of Australia's future being enmeshed with Asia, will have become a reality" (emphasis added).(85)
It was in 1983 that Bill Hayden (then the ALP's Foreign Minister) gave a remarkable speech alluding to Australia's future:
    "Australia is changing. We're an anomaly as a European country in this part of the world. There's already a large and growing Asian population in Australia and it is inevitable in my view that Australia will become a Eurasian country... I happen to think that's desirable. That means we are becoming part of the mainstream of this region". He also said that Australia: "should welcome the process of gradually becoming a Eurasian-type society... we will become not just a multicultural society - which seems to me to be a soft sort of terminology anyway - we will become a Eurasian society and we will be all the better for it".
Even though Hayden's views were widely reported, no politician or government official condemned his comments, leading many to believe that the Labor Government and Liberal-National Opposition generally concurred with his views. Hayden further compounded his statements the following year, when he revealed his "vision" that Australia should have a population of 50 million, predicting an upsurge in migration from "the obvious Asian populations around us... [and the] large Polynesian and Melanesian population in our near region".(86)

Such a call for a population of 50 million had previously been made by a Victorian Liberal Government Minister, Brian Dixon, in 1979. As The Age reported, Dixon urged the Federal Government "to double its net migrant intake to 140,000 a year and to aim for an Australian population of 50 million".(87)

In 1996 Bill Hayden (now as a former Governor-General) said "our fellow Australians of Asian background are proving to be among the best human resource assets we have" and claimed that "Asian migrants were necessary to fill Australia's growing demand for 'intellectual capital' and for Australia to achieve future economic and cultural growth". Hayden went on to confirm his remarks of 1984, by stating that Australia's optimum population level "is around the 50 million mark". But it appears Hayden would like an even larger population here, as he said that his figure of 50 million "may prove too cautious".(88)

In 1997 Malcolm Fraser, ex-Liberal Prime Minister of Australia, wrote an article agreeing with Hayden's 50 million target figure:
    "Australia's population has grown 2 1/2 times since 1945. There is no reason at all why we could not grow 2 1/2 times again by the middle of next century. We would then be a nation of 45 million to 50 million people."(89)
Phil Ruthven, Executive Chairman of IBIS Information International, believes that Australia's population should be driven up much higher than 50 million. Ruthven's views have been reported in The Age:
    "Mr Ruthven believes most of the new settlers should come from countries north of Australia. The United Nations says Australia could support 125 million people, more than twice the population of Britain, but Mr Ruthven reckons 450 million is not an unrealistic figure."(90)
Alison Broinowski, a former diplomat, described some of the political force behind the "Australia is a part of Asia" rhetoric: "As prime minister from 1983, Bob Hawke referred for the first time to Australia's location in Asia as a positive advantage. But it was not until late 1991, when Prime Minister Paul Keating took over the discourse, that the political language changed to include assertions that Australia was an Asian country, or part of Asia".(91)

However, while it was the Labor governments of Bob Hawke and Paul Keating that were the "prime movers" in forcing an "Asian Future" upon Australia, the Liberal and National parties have also followed the same line. This "integration with Asia" policy is being followed by both sides of the political Establishment, as Professor Peter Drysdale (of the Asia Pacific Economics Group at the Australian National University) has noted:

    "The internationalisation of the Australian economy and its steady reorientation towards Asia was strongly associated with the Labor government which held office over the past 13 years, and there were, frankly, doubts in Asia when the coalition government came to power in March, about whether these trends would continue under a Howard conservative government. These doubts were misplaced, since the priority attached to our relations with East Asia - and to APEC - is significantly and naturally bipartisan in character."(92)